Dante’s 8th Circle of Hell: Rewrites

Writing a manuscript that is worthy of more than a spot the trash bin can be a BIT of a commitment, but… today I reached about the halfway point of what I refer to as “Rewriting Hell”.

For those of you who didn’t spit out a masterpiece on the first or second try, I know you feel me on this.

Symptoms of this stage may include:

  • Your writing desk disappearing below crumpled up notecards and outlines
  • Feelings of hopelessness and despair
  • Hitting your forehead repeatedly during the rewriting process
  • Dwindling caffeine/hard liquor supplies
  • Groaning when anyone asks how the novel is going
  • Sleepless nights from open-ended plotlines
  • Only seeing the flaws in the chapter you are currently working on
  • A recent and habitual devotion to things that are NOT WRITING, like waxing the toilets, giving your dolly collection haircuts, or counting the rotations of the ceiling fan

As a perfectionist and turtle at the keyboard, this is easily the step I have spent the most time on. Seriously, I’ve lost count of what number draft this first novel is on. I finished my very first rough draft of the story after about two years of working on it, and I remember thinking I was so close to being done.

It was after I got the first feedback on my story that the impending dread and confusion began to set in. Reality hit. Hard. My introduction was so top-heavy that some of my poor Beta readers couldn’t even get past the opening chapters (bless their hearts for trying). Not everything was bad, but the reaction wasn’t at all what I was hoping for. Stubborn cuss that I am, I didn’t believe them.
They just didn’t understand.

So, in order to argue on behalf of my book, I started to read up on self-editing and plotting. I bought books on world-building and sought out films and other media with examples of “good writing”.  I joined SCBWI and even began this frivolous blog.

The thing is, the more I learned about what makes a story good, the more I started to have second thoughts about my first draft. Doubt settled in. And while I am not one of the writers who gave up at this point, I am sure many have. I still struggle with the doubt today, but I remain a willful captive of the mighty pen. And while a complete mess at points, that story told in the first manuscript is, to me, too precious to abandon.

A story grows with a person; it can’t be stagnant. As much as part of me wanted to keep that precious first draft with me, I graduated from it. In order to go with me, it had to grow legs and become a living, breathing monster (complete with googly eyes!). That’s what rewriting has been about for me. The more I learned to hone my craft, the more my manuscript had to change.

That’s the gist of how I dove headfirst into Rewriting Hell. I’ve plotted to my heart’s content. I’ve broken several coffee cups getting her. But the end is in sight!

I’ll leave you with some encouraging words from a favorite Ghibli film of mine, Whisper of the Heart (1995). The story follows a middle school girl who tries her hand at writing her very first novel. After reading her first draft, Mr. Nishi tells her that she has to keep polishing her work. He reminds her not to expect perfection at first, but that her manuscript is like a raw rock; it’s true value isn’t seen until it’s been polished over and over again.

“When you become an artist, you are like that rock. You are in a raw, natural state with hidden gems inside. You have to dig down deep and find the emerald studs there way inside you. And that’s just the beginning… You should be very proud for all your hard work. You dug inside your soul and found some real gems. Next, you need to polish it. Which will also take a lot of work.” – Mr. Nishi, Whisper of the Heart

Keep chipping away, my pen junkies. Find what is worthwhile in your story. Chin up!

 

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Writing Every Day

“Write every day.” -Every book on writing (paraphrased).

It’s some of the best and most disheartening advice aspiring authors will get. It’s disheartening because it’s oh-so-simple. And it’s HARD to do. But, as Chuck Wendig put it in his cheeky (but true) book on writing, “If you write: you are a writer. If you do not write: you are not.”

Are you or aren’t you?

So, I’ve had a good writing streak going on my manuscript. But today, I didn’t FEEL like writing at at all. There’s this particular scene I’ve been struggling through all week, writing and rewriting. This, as you can imagine, is a drain. I was dreading opening my laptop from the time I woke up this morning. But after much procrastination, I finally forced myself to sit down for at least the bare minimum so I wouldn’t be crushed by the guilt of NOT writing at all.

Then, like magic, the words began to flow. I blew through the scene in no time and started editing the next part. Where did this burst of energy come from?Forcing it does not always yield the best results, but continually disciplining your mind to work when the creative well is running dry will cause you to dig deeper.

Keep digging, Inklings. Who knows what surprises are lurking in that beautiful brain of yours.

Book Update: Pro Feedback

In March I submitted the first 10 pages of my book to a real-life, bonafide editor!  There was nothing to do but wait for the first pro feedback I’d ever receive. Talk about the jitters.

As it so happened, Persona 5 came out just around that time, so getting lost in the stylish streets of Shibuya has been my happy distraction for the past month.

This weekend I finally received my book chapter critique! Now I’m trying to let it settle in. It was largely positive, which I wasn’t expecting. However, the editor did recommend some changes that are currently putting me through mental gymnastics because of the butterfly effect it could have on my book as a whole.

This kind of encouragement is harder for me than if she had hated it, as it means I still have a lot of work to do. I don’t expect many who are not writers to understand that. You have to take a stab at writing a book before Confirmation that I owe it to my story to put that time in is both dreadful and lovely. It means it has a chance at success.

Meanwhile, the voices in my head have returned.

“Tell my story next! Me! Me!”

I need to mull things over for a while.

Note: This critique was an amazing sign-up opportunity through SCBWI, which I highly recommend joining if you are in the business of writing for children.

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

Chuck Sambuchino_3covers

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.