Get Over the Fear and Get the Job Done

Not long ago a published author asked me why I have so many stories in my computer but none that were out being considered by an agent, editor, or even a critique group.  I honestly didn’t have an answer, but my lips formed the words, “Because it would be like selling my children.”

The truth is, though, that I am afraid of the process.  I am afraid of the inevitable rejection letters and I am afraid that no one will think I have any talent for storytelling.  I am afraid that I will try and fail miserably at this writing game.  I am afraid that I will one day have to admit that I tried to be a writer, but just could not cut it.

This, my writing friends, is something we  absolutely MUST overcome.

These are the steps you’re going to begin taking today:

If you are not a member of a critique group, find one and let them know you’d like to join.  Be sure it’s one that focuses on the type of literature you are producing.  There are groups for picture book authors, fantasy writers, non-fiction writers, and groups for tween, young adult, and many other types of fiction.  If you only write mysteries, find a mystery writers group.

Where can you look for a critique group?  One way is to join an association of writers (type “writer’s associations” into your favorite search engine and see what you find).  Check them out, talk to a few of their members, and when you find one that feels like it fits, join it.  The money you will pay will most likely come back to you as income sooner than if you don’t do anything.  Once you join the association, ask about critique group openings and (again) find one that fits your style of writing.  The best groups will have writers with varying degrees of  experience.  Eventually you will be one of the ones with more experience… you’re not yet so listen and learn…but don’t just lurk.  Jump in, participate, and offer your opinions now and then.  Over time you will develop a working relationship with the other members of your group and you will learn to trust their opinions.

The next step you’re going to take is to get that one piece ready to share with someone.  Once your critique group has looked it over and you’ve made the revisions you think are necessary, get it ready to mail out.  You can use your Writer’s Guide, the internet, or your local library, but find a publisher or agent with whom you think you might enjoy having a working relationship.

Now that you have joined a professional writer’s association, you will have access to experienced writers and editors.  When you’re wondering what your cover letter should say (I’m assuming you’ve read the current Writer’s Guide information about writing cover letters), type up a draft and ask a couple of your new association friends to look it over and give you advice.  The next sentence is very important, so read it twice.  TAKE THEIR ADVICE.

After you have your cover letter, and your story, chapters, or synopsis ready to mail, actually put it in an envelope and mail it….only email your submission if your chosen publisher accepts email submissions, and even if they do, don’t send it without the cover letter.  Follow their instructions about submissions to the letter.  If you’re not sure what they want, ask them.  They will be glad to tell you.  Why will they be glad to tell you?  Because if you submit an amazing story to them and they publish it, THEY MAKE MONEY!   But follow their rules, they know what they’re doing.

Once you have taken the envelope to the mailbox, post office, or sent it by email, come back to the computer and begin the creative process again.  Do this today.  Don’t wait until tomorrow, because other things will get in the way and you will be tempted to just sit back and wait for 3-6 months for an answer on that one story.  Start your next story today.  You can go out for dinner if you want, but until the end of business today you are still a writer and you need to be busy writing.  Go back to Lesson One and start with ten first lines again.  Do it all again and again until you are comfortable with the process.  Write another story, begin another novel, or produce an outline,but stay at the keyboard. If you wait until you hear back from this one story before you begin to write again, you could wait years before actually selling a story.

Writing is a job like many others.  You cannot write one thing and stop.  Every day you will come to work, sit down at the keyboard, and write.

I’d like to hear from you when you mail off that first submission.  I’d like to encourage you to keep going.  Once you’ve done it you know you can do it again.  And remember that if/when a rejection letter comes, it doesn’t mean you’re story isn’t good.  It just means it’s not a good fit for that publisher.  If they offer advice, take it and then keep submitting your work.  As you work, you will learn.

The funny thing about writing is that there are no college classes about getting a work published so that we are forced to submit our work for a grade by a certain deadline.  There is no teacher standing at the front of the room passing out assignments and there is no boss down the hall who is waiting to hear from you about your completed work.  So we become our own teacher and our own boss.  We set our own deadlines and we meet them.  That is how jobs work.

I love hearing from you so feel free to write in and give us your thoughts.  I’m looking forward to hearing from you about your story.

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Self-Editing – Chapter 8 – Maintaining Continuity in Point of View

Each story you write must be told from a particular point of view.  In most cases that point of view remains constant throughout the story.  What is the “Point of View?” you ask….  For an example, go to any window.  Look out that window and take note of the world outside it.  Pretend for a moment that the world you see out that window is all the world that exists, just as the world you create in your story is a complete world as far as the story goes.  As you look out the window, you are viewing that world from one point of view.  Now pretend that you are a person outside that window, living in the world that you see.  That point of view is of the same world, but from a different point of view.

Telling a story from one point of view or another is about more than just changing whether you are merely an observer or participant in the world you’ve created.  Point of view defines whether or not the author tells the story, sees the story as it takes place, evaluates the thoughts and actions of the characters in the story, or all of the above.

For a better description of writing from various points of view, stop for a moment and read this website:

http://www.nyu.edu/classes/op/writing/old_pointofview1.htm

After you’ve read it, come back for the exercises that you will use to create continuity in the point of view of your story.  It shouldn’t take more than four or five minutes to read this short article….go ahead.  We’ll wait for you right here.  See you back in just a few minutes!  While you’re reading I’m going to go get a glass of tea.

You’re done already?  Great!

I tend to work from the omniscient point of view, but some stories should be told in the first person.  I write picture books and some stories must be told as the child would see them….their limited understanding of the world often lends charm and innocence to the tale that would just seem silly if an adult told a story the same way.

Likewise, your story will dictate which point of view is best.  For many of us, the story tells itself and we merely act as scribes for the muses that speak into our ears.  But you can also decide to change a story’s point of view to make the telling more dramatic.  For example, if your story is about the crimes a police officer has helped solve, you may be able to add another layer of understanding and emotion to tell that same story from the viewpoint of a close family member of that officer, such as a spouse, parent, or child.  This viewpoint will give you the option of relating things those characters might see that are blind spots for the officer.  An older relative, such a parent, can illuminate elements in that officer’s character that stem from events in the the officer’s childhood.  That same story would be equally compelling, but very different if told from a teenage daughter’s point of view.  She would probably be more focused on how the elements in the story affect her, rather than her parent.

So you see, the point of view not only helps you tell the story in a way that seems reasonable and reality-based for the reader, it can also add drama and emotion.

Now I want you to get out the story you’re working on now.  You know this story very well by now so be prepared to use a bit of discipline as you check your story this time.  Break it down into chapters, paragraphs, or pages – the size of the section doesn’t matter as long as its manageable for you.  For each section, read it again, analyzing it for what point of view you used to tell the story.  Are you an omniscient narrator telling the story, inserting comments and other information from time to time?  Or is the story being told by one of the characters?  Does it jump from character to character?  If so, this can be confusing for the reader.  As you read, revise any sections that seem to come from more than one point of view.

Ask yourself:

  • Does the same person tell the story throughout this section?
  • Does the “narrator” seem to know more than they should about events, places, or other characters?
  • Does the narrator reveal too much or too little about events and other characters in the context of the story?
  • Is the point of view consistent in its evaluation of the events as they occur?

If your point of view tends to veer from one character to another, you may be in for a few rewrites.  As you tell the story, put yourself inside the head of the narrator and only tell what the narrator knows.

It is possible to tell a story from more than one point of view, such as when an author tells the story in one chapter or section from one point of view and then makes a clear break from that part of the story to another and begins to tell the story from a different point of view.  This style of writing is much more difficult.  Using this device can help tell a story more effectively, but you must beware of allowing one character to have knowledge or insights that they wouldn’t normally have in reality.  I read a book recently in which the author devoted alternating chapters to two differing points of view, giving the reader an omniscient feel as they read.  One chapter was told from a mother’s point of view and the next was told from her daughter’s point of view, alternating back and forth, allowing the reader to see many of the situations they encountered from both viewpoints.  By necessity, this created a feeling of jumping back in time as the story would “rewind” to begin again as one or another of the women gave her take on what had occurred. For this story, it worked, since we all know that mothers and daughters often see the same event in opposing ways, givng each a particular slant when they recall it.  This particular author also allowed the mother to tell part of her story by writing in a journal.  This gave the author the ability not only to tell the story, but also to tell how the mother felt about it.  (If you’re interested in reading it, the book is called, “Once Upon a Gulf Coast Summer,” by Susan Oliver.  It is published by Broadman and Holman Publishers.  Their website is:  http://www.broadmanholman.com.)

As you work through this rewrite, don’t stress over grammar, comma placement, or sentence structure.  Remember that your job, for now, is to just tell the story well.

One more step for today:  As you work, I want you to start getting into a mindset where you can share this work with a trusted friend or critique group and get their opinions before you proceed.

Keep working and we’ll continue to post our progress as we go.  I’m beginning to hear from more and more of you as you write and I love reading your comments and suggestions.  Please feel free to comment and let everyone know where you are in the writing process.  We may work in a solitary field, but we are also a community.  Your struggles and how you’re working to overcome them may just encourage other writers, so don’t be shy.

I’m looking forward to hearing from you!

Breaking Through the Cycle of Writing but Never Submitting

It’s hard to admit it when you don’t know what to do next.  I knew all the possible scenarios:

  • Self Publishing
  • Magazine Submissions
  • Finding an Agent
  • Freelance Publishing (without an agent)
  • and there are several more.

But the truth is, I was having trouble deciding which one was right for me and for my work.  I write children’s stories and when I write, I have this picture in my head of what the characters look like.  They have real faces, hair color, expressions, and feelings.  The stories are like my children and the thought of letting go of control of them had me completely stymied.

You may be familiar with the writer who has been writing for years, but who has never submitted or sold a single article.  I am, but I didn’t think of myself in that light since I have sold over 100 articles…but not childrens stories.  I’ve learned that Nancy Moore was right when she said, “I am more and more convinced that when a writer reaches the stage when he can ruthlessly eliminate whole phrases and paragraphs without feeling he’s cutting off chunks of his heart, he’s passed one of the most important milestones in the business. Falling in love with your own words is an untenable luxury, fatal as well as foolish.”

I’m sad to say that I don’t know who Nancy Moore is, but she’s a pretty smart cookie.  I was sitting on that throne, flushing away time that could have been spent writing, submitting, and yes, selling.  Instead I had fallen in love with the little creations as if they were my children and I would not – could not – let go of them.

Stay with me, because here comes the good part.  My husband put a couple of newpaper articles in front of me one day.  Each was for a book signing event.  One was for Mike Huckabee on his “Do The Right Thing” tour (I hope everyone gets the similarity between his title and my blog site……)  The other was an event for four authors that are not as well known, but that would be followed by a seminar.  I planned my day well since both events were overlapping, but I made it to both, with books piled high in the front seat of my Honda on my way home.

Meeting these writers, talking to them, and bringing home their work, reading it, and attending that seminar, sparked a new fire under me.  I met about 20 writers that day, most with different areas of expertise, and all with a real life back at home that they have to contend with on a daily basis.  Each one approached writing, marketing, and selling from a different standpoint.  They even approached the career of writing from different points of view.  One of the most prolific of the writers, with more than 30 published works, admitted that she never thought of herself as having a “gift” for writing.  “It’s just something I thought I could do…and maybe do it well enought o make some money.”

So I drove home in silence, thinking about all that they had said, and all that I had learned.  And this is the advice that I want to pass on to anyone out there who has been writing, but doesn’t know what to do next.

1.  Find a writers group to join that fits your style of writing.  If you’re a children’s book writer, joining a gothic fantasy themed group will not be as much help to you as one that is peopled with other children’s book writers.

2.  Join a critique group, grit your teeth, and let them give you their honest opinions.  Take those opinions, mull them over, and make the changes necessary to make your writing better.

3.  Let your writer’s group motivate you to keep writing while beginning to either seek an agent, self-publish, or submit your work on your own.  Ask advice from more experienced writers, and stay involved with the group.  In this instance, positive peer pressure will help you get on the road to submitting and selling your work.

Publishing can be a daunting idea, with the marketing, selling, and ultimately exposing your heart to the world.  But if what you write moves you and stirs something inside you, it’s really possible that it will create those same feelings in those of your readers.

So this is my encouragement to you.  Take the scary step of letting your critique group help you become the best writer you can be then give your work a chance to stand on its own.  I think you can do it.

As always, if you try these steps, I hope that you’ll write in and let everyone know how you’re doing as a writer.  As we grow and encourage each other, we all develop our talents and have more to share with the world.  I’m excited about reading something that you’ve written….perhaps I’ll even see it soon on a bookstore shelf.  I hope so!

Writing Your Book – Step 7 – Read Each Chapter Again

You haven’t had much time to work on your rough draft, but I’m going to go ahead with Step 7 – Read Each Chapter Again.  If you’re not finished with your rough draft, please don’t stop working and jump to this step….keep writing and don’t skip to this step until you’ve got a complete rough draft.

Get out your copies (or open the files) and read each chapter as if you were reading it for the first time.  At this point it may help to read them in order since not every writer will write chapters in the order they will appear in the book….and sometimes you find as you read that what you thought would be chapter 7 should really be chapter 5 for the story to flow.

As you read, jot down ideas and make notes of any glaring inconsistencies in story line.  Fill in information that may have been missing from the first draft, such as your back story, character building paragraphs, and setting descriptions.  Again, don’t spend a lot of time worrying about grammar, punctuation, or even spelling….right now we’re just perfecting the story.

Many writers find that it helps them to print out each chapter, leaving a wide margin on one side of the page so that they can make notes in the margin.  You may prefer to read from your computer screen and make changes as you go.  When you make changes on the computer, whether you’ve made paper copies of your notes or not, save your changes to a new file name.  I simply add the numeral “2” to the end of the file name for the second draft, “3” to the third draft, etc. so that I can tell which version came first and if I decide a paragraph I wrote early in the process is better than one written later, I still have a copy of it.

And finally, don’t worry about catching every mistake.  You will read it again (and again) before you are ready for final proofreading.  One word of caution, though….now that you have a complete draft, you may be tempted to set it aside and let it marinate for a while before pulling it back out.  That’s not really a writing technique, that’s procrastination.  If you are unhappy with any part (or all) of the story, keep working on it.

For this job as in any other, if it was easy, everyone would do it….and I know that in this age of blogging and social networking web pages, it may appear that everyone is writing, but how many are writing well AND publishing?  Do your homework and write your pages.  Proof and edit your pages until you have written the best possible piece you can write BEFORE you start shopping for an agent or a publisher.

As always, I will close with a note that I love to hear from you so leave comments….If you have a page, please include a site address so we can visit your blog, too.

Family Reunion – Vacation

Friends, I will be taking a few days off to attend my family reunion and spend time with family now that school is out. You can still reach me, leave comments, and MOST IMPORTANTLY, continue to work on your book!

I will be back in just a few days! God’s blessings on each of you this week.

Janet Sikes Anderson

Writing Your Book – Step 6 – Creating a Rough Draft

The next step in writing your book is one of the most fun. You have your first 350 words written, you have a working outline, and you have begun to fill in the details of that outline. The next step will encompass the largest chunk of time because it is the actual writing!

You may be holding back, thinking, “I’m not ready.” But the truth is YOU ARE READY TO WRITE THIS BOOK! You’ve done your homework, and all you have to do is keep writing, one chunk of text at a time.

Writing is easy if you take it in steps…just as you have been since we began.

Think back to the day that you wrote those first 10 sentences….Now that you can see the outline of the entire book, aren’t you proud of how far you’ve come? Your next step will be multiple steps, taken in any order you wish.

Choose one element from your outline….it can be the ending, the middle, any one scene, or description. Write a rough draft of that section or element. Remember, don’t obsess about making it perfect, just get the ideas down on paper or in a computer file. Once you have that section written, label it, save it, file it, and select another section. Continue in this fashion until you’ve filled in the text for every section in your outline. Some sections will be one or two paragraphs long….others may be several pages…but work in the order that seems logical to you.

Some writers will begin at the beginning and write toward the end of the story. Others will select major components of the story line and then fill in details around them, creating connection lines and paragraphs from one section to another. Whatever works for you is great…there’s no wrong way to write a book!

Once this is done we’ll begin to talk about rewrites, editing, and looking for the right publisher for your book!

I will be around, but busy celebrating family at a reunion this week. Continue to write and we will compare progress reports in just a few days. I will still be able to read your comments, so please continue to write to me and to others through this site. God’s blessings on you all.

Janet Sikes Anderson

Writing Your Book – Step 5 – Organizing & Refining Your Outline

Organizing your Outline is a step that will happen once; however, you may find that during the the process of writing, some minor revisions will take place.  This is normal, so don’t think of the outline you create today as a rigid checklist, but as a guide.

In Writing Your Book – Step 4 – Creating an Outline, you wrote 10 to 12 descriptive sentences that  contain compelling elements in your story.  After sorting these sentences into a logical, sequential order, you saw that you had created the beginnings of a working outline.  Today you are going to refine your outline, separating some larger ideas into smaller sections under one main topic heading.  Since your outline will act as a road map while you write, you will compare your existing outline to the intended “flow” of the story.  And finally, you will look at each topic sentence, or heading in your outline and add brief descriptions of actions, scenes, conflicts that will appear as subheadings under each topic sentence.

If you were to use typical outline formatting, your topic sentences will appear as headings.  These are the main elements around which your story will be structured.  These main elements, or topics, can be numbered in this fashion:

  1. Introduction of story, setting, and characters
  2. First Topic Sentence
  3. Second Topic Sentence
  4. Third Topic Sentence – (Continuing this pattern until you add your final Topic, which will be…)
  5. Conclusion

After you have inserted your topic sentences into the format that works for you, you will go back and fill in details for each topic.  Include your ideas for scenes, character development, and even subtle clues that will help generate anticipation for your readers.  As you work, include as many details as possible so that the next step…writing the book…. will be just like following a map.

Some writers find that their outlines are generally vague and can be written on one page.  Others find that their outlines are quite detailed and are several pages long.  The more you write, the more you’ll develop your own outline style.  Remember, unlike when you were in school, there isn’t a wrong way to do this.

One word of caution:  It is at this point that many would-be writers give up.  When it comes right down to it, they have not thought through all the elements of the story and they do not wish to work at this part of the writing process.  I would encourage you to push yourself through this stage of writing so that the next step is more enjoyable.  Think of this like you did eating your vegetables as a child.  After repeated exposure to some vegetables, we learned to like them and eventually learned that they are an integral part of our diets.  Refining your outline may be like that for you….keep working on it and eventually you will recognize its value and may even learn to like it.