Friday, October 29, 2010

Feedback Part I

I got some fantastic feedback today from my coach (see Bring on the Professionals). I'm giddy and nervous all at the same time. Did I mention "fantastic"?

We're going to talk in person next week, but for now I got some in-depth analysis in an email. Each point he raised made me pause--look to the sky--ponder--and say "Dang dude! He's right!"

There is one controversial point--but instinct tells me he's right--my heart tells me "That's a significant rewrite!" I love people who are so sure about their opinion that just by their use of language they inspire you to think outside of the box.

In Stephen King's On Writing (have I quoted him before?) the 3rd Foreword states, "The editor is always right." In this case, he's not the editor per se, he's the pro. Why would I enlist a pro if I'm going to claim that I know better.

I have a full weekend ahead of me. I'm going to dig into each of the points that he raised and address them. This weekend will be an "Ideation" weekend. Mind-mapping here I come!


I must say that I am encouraged, greatly, by his words. The compliments were stunning (because I'm not good enough), but the questions he raised were so well thought out that I knew right then and there that I did the right thing for my novel.

Did I mention fantastic feedback?

Thursday, October 28, 2010

I am Inspired!

As most adults will do, I was following twitter last night (judge not!) and came across power-agent Janet Reid's (@Janet_Reid) message about a must read novel by Veronica Roth (@veronicaroth).

If that's not an endorsement, nothing is! So I found my way to Veronica's site and started to read.

Man, I was stuck on her site for a good thirty minutes. In my life, that's a long time (it's like dog years). She was recently signed and her book will be published in May of 2011 (Divergent).

Two things stuck out:
(1) Her blog is written in a way that is easy to follow, her humor comes through, and it keeps me engaged. There is a profound level of honesty that makes you feel at ease. I suspect that her novel will be written the same way, which implies that I will have a hard time setting it down.
(2) There is a generosity in her site that is inspirational. She shares everything about her process in there. She has pictures of her signing her contract, when she received her arcs... it's just a great story and one that really got me happy.


It reminded me of a passage from Stephen King's book "On Writing." He tells us about the day that he got the call from his agent. The call that informed him that Carrie's paperback rights were picked up for something like $350k. This was his first book. Advances of that sort were unheard of. Add the financial desperation of his life at the time, and then his very honest and human reaction to this news... ("Can you say that number again?" as he slid to the floor) that was such a heartfelt moment that I found a bit... ahh, well... you know... an eyelash got caught in my eye. Yeah, that's what it was. Leave me alone, will you!

Here's a classic line from her blog:
This is what I keep thinking to myself: My NAME is on it! MY name. And it's like...a thing! That you can HOLD! In your HANDS!


How can you not root for her? To know that your story will be read by others must be an out of body experience. The fact that she shares this type of information is inspirational and is the carrot. The possibility that we will one day get that call as well.

Here's to all of us who want to be like Veronica! I hope it's an instant best seller. I know I'll get a copy.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Why Do You Need a Professional to Read your Novel???

Why indeed... well, one of my favorite blogs captured the reason succinctly.

Jane Friedman wrote:
"Why are editors rejecting my work when family and friends love it so much?
Your family and friends love you and see you in your work. An editor doesn't know you and is often more objective, especially when it comes to marketability. Publishing professionals have distance; you and your closest friends/family may not." There Are No Rules - Agents

Objectivity is critical. 

Writing is an art... publishing your art is a business. 

You need to know that a business executives (Agent and then Editor for the publisher) believe that many people will want to read your story. Chances are that your story has some things in there that will delight your friends and family... because they know you, they get it, and maybe they are excited by what you have done. The agent and editor don't bring all that baggage to the game.

Bring on a dose or reality... that will make me a better writer, a better story teller. 

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Waiting Game...

I'm waiting to hear back from the critique service... I must admit, that I'm a bit of a mess. What if they're drinking beers laughing at my dangling participles?! And I'm paying them for this. Who you callin' a gerund? Sometimes I wish I hadn't slept through high school grammar class. Worse still, these are professional readers who have read hundreds of manuscripts... and published dozens of novels themselves. The pressure is enough to make me want to get a croissant with Nutella!

But fear not, I am not sitting there knitting an afghan! I picked up a very promising book by James Scott Bell, "The Art of War for Writers." I really like his work, both his novels and his non-fiction material on the craft of writing. Good stuff. I have another one of his books in my "Must Read" list of this blog.

Also, I'm pouring over sites and articles about the "Query Letter." For aspiring authors these two words cause a disturbance in the time-space continuum.  It's a one page sales pitch that very briefly describes your work to an agent. And you hope that your three or four paragraphs are convincing enough to excite that agent to say "Why heck! This guy is the next Tom Flippin' Clancy! Send me your manuscript! Pronto!"

It is odd... you slave over every word as you prepare a novel (in my case 91,000 words)... and if your one pager is a dud, the agent won't even want to look at it. But hey, let's not fight the wave. We ride the wave!

Janet Reid (agent extraordinaire) has a phenomenal blog Query Shark. You submit your query and the shark gnaws away at it, until she's happy with it. Apparently if it's good enough, she will ask to see your manuscript. She's a tough one. My fragile heart will not last long under her piercing glare. But when I'm ready, I'll jump in the shark infested water and see what happens. What makes this site fantastic is that you can look at all the queries that she has gone through, her comments, and the revisions. Very informative.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Bring on the Professionals!

I have decided to enlist the help of professionals with my manuscript. There are various services (individuals and companies) that will read your manuscript and critique it's contents. Here's one such service provided by Writer's Digest Shop. They write:


Writer's Digest Shop - 2nd Draft Critique Service

Don't submit that manuscript...
Without a professional review from the professionals at Writer's Digest! 
Before you send out that manuscript to an editor or agent, make sure it's got a fighting chance. Send your work to 2nd Draft Critique Service and get specific, tailored advice you need to get an extra edge on the competition — and make your work more marketable. 
After a thorough evaluation of your submission, one of our hand-selected-professional critiquers will give detailed feedback and recommendations. You'll not only learn what's working in your writing, but what's not, and — most important — how to fix it.
Sounds reasonable...

There's energy around this story. I want to give it a fair shot. The industry is too small for me to send out duds to agents.

So step one, get a pro to look at this and adjust as appropriate. Step two, send out ~250 query letters to agents. Step three part I... wait. Step three part II start my next novel. NEVER stop writing. You are only a writer, if you write.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

How I made time...

It's complicated... Those that know me, also know that I don't have a 9 to 5 job. One can argue that I have a 24x7x365 job.

The first draft was probably the most challenging time. Because you want to write, and write fast. The ideas are pouring out, the characters want to breathe and you want them to break through. You don't want to let anything derail you. The story wanted to be written and my life tried to be an obstacle. But thankfully, I have a support structure that helped grease the way.

My wife wakes up at 5 AM, I try my best to be up by 5:30 AM. Get ready, check emails from my European colleagues, get the kids ready ("Come on buddy, you have to brush your teeth!"), take them to school ("Okay last hug, I really have to go") and off to work I go. I typically eat in my office... no time to waste. I try to get home before 6 pm to help with the kids (homework, bathe, cook, rescue my wife). By the time we're done, it's hitting 8 pm. I power up my laptop and clear out my emails for the day (I want to face each morning with a clean desk). Between 9 pm and 10 pm I am close to being done with my work-work.

I push the laptop to the side and turn to my desktop. I then put on my headphones, turn on noise canceling and start entering the world I've created in my mind's eye. I go on, until my eyes tear and my head drops every other second. That's usually midnight...

It's not easy. But I have my wife's support. And on an occasional saturday or sunday, she would take the boys out with our friends so that I have a complete day to write. Those were the days that I achieved milestones. A plot element that was troublesome, a character that didn't behave like he should have, or a scene that didn't seem to transport the reader there.

With all acts of creation, you can not do it alone. I know I haven't.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Words, words, words...

A novel is made up of words, and applications like wordle give you a very interesting view of your work. In brief, word clouds take the provided text (in this case my manuscript) and based on frequency of use, create a cloud of words... can you guess the names of the two main characters?

Thursday, October 14, 2010

A Recap...

Here's the high level time line of my manuscript: working title "Ace"


  • Feb 23, 2010: in my idea notebook I write about a love story involving a regular guy and a world class tennis player... a love that can not be
  • May 24, 2010: I land in Paris (business trip), French Open has just started
  • May 25, 2010: during breakfast, I notice tennis pros there. Amongst them is Dominika Cubilkova. I say hello. As I eat, I notice a young guy staring at her. An idea is born
  • May 28, 2010: on plane (Air France), on my iPad I do a mind map of the high level story. Then the opening scene. Do I want to write a love story? I was working on a mystery novel for two months... do I stop it? Yes!!!
  • June 1 - June 8, 2010: I develop my characters, the high level plot and major scenes. I need to test the idea
  • June 8 - June 16, 2010: I write every night from 9 PM till midnight. I complete Act I, 15,000 words. I like it.
  • June 17, 2010: My wife reads the opening chapter. "I like it... I want to know more." All systems go.
  • June 18 - August 5, 2010: I write my first draft. I develop 75,000 words. Stephen King and James Scott Bell tell authors to wait 2-4 weeks and no look at the draft. It is agony. Sheer pain. During those two weeks (I couldn't wait three) new ideas come to me. Clarity over missing scenes.
  • Aug 23- Sept 22, 2010: I clean up, enhance, clear up, modify, and finish my 2nd draft
  • Sept 23 - Oct 8, 2010: I am being a coward. I read it. I re-read it. Find spelling, punctuation, and grammatical errors... I am trying to delay getting the manuscript to my wife... my first reader
  • Oct 8, 2010: I give manuscript to my wife... 274 singe sided pages, 1.5 spaced.
  • Oct 12, 2010: She tells me, "Don't give up on this one. This is it. It's a great story, great characters, great dialogue, I can see it as a movie. Do what you have to do." 
  • Oct 13, 2010: clean up some of the issues she pointed out (great points, that I had missed)
  • Oct 14, 2010: "I want to read it again," she says. "I miss the story and the characters." I am one happy and lucky guy


If all goes to plan, by early next week, I will print out five copies and hand it out to my select few.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

She Cried!

Okay, I realize that it's so uncool to make your wife cry, but, I am out of my mind excited. My novel made her cry. She read through all 90,000 words and the things she said I will hold on to forever. "I love it... I really, really love it... what a great story.... the dialogues... the characters... I couldn't put it down..."


She went to bed early because she said she was overwhelmed and needed to wind down.

Even if I never sell one copy of this book, these months of work have paid off. I gave my wife a story that she loved. I am in heaven!

I realize I've skipped a whole bunch of stuff... but the reason why I started blogging again, was because I finished my 2nd draft and had time to look back as my wife read my manuscript...

Happiness is a spouse that cries over your story :)

Friday, October 1, 2010

I'm Back!

It's not that I stopped writing... it's just that I realized I had written myself into a corner. The corner was a dead-end street, and I got car-jacked to boot.

I saw a lot of manuscripts on that street. A lot of broken dreams out there. The good news was that I knew the street wasn't real, and that the drive to move forward was completely within my hands.

I had been reading Writer's Digest for some time, so I thought I had this thing down. Furthermore, Stephen King's On Writing had shown me the light. But... there's always a but... just look behind you... it's one thing to read this stuff in the abstract--it's quite another to read it with the knowledge that I had committed all the cardinal sins.

I didn't give up. I read more, looked at my work, wrote new material (mostly short stories), and found that my writing got better, considerably better as I worked on the craft. I read more novels, not just for the story but also to learn how the author used elements of plot and tension.

I wrote three short stories that I was proud of. Then I did the unthinkable... I put myself out there. I entered my work in a competition (didn't win... but that's not the point) and allowed a select few to read my work. They include: my wife (my first reader... if she loves it, other's get to see it), my "editor" (she isn't but she is... i can't explain... she is awesome), my friend (he's married to the "editor" and although he doesn't express himself, he still spoke to me so that was good news), my mom (who reads more books in a week than publishers release) and my brother (who is an artist, a romantic, a phenomenal musician... and a CFO... what can you do? we still have to pay our bills).

Yes, I allowed them to read the damn things. I never realized how paranoid I was of their opinion... as if somehow, if they didn't like the work, it meant they didn't like me as a person. Well, they liked it. Liked it a lot. In fact, I was moved and motivated by their words and the fact that they got it.

In summary, since February of 2009 through May of 2010 I was studying, practicing, testing and harnessing my skills. I will do a separate post on what I read. But my education was beyond a shadow of a doubt fundamental to my growth as a writer.

I may not have mentioned this, but I'm gainfully employed as a senior executive for a large technology company servicing the Entertainment industry. I have a full time job that is what most people would call stressful, and time-intensive. But I digress... I was on one of my many business trips. This particular time in Paris. It so happened that I was there in late May at the start of the French Open (for those who are confused, that's one of the largest tennis tournaments in the world). I was in a hotel where a handful of the professional athletes were also staying. An idea was born. It was caused by one athlete in particular, Dominika Cibulkovรก.


On my flight back, I used my handy iPad to mind map (iThoughtsHD) the seed of an idea. Next, again on my new best friend, I wrote the opening scene (Apple's pages for the iPad). I smiled. I was onto something.

Stay tuned... the story will continue soon.
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