Failing New Year’s Resolutions Isn’t a Bad Thing

 

I love New Year’s resolutions. No, I don’t always keep them, and sure, most of them are neglected by mid-February. But…

 

Oh yes, there’s a ‘but’ in there. A big one. It doesn’t matter how much I fail in keeping them, I still love them. I love thinking about them, I love making new ones every year, I love modifying them if necessary, and sure, I love abandoning them too (sometimes).

 

For me, personal resolutions are less about pushing myself toward an unrealistic and unachievable goal, and more about an amazing opportunity for introspect. (Tweet this)

 

In the crazy world we live in, full of appointments, social media notifications, and crowded email boxes, we hardly have time to examine our own thoughts in depth, let alone act on them. If you’re like me, then most of your days go something like this:

 

1. Wake up
2. Eat Breakfast (if you have time)
3. Workout (if you have time)
4. Go to work (in whatever field, including parenthood, which in an of itself is a full-time job without pay or benefits. For me this includes the afford mentioned occupation, plus writing, plus data-entry, plus homeschooling teacher)
5. Eat Lunch (if you have time)
6. Keep working
7. Eat dinner (probably store bought or something along those lines unless you feel guilty for having binged on those chocolate bonbons, cake, or cookies you had lying around, in which case you go without dinner too)
8. Watch TV (if you don’t fall asleep)
9. Go to bed
10. Repeat

 

Did you notice all the ifs? If, if, if. I hate that word. Along with when. When I have time. When I finish that. When I get to it. You get the point. Our lives are ran by the ifs and whens of an unforgiving creditor, the only creditor that doesn’t extend its loans. And all the while, we guilt-trip ourselves and drive our own self-esteems into the ground because we aren’t doing enough, we aren’t achieving enough, we aren’t healthy enough, or pretty enough, or strong enough, or whatever it is our inner voices of destruction are telling us we aren’t.

 

This is why I love New Year’s resolutions, because I like to use this special, once-in-a-year opportunity to truly look inside myself and examine who I am becoming, and what course corrections I must make in order to get to where I want to go. (Tweet this)

 

Whether the adjustments need to be made in my family dynamics, my spiritual wellbeing, or my professional expectations, it doesn’t really matter, as long as I get to inspect those areas of my life that get skimmed on a daily basis.

 

In all honesty, this is something I like to do more than once a year. It is something I believe we should all do as often as we possibly can. But for some reason the start of a new year always gets my gears turning, and helps me dig my heels on the ground as I determine to reflect on the parts of my life that are most important.

 

Time is nonrenewable. The minute that just went by? You can’t get it back. The year that just waltz through? It’s gone. That’s a good thing. Time always leaves its mark, through success or failure, through achieved goals or abandoned ones. Life is supposed to be about the negatives just as much as the positives. We can’t have one without the other. And when it comes to New Year’s resolutions, I like to think of them not as set goals I will most likely fail to achieve, but as possible failures that will one day lead me to success.

 

Victory doesn’t come without trying. And what are New Year’s resolutions, if not new opportunities to try?

 

 

Emotions: A Writer’s Best Fuel

Feelings suck sometimes, especially the bad ones.

 

They mess with your head, with your confidence, with your optimism. They can wreck havoc in as little as a few minutes, and if left unattended they will rain disappointment and frustration over your head like a cartoon cloud.

 

They are also good, necessary, even if you hate them all the more for it.

 

Last month I went to the San Francisco Writers Conference, and one piece of advice I received there made me reconsider how I handle these bad feelings. I was told to ask myself the following question:

 

What can you pull out of yourself to infuse into your characters and make them come alive?

 

That was followed by a simple sentence: When you don’t know what to use, look in the closet, look in that dark corner of yourself, where all your worst fears, all your weaknesses and reality distortions live.

 

Lately I’ve been struggling with my confidence as a writer. It’s funny how the sites I visit and the blogs I read say nothing about how to deal with your worst fear, your worst nightmare, that part of yourself that will bring you down with criticism and negativity no matter how hard you try to shun it away.

 

The thing is, as writers we shouldn’t shun our emotions away, no matter how dark and terrifying they might be. Feelings, especially the dark ones, the ones full of doubt and apprehension, are the ones that tend to inspire us more. They come from that part of our souls we often disregard, that part that shrinks away from painful experiences of the past, that part that sees itself like a fragile child.

 

And that is why we should use them. Because they show us our true identity, without modification, without lies, raw and open. This is what connects us to others, what gives us the fire we need to create memorable stories, relatable characters, and emotional bonds that will leave readers breathless and forever changed.

 

Feelings suck sometimes, they suck big time, especially the bad ones. But without them our writing would be shallow, unimportant, fleeting; like so many other things in life.

 

In the following months I will be sharing with you little nuggets of wisdom I learned at the writers’ conference last month, starting with this quote by YA author Olivia Rivers:

 

“Write what you know because without it you have no fire between your words.”

 

Ponder those words for a minute…Now ask yourself the following questions:

 

 What do you know?
What makes you angry, wounded, anxious?
What are you afraid of?
What is your worst nightmare?
What can you use from your dark closet to make your characters come alive?

 

Our inner closets are filled with experiences, with feelings, dark and terrifying, sad, depressing, and sometimes too painful to even glimpse at. This is where our power as writers lie, where the fire of our words resides, where the magic comes alive to create something beautiful, something transforming, not just for us, but also for those who read what we have to say.

 

Use them, embrace what you find inside, and don’t be afraid to feel.

 

 

The Dreadful Outline

It certainly has been a while, hasn’t it? I’ve been struggling with keeping up on my posts, wanting to share thoughts, and not quite finding the time to do so. After receiving feedback from my beta readers a few months back, I locked myself inside a novel-editing-only mental room and I am barely emerging from seclusion now. I’m sorry for the isolation. Polar bear here was in her winter cave, living off of her feedback feast.

 

Such feast, led me to face one of my worst nightmares. Outlining my novel.

 

I should have done this long ago, before I ever typed a single word, but I didn’t see the need, and in truth, I didn’t know any better. I thought I had it all mapped out my head, or something. But now that I’ve come to my personal outlining enlightenment moment, let me share what I’ve learned in four simple words: Outline your freakin’ novel!

 

It will save you so much pain, and it will give you a better product in the end. You want a kick-butt novel, right? Then, let’s work with kick-butt creative techniques that work. I am not talking about outlining every single scene in detail using flash cards and color-coded stickers. Heck, I’m not even talking about outlining every single chapter (though you should have at least a rough idea of the purpose for each). I am simply talking about a simple outline that will show you the overall path of your story and its characters.

 

I took the time to research quite a few outlining approaches in the past months, and I found one that saved me from going insane. It’s simple, straight to the point, and leaves so much room for inspiration and go-with-the-flow ideas. Some of you may have heard of it, but if you haven’t, let me save you the time. It’s called The Seven-Point System.

 

This outlining approach revolves around defining the following parts of your novel:

 

  1. Hook
  2. First Plot Turn
  3. First Pinch
  4. Midpoint
  5. Second Pinch
  6. Second Plot Turn
  7. Resolution

 

Simple right? You have no idea how relieved I felt when I found this, even more so when I applied it to my own story. Now, I could go into a lot of detail about what each point does, how to lay them out, use examples to explain, etc. But I’m not going to. Instead, I am going to refer you to the two best resources on the subject. You can either read about it here, or watch author Dan Wells explain it. Both options explain every aspect better and more in depth than I ever could. Plus, I want you to have the best understanding of this system as you possibly can, and in my polar bear state right now, I truly wouldn’t do it justice. Know this however, I am an emerging author, and as such, I am bound to make rookie mistakes. Don’t let another’s mistakes teach you nothing. Take the time to flesh out your novel, poke it, probe it, chink its armor. Only then can you truly uncover its essence and expose it for others to see.

 

It took me a long time to get to where I am, to understand the importance of outlining a way for my story to move forward and actually grow. Maybe this was the path I was supposed to take from the beginning, even if I had to go through the excruciatingly painful process of amputating entire sections of my story. I could have probably written three books already with all the time I’ve spent on this one. But none of that matters anymore, because this experience has taught me an invaluable lesson.

 

Outlining is essential.

 

Whether you’re stuck with a half-written novel, a finished manuscript with no visible head or feet, or haven’t yet written a single word, let me tell you this. Outlining your novel is the most important step you can take to make your project a success, and keep your brain cells intact. Do it, at the beginning preferably. But even if you’re “finished” as I thought I was, outlining will expose the holes and clear the fog of confusion away. Trust me. I know. If you haven’t outlined your novel yet, stop writing. Don’t type another word. Instead, sit down with pen and paper and outline your story. It will save you time, momentum, and might even save you from giving up.

Finding the Right Agent for Your Book

Eeny, meeny, miny, moe, catch an agent by the toe, if he hollers … blah blah blah.

 

 

The past month has gone by in a complete blur of utter confusion and chaos. But enough about my personal life, we all know life is hard, boohoo, Waa, Waa. I’ll stop now. This last week I’ve been mulling over my manuscript after receiving feedback from my beta readers, and even though there are some fixes I need to address, the query letters and other submission guidelines are nearing completion.

 

This is the part where many of us begin to look for agents to pitch our book. Except not all of us follow that approach. In fact, I argue no one should follow that approach, ever. Try to push your anxiety and eagerness to get published aside for a minute and consider this, finding the right agent is better than finding any agent. With this thought in mind, don’t you think you should probably put a little more thought into it? Finding the right agent is just as important as finding the right book cover, or the right book title. So why would you rush into it? Because you’re desperate. I get it. You just want to get that book out there.

 

But getting your book out there won’t happen, or if it does it might not be the smoother process, if you don’t have the right agent backing you up. But how you may ask, how in the world will I find the right agent? Well, let me tell you. I don’t know. No one knows who the right agent is but you. Which is why you need to research the heck out of all the possible agents representing your genre out there. Research agents, then research some more, then research again, then, and only then, you can go ahead and submit, after you have compiled your list, narrowed it down, and done everything in your power to follow their guidelines to a tee.

 

But hey, don’t take my word for it. Let’s try it out together. Right now I am on step three. I guess I should break down the steps first. Allow me.

 

 

Step 1: Research

I have three steady sources I like to follow to find potential agents. The first one is Chuck Sambuchino’s Guide to Literary Agents email list. He always includes at least two new agents seeking representation in his monthly newsletter. My second source is Writers Conferences’ agents. You can find what agents are going to your Writers Conference on their homepage and from there you can look into what they represent and whether you’d be interested in pitching to them or not. Lastly, I love to look at the acknowledgment pages of books in my genre. Sometimes that specific agent isn’t open to new submissions, but other agents in their firm might still be an option. You can also look here for more options.

 

Step 2: Compile Your List

This step I do at the same time as step one. I begin my list and start compiling the names of every agent that sparks my interest. I keep a pretty straightforward list. Agent’s name, Agency’s name, a link to their query requirements, and whether they are opened to new submissions. You can download my PotentialLiteraryAgents excel template.

 

Step 3: Prioritize

Narrow your list down to the agents most suited to your book and organize your list based on their priority level, who’s your first option, second option, third, fourth, etc.

 

Step 4: Customize Submission Guidelines

Follow their submission guidelines to a tee. Do your homework. Otherwise none of them will accept your book and the work you’ve done so far will be for nothing. There are many sources on the internet that give advice on how to approach agents, how to draft your query letter, what to say, what to do, what to avoid, etc. Some of the most helpful ones I’ve found here, here, and here. One more here.

 

So back to not taking my word for it and trying it out for yourself, along with me. I’m currently on step three, and quickly moving into step four. Since I already have an idea of whom I would like to submit my work to, customizing my submissions shouldn’t be so hard. I’ll admit that I have never submitted to an agent. In fact, I am expecting the same rejection letters so many before me have received. But let’s be honest, if we put forth our best work, follow guidelines, and really endeavor to be professional, respectful, and patient, the rejections that will come should only serve to strengthen our resolve to find the right match, the right agent, not only for our book, but also for us as writers. After all, finding an agent was never meant to be as simple as singing a children’s counting rhyme.

The Hermione Granger’s Beaded Handbag for Writers

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First off I’d like to apologize. In my previous post, the one I ranted about Disneyland Zombies, I promised I would share (within the week) a reference sheet with all the writing tools I kept on hand while working on my manuscript.

 

Well, it’s been way longer than that.

 

The last month has been pure insanity. Between a teething baby, a sick mommy (that’s me), and suddenly hitting a brick wall of overwhelming responsibility in virtually every facet of my life, I’m surprise I’m still in one piece.

 

But now I’m back, hopefully.

 

I was reminded the other day about the handbag Hermione Granger uses in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, which she used to pack all the things she thought they might need on their journey.

 

As writers we all have something similar. Sites we tend to visit, communities we love to learn from, email subscriptions that send us daily nuggets of wisdom, and all sorts of sources that comprise our own personal database of go-to-knowledge.

 

Today I’d like to share part of my own Hermione Bag. You may be familiar with some of the sources, that’s okay, great minds think alike. I hope some are new to you. These have been serious game changers for me as a writer and an amazing support for the development of my novel.

 

There are four specific sites I have been following for years that have helped me shape an aspect of my novel at one time or another. All four have email subscriptions, which I receive and read almost one hundred percent of the time.

 

The Write Practice

Started by Joe Bunting, this site was built around the idea of practicing our craft. Every post they share revolves around that concept, so on top of learning something new, you also get to practice it.

 

Eschler Editing

Angela Eschler founded this editing firm years ago. On their site they share insights, support, and amazing resources for writers. They cover a wide range of information by experienced professionals. I particularly love their well-organized archives page.

 

Nathan Bransford’s Blog

On his blog, this former literary agent shares simple, straightforward advice with a humorous twist. He doesn’t embellish his insights and for that I will be forever grateful.

 

Authors Helping Authors

This site operates around a community of authors that provide support, information, and inspiration based on their own experiences. It is a really great way to connect with other authors and learn from each other.

 

There are many other sources I like to browse every once in a while, but these four seem to always be the ones bubbling up to the top.

 

My YA novel is currently under two stages of development. A wonderful group of beta readers (and friends) is at the moment attempting to make sense of the mess of words in order to give me some honest feedback. I’ve done this once in the past, with an even smaller group, before I made all my structural changes.

 

While that’s going on, and in a clear effort to keep my mind from going crazy and my fingernails from disappearing I am also working on my agent submission guidelines: synopsis, query letter, book blurb and/or pitch, and everything else that the list of agents I have may be asking for.

 

I will be sharing my findings and efforts with you in the upcoming weeks.

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Disneyland Turns Capable Adults Into The Walking Dead

First off, Happy New Year!
 
For the past five days I’ve been lounging, sleeping in, and enjoying some relaxed fun with my family. Well deserved, too. After a full week of complete chaos, sick kiddos, sick husband, sick infant, hardly any sleep due to the sickness galore, a manuscript to finish, and a Disneyland trip somewhere in between, which turned all of us into a momentary reenactment of The Walking Dead, it was about time.
 
I was able to achieve my goal and finish the YA novel before December 31st. In no small part, thanks to you.
 
As I consider the ups and downs of that project I cannot help realizing the importance of having amazing people to cheer you on and make you feel capable of actually finishing. Thank you! Your support made a difference and I want you to know that.
 
We took our kids to Disneyland last Monday (December 29th), and that allowed me about eighteen hours in the car with nowhere to go. I finished all my major changes and gave the manuscript one last read, non-stop from beginning to end. I found some minor things that still need fixing, but nothing major. I could not be happier. 
 
After our Disneyland trip, we received the New Year sleeping. I really couldn’t begin to explain how amazing that night of rest was. The flash trip, which encompassed eighteen hours in stop and go traffic, fifteen hours at the park, and a maximum of eleven hours of sleep in two nights, made us all have a sickness relapse. So by the time New Year’s Eve came, all we wanted to do was either vegetate or hibernate, whichever one took the least amount of effort. 
 
By the way, side note here. Next time you go to Disneyland, look at the people around you after 8:00PM. You won’t be able to help noticing the appearance of complete mindless reanimation of human corpses on the faces of everyone you see. Then, get out of the way. Because the lone survivors will give anything to pretty much trample every zombie in their way, so they can move around the park at a humanly acceptable pace. You might be one of these, moving around the park while everyone else barely has enough energy to moan and grunt. But trust me, you too will eventually succumb to the zombie call of utter exhaustion.
 
I’m still laughing about it. 
 
Today, a new week starts, and life has resumed as it used to be before winter break. My daughter started school, my hubby went back to work, and I am once again surrounded by piles of laundry of monumental proportions. I have been compiling a list of possible agents. Since I am going to seek a traditional publishing route, I have to follow traditional publishing steps. My next step will be researching submission guidelines, query letters, and assembling blurbs, and synopsis of my work. I will be sharing everything I learn throughout this process, so keep an eye out.
 
I am also putting together a quick reference sheet with all the writing tools I kept on hand while working on my manuscript. I’ll share with you the most helpful tips, posts, and advise I found and how I went about applying them to my manuscript. Keep alert, I’ll post it this week.