NaNoWriMo is over. Now what? Opportunity.

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Flickr by Vicki Clark

Breathe

Celebrate

And perhaps set aside the shiny new words for a few days… or for a lot of days.

But make note of opportunities…

Several pitchfests are on the horizon for authors with completed manuscripts.

PitchMad   PitchMAS   Pit2Pub   SonofaPitch!

These online events vary in requirements, but share similar goals… one being to help authors make connections with agents, publishers, and other authors. Really, it’s a win : win.

But showing up for these contests without a polished pitch, first chapter (or completed ms) is akin to showing up to a swim party without a suit. (This post does not address optional clothing parties.)

Before joining the festivities, bounce ideas off your CP’s. (Wait, what are CP’s? Need a resource for finding Critique Partners? The Write Life )

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Flickr by Hans Splinter

Hone your pitch – Does your 140 character spiel grab attention? Do you reveal your genre and audience? Want help with this? Try these resources: Carly Watters,  Ava Jae, and Gina Denny.

And don’t forget to edit your work. You know – slay the passive verbs, remove vague references to the word it, offer more showing than telling, and use adverbs sparingly  🙂

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Flickr by Nick McPhee

Don’t be pressured to dive in if your work is not ready, but stay informed. Visit the posts / feeds to see what worked for other authors, build your network, and perfect your approach.

Opportunity dances with those who are ready on the dance floor. – H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

(Check out Carissa Taylor’s informative post for more events.)

The summer my eyebrows grew back

One of the most important lessons I learned abut editing this year was the value of stepping back from a project to let it rest. Time allows the words to settle and even become a little foreign so when you return to work again, you’re able to read with fresh eyes and more clarity.  Changes are hard to notice when you’re engrossed in a project and surrounded by it constantly.

When I was in seventh grade, I spied on my older sister in the bathroom. She was in high school and part of “all things cool” at that point. Through the tiny crack in the bathroom door, I watched her tweeze her eyebrows. (I was floored. Had she seen this on TV? Was this the next big thing? It seemed too sophisticated and so Cosmopolitan. I decided I had to give this a try because I wanted to be a part of “all things cool” too.)

Without asking questions about guidelines for the procedure, I dove right in, tweezing my brows. After about the third pluck I wondered why on earth she was doing this because it hurt, but I was a middle school kid yearning to do what my older sister did. I pushed through the pain. (Let me point out that I had thick eyebrows, not quite Brooke Shields circa 1985, but decent.)

Without knowing the rules for eyebrow tweezing, I took what I thought was a logical approach: I started at the front and moved toward the back. The process didn’t take that long because I only worked on a small section. But I returned the next day, to do a little more. Because everyone knows that more is better.

Slowly, the distance between my eyes seemed to grow as my eyebrows shrank farther away from the center. I actually started using the razor to shave the area because it took too long to tweeze. (Yeah, hindsight tells me that should have been a warning sign.) Now while all of this was going on, my mother never knew what I’d been up to. But one day she held me down and looked at my face with the strangest of expressions. “What are you doing to your face?” she asked.

I wasn’t sure how to answer. When I confessed that I’d been using my big sister’s tweezers, she made me stop. Luckily, the answer to why my face was starting to resemble a pumpkin occurred near summer break. Over the next two months, I had to let the shaved area start to grow back. A month of Halloweens would have been a better time for a transition like this to occur. I had to use an eyeliner pencil to fill in the spots during the first few weeks.

So, why am I telling you this story? It reminded me of my editing.  Had I not looked in the mirror for a few days or a week, I would have been surprised by the changes taking place on my face. But seeing it everyday, numbed me to the transformation.

Let your work breathe, you’ll be glad you did.

And I should add that this was the first year my middle school decided to take spring pictures as a fund-raiser. For a long time, that photo was my sister’s all time favorite.

 

 

Fighting My Demons

Everyone has their own set of demons.
I thought I knew what mine were.
Photo Credit: Flickr by Éole
Photo Credit: Flickr by Éole
But when I started editing,
I discovered my worst demon:
Self-doubt.

I suppose self-doubt has been lurking about in my subconscious for years, probably my entire life, but until recently, I had not known the range of its power. For several days while I edited my work, self-doubt crawled around my head and set up road blocks, forcing me to vet and validate every thought. The demon then slipped down my throat like a large rock and lodged itself there, reminding me every time I drank or ate that I wasn’t good enough. Doubt’s minions then climbed into my lungs, tainting each breath to feel like arctic air coated in failure.

Self-doubt consumed me.

And I let it.

Editing my work became a bigger chore because I had to compete with the voice of self-doubt in my head that second-guessed and criticized every change I made. It became so loud, it was all I could hear.

So I worked harder.

And each page gave me a level of pride that slowly reduced the grip of self-doubt. I focused on the positive, I adjusted my attitude, and I challenged myself to be stronger than the self-doubt.

Now that my edits are complete, my bout with self-doubt has passed. I don’t know how to banish it forever, but I know how to press on.

And pressing on is the part of the journey that makes you stronger.

Is self-doubt one of your demons?

Overdue apologies

As I work through my second round of edits, it has come to my attention that I owe a few apologies.

http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Photo Credit: Flickr by butupa

Dear Oxford Comma,

I understand you are to be used as a serial comma around coordinating conjunctions. You help us list items, emotions, and more. You offer great clarity, yet I abuse you. While editing, I deliberately lost count of the times I omitted you. I apologize. I will try to do better.

http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Photo Credit: Flickr by butupa

Dear Coordinating Conjunction But,

You’re a showstopper. But I have robbed you of the dramatic entrance to which you’re entitled by forgetting the comma that precedes you. I create sentences designed to give you the glory of a pause, but then kill  your moment with an omission. I apologize. I will work on this.

http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/

Photo Credit: Flickr by equivag (Sandy)

Dear Ellipses,

Wow… you leave me speechless. People turn to you when they simply can not find the words. You escort in silence, confusion, or nothingness. You replace missing words. You allow thoughts to trail off into the sunset. But only when used correctly. You want to be tucked in beside the word you follow and allowed space before the next word. If in dialogue, you want to be married to both, the preceding word and the quotation mark. I get it. I really do.

As the journey continues, I’m sure I’ll need to offer more apologies because I will misuse and abuse the English language again. But not on purpose. Never on purpose.

Learning is part of the journey. And I am.

Cheers everyone!

Pearls

“Are you listenin’ to me, son? I’m givin’ ya pearls here.” Al Pacino’s character Lt. Colonel Frank Slade called the tid bits of information he offered Charlie Simms, played by Chris O’Donnell, pearls because the advice he shared evolved from his appreciation of women. Every part of them a gift. (dialogue from Scent of a Woman)

Information is valuable and experience often proves to be the best teacher. Below are a few tips I learned while beefing up my manuscript. I thought I’d share a few of the pearls with you.

 It and It Was: Replace the word ‘it’ with a more visual word.  Example: It was cold. The corpse’s hand was cold. The corpse’s touch chilled me to the bone. The word “it” injects ambiguity into the sentence. Be specific.

Impossible Simultaneous Actions: Sweeping the floor, he put away the broom. As written, this is impossible. If he’s sweeping the floor, he cannot put away the broom at the same time.

Began To, Nearly, About To, Almost: These are telling words, vague, and sometimes passive. “Blood began to coat his fingers.” could be…  “Blood coated his fingers.”      “She almost confessed.” could be…. “The stress of her deed ripped at her soul until words pushed their way into her mouth and fought for freedom, but she bit them back.”  Eliminating the passive word makes the action more immediate. Follow Nike’s lead. Just Do It.

Vary Sentence Structure:  Mix up short and long sentences to keep the reader’s interest. (Stephen King is a master at this.)

Read your work aloud: Hearing your novel read aloud will help you recognize a host of issues that you may miss while reading silently. Awkward phrasing, echoes, and subject/verb agreement pop out during a read aloud.  (I work in Scrivener and then move to MSWord. Using the Text to Speech function in MSWord, I allow the computer to read my work to me while I follow along. Very helpful!)

Before I submitted my manuscript, Curiosity Quills offered some of the tips listed above. Agents and Editors want to receive a polished manuscript. So, tighten your work before you press SEND. You’ll be glad you did. Hooah!

Happy writing… and editing.

Sharing The Writing Process

The charming and talented Abby J. Reed asked me to join the Writing Process blog hop. And I’m glad I agreed.

Writing is an individual endeavor. I often forget that other writers might face similar challenges, experience the same satisfactions, and perhaps edit the same chapter fourteen times too. The Writing Process blog hop offered me a peek at the inner workings of other writers. (And made me think about my own.)

1) What are you working on?

I have two WIP’s right now. Two very different WIP’s. The first is a fairy tale retelling named Ryder and Wolfe that started as my Nano project. (A YA Fantasy with Paranormal elements.) It’s Red Riding Hood in 2014. With Red now a seventeen-year-old male named Ryder and the wolf a Mayor bent on finding donors to treat his family’s chronic condition. Finding grandma isn’t the only priority. I stepped away from this WIP while I worked on my edits (if you saw my post entitled Lost, this was the WIP I discussed)  and now I’m diving back in.

My second WIP is a YA contemporary. (I hope to keep it a contemporary. Demons may pop up at anytime.) That’s all I can share about that one. It’s not super secret, just super fragile 😉

I’m also in the editing stages of The Undead which will be published by Curiosity Quills this year. Katie Teller saw me pitching this story last year during Pitmad. Here are the two pitches I used: Corpses aren’t 16yo Lyla’s biggest problem. She can either save the brother she idolizes or the reaper she loves. YAPR     16 yo Lyla can save the reaper she’s falling for if she’s willing to sacrifice the brother she idolizes. YAPR

2) How does your work differ from others in its genre?
What an interesting question. To borrow from Forrest Gump, I feel like stories in the same genre are often like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get until you bite into one. Stories consist of the same ingredients, but the recipe of characters, conflict, pace and plot differs. That’s what  makes reading and writing so rewarding.
In The Undead, I approached the relationship between the brother and sister with a greater focus because it was my anchor. The Undead qualifies as paranormal with elements of horror, but I kept the gore along the lines of eerie and not unsettling. At least, that was my goal.
3) Why do you write what you do?
Because writing makes me happy, seriously. That seems like such a simple answer, but sometimes simple answers are the best. I write the stories that come to life in my mind and the YA genre is so rich and complicated. I love being here.
4) How does your writing process work?
Oh, heavens. I am Type A with tornado tendencies. I like things organized and planned, but my mind often operates chaotically. Creatively, I’m a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants person. When I first get an idea, I mull over it for a few days, test driving the plausibility in my mind. This is sometimes super challenging because I want to sit down and pound it out…immediately. But I’m learning to hold back and let it percolate. If I think I can run with the idea, I’ll jot down a few notes, maybe prepare a rough outline, and then take off. I use Scrivener to organize my work and my WIP stays in Scrivener until I’m ready for a real first edit. I then transfer the ms to MSWord for the remainder of the journey.
After I have a first draft, I go back and apply Dan Wells Seven Point Story Structure as a litmus test. (Backwards thinking I know, but it works for me.)
I also have awesome CP’s that exchange work with me along the way and hold me to my deadlines. (I use Text to Speech when editing and have my laptop read my story aloud.)
Thanks again to Abby Reed for inviting me to join the hop. Please look out for the following bloggers to join the hop between February 14th and February 21st.
Next week’s featured bloggers:

KisaWhipkeyKisa Whipkey is a dark fantasy author, a martial arts demo team expert, and a complete sucker for Cadbury Mini-eggs. She’s also the Editorial Director for YA/NA publisher, REUTS Publications. She developed a passion for storytelling at a young age and has pursued that love through animation, writing, video game design and demo teams until finally finding her home in editing. She believes in good storytelling, regardless of medium, and applauds anything featuring a snarky lead character, a complicated narrative structure, and brilliant/uncommon analogies. Currently, she lives in the soggy Pacific Northwest with her husband and plethora of electronics.

Her personal blog–featuring sarcastic commentary on all things storytelling–is located at www.kisawhipkey.com. Or connect with her via Twitter: @kisawhipkey. And, of course, to learn more about REUTS Publications, please visit www.reuts.com.

Kisa will be blogging about her writing process and her editor’s perspective.

jayrespic Jamie Ayres writes young adult paranormal love stories by night and teaches young adults as a Language Arts middle school teacher by day. When not at home on her laptop or at school, she can often be found at a local book store grabbing random children and reading to them. So far, she has not been arrested for this. Although she spent her youthful summers around Lake Michigan, she now lives in Florida with her prince charming, two children (sometimes three based on how Mr. Ayres is acting), and a basset hound. She really does have grandmothers named Olga and Gay but unlike her heroine, she’s thankfully not named after either one of them. She loves lazy pajama days, the first page of a good book, stupid funny movies, and sharing stories with fantastic people like you. Her books include the first two installments of her trilogy, 18 Things and 18 Truths. Visit her online via Twitter, Facebook, or at www.jamieayres.com.

self pic T.A. Brock spends her days gleefully plucking words from the chaos of life and dressing them up so they look pretty. Then she calls them stories and tries to convince people to read them. She resides in the great land of tornadoes (Oklahoma) with her husband, two children, and her beloved Kuerig machine.

You can catch her on Twitter @TA_Brock or visit her blog ta-brock.blogspot.com

 

Thanks again for stopping by. If you’d like to join the Writing Process Blog Hop to share your own story, let me know! And don’t forget to check out Kisa, Jamie, and T.A.’s blogs.

4Abby J Reed writes YA sci-fi novels that ask what if, whether set in a parallel world or in deep space. She snuck away from Wheaton College with an English and Writing Concentration degree and is one measly hour from finishing a Certificate in Christian Formation and Soul Care from Denver Seminary.

Abby wrestles with Chronic Migraine and is an active member of the Art Students League of Denver, where she lives with her sexy husband. If her hands aren’t on the keyboard, they are stained purple and blue with paint. Read more about Abby at Abby JReed.com

Lost?

Photo Credit: Flickr by John Ryan Brubaker

Photo Credit: Flickr by John Ryan Brubaker

So, what happens when you’re elbow deep in a new WIP and your manuscript edits come back? Well, you drop what you’re doing, read the edit letter and the notes in the margins about your prose (several times because it has to sink in), and dive in to make revisions. Right?

Right. And that’s what I did. I rolled up my sleeves (not technically, of course, because this is winter and I’m cold-natured), I addressed the items on my revision list, and beefed up my work. And my lovely little WIP that had demanded all my attention before the edit letter came? What happened to it? I gave it the ultimate cold shoulder. I didn’t even think about it while I revised my previous ms. It became an it. Total shun, I tell you.

And now, three weeks later, with my first round of edits returned, I opened my WIP file.

Maybe I was expecting too much… I thought I would open the file and the story would race back through my head. I thought words would flow, adding to the tale I started with vim and vigor. But that’s not what happened. I opened my file and felt like someone blindfolded me, forced me to play dizzy-izzy three times, and dropped me in a corn-field maze. Alright, maybe I’m exaggerating a little. But just a little. At first, I was frustrated and then I realized, I was just… lost.

As it turns out, my reaction was my mind’s (and maybe my WIP’s) way of saying, “Hey, things are a little mixed up here. Let’s straighten this out.” I’m still feeling the love for my WIP, but I needed to clean house and get my proverbial ducks in a row before I could resume writing. And many hours and a few dozen crumpled pieces of paper later, I have a new and improved map for my WIP.

So what did I learn? Well, detours and reroutes are sometimes blessings in disguise. And taking a step back from the WIP revealed angles and information I would have otherwise overlooked. Getting lost might just be part of the journey.

What’s your function?

Conjunctions link words, phrases, and clauses. They’re powerhouses in the English language, but too many conjunctions can weaken your writing.

One suggestion my editor offered was to watch overusing the subordinating contraction because. Wow, really? I never stopped to think about how or how often I used that specific linking word. Turns out, she was right.

Grabbing two books off my living room shelf and flipping through, I read a few passages of Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides and Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins. (My bookshelf houses an eclectic group of books.)  Within minutes, I found two sentences that were linked in content and I joined the two with the word because. (a conjunction)

“The surgery he performed on transexuals wasn’t a selling point over at the March of Dimes because to get them interested you had to pull at the heartstrings.” versus “The surgery he performed on transexuals wasn’t a selling point over at the March of Dimes. To get them interested you had to pull at the heartstrings.” page 420 MiddleSex

“Peeta and I make no effort to find company but are constantly sought out because we are what no one wants to miss at the party.” versus “Peeta and I make no effort to find company but are constantly sought out. We are what no one wants to miss at the party.” page 78 Catching Fire

“I dashed to the front of the line because Sally would tell everyone my secret if she beat me there.” versus “I dashed to the front of the line. Sally would tell everyone my secret if she beat me there.”

That was my mistake. Although the sentences fell into place and fed off one another, I hitched them together. I wasn’t satisfied that I led the horse to water. I wanted to make him drink.

School House Rock isn’t selling you short. Conjunctions are great tools for every writer. However, there are times when a sentence needs to stand alone to yield a greater impact. When you’re editing your work, take a close look at your conjunctions. Lead the horse to water, but let them drink on their own.

(if you want to see a complete list of conjunctions and the three categories, click here.)

All part of the Journey

I’ve been holed up in my editing cave for almost three weeks. This morning I saved my file one last time, uploaded it to gmail, and sent my edited manuscript back to the publisher. Hitting the SEND button brought a smile to my face. Pride and accomplishment registered, as did relief.

But wait, I needed theme music for my moment. What could perfectly capture and represent this moment?  This feeling? Well, Celebration by Kool and the Gang, Get the Party Started by Pink, and the theme from Rocky all seemed perfect.

But then I thought of

Editing is but one step of this journey. And I can’t stop believing.

Have a great Friday!

Has it been a week already?

So, I’ve been holed up in my editing cave for the better part of a week.

Major changes took place.

And for the most part, this was me:

But then…

I wondered about those changes.

What a roller coaster ride. Change isn’t easy.

I’m taking a hard look at what and how I write and am learning about my common mistakes. (And the difference between an en dash and an em dash. Click here to learn the difference.) Editing is like cleaning house before company arrives.

And it’s all part of the journey.

(Keeping my sanity in check might be an added bonus.)