Write it–Don’t Toss Your Story in Flames

DSCN2318We’ve all witnessed scenes in movies where an author tosses a manuscript into the flames. And many real life novelists and story writers destroyed their work in this way. Now a days, it’s too easy to “select all” and “delete”. But wait a minute…

We must remember that the writing process is subjective and our egos often, if not always, run the show. The ego shows us polished work of a famous author leaving us to believe that we’ll never experience that success. But why are we comparing our first or second draft of our first novel to a New York Times Best-Selling author’s work? I know I’ve fallen into this trap and if I’ve done it, so have thousands, if not millions of other aspiring and even veteran authors. I drove myself crazy comparing my memoir to Liz Gilbert’s phenomenal success.

But let’s get realistic here. After you read the last page of that best-seller that caused you to cringe over your own manuscript, check out the acknowledgement page. You’ll see a long list of editors, fellow writers who critiqued the manuscript, the agent, former writing teachers, MFA professors, and possibly a writing group in the acknowledgements. We have come to believe that writing is a solo process, but in actuality, it takes a team to publish a novel, and that does include the graphic artist, photographer, and public relations department.

What we fail to see with the finished product include the first few drafts with notes and corrections in red ink. We fail to see the many attempts the author took to polish a chapter or even the sentence that launches the story or the final paragraph that leave the readers satisfied or wanting more. We don’t see the writing conferences the author attended or the workshops they enrolled. We don’t see the number of rejection letters from agents and or editors who sometimes left suggestions for improvements. We also don’t see the times when even that author wanted to douse their novel in flames.

So if your novel appears problematic, then join a writing critique group on or offline (although some critique groups are insufferable, I admit). Or attend a writing conference and go to the workshops that speak out to your work. Get your ego under control by learning spiritual practices such as yoga (breathing gives us space), meditation, or reading self-help books. Find someone whose opinion you trust who will critique with a firm, yet sensitive hand, such as a writing mentor.

Get a list of your novels strength and weaknesses, then research ways to solve the weaknesses and bolster the strength. There are no excuses in regard going online to a site such as Writers Digest or picking up writing books or magazines at the library. I’ve done this at various steps on my writing path. Also you might have to trim the fat of your novel and start from a blank page. Perhaps, deleting a character or twisting the plot inspires you to write a better novel. Deleting a paragraph, chapter, or character is not the same as tossing your novel into a lit fireplace. Although it’s also less dramatic and writers adore drama.

You can also place the novel in a file (computer or hard copy) and store it until you feel inspired to return to the novel. Start your next novel using the new tools and practices you gained from the first novel. And don’t do what I did and rewrite all your previous novels because you compare your current mastery to your more innocent efforts. And whatever you do, be your best advocate and supporter. Don’t put yourself down or say that you’ll never succeed as a novelist. If you feel a strong desire to write novels and that desire comes from your heart, then keep moving forward.

You’ll get there when you get there. And if it makes you feel any better, I started writing fiction in my thirties and I’m turning 52–the proud author-mama of five unpublished novels. I’m not giving up though. I love the stories that come to me, I enjoy the writing process and I’m sure I will enjoy publication of all my novels in good time. I wish you success too.

If you would like an astrology-coaching session from a multimedia artist, sign up at my blog Whole Astrology. Also visit Metaphysics 4 Everyday Living. And keep on writing.

Write it–Detachment & The Pitch

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Photo by Patricia Herlevi

I started pitching my work to editors and agents back in the 1990s. And if I use the fishing metaphor, the fish nibbled and even bit into my baits. I also received rejections which stung more in my younger years and miraculously don’t sting any longer for the following reasons.

I researched the animal we call a literary agent. Well, actually literary agents appear to be human and have the same feelings as authors. Many literary agents seem approachable because of their humanity and their passion for literary work. However, agents speak a different language than authors at times. They speak about platforms, awards, the marketplace, and editorial concerns. And it helps if authors learn this language.

Agents have preferences which these days we can easily research online. Veteran agents appear in numerous articles especially with magazine sites such as Writers Digest. And you can follow tweets or Face Book pages for the newer agents. Check out sites such as Absolute Writer and Manuscript Wish List. This leads to my next point. Stop believing in limitations–that there aren’t enough agents to go around.

It’s true that from 2008 to 2012 literary agencies were closing offices or merging with other agencies and this gave the impression that authors didn’t have a chance of signing a deal with an agent. Numerous authors such as myself decided to go the self-publishing route. And I also noticed that many self-published authors treated literary agents and traditional book publishers as enemies–big mistake.

Since there is an abundance of literary agents, it’s easier to detach from rejections. And the best approach is to put a list together and then go down the list knowing that the right agent will appear (eventually). Some authors hit the jackpot on the first or second try because they did their research and wrote an approachable pitch.

Early on, I sent out mediocre pitches and I didn’t do my research, but was still surprised when literary agents rejected my work. And then I punished myself and wasted time at the pity party instead of polishing my pitch, attend a writing workshop, or get online where agents hang out, such as on Twitter. While I don’t believe that a writer needs to develop thicker skin, I do believe that detachment and mindfulness prevent meltdowns when the rejections show up (as they do for most authors).

On a metaphysical note, meditate before contacting agents. This places you in a positive frame of mind and since we’re all connected, the agent feels your positive energy when they read your pitch.

Another warning that comes from my experiences, don’t quit the day job in hopes that an agent will help you win a big advance. True, many new authors have received large advances in the past that transformed their lives, but other authors receive small advances which hardly paythe bills. Find other work on the side such as copy editing, teaching for a lifelong learning program at a college, proofreading or blogging professionally while writing novels.

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket or treat an agent as the answer to your prayers. I have heard stories of authors landing deals with agents that eventually dropped the authors because they couldn’t see the books to publishers. There are no guarantees. Signing with an agent does not mean you have sold your book. And you’ll not see any money until you receive an advance (and don’t sign with a book publisher who offers you no advance).

Successful authors build platforms through Face Book and other social media. I started this blog and launched this author website knowing that building a platform for me is a slower process. Authors with bigger personalities or brands attract followings much quicker. Experiment with blogs, social media, and YouTube channels. In fact, create a channel that showcases your expertise such as Grammar Girl.

Offer tips to authors and interview authors, editors, and agents on your blogs or videos. Another option is to launch a radio show through any of the online radio channels where you interview authors and other people in the book publishing industry.

So I’ll leave you with: Detach from the outcome and keep going down your agent list until you make a connection. And two, remember that there are plenty of agents and if you follow your gut (intuition or synchronicity), you will land a deal with the right agent. And don’t forget to do your research on writing queries, pitches, polishing manuscripts, and on the agents.

I am an author and astrologer-coach. Sign up for a coaching session at Whole Astrology. Feel free to leave comments here. Thank you for following Belle Author.

 

 

Write It–Setting for Your Story

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photo by Patricia Herlevi

For some reason I woke up this morning with this idea in my head for finding settings for short fiction and novels. The idea was to ask questions with the Google search engine, such as “Which US state has the most vegetarians?” “Which US state has the most Hispanics, African-Americans, etc…”

And so on, by asking these types of questions you can find a setting that will bring your characters the most conflict. And you also solve the problem of conflict for your story. Many new writers especially, (I did this once myself), write stories without any real conflict.

So say you have a character that is phobic of a certain ethnic group or you have a character that despises vegetarians or progressives. Then you find the location that has the most progressives or people of the ethnic group in which your character has a phobia, and you plop your character into that locale. One built-in conflict is to send a pagan character, who dresses in Gothic clothing, reads esoteric books, into a small southern town steeped in fundamentalist Christianity. Or you can find place a teenage character obsessed with sex into a Catholic setting. Voila conflict.

You can stick a vegan in a town that thrives on ranching, and if this character advocates for animal welfare, he or she is going to run into deep trouble. Basically, you find a monster of one kind or another to pit against your character. I’m not talking physical monster, but an industry, belief system, or tight community that stares wearily at strangers. The theme of outsider is a strong universal theme that if done right transforms into a page-turning book.

The other concept I want to mention is more on the psychological/new age area and that is working with shadows and projections. As you know, if you have been following this blog, I personally have worked with Debbie Ford’s books on shadows and projections and have seen the movie “The Shadow Effect” three times.

We all have shadow selves stuffed inside us, even hidden from us, but not others who feel the frequency of these shadows. Do you ever meet someone who seems nice on the outside, but turns you off? You don’t know why exactly, but you can’t stand being around this person or you secretly want to lash out in cruelty. You pick up on this person’s frequency which is based on a belief that this person might have no awareness.

And at the same time, you might have the same belief about yourself so you project that disowned part of yourself on this person. Well, characters have shadows too. These are the places where the character fools themselves, act like they have it all together, and lie to themselves and ultimately, to others.

For instance, my character Agnes (Agnes and Yves), despises her mother for taking her to Paris during her childhood and then engaging in love affairs with married Parisian men. Agnes swears to herself that she will never repeat her mother’s behavior, then chases after a flamenco Don Juan, who just thinks of Agnes as a lady in another port. Later, she meets Yves, another foreign man. There is no way Agnes won’t fall for him at some point, because she still lives under her shadow.

I salt the novel with scenes in which Agnes interviews Parisian painters who are into seducing women. Agnes feels disgusted by their behavior, but this doesn’t stop her from throwing herself and her dignity at Pablo, the flamenco guitarist on tour with his troupe. And all of this makes for great comedy. Oh, Agnes, you fool for love.

Next time you need a setting for your novel, try asking questions to a search engine and see what stats and information comes up. For conflicts, turn to psychology and new age self-help books. This does not imply that you are creating new age characters, but that you are finding new avenues to unearthing their souls. If you follow this advice, you will create 3-dimensional if not, 5-dimensional characters that speak to the hearts of your readers. And don’t be afraid to sit your characters down and analyze their minds.

Thank you for enjoying my Write It post a second time. I originally wrote this post for Bonjour Bellingham (Word Press) when I was promoting my self-published novel, Agnes and Yves. The post concept still holds true today.

Write it–Befriending Editors

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I admit it, the first editor I worked with was a jerk and this turned me off to editors for many years. I developed the belief that editors were control freaks or word nerds who only cared about the bottom line and not a writer’s creative spirit or feelings. But then later in my career, I developed a respect for editors. Obviously, they’re part of the human experience, meaning we’ll find good and bad seeds among them.

And it’s true, in my early years as a writer it seemed that anyone could call themself an editor despite their educational background or writing experience. I encountered fussy and manipulative editors as well as ones that helped me shine as a writer. I worked with editors who judiciously rewrote copy and then slapped my name on it (I quit a contract job because this drove me crazy), and I met editors who helped me polish my writing skills by gently or not so gently referring me to the AP Writer’s Guide during my foray as a journalist.

While some editors came off as control freaks, others knew how to work with emerging and veteran authors in ways that did not wound egos. I also worked with one team of editors who caused me anguish over the impersonal way they edited a book that I took six months to write. I ended up re-editing the manuscript line-by-line which took me a month to complete. And this almost turned me off from all editors, except that I recalled one editor then living in New York who took the time to edit my screenplays which could have also been labeled literary train wrecks. This particular editor gave me confidence to write in longer form and I gleaned wisdom from his red pen.

So what are tips for working with editors?

  • Hone and polish your writing skills by working with grammar and writers guidebooks
  • Write several drafts before submitting work to an editor
  • Know ahead of time what you are willing to compromise or negotiate
  • Listen to what the editor says before making a rebuttal
  • If you’re freelance get editor referrals (don’t just work with any editor)
  • Follow directions when submitting to magazines and papers
  • Continue to improve your writing skills
  • Be firm and polite with your expectations
  • Know that editors are extremely busy people, multitasking for most of their work day
  • Editors make mistakes (be gracious instead of smug)
  • If your personality clashes with a particular editor, don’t work for him or her
  • Not all editors are equal (some could do better in another profession)
  • Remember that editors are people too and they have feelings/egos
  • If you’re hiring an editor, look up his or her credentials & talk to referrals
  • Remember to acknowledge and thank editors

Not all editors are professional writers, but many are so they have a deeper understanding of the writing craft and a writer’s aspiration. Not all editors are created equal so when you find one who helps you look spectacular stick with him or her. Also know that those books you pick up at a library or a store most likely went through a long editing process with editors offering suggestions to the authors. This means that writing a book involves a collaborative effort between the writer and the editor.

And the right editor can determine the fate of a best-seller or a book that fails to break even. In the end, no matter the subject matter, readers will either criticize or praise the book based on the quality of the writing. Often though the author gets most of the credit, it’s like that saying that there’s a good woman behind every successful man, but we substitute there’s a good editor behind every successful author.

I am an intuitive coach for creatives, an astrologer and author. Sign up for an intuitive coaching session so we can take your project to the next level. wholemusicexp at gmail