In Which I Have Actual News

It’s past time for an update here. First of all, anthology news. My publisher seems to be a little behind, which has given me the chance to maybe write one more story for the anthology. I have started it, but this has been a very busy month so it is not yet finished. I think it’s a pretty good story premise though.

Secondly, I recently signed a contract to write a high school literature guide for Jane Eyre. (In an intriguing twist of fate, I have an actual ancestor whose name was Jane Eyre.) I’ve made a good start on that also, and hope to dive into it with real enthusiasm next week. Possibly I might be writing similar guides for several other classic novels.

Thirdly, I received an email today which made my entire week. Years ago, I wrote a middle-school creative writing curriculum which I used to teach many kids from my home. The curriculum was picked up and published by the Institute for Excellence in Writing, but a couple of years ago they discontinued it without even telling me.

When I figured it out, I contacted them and they told me that all the rights reverted to me. My plan was to revise and update it and then release it myself through Amazon—but I hadn’t got around to it yet. Then today I received an email from the academic dean of a Catholic school in South Carolina. He wrote: “Several of our middle school teachers used your Story Quest text for several years but it seems it is no longer in print through IEW.  Is there any place where we could still purchase these books?  They have had an incredible impact on our students.”

You have no idea how much that encouragement meant to me, sir. And now I am highly motivated to finish revising that curriculum so that your school can have it. Stay tuned for a notice that it is once again available!

Fall Back Five and Punt

That’s what my husband always says when we have to come up with an alternate plan. I don’t even know what that means, since I don’t watch American football, but I imagine most of you do.

Turns out, it just wasn’t realistic for me to write 50,000 words in July when I was gone for a third of the month and also had a presentation to prepare. I got over 20,000 words written, and that’s not nothing—just not what I’d hoped for.

However, that particular novel is going to have to wait a little longer because my top priority now is getting short stories written and/or revised for my upcoming anthology. Last night I dived back into a story I started in March but have really struggled with. And you know what? It was almost finished. I finished it. Whew!

Today I went through a few of older stories and revised them, bringing them up to a higher standard (I hope). Having done that, my only option is to come up with some new ideas and write some new stories—at least three more, I estimate. Usually not a problem for me—but a road trip would help!

 

NaNoWriMo 2017

I’ve been threatening for almost a year to start a new novel, but my revision focus of the last several months meant that I kept putting it off. Now that National Novel Writing Month is here again, I decided the time had come to finally start my Sky Gypsy story.

I did not sign up on the NaNo website, but I am faithfully following the rules and have been averaging just over 2000 words a day. I really need to have a few 3000 word days to “bank” for days when I don’t have time to write the normal amount. Like, Thanksgiving for instance.

This is my first foray into writing for middle grade readers. Because I am planning a five-year arc, my main character is starting off at fourteen years old. By the fifth book he’ll be eighteen.

The beginning of this book has been difficult, because I’m setting everything up and trying to keep it interesting. I’m just about to get to the fun part though. One thing I didn’t expect was for my main character to play my own instrument—the autoharp. It has ended up being essential for his character, because he starts off as a very “uncool” kid, and there are few things more “uncool” than playing what many think of as an “old folks” instrument.

This is the only story I’ve literally “dreamed up.” I had a very vivid dream, that was really just a few seconds of seeing the sky gypsies, but it was enough to spark a whole world and give me the genesis of a story. I am excited to see where it will take me.

When Does the “Law of Diminishing Returns” Kick In?

A couple of days ago, I finished a project I had been working on all summer. I had taken it into my head to revise one of my earlier (unpublished) novels. It had finished going through the critique process but I hadn’t kept up with all the critique suggestions, so that was my first task.

Meanwhile, I believe I have actually increased my writing skills considerably this summer, thanks to a new critique partner who has pushed me hard. As a result, what I thought would be a two or three-week project ended up taking the entire summer. Hours upon hours of scrutinizing every line, every word.

I hardly believe this story is now “perfected,” but it is certainly better-written than it was, and I derive some satisfaction from knowing that, even if it never gets published.

But this experience brings up an interesting point. At the same time I was working on the revisions of my “old” novel, I was and am continuing revisions on my newest novel. This one started off in better shape and this first round of revisions is taking it to a higher level than any of my “old” work.

So, I have started revising another older story. This story has also been through the critique process, yet I am finding plenty of ways to improve the writing. But at what point do you say, “Well, I’m done with this and I’m going to send it out and stop revising it.”

I can easily see this turning into a never-ending process. As my skills increase (assuming they do increase) I just keep subjecting all my novels to another round of revisions and upgrades. Of course, unlike some writers, I do keep producing new material—which just means that each round of revisions would take longer than the one before it!

What I’m asking myself now is this: at what point do further revisions become a bad investment of my time? I’m not changing any of my stories in any substantial way. I believe the stories themselves are pretty good. But I’m going through and eliminating pointless words and passive constructions and “telling” and unnecessary dialog tags. None of these things would bother the average reader if they were interested in the story. However, all of these things are very important to the gatekeepers: agents and editors, and I am much better at finding and fixing them now.

So the conclusion I’ve reached at the moment is that my skills have probably increased enough to make another round of edits worth the time and effort before I start querying again. I still am very anxious to start two new stories, though, so I may have to play a game with myself, where I reward myself with “new” writing for various milestones in my revisions.

Looking Back; Looking Forward

Sorry for my lengthy silence—I have been somewhat overwhelmed with health issues and with revising my first novel manuscript, which is what prompted today’s post.

I have now completed six full-length novels (and one memoir). Along the way I have attended over a dozen writers’ conferences and learned a great deal about writing and publishing. Soon after my first writers’ conference, back in 2009, I gave up on trying to sell my first novel and focused on revising my second one and writing more. Although I felt that first book had a very compelling story, I was told that there would be no market for it because it doesn’t fit into any of the pigeon holes (specific genres) that publishers use to sell books.

At the end of January this year, flush with my success in finishing my sixth novel, I had the bright idea of pulling out that first manuscript to see what kind of revisions it might need after lying neglected for eight years.

The experience was both dismaying and encouraging. You see, when I was working on that book and trying to pitch it, people kept giving me advice about how to improve my writing and I thought I was already doing all those things. It was so frustrating. Despite my English degree, I didn’t know enough to know how to make things better.

This time, as I read through, it was as though the scales had fallen from my eyes. I found that I often slipped into omniscient POV, which is mostly frowned on these days. There were hundreds of unnecessary dialog tags and adverbs. The story, I was relieved to see, is still a powerful one (at least in my humble opinion), but it was not ready for the big leagues back in 2009.

I will no doubt go through it several more times using my “triple sifter” approach, but I don’t think I’ll be pitching it any time soon. It is indeed hard to categorize, and my vague plan is to be famous first and then self-publish this book once I already have legions of adoring fans.

So that was the looking back part. The huge benefit for me was the realization that I have indeed improved as a writer in the last eight years, which means that looking forward, I might have a real chance at finally finding an agent and a publisher.

What I’m trying to say is that relentless self-education does pay off. I’ve learned from writers’ conferences, books, and from my wonderful critique partners. I had three short stories published last year and this year I hope to do better. I now feel somewhat confident that I finally have the skills to pull it off.

Completion Report

I am continuing do the rest of the WIPjoy posts, even though technically I have finished my novel, tentatively titled Sohalie’s Search. This has been a long journey for me. Sohalie’s Search is my sixth completed novel. All the others were written in a much shorter timespan–usually within a couple of months.

This one started in a class I attended during the Realm Makers conference of 2015. I had the kernel of an idea, and I wrote it down. Over the next few weeks, I kept thinking of ways to make it more awesome, including setting it in a story world I created for two of my other novels, though on a different part of the continent.

I started writing in November of 2015 for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). The goal is to write 50,000 words in the month of November, and somehow I managed it. However, I knew I was only about halfway into the story and there was no time to keep writing in December.

The story languished until summer of last year, when I managed to squeeze out a couple of chapters. I thought maybe I could finish it during 2016 NaNo, but I simply did not have time to write. So when some of my fellow writers suggested having a “JaNoWriMo,” (January Novel Writing Month) I figured this was my big chance. It has been hard to put in the necessary hours and brain work, but I did finally finish on Tuesday morning.

Of course, there are many revisions that will need to be done, but as I’ve recently been reminded, my manuscript at the moment is the worst it’s ever going to be! I love the story and it was a bit of a departure for me as it’s my first story written in the first person. The main character, Sohalie (pronounced SO-hah-lee) narrates most of the story, but I have two other first-person narrators who have their own side of things to tell.

Now I will work on revising one of my other novels while letting this one sit for a month or two. I also have a great idea for a short story, so I may give into the temptation to work on that also.

But really, my first priority ought to be trying again to find an agent now that I have six completed novels. It’s just so intimidating . . .

Have I Made My Million Mistakes Yet?

Let’s pretend you are going on a hike up a mountain. It’s very important to you to succeed. You know it’s going to be a difficult and steep climb, but you believe you are up to the task, and so you set off with confidence. The path is steep, but it’s only one mile to the top, and you know you can make it.

It turns out the path is much steeper than you thought, and overgrown with vines and blocked by fallen logs, but you keep going. Finally you think you must be almost there, but when you check your GPS you find that you are only at the halfway point. Still, that means only half a mile left to go, and there is plenty of daylight left.

If you thought the first half of the distance was difficult, you were wrong, because now it’s so much harder, and you’re no longer fresh. The sun is low in the sky when you again pause, thinking you are just about at the summit. Nope. You have again halved the distance, which means you only have one quarter of a mile to go. On level ground, this would be an easy five-minute walk.

You set off again even though you are weary and you now have to carve out each step with your pickaxe. You put your all into the effort to reach the summit, even as you realize you will be coming down in the dark. When you are at the end of your strength, you check your location again, only to find that you still have an eighth of a mile left.

You begin to think that the mountain is playing tricks on you. Every time you put forth effort to reach the summit, you get halfway from where you started off. If this trend continues, you will still be one-sixteenth of a mile from the top next time you stop. After that it will be one-thirty-second, and so on. You will be getting closer to the top, theoretically, but you will never actually reach it, because the distance can always be halved again, and at some point the distance from your destination will be so infinitesimally small that you no longer have any meaningful understanding of how far away it is—just that it is out of reach.

This is what it’s like to try and get published, if you’re an unknown and don’t have any connections in the industry, and if you are extraordinarily stupid and slow to learn, which seems to be the case with me. After ten years of effort, you know you’re a lot closer, but you begin to suspect that you will never, ever, be close enough. It is disheartening, to say the least. And of course, when it comes to publishing, there is no GPS to tell you how close you are. You never actually know. There is no way to find out. You hope and assume you are getting closer, but there is no proof and no reward for “almost” making it.

Furthermore, when you’re my age, you start to wonder if you’ve even got ten more years left in which to continue failing.

So yes, in case you haven’t guessed, I got rejected again this week. I’ve had my day of mourning. (I give myself one day to sob and moan, and one day only.) In this case, once I had achieved some level of equilibrium and reread the rejection, I felt that it was not as harsh as I feared at first. What made it hard was that the primary complaint about my manuscript was that I had failed at something I actually thought I was rather good at. *sigh*

However, I also got some great feedback and perceptive comments on my manuscript, which are thought-provoking and I believe will lead to improvements in the story before I send it out again. I am glad, if I had to get rejected, that it happened now when I still have two full months before my next writers conference. I’ve got time to do some revising and deciding which projects I should pitch.