Thursday, December 29, 2011

Yes, Do This, No, Don't Do That

I've been getting a lot of requests for writing advice lately. I have several posts on it, but I thought I'd gather my thoughts in a new post here, in a Yes, Do This and No, Don't Do This format. This is meant to inform, not to embarrass. Please be assured that I have made every mistake possible, and that I am not thinking of any one person when I list things you shouldn't do. (No one out there should think I am talking about them, because I'm not. No embarrassment allowed. This means you.)

Yes: Follow your favorite authors on Facebook and twitter and their blogs. Feel free to respond to the things they post. Enjoy interacting if said author is responsive.

No: Please don't use authors responding to your messages as a jumping board for asking for personal favors. We have a lot of followers. We have a lot of responsibilities. I will never read something for someone I don't know, and I'm sure 99% of published authors are the same way. It's not personal, and it's not because I don't want to help. It's because a) I don't ever want to be liable should someone unpublished decide to claim I stole ideas/content/etc, and b) I simply don't have time. Once you begin saying yes, where do you draw the line and say no? It's easier for me to have a firm no policy to begin with. I try to find other ways to give back to the writing community, and I know most authors do as well.

If you are unpublished, do not try to make published authors your critique partners. I know it seems like all of my friends are published, but when I started not a single one of my crit partners had a book deal. We went through it together, and we are all better for it. To emphasize: I was not friends or crit partners with a single published author when I got my book deal. No one recommended me to my agent. I was slush all the way. Do connections hurt? Absolutely not. But please pursue them out of a desire to connect with someone rather than use them as a connection. No one likes to be used, it's very easy to tell when that's what's happening, and it rarely turns out well.

Also, please do not ever take a non-response from an author as an insult or a rejection. Every author manages their time differently, and everyone has different levels of responsiveness. It is never personal.

Kiersten Rookie Mistake: I totally asked an author with a book deal to read my query for my first book. And she said yes, and she was amazing, and I will always be grateful. So...guess I am a bad example here. Sometimes you might luck out. But it's definitely the exception, and you're better off not counting on connecting with an established author to help you navigate the murky waters of querying. (The query she helped me with wasn't even for the book that got me my agent.)

Yes: If you have an author or agent you admire, see if they keep a blog. Search their blog for advice about writing and publishing--most blogs have a search box that lets you plug in specific terms. If you are overwhelmed with how much information is out there (there is a LOT), start with Nathan Bransford's site. On his side bar under "Publishing Essentials" are links to the things you need to know to get started. He's clear, he's concise, and he's infinitely more helpful than I'll ever be.

No: Don't ask authors or agents for personal advice on how to get published. It's pretty much the same for everyone, and you can find that information very easily without taking up someone's personal time to tell you everything. Most authors and agents will simply direct you to a blog post or FAQ page you can find just as quickly on your own.

Fact of the matter is, they won't tell you anything new even if they do respond to your requests for personalized information. Don't use all of your time and creative energy trying to figure out the secret to getting published. The secret isn't a secret. The secret is: Write a good book. Edit it. Query. While you are querying, WRITE ANOTHER BOOK. You can't skip any of those steps. You may have to repeat those steps a couple (or more than a couple) times. But in the end there is no secret font, no secret formatting tricks, no secret handshakes that will get you a book deal. It doesn't matter who you know. It doesn't matter. The writing is always, always, always what it comes down to in the end.

Kiersten Rookie Mistake: I spent hours and hours (and hours and hours and hours) scouring writing websites and agent blogs trying to find an answer. The question I wanted answered was: How can I get published RIGHT NOW? And the answer (which I didn't find anywhere because I didn't know how to see it) was: YOU CAN'T RIGHT NOW, KIERSTEN. KEEP WRITING. I wish I could have those hours back to spend on actual writing instead of obsessing about publishing.

Yes: Make publishing a goal if it is important to you.

No: Don't let being published determine your worth as a writer. Always, always, always keep the love of writing first and foremost. If you let the pursuit of publication kill your love of writing, not even a book deal with salvage it. We write because we love to, because we need to. We pursue publication with this firmly in mind, knowing that even if it never happens our writing still has value.

Kiersten Rookie Mistake: I know it seems easy for me to say these things from the position I'm in now, but I have four books--completed books--that will never be published. And one of those is from after I got my first book deal. I have at least a dozen other started-but-stalled-out stories. Being published does not magically solve everything. Sometimes books and stories just don't work. I'm still glad I wrote all of them. Did realizing I'd failed at a book suck hardcore at the time? YES OH MY GOSH YES. Did I let myself get sad and frustrated? Absolutely. Deservedly so. Did I let it keep me from writing other books and telling myself that my writing was worthwhile? Nope. I kept going. I still keep going.

Ultimate Kiersten Rookie Mistakes: Thinking that being published was something I was entitled to simply because I finished writing a book. (I...started researching publishing the day I wrote the first page of my first novel. Yup. The gun? It was jumped.) Thinking that I was good enough with a first draft. Thinking that I wouldn't have to work and edit and learn and truly dedicate myself to writing as a craft if I really wanted to make a career out of it. Thinking that a rejection (at any level) meant it would never happen. Thinking that if it didn't happen with THIS BOOK it would never happen. Thinking that other people being successful before me (or being more successful than me) somehow stole my potential to also succeed.

Ultimate Kiersten Redemption: Not giving up and being willing to learn. Also I make really good cookies, which has nothing to do with writing but certainly helps with almost everything else in life.

I hope this was helpful. I hope it was encouraging. I love writing, and I love writers, and I think creating stories and worlds and characters is one of the most challenging and rewarding things we can do as creative people. I wish you the absolute best of luck in your writing, wherever you are in the process. Also I wish you a cookie. A really good one.

Monday, December 26, 2011

In Which I Keep Tradition Alive


Condition to the Universe/Wolfson Literary Tradition* = FULFILLED. Happy Holidays!

*Way back in the day, Tawna Fenske and I made a deal that if we got book deals, we'd dye a strip of our hair a funky color. Somehow this got extended to all of Michelle's clients, and even Michelle herself. Who am I to break a tradition I inadvertently started?

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Transformers: Snark of the Moon

Don't have three hours to watch the mind-numbing mind numbingness that is Transformers: Dark of the Moon? No worries! I've got the whole movie covered for you right here.

Giant Robots That Have Incredibly Advanced Technology They Can't Think of Anything Better to Do With Than Hang Out as Big Rigs and SUVs and Fire Trucks:

We are putting these metallic phallic-imagery devices all over the world to change it into Rusted Metal World. Physics need not apply, because we are above physics. We can change into cars, which clearly makes us the most advanced species in the universe. Anything that can change into cars can violate all laws of physics. But we still need a variety of stupid accents.

Good Giant Robots That Get Their Metal Butts Kicked Until the End of the Movie When Suddenly They Remember They Can Punch the Heads Off of the Robots Previously Winning:

No. There are only eight of us, but we will fight these hundreds of our Robot brothers to protect humans. Because...because...because...

Tiny Pervy Robots Who Hate Women:

COMEDIC RELIEF DISTRACTION!

Skeezy Guy Who Is Serving the Robots Taking Over the World and Killing Humanity Because That Always Works Out So Well, but Who Still Has a Soft Spot for the Victoria's Secret Model Doing Ads Through the Whole Movie:

They are putting those metallic phallic-imagery devices all over the world to change it into their world. Right there, where I am pointing. That's the MOST IMPORTANT PLACE. And they can change into cars, which clearly makes them the most advanced species in the world. But I hook them up, so they're not going to disintegrate me. Stick with me. Also stand still because the camera is going to do a long, panning shot of your body.

Victoria's Secret Model:

*ACTS*

Good Guys Who Can't Do Anything but Run and Hide in the Face of Giant Robot Attacks Except at the End of the Movie when Suddenly They Are Very Effective Fighters:

They are putting those metallic phallic-imagery devices all over the world to change it into their world. They can change into cars, which clearly makes them the most advanced species ever and we are totally screwed. Except for that kid from Even Stevens. He can probably fix all this.

Victoria's Secret Model:

Are we underestimating our audience's intelligence level by repeating every key "plot" point at least three times?

Michael Bay:

Who let the body talk?

Victoria's Secret Model:

Nevermind. I can see we are perfectly estimating our audience. Has anyone mentioned that they are putting those metallic phallic-imagery devices all over the world to change it into their world?

Even Stevens:

Guys! Everyone is questioning what the point is involving me in all of these Very Big Things! And they are right, I really have no purpose! But I'm going to run a lot and be flung through the air constantly to prove my worth! Can someone please fling me through the air now? I do my best acting when I'm being flung through the air!

Victoria's Secret Model:

I'll just stand here for my camera shots while everyone repeats the plan several times, in case the audience forgets that there, the tower, the one with light shooting up out of it, that is the target. The tower. With the light. And the phallic-imagery devices. In the tower. With the light. The one we need to blow up. And...POSE.

All of the Guys:

We will be given weapons and BLOW STUFF UP.

Victoria's Secret Model:

I will be given no weapons, but I will run. And scream. And be put in peril.

All of the Guys:

We will BLOW STUFF UP. And do some punching! WITH WEAPONS.

Boring Semi-Truck Robot:

I have lost my arm, which will trigger nightmares in parents everywhere, who understand just what a pain in the butt I am to put back together when my limbs pop off and their children start crying.

Victoria's Secret Model:

I will contribute by emasculating the Decrepit Robot who has a Piston Envy Complex, because girls can only fight back by using our sexuality to manipulate. It even works on Robots.

Michael Bay:

I am not a misogynist.

Audience:

Just shut up and blow everything up so the movie will be over already.

EVERYTHING BLOWS UP. A tattered flag waves, because nothing says PATRIOTISM like giant, all-powerful merchandising.

I mean robots.

The end.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

In Which I Have Lost My Way

I'll be honest. I did not spend the last month pondering my blog and the direction thereof. I did not spend it dreaming up new posts, thinking of fun features I could do. I did not spend it thinking about the blog much at all.

I spent it traveling, and with family. I spent it dealing with yet another personal loss. I spent it editing MIND GAMES and reading ENDLESSLY for what will probably be the last time to catch any last typos or words I want to change. I spent it losing myself in another imaginary world that may or may not ever be a book, and I don't care, because the point is the losing.

This blog has evolved over the years, and frankly I'm not sure what the next evolution should be. I always tried to leave off too many personal things, but lately it seems like everything I am thinking about or want to write about is too personal for an audience of thousands without the filter of a Main Character other than myself.

I used to talk about my struggles with infertility, but three-and-a-half years and four lost pregnancies later, I am too tired to even think about putting it out there in an effort to deal with it myself and maybe help other women deal. I remember the last time I did and someone emailed me actually questioning how I could claim to be infertile, implying I had no right. (I lost another pregnancy a week after that email. I have tried to forgive that person, remembering how much pain we all carry around with ourselves.)

I used to talk about what I was writing and working on, but I feel like I can't anymore. And not because I think people will steal my ideas (I could tell you my exact idea and you would write a completely different book--I know enough about writing now to know that). Because people get excited and attached to ideas, and then maybe that idea will never be published. Maybe I'll quit fifty pages in. Maybe it won't be right for publishing. Maybe it WILL be right for publishing, but I'll need to stay quiet about it because there are some parts of the process you don't talk about while they are happening.

I used to talk about writing in general. Advice, thoughts, that sort of thing. I've read enough on the internet to know that pretty much any topic I think to talk about has already been talked about--extensively--at great length--frequently more eloquent and thoughtful than I could ever manage. And I talked about those things because they were the questions I had, but I don't have those general questions anymore. Frankly, I know how publishing works. I understand the process and the ins-and-outs. I know how my own writing works. And I know now that the way my writing works is not the way your writing works nor should it be. The only questions I have now apply so specifically to myself and my own writing that there's no point in putting them here.

(I don't know who Frankly is, but I am addressing much of this post to him. I hope he doesn't mind.)

I worry about whining. I have so freaking much good fortune that I never, ever want to come across as ungrateful in any way, shape, or form. I worry about what other people take of my words and do with them. (I've had whole blog posts written about an "anonymous" author who was obviously me, that left me utterly shocked and bemused that someone could take my words and make me into a snide, sarcastic, unfeeling, evil monster. I am nothing if not feeling! The others, well.)

I worry about bragging. Again, please see "I have so freaking much good fortune." Sometimes I worry that I am bludgeoning the internets with all of the Good Things, because I choose to leave the Bad Things off.

I wonder at this strange, nebulous line between public and private. The more people pay attention to what I say and do, the more I want to retreat into myself and keep the private things even more private, and limit the public things even more. And it's not because people are mean. They aren't! People are awesome. It's because...I don't know how to put it. It's very, very weird to know that there are people out there who feel like they have a relationship with and know you, when you know nothing about them and never will. Obviously I have courted this to some extent, but it doesn't mean it doesn't bother me on a fundamental level. Not on my end--on the other person's. I'm sorry that I can't be for them the friend that they think I am/should be/could be.

I wish I could give more of myself to other people, but I feel the need to circle the wagons (and, apparently, I feel the need to use Old West metaphors). This blog has been a journey, and while I don't feel like I've reached a particular destination, I do feel like the course of the journey has been shifted and I no longer know exactly which gear to put the car in (we have moved on from Old West to manual car transmissions--which is a bad sign, because the only time I drove a stick I totaled it).

I've gone from hopeful aspiring writer, to frequently rejected and failed writer, to newbie author, to...now. I don't know what now is. And that's okay. I'm not giving up on the blog. I'm just not sure what it's going to evolve into. Nothing bothers me more than stagnation in my writing, and the blog is no exception. So, as always, thank you for reading. Thank you for caring. And thank you for your patience as I try to figure out just what the crap I am doing.

(It's been twenty-eight years so far. Still haven't figured it out. Let me know if you do.)