Post-NaNo Update

Wow, it’s been a long time since my last post. I left off of blogging to put my energies into NaNoWriMo and somehow two and a half months have gone by. I guess I have no one to blame but Thanksgiving Hanukkah Christmas New Years myself.

NaNo was awesome. I had daily word count goals, which I stuck to (for the most part) and accomplished 50,000 words of a new novel by November 29. It was such a great feeling to achieve that goal. But the best part was actually spending a month writing consistently.

Here are my Top 5 Lessons Learned from my first NaNoWriMo:

1.    I can write a page in 15 minutes.

A real page! In regular-sized font! I didn’t know I could do that. Kind of does away with the excuse that I don’t have time to write, doesn’t it?

2.    Accountability is helpful.

Posting my goals and updating my word count on the NaNo website was fun and motivating. Anyone want to start a word count competition with me?

3.   Outlining is a good thing.

I wrote an outline for my NaNo novel during the month of October. Turns out when you outline an entire story, it helps you stay on track when you’re actually writing the thing. Otherwise, you may reach the end of your novel only to realize the story is totally different than you thought it was. You then have to decide: Do I rewrite the entire first half of the novel? Or toss it into the trash and never look at it again? With an outline, you get to the end and say, “Yay, I got to the end!”

4.   Social media is a mixed blessing.

The pep talks by authors on the NaNoWriMo website were inspiring. Twitter was slightly distracting but somewhat NaNo-related. Trolling Facebook to see which of my friends is getting married/having a baby/eating Paleo was not conducive to writing at all.

5.    50,000 words is a lot—but it’s not a complete novel.

It’s a skeleton. The next step is to go back and fill in the flesh, the blood, the organs, the muscle tissue—well, you get the idea. But having a solid skeleton is whole lot better than having nothing.

Did you win NaNoWriMo this year? What was your experience like? What are you going to do with the novel? Let me know!

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The Challenge of NaNoWriMo

Drumroll, please:

I’ve decided to do NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, this November. If you haven’t heard of it, this is a global phenomenon where people commit to writing a 50,000 word novel (at least! Some people do much more!) in a month. Yes, that’s the catch. You can plan all you want, but the actual writing takes place between November 1st and 30th.

This will be my first time doing NaNo. I’m excited about it. I’ve been stuck in revisions of my novel for so long that the idea of writing something totally new and from scratch is appealing. To meet new characters and see what they do in this crazy world I’ve created for them. And to throw obstacles in their way as fast as I can think of them.

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But NaNo is going to be a huge challenge. It means writing a lot, every day. And the thing about NaNoWriMo is that the other things don’t go away while you’re doing it. Dinner still doesn’t make itself. Groceries don’t magically appear in the fridge. And work isn’t keen on the idea of me taking November off. Plus, there are people who live in my house who demand a lot of attention. Plus, I have kids. 😉

Oh, and then there’s this day in November where friends and family want you to eat a lot of food and spend time with them.

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Are you doing NaNoWriMo? Have you done it before? What are the biggest challenges and rewards to writing a novel in a month? Let me know!

Positive Thinking Versus the Rejection E-mail

People say the biggest challenge when running a marathon is the mental block.  It’s that voice in your head. You know the one:

running_legs“You think you can run 26 miles? Are you crazy? Go back to the couch before your lungs explode and your legs fall off!”

I haven’t run a marathon, so I couldn’t say if it’s that or the whole running thing that makes it difficult. But I do believe that your attitude and mindset have a huge impact on whether you reach your goals.

I bring this up because I recently received my first rejection from an agent. Don’t worry—the drowning of sorrows in a vodka tonic or twelve is almost complete.  Just one or two more should do it….

Actually, I was not devastated by the rejection at all. The agent politely informed me that there is a glut of paranormal books out there right now and she didn’t think she personally could sell mine. Since I am writing in the paranormal genre, she is not the right agent for me. And that’s fine. In fact, I’m excited to have a rejection under my belt. Kind of gives me some street cred in the writing world. (Not quite the same kind of street cred as knocking over a liquor store, but it’s something.)

How do you deal with rejection? How do you overcome obstacles that stand between you and your goals? I’d love to hear from you!

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Tips For Writing a First Page that Rocks

In my last post, I described the Sisters in Crime meeting I went to where a panel of authors read and critiqued members’ first pages. Here’s some of their advice about how to make sure your first page hooks a reader or agent.

1. Less description, more emotion

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This tidbit came up more than once as the first page submissions were read out. That detailed description of the wallpaper in the heroine’s guest bedroom? No one cares. Readers are looking to connect with a character and a story. Descriptions should be sprinkled in at appropriate times.

2. Start in the middle of the action.

A recurring comment from the panel was some variation of, “If you cut out the first three paragraphs, you’ve got a great page.” Which the writer may hear as, “Just cut off your right ear, you don’t really need that.” Painful but true. Readers don’t need a lot of build-up to become engaged. In fact, with too much exposition, they get bored. Start in the action and save the explanations for later.

3. Readers should know early on what’s at stake.

If the main character finds herself on a speeding bus with a bomb on it, would she use the time to reminisce about moving to LA to pursue an acting career? This confuses readers because they don’t know what the story is about. Is it the bus or her quest to be an actress? On the first page, and the first chapter, stay focused on the conflict that drives the story.

4. Write for your audience.

People who don’t like epic fantasies may not choose to read your epic fantasy, even if your first page puts Tolkien to shame. That’s okay. Don’t try to write a book that will please everyone. Know your audience and write the best book you can for them.

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Some other fun tidbits about the market:

  • Vampires have been done (no, really) so if you’re writing a vamp novel, you need a twist that makes your story unique.
  • Thrillers set in the Middle East are still selling.
  • The Holy Grail is the YA novel with a male protagonist. Everyone wants to find it but it’s notoriously hard to hook teen boys into reading, so the standards are quite high.
  • YA novels rarely involve the protagonist’s family. They’re mostly about the character forging her own identity.

Other tips for hooking a reader/agent? Please share!

Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down

Last weekend, I had the opportunity to attend a workshop with Sisters in Crime, Northern California. It was called “Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down,” and members were invited to submit the first page of their manuscript to the panel of three distinguished authors. The page was read aloud and the panel gave their critique and opinion as to whether they would keep reading, and whether they thought an agent would keep reading as well.

The three panelists were Sophie Littlefield, Gillian Roberts and Keith Raffel. When the meeting started, I’ll be honest, I was a tad nervous. Okay, I was really nervous, and had been the entire drive up from Oakland to Marin. Yes, the critique would be anonymous, but it would also be very public.

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I spent too much time tamping down my Inner Critic as it tried to predict all the ways the panel could tear my writing apart, and ignored said Critic when it suggested I grab my page out of the purple box and run for Mt. Tamalpais with it. Instead, I sat in the second row and waited for the impending doom. At least if mine was one of the first to be critiqued, the ordeal would be over and I could relax.

Of course, mine wasn’t first. No, mine was second to last. The penultimate submission. Which gave the Inner Critic a good two hours to mess with my head.

criticize_bloggers    But that’s not actually what happened. (For one thing, my Inner Critic does not sound like Simon Cowell.)

In reality, I enjoyed the session. I loved hearing other people’s pages. This is a talented group of writers, and I heard many story beginnings I would’ve loved to read more of. The panelists were encouraging and constructive with their feedback. I told myself I wasn’t crazy to think I could do this writing thing. And I was right. The panel liked my first page.

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They suggested moving a line around and had some questions (when you’re writing about huldras, questions are inevitable), but the major feedback was that this fit right into the urban fantasy genre and that it worked. Hearing that felt great.

In my next post, I’ll share some of the most helpful advice I learned from the panelists about the market and what works in the opening page.

What’s so great about the Kindle?

*Author’s note: This is not meant to be a diatribe against or an ode to Amazon and the way it A) is destroying life as we know it or B) is our ultimate salvation. These are just my thoughts on a little thing called the e-reader.

Can we now enjoy reading without the risk of paper cuts and toes stubbed by falling hardcovers? Have e-readers set us free? Or are we slipping even further into the depths of domination by our new masters, the screens?

On the one hand, I think it’s great that we decided to use magic to make our books appear on our devices, thus saving paper and the gas used to deliver the books to the stores. Of course, there’s also the environmental impact of producing the e-reader, plus our seeming obsession with continuing to buy e-readers. The iPad was the greatest thing since sliced bread until… the iPad 2. So where’s the magic to dispose of all those iPad 1s no one can be caught dead using?

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Then there’s the hands-on experience of using the e-reader (or some would say lack of experience). No physical pages, no smell and feel of the book, no cover art. It’s difficult to grab an e-book off the shelf and press it into a friend’s hand, saying “Read this, you’ll love it!” If you do that, you may end up buying a lot of Kindles.

Despite the downsides, I have a Kindle, and I’m a fan. Here’s why:

It’s midnight. I finish Book One of a trilogy, which will not be named, but happens to end on a cliffhanger.

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Three clicks later, I’m starting Book Two. Not that staying up all night reading is ideal for anyone, but isn’t that the kind of excitement we authors want to inspire?

Until I move out of my two-bedroom apartment and into a country mansion with a personal library, collecting e-books is much more practical than buying physical books. I can’t really fill every room with books. The kids insist on having a place to sleep.

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Pacific Northwest Writers Association Conference: Survivor’s Report

I spent last weekend in Seattle at the Pacific Northwest Writers Association conference. A place where writers, agents, and editors come together in a gladiator-style fight to the death, and only the strongest writer, agent and editor survive. This trifecta then goes on to produce the greatest and best-selling story ever known to man and woman-kind.

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Given that this was my first experience with pitching my project to agents and editors, I expected something like the above. To my great relief and slight disappointment, it turns out that people who work in publishing are not half-clothed gladiators or hot ninjas. They’re people who love books and reading, and have devoted their lives to working with authors to create more books. Who knew?

I pitched to three agents and one editor, and all four requested that I send them pages. Which must mean I presented my idea in a clear and interesting way, and that I didn’t have coffee breath or the bottom of my skirt tucked into my underwear. So I’m super excited about that. I promise to keep you, my devoted fans, apprised of the situation as the rejection letters offers of representation come rolling in.

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Meeting other writers was also super fun. Winning an Amazon Kindle Paperwhite in a random drawing of Twitter users was amazing! Especially since I’m somewhat of a Twitter novice. Well, no more. I’ve learned that tweeting pays, and it pays in Kindles. So just try and keep me out of the Twitterverse from now on.

Were you at the PNWA conference? Did you also win a Kindle for tweeting? (Nope, that was just me! Thanks, PNWA!) What was it like for you?