Dreaming in Character

G.L. Jackson

1 Comment

Writing Through the Tough Times

Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

I’ve never met a career as soul-crushing and disheartening as writing.

I’ve also never met a career that can be as exciting and fulfilling.

So what’s the truth of it? Honestly, my truth will vary from yours and yours will vary from the next person, and so on. I can only speak with authority to what it means for me. As a writer, a human being, someone struggling to get her words out there, I will tell you that there are days when I want to just stop. That’s disheartening. That’s so tough.

Writers need thick skins. We hear that all the time, and it’s a universal truth. People either will or will not like our stories. Agents either will or will not be willing to try to sell them. Editors either will or will not accept them for publication. Small presses either will or will not be accepting that type of story. Critique partners, beta readers, reviewers, random people on the street–you get the picture. As a writer, there is no shortage of people willing to voice an opinion on the quality and marketability of our work.

We have to learn to be incredibly selective about who we listen to, and why we listen to those people. I’m not saying I don’t look for feedback, because I do. I enter judged contests. I’ve got a plethora of critique partners and beta readers. I’m actively querying, which puts my work out for scrutiny by agents and publishers, all of whom have different criteria for what they like and for what they’re looking to represent.

We also hear this all the time: writing is subjective. If that’s not a universal truth, I’m not sure what is. One reader will love the chemistry between characters. Another will hate it, or say it leaves them cold. One reader finds our work full of that elusive thing called voice. Another says they’re not a fan of the author’s voice. There’s an opinion for everything. With the short pieces I’ve had published, the reviews I’ve received have been all over the place. Sometimes I go back and reread them if only to remind myself how subjective this business really is. There is no one work of literature out there that’s universally loved, no one book that finds itself universally despised. That’s simply the way it is.

So why do we keep writing? A lot of people will say they write because they can’t not write. Some people will say it’s simply a learned skill or a job, and they do it every day because it’s what’s expected of them. I’ve always said I write because I have stories to tell. Will everyone want to read them? No. Will someone want to? Yes.

That’s why I write through the tough times. Those times when I think my life would be better served if I just gave up on writing and did something “useful” instead. But I’ve noticed something, and I don’t think I’m alone in this: when I don’t write for stretches (I can’t say how long because it varies), I get cranky. Unhappy. Depressed. Distressed. All those things make me want to not write. But if I power through them after a reasonable amount of time and make myself sit down and write, inevitably I feel better. More complete. Creative in new ways. I have more energy, more drive, more enthusiasm for the other things life has to offer.

And yes, I can do something “useful” and be a writer. Thankfully, those aren’t mutually exclusive.



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.

Leave a comment

When is that novel ready to query?

I keep thinking my stories are ready to query.

The problem is that they’re not. One might be… if I would just write a decent query letter and synopsis for it. The problem with literary fiction featuring unreliable narrators is that their stories are tough to encapsulate.

Another book is almost ready. That’s the one I’m currently editing for the (I’ve-lost-track-of-how-many-times) last time before querying, hopefully. I’ve submitted query letters on this before without getting any nibbles. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with the query letter I have, particularly. It’s that I haven’t queried widely enough, and I confess that I am a chicken. I like to talk about having a flameproof suit, but I don’t like rejection any more than the next person.

A third book is one I thought was ready last year, but it was too close to its NaNoWriMo inception and I was so in love with the world and characters and setting that instead of tightening it up during the edit process, I added another 45k words to it. That made it way too big for its perceived genre and no one was interested. It’s next on my list of novels sitting around on my hard drive that need editing, right after I finish this one.

As a former editor, I’m a perfectionist. I don’t like to see anything step out the door with typos or grammatical errors, especially of the consistent variety. That has a tendency to work against me, though. Nothing is or will ever be perfect. I will undoubtedly find things on subsequent reading passes that I wish I’d done differently. At some point I’m going to have to actually put on that fireproof suit and send query letters out the door. My half-assed goal is to do that within the next few months.

I’ll go ahead and answer my own question: that novel is ready to be queried when I’ve exhausted all my other excuses, bitten my nails down to the quick, read and re-read until I can’t see the words any more, and my critique partners give me the thumbs-up sign. Then I’ll get to Phase Two: deciding who to query and in what order. That will be its own can of worms, but at least I’m expecting some drama there!


It’s Got Good Bones

I’ve been in a lull with my writing. Part of it is that I have so much to do that I become immobilized. Breathe, breathe, if I break it down into bite-sized chunks I can make this work.

Around Christmas I got a little bit of an unwelcome gift: the anthologies I’m published in both got pulled from the shelves. I’m no longer an actively published author (although I have copies of the books! I have proof!) and that took the wind out of my sails in a way I’d never expected. Every book has its shelf life, and ours were never best-sellers. The good news is that all the rights for my stories have reverted to me, so if I want to expand on The Case of the Bloodstone Dragon and turn it into what it wanted to be–The Curse of the Bloodstone Dragon complete with mythology and a crazy past and more of a future–I can do that.

It’s at the bottom of my list. So is doing anything with skateboarding angel Gabe and his less-than-aware charge Hans (basically, it’s Bill & Ted with a heavenly slant). Both were fun stories to write, and I’ll always be grateful to Untold Press for believing in me enough to publish my work.

I’m making my writing goals public for my own reasons. Most of these have to do with self-accountability and little else, but here goes:

1. Finish revising Finding the Ground, give it a better title, and start shopping it. Anyone up for a read? YA, near-future, heavy on sports, family (born and made), and teen angst…

2. Trash Version 3 of Better Backstage (too long, too many POV characters) and rewrite with only two voices. Potentially rename that one too! Out of all the manuscripts I’ve written, this story is closest to my heart… mostly because I lived so many bits and pieces of it back in the day. I know, rock & roll romances are a dime a dozen, but I still love this story and believe in it. I met so many characters when I worked in that industry, and I do mean capital-c Characters. A lot of them made it into the book.

3. Once that’s done, I can proceed with my latest, a sort of companion novel to Better Backstage told from a fan’s POV. I wrote the first chapter, I have notes, I keep finding inspiration for it, but I need to clean up its predecessor before I can run away with the next love of my life.

4. My NaNo novel is languishing. One of my critique partners (I’m looking at you, Ellen) says it’s her favorite of the pieces I’ve written, for mood alone. If I’m going to work on a murder mystery, though, I want to make sure it’s spotless and accessible, so it will require major rewrites. The bones are good. I’m sure they won’t stay buried forever.

I think that’s enough for now. I have a few other things in the works that are really only concepts at the moment. I keep pushing them back, because I already have too much to do.

P.S. WordPress, I really dislike the “improved posting experience.”

Leave a comment

Life, the Universe, and Everything

Some days, all you can do is borrow from Douglas Adams.

Seven days in a row now, I’ve woken up and said YEAH IT’S TIME TO WRITE.

Seven days in a row now, the universe has laughed and conspired against me. I know, excuses, excuses. I’ve always said family comes first, and I’ve had an overdose of family this past week. I will next week too, and the week after. I can’t change that. What I can change is my approach. Get up, get ready, and go to work without letting anything intrude on those precious few hours before the rest of the west coast becomes active.

I have ideas. Big ideas. I’ve been good and haven’t touched my Pitch Wars manuscript since submitting it, but come Tuesday I’ll be working on it again one way or another. I can’t wait. I have some big ideas of my own, and will hopefully get at least some feedback from a potential mentor.

(Me: “I’m going to get into Pitch Wars!”
5 Seconds Later: “I’ll never make it into Pitch Wars.”)

In the meantime, I have a manuscript from one of my critique partners to finish reading, and some work on Chapter 1 of my YA novel to do for next month’s critique group. I’m working on three books in my mind. Luckily they’re all different enough so there’s no overlap, and I can only really work on one at a time.

(Unrelated to writing, yesterday would have been my dad’s birthday. I miss him. I always promised to let him know what agents were looking for in a query letter as soon as I found out. I intend to keep that promise.)


OK, I think I’m ready.

Commence querying…now.

I can either send out a few on a Friday afternoon, or obsess over it all weekend. I’d rather not spend my weekend obsessing, Of course, if I send out queries now, I’ll be jumping every time I get an email notification.

To make a long story short, there is no best time to send a query letter. We all knew that, right? Right.

Have a great weekend, everyone!


The Art of the Query Letter

Is there anyone reading who really likes writing query letters? If so, can I swap brains with you for a few days?

At this point I’ve read so much advice on writing a good query letter that my brain is swimming. I’ve also read so much jacket copy that I’m starting to know how it feels to be faced with a description of a book that tells me nothing and does absolutely nothing for me, as far as selling the story goes. Live and learn, right?

(I’m serious about the first question, though. If you have any hints, I’ll take them.)