Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Writing A Novel: Writng Exercises

Lately I've found that the best way to improve my writing is to spend time with other writers. Being in a class has reignited my interest and sparked my creativity. For a while, I felt as if I were in a slump, but I'm once again loving the process.

This weekend, I met with a couple of friends who are also writers. We spent the evening at a coffee shop in Greenwich Village and though we, of course, enjoyed some girl talk, we actually got quite a bit accomplished.

My friend Amy is part of my editing "team" and usually does a read of my drafts. She's also taught writing classes herself, so she had some great ideas for exercises.

First, she suggested we each choose a random object in the coffee shop. I chose a cheesecake; she chose a ceiling fan and Susan chose a pillow. We then had 10 minutes to write a scene in which we somehow included the objects. I misunderstood and only wrote about my object, the cheesecake... but I ended up crafting a romantic comedy scene where the protagonist shoved the cake in the villain's face.

While my scene was silly, Susan put together a very thoughtful piece about how the spinning of the ceiling fan reminded her of the passage of certain moments in her life. I've known Susan for many years, but wasn't that familiar with her writing -- and I was very impressed. She's a busy woman, but I hope she eventually finds time to complete a book or at least a magazine article. I'd definitely read her work!

Next, Amy gave us another 10 minutes to write about an embarrassing childhood memory. This was a little easier for me since we've been doing this in my memoir class. Still, it was a challenge to come up with a complete story in only a few minutes.

I don't do a lot of free writing, but think I need to do it more often. It's a great way to open your mind when you have a block and to get started on a project. I spend so much time worrying about the exact way to phrase something, sometimes it's just nice to let the words flow without limits.

I'm home sick today, but am feeling inspired enough to try a free write with my next novel idea. I have a basic outline for the book, but nothing is fully developed. I want to see what happens if I just write without thinking too much about it. Maybe I'll come up with something I like!

Meantime, please read and review my completed novel REVENGE OF A BAND GEEK GONE BAD.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Writing A Novel: Getting A Literary Agent

I've made a big decision about my latest manuscript: Before self-publishing this book, I'd like to see if I can get an agent -- and get my book published in a traditional venue.

I think I've written about this before, but just to recap, I've been through this process twice. In 2003, I received offers from two agents who were interested in representing BAND GEEK (at the time, I was calling the book WHO'S ON FIRST? because of the narrator's fight for first chair flute). I signed on with the bigger agent, who was based in New York City and had many connections. She was a wonderful agent; she helped me fix some major problems in my book and stuck with me for a couple of years. Two publishing houses came close to buying my book, but no dice, so my agents and I parted ways. Yes, I was basically dumped -- but I have absolutely no hard feelings. Business is business and she really took a chance on me. How can I be angry about that?

A few years later, my husband and I came up with an idea for a quirky travel guide. Again, we managed to get an agent and she sent our outline to about 20 publishing houses. The editors loved our work and were ready to buy it. I really got my hopes up and thought that there might even be a bidding war... but this time, it was the marketing people who canned our idea. They couldn't figure out where our guide would be placed in the bookstore because it combined several genres.

It was at this point that I became very jaded about the publishing industry. Then I broke my leg and got into making jewelry ... but that's a whole other story! Anyway, by 2012 -- 10 years after I'd written BAND GEEK -- I just wanted to put my writing out there and chose to self publish. I'm so happy I did so, too. I have all the respect in the world for independent authors. There are many talented writers whose work "doesn't fit" in the traditional publishing world, for whatever reason; sites like Amazon and Smashwords are giving them the opportunity to share their writing. Completing a book is difficult enough, but I've found that it's even harder to have to market your own work. I'm still learning how to do that.

I've always dreamed of seeing my book in a book store, though. I realize that the publishing industry is changing, but I'd still like to take a shot at having someone like my work enough that they actually want to pay me an advance (even if said advance is only three figures) and help me sell my book. This is why I'm going to see if I can get an agent for my latest ms. Third time's the charm, right? I have nothing to lose; if I don't find an agent or my book isn't sold to a publishing house, all I have to do is publish it on my own. Either way, I win.

Right now, I'm editing my work and hope to send it out to agents some time next month. Meantime, please read and review REVENGE OF A BAND GEEK GONE BAD.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Writing Class: Shot Of Confidence

A second piece of mine was critiqued during my memoir writing class. Again, it went very well. My classmates and teacher had a lot of positive things to say about my work; a couple of people even thought that I should fictionalize the incident and use my scene in a novel.

I was especially pleased when one of the older women walked with me on the way out of class and said to me quietly, "You're a fine writer. So far, I've enjoyed your piece the most." This woman is well-known in the journalism world and has had a lot of experience in writing herself so her compliment means the world to me. She's written for newspapers and magazines all over the world and has had quite the career -- so she knows what she's talking about!

Even though I published a novel, I still have many doubts about my writing abilities. My novel hasn't become a best seller and I never rose as high in the ranks in the magazine world as I would've wanted. Getting laid off certainly hurt. So there are times when I wonder if I'm crazy, if I'm a fraud, if I really have any business sharing my work with others. Hearing the feedback from this class has given me a shot of confidence that I really needed.

I realize that when it comes to judging an author, everyone is going to have different opinions. Rejection and criticism come with the territory. Still, it's nice to have a diverse group enjoy your work for different reasons. Though this class isn't a professional venture for me, it's still giving me an opportunity to put myself out there.

When I began the class, I freaked out. I wasn't sure I'd be able to handle the deadlines or even handle the idea of sharing so many personal details about my life. I'm really glad that I stuck it out and forced myself to do something I'm not entirely comfortable with. I feel like I've learned a lot in these past few weeks and am happy I gave this class -- and myself -- a chance.

Please read and review my YA novel REVENGE OF A BAND GEEK GONE BAD.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

New Class: Children's Book Writing

I've enjoyed my memoir writing class so much, I've decided to sign up for another course at the Gotham Writers' Workshop: children's book writing.

Much as I've liked writing about my own life, I'm not sure how eager I am to share my experiences with the world. It's one thing to have them read about by 10 or so classmates -- and it's one thing to blog about one particular aspect of my life. But I don't think I'm ready to divulge every painful, humiliating memory from my 40 years. I'd rather keep some things to myself.

It's no secret that I draw from my experiences, though. I love YA and coming-of-age stories in general, so it should come as no surprise that much of my writing is inspired by things which happened to me when I was a teen or young adult. As I said in my last post, my classmates and teacher were impressed by my ability to write realistic depictions of kids and so I'd like to continue with that... in a fiction setting.

I'm not sure exactly which type of children's books we'll be covering. I don't have any desire to write a picture book or a book geared toward very young kids, but I would love to create something for the middle grade/tween set. Judy Blume's Fudge series and Beverly Cleary's Ramona books helped me get through some difficult times in my childhood. It would be amazing if my words could help some girls get through theirs.

What I especially like about these classes is that they're forcing me to write on a deadline. I find the more I write, the more my creativity is stimulated. At first, it was tough to follow someone else's writing schedule, but it's gotten easier. Now I look forward to doing assignments. I'm hoping that this latest class will inspire my next big idea for a novel.

Meantime, please read and review my YA novel REVENGE OF A BAND GEEK GONE BAD.

Tales From My Memoir Writing Class: My First Critique

Last week, I went through my first critique in my memoir-writing class. I'm happy to say it went very well!

In class, we call these critiques "booths" because it's supposed to be as if the person getting his or her work reviewed is in a booth. Therefore, only one person is allowed to speak at a time and the person getting critiqued can't say anything until the end of the session. This can be tough when you want to defend a point or clarify something, but it really forces you to actually listen to what's being said.

For the most part, my booth was a very positive experience. I'd written a piece about an embarrassing childhood memory and wasn't sure it was "deep" enough for this class. Everyone liked it, though! I was surprised by how many of my classmates could relate to my pain and I was floored when some compared my work to Margaret Atwood and Judy Blume. I adore both of these authors and Blume's writing inspired me to get into YA. So to have it said that my work made people think of these women is a huge deal for me.

However, the session wasn't all gushy and my classmates/teachers had many valid suggestions. My teacher said I tend to use cliche phrases and encouraged me to come up with new ways of saying old things. She also said I overuse the word "that." Last year, I laughed when someone reviewed BAND GEEK and said the same thing. I mean, it's a word... and a tiny one. But I guess I really do overuse it!

My instructor also challenged me to use all 15 pages which are allotted for our booth pieces. I'd handed in five pages, but she believed I could've said a lot more. I'm used to having to condense in order to fit magazine pieces into a particular space, but she urged me to write more. I did, and managed to fill all 15 pages for my next booth.

What's really nice is how my classmates and teacher were so invested in my story. They wanted to know what happened to everyone involved, so my latest booth piece is the sequel. It's about yet another embarrassing childhood incident. I have plenty of those, unfortunately!

My latest piece gets critiqued next Monday. I feel like it's pretty solid, but I really opened up and shared some humiliating (and gross) information. I hope my classmates and teacher enjoy it as much as they liked my first booth.

Meantime, please read and review my novel REVENGE OF A BAND GEEK GONE BAD.