Thursday, September 30, 2010

What do we learn more from: Mistakes or Successes

We've all heard the adage "You learn more from mistakes than successes."

That depends on what you want to learn. Do you want to learn what mistakes not to make or what works? What equals [i]more[/i] learning?

We all make mistakes. Writers make [b]tons[/b] of them just learning our process. We learn what not to do more than what we learn works for us. Each time we learn what doesn't work, we are that much closer to what does work, but ultimately what we want to learn is what works. Quantity-wise we have more mistakes, but quality-wise it is figuring out what does work that we learn more from.

On my desk is an email from August 2009. On it a professional author I adore said "your story gave me goosebumps...when you make that first sale, I'll be in line of release day to buy your book" about an email I posted to a loop. When I met her at RWA Nationals this year, she remembered my email. Her email taught me more than all of my mistakes combined. It said "Here is your strength. This is what works for you." It said "If you use this in your writing, it is something I want to read."

How many of us have gotten a comment, especially by someone we admire, saying something similar? That something in particular moved them? That they loved how you phrased something? That you nailed something? These comments teach us more than our mistakes. We simply don't think we learn from them. Since we did something right, what is there to learn?

The answer is we learn what works. If you take that comment and apply it to your writing as a whole, your writing will jump a few notches and you will gain confidence.

So don't just think about mistakes as learning opportunities. Think of successes that way, too. Below share some comments you've gotten that said "You are doing this right" and think about how to apply them to your writing as a whole.

That email is to the right of my computer. On the left is a quote by Stanislavsky "Craft is always secondary to the truth of emotional connection." As long as I keep that in mind when I write, how important that emotional connection is and how creating it is my strength, my writing stays on track.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

OMG. I have to talk to an agent. What do I do? What do I say?

In our continuing theme of "here's another way to look at things," I offer you my perspective on the all important pitch appointment.

We are writers. We love our stories. If we didn't, we couldn't have spent all that time pounding out 300+ pages and then revising until our eyes bled (your eyes didn't bleed? Go back and edit some more). Usually agents and editors are not writers. They don't think like us. I think that is the most important thing to keep in mind when dealing with the publishing world. We think differently than most people. That's why we're writers.

An editor's job is to think like a reader. Their job is to sell books to readers. By extension, an agent needs to think like an editor, since their job is to sell books to editors. If we want to get an agent, we have to think like one.

This does not mean writing to the market. Evil trolls who will steal your soul lie down that road. What this does mean is when we are pitching (selling) our masterpieces to them, we have to think like them. We are also readers, so let's put on our reading hats. Mine comes with a book light.

You just read the most amazing book and you want to get your best friend to read it. It's 2 AM, so you have to wait until a decent hour to call her (mine wouldn't, but you are nice). You try to go to sleep, but you keep playing the book in your head, thinking of ways you could make everything work out (the sign of a great book). The alarm clock goes off and you can finally talk to your BFF.

What do you tell her?

That's it. That's your pitch. What do you tell your best friend about this amazing, incredible book to get her to read it? Do you pick up the back of the book and read her the blurb? No. You tell her what you love about that book. What kept you up until 2 AM reading?

The blurb works great for the more formal setting of a query letter where you don't have the opportunity to answer questions. When you are at an agent appointment or talking to an agent in the bar, think talking to your best friend. Don't think like a writer pitching a book. Think like an excited reader trying to get someone to read the book.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

I hurt myself by hurting myself

We all suffer for our art in some way. I allowed myself to remember what it was like to have flashbacks in order to write a key scene. I thought that was the worst thing I'd endure for this book, I was wrong.

I finally have an opening chapter that makes me go "I want to read this book." In it, my heroine is snatched. At one point, the villains twist her arms behind her back and hold her against a wall with one hand. My villains are vampires, but I wanted to see the logistics of this. (If you know where this is heading, please don't laugh). I twisted my own arms behind my back to see where the wrists would meet. In the process, I sprained my shoulder. The pain is worse than labor and delivery. Now I have Vicodin to help me conjure up interesting things.

I tend to act out a lot of action to see the logistics. Hubby hopes my characters are never shot.

So how have you suffered for your art?

Monday, September 6, 2010

How to Write a Synopsis without Writing a Synopsis

Telling me how to do something never works for me. Whatever my natural inclination is will override what I'm taught. Telling me why something is done will give me a new perspective and allow me to change my set ways.

We freeze at writing the synopsis. How do we boil 400 pages down to 2-3? That's one way of looking at a synopsis, but not what I see it as. It's just another format to tell the story you love so much, you wrote those 400 pages. (I love writing the synopsis now. I'll take every opportunity to tell my story.)

A synopsis is important. It shows you have a complete story with a beginning, middle and end. That is just one function. The goal is to get the agent to ask to see more, to see your actual writing, your voice.

I've heard that the synopsis doesn't need to include your voice. I disagree, but I will qualify that. It doesn't need to include the voice you used for the story, but it does have to include your voice, AKA your excitement and love for your story. That is contagious and will motivate the agent to ask to see more.

Writing the synopsis is like writing the book, and you can use the same techniques you would to plot it out. If you are a plotter or a hybrid, this part is easy for you. If you pants it all the way, I'll offer some suggestions.

The most important part of the story, and therefore your synopsis, is not boiling your story into one sentence. It is the initial idea you had, maybe even the idea of an idea. Think back to that initial idea. Don't think of the synopsis. Think of that idea. Let it wrap around your heart and strengthen you. Let it bring back the time when the words screamed to be let out. It could have been a month ago or several years. Try to think back to that time. You aren't writing a synopsis. You are writing the story that idea generates.

Now, if we were writing a book, one technique is to brainstorm scenes. You already wrote those scenes. I want you to brainstorm what you love about the story. Just list everything. What things made you stop and think "Damn, I can't believe I wrote that?" What things kept you butt in the chair, even when your muse decided to get a tan at the beach? What sweet nothings did he whisper in your ear? Just write it all down.

Look at that list and cross out everything that doesn't have to do with the main storyline. I'm sure it was very interesting when your heroine turned into a seagull, but if that isn't part of the main storyline, it goes. Look at the list again and cross out anything not vital to the main storyline. Can you tell the story without mentioning something or does it become a completely different story?

Take what you have and put them in chronological order. That's the skeleton of your story. Fill in the key points that makes the story flow. Guess what? You have now told your story in a different format, otherwise known as a synopsis.

This isn't a synopsis that just retells your story. It shows your heart, your excitement, in essence your voice. It will get the agent to request more pages.

Why do we write a synopsis? Because we love our story. Because we want to share that story. Because that love is infectious and will get others to read our story.

Isn't that why we became writers- to tell a story and have others read it? So tell your story. Don't freeze. Don't boil 400 words down to 2-3. Do what you do best, tell a story.