One Step Forward

Howdy, howdy!  Yesterday, after numerous rejections from agents (all of which were form rejections or close to it), I received my first full manuscript request.  I won’t say from where or who, because I understand that this is by no means an offer of representation, but it’s one step closer and that makes me super excited.  Even if I end up with a rejection at the end of this, at least I can say someone who is a complete stranger to me was interested in my work, which is a huge deal since I always wonder if people are only supportive of me because I’m cripple (it’s happened before).  Anyway, I’m getting off track.  Today, I want to talk about how the little steps are just as exciting and deserving of celebration as the ultimate goal you’re working towards.

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Kitty has the right idea.  One step at a time.

I’ve probably mentioned this before, but I honestly needed a reminder of it myself: the little successes are still successes.  I admit that I’ve been down lately with all of the rejections.  I let the feelings of being a failure and an imposter get to me.  It’s made writing hard and submitting things less than appealing.  I forgot that submitting things and writing words were little steps on the writing journey in their own right, whether they end well or not.   With all of the rejection writers (and artists of all kinds) face on a daily basis, we have to remember to celebrate the little things as well as the endgame.

Did you finish that short story or chapter today?  Treat yourself!  Is that your tenth (or hundredth) form rejection?  Take pride in the fact that you submitted that many times.  Did you get a lovely personal rejection?  That deserves a toast!  Without all of these little steps, some of which feel more like stumbles, we wouldn’t be moving forward.  And as long as we’re pushing on, we’re trying, and that’s all that matters.

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This applies to life way more than it should.

Sometimes, we go so far down the rabbit hole of imposter syndrome that we need a hand getting back to a point where we can see the little steps.  This boost could come as a surprise acceptance or a request for more, but more often than not, it comes from the support of people in the same situation.  We aren’t alone in these feelings.  If you can’t celebrate your own steps forward, help someone else to celebrate theirs.  Most of the time, it’s easier to notice other people’s achievements, so you’ll cheer them on and tell them that rejection is just one step closer to an acceptance, then eventually you’ll realize these are the things you should also be celebrating for yourself.  Help each other and don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it.  Celebrate your successes together!

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Support each other like these puppies support this baby!

So yeah, even though it’s easy to get distracted by the big endgame, don’t forget the little things that get you there.  It might take longer than you want, but if you stop trying, you’ll definitely never get to where you want to end up.  Keep moving forward.  Keep supporting each other.  But most importantly, keep celebrating all the little steps as well as the leaps and bounds.

Travel Goals

Howdy, howdy!  I’ve been trying to set up some travel plans for the last few months (I won’t bore you with stories of frustration and annoyance at people who take forever to answer questions) for a trip back to Maine this summer.  It got me thinking of all the places I want to/wish I could travel to eventually.  So, I thought I’d share a list of five travel destinations I wouldn’t mind hitting at some point in my life.

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I actually really don’t like bridges, but it’d still be nice to see.

1. California.  Yeah, it’s a big place and I should probably narrow things down a bit, but I’d like to see a lot of different places there.  I wouldn’t mind doing touristy things (Disneyland, Universal Studios Hollywood, seeing the redwoods, etc.).  Mainly, I’d go to visit one of my friends, but I’d also want to go to San Francisco and San Diego and some other places.  But as long as I got to see my friend and the Pacific, I’d be happy.

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Don’t know if I could go up in it, but it’d be nice to see.

2. Washington state.  Again, my main objective would be visiting a friend, but I’ve heard that it’s a beautiful state to explore.  The EMP Museum looks like fun.  I wouldn’t mind checking out the national parks if they have some cripple friendly trails.  It pretty much just seems like a neat place to visit.

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The Na Pali Coast.

3. Hawaii.  Isn’t this on pretty much every American’s vacation list?  It would take a cruise to get me there, but it would be totally worth it.  Hawaii is one of those “maybe one day when I’m rich and can afford extravagant things” trips.  Who doesn’t want to see the beautiful beaches and waterfalls and to experience island life?  One day I will get there.

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Who doesn’t want to see that architecture up close?

4. The United Kingdom (because I can’t pick just one of the countries).  Actually, I had a hard time picking between here and Germany and Italy and pretty much everywhere in Europe.  Honestly, I don’t really know where the desire to travel that way came from, so I have no idea what all I’d do there.  It’s just one of those random things I fantasize about.  However, I do understand a vacation that far away is a dream that probably won’t come true.  At least not until I can afford a long, slow boat ride.

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Arakura Sengen Shrine

5. Japan.  If you know me at all, you knew this was coming.  I’d love to go see the sakura (cherry blossoms) bloom.  I’ve heard conflicting reports on Japan’s overall accessibility, but friends who have been recently or actually live there report that the big cities have improved their accommodations, which gives me hope.  I know a visit here is a long shot, but I refuse to admit it’ll never happen!  がんばります!

So, these are just a few of the places I eventually want to visit, no matter how unlikely.  A girl can dream, right?  What about you?  Where have you always wanted to go?  Is there a special reason?  As always, feel free to share your thoughts here or on any of my social media pages!

Writing Rituals

Howdy, howdy!  I know a lot of people who can sit down and write with little to no hoopla, but I also know a lot of others who have to perform a kind of ritual before they can get the words to flow.  I’m a little bit of both.  There are only a couple of things that I have to do before I can write, everything else is just procrastination (at least I’m honest).  But I thought I would share how my routine/ritual usually works.

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It can be fun, but usually it’s a lot of hard work that gets tossed aside in favor of other hard work that flows better.

My routine starts with my morning (actually, it’s noon-ish, but I don’t know what else to call getting out of bed and getting dressed) ritual.  It takes about an hour and a half to finish because of the whole cripple thing.  I can’t just jump up, throw pants on, and be ready for the day.  That has to be done regardless of whether I write or not, so I don’t know if it really counts as part of the writing ritual or not.

Anyway, while Dad makes breakfast, I do all the little things that would normally draw my attention away from writing if I didn’t get them done.  I post on my social media and respond to any comments, I check my email and note who I need to write back when, I play a round of my mindless games, and I work on the crossword puzzle.  All of these things are just procrastination waiting to happen, so I try to get it out of the way before I eat (or right after if breakfast is a quick one).

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It really is, but you can work it into your routine if you try.

Breakfast is the only big thing that I have to do before writing.  It’s impossible for me to focus on anything productive if I’m hungry.  After food, I open the files I’ll need to get started on my work, do another quick social media and email check, set a timer for an hour, then start writing.  After the hour is up, I log my word count and do another round of short procrastination, then write for another hour.  I can usually meet my writing goal in two hours, but occasionally I’ll do a third.  I will say this: I can usually write even if I don’t break it up by hours if I have to, but I find it harder to concentrate that way.

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Apparently there’s a Ryan Gosling meme for everything.  I don’t really know why.

I know, I know.  My writing rituals and routines aren’t all that interesting.  There’s little to no blood sacrifice going on (it constantly surprises me too).  But it’s how I usually work and it’s been good to me.  When I stop being (kind of) productive, I’ll try something new.  Maybe I’ll throw in a complicated chant or something to summon the muse.  All my stuff aside, what works for you?  Do you have a particular routine or ritual that gets you into the mood?

Which Came First: The Story Or The Character?

Hello, hello!  One of the questions that authors often get asked is whether the story or the character came first.  It’s basically the writer’s version of the chicken or the egg causality dilemma, but there’s no satisfying scientific explanation for it.  There are actually a lot of different answers depending on who you ask, and in my experience, the answer is usually a little different for each story as well as each writer.  It’s part of what makes writing unpredictable and fun.  Even if I fall into a writing rhythm (which I like because it makes the words come easier), the path getting there is always a tad different.

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I thought a writerly version was more appropriate than the other cartoons I found.

For me, I usually get a nagging voice in my head that turns into someone who wants to tell me their story.  The story is full of plotholes and vague connections and is nothing worthy of paper, but I can’t tell them that.  They also have a tendency to talk about other people like I should know who these people are (pretty sure we all know someone who talks like that).  Gradually, a cohesive story forms in my head and new voices pop up to fill in the holes.  If I haven’t started writing by this point, it goes into a list of ideas to work on after my current project is done.  That almost always quiets the voices enough that I can get my other work done.

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To everyone who assumes I know everyone you do.

I guess that means that my answer is that characters and stories have a tendency to come simultaneously to me.  Those are also usually the stories that are easiest for me to write down.  But I will say that I don’t need a fleshed out story to start as long as the voice in my head is strong enough.  I can’t work on a story when the characters aren’t there, so even though they might not technically come first, characters are the most important element to me.

Don’t get me wrong, though.  I do occasionally have a voice that pops into my head without a story to tell (they’re my favorites, but don’t tell the others).  These are the ones I talk to at night when I can’t sleep, so I learn so much more about them.  I tend to keep them around until I find a story to slip them into.  I also have a few plots and worlds that have built themselves with no solid characters to take the reins (but these are rare).  So, like I said, each story gets born a little differently for me.

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Just in case you were wondering about my sanity.

That’s how it usually works for me.  The story and character more often than not happen simultaneously, but not always.  What about you?  Do the voices in your head tell you their stories?  Maybe they just prefer to have random chats until you find homes for them.  Or perhaps the plot comes to you and demands you create people to act it out with.  Whatever your experience, feel free to share your thoughts or stories here or on my social media pages!

National Poetry Month

Hello, hello!  Since April is National Poetry Month, I thought I would share a list of five poems that have stuck with me through the years.  They aren’t necessarily favorites, just ones that I keep coming back to for some reason.  I think we all have at least one, even if we aren’t the biggest fans of poetry in general.  It might be a nursery rhyme or song lyrics (because those totally count as poetry), but it’s there.  I actually have a lot more than five, but I don’t want to bore anyone.

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1.  The first poem is called “The Suicide” by Ai (if the link doesn’t take you directly to the page, it’s on page 40 in that one).  It was originally included in her collection, Cruelty.  I found this poem in my Intro to Poetry Writing class an undergrad.  The teacher gave us a list of poets and we had to pick three to read.  I wanted to see what a woman whose name means love wrote about, and I wasn’t disappointed.  I immediately fell in love with the way she made mundane things creepy and disturbing, but made the creepy and disturbing stuff beautiful.  I don’t know why “The Suicide” has stuck with me, but I find myself drawn to rereading it every couple of years.

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2.  Next up is “Acquainted with the Night” by Robert Frost, which appeared in West-Running Brook.  Pretty sure I was still in high school when I was introduced to this one.  I just remember feeling a kinship with the speaker of the poem.  Someone who was awkward, lonely, and probably a little depressed.  I still feel that strong connection to it whenever I read it.  Maybe I’m just weird.

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3.  I can’t do a list like this without including John Donne.  A lot of his poems have resonated with me, but the one that I undoubtedly come back to the most is “Holy Sonnet X: Death, be not proud.”  I don’t remember how old I was when I came across this one, but I do know that I loved it from the start.  The personification of Death has always interested me.  The idea that it was a physical being that I could talk to was creepy and wonderful even as a kid.  Then Donne goes and kills Death, which I fully admit I found a little sad.  Why can’t Death join us in eternity?  But yeah, this is one I’ll always hold dear.

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4.  The Wild Iris by Louise Gluck is another collection I discovered during that Intro to Poetry Writing class.  While I related to a lot of the poems in this book, “Snowdrops” is the one I come back to every so often.  I read it as someone breaking free of a long depression, feeling all of that weight disappear.  It gave me hope during a dark period in my life.  It still gives me the same feeling every time I read it.

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5.  And, of course, Poe is going to make an appearance on this list.  While I am drawn more to his short stories, I do enjoy his poetry once in a while.  For me, “A Dream Within a Dream” is the poem I come back to the most.  I can take or leave the first half, but something about the second part just keeps calling me back to it.  The fear and the lack of control is something I relate strongly to, so I suppose that’s why I keep going back to it.

What about you?  What poem keeps pulling you back to it?  Feel free to share your list here or on my social media pages.

Form Rejections

Hello, hello!  Last Thursday, I sent out a few of the queries I was talking about in my last post.  Friday morning, I woke up to a form rejection from one of the companies that declare a no from one agent is a no from all of them.  They didn’t even take the time to personalize it with my name or the title of my “material,”  and the signature wasn’t from the agent I addressed my query to, but instead from an associate agent.  It had been sent at 8:04 in the morning.  I thought my first agent rejection would be devastating, that it would be so much harder to take than all of the other writerly rejections I’ve received.  I was wrong.  A form rejection that basic was pretty much the best first agent rejection I could have asked for.

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Cute animal memes help.

First, I suppose I should explain what a form rejection is for people who might not be sure.  It’s basically a vague letter turning you down.  Most of the ones I’ve gotten have an “it’s not you, it’s us” vibe.  They start with a firm no, usually followed up by explaining that your story doesn’t mesh with what they’re looking for, and ending with something along the lines of “feel free to submit to us in the future.”  Most of them are polite enough to include your name and the title of your story, at least in the realm of magazine/ezine rejections (not sure about agent rejections yet).

What do form rejections mean to me?  Honestly, they tend to be an indication that my story didn’t even make it out of the slush pile, that it probably didn’t even make it to human eyes (and I might be entirely wrong, but it’s what I like to think).  The places I submit to get hundreds of submissions a week.  There’s no way they can read each piece and give them the attention they deserve.  Slush readers weed through the ever-expanding piles and do their best to pick pieces the editors will enjoy or grab names that will bring in more readers.  I’m guessing a similar process occurs in the agencies.  I might not appreciate the whole process, but I understand it.  As writers, rejection is a part of the game and we can’t question each one we get.

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Okay, but only for a little while, then back to work.

So, yeah.  A barebones form rejection from an associate agent was exactly the kind of rejection I needed.  It doesn’t mean that Garnets and Guardians is unwanted trash.  It doesn’t reflect on my writing in any way.  It simply means the agency wasn’t hooked by my query, if they even read it at all.  And that’s okay.  I’m more worried about when the rejections get personal, because then I’ll know it’s my fault.  I might start getting really discouraged at that point.  Until then, I’ll just keep writing and submitting and collecting my rejections.  That’s all I can do.

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Don’t let the rejections get you down!

How do you feel about form rejections?  If they get you down, do you have any kind of ritual to help improve your mood again?  Feel free to share any thoughts, stories, questions, or whatever here or on my social media pages!

The Agent Search

Howdy, howdy!  How’s everyone’s spring (or autumn, depending on your hemisphere) going so far?  I’ve been wrapping up my winter by searching for agents and researching how to write queries and synopses.  In graduate school, they told us things like “make sure you have a finished, polished product (for fiction at least) before you query agents” and a few signs of questionable agents (ones who charge reading fees or want more than 15ish%, 20% at the most, etc.).  But nobody really explains how to find reputable agents or how to go about querying them.

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When I first opened my browser to begin the research.

Google searches proved to be overwhelming at first.  They provided a plethora of information and no indication of where to begin, so I admit I panicked and sent a few emails out pleading for help.  That would be my first bit of advice: don’t be afraid to ask more experienced people for help.  Even if they can’t help you personally, chances are they know people who can.  While I waited for responses, I read through SFWA’s literary agents advice page, which is wonderful at telling you how to recognize questionable agents (it’s far more detailed than anything I learned in school).  I realize it’s a science fiction and fantasy group, but a lot of the advice here probably applies across the literary agent spectrum.  They also have pages about editors and publishers and other things that are super useful.

There are a number of publications (Writer’s Market comes to mind most readily) you can buy (some even come as Kindle books) or check out at the library that offer lists of current agents and agencies if you prefer more traditional research methods.  I didn’t want to spend money or visit the library this early in my searches, so I started at the Association of Authors’ Representatives website.  My only problem with this website is that it doesn’t group agents by agency, so it’s difficult to keep track of who works where which is really important since most agencies don’t want you to query more than one of their agents at a time (some agencies even say that a no from one of their agents is a no from all of them).  Then, someone sent me this post which groups science fiction and fantasy agents by agencies, and it gave me a solid starting point for my search (it was a life saver).  It’s a little old, though, so be sure to check out the agency websites and do your research as to who’s accepting what.

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There’s no magical way around the research.

That’s my second bit of advice: do your due diligence.  This is my baby that I’m about to shop around.  I’m going to make sure, to the best of my ability, that I’m not getting mixed up with someone who’s trying to take advantage of me and my work.  If you’re not sure how legit someone is, ask around.  Also, I’m making sure the agents are a good fit for me.  Don’t just randomly submit to people and hope it works out.  Go through their bios and websites to make sure they represent what you write and if they’re actually open to new clients.  And always check out the submission guidelines.  I look at it this way, if I’m wasting their time by submitting something they don’t represent or not following their guidelines, I’m wasting my time.

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Be wary!  We all have gut feelings.  Trust them if they say something is off.

Anyway, I’ve compiled a list of agents (I still have many more to look into).  I didn’t stop looking just because I found one who sounds like a perfect fit (she might not be interested in my story after all).  I will keep looking at different agents until I get ready to send out the first batch of queries (simultaneous submissions to different agencies are expected), then I’ll look for a new batch in case no one bites.  That’s all we can do.