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?

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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The first third of my novel is officially FINISHED!!! I have edited and corrected and perfected all the way up to Elizabeth’s discovery of unicorns. I even managed to get just a little bit farther! The meeting of Joseph Thunderhead can finally be written! WOOOO!!!!

Now she’s still bopping back and forth on whether she believes in unicorns 100%, but that won’t come until she actually sees a single-horned beast standing before her. That’ll be about mid-book. ^^

The middle of the book consists of her stay in a unicorn boot camp, and should be fun and exciting to write. I’m hoping for smooth sailing from here on out!

Must…Resist….

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Work on my story has come to an absolute stand still. All my usual tricks for getting through a difficult scene have failed me, and I find myself writing this blog post just to avoid working on it. (How’s that for procrastination?)

Don’t let procrastination fool you though. It’s not as if I don’t try. I open up my WIP every morning and evening without fail, and scroll straight to that difficult scene. I stare at it, scratch my head, and wait for inspiration. Nothing. I get out a notebook, and start asking questions about the scene. Nothing. I go back to the scene before, and check to see if maybe I got off track. Still nothing.

This is usually the point where I call up my muse, and have a rather long discussion with her about The Issue. We’re not calling it writer’s block. I never have writer’s block.

“I can’t figure out this scene,” I complain as soon as she appears in a sprinkle of fairy dust and the obligary tinkle of bells. “Elizabeth is supposed to meet a unicorn who ‘discovers’ her. She can’t do that with her mom right there. Can she?”

“I’m bored of this story,” my muse says, flopping down on the chair next to me. “I’ve got this new idea. I’m going to call it, Confessions of an Alchoholic Werewolf.”

I try not to look interested, but come on, what isn’t better than working on a difficult scene?

“He works in a dog grooming shop, cause thats the only work he can get. He starts hearing rumors of werewolves moving into his territory, a known peace zone. He’s got to stop them, but without being discovered. He–”

“I do enough dog grooming at work. I don’t want to write a story about it.”

My muse bats her eyes, all innocent. “It’s not about dog grooming. It’s about werewolves.”

I get the drift, but I’m not backing down. “I’ll type up everything you say and put it in my idea box, but only if you help me with this scene.”

My muse just smiles. “You’ll type it up anyway,” she says, and disappears in a poof of smoke.

You see what I have to put up with? I’ve written the outlines for three new story lines and stuffed them in my “hold” box. I’ve gotten no help on my real story at all.

But an alchoholic werewolf would make an interesting character, don’t you think?

Hmmm…

Author Update

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 If Life of a Suburban Unicorn was a short story, I’d put it away for a few years and not look at it until I couldn’t even remember writing it.

I’m so freaking bored of this manuscript, and I don’t want to write on it anymore. I’ve made it all the way to chapter five in my edits, and I want to throw up every time I look at the endless see of rough words ahead of me. It’s not that I don’t love my manuscript. I do. It’s not that I don’t love writing. I do. But for the past three days all I’ve done is write and work at the real job. I don’t want to do it anymore. I want something new, something fresh, something entertaining.

Someone rescue me from this world I’ve trapped myself in. x.x

Frequent Writer Miles?

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My husband frequently complains about the fact that I can’t seem to write in one single place. I sit at the desk he set up for me (and even put a little plaque up with my name on it!) and write until I get stuck. Then I lay on the floor, or the couch, or the bed, and write in a notebook until it’s fixed. Then I go back to the computer, or to my laptop, or out to Starbucks, and repeat the same cycle again.

It’s not that I don’t want to occupy the same location for the rest of my writing career, but a lot of times I can’t move through a certain scene without physically moving myself. Switching locations (not to mention mediums) is usually enough to keep me writing. If I didn’t, I’d probably fill up more time bashing my head on my desk than actually writing.

Anyone else like that?

Author Update

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I am officially one third of the way through my almost-final edit of my novel, Life of a Suburban Unicorn. Chapter five is about to culminate with Elizabeth discovering the truth about unicorns, and I find myself continously rewriting it. The problem? I’m trying to deal with uni-corny-ness.

Mention the word unicorn anywhere about anything and your credibility automatically goes down a peg or two. I know the second the word “unicorn” pops up in my story people are going to start thinking of Zev as a poofy white creature with a rainbow tail.

I need edgy. I need wild. I need you to take me seriously, dang it!

Are you propositioning me?

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The problem with query letters, is that they are way too transparent. An agent can look straight through your query letter into the inner workings of your novel and see everything wrong with it. Don’t believe me? Check out this interesting experiment by Nathan Bransford. He gave his readers the chance to sort through their own mini slush pile. The result? You write about as good in your query letter as you do in your novel. Really.

Yeah, I clapped my hands over my ears and ran screaming in the other direction too. Then I did what every other writer should do. I came back and tried to see how I could use this to my advantage. That’s how I found out you can use your own query letter to find flaws in your book, without using a critique circle!

(Disclaimer: You should still use a critique circle for optimum error protection. Don’t have one? Now you do.)

To do this, simply go through every chapter in your book, and write down each major action that happens. Don’t explain why it happens. Don’t try to make it sound good. Don’t do anything but note what your character does. I started listing these actions in a summery I wrote of my novel. You can read it here:

Elizabeth Brooke is angry because her mother is keeping a secret from her. A secret that forces her to move out of the main house and allow complete strangers to take over. Jerks.

A little investigating into the situation, and Elizabeth finds out her mother’s secret. The family they have taken under their wing claim to be unicorns hiding in human form from unicorn hunters, whom they refer to as the Lion Team.

Yeah I know, stop sniggering. Elizabeth doesn’t believe it either, at least not until she accidentally triggers a full scale war on her mother’s turf. Instead of siding with her own daughter, mom chooses to banish Elizabeth to her Aunt Deb’s house on the other side of the state.

Wonderful.

Salvation occurs in the form of Joseph Thunderhead, a man who promises to teach her how to unlock her own unicorn powers, if she leaves with him, no questions asked. Remember that scene in Phantom of the Opera where Christine sleepwalks into the clutches of the phantom? We can only assume that’s what’s going on here, because that’s exactly what she does.

>.<

Knownst to everyone else, but evidently not knownst to Bella…I mean Elizabeth…Getting into the car with a complete stranger in order to enter the modern day fortress of doom is NOT a good idea. She does learn how to become a unicorn. She also learns that she is no more than a slave, and that escape is impossible.

Okay, you’ve read enough of the literary vomit I spat onto a page before deciding I needed to fix my novel. To prove to you that I am capable of stringing a decent set of words together, here is the rewritten summery based on my edited chapters:

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.

 That’s all for today! Happy writing!

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?

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?