Friday, February 25, 2011

Setting the Scene

So I started wondering the other night--does a writer's environment affect their productivity?

I wanted to say no at first. But then I thought about my most productive years of writing. They were in college where I was writing not one, but two novels at the same time. How one manages to write two novels while keeping up with 15 to 18 hours of coursework, I will never know. But I did it, and most happily. So what was the secret to my success?

Where I lived.

Courtesy of Historic Charleston Real Estate
I was lucky enough to attend college in Charleston, South Carolina, where the weather is absolutely gorgeous in the fall and spring, and completely heinous in the summer. As one of my professors said, "The early colonists must have thought they had landed in Heaven when they first arrived--at least until summer came and they thought they were in Hell."

Despite the rather hellacious temperatures, Charleston has atmosphere to spare. No wonder I was able to spend hours on end writing. In fact, inspiration came from my many walks through the historic district, taking in the centuries old architecture and beautiful gardens. Those were the days when I could mental write during my walks and promptly go back to my apartment and put it down on paper.

But since then, and until recently, my writing has been sporadic at best. No wonder it took me 10 years to finish The Enemy Within. After college, I went back to my hometown in upstate South Carolina, followed by a stint in Atlanta, then back to South Carolina, and then outside of Charlotte, and finally my current location which is about as inspiring as a stick in the mud.

Courtesy of Globus Journeys
I recently applied for a job in New Orleans, and while there is no way I can possibly predict the outcome (especially now with the current job crisis), I allowed myself to think about the possibilities of writing in such an atmospheric climate. How fabulous would it be to have a writing spot on a gallery overlooking a street in the French Quarter? Now that's inspiration!

So can you write anywhere, at any time, or do you need a little atmosphere to be at your most creative?


Monday, February 14, 2011

I'm Famous! (Ok, not really...)

So for those of you that subscribe to Nathan Bransford's blog, you will know that he usually brings up a few popular or interesting topics being discussed in his forums. I was incredibly shocked (and pleased) when he mentioned a forum topic that I started regarding whether it is better to spend money on a conference (in order to network) or hire a copy editor (to polish your manuscript). It has been an interesting debate, and I've about decided to hire a copy editor to point out my typos, grammatical mistakes, etc. so that I will have the best possible manuscript to submit to agents. Of course, it would be pointless to network with agents (and potentially get requests for partials) if my manuscript is not as polished as it should be.

I was very interested in the heated debate that ensued during the topic's discussion. It seems that some folks think that it is a publisher's job to copy edit a manuscript before sending it out for publication, while others believe that you'll get a major leg up by presenting your best work possible.

I think all this debate should lead to the definition of 'polished.' I think we all can agree that a manuscript should be generally free from errors. And it helps to have had a few betas take passes at it so you can fix anything that is confusing.

But is that it? Is that what agents mean when they say, "submit your best work?"

It's a tough question to answer. You certainly want to put your best foot forward, but I would love to know what my competition is. Am I obssessing when I shouldn't be? Am I going to be pitted against those poor souls who have been fooled into thinking that their writing is good? Am I one of those poor souls?

I always feel sorry for those folks who audition on shows like "American Idol" or "America's Got Talent" and just stink. I often wonder, "Who gave them the notion that they could sing?" I would want to be pretty sure that I had talent before exposing myself to national ridicule. And while the stakes are not quite that high when you submit to an agent, I want to be certain that I'm not about to launch myself into a shame spiral.

I'm a realist...first and foremost. Personally, I never even considered my writing worthy of publication until last year. It was something that I did to amuse myself, and when I finally got up the gumption to submit to some disinterested parties (i.e. no family), I discovered that maybe I did have something. Or at least they thought I did. So I guess I won't really know until I start querying. Until then...I'll just keep on writing.

So what is your definition of 'polished'? Do you think you can under polish and still get a contract? Or is it better to err on the side of caution and over polish a manuscript?

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Perfectionism is the Pits

So I'm starting to close the book (or the laptop) on my revisions to the first part of The Enemy Within. This is very exciting to me, of course. It means I can finally move on to the second part and start revising. But knowing that I still have so much to do when I really want to be done is extraordinarily overwhelming. I wish I could just buckle down and get it done, but I fear forcing myself to do this will result in poor writing. And if I write poorly then that means more revisions down the road because I got sloppy.

I think perfectionism is the culprit in all this. It is why I was never able to just write The Enemy Within and then systematically go through and edit. I would spend weeks, and sometimes months on a specific section. Reading and re-reading, writing and re-writing until I just threw my hands up in the air and walked away. Sometimes for months.

Well they say the first step to recovery is identifying your problem. So now that I know that perfectionism hinders and not helps me--will I be able to write through my next novel? I am certainly going to try, but I can make no promises. I have decided however, to scrap the entirety of my other WIP, A Convenient Misfortune. I like the premise, so that will stay, but the idea of re-reading and re-writing for months on end frustrates me. So I think it is time to put the original manuscript to bed and start all over. And perhaps this will be an excellent time to try to drop the habit, and just write.

We shall see if I succeed.

Are you a perfectionist? Do you have to get it "just right" before moving on? Or are you an all out writer who has to get your ideas on paper?

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Back from the Land of Writing...

Last week was very productive in terms of writing. I finally hooked in some sections that had been revised and were just hanging out there. So one step closer to having the first section of the novel "finished" and ready for a full edit.

All that progress was very good thing; especially since I left my flash drive at my parents when I was there this past week--so no writing for me until I get back there this weekend. It is a convenient excuse to be sure. The weather here has been very gray and honestly, I haven't had much inspiration or energy for that matter. I haven't even been "mental writing." So I guess this is what you call a case of the winter doldrums...or winter writer's block. As much as I like frigid weather, I'm actually looking forward to warmer weather and sunny days. Too bad that after a few 65 degree spring days, the thermostat explodes to 100. That's what I get for living in the south.

Even though I haven't been writing this week, I have been plotting my next moves in terms of getting my manuscript ready to go. I've pulled together a list of fifty agents and have ranked them A,B, or C. Sadly, I think there were more A's than B's or C's which defeated that whole exercise.

I also think getting a few betas would be a good next move. I had one who bailed on me after the first six chapters (due to their own writing projects), and I had one for the first 50 pages only (which was extremely illuminating). But finding a dedicated beta reader is always a challenge. Even I haven't exactly been loyal to the one project that I picked up to beta, but that is an entirely different story (or at least that is what I tell myself.) And then I've farmed portions of the manuscript out to friends and family. Friends you may be able to count on for honesty, but family...not so much.

I think having a historical fiction MS makes it even harder to find a good beta. While some folks do like to read historical fiction, they may not always be the most informed about your time period. Which can cause difficulties...especially for writers like me who totally immerse themselves in the period. the words of Tony Soprano, "Whadda ya goin' to do?" *shrugs*

So have you worked with a beta reader in the past? Was it an illuminating experience or a catastrophe?