#AuthorToolboxBloghop: Contesting the Contest Hype

I’m gonna start this off totally upfront. I was a mentee in Pitch Wars ’14 and ’15. I’m now a mentor in that same contest, and TeenPit. I was in a buttload of other contests (I forget most, but Googling can bring them up if you want to spend some time stalking around). And, despite all that, I got my agent through traditional querying.

Contests are amazing. I had little by the way of a writing community when I was introduced to the world of Twitter and internet writing contests. I’d never had real deadlines to work under before. The goals I’ve made and lessons I’ve learned are priceless. And that community? I wouldn’t be writing today without it. I wholeheartedly encourage all my writing friends to enter them.

But also, I know a lot of people who have been completely destroyed from them.

They either didn’t get in, or they did get in and they had a bad experience, or they got in but didn’t get an agent, or so many other things. And I get it. No one’s aren’t wrong to feel that way. I’ve been at the bottom of that pit, and it is dark and lonely and awful.

A vast majority of writers I know are rep’d through traditional querying. (And I know a lot of authors from having been involved in so many contests and competitions and forums for over seven years.) Like I said, even I caught my agent’s attention through traditional querying, and before she signed with me I did an revise and resubmit. Which was amazing and made my story immensely better, even after I’d been in Pitch Wars twice. No contest is the end all, be all. There’s so much more to learn, and infinite room to grow no matter if you’ve been in a contest or not.

Please don’t let any contest keep you from writing if it’s what you love. You aren’t a failure if you don’t get into a contest. You’re not a failure if you do get into a contest and don’t requests or representation from it it. You’re not a failure if you got an agent from a contest but still haven’t sold your book.

You wrote a book.

Tell me how many people you know in your personal life who have accomplished writing a novel. There’s probably not a ton. Most people will never understand enough about publishing and editing and revising to get it to the point you do. And the online community you build is the most important part of these contests, but it can be exhausting with mostly good news all the time. Because, yes you’re happy for them, but you feel like you’ll never have your turn.

Please keep writing. Keep querying. Keep listening and learning. Take breaks and don’t worry about them, we all need them from both writing and/or social media. The odds of getting into a large contest are slimmer than getting a request querying an agent, nowadays. The odds of getting rep’d through a contest are then even tinier. It’s not even a guarantee to get rep’d!  I could have entered another Pitch Wars with how long it took for me to sign with my agent.  (Well, I was rep’d for about three months after my first PW, but that’s a long story that did not end well and made everything worse.)

Getting an agent, getting a book deal, getting into contest, it’s all like winning the lottery. For the most part, it’s luck. You can’t know if the judge or mentor you submitted to hates a small trope in your book; you can’t know if the agent was having a bad day; you can’t know if the editor you went on submission to just bought a similar book the day before. But it’s not all luck. The fact that you’ve come so far, that you’re reading this post, that you’re investing so much time in your craft, means you’re increasing your odds.

It’s okay to still pursue your dream even if you didn’t win the lottery this time. The only thing it costs you to try again is time (and, let’s be real, emotional perseverance). Like I said, contests are amazing in how they teach you so much, and that community is what pulled me through some of the worst of my dark times. You should keep entering.

But this is not your end all and be all. Your words are more important than a contest.

You are more important.

I’m sorry this line of work is so rough. But you’re awesome for coming so far.

If you want to share/ramble/word vomit your story, both my ears are open for you in the comments or elsewhere (I get that sometimes talking it out helps). If you want to add on encouragement for anyone who needs it, totally feel free to leave some of those, too. And if you want to keep honing your craft, check out more #AuthorBlogHop posts.

(I also apologize for the sheer amount of italics in this post. And how messy it is. I have emotions about this.)

Bacon, out.

#AuthorToolboxBloghop: Deep POV

So, back when I was a wee writer, before this blog was even made and all my posts were on Tumblr, I talked about deep point of view. Pretty much everything I say in that post still holds true. Thought Verbs and Three Easy Steps to Deep POV are still two articles that are invaluable to developing an understanding of deep POV.

But to really get deep POV, we need to go deeper. (ba dum, tss)

Let’s start with what deep POV is. Deep POV is drawing as close to your POV character as you can to give the reader the most immersive experience possible. And wording it like that makes it sound like some magic trick, but that’s what the goal is. You want to create as little wall between your character and your reader. Yes this can work in both third person and first person. No you don’t automatically achieve this by writing in first person. It’s something you consciously do. Unless you’re McTalentpants and already do it.

Now, on the surface level, look at the words you’re using. I used to scoff at filler words. I thought that pretty little roses emerged from my butt as I plopped out new words and that since the sentence I crafted sounded right to me, that it was fine.

As you can guess, I was wrong.

To create as deep an immersion as possible, there are filler words that create distance between your prose and the reader. When you’re thinking throughout the day, do you ever think, “I thought,” “I said,” “I wondered?” No, you just do the thing. And by cutting these words, you enable more room for characterization, world-building, and movement–especially with things like dialog tags. (Watch a movie. Does anyone ever stay still while talking? Your scenes shouldn’t stagnate throughout a conversation, either.) If you want to go all out, here are a couple of giant lists to cut all the filler words. This is my personal list that I always start with:

was, is, even, see, hear, feel, think, just, very, up, down, seem(s), then, that, now, wonder, notice, begins, starts, get, walk, try, only, like, as if, of, really, forward, backward, had, find

Obviously, change tense if you’re in past/present/future/whatever. A couple of other things to watch out for that break reader’s immersion are scene breaks, and italicized thoughts in third person (you shouldn’t be using them in first, period–you’re already narrating from their head, unless you’re implying they never actually think). They’re meant to be used, but with purpose.

All right, now for the part that I didn’t mention in my previous post, and that the posts I link to don’t touch. Let’s go… deeper.

(Please don’t hurt me, I just like puns.)

Every sentence should be infused with your character’s voice. I’m sure you’ve heard this advice before, but rarely have I seen any practical applications of it. Yes, obviously make sure the word choice fits what your character would say. But that doesn’t make it sound like it’s coming from your character’s head.

I swear I’m not all ~hoity toity~ and ~special~ here. Just listing things in a character’s dialog makes it stiff. You might as well be playing a videogame (which I love and have worked in the medium before, but the immersion is different) rather than reading a book. For example, let’s take some action, since that’s the sort of scene that falls into this trap the hardest. I normally sigh when people put in excerpts of their own words as examples, but bear with me:

I kick, and he blocks. I raise my fist again, but he’s faster and gets in the next blow, knocking me down.

It gets the point across. There isn’t much voice, but it’s action, right?

You can do better.

You’re in this character’s head. There’s adrenaline and pain and emotion running through this character’s brain. Every scene, every sentence should have senses, and should have thought. I don’t care about a character that doesn’t care, that doesn’t think–most readers don’t. So you should be using every opportunity you can to show this. Bear with me again as I try to show you what I mean; let’s twist this two different ways.

Sweat drips, stinging in my eyes as I throw my foot forward. He blocks easily, wide grin visible despite my blurred vision. Breath ragged, muscles screaming, jab my fist at his gut–but he blocks it. Again. How am I supposed to prove myself against him? He’s what they say he is: indestructible. His knuckles meet my cheek, the taste and smell of iron flooding my senses. I’m on the ground before I can register falling, dirt caking against my face.

And for a different perspective:

Energy sparks through my body as I kick out–but she catches it. She’s bruised, bloody, half-broken, but she managed to block me. Me. Fire rolls through my veins and I swing, faster than anyone could block.

And yet she knocks my blow off course, nearly keeling over with the force of the blow.

Screw her. Screw this girl who thinks she’s better than me, who thought–

She moves, no flinching for all her wounds, no hesitation as she strikes her fist to my head. Nothing I can do before my world goes black.

Apologies for my trash writing. Now, the same series of events happen in both scenes. In one someone’s winning, in the other someone’s losing, hopefully that’s pretty obvious. Now go back and consider that first excerpt. The you get a sense of character through it? But you get any emotion? Any thoughts? I don’t. If we can’t even tell who’s winning, I say that’s a pretty crappy action scene.

I know this is rather nebulous, and it’s hard for me to give you direct advice without seeing your words first. but it’s important, vitally important. Most stories are character driven, and your character can’t drive anything if they aren’t thinking and feeling. So I want you to look at your work, scene by scene, paragraph by paragraph, sentence by sentence, and ask yourself what your character thinks and feels about what’s happening. Is it conveyed in the text, or is it in your head? Be sure you’re combining thinking and action–there are a million reasons behind a smile, but unless you specify that your character is forcing that smile to hide their doubt, or genuinely smiling because they love something, I have no way of knowing. Show me.

Deep POV is all about that immersion, getting your reader as close to the story and the character as possible so they’re invested and right there smack-dab in the story–no matter how uncomfortable it is, or how much more painful it makes the plot twists. The more emotion, the better.

Bacon, out.

P.S. Make sure to check out the other posts on the #AuthorToolboxBloghop!

Author Toolbox: Plotter Shmotter, Pantser Plantser

If you’ve been in the writing community for any length of time, you’ve probably heard of plotters and pantsers — people who plot their stories before they write them, and people who write by the seat of their pants.

Thing is, from talking to a lot of writers, it seems like everyone does a mix of things. This pantser outlines a little in advance as they go, or has a short list of major plot points when they start writing. A plotter may use a super loose outline, or knows that nearly everything on it will change by the end. So though most people pick sides like some odd writing sports team, it almost seems like they’re nonexistent.

What I have noticed, though, is that a lot of people who identify as pantsers end up spending a lot of time revising, and tend to enjoy it. And a lot of outliners take their time to create highly polished first drafts and avoid tedious revision they dislike. So, instead of pantsers vs. plotters struggling in an age-old writerly battle, I think something more accurate might be drafters and revisers.

How about you? Do you think you’re a drafter or a reviser? Or do you think I’m totally wrong, and you’re a pantser or a plotter?

Also, be sure to check out more writing advice the rest of the #AuthorToolboxBlogHop!

Bacon, out.

Author Toolbox: The Mythical Existence of Writer’s Block

Writer’s block debates seem to come in waves. Lots of arguing about the existence of this apparently mythical psychological state that always ends up bringing out this statement: It doesn’t exist, only weak writers give in to writer’s block!

That one makes me want to scream.

Whether or not you call it writer’s block, I claim it does exist. And I’d go so far to say this mythical beast comes in different breeds:

  • Inadequacy – This is the kind of writer’s block you push through. “But my words suck, but no one cares, but, but, but!” No buts. Or butts, please. Only words. (If your words include butts, they count.) This beast may look big and scary, but is the easiest to conquer—you just have to face it first. This article has a a lot of good advice for knocking this one out.
  • Stuck – This is a toss-up. For me, personally, I need to write through it, because I normally find where I need to go by forcing the absolute worst thing to happen (setting people on fire is a favorite). Some people need to stop, sit, and plot, though. For others, this means they need to go back and edit. Learn how you work, and don’t let this one stop you—even if you aren’t writing words, keep moving forward. This beast is a little grisly, but may end up being an ally in the end. Maggie Stiefvater just posted a great graphic (and another version) of navigating the twists and turns of this battle.
  • Emotional Constipation – Oh, this writer’s block. This is the one that knocks you off your feet when your personal life explodes, or the publishing industry destroys you. It would be so nice if writing could only be a work of love, some magical process that’s entirely rainbows and unicorn poop and catharsis. But, if you’re like me, the greatest reward to writing is having others reading your work. Which adds that lovely, stifling expectation to every word you write. And of course any additional stressors in your life love to add on to it. For this one, I have no answer on how to get right through it. This is the one I feel is the most mythical, evil being of them all, gross and rotting and dripping and oozing with doubt and insecurities. You can try stabbing and punching and screaming at this one, but sometimes it refuses to move off your words, hoarding them just out of reach. And that’s okay. You’re a human (I assume). Sometimes you need to take a break and re-focus, re-charge. Then come back and stab that sucker through the eye socket.

What about you guys? Do you believe in the fabled create called writer’s block? Do you think my list needs to be longer? Wanna share your battle scars?

Also, be sure to check out more writing advice the rest of the #AuthorToolboxBlogHop!

Bacon, out.