Sunday, February 28, 2010

If Writing Weren't Hard, It Would Be Easy...

... and then everyone would do it.

My unplugged week didn't go so well. This was because:

1. I set an unrealistic goal. I needed to write about 15,000 words last week to finish my manuscript. I knew it was possible-- if the stars aligned, and the kids cooperated like never before, and my muse was operating at full strength--unfortunately, last week wasn't one of those weeks.

2. My kids were sick. I've said it many times, but they really do come first. If given a choice between snuggling with my feverish pukey child while watching a movie, or trying to get some words on paper, I'm going to choose the snuggling every time.

3. I got really sick, and I'm still not really over it. For me, sickness is the ultimate creativity drain. I can't be witty when I feel like poop.

4. The Olympics

5. American Idol (I can't help it! I'm an addict.)

So yeah, some of these things I had some control over. I didn't NEED to watch every single night of figure skating, or ski cross, or aerials, or everything else. And I could have gotten a lot more done if I had turned off the television and read the recaps the next day, but it wouldn't have been as fun.

I did manage to write about 2000 words despite all the craziness, and I feel okay about that. It feels like a drop in the bucket, but at least I'm 2000 words closer to finishing.

Do your writing plans ever get thwarted by things outside your control? What are some things you can control that keep you from reaching your goals?

And I missed you all last week! I can't wait to see what everyone has been up to.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

It's All About Taste

It occurred to me about a month ago that all of the steps in the publishing process come down to one thing: personal taste.

You can write the most brilliant novel ever about sea slugs, and if you only submit it to one agent, and that agent happens to detest sea slugs, it won't get published.

Or perhaps you'll find an agent who is crazy about sea slugs and loves your chatty MC and thinks the story is wonderful, but when he submits it to editors, one editor doesn't like the chatty MC, and one likes the MC, but thinks the story is lame, and another just hates sea slugs.

And then if you manage to sell the book you have to worry about reviewers who hate sea slugs or chatty MC's or books with alternating points of view. And then readers... you get the point.

Every person in this world has their own set of likes and dislikes. I dislike books where people seem to fall in love/infatuation for no clear reason. This scenario drives me crazy. But there are a lot of books like this that are popular, so just because I don't like them doesn't mean someone else (or millions of someone elses) won't.

I think it's important to remember when you query agents, or your agent submits to editors, that in the end it comes down to taste. The agent has to love your book in order to take it on. And if one agent doesn't love it, that doesn't mean it isn't great. It could be the hottest book since Harry Potter, but it just didn't fit with that agent's interests. I think this is why we're told over and over again to query widely.

So there you go. Don't feel bad about rejection, it's all (or at least a lot) about personal taste.

Have you ever read a bestseller that you hated? Or have you ever read a quiet little book that you loved?

I was supposed to unplug this week, but I didn't. So, I'm going to officially unplug tomorrow and stay unplugged until a week from Monday. I'll miss you!

My goal during unplugged time will be to FINALLY finish this first draft. It's close. I just need some time to focus.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

This Is A Contest You CAN'T Miss

I'm supposed to be unplugged this week. Unfortunately, this week has turned into a crumby week for writing, so I'm pushing back my unplugged time until next week.

And this is good, because I need to tell you about this totally awesome contest at Elana Johnson's and Shelli Johannes-Wells' blogs.

This is the kind of contest I would have LOVED to enter before I got an agent, because you can win query critiques (and partial critiques) FROM AGENTS.

I don't know about you, but when I was writing my query letter I would have done just about anything for some professional advice. I think they are giving away 6 different agent critiques(just kidding, between the two of them they are giving away 8 agent critiques-WOW) so there are many chances to win (plus, while I'm sure there will be hundreds of entries, there probably won't be thousands like Nathan Bransford's contests. The odds will be pretty good.)

I'm sure 90% of you already follow Shelli and Elana, but I'd hate for the other 10% to miss out on this opportunity.

You need to follow both blogs to enter (which you won't regret--they are both must-reads in my opinion). And they even have cool prizes for the already-agented, so you should enter too.

So I'll ask you, if you could have any leg up before you query (a referral from a client, a query critique by a professional, a conference pitch session with your dream agent, etc.), which would you choose?

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Cupid Shot Me

I was going to participate in Diane Estrella's How Cupid Shot Me Day, but I really, really need an unplugged week. So instead of taking the time to write a new post about how I fell in love with my sweetheart, I'm just going to link to a few I wrote a while ago. (I know, I'm lazy)

My husband and I have been married for more than seven years and I love him more everyday. I'm so grateful to be married to someone so supportive, and helpful, and... hot.

Mmm Hmm. Nice.

Do you have a love story you'd like to share in the comments? I'm totally in the mood for mushiness.

And I've won a few blog contests lately and I want to say THANK YOU to Terry Lynn Johnson and Mary Campbell for the lovely new books. I'm so excited to get reading!

See you next week!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Books I Read

You might know that I am trying to read 100 books this year.

Before you become impressed I should probably tell you that I will most likely listen to half of these books, and another quarter will be chapter books or easy middle grade. But it's still cool, right?

So I think I'm supposed to have a post listing the books I've read so far this year, so you can all see that I am actually reading 100 books and not just pretending to read them. Plus, you can all giggle at my reading choices.

This is what I've read so far this year:

1. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
2. Soulless by Gail Carriger
3. The Giraffe, the Pelly and Me by Roald Dahl
4. Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen
5. Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld
6. Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney
7. Diary of a Wimpy Kid Rodrick Rules by Jeff Kinney
8. Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater
9. Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator by Roald Dahl
10. When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
11. The Last Olympian by Rick Riordan
12. The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen
13. Stargirl by Jerry Sprinelli
14. The Ranger's Apprentice #1 by John Flanagan
15. The Ranger's Apprentice #2 by John Flanagan
16. The Ranger's Apprentice #3 by John Flanagan
17. Clementine by Sara Pennypacker
18. If I Stay by Gayle Forman
19. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
20. Graceling by Kristin Cashore
21. The Black Tulip by Alexander Dumas
22. Junie B. Jones and a Little Monkey Business by Barbara Park
23. The Help by Kathryn Stockett
24. The Shifter by Janice Hardy
25. The Giver by Lois Lowry

Yeah, I've been reading a lot of Roald Dahl. He was my favorite author when I was a kid, so I got my daughter the Roald Dahl collection for Christmas. We've been reading them together every night. So, I can guarantee there will be a lot of Roald Dahl in the final 100.

Anyway, check back if you're ever curious about what I'm reading. I won't ever do reviews, because I don't think I have reviewing skills. Plus I don't want to say negative things on the internet if I hate a book. That wouldn't be nice. But if you are dying to know what I think of a book (because my taste in literature is so excellent--as you can see from my list), feel free to email me.

What are you reading right now? Do you have any recommendations for great MG reads or books meant for grown ups? (My reading list appears to be mostly YA, and I can only take so much teen angst).

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

My Story Won't Behave

I'm still working on the first draft of the story I started during NaNoWriMo. I know, it's shameful. I wish I were a faster writer, but speed writing isn't my gift.

Back in October, before I wrote anything down, I decided I would try to outline. On November 2 I strayed so far from the outline that it became useless.

So I just wrote.

In December, I started getting a sense of what should happen later in the book. I wrote down a few of these ideas and tried, once again, to stick with the plan.

Then this Monday, I wrote 2000 words in one sitting. Those 2000 words took my story to an entirely new place, a place where many of my December ideas won't work.

The moral of this story: some people are plotters, unfortunately I'm not one of them.

Are you a plotter? If so, are you ever tempted to leave your outline behind?

Sunday, February 7, 2010

A Word About Endings

They don't have to be happy. They just have to make the hours I've put into the movie, book, television show, etc. worth it.

My husband and I watched a movie last night that both of us were really into. We were invested in the characters and we wanted to see what would happen to them. When the final scene came and NOTHING was resolved, both of us pleaded out loud, "Please don't let that be the end!" But it was the end. And we were frustrated. I won't be recommending the movie to any of my friends, even though I liked the rest of it.

Endings are important. They're the last thing your readers will read. I have a really bad memory when it comes to books or movies that I saw years ago. I might forget the entire plot, but I'll remember the ending (especially if it was really good or really bad).

I'm feeling a lot of pressure to end my current WIP well. I love the characters and I want their final moments on the page to be both surprising and satisfying. I know it's going to take some work to get it right, but it'll be worth it.

Does it bother you when a book or movie ends without resolution (or when the resolution isn't satisfying)? If you've enjoyed the rest of the story can you overlook a bad ending?

Oh, and if you haven't entered Karen's awesome Valentine's Day contest (in which she is giving away books AND chocolate) please do so! You won't regret it. Karen is the coolest.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Award Happiness

Well, it's that time again. I've received a few awards this last month and I need to say thanks and pass them on!

First up is Happy 101 which was given to me by Stephanie Thronton (I'm so excited to read her historical novel about Hatshepsut, the first successful female Pharaoh--it sounds fabulous), Karen Denise (who writes dystopian YA, the genre I WISH I could write) and Marybeth (Poppins) Smith (who is hilarious, really).

I think I'm supposed to list 10 things that make me happy, so here goes:

1. Snuggling with my kids at bedtime (they are just sweeter at bedtime)
2. Chocolate cake
3. 70 degree weather
4. Hot baths
5. Great books
6. Kisses
7. Sleep
8. A clean house
9. Being with my family
10. Lasagna

I'd like to give this award to three happy people who are new to me and new to the blogging world. So go visit them! It always makes me happy to meet someone new.

Nicole Ducleroir at One Significant Moment
Christine Danek at Christine's Journey

And thank you to Kristin at Another Gray Day (she writes and bakes and writes about baking and books) and Roni at Fiction Groupie (who, as I've said before, writes one of my very favorite blogs about writing, it's a must read) for the Over the Top Award.

For this one we're supposed to answer the following questions with just one word.

Your Cell Phone? Tracfone
Your Hair? Brown
Your Mother: Artist
Your Father? Smart
Your Favorite Food? Chocolate
Your Dream Last Night? Weird
Your Favorite Drink? Water
Your Dream/Goal? Author
What Room Are You In? Office
Your Hobby? Writing
Your Fear? Rejection
Where Do You See Yourself In Six Years? Published
Where Were You Last Night? Home
Something You Aren't? Mathematician
Muffins? Yes
Wish List Item? Motivation
Where Did You Grow Up? West
Last Thing You Did? Breakfast
What Are You Wearing? Sweatshirt
Your TV? PBS
Your Pets? Dog
Friends? Many
Your Life? Lovely
Your Mood? Happy
Missing Someone? Always
Vehicle? Van
What You Aren't Wearing? Makeup
Your Favorite Store? Target
Your Favorite Color? Yellow
When Was The Last Time You Laughed? Today
Last Time You Cried? Yesterday
Your Best Friend? Husband
One Place You Go Over And Over Again? Refrigerator
Facebook? Confusing
Favorite Place To Eat? Italian

I'd like to give this award to Frankie at Frankie Writes, because I met her in person last weekend, and she is the first writer/extrovert I've ever come across. She's absolutely darling and her blog is Over The Top. And also to Elana Johnson (even though she probably doesn't do awards anymore because she's practically a professional blogger). Her posts are so helpful to me. If you aren't reading them, you should be.

Whew, that was quite the blog. If you skimmed to the end for the question of the day I won't leave you hanging! Today's question is:

What makes you happy?

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

What are Your Character's Faults?

One of the things I've thought a lot about since returning from SCBWI last weekend, is creating interesting characters.

In Libba Bray's keynote speech she told us to be careful of writing shallow characters. Imperfections are what make people interesting. Several of the other speakers touched on this too, and I think it's very applicable to my writing (and hopefully yours too).

I try not to write characters that are too good. They don't always obey their parents or do their homework or treat each other with respect. But I struggle with it sometimes. I have to avoid the temptation to let the good people always do good things and the bad people always do bad things, because in real life people aren't good or bad, they're just people.

My favorite books include villains who could almost be heroes or heroes that are just a few steps away from being villains. I like reading about people who are flawed. Sydney Carton (from Dickens', A Tale Of Two Cities) and Emma Woodhouse (From Jane Austen's, Emma) are two of my favorite characters ever, probably because both of them are far from perfect.

Do your heroes have defects? Do your villains have redemptive qualities? Or are they too good or too bad?

Monday, February 1, 2010

Write what YOU write

I spent the last three days in New York at the SCBWI Winter Conference. It was awesome.

The best thing about the weekend was that I finally got to meet my writing group girls in person. They were everything I'd hoped and more. We spent pretty much the whole weekend together going to classes, watching speakers, having a group critique session (which was awesome--I'll share details in a few days), eating, and sleeping (and talking in our sleep).

Here we are:
From left to right: Karen, Me, Megan, and Marie

We also ran into a few familiar blog faces like Frankie from Frankie Writes and the lovely Carrie Harris.

The best thing about the conference wasn't the AMAZING speakers (though there were several that were incredible) or the great information (though I learned a LOT), it was the time I got to spend with friends and be among over 1000 people who were passionate about writing.

Over the next few weeks I want to share some of the things I learned at the conference. I'm not going to give any rundowns about what the speakers said, because you can find all of that at the SCBWI Conference Blog (which is packed with fabulous information). I'm going to share what I got from the experience.

If you asked each of the 1000+ writers and illustrators at the event what they felt the main message of the weekend was, I wouldn't be surprised if you got 1000+ different answers. But, I came away with one very solid impression about how to make my writing better.

Write what YOU write.

We listened to a lot of editors, writers and agents talk about the current trends in publishing. They told us about what is selling and what isn't, but they'd always, always followed this up by saying: DO NOT WRITE FOR THE TRENDS. If you write what you love (and what you're good at) your chances of making it in the business are so much better than if you write what you think editors are buying.

I need to be more confident in what I write. I admire so many writers in so many genres and I often wish I could write fantasy, or brilliant literary fiction, or picture books, or dystopian YA. But I love middle grade fiction. It is what I write well. My characters don't go to wizarding schools, they aren't vampires, and they don't speak in chatty teen slang, but they are unique and relatable and I hope someday people will love them.

What do you write well?