I’m taking off my pants because I’ve lost the plot

After almost a year of resistance, and a number of years pantsing, I decided to look into this plotting business. Why have I resisted for so long? You’ve probably heard the word organic when it comes to pantsing. I like to let the ideas flow naturally from page one and see where my characters take me, rather than suffer a structure. And hand on my heart, I was worried anything to the contrary would come across as contrived. It’s a harsh word and one that has plagued me. I’m a fairly stubborn person, and I guess I’ve stuck to these thoughts as a way of protecting myself from the truth: my MS needs a revamp, and it’s going to take some plotting research to do this.

I think if I were more experienced, I’d know how to wear my pants well and keep them on. If I’d read plotting books, looked into character development, or  had already written a book or two, I’d be well armed starting page one. All the critical elements would be top of mind as I forge on.

But I’m a green writer, whose pants need some readjusting. Starting from page one is not hard, but knowing where to take that plot is another story altogether – a story that may be a much harder sell.

So my green-writer status became obvious while thinking about how to change the start of my MS. If my MS is not being requested based on my query and  first few pages, then I assume both are letting me down. But to know where to start, I need to think about the plot. After reading some plotting material online and also Save the Cat by Blake Snyder ( and now First 50 Pages by Jeff Gerke), I found that that my MS lacks depth. And to fix or analyse my plot, I need to know where my character begins on their journey, where they end up on their journey and how the plot will take them there.

For me, it’s helped to look at my story like this. MC is at point A and wants X. To get X, they must move to point B and the inciting incident helps them get there.

From here, I can write a query blurb and this should (hopefully) show that my book has conflict and growth. And I’m not going to write my new beginning until I can do just that!

Even armed with just those elements, I could have saved myself years. I was so scared of plot outlines because I thought I would have to write down every scene. But I haven’t beaten myself up too badly about this late revelation. After all, all of this makes sense because I have written my book and spent months and months researching querying. It would have been like picking up a book that helps you translate another language from English – when you don’t know English….

So this is where I am at: looking at my character and where they start their journey – what is the one thing they need to change to help them achieve their goals. It’s a tough one but a good question to ask, and a great place to start 🙂

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Are you a storyteller or a writer?

Of course, you want to say both, but it’s never that simple. As you research writing, what will red-flag you as an amateur or an industry professional, you learn the tricks of the trade to increase your chances of being published. For discussions sake, lets say that sticking to these will ensure your tent is firmly pitched into the writers camp. But you find successful exceptions to these rules: authors who can tell a great story without staying true to the accepted writing conventions. And damn, do they tell a good story. And yes, I used an adverb in this paragraph.

As a reader, I’m not too bothered as long as my interest as held. I even don’t mind if there’s no prose, the author used an alternative dialogue tag to said and, god forbid, when they are referring to a blue dress, it’s just blue. So why is it that we strive to hit all those literary buttons simultaneously with every finger that isn’t cramped with RSI? Respect from peers? Publisher interest?

Who is driving this train anyway? The readers. But how often do we listen, and how often are we too busy talking about how we don’t understand how Fifty Shades is so successful because the writing is an affront to the craft? The woman made money because she had everyone hanging on every chapter she released, and you know what? Even though the readers were pushing that train along, inevitably it was the non-readers who got that baby rolling. And why? Maybe because they didn’t have to worry about how it was written, they just wanted a good story. We all talk about hitting those markets, but with people reading less every year, the market I would love to hit? Non-readers. True story.

On my first draft, I was telling a story – just get the story out. But I believe that by my final draft, my book turned into a novel, my storytelling into writing. But my final question is this: should we let the craft of writing interfere with telling a good story?

Your book deal breaker: What element of your book would you refuse to change?

Whether it’s a relationship, a job offer or a book deal, there are certain issues we may not want to compromise on. There are normally issues that we can work together on – change them a smidge – allowing us to walk away from negotiations with a smile on our dial.  But is there one issue – one absolute issue – that you would refuse to negotiate on?

In a relationship, marriage, sisterhood, partnership, fellowship, broship, froship- whatever you want to call it-  we sail along through our honeymoon period believing that nothing will rock the boat. But as we sail out of the hallucinogenic-inducing fog that addles our brain with irrational expectations and false promises, we move into the choppier, eye-opening seas of realism that seem to stretch into an infinite distance. Things are going to get rough, and unless we steady ourselves, the ride is going to be long and painful.

Often we can compromise to settle the waters: I’ll nag you less if you stop doing stupid things etc etc. But there is often a point where we say, “Okay, I won’t sweat the small stuff, but for this, I won’t budge.” The deal breaker could be a hobby, your family, having four cats…Either way, a deal breaker is by nature, non-negotiable.  If you want to start playing around with my deal breaker, then I’ll start playing around with ways to break this partnership. I have to work around that issue knowing that the other party has made sacrifices, has compromised, for so many other issues. It’s a theory, anyway. There’s loads of advice on relationships and communication and there’s loads of advice on writing. Some of it you screw your nose at and some hits home. And from what I’ve learned, it hits home for a reason. Somewhere that notion was hiding, and it took that exact piece of information to coax it out. Like when you can be told 100 times from the same person to do something, but the right person can tell you once and it all suddenly makes sense.

So, onto playing ‘fantasy’ publishing and deal breakers. We hear of writers being told to take back their MS and make the MC younger so it fits the YA mold, to add more sex because that’s what this particular market wants, to meet the requirements of readers by introducing a purple-dyed sheep on page 62.  I’m listening. I’m learning. You know more than me. Throw it at me. But is there one thing – one absolute thing – that I would say no to?

Seeing that this is ‘fantasy’ publishing, I am of course assuming that this is a game and not reality. We know that flexibility might be left to yoga instructors and gymnasts if a book deal became a reality. But if this were a game, what wouldn’t I negotiate on? Probably adding explicit sexual content even though the MC’s age technically places her in the new adult age group. But to quote Manuel from “Fawlty Towers’,  “I know nothing.”

John Cleese : Please, please try to understand before one of us dies. hehe

I don’t know how to market a book or what sells. I’ve a read a lot of books and know what I like. And like most people, I’ve written what I’m comfortable with, with the elements of that genre that I love. I could up the angst, dial down the sarcasm, but would I be willing to change the whole tone of the book?

 

 

 

Post-submission options

So, I’m at a crossroads or is it a crossroad? If it’s angry, it’s probably safer if it’s alone. Either way, I could take a spin – a great smoke-inducing, environment-cluttering burnout – and call them the rageroads instead of the crossroads, but I’m actually dealing fine – even though I normally can’t resist  playing with words and embellishing the truth… But to be truthful, I’m in the middle of an octopusroad, or whatever an intersection would be called if it where based on a thirteen-armed creature. Yep. It’s that scary.

What do I do with my time, now that I can cross step one off my list?

1) Contact local literary agents

This involves redoing my synopsis as some require a 300-1000 word synopsis and mine is only 300. Technically, I would be complying with the terms, but I’m sure they want more than 300 words.

I tried to just add more information to my existing one, but this was a bad idea. I need to start from scratch.

2) Contact overseas literary agents

I have sent off for a number of books that can help: Writers and Artists Yearbook 2015, 2015 Guide to Literary Agents: The most trusted Guide to Getting Published and The Firstwriter.com Writer’s handbook 2015.

It was also suggested that you can purchase The Directory of the American Book Publishing Industry but wow, is that expensive!

I know that I can look to the internet for a lot of this information, but I like my time away from the screen and can look at this information more clearly in book format.

3) Submit to digital publishers

Thankfully, having subscribed to QLD Writer’s Centre, I am able to see a number of digital publishing opportunities that I wasn’t aware of. Do agents also sell to digital publishers? I guess so – more research!

4) Research the submission proposal and queries further

I have ordered a few books to help here from the library. An Insider’s Guide to Publishing and Write the Perfect Book Proposal: ten that sold and why.

5) Seek out writing training

I have ordered Penguin Writer’s Manual to see what it offers.

There is also a mentor opportunity – which I have to pay for – which will also highlight my flaws.

6) Have my manuscript assessed

I did not know this service was available until two weeks ago! One I checked cost  about $600 for the amount of words in my MS.

Apparently, having this done, and including this, along with any other workshops attended/memberships held, in your query letter can help highlight how serious you are about your career. I should have done this!

7) Research mythology, fighting and weapons for book two.

I have a ridiculous amount of research to do for book two. While I am unsure what I should do, I could maybe take a few weeks off to solidly research.  This will at least satisfy some of book two’s need for attention.

8) Continue to write book two

Really, I should still be writing 500 words a day to keep the flow, but I am struggling. I still think book one and I need some time together.

9) Network and attend workshops

This, I will try and do as they become available. As per my previous post, I am baby-stepping my way into networking. There was a lot to be gained just from an hour and a half last night! Thank you Louise Cusack!

10) Investigate publishing overseas

I’ll be seeing what I can glean from the above books.

11) Invest more time into blogging and building a platform

12) Rethink my pitch

I’m trying to sell my book proposal as urban fantasy. Upon thinking about young adult and trying to find comparative novels, it became obvious that this may be a hard sell. I have romance throughout, but I played this down. I think I need to rethink the way my proposal is packaged. I’m not selling my soul to any devil here. There are romantic elements that may make my book more marketable if I show they are there. The romance stays the same; it was always there.

13) Revamp my MS

The first ten pages has to be engaging. To me, it was, but I have to think on this again. The prologue, as well received as it was by beta readers, might have to go – even though it is short and has you wondering – who the hell just killed that guy and why! Even the synopsis might need to be changed to suit a more paranormal romance tone – if I decide to repackage.

 

In hindsight – more like, as I grab hindsight by the throat and threaten to harm it should it speak up – I should have done even more research. I felt like I’d done enough, though.

What do I prioritise?

I could treat my writing like I did my professional career as an account manager. Divide my day into increments and do a little of everything. I mean, the customers don’t stop calling just because I’ve allocated a day to paperwork. Some activities just need to be attended to – every day. Should this be book two? If you should write every day, then surely this should mean that every day I write at least 500 words. The rest of the day could be research for book two, blogging, revamping my query, synopsis and MS.

There is a lot to consider, isn’t there?

We are told to get the story out first. And now that it is out, like a newborn, the world it is introduced to is vast, unpredictable and confusing.

If anything stands out that I am missing or you would like to share your thoughts on where you are, please do 🙂

 

 

 

I’m going to handle these rejections like I’m 18 and drunk

I know what you’re thinking. I’m going to get drunk to deal with these submission rejections, get dressed up in tarty clothes and try and pick up. You’d be wrong. I’m already drunk… But seriously, I’m not. This is about me then, not me now.

Don’t worry, husband. You have nothing to worry about. I can’t fit into those clothes anymore, so you are safe. But Dad, Daddy, Papa Bear….you might want to look away.

I wanted to write about the correlation between positive thinking, unrealistic expectations and being deluded. I was even going to set up a game! And although I love games – so much so I used to play board games on my own when I was younger ie 38 – it just didn’t feel right. And I’m sick of being all broody and deep. I’ll leave that to the super-intense, emotional male love interest who shows just how deep and sensitive he is by showcasing his piano-playing prowess. Now if he could do the same with a piano accordion,  I would be really impressed.

What did I do when I threw myself at someone at a bar and they rejected me when I was younger? I put on those same heels, but on a bit of slap – or a lot of slap depending on the lighting offered – and threw myself at those same people again. Yep, the same people again. Ah, good times. You hear of people taking over ten years to get published – pretty resilient people with iron-guts determination. That’s 18 year old, drinking me.

So, what is my drug of choice now?  What will get me back in the publishing ring time after time? They are bouncing behind me right now, and my goodness do they make me want to drink 🙂

Hindsight is not so wonderful…

I really don’t understand this saying: hindsight is a wonderful thing. To be more accurate, hindsight is a vicious, treacherous, demoralising, faith-stealing, malignant, party-pooping devil whose presence is akin to lancing a  festering, reoccurring boil with an infected, blunt hypodermic needle. My saying is a little clumsier, but if I take out one or two adjectives, it might just catch on.

And to make it worse, this saying encroaches onto my sacred sarcasm territory. Get out! You are not welcome here. You do not make me smile sardonically. You are not wicked in the good way!

So, if I am forced to believe this saying is being genuine, then I call bs…

Looking back on what I have done over the last two months, I can’t help but wonder if I could have done better. These mutating, disease-ridden musings have been infiltrating my mind and morphing perfectly-useful, blissfully-ignorant thoughts into ones tainted with doubt and failure.

A very wise woman said to me once, ” You make decisions with the information you had at the time. At that time, it was the best decision you could make.” She then picked up her racquet and we had a blinding set of tennis. The advice was anything but blinding. It stuck with me and opened the way to a fresh alternative that would urge me to teeter on the edge of a more satisfying and less horrifying saying:  ignorance is bliss.

So if I proclaim ignorance, and say, “Well, I did what I did because I didn’t have enough information,” then surely this means only  one thing to someone who analyses the whos and whys of every suspicious glance thrown my way.

Get more information.

I did get more information. I had so much I couldn’t breathe. And the only way to cut open my constricted larynx was to grab that boil-lancing hypodermic needle that is hindsight, and stab myself in the throat. It feels a little better, though. Sometimes it is better the devil you know.

 

 

Writing, children and ‘work’

Apparently, there’s a cyclone coming to Brisbane. It’s the only possible explanation for the amount of groceries I bought today. This shouldn’t make me excited – that would be quite macabre if there was actually a cyclone coming- but I have never enjoyed strolling down those aisles more (Oh, look, two free wine glasses when you purchase two cream cheese products. They do know me. And I thought all that marketing business was a waste…) And yesterday, I did thirty minutes of housework and it put the biggest smile on my face. I miss my routine, and I think the kids do as well.

They don’t understand that for the past month I couldn’t go shopping, that I couldn’t move their clothes from the lounge room to their rooms, that I couldn’t muster the energy to move items from tables that have been piling up. I feel like I’ve been moving from the PC to the kitchen to school and then back. Sleep is in there somewhere. Two days ago I had some downtime and I decided to read. It was bloody nice! I missed it so much. But do you know what happened? I found that someone had used the word barrelling and used one ‘l’ where I used two in my synopsis. That was not a pleasant few hours.

So anyway, to the point. We’ve asked the children to appreciate the time they have at home and to behave because I ‘work’ from home and work around them. They are only children, right? They don’t understand. I hear you. We have it drummed into us so often, that I don’t need to tell myself – someone else is already doing it, and they are doing it louder.

But I can’t help but look at this differently. We were lucky growing up that Mum didn’t work and we were able to have a parent home before and after school and weren’t rushed around. I appreciate that so much – now. Maybe I didn’t then? Maybe I was a brat? I don’t know, I can’t remember. But I know that I would never have spoken to my parents the way mine speak to me.

So my daughter doesn’t classify what I do as work.  And I tell her – it’s work.  Just because I don’t get paid and just because I love it,  doesn’t mean I’m not doing this for them and the family as a whole.  She can’t see it? She’s just a child.

But again, I can’t help look at this differently. I want them to appreciate what they have. If they don’t take things for granted, then I believe it makes them a more respectful person. Writing is work. I’m doing this because I want this to be my career. I’ll be writing even if I don’t make a cent. If someone is building a business and they don’t make any money for years, does this mean they aren’t working? Those people will tell you, it’s work alright, and it’s hard because you don’t make cent.

I know that I don’t have to justify myself to my children, and I don’t expect them to bow down to me for writing while I’m raising them. I’ll never claim to be super mum.  But I do want children that understand what it means to be passionate about something enough that you are willing to fight for it.