Category Archives: Writing career

You May Need Professional Help, Part I

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clouds

It’s not a fun thing to admit:

I don’t know what the heck I’m doing. Novel writing, I mean.  (See there? I can’t even form a complete sentence.)

No, no. I’m not looking for consolation. I’m simply being transparent about what’s what.

Given that time is lapping me like an Olympian, something must be done now if I’m ever going to achieve my dream.

Somethings I’ve tried, include, but are not limited to:

  • Attending writing-focused workshops, retreats and conferences
  • Completing course with the Institute of Children’s Literature and the UCLA Writing Extension
  • Reading books on writing (if you’d like recommendations, please ask)
  • Paying for critiques from editors and authors
  • Studying novels written by award-winning authors in my genre
  • Participating in a critique group
  • Seeking one-on-one advice from a trusted fellow writer
  • Eating a library’s weight in cookies

To be crystal, I am not saying I’ve tried all of these somethings and they were a waste. Not. At. All. I value these experiences and will return to them again going forward (particularly the last one).

But now, this is the time to try a shiny, new something.

But what?

I made of list of everything from reading a new self-help book to applying to grad school and nothing seemed quite right–either not personalized or too pricey or impractical given my day job.

That’s when a friend suggested I get some professional help.

Now, that’s a true friend!

My friend suggested I contact an editorial service–a business that provides copy edits, developmental editing and coaching.

Eureka! (Time for a celebratory cookie!)

I investigated the particular service she recommended and loved what I learned. So much so that I spoke with the owner, sent in a writing sample, picked my editor, signed on the dotted line, attached my manuscript and mailed my check this week. In about three weeks, I will receive my detailed editorial letter.

Be aware, my little apricot tarts, quality editorial services are not cheap. Nor should they be. But when I compare the cost of a full-manuscript edit to a fly-away weekend workshop, much less graduate level courses, the price is much more manageable. Plus, I will be learning transferable skills I can apply to past and future manuscripts. I also anticipate having this level of personalized help will speed along the process a bit rather than meandering without aim through a writers’ wilderness (aka per usual).

Is there some wink-wink magic hidden door wink-wink connected to such services? In other words, if you use an editorial service, will your work somehow become cover to cover catnip to publishers because the service itself will help you on your way? Mmm. No. It’s still about you and your writing. But because your writing will be stronger, there’s hope your chances for publication are stronger too.

Next time, I’ll tell you what it was like to get the letter and a bit about what I learned and how I’ll use the editor’s input to shape my work in progress.

For now, I feel excited, empowered and energized. And that’s mighty fine by me.

If you think you could use some professional help, let’s connect on my contact page. I’ll be glad to share more with you.

It is literally true that you can succeed best and quickest by helping others to succeed. ~ Napoleon Hill

 

 

Where’s Your Scary?

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The road is longclouds

With many a winding turn

That leads us to who knows where

Who knows where

Do these lyrics remind you of your journey toward publication?

How about words like wandering, wilderness, what-if-it-never-materializes, wondering what’s next?

I hear you.

More important, I feel you.

This journey is tough. At least it is for me. And it’s so much longer than I ever imagined it would be.

You too?

Lately, I’ve recognized one of the things that is making it feel even longer–I’ve tripped into a rut.

Trudging.

Trudging.

Trudging.

Now my journey is as dry as winter elbows.

Know what’s missing?

Scary.

For me, Scary equates to doing something new, putting myself out there for an unpredictable payback and feeling my heart stampede.

Now I’m on the hunt for the right kind of Scary.

You too?

These ideas to inject an element of Scary back into our Writing Life–

  • Enroll in a writing course
  • Apply to an MFA program or another form of formal education
  • Register for a workshop, retreat or conference
  • Send three chapters to a willing beta reader
  • Enter a contest
  • Read at an open mic

I’m going for it. Look out Scary. Here I come.

You comin’?

Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all. ~ Helen Keller

Lyrics by Bob Russell and Bobby Scott

The Who’s Who of Thank You’s

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adams-pumpkin-2I’m about to do something dangerous. So, hold on, my mini pumpkin muffins. In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I am compiling a list of people I want to thank for encouraging me as a writer. It’s inevitable I’ll miss some folks and for that I apologize with a dollop of whip cream on top. (But if you ask me, having lots of names to recall is a most excellent problem to have.) When I surface from my tryptophan-induced haze, I will draft a Part II to recognize anyone I may have missed or new names I need to add.

I am most sincerely . . .

  • Thankful for my critique group for their honesty, genuine encouragement and generosity.
  • Thankful for Helen who always makes my XL English Breakfast with two creams just right every morning. Writers run on tea.
  • Thankful for Erin,my agent, for taking a chance on me.
  • Thankful for my parents who are always enthusiastic about my writing pursuits.
  • Thankful for my husband who never makes me feel bad for heading off to yet another writing retreat, and always supports me with love and a listening ear.
  • Thankful for the inventor of “Find/Replace” and “Cut/Paste” (aka Ctrl C/Ctrl V).
  • Thankful for Mrs. Eickholt, Mr. Darling and Mr. Brahlek–middle school and high school teachers–who recognized my love of writing.
  • Thankful for my stellar beta readers–you give me much-needed confidence.
  • Thankful for my non-writing friends who patiently listen as I babble on about a conference or puddle up about a rejection.
  • Thankful for my children who have listened to me read my stories over the years.
  • Thankful for editors who have considered my work, even if they said no thank you.
  • Thankful for Hope, Kelly B., Kris, Danielle, Ann F., Pam, Rachel, Cathy, Monica, Matt, Kristen, Randy, Rebecca, Lisa, Buffy, Ann P., Jay, Ruth, Anna, Charlie, Deb, Vicki, Janice, Kim, Sarah, Ann A.,  Carrie, Hayley, Kelly P., Terry, Kirsten, Patti, Leslie, Catie, Donna, Kathi and soooo many others. (Like I said, needing to remember lots of names is a good problem to have.)

Let me encourage you to go and do likewise, my little drumsticks. It’s great to say you’re thankful for your friends and family, but why not reserve a minute or two while you wait for the turkey to brown, and recall the names and faces of the dear folks who have made a big difference in your writing life. Why, you’ll feel warmer than a mound of mashed taters.

Ahem. Pass the gravy.

I am grateful for what I am and have. My thanksgiving is perpetual. ~ Henry David Thoreau

 

help you help me

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Photo by Vicky Lorencen

Photo by Vicky Lorencen

Every writer I know is a “waiter.” We wait for our muses to return from Rome. We wait for feedback from critique partners. We wait for emails from editors and agents. We wait for books to launch and reviews to post. For those of us who are pre-published, we wait (and wait and wait) for our first big break into print. Given that waiting is a given no matter where we are in the waiting room, it’s wise to find ways to use the time, well, wisely. Otherwise we’re time-twiddlers in danger of becoming solitary sadsacks. And yeesh, don’t even get me started on those pricey catered pity parties. What’s that? How do I know about pity parties? Well, uh, [insert awkward silence so long you would take a nap in it here], let’s move on.

And so, my little twice baked potatoes, to help each other whilst we morning glorywhile away our waiting time wisely (versus wastely or woely–and sure, those are words (sorta)), here are ways to help yourself by helping other writers:

  • Join or start a critique group.
  • Offer to exchange manuscripts with someone who writes for a similar age group or genre.
  • Know someone who’s new to writing in your area? Invite them to the next SCBWI event in your area and introduce them around.
  • Send encouraging notes or emails to fellow writing friends. Aim for sending two a week.
  • Promote a friend’s books on social media.
  • Read books or articles on craft–pass along what you’ve learned.
  • Offer to guest blog (even if you have one of your own).
  • Enter a writing contest or apply for a writing scholarship or grant–and challenge a friend to do it with you.
  • Offer to teach a one-day (or even one-hour) workshop for young writers at your local library.
  • Join or start a book club.
  • Read books for fun. When you’re done, recommend to a friend.
  • Study books for craft–how’d your favorite author “do” that? Post ideas on Facebook.
  • Go to book launch events for your friends.
  • Write articles, poems or puzzles for children’s magazines–and encourage a friend to do the same.
  • If you discover a new children’s magazine, encouraging blog or writing opportunity, share it with your friends.
  • Volunteer to read to a class in your local elementary school or senior center.
  • Help a literacy program.
  • If you have a blog, invite friends to do a guest post or do a guest interview.

You’re so smart, my little brownie bites, I bet you already do a lot of these things, but maaaaybe you hadn’t thought about how helping you could help someone else. Hope these ideas hlep. Can’t wait to hear your ideas too!

“For a while” is a phrase whose length can’t be measured. At least by the person who’s waiting. ~ Haruki Murakami

why rabbits play checkers and you can too

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Scooter Plays Checkers, a watercolor by Vicky Lorencen

Ironic, isn’t it. Rabbits eat carrots. Carrots contain vitamin A, a nutrient essential for good vision. With such great eyesight and countless stories starring rabbits, you’d think bunnies would be big on books. Not so. Nine out of ten prefer checkers. Why am I telling you this? I haven’t a clue. But it’s gotten you reading this far, and that my thimbleberry tarts, is what this post is all about.

 

Scooter Plays Checkers,  watercolor by Vicky  Lorencen

Since I can assume you are not rabbits, given that you’re still reading this, I want to recommend some books you may enjoy exploring this summer. Full disclosure–not of these are new. Regardless, they are worth exploring. And the fun thing is, you can pick them up, graze a bit and come back later to enjoy a bit more.

Right now I’m reading Contagious: Why Things Catch On by Jonah Berger. Jonah is a marketing professor at The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. I admit to being a bit of a psychology and marketing geek, so his book interests me. It also surprised me. As a blogger I was deflated to learn that only about 7 percent of our daily communication takes place on social media. Seven stinkin’ percent! On the other hand, as a writer, I was comforted and motivated to think that means a whole lot of our interactions take place face-to-face and in writing–good, ol’ fashioned writing. This book would be especially valuable to anyone who is in the promotion phase with your book. Or for all of us who want to be ready for when that day finally, finally, sheeeesh-finally comes.

The Mind Map Book by Tony Buzan. This book can teach you how to unleash the creative power of your brain–and you get to color while you’re doing it. Perfection!

Making a Literary Life: Advice for Writers and Dreamers by Carolyn See I’m going to level with you since the chances of Carolyn See ever seeing this less than zip, this book is now 14 years old, so it’s a titch out of step. But there are so many timeless insights, pinches of practical advice–like writing charming notes, and Ms. See’s delightful perspective, you can’t help but love this.

Writers [on Writing] Collected Essays from the New York Times Treat yourself to this treasure. Barbara Kingsolver, Carl Hiaasen, Susan Sontag, Joyce Carol Oates, Alice Walker, Kurt Vonnegut, John Updike, Jamaica Kincaid, Marge Piercy,  Saul Bellow, and so many more . . . it’s like an all-you-can-read author buffet. Great car trip or beach reading.

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Photo by Vicky Lorencen

How about you? What are you tucking in your beach bag? Share those titles! (But not with bunnies, because you know.)

My computer beat me at checkers, but I sure beat it at kickboxing. ~ Emo Philips

how to avoid the foisting bellybutton-gazing magna nincompoopus

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Photo & Collage by Vicky Lorencen

Photo & Collage by
Vicky Lorencen

You, my lovelies, are brilliant, radiant writers. You are warm and kind, and most days you smell pretty good. But even the creamiest of the crop can slide down the sloppy slope into that abyss of abysmal behavior. How do I know this? Um. Well. Okay, enough about me.

Consider this list of Don’t Do’s and Do Do’s (smirk):

The Foister–you’re at a conference. It’s social hour. A new person walks by. You reach out and touch his arm. He stops. “Here’s my card,” you say. He looks at the card. He looks at you. He looks at the card, stuffs it in his pocket and walks on. Look. Another person approaches. She sees you reaching for a card and does a U-turn. At the end of the night, you see your card left under wine glasses (My card’s not a coaster!) or, worse yet, populating the trash bin. This is not good. You’ve been pegged as a Foister.

What to do: Take your postcards and/or business cards with you to the conference, but use the social time to talk to people. Scary, I know. But you are not an apron-wearing sample distributor for Costco. Your job is not to see how many units you can move by the end of the night. You want to network, make new friends and enjoy. So, when it comes to cards, wait until someone asks you for one. This takes patience and self-control, but it’s the right thing to do. And it’s the most effective way to share your cards. Handing your card to someone who actually wants it is a time honored way to do a bit of networking and build relationships. And for the love of 12 pt. font, don’t forget to ask for their card too! You can do this, my little figgy pudding.

The Bellybutton-gazer–when a presenter asks for questions at the end of her talk, this is not your cue to raise your little pencil grabber and then famble on about how you’re having trouble with your middle grade novel’s subplot because it’s based on your uncle’s dairy farm in Minnesota and you’re afraid of cows, but it’s crucial to the part in the main plot about the twins who own a cow circus and blah-blah-blah . . . NO! This is not good.

What to do: phrase your question in such a way that others could potentially benefit from the answer. Do not ask three more follow-up questions, and thereby monopolize the Q&A session. Wait until everyone has had a chance to ask a question before posing a new, carefully worded question. You can do this.

The Magna nincompoopus–you’re been to every conference, retreat, workshop, book talk and poetry slam in the tri-state area. You read Publisher’s Weekly, weekly. You’ve taken online classes, joined a critique group, and you have your own blog for gosh sakes. So, now you’re at yet another conference. You could practically teach the thing (or so you think). Before you know it, you’re commandeering conversations, over-talking/under-listening and taking condescension to new depths. You’re behaving like a magna nincompoopus.

What to do: set a goal for yourself before you ever leave the house–today I will meet and listen to three new people. I will only offer advice or information, if asked. And, even then, I will be to the point. I will learn three new things. I will be intentional about finding opportunities to encourage others, especially if they are new, or nervous or human. You can do this.

I can do this too. Now, let’s have a cookie.

Never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups. ~ George Carlin

Think you’re not a bully? Take the “Am I a Bully?” Quiz

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Photo by Vicky Lorencen

Photo by Vicky Lorencen

Are you a bully? You’re mostly likely saying no. Well, um, prepare yourself for an awkward moment of self-revelation served cold with a side of I Did Not See that Coming. You’re still skeptical, aren’t you. That’s okay. I’m not going to bully you. I’ll let this quiz do my convincing for me. Please go ahead.  Take this quick, eight-question test. We’ll talk when you’re done.

Pencils ready? Please respond with a T for True and an F for False.

The “Am I a Bully?” Quiz

  1. _____ I encourage my writing friend to invest hours trolling Facebook, especially when I know awards or “best of” lists are being announced so she can look for her name and not see it there.
  2. _____ When a rejection letter arrives, I help my friend dissect it, looking for any nuance that suggests this was a personal rejection and a comment on her chances of ever selling this manuscript in any form, both existing and those yet to be created, anywhere in the known universe.
  3. _____ I help my friend do side-by-side comparisons of her writing journey with that of someone else, all the while posing questions like “How old was he when he sold his first book?” “You know you should be a lot further along by now, right?” “Did you know he writes 9,000 words a day?”
  4. _____ If my friend says she’ll never be published, I affirm her in her fears with a hearty, “You betcha!”
  5. _____ If I suspect my friend may be hoarding Rubbermaid® tubs of jealousy under her chocolate hamper, I am swift to shift into shame mode and toss out words like immature, sophomoric and baby doodoo head.
  6. _____ When my agent-less friend learns one of her friends got an agent, I read and re-read the announcement aloud to her using a fancy British accent. Once it’s tattooed on her gray matter, we move on to making a list of the reasons an agent will never-ever-ever want to represent someone like her.
  7. _____ When my friend complains that all of her ideas are lame, I protest and correct her by saying, I see them as derivative, tired and utterly unappealing.
  8. _____ When my friend compares her rough draft with the edited/polished/published work of her favorite author, I fail to point out the unfair comparison while we drive to the store for more Cherry Garcia.

You answered F on every one, didn’t you.

Photo by Vicky Lorencen

Photo by Vicky Lorencen

But, my dearest buttered English muffin with apricot preserves, you are a bully. Every time you belittle yourself, blame yourself for having human emotions like jealousy or sadness, or torture yourself by comparing your unique journey to that of someone else, you are bullying you. Are you seein’ what I’m sayin’?

For the love of ampersands, stop.

Oh, I know it’s not that easy. It’s not easy at all. But if you can’t be your own defender, who can be? Start today by being mindful of the words you say to yourself. Instead of damning jabs, try using the sweet, consoling, empathetic words you give to others. Seek the company of encouraging people. Go on a 48-hour Facebook fast. Be BIG and send a worthy someone a note of congratulations. Be real about your disappointments. Celebrate even small victories.

And remember, my little former self-bully, even now, you are making some people sick with jealousy just by being you. Now, doesn’t that make you feel better? You betcha!

If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse, and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality. ~ Desmond Tutu