Writing on the Beach: Pitch Wars 2017

A week later… I am finally posting about how, yes, I actually submitted to Pitch Wars!

While I’m eager to hear the results, I’ve been pretty calm about it. Part of it is because I’ve been through the querying and submission processes, so I’m no stranger to writing-related waiting. But part of it also is the truth to what many say about the Pitch Wars experience–even if you’re not selected to work with a mentor and enter the showcase, you win.

Whatever happens, I have another draft of my novel shined up and ready to go out into the world right now. I can’t argue with that.

In the meantime, I’ve been entertaining some other manuscript ideas and heroines I look forward to writing about. I’ve even dabbled with possibly doing a contemporary project. Like, without magic or sci-fi. At all. (Ironically, that’s the one I worry about pulling off.)

I’ve said throughout my life that having stories in my head is like breathing for me. I honestly have no idea what it’s like to not walk around with scenes and ideas coming and going. It’s nice to have a reason to take a break and embrace… well… breathing.

Good luck to everyone who submitted! And many thanks to the Pitch Wars mentors, and especially Brenda Drake and the Pitch Wars staff for pulling this off year after year. Whew. I cannot imagine how it is behind the scenes.

 

 

Writing on the Beach: A little bit of screenwriting, a little bit of prose

Okay, here’s something I learned recently during rewrites. I noticed I was improving. Yes, this happens by default, but I was improving in areas that I am not as adept in. This is pretty much physicality in writing–setting and movement.

Once in graduate school, a professor noted that I “write quickly.” Which was true, I type very quickly. Because dialogue is my strength and how I keep my story moving, most of a draft will be dialogue.

It’s funny, though, because there was one draft of my work-in-progress that had too much non-dialogue, and conference faculty mentioned it. It was very confusing, but since then I’ve learned and grown. After chopping a lot off, I realized what I had too much of. It wasn’t essential. It was a lot of backstory.

What I needed to bulk my ms with was the present. The scene. Setting, movement, etc. After thinking about it, my issue was (unconsciously) approaching novel writing as if it were screenwriting. Yes, I’ve taken screenwriting courses, but that only improved my ability to take action on ideas. (Have you ever tried going from concept to synopsis to first draft to revised draft all in 10 weeks? It’s hell. Amazing… But hell.)

While screenwriting skills lend themselves to prose writing, I was missing out on one huge, important advantage of prose writing–time can stand still in prose. When something happens that causes a reaction, you actually don’t have to move on to the reaction in the very next sentence. The beauty of prose is that you can stay in that moment of this thing happening for as long as you want. Same for the reaction.

This might be a no-brainer for most prose peeps, but for more cinematic-minded writers like me, it’s a big deal to figure it out on a theoretical level. I get it now! And it makes writing more fun. I just have to get used to doing it…

Writing on the Beach: My new science fiction short…

Hey all!

Very excited to share the news that my sci-fi short, Once Time, is out at Rigorous!

I thought I was strictly a fantasy writer until I started writing shorts. This was one that I wrote out by hand, in one night, while I lay sick in bed. (It’s been through some edits since then, but those blazing-inspiration moments are not to go unheeded!)

And here I am, a couple years later, with an idea for a full-on spacey novel in my head. I’m very excited to get on that novel. But… one project at a time.

I cannot thank my writing group enough for the support and the helpful comments. Everyone should have a writing group!

Writing on the Beach: Looking at vs. Listening to Critiques

As I mentioned before, I’m preparing for Pitch Wars. Lots of thinking about revising. Lots of talk about revising on the #PitchWars Twitter feed. Lots of actual revising… Ow.

But there’s one thing I think doesn’t get mentioned enough. It’s something I’ve heard in workshops for years.

Writers should definitely never try to address all the comments they receive. It’s a follow-your-gut business, see how it resonates. There’s no point in trying to implement changes that you don’t feel passionately about yourself, right? Your vision for your story would be compromised.

There’s also this: Sometimes someone can point to a problem and be wrong about what they’ve discovered. For instance, they might think a scene has a pacing issue, that the scene drags. They might say it needs to be cut down or taken out completely. But the problem could actually be that the story is focusing on the wrong character at that moment. Maybe another character has a more interesting conflict in that particular scene. Maybe the conversation in the scene is irrelevant, and there’s something much more important to the plot to talk about (like what just happened in the scene, or scenes, before).

This is why it’s good to consider not just listening to critiques but looking at what they are pointing at. Especially if something doesn’t resonate–there may be some other possibility at play.

Even if you don’t listen to suggestions, keep them close. When you do your own revisions, go back and consider if you’ve addressed the raised concerns in a different way. It’s very fascinating to witness just how subjective this business is!

 

Writing on the Beach: Drafts rule!

I love how my last post about my waning motivation is now moot. Mostly. Go me!

I’m writing this and the next post ahead of time because I’m experiencing a bit of a life change and also because I’m inspired (yay) and I have a lot of writing feelings. I’m new to Pitch Wars, but from the #PitchWars hashtag on Twitter I gather it’s normal!

One important part of developing as a writer is really getting to know oneself. (Very Temple of Apollo, I know.) Through my 10+ years as a scribbler, one thing I have come to have a deep respect for is the fact that writing takes time. I’ve mentioned this before, that I like to walk away from things and get my ideas for what comes next.

Well, drafts have a lot to do with that method. One of the hardest parts of writing is sitting down to do them. There are a lot of potential demotivators. But the important thing for me to remember has always been: It is okay for what you write to be crap. (It will not All always be Crap, however.)

When I was a writing tutor, I tried to teach my students this. Heck, I’ve even taught this to my friends.

Has anyone ever asked you for help with writing something? Have you really looked at how stressed and frustrated they seemed by their own idea? What I usually say to destress the situation and to get things flowing is: “What do you want people to know?” I break down their idea into pieces: facts, details, etc. If they can have a conversation about it, they can write it.

It’s the artists’ way. Start off messy (or with a block of stone, or a lump of clay, or jars of pigment) and create order.

Even a messy draft is a victory. Because that draft has forced you to think, to get ideas down. And if it needs work, at least you can find that out through the draft. If you need to write something else entirely, the draft will tell you. If you’re onto something but it needs reworking, the draft will tell you that too.

The most important thing is that you got down what you could.

As long as I’m doing that, I get to call myself a writer…

Onward!

Pitch Wars #PimpMyBio 2017

Hello Pitch Wars! Here’s my #PimpMyBio.

rei wave

This is me:

My name’s Charlie. I live in Southern California and I have some publications in poetry, short fiction, and nonfiction. When I’m not writing short fiction or YA SFF, I work for a nonprofit.

The manuscript I’m entering into Pitch Wars has been in the works for a few years (and a few rewrites and a few critique group betas), but I’m at a stage where entering Pitch Wars means a great opportunity to take my work to the next level.

pusheen exercise
Slow and steady…
I’m new to this competition opportunity. While I know it’s possible I won’t get in, after interacting with folks at #PitchWars and #ontheporch, I’m happy to have found such a friendly and generous community of people. Whenever I can give some kind of advice or help in return, it’s a great feeling.

This is my ms: 

Title: Rise a Knight

Category: YA Contemporary Fantasy

Pitch: Cadence is shot, then learns she’s a reincarnated knight. Reborn enemies are hunting knights for magic. In one day, Cadence races to stop them before they steal the power that ended her dead world.

Comps: Once Upon a Time meets 24.

once upon a time snow sword
All of this has happened before and will happen again…
Inspiration: This ms is #ownvoices for several reasons. But I honestly just wanted a cool story with a hero I could identify with.

percy jackson
Like this but with someone Asian and female.
This is my heart all over my ms:

  • My hero is a pacifist. She wants to save the world and the bad guys.
  • ❤️ The absolutely epic backstory. I love mythology and folklore. The ancient world my characters came from is based on those, with a history robust enough to be its own novel series. Speaking of which…
  • My main character is from my first two novels, which are drawer novels. I thought I would never get to write about her again… But she came back as a reincarnation! And I’ve spent the last 7 years on this ms, so this version of her is sticking around.
  • The story passes the Bechdel test. (YES!)

IMG_0080
I made an aesthetic for this ms! Thanks to the #PitchWars community for inspiring me to try this. (Y’all also got me to try using gifs to express myself… I may never be the same!)
Me & writing are like…

  • I have a Masters degree in Creative Writing. I know how to take a beating constructive criticism. (And give it in return…)
  • That said, I’ve taken courses in publishing basics, poetry, fiction, graphic novel, screenwriting, and television writing… I’m always happy to answer questions in my wheelhouse.
  • Dialogue is my strength. It comes easily. Physicality (setting/movement) requires more attention.
  • I have performed two memoir pieces on stage!
  • I once wrote an entire 20-page paper with a 102 fever in one day… Two weeks early… (Dedication~!)
  • I have embraced the fact that I will always think of at least five edits after I hit send/submit/update.

Other facts:

  • I make it a life requirement to regularly visit the beach. (As you can tell by looking around…)
  • I LOVE listening to epic/movie trailer music from Two Steps from Hell, Audiomachine, Brand X Music, Immediate Music, Full Tilt, etc… it’s pretty much guaranteed I’ll get inspiration/an idea while doing so.
  • Recently, I’ve enjoyed watching Dark Matter, Into the Badlands, and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D…. I am all over the badassery of Asian and/or female characters.
  • About four years ago, I went to see a kitten who needed a home. She laid at my feet.

luna
Her name is Luna. Like the Ravenclaw. Sometimes she types with her face.
Some highly ranked reads:

  • Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett
  • Misfit by Jon Skovron
  • Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams
  • The Alienist by Caleb Carr
  • On Writing by Stephen King
  • Graceling by Kristin Cashore
  • White Cat by Holly Black
  • Cinder by Marissa Meyer
  • The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater
  • In Our Time by Ernest Hemingway
  • Blink by Malcolm Gladwell
  • Save the Cat by Blake Snyder
  • The Unfinished World and Other Stories by Amber Sparks
  • Hart & Boot & Other Stories by Tim Pratt

… and many more.

In closing:

That’s me! Thanks to Lana Pattinson, who hosts the Pitch Wars #PimpMyBio blog hop here. Also, many thanks to Brenda Drake (and everyone else who helps) for running Pitch Wars.

Questions? Comments? Special requests?? I look forward to meeting/interacting with you all! (And if you think we might be a CP match, please reach out! I’d love a long-term CP match.)

Now, let’s get out there and tear it up, Pitch Warriors!

psych vicious
Game face time.

Writing on the Beach: Motivation…

Oh! I’ve had a difficult time with motivation lately. Part of it was writer’s block. Usually, when I stop working on something, my brain starts to play with what could happen next. Sometimes, it makes it hard to concentrate on things I should physically be doing. But that is okay! I’ve managed so far.

The roadblock occurs when I cannot for the life of me get the imagination to start rolling on its own. But I liken the need for motivation to the habit of going to the gym. My rule when I lost weight a few years ago: you’re allowed to not work out if you at least dress up and physically visit the gym. If at that point you decide not to work out, then you can’t say you didn’t try. So, part of it is just getting myself to sit down and open my document and read it…

The difficult part is that I keep getting distracted… by other stories! (And, yes, the Internet.) Mostly potential novels I haven’t written yet. This is both a good and bad thing. Good, because I’m slowly building the foundations for other projects. And what is a writing career without other projects? Bad, because I really, achingly want to get this revision done (it’s really time to birth this novel) but I’m afraid to start working on something else because then… how will I tear myself away to finish the first project?

This is the writing life! And that butt-in-chair time is important. Usually, it’s okay to work on something else as long as that butt-in-chair time gets clocked. But feeling like a draft is dragging makes it difficult to finish something I want to be over! One might argue it’s like being in school again. Except, maybe without having to take notes or exams.

Okay, I guess it’s a little better. At least I get to make up my own material? Onward!

Writing on the Beach: Pantsing and Plotting in Revisions

In general, when you think about how people write, there are usually two different ways. One way is to be a “pantser,” as in you go by the seat of your pants with no outline, throwing doubts to the wind. Another way is to be a “plotter,” which means you plan things out ahead of time and know your plot and everything that’s supposed to happen, etc.

I’ve always been a little bit of both. I’ll rephrase that: my process relies on both methods. It usually goes that I get a great idea, and this idea is fed by scenes, lines of dialogue, images, etc. But these come to me randomly, over long periods of time. They aren’t planned. All I have to go on is an idea my imagination has picked up on. But then, when I start examining these scenes/ideas and questioning them (who is that character? why would this happen? what would force that decision?), I start to see a way that they can be placed in chronological order in the narrative. A way that these scenes answer the questions other scenes pose. These collected ideas become a very barebones outline, which always has wiggle room.

Now, that’s the process for a first draft. I don’t often see discussion about how people who pants vs. plot attack a revision. I’m pretty sure for both camps in involves going back and cleaning up the manuscript. I got some great advice at a writing conference once to write an outline after the fact to see what I had accomplished in terms of plot in each chapter of the novel. Then that outline helped serve as a guide of where the strengths and weaknesses were in the manuscript. I also used this outline advice to look at how many characters were present in each chapter, and how important they were to the story. (Yes, some had to get cut… No looking back!)

Being in the revision stage much later in the game, I’m now sticking to the general outline of my plot that I’ve refined through my drafts, but the content is changing in the way it’s distributed. I’m putting in more on character and plot points that seemed rushed before are now getting more time. But, still, I’m always working with a combination of knowing and not knowing where I’m going. Whatever work I put in today will feed what I do tomorrow, and often I have to stand up and walk away to later work out a scene that’s giving me trouble.

I like using a little bit of both. I feel as if I have a more diverse toolbox.

Submitting on the Beach: How Twitter Pitching Helped Me Refine My Pitch

Oh! Twitter pitching is a whole thing. I am relatively new to it, because I found out about it and dove into it last year.

But I wanted to offer my thoughts on it, because I cannot describe the awesomeness that is the writing and publishing communities helping other people online.

This month, June 2017, there has already been a round of #PitMad, there will be a round of #SFFPit and last I saw #70pit17 is happening. And, #QueryKombat is going on. More events are listed at Carissa Taylor’s Pitch Contest Calendar.

What are all these contests? Generally they involve some form of pitching your manuscript on Twitter. There are other components to different contests, (some which include help with queries and manuscripts), but I’ll focus on Twitter pitching here.

I thought it was a great challenge to get a pitch for my novel into 140 characters. I came up with several, actually. Then, because I was going to work on the day of the event, I tried to schedule my pitches to be posted for #PitMad on Tweetdeck, which I had never used for tweet-scheduling before. There was some technical difficulties, to say the least.

But it was worth it, and continuing my interactions and continuing to follow the communities and events has helped a lot.

The chance to reach agents and editors through Twitter is such a great motivator. It wasn’t until I’d been through several events that I finally figured out what my main (longer than 140 characters) elevator pitch should be.

When you’re forced to pare ideas down, it really makes you think what you stand to lose by deleting one detail over another.

Practice makes perfect.

And I am always grateful to the creators and moderators of these events for doing so. Can you imagine running a Twitter-sized event? I’ve been backstage in theater, libraries, charity events… I can’t imagine doing it all online.

Bonus: because of these events, I learned about #ownvoices. I’ve seen how it’s increasingly important to other people and myself that I’m writing about my own experience. How important it is to seek out opportunities where writers are representing themselves and being represented fairly. More on that later.

 

MFA on the Beach: Writing Tip #1

I’ve decided I’m going to try my hand at writing advice/exploits that have helped me along the way. I’m sure others have written about these. But why can’t I touch on them too?

Today, my tip is something I learned before my graduate program. Yes, the education started early! Before I was a Writer with an MFA, I was a Writer at University. And I had the good fortune to be in a Humanities Department that had its own MFA program. With it, I had access to the directors of that program as faculty, including professors on the poetry side, and Teaching Assistants who taught creative writing courses to us undergraduates.

It may have been during intermediate fiction: one tip was to never use our first idea. Use maybe the fifth or sixth one. Now, you can take this any way you like. To each her own. But I’ve found how this works for me, what I have to look out for: what we default to is the generic. It’s going to be an echo of something we’ve seen before, or it’s not going to have the depth and detail it needs to distinguish itself as a scene from my story as opposed to that TV show last week or that movie from the year before. Example: Have you ever started a television episode where something absolutely bizarre happens, and you’re completely confused, only to have the scene end and the next scene is set “48 hours earlier” or something like that? Then the episode is supposed to take you back to that bizarre scene and how it ends.

That happens a LOT doesn’t it? It’s not something we’ve only ever seen one time.

It’s a great tool. I won’t knock it. If it’s a TV show I like, I sit through it.

The thing is, with writing, if you’re submitting a story, you probably don’t want to submit the story with the ending or beginning that an editor has seen a lot. You want to submit the story that the editor has never seen before. This is the one that will catch someone’s attention. (Granted, there are trends. But by the time you submit to a trend, if the trend has already reached the market, it’s already one or two years old.)

So, look out for that first idea. Don’t lean all your weight on it. Be flexible. I’ve known for a long time that I need to let ideas sit. Time always helps me figure things out about my stories.

On to publication, calmly.