Monday, June 28, 2010

Best of the Best – The Writing Blogosphere’s Major Players

In my first Best of the Best post, I tackled agent blogs, but this time around I’ve focused on writing websites that consistently provide essential information, advice, and inspiration for writers at all levels. Upcoming Best of the Best posts will focus on YA, Science Fiction, and Romance resources, so stay tuned.

The sites I’ve compiled here (in alphabetical order) are all ones that I follow regularly and are highly visible in the writing world. If you aren’t paying attention to them, you are truly missing out.

Author, Jody Hedlund [] - Represented by Rachelle Gardner, Jody Hedlund (@JodyHedlund) writes inspirational historical romance, but her blog is a great example of how to build an author platform before the release of your novels. Her posts offer great insights into the writing life, craft, and the publishing process. Also be sure to check out her helpful Character Worksheet.

Guide to Literary Agents [] - Editor of Writer Digest’s annual Guide to Literary Agents, Chuck Sambuchino (@ChuckSambuchino) posts essential information about the publishing process. Series like New Agent Alert, Agent Advice, How I Got My Agent, and the newer 7 Things I’ve Learned So Far are hugely informative for those of you seriously pursuing publication.

Miss Snark's First Victim [] - Authoress (@AuthoressAnon), a self-proclaimed victim of the now-defunct Miss Snark, has created a supportive space for aspiring writers through her blog. Monthly Secret Agent Contests – where an unnamed, rotating agent chairs a contest for the best opening – are the biggest highlight, along with smaller contests where people can submit their work and be assured of honest, usually constructive feedback. A must, especially if you are writing YA, MG, SF/F, or Woman’s Fiction.

Mystery Writing is Murder [] - Elizabeth Spann Craig (@elizabethscraig), unsurprisingly, writes mysteries, and her blog is a wonderful resource for writers at all levels. She provides practical writing advice, poses thoughtful questions about the writing process, and keeps tabs on what’s going on in the writing blogosphere thanks to her twitter updates and a weekly roundup – her series of posts labeled “Twitterific.” Follow her and stay informed.

Plot to Punctuation [] - Freelance editor Jason Black (@p2p_editor) blogs primarily about the nuances of character development, in an in-depth, thought-provoking manner. If you struggle in bringing your characters to life, like I do, you should keep an eye on this blog. Black’s not as prolific as other bloggers, but the quality content is worth the wait.

The Bookshelf Muse [] - Angela Ackerman (@AngelaAckerman) writes kid lit of all kinds, but the true value of her blog is the Emotion Thesaurus, where she provides a list of actions that show (not tell) a character experiencing that emotion. She also has thesaurus posts on setting and color, texture, and shape. Also, be sure to check out her recent compilation of writing blogs you can't live without.

There Are No Rules [] - Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) is the Strategic Director for Writer’s Digest, and her blog delves into publishing trends that authors need to stay abreast of. As her blog title’s suggests, Friedman believes there are no rules anymore when it comes to publishing because of the rise of digital media. Her take on issues can be controversial and run counter to traditional publishing models, but if you want to succeed in the ever-changing publishing landscape, you should at least be aware of what she has to say.

Wordplay [] - A writer of historical fiction, K. M. Weiland (@KMWeiland) blogs about craft and the writing life. Her posts are informative and thoughtful, and she also has a video series exploring a specific aspect of writing each week. Be sure to download her free ebook Crafting Unforgettable Characters.

Writer Unboxed [] - One of Writer's Digest 101 Best Websites since 2007 (and for good reason), Writer Unboxed provides posts full of inspiration and tips on a near daily basis from writing professionals from a variety of backgrounds. The Writer Unboxed bloggers also post author interviews, highlighting different writing journeys.

If you have across other writing websites that provide essential information and quality content related to craft and business of writing, please share in the comments. Thanks!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Tunnel Vision

Every so often I’ll get so involved in a project, everything else falls by the wayside. This usually happens when I’m in the midst of a first draft. I’m so excited to see my ideas come to fruition, that’s all I can think about. As if I must purge myself of every idea, image, or word before I can resume my regularly scheduled programming.

I feel like I’m in one of these states right now. There’s just one small problem – I’m not writing anything.

Well, that’s a bit of a white lie. I wrote this post, didn’t I? I responded to two prompts in writing group last night and I spent this morning crafting feedback for my critique group. So I am writing. I’m just not working on any of my WIPs. At least not directly.

I’m not suffering from writer’s block. Nor am I procrastinating. Instead, I find myself in a state of mental preparation where I’m gathering information, assessing my work, and thinking everything over in extreme detail. And all of this is in anticipation of submitting my entry into the Golden Rose contest – the first 50 pages of my historical romance novel.

The feedback from my first and only rejection for this project is also rolling around in the back of my mind. In fact, ever since I roughed out a plan of action in my last post, that’s all I’ve been able to think about. Last week I was all about exorcizing the demons out of my SF novel. But once I started thinking about my historical romance novel - that I'm-so-close-I-can-taste-it feeling - that was the beginning of the end.

This tunnel vision has led to me reading Jessica Page Morrell’s Between the Lines while watching World Cup matches on ABC this weekend. Next on the list are a handful of romances in my time period that I’ve already read once through already. When I’m not reading, I find myself replaying scenes from my novel in my head like reruns on TV as I search for ways to strengthen, deepen, and intensify each moment. (For those of you interested, there’s a post at Diary of a Virgin Novelist that discusses how this can be a great way to review your work.)

I also worry that I’m so enamored with finishing my novel, I’m settling for less than perfect prose – writing that’s competent but still a bit complacent. I certainly don’t want that. So I’ll revise again, armed with Browne and King’s Self-Editing for Fiction Writers as the final step before I submit.

Jody Hedlund blogged about how she hired an editor to revise her already-under-contract book. This seems to be an extreme measure, but it comes from a good place: the desire to write the best book possible. And that’s where I’m at now. I want to do my very best. I want to succeed.

But that also means coping with tunnel vision for the next few weeks while I revise my book to the best of my ability (again). But the in-depth thinking, while distracting, isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s preparing me for tacking revisions – revisions I’m still getting comfortable with making.

How do you psych yourself up for doing what’s necessary for your WIP?

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Back to the Drawing Board

 (This is normal, right?)

I received a lot of support after my post “Acknowledging My Fears of Submission.” Many commenters were very familiar with the fear of sending your work off to agentland. But, overwhelmingly, they encouraged me to push through that fear and get over my reluctance. I would be better for it. I would learn. And eventually I would succeed. In theory.

So I did. Well, I tried. And it worked. Umm, maybe?

I sent out a query. Two, actually. To two agents actively seeking romance projects. One had just opened her inbox to queries after a lengthy hiatus and the other was doing a big push for romance submissions. I couldn’t ignore either opportunity, even though the timing wasn’t ideal. But when is it ever? So carpe diem and all that. The one agent had been recommended to me by awesome Editor X, and the other was a part of a highly respected agency. How could I not query? So I clicked ‘Send.’ Twice. Both queries sent within a week of each other.

Small Victory #1 – Bluestocking is ready to play with the big girls.

While I’m still waiting to hear one way or another from the one agent, the other requested pages right away. Whoa.

Small Victory #2 – Bluestocking’s query doesn’t suck.

So I sent off the requested partial and allowed myself a few hours of unadulterated delusions of grandeur (a bad habit of mine after small victories). And then, just before bed that night, it happened. The inevitable rejection.

BUT, it wasn’t a ‘Thanks, but no thanks’ form rejection. It was personalized; it was tailored – just for me. And even though some parts stung (a lot), it was clear from the agent’s note that some aspects of the novel worked.

Small Victory #3 – Bluestocking’s work is strong enough to merit a personalized rejection.

I read Rachelle Gardner’s post on “Dealing with Contradictory Feedback” earlier this week, which talked about how to weigh different types of feedback. Juliette Wade has also tackled this issue in the past. I know I can’t just brush off the rejection and turn a blind eye to the comments I received. This agent is a professional who evaluates stories on a daily basis. But I don’t want to risk making changes that are reactionary and not well thought out or serve only the person who’s already passed on the project. Plus I know how subjective writing can be. Maybe some other agent will like the story as it stands. I can hope.

But I think what I’m struggling with the most is that I just don’t have enough information right now to decide the best way to proceed. I need a bigger sample, and I don't mean my critique group. I need to earn a few more rejections to see if this particular agent’s response is on target with others. If the same issues with my work keep cropping up, that would certainly signal the need for a major overhaul. But at this moment, I just don’t know.

So where does this leave me? I know I’ll be getting a critique back on the novel thanks to a contest I entered back in early May. Editor X is still out there with my full somewhere in her reading queue. And then there’s that other agent with my query sitting in her inbox. Hopefully the accumulation of responses from these various sources will suggest a course of action I should take with my work.

And I’m going to stack the deck in my favor too. I recently found out about the Golden Rose, a contest put on by the Rose City Romance Writers out of Portland, Oregon, and plan to enter my first 50 pages. The nice thing about this contest is that the scoring sheets are returned in time for me to tweak my entry for the RWA’s Golden Heart, which I’ve been thinking about entering as well.

I’m also going to take a hard look at my novel and dig out some of my craft books I thought I was done with (for this particular project), and see what I can do to strengthen my work. 

Small Victory #4 – Bluestocking is not going to give up.

I know I have a lot to be thankful for – confirmation my query can capture interest, professional and pointed feedback, and a completed MS I’m still proud of. But even with all these small victories under my belt, I feel like I’m going back the drawing board.

I just have to remember how far I’ve come since this time last year. Onward!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Best of the Best - Agent Blogs

Agent Blogs are a great way to stalk possible agents and get a feel for their likes and dislikes. Plus invaluable information on the submission and publication process abounds on many of these sites. With the resources listed below (in no particular order), there are no more excuses for not understanding how the industry works.

Dystel & Goderich Literary Management [] – D&G’s stable of agents take turns blogging about publishing issues. The agency is interested in a wide variety of commercial, literary, and nonfiction titles.

Getting Past the Gatekeeper [] – An anonymous agent, repping YA and select nonfiction, blogs about author-agent communication and manners and provides a great sense of what it’s like working for a boutique literary agency in New York.

Janet Reid, Literary Agent [] – Of FinePrint Literary Management, Ms. Reid provides frank submission and publishing advice. [] – Agent Mary Kole with the Andrea Brown Literary Agency provides frank advice on picture book, middle grade, and young adult publishing (most of which can be applied to other genres). She also did a series of novel beginning critiques in January 2010 - definitely worth a look.

Nathan Bransford – Literary Agent [] – If you don’t know who Mr. Bransford is, you must remedy this immediately. An author himself, he provides tons of submission advice, just started a new series called Page Critique Monday, and is increasingly recognized as a digital publishing futurist thanks to opinion pieces over at the Huffington Post.

Miss Snark [] – Now defunct, the blog still has a vast amount of advice buried in its archives. In particular, check out her posts labeled 'Crapometer' to see if various hopefuls' hooks, queries, first pages make her cut.

Pub Rants [] – This is another must. Agent Kristen Nelson of Nelson Literary provides oodles of manuscript submission advice and does a great job of deconstructing publishing contracts, which you don't see a lot of on other agent blogs.

Rachelle Gardner, Literary Agent [] – An agent for WordServe Literary. Although she reps primarily Christian fiction and nonfiction projects, Ms. Gardner’s posts offer great advice and inspiration for writers of all stripes.

My criteria included agents I regularly follow and who's posts are consistently useful and interesting. But I KNOW there are more out there, so who have I missed? I will be posting this and other notable writing websites (as I get to them) in the "Writing Resources" sidebar. So stay tuned!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Exorcizing Demons

You may recall from my list of WIPs in my post “How Do You Prioritize Your Writing?” I recently completed the first draft of a science fiction novel.

It’s SF in the sense that the story’s set in the future. There’s no space or time travel, no aliens, no cyborgs. There are advances in technology, of course, but not to the extent you see in other works. The story is not apocalyptic, dystopian, or steampunk. It is simply a story, set in the future, where a new technological development has cultural and political ramifications. It sounds kinda dry when I say it like that – but it’s not, I swear! But needless to say, I’m still a long way from having a logline for this story.

I ripped through the first draft in record time (for me). But after letting the story sit and having my husband (and beta reader in disguise) look it over, I realized what I had written was a far cry from what I had originally envisioned. Not unsalvageable, mind you, but definitely different.

Oh, and I should mention the demons… The demons that have completely taken over my manuscript.

For starters, I did not intend to write a story with overt political overtones. In the beginning, I saw the story as a “simple” caper set in the future. But as I started digging deeper into this future of my creation, the politics became harder and harder to escape.

Then there was the pesky dynamic that crept up between my two lead (POV) characters. A romantic subplot that is admittedly not well executed. When I was drafting, I let the story happen as organically as possible. I had a general understanding of the where I wanted the plot to go, but there was a lot of leeway – hence the over-the-top romantic arc I have to deal with now. Think cheesy. Think cringe-worthy. After reading the draft, my husband had to ask if I was writing a romance set in the future or an actual SF novel. Ouch.

In my defense, I think all the mushy stuff was a carryover from my work on my recently completed historical romance novel, but that’s no longer a viable excuse. Nope. Now is the time to exorcize all the demons from my manuscript. It’s time to revise. This is hardcore.

First up, I must minimize the romantic overtones. I don’t mind the characters getting together, but I want their romance to be understated and complement the rest of the novel – not take it over entirely. Next, given the political thrust of the story, I need to add another POV character as a political foil to my two leads that provides another perspective. This will help with worldbuilding and hopefully pull some of the attention away from the romantic subplot. Since I also have a third-act, one-dimensional villain, I’ve chosen him as my third POV character to make him more sympathetic and justify his actions.

All these changes are going to take a lot of work. Adding roughly another third of content and reworking the material I already have. But it will be worth it. With the demons gone, the story can only get stronger.

Demons, begone! How do you banish your demons from a WIP?

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Endings and Exquisite Corspes

For a change of pace, this past weekend my writing group decided to hold a daylong retreat in lieu of our weekly Monday meeting. So on Sunday, we met from noon to 5:30pm to write, to socialize, and to eat all the goodies each member contributed to the extravaganza.

In addition to our normal prompts, we did an exquisite corpse as our final exercise of the day. I had never done one of these before and was eager to see how it would work. Everyone was given a sheet of paper and the timer was set for five minutes. Then we wrote the start to a story. When the timer went off, we handed our sheet to the person on our right, with all but the last sentence covered up. Then the timer was reset, and we had to write for another five minutes, picking up where the person before us left off.

We did this seven times – one turn for each person in the room. And as we went along, it became increasingly difficult to make sense of the previous sentence and write coherently for five minutes.

Now, since this was the last prompt of the day, our fatigue from writing for hours is one explanation. However, I’d like to think we were experiencing the phenomenon where the more progress you make with a story, the fewer the possible outcomes. As the sheets got passed around the room, and more of each story was written, it became harder to add on. Each story was demanding to be written in an increasingly limited direction, except the writers could not know all the variables that were hidden from view and respond accordingly. So we did our best, often resulting in much amusement and confusion when we got around to reading all the stories aloud at the end.

But the experience reminded me of a quote from Ursula K. Le Guin:
Whatever language we speak, before we begin a sentence we have an almost infinite choice of words to use. A, The, They, Whereas, Having, Then, To, Bison, Ignorant, Since, Winnemucca, In, It, As . . . Any word of the immense vocabulary of English may begin an English sentence. As we speak or write the sentence, each word influences the choice of the next ― its syntactical function as noun, verb, adjective, etc., its person and number if a pronoun, its tense and number as a verb, etc., etc. And as the sentence goes on, the choices narrow, until the last word may very likely be the only one we can use. (2003, Changing Planes, p.167)
There’s always a point I reach in crafting a story where I know there’s only one direction I can take a piece, even if I’m not certain of the specifics just yet. Sometimes what needs to happen in my stories is obvious right away. In others, it can take days or weeks until the proper way to proceed is apparent. In those situations, I need to listen to what my story is saying to me. I need to identify the trajectory I’ve unknowingly hit upon and see it through.

The story can lead the writer to the right ending just as often as the writer can steer the story in a certain direction. Just remember to listen to what your words are telling you.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Resource Roundup Part 2 – Conjuring Up Titles

This is the second installment of my Resource Roundup series, where I explore various writing topics and assemble a list of resources, tips, and tricks to help writers tackling such issues in their work. Part One identified resources to help you find the right word. This time around, I’m focusing on titles.

Titles are often one of the last pieces that falls into place when I’m working on a story. Occasionally, I’ll have a title in mind before I even start writing, but such serendipitous moments are few and far between for me. So, here are some tips and resources to help you identify your next project’s title.

Quotations and Allusions

Sometimes its better to let someone else do the heavy lifting when it comes to your story’s title. Maybe there’s a quote or literary reference floating around somewhere that perfectly encapsulates your story. Or better yet, you can commandeer one of these highbrow references and add your own spin to it by swapping in a word relevant to your story.

If you are looking for quotes, check out the searchable Bartlett's Familiar Quotations to search by author, work, or keyword.

A whole host of literary works including the Bible or Shakespeare’s plays can be found and searched over at Project Gutenberg.

And if you’re a fan of pop culture, maybe song lyrics could give you some inspiration. allows you to search by artist and song title while The Music Lyrics Database also features a song full text search.

First Lines and Last Lines

In What If? Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers the authors say “A title is the first thing a reader encounters, and the first clue to both initial meaning and final meaning of the story” (Bernays & Painter, 1990, p. 133).

If your title can harness the content of your first or last lines (or vice versa), it can go a long way to making your story resonate with your readers. So take a look at those sentences and see what you find.

James Scott Bell in Plot and Structure says to “[t]ake first lines from novels and make up a title. Dean Koontz’s Midnight begins, “Janice Capshaw liked to run at night.” What might you do with that? Perhaps something like these: She Runs by Night. The Night Runner. Runner of Darkness. Night Run,” (2004, p.39).

You can do the same thing with your last sentence. And if there’s nothing strong enough in either your first or last sentence that suggests a title, you may want to think hard about those lines and decide whether they’re doing as much as they could be.

Poignant Moments and Theme

Another place to look for title inspiration is at the climactic or emotionally resonant points of your story. Is there some image or turn of phrase that you can use as your title? What’s nice about these titles, is that I often want to keep reading, if only to figure out the intention of the title. Peace Like a River and The Left Hand of Darkness are good examples of this.

Story Subjects and Proper Nouns

This is pretty easy. Think of all the stories out there named after a character: Jane Eyre, Emma, The History of Tom Jones, Coraline, Harry Potter etc. But there are just as many stories that reference the main character of their story indirectly: Interpreter of Maladies, Wizard of Earthsea, The Windup Girl, The Handmaid’s Tale, The Hobbit. Or an object the characters want: The Golden Compass or The House of Sand and Fog.

Take a look at your characters – their names and identities. Make a list of the places in your story. What are the objects or things people are searching for throughout your story?

Word Frequencies

Sometimes, no matter what you do, you may not be able to put into words what your story is about. That’s why this title business is so hard. If nothing is apparent, you can try to see what emerges when you look at the words you use most frequently.

On May 27, 2010, I came across the following on Twitter:
@4KidLit: A great use of word clouds! RT @AngelaAckerman: I bet using Wordle on your book content might yield title ideas....
(PS - You should be following both already!)

And Ackerman is absolutely right. Wordle is free online tool that allows you to generate word clouds based on the frequencies of words found in your story. Simply select all and paste your text into the Wordle form and click ‘Go.’ The resulting word cloud may surprise you and lead you to new title possibilities.

Comparison Titles

Titles, particularly for commercial fiction, often provide potential readers some indication of what genre the story falls in. You should already have an idea of the other stories in your area if you are at the querying stage. But it wouldn’t hurt to take another look at their titles and see how your’s fits in. Or if you haven’t come up with a title yet, look at comparison titles and take notes.

Amazon’s Listmania or Library Thing are good resources to identify lists of works that are closely related to your story.

Other Tips

Journaling Woman’s recent post Title Attraction  rounds up advice from blog-o-verse big wigs like C. Patrick Schulze, Rachelle Gardener, and Elizabeth Span Craig.

According to Dorchester Publishing Editor Leah Hultenschmidt, a good title will:
  • Indicate the genre
  • Give a sense of the tone
  • Provide continuity for similar/series titles
  • Intrigue the reader
John Floyd’s article Choosing the Right Name for Your Story provides a great overview of the title creation process and what rules of thumb a title should follow: easy to remember, appropriate for your work, and not dull. He also includes a taxonomy of different types of titles.

Writer’s Digest’s 7 Tips to Land The Perfect Title for Your Novel offers more ways to strengthen the title of your story.

If you have any other tried and true methods for coming up with a strong title, please share. I was appalled by how many of my writing books did not address this fundamental subject!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Starting the Month Off Right

I’m a bit of a nerd, in that I love setting up a new worksheet in my excel file where I track my word counts for every month. There’s nothing like looking over your progress for the last few months to get inspired. June is a tabula rasa – 30 days where I can write anything. The potential is there, and all I have to do is fill in the blanks.

Easier said than done. This I know.

I first started tracking my word counts during my attempt to participate in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) last November even though I didn’t make it. I only logged about 22k, but at the time, that was a personal best for me. In the months since then, I’ve averaged between 10-15k per month, with nearly 29k in March (most of which was attributed to the first draft of one of my SF WIPs). And I couldn’t be happier.

I try not to beat myself up if I can’t eke out some time to write every day. After all, chores don't do themselves, I still read widely, and sometimes I just need to let myself think and reflect before I can put pen to paper or start typing away and the keyboard. Plus I spend just as much time if not more revising in addition to generating new content, and I haven’t worked out a good way to account my time spent editing. Sometimes I’m adding words, but more often than not I’m cutting or condensing. So I just set a monthly goal, usually 10 or 12k and track my progress without stressing over the details. Usually just seeing how my daily word counts eat away at that target is incentive enough to keep going. And since I like to emphasize quality over quantity, I don’t get upset if I don’t reach my target, so long as I am happy with the work I produced over the course of the month. Because as we all know, one strong sentence can matter more than reams of drivel.

Now that it’s June 1st, I’m ready to reset my target and start the process all over again. I’m optimistic of course, but then again I always am when I'm on the threshold of a new beginning. If you have any writing rituals you like to do at the beginning of each month, please share.


In other news, two of my tweets were featured on Nicole Humphrey Cook’s post Favorite Tweets For Writers This Week (May 24 to May 30, 2010), and I was thrilled to be included alongside other heavy hitters in the writing Twitterverse.

I also won a copy of Leah Stewart’s Husband and Wife after commenting on the interview with Stewart hosted at Diary of a Virgin Novelist, which you should definitely check out along with another interview with Allison Winn Scotch.

Finally, I’ve been tinkering a bit with my blog’s layout. So keep your eyes peeled for some changes there. Oh, and the second part of my Resource Roundup series will be posted sometime this week.

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