Thursday, January 31, 2008

Guest Mavens! Prizes! Mavenabilia!

Maven Erica RidleyWhat's all this exciting stuff going on in Mavenland?! Merchandise, Prizes, an adventure YOU get to make!

That's right, it's the return of the Manuscript Maven CYOA Round-Robin, where every day a new author adds a chapter to a story you choose by voting on your favorite plot twists.

(Click Here to read the 2007 Halloween story, to get an idea of the crazy-hilarious fun just ahead!)

How it Works:
Each new installment will be posted bright and early at 8am EST (5am PST). Be sure to bookmark because the voting cutoff is 7pm EST (4pm PST).

How to Win:
Everyone who votes on a plot twist is eligible for a prize! That's right, we're awarding prizes every single day of the adventure. You must vote to win!

What about the Grand Prize?
All MaveFaves who vote every single day of the adventure will be entered into a special Grand Prize Drawing. We will send you the t-shirt of your choice from the brand spanking new Mavenabilia Catalog. Be the first on your cyber-block with a Nitcritty Kitty or Magical Mulch Pile printed on your chest. (But wait! There's more! Check out all 3 sections for the full listing.)

What's the adventure titled?
You decide! As before, on the last day of the adventure, we'll put out a call for titles. Leave as many suggestions as you can dream up in the comments. Winner gets a prize! (Of course!)

What's the starting lineup?

Historical romance writer Colleen Gleason, author of the Gardella Vampire Chronicals.

Jody Wallace writes paranormal comedy, fantasy romance, and Southern women's fiction, including A Spell for Susannah. She has also written several novellas for Red Sage publishing under the pseudonym Ellie Marvel.

Amie Stuart writes erotic romance for Kensington Press and futuristic urban fantasy, including her upcoming book Nailed.

Multi-published author, renowned speaker, and National Reader’s Choice Award Finalist Debra Dixon, author of GMC: Goal, Motivation, and Conflict.

Deanna Lee is the author of numerous print and e-book titles, including Bounty Hunter.

Historical romance writer Karen Lingefelt, author of True Pretenses and past president of the Tampa Area Romance Authors.

Avon FanLit winner and Thursday Maven Lacey Kaye, president and webmistress of Seattle's East Side RWA.

Multi-published author for Steeple Hill Love Inspired, RWA Region 4 director, and RITA Finalist Terri Reed, author of Her Christmas Protector.

Friday Maven Jackie Barbosa writes both historical and contemporary romance with an erotic edge for Cobblestone-Press, including her May release Wickedly Ever After.

Mystery writer Julia Buckley author of The Dark Backward and the Madeline Mann series.

New York Times best-seller Virginia Henley, author of 25 historical romances, including Notorious and Infamous.

Agented, multi-contest finalist, and Monday Maven Erica Ridley, webmistress for the Tampa Area Romance Authors.

Debut Zebra author and Golden Heart Finalist Delilah Marvelle, author of Mistress of Pleasure.

New York Times best-seller C.L. Wilson, author of Lord of the Fading Lands and Lady of Light and Shadows and president of the Tampa Area Romance Authors.

Grand prize drawing and title contest!

Holy crap, that rocks!

Yes, we know. ;-) And you rock too, because your votes are what will make the story happen! Feel free to link to us on your blog or email the Adventure link to your email loops. We'd love it! Tell your friends, tell your neighbors, tell your flock of pet Mynah birds--the more votes, the better the adventure!!

YOUR TURN: Test your Choose Your Own Adventure skills now. The moment you finish reading this post, you're going to:

A) Squee fangirl (or fanboy) about the must-see upcoming Valentine Adventure on every blog and email loop I know.

B) Throw out all my old clothing, coffee mugs, beer steins, etc, and replace everything I own with items from the ever-stylish Mavenabilia Catalog.

C) Post my own set of snarky CYOA options to the comment section of this post. Mua ha haaa.

D) All of the above, baby! I'm a MaveFave!!!

As always, the Manuscript Mavens would like to thank Chooseco for graciously letting us borrow the CYOA name. Choose Your Own Adventure is a trademark of Chooseco LLC, Waitsfield, VT. Check them out at The trademark has been used by permission herein. Thanks, CYOA!

Don't forget to join the Manuscript Mavens' quarterly newsletter on the right for advance notice of other exciting upcoming events!

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Synopses Made Easy

Maven Jacqueline Barbour Everyone wants to be on a postage stamp, but nobody wants to die. --
Standard White Jesus by Timbuk 3

What does that have to do with synopses? Nothing, really. I just love that line.

Actually, I do think it relates to the topic at hand. Because everyone wants to be published, but nobody, it seems, wants to write a synopsis if they can possibly avoid it.

Now, of course, you can get published without a synopsis in some cases (my publisher, Cobblestone Press, doesn't require them, in large part because the one of the owners, Deanna Lee, hates them). But let's face it, if you want to hit the big time, chances are pretty good that somewhere, sometime along the way, you're gonna have to write a synopsis.

What is it about the synopsis that strikes dread and horror into the hearts of otherwise stalwart warriors of the written word? I wish I had an answer for that, but one thing I know is that I've been much less angst-ridden about writing synopses since I attended a local RWA chapter meeting and was provided with a "template" for writing a synopsis. (I should add at this point that, to my knowledge, this template is not under copyright and has supposedly been floating around the industry for "a long time," whatever that means. At the same time, I in no way claim to have originated it, because honestly, I'm just not that smart.)

Now, this template is romance-genre specific. If you're writing a mystery or sci-fi or horror, it probably won't do you much good. But for romance and sub-genres thereof, it's almost worth its weight in gold, especially if you have trouble figuring out what you need to cover in the synopsis and what you can leave out.

The Template

Hero (or heroine's) primary goal, motivation, and conflict.

Heroine's (or hero's) primary goal, motivation, and conflict

H/H come together and clash (usually as a result of mismatch in their goals)

H/H soften toward each other, but then are reminded of why their relationship can never work out.

H/H begin to see a way they can fit one another into their lives, but a catastrophic event occurs and all seems lost.

H/H resolve all internal and external conflicts and live HEA.

Add the following events where appropriate:

* First kiss

* Consummation of the relationship

Using the Template

When you see it all written out like this, it seems almost ridiculously obvious. I know when I first read through it, I thought, "Duh, I knew this." But it turned out that there was something about actually plugging in sentences and paragraphs to respond to those prompts in the order they occurred in the template that made it a lot easier to follow my plot thread through the romance instead of the other way around.

So, if you find synopses a painful exercise in self-abuse (ahem, not that kind of self-abuse!), try using the template and see if it doesn't make it just a little easier.

Last but Not Least

Don't forget the 2008 Maven Valentine CYOA starts Feb 1. Vote for the story time period on the left, and get ready to choose your own adventure!

As always, the Manuscript Mavens would like to thank CYOA for graciously letting us borrow the "Choose Your Own Adventure" name. Choose Your Own Adventure is a trademark of Chooseco LLC, Waitsfield, VT. Check them out at The trademark has been used by permission herein. Thanks, CYOA!

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

More Synopsis Pondering

Maven Carrie RyanDarcy's post yesterday really got me thinking some more about synopsises (synopses? what is the plural of that word?!) I'll admit it: I've only written two synopses in my life. The first was for my first romance and I actually found the process quite easy at the time. The book was a very action centric plot -- lots of kidnapping and miscommunication and storming out and (gasp!) maybe even a secret baby? So I just followed the trail of the narrative. I'm quite doubtful that I ever delved into the emotions of the characters, of their arc and growth. It was just the facts, ma'am and then moving on.

It wasn't until after I'd finished writing my second novel and sat down to write the synopsis that I realized I'd made a critical plot mistake. Darcy's post yesterday made me think about that experience -- sitting down to boil down the story only to realize that the story was, irrevocably, broken. She's totally right -- the synopsis can really clarify those sorts of things for you! I didn't even bother writing the whole synopsis -- the first paragraph was all I needed to make me realize it was time to move on.

So that leaves The Forest of Hands and Teeth. Per usual, I left the synopsis to the very end. This time I included character arcs, started with a blurb of text from the book that I thought set up the world nicely, and tried to make sure I didn't dump in a whole bunch of backstory. I remember stressing over it, trying to winnow it down to a reasonable length.

But here's the thing I've been thinking about after Darcy's post -- so often we stress and dread the synopsis, but really, in the grand scheme of things, how important is it? I know I'll probably engender some lively debate by saying this (and I'm sure some will point out my propensity to stress over the most minute detail of anything, ahem), but in the end, the synopsis is nothing more than a sales tool. And here's what I've been thinking: if the gist of the synopsis is a story that fits together, and the sample pages are well written, who cares how well written or poorly written the synopsis is?

Of course, there are some caveats -- you still have to have some sort of flow to the thing. But in the end, the synopsis is your way of convincing the agent or editor that the brilliant beginning they have in front of them in the form of sample pages has a logical arc and comes to a solid end. It's your way of saying that you have a plot that holds water and can carry a book. Editors and agents just want to make sure you don't have aliens landing in chapter five, or that your sweet paranormal doesn't turn into a rampaging orgy. They want to make sure they like where your story is going.

I recall a contest I judged a while back that included synopses in the submission. It was amazing to see these from the other side -- not as a critique partner already involved in the story, but as a complete stranger. There was one entry in particular that had a really neat premise but the synopsis got so incredibly bogged down in the details that my mind was spinning in the end. It was too much! It was all plot and no character, no emotion, no arcs.

Now, when I think about writing synopsis it's not about just retelling the novel in a few pages, it's getting that gist across. It's about telling the agent or editor that yes you have a plot and yes it works and yes the characters grow. Think about it from the other side, think about what you would need to know to ask for more, to invest in reading the entire manuscript. That's what we should all be focused on. And if you have the chance to read/critique/judge synopses I highly recommend taking it -- you'll always learn something new!!

Also: Don't forget the 2008 Maven Valentine CYOA starts Feb 1. Vote for the story time period on the left, and get ready to choose your own adventure!

As always, the Manuscript Mavens would like to thank CYOA for graciously letting us borrow the "Choose Your Own Adventure" name. Choose Your Own Adventure is a trademark of Chooseco LLC, Waitsfield, VT. Check them out at The trademark has been used by permission herein. Thanks, CYOA!

Monday, January 28, 2008

How Your Synopsis Can Help (Yes, You Read That Right)

Maven Darcy BurkeGood Monday Mooorrrning Mavenland! Before I jump into the regularly-scheduled post, I want to make sure you're as excited as we Mavens are about our Second Choose Your Own Adventure kicking off this Friday, February 1 (and I have to shout out that Feb. 1 is also my daughter's 7th birthday!) and culminating on Valentine's Day. We have a rockin' lineup of authors so don't miss even one installment! Be sure to vote on the genre over on the left.

As always, the Manuscript Mavens would like to thank CYOA for graciously letting us borrow the "Choose Your Own Adventure" name. Choose Your Own Adventure is a trademark of Chooseco LLC, Waitsfield, VT. Check them out at The trademark has been used by permission herein. Thanks, CYOA!

By now you are dying to know how your synopsis can do anything but be a giant pain in your rear. I can't believe I'm saying this, but your synopsis can be a helpful tool, and not just for selling your book. I might not have realized this if Maven Erica hadn't drawn my attention to something quite extraordinary last week.

Let me back up. I have to start with the storyboard and how incredibly easy it makes writing a synopsis. And it's not just the storyboard, it's the prework for the storyboard. Knowing your GMC, story threads, and turning points for each thread basically provides the outline for the synopsis. I'm telling you, I've never written a synopsis so quickly and easily as I did for Her Wicked Ways last week. I propped the board up, whipped open the laptop, and cranked that sucker out!

I can hear what you're saying, "Yes, Darcy, we get that storyboarding is awesome and so far you've told us how it's helpful for writing a synopsis. But how on earth is the synopsis itself helpful?" In a synopsis, you have to boil things down to the barest minimum. Include just the highlights of your story threads, and perhaps not even every story thread. It was this last thing that had me thinking.

You may remember last week I talked about how I divorced my current WIP from another book. In the process of doing that, I was able to tweak the heroine's back story so that it actually made more sense for the story I wanted to tell for her (no more forcing things to fit an existing plot!). Well, when I wrote the synopsis, another bit of her back story sort of stood out as unnecessary clutter. I didn't need it in the synopsis and then I asked myself if I even needed it in the book. I ran it by the Mavens and Maven Erica said, "This is the second time writing a synopsis has streamlined your plot. I find that really interesting. You should blog about that some time." (She didn't say streamlined, but that was the gist, I think.) I hadn't realized writing synopses had done that for me, but she was right! (And it was darned nice of her to suggest a blog topic!)

When I wrote the synopsis for Glorious, I had a similar epiphany and tweaked the story accordingly. Voila! Instant brilliance! All from the synopsis. (Okay, maybe not instant.) Who knew the synopsis could bring the truly important pieces of your plot into crystalline focus? Instead of looking at the synopsis as a dreaded summary I must write, I think I've decided it's my friend. The friend who tells me what really matters to my book. Wow, did I blow your mind? The synopsis is your friend.

Where's the strangest place you learned something about your book or your writing? What tools have been helpful for navigating your plot as you write and revise?

Sunday, January 27, 2008

The Adventure begins soon!

Back by popular demand, Choose Your Own Adventure returns to Mavenland on February 1st for the Maven Valentine CYOA extravaganza.

Vote for genre/time period on the left! Only a few days left!

We will be announcing the list of authors very soon. To get an idea of what the CYOA is all about, here's a link to last year's hilarious Maven Halloween CYOA.

As always, the Manuscript Mavens would like to thank CYOA for graciously letting us borrow the "Choose Your Own Adventure" name. Choose Your Own Adventure is a trademark of Chooseco LLC, Waitsfield, VT. Check them out at The trademark has been used by permission herein. Thanks, CYOA!

Friday, January 25, 2008

Getting There Is ALL the Fun

Maven Jacqueline BarbourNote: The Maven Valentine pick-your-adventure starts Feb 1! Vote for genre/time period on the left.

Let's face it: Publishing is an industry that wears people down. We collect rejections, we make endless revisions, a request raises our hopes and then that hope is dashed by yet another rejection. As a friend of mine observed in a private email the other day, it can seem a distinctly profitless enterprise.

And yet, we all also know the conventional wisdom: What separates successful, published authors from the unpublished ones is mostly perseverance. We've all heard how many rejections luminaries like Stephen King and J.K. Rowling piled up before finally attracting an agent and selling their first book.

Still, on the days when the prospect of ever finding that one agent or editor who loves your book seems slim, fat, and none all at the same time, it can be awfully difficult to keep the faith.

So, if you're having one of those days, remember this:

No matter where you are in your writing career--whether you're just getting started on your first novel, seeking publication for a completed manuscript, or even atop the New York Times bestseller list--you always have the same two choices. You can keep writing or give up.

We're all in the same boat, we writers. We're all rowing along the same river. Enjoy the journey. Because getting there is the fun part.

YOUR TURN: How do you keep the faith? Have you ever considered throwing in the towel? What do you consider the low and high points of your writing career?

Thursday, January 24, 2008

When to Listen...

Maven Lacey KayeThere are at least three types of critiques in this world. There's the one that you shrug off: a typo or something completely off-the-wall. There's the one that makes you want to scream and beat the other person over the head with your point. And then there's the one that twists your stomach and makes you ill with fear.

I don't have much to say about any of them. I have the least to say about the last one. There doesn't seem to be much one can do when faced with the complete and utter destruction of her book, whether it's due to a pin-sized plot hole that leaks air so stealthily it's nearly impossible to trace, or a story that rambles and writhes and simply won't come out the way it seems in one's head. What about voice? I can think of at least four Mavens who've rewritten most or all of a manuscript because they realized too late they needed to put more dark here, more edgy here, more angst or historical tone there.

Plots: we've replotted entire books to make them make sense. Given TSTL heroes hope for a brighter tomorrow. Deleted reams and reams of subplots that weren't worth the ink it took to print them. Come up with tighter, more saleable books, better characters, and killer hooks.

It can be done. I know it can be done. But it's exhausting work. One wants to believe it never happens to other people. That everyone else writes perfect books the first time around--or, at least, marginally excellent books that require only mild editing.

It's not true, of course. In my head, I know it's not true. But when I think about dismantling a story to build it back up again, it makes me want to close my eyes and hide. What if I do it wrong again? What if it's better, but it's still not great? What about when I send it out for that all-important beta read, and she still finds enormous flaws? Do I just write something else? Is my entire genre, my entire voice then in question because one story won't hinge together without squeaking?

What do you tell yourself? What would you tell me? And if I told you I was going to steal those words of comfort and offer them to someone else, would you want to be quoted? :-)

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

To Link or Not to Link?

Maven Darcy BurkeWhen I decided to get serious about writing historical romance novels in the summer of 2005, I picked up a book I started in 2000. I fiddled with it and then realized I didn’t want it to be the dreaded “first book” that may never see the light of day. I loved the plot and characters too much (still do!). That book was envisioned as the first of a trilogy starring three friends: a fighter, a lover, and a gambler. I still plan to write that trilogy, but for now, I’ve other fish in the frying pan.

The book I started writing then (the dreaded “first book”) was Notorious. As I wrote Notorious, there was a great secondary character who was a bit of a jerk. I loved the idea of giving him a book in which he became even jerkier (hit rock bottom) and emerged as a hero. That was Leo, the hero of Glorious. The original plot of Glorious included stuff from Notorious, such as the hero and heroine of Notorious showing up in a scene and looking all happy and in-love. More troublesome were scenes in Glorious that had to happen a certain way because of something in Notorious. The two books had to maintain continuity for readers. But, once I consigned Notorious to the magical mulch pile under my bed, I was able to free Glorious from its tether. I took out all of the Notorious references/tie-ins and you know what? Glorious was even better!

Did I learn from that lesson?

You know the answer to that if you read my comment to Maven Erica’s post on Monday.

As I wrote Glorious, I realized Leo’s sister was in desperate need of her own book. She was snarky, self-involved, courageous, and funny – in a word, an anti-heroine. Cue The Fox and the Hound Beauty and the Bandit Her Wicked Ways. As I storyboarded Her Wicked Ways I realized I had problems. Timetable problems that gave me a whopping headache. Her Wicked Ways would have to start before Glorious and conclude after because the inciting incident in Her Wicked Ways had already happened when Glorious started. And Miranda (the anti-heroine) is actually a key player during the latter portion of Glorious, which happens during the course of Her Wicked Ways but isn’t really important to the plot of HWW. That particular conundrum and how to write it was driving me a bit batty (even though I’d storyboarded it and had a plan for how to do it).

Because I keep writing secondary characters who seem to have these great backstories and come to me with their own story ideas (needy children!), I naturally had two more linked books that would follow Her Wicked Ways: Tess’s (Glorious’s heroine) sister and Leo and Miranda’s brother each needed a book and I had great ideas for both. They wouldn’t have been as intrinsically linked as the first two because they wouldn’t have taken place concurrently as Glorious and HWW do did.

Do I have a point today? Why, yes, I do. I think I’m prewired to write linked books. I like to read linked books (and by linked I mean both with overarching plot or theme threads or with characters that appear in multiple books), so perhaps that’s why. If that’s the case, why did I decide to unlink Glorious and HWW? For the reasons stated (no more convulsing to make the timetables match!) and because I haven’t yet sold them in a multi-book deal.

But, of course, if asked to link them, I can do it in heartbeat.

What do you prefer to write? Linked books? And linked in what way? Unlinked? What are your thoughts on writing linked books without a multi-book contract?

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Where to begin?

Maven Carrie RyanFirst, I owe a massive huge tremendous THANK YOU to Jennifer Linforth for volunteering to set the Mavens up with a LiveJournal feed (she even had to email the peeps at LJ to get things straightened out -- how above and beyond is that?!?). So for those of you who would like to add the Mavens to your LJ friends' list, here's the link. Thanks again Jennifer - you rock!!!

A week ago I turned in what are hopefully my final substantive edits for The Forest of Hands and Teeth. Wahoo! Naturally, this has me thinking about beginnings. After all, I've been using edits as an excuse not to write something new for a good few months now. As of now, it's time for me to start writing again. Yikes!

So this has me thinking about beginnings. While my Untitled Second Book under contract is wide open (just has to be a YA), it turns out there's a chance they're going to want me to write another book set in the FHT world with a particular character. I hadn't considered writing this book, and so now I find myself pondering what happens next -- where to start this character's journey. Immediately, a thought came to mind and I followed that trail for a while, getting more and more excited about it.

But then it left me wondering -- should I just follow my first inclination? Should I be spending more time trying out different plots, different settings? Should I try the whole "list 10 things that could happen next" to make sure I'm on the right track? Where do I want to take the character in this book?

I think this is the closest I've ever really gotten to plotting, which is kind of weird. I've never felt the need to know all these things before -- I generally just start with a person in a place with a first line and see where it takes me. Why, all of the sudden, do I feel the need to know exactly where this character goes and what this character does?

I was talking to JP recently about this whole thing and really what it boils down to is my feeling that writing a novel is really just a series of closing doors. When you start, before you write the first word, you have a million possibilities ahead of you. And with every word and every line, you begin to shut those doors, diminish the possibilities. And generally, you can never go back and follow a different path (unless you think the current path is bunk and you have to back-track).

So if I send my character down Path B, I've lost the chance to tell the story about Path A. And to me that's a little sad. And I stink at making decisions in my own life, much less anyone else's. Honestly, sometimes I find this situation to be a little paralyzing -- standing here looking at all those paths and all those doors and wondering which are the rights ones (is there such a thing as the right one?).

Which made me wonder how y'all approach beginnings. Do you go with the first idea that grabs you? Do you think out a ton of possibilities and then whittle them down? Do you worry about closing all those doors or do you love the sense of so much possibility?

Friday, January 18, 2008

The Other Kind of Workshop

Maven Jacqueline BarbourThus far this week, the Mavens have posted eloquently about the energy and inspiration that comes from attending (and presenting) "live" writers' workshops. But the truth is, in this day and age, you don't even need to leave the comfort of your own home to attend (or present) a workshop. Online workshops for writers abound; I get advertisements for just a small percentage of them in my inbox or on Yahoo loops every week. Some of them are even free!

But are they worth it (especially if they're not free)? Can online workshops really hold a candle to the live variety? Or is there something about being there that adds something vital to the experience?

I have to be honest and admit that, as a presenter, I hate so-called distance learning. As a matter of fact, just yesterday I taught a course in my work life via teleconference and WebEx, and I found it as frustrating and irritating as I always do. The problem for me is that I take so many of my cues from the expressions and body language of the people sitting in front of me. But if I can't see their faces, I have to rely on them to tell me when I've confused them or put them to sleep. There's nothing worse than chirping crickets in a teleconference. The presenter has no idea what it means!

But while I'm all for the live version as a presenter, from an attendee's point of view, I sometimes prefer the online variety. Especially if I didn't have to pay for it. (Did I mention before now that I'm terminally cheap?)

Here are some reasons I like online workshops/conferences:

  • If the presenter is covering something I already know or that doesn't interest me for some reason (maybe a portion of the lecture covers the element of romantic suspense or something I don't write), I can either tune out the lecture or skip over it if it comes in writing. (I know, I know, people do this to me when I'm giving an online presentation and it drives me crazy. But I did admit to being the student I hate to teach.)
  • I can spend as much or as little time as I want reviewing a topic, particularly if the workshop lectures are delivered in the form of email. This, to me, is the single biggest reason to love online workshops--they're the ultimate in self-study guides.
  • If the presenter of an online workshop is engaged and responds to your questions, you can often get more "bang for your buck" (or no buck!) in terms of individualized instruction from an online workshop than you can from one you attend in person. In a classroom environment, there are always limitations on the presenter's time and attention. By contrast, in an online environment (again, especially a workshop presented in the form of email or other written forms of communication--like this blog, lol), the only limit to the amount of attention you can coax from the presenter is his or her willingness to engage with you and respond to your repetitive requests for advice/information/what have you.

Despite my enthusiasm for online workshops, I haven't attended very many. (See comment regarding terminal cheapness above.) The ones I have attended have varied in quality, from Cobblestone's excellent Words in Motion conference just a few weeks ago and a very helpful course on crafting pitches I took through Candy Havens' Write Workshop Yahoo! group last year to quite a few others I've found much less useful.

YOUR TURN: How do you feel about online workshops? Have you attended any that particulary stood out, either positively or negatively? And are you as tickled as I am that Maveneer (my personal favorite, I confess) has pulled ahead (as of the time I wrote this) in the voting for Maven term of endearment?

Whatever your favorite MTOE, remember there are just two days left to vote!

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Scrambled Nuggets

Maven Lacey KayeLike the other Mavens, I am both an experienced presenter and an experienced workshop presenter. Like Maven Darcy said yesterday (and all of you have touched on), when I get ready to give a workshop or a presentation I try to think about it from the crowd's POV. What do I like to hear when at a workshop? What sticks with me, and what do I find worthless? I tend to be very me-centered, so anything that falls outside of active listening isn't something I spend a lot of time planning for. That said, I'm getting better at making packets (handouts). As modeling my behavior by adapting techniques from the people I respect around me has become Level A Mode of Operation, packets have been...well, probably the first really big thing I've adapted.

Which has nothing to do with anything, but I'm easily distracted and you guys knew that. This brings me to a scramble of advice:


As Maven Darcy said, our workshop is titled Maven Storyboarding 602 Workshop. That's a lot to do with my personal vision for the RWA workshops I want to give. In the first year or so of writing, I ate up everything aimed at level 101. Then I went looking for level 201 stuff, and found...not much. So I wanted to give workshops aimed at writers who'd been writing and even those who are published authors. This is both a personal preference and a marketing ploy. It does have a big loophole, though, and that is that I can't control my audience most of the time.

At National or even at the smaller conferences, participants have a little brochure and a choice. Anyone at the Maven 602 last week (at Eastside RWA) had almost no choice whether they wanted to be hear me or not. If you wanted to go to the chapter meeting, you had to listen to me. (muah ha ha ha.) Same for Deb Dixon this week.

Given our time constraints, however, we won't be able to go into a lot of detail about plots and plot holes and GMC (so keep your ears open for what Deb herself has to say!) and character arcs and 4-Act Structures and Hero's Journey and all that good stuff we pretty much have to assume you already know. Honestly, we're not the go-to people for that stuff anyway; others do a much better job. Some of 'em even wrote the book on it! But at the same time, I don't want to be talking over our audience (though I expect most of the participants to be level-set and more than anything, I don't want to see any glazed eyes).

This uneven setting did come out at the Eastside meeting, although nothing that derailed the presentation. At a complete unrelated "workshop" I did, though, the assumption that only people who wanted to learn more about X would show up really bit me. I sent out a link to what would look like gobbledy-gook to the untrained eye and expected only people who recognized the subject to show up. Uh, not so. Which got me a lot of negative (deserved) feedback and went a long way toward teaching me to focus on my audience.

Ok, this rambled. My point is, yes, soliciting questions during the presentation can be annoying for some. For others (uh, me), sitting through basic rehash makes me crazy. I tend to aim high with a willingness to shoot low if need be. So ask your question. It's up to the presenter to keep the workshop moving forward, not you.

Which brings me to the second:


And that someone is probably you. As Maven Erica found out/may have already known/admitted to, sometimes you have a really packed schedule and even the smallest amount of tangential stuff can tip the scale. Going over is a pet peeve of some people (although I am more annoyed by people who clearly don't have enough to say) and you wouldn't have planned to talk about something that wasn't necessary to the understanding of the topic (RIGHT?!). You want to hit it all, but how do you do that and keep everyone focused without plowing over some really good discussion?

Going back to glazed eyes, if I get the feeling it's only one or two people (or a percent, I guess) then I might try to take that offline i.e. address it after. If it's a lot of people looking pensive or interested, I will pause to discuss. Often, these pauses give relief to people who are either totally focused or accidentally spacing out (notice my theme of detesting foisting boredom on people?) -- so pauses can be a good tool to keep people interested and following along. On the other hand, they also often come across as a license to derail the topic. I personally prefer to allow a few moments for laughter and discourse before forcing the workshop/presentation to move forward. I believe a well-organized blip in the presentation can create camaraderie, and you've all listed that as a big takeaway from a workshop. The important thing to remember is to have someone who will say OK, back to the subject...

I think that's actually it.

Quick poll: how many of you, based on what I just described about the "graduate level-ness" of Maven 602, thinks the workshop would be easily accessible without too much back story? Are you the kind who finds herself constantly wishing the speaker would explain more, or do your eyes tend to glaze (or both?). What do you think Maven Jackie should talk about tomorrow? ;-)

PS: Don't forget to vote for your favorite Maven term of endearment on the sidebar!

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

It's All About the Chocolate, Baby

Maven Darcy BurkeCheck it out over there on the left, MaveFave is winning (or it was as of 11:00 Tuesday night anyway)! If you haven't voted yet, be sure to make your voice heard!

This week we're talking workshops. I've been scratching my head a little because it's been awhile since I've given one. So I started thinking about workshops I've been to and I've been to a ton (not just writing-related). As I recalled certain workshops and presenters, I came up with the questions posted at the end and realized that since I'm giving the first workshop I've given in a very long time this Sunday, I want to hear from you about how I can make it great.

Mavens Erica, Lacey, and I are giving a workshop called Storyboarding 602 (the number makes it graduate-level!). In this workshop we will deliver a lecture-type presentation about storyboarding and then we'll break into groups to actually develop storyboards. I really like workshops that combine presentations with practical experience. I learn by doing just like I learn by taking notes, which is why my hand is usually ready to fall off by the end.

What makes a workshop or presentation great for me isn't flashy A/V or handouts, but a really dynamic speaker who knows her topic well. They don't have to be the best speaker, but I find that people who are really passionate about their topic naturally do a good job. Right now, I'm so in love with my storyboard I'm thinking of writing a novella about it (not really, but you get my drift) so hopefully that means I'll rock the workshop on Sunday!

Oh, I should tie in the title! Chocolate. I've always found that bringing chocolate to your workshop is a very, very good thing.

What kinds of workshops are your favorite? Interactive, lecture, short, long? What's the best workshop you've attended in recent memory and what made it stand out?

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

That Workshop High

Maven Carrie RyanI apologize in advance for the brevity of my post and for it maybe not making too much sense. I'm turning in my final edits today which means my head has been firmly in the Forest of Hands and Teeth recently. They don't have so many workshops there, as you can imagine :)

I must admit that it's been a while since I attended any workshops, but there is one thing I find in common with all of them -- that high you get when it's done. I don't know if it's being around so many writers, so much enthusiasm, so much love for the craft, but it's nearly impossible to leave a workshop without being completely fired up, your brain in overdrive with new thoughts, new plots, new organization tools.

Even if the subject of the workshop isn't necessarily up your alley, I think you still learn things. Maybe you learn what doesn't work for you. Maybe you learn that something you didn't think worked actually did on occasion. Or maybe you just learned some good industry gossip from the other writers there. But always, you realize that you are part of a bigger whole of writers going for their dreams. And that's pretty darn inspiring.

I still remember the feeling I got at my first RWA National conference -- how I couldn't write fast enough. How ideas sprang from everywhere. I got in my car for the 13 hour drive home and I shut off the radio and wrote a book in my head. It was amazing -- I was so full of energy and drive. Same thing with the last conference I went to -- I met wonderful friends (friendships that have grown since then) and solidified my ultimate goal of wearing that First Sale ribbon.

So if you feel like you're flagging and you need a boost, find a workshop. Bonus if it's something that you need, but remember the key is just being around other people who are excited to be there and who are interested in improving and being the best that they can. I think you'll find your creative wells filled, your dedication a little stronger, and your energy soaring. Plus, you're bound to pick up some great tips in the process!

Friday, January 11, 2008

Tip(s) of the Morning to You

Maven Jacqueline BarbourYes, I'm a terrible punster. I blame my father...

As you know, Maveneers (like Musketeers, eh what? Or Mouseketeers. Perhaps we could have cat ear hats...), this is writing tip week here thanks to our dear friend B. E. Sanderson and the Roar for Powerful Words award.

Tip #1: Titles Matter

I know the conventional wisdom is otherwise. A lot of authors feel it's not really worth the effort to coin the perfect title for their manuscripts because the publisher will probably just change it anyway. Why go to all that effort when the chances of the title you chose "sticking" are slim to none.

I'll tell you why: It's marketing, baby! A good title can get you to the top of the slush pile. It can be the one, small detail that makes an agent or editor decide to request your pages (or read them) over any one of the hundred others on her desk. A clever, intriguing title hints at clever, intriguing writing.

I know this is true for two reasons:

1. Leah Hultenschmidt of Dorchester Publishing gave a session at the RWA National Conference last year on this very topic. According to her, a good title--one that conveyed mood, setting, and plot--was almost more important than the hook. All things being equal (that is, the query letter is well-written, free of grammatical errors, and the story sounds minimally fresh and intriguing), the story with the better title always gets the nod.

2. The title of my first Cobblestone release, Carnally Ever After, got read before many other submissions in the acquiring editor's inbox because the title grabbed her by the throat. I had a contract offer (pending a few minor revisions) within eight hours of submission. And, of course, the title stuck with the manuscript.

Of course, there are no guarantees that the title you select will stay with your book, even if it's carefully thought out and clever. Nevertheless, it pays to put effort into a title before you begin querying your manuscript. The title is part of the package, and the whole package matters. (And I've heard of authors querying manuscripts with the title Untitled. I shudder at the lack of professionalism, but I digress.)

Tip #2: Title It, Hook It, Write It

I have to confess, I learned this one from Maven Erica. (I think we have all learned a lot from Maven Erica, LOL.)

Before I did, I was convinced I would never be able to write a decent hook/query blurb for anything I wrote. How could I condense my 100,000 word novel (or at the end of the first draft, my 136,000 word novel--blush) to just a few paragraphs? The very idea made me quiver in my boots. Needless to say, this made writing a query letter pure, unadulterated hell.

Then I saw what Erica did with Hi-Jinxed. She came up with the title and the hook. And only then did she start writing. And I have to say, the results are impressive, even if the title she originally came up with didn't stick (see Tip #1).

Since I've applied this same "order of business" to my own writing, I've found that my working titles are catchier and my blurbs are hookier. Once I've written the whole thing, it's daunting to try to condense all the action, emotion, and conflict of my complex masterpiece (I use the term loosely) down to a few paragraphs. But before I've written the masterpiece, the details of the story can't prevent me from seeing the bring picture.

Not only that, but writing the whole story has gotten easier. Having those elements in place before I start keeps the panster in me from meandering around looking for the essence of the story quite so much. It's there in the title and the hook, so I don't have to write the story to try to discover it.

Now, this technique may not work for everyone, but I encourage you to give it a whirl. You may find that this method frees your imagination in unexpected ways. As an example, the novella I just sold to Cobblestone literally started as a title. (A sure-to-be controversial title, I'm told!) I had no story in mind whatsoever--just the title, which gave me the name of the protagonist and little else. But the rest just flowed from there.

Tip #3: A little insecurity can be a good thing.

No, I don't mean the sort of insecurity that causes you to consider throwing yourself on your machete whenever you receive a rejection letter (see Maven Darcy's Tip #3) or a particularly painful piece of constructive criticism from a critique partner or contest judge.

I'm talking about the kind of insecurity that drives you to strive to become a better writer. The insecurity that staves of complacency and laziness, no matter whether you're an aspiring unpubbed or a multi-New York Times bestseller. Because the only thing worse, in my opinion, than fearing you're a no-talent hack who has no more business attempting to write a novel than Bill Gates has owning a Mac is believing you have nothing more to learn.

On the Web

When it comes to making my own nomination for another place to get great writing advice and information, my first inclination is to nominate the Yahoo! loop on which I first met Mavens Lacey, Darcy, and Erica. It was also there that I learned about RWA, about contests, and about the whole concept of "craft". In short, everything I know now, I owe in some small way to that group. That loop, Aspiring Romance Writers, is still quite active, though I don't participate as much as I used to. (Somehow, blogging and writing are sucking up most of my time these days, lol.

But since that's not a blog, I'm going to have use my "real" nomination for Tessa Dare. She just wrote a post about my latest favorite movie, Enchanted, that is simply fantastic. But from TMI Tuesday to her "regular" posts, I find Tessa always has something thought-provoking to share with her readers. I'm sure you'll think so, too.

And yes, I'm well aware that I just cheated.

Stolen from all the other Mavens:
YOUR TURN: 10 days into the new year, people! How much have you written so far? A scene? 20 pages? A book? And did you vote for us over at the Preditors & Editors' Readers Choice poll? (Oops, how did that shameless self-promo get in there?!)

Warning: More shameless (but original!) self-promotion:

I am in the process of phasing out my Jacqueline Barbour identity in favor of the pseudonym I'm actually publishing under. To kick off that transition, I'm running a contest on my Jackie Barbosa blog, and I'd love it if you'd stop by and participate. I also guest-blogged on The Spiced Tea Party on Wednesday if you'd like to drop by there instead.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

From the Trenches: Maven Tips #10-12

Maven Lacey KayeAs you must be aware by now, thanks to B.E. Sanderson and the Roar for Powerful Words Award, we're blogging about writing tips this week. Now, so far, the other girls have done a great job of sharing tips they've found useful over the course of their writing career. If you know me, though, you probably won't be surprised to read that I'm planning to give you some tips that I made up. Hey, it's more fun for me that way, and besides, I'm too lazy to try and think up where I've either heard or used someone else's. (Although, to be totally fair, *of course* I heard these somewhere else. It's just that I wasn't looking for them at the time; they sort of rolled up together over the last few years. Or maybe if I read them, they didn't really make sense at first. Only with experience and crushing rejection can come knowledge and growth!)

Tip #1: Subplots and subcharacters can be used to add setting to your h/h romance / primary story

Of course, lots of stories have subplots or subcharacters that don't contact the h/h at all. Like a villain subplot or character, for example, that may not share scenes with the h/h until the end of the book. I'm not talking about that. I'm talking about using your subplots (Mavens prefer "story threads") to give your main characters something to do besides sit there (or stand there, if you prefer) and nod, wink, arch their brows, shrug, and generally stare at each other. Especially if one or both of them have beguiling eyes.

If your hero has a hobby, for example, he can be doing it. A heart-to-heart between an h/h in his conservatory while he's elbows-deep in roses is always way more fun to read (and strikes more emotionally) than a scene where he's having dinner. Unless your character's hobby is eating, in which case, the dinner isn't the setting (fork to mouth, fork to plate) as much as the character's reaction to it (savoring, laughing, piling more on his plate).

My point is, give your characters outside interests (subplots, hobbies, friends, etc) who can give them stuff to do that hopefully ALSO reveals something personal about them. And then don't forget to write the payoff scene. I read one recently where the hero destroyed his rose garden after the heroine left him. Powerful stuff.

Tip #2: Never forget the reaction

In relationship to Tip #1, this could be the big payoff scene. If you mention roses 10 times and never have a rose payoff scene, what was the point? Well, maybe it was the 10 reactions the characters had to the roses. At first, the hero might take private pride in his garden. Then the heroine discovers it and he's embarrassed. He's mean to her (because he's embarrassed) and she snaps back at him (because she's embarrassed she embarrassed him). Then he feels guilty, so he secretly starts making a new kind of rose for her (when she gets it: payoff. But don't forget to have her react!).

Similarly, adding detail for detail's sake is a waste of print (generally speaking). If she notices his cuffs are blue, what difference does it make unless blue is her favorite color, the hero's eyes are that same blue, the blue totally doesn't match the hideous nectarine waistcoat, blue was the color of her father's face when he died, etc. It's not that we don't care for detail at all, but just that we care MORE when we know WHY we should care.

Tip #3: Characters as actors

Yeah, yeah, I wrote a whole blog on this subject. With pictures. But I can't get enough. My characters are actors, plain and simple. I want their body language, what they choose to wear, how they wear it, the patterns in their speech, their favorite poses, to all remind the reader over and over that this is who the character is. If the character is nice to old people, there must be old people in the story. Otherwise, it's backstory -- I have to tell you he has patience with old people. I had to learn this the hard way with If You Asked the Devil to Dance, and I'm still not entirely sure I nailed the hero in that book. I even know why that is: the hero was dealing with a reputation brought on by a perception of him that he didn't have of himself. Because he was already a loner by the time I started the story, he had very few people to show this perception to until the heroine got to know him and she could debunk the myth. Tricky story. I should've gone for something easier (which I totally did in the 2nd book; hence, there's at least 20 people in it to witness the hero's idiocy).

Ok, well I could talk about that subject forever, but I'm already woefully off-schedule. Thanks, B.E., for the opportunity to blather on! We (heart) you, too, MaveFave. (That's going to get my vote, unless someone can do better...)

Oh, and one thing I almost forgot: Though all the Mavens provide complete support and are utter devotedly to each other (and, more importantly: me), and I would consider them all to have provided the same level of encouragment for my writing career, more than anyone else, Maven Erica has come across more writing tips and created more of her own processes that have affected me in hundreds of little ways than any one other person on the planet. So while I love them all equally, Maven Erica gets my vote for Most Bestest Tip Giver Award. *cheers*

Stolen from Darcy, stolen from Carrie, stolen from Erica
YOUR TURN: 10 days into the new year, people! How much have you written so far? A scene? 20 pages? A book? And did you vote for us over at the Preditors & Editors' Readers Choice poll? (Oops, how did that shameless self-promo get in there?!)

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Tip City: Agent Hunting

Maven Darcy BurkeHappy Wednesday Mavenfaves! (Had to try it out. Does it work? Does it?) Once again, I have to give a big shout-out to B.E. Sanderson and the Roar for Powerful Words Award. I'm getting more specific with tips today and want to talk about The Great Agent Hunt.

Tip #1: Research!
There are many ways to conduct research about agents. Do all of the following. Do part of the following. Just, whatever you do, don't do none of the following.

1) Go to Look up agents by genre and make a list. Some you will probably have heard of, others not. Do not just query the ones you've heard of. If the agent or agency has a website, visit it and read everything you can. If the agent or agency has a blog, visit it and read everything you can (I'm not saying you have to read years worth of posts, but at least go back a couple months and skim if you can).

2) Subscribe to Publisher's Marketplace. I can't recommend this highly enough if you're looking for an agent or are agented (or are a pubbed author for that matter). There is no better place to get industry information and find out what's selling right now and who's selling/buying it.

3) Ask other writers. I sent a note out to my RWA chapter when I began querying and asked who people recommend querying with historical romance. I got a tidy list, some of whom were already on my list and others who were not.

4) Compile your research. I built a spreadsheet with each agent, how they accept queries, and their contact information. This spreadsheet has been invaluable as I track responses. And most agents really do respond in their projected timeframe!

Basically, the more information you have about an agent or agency the better you will be able to query them. And I think the time you take to research and educate yourself will absolutely show.

Tip #2: Collect Your Rejections with Pride
I was very excited to get to the querying stage with my writing. It's like getting a promotion. You're ready for the next level! Once I started querying, I was thrilled to get my first, believe it or not, rejection. Every writer has them. Every writer has lots of them. I'm a writer and so I wanted a rejection! Well, I've accumulated a few (and some of them are very, very nice, I'd like to add). If you don't get an offer of representation, a lovely rejection is the next best thing.

Be sure to keep all of them, from the fabulously personal to the form. (You gotta love preprinted cards that apologize for their "formness." Sort of like saying, "Sorry, but I have to punch you in the gut." And then punching you in the gut.)

Tip #3: Know What You Want and Be Persistent
Okay, this is kind of two tips, but I'm going to say they go together. I'm sure you have a dream agent or two, but the likelihood of matching with them isn't all that high. Just remember that it's all about mutual selection. You have to know what you want in an agent. That knowledge will help you in your search, especially when you get an offer of representation. If your dream agent doesn't offer representation, don't despair! You want an agent who wants you and your book as much as you want them. And since we usually don't already know the agents we query, it's the beginning of a sometimes slow but always important dance. From query to request to discussion to representation, it's a time and energy consuming activity, but also quite necessary if you want an agent.

Just remember to keep your chin up. No. Matter. What. It just takes one person to fall in love with your book. It may sound like a needle in a haystack - and it kind of is - but it'll happen. It'll happen.

Bonus Tip: Attend a Regional Conference
My first writing conference was RWA National. I was fortunate to have an agent pitch and then picked up an editor and a second agent pitch while there. Excellent, excellent experience. I like pitching and not just because of the opportunity to meet an agent or editor face to face. It's a great way to gain confidence about your book and get personal contact regarding one of the most consuming things of your life: the book you've agonized writing for however long.

Since the National conference, I've attended two regional conferences and the experience was even more valuable. It's so much easier at a smaller venue to walk up to an agent or editor and talk to them about your book, about the industry, about football if you prefer. That raised my confidence even more and I think made the excercise of querying easier. Sort of like putting a face on the process, which can seem so one-sided. So, if you have an opportunity to go to a regional conference - go, go, go!

Other Writing Blogs
This might be cheating, but I have to recommend the individual Maven blogs (can't call this shameless promotion because I don't have one!). I have collected many nuggets of wisdom and lots of laughs from all of them. If you haven't visited them there, what are you waiting for? The links are on the right side bar.

Now I have to shamefully admit that I don't visit as many blogs as I like and comment even less (lurkerdom suits me, what can I say?). I do love my friend India Carolina's blog, so go read it!

YOUR TURN: Have any agent tips to share? Did you vote for us over at the Preditors & Editors' Readers Choice poll? (See, I can be as shameless as the rest!)

P.S. to Mom and "Dad": Happy 20th Anniversary!

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

More Tips, Hooray!!

Maven Carrie RyanThis week, with a big thanks to B.E. Sanderson and the Roar for Powerful Words Award, we're blogging about writing tips -- three to be exact. How cool is it to be recognized by such cool people?! Thanks y'all (Maveneers, maybe?)! And this is an awesome meme -- I've been thinking all day about writing tips and trying to whittle them down to only three (we all know I like to give advice and we also all know what I think is *most* important changes at whim). Erica's tips from yesterday rocked and I can't wait to see what the other Mavens come up with this week!

Carrie's tip #1 (stolen from Jenny Crusie, I think): Skip the boring parts.

I know that sounds funny, but how many of us have been writing a scene and realize we're describing everything? How many of us write the character leaving the house, locking the door, walking to the driveway, getting in the car, starting the car, adjusting the mirrors, buckling the seat belts, putting the car in reverse, twisting in the seat to look out the back window only to realize it is blurred by condensation, etc etc etc. For those of us who *see* the book in our head, we see all of this. Because we just finished writing a scene at Point A and now we need to write a scene at Point B and so we have to get the character from A to B.

The thing is, unless something really important happens in that car, the reader doesn't care. No one cares. It's boring. Cut it. Stop writing it. Hit the delete key. Every time you sit down to write a scene and think "I really want to write this awesome fight scene, but first I have to lay the groundwork for all this motivation and to do that I need lots of backstory..." stop and think: is this the boring stuff?

Yes, every scene needs set-up and fights need foundations, etc. But at the same time, you want to keep the reader interested (plus, you want to be excited about what you're writing) and so skip the boring. Then, if you need to, go back and layer in everything else.

Carrie's tip #2: Write.

Yes, I know you all think I'm joking - haha. But seriously, how many of us talk about writing? Think about writing? Daydream about writing? Create plot boards, draw diagrams, interview our characters, go to conferences, write blogs and post on other blogs and belong to Yahoo groups.

And yet never write.

All of those things are important and many make us better writers. Many of those things we need. But at the end of the day, if we're not writing, we're not getting anywhere -- we're not reaching our goals. If we want to be writers, we need to actually write.

Again, sounds like such basic advice, but so easy to forget.

Carrie's tip #3: Remember why you write.

Perhaps there's a theme going on here... but my third tip is to remember why you write. Remember that you love it, that it captures you. Remember the writer's high -- that feeling you get when it all goes right and the words pour from your fingers and when you read it weeks and months and years later it still speaks to you (and you think "damn, I'm a writer after all!").

So often, I find myself saying "Garrr, I have to write today," or "Why am I not writing?" or just generally whining about not wanting to write. Finally, I realized one day what I was saying, I listened to these words and the effect they were having on my attitude. I wondered: why am I not coming home excited about the story and saying "Yay! I get to write now! I get to play in this world and wreak havoc on my characters' lives!"

I remember Suzanne Brockman talking a while back about how your thinking impacts your writing and your attitude. She's has tons of great ideas about this stuff, but one of the stories that stuck out to me was that she'd been getting into fights a lot with her teen-age daughter. Every time they were around each other they bickered and fought. And then, one day her daughter walked into the room and before anyone said anything, Suzanne felt this anger towards her daughter rush over her. She realized that by fighting so much, she'd actually trained herself to expect a fight!

Now, think about all the times we say we don't want to write, we say we *have* to write (in a "I don't wanna" way) and think about the impact that has on our attitude. We train ourselves to not want to write!

So remember that you love to write, remember what your goals are and what you need to do to reach them and try to remember that you love writing, you look forward to writing, and writing is a pretty cool/fun/awesome/amazing thing to be doing.

How do you reconcile Tip #2 and Tip #3? Well... that's what we're all trying to figure out :)

More from the interwebs:

Just like it was nearly impossible for me to limit myself to three tips (yes, I could have prattled on forever), I had a terrible time only listing one writer who rocks. But I think for me it has to be Diana Peterfreund -- her blog is an awesome mix of industry knowledge, writing tips, and just the life of a writer. It's the first blog I read regularly after taking up writing again and I don't think think I'd be where I am today without it. I also recommend her archives -- tons of great stuff in there (and inspiring!).

AND, I'm going to steal Erica's sign-off because it's appropriate here :)

YOUR TURN: What are your favorite writing tips? What are your favorite writing sites? Did you vote for us over at the Preditors & Editors' Readers Choice poll? (Oops, how did that shameless self-promo get in there?!)

Friday, January 4, 2008

New Year's Anti-Resolutions

Maven Jacqueline BarbourAs you read this, I shall be wending my way with my family to Yosemite Valley for a long weekend of rest, relaxation, and a little skiing. (I haven't been skiing in at least a dozen years. I think I may have to take my beginner's lessons all over again, but this time, with my kids instead of my kid sister. I expect they'll all be whizzing past me before lunchtime!)

You might have guessed from the title of this post that I'm not much of a resolution-maker. Or perhaps more accurately, I'm not much of a resolution keeper.

The main problem with New Year's Resolutions, in my estimation, is that if it's a good enough idea to resolve to start doing it on January 1, why wouldn't you start doing it on December 31 (or 28 or 15 or whatever)? If you can put it off until January 1, you can put it off indefinitely as far as I'm concerned.

So instead of resolutions, I have anti-resolutions. Things I'd like to not do this year that I did in 2007. In 2008, I will not:

1. Enter a slew of contests.
2. Start manuscripts I can't seem to finish.
3. Put on ten pounds.
4. Come up with another pseudonym.
5. Open my mouth and insert my foot--at least not repeatedly!

YOUR TURN: Do you make New Year's Resolutions? If you do, do you keep them? What five things would you like to do (or not do) differently this year?

Finally, I will be guest-blogging in my Jackie Barbosa guise at The Spiced Tea Party on Wednesday, January 9th. I hope you'll stop by and say hi!

Thursday, January 3, 2008

One for the road

Maven Lacey Kaye

Transcribed from an Actual (Overheard) Conversation:

BOSS MAN: Why didn't you meet your astronomically impossible goal today?

NEW MANAGER: (smiles politely) We tried, we really did.

BOSS MAN: Are you planning to have everyone stay late? Get the job done?

NEW MANAGER: (smiles politely) We'll keep at it while we can. See how far we can get tonight.

BOSS MAN: Tonight, tomorrow, Friday, Saturday -- overtime's available.

NEW MANAGER: (smiles politely) There are a few volunteers.

BOSS MAN: Well, I hope you can find a few more. You can stay all night, work all weekend if you have to. I don't see why you can't complete your impossible goal in the next few days.

NEW MANAGER: (smiles politely)

BOSS MAN: It's your head, you know.

NEW MANAGER: (smiles politely)

BOSS MAN: (to others in room) Will you look at this guy? I can't phase him! Doesn't matter what I say, he's a cool cat. (to new manager) C'mon, tell me. What do I have to say to freak you out?

NEW MANAGER: (continues to smile politely) Boss Man, I'm only doing what the old manager told me to do.

BOSS MAN: Which was what?

NEW MANAGER: "Just keep breathing."

I think it's easy, especially at this time of year, to forget that not everything is *so important* you have to freak out about it. Some things are important, of course. I've heard they sort of frown on you leaving your children at school until 10 o'clock at night. But most of the small things, including our self-imposed goals, are always as manageable as we make them.

And they are also only as manageable as we make them.

Very few elements of the daily grind are worth sacficing our personal well-being. While it's (usually) true there's no pain, no gain, that good things are worth working for (and rarely easy to attain), and that slackers are total losers (my own quote?), it's also true that you can't enjoy the fruits of your labors if you're dead.

Which is why I'm ditching this post to go for a walk. Anyone coming with me?

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

It's January...Already?!

Maven Darcy BurkeAh, January, the month I cross out the year for the first two weeks and then get the hang of it, only to inexplicably forget again in say, April. I’m not going to recap my 2007 goals except to say that I met a lot of them and even some I hadn’t even intended to set (yay lifestyle change that lost me about 15 pounds since September!). I even realized a dream goal (read Carrie’s post from yesterday) by finaling in not one, but three contests. I even took first place in one of them!

I’m also not going to itemize my goals here yet, mostly because I haven’t written them. We had a sleepover party (second annual) at Burke Manor last night with two other families and the adults each recorded at least two resolutions (I did the recording in my writing notebook). One friend wants to employ the word “no” more often (I second that!) and another wanted to take more vacation time. It’s good to stop and smell the roses. I’m having a hard time putting into goals what I’d like to accomplish this year. Hmm, maybe setting my goals should be my short-term goal.

Writing-wise I’d like to finish Beauty and the Bandit (which I am thinking of calling Her Wicked Ways – like it/hate?) by the end of February (and yes, I know February is a short month and that I’m using way too many parentheses in this post!). My dream goal this year is to attain representation and I feel really good about the progress I’ve made (made that goal last year too, w00t!). My biggest short-term goal is to somehow find my writing rhythm. December was a wacky month for me (not just the holidays, but they make it crazy enough), so I’m looking forwarding to getting back in the swing. January 2 always feels like that first day back after a great vacation. Sorta like that early 90s song, “Back to life, back to reality, back to the here and now, today…” I think it’s early 90s. I’d Google it but my Internet is not behaving properly and I’m writing this post Tuesday night on about two and a half hours of sleep.

So how does January 2 make you feel? Full of hope? Full of angst? Or maybe full of something else entirely? Spill! That way you’re not so full. If you’re like most people, it’ll feel good to lose that holiday weight…

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Happy New Year!!!

Maven Carrie RyanHAPPY NEW YEAR!! Holy cow, can you believe that it's 2008? For real!! I still remember my mother packing away bottles of water and cans of tuna in fear of Y2K. Wow, that was 8 whole years ago.

So what have you accomplished in the past 8 years? Next week, I'm going to be talking more about goals -- what mine were for 2007 and what they'll be for 2008. It's easy to set yearly goals, but sometimes we forget that writing is a long term endeavor and sometimes, you have to look past the next year. Sometimes you have to think about where you want to be in five years or in ten years. When I started writing seriously again two years ago, JP and I created the 10 year plan. It's pretty simple: be able to support ourselves with our writing in 10 years (that will be 2016). Now, this isn't a goal that's really in our control -- we can take steps to get us closer to that goal but, like saying you want to get an agent in 2008, there are just some things that are out of your hands and how much money you make writing is one of them.

But I'm not sure that's always a bad thing. Sometimes, I think you have to go ahead and write down those goals that are outside of your control. Recently, I blogged about an author -- I think it was Debbie Macomber -- who suggested everyone should write down those totally out there goals. Things like "I will make the NYT List" or "I will sell X copies of my books." I think you write these down because it's important to dream, and it's even more important to recognize when your dreams come true! For example, last year I wrote down my "Far Out Writing Dreams" and this list included things I never really thought were possible -- at least not any time soon. Things like "sell my book for X figures." Well, guess what? In 2007 I sold my book for X figures. I've met one of my far out writing dreams and it's important to me that I realize this.

So, start daydreaming and planning long term -- it's actually pretty fun :)

I hope everyone had a wonderful and safe New Year's Eve!

Manuscript Mavens

Manuscript Mavens