Tunnel Vision

Every so often I’ll get so involved in a project, everything else falls by the wayside. This usually happens when I’m in the midst of a first draft. I’m so excited to see my ideas come to fruition, that’s all I can think about. As if I must purge myself of every idea, image, or word before I can resume my regularly scheduled programming.

I feel like I’m in one of these states right now. There’s just one small problem – I’m not writing anything.

Well, that’s a bit of a white lie. I wrote this post, didn’t I? I responded to two prompts in writing group last night and I spent this morning crafting feedback for my critique group. So I am writing. I’m just not working on any of my WIPs. At least not directly.

I’m not suffering from writer’s block. Nor am I procrastinating. Instead, I find myself in a state of mental preparation where I’m gathering information, assessing my work, and thinking everything over in extreme detail. And all of this is in anticipation of submitting my entry into the Golden Rose contest – the first 50 pages of my historical romance novel.

The feedback from my first and only rejection for this project is also rolling around in the back of my mind. In fact, ever since I roughed out a plan of action in my last post, that’s all I’ve been able to think about. Last week I was all about exorcizing the demons out of my SF novel. But once I started thinking about my historical romance novel – that I’m-so-close-I-can-taste-it feeling – that was the beginning of the end.

This tunnel vision has led to me reading Jessica Page Morrell’s Between the Lines while watching World Cup matches on ABC this weekend. Next on the list are a handful of romances in my time period that I’ve already read once through already. When I’m not reading, I find myself replaying scenes from my novel in my head like reruns on TV as I search for ways to strengthen, deepen, and intensify each moment. (For those of you interested, there’s a post at Diary of a Virgin Novelist that discusses how this can be a great way to review your work.)

I also worry that I’m so enamored with finishing my novel, I’m settling for less than perfect prose – writing that’s competent but still a bit complacent. I certainly don’t want that. So I’ll revise again, armed with Browne and King’s Self-Editing for Fiction Writers as the final step before I submit.

Jody Hedlund blogged about how she hired an editor to revise her already-under-contract book. This seems to be an extreme measure, but it comes from a good place: the desire to write the best book possible. And that’s where I’m at now. I want to do my very best. I want to succeed.

But that also means coping with tunnel vision for the next few weeks while I revise my book to the best of my ability (again). But the in-depth thinking, while distracting, isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s preparing me for tacking revisions – revisions I’m still getting comfortable with making.

How do you psych yourself up for doing what’s necessary for your WIP?

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Back to the Drawing Board

 (This is normal, right?)

I received a lot of support after my post “Acknowledging My Fears of Submission.” Many commenters were very familiar with the fear of sending your work off to agentland. But, overwhelmingly, they encouraged me to push through that fear and get over my reluctance. I would be better for it. I would learn. And eventually I would succeed. In theory.

So I did. Well, I tried. And it worked. Umm, maybe?

I sent out a query. Two, actually. To two agents actively seeking romance projects. One had just opened her inbox to queries after a lengthy hiatus and the other was doing a big push for romance submissions. I couldn’t ignore either opportunity, even though the timing wasn’t ideal. But when is it ever? So carpe diem and all that. The one agent had been recommended to me by awesome Editor X, and the other was a part of a highly respected agency. How could I not query? So I clicked ‘Send.’ Twice. Both queries sent within a week of each other.

Small Victory #1 – Bluestocking is ready to play with the big girls.

While I’m still waiting to hear one way or another from the one agent, the other requested pages right away. Whoa.

Small Victory #2 – Bluestocking’s query doesn’t suck.

So I sent off the requested partial and allowed myself a few hours of unadulterated delusions of grandeur (a bad habit of mine after small victories). And then, just before bed that night, it happened. The inevitable rejection.

BUT, it wasn’t a ‘Thanks, but no thanks’ form rejection. It was personalized; it was tailored – just for me. And even though some parts stung (a lot), it was clear from the agent’s note that some aspects of the novel worked.

Small Victory #3 – Bluestocking’s work is strong enough to merit a personalized rejection.

I read Rachelle Gardner’s post on “Dealing with Contradictory Feedback” earlier this week, which talked about how to weigh different types of feedback. Juliette Wade has also tackled this issue in the past. I know I can’t just brush off the rejection and turn a blind eye to the comments I received. This agent is a professional who evaluates stories on a daily basis. But I don’t want to risk making changes that are reactionary and not well thought out or serve only the person who’s already passed on the project. Plus I know how subjective writing can be. Maybe some other agent will like the story as it stands. I can hope.

But I think what I’m struggling with the most is that I just don’t have enough information right now to decide the best way to proceed. I need a bigger sample, and I don’t mean my critique group. I need to earn a few more rejections to see if this particular agent’s response is on target with others. If the same issues with my work keep cropping up, that would certainly signal the need for a major overhaul. But at this moment, I just don’t know.

So where does this leave me? I know I’ll be getting a critique back on the novel thanks to a contest I entered back in early May. Editor X is still out there with my full somewhere in her reading queue. And then there’s that other agent with my query sitting in her inbox. Hopefully the accumulation of responses from these various sources will suggest a course of action I should take with my work.

And I’m going to stack the deck in my favor too. I recently found out about the Golden Rose, a contest put on by the Rose City Romance Writers out of Portland, Oregon, and plan to enter my first 50 pages. The nice thing about this contest is that the scoring sheets are returned in time for me to tweak my entry for the RWA’s Golden Heart, which I’ve been thinking about entering as well.

I’m also going to take a hard look at my novel and dig out some of my craft books I thought I was done with (for this particular project), and see what I can do to strengthen my work. 

Small Victory #4 – Bluestocking is not going to give up.

I know I have a lot to be thankful for – confirmation my query can capture interest, professional and pointed feedback, and a completed MS I’m still proud of. But even with all these small victories under my belt, I feel like I’m going back the drawing board.

I just have to remember how far I’ve come since this time last year. Onward!

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Starting the Month Off Right

I’m a bit of a nerd, in that I love setting up a new worksheet in my excel file where I track my word counts for every month. There’s nothing like looking over your progress for the last few months to get inspired. June is a tabula rasa – 30 days where I can write anything. The potential is there, and all I have to do is fill in the blanks.

Easier said than done. This I know.

I first started tracking my word counts during my attempt to participate in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) last November even though I didn’t make it. I only logged about 22k, but at the time, that was a personal best for me. In the months since then, I’ve averaged between 10-15k per month, with nearly 29k in March (most of which was attributed to the first draft of one of my SF WIPs). And I couldn’t be happier.

I try not to beat myself up if I can’t eke out some time to write every day. After all, chores don’t do themselves, I still read widely, and sometimes I just need to let myself think and reflect before I can put pen to paper or start typing away and the keyboard. Plus I spend just as much time if not more revising in addition to generating new content, and I haven’t worked out a good way to account my time spent editing. Sometimes I’m adding words, but more often than not I’m cutting or condensing. So I just set a monthly goal, usually 10 or 12k and track my progress without stressing over the details. Usually just seeing how my daily word counts eat away at that target is incentive enough to keep going. And since I like to emphasize quality over quantity, I don’t get upset if I don’t reach my target, so long as I am happy with the work I produced over the course of the month. Because as we all know, one strong sentence can matter more than reams of drivel.

Now that it’s June 1st, I’m ready to reset my target and start the process all over again. I’m optimistic of course, but then again I always am when I’m on the threshold of a new beginning. If you have any writing rituals you like to do at the beginning of each month, please share.


In other news, two of my tweets were featured on Nicole Humphrey Cook’s post Favorite Tweets For Writers This Week (May 24 to May 30, 2010), and I was thrilled to be included alongside other heavy hitters in the writing Twitterverse.

I also won a copy of Leah Stewart’s Husband and Wife after commenting on the interview with Stewart hosted at Diary of a Virgin Novelist, which you should definitely check out along with another interview with Allison Winn Scotch.

Finally, I’ve been tinkering a bit with my blog’s layout. So keep your eyes peeled for some changes there. Oh, and the second part of my Resource Roundup series will be posted sometime this week.

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Acknowledging My Fears of Submission

As I was reading over my post from Monday “How Do You Prioritize Your Writing?” I couldn’t shake the feeling that maybe I wasn’t pushing myself far enough, fast enough. That perhaps I was tackling other stories instead of seeing the more or less completed ones through the publishing gauntlet.

After all, my historical romance novel has been in pretty good shape now for months. I should be querying. But I’m holding off, working on other stories and devising new ones. Why? I tell myself it’s because I want to see how I do in the contest I’ve entered first, and then armed with that feedback, I can polish my MS one last time before subbing. But is that the real reason? No. As strategic and prudent as it may seem to wait, I’m just using that as an excuse not to take the next step with this project. The big one. The soul-crushing one.

I’m avoiding the inevitable rejections that will come my way once I send my MS off into agentland. I’m afraid of my dreams of writing a book becoming real. Because then the book becomes a responsibility. No longer can I tuck it in a drawer or push it to the back of the closet and pretend it doesn’t exist. I must own this process – the good and the bad – if I want to succeed. And unfortunately, there are no safety nets.

So as I fretted that I was responsible for holding my work back, I came across a post this week that echoed my concerns. Shonna Slayton’s post at Routines For Writers called “Don’t Reject Yourself” was basically a brief but powerful pep-talk on eliminating procrastination and getting your work out there. Digging a little deeper, I found the post “Things Procrastinators Fear” with links to in-depth discussions on fear of rejection, fear of success, fear of failure, and fear of not being good enough and ways to combat them (all of which are worth a look if you are struggling with any of these issues). Now, I don’t necessarily think I’m procrastinating so long as I am still working on other writing projects, but I must acknowledge that all the different projects I have on my plate do divide my attention and keep me from moving forward. How convenient.

I realize I’m not alone in my fears. That’s why we blog, swap stories, spread encouragement, and foster community among our ranks. But it’s hard to push past the inertia and get your stuff out there. That’s part of the reason why I started this blog. To get my feet wet in a public forum. It’s also why I joined a new writing group, so that I would be working alongside others on the road to publication. Other writers to be accountable to; other writers to help me set realistic goals; other writers to support me on my journey. And it does help.

I may still hold off querying my MS until I have the results of the contest, but I won’t let anything else slow down the process. And in the meantime, I have other pieces I need to submit. It’s time to get out there. My fingers are crossed.

Erica Marshall of muddyboots.org

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How Do You Prioritize Your Writing?

Currently, I’m in a bit of a quandary as to the best way to prioritize my writing tasks. A year ago, this wouldn’t be an issue. I had one WIP and a short story or two knocking around in my noggin. But as the months passed, and story ideas accumulated as I made the time to write the way I’ve always wanted to, I now have a number of writing projects demanding my attention:

  1. Historical Romance Novel – STATUS: Complete, awaiting feedback from an editor I met at a conference and a critique as a result of entering a contest. NEED TO: Query agents, contemplate entering the Golden Heart this fall, preferably armed with the aforementioned feedback from the editor and the contest.
  2. Science Fiction Novel 1  – STATUS: First draft complete. NEED TO: Revise, paying particular attention to the character development of one of the MCs and the antagonist, and focus on worldbuilding. I also need an additional 20-30k to meet customary word counts for the genre.
  3. Science Fiction Novel 2 – STATUS: 20K of first draft. NEED TO: Decide whether I’m keeping it in 3rd person or shifting to 1st person, layer in some plot elements in the 20k I’ve already written, and finish the draft.
  4. Literary Short Story – STATUS: Complete, awaiting feedback from writing group. NEED TO: Revise based on feedback, and start targeting possible venues.
  5. Flash Fiction – STATUS: Complete, awaiting feedback from writing group. NEED TO: Come up with a title, revise based on feedback, and target possible venues.
  6. Science Fiction Short 1 – STATUS: First draft complete. NEED TO: Read over reference materials from library to finish researching one aspect of the story, finish the story, polish, share with writing group, revise, and then consider submitting it.
  7. Science Fiction Short 2 – STATUS: Partial first draft. NEED TO: Complete draft, polish, share with writing group, revise, and then consider submitting it.

Now, there are other story ideas floating around in my mind, abandoned on my hard drive, or languishing in one of my notebooks as well, but the projects I’ve outlined above are the strongest, have the most potential, and get me the most excited when I think about them.

In a previous life, I was a research project manager. Every day I had to assess where we were at with a project and identify where we needed to be and how to get there. I was constantly adjusting my priorities, moving things up on the to-do list, pushing things off until another day, and delegating like crazy.

With writing, there’s no one to delegate things to (except my husband/beta reader who gets the first pass on most things I write). And that’s usually not a problem. In fact, I love the independence that’s needed in writing. Except for the times when the ideas don’t come and I’d love to have someone at my level to bounce ideas off of. Or someone to help me figure out the oh-so-important title. Which is often the hardest thing for me to come up with for a writing project. And as a result, these are the things that I keep putting off in my WIPS.

So how do you prioritize? Especially when each writing journey is different, when your end goal may differ from another’s, when your work is so uniquely yours it’s not apparent how to move forward… Sometimes, it seems that making a decision via Rock, Paper, Scissors can be just as reasonable as a more elaborate decision-making process. And sometimes, I suspect, there’s no right answer.

I don’t have any hard or fast rules. I try to take the pieces that are closest to being of publishable quality (still trying to come up with a litmus test for that – ha!) and send them off to contests or get them in the hands of my writing group, so I have a bit of breathing room to consider my next move. Then, during the in-between times, I work on the other pieces that aren’t quite ready for primetime. Usually I select the projects that need the least amount of work before moving on to the ones that require more mental effort and preparation. Case in point: Project #3 on the list was started well before #2, but I ran into trouble and starting doubting my initial POV choice. Instead of slogging through it, I put it on hold and completed the first draft of #2, which was more straightforward in terms of structure and plot. I wouldn’t call myself work-adverse, but this was certainly a case where I avoided the project that demanded more of me in favor of something slightly easier.

Part of me wonders if I am making these choices because I’m (relatively) young and impatient and want to get my work out in the world now. Will I prioritize my writing projects in the same manner five, ten years from now?

How do you prioritize your work when you have competing projects vying for your attention? And if you’ve come across other blog posts tackling this issue somewhere in the intertubes, please post links in the comments below. Thanks!
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