Since we are rapidly approaching the holidays, I’ve decided to take a little break from The Literary Mom, so I can spend some time with my family, finish critiquing a manuscript, and revise and get my own YA manuscript ready to submit as well. I know everyone is super busy with the holidays and probably won’t have a lot of time to spend reading blogs, so I would love to know; when do you think I should resume my posting schedule? Let me know!
Sorry I’m late posting today! My sister and parents came to visit and ended up staying longer then I expected. Then, my son didn’t fall asleep until after two last night, and then still work up several times. We all ended up sleeping until 11:30 this morning, which is the latest my son has ever slept. I literally have not slept that late in over three years!
Anyway, at one point during the night, my son woke me up in the middle of a dream. I don’t know about you, but I am lucky enough to have full, cinematic dreams. Last night’s was an urban fantasy, cast with famous movie actors! It’s one of the best ideas I’ve had in a long time, and I can’t wait to start writing it. So, despite the fact that it was 4 in the morning, and really, really cold in the house, I got up out of bed and wrote the whole idea down. I was thanking myself this morning, because I could hardly remember it in the hard glare of late morning sunlight! Here are some tips for getting (and remembering) ideas for your fiction.
1. Keep a pad of paper and pen by your bed so you can write down ideas from dreams, or ideas you get while in that fuzzy space between being awake and asleep. I get TONS of my ideas from that magical time!
2. If you absolutely cannot drag yourself from bed, then make up a mnemonic device to remember your idea. You remember those from school, don’t you? Say I have an idea about fairies attacking Brooklyn. I might make up a mnemonic device like this “farts and burps.” Yeah, it’s not pretty, but you want something you’ll remember in the morning. That’s why I don’t use just the letters, like “roy g biv” for the colors of the rainbow. They’re just too hard to remember.
3. If an issue is really bothering you, try to think up a story about it. Say you’re really mad about the worker’s right to form unions being stripped from them by your state’s government. You might decide to write a story where fairies are enslaved and forced to work in a factory, manufacturing fairy dust until the magic of their souls is drained. Then, one of the fairies might start a revolt, leading to the unionization of fairies to demand better rights. (Not my best idea, but I needed an example!) Lots of my story ideas revolve around things that happen in my life that really make me angry.
4. Play the “what if” game. Take a good piece of diaologue, or a spark of a character, or a vibrant snippet of setting, and just keep asking “what if” questions. What if she had a physical deformity no one could see? What if the land in the story had its own magical powers? What if she fell in love, and then her true love betrayed her? You get the idea.
5. Once you have a character, just ask yourself what you would like to see happen in a story about her. Write the story you’d like to read. DO NOT write something because you think it will sell well, or because you think editors will buy it. I’ll say it again, because it is so important; write the story you’d like to read.
6. Say you read a novel by someone else, and you really liked the premise of the novel, but not the direction in which he took it. Feel free to write your own story, taking the premise in the new direction. Fairy tales are especially good for this; how many retellings of Beauty and the Beast are there out there? (I like Rose Daughter and Beauty, both by Robin McKinley. They’re the absolute best!) Make sure you make it different enough so it is YOUR OWN story. DO not plagiarize.
If you want to write fiction, then there is one thing I would recommend you have above all others, one thing that is truly a magic wand that will improve our writing more then anything else: a good grammar guide.
A good grammar guide is really indispensable. If you can manage to read and learn most of the basic rules, you’ll be head-and-shoulders above everybody else. Agents and editors might say that they don’t care about a typo here or there, but that’s really all they mean. A typo or two and few grammatical errors; that’s about it. If your writing is riddled with grammatical errors, it becomes basically unreadable to editors and agents, and they immediately stop reading it, unless you’re an extremely famous celebrity!
So here are some basic style and grammar guides, the best of the best. I highly recommend that you get one and familiarize yourself with the rules. There really isn’t any excuse not too!
The Elements of Style by William Strunk (Author), E. B. White (Author), Roger Angell
The Chicago Manual of Style: The Essential Guide for Writers, Editors, and Publishers Chicago Editorial Staff
The Gregg Reference Manual: A Manual of Style, Grammar, Usage, and Formatting Tribute Edition by William A. Sabin
The St. Martin’s Handbook by Andrea A. Lunsford
Well, it’s time again for Harlequin’s big yearly contest. Contestants submit a full manuscript and first prize is a publishing contract. I just submitted my entry yesterday, after a lot of good help from my new critique partner. The winner(s) will be announced sometime around February 14th, which is appropriate, since it’s a romance manuscript contest!
I’m not expecting too much. Unfortunately, I didn’t follow my own advice from the other day. I don’t know if I stayed in the box well enough. I entered the Romantic Suspense division, but there isn’t much of a mystery, more a “Woman in Jeopardy” plotline, which they do say they accept… I don’t know. I’ve got my fingers crossed! There’s no harm in entering, but I’m not going to hold my breath!
Writing is kind of an odd profession. You have to work and work for months or years (which is my case! I started writing seriously in 2008, with about six months off when I had my son) and there is no guarantee you’ll ever get anywhere with it. And every time you send something to a contest, or an agent, or a publisher, you get to hope that maybe this time will be the time. Maybe this time you’ll get noticed, or even get some sort of encouragement.
So far, I’ve only had detailed rejection letters, and two full manuscript requests from agents, which ultimately resulted in rejections. This was encouraging, but it was way back in May. I haven’t had anything encouraging happen since, and it’s hard not to feel discouraged, like I’m trying to move a mountain, one grain of sand at a time.
Due to my recent rejection, I decided to re-post this article I wrote shortly after the New Voices contest ended. Enjoy!
Not making the top twenty of The Mills and Boon New Voices contest has gotten me thinking about rejection. Rejection and criticism are a part of being a writer. I bet there isn’t a single writer out there that hasn’t gotten some rejection or criticism of their work at some point in time. The question is, how do you handle the rejection and what can you get out of it?
There are all sorts of rejection, some more helpful then others. The least helpful kind of rejection is the dreaded form rejection. For my YA novel I got over 50 form rejections, a handful of personalized rejections with some words of encouragement, and two full manuscript requests. Several form rejections might not mean anything. Maybe you targeted an agent that doesn’t represent your genre. Maybe they don’t have room for more clients. Lots of form rejections tells you there is something wrong with your manuscript, query letter, or both.
For my romance novel, I received a long letter full of comments from the editor. She told me what she liked about my writing and what she didn’t. These letters are rarer. Usually the editor or agent sends one because they feel you have promise as a writer. You definitely want to take that sort of criticism to heart because they’re probably right.
The criticism I got from fellow writers during the New Voices contest is more iffy. Some of them were genuinely being helpful and had good suggestions. Some of them were genuinely trying to be helpful, but had bad suggestions. Some of them were just being catty and mean. So what’s a writer to do?
First of all, keep an open mind as you read their critiques. Really try to see where they’re coming from and if their comments have any merit. If several people say the same thing, there is probably a kernel of truth to it. If only one person criticizes a specific part of your work, and you feel it might not be true, then maybe it isn’t. It’s up to you to use your best judgment. After all, it’s your work, no one else’s.
Rejection and criticism always hurts. Always. It’s like someone telling you your baby is ugly. You never get over it. After a while, you develop a thicker skin and it’s easier to take, but it will always be painful. My best advice to all aspiring writers is this: learn to take rejection and criticism gracefully. Don’t fire off an angry email to the agent or editor telling them they don’t know what they’re doing. Don’t tell the Mills and Boon people that they wouldn’t know new and exciting writing if it bit them in the butt. Keep your dignity. Remember, writing is a profession, so be professional. No one wants to work with an angry, vengeful person!
Many times, when you sit down to write a novel, there are certain guidelines you must stay within if you are targeting a certain publisher. The same goes for certain genres. Mainstream romances always have a happy ending. In thrillers, the good guys always prevail. If you write a book that you can describe as a space adventure/murder mystery/romance, you’re going to have a hard time selling it, mainly because bookstore wouldn’t know how to promote it. Where would they shelve it? Who would the target audience be?
I’ve been talking about the idea of “writing within the box” with several people lately, one of whom is my new critique partner. (Yes! I found one! And she’s terrific!) We both have written manuscript that are intended for Harlequin. Harlequin is the leading romance publisher in the country, with both category and single title romances. Their category romances have some of the most stringent guidelines I have ever come across.
Someone else I know, who shall remain nameless, asked me recently if having to write within such strict guidelines made me feel like what I was writing wasn’t art. I was shocked and a little hurt. (Don’t worry, I’m not mad!) Just because there are certain guidelines you have to stay within doesn’t make it any less hard to write. It’s not like they hand you a plot and a list of characters and say, “Here, you must write this, exactly this way.” You still have to use your creativity to come up with a moving plot, believable characters, and increasing tension.
I know she was wondering why I would write within the box. Sometimes, I don’t want to, which is why I also write single titles and YA. But to me, as a writer AND as a reader, there is something comforting about picking up a book and knowing that love will prevail at the end, even before I start. Knowing the bad guy will get caught, no matter how scary the beginning. Knowing that the regency era heroine will dance at the ball and catch the eye of the man she will soon come to love. If you like to read within the box, then don’t be afraid to write within the box. It’s still a wonderful, creative adventure. Enjoy the ride!