Open the File

IMG_8013“Just open the file,” I tell myself. It’s been so long since I touched the manuscript, I barely remember it. It’s pretty likely to be a confusing mess. I don’t write clean plots the first time through. Or the second. Maybe not ever. I’m not sure I’ll be able to fix it. I’m not sure I want to know if I can’t.

“Just open the file.”

Confession: I haven’t touched my manuscript since Colorado Gold last September. There were too many head shakes at the conference. Too many “tough sell” comments. Too many frightening statistics.

And I came back to an email. That well-known author who’d told me my book was ready to shop? Who’d sent me an encouraging list of agents? She’d read the pages again, having completely forgotten she’d already edited them once. She had completely different things to say. The same pages that, months ago, had no major issues were now riddled with flaws. Never mind that I’d just (with her permission) name-dropped her when I pitched her agent. Never mind that I’d been about to send off my requested pages and synopsis. It wasn’t ready, after all. I closed the file.

“Just open the file.”

All I have to do is open it. Read through what I’ve written. See if it’s worth it. It seems so simple.

But it’s not.

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October’s Gonna Be Fun

IMG_4247The first time I won NaNoWriMo, my now-teenage son was only eight months old, and we were in the midst of a month-long stint in Cincinnati for a project my husband was working on. In a way, it was the perfect set-up for a month of intense writing. We spent that November in a residence hotel. I only had one small room to keep picked up, the galley kitchen wasn’t going to be supporting any gourmet meals, my son still took two naps a day, and I didn’t know anyone in the city to act as a distraction. There was nothing to do but sit in my tiny, dark hotel room, and write.

The last time I won NaNoWriMo, my son was eight years old. I’d just opened my Etsy shop, and I didn’t have enough of a presence yet to have the sort of frenetic, crazy, wonderful holiday season I’ve come to expect in more recent years. We lived in Washington then, and I spent countless hours in the Starbucks next to the Tukwila Barnes and Noble, writing away with the fabulous northern Seattle wrimo crew. It was a completely different experience from that first, quiet NaNo, but just as wonderful in its own way.

Those nine years of writing dangerously, and the subsequent years, when Palimpsestic began to explode for the holiday season, taught me a lot about how to survive and thrive through a hectic November. Over the next month, I’ll be sharing the strategies I’ve learned over the course of my nine NaNoWriMo wins, and my four holiday seasons spent running an online shop. I may not be able to keep November from being stressful, but maybe I can help nudge it slightly more towards amazing. Because whether you’re spending your November writing a novel, working retail, or just planning for holiday celebrations, it really can be the most amazing month of the year.

Here’s what you can look forward to on {Manuscript} in October:

  • How Not To Cook in November
  • Why I Don’t NaNo No Mo (and Why Maybe You Should)

Writer’s Idol

Ellen Smith, Cassiel Knight, and Peter Senftleben. Photo by Mark Stevens for RMFW. Used with permission.
J. Ellen Smith, Cassiel Knight, and Peter Senftleben.
Photo by Mark Stevens for RMFW. Used with permission.

My husband loves horror movies. I’m not sure why, but if I had to guess, I’d say it has something to do with the anticipation and the adrenaline, that delicious feeling of knowing something is about to happen, but having no idea exactly when it will come or how.

I don’t like horror movies, but I do understand the allure of that state of heightened awareness and tingly uncertainty. Maybe that’s why I submitted my pages to Writer’s Idol at the Colorado Gold conference.

Here’s how it works. You sit down in a conference room, nervously clutching two sweaty, printed pages from your manuscript. As three editors take their seats at the head table, the moderator (Angie Hodapp, in this case) works the room, accepting pages from the brave and foolhardy. She takes her stack back to the podium, where she shuffles them as she introduces the panel. She says she’ll read each excerpt aloud, and the editors will raise their hands when they reach a point where they would stop reading. She won’t stop until she hits the end of the two pages or all three hands are raised.

Your heart races. You think you might be sick.

The moderator clears her throat and begins reading:

The basement of Quigg Street brewery was haunted by a two-bit con artist named Nat Riley—at least, so claimed the Denver Ghost Walk pamphlet I’d stuffed in my bag at the start of the tour.

 

Gulp. That would be the first line of my manuscript, folks. I was first. First! At least it was over quickly. Although…not that quickly.

Our panel consisted of:

  • J. Ellen Smith, publisher at Champagne Book Group
  • Cassiel Knight, senior editor at Champagne Book Group
  • Peter Senftleben, associate editor at Kensington Books

I watched them like a hawk while my excerpt was being read. Who needs horror movies when you can sit in a room and watch an editor’s face as they listen to your manuscript being read aloud? I’m not gonna lie. It was terrifying. Also? Editors have really great poker faces.

In the end, they all made it through my two pages, and the feedback wasn’t as painful as I thought it would be. Okay, so they did use the word “overwritten,” but I took comfort that it was preceded by “maybe a little.” And yes, they did say that my protagonist wasn’t apparent enough in the excerpt, but they tempered by adding that they liked the voice. But even when the comments stung, they were incredibly useful. I left the panel knowing exactly how to improve my opening scene and, better, excited about doing so.

Here’s the thing about Writer’s Idol: it wasn’t just about hearing the comments on my pages. I stayed all the way through to the bitter end, listening to every excerpt and internalizing all the feedback. Maybe I didn’t make a certain mistake in this novel, or on those particular pages, but that’s no guarantee I wouldn’t make it in the next one or I didn’t already make it in chapter three or chapter eighteen.

In the end, the advice came down to one basic thing: write the story. The story is the good bits. It’s not the sitting-around part, or the describing-the-characters part, or the gawking-at-the-scenery part. If you want to keep a reader’s attention, skip the boring throat-clearing small talk. Write the story.

Colorado Gold Nuggets, Writing Workshop Insights, Part II

Jessica Renheim, Margaret Bail, Elizabeth Copps, and Susan Brower. Photo by Mark Stevens for RMFW. Used with permission.
Jessica Renheim, Margaret Bail, Elizabeth Copps, and Susan Brower.
Photo by Mark Stevens for RMFW. Used with permission.

I’m back with a few more gems from the RMFW Colorado Gold conference. You can read Part I, with brief notes from the craft workshops I attended, here. Today is all about the publishing industry.

  • From “Everything You Wanted to Know About Publishing (Now’s Your Time to Ask),” with Peter Senftleben: Self-published authors looking to break into traditional publishing really need to have sold around 20,000 copies. That being said, platform isn’t all that important for fiction writers just starting out. That can be built after a book is under contract. Also, even large publishers are looking to digital-only releases, especially with new authors, to build an audience before moving to print.
  • From “Editor/Agent Panel,” with Lucienne Diver, Kerri Buckley, Shannon Hassan, and Raelene Gorlinsky: Writing momentum expectations vary a lot by genre. Romance readers often expect three or more books per year from their authors. Fantasy and science fiction readers might be content with one book a year. From a career-management perspective, if you can’t write more than one book a year, you shouldn’t be writing in more than one genre.
  • From “Editor/Agent Panel,” with Margaret Bail, Elizabeth Copps, Susan Brower, and Jessica Renheim: Jessica Renheim, the only editor on this panel, said, “I work for a lot of great authors.” I wrote it down, because I thought that “for” was telling, as a lot of authors, especially early on, feel like they’re working for agents and editors. The agents pointed that they aren’t just there to negotiate contracts, either. Their job is to help authors with general career management.

I have two more sessions that I haven’t covered in these brief notes, but I think both of those are worthy of their own dedicated posts, so stay tuned!

Colorado Gold Nuggets: Writing Workshop Insights, Part I

Before the Colorado Gold conference, RMFW offered a series of tips to get the most out of the experience. One suggestion that stood out to me was, “Attend the workshops.”

Apparently, for many people, going to conferences is all about the networking and socializing. I get it. Okay, I don’t really get it, but I’m willing to accept that it’s true. Me, though? I’m all about the workshops. I’ve always been way happier in a classroom than in a bar, and that’s probably never going to change.

I know I can’t be the only one, because just about every session I attended last weekend was packed to the gills. All in all, I sat in on eleven different workshops and panels, plus the three keynote speeches and my one-on-one pitch coaching session.

That’s a lot to take in over the course of three days, and it wouldn’t be fair to the presenters to regurgitate it all here, but I thought it would be fun to share just one or two nuggets from each session. I split my time between workshops on craft and those on the publishing industry, so I’ll post half my tidbits today and the other half tomorrow.

Ready? Let’s start with the craft workshops!

  • From “It’s Not What You Say: Body Language for Writers,” with Cassiel Knight: Only 7% of communication is conveyed with words. The rest comes from vocal tone/inflection and nonverbal body language. Surprisingly, the feet are the most honest part of the body. They’re furthest from our awareness and, thus, the least likely to be consciously controlled.
  • From “Dying to Be Here: Techniques of Murder and Mayhem,” with Mario Acevedo and Harriet Hamilton: You’re way, way more likely to be killed in a love triangle than by a pimp or prostitute. Also, poisonings are not nearly as common as Dame Agatha would have you believe.
  • From “Brain Sex,” with Jax Daniels: Men think linearly, women think holistically. This means that men are more likely to be plagued with tunnel vision, while women are more likely to be distracted by superfluous information. Writers can use this to create conflict between characters.
  • From “Deep-six the Stereotypes: Writing Characters from Another Culture,” with Rudy Ch. Garcia and Mario Acevedo: Brown does not equal brown, so try to find beta readers who closely match the profiles of characters you’re trying to write. You wouldn’t ask a Norwegian to confirm your characterization of a German, so don’t expect a Mexican to understand your Puerto Rican character.
  • From “From Here to There: An Alternative to Outlining,” with Carol Berg: You can write a tight and well-plotted story without knowing everything that happens before you start writing. The key is starting each scene with fleshed-out characters, a firm point of view, a starting point (here), and an ending destination (there).
  • From “The Joy of Writing Great Sex,” with Andrea Catalano: To write a great sex scene, craft it as if you’re writing to someone you want to seduce. Avoid shocking readers and taking them out of the story by writing to the expectations of your genre.

I know these tips are sort of all over the place, but that’s very much what it’s like to go from workshop to workshop at a conference. It’s a lot of information at once, all filed away to be sorted and integrated later. And there’s still more! Tomorrow, I’ll be back with some teasers from the industry panels I attended.

In the meantime, let me know what piqued your interest most in the comments!

Wake Up Call

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“Billy Goat Gruff by Danie Ware, CC BY 2.0

There are four days left until the start of the RMFW Colorado Gold conference. Four. Days. In between frantically polishing my manuscript, worrying about my hair (PRIORITIES), and watching the mailbox for my shipment of business cards, I’ll be spending the time I have left trying to perfect my pitch for those precious ten minutes when I get to sit down with a literary agent and talk about my novel.

This is hard. I’ve spent so long intentionally not divulging much about my book that it’s difficult to get into the habit of talking about it. When asked what I’m writing, I usually just say, “It’s an urban fantasy novel” or, if I’m in a talkative mood, “It’s an urban fantasy novel about the daughter of Sleeping Beauty.” It seemed like delving too deeply into the details might jinx the writing of it.

Starting four days from now, that time is over. When someone asks me what my book is about, I need an answer. A real answer. So here it is. This is my novel, Wake Up Call.

Penelope Wakefield thinks she knows everything there is to know about the Folk, the fairy-tale creatures who live unseen amongst us. Aside from helping out an old school pal with the occasional relocation job, she’s content to ignore them in favor of her bike, her iPhone, and her job at a Denver record shop.

Avoidance works pretty well until Pen’s father, one of the last human mages, dies, and Pen travels to the mysterious mountain town of her birth for the funeral. Before the casseroles are even finished, Pen’s mother, a legendary sleeping beauty, disappears into the forest. When Pen teams up with a surly klabauterman, two of the three Gruff brothers, and her father’s hunky apprentice to find her, it quickly becomes apparent that more than just one life is at stake. Family secrets start to fly, and Pen learns that her life is more entangled with the stuff of fairy tales than she could have imagined. Revelations about Pen’s parents and about Pen, herself, threaten three hundred years of peace amongst the Folk.

It’s up to Penelope to get her mother back, return the Folk world to equilibrium, and (this is the hardest part) learn to survive in a town with no cell service.

So, there you have it. And I have four more days. Someone hold me.

Five Ways to Trick Yourself Into Writing Word One

A few weeks ago, Beyond the Trope, a group of local writing podcasters asked about the hardest part of writing a novel. I didn’t even hesitate.

btt-tweet

I do have some tricks to get past that first word hurdle, though. Some days, it takes all of them to get going, but it’s worth it. The manuscript waters feel great once you get in. Here’s how to convince yourself to take the daily plunge.

  1. Learn to love the timer. Most days, the first step in my writing process is picking up my iPhone and telling Siri, “Set a timer for 25 minutes.” Siri usually responds with a list of movies vaguely related to timers, at which point I repeat the request louder and more clearly, and we’re off to the races. Telling myself I’m going to write for a specific amount of time works well to break through whatever resistance I have to getting started on my day’s work, and a lot of times I end up writing past when the timer goes off.
  2. Back up before you dive in. Whether I’m working on revisions or new material, I like to scroll back to the beginning of a scene at the start of a writing session. Inevitably, I find a few things to change, and those tweaks start the flow of words that will propel me through the rest of the day.
  3. Quit before you’re tapped out. It’s a lot easier to start on a new day’s writing if you know where you’re going. Some writers swear by stopping in the middle of a sentence, but that just frustrates me. Instead, I try to end each day at a spot with a clear view of the road ahead. It works really well to pack it in just after a question is asked. By the next morning, I can’t wait to type that answer!
  4. Two words: bribes and rewards. The first time I did Nanowrimo in 2001, The Sims had just come out for Mac and I was hopelessly addicted. Since the game required a CD to run, I had my husband hide the disc each morning before he left for work. He’d only give up the location once I made my daily word count. It worked a charm.
  5. Invite the shame. Okay, maybe not shame, but accountability for sure. I’m a big fan of Twitter for this. Even if you don’t have a regular writing partner, you can usually find a companion to cheer you on and hold you accountable there. When you tell Twitter you’re going to write, you’d better get your butt in the chair and write. I like the #1k1hr hashtag. Even if I rarely write that quickly, a thousand words in an hour is an achievable goal, and there’s a almost always a few writers there eager to sprint.

Tweet: “When you tell Twitter you’re going to write, you’d better get your butt in the chair and write.”

 

Rarely a day goes by when I don’t need to employ a cunning ruse to force myself into writing. Luckily, I have a lot of them up my sleeve. What’s your best self-motivation trick?

Five Reasons Writers Need Other Writers – a guest post by Jamie Raintree


5 Reasons Writers Need Other Writers

In just a short two and a half weeks, I’ll be heading off to the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Conference, a regional but well-established and well-recognized conference for writers. This will be my second time going and I’m looking forward to seeing Jennifer there, for her first time in attendance as I understand it. Last year was my first time ever attending a conference and now I’m addicted. Apparently, this is a common phenomenon in the writing world.

Last year was my first time and I met some people the that I’ve talked to on a daily basis since then, some weekly. A few of us formed a critique group that has since seen two of us go from unagented to agented, one of us have two successful book launches, and one of us even hit the New York Times Bestseller list.

I was lucky enough to meet Jennifer at a local book event and I have other local writer friends, as well as an innumerable amount online.

When I finally landed my agent, I sent so much loving thanks to all of them because I truly believe I wouldn’t have gotten here without them, regardless of how much time I spent writing or the quality of my storytelling.

Writing is no longer a lonely business now that we have access to thousands of other writers online and in our local communities and I’m thankful for that. In order to be successful writer in the current publishing world, it’s imperative to connect and lean on each other. Just like any successful business, no one thrives in a vacuum.

Here are some of the reasons I’ve come to depend on the writing community, and why you should too:

  1. Emotional Support. If for no other reason, here’s why you need writers in your life: when you talk about how hard this life is, and how frustrated you are, and how you’re not sure if all this work is worth it, only other writers can say “I understand” and actually mean it. They tell you we all feel that way, that it is worth it, and to keep going. And when you finally hit that goal you’ve been working toward, they’re the first to celebrate your achievement…and they’re often the loudest.
  2. Resources. I’m not sure if I would know what a query letter even was if I didn’t have other writers to point me in the right direction. Or how to outline. Or which book to read to learn how to outline. Spending time with writers who are at your stage in the process or further along are a great resource in themselves for knowing what the next steps are, and they’re always willing to share what they’ve learned to help you get there.
  3. Feedback. Because there is no substitute for getting specific and educated feedback on your writing itself. My prose and storytelling grew by leaps and bounds once I started having other writers read my work. Reading other writers’ work is beneficial too because we often see the mistakes we make in others’ work easier than in our own.
  4. Networking. Once you get to the point that you’re ready to put yourself out there, writers have already paved the way on blogs, with agents, with publishers, and with book stores. And they’re more than happy to team up with you on promotion or refer you to right people. In an industry that can often be intimidating to get into and hard to get your name out in, writer connections make it a lot easier.
  5. Friendship. Who else in the world can sit across from you while you’re on your laptop and she’s on hers, and though you’re not talking to each other, you feel completely fulfilled in her company? A writer, that’s who. There’s this thing about writers that only other writers understand and it’s our commitment to our life’s passion. Often times, people who don’t have a passion for what they do don’t quite understand why our entire lives revolve around writing, why it’s our job and our hobby, why it’s what we do during all our “free time.” But writers do. And they even let us talk about it as much as we want.

“There’s this thing about writers that only other writers understand…”

 

 

As the conference gets ever closer, I look forward to seeing old friends and making new ones. These are the people who have pulled me up and cheered me on over the past ten years, and these are the people I know I can count on for the rest of my career. What does the writing community mean to you?

 

Jamie RaintreeJamie Raintree writes Women’s Fiction about women searching for truth in life and love. She is currently working on revisions of her first novel in preparation for submission to publishers. In the meantime, she blogs about her journey toward a well-balanced life and a career in publishing–her struggles and successes along the way. She lives in Northern Colorado with her husband and two young daughters and is a Workshop Coordinator for the Women’s Fiction Writers Association. She is represented by Claire Anderson-Wheeler of Regal Literary. Find Jamie online at http://jamieraintree.com.

In Which August Is The Best Month

AugustAugust is my month.

First of all, it’s my birthday month. Second, it’s the month when summer begins winding down. Those beautiful fall clothes start appearing (oh, how I love fall clothing), and store aisles fill with glorious piles of composition notebooks and yellow pencils. I adore August.

This August is even better, because I’m on a sabbatical, of sorts. I put my shop, Palimpsestic, into vacation mode for the month, which means more time for writing, writing, writing. By the end of the month, the novel I’m working on should be revised and edited into a pretty package, just in time for the RMFW conference in September.

That’s the plan, at least. It’s been a slow start. I spent the first four days of the month on a mini-vacation with my family—a fun, rejuvenating, inspiring vacation, but still a four-day span in which I didn’t so much as glance at my manuscript file. The day after vacation was spent recovering and restocking the larders, so my month of writing didn’t really get started until six days in.

It doesn’t matter. This August thing is happening. This month is mine. And it will be glorious.