Monday, November 25, 2013

Trying Too Hard

I really truly do not want to sound like an old fart. But Miley? On last night's American Music Awards?
 Trying WAY too hard. Way too hard.
I get the imagery, symbolism, all the other attempts at artistic representation. The other words for "cat", the fact that it sticks out its tongue, the message she's trying to send to the "establishment", all of it.

Seriously. If you have to go to such extreme lengths to make a point or get attention, isn't something off?  
I know, I've already Tweeted and Facebooked this, but I figured I'd make the trifecta with a post since I've neglected the blog so long.

What I was thinking as I watched the winking Universe kitty was, first of all, the song itself (Wrecking Ball) is decent and fun, sort of anthem-y, and Miley's voice is so strong, why did she want to distract from that power she held all by herself?

And I was also thinking, this is exactly the problem I am having with the first line of my WIP.

I am trying too hard.

But I feel driven, because my first line is really humdrum. I mean, REALLY. The definition of "meh".
And I just haven't been able to come up with anything better.
And I want to send out a new query.
So last week, I took a terrific query writing Webinar (WD : Beyond the Query, with Jennifer Laughran, whose blog is linked on my sidebar) and got some great advice for query writing. So THIS week, armed with a freshly edited query letter and some new (good, I think) edits on the first 10 pages, I am back in the first line trenches.
But it's still just dogging me, and I write a new one a day, which a little crazy. (!!!).
Maybe I just need to let it sit, marinate, and stop trying to wink at the universe.  
Yah, right.
I'm too hyper to meditate on it for long, but Miley does give me pause (paws) .....  (sorry, couldn't help it)

Thursday, November 7, 2013

What's the Dog's Name?

When I was a reporter, I often felt frustrated with viewers who seemed to focus on what I felt were inane details: what I was wearing, whether my hair was blowing in my face during a live shot, whether my lipstick was flattering. I kid you not.
And privately I would fume about all that inanity,waving my hands wildly and soap-boxing about how could they just gloss over the fact that I was talking about taxes. Or death. Or war. I mean, really.

At one point, a wise reporter told me that whether I liked it or not, the Golden Rule of Reporting was: Always Answer This Question:

What is the dog's name?

Simple. And so, so true.
Meaning, don't forget the details viewers care about.
Kinda like Elmore Leonard saying, cut the parts readers skip.

Because on tv, the viewers WILL care about your clothes and your look, and if you interview a guy about the fact that his property taxes just went up and there happens to be a dog with the guy, the viewers will email, NOT about the details of the taxes, but to ask WHAT IS THE DOG's NAME?
And I know this because it has happened to me, and thus  I do, I do believe in the Golden Rule.

So imagine my surprise when I became that dreaded viewer myself. The other day I was listening to a terrific interview on NPR. Steve Inskeep, who is brilliant, was talking to SECDEF Chuck Hagel about the future of training women for combat. This interview followed Secretary Hagel's lunch with some non-commissioned officers, one of whom was antsy during the visit because his wife was in labor.
And this detail was the LAST detail in the piece before Inskeep signed off.
And when he closed out the piece live on the air, I was waiting. But he never said it.
I wanted to hear the baby's name and gender!! That's how you end it!! You can't close with that cute little detail and then NOT say, in your live tag, "By the way, Corporal So-and-so and his wife had a baby boy/girl." You just can't. Golden Rule. (Ok, so adjust accordingly because probably Corporal So-and-so doesn't want his brand new baby's name broadcast.) 
But you can still tell us BOY or GIRL and thus tell us what the listeners want to know. Besides how we're planning to train women for combat.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013


Kudos and salutations to all you brave people doing #NaNoWriMo right now.

I'm writing about it today because I'm new to this concept, as I am to most other things in this writerly world. So to learn more about it, I've been following Twitter to see what people are doing and what they are saying about what they are doing.

(For those who are where I was a few weeks ago: it means National Novel Writing Month. The deal is, you sign up, you agree to write at least 50K words toward a novel, and you get to "track" your word count every day plus chat online with everyone else doing it, plus take advantage of lots of encouraging advice and online help, plus weed through a lot of vendors who want to "help".)

And what I have learned is that I envy anyone who can take the time to set and work toward those amazing goals. Whether it's because they have no kids or no spouse or perhaps an amazingly helpful/understanding spouse who will care for the kids, or grown kids or flexible work hours or no work hours at all or whatever. Because that's what it takes to be able to set and live up to those goals, and again, I say, HOW GREAT!!

I mean that - I am not being snarky. Those who know me know that I am not a snarky person, for the most part. I mean, I do have my moments... but mostly I am kind of Polyanna (don't judge) about the whole thing and I say, let everyone who can, do. And bravo to them for doing.

But I am also just going to say, as an example of another way of doing things, that I set very fluid goals. My goals are based on completing scenes and certain developments within a certain time frame, rather than word count. Because let's be real, if I set specific word count goals, I will:
1) stress too much about the word count and then forget to hug my kids,
2) stress too much about the word count and then forget to feed my family,
3) stress too much about the word count and then be too stressed.

So #NaNoWriMo just doesn't work for me, practically or conceptually.

I'm the first to admit, I'm lucky. I don't do this for a living, I do this because I simply can't get through the day without telling more of the story. My actual ability to sleep at night is dependent on whether I got it out of my head onto paper. (OK, well, onto the computer. Showing my age here.) My WIP is a set of stories I can't keep inside anymore, and so I write. 
And I care for my children all day.
And I manage my home.
And I work on course design, etc. whenever I need to for my paying gig. (Graduate School USA)
And, I really want to be a writer. I mean a real one. You know, the kind with an agent and a pub date and cover art.

(No, I am not a privileged, moneyed Mommy who doesn't have to work and so I while away the long empty hours piddling away at a book. (NO MOMMY WARS ALLOWED HERE)
I am an at-home Mommy by choice who left a lucrative career in tv news where I had the same affliction -- I simply couldn't get through the day without telling the story as best I could.)

But I digress.

For those of you who can't or have chosen not to do NaNoWriMo, please do not stress. Do not use it as the litmus test for how real an author you are or how dedicated you are to your WIP.
If you're so moved, be glad for the success of those who are in the throes and enjoying the camaraderie right now, but PLEASE do not worry that you do not have the chops to be a good writer or won't ever finish your novel just because you can't find the GIANT BLOCK OF TIME you need to do this thing.

Push yourself, to be sure. I mean, REALLY push yourself to write. (And edit, edit, edit, revise, revise, revise) You can't do it if you don't have the fire in the belly, even on the days when you don't. 
But also: write what you can when you can, set the kind of goals you can live with, and - 
Be brilliant.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Writerly Tip #6: Prune Them and They Will Grow

Too true.
At the very beginning of my querying process, an agent told me my ms was too long. I had to cut at least 40-thousand words. 
It hurt, hurt, hurt, but the truth was, (And I secretly knew this) the cutting was a healthy, good thing. 
What she told me was, cut the first 50 pages. You probably don't need them. Actually, what she said was, you the author needed to write those first 50 pages because they helped you get to know your characters and their backstory. But the book itself, the story itself, really doesn't need them.
And of course she was right.
I cut the first 50 pages, bleeding profusely as I did, and discovered a better book within.
I love what Whedon says because it reminds me of the wisdom of the First 50 Pages rule. Plus, he's right.
I've done that before too - when I found myself looped endlessly in a scene trying to make it make sense, I finally cut it and tried something different.
For those of you who garden, this analogy may work: prune them and they will grow.
Thanks to Buzzfeed for the list of 24 quotes from famous writers from whence this quote (and the inspiration for this post) comes.'