Monthly Archives: April 2012

Writing is Like State Speech–many will enter, few will win.

For the record, my speechie pulled sixth place at the state speech tournament two weekends ago.  After a grueling day of four rounds, he received a medal.  A nice big medal.  Belt buckle size.

I’m super proud of this accomplishment, and I hope he is, too.  You see, first doesn’t mean that any place behind it is null and void.  In fact, over 330 schools participated in Class 1A speech this past season.  Three hundred and thirty some.

Sound a little bit like writing?

If 330 aspiring writers sent off their manuscripts to an agent, the agent would request to see about 33 of them–or 10%.  In speech terms, this would be the narrowing down of kids via subsections and sections, where only 24 brave and articulate souls made it to state in each of the 13 categories (think genres).

While there, they had to perform in front of peers and judges to earn a spot in final rounds.  Only the top eight speechies in each category advanced to the stage to present their speech in front of a panel of judges.

Again, just like writing, the estimate on the streets is that two percent of writers will garner agent representation and make it to this prestigious round.  330 x 2% = 7ish.  I know.  Scary and disconcerting, right?  Yet my speechie didn’t choke and quit halfway through.  No, he prepared speech after speech after speech to make it into that elite 2%.  In writing terms, he nabbed his agent.

But lest we believe garnering interest of an agent is the end of the odds, consider further.  Of the 2% of writers who receive representation on a first novel, only half of them will get published.  ONLY HALF.

Holy crap!  Why bother, right?  I mean, of those 330 speechies writers, only 3-4 of them will get published.  With odds like that, we might as well dance in an electrical storm holding metal umbrellas.  At least then we’d have something to jolt us into reality.

But reality is that the top ten percent is something to be proud of.  It means we’re doing something right.  It means we’re getting closer.  It means we have a chance.

Garnering the backing of an agent is incredible.  It’s amazing and thrilling and wow…just wow!  Making it to final rounds during State Speech is incredible.  The top two percent of anything is outstanding and a great accomplishment.

Sixth in State.  It gets us a medal.  It tells us we’ve  wowed a panel of judges and deserve to be recognized.  The only thing it doesn’t give us is a publishing contract.

Yet.

Next year.  Next season.  Next manuscript.

Ten percent, two percent, one.

Dearest writers, how do you feel about where you’re at on the journey?  Have you cleared sections and made it to state?  Did you break finals and get to compete for that medal?  Have you missed it by *thismuch*? 

What are your plans for continuing?  Does this post make alternative publishing routes sound more appealing to you, or have you already begun walking that path?  If so, what are your experiences?

Curious minds want to know.

Successes Not Our Own

Finalist SpeechiesIn the past few weeks, sub sections and then sections culled our speech team from twenty-eight to twelve to one.  Two of our speechies missed joining our sole, state-bound winner (at the top of the dog pile) by one place.

(As an aside, my DD is on the left.  She placed fourth last week with her persuasive speech on homosexual bullying within the school setting.  I’ve never been so proud of her and her absoulute confidence as I was watching her in final rounds.  She rocks my socks off and has way more courage than I ever had!  If you want to read her speech, you can find it under It’s Not about Sex on the Inspirations tab.)

At the tender ages of 13-17, those students who missed advancement to the next level already exhibit tremendous poise and grace.  They didn’t cry, spout angry expletives or pout.  Rather, they shook the hands of the winners and walked away vowing to try harder next year.  They cheered on the remaining speechies, wishing them luck and honestly celebrating their successes.

Speech is very personal. It challenges one’s abilities and confidence.  It builds character and hones life-long skills.  It can also be brutal, as contestants are critiqued and judged.  They are told each and every meet what they do right and what they do wrong.  They receive comments on anything from dress to poise, articulation to body language, pronunciation to speed, oral fluidity to memorization, and audience connection to their depth of emotion.

These kids have thick skin.

Remind you of anyone you know?

How do you handle the success of those who achieve your dreams?  Do you have the grace to honestly congratulate them and cheer them on, or do you feel compelled to complain and compare, wallowing in your unfair failures and their unfair success? 

 Do you have the thick skin it takes to be critiqued and judged and deemed less than worthy of a medal and advancement?  If not, why are you writing?  If so, what tips do you have to pursue this passionate, yet highly competitive, dream of publication? 

Curious minds want to know.

PS~ Keep your fingers crossed for our extemporaneous speaker.  He has 30 minutes to prepare a seven minute speech and then present it to a panel of judges.  The topics are current events, and with this being an election year, they are highly political.  Good training for future presidency!

Does your writing look like dreamsicle vomit?

After five years and five thousand fingerprint smudges, we repainted our entire upstairs.  Initially, DH was less than thrilled with my choices–particularly the hall bathroom.

“It looks like a dreamsicle threw up in here.”

He was right and I doubted my pick, even though I never told him that.  “You’ll see.  As soon as I get the rugs in and the pictures up and, and, and, it will be fine,” I said with fingers crossed and wishy-washy words falling from my lips.

Well, the rugs aren’t down yet and we have yet to replace the vanity light and sconce to match the chocolate-brown accents, but…

…last night DH approved.

“I just couldn’t see it until it was all put together.”

And that, my writer friends, is exactly why we need to spit-shine our submissions before sending them off to agents and editors or self-publishing them.

We must always, always send our very best.  It must not be the shell of an idea, stripped down to the paint on the wall.  Our manuscripts must be complete and compelling.  Touched up and accessorized perfectly to bring out the visions in our heads.

Only then can a reader appreciate what could be.  Because, until then, all they will see is a work in progress–a look that can be very ugly indeed.

Cat’s Guide to Avoiding Manuscript Vomit 

* If you feel compelled to send a different section of your manuscript than what is traditionally asked for, you’re not ready to query.

* If you “just finished writing my first novel”, you’re not ready for anything but a long break and a serious revision.

* If you made substantial changes to your manuscript during your last read-through, you’re not ready to unleash your writing on the reading public.

* If you feel as if replacing the faucet and countertop will make everything perfect, you must stop somewhere because you can’t afford a major remodel.  Which is the great thing about writing.  Every revision is free.  All it takes is time and dedication.

So, don’t sell yourself short by sending out a half-finished product.  Instead, take the time you need to satisfy your Inner Editor.  Listen to and learn all you can about the writing business.  I know you want your novel in the hands of readers right now.  So do I.  But, showing our babies to the world before they are truly ready will only garner rejections, negative reviews and heartbreak.

And the last thing we want to hear about our manuscripts is that they look like a hodge-podge of ideas and characters vomited onto the page.

So, go forth and remodel.  You have my permission.

Knowing When to Say Goodbye

We’ve been preparing for prom and graduation.  In the process, I’ve made 1001 decisions.  Paint colors–for fingernails and walls.  Carpet, shoes, food and flowers.  Yet, no decision has been as difficult as the one we now face.

After a morning at the vet clinic, it is clear that our geriatric lab is suffering tremendously.  She never complains–no whining or whimpering, no growling or yipping–and she’s never lost her temper in that curmudgeonly way aging animals do.  She’s as sweet as ever and loyal to a fault.

You see, despite every joint in her legs being affected, she still follows the kids up and down the stairs.  She still gets up whenever her humans look at her, talk to her or walk away.  She would lay down her life for any of us, a sad irony when you consider we now have to choose her fate.

If the pain medication does not ease her discomfort, we will have no choice.  If it does work, it’s likely that she will simply sleep all day in a drug-induced stupor, and we will be forced to choose between saying goodbye to our dearest family pet or keeping her alive despite her failed quality of life.

Her mind is sound.  Her eyes are bright and her love for us deep and more clear than if she could voice it.  My heart breaks at the very thought of what the next week will bring.

For some, trunking a novel elicits the same heartbreaking emotion.  We’ve lived and breathed these characters.  Heck, we’ve given birth to them.  By some estimates, the writing journey–from the first excited “Once upon a time” to “The End” of a book contract–averages ten years.  Ten years.

That’s how old Kallie is.

Saying goodbye to a manuscript or a beloved pet is never easy, yet sometimes, it is the right thing to do.

When the time comes, we will say goodbye to Kallie at the farm–hunting land that has been in the family for generations.  A few years ago, Middle Son received a tree for Arbor Day.  It’s planted on a crest overlooking the pond.  I can’t think of a better place for Kallie to rest in peace.

May your day be filled with hope and happiness.

Hugs~ Cat

Dressing Up Your Manuscript for Prom

I have one princess readying herself for prom.  Eldest has gone through it twice, but being a boy, he’s pretty low-key.  Dear Daughter is a whole ‘nother experience.  She needs make up and hair pins and shoes and alterations for her skinny little butt and shiny bling and sparkles and pretties and paint and…

Don’t get me wrong, it’s fun.  But it’s also a lot of hard work.  Colors must coordinate and styles must flow seamlessly from the tip of her top knot to her perfectly manicured toes.

Too much of anything is gaudy.  Too different is chaotic.  Less is definitely more.

In many ways, preparing a manuscript for submission is the same.  Less is more.

If you’re new to the writing gig, check out my list of references for a few books that can help accessorize your manuscript for your target agent/editor/audience.

For amazing websites or blogs on the business, please take a peek at my sidebar.  My favorite go-to places are yours for the asking.

What are some of your favorite writing resources?  What is your writing bible?  What blog do you turn to for all the answers?

Curious minds want to know.

 

 

Welcome to My Writing World: Piglandia

As some of you know, I’m a closet pig.  Sadly, this has oozed into my weekend and I’m now living in Piglandia.

Last week, my speech team prepared for sub-sections in a marathon of late night practices.  Adding to the mix were final preps for the Children’s Theatre of which I had two boys in, taxied a third to and fundraised for.  (And yes, I am fully aware that every one of those phrases ended with a preposition.  Sorry Mrs. Kirkeby.)  Throw in a baseball sign up night and an absent DH for a few days and you can see where this is heading…

Somehow, I managed to keep things relatively ordered–until the curtain opened on Friday night.  When the final act closed on Sunday afternoon, I felt like I had been home a total of five hours all weekend.

My house might disagree.  After all, how could I have left seven pairs of shoes on the floor in a mere five hours?  My speech bag is on the kitchen table, my sweater from yesterday is on the counter and my purse is in the bathroom.  I have several sets of keys strewn around the house, and I had to call my cell phone to find it amidst the rubble that has become Piglandia.

My writing life has moments of Piglandia as well.  For instance, I just finished my third beta read in as many weeks and have another downloaded on my Kindle.  I have a freelance project to wrap up, a speech to write for tonight, and, and, and.

My brain is bursting with plot bunnies (it must be spring) and I have my own manuscripts to scour for content and copy.  I’m a writing mess right now.

But, I’ve learned a thing or two about living in Piglandia–both in writing and in life.

I corral my plot bunnies (as found at From the Write Angle), I organize my keys projects in order of importance and stuff my shoes back into the closet where they belong.

When my world appears uncluttered on the surface, I gain a deeper level of calmness.  I don’t fret about messy closets and figure if someone peeks inside them, it’s their problem not mine.  After all, I know what each closet holds even if it looks more chaotic than a dozen clowns piling out of a VW Bug.  I even know where in the Bug individual clowns closet individual items might be.

It’s just a matter of getting them there in the first place.  Like I said, my house–and my writing world–is usually quite clean.  Just every once in a while, things pile up and I need a moment to declutter Piglandia and regain my balance.

How about you, dear writers?  What do you do when things pile up and threaten to overtake you?  Do you have calming chaos like me and my closets?  If so, what is your vice?  Or, is your home/writing life spit-shined to perfection in every nook and cranny?  If so, how in the heck do you do it?

Curious minds want to know.