Woman talking on a cell phone in a cafe

Overcoming Writer’s Block with Automatic Transcription

If you’re a writer — of books, essays, scripts, blog posts, whatever — you’re familiar with the phenomenon: the blank screen, a looming deadline, and a sinking feeling in your stomach. If you know that rumble all too well, this post is for you. Maybe it’ll help you get out of a rut; at the very least, it’s good for a few minutes of procrastination.

Have you ever thought of transcribing your writing thoughts, which means talking into an app on your phone while you’re out and about (i.e., NOT in front of a demanding larger screen), then running it through voice-recognition software that transcribes it into an actual document that you can edit, add to, take away from, etc., as you wish. The core idea behind it is that thinking out loud is often less arduous than writing. And it’s now easier than ever to combine the two, thanks to recent advances in speech recognition technology.

Woman talking on a cell phone in a cafe

What is Transcription, and How Could it Help You?

Of course, dictation is nothing new — and plenty of writers have taken advantage of it. Carl Sagan’s voluminous output was facilitated by his process of speaking into an audio recorder, to be transcribed later by an assistant (you can listen to some of his dictations in the Library of Congress!) And software like Dragon’s Naturally Speaking has offered automated transcription for people with the patience and budget to pursue it.

But it’s only in the last couple of years that automated transcription has reached a sweet spot  of convenience, affordability and accuracy that makes it practical to use  more casually. I discovered a software program called Descript recently, and am so excited about how this might make my book writing easier.

Here’s how my process worked as I started “writing” my sixth book, and how yours would go if you wanted to try it. Borrow what works for you and forget the rest — and let me know how it goes in the comments below!

Part I: Idea Extraction or Brain Burping

  • Pick a voice recorder. I’ve got an android phone, and I downloaded AudioRecorder, which was very easy to navigate.
  • Start talking. Try it with a topic you’ve been chewing on for weeks — or when an idea flits your head. Don’t overthink it. Just start blabbing.
  • Tug. The goal is to tug on as many threads as you come across, and to follow them as far as they go. These threads may lead to meandering tangents— and you may discover new ideas along the way. A lot of those new ideas will probably be embarrassingly bad. That’s fine. You’re already talking about the next thing! And unlike with text, your bad ideas aren’t staring you in the face.
  • Consider leaving comments to yourself as you go  ( e.g. “Maybe that’d work for the intro”). These will come in handy later.
  • Just talk. Press the big red record button.

 

When you’re done, hit the stop button. Swipe right to find the file of your audio recording under “Recordings.” Click on the three dots next to it, then “Share.” I emailed my file to myself, then downloaded the file to a folder where I’d be able to find it easily.

Part II: Transcription

Once you’ve finished recording, it’s time to harness ⚡️The Power of Technology⚡️

via GIPHY

  • Go to Descript.com. Click on the “Transcribe 30 minutes for free” button or, if you’re feeling adventurous, go ahead and sign up. Their prices start at 7 cents a minute or $10 a month. Sign in.
  • Click on “Add New” in the upper right-hand corner.
  • Click on “Upload,” find your file, and “Transcribe.”

 

The white words "Descript" on a navy blue backgroundDescript uses state-of-the-art machine learning to spit back a text transcript a few minutes later. That transcript won’t be perfect; the robots are currently in the ‘Write drunk’ phase of their careers. But for our purposes that’s fine: you just need it to be accurate enough that you can recognize your ideas.

Once you have your text transcript, your next step is up to you: maybe you’re exporting your transcript as a Word doc and revising from there. Maybe you’re firing up your voice recorder again to dictate a more polished take. Maybe only a few words in your audio journey are worth keeping — but that’s fine too. It probably didn’t cost you much (and good news: the price for this tech will continue to fall in the years ahead).

A Few More Tips

  • Use a recorder/app that you trust. Losing a recording is painful — and the anxiety of losing another can derail your most exciting creative moments (“I hope this recorder is working. Good, it is. Where was I?”)
  • Audio quality matters when it comes to automatic transcription. If your recording has a lot of background noise or you’re speaking far away from the mic, the accuracy is going to drop. Consider using earbuds so you can worry less about where you’re holding the recorder.
  • meadowy forest
    This is one of my happy places.

    Find a comfortable space. Eventually you may get used to having people overhear your musings, but it’s a lot easier to let your mind “go for a walk” when you’re comfortable in your environment.

  • Speaking of walking: why not go for a stroll? The pains of writing can have just as much to do with being stationary and hunched over. Walking gets your blood flowing — and your ideas too.

 

For getting those first crucial paragraphs down (and maybe a few keystone ideas to build towards), consider talking to yourself. 

Journal Writing Too?

I’ve kept journals since I was eight years old, and they’re really coming in handy now that I’m writing a semi-autobiographical fiction novel. I typically write in my journals at night after the kids have gone to bed, but find that I tend to keep my entries short because I’m so tired. Thus, I’m not creating very rich journal entries. Using Descript would make it easier for me to record my experiences and thoughts about my life. Have any of you ever done that?

Disclaimer: This post was based on an article article was originally published by Descript, and is a partnered but unpaid post.  All thoughts and opinions are my own. 

 

 

What Writers Say Is Hard About Writing, And Some Suggestions For Them

Recently, in a couple of writers’ groups in Facebook, I asked what some of the hardest parts of writing are. Mind you, I’m familiar with many of them, having been on my writer’s journey in earnest for five years now. But I wanted to capture common writing trials. This is so that I could present a few helpful suggestions to you, things I’ve found helpful or that other writers farther along in their journey have recommended to me. Writing, of all pursuits, is best done “organically,” I believe. We’re all better–and our books are better–when we help each other out.

So, in no particular order, I present to you:

Three Writing Trials and What To Do About Them

Writing Trial #1: Perfectionism

Rachel Virginia White, a member of the Storymakers Conference Facebook Tribe, says she struggles with “not focusing on making every single word perfect.” I struggle with this too; I want every word I write to be perfect even in the first draft. Unfortunately, I’ve learned that that’s unrealistic. Even Shannon Hale, one of my favorite authors, says that when she’s “writing a first draft [she’s] reminding [her]self that [she’s] simply shoveling sand into a box so that later [she] can build castles.”

Suggestion #1: Big Magic

To combat that trial, Whitney Owens Hemsath, a fellow Tribe member and an author featured in a flash fiction anthology, recommended Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic. “It speaks to perfectionism,” she says, “rekindling passion, finding joy and wonder in the creative pursuit of inspiration, when to publish in spite of mistakes, how to handle criticism, how to deal with burnout, the proper mental attitude to have towards your creative projects, etc. It was inspiring, yet realistically refreshing.” Kindle or hardback copies on Amazon sell for more than $14; I found a deal for $12. Also, you can get a used copy from Thriftbooks.com for $5.27.

Whitney also says: “Don’t compare your books to ones you’ve read that you think are great. Comparison is the thief of joy. Those books [that make you wish you could write like that]? They probably still have one-star reviews you could go read. You gotta write what feels authentic to you, what you would enjoy, and know that some will love it and some will hate it. Guaranteed. You have to write your best, not someone else’s best, or [the reader] can feel the lack of authenticity. And you have to write your current best, not the best version of your writing you hope to obtain in 20 years, or else you’ll never move on from a project and get to the 20-years-better version of you.” Good words, Whitney.

 

Writing Trial #2: Editing/Rewriting

For some, writing the first draft is the easy part. Jamie D. Greening, a member of the Great Thoughts Great Readers Facebook Group, says: “For me, the hardest part is editing.” Cleaning and improving the first draft, or even revisions after that, can be daunting, tedious, and confusing.

Luckily, there are a lot of resources to help writers in that process. Here, I name only a few that have helped me:

Solution #2: Read These Books

If you’re having trouble with plotting or structure, read Save the Cat, which I reviewed here. It will help you spot ways to simplify or restructure that you may not have thought of before. Also, Jack M. Bickman’s Scene and Structure provides a great explanation of why and how scenes and chapters (scenes and sequels) need to be  written so that the story flows effectively. It also provides a list of common errors in scenes and how to fix them. Thriftbooks has it for $5.11.

If you’re having trouble with your characters not feeling real enough, I recommend Orson Scott Card’s Characters & Viewpoint. I can’t tell you how many times it’s been recommended to me. You can get it on Thriftbooks for $7.27.

If you’re having trouble uniting a character’s growth with the things you want to have happen in your story, read Creating Character Arcs by K.M. Weiland. Almost every paragraph of my copy of that book is highlighted. You can get a Kindle copy on Amazon for $3.99, and the accompanying workbook for $1.99. That’s a steal!

Writing Trial #3: Sitting Down and Writing

Maybe you don’t struggle with writing or revising, but with just finding the time or motivation to sit down and write! This was the struggle cited by Marilynn Simon Rothstein, author of Lift and Separate and Husbands and Other Sharp Objects. Life can be a bit anti-writing at times.

Solution #3: Persistence

In those moments, I recommend A Writer’s Guide to Persistence by Jordan Rosenfeld. She says: “If your burning reason to write is because it makes you happy or releases the wild voices from your head or helps you analyze the world around you, you are exactly where you are supposed to be. You must learn to please yourself in the process of your practice or you will become vulnerable to discouragement, despair, and giving up” (p. 13). Amen. Thriftbooks has it for $4.35.

No matter where you’re at in your writer’s journey, or what questions you have, there is a book, tribe, or group to help you. Good luck!

Writerly Advice: Save the Cat…No Seriously: Save It!

If you’ve been writing  fiction for any length of time, you’ve probably heard about Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat series of books. They’re books that were originally written to help screenwriters improve their craft, but became quite popular among writers of many creative disciplines because they provide a very accurate, concise, and some would even say easy plot model. As you know, constructing a plot from nothing can be difficult. These books, especially the first one, provide a way to do so without inducing paralyzing anxiety. I dare say that they’re a necessity for every writer who wants to get published.

What’s In Save the Cat?

A tabby cat dangling from a rope, with the words "Save the Cat: the Last Book on Screenwriting That You'll Ever Need" above it.In Save the Cat: The Last Book on Screenwriting That You’ll Ever Need, Snyder describes 15 “beats” or benchmarks that every plot needs to have, no matter the medium it’s displayed in. Whether words or moving pictures are used to tell a story, it should always start with an opening image and progress through

  • Theme Stated
  • Set-up
  • Catalyst
  • Debate
  • Break Into Two
  • B Story
  • Fun and Games
  • Midpoint
  • Bad Guys Close In
  • All is Lost
  • Dark Night of the Soul
  • Break Into Three
  • Finale
  • Final Image

All of these benchmarks—aptly described in the book—should lend themselves towards showing the main character doing something, being proactive. This could mean saving a cat, going with Hagrid to Hogwarts and leaving a known life behind, or undergoing a makeover to become an undercover beauty queen. It’s the essence that defines who the hero is and makes the reader like him or her.

What’s the Deal?

On Amazon, a paperback copy is $16.05. If you go through Thriftbooks however, you can get it for $8.97! You have to get the paperback version so that you can mark it up and make notes. Mine has notes in most the margins and lines connecting paragraphs with other ones.

For that, you get not only wonderfully practical descriptions of each of those beats, but also:

  • the four elements of every winning logline
  • why your hero must serve your idea
  • how to use a plot board
  • how to get back on track with proven rules for plot repair
  • a checklist to see if your main character needs more “oomph.”

Who Would Like Save the Cat, And Why?

As mentioned, anyone who’s serious about writing The Greatest Book of All Time. It’s designed, Snyder says, primarily for writers who intend to pitch/query agents in  mainstream movie-making and publishing. I think that’s because it’s based on the premise that you’ll use one- to two-sentence descriptions of each of those beats to pitch to agents. Although there are many, many plot models out there—three-act structure, hero’s journey, dramatica, etc.—this is the one I’ve found to be the easiest and smoothest. It’s a compromise between totally outlining and just “pantsing” it: enough structure (and the right kind of it) to get your story started, but not so much that it overwhelms your creativity before you even start writing a book. It’s also very helpful in showing the main character proactively progressing through the book’s plot, not just reacting to various crises.

"Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer's Guide to Character Expression" over a pile of white word pieces with various emotions (i.e., "anger," "amusement") in big black letters on each tile.

Writerly Advice: Get and Use The Emotion Thesaurus

I don’t know about you other writers, but sometimes I’ve struggled to find different ways to show character’s emotions, rather than tell. I think it’s part of every writer’s journey to learn the difference between showing and telling (e.g., “she cried” vs. “she felt sad”) then think of the myriad ways in which emotion can be shown, and then  effectively show character emotions with voice and style. The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi, is definitely a book that has helped me on that journey, and I highly recommend it to anyone seriously looking to improve their writing abilities.

What Is The Emotion Thesaurus About?

From Amazon:

One of the biggest problem areas for writers is conveying a character’s emotions to the reader in a unique, compelling way. This book comes to the rescue by highlighting 75 emotions and listing the possible body language cues, thoughts, and visceral responses for each. Using its easy-to-navigate list format, readers can draw inspiration from character cues that range in intensity to match any emotional moment. The Emotion Thesaurus also tackles common emotion-related writing problems and provides methods to overcome them. This writing tool encourages writers to show, not tell emotion and is a creative brainstorming resource for any fiction project.

For each of 75 emotions, there is a definition and lists of physical signals, internal sensations, mental responses, cues of acute or long-term states of that emotion, cues of suppressed versions of that emotion, and tips. The lists of physical signals are usually the longest, which is very helpful, and the internal sensations shorter. As I’ve done more and more book research, talked to more and more people, and read more and more books, I’ve found myself adding to the list of internal sensations. For example, for the emotion of loneliness, Ackerman and Puglisi list these internal sensations (i.e., ways loneliness might physically manifest itself in someone, and how those physical manifestations might be interpreted):

  • a thickness in the throat signaling the onset of tears
  • a longing so intense it manifests itself as an ache or pain
  • insomnia
  • fatigue

As I wrote Stranger In My Own Head (#1 & #2), which is about a girl who wakes up amnesic, being shot at by her grandmother, and with a boy who helps her escape and says he’s her boyfriend, but who she has no recollection of whatsoever and who has a troubled past that keeps interfering with their attempts to get away, I felt like loneliness would be one of the many strong emotions she’d experience. She’s only ever able to talk to Lorne, the “boyfriend,” unsure if she should trust him, knowing she can’t trust her grandma, being an orphan, and wanting to find someone else to reach out to to feel safer. To that list of physical manifestations of loneliness, I added things like:

  • feels like she has a heavy brain
  • vacuous chest
  • heavy steps
  • lack of energy

It’s been very helpful, as have the other six thesauri that Ackerman and Puglisi have published: Emotion Amplifiers, The Negative Trait Thesaurus, The Positive Trait Thesaurus, The Rural Setting Thesaurus, The Emotional Wound Thesaurus, and The Urban Setting Thesaurus. I highly recommend them.

What’s The Deal?

The Kindle version of The Emotion Thesaurus is only $5.99, as opposed to $14.24 for the paperback version.

Who Would Like The Emotion Thesaurus, And Why?

As I’ve mentioned, all fiction writers can benefit from this book, no matter the genre they write in.  I know that’s pretty broad, but it’s the truth.  Anyone who wants to avoid telling, clichéd emotions, or melodrama needs it.

The words: "readers pick up a book to have an emotional experience," a quote from The Emotion Thesaurus, over a fuzzy background with the open pages of a book at the bottom, a girl running through an amber field of grass, and a setting sun.

 

fists over a desk joined in solidarity critique groups

Should You Join a Critique Group? By All Means, Yes! Here’s Why…

Any book or post on the craft of writing worth its salt will tell you to find a writers group to be a part of if you want to be a serious writer. Most recommend critique groups in particular, which are small groups of writers that read each other’s works and provide feedback in regular meetings either on- or off-line. When I was a novice writer, I spurned this advice, worried that others writers would either laugh at or steal my words. I have learned over the years, though, how truly helpful a critique group can be, and highly recommend them to other writers.

Indeed, Beth Revis, author of Across the Universe and one of my favorite writers, said, in her Paper Hearts Workbook: “Writing is often lonely, but revising rarely is; critique partners…can bring your work to the next level.” One wonders how? What is it about feedback from a group of strangers that can take your writing to the next level? Let me tell you why critique groups are such a good idea:

  • They can spot glaring inconsistencies and holes. What’s better, though, is to cultivate friendships with fellow writers that you’ve met in real life at least once, and get feedback from them. What’s ideal is to form a group of several writers in the genre you write in who are all friends. One of my critique groups has followed one of my books through a couple of revisions. They’re familiar with the story and want to help it and me reach our full potentials. No matter how many times you edit and revise your own work, critique group members will have a better, more removed perspective on your book, and, if they’re good critiquers, will be able to catch the vision you have for your book and help you envision specific techniques to use and ways to get there.
  • A critique group member will read your book bit-by-bit, chapter-by-chapter perhaps, until he or she has read the whole thing. If you’re in the process of writing or revising a book, this is wonderful and much preferable to having a beta reader read your whole manuscript once it’s done because critique group members can help you hone the conflict, develop your voice, and strengthen the plot as you write, which is better than having to scrap tens of thousands of sub-optimal work once you’re finished.
  • If you’re at the point where you want to set word-count or other goals, it makes a difference if you have someone to tell whether or not you reach those goals. They are accountability partners.
  • As with almost everything else, networking improves your chances of success.

My Critique Group Experience

I didn’t start looking for a good critique group until about a year and a half ago, even though I’ve been writing full-length fiction in earnest for five years and have three finished manuscripts under my belt. I joined a writers group four or five years ago, but it was hard to find a core group of writers that came consistently to the twice-monthly critique meetings and understood the tropes of my genre. Through that writers group, though, I learned of a local writers’ conference called Storymakers. I started attending that every year and joined its Facebook group, which is where I met the wonderful women who would become the members of what I call my “Highland critique group.” They’re now helping me go through Forced with a fine tooth comb, which I’m loving. That book was the first one I ever wrote. It’s been through six drafts, and queried 51 times. I was wondering if I should give up on it, but couldn’t quite let it go. I’d read similar published books and think “my book has elements of this” or chatted with agents on Twitter whose #manuscriptwishlist matched Forced almost exactly. It’s getting so much stronger as I go through it a sixth time with that group.

My other critique group, one that meets weekly on-line, is helping me tweak Stranger In My Own Head. I met them one of the members of that group in the writers group I joined years ago, and another at a recent conference I went to for writers of science fiction and fantasy, called Futurescapes.

Where Can You Find Good Critique Groups?

Chuck Sambochino of Writers’ Digest suggests:

  • Go where other writers go. Join a professional writing organization such as SCBWI.
  • Attend retreats and conferences.
  • Browse book festivals.
  • Hang out at bookstores.

 

To that I would add:

  • post a notice on the bulletin board or website of your local library
  • search for critique groups by genre or location in Facebook
  • search for critique groups by genre in Reddit

 

If you’re part of a critique group, how did you find it? What do you think about critique groups?

The Thorn Necklace: A Book and a Writing Journey

“Frida Kahlo had polio as a child,” said Francesca Lia Block in her book The Thorn Necklace, referring to the painter, “survived a horrific accident at eighteen that shattered her body and pierced her pelvis with an iron hand rail, and suffered through a number of resulting miscarriages. To add insult to injury, her husband…had an affair with her younger sister. But Frida produced hundreds of works of art…that elevate unbearable grief to shocking beauty. Some artists survive their pain, some do not. But all channel it into art.”

It is that channeling that Block refers to as the thorn necklace for which she names her book. Kahlo herself said: “my painting carries with it the message of pain,” and that pain is definitely evident in her painting Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird, which you can see here. To be an artist, to a certain extent, is to take the pain that life gives you and channel it into something beautiful, to show that something good can come from something bad.  I believe it’s also to don a painful mantle as well. In the painting, Kahlo wears a necklace made of thorns. It pricks her skin and makes her bleed. To produce true beauty–no matter the artistic form–one has to undergo a certain amount of “pain” at worst, or challenge at least. To create whole worlds from nothing, in the case of science fiction and fantasy literature, and structure them into cohesive and compelling plots populated with characters that feel real is no small task.

Block’s book is a memoir of sorts, describing the challenging life path she’s traversed and couching that in her thoughts on writing. “A way to help a reader to identify with a protagonist,” she says, “(and thereby gain more life-enhancing insight from the story) is to the show that character’s…flaws. Flaws…get a character into trouble, which satisfies the reader’s need for story.” She provides this before describing the flaws of some well-known book characters as well as some of her own flaws and those of her parents. That reminiscing passage, as well as many others woven throughout the book, is somewhat rambling. She calls it “excess exposition in memoir” which “comes from being engulfed in a tidal wave of vague memories that haven’t solidified into scenes yet, and, in turn, [results in] a passive character…who feels and thinks but doesn’t do much.” She sums up her book quite succinctly.

But  there are undeniable nuggets of wisdom interspersed among the rambling, excessive parts, nuggets that could be very useful for a writer, such as:

  • When you claim your creativity, when you say, “I am a writer,” it becomes a vital part of your identity. You’re not only braver on the page, you’re also braver in the rest of your life because you’re a change agent, a builder of new worlds.
  • When we write from our deepest longings, our stories have broader appeal.
  • In order to get in touch with your obsessions [and thus flavor your character’s], try making a list of anything that fascinates you. Be as specific and detailed as possible.
  • One of the biggest mistakes writers make is not having a clear story problem from the beginning (or sometimes at all).
  • [The antagonist] must be complex and dimensional, not a mustache-twirling caricature.
  • Setting should reflect character.
  • [Voice]…is one of the most difficult aspects of writing for many people and can take years of hard work to hone. But don’t give up! Once you have your voice, the rest is much easier. To develop your voice, read widely, write consistently, and live fully. A strong writing voice can connect us to others, and more deeply to ourselves.

Some of these nuggets I’ve heard before in other writing books and at writing conferences, so they weren’t necessarily unique, but the way they were phrased helped me see better how I could apply them in my writing life.

So, The Thorn Necklace, while rambling and repetitive, was also helpful and encouraging. I would recommend it to my writer friends.

 

Where I’ve Been: Futurescapes

Oh, it’s been a busy week! You guys, it was awesome! I just got back from Futurescapes, which is an awesome, intense workshop for science fiction and fantasy writers. Hosted at the Sundance Ski Resort in Utah’s Provo Canyon, it was three days of meeting in small groups with agents, publishing house editors, and published authors to get their critiques (and those of other group members) of a couple of my manuscripts. Since attendance at the conference was capped at about 60 to allow for close attention by the agents, editors, and authors, I had to submit a writing sample. And, once accepted, I had to pay a relatively large sum to go, but it was so worth it.

I was assigned to three separate groups of about eight people each, each group led by a different literary agent. My first group (go Group A!) was led by Seth Fishman, an agent with the Gernert Company. The members of that group reviewed the first ten pages of my book Stranger in My Own Head. While I had already had those pages (and more) critiqued and beta-read, and I’ve queried (i.e., sent a cover letter about and the first few pages of one of my books) and revised that book several times, I still haven’t received an offer of representation for it, and the feedback the group, and especially Seth, provided was invaluable. Until I send that manuscript out for critique and no one finds anything wrong with it, I’ll keep working on it until it gets published.

Seth’s the one in the gray sweater in the back.

 

Seth being crazy.

My group B, led by Thao Le, an agent with Sandra Dijkstra, reviewed my query letter for Stranger, and my group C, led by Martha Millard with Sterling Lord Literistic, critiqued my Stranger synopsis. All of those agents specialize in science fiction or fantasy, and a couple of them specifically requested that I query  them, which is very exciting. The food was great, although the food served at the reception Tuesday night was…interesting (see below).

On Tuesday afternoon, I had to go down into the valley to get a signal to call and see how everything was going at home, so I went to the Orem Public Library, where I happened to find a few very well-priced books in their used books section. I’d also gotten a couple of books in the mail that day too. Look at this book haul!

 

The setting was beautiful, and the help and the camraderie were amazing. I have a long list of things to do to improve Stranger, and I’m excited to do that. Not only that, but my Highland critique group is looking at one of my other manuscripts, so I’ll need to make those revisions soon too. And I’m in charge of a Utah Valley Writers meeting tonight at which Shadow Mountain Publishing editor Lisa Mangum is going to speak. And I’ve been asked to join another critique group. Ah, the life of a writer. Now, wouldn’t it be awesome if I were making money doing all of this?

 

My Writing Update and a Book Review of Paper Hearts,

This past week has been an interesting one as I gained a lot of insight into a problem I’ve been having, and took steps to resolve it, and as my husband and I talked about what he wants to do “when he grows up.” In the midst of that, I continued revising my first book, Forced, querying my second book, Stranger in my Own Head, looking for beta readers for my third, which is the sequel to the second, and starting my fourth book, which is called Sealers for now. What this means is:

  • After writing Forced, revising it through five drafts,  then getting it critiqued, beta-read, and edited, I researched about 50 agents looking for urban fantasy, then submitted query letters and sample pages to them, asking them to consider representing me to publishers. While there were a couple of requests for fulls and partials, no agent has yet offered representation, so I took the premise to one of my critique groups and, after receiving reassurance that it’s still really solid, decided to tweak and revise it again. Rewrite #8: bring it on!
  • After writing Stranger in my Own Head and revising it seven times, having it critiqued and beta-read, and submitting queries to 120 agents, I’ve so far received a similar response: one request for a full manuscript and another for a partial manuscript, both from agents from whom I haven’t heard back from yet.
  • I wrote Stranger in my Own Head #2 in a little over a month, and have since revised it once. It’s quite short, only 50,000 words, which is about 150 pages, so I need to have a beta-reader take a look at it to see where the plot would best be fleshed out.
  • To prepare to write Sealers, I’ve done all kinds of research on volcanoes, rapamycin, skin cancer, Chile, and Easter Island. I’ve made a character bible and a beat sheet (basic outline). I scrapped everything I did before writing the book from the daughter’s perspective, and am instead writing/rewriting it from the mother’s perspective. This will be the first adult sci-fi I’ve written.

I’m also researching and outlining three other books.

Paper Hearts: Some Real Writing Advice

To help me in all of these tasks, I read Beth Revis’ Paper Hearts #1: Some Writing Advice. I bought this book purely based on the fact that Beth is a published YA sci-fi author whose books (Across the Universe, A Million Suns, Shades of Earth, and The Body Electric, to name a few) I have greatly enjoyed. In more than 100 very short, “tidbitty” chapters, Revis explains the intricacies, beauty, and difficulties of being a writer, in a conversational, helpful tone. From one writer to another, she offers advice on things like how to find a good critique partner, ways to chart story structure, and what a writer should do if he or she is stuck somewhere in their work-in-progress.

Ninety-eight percent of her advice was spot on, about things I can testify to the importance of through my own experience, or easily and practically applicable to the book I’m writing right now. I could see how what she was saying about charting plot structure could help me fine-tune the beat sheet I’ve done for Sealers, for instance. The only thing that would keep me from giving this book a perfect 10 out of 10 stars, or five-out-of-five on Amazon, was that Revis, in one part of the book, got on her soapbox about a particular issue (featuring gay characters in books). I like hearing other people’s opinions, especially when they’re respectfully stated and posted in a way that invites civil conversation. But if someone states their opinion on social media or in real life simply for the purpose of putting it out there (which I understand) as opposed to starting a dialogue, it just adds to the cacophony of people shouting their opinions. We don’t need more of that, especially in a writing book.

So, I do recommend Paper Hearts #1 to other writers, with that one caveat. There is a workbook and two other books in that series that I intend to get. If you’ve read them, let me know what you think!

Pitch Wars and a Giveaway

First, before I tell you about Pitch Wars, remember that I’ve still got a giveaway going on for a copy of The Waking Land, the book I reviewed last week. Go here to find the link to enter for a chance to win. Your odds are good!

Courtesy of Brenda-Drake.com

Second, I entered Pitch Wars yesterday. Pitch Wars is a contest that writers of unpublished books can enter to vie for published-author mentors who can really help them whip their manuscripts into top-notch form. The writers choose 4-6 mentors from among a huge list of possible mentors, and submit their first chapters and a query (i.e., cover) letter. The mentors, if they choose a writer’s submission, will work closely with that writer to prepare his or her manuscript for the agent round, in which the writer queries or submits that reworked manuscript to a participating agent or agents, who then will review it to see if they’d like to represent that book to a publisher. From what I understand, quite a few writers have gotten book deals this way.

I submitted my first chapter and chose six mentors. Now I’m checking my in-box every five minutes to see if I’ve been accepted by at least one of them, although the submission deadline hasn’t even passed yet. It’s not unlike waiting to hear back from an agent. It’s a nerve-wracking buzzing in the ear, but it won’t kill me if I don’t get accepted by any of them. I entered last year with a different manuscript and didn’t get selected.

Wish me luck!