Dominant Submissions

We’ve talked about the entire writing process, from pre-writing to post-writing, and every hindrance or sidestep along the way. Now, after I’ve beat around the bush for a semester, I’ve reached a point in editing that I’m now prepared to send my manuscript out for rejection once again.

But not so fast.

One cannot just mail a completed manuscript, wrapped in brown butcher paper and tied up with twine, to Scribner’s or Penguin, and become the next American great. The only way to get published this easy is to pay for the scam of self-publishing, and wave your very own ISBN around like a winning lottery number. No, it is far more difficult.

The publishing process, like the writing process, and like the editing process, is tedious, long, and quite possibly one of the most rewarding parts of a rewarding process.

If you want to get published, buy the book Writers Market in whatever yearly addition matches your financial situation. I usually buy one that’s two or three years old, because it’s more than half as cheap and not a whole lot changes in that time that can’t be figured out online.

From here, just use this, find the applicable literary agents to represent your respective work, and then create a spreadsheet. Here’s mine:

lit agencies

From here, craft a query, make a general one and then get personal for each agency. And then, when you are absolutely ready to publish your novel take that leap. Send out these queries, paying close attention to what each agency wants, and then sit and wait, and wait. It could be weeks or months, but just wait for the rejections, or the constructive criticism, or maybe even the acceptances to come in.

Congratulations, and happy writing.

Writing a Novel, Before Writing a Novel.

In going back over my novel in the edits, I stumbled across the many many notes and outlines I put together in order to create the novel. In essence, I wrote the novel before I wrote the novel. This post will be dedicated to, in detail, the pre-writing process.

First thing’s first, you need an idea. But you don’t just need an idea, you need an idea that you are passionate about. You can’t dedicate yourself to months or years of work on an idea that you only kind of are interested it.

Next, turn this idea into a story. Create characters, build a world, introduce a goal, and create conflict. Once you have a rough idea of this, you can figure out the general, and basic outline of the story.

In between all of this you’ll probably have little bouts of inspiration. Use these but control these. This is where a lot of authors get caught up, and ultimately give up. One morning eating breakfast you might have a spark of inspiration and come up with the perfect first line, so you take this inspiration and start writing, but that inspiration fades and you don’t totally have an idea where the story is going and you loose steam, and then you just give up. Instead of falling into this trap, only write down that first line, and stop. I do this whenever inspiration strikes, and take all of these lines and put them into a single document.

I take this document, and take my rough outline, and all of my other notes on the story (character descriptions, references, supplements, etc), and I collect them

From here, you can take all of this pre-work and create a full outline. I take the rough outline, and add to it, while adding in the lines where they would fit into the story, and I create a roughly twenty to thirty page outline of the novel in a yellow legal pad.

Oh yeah, footnote, I love legal pads, and I do almost all of the writing, or drawing, or note-taking I do (that’s not in a computer) in them.

And this is your outline. You can tweak it, add to it, and go over it until you are fully ready to sit down and write. And when you are, make yourself a pot of coffee, have a good meal, and do what you do best- Write.

A Terror Way Beyond Falling.

TW: Depression, suicide.

So far, I’ve talked a fair deal about the things that stand as barriers between one and one’s pursuits, weather these be procrastination, failure, or finding the balance between creativity and focus. Yet, so far, I’ve failed to mention the single greatest challenge in writing I’ve had thus far. The single greatest obstacle I have to overcome every time I set out to accomplish something. Depression.

David Foster Wallace, in context, compared depression, and more specifically suicidal depression, to the reason why people jump out of burning buildings to their death; these people jump because they are facing a terror way beyond falling, the flames. This is the most apt a description of my experiences with depression that I have ever read.

I’d like to say now, that I am well, the worst is certainly behind me; I am and have been doing worlds better than the dark days I faced (and wrote about) in high school and after. This, however, doesn’t mean that the depression itself does not linger, even though I’ve learned to cope with it better.

The kind of depression I have is the lifelong kind, not the seasonal, or manic-depressive, it’s a constant ennui that permeates into every corner of being. When you’re depressed, even the most menial tasks become vexing and seemingly impossible, among these are chiefly getting out of bed, along with mustering the effort to accomplish things. Some days I can ignore it and work past it, and other day’s it’s a great deal more difficult to do so.

There are things that help with this, routine is one, so is scheduling and making and checking off lists, eating well, exercising when I can, and making the effort to go outside and see people even when I don’t feel like it all. All of these are things that help, and all of these are things that become more difficult to do the worse you feel, but you just gotta keep going. It’s helped to write about things too. To give that trauma or that burden to a character that can be strong for me.

In The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath asked “Is there no way out the mind?” And well, the answer is no. But this shouldn’t be a prison sentence, for as Camus argued (a really good guy to read if you want to pull yourself out of existential dread and depression), life is hard but we must find the joy in the labor, and suicide is never the answer.

-T

“I leave Sisyphus at the foot of the mountain! One always finds one’s burden again. But Sisyphus teaches the higher fidelity that negates the gods and raises rocks. He too concludes that all is well. This universe henceforth without a master seems to him neither sterile nor futile. Each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that night filled mountain, in itself forms a world. The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy”

-Albert Camus

 

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes.

A little while ago, I shared with you the first few paragraphs of my novel. But these we’re always the first few paragraphs.

Contrary to what might be the common misconception, novels aren’t finished when you type ‘the end’ at the end of a first draft. This is a big accomplishment, nonetheless, but it is in no way ‘finishing a book;’ it is simply getting over one of the bigger hurdles to accomplishing this lofty ambition.  When I finished writing a first draft, I was exhausted, but exalted. But then, I went back to work. One thing that I worked on, in particular, was crafting this opening.

“I remember when I used to think people our age were adults. I remember when I used to look up to my father. Now I’m taller than him.

I had this line in my head for some time before even starting the novel, like a seed. But the line was never exactly like this. Sometimes it was ‘dad’ and sometimes it was ‘father.’ sometimes it was all one sentence, sometimes two, and sometimes three. It needed to not be too long, nor too short, (landing somewhere in-between the 141 words of the first line of A Tale of Two Cities and the three of Moby Dick. I wrote and re-rote this one small paragraph over and over in my mind, trying to get each syllable right; trying to get the perfect combination of intrigue and humor intertwined with the perfect cadence, so every tap of the tongue lands just right.

My favorite paragraph of the novel, currently the second paragraph, actually started out as the closer to the opening chapter; but I moved it up as I changed it. It’s a process, and a process of editing and changing, until everything is as good as I can make it. And that’s precisely what this little post is about, change. Change is normal, change is good, and change should be encouraged. That’s life, and that’s writing.

-T

 

 

Not to be Reproduced.

magritte3not-to-be-reproduced

Self-reflection is hard.

 

Editing is hard not just because self-criticism is hard, but instead because it can be never-ending. It feels as though writing is never done, only done enough. Every time I go back on something I’ve written, anything, there are always tweaks to be made. Mark Twain was known to write edits and annotations in the margins of his already published novels, in a then common practice known as marginalia. I, too, find myself doing this almost any time I re-read something I’ve written.  The hard part isn’t the editing itself, it’s knowing when to stop editing.

Plenty has been written about the difficulties and necessities of calculated and detached editing, to be able to kill your darlings; and I’ll admit that this is hard to do. I’ve already had to cut, wholesale, an entire character and plot-line from the novel in this round of revisions in the name of brevity, wit, and streamlining the main plot. This is hard, but so is finding the balance between useful tweaking and obsessive re-working. There’s a compulsion to make every sentence perfect, because nothing is more harmful to creativity than good enough.

But there’s the rub. We are our own harshest critics, and at the same time, we can be our own greatest (and most harmful) champions. There’s an incredible narcissism to believing that you (or I) can be the one to tell the story, but that’s precisely where the discipline to be an honest and harsh critic and editor needs to come into play. It’s about a balance, a difficult and seemingly impossible balance, but one I’m hoping and trying to find.

-T

 

“…Writing is something that you can never do as well as it can be done. It is a perpetual challenge and it is more difficult than anything else that I have ever done—so I do it. And it makes me happy when I do it well.”

― Ernest Hemingway

Writing Drunk and Editing Sober.

Ernest Hemingway, a favorite writer of mine, is famously quoted as saying “Write drunk, edit sober.” It is no secret that Papa was a fan of alcohol, however, the amount to which it played a part in creating many of his masterpieces of prose is dubious at best. There is no disputing that Hemingway liked to drink, and there is no disputing that alcohol itself played a large part in the content of many of his greatest works (my favorite included), but it is surprising to learn that alcohol actually had very little to do with the creation of these same works.

“That’s not how he wrote,” Hemingway’s granddaughter Mariel Hemingway said in an interview, “he never wrote drunk, he never wrote beyond early, early morning.”

So if the man himself did not follow this advice, what can be gained from it? Well, a lot actually. First, there are many, many correctly attributed quotes about drinking from Hemingway; like “I drink to make other people more interesting,” which I happen to have engraved on my favorite flask. And secondly, there still might be some truth to the quote. There’s actually a surprising amount of science behind it, in fact. Drinking, in moderation (with a hard limit at .07% BAC), can help spur creativity by inhibiting that ever-present editor in the brain. What can be detrimental to conversation can be vital to writing creatively; without a filter, every idea can come out, good and bad, and that is where editing sober comes into play.

So, in conclusion, writing drunk and editing sober is good advice when not taken literally. To me, it means (whether tipsy or sober), to write uninhibited, and to edit diligently, and that’s advice for anyone.

-T

Meat & Potatoes

One of my favorite words is ampersand. It’s one of these ‘&.’The word ampersand comes from a contraction of the phrase ‘and per se and’ and the symbol used to be the 27th letter of the English alphabet taught to schoolchildren; the symbol is itself a contraction of the letters e and t, from ‘et,’ the Latin word for and (more on this fascinating story from the OED).

Anyway, the phrase ‘meat and potatoes’ refers to the main part of something, the unadulterated sustenance. For this blog, the meat and potatoes is me going through the editing and publishing process. This is going to be tough. I haven’t gone back to the book since the last time I sent out queries in the fall of 2016. Now is the time to get back though, to take all of the criticism, constructive and otherwise, and look at what I can do to make every word and every page count. Vonnegut was said to have obsessed for days on individual sentences, just to get his signature cadence just right. Fitzgerald worked and reworked his novels with trusted editor Maxwell Perkins for months until they reached perfection. And then there’s me looking up to those giants. But hey, if you look up to giants, you’ll always feel short.

“I remember when I used to think people our age were adults. I remember when I used to look up to my father. Now I’m taller than him.

When I was at the start of my junior year of high school, I really had no idea how much would change over the course of the next two years, I could never have imagined how Ken, Lila, the road trip, or any of it would change my life, but I’ll get to that and all that Holden Caulfield kind of crap about my younger and more vulnerable years later.

In short, I am a millennial. More specifically, I’m a 90’s kid. I am a member of the New Lost Generation, Generation Apathy, Generation Why; the kids that were around for Web 1.0 but were raised on 2. The generation that saw the technology around them grow faster than they did, born in a period of Unraveling and growing up in a time of Crisis. The last group of human beings to remember 9/11 as an event in their lives rather than a history lesson. The sons and daughters of the Baby-Boomers who stayed together for the kids. We are not just the outsiders or the inbetweeners, we are the lost.

But that’s just Juvenoia at work.”

This is the opener of my novel; four paragraphs that I’ve spent many many hours working and reworking to get just right, because first impressions are important, and opening lines are even more important. Let me know what you think of this beginning, as I begin again my journey into more editing. And yes, it’s a YA novel as I’ve said, and I’m not trying to write literature, but I am trying to write well.

-T