Monday, July 4, 2016

The Next Problem and Then the Next...

I had a film professor in school that told me "film making is problem solving." At the time, I was relieved to hear it, because I could solve problems, but I couldn't set proper lighting or hold a steady camera shot to save my life (or grade). I also didn't know at the time just how right he was. I encounter it everyday in my professional life. It's one problem, or challenge, or change that requires a solution, fix, or adjustment after another. 

I was watching The Martian last night (Hey, Matt Damon! I see you boo!) and in addition to the obvious theme that Matt Damon is perfect and can do anything, it too approaches the idea that life is solving a succession of problems. 

How do I apply this idea to writing? I'm constantly overwhelmed by the process. I think about writing all the time, but I do it sporadically. It's not because I don't have anything to say or because I'm lazy. I start thinking about all of the things that go into writing and freeze to complete inaction. You don't have to just write a freaking novel, which ha ha ha, is sort of the easy part. (Not easy, but the one thing in this whole process that's entirely yours, at least to start.) Then you edit. Then you get critiques. Then you edit again. Then you query, and query, and query some more. Also, let us not forget the all important "platform" that you're supposed to cultivate along with writing a FREAKING NOVEL. No, ok, I'm not getting revved up, but this is a never ending "no win" when you start putting it all together. 

So, I'm going to Watney this bitch. My biggest problem right now is that I need an agent for my first novel. My solution is to query five agents per week. That's a reasonable, non threatening number.That's one problem and one way of finding the solution. I'm going to let that be enough for now. 

#Truth: This post carried on for several more paragraphs all to explore the next issues and possible solutions. By the time I'd finished writing that draft, I was back to being a ball of anxiety who wanted to quit and just turn on the television. This "one at a time" method is going to be harder than I thought. 

Monday, March 14, 2016

Just Enough





Still? Nothing?

Oh! Haha. That's right. When you abandon your blog, no one reads your blog. Duh.

It's been two years since my last blog post. Two years! That's just shameful is what that is. But sometimes, you just have to suck it up and face the fact that you totally bailed on your dream.

I had a boss tell me once that he was disappointed in me because he thought I wasn't "going the distance". He used this vague, basically meaningless, expression because there wasn't anything, technically speaking, that I was doing wrong. Even though I was upset to hear his criticism (because I'm an over-achieving, rule-following, people-pleasing, praise-seeking weirdo), I knew on some level he was right. I wasn't giving more than everything I had, the way I used to. What I wanted to say to him and didn't (see aforementioned list of personality traits) is that it wasn't that I wasn't going "the" distance. I was just going a different distance. I'd decided to diversify my life and live for more than my job alone. I'd really started writing in earnest at that time. I'd also begun to focus on my health and trying to make my physical and mental being better. And I did. I really did. I finished my first manuscript (still unrepresented b.t.dubs) and I lost seventy pounds. That's going the damn distance. And it was for me, and not for anyone else, which is probably why it didn't show well on a professional review, but I was riding so high on my own feelings of accomplishment, that, well, my give a damn, just didn't.

But then, I coasted.

Straight up. Coasted.

I was doing just enough across the board. Just enough re-writing and querying to consider myself an active writer. Just enough dieting and exercising to maintain weight loss, but not get any further. I wasn't making progress, because I wasn't pushing. I was letting myself down, to myself, all the time. And then, before I was really aware of what was happening, my writing had gone untouched for six months and my clothes started getting tighter. Ugh. Sure. It would be easier to just be able to coast all the time, but not only did I not get anywhere, I started to backslide!

So, now what?

Now. I try again. I'm not at the starting line, which is good and bad really. For me, slightly smaller goals make me feel like I've got more time to reach them. In fact, not true. So, I'm still working on having the will power to push through. I've been making myself exercise daily (note to anyone with insomnia: the exercise totally helps) and I've been journaling every night before bed. It is not much, but it has propelled me forward again. I've started querying again (hint hint agents. Unrepresented chick ova heeya. Is there a literary come hither emoji? There should be.) and I've started writing (a little) for my next manuscript idea. Oh, and here I am on my pretty little blog again. It's not much,for now. But, for now, it's just enough.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Mandy's Chicken & Waffles

No, it is not a dinner order. It's a confession.

I'm a chicken.

I have been sitting on my manuscript (not literally as it's on my computer and I don't have the kind of cash I would need to replace a bunch of destroyed laptops) for months ... and months.

Notes from one of my most trusted friends who happens to read for a living (that's a massive over simplification of her job, but still it sounds pretty sweet) came back and I feel confident that what I have is ready to be seen by other professionals. So, there it is. My manuscript is as ready as I can make it without agent or editor. Years of work is compacted into 250+ pdf pages. Ah, doesn't that feel good?

No! It feels terrifying.

I have to show this to people!

People are going to judge it!


The 2014 Guide to Literary Agents is in hand. The list of agents looking for Commercial Women's Fiction (Not Chick-Lit. Now way. No how. Not me. Chick-Lit is a bad phrase to agents.) is compiled. My query letter is written, proofread, and proofread again. And still, I can't hit the "send" button.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I did submit to one agent last June. I met said agent at the Spring Atlanta Writers Conference and she was very nice and requested pages; not the full manuscript, just pages. I guess that should have been my first clue. Since I'm still trying to get the nerve to query, I'm sure you've rightly guessed that I wast rejected. It was firm "no", but not a mean one. It wasn't a "You suck at life. Please stop abusing literature" kind of a rejection. It was a "not for me" rejection, and still it crushed me.

It was after that rejection that I asked my aforementioned friend to take a look at the novel. I wish I had done that before submitting to the first agent, because she gave me some valuable feedback and caught a bunch of very embarrassing typos. But since those notes came back and those changes have been made, I have started and deleted at least 10 query emails. When it comes time to send the email, I spaz-out and find some (often ridiculous) reason to walk away before sending. I have never been so active on Facebook as I have been while trying to query.

I know the seasoned writers of the world think nothing of a rejection. It is not pessimistic to believe that there will be more rejections in the future. That's just writing.

Still, it is so scary.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Abandonment Issues

My poor sweet, pretty little blog. I haven't paid any attention to you in almost a year. A year! That's terrible and I have no good excuse. I mean- I've got excuses- but not good ones. Sure, I finished another round of revisions on my book- and I swear this time, I'm actually going to query agents, so it at least counts for something. And, yeah, ok, my bill paying job did kick my butt with average 70 hour work weeks, but I know, nothing could make you deserve that kind of neglect. I'm sorry little blog. You're good enough. You're smart enough. And gosh darn it, I like you.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Every Day I'm Hustlin'

I recently had the pleasure of speaking on a panel at the University of Georgia (Go Dawgs!) to address undergraduates interested in pursing careers in film and television production. It was odd to be in a position of any authority, but in my years since graduation I have learned enough to be helpful to those who are just getting started. As I gave what little bit of wisdom I could, it occurred to me that some of the ideas that I and the other TV/Film vets were offering to these fresh faces were the same things veteran authors have been saying to us newbie writers.

1. No one cares what you WANT to do, until you show them what you CAN do. 
Kids, do not, let me say it one more time, DO NOT walk into your interview for a production assistant job and tell the coordinator that you want to be an Executive Producer. Guess what? No one cares. When you've proven that you can work sixteen straight hours without complaining, arrive to work fifteen minutes early for your six AM call time, remember how many raw sugar packets the director likes in her coffee (It's zero, dummy. She doesn't use sugar), and show up to work with the worst cold of your life and manage to keep your germs to yourself, then maybe someone will ask you what you hope to do someday. I know it sounds harsh, but it's the truth.

Doesn't this also have to apply for writers? I'm not agented, so I'm just assuming here, but I can't imagine that a prospective agent cares about aspirations for fame and glory if the manuscript isn't done, the edits aren't taken seriously, the deadlines are missed and the platform is nonexistent. Hey, little writer, you want to be the next Nora Ephron, but your manuscript is in shambles and the only one who reads your blog is your mom? Well, good luck with that. Proving that you can do the work is the first order of business.

2. Find your angle.
On one of my first jobs in the television industry I made up the position that then became mine for almost a year. I was working on a children's show and there were about thirty kids at a time who needed constant supervision. "Hey- it sure does look like you guys need a kid wrangler." I said to no one and started wrangling kids. I was good with kids, so I went for it and before I knew it, bam! I had a regular gig.

Maybe as writers, we don't have to sacrifice our eardrums and sit in a room with thirty over-amped, competitive, and creepily adult stage kids, but we do still have to find our angle. I've heard it repeatedly. Find your voice. Find what makes you connect with readers in a way the others don't.  We have to find our "in'.

3. Speak up, but don't say nothin'.
Networking is important while making your way in production. No one gives a flying fig about your resume and you will almost never be hired because of it. If, however, someone says, "Sure, I know Joe. He's a great guy" well, then go ahead and start planning that vacation you'll be taking at the end of the project. The key is to avoid being a schmoozy creeper who is constantly trying to work someone. You have to give something; a recommendation, a favor, hell, just a funny video that passes the time during a lighting change, to make people remember you as someone who added something to their days/weeks/projects/lives.

As writers, we learn the same thing while we're trying to build a readership. It's not enough to just say, Hey- I wrote this. Read it. We've go to give value to our readers. So, yes, you do have to speak up to let people know you exist, but you can't just make noise. You have to say something real. 

4. Don't just pay back, pay forward.
This one I didn't say while I was talking to the undergrads, but I wish I had. One of my fellow panelists told the audience to "be nice" which is solid advice. I wish I had added, be nice to everyone. Don't just suck up to people you think can do something for you. Don't just make your boss happy. Make your fellow crew members look good too. Sure, it's important to show gratitude to someone who helps you achieve a goal, but it's also important to be the person who helps someone else achieve her goal.

Writers, this goes for us too. We have to (and from my limited experience, are pretty good at) support other writers. We have to follow back, "Like", retweet, leave comments, add reviews and otherwise help our fellow authors spread their works and build their audiences and we can't just do it because we expect others to do the same for us (though you're kind of a jerk-wad if you don't). Without the support of our fellow writers, we're left to hoping that we find a really kick ass agent and/or publisher who is going to take on all of the responsibility of promoting our work. Again- good luck with that.

The bottom line- it takes a lot of hustle to achieve a big goal. You have to give your all, all the time and keep trying when things don't go the way you planned.

And, because this is what I sing to myself when I feel like I'm getting things done, it's time to quote Pharrell/Jay-Z, "I'm a hustler, baby. I just want you to know. It ain't where I been, but where I'm about to go..." (Quit singing there. That song gets pretty gross pretty fast.)

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Too Close For Comfort

I read a lot (A LOT) of chick-lit, so I recognize the formula. It might be wrong to admit there is a formula, but screw it. That's just the truth. Reading chick-lit is like watching a romantic comedy; the story is predictable but in the most comforting way. Have you ever watched a romantic comedy that didn't end the way you wanted it to? And weren't you mad when you didn't get what you expected?  Yeah, me too. (Side note: I'm still not over "The Break-up" (2006). I hold a grudge.)

All of this is to say, I'm used to seeing the similarities between other authors' published works and my work-in-progress. As I've accepted the inevitability of following the chick-lit rules, I don't let similar rhythms or even plot devices make me question my work or what I'm trying to do. What does bother me is when I'm reading one of these similarly structured stories and find writing weaknesses that I recognize from my own work.

Here are just a few: 

Joke Fail-  When a character is telling a joke or a funny story and it doesn't land, it makes the reader uncomfortable. Whether the writer knows it or not, her joke just bombed and the audience is uncomfortable. I found this in one of my supporting characters. His voice was meant to be the glib voice of absurdity ridiculed, but after review, his words were just trite (the annoying cousin of predicable). As a result, I've changed his tone and his dialogue. I had to give him a greater stake in the story and explore more of his depth as a character. I'm much happier with him now. He's someone I would actually like to know instead of a caricature of someone I once met. Lesson Learned: Hackneyed jokes are red flags for under-developed characters.

Dialogue Disorders- Unless you want to waste word space with endless "saids", (Jen said to Ben..., Ben said to Jen..., Ben and Jen said to Ken...), it's important for characters to be easily identified by their dialogues. I notice most often that this is a problem when you're dealing with a character being written by the opposite sex. In the case of chick-lit, it is usually the male voice written by the female author that doesn't work. This was no exception for me. Nothing can douse a hero's romantic flame like making him sound like a girl.  Lesson Learned: Run a guy check for the man talk. If the (or just "a") man in your life says, "A guy would never say that" , the dialogue probably needs a tweak or two.

Offensive Repeaters- If you start screaming "pick up a thesaurus" at a book, there is a problem. I have found myself doing a lot of yelling with several, very  popular, books lately and it makes me nuts! When a word or phrase is over used to the point of distraction, it takes the reader (this reader especially) out of the story. To make sure I wasn't committing the same crime I did word searches for strong words that I found and anything that ranked over 10 uses in my 60,000 word document was changed. The worst offender was "whore" with 15 uses. (I might want to mention that to my therapist.) Lesson Learned: The thesaurus and the word search function are your friends. Use them.

Should these unfortunate similarities between my unpublished manuscript and other authors' published works be comforting? I mean, hey, someone got that junk through. Maybe, but not really. It makes me more nervous that even if (wait, I'm supposed to be positive) when, I get published, that the work I put out could still be crap. No one wants that. So, no, it's not comforting at all. I suppose what I can take from this is that, as it's been said before, being an avid reader makes you a better writer. So what am I going to do to work on my skills? Read.

Yay! I just justified another trip to the book store!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The One Where the Plot Goes Missing

I am a life long T.V. junkie. Since I pursued a career in television production, I thought all of those hours committed to the consumption of episodic programming, particularly silly sitcoms (the louder the laugh track the better), had served me well in my goals. Ah, you just can't beat the comfort of rationalization.

What's that you say? Read my writing? Fine. Ok. I don't see why, but-


Perhaps my little habit hadn't prepared me well for my new path. Once it was in pieces, I was forced to see that my manuscript was not a plotted story, but a collection of episodes; small, sometimes silly, events connected by character, time and place, but not events that were necessarily entwined or relevant to one another and definitely nothing that was propelling my protagonist in any direction.

Well, shoot- that's a problem.

After a sleepless night of some not-so-nice meditation (it went something like- "you suck" "you shouldn't have even tried" "what made you think you could do this"), it occurred to me that the solution to my big problem was pretty simple. I needed to define a tangible goal for my protagonist. I had established my goal as the writer, meaning I knew what I wanted her to experience, learn, and achieve, but I hadn't given her a goal within the context of the story. With that addition, without changing the tone or intention of the novel, I finally had motivation for events, connections of cause and effect, and (miracle of miracles!) an actual plot. Yay for growth!

Ok, maybe it's not fair to blame my literary shortcomings entirely on television, but it is also called the idiot box, so I'm just going to let it ride. Oh, rationalization, how I've missed you.