Tuesday, March 29, 2016

LET'S GET SOMETHING STARTED

post by Lynn

What are you trying to get started this week?

Me, I’m trying to get some work done on the poems, stories and essays I’m editing for a Recovery Anthology.

I'm trying to whip out a blog post.

I'm trying not to lose sight of several essays that need another go-round of revision.

Oh, and I’d really love to have a flash of insight to spark some completely new writing.

That’s all.

I’m trying to do all the pieces that make up my writing life. And I could use a little inspiration, because my energy has fizzled.

I just can’t seem to get started, on anything.

So I turn to my mentors--those writers and creative folks who have marched through this kind of fog before, many times. I reach for their wisdom and find…

JUST WRITE
What I try to do is write. I may write for two weeks, “the cat sat on the mat, that is that, not a rat,” you know. And it might be just the most boring and awful stuff. But I try. When I’m writing, I write. And then it’s as if the muse is convinced that I’m serious and says, “Okay. Okay. I’ll come.” 
 - Maya Angelou 

Yeah, Maya’s right. Start anywhere and go somewhere.

The key part is to have patience.

The hard part is to have patience.





DON’T GET AHEAD OF YOURSELF
Convince yourself that you are working in clay, not marble, on paper, not eternal bronze; let that first sentence be as stupid as it wishes. No one will rush out and print it as it stands. 
 - Jacques Barzun 
A memory surfaces, of my friend Debra. She is in the delivery room, holding her newborn daughter, Lily. Debra looks up at me, and instead of the look of love and bliss I was expecting, I see panic.

“What?” I ask, thinking there is some horrible news from the doctor.

“What if...” Debra can barely get the words out. “Oh, my God, Lynn. What if she wants to get a tattoo?”

We all tend to get ahead of ourselves sometimes. As writers we imagine the response (or lack thereof) from readers. We wonder how to publish and promote. We design in our minds the book covers that will entice the reader to pull our book from the shelf. All that is important. All that comes later, after we write and revise.

The trick is to stay right here, right now, with one project, one sentence, one word even.


TRUST THE PROCESS
Ideas will set each other off like firecrackers in a bunch. It is simply a matter of somehow igniting the first of them. From then on, things take care of themselves.  
- Richard Armour 
I know this to be true. Over and over, I’ve started with a single phrase, written it down on paper, and watched as it gathered its friends. Pretty soon, there’s a party going on.



WRITE, RIGHT NOW
The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.  
- Walt Disney 
You’re right, Walt. I’m going to quit talking and get to work.

But hey--first I get to cross “write blog post” off my list!


What about you? What are you trying to get started?


Tuesday, March 22, 2016

How to Pitch to an Agent or Editor

The Wyoming Writers Inc. conference, coming up in June, offers the opportunity to pitch your work to agents and editors. We invited Tiffany Schofield, who will attend the conference virtually via Skype, to offer a few tips.

Tiffany Schofield
Guest post by Tiffany Schofield
Senior Editor, Five Star Publishing (Cengage)

To pitch, or not to pitch…that should never be the question! Always embrace the opportunity to pitch to an editor!

As Senior Editor of Five Star Publishing, I’ve attended various conferences over the past five years. The highlight at each conference has undoubtedly been the pitch sessions between authors and editors. The format for these sessions have varied depending on the conference. Some conferences offer round table discussions with an editor/agent, some offer a 15 minute one-on-one pitch session, and others might offer a short, five minute session, sometimes referred to as speed-dating for authors and editors. Also, with today’s technology, video conference sessions are also an effective presentation opportunity.

No matter the session style, I hope these topics below will help prepare you for a home run in your pitch session. Batters up!

Know your sub-genre and word count.
I can’t tell you the number of times I have sat with an author for a pitch session and they were not completely sure of their story’s genre or its length by word count. 

Most great fiction stories contain several genre themes such as mystery, romance, suspense, and others. However, you should carefully consider your story and narrow down your genre elements to the strongest theme. Is your story dependent upon a crime or mystery that needs to be solved? Then, it’s probably a mystery. Does your story have a few mysteries along the way, but focuses mainly on the budding or struggling romance and how the characters handle that relationship? Then your story is probably a romance. Perhaps your story is equal parts mystery and romance and therefore would be considered a romantic suspense. 

Word counts are important to most editors because they have specific publishing spots to fill with predetermined expectations for novel length to fit their publishing needs. Page numbers aren’t as helpful because page counts easily change depending on the font size you select. Be sure you have examined your project closely for its genre and word count before going into a pitch session so you’ll be ready to hit a homerun.

Tiffany (center) with James Crownover and Sherry Monahan
at the Western Writers of America conference where James
received two Spur Awards for his debut novel he pitched to
Five Star at a conference.
Have your elevator pitch ready.
Think of your pitch session much like a television or internet advertisement. If those ads don’t catch the attention of a viewer in the first 15 seconds, they’ll be eagerly reaching for that "skip ad" button. This will happen to you in a pitch session as well, if you try to present a book report instead of a catchy hook for your project. Plan ahead to create a gripping and concise explanation for your story that can be presented in 30 seconds or less. Include what makes your story stand out above others, perhaps a real person or event from history that your story is based on. 

Above all else, be sure to include what type of reader would be interested in your story with recognizable industry names (for example, “my story is great for fans of Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove or Mary Doria Russell’s Doc). This gives the editor an immediate feel for your story’s genre style and/or possibilities within their own publishing program and shows them that you have a firm understanding of other writers in your genre style. After you have established your elevator pitch, then you can delve into some of the particular points/themes of your story.

Carpe diem, (or instead, Carpe conjicio)! Seize the pitch!
No matter the style or length of the session that you’ll be participating in, it’s always a good idea to have your own list of questions to ask an editor. At some sessions, your pitch may be completed before your allotted time is up, or perhaps you’ll find that the editor isn’t actually looking for a project in your specific genre style or story length. You can still make the most of your time! Take advantage of this excellent opportunity to ask an editor specific questions about their publishing programs, publishing industry trends, do they think there are certain genres that are format-sensitive in the market, tips for working on your pitch, or what they do to support their writers with promotional endeavors during the publishing process.

What might an editor ask you during a pitch session?
Some common questions editors might ask you during a pitch session—
  • Who are your favorite authors?
  • Are you working on any other projects?
  • What was your inspiration for this story? 
  • Do you belong to any writing organizations (local or national)?
  • What kind of writer are you?
Now, this last question is not a trick question to lead you into answering "a bestselling writer," but instead, offers a broad perspective on you and your stories. Are your stories character-driven? What kinds of themes do you like to explore in your stories? At what speed do you complete stories? Do you write multiple stories in different genres, or do you like to write mainly in one genre style and take your time meticulously researching items for your story while writing.

Mode of delivery
Lastly, it is always important to ask for clarity on how an editor likes to receive a submission. Most editors prefer electronic submissions, but others may still prefer hard copy submissions. Some might want a full manuscript, others only a partial submission. The best thing to remember is to ask each editor their specific requirements for submission. With busy schedules, editors can easily lose track of submissions if they are not received in the required format and process.

I hope this information has been useful and has you gearing up for the perfect pitch at the Wyoming Writers Conference. I hope you’ll be able to knock it out of the park!

Tiffany Schofield, Senior Editor, joined Five Star Publishing (Cengage) in 1999. Five Star has published many Spur finalists and winners, was the Lariat Award winner in 2013 and named Best Western History Book Publisher (2015) by True West Magazine in 2015. Five Star is looking for various subgenres of frontier fiction stories that are set in the pre-1920s American West. For submission guidelines, email FiveStar@cengage.com.

The Wyoming Writers, Inc. conference will be held this year in Riverton at the Wind River Hotel and Casino from June 3-5. Tiffany will be accepting pitches at the Wyoming Writers, Inc. conference via Skype. Agent Elizabeth Wales and publisher Louella Turner will be there in person. Learn more about them at www.wyowriters.org/conference-faculty. If you are signed up for the conference, you may email vicepresident@wyowriters.org to schedule a pitch session with one of them.



Tuesday, March 15, 2016

WRITING FROM THE INSIDE OUT

guest post by Chris Ellsworth


photo by Katie Juare
Chris lives with his family and horse friends along the Dry Fork of Little Powder River north of Gillette, Wyoming. He travels from coast to coast helping horses teach their people a thing or two and often writes about it.

In my life as a teacher of horsemanship I often urge people to, “feel what your horse feels, see what he sees,” and to, “ride that horse from the inside out.” I believe the only way to fully connect to the spirit and passion of Equus is to be so present in the moment that you feel the dirt crunching beneath your hooves.

So it is with writing; to bring out the whole story, every turn of it and every yearning emotion that longs to come forth, you must write it from the inside out.

The story is already there, every word waiting for a pen. It does not need us to tell it; it just needs to borrow a voice so it can be heard. That is our part as writers, we are to loan our voices so the story can speak for itself. We shouldn’t interrupt or talk over the top of it; rather, we should seek to relay its plain truth.

And to really write it well, one must have courage enough to go wherever a story goes, not worrying about how it will end or how it will be taken. When we alter a story and try to make it say what we want it to say, we will begin to lose the thread. It will wander and wither. Much like a horse, if you keep the reins too tight the spirit will wane.

To let a story speak for itself we as writers must first throw ourselves right into the middle of it. We should learn it so well that it becomes part of our consciousness. If a story smells like dust and grit rising up and sticking to our sweaty pores, that’s what we should smell—it should make us itch.

So let go of how you think something should feel and just feel how it really feels. Experience it; let it unfold however it will. That is what your imagination is for, to put your life where your body is not.

Working with horses has taught me that they all, from the gentlest to the wild and thundering, have a lesson for us. So does every story, whether it’s fiction or nonfiction. They all come to us for a reason. I’ve seen it so often that I no longer question it.

Write whatever comes to you. With all due respect to the old axiom that you should write about what you know about, I’d say that perhaps you need the story as much as it needs you, that the hard work involved in writing it properly—the questioning, the research, editing and revisions required to get it just right—are meant to show you something, something you should know, something you can then share with your readers.

I believe this so strongly that I’d never discourage anyone from writing whatever they are drawn to, just as I rarely tell someone they should find a different horse. Instead I encourage both writers and riders to put the hard work in, to keep polishing, refining and understanding. Eventually they will glean the lesson that waits inside.

Winston Churchill famously said, “The outside of a horse is good for the inside of a man.” I would humbly add that the inside of a horse—or a story—is even better.



Lynn chimes in...

At a Wyoming Writers, Inc. conference a few years back, I was one of those last-on-the-list writers during Open Mic night. There weren't more than five people in the room when Chris Ellsworth got up to read an excerpt from his novel-in-progress. I instantly went from slumped in my seat to on the edge of it.

"You guys missed it," I told my friends the next morning. "This guy can write!"

Chris, humble as ever, left a few things out of his bio...

He's a horseman, first and foremost. Formerly a "shy cowboy who preferred not to speak," Chris now leads clinics all over the country. He also gives private lessons and takes in a few horses for training. You can learn more about his clinics (as well as a boatload about horses) by visiting his website:
http://www.chrisellsworthhorsemanship.com/

Chris writes equine related nonfiction and long fiction, and oh--he forgot to mention that he is currently Vice President of Wyoming Writers, Inc.

If you want a sample of Chris's clear-eyed, insightful and sensory style, click on the blog link on his website.

"Blog," my foot--he's got a whole damn book on there, with 14 chapters. Slash Twenty tells the ongoing story of Lynx, a one-eyed horse that was delivered into Chris's capable hands. I was hooked after reading the first paragraph, and I haven't been on a horse since I was twelve.

Chris is a self-confessed workaholic who says he will "make himself available to talk horses for as long as anyone would like to stay."

I'm just grateful he agreed to talk writing with us for a little bit.



Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Stay in the Moment. I said STAY!

by Susan

I critiqued a lovely poem the other day. The one thing I found myself wanting was for the author to linger longer on the most powerful moments. I wanted a deeper picture of that point in time.

Stop, I wanted to tell the author. Let me stay with that feeling. Don't rush by it. This is the punch to the gut you want to deliver. Swing through -- don't just jab.

In his book, Writing Life Stories, Bill Roorbach talks about "cracking open" a scene in creative nonfiction: "look for a sentence (or even a phrase) of voice-over or other exposition that condenses or skims over or rushes past a possible scene." Build it into scene, he says.

So how can you slow it down?
First, stop and smell the roses. Look at their color. Note how the thorns prick your fingers. Listen to the insects chirping in the garden. Not sure you'd want to chew on any petals, so taste might be a stretch, but there are those rose hips to pluck and bite in the fall. Why yes, I am talking about the five senses. They're a good checklist any time you want to flesh out a scene. Don't forget action, either. He didn't just walk across the room; he kicked a teddy bear out of the way, set his coffee cup on the piano and exhaled a long sigh.

Where are YOU?
Our writing group worked with Colorado writer John Calderazzo for a time (he'll be at the Wyoming Writers, Inc. conference in June). His challenge to me was always, "Where are YOU in this scene." He never let me off the hook. Where are you or your character in the scene emotionally? Sometimes, leaving the personal emotion out is mere oversight. Sometimes it is discomfort or even fear. Either way, I need to be aware of what I am (not) doing.

Of course, do as I say...
... not as I do. I'm notorious for not following my own advice. You know what they say about free advice: worth every penny. I am sure I will blitz right by the moment unless I remind myself not to. That's one of the great things about critiquing. I see that sawdust in your eye and become more aware of the plank sticking out of mine.


How about you? How do you stay in those powerful moments when you write?



Tuesday, March 1, 2016

BE WARNED: SIDE EFFECTS OF A WRITING LIFE

post by Lynn 

Nausea, loss of appetite, mood swings, drowsiness, dry mouth, bloating, insomnia, blurred vision, difficulty urinating, skin rash, increased sweating, dizziness, weight gain or loss, increased sensitivity to light, constipation…

Does anybody else yell “Hell, no!” at the TV when pharmaceutical ads intone the lists of “possible, but normally rare” side effects?

Well, I’m here to tell you that the writing life comes with its own side effects. Ten years into it, I’m finding that there are a whole lot of ways that creative writing has affected me.

YOU MAY EXPERIENCE… 


#1 Hot and cold flashes 


I am frequently incapacitated when it comes to judging the quality of my own writing. One day I think the words I have put on the page are hot stuff, the next day (or even hour) they are January-in-Wyoming cold. Same writing, different reactions.

I wish I had some kind of magic thermometer that would tell me the true temperature of my essays, stories and poems.

#2 Disruption of daily life 


Listening to music used to be a pretty calm thing for me, something I did with no particular agenda. Now I’ll hear a song and add it to the imaginary soundtrack of my story (after it gets turned into a movie, of course). Or I’ll hear a fiery rock song and think Hey, I should listen to this when I’m working on that story I started—it’s just the mood I’m trying to create.

Or I’ll be washing the dishes and suddenly rip off the rubber gloves and sprint to my notebook to jot down something like an observation about a character (she has a thing about symmetry and is always straightening the pictures on other peoples’ walls) or a random image (the dog-hair dust bunnies whooshed from their hiding place under the chair).

#3 Increased sensitivity to the written word 


My bookshelves have started to sag, and the default answer to the question, “What do you want for your birthday?” has become “a gift card from Barnes & Noble, please.”

I join the herd at the annual used book sale and just about trample the poor folks at the front. (Why do they have to be so slow?!)

“Reading for pleasure” is forever altered. I can still get lost in a story, but I just can’t keep my brain from registering things like Point of View (is it third person, limited? Or omniscient?) and Theme (is it fear of death? Or the folly of pride?) I pause often to swoon over an especially vivid image or take note of a well-executed flashback.

I seize up at misspellings and bad grammar on the internet. My texts are ridiculously proper. I ruminate on dialogue tags, wondering to use or not to use. Or should I employ “said” only? Or is an occasional “asked” okay?

#4 Increased appetite for the narrative arc 


I catch myself breaking the episodes of my day into scenes and mentally rearranging them for maximum impact. 

After Payton Manning’s triumphant return to the field during the Denver--Pittsburgh game, I turned to my nephew and said, “If the Broncos end up going to the Super Bowl, that’s gonna create a great return-from-exile narrative!”

#5 Insatiable thirst for solitude 




When life gets full of people, noise and activity, my creativity becomes dehydrated. The only treatment that seems to correct the condition is for me to spend time alone, at home or in nature. No reading, internet, music, or movies allowed. Even a few hours of quiet and solitude can plump up my creativity and get the words flowing again.

#6 Unprecedented growth 


When I decided to create a writing life for myself, I selected the motto, “Learning to write and writing to learn.” Boy howdy. I’ve learned a lot, especially about myself.

What really motivates me to write, for example. Surprisingly, publishing is not at the top of that list, which I assumed it would be. Not that I don’t enjoy seeing my essays, poems and stories in print.

But the biggest rush so far? When a guy in an online class told me my essay, “Naamu” helped him better understand why his wife likes to sit and chat at the end of the day. The idea that my writing impacted another human being in that way was intoxicating.

Writing has changed me and sometimes that process is uncomfortable, like when it exposes my biases and minces my pride. I’m never as good as I want to be, or as quick to produce as I wished. Disappointment and rejection are frequent visitors, and I’ve had to learn to write around their interruptions.

I take solace from the words of author and writing teacher, Heather Sellers, who said, “Growth isn’t usually comfortable, which is why it’s called growth and not napping.”

If you are just starting out on the writing journey, be warned. You may experience these, or completely different, side effects--but some side effects are inevitable.

And if you’ve been writing for a while, I’d love to hear:

What side effects have resulted from your writing life?