Tag Archives: writers

Writers Wednesday: A Query a Day (Keeps the Crazy Away)

Book draft done? Check.

Bank account empty? Check.

Want a publishing contract? You bet I do. I need the check!

It’s time to start querying agents, which I’ve been doing all week. If you caught Monday’s post, you already know I’m shopping a children’s picture book around. I can’t draw my way out of a Pictionary box, so of course that means anyone who buys this book is also going to have to get an illustrator involved to help move my stick-figure-impaired behind along.

That’s the bad news. This won’t be a fast process, and I’m not going to get paid tomorrow. Or, as it turns out, the next day or the next day or the next day. I’ve heard it could be years before I see any green stuff. Better not rest on my laurels, such as they are. (Such as they are being my niece’s excited response to the little plot twist at the end, followed by a not-irrelevant inquiry regarding the addition of still more animals to her imaginary future menagerie.)

The worse news, of course, would be if I didn’t manage to sell it at all. Luckily for me, and other sales-averse, people-averse, poverty-averse writers out there, it turns out that we can hire somebody to do that. Cue rainbows, expensive dancing unicorn coffees, and baskets of puppies.

These magical, glorious people are called literary agents, and they live far, far away in towers guarded by dragons and evil queens who don’t want us to hire them. That’s what I’ve gathered, at least, because they don’t seem to be a talkative bunch, and there’s a gazillion other writers out on ye olde world of the webs confirming that jumping on the next hot author commodity (me, duh) and showering her with champagne and gold and glitter is somehow not the only item on their lengthy to-do lists. It might even–gasp–not be the topmost entry. Say it ain’t so.

Literary agents are mystical beings who live far, far away in towers guarded by dragons and evil queens who don’t want us to hire them.

A fair bit of snooping led me to at least one clue to harnessing their magic, however. It’s called a query. Since there are a kajillion posts already out there on writing query letters, and I’m bored just thinking about it, I don’t feel like writing another one right now. Go here and here and here and you’ll get the idea. Just remember query and

agent and magical unicorn salespeople.

I’m keeping the query process manageable by spacing them out. One a day, two max. That leaves me the rest of my day to write, haha, I mean chase toddlers and beg them to eat their cereal instead of chucking bowls at my dog. More to the point, it gives me opportunities to review and revise my query letter several times a week, increasing the likelihood that I’ll remember to actually target the right person and do this cool thing called “following submission guidelines.”

Happy submitting! I’m off to chase more unicorns.


Writers Wednesday: A Media Call to Action


Freedom of the press has been attacked from all sides this week. By the public. By a glorified public relations rep. By the newly minted President of the United States of America.

I’m angry, and, like many others in my profession, I’m reeling both from the audacity and the vitriol. Make no mistake. Americans would not have the president they do today without the so-called “lying media” he’s doing his best to discredit. We kept his name and his messages at the forefront of conversation for months on end. We played right into his hands, and we helped put that person in that office.

Press freedom is writing freedom.

Collectively, we all did it. No, I haven’t been a beat reporter in years, but journalism is still my field. It is my heartbeat. These are my people. This is my world. And if we don’t all push back hard, now, it will be torn apart right in front of us.

Press freedom is writing freedom.

It’s intellectual freedom.

It’s dissenting freedom.

Where did we go wrong? Was it the campaign? No, it started much earlier than that.

When we turned to social media to find quick stories instead of going out and finding real people and issues on our beats, we alienated readers.

When we emphasized perceptions of fairness and equality of coverage time over facts, we invited the public to do the same.

When we began pandering to viewers with “viral video of the day” segments and harping ad nauseam about insignificant things somebody famous said, we cluttered the airwaves with meaningless chatter.

We fed the beast, all right. We stuffed it with as much cheap junk as we could possibly find. We shouldn’t be surprised that it’s grown into a raging monster.

The only thing we can do to weaken it now is cut off its diet, and that requires a return to reporting basics:

Is it true?
Is it impactful?
Is it relevant?
Is it prominent?
Is it timely?

It’s time to stop mindlessly parroting everything a famous person chooses to say online, time to stop jumping in with calls for the ax to fall every time someone misspeaks, time to stop rushing to publish “scoops” that aren’t.

It’s time to go outside.

It’s time to talk to human beings.

It’s time to point out when things aren’t adding up.

The president and his fellow politicians can yell all they want to on Twitter.

We don’t have to keep listening.


Weekend Ramblings: Back to the Drawing Board


How do we respond to this election, writers? Do we embrace escapism, or dive down the rabbit hole? 

Photo credit: Smath. via Visualhunt.com / CC BY



We’ve been off for two weeks, in part due to travel and illness interrupting my regular schedule, and in part due to the insanity that was the American election last Tuesday. Getting anything productive done on the writing front has been all but impossible; instead, I’ve been venting my frustration and purging the germs with Christmas shopping and cleaning fits. Multiple rooms in my home are now freshly rearranged, scrubbed, or filled with holiday miscellany. Yet the mental turmoil continues.

Since we’re hosting a foreign student this fall, the election and its implications for the rest of the world have been top of mind in our home. After all, it was not only we Americans who watched another spot on the televised map light up in red every few minutes on Election Night, but also our counterparts across the pond. The subsequent conversations among my parent and minority friends have all been variations of the same theme: What does this outcome say about our country, and what do we tell our children?

To tell a story authentically, we must endeavor to understand those who are not like us.

Perhaps the events of the past week have jerked your writing, like mine, to a standstill and tossed your concentration out the window. Perhaps, too, you were focused on telling stories about a particular part of the world–one whose inhabitants you are now struggling to respect. Is your exhaustion from the election–be it result or violent protest–sapping your creativity? Worse, is it causing you to second-guess everything you’ve been working on?

It has for me. I am, quite literally, back at the drawing board this week, sketching out new story ideas. How do I write sympathetically and objectively about people I’m fighting not to hold in contempt? How do I work with a character whose interests and abilities are so fundamentally different from my own?

For some of my friends, the response has been to channel those emotions into art. Recording themselves singing their favorite songs. Drawing cartoons. Writing poetry. Chaining themselves to their computers for NaNoWriMo. For others, it has been more of an existential crisis: We’re questioning everything we’ve created.

The election did not cause this. It only highlighted an existing artistic conundrum. To tell a story authentically, we must endeavor to understand not only those who are like us, in thought, ability and action, but also, and more significantly, those who are not.

Right now, I do not understand. And so, the story waits.

It waits as I wrestle through the media overstimulation. It waits while I listen to friends and family as they vent. It waits during the afternoons when I find new things to scrub and throw away, in vain hopes of clearing my mind as well as my environment. It waits while I browse Pinterest in search of anything pretty or happy or beautiful to take my mind off the growing pains of this horribly divided nation.

It waits because for writers and creatives, this is a pivotal moment. Do we turn to light, escapist pieces? Or do we go down the rabbit hole?


Writers Wednesday: Crossing Genre Boundaries


It happens to the best of us.

Your story is coming along swimmingly, until suddenly it isn’t. You’ve just realized that thriller you’ve been working on is morphing into a cozy. Or perhaps your fantasy novel is skewing toward sci-fi. Is your dramatic tale of forbidden love devolving into light chick lit?

Don’t panic. WRITE.

Go back to your hook.

Summarize your story in one sentence. A string of popular genres doesn’t count. “It’s an epic mysterious science fiction fantasy about baby dragons.” If what you’ve written looks anything like that, it’s time to go back to the drawing board. While your story can successfully draw elements from multiple genres, or simply not fit well into a known sales market, you should be able to identify the core premise of your work.

For example, the hook for Westworld might read as follows: “An android living in a theme park struggles with her newfound ability to remember abuses by humans.” The story incorporates setting details from classic Westerns, but it originates from a science fiction writer.

Identify the problem.

Does what you’ve written match your hook? Reread your story in order to pinpoint where things started going off track. Was it the introduction of a new character? A character’s decision or action? A change of language or slip in point of view?

Once you’ve confirmed what caused the story to shift, you can examine it further. Why did you write that section to begin with? What were you trying to accomplish? How was this character or that event supposed to advance the storyline?

Try another perspective.

Perhaps you didn’t set out to write this kind of story. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a mistake. Play around with characters and scenes. Could the story be better this way?

Make a command decision.

I ran into this earlier in the week, when I realized the story I’d been drafting was turning into a much lighter read and properly belonged in a different genre than originally anticipated. The problem turned out to be my protagonist. The character doesn’t work for the role I need to fill. So, I can either keep my protagonist as is and push forward with the lighter tone and a new genre, or I can make fundamental changes to the character. It’s my call, of course, but it’s one that I do have to make in order to progress.

Have you had to round up stray storylines?

Writers Wednesday: Piles and Piles of Files and Files

An unexpected call came in earlier this week, sending me into frantic office cleanup mode. I tend to do two major sessions of office purging and reorganization each year, one in the fall as I catch up on summer work and get ready for year-end paperwork, and a second in the spring after all the tax jumble is ready to put to bed. It’s slightly early for the former still, but since I have a last-minute auditor coming first thing in the morning (along with the fellow who hasn’t finished making messes in my house), I’m chalking this one up to getting more prepared for year-end craziness. It’s nice to get things slightly more under control before the holiday insanity drives me to distraction.

As a college student, I spent a couple semesters working in my campus legal office, where two of my primary duties were copying reference and course materials, and following my boss around, pulling out staples from his messy stacks of papers and refiling everything. There was a bit of a friendly war going on, as the paralegal I answered to preferred everything to be neatly arranged, in reverse chronological order, and alphabetized, and my boss was a topical organizer, meaning that items relevant to a specific topic got chucked into a file of that name at random. Their truce of sorts mostly involved me spending a lot of time on student and client files and staying out of his personal office drawers until the rest of the office staff decided they couldn’t wait any longer to send me in there with a staple puller and a shredder bin.

In short, I am now very, very good at organizing a file drawer, and the system I now use seems to be something of an amalgamation of the two. I like things to be alphabetical in theory, but in practice, I tend to organize by topic. I have colored files, and a highly accurate ability to recall which color folder a given client or project’s file is in, and what the label will say, but I don’t typically “color code.” I like to break things up in the drawers visually instead of having rows of the same color. By nature, I am much more like my old boss. I’m not the neatest person you’ll ever meet, but at least my husband and most of my family have cut back on the biohazard jokes.

Whether you’re a born neatnik or a walking Pigpen,however, if you do any serious amount of contracting work or home office work, you’re going to generate a lot of paper. All that paper has to go somewhere, particularly since the government says you can’t get rid of some of it for a few years. And while I’m a big fan of digital storage, I still believe in maintaining backup copies. (I prefer to have backups of my backups of my backups, but that’s another story.)

If you work from home, you need a designated office space. Although there are a lot of things you can do to create a functional home office on the cheap, there is one purchase you shouldn’t skip. You need a file cabinet.

They don’t have to be expensive. You might be able to get by with expandable accordion files for a little while. You might find a storage bench or crate or some other unusual object to hold your papers. A banker’s box or a Rubbermaid bin might do the trick, short term. For long-term storage, however, you will need to come up with something that can hold a good deal of paper while keeping bugs, mice, and water out. I once found a standard metal cabinet used for $25, but I also like large, lidded plastic tubs, as long as they’re in a secure location.

How do you tackle your storage problems?