Calling it Quits

I’ve been labeled as stubborn a time or two, although I’ve been always been adamant in proclaiming the word “determined” suits me far better. It’s been like that since I was a kid with two older siblings I was “determined” to keep up to. I never had the feeling that my parents expected too much from me, it was always my own self-imposed expectations that made me so determined, not theirs

Writers don’t end up having their work published unless they have that certain determination about them, not only to write, and polish that novel until it’s the shiniest they can get it, but to collect the countless rejection slips that are most surely heading their way. There are times when all writers sigh and wonder if it’s worth the effort and heartache. Being rejected isn’t the easiest thing to bear. Determination can only carry us so far. Eventually we have to see some results for our hard work.

That’s why I’ve decided to call it quits.

Okay, so I’m not talking about quitting writing. Let’s get that straight. I’m talking about a particular manuscript I’ve been working on for over a decade. Yes, I did say decade. Sad, isn’t it? That much time into one story. I had thought I might actually put the finishing touches on it this week, but that’s not going to happen. Not only that, I’m not sure it’ll ever happen. I’m seriously thinking of ditching it, calling it a “write-off” if you will. It’s hard letting go though, seriously it is. But if I’m being honest I feel as though something is missing with the story, and I don’t know what that something is. Maybe I just don’t like my main character that much, and I don’t feel as though I’m making the story my own. (If that makes sense.) It seems a shame since I’m a few hundred words from being completed, and yet…..

I can’t quite put my finger on what’s wrong with the darn thing.

While determination can be a wonderful thing, there comes a time when we’ve got to know when to say enough is enough. Being so close to our own work, puts an author at a disadvantage. We can’t always know when we’re being objective— whether or not we’re overly optimistic about a project or just feeling down-hearted for no good reason. Did I mention I once stopped working on Flying With a Broken Wing because I started to feel blah about it? Well, it’s true, I did. Luckily, when I went back to it months later I felt much different about it. I could look at what was there and imagine it becoming a book one day.

In many cases writing is a lonely profession. I know today many people have writing groups to cheer them on and give them advice. I think that’s a good thing. But alas, it’s only me to decide what if something is worth finishing. Even determined people need to know when enough is enough. There are always new stories to be written without wallowing in one that feels like a lost cause. Luckily, I’ve got several manuscripts on the go, ones that I do feel passionate about. Good thing, right?

So now  I’ve reached the point where I’m stuck between wanting to finish it and finally giving it up for good. Even as I write this blog post I’m struggling to decide what I want to do. A part of me feels as though it’s a waste of time, while another part screams out , “You’ve got to give it a chance!” at least finish what I’ve started since I’m so close to the end.

Have you ever called it quits with a manuscript? How did you know it was the right decision?

Where I’m At

So I’ve been kind of hiding around blogland this winter, coming out occasionally to see what going on. You may or may not have noticed.

I wanted to give a shout out to a few new blogs I discovered this past week. I hope you’ll pop on over if you have time and see what they’re all about.

The Storm Project

The Rain Girl

Part Time Art Projet

Winter’s been flying by and I’ve been busy writing. Nothing really new to report here. At the end of January, my editor emailed to say she’d lost pretty much all of January due to illness and so this meant the edits on my novel was pushed back. This just means I’ll have more time to work on my current WIP. Yes, I did get through a first draft and now it’s time to start all over again.

Is a writer ever really through with a manuscript? Most of us can always find something we want to change, but alas, there comes a time when we have to say enough is enough.

Now with a book contract signed and “To Fly With a Broken Wing” due to come out this fall it’ll soon be time to start thinking about all the things that go along with having a newly published book— book launches and signing, readings, and meeting new people. Still, it’s a fair ways away. I don’t have a cover yet for the book, but I’ll be sure to share it with all of you when I do.

So there you have it, a quick, kind of dull summary of where I’m at.  And with March edging closer to an ending, I’m anxious for the nice weather and a few signs of spring to come our way.

Now’s your turn to tell me where you’re at. Speak up!

On the Writing Front

For the most part January’s been an uneventful month. I’m not complaining. In fact, I’m enjoying the quiet to some degree, although the quiet can sometimes keep me awake at night.

Every once in awhile I can’t stop thinking about the story I’m working on when I go to bed. It’s often at night that some new insight will strike me, and I suddenly know what needs to be done or what has been missing. Knowing the story I’m writing isn’t always enough to keep me writing through to the end. Sometimes I get bored by my own words or else sense that something isn’t quite right, but don’t always know just what that “something” is. So I end up lying awake. Thinking. There are worse things.

I’ve been experiencing some discontentment with my present WIP. I know the writing I’ve known it from the start, but knowing exactly how to tell it has been a bit of a stickler for me. But then something clicked the other night  as I was lying in bed and I figured out what was wrong. Yay me! So now it’s just a matter of whipping it up! Wrong. It’ll still take me sometime to do that, but at least I now know what wasn’t quite right.

I’ve experienced something similar when I first finished writing “To Fly With a Broken Wing.” I had that feeling that something didn’t quite feel right yet I’d convinced myself it was the only way the story could be told. I couldn’t see how it would be possible to write certain parts through the POV of a visually impaired girl since, well, her impairment would prevent her from seeing what was going on. So, I originally wrote some parts in first and third person. (I used third and first when I wrote Bitter, Sweet.)

So while I was flirting with the idea that my novel was complete, I was still having second thoughts about this POV issue. Finally, I decided I was just being silly about it, the novel was written and I was ready to send it to my editor. All that it needed was to be printed off and mailed in. The rest was out of my hands.

Funny, how we don’t always have a choice in things, and what we think will happen ends up happening in a totally different way. Before I had the chance to send my manuscript off I awoke one morning with this thought in my head, “Write it all in first person.”

But I’d ruled this out earlier. My main character is visually impaired, remember. Still, I couldn’t ignore a thought that was so crystal clear mere seconds after awakening could I? I spent the day considering if this was possible. How then would I make it work? I’ve got to tell you I don’t often get these jabs from the Universe, but as the day wore I decided that instead of wondering how I would do it, I would just do it. I would make the scene where Cammie describes what’s going on at a distance work. So yes, I figured it out. And you know what? It wasn’t nearly as hard as I thought it would be.

Often times, I think, we hold the answers to our questions inside us. And for that reason, I like those times just before sleep arrives or immediately when I wake up. I believe when we’re most relaxed that thoughts come to us more freely if we stay open to the answers to our questions.

Have you ever experienced a time when a new insight came to you just before drifting off to sleep or immediately upon waking?

 

Busy, Busy Beaver

On the property across from ours, the beavers have been extremely busy as you can see from the photo. It’s rather amazing to know that these small creatures aren’t afraid to tackle something so large. This urge to chop down trees is something that comes natural to them. Funny, how they don’t shy away from such a big undertaking. We see plenty of evidence of the beaver’s work, but we’ve never caught them in the act. I think much of their work is done at night.

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Writing a novel is also a big undertaking. One that writers enter into willingly, regardless of the work involved. Rarely can an author say they whipped a novel up in a matter of a few weeks or months…(Yes, I know, some can, but many can’t.) For many authors it may take many months, maybe even years until their book is ready to be read by an editor. But once a book has been accepted for publication it doesn’t mean a writer can sit back and wait for those royalties to start rolling in. For those not involved in the industry, it’s difficult to understand what takes so long for a book to come out. I hear from people all the time, anxiously wondering why, if I’m working on edits for the book now, it isn’t coming out until next fall.

The whole idea behind the edits is to help make that story shine as much as possible. A writer often becomes immune to seeing the flaws in our stories and it takes another set of eyes to point out the imperfections and make suggestions as to how the story can be improved. We all want that book to be the best it can be, right?

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So this is where I am at the moment. No, I don’t mean I’m cutting down trees….The edits are going well and I’m pleased with how the story is evolving even further. It’s always exciting to discover something new in your work, something you overlooked while you were getting the story down the first time around. Did I say the first time? I guess I should say the first several drafts.

Christmas might be creeping up on me, but I’m very hopeful that I’ll have the manuscript sent back before then. What is it about Christmas that makes us want to accomplish certain goals? I can remember, as a child, that rooms were painted before Christmas or new flooring laid.—always before Christmas, regardless of how close to the big day that it happened. So long as it was done by then everyone was happy. Anyway, I’ll use Christmas as a deadline to have this round of edits completed. I’m pretty sure that I won’t get a whole lot of writing done once a certain little someone arrives anyway.

How about you, is there anything you’d like to accomplish before Christmas comes?

Writing Contests—Are They Worth Entering?

An email from a literary journal, announcing an extension on their fiction contest made me wonder how many of you have entered such contests over the years. I’m referring to contests for unpublished manuscripts. To my knowledge, publishing companies submit books for awards on the author’s behalf–that was certainly the case with my book.

I know many people have thoughts on writing contests. While some people think they aren’t worth the entry fee, many think that these contests can help your career along. (Of course, this would only true if you win or final in one.)

Truthfully, I have entered very few contests over the years. I often questioned the judging process not to mention that every contest requires an entrance fee. This fee could be anywhere from $25 -$40, maybe even more. This is often the subscription price of literary magazines and you also end up with a year’s subscription. If you’re planning on subscribing to a particular magazine, then entering a contest might be well worth the money.  Years ago when I was first getting my work out there, I often didn’t have the money to spend on entry fees. My kids were small and we were a one-income household. We had a mortgage. I could go on. The few contests I entered were those with very modest entry fees.

While I know some people argue the point that these contests are worth your time and money to enter, I seriously wonder how true this is. I’ve known people who have won such contests, but still had problems finding a publisher for longer works. It seems to me that publishers make their decision to publish by evaluating the submission that is before them. While having won a writing contest might look good on your bio, is a publisher going to publish your book because of some contest you won five years ago?

Here are some of my thoughts:

When we submit our work to a literary magazine it is already being judged against hundreds of other stories. I’ve had literary magazines tell me they receive 1200 + submissions in a year and publish about 30 so when one of my stories made it in their publication I felt like a winner. Whoopee! Best of all, it didn’t cost me a cent. Being in the top 30 out of over 1200 submissions wouldn’t mean I’d have won first place had it been a contest. It wouldn’t even mean I’d place. I also found that as my work improved, I’d receive valuable feedback from editors who made suggestions or told me a particular story almost made it. Let me tell you those comments were like gold.

For every contest there are winners and losers. Had I only submitted to contests, and never placed, I might have come to the conclusion that my writing was no good. I might have given up. So while entering contests may be something you love to do, I would caution you not to become discouraged if you don’t final. Failing to final doesn’t mean your story sucked.

Occasionally a contest will offer feedback on your work. This is something that could prove to be quite valuable. Let’s be honest, feedback from our friends isn’t always helpful since our friend’s judgement could be clouded. (I’m sure my mom would love every bit of drivel I wrote, regardless of how bad it might be.) If you’re looking for feedback, and a particular contests offers this, then it may be worth entering. Truthfully, the contests I entered over the years didn’t offer any feedback. So make sure you understand if feedback is being offered if that’s what you want.

What are your thoughts on writing contests, are they a good idea or a waste of time and money? Do you regularly enter them? Have you entered them in the past?

Serendipitious Moments

I’ve been known to make declarations to the Universe at least a few times in my life. Now don’t go picturing me, head drawn toward the heavens shaking a clenched fist, crying out with passion, a hot tear trickling down my cheek. Come on now folks, it’s never anything that dramatic.

Last year I made such a declaration when I completed my current novel perhaps believing it would stop me from tinkering with it once and for all. One of the hardest things for any writer is to stop fixing every little flaw in their manuscript and move onto something completely new. We go over our manuscripts with a fine toothcomb so many times we can drown ourselves with the sound of our own words. Honestly, are a few rearranged words really going to keep us from being published? I hardly believe that to be the case. Of course, writers go on the assumption that if our baby is ever accepted for publication we’ll be working with an editor to try and make it the very best book possible, so when we reach the point where we declare our novel complete it really isn’t. But that’s another post altogether.

So, to continue my story…

Most of you know I have another blog where I post photos from around the area “..way out here in Dalhousie.”  You’ll see the link over on the right side. The posts are fairly simply– a picture and a quote and little more. I don’t consider myself to have any great skills when it comes to photography, but the blog is really just me playing around.

The evening I declared to the Universe that my novel was compete the very next thing I went on to do was post a picture of a chickadee I’d taken earlier in the day at a bird feeder on my Dalhousie blog. I needed a quote and randomly typed in bird quotes to see what sites Google would bring up. I found one and clicked the link. The very first quote on the list was this:  Hold fast to your dreams because without them life is a broken winged bird that cannot fly.—Langston Hughes.  I stopped cold. I knew I’d found my quote and I knew my book would be published. How? The title of my book, the one I had moments ago declared complete is — To Fly With a Broken Wing.  Pretty cool I thought. Now with this very same novel about to be published I’m reminded of this moment even more.

Now it’s difficult for me to ignore these serendipitous moments although I know many people pass them off with hardly a thought. (Coincidence, they mean nothing!) Well maybe so, but I like to think of them a signs that I’m kind of on the right track. If nothing else, they warm my heart for a time and make me smile. There absolutely nothing wrong with a heart-warming moment, nothing wrong in taking a few moments to say a simply thank you to God or the Universe (however you want to say it) for sending these serendipitous moments our way.

Do you believe these serendipitous moments come to us for a reason or they are simply nice coincidences but mean nothing else? Have you experienced any serendipitous moments lately that you’d like to share?

I Got A Postcard From Hell

So, yesterday I got a postcard from Hell. Wow! That didn’t sound weird at all!

And in case you’re wondering, nope the devil’s not out to get me. I haven’t done anything THAT bad, at least nothing that I know about. And you’d think I’d know, wouldn’t I?

I know many people claim to have been to Hell and back, but how many of them actually have the proof? Oh yeah, there’s proof out there. Why not? You go to Hell nobody’s going to believe you unless you’ve got some proof.

Little did I know when I opened my mailbox what was awaiting me. My sister hadn’t bothered to give me the heads up. I was totally in the dark. Oh she’d mentioned something about Hell when we spoke on the phone after she got back from her cruise, but I just figured she was exaggerating. I mean someone mentions Hell you have to humour them right?

So what do I know?  My sister really did go to Hell and back while on her cruise a few weeks ago. Apparently there is a place called Hell on the Cayman Islands. You might have heard of it. I think it’s quite a popular place—Hell yeah!

Hell’s not all that big. I bet you’re surprised to learn that. There’s nothing in Hell but a post office inside a gift shop. (And I thought East Dalhousie was small!)  Many of the tourists take their passports to get stamped while in Hell.

Look at that, it only costs about 20 cents to send a postcard from Hell. I say let’s all go to Hell where the postal rates are affordable. I mean Canada Post has been bleeding me dry for years. I wonder how much it would cost to mail a full manuscript from Hell? And wouldn’t you love to be the editor to make the claim that she just received the manuscript from Hell? On second thought that’s probably happened more times than we could collectively count.

The postcard my sister sent was to make up for the fact that she’d left Bitter, Sweet  behind on the cruise ship that day. That’s right, my book nearly went to Hell and back. But a postcard is better than nothing so I’m not going to complain. Nice to know that when little sis made her historic visit to Hell and back that she was thinking of me—Um I guess.

I think the postmark is absolutely divine. Is it okay to say divine when speaking of Hell? Just asking…

Making it Shine

Hard at work on a manuscript, I was suddenly reminded of those Pledge commercials that used to air during the soap operas back when I was a kid. You know the ones where a fine mist covers an already spotless piano and is wiped up quickly without a smudge or a streak. Pure magic right before our eyes! And don’t forget when lemon Pledge came on the scene. Not only did it clean like a charm, but it had that great lemony smell. Ah lemon–what more could any good housewife want?  I’m not sure how many of us owned pianos back then but seeing that wood shine is a memory that sits pretty in my mind. If we’d have owned one of the darn things I’d have surely spent my days polishing away.

I’ve been working on a manuscript that requires a little more buffing, just a little more shine, thus the trip down memory lane with the lemon Pledge. (Our minds have a great way of connecting unrelated things, don’t you think?)

So I’m at the place where I need to make this story as shiny as that piano on the lemon pledge commercial. The truth is I like this part of writing, maybe even more than setting the story down. I like reading what’s already there, moving those sentences around if need be, even adding scenes that previously weren’t there because a sudden burst of writing genius has made me see something that I was previously unable to see. This is the part of the writing process where I get to shine, and it’s a good feeling. It’s the place where we can take a good story and make it even better. Others might not see it, certainly not the readers who sees only the finished product, but a writer knows. Oh yes, we certainly do. Sometimes all it takes is the smallest bit of change.

Once I have a clear idea of what idea of just how I’m going to make a story shine, I like to jump right in and get to work. A phone call from my editor a week ago gave me just what I needed to start me off. I now have all the supplies I need to give this next story a shiny new coat. I don’t expect the process to take all that long, but I do expect to enjoy every glorious moment. I’ll let you now how I make out.

And who knows maybe if I pick up a can of furniture polish I’ll become that “good housewife” after all. Now back to work I go.

What part of the writing process do you enjoy the most?

Laura’s Little List for Aspiring Writers

I was trying to think about some advice I might give to aspiring writers if say, my opinion was ever asked. No matter what we do if life, if we have any amount of success, we’ve probably learned some valuable lessons along the way. I’ve had some success. I’ve learned things. I thought I’d make a little list.

In the beginning I knew nothing about writing or publishing, had no idea what getting published entailed. I simply started writing. Then I bought a book: The Canadian Writer’s Market. I’ll never forget the day I bought that book, knowing those pages contained the very essence of my dream. Who knew there was actually a book out there that told you how and where to submit your work? Wheeeee…. I was going to be published!

See, I was pretty naive way back when.

But you learn. We all do. We do something one way and if that doesn’t work we do something else, again and again, until we get the desired results.

I’ll be honest. I’m not much of a list maker. I think I’ve mentioned that before on this blog. I blame it on being a middle child, cause we’ve got to blame our shortcomings on something. Right?

Sometimes I start out with good intentions, I set down a list of tasks I’d like to accomplish. I might even do that for a day or two, but then something goes terribly wrong. Mainly me. I lose interest and the whole idea of list making goes down the drain.

So pardon me if I make this list short. Since five seems like a nice rounded number to begin with, I’ll make this list short and sweet cause, if you’ve got to read through yet another list, I figure it should be short and easy to digest. Sometime later I’ll think of a few more things to add to the list, and maybe I will, cause surer than anything I’m going to learn a few more things as I continue to write.

So here it is.

Laura’s Little List for Aspiring Writers:

# 1. You are never as good as you think you are.
Keep this in mind when you’re first starting. In the beginning I thought I wrote some pretty clever, not to mention astounding, prose. Once that baby landed on some editor’s desk it was going to be published. I just knew it! It took me many rejections to realize that I had plenty more to learn about writing, that all these first efforts was simply practise. And that’s okay. When you learned to walk, you started out with baby steps.

# 2. Nothing you write is ever a waste of your time.
So some of us need more practise than others. That goes with all things in life. It doesn’t mean we won’t eventually master it. Of course not! You knew that. When discouragement sets in, and it surely will at some time, forget about lashing out and deleting that story you’ve worked so long and hard on.(You’re probably too old for temper tantrums.)You didn’t waste your time. I’m presently rewriting a story I wrote a few years back, bringing fresh new language, and a brand new beginning, to an already existing story. I’m happy to have that original story to look back on now. If I had deleted it in a fit of discouragement I’d be kicking my rear end about now.

# 3. While your use of words is important so is the story because every story need a good solid plot. Plot? You mean there actually needed to be a plot? A purpose to all those beautifully crafted words I was writing? A beginning, middle and an ending, plot? I thought I could wow some editor with my words alone. Nope. Something’s gotta happen. That’s just the way it is.

# 4 If you’re going to make it in the publishing world, you must learn patience. Once you have learned patience, you must relearn it, maybe even a few times until you absolutely get it. And once you’ve got it, you’ll be plagued at least one more time with impatience cause the Universe insists that you really get the lesson. I figure patience is a biggie so far as the Universe is concerned. Writing/publishing takes time. We send out our manuscripts and wait for a response, one that we’re sure will come any day. The Canadian Writer’s Market said wait three or four months before following up with a query on the status of your submission. Three or four months? I wish! Think a year, maybe longer. Editors are very busy people.

# 5. Be original. This doesn’t necessarily mean wild and crazy, unless of course you like wild and crazy. You can still write about things you know and love, but try to put a different spin on it. Tackle that subject in a way no other writer has. Come up with original turns of phrase. Remember that no one can tell that story the way you can. It’s your story, after all, and you are a distinct individual looking to discover your own unique voice in the world.

So there’s the end of my little list. Of course I have learned more that these five things. I’ve been writing for over twenty years for goodness sake, but these were the first five that came to mind. Now get out there and start practising.

 

If you’re a writer, I invite you to share your wisdom in the comment section and add something to my list.

 

Tweak It, But Don’t Bruise It.

It’s not always easy for a writer to say goodbye to the story they’ve worked on for months or even years. We work our way through the first draft and any number of other drafts deemed so very necessary. We head into edits, cutting away and adding new scenes. We look for perfection in our manuscript. It needs to be perfect, right? How can you send it off into the publishing world if it isn’t?

But how do we know when to stop tweaking? When do we decide it’s good enough?

Seems no matter how many times we go through a manuscript we can find something to change, something that can be made better. We switch around sentences, check on grammar, work on punctuation, fix the dialogue, and once we’ve gone through it for the last time we end up going through it again. Sound familiar?

While tweaking is a essential to any story there’s a point where we have to decide that enough is enough. At some point we have to release that tight grip we have on our manuscript and trust that somehow our story will end up on the right editor’s desk.

Can a manuscript be bruised?
I suppose that depends upon the person who’s doing the tweaking, but I feel certain in saying that at some point we can push our stories over the edge. Too much polishing can take off that lustrous shine. Tweaking a manuscript is essential; bruising it however might be considered abuse. But let’s not be judgemental, we’ve all been there at one time or another.

I’m in the tweaking stage at the moment, getting down to the nitty-gritty. I’ve rolled up my sleeves. It won’t be long now I’ve promised myself, and I plan to stick to it. It’s ready. I’m ready. That’s just how it has to be.

I’m going to make sure not to leave my poor manuscript bruised beyond the point of recognition. I don’t want to wake up one day, read through that story I started out with
one last time, only to realize it’s no longer the same story I fell in love with so many months ago.

How about you, do you think at some point you can bruise your precious manuscript or do you think that there’s no such thing as too much tweaking?

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