Perspectives: Call for Submissions

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I’ve shared the length and breadth of my knowledge (at least what thoughts I’ve got beyond what anyone can research) and now it’s your turn. Tell me something from your knowledge, that can’t be found on a google search.

Post your thoughts in a comment below, or send it to sskid2000 AT hotmail DOT com. I’ll post the responses next week. ^^ Be sure to include a link to your website if you have one, because I like to link back to everyone I mention inside of a post.

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Why Writing?

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Nearly everyone who has ever picked up a pencil, dreams of earning a living writing. Not writing any old thing either. We want to share a story, or our knowledge on a topic, using our own personal voice. (If it was just the action of writing, we’d all be technical writers, where a full time job is not only a reality, but in high demand.)

Why though? Is it the creative release? If it’s just creativity why not something else? Why not expressing our own unique style through painting? Sketches? Making blankets? What is so darn special about writing that everyone wants to not only do it, but do it all the time. Why do people want to write for a living?

For me, writing for a living is a possibility. I’m good enough at writing short stories that between contests and publications, I at one point scraped by on words alone. (Not under this name. Sorry. I got married!) When I moved here, I actually prefered to get a real job and start playing with novels.

I like the process of writing more than anything else. When the process is over, there is nothing more for me in the story. I forget it and move on. When I’m writing a short story, I can finish a short story in as little as two weeks. For me, the process is over too quickly. There’s nothing to pick at anymore, and it takes something from me.

Maybe I’ll make a living at novels, but for now I’m happy the way things are.

You’ve probably been asked why you write. Now I’m asking you. Why writing?

This isn’t the Matrix, and you are not that fast.

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I am a member of several writing related forums online. I love hanging out with other writers, hearing what they have to say, and helping with their work. There really isn’t too much that can make me snort my coffee through my nose, but a request sent to one of my forums did.

A writer, who shall remain anonymous, asked us as a group to help her finish editing her novel, since she’d gotten a request for material from one of the queries she’d sent out before the novel was finished. Yes. Really.

I understand the temptation. I’ve sent out stories I thought were complete, and then realized after a stream of rejections that it was the story that needed work. But to knowingly send out a story that’s half-finished? That’s playing with fire.

Maybe I’m just a really slow editor, but it takes me 4-5 days to go through a chapter at the best of times. A few chapters have taken me as long as 2 weeks. Assuming I’ve got about 20 chapters, that’s 100 days minimum from start to finish. Assume it all goes wrong and you’re looking at almost a year from start to finish, just to complete a new draft. Then I have to put it away long enough to tackle it again with fresh eyes, and make sure there are no flaws. With that in mind, I’ll be lucky to have the first query letters out for Life of a Suburban Unicorn by 2012.

Saying that, I can see why sending queries out early might be tempting, but suppose I sent a query letter out today, and got a reply back next week. Suppose it’s not a rejection. It’s a request for a partial! I send my edited work, and hey–they want a full!

Now I’ve got 10+ chapters I need to edit over night. >_> Can you imagine?

What’s your take on sending queries out early?

I have a writing buddy!!

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I am so glad I married into this family. You have no idea how grateful I am that of all the people I could pick to marry, I picked one with a fabulous mother-in-law. We have always talked to each other about creativity, since she is an artist and I am not. She helped me improve my sketching, and mentioned that she used to write little stories. I encouraged her to work on those stories.

When I told her about my friday nights in California, she offered to write with me here in Washington. Our first writing session was today!

We didn’t go anywhere special. We went to a Safeway store nearby and hung out at the tables next to their deli. We each got ourselves something to drink, settled down with a notebook, and wrote.

I have a confession to make. I did not work on Life of a Suburban Unicorn. I wrote a short story for the first time in two years. It felt real good. I wrote it all the way to the end, expanded on it in a few notes on deepening it, and then closed the notebook with no plans to look at the story again. I’m sure I will some day, but for now it’s okay to leave it where it’s at. In my notebook.

I guess writing that short must have triggered some memories, because I came home write away and started submitting a short story I’ve had hanging around for ages. I take it out and read it sometimes because I love it so much. I change a word or two. I put it away. Now it’s time to send it out there and see if someone else loves it. Cross your fingers.

If it succeeds, it will be my first publication under the name A.M. Kuska, and my first published story in WA. Wish me the best of luck!

How to give a critique

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The truth is, most people don’t handle critiques well. Critical commentary, no matter how helpful, still has a negativity about it that drives people away. Who wants to have a zit pointed out on their face? Or someone mention they could stand to lose a few pounds? Criticism hurts.

This year, as most of you know, I participated in WriteOnCon, a free online writing conference. It was my first writing conference, and I learned a lot from it. One of the features offered on the website, was a chance to submit your first five pages and be critiqued by other authors. I was lucky enough to get critiques phrased for the most part nicely. Others were not so lucky.

I don’t feel the need to point out specifics here, but it was clear that a few of the writers were more interested in rushing through each manuscript pointing out flaws, than in phrasing it in a consructive manner. How do you point out flaws constructively?

Zev started to answer, but Elizabeth cut him off. “I’ve been kidnapped,” she shouted in his face. “Taken to a strange place for a stupid reason I refuse to believe, forced to put up with strangers in my own house, and kept in the dark about everything. I’ve been thrown back and forth between furious and frightend for two entired days and I’ve just had enough.”

“You don’t believe in unicorns?”

“No!”

A small part of her instantly protected the truth of that, but she shoved it firmly back into place. For all she knew, the horn on their front porch wasn’t even a real horn, or else it belonged to any number of exotic animals. It could even belong to a dinosaur.

Zev studied her, tilting his head so that a lock of hair fell over his eyes. “So little of him in you,” he murmured. “Disappointing.”

The above is a raw selection from my work. If I were to critique it, it would look something like this:

Zev started to answer, but Elizabeth cut him off. “I’ve been kidnapped,” she shouted in his face. “Taken to a strange place for a stupid reason I refuse to believe, forced to put up with strangers in my own house, and kept in the dark about everything. I’ve been thrown back and forth between furious and frightend for two entired days and I’ve just had enough.”

It may be confusing who is talking here in the first sentence. It starts with Zev, and then switches over to Elizabeth and her dialog. Consider two paragraphs for clarity. “Furious and frightened” does not sound like natural dialog. Consider revising. Also, ‘just’ could be removed for stronger sentence.

“You don’t believe in unicorns?”

“No!”

A small part of her instantly protected the truth of that, but she shoved it firmly back into place. For all she knew, the horn on their front porch wasn’t even a real horn, or else it belonged to any number of exotic animals. It could even belong to a dinosaur.

Lots of adverbs in here. Consider removing for stronger sentences.

Zev studied her, tilting his head so that a lock of hair fell over his eyes. “So little of him in you,” he murmured. “Disappointing.”

“murmured” could be replaced with stronger descriptions to create the same feel. Descriptive dialog tags tend to be crutch words.

Notice there is nothing positive in that at all. I’m just skimming through picking out what’s wrong. The problem with this is, not too many people are going to take it well. Their mind will close off in self defense, and they’ll shut it away thinking, “That can’t be right!” because it hurts. A few people may be willing to pick out the advice, but what’s the point of helping with a piece if 90% of the population is going to ignore the advice? Let’s try it again, but with positive statements added in.

Zev started to answer, but Elizabeth cut him off. “I’ve been kidnapped,” she shouted in his face. “Taken to a strange place for a stupid reason I refuse to believe, forced to put up with strangers in my own house, and kept in the dark about everything. I’ve been thrown back and forth between furious and frightend for two entired days and I’ve just had enough.”

“You don’t believe in unicorns?”

“No!”

A small part of her instantly protected the truth of that, but she shoved it firmly back into place. For all she knew, the horn on their front porch wasn’t even a real horn, or else it belonged to any number of exotic animals. It could even belong to a dinosaur.

Zev studied her, tilting his head so that a lock of hair fell over his eyes. “So little of him in you,” he murmured. “Disappointing.”

The above is a raw selection from my work. If I were to critique it, it would look something like this:

Zev started to answer, but Elizabeth cut him off. “I’ve been kidnapped,” she shouted in his face. “Taken to a strange place for a stupid reason I refuse to believe, forced to put up with strangers in my own house, and kept in the dark about everything. I’ve been thrown back and forth between furious and frightend for two entired days and I’ve just had enough.”

This is a very powerful moment in the story. It’s good to see her behaving true to herself. It starts with Zev, and then switches over to Elizabeth and her dialog. Consider two paragraphs for clarity. “Furious and frightened” does not sound like natural dialog. Consider revising. Also, ‘just’ could be removed for stronger sentence. I do like how the strength of her personality carries through to the very end of the sentence.

“You don’t believe in unicorns?”

“No!”

A small part of her instantly protected the truth of that, but she shoved it firmly back into place. For all she knew, the horn on their front porch wasn’t even a real horn, or else it belonged to any number of exotic animals. It could even belong to a dinosaur.

Good internal monogue here. We can see what she’s thinking very well. Replacing the adverbs with stronger sentences may help bring us closer to her internal thoughts.

Zev studied her, tilting his head so that a lock of hair fell over his eyes. “So little of him in you,” he murmured. “Disappointing.”

I love the visual of Zev’s hair falling over his eyes. “Murmured” could be replaced with stronger descriptions to create the same feel, and heighten the whole paragraph to that level.

See the difference? Surrounding the negative with the positive really helps make it easier to accept the bad parts. What’s your secret for constructive criticism?

The odds of publication…

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Today i spent my early morning procrastination watching this youtube video, in which Lev decides to write a book. I laughed, because I understand the problem he stumbled across, but it also made me think.

Are the odds of publication really that bad? (Yeah I know, the movie has nothing to do with publication and everything to do with writer’s block, but that’s what it got me thinking on. So there!)

We all read articles about rejection, but let’s take a minute and really think this over. Out of 7 billion people on the planet, about 7 billion have a story they want to tell. That’s a lot of competition, right? Maybe. Except for the fact that 25% of them are illiterate.

Whew! Just by the fact that you’re reading this, you’ve already managed to erase over a billion people from the publication race. Not bad eh?

Bur A.M. Kuska! I hear you cry, what about the remaining 5.25 billion people who can read? Well ask yourself this. How many of those 5 billion will ever pick up a pencil? How many will complete a rough draft? How many will submit to a critique circle? How many will admit their rough draft is somewhat less than perfect and rewrite? How many people actually send their manuscript out at all? Send it again when it’s rejected?

*crickets chirp*

I thought so. Even if we say an agent receives 100,000 query letters every year, it’s probably safe to assume some of those are badly formatted. Some were poorly worded. (Sorta like “The Family” from earlier, but less cool.) I’m sure one or two were addressed to Mrs. Bob, and some are rejected because their YA novel is 300,000 words long. When you cut out all these things…the odds start looking good.

The reality is, there aren’t enough manuscripts out there with good writing, good plot, and good editing. ^^ Yay!

Seriously though, while we can’t track these things, we do know that there are very few agents closed to submissions, which means there are still gaps to be filled.

Author Update

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I’m finally getting somewhere in my novel. Maybe I’ve passed the hard part. Maybe I’ve hit my groove. Whatever it is, I was able to swarm through several chapters today with little effort at all. Whole scenes got filled in. I felt amazing while I was working on it, loving each word, and at the same time I felt sad because it can’t always be like this.

How do you feel when you hit a good patch while writing?

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