The Perils of Saving for Later*

My collection of cute cupcake wrappers - all just waiting for the perfect occasion to be used.
  My collection of cute cupcake wrappers – all just waiting for the perfect occasion to be used.

I have a confession to make: I’m a saver. Not quite a hoarder (although my husband might have a different opinion), but I have a definite tendency to hold onto things for just the right occasion. That gorgeous new shirt I bought? Save it for a special night out. Those super-cute cupcake wrappers? Have to be kept for the perfect party treat. Those fancy stickers? One day, I’ll need a card for them to decorate.

Only eventually, that gorgeous shirt doesn’t fit anymore, those cupcake wrappers have faded, and those stickers have lost their stick. All my saving resulted in me losing out.

The same applies to writing. It’s easy to hold onto the perfect idea for the sequel to your book. I’ve done it myself. But if your first book doesn’t sell, that perfect idea may never make it onto the page.

And maybe that perfect idea is what your first book was missing. What would have pushed your not-quite-publishable idea over into the can’t-put-it-down category.

I understand that as a writer, you have to leave yourself room to expand the story and the world. Every book should go just a bit farther. I mean, if J.K. Rowling had introduced Horcruxes in The Philosopher’s Stone it wouldn’t have made sense – we needed the other books to build up to that point.

But what if she’d held off introducing Voldemort until later? Or Hermione? Or Harry’s dead parents? Would we have been as engrossed in the story?

The point is, you should strive to make your first story as strong as it can be, even if it means using up your good ideas – because if that book never gets published, your amazing ideas will just go to waste. And if you use your idea and your book does get published, well, you’ll have the incentive to come up with an even better idea!

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to go bake some cupcakes, while wearing my new shirt.

What about you? Are you an idea hoarder or do you make sure to use up all the good ideas you get? Tell me about it in the comments.

*PS This does not apply to money (which I also obsessively save), because I really think everyone should have a rainy day fund for if/when things go wrong.

Thanking my Lucky Stars

Seraphina's B-Day & Fam Reunion 188

So, last week was kind of a crappy week for me. Aside from all of the depressing news, I was also dealing with some personal stuff, plus my (never-freaking-ending) health issues, among other things. But it could have been worse.

Remember how happy I was to finally finish this draft of my YA? The one I’ve been struggling to finish for months?

Well, I was working on revising, when Word shut down on me. No big deal, right? I mean, I’d saved it recently, at most I was going to lose the last change or two I’d made that day – and since I still had my crit notes available, it wasn’t going to take much to fix it.

Except…

When I re-opened my doc, it was corrupted in a way I’ve never seen before. All the revisions I’d done that morning were there, except instead of being Chapter 23, it was now called Chapter 22. After much searching, I discovered Chapter 20 had simply disappeared, adjusting the numbering of the following chapters – until Chapter 26, after which the numbering started over at Chapter 1. Oh yeah, and those two new chapters I wrote last week to finally finish my draft? Gone. Poof!

Fortunately for me, I’d emailed myself a copy right after I finished those two new chapters. And, even more fortunately, last week kept me so busy with all its stresses, I hadn’t done any work on it since I’d emailed the copy – so I was actually able to piece my draft back together without too much effort (and only a few tears).

So, let this be a lesson for all of you. Back up your work.

Let me say that again: BACK UP YOUR WORK!!!

Seriously, this could have been a terrible end to an already horrible, no good, very bad week. Instead, I was able to take a deep breath, thank my lucky stars, and move along.

Now go back up your work!

 

 

Defying the Odds

This pretty purple flower has defied the odds (and lawnmower) by sprouting up in the middle of our lawn.
This pretty purple flower has defied the odds (and lawnmower) by sprouting up in the middle of our lawn.

The road to getting published is a long twisty one, filled with water hazards, moving staircases, tiger traps, dead ends, and steep drops into a bottomless abyss. Some days it can feel like the top of Mount Published is an unreachable goal, something out of a fairy tale.

I mean, let’s face it, the odds are stacked against us. How many query letters do agents receive in a week? How many unsolicited (or even solicited) manuscripts does an editor get in a month? And how many of those go on to acquisitions and actually end up as books? I don’t have exact numbers (and I’m sure those numbers vary by agent and editor) but I can tell you, the percentage is small.

But you know what? Those odds are not even.

Ask any agent how many queries they get in a week for genres/age groups they don’t represent. Or how many are riddled with clichés, overused tropes, or even (gasp!) ridiculous amounts of spelling and grammatical errors.

Every time you attend a conference or workshop, every time you research an agent, or work with a critique partner(s), or read other books like the one you’re writing, or even just run a proper spell check, you help increase your odds.

I won’t lie. The odds of getting the first book you wrote published are still low. But if you don’t put in the effort – or if you give up altogether – the odds will definitely be against you. If you want the odds to be stacked in your favour, you’re going to have to do some heavy lifting.

Feeling Productive

IMG_2216 (2)

I’ve had plenty to keep me busy this year. From persistent health issues, to launching my first book, to being sucked into the vortex of social media, to getting swamped with critiques, (not to mention having about a bazillion cakes to bake) I’ve had lots of excuses to put writing new words on the back burner.

I know how important it is to keep writing. Really I do. Every day, week, and month that ticks by on submission makes me more aware that pretty soon I’m going to need something new to show to my agent.

But words have been hard to come by. Picture book ideas have been eluding me, and every time I think I’ve got the ending down for my YA WIP, I end up deleting the last two chapters and going back to the drawing board.

Until this month. (Not this month as in June, because it’s only a few days in, but the past 30 days or so since I finished the major push of launching Fun with Frosting.)

I’ve spent the last few weeks really buckling down and writing. It all started with my son inspiring a new PB idea, which quickly turned into a draft, then a revision, then another revision, and another (with crit group feedback, of course) until it finally resulted in a finished PB, which I handed in to Bri this week. (It’s the first PB I’ve deemed worthy of her eyes in over a year, so needless to say, I’m a bit of a nervous wreck waiting to find out what she thinks.)

Plus, after no less than five complete deletions and re-writes, I’ve finally figured out how to end my YA – and got it written! That’s right, I’m officially sitting with a finished first draft. Woohoo!

My goal was to have this draft completed before school let out – and I made it, despite often doubting it was possible. There’s still quite a bit of revising to do, but I should be able to whip those chapters into shape by the time my crit group is ready for them (my new goal is get all the chapters critted over the summer – we’re a bit more than halfway through now).

So, just like that, by the power of butt-in-chair, I’ve got two new projects brewing, and with any luck I’ll have at least one of them out on sub before the year is over (maybe even faster, but it when it comes to time in publishing it’s better to aim low).

Plus, I’ve got an idea for a new YA bubbling away in my mind, so I’ve established the goal of outlining it over the summer (while full-time-mama-ing it), so I’m ready to start writing come September, when I’m back to having time.

What about you? Accomplished any goals you want to brag about? Tell me in the comments!

 

Revising Gone Wrong

I couldn't find an appropriate cake photo today, so instead enjoy this coffee-filter butterfly craft. Because: filters?
I couldn’t find an appropriate cake photo today, so instead enjoy this coffee-filter butterfly craft. Because: filters?

I’ve written before about filter words, and how those annoying little guys have a nasty habit of getting between you and your reader. All those pesky “heard”s, “thought”s, “saw”s, and “wondered”s (just to name a few) stop the reader from getting right into the main character’s head (yes, even when you’re not writing in a 1st person POV).

But removing filter words only helps when you replace them with something better. After all, the whole point of revising is to make your story stronger. So here are two filter word replacement strategies to avoid.

The verb “to be”

One of the ways people replace their filter words is with the verb to be.

I saw a house on the hill. -> There was a house on the hill.

And that’s okay, in moderation. Until you get to a longer description:

There was a house on a hill. It was surrounded by acres of lush green grass. On either side of the door were two rosebushes which were filled with butterflies. Above that, there  two windows were sitting half open that were like a pair of half-closed eyes staring back at me.

So how do you fix it? Try taking out all uses of the verb “to be” – this includes passive verbs (were filled), progressive verbs (were sitting), and any “there” statements. Rewrite it using active constructions and more dynamic verbs. Something like:

A house sat on the hill, surrounded by acres of lush green grass. Butterfly-filled rosebushes climbed up trellises on either side of the door. Above that, two half-open windows gave the impression of half-closed eyes staring back at me.

Better, right?

Questions

Another way of replacing filter words (especially those like “pondered,” “wondered,” “worried,” etc) is with a question. After all, the idea is to get inside the character’s head and tell us what they’re thinking, without the filter.

I wondered why he’d say something like that. -> Why would he say something like that?

And, again, this isn’t too bad – once in a while. But if your character is really thrashing out an issue, too many questions can quickly weaken your story:

Why would he say something like that? How can he expect me to just walk away from the race? Doesn’t he realize I’ve been training for years for this? Or is he worried I’ll end up in accident, like the one that killed his brother?

The key here to use more statements.

Why would he say something like that? I can’t just walk away from the race. I’ve been training for years for this. Just because his brother ended up in an accident, doesn’t mean I will.

Your character runs the story, let him or her be decisive in their thoughts. No one wants to follow a wishy-washy character for 200 pages.

So there you have it, my best advice for how (not) to replace filter words.

What about you? Ever caught yourself filtering your work? Are you a question junkie? Addicted to all forms of “to be”? Let me know in the comments.

Writer @k_callard shares her tips on eliminating filter words from your writing and what (not) to replace them with. http://wp.me/p4iSYz-i3  (Click to tweet)