hashtag amwritingchallenge

This month I am participating in the #amwritingchallenge. Writers are posting photos of various things on a list to their Instagram or Twitter accounts. (I’m posting on Instagram.)

I think this is a cool idea because it not only because it builds a community of people who are going through the same things, but it allows writers to give some thought to the thing we love to do–write.

Yesterday’s challenge was to post a pic of the view FROM WHERE I WRITE. Today’s challenge is a PAGE FROM YOUR MANUSCRIPT.

Already on Day 2 I have gained new Instagram followers/friends and have enjoyed seeing the myriad of pictures from all over the place. Today I’ve even gotten to peek inside some awesome manuscripts!

I’m looking forward to seeing what comes up during the rest of the month. If you’re a writer, consider joining me for this fun challenge.

amwritingchallenge

To check out my #amwritingchallenge photos, visit my Instagram page.

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Looking Back and Looking Forward

My surgery-induced work vacation ends on 1/5/15. It feels a little bit like the end of an era. I look forward to getting back into the day job, but a little part of my writer heart is going to weep that day when it begins to miss sitting down to write whenever it wants.

I don’t typically make New Year’s resolutions. Perhaps like things unresolved. But since it’s that time o’ year, I’ll do another obligatory New Year’s tradition: the wrap up.

My surgery was October 2. Since that day I’ve accomplished the following things:

  • Written roughly 60,000 words for 2 different manuscripts.
  • Read 12 books.
  • Binge-watched three tv shows on Netflix. One of which landed high on my list of all-time faves.*
  • Completely freaked out on my Crit Partner about my WIP and doubted that I could actually write a book.
  • Finished current seasons of five shows I’d DVR’d.
  • Organized my cabinets and pantry.
  • Visited the physical therapist around twenty times.
  • Went back to my WIP and decided maybe I can make a go of this.
  • Watched two movies in the theatre. Loved them both.
  • Got really good at driving the motorized carts at the grocery store.
  • Graduated one kid from college. (Okay, she did that herself, but I helped!)
  • Fell “fictional head-over-heels” for a hot alien.**

Not bad considering a lot of that was done while I was flat on my back. (Or rather slanted at the physican-approved 30 degree angle.)

In preparation for my return to work, I’m heading into the writing cave today. I plan to double the word count in my WIP by the time I go back, so it’s head down, fingers flying, don’t look up until I get there. I will not be deterred. You can tempt me with Walking Dead marathons, Twinkies or hot aliens**, I’m not stopping until I hit my goal.

My best wishes for a safe and happy 2015! See you on the flip side.

*The 100 is the best show you’re not watching. Seriously, it’s ground-breaking, daring, and emotional. I can’t recommend it enough. The writing is great, the actors are perfectly-cast and talented. And whatever you think’s going to happen…yeah, you’re wrong. So many, “Did not see that comings,” I can’t count them.

** My friend and aforementioned crit partner Mandy recommended that I finally make a point to read Jennifer Armentrout’s Lux series. She knows me so well.  I’ve devoured 2 ½ books in less than a week. (And that’s reading only at night after hubs goes to sleep.) I absolutely love it. The MC is great. The love interest is smokin’. It’s got everything I want in a story—emotional romance, gripping drama, plot twists, action, did I mention the romance? If you like those things, get on it.

The Amazing Awesomeness of Books

As I am still recovering from my surgery, I’ve got some time on my hands. And by that, I mean some time that I am not sleeping. It turns out that recovering from surgery makes one very tired all the time. I totally forgot that part after my 2 C-sections.

I have managed to catch up on the current seasons of two of my fave tv shows (Haven, and MARVEL’S Agents of Shield). I’ve also gotten almost to the end of the de-dystopianization of EVERGREEN. I’m not going to discuss the travesty that was me attempting to sweep the house yesterday whilst using my walker!.

What I will discuss is the reading I’ve been doing. I typically don’t read two books at one time, but I am doing that right now. My workplace friends sent a magnificent care package to me after surgery. In that box was a book. Some wonderful person at my job knew to get me a book! This book, however, is not something I would have chosen for myself. Why?

A.. It’s adult and not YA.

B. It’s a crime thriller, which not a genre I ever thought I would enjoy.

C. It’s from a super-mega-crazy-popular best selling author that EVERYBODY knows.

Granted, there is nothing wrong with being a super-mega-crazy-popular best selling author. I read Stephen King, for Pete’s sake. But when you read someone like that for the first time, there are a lot of expectations and I think I have mentioned in earlier blogs that I tend to go against the grain and reject popular things without giving them much of a chance. (Exceptions: The Walking Dead, Maroon 5, and the Dallas Cowboys under Tom Landry.)

But, since this person was kind enough to get me, the writer, a book, I committed to read it and give it a chance. My reaction to this book goes something like this:

Book: Page 1: Prologue.

Me: What the what? One of the most often heard pieces of writing advice from agents is that you don’t start a book with a prologue. If you do…say it with me other writers… YOU’RE STARTING YOUR BOOK IN THE WRONG PLACE.  *sighs and keeps reading* 

Book: Page 4. A description of two characters that the narrator is watching. It goes on for three paragraphs. {paraphrasing} He had this hair, these eyes,  was wearing this jacket, got out of this kind of car. She had this hair, wore this dress, walked like this, laughed like this, etc…

Me: The description of two characters goes on for three paragraphs in the most boring way possible?! Most writing experts will advise to find creative ways to fit description in and never ever list more than three attributes at one time. Because it gets boring and reminds you that you are reading a story, not being immersed in a world. But…on the other hand, this narrator is stalking this couple, so he would pay attention to details like that, so I’mma give him a pass on this one. *Reluctantly keeps reading.*

Book: Oh, not just a prologue, but three chapters of a prologue.

Me:  Why not just have them be Chapters 1, 2, and 3? *raises eyebrow and keeps reading*

Book:  A few chapters in and we’ve met the world famous detective that will be solving the crimes. (There are two going on in this book.) He is a grumpy curmudgeon who has a bad attitude and opinion about everything, This is the protag we are to root for.

Me: I don’t really like him. In fact, I kind of hate him, but he does love his children so he gets points for that.  More points for consistency of voice and character.  *tells self to overlook it and keep reading. Billions of people can’t be wrong, can they?*

Book: Chapters alternate between the protag POV and then the POV of each of the two killers

Me: That’s a lot of head jumping. Combine that with the fact that I am also reading AFTERWORLDS by Scott Westerfeld in which one chapter is told from the POV of an author, and the next chapter is the story she is writing. So, essentially I am reading 4 stories at once, plus re-writing my story and plotting another. *Takes Tylenol and keeps reading*

Daughter:  *walks into kitchen where I’m reading book* MOM, I can’t believe you’re still reading that book. I thought you said it was terrible and you couldn’t do it.

Me; *Tells her to shut up and keeps reading.*

Book:  I’ve got you now, Michelle. Right where I want you. You want to know how it ends. You feel a twist coming and you want to know if your suspicions are right. Or you want to know if Mr. super-mega-crazy-popular best seller guy can surprise you. *Mwuahahahahaha* You are mine now. All mine.

Me: *Keeps reading.*

I am not pretentious enough to think that I have the right to criticize or would know anything more than a super-mega-crazy-popular best seller. He’s that for a reason. And obviously when you are an SMCPBSA, you can break every rule ever written. What I think is so cool is that even though I was so reluctant to read this, I finally gave in and I know that I will finish it and like it, in spite of the flaws I found/will find in it.

Books are kind of awesome aren’t they?

Speaking of awesomeness. I am excited to tell you about a book that released today! LOOP by Karen Akins. I met this precious lady when she presented at the ArSCBWI conference this summer. She is friends and crit partners with some of my writer friends, so like, I KNOW HER! (Sort of, but it counts.) Go get this book. It’s going to be time-travelly and romancy and full of awesome! Check out her site here: http://www.karenakins.com/

Loop Book

Give Me a Break

If you’ve followed along playing the home version of our game, you’ll know that I took some time off from EVERGREEN to work a little bit on another manuscript. (As yet untitled.) I pulled EVERGREEN back out for Pitch Wars and I discovered something. What they say is true–sometimes the best thing you can do is give yourself a little break from your work. 

I can’t recommend this process enough. If you’re a writer, you really should try it. 

But Michelle…

aswaze-ing

I know, I know. It’s hard. It was for me too,but it was the best thing for my manuscript and dare I say, for my sanity. 

The time away working on another MS gave me perspective. I easily saw a couple things that weren’t working, so I changed them. It made the MS better. In fact, I reordered the first 4 chapters and found a better starting place for the story. (Also thanks, in part, to a Pitch Wars mentor tweet!) I don’t think I ever would have done that had I not looked at it with fresh perspective. 

I discovered something else too, Well, rather, I rediscovered something–my love for this story and its characters. That probably sounds silly to non-writery types, but it is undeniably true. These characters are like real people to me. When I visited them again, I remembered why I loved them. I found that I had missed them. It was like catching up with friends. And like with my non-imaginary friends, I want them to do well and prosper. Unlike with my non-imaginary friends, I get to torture them to allow that growth. I found some new ways to do that, adding depth and emotion to them. 

If you can’t bear to put away your whole MS for a couple months, try it on a smaller scale. I wrote two versions of a 1-pg synopsis for an upcoming retreat. I had trouble deciding on which version was better. I fretted over it for a while, then I left it alone. Three days later (today) I read them again and it was easy to tell which one was the better version. Boom. Done. 

I’m continuing with my WIP, but I’m taking Frankie out of the corner for querying and the retreat. Hopefully the perspective I gained from my time away will end in an triumphant finale complete with a well-timed lift and Patrick Swayze levels of swooning. 

dirty dancing fly

Try It, You’ll Like It

By most standards, I would be considered a picky eater. It’s not because of my diabetic dietary restrictions or discriminating palate, no. I think I’m a picky eater because as I was growing up, I was afraid to try new foods. My parents tried. I’ll give them credit for that. But most of the time I didn’t respond to their tactics of bribery, coercion, or punishment. I simply didn’t want to try things that didn’t look or smell good, so I didn’t. 

I remember the first time I tried a salad with Thousand Island dressing (the gateway dressing). I was sixteen. Now that I’m an adult, I quite enjoy salad. And get this…I can name about six types of dressing that I like too! That is progress, I tell you. I don’t know what I was waiting for. Salad is good. I should have tried it long before I was sixteen.

I started thinking about this recently when I discovered, much to my total amazement, that I like soccer. My son is a huge soccer fan. He has never played the sport, but he follows European league football with fanboy gusto! He eats, sleeps and breathes around it. He’s constantly talking about it and I, like a good mother, try to pay attention and participate in these conversations because it’s important to him. But if I were asked, I would have said, “Soccer? Eh.”

When the FIFA World Cup began, I happened to be sitting on my couch nursing my ailing neck when my son and husband turned on the game. I couldn’t move from the spot (stupid neck) so I watched the game. And…it was fun. I found myself asking questions about the sport and the teams and the Cup itself. My son was so amused by my sudden interest. (He, thankfully, stopped short of saying “I told you so.”) The next day, I texted him from work to find out the score of the game that was ongoing. He questioned me and I admitted in my next text: Yeah, I sorta kinda like soccer now.”  His reply: AMAZING!

So I’ve watched all of the games I could since that day and I am enjoying them all. 

The moral of the story is this: Try it, you might like it.

Need further proof?

If you’ve ready my recent blog posts about my completed Sci-Fi manuscript that teeters dangerously close to dystopian (the scarlet letter of the publishing industry at the moment), you’ll recall that I have a manuscript that appears to be have a solid concept and good writing. I have been told by a few agents that no matter good it is, it may not sell in this market. 

So what is a writer to do? Perhaps…write another manuscript in a different genre that may stand a better chance in this market.

I was afraid. I didn’t want to try it. I thought I could never be any good at writing a realistic (read: non-dystopian) story.

But I tried it.

And I liked it. 

I’m not putting EVERGREEN on the shelf. I will still continue to query it because I know in my heart it’s a good story.  But this new project has a totally different voice and feel to it and I am finding it rewarding to stretch my brain in a different way. It’s a contemporary story (with a Sci-Fi spin) with regular characters who don’t have a big world-changing destinies or global cataclysmic events to deal with.  I’m starting to fall in love with my characters and that, for me, is a sign that I’m going in the right direction.

So, my advice to you writers (or potential soccer fans) is to try it, you might like it. You may be surprised at how quickly you latch on to a new idea and where that idea can take you, When I finish this manuscript, I’ll have two things for agents to consider, creating better odds for offers. 

Pain in the Neck

I haven’t been able to blog in a few weeks due to a literal pain in my neck. Apparently a few of the vertebrae in my neck are fused together with bone. No biggie, right? This disc problem has reared its ugly head a few times in the past 5 years or so. A couple years ago I suffered through severe neck pain coupled with numb fingers. Try typing with numb fingers. It ain’t easy. This time though, I’m fortunate. I have full feeling in my extremities. However, this pain in my neck that radiates through to my shoulders is starting to be a real bother.

At the urging of several friends, I have finally given in and started seeing a chiropractor. This was not an easy thing for me to do. I was terrified of going to the chiropractor. In my head, all I could see was the image of a guy sneaking up behind someone, reaching around his neck in an almost loving-looking embrace, then snap, crack, thud. Broken neck.  

That is what I thought it would be like at the chiropractor.

Turns out, that it wasn’t. It was close, but I’m still breathing and my neck is firmly intact.

The chiropractor has told me that I need to visit 3 times per week for the month of June. She thinks she can get me some relief from the pain. I’ve been a few times and I can already feel the difference. I feel hopeful that I am on the mend. Not only that, but I am certain I will come away from this with some exercises and tips to prevent this from getting this bad again in the future.

As I was going to sleep last night (on my new chiropractic pillow!) I couldn’t help but draw a comparison between the chiropractor and the revision.

Saturday I met with my critique group. I came away with that meeting with many insights and helpful suggestions. I discovered I was using a couple words that they weren’t quite sure of the meaning. I also had rewritten a scene from a different angle that caused some questions for them. As we talked through it, I realized my original angle was the best choice for the scene and will make it more powerful. (Perhaps this is a lesson on following your instincts?)

The thought of revising (again) does not strike my heart with joy and gladness. In fact, most of the time I’d call revision a real “pain in the neck.” But right now I’m anxious to get back into and apply their suggestions and start to rework things. What they told me is spot on. It will improve my story.

Kind of like the chiropractor — I need a few adjustments on my neck; my story needs a few adjustments to make it the best it can be too.

Maybe tomorrow I’ll take my laptop and adjust my neck and my story at the same time. 

Feedback

The Arkansas SCBWI conference was great. I got to catch up with writer friends, heard the real scoop about the journey to publication from an almost-published author, and got some feedback on my story.

The word feedback has two connotations. The good kind of feedback that helps you grow and improve. And the bad kind of feedback that you associate with a sudden screeching noise that makes you jump and cover your ears.

I got both of those this weekend.

The good news is that I was told my writing is strong, my voice good, my concept unique. I got some great suggestions to improve minor things in the story. The screechy part? “Put this on the shelf for at least 2 years. It will never sell right now.”

Yeah, my ears kind of went numb after that one.

It was something I had suspected for a while now. When I started writing this, I saw it as straight Sci-Fi (with romance!) and it is that. But it does have an element of the d-word in it. (See, dystopian is such a bad thing right now, I can’t hardly even type it without breaking out into hives.)

I didn’t plan for it to go that way, but my muse apparently did. It’s not strict dystopian, but at the end of the day, the evil corporate overlords running the country made it seem that way.

I’ve read a lot about the genre. Most sources will say that if your concept is really unique, it won’t matter right now. Publishers will want it anyway. But you have to sell the concept to an agent who thinks they can sell it to an editor before you even get to the publishers.  A well-respected agent told me at the conference that my story (good as it is) simply won’t sell to that many people right now.

This is, of course, one agent’s opinion. But when you add it with all of the things I’ve read, it starts to sink in.  

Screech. Cover your ears.

So, since it’s not safe to drive and cry, I pushed back the tears on my way home from the conference and I decided to take a break from EVERGREEN. I will still make the revisions suggested because they’re good and they’ll help my story. I will still query to agents, though I will pare the list down to specific Sci Fi lovers for now. But, as I heard from several people at the conference, sometimes it’s best to put the manuscript in the drawer for a while.

It’s funny because I love dystopian. Dystopian is my favorite thing to read. It’s the thing that made me decide to write. When I put down DIVERGENT, I went straight to my laptop and typed my first sentence of my first manuscript.  Now, its wild success is the very thing keeping me from being able to sell my manuscript.  The thing I love the most is the thing standing in my way.  There’s a tragedy if I’ve ever heard one.

But, all is not lost. The last speaker at the conference had us do an exercise. He made us write for 60 seconds. It didn’t matter what we wrote. We just had to write. Then we had to pass it to the person sitting next to us. This exercise started roughly 5 minutes after the agent told me to shelf my MS for two years. The thought of doing that made me sick to my stomach. I walked out of that room thinking, “There is no way I can write anything but dystopian. I need to give up for the next two years and revisit the whole writing thing then.’

But I wrote for 60 seconds. Then I came home and wrote for a couple hours. Then I wrote the next day.  And the next. And now I have 5200 words on a definitely non-dystopian novel. Because I’m a writer and that’s what writers do.

I’m not giving up on EVERGREEN. I wholeheartedly believe Frankie’s story needs to be told. When the time is right, I think it will be.  But for now, I’m starting to have a lot of fun with Piper.