Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Things You Don't Have to Do to Get Published

Lately, I've been perusing writing related forums and reading advice given by other writers. Their ideas certainly have value, but often I want to say, "None of that matters if an aspiring writer isn't able to listen to her own internal voice. None of it matters if she doesn't know how to write her own story with her own characters with her own plot that comes simply and completely from her own head."

If you noticed a theme, then I've done my job of over stressing the words her own.

Writing forums are great. Critique groups are wonderful. Conferences are fun. But none of those things matter if a writer isn't able to sit down by herself and craft a story.

I wrote three books completely on my own before I got published. I put words to paper, character to story, plot to page without anyone offering me advice on how to do it. My sisters (who are phenomenally creative and who are extremely talented in their own right), read the manuscripts after they were complete and offered me advice on everything from grammar to plot, but neither of them were published and neither knew squat about writing a book. I can remember the three of us laughing at my rookie mistakes though we had no idea there were names for them.

Pacing? What was that?

Point of view? Did it matter?

Goals, motivation, character arcs? Did anyone really care?

So, book one and two stunk and were shoved away. Book three was slightly better, and, after putting it aside for a few months, I pulled it out (while on bedrest and pregnant with my oldest daughter) and began reading as if the work were not mine, as if the story were a book I'd picked up off a shelf. A light bulb went off, and I recognized all those things I still didn't have words for. Pacing, point of view, character arcs and motivation. I rewrote the entire book in a few weeks, and sent a query off to Melissa Endlich. The rest, as they say, is history.

The point of this post is not to discuss my road to publication, though. The point is to make it clear that it is possible to get published without:

Knowing someone in the writing industry.

Going to conferences.

Entering contests.

Being in a critique group.

Following all the rules in every book ever written about writing a novel.

Paying someone to critique your work.

Though there is nothing wrong with the things I've listed, they can often dilute a writer's voice, stilt her creativity and sap some of the passion that must be part of the crafting of any novel. There is only one thing that matters when you're pursuing publication, and that is your ability to sit and write. It is your story, your voice and the unique soul you bring to your writing that will lead the way to success. Sometimes we need solitude to hear our own thoughts most clearly. Sometimes we need to be alone to truly listen to the heartbeat of our story.

Don't be afraid to be a maverick when it comes to writing. Pursue your craft with passion, with an honest eye for flow and detail and with the knowledge that you must be your own worst critic.

Friends and family may want this for you. Critique groups may be determined to help. In the end, though, you are the one who must make it happen. Write. Rewrite. Write again. Remember when things get tough and the ideas refuse to flow that each word is a paving stone on the path to publication. You and you alone are responsible for laying them down one by one, thought by thought until you finally reach your destination.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Ted Dekker's Rant and Other Things That Make Me Laugh

I'm afraid I wasn't able to jump on the bandwagon and give Ted Dekker a piece of my mind for the rude and condescending things he said about Steeple Hill Guidelines. The fact of the matter is, I can ill afford to give away even the smallest piece of my mind. The other fact of the matter is, I saw the rant (as it is being referred to) as nothing more than a desperate bid to get attention.

And, really, I've been condescended to before.

What I write isn't literary enough for some, isn't hot enough for others. It isn't real enough. Isn't Christian enough. Is too Christian. In the years I've been writing for Steeple Hill, I've heard it all.

When I first got published, I discovered two things. First, a LOT of people seem to want to be writers. Second, most people who want to be writers (but who have never actually finished writing a book) think that writing is easy. Especially if what is being written is romance.

I can't tell you how many times I heard, "Oh, you got published with Steeple Hill? Maybe I should try that."

As if by simply trying they would easily be able to accomplish what I had.

The truth of the matter is, writing a book (any book) is hard work. Just getting that first draft of that first book done takes persistence and determination. Then, of course, comes the editing and rewriting and looking at it with fresh eyes and rewriting again and editing again. And that is before an editor ever lays eyes on it.

Work is exactly what writing a book is.

And torture as the manuscript is finally ready and submitted and the waiting begins.

Even after the first book is sold and the next and the next, there is always that feeling of anxiety as another story begins, as another completed manuscript lands on the editor's desk. Plus, there is more work. There are revisions, art fact sheets, copy edits and author alterations. To make writing a career, time must be devoted to it, hours must be spent, passion must be balanced with the knowledge that the book belongs to many more hands and heads than simply the author's.

Which brings me back to why I did not respond to Ted Dekker's bizarre diatribe.

I don't have time to defend what doesn't need to be defended. The books I write are clean and wholesome and fully entertaining. I write because I truly believe it is what I'm meant to do. I write because without writing, I'm not sure who I would be.

What's to defend in that?

So, Ted Dekker's weird rant amused rather than alarmed me. Just as any conversation about the depth and breadth and impact of what I write does. Only God can determine what lives will be touched by my work. The Ted Dekker's of the world can't. Neither can the Shirlee McCoys. Thinking anything else is simply a waste of time and energy.

PS.... Alamo Rangers. I didn't even know they existed, but they do. Cool uniforms, too.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Things That Distract Me When I'm Working On The Dreaded Synopsis

ONE: The Neighbor's Cows

Two: My Daughter Dancing Through the Field

Three: My Sons Taking Their Sweet Time Walking Through the Field

Four: My Daughter Bringing Me Flowers

Five: The Osmosis Egg Which Has Taken On a Life and Personality of Its Own.

Lesson to be learned from this: It doesn't take much to distract Shirlee when she's working on the dreaded synopsis!

Monday, November 02, 2009

Just Thinking

Questions I ask myself as I'm working on the synopsis -

Who is she?

Where is she in her life?

What is she searching for?

How has her past shaped who she is?

What catalyst brings the hero into her life, and what is her first impression of him?

Why can't she fall in love with him?

Why must she?

Then, of course, I repeat the process for the hero.

Anyone working on a synopsis besides me?