Write for 14 straight hours

According to Danielle Steel, “Anyone who tells you how to write best-sellers is a sham and a liar. I can tell you how I write books. I write them with fear, excitement, discipline, and a lot of hard work.”

In “Snoopy’s Guide to the Writing Life,” she also says of that hard work…

“I work and I think and I push and I scribble until something comes. When I actually get something to work on, I sit at my typewriter and type until I ache so badly I can’t get up. After twelve or fourteen hours, you feel as if your whole body is going to break in half. Everything hurts–your arms, your eyes, your shoulders, your neck, your hands. …”

TWELVE OR FOURTEEN HOURS? Does anybody out there work for that long straight in one day? I haven’t ever. I don’t think that I could! But since Steel is one of the best-selling novelists of our time, maybe this is the way to get the job done.

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Well played, Universe

Sunday’s solar eclipse from Japan via space.com

So on Friday I was very busy telling all of you that when an idea comes, you should get it down immediately, or you’ll lose it. I chatted about keeping notebooks nearby on my Facebook pages (Tracey Writes and Fairy Godauthor) and dispensed reams of advice.

Well…

On Saturday morning, I was awoken by a small child sitting on my legs, while a very interesting story was playing in my dreams. Even while still asleep, and trying to knock said small child off of me I thought, “hey, this would make a good picture book.” Which is really a revelation because I seriously suck at picture books. Anyway, I woke up, and because I’d spent the day before up to my eyeballs in giving all that awesome advice on the subject, I knew I couldn’t let this one slip away. Only, where were all my stupid notebooks? Pen? Paper? Why did I clean the pile o’ crap that was next to my side of the bed just the day before?

I eyed the smooth light brown skin on the small child. It would make a good temporary notebook. (No, I was not kidding about that.) He must have read my mind, because he skittered away just out of reach. I was too sleepy to pursue. Then he demanded breakfast. Fortunately, his father groggily obliged.

Yesterday’s eclipse as viewed from space

Without paper or pen I went to the bathroom to splash  water on my face, all the while, trying to keep the story in my head. Eventually, I woke up enough to remember that my office is right next to my bedroom, and that there’s plenty of paper and pens in there! So I grabbed a notebook and stumbled downstairs, where my husband presented the family with a bacon and egg breakfast. What a saint!

And while scarfing down some piping hot bacon, and before the whole thing disappeared from my brain, I wrote down everything I could remember from the dream.

And I have to tell you, I was right. It did sound like a good picture book. As soon as breakfast was over, I pitched the idea to the family. They all seemed to like it. That night, I wrote it all down and shared it with my husband. He thought it was great. The following night, after I made a couple of tweaks, I shared it with my daughter. She said it was really funny.

I may have actually written a viable children’s book.

Now, I ask you this: Was the universe testing me with that idea to see if I would take my own advice? OR did the universe send me that quote on Friday knowing that I’d get this idea on Saturday morning, and I’d need Hakuta’s advice?

Are you writing blind?

“I went through a period once when I felt like I was dying. I wasn’t writing any poetry, and I felt that if I couldn’t write I would split. I was recording in my journal, but no poems came. I know now that this period was a transition in my life. The next year, I went back to my journal, and here were these incredible poems I could almost lift out of it… These poems came right out of the journal. But I didn’t see them as poems then.” –Audre Lorde

We all have those times when the writing doesn’t seem to be coming. We feel that the muse has abandoned us. But perhaps, we are blind to our own talent.

Healing after rejection

If you witnessed my little breakdown yesterday, thanks for tolerating it. If you commented on Facebook, Twitter, via email or on this blog, THANK YOU.

It’s pretty rare that I whimper publicly, or post anything extremely personal. But yesterday, I felt at the end of my rope, a place I seem to be returning to regularly of late, so I feel the need to explain: This was no regular rejection letter. This rejection came after an initial pass on my manuscript, but with an invitation to do rewrites. I reworked the manuscript for months, resubmitted it, and then waited nearly three months for a response, for a total of nine months before this “no.”

The letter was extremely gentle, but still hurt like #%&@.

And it got me wondering… how do you heal after a rejection?

1) Gather your writing friends. Hearing that they’ve been there, done that is helpful. Misery loves company, if only to remind you that you’re not alone. Family can be helpful too, but sometimes hit or miss. My mother likes to point out how many rejections J.K. Rowling got. Then she tells me to self-publish, and that’s followed by, “just put it out of your mind.” Well-meaning? Absolutely. Helpful? Not so much. I love you though, Mom.

2) Give yourself a treat. Life is hard enough even without rejection crap. This is when having your mom in town is especially helpful. After I went sulking  back up to my office, she made accra, which was one of my all time favorite things to eat when I was a child. Still is.

3) Be real. This is no time to try to be noble and think you should be above comparisons to other writers, or beyond wanting acceptance. What else are you going to measure yourself against, if not the achievements of others? Plus, you’re not writing in your journal. You’re writing to make books. Acceptance is the crux of the thing. Everyone wants to be accepted! So give yourself a break and save being noble for another day. You’re human. Feel your feelings.

4) Go ahead and get angry. For me, that was the impetus to do some research and send out a couple of new queries. For you that might look like screaming at the top of your lungs. You do what you gotta do.

5) Move on. I ended the day, still not feeling great, but working on a new manuscript. Today I feel better, and tomorrow I’ll be better still. The thing to remember is: this too shall pass.

How to handle criticism

Writing is a lonely endeavor, until it isn’t. At some point, you need to show your work to a reader, an editor, or an agent. They will have their own opinions about your writing, your characters, how well you’ve painted a scene. You will need to deal with that criticism in some way. It might be upsetting. You’ve spent months, maybe even years working on this story, and you love it exactly the way that it is. So hearing anything negative will be painful. But what should you do with the criticism?

1) Consider the source. You should choose your first readers carefully. Ideally, they should be people who love books, who read in your genre, and who can give you constructive feedback. Family members can be biased and may want to protect your feelings. Some friends may not be as supportive of your choices and have a hidden agenda that isn’t in your best interest. Writing groups are ideal for some people, but even then, you have to weigh their words carefully.

2) Pay more attention to how they feel than what they say. Often people aren’t able to articulate what exactly is working or not working for them in a story. They like this part, they don’t know why. Or they hate that part, but can’t pinpoint the exact reason. But that’s important information. Subconsciously, something is or isn’t working for them, and sometimes this is a better  critique than what they actually say. Take a hard look at the parts that they didn’t like, and leave the parts that they did ALONE.

3) Trust your gut. It may be cliche to say “to thine own  self be true,” but there’s a reason it’s cliche. It’s because it’s the truth. You’ll never go wrong doing the thing that you really want to do, and skipping the stuff you think you should be doing.

4) Say thank you. Regardless of how well or how badly your critique goes, always be gracious. Even if your back-stabbing wanna-be-writer cousin tells you it’s a load of crap. Say thanks anyway. It’ll throw her off.

5) Take a break. Give yourself a few days to absorb everyone’s comments before you start revising. It’ll give your mind a chance to sort the wheat from the chaff as it were, and find common threads in the various opinions. You may find trends that really help you tackle a thorny part.

The Mashup

It’s Monday, so here’s your publishing news roundup.

My favorite link of last week was probably the one of Paulo Coelho talking about how he likes pirating books. It totally flies in the face of conventional publishing, but he has a point: it makes you a popular author. Check it out.

If you follow Coelho’s advice and do become popular, you might want to look into getting a publicist. Author Eddie Snipes talks about his experience with a publicist and lets you know whether it’s worth it or not.

Maybe you’re still struggling with writing. Well, according to this article from Forbes, if you’re fresh out of college, you probably can’t write a lick because “learning clear writing in college is like trying to learn sobriety in a bar.” What? I know. That literature degree I have is start to look like an expensive piece of nothing. Think NYU will give me my money back?

Then again, maybe you are writing but you’re suffering from the dreaded writer’s block. Author Gene Perret says it’s all about managing your fear (and maybe not being quite so self-involved).

Perhaps you just need a pep talk. Here’s some advice from bestselling authors. I’m with Cassadra Clare: read the whole thing aloud. Or it might be that you’re not getting enough distractions. That’s right, you heard me. Newbie author Nathan Bransford says that distractions are a good thing. Well, sometimes.

Do you like zombies? Who doesn’t right? The New York Times dissects all those zombie books and prepares us for the zombie apocalypse. Or the zombifying of literature. Or something to do with why there are so many zombie books out these days and why we can’t seem to stop them (the books, or the zombies).

Slate.com analyzes why Americans love book clubs. I’ve never been a member of a book club myself, but like the author of this article, I’d join one, if only for the cookies… and the alcohol.

In YA news, Harold Underdown does an excellent and thorough analysis of the sales numbers in young adult literature, and sees that the genre is booming… er… kind of. But then Roger Sutton of the Horn Book responds about all those YA numbers and the confusion over them, and seems to be really cranky about it all. Take it easy, fella.

And finally, my husband says that the script of Cowboys & Aliens was stolen from an episode of Scooby Doo and the Alien Invaders. Hmm. He might be right.

Write like there’s no tomorrow

You know that feeling when you’re working and you get pissed off because you have to stop?

Your body needs sleep

Or the kids need their dinner

Or your husband needs to find out where the checkbook is?

That’s when you’re on a roll.

And despite all of the frustrations about writing, the rejection letters, the ages-long waiting period to hear back from people, the incredibly slow building of your platform and the maddening inability to find the right word, this is what you’re writing for. These moments. When everything’s just right, and the muse is on your side. It doesn’t come often, so when it does…

Write like there’s no tomorrow.

Give it all, give it now

When I heard that the series Stargate Universe was ending this season, I was pleased. The series started out promising, and then floundered in the middle. It reminded me of my feelings about HBO’s Big Love. And just like Big Love, the episodes on SU have been getting more and more dramatic, more complicated, more interesting, which now makes me disappointed that it’s ending.

Why does this happen?

It’s because now that they’re coming to the end, the writers are giving it their all. Everything’s in there, even the kitchen sink. So it begs the question: why doesn’t that happen in every episode? And the answer is: FEAR.

I learned very early on in an undergrad writing class at NYU that as a writer, you shouldn’t hold anything back. Give it all, give it now (or something like that) my professor said. And it’s the best advice I have ever gotten as a writer. Of course, I do sometimes hold myself back, and the result is never as good as when I push myself to the edge, and then over it. The only reason that I and so many others pull back, often to the detriment of our own work is because of fear. We fear negative thoughts and remarks from readers (or viewers) and we fear the way that we will feel about those remarks. And in the end, is it really worth it, because the fear and the resulting mediocrity is what turns readers off anyway.

So today I issue a challenge to myself and all the other writers out there: It’s time to push past the fear, and give our art everything we have. Right now, without hesitation, let’s lay it all out on the page and not look back.

Are you with me?

Give it a good title

True, it’s what’s inside the book that counts. It’s the narrative, the plot, the vibrancy of the characters that keeps the reader going, but the thing that gets them to your book in the first place is the title.

I love titles. I particularly like the ones that are explicit about the characters or the plot. THE TAMING OF THE SHREW gives you the low-down on the plot of the play. COWBOYS AND ALIENS gives you the movie’s two opposing sides.

Let your title tell something. Either the main character: SNOW WHITE, the main source of aggravation: MOBY DICK, or the plot: THE ODYSSEY. Sometimes being a little more subtle works too. My own title, ANGEL’S GRACE, tells the name of the main character, and it’s a pun that you get by the end of the story. But really obscure titles don’t make people curious about what your story’s about. It just makes them move on to a title that they understand better. And after all the hard work of writing the story, you don’t want the title to turn your readers away.

So give it a good title.

You can learn a lot from knights

Last night, my family went to Medieval Times. It’s a role-play “dinner” “experience” in a “castle” with a king and knights and chivalry and plastic cups that are supposed to look like mead steins. The kids loved it. My husband and I… we… er… loved that the kids loved it. But despite the bad acting (truly, truly horrendous) and the horrible food (seriously, the worst I’ve ever had, and I lived in England, so that’s saying a lot), the saving grace of this thing were the fight scenes.

Sure, it was extremely careful choreography because they’re using actual swords and mace and whatnot. And sure they’re going pretty slowly to make sure that nobody gets hurt, but they were kind of exciting. And that was because of the reversals.

Reversals: the stand-by of the horror, the thriller, and every b-movie you’ve ever seen. You think a guy’s down and then he suddenly sees a way to claw back to the top. Is your knight done for? No! He tipped up his blade and caught the bad guy in the gut at the last second. Down goes bad guy face-first into horse poop.

The fighting knights reminded me that sometimes, even the worst story can be saved with a little of the unexpected. Some excitement by way of surprise. I know it’s the same ol’ the-axe-murderer-was-dead-but-comes-back-for-a-final-slash bit. But it works, right?

Just imagine if you do those reversals well in your book? It’d be pretty awesome!

Because everybody loves a comeback.