Don’t wait for your Muse to get to work. Don’t ignore her either.

I had a solid plan for the summer. Finish a new novel. Work on some short stories. Then get to work on polishing the hell out of an older novel that has been waiting for me. It was a good plan. A very productive plan.

And it’s pretty much been blown to crap.

But in a good way.

See, last week I was driving my kids home from camp and I got an idea. It wasn’t fully formed, but it was exciting to me and when something is exciting, no matter how flimsy the premise, I’ve learned it’s best to see where the idea leads you.

So when I got home I opened up my laptop with the intention of just getting down the gist and a feel for the protagonist.

Ten chapters and many late nights later, I’m still going on it.

My old manuscript languishes. I am really tired. But, damn, this story is really taking off.

Recently I had the very crappy task of finishing a manuscript that kept stalling and had lost all its inspiration. It really sucked and I didn’t want to do it. When I was done, the ending was sloppy and kind of bland and I know there is going to be a mountain of edits to beat it into shape, but I am so glad I fought my way through to the end. I have too often dropped stories when the muse left me so this was an exercise in growing the hell up and getting the work done.

After that huge task, however, I was ready to put the creative work aside for a while and looking forward to cleaning up this older story. It’s a story that figuratively spilled out of me one month, fast and furious and then done with hardly any nights off. It was rather amazing, honestly, but while it still has plenty of flaws to resolve it taught me not to ignore when the muse does come out.

I have plans, important plans for the work I need to get done, for the deadlines I want to meet. But my muse gives no shits about those. She is on board with this story, now, and if I ignore her to do my other work, I may be missing out on something rather amazing

Or maybe she’ll abandon me near the end and I’ll have to fight my way through to the end or shelve the manuscript until I have a better idea how to fit it together. Either way, this time of inspiration is a gift, and I will take it for all its got. And then I will work my ass off to do the rest.

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.

Interview with Author D R Kinter

*Update: One Tuesday, April 16, 2019, Dan R Kinter passed away after a struggle with cancer. He left behind a legacy of love, support and non-stop jokes. Everyone who knew him had a great story to share about how Dan helped them and made them laugh. Please consider picking up a copy of The Bridges to support Dan’s family and enjoy the unique voice he left behind.
I met D R Kinter years ago in a workshop and was glad to continue working with him on our recently collaboration in Writers Block. He is our resident grammarian, joker and a well of knowledge on everything from weapons to rock and roll. His is not only an asset to Writers Block, he is a dear and supportive friend to everyone in the group and an all around great guy.
D R Kinter’s debut book The Bridges premiered in June 2018. It’s equal parts hilarious and horrifying in it’s look at a near future that seems almost inevitable and a unique cast of characters that come alive on the page.
I have been meaning to get back to interviews for a while so when Dan agreed to answer some questions for me, I was excited to pick his brain.
When would you say that you became a writer? Was it something you were born doing or something you came to at some point in your life?
I was born full of shit.
Early on, I could fabricate a story instantly if it would get me out of trouble. But what has driven me in adulthood has been, not just writing, but creating. I have actively pursued all media. An interest in film-making took hold in high school, followed by theater. While studying acting, I started writing and directing plays. I felt I had some talent with dialogue.
All this time, I was also  very engaged with music.
Finally, adulthood arrived and I went over to the dark side: Advertising. And there went 30 + years of applying creative solutions to business problems.
Retirement has allowed me to write what I want.
What sort of subjects interest you?
I consider myself a satirist. My subject matter seems to hover in the near-immediate future. I will scan the news, looking for something that sparks a question like, what if that was a little different?
I am a luddite at heart and try to take on technology whenever possible. I am also an atheist, yet feel compelled to write (mostly for myself) scenes that put atheism and theism into conflict.
What does your process look like?
Still in discovery. The Bridges began with me just getting some memories, characters and events on paper. It was a nonlinear process. I am working on The Bridges sequel, and due to some health issues, have been trying to write very sequentially. The two processes are quite different, yet in both  cases, the story has the helm.
What other jobs have you done in your life? Have they influenced your writing?
I have done everything from entry-level farm work to executive consulting. This body of experience has given me a very broad base of useless and arcane information with which to play fast and loose.
What did your publishing process look like?
First, there was the choice of submitting my work to traditional publishing or going independent. I chose the indie route. I’m not a very patient person. Fortunately, I was working with a writers’ group and was able to find a very good editor who acts as a publisher as well. Di Freeze at Freeze Time Publications. She guided me through the process of getting the book out to market.
Tell me about The Bridges. Why did you write this book.
It was a perfect storm of uncertain times and events that allowed me to knit a lot of disparate storytelling together.
What are some resources that have been valuable to you.
Books! Tennessee Williams. Shakespeare. Rex Stout. A.E. Van Vogt. Isaac Asimov. My wife, Linda, and my daughters.
We worked together on the Roanoke: Collection of Utter Speculation anthology. What is something that you took away from that project
It was a wonderful opportunity to use discipline and technique to craft a story within specific parameters, and still have fun. And I got to work with some great people, whose methods and sensibilities differed greatly from my own.
and ebook

Let the work sustain you

What is your goal? Your end game in your writing? You might be struggling to get an agent, get a contract, get five thousand sales. These things can be driving you forward, giving you purpose day to day.

Or, like, me they could be driving you crazy.

I have been querying on and off for several years, with several different manuscripts. I have felt highs and lows. many many lows. Putting out twenty queries and getting nothing back at all. Getting rejections that came back almost as soon as I hit send. Waiting and waiting and waiting only for that two line rejection to come through half a year later.

It was my goal. What I was working for every day.

And, honestly, it sucked.

There is nothing wrong with querying, with wanting an agent, to get published, with having something that you are working toward, but when you set your sights on that mountain, it is easy to lose track of why you are doing it, and it is easy to feel like every day it doesn’t happen is a waste of time.

Then you spend you time analyzing why it’s not working. You didn’t write to the trends. You don’t have the right voice. You need to cut your word count down. You just are not good enough.

Then it sucks even more.

The last year has been strange for me. I started setting personal goals, against myself instead of career goals that I need other people to fulfill for me. I challenged myself to write short stories again. I pushed myself to edit several manuscripts. I queried, a little, and then I let things go. I got some good responses and some rejections. I said thank you for positive feedback even when it didn’t come with an offer.

I still got rejections. Plenty of rejections, and I will not say I didn’t care. But it didn’t crush me. Because when I get an agent, then what?

I need a publisher. and I get a publisher, then what?

I need a great book sales. I get a great sales and then what?

I mean, does it ever reach a point where now I am suddenly satisfied? Where i have suddenly hit that magical goal where I know I am validated in all this work I have done?

I mean, I  dunno. Maybe. I’ll let you know when I get there. If such a state does exist, it’s a long way off. To be completely honest, if I’m not happy with what I am doing now, with my work, then I don’t think I can ever be validated by someone else.

This past year I have been trying to hold off on the hard goals and make my day to day work of writing great shit my priority. It hasn’t always been easy but I’ve seen a big improvement in how I feel about what I do and where I am going.

My writing has gotten better. I’ve made awesome writing friends. I published a piece in an anthology. I’ve created some work I’m really proud of.

I am not THERE at whatever hard goal I arbitrarily set for myself as the pinnacle of success. Because I don’t think there is a pinnacle. There is no end point to this game. Never a place where you plant your flag and say, I’m done. I made it. Now I can enjoy my life and be happy.

Happiness is now, in the work you do. In knowing that everything will come when you no long need it to validate you. When the work you do is what sustains you, you know that you can keep going, no matter what.

Writing through a sagging middle

I don’t know why I haven’t learned, because it happens EVERY TIME. I go strong and then I hit the midway point of the book. Loose ends start flying in every direction, I’m not getting to the climax fast enough, there are things that have to happen that aren’t ready to happen yet. I want to rush, I don’t know where to go.

And I generally decide the whole books sucks.

At this point I start to lose the momentum that has been pushing me steadily through the first hundred pages and maybe pick up a new show to start binging on Netflix rather than writing at night.

It the death of the book.

I might pick it  back up again, I might peck out a few more chapters from time to time, but if I let that initial momentum die, then it is more likely that the manuscript will languish on my hard drive than reach the end.

I am aware of this and in the past I’ve buckled down and pushed ahead when it’s a book I have made some great progress on. The thing about momentum is that it’s a lot easier to smash through a wall if you come at it running from a mile away, than if stop you stand in front of it for a while, kicking at it.

I’m currently hating a new story. Well, i don’t hate it. I just don’t like where it’s at right now. I had it well mapped out and its meandering too long in the early stages when there is so much more to come. If I go backwards and start editing now, it’s never going to happen, but the idea of forging ahead it daunting, because it’s already so long and we’re hardly half way.

I have a day or two left to get back to it with some momentum. I’ve been balking. I’ve been watching Future Man.

The truth is, I don’t know if the effort of pushing through this saggy middle is going to be worth it. I might reach the end and it still doesn’t work. I might not know how to fix the problems when all is said and done.

Or

or

The loose ends could tie themselves up. The end might wrap itself up sooner than expected. A book acts like a living thing. It makes it’s own decisions, it carves it’s own paths, and a writer is just the scribe that charts the progress.

I really won’t know until I reach the end.

I’ve lost my excitement for this story, but I’ve lost my excitement for my dog too when she shredded my sofa in the fifteen minutes I left her home alone. It doesn’t mean I don’t love her. It doesn’t mean she hasn’t redeemed herself a hundred times. Books at the same.

So the best thing I can do is to keep going. Use the remains of my momentum to crash through that wall, even if it doesn’t make sense at the time. Learning to do this, consistently, no matter how difficult is what makes you an author and now just a dreamer.

Keep writing, friends. I look forward to seeing your books on my shelves.

Art to support your art

Writers can be a fickle bunch. We immerse ourselves in our story, falling in love with our characters, daydreaming about our settings. Then we see something shiny in the distance, a new story idea, a really good book, even (gasp) something happening in our own real life and our make believe world can fall away, once again as flat as the pages it’s written on.

This is a good thing. Because a little obsession can help you complete a project, but a lot of obsession makes you a little creepy. And in every author’s life there is a time when they have to let their book, their characters, their make believe world go, whether it’s to the world or a folder on computer, so that they can create something new and life their own lives.

But if you want to get back to that space, whether you’re trying to pick up a story you haven’t completed yet or edit a manuscript that you have left to simmer, sometimes it is not so easy. Sometimes the words don’t flow, the excitement doesn’t pop. Your story remains flat to you and you can’t immerse yourself the way you need to do get the job done.

There are lots of little tasks, projects, challenges you can set yourself, but one of my favorite methods for getting back into a story is to come at it through different mediums. Sketch your characters or landscapes. Write a theme song. Build their setting with blocks or playdough or whatever you have lying around.

Cook the foods your characters eat. Wear the colors your characters wear. Write a poem. Design a logo. Whatever you want!

You don’t have to be good at it. Your characters can look like stick figures and your song can sound suspiciously like “Rebel Yell”, but you are creating withing your world again. And the world will open up to you.

And if your attempts at other art are really getting you down, make a vision board and a playlist (with “Rebel Yell”). Make a pinterest board. Cast the movie of your book with real life actors.

Have fun and let that healthy obsession with your work take you away.

Talent and Time

There’s two things that can make authors cringe to hear.

“I wish I was talented so I could write a book.”

and

“Oh, yeah, I could write a book, if I just had the time.”

Please stop.

You can write a book, without time or talent. We writers know this because we started out with neither.

We weren’t born with a magical power that allowed us to string words into a story that was a delight to read.

We didn’t come by our “talent” because we were constantly faced with an abundance of free time.

Our first stories sucked. Our first twenty stories sucked. My first one hundred stories sucked, hard.

I wrote them between homework, during class instead of paying attention. I wrote them when my friends were outside playing. I wrote them in college when I could have been at parties. I write them now, late at night when the rest of my family is sleeping.

A writer makes the time and they develop the talent. Because we love it. Because we have to. Because it is a priority.

If you want to write a book, by all means go for it. Get up earlier than usual. Stay home instead of going out Friday night. Take a writing class after work on Wednesday. Read books during your spare time instead of scrolling through your phone.

Your talent will develop slowly. It will take years. But it will come.

If you want to write a book, stop making excuses, and projecting your weird insecurities onto us writers who have done it. You have a high stress job that doesn’t allow you the time? Honey, I work with doctors and lawyers, single parents and CEOs. They make the time, they put in the work. Because they have to get their stories out. Because they love it.

It’s okay if you don’t. Just stop using it to mildly insult us who have done it.

Learning to write short stories to improve your long stories

Writing short stories has always been a challenge for me. My ideas are usually too complicated and require a lot of set up and character development.

or so I thought.

Recently I’ve realized I am not doing myself any favors by refusing to refine this form of writing. After all, just about all my favorite writers got their start publishing short stories. There are so many more opportunities to publish a short story than a novel.

My first attempts were pretty bad. Even with “shorter” ideas, my stories were too complicated, too convoluted, and really pretty boring.

Then I came across an anthology with a theme that I was already writing a novel about.

And a lightbulb went off.

Because I already had the backstory, the world building, the set up in my head, I used this opportunity to write a short, side story about a minor character in my novel. A character that I would have liked to have given more attention, but it would have bogged down my novel.

As a short story though… it worked.

But I still had to edit, clean, and cut down words to make the word count.

Unfortunately the anthology was cancelled, but I did receive an encouraging reply.

So I kept trying. And I kept getting better. Ideas for short stories came easier. Keeping them short came easier.

And then something pretty cool happened.

I had to do some major edits on a novel manuscript. And that came easier. I had an easier time finding run on sentences, cutting out words, making everything clearer and more concise.

Learning how to write short stories made editing my novel easier.

Since this glorious revelations I have shared this discovery with some writing friends of mine. Most of them haven’t believed me. Like me, they feel that they are just no good at writing short stories. I hope they change their minds because I’d love to see what they come up with.

Everyone will find their own path.

Just don’t sell yourself short.

Do you write short stories? What is your best method? Please share in comments below.

The most destructive inclination

It’s been written and rewritten. Hours and days and months years of work and now you really really like your story.

There might be a typo you missed. Maybe an awkward phrase you never noticed, but damn it is good, and you are tired of it. An agent or editor will understand. Nothing is ever perfect, right?

Only a writer knows how much work goes into even a short piece of fiction and how freaking redundant it gets to keep editing.

But while the writer may be DONE with a story, often times the story is not done.

In our exhaustion and our excitement, our inclination may be to release it into the world when we hit this point. What will be will be.

That inclination would be wrong.

Not only wrong, but counterproductive. If you submit work that isn’t up to par, your work will be rejected and that source will never again be available for it. If it’s bad enough you may be putting future submissions with that publication as risk as well.

No matter how done you may think you are, you need a second, third, forth and maybe even eight set of eyes. Because no matter how hard you have worked, your eyes are not objective. Typos and misspellings will hide from them. Plot holes and confusing sections will be filled in by your brain and elude your edits.

No matter how much work you have put into your manuscript, you will be blind to flaws. No matter how long you have done this, you need help. No matter how excited you are about the piece, you have to be patient.

Writing is a long game.

Rushing to submit will only make it longer.

If you have made it as perfect as you can, if you feel like you are literally going to scream if you have to work on it any longer, by all means, take a break! Send it to some trusted readers. Go work on something else.

But stomp on your inclination to release it to the publishing world. It could destroy your chances completely.

 

 

 

Write your first draft for you and your last draft for your reader

I think I’ve been having an existential crisis. Does that qualify as a good excuse for not posting recently?

I’ve been writing much more than average. I polished a final draft. I’m working on a bunch of short stories and really refining my process there. I’ve been catching up on reading. I’ve been brainstorming, outlining, working with other writers and really enjoying myself.

I see a lot of writers complaining about how hard it is to write. I don’t really feel that way. When I’m writing, I’m enjoying the hell out of every minute of it.

For me, editing has always been the challenge, but recently something changed. After receiving a lot of feedback from beta’s who just weren’t getting certain characters, certain elements, major themes, I began to think on how to refine my story to relate to them, rather than clutch to what I thought they should know.

And once I changed my perception, the edits began to flow more easily as well.

Writing a first draft would be a task or a chore if I was trying to make it fit into some sort of mold I thought people would like. It would completely sap any of the creative process I enjoy so much. I let the words flow, whether or not they adhere to the outline. I’ve stopped worrying about what people will think of it and so it comes more easily now than ever before in my life.

I write because I love it.

But when it is done, I want to share what I love with others. And so it needs to be refined to go out into the world. For me it starts tentatively, making the changes I see are needed and putting it out to a select few who’s opinions I trust. Gathering feedback until i can see what is not on mark with readers.

A book is a portal, and not everyone is going to have a key, or even want to open it no matter how hard you try, but if you collect the data and do the work, you can figure out a way to make that lock open for those who want to enter.

A writers first job is to write the story. To commit it to paper. There second job is to clear away the rubble so that story can shine brightly in the dark, provide a refuge to those who are seeking, a hand to those who are struggling, insight to those who want to know.

Write your story. And then give it away.