Querying then and now: Why’s it have to be so hard?

July 27, 2010 Writing Comments (0) 120

In a time and place not very far in the past, perhaps ten or fifteen years ago:

A boy, not yet a man, has completed his first novel.  It’s a sword-and-sorcery fantasy epic that took him six years to write.  In that time he has found the how-to books about publishing in the library and in the tiny writers’ section of the book store.  One of them is written by his favorite author of science fiction and fantasy.  It recommends that a first-time writer try to hook a publisher, then see about getting an agent before signing any contracts.

The boy pours over the details in these magical books and learns how to properly format a query package: one inch margins all around, last name/title/page number on the top right, no staples or paper clips – no one mentions 12 point Courier font because the authors of these books assume that writing happens on a typewriter.  He learns of the holy grail of publishing, mentioned in every how-to book: the Writer’s Market.

The library’s three most recent volumes are never in, so he goes to the book store and he spends $65 on his very own copy, which for this young man is a substantial investment.  He spends more money on stamps and printer paper and just the right kind of envelopes.  For hours he pours over the tiny print in the Writer’s Market to learn each publisher’s personalized requirements, and spends hours more assembling sample chapter, synopses, and self-addressed-stamped-envelopes according to each publisher’s particular tastes.  When this ritual is ended, he carries the weighty stack of sealed envelopes to the post office and mails them off to the submissions editors, those faceless judges who preside over some secret court reachable only via the postal service.  In three months he begins to receive rejection slips, but the last will not arrive until fully a year after the query was mailed.  He gets three requests for partials and two requests for a full manuscript.  Though all end in rejection, the editor who requested the full responds with a couple hundred words of constructive criticism and asks him to revise and resubmit.  By the time he does so the kind editor has left her job.  The publisher is in financial straits and no longer interested.

Fast forward now to the present day.  The boy is now a young man.  His how-to books are outdated, the one written by his no-longer-favorite author preserved on a shelf only because of the personalized autograph.  The young man has finished his fifth revision of that same novel, and it’s time to consider publication.  His plan now is to find an agent, because the two remaining publishers who still accept unagented submissions have already declined.  The Writer’s Market is no longer the definitive compendium it once was – in fact, it’s quaint and pretty much defunct at this point.  The young man goes where the action is: the internet. Continue Reading

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On personality and character creation

July 19, 2010 Writing Comments (0) 238

Personality Type cartoon from Toothpaste for Dinner

Comic lifted from "Toothpaste for Dinner." Go read.

Often when I’m on a journey of emotional self-discovery (as I am now, thanks for asking) I will revisit the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator as a means of re-centering myself and making peace with my own tendencies.  I first took a Myers-Briggs test in high school, and since then have consistently and strongly tested to the same result.  This post is not about my personality, though, it’s about the personalities of your characters, and whether personality type-sorters can be useful tools in character development.

This weekend was my first encounter with the Enneagram of Personality model, which sorts personalities into nine major archetypes, numbered one through nine.  I have to say, when I took the test and read about my own type I was astonished at the accuracy.

Now, I’m sure not everyone is going to match their type so precisely, and there is always the horoscope phenomenon, where the wording of a type profile is vague enough to allow anyone to see themselves reflected, but having read the other eight types I can honestly say that I fit one very precisely, and the others not nearly as well.  Being that both enneatypes and Myers-Briggs personality profiles are based not on something as random as your birth month but on your actual behaviors and thought processes, I do put a fair amount of stock into the results.

So how do we use this in our writing?  Naturally my first thought is that we can use these personality profiles to help create consistent, realistic characters, but I wonder how we can go deeper.  In examining myself, for instance, I started thinking that some characters might be very self-aware – perhaps they’ve even taken these tests and examined their own personalities – while others may be very blind to their own tendencies.  Some may fall victim unconsciously to their fears and insecurities, while others may be on the lookout for their triggers.  What if a character has taken such a test and, as many people are prone to do, hides behind his personality traits and takes the attitude that he or she is incapable of some behavior because “it’s just not who they are?” Continue Reading

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Grow Wild

July 16, 2010 Poetry, Writing Comments (0) 134

Sometimes I write bad poetry.  Since I don’t plan to sell it, I can share some of it here.

Grow Wild

Some people love gardens

But I prefer wild places

Though they may be hard to reach and dangerous to travel.

Cultivation and control can make things look pretty

But I have only ever felt my soul

Where life is free to grow as it will.

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Writing as a marathon

July 15, 2010 Writing Comments (0) 136

My best friend Liz is training to run her first marathon.  On Wednesday she blogged about it, and the way training changed her mindset and her priorities.  For the first time, she says, she started to think about herself as an athlete.

I watched her run her first real race in early May, and seeing the way she glowed after finishing inspired me to take up running, something I spent years swearing I would never do.  I’m far from marathon training, but I’m working my way up to levels I never thought I could accomplish.  It’s taught me a few things that I can apply to other areas of my life, like my writing.

One of the things Liz taught me is the power of how we think about ourselves.  When she first started running, she was doing it to keep fit.  At some point during her training, she started thinking of herself as a runner, and that brought about a major change.  She started reading magazines and buying products aimed at runners.  She got familiar with major races, and learned runners slang.  She went from running for fitness to accumulating “base miles” and setting “PR”s (personal records, for the uninformed).  She saw herself differently, and that changed her goals and her outcomes.

I’ve also learned how much work goes into training for a marathon.  Marathon runners don’t spend months on the couch and then suddenly pump out 26 miles.  They spend four months in rigorous training, running almost every day, working their way up to that pace – and before those four months of training even begin, they spent at least two months getting their “base miles,” twenty or so miles a week that are intended to build bone density, joint strength, and otherwise condition the body to prepare it for distance running.  By the time she finishes the 26.2 miles of the Philadelphia Marathon, she will have run more than 1,000 miles to prepare for it.

I apply these lessons to the work of aspiring writers.  Are we really “writers?” Are we living that life, or are we dabbling? Are we training for the big race, or just dabbling when the mood strikes? Continue Reading

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Goals, dreams, work, and luck

July 14, 2010 Writing Comments (0) 128

It’s that time again – that time when Chris, as-yet-unpublished author, waxes intellectual on the subject of achieving one’s dreams of publication.  Next week I’ll present an informative video on kidney transplant, something else I have no demonstrable experience with.

Let’s start with goals and dreams.  I’m often surprised how many people cannot tell the difference between their goals and their dreams.  I’ve had many friends, for instance, with a dream of being an actor.  Only one has really dedicated herself and done the work necessary to honestly call it a goal.

If you are an aspiring writer you are probably thinking about publishing someday.  Are you working toward it?  Are you putting words on the page, revising, editing?  Do you spend time reading?  Have you set deadlines for yourself, and do you stick to them?

I’m very guilty of treating publication, a goal of my own, as a dream.  Though I am still fairly  young, it has been my dream for more than 15 years to become a published novelist – and I spent perhaps 8 of those 15 years writing not a word of any novel, reading almost no novel-length fiction, and basically doing no work at all to achieve my goal.  I spent time fantasizing about it, though.  That, dear readers, constitutes a dream.

One might say that setting a goal is the first effort to make a dream into a reality.  So how do we accomplish this?  There are two mechanisms: work, and luck. Continue Reading

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Techniques for focusing on the craft

July 13, 2010 Writing Comments (0) 144

A follow-up to yesterday’s post about techniques for focusing on the craft:

I can share two techniques I have employed, that have brought me moderate success.  The first is to outline.  I recently started using a word processing program, Scrivener, intended for creative writing.  It’s a fantastic program that integrates outlining (on a virtual corkboard, if you prefer) and makes it much easier to find your place in a long piece of writing. As I’ve grown accustomed to the program, I’ve become more flexible with my writing style.  Instead of writing in sequence, for instance, I’ll pick whatever scene appeals to me most at the time and write that, figuring I’ll connect the dots later.

I know some writers don’t like to outline because they want the story to “grow organically” or “let the characters decide where to go.”  This is a very romantic notion that I don’t personally feel is compatible with professional writing.  The time to let my characters wander free is when the story is first gelling in my mind, and maybe while I’m writing the first 90 pages.  By the time I have determined that this piece of writing will reach novel length, I want to be able to see the plot, or a rough sketch of it at least, from beginning to end.  I will add here that my outlines are loose enough to allow for a fair amount of flexibility, and I do typically make at least three substantial revisions to the outline as I’m writing. Continue Reading

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On “the mood” and inspiration

July 12, 2010 Writing Comments (1) 144

The Muses

Last night I sat down and pounded out 2,500 words in about an hour.  It was easy and organic, the words flowing through me from the scenes in my mind onto the electronic page.  Why?  Because I was in the mood.

I’ve been going through a very difficult emotional time in the last two weeks, involving a lot of heartbreak, a lot of very deep soul-searching, and a lot of learning about myself.  Writing has been pretty much out of the question.  I’ve sat down a few times to try and write, but my mind was completely preoccupied with my emotions and there was no hope of focusing on my novel.  Yesterday wasn’t exactly a great day, but I felt more at peace with things, and it was as if a swell of creative energy came bursting through the containment dome in my mind. Continue Reading

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A personal note: on the closet.

July 2, 2010 Personal Comments (3) 271

I’m dispensing with the writing and publishing talk today and getting extremely personal, because I need to.  In case you read no further, here’s the point of this post: come out of the closet.  I’m not talking about being gay or lesbian, not specifically.  Whatever closet you are in, whatever you are keeping secret about yourself and hiding from the people you love and care about, come out.  Now. Live in love, not in fear. Continue Reading

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