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!

 

Advertisements

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.

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.*

large

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?!”

tumblr_nh1qwta20m1qbtwyto2_250

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.

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.

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.

Rhetorical Routines

“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.”
Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

We’ve all heard it: “Write every day.”

Oh, brother. I know what I am *supposed* to be doing.

Easier said than done, right?

If you’re like me, you’ve got a 99+ things demanding your attention. And they’re probably important. Things like fitting in exercise, or spending quality time with your family, or putting in extra hours at your 9-to-5 job. You can’t give them up, but they seem to do everything in their power to make you want to quit; they won’t hesitate to pry you away from your keyboard with a crowbar and rob you of your energy.

What do you mean ‘do the laundry’?!

And then, when you’re finally ready to open your laptop again, your muses have abandoned you at the dreaded Wall of Surmounting Excuses and Missed Opportunities.

It’s a demoralizing, guilt-ridden place to be.

Fortunately, I’m not the first fool who decided to up and write a novel. Plenty of crazies have gone ahead, and they’ve been kind enough to bring back words of wisdom from the top to those of us still in the mire. It’s their advice I fall back on whenever I run into that accursed wall. And thanks to the powers of the internets, much of this advice is accessible.

Wow, I love YouTube interviews.

So how do they answer the question of daily writing? Writer’s Digest interviewed Alice Walker (author of The Color Purple), and she had this to say:

“… Part of writing is not so much that you’re going to actually write something every day, but what you should have, or need to have, is the possibility, which means the space and the time set aside—as if you were going to have someone come to tea. If you are expecting someone to come to tea but you’re not going to be there, they may not come, and if I were them, I wouldn’t come. So, it’s about receptivity and being home when your guest is expected, or even when you hope that they will come.”

Okay, alright, that sounds fair. I already think of my characters as living, and feel guilt when I ignore them, so I suppose I could be a bit more…hospitable. But how can I possibly set the time aside?

And that’s when THIS “little” infographic hit the net. It depicts the different waking hours of Pulitzer Prize winners. And guess what? Many woke up to write at 4AM.

Were they crazy? Probably! Did they drink a lot of coffee? Most definitely. But to write when the rest of the world is still sleeping? That’s brilliant.

So, I’m starting my new routine: get up an hour earlier to write, and read for at least an hour each day. It’s an uphill battle, but I know I will get stronger with every step I take! Wish me luck!

Dear NSA: There’s Another World in my Head

Dear NSA Agents,

It has come to my attention this week, while monitoring my browser history, you may have been baffled. Yes, I binge-read interviews with Madeleine L’Engle. It was me who watched video after video of cartography instructions, and then looped back to gifs of black holes. Between the hours of 8pm-11pm, I did indeed frequent the Jewish Virtual Library website.

Then you realized I came by none of these places via Reddit. Imagine your surprise!

Allow me to clear the air–I am not starting a time-traveling Kosher cult in space. I do keep a top secret sketch diary of my findings in these gems, but my scribblings have little to do with this great nation’s security. I know, I know–you’ve heard that all before. I can feel your eyes glazing over as you read this note.

But what if I told you there is a perfectly good explanation for all it?

There’s another world in my head.

Like this one, it has texture. It has color. Although its borders are names on paper, its core is made of the richness beyond the curtain of my imagination.

I am exploring this world for the first time from the eyes of my beta readers. It is a deepening. A reshaping. The answering of “what” and “why” and “how” this came to be. An unveiling.

I admit, while I hated history class in grade school, the more I investigate social conventions, technological advances, and aesthetic values, the more I am fascinated by all history has to offer. I never thought writing fantasy would lead me down this path.

I am willing to bet that you, dear agents, also did not expect it, either. You do not understand this spontaneous combustion of topical interests. Anyone working a proper government job wouldn’t (I hear the tie cuts off all whimsy before it can reach the brain).

This world building may seem a bit unhealthy, but I don’t want you to fuss over it. So, here’s your out. Chalk it up to a “broadening of horizons.” Maybe I’m in a mid-life crisis in my 20-somes. You can never tell with us Millennials, am I right?

I won’t even be upset if you decide to not read my book once it’s published. There’s dragons, and all kinds of other nonsense in it.

All I ask is that you don’t shut off my internet when the research gets even weirder.

Love,
M. Sanborn Smith

Gail Told Me To Do It: SCBWI

Gail being THE Gail Carson Levine, Newbery Honor winning author of Ella Enchanted, The Two Princesses of Bamarre, Dave at Night, and a slew of other fantastic books I cherished growing up in the 90s.

She’s fairly active on her Goodreads blog, so I threw out a question about finding agents and getting publishing advice. I wasn’t expecting a response; I figured it’d be lost in the mass of fanmail she gets on the daily.

 But guess what? She totally replied.

I know, right?

After a good deal of fangirling and texting my mom (who read Gail’s books with me as a child), I read her advice:

Gail Carson Levine

And so, off to The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators website I went!

Wow. Talk about an arsenal of resources. Guides, podcasts, and bookstores promoting members are just some highlights available. Members are eligible for publishing and promotional grants, manuscript awards, and book launching parties. As it turns out, they have a fairly active Michigan chapter, with a writing group that meets bimonthly in Ann Arbor and Farmington Hills. Score!

When I told my husband about the wealth of information, he said I had no choice but to join–it’s time to invest in my career, and take the next steps towards publication.

After all, Gail told me to do it.

Novel Update: Beta Reader Testing

Let me tell you about the best feeling in the world: two and a half year’s work, printed and bound in my hands.

Me: “I could die right now.”
Printing Services Employee: “Please don’t do that.”
Me: “No, it’s okay. It’s a good thing.”

I wanted to hold it up right there in the store like Rafiki presenting Simba. In the amphitheater of my mind, I heard the music.

See? THIS is what I’ve been working on!

2nd-draft

So high was my exuberance leaving Office Depot that I even followed the receipt online and gave the staff 5-star quality reviews.

When my husband took my printed copy to work, my heart swelled with quiet pride. But handing this same manuscript over to my mother was another matter. She’s the one who taught me to love books and introduced me to fantasy. She also teaches middle school language arts, making her a shrewd editor and an excellent judge of my work hitting the target audience.

I promise, you’ll like it!

Meanwhile, I have a few other beta readers, all with varying schedules and reading speeds. I just found out one is already half-way through the story–I emailed her the copy 4 days ago.

Wut?

So, while I put my foot in my mouth and attempt to give my beta readers the space they need, I will be researching agents. I already feel like I’m in over my head.

I’ll just keep busy while you judge my precious life’s work. Yup.