Early on in this series we looked at our intention to create art and asked the question, “How serious am I?” The deeper I get into my own work, the more serious I am, the more driven, the more confused I am about the quality of my work. I’m talking about writing and how I’ve learned that there is a “best” way to tell a story. I’ve learned that I’m prone to leave out some important things – best ways to deliver characters and scenes – and I’m struggling to understand how to recognize and fix the problems.
I just heard myself saying to myself, “Maybe you’ve taken on too much with this book.” Maybe I have. Maybe I can’t learn the things I need to know to do this story justice. Maybe… and then I stopped. I reminded myself that I want to tell this story, this particular story because I believe it’s important. And I reminded myself that two years ago I didn’t know enough to know to ask the questions I’m asking now.
My intention has been clear from the beginning. I want this. I want this enough to work this hard at learning the craft. I’ve learned to ignore some input and some teachings and to embrace others. I’ve done virtually nothing but learn and practice and learn and practice. I tell myself, “This isn’t math. You can do it!”
So this week I’m going to take you back to the second week topic and ask you to review your intention to create. Are you any further along than you were six months ago? Does it matter to you?
How Serious Are You?
On a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being I’m all in!, where are you as we start this week and is it where you want to be? Where you imagined yourself to be?
Pick Your Battles.
Everything we do that we do well requires some time and effort. Time and energy can be the two strongest forces working against us as we age. Can we ignore our obstacles? By this time in life, I think we’ve all come to realize that the adage, pick your battles, has real meaning.
I’ve always been a nap taker. On the days that I did not allow myself the luxury of an afternoon snooze, I felt restless and less focused. Rather than fight my nature, I succumbed and am much happier and more productive for giving in.
My husband listens patiently to my babblings about what I’m writing or what I’m painting. He’s supportive but not engaged in my enthusiasm. I had to seek out other creatives who would share my excitement. Rather than fight with my husband over my disappointments, I accept what he offers and appreciate him for who he is.
I have friends who are challenged by mobility and other health-related issues. They’ve had to accept their physical limitations but that doesn’t mean restrictions on their creative dreams. Tools at hand, inspiring videos and a willingness to embrace the freedoms a creative spirit affords, keeps the artist alive and busy finding new ways to accommodate first the artist, then the limitations.
Finding the time to work.
I found that I accomplished the most writing in the early morning. Fresh from sleep and dreams, I hit the computer keyboard and pound out the words. After about an hour, I have to take a break and walk around a little, feed the dog, have some coffee or tea. So I learned to set alarms on my phone to reflect my way of working.
I officially start work at 9 o’clock in the morning. I may be up at 4 or 5 and been writing and musing and planning. But by 8 a.m., I need to be showered and dressed and prepared for work as if I had an office to get to. It took me six months of retirement to realize that I work best with a schedule. So I created one. By following a schedule I found my level of commitment to the work was rewarded with pages written and paintings painted and boundless satisfaction and self-appreciation!
I also realized that not every day is a work day. Somedays I found I could not focus or settle down into the routine. I knew I was missing the element of pressure to achieve so I began working with deadlines. I entered art shows and writing competitions that came with a finish-by date. That gave me the extra nudge I needed to keep me going.
Deadlines and schedules may not be what work for you. I seem to get the most joy out of accomplishment. Many people find their joy in the process. Watch yourself, see how you work, notice what makes you feel good about what you’re doing and how you do it. Then establish working rules that fit you and allow you to get the most creative enjoyment.
Tips for the week:
- Pay attention to distractions. What pulls you away from your art?
- Take note of your personal work style. When are you the most productive?
- Consider your workspace. Does it fit with your working style?
- Make notes about the obstacles and challenges you find. How can you put your artist self first, before accommodating limitations or restrictions?
- Keep sketching
- Try a timed writing off of one of your sticky note thoughts from last week. Get a pad of paper, position yourself in a comfy spot, set a timer for 5 minutes and write without lifting pen from paper.
Keep building your bank of sticky note ideas.
Note: I’m posting a day early this week because of a packed Sunday schedule.
And I thought writing the book was the hard part. Seriously. I hope to have the opportunity soon to sit with published authors and hear their stories about writing the first book and finding a publisher. For this post, I’m going to draw on a range of websites and blogs to provide resources for you to consider. I’ll be learning alongside you.
Last week I walked you through the polishing points on presenting your artwork to encourage sales and gallery approvals for presentation. I expect there was a surge in sales of mat board and mat cutters! Oh, and don’t forget to keep plenty of that white artist’s tape on hand, too.
What is it? Why is it important?
When people ask you, “What’s your book about?” you have to be ready with a quick one-liner (if possible) to capture their attention and keep their interest. When pitching to an agent or publisher, who has heard everything thousands of times and is inundated monthly with more and more of the same old, same old, you’ve got to give them something to think about. You need to get in quick and leave them wanting more.
That novel you spent five years writing sounds like this in a pitch:
Ellen McInnis has made a success of her life, despite childhood abuse and neglect. Her father’s death exposes even older family secrets of unimaginable violence and betrayal that could yet destroy her.
The elements of the pitch:
- Protagonist – Ellen McInnis
- Other characters – her father
- Intrigue – secrets
- Challenge – survival
I can’t tell you that this pitch will work, but really, how dead to words would you have to be, to not wonder a little at what will happen to Ellen? And yet, agents and publishers need more than a piqued curiosity to convince them to take a look at your first pages. That’s where the query letter comes in.
The query letter.
What is a query letter?
“The stand-alone query letter has one purpose, and one purpose only: to seduce the agent or editor into reading or requesting your work. The query letter is so much of a sales piece that you should be able to write it without having written a single word of the manuscript.” Sept. 7, 2016 How to Write a Query Letter | Jane Friedman
I wouldn’t ever write a query letter without a solid piece of work to back it up, but Ms Friedman’s post underscores the importance of marketing in today’s literary (and every other) world. Hype is everything. Your book may be pure literary genius, but without marketing, no one else will ever know. So you have to tailor your query to not only sell your book to a publisher, but you should demonstrate its marketability to the buying public, as well. One way to do that is to research best-sellers and show a comparison between your storyline and a big seller.
Example: “Saving the Ghost” is like (best-seller title) meets (best-seller title).
Here’s another resource from “Writer’s Digest,” for writing the perfect query letter. http://www.writersdigest.com/online-editor/how-to-write-the-perfect-query-letter I suggest you read both the query letter and the agent response. This will illuminate the requirements and pitfalls of the query.
Keep in mind, an agent/publisher will not waste time analyzing your letter – they will react to it – and they will react quickly. Stick to your story. Don’t waste time telling them what you think about the story or its potential readers. (Also a truism for your everyday life!)
And always, always, follow their specific and unique guidelines for submission. Don’t be cute or try to stand out from the crowd of the thousand other queries they’ve received this month. Your efforts to shine will get you tossed in the trash in a heartbeat.
Give them what they ask for, do it well, and see what happens. You are not likely to receive feedback, either, so keep moving along until someone shows interest.
The publisher packet.
There may not be much written about this, but this was the direction I received from my writing coach, Laurie Parker, on preparing to publish. Because I don’t have an MFA and am a first-time novelist, she suggested that I develop a social media presence that will give potential agents/publishers something else to consider if they’ve given my query any weight. And that’s exactly why I started this year-long blog series.
Included in this “packet” are:
- Social media presence
- Cover image
- Awards, mentions, published work
I have been diligent in my labors – under initial protest – to keep my social media presence alive. Fortunately, through a handy widget (look it up) my blog posts are automatically sent out to various social media outlets when I publish them here.
With all the distractions and tasks added to becoming a published author, this one seemed the most tedious. I was wrong. I enjoy writing the weekly (and now mid-week prompts) posts – in large part because I set a schedule, and named my topics before I ever began to blog. All I have to do is refer to my topic list by week number and begin to write.
Since my topics are all about my learning journey this past year or so, the writing also reinforces what I’ve learned. And I like knowing you’re out there, following along.
Agent or direct contact with a publisher?
This question has everything to do with which publisher is a fit for your work. That publisher will let you know, on their website, under submission guidelines, if they work only through agents or accept non-agented queries. Again, know the publisher and know their guidelines. A great resource for this information is Writer’s Market.
Those are the basics.
You’ll have to do your own research, devour information, and write your queries by the guidelines. Do your best. Plan for success. I’m rooting for you!
Perfect your elevator pitch.
Next week’s topic: How to start a blog. See you back here next Sunday night!
Would you like to keep up with the Greyhairs Rising community? Sign up for the latest updates.
Join our Greyhairs Rising Facebook group.