Playing and Making Writing Fun Again

Well, this will probably feel a bit strange, but first, I’m going to send you away from this blog post, because I just read a great post that inspired this one. So, go check out:

Dale Launer’s “Cure Writers Block”

In case you haven’t checked it out already, he talks about where he thinks creativity – and it’s opposite, writer’s block – come from, equating true creativity with “the child” and our negative inner editor with “the parent.” Seriously, check it out. Poke around on the page a bit, since a lot of the other essays are both very well written, and thought-provoking.

Which brings me to my post today: playing and making writing fun again. I recently started a new WIP that’s way out of my comfort zone, is something bizarre and weird, and which may never actually be seen by other eyes than my own. The reason: I needed to. I’ve been pushing myself very hard to continue with books in two different series, and the pressure of continuing to build on this, on over-analyzing what’s working – and what’s not – in all of these books has been completely freezing up my writing. Things aren’t going well, and I can’t quite decide how to fix it.

And this all brings me back to play. When I was studying French, the reason I really enjoyed it was being able to play with the language again, something I’d lost throughout other education and the degree in English Lit; playing with language really doesn’t seem to be encouraged. So how do I remind myself to play?

I think, honestly, it comes to trying to erase all the expectations.Maybe I’ll list them to try and break them down.

    • Writing in deep 3rd person, switching between the characters.  (But wait a minute, if this is just for me, who says that it sells better? Who says it even works better? Why not switch it up, start playing … sure, I’m all the way onto chapter 2 /3, but there’s nothing saying I can’t try something new for today.)

    • Traditional plotting methods, following hero’s journey model. (Again, who says? Does the climax have to be facing death? Where else could it take me?)

    • Following the lines of a well-known storyline. (Okay, this is something I’ve apparently done to  make my life harder, but if my premise is that the original story is all lies and a coverup, than it hardly constrains me, does it?)

    • There’s no market for an “orphan” manuscript like this. (Yeah, so? Is that the purpose of writing it? No. So just keep writing anyway.)

    • This may be unpublishable for a variety of reasons. (Does the purpose of all writing I do have to have the eventual goal of trying to get published? Writing is still writing, isn’t it? And being unpublished, isn’t this the opportunity and ideal time to indulge oneself in play?)

Pardon my very strange self-analysis, but I think I needed a bit of butt-kicking. Is my eventual goal publication? Certainly. So if I write something that may not be an ideal candidate, does that make it useless? Not at all. I’m reminded of this little card I picked up at a writer’s conference that tells the story of two fictional beginner pottery classes.

Class A was told to make one pot and make it the best pot they could, rewriting, reworking, and continuing on the same project for the month of the class. Class B was told to learn to make as many pots as they could during the duration of the class. So who made the best pot?

Class B, of course, because they kept experimenting and learning with each new pot they created, rather than sticking with only their first attempt. The end message? There’s no such thing as wasted writing or effort, and I’d be better off continuing to play and expand my skill by experimenting in each new WIP or exercise than sticking with attempting to revise my first flawed effort.

I don’t know about you, but off to play in the writer’s word-box right now. What about you? Do you have the courage to just play?

Have a great week, and thanks for reading.

When to Rewrite, and When to Leave it Alone: Or, Is It Done Yet?

The question of when something needs further drafts, versions, and either heavy rewrites or light editing is a question that, I think, a lot of writers consider. Likewise, I haven’t met a lot who like revisions, even though to a greater or lesser extent, they’re still essential for every work in progress (WIP). Thus arises the question: continue rewrites, or leave it alone and move onto something else? Is this a piece that “is as it is,” or should it be something else, something more?

Everyone has their own answer, and while there are easy books and hard ones, revision is necessary.  You complete draft two … then three … and before you know it, with some pieces, you’re onto draft eight or nine.

This is where I interject my confession: the inspiration for this piece comes from the fact that I’m considering starting revisions on a piece that is already in draft eight at least (I sometimes fudge the numbers or forget to save new versions for the first two drafts or so … which makes the “d8” designation even more depressing). Yes, it has been literally years since I’ve worked on this piece, so I shouldn’t still be sick of it, but still, are the revisions necessary? Should I even try, or should I just leave it be and start on the “something new” that I really want?

I have to ask myself, is this honestly the best this piece can be? Have I polished it to what it should be? The best that I can do right now?

That latter part – the best right now – that’s the rub, because sometimes, what was good enough months ago – or even years ago – sometimes it doesn’t seem good enough when you go back with more distance from the piece provided by time and other writing. Other pieces have been rewritten, improved, overall concepts have changed. Your writing itself – along with some of your goals and central ideas about theme – have also probably changed. Thus what was as good as it could be at the time is now … well, lacking.

So, do you go back?

Personally, it isn’t usually something I do – which is perhaps part of my hesitation to do so now. Most of the time, I say keep moving forward, don’t look back too much. With every new work, every new novel, you continue to grow, evolve, and it continues to let you play with your writing – which likewise helps to improve your writing, increase your experience. Plus, when you’re asked about what you have completed, you have more than one novel to submit, and you can prove you’re more than just a “one book author.” Besides which, some books are what they are, and perhaps they should be allowed to remain as such – even if they never become the blockbusters you one dreamed they could be.

I’m as yet unpublished, though I have completed seven full length (100k) novels. At least three will never see the light of day, and probably shouldn’t, unless someday I’m inspired to go back and make use of what I did like about them and dispose of the rest. There are three more that I’m actively marketing … and then there’s the “problem child” – the WIP I think I probably have to go back and rewrite.

Why does this one get the exception to my rule of keep moving forward, onto the next book? Why might yours be the same?

  • It’s part of a series
  • There’s something about the story I still like – and many have said it’s their favorite story.
  • It comes between two other books that have been substantially rewritten, and may consequentially now lack continuity and the ability to “participate” in the series.

The final reason, though, is the reason that right after this I have to start going back and taking a look. The question I ask myself is: it may have been good enough before, but is it good enough now? Is this something you can say is the best you can write, a great showcase of your work and your ability as a writer? Do I still care about it enough to try?

I haven’t looked back yet, I haven’t analyzed the book. Maybe it too may stay and be accepted as it is … or maybe not. I guess I won’t know until I take a look.

So what about you, do you ever “look back,” or constantly keep moving forwards? Please do comment below.

Thanks for reading, and have a great week.

 

 

“Things Like That Don’t Happen to Us”

I entered a fairly substantial contest last year, and the finalist results just came out in March. It could have meant big things for my career, for a bit of focus on my writing, and I could practically taste what winning would be like, let alone a final. And then, of course, I didn’t even final.

Perhaps what’s most telling is how I say “of course” I didn’t final. Because it could have been compared to a kind of lottery win, something magical and unexpected handed out by the universe (no, I’m not going to go into contests on the whole – they are what they are.) Anyway, the reason I guess I was disappointed but rather unsurprised was because, as my mom likes to point out, “things like that don’t happen to us.”

“Things like that don’t happen to us.”

I repeat it as I consider it. Of what it implies and applies to. Of how I have somehow internalized this, perhaps the same way my mom did from her her. It applies to anything like winning the lottery, sudden found money, apparently contest wins, and anything else which might have required some amount of good luck and unexpected good fortune. I think it comes out of a stolid, middle-class background (perhaps even lower middle class) where the philosophy is basically, anything that’s simply given to you implicitly has less value, and shouldn’t be trusted.Luck itself, perhaps, shouldn’t and can’t be trusted, and everything should be earned by your own labors. What you should do is work, work, work … then die.

Now, I’m all for hard work – and I do work hard – but the idea that “things like that don’t happen to us” started to kind of bother me. Because as I thought about it, things like getting published – or even writing a book and attempting to get published – those things don’t happen to our family either. Why? Because historically, that isn’t what we would even consider. Our family is not one of innovators, of risk takers. Indeed, my aunt and uncle have their own business, and my brother is thinking of starting one, but it’s generally frowned on. Most of us stick with the first or second job we ever had until the day we require (there’s that “work, work, work, die” philosophy in action).

I am, I think, a bit of an oddball. And I’m proud of it.

Because here’s the rub: how do we know what will happen to us? We don’t. You don’t win the lottery if you don’t win a ticket, but your family lineage likewise does not determine and limit what you can or can’t do with life. Because it’s that same lineage that has somehow produced me, and I am a writer. On the other side of the family, I have a cousin working to become a singer – and she’s talented too. Maybe our generation is the one that wants to know why things like “that” don’t happen to us. You sure? Because I think you’re wrong. And I’m going to prove it.

Anyway, there’s the end of my rant. Do your family philosophies and beliefs stop you from reaching for the stars, or push you all the higher?

And, if you’re curious, here’s my cousin, Melinda Bailey, singing “At Last” via YouTube. If only my talent was so obvious. 🙂 Thanks for reading, and have a great week.

Acceptance and Publication: A War of Attrition?

I’ve been out querying and feeling a bit down about my writing lately – one of the low points in the ride, perhaps – and my husband suggested that I had to consider the process towards publication like a war of attrition.

I got the feeling he meant I couldn’t simply give up, but I had to actually look up what he meant for a definition this morning. For those of you as “familiar” with this term as I was, here are some definitions:

war of attrition plural wars of attrition [countable]
a struggle in which you harm your opponent in a lot of small ways, so that they become gradually weaker (source: Longman online dictionary)
In game theory, the war of attrition is a model of aggression in which two contestants compete for a resource of value V by persisting while constantly accumulating costs over the time t that the contest lasts. The model was originally formulated by John Maynard Smith[1], a mixed evolutionary stable strategy (ESS) was determined by Bishop & Cannings[2]. Strategically, the game is an auction, in which the prize goes to the player with the highest bid, and each player pays the loser’s low bid (making it an all-pay sealed-bid second-price auction). (source: Wikipedia, along with a much longer and more detailed definition.)
The way he put it, basically you have to continue to query and submit until eventually, you win because the other “player” (in this case the agents and publishers) simply give in.
I’m not sure I agree – in fact, I’m pretty sure I don’t.
While I do believe it’s important that we continue to get our work out there, to never give up (especially on the days you really want to), I think instead of a war of any kind, it’s more like you’re continuing on a hunt for the right “match.” Hmm, instead of a war of attrition, maybe it’s a bit more like the children’s game, Snap – you know, the one where you have a whole bunch of cards facedown, and you turn up one and then go hunting for the matching card. You win the pair if you find the match. If you don’t, you turn them both back over and start again on your next turn.
I suppose my opposition to the progress towards publication being like a war of attrition, is that it assumes a winner and loser, one side eventually admitting defeat; a rejection isn’t a loss, but simply a lack of match.
So, what do you think?
Thanks for reading, and have a great day.

Keeping a Hook in the Water: How the Querying Process is Like Fishing

I spent a lot of time as a kid out fishing with my dad. I learned to cast my line and reel it back in (usually with a weed). Sometimes we trawled along slowly (definitely an effective way to catch weeds). I haven’t gone fishing in years since, but as I’ve been sending out my monthly quota of queries, I’ve been thinking about how the querying process is like fishing.

First, you start with the hook – no secret there, since we even call it a hook. This is the short encapsulation of the novel or project you’re querying about. But, I think other than the hook, we also need to remember that the rest of the query is itself a hook, and should be the right color and type to fit the fish (ie: tailored to the agent / publisher we’re querying). Usually they’re more than happy to help you with this, and you can figure it out by checking out their page, blogs, tweets, other postings – some often very specific about what they want in their query. After all, they’re going to be happier if the “hook” is right for them.

Then, you have to have the bait. To me, I feel that instead of a slimy worm, we tend to include a synopsis and sample chapters. Just as the tailored hook is important, the right bait is necessary to catch what you’re after: some want only the query, some want five pages, others five chapters, etc. Some don’t want romance, or sci fi, or fantasy, or whatever.  Use the submissions guidelines to help ensure that your “bait” is exactly what they’re hungry for.

Now, you cast that baited hook out into the waves and tidewaters of the postal service, or more commonly now, the internet.

And then you have the part of fishing (and querying) that I’ve always found the hardest: the waiting. Your little query bobs along out there with the thousands of others. Sometimes it will get caught on the boat (like when it gets trapped in a spam filter or the post office loses it). Sometimes you’ll catch weeds or the wrong kind of fish (rejections of course, along with agents and publishers who may not have the best intentions).

If you’re like me, you’ll get impatient, you’ll want to reel it in faster, but here’s where the fishing analogy doesn’t quite carry through: we have no control over when or if we’ll receive a reply. All we can hope for is to land that perfect, prize-winning fish: the agent or publisher that fits us the best, and we them.

Because of course, agents and publishers aren’t really fish (and I hope you didn’t expect me to carry through with the catching and eating of said fish.) What we’re really hoping to find –  particularly when searching for an agent – is a business partner. It’s just that in this industry, it doesn’t quite work the same as others.

And if you get down, because your hooks all come up empty and no one is biting or too many weeds, maybe you can comfort yourself with the idea that there’s some big fish lurking down there who really wants your hook and bait – you just have to cast it a bit closer. Remember too, that as my dad always reminded me when I started to whine and get bored, that you can’t catch any fish with your hook out of the water. So, keep sending out those queries, keep baiting your hook perfectly, and when you catch weeds or rejections, clean the hook off, re-bait it, and cast it out again. Who knows what – or who – is waiting out there for you.

Thanks for reading, and have a great week.