Monday, August 24, 2015

Oops!...I used it again

You ever really pay attention to casual conversations and take notice of the words repeatedly cluttering the ether, including what falls out of your own mouth? Like most people, I am guilty of overusing the word "like" more times than I can count...and that's only within one sentence.

Writing is no different. So...that...just...then...walk...look...was...just a few of the words that continually show up in first drafts. That's where revising comes in handy. Most of these words can be deleted on the spot. Sometimes it fits and should be left alone. Sometimes tweaking is necessary: rephrasing, rearranging, or plain old cutting. But be careful when turning to a thesaurus for help. Replacing "look" with "gaze" over and over just creates a new monster. Plus, the mood you're trying to convey can change the instant you replace "walk" with "strut" or "stomp" or "slink".

Repetition isn't limited to a single word. Phrases and actions and ways we show emotion tend to pop up over and over. It's one thing when a character has a unique trait or a certain way of expressing herself, but if every single time my main character shows her fear through a "racing pulse" or "rapid heartbeat," readers' eyes start to roll.

When revision fails to pick up all the redundancy, that's where critique groups and beta readers swoop in and save the day. It took one of my beta readers to point out my overuse of "beating hearts". I dumped the "pounding chest" and unfortunately picked up a new bad habit, the "twisted tummy". Thankfully, not within the same manuscript.

No matter how many other eyes review your work, overused words, cliches and actions will slip through. Putting a draft aside for a good chunk of time is essential. Then you can take a fresh look and catch anything that drowns your story in repetition.

So, just know you're, like, not alone. Look over your work, get feedback, then set it aside for refreshed eyes. That's the key to ending redundancy.


Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Ambivalence is key to querying

Ambivalence the key to success?

As a person who's focused and passionate and determined, how can success (which in my case is to become a financially thriving full-time children's author) be achieved by having mixed feelings?

But when read in context, Ms. Amy Poehler is onto something.

"...ambivalence is the key to success.

I will say it again. Ambivalence is key.

You have to care about your work, but not about the result. You have to care about how good you are and how good you feel, but not about how good people think you are or how good people think you look."

- excerpt from Yes Please by Amy Poehler

As any writer can attest, the writing life is a lonely road that should only be traveled for the LOVE of writing, NOT the destination. If you want to be published...fantastic. If you want to go the traditional route...great. Just be sure to suit up in some armor because the skin you were born in won't be thick enough.

I started querying my YA fantasy earlier this year. Almost half way to triple digits. But as the email rejections start to crowd my inbox combined with those who never even respond, I start to question my abilities and wonder does my writing really suck that bad?  

Art is not universal, but rather personal taste. And just because I love my writing, doesn't mean anyone else will. Not even my own mother. Publishing is a business. One where agents and editors will read and reread again and again to get that manuscript just right.

I love books. But there are only a select few that I love that much to want to read over and over and over. So, yeah, I get it. When the form rejection letter says "[we] are not a good fit" (aka "it's not you, it's me"), I have to remind myself to not take it personally.

And hey, my writing can't be all that bad. Four "positive" rejections (aka personally addressed with some positive feedback) and two full manuscript requests ain't bad. In an industry where only 0.01% get a partial/full request from the slush pile, I'd say I'm doing pretty darn good.

Moral of the story? Ambivalence is the key to querying. Enjoy writing. Love your words. Care about the craft. And let go of others' opinions. No one can take away your passion, unless you let them.

Care, don't care, who cares? Me, but only when it comes to my craft and my words.

feel good,

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

When life gives you lemons...

...sometimes everything sours. 

photo credit:
The last couple of months have been...well...pretty sucky. I hurt my knee in early April and ended up having surgery in mid-May (who knew karaoke could be so dangerous?!). At first, my outlook was pretty positive. So many amazing friends showed up for me...rides to the hospital, mac-n-cheese for easy 'post-surgery' meals, texts checking-in and grocery store runs. And then...

I found myself alone. Here it was summer and while everyone else was camping and hiking and driving out to the coast, I was trapped on my couch with nothing left to watch on Netflix. Before you knew it, I found myself spiraling into a dark place. No inspiration or motivation to write. No concentration to read. No mobility to get out of the house. Soon I was getting sick of my own company.

That's when you pucker up, kiss the crap goodbye, and make some lemonade.

There's some truth to the saying "happiness comes from within." You can't always control the 'bad' things that happen in life. But you can choose your perspective. I'm not saying to ignore your emotions, but rather than drown in depression or lash out in anger, listen to what your feelings are telling you. Then do something about it. Or accept the situation and move on.

I tried putting pen to paper many times. Even tried playing with different genres, hoping something new would spark some enthusiasm. But when the few words that trickled out were pure garbage and just made me feel worse, I started reading instead. All kinds of books. Memoir, YA romance, middle grade folklore, adult fantasy. It took some time, but finally a spark was lit and now I can't stop writing.

So when life knocks you on your arse...pick yourself up, dust off, take a breather if needed, then take one step forward.

life can be sweet