Archive for July, 2016

28 Jul

Pitch Wars Live Video

Last night I was on Pitch Wars Live answering your questions from Twitter about Pitch Wars wish lists, submissions, and the craft of writing. It was a TON of fun, and we got some really great questions! I haven’t been able to go back and watch it because I know I make incredibly stupid faces when I talk, but if you want to be entertained by my face, you can watch below, or on youtube here.

If you want to follow up on any of the questions I answered, or get answers to any of the ones I skipped, let me know in the comments!

27 Jul

Critiques and Cultivating Self-Awareness

In Editing,Pitch Wars,Writing Process by MK England / July 27, 2016 / 0 Comments

I’ve written about critiquing and revising several times before. There’s a reason for that—in the last two years, I’ve personally had to come to terms with how critiquing works, how it feels, what I should take from it, and what role it plays in an author’s career. I’ve also watched how those around me have learned to deal (or not deal) with critiques, from casual one-time crit acquaintances to long-term crit partners whom I adore and still work with. You really do go through the five stages of grief when learning to accept critiques, but successful writers eventually make it to the acceptance stage: critiques are helpful and healthy and the best way to ensure your story does what you want it to do.

But how do you get to that point? How do you eventually make it through the hurt and come to a place of understanding and acceptance? That, dear writer, is the million dollar question. And sure, there’s the usual answers of time, perseverance, blah, blah, blah, but what can you really, actually do?

so much pain

Long answer: For me, the answer is self-awareness. By this point, I know myself, and I know my reactions. I know that when I first get a large critique I will be very sad, and I need to give myself a few hours (or even days) to process that. I know that I’ll have a lot of emotional reactions to the feedback at first. How can I not? It’s like getting up on stage and being booed. It’s a mixture of shame and humiliation over making mistakes, anger over people “misinterpreting” things or just “not getting it”, and sadness for having poured so much of my soul into something and having it criticized. These are honest, real reactions, but they shouldn’t dominate the way you react to feedback, and they absolutely shouldn’t dominate how you revise. Because ultimately, that feedback is what’s going to make your book shine.

Short answer: Don’t bullshit yourself. Learn to spot when you’re bullshitting.

My common bullshitting reactions include (but are not limited to) the following:

  • But I like it this way
  • But I did it that way for a specific reason
  • But I worked so hard on that
  • But this scene is essential for Reasons
  • But does that little thing really matter?
  • But changing that will require huge changes in these twenty other places
  • I don’t get how they see it that way
  • NO. *growl*
  • This is terrible, I am terrible, there is no hope, I should give up

Other things to look for in your own reactions (mostly compiled from the #PitchWars class of 2015, thanks y’all):

  • A different crit partner didn’t have a problem with that scene, therefore I’m justified in not fixing it
  • I’m staying true to my art
  • They’re reading it wrong
  • Let me explain it and you’ll understand
  • That’s just the way I write
  • They just don’t get it

The answer to all of these is the same. It isn’t working for this reader. Their opinion is valid. Take a step back, take stock of what you’re feeling, and really think about what you’re hearing.

Next time you get feedback on a piece of work, try this:

  • Name the feeling you’re having. Anger. Shame. Embarrassment. Disappointment. Allow yourself to feel it. Don’t say or do anything to react to it, but specifically acknowledge it and let yourself feel it.
  • Let the feedback sit. A few hours, a few days, a few weeks, however long it takes for you to feel less emotional and be able to approach it more objectively.
  • What is it specifically about that one piece of feedback that bothers you? Is it the work required to fix it? Does it change something you’re particularly proud of? You can be proud of your writing and still acknowledge that it’s not right for the story.
  • What’s at the core of the feedback? Maybe you don’t agree with the specifics, but you can see that there’s something wrong. You don’t agree that the chapter should be cut, but you do agree there are pacing problems, etc.
  • Is it a grammar rule you’re having issues with? These are probably the easiest to let go of. Learn the rule, do better in the future. You might feel some embarrassment over having messed up, or defensiveness because you’ve always done it that way and you don’t think it sounds wrong, but when it comes down to it there’s no need to feel prideful over an established, industry-standard grammar rule. Follow the rule unless you have a really good stylistic reason for breaking it that others agree works.
  • Change your attitude going into the critique. When you first deliver your MS to your critique partner, say, “Do whatever you gotta do to make it awesome,” or, “Tear it up, I can take it!”. When it’s time to receive the critique, mentally prepare for it. Go into it calm, sit down with your crit partner, and say, “Okay, tell me how I can make this better.”
  • Set yourself up to receive the critique however you need. If you need to be alone to process, ask your CPs to send their critiques as edit letters or with track changes in Word or Google Docs. However, I’d really encourage you to try receiving your crits over the phone or in person. It reminds you that the person you’re talking to is a real human who cares about your MS, not a nameless enemy out to hurt you. It also lets them explain a bit about the suggestions they’re making, so you don’t see them in a vacuum.
  • Go into it expecting changes. I’ve talked about this before, but lots of people go into a critique wanting validation. That’s not the point. The point is to make the story better. You’re never done making changes until the book goes to print. A good crit partner will give you some cheerleading too, but that’s not what it’s about.

If, after you’ve done all this, you still feel that a piece of feedback isn’t correct, feel free to disregard it. No one critique partner is correct 100% of the time—not even a Pitch Wars mentor! But make sure you’re rejecting that feedback for the right reasons.

Learning to accept critiques is one of the hardest parts of being a writer, but it’s absolutely essential if you want to be a professional. Better to learn now than to try to learn when the critique is coming from an agent or editor!

For more on the subjects of critiques and revising, see my other two posts:
On Receiving Critiques
It’s Not Selling Out!: On Revising From Feedback

How do you react to critiques? Any strategies to share? Let me know in the comments.

19 Jul

Pitch Wars MSWL: M.K. England and Jamie Pacton (YA)

In Pitch Wars by MK England / July 19, 2016 / 4 Comments

We are YA co-mentors M.K. England and Jamie Pacton.

jamegan

We’re Pitch Wars 2015 alums turned agented authors, and we’re here for all your YA submissions! We are smart. We are funny. We read all the things. We will make you work, but you will have a better book by the end. JaMegan: two mentors for the price of one.

yay felicia day

Here’s what you should submit to us in 300(…ish) words or less:

Give us: Your absolute best effort. Unstoppable voice, believable characters (who don’t have to be likeable), settings that feel real. We’re best able to provide guidance for high-concept books with tons of heart or a rollicking adventure. We are writers today because when we were kids reading adventure stories made us feel empowered, like we could go out and take on the world. We’d love a manuscript that evokes that same feeling.

Yes Please: Sci-fi, Fantasy, LGBTQ, Contemporary, Mystery, Historicals with a twist (alt history/ historical fantasy). We’d love to hear from #OwnVoices; we want diverse books!

Bonus Points: Funny. Geeky. Quirky. Heists. Girls saving themselves. Badassery.

No Thanks: Horror, literary, heavy issue books, anything super slow-paced and quiet. We’re just not the best people to help shape works like these. We’re not wild about getting dystopian unless it has strong SFF elements. It’s fine if characters have faith as a part of their lives, but Christian Fiction or anything else very faith-focused is also not a good fit for us. (CLARIFICATION: The level of violence found in your typical YA genre book is completely fine with us! We just don’t like really gratuitous horror or violence, or any types of violence found in our Big Nopes below.)

Big Nopes: On-screen incest, rape, abuse. No problem if this is part of backstory, but we aren’t the best mentors for books that dig into these traumas. Bigoted or misogynistic narratives are never okay with us. Also, you don’t have to have LGBTQ+ characters, but we hate reading super heteronormative books where it feels like a queer person could never exist in that world.

Comp Titles We Would Walk Through Volcanos For: Bitch Planet; Rat Queens; Saga; Carry On; Little Brother; Six of Crows; Wolf by Wolf, The Name of the Wind (but with stronger female characters); an updated YA version of Mercedes Lackey’s By the Sword; An Ember in the Ashes; the Temeraire series; Sabriel; Graceling; Eleanor & Park; Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda; Into the Wild Nerd Yonder.

M.K. writes: YA Space Opera, Fantasy, LGBTQ+, and fanfic, because yes.

Jamie writes: YA Fantasy, Alt History, Dark Fairy Tales. And funny MG books.

How We Work: Edit letter for big picture stuff first. Line edit for smaller stuff second. Frequent communication as you prefer. If you’re ready to bust your butt, we’re ready to guide you.

More questions?: @Geektasticlib. @JamiePacton.

————

M.K. England is a writer and YA librarian living in the mountainy parts of Virginia. When she’s not writing or librarianing, MK can be found drowning in fandom, going to conventions, running through the woods, feeding her video game addiction, or improvising truly terrible songs about her dogs. She loves Star Wars with a desperate, heedless passion. It’s best if she never speaks of BBC Sherlock. She has it bad. MK is represented by the incomparable Barbara Poelle of the Irene Goodman Literary Agency.

Jamie Pacton is a writer and English teacher living in Wisconsin. In addition to writing Middle Grade and Young Adult fiction, she also writes about autism for Parents magazine. She spends her free moments wandering by Lake Michigan, checking out way too many books from her local library, chasing her children, and watching all the things on Netflix. She’s partial to history, adventure stories, Project Runway, and– of course– the BBC’s Sherlock. Jamie is represented by the wonderful Stefanie Lieberman of Janklow & Nesbit

this is getting fun

Looking for our letter for the scavenger hunt? Gotta visit my co-mentor Jamie Pacton over here. For more YA mentor awesomeness, check out the YA mentor blog hop below:

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13 Jul

Plotting Resources

In Drafting by MK England / July 13, 2016 / 0 Comments

I recently gave a short(…ish) presentation about plotting techniques for the teen writing group at my library and figured, hey, I spent time putting all this together, may as well share it with the world wide interwebs, too.

Look, I make no secret of the fact that I’m an avowed plotter, and I love my outlines with a passion bordering on the obsessive. The mere thought of pantsing a novel both fills me with awe and gives me heart palpitations. As with most things in writing, though, the only correct way to do things is the way that works for you.

That said… we’re here to talk about plotting, which means we’re really here to talk about outlining. Because what is plotting if not an organized list of what happens in your novel? Here’s the secret, though: Outlines aren’t just for plotters, they’re also for pantsers.

plotting

If you intend to create writing for serious public consumption, you will end up doing some manner of outlining at some point anyway, whether it happens before or after the first draft. Even if you’re a devoted pantser, you will eventually need to look back on what you’ve written, analyze it, identify the critical elements, and work to polish them. Outlining methods will help with that! (And hey, with outlining, at least you know if a story is broken before you invest weeks of time into a meandering vomit draft that goes nowhere.) Ultimately, I think Chuck Wendig said it best:

Outlining will not “destroy the magic” or any of that wifty supernatural pegasus shit. I believe very much that writing and storytelling feels like magic while at the same time being a wholly and gloriously mundane activity. (x)

The powerpoint (because I’m incapable of organizing my thoughts without a powerpoint) is right here, with all the relevant links included, but here’s the TL;DR version:

Before you start plotting with ANY of these methods, it’s really helpful if you know your Character, Conflict, and Stakes:

Character– Who should we care about?
Conflict – What is the major obstacle?
Stakes – What bad thing will happen if the character can’t resolve the conflict?

Some methods to try:

Try a bunch, combine methods, see what works!

Do you have any particular plotting methods that work for you? Let me know in the comments!

01 Jul

Twitter Basics for Writers

In PR/Marketing,Uncategorized by MK England / July 1, 2016 / 0 Comments

(This is about two months overdue, so sorry, y’all, but I got there eventually.)

One of my last acts as a founder and co-leader of the Atlantic County Writers Group in New Jersey was to lead a workshop right before I moved away. We had a great group attend Twitter Basics for Writers back in April, and the attendees requested that I post the slides online for later reference.

twitter selfieAnd I tried. The file was so huge that it gave me troubles uploading it, and then I moved and forgot about it. Of course, it occurred to me yesterday I could have just provided you a link to the google doc all along like a smart person. My bad.

 

 

This workshop was designed for folks who were totally new to twitter, or who had used it a bit but needed some help getting involved in the twitter writing community. It walks you through creating an account (which you can skip if you’ve already gotten that far), developing a twitter brand, and engaging with the writing community, and more. You can view the presentation here, and you can even download a PDF to keep by going to file → download as. Many thanks to the folks who gave permission for me to use screenshots of their twitter bios as examples!

Hope someone out there finds this helpful. If you have questions about using twitter as a writer, feel free to ask in the comments. You can also follow me on twitter @Geektasticlib!