So you want to NaNoWriMo? Plotting and Fast-Drafting

This was prepared by me as a presentation for this month’s Mobile Writer’s Guild monthly meeting and cross-posted on their website. I thought it could be useful to those outside their reach, so thought I’d post it here too.

First: What is NaNoWriMo? It’s an acronym for National Novel Writing Month, which is a project spearheaded by the Office of Letters and Light and happens every November. It’s fun, it’s crazy, and it’s a great way to get you unstuck from the dreaded writer’s block. You pledge to write 50,000 words in 30 days.

This is compiled from my experiences in participating and “winning” NaNoWriMo both years that I participated, as well as from taking Candace Havens’ FastDraft class, which aims to write more than 50,000 words in just 14 days.

On board? Here’s what you can do ahead of time to help you succeed:

In October:

Plot (Yes, plot. Keep reading)

Use October to plot as much as you can stand. I pantsed my way through NaNoWriMo, but there were definite moments, er, days, of panic when I wasn’t contributing to my wordcount because I was stuck. For FastDraft, I plotted out as much as I could the month prior and boy did that make a difference. I’d conceived my idea and then started storyboarding it. Even if you believe down to your very tippy toes that you are not a plotter, try it. You might be surprised how much you can stomach. You might find that you fall somewhere in between, where you can come up with your turning points and some scenes all the way to the end, but that conducting character interviews is going too far. That’s okay. Experiment and push to see how far your muse will let you dabble in plotting before it protests.

PANTSERS: See if you can do any of these beforehand:

  • Write your logline. Can you boil your characters and conflict into one sentence? See if you can fill this out (from author Holly Bodger): “When [MAIN CHARACTER] [INCITING INCIDENT], s/he [CONFLICT]. And if s/he doesn’t [GOAL] s/he will [CONSEQUENCES].” This is not the only way to construct a logline, but you must have character, goal and conflict and hopefully a dash of irony. This will come in handy when you’re ready to pitch your story. For more on this, see Kristin Lamb’s Structure Part 5–Keeping Focused & Nailing the Pitch–Understand Your “Seed Idea”
  • Write your main characters’ GMCs (Goals, Motivations and Conflict). See if you can fill out the following for each character (especially your main character(s)).  ___________ (name) wants ______________________(goal) because __________________(motivation) but _____________________________(conflict). And see if you can do it for their internal and external GMCs! (Internal is emotional and external is the external plot—external is what the character thinks they want and internal is what they really need.) For more information, Debra Dixon wrote an excellent book (don’t pay the exorbitant price on Amazon, go here). And here’s a blog post that goes into more detail.
  • Identify your opening scene, first major turning point, second major turning point, dark moment and resolution.
  • Brainstorm scenes that could fill in between these
  • Write a two page synopsis that covers the main turning points and ending.
  • See if you can identify your theme (it’s okay if you don’t, sometimes this happens organically)

Of course you plotters do WAY more than this, so this isn’t geared to you. You already have your system ;) Pantsers, keep experimenting with how far toward the plotter end of the spectrum you can push yourself. It will save time during revisions and make your first draft go much smoother. It will enable you to write faster because you already know where you need to go.

With me so far?

Prep your physical and mental space

Okay, in between running around getting Halloween costumes and candy, see if you can clear the decks as much as possible. By that I mean, alert your friends that you might not be around so much, stock up on food and snacks, clean your desk and get whatever you need ready.

Do you write to music? Make your playlist! I have a playlist called “NaNoWriMo” actually.

For FastDraft, I was using Scrivener and so I entered in all my scene cards that I had mapped out.

Another important step is to get prepared mentally:

  • Believe in yourself. Here’s what Candace Havens says, “You have to throw out all those preconceived notions about how fast you write. This is different. NEGATIVITY in any form is not allowed. Let go of the past and move forward with your writing. We are thinking positive. We are thinking how cool it will when we have a first draft done [in thirty days]“
  • You have no time to polish. Give yourself permission to write crap. Yes, crap. You’d be surprised at how much more creative you are when you’re not censuring your words as you type.

Don’t forget to actually join NaNoWriMo. Go to NaNoWriMo.org and sign up. It’s free. You’ll find lots of support in their forums, but during November, don’t get lolled into the forums too much! But it’s a great way to ask quick questions and find other participants in your area. Mobile might have a team you can join and meet with them for “write-ins.” Having other people share in your journey is a great motivator.

November

All right. So November 1st dawns. What do you do? Here’s some tips:

Tip #1 – Think in pages, not words.

I’m going to adapt the FastDraft method here. For NaNoWriMo, you must write 1667 words a day to meet your goal. I remember thinking that it sounded so unattainable (I’d been struggling to write a novel for almost a year at this point and had only written five chapters.) The idea of writing that amount EVERY DAY scared me. So I signed up precisely because it did. I never dreamed I’d actually do it. But I remember both years pulling words out almost one at a time and looking at that word count and thinking I had SO MUCH more work to do to get to that number. I’d write a little and check my word count. Only 55 words? Ugh, I still have 1279 to go!! But I’d update my wordcount on the NaNoWriMo so I could see the daily goal line go up infinitesimally. But with FastDraft, Candace asked us to make the number of pages we write a day our goal. I committed to 15 a day. And did it. That’s 3000-4000 words a day! And you know what? I found it easier to push myself to write another page (roughly equal to 250 words) and another, and see that hey, I just wrote 8 pages I only have 7 more to go. Seemed somehow more attainable. So for NaNoWriMo, make your daily page goal 8 pages double-spaced and then when you’ve written that, tally up the word count and you probably either made it or gone over! And going over is great, as you’ve now banked those words for when you might not be able to make your daily goal.

Tip #2 – Blanks are your friend

If I didn’t know something and couldn’t find the answer in two minutes of Google-Fu, I just typed in brackets things like [look up how they did this] or [describe this better] or even used _____ for place names or names of things I didn’t know yet, and kept typing. I also used the Document Notes in Scrivener for each scene and typed out things I’d need to look up in revision for that scene.

Tip #3 – Use Twitter’s #1k1hr

Seriously this hashtag on Twitter I owe a serious debt to. I made many new friends that way too. I think almost every hour I wrote I used this tag. It really helped me focus and cut down a ton on my compulsion to check out what’s happening on the web. I knew that when that hour was up, I had to say my word count, and I really wanted it to be over 1000 so it made me push. One time I wrote 1858 words in one hour, but typically I averaged around 1200-1500. So for NaNoWriMo, you could possibly make your goal with just ONE HOUR of writing! At the most, two.

Tip #4 – Choke Your Inner Editor

We covered this earlier in how to mentally prepare, but it’s worth repeating here because it WILL haunt you in the beginning. If you’re not making your goal, it’s because of your inner editor who is sitting on your shoulder telling you the words you’re typing are crap, that the plot is crap, that the characters are crap. Take it by the throat and say, “Yep, it is! Got a problem with that?!” and then mentally shut it up somehow. At the end of the month, when you go to reread, cringing with dread about what a big stinking pile of poo you created, you’ll actually be pleasantly surprised at how bad it wasn’t. You can fix ALL OF IT in revisions. That’s when you can invite your inner editor back. But at least you’ve got the bones of the story down and you can flesh it out and decorate it in revisions.

Tip #5 – Make Time

Don’t have a solid hour or two to make your goal? Do it in 15 minute increments. Get out your pad and pen while waiting at the doctor’s office. You can write in many more places than you think you can.

Tip #6 – Keep Going Forward

In FastDraft, Candace was way more strict than you need to be for NaNo. She didn’t allow you to reread or edit ANY previous day’s writing! However, when I was doing NaNo, I found that if I just went back to the previous day’s writing and quickly read it to put myself in scene again and flesh out sparse description, I could add 100-300 words easy. The trick is not to let your editor start rewriting sentences. DO NOT DELETE ANYTHING. If you can’t resist, and it’s just really bugging you that something is there, use your Strikethru button in Word so that it’s “deleted” but not really. Any words you write during NaNo on your story contribute to your word goal, so this way those “deleted” words still count. In December you can then delete them. Many who do NaNo as well as FastDraft recommend ending the day mid scene so it’s easy to pick up because you know what’s happening next. I was afraid I might forget some new idea, so I made sure to jot notes down at the end of my session so I wouldn’t forget the next day.

Tip #7 – Pair up with others

In this instance, peer pressure is great. Make it work for you. Get others you know to join you and cheer each other on.

Resources:

Are you participating in NaNoWriMo? I’m not sure yet if I am, it all depends on what happens in the next week or so with my agent and what she wants me to do. Have you participated before? Do you have tips to share?

I got an agent!! No joke.

I can finally announce the news officially that I’ve been hinting about in posts.

I GOT AN AGENT!

The news became official while I was out of town for Georgia’s Moonlight & Magnolia Conference so I could only announce my good news on my social networks. For some reason it won’t feel really official until I can post it on my blog (apologies to those who’ve already heard the news).

My agent! Maura Kye-Casella with Don Congdon Assoc.

I actually ended up with three offers of representation, but ended up going with the fabulous Maura Kye-Casella with Don Congdon, Associates. For those fellow sci-fi nerds out there, their founder discovered Ray Bradbury, how cool is that? In romance land, she represents Sophie Jordan and Colleen Gleason! It still feels a little surreal and that I’m talking about this happening to someone else.

I thought I’d share a little about how it all happened for those of you still seeking representation, so you can see that it can happen to you. Like I said last week, I have patience and hard work to thank for this moment. All three agents commented about how “clean and polished” my manuscript was, and that they could send it out on submission right now. Squeee! So if you read last week’s post, that’s what I was hinting at, that all that polishing paid off!

Two of the agents who offered were the two I pitched to at RWA, so there’s several lessons to be had there. One, to tie into last week’s post (again), thank God I didn’t give in to my impatience and send them those partials right when I got back from RWA. This is NOT, however, an endorsement of pitching an incomplete manuscript! That is soooo different from the phase mine was in. Anyway, onward with my list. Two, pitches do work! Both said during our phone calls that they remembered the pitch and were intrigued from the start. Three, do your homework on whom to pitch to. It wasn’t random, I don’t think, that this all fell out for me this way. When I got that list from RWA, I researched every single agent on that two page list and narrowed down my choices to the ones I thought were my best chance. Actually, this segues into: Four, get ballsy. I thought Maura was out of my league when I pitched to her and couldn’t believe I had the nerve to do so.

Anyway, this all started happening one week after I began querying. One of the agents I pitched to made me giddy by asking to have my partial converted to a full. I felt like if nothing else happened, I’d at least made that milestone–that an agent had seen the goods and STILL wanted to keep reading. The next night, I got my first offer (from a different agent), which left me stunned! I alerted the other agents who were considering me, to let them know and gave them a time frame to respond. Monday, the second agent (the one I pitched to and who had converted the partial to a full) offered and now I was reeling. Thursday, Maura emailed to say she’d finished, said some very nice things about MUST LOVE BREECHES, and wanted to set up a call for Monday (this past Monday). Now I’m on pins and needles, not knowing if she’d offer. Obviously, she did, and I couldn’t be more thrilled! This doesn’t automatically mean it’ll find a home with a publisher, but I’m one step closer and feel like I have the best advocate for me! For those non-writer friends reading this, most traditional publishers will not look at unagented manuscripts so this is my only way to get into their hands and on your bookshelves.

So this is not only me sharing my awesome news, but also my way of encouraging you. Yes, it CAN happen. I thought this day would never come. I’d read and heard all the doom and gloom about how hard it is to land an agent. But don’t give up. Every time I got a rejection, I picked myself back up again and kept going, knowing that others would not, so I envisioned it as an opportunity to move into thinner ranks. Many fine writers give up after only 5 rejections. Don’t be one of those. I wouldn’t be in this position if I’d done that. Instead of giving up in the Spring when I faced rejection, I realized my manuscript wasn’t quite ready and did another Beta round and then did all the hard work of polishing that puppy up!

Are you querying? Do you have any specific questions about my path? Do you have good news to share too?

Ready to Query? The Importance of Patience

I had a fellow writer friend ask my advice about the right time to submit to agents. She had everything mapped out admirably in her calendar, including sending it off to a freelance editor. She was doing everything right, except for one thing. She wanted to know if she could slot the query process into the same place in her timeline as when her book is with her editor. She’d heard how long agents could take and so thought she could telescope that part of the process.

This was back in May and I had done a short burst of querying at this point, enough to know this was a bad idea. I had an agent request a full in less than 24 hours. So I advised her not to do that. Sure, some agents can take up to four months to get to your query, but that’s not always the case, and don’t you want to be ready for those agents that are quick?

I started my full-press querying in the middle of last month (so almost three weeks ago) and again the experience bore out my advice and my own personal decision to wait until I had every little thing ready. Most agents are quick now, and from what I could tell on forums, if they’re interested they actually act faster. I had several ask for fulls within the same day!

It’s so hard to be patient but it really does pay off. The other part of patience I had to practice was during the polishing phase. I had all my Beta feedback returned in June and had incorporated all the changes and revisions before the RWA conference. It was so tempting to send off my conference partial requests then because I SO wanted to get this manuscript into the queue and move on. But fortunately (though I cursed it several times during the process) I saw a blog post around that time from Janice Hardy called The Spit Shine: Things to Check Before You Submit. I used it as a jumping off point, creating a two page list of “flag” words from her post and others. So for several months I entered into a Polishing Phase. I did a search for every word on that list and evaluated its usage. I probably trimmed 3000 words that way! Or sometimes the words helped me see I’d lapsed out of Deep POV, so I rewrote that bit. Then I did one final read through scrutinizing each word, each phrase to decide whether I really needed it. Was it redundant? Did it have any relevance to the story plot? If not, I deleted them. It was exhausting and numbing and several times I really wondered if this effort was worth it. It was like pulling teeth making myself do this, because this isn’t the fun stage of revisions.

I actually did get a little impatient at the end and began querying a few who didn’t need to see any sample pages on a Wednesday, which pushed me to finish the rest that weekend. So as I got through the first 30 then 50, I sent off my partials and began querying the rest on my list. I pushed through my reading and was ready to send out full requests by that Monday (and I had some already)!

Whew!

Was it worth the extra time and patience?

Oh, yeah! More on that next week :)

The important thing is: don’t rush. You spent so much time on your manuscript, why short change it at the end of the process? Agents are not your Beta readers. Are you querying right now? What are you finding in response times? Did you also have to fight your impatience during this phase?

Housekeeping note: I will be at Georgia RWA’s Moonlight & Magnolia Conference this weekend! If you’re going too, drop me a line. But this means there will be no regularly scheduled posts until next week.

Weekend Grab Bag – From Writing Tips to Stormtrooper Hygiene

Song playing right now on my playlist: “Begin the Begin,” by R.E.M.

NEWS: I will have some awesome news to report next week about MUST LOVE BREECHES (re: status in Query Land) and STEAM ME UP, RAWLEY finaled in its first contest (and the first one it entered), The Golden Pen, ironically beating out MUST LOVE BREECHES by less than a point (.7)

Writing and the Writing Life:

Browncoats:

Ada Byron Lovelace

  • This recently came across Publisher’s Marketplace: “James Essinger’s ADA’S THINKING MACHINE, exploring two interwoven human stories – the story of a man, Charles Babbage (1791-1871) and that of a woman, twenty-four years his junior, Ada Lovelace (1815-1851) and their involvement in the Analytical Engine, to Gibson Square, for publication in July 2013 (world).” SQUEE!!! (that last part was me of course, not PM) Now if only publishers would be convinced that MUST LOVE BREECHES could tie in with this :)

In Geekdom:

Happy One Year Blogiversary To Me!

Actually it was this past Saturday that I posted my first blog post, but things have been PRETTY CRAZY this last week in Query Land (IN A FREAKING AWESOME WAY) and I can’t wait to be able to tell you.

Anyway, yeah, it’s been one year! I honestly didn’t know if I could last past two months blogging, but I’m so glad I faced my fear and ventured into this wacky world. I’ve met so many amazing people online (and then in person at conferences) that I shudder to think where I’d not be today if I hadn’t started blogging and tweeting. (Did that sentence make sense? Hey, it’s morning. You know what I mean.)

I was kind of surprised to read what I thought I’d be blogging about since I was just taking a stab in the dark: “writing tips, book reviews, musings, questions about my work in progress, the occasional rant.” I don’t think I’ve done a rant, but I was most surprised about the book reviews, because early on I decided not to do them at all as I didn’t want to delve into that quagmire. However, I surprised myself recently by doing a review of recent geeky romances and enjoyed that.

This milestone is a nice kick in the pants though, because lately I’ve been remiss in posting regularly. I had two conferences exactly a month apart and another next week (!) and then the craziness of querying in earnest, which started on 9/13. So this post is me recommitting to a regular schedule, which will be (except when away on vacation or at conferences):

  • Mondays: First Monday of the Month–Monday Hunk Who Reads, rest of them reader-focused posts.
  • Wednesdays: Writing Craft or Writer’s Life posts
  • Saturdays: Weekend Grab Bag
  • Sundays: Six Sentence Sunday

Here’s my blog stats:

  • 47,479 all time views
  • Highest views in one day: 648
  • 150 blog followers (115 via WP, 26 via email, 9 via feedburner)
  • The most popular page of all time? Monday Hunk Who Reads – Dan Stevens (3,283 views since it posted on 1/9/12)

So happy to be among you all and thank you so much for your support this past year! Do you blog? If so, are you happy you’re doing it? Did you think it would be difficult too?

Pull Out Those Pantsed Weeds in Your WIP

I’m now a Plantser (someone between a Plotter and Pantser), but for MUST LOVE BREECHES I pantsed it all the way, baby! (Pantser refers to someone who writes by the seat of their pants with no pre-plotting). Anyway, that means there’s LOTS more work on the revision side (one of the reasons I tried pre-plotting STEAM ME UP, RAWLEY).

Today I want to focus on those little seeds you plant while you’re pantsing, because sometimes they surprise you and grow into wonderful expressions of theme, or subtext, or great twists in plot. But then there are those seeds you plant, with the same kind of hopefulness, that just… well, sprout up as distracting weeds, hiding your characterization, plot, theme and more.

The problem comes in the early stages of revisions in that some of those weeds don’t look like weeds yet. Just like real weeds where you hover over the unidentified green sprout, pondering if you should yank it out–what if it’s a …? You do the same when reading and rereading your WIP. Some you even cultivate, realizing their potential and you’re quite pleased with your subconscious. Some you tweak a little and even beef it up, hoping it will work.

But the old adage is so true: setting your WIP aside is essential to discovering what really needs to stay. I hadn’t read MLB through since probably May? I’d stopped my querying and sent it out for another round of Beta reading and over the summer I’ve made some revisions. I’m now rereading for revision smudge (thank you Janice Hardy for that apt phrase) and also just trimming and analyzing everything as to whether it needs to be there.

And boy has that break helped me see things that needed yanking! I thought I’d share one such section I came across this week to serve as an illustration of what I mean by a pantsed seed that grew into a weed.

I had a reflective/passage of time scene early on where the heroine wakes in a panic because she can’t remember who the President of the US would be in 1834 (she’s traveled back in time) and she might be expected to know it. So she methodically gets out pen and paper and works forward from Jefferson and backward from Lincoln and works it out, but it gave her a little scare. Anyway, it was something that obviously sprang to mind as something that one might panic about and so I wrote it into my first draft (seed). Maybe someone discovers her list! And she’s having to explain how she knows of future events! None of that ended up happening when the first draft was completed. On revisions, I liked how it revealed a bit about her situation and her methodical side, but I recognized that it needed to have more relevance and so had it come back in a later scene where Mrs. Somerville (who is sheltering her) is confronting her about something else and the heroine sees it’s visible and it ups the tension in the scene. Will Mrs. S see it?

Well, no, she doesn’t. And in this last pass, having let my manuscript lie fallow for several months, I had the distance to see this little element for what it is–a weed. Yank! Nothing ever comes of that list and that extra bit I added in revision to justify the existence of the initial seed was false tension since nothing happens. It cluttered up two scenes and added about 300 words to my MS. That might not seem like a lot, but anything that doesn’t serve the purpose of your story only adds clutter. And readers don’t want clutter.

I think the moral is: yes, it really DOES pay to let your manuscript sit, the longer the better, even though you really, really, really want to send your baby out into the world. Resist. There could be weeds lurking in it.

What do you think? Have you experienced something similar during revision? How did you recognize it for what it is?

Recap of RWA12, plus other news!

Man what a week that was! Last month (Wait. What??) was the Romance Writer’s of America’s national conference in Anaheim, California. Being an introvert, it took me awhile to recover when I returned home, hence the lateness of this post. Plus, I’ve also been busy polishing MUST LOVE BREECHES to send out and also subject to another round of queries (more on that at the end of the post).

I thought I’d do a quick recap, but focus on only how the conference experience was for me, instead of giving a highlights recap as many have already done much better than I could. You know, I actually thought I would live blog the conference? Hahahahaha, giggle, sniff. Yeah. I barely tweeted.

One of the main validations I received was the payoff in all the hard work I’ve put into my writing career in the last year, especially cultivating my social media profile. As conference roomie Jami Gold explained so well in her post, Social Media: An Introvert’s Secret Weapon, those of us who have cultivated our online presence saw the benefits when we arrived at the conference. I hopped on the airport shuttle to the hotel, and two other attendees were on board. Like a good newbie, I handed out my card, and one of them recognized my name! (Remember, I’m unpublished) — she’d ‘seen’ me on one of the RWA loops and we figured out which one and had a great convo on the drive.

I checked in early (I arrived in CA around 9:30 a.m.) and then took the Amtrack into Los Angeles to meet my cousin for a late lunch. Like many in LA, she’s a struggling actress. She took me to Cole’s in downtown LA, which just oozed 1930s glam. We caught up on our happenings and had a cute bartender who was kind of a geek about mixology, which was a lot of fun. He mixed me a very tasty Old Fashioned, which I only found out after my second one that he made it with 100 proof bourbon, yikes!

The bar at Cole’s

Back at the hotel, I texted Jami and I finally got to meet her at the Literacy signing! We’ve been Beta reading buddies, and it was so great to finally meet in person, someone whom I’d been communicating and forming a friendship with first via Twitter, then email and then even phone (I hate talking on the phone).  She was with Buffy Armstrong, who I’d interacted with on Twitter and we had a great time going around the tables. The room was filled with writers signing books, and the first person I had to locate and say “Hi” to was Tessa Dare.

Sidenote: I have a little confession to make. My first fiction writing attempts began back in 2005 when I wrote Jane Austen fan fiction. I’d created a website called Longbourn Loungers for fans of the 2005 Pride & Prejudice movie and we had a lot of fun for a while indulging our addiction and exercising our writing muscles. My screen name was Plange. One of the participants was Tessa under the screen name Vangie and we Beta’d each others stories. I remember being blown away then by her prose. So we were super excited to see her succeed so well later on! I’m still in touch with several of the participants via Facebook and email and they were the ones who turned me on to NaNoWriMo back in 2009 which finally got me over my fear of writing novel-length fiction, and so I owe a huge debt to the Loungers :) One of them is fellow Six Sentence Sunday participant Kate Warren who just published a fabulous ebook, Bridging the Gaps.

Anyway, this was a long way of saying that it was really great to finally meet Vangie (Tessa Dare) in person:

With the lovely and super-talented Tessa Dare at RWA12’s Literacy Signing event Wednesday night

Okay, quick recap this has not become! I’m going to try to be more brief! In fact, I’m just going to say a general statement, show some photos and hit some personal highlights…

The conference was my first national writer’s conference and I know they say that you’re not supposed to hang with the same people, but I’m sorry, I did. I know this might have made me miss out on making some connections, but what it did was give me the feeling that I was part of the conference, not a stranger on the outside looking in, seeing everyone else interacting. My conference buddies were the wonderful Jami Gold, Buffy Armstrong and Janice Hardy, and it was so great getting to know them better and know they had my back. Thanks guys, can’t wait to see you again! I also met other online friends and several fellow Six Sentence Sunday and Critique Circle writers, so it was like meeting old friends, but not.  :)

Personal Highlights

  • Getting recognized at the Literacy signing! Another writer approached me by saying, “I have to meet the woman who wrote Must Love Breeches.” I think my jaw hit the floor. I know I look befuddled and probably stammered. First, I’m not published, so… Huh? How? Turns out she’d judged it in a writing contest and made me feel pretty dang good with her praise. What a way to start the conference :) There was an irony to this too– we’d just walked away from Courtney Milan’s table and I said to Jami, “Meeting great writers like her makes me really wonder what the heck I think I’m doing trying to write,” and two seconds later, this lady walked up to me and said the above, LOL. Served me right for succumbing to the writer’s worst enemy: self-doubt.
  • Hanging in our hotel room briefly Thursday night with Jami and Kat Latham and practicing our pitches. Kat was pitching to someone I’d pitched to at FF&P and I said I might still have my one-page dossier that I’d made on that agent if it’d help. So I opened my laptop and we were reading the bullet points I’d garnered on that agent back in March and then Kat says, “That’s me!” — I’d had a bullet point referencing something that agent had said on her blog, LOL.
  • Pitching on Friday. I pitched to two agents and one editor and all went well. I wasn’t nervous and I think I have the FF&P conference to thank for that. It’s one of the main reasons I went, was to experience pitching in a less intimidating atmosphere before I went to Nationals. I got requests for partials from the agents (50 pages and 30 pages) and a full from the editor.
  • Being told by Carrie Lofty at her Pitch Witch Rides Again workshop, that my pitch was a “win”
  • The lunch time keynote speeches
  • The awards ceremony (though we didn’t get to sit at a table, despite being only 2 minutes late, so we missed dessert and had to stand for part of it until they brought in chairs). It was so wonderful seeing all those talented writers going up to receive their award and hearing their tales. It just felt like a big dose of girl power and was very inspiring!
  • Running into writers that I’d met at the FF&P conference
  • Meeting published writers I admire
  • Meeting online friends
  • Free books!
  • Great workshops!

Photos

Wish I’d taken more, but here’s my paltry offering:

Thursday Night, at the FF&P’s party The Gathering. The theme was Disney characters…

With the fabulous Amanda Quick/Jayne Anne Krentz. She’s the one, with her sparkling wit and humor, who inspired me to write romance!

All dressed up with some place to go! With my conference buddies Buffy M. Armstrong and Jami Gold

Jami Gold’s hand, and Buffy Armstrong adjusting her napkin… After the awards ceremony– we arrived two minutes late and so had no place to sit and missed out on dessert. So we ordered our own later!

All the free books I got (well, mostly free. I bought 3 at the Literacy Signing, and then sent some back via Media Mail for $13)

Contest Update and Other News

I came back to some great news. First I’d won a pitch contest on Savvy Authors that resulted in a partial request from an agent. And then I found out that MUST LOVE BREECHES finaled in two more contests, making that a total of 7:

So right now, I’m doing one last exhaustive polishing revision of MUST LOVE BREECHES, before I send it to the ones who requested it and also do another wave of queries.

Did you go to RWA? What did you learn? What stuck with you the most?

Weekend Grab Bag – From Writing Tips to a Star Wars Call Me Maybe

Song playing right now on my playlist: “Walk Like an Egyptian,” by Bangles

NEWS: I’m heading to the RWA Conference on Tuesday, so there will be no Six Sunday tomorrow, or Monday Hunk, or Grab Bag. I don’t expect to resume normal blogging until August 1. I hope to do some sort of live blogging of the conference, but not sure how that will pan out, so we’ll see!

Writing and the Writing Life:

Romance Writing

Browncoats:

In Geekdom:

  • And I’ll leave you with this (h/t The Nerdist):

Why Packing for a Trip is like Writing–Do It with Purpose or It Can Cost You

funny pictures of cats with captionsIf you’re a romance writer, then you know that a week from now several thousand romance writers will be descending on Anaheim, CA for the annual Romance Writers of America (RWA) conference. I’m going for my first time, and it’s also the first time I’ve flown since the airlines started charging for extra baggage.

Yesterday morning I looked up the dimensions of the bags I’m allowed and the weight restrictions and started planning on how I could trim what I normally pack for a trip. That same morning, I came across Jami Gold’s post, The Ultimate #RWA12 Conference Packing List and it got me thinking–packing for a trip is a lot like writing. I love metaphors, let’s see how far I can run with this.

Know the purpose for your draft/trip

Each novel is going to go through multiple revision passes. In the early draft phase, some things are not as important and so it doesn’t pay to get worked up over it. For instance, a first draft is just getting your story basics down. The next pass will be structural, making sure you have a solid plot. It would be costly time-wise, to polish any of your prose at this stage, or to ask/pay someone else to give you line edits, since any line, paragraph or scene could change dramatically or get cut.

How is this like packing? If it’s just a quick trip to a familiar place, the stakes aren’t high, and you’re driving, you can be pretty casual about packing. You won’t be penalized for throwing anything or everything into your car and sorting it out later. You have a rough idea of what you need and go with it. Since the stakes aren’t high, it won’t matter if you forget something.

Weighing each word/item

Once we get to that final polish before submission, however, the stakes are different. Now you need to scrutinize every word and scene to make sure it serves the purpose of your story. I’m at this stage with MUST LOVE BREECHES. I’m doing a mind-numbing Find for a long list of words and phrases that could either be cut, or that could be red flags for my prose. I’m only on Chapter 8, but I’ve already cut over 800 words I did not need! I have to do it in chunks, because it is so tedious, but I know the story will be better in the end. I’m at the pre-submission stage for this WIP.

How is this like packing? It’s like my preparation now for the RWA conference. The stakes are high, it’s a costly trip, and I’ll be flying where I need to be careful about what I pack or the airline will charge me. So, I’m going through absolutely every article I’m bringing to see if it can serve several purposes, to see if I actually need it, and in the case of toiletries, if it can be poured into a smaller container. A small tube of toothpaste still gets the job done, but will be more efficient (like that shorter sentence after you trimmed out those words you didn’t need). For a normal trip, I already have a pre-packed toiletries bag I just pull out and throw in stuff I use everyday but don’t have duplicated. It’s quick, it’s efficient and I’m on the road, no agonizing. But I can’t do this for this trip. I’ll be taking everything out of that bag and evaluating it. Just like in a rough draft, it’s okay to write clichés or insert extra ‘baggage’ we don’t need, but for a final draft? No way.

Research

At some stage, you will need to do research for your novel, especially if the stakes are high. First drafts can have placeholders, but final drafts cannot. Some things you write will come from your acquired knowledge, but the true test is recognizing your own limitations and knowledge gaps and to take steps to amend them. You can also surprise yourself in what you find when you research that can make your story stronger.

How is this like packing? For my first writer’s conference, I was driving and I was going to a city I was familiar with, so some things I knew what to pack and plan for. But there were also gaps in my knowledge that I recognized and took the steps beforehand to research, mainly the agents I’d be pitching to. So I researched them, made dossiers, and packed them.

Not researching can also lead to missed opportunities. Case in point: I was perusing some posts on the conference and saw that Saturday night is a big dress-up deal, as in folks where ball gowns! If I hadn’t taken the time to familiarize myself with what was happening, I wouldn’t have known and wouldn’t have packed one. Fortunately for me and my limited budget, I’m a denizen of Mobile and Mardi Gras balls, so I can simply choose one from my closet and pack it. Now, I understand that one can attend in business casual, but they’re in the minority and I would’ve hated missing an opportunity to dress up like that. How often do you get to wear a ball gown?

Personality and brand is important

While there are guides to writing well, at some point you need to be skilled enough to let your unique voice shine through your writing and know when to break the rules. You will also bring your own sensibilities and mindset into your writing. You also are nurturing a brand–you.

How is this like packing? There are tons of advice out there about what to pack and what to wear for your trip, but ultimately you need to be true to yourself. You’ll pack things that show your personality, sometimes without you even realizing what it says about you. Are you someone who always packs a deck of cards, just in case?

Since my RWA trip is about furthering my writing career, and is not just a trip to the beach with family, you better believe I’ll be packing with this in mind. Yesterday at Target, I bought a little Yoda plushie that I can attach to my conference bag to help distinguish it from the 2000 other bags, but I chose it because it’s f&*)*ing Yoda! And see, that’s part of my brand as a geek girl romance writer. Unfortunately my geek clothes are all super casual, so completely inappropriate for this conference. My funds didn’t allow me to purchase funky, dressier stuff only nice, classic clothes on clearance, but it will give a professional appearance which is vital. If I ever get successful, I’ll be able to not only afford it monetarily but flaunt convention a tad.

It can cost you

Failure to understand the nature of the writing business can cost you. The title of this post uses the phrase ‘do it with purpose’ instead of  ‘do it correctly’ for a reason, though. You need to go about writing with a clear purpose at every stage, but there is no “right” way to do it. However, if you fail to do it with purpose, it will cost you. Perhaps it’s not having patience enough to seek outside opinions and self-publishing your first novel. I just read a comment from someone who only had friends and family proof her work before she put it up. She got some pretty bad reviews, which she said stung at first. She admitted though that now that she’s going to critique groups, she’s realized her story could have been much better. The cost to her? Bad reviews and potential brand damage.

There are so many other ways it can cost you– submitting to agents/editors before the story is as polished as it can be, or not researching said agents/editors, will cost you the ability to pitch to them again for the same project, for example. Just like any stage of writing, this needs to be done with purpose as well.

How is this like packing? Used to be you could throw anything into a suitcase or more than one and check it. No longer. Money is tight for me, so it totally sucks that I have to pay $25 to check my bag, but I already know I won’t be able to take everything in a carry-on. However, I do not want to go over the 50lb limit, or check a second bag, so I’ll be going over everything to make sure I don’t incur any more costs. I’ll be packing with a firm purpose. Just like in writing, as I mentioned above, I’ll be scrutinizing every item to make sure it serves the purpose of this trip.

It can also cost you during your trip if the stakes are high. For instance, if I didn’t do any research or planning and just quickly packed for this trip willy-nilly, oh boy would it cost me professionally when I arrived. I would have been ill prepared and come across as unprofessional.

Veteran Writers/Packers

Because I’m a new writer my knowledge is pretty limited. Especially compared to the multi-published authors. There are a lot of things that are second nature to them that I have to consciously do, or strive for, or learn. I’ll make mistakes along the way. I already have, in fact. I’m learning.

How is this like packing? Veteran conference goers will have an easier time than I will packing for this trip. They know what to expect, what to bring. They’ve made mistakes in the past and learned from them, and get better and better each time they go.

How about you? Are you going to RWA? Did this metaphor make a lick of sense? Do you see other ways packing is like writing that I missed?

Weekend Grab Bag – From Writing Tips to Batman Spa (and some Firefly)

Song playing right now on my playlist: “Let’s Dance,” by David Bowie

NEWS: I signed my first contract! BEER AND GROPING IN LAS VEGAS, coming January 2013 from Secret Cravings Publishing!

Writing and the Writing Life:

Browncoats:

In Geekdom: