Friday, October 30, 2009

Good writing versus beautiful writing: is there a difference?

I’m back to writing—every waking minute and some not-so-waking minutes—but this summer I took some time off writing to read. A lot. I caught up on everything I’d been wanting to read this last year but didn’t because I was absorbed with my own characters. I found some new favorite authors and read a few lemons, but the two I still can’t get out of my head are The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins and Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher.

I love the way they write. Their styles, though very different, resonate with me. Simple and beautiful. They’re some of the least obtrusive writers I’ve ever read, meaning their words never distracted me from the story. And they had me crying, I don’t know, like twenty times.

There are some beautifully written stories out there that are sometimes too beautifully written. I know it sounds crazy, but if the prose is so beautiful that I start thinking about the prose, I’m no longer living the story. As a writer, I’m thinking that’s not such a good thing.

Am I wrong? Is there a difference between a well written story and a beautifully written story?

What do you think?

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Where do you get your ideas?

Managed to get 22,000 words in this week in between work, soccer games, horseback riding, volleyball practice and general survival activities. (ie: shopping, laundry, cooking, cleaning) We’ve got lots of steamy sex scenes, cheating boyfriends, murdered best friends—all the staples of a good story.

In the midst of all that, I got the standard “Where do you get your ideas?” question from a patient who is also an aspiring writer. The question made me think about the creativity and great storytelling in the books I’ve enjoyed reading and how intimidating that can be to a new writer. Because I remember being in absolute awe upon finishing a book I really loved and thinking I could NEVER come up with something like that.

My criteria for a good read has always revolved around the story being not only unforgettable, but also how well the author keeps me wondering—and wanting more. I’ve always been disappointed in a book if it was predictable. Basically, if I could have written it, I think it’s boring.

Which is why I never thought I could write a book. Because, if I wrote it, it’d be…well…boring.

That’s mostly because I’ve never considered myself to be a terribly creative person. I think of myself as pretty much common-sense-down-to-Earth. And that’s why I give so much credit to my Muse and the things he comes up with to keep me awake all night. When I go back and read my work the first time through for edits, I’m always surprised to find myself not bored. Even smiling sometimes. Who would have thunk?

So, back to the question: Where do I get my ideas? Seriously, my two novels started with the tiniest spark. A fun name popped into my head. (Dusty Lane for a cowboy and Lucifer Cain for a demon.) That’s it. Then I just took that and ran with it. No outline. No plot arc. Just me and my Muse. He figures out how to put my ‘fun name’ character into a situation that he needs to be written out of. Then we write.

The point of all of this is that everyone has a story to tell, (even me, it turns out.) and the way each of us tells it is likely to be different, and maybe even exciting to the people who didn’t write it. So, when you get that idea—no matter how small—don’t think it’s useless because it’s been done or doesn’t seem exciting enough. Take it and run with it—and trust your Muse. Because you never know how it’s going to turn out until it’s done. And maybe I—and a whole bunch of other people—would love it.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

How do you handle rejection?

There’s an interesting discussion over on agent Nathan’s blog today about writers sometimes being oversensitive to criticism. That post got me thinking about my own journey through the publishing jungle and how I’ve handled it. (And will continue to handle it as we start submitting to editors.)

It’s really hard for most people to take criticism objectively. Especially if it seems mean-spirited. I’ve learned through my other careers that you can’t make all the people happy all the time. But one experience—or really, series of experiences—taught me a valuable lesson in rolling with the punches and coming out a better fighter.

One of my three jobs is teaching medical seminars. I work for and institute in Florida and am sent all over the world to lecture. Similar to writing, there are a multitude (thousands) of people who would love to teach for this institute and only 20 of us do, so they’ve devised a sure-fire way to be sure they get only the crème de la crème, so to speak. Once you’re invited to teach for them, they have a system I liken to hazing to decide who actually makes it to the front of the classroom. “Apprentice” instructors are required to lecture bits and pieces of the material over a series of classes that are being taught by certified instructors. Then, not only does the instructor need to think the apprentice did a bang-up job with her little piece, but the students need to rate her nearly perfect on their class evaluations at the end of the four day seminar, or she’s out. And, let me tell you, if they didn’t like something you said, did, wore, the way you don't pronounce the t in often (seriously!)—they let you know it on that eval. And not always in a healthy, constructive manner. It’s enough to make many “apprentices” run home with their tail between their legs. Those of us who make it devise a system of processing the feedback so it doesn’t cut quite so deep.

Here’s mine:

When I receive criticism, no matter how nasty, first, I thank them (Internally--I don't chase them down. That would be creepy.) for taking the time and making the effort to give me the feedback in the first place. Then, second, I really work to find something I can take away from it to make me a better ____. (fill in the blank: person, writer, doctor) This attitude has saved me thousands of dollars in therapy bills.

You wouldn’t be human if negative feedback didn’t sting a little. Even with years of practice, I still get that initial gut clench and feel that defensive backlash when someone says something negative about my work. Because, of course, it’s going to hurt when someone doesn’t love what we’ve invested so much of ourselves in. But, in the end, when I find the positive message I can take away from that criticism, I’m always happy for it.

What are your strategies to keep your chin up through all the rejection we writers face?

Friday, October 16, 2009

What would I do without Suzie?

I can’t even begin to describe how awesome my agent, Suzie Townsend, is. As I mentioned in a post last week, I was struggling to write a synopsis for the sequels to Personal Demons. Finally, I slapped the basic story arc for the rest of the series down and, in a bit of a frustrated tantrum, emailed it to her, imploring her to do something with it.

She turned it into something beautiful.

I read the “series concept statement” she put together, and now I’m absolutely dying to read my books!

Suzie made the point that when a writer is so involved with the work, it’s hard to be clear and succinct in a synopsis.

So, what tricks to you use to write a good synopsis?

Friday, October 9, 2009

YA query trends--what's hot and what's not

My awesome agent, Suzie Townsend, did a guest blog on query trends in YA. Very insightfull and informative if you are a YA writer. You can check it out here.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Outline or no outline?

I finished my revisions of Personal Demons for my awesome agent last week and sent my manuscript off to her. I'm a compulsive tinkerer, so It's been really hard to keep out of the manuscript while she copy edits. To that end, I've tried staying busy by submersing myself in book two. After all, if I have to write a synopsis for that book before submitting to editors, I better know what it’s about, right? But it’s turning out to be a bit of a trick since I don’t write with an outline. As a matter of fact, I have no idea where a book is going until it’s there. My characters (and my rock star Muse) are in charge. I don’t always like their choices but, as I've said before, I’m just the poorly paid help with the laptop. And, in the end, their choices always seem to produce an interesting outcome. So I always defer—just get out of the way and let it happen.

That’s a really long way of saying putting together a synopsis for a book I haven’t written yet is turning out to be a challenge.

So I’m curious. Do you know where your book is going before you start writing? Or are you like me, writing by the seat of your pants?

Sunday, October 4, 2009