Writing Crimes: Overused Words and Phrases

lion

On a recent run, I came across this violated stone lion. Look closely . . . it’s been embellished with blue glitter nail polish, eyeshadow, and yes—lipstick. At first glance, it looked like all the other neighborhood stone lions, but a closer inspection revealed that it had succumbed to a makeover.

Now, personally, I think it’s adorable that some kid took a look at that lion and thought it needed a little something special (sparkles, of course) and that those claws would look better with nail polish. For the purposes of this post, however, let’s call it a non-obvious crime.

Some writing mistakes rear up and smack you on the nose: plot holes, switching tenses, too many dialogue tags, not enough dialogue tags…Grammar, too, is often an easy fix: the right use of its and it’s, lay and lie, and good ‘ol punctuation and spelling. But word overuse is more insidious–often overlooked in first, second and even third drafts.

While polishing my manuscript for submission, I came across a phrase I tend to overuse: ‘my heart pounds.’ And by ‘overuse’ I mean—this pains me to admit—no less than NINE TIMES–followed closely by ‘my stomach twists.’

*face palm*

The worst part is that they’re not even good phrases–‘telling’ writing instead of ‘showing.’ Criminal, indeed.

The good news: I gave my manuscript that close second look (and third and fourth) and caught them. Every writer I know has words and phrases they tend to overuse. It’s the kind of writing crime that can easily go unnoticed (like the glammed-up lion.)

So, as I go through my manuscript and rework these phrases into moments the reader feels along with the character, I’m on the lookout for other such overused words.

Another I caught myself using too much: ‘groan,’ followed closely by its sister, ‘moan.’

O_O

*sigh*

Hey, that’s what the editing process is for, right? This is another instance where beta readers and critique partners are so helpful–they will usually see the nine million times you used the word ‘slowly’ and issue you a friendly citation. Better them, than an agent or editor.

If you’re in the revision process, I’d encourage you to do a ‘find and replace’ search (under ‘edit’ in Microsoft word) Type in a word or phrase you find yourself leaning in to, and see if you’ve committed any crimes. Hopefully, nothing as bad as my heart-pounding, stomach-twisting felonies.

Out of the Query Trenches

I’d been in the Query Trenches a loooong time. For the past few years, I’d pretty much lived there. I had my own mailbox and a clown with a little dancing dog that came by every so often to cheer me up. (Okay—the dog is real, but my husband would not appreciate the clown metaphor.)

Anyone who’s ever written a manuscript and sent their baby out into the daunting world of slush piles and literary agents knows the particular kind of hell this journey is for most writers.

It’s said that Mark Twain wallpapered his attic in rejection letters before he published Tom Sawyer. I used to print and save my rejection letters and post them on the wall until I realized that a room decorated with rejection was really depressing.

So I treated myself to cupcakes (or wine) whenever a pass came in, and for the really tough ones—rejections on full requests—I bought shoes. And a puppy.

Emmy and shoes

But today, I’m relinquishing my spot in the query trenches to another hopeful writer. Not because I quit, but because I didn’t quit.

And finally, finally . . . I HAVE AN AGENT!!!!

*pops cork*    *twirls *

I am so deliriously excited to announce that THE AMAZING SARAH DAVIES of The Greenhouse Literary Agency has offered to represent me!!!

Yep. I just looked down, and my feet are still floating off the ground. And yes, her name requires SHOUTY CAPS–she is that kind of agent.

It is such a gift to have a champion for this story, and I know my manuscript is in the very best hands.

I’ll soon be pitching my tent over in the Submission Trenches. I’m sure the clown and his little dancing dog will visit from time to time. Hopefully, before too long, my story will find a home with a publisher.

Whatever happens, I’m taking with me the most important lesson I learned in the Query Trenches–one I want to encourage you with, fellow dreamers . . .

Never-never-never-give-up

 

 

How I quit, started over, and finally received offers of representation.

I remember the moment when I got my first full request for my historical fantasy, THE DESCENDED.

I went into the ugly cry, clutching my laptop to my chest like a beloved friend. “The agent loves it,” I exclaimed through my tears. “She thinks it has potential.” *continued incoherent mumbling*

“I knew it!” my husband shouted. Then there may have been some awkward dancing with the laptop clasped between us.

Because, finally, finally I’d MADE it. Two years of writing and revising my manuscript and months of rejections had led precipitously to this moment when an agent—a fabulous agent whom I liked and admired—opened the hallowed DOOR OF PUBLISHING OPPORTUNITY.

Only . . .not.

I had a lot to learn about the query process then. *shakes head at naive, younger self*

Fast forward months of maniacal email inbox stalking to the kind, but vague rejection. No dancing this time. Straight up despair.

That was it. I sucked. My dream was just the delusion of a crazy person. A talentless crazy person. So I did what any sensitive, creative type would do in my shoes.

I quit.

There I was, crying on a treadmill at the gym with my husband running beside me. (I was at a sedate, depressed walk) I attuned my heart and mind to the things I could do with my life that didn’t involve, you know, words and imagination.

“Don’t quit,” my husband said. “Use what you learned and write the next one.”

Very Obi Wan Kenobi of him. I scoffed and snot-cried. Then did something that seriously surprised me and my battered ego. I went home and started my first YA, THE DREAMSPEAKER’S DIARY. A story about a girl who’s terrified to speak her dreams aloud and then learns that it’s those very dreams that empower her. (Basically, a long note to myself.) I was not going to fear my dreams—even if they sometimes led to heartache and rejection.

Because, at the end of the day, my passion is to write. I crave an audience like every artist, but something in my soul needs to create these worlds and characters—even if I’m the only one who experiences them.

I was a lot smarter this time making the query rounds. Slog it out in the query trenches long enough and you learn a few things. Mainly–have critique partners comb through your manuscript before you send it out into the world.

DREAMSPEAKER’S did well. I won contests, I got requests. LOTS of requests.

THIS WAS IT. I was poised on the brink of REPRESENTATION. Even the rejections coming in were personalized and detailed, so complimentary that I printed some of them and tacked them to my inspiration board. Then . . .

EVERY. DOOR. CLOSED.

No weeping treadmill pity party this time. No Yoda-like pep talk from my husband.

I was not giving up. Period. So I sent another draft to my CPs and Betas. Took all their critiques on the chin like a champ (some of them were tough) My revised manuscript morphed like a snake shedding its skin. I attended conferences. I read EVERYTHING in my genre (and outside of it). THEN, finally, I sent my polished little baby out into another batch of queries.

But, like I said, I was smarter now. So, instead of focusing on the queries and rejections, I started another speculative YA, SUBPARS.

And this story, I LOVED. The main character is a knock-me-down-but-I’m-getting-back-up kind of protagonist that inspired me and challenged me through the PITS OF QUERY HELL.

I couldn’t wait to query the agents who liked my writing with DREAMSPEAKER”S. In a fit of bravado, I even queried a couple agents I thought were unreachable–the ones I’d admired from afar and Twitter/Blog stalked for years. So with a shaking finger on the send button, and a please, please, please mantra in my head, I sent them SUBPARS.

I heard back right away from THREE AGENTS OF AWESOMENESS. Requests!! And the next few days went something like this:

“Ohmygosh, I’m so HAPPY!!”

Then,

“I’ll never make it. This SUCKS. I am in rejection HADES!!!”

I was told great things about my writing, but that the paranormal and speculative markets were FLOODED. And DEAD.

*Cue violin* I slid right into a post-rejection funk.

I may have drank my celebratory champagne spitefully. I may have bought myself a few pairs of shoes to cheer myself up. I zombied out on Twitter, read other writers’ success stories. All I needed was balloons and black crepe paper to make my pity party complete.

It just wasn’t going to happen for me. I was a writer—an author, even. But I just wouldn’t be a published one.

I told myself I was okay with this. And ate excessive amounts of chocolate.

I hoped against all hope for good news in my inbox.

Meanwhile, I completed an R&R (revise and re-submit) with an agent who was interested in DREAMSPEAKER’S. I focused hard on that project. (And re-wrote the novel from start to finish)

I waited. And refreshed my email constantly. And said please, please, please a thousand times in my heart.

And then.

I got an offer of representation from the agent who had my R&R. I sent emails to all the agents who had my queries for both manuscripts.

More agents responded.

The UNREACHABLES reached out. They LOVED SUBPARS. They loved my writing.

With my feet floating above the ground, I tried to make sense of the words I was reading in my emails–because all at once, multiple agents were offering me representation.

I drank champagne again. My boys toasted my joy with sparkling cider. We danced around to the song “Happy.” I wore my red rejection shoes just because.

champagnephoto

So, here it is, the moral of the story: Dream big. Quit if you need to. But then start over. Dream bigger. Grow. Learn. And above all—HOPE.

This isn’t the end for me. Just a new chapter on a journey that may or may not ultimately lead to my book sitting on a shelf in Barnes and Noble (please, please, please)

I’ve got more rejection to face. Probably more closed doors. Definitely new books to write. But hope is the one essential ingredient in it all.

Well, and puppies. Puppies really do make everything better. And shoes. And friends who “get it.” So there you go, fellow dreamers and writers. I get it. Hang in there. Keep on going after it—your own happy dance might be right around the corner.

Writing Process Blog Hop

IMG_0696 - Version 2

Photo: Emmy gives me her thoughts on chapter 1

 

*emerges from Cave of All Edits*

*blinks*

Well, hello there fellow writers and blog hoppers! Many of you probably bounced here from my talented writer friend, Rena Olsen  If not, I encourage you to check her out along with the other great writers participating in this.

You are welcome to join in: Just link to my blog, answer these four questions on your blog and then tag four other writers.

1) What are you working on?

Weeeel . . . lots. I just finished editing my YA paranormal, THE DREAMSPEAKER’S DIARY (for the gazillionth time) for an R&R (revise and re-submit) with a super awesome agent. Yes, I’m checking my email like a madwoman and trying not to overwhelm myself with thoughts like, “This could FINALLY be it!!!” Meanwhile, two agents are considering my newest YA Sci-fi, SUBPARS. *refreshes e-mail*

I’m encouraged by the agent interest for my projects, but I’ve learned the best thing you can do while in the query trenches, is to KEEP WRITING. Focus on the next project, and not the rejections. For me, that’s my current WIP, a YA fantasy, FURTHERON.

2) How does your work differ from others in the genre?

I work really hard to develop unique concepts and then write in ways that feel fresh. I feel that I have my own style and ways of exploring themes. The truth is, we all bring our own experiences to the worlds and characters we create, and that’s unique in itself.

I nearly always write in scenes. Most of my real-life work is film and T.V. focused, so I tend to write visually. Agents often tell me that I write “cinematically” and I always take that as a compliment.

3) Why do you write what you write?

I think I’m drawn to YA because there’s something really magical and special and compelling about a young person coming to that point in life where they decide who they are and what kind of life they want for themselves. I also LOVE writing about first love. Even in my adult historical fantasy novel, THE DESCENDED, the main characters are young adults.

As to why I write speculative, paranormal, Sci-fi and fantasy–I like creating places and characters that we don’t get to experience in everyday life. I read to escape and get caught up in a world that unfolds with every page, and that’s usually how I write as well.

4) How does your writing process work?

I write as much as possible. Whenever possible. Preferably, morning, after copious amounts of coffee.

I have three young boys and I’m the co-owner of a production company. I’m proof that if writing is your passion–you will find time to make it happen. I write every day.

When I’m really into a novel, “writing” involves me staring off into space while folding laundry. Half of writing is thinking. And imagining. And getting your characters from point A to point B in your head so you can capture it with words. I carry a notebook around with me everywhere. You never know when you might get an idea or a line of dialogue. I write scenes in my head when I’m running or taking the kids to piano practice.

Oh, and I’m a “pantser” (who probably needs to be more of a “plotter”) and I average 2,000 words/day when I’m in the creative part of writing (depending on interference from children, husband, dog, work/The Real World.)

I just have one rule: Write Every Day

It goes perfectly with my other mantra: Do What You Love

Happy writing, everyone! Thanks for hopping over.

Here’s where I’m supposed to tag four other writers: (epic fail)

So instead, I’ll just suggest popping over to  Rena Olsen where she has not just four, but seven awesome blog posts linked. They are great and inspiring and worth checking out.

P.S. Rena is hilarious and witty and lots of fun on Twitter

 

 

Rejection Rescue: Never Give Up

“Never give up on something that you can’t go a day without thinking about.”
― Winston Churchill

It’s always hard when something you’ve put your heart and soul into gets what feels like a ‘meh’ response.  That’s the nature of art–as it’s an extension of the person who created it.  If we didn’t care what people thought, we wouldn’t be trying to get an audience for our work in the first place.  We want to make people feel…just not feel ‘meh’.

Today #pitchmadness was whittled down to the finalists and for all those who didn’t make the cut, it’s hard not to feel left behind in the land of Not Good Enough.  Are you dealing with rejection?  Take heart, pull yourself up by your bootstraps, get back on the horse, and [insert favorite metaphor here.]

I’m diving back into my newest book, immersing myself in a world and characters that are still coming to life around me.  In this world, anything is possible; the only limits are the ones I set.  I kind of feel that way about real life, too.  That’s the dreamer in me.

Get back to what you love.  And never give up.

The dream is still possible…you just have to keep trying.