Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Goal, Motivation, Conflict!

For months now I've been struggling with the first chapter of my completed novel. I just couldn't seem to nail those open pages. I kept writing new first chapters and not understanding why they weren't working.

Then, my friend Suzanne took a look at the book. She took the time to write out what she thought the Goal, Motivation and Conflict was for each of my characters. It was an aha moment. First, I couldn't get the first chapter right because I was starting the book in the wrong place. Second no one loved one of my characters like I did because his goal, motivations and conflict were not apparent.

The concept of thinking about each character and what their internal and external goals are, why and what's keeping them from achieving them wasn't new to me. However, it was the first time I'd really applied it to a finished story to see what worked and what didn't.

Thank goodness for critique partners! I'm going to have this book in shape by early December to enter in the RWA Golden Heart and to send to the two agents and one editor who have requested it.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Whatever you're pitching... you can make sure it gets caught!

I adore the rush of speaking in front of groups. I love sharing, meeting new people, teaching and learning. I'm the kind of extrovert who jumps up on stage and feels nothing but excitement, not a bit of nervousness.

But when I have the opportunity to pitch an agent or editor my books, my stomach churns and my tongue goes numb. There is something about laying out the story you've nurtured and loved for judgement face-to-face that makes my blood run cold. Luckily, I have great friends who helped me learn how to pitch. While I don't have an editor or an agent yet, I've never pitched and not gotten a request and that's something! Not everyone reading this is interested in pitching agents and editors, but these hold true for any pitch you have to make in your life: pitching an idea to a decision-maker, pitching yourself for a scholarship or a job or pitching something you've created for launch into the universe.

1. Write a first draft, then throw it away
It's a great idea to get your thoughts in order. Write an outline, a script or just a few random thoughts on paper. Don't type it. Studies show that you retain information better when you write long hand. Write, read what you've written out loud at least six times. Then put that piece of paper away and commit the concept to memory, not the exact words. No one wants to talk to a robot. If you're going to make a sale, you've got to use the power of story and genuine belief in your material to do it. That comes from your heart, not just your head.

2. Practice for a positive hat and a negative hat
Once you've committed your story to your heart and your mind, find two friends. Ask the first to wear a positive hat and the second to wear a negative hat. By giving someone permission, actually asking them to find negative things, you will learn what you can improve and at the same time it won't hurt your feelings, because you are asking them to find something wrong no matter what. Knowing that the person is working hard to find something wrong, you get to decide if its something you want to change or not. But you get the valuable feedback you need to get better. Your positive person will build the confidence you need to remember you can and will do this.

3. Remember a human being sits in front of you, not an alien
Take a moment to introduce yourself. Find common ground. When you remember the person sitting in front of you is just another normal human, it takes the nerves away. It also helps them to feel comfortable with you, which is important for building a positive relationship.

4. Be the super hero you already are
Don't doubt yourself. You've got this. You can do it. Research shows that if you stand for five minutes with your shoulders squared and your hands on your hips, super-style, you will feel more confident. Give it a try before you pitch. It just might help!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Letting the music do the rest...

When I was a freshman in high school I lived my life for my music. The top ten hits that year were:
1. Hold On, Wilson Phillips
2. It Must Have Been Love, Roxette
3. Nothing Compares 2 U, Sinéad O'Connor
4. Poison , Bell Biv Devoe
5. Vogue, Madonna
6. Vision of Love, Mariah Carey
7. Another Day In Paradise, Phil Collins
8. Hold On, En Vogue
9. Cradle of Love, Billy Idol
10. Blaze of Glory, Jon Bon Jovi

There were three things I knew with 100% certainty. First, Jon Bon Jovi would eventually realize that I was the love of his life. Second, Roxette knew me, really knew me, like no one else (she clearly sang It Must Have Been Love for me alone). Lastly, Madonna was the best dressed human on earth. Everything else, from boys to school work was a little less clear to me. I spent so many hours alone in my room, listening to music. I didn't just listen to chart toppers, either. I liked the Pursuit of Happiness and their under-appreciated sudo-hit "Shave Your Legs", which I understand way more at 38 than I ever did at 14.

The book I'm writing right now has a music theme and I'm trying to relive those magic moments when a song didn't take me back to a memory, but compelled me forward to a hope. A time when life was a series of "what-it's," terrifying and tantalizing at the same time. A time when I had so many feelings I didn't know what to do with that it seemed like music was the only was to siphon them off and into the world.

My character is way more connected to music than me because she can actually create it. I spent years writing poetry for lyrics, but my complete lack of musical ability slowed my song writing way down. She has the ultimate way to get her energy out and in the universe. All I have to do is let her unfold on the page. I just have to keep track of that too-young, want-it-all, drowning-until-something-makes-it-all-better feeling and let the music do the rest.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Yes, I want to compete in the middle school Power of the Pen competition. Is that so wrong?

For the last two years I've had the opportunity to see first hand the power of the Power of the Pen writing competition. My daughter has officially graduated from middle school and can no longer compete, but I find myself strangely drawn to it. I think one of my new goals is to become famous enough to be a "celebrity" judge at one of these competitions. Why?

1. Power of the Pen puts creative writing at the forefront and gives talented young writers a place to shine. Sure, the judges' taste is sometimes not aligned with what you might write, but you get to go and spend a whole morning putting pen to paper and bringing your own world to life. Nothing like that existed when I was in middle school.

2. Some of the prompts are just so fascinating to explore. Too often we go into writing with a plan for what we will do and we languish trying to put words on the page. In Power of the Pen you get a prompt like: Alien Invasion or Walking Too Fast and you just have to go with it. For forty-minutes you write. I call that freeing and delightful.

3. Sometimes you win and sometimes you don't. Not every story is going to sell, but some of them shine through. Power of the Pen offers a ready audience and free critiques. Every comment you get from a judge is something many authors would pay good money to get their hands on. Sure, some of it is pollydoodle and should be ignored, but writing takes a tough skin and Power of the Pen helps you see that some people will love what you write and some won't. The important thing is that you keeping writing. For you. And nobody else.

I wish I had a machine to make me middle school aged just long enough to compete in this competition. On balance, grown up life is way better than middle school life (there's hope my friends!) but this one thing is a perk of being under fourteen. I say take it and run! When you do, send me your stories!