Friday, June 28, 2013

First 250 Words Smash! #20

Very Hip Author: Emily || Waltzconfuoco @ Tumblr
Square Editor: Victoria
Working Title: N/A

This prison cell has twenty-two vertical bars – the same number of Kings Antova has had in its existence as a nation.  The symbolism has not escaped me, though I’ve got a hunch it’s purely coincidental.
One bed was thrown into this cell for me to rest on while the King “deliberates.”  As I lay on this bed, I consider how much nicer it is than the one I’ve got at home.  No wonder so many of us commit federal crimes: the lodging is fantastic.
I stare at the lock on the door across the cell.  Had they not stripped me of everything off my back, I know I could easily pick it and run away.  The clothes they gave me to wear, including a pair of slippers to avoid the concrete floor, are itchy but warm.  Sanitation was probably the main reason for these slippers, but I’m trying not to think about it too much.
On my way in, I noticed that there are far too many cells to be plausible; my hallway goes down at least one-hundred meters, and that’s not to say this is the only hallway.  As far as I can tell, though, I’m the only person locked up in the royal dungeon right now.  I try to imagine a time when all these cells would’ve been necessary, but I can’t.
While I entertain the idea of my brother rushing down here to save me, I’m startled by a masculine voice.

Strong Points -
Right away you've built up your setting without an info dump, and you did a spectacular job of that. There are just enough tidbits for us to understand where our main character is and what sort of atmosphere the MC has been living in, but you haven't outright told us anything, and you didn't begin with a butt-load of exposition and background information. Instead, I love that you've weaved it into the beginning of the story. 

You've also captured the feeling of the cell really well, and raised plenty of questions. Why is the MC the only one in the royal jail? Why is the kingdom in such a poor state? Will the brother save the MC? What is the king "deliberating" about?

Just as well, already I have a pretty good idea of your character. They're not panicking, and everything is level-headed observation, even bitter in some places. That alone says a lot about their disposition and their situation, as well as what kind of person they are, and I feel that's much more important than knowing their name, gender and age.

Some Tips -
Honestly, I had a lot of trouble finding tips to help you out! You did such a good job with your opening, but there must always be room for a little improvement, right?

I think you can hone your description just a little bit more. You've started with some basics in the different senses, such as the itchy, warm clothes, and the fact that the bed is more comfortable, but those are descriptions that are still a bit vague and can yet be unpacked. Does the bed cradle your MC? Is it so fluffy it swallows them up? Does it smell of the people who used it last? Are the sheets clean or stained? 'Nicer than the one I've got at home' gives us something to imagine, but it doesn't paint a very vivid picture. If sanitation is a problem, is the cell stinky?

These are just suggestions, you don't have to take any of those ideas to liven up your description. But I believe you can breathe more life into this world you've created. As of right now your cell is a bit vague, a little blurry. Give us a clear picture, even if it's just a few extra words here and there woven in just as you did with your exposition.

Would I keep reading?
Yes! The questions you have me asking are killing me! And that last line WHO IS THE MASCULINE VOICE I really look forward to seeing the rest of this work someday! As always, though, you can still resubmit if you feel you must, or send us another work! <3 <3 <3

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Avoiding Publishing Scams

I’m looking to publish my work (after been told since I was 12 that I should) how do I spot the real deal from the others?

Firstly, make sure you read this post on what to do after you’ve finished your manuscript, and make sure you don’t skip a step!

If by “real deal” you mean publishers, my personal advice is that you don’t begin your search with publishers. Start with agents (which you can read about in the post I linked). Literary agents make connections to editors at publishing houses so that you don’t sit in the “slush pile”, hoping and waiting and waiting some more to be seen. The slush pile is manuscript purgatory and there’s no guarantee you’ll ever be seen.

A reputable agent will have a history of their recent sales available on a website or on publisher’s marketplace where you can easily access it. The same should apply to publishers (if you do decide to query them directly). Many agents/agencies and editors are connected through blogs and twitter. Make sure you do all your research before you submit to anyone.

Keep in mind a legitimate agent and publisher will NEVER ask for you to pay for anything before your book is sold (the case used to be a little bit different before the digital age, I’ve heard, but in all my experiences, I haven’t come across any agent ever asking for money before the book reaches the shelves). You might even find someone who reads your manuscript and tells you, “Hey, I think the big publishing houses will fall over themselves to get their hands on this, but first I need $1000 for this editing service to make it even better…” NO. This is a scam.

An agent’s goal is to make a commission off of your book when it sells (as is a publisher’s). Typically what I’ve seen of agent commissions ranges about 15%, to give you an idea of what to expect, and these terms will be plain in the contract. If anyone requests you pay before they provide you feedback, run. It might be tempting, because scam artists are really good at tempting you and they’ll know exactly what to say to hit you in the backs of your knees, but run.

Heck, the editing services may actually make your manuscript better. I’ve seen people claim this, and there are legitimate editing services that don’t operate under the guise of an agency, but the fact of the matter is that utilizing editing services (especially the predators who promise to give you the loot of a thousand publishing houses) doesn’t guarantee your manuscript will sell to anyone, and most people who buy into these scams end up $1000 poorer with (possibly) a revised manuscript that still won’t sell.

So, in short, here’s how you can typically discern the reputable from the repugnant:
  • Agents and editors won’t ask you for money until your book sells.
  • Agents and editors showcase their sales and clients where you can easily access.
  • Agents and editors will have positive feedback from such sites as Agent Query, Query Tracker, Absolute Write, and Literary Rambles
  • The great majority of agents and editors these days have websites, blogs, twitters, and/or other forms of social media.
  • Agents and editors do not advertise their services via google or facebook or the like — they don’t need to. Any time you see a “get your book published!” advertisement, avoid all eye contact with it.
To maximize your chances with interesting a literary agent, make sure you follow the steps of revision and critique partners I mention in the topmost link. Make sure your query is pristine. Make sure you do all your research. This could make all the difference.

(cross-posted from KSW on Tumblr)

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The Inner Critic and Ways to Fight It

I went through this exact same thing in my late teens and my adult-but-not-really-adult years, and continue to have the same thoughts even today. I just want you to know that these thoughts are natural. Creative types go through these cycles all the time, though it’s important not to endure this alone.

For me, a lot of it has to do with the development of the inner critic. As we get older, we get better at what we do, but our world gets bigger too, so we don’t really see our own growth in comparison to what others do and how much better they do it and how can we ever keep going if someone can do it better and—etc. It could be that your lack of motivation is a side effect of something bigger like this. It was for me.

I’ve also heard that, for creative types, they hit a wall when they realize they’re not as good as they want to be. The internet, bless the thing, makes this worse, because now we have greater access to a massive volume of people who write just as well or better, with more original ideas and so forth, and it’s pretty damn disconcerting. That might be part of your block too. It’s a lot of weight to carry.

Or, it could just be that the original reason for your writing changed. When people say they need to be depressed in order to write well, I understand, because writing used to be the best therapy in the world for me. But, after awhile, I didn’t need it for therapy, and I had to rediscover why I loved writing in the first place: I just liked to tell awesome stories that got people as excited as I did.

Anyway, enough about the possible whys, since these could be totally wrong. Here are some suggestions for you:
  • Read. One of the things that gets my writerly blood moving is reading and thinking, “I can do this better.” Sometimes it takes me forever to read a book because I very nearly rewrite the whole thing in my head.
  • One of my favorite pieces of advice is write for someone. Stephen King writes for his wife, I write for Victoria, and it might help you to write for someone. You’re still writing for yourself, but creating your perfect audience doesn’t hurt.
  • Find a fellow writer to be each others’ coaches. Talk all caps about your stories, have word wars, trade chapters, talk each other up. Get someone who loves writing as much as you do and can get you excited again.
  • Post to a writing community and ask for only positive feedback. You’re so used to your own writing ability that you might not really see it anymore. Sometimes a reminder helps us out.
  • Focus on smaller projects, such as short stories or flash fiction. WriteWorld has daily prompts to borrow from, and FYCD has things like Shipper Saturday to help you develop characters. Here’s a post on writing prompt generators.
  • Read on habits and taking care of yourself and stop thinking you’re losing your touch! Find positive outlets and don’t give up on what you love.
Good luck!

(cross-posted from KSW on Tumblr)

Saturday, June 1, 2013

On Habits and Taking Care of Yourself

I’m a big fan of your blog and I don’t know where else to turn ^^; I’m having a lot of trouble getting the motivation to write, to work and to exist in general. I thought it was just procrastination, but it’s gotten to where I’ve completed 0 assignments all week and haven’t written anything for a whole month. I could really use any help or advice you’ve got, even if it’s just yelling…

First of all, I’m super glad you turned to someone about this, because I know it’s not always easy working up the nerve to ask people for help. Also, I’m a big expert on how to get myself (and my lovely partner in crime) to work beyond what I call our “brain rebellions”.

The brain rebellion is simply when we’ve fried ourselves by overworking for extended periods of time. Lots of people will tell you this is just bullshit and you need to learn how to “work through it” like “everyone else does”, but if you’re stressed, then you need to de-stress, not make yourself even more stressed. Don’t listen to those people, because, chances are, they don’t know a thing about your inner workings.

Here are some things to help you cope and de-stress:

  • Know your limits. Everyone’s different and, consequently, everyone needs different things and works at different paces. The important thing is knowing how much you can take. Never think of it as “giving up” or “giving in” when you reach your limit. Think of it as, “My well-being comes first.”
  • Be realistic about what you can handle. It’s okay to challenge yourself, but don’t tell yourself anything like, “Okay, yesterday I wrote 500 words, today I’m going to write 5k!”
  • Don’t compare yourself to others. If you see someone who regularly writes 5k words a day, don’t kick yourself because you can only write 500. Your circumstances are likely so different from theirs that comparing yourself only hurts you with feelings of inadequacy.
  • Take care of yourself first. Eat. Sleep. Take breaks to watch mind-numbing television or look at pretty artstuffs. Your brain is telling you it needs to turn off for a while, so let your brain turn off.
  • Change your routines. If what you’re doing now isn’t working, consider changing it up. Work somewhere else, at different times of the day, in public places or in private. Sometimes our default working environments aren’t very good to us for various reasons.
  • Go someplace new. Take a little mini-vacation. Go find your nearest state park. Take some friends (or a significant other, or, heck, go by yourself) and stay at a place in the mountains or by the river. Find your nearest old towns and do some window shopping. Give your brain a chance to think about other things and detox from stress.
  • Treat yourself. Reward yourself with something you love but you don’t have very often.
  • Find a community of people similar to you and connect with them. Support groups are awesome and the right people can help talk you out of bad places.
  • Know that you’re more important than the work you do or put out. You must always, always come first.
  • Ask for help. If you fall into one of those bad places, don’t be afraid to ask for help. It doesn’t make you weak — it actually takes a great deal of strength to ask for help. A school counselor should be able to direct you to where you can find help, or you can always try hotlines.
There will always be school and there will always be something to write, but you’ve got to fulfill all your mental health needs before you get to that. When I’ve a friend who’s clearly been overworking themselves and is considering whether or not to just shut the book for the night and do what they want, I will be the first supporter.

Once you’ve done the things above, then here are some tips to get yourself working again:
  • Set small goals. A lot of the time, we think about ALL the things we need to do and it haunts us as one giant entity. Sometimes making “to-do” lists to organize projects in order of importance can do this as well, because then you have a full visual of how much needs to be done. Write your to-do list, take the first thing, and divide it up into manageable segments. Then —
  • Organize your time. Work for maybe a half hour, then take a work-free, mind-numbing tumblr break or whatever you please (or you could write or doodle or look for new music — it’s okay to be productive on your breaks because sometimes productivity in any form is what it takes for us to feel good about ourselves). Then take this process and repeat.
  • It takes seven minutes for you to fully fix your concentration on something new (at least, that’s what I’ve heard). The first seven minutes are the hardest when you pop open a school book to do homework or open up a word document to write, but give yourself seven full, uninterrupted minutes of focus.
  • Train yourself to think positively. This’ll take time. My father says it takes 21 days to make or break habits, but this is of necessity. When you finish your working increment of thirty minutes, don’t go, “Oh hell, I only read two pages and I still have to read 17 and answer the response questions and alkdsfl.” Get yourself to start thinking, “Two pages are out of the way. Now I get some free time.”
  • Take walks. If you’ve got nature around you (green belts or anything similar), then take a walk. Negative ions are said to be good for the body, and nature secretes loads of negative ions. If you don’t have nature, then get away from technology (which secrets positive ions, said to be draining) with a book or a notebook or a drawing pad.
  • Talk to people, whether in person, on the phone, through AIM or Skype, Tumblr or forums. Connecting with people gets you to hear voices other than your own, and it also gives you the chance to unload all your thought vomit. Just make sure you find some positive reinforcements, not negative.
  • Build yourself up. Work with smaller segments an increments at first. Work for ten minutes, then give yourself a break. Then, as you get more comfortable, challenge yourself to do fifteen minutes.
  • Cheat a little. Oops, you got to this part in your story that you’ve been waiting for and you wrote for fifteen minutes longer than you should have. That’s cool. You might match your next work segment time to make up the difference.
  • If you feel like giving up, stop. Repeat the first set of bullets. Don’t start working again until you’re ready.
Your writing may be suffering because you’re simply overworked and overstressed, but it could also be because of guilt: “I haven’t done any work, I don’t deserve to write,” or, “How can I do any writing if I haven’t done any work?”

Your creative process might be poisoned by this stress. For now, you could do little things for your writing that help inspire you. Between your work segments, look at art, listen to music, plot and plan. Try to keep yourself in creative habits, and when you feel confident again, start writing little bits and pieces that excite you.

Here are some additional links that might help:
I hope all this helps, and thank you again for the ask.

Good luck!

(cross-posted from KSW on Tumblr)