Monday, February 25, 2013

Day Job Can Make You a Better Writer: Taking Criticism

Criticism is a valuable part of the writing-publication journey. In this business there is no end to criticism and that's not a bad thing. Criticism makes us stronger and forces us to grow. Perhaps one of the most humbling and important lessons I learned was how to take criticism gracefully. Listening to suggestions or negative feedback about your 80,000 word baby is hard. No - It’s FREAKING hard. But it’s essential to becoming a better writer.

This time of year at the DJ we are going through year-end reviews. A big formal way to receive criticism about your work. There are people who are better at this than others. Some bosses pack the year end review with feedback you've never heard before. This type of criticism is a confidence grenade and can leave you in a doubt spiral. Then there are the bosses who are totally upfront. You've heard from them all year about the things you need to work on and you know where you stand.

Luckily, with few recent exceptions, my DJ bosses have been in the latter group. I’m constantly receiving feedback about my work: Like when my boss tells me she hates how I handled the conference call, or my team tells me they think I could do a better job of communicating standards and goals, Or when my peers just flat out think I suck at my job. Receiving criticism can feel a lot like this:

If you received this feedback at the DJ you would never dream of firing off an angry email to your boss telling them how wrong they are. Not if you expect to stay employed, anyway. When it comes to our DJ's we've learned to take criticism gracefully (even if that means going to an empty parking lot where no one from work can see you cry).

Experts at taking criticism gracefully seek the constructive in the negative. The goal is to learn from feedback (no matter how much the feedback hurts to hear).

In writing we have a ton of 'bosses' giving us constant feedback: Agents, Editors, CP's, and Readers. If we are going to make it in the pub world we'll need to learn to turn criticism into improved craft.

I was reminded of this two years ago when I won a crit for a super-awesome-famous-cooler-than-cool HarperTeen editor. I was thrilled and honored to have someone so knowledgeable reading my work.

The editor read my first 25 pages which included a prologue. (*cringes at use of prologue*) I know, I know. But I'd heard all the advice about 'hooking readers immediately' and 'opening with action' so I figured the best way to do that was with a prologue.

The HarperTeen editor said the prologue didn't work in my case. She agreed that it was action packed but stated the reader wouldn't give two flips about the characters or the action because they didn't know the characters. (I'm paraphrasing here because the super-awesome-famous-cooler-than-cool HarperTeen editor was professional, generous, nice and really sweet about the entire thing.)

By dropping the reader deep into the action without allowing them to invest in the characters my 'thrilling' scene was boring and tedious. The editor urged me to reconsider my opening and suggested I start with a normal day-in-the-life-of-the-MC. That way the reader could get to know my character.

I hated her idea. I was a little smug about it too (I'm ashamed to say).

How am I supposed to hook my readers if the story opens with a normal boring day?

I chewed on her feedback (aka criticism) for months. I ran through all the reasons why her idea was bad. Why my current opening was awesome. How I could never make her idea work in my narrative, yadda yadda yadda....until it hit me: the tiny pebble of truth (our in this case a giant boulder of truth). Her idea was AWESOME! It was just freaking hard and I didn't like that. Her idea challenged me and I didn't like that. It meant a huge rewrite of the first half of the book.

When I decided to try the editor's idea I was really pleased with the result. I even did a few happy dances:

Turns out it's possible to hook a reader even if the story opens with a 'normal' day.

It can take time to understand advice that, at first, seems like criticism. If you can master this you'll be successful at anything you set out to do. This is especially true in the wild world of writing where criticism is constant.

Good writers aren’t born, they're made. They train and work hard. They learn and grow. Take this time to thicken your skin and you'll be better for it. Just another way the DJ makes us better writers.

Have you learned to take criticism with grace? What helped you get a thicker skin?

Monday, February 18, 2013

Author Interview: Priya Kanaparti, Dracian Legacy

I'm very excited to have a special guest join the blog today. Priya Kanaparti allowed me to interview her regarding her debut, out this month, Dracian Legacy (buy it here). So let's get started:

1. Hi Priya *waves*. Thanks for being here today. As book lovers I think we all romanticize the birth of ideas that grow up into beautiful novels. How did the idea for your debut, Dracian Legacy, come to you?

Truthfully? I don’t know. *laughs* I had always been a huge fan of magic and supernatural things. I loved watching the whole line of shows on the CW like the Secret Circle, Supernatural, and Nikita. I guess as I watched these shows, a thought came to my mind. What would you do if you were given a second chance at correcting the mistake you never should have done?

From there I started asking questions about who, what, where, when, and how and *bam*, the story formed. It took me about a week of obsessing about the plot and characters before I actually sat down and wrote anything. My first words for the book were the names of the characters and their relationships.

2. Every author seems to enjoy different aspects of the creative process. For you, what was the best part of writing this book? What was the worst part?

The best part about the book was building the relationships. Gosh, I don’t even know how many times I had changed the story plot, just so the right type of relationship could be created.

I'm a sucker for four things: Big brothers = awesomeness, having a guy best friend from childhood is the strongest kind of friendship you could have, your true BFF will never leave your side, and Love conquers everything. I took those elements and went with it.

The worst? Well, I think it’s those writer’s block moments. Or coming up with good scenes that the characters agree with. Because god forbid, I write something they don’t like… *laughs*

3. *swoon* Those elements sound terrific. Now, I know you are very busy: What tricks do you use to balance your time between writing, family, and the day job?

I sneak around a lot. I've even been known to bribe and negotiate at times. LOL. Having a little one makes writing harder than with just a hubby. But we’ve got a system worked out!

4. Do you have any writing rituals or superstitions? (I for one can't write on the third full moon of the solstice...)

Gosh no! However I try to read books in the genre I’m writing or watch lots of action movies when writing action scenes.

5. *hangs head in shame* I guess I'm alone in my crazy rituals. Moving on. Why did you choose the indie pub scene? What do you like about it?

Honestly? I choose Indie publishing because I was afraid of rejection. But as I reached out to all the bloggers and people in the community I really was happy with it. I had the ability to choose what I wanted for the book like my talent designer and brilliant editor! Also I loved meeting so many new people through this process!

6. Sounds like it was a great experience. Which blogs or online resources were the most helpful?
Really, I think Google was my best friend, apart from reaching out to other authors and bugging… er… asking for help. Two in particular went above and beyond to help me in answering all the questions and pointing me in the direction I need to go. Devyn Dawson & Krystle Jones.

7. Tell me, What/who is your favorite book/author?

I think EVERYONE who knows me, knows the answer to this. Without a doubt, Shelly Crane from the Signifiance series (by the way the Movie is coming out valentines 2014) and Jennifer L. Armentrout from the Covenant Series!

8. We all love Twitter and there seems to be no end to supportive authors, editors, and agents online. Who is your favorite Tweep (at the moment)?

It's hard to pick just one Tweep. But my ALL TIME favorite Tweet is by Author Chelsea Fine: “You know a really mean trick to play on a writer? Switch out all their coffee with decaf. Yeah. #husbandjoke #hesgoingdown”

9. So true. I don't know where I'd be without the coffee fairy. Speaking of delicious beverages, how did you celebrate the release of DL?

I never made any plans really. I think I’ll be so exhausted that I’ll celebrate by going to bed early =).

10. You've been a great sport so far but an Author Interview wouldn't be completed if I didn't ask the age old question: are you a Plotter or Panster?

Haha. A total Panster. That’s why it takes me multiple drafts before I get my story straight. Each draft refines the plot, the characters, and the dialogue for me.

To learn more about Priya or her novel, Dracian Legacy, follow the blog tour. Here are a few stops along the tour:

Say it with Books - Book Review & Character Interview
The Book Diaries - Book Review
Books Forget me Knot - Book Review & Pey Interviews Axel
Kidbits - Dracian Legacy Playlist
Fantasy Books - Dracian Legacy Prologue

Also, to celebrate this wonderful book birthday Priya is giving away goodies! Guaranteed winners: 3 winners will receive 1 e-book format of Dracian Legacy and 1 winner will receive a $15 GC to Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

Already own a copy? Do not disrepair. If a winner has already purchased the book, with a proof of purchase, she’ll buy them another book or give a GC of equal or lesser value.

In addition, Priya will continue to add ONE $5 increment GC for every 150 copies of the book (ebook or hardcopy) sold. So for the first 150 copies sold, I’ll add $20 GC, the second 150 copies sold, I’ll add $25 GC, etc… There’s no limit to how many gift cards she'll add to the giveaway.

HERE’S the code for the GIVEAWAY:
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Friday, February 15, 2013

Day Job Can Make You a Better Writer: World Building

In this series I plan to explore ways the Day Job can actually improve your writing. One super huge way in which your Day Job can make you a better writer is World Building:

All jobs are full of jargon, legacy, and ritual. Immersing yourself in the wild world of the DJ helps exposes you to the rich detail of another world. Albeit, the other world may not be glamorous or involve hot guys who slay dragons. *sigh*

I work in the health care industry which has a lexicon comprised of acronyms (HMO, PPO, DMO, HRA, FSA, etc.), jargon (Par, Non Par, Caid, Care, etc), and even numerical codes used to represent language (99213, 99214, 99215, etc). Imagine how much I could learn if I studied the language like these hippos study...marbles:

Language is a huge component of world building. But that's not all we can learn from the DJ. There's more *said in manner of slap chop salesman*:

All DJ's have processes, procedures, and rituals that must be followed. There’s a hierarchy to the society: those in the trenches, managers, executives, and senior leaders. And most importantly every DJ I’ve held, from McDonald's to Corporate Office, has had a culture and system of values. These are all important elements of world building in fiction. Whenever I begin plotting a new WIP I ask myself these Day-Job-inspired questions:

a. What words/language will the characters use?
b. What rituals are important to the characters?
c. What hierarchy is established in this world?
d. What do the people of this world value?

Has your Day Job helped you with world building? What other things have inspired your world building?

Need more on how our Day Jobs can make us better writers?

Check out this post about taking criticism.

Or this post on Stability and Creativity.

Or this post on Discipline - you gotta have it.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

7 More Agents to Follow

My first list was a hit so for round two I’ve comprised a list of Agents who provide excellent advice either through the blogosphere or twitter:

Pam van Hylckama aka @bookaliciouspam - A self proclaimed super geek which immediately makes her awesome. Her blog is a terrific resource.

Michelle Witte - reps authors and writes books. Gotta love a double threat. There's a lot we single threat's can learn. (Is single threat right? Or would we be a mono threat? That sounds like a comunicable disease. Uno threat? Sounds too much like the card came. Staying with single threat. deal with it.)

Molly Ker Hawn - Lit agent with the Bent Agency, this expat tweets from across the pond. Ah the memories.

Jennifer Laughran aka @literaticat - Jennifer has been known to blog and tweet sage advice. I love her Big Ol' Genre Glossary.

Kate Testerman aka Daphne Unfeasible - She loves shoes more than Carrie Bradshaw.Lots of eye candy for shoe fanatics.

Sarah LaPolla - She's a live wire and fun to follow. Her snapping good advice has made me smile more than once.

Do you follow any helpful or entertaining Lit Agents?

Friday, February 8, 2013

Day Job Can Make You a Better Writer: Part 1

I recently asked the effervescent Erin Bowman when she felt safe enough to leave her Day Job. She’s very active and funny on twitter @erin_bowman. She loves Mean Girls, what can I say? Awesome! You can read her response to my question here.

It's an important question because every writer I know is head-over-heels-in-love with the idea that someday they, too, will quit their Day Job to become the mysterious and elusive ‘Full Time Writer.’ I've thought about quitting every job I’ve ever had to pursue writing. I’ve even practiced what I’d say to everyone on the day I would quit:

(‘F* you, F* you, F* you, you’re cool, F* you, I’m outta here’ – in the manner of Half Baked. Did I just show my age?)

For many of us, it may only be a dream. We may never be able to quit our Day Job. I think Chuck Wendig said it best: "Most successful full-time writers don’t one day roll out of bed, brew a cuppa joe, then tell their day job boss to eat a bucket of whale dicks and then declare themselves the President of Writerland..." We might need a stead Day Job because of crushing student loan/car/credit card debt. We might be starting a family or a single income family and unable to leave the stability of a Day Job.

Have no fear, the Day Job is what we make of it and as writerly-creative types we can make the best of anything. (It's what we do. *rolls up sleeves* *gets to work*)

I've spent the last several weeks looking for parallels between the writing world and the Day Job world. The results were inspiring and I plan to share them over multiple posts.

Do you have a Day Job? Does it hinder or inspire your writing?

Need more on how our Day Jobs can make us better writers?

Check out this post about taking criticism.

Or this post on Stability and Creativity.

Or this post on Discipline - you gotta have it.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Showing v Telling: an aha moment!

We've all heard it before, 'show don't tell.' And if you're like me, this is how you respond:

'Duh, I totally do that.' And you might be right - but I wasn't. I kept getting feedback form CP's time and time again about showing. Needless to say, I was as frustrated as this little guy:

It wasn't until I received a crit during a recent LitReactor class that I realized what I believed to be showing was, in reality, telling (with lots and lots of pretty adjectives). Luckily, the comment I received in class clicked.

*Cue beams of light* It was my aha moment. *cue angelic singing* More like a punch to the gut. The impact of this new understanding left me spinning. Will I need to toss my current draft and start over? Yes. Will I be a stronger, better writer because of it? Yes. Am I happy about it?

I guess so.

This article is very similar to the advice I received. The point If you haven't had you're Showing v Telling aha moment I encourage you to check it out. Here is the highlight:

To transform our 'telling' into 'showing' we need to become adjective detectives. We must pounce on them like this awesome fox:

Attack the adjectives currently telling the story and create action or dialogue to illustrate their meaning.

Is your MC boy crazy? Don't call her boy crazy - show me. Show the MC moving from one hottie to the next. (Hello!)

Is your setting isolated? Don't tell me - show me. Maybe they don't have modern services like internet, trash pick up, etc.. Maybe they get no cell signal. Maybe the characters get no house guests.

You say you're MC is tough? Show me through her reactions to the obstacles in her path.

What was you're 'aha' moment?

Friday, February 1, 2013

8 Literary Agents You Should Follow in 2013

In an effort to continue my writerly resources I decided to spread the word about some awesome Agents out there. Last year, this post got a lot of traffic. Now, I'm not biased or anything: as of now I'm still unagented.

This list is comprised of Agents who provide helpful feedback or resources to writers via twitter:

1. Eric Ruben, Esq: Attorney, literary agent, talent manager. He regularly participates in #AskAgent and does a fun live tweet of his queries under #tenqueries

2. Michelle Wolfson: of Wolfson Literary. She generally tweets about hilarious daily life stuff but has been known to drop some industry tips from time to time.

3. Laura Bradford: of Bradford Literary Agency. Her tweets are an interesting peek behind the curtain; a day in the life of an agent.

4. Brittany Howard: junior agent with @Corvisierolit. She live tweets about queries under the hashtag #CorvisieroQueries. Her feedback is blunt and insightful. Totally worth a follow.

5. Bree Ogden: of D4EO. Tweets regularly and columnist at LitReactor.

6. Mandy Hubbard: also of D4EO. Tweets regularly and has been known to teach LitReactor classes on YA.

7. Suzie Townsend: of New Leaf Literary. She held a query critique several months back and I was lucky enough to get her feedback. Her advice was amazing.

Do you follow any helpful or entertaining Lit Agents?
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