Category Archives: deadlines

Don’t Ever Stop!

So… This little thing called PitchWars happened. It’s what triggered this particular post, but it’s not what this post is about so I’ll cover it very briefly.

It’s a contest where writers submit their first ~250 words and a Query to the four mentors of their choice and hope to get selected. In short (because I’m rubbish at being brief) I was selected by the Awefantabulous Renee Ahdieh.

Renee is exactly what I want and more importantly need in a mentor. Her feedback has helped me add layers of depth to CROW’S BLOOD that I knew were missing, I just couldn’t see where. I’ve learned some of my pet phrases, identified some comma issues I have, and so much more, and I’ve exterminated them with prejudice.

Anyway!

Seven weeks later, our part in PitchWars wrapped on January 22nd as it went to the Agent Round. The first 250 words were posted with a 35 word pitch (here in case you’re interested), in hopes of Agents commenting and making requests.

It’s those requests that bring me to the point of this post. I had 0 requests. Zip. Zilch. Nada.

Let me tell you a bit about how this little writer’s ego works: I’m a brash, cocky, confident bastard. Except when I’m not, which is often. The key is that I try not to let that side show to the world at large too much. The only person who sees that side of me most often (my wife) does a great job of propping me up so I can continue being the confident bastard that I am.

I’d be lying if I said getting zero requests didn’t sting. It cut pretty deep. Those are my words! Right there, with that zero looking me in the eye, I could have quit. Packed it all in and reclaimed my TV and video games. I could have given up the dream and driven my wonderful wife insane.

I could have listened to the mean voice in the back of my head that kept whispering “Zero, that’s how many people give a damn about your words. That’s what they’re worth. That’s what your worth. Give it up. Go home. Loser!

I’ve heard that voice before. That’s the voice that comes around any time I put myself out there, whether I’m public speaking, writing, tweeting, or posting on my blog. I don’t like that voice. I made the decision long ago not to listen to that voice. That voice is an asshole. The things it says aren’t true and are designed to cut us where it hurts the most. That voice is borne of fear.

We all have that voice. The difference between those who go on and those who fold isn’t a matter of skill, or worth, or ego. It’s a matter of will.

So here’s what I have to say, not only to those who didn’t get requests in PitchWars, but to those who have ever queried, or submitted, or done anything that brought around that voice:

Don’t. Ever. Stop.

Do what you love, whether it’s writing, drawing, dancing, singing, building life-size models of X-Wings out of Lego, whatever it is, as long as you love it (and it doesn’t hurt anything).

As for PitchWars… Would I do it again? In a heartbeat! I’ve learned so much, and met so many wonderful, dedicated, and helpful people.

Until next time, I’m going to go write and revise, because that’s what I do, and I love doing it.

“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me.” – The Bene Gesserit

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Filed under Agent, BookB, Character, Contest, Critique, deadlines, Editor, Ego, family, Feedback, Grammar/Spelling, Learning, MacBook Pro, Motivation, Pitch, Query, Revision, Twitter, Validation

An Open Letter to all PitchWars Mentors and Mentees (from a Mentee)

For the past few years Brenda Drake has run a crazy level contest (over 2,700 submissions/675 entrants)  on her blog called PitchWars. Let me just steal some words from her description:

Pitch Wars is a contest where published/agented authors, editors, or interns choose one writer each, read their entire manuscript, and offer suggestions to shine it up for agents. The mentors also critique the writer’s pitch to get it ready for the agent round. Writers send applications (query and first page of manuscript) to the four mentors that best fit their work. The mentors then read all their applications and choose the writer they want to mentor for the next five weeks. Then we hold an agent round with over a dozen agents making requests.

Sounds pretty awesome doesn’t it? Well, as someone who was cherry-picked by a ninja-Mentor this year (the AMAZING Renee Ahdieh) with CROW’S BLOOD, I can confirm that it most definitely is. I’m hard at work based on her editorial/critique notes. It’s keeping me quite busy.

Here’s the thing: I’ve seen a LOT of Mentors tweeting and commenting that they hope their Mentees don’t hate them for being too harsh or nit-picky with their notes. I have a single word response to that: Impossible!

So, Mentors:

First: Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! I say that from the bottom of my heart. Even if you’re not my Mentor and we’re technically competing against each other: Thank you! You’re awesome, amazing, and wonderful people to be doing what you’re doing.

Now, onto the rest of it.

Don’t pull your punches! We understand that they’re thrown with the best intentions (ok, so maybe that’s not the greatest metaphor). Keep giving it to us straight and professional, we can handle it. We’re not made of fine gossamer glass.

You have to trust that we know our work isn’t perfect, or we wouldn’t have entered PitchWars in the first place. Moreover we know that you know our work isn’t perfect. You got a look at it before you picked us. In many cases you saw more than the 5-page sample from the original submission.

You’re giving your time and effort, not to mention expertise and insider knowledge to help us get our work into the best shape possible in a limited window of time. There isn’t time to pussy-foot around playing nice. We need to get the job done.

On the flip-side: Mentees:

First: Congratulations, you were selected by a Mentor as either a primary or an alternate. That means you’ve got some chops. Take a few moments, pat yourself on the back, and inflate your ego.

Done? Good. There’s a lot of work to do.

There’s a certain level of trust every Mentee should be bringing to the table. Trust that we’re in good hands and that every note that comes across that table is an effort by our Mentor to improve our work.

That said, the bulk of the hard work should fall on our shoulders. It’s our book. This is our shot. We can’t afford to miss it. Every last one of us should be taking this opportunity and holding on to it, squeezing it for all it’s worth to get at the soft golden centre.

If your mentor gives you some hard truths that’s a good thing, they’re paying attention. We all have our natural talents, those bits of writing that just flow, those aspects of the work that we could sink ourselves into for days (plotting, dialog, world building, description, etc.). But we all have our weaknesses that we can only compensate for with craft (Shatner Commas, making that character that we know inside and out feel real, punctuation in general >.<).

Craft = Work. In many cases Craft = Hard Work. That hard work is why you’re here. If your writing was perfect you wouldn’t need a Mentor. So if your Mentor shines a light on the rust and broken bits of your story, don’t complain.

Roll up your sleeves. It’s time to get to work.

-Alex

P.S. Renee has been fantastically professional, if the other Mentors are half as good as she is there’s going to be one hell of a fine showing at the Agent round.

P.P.S. I’m aware I could use the word protege, but Mentee is a word, regardless of what my browser, word processor, or operating system say. There are many reputable sources.

P.P.P.S. At some point we need to have a long talk about split infinitives.

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Filed under Contest, Critique, deadlines, Editor, Ego, Grammar/Spelling, Learning, Pitch, Query, Revision, Validation

NaNoWriMo 2013 Mid-Way Update.

This is a few days late. It was written on the 15th but I started to fall asleep at the keyboard before publishing (oops). I’ve gone through and updated some of the numbers to match the new publish date of the 17th.

We’re half-way through NaNoWriMo for those of you who are doing it with me. I’m a few hundred words behind pace (Update: I’ve since caught up), which is an achievement considering how quickly I got behind at the beginning of the month.
As I noted in my last blog update, this year’s NaNo is a real experiment for me, and it created some interesting challenges.
First: It’s a totally new story, not another book in the story that I’ve already written. As a result, my outline was sparse and my sense of characters very light. I’ve stated before that I’m an agile outliner, allowing for vast and sweeping changes to a relatively detailed outline. This time around the outline is a bare-bones skeleton, and I’m doing a fair bit more seat-of-the-pants than I’m used to. Revisions should be fun.
Second: It’s a historical urban fantasy in a relatively well-documented place, in a relatively well-documented period, with a protagonist from an incredibly well-documented family. Take all these knowns and start adding in fantasy elements of the secret-history type. It’s a bit of a nightmare and I spent the first week fact-checking everything. That certainly didn’t help my word-count. I’ve learned to let more go and use notes to myself to fill in details later.
Third: I’m writing in first person past tense. Past tense? Easy enough. First person? That was a hell of a learning curve. We speak and live our lives in first person all the time (unless you’re one of those twonks who refers to themselves in third person). It should be easy, but when you’re trying to write a compelling story from the perspective of a person that doesn’t exist outside of your head. Plus there’s a lot of I’s and Me’s and We’s in there and you can’t start every sentence with a first person pronoun or it gets old fast.
All told I’m feeling good about the story and making good time. I still struggle with First Person POV from time to time, and get lost in research over the smallest things (oh, this will just take a minute), but I’m learning, and making good progress.
I have another blog post that I’m working on for the end of the month covering all the various tools (such as Scrivener) and tricks (such as speech-to-text for notes) I’ve used this month, as my toolset is a bit different than the previous two years.
I want to give a shout out to my NaNo Writing Buddies who have already completed NaNo (well ahead of schedule):
Jason Cantrell: 90,913!
Angi Nicole: 63,975!
GypsyLuc: 61,622!
HeatherxMarie: 52,737!
Scarlett9284: 50,282!
And last but not least, my brother Cysec: with 50,355 words, and completed NaNo for the first time this year (and also early).

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Filed under deadlines, Discovery Writing, Learning, NaNoWriMo, Outline Writing, Research, Revision, Scrivener, Viewpoint, Word Count, World Building

NaNoWriMo 2013 Kickoff

50,000 words in 30 days. Fifty-Thousand words!!!! In THIRTY days! That’s a hard thing to type without throwing in some expletives. It makes me want to go all Sam L. Jackson.

November is National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo if you need a short form that makes people look at you funny). The deal is, you have to write 50,000 new words (minimum length for a work to be considered a “novel”) within the confines of the month of November. I’ve “won” 2 years in a row and I intend to win a 3rd, so I’m going to be sticking my little NaNo progress tracker over at the right and updating it as I go.

This year has some significance in that I’m starting a new project AFTER completing a full novel. So I’m writing something completely fresh that’s really only been bouncing around in my brain-pan for a few months. It’s going to suck! And that’s OK because first drafts always do for me.

You see… I’m somewhat terrified by the whole “starting from scratch” thing. Sure, I have an outline (a very light one) and characters (the core at least), but I both LOVE and HATE this part of writing. The blank page. The uncertain future of the story. It fills me with quickly alternating (almost to the point of oscillation) high levels of excitement and dread.

I can do ANYTHING with this story! What if I SCREW it up? This idea is so AWESOME! What is it DERIVATIVE of? Oh I’ve got this FANTASTIC twist. How the HELL am  I going to pull it off?

Truth be told, to begin to even quiet those feelings (they NEVER go away) I need something to work with. I’ve found my comfort zone, and it’s much closer to the revision end of the spectrum than the writing end.

Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE telling stories and making things up. Plotting, characters, worlds, I love all of it. I just like telling them well (and I do hope I do).

So today I embark on NaNoWriMo 2013, with a story in my head and a knot in my stomach. What are YOU doing for your November?

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Filed under deadlines, Ego, Id, Motivation, NaNoWriMo, Outline Writing, Revision, Word Count

One Third of the Way

I’m well past my due date for checking in. I haven’t even blogged in July!

That little progress bar at the right is moving along though. Slowly but surely, and as fast as it can with only an hour or two on most nights.

I’ve just come back from visiting my father in Winnipeg, which is a truly, uh, flat place. He’s lived out there most of my life, doing his thing, which I have to admit is doing a lot of good for a lot of people. I know my kids miss seeing more of him though. I do too.

Winnipeg has one thing I definitely do NOT like: Mosquitoes. Mosquitoes that were likely the cause of any and every mass extinction since they came about. That mosquito in amber in Jurassic Park? Yeah, my money is on IT being the reason dinosaurs were wiped out.

Pterodactyl-mosquitoes aside, we had fun spending time with family and seeing the sights out there.

I’ve updated the Movie List a few times recently. Between writing and other Real Life™ stuff this year I haven’t seen nearly as many movies as I’d have liked. I’m hearing that Pacific Rim is good fun though, so I’m working on seeing that.

On the writing/revising side of things (because, really, that’s the point of this blog), things are going relatively well… I think. That’s the problem with being a first time writer, and a really good reason to have Critique Partners: You’re too close to your own work, and you simply don’t know what you’re doing wrong!

No! Really! One of the major points of this revision is to give more depth to Flynn, the MC. I know I’m giving some more depth, but is it enough? Can there be too much? I really have no idea…

So I plan to forge onwards until this revision is done, then send it to my Alpha Readers and CP’s (and 1 or 2 new sets of eyes) for more feedback. I hope that they won’t shun me…

I do know that I’ve cleaned up some of what my CP’s and I found were real pain points plot/story wise. I only hope I haven’t opened more in doing so.

As for a deadline? I aim to be done this pass before the end of August, mostly because at the end of September I’ll be reaching a year on this book and I think I should be moving faster.

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Filed under Alpha Readers, BookB, Character, Critique, deadlines, Feedback, Learning, Real Life™, Revision, Voice, Word Count

Carefully Stacked and Marked Electrons.

Electronic Data. It rules everything these days. It’s our money, our jobs, our entertainment, and our memories.

So much of our lives revolve around little 1’s and 0’s flitting about on the merry tasks we set them upon.

Well, today, I sent a meaningful and important stack of those 1’s and 0’s half-way around the world to someone I barely know. I finally finished my critique of a CP’s work-in-progress manuscript, and I can only hope I’ve done it justice.

Here’s the thing. I received it on April 7th. I’ve had it for two and a half months! I had to ask myself: Why did it take so bloody long? We’re nearing the half-way point of 2013 and I’ve consumed 14 other books this year (1 of those is another WIP from a CP), so what was different about this?

Was it a hard read? No, it was quite enjoyable, considerably more enjoyable than what I imagine mine was for them to read. The characters were compelling, the descriptions and setting were simply beautiful, and the spelling and grammar were fantastic (you have no idea how important that is!).

So what was it? In a word: Fear. That’s right, I’m a coward.

I hate making other people uncomfortable, and I know that my internal Editor is a complete asshole. I don’t ever want to be as hard on other writers as my Editor is on me.

Would they hate me for pointing out how I felt about that sentence? That turn of phrase? That plot point?

Was I putting too many comments? Beating a dead horse? Nit-picking (GUILTY!)?

Was I missing things that I really ought to point out? Things that would help more than what I was catching? Things that actually mattered more than my hang-ups?

And SO much more. I was never an angsty teen. Why was this all coming out now? And over something like this?

I’m a cocky, self assured, smart-ass, bastard. Ask anyone who knows me, they’ll jump right on that sucker.

Here’s why: This is someone’s soul. Yeah, yeah, touchy feely crap. I know! But it’s true. Little known fact: Writing isn’t easy.

It’s a lot of hours pouring everything you have onto a page (that usually consists of those carefully stacked and marked electrons, and not so much dead trees and ink). And what you have when you’re done that first round of effort is usually a great big steaming pile of electrons that need to be poked and prodded, and in many cases thrown away and replaced, before you have something you can even let anyone see.

know how much effort I put into getting CROW’S BLOOD where it is now, and it still has a good ways to go (I have some Character Voice issues with my main POV to sort out, namely, I left too much of it out). Every mark I put on my partner’s Word document made me cringe.

So I procrastinated. That’s something that’s easy, and I can procrastinate with the very best of them! And hey, no one’s feelings get hurt by procrastination! Hell, I spent more time with my wife and family avoiding someone else’s Word document than I think I spent with them in the entire 3 months while I was writing the first draft of my own.

Well enough of that. I needed to put on my space-marine helmet, and grab my magical sword, and get past the barrier I set for myself. I needed to find that fear and kick it’s ass.

Did I mention this is also the first time I’ve done a full mark-up? I needed to finish it and return it on principle. The first is always the most difficult.

I can only hope I got it right, or that I can vastly improve my skill at writing carefully worded apologies.

– Alex

P.S. I didn’t return a mark-up to Colten, my other CP, and dear friend, but we had a really good long talk where I outlined my thoughts and we discussed some of the finer points. I’m looking forward to what he’s doing with the story and can’t wait to see the next draft.

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Filed under Character, Critique, deadlines, Editor, Feedback, Grammar/Spelling, Learning, Revision

Zug Zug

Remember that little progress bar to the right? Take a peek at that sucker!

BAM! That’s right. Revision 4 complete! It took considerably longer than it probably should have, but Real Life™ tends to not care what we have planned.

I put every spare moment I had into getting it done (hence the disgusting lack of blog updates). The problem being that spare moments weren’t as plentiful as I’d hoped they would be. That said, in the interest of getting it done, I’ve learned a new skill.

I can now revise, out loud, in public places, with lots of distractions. Sure, people probably thought I was crazy, and it didn’t go nearly as fast as when I hide in my writing cave, but it was time to revise I didn’t have otherwise. I’ve now revised out loud in places such as hockey arenas, train stations, hotels, coffee shops, and book stores.

This revision was a game changer, and I have to say, I’m going to do an out loud pass on everything I write from here on out (yes, including this blog entry). It makes such a difference to the flow and clarity of the written words. There’s something about engaging the speech and hearing centres of the brain that catches all the crud the eyes miss.

Take another look at that progress bar, see the numbers under it? That’s 4,598 words shaved off the word count, all in the name of clarity. And it wasn’t just 4,600 words dropped, it was closer to 7,000 words cut, then more words built on top.

During this process I won a 40 page critique from Kat Ellis on her blog. Her feedback was AMAZING, and I tried to take it into consideration throughout the rest of the draft. I can only hope I succeeded.

I’ve put the latest in my DropBox for my Alpha Readers, and e-mailed copies to 2 of my 3 current Critique Partners (Colten Hibbs, Rachel Russel, and Clara Mitchell). Now it’s all over except for the terror… and feedback.

– Alex

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Filed under Alpha Readers, BookB, Critique, deadlines, dropbox, Editor, Ego, Real Life™, Revision, Word Count