Personal Commentary


It’s been a while since my last post! I was in the middle of putting together a new post–a very short post–but thought I should address the elephant in the room: I haven’t posted in a while, have I?

And… no. I have not. Unfortunately, I am very bad at two things: multitasking and managing stress. So when something stressful comes around, stop doing anything else until the stress has passed. (Note: this isn’t a very good life skill.)

Unfortunately, my beloved 21-year-old cat started to decline in June, and passed away early in July. And–as mentioned above–I didn’t write at all last month, and I certainly haven’t blogged… at all.

(I’d post a picture of my poor kitty, but I’d also really like to be able to look at my own blog without getting a case of the sads. I’ve got pictures on my Twitter, I suppose. Ah. Twitter. That’s another thing I ought to actually use again.)

In any case, it’s time for me to get back on track. I might not jump right back into the next step of my editing series, as that’s an awfully big topic to hurl myself back into, but I’ll definitely be posting something in the coming days.

So, yes! Look forward to it!

 

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Holy moley, it’s been a long time since I’ve posted here. Hi! I hope everyone reading this had some wonderful holidays!

It’s December 31st! The end of the year! And I wanted to take this moment to look back at what I accomplished this year. So let’s get to it!

I read a lot of awesome books!

I read 31 books this year. And while most of it was the usual fare–YA fantasy and a smattering of non-fiction–I also read a toooooooooon of MG!

But that doesn’t matter, because almost all of the books I 5-starred on Goodreads were non-fiction or adult fantasy. And so, for the second year in a row, almost all of my favorite books were not in the genre I’m trying to write. Delightful!

The books I enjoyed the most were:

  • The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison, a book on elfin/goblin politics that has maybe 5 pages of action and is still completely riveting.
  • Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman, although I’m still conflicted about it. Every single line spoken by a dragon is pure shining gold, but the ending frustrates me to this very day.
  • How to be a Victorian by Ruth Goodman, which is just a lovely non-fiction book, and…
  • A New History of Shinto by John Breen and Mark Teeuwen, which is also super aweome!

I wrote a fair amount!

My original plan was to just dump numbers here. I have them! I seriously do! I can tell you with extreme accuracy how many words I wrote, and how many of those words went to novels, short stories, outlines, and query letters.

But… let’s not. I wrote the first draft of a 60K MG fantasy novel and four short stories. I sold two shorts. I placed in one contest.

And most of that was written after July. I had a pretty weird year, honestly. I spent the first 6 months just fumbling around–struggling to write a novel, puttering through short stories, and being furious at myself all the while. Sure, I pulled out of it. The last half of the year was extremely productive. But none of it was really good for me.

We’ll get to that in a second.

I finished querying a novel!

Okay, so. I kept saying that I was going to post my querying stats. I haven’t. I was imagining a nice, long post about querying where I explained what went well, what didn’t, what freaked me out, and how I worked through it.

I never wrote that post! And now it seems unlikely that I will.

So let’s get that out of the way. I queried a YA fantasy to 92 agents. I got 5 full requests and 1 partial. No one made any offers, unfortunately. I’m done querying that novel–and I have other plans for it, which I hope I can talk about soon! But for now, I can just say that it was a good experience, I learned a lot, but it’s obviously not where I wanted to be.

It’s one of the things I’m most unsure about this year. I feel like I’ve got a bad case of the almosts. I almost had what it took to get an agent to take me on. Almost. Not quite. But almost.

Almost’s not a great place. It kind of drives me nuts. But I also feel like a huge hypocrite in saying so. I know that the me from 5 years ago would punch me in the gut for complaining about getting full manuscript requests, even if they didn’t go anywhere.

So there’s my New Year’s resolution: To write more and agonize less.

So, like I said before, this year was weird. It started out bad. It ended up good. But none of that, I think, is how I’d like to write in the future. And that’s because I spent an awful lot of this year being angry with my writing. Here’s how my train of thought would go:

Writers write.

If you want to make a career as a fiction writer–after accepting that this is extremely unlikely to happen in the first place–you need to write a lot of stories. You have to produce constantly.

The more novels and short stories you complete, the more chances you have at publishing them.

If you are not producing complete novels regularly, you will not be working toward this dream.

OK. So that’s the stupid little reel playing in the back of my skull. It’s reasonable, right? It’s realistic! It’s entirely true. If someone wanted to make a career as a writer, they would have to write a lot of books, regularly and often. Heck, they’d probably want to do a lot more than I manage, which is roughly a novel a year.

But I beat myself over the head with with logic constantly. I wrote a short story a month earlier this year, and it wasn’t enough. 4 stories in 4 months? You can write a short story in a couple of days! It wasn’t enough.

I was writing a novel. When it puttered out in February, I was crushed. I had wasted 6 months on that thing, and I didn’t end up with a completed first draft. I needed to start another. Immediately. I needed to plan and outline and write, because it was February and if I didn’t hurry I wouldn’t finish anything by the end of the year, and then I would be a total failure.

But it turns out that screaming WRITE MORE! PRODUCE MORE! FASTER! at yourself every damn day doesn’t actually make you write better.

I did eventually sit down and write a novel. In fact, almost 60% of the words I wrote this year happened between July and November. But it was a heroic effort. It was repentance! I had struggled so much the first half of the year that I felt like I had to write 10,000 words a week to make up for it. (Though, to be fair, I really enjoyed it. It wasn’t like I was hatewriting the poor thing. I did really enjoy it.)

But the point is that none of this is good for the long haul.

I need to stop… Haranguing myself so much, I guess. And it’s hard, because I’m seeing some success. Some of my novels are getting interest, some of my stories have been sold. Those are all good things. But I have some fervent need to up the ante and do MORE BETTER FASTER.

So yes. That’s my goal. That’s my resolution: I really just don’t need to turn writing into a boom or bust cycle where I’m either frustrated about not writing enough or writing more than I can reasonably maintain.

Because, regardless of all the stress, I got a lot done. I sold more stuff. I wrote more stuff. I learned a ton. And I can continue to do more, and see more success, without making myself feel panicked about not doing enough.

So! That’s the plan. We’ll see how it goes. Here’s to 2016 being an even better year!

I’ve been querying my YA fantasy novel since September 2014, and oh man, it’s been a journey. I’m not quite done, so I can’t talk about stats yet, but I can definitely talk about the random things I’ve learned.

Lesson #1: I hate competitions.

I really, really, really hate competitions.

I’ve participated in PitMad, Pitch Wars, WriteOnCon, and Miss Snark’s First Victim’s Secret Agent. They’re great resources, but I don’t know if I like them.

And really: It’s me, not them. Contests consume me. I find myself hovering over the computer at all hours of the day, stalking the most successful entries and trying, desperately, to figure out what they’re doing right and I’m doing wrong. I get super competitive, I stay up late, I obsess until I have to force myself away from the computer, and then… well, I crash. Because that’s not sustainable. I almost always came away feeling miserable and spent.

These are wonderful resources. But they’re also crazy-stupid stressful. I’ll probably participate in more in the future, but I’ve got to be super careful. I have a lot more success in quieter, more private, less competitive situations… Like, you know, just querying agents directly.

Lesson #2: Fantasizing about success is poison.

When I first started querying, I got super into it. Every time I sent a query I spent hours pouring through the agents’ backlists and dreaming about what would happen if they liked my novel. That giddiness kept me going even when I didn’t feel up to querying.

But every time my emotions went up, they had to come down.

This also might just be me: If I get excited about something, there are only two options left for me. I either maintain that excitement (because all my dreams came true!) or I’m disappointed. And the more excited I am, the more disappointed I have to be.

And if it’s already hard to query, you can darn well bet it isn’t easier for me to depress myself first.

This was especially true whenever I got a full manuscript request. It was tempting to keep myself up at night going, “OMGGGG, I’m one step away from an offer! Most people don’t get this far!” Nope, that sucks, too.

Enthusiasm is poison to me. The best I can manage is a business-like professionalism. “Ah, a full request. Great. Let’s see how it pans out.” That’s a level of emotional involvement I can keep up forever.

Lesson #3: I probably was a little too cautious about querying.

For several months, I queried 10 agents at a time and waited for (almost) all of them to respond before I tried again. I was following some commonly heard advice: Send 10 queries, see how it goes, and then use your response rate to measure whether you’re doing OK or not. So I did that. Forever.

The problem was, this made me read too much into my response rate. I got two full requests in my first 14 queries. That’s really good, right? Then I got nothing for the next 34! That’s nearly 40 queries without even a personalized rejection! That’s awful, right? That’s “There’s something super wrong with your query” levels of bad, right?

Or, er, is it?

Really, numbers don’t mean anything. Queries are random. Some people like stuff, some people don’t. You can’t literally crunch your numbers, calculate a “success rate” and determine the numerical strength of your novel.

I had gotten some requests, so my novel had potential. Eventually I just sucked it up and blew through the rest of my agent list. But by the time I had done so, I had taken already slow process and drawn it out to almost a year.

Lesson #4: Don’t let the querying process keep you away from writing.

It’s really tempting to get deeply, deeply involved in the querying process–to spend hours and hours pouring over your query and triple-quadruple-quintuple checking your first few chapters and getting feedback, feedback, and more feedback! There are contests! (See above.) There’s #MSWL!

And QueryTracker! QueryTracker has stats! You could spend hours pouring over each and every agent you’ve queried, trying to guess where they are in their inbox. Oooooh, they’ve rejected all the queries ahead of mine! Maybe I’ll get an answer soon! Oh, this one’s rejected queries before and after mine! Am I in the “maybe” pile?

And… yeah, that’s just another form of getting my hopes up, isn’t it?

So yeah. If lesson #1 is to be zen about querying, lesson #2 is to query and forget about it. I remind myself to check in 3-4 months if I get a manuscript request, but that’s it. Queries go in the memory drawer, where I don’t have to think about them unless the agent responds one way or another. I have to go back to writing, focus on a new project, and let life go on. Otherwise I will literally lose hours of writing time.

Lesson #5: Querying is how you learn about querying. Do it sooner rather than later.

I waited until I had the best story I had ever written to query. I had kinda-sorta queried agents before, but… not really. I tried once. With one novel. I sent it to 10 agents, shelved it, and never tried again. I wasn’t really trying, because I knew the book wasn’t that good and I wanted to write a better one.

And while that’s not bad–good on me for recognizing that I had a lot to learn!–I also missed out on a chance to learn about querying.

Query letters, synopses, how to find agents, how agents work, what to do when you get a request… These are all things you learn by querying agents. And it’s stressful. And emotional. And often upsetting.

It also gets easier with time.

It’s like all sorts of things: You start out clumsy and confused, you don’t have any idea what you’re doing, and it’s stressful. But by the time I had sent out all my queries, I felt good. I was a pro at this. I knew what to do, what worked, and what didn’t. I hadn’t sold a book, but I had a pretty darn good run.

And I should have queried sooner. Because then I could have learned this all sooner, gotten it out of my system, and had a way easier time with this one.

For years, I had an extremely rigid writing schedule: I wrote 2 times a week for about 3 hours at a time. I’d usually do two days writing and one day editing, and I’d write somewhere around 4-5,000 words a week. It worked, it was wonderful, and I kept it going for 7 whole years.

And then I moved.

My whole schedule changed. My work schedule was different. My husband’s schedule was different. We were in a different time zone, I couldn’t talk to my friends or family at the same times I used to, I couldn’t sign on games at the same time and expect anyone else to be on, and I definitely didn’t have 3 solid hours, twice a week, to write.

So after whining and dragging my heels and trying desperately to make my 3-hour-super-runs work, I gave in. I decided to write one hour a day, every day. (Well, okay: Every weekday. I still keep my weekends beautifully open.)

I expected to hate it. But honestly? It’s great.

Here’s why. And before you start, a disclaimer: All of these are obvious. There’s a reason that you see Stephen King recommending “1,000 words a day” and not “a 3 hour super-rush where you write a 4,000-word chapter in a sitting.”

1. It’s easier to find a free hour than a three-hour block of time.

“Writing every day” felt like a huge, onerous task simply because I was used to “writing” = “an entire evening of work.” But an hour is easy. An hour is nothing. Pretty much everyone has an hour of free time somewhere in their day.

2. It’s not a big deal if I miss a day.

Life happens. Sometimes you have to go somewhere, do something, or work late. When that happened on one of my old 3-hour writing days, it was tragic–I had either reschedule my entire week, plan to write my full 5,000 quota in a day, or accept that I’d have a really pitiful week.

Missing one hour? Totally doesn’t matter. I can make that up easily.

3. It’s OK to stop if I’m not feeling it.

Some days suck. Some days I’ll just stare at the screen, hate every word I write, and discover that nothing is coming out of my brain at all. On a 3-hour day, I had to force myself to write stupid words on stupid paper and hate each stupid, stupid word, because otherwise I wouldn’t get anything done all week.

But if I’m having an awful day now? I can write 200 words, throw up my arms, and come back to it tomorrow. I can make that up later, too.

(That said, it’s good to push through writer’s block. But having to do it under the threat of an entire wasted week leads to a whole lot of unnecessary stress.)

4. It encourages me to keep writing instead of stopping after a chapter.

When I wrote a couple times a week, I usually had a concrete goal: Write until I hit the end of a chapter. That’s when my multi-hour writing spree could end.

But when you’re writing every day, you can’t really say “I’ll hit the end of this chapter and stop.” So you just… keep going. And going.

And, surprisingly, I’m actually writing more. I don’t have a “stopping point” if I have to write every day. And because of that, I’ve had exceptional weeks where I’ve cranked out 8,000 words. That isn’t normal for me, and it probably isn’t sustainable, but it never would have happened on my “write a chapter a week” schedule.

Basically: It’s just an easier schedule to maintain.

Obviously, you should schedule your writing time around your schedule, and any schedule works as long as you’re making meaningful progress.

But I’ve been pleasantly surprised. I thought “writing every day” would be super hardcore, but this is actually easier. I thought “write 1,000 words a day” was just a way to strongarm new, aspiring writers into writing on a schedule–on any schedule–but no, it’s just good advice.

I love advice columns. It’s a weakness. I have more than enough of my own problems, but I’ll still take 15 minutes out of my day to read about someone else’s. And one of my favorite advice columns is Slate.com’s Dear Prudence.

Last month, they posted a video question from a poet and it drove me absolutely batty.

Screenshot from Dear Prudence: Uninspiring Boyfriend.

There’s a ton of things wrong with that question. But this is a blog about writing, so let’s talk about that.

This woman wants to write poems. She only writes when she’s “inspired.” She is (apparently) inspired by drama, but she recently got a very nice boyfriend. She asks Prudence if she should break up with him because otherwise her gift will be wasted and she’ll never write again.

Ouch.

OK. No one who really wants to write only does so “when they’re inspired.” They can’t afford to. They have to write. Maybe they have sales to make, or they have to make a living, or they need to finish a novel, or they just want writing to be a major part of their lives. They can’t wait for inspiration because they wouldn’t write very much.

Lots of folks–especially new writers–romanticize inspiration. They know writing is easy when they’re inspired, and they know that it can be tedious and frustrating when you’re not. And instead of just accepting that that’s a very normal way to feel, they wait until they’re fired up to write anything.

If you take that too far you get people like the letter writer, who think they can either be wildly inspired or not write at all.

Do you know what people who write for a living do? They write like it’s a job. They write every day, no matter what they feel like. And if they feel tired? Hungry? Furious at the person who cut them off on the highway? If they hate their novel with every fiber of their being? Too bad! They have writing to do!

And that’s why this video is so ridiculous. If this poet wanted to write poetry, she would put her butt in a chair and write it. She would know that some days you’re inspired and some days you aren’t, and it doesn’t matter because you have deadlines and goals, even if they’re only self-imposed.

But no, she thinks her options are to give up writing or give up her boyfriend. That’s tragic.

Woo! I sold my third short story to Triptych Tales last month. (They’re also super-duper fast, so it’s already available online! It’s been up since Sunday, actually. I’ve just been too sick to celebrate.)

I generally write YA fantasy and/or Victoriana, so, it’s slightly unusual that this is a contemporary urban fantasy set in Oregon. (I miss Oregon desperately. It’s a wonderful place.) It’s about a government contractor who gets a contract at the Esoteric Wildlife Division, which is doing some very non-traditional research.

You can check out Esoteric Wildlife on the Triptych Tales website.

Another year has come and (almost) gone! That means it’s time for that most precious of all New Year’s traditions: Brutal self analysis!

…well, okay. I’ll hold the “brutal.” Let’s just see what I did this year.

Reading!

I read an awful lot this year. I read 41 books, in fact, and that’s pretty darn good for me. Almost all of that was fantasy and most of it was YA.

And yet, bizarrely, my favorite books this year were all MG. I only read The Luck Uglies a month or so ago, and it was seriously the most charming action adventure I’ve read in a while. The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making was also exceptional, though I may just be saying that because the villain is a little girl with a massive hat and a tragic backstory.

And yet, if we’re going just on Goodreads ratings, One Summer: America, 1927 and The Gift of Fear were the only other books I 5-starred this year. And they’re nonfiction.

So why have I not mentioned a YA book so far? Tragically, the YA I read this year just didn’t hook me. Some of it was good and some of it was not-so-good, but nothing really gripped me by the heart and refused to let go. If I was forced to choose something, I’d probably go with Daughter of Smoke and Bone, and only because the writing was beautiful enough that I’m still thinking about it half a year later. I really didn’t enjoy the romance, but at this point it has enough brain-burrowing staying power that I may read the sequel anyway.

Oh, yeah. Almost none of those books came out this year. I just read stuff. There isn’t much of a pattern to it.

Short Stories!

In March of this year, I finally decided to give short stories a try. Considering that I had never written one before, I did pretty OK. Here are the stats, courtesy of Duotrope:

  • I wrote 6 short stories…
  • …Which are, together, about 14,761 words.
  • I submitted 15 times…
  • …Which led to 3 acceptances (for 2 pieces)!
  • And all those sales went to semi-pro markets.

That’s not a lot. But, hey! I didn’t write that many (I had a I MUST FOCUS ON NOVEL TIME crisis mid-year) but I sold 1/3 of what I wrote. That is not bad. Considering that I hadn’t published at all before these sales, I should really admit that it’s quite good.

Novels!

Most of my progress this year had to do with Justice Unending, a novel that I have been agonizing over since I finished it in 2013. This year, I:

  • Got 4 new beta readers (and 4 wonderful reviews!)
  • Rewrote the first 1/4 of the novel, changed one entire character, and rewrote several scenes from scratch
  • Edited every word in that poor thing at least twice
  • Wrote a totally new query letter
  • And got a boatload of critique on the query and the first 5 pages.

And now I’m querying it!

I am also a little over 20,000 words into a new novel, a YA steampunk/fantasy. And that breaks my heart, because I put about that many words into an earlier, aborted draft of the same story. I REALLY wish I had gotten more done this year.

So that’s the goal for 2015: I am going to finish the heck out of that thing.

And that’s it! It’s been a busy year. I published my first things ever. I got a wee little bit closer to selling a novel.

So, to all the folks who follow this blog: I hope you had a wonderful 2014. Here’s to an even better 2015!

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