Inspiration

First, have any of you seen/noticed the changes around here? Yes, there is a new header, yes, some of the font is blue. I did do that on purpose. Whether it looks good or not remains to be seen I suppose. I also updated the Scribblings page and About Me page (that is a not so subtle hint for you to go look at them).

By the way, if you know how to link your instagram page to your blog, I would love to know. I have worked on it for hours, and followed all the directions, and it still isn’t working! So you will just have to take my word for it that I have instagram.

You know what question I dread the most when I talk about my writing? It is not when I am going to finish my novel, though I dislike that one too. It is not why I am writing.

Where do you get your story ideas?

Cue lots of blinking.

I’m sorry, what now?

I am pretty sure I know I get asked. Some authors have these beautiful stories about why they started writing a particular novel, and where they drew their inspiration from. I love hearing those stories, I hate telling them.

Because mine go something like this.

“Well, I was thinking about something random and then got this phrase in my head. This phrase had a, well, a feeling behind it. I felt what was going on, but it was all a little fuzzy. And then I sat down, picked up a pen, and sort of… Figured it out.”

Real inspiring.

I heard once, or read once, that writers are collage artists. We take bits of ideas and thoughts from everywhere and paste them into our story. Cue me nodding with wide eyes and wondering how the person knew what was going on in my head.

My ideas don’t come from one thing, they come from everywhere. Something someone says, a movie I watched, they swirl around in my brain until it turns into a smoothie. Sometimes a good smoothie, sometimes a nasty orange and green one. (looking at you weird story idea)

Often, I don’t know where I got the idea from. I just know that it appeared one day in my head. And never fully formed. I have never figured out a story from start to finish all at once. Usually, I get the beginning, and then have to start writing to figure out the end.

I wish I was one of those writers who can see the plot laid out before them before they even write one word. I have to go diligently searching for it with pen and ink.

The other reason why I don’t particularly like that question (though I will admit to asking it, sorry) is because I have so many story ideas. I am not kidding. I have notebooks full of nothing by story ideas. None of them are finished, some of them have characters, some of them have a plot, but none of them have everything. They all sit there, whispering bits of their story to me every time I look at them. Do I sound crazy? Probably. Being crazy is an occupational hazard in my line of work.

So where do I get my inspiration from? The long answer is listed above, but the short answer is I have no idea.

Shaina Merrick

Academic Writing vs. Fiction Writing.

Here recently I decided to take a series of college level online classes. Because why not. One of those ended up being English Composition I. Otherwise known as the ‘can I tear my hair out right now’ class.

I spend much of my time in the realm of words. I have a blog, I have an instagram page, I write stories, I journal. Between all of those things one would think that I would know how to write, or at least how to get my thoughts organized.

Yeah right.

Turns out that academic writing, or the infamous essay, is completely different from fictional writing (go figure). It is also different from my usual off the cuff blogging.

For one thing, there is no POV in academic writing. All of it is impersonal and if you ever say ‘you’ in the essay, you are doomed. It is considered unprofessional. In all honesty it is unprofessional, but is professionalism what I am going for in my blog posts? Only sometimes. Anyway, the point is there is no point of view. There are no characters, no plot, no tension to speak of. Unless of course it is an argumentative essay, and then the writer is bringing allll the tension to the table. *cacklesmadly*

I may or may not be writing about an extremely controversial topic for my essay. This is going to be fun.

Also, academic writing is so very, very, structured. Eheh. Yes, in fiction writing there is some structure. A plot is structure, and grammar, and punctuation. But here is the thing, I can break all of those rules in fiction, any time I want. And if I do it well enough, no one is going to care, or perhaps even notice. (looking at you Alexander Dumas)

In academic writing on the other hand, everyone is going to notice. Grammar or convention rules must be followed at all costs. Essays have a specific structure, so do paragraphs, so do sentences. There is enough structure in one 800 word essay to satisfy any outlining soul.

Can I die now? Rebellious writer over here, I find out what the rules are so I can break them.

However, in getting a crash course on paragraphs and essays (I promise did learn all of it in high school, I just promptly forgot it), was like learning to walk again. As I fussed over the way my paragraphs were lined up, it made sense why they were the way they were. There is something in my little brain that loves the organization inherent to academic writing. There is not much writers block, because you already know how things are supposed to be written, and laid out. I had an outline, and I followed it. It made certain things much, much easier.

I have a feeling what I am learning about academic writing will bleed into fiction writing as well. After all, those rules have been around for so long because they work. There is something aesthetically pleasing in having a well laid out essay. And when the paragraph works, there is not so much brain bending to be able to understand what the person is saying. Or trying to say.

So yes, academic writing is completely foreign to fiction writing. All the impersonal structure does not align itself well with good story writing. But writing it does help me to align my thoughts in an organized fashion, one that makes sense to other people besides myself.

Shaina Merrick

Pitching, the hardest thing you will ever do.

I am attending the Virtual Realm Makers conference this year. Cue the confetti!! It is really exciting and it will be so awesome to attend all those classes and one of my favorite authors is speaking and… Oh yeah, I signed up for a pitch. *internal scream*

So I have never done one before. Ever. I barely even knew what a pitch was before this. I mean, it is just talking about your book to someone else, right? Not!

Have you ever written a resume? The ones where you are trying to convince the hiring manager that you are the perfect one for the job. Well, a pitch is, in its basic form, the same thing. You are trying to convince the editor or agent that your book is worth publishing. And the pitch is only the beginning. To complete you pitch, it is also a good idea to come up with a one sheet, a synopsis, one, or two, author bio’s (depending on who you ask), and to top it all off, a book proposal. I hate book proposals.

This is not something that was taught, or even mentioned, when I was learning about writing. None of the classes I ever went to discussed the book proposal. That is either because I didn’t go to the right ones, or because no one taught how to write the most important piece of writing you will ever do after your manuscript.

So now to give you a leg up, we are talking about writing a book proposal.

Step One: Like your Book

Are you excited about your book? I hope so, because you are trying to impart that enthusiasm to someone else. A someone who has the power to get your book into the hands of readers. If you aren’t excited about your book, they won’t be either.

Step Two: What is the plot?

This is one of the more important bits of your book proposals, you need to tell that agent/editor the entire plot. The synopsis. Sometime they will ask you for the short synopsis, which is generally what your pitch will be, and for an entire synopsis covering everything from the inciting incident to the conclusion. This is NOT the time to be saying, “But wait, spoilers!” You are spoiling the entire book for them. On purpose. The editor needs to know if you can stick the landing. Can you write a good beginning, middle, and ending? That is what your synopsis will tell them. So make sure all the important plot points are in the synopsis. Give them all of the tid bits that make your story interesting and unique.

Step Three: The author bio

I really struggle with this one. I can talk about my book all day long, but myself? Not so much. In its condensed form it is what would be on the back of a book. A short introduction of you. This is not the time to be cute and funny. Author bio’s are serious matters. The first impression the editor will have of you is that bio. So make sure it shines!

The long form includes your writing experience, any awards you may have won, any previous publishing experience, and why you wrote the book. That latter one may be included in a different spot so check the guidelines for each editor or agent you pitch to.

That is why I struggle with it so much. I don’t have much in the way of experience, and no awards to speak of. But that doesn’t mean I skip it all together or make a joke about it. Like I said earlier, this bio is serious, and so I treat it like I would any other resume. I say the bit I can, mostly about my blog, and that is all. If you are in the same boat as me, I give you the same advice. Do what you can, but don’t make up stuff. Also, it looks a little tacky if you talk about a writing award you got as a ten year old if you are an adult, so keep your experience relevant and fairly recent.

Step Four: Log Line

A log line is the very, very condensed version of your synopsis. A sentence is all it is. Two sentences at the very most. Think of it as the marketing line of your book. The one that goes first in the blurb on the back. This is the phrase that tells people what your story is about, and at the same time makes them want to read more. Sounds hard? You bet! One site I visited recommended writing 15 to 20 of them right off before even deciding which one was the best. No, I didn’t write that many, but I wrote quite a few! After I finally decided which one I wanted, I then refined it to make it as perfect as possible. This one is important, so do the work to make it good!

Step Five: Marketing

This is the part of the show where you tell the editors how you will help to market your book. The market is super saturated with books, if you couldn’t already tell, and the ‘build it and they will come’ mantra no longer works for books. Unfortunately. And while we may despise it, the hard truth is that the publishing companies will not do all the work to market our books. We have to take some of that into our own hands.

You will need to tell the editor what kind of platform you have, and how many followers you have. I did not say the exact number because 1) it is embarrassing and 2) it is changing all the time. So I just said it was small but growing.

It is also a really good idea to tell the editor what kind of contacts you have that you could exploit to get your book out there. (mwahaha…) I have lots of contacts inside the homeschool community, so I mentioned that. You can mention authors you know (as in know personally), business contacts you have, and things like that.

Do not. Do not! Give them your ideas on how to market your book. There are sites that recommend this, and I might be proven wrong, but other sites have said that that is what the marketing team is for. They probably have way better ideas than you have (unless you are amazing at marketing, and if you are, why are you trying to get published?). You are there to show them your platform. Not tell them how to do their job.

Step Six: Details

If your head isn’t already spinning, I commend you. Mine was when I researched all this! But I am not finished yet. Oh no. There is still more you must add in your book proposal!

These are all smaller details that you could have as one lines, or a small paragraph. Things like how many words and how many chapters are your book. Who you book is intended for. Is it middle grade, young adult, or adult? It is important to be specific, but not too small, because the editors are looking for how to market this book as they are reading it. If your intended audience is middle class extraterrestrial immigrants, it will be harder to market than a book for kids in elementary school.

You should also include other books that your book is similar too. Are you writing a book about talking animals? Consider citing Wind in the Willows as a similar book. However, avoid the urge to compare your book with classics, or best sellers. You don’t have the next Lord of the Rings. And when you say that it just sounds proud and pretentious.

When you are writing a book proposal, those are the main things you need to include in every single one. However, do your research. Different editors and agents want different things. One might want a full book proposal, another might want only a synopsis and a one sheet. A one sheet is a book proposal that has been cropped to one page. Don’t send editors pages and pages of things they don’t want! That is the fastest way to end up in the recycling bin.

Also, do not send your full manuscript. Send whatever chapters they want, and that is all. No one has time to sit and read a full manuscript they aren’t sure about. I’m sorry, I wish it wasn’t so, but it is.

As a quick reminder, a pitch is the quick synopsis of your book that is generally not beyond the first act. It is generally spoken directly to the agent or editor. It’s purpose is to pique interest and to promote excitement!

A synopsis is the full overview of a book. Try not to go over one page. It’s purpose is to prove that you can write an interesting plot from start to finish, and to help the editor understand your story.

A one sheet is a short book proposal. It’s purpose is to convince the editor to take your book.

A book proposal is to convince the editor or agent that you are serious about getting this book out there. It is a professional piece of writing that helps you to get your book signed by an agent or editor.

To all those who are jumping into the realm of pitching, good luck!

Shaina Merrick

The Precarious Balance of the Writing Life

Writing. A career path only for those who wish to feel guilty every moment of their life. Every moment of every day becomes a choice between writing, and not writing. If you aren’t writing, you feel guilty because you should be writing. If you are writing, you feel guilty because there is a whole family outside of your novel who could be talked with. Or an email to be sent, or another hobby to be practiced. But if you don’t write at this moment you won’t at all, and you worked an eight hour shift today dang it!

Yup. It kinda sucks.

On the one hand, we know that if we don’t write we will never get better. On the other hand, if we commit to writing for so many hours every day, won’t we become kinda, well, like a hermit? The stereotypical author who spends all of their days writing, and only ventures out into real life when their groceries run low. If they haven’t decided to get all their groceries shipped to them already.

And that was all before the internet. Now, we have Facebook, Instagram, blogs, and countless other ways to be ‘doing the job of writing’, without actually writing. Now there is one more thing to juggle, one more thing to feel guilty over.

And here I almost forgot the infamous day job that every writer slaves away at, all the while hoping to someday break free and only write. Never mind the fact that their day job is the one place they never feel guilty at. They have to be there, and that is that.

The thing is, I am not about to give you some momentous advice about how to balance it all and still keep yourself sane. This is something I am not good at. In fact, you could say I am tremendously, awfully bad at it. Even when I have a schedule.

But sometimes those who are so terrible at it that any step is a step in the right direction, have more to say than those who have done it perfectly their entire lives.

Like this momentous realization that was probably obvious to the rest of you.

Multitasking doesn’t work.

Ever.

I can’t write an interesting scene and write a blog post at the same time, or color and try to teach myself grammar. The best I can do is listen to very, very tame music and write a blog post. But even then I have to pause the music if I really want to concentrate. I realize that some of you are wizards of multitasking. I ain’t. So I keep the tabs low and the projects one at a time lest I overwhelm myself and get nothing done.

The other thing I realized after a long time of trying and failing is that I can’t get everything done in one day. It isn’t possible. Unless of course I decided not to sleep, or eat, or talk with anyone. But that isn’t a good idea (though don’t think I haven’t considered it.).

I have tried to do everything in one day. And at the end of the day I either had a finished to do list and no energy whatsoever to read or be nice, or I had a half completed to do list and loads of guilt to go along with it.

Well. I don’t like feeling guilty, and I also like being able to read. So I stopped trying to do it all. Most of the time.

It’s called a weekly schedule, and I am still trying to figure it out. Turns out they don’t write themselves, and writing down the things you did after you did them doesn’t work. Also, it doesn’t really count if you never look at it during the week.

I still have a long ways to go before I can properly consider myself good at scheduling my days.

Till then, I will muddle through and do my best to have my blog posts done on time.

Shaina Merrick

Since we are one the topic, got any advice for the scheduling writing? Things that worked for you? I’m telling ya, I need all the help I can get!