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The dips in the road on the writer’s journey.

I had all sorts of great plans for the rest of the A-Z Challenge. But April vacation finally arrived – even though it still feels like February. And with that, the winds are blowing me to Nashville to visit my sister for a few days.

Without having the time to visit your blogs because I’ll be building play-doh sculptures with my niece and watching my nephew ride his bike, I’m going to take the rest of this week off.

But I’ll leave you with a story that will hopefully leave you encouraged in that you aren’t alone in this crazy journey.

It was my first manuscript. I think I’d been working on it for like two years. #iwasaslowlearner  I should’ve moved on it with way earlier than I did instead of trying to incorporate all I was learning.

I joined an online critique site where I critiqued other writers’ work and they critiqued mine. About halfway through my story, one critiquer left me a pretty harsh crit. With out mincing words, he said that basically my story’s plotline was a disaster.

I was devastated. For about two weeks I couldn’t work on my story. Yes. I eventually overcame it, got my confidence back and kept writing. Looking back, I’m not sure if he was right or wrong, but I’m pretty sure he didn’t go about it the right way.

So, I’ve been there. If you’re writing your first story and get harsh feedback, consider it like breaking in those molar teeth. Rejection is part of it. And we need to learn from it and try and glean from it. Even if we don’t look at that crit for a few months, when we’re ready.

Maybe you’ve been getting rejections on fulls. Still be thankful that you got the requests. That means you had a great idea, wrote a good query, and had decent opening pages! That’s awesome.

Maybe you haven’t been able to get any requests off your query. That can be extremely discouraging. Relook at your query letter. Get feedback. If need be, relook at your story idea and your voice. This might not be the story that gets published but keep learning and know that it is possible.

Or maybe you have had an agent for a while but haven’t been able to land a book deal. I can’t imagine what that’s like. But obviously your writing has lots of potential. So keep trying! We’re behind you.

So try and celebrate the small victories, the small advances. And realize discouragement is a part of the writer’s journey. Except it as that and know it won’t last.

Feel free to share your most discouraging writing moment. Or share the small victories you’ve celebrated along the way.

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The varying degrees of theme.

T is for Theme

I never really got theme except that it was the meaning behind the story, the message. I didn’t give much thought to it. I do now.

Theme is the controlling idea that drives the novel. It goes hand in hand with the internal conflict of the main character. If you aren’t sure what the theme of you story is then look at the struggles of your main character.

And I’ve noticed depending on the book there are different levels of theme. They go from one extreme to the other.

Literary / character driven novel

This kind of novel is big on theme, symbolism, and layers. It’s everywhere on every page. The story follows the life of a character. As Margo pointed it out in her recent post, there’s more micro tension than big story tension.

Literary / character-driven novel with a big hook (like death or special powers)

These books end up being award winners because they attract a large audience but also leave the reader with a strong emotional impact due to theme. The story has the big hook but that’s not really what the story is about. It’s still more about the character.

Literary / commercial / possibly high concept

This novel is my favorite. It is both plot and character driven. It is extremely well written, strong internal conflicts, theme, and character arc yet the story has high stakes.

Plot driven with a strong emphasis on character

I added this in this morning because often times we have stories that aren’t really high concept but aren’t literary either. This kind of story could be strengthened with the use of the theme through emphasizing the character’s arc and internal conflict. Stories only improve by having a strong character arc. No matter how plot driven they might be.

Commercial / plot-driven, high concept novel

I also love these stories but they tend not to stay with me as long. The focus of the story is not on theme. It’s part of the internal conflict but the emphasis is on the plot and how the characters deal with obstacles. This kind of story is usually on a lower reading level with not as much use of imagery, poetic and rhetorical devices. It’s not worse just a different style of writing.

Of course there are stories that fall somewhere in between.

Which kind do you like to read? And on which level does your writing fall? How much do you consider theme when writing?

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Swearing and social media – is it professional?

S is for swearing and social media.

So many blog posts have been given to the topic of swearing in YA books – when is it appropriate? Should we do it? Can certain words be in MG books?

But what about casual swearing on Twitter? Or in blog posts?

As an editor, an agent, an author, a writer – is it professional?

I don’t naturally cuss at all. Expressions like ‘oh my gosh’ and ‘darn’ left my vocabulary when my 2 year old started repeating me. Some words just don’t sound right coming from the mouths of preschoolers. Ya know?

I write both MG and YA, so I don’t swear on Twitter, FB, Goodreads, or my blog. It wouldn’t make sense. For me, it’s unprofessional.

But what about the writer who writes older YA? Or the industry professional for whom swearing is as easy as eating that sixth chocolate chip cookie? Or the writer who writes gritty adult novels and their targeted readers probably swear?

We all know to stay away from politics and religion. But what about profanity?

You tell me. Where do we draw the line between being ourselves in social media and being professional? Especially when we hope to be considered a professional some day. (Please keep the comments clean. Thanks.)

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Read, read, read – and why you should.

R is for Read, read, read.

I’m a s-l-o-w learner.

The biggest advice to improving writing is two-fold. Write, write, write. And read, read, read. I saw it all the time.

I knew that. But I didn’t get it. Not really. I mean why did I have to read so much? I was a writer. I should be writing. And when I did read, I couldn’t shut off my writer’s brain. Or I’d read all the books in my library that I was interested in. I couldn’t afford to buy new releases. That was before I started blogging and didn’t even know what the new releases were!

I have a new motto. Read, read, read and read some more.

  • I get books on interlibrary loan.
  • I put in requests for my library to purchase books – I just need patience.
  • I ask for Amazon and Borders gift cards for my birthday and Christmas.
  • I enter online contests for book giveaways – when I’m not required to do ten millions things just to enter it.
  • I look on the Amazon market place and find year-old releases sometimes for under 2 dollars plus the 4 dollars shipping.
  • I pay attention to e-book promotional freebies.
  • I kept track of my exercise for a year and my insurance company rewarded me 300 dollars.
  • If nothing else, I read the first chapter on Amazon or the Kindle samples.
  • I read for fun but I also read to learn.

Why a writer should read, read, read, and read some more:

  • Support other writers/authors.
  • See what’s already been done.
  • Get a feel for what’s being published.
  • Distinguish the different styles that go with different genres.
  • Learn the genres.
  • Study character, plot, openings, midpoints, endings, sentence structure, internal monologues, transitions, cliffhangers, dialogue, romantic tension, description. And the list is endless.
  • The more I read, the more it transfers over to my writing. In a good way.
  • Figure out if I’m more of a commercial or literary writer and study those books.
  • Compare your writing to your favorite books and see what you can learn!
  • And because at some point, we decided to write because we love a good story.

If you’re not reading in and out of your genre, maybe you should? What do you think?

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How to choose the best story idea.

Q is for Questions

I don’t know about you, but often, I have more than one story idea floating around in my head. How do we know which one to pursue?

Early on, I’d come up with a great idea and just write it; regardless of whether it would be a hard or impossible sell. Now I examine an idea to see if not only will I love it for the long haul but will it sell. (As much as we can determine that, which really, we can’t.)

What are my goals?

  1. Do I want to be traditionally published with dreams of hitting the bestseller list?
  2. Or am I okay with self publishing or not publishing at all? Or going through Lulu and just making copies for your friends and family?
  3. I’m going to assume that most writers reading my blog would like to be traditionally published and earn some kind of money for their work. No shame in that.

Will the idea be marketable?

  1. Is the idea overdone? (like vampires or angels) If it is, do I have a different take on it? Or maybe I should just ditch it.
  2. Do visual scenes come to mind when I think about this idea?
  3. Will it appeal to a large demographic?
  4. Will the character/idea provide enough external and internal conflict?
  5. Can I think of a main story conflict?
  6. Can I see a place for it in the market?
  7. Is it the kind of story I’d want to read?

Okay, so if the answer is yes to all or most of those questions keep going.

Can I make the story bigger?

  1. If I change the setting, would the story be more appealing? (For example, Across the Universe was a small town mystery but up in space.)
  2. What does my character want and want does he/she stand to lose?
  3. Is the internal conflict/theme primal? As in love, family, survival…etc.
  4. Can I make the stakes even higher?
  5. What are some possible midpoint twists or Act III reversals?
  6. Can I add murder? Betrayal? Lies? Ghosts? Family problems? Friend problems?
  7. Does my main character like a certain type of food that I could easily offer at the launch party?

Make lists. Don’t stop with your first idea. Make a list of 20 different ways the story can go. Make lists for all the questions above. Pick the one that sparks magic in your heart.

How do you determine which idea to invest in for the next year or so?

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