Coming up for Air

Photo Credit: Flickr by Michelle Gallagher

Photo Credit: Flickr by Michelle Gallagher

I’m not a swimmer. If you ever saw me in the pool, which is highly unlikely because I’m more of a hot tub kinda gal, you’d know why. While I did manage to pass the swim test required by my university, it was a marginal pass and I had to take a two hour nap after treading water for three minutes. One of the skills required for swimming that hinders me is the ability to hold my breath. I must have tiny lungs with fewer alveoli compared to everyone else. When I take a deep breath to swim, I never get that far.

With other projects, however, sometimes I find I’m just the opposite. I don’t need to come up for air as often. When I commit to something, I tend to lose focus on the world around me and stay emerged. But like swimmers, writers need to come up for air.

This past weekend, I went on a writer’s retreat with two writers I met last fall at the Carolinas SCBWI conference in Charlotte, NC. Our trip was the brain child of Jes who suggested we get away from our regular routines, find a quiet place, and work. Hints of collaboration and critiquing were also thrown into the mix. Once we all found a weekend that worked with our schedules, we started planning.

Friday afternoon, Christa, Jes, and I all rendezvoused at a quaint cabin that Jes found for us. (Have I mentioned how awesome her planning was?) The wood cabin sat upon a  hill and offered a great view of the tree line and the mountains in the distance. Over the course of three days: we wrote, we hiked at Hanging Rock State Park, we talked about each other’s work, we collaborated, we told stories that had nothing to do with our writing, and we laughed.

For me, the retreat was like coming up for a lungful of air after a long metaphorical swim. Refreshing and reinvigorating. And I can’t thank them both enough.

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What about you? Do you find yourself staying submerged in a project for long periods of time? Do you take breaks? How do you come up for air?

 

USP – Does your story have one?

USP – Unique Selling Point

 

At the Carolina’s SCBWI conference in September of last year, I was introduced to the concept of a unique selling point.

The phrase unique selling point and its acronym are not new. Marketing has used USP’s (also called unique selling promotions) for years to describe that special something a product offers that sets it apart from the rest.

But the conference put that unique aspect in perspective. Readers want a new experience with a twist just like other consumers. A marketable concept will certainly help catch the interest of an agent or a reader. And beyond a great cover, book blurbs are designed to lure the reader by hinting at the USP.

So I thought about a few best-selling books and tried to identify their USP’s:

a dystopian story about people being divided into groups based on their strongest characteristics

a contemporary story about a teenage boy who suffers a loss that teaches him about surviving the labyrinth of life

a dystopian story where children are selected for a battle to the death to pay tribute to a past war and force allegiance to the government

a colossal, post-apocalyptic story of good versus evil

a fantasy story about a young wizard who must risk everything to save both the human world and his magical world from evil

See any you recognize? Can you think of other USP’s that are easily recognized?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Don’t Go It Alone

Chorus:
I know that things can really get rough,
When you go it alone.
Don’t go thinking you gotta be tough,
And bleed like a stone.
The Shins: Simple Song

Allowing someone to read what you’ve written is like dancing naked on the table in front of them. Those wise words were shared with me the first time I asked someone to read my work. And boy, did that describe the knot I’d folded myself into over the intrusion. But not only did I learn from the experience, it liberated me.

You can’t do anything in a vacuum, writing included. But allowing people to read your work without offering feedback will not make it stronger, it will just make it more read. If you want to become a better writer, share your work with people who read your genre and who want to offer you their perspective. They are called Beta readers and they will help you. But before your find Beta readers, get a critique partner or two.

Critique partners are fellow writers, not necessarily from your genre, who are talented, dedicated, and honest. It’s helpful to have someone who can tell you when the plot’s getting a little crazy, your dialogue patterns are inconsistent, or that you’ve left your fourteenth dangling participle on page 5. (or that you’ve totally abused the Oxford comma.)

I am fortune enough to have three types of critique families. The first consists of my CP’s. We found each other through an online class. They offer the perfect balance of honesty, compassion, valuable insight, and friendship. And they have mad writing skills. Secondly, I belong to a local writing group that meets once a month. Our numbers limit the amount we can review for each other, but they are bloodhounds when it comes to missed commas, cliches, and other travesties. And I also have an uber third group who serve as beta reader/critique hybrids.

Surround yourself with good people and be a good partner. And don’t be scared to dance naked…figuratively, that is.

You need a CP?  Look around. Twitter, http://howaboutwecp.tumblr.com , join writing organizations like SCBWI.org (The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators), RWA.org (Romance Writers of America) among many others. Also, you can join groups on Facebook, Goodreads and Agent Query Connect.