Monday, January 25, 2010

I have an idea! Now what?

I had an idea and the words were flowing. Life was good. I was doing something I enjoyed and it was constructive. My brain felt like it was expanding with knowledge as I typed every word. It was a great feeling.

Even though everything was wonderful, I needed the occasional mental break. No one can sit there for hours straight without going a little nutty or at least without getting leg cramps. During these breaks, I did a variety of things:

  • Checked out a few Thesauruses.

  • Bookmarked a few grammatical websites.

  • Researched the publishing industry.

One thing about me is that I always skip ahead. I’ve always done it and will continue to do so. The only things I don’t skip ahead on are books and movies. I love the suspense too much to ruin it for myself. Everything else in life, however, I want to know what’s next and be prepared. Boy scouts have nothing on me when it comes to my preparation and planning skills.

It’s break time. I'm stretching my legs, but my mind is still on writing and plans for the future. I’m thinking positive and wonder, “What happens when I finally finish writing my book?” “How do I contact publishers?” “Do I need an agent?” “What’s the process?” “What format do I use?” “In this day and age of technology, can I email my manuscript?”

The questions went on and on. It got so bad that I even questioned what word processor I used. After all, I could be typing in a format that will get my manuscript rejected. Why not start out with the industry standard from the beginning? Problem was, I didn’t know what the industry standard was.

Not having a plan for the future, I panicked enough to enter research mode. It’s like a little like switching into Voltron without the cool robots and with fewer explosions.

Research mode activated!

Not even knowing where to begin, I blundered my way through the internet. Having crossed several helpful sites, I finally had a template that I was going to use and I cheerfully changed my font, margins, line spacing and other settings.

Knowing that each publishing house and agency wants something a little different and that I should check with each individually, I at least had what they typically request. This is what I found:

  • either 1.5 or 2.0 spaced, single sided. This allows for whoever might read it to make notes between the lines if necessary and is easier to read.

  • Large margins. Generally 1” to give room to make notes.

  • Courier or Times New Roman font. Monospaced Fonts (typically courier) have been used in the business since before time began. These are fonts where every letter takes up the same amount of space. Many fonts try to squeeze letters together to get more on a page. This sometimes makes reading something quickly hard. It also makes getting a word count the old fashioned way tricky. There is a debate on whether to use Courier or New Times Roman. Pick one, and stick with it. Don't pick anything else. Just don't.

  • Indent each paragraph by 1/2 inch or 5 spaces.

  • Don't use "fancy" formatting. Keep it simple.

  • Indicate blank lines by centering "###".

  • No cover page. Use the first page to write your information. In the upper left corner, type your name (your real name if using a pen name), your address and contact information. In the upper right corner type the word count (it's already assumed to be approximate, so writing the word approximate is unnecessary). In the middle of the page, type the title of your story, centered. The next line should be your name (or pen name if you choose). Enter another line and then start writing your story. You'll get about 13 lines of your story on the first page and that's why it's said that your first 13 lines are the most important. They might be all that's ever read by publishers and agents when looking at your submission.

  • Put a page number and your name in the upper right corner of all following pages. No other headers of footers should be used. Sometimes the name of the book/story is helpful, but can get complicated if you change the name down the road.

The majority of the guidelines I found was put in place for the simple fact that it makes it easier to read your manuscript. Additional preferences are usually mentioned on their websites.

Sometimes they want just a query letter with an outline. Sometimes they want the first three chapters. Occasionally they want the whole thing. The important thing to keep in mind is to check and double check what they each asks for and give what they want; nothing more, nothing less.

Always be prepared for any request. Don't send a query letter or even approach a publisher or agent if your manuscript isn't finished. You never know when they could ask you to see the whole thing and then you have to say, "Oops, my bad. It isn't done yet. Can you please wait another couple months?" (We're talking fiction here. Non-Fiction sometimes varies.)

Don’t push your whole manuscript on them when they didn’t ask for it. Don’t forget to include what they did ask for. Each house/agency has their own procedures and following their guidelines makes their lives much easier. Considering they are evaluating not only an author's writing, plot and salability, but they are looking at how easy/hard it is to work with us authors. Making their lives easier is a very good thing.

Lastly, get used to rejection. Just resolve yourself right here and now that if you get to the point where you are making submission, then you're going to get rejected by someone, somewhere (and probably frequently). It happens to all authors. It's nothing personal.

Being rejected doesn't mean your manuscript it bad. It could be something as simple as your manuscript is a western and they only deal with romances.

If by some luck, you get a personalized rejection letter or any suggestions at all, take that as an incredibly good sign. That means that someone liked your manuscript enough to actually pay attention and critique it. Take their suggestions to heart and keep submitting.

Personally, I look forward to many rejection letters in my future. That means I've finished my book and am on to the next level in becoming published.

See you on the slush pile!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Okay, so I'm sitting at my computer with a blank page

I had made the decision that I was going to write. Not only was I going to write, but I was going to write a whole book. My first fiction novel. I'm a great story teller, surely I could come up with enough content to fill several books, let alone one little novel. How hard could it be?

So, I sat at my computer, stewing. And stewing.

I wanted to be original, unique. Every idea I came up with had been done before, some had been done several times. If I did come up with something somewhat original, it was never on a topic that inspired me. For my first book, I definitely needed an inspiring topic.

Having recently been on a reading binge, I asked myself what kinds of books had I been reading? Those topics had interested me enough that I read several books. If I focused on a particular genre, that would at least narrow things down.

I went through a mental list of the books I'd read and zeroed in on Paranormal/Urban Fiction. In other words, vampires. Not only had I just read the Twilight series by Stephanie Meyer, I read the Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris and the Anita Blake series by Laurell Hamilton. It was vampire after vampire with a dash of werewolf. To be honest, I was burnt out on vampires. Not only that, but vampires and werewolves have been done and redone in every conceivable way. I would need an extra special twist if I were to write a vampire story. For my first attempt, I really didn't feel confident about that.

So I found a genre, but I was utterly sick to death of it. I needed something that was still paranormal/fantasy in nature, but had no vampires or werewolves. Dwarves, elves and the like had all been done to death as well. I was truly hard pressed to come up with an idea. In the meantime, I was still staring at that blank page on my screen.

Okay, something that's not vampire or werewolf and not a Lord of the Rings knock off. Faeries are also starting to get a lot of play these days. My mind buzzed for several days, pondering what to do.

Eventually, I made myself narrow my plot even further. What did I want it to ultimately be about? How about a woman? Well, that was a start, but what about this woman? Let's have her be introverted and somehow she gets dragged into some sort of fantasy world. In the end, she sheds her shy side and finds out who she really is. (Because that plot hasn't been done before...yeah right!)

Once I got that much, the rest started to flow. I started to make notes. I wasn't writing just yet, but the page was no longer empty. It was filling with ideas.

In the end, I decided to write about this woman and how she stumbles across a world of elves. These aren't your typical, arrow chucking, tree hugging, pointy eared elves. No, these were a separate race of beings whose ancestors were the same as ours. The book would explain how the separation of our races happened and why elves appear in our folklore as they do.

There would be trolls, dimensional portals, and, of course, a love story. Who else to help her out of her shell than some handsome elven prince?

Then, the writing began. I wrote and wrote and wrote. Then I wrote some more. Once I started, it was hard to stop. It was horrible stuff really. Not the slightest bit interesting to anyone but myself. But that's not the point.

The point is, sometimes you have to force yourself to just pick something and start writing to get the juices flowing. The idea I had in itself was a good one. It was the writing that stunk. Looking back, I've got about 30,000 words out of 50,000 that I'm probably going to junk and completely rewrite.

That's okay. I wouldn't have traded the experience for anything. I learned and grew so much from just sitting in front of my computer, merrily typing away. Proper grammar and sentence structure will come later. For now, getting the story out of my head and onto paper is a huge step in the right direction.

Friday, January 22, 2010

The dark ages and manual typewriters

Writing about my school days got me thinking about other events in my life related to writing that happened about the same time. As I started to compose another blog using my smart phone, I thought back to the days before smart phones. We'll refer to those days as the dark ages for the purposes of this post.

So, way back in the dark ages, when I was growing up, we didn't have a computer. Heck, my parents still insist on living in the dark ages and still don't have a computer. (They did get a DVD Player last year. That was a big step for them.)

Before she retired, my mother did have a "laptop" for awhile that was forced upon her by her employer so she could work from home. Laptop was a relative word back then. I suppose it would have fit on someone's lap, if they were 8 feet tall and weighed about 400 pounds. Mom actually needed a hand cart to haul the darned thing around. Because it weighed a ton, she had to ask for help lifting it in and out of the trunk of her car. We lived on the second floor and it was my job to help her up the stairs with it. Before you ask, yes, it really was a two person job.

It was cutting edge technology and no one else I knew had one of these fancy laptops. The rare times when mom brought it home, I practically glued myself to the keyboard, my fingers caressing the keys with awe. It had no hard drive. The operating system ran from one of the two five inch floppy drives. You put in a MS DOS disk in one drive and whatever program you wanted to use in the other.

However, I was so busy playing digdug on the behemoth that I did very little writing. I'm a procrastinator from way back. I input a few of my badly written poems and made a nifty program to pull them up, but that was about it. When her employer made her return it because they were starting to get worker's comp claims from those who had to haul them around, my heart was broken.

My mother was also under the impression that all young ladies needed to learn how to touch type. It was a skill worthy of any self respecting professional woman. With the laptop gone, she was fixated on finding me a replacement. One day, mom rummaged around in the back closet. Sorting through dusty sweaters, files, and knitting supplies, she pulled out a large (and very heavy) black box.

Sitting me down at the kitchen table, she plunked the black box in front of me. The table shook under the weight. A smug look of satisfaction on her face, she instructed me to open it. With trepidation, I unhooked both latches and opened the lid.

Inside was a huge, metal manual typewriter, much like the one in the picture above. The smell of oil from the mechanical arms and ink from the ribbon mingled together to form the unique and inspiring smell that is typewriter. It was the very same typewriter that my mother had used to learn how to type. We were talking the darkest of the dark ages here. (Sorry, mom.)

I ran my fingers across the round keys, testing out this mechanical device that had been placed in front of me. Placing my fingers in the correct typing position, I started to type. Well, I attempted to start. I found that in order to make an actual letter appear on the page, I had to slam my fingers down on each button. Needless to say, my pinkies got a workout.

I typed many a high school paper on that ancient monster. Back then, each typewriter had its own personality, its own little quirks. I quickly came to know each little quirk intimately. And my hands got stronger too. No more asking other people to open jars for me!

By the time I started college, that old typewriter and I were old friends. My mother, however, knew it was time to move on. I was once again sat at the kitchen table and a new device plunked down for my perusal.

It was an electric typewriter. How exciting was that? I'll tell you how exciting it was. It was very exciting. My bruised pinkies were extremely happy. Feeling along the side, I flipped the power on. It whirred to life, making all sorts of clicking and adjusting sounds.

I was thrilled. I believe I spent a whole hour and wasted a whole cartridge playing with the auto-correct feature alone. Until then, I had to use these little rectangle sheets of paper with some sort of pasty white substance on one side. You had to line up the letter you mistyped and, with this mysterious white sheet between the page and the key, type the letter again. This applied that pasty white substance over top and then you backed up and typed the correct letter over top of that. If that didn't work, you typed X's and dashes to cross out the typeo and pretended there wasn't a huge black smudge on your page.

A few days later, a friend invited me over to see her new word processor. It was basically an electric typewriter with a screen the size of my smart phone. I was so jealous. She could actually see what she typed on the screen, before it printed on the paper! It was amazing.

Looking at my smart phone and thinking back to the dark ages made me realize how lucky I am to be in the age of computers. Whereas, I used to use white out on a daily basis, I haven't touched a bottle in five years. I kept a notebook with me where ever I went to jot down ideas and idle thoughts. Now, I just tap a few keys and add thoughts to my smart phone which uploads them to the internet and syncs it all with my computer and website. (No I didn't type this whole thing on my phone and upload it, but I do type a lot of my comments from my phone while I'm out and about.)

Sometimes I do miss my trusty notebook and well worn manual typewriter, but I am very willing to set them aside to make way for all the other fascinating technology that's out in the world today.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

On a personal note, or also known as: Who the hell am I?

This post is a little more personal and a lot less focused than most of the other posts I'll be making. I figure getting who I am and what brought me to this point is a good springboard for what's to come. It also gets all the personal stuff out of the way in one fell swoop.

I loved writing stories (and a bit of sappy poetry) ever since I was just a little itty-bitty thing. Going through school I realized very quickly that grammar was not my strong suit. I got math awards left and right, but seemed to have a mental block when it came to diagramming a simple sentence. Not phased, I made the decision to work extra hard and learn all those rules and their crazy names.

That's about the time I switched schools. Turns out, the school I transferred to was done explaining rules and expected all the students to apply them expertly. According to my English teachers, I should have learned all that years ago and if I didn't know it by now, I never would learn.

Hiding my lack of knowledge in shame, I struggled and resorted to playing it by ear. If it "sounded" right, I wrote it, then prayed it was correct. Getting graded papers back was always an extremely painful and embarrassing process. I'd get them back riddled with red pen marks telling me about the numerous errors I made, but not why it was incorrect or how to fix it.

I would pour over each mark, trying to figure out what rule I'd broken. After years of this torture, I finally gave up. Then it was just a matter of pretending and going by the "sound."

Since then, I've gotten a lot better. I'm now a successful business professional who relies on her communication and writing skills on a daily basis. Entering the business world had helped me with spelling and punctuation. I had gleaned a few more grammatical rules as time went on, but I was still terrified of doing what I wanted to do. Write fiction. After all, writing a business letter is entirely different than writing a novel. Different rules apply in several cases. What's acceptable, and expected, in the business world is often frowned upon in fiction circles.

I had always been a good story teller. A bit long winded (as this post can attest), but my stories made sense and usually made people laugh. A few months ago, I decided that the only way to do what I really wanted was to bite the bullet and face my fears. Facing down years of traumatic experiences with schools and teachers, I gathered my courage and started scouring the internet.

I came up with a few ideas and just started writing. Yeah, what I wrote sucked, but I enjoyed every second of it. The more I wrote, the more I learned. My writing got better, still not great, but better. I went back and edited my story, improving it each time I re-read it. Eventually, I got to a point where I needed more. I needed outside help.

I stumbled across a very supportive group ( and forced myself to submit one of the stories I'd been working on. I knew I needed a lot of help in several areas, but there's no way of improving those areas unless I went for it.

The responses I got were amazing. Even though they shredded my story to pieces, they told me what rules I'd broken and how to fix it. They gave me examples and suggestions. Suddenly some of those elusive rules started to make sense. There was no judging or condescension. I noticed a drastic improvement in my writing almost immediately.

Since then, I've been pouring through forums and discussions, absorbing everything I can. Honestly, a lot of the conversations go so far over my head, I don't even see a smoke trail. But hidden between all the intellectual discussions are questions from other people who struggle just as much as I do. Some got answers and some didn't.

It was then that I realized that I'm not alone. There are others out there that were never taught or weren't able to learn correct writing rules and techniques for whatever reasons. I'm not the only one that didn't know what a split infinitive was or that there are so many possible points of view when writing a novel/story that there are whole books written on the subject.

So that's where I am and who I am. I'm a 37 year old wife and professional who is hoping to add "writer" to the list of things in that statement. If I can help someone else by explaining what I learned in terms that someone like me can relate to and understand, then that's even better.

Life must go on

I realize that I have only one follower right now; my husband (*wave* thank you sweetie!). However, life must go on, and, if only to get practice, I shall be writting as if I had 300 followers.

So, if you've somehow found yourself here, that might explain some of the insanity...some.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

And so it begins...

I was always one of those anti-blogger people. Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against other people and their blogging. I was mostly anti-blogger about me, personally, blogging. Who am I? Why do people care what I had for breakfast? So, why clutter up the internet even more with useless information.

Then, an idea struck me. What if I write about something that's both meaningful to me and might help others out there in cyberspace? Now I was on to something. I might be willing to revise my whole anti-blogger stance with thoughts like that. (It also helped that it was suggested that writers have a blog so that publishers/agents have somewhere to go to look you up.)

So here we are. This is the first post in a blog about my thoughts, struggles, victories and not-so-victories in the written world. I recently started writing fiction again and, for some ridiculous reason, feel that I have what it takes to be a good writer. Not a great writer, but definitely and solidly good.

Having no formal education in anything even remotely related to fiction writing and my only exposure to writing at all having been through the business world, I decided it was finally time to jump in with both feet. Little did I know that I jumped into the deep end. I might swallow some water along the way, but I certainly don’t intend to drown.

I’ll be documenting my journey and adventures in my quest to better my writing skills. Writing down what lessons I come across will reinforce that information for me. So I’ll be less likely to forget what I learned. Hopefully, I’ll also be sharing with other people who struggle with grammar, punctuation and those infamous rules. I struggle with those every day. If I can explain how I overcame those struggles and help someone else, then I will have found this blog worth the trouble.

There won’t be daily posts, because if I learned that much in such a short span of time, let alone wrote about it, my head would explode. However, I plan to try to learn as much as I can, as quickly as I can, and will try to keep the blog up-to-date with my discoveries.

Comments are a whole other animal. I’ll be checking for comments daily and will try to respond as I can. Any questions or any topics you want me to try to cover? Leave me a comment or send me an email. I’ll try to accommodate as I can. Of course, that would mean that I actually have followers and my mom and husband don't count. We'll see how that works out.

In the end, we’ll all be able to look back and see my growth, both as a writer and a person. I hope to meet many new friends and make very few enemies along the way.

Welcome to my adventure!