Sleep-Talking, Sleep-Writing?

You ever wake up early—I mean, really early—and it’s like you’re still dreaming? You’re out of it. Remembering the events of such an egregiously early morning seem like peeking into another weird dimension.

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Like, did I really just drive to get coffee in my PJs? I believe I mispronounced my Grande order, too, but the voice over the intercom was fuzzy.

“Yes, I’ll have the GRAND coffee.”

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Why settle for less?

And while I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s been on autopilot mode (until the coffee kicks in), I wonder how many of us write that way? There comes a point for me in my fiction that the strange sensation of disconnect takes over.

Of course, to acknowledge this state while you’re in it would take you out of it like throwing freezing water on a sleeping target.

One of my favorite authors, Paulo Coehlo, has a term for this—going to his island (read his blog here).

“Writing is getting lost at sea. It’s discovering your own untold story and trying to share it with others. It’s realizing, when you show it to people you have never seen, what is in your own soul.” – The Zahir, Paulo Coehlo

Writing fiction is already a removing experience, but the sheer amount of magic in my unfolding fantasy world puts me in that state of dreaming. When I wake from it, I’m never quite sure what time of day it is.

I wish I could go to that place more often, but I don’t always find my way back through sheer trying.It takes some magic. I can only hope that through the daily routine I create my soul treads the path back to my sleeping worlds.

Michigan Writing Workshop Event for Authors Hits Detroit

Mar. 25, 2017 (Novi, MI) — It’s not every day that hundreds of writers congregate in Novi. The area is known more for its flourishing population of sushi restaurants than budding J.K. Rowlings and Steven Kings. But after my near two-hour voyage through the rain, I discovered 279 other “pre-published” authors packed into the conference rooms of the Baronette Renaissance hotel.

The Michigan Writing Workshop (#MichiganWW)— a collaboration by coordinator Jessica Bell, former Writer’s Digest editor Chuck Sambuchino, and our very own Michigan SCBWI chapter—focused on providing guidance and opportunity for “How to Get Published.” By opportunity, I mean the 14 literary agents (and one editor) who accepted pitches (for a nominal fee).

I should have known, I thought, as I stood elbow to elbow in the line for the bathroom. I wasn’t there to pitch, but I must’ve been the minority.  MichiganWW proved at least one thing to be true:

Good advice on the publishing industry +Pitch opportunities to agents
= small army of writers frothing at the bit

How to Network Like a Boss

While the introverted part of me (hates crowds, introductions, loud noises) was horrified by the mob,  I also was thrilled to find so many others sharing my passion for the craft in such close proximity. Oh, good! There are other weirdos like me.

But short of introducing myself in the bathroom line and before the workshops, I found connection opportunities few and far between.

My prepared introductions went something like: “Hi, I see you are also a voluntary slave to the red pen. Care to chat over Twitter or a nice bourbon?”

My actual introductions were less charming: *Enters room. Flings business cards at unsuspecting writers. Flees.*

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Who knows? Maybe you’re here on my blog because you caught one in the eye and were wondering who to sue.

Writing Contests

Hopeful writers flocked into the “first page contest” (aka Writers Got Talent), a returning event where attending agents try to read through the first pages submitted. Of course, with such a massive group of authors, they only made it through a fraction of the pile, quickly dubbed the Leaning Tower of Pisa. An even smaller sampling of those survived a full reading, and the ending feedback was not always positive. Sometimes, the agent just wanted to know where the heck the writer was going with it.

The contest was a humbling reminder of why you need a thick skin in the industry. 

When agents are getting hundreds of submissions a day, sometimes “good work” isn’t enough. They’re listening for the voice that will rise above. A lasting impression.

Publishing & Genre Workshops

Workshop topics, as promised, included How to be noticed by Agents (my interpretation: “Agent-Senpai”). Since I attended the 2015 workshop for Michiganww where this topic was thoroughly covered, I opted for the workshops specific to my genres: YA & Fantasy.

While these panels were more craft-focused, it seemed many of the other writers were, embarrassingly, in the wrong class during the Q&A session:

“But how do I get an agent?”

“Are you taking submissions?”

“When will Agent-Senpai notice me?”

“How do I get published?!”

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These are not hard answers. Many are better addressed over Twitter than a conference. Most of them involve improving your craft. It’s the mechanics of how to improve I’m interested in at this stage of my manuscript. The agents, when not distracted by the publish-me-fever, were able to provide some useful insight useful to all.

How do I Advertise My Book?

Chuck Sambuchino’s talk on building presence and platform was an insightful addition to authors interested in taking online marketing into their own hands. For me, it felt like an undercover sting operation, as I am a marketing professional by day.  I’m happy to report that Chuck, for only having an hour on the subject, killed the presentation and provided sound advice on SEO, email marketing, blogging, among other options.

On a less technical, more heart-warming note, Chuck spoke on the value of giving to others and being open to connection.Put yourself out there. Market yourself.Ultimately, those who know you will buy your books because you’re you.

Side Note: In the future, I’ll probably provide my own list of marketing tactics relating to SEO (Search Engine Optimization), as this is one issue I get the most questions on.

More Event Information:

Official Event Website: https://michiganwritingworkshop.com/


Did you attend the 2017 Michigan Writing Workshop? I’d love to hear your thoughts and takeaways in the comments below. Thanks again to Jessica, Chuck, and SCBWI for orchestrating this event!

Thanks again for reading! If you’re on Twitter or Facebook, do feel free to hit me up with your best book recommendations or dankest internet memes. And if you’re just here for a few laughs, I have a slew of awkward writing moments to share on this blog.

Guest Post: 25 Debut Authors Share Advice for Getting Published

Great advice for writers of all kinds!

Writing and Rambling

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I’m delighted to welcome Chuck Sambuchino (@chucksambuchino) of Writer’s Digest Books to the blog today. September 2015 saw the release of three of Chuck’s new books, the 2016 Guide to Literary Agents, the 2016 Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market, and his anti-clown humor book When Clowns Attack: A Survival Guide. Chuck has generously offered to do a giveaway. In two weeks, he’ll pick a commenter from this thread at random, and the winner will receive their choice of any of his books. Must live within the US/Canada to receive a print book; those residing elsewhere will receive a PDF e-book. Beware clowns. 

Without further ado, I’ll hand you over to Chuck.

I love interviewing debut authors. I interview them for my Guide to Literary Agents Blog, and make sure to include at least a dozen such interviews in each edition of the Guide to Literary…

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Writing in Coffee Shops: Part 2 – Everyone Has A Story

Another real life incident from a coffee shop. I’m sitting in the same darn chair from the “potato incident” when a blonde lady with yoga pants walks in. She has a workout bag with her and seems fatigued. She makes eye contact. I smile politely and return to my book. She doesn’t move. I look back up. A flash of recognition crosses her face. She’s clearly trying to talk to me.

“Uh, are you here for the writing group?”
“No. A writing group?” She pauses to throw her hands in the air. An Italian? I knew she reminded me of my mother…. “Have I got a good story for you!”

I can’t make this up, guys.

“Oh?” I set down my book, and she relays the unfortunate incident to me.

“This is not supposed to happen! I am 57 years old and my Jeep locked with my car keys and phone inside after Jazzercise. It is NOT supposed to do that.”

The lady uses my phone to dial a friend to come get her. But she can’t remember the number and calls the wrong friend, one who now lives in Florida. She then relays the entire incident to them, although they clearly can’t come get her.

I’m early for my writing meeting, so I offer to drive her home. It’s just a couple of miles, and she’s so very grateful.

“You’re going to get a ton of good karma for this.”
“It’s nothing, really. Besides, I’m not really a fan of karma.”
“Are you a fan of grace, then?”
“Yes, that I am.”

In less than 20 minutes, she’s conveyed this amazing life story to me. Part of me wonders if she’s made it up. But you’d be surprised how honest folks are with strangers, and I realize how silly my own Japan loving book writing otaku life sounds when you don’t know me.

“How old are you?”
“25.”
“My daughter is, too!”

By the way she says her child’s name, I can tell she means the world her. But then she tells me about how she didn’t understand why God gave her a child with disabilities, that He should have given her to someone more qualified, like a teacher or a physical therapist.

“She was only 1 lb when she was born. I didn’t believe she was a miracle baby. Her birth was an experiment. And I was just a cheerleader for the NFL! What did I know about raising this child with disabilities?”

But then she smiles. “I didn’t know why He chose me.” I look at her at the red light. “It’s been over 24 years, and now I believe in miracles.”

I never suspected I’d be spending my Monday commute this way. We pull up to her house and she runs in to pick up her spare keys.

“Is your mom my age? Does she do crazy things like this, too? Forgetting random things and such?”
“Yeah.” I recall when my mom once put the remote controller in the freezer. “But I’m never sure if that’s just her, or you know, her age.”
“Ha! My daughter says that about me, too! Well, tell your mom you did a good thing tonight.”

I drop her off at the car with her keys, and we laugh about how I’ll write about this. And I do. I remember that every person has a story. Behind every set of eyes there are whole worlds.

It’s amazing.

Writing in Coffee Shops: Part 1 – The Potato Incident

In honor of National Coffee Day, I’m reposting a transcript of one of those random coffee shop encounters I experienced while writing.

It’s all about the setting, right?

A real and random conversation with a middle-aged guy in a coffee shop:

“Hi. Are you Scottish?”
“Uh? Do you mean because of my hair? I dyed it…”
“No, but your hair looks nice. I’m trying to figure out which country makes the most potatoes. He said Scottland.”
“I dunno. Ireland, maybe?”
“Ireland—see, that’s what I said, too. My dad’s Irish and he’s got the best potato recipes.”
“Oh, uh. Let me check my phone….

Is this a new pick-up line or something?

….you’re not going to believe this.”
“Which country?”
“It’s China.”
“China? Wow. Well, thanks for looking that up. Name’s Ray.”
“I’m Mary.”

Then he gave me a fist bump and walked out the door with his coffee.

Finding God in a Coffee Shop

Coffee is a big part of my life these days. More accurately, a Biggby part (heh heh heh).

Deal with it.

Sorry.

*Ahem* In addition to my book, I’m working on several other time-consuming projects, [Insert shameless plug for my new YouTube channel, Dashing Nerds*] and sometimes faith and a little caffeine is all that gets me through it. Ask my writing group how wired I was at the last meetup!

Coffee = life’s cheat code for a good night’s sleep.

Although I’m not blogging as much as I would like, I do take the occasional moment to Tweet my progress. Twitter is to writing as Tinder is to dating. Don’t read too much into that.

To be honest, I didn’t want to burden your newsfeed with how much life is beating me into a pulp.

Can’t I just stay home and not speak to anyone, like ever?

Authors can relate that there is, at times, an agonizing grind where you question every keystroke. I’ve lost count of my revisions.

Maybe I’m not cut out for this.

But then, there are the little moments in coffee shops. Unfolding scenes that invade your schedule and take your routine hostage. They make you laugh. Sometimes, they offer glimpses of grace and hope. God speaks to me in them. He gently reminds me that I love writing, that I love my life.

So Happy Monday to my fellow writers and adventurers. I hope you’ll keep your eyes open for these little moments that inspire you. I’m just reminding you that your life has a story worth telling. Keep going.

The Writing Life: As Told by Turtles

Summer is finally here in Michigan! It arrived with blistering heat this weekend and no shortage of distractions. I am doing my best to flee from these, but the Social Obligation Committee seems more intense in the sun; I’ve come to the conclusion it is powered by solar energy and tequila.

Attempting to run from social obligations….

These socialites simply don’t understand that I do not want to go to the bar every night because I have to get up early. My daily regiment starts at 5 a.m..

“But why would you do that?” they ask, blinking.
“Because,” I say with a smile, I enjoy being as miserable as possible.”

And I am sarcastic. I can’t express to them how incredibly fulfilled I am after a productive morning at the keyboard. But non-writers don’t get it. If I were not sarcastic, I’d sound like a walking greeting card spouting out vague proverbs on following my dreams and catching mythical worms in the wee hours of the morning. I won’t show them the detailed schedule I have written out because I don’t feel like revealing the extent of my lunacy.

So what do I look like at 5 a.m.?

I am no Zen master.

In theory, I go on my morning jog with our foster dog to warm up my brain cells. I should be done with this and showered by 5:30 a.m., and at my writing desk with coffee by 5:45 a.m. That leaves me two hours to write before I leave for work.

In reality, I am still in bed, wallowing in self-loathing at the productive, aspiring version of myself that came up with this hair-brained agenda. When I make it out the door, usually not before 6am, I am a zombie.

It’s safe to say our Shiba Inu walks me.

Zombies suffering from sleep depravation are not particularly excellent dog walkers. Especially when you have a Shiba Inu hybrid with the strength of the Hulk. So when I finally make it to my computer, I am crabby, still sleepy, and have lost an hour of writing time. Whenever I attempt to do a shortcut by skipping the run, I fall asleep at my desk.

Sometimes, when my husband comes in to check on me, he finds me in the most cherubic of states.

Don’t talk to me right now!

As a result of my body rebelling against my Muse’s desire to put words on the page, my writing has, well, slowed. But as we learned from the race of the hare and the tortoise, I firmly believe that if I continue the race and continue pacing myself, I will make it to the finish line with an story worth telling.

An Absurdly Good Book

With my daily “read for an hour, write for 2” routine in full swing, I have been eating up books. Most people go to the deli or liquor store to prepare for Memorial Day Weekend.  I went to the book store.

After 20 minutes of searching Barnes & Nobles, I finally gave in and asked an employee where to find the books on writing. Ah, the “Writing & Publication” section. Of course. It’s located at the most inconspicuously low shelf in the store. Why didn’t I think of that? So, I squatted low, beholding the titles until I could no longer feel my legs. And then I sat like a child on the floor in the middle of the aisle and took out the books, one by one.

By the time I’d narrowed it down to two tomes, the clerk was ready to ask if I wanted a part-time gig dusting the floor. It pained me to leave the other, but could not take them both home. You can only share your four-day weekend with one. Books are jealous creatures that way.

But the book I chose rewarded my decision 100 times over.

Inspirational is not quite the right word for Anne Lamott’s “Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life.” That word is better suited for poetry on gardening and B-movies on the American Dream. Not that there’s anything wrong with feeling inspired, but these “feel-good” stories are temporal. The motivation they bring passes away. So, inspiring will not do.

And it’s not an instruction manual, either. Sure, there are useful nuts and bolts in every chapter on dialogue, character, and plot, but I’d hardly classify it as a writer’s reference guide. It is bursting with too many deliciously candid anecdotes for that.

So what sort of book is it then? Like I am having tea with a twice-removed aunt I have never met before, but she knows everything about me from my mother. You know the one. She is in her 4os, maybe, and doesn’t go anywhere without a bottle of red wine and a leopard-print cane. She wakes up to a broken cuckoo-clock instead of the alarm on her cell like everybody else just because it sounds more “authentic.”

Don’t roll your eyes just because she may be off her rocker. She doesn’t have time for people like that. You’ll never get to know the fabulous, mysterious, and relatable truths she has stored in her alligator purse if you don’t reach in.

If you want to rekindle your love for writing and find something out about yourself along the way, she will offer a drink from the well–or bird bath–of wisdom that is oh-so-rich.

5 a.m. is Ugly

My husband is an EMT, so occasionally he’ll work super early hours. He had to get up at 4:45 a.m. today, so I used that as an opportunity to get out of bed and work on my manuscript.

As it turns out, this time I woke up before my creativity did. I spent a good chunk of the time staring at the screen, trying to stay awake. While I am already seeing the value of setting aside 2 hours a day for my story, I am also seeing the value of sleep.

Just one more page…

I’ll get used to this. And I will remember the coffee and wake-up work out for tomorrow.