Tick…Tick….Tick


The manuscript has been professionally edited. My query letter treated to one final tune-up. I’ve created three different versions of the synopsis (1-page, 2-page, 3-page), sent out the first round of emails to publishers, and dropped the hard copies off at the Post Office. Now there’s only one thing left for me to do.

Wait.

And wait.

Then wait some more.

Until the waiting becomes so unbearable you do the unthinkable…continue waiting!

You become an exaggerated version of the expectant father, pacing back and forth in the lonely corridor just outside the delivery room, waiting for the doctor to appear and announce that your baby has been delivered into the world. The difference being that the labor is internalized in your own mind and each contraction – the excruciating pain that yields nothing - comes in the form of a rejection letter.

And while all this is going on you attempt to keep your mind occupied by working on a different manuscript. But here’s the thing. It’s really hard to work on anything else while that cancerous thought continues to grow in the back of your consciousness. Call it a feeling, a hunch, or if you grew up in the 60’s or 70’s and experienced some of the hippy lifestyle, negative energy. It’s a thought you’ve struggled with since the very beginning. Am I good enough? Ironically, one of the elements it feeds on is…time. The longer you go without an encouraging, and significant, response, the more the thought gorges on your confidence. So working on the outline for another book or writing the sequel to the novel you’ve just submitted, as time stretches, loses its momentum and becomes - what’s the point?

But this isn’t a boo-hoo post predicting my eventual failure to see my book published. On the contrary, I am 100% confident that PRICK will see the light of day in bookstores (both brick and virtual) soon. I am simply doing what every published author who also blogs have done, document the both the process and at the same time relay my emotions as it progresses. That thought I spoke of earlier – Am I good enough? – has planted itself in the mind of every aspiring writer since the first Stone Age man contemplated scribbling on his cave wall. You simply cannot give into it.

Instead, I wait.

And wait.


Tick…tick…tick.

I S T J

A few of you might have a general idea of what this post title represents, especially if you work or have worked in some sort of managerial capacity. Those four letters, in broad strokes, try to explain just who I am – from a personality POV. Today I thought we’d take a look under my hood and try to decipher just what it is that makes DL tick. Anybody interested?

The letters above are my score from the Myers-Briggs personality test given by my employer several years ago.  It is just one of a battery of tests I was subjected to, but I picked this one because it is the easiest to explain. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is a tool for identifying 16 different personality types that can be used to describe people.  The MBTI is based on the work of psychologist Carl Jung, who had speculated that there are four principal psychological functions by which humans experience the world – sensation, intuition, feeling, and thinking – and that one of these four functions is dominant for a person most of the time.  The idea is to help explain why different kinds of people are interested in different things, prefer different kinds of work, and sometimes find it hard to understand each other – all due to their basic differences in how people take in information and make decisions about it. The chart below (from Wikipedia) will help explain.


According to the answers I offered, I fell into the ISTJ camp. The typical traits you’ll encounter with us ISTJers are:

Quiet, serious, earn success through thoroughness and dependability.

Practical, matter-of-fact, realistic, and responsible.

Decide logically what should be done and work toward it steadily, regardless of distractions.

Take pleasure in making everything orderly and organized – their work, their home, their life.

Value traditions and loyalty.

If you dig a little deeper you’ll find a more descriptive explanation. People with ISTJ preferences have a strong sense of responsibility and great loyalty to the organizations, families, and relationships in their lives.  They generally prefer to work alone and be accountable for the results; however, they are comfortable working in teams when it is necessary to do the job right, when roles are clearly defined, and when people fulfill assigned responsibilities.  ISTJ people are social when comfortable in the roles they are playing; however, they generally do not share their wealth of rich sensing observations and memories except with close friends.

My opinion of how I scored and the results? Dead-on! I was skeptical going into the process, but after reading the results I was shocked (especially since the questions themselves seemed so obtuse and unrelated to personality). There was no surprise in seeing introvert as part of the score (always known that much), but there is so much more that is involved. Now I wonder how other writers are scored. 

So why did I take the test in the first place? First off, understanding who you are and how you react in certain situations is the first step to developing positive work relationships. Secondly, I wasn’t the only one having my mind probed. Everyone I worked with took the same test, and it’s the differences identified between us where the most benefit was derived.

Curious how you would score? Take your own Myers-Briggs test HERE.

Care to share your score?

To Prologue…or not to Prologue…That is the Question!

I’ve written five books and four of them have included a prologue. Those books have been read by a multitude of critique partners, beta readers, family, friends, and even some industry professionals, and inevitably someone will make this comment (or something like it) “there are lots of agents and publishers who frown on the use of a prologue. Why don’t you just change it to chapter 1 instead?”

The inclusion of a prologue (or not) is one of those literary questions heavily debated and naturally everyone has an opinion. It’s right up there with discussions about how much backstory to use before it becomes excessive, or whether or not past tense or present tense is more suitable. It came up again (for me) this past weekend, thus the motivation for this post. Many highly respected and uber-successful authors (George RR Martin, Clive Cussler, to name just a couple) make consistent use of the prologue, so it can’t always be bad. But why such a negative response by a substantial segment of the industry? Let's get into it, shall we?

I’ve done a bit of research and here are some of the most common complaints I've read about using a prologue.  1) The prologue is nothing but an info-dump. The device is used to force-feed a lot of exposition or backstory instead of working all that knowledge into the plot of your story. 2) The prologue has no relation to the story. It takes place within the realm of your novel but offers little insight into the story’s basic ideas. In truth, it has absolutely nothing to do with the rest of your story. 3) Your prologue could very well be chapter one. Who are the characters in your prologue? Does the prologue hook the reader and set up the rest of the story? If you answered ‘my main character’ and ‘yes’, then you just wrote an awesome first chapter. 4) The prologue is just there as a hook. There’s some crazy stuff going on in your prologue. It’s gripping and it hooks your reader into the story…but does it really? Does your flashy prologue have anything to do with the book, or is the author using the prologue to foreshadow future events to artificially offset low-energy early chapters?

There are some solid reasons why the use of a prologue makes it seem more like a gimmick than anything else, but conversely, there are times when a prologue makes sense. But what determines whether your first chapter is just that – chapter one, or it needs to be deemed a prologue?

First and foremost, the prologue has to contribute to the plot. It has to reveal significant, relevant facts, without which the reader will be missing something. Establishing atmosphere cannot be its only reason for existing. Its first duty is to supply information that is or will be vital to the understanding of the plot. But for me, the true test of a prologue is that it must stand out from the body of the novel in at least one fashion: the time of the events (which should be stated both in the prologue and in the first chapter), the POV character, and so on. The reader should feel a distinct switch in his mind when he begins reading Chapter One.

Who knew that the label above the first section of a manuscript could stir up so many conflicting opinions? Even with a sound reason for using the term prologue, you still have to ask yourself -- as an aspiring writer -- is it worth the risk of alienating agents/publishers who are steadfastly against it? Why not just call it chapter one and avoid the hullabaloo altogether?  I can either play it safe to appease the literary gatekeepers who cannot get past their own prejudice to recognize a perfectly acceptable writing tool, or remain true to the spirit of the label. Well, if you’re like me, you’re a fan of books with a perfectly executed prologue and shape my own writing to emulate those authors.

For me...I choose the prologue. If that means my book(s) ends up in the slush pile because of that choice alone, then that wasn't the agent/publisher for me anyway.

What about you? How do you feel about the subject?

Critique Much?

Coming together is a beginning, staying together is progress, and working together is success.
-Henry Ford

Many hands make light work.
-John Heywood

Snowflakes are one of nature's most fragile things, but just look at what they can do when they stick together. 
-Source Unknown

The audience’s reaction to writing is subjective, made up of a wide-spectrum of points of view and experiences. So why wouldn’t an aspiring writer use the same to help shape their voice?
-DL Hammons

A couple weeks ago I employed the services of an editor to help me get my manuscript into the best shape possible before I send it out to publishers. She has been extremely helpful and I have no doubt that her insights will improve both my novel, and my writing. Making the decision to layout hard earned dollars for her expertise was a hard one, but one that I am now grateful I made.

When we got together and she learned a little bit about me, specifically my writing background, she was impressed by the fact that I’m part of a critique group and yet I still chose to pay money to have my book edited. In fact, it was her idea to write this post. In her words – “If you ever want to write a blog post on your process of using critique partners, how you found yours, and the value they add before professional editing, I would be happy to post it to all of my social media sites.”  Okay Shelly (that’s my editor), your wish is my command.

I’ve been pursuing publication for almost nine years now and been a member of numerous critique groups, both in-person and on-line. Some of them small (three members – including myself), some not-so-small (a dozen members), some I considered a waste of time (all romance writers except for me), and others that have improved my writing by light-years (my current group).  The group I’m part of right now has been together for three years and during that time it has seen several members have their books and/or short stories published. I’m very proud of what this group has accomplished, even though I am not one of those who have made their way into the published spotlight. That is one of the things I’ve learned over the years about CP groups, a member’s accomplishments are shared by the whole group.

What else have I learned or advice can I offer by my experiences? First off, I’m discussing critique partners, and not beta readers. (Yes, there is a difference). Beta readers are individuals asked to read a novel – usually after they’ve been critiqued – and offer an opinion on a macro level. They don’t get into the sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph type of detail that CP’s do. In a good group, CP’s are involved from inception to delivery. Beta readers are last minute tweakers.

Also, let me say that this is just one person’s opinion. Just as with our writing, interactions within a group are subjective. Not all groups are created equal – nor should they be – and the dynamic within a group is key. One ill-fitted member can tear apart a group. In a perfect world that square peg would realize the hole they’re trying to fill is meant for someone else, but unfortunately that’s not always the case and in those situations a strong team leader will need to take action. That leader should work with the group in selecting the type of writer/person who joins. Which is another element of a good group – fluidity. Frankly, the turnover rate for aspiring writers is pretty high and it is very common for others to go dormant at certain times in the year.  Keeping the workload within the group both steady, and manageable, can be a challenge. It’s usually dealt with by allowing the enrollment numbers in the group to inflate at times, recognizing that some CP’s are inactive. And when an inactive CP re-surfaces with new material, most of the time another member is going quiet.  Like I said, fluidity.

What should you expect to experience inside a good critique group? In my opinion, an equal amount of constructive criticism and praise. I’ve been in groups where everything said (or written) is nothing but positive, or neutral (“you forgot a comma”). That shouldn’t happen, because let’s face it, we’re critiquing 1st or 2nd drafts and I don’t care how good a writer you are, things need to be adjusted. But I’ve also been in groups with members who do nothing but bluntly criticize (which in their mind - they are doing the writer a favor) and that level of negativity doesn’t work either. Favor or not. Yeah….yeah…I know what you’re thinking. What about someone who makes their way into a CP group and whose work is clearly sub-standard? How do you honestly balance your critique in that case?  First off, I refer to my previous paragraph where I discuss the make-up of a group. If vetting is done properly, that person shouldn’t be in your group.  Secondly, I don’t care how bad the writing is, YOU CAN STILL FIND SOMETHING POSITIVE TO SAY. PERIOD. END OF STORY!

To get the most out of your CP group, take the Ying-Yang approach. You'll only get out of it as much as you contribute. Don't expect to receive quality critiques of your material, if  your not doing the same for others. Be thorough, which means schedule your time accordingly so you don't have to rush when meeting time arrives. And be ready to answer follow-up questions about your suggestions. The interactive dialogue between a writer and critiquer can be some of the most productive time you spend.  

So, if you’re part of a good critique group (which I am), then why would you even need a professional editor. Multiple reasons, or motivations. For me, I have decided to give up my quest to find an agent and there is a good possibility that my novel may be self-published (although I’ve not given up on publishers yet). My CP’s are good (and qualified), but the line-to-line detail editing required for a book before it debuts in the marketplace is not something I would ask them to do.  It is painstaking work (for 90k words), and something I feel a professional should be entrusted with. Being that one of my weaknesses as a writer is in the technical aspect (grammar, tense, etc.), I am using expert eyes to shore that up.  

Why bother with a critique group then? Why not go straight to an editor? The obvious answer is that it’s not cheap and if you can avoid it, then avoid it. But for my real answer I’ll refer to my quote at the top of the page.  The audience’s reaction to writing is subjective, made up of a wide-spectrum of points of view and experiences. So why wouldn’t an aspiring writer use the same to help shape their voice? My book has been influenced, molded if you will, by the numerous eyes and opinions by my critique group. If I went straight to an editor, I would be relying on one person’s perspective. A single frame of reference. No matter how good that editor is, I just can’t do that.

That’s it. That’s all I have to offer on critique groups. If you have specific questions that you would like for me to answer – fire away. I’d be happy to answer any you might have.


Best of luck with your own CP search!

The Impatient Inertia





Inertia - the resistance of any physical object to any change in its state of motion; this includes changes to its speed, direction, or state of rest. It is the tendency of objects to keep moving in a straight line at constant velocity (via Wikipedia). 

I’ll admit that patience is not one of my finer qualities, which is not a good thing when you’re seeking to get published. But you can (and I have) adapt to the trodding pace of this industry if the end goal means that much to you. What I struggle with…mightily…is the lack of continuity, consistency, and the feeling of a sustained momentum within my own world. I’ve posted about it several times here, but only recently have I come to grip (to some degree) with the fact that I’ll continually be faced with these disruptions and need to adapt my tactics.  

I’ve always done my best work when totally absorbed in the process, but it’s impossible to sustain that level of involvement with the demands of my real job and our active family. Consequently, most of my writing is done on the weekend. To enhance and prolong my productive periods I would dedicate vacation time to creating my own pseudo writing retreats. I’d isolate myself – which meant I’d hunker down at my desk, headphones on with the music cranked and my writing cap turned backward (a signal to my family to stay away) -- for three to five 12 hour days of intense outlining/writing. That approach has gotten me this far, but where I’m at obviously isn’t far enough.

My youngest son (my last child still at home) will be starting his senior year in high school in August and has begun to demonstrate a good bit of independence, so one of the roles that compete with my writing time is fading, which is good for my writing but depressing in other respects. And although 

I’ll be turning 61 in a few months, retirement isn’t a possibility anytime soon so my “day-job” will continue to place hurdles in my path to manage.

So, what can I do differently to maintain that sense of inertia I’ve been lacking? I’ve already cut my blogging back to the bare minimum (I’ll never give it up totally – I owe too much to do that), which was a HUGE chunk of my time the first 3-4 years of this journey. I’ve maximized the free time available for creativity and there is seemingly nothing left for me to do. Or is there? What I’ve come to realize is that the inertia I seek needs to be focused on, and originate from, the work -- not just me. If I can find assistance to help me shore up those area’s of my writing that are the weakest, especially during times when I’m not available to contribute, then things can continue to move forward. Since technical skill (i.e. grammar, structure, etc.) is at the top of the list, that’s where I’ll focus first.  Yes, I’ve learned and benefited tremendously from my critique group, but what I need is a one-on-one “coach” to provide insight and guidance, as well as aiding me to bridge the gaps when I’m pulled away. It will cost me some $, but I view it as a necessary expense to compensate for what I’m unable to give freely.

I’ve already reached out to some editors I trust to fill that role, and things are already in motion.  I feel really good about this move and my expectations have been properly recalibrated.

I’ll keep you updated on my (or rather my work’s) progress.

DL

Cue the ‘Rocky’ Theme





Seven years ago, back when my blog was just getting underway, I posted a segment entitled Are You At Your Writing Weight?  With my current state of affairs, it seems rather appropriate right now.  I don’t know about you, but how productive I am – with almost everything I do – is closely tied to how ‘fit” I’m feeling. The same thing is true for how much enjoyment I derive from almost everything else. Coming off months and months of travel involving constantly eating out, endless nights in hotels with limited activity, and stress levels that would make a combat vet raise his (or hers) eyebrows, my weight ballooned thirty pounds over my goal and my overall fitness was poor, to put it mildly. There at the end, I began to experience back problems and the number of “restful” sleep hours I enjoyed nightly shrank considerably.

Now that all that is behind me and I’m trying to recapture my creative drive, I’m finding that I have to take care of the engine first. That’s why I thought about this old post. Competitive athletes rarely maintain their bodies in the same physical state that they do when they are competing, and in that previous post I postulated that the same thing could be said about writers and their cognitive acuity. Intellectually, I feel that I’m in peak form. Working on the company project kept me on my toes and I spent my time in airports and on airplanes reading A LOT of books. But something was missing. I needed to feel good about my body and health again before I could immerse myself in back into the writing waters, and to do that would take time and its own type of devotion.

So, I’m watching what I eat and exercising again. I’ve already managed to shave off fifteen of the thirty pounds, the pain in my back is less and less noticiable, and I’ve returned to the land of happy dreams and wiping the sleep from my eyes. It shouldn’t be a surprise that I can feel that creative drive returning as I shed the weight and push my endurance. I’m not where I want to be yet, but I can feel the momentum pushing (pulling?) me in the right direction. If things continue on course, I should be where I need to be in another 4-6 weeks.

Now, if you’ll excuse me…I need to go drink some raw eggs!  😄
 

Archives

Blog Blitz

Design by: The Blog Decorator