Pre-August Camp Update

The August session of Camp NaNoWriMo (http://campnanowrimo.org/) begins in about three and a half days. I finished revising my manuscript weeks ago, so hopefully I’ll focus more on Camp this month.

Unfortunately, I’m not sure I have any ideas fleshed-out enough to start working on in three days. I do have ideas though, and I’m going to give it my best shot, but if I sense trying to get this thing written out in 30 days or less is ruining my manuscript, I won’t hesitate to give up on NaNoWriMo and let my project breathe freely.

I’ve turned my thoughts to this project over the last few days, and I keep a list of random thoughts and ideas relating to it. It’s a sort of brainstorming thing I do; I have my main characters down pretty well and I know the basics of the story, but I’m not sure how it’ll get from one point to another. So I spend time thinking about the setting, the world in which this story takes place, and things that exist in it and how these characters would react to them. I don’t always use everything I write down, and in fact much of it never comes up at all, but it’s there in this world and it makes the world a little bit more alive, which in turn makes the characters a little bit more real. Hopefully I’ll have enough to start working with in three days.

I’ve started going back over the archives at QueryShark (http://queryshark.blogspot.com/). So far I haven’t come across anything I didn’t read before (maybe I did finish reading over them and I just don’t remember) but it’s worth a second read anyway. I’ve already stumbled across one tip I actually don’t follow in my own query letter. I feel like I have a good reason for not following it, but don’t we always feel that way about a mistake we’re in the process of making? I was sure I was right yesterday, but I’ve been thinking it over and now I’m leaning toward “maybe I’m wrong”. But I’ll keep reading the archives and writing down anything my query does contrary to the Shark’s advice, and then I’ll go over it a few times. Obviously the Shark won’t always be right and every agent has different opinions (which is why it’s important to check each agent’s page for what they do or don’t like) but that blog has a lot of priceless knowledge and information and is probably right more often than not. I’m also actually considering submitting my own query now, if I feel like the archives alone aren’t getting my query to where I’d like it to be.

That’s about all going on in David World right now. What are you up to? Are you participating in Camp NaNoWriMo next month?

New Page Idea – Writers’ Resources

After receiving my kajillionth rejection letter the other day I decided to re-think my query letter (of course it’s entirely possible that agents just don’t like my first ten pages, but that’s a beast of another color). Wondering where to begin, it occurred to me that I never finished going over the archives at QueryShark (http://queryshark.blogspot.com/). I read over a lot of them but I’m pretty sure I never got to the end.

Reading over the archives is a requirement for submitting to the Shark, but that’s not why I’m doing it (the shark only bites for queries that contain something the blog hasn’t touched on, which I’m pretty sure mine doesn’t). I’m doing it just because it’s full of great advice.

If you’ve never visited the site, you should probably browse the archives as well, especially if you feel like your query letter is off, or strange, or just underwhelming. In all honesty, it’s one of those websites pretty much every prospective writer should frequent. And I realize that I have a lot of such sites in mind, from blogs to sites to twitter feeds.

So I’m thinking of putting up a new page on my blog. I try to give advice to writers, but my publishing history consists of two short stories, and one was a contest winner. This way, if you don’t believe me, you might find some use for my blog in a list of links to other, more credible sources of information.

Of course, having information won’t automatically make you the best writer ever, but it’s a nice first step. Probably a nice first hundred steps. The rest is up to you, but it helps to have something to go by.

What do you think? Should I make a page for writers’ resources? Have any sites or sources you think I should add? Where do you go when you need advice on writing? Leave me a comment.

Writing Tip (On Humility)

I last sent a query letter on January 25th. Boy, do I regret it. And all of the other ones I’ve sent.

In the past week I’ve come to realize something about myself: My query letters are terrible.

I’ll be honest. I think I’m a good writer. Or at least I have the potential to be. I think most writers probably think that way. The trick is to not get caught up in it.

It doesn’t matter how good you think you are. You have something to learn. I thought my writing was good and my query letters would automatically be good as well, so I looked up a few and then started sending off my own.

I had the form more or less right. But that’s not the important part. I was describing things in great detail, adding in too many characters, summing up  my book in themes and morals. That’s not how it works.

I learned what I was doing wrong from a variety of sources. The awesome folks at the Query Tracker forum were the first clue that I had it all wrong. Then I read Elana Johnson’s blog and e-book on querying. These two were enough to get me on the right track, I think. Now I’m in the process of reading the entire catalog of Query Shark posts. I’m going to finish those, but already I can see a few more tweaks I need to make to my query letters, and I won’t be sending any more until all of this is finished.

I sent out queries to some agents I really would’ve liked to work with. I think I killed my chances by sending them crappy queries. Some humility could’ve spared that. I thought I was a good writer and I looked up some blogs on query structure, and I made the assumption that that was enough. It wasn’t. Now I’m going to make sure I have a top-notch query letter before I send out any more. Lesson learned.

While reading through the Query Shark pages, I started to notice something. A lot of times, a query will get a response along the lines of “don’t do this” and in the revision, that same exact phrase will be present and followed by another “don’t do this”. Nothing says “I can’t write” like thinking your writing is so good you can just ignore someone telling you otherwise. Especially someone who actually works in the industry. This isn’t to say that you should bow to every hint and suggestion you ever get; sometimes people have the best intentions but they just don’t know your manuscript and their suggestion just doesn’t work (and if you find yourself writing off every bit of advice as such, chances are you’re either doing a terrible job of summing up your manuscript, or worse, you can’t write). But if you notice a lot of people asking the same questions or taking issue with the same phrasing, then there’s something you need to look at.

Of course, much of this can be avoided by doing the right amount of work at the beginning. In my case, I should’ve read the entire archive of Query Shark instead of just a few blogs on structure. I should’ve headed over to the Query Tracker forum and at the very least read other people’s posts and responses to them (or better yet, posted my own for feedback).

Writing is work. Don’t ever assume your writing is so good that you don’t have to work to get it right.