Fairy Dust or Hard Work?
May 27, 2011

Ernest Hemingway's desk in his house in Key West.

So the writer can only do his or her part to the best of his ability and place himself in the best position for the next steps. There are ways to get noticed, but still no guarantees.

Editor Beth Hill    Click here: Editor’s Blog  

Exactly.

I’m of the camp that believes a writer can make their own luck through hard, hard work. In a sense, the first part of an author’s career is an apprenticeship to Writing. To experiment, practice, (and above all), write. Again, dare to suck. The only way to write amazing, get-noticed material is through writing dull stuff, wrong stuff, first drafts, embarassing ideas, the grocery list, if necessary, as long as you keep the pen (or keyboard) moving.

When we write, we train our brains to write. To think. To create. It’s no different than anything else we do, from drawing, knitting, riding, *fill in the blank*. We don’t draw perfect people, knit perfect sweaters, gallop and sidestep right out of the gate. First, we learn. We practice, put in the hours. Study what those further ahead of us know. Be willing to fail. But, also be willing to get back up, get back to the page.

Neither magical thinking  nor daydreams of ones books on the shelves will make it happen over the long haul. The best tool a writer has is hard work — to keep writing — to persevere.

Every day is a new page.

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Dare To Suck. That’s right, Writers.
April 22, 2011

It’s Friday, I’m happily pounding the keys as I work on revisions (very exciting!) and a light beer is beckoning, not to mention ranch chores, so let me make this short and sweet.

Dare to suck. Doooo it.

Daring to suck means you’re thinking, writing, practicing, evolving. There’re no edits, no rewrites, no revisions, no polishing — no words — if you don’t first dare to suck.

And you just might find, as you read your words back, that they’re not so bad, after all.

Good writing, everyone.

Query Road Rage.
September 15, 2008

“Yet hold it more humane,

more heavenly, first,

By winning words to conquer willing

hearts,

And make persuasion do the work of

fear.”

Milton

Paradise Regained.

As you chug down Query Road, no different than any other road, it’s very likely you will encounter road rage, with one major difference: instead of the rage being other-oriented and aimed at you, it’s more likely to be your own rage aimed at yourself.

As you diligently contort and twist your vision into the proper query and synopsis key-shape that opens the door to publication, shake off the highway-hypnotism and keep the bigger picture in mind. Remember that every query and synopsis can be rewritten and refined for better chances, that a lack of skill or knowledge can be fixed by buying and reading books on the subject, and that there are things you can do to help yourself — you aren’t a helpless “victim” in the process. Just keep doing your homework.

(A friend in the know who is willing to help never hurts, either.) 

If you find yourself veering off the road and writing email subject lines such as, “Shoot me with a query, strangle me with a query, smash my brains out with a query”, it’s time to pull over into the next rest stop, (named after your favorite author), roll up the windows and scream at the top of your lungs, just to get the negativity and frustration out of your system. Negativity and frustration will ferment into poison until all perspective is lost.

Remaining balanced, level-headed and emotionally restrained is great, but being human, the query process does get discouraging, frustrating and overwhelming at times for the best of us, especially when continuously receiving “Dear Author” rejections. So, let the frustration out, before it turns into sugar in your gas tank. Do what you need to do — say screw it (temporarily), walk away for a week, take a break; attach your rejection letters to the nearest tree and get out your bow and arrow and have at it until you feel better.

Just whatever you do, DON’T GIVE UP. No one has ever reached their goals or dreams by giving up. There are plenty of querying writers out there who won’t give up. Be one of them. Use the query process to make yourself a better writer, a more experienced writer, a more determined writer. 

If you find yourself living out of your car at the rest stop, temporarily adopting the address as your own and emailing other writer friends things such as, “Today I lost it for a second and decided my next novel should be about a frustrated writer who hops a plane to NYC, and, office building by office building, beats agents to death with his/her brilliant but rejected manuscript”, then forget the soft pretzel and slurpee consolations, and go straight for the double scoop, gooey chocolate milkshake.

Last week, on a writing group I frequent, I read a thread by a writer (a good writer, too) whose frustration and discouragement was so viral it was contagious; I came down with it, myself. It took me a week’s leave from querying, along with a dose of “Annie” and a few rewinds of “The sun will come out, tomorrow”, to finally put me back behind the wheel.

I know I’m a hard worker. I’m an excellent driver, too. So are you. Identifying the obstacles on Query Road, including the ones we create for ourselves as writers, is the only way to keep chugging along. (It also doesn’t hurt to stop at the next scenic overlook, preferably with canyons, and yell “I am a writer, I’ll never give up!” and hear your strong, beautiful voice echoing back exactly what you need to hear.)

A Request For Pages.
August 16, 2008

“An ice age here, a million years of mountain-building there, plates of bedrock grinding against each other over a span of millennia… Geology is the study of pressure and time. That’s all it takes, really. Pressure and time.”

The Shawshank Redemption

 It was just about the most exciting thing that’s happened to me yet — a few days ago I checked my email and found a response from an agent I queried, written like a regular email, devoid of stock industry phrases, requesting manuscript pages after reading my query letter and synopsis.

I’m just so excited.

It’s good to know an agent thinks my novel’s premise can hold up in the publishing world. She wanted to see if my writing style was a good fit. I’m still waiting to hear the verdict.

“Opinions vary widely in this business”, as you get used to reading in rejection letters, and it’s true; we’ll just have to wait and see if it’s my time to shine. If it is, great; I’m ready to go because I’ve done the hard, hard work, and I’ll continue to do it. If it’s not, it’s not, and my time will come. I believe that’s true for all of us.

The days have been getting kinder in the desert, a welcome break for humans and animals. The temperature during the day is still one hundred degrees or more, but the evenings are finally cooling off as the monsoon rains sneak in at night and work their magic.

Last night, sitting on the porch as the storm built up, my hot hair off my neck in a clip (and the breeze worth ticket money), I imagined the email with the next request: a partial.

In anticipation, I woke up early this morning and went back over the first one hundred pages.

Stumbling into the kitchen a few hours later and seeing me typing away, my husband groaned at my declaration that I would continue to go over the whole manuscript, all 387 pages, “just one more time”. He now laughs when he hears me say “the book is done!” or “I’m done editing”, because we both know the insidious, book-writing truth: it’s never really done. A writer will always reread, recheck and fiddle.

A writer friend, upon hearing of the request for pages, was happy I’d no longer have to fret over disinterest or form rejections.

However, just last night another impersonal, form rejection arrived in my inbox. It just goes to show how subjective the business really is — “Opinions vary widely in this business” — as you sail your book out into the world, say, tasting like pizza, when the agent had more of a hankering for wild cherries.

You just never know. It’s why rejection is never a good reason to pack it in — the pizza-loving agent may only be a query letter away, looking through her inbox, famished.

Writer As Hunter, Agent As Gatherer.
August 8, 2008

 “You don’t choose a story, it chooses you. You get together with that story, somehow; you’re stuck with it. There certainly is some reason it attracted you, and you’re writing it trying to find out that reason.”

Robert Penn Warren

On a daily basis, droplets of information, sounding much like the rain on our tin roof, make tiny taps against our brains, telling us things, and with their secret knocks, gaining entry. Books, television, internet, newspapers, radio …

The information is important, if not skewed or sensationalistic at times, and good to know; when you know, things change. YOU change. 

The same goes for the query process. With writer as hunter, and agent as gatherer, being cast into the hunter role has been a stretch that feels as good as it felt unsettling, at first. Sure, I’m a person who wants to stretch in order to grow, even if the process is painful from time to time, or riddled with uncertainty. I know that, in the end, when you secure that happy ending, it’s those very factors, coupled with courage, that make the outcome sweeter.  

The truth is, in the grand scheme of things, the impossible and the difficult make the ride more exciting. In their simplest terms, obstacles are just another opportunity to repledge the cause, and to (hopefully) solidify your convictions.

I do have my work cut out for me; I may only say it loud enough to hear when I’m alone, but I write to improve the world — as I believe words have that much power. Touching or reaching just one person changes their world, and in consequence, their contribution to the world at large. It really is that simple, sometimes.

We read others’ words for a myriad of reasons, and carry with us those sentiments that wake us from our apathy. We turn to those words as a source of wisdom, validation, comfort, sweetness, mind-expansion, understanding, and for every other reason we need them.

As I continue to navigate the query process, laughing and screaming from the front row of the rollercoaster, I’m learning not to take rejection personally, not to give up the fight, not to surrender to self-doubt, and how much room there is to grow in the process.

Overall, I’m a better person for it; in the worst case scenario, even if I never published, the novel I wrote changed my world, and my contribution to the world at large.

And it continues to do so. It has its own reasons for being, bigger than me, and separate from my personal vision. It has already worked its magic on me, and whether that magic is contagious remains to be seen, but the courage to hope and to believe may very well be the best magic of all.