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09 Mar

On Receiving Critiques

In Drafting,Editing,Writing Groups,Writing Process by MK England / March 9, 2016 / 2 Comments

Getting critiqued is hard.

There’s really no way around it. When you first start getting hardcore critiqued, it hurts. It took me the better part of a year to grow thick enough skin to really get something useful out of my critiques, and I felt horrible the entire time. Part of it is the battle of what you tried to do vs. what you actually did. The following thoughts tend to creep in when being critiqued for the first few times:

  • But they just didn’t understand this part, even though it was obvious
  • Well, they completely missed the point here
  • I know they think this, but I really like this part as-is, so I’m going to leave it
  • It’s MY book anyway, so I’m going to do it my way

thanks input

Don’t shut out your critique partners!

Secretly, everyone who submits their work for critique for the first time wants one thing: VALIDATION. We want readers to come back with a few little comments here and there, maybe catch some typos, but overall want our work to be loved and understood. Above all else, we want to know that we do have talent, we can do this whole writing thing, and we aren’t wasting our time. We all want to be the exception, the one that really is talented enough to get by without revisions.

I get it. I’ve been there. I still wrestle with these feeling every time I submit something. But you have to let it go, because there is exactly one purpose to submitting your work for critique: getting better.

If you’re writing purely for your own enjoyment, you shouldn’t worry about having your work critiqued. Don’t even bother! So long as you’re happy with it, mission accomplished. If you want to share your work with readers, though, critiques are absolutely necessary.

There are two sides to any creative work: the work itself, and the audience’s view of the work. We all have things we hope to convey through our work, but if we’re conveying those things in a way that doesn’t come across to the reader, it doesn’t matter how in love we are with our own words; the meaning has been lost. Our work must stand on its own once it’s out in the world. We can’t be there to defend it or explain it to those who misunderstand. It is a product wholly separate from ourselves, no matter how much of our hearts we pour into it.

These days, when I present my work for critique, I have a very different attitude: Be ruthless. Overlooking mistakes doesn’t help the work become stronger. It doesn’t help me become a better writer. I want to know everything I’ve done wrong. Everything that’s unclear. Everything that makes the reader pause and question. I don’t want my feelings spared if it means the book is worse for it. That said: don’t be a dick. Self-explanatory, yes?

And of course, there’s a whole other essential skill set to master once you’ve become numbed to the pain: Sifting through the feedback, identifying the useful bits and, hardest of all, figuring out how to fix everything. Learning to spot the problems and learning to fix them are two separate skills. Fortunately, I think the key to both is the same: critique other people’s work. As you learn to see things in others’ work, you’ll start to see them in your own work. It’s a brilliant symbiotic relationship, and it really helps with internalizing that a story isn’t any less yours because you’ve incorporated feedback.

Critiquing others, more than anything else, helps writers understand that it’s not about following the rules of style because they’re rules, but because of the psychology of reading that backs up those rules. There are reasons you need to say things in the clearest way possible, reasons you should ensure your first chapter sets up certain elements of your story, and so many reasons you should show instead of tell.

As my brilliant agent Barbara Poelle once told me: you need crit partners who can kick your ass. I wholeheartedly believe this now, and not just because a good ass-kicking got me the greatest agent in the world. I can see how much better I’ve gotten, and it’s exciting. That’s my new form of validation: Being able to look back and see the improvement with my own two eyes. I’m a completely different writer than I was a year ago, and I have so many brutal crit partners to thank for it.

cheers

Also, seriously, grammar is not optional. But that’s a post for another day.

09 Mar

Agent Announcement!

In News,Querying by MK England / March 9, 2016 / 0 Comments

I’m thrilled to announce that I’ve signed with the incomparable Barbara Poelle of the Irene Goodman Literary Agency!

yay sherlock

I seriously have the world’s most intense and badass agent. She’s like being strapped to the front of a bullet train, but in the best way. One of these days I’ll write up more details about my agent search, but for now I’ll leave some querying stats for those going through the process:

Queries sent before #PitchWars: 12
Queries sent after #PitchWars: 28
Pitch Wars Requests: 10
Total Full Requests outside PW: 5
Total Partial Requests outside PW: 3
Total Rejections: 27
Outstanding Queries: 7
Offers of Representation: 3

Also, major props to my agency sisters, Sarah Nicole Lemon and Kerri Maniscalco, whose feedback guided me through the R&R that got me where I am right now. They are both immensely talented! You can add their books on goodreads:

Stalking Jack the Ripper by Kerri Maniscalco (Jimmy Patterson, September 2016)
Done Dirt Cheap by Sarah Nicole Lemon (Amulet, 2017)

I look forward to working with Barbara and IGLA!

24 Feb

Idea Seeds and Updates

In Drafting,Questions Answered,Writing Process by MK England / February 24, 2016 / 3 Comments

It’s been a while. I know. Forgive me. Things got pretty real in the beginning of 2016.

So what’s happened? Two things, mainly.

  • I completed my R&R for Space Academy Rejects, which includes a completely new second half and tons of fantastic revisions to the front. I looove it. It was brain-bendingly difficult, but I’m thrilled with the final product, and I hope my beta readers are enjoying it right now!
  • A lot of stuff went down in the city where I work. Public libraries are part of local government, so whenever a city has major financial issues, its public libraries suffer. We’re talking possible bankruptcy, state takeover, layoffs, the whole nine. Fun times.

So, y’know. I’ve been a bit off the grid. But I return!

Moriarty(1)

The big topic on my brain lately is book ideas. After each book I finish, I have a major panic moment where I feel like I’ll never have another good book idea ever again. It inevitably passes and I fall in love with another project, but it doesn’t make the fear any less REAL each time. It’s like:

giphy

I’m coming off another such crisis right now and am beyond thrilled to be outlining a new YA space opera with a main character I adore. But the question that gets asked of every writer at some point is: where do your ideas come from?

For me, there are two stages: Seeds and sprouts.
(and I hope you’ll forgive the cheesy metaphor, which I’m about to beat like a bad cliche)

I have a whole document full of unspecific ideas that can come from anywhere at any time. Concepts I think are cool, bits of dialogue in need of the right character to say them, worldbuilding details that need a plot to go along, and other tidbits. Some are more fully-formed than others. These are my seeds: little story bits that are fully of potential, but need the right catalyst to get them growing.

But what’s the catalyst? What provides the water and sunshine for the seeds? (What will stop this awful metaphor from continuing?) That’s where my own media consumption habits come into play. When I’m having an awful time getting a new book idea going, it’s almost always because I’ve been neglecting reading, TV watching, and video game playing in favor of 100% focus on my writing and critiquing responsibilities. For those little concepts to turn into real, feasible story ideas, they have to collide with something I’m experiencing in media.

For Space Academy Rejects, the seed was utterly generic: some kind of space academy thing, a wacky sense of humor, and the whole found family crew concept common to sci-fi like Joss Whedon’s Firefly. That’s nothing. There’s nothing to go on there. No plot, no conflict, no character. That seed planted itself in my brain in mid/late 2013 and lay dormant for over a year.

Then I saw Guardians of the Galaxy in the theater in August 2014, and something about the sense of humor in that movie jumpstarted the voice of my main character, Nax. Suddenly I could hear him so clearly, hear his humor and self-deprecation, and in September 2014 I vomited the first chapter onto the page in one go. I toyed with it, thought about changing tenses out of fear of writing first person/present tense, decided to stick with it, wrote another three chapters, then added 50k words to finish the novel in November 2014 for NaNoWriMo. I haven’t written all that many books yet, but each time, it’s worked the same way: an idea seed lies in wait until it meets the right catalyst, then sprouts.

groot dance

Any time you plant seeds, there will always be some that don’t sprout. Some cool ideas will only ever be cool ideas. And that’s fine. Maybe they didn’t meet the right catalyst, or maybe there was something wrong with the seed to begin with. Maybe they’re still waiting for the right reaction. BUT. So long as you keep planting seeds and watering them, something will eventually grow. Keep that list of cool ideas and engage with lots of media. A new idea will take root soon enough.

(Hear that, self? STOP PANICKING.)

How do you come up with new story ideas?

04 Dec

Thank Goodness It’s Over!: Reflections on NaNoWriMo 2015

In Drafting,Editing,Goals by MK England / December 4, 2015 / 0 Comments

What. A. Month.

#PitchWars agent round. Tons of querying. An R&R request. And, oh yeah… a little thing called NaNoWriMo.

madness

This was my first year as an Municipal Liaison for National Novel Writing Month, and it was pretty great. Stressful, busy, but fun and rewarding. MLing took up a lot more of my time than I anticipated, so even though I was attending 2-3 write-ins per week, I still struggled to meet the daily word count. That honestly had less to do with my ML duties than with my story problems, though.

There’s a point at which I know a story is ready to be written. I do lots of outlining, worldbuilding, and character development before I even start, but I really know a story is ready when I’m about 5-10k words in and I find myself thinking about the characters constantly when I’m not writing. I play out conversations in my mind, imagine how they’re going to react to events that I know are coming, bounce them off each other and see how they relate. The mechanics of the story can all be totally solid, but if the characters aren’t talking to each other in my head, then the story isn’t going to happen, no matter how I try to force it.

That probably sounds kind of woo woo, but I’m serious. If that’s not there, the story falls apart. And this point was proved all over again this November.

I really, really wanted to write my next YA space opera during NaNoWriMo. I wanted it so bad, and I planned and outlined and figured out tech. But the characters were boring, especially compared to my beloved Rejects, who I’d so recently finished revising. They weren’t talking to me. I forced myself all the way to the 25k mark before finally throwing in the towel on that story. It’s not ready. I love the concept, and I’ll write it one day soon, but now’s not the time.

I thought part of the problem might have been that I’d so recently finished editing Space Academy Rejects and I was having trouble getting that voice out my head. The new space opera had next to nothing in common with Rejects, but I couldn’t get the taste out of my mouth. So, I did something a bit… maybe ill-advised?

sherlock bluuuh

I decided to go for a palette cleanser. I had an adult M/M romance I’d outlined over a year ago, and with 25k words still to write for NaNoWriMo, I figured—what the hell, right? May as well write something completely different to give my brain a reset, then try another YA space opera after the holidays. And it was fantastic! It’s great to stretch writing muscles I don’t use as often and study the conventions of another genre. I had so much fun with it. In fact, I had originally decided to ditch my NaNo project altogether after I got the R&R request, but then I was waiting on feedback anyway and going crazy thinking about it.

So, there I was: November 29th, sitting at just under 37k words. I. Lost. My. Mind. And I beasted out a win at 10pm on November 30th.

Tenzin-Woohoo

See the crazy things that can happen when your characters talk to you in your head?

So now, here I am, early December, armed with tons of new feedback on Space Academy Rejects and diving straight from NaNo into this R&R (with an unreasonably ambitious self-assigned deadline because, hey, I’m me). I’m ready for this. And hey, if you see someone wandering around with coffee in a drip bag, please send them my way.

In my free time (hahahaha!)  over the next few weeks, I’ll also be indulging in one of my favorite holiday traditions: LGBT holiday romances. There’s just nothing like a fire, hot cocoa, and first kisses for the chilly winter months. Got any recs for me? Let me know in the comments! 

28 Nov

Casting for Space Academy Rejects

In Book Extras,Writing Process by MK England / November 28, 2015 / 0 Comments

I was recently made aware that I’ve managed to write an entire novel without ever physically describing my main character. Space Academy Rejects is written in first person, present tense, so it was easier than you might think to accidentally accomplish this ridiculous feat, but it was a huge oversight nonetheless. Meanwhile, in the #PitchWars 2015 facebook group, folks were posting pictures and descriptions of their main characters for another mentee to draw, and I thought… damn, I really need to go digging for some photos.

And I have.

I present to you, the Space Academy Rejects look-alikes:

SAR cast(Image credits at the links below)

Nax (center) — Imran Abbas
Rion (top left) — Donald Glover
Case (top right) — Freema Agyeman
Zee (bottom left) — Jenna Talackova
Asra (bottom right) — Some random beautiful person on Pinterest who happens to look exactly like my mental picture of Asra (we need more hijabi actresses/models!)

Do yourself a favor and google more pictures of Imran Abbas. Go on. I’ll wait. I chose this one because he looks closer to the right age, but there were many, many options.

I was surprised to see how joyful this little exercise was for me. I’m giddy at seeing my characters’ faces like this, and I’m even more pumped up to work on edits now that I have a more concrete idea of their appearance in my mind. Lesson learned: I should cast all my books before I ever do my first round of revisions!

Do you make pinterest boards or cast characters from your own writing? Link me in the comments and I’ll take a look!

10 Nov

#PitchWars Wrap-Up & Celebration

In Editing,Publishing,Writing Process by MK England / November 10, 2015 / 1 Comment

Okay. I think I’m finally ready to talk about #PitchWars, the novel contest that has been consuming my life for the past two months. Between the agent round of #PitchWars and the start of NaNoWriMo, my feelings lately have been a lot like this:

at-at_faceplant

But here’s the real talk: participating in #PitchWars has been THE single most valuable experience of my writing life.

— But MK, I heard that #PitchWars is two months of complete editing hell! How did you deal?

Not gonna lie. The going got rough for a while, but I’m the sick sort of person that thrives on that kind of thing. I love it. Give me an impossible deadline and I will pound the caffeine and go hard until I make it. Is it healthy? Mmm, maybe not, but it sure is satisfying. It’s the same sort of feeling I get from crossing things off a list. I love to work really hard and feel things falling before me like opponents on a battlefield. Look how much I’m getting accomplished! Like a BOSS. Personal validation, you are MINE!

roar

Here’s a look at my #PitchWars timeline:

  • September 1st: Selected to be a #PitchWars mentee by the fantastic Sarah Glenn Marsh! I blogged about it here.
  • September 2nd: Received edit letter from Sarah, along with homework. Created a revision outline based on Sarah’s feedback, mapped out character arcs more thoroughly, and discussed changes with crit partners. Also submitted answers for my joint interview with Sarah.
  • September 13th: Began revisions, with a rough goal of one chapter per day and a finish line of October 2nd. Some chapters took more than one day, others took less.
  • October 3rd: Sent revised manuscript out to critique partners and new beta readers. Breathed a huge sigh of relief. Immediately read books, played video games, and wrote fanfic to recover. Somewhere in here I submitted my 50-word pitch and excerpt that became my #PitchWars contest entry.
  • October 16th: Beta reader feedback deadline. Read over comments from six people and digested the feedback. Discussed all feedback with Sarah, made minor changes to fix how people were perceiving two characters, and fixed typos/consistency errors.
  • October 21st: Delivered final manuscript to Sarah for one last read through. Tweaked paragraph spacing, and DONE!

You may notice that I devoted nearly as much time to creating my revision outline and brainstorming solutions as I did to actually revising. That’s pretty typical for me. I have to know the solution to a problem before I can start trying to fix it. I’ll roll around and brainstorm and pace and go crazy asking ‘what if?’ questions until every plot hole is plugged and every character is ready for their final bow. After that, it’s only a matter of execution.

My revisions took about 2.5 weeks of going to work, coming home, grabbing a quick dinner, and sitting down to revise until about 11pm. I had to take a cheat day in the middle to give my brain a break, but I managed to finish on time and get the manuscript to give my beta readers two weeks with it. It was intense.

crazy typing

I have never been happier with this manuscript. I was already in love with it, but I worried that after working so hardcore I’d end up sick of it. Not the truth at all. I believe in it more than ever, love it more than ever. And I can’t thank the incomparable Sarah Glenn Marsh enough for guiding me through this experience. She’s been my greatest cheerleader, my window into the publishing world, and her incredible eye for character really made this manuscript shine. I couldn’t have asked for a better mentor!

comforting

One of the best things to come of #PitchWars has been the community of mentees. The #PitchWars class of 2015 is full of amazingly talented folks with stories that need to be shared with the world, and the support and camaraderie in our group in unparallelled. It’s been fantastic celebrating everyone’s successes and rejections as a group. Thanks for being awesome, fellow mentees!

everyone in this bar

I am so incredibly grateful to Brenda Drake, Sarah, and everyone else involved in Pitch Wars behind the scenes. Y’all are effing rockstars. You’ve really built something great.

 

03 Nov

NaNoNooooooo: How is it already November?

In Drafting by MK England / November 3, 2015 / 0 Comments

The beginning of November brings two major things in my writing life: NaNoWriMo, the yearly challenge to write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days, and the #PitchWars agent round. Since I’m doing my best to REMAIN CALM, DAMN IT regarding the latter… here’s a lot of gifs about the former.

potterpalspanic

The word of the month is PANIC. My idea for this NaNoWriMo has been brewing in my head for months, and I assure you—it is SO FUN. Bad ass ladies kicking ass in space. Kind of my MO. But, very early on the idea divided itself into two separate ideas. Same core concept, but two drastically different executions. I decided on one. Then I decided on the other. Then, two days ago, I decided to smash their faces together and do both. Now, 4000 words into my NaNo draft… I’ve changed my mind. Again.

I’m normally a fairly serious plotter, so having this degree of uncertainty is definitely panic-inducing for me. If I’ve learned anything over the past two years, though, it’s that every book demands to be written differently. I may have a general process that works for me, but no writing experience will be exactly the same from book to book. And that’s fine. This one is just… a new challenge. Yes. Let’s go with that.

everything is fine

I’ve also mentioned before that I’m one of the NaNoWriMo Municipal Liaisons for my region, so I’ve been doing my best to keep our South Jersey ship running smoothly along with fellow South Jersey writers Krista Magrowski and Lisen Minetti. Our kickoff party and day one write in was yesterday at the fabulous Casciano Coffee in Hammonton, NJ and we had a fabulous turnout of over thirty writers. I also had a great time designing a bunch of prize buttons for our region:

buttons

I enjoy the NaNoWriMo process for two main reasons: the community both online and off, and because hey, I’m a vomit-drafter anyway, so why not? My #PitchWars novel this year was last year’s NaNo novel, so to those who say nothing quality can come of NaNo, I say…

challenge accepted

I promise I’ll actually post something about the #PitchWars experience very soon. I have a lot of warm, squishy feelings to share about it. But the agent round starts in a matter of HOURS so if you’ll excuse me I’m just going to go… drink tea and read fanfic, probably. Let’s be honest with each other.

Best of luck to all my fellow #PitchWars mentees!

19 Sep

NaNoWriMo Printable Tools

In Uncategorized by MK England / September 19, 2015 / 0 Comments

As I’ve mentioned before, I was selected as one of the Municipal Liaisons for National Novel Writing Month, so I’ll be coordinating events for the South Jersey region as well as my own library this year. I wanted to make some fun extras to motivate people to come to write-ins and finish their 50k words, so here they are: a NaNoBingo card with various challenges to complete, and a Frequent Writer Card that wrimos get stamped or stickered at events they attend.

If you need editable versions of any of these documents, let me know in the comments and I’ll get you an Illustrator (.ai) file. Please feel free to print these out and use them at your own events, though I’d prefer it if you could leave the credit line in.

NaNoBingo Card

Frequent Writer Card

The FWC currently has six spaces, which could be filled if a wrimo went to one write-in per week, plus the kickoff and TGIO parties. Regions with particularly ambitious wrimos may wish to edit to add more spots.

For prizes, I’m using my library’s button maker to make 1.5″ pinback buttons that are South Jersey-themed. Check your local library to see if they have a makerspace or equipment check out—you may be able to do the same!

Happy novel planning, wrimos! See you in November.

hobbit gif

14 Sep

#PitchWars Interview with Sarah Glenn Marsh!

In Interviews by MK England / September 14, 2015 / 0 Comments

Hello, creatures! Sarah Glenn Marsh and I did a joint mentor/mentee interview as part of the whole #PitchWars shindig, and it’s now up for your reading pleasure on Brenda Drake’s blog. Thanks to Marnise Nicole for coordinating the interview, and to Brenda Drake for hosting!

Read the interview here!

yay felicia day

12 Sep

#PitchWars Edits Begin!

In Editing,Goals by MK England / September 12, 2015 / 1 Comment

I managed to break the back end of my site for a few days, so this post is long over due, but … I was selected as a 2015 #PitchWars mentee!

hermione cheer

The evening of the announcement went something like this:

And even a week later, it was still like this:

But now it’s really sunk in, and I’ve been hard at work. My lovely mentor, the super smart and talented Sarah Glenn Marsh, was so on top of things that I got my edit letter and #PitchWars homework the day after the announcement was made. I had some assigned reading, some character mapping to do, and a ginormous revision outline to make. At first I was like … revision outline? Wow, that’s new, I always just dive in and fix things start to finish according to the track changes/comments in word. Except then I looked back at my old notes. Yes, apparently I DO make revision outlines, they’re just scattered across six thousand post-it notes, notebooks, and google docs. Ha. Sarah’s way is vastly superior, and it got me really pumped to see how everything would eventually fit together.

I thought I would be afraid of my edit letter but actually … it’s all fine. In this case, there were no major plot or structure changes (thanks to my amazing crit partners, no doubt), nor were there many cut requests—just lots of opportunities to give the reader more. More emotion, more characterization, more interaction, more physical presence, more setting detail. Character is what really makes or breaks a book for me, so I’m thrilled to be making these kinds of changes. I’m pretty easy-going about making changes anyway, so long as they fit the overall direction of the book, but I was still very pleased with the notes I received. I would love to have those revisions done by the end of September. #goals

In the meantime, I’ve also been brainstorming, plotting, and character arc-ing a new book to be drafted during NaNoWriMo this year. My dearest crit partner Lisen and I were named Municipal Liaisons for the South Jersey Region of NaNoWriMo, along with our fellow South Jersey writer Krista Magrowski, so we’re looking forward to an intense November! I don’t want to say too much about the new book yet, but I’m bouncing in my chair at the thought of getting to write it. Humor, campy sci-fi, and bad ass ladies, oh my!

How do you feel about revisions? Do you struggle to accept the things your critique partners tell you, or do you take it and run? What’s the toughest part of the revision process for you? Let’s commiserate together in the comments.