Tag Archives: Writing

Writing While… Part VII – writing your first draft

There are varying opinions out there on first drafts. Some say write it and ignore all inclination to give away your computer because what you are writing is complete and utter crap. Others say that you should donate your computer as soon as possible because a shitty first draft is just another sign from God that you are not really a writer and never will be. I tend to belong in the first category although I am keeping the emails of those interested in a free computer in a special file (if you’d like your name in that file, please send $1000 towards S&H).

Kidding. (Not about S&H).

My first drafts begin to struggle for air as soon as they are born. They also hiccup a lot. And they stink. In most direct and indirect of senses.

But at the same time they are the only existing proof that I didn’t just spend several hours on Facebook watching a bird feed a cat and listening to John Oliver discuss Scottish independence (really, a unicorn for an official animal? Do you know unicorns aren’t real, Scotland?). The first drafts are also the proof that I have most likely stayed away from Trader Joe’s chocolate raspberry sticks. (Unless they are missing in which case I’ve devoured them and I cannot remember).

So the best part about first drafts is that I feel a sense of accomplishment. I feel like I’ve done something with my time. I feel this:

Screen Shot 2014-09-17 at 9.32.09 PM

And because I like to feel this, I never re-read that first draft right away. I leave it for the next day.

That’s when I start feeling this:

Screen Shot 2014-09-17 at 9.34.08 PM

I don’t stay feeling like this for a long time. Because, you know, my eyes begin to hurt. So I progress to the next phase of either this:

Screen Shot 2014-09-18 at 10.21.44 AM

Or this:

Screen Shot 2014-09-18 at 10.24.13 AM

After I am done with napping and eating, I visit Facebook and send off a message to my writing buddies. Because procrastinating together is a thing. After we chat enough for FB to refuse to pull up  chats from fifteen minutes ago claiming the thread is too long, we make plans to get together to write. Because fuck FB chat. We could do that in person and with a well-made cafe con leche.

By then I am feeling much better. I am feeling like I can do this. I am feeling this:

Screen Shot 2014-09-18 at 10.36.01 AM

That’s my editing face. So that you know.

Writing While… Part VI — writing while having a migraine

I spent the last few hours in a fetal position on my daughter’s bed with a strapless black bra over my eyes. A strapless black bra because it was the first thing I could grab to block the obnoxious sunlight which seems to be everywhere in South Florida. I usually don’t mind the sun especially when on a beach vacation but today the combination of its happy yellow rays and no-dark-blinds-anywhere-in-the-apartment were not welcome.

I had a migraine. And when I have a migraine I cannot have light. Or sound. Or any sign of any life anywhere around me. Instead I need a dark place where I can be left completely alone while I focus on happy thoughts and hope the contraband Canadian pills I just took will kick in sooner rather than later.

The worst part about migraines is, of course, the pain as other migraine sufferers would tell you. But the next worst part about migraines—at least for me—is that I lose all ability to function. And with that I lose my ability to write. Which is why writing while having a migraine isn’t actually writing at all. Instead it’s agonizing over everything you want to write but cannot and, thus, developing an even bigger migraine.

This is what it looks like when a migraine arrives.
                          This is what it looks like when a migraine arrives.

More from the series WRITING WHILE:

Writing While Writing a Query (Part V)

Writing While Receiving Rejections (Part IV)

Writing While Submitting (Part III)

Writing While Trilingual and While Not Being a Native Speaker (Part II)

Writing While Walking or While in the Pool or Any Other Body of Water (Part I)

 

Writing While… Part V — writing while writing a query

Writing while writing a query

For the past several months I’ve been sending out my novel to agents (you can read about that journey in Writing While Submitting and Writing While Receiving Rejections). And even though both submitting and receiving rejections are not on the list of my most preferred activities, writing a query beats them both.

My current query is a few months old. I was thrilled with it when I wrote it. But then a few months of submissions later, I realized that I was getting very few requests off that query. Agents were suspiciously silent. Which, after I thought about it, could basically mean any of the following:

(1)They didn’t respond because they were being rude;

(2)They didn’t respond because they weren’t interested in my book;

(3)They didn’t respond because they didn’t understand enough from my query to be potentially interested in my book

Since addressing (1) and (2) would just be a waste of time, I decided to address the last issue. And so I posted the query I’ve been sending on the Absolute Write Forums under the Query Letter Hell heading.

There is a reason they call it Hell.

After reading a few critiques I wanted to crawl into a dark hole on a planet where light doesn’t exit. I also wondered what in the world ever possessed me to think I could write when I am so horribly, terribly awful at it.

So I closed my computer and spent a few hours hating myself and everything I’d ever written. The next day, probably because I am a sucker for punishment, I re-worked my query and posted it again. This time, I thought, it had to work. Because in my head it sounded really, really good.

The bad news is that it wasn’t.

The good news is that, although I still want to crawl into a dark hole, it doesn’t have to be on a planet without any light. So I am guessing I am developing thick skin.

What I am not developing though is a successful query. Even though I keep writing one over and over again.

Writing While… Part IV — writing while receiving rejections

Writing while receiving rejections

I am not going to pretend to come up with something original here. In fact, everything I’ve planned to say in this post had already been said in hundreds of other posts. Which is why I am no longer going to say those things.

Instead I am going to build a rejection wall and stare at it lovingly when I finally do land an agent, and a book deal, and a super-successful movie in which I’ll act, produce, cast, and be the one to receive an Oscar.

You’ll probably recognize some of the elements on this wall in which case you are welcome to stare at it lovingly too. Because you too at some point will get your book/story/brilliance published and feel sorry for all those who rejected you. And yes, I know, this is not a very healthy attitude to take but what the hell. I am allowed to make some unhealthy choices once in a while. It’s not only wheatgrass, tofu, and green tea life, is it?

In a truly Olympic spirit I will divide my rejection wall into three categories: bronze rejections, silver rejections, and gold rejections. What are the judging criteria, you ask? Just one. I am going with the “ouch, that hurts” standard and I am awarding gold to those whose rejections made me want to stop writing forever.

GOLD

  • “…I thoroughly enjoyed reading your sample material but, … we didn’t feel that the writing of the prose itself was quite strong enough to be able to successfully place it with a publisher.”

SILVER

  • “Unfortunately this is not right for us. We are replying as soon as possible to give you the best chance of finding the right agent. We specialize in commercial fiction and non-fiction tailor made for the mass market and therefore we have to be confident of substantial sales quantities before taking on a new project.”
  • “Thank you for sending us this material, which we have now read and considered. But we are sorry to say that your novel is not something we would feel 100% confident of being able to handle successfully.”
  • “We read your piece carefully, but unfortunately we have decided not to publish it.”
  • “Thank you for sending your work. We have decided against selecting your work, but we appreciate your interest in our magazine.”

BRONZE

  • “We’re sorry we don’t have better news–but thank you for sending us your work. While we enjoyed your writing, unfortunately, this submission isn’t for us. Do please consider sending more work to us again in the future.”
  • “While this particular submission is not quite what we’re looking for at the moment, please know I enjoyed reading it and was impressed by your writing. We receive a large number of submissions and unfortunately can only publish a small percentage of them. I wish you the best in placing this piece elsewhere and hope you’ll consider sending us more of your work in the future.”
  • “We have read your submission, and unfortunately we are not able to use it.  Please do not take this as a comment on the quality of your writing; we receive so many submissions that we are able to accept only a small fraction of them.”
  • “Unfortunately we have decided not to accept it. We wish you the best of luck finding a home for your story elsewhere.”
  • “Although we did enjoy looking at your material, in the end we felt it wasn’t quite right for us.”
  • “As a small agency we take on very few of the many writers who approach us each year and, having considered your work, we do not feel we could offer to add you to our list.”
  • “We’re sorry we can’t use … We have received a great deal of work by writers who will not be included in the final selection, but certainly deserve to have their voices heard in other publications.”
  • “Unfortunately, the piece is not quite a perfect fit for our upcoming issue, sort of like when you find a puzzle piece, and even though it’s like, the best puzzle piece ever, it doesn’t fit perfectly. Sort of an “it’s not you; it’s me” thing.”
  • “We’re going to pass on this one, but please send more in the future!”
  • “Unfortunately, this piece isn’t the right fit for us. Please consider us for future submissions.”
  • “Thanks so much for your query.  Unfortunately,  I’m afraid I’m not the right agent for this project.”

The good news is that I only got one gold winner… so far.

The bad news is that writing-while-receiving-rejections means writing this blog post instead of something else to submit.

See also:

Writing While Submitting (Part III)

Writing While Trilingual and While Not Being a Native Speaker (Part II)

Writing While Walking or While in the Pool or Any Other Body of Water (Part I)

Writing While… Part III

Writing while submitting or looking for representation

You finished your novel. You’ve edited it several times, re-written parts of it to flush out the characters, and even had several readers sing your praises (who, just to clarify, haven’t only been your family or friends). You are ready to begin the next step of your literary journey. The submission process.

So you look for an agent. You scout websites of literary agencies searching for the one that will be interested in the book you wrote. You find her. She sounds fantastic—exactly like your type of agent. She is looking for books in the genre in which you write, she says she loves working with new writers, and she may even have something in common with you. Perhaps she went to your alma mater, or perhaps she dabbles in chess, or maybe she is a friend of your cousin’s daughter’s friend’s former brother-in-law. Whatever it is, she sounds like she is the agent for you.

You send her your query letter. And the synopsis. And the first three chapters of your manuscript or whatever else she requires in her submission guidelines. And you feel great. Because what you are feeling at the moment is the emotion that makes everything worthwhile. You are feeling hope.

Then you wait. You check your e-mail ten minutes after you sent the letter. Then you check it in twenty minutes. And then in one hour. Then you need to go somewhere so you stop checking your e-mail and engage in life outside of your computer. When you come back two hours later you check again. Because two hours is a long time to be away from your mailbox especially the mailbox that surely has good news.

But there is nothing. Your hope diminishes in size but it’s still there. Because it’s only been a few hours and even the most eager-to-represent-you-agent has a life. So you keep checking every ten to twenty minutes for the next several days.

Until you stop. Because your I.am.writer! (at) gmail (dot) com mailbox continues to be empty. You get no e-mails. Not from that special agent and not from other special agents you found prior to that one. The submission table you created to track down all submissions looks eerily empty in the “Responses” column. Your mood takes a nosedive. You wonder why you are even writing in the first place. You writing gets blocked. And you stop writing.

Until the next time when you browse the internet again and find that other special agent whose bio reads like she is waiting for your submission.

The Power of We at a Cellular Level

The cells in our bodies already understand the power of we. They work together every day to make sure that every one of them gets enough nutrients and disposes of waste properly. They work together every day to maintain the delicate routes of communication between the various organs and to ensure that each one of them contributes to the well-being of the entire organism. They work together every day to maintain our body’s equilibrium and to ensure that we continue to live.

If some of our cells go rogue and decide to take over, a cancer develops. Which eventually can kill the entire organism and, thus, kill those cells.

We can learn from our cells. We can learn that working together far outweighs competing against and destroying each other. We can learn that helping each other isn’t against our interests but for them because it benefits the entire humanity. And we can learn that self-regulation for the sake of the whole isn’t about socialism, capitalism, or some other economic system. It’s about survival of our whole organism — the Earth — and our survival on it.

There are about 100 trillion cells in the human body.

There are about 7 billion humans on Earth.

Surely we have it much easier — there are a lot less of us. Where do you want to start?

 

Dare to be different?

At a recent Writer’s Group meeting we did a small exercise. We picked the first random sentence out of a random book and spent the next 15 minutes building a story from that sentence. Here is the sentence I started with:

We had about five hours to kill before we had to get into our cocoons.

And here is my story:

We had about five hours to kill before we had to get into our cocoons.  That’s how long it’d take for the temperature to increase enough for our cocoons to soften.

“Never mind,” said Billy, the fattest of all of us. “We can see what else we can munch on.”

“Didn’t we munch enough already?” Snapped Sally. “It’s all this munching that got us into this trouble in the first place.”

And she was right.  After weeks of being snuggled in our respective cocoons, one of us figured how to get out so that we can continue to eat while others were hibernating. He taught us the trick and soon enough we were escaping every morning and eating away at our surroundings. The problem — as we discovered a few days into our eating adventures — was fitting back in. As we were growing fatter, our cocoons were becoming too small for us. And so the only way to climb back in was to wait until the mid-afternoon when the heat of the day stretched the cocoon enough for us to squeeze in.

“What do you propose then?” asked Billy.

“Nothing!” She snapped again.

We sat around in silence for awhile contemplating if we ever get to turn into butterflies with all the rules we’ve been breaking. All of us desperately wanted to and we fantasized endlessly about the colors of our future wings. But we didn’t want to follow the same path as others. We wanted it to be different.

Wish of the Day

A few weeks ago I moved to another country. Although it’s not something new for me (I am used to moving every few years), it’s still a process that throws me for a loop every single time. Because for me settling in doesn’t just consist of unpacking boxes, finding appropriate school for kids, and arranging furniture to make my new house feel like home. For me settling in means gathering all the pieces of myself that go astray during a move — kind of like pieces of a puzzle — and putting them all together again.

Since I excel at lists, I make sure I write down all the pieces that are missing. I write them down on paper, speak them aloud to Siri, and keep some in my head. And then, knowing that the Universe is right there helping me build back my puzzle, I keep my eyes and ears open for people, experiences, and signs that cross my path. Because you know what? All of them bring along something that can grow into an opportunity to find those lost pieces.

Two days ago my Universe-help alarm went off. I received a review of a piece I wrote on the Absolute Write Forums where writers help writers – and I saw that the reviewer is living in the same city where I now live. Not many list their places of residence under their avatars but this time it was there. An accident or a co-incidence?  I think neither. Instead, it was a beautifully planned opportunity for me to try to get one of my puzzle pieces. “Life is always giving you new beginnings — it’s up to you whether to take them or not.”

And so I wrote to the reviewer and in response received some great information about the English-language writers’ groups in my new city. How cool is this? A writing group is exactly one of the puzzle pieces that I have been looking for!

I’ve noticed that our puzzle pieces re-appear and our wishes come true when we don’t obsess over them, don’t struggle to control them, and don’t try so hard that it becomes tedious. They come true when we let go, then think “would not it be nice…”, and then give the Universe the space to work its magic.

What wishes have come true for you lately?

 

 

 

 

Synchronicity of the Day

I am planning a book. I don’t know exactly what it’ll look like or what form it’ll take or what narrative it’ll assume.  All I know is that I want to write it.  And I have wanted to write it for a long time.

People say that one of the best ways to get a feel for the shape of your book is to read similar books.  Since I have a vague idea that this book will have something to do with my life experiences, I decide to browse some biography books.  And perhaps collections of personal essays. So I head to the local bookstore and stand in front of a biography shelf.

Not immediately but soon thereafter I find three books that sound like they would be fun to read.  All three are in hard cover. I am not in a position to buy three hard cover books at once but I decide I should start somewhere and I buy one of them.

Later that day at home I am going through my own library of books picking the volumes that I no longer need and that I can donate to my building’s library. When I bring them downstairs to the common room that serves as the library I, of course, browse for what I can also borrow to read.  And what do you think I find?

You guessed it.

I find the two books I didn’t buy a few hours earlier and another book that would be perfect for research and fun reading.

The Universe works in mysterious ways and little synchronicities abound.  They are all around, begging for us to notice them.  What for? Well, I have a theory.  And while this isn’t proven statistically, I believe I am really on to something.

I think synchronicities often happen when the Universe is trying to tell us something, push us somewhere. And that somewhere most likely has to do with our purpose in life – our reason for being here on this planet.

  • Have you been wanting to write a book, but never getting around to it? No problem – here are a few books, FREE!, for you to get inspired.  And while you are at it, here is a handy workshop right in your area that will teach you how to start.
  • Or have you been thinking of traveling somewhere but it’s never a good time and money is tight? Not an issue. How about running into people who just went where you’ve been dreaming to go on a shoe string budget and can tell you all about it? Plus, that gym membership may not be your best investment anymore now that you are running outside? Maybe save some cash and go?
  • Or .. what is this university course brochure doing on your desk again? You’ve been throwing it in the trash for the past few years yet it somehow keeps making its way into your mailbox.  Sure, there is a course in there you’ve been drooling over but this is not the right time.  Or is it?

You see where I am going with this?

Open your eyes and ears.  Look and listen.  Pay attention to what happens around you and what happens to you. Do it every day. And then share — what’s your synchronicity of the day?