You haven’t purged your closet in a frenzy of endorphin-inducing productivity?
Weird. Me too.
I began this quarantine like any Type A personality would. I MADE A LIST.
With all this newfound time, my schedule cleared of obligations, my social calendar a blank slate, wasn’t it time to clean the garage and take up a new instrument? I’d been meaning to get to those boxes of pictures for years. This must be the time! My house would shine. Squeaky doors oiled. Windowsills vacuumed. “It’s gonna be good,” I told myself. “Look at the positive that will come out of this terrifying pandemic.” *cue Pollyanna smile*
This went as you would expect the first line of every joke goes.
First, I watched a lot of news, checked a lot of feeds, learned a lot of virology stats and did a lot of hand washing. I devoured meme after meme and spoof after spoof. Other people were doing BRILLIANT things with their time!
Then, every day, as I bustled through menial things that somehow took way longer than they should have and relocated my coffee-drinking butt from one chair to the next, I beat myself up about what a slug I was. Where was that gusto to workout every day in my living room? I did stuff, I reasoned. It was just not the kind of stuff that feels like anything at all.
I remember the first time someone asked me what my elevator pitch was. I probably gave him a snarky look.
“A what?” I snapped. I actually thought he was making fun of me. What did an elevator have to do with anything?
Now, my much wiser self can inform you… An elevator pitch is what you would say if you had some important publisher to pitch to on a 20 second elevator ride. (Although pitching someone in an actual elevator is probably pretty tacky.)
Let’s talk about how to write the infamous (to most) elevator pitch. My first piece of advice is…
Think of an elevator pitch as movie preview
If we’re being honest here, movie previews are my favorite part of most movie experiences. What can I say? I like the highlight reels. (Especially if the narrator is throaty like James Earl Jones or Morgan Freeman or Emma Stone) Movie previews are like the sugar center of a jawbreaker and, again if we’re honest, often better than the movie itself.
Your elevator pitch is the highlight reel of your book, except that you leave a lot of the stuff you think is really great and important out. Fun, huh?
Let’s try one together… (Imagine James Earl Jones’ voice here)
“Caught in the crossfire of an age-old feud, two young lovers defy their families in a romance that will cost them everything.”
Can you guess it?
“After his father’s sudden death, a young lion turns away from his destiny to be king and, in shame, abandons his throne and family. Years later, he must save his pride from starvation by confronting the current king, the power hungry uncle that murdered his father.”
I feel like I’ve edited these 300 words a thousand times.
Evan sees it in slow motion, the fall leaves scalloping Mara’s profile as the car hovers above her, the girl on the bike peddling by. He’s seen it a hundred times. Mara is turning to the sound of the squealing brakes, her silhouette swollen against the backdrop of autumn, her hand slung under her enormous belly. The breaching car winks in the sunlight and the sound of Mara’s body as the car hits her is like a sack of mortar being dropped from a truck. Then, she is gone.
It always start in the groin, the pressure so violent it’s almost pain. Evan stops walking. His fist clenches over six oval pills but when he opens his hand, it’s empty. He can taste the pills, the bitter film on them as he swallows one after the other. He feels the heaviness of his limbs, how easily he’d closed his eyes. But the pills hadn’t worked. He’s still here. Here.
Evan turns in a small circle, his feet squeaky on the white floor. A set of tapping footsteps fades in front of him as the man he’s following walks on without him. Evan tries to focus on the man but all he sees shapes, changing, colliding, lines unfolding like dismantled origami. Hexagons turn into ellipses, triangles to quadrilaterals. When he opens his mouth, the queasy taste of metal comes in waves.
The man turns, his face chiseled by the light. “Please try to keep up,” he says. “Our time is limited.”
Beyond the man is a doorway, the white hallway telescoping to it. “I realize you are disoriented,” he adds. “But it will come to you as we go. This…” The man tilts a thin hand toward a door. “Is the waiting room. I will bring you back here once we’ve completed the tour.” He makes eye contact and then continues.
How many ways can this be rewritten? I’ll let you know.
I’ve been editing for so long, I forgot what it’s like to sink my teeth into fresh prose, to get that high from creating rather than rehashing and hacking. I am finally into a new book and my appetite has been whet.
I was gun shy to start a new novel, not because it’s an agonizing, hair-pulling, time-consuming process, which it is. I dreaded it because I didn’t want to commit to a new set of characters for the next few years of my life. Honestly, I hadn’t met a bedfellow I thought I could handle the commitment with. We’re talking about fictional characters, people, but sometimes, you’re just SICK OF TALKING TO THEM.
I’m going to do everything different this time. First, I’m writing an outline (before I start describing settings and layering characters). I’ll make sure I have a working ending so that I can build it from the beginning rather than retrofitting it in later. (and then re-retrofitting it on the second draft) See? I can learn.
Tonight, one of my writer friends said that if she knew how hard writing actually was, she would have taken up painting. She’s on her 7th draft, which made me self-conscious about my own 3 paltry drafts.
But THIS is what it’s all about! It’s the rush of lifting my fingers from the keys after three hours and having to resurface enough to maintain a conversation. Sure, I then realize I’m running late and haven’t brushed my teeth but who cares?! It like a drug to me.
So if you can’t find me for the next year of my life, know I am holing myself up in a dark corner, face creepily lit by my laptop screen and a look of crazed joy on my haggard face. Writing like a ninja.
(I once thought this was a blog about writing. Really, it’s a blog about the things that get in the way of writing, like procrastination and writers block and things I consider important because they require creativity but ultimately eat up what precious time I have to actually write. Really… it’s a blog about costuming.)
October… ahh. Fall. 🍁 You’re celebrating pumpkin spice lattes, leaves changing color and wearing scarves.
Me? I’m celebrating Halloween. (Not for the spooky stuff cause I’m still legit afraid of the dark. 🙄) I love Halloween for what it really is, an excuse to make costumes!
I put as much emphasis on this as any other thing in my life, a result of my inability to prioritize. My evenings are suuuper productive with things like sewing and gluing and the like.
For me, making a costume is like any big project that I must first break into many small projects.
So instead of my to do list saying…
-Make xxx costume
-Sew vest for xxx costume
-Find wig for xxx costume
-Pick shoes for xxx costume
-Build chest plate for xxx costume
As you may guess, I get to cross stuff off my list ALL. THE. TIME. That’s what I like to do, cross stuff off my list. I metaphorically body bump myself like… Yeah. 👊🏻 You get sh*t done! You’re so damn productive. I can’t even handle how productive you are right now.
Meanwhile, my large projects are collecting dust on said list, trickling down from day to the next. Submissions? That’ll be a November list item for sure.
In the meantime, blogging is taking precious time from googling how to sew boot covers. Such breed of domestic I have become.
No spoiler alerts! I know you can’t wait. MUAHAHA!
(* no wild pigs were injured in the writing of this book, albeit theoretically)
Moku heard the shot that killed the sow. He was almost relieved. The feral pua’a were overrunning the mountains and pigs stunk up the place. They’d made mud holes in Moku’s lawn again.
He hadn’t thought about the boar piglets until he saw them foraging under the mango tree. He pulled out the traps Auntie had bought to catch the mongoose that was chewing into her packs of cuttlefish. Every time she set them, the cages turned up empty, the bait missing.
The piglets had already lost weight. One was limping. Moku was never much of a hunter and they were good as dead anyway so Moku baited the cages with rotten mangoes stewing in a puddle of Bud Light.
By the next morning, two cages contained the thrashing bodies of small pua’a. Their snouts were bloodied from lunging at the cage walls. Their beady eyes panicked as they shook and squealed. It had been hard to see them as the true pestilence they were. The third cage was empty, both of pig and bait. The work of a mongoose.
Moku had laughed. Always the third little pig that gets away. He puffed up his chest and exhaled loudly and deliberately in the direction of the closest pig cage. When his lungs were empty, he laughed again, more loudly this time.
“Some big bad wolf, eh?” he’d said to the pigs.
Moku’s first impression of Carol was from her car. The three black boar had squealed in their kennel at the hairball hacking sound it made as it bounced down his dirt road.
Moku had been sitting on a plastic lawn chair on the porch, smoking and thinking about reseeding the St. Augustine grass where the pigs had torn it up. When Carol parked the green car, crooked and mostly in the road, it backfired and Moku had flinched. He had stared past her then, hoping she hadn’t seen. When she’d spotted him on the porch, she laughed nervously, shrugging and looking sheepishly from the car to Moku as though it was the first time the car had ever embarrassed her.
Up close, she was smaller than she had seemed from Pahoa’s house. Her cheeks were wizened from too much sun and sinewy blond hairs glittered against her tanned forearms. She walked like a mynah bird, strutting and stomping, a kind of falling forward like she was hopping from rock to rock. Before now, he hadn’t given her much thought. Auntie always had enough to say about her for the both of them. Carol probably didn’t know that Pahoa was such a gossip. He reported everything he saw or heard and he and Auntie speculated together.
Carol seemed younger that day, probably because she was so short. Her tank top had been tied into a knot at her middle where a thin strip of pale skin was visible when she raised her arms. It was white as coconut flesh. She had a quick smile, apologetic almost. He was the one who’d been sorry. She shouldn’t have come here.
“Hi, I’m Carol. Are you Manu?” The words were spoken clearly; the vowels clipped and with too much emphasis on the last syllable, just like a haole would say it.
“Moku,” he’d said. His high had been wearing off and it was making him raw, irritable but also open, like when a song touches you somewhere dark and fragile and you hear it for the first time.
So, a friend of mine, Tricia, recently wrote a book. She’s written screenplays and movie scripts (both produced) and despite writing being her hobby, she has a keen knack for storytelling, drama and pace.
(She’s also one of my favorite editors, able to zero in on flaws with ruthless and confident precision. She has red-marked, nay, red-slashed many a written page of mine. And I love her for this.) 🙌🏻🙌🏻🙌🏻
At the 2016 SDSU Writer’s Conference, Tricia’s book was voted best new work by not one, but both of the agents that read it. Must to the chagrin of the second agent, the first agent immediately asked for exclusive rights and is now her agent. This is the stuff writer fantasies are made of, amirite?
And they lived happily every after… However…
Of course we all know, like, logically, that writing a book is not the hard part. Publishing a book is the real work. We know, we know. We just don’t reeeeeally believe it.
And here is where my tale begins.
Tricia’s agent has her book in the hands of top editors in the industry, matchmaking to the best of her ability. And love has not yet struck. The fact is, finding the right publisher can be shittymiserablehumiliating frustrating. Continue reading →
*Note: This blog is for those using FREE beta readers, as in.. favors from friends or friends of friends. If you are paying beta readers, many of these points will not apply. But you’re not paying for beta readers, are you???
That Which Should Not Be Named
The first time I asked a couple of people to beta read my book, I sensed their hesitation. I wasn’t sure if this was because they thought I was a terrible writer (because as a writer, I ponder this question Every. Single. Day.) Maybe they didn’t want to devote time to what could be an awful read. I knew they liked to read, after all. That’s why I chose them.
Then one friend said, “I don’t think I’m qualified to beta read.”
To which I replied, “I just need you to read it and give me feedback on things like plot and character and such.
“Oh!” she said. “I can do that!”
And I realized the problem. The term “beta reader” implies some prowess of critical reading that only a professional would have. But the fact is, beta reading is giving an overall impression of the work. Maybe just scrap the term unless your beta reader is in the writing world.
I told my friend. “Just imagine you’re one of those reviewers on Amazon.com who leave detailed and scrutinizing criticism of the books they’ve read. (And your feedback might save me a few scathing reviews someday)” Now, if I could just get my hands on a few of those Amazon reviewers! They would tell it like it is! Which leads me to my next point…
Don’t Ask Your Mother
Mothers Make Better Fans Than Critics
Mothers Make Better Critics Than Fans
Either way, your mother (whether she be adoring or unpleasable) will never be your target audience because she changed your poopy diapers and listened to your lisp until you were 5. She is too close to you and your work. (Maybe she is even IN your work a little.)
I began writing a book the way you probably shouldn’t. I sat down and thought, “Hey let’s describe this cool place” and “let’s develop this random character. Yes, this is fun. Look at me! Writing a book!”
I didn’t have a plan. I didn’t even have a plot! There was a character I really liked so I started to write around him and brainstormed as I went. Geniuses write this way, I’m told. I, however, am not a genius so what this produced from me was lots of pretty dribble. I can say that now. And the problem is, it took me a long time to figure out that it was dribble. (I am comforted by the fact it was pretty dribble at least).
There are a thousand ways to go about writing a book. I’ve polled a small population of authors and come to this…
You can Plan. Plan. Plan. Engineers-turned-writers work this way. They chart their course and check their charts and set sail under a favorable moon. The danger in this is that some never set sail at all. Or that its not all that captivating.
Then there’s the creative types, writing freestyle, letting their inner genius keep them afloat in the open ocean. Everyone wants to be this type, I think. I know I did. Partially because I’d love to discover I happened to be a genius and just didn’t know. And also because, I realize now, I’m lazy.
Write an outline and a bunch of character profiles?
Bah. Just start writing and see where it takes you.
Scrawl a bunch of different story arcs? Character arcs?
Isn’t it more fun to just sit down and write? I mean, this is supposed to be fun, right?
As you can see, I had a lot to learn. I do have to say, having employed this method, it kept me going. If I reached a snag in my storyline, no problem. I’d just skip it. I’ll figure it out later, I’d say. Now, let’s describe this weather. (#FunnyNotFunny) But what I was left with was lots of meandering description and no pace. And it is ALL ABOUT PACE. And here I am, post humorously trying to write my story arc and plot points. And you know what, I’m going to be rewriting A LOT.
A friend of mine has an interesting writing technique. She writes half the book, then writes beats (the chapter by chapter synopsis of what is happening) and then she rewrites the whole thing, like new characters, new plot, everything!
“All that time wasted!” I said when she told me her method. “No,” she said. “This is my process. It’s how I write a better book.” So I started to think about that. There have been times I’ve wanted to start all over. Literally, scrap this book and start fresh. That, my friends, is also laziness. Because the real grief is in the editing.
And what constitutes wasted time anyway? What is a long time to write a book? Some people do it in a month. (#NaNoWriMo) Some prolific authors turn out a new book every few months and they’re best sellers. Some craft their masterpiece for years, boiling their ideas down to syrupy delicious prose. If you finish a book… and it is good, is any of your blood sweat and tears (and more tears) wasted?
If you’re like me, you’ve read about Stephen King’s method and Diana Gabaldon’s method and Elizabeth Gilbert’s method. Prolific, best selling authors to learn from. And there is still no right way. We just have to do it wrong a few times until we find the easiest way.