Things I Wish I’d Known Before I Started Writing: Part I

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1. It doesn’t have to be perfect.

This is especially true for the first draft. So many poems, novels, and short stories go unfinished because of backtracking to “fix” problems. My first novel took 5 years to complete due to my constant adjustments. My second novel taught me to just punch out that first draft and then go back in and revise/edit. Rationale: Having the big picture in place makes easier to find and fix mistakes.

2. Too much advice does more harm than good.

That old adage, “too many cooks in the kitchen” comes to mind. Knowledge about anything is powerful, but ultimately it comes down to action. You can attend a million workshops or read every how-to manual on the market, but the best teacher is experience. You have to make mistakes and allow yourself to fall instead of only relying on a knowledge base to get you through the process.

This also applies to beta readers. They have their purpose, but too many opinions can easily sway or muddle your original vision. Like all good things, advice is best in moderation. There comes a point where a writer has to find balance between outside opinions and the muse’s compass.

3. The inner critic is brutal.

One of the first posts on this blog was titled, My Inner Critic Is Trying To Kill Me. Let me tell you, that voice is LOUD. And soul crushing mean. For some writers, the inner critic is so cruel the words stop coming altogether. I wish I had a magic fix for the self doubt the brews inside of every writer, but the one piece of advice I can give is to fight back. The only way to defeat the inner critic is to keep writing and pushing forward. Eventually, that loud, mean voice falls on deaf ears because you’re too busy writing something.

4. Triumphs are small, but incredibly meaningful.

Even though I’ve been writing for most of my life (I have poetry journals from when I was 8 years old), my list of accomplishments is quite small. I’ve won a small contest, been published in a tiny local journal and a local newspaper. That’s about it. Although, I do count my blog as a success as well!  While the list is small and the accomplishments smaller, I cherish every victory. They are few and far between for most writers, so grab onto them and don’t take them for granted!

5. Rejection is a good thing.

No one likes getting that email that says, “unfortunately I am not interested in your work at this time.” It sucks. But it’s also great. Most agents and publications don’t even bother responding to queries at all, so getting any sort of a response is exciting stuff.  Embrace it and give yourself a pat on the back. In many instances it means your work was good enough to spark some sort of attention.

Something else to keep in mind is the fact that the rejection letter allows the inner critic to occupy some prime real estate in your soul if you choose to take it personally. Don’t let the inner critic win. Instead, save your rejection letters as testaments to the fact that you are trying and someone noticed.

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Stay tuned for Part II next week. Meanwhile, I’m curious – What do you wish you would have known before you started writing?

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c.b.w. 2015

Killing Chapter 1

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My decision to cut the entire first chapter for The Muse came when I realized I had started my novel with just about every single thing most agents hate to see in an opening chapter.

After reading multiple articles and longs lists of tweets from agents, a definitive list of things agents hate in an opening chapter began to emerge:

  • Too much backstory
  • Describing the weather
  • Describing the sky
  • Main character waking up
  • Prologues

It’s funny how you think you are not doing these things as you write, re-write, and edit. Even after multiple rejections, I still believed I had a strong opening. However, once I compared the list to my novel, I realized I had committed every novel sin except for the prologue.

Then, I visited the YA section of my bookshelf and started scanning through all the first chapters of my favorite books. Keeping the list in mind, it was easy to see what they were doing right and what I was doing wrong. A change needed to be made and it needed to be big.

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I pulled up my manuscript on my Kindle Fire and read the first chapter multiple times. The biggest issues were backstory and weather description. Luckily, the solution for backstory was easy. I could track each segment of backstory to another section of the novel, so I truly did not need it in the first chapter. As for weather description, the foreshadowing was nice, but not entirely necessary. With these two elements eliminated, there wasn’t much left of Chapter 1. Hmmmm . . . that got me thinking,  why don’t I just delete the whole thing?

Unfortunately, it isn’t as easy as just hitting the delete button. When I scrolled down into Chapter 2, it was promising in that as the new start, the reader is dropped right into the story. However, Chapter 2 begins with the main character waking up. Ahhhh! Another thing on the hate list. Two paragraphs down, a sky description shows up! Yet, another thing on the hate list!

Before total panic set in, it became clear that both issues can be easily fixed. A sentence here and a slight deletion there should clear up the hate list issues, while also transitioning Chapter 2 as the new beginning to The Muse.

I guess we’ll see how it goes!

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c.b.w. 2015

2015 Goals: April Status Report

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1. Work towards getting The Muse published.

This was an interesting month for The Muse. I started April by organizing query packages. I was ready to hit send on all of them, when I realized something had to change. After three months of sending queries I’m getting responses, but they are all rejections. While getting a response of any kind is great, I’m not getting the “yes” I need.

After some thought I think I figured out what’s happening. The fact that I’m getting responses tells me I’ve got a good query letter. That means the rejection factor is coming from my sample pages, which is usually the first five chapters.

I sat down and read the first five chapters at least 10 times before I had a major epiphany. In an instant, I knew what was wrong. Funny how that happens! I wrote to my editor and asked her what she thought about my epiphany and she agreed I was on to something.

What it all comes down to is cutting Chapter 1 entirely. When I really thought about it I realized everything in Chapter 1 is addressed in later early chapters. So why am I clogging the beginning of the story with what is essentially back story? The story has its true start in Chapter 2, so it makes sense to push it up to the beginning.

I may not have sent out a query package this month, but I am working hard on adjusting my manuscript for the next round of queries.

2. Start writing Lineage.

On the shelf at the moment, as per my plan!

3. Submit poetry.

With April being National Poetry Month, I found it easy to focus on this goal! I participated in two poetry challenges:

Over on the Poetic Asides community via Writer’s Digest, the annual April  Poem A Day Challenge commenced. This challenge is also a competition that will culminate in a published poetry anthology. Each day there was a prompt, a guest judge, and over 1,000 posted poems. It was an incredible experience! I managed to post haikus every day (in total, I wrote 88 haikus) and I met some amazing poets along the way.

I also completed another month of National Haiku Writing Month’s daily prompts via NaHaiWriMo’s Facebook Page. While February is the official haiku writing month, the organization offers up daily haiku writing prompts every month. I ended up writing 61 haikus during the the month of April

4. Don’t give up or get distracted.

As the school year is starting to draw to a close, this goal is getting a little harder, but I think writing 149 haikus qualifies as staying focused! :-)

5. Be flexible.

Who would have thought I’d cut Chapter 1?! I’m still in shock I made this decision, but I think it’s the right thing to do.

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And let’s not forget the word of the year:

Persistence

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How are you doing with your 2015 goals?

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p.s. Happy Star Wars Day!!!

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c.b.w. 2015

Poem A Day Challenge: April 4-6

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My haiku experiments continue for the 2015 April Poem A Day Challenge (on Poetic Asides via Writer’s Digest). Through my daily practice I’m finding that for every ten haikus I write, I end up with one worth posting. I’ve learned my process is about finding the rhythm that fits my mood and the images swirling in my mind. My days are always so busy and filled with movement, so I love how haiku gives me a chance to slow down and just be.

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April 4, 2015
Prompt: departure

I.
gust of wind
sends wishes flying
dandelion seeds

II.
fall’s last leaf
finally departs
winter’s barren tree

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April 5, 2015
Prompt: vegetable

I.
radishes grow
when nothing
else will

II.
sweet pea curls
grab onto
the stake

III.
red tomatoes
full of holes
the birds win

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April 6, 2015
Prompt: things-not-as-they-appear

I.
a stone on the shore
until it hops
lakeside toad

II.
red maple leaf
caught in the green
of mid-June

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c.b.w. 2015

2015 Goals: March Status Report

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1. Work towards getting The Muse published.

I sent out two more query packages. One has already responded with a rejection, while the other has not responded. It’s only been a couple of weeks, so a response of some kind is still possible. As for dealing with another rejection, I proudly added it to the others and made immediate plans to move forward.

As March comes to an end, I am busy tailoring three more query packages for the next round of agents on my list. One of them requires a synopsis, so I’ll be working hard polishing my synopsis draft.

2. Start writing Lineage.

On the shelf at the moment, as per my plan!

3. Submit poetry.

I submitted poetry to two different competitions:

  • Poetry! Goodreads Newsletter Contest – I didn’t make the finals, but it’s the first time I entered a poem in this competition. I get email notifications all the time, but never do anything about it. This month I decided to take the plunge, which means I hit a personal best!
  • Robert Spiess Memorial Competition (via Modern Haiku) – I submitted five haikus at the last minute! This competition is probably way out of my league, but I figured it wouldn’t hurt to try.

I also completed another month of National Haiku Writing Month’s daily prompts via NaHaiWriMo’s Facebook Page. While February is the official haiku writing month, the organization offers up daily haiku writing prompts every month. I ended up writing close to 40 haikus during the the month of March.

In addition to NaHaiWriMo, I continued my involvement in the Poetic Asides community via Writer’s Digest. I didn’t miss a single Wednesday Poetry Prompt.

As for my black out poetry submission, I’m still waiting on the results to this challenge: WD Poetic Forms Challenge: Erasure Poetry.

4. Don’t give up or get distracted.

This month brought its fair share of distractions, including the passing of my beloved grandfather. However, I still managed to stick to my writing goals. In many ways, my daily practice offered some escape from the grief.

5. Be flexible.

As always, I’m staying open to opportunities and inspiration wherever they may be hiding.

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And let’s not forget the word of the year:

Persistence

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How are you doing with your 2015 goals?

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c.b.w. 2015