Dreaming in Character

G.L. Jackson


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On Writing and Competitiveness

This post has nothing to do with entering contests. Many of them are wonderful, and I wouldn’t trade my experiences with them.

Today, I’m here to talk about competitiveness, not competition. There’s a difference. We can all enter writing competitions. I did and have and will again. The writing adrenaline junkie in me loves to get the feedback, to see how I did, to see who wins and why. Writing contests are a great way to receive input on our stories from people who’ve never read our work. Of course the feedback is subjective; of course it’s varied. That’s a good thing, because when our works are published and out there in the world, the reading audience will be varied and subjective. Fasten that suit of armor! Get used to it.

Here, have a nice relaxing picture I took in Mexico. Breathe deeply. Smell the salt air, feel the sand under your feet. It’s good to slow down once in a while, isn’t it?

Competitiveness in writing is a whole separate beast. It’s my firmly-held belief that writing is not a competitive sport. Say that with me one more time: writing is not a competitive sport. We don’t write to finish faster or with more words in ten minutes than our sprint partners. We don’t write because it’s a race to the end. We write because we have stories to tell–full stop. Stories inside our heads that we want to put out on the page, worlds to build, people to invent. These unique creations are ours and ours alone. No one else can write the stories I imagine, nor can I write the stories you imagine.

So why are we so competitive as writers? We sprint (“how many words did you get?”). We query (“how many full requests did you get? How many partials?”). We attract an agent’s interest (“how many offers did you get? How many did you have to turn down?”). On and on it goes, as if comparing our successes and failures will make us better at writing.

The only person I want to compete with on this writing journey is myself. I can set word count goals and if they’re too low, challenge myself to write more. I can set reading goals (Goodreads practically forces us to do so). I can set editing goals…but I don’t want to compete with my fellow writers on these things. The truth as I see it is this: we can only do what we can do. Just because one of my writing buddies might have daily word counts in the 5k range and mine level out around 3k or their query netted a 20% positive response rate and mine sits at 14%, it doesn’t matter. I write because I have stories to tell. Unique, personal creations living in my brain that want out on the page, and in that there is no competition.

Only creation.


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Pitch Wars, that Zen moment I’ve dreamed of, and why rock & roll?

The excitement around Pitch Wars has been bubbling, and I’ve been helping out with #menteeshelpingmentees. It’s strange (and wonderful) to be in a position to help, which is what I like doing best when I’m not writing fiction. All of it has me thinking, though.

So many people see Pitch Wars as a direct path to getting an agent. From personal experience, I can tell everyone this isn’t necessarily the case. I’m proof of that: I had plenty of requests in the agent round, but I’m still unagented. I haven’t given up hope, but the truth of my particular situation seems to be pointing to the big sign that says yes, you can write, you can tell a good story, but that one you had in Pitch Wars might not be the right one.

I’ve shelved manuscripts before. It’s never something I take lightly, and I’m not ready to give up on my Pitch Wars manuscript yet either. I still have fulls and partials out there and I would never pull it when it’s under consideration. But I have reached a very important milestone in my quest for representation.

I’m at that Zen point where getting rejections doesn’t bother me. I don’t take them personally. I sit here with serene confidence in myself and my writing abilities, and know that if I’m persistent enough and keep writing, I will write the manuscript that’s picked up. It might not be this one, and that’s okay.

This sounds like a lie I tell myself, but it’s not. Getting to this point has been a hard-fought battle, with plenty of frustration and tears and anger and disappointment thrusting up like spikes right into the soles of my writing boots all along the way. But every battle has its tipping point, and success can be described in many different ways. Getting to the point where I can shrug off a rejection from someone I queried six or eight months ago hasn’t been easy…but I’m there now. It’s a relief.

Of course I want to hear back from the agents who’ve requested pages. Of course there’s still a tiny tinge of disappointment. But I’m wearing my big-girl pants now, and understand this is only business. Despite the reminders of how subjective a business this is and the reassurances that the right agent will love my work, it’s still a business. Rejection is nothing personal. It’s a hiring decision, and so far my fun breezy behind-the-scenes rock & roll romance hasn’t applied for the right job.

In the meantime, I’ve written another book which is off being edited, and yesterday I started on a brand new one. That brings me to the second half of this post: why rock & roll?

I never set out to brand myself as a rock-&-roll-romance writer. The market is glutted with stories about hot tattooed bad-boy rock stars wishing for simpler quieter times with the shy but humble girl of their dreams.

I don’t write those.

Confession time, here’s what I’ve got: I used to roadie. I was lucky enough to see bits and pieces of this big beautiful industry from the inside out instead of the outside in. Did I go on the road with the Rolling Stones or anything like that? Hell no, ma’am or sir, but I worked with a variety of musicians in a variety of places, and did time with smaller bands. I worked everything from sound board to lighting console. I loaded and unloaded equipment. I climbed into cherry pickers to play with gels and lights. I stood security outside dressing rooms, kept fans from breaking into the backstage areas, cleared the front of house before and after shows… almost anything you can imagine. Met many famous people. Met many less famous people. I can’t say I never met a rock star I didn’t like, but I can say I never met a roadie who wasn’t secretly cool as f*ck.

The stories I write are the ones that take place behind the scenes. Honestly, how many people want to read a fictional version of a rock concert going smoothly? See, I didn’t think so. The small insights I had into life backstage were fascinating, though, and while I can’t write about rock & roll road life without everyone’s favorite tattooed super-rich bad boy rock star dreaming of simpler times (well, yes I can), I can focus on what makes all the people associated with this life into who they are. Focus on their drive, their passion, their skill, their abilities, and how it all blends together to make unique and unforgettable experiences once the lights go on and the show starts.

And as a bonus, I know just how much equipment and how many people can be crammed into an aging Ford Econoline van. (Note I didn’t say “safely.”)

That part of my life might be in the past, but my passion for it hasn’t diminished in the least. This is why I write what I write. I hope my love for it comes through on the page.


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Striving for Positivity

I’ll never get published, I hate my writing!

Oh, yeah, I love what I wrote.

I’m a fraud, people will find me out!

Damn, I’m incredibly competent.

I’m going to drop out of all social media!

Wow, look at this great conversation.

Nobody likes me.

I love you all!

 

This is what the inside of my brain looks like today. Which brings me to an important point about exclamation marks (seriously). Look at the list above. All the negative sentiments are emphasized with them, and none of the positive ones…until the last. Because that’s where I’ve ultimately ended up today.

Look, writing is a tough business. There’s precious little praise and entire dung heaps of rejection. It’s hurry up and wait. It’s biting our nails. It’s looking for validation anywhere we can find it. It’s the inevitable feelings of worthlessness, followed by the inevitable (but generally short-lived) feelings of competence. Like a good game of table tennis, we go back and forth, back and forth.

Last night I had to fill out a form detailing my occupation for the past ten years, and I left off writer. Why? Because in my brain–in that space I was in at the time–I decided I had no viable proof that I could call myself a writer. My published stories have gone out of print. I don’t write regularly on this blog any more. I’m not agented. I’m not even sure which of my works I’m going to pitch in the face-to-face sessions I have lined up. That old enemy of mine, self-doubt, made a roaring comeback.

It’s so easy to harp on all the bad things and forget the good ones.

But really, I am a writer and self-doubt will slink away like it always does, tail between its legs. Back into the darkness. Still, at times like this I am so appreciative of my friends and my writing community. Without you guys, I might fill with too much self-loathing and be one of those people who announces they’re quitting the writing world forever, see you on the other side. When I’m smart I remind myself it doesn’t matter what stage of our career we’re in–just starting, manuscript complete, querying, agented, on sub, published–we all have the same nagging doubts and fears.

So let me ward that off for you. When you sit there and ask yourself am I good enough? the answer is yes. When you wonder if you’ll ever be successful, the answer is yes. When you think you can’t possibly do this for one more day, the answer is you can. 

Now all I have to do is remember that myself.


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I said that last time. It became a pastime.

Bonus points! I got you here using Hamilton lyrics!

Seriously, though: we’re moving again. Last time I told myself it was our last move for a long time, but it hasn’t really been all that long. So it goes. Onward and upward, and hopefully this time will be the last time for a great many years.

I’m excited for it, but it’s put a cramp in my writing style. Today was a good day, though. For the first time in many weeks, I had a few uninterrupted hours to write so I took advantage of it. Getting back in the swing of this story felt so good.

Honestly, I’ve tried not writing and I just get cranky and depressed. It’s better for me (and for the world around me) if I take the time I need to be creative.


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Making the words sing

After my last post where I waxed poetic about some of the things I’d learned about writing, I went ahead and finished the novel I’ve been working on.

If you’re into stats…

– Started on February 13, 2017
– Daily word count goal was officially 2000 (but I like to push that)
– Finished the last scene on April 8, 2017
– I wrote measurable words 32 out of those 54 days (you can check my math, I think that’s 54 days)
– Ended up with my goal of 85,000 words, give or take a few depending on what tool I used to count them
– That makes an average of 2,656 words per day
– Highest one-day word count was 4,550
– Lowest one-day word count was 920

This is what it looks like for those like me who think graphs are awesome (not including the days I didn’t write):

But NOW!
I read the book all the way through on my tablet, made my notes, and now my favorite part: turning into something smooth, seductive, sweet, sexy, and satisfying. I already know what I need to do to turn this thing into the book I envisioned (although the characters always surprise me along the way).

And I ask myself: is this the sequel, or is my Pitch Wars book the prequel? I think this one’s even better, because I had all that experience during Pitch Wars and am now aware of some of my crutches and tendencies. That makes for a cleaner first draft, although it’s nowhere near ready to be shared.

But I know what I need to do, and I can’t wait to get started. A lot of people dread revision, but I love it to pieces. It’s where I can take the words and make them shine. And flow. And sing.


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Eight Things I’ve Learned About Writing a Novel

A year ago, I was about a month away from tackling yet another rewrite on my little rock & roll romance/women’s fic novel. I knew I needed to revise it heavily, but shit, I’d already rewritten it a bunch of times over the course of a year and a half. I knew I wanted to change it up one more time (hey, four is a good number), strip out all but one POV, and punch it up a bit romantically.

Then something happened that changed my writing life: I opened up a copy of Romance Writer’s Report and found an article by a category romance writer. She outlined a basic 55,000-word romance novel beat sheet. I read it, told myself “hey, I can do that with this book!” and got to work. I overshot the 55k by about 10,000 words but when I was done, I had an adorable and sweet little novel that actually flowed. It worked. The pacing was great.

I entered it into Pitch Wars in August.

To my great surprise, my novel made it into the contest. This was the same book that was rejected the year before…but really, it wasn’t the same story at all. It had some of the same characters, but it was wildly different from the previous year’s draft (which I found out belatedly had been under serious consideration but ultimately was rejected because it wasn’t ready).

Funny thing about rejection: it doesn’t sting as much when it turns into an acceptance. My mentor had seen the story the year before and one of the things that helped nudge her in my direction was the scope of the revision. She’d seen that I was able to take something that didn’t work and turn it into something that was a lot closer to working, and she also knew I was neither afraid of nor averse to rewriting. Score one for me!

It’s been a while since I was in the heat of Pitch Wars, but I want to talk a little bit about the things I learned going through the process.

1. Waiting can be excruciating (but patience is a virtue).

But we’re writers, a lot of us querying writers, so we already know this lesson. A sub-lesson is never make assumptions. Odds are the moment you’re convinced you’re going to be accepted/get into a contest/get a request for pages/get an offer of representation, the exact opposite will happen. Lesson learned: wipe that smug little smile off your face and go about your business, Gwynne. You’ll be much happier.

2. Being accepted comes with its own set of interesting circumstances.

Only so many people can ever get into a limited acceptance contest like Pitch Wars. I did. My critique partners didn’t. This effectively put a wedge between what I’d been working on with them and what I needed to work on for Pitch Wars. I only had a month and change to revise my novel, and that meant little to no time to read for anyone else, much less have time to make viable critiques. Could I have managed my time differently? Sure, but it actually worked out for the best.

The Pitch Wars Class of 2016 is a great group of people and we will always be members of this exclusive club together. I’ve made lots of new writing friends, found critique partners actually writing in my same genre, and have been able to share successes and failures with them all.

3. There are no guarantees.

Right after the agent showcase, a lot of people attracted a lot of agent attention. A lot of Pitch Wars people were signed right away. A lot of us haven’t found agents yet. What does this prove? Even getting into a prestigious contest like Pitch Wars doesn’t mean it’s a path to instant fame and fortune (unless you’re Tomi Adeyemi–beautiful outlier, you!). This goes back to what I consider Every Writer’s Words of Wisdom: no one path is like any other. Some people have the story everyone’s looking for. Other people have the story it’s going to take longer to place. That doesn’t mean one is fantastic and the other sucks. It just means the ones that got scooped up right away are the ones that got scooped up right away.

4. Get used to the sound of an ego deflating.

No manuscript is perfect. They all need work, revision, rewriting. Mine went from 65,000 to 91,000 words over the course of my insanely feverish September 2016. I was a little bit smug going in. Imagine the smile dropping from my face when my mentor (the fabulous Mary Ann Marlowe, whose debut novel Some Kind of Magic just came out in January–you should all read it if you haven’t) said “you have a pretty good story. But it’s not a romance.” But what do you mean, Mary Ann? There’s love! There’s conflict! There’s a Happily Ever After!

I’ve learned so much about the structure of a romance novel from this contest and I’m forever grateful. Like a lot of first-time romance authors, I had the cocky notion that the classic romance formula was, well, tired, and I could show the world how it could be redone in a better way. Wrong! The formula exists for a reason. That doesn’t mean it has to be adhered to rigidly, but the basic tenets of a romance have to be included, even if the author messes with the order or placement of those tenets. Romance readers have expectations, and if the author doesn’t satisfy the expectations, it’s not a romance novel. End of argument.

5. Writing query letters doesn’t get easier.

But we can learn to become more effective at writing them, and at writing a synopsis.

Just a few weeks ago I had to take my three-and-a-half page synopsis and distill it into one page. With a little merciless slashing-and-burning, I managed to do it.

6. No word is sacred.

Murder your darlings, they tell us like it’s so easy. You know what? It is easy, but it requires a moment’s distance from our writing and a healthy dollop of dispassion. Things will fall by the wayside. Sometimes they’ll be our favorite things, the ones we swore up and down were fundamental to the story, without which it couldn’t go on. Nope. None of that is sacred. As Mary Ann advised when I lamented losing a whole series of scenes, I could have a mock funeral for them and send them on their way. I did. Guess what? The story is much stronger without those favorite scenes bogging it down.

Ultimately, crafting a novel relies heavily on the art of letting go.

7. Never stop writing.
Write, write, and write. When you think you’re done, start something new. While you’re querying, keep writing. While you’re researching agents, keep writing. While you’re waiting with bated breath to see if any of the agents who’ve requested your story will respond–and if so, favorably–keep writing. The only way to become a better writer is by writing. That’s all there is to it.

8. But don’t be afraid to give yourself a break.

Sometimes, a vacation needs to be a vacation. I did something last month I’d never done before: went on vacation without my laptop. This was actually incredibly liberating. It allowed me to relax, enjoy myself, and refresh. When I got back I had so many writing ideas juggling to get out on the page that I started a writing spree and now I’m about to write the last scenes of my book. I wouldn’t be here if I hadn’t allowed myself some time off to recharge.

And that’s all she wrote.
Of course, there’s more. I could go on and on. Ultimately, no writer’s path to success is the mirror image of any other writer’s climb up that mountain. This is all just my experience, and one I’m so grateful to have had.

And now I’m off to write the final chapter for the sequel to my Pitch Wars novel. I know, I know, we’re not supposed to write sequels if we haven’t sold the first one yet. What can I say? It’s the story that wanted to be told, and even with everything I’ve learned, I still like to buck trends and test new waters. Happy writing, everyone!