Monday, April 15, 2013

Own Your Own Mythology

 I was given some great advice form a successful writer a while back who said we, as writers, need to figure out our mythology: Figure out who you are and what you want to give to the world. When you figure that out, your readers will know what to expect from you.

I'm not talking simply along the lines of genre, nor am I talking about writing books with a purposeful moral or lesson.Mythology goes deeper than that. Though we don't always write with a purposeful moral or lesson, there is always one there. When we write, we bleed ourselves onto the paper. Who we are and what we believe seeps into the readers mind like a floral fragrance in a breeze--sometimes powerful and strong, and other times subtle and soft. Yet is it always there.

Feinstein and Krippner define personal mythology as "the vibrant infrastructure that informs your life, whether or no you are aware of it. Consciously or unconsciously, you live by your mythology."

We all have our own personal mythology, the tapestry woven from our beliefs and experiences which we rest our decisions on each day.  But, as a writer, it is imperative that we tap into what that mythology is in our work.  What is that vibrant infrastructure that fills our books? What do we write about and why?

Perhaps your personal mythology is the desire to awake people to their senses through the literary art of fear and suspense, or perhaps you want to kindle the fire of love and longing. Maybe you already know your mythology. Maybe you need to decide on what that is.

For me, I've thought long and hard about what I my mythology would be, what common threads would I have woven into my writing that emanate from my deeper, personal mythology.

One of the threads is that of personal accountability and responsibility. 

When it comes to the reasons for our behavior and our circumstances, blame seems to a precious commodity, never to be wasted.

We are often looking for a place to put it where it will be safe from our own discomfort and shame. 

We place blame on society, our editors, our spouses, on our circumstances, our genes, our lack of sleep, etc. 

What we either don't know, or forget, is that with where we place the blame, we also place the power.

We are saying that we have no control over what we say or do, but that our actions are merely a consequence of something or someone else.

We give up the ability to pilot or own plane so we can blame someone else when it crashes.

Part my mythology, personal and writing (which is hard to separate for me) is the notion--the truth--that we have a God-given right and responsibility to own every action and reaction we have, every decision we make, everything thing we say and write. 

Once we own those these, we own our life.          
We no longer are a victim of circumstance, but a navigator of purpose.
We no longer let life happen to us, but we make it happen.            
We no longer allow others to control us, but be claim dominion over ourselves.
We take responsibility for who we are and what we do.                    
We own our lives.

It can be scary-- especially when we must own the blame as well (you mean it's not the editor's fault that my first draft is crap?), but through owning our life we find power and freedom.

That's my mythology.

So, I guess my message to you today is two-fold:

First, find your mythology.

Second, own your life.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Pitch it to Me Straight! Tips For a Successful Pitch Session

You did it! You finished your book!

You imagined and created, typed and toiled. Then you took the story you love so much and tore at it, replacing words, fine-tuning, polishing it to a shine.

That, in and of itself is an accomplishment to be proud of!

You love your book. It's gonna be the next #1 New York Times Best Seller, for sure!

Now all you need to do is find an agent, editor, or publisher to take it on.

No problem!  You sign up for the nearest writer's conference and sign up for a pitch session or two. Your book is too good for the slush pile, you know it. They're going to love it for sure. It is, after all, a masterpiece.

You work on your hook and your pitch, and you wait with excitement as the day you'll be discovered grows near. You might order business cards to leave behind, or a pen or sticky notes with your name in it. You might buy a new outfit so you can look professional at your pitch.

The day finally arrives, and you are nervous. Then the moment arrives, and you realize that you have been so busy preparing for the pitch session, that you have no idea what to do during the pitch session.

What genre is your book? How many words is it? What is your own name? You've forgotten it all!!

It's a writers nightmare, and it happened to me! Luckily, I remembered at the last second a few tips I had learned from good people who have been there before that helped me make it through without looking like a total moron. And they are:

1. Be prepared: There are a few essential things you must have prepared in advance:

  • Have a completed, polished manuscript.
  • Know your genre, your target audience, and your competition. 
  • Research who you are pitching to. Make sure they are accepting your genre.It will impress the agent/editor if you know about their company, what they've published, what other clients they have.
  • A good solid hook. This is a one-sentence description of your book. Here is an article on 10 different ways to write a good hook.
  • A good solid pitch. At most pitch sessions, you are not allowed to take anything with you, other than a small note card to read off of. Take the time to memorize (then practice so it doesn't sound memorized) a one-paragraph summary of your book. Don't give the end of your book away here. Think back of the book blurb. Make every sentence count. One publisher told me, "Every sentence needs to be a popcorn kernel that pops with information when I read it." You'll give your pitch to the agent/editor, then they will ask you more questions. Know your story well enough to answer them intellectually and articulately. 
  • These are things to bring to the conference with you, but NOT to the pitch session. The agent/editor MIGHT ask you for them, but most likely not. Still, it's good to be prepared.
    • A one-page synopsis of your book (if it's fiction. A Proposal if it's non-fiction). You DO need to give away the ending in your synopsis. This is not to hook the agent/editor. If they ask for this, they are already hooked. This is to show them you can write a story that makes sense and is interesting. You can find tips here and here about writing a great synopsis.
    • A hard-copy of your manuscript formatted according to their submission guidelines. 9.9 times out of 10 they will NOT ask for it, but I like to be prepared.
    • Thank you cards. I don't bring them to the session, but I do fill them out and mail them that same day. You want them to receive them when you're still fresh on their minds. If your book didn't leave a good impression, you still can. You never know if they'll pick up your next book. :)
  • Having a nice looking business card to give to them is a nice touch.
  • Dress nice.  You don't have to be wearing a tux or fancy dress, but let your outfit reflect that you can be professional, and that you are taking this seriously. 

2. During the pitch session.

  • Don't chew gum. It's rude.
  • Shake their hand after they offer theirs.
  • RELAX. Remember, they are just people, too.
  • Don't jump right into your hook and pitch. It's okay for a bit of small talk. ("I enjoyed your class today." or "Have you enjoyed the conference?") They'll ask you what you're book is about when they're ready.
  • Smile. Show them how much you love your book by how you talk about.
  • DO NOT say that it is the best book they will ever read, or the next big seller. DO NOT mention Oprah's Book Club or compare it to Harry Potter. Have faith in your book. Let it sell itself.
  • Don't say you're nervous. They probably already know--and they understand.
  • Be prepared to accept compliments and/or criticism. Accept them graciously. They will give you honest feedback which can be very valuable.
  • If they aren't interested in your book and you still have time, pick their brains. Ask them questions about what they do like, what sells, what is hot right now. You paid for the time, use it!
  • Regardless of what happens, at the end, give them a sincere Thank You. Remember, you are not just selling your book, you are selling yourself. And you never know when you might end up working with them.

3. After the pitch session.
  • Not everyone does this, but I like so send a nice thank you card, mailing it on the same day. Editors and agents have A LOT on their plates. More points of contact with you means the better they remember you. You aren't just trying to get your book published, you are also trying to establish and build relationships in the industry.
  • If they did request more (a synopsis, the first three chapters, a Proposal, or the entire manuscript), send it in a timely fashion. Now is not the time to send it to an editor and see what all your friends think. That should have been done before. Don't wait a month--send it within a few day.
  • Don't stalk the agent/editor the rest of the conference. They have other people to meet, friends and colleagues to chat with. If they come and talk to you, great. But don't follow them around to tell them more about your book. That's just creepy. And unless the LOVED your book, you can actually discourage them from publishing your book that they merely like because they don't like you. 

4. And then what?
  • Prepare for your next pitch session! Let's be honest. Most pitch sessions do not end up in book deals. The chances are that you will have many pitch sessions under your belt before you find the magic combination of the perfect author, story, editor/publisher. Don't get discouraged! Learn from your pitch sessions. Make great contacts, expand your horizons and KEEP writing and pitching!
  • HAVE FAITH. You have done what 80% of America has wanted to do. You wrote a book! You love your book. Have faith in your book, and in yourself. Keep writing, keep pitching. Don't give up.

Remember, the goal is to turn this:                                             

Into these.

And someday (hopefully sooner than later) you will.

Monday, April 8, 2013

6 Steps to Destroying a Writer's Self-Doubt

Nearly two years ago, upon the suggestion of a managing editor's rejection letter of my a non-fiction manuscript, I decided to write a fiction novel. 

I started in with confidence that matched my excitement. Sure, why not write a novel? I can do that!

Then I started writing.

And I started reading other's novels more.

And I the doubts started to creep in.

And I wrote less.

And I doubted more.

And wrote even less, 

until I stopped writing,

and only doubted.

It was a miserable time. I so wanted to write. I had a great idea--or at least had a great idea, until I looked at my idea through the lenses of doubt.  

Why did I think I could write? Why did I think I could write? Was I arrogant to think I had something to share? And if I did, there was no way I had the talent to write what I felt in my heart, and saw in my mind.

It was stifling.

Then my husband helped me realize that ONLY thing stopping me from writing my book was ME, and that I needed to ignore the doubts, lean on his faith in me, and write.

And I did.

And when the shadows of doubt came (and they did, many times) I shut them down with my fingers on the keyboard--and wrote.  
And as I did this, the ideas came, the creativity came, and my confidence came.
And I finished my novel.

Self-doubt is a writer's worst enemy. Here are a few steps I used to keep the doubts at bay:
  1. I stopped comparing my writing to others.
  2. I prayed before I wrote--every time--and trust that the One who gave me this gift would enhance it.
  3. I educated myself in technique and skill.
  4. I loved my story, and didn't let the imperfections get in the way of that. 
  5. I had a solid group of critiquers, both readers and authors, whom I trusted and knew would help me make it better.
  6. I wrote for me.  When I let go of the pressure of writing someone everyone would love, or deem a literary masterpiece, and just wrote what I loved in the best way possible, the joy came and the doubts left.

I finished my book. It's not a literary masterpiece, but it is mine, and I love it.

So, when the self-doubts hit you, in writing, or in any other aspect of your life, kick those life-sucking doubts to the curb and keep living--and writing. 

Friday, April 5, 2013

Endurance of Faith

I pray for my children  -- a lot.

 I pray that they will stay close to God, that they will be strong individuals, that they will be kind and good, and that they will be happy. That is probably the wish and prayer for most parents, not just today, but throughout time.

In the Old Testament Hannah prayed for her son, Samuel.  And I am sure Mary spent hours praying for her son, Our Savior.

I came across this verse as I read in the Book of Mormon this morning of a tender parent to his son written 1600 years ago: I am mindful of you always in my prayers, continually praying unto God the Father in the name of his Holy Child, Jesus, that he, through his infinite goodness and grace, will keep you through the endurance of faith on his name to the end.

It makes me feel connected to the people that I read about; like we have a common bond.

One thing that struck me about the verse this morning wasn't just the acknowledgment of praying for his son, but it was what he prayed for, in particular the term endurance of faith.

I love that term. Faith is not a once-time thing. It is not a sprint. It is a marathon. We must keep our faith, mile after mile, in every footstep, as we race through life to the end.

Sometimes we will feel weak, sometimes we might falter. But we must remember that this is not a race to see if you will finish first-- but a race to see how you will finish.

Endure in faith. Finish in faith. That is how you win the race.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Dream On

When I was younger I had an active imagination, and daydreamed often  As I grew older I found myself truly sad at the reality of life.

What? Magic isn't real? Han Solo, Superman...Santa Claus?  None of them are real?

My entire foundation of fantasy and whim was taken from me and replaced with pimples and puberty.


Then I got older, and realized there was something ever better than fictional magic or childhood dreams:

I began to understand the magic of my life.

I discovered that I lived before I came here. And that this life doesn't encompass my entire existence, but that it is merely a part of it-- a time for me to prove myself.

Then I get to continue living after I leave this life-- with God, an immortal Being (Sooo much cooler than Zeus!)

And not only that, but I have an elder brother who was part immortal and completely perfect, who loved me enough to die for me.

It's beyond magical. It's spiritual, and it's eternal.

It's my own fairy tale-- but true.

So, now I'm an adult. I still have an active imagination, but rather than daydream of things that don't exist, I dream on of the amazing things that do.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Can't We Just be Friends?

Can't we just be friends?

The sentence seems benign when it's sitting there by itself.

But, what if it were said by an enemy who was calling a final truce?  It would be a great sentence!

On the other hand, what it was uttered by the person you had been in love with for years, and you finally found the courage to profess your love, and the put their hand on your should and said, "Can't we just be friends."


Um...not that it's happened to me before in high school (Kevin)...

The point is, sometimes we think that life is a certain way, that seems that seem one way can mean only one thing. The truth is that that is not true.  Life is multi-dimensional.  A trial can be looked at as a horrible punishment, or a blessed opportunity to grow. Unrequited love can be seen as a heart-breaking loss, or a mercy from God because you deserve better (yeah, Kevin.)

So the next time you see something that are you are sure means only one thing, take a moment, squint your eyes, and see if there might be another meaning hiding behind.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Beauty is in the Eye...

What do you find beautiful? A Picasso painting? A perfectly grilled cheese sandwich? A magnificently written book? A piece by Mozart?

We are as different as our tastes, but we do share something in common: a desire to find things we feel are beautiful in our lives.

Why do you think that is?

My humble opinion is that it is because before we lived here, we lived somewhere where beauty beyond our comprehension existed. And now that we are here, we long for even a piece of that beauty again--in music, art, theater, nature, religion.

Our souls long for that which they knew, and what our minds can't remember.

So the next time you see something you feel is beautiful, don't only appreciate the beauty of what you are seeing, but appreciate the reason why you sought it in the first place.

Monday, April 1, 2013

How to Give Universal Appeal to Your Novel

Some writers write to a very specific group, while others write to a more generalized audience. Regardless of what we write, we all want our novels to have a universal appeal

According to C.S. Lakin (whom I adore) universal appeal means that a whole bunch of  people all over the world should be able to relate to our novel, perhaps in any time in history.

In her post called 'Universality is in the Details' Lakin gives some great advice on a few ways we can easily create a broader appeal in our writing.

First comes a warning: "Don’t make the mistake in thinking that in order to appeal to a wide audience with a universal appeal we have to write in very general terms and details. You may think that the more unspecific you can get with your locale, setting, time period, problems presented, the more universal the novel will be. You may think if your character can have a general problem—say a bad temper or he’s a Scrooge—a lot of people will identify with him . . . so you decide to not be too specific and take the risk of making your novel’s world so small that no one will relate."

 Lakin goes on to explain that 'general is not universal.' Many authors are worried if they focus on a certain time or place, their novel will soon become outdated. She says this is simply not the case.

She points out that the powerful novels, the classics, that have stood the test of time zoomed in on a tiny moment in time in a very specific place.

Lakin says the key to making our work believable and appealing is in the details, and encourages writers to no shy away from being very specific in our scenes.  We should think like a journalist, finding details that add credibility and believability to our stories.

"Believability is the key to universality," Lakin says.

Read her full post here, including an excerpt of an interview from Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

I've heard it said that beauty is in the details.  It seems that believability lies there, too.

And Here We Are

Have you ever watched a show or read a book where a group of people travel together, and upon arriving at the destination, someone says, "And here we are."

Well, here we are.

Isn't it interesting how you, the reader, and I, the writer, have travels different paths, only to have our lives intersect at this one point in time: you reading something I wrote.

Do you ever wonder if there is chance, or if everything happens for a purpose?

I'd like to think there is no such thing as chance. I wrote this for a reason. And you are reading this for a reason.

If you and I were to meet only time in our lives, and this was that time, what would I want to share with you...

And here it is:

God knows who you are. He loves you. He is aware of you. And He is there for you.