Ready, Set … Goal!

Having made the statement that I was going to revisit an old manuscript and revise it because I know now more than I did then, I had several people respond that they couldn’t wait to read the story.

Not only that, but in my writing group I set my next month’s goal to finish at least four chapters. We each put in 25 cents and write down our goal for the next meeting. These slips of paper are put in a pot and drawn. If your name is drawn and you have accomplished your goal, you win. If not, the pot rolls over to next time.

It isn’t about the money. The last person who won walked off with a whopping $5.00. It’s about setting that goal and reaching it. No one wants to admit that, for whatever reason, they didn’t do what they vowed to do. It’s not only  embarrassing, but shows a lack of commitment.

So I set both a short-range and a long-range goal to revise and finish this story. I’m excited. For one thing, in the past 10 years or more since I started it, I’ve learned more about pacing and structure. I’ve changed from pure pantser to more of a plotter, because I’ve discovered that if you go down a  road without checking a map first, you could very well find yourself at a dead end, or almost as bad, someplace you never intended to go and no way to get back on course.

I would most likely finish the story without having made my intention public. But now I feel a responsibility not only to myself but to my few but loyal fans.

Setting a goal is good and we all do it. Sometimes the only person aware of the goal is yourself, and if you fail you are the only one who knows it.

However, if you set a goal and talk about it to friends and write about it, you  have a lot more riding on its completion. And if that doesn’t make you sit down and start writing, I don’t know what will.

 

 

 

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Drastic surgery

Once upon a time, I wrote a long, rambling book that I was so in love with that I couldn’t see its flaws.

Its many, fatal flaws.

I revised it several times, but I still couldn’t get anyone interested. At 180,000 words, I now know why. I love, big books. I’ve actually read “War and Peace.” Ken Follett is one of my favorite authors and I just finished “The Punishment She Deserves” by Elizabeth George which  is 690 pages long.

But Follett and George have something I did not: a established following. By that I mean readers who will follow them anywhere, even if it means reading a book that could double as a doorstop.

More to the point, most readers prefer something shorter and editors strive to give them what they want

Back to my book. It concerned two girls, Damaris and Morven, whose lives intertwine although they take different paths. It was a story of friendship and loyalty and a lot of other lovely things. I had to put aside my fondness for the story and do as doctors do when presented with conjoined twins and decide how best to separate them.

I carefully cut and pasted and managed to get Damaris’ story free of all entanglements. The result was “Riverbend,” which came out in May 2017.

Now I’m working on Morven’s story. Like Damaris, she’s a young girl alone in the world. Unlike Damaris, she doesn’t marry the first man to offer and suffer the consequences. Instead, she manages to build a family for herself and only then find true love and her HEA.

It’s a little trickier. I’m cutting entire chapters and eliminating any distracting side plots that don’t move the story along.

 I wrote this book almost 20 years ago, so as I read I am both amused and appalled by my naivety.

But I’ve learned along the way. I can (hopefully) correct my earlier mistakes. And, by letting it “sit” for awhile, I can be a little ruthless and throw away those passages I loved then but question now.

Writing isn’t always just sitting down and putting words on a page, although that seems to work for some authors. For me, it’s revision and cutting and revision and rewriting, and then revising again. Maybe that’s why I don’t publish a book every three months or even every year.

But like the tortoise, I somehow manage to get to the finish line.

 

 

Book fairs — are they worth it?

First, thank you to everyone who took the time to vote for “Riverbend” in the InD’Tale contest. Today is the last day to vote, just sayin’.

But it is time to move on. As I’ve said before, writing isn’t just about putting words on paper–or in Word file nowadays, although I do know some authors who still write with a pen and legal pad. If I did that, I would never be able to decipher my handwriting!

Me at a book fair. I believe the book I was selling then was “The Lunch Club.”

So coming up is a two-day book fair at a local library. Now here is where a writer has to make tough decisions. I’ve attended some book fairs and did very well. I’ve attended others and sold zero to one book. The trouble is, you never can tell. Do people come to browse and enjoy the free coffee or do they come with intent to buy? And how do you entice them to buy? I’ve offered free candy, book marks, half-price deals, pens, and other freebies. In my experience, people with gladly accept anything free and then walk away without making a purchase. Or they will buy more than one book.

So now I have to make an order from Amazon so I will have books to sell. How many? As Hamlet famously said, “That is the question.”

I guess I just have to go by instinct. No one wants to live with a garage filled with unsold books, but on the other hand, you don’t want to tell a prospective customer that you are out of the book she wants to buy.

Putting money matters aside, book fairs are a great way to meet people. Even if they don’t buy that day, if you’ve made a good impression — a connection — they may well buy your book while they next go  online to choose something to read. And, you get to meet fellow authors and exchange tips and advice.  And make connections.

So in my mind, that is almost as important as selling books. If I break even in expenses, I’m happy.

 

 

Finding your people

Many years ago, when I was flush with the success of being a finalist in a state-wide writing contest, I signed up for a week-long writers retreat at Duke University.

I’d never done anything like this before. I took vacation days from work, kissed my husband goodbye, and set off with high hopes and not a little trepidation. I had no idea what to expect and knew no one there.

We were settled in one of the old brick dorms next to the Duke Chapel. That alone would have made me happy, even if I’d stayed in my third-floor room for the duration. But I’d paid to learn, so I conquered my fears and set out for the evening mixer. 

The dorm I stayed in is on the left.

And after that, everything went up hill. I met, ate, sat in class with, and talked to writers from all over the country, beginners and published. I met authors such as the late Reynolds Price and Josephine Humphreys. Ms. Humphreys sat down at  the lunch table I shared with several other neophytes and showed us the souvenir shirts she’d purchased for her two boys.  I remember thinking, she’s a real person! a mom! and famous!

I called my husband and told him I’d found my people. I’m not sure he understood, but I knew I had found kindred spirits. I felt at home.

If you haven’t found your people, I suggest you find the nearest writing group, or failing that, do as I did and start one. The club I founded with a few other like-minded people has been going for almost 30 years now. We’ve done a lot of things — organized writers conferences, held contests, published anthologies, even produced an outdoor drama for 10 years — but mostly we’ve supported each other in our journeys.

I was reminded of that at our last meeting when we took the subject for discussion, how to handle writer’s block, and wandered off topic to describing our work places and sharing what inspired us. Everyone had something to add and I hope everyone brought something helpful away with them. I know I did. Some of us went to dinner after and continued the discussion.

That’s why I belong to a writer’s club and why I urge you to join one, too. You will find that it’s more than a club. You’ll find your tribe, your family, your people.

 

 

Good advice/bad advice

 

Image result for tooting own horn gif

 

Our local writers’ club is again sponsoring an event. We held a writers conference for several years, but lately we are focusing on more intimate workshops. BUT we are still sponsoring a story-telling event. This will be our sixth year for that.

So I find myself once again doing the publicity: designing fliers and posters, writing articles for the newspapers, posting on websites and social media, sending out email messages …

I don’t mind. It’s what I do. The question is: Why don’t I do the same for my books?

Good question.

I know once a book is published, the author cannot write “The End” and relax, waiting for royalties to roll in. No one will buy a book if they don’t know about it.

I guess it comes from not wanting to be “pushy.” You know, that writer that posts “Buy my book” a zillion times a day on every outlet known to the Internet. Mom always cautioned me not to be a showoff or smart a$$. Well, she didn’t say a$$ but she meant it. We were told to be modest and unassuming. In other words, hide your light under a basket. Don’t bring attention to yourself.

Good advice then when I was a mouthy, attention-seeking preteen. Bad advice now when I really want to gather new readers.

I know I need to toot my own horn and at the same time, not be so annoying people hit “block” on my posts. It’s a fine line and I haven’t found a way to walk it yet.

I really need to sit down and plan a campaign just like I do for our writers club events. It isn’t that difficult.

I just need to  convince myself it’s okay.

 

If not now, when?

Do you read about authors who write for eight to twelve hours straight or until they produce  certain number of pages or word count, and decide that if that is what it takes, you will never accomplish your goal of writing a book because you can’t carve out that block of time in your day?

Just remember that these people are the ones who made it to the goal of being a full-time writer. It is their profession, so spending eight hours or more working on their next book is not so unreasonable.

Jack is wondering why you haven’t worked on your manuscript lately.

But for each member of this elite group, there are hundreds more who haven’t yet attained that elusive goal. They don’t have the luxury of an eight-hour block of time with no interruptions. They are raising children, holding down full-time jobs, enjoying hobbies such as painting landscapes, sky diving, or Tai Chi. They are active in their church, synagogue, or mosque. They take time to participate in community events. Yet they still manage to publish their books.

I’m not saying full-time authors don’t also do all of these things ( except the full-time job, because writing is their full-time job) that give them inspiration and satisfaction. After hours of doing research that may yield one paragraph in their story, they also need to take a break and … bake cookies. Time out refreshes the brain, body, and soul.

My point is, most of these full-time writers started out like the hundreds of aspiring writers who look up to them and envy their position. They, too, just managed to fit writing into all their daily tasks and obligations. Maybe it was after the kids were asleep. They bypassed Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal and went directly to their writing spot, be it a well-equipped office or a corner of the kitchen. Maybe they got up an hour early in the morning, before they went to work. They didn’t whine that they couldn’t find the time. They found the time. And it paid off.

And, perhaps surprisingly, many big-name writers also hold down jobs in universities, or hospitals, or other professions along with their writing career. Have you ever noticed how many doctors have written books? Where on Earth do they find the time?

And if they can, why can’t you?

So don’t tell me  you haven’t time to write that masterpiece you’ve been daydreaming about for years.  I know I’ve written on this theme before, but it’s worth saying again. To borrow a phrase, Just Do It!

And if you still can’t get started, join a writing group near you or join one on line. Being around other writers can give you the push you need to begin.

After all, if the assignment is to bring in three pages of your manuscript, what better incentive is there to write them? No one wants to be the only kid in class who didn’t do their homework. Especially if that kid is you.

Those three pages can lead to 300 pages, and then to publication if you are determined enough to follow through with the query letters, revisions, and all the rest.

Not everyone who writes a book will be discovered and land on the NY Times best-seller list. You may never achieve that enviable position of being a full-time writer because publishers are demanding more books from you. But you will have the satisfaction of knowing you achieved your dream of being an author.

 

 

The good, the bad, and the … disappointing

Have you ever had a let-down that left you sobbing in your pillow?

I’m sure you have, way back in your angst-driven teenage years. But we get older and learn to ride these disappointments into the sunset with a brave grin on our faces, hiding the fact that we don’t know where we are going from here.Image result for woman crying cartoon

I have spent the last couple of months back and forth with an editor with a pretty well-known publishing house. Not one of the big 5, but respectable. She loved the story but hesitated on the ending. If I would re-write it, she’d take another look.

So I sweated out an alternate ending and got–a rejection. It was a very nice rejection and she gave me some invaluable advice on further revisions. But I guess it came down to that she lost faith in my ability to give her what she was looking for.

I can totally see it. I plan to take her advice and revise yet again, and submit elsewhere. And if you are a beginning writer and just now sending queries, you should know that getting a personal, two-paragraph reply is relatively unheard of. Any rejection that isn’t a form letter with one impersonal sentence, is gold.  The sender isn’t just saying no–she is telling you that you have a good story, it just needs work.

On to the other book in progress. I submitted the first 500 words to a workshop in mid-January. The idea was that other participants critiqued my entry and I critiqued several others. It was very worthwhile in that I got some great suggestions as to how to make my beginning stronger. The first 500 words are critical to engage the reader, as writers have been told from the get-go.

So now I have two books I need to work on before I submit (again!)

The moral of the story is that disappointing news can become the platform from which you leap to greater things. And when people gently point out what you’ve done wrong and suggest how to make it work, you don’t sob into your pillow.

You get busy and use the advice you’ve been given because you know, deep down, that you are not perfect. And the only way to get there is to be humble and accept this help, which was freely given, as opposed to arguing that your book is publishable as is and those editors and other writers in the workshop don’t know anything.

I have to admit that the person who doesn’t know everything is me. But I’m learning.

 

 

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