Square One

That’s is where I am again. All those rejections? Meaningless.

You see, I have done a major rewrite of the book, and now I get to send out queries to all those agents again.

When the idea for this book first came to me, the protagonist was a girl. As the story developed, it felt more natural to make it a boy, so early on, I switched. I think I had only written the first chapter before I made that change. Looking back, it was my age that made it natural to want a boy in the character because they liked science. My worldview and the time I grew up in, made my instinct incorrect for today’s world.

As I researched agents, I kept finding they wanted girls who fight with swords or girls who like science. I have a girl in the book who plays a major role, and if agents had had the patience to see my story through, would have discovered in many ways, the story was more about her arc. But unfortunately, she did fit the stereotypical girl’s role — a dreamer who didn’t like science.

So finally, after having these thoughts niggle at my brain for quite some time, they burst through while I was in the shower and took solid form. This often happens. Not sure why. But I suddenly knew I needed to reverse my two main characters. That led to an entire weekend of flipping genders, which means flipping pronouns that sneak in there everywhere. There was also the need to evaluate each scene to see if it still rang true. Surprisingly, there was very little that needed rewriting. And actually, it’s an interesting trick to short circuit my age-related biases — write a stronger boy character, then simply turn him into a girl. It will be tricky as I keep writing to keep that same strong, adventurous character consistent. I have no doubt I can do it.

I like how the rewritten story reads. I like some new possibilities for the story. It’s a very good rewrite. I’ve now got a girl who likes science and fights with swords. Plus a good story to tell. I’m feeling more hopeful.

Additionally, some reading has led me to new query letter knowledge. One author suggested hiring a junior agent to write your letter. They often offer this service to supplement their income. Since they are the ones who read query letters and make recommendations to the agents, they know what works and what doesn’t. Once I feel confident that the manuscript is ready, I will hire someone to write my letter and begin the query process again.

So here I am, back at square one with a fresh manuscript and a whole lot of hope. It’s not a terrible place to be.

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Adapting and Evolving

Writing my first book turned out to be easier than I had expected. You so often hear about the agonies of writer’s block, and hours spent staring at the ceiling, looking for inspiration. I did not experience that. Sometimes I didn’t feel inspired to write, but I always had words to put on the page.

That stems from the fact that despite it being my first book, this is not my first time at the rodeo. I’ve been writing for most of my life and learning along the way. One book that made a huge difference was The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. I never made it through the book, but I made it far enough to benefit. One exercise has you write three pages of stream-of-consciousness every morning. It might be, “There is nothing in my brain. Oh, I need eggs. Shoot, I don’t have time to go to the grocery store. I can wait. Look at that cute guying walking his dog.” It really didn’t matter what you wrote, you were to just write. That exercise teaches you one main thing. Your words aren’t that precious. They flow constantly in a never-ending stream. Just put them on paper, they can always be fixed later.

As a writer, that was eye-opening. I had agonized over words in the past, and often stopped writing because I couldn’t find the right ones. No more! My method became to spit it out the best you can and fix it later.

The other book that helped me was On Writing by Stephen King. With 25 years of writing screenplays, I had become a slave of the outline. When you have to cram an entire story into just two hours, getting all the beats right is not only difficult, but crucial. It’s like doing a Rubik’s cube. But, for me, the outline took all the joy out of writing.

Stephen King taught me to let go of the outline and let the story tell itself. Don’t worry about where it’s going. Don’t worry about structure. Just let the story unwind. Let it sit, then when you come back to read it, you will see obvious themes. Rewrite everything to those themes and voila… you have a really good, well-crafted story. Now working in novels, and not tightly structured screenplays, I can more easily follow his advice.

Cameron and King were the foundation of the easy flow of my first book. It was great, but the editing process showed me the cracks in my foundation.

With book one I did not edit. I didn’t want to slow down the flow. However, when I got to the end of a 75,000 word novel, I was completely overwhelmed by the amount of editing needed. I didn’t know where to start. I was too impatient to get it to an agent and publisher and couldn’t seem to take the time I needed to really evaluate and fix the manuscript… especially since my “just dump it on the page” method left a lot to be fixed. Thankfully I have a miracle worker of an editor who did all my heavy lifting for me this time around.

Last weekend, with the major editing behind me on book one, it felt like it was time to turn my mind to book two. I sat down and started to let the story flow again. Oh, what joy! Much to my surprise, I discovered that once again, my process is adapting and evolving. In the past it was common to write 2000 words a day. This time around, 1000 words seems to be the mark to hit. Now, I actually catch myself writing in the passive voice. I see where a verb could be more active. Or dialog can have more impact. I stop, consider my sentence, and rework it. My editor had warned me about this, but so far I don’t feel like it’s a problem. It slows me down, yes, but it doesn’t stop the flow. In some ways, it makes it far more enjoyable. Like savoring the scene instead of racing to put it down.

And this time I will set aside some time each writing day to go back and edit the previous day’s work. That way when I get to the end, I won’t be quite so overwhelmed. My first draft will be a much more polished, ready-to-publish, work.

Everything in life is a process. Just because you’re good at something today doesn’t mean you can’t be better at it if you adapt and evolve. Even this old dog is learning a few new tricks.

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Hiring an Editor – Check

A little over a week ago I contacted an editor and sent him my manuscript. I’m studying quantum physics for the next book, and so for the past week it’s felt like my manuscript has been like Shrodinger’s cat… neither alive nor dead, nothing but waves of potentiality. Surprisingly, rather than feeling frustrated by the wait, the anticipation and possibility of anything happening was lovely.

Tonight the wave became a solid particle, and I now have a highly-experienced  professional’s opinion about my book. As expected, there is good and bad. Some of the bad can easily be fixed. Some of it may have deep roots that will be difficult to untangle… not impossible, just difficult.

He pointed out bad habits that I have developed – some are remnants of my screenwriting days, one is the very common bad habit of writing in the passive voice, and the rest are just personal weaknesses. Hopefully the more I am aware of my flaws, the harder I can work to fix them in my future writing.

There were also compliments, which provided some encouragement to keep trying. It’s very nice having a professional in the publishing world describe your manuscript as enjoyable and entertaining. So, as I watch my savings dwindle, I feel encouraged that it’s not time to go to plan B just yet.

What’s next? I don’t know. I am a babe in the woods when it comes to the publshing world. My guess – I go back to work with the guidance of my editor, and when we have something polished I start writing query letters to agents and publishers. Will that lead to a publishing house? It’s a roll of the dice, but at least in today’s world, there is the option to self-publish. One way or another, I will have a published book, what is in question is what reach it will have.

I just have to keep checking things off the list. Step by step. Bit by bit. It’s how every dream becomes a reality.

What’s the next thing on your dream’s checklist?

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It’s Written in the Stars

Every now and then I do something completely out of character for me. I did that this week and saw an astrologist. Now, this will probably offend some and cause others to roll their eyes. I put myself in the 2nd camp. You see, I find the entire idea of planets orbiting millions of miles away having anything to do with my life utterly ridiculous. There were other babies born the day and time I was born. Are we all having the same lives? Horoscopes are so vague that they could apply to anyone. Astrology is sheer nonsense on a scientitic and rational level.

However, as one person explained it, there are many people who have psychic gifts, or if that title offends you, people with perceptions outside of the normal realm. Using dates, planets, and charts is just one way to channel those perceptions and gain insight. Others use numerology, or tarot cards, or pendulums… all equally nonsensical in a scientific light. Since I have some of those unusual perceptions and know they’re legit, I can live with her explanation, tamp down my utter disbelief in the system, and see what they have to say.

Why would anyone do this when they don’t really beleive? Simple. It’s an excellent tool for gauging my desires. Last year, when I first consulted this astrologist, I had pretty much already decided to move to Missouri, but there was still some doubt. Was I giving up too soon? If I hung in a little longer would things swing my way? Was life going to be just as difficult there? I wanted to get another pespective and see what my reaction to it was. During that first reading she told me all the planets were aligning and I was about to have a huge career in entertainment. My reaction?… a primal scream in my head that said, “NOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!” While I have no idea if she was right, my reaction told me all I needed to know. I did not want that career. I truly was done with Hollywood and wanted out. That alone was worth the cost of the reading. My decision, despite recurring doubts, was made.

Right now there are no huge decisions on my horizon, but doubt has been creeping back in. Am I up for this? I was so busy being social in October that I got almost no writing done.  Yes, I’m having a great time. Yes, my life is full of wonderful people. Yes, life has slowed down and stress has been reduced to almost nothing. However, this life is not sustainable. What happens in 3-4 years when my entire life’s savings is gone and I haven’t published anything? What if this leap really does leave me crumpled in a heap at the bottom of the chasm, and at an age that it will be hard to climb out? Aaaahhhh! As you can imagine, these thoughts are not conducive to creativity and writing, so I put my logical thought processes on hold, and consulted an astrologist.

Consulting these paranormal people is always a great confidence builder if nothing else. It doesn’t matter if I talk to a psychic, numerologist, or astrologist, they always say the same thing – I am destined to be a writer, teacher, and prophet, (ugh) whose work will have an affect on many people. (ugh ugh) I don’t feel qualified to teach anyone anything, let alone many people. I just want a life full of friends, cats, laughter, and lots of quiet hours in my office writing. As for the outcome… ppphhhhtttt. As long as I can sustain my life, who cares.

This reading was the same. Apparently come next August I need to have this book finished and submitted to a publisher because some moon, or planet, or something is moving into my publishing house. And this book is going to bring in money, launch my career, and potentially lead me back into the entertainment industry when the book is made into a movie. All that sounds great, though I have no idea if any of it is true. However, once again, what made this entire reading worth the cost was the deadline. People have asked, “When do you hope to finish it?” I would just shrug my shoudlers, “I dunno.” Now I have a goal… a deadline. August. This book will be done by August. I am once again confident, encouraged, and ready to make this dream a reality. Despite the silliness of it all, purpose accomplished.

Now, on a fun note, apparently those renewed interests in romance that I blogged about recently are not in vain. At some point early next year, I am supposed to end up in a relationship, and one that finally gives me the deep, spiritual connection I have longed for. Oh my! It will be fun to see if that turns out to be true. A man, a career, and security. It’s written in the stars, now let’s see if I can write it in my life.

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