Monthly Archives: April 2012

Find the time

When I read author Ashley Ream’s article for Writer’s Digest last week — “How to Write a Book When You’re Really, Really Busy” — I was inspired. Ream says from the very beginning of her article that she has a life and isn’t afraid to live it.  During the writing of her latest book, she was working full time and taking college classes, and on top of that uncovered time for friends and family and TV. At first I thought wow, yeah, I want to know her secret for finding time to write with such a hectic schedule.

Her secret turned out to be a calendar — only, not the sort of thing I expected. I was thinking something more along the lines of a play-by-play, as in, “5:00: Home; 5:05: Write for two hours; 7:05: Microwave dinner; 7:10: Eat dinner while watching ‘Mythbusters’ on DVR,” etc. Instead she offered a spreadsheet outlining the days she spent writing and the days she had off over the course of four months. I admit I was impressed that she wrote over 100,000 words over four months when some weeks she had as many as six days off. On the other hand, she didn’t say when she slept.

She said she watched “a number of ‘Mythbusters,’ episodes” and I’m thinking, what, like four or five over 22 weeks? Did she have a Netflix marathon on one of her off days? I record seven shows each week, and that’s after canceling my subscription to Glee. Excuses, I know. But TV is part of my life, people, and watching Awake or reruns of Family Guy or NCIS very often is the only time my husband and I have together. Do other novelists schedule “together time” with family, and then, after an hour, shut themselves into a room to write 2,000 words? That after spending nine hours a day away from home, in addition to all the other stuff that gets in the way of having a writing agenda?

I’m just asking because I’ve written four books — each over the span of one month — November, during National Novel Writing Month. In actuality, it was more like 20 days for each; the other 10 days I did other stuff — stuff pertaining to having a life. So I know what it’s like to shut myself off from my husband and family and friends while writing a book. I just don’t get how authors can do it for more than 20 days at a time.

At the beginning of this blog entry, I said the Writer’s Digest article inspired me. I thought Ream’s spreadsheet actually seemed pretty achievable and thought if she can accomplish all that with so many days off from writing each week, so can I. I’ve been in the midst of editing my second book (the first I’ve tried to edit) for over two years. Now in the third practical draft I’ve reached that point in my book where I need to totally rewrite the next three or four chapters. Knowing I have to return to the writing phase after so long in the editing (or evasion) phase is overwhelming. Still, I managed to work on this book every day this week, so far. The last couple of days I’ve been outlining the chapters I need to rewrite, and it’s been a big help seeing line for line how my story will unfold and what questions pop up that I need to answer in order for my story to be realistic. I realized in rereading the second half of this book just how bad it is. I’m in my third draft, and my book really sucks, but I think the ideas I have for improvement actually will make it really great. The problem now is just finding the time to make it happen.

The reason why I’ve been able to work on my book each day this week is because I didn’t do anything else. I went to work, I came home (okay, yes, I watched TV), I heated up leftovers for dinner, I talked to my husband on the phone while he drove home from work, I worked on my book for an hour or so, and I slept 6-7 hours a night.

Then I berate Ream for not presenting us with a more clean-cut example of how and when she wrote 2,000 words on any given day, but, you know what, she probably doesn’t know any more than I do how she manages to accomplish anything from one day to the next. She writes two to five days a week, and over the course of 22 weeks, she wrote and edited more than a hundred thousand words (320 pages).

Is she really asking so much from the rest of us that we maybe save those seven recorded TV shows for a Saturday TiVo marathon and, on the other days, write a novel?

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Once a Gleek, no more

This week’s episode of Glee was more than disappointing. More like insulting. It’s very possible I’ll erase the entire series from my DVR queue based on this one episode.

After the winter finale ended with Quinn’s car being T-boned while she’s texting while driving on the way to Rachel and Finn’s quicky teenage wedding, I admit I was psyched for the result. Six weeks later, the series returned, but instead of picking up with that final scene, instead of showing the waiting wedding party learn the news of Quinn’s fate, instead of us all watching as the ambulance rushes Quinn to the hospital where the doctors might, just might, tell a stricken family of Glee members that their Quinn didn’t make it … instead of all of the possible drama and suspense and despair that might have followed such a haunting last moment in that previous episode, this week’s began with Rachel wondering aloud to Finn in the halls of McKinley High if the two of them might still have married if not for Quinn’s accident.

It took me a moment to realize that this episode takes place many weeks later, and that Quinn apparently is alive and well and is, at that very moment, preparing to sing a cheery song about being alive in her new wheelchair. If not for the wheelchair, you’d never know anything had happened to her, because she’s just as shiny and glowy as always. All of her parts work quite fine, she tells the group after singing a very stupid song with Artie. Except for her legs, which are paralyzed…oh, but only temporarily. It’s okay, see, ’cause she’s going to be dancing again in time for Nationals. Real dancing, not wheelchair dancing, which she apparently has already learned how to do. Artie’s not too sure about that. Neither are the rest of them, but they’re all willing to hope for Quinn’s speedy recovery. With the exception of Rachel’s guilty tears (for having been the one texting Quinn) and Artie’s concern for Quinn’s obvious denial of the probable possibility that she won’t walk again, the episode all but ignores the fact that Quinn so easily rolled away from an accident that should have killed her.

After a one-liner about almost becoming a sad tribute in their senior yearbook, Quinn spends the rest of the episode warning others of the dangers of texting while walking (because that’s how she started), before she joins Artie at the skating park where all of Lima, Ohio’s, physically disabled hang out. All the while, she insists to anyone who will humor her that her situation is only temporary. She’s going to be on her feet again in a month. Delusion or not, this episode does not seem to have any kind of message at all. After the cliffhanger ending of the winter finale, you’d think Glee would have more of a moral for teens who text and drive, but it seems that all anyone will take away from Quinn’s situation is that bad things don’t really happen to young people. Then again, maybe the only point of Quinn’s accident was to postpone Finn and Rachel’s wedding. The episode begins and ends with them. Everything in between is just for show.

I haven’t been enamored with this season, but this episode, especially, felt like it was written by the kids from the Glee Project, last year’s reality show whose winning contestants have been stretching this season’s cast of Glee. It really could not have been any more insulting to viewers who expect better quality writing from a show that has revolutionized the definition of the Emmys’ comedy category.

I guess it’s kind of funny that I’m getting all riled up about how lacking this comedy show is in the realistic drama department. But Glee never was a typical comedy. The one week my mom caved and tuned in to the show was the week when Finn learns that his father was not the war hero he’d thought. “I thought this show was supposed to be funny,” my mom said, before never tuning in again. It’s usually funny, I told her. Except the other half of the time, when it isn’t. Some weeks the only laughs Glee elicits are from Sue Sylvestor’s ability never to let her stream of vicious quips run dry. The rest of the time Glee members get in car accidents, are attacked with rock salt, are locked in Porta-Potties and rolled down a hill, and deal with daily torment from their fellow students. But maybe that’s what happens when clever comedies turn into dramedies. In Glee’s case, I don’t see it leading to any more Emmys.

Glee, I think it’s time to return to what you do best: comedy. And leave the drama to writers who can handle the challenge.

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Write a killer query letter

The most important thing I learned from writing coach David Hazard at a recent free workshop was that you’re not the only one invested in your book. You might have addressed your query letter to an editor, but the description you give of your book actually needs to appeal to a room full of publishing professionals who will weigh in on the odds of your book being worth their time and money.

The publisher, marketing director, and sales director are just as important as the editor, and your tiny one-page, four-paragraph query letter has to woo them all.

The publisher

Hazard calls this person the captain of the ship, the CEO whose choices will secure or unravel the future of the company. When he reads your query letter, he’s wondering if your book will add to the company’s stock. Will it help grow a trend or even start a trend? Does it in any way fit in with what today’s readers want, and if so will it be only a pebble on a beach of a market already too saturated with books just like yours? What can your book do that others’ can’t? What would you say to convince him/her that the company needs what you have to offer?

The marketing director

Her main concern is where to sell your book, and who will buy it. Authors today already have to be their own mini marketing machines, advertising themselves through social media formats. Will you be able to bring a fan base with you when the publisher sells your book? Do you have a whole network of Facebook friends and Twitter followers salivating over getting their virtual or literal hands on your book? If so, you might be a good investment for a marketing director. Still, you have to know your audience. Just because your high school graduation class will buy your book doesn’t mean anyone else will, and the prospect of selling 250 books is not going to impress the marketing director. Knowing your audience will help you sell your book. Will it appeal to historians? To knitters? To mystery buffs? And if so, what age group? A sleuth story that intrigues teens might not appeal to their parents, nor would a writing style that would exclude a large portion of the population.

How you package your book also matters. Study the publishing house. Does the publishing company require a minimum number of words from its novelists? If the publisher is going to invest money in your book, s/he’ll wonder how much it will cost to produce it. A 200-page book will cost significantly less than an 800-page tome will to produce. Is your book really worth the expense? Will the publishing house even recoup its expenses, much less make a profit? Can it even project a possible second printing, or will interest in your book fizzle out before it sells half of what it prints?

Be able to compare your book to others the company has produced. Your book should fit into a mold, but it should also be unique. Also be ready to divulge if you’re submitting your book to other places.

“If they’re interested, they want to publish your book if it’s good business for everyone,” Hazard said.

The sales director

Imagine you step into an elevator and bump into an old acquaintence, who now works at Random House, and you have only seconds to make him understand how great your book is. This is the elevator speech. What could you say in two or three sentences that sums up your book and also leaves the listener wanting more? This guy needs to know your book’s plot and how it builds intention toward a resolution. Does the character in your novel react realistically to situations or events, and is the plot realistic? Can the reader connect to the character, and will the reader care about the outcome of the novel?

“Writing isn’t about getting the words really, it’s about communicating and connecting,” Hazard said.

If your book is nonfiction, explain how you’re an authority on this topic. How do you know what you’re talking about and why is your book preferable to someone else’s? Do you have a story that no one else has, something you alone experienced?

Your query letter must say what your book is about, but it also should say which other books are like yours. Books fit into catgories. Where will yours fit?

The editors

Your query letter is almost like a miniature book. How you write it will tell editors how you might have written your book. A friend of mine who wrote a humorous how-to book modeled her query letter on the style of her book, which helped her gain the attention of an agent who realized that if the query letter was this funny, then the book must be even better.

A well-written query letter tells editors that the author cares about his or her wordcraft, Hazard said. “The A-1 author is the one who really works on their craft … so work on your craft whatever you have to do,” he said. Also, don’t be afraid to hire a writing coach.

The letter

So you’ve written your letter, keeping all of the above-mentioned readers in mind as you wrote. Read it over, and imagine that round table of professionals discussing your letter and your proposed book. They look around and ask one another if they should take the risk. What would you say? If someone else had written your book, would you take the risk?

Show why this book matters to you. The more excited you are about the plot, the characters, the book’s message, the more excited others will be to read your book.

The agent

Once you have your query letter finished, send it to agents whose job it is to fight your cause. Many publishers don’t accept submissions from un-agented writers anyway, and your agent will be your first line of offense. Then, keep in touch. Ask your agent when you should follow up to check on the status of your queries with publishing companies.

Self-publishing

“It works if you know how to work the system,” Hazard said. If you’re thinking about self-publishing, get a publicist, he said — someone who can get your book out there where people will see it.

David Hazard is an author, publishing consultant, and writing coach in Loudoun County, Virginia. He’ll offer a free program, “Secrets of Narrative Writing — That Sells,” at the Purcellville Library at 7 p.m. on April 17. Contact him at ascent@itsyourlifebethere.com.

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Make ‘Someday’ Today

As the first of what I hope will be a recurring series, the following is a guest blog, by a longtime friend of mine and aspiring screenwriter Meghan Marville. She graciously has agreed to guest spot on my usual Thursday (now Friday…sorry about that) blogging night, with a preview of what aspiring writers might find if they attend the One Day Someday Writing Workshop, that will take place in Winchester, Virginia, this Saturday. Even if you know for certain you can’t make it, still read on. Reading the following could be exactly the motivation you need to get going with a stalled writing project. (And stop by again next week for a special Tuesday blog post on writing query letters.)

Someday

by Meghan Marville

As a child “someday” seemed like forever. Saying I’d do something someday somehow meant that it was going to happen one day. It was like a mysterious promise tied together with fairy tales and happily every after.

As an adult someday is a barely tolerable procrastination. It still feels fun to say someday, except (not to resort to name calling) as a “grown-up” we are much more aware of time and more specifically how quickly it passes us by. Often times the stuff of someday falls to the wayside of unfinished business and the promises we never kept with ourselves.

Someday, I would like to be a real live screenwriter. The kind that finishes her stories… The kind that gets paid for it. Like, makes a living at making things up kind of paid. I’ve decided that it doesn’t have to be a New Year to make a resolution. I resolve to write more. I resolve to finish more things. This weekend I’m attending Jason Wright’s One Day Someday writing workshop in Winchester. Motivation and support is what I need and throwing myself into a room with other like-minded somedays seems like a good place to start. Show of hands, anyone out there ever written 200 words for Nanowrimo and never even turned it in out of shear embarrassment? *raises hand slowly*

The ad says, “Why are we calling it ‘The One Day Someday Writing Workshop?’ Because you’ve been saying, ‘Someday I’ll write a book’ for a long time.” I read that and thought, “You don’t know me!” But, it’s so true. Who hasn’t had a novel idea, or screenplay or TV show idea, but never thought enough of it to write it down? The people who wrote their ideas down are being read by the guy sitting next to you on the subway on his new Kindle Fire. It isn’t your book or my book because they aren’t written yet.

This weekend I take the first step in making “someday” a today kind of reality. Come along. You know you want to.

Author Jason F. Wright is a New York Times bestselling author of “The Wednesday Letters” and “Christmas Jars” and many others. Visit http://jasonfwright.com/someday-one-day-workshop-winchester.html for more information on the One Day Someday Writing Workshop. Meghan can be reached at mgmarville@yahoo.com.

 

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