Decision Paralysis: Or, You’re Allowed to Screw-up

I’ve been getting ready for the big RWA conference in Anaheim in July, and recently had to make my picks for the “pitch sessions”: one agent appointment, one editor appointment. I’ve done pitches before with a fair degree of success, and in fact, I like doing them. But this year, just the idea of choosing who I should try and make an appointment with made me queasy. Which agent do I pitch to? Which editor? Do I forgo the possibility of pitching to an editor altogether and just stay with the agent? What if I pick the wrong one? What if I’ve made the wrong decision?

What if I screw up everything?

Because there’s the rub: it’s a relatively small decision in the grand scheme of things (ie: I’m only pitching to this agent / editor, I’m not signing a contract instantly on the spot … although that would be both terrifying and wonderful). But, in deciding who I choose to pitch, which agents I query, what I query them with, these are decisions that are steps in my writing career. And, being a perfectionist, I desperately want to make the right ones.What if I overlook the agent who is really the right match for me, and it’s another year or more before we make contact? What if the editor I choose hates my style of writing? What if, what if, what if …

All of which, my clever husband reminds me, is impossible to know. And, you’ll hear from most authors – even the most successful – that they have not always made the best decisions, that they have screwed up … but they’re also still here to talk about it.

Maybe that’s something we can all learn from. Sure, we try to make the best decision we can based on the information we have at the time … even if it turns out to have been a mistake.  Only hindsight and time will tell (barring psychic powers – maybe that’s why I like paranormals.)

The important part of whatever decision we make, whatever action we take, is that we TOOK it.

I could, at this point, probably trot out some quotes about trust in faith / destiny, the importance of moving forward, how we only grow if we act fearlessly, that sort of thing. But I won’t – ’cause you’ve probably heard them, too. And I would love to claim that I’m fearless, but I’m not. I just try and act despite my fear. I’ve made mistakes in the past, and being human, I’m probably pretty likely to make them in the future; hopefully I won’t continue to make the same mistakes. Maybe that’s the best we can hope for.

So, what do you think? Is there a better way? Is action in the face of fear just stupid, or necessary?

Thanks for reading, have a great week, and happy writing.

No Pressure – Just Play Time: Ten Tips to Add Play to Writing

I’ve written a few posts that have to do with the importance of play, but it would seem I wasn’t taking the advice myself. I found myself the past few months almost frozen with self-imposed rules, expectations, and pressure to succeed. So, I decided that what I really needed to do was remember why writing is fun, and why I want to write (other than to eventually make money at it, too).

As a writer – and the same goes for most other kinds of artists – we often need to be internally motivated and driven, our own bosses. But, hanging out with a demanding boss all the time can suck all the fun out of everything. Thus, here are my ten tips to add play back to your writing.

  1. Compose a “why I can’t stop writing list” [See previous blog on this]. Sure, this might be one of those only-if-things-are-really-bad moments, but it could also remind you that there are other reasons you started writing, or whatever it is that currently has you stymied. What did you really love about it? What brought you back again and again? How can you recapture those feelings?
  2. Write a short story. This isn’t the “hard” short story that you studied back in school, but a quick work of fiction. Whether this is extremely short (flash fiction, ~500 words or less) or something bigger, that’s up to you – but don’t worry too much about that. These are not necessarily stories to share with the world, but just playing with words, ideas, techniques. Start off with prompts, or start with the following point, what “what-if” list.
  3. Reconsider your method. If everything is working for you, and you’re happily producing lots of work, than leave things alone. However, if you feel change maybe warranted, than make some. Consider your learning style, what works for you, what doesn’t. Do you meticulously plot everything? What if you plotted a bit less? Do you never plot? What if you started with at least a brief plot map? Different methods work for different people, from listening to music / needing silence, pictorial story boards, index-card plot points (a favorite of mine), writing in noisy places, etc. Maybe something would work better for you, too.
  4. Take a shower. Or do whatever you know gets thoughts percolating. For me, taking a shower frees my brain for some reason, and if I let it, my imagination can take flight. Maybe a shower isn’t for you, but what about a walk? Meditation? Find what works.
  5. Start a “what-if” list. This can be a new, blank document, or as I did, a page in the “idea” book, scribbling down ideas. Don’t worry about the feasibility, your level of interest, how it fits your genre, marketing potential – no worries at all. This is brainstormed list of play; you never have to look at it again if you don’t want to, or it could foster some great brain-sparks.
  6. Build on the “what-if” list and increase the possibilities. If you play with one idea, what about it’s opposite? What if everything we thought was true, wasn’t? Okay, than the opposite might be: what if everything we thought was true, was? Again, no pressure, no worries – just write down whatever comes to mind.
  7. Write some hook-line-and-sinker first lines. Just open a blank document (or again, pen and paper if you prefer) and just start writing. These can be first lines to some of the ideas on the “what-if” list, or they can be something else. I’ve found that some of these first lines also have the potential to be the hook for the book. Plus, it’s actually a lot of fun. If you start writing more than a first line and really get going, follow through! Don’t stop now! 🙂
  8. Remove the formatting and the preconceived notions that go with it. Personally, I’m a linear writer, and I start with the same formatting I always use, and “Chapter 1” blinking in the middle, and write in chapters through the book. What helped for me was to get rid of all the formatting – including chapters, double-spacing, etc – and just write. It helps to eliminate notions of where I am in the novel, how long it has to be, etc. Try it. Maybe it will work for you too.
  9. Write something for fun. Consider the possibility that not everything you write has to have the potential to be the “break-out novel” you’ve been working towards. What about some idea that you’re just toying with that may have nothing to do with where you want to go in your career? Or an idea your spouse had that sounded like fun? Try it. Don’t worry about how long it has to be, where it’s going to be, anything – just write, enjoy the process, see what you learn from it. Maybe it will someday become something significant, maybe not. But for now, none of that matters.
  10. Stop worrying, start playing. Easier said than done? Of course it is. That’s why it gets listed separately. But the important part is that you make a conscious effort to play; when it’s been awhile, it may be hard at first. But, the more you allow yourself the freedom of play, the easier it gets.

So, have you started playing yet? Did any of these ideas have potential? Or, did you try any of these ideas and they worked for you? Please, let me know – and if you have other suggestions.

Thanks for reading, and have a great week. Happy writing!

Break the Rules, Have Some Fun … and maybe get some terrific writing done, too

If you’ve been reading, you may know that I’ve been struggling with the last WIP, and then with the new one I started, and it ended up being largely because I was hemming myself in too much with too many self-imposed rules and requirements. This is probably because I’m a bit of a control-freak, and quite frankly, I like rules: I think that for the most part, they help us organize our lives, our society, and stop things – and people – from running amok.

That said, while I have worked as a freelance editor, I like to break rules grammatically. Sentence fragment, anyone? So long as I know I’m breaking the rule – and doing it intentionally and stylistically – I figure it’s okay. And it’s only recently that I’ve decided that the same can be said for writing altogether. While we may like to keep rules in the back of our minds, it doesn’t mean we always have to follow them.

Case in point: my latest WIP. I’d been trying to force myself to write it third-person, and switch between two POVs. But, all I was ending up with was something stiffer and less friendly than I wanted it – and it certainly wasn’t going to have any of the humor and sarcasm I wanted. So, after my blog post about my rules and expectations, I went back to writing and did it exactly as I wanted … in first person, single narrator, very sarcastic, and certainly a “character” of her own. Yes, this does limit my ability to convey my hero’s perspective on things, which will make me have to work harder showing it through his actions, body language, dialogue, etc, but you know what it did accomplish?

It made writing FUN again.

By just doing exactly what my gut wanted to do from the start, from diving in a bit wildly and just going for it – knowing full well I may have to rewrite it all at some point in the future in a different perspective, heavy editing, etc, etc – I started writing anyway. And it was fabulous. I heard the rules in my head, but I ignored them, speeding ahead with almost 7000 words in one day, which is something I haven’t been able to accomplish in a long time, especially considering my reduced working hours.

Thus, my beloved rules were holding me back instead of helping me. Which made me realize that when it comes to rules – particularly the self-imposed kind – it’s worth remembering and reviewing them every so often, and deciding if they’re still worth keeping, or if maybe they should be tossed out entirely. For writing, I want to continue to improve and grow, and I can’t so that if I stagnate and strangle myself. So, now I’ve found a new way to play.

Thus: remember to break some rules. No, in case there are any kind of legal ramifications, I am not suggesting you do anything illegal, but just break a few rules – the unwritten kind, especially the self-imposed kind that you’ve somehow internalized, but which might be a bit obsolete, or might not be what you need anymore. How do you do it?

  • consider the rule, and its purpose – especially things like grammar. Can you say what you want with the rule? How would breaking it benefit you? If you understand the rule – like using complete sentences rather than fragments – consider using the fragments when it can be helpful to assist with style, characterization, etc.
  • character perspective / POV (point of view) – you should at least know what the conventions are for your chosen genre / specialty, which means you know what to expect when it comes to rewriting. I know my genre generally prefers third person deep POV, which is what I generally write in. BUT, is a story coming to you in first person? Have you ever tried it? What if you’re that writer who is fabulous in first person and you just don’t know it because you’ve never tried? Consider why the convention / rule exists, what you risk by defying it, and what you could possibly gain.
  • experimentation = growth. For me, experimentation is a kind of play, and I like to try something different in every new book, just to keep things interesting and me on my toes. Sometimes it’s what I research, some new branch of science or specific detail which I didn’t know much about, but which becomes central to the WIP. Each time we try to stretch ourselves, it seems to me we can only continue to grow – like a tree up towards the sun.

What about you? How do you feel about rules, and do they help you or hold you back? Have you tried breaking any lately? Come on, break some rules, I dare you – it sure can be a lot of fun. 🙂

Touching the World and Our Inter-connectivity

I’ll start off by saying I hate those emails and other chain letters where you’re supposed to forward to ten or twenty of your closest friends to avoid bad luck, be loved by the deities, etc, etc. BUT, that said, while glancing through online news, I came across the story of Baby Avery and the Bucket List Blog her parents created for her earlier this week, and an update today: she unexpectedly passed away April 30, 2012.

The original blog: “Avery’s Bucket List”: http://averycan.blogspot.ca/2012_05_01_archive.html

The article I came upon today: Yahoo article about Avery Canahuati

I’m not sure what exactly it is that so touched me about this story – perhaps that I have a young daughter myself and couldn’t imagine what it would be like to go through what this family has. And I know I’m not the only one – since visiting the page, the number of views is just huge, so people around the world are likewise finding the same thing. Perhaps its a case of something being shared across humanity, of the generally innate urge to protect our children, and the preciousness of them. Perhaps too its a particularly modern phenomenon where, with the way we’re so interconnected with each other via technology, what would once have been a family’s private pain and grief has spread so much further. I once heard the quote that you don’t know what fear really is until you become a parent, and now that I am, boy is that ever true. Every one of us has horrific fears lurking in the darkest parts of us that we can hardly even put voice to – like something happening to our loved ones – and we grieve for those who suffer the reality of these fears.

Yes, this blog is supposed to be focused on writing, the journey to publication, and the paranormal, but today I wanted to make an exception. Because the parents of Avery – and in the voice of their child – want to spread the word about SMA (Spinal Muscular Atrophy). I know I’m not doing much, but it just seems important, as though I can somehow help that family. So, do check out the blog, and find out more about what SMA is (vist: http://www.fightsma.org/ for more info).

Our world is a beautiful place, but it can also be so filled with tragedy. But, perhaps if we can somehow try to reach out and help others (even strangers) through the worst of times – like candles glimmering through the dark – who knows, maybe the world could become a better place.

Thanks for reading, and have a great week.