nano… achieved

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So today I validated my word count, and woo hoo I have indeed reached the 50k milestone and then some!

But I’m not done yet. As tempted as I am to kick back and call it a year (and believe me, I am very tempted), I’m gonna keep going this month. Just… at a much more relaxed pace. After all, I’m planning to attend a buddy’s end-of-nano event, and I’m told there will once again be bacon chocolate chip cookies! So, it was a good nano. I’ve gotten a lot done on a new book. Is it the book I want to be working on right this moment? Of course not. I’m still eyeing to finish with my previous one. But this is a book that I’d have to write, anyway, no matter how things go with the other one.

Which, by the way, I feel a lot less worried about. I’ve revised some mid-term goals, and I’m sorta liking them at first glance. After finishing my synopsis and sending out my queries to the agents I’m looking at, I plan to return to a very old story I first worked on as a child. The goal with that one? Self-publishing! I’ve long been opposed to the idea of self-publishing my own work, and I do still fully intend to take this book (this nano one, too, when I finish it) down the traditional route. But I really do enjoy the possibility of promoting this new, self-pubbed story idea. Like I said, it’s a concept I first developed in my tweens, and I’d like to try giving this the adult-me treatment and see what happens.

It can’t hurt, right?

On another, completely unrelated topic, I’ve decided to dip my toe back into an area of life I left behind a couple years ago. WoW. (For the noobs out there, that’s short for World of Warcraft. I know what you’re thinking. What a time sink, right? It can be, sure. But I remember getting a lot of happiness out of that. The people I met online I still keep in contact with (as much I keep in contact with anyone), and I think I’m in a much better place now as a writer than I’ve ever been. Obviously, I’ll have to keep an eye on my WoW investment to make sure it doesn’t overshadow anything else (like my writing).

I’m also excited to possibly, potentially, probably be working with my friend Stephanie on her latest literary project. I’d share the details, but it’s her property, so I’ll let her decide whether to disclose that info on her blog. Suffice to say, it’s an idea I really love and something I think has a ton of potential both in terms of novels and cinema, so I’m gonna do my best to help her get that going.

Obviously, Thanksgiving is approaching. We don’t know yet what we’re going to do as a family, my mother and I. There’s talk of volunteering at a soup kitchen, an experience I haven’t done since I was a teenager. It was a great time, though, serving the needy and hearing their stories. Now if we could just figure out where one is here in the suburbs, that would be great. 🙂

To those of you who celebrate the holiday, I wish you a happy Thanksgiving. To those who simply enjoy Black Friday, good luck! I am planning on participating myself–for the very first time. I think, judging by the stories we hear and see in the news, it’s an experience a writer ought to have. 🙂

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where are you going?

So I know this week I’m supposed to keep talking about writing a synopsis, but something else has come up that demanded my immediate focus. (Also, I have temporarily misplaced my notes on synopses, so I need to find those before I can go on with that.)

I’ve met a lot of writers. In writer’s groups, in film school, in creative writing elective courses. A lot of them were really terrible. Most were average, not too bad, not too great. Some were very  good, and a few were truly excellent. Aside from film school, however, almost all of them considered writing a hobby, a secondary interest. And that’s their choice. Writing is typically a personal affair, even if you’re writing for an audience. Writing most often comes from the heart–or maybe the deepest recesses of the psyche. Whichever way you look at it, few people write content that’s truly impersonal.

So, of course it’s the writer’s business what he or she does with their work. Although I consider it a terrible loss if you’re a fantastic writer and you decide that being a “writer” really isn’t for you. And yeah, I know that may offend. Sorry.

Do you know why you’re writing? Do you want to be a writer? Or is this a hobby? I’m not going to comment on the validity of either. I have been in both places. (Though I think, subconsciously, I have always wanted to be a professional writer.) In film school, we all knew we were chasing careers in the industry. (Nobody dished out that much money just because they thought it would be cool.) In writer’s groups, critique groups, and even conferences, it’s a little less certain. The soccer mom juggling work with home might really plan to be the next J.K. Rowling, and the college student might just want to explore a new avenue of self-expression. It’s impossible to tell what anyone’s plans are.

I was part of a fantastic online group of writers. We had so much fun creating content together, helping each other here and there with this and that. A time came, though, when I decided that writing was the only thing I ever wanted to do. No other kind of job would ever be acceptable, so I started pulling away from the group. I just didn’t have the time to write for fun anymore. Some of my buddies understood this. Some didn’t. I lost my best friend because we couldn’t see eye to eye on priorities, and I still consider it a great tragedy that she chose to continue writing strictly “for fun” when we both knew she wanted to turn writing into a career.

I’m fortunate to be in a great writer’s group now. And I’m even more fortunate to realize that most, if not all, of those writers want to be published. We write for fun, yes, but that is not the endgame. So when it comes to things like query letters, synopses, and shopping for agents, we’re all still speaking the same language. At the same time, these topics have become a true litmus test for determining how serious other writers are–or even how serious they take the entire concept of being a professional writer.

It is not easy, making the transition from hobby to career goal. In anything, not just writing. I understand. But I think it’s important to know where you’re going as a writer. Making that decision has informed everything I’ve done since then. I’m sweating away at my synopsis, one of the most detestable tasks I’ve ever undertaken as a writer. My brain is screaming at me to work on another story, a new manuscript, an old screenplay that’s been lying around, polish the current manuscript, anything except the synopsis. But I won’t allow it. I can’t. I wrote this story with a purpose: to get it published. It wasn’t just for fun, though it was fun–and horrible. It wasn’t to prove something to myself, it wasn’t to reach some sort of catharsis. No, I wrote this great behemoth to get it published. I cast aside months, years of socializing with friends and family, I left behind relationships, I spent money all toward achieving that one goal.

So why do you write? How has that knowledge affected your journey? Are you happy? I’d like to know.

the synopsis: the final frontier

For us writers, that is.

To those of you thinking about publishing, maybe you know or maybe you don’t, it’s not as simple as sending your manuscript off to a publisher with a letter introducing yourself. But it’s pretty close. 🙂

Query letter, synopsis (usually 1-2 pages), and a manuscript. Three things a fiction writer (non-fiction is different) needs before contacting an agent or publisher. It took me months of writing and re-writing and a lot of feedback from other writer friends to finally develop a query letter that I feel is compelling and polished enough to use. Is it perfect? Of course not, and I don’t think it can be the first time out. But I’ve decided that I’ve done as much as I can with my query letter, and it’s time to see what it can do.

I thought I was done. Until I started researching fantasy lit agents (my manuscript is fantasy) and realized that 99% of them want a synopsis. I had written synopses before, in film school. We don’t call them that, though. We refer to them as treatments or outlines or beat sheets. Unfortunately, treatments are usually too long and outlines are too dry to meet the criteria for a great synopsis. So I went back to research, and I thought I would share the most important, seemingly universal pieces of advice that I’ve found on what a synopsis actually looks like on the page.

First, about the formatting: a synopsis is either single-spaced or double-spaced, although most agents seem to want one that’s double-spaced. It doesn’t really affect the length of the synopsis word-wise, though, since a synopsis should be somewhere between 500 and 1000 words regardless of how you space. It seems, then, that the question of spacing was more relevant when letters and synopses were printed out and mailed. Although it seems to be strongly suggested that if you are going to single-space your synopsis, separate each paragraph with a blank line, sort of how your query letter looks.

Second, use the standard font type and size. This will most often be 12-point font Times New Roman. There really is no need to use any other, but if you do use a different font, use one that has a serif. Also, use one-inch margins on all sides. This won’t really be noticeable when you paste it in your email along with your query letter, so I presume it’s to make sure your synopsis isn’t too long (again, 1 or 2 pages). Indenting each paragraph is recommended.

Write the synopsis in present tense (is, not was) and in the third-person (he/she, not I)–even if your manuscript is in the first-person. I found this surprising, but this is how we write things in the film industry. Scripts, treatments, and outlines are all written in present tense, third-person. The reasoning for this is that it adds a sense of urgency to the reading experience.

I know none of this really has much to do with the actual content or style of your synopsis. As I’m reviewing my notes, I suddenly realize just how much I need to communicate about this. I’m definitely going to have to add another post. Maybe more.

I can’t emphasize the importance of your synopsis enough–if the agent/publisher you’re looking at requests one. The synopsis will often be the only representation of your voice and skill as a writer that the agent reads–even more so than your query letter. While some may ask for the first ten, twenty, or thirty pages–or the first few chapters–of your manuscript, your synopsis will impact their expectations and perception first.

So will this take time? Absolutely. Weeks? Probably. Months? Possibly. Years? No. 🙂

But is it worth it? Oh yes.

paying your dues

You’ve heard the expression. But do you always know what it means?

It’s usually pretty obvious. Don’t expect to start at the top. Everybody starts at the bottom. This is common wisdom my mom has repeated to me more times than I care to admit. She most frequently brings it up when we talk about me finding a really good job. And I guess, for a lot of jobs, this is true and fully to be expected. It’s unreasonable to hope to be hired on as the VP of… whatever. Oh, there are exceptions, of course. There are always exceptions.

And there are jobs that this sort of thinking doesn’t necessarily apply. Like mine, for example. I admit, there’s no real trick to becoming a published writer or produced screenwriter (actually, I think there are some secrets that help with the latter), and I’m not talking about achieving Rowling, Patterson, or King success. There doesn’t seem to be any particular process to follow. A writer writes, then endeavors to sell said writing, then (hopefully) sells it, and umm… gets paid. 🙂

It’s not an especially complicated, climb-the-corporate-ladder sort of career. To be a published writer. (The publishing industry is a little different, of course, and that’s for another time.) For a while now… weeks, months, (years?), I’ve been sort of marching in place in between steps. Writing? Done. Try to sell it? Umm… not… so… much… yet. But I know what to do next, and the only thing in my way right now is me.

But I also want to work in film. That’s my ultimate goal. And that’s much trickier. There are many ways in. Most, however, involve the concept of paying your dues. Hoping to be hired as a director for a multi-million dollar feature film your first time out is not something you should count on. Even hoping to be hired as a director for a no-budget indie is a stretch–though more realistic. But that doesn’t mean you can’t do it for yourself. Work for yourself, as my mom puts it. Produce your own film. Raise the money yourself–or with a partner or team or whatever. Maybe even direct it, if you’re the best choice. Many of my film school classmates have gone on to do just that. One in particular, Joshua Overbay, recently completed work on a film titled As It Is in Heaven (not to be confused with the 2004 Swedish film of the same name), and by all accounts it’s very impressive. How did he achieve this? Undoubtedly, a ridiculous amount of hard work and perseverance. Another classmate has just launched a web series called Movie Night, and while I haven’t yet seen it, I hope and expect it to be extremely entertaining. There are others, and it both encourages me and fills me with just a teensy bit of film-envy. And impatience. (Like why can’t I do that? Well, I probably could if I set my mind to it.)

It’s no small task to set out to do something like that. And even in a way, it does involve paying your dues. But not in the way I’m used to thinking of it. To me, paying your dues just means to prepare yourself for the long haul. This will not happen quickly, and it will not be easy. It may not even be all that “fun” sometimes. And maybe that’s what it means, ultimately, to pay your dues. Get ready to work hard.

over the hump

Part of me wonders if this should’ve gone along with my thoughts about fear, because I suspect it has a lot to do with fear. And perfection. And the fear of not creating something perfect.

Btw, I ended up sort of taking a break from writing. Instead, I’ve been stressing about writing.

We all want to write our best, and we want people to read our best. We want it to be perfect. (At least I do.) Maybe for pride, maybe for self-respect, I think maybe to convince us that all the hell we went through taking our story from beginning to end was worth it. Why else spend weeks/months/years toiling over something?

I’m having some trouble pulling the trigger on my book. The reasons appear to be valid, and yet… I wonder if there are always going to be reasons. I mentioned my problem to a friend. She took some time and helped me work through it. I feel a lot better.

Now I just need to do my research for an agent/publisher. It’s deceptively complicated. In some ways, it’s as simple as visiting writersmarket.com (if you have a subscription), querytracker.net, or agentquery.com and finding someone that’s looking for what you’ve written. But I think it’s more involved than just spamming your search results with a query letter. Over the last couple months, I attended a few seminars on the various stages of writing and publishing. Some of the success stories were too unlikely to model my own pursuit after, but I did gleam some wisdom from them. Finding an agent is like finding a significant other. It’s a committed relationship you’re looking for, built on the trust that the other person wants what’s best for you and will strive to help you achieve your dreams. So you could try to speed-date your way to a successful match. Or you could be more deliberate and reach out to those you feel might really understand what it is you’ve written and what you hope to do with it. Last year I sent out two query letters. They both met with standard rejections. Before I tried, I was worried how I’d react to a rejection. Well. I was fine, and I got the proof I needed to realize I will be okay if/when I get rejected again. That fear is over.

There are a lot of websites describing the incredible perseverance of many popular, critically-acclaimed writers to make their first sell. Go look them up. It’s crazy, but I find it encouraging. Don’t give up, right? That’s the moral of the story there. The writer that gives up never gets published, produced, or representation. For those of us who’ve gotten as far as finishing a book/script, we soon realize that that was the easy part. Selling it is the hard part. The research, the query, the waiting, the rejection. Sometimes even hearing that someone else we know achieved success. (I’m not bitter, honest.) You know, the whole “always a bridesmaid, never a bride” thing.

It’s really tempting for me to set all that aside and just start working on the next book. My brain definitely wants to go to that creative well again, dive in, swim around… you get the metaphor. And if I hadn’t decided to get really serious about making this my career, that would be fine. But doing that won’t help me keep moving forward. My screenwriting partner likes to give me a lot of grief for, what he believes to be, wasting time on trying to get published. He much prefers I focus on scripts, and I can understand where he’s coming from. But as long as I’m actually pushing myself forward, as long as I’m querying agents, I’m never going to see this as a waste of time. When I stop trying, when I go back to doing manuscripts just “for fun,” that’s when I’ll realize it’s time to let go and get back to scriptwriting. And since I’m not there yet, I really need to put my money where my mouth is. I need to get cracking on agent research. I need to send out those query letters, pronto.

So wish me luck. The goal? Have an update on this by next time. 🙂