Friday, March 26, 2010

Reading, Relaxing, Reflecting After a Big Day

Yesterday as a momentous day for many of my co-writers, some I knew and some I didn't, but the excitement about the RWA Golden Hearts and Ritas filled the day.

No. I didn't final. I never expect to final. I know it's a lottery to some extent. Sometimes it is not about the writing, it's about the judges. Sometimes it's about the writing and the judges aren't the problem. I'm certain my writing is decent; one of my entries was a MAGGIE finalist. And the second entry, despite the "tone" problems, was critiqued by a published author with tons of experience. The things she asked me to change had much to do with finesse, not craft. So there you have it.

Does this detract from the GH finalists? Absolutely not. My CP is a finalist. She's entered 4 years (or 5) and this is her first time finaling. She was very low last year after not finaling, and I don't blame her. She wrote just as well then as she this year. But this year, she had the right combination: a great book and great judges who loved her story.

And that makes me happy for her and hopeful for me. If not the GH, then it will be an editor or an agent. The GH is a great feather in one's cap, but it doesn't guarantee publication or lack of rejections. In fact, one of the most dangerous times for a writer to quit is after finaling in the GH. Why? Because of the expectations: her hopes and the hopes of her fellow writers. When the elusive publication call doesn't come, the GH finalist can plummet very low. So for those of you out there who finaled, enjoy the high and glory of being a finalist: you've earned it. And it will be fun to see who wins.

But remember, it's like a wedding. After the big day, it's back to reality. And reality isn't always easy.

Which brings me back to me. Here's my reality: a story with a tone problem, another revision waiting for me to tackle it, an underlying doubt that this story is even worth the effort given the content, a desire to kick the bloody thing out the door and start again, a stubborn streak forcing me to stay the course regardless of the outcome.

But I have to have an end-game. I call this my exit strategy. At what point to we say "stop?" I did this when I was trying to get pregnant. I had a stopping point. I knew how much pain and anguish I could bear, how much money I could lose and then I made my decision. We stop trying at this point. Fortunately, we were lucky. We had our baby. Our one good egg. I was lucky indeed.

I've had this for selling houses, building houses, starting new ventures and more. At what point do we cave on the dollar amount? At what point do we walk from the deal? The same is true for this MS and for my writing as a whole.

I've been at this game for 5 years now. I've come close, very close, but still not there. Do I ever quit? In this case, no. I can't NOT write. But I have a daughter going to college in two years and a household I'd like to contribute to. Is it fair to ask my husband to carry the FULL burden and SUPPORT my crazy dream financially? No. For now, in our 1-End list, we have a strategy. The strategy is to keep going till 2013. Then reevaluate. Then it will be not if I write, but when I write. If DD is in college, I can easily work and write. It's not like DH needs me to hold his hand and stroke his ego on a regular basis. So the end game is write without a full time job for now, reevaluate in 3 years, decide then where to go based on where I am as a writer professionally.

That's the big picture. The smaller picture is the current MS. At what point do I say it is time to move on? I've wrestled it back from the brink twice in a big way, once in a smaller way. Now I am going back in--on Monday--armed with author critique and my brainstorming notes. I am reading all I can get my hands on to reestablish what I want to write and why. I am eliminating a LOT of directions and zoning in on the key direction.

My end game for the current MS is July 1. This gives me 3 months, with interruptions like visits from folks, recitals and year end school stuff, to revise the current jumble. Within that 3 month period, I have a contest I want to enter (maybe 2) and a new synopsis to write. After the 3 month period, I am setting it aside and moving forward.

I have learned a lot about myself as a writer and as a reader. I know where I want to go. It has been great to take relaxing break and read the books I've read. It has been great to evaluate my direction. It has been great to come up with a plan.

Come Monday the micro plan is in place. Come Monday, the macro life plan is in place as well.

What are your strategies? Do you reflect upon what your end game is? Do you adjust your thinking about when and where you write?


Angel said...

Wow! Great attitude about the GH, Christine! I think that is definitely the best approach. It is about the writing but it is also about getting the right combination of judges.

I've had to reevaluate my strategy over the past year. It hasn't been easy, but I'm trying to do what's best for my writing AND me personally. I continue to juggle and schedule as best I can, which is all I can ask of myself. When life throws curve balls, I'll evaluate once more. Without selling, I can see writing becoming a much smaller part of my life, just out of necessity from time constraints. But it will never disappear. I just have to make the best of what time I have.

That's all any of us can do. :)


Paula said...

You're so right about the expectation that come with finaling for the Golden Heart. I finaled in 2004, much to my surprise and delight. I then watched fellow 2004 GH finalists get The Call, one after the other, while I sat there with rejection after rejection from agents and editors while I tried to get my poor little book sold.

I wrote new stuff that also didn't sell. It was daunting and discouraging. Finally, through another contest, I did get The Call, but it came the day after I got a devasting rejection on a revised and resubmitted manuscript that had made me consider chucking the whole thing and concentrating on my day job.

Moral of the story--if you believe in yourself and your talent, don't give up. Even then, you may never sell, but you certainly won't sell if you give up.

As for my writing strategy, I've learned since publishing that I can give up on a story a lot faster than I used to. I used to nag a poor manuscript to death--the first book I sold I had actually written almost a decade earlier. Now? If a story idea isn't working by the time I reach the three chapters/synopsis stage, I punt and work on something else.

I've gotten better at figuring out what will work and what won't, and I'm also better at figuring out how to fix something that has promise but isn't quite working right now.

I don't have plans to quit my day job. I need the steady income and the insurance, since I'm single. What I have done to be more productive is sacrifice things like television shows that I just like but don't love.

I spend my lunch hour at work at the computer writing, and I spend my weekends on the computer writing. I bought a particular brand of cell phone specifically to have an electronic calendar (I almost never actually use the phone to, you know, call anyone), and I keep that calendar as religiously as possible to make sure I'm doing everything I want to get done in a given day or week.

I'm not organized by nature, but I've learned how to be so. And it's helped me get my productivity up, past the 3 books a year goal I used to strive for. Now my goal is four books a year, and I've discovered with some organization and focus, I'm able to reach that goal.

Christine said...

Danniele: I think reevaluating on a regular basis is the key for anyone pursuing a goal or a dream. I know you are a terrific writer, and you have great odds at achieving your dream. I like the flexibility I see in your comment. I know you will continue to roll with punches and dodge/catch those pesky curve balls.

We just did our taxes. Last year I spent over $7,000 on my "dream." A lot of moola: some of it I will spend again -- like the office supplies, the dues for memberships, the occasional contests and the books. Got to have my books. Some of it will change based on where I believe our dollars need to go in the future.

It's an ebb and a flow.

Christine said...

Paula: thanks for sharing YOUR story. I can't imagine how hard it was to watch the other finalists get the "call" and not hear your own phone ring. And bam, one day, you got the call, too. I'm so happy for you!! And you give me hope with the working full time and writing future I might have in 3 years. I know I will always write. Can't NOT write. I also love your "punt and go" strategy. If it's not working, why keep pounding it to the ground with a stick? I love that you are better at figuring out what you feel has promise and can be fixed. I know I need to probably let go of my current WIP--I think I am hanging on only because it's all I have for Nationals LOL. But I will move on after July 1. I think as an unpublished writer, I feel I need to have the whole story down, if not perfectly, then roughly, with a great partial and synopsis. That's my goal with this one.

You gave great advice! Thanks!! And I hope I see you at the next Southern Magic meeting I attend.


Kathy said...

Christine, what a great blog post! I didn't final this year. This was my second time entering. I'm just hoping I'll achieve a major coup by getting much better scores this go round.

Judging is a curious entity. I wish there was a better way of going about it, but there just isn't. What makes me pick up a book in a book store may not make you want to pick up a book. I think the same can be said for contests. You are relying on judges to 'like' or 'love' your book. I propose the judge needs to 'like' or 'love' the category they are judging or else all bets are off.

I've entered two more contests, results will be revealed at Nationals. I'm concerned more for these than any others because these judges will be my genre peers. Ack!

Christine said...

Kathy: I think it takes a great deal of courage and strength to enter ANY contest or submit to any editor/agent., It is a very subjective business, but you will hit your mark. I thought Paula's comment was very telling.

I wish you every success with the other contests.

And I am here! Keep me posted!! YOU are a courageous person.

Wendy Marcus said...

Hi Christine!
I didn't final in the GH either. And even though I didn't think I would, I was still disappointed when I didn't. KFC and a Dunkin Donut later, I'm better than I was before, because now I am even more motivated to write and do it well.

Re: Your WIP. I'm sure you've heard this but I can say from experience, put it down for a few weeks and work on something else. Clear your head and look at it with a fresh pair of eyes. It really works!

Good luck.

Christine said...

Hi Wendy: you're so right about taking a break from the WIP. I took two weeks (minus my author critique). I am going back into reading the hard copy tomorrow.

Sorry you didn't final in the GH, but last year I didn't final in it either and the same MS (with a few changes) finaled in the Maggie! Go figure. And I know of a Linda Howard finalist who didn't final in the GH. It really is luck, a great story AND great judges.

I'm so thrilled for my CP that she finaled! Can't wait for Nationals!

PS--good luck with the request!

M.V.Freeman said...

I am still totally excited about your friend Sharon! Yay!

Second, I love how you look at things, and how you have a plan. Most of all, you are NOT giving up. This inspires me when the winds of chaos called life buffet my writing and my life.

I learn a lot from you.

As for me, I have a few set goals for the next year or so: I want to finish this dang book, submit to a contest and pitch to an agent. AFter that, I'll re-evaluate my next strategy.

The bottom line, which I am seeing from what you are writing ---is keep writing.

Christine said...

Hi Mary--I love your plan for the next year. Every one of us has a different set of parameters to work with as we sit down to make our goals. You've made attainable goals I KNOW you can reach.

And Paula said it best: if we quit, we'll never sell. If we stay the course, we might sell.