#queryfail Day on Twitter

Hey Tweeps, in response to a suggestion by literary agent Colleen Lindsay, a number of agents and editors are tweeting their memories of the worst queries they’ve ever received kicking off Query Fail Day, the first of what will likely become a regular Twitter phenomenon.

Go to: http://search.twitter.com/search?q=%23queryfail.

My favorite example so far comes from ReneeAtShens:

“P.S. I collect stamps. Should you have any stamp…that is destined for the trash can, [please] stuff them in the enclosed SASE” #queryfail

Uh huh.

Follow-up to QueryFail:

Amazing amount of brouhaha about queryfail. IMHO, the purpose was not to mock writers, but to teach us what not to do in writing a query. For a nice collection of links to articles about how to write great queries and avoid #queryfail, check out this Chico Writer’s Group blog post http://ejourn.net/cwg/2009/03/06/how-not-to-be-targeted-by-the-evil-queryfail/.

One Thing

“Times are bad. Children no longer obey their parents, and everyone is writing a book.” ~ Cicero [106 B.C. to 43 B.C.]

I’m not much for New Year’s resolutions since I rarely keep them. Instead, I challenge myself to do one thing differently with my writing every new year. Some of these decisions have been ambitious. In 1995, I began sending queries to magazines and my first feature article was published in Dog World. In 1996, I began studying with best-selling author Natalie Goldberg. In 2000, I began teaching. In 2003, Write Now Newsletter was born. In 2006, I went to graduate school to study writing. In 2008, I completed a book manuscript and began sending it to agents.

In other years, my New Year’s decision has been more simple. I’ve chosen to add more time to my writing schedule or adopted a new attitude about my writing. This year I’m joining a group of other Goddard College M.F.A. graduates to study writing informally on-line.

What will you do with the new year? Will you surf over to the recently updated on-going writing groups, and choose one to attend? Will you finish that short story you started in 2004? Or will you move your entire family across the country to study writing?

Whatever you choose, I’d love to hear about it. Feel free to post a response by clicking on the word “comments” at the bottom of the article.

Happy 2009 everyone, and happy writing.

(c)Nita Sweeney, 2009, all rights reserved

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“I believe more in the scissors than I do
in the pencil.” – Truman Capote

National Novel Writing Month 2008 (NaNoWriMo) ended November 30 leaving me with 66,103 words of a novel which I now must expand and revise. It seems there are as many methods of revision as there are novelists. Some writers make only a single pass through, but a very thorough one. Others revise draft after draft. How do you handle it?

For my first NaNoWriMo in 2004, I simply did writing practice in response to prompts which I had created. My only parameters were that the topic had to relate to golf or my father. I wound up with 50,000 words worth of little essays. No plot. No consistency. I spent the next four years completing it.

I began the revision process by simply printing out all the pieces. I double spaced them, 3-hole punched them, and put them in a three-ring binder in chronological order. Unfortunately this chronology spanned my entire life and reached back into my father’s as well. I took this binder to a coffeehouse and spent three days reading it all the way through. I tried to figure out which pieces were workable the way they were (very few), which bits needed to be chucked (many) and which parts might work with revision (some).

Next, I stepped waaaaay back from the individual written pages to think about the whole story structure. I stepped so far back that I wound up in grad school to study plot and characterization and other aspects of craft. I looked at what and where the climax would be and the different turning points that would lead the characters to the climax. I figured out the story’s timeline and the overall shape of the thing. I chopped the NaNo book into pieces again and, according to where I thought they fit in the timeline and story arc, I rearranged them using tools like yWriter and index cards and lots of weird outline type things to actually move the ideas and the huge wads of text around. I found holes the size of small countries so I spent tons of time writing new scenes to fill them.

Once I felt I had all the pieces in all the right places, I went through and polished, polished, polished correcting grammar and punctuation, tightening the dialogue, and checking for unnecessary repetition of words. When I was through, I had probably read every word in that book four or five times. I wish I could say it was perfect, but every time I pick it up, I can still find a place to tighten and polish, revise and correct.

I would love to hear from folks who have tackled revising a book-length work. How did you approach the revision process? How many passes through do you make? What tools do you use?

For those of you who have a draft to revise, good luck! May the rest of you have one soon.

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How Do You Begin?

“I always do the first line well, but I have trouble doing the others.” – Moliere, from The Ridiculous Precieuses

My quest to fall in love with a new book project has made me think about how I stumbled upon the idea for my last one. I’ve been in an on-line writing practice group since July 1997. On October 24, 2004, I wrote the following opening lines on the topic, “This is What I Know:”

Normal people would have rallied around a bottle of Jack Daniels or resigned themselves to a lifetime of platinum drips to prolong the inevitable. But we were not normal people. My father was not a normal man.

When I reread the full 10-minute piece, I knew it had the makings of a book. Dad’s death. My depression. Our golf. Three topics intertwined. Even though it wouldn’t be a novel, I signed up for National Novel Writing Month (aka NaNoWriMo) and used the month-long structure to pull the material out of me. During November 2004, I wrote 50,000 words about my father and golf. Each day I pulled up a memory and wrote 2,000 words not stopping to figure out how the pieces went together. Of that original writing practice, not one complete sentence remains in the book, but it gave me the doorway into the project. That’s what I’m looking for again – an opening.

Now I have two projects, a novel and a memoir, vying for my attention. I alternate working on them. For the novel, I look forward to NaNoWriMo again this November. With the memoir, I’m using the free novel-writing software yWriter. I hadn’t discovered yWriter when I began the last book, but it proved exceedingly helpful to plot the NaNoWriMo mess after I’d written it. This time I’m attempting to plot both books before I begin the writing. I find this awkward. There may indeed be two types of writers: those who plot before they write and those who plot after. Ignoring the strong possibility that I might be an after-the-fact plotter, I’m creating chapters and scene descriptions, trying to make something vaguely resembling a three-act play.

I don’t have a complete answer to the question, “How do you begin?” So I’d love to hear your input. Please let me know how you begin a writing project. I imagine there are as many methods as there are writers.

(c)Nita Sweeney, 2008, all rights reserved

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“Blank pages inspire me with terror.” – Margaret Atwood

After listening to me whine, a friend decided to give me a copy of Seven Steps on the Writer’s Path: The Journey from Frustration to Fulfillment by Nancy Pickard and Lynn Lott. The authors – a writer and a psychologist – found a patten to the writer’s angst. My friend quickly diagnosed me. I’m at a stopping point on one project, but not ready to launch into something new. “It’s just unhappiness,” she said cheerfully. “That’s the first step on the writer’s path. You’re just circling back to the beginning.”

Unhappiness, huh? This is not news and yet it is somehow helpful. It has a name. Other writers have survived it. I’ve completed my MFA and am shopping my book to agents. I want to push the pen across the page in some meaningful way, but little comes. This is unhappiness.

Unfortunately, my friend has been unable to put her hands on another copy of the book. While I wait for her to locate one, I’ve asked everyone else what they would do. One author suggested giving myself some space. Sit in a café for three hours and just write for ten minutes. Don’t work on anything in particular. Let your mind wander and let something float up. Another recommended writing from the type of writing prompts which call up two stories at the same time. Things like: From where I sat, I could see what they were chasing. My husband, a more practical sort than most of my writer friends, suggested taking care of the things I put off when I was in school – little things like getting new glasses.

I’ll take these excellent suggestions. Next week perhaps. In the meantime I’m taking long walks with the dog and trying not to feel as if the floor has fallen out from under me now that I don’t have an advisor giving me feedback or deadlines requiring me to send 40 pages out every three weeks. I secretly hope an agent will appear in my future to say my book needs tons of work so I can launch myself on it again.

But just in case I locate a copy of the Seven Steps on the Writer’s Path, I’ll go ahead and get new glasses.

(c)Nita Sweeney, 2008, all rights reserved

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