The Trouble with Having No Agent

       There’s the most obvious two troubles of not having an agent: 1) someone to offer revision suggestions to make your story stronger; and 2) someone to negotiate contracts for traditional publication, etc. But the biggest one to me (as least I think it would be, not quite knowing for sure since I don’t have an agent), is the time and focus bit.

       An agent often gives revision suggestions, then expect you to have it cleaned up and back to her in a timely fashion. The getting it back to her is the time factor. The focus part is not wandering off, thinking about or actually working on writing other stories. Once I was given a week to complete editorial revisions, this deadline was emailed to me the night before we left for a week’s vacation. And, yes, I did revised it.

       A couple days ago I spent several hours looking over some of my NaNoWriMo blabber file. I deleted many words, but got tired of the mess on my screen. I finally stopped and sat down with pen and paper to organize the plot, in three acts, with rising and falling tensions nicely placed.

       I hate this part of “writing.” I’d much rather just blabber away in raw writing on a rough draft. Blah, blah, blah. But after seeing the clutter I’ve write as rough drafts, I find myself wanting to start from the first word and rewrite the entire story. Perhaps I shall.

       But with no agent pressing me onward to complete revisions by a certain time, I’ve decided to stop, take a Christmas and family break until January, and then dive back in – with a plan! That is, as long as I don’t have the story of the next book waving flags through my brain cells demanding attention. BTW, I already have a pile of notes on that story, too.

Oh, agent! Where are you, I need someone to give me time constraints and focus.

Writing When You Don’t Wanna

This week I signed up with Book-in-a-Week to force me to be accountable to others about writing on my WIP. Each writer sends a page-goal for the week, and then every night participants report how many pages they’ve written, culminating on Sunday night with the total pages for the week.  Sometimes, without others saying, “How’s the writing going?” I can be quite lazy or find about anything else to write about or think about or do than work on my WIP. Even though I’ve not met any fellow BIWers face-to-face, it’s still a nice push to hold me accountable to produce something this week, or make me feel guilty if I didn’t reach my goal.

Mind you, some writing days flow like warm, sweet honey, during which I can crank out 2,000 words in a day with no problems. And then there are other days (like today) when getting 250 words, or one page, completed is a struggle. It’s not like I’m stuck in a plot problem. It’s not like I don’t know where the novel is going or what’s going to happen. I just don’t wanna work on it.

I suppose writing is a lot like dieting. Instead of losing pounds, you’re trying to gain word count. Dieters may put signs on refrigerators or keep written track of every single calorie intake. Writers also may put signs up, like sticky notes on computer screens or at the breakfast table. We can also record every single word written in one day to mark the progress.

Whatever method works for you — having other writers give you a push, putting up reminders for, or anything else — just write! So quit reading this, and guess what you’re supposed to be doing now?

A Writer’s Death. A Writer’s Vow.

A writer friend died this past Sunday. It’s rare these days that writers actually meet face-to-face (except at conferences), as writing, out of necessity, tends to be such a solitary activity in our busy lives. But writers bond, no matter our differences. Deb and I were in the monthly Black Hill Writers Group 10-20 years ago. I moved to Michigan. Later, she moved to be with family in Indiana. We’d both left “the group,” but now we were only five hours near to each other! We often wrote of getting together. We never did.

Deb and I didn’t write in the same genre, nor even for the same age group. We also had major differences of life opinion, but we still called each other “friend.” She, too, lived long enough to be a Grandma. She will be missed, both by her family and friends, and by the writing and reading community who knew her.

Besides just the life and death thing — making the most of our time on this earth before we haven’t any more — I can’t express how old I feel at the moment. As my parents aged, they’d hear of friends dying, friends they’d always intended to get together with one more time. Too late. Now, for the first time in my life, I relate. I see The Lion King song “The Circle of Life” relates not just to births, but also to deaths.

I write this post still numbed and raw from the news of Deb’s death, yet think for the millionth time wonder again why I am here and how can I best make use of my mortal life. As a Christian, I feel certain of my life after death. My death is not a worry for me. I’ll be sad for the sadness I’ll leave behind, but for me it’s merely a step from shadow through a doorway to clarity. My concern is more about what I do and say and think here in this time, in this body, on this earth. Unless we humans destroy each other, or a meteor puts a big bang into our planet, etc., I want to make my moments count. I’ll never be a great politician, nor famous for my work with poor or diseased or spiritually deprived, but I am a writer.  I can’t stop school shootings, nor planes crashing, but I can write. And writing goes beyond the grave.

This writer’s vow is not just to pound out word-counts, but each month to improve my craft so my words can relate smoothly to my readers. This writer’s vow is to maintain contact with and encourage other writers, both on-line and face-to-face. This writer’s vow is to be more observant of people and events around me and to deeply think about them so I can not only help, but someday perhaps write about them.

Live. Observe. Write.

What to do About Those Brain-Suckers

I’ve recently returned home from ten days of helping with twin newborn grandbabies and their three-year-old sister. What an honor to be there just the day they were born and able to help with the initial care of this beautiful, growing family. Also, getting to play with a pre-school-mind-sponge was tons of tiring fun.

I was so prepared for this out-of-state adventure. I’d taken several books and finger-puppets for kiddo, and my new laptop, two books to read, and three notebooks for different projects for me, as well as all my state tax information, for I fully intended to do some writing and reading and related business in my spare time.

Spare time? Oh, hahahahaha!

When I wasn’t playing, changing diapers, cuddling criers, sweeping, mopping, washing dishes and clothes, reading picture books, giving baths, braiding hair, acting out nursery rhymes with finger-puppets, fixing meals, cleaning the kitty litter, finding appropriate 3-year-old programs to watch, etc., I was so tired I simply could not think; that is, think creatively enough to put words down onto paper (or computer).

This brain-sucking reminds me of a man from church who had a heart attack. (Yes, this is relative to baby care.) When he was recovering at home, his wife asked him if he needed anything from the store. He answered, “Pampers.” They are in their 70’s. No babies needing Pampers in their house. So she pursued: “Why do we need Pampers?” “For the cat.” It took her a while to figure out he was searching for the words “kitty litter,” but the heart attack so affected his mind that finding the right word choice was difficult.

Today at the grocery store the clerk asked me if I wanted paper or plastic bags. I stared at her open-mouthed as if answering that question was like trying to calculate the distance between Mars and Jupiter in meters.

Medical conditions, emotional problems, or even the best of stress (like lapping up Grandma time) and being doggone tired does funny things to your mind and thought process and writing time.

Can you write during these times? Or better yet, should you write during these times?

Stepping back from those past ten days and slowly recovering (but willing to return in a heartbeat), I’ve realized three things:

1) Family always, always comes first;

2) No matter how idealistic it is to strive for the “write every day” banner, there are just going to be some life times when it’s not feasible to do so; and

3) Take a deep breath and give yourself a temporary guilt-free writing pass.

And now for a bit of grandparent awww:

A Grandparents & 1st day twins

Balancing Your Writer’s Life

Ah. Writing. There are so many ideas, so many characters, so much internal and external conflict to wrestle with. I love getting my thoughts down onto paper or up onto computer screen (and drives). It feels wonderful to accomplish such a feat with so many other non-writing-related activities pressing in all around.

Wouldn’t it just be grand if writing was all there was to a writer’s life?

But it’s not all there is.

Of course, there’s the mental struggling with plot and character, and the writing it all down (or typing it). Writing is a very romantic career, and I don’t limit that to genre. There’s so much more. There is research, and revisions, and critique groups, and more revisions, and more research. There’s setting the story aside to decide later it needs a full rewrite. And checking your story word for word for silly little errors. Then you must search what to do with your completed story — agent, editor, self-publish, alternate, or trash it.

When your story is published, of course, you go on to writing your next story. That’s a given. While that happens, you also must coddle your already published toddler.

What does this coddling entail? Updating your website, being “visible” on social media sites, printing business cards for live encounters. There are book signings, speaking engagements, and follow-up, including evaluations, to all. To each of these coddling suggestions, I could write chapters.

My mantra has always been that family comes first. That said, it’s often difficult to find time to write when you have babies to care for, toddlers, work which pays bills, school activities, church activities, social activities, house, yard, etc. Surely, there are at least 33 hours in any given day, right? And who needs sleep? Yet, somehow, the writing bug wiggles deeply into people who work and have families and family activities.

Family always comes first, which means sometimes writing must be put on hold.

Writing demands discipline. You can finish stories one sentence at a time, or as Anne Lamott puts it, bird by bird–writing during your children’s nap times, and then compartmentalize it while you focus on other aspects of life, like your kids.

Discipline is also required for all the published book coddling. Organization of sales for tax purposes, keeping track of  your PayPal account with their automatic withdrawals, remembering to update your domain name each year (or every third), contacting places to speak, putting together talks and PowerPoint presentations for the various requests, making your author name and book title visible both on social media and face-to-face, advertising, press releases, media kits, updating everything and often…

Is there no end to what an author today must do?

The short answer is no. So prioritize your time and what needs to be done. Focus. Be a disciplined person. Write. Market and promote. But most of all, hug and spend time with your loved ones.

Write Every Day… or Take a Guilt-Free Sabbatical

Literature Blogs

I’ve done it… for the most part… write every day. I don’t always write on my WIP, but I do write every day. Still, somehow this advice always gnawed at me. Perhaps it is my Unorganized-Organized lifestyle. I’m excellent at organization. Seriously. However, my time-attention-span limits my interest. Like cramming the night before for a college exam, I can go full steam to finish a rough draft of a novel, or revise one, or put together a talk, or send postal letters to people.  But always, I have several (writing) projects going on at various stages of completion (with some “completed” until editor or agent tells me otherwise).

So, because of various reasons, I recently found myself on a writing sabbatical. I didn’t even keep up with my blogs. (Shame on me… or not.)

Two months ago, a critique partner from long ago encouraged me to submit one of my Sitting-Till-I’m-Motivated-To-Again-Send-Out novels. I could see her wisdom of timing, and of her faith in me. I thought about it. But I still didn’t write (nor rewrite, nor revise, nor even pick the novel up for a peek). Then, last Monday another writing friend emailed me about an on-line agent contest that day — to sub the first 250 words of your finished MG or YA novel. I subbed the first page of this written-a-while-ago story. It was only after I pressed the send button that I looked at my novel’s word count — about half what is expected for a YA. Completed novel? YIKES! I figured I’d best break out of my sabbatical.

On Monday, I printed off the novel. I looked over notes from previous critiques. I dug out my research notes. I did some more research on line. I made a list of characters and their connections to each other, along with biographies. (<– Although I do that now with my stories, back then I just did research and wrote the story.)  And while I was doing all this, I realized that not only was the story actually pretty good, but I also got very excited about it. My mind was churning. Thinking. Thinking. Thinking.

On Tuesday, I wrote an additional 1,100 words, all of which brought up a very interesting plot twist. (The original story now seemed bland without this addition.)

Today, I wrote another 1,600 words, including some revisions, and it’s not even noon.

I still have some more words to write to bring up that word count, but I’m hoping to have that done by the end of this week.

My writing sabbatical is over. I’m not only interested and excited about my story, I’ve set myself manageable goals to get it done. I don’t know if Monday’s on-line agent contest will produce any interest for a contract, but in a few days this story will be hot.  Was my sabbatical worth it? You bet! I’m tackling this project with an enthusiasm I’ve lacked for a while. Plus, that enthusiasm overflows into other aspects of my life.

My advice: It is okay to take a guilt-free sabbatical. Yes, write every day. Yet, there are times when you need to step back in order to go forward.

How Much Social Networking?

Literature Blogs

Admittedly, I’ve been too busy lately to keep up with others’ blogs. I struggle just with planning out my AAA — Aggressive April Attack  with daily humor posts & writing daily poems & revising a novel). I’ve resorted to turning Darcy’s Fiction Notes into a weekly message since I was not getting around to reading so many of her posts. As much as I bow down to Darcy’s wisdom and writing advise, lately, I don’t even read those grouped posts. Today, I read a couple of her most recent ones — one was on social networking. She said to start small. Here were some of her suggestions of setting small goals: Make a goal of 10 comments a day. (Or do similarly on Facebook, posting daily and liking 10 things daily. Or new video daily and 10 comments on others. Or Tweet once a day and message 10 others.)
 

So… I didn’t comment or read anything more. It was just too daunting for this writer. Maybe I’m just unique that it takes me L.O.N.G. to write out even the simplest response (like this), because it gets me thinking, because it stirs a response, because I want to word my response well. You see, I’d rather spend more of my valuable writing time actually writing or researching or revising or submitting than responding to posts. Sure, doing what Darcy says gets your name noticed, published or not, and I love her gumption and challenges, and marketing (getting your name out there) is definitely a related topic. Responding to her post here on my blog has taken writing thought time. Off to write a poem and revise some more.