Friday, June 24, 2011

Self-Publishing v. Traditional Publishing

My husband is a Bloomberg Radio addict.  All of our AM dials are set to 1130 so that no matter what car he's in, he had immediate access to the latest broadcast of financial information.  It's gotten to the point where my kids cry out, "No Bloomberg, Daddy!"  Despite the controversy, every once in a while I get in a mood where I like to check out what the Bloomberg has to say.



The publishing industry is a hot topic, especially after the Borders bankruptcy.  There's a lot of talk about e-publishing versus traditional publishing, the percentage of people who own e-readers, and the percentage of book sales that are e-books versus paper books.  I add it to the information I have about the benefits for authors of self-publishing over traditional publishing.

A few weeks ago, I got a call from a self-publishing company that I had contacted a while back.  They send me emails constantly, and I usually blow them off when they call my house.  On this particular day I decided to stop the calls by politely informing the man on the line that I had decided to go the traditional publishing route for now, with self-publishing being my Plan B.  He thanked me for my time and ended the call.  That solved that, I thought, happy to finally stop the periodic, inconveniently-timed calls.

That's what I thought.

Within an hour I had a looooong email in my inbox detailing for me the perils of traditional publishing, my relative chances of winning the lottery compared to being picked up by a traditional publishing house, and the lost income I would suffer if I settled for inferior royalties.  It took me every red light on the way home to get through the darn thing.  But the message got under my skin.

I'm pretty clear on where I stand.  I'm a publishing snob.  I want the satisfaction of saying that I'm good enough to be picked up by a traditional publisher.  I want to look back on the years of work and say, "See?  It was worth it."

But it's more than just that.  I am not a professionally trained writer.  I think I'm good, and people who read my work think it's good, but what would a professional editor say?  There are two ways to find out.  Hire one out of pocket, or be chosen for representation.

Maybe I've got my priorities mixed up, but financially, I can't afford to hire a professional editor right now.  Maybe if I could, I'd go the self-publishing route.  I've had numerous requests for my book from people who have read snippets and want to see more, but I'm hesitant to put too many electronic copies out there.  The whole thing could change once viewed by a professional and I may end up rewriting significant sections.  I'd rather keep it small until I know I have the official finished product.

I'm not quite sure how to go about the marketing, either, and I'm worried if I create a lot of hype now, people will be desensitized once it's published (regardless of the route).  I want to get the energy and momentum going at the right time and in the right direction.  Again, out of pocket if I go it alone.

However... the instant gratification of having my work out there, available for consumption, is tempting.  The possibility that the quality may suffer is what's not acceptable.

So for now, I'll close my eyes to the warnings in the well intended email I received, and stay my course as a publishing snob.  I have many more weeks of waiting to go before I start hearing back from the agents I queried. In the mean time, between work, home, and writing, I have plenty of things to keep my mind occupied.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Near Mrs. - Rejected!


So......I'm officially part of the club. Who knew being rejected could feel so good?

I submitted my manuscript to three agents I pitched to at the Writer's Digest Conference last January.  And as I mentioned in a previous post, I sat back to wait.  Patiently.  I haven't been anxiously checking my emails for their replies, expecting it would take months before I would hear anything.  Much to my surprise, my first response came two weeks later.

I read it at red lights while commuting home from work.  I may not have been anxiously looking for a response, but knowing I had one, there was no way I was going to wait to get home to read it.  (I've never had that kind of patience, so why expect it to miraculously appear now?)

By the time I got to the last light I was grinning from ear to ear.  She didn't hate it!!  It wasn't for her, but she didn't hate it.  In fact, she mentioned that she enjoyed reading it, and thought it was an interesting concept, but it wasn't for her.  I would have chalked it up to a polite let down, but she went on to recommend a resource to guide me toward an agent that would be a better fit.

Maybe I'm deluding myself, but for an agent to recommend a way to find someone more suited to my manuscript left me with the impression of working with a professional who saw at least some value in what I sent her. I grinned all the way home and sat in my driveway while I emailed my writing group to tell them the good news.  Then I promptly sent an email back to the agent thanking her for such a prompt response and her kind words of encouragement.  She didn't have to do that, and I knew it.

I honestly didn't feel the least bit disappointed by her rejection.  I felt encouraged.  She took the time to read what I sent her and that meant a lot to me.  I'm confident that I'll know a good fit when it happens, and my gut is telling me that this wasn't it.  I'm okay with that.

The querying process is really nothing more than a two-way interview.  Am I right for you and are you right for me?  I have experience interviewing, and I feel no shame in saying that I'm very picky.  Interviewing is like people shopping - it's all about fit.  You wouldn't spend $5 on a shirt that wasn't right, so why spend a percentage of your potential earnings on an agent who may not be right for your manuscript?  If it's one sided, no one's going to be happy in the end.  

So for now, it's back to the drawing board and a new round of queries.  And in the mean time, it's time to start going over my notes and gearing up to draft the next project.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Update: China Medical Mission Article


On Sunday, my darling husband pulled an issue of the Journal of Emergency Nursing out of the mailbox.  Knowing that I was waiting anxiously for it, he sent it my way via the child-postal-system.  Translation: my 9-year-old was kind enough to dump it in my lap as she thumbed through her latest celebrity magazine.

There was no way it would be in here.  It was too soon from the final approvals to now, but what do I know about the timeline of academic journals?  Maybe...  I thumbed through the first few pages to find the table of contents.  I scanned for the section I wanted... International Nursing... there!  Nope - not about China.  I guess by "next" issue, they meant the next one to go to print, not the next one to be delivered.  But that's ok, because I've seen what my article will look like.

It's really cool to see your name right next to the word "author" in an officially typeset galley proof. At least, this was my experience.

Back in March I got an email from my editor, Pat Clutter, saying that I needed to submit the permission slips from the people in the pictures to allow them to be printed.  I assembled all of the necessary information, submitted it, and waited.


Some time later, I received another email about disclosure.  Apparently there's a process to ensure that any funding is properly disclosed, presumably to identify any conflicts of interest.  In this case, I wasn't sponsored to attend the mission, much less write about it, but the forms were overwhelming.  Very legal and with a lot of questions about reprints and color copies.

Luckily, I was able to respond with a blanket statement that I was not funded in any way, and that I wrote the article for myself, not an organization.  With that settled, all of the loose ends were tied up.

Several weeks went by with no response.  I started to worry that things weren't settled and there were still loose ends that could derail my article from ever making it to print.  I emailed the contact for the disclosure forms, but didn't hear anything back.  

I was considering emailing Pat again to check on the status when I received an email from her with instructions to review the attachment and answer the few questions at the end.  I ignored everything else on my desk and quickly opened the attachment.


There it was - a beautifully typeset copy of my article about our team's experience on a medical mission in China.  At first, I sat back and admired the layout of the pdf file.  Then I zoomed in to be able to see the title better, and noticed the line right below it - Author: Michelle A. Kobayashi, BSN, RN.  Way cool!

Able to see the details better, I flipped through the pages to see the pictures of us working at the clinics.  The fact that this would soon be arriving in mailboxes across the country dawned on me and that's when true excitement set in.

There were six questions at the end, all related to details within the article that needed to be verified.  Once confirmed, I sent back a response that all was well and I approved of the changes that were made.  A few more emails back and forth and everything was done!

The article is ready and headed to print, due out in the next issue of the journal.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

The Journey of the Reader


I just finished A Breath of Snow and Ashes, by Diana Gabaldon, and it really got my brain working.  I'm a huge fan of her Outlander series.  Well, except for book two.  I won't lie - it dragged - but the ending was worth dredging through the monotony of French and Scottish politics.  If you gave up during book two, I highly recommend you finish it.  The ending is worth it, and so are the books that follow.

What I love about this series is that it opened my eyes to an entirely different reading experience.  Typically, once grabbed by a really good book, I devour it.  It took me 18 hours to finish the last Harry Potter book, and I know I missed things because I have a tendency to skip the exposition in favor of jumping from one line of dialogue to the next.  Hence why I typically listen to the audiobook afterward.  I'm forced to listen at the pace of the narrator, and I can't skip ahead.  I pick up on all sorts of great details that I missed the first time around.

If I love the story, I love the story, and I tend to enjoy listening to it over again, each time picking up on something that I missed in previous encounters.  And while I do this with Gabaldon's Outlander series, I'm interacting with the books in an entirely different way.  As gripping as her stories are, I don't feel pressured to rush to the end to get the resolution.


Her books are about the journeys of her characters.  It's not about what happens at the climax.  There are multiple small stories woven in between the covers.  There's a rhythm to her work and I can sense when the tension is ramping up or slowing down.  I will admit that I sometimes rush through certain scenes as I'm gripped by the action, needing to know what happens next, but these moments are short lived, and don't encompass the entire book.  It's digestible, and I enjoy the flavor and texture, not just the action.

It also amazes me how well she handles endings.  This particular book ends with two epilogues.  In each is a fresh piece of information, small in scope, but huge in possibility.  I feel compelled to get the next book as soon as possible so I can continue to journey with Jaime and Claire and company.  What writer doesn't want to have that effect on their readers?

With this in mind, I began to contemplate my next writing project.  I've had an idea for a middle-grade series for a while now; I've even started writing it a few times, but never really got going on it.  I've been focused on Near Mrs. and actually finished that project, polishing it to the point where I could actually submit it. (see previous post)

This latest reading experience left me comparing the writing of Near Mrs. to the writing of this next series.  Near Mrs. has a fairly linear plot.  There's not a lot of secondary story, and it carries from beginning to end.  I see it as more of a beach read - something fun, light, and easy for the summer.  Not how I would describe the as yet to be written middle-grade series.   

Near Mrs. is focused and driven, much like how I live my life in many aspects.  Yet when I'm reading the Outlander series, I tend to relax, sit back and enjoy the ride.  Each sequence carries its own weight, and I can put the book down to sleep at night, still eager to pick it up again when I have a spare moment.  It's a nice balance, and one that I imagine takes skill to achieve.

As a novice writer, I'm happy with the fact that I finished one manuscript, revised it and submitted it.  It's quite the accomplishment and I still think it deserves to be published.  But my style is necessarily different for this next project.  I've been planning.  I've got character bios that include trivial likes and dislikes, as well as values.  I know what motivates them, what drives them, and how they're going to react to conflict and obstacles.  In Near Mrs., I learned about Hannah, Marc, Olivia and Garrett as I wrote them.  As for the series, Megan, Kate and Ben are already well defined in my head.

I started putting together a synopsis for the series, (before doing any writing) and based on my feelings after reading A Breath of Snow and Ashes, I want to expand it.  I feel like I need to take my time, sit back and really develop and plan the story.  Think ahead about actions, reactions and consequences.  Plan how I want to bring things up and then let them lie, only to resurrect them at some later time to make that the key piece of information that the reader knew all along, but didn't realize they knew.  Do this in both dramatic and subtle ways throughout the story to give the reader those little exciting moments of discovery and understanding.

As I said, I started the bios and the synopsis, but then put down the keyboard, so to speak, and let them simmer.  Now, the ideas are churning again, right down to the last line of the story that will set up the sequel.  I don't want to rush this one.  I don't want to rush the characters, their arc, or the overall story arc.  I want to wind my way through the challenges and really suck the reader into Megan, Kate and Ben's world.  Let the reader get lost and hide from real life for just a bit, while they absorb themselves in the story.

A lofty goal?  I don't think so.  Just where I know this series needs to go.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Road to Publication - Near Mrs.

So, some exciting things have been happening here over the past few weeks.

I finally got my manuscript to the point where I was comfortable submitting it to agents.  First up were those who requested my work at the Writer's Digest Conference last January.  Recently I read a blog post that said if an agent requests your work, you have up to a year before you should consider the request null and void.

I worried about this a lot.  I learned a lot at the conference, (the point of a conference, right?), and felt that it would only be right to apply what I learned to my work before asking a professional to review it.  This took a lot longer than I expected, but I refused to submit shoddy work just to say I responded immediately.

I worried that the delay would send the wrong message, and the recipients would reject me based on that alone.  But I stuck to my guns and did my due diligence and submitted what I saw as my best product.  Let me say, it was an anxiety-ridden experience.

I tend to be a little erratic with my time management.  Sometimes I just get it in my head that I'm going to do something and I do it.  Those of you who follow me know I have a full-time day job on top of being a mom.  On the night that I submitted, I had been working on other random things during the evening, and at 10 o'clock decided that now was the moment.

This was probably a mistake.

My query letter and synopsis were finished weeks before.  My manuscript was finished for several days. The idea of actually submitting scared the hell out of me.  The weekend came and went, and still I avoided opening the query letter or synopsis.  Both needed to be fine tuned, and I put it off, knowing that it was the last step between me and hitting the send button.  It's one thing to be judged by your friends, family and critique group.  It's quite another to be formally rejected by a professional.

Why this hour on this night became the moment to act is anybody's guess.

Ready to go, I pulled the little pile of cards out of my leather folio.  I carefully read the submission guidelines for the first one, gathered the files and put together the submission.  I opened the query and personalized it for the agent.  I saved it carefully with a file name that would prevent me from accidentally sending it to the wrong person.  (details... details... details...)  I briefly reviewed the synopsis, made sure it was all there and saved that, too.

I hesitated, decided that there was nothing else to do, and hit the send button.  I'll admit, I savored the moment.  I had officially submitted my manuscript to an agent and now it was out of my hands.  I was carefully assembling the next round of files when the perfect little bubble I was in popped.

Oh. My. God.

Not an expression I typically use, but... things started to snowball.

 There were two typos in my synopsis.  I had changed the content of a sentence and left a word in that should have been deleted.  The other was a word that was spelled wrong, but it made another word, so I missed it.

The little snowball started rolling down the hill.

I realized that I forgot to put in the synopsis header.  It was blank.  No name, no title, no page numbers.  Luckily there were only 2 pages, but still...  NOT professional.

The snowball was growing.



I had left the copyright notice in the footer.  I should have taken it out weeks ago when I was done sending it to beta readers.  I meant to.  I forgot.  Damn.

Then I froze as if flattened by the runaway snowball.

I realized I changed a scene in the book, but hadn't updated it in the synopsis.  To make it worse, it was the first kiss scene.  One would think that the author of said manuscript would at least get that right.

I can't begin to share with you my frustration.  All that time spent polishing and re-polishing.  All that worry about little details here and there in the manuscript.  Ah, well, live and learn.

The good news?

I caught it all before I sent the next submission.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Taking a Stab at Pre-Writing

Photo courtesy of Photos8.com
My first manuscript, Near Mrs., was an experiment in creativity.  I knew nothing about what it would take to complete a novel-length story, and fought my way though to the end. It's done, and I'm ready to put together my submission documents to start querying.

But it's not about the end result.  Instead, it's about the journey to reach it. I mostly floundered around for two years until I attended the Writer's Digest Conference in January.  Since then, I've linked into countless blogs to learn more about the process of writing, finding out for myself what works and what doesn't.

While I did manage to complete what I think is a strong manuscript, I certainly took the hard road.

I've had another project in my head for a few years now, and I've tried starting it a few times. The time I've spent on Twitter and surfing author, editor, and agent blogs was time well spent, and I'm starting this project again with a fresh outlook on the process of writing.  Not to mention that this isn't just one story.  It's one story, told three times from three different points of view.  The fourth installment will be a culmination of the three characters working together to save their worlds.

I'm a big fan of the Twilight Saga, and I wish Stephenie Meyer would go ahead and finish Midnight Sun. The limiting thing about first person, is that you only know what the point of view character is experiencing.  Unlike in J.R. Ward's Black Dagger Brotherhood series, in which you know what everyone's thinking, there's no way to know Edward's experience - we see it only through Bella's eyes.

That, in my opinion, is the fascination of Midnight Sun.  We want to know how he felt and reacted.  We want to know more about him. With this in mind, my concept for this middle-grade project was born.

My three sibling characters are sucked into their imaginary worlds.  The first story is Kate's.  She needs to negotiate her world, find her sister and brother and get them safely back home. The second story is Megan's. She also has to negotiate her world, but the parallel picks up when Kate finds her and they set off to find their brother, Ben.  The difference is, that while the story is the same event-wise, it's all from Megan's point of view, which is unique to her.

As you can probably guess, the third story starts off with Ben in his world, and doesn't pick up the parallel until Kate and Megan arrive. But we find out what Ben's been up to the whole time Kate and Megan have been searching for him. With this approach, I get to fill in the gaps and, hopefully, provide a more satisfying experience for the reader.

With the struggle of completing Near Mrs. under my belt, I have a better understanding of the difficulty in keeping track of the details. In addition, the voice of each character is key. They have to be distinct from each other.

So I did what I unsuccessfully attempted with Near Mrs.  I created character bios and drafted a synopsis before starting the manuscript. What I learned during my false-starts for this project was that I wasn't sure of how my characters felt about their experiences, and so my story wandered and stalled.  In addition, I couldn't come up with Megan's backstory at all. My confusion even affected the conflicts I was trying to throw into their paths. It was all disjointed and the problems didn't necessarily mean something to the characters, so the character arcs wandered and stalled.

All in all, each false-start was a disaster and deserves to be deleted, forgotten forever. The synopsis I drafted this week is stronger and more compelling than any of the scenes I drafted over the past few years, and I'm excited to finally have some true direction. I have a clear picture of the story's structure, and how each scene is going to fit with the next.  I also have a chance to work out some of the skills my characters will acquire to aid them in their final quest. I'm convinced it's going to be easier to write in these details during the early drafts, rather than rewrite entire scenes to work them in later.

I've never been the type of person to take thing easy and build up to a level of competency.  I'm much more the "baptism by fire" type, and figured I'd just jump in and take on a four-book series with the advice and guidance of my friendly blogging colleagues. I'll figure it out, and with any luck, I'll end up with something worth submitting for representation.

Have you, fellow newbie writers, found yourselves completely changing your approach with each subsequent manuscript? Was it for the better or worse?

Friday, April 29, 2011

Near Mrs. - excerpt from Chapter 7

For those of you who have been waiting patiently for a glimpse of the final manuscript, I have a short excerpt here. The final draft is out with readers now in hopes that they are able to hunt down and point out all of the typos that the gremlins have let back into my file. I no longer trust myself to distinguish between words like "form" and "from." Enjoy! 


Cover Art courtesy of Becky Schmelzer

“You? A bridezilla? I find that hard to believe. Aren’t those the girls that get into fistfights with the caterers and stuff like that?”
“I’m not that bad,” I said, defending myself, “but apparently I’m a little focused on the task at hand.”
“What bride-to-be isn’t?” he asked incredulously. “From the minute you girls get that ring you live and die by your wedding magazines.”
I laughed, “I didn’t even wait for the next day. I stopped at the convenience store that night and bought every wedding magazine on the display. Marc expected me to be fawning all over him and all I wanted to do was look at the dresses.” I smiled to myself at the memory. I looked up at Garrett and explained more seriously, “I don’t have a fancy wardrobe and I wear a uniform to work. I’ve been looking forward to picking out my wedding dress since I was in high school. I’m a pretty simple girl. I think I deserve this one day.”
“And he doesn’t think so?”
“He’s a little put off by the amount of time I spend working on the wedding plans. Recently he started in on me saying that at the rate I’m going, there isn’t going to be anything left of our relationship come time for the vows.”
Garrett raised his eyebrows. I shrugged and ate some more of my salad.
“You’re serious?”
“Yup,” I said popping a chickpea in my mouth. “But we had a nice night out last night, just the two of us, and I think he realized I’m no different than I was a few months ago when we got engaged. Maybe he’ll even start helping me with the wedding.”
“Well, what is he in charge of?”
I laughed and nearly spit the chickpea across the table. Luckily, I slapped my hand over my mouth in time. I carefully chewed the little bean and swallowed, careful not to choke. 
“He’s in charge of getting himself to the church on time.”
“Hannah, you have to give him some things to do. You can’t keep control over all of it and expect he’s going to feel involved.” 
 “I wish that was the problem. At least then I could do something about it. I’ve asked for his help and looked for things that would be easy for him to do. I’ve even tried asking him to do things with me. He’s not interested. For all he cares we could be married by the justice of the peace at town hall in our jeans and sneakers,” I spat.
“Is he serious?”
I paused, basking in Garrett’s incredulity. Maybe he would know what I should do. He was a guy. Maybe all I needed was a guy’s perspective. 
 “According to Marc, the wedding should be about me and him, and what we wear and eat means nothing.”
I felt stupid saying it. When Marc explained his points, they all made sense. But now that I was explaining it to Garrett, it sounded ridiculous. A dull pain resonated in my gut followed by an urge to call off the wedding. Was this what people meant by cold feet? Before I really freaked myself out, Garrett interjected his opinion.
“But it’s your day to celebrate. If he’s not putting anything into the day, how is it his wedding, too?”
“So I’m not crazy? That’s what I was trying to tell him, but he wants nothing to do with it. If it weren’t for my sister, Olivia, there wouldn’t even be a wedding. She’s helped me with everything I expected Marc would help me with, and she doesn’t even like him.”
“So, your sister doesn’t want you to marry Marc?”
“You could say that.”
Garrett didn’t say anything. He sat there, eyes unfocused, lost in thought. Several minutes passed before he spoke again.
“Are you ready?” he asked. 
I nodded and before I was standing he had taken both trays.
“Why do you do that? I can clear my own tray,” I insisted, but I was talking to his back as he walked toward the tray carousel.
“I’m sure you can, but I wasn’t raised that way,” he said when he walked back toward me.
“And neither was I,” I huffed, “I’m not helpless, you know,”
As he walked past, he bent his head and whispered into my ear, “I know you’re not.”
I stood there for a moment, dumbstruck, considering what he said, and slightly distracted by how close his face had come to mine. 
“Are you coming?” he asked, stopping a few steps past me. My face must have registered my confusion because he smiled and said, “Chivalry isn’t dead, you know. Some of us still know how to treat a woman.”
He stared at me with his warm brown eyes, which were surprisingly not mocking me. Instead they were soft and sincere. He actually meant what he was saying. It wasn’t some line, it was simply a statement.
I shook my head and sighed. Men like Garrett only existed in movies, fiction novels, and my imagination. Yet here he was very much real and alive. 

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Show v. Tell in First Person



Writing is creative freedom.  Revising is honing your craft.

It took me over two years to write my novel.  That time included the first seventeen chapters that I scrapped, and that final glorious moment when I wrote those two elusive little words - The End.  The time in between was filled with exploration, doubling back, forging new paths and pondering the roads in front of and behind me. Out of focus scenes came into sharp relief, and fuzzy characters sought, and found, definition.

It was hard work.  Having never written a story that long, I struggled to pull it all together so that the words on the page matched the ideals in my head.  I switched from first person, to third, and back to first when I realized that first person gave me the intimacy I needed to pull off Hannah's backstory.  This mattered a great deal, since the backstory was the reason for writing the book in the first place.

Hannah's backstory is my backstory.  It's a piece of myself that I needed to share.  Devastating loss shaped who I am, and I emerged from the experience wiser and more aware of exactly how overcoming adversity builds character.  People every day face challenges, and they need to know that there is goodness and hope so that they have the strength and courage to pull themselves up by their bootstraps to face another sunrise.

If you read over the above three paragraphs, you'll have a good sense of the style in which my novel was written.  It was very introspective, with a great deal of internal monologue on Hannah's part.  She considers different aspects of a situation and arrives at various conclusions throughout the story.  This is an integral part of her character development and justifies her epiphanies and subsequent resolution of the plot.

This is not to say that the manuscript is 60,000 words of her thinking.  There's plenty of dialogue and action to carry the story.  But the narrative had that distance - that thinking quality about it - that although it felt like showing, was really telling.  Take special note of the parts in red.  They're telling culprits.

Let me show you what I learned about showing v. telling.

Twitter was my new friend.  Elizabeth S. Craig's feed pointed me in the direction of countless useful blog posts.  I devoured them.  Then I forwarded them to my new writing group with overwhelming enthusiasm.

In more than one post I found sage advice, which I reluctantly followed.  I printed my whole document and read it out loud to myself.  The sound of my own voice droned on in the quite sanctuary where I worked.  My main character nodded her head.  Twice.  I scratched out the word 'head' both times and moved on.

During the next round of revising it hit me.  Hannah was too distant.  She needed immediacy.

I remember when it hit me.  I was thinking back to one of my blog posts about a technique I used to write a scene: I closed my eyes, and watched and listened as it unfolded, promptly putting the images and sounds to paper.  It wasn't enough.  I needed to be Hannah.  Immediately, I stopped imagining the scene with Hannah in it and instead looked at it from within her.  I closed my eyes again, but this time I saw what she could see, heard what she could hear, felt what she would feel, smelled what she could smell, and tasted what she could taste.

Suddenly, the scenes took on new life. I deleted every sentence where I stated the emotion I was trying to convey.  The original words used to craft the passage vanished,  replaced with those that were upsetting to hear.  Hannah's reactions became those of an upset person.  Emotions of every shape and color filled the pages.  When Marc took her out to dinner, their mutual attraction was palpable.  

Can you feel what I figured out?

This immediacy was the missing factor.  Without it, my manuscript deserved rejection.  With it, I'm confident it has a fighting chance.  The story was compelling.  The storytelling wasn't.

To be honest, this post was a lot more challenging than I thought it would be.  Writing the experience of my epiphany took several revisions to pull out the telling and replace it with showing.  The words are different, as is the sentence structure.

Are you there with me as I discover the power of Twitter?  Do you feel yourself sitting in front of printed pages, revising?  Can you feel the internal shift as I discovered what was missing?  Did you close your eyes and picture your own story from within the POV character?  Was my renewed energy toward revising evident in the focused changes that I was making?

I wasn't just telling you about it.  I took you there with me.  And that, my fellow writers, makes all the difference.

I'm glad I didn't rush and submit before I figured this out.  I've totally blown my personal submission deadline, but I refuse to submit what I know is substandard.  Now, I'm working hard toward completion and I'm getting excited about finally being ready to submit.

Have you had a similar experience in struggling with showing v. telling?  I'd love to hear about it.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Blog Comments Are Like Presents on Christmas







You may have noticed I skipped my blog post last weekend.  I'm in the throes of my final revisions of Near Mrs. and for the life of me I couldn't come up with a blog topic.  I prefer to blog about things that I'm passionate about, and anyone who's revised a novel-length manuscript can tell you that there's not a whole lot of passion happening there.  It's methodical and tedious and really quite boring. So rather than bore you, I spared you from a flat, meaningless post.


Then something happened tonight that I felt I really had to share.


My daughter has recently discovered a passion for poetry.  She's actually a really deep person, which you might not notice faced with her sarcastic and sometimes obnoxious attitude.  I nearly missed it, being the one to have to put her in her place on a near-constant basis.  But recently I was floored when I read a poem she wrote for school.  I'll share it with you.



The Answer
by Tara McNiff

Mysteries swarm in my mind
While I struggle up the mountain
Waiting on the highest peak awaits
The answer
A few more steps until I achieve my goal
My stomach felt weird
Like life danced around me
Finally the last step
My heart racing
The question is what means the most to me
And the answer is
My family


Who knew?  Kids don't naturally let you into the world between their ears, and my daughter's no exception.  And if she didn't have an amazing teacher this year (love you Miss Criscuolo!), I may never have seen this side of her.  In fact, she may never have discovered this side of herself.

So I did what any proud mama would do - I broadcast her work to my friends and family who I thought would be interested.  (Don't be upset if I didn't send it out to you - our family is huge remember?  It takes time to catch up with you all!)  Then, I convinced her to enter it in the Writer's Digest non-rhyming poetry contest.  Will she win?  Probably not, but it's not about winning.  It's about having the courage to put yourself out there and maybe someone will find meaning in your writing that resonates.

Well, to be honest, Tara didn't really have the courage at first, but when I told her about the cash prizes, she found it within herself to agree to submit.  I think the decision took her all of about two and a half seconds :)  What can I say?  Money motivates the girl and I played on that just a little bit.

All of a sudden she wasn't so shy about her work.  But it didn't stop there.  The stuff she thinks is interesting, and when I suggested giving her space on my site to post her work, she actually went for it, albeit a bit reluctantly.  The logistics of getting a second blog on my WordPress site was actually a lot harder than I anticipated, and as time passed, she actually started pestering me to know when her poems would be up.  She'll tell you she doesn't want the attention, but I think she secretly loves the spotlight.  

So I went back to the drawing board and decided that instead of trying to wrestle with my site, I would give her a blog of her own.  I set it up with a cute little header and posted one poem to show her what it would look like.  Then it was all about how the color was wrong, and there weren't enough poems up there.  Instead of going to bed, she learned to add posts and I took a few minutes to craft a new header in the right color with the right font. 

She really is an awesome kid.  She was excited and passionate about her poems, and I felt a motherly duty to warn her that not all commenters are nice people.  I wanted her to be prepared for the first jerk to make a snide remark and tell her that her poems are no good.  She seemed to understand, and then went on a mini power-trip when I told her she could delete any comments she didn't like.

Wouldn't you know, as we were tweaking her site and setting up her "about" page, she got her first fan!  Her blog's been live for less than 24 hours, and not only is someone reading her work, but they're commenting on it!  And in a nice way! 

So, a big thanks to everydaylifestyles for not only taking the time to read her stuff, but for being a nice person in the comments.  (By the way, she read your haiku Raining Purple Rain – Haiku Poem and thought it was cool!)

If you want to check out more of her poems, her site address is taramcniff.wordpress.com.  

Enjoy!

Michelle




Sunday, March 27, 2011

Branding Yourself: An Evolutionary Process

Barbara Luce
1979 - 1998

Develop your brand.  It's everywhere.  I recently went to a leadership conference hosted by my employer (yes, like many of you, I do have a day job) where the concept of branding the leadership within our organization was a major focus.  This didn't shock me, and I felt like I was ahead of the game thanks to my experience as a writer.  I've been focusing on developing my own brand for months now, so it's only natural that the concept would apply to my profession.  Not that the two brands are otherwise connected, only that I get it.  Nor do I think that my organization lacks a brand.

Since before I worked for this hospital, I knew what it stood for - Quality.  As a member of the community, my organization has always stood for quality.  You could go to another hospital in the area, but if you wanted quality, you went to this one.  Now, we want to brand our leaders.  We want to define what our leaders stand for and what it means to be a leader where I work.  It's not only about what others expect of us, but also what we will come to expect of ourselves.

But branding yourself can be daunting.  It's your identity, and to do it, you have to know yourself.  If you don't, you may find yourself feeling anxious about not knowing "who you are."

This happened to me when I was preparing to get married for the second time.  The first time I got married, it was easy.  I changed my name to my first husband's name.  It's a social norm for many people, and doesn't necessarily take a lot of soul-searching.  But getting married for a second time, well, that's a different story.  I now had a list of possible names from which to choose.  Should I hyphenate?  And if so, which names should I use?  The nice lady at the government office pointed out that I could use any combination of my maiden name, first husband's name and my second husband's name.  I was completely overwhelmed, to say the least.  Stick with me here, because this really does matter.

I honestly hadn't thought about what my new name would be when we made this appointment, so I did what any person in a state of panic might have done - I called my mom.  My mom was never the type of person to tell you what you should do.  She's great to talk to, but in the end, you have to think for yourself.  So I ended the call feeling just as confused as when I dialed her number.  In the end, I decided to keep it simple.  I was going from a nice short four-letter last name to one that is nine letters wrong.  Hyphenating was not an option knowing that I sign my name hundreds of times a day as a nurse.  I made a deal with my husband to change my name to his, so long as he did the paperwork.  If you've ever changed your name, you know what a pain in the neck it is, and I had already done it twice (once to my married name, and then back to my maiden name after the divorce).  My husband happily agreed since that meant he was getting his way.  (His vote was for Kobayashi.)  The nice lady was very patient as I worked through my little identity crisis.

For years I've been Michelle Kobayashi and it was never a problem.  Then I decided to become an writer.  Unlike my professional brand, I don't stand for an organization.  I stand for myself.  Who I am and what I call myself are part of what distinguishes me from all other writers.  Early on, I read about searching for other authors with the same name to see what comes up.  Turns out, there is another Michelle Kobayashi who has published graphic novels.  There's also a dentist in Hawaii.  (Kobayashi is like Smith in Japan.)  So I decided to use my middle initial: Michelle A. Kobayashi.  It certainly makes me stand out in search results, but what I realized tonight is that it leaves out a major piece of who I am.

When I was 21, my sister, Barbara, died in a tragic motorcycle accident at the age of 19.  My family was well known in our community, and her wake was attended by an tremendous number of people.  The Luce family was in crisis, and hundreds of people turned out to pay their respects.  I wrote Near Mrs. to share her story and how I dealt with losing her.  I didn't want to focus on such a macabre subject, so I made it a subplot, all be it an important one for the main character, Hannah.  I always intended on publishing this story under both my maiden and married names - as Michelle Luce-Kobayashi.

This led to another identity crisis.  While I wanted to publish this book under my maiden name, I hadn't planned on publishing my middle-grade series under the same name.  My identity now is Michelle A. Kobayashi.  Or is it?

Being one of the Luce-girls (go ahead an giggle, we always joked about it ourselves) is part of who I am.  My father was the only rooster in the hen-house, surrounded by my mom, my sister Janet, Barbara and me.  I will always be one of the Luce-girls, and to think that this would not be a part of who I am as an author is absurd.  My family is a huge piece of my life, and to just be Michelle A. Kobayashi would be like dissecting out an essential part of who I am.

So tonight I made a major decision.  I've been gearing up to start my own website to continue the process of self-branding.  My original intention was to select the domain name "michelleakobayashi.com" as I did with this blog and my gmail account, but in light of this little epiphany, I went ahead and registered for michellelucekobayashi.com.  I'm comfortable with my decision.  It feels right when I think about it, and for me, that's a sure sign that I'm on the right track.  You may have noticed that I've changed the name of my blog (again).  I've learned to trust my gut, and it's telling me that this is right.

I didn't start out knowing exactly who I am and what I stand for.  That's something that evolved.  But I know now.  I'm Michelle Luce-Kobayashi, and I'm a writer of captivating fiction, be it women's or middle-grade or whatever else I choose.

What about you?  Have you always known your brand?  Or is it something that you figured out as you went along?

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Writing a Synopsis from 0-3 Hours Flat

This weekend I've taken a major step toward submission.  I've drafted a synopsis for my manuscript entitled Near Mrs. (Special thanks to my crit partner, Mary, for the fantastic title!)

I've been putting this off since February, well, actually since January if I'm being honest, because the whole idea of writing one had me scared out of my boots.

For me, ignorance = procrastination.

If I'm not familiar with something, and this goes for all areas of my life, I'm hesitant to start (read: willing to put off forever).  I find lots of other "important" priorities to focus on in lieu of actually sitting down and tackling the task.

So now that you know my emotional reactions to such things, let's talk about what happened when I finally set my mind to it.

I did a brief web search and found a great series of articles at www.kathycarmichael.com with a list of things to include in a general fiction synopsis.  I like formulas.  Just give me a list of steps, and I can follow along right through to the end.

I eagerly sat down with Mrs. Carmichael's guidelines and started plugging in the requisite information.  At first I had only the bare-bones essentials written, each section a paragraph under the headings.  I re-read the sections, deleted the headings, and started filling in the words that would make it come to life.  With that accomplished, I began to tinker.  Add a word here, delete a sentence there, move stuff around.  I even came up with a one-sentence hook to plant right above the opening paragraph.  This was something that was rattling around in my head since the Writer's Digest Conference back in January.

Time to complete first draft: 3 hours, research included.

Not bad for a first try, if I do say so myself.

It's true what they say about a synopsis requiring a different skill-set from what's needed to write a novel.    My academic writing experience served me well.  (Speaking of which, my article about the medical mission I took to China in 2009 is complete and ready for publication. Yay!)  I filled in all of the synopsis sections with "data" from my manuscript: major plot points, important stages of Hannah's character arc, inciting incidents and their resolution.

Then I happily sent the file to my fantastic peer group from the WD conference.  When I heard back from Jennifer, she faithfully pointed out all of the places where the synopsis fell flat, including my wonderful hook.  Time to revise.

The second draft surprised me.  Jennifer and I have a very similar writing style, so I was able to take some of her suggestions verbatim.  Others were more "concepts" that she was trying to get across.  But they pointed me in the right direction.  And that's when the surprise happened.

Instead of finding more flat phrases, my voice found its way into the words.  What started out as almost a summary of the story is now a miniature version of Near Mrs.  Its got personality and style.

But what totally caught me off guard was the benefit of looking at my story from the 100,000 foot level.  When I'm revising a sentence, I'm at ground zero.  When I'm re-working a paragraph, I'm at 10,000 feet.  But to see my story from start to finish in two pages of dense, single-spaced text was a big eye opener.

That was the magic in the exercise.

Toward the end of Near Mrs., Hannah makes a decision that sends a message contrary to her core values as a person.  So I changed the story to have her sister push her toward the decision.  It makes more sense with both of their personalities for this to happen.  So, now I have to revise the manuscript to match the synopsis, and my story will be better for it.  I never would have seen that one coming.

During my web search, many authors mentioned that they write the synopsis first.  There was no way I could do this.  I didn't know my characters well enough for me to write the details of a synopsis.  But I suspect that's the difference between an amateur and a professional.  With experience comes foresight and the knowledge of what information one needs to know before setting out to write.

I stumbled through a two-year process of getting the words written, and I wonder if having a better idea of where I was going would have helped me work through some rough spots.  I had chapter summaries, but the major difference between a summary and a synopsis is that the synopsis brings out the why of what happens.  It's more than just plot points.  A summary is a pencil sketch, but a synopsis has solid lines and color.

Satisfied for the moment, I saved the file and sent it back to Jennifer.  Time to let it marinate - let the flavors mingle and blend.  And tomorrow night I may get lucky and have another critique to review so I can really polish this gem.

For a link to Kathy Carmichael's synopsis articles, click here:
http://www.kathycarmichael.com/articles-and-seminars/articles-and-workshops/general-fiction-synopsis/general-fiction-synopsis-seminar/

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Are You Ready to Blog?

Yes.

Definitely, yes.

Next post.



*kidding*



On a more serious note, the idea of starting a blog and "creating a platform" terrifies many an author.  For me, it's not the issue of exploring social media.  I'm comfortable on the computer, and there are plenty of sites and blogs with helpful how-to information.

The thing that stood in my way was - What do I write?

Funny that a writer would be stumped by this, but alas, it's true.

It's one thing to come up with a marketing plan for an object.  Showcase all of the wonderful things it does.  Point out the features, the advantages it gives.  Who are the target buyers?  What do they want to hear?  Seems easy for, say, the latest greatest cell phone.

But tell an author to do the same thing for their writing career and suddenly their house is immaculate, the car is washed, the laundry is done and the refrigerator is stocked with tasty treats, all done while throwing covert icy glances at their computer.

Let's be fair.  Maybe you don't know who your target audience is yet.  My current work in progress (WIP) is a women's fiction novel.  My next project is a middle-grade (MG) science fiction four-novel series.  Sum it up by saying that my audience is moms and their kids.  How am I going to market that?  No idea yet.

When I first started my blog, one of the setup pages asked me for a title.  I was struggling with a title for my MS, and this was a sore spot for me.  So I went on a rant for a few paragraphs about the difficulty in choosing titles.  And I named my blog, "Oh great, another title to think up..."  As my blog evolved, so did my title and the content.

Would you agree that your writing improved over time?  If so, then why wouldn't your blog?

Set realistic expectations for yourself, especially in the beginning.  Writing is about trial and error and figuring it out as you go along.  It's creative and evolutionary.  Why should blogging be any different?  Share your posts with family and friends and get used to writing for them.  As you get comfortable, you may find out a thing or two about yourself and discover a purpose for your blog.

Consider treating your blog like a diary you're willing to show the world.  Let people inside your head, whether you think they'll be interested or not.  Put your blog up everywhere.  I share my posts on my personal facebook page, my twitter feed, Google Reader, Google Buzz, and by email with some people. When I figure out how to share it on my facebook author page, I'll do that, too.

I've been blogging since last October.  Only recently did I decide to take a direction with my blog - define my audience, have a theme for my posts, and have some kind of schedule.  (I usually shoot for once a week, depending on how excited or apathetic I'm feeling.)  And I leave up those original, scattered, flight-of-ideas posts to show that no one's perfect right from the start.

If you can relate to any of this and are still hesitating, this is what I suggest:

1.  Pick a site.

If you have your own website, crate a blog page.  If you don't, Blogger and WordPress are popular.  I've only used Blogger, so I can't make any specific recommendations.  Don't get hung up here.  Pick one and move on.

2.  Pick any topic and write a few paragraphs about it.

3.  Publish the post.

4.  Start your sharing small.  Maybe your personal facebook page, maybe by email to friends and family.

5.  When you get into a groove and feel more comfortable with what you're posting, share your blog everywhere you can.


Optional (but recommended):

  • Follow other blogs to see what your peers are doing.


Some great blog posts to check out:

Cats Eye Writer:  Helping bloggers educate, engage and entertain
5 Ways to Pull Your Blog Visitors Into Your Content
http://catseyewriter.com/2011/02/18/5-ways-to-pull-your-blog-visitors-into-your-content/

Cats Eye Writer:  Helping bloggers educate, engage and entertain
Why Your Blog Doesn't Need an Audience of Thousands
http://catseyewriter.com/2011/02/15/why-your-blog-doesnt-need-an-audience-of-thousands/

The Internet Writing Journal
The Best Author Blogs
http://www.internetwritingjournal.com/authorblogs/

Steph in the City: Life. Love. And everything else.
How to Get More Blog Readers
http://stephie5741.blogspot.com/2011/03/how-to-get-more-blog-readers.html


Cats Eye Writer:  Helping bloggers educate, engage and entertain
10 Reasons Your Blog Readers Don't Hang Around
http://catseyewriter.com/2011/03/11/10-reasons-your-blog-readers-dont-hang-around/

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

And, That's a Wrap! (Almost)

I did it.

It's done.

And I'm still around to talk about it.  Not only that, but the backstory that started this whole writing adventure is finally woven into the story, like harmony to the melody.

The backstory of Hannah's sister, Sally, is what prompted me to write Near Mrs.  A little aside: I lost my sister when she was 19 and I was 22.  Every time someone went through a similar experience, I would end up writing them a letter to go along with the sympathy card.  You don't live through something like that and not come out of it with a little experience and some pearls of wisdom after a lot of soul-searching.  And then it occurred to me.  If I could write a story about a character with the same experience, I could share what I learned with people I'd never even met and maybe give them some comfort.

And so it began.  The story had to get out, but I didn't want it to be preachy, so I intentionally kept it from being the main plot.  So I came up with a plot and a character that could carry the story and backstory.  When I was finally done with the first draft, I realized that I had left out most of the backstory, being so caught up in the plot itself.  But that's what drafts are for, right?  So I went back and edited.  And re-edited.  And added and added until the two stories fit together.

I spent the past two weeks weaving the pieces together, and then last night I made all of the edits I wanted to include from my critique-group friends.  Translated, that means I fixed all the typos and grammar errors they found, in addition to incorporating some of their brilliant ideas about the plot, characters and themes.  It's amazing how you can read the same sentence so many times and never realize you wrote "form" instead of "from."  There is nothing that can substitute for a fresh set of eyes that are not your own to point out all the flaws you're become blind to.

And then I found a blog that burst my happy little bubble.  The advice is sound.  Print out your entire MS and read it - out loud - before you even consider submitting it.  As much as I wanted to crack open a bottle of champagne and join Hannah and Olivia in a few mimosas, I'll have to hold off just a little bit longer.  The good news is, I know that I've added all of the scenes and moments that have been rattling around in my head recently, begging to be considered.

The bad news is, I know myself.  I obsess over editing my own work.  I read an email half a dozen times before I send it to make sure the words on the page are the ones I want.  I'm not an easy woman to satisfy (just ask my darling husband), and I know that once I start reading out loud, I'm going to mark up those pristine pages with bright red ink and send myself back to the computer for hours of revising.

As you can imagine, Hannah's back story with Sally is very sad.  I worry that I may have made the story too dark, and I'm reluctant to face that fact, knowing that what I put in was authentic.  While the main plot is very dramatized, the backstory is quite autobiographical.  I relived my own demons to get those words on the page, and Sally's part of the story wouldn't be complete without them.  But I learned from modeling Hannah, Olivia, Marc and Garrett after real people.  The raw material is nothing like what you're left with after you flesh out the details.

Marc may have been modeled after my ex-husband, but he's got characteristics of friends and ex-boyfriends thrown in, and he's totally dramatized to make his character fit the story.  What's left of my ex-husband, now that I'm done, are some idiosyncrasies and a few great choice words from a few of the fights we had.  Marc is now his own person, with his own personality.  Hannah started as me, then became part me, part my other sister, and part made up.  Olivia started as that other sister, then became her own savvy, snarky self.  Garrett is the closest to his origin.  I'm lucky.  I come home every night to my own sweet Garrett who has supported me through every phase of this crazy ride.

I love this motley crew, and I owe it to them to do this final review (with all associated edits), before shipping them off to a stranger to be analyzed, and possibly (even probably) rejected after nothing more than a peek at my query letter.  But I'm staying positive.  My plan is to dive into query-land convinced that I have the next best women's fiction piece to hit the market.  If I believe it, maybe an agent and editor will, too.



I know I've deviated from my blog's stated intention with this post, but after re-reading earlier blog entries, I decided that while my views on different topics may help my fellow writers,  they're nothing like being inside the head of a writer who's reached a milestone.

Do you have a preference for type?  Let me know which it is and why.

Next up:  Are You Ready to Blog?  I'm positive you are and I'll tell you why.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Cause All The Problems You Want - The Role of Conflict in Writing

I'm not really comfortable with conflict.  I doubt many of us are.  Well, there are those that seem to get off on it, but frankly, I try to avoid those kinds of people.  In general, I'd say that most people would rather avoid or resolve conflict quickly in order to avoid the consequences that will certainly follow.

And if you do this with your novel, you'll be dead in the water.

I did this.  In fact, I wrote 17 chapters of a nice, neat little life where my characters did what I would have, and what I would have wanted any of my friends or family to do.  They made intelligent, logical choices.  And it was terrible.

Have you ever wondered about a book and thought, "If the character had just told someone what he knew, if all of those terrible things could have been avoided?"  In Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix many of the problems were caused by Harry not speaking up.  If he had, maybe the terrible consequences of his actions (or inactions) would never have happened.  I would think to myself, "When I raise my kids, I'm going to make sure they talk to their teacher, myself, other adults they trust, so that they won't run into all of these problems and issues."

Good advice for a pre-teen.  Horrible advice for an author.  Because what has readers turning the pages is this nagging thought:  "How is [insert character] going to get themselves out of this one?"  Readers will lose sleep over this.  They'll take your book, either in hard copy or e-reader, and stuff it into their bag to take with them where ever they have to go.  They'll snatch opportunities to read on the bus, at red lights, while getting gas, on breaks, in the bathroom, or at 3am when they have to get up for work at six - where ever they can because they need to find out the answer to that incessantly nagging question.  (I'll admit, I've done every one of the things mentioned.  I had to know!)

And that's what you're looking to accomplish.  You need to convince any agent or editor you pitch that your book will reach out, grab readers and hook them.  The assumption, then, is that they'll tell their friends, who will also buy your book, react similarly, and so on and so forth.  The publisher makes money, your story hits the best-seller list and you, your agent (if you have one), and your publisher are ecstatic.

So, what about my nice, happy little 17 chapter manuscript?  Gone.  Poof!  Start over.  I do have to admit, I didn't figure this out all on my own.  The thing that woke me up was a great little book called The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes (And How to Avoid Them) by Jack M. Bickham.  I say little, because it's only 112 pages long, but there is tons of valuable information between the covers.  I recommend that if you're interested in this book you should buy it so you can underline, highlight, draw arrows and scribble things in the margins.

At risk of sounding like an advertisement, I'll tell you anyway that in two and a half pages, Mr. Bickham showed me what I was doing wrong.  I had broken every single one of his rules about conflict and it showed in my writing.  Once I got over the glare from the lightbulb over my head, I started over, with conflict in mind, and suddenly, the plot took off.  After the hour drive home from the accountant last year, I made my husband drive up and down the local highway for an extra 45 minutes while I finished the basic story-line.  (Hey, I was on a role!)

My chapter outlines were robust and my plot and character arcs were meaningful.  Later in the year I got about half way through the new manuscript, and after some prompting from my wonderfully critical mother, added more conflict.  (Her name is Claudia.)  This brought more layers and depth to the story.

I'm on my final revision, nearly ready to query agents to represent me and my manuscript, and I'm working on still another layer, thanks to the feedback from my critique group, and you guessed it, dear old mom.

So, if you find yourself chickening out and avoiding things that will make your characters uncomfortable, I say, "GROW A SPINE!"  Living vicariously through your characters, you can be irresponsible, rude, obnoxious, ignorant, deliberately malevolent, and whatever else you can think of to cause conflict.  It's your chance to let your characters say all of those socially inappropriate things you read and hear about, but would never dream of doing yourself.  It's actually quite liberating.  And in the end, you'll have the reader needing to know, "How will she get out of this one?"

Good luck, and keep writing!

And, ps, if you pick up Jack Bickham's book, let me know what you think.  It's a fantastic place for a newbie to start.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Writing Your Novel - Where to Start

I've decided to take a more definitive direction with my blog thanks to a twitter post I found couresy of @elizabethscraig (http://jameskillick.blogspot.com/2011/02/another-five-ways-to-atrocious-blog.html).  If you're a writer and you're not following her on Twitter, you're missing out on a lot of really great information. Until now, my postings have been mostly random topics usually related to what I'm currently working on - either a particular chapter I've struggled with or a step I've taken toward publication. To kick off this new beginning I thought I would start at my own beginning.

When I first decided to write a book, all I had was a story in my head. I'm a nurse. I've never taken a writing class, and I don't have friends who write. Needless to say, I had no idea where to begin. So, I did what any other ambitious newbie would do- I copied what already existed. That translates into- I formatted my Word doc to trade paperback size, made the font small enough to look like the books I had on my shelf, and counted the average number of words per page and pages per chapter. Then, I started to write.

Let me save you other newbies some trouble.

Take a fresh new Word doc and make the margins 1" on all sides. Double space, and set the paragraph to a 0.5" indent on the first line. Put your name on the left side of the header and on the right put the book title (call it "Title" to start if you haven't got one) followed by the page number. If you want to, in the footer, put the copyright symbol, the year, your name and the words "All rights reserved."  Mine reads (c) 2009 Michelle A. Luce-Kobayashi.  All rights reserved.  If you can't find the copyright symbol, look under Insert -> Symbol.

Now that you're done with that, put "Chapter 1" at the top and on the next line, start writing. It's that simple. What you start with will suck. You may decide it's great, but if this is your first attempt at writing, I can almost guarantee whatever comes out will not be part of your final manuscript (MS). Don't let that hold you back. It takes thousands of words to really find your groove and that's okay. It's not what you start with that matters. It's what you're left with after multiple drafts, edits and rewrites that counts.

A little secret- I wrote 17 chapters in a document that looked like a mini-paperback novel, and I threw it all out and started over. I did some research, learned a few things and here I am, over two years later with a MS being polished for submission. It won't happen overnight, but if you keep at it you'll someday get there.

So keep writing, and most of all, have fun! Your imagination will thank you for it.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Meaningful Critiques

Whoever said that a critique doesn't count if it's from your mom never met my mom.

I've been working mostly with my critique group, editing and revising what I thought was a complete manuscript. I've been polishing, searching out typos and grammar faux pas. And I thought I would be submitting this fantastic manuscript this weekend after finishing the synopsis. Then mom called.

Turns out, Marc's character is underdeveloped. Way underdeveloped. I knew I was having trouble writing Marc, but I completely underestimated his shortcomings (and my own, come to that). Apparently there's nothing redeeming about him and mom spent the book wondering why Hannah was with him in the first place - clearly not something I want the reader doing.

So, it's back to work to iron out this "minor" kink. And if all goes well, then I may actually get to say that it's done!