Transforming Writing Vices into Virtues

Last weekend I went to a writer’s conference and had my first manuscript critique done by a professional editor.

I’ve read plenty of blogs and industry news about this scenario. You know, the usual what to expect, how to handle negative feedback, etc. No matter how much I “prepared” myself though, I still didn’t expect to feel the hurt.

And oh man, did it hurt.

It was like a bad breakup – I was yearning to continue the conversation, replaying the incident in my head, left with more questions than answers. Second guessing everything, from storyline to main characters to my own personal motives. And like most breakups, going back and talking it through just wasn’t a possibility.

The editor’s feedback had struck an emotional chord, uncovering faults I had relied on so much to tell my story yet didn’t realize they were lurking in every sentence. Incorporating her suggestions meant facing my worst writing vices, a challenge I didn’t think I was strong enough to take on. But something needed to change or my story wouldn’t come to life the way I’d always meant it to.

On the last day of the conference, surrounded by my creative peers with unique struggles of their own yet all working towards the same dream, I felt something. I felt hope. I felt inspired. I felt thankful. I felt these things because I was going to leave that conference knowing exactly where the next phase of my journey would start. What hurdles I would encounter, and the skills I needed to overcome them. That editor wasn’t a foe, they were a mentor. Good mentors don’t just hand you the solutions to the problems, they provide you the tools to fix them and achieve the results yourself. They teach you the hard way, because the easy way isn’t fulfilling.

Moving forward would feel shitty and uncomfortable and absolutely terrifying. But in order to understand my voice and improve my craft, it’s a painful necessity. I would need to take my most addictive writing vices and transform them into virtues.

To arm myself for the road ahead, I wrote down three commitments I pledged to fulfill within the next year and cast them into a fire, watching my doubt turn to ashes with them:

1. I commit to learning more/getting to know my characters on an intimate level. Who are they?
2. I commit to working on my voice and showing, not telling my story.
3. I commit to bringing the heart of my story and the myths it’s built upon alive throughout the novel, really showcasing its uniqueness within the genre.

When I walked outside and smelt the burning wood, I felt my commitments in the fresh air, released into the world with the millions of other dreams that float with the wind.

I encourage you to stay strong. Reflect on your own development. Confront the negative and turn it into an opportunity for positivity and growth. Take an intelligent risk. Write down three ways you are going to change your life for the better and throw those commitments into the fire, sparking the way for your journey in 2015.

fireplace-by-krazy79

A Day in London

I’m lucky enough to get to travel internationally for work. This last trip to London left me staring at concrete walls for most of the time, but after my assignment concluded I was left with one day to really explore the city.

They say the best part of any experience are the relationships that either build or begin because of it. So naturally, the best part of this trip was reconnecting with two of my great friends that moved to the UK a year and a half ago. Without them, my day in London wouldn’t be nearly as cool. So David, Tim, thanks for showing me the city like a local. This post’s for you :)

London very much has that old world feeling. Everywhere you go there’s a story to tell. As you walk down the cobblestone streets you can almost hear the click clack of horse carriages trot by. It’s so easy to transport yourself back in time or into the thick of a high fantasy novel while you’re exploring this land of history. It’s a place where the old, the new, the real, and the imaginary merge.

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This day starts with the new. My lovely hosts took me to Caravan Kings Cross, a fantastic brunch spot in you guessed it, Kings Cross. The restaurant itself sits in an old concrete building that was once used to house and sell grain. Today it feeds hungry Londoners and houses art school residents in the flats upstairs. Now, I’m not here to describe my food in iambic pentameter and post zoomed in shots of my runny eggs. But I will tell you the baked eggs and avocado toast were amazing, the coffee is fresh and roasted onsite, and the service is friendly and prompt. To summarize, a great way to kick off the day and catch up with old friends.

From there we walked along the Regent’s Canal, video games, dragons, and Harry Potter among the topics of conversation. The windy, uneven pathway eventually led us to the old Camden market. What were once stables in a previous life, the original architecture still stands and has been transformed into a massive outdoor market. The horses have since moved out but left their stalls for future habitation, where local artisans have set up shop selling trinkets, apparel, snacks, and libations.

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I have to stop here – this is what I love about London. Instead of knocking everything down they keep the history of the building alive and restore the exterior, while turning the interior into something that reflects the modern time. You can walk past any old brick building and it’s probably had 5 previous lives, starting as a millinery shop and ending as a pet hotel.

Anyway, a couple things you can’t miss while exploring Camden Market. One, the Dutch pancake station. Oh my these were the most decadent, angelic confections I have ever had. Tip: Ask for extra Nutella. Two, visit Cyberdog. It is the loudest, most stimulating, most electric store I have ever been in. Really, there’s nothing like it. What drew me in was the two story neon green Transformer out front, paired with the go-go dancers and deafening electronic music. Three, find a bar with live music. Camden is known for their underground music scene and is where a lot of famous musicians got their start.

There was only one request I had that day, and it was at some point to trek back to where the magic started. To where a young boy, just shy of 12 years old, boarded a train that took him to a fantastical world that changed his life. To where a young California girl once dreamed of going, once she received her Hogwarts acceptance letter in the mail. You may not be able to board the Hogwarts Express, but Platform 9 3/4 is a place that actually exists.

From Camden we took one of London’s famous double decker red’s back to the imaginary, Platform 9 3/4 at Kings Cross Station. I’ll admit, a bit of the magic was stolen when I saw the queue of fans snaked between stantions and the incorrect location of Harry’s shopping cart, but I was excited nonetheless. This was a place where the cast had actually stood, a hall where JK Rowling once walked when her ideas were barely words on paper, and a physical setting to the ultimate fantasy.

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We stepped out of this imaginary world, where we played rambunctious Hogwarts students amongst a station full of muggles, and back into reality. Unfortunately, the real is never as fun as the strange, but I like to think we make the best of it. On a high from a day of adventure, we walked along the River Thames, stopping at local pubs for glasses of mulled wine, past major landmarks like the London Eye and the Globe Theatre, not really having a destination in sight. We were never in a rush to get anywhere. We just took in the architecture, the sounds, the smells, and enjoyed every minute of it. We had a quick dinner at a taco truck along the South Bank Walk, played in the fake snow at the Christmas market, and wandered into the bustling high street of Chinatown. We concluded our evening at the ECC (Experimental Cocktail Club), where Sherlock Holmes himself could have frequented. Located in an unassuming building tucked between Dim Sum restaurants, if you’re not looking for this cocktail lounge you will miss it. Inside is dimly lit and decorated with vintage furniture, where they serve cocktails in medicine bottles with a side of speakeasy. If you like mixology, I highly recommend this place.

Traveling is a passion of mine and it’s where I turn for inspiration. If you love London as much as I do, I’d love to hear your experience there and suggestions for my next visit. And remember, “wherever you go, go with all your heart” – Confucius.

Y’all Gonna Make Me Lose My Mind

Up in here, up in here.

But seriously. Writing, editing, reviewing…. it’s a never-ending process. When do you really throw your hands up and say ‘I’m done’?

I’ve received a lot of advice from published authors that the best thing to do is get it all out there and worry about the revisions later, but that’s just not how I roll. I’m a perfectionist, so if my sentences aren’t 100% I can’t move forward. I literally can’t focus on what’s next if I don’t love what’s in front me. But at some point I need to take a step back and look at things holistically. Spending 20 minutes debating if a sentence should end with a question or an exclamation mark just isn’t worth the time.

I need to hunker down and focus on revising what’s most important for the flow of my story.

Those things that need a-fixing:
1) Incorporate the influence of water (it has to do with my plot)
2) Eliminate unnecessary characters (this has been tearful)
3) Divide the giant chapters into smaller chapters (seriously… some of these look like college essays)
4) Don’t over share, sprinkle facts throughout (these readers need some suspense up in here)
5) Delete unnecessary words, tighten sentences (get it right, get it tight)

It’s time to think big picture. Focus on these five buckets, understand there will always be little things that I could/could not change, and in the end love my story for what it is. Trying to perfect every little tidbit is like trying to fix someone’s unique flaws, which end up actually being their most endearing characteristics.

What Not to Do Around Literary Agents: Gape, Gasp and Guffaw

Being in the same room with six literary agents is an anomaly. No, being in the same room with six literary agents that want to hear from YOU, now that’s an anomaly.

And I was lucky enough to be one of the few that spent the day talking, learning, and creating with them.

They say don’t judge a book by its cover, and I think that’s totally true. But, I have to admit my initial speculations were that agents were scary. They’re the ones that deny, deny, deny. They’re the one’s that tell you your book sucks. They’re the ones that rip your favorite scene, you know that one you worked hours and hours on, to pieces.

When I actually came face to face with the men/women behind these hopeless actions, my perception changed.

They don’t have dragon tails, claws, and breathe fire (unless provoked). They’re like you. They’re like me. And you know what they want more than anything in the world? For us to succeed.

The author-agent relationship is one built on tough love. They don’t scold you for your run-on sentences and lack of visual description because seeing you fail makes them feel warm and fuzzy inside. In fact, it’s just the opposite. They tell you these things to make you a stronger person and ultimately a better writer.

So I guess the message of this post is be bold. Be brave. Don’t let one rejection get in the way of your future of writing. Take these hits as lessons to improve your craft, and you will get better. Agents want to believe in the magic of your story, they’re just waiting for you to cast the right spell.

Traveling for Inspiration

I never really understood how necessary it was to see the world and explore other cultures.

But then again, I’d never been to another country.

My recent trip to Europe inspired me more than I could have ever imagined.

The falling ruins of the Colosseum,

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the arching steel of the Eiffel Tower,

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the aqua waters of the Mediterranean,

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the history in everything you see.

And you don’t just see with your eyes. You touch with your fingers, you taste with your mouth, you smell with your nose. The history and the myths are buried everywhere, in the air, in the food, in the cobblestone streets.

People talk of the beauty of these countries, but it’s a whole different thing to experience it yourself.

It transforms you.

My outlook on life has changed. The way I perceive others has changed. The way I perceive myself has changed.

If I could give one piece of advice, it’s get out there.

Explore, learn, teach, experience.

Inspiration is around every corner, just waiting to pique your interest.

Traveling is hard work. At times terrifying. Hectic. Confusing. Tiring. Uncomfortable. Expensive.

But don’t be scared, because the experiences are unforgettable.

Be that awkward tourist on the street corner with the map held in front of your face. Make the social gaffe to drink Limoncello before dinner. Run through the halls of the Bologna Station because you went to the wrong platform to catch your train.

Most importantly, live in the moment.

Tell me about your travels, I’d love to hear your experiences and what’s inspired you during your journey’s :)

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Using the Myths to Guide You

When walking past Barnes and Noble the other day, I noticed a flyer for an upcoming author’s panel and book signing. I like to attend local events in my hood, and when there’s something posted that has the words ‘myth, magic, and madness’, you can bet I’m all over that.

I awkwardly stumbled into the bookstore’s conference room, not really aware of the RSVP policy, but was able to secure a seat anyway. It was there I met authors Kathie Fong Yoneda and Pamela Jaye Smith, otherwise known as my fiction fairy godmothers. Not only did they provide me with invaluable writing information and storytelling techniques, they also opened up a portal to an aspect of fiction writing I’ve been eager to learn about; and that was using ancient myths as the background or basis of your story.

This may be old news to a lot of you, but for me it was like a breath of fresh air. I knew I always wanted to create a relationship between my story and some particular ancient tales of time, but I never knew the right etiquette to go about doing so. Would it be considered plagiarism for referring to these artistic monuments? Was there some unspoken rule about incorporating them into more current works of art? It was encouraging to hear other fiction authors not only approving this route but recommending it, and it instantly brought back that fire that had dwindled down in the past few months. Yoneda and Smith stressed these stories were written to interpret them in your own way, and it’s up to you to mold them and make it your own.

I read and write to leave the mundane instances of everyday life and transport to another world. The impact a good book can have on someone is priceless, and it is these types of moments I wish to create. Intertwining these myths only makes your story more believable, as if the magic could manifest outside your window.

Do you like to use ancient myths and stories to guide your writing? Shape your characters or setting? And if so, is there any particular one that has had made more of an impact on your work than others?