Monday, December 27, 2010

Necessary Delusions

I was having a conversation with one of the regulars who comes into the bookstore where I work. The guy’s a musician so we often talking about being creatively inclined. At some point I said, in response to something he said, “Yeah, you have to be slightly deluded to think you can make a living as writer.” “Not deluded,” he said. “You have to have faith.”


Faith. That’s a nice way of putting it. But I think I’m going to stick with my initial statement. I have a healthy dose of delusion. And thank goodness for it! It has kept me going even after reading over and over the statistics that new writers face. Look at the odds a writer has to beat when trying to get an agent’s attention alone.


Agent Kristen Nelson posted that her agency read and responded to approximately 36,000 queries this year, and of those they signed on nine new clients. In his last query stats post, former agent Nathan Bransford reported receiving 258 queries in one week and of those, he requested only three partials. Another agent, Janet Reid wrote about saying "no" to 50 queries in a single hour. That’s practically one a minute! Yikes!


It can’t possibly be for the love of the writing that I pursue publication. If I just loved writing I’d sit at home and write, write, write away never caring if anyone’s eyes but mine ever halfway glanced at my stuff. For a while, back in the elementary school through junior high school years, I was content with that, but now I crave to be read by someone other than my family and friends. I believe my stories are so awesome they should be available for the whole wide world to read. But I also want to get paid to do it.


If that’s not delusional, I don’t know what is. But like I said, it’s a good delusional. It drives me on even as the rejections come in one after the other. It allows me to look forward to a new round of query submissions with hope and optimism.


My delusion works with me, not against me. It drives me to revise constantly. To say, my best friend might have hated the first half of this manuscript so much that he threatened to de-friend me, but that’s just because the awesomeness of the story is not on the surface YET. But I can and will get it there.


My delusion makes me eager. Since my manuscript is so awesome now that I've revised it, shouldn’t the agents and editors be wooing me already? The big-time-hitting needs to happen now! Like two hours before yesterday! But my delusion also gives me patience. It says to me, chill out. You may not have hooked the superstar agent who changes lives and makes dreams come true, landed a write-for-us-as-much-as-you-want-as-often-as-you-want book deal or soared to the top of every conceivable best-book-ever list yet, but that’s okay. Just do keep doing what you do. Do it well and do it with persistence, and you’ll get there.


Sure, you can call delusion “confidence” if you want, but really, isn’t it a thin line?


Honestly, while I don’t believe I have to be at the top of every conceivable best-book-ever list to be a successful writer, I do have to believe I’ll fare better than these guys at achieving my goals.




What about you? If you’re pursuing publication, what do you call that drive that keeps you going?


Also, awesome:




Friday, December 24, 2010

Progress Is a Beautiful Thing (And So Are Beautiful Illustrations!)

I may or may not have mentioned it once or twice, but one of the projects I’m currently working on is a web comic. My partner in crime, talented illustrator Jose Moreno, just posted some of his sketches for the coming stories (while also talking about his process). His stuff is shaping up rather nicely. It’s amazing what that little thumbnail below turns into. (And that’s only like, phase two or something!!). Thus I’m clucking away here like a proud mother hen, “Cluck, cluck! Look, my words are growing up to become beautiful illustrations!”


Click here to check out the super awesome goody-goodness.




Monday, December 20, 2010

Dear Ms. Or Mr. Applegate

Looky my new journal!

(This has nothing to do with today's post, my new journal is just really cool!)


A couple of weeks ago, someone extremely awesome sent me some very exciting news. Animorphs is making a comeback! The series will be once again seen in bookstores starting May 2011. I can’t possibly express how exciting this news is for me.


Animorphs was my first love. Sure, I had books I thought I loved before Animorphs came around and I’ve since said that I loved many a book, but I’m talking true love. Such a deep love that it can’t be contained in only one post, especially since just yesterday I found a letter I wrote to K.A. Applegate when I was in the 7th grade. (It was tucked away for safe keeping in a copy of that other childhood sweetheart of mine, Ella Enchanted). Apparently it’s the second letter I ever wrote Ms. Applegate, but this one didn’t make it out.


Of course, that’s because I was meant to share it with you thirteen years later.




September 6, 1997

Dear K.A. Applegate,


I Love Your

Books!!!!!!!!!


I just got finished reading Animporhs #11. And girl (or Boy) [Yes, I do now know that the “K” is for Katherine], you are tal-en-ted. I mean, usually [I] can read book after book, but after reading Animorphs I just have to take a break and say hmmmm… I honestly need time to recover. I can’t wait for #12 and The Andalite chronicles. I’ll be at the bookstore with a grin on my face and money in hand (hopefully) read[y] to buy the book. Yesterday, (more this morning) I read the whole book. I started at about 11:00pm and finished at about 1:00am. [I remember that night and that exact book! That was the weekend my family took our annual trip to Palm Springs.] I literally could NOT put the book down. I wrote a letter to you before, you probably get thousands and might not remember but I said stuff about I have ideas for future books and we should get together [on] starting a t.v. show or movie and my volanteering[sic] to play Cassie




because I [have] so much in common with her (even our names have somethings[sic] in common {I’m Cacy}), and I (he he) asked for an autographed picture of you and book (I’d still like to see those three things happen.) [Still waiting to hear back, K.]. I [know] right now you’re thinking, Gee, what a description, sarcastically.


Oh, I just remembered I sent three pictures, a half way finished Hork Bajir, a pretty good Taxxon and a retarded looking Andalite. And speaking of drawing, I drew those pictures for the art contest [I didn’t win– sad face]. Today my family and I ate at a chinesse[sic] food resturant [sic – geez, twelve-year-old me really needed to invest in a dictionary and/or learn to spell] and the fortune I got after dinner said,


WHEN IN DOUBT LET YOUR INSTINCTS GUIDE YOU

PEKING NOODLE CO.


I couldn’t helping thinking Animorphs [Oh, I get it. Like the animal instincts the characters had to contend with! Ha, clever twelve-year-old me!] And my dad’s been telling my sister to get a job all summer and her cookie said something about being a hard worker, so we had our he-he’s.


Maybe you can put the instinct fortune in one [of] you[r] book[s].


Marco and his dad (or Jake) can be eating chinesse[sic] food and after morphing into something then letting it take over he reads over the fortune cookie then he says, “Sometimes these things scare the cuteness outta’ me.” [I still think that totally could have been something Marco said!]




And I think that they should try acquiring, the Aliens (espielly[sic] the Visser) they can get Ax easily (if he lets them).


If they can morph into a yeerk, when Vissie[sic] Three gets out of the Andalite’s head for Kandra Rays one of them can sneak in and get into his head and run or morph into something big and V.T. is out of a Andalite host. Woohoo. [Wow! I was a violent-minded child, wasn’t I!]


The letter is obviously unfinished, which would explain why it was never sent. I can’t imagine what other awesome randomness twelve-year-old me would have had to say.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

POP QUIZ!!

How Do You Know It’s Time to Step Away From Your Computer and Take a Break?


(Taken from actual IM conversation*)

A) When you instantly forget that you’re the one who just asked the question.


B) When you think that the fact that you’re stepping out your front door is a “guess what” worthy announcement.


C) All of the above.


(*Note: I'm the gray bar, just in case there was any doubt.)


Whilst I walk away from my computer and allow some of my braincells to reconnect or reform or have whatever effect fresh air and sunlight have one them, check out my post over at Ink In The Gutter. It's about character design for a web comic I'm currently developing with a friend. A glimpse:



Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Big Picture, Little Picture

Word count. It’s one of those big little things, isn’t it? In the overall craft of writing, it’s not something that is emphasized; and with good reason what with all the plot, characterization, dialogue and etc to be mastered. But, from what I’ve read, for some agents word count can be a cause for query insta-rejection. I believe you should write as many words as is necessary to effectively tell your story, no more and no less. At the same time, I also believe that if you can do something to give an agent one less reason to reject you, why not give it a go? I mean, as long you’re revising your manuscript anyway.


I’ve worked hard to get my word count down. What was once 126,000 words, is now somewhere in the neighborhood of 103,000. Most of that was accomplished by big-picturing things. Is this scene really necessary or does it simply accomplish the same goals as this other, slightly better scene? Does this description of the setting really have to be seven-pages long? Did I really describe that character at length in two different places?


The best big picture piece of advice I came across this year, which helped me cut out a hugeormous chunk of words, came from Donald Maass’ Writing the Breakout Novel. In chapter eight, Maass talks about set up. Basically, he says get rid of it. I thought about it, looked at my first few chapters, and then had a revelation. By golly! The first fifty-sixty pages weren’t nothing but a bunch of set up. While there were important ideas that I’d have to work into other parts of the manuscript, those pages could go away and wouldn’t be missed. That was at least 15,000 words gone in one fell swoop!


That’s not to say that deleting one sentence or one word at a time can’t be effective. For me this is especially true when I’ve written something in first person and have gotten a little too comfortable with, like, the conversational tone, you know.


This past year I’ve come across a couple of different posts and forum threads about fillers words. (Unfortunately, I’ve forgotten where exactly I’d found them so while I remember the lessons, I can’t link you to their sources.)


Upon compiling my list of filler words, I did a search in my Word document based on that list just to see how many of each I used. Here were some of my biggest offenders:


Just: 453

Like: 627

That: 1,462! (To be fair there are a lot of times that using “that” is justified. *shifty eyes, shifty eyes*)


I then used the "find" function to locate each word individually and made the difficult decision on a case by case basis of whether or not my entire manuscript would fall apart if I let go of this one “just” or “like” or whichever word I happened to be considering.


Now, any time I’m re-reading my manuscript I have a list of words I try to keep an eye out for. I’ve added to the list specific things I’m particularly guilty of.


The Usual Suspects:


Seem

There were

They were

Well

Kind of

Like

Somehow

You know

I mean

Just

Okay

Managed

Kevin Spacey

I guess

Suddenly

That

Very

So

Really

Little

Even

Adverbs ending “ly”

“But” or “And” at the start of a sentence.


Additional suggested filler words that didn’t turn up a whole lot in my manuscript:


At all

Truly

Rather

Definitely

Certainly


Find out how many times you’ve used these words in your manuscript. This only goes to show what little words can do!


But here’s my favorite tip about cutting words that has helped me focus on the little picture. A while ago Janice Hardy posted a blog about cutting down your word count. Her suggested strategy was, “If you need to cut words, decide how many you need to cut, then divide that by the number of pages [in your manuscript].”


It’s such a simple and straightforward approach that I never in a million years would have though to do it. I decided to try this out in order to get my manuscript under the 100,000 mark. After all the cutting I’d already done, finding another 3,000 words to give their final notice felt like as big an undertaking as cutting 23,000 words. I did the math and it turns out I only need to get rid of seven or eight words per page. ONLY SEVEN OR EIGHT WORDS! How super doable is that? So super doable that I’ve been getting rid of way more words per page than my quota requires. Even on an end-of-chapter page that only had three or four lines total, I still found a handful of words I didn’t need. Think about it. Doesn't "he said" work just as well as, if not better than, "he told me"? Bam! Minus one word from your tally.


A personal tip: I started from the last page and worked backwards page by page. This puts things out of the flow of the narrative and allows me to be more objective on a line-by-line basis.


There’s a value to this practice that goes beyond cutting words. As I’ve been deciding which scenes, chapters, sentences and words can go, I couldn’t help but pay attention to and form a critical opinion on how all the different macro- and micro-pieces of my manuscript do or don’t work together. Making an effort to cut words not only gives me a more attractive word count, it forces me to look at the quality of my writing on two levels: Big picture and little picture.


What about you, my fellow writers? What have been your favorite writing/editing tips of 2010?

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Somesome some some to be forgot, there’s no place like home…

Wait. That is how that New Years song goes, isn’t it?


Eh. I’m not going to dwell on it because…


Hurrah! The Rejectionist always throws the best uncontests, and look at this she’s hosting another!


I tend to think myself capable of way more than what the laws of time and space and reality generally allow. Kinda like how in the 3rd grade everyone in my class was supposed to make a dinosaur diorama in a shoebox. My parents had just bought a new refrigerator and naturally when I came home with the assignment I announced that I wanted to make my diorama in the box that the fridge came in. I got a parental veto on that one.


Thinking big. Not a bad thing, but sometimes impractical. (I did still have the biggest and best dinosaur diorama in the history of elementary school dioramas though, even if it wasn't the size of a refrigerator.)


That said, my list started out a bit longer than the three I narrowed it down to, and all items were about equally time consuming. If I manage to totally rock out these three resolutions, then I’ll go ahead and take on more. I’m pretty sure it’ll be more encouraging to my delicate psyche if I go with an additive approach to this rather than subtractive. Then I can be all, “Woo! Look at me! I’m rocking my resolutions so hard that I keep adding more just to give myself something to do!” instead of, “Boohoohoo. I couldn’t handle my super impossibly long list of resolutions. I have to take things off and refocus. Woe is me. Self love deflating.”


Abruptly and without further rambling,…


Things I am resolved to do:


Post on my blog on a regular basis

No less than once a week, because I don’t want, “Eh, I don’t feel like it” or “I can’t think of anything” to be my excuse for a half-assed blog when there are so many more worthy reasons for something to suck.


Set and meet at least one specific writing goal a month

Which for me is more effective than a word count goal alone. This month (and for the next few months) I’m focusing on Ink In the Gutter, a project I’m collaborating on with a friend. By the end of December I will complete the script, thumbnails, and preliminary character designs for fifty-web-comic-pages worth of material.


Foster a drawing/painting habit by practicing on a daily basis

This one is on my list because a capable of years ago I made the decision to seriously focus on writing, and I got a lot accomplished. Then one day I needed a break from writing and was stumped as to what to do instead. After walking around in circles, I stopped and asked myself, “Wait, wasn’t there other stuff I used to do besides writing?” So here I am, trying to get some of that other stuff back. My writing goal of the month includes a visual, so that helps.


Woo! I'm ready! Gonna rock this like a hurricane!




Good luck to everyone participating!




Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Patience, Young Padawan: Or, Why It Pays for This Writer to Hold Her Horses

Everything doesn’t have to happen “right now.” I try to remind myself of that, and it’s especially important to remember when hoping to break into the publishing industry where everything moves at someone else’s speed. But, dagnabit! Instant gratification is just so… well, INSTANTLY GRATIFYING! Also, it’s hard to fight against the mentality of the times. We’re living in an age where technology brings everything to you at the speed of, “Hey, you wanna watch an episode of that awesome late-80’s sitcom that most of the world has forgotten about? BAM! Here is!”



(Yeah, this show is even more amazing than I remembered!)


But here’s the thing. Sometimes, waiting is a good idea. As I write this, my must-have-now brain is imploding while crying, “Does not compute! Does not compute!” but I have some solid examples of instances when not rushing into things would have fallen into the category of good idea:


I finished my first manuscript at around 5am on Sept. 8, 2009. I sent out my first query letter at about 7am on Sept. 8, 2009. ‘Nuff said, I think.


At the time that I reached out to that first agent, I’d done what I know now was only preliminary research on writing the all important query. If I’d waited until I was (at least) a month or two further along in my research, I could have avoided including some just plain awful mistakes. Hell, if I’d waiting until I'd gotten a few hours of sleep, I could have avoided this jewel alone: “Besides all that, writing fiction is about the only thing I’m good for and yet the student loan people still expect me to pay that huge amount I promised to repay when I graduated. So no pressure or anything, but do I ever need an agent, and soon!” (from actual first query). Time would have allowed me to sit back, consider that sentence, and say, “Hmm. Maybe a query letter isn’t the best place for my bad humor.”


In the year since I initially submitted my second manuscript (which I completed a month after I finished my first), I’ve drafted about – I don’t know – a million or so rewrites of that particular novel. Any of which would have made for better sample pages than what actually went out. Especially considering that the subsequent drafts cut the word count from 126,000 to little over 100,000.


Which brings me to November 2010, when I must ask myself, “Considering your history with rushing into things, why are you in such a hurry to fall into the same trap?


The dilemma: After a year of revisions, I’m very eager to get my query out into the waiting hands of soon-to-be-adoring agents (Hey! Don’t rain on my fantasy! I needs it!). The problem is I’ve come across the advice more than once that submitting to agents during the holidays is generally not the best idea. There are varying opinions on the matter, as highlighted in this Guide to Literary Agents Article, but my instincts are to err on the side of caution. To quote writer Nancy Parish who quotes agent Janet Reid “You can query too soon. You can never query too late.”


I was hoping to get my queries out by the beginning of November while crossing my fingers that I was wasn’t cutting it too close to Thanksgiving. I managed to send out three. (Received two insta-rejects and one no-word-from-as-of-yet). Then I had a stroke of inspiration and re-wrote my query with the hopes of getting it out no later than mid-November.


Oops! Wait! There’s that paying gig that will occupy a significant chunk of my free time. Oh well, gives me another chance to consider my query and make some worthwhile changes.


Oh, snap! My query is freakin’ awesome now! But dagnabit! How’d it get to be the Tuesday before Thanksgiving (which for many is a time of ditching work early in the week in favor of traveling plans)?


But that’s still two whole days before Thanksgiving! What do I do? What do I do!?! WHAT. DO. I. DOOOOO!?!


When in doubt, make a list.


The Pros of Waiting Until After the Holidays:

- Gives me more than a month to research agents so I can choose the absolute best for matches me and better personalize each of their letters.

- More time to polish my query, synopsis and sample pages

- I wouldn’t have to compete with the holidays (and their nasty habit of bringing families together) for agents’ attention.

- I do have some writing to catch up on.

- My query will be less likely to get lost in the initial deluge of submissions from trigger-happy (hey, I've been there, man. I understand) NaWriMo participants. Apparently, this is something agents are inundated with after November. So this is more of a specific case for not submitting in December.


The Cons of Waiting Until After the Holidays:

- January 2nd is like FOREVER away from now.

- Will agents be backed up-slash-playing catch up when they come back from their holiday vacations in January?

- Does that mean I have to wait even longer?

- But the middle-to-end-of-January-slash-beginning-of-February is even FURTHER away from now.


I’ve decided to go with that “You can query too soon. You can never query too late” thing. (Thanks, Ms. Reid. That really is a good one.) I’m sure my synopsis can use some work because I haven’t looked at that thing in a while, and wasn’t especially impressed by it the last time I did. Why rush to submit subpar work?


I’m not happy about having to wait. As a matter of fact, I growled in anger and shook my fist at the heavens several times when I came to the decision that I wasn’t going to do any more querying before January (Grrrrrr!! *shaking fist*) See! Just thinking about it makes me fist-shaking angry!



But the good news is that if I can do it, so can you! If there is something that is better off not being rushed into, hold off on the rushing. Chances are, in the end you’ll be happier for it –if for no other reason than it gives you a chance to get your ish together.


*Sigh* At least I have this upcoming challenge to distract me whilst I get my wait on.


Saturday, November 20, 2010

Not that I'm Lazy, But...

I'm going display some slightly lazy blogger behavior and link to this other blog a friend and I have up. Really, it's just a preview for a web comic we're going to be launching soon. You can take a look at a very cool comic we put up, but also we'll be checking in with updates and posting sneak peaks from time to time. I'm extremely excited about our project and hoping it's something that you can look forward to as well. Hop on over to InkInTheGutter.blogspot.com and check us out!

An example of what you'll find there:


Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Overbooked: A Hedonistic Tale of Excess

Okay, so there were other reasons (other than a record-breaking mess taking roost on my desk) that I haven’t been posting like I know I’m supposed to. Something came up.


I had to read a book.


Or, well, like a few books. Keeping up a healthy book habit can be hard when you have a bunch of life getting in the way. You know. Working, eating, sleeping, scribbling down a sentence or two of the most brilliant story to ever be about-to-be written, pretending to be a social creature for the benefit of friends and family...


This seems like as good an intro to talking about my little problem as anything.


My name is Cacy, and I’m a bookaholic.


Which is probably not an especially big surprise considering I’m a writer, but it is a problem when I get nothing done for a full day because I HAVE to get to the end of whatever book I’m reading. And I have to get there NOW. That’s why sometimes it’s just better that I don’t pick up of book if I know there’s something important I should be doing (say, pen a best-selling novel) because I know exactly how that’s going end (with my poor, cold, shiny new computer crying from neglect).


Then there’s the issue that apparently I’m stockpiling for when we become a dictatorship and all the books, bookstores and libraries are burned. Numerous among the piles of books that keep growing and growing are novels I have yet to read. But I HAVE to have them. Because I WILL read them. Someday. These past few months have once again demonstrated to me how bad this problem is.


It started with me getting my ish together and re-arranging my room so that all my books are on shelves and not scattered about all willy-nilly.


My two bookcases and I were up to the challenge.


I even organized them according to type of book and intended age group.


I was very proud of me, but at the end of the day I looked at my shelves and thought to myself. “Boy, if I buy one more book, I won’t have any place to put it.


So what do I do?


I acquire ten more in a matter of weeks. But I can’t help it! For one thing, there was a 50% off coupon for select titles.


And then, well, there was a 40% off coupon and you know I have to show Meg Cabot my love and support, and then there’s that other book I’ve been meaning to get as I slowly read through Octavia Butler's catalog.


And then that website told me (one of) my writing style(s) is similar to that one author’s and I’m like, “Who’s Cory Doctorow? …Hmm, sounds kinda interesting.” And then it was, “Oh my? Seriously? Those books are only a dollar? Hardcover too?”


Next, I was going out of town, and well, one needs reading material when going on a trip. So that explains the three books that I was able to narrow my purchase down to.


(Way of the Shadows missing because I’ve lent it out. Also, I feel like there’s a fourth I’m forgetting…)


But then there’s the fact that I work at a bookstore (but of course) where on top of discounts, booksellers are often rewarded for a job well done with Advanced Reader Copies. I often do my job well, so often have a lot of “This ticket is redeemable for 1 promo item” slips piled up. And that’s how I walked out of the bookstore that day with four (or was it six?) more books than I anticipated.


(Hunger Games paperback missing because I’ve lent it out. And sigh, yes, I also have Hunger Game in hardcover, but I was able to get the paperback for free so I figured I could lend the paperback out and keep the hardcover safe at home with me always. Naturally, the hardcover is also lent out at the moment.)


Who can say no to a free book? I can’t even say no to a cheap book, which is why I always find something among the $0.25-to-$1.00 books my local library (yep, I frequent that place too – when I don’t have a huge fine accrued – even though I currently work at a bookstore) has for sale out in the front.


As if it weren’t bad enough that I went on vacation with four books in my carry on (No check-in baggage for me. Who has $25 to spare with all this constant book buying?), when I get to the land of my forefathers (or at least, the town my parents are from) my relatives are all, “Oh, you like to read? Let me take you to a used bookstore or three.” Besides the hippy-run used book warehouse and the Half-Priced Bookstore, underneath the downtown library was a huge used bookstore where, I swear, nothing was over $2. I tried to pace myself, but still, this happened:


And it all had to fit in my carry-on and personal item.


So then I’m home, settling back into the daily grind, and swearing, no more new (or used) books for a good while. Then I start to clean out the family garage. And what do I find? Books.


And more books.


And a hellavalot more after that.


Even when I’m like “Phew, this box is full of clothes. What a relief!” I dig past those outfits I really did think was cute freshman year of college and discover– you guessed it. Even more books.


Books I was assigned to read for class but didn’t but swear I’m going to. Someday. Books I bought twice because I couldn’t find the first one I bought but really needed again. Books I found somewhere for a really good price and snatched up, without realizing I already owned a copy. Books from when I was going to be all smart and stuff and read poetry and really old obscure writing and stuff. Books from that time I was (and still am!) going to write a novel set in ancient Egypt and so I needed to do a lot of research, including how to read hieroglyphics. Books I borrowed, but maybe never returned (shifty eyes).


And something tells me that there’s at least one more box of books waiting to be discovered.


So for real now, I’m going to cool it on the book getting.


Okay, that decree only ever lasts about a day. Here’s the most recent books I’ve acquired, mostly in a month-and-some-change-long period:


(Blameless, Shadow’s Edge and Beyond the Shadows missing because I’ve lent them out.)


And I have a question for you? Where exactly are they going to go?


I’m doing good now though. I only bought one book in these past few weeks.


I swear.



Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Oops. I have a blog!


Somehow I hadn’t felt much like writing these the past couple of weeks. I can’t exactly put my finger on it, but…

It was almost like there was something physical in the way.



I don’t know it was probably a mental block or something. But yesterday, I started to feel a little opening of possibility.



Like my muse was slowly crawling out from under some rubble of uninspiration.



All I know is that suddenly I could think clearly and wrap my brain around the idea that, you know what?



I’m getting some writing done today!