Wednesday, November 21, 2012

How Writing a Novel is like Cooking Thanksgiving Dinner

I originally wrote this post back in the summer... you know, when Thanksgiving is on everyone's mind (oh, wait, I think that might just be me). I'm recycling it in honor of the holiday (see how Earth friendly I am, with my recycling action). Anyway... here it is, bon appetit.

I’m currently editing my first novel. My masterpiece. After taking my critique partner’s notes to heart, I’ve tweaked the hell out of it *weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth*. The word count, originally 175,000, sits at 104,096. Is it still a lard ass? I don’t know. On page 129 of 191 TNR, twelve point, single spaced pages, I'm hoping to trim that sucker down another four thousand words. I'm confident I can. (UPDATE: DEVASTATION is finished and now a svelte 93k- YAY, ME!)

This morning, I was struck with an amazing analogy (it's amazing because I say so, this is my world blog you know). Writing is much like Thanksgiving dinner. How on earth could writing possibly be compared to Thanksgiving dinner, you ask? Okay, we’ll pretend you asked. We'll also pretend each of the steps I describe for dinner are realistic for me. In all honesty, the reality of my Thanksgiving meal is less thought out and a whole lot less formal, but no less delicious, because if a dish doesn't taste good, I've got no problem throwing it out.

For at least a week day or two before Turkey Day, I toss ideas around about what I’ll cook to make the meal special. Shopping lists are made and family members who’ll enjoy the meal with me to get contacted for their input (only those who I know will bring good food, too- don't give a crap what anyone who's not contributing thinks). The same goes for the idea for my novel (except getting others' opinions, here it's important). Somewhere in my wee little brain an idea forms and I stew on it for a while. I jot notes and ask my daughter what she thinks of my fabulous idea. Surprisingly, for my current novel, she loved it. This is huge, because she was fifteen at the time and pretty much everything I did or said was answered with loud rolling of eyes and exasperated sighs.

Hour upon hour is spent slaving away, cooking delectable dishes. I fuss over the main dish, making sure it's well seasoned. Then I add plenty of side dishes to keep the meal interesting. After all, no one wants to show up for turkey dinner and only get turkey. As I write, I make sure my main character is a little sweet and a little spicy. Plus, I create supporting characters to add flavor, some might be salty, others downright sour. Similarly, the main plot captures the attention of the reader, but throwing in a couple of subplots gives the book even more to savor. (Thinking of good food and cooking terminology isn't as easy as I thought it'd be. Just sayin'.)

I set the table, adding little touches of color with the table cloth, the candles and the centerpiece. Place mats, beautiful silverware, china, and crystal help my guests feel special and engaged with the lovely meal I’m serving (at least they should, if they don't that's on them). As I create the environment in which my characters live, I add color, landscaping, and all the small things that bring my character's world to life, smells, textures, background noises. This helps my readers feel more at home in my character’s world (if they don't then, in this case, it's on me).

I artfully arrange the food on the serving space. Some things might get shuffled around to help all the most important dishes fit. Sometimes I have set aside a couple of the less imperative dishes. I hate doing this, as I spent time working on those too. But you gotta do what you gotta do, ensuring all the best things are on the table and easily within reach of the diners. This is where I have to chunk a dish or two, the ones which didn't turn out just right. I may have to remake it or it's got to go altogether. You see where this is going? Scenes must also be rearranged on occasion, in order to make the story flow. Some must even be removed, if they aren’t necessary to the story or they simply didn't turn out just right. This part sucks because I love those scenes. They show off my characters' personalities or are just so pretty. Again, it has to be done.

Everything is devoured, most of it delicious. Of course, there's always the lumpy gravy or parts of the bird which are a little dry. I receive compliments, pat myself on the back for a meal well cooked, and get ready to sleep off the turkey stupor, while the guys watch the game. When I finish the first draft of my novel, I serve up my MS to my wonderful early readers. They congratulate me, giving me mostly positive, but some negative, feedback. I thank them, pat myself on the back for a novel well written, and pry my ass out of my desk chair before nerve damage occurs and it becomes permanently misshapen.

Now it’s time to clean up. Yuk. Who wants to do that? It’s a necessary evil. I can’t very well leave all those dirty dishes languishing in the sink and on the table. They’ll stink. For my MS this is editing. It’s the least fun portion of the process (I would compare it to jamming toothpicks under my fingernails). Yet, like those crusty dishes, it must be done. Otherwise, my novel will stink like three day old dirty dishes. I can’t have that, and neither should you.

What would you compare your writing process to? Make some comments and let me know.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The W.I.T. Program

The other day I blogged about my first rejection letter. I commented at the end of the post that I was going to make a badge for the W.I.T. Program. *Drum roll* The first badge is ready!

What is the W.I.T. program?

Long, long ago, in a land far away (OK, not too far away, and only about nineteen years ago - *gasps* Lordy, do I feel old now!), I was a young woman, newly divorced, trying to put myself through college. Broke, without so much as two dimes to rub together, whatever is a girl to do?

I was a Navy wife before the divorce, so the obvious answer was the military. Hey, at least I'd have a roof over my head and medical coverage, right? Besides, my dad and both my grandfathers had served, it was a no brainer.
My TI (training instructor) told our flight (a group of airmen in the USAF) we had to get on the W.I.T. program, the Whatever It Takes program. Meaning no matter our objective, we had to find it within ourselves to do whatever it took to meet that goal. Even if it hurt, physically or emotionally, made us uncomfortable in our own skin, or required more from us than we thought we had to give, we had to dig deep to find the courage to 'suck it up and press on' as my other TI used to yell constantly.

I had to make it through 'boot', if I didn't I was sunk. No money. No way to make it in this big, cruel world. Going into boot with a terrible case of bronchitis didn't make it easy  (yes, the docs at MEPS actually let me go in with bronchitis). The infirmary saw me three times during those first three weeks for dehydration. FYI, dehydration can make you vomit - I HATE vomiting, I'll do almost anything NOT to vomit. Sorry, I digress...back to the point of this post...

My TIs pushed and prodded until those of us who made the cut were ready to serve our nation. I made it through boot camp, earning the moniker 'Puker'. Sucking it up and pressing on, I pushed through the hurt, illness, and discouragement, running for the grass when it all came back up - litterally. It was a valuable lesson  I've carried with me into every experience of my life... when I want something, I have to get on The Program to make it happen.

So, when that first rejection letter came, I made the decision I'd be on the W.I.T. program, committing to do whatever it takes to become a published author. One of my twitter friends suggested I look at rejections as badges of honor for putting myself 'out there'. We joked about making badges and selling them.

Well, I've made the first W.I.T. program badge and want all my writerly friends to take it - for free. Add it to your blog, website, whatever.... wear it proudly. Show the world you're on the Whatever It Takes program to becoming a published author. I think, just to make it our own, we'll call it The WRITEver It Takes Program. Check back soon, I'll have several more, with lots of different styles to choose from.

No matter how hard it is to sit butt in chair, pound away on that keyboard, brainstorm awesome pitches and queries, figure out how to take an eighty-thousand word novel and condense it to a two page synopsis, you can do WRITEver It Takes to get it done. I have faith in you, now have faith in yourself!

In the comments, tell us some of the things you do to hang in there through the difficulties and disappointments of authorship? Share with others so they can employ these tactics. I encourage all of you to find a mentor and be a mentor. Without my mentors, I don't know what I'd do. They help me everyday to do WRITEver It Takes to get published.

Want your own badge? Click here and grab one of your choice!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The First Rejection


"Not right for me..."

"Thank you for your submission, but..."

No response means 'no'.

My first book is finished. I've had beta readers, of the friend variety, and CPs, of the brutally honest variety, read my manuscript and give me valuable feedback. Taking said feedback to heart, I've implemented numerous changes to my MS. Large portions of my book have been completely re-written, some even deleted. In other words, editing has been the nightmare I didn't expect.

When all of that was said and done, I was ready to query. Ah, the Q-word, the second most dreaded word for the unrepresented author ('synopsis' being the most dreaded).

Months of research, entering contests, attending online forums, and then more research brought me to the conclusion that my query was ready to be sent into the wide world of potential agents. Spending hours agonizing over the first email submission, I finally hit 'send'. That was five or so weeks ago.

During those five weeks I've paced, wrung my hands, gone back over my MS, and entered more contests. I've gotten my first request for a full manuscript (not as a result of querying - a contest, which I did not win, led a small press publisher's editor to request *smiles* *jumps up and down*). Still waiting, I've written another query from scratch - again - and re-written that one multiple times.

Many experienced eyes have perused the new query, given me advice, helping me perfect it - again. I've watched online videos of agents giving advice on how and when to query. Researching even more about queries, I have done everything in my power to make sure my query will be the one that twinkles in the light, drawing the attention of an agent digging through their slush pile.

Then it happened.

I woke up Thursday morning, bleary eyed. After I woke the children for school, I grabbed a 'cuppa Joe'. Then cranking up the old laptop, I sucked down Joe and all that wonderful caffeine, steeling myself to open my email.

There it was.

My first response from an agent.

I waited for my heart to stop flip-flopping in my chest. Opening the email, with one eye closed, the other squinting so tight I could barely see, my lungs were a paralyzed mixture of fear and excitement.

It was a very polite form rejection. I read it, and then re-read it.

Waiting for defeat to overwhelm me, I tweeted my lovely tweeps about getting my first rejection. Those same lovely tweeps tweeted back with much encouragement. Still I waited for the crushing blow to fall on my head.

It didn't happen. Surprisingly enough, thanks to all that research, reading other author's stories of how they 'made it', and the tons of blog posts, by agents and authors alike, on how to look at a rejection, the experience as a whole wasn't as painful as I'd expected.

No, I'm not complaining. I'm 'sharing' so other authors, like myself, can see that hitting 'send', with all the excitement and terror it brings, doesn't have to lead to defeat when they receive the first rejection letter.

It's just one agent.

She was very nice and I'm certain she's a fantastic agent who knows what she wants, it just so happens, my book didn't fit her taste of the moment. Turns out, I'm okay with that. The agent who 'lurves' my book will be the agent I want anyway. The other agents out there who have yet to reply either positively or negatively, well, they will eventually get around to my query. If they don't get excited about it that's all right by me. There are other agents to send my queries to.

As a matter of fact, I did just that. I sent out another query (sort of that whole 'get back on the horse' thing - hey, I'm from Texas, there's a horse metaphor for almost any situation). Plus, I began researching yet another agent to send a query to later today. No matter how many times I have to climb back on that horse, I will.

I will send a query to every single literary agent in the English speaking world, if I have to, in my quest to fulfill my dream and get this damn book published. Rejections will not stop me, by golly! I'm committed (not in the men-in-the-little-white-jackets way of being committed, although someday that could be a possibility) to the W.I.T. program for publishing. Whatever. It. Takes!

I encourage you to get on the W.I.T. program, too.

I'm going to create a badge for my blog and website, the W.I.T. program for author's badge. Check back soon to pick it up for yourself! While you're here, share your experience about your first rejection, how it made you feel and what you decided to do with that. If you haven't gotten that far, tell us how you expect it to affect you and how you hope to handle it.