An old problem rises from the dead

When I started writing novels, they rarely reached the end. Forget about editing, I couldn’t even finish. I lacked discipline, writing tools, direction and just general skill. I loved putting a new idea down, but I didn’t know how to bring that idea into fruition.

But I really wanted to.

What finally helped was

Practice. Just keep trying.

Dedication. Forcing myself to sit at that computer and write.

Planning. I could pants write everything. It just didn’t work. I had to have an ending in mind to work toward.

I still had a lot of starts, but I finally had some finishes too.

Problem was, they still weren’t very good. They meandered. They ran off track after plot bunnies. And the backstory… and once i realized this, well, it was discouraging and I found myself again with many starts and no finishes.

So I pushed myself.

Work-shopping. Letting my work get torn to shreds for the sake of making it better.

Outlining, hitting all the major plot points so I had a map to keep me on course

Researching good writing. Reading books and articles, going to conferences with successful writers.

Keeping a separate note file

Editing like hell when I finished a piece.

And hey, it worked. I started to produce work I was proud of. I was finishing one first draft a year. I was building up an arsenal of writing tools and I thought it was just gonna keep getting better.

But see, it’s happening again. I am stalling out. I am using all my tricks. Or trying to at least, but I’m on my forth work in progress that is just floundering right at the climax. What gives?

I know where it’s going. I have it all outlined. I am keeping my schedule, have all my reference material, I even have a network of talented writers to bounce ideas off of.

But these stories are not moving. I can start new stuff. I have new ideas. I can edit older work. I can write short stories. But my novels, my babies, they are just flopping in the mud whining that they don’t want to move.

So I am going to review the lessons I’ve learned. I’m going to read some books on craft. I’m going to brainstorm and I am going to shove these assholes out of the mud. And when I figure out what works, I will be back to report. I’ve done this before. I know I can do it now.

To write a better query

Over the years I have gotten better as finishing, editing, submitting and polishing stories. But queries still get me. Writing them is just so damned hard for me. I had read everything there is to find, I have copied structures, edited like hell, gotten feedback, professional editing, rewritten and personalized and yet, no matter how I try, what I am left with seems completely soulless.

That is, what I recently realized, the actual problem.

Not that I can’t write an acceptable query. It’s just a professional cover letter for your book, for goodness sake, it doesn’t have to be art.

Except, well, it kinda does. No matter what advice you might get, I think all writers know that what makes their book special is the soul of the piece, so submitting a cold query letter fails to capture that soul and therefore, will not take in editors and agents with the magic the book possesses.

Most writers can’t really conjure that magic on demand, unfortunately, and yet we expect ourselves to produce perfect queries to entice others to read our book with out it. So, how do you capture the beautiful blood sweat and tears that you have sacrificed to create your novel in a short, professional cover letter, outlining the barest bones of your living breathing novel?

Well, if you have access to one, I suggest a bog witch. Usually they are quite adept at breathing life into inanimate objects. You can also summon the faeries, but that is only if you are desperate, because, quite honestly, they charge way too much (I personally don’t want to dance for eternity or trade my first born but I don’t judge your choices).

If neither of these options are for you, then I have some non-magical suggestions as well.

  1. Talk to a friend (or if you have no friends, make up one and talk to them. C’mon we all do it)

Record yourself. Talk about why you wrote this book, who you wrote it for, what your favorite parts are and a summary of what it is about. Let yourself get passionate about the project as your talking, and then listen over what you said. If you let yourself really get into it, there will be life in those words, and you may be able to spin a perfect query from them.

2. Write the back cover summary.

No, it’s not jumping the gun. It’s doing the same thing as writing a query except without the scary query pressure on you. What do you want the back of your book to say to readers when they pick it up someday. That is just about the same thing you would use to intrigue an agent or editor to read further.

3. Write a three line pitch

Boil that bad girl down to a hard, slab of… something hard. and small. Three lines. What is this book about? why do I care? Who are the major players?

There are aliens in Philadelphia. They are eating all the cheesesteaks. Butch Mighty and his sister, Locust, are the only ones who can stop them with their hoagie powers.

When you got it down to the bones of the story, start to add the details that make your writing unique.

4. Have someone else tell you what your book is about

I’ve been trying to get someone to do this for me for years and haven’t managed to pull it off yet, but I strongly suspect it’s a great idea, if you can just get someone who’s really good at talking about books to read your book and talk about it with you. Or better yet, write to you about it.

5. Keep improving

I have had queries that worked for one agent and not another. I have had stories I thought were great get only rejections. I have gotten full requests on queries with typos (cringe, I know). My point is that i do not have the exact spell you need to create a query that makes everyone want your book. (Although I have heard this spell is buried somewhere in Neil Gaiman’s basement).  I also know some disgustingly talented and amazing writers who struggled in the query trenches for years and still had to find alternative routes to publication. Keep trying. Keep tweaking and you might find that magic combo of the right query to the right agent or editor who is right for your book.

And if you come across that spell, or the number for a great bog witch please hit me up.