Well this weekend was weird.

I went to dinner with my husband, went to get drinks with friends, slept in Saturday, did some work for my day job, spent time with family, brunched, ran errands and bought things for the house…All the while I was so confused, because there was nothing else I was supposed to be doing. No deadlines. Nothing.

I still managed to feel a little guilty because surely I should be doing something, right? I even invented a few writing related tasks that I ought to be getting done over the weekend, just because that’s my default setting. But mostly, I found myself feeling a little lost.

See, last week, Agent Dan approached me about a new book for a packager I’ve previously worked for and, more than that, loved working for. But the project was very much in line with work I’ve already done for them. Still, it’s a new book and it’d be fun and not too terribly, terribly difficult. I learned so much from the editors at this packager and would love the opportunity to work with them again. (Not to mention, it’s getting paid for writing, which never hurts.)

But I turned it down in favor of feeling lost.

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a touch of non-buyer’s remorse. I love having a solid plan for writing. I love the comfort that comes with knowing someone has already paid me and therefore believes in my work at least that much before I have to dig in with fingers to keys. I love having books come out quickly to established audiences. All that is so tempting and so much more familiar than what I’m doing right now.

On Wednesday I turned in revisions to my agent for a book that is mine and has yet to be sent out to editors. I asked myself, if I had a book deal in hand, would I take this packaged book? The answer was, No. I wouldn’t. I’m someone that has a very hard time believing in my own work. In some way, turning down the series felt like a vote of confidence in my own little book. I’ve never worked so hard on making a book right in my life, so I guess I thought it was time for my own book to have my full attention. Maybe it will sell or maybe it won’t, but at least it won’t be for lack of believing in it.

Now that’s not to say that I don’t have anything else in the hopper. My agent is currently negotiating a contract for a book that I’m very excited about. This was a vague idea pitched to me by a production studio in 2 words. From there I spun a synopsis and characters and pitched it back. They liked it and now I get to take this concept and create a full proposal out of it. This is a story I have a lot of creative control over at this point and it’s another idea I believe in 110%, so I feel comfortable taking it.

But by turning down the other project, I’ve also left room for something else cool to come my way, or to work on another book of my own. Who knows. But I hope to know a lot more in the coming months.

 

 

Status: Reading Beautiful Creatures, yes, before the movie comes out and playing with shiny, new ideas whenever they come along.

 

Good Cop/Bad Cop

The hubs and I just finished the first season of The Wire yesterday. So naturally we’ve been walking around using our best gangster slang whenever we’re home and sounding pretty badass, if we do say so ourselves.

Aside from the revelation that I don’t hear “Most def” nearly enough in my day-to-day life, The Wire got me thinking about the traditional Good Cop/Bad Cop trope and how it relates to the writing process. There’s a scene in Season 1 in which idiot detectives Ellis Carver and Thomas ‘Herc’ Hauk try to employ the good cop/bad cop tactic to get a juvenile delinquent/drug dealer to talk. Only in true Carver and Herc fashion, they totally gum up the interrogation and the good cop/bad cop stunt doesn’t prime the suspect to talk but instead results in a messy brawl causing the whole line of questioning to shut down.

I’m pretty sure every writer has a Good Cop and a Bad Cop, each of which rears their little ugly head somewhere during the course of writing and revising a novel. And the thing is, there’s a place for both of them, IF (and only if) they come at the right time and are used correctly.

In The Wire, Herc and Carver mistakenly start out with the good cop and then go to the bad cop, but hello! any good Homeland fan knows that you start with the bad cop and then move to the good one. That way the suspect–after being used and abused–is ready to listen to what the good cop has to say.

For me, conversations from my Good Cop go something like this:

Good Cop Writing Voice: OMG, this is the best thing you’ve ever written–like ever! You are a genius. Congratulations on your big, swollen genius brain. It’s a wonder your skull can contain it!

Good Cop Writing Voice: You should send this off straight away! It’s perfect! Editors will call overnight. First one then FIVE editors. And then an auction! Or perhaps a pre-empt! It’s written in the stars!

Good Cop Writing Voice: At the very least, you should have a bottle of champagne lurking in the fridge! Silly writer. So cautious.

Good Cop Writing Voice: You’re going to be a millionaire!

On the other hand, the role of Bad Cop goes like this:

Bad Cop Writing Voice: You actually spent time on this? Really?  It’s so embarrassing. The writing is flat. The characters are flat. If you wrote the world, I bet it would be flat, too.

Bad Cop Writing Voice: Oh. My. Goodness. Are you trying to bore me to death? An editor won’t read past the first page. Wait, what? Someone paid you to write this? Oh geez, you should just give their money back now. Stealing is wrong.

Bad Cop Writing Voice: You will never be good enough. Not ever. And definitely not with this book.

Bad Cop Writing Voice: Everyone is going to be disappointed in you.

Okay, so as you can see, the good cop is way too good and the bad cop is way too bad, but each have little nuggets of truth in them, that if I interpret correctly, can be used to my benefit.

In fact, Good Cop may be right. This may be the best thing I’ve ever written. If I’m trying hard and improving with each book, it *should* be the best thing I’ve ever written. That’s something I should take pride in and be motivated by and I should be willing to look at the work as objectively as possible to determine if it is, truly, the best work I’ve done. If it is, then good for me. I shouldn’t deny myself the pleasure of recognizing that. A job well done shouldn’t go unnoticed, least of all by the writer. Now, is my book going to sell overnight in a 5 house auction? Ummmm…probably not. I mean, it could, but odds are very, very low. Still, this is the type of hare-brained dream that can get us through the hard times. When your manuscript is a bear and you’re contemplating quitting or at least crying into the dried up bowl of oatmeal that’s been sitting next to your computer for the past three days (not that this has ever happened to me, of course). This type of positive self-talk can inspire the love you need, the love that will in turn bleed into your writing on the page. If you’re not feeling it, neither will the reader. And more importantly, if this is your pie-in-the-sky goal, it should make you work crazy hard to do your best. Aim for the 5 house auction and if you don’t reach it, you’ll still end up with something great on your hands. The only problem lies in taking Good Cop’s commentary as a foregone conclusion, as destiny rather than a reward that has to be earned.

But that’s okay because Bad Cop is there to bring you back down to earth. And fast. My Bad Cop is super mean. Too mean, if we’re honest. My Bad Cop can cripple me into not writing at all if I’m not careful. Sometimes, I have to consciously bring Good Cop back in. But Bad Cop has a role too and that role is not to let me off the hook. Maybe my writing is flat. Maybe the characters don’t have enough layers. Maybe Bad Cop’s telling the truth and I just don’t want to listen. I at least have to consider the consequences that Bad Cop is presenting me. This is the voice inside that pushes you as far as you can go. But it only works if you don’t let it shut you down. Let the Bad Cop tell you the hard truths. The ones that scare you. Bad Cop is the driving force to betterment, the one that forces you to consider your weaknesses.

As far as I can tell, for most writers, the order of “interrogation” needs to be: Good Cop, Bad Cop, Good Cop. I need Good Cop to get me through the first draft. During that time, I need to feel the love. I need to write confidently and without (too much) fear. After the first draft is down, I can let Bad Cop take its turn. I put my head down and listen to everything that I’ve ever done wrong and force myself to consider what might happen if I don’t listen. Once I’ve done all I can do and the book is out of my hands, it’s time for Good Cop to come back. If you’ve truly done your best, then there’s no reaason to beat yourself up about anything more. Take pride in the work and the effort and the enthusiasm and pray for the best.

Do you have good and bad cops while writing? What do they say?

The New Year’s Resolution Post

It’s New Year’s Eve, everybody! I’ve got my fancy pants outfit and plans all ready to go (already a huge improvement over most NYEs) and it’s time to reflect on the year that’s passed and the year to come. In short, 2012 has been made of awesome so, yanno, 2013 has a whole freaking lot to live up to. But if there’s something I love, it’s a good underdog, so here’s hoping that ’13 is all that and more! Have a happy and safe New Year’s, y’all!

Favorite Moments of 2012:

-Getting engaged
-Getting married
-Honeymoon to South Africa
-Going to Paris
-Driving Big Sur in California
-Engagement Party in my hometown of Sarasota, FL
-Seeing three books that I wrote come out and then looking through the cute GIFs created by little girls that are fans
-Meeting new editors and writing for new book packagers
-Taking Mediabistro class with editor Brendan Deenen
-Going to Tour de Nerdfighting to see John and Hank Green for the first time

We're a Mr. and Mrs.!

We’re a Mr. and Mrs.!

For anyone that knows me, this was clearly the worst part of the night--I hate cake!

For anyone that knows me, this was clearly the worst part of the night–I hate cake!

Love

Love

First book out

First book out

We ate, we celebrated and we were married!

Writing Goals:

Things I Can Control:

1. Write regularly, even when not on deadline. This one is probably the most important since it will encourage me not only to practice, practice, practice, but also to dedicate time to my own, original work, rather than just projects I’m being paid for.

2. Make new writing friends. There was a time when I was really involved in the writing community through message boards, twitter, blogosphere, etc. Through that time, I made very close writing friends who have shared this journey with me and for whom I am very grateful. But the publishing business is crazy and many have started to move on from writing for one reason or another. Writing friends have always been a huge source of inspiration, support  and sanity and I’m looking forward to making new friends to learn from, angst with, and share ups and downs.

3. Craft. One thing that I’m really proud of this year is that I slowed down and worked on craft. So, I’d like to take that even further and this year I have three broad craft-related goals that I’d like to keep at the forefront: (a) write more interesting characters–characters with lots of depth and competing motivations  who readers are excited to see come on the page (this goes for both main and supporting cast), (b) focus on foreward momentum for the reader, creating a page-turner (lately, I’ve been studying quiet first chapters and books that still manage to make the reader have to know what happened; it’s fascinating), and (c) write interesting and suprising prose.

[For the record, this year I worked on slowing down during scenes to flesh them out, not using snark as a crutch to create voice, and developing a book more fully through inner monologue and description.]

4. Finish a complete, revised draft of a novel that is not commissioned by anyone but yours truly.

5. Write what I love and what excites me.

Things I Can’t Control:

1.  Sell a book in my own name (which will *hopefully* be this book that is about to go on submission!)

2. Secure at least one new work for hire gig that is bigger and better and challenges me more than what I have done so far

3. Nail down and sign the contract for the project I can’t yet talk about, but which is ah-mazing

Progress and Productivity

Yesterday was deadline day! And I’m actually pretty happy with what I turned in (rare for me), which means my writing radar is probably way off or something and my editor will write back and be like, Girl, you crazy? But more importantly, I think I found a couple ways to fix two of the problems that had been bugging me, so I was pumped to write said editor and explain my “brilliant plan.” Ah, initiative.

I also signed contracts! Yay! Isn’t it weird how you can be almost done with the whole book and you’re just now signing the contract?

Moving on…

Today, I’m responding to a suggestion in the comments from Phil. He has a great writing blog following his journey called A Time to Phil. You should check it out. Phil writes:

I was curious if you would write a post about your writing schedule, and how you fit it in between your day job (and before that law school and the bar). I’m still struggling to balance writing w/ a full time job and other commitments, but you seem to have uncanny time-management skills! Would love if you could share some tips.

Ok, well, first let me say: That’s really flattering. Buuuuuuuuut, my time management skills are not pretty. I’ll repeat: Not pretty. At all. I wish more than anything I had some set schedule and I stuck to it and I never even thought about turning on the TV because my love of writing is just so strong that it’s all I want to do and I can’t wait to sit down and stare at the computer for five hours and Facebook never tempts me and…yeah no.

Half the time (read: 80%), I’m a hot mess. But, alright, you get the point. I do manage to get things done (obviously). I’ve written four books this year plus editor revisions for my own, so I’ll admit, I do write. My reason for telling you all this is simply to say, I’ve had to embrace my process. I spent so much time beating myself up about the time I wasted or the writing I didn’t get done that it was paralyzing. Would I like it much better if I wrote 1,000 words a day? Absolutely. But I don’t.

So here are two things that have helped me manage my time, be more productive, and fit work into my schedule. Next post, I’ll add a few more:

First, I had to understand why I wasn’t being as productive as I knew I could be. I would have free time available for writing but then I’d squander it away playing on the interwebz. I’m not lazy. None of us are if we’re trying to write freaking books in our spare time! So what was the deal? Last year I wrote a post about some research I did on why Type A people procrastinate. You can find it here. Here’s an excerpt:

See, it’s not that we don’t care enough, that we don’t want to do the work, it’s that we are so afraid of not living up to our own high expectations of ourselves, that we’d rather not start in the first place. We’re sabotaging ourselves.

So, I started taking advice from the research articles done on procrastination and I learned to “aim for a C+” when writing. Reminding myself of why I’m not working helps me overcome the urge to put it off.

Second, I began to appreciate every inch of progress made. There was a time where I was upset with myself when I didn’t get, say, 2,000 words done for the day. But that meant that I only wanted to get the big chunks of writing done. Now, I’ve changed my motto to: “Every sentence I get done is one that I don’t have to do later.” Y’all, this has changed my life. There are so many times when I’m not feeling it and I’ll just write a few sentences or whatever and then let myself poke around the internet or go clean and then maybe more words will pop into my head and I’ll get those down. These ADD UP. And while this one hundred percent does not replace longer writing sessions, it does make “real” writing sessions that much less daunting. I love having less to do so that when it’s crunch time for my deadlines and I know I have to embrace my crazy writing process, I remind myself that I’ve knocked hours off the time I’ll have to spend working. I, personally, get more motivated when I feel like I’m doing well. My new “motto” creates the positive energy that I need to build momentum, plus it get me to take advantage of the smaller bits of free time I have.

Next post, I’ll continue talking about time management and upping productivity while balancing a schedule. I’ve really been appreciating the new comments and discussions going on. As always, hit me up there or by email or Twitter. And, finally, what about y’all–why do you procrastinate and what keeps you from being productive? Spill.

In Defense of National Novel Writing Month

It’s almost that time of year, November 1 is right around the corner,  and writers or wannabe writers everywhere are gearing up for the fall’s craziest month–National Novel Writing Month. More affectionately known as NaNoWriMo, the month of November witnesses over 100,000 people scrambling to write 50,000 words in one month. Last year there were 119,000 participants and about 21,000 completed the 50,000-word challenge.

It’s no secret that December 1 has become a dark day for agents everywhere. With all these novels being completed at midnight on the last night of November, it should be no surprise that these hot-off-the-press manuscripts land in agent inboxes by nine the next morning. Okay, so given that, sure, NaNoWriMo can get a bit of a bad rap. For one, 50,000 words is a bit short for most novels. For two, these are first drafts written in a month. Most of them have not been edited, revised, vetted and re-vetted. So, unless you spout brilliance on your first go, they probably aren’t ready for the eyes of any publishing professional.

But, there are obviously a ton of great things about NaNo. I wrote my first “book” during NaNo of my junior year of college. Thankfully, I never ever ever showed it to anyone. It was awful, but the reason I did it was because I wanted to see if I had the follow-through and could actually sit down and write that many words. Like a lot of people, I had wanted to write for a long time, I started things, but never really finished them and so, I figured what better time than NaNoWriMo? I’m happy to say I did finish the 50,000 words within the month and after that have gone on to write lots of things, get a fabulous agent, and still continue the writing gig to this day.

So, if you’re thinking about whether or not to participate this year, here are some of the high points you can expect to take away:

1. Awesome pep talks from some really cool authors. Every week NaNo emails a pep talk from a guest author. Usually, these established authors are participating as well and have helpful words of wisdom from the trenches. Plus, the emails are good to save and check out later.

2. Finding a place in the writing community. They have great forums on the NaNo site where you can meet other writers. Some of these may become your critique partners or brainstorming buddies down the road. Maybe you’ll run into people you already know. Also, there are always in person writing sessions set up for different regions where you can meet people in real life. I might actually jump in on some of these since I don’t know many writers in Austin right now. Procrastination is twice as effective in groups, after all.

3. Learning to crush the inner editor. This is something I still have trouble with, but unless you learn to squash the inner editor who doesn’t want to let you write forward before perfecting what’s already on the page, you are going to have a very difficult time getting through first drafts. Allowing yourself to write sentences that just aren’t good can be a valuable skill.

4. Working when you don’t feel like it and writing every day. If Stephen King had anything to say about it, every writer would commit to writing every. single. day. No excuses. NaNo makes you do just that, whether you feel like it or not. Even on Thanksgiving. (Okay, you don’t actually have to write on Thanksgiving, but falling behind is not fun. Trust me.)

5. Giving you a body of work. As the saying goes, “You can’t fix a blank page.” Well, at least on December 1, you have 50,000 words to work with, to fix and making something pretty from. There’s not better feeling than having a big chunk of work out of the way.

 

I’ve only participated in NaNo once and debating whether or not I’d like to do it this year. I’m sort of tempted. Who is participating this year? What’s the best way to prepare? Educate me. I went into it completely blind last time.

 

Three Ways to Build Momentum

Getting into a good writing routine is almost exactly the same as getting into a good workout routine. The key is momentum. When you have it and you’re feeling good about what you’re accomplishing, it’s relatively “easy” to keep it up. At the very least, nothing compared to getting started. In my experience, getting started is pretty much the hardest thing ever. So, for me the best thing to do is break it down, come up with a plan of attack, and take the pressure off starting. Here are three strategies I use to help build momentum:

1. Write during commercials. This takes pressure off for some reason because it’s such a short spurt and you can relax your brain a bit on the off times. It makes getting started much easier and that’s normally my biggest struggle anyhow.

2. Write 500 words an hour. Say you start your writing at 9 AM. You have a whole hour to write those 500 words. If you finish fast, then you can walk around, take a break, do whatever for the remaining time. Or you can spread it out, doing the requisite procrastinating while writing, but not getting up from the computer. At 10 AM, you go again. This works well if you have large chunks of time.

3. Create a challenge with a friend. Jen Hayley and I did a 10k weekend challenge. We could split it up over the days however we wanted, but the deal was at the end of the weekend we knew we would have tacked on an extra 10k to our manuscript. That’s a big boost in morale. And it’s fun because you have support and somebody to whine to–never underestimate the value of a little whining. Plus, having somebody to encourage is self-motivating.

courtesy of www.inkygirl.com

 

Author Spotlight: Suzanne Collins

Everybody knows what a crazy fangirl I am for J.K. Rowling. Seriously, I want to be her best friend. I even have permission to replace one of my current best friends should she ever wish to join our group.  But in my avid research of J.K. Rowling, I had been completely neglecting another author crush–Suzanne Collins.

After reading Mockingjay, I couldn’t help but think that I really wish I could be her. So, since I’ve taken notes on interviews, documentaries, and all things Rowling, I thought I should add Collins into the mix. So, I culled the interwebs for some juicy writing tidbits from one of the bravest authors I know of and here are the bullet points I’ve put together for your enjoyment:

-Before writing the Hunger Games Trilogy, most fans probably know that Collins originally wrote for children’s television shows such as Clarissa Explains It All and Little Bear. She then went on to write the bestselling Underland Chronicles.

-Collins says her first inspiration for the Hunger Games came from the Greek myth Theseus and the Minotaur. In it, Minos who is the king of Crete has a falling out with Athens. Crete is a far more powerful country. Every year as part of the punishment Athens has to send 7 youths and 7 maidens to the labyrinth to be devoured by the Minotaur. Sounds pretty similar to Hunger Games, yes? Collins also details the story of Spartacus, a gladiator with an unknown story who went on to lead a revolution. So…Katniss, basically.

-Collins: You need three good elements to make a gladiator game. You need a ruthless, all-powerful government, people being forced to fight to the death, and for it to be a popular entertainment.

-She has a complicated relationship with music because she can’t listen to anything with words since it interferes with her own thought processes. Therefore, she’s a fan of classical music.

-The most difficult parts for her to write were the deaths and the violence between young characters. But in this type of book you have to commit to it and you either make a decision that you are going to do that no matter how painful or uncomfortable to write those scenes or you should go write a different type of story.

-The more enjoyable passages to write are Katniss reflecting back on the past, about how she met Gale, and stories she tells to Peeta like about how she got the goat for Prim

-Collins loves the goat story. You see the relationship between the sisters and how Katniss has become Prim’s parent and how important it is to bring her joy and happiness and the lengths she’ll go to do it.

-When she got the initial idea for the story, she was pretty focused on the first book, but when she got to the conclusion of that she knew there had to be a sequel. Initially plotted out all three books, but you learn so much about the characters as you go along that it’s not good to plot too much toward the end because hopefully you’ll discover things as you go along the way.

-Typical workday: Gets up, grabs cereal, and starts working as soon as possible because the more distractions at the beginning of the day, the harder it is to focus on the story. She works until she is tapped out, usually early afternoon. Some days are spent staring at the wall, but that can be productive when working out character and plot developments.

-There was a complete embargo on Mockingjay being sent out before its release date, even to School Library Journal.

-About Mockingjay, Collins says that, thematically, this is the place she was headed in all three books. She feels that it is the story she set out to tell.

-Since so much of her background is in scriptwriting, she still feels very new to writing prose. There is a lot of unexplored territory, she thinks because she started it later in life but maybe it’s like that for everyone always. She has a very “How do I do this?” feeling.

-It’s easier to write dialogue than description, probably because of her 27 years of scriptwriting. Dialogue and action sequences are like stage directions, but descriptive passages can feel like hitting a wall.

I’ll continue to update this as new youtube videos and written interviews come out. If you have any links or tidbits, feel free to share.