What’s the rush?

In the last post, I briefly addressed the dragging of feet that can go along with finishing your work or getting it out into the world. We cannot know if success will come quickly, after many years or not at all. All we can to is to try to be prepared and that means making the work and ourselves the best we can.

There’s another way to defeat yourself and that is rushing work out. NaNoWriMo can teach you to just write and write fast. Very fast. There’s huge benefit in that. Clean out the system, prove to yourself you can be far more productive than you imagined, discovering that your characters have things to say in scenes that may not make it to the next draft, but give you valuable information on who they are and so on.

Sometimes you need to slow down. Examine the work, your process…. That can mean slowing down to play with the story. Whether you write fast or slow, it is important to honor your own process once you land on it, but be aware it may change from piece to piece or book to book. What is important about not rushing is not rushing the work out into the world. We tend to believe we’ve written THE BEST BOOK IN THE WORLD as soon as it’s done. It takes perseverance to write over seventy thousand words for a novel. Talent aside, it’s a lot of work! You feel you should be rewarded – at least appreciated – and that’s fine, but don’t act on it, not until you’ve had more eyeballs on your manuscript. Reward yourself in other ways and take the time to make sure your work is ready to send out.

One of the best things you can do for yourself is to have at least one great mentor and to surround yourself with talented writers, preferably ones who will tell you the truth. And one or two non-writers as well. Ask a few people to read it before you start querying agents. This does not apply if you’re, say, Jonathan Safran Foer with Joyce Carol Oates as your advisor on your senior thesis. There are exceptions. Now back to real life!

Pay an editor to go through it and make sure it is free from errors and that it flows. Get both specific and global notes. Check the punctuation and do not rely on spell check. Look at the overall structure – do sequences make sense? Is there a strain of a theme that gets lost halfway through? I will give you an example. I had a very talented editor give me notes on WRESTLING ALLIGATORS. She pointed out that I made an allusion to the Daedalus-Icarus myth at the beginning that was then not explored in the rest of the text. It was a challenge, but in one of the subsequent passes (after I’d dealt with her other points), I spent a fair amount of time walking in the hills trying to come up with an answer and finally found it. It enriched the manuscript in a way I never expected and I would have not found it on my own. If I had rushed the manuscript out, that piece would have not been addressed and I would have missed the growth I experienced in that challenge. I really enjoyed solving the problem and discovering a way to solve it will benefit future work.

There are many things about the writing life that are challenging and one is the balance you have to strike between knowing when to go fast and when to slow down. Have you ever wish you’d taken more time before sending work out? Or do you have a triumph about taking your time?

don’t strikeout

Last weekend, I attended the New York Pitch Conference. Just so you all know, I was terrified beforehand and that was after years of putting myself in situations where I had to pitch! I (mostly) got over myself via Women in Film back when I was part of a production services business. They had monthly breakfasts and part of it was everyone in the room got up and gave a pitch about themselves and their project in less than a minute. Anyway, for a normally solitary writer, this was a stressful weekend even though it was a blast, so much so that as soon as I sat down on the plane home, I was asleep. (Had to explore NY in the eve, so didn’t get a lot of sleep either.)

The editors could not have been nicer and remember, they LOVE books. That was evident even in the passing mention of authors they’ve worked with or books in general. One of the great things about the conference is the first day is dedicated to helping you hone your pitch. There’s prep work ahead of time, so you come in at least somewhat prepared. Michael Neff was our workshop leader and organizer of the conference. He knows his stuff and everyone’s pitch was better by the second day. Additionally, we helped each other, trying out changes, brainstorming, and practicing (hey Oxford, not giving up the serial comma, so there!). Great group of people and I look forward to seeing all of their books in print. There were a lot of great ideas in that room, all very different.

There were 18 people in my group and we met with one editor as a group on Friday as a kind of warm-up. After that, there were three more editors in one-on-one meetings (plus our workshop leader to keep things on track), two meetings Saturday and the last on Sunday morning. The editors treated everyone the same, which I particularly appreciated. I’ve been at a writer’s conference where a known author gushed – and I mean gushed – over one writer’s pitch (which was a lot like known author’s books – surprise) to the point where no one wanted to talk after. She was polite but distant to everyone else and it was an uncomfortable experience.

So what about you? Wherever you are in the process, start now getting comfortable pitching your book. Can’t tell you how many midlist authors have said they had to sell several of their own books. I haven’t found another conference quite like the NY Pitch. The opportunity to pitch directly to acquisition editors is golden. It’s not only the person in the room – it’s also the other editors they know. If it’s not right for them and they exchange favors with friends, well, you never know. Other resources that complement the conference (or substitute if you can’t get there) are Lisa Cron’s class (which is sometimes online), she’s coming out with a book and there are other books specific to pitching. Pilar Alessandra has a section on pitching in hers. There’s a bunch of book pitches on YouTube, mostly from Pitchapalooza (not familiar with them). See what other people do and how they are critiqued.

Most of us as writers are far more comfortable in a room with pen and paper or laptop, but think about all those hours you put into your craft. It’s so worth it to do the next step, to do what it takes to get your book out there for readers to enjoy. As I told my friend from the Mailer workshop who needs to finish his book (you know who you are!), you never know who out there in the world needs your book. Books saved my life and I mean that literally.

Oh, nearly forgot to mention, after an adjustment to include a thumbnail sketch for each of my three major characters, editors requested Wrestling Alligators. Stay tuned.