Monthly Archives: May 2010

Lions and Tigers and Bear, Oh My OR Contests and Prizes and Writing Marathons, All Right OR Wonderings and Statements and Questions, So What? OR A Bunch of Mish-mash Which has No Shape or Meaning

The Writing Marathon starts this week. Are you stretching? Already worrying? Afraid that you may not meet your goal? Well, whatever you do–Do set a MEASURABLE goal for yourself. This is important. When you set a measurable goal (‘I will write 2300 new words,’ or ‘I will revise these 15,000 words’) you have something to work toward, you can easily see if you met the goal and you’ll feel great about what you’ve accomplished when you’re done.

Why is it, when I’m waking up, I think of lots of CLEVER things to write about for this blog (or in a letter or email or on Facebook or in my novel) and then I can’t remember anything but the smile?

I have STARTED several books that I’ve set aside after just a few pages. One was simply confusing me in the author’s time she was trying to establish for her characters. Beginnings are hard for writers, so I’m going to give this author another chance by skipping a little into the book and seeing if I stay confused.

Another book was so badly written I had to SET IT ASIDE permanently.

Okay, so here we are as novelists, right in the middle of this PHENOMENON that I think we’re seeing a lot right now. There’s an interesting idea– but the author can’t quite pull it off. This novel I set aside is getting some attention but I found it to be cliche and overwritten and it didn’t even have a comfortable voice worth staying with for 200+ pages so I jumped to the last pages–to see if the ending would show more of a promise–and that was just a lot of stupid kissing. Maybe I’m getting tired of novels that are hiding their romancey-ness in a good idea that the author can’t control. No, I’m not an 8-year-old boy allergic to kissing. I’m not really sure what I am. But I do know I’m not reading that novel anymore.

We’re doing DINNER this week. On Tuesday. At the Thai Ruby in Provo, Utah. The address is 744 East 820 North. We’ll tell you the time later today. (Ann Dee gave me a time that is usually a good  for me, but I have to go to a ball game then, so I’m hoping for something earlier.)

Our GUEST BLOGGER is  Covenant editor Kirk Shaw. He’ll be talking about ebooks. The guys knows a lot about a lot. So if this is something you’re interested in, well, stop by on Wednesday.

GOALS, GOALS, GOALS. Or should I say measurable goals, measurable goals, measurable goals. We mentioned this briefly last week. I’ll mention it again right now. Please feel free to state your measurable goal here to help motivate yourself. I’m going for 7,000 words. This is one thousand more than the last time we got together to suffer. I’m afraid to say that I’ll go for 8,000, because, darn it–what if I don’t make it? I don’t want to fail in front of everyone. 🙂

I was part of an amazing WEDDING this last week. In fact, May has been  filled with: moving, writing, scrubbing the last home till it passed inspection, setting up our new house, moving a riding lawn mower with a flat tire, a ten-day trip to Texas, four birthdays (including one today–in fact, I have a daughter who starts May [1] and another who ends May [31] and then two in the middle),  an interview with the Deseret News, and the beautiful wedding at the Manti Temple.  I know I must be missing stuff. I’m tired. 🙂

Do you have your WRITING TRAINER? Well, get one quick. (See last Thursday’s post for more information.) We’re starting at what-ever-in-the-heck-time-you-want-to-get-up on Thursday of this week and ending at 11:59 Saturday night.

Have you ever noticed how some people can be awful MEAN?
Have you ever noticed that the IDEA that’s sitting in the back of your mind is far more interesting than your damned dystopian?
Have you ever noticed that  in order to have a REALLY SUCCESSFUL WRITING MARATHON you have to have your daughters doing all the housework and bringing you meals and thick milkshakes to drink and helping you stand up and get moving every hour?
I have.

I’ll end these musing by reminding you that our BIG PRIZE this writing marathon is our get-together where we share first pages. I LOOK forward meeting you in person.

(I just lost everything during an edit–so I’m POSTING, typos and all!)

PS HAPPY BIRTHDAY, CAITLYNNE!!!!!!!!

PMS Happiest MEMORIAL Day to you all.

PISS ANN DEE says 5:30 for dinner at Thai Ruby. (See below)

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Marathon #2

Okay Everyone–

It the 2nd quarter and we’re (insert your own football terms here because I can’t).
Our last marathon was pretty darn successful.
In fact, we had a lot of participation, and we had winners of prizes, and achievers of goals.
So–we’re starting next week with dinner at Thai Ruby in Provo (directions to come) on Tuesday, June 1st.

There we will make our goals.
Ann Dee and I will make them without you, but we hope you all come and make goals with us.

This is going to be a little different marathon.
We are going to assign each other writing trainers. This is the person who is going to check up on you periodically throughout the marathon. See if you need water. Arrange for medical treatment if necessary. Cheer you on. And you’ll do the same for them.

Also, we have a different party prize this time.
Everyone who participates and meets his or her goal will meet with us at a local Utah library (TBA), in August, to share success stories and to read first pages.

We will also have a grand prize again for the most words written. A secret grand prize. Involving books.

We’re excited about this.

So put dinner on your calendar and get ready! We’re doing our Second Three-day Writing Marathon Thursday, Friday and Saturday of next week!

And here’s your writing assignment: What is the biggest obstacle you have to overcome for your current WIP? How MIGHT you begin to overcome it?

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Amy Finnegan: 8 Years and Counting (aka: “Oh, for the love of *%$#@!”)

WARNING: This post is self-indulgent. Perhaps ridiculous. But certainly honest.

It was in March 2002. I was 30 years old with two kids under five. My husband worked fourteen hour days. I was living in Tucson, Arizona, far from family and friends. And I was . . . well, lonely. And I felt like my brain was mush, with very little but Barney songs floating through it all day. Sure I loved being a mother, but what had happened to me? Amy. The social butterfly who used to love to learn new things, explore the world, stretch her mind! Where was that girl?

I wasn’t sure who I was anymore.

Then one day I happened to express these thoughts to a friend, and she said, “If you could do anything at all, just for you, what would it be?” And I replied, without the thought having ever crossed my mind before, “I think I’d write a novel.”

That was the moment. I remember it with perfect clarity—where I was, how I felt. I knew right then that writing was exactly what I needed in my life. Why hadn’t I thought of it before? I’d taken six or seven English classes in college, and my creative English teacher had even told me “You should be a writer. Really.” Still, it wasn’t until that moment several years later that it clicked: I want to write.

I also remember going home later that day and writing those first few words. The first page. The scene just popped into my head—the characters fully drawn. And elated, I thought, “This is gonna be easy!”

I was on top of the world. I wrote and wrote and wrote, and I stretched my mind, and I felt like myself again. And I didn’t feel lonely anymore because I had dozens of new friends (imaginary, but still).

A few months into it, my thoughts evolved into something more like this: “What do I do when I’m finished?” After all, by that point, I must’ve written fifty whole pages. I was cruising! And I had already learned online that if I wanted to publish it, I had to turn it into something called a “manuscript” with Times New Roman, 12 point font, and one-inch margins. Easy-peasy. I fixed that stuff in a few minutes flat. So now all I had to do was finish the story.

Then I would just call an editor and say I had a book for them to publish! And then my husband wouldn’t have to work in crappy corporate America 14 hrs a day, and we could buy a new house! $$$$$$$ Right?

It’s terribly embarrassing to admit how naive I was, but unless you lived in close proximity to a writer (like Kyra Williams, for example) before you dove headfirst into this crazy business, I’d bet most of you were once just as naive as I was.

Each time I go to a writer’s conference, I’m reminded of just how far I’ve come (for good and bad). Because it never fails, in almost every question and answer session, someone will ask “What’s the difference between an editor and an agent?” And half the room smiles with the patience of a saint. Or a comment like this will be made: “I’ve got an eight book series, sort of like Harry Potter, only better—like Tolkien, but with prehistoric, saber-tooth vampires—and when I negotiate the deal, I’ll refuse to take less than one million per book. So I don’t really want an agent, ‘cause that’s gonna be a whole lotta cash going to someone else, when I was the one who did all the work, you know?”

Forget half of the room having patient smiles. This is usually when at least 90% of conference attendees dart their eyes anywhere but at the one who made the comment because you’re just sure that your face says “Dude, are you FREAKING FOR REAL?” And what is the remaining 10% of the room doing—most of them first time conference attendees? Nodding like this is an excellent question, because they, too, have an 8 book series to sell, and can’t see the point in giving a whopping 15% to an agent for doing something that they can so obviously do for themselves. I mean, come on, the vampires have teeth the size of saber-tooth tigers. That’s awesome!

But I always remind myself—which is a good reality check—that I used to be one of those people asking the stupid questions. And at the time, the questions didn’t seem at all stupid (though I’ve never thought to demand one million per book. And frankly, I lost my taste for vampires 500 or so YA novels ago). But the visions of grandeur and ease? Oh, yeah. I’ve been there.

And I miss those days. Like crazy.

Early on, I remember hearing the old adage “You have to write a million words before you’re ready to submit anything.” But did I think I’d be the exception (one in two million or so people are, you know)? Yes, definitely. I thought I could just learn all the “rules,” meet a few editors, and wah-la! Publication!

But here’s the problem: the more “rules” I learn, the more I notice that these same rules are broken in both bestselling and critically-acclaimed novels. And the more editors I meet, the more confused I get about what kinds of books they’re looking for (most can’t really describe what they want, they just know it when they see it). And the better I get to know published authors, the more I realize that publication doesn’t mean the same thing for everyone—even very successful authors can be almost entirely ignored by their editor and marketing team.

What I wouldn’t do to be naive again.

So why am I still trying to figure out this game in which the rules change on a whim? And no one even agrees on the rules? And just when I think I’ve done exactly what one editor or agent tells me to do, another editor or agent tells me to do it differently. And after months and months of revising according to these suggestions, my stories often end up feeling like everyone else’s stories but mine.

In other words, for the last couple of years, writing has been little more than work. Lots and lots of it. I rarely feel the same sense of joy I used to feel. My quest for publication has, in fact, made me feel absolutely miserable at times. And my writing is even embarrassing to discuss with most people because they almost always say “When is your novel getting published?” (Yeah, well, that would be NEVER! Thanks SOOO much for asking!)

So, again, why am I still here?

For the first time in eight years of full-time writing, I’ve had to ask myself this question. And not just ask it, but answer it. And answer it honestly.

But after a solid year or so of soul searching, I’ve decided to keep going. Keep trying. Keep running after what may very well be an unattainable goal for me. It will mean more sacrifice, more heartbreak and doubt, more moments of feeling utterly humiliated, and suffering through plenty of other emotions that most of you are already familiar with.

Will it be worth it? There’s no way to know.

But moving forward, there are a few changes I’ve decided I need to make:

1) I have to go back to why writing made me happy in the beginning: escaping into my own imagination, stretching my mind, telling stories that I would want to read myself. I need to write first for myself, second for my readers, and worry about the opinions of editors and agents later.

2) I have to come to terms with the thought of it Never Happening. National publication, I mean. I have to stop thinking of publishing as the end all be all. Because, again, most of the “successful” authors I know still don’t live in penthouses, nor are they satisfied with their current level of success, nor do they feel entirely respected. They still get bad reviews. Their editors don’t always like their new projects (rejections never seem to end). And most are still left to wonder why their publisher markets Betty Booksie so much better than their own books are marketed, and why Betty Booksie gets to go to ALA and BEA and sign at Legendary Library in New York City, when they’re lucky if they even get to sign at B&N in BFE. So, really, once/if I’m published, are all these present tears of mine going to be worth it anyway? I doubt it. So my writing can’t be all about publishing—it just can’t be. Because no matter how “big” I get, I’ll never be as big as Betty Booksie, or whoever else is the Hot Author of the day. My writing has to be about NOW. I have to be happy with what I’m accomplishing right now, no matter how insignificant it seems when I compare myself to others.

3) I also need to stop taking things so personally. Ideally, I’d like to be able to say “So what if an editor didn’t love my manuscript? Next!” Since this editor and I don’t have the same taste in storytelling, I probably wouldn’t like a novel she wrote, either. In that case, with roles reversed, I’d be the one giving the editor a rejection letter that starts something like “Though I enjoyed this, I’m sorry to say I just didn’t fall in love with it.” (Blah-di-blah-di-blah – you know the words). This is a business primarily dependent on preferences. And it seems that more and more novels are being sold based on an idea—because an enticing plot, prettily packaged, will appeal to the masses—even if the execution is lacking. The best of the best books have both literary talent and commercial appeal going for them, of course, but those books seem to be few and far between. Those authors are rare. With all this in mind, I have to keep telling myself that I need just ONE editor to think I have a shot at being this kind of author. Just ONE who believes in me. I don’t need to care about the rest.

This is an easy pep talk to put down on paper, and not nearly as easy to follow through with. But this is my first case of “The Quits,” and I’m fighting for every last reason I can find to hang on. When all is said and done, writing itself makes me enormously happy—the business side of writing, not so much.

But one thing that has always been a positive experience for me in the writing world is the people. If I could adopt Carol Williams, I would. Really, I would adopt her as my sister and I would make her stay up late with me every night and tell me stories. And when I was sad and ready to give up on my writing, I know she would be there to say she wouldn’t let me give up. And she isn’t the only author who hands out encouragement like samples at Costco. Rick Walton, anyone? Ann Dee Ellis. Ann Cannon. Sharlee Glenn . . . . My list could go on and on. And it isn’t only the tried-and-true mentors who have given me the hope I need to keep going. I continue to meet one writer after another who is interested in my success. And I sincerely want them to succeed, too!

The thing that must bind us all together is the ups and downs of this business. If we were all bestsellers from the get go, would we even know each other? Would we even care to know each other?

I think we need one another, if for no other reason than courage to stay in this rat race. I hope that the blog entries I’ve had the great pleasure of posting over the past couple of months have somehow done that for you. I know you’ve all helped me, so thank you!

And now I’m off to England and Scotland for 10 days, and then I’ll be revising all summer long (!!!!!!!). But maybe when school is back in, Carol and Ann Dee will ask me back for another guest blog or two. You’ve been a fantastic audience!

As for this whiny rant of mine that hopefully ended as more of a pep talk, please . . . share your own experiences with getting through “The Quits.”

(Hope you’re all coming to the WIFYR conference. Come introduce yourself if I don’t know you, and if I do, I can’t wait to see you! And if we’re not already friends on Facebook, send me an invite – Amy Atkinson Finnegan) xo

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Writing Marathon? End of May beginning of June? Isn’t that like, right now?

I can’t do it.

I guess I could but don’t you need to mentally prepare? And we haven’t even celebrated the last marathon (which BTW, was won by one of Amy Lavin’s students who wrote OVER 20,000 words! HELLO!). And I’m still tired from the last one.

Also, it snowed here. May 24th. Cold heavy snow that fell on my head in chunks and got my flip flops soaking wet.

And, while I was in Vegas, my niece staged a fashion makeover. I shouldn’t say fashion, I should say hair makeover. I had to go to her fancy hairdresser who asked if I wanted a tour before my cut.

A tour?

Sure.

Of what?

he smiled. His hair was flowing down to his chest and he was wearing all black. Silly Utahy me.

Of the salon.

Oh. Okay.

At this salon there was a color bar. a pedicure oasis. A massage hair washing station (not the real name–obviously. I can’t remember) and lots of other nooks that I can’t talk about.

Nice, I said.

I know he said.

Then he asked how I wanted my hair.

Short.

How short? Like pixie?

No. Not like pixie. Like in between this and pixie.

Hmm, he said. I have some ideas.

Then I was whisked away to the hair bar. Or somewhere like that. He massaged my head and told me to think of relaxing things. I did. I thought of relaxing things and wondered what other people at the hair bar thought of my chipped toenails or my stained skirt.

After that we walked to his station while he massaged my shoulders (not easy to do-walk and be massaged at the same time). I sat and he cut.

I could go on. the conversation. the emotional rollercoaster as he cut and cut and cut and I became more manly and less girly but this is a fancy salon, it’s going to work out it’s going to work out. Over and over and over, I told myself. This will work out. It will work out. All of that. The two and a half hours that was my hair intervention.

And it did work out.

I’m still me.

Sometimes I want to change. I want someone to make me be fancy or disciplined or charismatic or confident or cutting edgy or good at marathons or good at daily writing or good at something. And sometimes it does happen. I go to a fancy salon and for a day become someone else. And that’s good. But I’m still me. In the end, I have to do my hair every day if I want my hair done every day. I have to write if I want to write every day. I have to be disciplined if I want to be disciplined.

Let’s marathon.

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