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Writerly Wednesdays

Edit Letters and Ending Terms and What’s Up With Referrals?

As usual, when it rains, it pours.

I have arrived at the next stage of The Book Deal. First came the offer. Then waiting. Next came the contract. Then more waiting. Now the edit letter has arrived.

No waiting. Just working.

Between all the revising I need to do and the term ending this week at school, I’m a bit busy. So it might be quiet here at the blog for a while. I’ll try to pipe up now and then.

One word of advice for the savvy aspiring writer. Remember that a referral to someone’s agent is not typically something you ask for. It’s something that’s offered. And you definitely don’t ask an author who doesn’t know you from the crossing guard down the street.

I had a referral once from a writer who knows me (and more importantly, my work!) very well. It went as far as an R&R (revise-and-resubmit) but didn’t pan out. The referral was a gift—something I didn’t ask for, but was very grateful to be offered.

Be professional. It always looks good.

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My Fellow Perfectionists, Let Us Embrace the Suckitude

I admit it. I’ve been struggling with perfectionism pretty much my whole life. (You’ll have to ask my mom how much of it manifested when I was a two-year-old, I guess.) There’s a particular aspect of it that sticks with me. If I couldn’t do something perfectly, I’d rather not do it at all.

No settling for “okay.” No such thing as “good enough.” All or nothing, a hundred percent or zero.

If I were still full-throttle in that zone and trying to write novels, I think I’d be dead already.

Don’t get me wrong. Striving for excellence is great. It’s something we should do, and something I still do. But writing is never going to be perfect, and it’s going to be very unperfect for a long time before we get it as close to perfect as we can. If we lock onto the flaws during the process, we’re never going to move forward. So here’s what we can do:

We can let our first draft suck.

It’s okay. We have permission. It’s allowed.

If we’re coming up on a fight scene, and we know we have a hard time with action descriptions? That’s okay. Write it badly. Let the words come, because then we have something to work with.

I’m not saying editing/revising as you go isn’t allowed. Personally, I tend to do that as I draft. Others, like Mindy McGinnis, prefer the first draft to be “word vomit”—just get it all out there and tidy it up on the first revision pass. When I feel my perfectionism creeping up, though … when I get those doubts saying I can’t write what I need to well enough, so I may as well not bother at all … that’s when I know I need to just let it spill.

Once it’s out there, I can see how bad it really is. Maybe it’s worse than I thought, and I need to educate myself on how to fix it. More often than not, though, it’s not nearly as bad as I expect.

For me, the fear of sucking is much worse than actually giving something a shot. So I’m trying not to fear it. I’m trying to embrace that suckiness, knowing at worst, it’ll only be temporary.

A crappy scene can be revised and fixed. A blank page is just a blank page. Great for origami. Not so great for telling a story.

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Going Off-Topic Can Be On-Topic

When I was in junior high, there was this one English teacher. I never had him, but I heard stories. Stories about the stories. My classmates talked about how all they had to do was make one comment or ask one random question to get him going, and they could keep him talking through all of class. As in, never getting to the lesson. As in, no homework.

Not something I aspire to as a teacher.

At the same time, I find I can’t be totally rigid about sticking to the agenda and only the agenda. That likely comes from my years in deaf-ed, where kids often have gaps in their world knowledge, and if I don’t allow a tangent to fill them, who will? I have a curriculum to stick to, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t time for other conversations.

Here’s what I’ve learned: Kids want to know things. Since my students have heard about my publishing deal, they want to know a lot of things.

How long did it take to write the book?

Why is it going to be so long before it’s published?

How did you get the book deal?

What’s an agent?

Will it be in bookstores or will we have to buy it from you?

Will there be a movie?

I get particularly in-depth questions from students who want to write and publish novels themselves, but some of the most intense curiosity comes from students who aren’t into writing at all. Often who aren’t even into reading all that much.

Indulging those questions gives them insight into something that certainly isn’t on the curriculum in any of their classes. It also reinforces one of my favorite points—don’t pigeonhole people. Yeah, I’m a math teacher. Yeah, I’m a novelist. Yeah, I know ASL.

Hopefully it gets through to them that they can be as multi-faceted as they want, too. Especially in the adolescent world of “What’s your label?”

And you know what? Sometimes tangents like that work in writing, too. It might seem like wandering off aimlessly, but if we do it right, it can actually play right into our point.

Of course, the trick is the “doing it right” part. But isn’t it always?

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Bitterness Isn’t Sexy

About a year and a half ago, I wrote a post about humility being sexy. Today, a little time on the flip-side with what isn’t sexy.

The writing/publishing world is an easy one to get bitter in. No matter our route and no matter where we are in our journey, there’s always someone who’s gone further faster, gotten more, done better.

A fellow querying writer who gets a gazillion requests on a derivative story with a so-so query while you can’t get a peep out of agents.

A fellow self-publisher who races to #1 on the charts without seeming to lift a finger.

A fellow agented author whose novel sells in days while your agent has been shopping your second manuscript for six months after striking out with the first.

A fellow published author who gets the red-carpet treatment from their publisher while you have to pound the pavement yourself if anyone’s even going to hear about your book.

So what do we do about it?

Some people send nasty replies to agents’ form rejections. Some leave bad reviews on their “competitions'” books. Some just plain badmouth their peers. Some chat-bomb Twitter events that industry professionals have given up their scant free time to host and do little more than spew venom.

What good did any of that ever do anyone? I have a hard time believing it even makes the perpetrator feel better—not in any real way.

Here’s what it’s not going to do: Endear you to other writers. Or agents. Or editors.

Or readers.

Did you notice something in the list I gave earlier? All those people are supposed to be our “fellows.” How about we treat them like it? We can be happy for them while hoping to soon be a bit happier for ourselves.

If nothing else, it’s got to be better for your mental health.

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Contest Woes: I Feel Your Pain

Tomorrow morning, the PAPfest entries will go live on my blog as well as Mindy McGinnis’s and MarcyKate Connolly’s.

If any of the entrants are reading this post, I imagine some of you are old hands at such contests, while others may be contest newbies. Either way, I want you to keep my own contest experiences in mind.

Some blog readers may remember that last spring’s Writer’s Voice contest was a big part of the big, crazy frenzy that resulted in me signing with my agent less than two weeks later. I had several requests from participating agents, lurking agents, and through a handful of queries I’d sent just before the contest went live.

Super-awesome, right? Dream come true, right?



I almost didn’t enter.

I’d tried another similar contest for two years straight (different manuscripts) and nary a peep from an agent either time. Not so much as a request for five measly pages. There’d been a “preliminary” round beforehand, and I’d gotten through that both times. Someone had at least sort of liked my work.

Hard to remind myself of that with the silence surrounding me.

The silence hurt more than any number of query rejections. Mindy can tell you about talking me off the ledge those days.

But I did come down off that ledge. I kept writing, kept learning, kept working, and eventually it all came together. (Now I have the same old insecurities in whole new ways, but that’s another story.)

I’d love it if every entry tomorrow gets requests. I hope that happens. But if it doesn’t, those of you who receive the silence, I understand. It’s okay to be bummed and let it hurt … for a little while. A good critique partner will let you wallow in it just long enough, and then they’ll remind you it’s not the end. You’re still awesome. That awesomeness can only come out if you keep putting it out there, one way or another.

Send some queries.

Revise some pages.

Work on a new project.

Just keep going.

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First Conference: The Aftermath

I’m back. As expected, I survived despite my anxiety. The trip to New York was great, and I gladly accept the resulting exhaustion. Since I went primarily for a conference, and conferences are for learning, I’ll share a few things I learned.

The bottom line is that I need to head back to NYC before too long. (And yes, I know my sister will insist on coming along that time.)

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