Unsend, UNSEND!

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Let’s say your current WIP is going to be a best-seller. Let’s say that it’s going to break records, be on every news channel, and have every talk show on Earth lining up to interview you.

Now let’s also say, that it wasn’t ready when you published it. Would you still want it published? Would you want every person on earth to see those flaws? What if, because this book was so succesful, everything you ever wrote after that would be published, but no one would ever help you edit it?

Could you live with knowing that the world was satisfied with less than your very best?

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Writing Buddies

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Every friday night when I lived in California, I would meet up with my best friend at the cafe in Borders, and we would write. We almost never said anything during these visits. We would order coffee, prop our laptops up back to back, and the only noise at our table would be the clicking of keys.

Occasionally, the rythm of noise would be interupted by repeated pauses and backspacing. One of us would look up, and a random (usually bizarre) question would come up.

“If a zombie wanted your brains but only got hold of your hair, would it still try and eat it?”

It was then the job of the person to stop, ponder this serious matter deeply, and respond with a helpful answer. It never occured to us what we were doing might be weird.

When it came time for me to leave California, the first thing I did was unpack my laptop and start searching for a new writing buddy. By any chance, did you know that writing buddies are a rare and precious gift?

I asked everyone I had a nodding aquaintence with if they read, or wrote, or did anything creative. I met one artist, and…and…yeah.

My husband is very supportive of my writing, but his idea of a good day is getting through it without even having to read traffic signs. >.<

Two years I spent searching for a new writing buddy, and talking to my old one on the phone. (It’s not the same.) I joined online communities, I hunted for real ones, and I learned to write alone.

Writing is a lonely profession. Are you lucky enough to have a writing buddy?

Pardon me, is that an adverb in your best-seller?

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I have become a book snob.

When I was a kid, I owned and read over 10,000 books. My library included everything from The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck, to Animorphs. (Read my sad tale on this series next week.) I read so much, I actually won a contest at my school for the most pages read in one week.

Reading was my one and only passion growing up. I would let it fill me, disappear into books, be the characters on the page. Some books I gave away to the library, but only if I thought they were boring. (Emma was not for nine-year-old me. I still haven’t picked it up again and I’m definitely older.) My favorite books stayed on the wall-to-wall shelf in my room. I judged them “best” because when I finished reading them I would heave this huge, happy sigh and want to read it again.

Books that were worth reading again but didn’t make me sigh got placement in my sister’s room or downstairs in the office. (In case you’re wondering, my parents encouraged the habit and provided all the shelving. My moms collection took up the shelves in the kitchen, in her room, and merged with mine in the office. She’s also the one that counted the books when my dad suggested we might have too many.)

About a year before I moved to Washington, I started writing. I became just as passionate about writing as I had been about reading. I read books about writing, (of course!) read articles online about writing, went to workshops, and practiced in every way I could. I think that was what ruined reading for me.

All that writing and research reading took me away from novels. When I finally decided to just relax, I picked up a novel at the bookstore–and I wasn’t swept away. I was informed that the weather my hero was enjoying before he went out and did something happened to be dark and stormy. Woop-de-do. Haven’t heard that one before.

I set the book down, convinced it was just bad luck, and picked up another. This one promised me it was a best-seller. I opened it up, bracing myself for the familiar pull of a novel drawing me in, and got almost two chapters in before spying a research error. Well, two. Well–okay, anyone who has ever taken world history ought to have known how wrong those facts were. >.<

I put the book down, somewhat panicked, and kept trying books. Most of them weren’t that bad, but my internal editor sat on my shoulder the entire time pointing out things I never noticed before. Instead of living the story, I was just reading the words.

I left the store without a book that day, and all I wanted was to go back and try again. What happened? Where did all the good books go? Will I ever read again?

I thought about ending this post with those questions, but it would be doing the publishing world a disservice. In the house I share with my husband, I’ve got precisely 12 books that take me back to the days when I was a kid. The Key Trilogy, by Nora Roberts. The Enchanted Forest series, by Patricia C. Wrede, and The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher. One of these blog posts I will take apart these novels and share why they worked for me.

Anyone else out there a book snob?

Perspectives: Judo

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Despite that line in “Blame It” by Jamie Foxx, Judo is not a kicking sport. Judo practitioners do not wander around smashing their heads through concrete blocks or practice moves that involve hitting something with a big stick. In fact, pretty much all of judo involves smashing an opponent into the mat at high velocities, with a sprinkling of chokes, armlocks, and hold-downs thrown in.

You can find out everything you need to know about the history, what the moves look like, and how tournaments work by doing a little bit of research. Here’s what the research doesn’t tell you:

  • Every dojo teaches the name of the throw being taught in Japanese. This way should you compete in a country not your own, you can still fight. You may not understand anything else, but you will know when the fight stops/starts and whether you won or lost.
  • Yes, that little girl can mop the ground with you, if she’s trained and you’re not. Yes, that blind person can whip you in a fair fight, especially if you try to be nice. Yes, that one-legged guy will drag you to the ground, flip you on your back, and sit on you till the match is over.
  • The easiest move for a beginner to use effectively would be O-Soto-Gari. It essentially involves sticking your leg out behind the legs of your opponent, and giving him/her a good push.
  • While classic movie throws like the Seoi Nage (Shoulder Throw) and Tomo Nage (stomach throw) look cool, beginners don’t always pull them off that well. Typical problems with shoulder throw involve standing up too straight (you have to load them on your back for that spring-board action toss) and for stomach throws, not knowing when to sit down and do it. (Tip: If you fall on your butt and your opponent is still coming down toward you, it’s a good time.)
  • Girls: Short hair and shorter nails are critical for this sport. Your nails will get caught on someone elses shirt and torn off. Your hair will get stepped on.
  • Short people rejoice! This sport is advantageous for you. Your center of balance is naturally lower than everyone elses, making it harder for them to throw you, and easier for you to throw them.
  • One of the three judo maxims translates to, “Mutual Benefit.” Judoka are never against each other in training. A fight is essentially meant to be free form exercise, not trying to kill the hated enemy.  

If your character is a martial artist, doing research on their particular form will help fights seem more realistic. Google and Youtube judo for details on how to perform the motions.

When do details matter?

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Showing vs. Telling is a huge topic in the writing world. No self respecting blog can be considered a writing blog until this has come up in some way. I’ve read these articles till I know the whole subject backwards and forwards, and now I offer my own question. When does it really matter? Here’s a for instance:

“She hated doing laundry.”

“Work pants. Bathroom towels. Under shirts. She folded them all with the self-discipline of a monk. She folded them right out of the dryer, putting each item away as soon as it was folded, and did not hesitate until she was almost done. That was when she came to the part she hated. The jumble of little stuff that needed an impossible amount of sorting, matching, folding and everything else you had to do with laundry. The socks had to be seperated his and hers at the very least. Those wash rags needed rolled up and placed in order of color in the appropriate bathroom drawer.

She hated the order. She hated the little things.”

If I asked you which one was better, that would be too easy. Of course the second one is better. Of course it shows more. It tells us a lot about the laundry lady. We know that for some reason her house is very organized, and she herself is not organized. We know what part of laundry she doesn’t like. We can feel tension even though it’s a quiet moment. There’s a lot packed into this paragraph, even though it’s just laundry.

But did it matter? If the story had nothing to do with laundry, would this still have been a good scene to have?

What do you think?

Dear Coffee, I love you.

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Like most aspiring authors, I do not have a wealthy sponsor to tuck me away in a private villa while I work on my literary masterpieces. Writing must be fit around more mundane tasks, like for example going to work. For the record, I love my job. My boss is fantastic, my co-workers are people I’m willing to hang out with after work, and who wouldn’t love working with puppies all day long? The job isn’t the problem. It’s the whole concept of waking up in order to go to it.

What’s worse is, if I want to write, I have to get up even earlier. My least favorite part of the day? 6AM. My husband compares me to the robot from Wall-E before his batteries are charged. I remain that way until either a cold shower has blasted me into a vague sort of alertness, or I get a cup of coffee.

Guess which option is my favorite.

I’m currently nursing cup number two as I work on this post, and try not to think too hard on chapter three. (I know what needs to happen. I don’t know how to say it.) Coffee gets me going in the morning, and without it my writing would be drastically reduced. What do you do to give your writing a boost?

Query Letters Made Difficult

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I just spent twenty minutes writing a huge comment to this person here trying to help her sort her query letter. Since it’s useful information, and I did promise query letter help, I’m reposting it here. This way, the next time I stumble on an author needing query help, I can just point them to this link!

Writing Your Query in Seven Difficult Steps:

1. Write down what happens in your first chapter, badly.

And I mean it. Just say what happens. Here’s an example of what happens in my first chapter:

Elizabeth is standing there with her binoculars. She is looking at some boys. They are in her guest house.

Yup, all done. Pat yourself on the back.

2. Now sit down with your awful first chapter synopsis, and your first chapter, and start asking questions. In my case, there’s only one real question that comes to mind:“WHY is she looking at the boys.”

You can, if you like, go through the entire book this way, but I like doing one chapter at a time.

Now your synopsis should read something like this:

Elizabeth is standing there with her binoculars. She is looking at some boys. They are in her guest house. She is curious about them because her mother is trying to keep their presence a secret.

3. Now we add layers to this pitch. Make a note to yourself that the secret is probably going to be a good hook. Just write it down as an observation. Make a note about your main character’s personality. What does she have to say?

#@!! people moving into my mom’s guesthouse. I’ll show them!

“Meanie weanie mommmy. Why won’t she tell me what’s going on?”

You get the idea. In my case, Elizabeth Brooke is a bit of a trouble maker. She is, after all, spying right now. I’ll jot that down.

4. Write down the synopsis from your character’s voice.

5. You can even struggle to write it in your own voice, if you like. I’ll watch.

6. Finally you’re going to combine all these things and strap it to your Good Author Writing Skillzz. You know, the ones you left behind in your novel?

Let’s recap what we’re combining:

The Badly Written Synopsis
The List of Answered Questions
The Potential Sales-Pitch
The Character’s Voice
Your Voice (optional)
Your Good Writing Skills

Combine them all and you should get something like this:

Anyone would be curious about a handful of strangers moving in unannounced. Elizabeth Brooke certainly is, especially when her mother does nothing to stop the family making themselves comfortable in their guesthouse.

Since mom’s usual response to trespassers involved a 20-gauge shotgun and rock salt, Elizabeth is sure mom invited them herself. What she isn’t sure about is why Mom wants to keep it a secret.

7. Do this for every chapter, and then cut out anything unnecessary.

Ta-da! A query letter! ^^ Be sure to use third person present tense!

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