When Motivation to Write is Gone

We've all been there. Or maybe we're there right now? In this collective, yet solitary brain-trust known as writing. This hive-mind of almost universally shared desire. It's what we do. Why? Because we have stories to tell. So we spit them out of our heads and onto paper (never mind the mess). But what do you do when the words won't flow? You can call it "Writer's Block" if you want. Soooo cliche. To me, he/she/it (to utilize a sympathetic fallacy) is kind of a mythical super-villain. Not actually real, but we convince ourselves that they/he/she/it, is the cause of all our woes. "I can't write because I'm blocked." It becomes an excuse. And so it rules over our writing lives as an unexploded bomb in the middle of the towns of our minds, soaking up the power that we choose to give it. Well I say, NO MORE...at least for right now.

The fact about writer's block:

Or, as I like to think of it, that irrational, motivational miasma that occasionally slaps you around like a pre-pubescent school yard bully. Regardless of how or when it hits you...it's all in your head. That's right, I said it. IT'S ALL IN YOUR HEAD! This horrible slump, this unfortunate malaise that stalls the swiftness of you fingers, is...All. Your. Own. Doing. So snap out of it already.

But...why?

Well, I can't really answer that. Not definitively, of course. We're all different people. With our own styles, likes, dislikes, and ways of reacting to the world. Maybe we're tired. Mentally exhausted. Maybe we're bored? I don't know. Bottom's your limit.

What to do about it:

Now here's a good question. What DO you do about it? The most obvious piece of advice is: Keep writing. Write anyway. Real writers get words to paper no matter what. They don't wait for inspiration, for the good feels or the muse. They make it happen on their own time and in their own way. There's merit to this, obviously. And this is probably the best advice I can give (even if it can be incredibly hard to follow at times). In fact, I've let myself fall prey to the motivation vampire as I've awaited word on publishing interest in one of my books. But it was, and is, a huge mistake we're all capable of making. Time is not our friend as writers. We need to work. We need to blast words onto paper, and pretend like, above all else, that we know what the hell we are doing.

Visualize:

This one might seem odd. It is a bit esoteric. But visualization is one of the best ways I've found to break myself out of a mental funk. What I mean by this is putting yourself into your character's head and allowing yourself to react to specific situations in the same way your character would. So sit back, think about that character, and really get into how they would react in that instance. Play the scene out in your mind. Don't think about it too hard, just let it unfold as if you are this character. I think you'll be surprised at the new ideas that come up, and the fun and interesting ways it can change or open up the story.

Get excited:

Here's something you probably haven't considered (and I mean really emotionally considered) in quite a long time: You're writing that story for a reason. Something about it, the characters, the situation, the underlying idea, or the motivation behind your drive to write it. Something about that story is so AWESOME!!! (note the triple exclamations) that you just had to get it on paper. This is something we often forget after we've spent long and often torturous hours slaving over the same things, the same ideas, the same characters and situations...over and over, and yes, over again. We forget that there was something so cool and exciting about these characters or ideas that made them worth putting out there for other people to read and invest themselves in. So recapture that! Sit down and ruminate about what makes your story special. What idea, what character, what situation? Really dig into it and remind yourself just how amazing these ideas are, and (here's the key) let yourself get excited about it again! Get back into those ideas and investigate them because they're worth investigating. And this will lead directly into the next point...

Generate new ideas for your story:

Similar to the visualize option above, when you get excited about a story again after you've carefully gone through and thought about some of its elements in a different way from their original conception, you'll surprise yourself by starting to come up with new ideas. These can be simple additions to the direction you're already taking the story, or they can be wholly new and interesting navigational changes, seeing things from the eyes of different characters or entire groups of people. Use these ideas! Write them down. Stay excited about them, and let them pull you back into that story so you can do what you need to do: WRITE!

You know what to do.

The Big Wait: What to do when you have nothing to do

So here we are. As of the writing of this post, I've found myself in a strange place. Limbo, some call it. That place of infinite waiting caught inexorably between supposed and longed for happiness, and that of dejection, unrequited feelings of elation and acceptance. "But Josh," you may say, as I place these words in your mouth by way of my head, "These other places, are they heaven and hell?" "You might think that," I replay with a reverent whisper, definitely not talking to myself in this dark and lonely room. "But, no. For these places are known well among our kind. They are: Published, and unpublished."

DUN, DUN, DUH!

I know, right? Never saw that coming.

So, okay. I may have gone a little overboard there, so perhaps I should move onto the actual point of this post as it reflects my own current state of affairs in my writing career in a way you might find useful. The Big Wait, referring to the period of time as you wait for your manuscript, sent out by your agent, to be picked up by an editor for a publishing deal. It really is a sort of limbo, biblical references and spirituality aside. So here I sit, thumb firmly up...somewhere. Why? Because I'm waiting. Waiting to see what happens next with my book as publishers pour over it, judging it, and probably saying mean spirited things about it like the cool girls in highs school. Sigh. So I continue to wait, the fate of this thing I've spent far too many uncertain hours stressing over. And so the question remains...what do I do now?

Now, this isn't some personal existential crisis, but a real thing, easily applicable to other similar situations during your writing career, such as: After you've finished a draft on a novel. After you've queried agents and are waiting for a response. While your agent reads and re-reads your novel, giving you suggestions for changes. And, my current rent-free apartment in hell, while you're waiting to hear back from publishers to see if you will finally receive the external validation you so desperately, and perhaps foolishly, crave in the form of a publishing contract. So...now that you've got all this time, what now? Well, here's a few things you can do in that terrifying meantime:

Start a new project:

I think this one explains itself. Don't sit on hind quarters, waiting for your one little baby to sprout its wings and fly as only a mother knows it can. Do something! Write the next book in that series. Write the first book in a new series. Write a short story. A novella. Anything! The sky is the metaphorical limit in the finite ways the publishing industry works.

Take a break from writing:

Some people might disagree with this one, but I find it useful. Sometimes you just get burnt out. This can be especially true after completing a big project. Don't let yourself drown ever so slowly in the white hot mud of mental exhaustion. Not cool, bro! Take a break. Don't think about writing...if that's possible. Do something (and this is key)...else! Find something that completely absorbs your mind that isn't writing related. Then come back fresh and ready to burn the sweet smelling oils of midnight.

Read (many) something(s):

Books. Fiction. Non-fiction. Play a video game (with good writing). This blog (ha!). So, ya know. There's a lesson there...somewhere. Writers read. So do it.

Attend a conference:

Conferences are great for people in all different phases of their writing careers. Beginning. Middle...not middle. Whatever. Attend a conference. Learn some things. Meet some people. Have drinks. Comport yourself in the ways of a fool. I hear Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers throws a pretty mean conference (Teehee)! Check it out.

All of the above:

There you have it. Laid out all nice and neat, and possibly even semi-presentable. As craftsmen (and craftswomen), we have a lot of tools in our belts. Or purses...or knap-sacks, or fanny-packs, or handkerchiefs dangling from the ends of our hobo sticks. And it's our job to utilize them to keep our writing (and ourselves) sharp. So if you're in a similar spot as me, don't just wait around slowly strangling yourself in the brittle spider-webs of solitary hope, uncertainty, and self-loathing. DO. SOMETHING. ELSE. Now get to it.

 

After the Editing: When an agent says it’s ready!

Not that long ago I put up a post about what it's like editing with an agent. Well it's time to take that a step farther. Because Deity Six, my very first completed novel, has since transitioned from 1) finding an agent. And 2) going through and finishing edits with said agent. To step 3) searching for and acquiring an editor and a publishing deal. With steps 4) and maybe even 5) to be determined at a later date. So let's explore Step 3 and those smaller steps in-between.

Developmental edits:

Before this post I talked about the beginning steps of agent editing. Now here's the ending. While you're editing with your agent, unless you're book is perfect (Ha, ahahahahahaha!!!!!), you'll likely go through what are called developmental edits. These are basically how they sound; edits that address any issues with plot, characters, or things like theme.

Being as close to your book as you likely are, you probably can't see some of its problems. And even if you can, you may not know how to fix them. This being the case, your agent will go through and identify (often line by line) some of the problems that require adjustment, or even removal before the book is ready to move onto the next phase of its life.  This can go on for... a while.

For me it lasted about three months from the time I signed the contract with my agent. Yours could be faster, or longer. Either way it will be different according to the needs of your story, and how dramatic of a tantrum you feel like throwing when your agent tells you cut an entire five pages (or chapters) out of the book!  After you've made the necessary changes (and note that these are generally optional and not required by your agent, but advised before moving on), hopefully your story is in much better shape. And it's time to move on to...

Copy edits:

So far, my experience with copy edits is thus: "Hi Josh, doesn't look like we need to do any more developmental edits. I'm performing some copy edits, then it'll be ready to go out." The book didn't come back to me again, so my assumption is that whatever changes were made to the story were all so minor as not require either my attention, or my approval (such as typos and minor re-wording). So...whoopie!

Submission time:

The next part is perhaps the worst for many. This is where your agent embarks on putting the book into the "real world." And by "real world," I mean editors currently acquiring works like yours, for publishers who publish books like yours.

So here's the process as I understand it: Your agent identifies editors looking for ideas similar to yours, or enough like yours to be interested in taking it on as an editing project in order to then publish the book, and/or offer you, the author, a publishing contract. A partial submission goes to the editor. If the editor isn't interested, they reject it (duh). If they do like it they request a full manuscript, which your agent sends to them.

Now for that pie in that sky. If the editor likes the book the process doesn't end there. They then give it to some of their peers (other editors). If they like it, it then moves on to the editorial manager. If the manager likes it and agrees with the acquiring editor that the publishing house should represent it (i.e. they think they will make money off of it), then you will be offered a contract.

**Note: I have no details on this just yet and may cover it in a future post when I can offer firsthand experience. As of the writing of this post I have been updated about three occurrences following the release of my book to acquiring editors. Two rejections, as it did not fit into a specific category they were looking to use it for. And one request for the full manuscript. So... fingers crossed.

The Big Wait:

For now, this is the line in the sand. As me and my agent wait for the editor to read the full manuscript and either reject it, or send it on for approval from their higher ups. It's all about waiting now. So when you get to this part remember...this can take months. Months, and months, with a chance that you will only get a rejection. But this is the world we live in. This is the altar to which we pray, sacrifice, and divvy up an unhealthy portion of our souls to these gatekeepers of traditional publishing bliss. So settle in, buck'o's. It's going to be a long winter.

What Editing with an Agent is Like

If you've been following me here on this blog (somewhat unlikely since it's been all of four months!), then you'll know that I just recently (October) got my very first agent for my very first book, Deity Six.  But what I haven't told you yet is what the editing process has been like so far. You may be aware that some agents like to take on a manuscript fully formed, no adjustments needed. While others like to leave their own stamp on it and help the author draft it into something bigger...or smaller, possibly even better.

This latter part is what's going on with me right now.

Things and stuff...they're going down:

One of the first things that happened after signing with my agent was a phone call. If you look online you'll see this is pretty standard protocol. If you haven't met your agent in person, the next best thing is obviously the sound of their dulcet tones over a grainy cellular network while you constantly question if they actually said what you think they said. This can simply be about introductions. "Hello. How are you? Nice to sort of meet you. You sound different then I thought you would have based on your picture." That sort of thing since it's likely you've never met in person. But with me, since I had met my agent at a writer's conference, the phone call we had was about jumping right into work. Deity Six, if you don't mind me self-indulgently plugging my own work multiple annoying times in one short post, and about the myriad things wrong with my baby. If you want to call it a baby. Really just an amorphous blob of too many words and misplaced modifiers as the author (me) tried sounding more intelligent than he/she/it actually is.

Sad.

Edits...Round One:

With Deity Six the main point of contention was the fact that the story didn't have an entirely clear genre/sub-genre that it fit when I originally wrote it. It was kind of YA because of the character's ages, but I didn't really think of it as such while I was writing. And it wasn't until later that I realized, yes, in fact, it is YA. So when my agent wanted to represent it, it was in that category...Young Adult Science Fiction.

And this is where the real work began. Taking something that kind of fit one category, and trimming down the more adult elements, all the while beefing up those elements which were YA and adding even more of them to make it fit squarely in Young Adult. The lesson to be had here: Know your genre and your target audience. And that will make it easier to tailor your story and your characters to fit what appeals to them.

Side Note:

Does that mean you should change your story to fit what's popular? No. Let me say that again...NO! Write the story you want to write. But knowing where your story fits and who it appeals to will not only help you to sell to the market best suited to it, it will help you to better engage your readers. End of side rant.

Edits...Round Two:

Similar to round one, this next pass through was about continuing to make changes to keep the story firmly in the genre it needs to be in. But there's more to it as well. Now you start getting into more specific refinement. Are the characters fleshed out? Are the story elements cohesive? How much of what has been written needs to be in the story? Can you add more backstory? Internal dialogue? The answer on all of these things...yes. At this point I removed chunks of chapters, pages and pages at a time because they served no real narrative or plotting purpose. Because filler, like fire, is BAAAAD! All the while I moved on, adding more personality to the characters, giving them uniqueness. I added more backstory and internal conflict, more personalization of the journey from my main character's perspective. Pretty top down stuff, and all of it useful.

What's next?:

The name of the game is refinement. Just like with your own editing of your story, with each pass your job is to make the story better, to make it fit the genre with meaning and authenticity. Only now you have help. Trust your agent. But ultimately this is your story and if something they suggest doesn't make sense to you...don't change it. Or, or even better, talk about it. Discuss. Compromise, without compromising the integrity of your story.

But don't be headstrong or arrogant. Some of the most valuable information you can get is from someone from the outside looking in. Because it's them, not you, that might have just the right perspective to see a problem, or make a change, that you weren't able to see before. And when that happens, your book will be that much that better for it.

Maybe someday soon I'll be able to put up a post about "Editing with an editor," and tell you with some authority what differences there are between that and this. Well, here's to hoping anyway. But until then, Merry Christmas! Or Happy Holidays. Or whatever floats your yule-tide boat.

How I got my agent…like a noob

An amazing thing happened recently. At least it's amazing to me. Perhaps not the holy grail for a new writer, but a scaled down, still just as gleaming, slightly less voluminous cup which is but one step closer in the long and seemingly impenetrable process of becoming traditionally published.

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, genders of all sizes and identifications, I have found an agent for my novel, currently titled, Deity Six. Cue brassy horns and angelic fanfare. Or, ya know, just sit there, in all statistical likelihood, not reading this and going about your day. Whatever. I don't care anymore. I got an agent! There's a "nah, nanny, boo boo," joke in there somewhere, but what do I look like, a writer?

What an agent means:

An agent is your ferrywoman/man across the rapid strewn and violent river Styx  separating you from the publishing world. First let's be clear. You don't actually need an agent. If you're highly self motivated, a great self editor, or just simply aren't seeking the external validation provided by traditional publishing, then self-publishing is probably for you. It comes with its own pitfalls, but that's an assessment for another day. A good agent will help you edit your book, make sure it fits squarely into the genre it needs to be in, review and negotiate any publishing contracts for you, and pull your head above those rough literary waters when it inevitably feels like you're about to go under. All for the nominal fee of some money off the contract and any future royalties they've managed to secure you, as well as a reasonable portion of your immortal soul.

To sum up: if you don't want to worry about self publishing, about doing your own leg work and wish to grasp tightly to the more confident leg of another person whilst they bodily drag you, kicking and screaming, through the cliche tossed waters of publishing, then an agent is definitely for you!

Some details:

My contract was fairly straight forward. One year contractual obligation on my book, wherein I would not seek alternate representation. They would do the best of their abilities to find it a good and loving home, as well as help me with some basic editing to make sure it fits the genre it's supposed to. After that period of time, if no sale/deal has been made, the rights and ability to do what I wish with (the book) return to me. There were some other things involved with it, but at that point my mind wandered off and I went in search of a cheeseburger. So, sorry about that! The contract also stipulated that the representation was for the book/novel in question, only. Not for me as a writer. Meaning, that I was free to pursue different realms of publication or representation for any/all of the other works I currently have tucked into my questionable belt.

How I actually did said agent wrangling:

For me, finding an agent had a great deal to do with connections. Keep in mind the process will likely be very different for you, as this is not a "how to" guide/one size fits all for literary agents. This last April I attended my first writer's conference where I met a super cool person (currently my editor on this blog post, as a matter of fact), who is a professional and published author. This author, who shall remain nameless *cough, sputter* J.A. Kazimer *cough, cough* became my friend. She then convinced me to attend a second writing conference. (For my take on writing conferences check out what I had to say about them here!) Now here's where it gets tricky. At this conference, this friend I'd cultivated (because, social skills), then...INTRODUCED ME TO HER AGENT! See. Personal connection. Word of your behavior and professionalism transcends boundaries. From there it was up to me. After speaking with my once and future representative, it was discovered that we got along well (an important element), she was interested in the premises of my writing (equally important), and my physical presence didn't send her eyes into uncontrollable and rather unpleasant twitching (possibly less important). Following the conference I sent her my query and some pages (I think 30, according to her request). She requested more. And upon reading my full manuscript she then showered me with lavish and much deserved praise and promises of riches, then told me of her interest in representing this book, and by default, me.

A summation to end...like, one other summation:

In total I queried in the neighborhood of about thirty different agents in the genre of my book, DEITY SIX, if I neglected to mention it before, which happens to fall under Young Adult Science Fiction. Between one third to a half of those agents queried did not respond...make of that what you will. Finding an agent, in macrocosm, is about a few things: Persistence (don't give up). It's a numbers game (also don't give up). And subjective luck. You could have written the greatest novel to have ever been written, but if you're not putting it in front of the right eyes it will still never get picked up. And to be fair about the whole thing, finding yourself an agent isn't the end...it's the beginning. The work starts there, and will probably get harder and more frustrating in many ways. So prepare yourself. I'm only just getting into the suggested edits from my agent **tee hee** and it was enough to cause a minor panic attack. So if there's anything to be taken away from this post it should be this: Don't give up. Revise when you need to. Do your research. Attend events and conventions. Be professional.

And...don't...give...up.

Write Your Novel Like A Noob…Or Not

As I write this, here in my 38th year, I'm struck by a number of what some people might consider failures, and yet others might see as learning experiences. To not put too fine a point on it, this is the writer's experience in an online nutshell. As for me, I've taken several cracks at this whole writing thing. In total I've started writing, around 18 different books...give or take. All of them in various stages of incompleteness. Wow, right? But to be honest, it's not as impressive as it is disappointing. Because only in the last couple of years have I actually seen any of these projects to completion.  In fact, only four of them have been finished (as in reaching completion on the first draft). Only two have reached a second draft. And worse still, only one has been refined enough to be sent out to find representation. So this being said, let's jump into a short list of things to do...or not do as it were, when writing your novel(s).

Finish what you start:

If you didn't spot the problem laid out above, here it is in plain view. While no writing is ever wasted (unless it's about Frozen, I hate that movie), as in we get better the more we practice our craft, start a project only if you intend to finish it. Writer's minds are often scattered, we are creatives after all. I personally have so many ideas that will randomly come up and ignite excitement inside me that I can't wait to work on them more. Listen to me now: NO! No. Bad writer. BAD WRITER!

On that note...make a note:

This is why notebooks exist. Carry one in your pocket, in your purse, in your knapsack...but not your fanny pack. Get an app on your phone (Evernote is great). Get a new idea, jot it down in a new note, or create a folder for new ideas. Get it out of your head so you can come back to it later. Then, exercise self control and go back to the project you've already started and finish it.

Plot...but also pants:

If you're new to this idea it's basically this: You're either a plotter (someone who fully and in detail plans out their novel before writing). Or you're a pantster (someone who flies by the seat of their pants, allowing their story to take whatever path it will). Personally, I've done both. And the greatest thing I can take away from those experiences...is that I suck at each one. Individually, that is. For me I need a mixture of the two. A healthy amount of plotting so I know where the story is going and needs to go, and a generous spritzing of pantsing so that the story remains fluid, able to adapt to the awesome things my brain will drum up when I'm in the middle of something else. Be adaptive. Nothing is set in stone.

Try this:

Start writing. If at any point you find yourself struggling to write a scene and you're having to force it...stop. Exit the word processor, notebook, stone tablet, or parchment scrawled in your own blood. Open up something new, and plot. No need for full on detail. Think about your story. What is happening? What are you trying to accomplish? What are the main events/actions/consequences/stakes that need to take place. Then figure out (in very broad strokes) how your character is going to get there. Then, if you're comfortable doing that, start constructing individual scenes. The most important point here, though, is finding the process that works best for you, probably a mixture of both plotting and pantsing.

Do NOT obsessively re-write...the same scene...over and over:

To me, this is tantamount to self mutilation. Pointless. Painful. And unlikely to do anything but sow the seeds of regret later on. This goes hand-in-hand with plotting and pantsing. If you find yourself doing this, then it's a pretty good sign you might need to step back from the scene you're stuck on and figure out where your story needs to go. The best cure for writer's block (which doesn't actually exist) is planning.

DO have multiple projects...just not 18 of them:

At a certain point, if you're diligent, if you're dedicated, and if you aren't binge watching something on Netflix, you will finish your book. The first draft anyway. Once this is done, put the pen down and step away. Stop thinking about it. Stop worrying about it. If you need a break from writing, take it. If you still want to write, start working on something else. The point is two-fold: to remove yourself from the other project and get emotional distance so that you can see it from more objective eyes. And to get something else going on the back burner. I mean, come on! You've got other ideas you want to get rolling. Do it!

The End:

There's more to this discussion, many more things that we can talk about. Perhaps we'll talk about those next month. In the meantime...write something.

Concerning Conferences: A noob’s thoughts on time, worth, and industry

It's our honor to introduce new victim blogger, Josh Dorne, who you might've met at the Colorado Gold.

Take it away, Josh....

Let's pretend, for one second, that I know what I'm talking about. For our current intents and purposes, it doesn't matter. I mean, come on! This is the Internet. But as of this writing I've only just attended my second ever writing conference: Rocky Mountain Fiction Writer's, Colorado Gold 2016. So let's just say I've got some learning to do. That being said here's my perspective on writing conferences from the view point of a relative newcomer. At thirty-eight years old, I'm a bit late to the party. But regardless if you're younger, older, or simply just prefer words to things like real-life social interaction, a writer/author should always be moving forward in his or her writing career. Yes. It's a career. Maybe even a life choice...possibly an ill-advised one. But if you're reading this it's probably too late for you, so let's get started.

Is a writing conference worth your time?

Short answer...yes. Or no. Possibly, maybe. In the grand scheme, a weekend (as most conferences tend to last) is not a significant period of time. And if you're new or struggling (like me) in this highly competative industry where thousands of books are self published each day, and the traditionally published duke it out Thunderdome style, this is something you should consider including in your publishing/writing journey. Why? The answer's simple: Networking. A content loaded word that strikes fear into the hearts of men, women,  and whatever gender I might be by the time this posting is done. But something to remember: Everyone you meet at a conference is in a similar boat to you. Not only are conversations extremely easy to start, i.e. "What do you write?" "Are you published?" But the contacts and the people you meet are, in themselves, worth the price of admission. In my first conference alone I met two great people (and many more besides) whom I hope will be in my life and share my publishing/writing journey for many years to come.

Is a writing conference worth the money?

This question is more difficult, as is putting a price on things that are subjective depending on your position in life. Nothing can be promised inside of a conference. An agent connection or book deal cannot be guaranteed, nor should you expect one. The main things you can expect to get out of a conference are three-fold: connections (with other writers, agents, and editors), learning (such as how to write a bestseller, or the 3 Act plot structure), and experience (pitching, querying, and writering). I don't know about you, but before my first conference, not only did I have no idea how to query, but the thought of it sent my hizzie into a complete and total tizzie...because I'm hip, and with it.

So, is a conference worth it or not?

The answer to this is ultimately going to be up to you. Different people will take different things from the same experience. But if like me you're new to writing, new to publishing, or just need a new perspective from which to chase this elusive career choice, then for me the answer is yes. If you're expecting a miracle, or to be discovered and become the next JK Rowling, then it's possible that your expectation might need a slight (or drastic) adjustment. But if you want the opportunity to learn from people directly involved in the industry, speak to successful authors who've gone through what is currently keeping you up nights, and meet some cool people in the exact same boat you're in and possibly make some friends who you'll have for years to come? Then take the plunge and register for a conference near you today! You might only regret it a little bit. And that's nothing if not the dream.