Thursday, May 29, 2014

Thriving in the Darkest Hour

I read an awesome blog post by Robin LaFevers the other day on Writer Unboxed. It's about how a writer can not only survive but thrive in that "almost there" phase before they get an agent and a pub deal. It spoke so deeply to me, because I've been in that "almost there" phase, or the "Dark Night of the Soul" as Robin put it, for well over a year now. I was a semi-finalist in one online writing contest, and won my age category in another popular online pitch contest, but the agents that requested ended up passing. I got very complimentary feedback from an agent that loved my writing but had something too similar, and requests to submit my future work from a couple others. In essence, it's been an extremely frustrating period of near misses. A period of good, but not good enough.

Reading Robin's post was like a beacon in my dark night, and inspired me to keep at it with gusto. Not that I was thinking of quitting, but it enabled me to smell the roses again. In her post she talks about using this phase in your pre-career to really amp up the excellence in your craft. So, being the list freak that I am, I decided to list out what I felt were the main elements of a story, with the sub-elements that make a novel delicious. My goal with this is to take an honest look at how I stack up in these various areas, both overall and for each book I've written, since each book is of course a unique creature. Here's the list of elements I came up with:

  • Character
    • Depth, details, uniqueness
    • Motivations
    • Emotions
    • Relationships
    • Dialogue
    • POV
    • Character voice
    • Arc
    • Antagonists
  • Plot
    • Concept – new or archetypal?
    • Scenes
    • Pacing
    • Tension
    • Hooks and Cliffhangers
    • Turning points – inner and outer
    • Twists/surprises
  • Voice/Style/Skill
    • Writer’s voice/style
    • Skill with words, mastery of craft
    • Structure
    • “Feel” of the story
    • Ability to immerse reader
    • Subtext
  • Worldbuilding
    • Description – range from lush to minimal
    • Visual and full-sensory experience of reader
    • Details – whether real or fantasy world
    • Setting as character 

So, writer friends: have you experienced a dark time in your writing career? What do you think of the list above - what did I miss? How do you self-evaluate?

I'll let you know how my self-evaluation process goes. I've been reading writing craft books and I have some other exercises to experiment with. Whatever you're up to, I hope the summer is unfolding beautifully!

Monday, April 28, 2014

Balance and A Happiness Project

Brave new world. That phrase pops into my head a lot lately. As some of you know, I recently underwent a huge change in my life. And in addition to getting adjusted to my new life, working at least 40 hours a week, raising my son, and attending to my writing schedule, I've been trying to get serious about exercising and train my horse. Along with having a social life again. Yes, I'm totally Type-A :)

So that's the first part of this post: balance. Ignoring exercise and my horse for the most part, in the past I could usually get 1,000 words written a day. Which pumps out a first draft in about three months. And that's nice, but it's not a race. My horse is almost five and not yet under saddle, and of course my health is important. Over the last couple months it's been two steps forward, one step back trying to get a consistent schedule going to balance this all out. I'd exercise five times a week but only visit my horse once and write too little. Or I'd write more but exercise less - you get the point. I've been trying to find that sweet spot where I get a respectable amount of forward progress in all three without stressing out too much.

What I've come up with that I think will work is: M/W/F = exercise days, and T/Th = horse days in the evenings after work. I'll also write 500 words a day, including the weekends. That's a small amount, but it adds up pretty quickly. Weekends I can always add more in any of the areas as inspired, plus social time. And the good thing is that my son is twelve now, so he likes to exercise with me, and he can do homework while I write, and he likes to come to the barn with me, too. So, we get to spend time together while I'm working towards my goals.

As if all of that isn't enough, I've really been feeling a need to focus internally as well. I'm a very external goal-oriented person, and for the past many years I've let go of most focus inwardly. I'm not a religious person, but I am spiritual, and to me that simply means working towards peace and happiness so you can spread that as you go through life. So, I've been doing some simple things to work on inner me: a few positive affirmations, contemplating areas where I need to grow and learn, being more grateful for what I have.

Then today one of my coworkers mentioned that she's doing this 100-day happiness thing where you do at least one thing every day to make you happy - meditate, eat a pastry, whatever. You can post a picture every day of what you did for your happiness on Twitter, FB, Instagram and a couple other places. This really resonated with me, so I decided on my own little twist to the project: I'm going to tweet for 100 days the special things that I feel gratitude for that day. I'll leave out the standard things: being alive and healthy, my son being alive and healthy, roof over head, etc. Just extra fun stuff. It may be one thing. It could be several. I'm going to use the hashtag #dailygratitude, so hop over to Twitter if you want to join me! I'm starting tonight. I also found a cool website about a different happiness project here.

So, lots going on! Life is overflowing with opportunities to evolve. What kinds of things have you been working on lately? Here's a final fun link to a great song, and you can check out the 24-hour dance marathon that went along with it here. TTFN!

Monday, March 24, 2014

The Body Institute

Today I'm so excited to help writer friend Carol Riggs share about her pub deal for her debut novel The Body Institute! Her agent Kelly Sonnack navigated multiple bids for her light sci-fi novel, and Strange Chemistry ended up making the winning offer!

Read about her deal here. Carol is an amazing writer with crazy good editing skills (she's helped me more than once!), so I'm so stoked about this awesome news. Go say congrats!

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Woman, Interrupted

It's been a while since I posted anything because I went through a pretty major life change. I got a divorce in early February, and moved to a new apartment with my son at the beginning of March. I had to pause on anything writing related and focus on regular life stuff. Getting utility accounts changed. Finding affordable internet and cell service. Buying new furniture and household stuff. Settling into my new life.

My new place is awesome, and two minutes from my son's school. At my old house I was way out in the country, so I'm back amongst society again, enjoying the luxuries of little things like running down to the CVS at the corner, and not having to stress about forgetting something at the grocery store since it's three blocks away. There are sad things, too. Not getting to see my stepdaughter on a regular basis. Not being able to look out my bedroom window and see my horse in the pasture (I moved him to a new farm and that's a whole other story). The loss of some peace and quiet (I can hear my neighbors talking downstairs and next to me sometimes). All in all there are vastly more pros than cons, but it's been a big change and I miss my old house, and I felt very out of place the first few days.

What has been especially odd is not writing every day for about six weeks. Usually I write or edit something almost every day. But I had so much to do I just had to let that go for a bit. In just the last two days I've jumped back into edits on my latest book. It's in the final edit stages before querying, just trying to polish, polish, polish. Taking so much time away actually gave me a nice, fresh perspective on it. It's just about there, and I may even send my first couple of queries next week. I was super close to querying in January, but definitely didn't want to jump into the query trenches with a divorce and the move right around the corner! I'm not that much of a masochist, even as a writer :)

Anyways, it feels great to get back to work on what I truly love, and I have next week off for my son's spring break, so plenty of time to rejuvenate and get back on track. I've got to get back to exercising too, which I've been pretty good about the last week. As the last of winter fades, the new me is blooming with the spring flowers. It'll still be a while until everything feels normal, but I'm on my way.

How about you guys? What have I missed during my hiatus?

Friday, January 10, 2014

Love List!

Recently while on Jaye Robin Brown's blog, she featured Love Lists, a list of things you love about your book to hone your focus during the ups and downs of the writing experience. Love Lists were originally created by Natalie Whipple (read more on her blog). I had heard about Love Lists a long time ago, and Jaye refreshed my memory, and I fell back in love with the concept. Anyways, I thought it'd be fun to share mine for my latest WiP. Share some of yours in the comments below, or do your own post and let me know! Hope everyone's having a kick-ass weekend so far!

  • White stag
  • Time travel
  • Golden bows
  • A kiss beneath a fall of stars
  • Computer hacker/finder of lost children
  • Astral hounds
  • Masquerade ball
  • Countless dimensions
  • Airships and flying cities
  • A dead tree and the daughters of Death
  • Horses with purple eyes
  • Lunar base
  • Dragon fire bond
  • Unexpected betrayals
  • Ever-changing sky
  • Harp music
  • Forest through the eyes of a silver fox
  • Clocks
  • The horned Ferryman
  • The Seeker and the Huntress

P.S. - If you love my love list, I'd love for someone(s) to read my first couple chapters and provide honest feedback. I'll swap crits with ya. So much love :)

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

My Annual Shiny New Year's Post With Less Shininess

I'm not gonna lie, guys - 2013 has not been the best or most exciting year for me. It was a tough year for me as a writer. I really thought it was going to be the year I got an agent and my first pub deal, and it wasn't. But I'm not gonna whine about it beyond that - that's why writers have to be tough cookies. I'm just going to keep writing and it'll happen when it happens.

Here are some of the awesome highlights of 2013:

  • I was a Pitch Wars contestant and me and my mentor won the middle grade category with my book Everdream getting the most MG agent requests. I got lots of awesome feedback on the book, even though it ultimately didn't pan out with an offer of representation.
  • I did a ton of editing on two different books and wrote lots of shiny new words on some other projects.
  • I queried one of the books I did a lot of editing on and got some really great feedback (your writing is wonderful, but I have something too similar; the market's not right for it but send me your next project, etc.)
  • I got inspiration out of the blue (not from my existing idea list) and wrote my fourth novel in less than 6 weeks. It's an awesome concept which I love.
  • I'm still in the running with one of my urban fantasies for the Harper Voyager digital submissions contest, the pool having been whittled from over 4,500 entries to less than 300.
I guess 2013 was a year of lots of agent near-misses. And I know that means I'm getting close to finding the right agent and making my break into the pub industry. So, I'll just keep on writing my ass off! I hope to query my latest WIP in the next couple of months and we'll see what happens from there. In my non-writing life, 2014 will be a year of lots of transition because I'm sad to say I'm getting a divorce. It's definitely for the best, but it's hard nonetheless. We need to sell our house, and my son and I will be moving into town and finding a place to board my horse. Lots of change on that front!

So, writer friends, what's your year been like? And what do you want to accomplish in 2014? I certainly am glad I have the support of such an awesome community of writers!

Happy New Year!

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Gratitude and Other Random Introspection As the Year Draws to a Close

I've just finished probably my fifth plate over the last two days of Thanksgiving food. I LOVE TG food, especially my dear Tofurkey. It makes this vegetarian a happy girl :) Anyways, I've been remiss in blogging lately so I thought I would post some random notes/thoughts on what I've been up to and what I'm planning as the year winds down.

  • The first being, how IS the year already almost over? How did it happen? Last night I saw the first Christmas lights and it was shocking, even though I know it's almost December. Time is flying.
  • I have a lot to be thankful for this Thanksgiving. While I'm going through a big transition in my personal life right now, there are so many things I'm grateful for. I won't bore you with them, except for one: I love my writer friends SO much. Fellow bloggers and Twitter friends, I am always astounded at your awesomeness and I've known some of you for years now, and it makes me happy.
  • Speaking of bloggers, I rarely blog anymore, but am on Twitter almost daily. So, if you're one of my blog peeps that I am not following on Twitter, please send me a message and I'll add you to my daily list. My handle is @aachamberlynn (or just click to find me!).
  • I am currently editing the book I got sudden and crazy inspiration for and wrote in 6 weeks. It's pretty rough. I've got a big edit to-do list. But I've been working hard and I'm hoping to have it query ready by January.
  • I'm also going to submit a short story I wrote earlier in the year to some lit magazines and hope I can find a home for that. I might do that this weekend.
  • I have a busy schedule of fun concerts, art shows and parties to attend in December, which is unusual for me, so I'm excited to branch out and be a butterfly for the month!
So, as the year wraps up, what are you aiming to finish up? What makes you happy and grateful? Do you find yourself gravitating more to Twitter than the blogosphere? Whatever you're up to, I hope it's awesome and makes you sparkle inside and out. TTFN, writer friends!