Tags: adversity

The Emotional Stages of Revision

by Elizabeth Rusch
Published on: October 20, 2015
Comments: No Comments

As I’m revising my middle grade novel, I feel distracted. I feel alone. I feel like no one has ever felt this lousy and distracted and unproductive while revising a novel ever before in the history of literature.

So what do I do? I google my problem. I type in “revising a novel sucks.” I think I want to tell someone (the google search box?) how much it sucks. And I think maybe someone has blogged about it and I can read it so I won’t feel so alone. (Also, this googling mean I’m not working on revising my novel for the moment, which is good cause REVISING SUCKS.)

Anyway, I found this: The Ten Emotional Stages of Revising a Novel, by Farrah Penn on Bustle.com.

I have been in all of these stages! Resentment. Second guessing. Fear. Distraction. Maybe not always in this order but I have BEEN IN ALL OF THEM!

And I’ve come out on the other side before. So maybe I will again.

And maybe if you’re stuck in one of these stages, you will too.

Feel free to tell me all about. Turns out we are not alone…

Elizabeth Rusch

Writer Wanted—A Job Description

by Amber Keyser
Published on: October 16, 2015
Categories: Challenges, Creativity, Humor
Comments: No Comments

Requirements of the position:

  1. Navigate social media with authentic (non-threatening) mastery
  2. Engage constantly (except during twice weekly showers)
  3. Market yourself and your work with love (not slime)
  4. Advance causes without being didactic or confrontational (use hashtags)
  5. Teach at every opportunity (schools, libraries, conferences, bus stops, laundromats)
  6. Juggle everything (deadlines, family, second jobs, fire, occasional small carnivores)
  7. Manage complicated projects (including life) on extremely limited funds (the reward is the doing)
  8. Be a role model for everything (all the time)

waldorf_and_statler

Snark aside, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it means to be a working writer. There are many expectations (see above). Some of them (maybe not juggling fire) do seem to be required of the position. But what does it really mean to do this job? What are my “responsibilities”?

Only this… to think hard about what makes people tick, to open myself to deep emotions, to tell stories that move me, and to wrestle with words until a world is born anew on the page.

This is my job.

And it is good.

irvine-welsh

The Problem with “Butt in the Chair”

by Elizabeth Rusch
Published on: May 20, 2015
Comments: No Comments

I’ve heard at least dozen writers talking about overcoming writers’ block with one simple rule: Sit your butt in the chair.

I have two problems with this advice. First of all, I don’t really get writers’ block, I get writers’ inertia. Writers’ block is when you don’t know what to write…you don’t have any ideas or any direction. Writers’ Inertia is MUCH worse. You  have ideas, you know what you want to do, you know the direction you want to take…but you just can’t get started during a given writing day or session. Putting my butt in the chair does not solve my Writers’ Inertia.

 

 

That’s because when I get my butt in the chair with my computer on and ready to go in front of me, I can do SOOOO many things other than write or revise!  I can:

Check my email.

Check facebook.

Check twitter.

Post on facebook and twitter.

Research lodging, flights, car rentals, and things to do for upcoming schedule trips OR trips I would like to take some day…

Answer some emails.

Check to see if an article of clothing I want has gone off-season and on-sale yet.

Clear out my email.

Check the weather.

Check the hourly forecast.

Check the forecast in someplace I’m visiting in the future or hope to visit in the future.

And now, look!, I found another one! I can write a Scriva post!

Writing this post kind of counts as writing — and it serves another purpose, too. For me the only way to overcome writers’ block or writers’ inertia is to write.

Thanks for the warm up. I’m going back to what I SHOULD be doing, which is revising my novel. Chapter 11 is next.

Elizabeth Rusch

 

Needs Updates

by Amber Keyser
Published on: May 11, 2015
Comments: 2 Comments
Urquhart Castle at Loch Ness Scotland

Needs updates

I am in the process of moving. Putting my current house on the market is turning out to be way more stressful than I anticipated.

First, I had a bunch of workers fixing all the little things that I should have fixed for myself long ago. Then the stagers rushed through, moving furniture and rehanging art. I get kicked out of my home with a one-hour notice as strangers walk through my home, poking and peering at all of my stuff. Shortly after each showing, my realtor sends the “feedback” and I get to to hear how the driveway is all wrong or the kitchen needs updating.

I feel homeless and violated and judged all at once.

I am also in the process of sending my debut novel, THE WAY BACK FROM BROKEN, into the world. It releases October 1st, and I have a sneaking suspicion that the experience is going to be much like moving. In some ways it already is. Selling a book to a publisher is the first step into a wider world. Editors and designers, publicists and marketers all get into the mix. They move things around. They re-envision the way the book will look and feel. They change things.

Unlike the home selling process, I have enjoyed the collaboration with the team at my publishing house. I know it is a better book because of their expertise. I also have valued the distance it has created between me and the book. Just as my house doesn’t feel like my home anymore, the book doesn’t feel like as much a part of me, of my very sinews and bones, as it did before.

I am hoping that this helps.

Because soon, terrifyingly soon, readers will make their way through my book. They will examine its rooms, poke in its dusty corners, and lift the sheets. And they will decide, just as the strangers walking through my house will decide, if they like it or not, if they want to live here.

I try to remind myself that tastes differ and that this is a good thing, but I anticipate it will be hard when the reviews start coming in. I may wish I had updated the kitchen after all.

 

Some Yoga/Writing Principles

by Elizabeth Rusch
Published on: January 20, 2015
Categories: Challenges, Inspiration
Comments: No Comments

The new year is a time to take stock and a time to try to do things differently than we have before. When life gives us a lesson, we can respond as we always do –and then life will give us that same lesson over and over again. But what if life gives us a lesson and instead of responding the same way we always do, we respond differently? Perhaps life will be done giving us that lesson and we can move on to something else.

Take a rejection letter, or a harsh critique, or a writing project gone south for some reason out of our control. What if, instead of responding with our same old anger, frustration, and depression we respond with genuine gratitude.

I have found this is EXTREMELY hard to do. Though I can’t do it fully yet, I have discovered some principals that help me head in that direction. These are yogic principles that I try to adapt to my writing life. They are drawn from Rolf Gates’ Meditations from the Mat. I hope you find them helpful, inspiring, or at least intriguing:

“We already have everything we need.”

“The surest way to get what you want is to let go of wanting.”

“What is required is a radical, absolute, living trust in the universe.”

“Banish the word ‘struggle’ from your attitude and vocabulary.”

“Pride and ambition will get you hurt; humility will get you well.”

“There is wisdom within us that is more powerful than our despair.”

“Make a commitment to focus on the nature of our efforts and not the nature the result.”

It’s at least worth a try!

ScrivaLiz

NEVER Give Up on a Book You Believe In

Don’t give upWhen I was pregnant with my second child, who is now 10 years old, I started writing a picture book called Squeaks, Stumps, and Surprises: A Big Brother’s Guide to Life with a New Baby. I was trying to see my second pregnancy and the appearance of a new baby in the family through my first child’s eyes. I asked him and his friends what they thought about pregnancy and new babies, especially new siblings. And I learned that little kids don’t see things the way we adults do.

In the book, I tried to capture the voice of a slightly older, wiser kid giving insider advice about what life with a new baby would really be like. I loved writing it, I loved revising it, and when I submitted it to publishers, I got nice notes back about the writing and the concept. But all agreed it wouldn’t stand out in the crowded New Baby market.

So I went back to it, revising it again, making the voice stronger, fresher, funnier. This went on for several years (I had a new baby at home after all) before I submitted again. This time I found a few editors who liked it, too. It went to acquisitions several times, but alas, no one bought it.

I got busy with other projects, busy with my two kids, and forgot about the manuscript for a while, perhaps years. If I happened to think of it, I would open the most recent version and read it. I’d think: “I still really like this book.” Sometimes I’d play around with it again. I changed the boy to a girl. I broke the book into sections. I added more dialogue, more funny lists, more punch lines. I cut it radically. I added more material. I cut again. I went from one narrator to two: a boy and a girl.

I started working with a wonderful agent who sold some of my manuscripts. When I first showed her this one, she said something to the effect of: “I’m not sure this would stand out in the crowded New Baby market.” Sound familiar? So I put it away again.

In the meantime, I started writing a graphic novel. (MUDDY MAX, coming this August!) Sometime while working on the graphic novel, I took yet another peek at the new baby book. I thought: “I still really like this book.” And I had an idea. What if the book was a picture book/graphic novel hybrid with some main narrative text and some funny scenes in comic form? I carved out some time to try this, got great feedback from my critique groups, revised again and showed my agent. This time she said: “All right, let’s give it a try.”

And I am happy, ecstatic, thrilled to report, that TEN YEARS after first writing the book, we got an offer on it. I am still in shock that it actually happened. Look for The Big Kids’ Guide to Life with a New Baby sometime in 2016!

And don’t EVER give up on a book project you believe in.

Elizabeth Rusch

P.S. In case it’s not obvious from the story above, it is OK to put a manuscript aside for a while (months or even years), play around with it a lot, try some radical revisions, get feedback, put it away again, revisit it again. But if you like it, if you believe in it, if there is something in there you think is special, don’t give up, don’t ever give up.

Gas and Brakes

How long does it take you to write a book? How fast do you work? I get asked these questions a lot, especially the first one by school-aged kids.  The answer is that it varies – dramatically.

My fastest book was a school library title on tennis (draft in a month, final in a few months) because that was how long the publisher gave me.  Next fastest was The Planet Hunter: The Story behind What Happened to Pluto which went from proposal to final approved manuscript ready to be illustrated in a handful of months. (My editor and I wanted to get that book out as fast as possible to explain the fascinating story behind why Pluto was no longer considered a planet.)

Typically, my books take much longer. I am working on a book now called Mario and the Hole in the Sky that will be published by Charlesbridge in 2016. I started working on it in 2007. That’s nine years for a picture book.  My graphic novel Muddy Max: The Mystery of Marsh Creek which comes out this year (YAY!) began as a middle grade novel in 2006. That’s eight years. My book The Mighty Mars Rovers took a similar amount of time. I’m working on picture book now that I literally started a decade ago.

The reasons for these long periods of time can vary. Many times, I am writing multiple, completely different drafts of the same book – and that takes a long time. (Thank you Scrivas, for reading version after version after version!) Other times I get discouraged after submitting something that doesn’t sell and I put it aside for a while.

In fact, it would be misleading to suggest that I was working on all these projects all the time in those years. What is much more typical is that there are times in the life of project when I put on the gas and other times I put on the brakes.

A current project in development on the inventor of the piano is a good example. When I got the idea in 2010, I start researching furiously (gas). I worked on it off and on through summer of 2012 (little pumps of gas), when I took a research trip to Florence, Italy (gas, gas, gas). When I got back, I did some writing and thinking (gas). Then I got stuck and I got busy with some other deadlines (SCREEECH! Brakes).

I have to be careful because brakes are easier to sustain than gas (things at rest like to stay at rest.) I didn’t touch this project for almost a year. And that really bothered me because I really loved the idea. So I started to put on the gas – writing, rewriting, problem-solving, polishing. I heard that an editor I wanted to share it with would be going on maternity leave. So I put on the gas big time, getting the book ready to submit.

Alas, she turned it down.

I was disappointed but also a little relieved. I just felt like I need a little more time with the project – to do a few more drafts and try to get it just right. So instead of submitting it elsewhere, I put on the brakes. But only gently. I want to slow down but not stop.

In driving you’re not supposed to put your foot on the gas and brakes at the same time. But for writing, I’m going to try it. I need the gas to keep momentum. But I need the brakes, too, to give me time to get it right.

Elizabeth Rusch

Recommitment

by Elizabeth Rusch
Published on: October 20, 2013
Comments: 1 Comment
Sheila Schmid of NW Yoga in Portland, OR

Sheila Schmid of NW Yoga in Portland, OR

How are yoga, writing and critique groups connected? I don’t know but I often find myself thinking about how much that happens in yoga class applies to my writing life.

During one recent class at Yoga NW, we were holding a warrior two pose for what seemed like FOREVER. My arms were burning, my legs ached and I was ready to be done.  Seeming to reading my mind, my yoga teacher said: “Just when you feel like giving up on the pose, instead try recommitting to it.”

Grrrrr, grumble, O.K, I’ll try, I thought.

I didn’t really do anything different. I just thought about recommitting to the pose and some energy swelled up and got me through it.

Being a writer is hard and can sometimes even be infuriating and deeply uncomfortable. Sometimes, I’m ready to be done. This can be on a daily scale, like I’m stuck, bored, having a hard time focusing and things like washing the muddy dog towels or grocery shopping seem like they would be a lot more satisfying.  Most of the time (not all the time), instead of washing the dog towels, I recommit to the writing. I stay in my seat, remind myself that I chose this work and try again. Most of the time (not all the time) I’ll get a little something done and feel satisfied about that.  Recommitment can get me through.

On a larger scale, I have been a writer long enough (since 1988) that I have faced a number of times when I ask myself: Why do I keep banging my head against this wall? Sometimes I do have to turn off my computer, take a break, take a vacation. But I have found that eventually, what I really need to do is recommit, to jump hard into a big revision or a new project.  And the energy swells up.

Our critique group has also been at it long enough that members have certainly faced times when we have wondered whether it’s worth coordinating schedules, missing evenings with our families, taking time to read the submissions, etc. But when I’ve faced these times, I think about how amazing the Scrivas are, I recommit and I have never regretted it.

Some things are worth recommitment.

Elizabeth Rusch

P.S. I just came back from another great yoga class and wanted to add this quote: This is not supposed to be easy. Surrender to the effort.

What you need to know about the BIG, BAD market

by Amber Keyser
Published on: March 12, 2013
Categories: Business of Writing
Comments: 2 Comments
Little-Red-Riding-Hood-me-001

Old father Wolf eyes up Little Red Riding Hood. Illustration: Tyler Garrison

Once upon a time…

We writers love diving deep into our stories.  We create worlds and characters.  We prefer to live in fairytale lands.  But sadly, our stories eventually crash headlong into the BIG, BAD market.

Mine just did.

Here’s what you need to know:

The market is slow.  The books that you see being released today were drafts 3-4 years ago and were acquired by editors 2-3 years ago.  Right now thrillers are hot, but if you think you can start writing one now and catch the wave, think again.

The market is conformist.  Once something (say vampires, for example) hits.  Most houses want a vampire book on their list–but just one.  I got a very nice rejection letter from an editor who said, “I love your manuscript but I just bought a book on this topic.”

The market is fickle.  Paranormal is out.  Thrillers are in.  YA was hot, hot, hot.  Now middle grade is the thing.  For years, nonfiction has been a nonstarter.  Suddenly (and thanks to the new Common Core standards) every editor wants narrative nonfiction.  Don’t even get me started on the rumored death of the picture book.

What does this mean for Little, Red Writing Hood?

Get to know the wolf, I mean, market.  One great way to do this is to join Publishers Marketplace.  The price seems steep, but I know of no better way to get your finger on the pulse of what is selling right now.  Daily deal emails will show you that we’ve run out of steam on ghost stories and teens solving murders but there are hints that Westerns and animal stories might be the next big thing.  Follow #tenqueries and #askagent on Twitter.  You’ll get a sneak peek into the slush piles.

Don’t try to game it.  Unless you are an established writer who can call up her agent and say, “Let’s pitch a Western.  Here’s a four page proposal” (which, by the way, is how The Hunger Games was sold), you can’t game it.  New writers need finished, polished manuscripts.  That takes too much time to write to a trend.

Learn from the editors who march to their own drummers.  These are the trend-makers.  These are the people who ferret out innovative writing and create the fads.  Publishers Marketplace allows you to search deals done by specific agents and manuscripts purchased by specific editors.  Explore.  Who is a free-thinker?

Remember that the market cycles.  Your time WILL come if you are crafting compelling stories that fit the appropriate genre guidelines (no 20,000 word YAs, no sex in MG, no 5,000 word picture books, etc).  There will ALWAYS be a market for good writing.

Going back to our fairytales…

I want you to write stories you love.  I don’t want you to be paralyzed by the big, bad market.  But promise me… please… that when you delve into that deep, dark forest you will take the time to get to know the landscape.

“I hate your manuscript” – Critiquing a manuscript that you don’t like

by Amber Keyser
Published on: June 11, 2012
Comments: 1 Comment

Eventually it will happen.  Whether you are in a new critique group or a neighbor has asked you to read his pages or you’re on the faculty for a writing conference, you will need to critique manuscripts that you really don’t like.

That’s okay.

Really.

As Beth Revis discusses in a wonderful post on how to deal with negative reviews (the other side of the coin we’re discussing), tastes differ.  Some people hate Harry Potter.  Some people think Where the Wild Things Are sucks.  You can and should acknowledge the genres or forms that you are just not into.

That does not, however, get you off the hook of providing critique.

You can’t say, “I don’t like it.”
You can’t say, “It’s not my thing.”
You can’t say, “This is terrible.”

You can say, “I am not familiar with the conventions of this genre.”
You can say, “I heard that Silly Willy Press publishes goofy rhyming picture books.”
You can say, “I was wondering who the target audience is.”

It’s even better if you can…

… try to get past the fact that you hate rhyming picture books and provide useful comments on structure or story arc or character development

… figure out what you don’t like and frame this constructively.  For example, you hate the main character, but instead you focus on what would help you connect with him.  Is he too passive?  Does he feel mean-spirited?  Can he do less self-talk and more action?

… remember that you are not trying to help your critique partner write a story you will like.  You are trying to help her write the story she is trying to write.

And above all… Do No Harm.  Many of us have experienced manuscripts that looked like lost causes and low and behold, the writer has revised and revised until her story has emerged solid and polished and, yes, likeable!

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