Looking Back and Looking Forward

I hope you all had a blessed holiday season. If you're like me, you're probably holidayed-out by the time it all ends. My daughter-in-law was telling me, even on Christmas eve, that their family was already sugared-out

I'm always eager to start a new year. I keep a personal diary, which I like to read at the end of each year to see where I started, what happened, what I was feeling, and what I did. Feelings always lead to life-course corrections. Sometimes the spirit needs to prompt stubborn ole' me for a very long time, but eventually, I'm ready to let go of something and start down a better path.

There's peace after that happens, and an opening for new dreams or callings.

The biggest thing I let go of this year, regarding my writing, was the dream of being published in the Young Adult secular market. God had been showing me in numerous ways, for 18 months, that that wasn't where I should be. I finally let go in June. Yes, it was hard to let go of a manuscript I'd worked on (very part-time) for four years.

Should I have let it go, when I didn't even look for an agent to represent it?

I had sent it to several contests in June, and the judges' responses, in addition to several other industry professional responses (here's one of them) led me to believe that the story wouldn't sell. It wasn't because of my writing abilities, which is often a huge stumbling block for aspiring authors. More, it was the story concept itself. And if a concept won't sell, no matter how good the crafting, there's no point in working on it any longer.

I don't know how many people told me it read like Glee Fan Fiction. Ironically, I have never watched a single episode of Glee. The worst bad luck came when Glee did an entire season, apparently, on West Side Story, which played large in my book as well. I had my idea two years prior to Glee's West Side Story season, but in the scheme of things, that doesn't matter at all.

There were other reasons for moving away from YA, which I won't go into.

When I finally made peace with my decision to abandon the manuscript--and all the time and effort it would take to try to find an agent for a work that probably wouldn't sell in today's market--it opened time and space for me.

Time and space to work in a genre that, frankly, is better suited to my inclinations, knowledge and skills.

I switched to writing for the adult inspirational historical romance market, and between July 11 and now, I completed a 70,000 word manuscript. I am now in the early stages of revising it.

In 2013, after a lifetime of raising kids and working outside the home, I finally had the freedom to make writing my "full time job." I never keep hourly track, however I do spend as many hours at it each day as possible. I estimate that I spend about 20-30 hours each week on actual work on a manuscript.

If you asked my husband, he'd probably say it's all I ever do.

But he's wrong! ; )  There are always many other things that take up my time. The holidays are a recent example. Vacations are another. Or helping to move farm machinery. Or babysitting grandkids, which happens frequently. Or working to complete the (seemingly endless) list of home updates . . . Darned big things, not simple, daily housekeeping chores.

There are personal diversions as well, which are often necessary. In 2013, I needed to learn how to improve my (diabetic) health. I also spent quite a bit of time scrapbooking. It was wonderful to finally have that freedom!

With so much to do, I sometimes asked myself if I still wanted a writing career, after so many years of yearning for it. Wasn't that ironic? 

In the same way that I had resented how working full time at the library had kept me from working on my writing, the tables shifted. I discovered that I began resenting how working full time on my writing was keeping me from scrapbooking. Isn't that hilarious?

There was a difference, of course. No one was forcing me to write and not scrapbook. So when I was like an addict needing a scrapbooking fix, I took it.

There was a time during the year when my writing room was so full of notebooks and loose files and books, I felt overwhelmed, and like the walls were closing in on me. They probably were; the room was so full. I needed to remove at least half of what was in it, which I did, but have you ever had to deal with the sick feeling you get when everything you touch is laden with negative emotion? It wasn't like cleaning out a garage, or the kitchen, which is generally an emotionless process (for me).

I was removing boxes of books and putting them either in the storage-room library (adult fiction), or on the basement bookshelves (children's and YA fiction), or in boxes that would be donated to the library's book sale.

The storage room and basement shelves were also filled with books. Some, I had already read. Others, I still wanted to read, but realized, sadly, that I would probably never have the time to read most of them.

Unless I gave up my own writing dream, and opened space and time for it. 

Additionally, my writing room was filled with a closet full of notebooks that held my life's writing output. All the novels I've written, the journals I've kept, and all the information I've amassed. Physically, it was dozens of notebooks and reams of printed paper. None of that got tossed, but everything was so heavy when I moved it to another place.

"Is writing worth it?" I asked myself, with one of those ever-so-heavy notebooks in my hand.

Certainly, if I were doing it for the money, my time would be better spent working at a "real" job with a paycheck and benefits, which is what I had done for most of my life. Selling my time = paycheck.

But what was I getting now for selling my time?

Other than all the notebooks and several gigabites' worth of electronic files, there wasn't much, really, to show for it. 

Of course, if I want to make myself feel better, I can also realize that people who spend hours each day in front of the TV, or playing video games, or socializing on Facebook, or even reading fiction, have very little to show for their time, either. They are the consumers of life, certainly not the creators. Consumers are passive. Creators are active. Which one would you rather be?

Always, the writing calls me back.

It has helped me to better understand myself, other people, and my world.

Fiction is the platform where I can work with the same values and beliefs, and themes, that I might work with, were I to create a nonfiction website.

But writing fiction allows me to do it in an artful way. A way that goes deeper, by bypassing the rational mind and speaking directly to the heart.

And so I am beginning 2014 with the intent to keep writing fiction, at a rate of 20-30 hours each week. After I complete the revision of The Perfect Wife in (hopefully) two months, I'll enter it into ACFW's Genesis Contest (which requires a completed manuscript). Then I'll start a new one. I'll also start looking for an agent and/or editor for The Perfect Wife.

If the past 20 years of writing is an indication, I suspect that there will always be new ideas to explore, via the art form of fiction.

What about you? What did you learn about writing, or yourself, or (yourself + writing), in 2013? What is that leading you to pursue in 2014?


Weekly Writing Update, Take Two: Fuzzy Math and a Thematic Cake

Confession: I discovered an inaccuracy when I re-read my last blog post, and feel the need to apologize or explain. I have already corrected it. I was not intending to mislead anyone, including myself, when I stated that I have 50 pages left to write. In fact, I have 100.

Although I misstated the total in my post, fortunately I had worked out the correct number in my plans. I had figured 100, but somehow reported 50 in my blog post.

I have also, finally, reconciled the limitation in my understanding of signposts and journeys. It was something I had been meaning to do for months, but never got around to it . . . which is why I ended up over-planning the story. Had I had a firmer grasp before now, it wouldn't have happened.

Being a visual person, I created a diagram, which shows the different thematic themes and sub-themes per domain (Main Character; Impact Character; Main/Impact; and Overall Story). I call it the Thematic Cake of my book, according to what needs to happen, thematically, within the sweeps between the Signposts and Journeys. I have also determined what chapters go into each sweep. And I have anchored each sweep according to which act it belongs to. So nice to finally have a visual for this.

Here's what the cute little cake looks like:

Didn't do any writing today. Went to Costco, then finished reading Night by Elie Wiesel, for my book club. Yesterday, with my brain needing a rest from my intense pace over the past week, I read Nathan Bransford's How to Write a Novel in 47 Steps. I wasn't planning to buy it, but there is such a danger for me in getting on Amazon and looking at tables of contents and first pages . . . Darn, but I have ended up buying a ton of books as a result of browsing this way.

Nathan's wit and humor in those sample first pages really hooked me. There are some good points in the book, especially for beginning writers. He doesn't go deep at all into novel writing theory, but if you want or need someone to stand over your shoulder and encourage you, he is quite inspiring in a laugh-out-loud way. It's a page-turner and a lightning fast read.


Weekly Writing Update: Writing and Stitching

My mother used to have a sewing machine that looked like this. I wish I knew what happened to it. Maybe when I was a teenager and started to make my own clothes, she used it as part of a trade-in for our newer, 1966 Singer model.

As my manuscript takes place somewhere around 1912-15, and as I have been "stitching" it together lately, the sewing image feels apt. More on that, later.

But first, last week, I began keeping track of my progress by actually counting words. I had never done anything like it, and it's pretty cool. It will keep me from over-writing a work that needs to hit 70,000-75,000 words and not a word more. See chart below:

I have written, on average, 10 pages [2500 words] each day since I started keeping track. I am finding that number is by no means grueling for me, but I am spending more time at it than I would like. If I were contracted--and now that I have a feel for what I am capable of at this time--which is probably no more than 3500 words [14 pages] each day--I would work out a manuscript deadline that required me to write only 6-8 pages/day.

That would give me time to incorporate more fun into my day, such as time for reading and scrapbooking and that all-important category: Social Media.

As a pre-published author, I've mostly adhered to agent Rachelle Gardner's recommendation that we spend 90% of our writing time on writing, and 10% on social media. This is currently a very comfortable ratio for me, but the minute I've signed a book contract, the ratios need to change. (It goes for you as well!)

As to my stitching metaphor,
Yesterday, and since I've been keeping tabs on word count, I discovered I had 100 pages left to write, but also that I had planned another 30 pages beyond that.

Snafu! Snafu! Slap myself upside my head, hard.

Here's where all of my careful planning crumbled, and needed to give way to panstering. I spent most of the day sorting through the rest of  my notes and combining/culling scenes that would have taken up half of those extra 30 pages. Do you think that's fun? It definitely is not, as I had planned the story rather tightly to begin with.

The saving grace was that I had been aiming for 70,000 words. Now I will be using the full allotment with the remaining 15 pages of scenes that contain information that cannot be combined or culled. You might be wondering how I could've planned an additional 30 pages to begin with. I had misinterpreted the sweep of my signposts and journeys (Dramatica terms). I had thought that because there are seven signposts and journeys in a novel, I should take my total word count and divide it by seven, to get the total number of words to devote to each signpost or journey.

The trouble came when I discovered that the number I should've been working with was six, not seven. There are seven signposts and journeys, but only six sweeps from one to another. Duh. When you reach the final signpost, you don't need an additional (12,000 words). At that point, you are done.

Hubby's going to visit his mother in Western Washington tomorrow until Saturday, and today, he's going geo-cacheing with our daughter's kids, who she is homeschooling. So I will probably write another 10-12 pages each day until hubby returns.

I have 100 pages left to write. I have 50 pages to write and I'm at the black moment. After that, it's 50 pages of "Epiphanies, Decisions and the Final Resolution."

I still love my story. It's been fun to watch the scenes come into their own. As a planner, I know what needs to happen in each scene, but I never know how it's going to happen. That is a fun movie to watch, as my characters begin interacting with each other!

Also, as I looked over my notes for the unwritten pages, I realized that I really do need to reinsert the pistol and all the references to it, that I had removed after a contest judge's comment. She had convinced me that it didn't belong in an inspirational romance. She was wrong. It would add a lot to a "showdown" scene, thus I need to use it . . . Er, my heroine needs to pull it out of her reticule and aim it at her no-good brother, who is about to spoil her life, again! But I promise, she doesn't kill him.

How was your week, reading, writing, or otherwise?


Weekly Writing Update: NaNoWriMo-ing; The Great Experiment, and a New Tool (treadmill desk)

I am not officially signed up for NaNoWriMo, (National Novel Writing Month) as are 280,000 other writers this year, but I am essentially NaNoWriMo-ing.

This month is also, for me, The Great Experiment. I hope to write 40,000 words in November. I have never been this disciplined before. What this means is that I really am turning my writing into a full-time job this month. No trip to Arizona. No trip to Western Washington to visit hubby's mother; hubby will be going alone. I do plan to host Thanksgiving for the extended family. That will be serving dinner for 20-25 people--and they will help with it--but I'm not worrying about that right now.    

At the beginning of the week, when I unofficially began NaNo, I had written 30,000 words of the 72,000-75,000 word manuscript, plus 20,000 words' worth of notes. If all goes well, I will have a completed draft by the end of November, and then I can take a month to revise it. It will already be highly focused (due to the 20,000 words' worth of notes), and so revision should look more like editing, rather than true re-envisioning. That's because I have already re-envisioned the story (my notes!) three or four times and have come up with better ideas for scenes with each successive pass.

Pansters say they hate to plan, because they don't want to be boxed in. I am a thorough planner, and by the time I sit down to write, there won't be many big surprises or changes. Because I have already allowed myself, as I passed through the story 3-4 times, to try out different possibilities. The final quarter of my book has already seen three or four different ending possibilities that provoke the characters' final paradigm shifts so that they can end the story as different people.

Anyhew, if I can complete the draft by November 30, I will know that I can write a full manuscript in about six weeks. My next Great Experiment, on my next novel, will be to chart how long it takes me to plan a book in the first place. I began planning my current book while I was working full time. When I was writing, I was spending 99% of my writing time on a YA manuscript. I really have no idea how long it will take to plan a novel, now that I am not working full time outside the home, and I am not working on something else. I suspect I could do it in two-three weeks' worth of concerted planning.

That's saying I could conceivably plan, write and revise a novel in four months, even giving myself a tad bit of wiggle room. This information is something every writer needs to have a handle on, because once we are contracted, we will have deadlines and production schedules. The line I am targeting would love to see their authors write two to four books a year. It's how their authors make more money, get more exposure, and move to the head of the line with that publisher.

I don't know that I am that ambitious. Two books a year sounds about as much as I would ever want to write. I would also like to have a life . . . traveling, spending time with family and friends, scrapbooking, gardening . . .

But I do need to know what I am capable of.

I also have a new tool, which you saw in the picture above, and below. 

I mentioned a couple of months ago that I had bought a treadmill desk through Amazon. An inch of snow currently blankets the ground, so hubby put it together on Monday. Its home is in our basement. 

I love it! It's sturdy, and the table top is deep and broad enough for anything I might like to put on it. Such as my laptop, of course, but there is also room for a notebook, books and/or other essentials. 

Do you know reliably how long it takes you to plan, write and revise a manuscript? Keep in mind that you will need to have a firm grasp of the answer, once you have signed a contract with a publisher. They expect you to meet their deadlines! 



Nine Ways we Lose Control of our Writing

Having a writing dream is easy. Maintaining, nurturing, growing it from dream to reality, day in and day out, year in and year out, is not.

Some writers think that writing a book is among the hardest things there is to do. When I look at what humankind has achieved outside of writing a book, I highly doubt that assertion. Let's get real.

But there is a steep learning curve, and it does take a concerted amount of effort to become a published author, whether you're going traditional or indie. 

Here are nine ways that we lose focus, and how to get back on track.

1. We don’t set goals. Goals need to be specific enough to write in a sentence or two. You need to set a date when you expect to achieve them and, again, you need to be so clear as to the results that you know when you have achieved them.

2. We set impossible goals. Goals need to be within our control. Completing a book in a year is within our control. Seriously. Signing with a particular editor who sells it to Random House and then having it hit #1 on the NYT bestseller list, if you are a debut author, would be an exponentially more difficult. Not impossible, but pretty unlikely.

3. We don’t pay attention to our goals. Don't create an elaborate calendar of what needs to be done and then ignore it completely. This is different from not setting goals at all, but not much.

4. We decide to quit working on our goal because we’re tired or stressed. Regularly scheduled breaks will enable us to keep working longer. Vacations help to ward off burnout. Just be sure to get back on track as soon as the break is over. Don't allow it to linger on for another week or two or three.

5. We attend to immediate situations to the neglect of long-range ones. No matter how busy we are, if we hope to have a writing career, we need to schedule even a small amount of time each day to work on writing goals. Now that writing is my job, it's easier to find time to write, and yet it sometimes amazes me how hard I need to work to protect my writing time. I have inherited from my aging father-in-law the job helping to move farm machinery during the spring and fall. I'm more available to babysit grandkids, and so that happens at least once each week. My social life could easily burgeon. Fortunately that one is generally the easiest one on which to set limits for most people. It's easier to say "no" to friends than it is to family.     

Take a hard look at how you spend every hour of each day and then brainstorm ways that you can fit in writing time. Maybe you could exchange babysitting hours with a friend. Maybe you could cut back on TV viewing. The possibilities are endless.

6. Sometimes we give everything the same priority when in fact, many things are not as important as protecting our scheduled writing time.

7. After a perceived writing failure, we focus on calming our emotions—overeating, watching too much TV, endlessly telling our friends all about it—when the better solution is to get back on track and start writing again. Granted, we need to take some time to process our volatile emotions. But for some personality types, this can stretch into days and weeks. If you are one of those types, take heed. 

Feel the pain of failure and then, as soon as possible, face your fears of returning to your writing goals. The best way to do it? By sitting down to write. It's uncomfortable. I hate it when anxiety feels like a cat clawing at me with very sharp nails. It spurs me to do any number of things to escape it—I’ll do three loads of wash. I’ll vacuum and steam clean the floors. I’ll eat a huge plate of carrot salad. No, two plates. I can’t eat chocolate or sugar, so rabbit food with a lot of chewing works well to calm me. 

But after that, I need to plant my butt in the chair and begin to write again. Once I’ve been at it for four or five hours, the pins and needles of anxiety melt away.

8. Another way we lose control is that we allow an initial failure snowball. Dieters are famous for this. If we blew it at one meal, we figure we might as well blow it for the rest of the day. Or maybe the weekend. Maybe we’ll get back on track on Monday. The same thing can happen with our writing. We miss one writing session and then, before we know it, we haven’t written for a week, and then a month. It’s much easier to get back on track immediately, rather than after we haven’t looked at the book for two weeks.

9. We decide we can’t write and we stop trying, in order to avoid further failure. Never stop! If you want to make this dream become a reality, you only fail when you stop.

Are you guilty of any of these? What do you do to get your focus back?


Word Count Progress Meters

I've never gotten into these little meters (top right sidebar), however I am always intrigued when I see one on someone's blog. So today, after my writing stint, I decided to put one on my own blog. I have begun to actually write my book, creating full scenes where there had been only notes about each and every scene.

I don't know how many words' worth of notes I erased today, but I ended up with a net gain of 900 words. In four hours. Snail's pace, for sure. But I'm the type of writer who needs to examine every single emotional nuance, every step of the way in a scene, so there is no way this process could ever be speedy.

I completed only three scenes today. And still have a zillion to go. But according to my meter, I have "completed" 50,060 words of a slated 75,000 word manuscript.

It's not really only another 25,000 words to go. Or is it? Really? Huh.


What do you sacrifice each day for your writing job? How do you reward yourself for staying accountable?

You would think I had an out-of-the-home, paying job, the way I need to manage my time in order to find time for my writing job. And sometimes, like right now, that makes me just plain grumpy.   

So far this week, I have made each day’s goal of writing for five hours. That’s not five hours of doing writing-related tasks, but to making honest progress on my WIP. It also means not frittering my working-on-the-WIP-time away with distractions. I’m sure you’re well acquainted with those.  

I’ve made my goals, and yet it discourages me to see how hard it’s been to do that—writing for a mere five hours each day. Me, the lady who no longer has to be away from home for 45 hours each week to fulfill on commitments to a salaried job.  

In order to be accountable to my writing job this week, up until today, I have had to sacrifice my “reward,” which is to spend an hour scrapbooking when the writing is done. And I have needed to scratch my head and ask myself, “Why should it take from 7:30 am until 5:30 pm—10 hours—in order to squeeze out five hours’ writing time?"
·         On Monday, I made my writing goal by 4:30 pm, but then instead of scrapbooking, I had to get groceries and run other errands that took until 7:00 pm. After that it was dinner time and so on. (I never sacrifice sleep for my writing. Health trumps just about everything.)

·         On Tuesday, I made my writing goal, but I had to forfeit scrapbooking AND jogging. With writing and jogging each day, my housework wasn’t getting done. So I decided to spend two hours on housework in lieu of jogging. Unfortunately, housework (vacuuming) is not strenuous enough to bring my blood sugar down in the same way that jogging does. I need to start jogging again tomorrow. I was also still in the mode to learn everything I can about being a person with Type 2 Diabetes. So I began reading one of two additional books that I had purchased when I went shopping on Monday. (I had read several short books on the subject the previous week; these are more substantial, with specific guidelines to reverse the progress of the disease.) Again, I forfeited my scrapbooking reward.      

·         On Wednesday, I made my goal, but I had to manage my time around picking a grandchild up after school at 2:20 pm and then helping him with his spelling and his multiplication tables until his dad came to get him at 8:30 pm, when the men came in from the field for dinner. While said grandson was doing his reading homework, I managed to get some more exercise; I wet-cleaned the wooden shades on six windows. It took an hour. I forfeited my jogging time, but got some housework done. I also forfeited my scrapbooking reward, but I finished one of the two new books on reversing diabetes. (All last weekend, I babysat three other grandkids while their mother manned a commercial booth for their business at the county fair ... but I still managed to write for a couple of hours on Saturday and Sunday before she brought them to my house.)

·         Today, Thursday, I made my writing goal, but I had to manage my time around a planned, one-hour Yoga class and an unplanned, two-hour stint at helping to move farm machinery. I had hoped to finish my writing by 3:15 pm, and have time to reward myself, especially after having forfeited my scrapbooking rewards all week long. By the time I had made good on my commitments, it was 5:15 pm.

Then my brain said, “You need to write a blog post. You check in weekly to keep yourself honest and accountable.”

So that’s what I am doing. I have eaten dinner. It was 6:30 pm, and I was planning to go do some scrapbooking. BUT THEN ... I discovered that I could not get to the New Post screen using Firefox. I HATE FIREFOX WITH A PASSION, but have been using it for the past two months because I cannot get on Google Chrome, and I don't want to give up my computer for three days while I take it into the shop. (You see, I want to fulfill on my daily writing commitments.) So finally after running a RegClean, and after Uninstalling Google Chrome, and after completing a Windows Update . . . (really, would doing that make Firefox work for me?) . . . I discovered it did not work. So I had to resort to getting on Windows Explorer.

It's now 7:30 pm. Hubby's just driven in and will want his dinner. So here it is, another day of forfeited rewards, alas. (Time with hubby trumps  scrapbooking rewards.)

What do you sacrifice each day to fulfill on the goals of your writing job?
Do you reward yourself for staying accountable?
How often are you able to do that? Or do other important priorities suck up that reward time?


It's Fun to Be at the "I'm in Love with my Story" Stage

Writing a novel takes us through so many stages, some agonizing, but fortunately, some that are pure delight. I hate the stage where I am so sick of my manuscript that I never want to look at it again, which is where I'm at with my YA novel.

But oh, bliss. I've written 50+ pages of my new inspirational historical romance. I am in love with it, and with writing, again, although for the past week or two, I was feeling like, "Who needs it?"

It wasn't because of the writing, but because life felt so crowded with other priorities. It felt as if, should I have spent time writing, the writing would've prevented me from doing things I wanted more. Like having a clean house, and scrapbooking.

Well, I still haven't cleaned the house, or scrapbooked. These feelings rise to the surface mostly when I'm frustrated because I've been too busy to accomplish any of my priorities. 

But finally, and even though hubby was rained out of the harvest field yesterday and today, meaning he was hanging around the house, distracting me, I finally settled into getting some serious writing done.

I've discovered a couple of RWA contests that I could conceivably enter with the 50 pages of my new WIP, and that deadlines motivate me mightily.

I don't know why I hadn't realized that before. When I was a librarian, I was always working against deadlines. Deadlines for planning five weekly story times. Deadlines for planning special programs. Deadlines for planning 35 Summer Reading programs. Monthly book-buying deadlines. Deadlines for writing reports for the Board of Directors, and articles for the local newspaper.

Last night, when I saw that I *might* be able to whip 50 pages of my first draft into shape for a mid-August deadline, I suddenly perked up. Writing had suddenly taken on more meaning to me.

So I sat in my office all day today. Besides doing a load of dishes and putting them away, and washing, drying and folding three loads of laundry, (which, as far as housework goes, is quite negligible) I got this much done:

I revised 4000 words. From the revised scenes, I removed 200 words, a chunk of a scene that sort of seemed like it didn't belong when I wrote it. Sure enough, looking at it today, it super didn't. 

Since I hadn't even read the material since writing it over the past couple of weeks, it's very interesting to see what I wrote. I have no memory of it.

It feels very on target, and more intelligent than anything I could ever have dreamed up on my own. I give most of the credit to my study of Dramatica theory and its specific suggestions for this particular story form. Although, I suppose I should give my muse some credit, considering it's around the eleventh manuscript I've tackled over the past 20 years.

Total word count when I started revising this morning was 12,900. Total at the end of this work day was the same. Hundreds of words were replaced, sentences rearranged, but it's amazing that the word count is staying so stable. 

See the bliss I'm having?
Yeah, I know it won't last, but I'm loving it for as long as it does.

Here's what I love about my story:

Steam engines
Old Ford roadsters, tires rumbling over brick roads
Edwardian fashions
Victorian homes
Art Nouveau
Milking the cow
Diva princesses
Romantic  tomboys
Arrogant dowagers
Victorian pantries
Tea parties
Learning how to Dance
Attending a Gala
Alexander’s Ragtime Band
Pictures of wedding gowns clipped from the Sears & Roebucks catalog
Falling in a lake
Coming out of the rain
The Flim Flam Man
Jail house confessions
Arrogant dowagers coming clean
A Fourth of July wedding

What stage are you in, in writing your story? Whatever stage, I hope your writing is giving you pleasure, and a reason to keep on writing. 


Selling Your Story in 60 Seconds and *The Sharkives*

I've been aware of, but haven't been following, literary agent Janet Reid's Query Shark blog. Last week, however, I stumbled across a post saying she'd made the entire blog downloadable for the asking, so I asked.

If you're unaware, Ms. Reid critiques query letters sent to her for that purpose on the blog. I don't know her M.O. for choosing the letters, but if yours is chosen, she gives great advice, as would be expected of someone who reads thousands of queries each year.

The author of the query letter is then invited to revise it two or three times. Each time, Ms. Reid further coaches the author on how to improve it.

She recommends reading the whole kit and kaboodle. I printed up a large chunk, which used up one ream of paper, duplex printed. If I were to print the rest, I'm looking at another 300 sheets of paper, duplex printed. It also used up a laser ink cartridge. (Granted, it was a starter cartridge for our new laser printer.) The reason there's so much data is that the comments are included.

I read through the first 1000 pages and feel I've learned enough that I'm not going to print up the last 600 pages.

Some of my observations:

  • If a large percentage of query letters that agents receive are as bad as these, it's no wonder that agents reject, as they say, 99% of what they receive. Almost all of the letters are simply dreadful, even if the story they're describing seems to have some interesting qualities. 
  • The Sharkives are entertaining to read for Ms. Reid's brilliant, snarky, razor sharp wit and her (im)patience in coaching the author to bring out what their story is really about. Her wit reminds me of my husband's, although her barbs are on a different subject than my husband's would ever be. 
  • In addition to Ms. Reid's observations, the people who comment frequently have some very useful things to add. 
  • The people who comment have also formed a cult following. When they're not critiquing the queries, they're generally shooting the breeze in a highly literate, entertaining manner. 
  • Other times, they're majorly kissing up to Ms. Reid about her brilliant, snarky wit. (And yes, she is brilliant.)

Given that, I suppose it was worth wading through 1000 pages, using up a ream of paper and a laser ink cartridge.

But then something else floated my way via an email from RWA, that is ultimately, I suspect, more useful. Or perhaps both should be consulted in crafting a query.

It's a book by Michael Hauge, Selling Your Story in 60 Seconds. Though his 200-page book is geared toward the face-to-face pitching of scripts to agents and buyers in Hollywood, there's a wealth of information that could be translated into pitching a novel to an agent via a query letter.

My recommendation? Read Michael Hauge first. It takes only a couple of hours to breeze through what he has to say. Then move on to the Sharkives to read about common mistakes made in query letters, and how to improve them.

The principles Ms. Reid expounds are exactly the same as those that Michael Hauge puts forth. The Sharkives have the added benefit of actual, gawd-awful query letters that go through a succession of changes to make them sparkle. Sometimes they never do, because the author's overall writing skills just aren't there yet. Those are the sad ones, because their idea sounds good, but you just know that the novel is written at the same, non-publishable level as the query letter.

Other times, and rather infrequently, even after three or four revisions, Ms. Reid will declare of the letter, "By George, I think you've got it." And then everyone does a lot of high-fiving, and congratulating of the author.


Seven Reasons to love The Journal 6 for blogging and everything else in your life

There are far more than seven reasons to love The Journal 6, but I wanted to show you just a few. Being a former librarian, the need to be organized is an overriding desire in my life.

I love to blog, but have always wished there was a streamlined, user-friendly way to organize my thoughts. Now, I've finally found one in TJ6. I can organize not only my blog, but many other things as well.

1. The first screen shot on the right shows how I can now see a calendar and the date and title of every blog post I've done in the past four years. I find this far more valuable, and useful, than the labels in Blogger. However, each post is also cross-referenced with labels, should I want to look at my posts from a different vantage point, which I'll show you in another screen shot.

2. The second screen shot shows a monthly calendar of the title of every blog post uploaded during that month. I love the visual, at-a-glance feel of this.

3. The third screen shot, at right, I will admit, isn't particularly useful, but if I want to see how often I posted, or to notice posting patterns, this shows every post I did over an entire year. If I click on a date, it will take me to that day's post (as does the first calendar, above).

4. The fourth screen shot shows one of several calendar trees I've created. I'm currently importing blog post ideas that'd been stored in Windows Explorer for the past couple of years. There are hundreds of them, as well as hundreds of possible images that coordinate with post ideas. The image on the right shows the images I've collected and have categorized under the title of "writing images."

If or when I need to ramp up my blogging frequency (meaning, if or when I sell a book), it will be completely doable for me, and fairly easily. Most of the post ideas cover the broad topics of "How to Write" and "How to Succeed." I've spent thousands of dollars, and had a lot of education in how to succeed, and how to be a coach (via Landmark Education); I can speak with authority on this. Another viable avenue would be to write more about personality types, however I haven't, as yet, collected ideas for that. I'll see what I feel like doing when the time comes. I'll probably do a bit of all three broad categories.

5. The fifth screen shot shows, not the blog, but simply my daily calendar/journal in which I write my thoughts and cross-reference to To-Do lists.

Calendar areas of the journal such as this and #1 are expandable by as many different types of calendars as you want to keep. Or, you can keep everything in a single calendar. I like separating my life from my blog.

The calendar will also alert you as to appointments, birthdays, and so on, just like any interactive calendar.

If you click on the picture to expand it, top right corner you'll see a dropdown box that says "No Tags." Tags are the same as Labels in Blogger. I have probably a hundred tags that I can use to label and cross-reference everything I put into TJ6. So when I want to find something in particular across all of my TJ6, I just search by tag.

6. The sixth screen shot shows the various categories I've created, so far, for TJ6. I have my blog and my daily journal; To-Do lists; blog post ideas; blog images; books read and/or reviewed; contest entries.

There's also what I call my Holding Tank, where I dump stuff that will then be sorted into other categories as time permits. Currently, I'm planning to retrofit my daily journal, meaning I'm going to insert journal entries from the past two years (which I've been keeping in a Word file) into it.

This, as everything in TJ6, is as expandable as you want it to be.

You can control how you want the journal to look. Like any word processor, you can fiddle with fonts and colors and so on.

I had mentioned in a previous post that I can write a blog post in TJ6 and upload it to Blogger directly from TJ6. This is true, but with one caveat: I need to upload images from the Blogger platform. Apparently if you use Wordpress, the image will be uploaded as well as the rest of the post. Still, I don't find this to be much of a problem. I upload the post, then immediately go to Blogger and upload the image.

7. This is another example of reason #4, but instead of showing how I organize blogging ideas or images, it's a screen shot of some of the cover images of the 300 e-books I have on my Ipad. I've also organized the books into about 30 categories, which are in lists, however looking at titles is a more interesting way for me to remember, sometimes, what I want to read next, and I have a record of all of the images in TJ6 for handy reference.

So, enough about my cool new software tool. Does TJ6 look like something that would be useful to you? Do you use something similar? If so, what software works for you?


Zealot meets Salesperson or, Ann Coulter meets George Clooney

Today's letter is Z ... WooHoo! Made it through the challenge. We're looking at a match between Zealot Ann Coulter and Salesman George Clooney.

To start with, Ann and George would likely never be in a relationship, or even talk civilly together, as they are on opposite sides of the political spectrum. However, Zealots and Salesmen can find happiness if they share other deeply held beliefs and values. Zealots with Salesmen personalities are a common pairing in life, movies and books, as they create sparks off each other. 

Zealot types, who are often missionaries or evangelists; protesters, reformers, are convinced that what they believe about an issue is the only correct way to look at it. They feel they have the authority of tradition or scripture backing them. They’re courageous and determined to bring people around to their views. The fiery passion that simmers just below the surface in their personalities is often channeled into politics, religion or some other worthy cause.

If this type were in a movie, the purpose would be to get them to let their hair down, focus their passion in a different direction, by breaking rules and having fun. At their core, they are fiery, but they are also trying to control the fire, which could lead to unwanted consequences.

Katharine Hepburn films (The African Queen) often use this theme, as well as The Sound of Music; My Fair Lady, and the King and I. The Zealot gets in touch with their feelings and with their playful side, enjoying their sensuality instead of disapproving of it.  

But that won’t happen unless they come in contact with someone to help this happen. And who is the perfect person? Read more about the Zealot personality.

The Salesman personality—the charmer; the hippie; the adventurer, the Don Juan. As with all types, Salesman has its own inner demons. Non-commital risk-takers, they will skim over the top of life as long as possible, but they will eventually come face-to-face with something, or someone, they cannot seduce with their considerable charm. This person, thing or event will teach them some of the things they need to learn. Read more about the Salesman personality.
Having said this, you can imagine the sparks that would fly if Zealot Ann Coulter and Salesman George Clooney were face-to-face. 

Each one contains within their personality something that the other is lacking, and a friendship/partnership/marriage could lead to growth on both parts, assuming they could ever stop fighting with each other.

This is what the Zealot would bring to the table: discipline, organization, attention to detail, and excellence, which he would appreciate. Here’s what the Salesman would contribute: spontaneity, energy, and a love of fun and adventure. Both are idealistic and future-oriented planners. Whereas the Salesman likes to keep his options open, the Zealot will rein him in, keeping him focused on follow through.

The Salesman will make life seem more exciting and enjoyable to the Zealot. The Zealot will help the Salesman see deeper meaning of things. The Zealot will take care of the details of life; the Salesman will provide the spice.

The relationship between the Zealot and the Salesman could be great, as long as they share the same values, and are working toward attaining the same things in life. In this real-life example, it’s unlikely that they would ever be more than nodding, and bitter, acquaintances.

If trouble were to arise between the Zealot and the Salesman, the Zealot would become more critical, judgmental, and inflexible than ever, insisting that things need to be done the right way—their way. The Zealot will begin to see the Salesman as undisciplined and childish, and they’re sure the Salesman is being that way only to annoy them.

The Salesman will see the Zealot as petty and uptight. They’ll tire of all the criticism, and become very demanding. Disillusioned, the Zealot will withdraw emotionally from the Salesman, and the relationship will die. 


What I Learned by Entering the Golden Heart Contest

The Golden Heart scores have now been released. If you're unaware, the Golden Heart contest is sponsored by RWA (Romance Writers of America) each year for aspiring writers in the romance genre. Entries are separated into six different categories: series contemporary, single title contemporary; series historical, single title historical; romantic suspense, and young adult.

After a preliminary round of judging, the top ten percent of each category's entries, with a limit of eight in each category, provided the minimum total score for each finalist equals 80 percent of the total possible score, moves into the finalist category, which is judged by acquiring editors. Therefore, having a manuscript final in the Golden Heart is a big deal. Many finalists become published authors not long afterwards.

Preliminary round judges are themselves contest entrants but, obviously, in a different category than they are judging. Most contest entrants are at the level of having completed at least one manuscript and are members of RWA PRO, which means they've submitted one or more manuscripts to editors, and have proof. I.e. rejections! (Yes, I am a member of PRO.)

There are many RWA contests throughout the year that provide great feedback, however this contest provides none, only the entrant's raw scores. Also unlike all other RWA contests, this one requires that a completed manuscript be sent along with the contest submission, although only the actual submission is judged. The submission includes sample chapters and a synopsis, with the combined total not to exceed 55 pages.

So why, if you get no feedback whatsoever, should you enter? The truth is, you probably shouldn't. I wish I hadn't.

I wish I had entered feedback-providing contests prior to the GH. Based on the feedback, I could've honed my manuscript a bit more before entering The Big Kahuna. Due to the flow of my life at the time, it just wasn't something I had grasped. But with my next manuscript, guess what I'll be doing instead?

Even so, I did learn a few things by entering the GH. 

I was judged by a total of five judges, which was cool. I got five different opinions about my manuscript's market readiness. The manuscript sample was judged on four criteria:

1. The Romance (20 points possible)
2. The Story/Plot (10 points possible)
3. The Characters (10 points possible)
4. The Writing (10 points possible)

Overall, the highest and the lowest judges' total scores were dropped, and the three middle scores averaged.

In all, I actually didn't do too bad. Although I wasn't a finalist, I missed being one by only 2.3 points.

See where entering prior contests might have made a serious difference to me? As stated before, I should've entered some of the other feedback giving RWA contests, gotten some great feedback, and revised my contest entry BEFORE throwing it into the GH pool. Had I done that, I *might* be a finalist. (GH winners will be announced at the national convention in August.)

As it turned out, two of the judges put me in the finalist category for overall score, but there was one that didn't like my entry, and gave me middling scores in every category.

But I did see that three out of the five judges believed the Romance was at finalist level. Three of the judges thought my Story/Plot was at finalist level. Three of the judges thought my Writing was at finalist level, and three of the judges thought my Characters were at finalist level. In fact, three of the judges gave me a perfect score of 10 for my Characters.

Expensive lesson learned. Others, please take heed: Enter other contests BEFORE entering the Golden Heart!

Yes Man meets Responsibility or, Ben Affleck meets Jennifer Garner

Today's letter is Y, and I've chosen my second real-life match. First one was Kate and Wills. Anyway, we're coming close to the finish line with the match between a Yes Man, Ben Affleck, and Responsibility, Jennifer Garner, his wife.

The Yes Man is more often male than female, and is also the Horatio Alger personality, the Career Woman, the Soccer Mom, the Trophy Wife. It’s the Company Man and the Stepford Wife. This type focuses on getting ahead in their selected career. In movies featuring this personality type, themes involve overcoming obstacles by perseverance. (My left foot; Pursuit of Happyness). Themes also include immigrants seeking success in the New World. (Hester Street; Far and Away). This is the home of Success or Impostor stories, and the conflict between love and work. We see someone who never wanted to be a parent, but who’s suddenly become one, is clueless about how to be one. We see someone who’s lost their job due to illness or some other factor, and is forced to spend some time thinking about who they really are apart from the identity their job gave them. (Castaway.) They learn to be less concerned about material success and to take more time to smell the roses. Read more about the Yes Man (corporation man; man in the gray striped suit) personality.
The Responsibility personality is as often male as female. The Responsibility personality is most often associated with safety, family and home life, conservative values, and appreciation of cultural traditions. As children they were fearful and shy, whereas their related personality type, Warrior, were fearful, but overcame their fears by acting out. Family oriented, their home shelters them from the world. Often family is all they need, but they are also loyal friends. Books that exemplify this type’s outlook and values include family life stories: Sarah: Plain and tall; Little Women; Old Yeller; Our Town; Cheaper by the Dozen; The Waltons. Movies and books that focus on love and romance after marriage (rather than prior to marriage, which is grist for the Ambassador, Queen of Seduction and Nurturer types) fall into this type’s themes. This personality type gives love freely, giving people what they need but not what they don’t want, whereas the Ambassador, Queen of Seduction and Nurturer types often have a hidden agenda. Feeling unlovable, they help others in order to gain love. Knowing that they are loved, this is not an unconscious need for Responsibility types, and so their love is a gift without strings attached.

Additionally, these are the featured types in books or movies that feature loyal employees (labor dramas) or shy sidekicks; Thrillers (stories designed to invoke fear); fear comedies (because they are more fearful than most personality types, this type of movie pokes fun at their fearfulness. Examples: The Out-of-Towners; What about Bob.) Books and movies featuring this type also include those with themes that celebrate cultural traditions and also those of ordinary people banding together to fight a common enemy. Superhero stories fit into this personality type’s fantasies in movies and books. Lastly, themes for this type also fall under the umbrellas of science versus faith (this type prefers faith) and fear versus faith (this type uses their faith to overcome their fears). Read more about the Responsibility personality.   
What might a pairing between the Yes Man (Ben Affleck) and Responsibility (his real life wife, Jennifer Garner) be like? Or if not them, between people of similar personality types?

My sources tell me that while this isn’t a common pairing, these types can work well as a team. Both are practical but eager to achieve material success. Both are hard workers, and will persevere until they achieve success.

But success is dependent on them resolving the tension between performance and performance-anxiety. (He’s naturally a great performer, or has worked to become one and will never forget how to be a success, whereas she might be one as well, but her never-ending performance-anxiety will keep her from maintaining success.) When she wants to stop and discuss her doubts (she’s always full of them), he’ll be afraid to do so, because it dredges up anxieties about his self-worth, despite the confident face he shows the world. So instead of stopping and talking about it, he’ll soldier on, which will inadvertently serve to increase her anxieties. Instead of working things out, issues are forgotten.

Ben will be energetic, optimistic, outgoing. Jennifer will be warm, supportive and loyal. She’ll feel compassion for the less fortunate, and because of this, he’ll learn to care more for them as well. Each respects the other for their talents. They’ll bolster each other’s confidence.
She’ll help him become part of something bigger than himself—a church, or political organization, a cause. Both become stronger individually and as a team through such endeavors. As long as they share important values, their relationship will be successful and lasting.

Each completes the other in important ways, but if the relationship isn’t healthy, they’ll bring out the worst in themselves and each other. Both are competitive and tend to spend too much time at work; both are insecure and need external reassurance and acceptance, and may look outside the relationship to find it. 

Neither likes to talk about their feelings, but instead to soldier on in their respective tasks, which can get on each other’s nerves. She’ll see him as being too ambitious, and with too big an ego. She’ll get tired of his boasting. Both view success through very different eyes. He’ll feel accomplished if he can do something well, whereas she’s unable to remember her successes, and will need to be reminded. It helps when she can learn to focus on the task at hand, rather than getting mired in fear of failure.

He’ll see her as being too nervous and cautious. Both could become evasive about their actions and feelings. If still unwilling or unable to talk about their feelings, both could develop separate social lives from each other.

Ben will try to keep up appearances, and would be embarrassed if she let it be known that their relationship was in trouble. Instead of Jennifer’s healthy questioning of him, and his challenging competitiveness with her, they would lose interest in each other until something exposes the fact that the relationship has died.

Additional Information:
What are Instinctual Subtypes?  
Sources from which I collected and synthesized information about the matches 


Warrior meets Takes Charge or, Julia Roberts meets Sean Penn

Today's letter is W, and we're looking at the Warrior personality, Julia Roberts, matched with the Takes Charge personality, Sean Penn.

The Warrior personality can as easily be male as female. In this pairing, I’ve chosen a female to represent the Warrior personality, and Julia Roberts seems to be of this type. Warriors are often skeptical of strangers but loyal friends. Like their related personality types—Responsibility and Guardian—fear is the lens through which they view the world, however, unlike their related types, instead of giving in to fear and anxiety, they deny their fears with bold actions. Read more about the Warrior [Strength or Beauty] personality. (Julia.)

They, with the related types mentioned above, are the True Believers, the Defenders of the Faith and of the weak. In movies and books, the Warrior personality is often a Superhero, or an ordinary person who takes extraordinary risks to fight for what he or she believes in. (Superman; David & Goliath). Books and movies featuring this personality type are also frequently along the lines of skeptics being confronted with strange relaties. (Contact; X-Files; Outer Limits). Of all personality types, Warriors are the biggest skeptics.

The Takes Charge personality, generally a masculine personality, in contrast, is often portrayed  in books and movies as Knights, Gods or Goddesses, Lawmen, Champions, Samurai, or gunslingers or pirates. Seeing life as a war between weak and strong, they’re the avengers of wrongs done to themselves, their loved ones or friends. They protect the weak, although they might secretly hope someone had their back. When the story involves romance, the Takes Charge personality needs to learn how to show his needs and weaknesses. Movie examples: (The King & I; Gone With the Wind). Charismatic, he has big appetites and a fiery temperament. Read more about the Takes Charge personality.

So what might a relationship between Julia Roberts and Sean Penn—both fiery types—(or if not them, persons of similar personality types) be like?

Both have a defensive outlook on life, and so they could bond together against the world, so to speak, since they believe other people are not trustworthy. Because they are by nature skeptical of others, they’re happy to find people they can trust after a time of testing. Once they know they can trust each other, they trust deeply. Both are loyal, honorable, responsible, hardworking, courageous, protective, and have a soft spot in their hearts for the underdog. High energy, they’re doers.    

Neither of them is particularly romantic. He values loyalty, and she’s unusually loyal, even in tough times. She values strength, and when up against it, he rises to the occasion.

More overtly emotional than him, she’d bring warmth, playfulness and sensitivity. Both are good at seeing problems and thinking things through. She might advise him, but he would be the leader, especially as he’s a bold, quick decision maker. He enjoys taking on challenges. He’d be her hero, and he’d be moved by her devotion and similar courage. Unlike many personality pairings, this one is not only likely to last, but to deepen over time.  

But if there were threatening issues between them, both would go on the counterattack. Even more of a leader than she is, he expects loyalty and even obedience from her. She wouldn’t mind it, except at times when she needs to show him that she won’t be taken advantage of. And he will ultimately respect her for it. It’s when she’s weak that he’ll lose respect for her.

Additional Information:
What are Instinctual Subtypes?  
Sources from which I collected and synthesized information about the matches 


Vivant, bon meets King or, Cher meets Sean Hannity

Today's letter is V, for Vivant, Bon (Bon Vivant) [Cher], who we are matching with the King personality, Sean Hannity.

The Bon Vivant personality, as exemplified by Cher, is more often male than female. Bon Vivants love to live big. They have large appetites for sensual pleasures, and their lifestyles and families are often unconventional. They tend to be airheads. In books and movies, Bon Vivants (and their related personality tpyes: The Salesperson and the Utopian Visionary) are involved in travel and adventure, or are romantic outlaws, eternal youth. Read more about the Vivant, Bon (BonVivant!) personality. 

The King personality, exemplified by Sean Hannity, is also more often male than female, and is often a patriarch, a CEO, an officer in the military. He’s a leader who can change the world. Read more about King-like personalities.  

What might a pairing between a Bon Vivant (Cher) and a King (Sean Hannity) be like? 

Assuming they were  close to the same age and otherwise single/available for a romantic relationship, I can see Sean looking at Cher and thinking, "Yeah, she's a diva," and then quickly turning his attention to more important matters, like debating the budget crisis, gun control, or immigration reform. 

But if not them per se, how might persons of their personality types relate?

Both are assertive, independent, and strong willed. Neither likes to be controlled or limited by others, or even by themselves. For them, being told not to do something is an invitation to do it. Both have big appetites, want a big life, and instant gratification. High energy, staying active keeps the energy supply strong. Adventuresome, they like trying new things. Opinionated, they’re not shy about being heard.

Cher would bring more of a sense of fun and excitement into the relationship, to keep things fresh. The Bon Vivant personality is often talkative as well, and in fact, they are usually wonderful storytellers, even if it means telling tales about their adventures and misadventures.

He would be more reserved and moody, but would be better at facing adversity with courage and staying power.

Independence is a must. Both prefer self-expression to self-improvement. Both look to themselves rather than turning to someone else, when they need support. He will never admit it if she hurt his feelings; it would be a sign of weakness, to his way of thinking. If she’s hurt, she’ll just go and find something exciting to do.

She’s prone to rationalizing, which sounds like a lie to him. He’s very big on truth telling.
When he feels threatened, he tries to control things, but she’d be awfully hard to pin down, especially when a relationship is growing toward love and commitment. If there are issues, she’ll find it easier to walk away than compromise . . . unless she’s grown to truly, deeply care.

When he’s stressed, he goes off by himself to think, but he also loves his privacy and space, even when not stressed.

Both need to find constructive outlets for their high energy. If they don’t, they could bring the relationship down. He might start bullying her, and she would retaliate with insults and contempt. Both can be terribly selfish, and their verbally abusive fights could turn into physical abuse. Both enjoy reckless behavior, and once their relationship reaches this level, it’s hard for them to back down to what would feel like boring behavior. Sometimes pushing the limits can have tragic consequences.   

Additional Information:
What are Instinctual Subtypes?  
Sources from which I collected and synthesized information about the matches