Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Rejected Rockstars: Great Writers Who've Gotten the Boot

"Why you gotta be so rude?"

Just for fun, and because we all need a little pick-me-up every now and then, I've decided to compile a list of amazing authors who've seen more rejection than a lot of us who are just starting out in the querying process. 

In the beginning, each and every rejection (or lack of response) can feel so personally brutal. I find that it helps to defer to the greatness of writers who have already blazed these trails. I find their stories so inspirational because they were able to continue submitting their work time and again, even after people told them that their ideas sucked. 

Doing this research made me more convinced than ever that persistence and self-confidence are probably two of the most important traits that a writer can have. So without further ado, my picks for rejected rockstars:

1. Carrie, by Stephen King - Rejected 30 times.
2. Twilight, by Stephenie Meyer - Rejected 14 times. 
3. And to Think I Saw It On Mulberry Street, by Dr. Seuss - Rejected 27 times.
4. Meg Cabot - Rejected so many times she can no longer lift her bag of rejection letters. 
5. The Time Traveler's Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger - Rejected 25 times. 
6. The Help, by Kathryn Stockett - Rejected 60 times. 
7. The Notebook, Nicholas Sparks - Rejected 24 times. 
8. Harry Potter, by J.K. Rowling - Rejected 12 times. 

Lessons learned: Whether the rejection comes from a literary agent or publisher, it goes to show that people have opinions and tastes that do not necessarily reflect the vast market that is out there waiting to read your book! So keep trying. Believe in yourself and keep count of those rejections! One day you may also be a reject turned rockstar. ;)

Sources: If you'd like to find more rejected rockstars, look at these two awesome sites.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Memories of a newspaper staff writer and why I learned to bite

You know the saying, her bark was worse than her bite? Well let me tell you something. When I started writing for my student newspaper's Arts & Entertainment section, I was eager to jump in head first. The only problem was that the ideas I was pitching either weren't accepted by my editor or once I'd finished writing them, they got rejected for the print version. I was like a little yapping dog who wanted to play, but no one would take me seriously.

Don't get me wrong, a few of them did finally make it to print, and I did understand that the A&E section had a huge space issue. Most of it usually went to the "hardcore" news, not so much what movies people were watching that weekend. But when I started to analyze the pieces that were making it into the paper, I realized that most of them were written by a select handful of writers who had more...bite... than I did.

What I mean by that is they had this sort of sharp wit and sarcasm that I felt that I was lacking. They didn't simply recap or praise the student production of Hair, they tore into it! They threw in every zinger they had in them, even if it meant actually insulting people from time to time.

I started to wonder, if I'm going to get myself noticed around I need to start biting?

Soon after I pondered this, I was asked to recap the VMAs. That was the year that Britney Spears had her "comeback" and Russell Brand made his debut in America. I remember thinking, how am I going to set my voice apart? As a result, the piece I ended up with was little more than a string of insults that I felt were witty and clever enough, but I didn't actually mean.

In truth, I felt a little guilty about some of the things I was saying. Sure, they're celebrities and they've seen their fair share of criticism. But to me, it was about more than that. It wasn't me. I'm really not the sort of person to put others down, and my preference will always be to praise rather than ridicule. Even if that does mean a slightly less interesting news article.

The funny thing is that my "zinger" wasn't even published in the print version and shortly after that, I did get a few of my pieces in -- ones that weren't laden with unnecessary criticism!

In the end, I learned that some dogs aren't meant to bite. Some are just meant to curl up on the couch and cuddle with you...and tell you you're awesome. Because you are.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Writing Goals: September

I've seen a lot of writers participating in this monthly goal challenge and thought I'd weigh in. Not only is it fun to share, but declaring your goals publicly keeps you somewhat accountable as well.

This month I'd like to get 1/3 of the way through the first draft of my novel.

Is it a lofty goal? I'm not sure...I've known other writers who seem to be able to write an entire draft in a weekend flat and sometimes I feel a bit on a slow side. However, since writing is not my full time job I feel that 3 months is a decent goal for me. Since some writing days are much more productive than others, this allows me those occasions when writing day are disturbed or completed thrown out the window. Hey, life happens. 

What's your September goal? I'm also very curious to know how quickly everyone else writes. Is 3 months for a first draft reasonable?

Collected Works Blog Link Up-September 2014

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Writers: How to Drive Yourself Crazy in 4 Simple Steps

We all need a little crazy sometimes, right? Well fear not. I've compiled a list of easy to follow instructions that will get you well on your way to that mini meltdown. Let's get started!

1. Set an unrealistic deadline - Why give yourself enough time to finish that project? Take that deadline and cut it in half right now! Five chapters this week? Make it ten! After all, how do you think those "overnight" success stories happened anyway? With a big cup of coffee and an all night writing session, that's how!

2. Put pressure on yourself - The more, the better! Focus on that unrealistic deadline and squeeze your creative juices dry trying to accommodate it. Let the stress flow through you, my friend.

3. Compare yourself to others - Why are there so many writers out there making great money while you're still stuck on revising your first novel? Wonder to yourself why other writers tweets are so much wittier than yours. Why not just change yourself, so you sound more like them!

4. Doubt yourself - If someone says your writing sucks, believe them. After all, they know exactly what they're talking about. Aunt Sue may be in pediatrics, but she reads a lot. Take every review and every criticism word for word and let them sink in until you inevitably figure out that writing's just not for you. Hey, we're not all cut from the cloth!

So remember...

Keep that chin down & stay cynical - The world is telling you that books are dead, people don't read and the success rate for writers is abysmal. So why even try? Just give up, already. Save yourself a lot of heartache and more importantly, a lot of work. Lie back, sip a mojito and enjoy your newfound time.

Oh, so you're not looking to drive yourself crazy? Well this is awkward...Alright, just do the opposite of everything I just said.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

On Characters: How to flesh them out and keep them organized

When I wrote my first novel, I still had quite a bit of learning to do. I consider the entire process one big educational experience. When I wrote my first draft, I didn't feel like I knew my characters very well. As a result, some scenes were difficult to get right. Reactions and dialogue didn't seem genuine.

For the second draft, I decided to go through the process of fleshing out the characters and as one would imagine, had a much easier time writing after that. The experience taught me that writing without fleshing out one's characters is like marrying a stranger. You just don't know what you're getting yourself into.

For my current writing project, I decided to start on the right foot. Not only did I want to get to know my characters, but I knew that I needed to keep this information organized.

Main Characters: I did some research online and found several character worksheets. They usually vary a little bit, but I took from them what I needed. Most character worksheets include things like first childhood memory, character's biggest secret, pet peeves, etc. A lot of this won't go into the book, but it helps you to get to know the characters and create better dialogue, reactions, etc. To stay organized, I keep a worksheet for each separate character saved on my computer in a file folder.

I consider my "main" characters any individual who experiences growth throughout the story. Obviously there will be certain characters that pop in and out and don't necessarily need the same treatment. That brings me to...

Secondary Characters: For these smaller roles, I personally don't feel that a worksheet is really necessary, though you do need to make some decisions. At the very least, you need to know last names, ethnicity, hair and eye color, and a basic cultural/education/financial background.

Once I've figured out all the details for each character, I write the most important ones on flashcards. Sometimes when I'm writing I can easily forget certain details. The flash cards are a quick, easy reminder when I need them.

Now that I've got the characters under my belt, I'm well on my way to my first draft. I'll keep you all updated with my progress. So far so good!

Sunday, August 24, 2014

On Musical Inspiration: Great Writing Songs

A lot of writers talk about their favorite writing soundtracks and for good reason. Music stirs up so many emotions that help when you are brainstorming different plot points or character reactions.

Personally, I use a project-by-project method when building a playlist. When I start something new, I'm automatically on the lookout for great songs to spark different emotions that I'll need when writing. I love YouTube because I can make myself an inspiration playlist and just sit back and let the creativity flow.

I thought it might be fun to share some of my all-time favorite writing soundtracks and some that are inspiring my current work.

  • Finding Neverland - Tempo varies, but a lot of great piano work that always tends to sweep me away.
  • Edward Scissorhands - I love the entire soundtrack, but there is one score in particular that pulls at my creative heart strings every time. 
  • One Tree Hill - Whether or not you are a fan of the show, if you are looking for great songs then definitely keep their soundtracks in mind. What I love about tv show soundtracks are the diversity they bring, often showcasing talent you wouldn't have heard otherwise.
  • Vampire Diaries - The song selections on the show are superb and very fitting to the mood they portray on each episode. Right now I find mysel listening to a lot of their songs to get into certain moods for my current project.

That's all I have right now. Does anyone have any recommendations for soundtracks or songs?

Saturday, August 16, 2014


There was a tree that stood alone
It had been split in two
With fortitude it lingered
Past the bolt that shot it through

In winter, rain, storm or shine
Both halves stood fixed by roots
The left side weak and broken
The right tall and absolute

The seasons passed
The summer went
And soon snow piled high
On top the left side hanging low
Beneath the harsh cold sky

Its branches snapped
Its bark howled too
The right side lost control
The left side landed, roots exposed
It died a half made whole

- C.R. Shuler

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Don't Judge a Book By It's Word Count

There's a topic that's been on my chest for awhile now that I felt like I should finally talk about. That is the subject of word count.

In school I had a class where we were required to write a complete novel at 50,000 words. The idea was that if we had a completed novel under our belts we could either revise and add more to it later or learn from the process for future work.

As it turned out, I really enjoyed writing mine and decided I wasn't finished with it. Based on what everyone was saying, I knew that I had a lot of work to do to get it "ready." I still remember a talk I had with a colleague awhile back who shall also remain nameless. I told him I had written a book and he asked how many pages it was.

255, I replied. 55,000 words.

He shrugged, unimpressed. "Oh, so a short story."

Mind you, he was not a writer. In that moment, I felt a strong urge to question him on his literary merits. But I remained calm. I simply assumed that I had to double the length of my novel for anyone to take it seriously.

What is crazy to me is that in all that time, I didn't stop to question this advice or do serious research on the matter. I also didn't stop to question whether appropriate word count was different by genre or target audience.

So I rewrote. I wrote until I could write no more. I wrote until I had a novel of over 100,000 words. At the time, I thought, "Well that ought to impress ol' Judgy Pants!"

But then I started doing the research...and it was a bit disconcerting. As it turned out, and is probably no surprise to my fellow writers, that the new adult genre lingers at around 75K or under.

It's also probably not a surprise to anyone that this was my reaction:

Did I learn a lesson? Of course I did! Always do your research and do what feels right for your story. That being said, I am in a bit of a sticky situation. 

As it turned out, the rewrite was completely necessary and actually greatly enhanced the quality of the story. As I attempted to add "volume" to my novel, I found that the second plot did, in fact, add an extra layer of depth to the story. Without it, I don't think my novel would feel complete. At the same time, will agents automatically dismiss it because of its length?

It's possible I'm on a uphill journey here, but I have faith in readers. I believe readers read for the story, and not the page count. After all, we didn't sit through all of the Harry Potter books 'cause they were novellas did we? 

Has anyone else had a similar experience? Are you having trouble selling your novel because of its word count?

Monday, August 11, 2014

The Ruthless Writer

"Be ruthless about protecting writing days, i.e., do not cave in to endless requests to have "essential" and "long overdue" meetings on those days. The funny thing is that, although writing has been my actual job for several years now, I still seem to have to fight for time in which to do it. Some people do not seem to grasp that I still have to sit down in peace and write the books, apparently believing that they pop up like mushrooms without my connivance. I must therefore guard the time allotted to writing as a Hungarian Horntail guards its firstborn egg."

J.K. Rowling

Amazing quote by J.K. Rowling which hits the nail right on the head. It seems whether you write full time or not, one can never seem to get enough hours to actually sit down and put fingers to keyboard.

As for myself, I work a full time job and write on certain nights and weekends. I am always saying to myself where does the time go?

I've recently started using a pretty strict schedule, mapping out windows of time for certain tasks. As we all know, writing isn't just writing, it's a ton of other things as well like networking with peers, doing your research and staying current on social media. 

The problem with my schedule is that it seems someone (family member, friend or colleague) always seems to request the block of my time that just so happens to be designated to the actual writing. 

So what do you do?

You can either be "ruthless" as Ms. Rowling puts it or you can be flexible. I've tried the ruthless technique, which to be honest is hit or miss. I feel as though I always end up damaging a relationship of some kind. However if I am too flexible, I end up losing that writing time altogether since I can't slack off on other tasks to catch up.

I am reminded of a quote by Steven King in which he says that a writers desk should always be placed in the corner of the room, letting his life take center stage. I'm paraphrasing, but I believe his point was that as writers we have to make time for life.

So I'll be honest and say that I'm not really clear where the line is: when to be ruthless versus when to take a chill pill and let a little "life" in.

Does anyone have an answer to this? Are you ruthless with your writing time or do you take the more flexible approach? Does it depend on who is asking?

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Ever feel like you're stuck in the 90s?

Anyone remember this one?

Now that I have Netflix, I find myself often watching old shows and movies from my childhood. Sometimes I thank the heavens no one can see my watch list (they can't, right??) for fear of embarrassment.

I'm not exactly sure what my frequent perusing of the Children & Family Movies section says about me. Perhaps it's a yearning for simpler times, when the most difficult, complex question was whether or not to be nice to your sister. Funny, that same dilemma still creeps its way into my adult life.

Or maybe the shows and movies of my childhood were just plain better than those of today. If I were to sit down right now and watch something on Nickelodeon, I would be bored to tears and turn the channel in 2 minutes. Yet I can watch Harriet the Spy (and even, gulp, Power Rangers: The Movie) quite happily. Were the movies of my day more universal or do I enjoy them because I associate movies of my era with fond feelings of innocence?

Why can't I quit you?

Does anyone thinks it's weird to watch the movies and television shows of your elementary years or is it just a fun trip down memory lane?

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

And I'm Back in the Game...

I've officially started the process of plotting my second novel. Hold your applause, please. After a bit of a break, I am excited to get back into the swing of writing again. After recently finishing what I hoped would be the last revision of my first novel, I was a little fried, to be honest. I thought I'd spend some time in research mode: reading more books, learning more about the publishing industry and finding other writers out there who were in the same sort of "limbo" that I am.

(Side note: If you are one of them, please hit me up! I'm anxious to hear about your journey and if you are having any luck getting published!)

I've also been sending queries to literary agents. Searching for the right agent seems to be a full time job in and of itself, but I'm still hopeful that I will connect with an agent when the time is right.

Anyway, I decided to take a break from my "break" and get back into writing. :) I'm very excited about the premise of this one, so stay tuned!

I'm still putting in the time to do research and query, but I decided to take stress and anxiety out of the equation. Regardless of publication, my first novel will always be my baby and I don't think it hurts to let her (yep, she's a lady) take a breather after all the work she's been putting in lately.

Ultimately, I can't predict what's going to happen or how. All I can do is continue to put in the work. Lucky for me, the job is AWESOME.

Monday, July 21, 2014

A little bit further from childhood

My parents recently sold my childhood home. I knew it was coming, but I think it doesn't really hit you until you know you can never go back there again. I'll never have another excuse to drive down that street, or stop at the nearby gas station. It won't be any convenience for me to use that Dollar General, either.

It's just weird.

Luckily, I got to visit right before they moved everything out. The home is pretty old and beat up and nothing I'd want to move back into, to be honest. However walking through it I couldn't help but relive so many memories that happened in that house.

The kitchen where my sister and I fought off the exploding mess of potato soup we made for the first time ever, trying to avoid the burn of potato-to-skin contact.

The bathroom where one of my siblings would retreat during a round of tag, only to find a broom handle shoved under the door and waved emphatically as the tagger tried to hit his or her feet.

The living room where we set up modified version of Celebration Station games, one of which is fondly referred to as the "alligator game"in which the alligators pop out and the person playing has to hit them as quickly as they can.

Or even the backyard, where we once burned way too many wooden pallets after dismantling a makeshift back deck. The resulting fire ended up more of a bonfire, which we still tried to use for roasting hot dogs and marshmallows. Of course, getting any closer than five feet was out of the question. I still remember the neighbors popping their heads out, asking if they should call the fire department.

Did I mention we lived a little way out in the middle of no where?

Anyway, I guess the fun part really is the memories that we carried away with us. Hopefully the house still a few special ones to give to the next family.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

When information overload strikes the writer

Sometimes things seem so much simpler with a fluffy pen...

People always say that knowledge is power. But when is the threat of too much knowledge damaging to your creative vision?

Personally, I have a love/hate relationship with the internet. Some days are amazing: I find just the right blog posts to fit my current mood and I learn so many wonderful new trends and ideas that I feel like I'm floating on a cloud of inspiration. The days I am not so fond of are the ones that during my surfing, I find that one thing that's been gnawing at me in the back of my mind. Writers probably know what I'm referring to. That fear that your book is too long or too short, or your genre is on its way out, or that agent you've been hoping to pitch to said something on twitter revealing they don't like your topic.

Or maybe you find a brilliant writer the same age as you, who writes the same genre, who comes from the same background. Maybe you beat yourself up, asking why she's where she is and you are where you are.

When that moment happens, it all seems to come in a dizzying wave. Your initial panic leads to more keyword searches like "when is a novel too long," or "contemporary romance on its way out." At times like this, I think we all tend to jump to the worst conclusions.

"I'm finished writing."

"My work is crap. I have to rewrite."

"No one will ever read my stuff."

When those days come, it's time to turn off the computer and take a big, deep breath. It's kind of like having an argument with your significant other. Remember that this wave will soon pass. Think of all the reasons you fell in love with writing in the first place. Reconnect with what inspired your story. Do something to make yourself feel good.

Then get back to work.

@MarieForleo said something I often repeat to myself: "Comparison is creative kryptonite. Stay in your own game."

There are so many opinions on the internet, so many people telling you what to do and what not to do. Ultimately it comes down to one question.

Whose opinion do you trust? Who would you rewrite for? Knowledge and information are wonderful, but I think it takes a true talent to know when to step back and trust your instincts, trust yourself, and know when to unplug.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

How I find inspiration

Inspiration comes in so many forms. Sometimes it strikes when you least expect, in a way that you never would've guessed.

For me, I have several tried and true methods of inspiration. Listening to music is a primary one. Sometimes it will come as a feeling I get, inspired by some great lyrics combined with an awesome melody. Other times, a song will convey a story that will get my wheels turning and I'll wonder how it ends or how it could've gone differently. Sometimes I'll allow myself to zone out in the car and just listen. That's usually when the ideas come.

I am also an avid lover of dance. My favorite genres are contemporary and ballet. One of my short stories, The Water's Edge, was inspired by a contemporary dance performed on So You Think You Can Dance. Not only was the choreography beautiful, but I felt very personally connected to the theme. I can't reveal the routine, as my short story has a twist that would be ruined if I did so. However, it's happened more than once that the movements of a particular routine or the story the dancers convey inspired something in me that I wanted to explore through a story of my own.

And of course, there's the obvious muse that every writer succumbs to whether they like it or not, though I suspect that few actually reveal. I'm inspired by my personal life. Sometimes things happen in our lives that just don't make sense and as writers we feel compelled to analyze them in a way that we can understand. At times, it's easier in writing than in life to wrap up a problem in a little bow and round it out with a nice, satisfying resolution. I can only speak for myself, but I believe that these stories are usually the ones closest to our hearts and I think as a reader, you can almost tell when this is the case.

The tricky thing about inspiration is that you can't summon it. You can't say, "Okay I'm ready to write, let me go get some inspiration and I'll start outlining tomorrow." It strikes when you least expect it, whether you're ready or not. Sometimes I'll be in the middle of a story and I'll feel it pulling at me to pay attention. I'll swat it away and tell it to wait its turn; I'll get to it once I'm finished. Inevitably, I always take a break to write it down, afraid that it will drift away and get lost somewhere. Generally, the ideas that refuse to be ignored turn out to be the best ones.

Does anyone else have tried and true inspiration tactics? What works for you? Let me know in the comments!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

A word on rejection

As we all know, rejection is a part of life. A LARGE part of life. Whether hunting for a new job, pitching a story or an agent, we're all bound to face it eventually.

Personally, I sometimes wonder if the ever-present possibility of the short, impersonal rejection letter is what makes a writer, well, a writer. Let me explain.

Back when I was in school, before any of the creative writing students had put ourselves and work out there for the world to see, we were told that we would need to develop a thick skin. We decided, as a social experiment to poke a little harmless fun at the process. Instead of ripping up our rejection letters and lighting them on fire, we preserved them, kept them in binders. Heck, some of us even framed them and stuck them on the fridge. We wore them like war badges.

Once, I decided to pitch a story to Glamour magazine. I knew it was a long shot, I hadn't really seen anything like what I was pitching in the magazine before. But I felt like I should go for it. If nothing else, at least I could say I'd once pitched to them. When I received my rejection letter post card, I put it on Facebook along with a sarcastic comment on the nice personal touch (they had addressed it to "writer"). To my amusement, none of my fb friends picked up on the joke. Instead, they all congratulated me! I guess getting anything from Glamour magazine is better than nothing at all. (Note this is no disrespect to the magazine. I'm a monthly subscriber and read them almost religiously.)

But when it comes down to it, what is a writer without rejection? How would we ever improve without it, how would we ever grow? In a world full of "yes" would you ever push yourself to your breaking point? Could you ever achieve the masterpiece lying inside of you? Would you even try? If every pile of crap that landed on a publisher's desk landed a huge book deal, what would be the point?

So I think as writers we need to stop and savor the rejection that comes our way. In the end, it will make our successes just that much sweeter.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

How I accidentally wrote a new adult novel

I'm somewhat embarrassed to say that I've only recently discovered the emerging literary genre of new adult fiction. I'm more embarrassed to admit that I've accidentally written one.

What is new adult, you ask? Let me go back a couple of years ago to a fiction writing class I'd had in college. We had each just begun outlining our novels and I had grappled with the idea of a protagonist in her later teens just on the cusp of adulthood. Could I do this? Since young adult fiction had been (and still is) so wildly popular to all ages, I knew just how many stories were out there about young girls in high school. But a girl entering college? No one was doing this.

Would anyone want to read my story about a girl trying to "figure things out" in the adult world? Would younger audiences relate to her? I didn't think an older demographic would fit my story, but there didn't seem to be an in between.

I'll have to change her age, I thought to myself. Set the story in high school. Still, I felt that I was betraying my creative instincts. After all, everyone tells you to write the story you want to read and I wanted to read about this girl just beginning college. This was what I knew, and what I felt inspired to write.

It was around that time that I realized how many of my friends were reading YA novels. I thought, surely if my friends 18-22 were reading YA novels then why wouldn't they appreciate stories that centered around someone going through some of the same things they were? So I decided to follow my gut and write about a young dancer beginning her freshman year at the Juilliard School of Dance and her best friend who's struggling to find her dream career.

Believe me, in no way was I thinking I'd be starting a new literary genre. On the contrary, I was going in circles trying to figure out a way to sell this story once it was done. Would I promote it as YA or would it be women's literature? How could I find my niche in those ginormous markets?

Fast forward 3 or 4 years later and imagine my surprise when I learn that while I was muddling through my fifty-some revisions, a new genre has popped up out of the wood work: a genre highlighting those in-betweeners, the ones that have left their adolescence behind but not yet fully embraced adult status.

Sarah at has a great couple of podcasts in which she goes more into detail on the characteristics of the trend. You can listen to them here. 

So that's how I accidentally wrote an NA novel. I just wish I could say I thought of it first... ;)