One morning while taking a vitamin, I inhaled in a peculiar fashion, creating a sudden suction that pulled the capsule back and lodged it in my throat. I tried swallowing and drinking to no avail, but only really understood the severity of the situation when I attempted to breathe more fully and heard airy whistling sounds, then attempted to talk and found I could not. At that point I reflected upon my understanding of the self-Heimlich maneuver, which was scant. Once I realized I could still breathe enough, I knew I needed to be passive, though I wanted to actively help myself. I became still and aimed my attention on a state of mental passivity – a neutral place of no reaction and no judgment. More than just the old “Don’t panic” directive, I wanted to intentionally rest in a state that was peaceful even though the situation was not. Within the next few minutes, I had the impulse to manipulate my throat with my fingers (something I’d tried earlier) and the pill dislodged. My full breath returned along with my voice.Read More
The submission process: oy vey. That pretty much sums it up. You send out your tome to an agent, a manuscript that has witnessed your blood, sweat, and tears, only to hear back finally (if you’re lucky) after months and months with, “Thanks, but no thanks.” Ouch. Punch to the gut. Of course, the whole process is totally subjective—one agent’s lemons are another’s lemonade.
So how can you guarantee 100 percent that your submission won’t be rejected? Well, I’m sorry to say you can’t. However, you can make sure that the process goes as smoothly as possible by taking the following five steps:
1. Do your research. Double down on the legwork – make sure that the agent you’re submitting to is interested in your genre and is accepting submissions. Obviously, you don’t want to send your sci-fi YA novel to an agent who reps erotica, especially one who isn’t considering new authors. And please, know whether the agent is a man or woman, and properly spell their name when you address them in the query letter. Ah, the query . . .Read More
Someone's finally getting real.
That's what I first felt, reading Don Lee's Rumpus essay itemizing the brutal realities of the writing life.
Lee lays it down hard: “Pretty much everything about it – the act of writing, the act of publishing, especially the act of promoting – is miserable. And it only gets worse as the years unfurl.”
Acknowledging upfront that his own writing has made a bit of money as well as given him a solid teaching career with a decent salary and benefits, Lee names the sibling truths:
• Making the work is a perilous journey, haunted, self-doubting.
• Self-promotion, “pressure to perform and be charming and sell [oneself],” can be agonizing.
So can waiting for reviews, receiving bad reviews, or (worst?) no reviews.
Lee notes that “being a midlist writer is the most tenuous position in publishing...” He may not have considered how it feels to be a small press/literary writer, whose sales and fan base seldom register on any agent's or publisher's radar.Read More
In two years, between the ages of six and eight, I changed schools four times – once because we moved, then because of an alcoholic teacher, then for a better program, then because that program ended. In third grade I entered my fourth new school in two years mentally adrift, and life became surprisingly nightmarish. I was so consistently frightened of school that I considered running away. I imagined climbing out onto the very small overhang of my second floor bedroom window, jumping down to our backyard, and running off into the night. The problem then (beyond possibly breaking bones) was I had no destination.
A destination is defined as a place to which one journeys or “the purpose for which something is predetermined.” It could also be thought of as an internal intentional goal, a mental/emotional place to go, to put our attention. Without one, running away (out in the world or in one’s mind) becomes a never-ending endeavor.Read More
Every writer, at some point, has heard the adage “show, don’t tell,” and has nodded gravely. Oh yes, I know what that means. Just, you know, show, and don’t tell. Right? Right. Well, for those who are as clueless as I was about this saying back in my youth (when we had car phones and T-rexes roamed the Earth), let’s have a refresher course—because agents and editors (and readers) do not respond to telling.
I’m going to focus on fiction, on narrative prose, but this concept can be applied to creative non-fiction as well. As writers, we want to immerse the reader in our world, to create a vivid playground, complete with metal slides that sear your thighs in summer and monkey bars that inevitably lead to a broken limb. The easiest way to draw a reader into your world is to paint a picture—don’t tell a reader what is happening; show them.Read More
The pitch is your foot in the door, getting someone to be interested in your script/book.
I’m that door. My job is to find projects and submit them to the decision-maker.
I work for Muse Productions, Inc. You’ve seen our films: American Psycho, The Virgin Suicides, Spring Breakers. We are pre-production; we find a script, marry it with a director and actors, and find the money. Everything we do is finding the project and selling it to everyone. Pitching is the most important aspect of our job.
It starts with my pitch of your pitch. I read your proposal and then if I’m interested I read your script. If I like your script, I turn it into two or three paragraphs to sell to my boss.
The unfortunate thing I’ve learned is that a bad pitch can hide a good script.
Your goal with a pitch is not to simply get me to read your work, you want to have already sold your script/book to me (publishers/producers) with the pitch. By reading the script I am simply getting the details and checking that it is as you have described.
With this article I can help you avoid common mistakes.Read More
I came across a video of a singer from Kazakhstan, Dimash Kudaibergen, who has a five-octave range: an ability to sing baritone and soprano but also in the whistle register, the register beyond falsetto. Later I listened to a vocal coach describing Kudaibergen as exceptionally good at keeping “everything light"– the key, he said, to accessing those remarkably high notes. Listening to Kudaibergen, it did seem as though he had made his voice like a feather, carried and guided, rather than trying to make something happen. It seemed his job was to make himself light enough to be moved.
I started considering this idea in regard to achieving anything we might want (high notes of all kinds). Usually when I think of reaching goals, I think of hard work – a certain amount of seriousness and intensity. Though I’ve known gravitas as an agent of oppression – making projects intimidating or even choking the life out of them – it still remains a sometimes habit of mine. But without enough lightness, our ability to find the good fades and we are slowed or even completely stymied in our pursuits.Read More
Ah, the query letter – the ad, the pitch, the sell. And what does the query query? Bottom line: is the agent interested in representing your book? This letter is the one thing that will get you in the door – or not – so you better make it sing. Tra-la-la! Easy peasy, right? Well, there’s a reason that ad whizzes get paid the big bucks: selling is an art form. And the query letter is what sells your book and yourself as an author.
To start, I’ll give you the basics: one page only, single-spaced, Times New Roman font (don’t you dare try to throw in Comic Sans to be a Mr. or Ms. Sassy Pants). First comes the hook, then the pitch/greeting (or vice versa), the plot summary/synopsis, the author bio, and finally, the thank you/signoff.Read More
We know that there are distinct regional differences in this large country. You could easily assume an accent from the South or from Boston, but those attempts usually don’t come across as authentic. There are phrases that can be used with those accents as well, but they won’t stand alone when used by unaccented speakers. A friend from Alabama once told me she would check her calendar, but she thought she “might could come to dinner.” With her accent, it was charming. The Southern director of my chorus said he wanted “all y’all” to sing this part, not just sopranos. We smiled as we all joined in. And a friend with a lovely Italian accent would say, “Now don’t miss me understand.”Read More
It wasn’t easy. In fact, it was one of the hardest things I have ever had to face. I was twenty-three when the demons of my childhood stepped out of the shadows and my world came crashing down.
When I was a child, an adult in my life sexually abused me. It went on for a while, and then it was over. I did what any child does when they find themselves shaken with fear. I hid. I somehow pushed the memories back into the deepest corners of my mind and I acted like the monsters were from a bad bedtime story rather than my life. I never found the courage to tell anyone, so I locked away the memories and did my best to forget.
Suddenly, and without warning, I was facing those demons again. For nearly twenty years I had found ways to avoid them. I had all but forgotten what happened, but now they had reappeared from the darkness and were showing their sharp teeth.Read More
You’ve finally made it! An agent is repping your book and has just sold it to an editor at a major house that is now going to publish it. Okay, by “now” I mean, in a year or two. Regardless, you’re “about” to hit the big time! Right? Slow your roll, gangsta, and don’t quit your day job. Let’s take a look at the reality of what you can expect following your big news.
First, congratulations! You’re probably zinging between utter elation and sheer terror. People—actually, a whole lot of people—are going to read your book. Holy page-turner, Batman! Being a first-time author can be overwhelming. However, a good agent and editor will hold your hand and guide you step by step through the publication process and explain everything along the way.Read More
Six months into the search for an agent and publisher for my first book, I found myself singing this line from a John Prine song, “…felt about as welcome as a Walmart Superstore.” Indeed. A negative tailspin followed that will be recognizable to most writers: “You can’t write. Who are you kidding?” Sound familiar? I considered stuffing the manuscript into the lower drawer of my desk. Writers die a thousand deaths in this way.
In thirty years of practicing psychotherapy, I have worked with countless authors and artists who were under the spell of self-reproach. These were talented people who struggled with persistent feelings of inadequacy. In nearly as many years as a writer, I have faced my own dark hours suffering from the internal narrative that proclaims, “I am just not good enough.” Even our most successful writers are subject to troubling insecurity and episodes of self-doubt, ultimately undermining their creativity.Read More
I had another test dream the other night. These kinds of dreams involve me trying to get somewhere in time to take a test for which I am unprepared. So, there is both stress regarding time andanticipated failure. In this particular iteration I hurry to get to my old elementary school to take a science test, for which it now seems I am already late.
In an atypical moment of limited lucidity, while driving to my destination, I reflect upon what I am about to do. Maybeit doesn’t really make sense. After all, I haven’t attended any of the classes so the teacher won’t even know who I am. And wouldn’t it be odd for an adult to come into a classroom, sit down with children, and take their test? Brick by brick, my cognitive and analytical skills came to life and, after a while, Dream Me concluded it might make more sense to offer to help out and play with the kids rather than take their test. This thought unleashed a surge of enthusiasm. I am joyful! I no longer had to take the test – there was something better for me to do, something I actually wanted to do, and something I knew I coulddo. I awoke victorious. My dream self had cleverly changed the assignment. No longer did I have to be evaluated; now I could just participate and enjoy.Read More
Last night when I was lying in bed wanting to sleep, I had a headache. It had started earlier in the day, later seemed to be abating, then returned with renewed verve. As I lay there I considered when the headache, in its trajectory, had circled back. I realized it was soon after I had started picking on myself. In the course of the evening, I had come up with a laundry list of self-criticisms, and was still feeling their effects when I crawled into bed.
I took note of the on going self-attack and mentally told myself to “Stop.” The response I heard was crystal clear: “But I don’t know how!” And for a moment, I (the other me?) agreed: “Yes, I understand.” But then, it hit me: of course I know how to stop insulting and denigrating myself. I know how to stop throwing a ball no matter how many times I’ve thrown it before. I just don’t throw it. But I do have to be willing to stop. And that willingness depends upon what I believe matters.Read More
There are many ways to turn off an agent (and many ways to turn on one—hello, two-martini lunches, six-figure advances, and fruit-of-the-month club!) so why should writers hinder themselves in any way? My goal in writing this is to be candid and to share the biggest and most common “first chapter” writing mistakes I’ve seen as an editor, both at large publishing houses and in a freelance capacity.
Oy vey, the prologue! I’m here to be honest. Just like Abraham Lincoln. In fact, the kids in my son’s third-grade class recently asked me if I was taller than Honest Abe. As a five-feet-ten inch woman, I took this as a compliment. But I digress.
Hear me now: a prologue is simply a dumping ground for material that can be placed more naturally and with more flair within the actual story. Usually, an author creates a prologue when he or she thinks, “Now where am I going to put that significant information that I need to tell the reader?” First, don’t tell, show (more on that later). Second, weave the material into the meat of the story and make the first chapter stronger and more significant. Then no prologue is needed.Read More
I was leaving the gym the other day, feeling good, occupying that unique moral high ground between having just exercised and not yet eaten a cheeseburger. Theoretically, I could still eat kale for dinner and maintain my elevated moral status over the non-exercisers of the world. This will never happen, of course. Kale is disgusting and cheeseburgers are heaven, but I am not opposed to feeling theoretically happy and morally superior to enormous numbers of people for short periods of time.
As I made my way past the smoothie bar, already thinking about cheeseburgers, my keys slipped from my fingers and dropped to the floor, landing squarely on my foot. Before I could bend over to retrieve them, a woman walking into the gym bent down, picked up my keys, plopped them into my hand, and continued moving past me, so fast that I didn’t even have a chance to see her face. As I turned to proffer a thank you, she entered that medieval torture chamber where unfortunate souls ride stationary bicycles to nowhere while authoritarians in spandex shout at them for not going nowhere fast enough.Read More
Many years ago, in my college days, I dreamt of a woman dressed superhero-style in red from head to toe with a big flowing cape. She burst up from the ocean in one awe-inspiring moment, a symbol of power and strength. At the time I did not relate much to power and strength – I saw myself as a small but good and intelligent entity with varying capabilities, positive and not so positive qualities. I certainly didn’t see myself backed and uplifted by an erupting force of energy. To me I was occasionally wobbly, and generally less confident in the world than I wanted to be. When I first arrived at college, I developed some agoraphobic inclinations and worked through a great deal of that fear-of-getting-out-therestuff, though remnants of that frame of mind could still get stirred up.
At that time I didn’t own a car and was sometimes dependent on Greyhound to transport me home for the holidays. The Greyhoundbus station however was not just worn, neglected, and mostly unclean; in my eyes it seemed seedy and potentially unsafe. So I didn’t want to go there alone. But eventually life provided circumstances in which I pretty much had to. I was in a bind: my desire was to make the trip, but I didn’t want to feel so frightened along the way.Read More
I once told a Seattle visitor that he had picked a good day to come here because all the mountains were out. He looked at me and asked what we said about them when they weren’t out. Did we say they were “in”? I told him we didn’t talk about them then. There are many regional sayings like that. A friend from Alabama was always “fixin’ to do” something. And everyone has heard a Southerner say “y’all” or someone from Boston say he went to “Havahd.”
These regional pronunciations and expressions are useful to movie producers who need to use dialogue to establish a character’s background. But mispronunciations that are not confined to a region may come across as mistakes or lead to misspelling or wrong word choices in your writing. There are many, but these are some common errors that you should be sure you aren’t guilty of.Read More
The works of Flannery O’Connor can be found in almost any library. Hailed as one of America’s greatest fiction writers, her works – including such notable pieces as A Good Man is Hard to Find, Wise Blood, and Everything that Rises Must Converge– line the shelves in any self-respecting book collection. The work of this southern gothic writer has been captivating people for decades. Even readers who don't particularly enjoy her writing would be surprised to learn this one remarkable fact about Flannery O'Connor: she wrote some of her best works while fighting lupus, a debilitating inflammatory disease. This battle would shape her faith, her writing, and her life– and ultimately end it all.
O’Connor grew up in Savannah, Georgia, quite literally beneath the shadow of the Catholic church. When I visited her childhood home one cool September day– my legs tingling with nerve pain from my own long-term health problems– I saw her cradle in an upstairs bedroom; the steeple from St. John’s Cathedral across the square filled the window above it. I was shown the bathtub where she used to gather her friends and read Grimm’s Fairy Tales to them, which would send them home terrified, producing irate parents coming back later on. I learned how her faith and her worldview shaped her writing, and I realized what a blow it must have been to both of those to be diagnosed with such a terrible disease so young.Read More
"Have I taught you nothing?"
That's what my best friend asked me when I told her that my husband and I had decided to build a house. Her family had recently survived their own construction chaos, and because they lived in a distant zip code, she had shared her travails with me in our almost-daily emails. After I'd been a digital witness to her seemingly endless ordeal, how could I consider stepping into the same excavated pit?Read More