An Incredible Weekend with Literary Agent Donald Maass

Phew! What a week and what a weekend. By the grace of God, the prayers of many, and the workings of modern medicine, I was able to function on Friday and Saturday for Write on the Red Cedar. I also managed to get quite caught up today at work, despite almost a week of painful delirium where I think I may have answered a dozen emails, all with a mere sentence if possible. And now I am almost at 100% again.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne of the highlights of my weekend was driving Donald Maass from the airport to the Kellogg Hotel and Conference Center, chatting about my writing. Don gave a fantastic, uplifting keynote address Saturday morning before launching into two hours of instruction on Writing 21st Century Fiction. As insightful and winsome as he is in writing, he is even more so in person. I was lucky enough to sit by him at lunch while our table shared stories of family, publishing, MSU shenanigans, and Michigan’s natural beauty.

After lunch, Zach and I answered questions about traditional publishing at a “roundtable” discussion, which I think was helpful and enlightening for the participants. Then I presented a workshop I’ve done at the Breathe Christian Writers Conference called Finding Your Writing Rhythm. I felt a little rushed with only 45 minutes, but I got some good feedback from attendees and, best of all, my voice held out.

Next I attended a great workshop on character led by author Kristina Riggle. She had some wonderful insights about how to create characters that walk off the page and feel like real people.

After a quick agent/author panel, I tried my first real solid food in nearly a week and managed not to choke (huzzah). Then I settled in for four hours of Writing the Break-Out Novel with Donald Maass. Wow. Writers, if you ever, ever have a chance to sit under this man’s teaching, you need to do it. Don is engaging and funny and challenges you–commands you, even, but in the nicest of ways–to think differently about your writing, to forego the easy solution for the creative solution, to raise every aspect of your craft to the next level, to take control of your fiction and thereby take control of your reader’s emotions in order to create fiction that moves and sticks with people.

I have a notebook full of ideas that Don drew out from me through his probing questions and exercises. I’m excited to get back into my first draft of I Hold the Wind and to get The Bone Garden back out to make even more improvements.

But I think the most important thing that Don said, for me at least, was this (I’m paraphrasing): You have the time. No novel is so timely that it can’t wait a few more months or a year or more for the author to make it better, to make it as good as it can possibly be. Don’t be in such a hurry. I’m going to try to take that to heart this year and truly enjoy every minute of the process of writing rather that always wishing for the next step to be here.

There is time. There is always time.

Accepting the Pace Life Wants to be Lived

I’m a week away from the writing conference I am helping to put on (Write on the Red Cedar). We’re sold out. All the nitty-gritty details are being dealt with. I’ve been busy updating the conference blog almost every day, which may partially explain my slow posting on this blog. And even though we haven’t run into any huge snafus yet, I still feel a bit like this guy…

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Like I have one little part of this thing in hand, but also I am going to trip up at any minute. I’ve started having dreams about things going wrong, like back when I was in high school plays and I would have dreams of shoddy scenery falling down during a performance. But mostly, I’m excited.

I am still slowly plugging away at the first draft of my current WIP. My ideas are at a slow burn. I type a paragraph then do other things, come back and type another. I stopped drafting the other day to jot off a very short story (fewer than 1,500 words) as a fun diversion. The novel draft won’t be done by conference time, but it should be finished by the end of the month, which is fine with me. That will give it enough time to sit and simmer before Zach and I take a long weekend writing retreat during which I can do the first big revision.

As frantically busy as November and December were, in writing and in life, January has gotten a slow start. And I’m okay with that. Winter’s really here now, and it bids us take our time.

What I’m Reading in 2015

Well, I ended 2014 with what I’m assuming was a mild case of the flu and the news that our church had been broken into. I began 2015 with four stitches after a blunder with an extremely sharp knife that seemed to want to separate my right thumb from the rest of my hand. I also turned 35 on Friday. So there’s that.

Today was better, though. I’m healthy, my hand is healing, and I’m hoping to finish up the draft of my work in progress, a novel I’m currently calling I Hold the Wind, in the next couple weeks. I am also making preparations for what will probably be a full year researching for my next book, a historical novel set in various locales in France, Austria, and Germany during World War I and the years preceding it. I’m calling that one Enough of Peace at the moment. Here’s what I’ll be reading in 2015…

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Since Christmas I’ve been hip-deep in failing aristocracies, rising anarchy, the Dreyfus Affair, and various other social and political upheavals as I read about the decades that led up to the start of WWI in Barbara Tuchman’s The Proud Tower. I’ve also been reading Mein Kampf, which has been alternately fascinating and horrifying.

Europe in the late 19th and early 20th century was glossed over a bit in my history classes. Except for the requisite pat on the back for ending the war, the First World War was not a subject upon which we lingered. Generally, we stuck to American issues: Reparations after the Civil War, the Industrial Revolution, the Roaring Twenties, and the Depression, only concerning ourselves with Europe again when we were sucked into the Second World War. For that reason, I’ve never truly understood the causes of WWI. All I remember learning about it was that it was the first truly mechanized war, it was the first war to be fought partially in the air, there were lots of trenches, and the colossal loss of life was all in vain. So I’ve got a lot of catching up to do.

Also on the immediate horizon is the Write on the Red Cedar writing conference that my writing group, the Capital City Writers Association, is putting on. We’re officially sold out (!) and taking care of all the last-minute logistics. I’ll be sure to share pictures from and thoughts on the conference in late January.

Oh, and in the past couple days, it has finally snowed. :)

Gearing Up for Write on the Red Cedar 2015

In less than three weeks, I will be speaking at Write on the Red Cedar, a writing conference put on by my amazing writing group, Capital City Writers Association. The line-up includes the incomparable Donald Maass; authors, editors, and journalists like Kristina Riggle, Elizabeth Heiter, Natalie Burg, Lori Nelson Spielman, Chad Allen, Louise Knott Ahren, Kelly Rogers, Alyssa AlexanderDarcy Woods, Tracy Brogan, and my own husband, Zachary Bartels; indie publisher Tricia McDonald; and agents Nikki Terpilowski, Katharine Sands, and Ann Byle.

Today I answer nine questions about my own writing experiences and advice over on the Write on the Red Cedar blog

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1. What is the best writing advice you ever received?
Not long ago, I saw a little clip on YouTube of Anne Rice talking to aspiring writers and one of the lines that stuck out to me was, “Write what you want to be known for.” There is so much temptation to write what we think will sell. My own contacts through almost thirteen years of working in publishing are in a particular subset of the publishing world: Christian books. It is tempting, then, to write something with which I know my own publisher or another Christian publisher would find success. But I have never felt called to write the type of book I help to market as a copywriter. What I want to be known for is something else. So, while the road is rougher and feels like it’s all uphill, I have chosen to write novels that fit better in the general market than the Christian market.

2. What is the worst writing advice you ever received?
I have never been able to follow the pervasive advice to write every day. I can do it for a time when I’m drafting (I managed to keep it up for most of November as a participant–and winner!–of National Novel Writing Month in 2014) but once I type the last period of a draft, I can’t turn around and start writing the next novel the next day, even if I already have an idea of where I’m going with it. I need days off to let my well fill up again. I’m a believer in the need for Sabbath rest, both weekly and seasonally. Our culture is so harried compared to so many around the world, and I try, as much as I am able, not to let myself get sucked in completely.

To read the rest of this interview, click here!

Yes! NaNoWriMo Is Over . . . Now What?

My last guest post at the Breathe Christian Writers Conference blog today. Now that National Novel Writing Month is over, what are your next steps?

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Finally! It’s over. After thirty days of breakneck writing, it feels good to take a moment to breathe. But once you’ve done that, there are a few more things you should consider doing as this year wanes and a new one dawns on the horizon…

Finish your rough draft.

Unless you’re writing middle grade fiction, you’re going to find that most novels are not 50,000 words. YA is generally around 70,000. Contemporary fiction is about 80,000–100,000. Historical fiction and sci-fi/fantasy can get up near 120,000. That’s not to say you can’t write just what you darn well please, but if you want to someday publish your novel, you need to take into account reader expectations and publisher needs. So if you found yourself at 50,000 and felt like things were just getting really good, keep drafting! If you had concluded your story around 50,000, go back to the beginning and rewrite and revise, adding details, subplots, dialogue, and whatever else you need to make your story full and rich.Keep Writing Quote

My advice? Don’t put your 50,000 words away and decide to finish the draft when the holidays are over or in the summer when you finally have some time. Push ahead and finish it now, before the fire is quenched by time and you begin to doubt yourself. Pound out the rest of that draft on the same writing schedule you’ve been keeping in November. Just get it down. It will be a great Christmas present to yourself to have it finished.

Click here to read the rest!

Then go write some more!