Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Don't Plant Your Bad Days - They Grow into Weeks

I'm having a bad day. I could trace the origin to this bad day down several tangled roots: Being husbandless on my anniversary (not his fault, poor guy) Being stuck on my current revising project and the mounting pile of psychological gunk that goes along with that (more on this later.) Being drawn into a work project and a school volunteer project at the same time with the same force. Being unable to understand the way my 9 year olds mind work and being unable to help her when she doesn't understand herself either. But the origin, the twin rocks these bad day roots are wrapped around are doubt and her bastard child fear.

I don't have a manhattan job anymore, so I can't afford a manhattan therapist. But If I were sitting across from Ruth right now, plucking at the fringe on the throw pillow in my lap, here's what I'd say about Doubt:

I doubt that I'll ever get published.
I doubt that even if I do get published that it will be as good as the work of my peers.
I doubt there's a point to keeping this writing dream alive when I could be more productive, monetarily productive, doing something else.
I doubt that the time I spend in my fabricated worlds is worth the time I don't spend with my kids.
I doubt I have the stamina 
I doubt I have the moxie
I doubt I have the talent.
I doubt.

But a doubt is really only as strong as a whisper, as substantial as a shadow. I'm hoping to bring the doubts out into the antiseptic sunshine. By sharing my doubts with you, I'm hoping to throttle the little bastards, as well as my little bad days. As the great Tom Waits says:


“I used to have some little bad days, and I kept them in a little box. And one day, I threw them out into the yard. "Oh, it's just a couple little innocent bad days." Well, we had a big rain. I don't know what it was growing in but I think we used to put eggshells out there and coffee grounds, too. Don't plant your bad days. They grow into weeks. The weeks grow into months. Before you know it you got yourself a bad year. Take it from me. Choke those little bad days. Choke 'em down to nothin'. They're your days. Choke 'em!”

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Five Things Never to Say to a Writer

I am in the middle of a new/old project revise and am in the WEEEEEEDS. I'm a smidge exasperated and a heap exhilarated so I guess I'm in a good place. But my blog? Not so much. So, instead of insightful, academic-level spoutings (cuz, that's what you normally get, right?) I've got a list for you to distribute to your non-writing friends, family and neighbors. What NOT to say to a writer.

"You're still doing that writing thing?"
Variations: Weren't you doing some writing hobby? You're still on that jag? Oh, I thought you'd moved on to something more practical..."
Rudeness level: 3 slaps
Polite response:  "Yup, I just keep plugging away at it. Got to have dreams, right?"
Mean (realistic) response: You still have that crappy, drone-like job working for the soul-crushing corporate pigs? OR you can just blast Sonic Youth's Kool Thing in their faces - especially Kim Gordon's deadpan "Are You Gonna Liberate us Girls from Male White Corporate Oppression?"

"Oh, I want to write a book too. I have some notes scribbled on a napkin, can you look at it?"
Variations: "I wrote a book once. It was genius. No one understood it, it was so ahead of its time." "Everyone's writing books. It's like the easiest thing it the world, right? I mean, suburban housewives, fifteen year old girls. How hard can it be?"
Rudeness level: 1 slap
Polite Response: "I'd be happy to take a look at your book idea. I can send you some information on professional organizations that can get you started."
Mean (realistic) response: You do not want to write a book. You only think you do because you see authors on the TODAY show and you want to be on the TODAY show too. If you had any idea how hard it is to write and then how much harder it is to be published, you wouldn't be so damn cavalier. I mean, do you go up to Rocket Scientists and tell them that you could totally do their job if you had the right lab coat?

"So you're like the next (Suzanne Collins, Stephanie Meyer, James Patterson -fill in the blank)"
Variations: "Does your book have vampires?" "I don't really like books with fantasy/reality/zombies/people/pets/mermaids/buildings or words."
Rudeness level: 1 slap (2 if they compare you to someone while sneering.)
Polite Response: No, I won't be the next anyone. I'm just hoping to be the next 'me'
Mean (realistic) response: Comparing me to someone, even someone famous and successful just makes me feel like you think I'm a sham. Sure there are some writers who will just write whatever they think is popular to try to get published and showered with gold coins* - I am not one of them! I write because I have stories in me that would bust out Aliens-style if I didn't write them down.
(*BTW, I would not say no to gold coins. Especially chocolate ones.)

"So, what's your book about?"
Variations: No variations. This says it all.
Rudeness level: 0 slaps, but man, I hate this question. When asked by people outside of the writing world, whatever you say will sound wrong. Even the elevator pitch you prepared for agent pitch fests will not be enough for this person. They will look at you blankly and say, "Oh. That sounds nice." and you will die a little inside
Response: *FLAIL* say you have to go to the bathroom. Escape.

"You wrote a book? What's it called? Maybe I can pick it up at Barnes & Noble."
Variations: "Have I heard of you?" "I have a book club, maybe we can read it for book club."
Rudeness level: 1/2 a slap. This is not really even rude, it's just uncomfortable. Again, non-writers don't understand the wide river that must be crossed between writing a book and having it published. Some authors never make it, or they have to build their own little boat (the SS Self Publish) to ford the river.
Response: "No, not published yet. Working towards it. You know, the way the publishing industry works is really quite interesting. Let me elucidate using long, boring anecdotes and circuitous storytelling until you beg me to let you leave..."


"When are you going to get a real job?"
Variations: "How about a real job? Does your wife/husband mind you slacking off all day? Must be a  nice life having to do nothing but write all day."
Rudeness level: off the chart slaps, nija hands of speed slaps.
Response: There is no response that is adequate for this question. Break up with your boyfriend or hang up on your Aunt Mildred (or whoever the rude person saying this was.) Sometimes, rudeness is an incurable disease.

What do you wish people would stop asking you about your writing? What do you wish they WOULD ask?

Thursday, April 11, 2013

How to Say Goodbye to your MS

You've hit send. You're done with the book (unless someone - your agent, a publisher, an editor, your mom comes to you with edits/revisions.) How do you move on to your next project? How do you stop obsessively thinking about the people and world you created - spent months or years shaping - to move on to the next project?

Every writer gets to this point, regardless of whether you are published or not. For whatever reason, more tinkering cannot be done on your baby. You need to let her go (SNIFF!)

Here are my tips for saying goodbye to your ms and moving on to your next Work In Progress.

1) Bask in the Glory That is You (I know this is grammatically awkward, but cut me some slack.)
You wrote a book. Regardless of what happens now, nothing and nobody can take that away from you. My excellent writer pal, Jenny Herrera sent me a care package, just because I finished a book. (Obviously, she is awesome and I will have to work hard to reach that level of awesome.) She sent me homemade cookies (choc chip w/ popcorn!!! go harass her for the recipe, it's amazing.) an inspiring writing book, oranges, a funny pin, book plates - just things that let me know she was proud of me. But she wouldn't have been able to do that if I hadn't told people that I'd finished FIND ME. So brag a little. Post your accomplishment on Facebook. Tweet about it. Call your friends. Let them throw some love on you. Then throw some love on yourself, too. Take this moment, before anything else can color your perception of yourself or your book to realize that YES. YOU WROTE A BOOK. That is something most people have never done, and will never do.

2) Take a Break (part 1)
The state of my housekeeping during the last weeks of revising was, shall we say, less than stellar. My hedges were overgrown, I forgot to send snacks in for my pre-schooler's school (the shame burns) and the lady at the Burger King was starting to call me by name. Everything took a backseat to the book. Now I can cook. I can plant my seedlings. I can work on my other (non-writing) projects. I can have clean underpants. The Villasante household is humming along again and I've even completed my taxes (4 days to spare, WOO HOO!) Take a few days to take care of non writing business. This will make you feel less frantic when you jump back into writing.

3) Take a Break (part 2)
You've been in your writing cave, working and re-working your ideas. If you are smart, you've also been reading the whole time -feeding the hopper of your mind with how other writers craft. All good. But now that you're not actively crafting, you need to step up your exposure to culture. Art. Writing. Music. History. News. Your kids art show in the gym. NATURE (especially now that the world is exploding in floral gorgeousness.) Nourish your writing soul with things that are not necessarily writing. I'm not saying don't read. But I am saying PLAY. All these things will feed your future writing.

4) Start Again - And Don't Panic
The first time I said goodbye to a book, I took the advice of starting a new project to heart. How do you stand the waiting (which is indeed, Tom Petty, the hardest part)? You start your next project, says everyone, ever. All well and good. But what they don't tell you is that you'll feel like you're two-timing your last ms. You'll feel the pull of the world you left on your new, fledgeling work. It's kind of unfair. You're last manuscript is gorgeous, polished and refined. You're new WIP is messy, kind of short and shallow. OF COURSE if you compare the two, you're going to prefer your last ms. You might not feel the same passion for your new project as you did for the one you just left. This is normal. I remember feeling quite depressed, when I started FIND ME almost a year ago, that it wasn't as good as my last book. I felt like it wasn't taking off, it didn't POP. It took me two solid months of writing FIND ME to feel like I'd found the story's groove. So: Don't give up on the new project too quickly. Don't compare it to the last project. Don't feel badly if you don't fall in love with it right away. Writing love will grow.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Snow White is Bad Ass

I don't usually write about movies because I usually only watch ankle-biter movies (The Croods, anyone?) I am still trying to watch a backlog of shows/movies on my dvr and please don't ask me if I've seen Girls or the new season of Game of Thrones because I haven't. I have no cable and I have no time.

But a tiny miracle happened last friday. I was in New York for work (paid, event planning work, not writing work) and I had a big gap of time between meetings. I decided to get wild and see a BIG GIRL movie. At an ART HOUSE theatre. When I went to undergrad in NYC, the Angelika Film Center used to be my second home (along with the even more obscure Anthology Film Archives.) I got myself a Jamba juice and a box of Junior Mints and sat down to watch the movie that fit into my schedule.

Thank the Film Gods, that movie was Blancanieves. A silent, black and white film set in Seville, Spain in the 1920's and based on the Snow White fairy tale - how much more art house can you get?

Oh man, I was in love from the first frame. I'm not big on proselytizing - you watch what you're interested in, I'll watch what I'm interested in. BUT YOU MUST SEE THIS MOVIE. (Didactic messaging over.)

I can't stop thinking about this movie. It's so beautiful smart and affecting. AND THERE ARE NO WORDS spoken in it. How did it manage to break my heart, hold my attention and make me besotted with NO WORDS? It's that good, I swear. Hunt down your your nearest arty movie house and trek to see this. It's worth traveling for. And the music? I didn't think I liked Flamenco music. So imagine my surprise when I spent twenty euros on Amazon Espana to buy the soundtrack.

With apologies to Kristen Stewart and Lilly Collins, Macarena Garcia is now the most stunning, badass Snow White ever. (And it doesn't hurt that, when I saw Macarena in this movie I thought - "Whoa, that's really close to what Mop (the MC in FIND ME) looks like.")

This trailer doesn't even do the movie justice. I promise, I'll stop gushing. Tomorrow.

Post Script
This is a movie. And the movie has bullfighting in it. I don't condone bullfighting (or cockfighting or bunnyfighting or any other situations when people make animals fight for profit.) but in the context of this film it makes sense. That is all.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

How I Revise Pt. 2

On Tuesday, I posted about my revision process. Below is part two of that post. One thing that I'm surprised by is that I'm spending as much time and energy (if not more) revising this ms (my first after getting an agent) as I did before I had an agent. The work needed to get it done doesn't change and I still fight against the urge to say "It's good enough, I'll send it anyway." Real Actual Hilary has a great post about  the Ten Best Things You Can Do For Your Manuscript. Number one? Revise until there is no 'anyway.' Wise advice.

Part 1 of the post is here.

4) Make big changes. I tackle the big changes first. It may be a character that is flat, or has murky motivation. I re-write scenes, write new scenes, tear my hair out. I'll give you an example. From feedback, I knew I needed some context earlier in the ms that would give an action later in the book more meaning. So I wrote a scene. THREE TIMES. Until it was right. It was painful, I won't lie. It was the time during revision that I started to hate my ms. This is IMPORTANT. I think you need to hate your manuscript - at some time, just a little. Because it means that you see it clearly, warts and all. Hate it and then fix what you hate. It's the road to falling back in love with your ms.

5) Make little changes. Now is the time to change a name that has been bothering you. Or an action that didn't feel like it made sense to the character (She wouldn't say it that way. or She doesn't drink decaf.) This is also when you do two or three spell/grammar checks. Any awkward phrasing or weird spelling will out. I insisted on spelling abstainer as obstainer until the third draft - and not one Beta reader caught this spelling mistake. Also, watch out for crutch words - words that you are using too often and too lazily, almost without thinking. This is the time to weed those out, find alternate words to get your meaning across.

6) Print out you ms, get out your red pen and your little flags. I don't know why, but for me there is something profoundly different between reading on a screen and reading on paper. As soon as I print out the ms, a boatload of changes jump out at me. This is when the words you misspelled that spell checker didn't catch (like when you used they're instead of their) will rear they're ugly heads. It's also when you should read your words out loud. I'm not saying you have to read the entire thing out loud - though some people do this to good effect - but anytime a paragraph seems slightly awkward, or you find yourself re-reading a section, read it out loud. You'll hear what's wrong with it immediately.

7) Kill your darlings. You've heard this one before. You know you have to do it. And you may have been snipping with delicate rose shears until now, pruning, shaping. Good. But now is the time to be ruthless. If it's not serving the story or your character's voice - even if it's some really good writing - kill it. I did this yesterday with a phrase that I really liked. "Like a battering ram against a paper house." It's visual, it's evocative, poetic. But it was not working hard enough, not pulling it's weight. It doesn't add to the action of the paragraph. I cut it. Cut until it hurts, it will make your ms stronger.

8) One More Time.  After I go through all my little flags and make my changes, I put the ms down and read someone else's book. Right now I'm reading CROWN OF EMBERS by Rae Carson and IN THE SHADOW OF BLACKBIRDS by Cat Winters. Think of this as a palate cleanser, to get the taste of your own words out of your mind. The next day (or sometimes two days later) I'll take out my ms ONE MORE TIME and read the entire thing from beginning to end. If there are any sections that I've still not made my peace with, anything that's still jarring me, I go back to revision mode. I resist the urge to say it's good enough until I read the last page with a smile and a sigh.

So, now a question for you - How do you know when your ms is ready? How do you know the difference between between endless tinkering and fruitful revising?

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

How I Revise Pt. 1

Notice I didn't say, "How To Revise." Because I know two things about revising: Everyone does it differently and you should constantly be revising (hee hee, see what I did there?) your technique, adding new tricks and tools to your Revising Tool Box.

I'm on the very last pass of my ms before sending it to my ninja agent. While I'm nervous about her reading it (PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF VODKA LOVE IT AS MUCH AS I DO!) I'm also so proud of it that I could burst. Ultimately you need to be in that place with your ms - you need to feel that it's the best thing you've ever done. And you can only get to that place if you've been Ming the Merciless while revising.

Here's how I do it:

1) Rewrite. I write the first draft, then immediately go back and revise it into a second draft. Why? I do this because I'm a pantser, not a plotter. I don't know where I'm going in the story until I get there, so when I get to the end I'm often like, "Who knew that guy was a jerk?" Which is fine, but I need to go back through the draft make sure those connections make sense, that the seeds of the ending are there in the beginning. If you are a plotter and know exactly where you are going, you may not need this step. But it can't hurt.

2) Beta readers. I wrote extensively on Betas here a while back. To sum up - you need them and you need to be very clear on what feedback you are looking for. Then, you need to carefully consider that feedback. Some advice might make total sense immediately, while other advice might be painful to hear. Read the feedback and consider it carefully. Consider the source, meaning, every reader has their biases. Be aware of where your Betas are coming from so you can weigh their feedback accordingly. Finally - do not let your ego get in the way. If feedback is wounding your ego, it's probably on target.

3) Wait. At least a day between getting your Beta feedback and starting revisions. It's a wonderful thing what your subconscious can come up with while you are sleeping or watching the Vampire Diaries - as long as you give it a bit of time. Sit with the feedback. It's the pause that refreshes.*


Which will be coming on Thursday!

In the meantime a question: What's your revision style?

*I forget which soft drink this slogan is from, but whoever you are, please don't sue me. I love fizzy drinks!

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