How Michelle Got Her Groove Back

I know, dated movie reference, but hey, it’s been a while since I blogged. In fact, blogging was a thing the last time I blogged. But, I haven’t quite made it to podcast levels of entertainment and information, so I’ll keep blogging for now.

When last we met our intrepid heroine… I was writing. Then I wasn’t writing. And frankly, that part sucked. Life got in the way and I guess you could say that I lost my mojo. I’d invested so much into my last manuscript and had (still have) such high hopes for it that when the rejections came in, it threw me for an emotional loop. So, I took a breath and re-evaluated. I still think my boy band manuscript has a lot to offer and I still have agents considering it, so I’m not giving up, not surrendering.

Now, I know enough about the writing industry to understand that while manuscripts are being considered by publishers and agents, you work on something else. *Picture Dory* Just keep writing…just keep writing.

Trouble was, I couldn’t wrap my head around what to write. I tried tweaking several of my previous manuscripts and that worked for bit, but I never could get to the point where I was spending hours of my day working on my writing. That’s where I was before and where I wanted to be again. My life, my general state of being, is always better when I’m writing. So you can imagine how miserable I was when I wasn’t.

Lucky for me, I have great friends and writing cohorts that didn’t let me give up. I thought about it but I knew, deep down, I wouldn’t give up. A writer is who I am. So I listened to their advice and encouragement and waited for an idea to spring into my mind.

I know that’s not the best practical advice to give other writers in my situation, but it’s what I did. I listened to my favorite songs by my favorite bands, I kept an eye/ear open while I watched tv, I imagined scenarios while I was driving and showering.

Then one day, BOOM. A song I must have listened to a hundred times gave me a specific image. I built a scene around that image. I loved the scene, but I didn’t know the characters or the story. All I knew was I wanted to write the scene. So I did. In my head, at first. Each time I listened to that song, new details cropped up. I spent a lot of time saying (in my car mainly) “Oh, I can use that.”

Fast forward a week later to when my husband was watching YouTube and came across a little nugget of a video talking about [subject redacted]. Again. “Oh, I can use that!” Another detail of my world, but still no story.

The following day I was kicking around ideas at work and one of my colleagues who happens to know a lot about the [redacted subject] and I started talking. I told him I’d always wanted to write about [that] but it would have to be a fresh take on it or it wouldn’t work. Another colleague jokingly threw out an idea that was indeed, fresh. It was so ridiculous that we all laughed a good minute or so.

But then…

I stopped laughing.

Because: Oh, I can use that!

So right then and there, I pulled up a doc and started writing it. Five hundred words later, I had a real working story idea and a killer first line. I know it’s a good line because everyone who has read it laughs out loud at it.

And now I’ve gotten up early and stayed up late to write; I’ve called my daughter to have one of our “What If…” conversations, something I’ve done with every manuscript that helps me organize and reign in all the chaos in my head; I’ve done about three hours worth of research online and have so many tabs open that you can barely tell they’re tabs.

These are all positive signs in my writing life.

It remains to be seen if this is the best idea everrrr or so ludicrous no agent would ever consider it. Right now, I have nothing but positive reviews (Crit partners: Your day is coming. I will be sending this to you before our next meeting!) Honestly, what’s most important is that Michelle has gotten her groove back. And it feels so good.

 

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Three Things I Thought I Would Never Do

I’m doing something I never thought I’d do.

Scratch that.

I’m doing three things I never thought I’d do. That’s a lot of things all at once. It’s kind of scary, but also exhilarating. Doing these things sort of snuck up on me, so I thought I’d share the story of how it happened.

The ubiquitous They—you know of “They Say” fame—say that writers should always write something when they’re waiting on responses on queries or submissions. Since I’m in that place, I’ve been actively trying to find other things to write. I started on a sequel to my current MS and I got very far along in it before I decided to flesh out my planned ending better. So, I abandoned it (temporarily) for a shiny new idea about muses that I had. Wrote two scenes in that before I realized I had a great premise, but not the characters or conflict to go in it. So, I stopped writing to give those things more thought. (Again, temporarily.) At that point, I found myself a writer with nothing to write.

Understand: this was KILLING me. I missed writing and my life was truly lacking because I had about a six-week period where I wasn’t writing.

Enter my friend, Nicole.

I work with Nicole at a historic museum that centers on life in the 1820-1850 period. Now I’m really lucky that my bosses have asked me to write some companion stories to go with some of our education materials, so I’d been writing those for a while. It’s fun and I like it. But I made the comment to Nicole, “I like what I’m writing just fine, but it’s basically middle grade narratives and that means THERE IS NO KISSING IN THEM!!! ARRRRGH.”

Have I mentioned I like writing romance? Yeah. I do.

Nicole nodded her head, understanding me because she likes reading romance. She innocently said, “You should write a story about a girl who lived here on our (museum) block who falls for the hot young Print Shop apprentice, but her father has arranged for her to marry another man, but here’s the thing: that man isn’t evil or bad. He’s completely worthy and a nice guy, so the girl has to make a hard choice between the two of them.”

I laughed out loud for a good minute. Me? Write an historical short romance with a triangle in it?

Yeah, no.

But then…

I had an idea. Not just an idea, but a very clear picture of hot print shop apprentice and the girl who’d fall for him. I turned to Nicole and said, “Hold my Diet Coke.” (Because I don’t drink beer, you see.)

Okay, maybe those weren’t my exact words to her, but her idea sparked my interest and I wanted to see if I could do it. She threw out a couple of things she’d like to see in this short historical romance and we had a great afternoon “writing” our story. Or, you know, throwing out crazy ideas and laughing about it until passers-by started to wonder if the museum was actually selling grog in our Grog Shop. (It isn’t.) She even did some research for me and came up with real people from the area and a gorgeous daguerreotype photo that served as inspiration for my apprentice!

That night, I went home and tried to write it, just to see if I could. I like a challenge.  I wrote a scene where the apprentice and girl meet for the first time and a big conflict scene between them that would occur far later. (Nicole was very specific about wanting this scene in my story! By the way, she was right. It’s a great scene and I love it!)

Proud and a little excited of what I’d created, I took them for her to read. Her reaction was to squeal and insist I continue…as long as I put in a scene about X, and Y, and Z.*

So, here I am writing a short story. I’m a wordy writer. I’m always trying to find ways to cut words instead of adding them. Short stories are difficult for me because I NEEDS ALL THE WERDZ! But I’m managing. As I write this blog I’m close to 20K and I’m almost to the last dramatic scene. Not exactly a short short story, but it’s not going to be a novel.*

And I’m writing a piece set in 1848. 1848!! I’ve dabbled in almost every genre there is, but never once did I consider writing something historical. In my (erroneous) mind, if I couldn’t use modern slang or references, I wouldn’t be able to do it. Turns out that my natural tendency for formal prose works well in an historical. Only a few times have I caught myself using modern terms. (And hey, research is fun for me. Did you know that lemonade was first served in 1857? Sadly, my MC can’t offer her hot young apprentice a glass, but he can be compared to Casanova, who died in 1798!)

Finally, I’m doing it. I’m writing an actual love triangle. For me (though not for everyone) triangles are tedious and I really don’t care for them unless they’re very well done. (For YA: see The Selection series by Kiera Cass or for a steamier NA: see Colleen Hoover’s Maybe Someday for triangles done well, IMO.) I hope when I finished my triangle is well done. It’s been interesting to write because I, the writer, clearly have a favorite, but I wanted to show merits in the other guy too. I hope I’ve done that.  We’ll see. For Print Shop apprentice is pretty hot…

I’m not sure if anyone but Nicole will read this little experiment of mine, but I do know that it’s gotten me excited about writing again. I’ve been in the zone where I can’t type what’s in my head fast enough. I’m thinking about scenes when I’m driving to work and writing until I have to get up and go to work or fix dinner.

If you’re a writer, I encourage you to try this type of experiment. You may be surprised with what you end up with.

 

*I’m not sharing any other details yet because I don’t know what I’m going to do with this thing. I may post it on the blog or Wattpad for others to read. Or I may just pass it around to the museum folk who will absolutely be able to picture the setting. I’ll let you know when I decide.

 

Waiting for the Snow to Fall

There are millions of “beach people” out there in the world. I’m not one of them. Not a fan of sun and sand at all. Me? I’m a snow person. I love snow.

In my childhood I was never one to look out the window and anticipate the big snow day because I actually liked school. But, I loved snow too. As an adult, maybe part of the reason I love it so much is because it takes me back to my childhood. I’m not sure. I don’t want to stop and psychoanalyze myself at the moment.

Here’s another fact about me: I’m a bit of a weather nerd. This, I know, comes from my father. He was obsessed with The Weather Channel and always talking about weather.

Now, living in the south, the chance of snow every winter is hit-and-miss. We usually get one good snow a year.

Those two things combined have made me the kind of person who checks multiple weather apps on the daily.  This winter season, my apps have teased me with those little snowflake icons several times already. Each time, I let my hopes get up, only to be disappointed at the lack of real snowflakes in the sky.

But, last night, those little snowflakes on my phone turned into real snowflakes in the sky! I started out last night sitting on my chair drinking hot tea and staring out the window while binging on Netflix. At 7:06 and 7:08 pm, I got texts from both of my kids telling me to look outside. (*) It was snowing! Naturally, I threw on some shoes and went out to investigate said snow. It was awesome!

This morning I awoke to my boss texting me that the Governor had closed our museum for the day. So yes, SNOW DAY FOR MICHELLE! I ran to the window and was met with a tiny smattering of snow on the ground.

I’ll admit it. I was disappointed.

I was envisioning total coverage. I was hoping for inches of snow for my boots to crunch into. (Because that’s my favorite sound on the planet after laughing babies.) That’s not what I got.

Oh, there’s enough snow on the ground to call it snow. The roads that would’ve taken me to work today are too dangerous to drive this morning (and it’s only 14 degrees as I type this. (Exactly. I checked. Like I said, #weathernerd). But, I still feel let down at the lack of snow to play in.

As I considered this, I started thinking about how much this is like querying a manuscript.

Those little snowflake icons are the “awesome agents” for your manuscript. Those agents are out there. You can see them. They pop up on your screen all the time.  So you cast your hopes out as you send your query. Then you sit in chair with hot tea waiting for those wonderful real snowflakes to fall from the sky, in hopes that you’ll get to go outside in play in the inches and inches of snow. And make snowmen! And snow angels! And go on book tours! And become a NYTBSA!

Sometimes, you get the snow. Sometimes you get nothing. Sometimes, you get a smattering of snow and it’s enough to keep you going until the big snowfall comes.

That’s where I am today with querying. I think it’s unusual to talk about querying online while you’re querying. I wonder if writers are afraid if they talk about getting rejections, it will make them look undesirable to other agents. Or maybe writers see rejections as failure and nobody wants to broadcast failures on the internet, am I right?

But I’m not sure those things are true. It’s standard practice for writers to query multiple agents at once, be that in large batches, or a few agents at a time. (With the exception of some agencies who prefer exclusives. Check agency guidelines if you’re querying.) It’s well-known (because it’s true, duh) that all it takes is one agent to “get” your work. It stands to reason that if an agent loves your manuscript and wants to offer you representation, he/she’d be okay with rejections you’ve gotten from other places because they are YOUR snowflake!

And it’s also a universal truth that a rejection from an agent doesn’t necessarily mean the writer is a bad writer or the story isn’t good. Say it with me: A rejection of a manuscript is not a personal rejection.  (I’m telling myself this as much as I’m telling you, trust me. Ask my crit partners.)

This blog is about my journey in writing. That’s where I am in in January 2018–I’m sitting here with my hot tea waiting for MY snowflake to love my manuscript.

Good thing I have some actual snow to look at while I wait.

snow18

A view from my deck. 

 

*Aren’t my kids awesome? They know me so well.

My son was at work and he texted me the following: So you weren’t going to tell your own son about the snow when he has to drive home in it? Who are you and what have you done with my Mom??

Two minutes later, this came from my daughter: Look outside!

 

 

 

 

“What’s a library, Mrs Collins?”

Yesterday I subbed in a Pre-K classroom. Yes, I’m still alive and breathing. (Actually, I prefer teaching the little ones way over a classroom of 7th graders which I did last week and will never do again.) But I was talking with some of the Pre-K kids and I mentioned I was going to go to the library after school.

Now, I know these kids have only had roughly four short years of life, but I was stunned when not one of the kids knew what I was talking about. “What’s the library, Mrs. Collins?” questioned sweet little *Danny. I think my mouth literally dropped open. I’ve taught Preschool before and books were always a huge portion of the curriculum. My classes always made a field trip of going to the library and reading/checking out books. But yesterday afternoon in the public school Pre-K program, it was clear that the kids I was there to teach and protect and encourage had never been exposed to something I consider essential to becoming educated little humans who will grow up to be productive good adults.

So, I told them about the library.

Granted, some of what I said went way over their heads. For example, did they need to know about the forming of the first lending library in Arkansas? No. But that little rabbit hole was a by-product of my other job as Historic Interpreter who happens to know the story of the first lending library in Arkansas. I asked them if they liked to read books or have books read aloud to them. Every single student raised a hand. So we talked about all the books in libraries and how each one can take you to a different place. I asked them to close their eyes and imagine being in the setting for the books I read to them. It’s my greatest hope that the next time an adult reads to them, they’ll do that again and be transported somewhere else.

There may be some parents scratching heads today, wondering why their child is asking about going to the library. But here’s the thing, libraries aren’t just for kids. There’s so much adults can experience beyond checking out books. I truly hope that some of the parents will go check it out in the future.

I’m not one to make public political statements, so I will stop short of doing that now. But I will say that libraries are as necessary and relevant and crucial as bookstores. They’re part of the fabric of our society and in this digital age, most have adapted and grown into more than just a place to get free books for a short time. (But hey, that’s a bonus for voracious readers like myself who can’t afford to support their book habits by purchasing hardbacks of every book they want to read!)

I hope I planted a seed that grows all those little four-year-old baby pre-readers minds And I hope the love of books and the library spreads to their parents and friends. And I hope that I run into some of them in my library very soon.

On a somewhat-related topic. Prior to this year, I had no earthly idea how many books I typically read in a year. All I knew is that there is never a time when I’m not reading a book. So I set about trying to count how many I read. I made a goal for myself of 52 books in one year. A book a week can’t be that hard, right? Really, I had guessed that’s about the rate I was reading.

Turns out I was wrong. I just passed the 52 mark with four months left in the year.

That’s a lot of books.

Most of them have been YA because I always want to read what I write. But some of have been MG books written by friends or NA and adult books written by my favorite YA author who occasionally crosses over into other age ranges. Some of them I will consider “my faves” and some have been excellent examples of what not to do as an author. The bottom line is that I’ve read continuously and with every book I’m being entertained or transported or taught something valuable to implement in my own writing.

A lot of those 52 books have come from the library.

Belle library

*Name has been changed to protect the innocent. 

Wait For It

If you know me personally, you could very easily report that I am not a patient person. I like to do things at full-speed and I absolutely stink at waiting. Waiting is the worst. In fact,  I have a doctor’s appointment this afternoon and I have two books packed in my bag already just to override the fear of sitting there for half an hour (or more) in the waiting room with *gasp* nothing to do.

Because my brain is just wired to go, go, go all the time. If there’s a free moment in the middle of the day, you can bet that I’m thinking “What is it that I need to do that I haven’t done yet?” If I had a nickel for every time my husband has looked lovingly at me and said, “Just relax a second,” then…I’d have a lot of nickels.

And the thing is, I’m not an un-relaxed person. I’m quite happy and feel “calm” most of the time. Maybe that’s because my “calm” is a bit more chaotic than others. Because there’s nothing worse to me than sitting and doing nothing. I’m not the kind of person that can sit in a lawn chair and watch the flora and fauna for hours. I appreciate those things and enjoy looking at those things, but after about a minute, I’ve seen what I need to see and I want to move on to something else.

(You’d think I’d be skinny and my house would be immaculate, but neither of those things is true.)

While I usually do a good job of filling the hours in my day, I’ve come to a point in my writing career where I am waiting. And I can’t do a dang thing about it.

I’m not naive, I know that the publishing industry is slow and there is a lot of waiting to be done. I went into this endeavor eyes wide open. I understand that each part of the process is lengthy, from the writing stage to the revision to the seeking and procuring an agent, the editing, the submission to publishing houses, the editing again, and the length of time it takes to get a book designed, printed and published. All of those require…waiting.

I’m only on stage three of the process. I’ve queried agents (through various sources: conference, contest, and cold querying) and now I have manuscripts out in the world for review. So I wait.

I’m willing to do that because I understand that there are so many hours in the day and most agents have active clients they’re working for. They’re making deals, giving advice, submitting manuscripts, on top of numerous other things for their existing clients. Plus, it just takes a while to read queries and pages from requested materials. So, I’m exercising my patience.

Some days, I’d rather be exercising my body, to be quite honest. And that hardly ever happens either.

Since I’m not that good at waiting, I’ve started actively finding things to fill my time while I wait. We’re moving soon, so I’m organizing and packing and reorganizing and clearing out junk. Clearing out junk is totally healthy for your soul. I recommend it immensely.

What else am I doing? Since my last set of queries/requests went out, I’ve read 9 books. I’ve never really counted the number of books I’ve read. With no concrete idea of how many I normally read, I made a goal to read 52 this year. I’m already at 42 at half the year. (Learned something about goal setting with this, btw..)

And the good thing about all the reading is that it’s helping improve my writing and career. Every book I read gives me lessons on craft (be them good or bad). Every author I research on the internet or book pic I post on InstaGram gives me insight into the business and forges connections with the writing/reading community.

Another important thing I’m doing now is writing. I know that sounds weird for me to say. Hey look, the writer is WRITING. Big deal.  But it is a big deal. Once I had a final draft of my manuscript ready for querying, I put it away, because tinkering with it while agents are reading may cause problems. What if they like it the way it is? Or have other possible changes in mind after they read? If I mess with it now, I may give myself some big headaches in the future once I find the right agent for my work. So I leave it alone until I hear back.

So then what?

What is a writer to do? A writer writes. I started another project. Or rather, continued a half-started project. And I have to tell you, the fact that I’m laying down words on something, anything, is making me a hundred times more calm. It doesn’t feel like waiting when I’m producing something. There was about a month period in which I wrote zero words and it was terrible and I was miserable. Just diving back into the creative process has made all the difference. It doesn’t matter if this project will ever be seen by anyone else. It just matters that I’m creating.

Do I still obsessively check my emails, hoping for an agent response, even though I know it’s too early for a reply? Yes. When I’m driving or in the shower, does my mind still wander into possible scene changes, marketing ideas, lists of ideal potential publishers? Yes. Do I waffle back and forth from thinking my manuscript is the BEST THING EVERRR to thinking it’s total rubbish and nobody will want to read it? Yeah, that too. (Don’t think that will ever go away.) But, I’m managing the waiting parts and maintaining my sanity and I feel pretty good about that.

Until the next Tuesday blog..I’ll be here waiting…like Timbaland waiting to reveal the next boy eliminated on Boy Band. Seriously, this guy takes the reality show dramatic pause to a whole new level.

timbaland

 

 

Hangin’ Tough

It’s been an eventful couple of weeks in my writing life. I’ve learned this is completely normal. Sometimes things move like a slow emotional ballad. Other times, they move like the thumpin’ beat of a dance track.

(Note: I’m probably not going to give up on the boy band music analogies any time soon. You’ve been warned.)

Since I last posted, I made it into Round 3 of Query Kombat. I’m thrilled and humbled by this accomplishment. My Round 2 competitor (a book I know will be published and I want to read) ended the contest with a whopping 14 requests from agents—more than any of the others. So, while she didn’t win. She SO won. And I get to carry on in the contest, honing and strengthening my query/first page until the time when I’m out and can start querying. Win/Win.

While things were moving in QK, I also attended the Arkansas SCBWI conference, where I got to meet some amazing professionals and gained a lot of knowledge, plus hang out with my writer friends. No, scratch that, friends who are also writers.

The overwhelming take-home I get from these experiences is this phrase: Everything is subjective.

In QK, there is feedback posted by judges and by other “kombatants.” My round 2 had 18 comments. That’s 18 different opinions. And I mean 18 DIFFERENT opinions. I got comments that read “love the peanut butter line” and those that said, “I’m not getting the peanut butter line.” A lot of comments said my MC is a too cocky, yet I had almost as many that said they loved him and he had a great voice.

I even had one comment that read they suspect Derrick’s narcissism my actually be MY narcissism. I’m still not sure what to do with that one, but it’s certainly something for me to think about. I appreciate the person taking the time to comment on it.  (Would a narcissist say that? I’m not sure. Anyway…)

Then when I went to the conference and pitched my book to one of the editors there, he told me some things I didn’t want to hear. (Along with some other awesome things that were perfectly in-tune with my little writer heart.) At the end of our session, however, he said, “But that’s just MY opinion. Someone else may say something different.”

*Looks at QK entries* “This new query is better.” “I liked your first one a lot more.”

At the conference, the fabulous agent, Molly O’Neill, presented a workshop on dealing with rejection. I ate every word she said up with a spoon. The essence of her presentation was that it takes only one agent to “get it” and every rejection you receive before you find “the one” isn’t something to take as personal. There are dozens of factors that can contribute to a “no thanks” and just as many that can lead to “the call.” Outside of writing a killer book, most of those are out of my control. I hope I’ve done the killer book part. We’ll see, I suppose.

Listening to the professionals at the conference, different variations of the same theme kept coming up in presentations, in pitches, and in casual conversations at dinner.  Basically, if someone doesn’t like your work, it’s their opinion. Take it, consider whether or not there’s merit to it, implement it (or not), then move on.

It’s just one person’s opinion.

That sounds pretty straightforward, but it’s easy to get bogged down when someone gives you a critique that’s harsh or you get yet another rejection from an agent. I’m learning to navigate the waters by trying not to let the things I don’t like get under my skin. Or rather, make my skin tougher so those harsh crits and rejections don’t hurt me as deeply.

It’s not easy, but I’m getting better at it. I think the key is remembering that my worth (as a person and as a writer) isn’t tied directly to my manuscript. A harsh crit or rejection doesn’t make me a bad person or poor writer. A harsh crit or rejection means that one individual did not believe the work was where it needed to be for them. Maybe that means I need to revise or maybe it means I need to find another person. It really doesn’t mean I should give up or that I suck.

Because I won’t. And I don’t.

(Ah, maybe there’s something to that narcissism thing.)

My MS is getting better as my skin is getting tougher. It just might be where it needs to be for that one agent to “get it.” If not, I’ll be here Hangin’ Tough

(What? You KNOW Donnie Wahlberg is your Home Boy.)

 

All I Have to Give

A quick update:

Though the battle was fierce, the Query Kombat first round voting is over. I’m stoked beyond all reason to announce that I moved on to Round 2! My worthy opponent made a strong second-half surge and almost came out on top, but in the end, I scored the winning vote. 5-4.  I’m very pleased to see that one of the hosts of the contest picked my opponent as his “Host Save” so she and her epic MS will be moving on as well.  Cheers all around!

I would love to be able to say this is me right now:

BSB IWITW

Really, I’m more like this:

BSB scream

The agent round starts tomorrow. After that, we get on to battling it out in Round 2. It’s going to be an anxious time waiting to hear if I get any agent requests or move forward to Round 3. But, if neither of those things happen, I’ve already got a stronger query and first 250 words. And I can rest in the knowledge in that I gave it All I Have To Give.