Monday, July 30, 2012

Writing Advice: It's not one size fits all.

note: I started drafting this post back in March, when I was knee-deep in the query trenches. I finished it up today.

I hate giving writing advice.

Why? Well, because, just like anything else in life,
the path to publication is not simple, nor is it easy.

There are as many different paths as there are individual writers.

There are people who write one book, send fifteen queries, sign with a powerhouse agent, and eventually end up with multimillion dollar book, movie, and merchandise deals.

There are people who write nine books and finally snag an agent and huge deal with their tenth.

There are people who send hundreds of queries and revise and resubmits before finding an agent to represent and sell one wonderful novel.

You can find your agent with a query, by referral, during an online conference, through a contest, or via ninja agent ambush.

A book may be on submission for two days before selling, or sit there for ten months.

Generalized writing advice can be useless and demoralizing because writing is so closely tied to who we are. And if the writing advice I give contradicts with someone's experience, the message they get (and the message I have so often gotten) is that they are doing something wrong, that they are missing some crucial piece of "how-to" that they should have picked up on a long time ago.

Summer Berries
Ripe berries and green, all on the same branch.
Metaphor KAPOW.

Back in March, when I had sent a couple hundred queries, received almost as many form rejections, revised two novels dozens of times, been in more contests than I could count on my hands, diligently spent every spare moment working on my craft, and gotten the thumbs up from over a dozen (yes, a DOZEN) readers, if you had given me cliched, platitudinal writing advice like "never give up!" or "keep working hard!" or "believe in yourself!" I would have seriously had to restrain myself to avoid punching you.

This is when straight-up inspirational talk and advice is tough to deal with for a lot of writers.

They (we) know that it's not just a matter of "never giving up," "believing in your work," or "writing something awesome."
They (we)  know it because they've been living it for months, sometimes years.
They (we)  know it because we have a drawer full of manuscripts that we poured our souls into, that we loved, that we thought was the One. (It wasn't. It's getting harder to believe that this one will be.)

But what's even worse - what I hate with every fiber of my being - is the attitude that there is a hierarchy of writing skill that exists in this little community of ours.
Often, I see advice that goes something like this: "Keep working on your writing, and eventually you will come up with something good enough to catch an agent's attention."

Let's just think about that for a second. This seems to suggest that there is some qualifiable level of writing skill that you can attain which, when submitted to an agent's eyes, will magically lift the blinders to Bad Writing or Sub-Par Writing or Non-Awesome Writing, and they will then behold the book, and declare it good, and sign the writer, and submit it to editors, where the process will begin all over again. (Is there a writing skill purgatory, I wonder, for the work that was awesome enough to get an agent but not quite awesome enough to get an editor? Hmm?)

In case my sarcasm isn't one hundred percent obvious, let me be clear: Publishing is a subjective business. What one agent thinks is awesome could look like fire kindling to another. What one agent reads in twelve hours and offers on immediately thereafter could be the same manuscript that garnered 95 form rejections. (Yes, that's my sweet superhero novel, One.)

There is no such thing as a level of writing awesomeness that is worthy of agent or publisher attention. No, there really isn't.

And, if that level doesn't exist, then a simple way to get there doesn't either.

So, why does it bother me when I hear people giving advice that suggests that that level does exist?

Because it makes fellow writers feel bad. And that is not cool.
Not. Cool. At. All.

Listen. The MS that attracted my (very impressive) agent received 89 form rejections before I signed on the dotted line. It's gotten six more in the six weeks since then.

Now, maybe to you that means that I haven't worked hard enough on my craft, that my query letter sucked, that I didn't believe in myself enough, that the story was not marketable, or that my writing just wasn't up to par.

But if you met me, if you read my manuscript, if you knew that it was an in-demand genre and free of YA cliches, if you'd been with me through every grueling step of the process, would you still say those things?

I'll tell you right now - No. You would not.

So, listen, writers. If you take anything away from reading my blog, let it be this. When you finally, gloriously leave the query trenches, however you manage it, to Agentland, or better yet, move from Agentland to Publisheddom, do me a favor. Don't offer advice on how to get there based on your individual path. That path was yours and yours alone, and implying that others are doing it wrong because theirs isn't similar enough is just bad form

Yes. Bad form.

For those of you in the Querying Trenches or Submission Hell (here! have a cookie!), here is what I have to say to you.

I'm sorry. It sucks. I hope that you're able to find a way to make that part of the journey translate into something awesome for the more fun parts.

Will you get an agent? I don't know.
Will you ever publish? I have no clue.
Will the worry and stress and grief tear you apart? Will your writing get worse? Will you fall into an inescapable black hole of suckitude?
I don't know. I'm not you.
But I am here to listen, and to commiserate, and to celebrate with you when things work out the way you want them to. 
And I think that's probably what we all really need most.

(Hey! You! Troll! Yes, you! I delete trollish comments. So don't waste your time. Kisses!)

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Thursday Thank Yous - Inaugural Edition

Hey, sweet readers.

So, I had a bangup past week and a half. I finished a (very messy) first draft of Solving for Ex, and I couldn't be happier. But the thing is, I didn't do it alone. I've said it before, and I'll say it a million times again, but it takes a village to make a novel.

I went all super-cheesy saying thank you to everyone in my "Hey! Agent!" post, and it occurs to me that I had to do that because I hadn't spent the time thanking everyone for their help as I went. And since, thank goodness, it seems I'm still producing work, I thought that THIS TIME, I'd start saying thank you to folks on a weekly basis.

So! I'm introducing the "Thursday Thank You" post. It'll be a fast weekly shout-out to the helpful souls who enable me to keep writing each and every week. Please, link up! There can never be too much gratitude in life, and especially in writing.

This week on the Thursday Thank You! Four amazing kid-watchers who took Peninah off my hands for twelve hours total this week, enabling me to finish up this draft and deal with the aftermath (namely, three weeks worth of laundry. Oops.)

Here they are!

The amazing Hirsch sisters!
From left to right:
Monica (who is also my 15-year-old YA-reader bullshit meter. )
Peninah (duh)
Jaclyn (my classic Brit Lit soulmate)
Alexa (my Megan, and future literary agent. Truth.)
The lovely Allison, whose recent wedding summarily kicked ass,
 and who loves my kids always.

Thanks, ladies! Thank you SO MUCH.
Because if Penny's happy, she's quiet, and then I can write.

(If I let her.)

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Good Newsssss!!!!!

Actually, it's freaking AMAZING news.

Let me tell you a little story.

Once upon a time, there was a beautiful MS floating around the contest circuit at the same time mine was.
This MS was about TEENS who swore they were NOT KILLERS (which, of course, meant that they definitely were killers) and so they all got sent to what one might term a KILLER ISLAND.

killer whales
("Killer Island")
(CC Matt Northam)

Obviously, I wanted to read this MS. Because I'm smart.
So, what do I do when I want to read an MS that one of my existing critique partners did not write?
I stalk that mothereffer.

Stalker Fest 2009
(Yep. I looked just like that)
(CC Sergey Galyonkin)

I commented on posts. I tweeted. I begged and pleaded. I asked her people to call my people.
And FINALLY, Erica emailed me a copy of ANOMALY.

You guys? I read it, and almost instantly, I was IN LOVE.

There was a sweet yet gutsy MC! Amazing premise! Awesome friendships! Cuter-than-cute boys! (Yes! More than one!)

I finished that sucker in 24 hours and it was like stars were dancing around my Kindle.
Seriously. I HUGGED MY KINDLE in the middle of the Phoenix Airport, where I read the very last page.

Day 179/365- Kindle
(Dramatization of what my universe looked like while I was reading ANOMALY)
(CC Sean Kelley)

I'm so happy this MS, and most particularly, this fabulous lady, are in my life.

I'm even happier that they're about to be in YOUR LIVES TOO - because Erica got an agent!!!!

So go visit her and say CONGRATULATIONS!!!!


Monday, July 23, 2012

PSA: You Can Get Sued for Using Images on Your Blogs or Sites

Hey, sweet readers!

I know I totally freaking ignored my Friday Obsessions post. It would have been boring, because the only thing I was obsessed with is finishing the draft of SOLVING FOR EX, which is a sweet YA romance about Mathletes that also happens to be a redux of Austen's MANSFIELD PARK, my second fave Austen. Yay!

(Seriously, somehow I wrote 28k in the entire month of June, and then up and knocked out 30k in eight days. Deadlines are apparently KING in getting me to finish anything. Sigh.)

Anyway, I'm diving into editing today, but I wanted to take a second to blog about something important to me. The you-know-what hit to proverbial blogging fan at the end of last week when Roni Loren, an author with an amazing blog about all things writing craft and industry, posted a blog recounting her experience of being sued, losing said suit, and being responsible for PAYING DAMAGES over an image she had used on one of her blog posts.

I think all of us casual bloggers gasped when we read it. Who hasn't been looking for that perfect image to spruce up a blog post, ran a Google images search, copy-pasted, and called it a day?

It was a wake-up call for sure, and a reminder that:

1. Photographers own and DESERVE the copyright to their own work, no matter what you're using it for and
2. Even if it's just for an innocent blog post, or pinned to a Pinterest inspiration board, we are still benefiting from the work of others for free.

Now, you all can do whatever you want with this sweet reminder from Roni (thanks, Roni!)
 I did a little internet poking-around myself and found this article, where a photographer who's also a lawyer deleted her Pinterest inspiration boards because she found some fundamental flaws in the Pinterest terms of use vis a vis copyright law. (Plus, some really sound ethical arguments, if you click through to her blog on the topic.)

Look. I don't care if the chances are slim that I could get sued and lose for doing this. Personally, I consider ANY chance that I could be held responsible for thousands of dollars for doing something I consciously knew violated copyright law or even potentially did so to be too much of a chance. Seriously. I'd rather have the cash to go to a writer's conference than spend it getting busted using some image I didn't need to use without permission anyway. Wouldn't you?

On a happy note, I did take some time to track down the creators of some of my Pinterest images I absolutely LOVED. For example, I'd orginally repinned this image:
but when I clicked on it found no link to the creator. Luckily there is a watermark on it.  I Googled "whimsy studios" and found a perfectly lovely Etsy shop where a perfectly lovely lady puts a lot of love and hard work into creating this and other images FOR SALE. 

It turns out that if you go into her Etsy shop, you can "Pin" one of her items for sale onto your Pinterest board from there. So, what's the difference? Well, take a look: 

And it's actually a lot easier to pin it with the price tag and Etsy link on it. In order to pin the image itself, you'd have to navigate to the seller's uploaded SAMPLE image, save it to your hard-drive, then re-upload it to Pinterest.

I'm sorry, but the only reason I could think for anyone to do that would be to use the image free of any pesky price tags that remind us that someone worked hard to create that image and deserves to be paid for it if you're going to use it without reminders of that.

Anyway. I contacted the creator of this image (her name's Lori, by the way, and as I think I already mentioned once or twice, she's lovely) and she said that I could absolutely pin the image to my board, and then she THANKED ME for doing so.

Meaning: whoever originally went to the trouble to pin this image with as few traces of original ownership as possible was really just taking advantage of a really sweet lady trying to make an extra buck by creating pretty pictures for a minimal cost.

The moral of the story (as I see it): I know it sucks, because it's way less fun, and I've TOTALLY been guilty of this, but we really, really, REALLY can't use stuff that other people made for our blogs, Pinterest, etc. without their permission. And we writers, of all people, should know this. We're creative types, and I hope to God that the stuff I create won't be thrown around and free-shared by people who think they deserve access to something I poured my heart, soul, time, and energy into just because they like it, want to read it, or maybe it looks cool on their Pinterest board.

The secondary moral of the story: Artists are awesome, and a lot of them really do want to share their stuff with you. So take a second to ask. My buddy Lydia Kang asked a couple photographers she loved if she could pin their stuff, and they were happy to oblige.

In the future: If you have images that you're fine with giving people free reign to use, make them readily available. I can wrangle a camera okay, and I've done just that with some of my images on this Pinterest board. My friend Cait has done the same on her own Pinterest board, and my friend Jenny has a Flickr stream for the same use. Go ahead, use any of those images without fear of being sued. We promise not to, though it would be nice if you credited back to whoever took the picture, because we worked hard on them, and implying that they're your own is kind of cruddy. But even if you do, we won't sue. Swear.

Whew! This turned into kind of a long rambly post. If you made it to the end, I guess it interested you anyway. 

Were you impacted by the "You could be sued for using images" revelation? Or have you already known that and I've just been living under a rock?*

*I love that you take the time to comment, but if  you're rude or trollish or disturbing to me in any way, I delete yours. No, seriously.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Friday Obsessions: Pineapple Greek Yogurt, We Are In Love, and the Drafting Cave

Heeeey sweet readers!

*Sigh* I'm afraid it's gonna be another fast Friday Obsessions.
Not that you all are heartbroken or anything, but I do enjoy talking to you.

I have to cram a lot of stuff into today, but it's for a very good reason - tomorrow, I'm driving for three and a half hours both ways to meet a couple of my critique partners in person. (I won't tell you who. I don't want you to get more jealous than you already are just because I'm in collusion with them. Don't deny it.)

I know. It's probably one of the most amazing things that will happen to me all year. I'm super excited, but damn I can write a lot of words in 7 hours.

Anyway. Now that I've ramble-typed for five minutes, here they are:

Friday Obsessions!

1. Pineapple Greek Yogurt
So, you know how I had a baby about three months ago? And how I probably ate a little a lot too much when I was pregnant with her, and how I have like twenty five pounds to lose now?

Apparently I'm way less likely to lose the pounds if I eat marshmallow cereal for breakfast. It sucks, but you gotta do what you gotta do. (I'm not looking for dieting advice. It makes me stabby. Please don't give it to me. Seriously. I would probably delete your comment, that's how stabby it makes me. Not joking.)

I've been eating Greek yogurt because of the high-protein, low-fat, low-calories thing. But between you and me? That stuff SUCKS. It's like tangy and thick and bleh. But yesterday, I found Greek yogurt with pineapple on the bottom.

You guys? It. Is. Incredible.
I mean, not INCREDIBLE, but way better. Hallelujah.

2. We Are In Love by Cider Sky.

Oh, this song. So young, so strong, so beautiful. So Merrin and Elias. Yeah, I know, I'm supposed to be thinking of the next book, but damn I love these two.

3. The Drafting Cave
Speaking of The Next Book, I'm just about to hit the homestretch. I kind of failed it during Camp NaNoWriMo, and only got something like 28K done in the month of June.

But now I'm at 43K, and figured out that if I pull 3k/day between now and next Friday, not counting Saturday, I can hit 65K (finished!) a week from now.

Aaaaaand that's pretty much all I need for motivation.
I'll report back next Friday, but please cheer for me and my sweet YA romance!

Okay, your turn! What were you obsessed with this week?
(Rachel posted her week's obsessions yesterday. By all means, guys, if you post about yours, link up!)

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Reflections on the Voice Workshop at Brenda's Place.

Hey, sweet readers!

Last week, I was super honored to be asked to participate as a critiquer for the entries in That Doggone Voice Workshop over at author and contest-thrower extraordinaire Brenda Drake's blog.

She asked me to write up some reflections on my experience, and I thought I'd post them on my blog so that anyone else who was interested might like to read. (You can read my fellow critiquer Becca's reflections here.)

Brenda ran this workshop because Voice is just SO difficult to grab a hold of and wrestle into a book. And as hard as it is, it's that much more difficult in just the first 250 words of a novel. Writers have to ground the reader in the story's world, tell us something about the main character, give us a story hook, entice us to turn the page, AND establish voice. 

We seriously lucked out with the entries in this contest. They were all great! From a random entry picker, it's like a miracle that every single writer was so talented. Wow. 

So, well done, all of you.

Confession time: I realized while I was writing this recap that I actually have no solid advice on a surefire way to establish voice in your writing, because all I've ever done is listen to my characters and write down what they said. But then I realized that that's really not such bad advice. Look, you've done the hard work of dreaming up this story and characters to go with it. Trust those characters that they know how to tell their own story. 

A lot of the snags I hit when reading the entries had to do with the writer of the story jumping in and cutting off the Main Character.

"Wait," the writer seemed to be saying, "I don't think you know what you're doing here, Main Character. Shut up for a second and let me step in and explain to the reader the precise pink tone of that Heffalump's fur, or the exact tang of the fancy vodka you're drinking. Or even what you really meant to say when you said that one thing." 

Well, here's the thing, writers - 
With all due respect, no reader picks up a book to hear us tell our characters' stories for them. Readers crack those pages open to step into our characters' minds for a moment. So, forget about YOUR voice and let us hear THEIR voices.

Of course, during revisions we've got to comb back through and make sure our characters don't switch favorite slang words midway through the manuscript, or use words from an SAT prep course when they're a normal twelve-year old. But for most voicey stuff, my advice is simple - sit back, close your eyes, and imagine what your character would see, feel, and think. Then write that down. Again - You've done the hard work in dreaming her up - now let her do a little work for you.

Thanks again for letting me play! I had so much fun reading, and am seriously impressed by everyone's hard work!