My 5 fears (and me ripping myself to shreds)

This post is my chance to say the things I need to hear. I am not insane — although it is possible I have issues that need resolving. This is my experiment to share my writer fears and gather other writers’ fears so we can bask in the ridiculous things we think/say in our quest for publication.

FEAR: 1. Your manuscript isn’t good enough.

ANSWER: Of course it isn’t good enough now. But it will be eventually. The more time you spend putting yourself down the longer you’ll waste having to pick yourself up in order to be in the right mind-frame to write.

The easy solution? Quit being dramatic and write. And re-write. That’s the only way your manuscript will improve.

Almost … al-al-mo … nope. *hope dies*

2. You’ll never make it. Why do you try?

You’ll make it one day, Bec. Seriously, if you query 101 agents, one or some may say yes. If not, try the biggest publishers first that accept unsolicited submissions. Next, try the mi-list ones if you think they can do a better job at selling than you can.

Finally, you have this little, tiny blog-thing called NOVEL GIRL. And a Twitter page. And a Facebook page. You may find that two or three readers will support you.

Thanks Mum, Nanna, and Rachelle Ayala by the way ;)

3. I will break Darcie Chan’s record of 100+ agent rejections.

This is possible. I won’t sugar coat it. But Bec, didn’t you read that Kimberley Derting received a manuscript request THREE hours after she sent an email?

God! Stop being pessimistic.

Remember that Lauren Kate, #1 NYT bestselling author, received 100+ rejections before she was published. She told you this when she signed a copy of her novel for you at Target.

Kathryn Stockett gave querying one last try with #61. Only then did she receive a “yes”.

I guess what I’m trying to tell you is that this could be something you can wave around at agents, publishers and readers in the future. Something like “I received 200 rejections and now my novel has sold one million copies!” See? You can dream, Bec.

4. You’ll embarrass yourself by publishing your manuscript; there’ll always be holes and errors.

A photo of a REAL sign I took at my local, giant supermarket chain store, Coles.

Come on. You’re really going to be that ridiculous? Every book has errors! I’m talking typos (remember that cooking book that printed “black people” instead of “black pepper” and the print run had to be pulped?) as well as plot issues.

No one is immune. It happens to bestsellers as well as the books that go unnoticed. The trick is to dissect and re-write your manuscript to the best of your ability and that’s all you or anyone can ask for.

As a side note, please know I wouldn’t have answered your stupid questions if I realised earlier you were going to be this ridiculously look-at-me-I’m-a-depressed-writer.

5. Quit your fantasy and spend your time doing something constructive (money earning).

Okay, before I scream at you think about what you just said … go on, think.

“Quit” …?

You silly girl! You would have quit on day two if you didn’t want to do this. Not after you’ve spent 1 year and 9 months on your WIP novel, not after you enrolled in Certificate IV in Professional Writing and Editing at Box Hill Institute to improve your craft, not after finding a few critique partners to pick out issues in your manuscript, not after you re-wrote your WIP novel 10 times … urgh! I could go on forever.

Quitting isn’t possible. Okay, maybe it is. Sure, not breathing and not eating ever again are possible too but you wouldn’t survive long.

Come on, now. You were born to be a writer. That urge doesn’t go away. You’ll only satisfy it once you’re published.

Even then, the desire will grow and continue to grow.

♥♥♥

Thank you for listening to my spiel. I find my family and writing friends are too kind to me. The only one who was going to give myself that kind of slap-back-in-line was me.

For interested readers, that was the censored version. Please visit me at ## Xxxxx Avenue Xxxxxx ####, Victoria, Australia to see my diary entry — which is uncensored in all its glory.

As usual the mic is over to you. Comment with your writer fear then annihilate yourself for your dramatic/irrational/embarrassing fears.

Art of Writing 1: Swapping character voices & publishing paths

How do I change from one character’s voice to another?

There are different ways to do this if, say, you are starting a new section or chapter. Here’s an example of how it is done in a bestseller. It’s from that book I’ve raved about, The Help:

Aibileen: “And I know she ain’t saying what she want a say either and it’s a strange thing happening here cause nobody saying nothing and we still managing to have us a conversation.”

To …

Miss Skeeter: “I drive my mama’s Cadillac fast on the gravel road, headed home.”

Anyone who has read a couple of chapters led by these women’s narrations would instantly pick up who was speaking if I quoted those sentences without any tags.

I be sayin' what me want

Why? Because the use of syntax and diction varies so distinctly, that their styles of narrating is identifiable. Miss Skeeter’s social status impacts on her voice so she doesn’t string together incorrect word formations. Such difference between Aibileen’s voice to Miss Skeeter is “we still managing to have us a conversation”. Miss Skeeter would say, “we [are] still managing to have [ourselves] a conversation.”

Kathryn Stockett also uses headings under new chapters when she rotates between characters. The new chapter alternating from Aibileen to Miss Skeeter would look like this:

MISS SKEETER

CHAPTER 8

This is a good way of indicating to readers that you are changing narrators. However, clear-cut chapter changes aren’t always where swaps occur. Line/Section breaks are other types.

One suggestion I have for both is to ensure the Point of View (POV) character is placed early in the first, or at least, the second sentence.

DO: Rebecca likes character names early on.

DON’T: It was the order that was the most annoying. I mean, the reader doesn’t even know who’s talking. Is it that tall man, that middle-aged mother, or that writer-girl, Rebecca? That’s what annoyed Rebecca the most.

Okay, so that was extreme, but I’m sure all of you have read that type of construction before. When you put your writer’s goggles on, little choices like these are easy to pick up, but have profound effects on reading ease.

Let’s re-cap:

  • DO put the POV character’s name under or above the new chapter heading.
  • DO ensure the POV character appears early in the first sentence.
  • DO use variations between your characters’ syntax and diction to distinguish narrator’s voices.

What are paths to get published?

Anthologies, writing competitions, e-publishing, and blogging are good ways to start your publishing credits. Let’s break that down.

Submitting to anthologies — a number of authors collaborating writing in one book — is a viable option for previously unpublished authors (my first published short story is coming in the form of my TAFE anthology this December). Working with an editor on my story allowed me to see what it was like preparing for publicationNot to mention how damn good it’s going to feel holding a published book in my hands that I feature in.

Writing competitions are other ways to get noticed. It’s not just budding writers that are keen to have their writing published. People in the publishing industry notice too (so no telling tales about how fantastic you are if it isn’t true).

For every twenty pieces you enter, one might be published. This credit on your writing resume can mean that people who publish short story or poetry collections could want your work. It’s also something that’ll catch an agent or publisher’s eye on your query letter. ;)

E-publishing can be the cheapest, most effective way of building your writing career. But if you are worried about publishing an 80,000-word novel for free on Amazon or Smashwords, for example, try one or two of your short stories. People love freebies. This way, you’ve still retained your treasured novel for later — when people are impressed by your writing and word has gone around about you. More on the latter soon.

Letting your readers taste your writing allows them to decide on if they can trust you. Then they might tell their friends that they’ve found an author who has this amazing little story. They might even say that they’re keen to try more of what this author has because, hey!, it’s free and it’s actually really good.

What you publish next (maybe a collection of short stories at the $0.99 threshold so you can earn a bit of dosh) might be an anchor if your first story didn’t win your reader.

Once you feel that you’ve received enough reviews from people that they are asking for more, you might want to try e-publishing your novel or querying traditional publishers.

Reach your audience

But back to blogging. Blogging is almost a must in today’s climate. I know some people will scoff at that claim, but as an unpublished author it’s a free and effective way of forming a target audience and gaining their trust. Regular blogging proves to readers, other published authors, and agents that you have the work ethic, writing talent and audience to be a big hit (and make whomever publishes your work a good fortune).

Involve yourself in discussions with your favourite author or someone you know who’s publishing a book. Don’t use this opportunity to sell yourself, but through helping them or just chatting, you might learn the best publishing tip that money can’t buy — there’s nothing better than advice from someone in your dream position.

A re-cap:

  • Submit your writing to anthologies.
  • Gain attention, and credit, by submitting your writing to competitions.
  • Publish a free piece of your writing on Amazon to gain a following.
  • Create a blog (and other social media accounts) to interest fellow writers, readers and even people in the publishing industry,

Further links:

I hoped this helped! But, please, tell me if there’s something different you’re interested in. I’ll be breaking up these sessions with other types of posts, so you’ll have plenty of time.

Readers, I welcome you to please leave your comments for the next Art of Writing session below. Thank you.

Perfect your writing voice — Kathryn Stockett and other helpful hints

If there’s ever a book to scout for tips on perfecting your voice as an author, it’s The Help, by Kathryn Stockett. I’ll start by quoting a sentence from her website on how she uses voice in this book:

“In pitch-perfect voices, Kathryn Stockett creates three extraordinary women …”

Cover of The Help

What I find extraordinary is how these three women referred to are two black women and one white. In fact, Kathryn is a master at three personalities, not just differentiating societal differences. Aibileen is ‘the help’ and a gentle woman. Minny is also ‘the help’ and an outspoken woman. Skeeter is a university graduate and a naïve twenty-three-year-old.

I’m only a third of the way through the book so far but she’s fleshed out these three women so well that they are three-dimensional. The voices of the two black women feel like you, as the reader, are hearing true stories — opposed to a fictional story.

What I love best about Aibileen and Minny, however, is that they sound different from one another.

Minny constantly reminds herself that she needs to clamp her colourful mouth, and her narration certainly shows us even more. Aibileen is like that sweet grandmother who never complains about a thing despite hardships. Skeeter is a white daughter from a family similar to those that Minny and Aibileen tend to. As a reader, we are shocked by just how naïve she is towards the depth of the racism that occurs.

Here is a quote from Kathryn on writing The Help: “… I don’t presume to think that I know what it really felt like to be a black woman in Mississippi, especially the 1960s. I don’t think it is something any white woman … could ever truly understand. But trying to understand is vital to our humanity.”

I know I’ve struggled with voice. But what is it?

Voice is the writing style of an author. It is how they combine small-scale choices such as syntax and diction with big-picture aspects such as characterisation and plot development. As an amateur author, it’s one of the hardest aspects of what we do. After all, agents and editors often say that voice is one of the first things they look for when they read the first line, the first page, of a manuscript.

Before I list some tips, I want you to realise that developing your writing voice should occur mostly in subsequent drafts following your first. Let that first draft pour out of you. Then when you’re ready, go back. So, let me breakdown what makes voice stand out, how you can shape your own writing:

  • Read widely. You’ll notice this is a favourite of mine. Read some classics (Wuthering Heights, for example), then read an author who creates prose that has a lyrical feel to it (Shiver, by Maggie Stiefvater) and a faced-paced, action thriller (James Patterson). Note to yourself what you love best. And, continue reading. Read cross-genre so you can see how they alter writing style.
  • Analyse part of your favourite book. Pick your favourite book (I know, I know, you have fifteen favourites and another fifteen close seconds), then take 200 words from a section that stumps you. I’m talking about two aspects. One, you think, ‘I could never create something this great,’ and two, you then recover from exhilaration and decide you want to use this as inspiration. This piece you pick should convey what you love best about writing. Either photocopy this section or hand-type it into Microsoft Word. Then, pin it above where you regularly write. When you become stuck and feel like one more thing is missing even though you’ve eliminated, added and replaced any errors, look over your posted excerpt and listen to how it sounds as you read it aloud.
  • Analyse part of your writing that flows and captures what you want. When it comes to doing your own writing, don’t try to copy your favourite authors in a smoosh-style attempt. Instead, be conscious of your own features like word choices (Anglo-Saxon: lean; Latinate: incline), sentence structure (fragment, simple, compound, complex, compound-complex), and the use of strong verbs/nouns vs. adjectives and adverbs. Also be aware of the tone of how your characters say what they do in dialogue. Read your writing aloud. How does it feel when you read it? What are you impressed by, but more importantly, what disgusts you? Read over your work as if you were a friend commenting on what you’ve done.
  • Take breaks between drafting/revising to gain perspective. There’s no way you’re going to be able to see how your new hairstyle looks until you stand back and look in the mirror. I like this analogy for re-writing. If you stand too close to the mirror, you don’t get an overall view, and if you don’t look in the mirror at all, you just have to go by what your mind is picturing that works. Same for your writing. If there’s nothing else you do, ensure you practice these two points. One — distance yourself from your writing enough so your main character/s feel like old friends you haven’t seen in years (no longer someone in your head). And when I’m talking space — I don’t care if you get over break-ups quickly or you’re an emotional wreck after your partner dumps you — I mean you need at least four weeks between re-writes. The longer the better, though. And two — look over your writing with an editor’s (remember that old friend?) eye. You’re looking at it to see what you can improve on from a distance. Pretend you Arthur, not Martha. Or Patricia, not Patrick.
  • Do a readability statistical check on your writing compared to your favourites. This one is fun! You probably need some cheering up this far into my article (congrats on your dedication — it’ll take you a long way). Microsoft Word is a winner, but also a loser, for this one. The readability stats give you an idea of what grade level education a reader needs and what percentage of the adult population can understand your writing. Some of the factors that affect these scores are active/passive sentence use, sentence structure, and word length. Now it sounds like a dream come true, right? Well this can give you an angle you could never see from your own work, but it also isn’t entirely active. Some short words can sound like jibberish. The same goes for short sentences. So as the saying goes, take it with a grain of salt.

Here are two excerpts to add the finishing touches on how Kathryn Stockett has excelled at ‘voice’ and your crash-course in finding yours. I’ll show you two of the examples I listed earlier now that you can recognise aspects of voice. Pick apart these examples and leave me your comments below.

Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte

“1801—I have just returned from a visit to my landlord—the solitary neighbour that 1 shall be troubled with. This is certainly a beautiful country! In all England, I do not believe that I could have fixed on a situation so completely removed from the stir of society. A perfect misanthropist’s Heaven: and Mr. Heathcliff and I are such a suitable pair to divide the desolation between us.”

I, Alex Cross, by James Patterson

“Hannah Willis was a second-year law student at Virginia, and everything that lay ahead of her seemed bright and promising—except, of course, that she was about to die in these dark, gloomy, dismal woods.
Go, Hannah, she told herself. Just go. Stop thinking. Whining and crying won’t help you now. Running just might.
Hannah stumbled and staggered forward until her hands found another tree trunk to hold on to.”

Endless love

On a finishing note, I want to remind you of something I mentioned earlier from Kathryn Stockett: you don’t have to know what it is like being a real person who is like your fictional character, but trying to understand what it’s like is essential.

Book reviews for The Help at:

http://ryderislington.wordpress.com/2011/08/25/book-review-the-help-by-kathryn-stockett/

and

http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/4667024-the-help