Followers or Friends?

This is something that’s bothered me, and I’ve wanted to write a post on for a while now. I talk a lot about how amazing the online writing community is, and they really are. Where else can you meet so many awesome, nerdy people from all around the world who love the same things you do?

I’ve never seen another group of strangers be so supportive for each other and be so united, without ever having met. A lot of times, the #amwriting community is what gets me through the day, or what makes me keep going when I don’t want to, or keeps me from giving up hope.

The online writing community and those connections are very important to me. So I find it really frustrating, especially as I’ve become more involved and gained a larger presence online, to find more people solely concerned with what they can get out of you.

I rarely unfollow people, but it’s usually for the same reason I choose not to follow someone in the first place. If their feed is filled with mindless RTs, links, and promotions, I’m not going to follow them. To me, that’s not really contributing anything, but more screaming Look at me! Buy my book! I want to make real connections, not scroll through a bunch of links and tweets that could have been posted by robots.

Recently, I had apparently unfollowed a certain user at some point, and they left me a nasty comment trying to make me feel like a bad person for doing so. It certainly made me feel icky, but not for the reason they intended. I didn’t feel guilty, I just felt attacked. There was nothing personal about it, but they had made it personal. If we never connected, never talked, and there was nothing genuine there, why would I want to follow them?

Similarly, I’ve had several users with massive numbers follow me more than once, meaning they had followed, unfollowed, and followed me again (sometimes three or four times), without recognizing me and probably without ever knowing who I was. Clearly, there was no real connection there, I was just another stat to add to their numbers.

Another thing I’ve noticed is how many of these accounts simply RT and follow those on the #amwriting or other tags, without even seeming to read the tweet or notice the person. I’ve seen these accounts RT inappropriate and completely unrelated things, simply because they were tagged with the #amwriting tag, usually because it was trending. In that case, do those RTs even mean anything?

Obviously, no group is going to be perfect, especially when the internet is involved. But sometimes it just leaves me with an icky feeling, rather than the usual warm and fuzzies I get from the #amwriting community. To these people, you’re more important as a number than as a person.

There’s nothing wrong with having a lot of followers, or following everyone back. But I’ve become a lot more conscious on who I choose to connect with, and what their motivations are.

The online writing community can be whatever you choose to make it, and what you want to get out of it. I feel like those who are obsessed with followers and RTs, just for the sake of followers and RTs, are missing out on all the best parts. The #amwriting community isn’t just for gaining influence, building an audience, and selling books. Actually, most evidence has shown that social media isn’t a huge boost to book sales.

The best parts are everything besides the numbers. The awesome people, the friends, the diversity, the connections, the networking, the business opportunities, the support. Really, would you rather have all of that, or a whole lot of numbers that in the end, don’t actually mean anything?

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Nearing the Finish Line

If any of y’all have been keeping an eye on the word counter in the sidebar, you’ve noticed it creeping ever closer to full. Now, the space is hardly noticeable at all. And it’s true. I’m only 1k away from my original goal of 60,000 words.

Am I almost done? Yes, but I still have more to go. That original goal is probably around 10k short, and that’s okay. But nearing my goal feels beyond amazing.

I’ve struggled a lot with this WIP. Between CampNaNo, burnout, and an overloaded semester, the words have been difficult at times. But somehow, at some point, I got out of the slog of the middle and into smoother waters. I’ve been churning out words, new characters, and plot points, and love where the story is going. I get excited every time I sit down to write, and when I start I don’t ever want to stop.

I love this feeling. It certainly hasn’t been an easy road, but writing a book never is. And as this WIP gets closer and closer to becoming a full, complete manuscript–my second publishable one ever–my smile gets bigger and bigger.

What started out as a snippet of an idea, one I pursued only as a break from my original manuscript, turned out to a story and world of its own. Now, it is about to be a book, and then a series. I feel a little bit like a proud mom, about to have her second baby. My CP and I call them brain babies, and this really is. And I think for a while I’m going to keep this one to myself, and enjoy it while it’s fresh and exciting and new, before I send it out into the world to be beaten and taken apart and reformed.

I’m actually looking forward to edits. I’m looking forward to going through it, and exploring this world deeper, and these new voices I’ve just discovered. I can’t wait for it to be polished and shiny and ready for the world–and to share it all with you.

This has been a marathon. I am so glad I’ve had y’all along with me on this journey, on the sidelines of the marathon, cheering me on. Though there were definitely times I wanted to give up, I am jogging towards the end–my lungs burning, muscles aching, and heart soaring. I just need a few more cheerleaders, to make it through this home stretch, and break through that ribbon.

I can’t wait.

Why You Shouldn’t Be Writing

We are constantly told: “You should be writing.” Especially from our fellow writer friends. It’s meant as a sort of tough love encouragement, a call to action, or push to get us going. Which is great, if the only thing stopping you is your own procrastination, or the ever-present self-doubt.

But sometimes, all this does is add to guilt us writers already struggle with every day. Every free moment we get, a little voice in our head is taunting, “You can’t relax. You’re being lazy. You should be writing.”

I’m here to tell you that little voice is wrong.

As far as little voices go, they’re usually wrong, and it’s a good idea not to listen to them anyways. But that one I am sure you are familiar with that constantly nags at the back of your mind with guilt the longer you go between words, is hard not to listen to. Especially when our fellow comrades in writing are saying the same thing.

Yes, sometimes we just need a little push. But sometimes, there is more than that going on. Maybe you’re a parent (a full-time job) or have a full-time job (maybe both). Maybe when you get home you’re just so exhausted you can’t stand, or mentally drained, and all you want to do is veg out on the couch and watch some brain-numbing TV. Or if you’re like me, a full-time student with so much going on, it feels like you’re just trying to keep your head above water most of the time.

When I’ve finished studying for hours, or come home from a four hour lecture, the last thing I want to do is sit down and force out some words with brain power that I don’t have left. I’d much rather binge watch Once Upon A Time until I pass out and have dreams of Captain Hook (it’s happened, no judgement), or spend some quality time with boyfriend, or have an old-fashioned girls night, or I don’t know, sleep for the first time in a week.

We are writers. The words are a part of us, and they always will be. That doesn’t mean that the longer we go without writing, we become lesser writers. Yes, we are writers, but we are also human beings. With lives, and families, and responsibilities, and memories to be made.

Let yourself off the hook.

I know this can be hard for us writers, but seriously. If you need me to give you permission: You shouldn’t be writing right now. You have absolutely nothing hanging over your head, pressing at the back of your mind. You shouldn’t feel guilty. Go outside, read a book, spend time with your family, go out, take a nap. There are a hundred other things you can and should be doing instead of feeling guilty for not writing.

Again, we are writers but we are also humans. You do not stop being a writer if you’re not writing, or if you don’t think of writing every hour every day. The words will always be there. Go out and live your life, enjoy it. Maybe you’ll even get inspiration out of it, or come up with the next great American novel.

Trust me, letting go of that guilt feels amazing. When I stopped listening to that little voice, it felt like being freed from shackles.

So the next time you feel that familiar, gnawing guilt in the pit of your stomach, and hear that voice in the back of your mind, saying “You should be writing”?

Kindly tell him to leave you the hell alone.

Fish

As a freshman in high school, I remember feeling like a little fish in a big pond, so it was only fitting that freshmen were called “fish”. I looked up to those big, wise seniors who were impossibly tall and more worldly than I, and I couldn’t imagine ever being like that. How does a guppy become a shark?

Well inevitably I became a sophomore, junior, then senior and I was the one looking down at the incoming fish, and I didn’t feel wise or worldly at all (though maybe I had impossibly tall covered). Had I missed it, somewhere along the way? Some seminar or rite of passage, some magic spell or machine that would transform me from a guppy to a shark?

Though high school is behind me now, I can’t help but feel like a fish again, staring up at those established writers and wonder, how do I get there? How is that even possible?

One thing I’ve noticed that the little voice of doubt has liked to focus on lately is my age. I used to see being young as something good for a writer–fresh, current, ambitious, wild imagination. Now I sometimes see it as a hinderance. While reading Ruin and Rising (which was unbelievable and I hope to get a review of the series up soon) I naturally admired her prose and creativity. On the other hand, I thought that some of that can only come with age and experience–broader vocabulary, more experience to draw from, a better grasp of worlds and cultures and people and relationships. How can I use something that I don’t have?

Looking up at them, they may seem larger than life and impossible to reach, but I might venture to guess that the view from up there is much like a senior looking down at the fish. Truth is, we’re all looking through a fish bowl, distorting our perceptions into reality.

There will always be certain things I do not have, and cannot have, that those with age and wisdom do. But there are also some awesome things about being young and inexperienced. And if the journey to the top of the writing food chain is anything like the high school one, it will be over before I even know it happened and I’ll look back and wonder, how did I get here?

Whether you’re young, or new to the publishing world, or both, it can be overwhelming to stand at the bottom of the food chain looking up. But everyone starts at bottom, and the only place to go from there is up.

Breaking the Rules

Recently I wrote a post on pushing the boundaries, and being a fearless writer who embraces their inner crazy. Well, consider this part two, or me beating a dead horse, whichever you prefer. 🙂

I’ve learned a lot through the writing community the past couple months. I’ve received advice and wisdom which has been extremely helpful, but  sometimes this can be overwhelming. There’s countless tidbits, do’s and don’ts, and rules. I mean, there’s hundreds and thousands of books filled with this stuff! Before I dove into this process, I’d more or less just figured everything out on my own. I didn’t have any resources or guidance, so I had to learn through trial and error. Which was great, but time-consuming (think 19 years of writing time-consuming). But coming from that, I think it has given me a unique point of view on writer advice.

First of all, it depends who you are and where you’re at in the process. You might be like a friend of mine, who is writing her very first book, and seeks out every single bit of information and advice there is to be found on the craft of writing with the appetite of a teenage boy. Or you might be like me, and you’ve been writing your entire life and things sort of come naturally. You might be somewhere in the middle.

Rules are more like guidelines, than laws. They are like a trail, leading you through the forest so you don’t get lost and starve to death, but you’re not surrounded by a stone wall. You can veer off the path a little bit, and maybe find some pretty awesome things along the way.

For example, two of the major rules I learned when I started this was A: prologues are a sin. And B: Opening a book with a character waking up is also a sin. But, how does Hunger Games start? With Katniss waking up the day of the reaping. And the book I am currently reading, The Park Service by Ryan Winfield, begins with both of these. But it was done so well that by the end of the (short) prologue I was hooked to the point of no return.

I was guilty of A in my current manuscript, and held onto that prologue for dear life, refusing to believe that rules applied to me. But my prologue was amazing so it didn’t matter, right? Well, yes, there were some pretty awesome moments, and some great worldbuilding (if I do say so myself) but ultimately, I realized it wasn’t necessary. I took the choice bits and dispersed them later on, and eventually wrote an entirely new beginning altogether (which you can read under my Weekend Writing Warrior posts). In hindsight, I realized the prologue was only extra words between my reader and my hook, which is something you never want.

So, what’s the moral of the story? Rules are there for a reason, but don’t be afraid to break them. But if you do break the rules, make sure it’s for a reason.

Make sure it serves a purpose, and makes your story better for it (not just because you worked really hard on that prologue and it’s beautiful, dang it) As I said in my last post, jump off the ledge first, and worry about reeling yourself in later. Don’t get caught up in the ten thousand do’s and don’ts and end up trying to navigate a minefield. It’s good to listen to others who are more knowledgeable and experienced than you (read: experienced, not just “experts”) but don’t treat it like gold.

Because really, there is no one way. Whether you’re brand new or a NYT bestseller, writing isn’t an exact science. There’s no secret formula, no How to Write for Dummies guide to becoming the next JK Rowling or Suzanne Collins.

Don’t be afraid to take risks, and take every bit of advice with a grain of salt (even mine). Because at the end of the day, none of us really know what we’re doing, we’re just all trying to figure it out, one word at a time.

Writing, like all art, is messy. Sometimes, the mistakes are the most beautiful part. 🙂

Query Critique, Pitch Slam, DFWCON, Oh My!

So I just got back from DFWCON! Which explains why I have been a little MIA. It was my first conference ever, and was a complete whirlwind. I am so exhausted (dead) I really don’t even know how I am functioning right now (I’m not)…and I’ll probably pay for it by taking a week to recover. So worth it though.

First, I will talk a little about Pitch Slam, which I participated in a week or so ago. Mainly, I learned not to listen to feedback. What? Let me rephrase that. Especially being new to the whole publishing process, I think I know nothing and that anything other people say (especially credible “experts”) is gold. It’s not. Feedback is great. You need it. You need to get out of your bubble and get fresh eyes and have someone tell you all the parts that don’t make sense or could be better or just plain suck (hopefully they don’t say suck). But I learned not to take it too seriously. It is still just someone’s opinion.

The best example of this is that prior to the contest, I got a free critique by an author. She told me she thought my pitch was perfect, and nitpicked some things about my first 250 but they were very constructive and helpful. I felt pretty confident going into the contest. Then I got my official Pitch Slam feedback. They called my pitch “disorienting” and “hard to imagine.” And then in the second Pitch Slam round they were much more positive about my first 250 (I think it was another person).

I also entered my query into an online query critique workshop, and had feedback ranging from “I love it” to more or less “throw it out”. I literally had someone tell me I’d never be able to get an agent (seriously?). And, by the way, if anyone ever gives you feedback like that, really don’t listen to them. I’ll be honest, that one hurt (and I’m not sensitive about critique), but I don’t think that ever needs to be said, or is ever true! Everyone has a chance, a lot of it is just luck and timing.

I’m sure you’ve heard this a dozen times, but it’s really all subjective. There are rules, but they’re not laws. And besides, rules are meant to be broken 😉

DFWCON. Wow. Honestly, I had no idea what to expect with my first conference. It was overwhelming but so eye-opening and educational and fun! I think the first day I was overstressed and overthinking it, and wasn’t able to enjoy it as much. Now I wish I could rewind and do it all over again, because I really just loved it. I could probably talk about this for days, but here’s the highlights.

My pitch went well! Got a request for a partial from the agent, so I am frantically trying to perfect my first pages and query. I was also able to talk with her more during lunch and around the conference, and feel like I made an impression. She remembered my name, so I’m hoping that will help when I query her! I made some great connections. Which, really, is what conferences are about. The workshops/panels were great (They had some fantastic authors/editors/speakers. Donald Maass is unbelievable) but I feel like you can kind of learn a lot of that stuff elsewhere. Conferences are really one of the only opportunities writers have to connect face-to-face. And I think becoming a part of the writing community is so important, no matter what stage of the process you’re at.

These are some of my favorite quotes I jotted down from various speakers:

“It took me one month to write it. It took me a year to make it a novel.” Bob Stewart

“Let yourself off the hook. Write a crappy first draft. That’s genuine.” Jonathan Maberry

“Send your protagonist over the edge.” Donald Maass

“What stops a lot of people writing is the belief that everything has to be perfect.” Jonathan Maberry

There were a ton of super memorable moments and wisdom nuggets, but my favorite was Donald Maass’ closing remarks (his character workshop was also fantastic, I wrote five pages of notes). I actually teared up it was that good. He talked about something I firmly believe in–that the best books have something to say. There are endless tips and tricks and techniques for being successful as a writer, but that’s what it boils down to. Write a great book first. Books are so, so, so powerful. A lot of times we underestimate ourselves as writers, and the impact we can have. We have the power to change the world, literally.

To sum it up, I’ll leave you with this from his closing remarks:

“Quit just trying to be published. Let’s change the world.”