Wednesday, December 12, 2012

That Evil First Line

I hate first lines. Probably more than the dreaded blank page, because it's the ultimate blank page, they very beginning. But you have to start somewhere. For me however, the good first lines usually don't come until well into the editing process. And for sometime now I've wondered why that is.

Stories have to start somewhere. When I get that great idea it always seems like I'm off to the races trying to get it down on the page as fast possible. I don't care how the story started I just want to get it out of my head and onto the page. But sometime around the middle of my draft that first line starts to bother me. The more I write and the deeper I get into edits, the more that first line stares me down. So much so, that I want to leave my horrible draft on the computer and go hide in the corner. Okay not really but as I edit, that awful first line is always sitting on the edge of my consciousness waiting to be fixed, constantly nagging me to be brilliant. Because let's face it, if your opening line isn't at the very least intriguing, who is going to read the line after it?

The funny thing is, the first line is usually one of the last things I come up with. I think it's for several reasons. The first being that I may not have started my story in the exact right place. In fact, I almost never do. My writing usually starts out as some kind of summary and I have to come back and beat it into submission later. Yes, I'm violent with my edits. I use heavy machinery like chainsaws and get ruthless cutting every possible thing I can without jeopardizing the understanding of the story.

The second reason the first line is so difficult and comes toward the end of the process is because sometimes to find the exact right way to start my story, I need to see it framed in it's entirety. I need a completed draft to guide me to the exact right beginning. I know it sounds silly but it's kind of similar to how you can't put the cap on the soda and send it out to the store until the liquid is inside. If you try to cap your story too soon, you could end up with an empty bottle, or the wrong size cap i.e. the wrong opening line. But, if you know where your character is at the beginning and then how they change at the end, then you have a better chance of finding the right opening line.

Even still, it usually takes a huge stroke of inspirational genius to pull the right first line out of my ass. Yes I said it, my ass. I never know where the good first lines come from or when they are going to arrive but they show up when they are good and ready and I have zero control over it. In fact, I'm waiting for the perfect opening line right now for my WIP. (You hear that Orion??? **hint hint nudge nudge**) And it's always a giant source of frustration for me until the exact right line comes to me.

I wish there was some trick to finding the right first line. Maybe there is and I just haven't found it yet. If you figure it out let me know.

So how do all of you get the right first line and at what point of the process does it arrive for you? Any tips or tricks to share?

Friday, December 7, 2012

Writing With Both Sides of Your Brain

Most people think writers are clearly right brained. The right brain after all, is responsible for creativity. So why is it that we frequently see so many classically "left brain" thinkers like myself and other logical, problem solvers diving head first into writing? The short answer? Because writing is so much more than just creativity.

Sure an idea is what sparks a novel, but there's so many other things that go into writing a story. Stories have to be well plotted, have conflict, contain story arcs as well as emotional arcs, and they have to have a logical flow. Did you see that word logic I slipped in there? But that's not the only place logic comes into play. There is no denying that writing is a pure stream of creativity especially early on in the process when the ideas are flying, but the more you hone your writing and your idea, the more the left brain factors in.


*brain by TZA

Even at the very beginning of the writing process, one could argue the use of the left brain. In fact, I tend to use my left brain a lot in the planning stages of my writing. If I don't have some sort of outline to work with I'm sunk. And in planning an outline, I'm very methodical (imagine that for an engineer). I start with the beginning, a very logical place to work from, and I write small paragraphs about what I want to happen in each chapter. I organize my thoughts into a step by step progression of how I want the story to unfold. Does this organization change as I write? Most certainly, but it gives me a place to start and a good guide as I go.

I was however, extremely surprised to find that outlining is something a lot of writers struggle with. Surprising to me, because I find it so easy. When I get a bunch of ideas, I can clearly see how all the puzzle pieces fit together almost right off the bat. But I think the fact that most writers have a difficult time with outlining, also explains why a lot of writers like to "pants" their novels. Because they would rather the creative side take over and just write. I think this is one of the reasons why I have a very hard time with the blank page.

Blank pages are my nemesis. That little blinking cursor loves to mock me as I stare at the blinding white screen. Which is why I would rather rip apart my entire story, completely rewrite and rearrange it before putting it back together than start from scratch. And this is my left brain talking. I'm a problem solver so I work well with puzzles. I find editing is often like a puzzle that has to be solved. What are the missing pieces? (plot holes, character depth, scene descriptions, world building etc.) And what are the extra pieces in the box? (too much detail, extra characters, abused words, excessive dialogue etc.) This is where my problem solving skills really shine. Granted creativity doesn't get thrown out either because it takes a lot of creativity to work yourself out of a plot corner, but it also takes a lot of rearranging, adding, and the ability to see a clear path to the finish.

So while I love the "shiny new idea syndrome" that takes over and creates a flurry of typing, nothing beats the feeling after a good problem solving edit.

What do you think are you strengths and which side of your brain do you tend to favor?

Friday, November 30, 2012

Blogiversary Giveaway

Two weeks ago my blog celebrated its first birthday. This is pretty significant for a few reasons but mostly because I wasn't sure I had enough to say to sustain a blog long term. Turns out it's been an incredible journey. I finished a manuscript for the first time, I read amazing books and I talked about my writing journey among other things. I love YA and MG and I love being able to share my adventures with you. A little over a year and 3300 pages views later, here I am still blogging :)

Since I grossly underestimated my own abilities (and this is definitely a good thing) I'm giving back to all of you with this most awesome giveaway in two parts with two rafflecopters, so make sure you check out both if you qualify.

Part One: The International Giveaway
I have some really awesome prizes that some of you are going to win, including:

1 Signed ARC of Venom by Fiona Paul

Awesome Author Swag:
  • The Selection Bookmarks (Kiera Cass)
  • Signed Venom Bookmarks (Fiona Paul)
  • Signed Elemental Bookmarks (Antony John)
  • Signed Slide Bookmarks (Jill Hathaway)
  • Signed Soulbound Posters (Heather Brewer)
Note: is I start getting a lot of entries I will add to this list. I have up to three signed mystery YA books that I can add. And trust me you want me to add them. If I do, you will automatically be entered for new prizes if you fill out the rafflecopter below. So no extra work for you!
Part Two: The US Giveaway
One lucky person (in the US or with a US mailing address) will win... not one, not two, not three, but FOUR signed YA books by amazing YA authors living in my hometown of St. Louis.

And these awesome books are:
A signed paperback of Katana by Cole Gibsen          A Signed hardback of Elemental by Antony John

A signed hardback of Venom by Fiona Paul         A signed hardback of Soulbound by Heather Brewer

a Rafflecopter giveaway
 A huge thanks to all my loyal followers and a big welcome to all the new visitors and followers. I look forward to chatting with all of you.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Thanksgiving Blog Hop - Giving Thanks

The holidays are coming. It's that time of year (and seriously where has this year gone?) where we sit down and think about the things we are really thankful for. Granted this is probably something we all should do more than once a year, but as part of the lovely and wonderful Brenda Drake's Blog Hop I'm going to share some of the things I'm thankful for.

My Writing:
I am so thankful for finding this huge part of my life that I never knew was missing. I've learned so much about myself and met so many wonderful people both in person and online because of my writing. Things I never would have discovered if I hadn't started reading and then following through on my ideas by putting them down on the page. I'm also hugely thankful that my family and friends have supported me every step of the way in my writing journey.

My Family and Friends:
My family and friends have not only supported me in my writing but in pretty much everything in my life. They are there when it really counts and always cheering me on. Every bump in the road or just when I need to vent, my family or friends (who have become an extended part of my family) are there to listen. They make me laugh and they make my life infinity more rich and full of love. And I know I don't talk about him much but I'm also thankful for my wonderful boyfriend. Not only does he put up with my crap, but is also extremely supportive of my crazy activities which includes my writing. He unselfishly gives me the necessary time and space I need to keep putting the words on the page and make them better.

My Job:
Another thing I don't talk about nearly enough. My job not only pays the bills and gives me spending money, but it also gives me the opportunity to work with some of the smartest people I've ever known. People that make me feel like I have a lot to learn and give me the drive to keep pushing and improving myself. Not to mention all the cool things I get to be involved in. I'm also thankful that my job provides me the opportunity to inspire young women to explore STEM fields and to help women succeed in the field of engineering. It's not easy being a female in a male dominated field, but I am extremely thankful for the things the women before me, fought for and established. I'm grateful that I can join them and help pave the way for future female engineers.

My Dog:
She's the best cuddle buddy in the world and she loves me unconditionally. Plus how can you not love this face?

There are many other things I am thankful for this year, including my health, but to list them would take forever because the list just goes on and on and on. I hope that in 2013 I have just as many, if not more, things to be thankful for. 

What are you thankful for?

Monday, November 12, 2012

On Bullying - It Gets Better

It's Bullying Awareness Week. So I wanted to take a moment to talk about my experiences with bullying and how I overcame it.

When I was younger I was bullied. Quite a bit. I never knew if it was because I am Jewish, or was small, or am smart, or was a goody-two-shoes or am a nerd or because of my last name or for any number of other reasons or just because. But I did know, even from a young age, that kids are cruel. Well, not just kids, people in general. Regardless, all of those things are a part of me, and I was bullied because I was trying to be myself. I won't go into too many specific details, but just so you have a small idea, I was called names, harassed in numerous forms on nearly a daily basis, and even physically bullied once or twice. I spent a decent chunk of my young life in tears, which only brought on more torture. And I know by no means was this the worst case of bullying ever in existence but that thought didn't and still doesn't make it feel better.
Boy meets World on Anne Frank and Antisemitism

The point is, anyone can be bullied for any number of reasons. When you say things that criticize who a person is or what they stand for then you are bullying. Just check out that video from one of my favorite shows growing up, Boy Meets World. It makes a great point about how something as seemingly harmless as a bad name can lead to something much much bigger.

Words hurt. Plain and simple. We can choose to ignore them, but let's be honest it doesn't make them hurt any less. But it's how we hear those words and whether or not we choose to let them affect us that really defines who we are as a person. And we don't always have to know exactly who that is, whether we are 10, 100 or somewhere in between. We are constantly in search of who we really are, and that's perfectly okay!

Today, I'm 30 years old, a Rocket Scientist (Aerospace Engineer), a writer, a giant nerd, and numerous other things. But it wasn't until recently that I really owned who I was and became comfortable with it. I was constantly worried about what people would think of me, constantly worried about the things I said (which isn't always a bad thing but would often cause me to clam up and shut down) and constantly just worried about everything. And you know what? That made me afraid of a lot of things including myself. I was afraid to be myself, and I was miserable. I let the words people said about me hold more weight than my own beliefs and views of myself. Their words stood as a wall between who I was and who I was really meant to be.

Once I stopped caring about what other people thought and started caring about what I thought of myself, I was able to open my eyes and find out who I really am as a person. And I discovered it is someone I truly love. Even better it was someone my family, friends, and those close to me really loved too. I was much happier and it showed. People noticed I had a smile on my face and it was because I was just being me.

Whether it's Anti Bullying month in October or National Bullying Awareness Week (Nov 12-17, 2012) or just any other day, time, or second, bullies don't rest and neither should we. If you are victim of bullying TELL SOMEONE, and keep on telling someone until you find someone who listens. I'm here today as a person who is comfortable in my own skin in large part because I constantly told people about what happened and I had a great support system. My parents and teachers listened and when they could, they did something, and that made all the difference. Especially just knowing that someone was listening and someone cared. So if you are a parent, teacher, friend, etc. of someone who is being bullied, PLEASE LISTEN, and stand up for that person. There's power in numbers.

Trust me, things get better. I moved passed all the hurt and realized I am a lot more than the nasty words people say and the horrible things they do. Those words can only hurt me and define me if I let them. And I don't! I am not afraid to show my true personality to the world. In doing so, I found myself - a confident successful woman, a rocket scientist, a writer, a reader, a Jew, a friend, a daughter, a sister, a granddaughter, a dancer, a podcaster, a nerd, and on and on and on.  

OWN WHO YOU ARE! Every single part of yourself. Don't leave anything out. Don't be ashamed or embarrassed to just be you. You will be a much happier person for it because you aren't expending excess energy trying to mask a part of yourself. That kind of stress weighs a person down. And when you do finally own who you are, surround yourself with people who like that person, and don't worry about those that don't. As much as we like to think we can please everyone in the world it's just not possible. So don't be upset if everyone doesn't like who you are because their are plenty of people that do, you are not alone. If you are reading this consider yourself a friend of mine. I promise to embrace you with kindness. You won't find any judgement or criticism here.

I hope that one day I can repay the favor of all those people who stood up for me, whether in kindness to them or in helping others. Because if it wasn't for them, I never would have had the opportunity to find myself - my REAL self. For that, I am eternally grateful!

If you are looking for a way to make a difference and combat bullying check out the <3 Less Than Three Anti-Bullying Conference Facebook Group. If you can, make plans to attend the Anti-Bullying Conference Saturday, October 19, 2013 at the Spencer Road Branch Library in St. Peters, MO. I'll be there and I hope you can come too!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

As a Writer at YALSA YA Lit Symposium

*image from

This weekend I attended the YALSA Young Adult Literature Symposium in St. Louis, Missouri. Now YALSA is an organization for librarians and the Lit Symposium is a conference by and large for them. So you are probably wondering why I as a writer wanted to attend this conference. I myself wondered the same thing as I approached the registration desk Friday afternoon and the ladies there asked which category I fit into for my name badge. I looked at the list, school librarian, public librarian, student, and off to the side the pre-printed and stuffed blue badges for the authors. I quickly discovered there wasn't a category for writer, unpublished, and aspiring author. And when I said aspiring author/writer I got some strange looks from the ladies behind the desk. My heart sank, and I hadn't even attended my first session.

As I walked into the opening reception Friday night I was more than a little nervous. I wondered if the people at this conference would question why I was there. But as I started filling out the Bingo mixer card and talking to the librarians something changed. The first question out of their mouths was "so what kind of library do you work in?" The first time I heard this I paused, took a deep breath, and cautiously responded with "well actually I'm a writer. I'm here to learn about the other side of the book world." And the reaction without pause was always (and I'm not exaggerating it was every time) met with a "That's so cool! What do you write?" I instantly relaxed. I quickly learned librarians are some of the coolest people I have ever met. Not only are they some of the friendliest people, but they want to talk about books because they love them. This is music to a writer's ears because we too at our hearts, love books, or else we wouldn't be writing them.

Once the tension was released I was able to really enjoy the conference. Even as a writer, I found the sessions extremely informative and helpful. I learned about trends, what kids and teens today are really into, and where there are gaps in the young adult genre, from a first hand source. Something every writer and author struggles to keep on top of. Not that any writer/author should write to the trends but they should be very aware of the next big thing, and how their work fits into the genre. I learned even more than I already knew about fandom (fan fic, fan art etc.) something that many authors are surprisingly not aware of but should be. There's a whole world out there of teens who latch onto books and want to use their favorite characters and stories as inspiration for art, writing, videos, podcasts, etc. It gives teens a sense of belonging. And in fact, quite a few writers were born out of fandom. They started by using the inspirations of other authors and when they learned the craft of writing, they could then pursue their own ideas. And not I'm not talking about a certain badly written, published, fanfic that got a lot of attention this year, but I'm talking about wildly popular YA authors like Cassandra Clare who made her jump into publishing starting with fandom. In fact, any author tuned into their fandom through the internet has equally as frequent an opportunity to interact with their readers as a librarian does. Something that has changed significantly in recent years.

The sessions aside, which were extremely valuable, as a writer at this conference, I had access to a whole crowd of published authors. I spent a good chunk of Saturday having one on one chats with authors in my genre, picking their brains and getting advice on writing, querying, and the publishing process. It was some of the most valuable time I've spent as a writer at a conference. These authors not only generously gave me their time, but they met my questions with words of encouragement and support. They said that the fact I was attending conferences like this showed I was not only serious about the craft, but that I had a desire to learn and understand which is important for any writer. Some of them even went as far as to say they wish they'd attended more conferences before becoming published.

So this weekend I've learned a lot of amazing things about myself as a writer and writing as a craft. Authors are fabulously, supportive people who write and do amazing things like support librarians. But most of all librarians are not the stuffy, mean, old ladies we remember growing up. They are fantastic, cool, fun, caring, wonderful people that just love books. They love to read them, to talk about them and to get kids and teens reading them. And for that I realized, I don't have nearly enough librarians in my life!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Why I Love YA Books

It's no secret that I'm an adult who reads YA (young adult fiction). However, I don't often talk about why I almost exclusively shop for my reading material in the YA (and MG) section of the bookstore. There is something special about young adult books today. I think in part, my love stems from the fact that when I was young I loved to read. However, I could never find those action adventure, fantasy and sci fi books that you see all over the YA shelves today.

In fact YA didn't technically exist as an official genre when I was a growing up. Were there children's books? Of course, but there was nothing specifically designated between children's chapter books and adult reading. And guess what happened when I hit my teen years? I almost entirely stopped reading. I could make excuses and say homework, friends, extracurricular activities, etc. all got in the way, but the honest truth is I couldn't find a single book I wanted to read. Adult books were too far above my reading level and there were very few children's books I wanted to read (R.L. Stine being a huge exception). The fact that I wasted so many of my valuable teen years not reading, to this day makes me so unbelievably sad.

In High School, I took a Science Fiction English class. This was probably the single best class choice I ever made. In that class we read a little known (or big known) book called Ender's Game. And while YA was by and large an unheard of genre, and Ender's Game was technically classified as adult science fiction, today you will also find it in the YA section because at its heart Ender's Game is a Young Adult book. This book, my absolute all time favorite, made me fall in love with reading all over again. I hungered for more stories about Ender and I read every single one available. At the time there was the back three trilogy, and a brand new debut parallel novel Ender's Shadow centered about Bean. And then nothing. I waited for sequels to the Bean series but again, I'd run out of books.

Lucky for me, within two years a movie titled Harry Potter came out. This movie led me to all the wonderful things in the world Harry Potter, and once again I found a series of books I couldn't stop reading. From Harry Potter, I soon discovered a whole world of other readers who were reading Young Adult books. This is when I discovered that YA was a thing and there was not only one book, but shelves of them, an entire section in the bookstore in fact, of things I wanted to read. They were books that excited me about the possibilities of what if and books that allowed me to escape into gorgeous and adventure filled lands.

If it was not for Young Adult books I wouldn't read today, at all. Reading is an escape for me. I while away many hours with my nose in all the wonderful YA books. There are so many in fact that I can't keep up. And in reading so much, I've discovered another piece of myself that I never expected to find. The more I read, the more ideas started forming. Until one day they burst out of me onto the page. I became a writer. For a little over two years now, in addition to reading YA, I have spent countless hours pouring words onto the page writing my own YA and MG science fiction. A talent and joy I never would have discovered without YA books. Writing is a part of me I never knew was missing. Had I never picked up YA books to start, I wouldn't be where I am today. For that I am eternally grateful. And that is why I love YA books.

So if you've never read a YA book, I highly recommend the next time you are in a bookstore wander over to that section. The covers are beautiful. The stories are inviting and fantastic. I dare you not to find one book that interests you there. There is literally something for everyone. Pick up a book and start your adventure. Who knows what you might find about yourself inside that YA book.

This post was inspired by Beth Revis Celebrate Books Contest where you can win a signed library of 50 YA books. Be sure to check it out!

Friday, October 26, 2012

To NaNo or Not To NaNo? That is the Question!

NaNo WriMo (National Novel Writing Month) and I have a love/hate relationship. On the one hand if it wasn't for NaNo, I would not have set myself on a path to complete my first manuscript. On the other hand NaNo and I do not get along because I have to work at my own pace. Also I love to edit and write at the same time. Now don't freak out, I know you really shouldn't edit and write at the same time, but rather finish the manuscript and put it aside for a little while before editing. By edit and write at the same time I mean I always read the last chapter or two prior to sitting down to put "pen to paper", and when I do that, if I see errors I fix them. That said, while this practice is great for getting into the mindset it's not always conducive for NaNo, which at it's heart encourages you to just write and pretty much ignore everything else.

Then there's the schedule. While I used to laugh at the seeming impossibility of writing 1,666 words per sitting every day, now when I sit down to write I typically hit around the 2k mark in about 2-3 hours. The problem is I don't do it everyday, and don't have time to write every day. Excuses aside, I do however have a schedule that works for me. Which is a good thing, but this schedule is not a NaNo schedule. Granted my glorious beautiful schedule is already disrupted. So do I take the time to NaNo then fix my schedule later or try to fix my schedule ASAP to get back on track?

Then there's ideas. I have lots of new ideas, however I'm mid stream in edits on a project that I've sworn will be finished by the end of the year and about 30k into my WIP at the moment. So do I start something new for a month or continue edits and writing my WIP? Do I attempt to Nano with my WIP even though it already has 30k?

Then there's the fact that I learned so much from my first NaNo experience two years ago. However a lot of what I learned was how to make my own schedule and how to write a lot and eventually how to finish something. All great things to know but also things a new writer has to discover along the way. I know you have the potential to learn something in every writing experience, but do I stand to learn new things from another NaNo induce coma or am I better off going with what works for me?

The there's the fact that I'm very goal oriented. So maybe NaNo is just the kick in the pants I need to get moving again...Oh my brain hurts....What to do?

So I leave you with this, to NaNo or not to NaNo? that is the question!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Writer Therapy

Writers are crazy. There's no other explanation for it. We write because we love it, but in order to do so, we spend countless hours walled up in a room, locked inside our minds, doing what the voices inside our heads tell us to do. If that's not crazy I don't know what is. So what do you do with crazy people? You send them to therapy of course!

But writing therapy is a little bit different than normal therapy even if it does often involve a comfy chair or couch. There are certain things writers need to do in order to maintain some semblance of sanity. It's not always easy to appear sane (despite being far from it) but here's my top ten writing therapies that help me hide the crazy!
  • 10. A Good Book - There's nothing like getting lost in an awesome book. Especially if it's MG or YA, and has some kind of sci fi or fantasy element to it. I can loss countless hours in a good book, and I don't mind that I don't know where the day went. Some of my all time favorites, Ender's Game, The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel Series, Harry Potter and The Hunger Games.
  •  9. A Good Movie - Whether it's something I've seen a billion times (**cough cough** Princess Bride and Star Wars **cough cough**) or the latest release at the theater, a good movie is a great way to get my mind off writing problems and open my eyes to a great new story.
  • 8. TV - Whether it's reality TV (yes i watch the Bachelor/Bachelorette and Survivor), teen filled drama on ABC Family, my favorite comedies/dramas on the major networks or my old standby SYFY, TV is my savior. When I watch I can just let my couch suck me in and shut my brain off. It's glorious!
  • 7. A Drive in the Car - There's something about the quiet hum of my Prius and the road that calms me down enough to allow my mind to flow freely. Now if only I could find a safe way to write and drive at the same time when the inspiration strikes. Time to find a recording app for my phone!
  • 6. A Hot Shower - Get your mind out of the gutter right now! It never fails that when I'm stuck and don't know what to write next, Orion, my muse (yes I named him and it's after the constellation) hits me with an arrow when the hot water is pounding over me. I don't know what it is about the shower, and maybe it's because I have zero ability to write anything down, and then have to stop dripping before I can grab my computer, but the muse almost always pays me a visit there. My muse must be some kind of pervert! All that aside, I'm seriously contemplating getting a wax pencil and a board to hang in my shower for these exact moments. The things we do as writers!
  • 5. Write Ins - Every week I venture out of my writing cave to meet up with a group of local writers at a restaurant. We eat, we chat, we laugh, we share stories and advice, we help pull the plot bunnies out from underneath the couch, oh and we write! Good times to be had by all and it never feels like work.
  • 4. Critique Buddies - Misery loves company and there is nothing like a great critique buddy to lift your spirits when you think you suck. They are always there to cheer you on, help you navigate out of a plot corner, and demand more chapters, which is a nice kick in the ass to get you writing or editing again.
  • 3. Facebook - This is my biggest support system. I say I'm writing or I'm editing and not only am I  holding myself accountable for it but I have floods of people liking my posts and cheering me on. You all make writing worth it! Not to mention I can cyber-stalk my friends (ok I swear I'm not really a stalker) and de-stress between writing sessions.
  • 2. Twitter - It's a whole world where I can get advice from people in the industry, share ups and downs and commiserate with my fellow crazies (I mean writers). Plus can we say awesome distraction full of fun links and geeky things?
  • 1. Friends and Family - Nothing like your favorite people to lift your spirits and take your mind off of things. Plus they think it's cool that I write and always want to hear about what I am up to, which is the best gift a writer can ask for - an excuse to talk about my writing. :)
And if you didn't think I was certifiable before, you most certainly do now. Not to mention you are surely waving a giant nerd card at me, but it's a tag I wear proudly! So now that you have my list, I ask all you writers what do you do for Writer Therapy? And if you don't write, tell me how you unwind and de-stress. I'm always looking for new ways to ward off the crazy!

This post is part of the Writer Therapy blog hop

Monday, October 1, 2012

The Critique Conundrum

Most writers know that an important part of writing and improving your story and your craft is to give and receive critiques. It is impossible to spot every single issue with our own writing because we are too close to it. So we enlist others to help identify issues and in return we read their work and suggest places that need some improvement. This is great because not only are we able to polish our own work but we are also helping others and learning while doing it. Sounds like a great deal right?

So why do I always feel like a GIANT hypocrite when I critique?

It's so easy for me to spot issues in other people's writing but when I sit down and look at my own work I'm completely blind to to the same problems. It's sort of like the mother with the ugly child. Everyone knows the kid is ugly but the mother is in love. Even though in most cases it's not about looks, as writers, our work is like a child to us and we develop an unconditional love for it. Our work can do no wrong! But that's the problem, we as parents of a story need to accept that our writing can always be better. People aren't perfect and neither are stories. In fact, I don't think you can find a published book out there that doesn't have a mistake.

Which brings me back to my original conundrum, why do I feel like a horrible person when I spot something in my critique partners writing that I manage to do all the time and ignore? I may have a horribly guilty conscience, but this goes way beyond that. I feel guilty because I AM GUILTY!

Luckily, acknowledgement of the issue is the first step to recovery. Every time I have the realization that I may do the very thing I'm noting in someone's manuscript, I rush back to mine and make a note. FIX THIS.... NOW! (yes I yell at myself to fix things, no I'm not crazy, the voices made me do it!) So proof yet again that critiquing is an extremely valuable endeavor in helping us discover our own faults through the works of others. Was there ever any doubt?

So how about all of you out there around the interwebz? Do you have similar experiences when you critique or am I just crazy? On second thought don't answer that last bit.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

A Sweet New Year

Today on the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashana, we start the year of 5773. At the start of the year we are told many things. Most frequently we are wished a sweet, happy, and healthy new year. We are also told that this is when we get to wipe the slate clean and start over fresh with a new year, that is supposed to be the best year yet! This is usually an exciting prospect for most people who look forward to putting the bad things from the past behind them. For me as a writer, starting with a blank page is down right terrifying. No writer ever wants to stare at nothing and try and create something out of it.

When I write everything always starts with an idea - a spark that eventually blooms into a wildfire. I never start with a blank slate because I already have a foundation to work off of. So when I'm told I get a fresh start I cringe a bit because I don' know where to begin. Don't get me wrong there are many things from the past year that I will be happy to leave behind, but there are also many things from last year that I also don't want to forget. In fact the past year has been pretty amazing. I've accomplished so many wonderful things and have so many more things to look forward to.

So this year as I started to think about what I will do with my blank slate, I realized that like my writing, I didn't want to start from nothing. The thought of leaving behind all those good things made me sad. As I look ahead to this year I want to do something different. I'm consciously choosing to leave all the bad behind, while remembering all the lessons I learned from it, but I'm also choosing to grab up all the good from the past year and carry it with me into this new year. I want to take all the good things that I'm grateful for and use it as a foundation to build an even better year to come. Just like my writing starting with a great idea, I'm choosing to start my year with all the wonderful things from my past. And as I remember all the good from last year, I've found I have a great stepping stone to build an even better year.

So to all those starting the new year, (and even those just looking for a new beginning) I challenge you to reflect on your past and gather up all the things you are thankful for and carry them into the new year. We shouldn't have to start from nothing, and when we remember that even in the worst of times there is a silver lining then we truly have the makings for the best year yet.

Wishing everyone a L'shana Tova!

Monday, September 3, 2012

Origin Review

Pia is an immortal, bred to be the first of a new immortal race. She's grown up in a secret lab in the Amazon Rainforest where she has never left. She knows little about the outside world and the scientists she lives with are forbidden to speak of it. One day she will learn the secret to her immortality, but first she must prove she is ready to join the team of scientists that created her.

On the night of her seventeenth birthday she escapes through a gap in the electric fence and sees the jungle for the first time. She meets Eio, who lives in a village close by. Captivated by him she continues to sneak outside her secret lab to see him. As she falls for him, she begins to unravel the secrets of her existence which eventually means choosing between the live she's always known and the mystery of the world outside the fence.

Origin is a beautifully written story about an innocent girl searching to find the truth. Her world contains many secrets and wonder. Discovering the truth alongside Pia and watching her grow and learn is an exciting adventure unlike anything I've read before. Pia is a strong and extremely intelligent heroine placed in a gorgeous setting surrounded by tough choices. Eio will steal your heart as you watch him fall for Pia and try to protect her from the world crumbling around her. Watching Pia take her journey leaves you with sense of hope and a beautiful message about humanity.  

Origin by Jessica Khoury, is the first of five books to release from Penguin's Fall 2012 Breathless Reads. It debuts Tuesday, September 4, 2012. Be sure to pick it up because it is certain to leave you nothing short of breathless. I look forward to more books by Jessica Khoury.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Finding the Passion

This week, after writing my most successful article ever, I learned something about myself. Whether I'm writing, being an engineer, or just living my life, I put forth the most effort and produce the best results when I'm truly passionate about something. For when I am truly passionate, I'm able to find my true voice and really put power, weight and meaning behind the things I am doing. And when those things go well, it fuels my passion and motivation further.

So naturally, knowing that I write and live my life best under those circumstances, I began to wonder how I can start to do this in every aspect of my life. I've found it's really easy to write when I feel passionate about something, but what about the times when I don't have that strong belief or feeling? It's infinitely easier to do my day job when I find the part of it that I truly love and that makes my eyes light up, but what happens when I don't enjoy the work? There's lots of times in our lives where we do things because we have to and not because we want to or because we feel driven to do them.

We all love having that little voice in our head, feeling that drive to excel or finding the wonder in the things we do. But what happens when that voice isn't there or when the drive is absent? I usually ask myself, am I doing this because I have to or because I want to. I have to wonder if I'm asking the wrong question. It's not always about have and want, but about why something is important or why it needs to be done. It's in part finding that silver lining, but it's also in realizing that just because you aren't finding the passion or drive doesn't mean someone else isn't.

I think there is passion in everything that we do on a daily basis, we just have to find it and grab hold of it. Despite the horrible things we sometimes have to do, at some level we could be fueling the passion of others. So the next time I'm struggling to find the passion in my writing, or the drive to finish a work project that's giving me a headache, I'm going to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. I'm going to ask myself, am I driving my passion or someone else's. And whatever the answer, I think knowing that I'm driving someone, even if it isn't myself, will make doing the things I do that much better.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

I Got Ninja'd!

This week was WriteOnCon an online writer's conference for children's, MG and YA writers, that I coincidentally found out about on Monday. (Thank you Twitter!) WriteOnCon is a series of online sessions with agents, authors and editors as well as Q&A's. In addition, they have a huge forum where writers can get advice and post queries, synopsis, their first 250 words, and first five pages for critique from fellow writers. Seeing the interaction on the forum, I decided to make an attempt at a query letter and post it for critique, since I'd never written one before and was seriously dreading it. I started with a summary of my manuscript that I'd written prior to the Missouri Writer's Guild conference and was lucky enough to revise after getting five minutes with a very generous agent at the conference.

When I posted the query a few people critiqued it and I got some great advice. So I redrafted the query a few times to incorporate the feedback and reposted the new drafts. After yesterday people stopped posting feedback and my thread fell to page three. I figured most people wouldn't flip that far to critique so I stopped checking it and subscribed to the thread just in case. No biggie, I was glad some people took the time to comment.

But now onto the best part of the conference. Literary agents and editors patrol these forums under secret identities of the form Ninja Agent _____ . This afternoon, I read through the thread of people reporting in whether or not they "got ninja'd" and caught the eye of an agent. I congratulated those who did and thanked everyone for their critiques and reported in that I hadn't been ninja'd. About an hour later I received an email saying I had a reply to my query thread. As I scrolled through the email, I saw that not only had I been ninja'd, but that mystery Ninja Agent Rainbow had critiqued my query and given me some serious praise. Including the line:

Seriously, I love this premise and almost immediately began to wonder if you don't have the start of a really fun GN (Graphic Novel) on your hands.
 My jaw hit the floor. The only thing running through my mind was OMG OMG OMG HOLY FREAKING S#!T! DID THAT SERIOUSLY JUST HAPPEN? OMG OMG OMG. I think I read the note twenty times and I still hours later am not sure I read it right. Not only had an agent taken the time to read my query, they commented and critiqued it. And on top of it, said very very very nice things. Including that bit above which if I'm interpreting it right means, from my query alone they were already thinking about how to market my work. My heart was pounding out of my chest.

This is seriously one of the biggest highs in my life and it couldn't have come at a better time either. Just a week ago I was sitting at a table with a group of writers seriously doubting my work and wondering if what I had was unique enough to catch an agent's eye. Now I have my answer. And if this is what catching a agent's eye feels like, I don't ever want to doubt myself again. I will take this feeling any day of the week, even if it means I'm left completely speechless. Even though this is a small taste of what is hopefully to come **fingers crossed**, I'm glad I can now say 'So that's what that feel's like' and it's a feeling I'm not willing to let go of.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Humble Beginnings: Writing for the First Time

I never wanted to be a writer. I much preferred the simplicity of numbers and math. So in first grade when we had monthly writing assignments this was a huge source of struggle for me. The class was given a story starter once a month and our job was to finish it. This should have been something fun for a child but for me it created anguish and stress. The sunday before each assignment was due, I’d sit at the kitchen table and stare at the four walls waiting for inspiration to strike. Occasionally, I’d get an idea that I would quickly dismiss because it sounded stupid to me.

After what always seemed like an eternity of watching a blank page, one of two things would happen; I’d start complaining, or my mother would ask what the problem was. I didn’t know what to write and I felt stupid doing it. My mother’s response to this was write whatever you want. And then the whining would start. My ideas are stupid, I hate this assignment, why do I have to do it, and on and on. My mom was always a good cheerleader and would try to console me. She said, “No idea is stupid. Look at Hansel and Gretel, it’s about two kids lost in the woods following bread crumbs. Now that sounds pretty silly doesn’t it? But it’s still a story. So just write something.”

Although her pep talks were pretty good, they never seemed to help. I was lucky if I wrote one or two sentences afterward. My three year old sister on the other hand, who listened to each and every one of these monthly exchanges, would dance around the kitchen and spew out idea after idea after idea in a matter of minutes. It annoyed the hell out of me. I wondered why she got the creative gene and I didn’t have a single imaginative bone in my body. This was the biggest source of frustration for me because while I couldn’t think of one idea, she could sit in the corner and play with her fingers. I couldn’t wrap my head around how easily my sister could rattle off a million ideas and I was stuck in the uncomfortable kitchen chair with nothing but silence in my head.

After an hour or two, I’d get so frustrated and embarrassed that I’d reduce myself to tears, and still I wrote nothing. My frustration and tears eventually got to my mother and the yelling began.  I wanted so badly to find a great idea and I kept coming up blank. My mom kept telling me to write anything it didn’t really matter. But the situation drove everything from my head. And even at age seven the thought of stealing one of my sister’s umpteen ideas never crossed my mind. The crying and yelling continued, until finally my mom felt sorry for me and listed off a series of ideas and said pick one. Angry and exhausted from all the crying, I’d take one idea, which I still wasn’t happy with, and wrote as the tears dripped onto my paper. After a paragraph or two, I’d cram the page into my language arts folder and stuff it into my backpack embarrassed for anyone to see it. To which my mom said, “See that wasn’t so bad.” But it was. I was drenched with tears and I felt like a broken pencil without lead; completely useless and stupid.

As I continued on through school there was one thing I hated more than anything, writing papers. It was always a nightmare. They took forever and they were horribly painful and boring. I was so disinterested in writing, that when I finished my last English class in college, I never wanted to write again. It was a good thing my degree was in engineering. Too bad no one told me about the numerous lab and technical reports I’d be writing over the years. But somehow I made it through each and every painful writing experience.

It wasn’t until I was working full time as an engineer that I actually started to write something of my own choosing. Without homework, I found myself looking for things to do in my free time. Out of boredom, I started researching the meaning of names. From those names, I started creating characters that belonged to them and then imagined up a world they could live in. Little did I know, I was successfully being creative for the first times in my life. This piece, at the time, ended up being the longest thing I’d ever written coming to around fifteen thousand words. But it was flawed. I broke every rule in the book. The story started with my main character shooting up in bed because her phone rang, waking her up. This was promptly followed by an explanation of her looks as she stared at herself in the mirror. I think there are at least a billion things wrong with that segment alone and it only went downhill from there. It began with a boring ordinary start that everyone says to avoid. It was extremely cliché.

Despite the horrible writing skills and the fact that I’ve now hidden that piece away where no one will ever see the embarrassment it holds, I learned a lot from it. I found my creative gene that was hiding for all those years. I figured out how to write something interesting and not let my brain get in the way. And I found a way to use words besides just for talking and getting to the point. Those days spent crying at the kitchen table aside, I learned to trust in myself and go with it. No idea is stupid. In fact some of the simplest ideas can be spun into the most interesting stories.

At some point between writing out of boredom and finding a hobby in reading, I was bitten by the writing bug. I find that ideas and stories overwhelm me and often take over inside my head refusing to sit unwritten. I spend countless hours of my free time writing and studying the craft because I no longer would know who I am if I didn’t. Who would have thought the girl who cried over her writing assignments and was so happy to have written her last paper, would ever grow into a woman who aspires to be an author one day? Somehow in my horribly rocky start, I found the writer within myself. And despite the pain writing caused me over the years, I never forget where I began, because it defines me as a writer and as a person. We all have to start somewhere but how we move forward from our humble beginnings and what we learn from the past is what really matters.

This post first appeared as a guest blog post on Writing for the First Time. If you want to write a piece about your literrary beginnings, they are still looking for contributors.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Never be Above the Praise

This evening I fell into a twitter discussion about whether or not meeting authors could make you more excited about their work or possibly even turn you off to it. My initial response was depending on the encounter, for me it can do either. But as I dove into the topic further I realized there was something in there that I felt very passionate about without realizing it until now - the importance of letting praise continue to humble you.

As a writer, I'm constantly seeking praise and approval. I'm always looking for someone to tell me, hey you write well, or I really enjoyed your story, or I can't wait to read more. There's moments where I need some sort of validation but I only want it if it's sincere. I never want someone to blow smoke up my behind. But in the praise I sometimes receive, I find the strength to push on and tell my stories even when things seem impossible to continue. Everyone needs a cheerleader right?

So when I looked at why I decided not to continue reading certain authors after meeting them in person, I was left scratching my head. I get that author tours are very very stressful. They often cram several events into one day and you spend each night of your tour in a different city only to wake up early, hop a flight somewhere new and start all over again, often leaving home for weeks at a time. As glamorous as author tours sound in theory, the reality is they are probably more like a sleepless nightmare. However, I know most authors are excited to get out there and meet their fans. It's evident when you see them at signings. They are ecstatic, that the people that buy and read their books take the time to come out and see them on tour. They understand that without readers, their books are just pages on a shelf waiting to be read.

Taking all that into account, I've met one or two authors that couldn't even speak to me let alone crack a smile when I brought their book up to be signed. (And I'm not a scary person I promise!) The shear thought of those kinds of reactions baffles my mind. As a writer and aspiring author, I find I'm so overwhelmed and excited when someone just asks to read my stuff and I'm over the moon when they compliment it. A simple thanks never seems like enough in return for the smile they bring to my face and the happiness and strength that comes with it. So I have a hard time understanding why an author would have any reaction outside of joy when meeting their fans (and I'm not talking about rude people that show up to signings, I'm talking about true fans). Heck I'd be happy to have one fan of my writing right now.

I know everyone has bad days and it's possible I hit one of those when I met some of these authors, but a good meeting always makes me want to support an author more because everything suddenly becomes a bit more personal. I met them, they are cool and I want to support their career by buying and enjoying their books. And if I really love an author I'm compelled to tell others how truly awesome they are. However, if the encounter goes badly, I instantly want to shy away and wonder why I'm still reading that author that doesn't seem to appreciate me as a fan. Their books suddenly don't seem as good or as exciting because the person behind the words was a bit of a disappointment. On a slight side but related note, because the discussion mentioned above was initiated by an author, I now want to run out and buy her books for the simple fact that she's taking the time to research what turns fans on or off when it comes to meeting author. I love when authors (or celebrities, athletes, etc.) engage their fans or in this case a crazy person who feels strongly about a subject.

I realize that because I am somewhat new to writing, I have a sense of nativity and euphoria when people praise my work. I'm always flabbergasted to hear any kind of positive remarks about my writing. I know the road to becoming a published author is long and difficult and has many highs and lows along the way. But on that journey and beyond, I hope that I never lose that sense of excitement that occurs when someone tells me I really enjoyed your story. I know every time I hear it, I'm still unable to form the right words of thanks. And as tough as it is to be a writer and not have the right words at your fingertips, I wouldn't trade the joy that comes with it for anything.

Friday, July 13, 2012

It's a Query Letter not a Ransom Note!

The fine art of querying sends many writers running for the hills or seeking shelter in a cave. For some reason it makes many of us cringe at the thought despite the fact that a query really is just more writing. So why do we all seem to hate it so much? Well, there are many things you can do to make the process less painful, and there's lots of tips on how to craft a good query if you know where to look.

I will preface by saying, although I have not sent out a formal query letter yet, I have spent many hours researching what makes a good query letter and follow many agents/editors on twitter that do #10queriesin10tweets. I have learned quite a lot about querying. In fact I've learned enough to know that if you have half a brain, pay attention to submission guidelines, and are polite and professional you are probably ahead of about 50% of the pack right off the bat. Crazy I know but it's true! A quick Google search is really all it takes and that's before you even consider the synopsis, writing, word count etc. of the manuscript being queried.

I will say if you are a writer that is querying or you are even thinking about querying at some point in the future, follow #10queriesin10tweets periodically, the information there is invaluable. It really puts things in perspective. In the hundreds of tweets to this hashtag I can count on one hand the number of requests for pages I've seen result from queries. And as discouraging as it sounds, to me it's simply not because of the common offenses I see committed when people query. 

Follow the submission guidelines
I'd say that the biggest thing that gets a 'no' is not following submission guidelines. Which is anything from querying a genre the agent doesn't represent, to not pasting in the first 10 or so pages, to sending attachments. By the way most agents hate attachments because it puts them at risk for a whole host of viruses and malware so they simply do not open them and often just reject the query. You don't open attachments from unknown senders, so why should they? (and if you do shame on you!)

Lack of plot/conflict
I also see a lot of rejections because the query letter fails to explain what the book is about and what the conflict is. Agents want to know why they should fall in love with your book but if you are just giving them a play by play then they don't need to read your book they already know what's going to happen. Avoid the and then, and then, and then syndrome in both your manuscript and your query.

Word Count
Word count isn't always a make or break but knowing your genre and a rough range you should fall in can save you a lot of headache. If you are way outside the estimated range, think long and hard before you query. And no don't go in thinking you are the exception to the rule, you most likely aren't. There are tons of posts about word count out there, so I will just say Google to find your genre and a good range for it.

An error or two in your query are not the end all be all, but if you query is littered with grammatical mistakes this tells the agent you don't know your craft. Would you send out a resume with a bunch of typos and expect to get a job? No! So make sure you proofread your query letter and get at least one other set of eyes on it to catch as many mistakes as possible.

Weak Writing
This I see a fair amount as well and this one is harder because it's often difficult to see fault in our own writing. Even if you have a critique partner or group, you sometimes don't know when you are done, ready to query and if you've done all that you can. And yes every writer should have at least one person they run their writing by that isn't a close friend or relative that will be honest and objective. So this one is tough to see, and usually means we as writers need to work more on our craft and continue to improve before we query. But the good news is, in most cases weak writing can be fixed.

Now these are the query notes that I usually laugh at when I see them on twitter. No you can't have a book deal and a film deal right off the bat, no you are not the next J. K. Rowling so you can't be a diva about your query, and no you shouldn't query your self published novel looking for an agent to make you more money. And then there was this one that I saw yesterday that made me flat out cringe.
Now I won't pretend to read the agent's mind here but I'm going to wager a guess that this query was possibly on the verge of having additional pages requested when the agent got to the demand of "6 figure advance." Not only did this writer shoot themselves in the foot but they cut their legs off, threw them in a river, and then tried to run a marathon. We as querying writers are in no position to make demands. Don't get me wrong there is a time and a place for some negotiations (and I use some generously) but not when you are querying.

The purpose of a query is to introduce yourself and your manuscript to an agent and see if they are interested in looking at more. Nothing more. You are selling yourself and your manuscript to the agent. So when you as a writer start making demands, you immediately become an undesirable person to work with. Publishing is a business and it's professional. Would you walk into your current boss' office and demand a six figure salary? No! So why are you doing it in a query letter?

So when I saw this tweet I cringed and nearly wanted to cry. In my experience most writers do it because they love the craft, love getting lost in the worlds they write and love spending time with the characters they create. In the beginning, most of us would be ecstatic just to see our name on the cover of a book that we wrote. The advance is nice but by and large we want to see our manuscript in print, out there in the world being enjoyed by others. Writing is not a get rich quick profession and if you think it is maybe you need to reevaluate your priorities. 

So remember this when you query: it's a query letter not a ransom note! You can't hold your manuscript hostage for unreasonable demands or you will never get anywhere in the publishing world. By all means wait for the right agent that gets your work, loves it like you do and has a good plan for how to revise and sell your work but don't be ridiculous.

The more I research the more I find that querying really isn't this huge elusive mystery. Writers tend to make the process way more complicated than it needs to be. Do your homework, write a well structured to the point query that has all the required information and query the right agents. We are writers so querying should be just like writing anything else, write, revise, perfect, execute, yet we tend to stress over the process. Yes the act of querying is stressful but actually writing the query shouldn't make us sweat so much. Take a deep breath, be polite and professional, follow the guidelines and put your best work forward. Eventually you will find the right place for your work.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Why You Should be an Extroverted Writer

Writing is not a solo sport. As much as we would like to crawl into our writer's cave and hibernate in there until our book is complete, that just isn't possible or a good idea. Trust me I'd love more than anything to hide in my introverted self. Writer plus engineer does not equal extrovert, but I've forced myself to step outside my comfort zone and its been to my benefit in many ways. 

It takes an army....
... to publish a book. There's typically an agent, editors and many others that are involved in the process. But it also takes an army to write a book. You can't do it 100% alone. Even if you can find the motivation, time, and drive to complete a book start to finish on your own, you can't be a one writer show. You need feedback and lots of it. As writers we are too close to our work and its impossible to single handedly catch every mistake, pov change, awkward phrase, pattern, abused word, etc. The list goes on an on. Not to mention, you personally can't find the points that don't make sense or need more detail by yourself. You don't know how others will view the story and you need that input. To get that kind of feedback you need to interact with others.

The power of critique partners/groups
I've already discussed why you should have critique partners and get feedback, but there is a lot of other things a group of critiquers can do for you. First on the give aspect, I've learned a wealth of things just by critiquing others. In seeing things that other writers need to improve upon, I often am able to notice similar faults in myself and correct them. The more I critique the more my writing improves because of it. And that is just the tip of the iceberg. 

Not only do critique partners help me tighten up my writing but they provide me with a drive to keep going. There is nothing like an angry critique group waving their flaming pitch forks at you asking for more to you story to keep you writing. Okay maybe I exaggerated a bit about the flaming pitch forks but having someone say they love your story and they can't wait to read more is great motivation to keep you writing. If you aren't extroverted enough to go find a critique partner or group you are missing out. Not to mention they are great sounding boards for working through writer's block, plot issues and the general stuck in the process feeling. They are a great shoulder to "cry" on because they've been there too, they get it. In addition, there has been many occasions where I've helped other writers work through trouble spots and its sparked an idea for myself, or helped me realize a change required in my own manuscript.

Write ins
This is something that I'm new to, but if I hadn't stepped out of my introverted box I never would have tried it. In meeting other writers, I've made some new friends. And there are times where we all say to each other, I need to write. So what better motivation than to group up at a coffee shop or library and write together. In most cases write ins were not times I normally would have been writing but because I knew other people were expecting me to show up, I came and got stuff done. It's also great for sticky points. There are times when you are writing and you get stuck on some wording or plot point and have to stop. But if you are writing in a room full of writers you have the potential for a quick instant brainstorming session. In the short time I've spent doing write ins I've already increased my productivity because I'm being held accountable for my work and I'm scheduling in time, that I may not have typically planned.

Twitter is a huge wonderful resource for writers. I know some people roll their eyes, and I used to be one of them, but there is a great writing community on Twitter. There are writers, authors, agents, publishers, and editors all out there sharing great publishing (#pubtip), editing (#editortips) and writing tips(#writetip, #writingtips), as well as keeping you up to date on the latest trends and happenings. And its all free! There is also a whole slew of writing contests you can find via twitter where you can win critiques, edits or even possibly get signed by an agent. However if you hide behind your word document you are losing out to all of this. Not to mention there are great hash tags such as #askagent where real agents will answer your questions. 

Long and short of it, don't be afraid to interact with with these hash tags or even the people behind the accounts. They are people too, they don't bite and you'll find a lot of them share similar interests as you. Do however be professional. Don't twitter pitch to them unless there's a specific contest or they ask for it, and do not spam, either your stream, anyone's account or the hash tags. Doing these things will put you on a crazy insane bad list that you don't want to be on. You will find the more you interact, the more resources you will find, the more fun you will have, the more you will learn, and if all that wasn't great enough, you'll find you are starting to build your brand as a writer. If you are being respectful and sharing good insight and things you like, you will find that you will start to gather a following. Whether published or not, its great to have this kind of reach. None of which would be possible if you didn't embrace your extroverted side.

So there's a few great reasons to step out of your box and be an extrovert. What are somethings you do to be more outgoing that have in turn have benefited your craft? I find that the more extroverted I become in the writing realm the more my skill improves and the more work I get done. So don't be afraid to step outside your comfort zone. Get out there and get to know your fellow writers. 

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Dealing with Plagiarism

This morning I learned that one of the worst things that can happen to a writer happened to me. I was plagiarized. My hard work was taken without permission from me or the site I wrote for. It was posted on another site and passed off as being written by someone else. However, before I continue I want to take a moment to define plagiarism:
Plagiarism - an act or instance of using or closely imitating the language and thoughts of another author without authorization and the representation of that author's work as one's own, as by not crediting the original author.*
*definition from

See what I did there with the *? That’s called crediting the source. If you are going to use word for word, paraphrase or slightly rework something some one else wrote, then it is imperative that you give a source. It’s even better if you check with that source and get permission before using it, but always credit the source. It’s as simple as that. This however is not how things happened for me.

As many of you know, over the past few months I’ve been writing for an online news site that posts articles and editorials on the latest movies and TV shows. In the recent weeks, the site I write for discovered that another online TV and movie site took not one, but dozens of articles, slightly reworked them, posted them on their site without permission or citation and passed them off as their own work. When I initially heard this, I was extremely angry and it wasn’t even my articles that had been stolen. Without ever experiencing it prior, I knew having your work stolen is heartbreaking.

After today I can now say I know exactly how it feels and heartbreaking doesn’t even begin to cover it. This morning I woke up to a tweet that said (and out of respect for the person that runs the site I work for and the site that has been stealing I will not cite names.) “By the way XXX site ripped off one of your articles too. I thought you should know.”  After reading that comment I was a bit taken back, one because I just woke up and two because I was completely shocked that it happened to me. I couldn’t even spell plagiarism and I haven’t even had the “pleasure” of being rejected by editors or agents, so how was my work being stolen? The site stealing the work is a much larger site than the one I write for, so why would they need to steal from someone else? Maybe they were looking for fresh ideas or one of the writers really didn’t know what they were doing was wrong. Whatever the reason, what they did was stealing and I was crushed.

After the swirling questions and emotions, I decided I wanted to see for myself. Not that I don’t trust the person who told me, because I do 100%, but because I needed to confirm with my own eyes. So I logged on to the offending site and began to scour their lists of articles. Nothing recognizable for pages until….. oh wow that title, and supporting image looks awfully familiar. I clicked on the article and my heart sank into my feet. It probably would have fallen into my downstairs neighbor’s apartment if there wasn’t solid flooring below me. Right there before my eyes was my article down to some of the exact pictures and formatting with a slight twist of words. And the stake to the heart was seeing that the author’s name, picture and bio at the bottom of the article did not belong to me. This was an article that I spent weeks toiling and agonizing over and finally perfecting until it was just right. One of the most difficult articles I ever compiled and wrote was stolen, badly rewritten and said to be authored by someone else. I couldn’t believe my eyes.

After I picked up my jaw off my desk, I wanted to start hurling things and write nasty comments like This is a great article but I liked it even better when I wrote it. But I stopped and took a deep breath before I burst into tears or spontaneously self combusted.

When I finally wrapped my head around what happened, I started to wonder what one does when this sort of thing happens. And after some careful consideration, I came up with the following list:
  1. Take a deep breath: It’s first important to realize that although this is a horrible thing that happened to you, you are not alone. There are some things you can do about it even if you feel powerless and broken.
  2. Do not act out of anger: Acting on extreme emotion will only make the situation worse and could mean that you lose all chance of remedying the situation. So think long and hard before you submit that nasty comment, email, or even facebook, twitter, or blog post trying to defame the offender. Professionalism is key.
  3. Document: Take screen shots or copies of every instance of plagiarism. If it is a website, don’t rely on the link of a site in case the site is later taken down but do make sure the link is visible in your screen shots. Then gather your work that was plagiarized and if possible show proof of dates your work was written. You will want evidence of every instance of plagiarism and copies of your work to compare, to ultimately prove that your work was stolen.
  4. If you are working with an agent, editor, company, or site owner, contact them and send your evidence. Unless they ask for more information or ask you to do something specific, let them handle it.
  5. If you are independent, try contacting the author of the offending article, with a professionally written email informing them that they have copied content that does not belong to them and ask that they either remove the content or credit you as the source. Do not get angry, it’s possible that it was just a case that they forgot or didn’t know. If you receive a reply back saying they will comply and they do, then your work is done, but if not see the next step.
  6. If you are ignored or the person does not act appropriately, try contacting the manager, site owner, or person in charge of the overall content with a similar professionally written email informing them of the copied content. Provide your proof, and information about your correspondence with the author of the article. Again be calm and polite, the owner or manager may not even be aware of the issue and if that is the case they may not be at fault. They can however take action and if they do deal with the issue then you are done. 
  7. But if you are again ignored or met with any other response than compliance, then it’s time to make a decision. Do you let it go or continue on with this? If this is something you decide you want to pursue further, you will probably want to seek out legal representation. Although expensive, they will have more advice and know the laws. They can help draft a formal cease and desist letter or seek further action.

While plagiarism is a horrible thing, in a weird sort of way, I am a little bit flattered. If someone stole my work it is probably because they liked it enough to try and pass it off as their own. While that doesn't make it right and I’m still very angry about the whole situation, I’ve learned a lot from this experience. You are not immune to the horrible things that can happen to a writer, even if you are new to writing, and/or unpublished. But you are not powerless to the situation either. You can choose to let the anger and sadness of the situation overtake you or choose to rise above it and be the bigger person, by dealing with the situation in a professional manner. Although my case is not fully resolved, I know that this is not going to destroy me as a writer. I am merely choosing to take the backhanded compliment and keep writing in the future, working even harder than before.