Writing Wednesday: The R&R Roller Coaster

Writing WednesdayWhen I was a kid, I loved going to Cedar Point. I love the sights and sounds, buying $3 slices of pizza, spending $20 to win a small stuffed animal, running around thousands of acres of pavement with my friends. Here’s the thing, though: I had a heart murmur, a condition that prevented me from riding any but the most tame rides. Before I knew about that, I was just too short. But I could feel the excitement in the air, and I imagined what it would be like to get on a roller coaster every time I went to an amusement park.

I did eventually get to ride a couple coasters, and let me tell you, the experience was harrowing, to say the least. Aside from the actual iron monsters that hurtled me up and over and around peak after peak at breakneck speed while I held on for dear life and wished I’d never stepped foot on them, my pursuit of publication has been one long roller coaster ride, filled with ups and downs. I’m sure most writers can relate.

Today the specific coaster I want to talk about is the Revise and Resubmit, or R &R coaster. The R&R and its accompanying revision letter can feel like a blessing and a curse. Last Wednesday I received my first R&R on the full I submitted to Blurb to Book. It’s taken me this long to sort out all the feelings associated with it. Here’s how the roller coaster went for me:

A couple of fellow contest entrants and I were discussing the lack of news and speculating when another contestant announced privately that she had received an R&R. I was surprised but didn’t think much of it. The ladies and I were talking about the feedback we received from the previous round, and it was my turn to say what my feedback was. I went to my email to pull a quote and there it was: a new email from an editor with the name of my Blurb to Book entry on it. The roller coaster rolled downward and picked up speed along the way. The air whooshed out of me. Was this the end of the line?

I cast my eyes to the end of the subject line and saw the reassuring shape of a paper clip. There was something attached. So not a form rejection, and the very least. I read over the email quickly, my heart plummeting as I read that she was sorry that they weren’t making an offer on the book. HOWEVER–that shimmering beacon of hope of a word–if I was willing to CHANGE ALL THE THINGS, they would be happy to reconsider it or another manuscript.

OK, being honest, it didn’t say CHANGE ALL THE THINGS, and certainly not in all caps, but that’s what it felt like. Reading through the attached letter–pages and pages of single spaced, bullet pointed suggestions–was the part of the roller coaster where your heart is beating so fast and you’re being jerked around so many ways and pulled into so many loops you’re not sure which way is up but you ARE sure you should not have gotten on this ride.

ALL THE FEELS. Feelsville, population 1. You get feels and you get feels–everyone gets FEELS!

What are these feels, you ask?

The first feeling I had is “what in the world did they actually like about this story?” Getting a letter pointing out all the things that didn’t work can be overwhelming. It makes you wonder if they liked YOUR story at all. What had they seen in what I sent them that they didn’t want to change? How in the world did I get this second chance if this book is that terrible? Maybe I should just give up writing. I can sell all my stuff and sit around in a sweat lodge until I receive some sort of enlightenment on what I’m ACTUALLY supposed to be doing with my life. I’m a horrible writer. It’s all over. Lights. Growing. Dim…

The second feeling. How dare they? I sent them a masterpiece–literary perfection! So what if I thought that many of these same things weren’t working. I mean, really, some of these suggestions. Well, you can rest assured I’m not doing that. My character would never do that. This is just not going to work for me. They just don’t understand my genius. Self-publishing, here I come!

The third feeling–I’m a little too close to this. Maybe I should put this letter away for a while, send it to my critique buddies for a different perspective. In the meantime, I’ll just wander over to the store and buy ALL THE FOOD and eat ALL MY FEELINGS. SN: Feelings taste pretty good with caramel, y’all. Like salty sweet goodness.

Now that I’ve had time, second opinions, sugary goodness, and a change in perspective from the ever wise Mr. Perfect, I peeked at the letter again. Hmm…not as bad as I thought. Yes, I knew that wasn’t working like I wanted it to before I hit send. No, I don’t think my character would do that normally, but if I did it this way it could work…

If this were the stages of grief, grieving the loss of the book I thought I was writing, I think I’d finally be at acceptance. I wrote my heart out. The manuscript still needs work. But they like it. And it’s not impossible to fix.

How have you dealt with a revise and resubmit letter?

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Writing Wednesday: Who’s Book Is It, Anyway?

Writing WednesdayIt’s been one month since I turned in my Blurb to Book entry. With less than three weeks to go before the wrap up post and two authors already acquired, my comrades in arms are getting a little nervous. We are speculating on whose manuscript the editors are reading, which editor is reading it, how they are determining the order in which they read, and how they decide who gets the call. You know, all the things that makes a writer with a submission out go crazy.

As I said, two authors so far have been put out of this misery and into the stratosphere of happiness by receiving the call. Both are previously published. This has been a major area of discussion. Is that a coincidence? Is it just their previous experience has strengthened their writing to make them stand out or is it something else? It’s enough to drive a person crazy, the things unpublished authors find to focus on. Is it because they are agented? What is the magic potion?!

Everyone wants to know who will be next to sell. We are second and third guessing our manuscripts and choices, reading into every tweet, and vacillating between diving into the next book and feeling it might be better to hold off for feedback on this one, to make sure we are doing it right. We don’t quite know how to address the mix of accomplishment, nervousness, and loss of control that we’ve been battling for the past month.

Here’s what stuck out to me in that whole thing: there are some of us hesitating or procrastinating on the next book because we want to know how this one was received. I ask, in all seriousness and with the utmost of gentle love and kick-in-the-pants moxie: What is your problem? Why on earth are you waiting for validation on the previous thing to get deep into the next one?

Look, I get it: you want to know if you are on the right track, going in the direction the editors for a certain line/publisher want. But here’s the thing, though: until it’s contracted, it’s YOUR book. Who cares who will love it or want to buy it? No one’s going to buy the book you don’t write! You have to write the story you feel like is begging to be written. Once you have a draft, you can revise with a certain publisher or line in mind. But don’t keep interrupting your creative process waiting to see if you got the last thing right! This is your book, isn’t it? Well, write like it!

*she says to herself as much as to anyone else*

That’s my two cents, anyway. Where do you fall on the spectrum of writing while you wait? How much do you take a line/publisher/genre’s conventions into consideration while writing? Should you? Who else is waiting to hear on a submission and wants to encourage/commiserate with me?

Writing Wednesday: 10 Things You Might Not Have Known About my Blurb to Book Entry

Getting a late start this morning. Please excuse my post tardiness!

I’ve been reflecting on my Blurb to Book journey as I’ve been busy selling my self-published book at a conference and getting back into revisions for my manuscript. It’s been a wild ride thus far. I thought it would be interesting to share a few things about my Blurb to Book manuscript and journey thus far.

1. Always the Last to Know is part of a series. This is the…4th story in the series that I’ve started. I entered the second story I attempted in the series into So You Think You Can Write last year as Love Thy Enemy. Set in a fictional small town in northern Georgia, the Always books (as I’ve been calling them) are deeply emotional stories about God’s forgiveness and love and how He truly is a God of second chances. I’m hoping that Love Thy Enemy, and the many other stories I have set here, will eventually be published along with Always the Last to Know.

2. I started Always the Last to Know a couple days before I entered Blurb to Book…along with the 5th story in the Always series. I was torn between entering my 3rd story, or starting fresh with one of my other Always ideas. I whipped up blurbs and first pages for Always the Last to Know and book 5 and a blurb for story 3 and sent them to my critique buddies. My critique buddies both picked Always the Last to Know.

3. My main characters are Cordelia Adams and Winston St. James. My inspiration for Cordelia is January Jones from Mad Men and Winston’s is a hot tan guy I found in a Google search for men with hazel eyes. I used pictures for each on previous Writing Wednesday posts.

5. This story deals with some heavy issues–infidelity, fertility issues, custody disputes, etc. The original idea for the story called for a widow trying to adopt a child to be faced with a soft hearted cop who has to tell her she may not be able to adopt the baby she’s come to love. The infertility angle evolved from a combination of influences. One was a study I was doing on barrenness in the bible for a non-fiction project. The other were the comments on a blog I like. The blog’s author asked people to write down things they wanted her to pray for them about. I was so shocked at how many of these women were struggling with infertilityAs I began to research the topic, I found that miscarriage and infertility were a lot more common than I knew. The next thing I knew, Cordelia’s character started opening up to me about how fertility issues played a part in her decision to adopt.

6. I had to change a *major* plot element to the book which meant adding a *villain.* In my original synopsis and ending of chapter three, I had my hero doing something that has repercussions for later in the story (in other words, it bites him hard in the butt). The editors thought that it made him look bad to have him do it. But it had to be incorporated somehow because what he uncovered had to come out in order for the black moment to be as black as can be. So I pulled out my cast of characters for the series and found a minor character who wouldn’t mind getting his hands dirty in order to win. It turns out having another character do the dirty work gave me another angle I could exploit. It’s different than what I planned, and exactly right for this story (and maybe a future one).

7. Speaking of the editors’ advice, another suggestion of the editors really strengthened the story. They thought the characters were too antagonistic in the beginning. I knew I needed to keep the tension high and show that they were on different sides, but being able to add in some attraction and connection. Figuring out how to soften them helped me to dig a little deeper into Winston’s character. I originally wanted him to be more laid back, the type to crack jokes, but that didn’t fit with the book or who Winston turned out to be. By really examining his motivation as well as the goal, I found that Winston wouldn’t be so antagonistic toward her or as threatened by her claim to the baby. This allowed his character to be more calm and levelheaded in the situation (and a little of his humor peaked through to try and diffuse a tense situation).

8. I cut a scene–then used it anyway. This time around, I’ve decided to do a Cutting Room Floor document that houses all the parts I cut out of the original manuscript. I had a scene in chapter two where Winston is working that I cut because I knew it was important to keep th two main characters on the page at the same time as much as possible in the beginning. I wasn’t going to use it, but then I realized that it revealed a lot about Winston’s past and why raising his niece is so important to him. He sees a lot of himself in a character he encounters in that scene. Moreover, I found a way to use that encounter to help Winston resolve some of his emotional conflict later. So I put it back in a couple chapters later.

9. I keep having characters that run to think about things and sort out their issues. This is the second book it’s come up in. This is especially funny because I’m not a runner. I used to run all the time in high school. Give me my Nikes and my headphones and I was golden. But now you can’t pay me to run. I think my subconscious is trying to tell me something.

10. I saved a confession for last. I stopped writing after every deadline. EVERY. DEADLINE. It was fear. I entered my first page and I wrote for a few days but then stopped. I didn’t have a lot of hope that I’d make the next round. I hadn’t made it past round one of a contest since high school (which were apparently my glory days–a sad commentary). There were over 300 entries and only 75 spots. The last few days before the Round 2 announcement, I started writing again. I was thrilled to see my name in with others moving to the next round. After that, I wrote and rewrote until I had three chapters and an acceptable synopsis to turn in at the 11th hour. Then I stopped writing. Again. There was no way I would make the top 30 and be invited to submit the full manuscript. My target goal was to get to the round with feedback and I had done that. Again, a few days before the announcement, I started writing again. I really liked the story and I wanted to know what happened next. Then I found out I made the final round. After celebrating, it suddenly sank in that I had to finish a book in two months–two busy months. Between ladies days, a singles’ conference, finding out I need to move at the end of this month, finding a new place, busy season at my job, and other turmoil and upheaval, time has moved swiftly. I’m still scribbling away, making sure I’m putting my best work on the page. I’m ecstatic to have made it this far, and I can’t wait to see what happens next. I do know that by August 30th, I should know the fate of Always the Last to Know. Either way, it’s been a fun ride and I’ve learned so much about myself and my writing process.

Writing Wednesday: Destroying Doubt & Soldiering On with Your Manuscript

The official doubt crow, courtesy of @doubt_crow

The official doubt crow, courtesy of @doubt_crow

With a little more than a month and half a manuscript left to go before my Book to Blurb final is turned in, I’ve found myself in a strange place. I’m getting to my word count goal (though now I think I need to up it a bit to give myself a better cushion) and finding that I have great revision plans for the manuscript that will make it even stronger (I’m not revising much while getting the first draft to take shape). I’ve been really consistent with my writing, getting up when I don’t feel like it and always getting something on the page. Yet, something has been dogging my every step: doubt.

Writers tend to be very familiar with doubt, particularly those who seek publication. There’s always something you can second guess. Second guessing and trying things a different way isn’t bad; it’s when our questioning of our choices renders us unable to move forward, meet deadlines, or even submit our work that it becomes troublesome.

At the moment, I have a myriad of doubts that are difficult to combat:

  • deadline doubt. Sometimes it seems as if the deadline is coming faster and my word count is climbing slower. It seems like I’ll never have the first draft done in time, let alone have time to revise and send in my best quality work. Many other participants have told me about family vacations, births, conferences, and other events standing between them and the deadline that causes them to feel as if they aren’t getting enough done now to compensate for losing that time. No one wants to miss the deadline or feel like they didn’t turn in their best book.
  • balance doubt. Is there enough conflict? Have I shown enough of their budding romance? Is the faith element present enough? Is there enough plot to this story? Did I show enough emotion? Will readers like/relate to/fall in love with my hero & heroine? I always feel as if I haven’t done enough somewhere.
  • word choice doubt. How many times did I say gaze in two paragraphs? Five. Seriously. And I had both my characters think “No, this isn’t happening” ON THE SAME PAGE.If my characters don’t stop looking, staring, gazing, flicking glances, or locking eyes, someone may be arrested for stalking. Finding fresh ways to say things can get stale if you let it, and it will drive you crazy trying to find just the right word all the time.
  • revision doubt. Did I change this enough to address the editor’s concerns? Will changing the hero’s motivation from this to that strengthen or hurt the story? I know I said I was cutting this scene, but maybe I should keep it? Is this scene really advancing the romance like I want it to? Is this subplot adding to things or detracting from them? Should I dial back the faith element here? How do I tie this subplot into the main plot to make it all make sense?
  • doubt scrapping. Maybe I should chuck the whole darn thing and start over.

So what do you do to combat doubt? I keep writing. I skip scenes that aren’t working to work on a scene where the words are coming fast and furious. I type things I know I’m not saying write but also know I can change later if I get the general gist down. I keep myself accountable by posting my word counts each day. I reach out to my critique buddies and writer friends when only a kick in the pants or a good brainstorming session will do. I make revision notes while they are fresh in my mind and plan out how I will address them. And I pray. A LOT.

Your two cents: How do you deal with doubt, in writing or any area of life?

Writing Wednesday: The Whole She-Bang!

Bernardo Velasco--my hero inspiration for Always the Last to Know

Bernardo Velasco–my hero inspiration for Always the Last to Know

As many of you already know, I was one of the thirty people lucky enough to move on to stage 3, the final stage, in the Blurb to Book contest sponsored by Harlequin’s Love Inspired line editors. To say that I’m gobsmacked and “chuffed” as my friends across the pond say is an understatement. To say that I’m terrified of messing up such a golden opportunity also goes without saying. When I entered, I had a vague notion that this could lead to “the call,” but that seemed ludicrous since I hadn’t made it past the first stage of a contest before (though I came close with the Valerie Parv Award contest). My only conscious goal was to make stage 2 and get that most precious and rare golden egg in publishing–feedback. I knew no matter what, if I made stage 2, I’d finally know what’s not working. So when stage 3 was announced and Always the Last to Know was there, yes, chuffed, gobsmacked, deliriously happy…but also paralyzed with fear and petrified off “stuffing up” a golden opportunity. I should also mention here that while I’m a zealous writer, I’ve only finished *mumbles*…fine…I’ve only finished one manuscript before. So now I’ve got to finish my second manuscript in about two months. How am I going to get from a proposal to the whole shebang?

*Synopsis. The best thing about submitting a proposal was the synopsis. (You will never hear me say THAT again, so take a screenshot of this). It forced me to think about the story as a whole and come up with a framework for the story. I now have more than a vague notion of where I’m going. I know what the black moment is and how it’s resolved. Now I just have to write it.

*Feedback. That promised feedback? It. Was. GOLDEN. The editors zeroed in on a few things for me to consider going forward that have already made the story much stronger. I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to address everything in the feedback, but the suggestions flow well with the story and there aren’t many of them. I know I can use what the editors said to make the story better. And the editors also pop in on the boards to answer questions.

* The Harlequin Boards. Speaking of the boards, there has been a craft discussion on motivation that I’ve gotten a lot of useful information out of, and there’s a back to basics bootcamp coming up through the SOLD! blog. Harlequin has a lot of resources for writers to help us write our best books, and I’m going to utilize them.

*My awesome co-workers/resources. I’ve already tapped coworkers for baby knowledge and advice on all the legal stuff I need to incorporate in this story, and everyone is still willing to be pumped for information.

*Writing routine. The way I completed my other romance was simple: I wrote in the morning, I edited at lunch (and maybe added some words if I was in the zone) and reread the previous days work in the morning before going at it again. I made no major revisions during the first draft. I had fun with the story. I tried not to worry too much about what I was putting on the page in the morning so long as I got something on the page. When I finished the first draft, I read it through once like a reader and just made notes. The second time through I revise. If I was successful using this approach, I can be successful using it again. Right? Right!

*Critique Buddies. Having someone to send pages to and get an honest opinion is something I don’t take for granted. Turning over my writing daily to a co-worker was a big part of what made me accountable during the writing of DJ. Not only that, but it made it fun. Seeing how invested someone was in the story and the characters was great motivation to finish the story (and start the next one).

Lastly,

*the story. This is a story I really want to tell, and I feel like I’m at a place in life where I can tell it. There’s just something about this fictitious town and its cast of characters that has just grown on me. I have a few of the other stories started on my computer, and I will finish them, even if I don’t sell Always the Last to Know. I’m writing the kind of stories I want to read, with characters I care about. I want other people to get to read these stories, too. They can’t do that if they remain buried on my hard drive. As I’ve said repeatedly, I’ve never had an opportunity like this before; far be it from me to waste it being too scared to try.

What tricks and tips do you have for writing until you reach The End? Share your advice and stories in the comments section.

Writing Wednesday: Proposing the Right Way

One of the most romantic things in the world is a proposal. Women dream about the moment the man of their dreams will get down on one knee and ask for their hand in marriage. I’ve witnessed magical proposals in movies, on social media, and even in real life. But there’s one thing I didn’t spend much time thinking about until recently: the man dreading proposing.

Most men I know will admit that proposals are nerve-wracking. Most wouldn’t propose without some assurance or certainty their lady love will say yes (and that enthusiastically), but still there are nerves involved. There’s the pressure of wanting to get everything just right. There’s the pressure of knowing your life is about to be very different after you propose no matter the outcome. And there’s the pressure of knowing that you only get one chance to make the perfect proposal.

On Friday, I submitted my Blurb to Book proposal–the first three chapters and synopsis for my latest work in progress, Always the Last to Know. I spent weeks agonizing on what to cover in the first three chapters, how best to convey where the story was going, how to show the promise of the story. The whole goal of the proposal is to get the editors to say “Yes!” to a full manuscript. I’ve never gotten this far with a contest before, and I think this could be the one.

Just like any potential groom, I grew nervous. I know the editors saw something in my story they liked that peaked their interest, but this is more than like. I’m looking for a bigger commitment, to take things to the next level. So how do I do that?

The first thing I did was treat myself to the newest Love Inspired book that had my hook in it. I wanted to see what was currently being done, what the editors had said yes to from a different suitor. I wanted to know what kind of things are the editors proud to show off to the readers of their line? What hooks work? How has the author changed the hook or turned a classic plot on its head? What can I do with my hooks_ plot, & GMC to delight my editors into accepting?

Of course, the ring does not a proposal make. I can’t just shove a ring at them and say “Well, what’s it going to be? Yes or no?” I have to have a good presentation. Everyone knows that girl who gushes that the proposal was “so us” and that her fiancé really got it right. Well, I wanted to be the one who really got it right. My proposal had to be “so us:” my story in my voice but also a story that conforms to the conventions of the line and delivers on the line’s promise. My proposal has to show I know what type of editors the Love Inspired editors are and what they are really looking for in a new author…and that I have it.

I won’t find out until May 15 if the editors will say “yes” to a full manuscript, but when I hit send I was confident I’d done my best to show I really want to write for this line and I’m capable of doing so.

What part of the proposal is your favorite? Least favorite? Published/contracted authors, how did you seal the deal? Has proposing gotten any easier? And of course I’m open to really good marriage proposal stories.😁