10 Writer's Resolutions for 2019 & 10 Things NOT To Do

Regular readers know that it took me ten years to find an agent, and another six months after signing with her to land a book deal. During that time, every New Year's Eve I'd stare down into my drink and resolve that this year I was going to get published.

That is not a good resolution. I'll tell you why.

A writer has very little control over whether or not they become published. Nuances of the market, trends, financial belt tightening in the industry, a book too similar to your own that breaks out... all of these things are beyond a writer's control. You might as well make your New Year's resolution that this year you're going to win the Westminster Dog Show - as the dog, not the handler.

(Side note - it's not impossible. In 1903 unaware Victorians named a lemur best in show for the Foreign Breed Class at the Crystal Palace Cat Show in London)

On New Year's Eve of 2009 I looked down into my drink (they were getting bigger) and told myself to come up with a better resolution, because the old standby of "get published" wasn't coming through for me. I decided instead that I would join an online writer's group.

And that changed everything.

My forum of choice was AgentQueryConnect. First I lurked, occasionally sending direct messages to posters whose commentary I enjoyed. Then I began posting, throwing myself into the world and meeting people that I continue to interact with to this day. Next I found a few posters that I thought would be a good fit for critique partners, and made that personal connection leap.

And as Frost says, that has made all the difference.

I continue to use the critique partners that I met on AQC, all of whom have gone on to become published writers as well. Through AQC I learned how to write a query that works, format a manuscript the right way, write a synopsis, and navigate the industry in general. I learned how to take control of the little things that could add up to "get published."

So here are some writerly resolutions that I suggest for 2017, ones that are entirely within your power to execute.

1. Join a writer's group or forum. AQC is my touchstone, but there are some other great ones out there such as AbsoluteWrite and the forum at Writer's Digest.

2. Get serious about tracking those queries. Sure, you've had rejections, but do you remember from who? Or even why? QueryTracker.net is indispensable, and I highly recommend going for the paid version. It's worth it.

3. Find a critique partner that isn't your mom or a friend. If you want a real critique it needs to come from another writer - not just a reader. Finding someone online to give you feedback takes out the awkward quality of a friend who might not want to tell you something isn't working, and also allows you the freedom to go ahead and cry in front of your computer without them ever knowing you did. A good CP should be at about the same level you are in terms of craft and career. Get online, find someone in your genre, and trade manuscripts.

4. Pay for membership in a writer's group that fits your needs. Whether you write mysteries, sci-fi, picture books or adult literary, there is a professional group that fits your style. Most groups offer different levels of membership depending on whether you are published or pre-published. Examples are SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators), MWA (Mystery Writers of America), SFWA (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America), ITW (International Thriller Writers) and RWA (Romance Writers of America). You can learn a lot from these communities and their publications.

5. Scout out local opportunities. I've met with various writer's groups that home-base out of a local library or private home. Ask your local librarian if s/he knows about any such groups.

6. Subscribe to a professional magazine that seems like your style. I highly recommend both Writer's Digest and Poets & Writers (even though I totally hear Adam Sandler's "Hoagies & Grinders" in my head every time I get a Poets & Writers in the mail).

7. Learn about what's going on in the industry itself. Yes, I know. You're a writer, not a business person. In this day and age you must be both. You can glean a lot of information about the industry from both online forums, writers groups, and professional subscription listed above. However, if you can afford a subscription and want to mainline industry info, Publisher's Weekly is the way to go.

8. You need to know what's selling if you want to position yourself and your work in the market. A subscription to Publisher's Marketplace will tell you who's buying what, and what agents are selling right now in your genre. This is not a necessity, but it can be a good tool.

9. Go to a writing conference in your area. I only attended one as a pre-pub - and it was romance centered - but it was close, convenient, and affordable. It gave me the opportunity to sit down at a table with agents and published authors, and most importantly, I learned how not to approach time by watching other people make snafus.

10. Lastly, write your book. Yes, that's what I put last. Everything above is instrumental in getting your work published, and most of them are actionable before you have something to show and share. If you have a finished manuscript, most of the above goals will help change and craft that ms during the road to publication. If you haven't started yet, you can still dive in and learn as you go.

Now, 10 things you shouldn't do in 2019... or really, ever.

1 Like I said before, don't set goals that aren't in your power to meet. Broad goals like get published aren't going to do you any favors. Find the baby steps towards that big goal and make those your aim.

2 Don't be frustrated by the success of others. Comparison truly is the thief of joy. If you're reading a book that has sold a million copies and you think yours is better, that's actually a good thing. Maybe yours will sell a million and one copies. Take heart. Getting angry only wastes your energy.

3 Similarly, don't trash other authors in public. If you think someone's writing sucks, that's fine. Is it really important for you to tell them that? In a few years you might find yourself looking for blurbs for your book, or your publicist might be trying to place you on panel - and that author you badmouthed will remember.

4 Don't be fooled by the positivity machine. This is something that has come up again and again on the podcast, but it doesn't hurt to reiterate here at the beginning of the year. People use social media to make themselves look good and authors are no different. In 2019 we're be posting our new covers, great blurbs, and book tour dates. Don't think for one second that we didn't go through a dark night of the soul to get there, or that that night only happens once. Writing is not easy for any of us. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

5 Don't let anyone tell you there's one right way to go about writing. We all have our methods and many writers will tell you that each book requires a different approach. There's no quick and easy method. There's no magic bullet. What works for one will fail for someone else. Find your way.

6 Don't let anyone tell you there's one right way to get published. From self-publishing to small presses to the Big Five, you've got to find what fits you. That means learning your strengths. Are you good at marketing and promotion? Would you rather write than spend your time hand selling? Know the answers to those questions - and many more - before you decide which path to take.

7 Don't grind yourself into the ground. Seriously. One of the worst pieces of advice that I hear is never give up. It's fine to give up. In fact, it's healthy. I've said it on the show before but it bears repeating. It took me 10 years to get published but I wasn't sending out queries everyday. A person can only handle so much rejection and stay mentally and emotionally healthy. Take a break sometimes. For months, even. I did. Give up for a little bit. Then jump back in.

8 Don't convince yourself you're an undiscovered literary genius. Sure, there's a chance you might be, but it's much more likely that you're a good writer with a decent idea who needs to hone their skills a little bit more to break through. The tortured starving artist thing doesn't look good on anybody.

9 Don't blame the system. Yes, writing queries sucks. Yes, it can feel like you're on the outside looking in. Yes, the gatekeepers can feel like your enemies. They aren't. The system exists for a reason and that reason is because it works. The vast majority of the writers I know found their agent through cold querying, and it took an average of 7 years for them to find that agent. There could be many reasons you're not published yet: your writing just isn't ready, the market isn't right at the moment for your story, or maybe you're great at novel writing but aren't very good at queries. The answer to why you haven't broken in yet isn't the query process, and telling yourself so is only an excuse to not see the real reason.

10 Don't beat a dead horse. I meant that literally - why would do that? But also, don't keep querying a book that isn't getting anywhere. I received over 130 rejections for a particular novel, as well as partial and full rejections. I kept querying it. I was determined. This was my ticket. I started writing the sequel to the book that no one wanted to read. Then I got smart, realized I was wasting my time, and moved on to a new idea that was titled Not A Drop to Drink.

 

Do You #Nano?

Welcome to November. It’s National Novel Writing Month, known as NaNoWriMo, NaNo for short well… shorter. If you aren’t familiar with NaNo, it’s a writing challenge that takes place over the entire month, the idea being that if you write 1,667 words each day, you’ll have 50,000 by the end of November. Whether that’s an entire novel for you, the beginning of one, or the ending, it’s a heck of a challenge and a good lesson in powering through.

I wasn’t always a NaNo fan. I never liked the idea of being beholden to a word count that someone else set for me, or checking in with a website on a daily – or if I’m feeling particularly needy – hourly basis. I partially resented NaNo simply because it was something everyone else is doing, and I tend to be suspicious of things that other people like.

Then, in 2016, I needed to finish Given to the Earth. That’s my longest book, clocking in at nearly 100,000 words, and while I loved the story and was motivated to work on it, I knew my usual word count goal of 1000 a day wasn’t going to put me near my deadline. This book was a mammoth, and I felt like I was attacking it with a toothpick.

The Nano requirement of 1,667 words a day would push me to do more, and so, needing a boost, I signed up. The Nano site is free, easy to use, and offers more than just a word count accumulator. You can have writing buddies, check in with them for accountability, hop onto the forums if you need a break from your isolation, or even check out some pep talks from famous authors.

And while community is great, what I needed in 2016 wasn’t that. I’m a goal driven person, and suddenly I had something in front of me that appealed directly to that aspect of my personality. A progress bar. I’d get lost in what I was producing, take a quick assessment, then dump that number into Nano to watch my brown bar turn blue. It was rewarding, even on days that I struggled for a hour only to produce 200 words, that blue still crept forward, even if only minutely.

You “win” Nano by hitting the 50k word count goal by the end of the month. Winning means that you get a little rosette that says WINNER and weirdly, those pixels make you feel pretty awesome. I not only “won,” Nano, but finished Given to the Earth by writing a whopping 56,235 words that month. That’s an insane output, and I’m happy to say because of the nature of it being a sequel as well as already halfway finished when I began Nano, the first draft was fairly clean for being written at such a breakneck pace.

2017 found me in the same situation. I was promoting my newest release – This Darkness Mine – traveling, putting together this podcast, maintain the blog, and trying to hit a deadline for my upcoming book, Heroine. It was tight, it was tough. So I NaNo’d again. And while I did not “win” Nano – I only wrote 34,245 words that month – I did what I set out to do, using Nano to finish the manuscript and hit my due date.

This year is a little different. I’m not on deadline, or under contract. For the first time since 2010, I found myself working on a project that is just for me. It’s an adult historical novel with dual timelines, an audience jump for me. I don’t know if it will sell. I have no guarantees with this one – and I admit, that does take the motivation out of the project a little, as I write for a living now. But there is something freeing in writing only for myself, allowing time for experimentation and not beating myself up for every word I delete, and every minute I simply stare at the computer, not typing.

Okay, that’s a lie. I’m still definitely beating myself up about both those things.

But, returned to this new space of writing only for myself was weirdly intimidating, and I found motivation somewhat lacking. November 1st rolled around and I thought – why not?

I signed up on the first and promptly decided to defrost the deep freeze and make cinnamon rolls from scratch. These are not normal Mindy activities. This is called procrastination. I didn’t write a word on November 1st, which mean that my goal to catch up on the 2nd was over 3000 words. That’s a lot for one day.

I chipped away at it, got it knocked down a bit, went to a book festival on the 3rd where I peddled my wares all day, drove home, and sat in front of my computer to face a blinking cursor and a feeling of failure. I was back at needed to put in around 3 thousand words, actually more like 3 thousand three hundred. It was 8 pm. It felt insurmountable. So I wrote a little bit, and plugged it into my progress bar. It was about 200 words.

They were good words, but there were only 200 of them. I stared at the last sentence, unhappy with it. Here it is :

Her panic was tame; what was passing through the crowd gathered in front of the Archer’s Ferry schoolhouse was a wild cousin, its presence made known not through frantic movement or rippling screams, but rather a stillness of limbs and silenced voices, paired with questioning eyes that asked each other – what do we do?

Wait – does that sound like that’s my left eyes asking MY right eye what do we do? Or is it my eyes asking someone else’s eyes, what do we do? I flicked my pen up and down for a minute, then carried the laptop into the kitchen and read it to the boyfriend, followed by my question about pairs of eyes or individual eyes.

He looked at me over his coffee and said – maybe you’re over thinking this?

It was a valid question, but I still didn’t have an answer so I texted my extremely reliable critique partner RC Lewis with my query. She replied within a minute – I read it right the first time. You’re overthinking.

Yep. I was. Instead of plowing forward I was overanalyzing what little I’d done, picking away at what I’d produced – which wasn’t pushing that blue bar any further ahead. This is also called procrastination, by the way.

Fine.

FINE.

I took my laptop upstairs and laid down in bed – my preferred writing spot – and gave myself a pep talk you probably won’t find on the Nano site: Mindy, write some fucking words.

So I did. I wrote in the spirit of Nano, plowing forward in what I have always called a word vomit – just letting it all come out. Not editing, not staring, not over thinking. Just writing. It was 1 AM by the time I finished, but I did make up the deficit to hit my goal, a total accumulation of 5 thousand words in the first 3 days of November.

In fact, I’d like to brag a little and say my actual count at the moment is 5 thousand and twelve.

I had two somewhat related questions come from listeners last month. One asking, how do authors stay motivated throughout a book, not getting discouraged by rational thoughts? How do you power through? And the other stating: Sometimes reading too much on craft stunts my creative process and I worry too much that it’s all shit.

First of all – me too. Seriously. I absolutely read what I wrote the day or hour before and believe that it his horrible, unpublishable dreck. I’m usually typing away at something and shaking my head at the same time, because I think it sucks.

It’s true. I’ve got eight published novels and receive complimentary emails and tweets and have fans tell me to my face I’m their favorite author and guys – it just doesn’t matter. Whatever I’m creating right now is going to be the book that reveals me as a fraud and a hack. I have no confidence when I’m creating, so if you’re in the same place – congratulations. You’re a writer.

Every good writer I know thinks they are terrible.

Every writer I’ve ever met who thinks they are gifted is… not.

If you’re bored, Google the Dunning-Kruger effect.

But to answer the first question – how do you power through?

First of all, recall my moment this week when I was analyzing a handful of words, wondering if they indicated that one eye was questioning the other, or a pair of eyes questioning someone else’s eyes. That’s editing. In fact, that might even be copy-editing. It’s not actually writing. Now – don’t get me wrong, editing IS writing, but I’m talking about the actual act of getting something down, producing a first draft that you can go back and fix. I needed to move my characters forward, give them something to say or do, instead of – literally – stranding them just staring at each other.

One of my favorite quotes from this podcast has been in an interview with middle grade author Liesl Shurtliff who said – “I can’t edit nothing.” Truth. Stop those rational thoughts while you’re drafting. Get the words OUT before you question them. Move on. Move forward. That little blue bar on the Nano site will motivate you to charge ahead, instead of look back.

The first draft is not a time for rational, analytical thought. Earlier I called it a word vomit. I mean that. Think of the actual physical act of vomiting. You are incapable of thought at the moment, you have one goal and one purpose – GET IT OUT. You’ll clean it up later, right? You’re not cleaning it up while you’re still puking, are you? Nope.

Yes, I’m disgusting.

Yes, it also works.

People often ask me about my process and I’m often at a loss to describe it beyond that really horrible graphic notion of vomiting out words. I sit in front of my computer and try to move what’s inside of me – out. That’s my process. I know it’s a simplification, but I don’t know how else to describe it.

Will you find the term word vomit in a book about craft. No. Does it work? Yes.

To address the second listeners thought on craft stunting her creative process – yeah, I get that. I can’t even tell you for sure what craft actually means. To me, it sounds a bit stuffy, a term used to make some of us feel accomplished, while make others feel inadequate.

I feel inadequate when craft comes up.

I once had a friend who writes adult literary novels tell me I could teach a class on structure. I told her I couldn’t, because I don’t actually know what it is.

That’s the truth. I’ve never taken a writing class in my life. Seriously. Not a single one. Not in high school, not in college, not as an adult or at writer’s conferences. I majored in English literature studying what others have written – not creating my own.

However, that study – and a lifetime of consuming stories, novels, plays, movies and television – had taught me structure. I absorbed it subconsciously as a viewer, and it shows in my writing.

Craft is an intimidating word, and I urge you not to think about it too much. Write your story, see what comes out of you. Fearing that you aren’t good enough will follow you no matter what, so set that aside as well. Inadequacy will dog your heels whether you’re a high school drop out of have an MFA – trust me, I know writers in both those situations and they’re both really, really good. And neither of them believes it.

Trust your gut. Trust your instinct. Write what’s inside you.

Just get it out.

NaNoWriMo Check-In

I just got back from the AASL (American Association of School Librarians) Conference in Phoenix, where I got to meet Daniel Jose Older and Alexandra Bracken. We had a great panel and I got to sign in both the Harper Collins and Follett booths, which was a good time. Although once again I ended having to explain that I might be funny and charming, but my books are not funny. Or charming.

Really my entire persona is misleading.

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So how did I do on Nano while traveling and putting together these week's podcast episode? Not bad at all. I've written 19k words already this month, putting me slightly ahead of schedule and also pushing HEROINE into the home stretch. Nano helped me finish GIVEN TO THE EARTH last year, and it's going to top off HEROINE for me this year - thank you, Nano!

If you're doing the Nano thing and want to take about a 40 minute break to hear from another author and how they have managed their career, listen to the newest Writer, Writer, Pants on Fire podcast episode, featuring author Tori Rigby.