Tuesday, September 29, 2015

500 Writing Prompts: Message in a Bottle

As I sit in the fallow zone between projects (letting novel 8 marinate and waiting on novel 6 beta readers), I find that I am itching to write. Something, anything, to scratch that existential need. Usually I say that I will fill the space with short stories, but that almost never actually happens. I don’t have a strong affinity for shorts, and whenever I come up with an idea I am passionate enough about, I end up wanting to turn it into a novel. So while I was at Barnes and Noble, looking to spend a gift card I’d won in a drawing at work, I saw this book of prompts and knew it would be perfect. Short, easy bites, a chance to write without the sometimes-exhausting effort of creation, and a chance to write outside my normal wheelhouse. I picked it up and planned to do one prompt every night.*


That hasn’t exactly worked out, but I have done a few of them and found them to be an interesting thought exercise. (Like the one that made me realize I don’t have ten items to put on a bucket list—I need more aspirations in life, apparently!) I thought I would share the very first one I did, and perhaps I will return to this and share some future ones if they resonate.

*I am still planning to do short stories, of course, but I just am trying to be realistic about how that usually goes.

While at the beach you decide to write a message in a bottle. What would it say? Who would you like to find it?

The message would mostly be for myself. After all, I could never be sure who would find it or if they even would. I would probably write down a small piece of me. An attempt to define part of who I am when there is no audience to please. Not necessarily a secret, but an intimacy. Describing my situation when I wrote it, what I was doing and feeling. And if someone did find it, I would be free of the burden of knowing how and why they would react. But I would hope that it would help them. Give them an insight into the human condition. Give them a glimpse of someone who is of a different gender or race or class or even time. I would probably include a message of hope. Hope for myself, hope for the finder, hope for the world.

Or, if I was marooned, it would just be a plea for help with as many details as I could come up with. And I would hope the Coast Guard or their analogue would find it—and quickly!

Monday, September 7, 2015


Today is my BIRTHDAY! Huzzah!

I know lots of adults think birthdays are meh, but I love them. A whole day dedicated to me and no one else. Well, everyone else who shares my birthday and (some years) Labor Day and lots of other things. But it's fun to be queen for a day, and I enjoy celebrating milestones like anniversaries and birthdays. Making it through one more year alive is pretty awesome!

Anyway, in honor of my birthday, I decided I would finally properly introduce myself with an "about me" vlog. So...hello!

Friday, September 4, 2015

Time of Death: Now

It’s always a sad day to close the lid on a novel. To admit to yourself (and to the world) that the thing you wrote and edited and loved just isn’t going to make it. And so I am sounding a solemn dirge today for novel 7. In fact, I actually declared it Over and Done on August 23, closing out the last lingering queries and shading its spreadsheet tracker to gray. But today I am finally taking the time to mourn that little guy, who I loved so much.

You were fantastic, novel 7!

Novel 7 was conceived on June 14, 2014. At least, that is the day I created a WikidPad file and began to type up some of the notes that were accumulating in my writing notebook. I sketched out characters and locations, developed mythical mythologies and pantheons. The plot bunnies that had been cavorting about my brain started to get corralled into an outline. The outline went through multiple iterations, as I attempted to decide whether I would use a multiple or single POV for the story. It seemed to cry out for single POV—it was truly the story of this one god—but I worried that it would be too slight in that form. I planned out a beefier multi-POV version, but it didn’t feel right. I settled on the single POV and wrote up a scene plan.

And so novel 7 was born on June 17, 2014, when I created the draft 1 file. It started that day with a modest 1k, but it quickly grew under my fingers. By the end of June 2014, it was almost 15k strong. It lived and breathed, begging to be developed. I wrote like a madwoman that July, spurred on by unemployment and loneliness in part, but mostly answering that siren’s call of creation. And on August 11, 2014, that first draft rested complete at barely 41k words.

Well, that wouldn’t do at all. It was novel 7, not novella 7! I let it rest while I turned my attentions to a doomed #PitchWars bid for novel 6. Eventually, I came back. I re-read, made notes. I wrote a new scene plan. On October 8, 2014, I started a second draft. It was difficult but rewarding to find the areas to tease out more story, to fill in some of the gaps my initial rush had missed. The second draft came to rest on December 13, 2014 at close to 58k.

Still, I knew it wasn’t enough. I went back through, armed with post-it notes and a dazzling array of colored pens. I sought critiques and beta readers. I vowed that I would do justice to this story that resonated through me. I wrestled with every scene, contemplated adding entire new storylines, and eventually settled on to a final version of novel 7. It was about 63k words.

I sent out the first query on February 2, 2015. I overhauled my query countless times. I worked on a synopsis, which I actually liked. I overhauled the query again. I queried more, and more, and more. I racked up rejections and non-responses, moped about it, and sent out more queries. I sent my 96th and last query on August 7, 2015. Overall, I had 2 partial requests (1 form rejected, 1 never heard from again) and 1 full request (polite rejection). Not the greatest track record. It was time to admit defeat.

I can’t say for sure what it was that did in novel 7. I did not receive a lot of personalized responses from the professionals, and the beta readers seemed to love it. I suspect it was the length, which at 63k for adult fantasy is LOW. I knew that going in, but I had told the story I wanted to tell. I still think it is the best piece I have ever written. (Disappointing, in fact, to know that novel 8 is so much worse and wonder if I peaked with an unpublishable novel.) Perhaps someday it will find a home, but for now, the coffin is closed and the nails driven. RIP, novel 7.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Looking Back to Augusts Past

Summer begins to fade into autumn, like it does every year. Living in San Diego buffers me from this reality, somewhat. It is easy to let the sunny days slide away, one after another, sure that they will continue in an unabated stream. And yet, the days do grow shorter, and time is, in fact, passing.

Such are the thoughts I have, teetering on the edge of another August. August for me marks a turning point in the year. Suddenly my mind is racing to catch up with the reality that, yes, another year is passing without anything I can do to stop it (or speed it up, as the case may be). Summer days seems unbearably precious, knowing that the 5 PM darkness is coming up. And it’s far, far too easy to look back at previous Augusts and despair over how little progress I’ve made since then.

Let’s consider. Last August, I was searching for a job to replace my forfeited Navy career. I had abundant free time, and was using that to the best of my ability. I was coming out of a July with record-high wordcounts, churning out words faster than I ever had before. I was excited by my new project (novel 7) and full of hopes for #PitchWars. And then, by the end of the month, I had found that new day job, my wordcounts had plunged, and I had to admit that novel 7 was a slight creature that might never be marketable for traditional publishing. Still, I felt close. I felt more like a real writer than ever. Would I have believed that, a year later, I would be staring down 100 rejections for novel 7, pushing myself to finish novel 8’s first draft, contemplating another #PitchWars submission for novel 6, and honestly no closer to “making it” than before?

Two years ago, it was August 2013, and I was mired in a low period. I didn’t update my blog for months, I wrote almost nothing, and after setting a goal to finish novel 6’s first draft in July, I was still months away from achieving that. I was caught up in the real life of the Navy and moving in with my boyfriend and struggling to believe in myself. Imagine how much worse would my low period have been if I could have seen that, 2 years in the future, I would still be fighting with novel 6, without even a sure answer about what needs to be fixed after several drafts and beta reads and about 50 rejections.

Even further back, I find this post in August 2012 reaffirming—trying to convince myself—that I will continue, despite the challenges. I reference this post about what might happen if I never get anywhere with my work. It includes the closing thought “I still have a few years yet before I abandon this dream, but lord how I hope I don’t have to!” Reading that now, when it has been a few years and I still am plagued by the doubts and fears about wasting my time, well, it’s painful, honestly. Knowing that since then I have written THREE new manuscripts and yet still don’t seem to have the keys to writing one that works. Not yet.

In the waning summer of 2011, I was writing about writer’s block and my embarrassment at my lack of writerly accomplishments. I vowed to be better, to do better. And yet, four years later, I still haven’t mastered the art of writing consistently (although there has been a vast improvement). The improvements I have made have not translated into any tangible benefits except an ever-growing pile of words without readers.

Even back in 2010, when this blog was barely started, August was a time of posts about writer's block. That was the month I finished the first draft of novel 1, and yet still, only a few weeks later, I could not manage to write a thing!

Reading through these old August musings, I am struck by one thought above all. No matter how often I get down, no matter how frustrating it is or how little the words flow, I have not given up. And I won't give up. Writing is a part of me, for better or for worse. And while it is easy to despair over the lack of progress I have made, that would be a shame, because I have accomplished a lot. I've written hundreds of blog posts. I've met and friended other writers. I've written hundreds of thousands of words, sent hundred of queries, applied to contests, published on Wattpad, created a video series, I have written books! It's not nothing.

A few weeks ago, I was musing about the future to my boyfriend, and I posited that five years from now I could not really predict anything about my life. Even whether I would still be writing, given that another five years of rejection sounds almost impossible to overcome. I asked him, "Do you think I'll ever stop writing?" He did not hesitate a second. "No." He knows me better than anyone, and I think he has the right of it. Writing is in me, it has been for literally as long as I can remember, and while it may ebb and flow, I doubt it will ever leave me.

So take that, August doldrums! I am not defeated yet!

Friday, July 17, 2015

#FlashFridayFootage: "The Walls Will Fall"

Happy Friday!! Thanks to the magic of modern technology, I am not actually sitting on my bedroom floor at this exact moment (I should be getting my makeup done and hanging around getting ready for one of my bestie's wedding!), but I am still celebrating the #FlashFridayFootage vibe with all of you lovely folks.

Cheers to the freakin' weekend!

Friday, July 10, 2015

#FlashFridayFootage: "Virgin Magic"

Hello! After a little break last weekend for the U.S. holiday (fireworks galore!), #FlashFridayFootage is back this week with one of the tougher flash stories I've written. Most of the stories on #FlashFridayFootage are written expressly for this purpose, but this story was one I wrote a long time ago before I started #FlashFridayFootage, and I shopped it around a bit before deciding its best home was right here with my other flash stories.

Happy Friday!

Tweet: A new #FlashFridayFootage from @nora_anne:

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Four “Comforting” Things People Say to Pre-Published Writers (That are NOT)

4. You finished a book! Most people will never manage that!

Yeah, okay. I finished a book. Yay me! It is a big accomplishment, but it’s also one that I hit for the first time when I was 13. I’ve written almost SIX books now. It is hard to see writing additional books as anything but a failure—as in, I’ve written six fucking books that I can’t sell. I’m just piling up rubbish manuscripts, and that doesn’t feel like an accomplishment at all.

3. But writing is its own reward! Don’t think about getting published!

Writing is hard goddamn work. Which doesn’t mean that it can’t be its own reward, but it isn’t something that fills my life with rainbows and sunshine. I do derive great pleasure from perfecting a turn of phrase or making a plot come together just so. Obviously I must enjoy it for its own sake on some level or I wouldn’t still be doing it. And for some people, just writing is their goal. That’s great! But for me, I want to share my writing. And while I do that in various forms already, the biggest way that writers share their work is by publishing. That is my goal.

2. Well, I’ve read your stuff, and it’s so good!

I know, complaining about praise seems churlish. And I do love getting feedback of all kinds on my writing (seriously, I crave it, harsh or kind), and positive feedback can make me feel like a thousand bucks. But in the context of publishing, it’s disheartening. Because if I’m so good, then I don’t know what I’m doing wrong, which means I can’t fix it. And I’ll spend another 14 years doing whatever I’m doing and not getting anywhere with it. And even if I really am good (doubtful), then it just makes it feel unfair (ha, I know, that word) that I haven’t had any luck at all wading through the slush.

1. Yes, agents get tons of queries, but 90% of them are pure crap—can’t follow guidelines, can’t string together a sentence, can’t even spell check! The odds aren’t actually that bad for the good ones.

On first blush, this should be a good thing. I do research agents and their guidelines and requests extensively, and I do spend a lot of time and effort perfecting my query letter. I proofread and edit and still have not ever accidentally sent out one with the wrong name. So I should be ahead of the game! Except I’m not. Which means—oh gods, I must be the 90%. I must not be good at all. Worse, I am one of those delusional people who thinks she is doing okay. But I can’t even beat out the half-trained monkeys sending “To Whom It May Concern” queries about their sparkly teenage vampires. Fuck.

Anyway, I know this is all very complainypants, but I’m in a complainypants space right now. I may or may not have cried myself to sleep last night, as my queries for novel 7 draw to a close and novel 8 continues to refuse to come together. I’m feeling discouraged, and I want to feel uplifted, but it seems that every “inspiring” quote or post is just making me feel worse. I think maybe I need to disconnect from the writing community for a little while, do what I can for this first draft of novel 8, and remember that I do love writing for what it is—and right now, it definitely not is getting read.