Writing

The Curse Is Broken

#ourtruestselves

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Just broke through one of the most painful writer’s blocks I’ve experienced, this one spanning a total of eleven weeks. Eleven! Yikes.

The true meaning of 11 weeks: two and a half months kind of.

What I could have done within those 11 weeks:

  1. Finish a crappy draft of a full-length novel
  2. Write 11 short stories
  3. Edit another draft of an existing novel
  4. Come up with a million ideas
  5. Write a masterpiece

What I did instead:

  1. Wrote crappy drafts of two short stories that will probably never see the light of day
  2. Stared at my blinking cursor a lot
  3. Opened a lot of new documents and then closed them without saving

What I’m doing now:

  1. Working on a hopefully not-crappy first draft of my new novel, a young adulty fairy tale about a witch, a warlock, two princes, a princess, and a dragon. You’ve been warned.
Agents

The Query Letter that Landed an Agent [Long]

I didn’t want to write this post at first because the title just seemed so clickbait, but I also know that it would be helpful to many writers who are searching for an agent. I wrote a silly post about how I actually “landed” my agent, Mary C. Moore at the Kimberly Cameron & Associates Literary Agency, but I thought I owed it to my book to write a more detailed post about what actually happened.

Someone once told me that finding an agent was like finding your spouse. It’s about finding the right match, not so much finding someone who will take over and make your dreams come true. Knowing this might help you during the rejection process–which is a big step in the whole ordeal. Just because someone turns you down doesn’t have any bearing on your character, worth, or talent. It just means you weren’t a good match. It took me a long time to understand this. Every rejection I got hurt like an arrow to the knee, and would leave me feeling dejected, worthless, and ultimately make me wonder if I should give up and resign the rest of my life to administrative jobs until I retire and die.

Fortunately, I got over myself.

I thought I was done with CHRONICLES OF MEDES years before I really was. When it was time to work on my query, I looked into blogs like Query Shark and Miss Snark. I also looked into some books on query-writing, but honestly the blogs helped more than anything. Both bloggers were agents who posted actual query letters they’d critiqued to help you understand the process, not just what the finished product looks like. Show vs. tell.

After several weeks reading both blogs, (and yeah, you should definitely go through all the archives. Queries about books in genres you’ll never write or read will help you tremendously), I realized that my book still wasn’t ready. Learning to write query letters helped me understand fundamental storytelling flaws that were still evident in my novel.

It was heartbreaking. But it also saved my characters’ lives. (Dramatic much?)

I went back and revised. But this time was different. I wrote the query letter before starting on the next draft of my novel. It became not so much an outline but a guide. If the query letter was how I hooked my audience, then the novel better follow up with all the promises.

Several drafts (and about a year) later, I felt like I had written a novel worthy of my query letter. For those of you who want to know, this is what the letter turned out to be (one or two details edited now that the story has changed). It is also the blurb posted under CHRONICLES OF MEDES on my “Books” page.

Dear Ms….

If you want Toph Roberts dead, you’ll have to get in line. He’s only fourteen and already, one assassin wants to kill him, and another is using him to bait the first. Toph can’t begin to fathom why. He’s magicless, harmless, and he can’t even stand up to his younger brother. Maybe it has to do with magic disappearing from the kingdom, though no one can see that happening except him.

When Toph gets caught up in a misunderstanding among pirates, witches, and magical beasts–who, by the way, are supposed to be extinct–he has more to worry about than the assassins. If he doesn’t stop the magic from leaving the kingdom, he’ll lose his home and everyone he’s ever loved.

CHRONICLES OF MEDES a middle-grade fantasy novel complete at 100,000 words. It is my first novel. I’ve enclosed the first 50 pages, and would love to send you the complete manuscript.

Thank you so much for your time and consideration…

I thought about putting more “credentials” as an English major, published here and there in magazines, but that didn’t really seem relevant nor is it proof that I can or cannot write a novel.

While you’re querying agents, it’s important to keep track somehow of who you’ve sent it to, what you sent, and whether to wait for a response. My philosophy, however, is that I should just not expect a response. Because if I do, I’d be biting my nails, stalking my inbox, and becoming a nutcase. I kept track of that anyway, just because I am a control freak, but then I’d file it under the “submitted” tab in my excel tracker sheet, and try not to look at it again.

Most authors recommend that you pick out 5 agents to query at a time, and then work your way down from there. If your proposal hasn’t worked, then it’s time to revise your query, and start on the next 5.

I didn’t have an exact number of “batches” of agents I wanted to send to. I just started out with the agents whose books sounded awesome and with whom I wanted to work. I found these agents mostly through Writers’ Digest, and basically stalked their website, bio, social media, and blogs before I reached out to them. It’s a scary process sending out something you’ve poured your heart and soul into, and I wanted to make sure we might be a good match.

My first query for CHRONICLES OF MEDES went out in November of 2015. I didn’t send out another one until December 10, 2015. I almost didn’t send it due to crippling self-doubt and a phobia of failure, but that was the first one that received a request for a full. Go figure.

Even after I got my first request for a full, I went back again and revised the novel some more. More crippling self-doubt ensued, wherein I wondered if I should just give up on the whole business and become, like, an accountant or something. I didn’t actually send the full until April (almost 5 months after the request).

Meanwhile I continued querying other agents. Looking back on the pattern, I sent out about 5 a month, but I didn’t have that goal in mind at the time. I just kept researching more literary agents, reading their blogs and bios and trying to decipher whether I’d want to work with them.

Rejections poured in.

In August (9-10 months into querying) I was starting to lose hope, but I decided to send more queries out. By the end of the month, I got another request for a full! So much joy ensued, and nothing would have ruined my day, not even the rejection I received literally the week after.

More revisions. More submissions.

Then. Silence.

Holidays came. So much busyness. And then in the midst of it all, on December 2, 2016 (a year and one month after I began querying my novel, a year after she requested the full, and about eight months after I submitted the complete manuscript), I got an email from Mary, the first agent who had requested a full, asking if I had time to chat over the weekend. I responded that I had time the next morning.

Obviously I did not get any sleep that night. I researched every possible meaning of those words. What did “chat” really mean? Was she calling just to reject me, as apparently some agents are known to do? Did she want to give me feedback? Make revisions request? Offer to represent me (HELLO DREAMS)?

I stayed up reading, pondering, daydreaming, and of course the next morning, I overslept, and missed her phone call. I woke up in full panic mode.

But thankfully when I called her back, she was still cool to talk.  I’d like to apologize to Mary for how awkward I must have sounded. I was so sleep-deprived and not ready for the initial questions when she was trying to get to know me. In hindsight, she probably just wanted to make sure I wasn’t a weirdo (JOKE’S ON YOU MARY). She asked me why I wanted to be a writer, if I saw it as a career or if this was just a one-book thing, etc.

I was so ecstatic. I had no idea how to answer that question. To me, writing had never been just a hobby or a way of living. It is my purpose for existing.

I think eventually I woke up and was able to answer everything okay, lol.

We chatted about an hour about the book, how to make it stronger, where the characters should go, what changes to make. I remember distinctly hearing Mary’s daughter in the background :’) and the whole time, I felt as if the phone call was still part of my dream. She was talking about my characters as if they were real, like they really existed, and weren’t just figments of my weird imagination. I had to keep reminding myself that THIS WAS REALLY HAPPENING.

After about an hour discussing the novel, I had a full page of notes, and I thought that maybe she might reconsider my novel after I had made the revisions she was suggesting.

And then to my surprise, shock, excitement, INSERT ALL THE WONDERFUL WORDS HERE, she offered to represent me!

At the time, the full was out with a few more agents, so I asked Mary to give me some time to reach out to them. That week, I was a ball of nerves and stress and what-if’s. I wasn’t at all present, but keeping myself busy with friends and social events really helped me stay sane. After talking to the other agents, I couldn’t help feeling like Mary was the one who really loved the story and the characters, and who understood where I wanted things to go. Also, she really knows her stuff! (I totally stalk her blog and Instagram now.) So I called her back, we talked some more about the logistics of what would happen next, she sent over the contract, I signed, and BOOM. It was official yo.

I went back to my query tracker, and here are the statistics of the query process for CHRONICLES OF MEDES.

1 – Number of years I spent daydreaming about the book before actually writing it.

3 – Number of years it took me to write the book.

22 – Total number of agents I queried.

1.1 – Total number of years I spent querying.

10 – Number of direct rejections I received.

9 – Number of silent rejections I received.

Countless: Number of times I revised the novel.

3 – Number of agents who requested fulls.

1 – Number of agents who now represent me. After all, that’s all it takes.

I know the hard part isn’t over. I know I have a lot of work ahead of me. But if it’s writing and creating and spending time making my characters come alive, it’s a mountain I’d gladly climb if only to feel the thrill, to be able to say I did it.

This isn’t the happy ending of a story. This is the beginning of something beautiful.

Learning Things

Day 5 of the Social Media Fast

I HAVE NOT BEEN ON SOCIAL MEDIA FOR 5 WHOLE DAYS. 5 WHOLE DAYS.

That is all.

Okay, that isn’t all. This fast is for a community-wide outreach at my church, so that we can hopefully get into our new building by the time we’re kicked out of our current venue.

I used to not be a social media fiend at all. For four years, I had no Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or anything. I felt so liberated! I also felt like I was not alive to people who used to know me. How did everyone stay in touch before social media was born? I do not understand.

Anyway, in case you’re curious, I’m pretty active on Instagram. Or at least I will be as soon as this fast is over on Sunday.

Writing

Where is the Love?

A professor in a biography-writing class once told us to choose the people we want to write about carefully.

“You’ll pretty much be living with them for the entire semester,” he said. “You’re going to learn everything there is to possibly know about them. You’re going to hear about their childhood, what they like to eat, what they like to read, if they chew with their mouths open, and if they leave the seat down on the toilet. You better like them. Or you’re going to go crazy.”

This was true. But it’s not just true for biographies, it’s also true about novel-writing. When you start out writing your book, you better make sure you love your characters enough to spend the next two, three, four, fifteen years with them.

I learned this the hard way. I’m always brimming with ideas, mindlessly daydreaming, thinking up new characters and storylines and worlds, traveling from one thing to the next in my crazy brain-train. The problem for me has never been what to write, it’s what to choose. Narrowing it down to one idea and a cast of characters has never been easy.

I just finished up a draft of a novel that I was struggling with, but had no idea why at the time. I loved all the characters, especially the protagonist. But something wasn’t working. I’m only beginning to realize now that maybe I don’t love him enough. At least, not in the way I feel about Toph in CHRONICLES OF MEDES.

It’s weird talking about my affection for someone who doesn’t technically exist, but my feelings are there, and they’re real. When I compare how I feel toward Toph against how I feel about other characters in novels I haven’t completed, I can see the vast difference. I poured heart and soul, flaws and imperfections, pain and suffering, challenge and growth into Toph. I needed to do that to all the characters I write.

When I start on my next novel, I’m going to remember this, to give it my all, to be all in. I’m going to give each character a chance, a real chance, to fail, to grow, to suffer and move on, and to really live.

Learning Things

All the Art Supplies

I grew up surrounded by art. That sounds much more fancier than it was because, being devoutly Catholic, my mother plastered our walls with oil paintings of the crucifixion of Jesus, thorny bleeding hearts, Mary stepping on serpents. You know, the usual things that make you happy.

But despite imbuing me with a plethora of psychological issues that I can now channel into my characters, art has affected my life, career, and outlook in ways that I’m only beginning to realize now. My childhood was cluttered with paint tubes, brushes, pencils, canvases. I watched my mother create masterpieces from a blank plane of white. I watched her turn old canvases she bought from thrift stores into an oil mural that traveled from Catholic church to Catholic church throughout the country.

And I learned that that was a possibility. That one person could create something so beautiful, so alive…pretty much from nothing.

Over the past years, I’ve made it a goal to meet new people and learn new things. Last year, I bought a DSLR and took a photography class. I learned so many technical things from the course, but more importantly, I started looking at the world from a different angle. That sounds really cheesy but seriously, every week we were assigned a photo-taking task. Of course I told myself I’d go out on the weekend and take some photos, but I’d always end up leaving things to the last minute, and rush out during my lunch break to take a few snaps. In the short hour I had, I took a closer, different look at things around me. Buildings I took for granted suddenly seemed beautiful. Alleyways I walked down every day became darker, had a story to tell.

When my photography class was over, I missed it–the push to create something every week, to capture a beautiful moment in my life, to challenge myself to look at the world in a different light.

As writers, our stories are usually all in our heads. It can be a lonely experience that can sometimes drive you mad. I’ve discovered that it helps to channel this madness into another creative outlet. So I looked into art classes at the local college, found one that fit my after-work schedule, and signed up.

You can expect a lot of stick-figure drawings on this blog forthwith.

Also, now I have an excuse to go out and buy a bunch of art supplies.

Writing

This is the Start of Something New

I AM WORKING ON A (NEW) NOVEL.

But let me backtrack.

I usually don’t talk about works-in-progress because I have this superstition that any mention of the story will jinx it. This isn’t a completely irrational fear. There have been many times where a story is not finished, the characters not real enough, and the concept not fully developed. I make the mistake of talking about the project. And then my excitement over it sizzles.

The other day, I had just turned in a draft (TO MY AGENT. I still can’t believe I can write words like that, and they’re actually true and not just made up in my head like most of my writing usually is) and felt a bit down. The usual project hangover you get when something is finished and you’re lost in limbo not knowing what to work on next.

Then I started reading AUTHOR IN PROGRESS by the makers of Writers Unboxed. The book is great so far (I’m only 25% in) but the editors encourage aspiring writers to announce to the world that they’re working on a novel, even if their first instinct is to keep it a secret. My reasoning for keeping it to myself is that I have this vision that when the novel enters the world, it will be with as much elegance and grace as a debutante being presented to the ton for the Season. All dressed up and pretty and ripe for the plucking.

And then I remembered what happened the last time I did that. I kept CHRONICLES OF MEDES a secret, working on it behind the scenes for more than 3 years. When I finally told my friends and family that I’d received representation for it, they were like, “You were working on a novel?” I mean, they were happy for me, but it didn’t have quite the congratulatory awesomeness that I’d expected. It wasn’t their fault. It was my own. I felt like I’d short-changed my characters by not announcing them to the world when they were first born.

So I’m scrapping my usual protocol, and proclaiming that I AM WORKING ON A (NEW) NOVEL!

But that’s all I’m going to say about it. And now the world knows and I can’t take it back.

Writing

Only Words Bleed

Or: My first sucky experience at an IRL writing workshop.

Writers have a reputation for being socially awkward, and at least in my case, I’d say that’s pretty accurate. I’ve spent most of my life trying to limit my human interactions, but sometimes the little extrovert-troll claws its way out. I’ve been feeling strangely more validated as a writer lately (which turned out to be a false alarm) so I signed up for this writing group in the hopes of making new friends. And that didn’t happen. But I won’t name any names.

I’ve joined critique groups and partnered up with other writers online before, all with wonderful experiences and some amazing constructive feedback that’s helped me grow as a writer and as an internet troll. But this year, as part of my own goal to meet more people, I finally decided to attend a workshop in real life.

We all exchanged our full-length manuscripts two months in advance, and split into groups of 3. The other 2 novels I read were great, though not in the genre I normally read or write. However, I’m a prolific binge reader and can delve into any subject. The other two writers, on the other hand, were not fantasy readers, and admitted to not really getting the genre or my book in general. I get that. Fantasy writers are a different breed of humans. We exist in different universes where magic and dragons and aliens reign, and weird stuff happens. Lots of weird stuff.

One feedback I received was that the novel was perfect, and not to change a thing. I LOVE HEARING THINGS LIKE THIS. Except, not really? Because it’s not exactly constructive.

And the other feedback was just all over the place. The critiquer admitted to not being able to read parts of the novel for “personal reasons.” Which I kind of understand? But then why did you join a writing workshop when you knew you’d have to read a full manuscript in this type of genre? It just seemed a bit unfair–especially when we agreed to actually read each other’s manuscripts in exchange for in-depth critiques.

I’ll chalk my experience to a one-time deal, but probably won’t go back. Mostly because I don’t have anything ready to submit to a workshop yet.

But here are some things I learned.

I am meant to be forever alone.

Just kidding. But really, writing is a lonely, painful, high-impact sport.

And sometimes you gotta take the punches by yourself.

I still have so much more to learn.

Writing a novel is hard. Finishing a novel is near-impossible. Even things that are published never really seem complete. Just because I wrote this novel doesn’t mean I know what I’m doing or how to write the next one, or even how I wrote this one. There will always be more revisions, more rewrites, more improvements.

I need to stop taking myself so seriously.

Writing is fun. My novel is fun. Reading it should be fun. So I’m going to enjoy the process.

 

Agents

How to “Land” a Literary Agent: Based on a True Story

A Step by Step Guide

Spend 3 years writing your novel.

1

Research agents you’d like to work with.

3

Research how to write a query letter.

2

Realize your book is not ready. Spend another year re-writing and revising.

4

Query agents for a year.

5

Receive rejections.

6

Revise.

7

Query more agents.

8

Eventually get a request for a full.

9

Eventually get more requests for a full.

10

Send. Try not to go crazy. Remain Calm.

11

Write another novel.

12

Wait some more.

13

Receive email from an agent. Get the stress tingles. Try not to get hopes up. Much research over what the phrase “Do you have time to chat?” really means.

14

Discuss book. Wondering, daydreaming, over-analyzing ensues.

15

Receive offer of representation.

16

Try not to cry/scream/shout/dance/run/panic/pass out.

19

Talk to other agents who had the full, decide on the one who loves your characters and story the most.

18

Officially accept representation.

17