From A to Z: 5 Spooky Parts of Fiction Writing

From A to Z is an occasional series on ChiYAwriters.com that examines the nuts and bolts of the writing (and publishing) process.

In honor of Halloween, I wanted to reflect on several aspects of writing that can leave you quaking in your boots—and what to do when they happen to you. Take a look and let me know what other scary moments you’ve encountered in your own writing process!

1. When your characters take over your manuscript.

You have your plan (or maybe you don’t) and are merrily writing along—when one of your characters breaks out and does something so unexpected, you didn’t even see it coming. Maybe it’s a supporting character who rises to the occasion, or maybe your villain does something more dastardly than your darkest dreams. Maybe you don’t expect two characters to fall in love (or to break up!) and then they go and do just that.

Sometimes this is a sign that what you’d originally planned wasn’t working, or that your characters have developed beyond your first impressions of them and your subconscious is helping you embody those changes. Either way, these moments can feel scary and also thrilling, like a movie taking off before your eyes. Harness the creative energy by finishing up the scene and then reflecting on what this twist means for your characters and for the arc of the book.

2. When you come up with a plot twist and go back to incorporate foreshadowing…only to realize you already had.

This type of surprise sometimes makes you feel like you have less control of your writing than you’d like to believe. Other times, it makes you feel like a genius. It’s especially spooky when you’re far past the outline phase and find actual dialogue and character actions to provide evidence of your premonitions.

This can mean that you’ve been stewing on a character’s arc and purpose all along and the pieces are finally starting to click together. But be careful! Just because you find the original piece of foreshadowing doesn’t mean you’ve properly signaled it to the reader. Spend a bit more time thinking about whether your clue is too obvious (you’ve already thought of it twice, after all!), or whether you actually need to include additional bits of foreshadowing: a good rule is to include three separate moments in order to avoid your reveal coming totally out of left field, but that number will depend on the scale of the reveal and the length of your manuscript.

3. When the words aren’t coming.

Some writers say they don’t believe in writer’s block. I think what they really mean is that they’ve found strategies that work for them and can get them inspired—or at least help them push through—until the inertia eases. I’m not a fan of generalizations, but I’m comfortable saying that every writer reaches a crossroads where they aren’t sure what to do next, whether it’s which new idea to develop or how to deal with a manuscript that feels broken.

When this feeling creeps up on you, take a breath. You will get through it, just as you and countless other people have gotten through similar dilemmas before. Take a break from your writing if you need to—or, alternatively, set small goals that you know you can reach (one more sentence, one more paragraph, one more page). Consider revisiting your outline or reading the manuscript from the top. Gather some friends and tell them about your characters and plot, and ask them to throw ideas at you for what might happen next. Write all of these suggestions down, even if you don’t initially like them. The words will come again, but they can be shy little things: you have to find the right way to tempt them out of hiding.

4. The existential fear of never ____________.

Never getting an agent. Never getting published. Never having more than three people show up to your book signings. If you’re a writer who isn’t interested in publication and only writes for yourself, maybe you still have fears of not finishing your first book, your fifth book, your third short story. Maybe you’re afraid that even without pursuing publishing, you’ll ultimately disappoint yourself.

The fact that you’ve made it to a point where you can feel this kind of self-doubt, though, means that you’ve joined the ranks of thousands and thousands of writers, including Margaret Atwood, Stephen King, and Roshani Chokshi. Self-doubt to a point can even be healthy: it means you have goals and are working toward them. Just don’t let the pessimistic impulses sap your lifeblood entirely. If this happens to you often, you can even keep a scrap book of praise for your writing and/or of excerpts you’ve written and will always love.

5. Your Google search history.

I know what you looked up while writing your last piece.

Well, actually, I have no idea. But you and I both know it’d be scary out of context.

The only way around this one is to clear your browser history. 😉

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This post is brought to you by Anna Waggener at ChiYAwriters.com.

From A to Z: The Next Time Around, Finding the silver lining in returning to the query trenches

From A to Z is an occasional series on ChiYAwriters.com that examines the nuts and bolts of the writing (and publishing) process.

My partner and I were recently watching Hidden Figures. We got to the scene near the end when Katherine is getting ready for her wedding to Jim Johnson—her second marriage, after her first husband passed away several years before. “I don’t think I felt a thing the first time I did this,” Katherine says, adjusting her veil. “I was so nervous.”

“Huh,” said my partner. “I guess that’s the silver lining of getting married twice.”

Finding an agent is often compared to finding a spouse, and it’s an apt analogy: you must both be there for the right reasons, must have matching communication styles, must put in the same level of effort even if the chores you each take on are slightly different.

The thing people don’t really like to talk about—both in the dating circuit and in the query trenches—is that sometimes you’ll get married twice. Me personally? I’m brushing off my shoulders for my third literary “I do.”

My second agent and I parted ways about a month ago when she decided to pursue a career in education—even though she loved agenting and will always love books. I knew her personally before she represented me, and I’ve always known about her passion for education, so when she told me about her decision to leave the publishing industry, my first thought was, “Oh God, I’m so happy for her.”

My next thought, as you might expect, was, “Well, shoot.”

This post isn’t meant to send currently agented writers into an existential tailspin. Many, many authors and agents maintain a happy relationship for their entire careers.

It is meant, though, to assure those newly no-longer-agented writers that they are not pariahs and that this moment is not a reset.

Finding an agent is hard. You must write the book, revise and revise and revise it and then let others examine the thing, poking and prodding and making notes about its merits and faults so that you can revise it again. You must polish your query, make your agent list, send out your little beating heart and get rejections out of hand and “revise and resubmits” and, most crushing of all, the notes that start, “I loved X and Y, but…”

And then you get a request for a phone call and your stomach metamorphoses into butterflies and it all feels worth it: a victory that fades into a haze of good feelings as the months and years roll on.

The thing is, finding an agent is hard, but none of the truths from last time are invalidated by having to do it over again. You are really and truly not starting over.

This time around, you know that someone (other than your best friend or critique partner) has already fallen in love with your words and characters and stories. Someone has already said “yes.” You must remember that they were not an aberration, and when you dive back into the trenches you should do so with the knowledge that someone else will say “yes” again.

This time around, you’ll be able to take it a little slower: you’ll get to revisit the You who queried that original agent and compare it to the You who’s on the market now. You’ll get to see where careers have gone since you signed and get to see what new faces and wish lists exist. You’ll get to put all the skills you learned the first time—and all the practice you’ve had in your writing since then—into this new manuscript and fresh round of queries. You’ll know both yourself and your writing better, and that will come through in your outreach. You’ll get to write a new list of questions to ask during The Call, and you’ll underline the ones you forgot to bring up the first time around because your heart was doing backflips.

It’s true that you’ll have to do the hard parts all over again too. Write the book. Polish the query. Do the research. Make the list. It will suck. You might feel alone. You will likely collect new rejections and wonder whether your book and writing career are both garbage.

But here’s the silver lining: In the end, you’ll get asked to hop on the phone. You’ll get to hear all the nice things someone thinks about your work and you’ll get to feel all those butterflies again. In the end, it will be worth it. And this time, you won’t be so nervous you forget.

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This post is brought to you by Anna Waggener at ChiYAwriters.com.

 

From A to Z: Out of the Trenches, Now What?

From A to Z is an occasional series on ChiYAwriters.com that examines the nuts and bolts of the writing (and publishing) process.

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It’s been just over six months since I signed with the magnificent Caitie Flum. So I wanted to talk a little bit about my journey so far with her, hopefully to demystify what happens after the contract is signed. I’d like to disclaim this by saying this experience may not be yours, your mileage may vary, and all that good stuff.

After we had The Call on February 17, 2017, I noted a few things:

  1. Caitie was prompt. We’d set up the call for 10:30am Central time and my phone rang at exactly 10:30am Central time. That showed me that she valued my time and hers, and respected our schedules.
  2. She was upfront. She wasn’t ready to offer, and she started off the call by saying so. I really liked her professionalism and frankness.
  3. She told me what she loved, and then she told me what held her back. I appreciated her honesty and her gentle delivery. Her concerns were fixes I was completely on board with and excited to incorporate.

By the time the call ended, Caitie had offered to represent my book, making me happier and more hopeful than I’d felt in a long time.

One thing I wanted in an agent was more than a business partnership. I wanted a friendship as well. I wanted someone I felt comfortable going with about things that made me anxious as far as writing, publicity, this whole journey. I wanted someone reliable, trustworthy, and a fighter. After talking with Caitie, I felt like I could have that with her.

I signed the contract on February 28, 2017, and we made it “twitter official” on March 1, 2017. The day was a lot of fun! A whirlwind of notifications and good wishes and congratulations, I went out to eat at my favorite restaurant to celebrate, and I basked in the glow of taking this step in my writing career.

So, to get to the point, what happens after the contract is signed (besides all the partying)? Well, I can’t speak for everyone, but this is what happened with me:

one

I gained a whole new set of writer friends—#TeamCaitie—my agency siblings. We have a Google Hangout and a Facebook group where we can chat any time we feel. Sometimes we chat about random things, sometimes we lament about publishing, and sometimes we write together and share our work.

two

I’d begun working on the revisions Caitie suggested almost right away. I also incorporated some of the feedback I’d gotten on some recent agent passes, along with my own tweaks and fixes. I did this, the whole time hoping I didn’t ruin what Caitie fell in love with. And hoping it was *enough*.

three

I started feeling ALL the feels. I began flip-flopping from anxious to excited. know the realities of publishing. But right now, there are so many possibilities. I have room to dream big. So I do.

No one warned me about the anxiety. I began worrying about letting Caitie down. About letting myself down. Because now I wasn’t writing completely for fun anymore. This is real. And I put a lot of pressure on myself to be great.

I’ve been through this agent/submission thing before. And I never got over feeling like I let the other agent down when my book didn’t sell. I don’t want to do that to another agent.

four

Manuscript anxiety. I read it over and over so much more critically now. I worry that it’s not special enough, that it won’t even make it past pitching stage. And then sometimes I get nervous about the possibility of it actually taking off. So, even having the validation from an agent (who reminds me that she loves my book and my writing) doesn’t quell the imposter syndrome feeling.

Career anxiety. Can I be that person on panels, doing book tours, signing books and posing for pictures with readers? And then I imagine myself there. It feels right. So yes, I can be that person, I want to be that person, and I’m so excited to someday be that person.

five

I turned in my revisions to Caitie on July 30, then proceeded to head to Disney World for a week of family, fun, and magic. During all of August, I kept busy with work, planning things, and spending time with friends, while also brainstorming and writing new books. Healthy right?

I also worried and worried and worried, hoping I finally fixed the pacing in the first act. (Pacing is so tricky to nail.) Hoping I did what she asked and then some, and didn’t mess up anything extra. And when I got the note from her on August 30 saying I did a good job, I breathed a big sigh of relief.

After this, she will go through one more time for copy edits. Then we’ll work on the pitch letter and submission lists.

It’s getting closer, which means….

six

More feels. A tremendous, almost overwhelming amount of feels. I really want it to be special enough not only for an editor to fall in love with it, but be willing to fight for its acquisition. I really want it to warrant excellent support and marketing. But mostly importantly? I want the people who may need this book to get it, read it, and love it. I want people to be able to see themselves in my work.

I want my work to make readers feel like how Moana and Jane the Virgin makes me feel when I watch them.

I’m excited to be where I am, but very much looking forward to where I’m going. Learning to respect the process, learning to enjoy this moment, this time. This is the hardest part about publishing. It is slow. It requires patience. It’s so easy to get hung up on wanting to be with the “cool kids” who have books coming out to much acclaim and buzz. It’s so easy to get swept up in what could be, rather than “what is.” So that is a constant struggle. I always want what’s next. This is teaching me to slow down and enjoy what’s now. Because to be honest, what’s now isn’t a bad place to be. However, it’s important that I’m ready for what comes next.

Folks, I am so ready.

Let’s do this!

 

This post is brought to you by Ronni Davis at ChiYAwriters.com.

From A to Z: Writing Cross-Culturally Workshop

From A to Z is an occasional series on ChiYAwriters.com that examines the nuts and bolts of the writing (and publishing) process.

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Last month, I attended the Writing Cross-Culturally Workshop, put on by Madcap Retreats, founded by author Natalie C. Parker (ed. THREE SIDES OF A HEART). I primarily write #ownvoices point-of-view characters, but I want to include organic diversity in my casts. It’s important to me to write fair representation, so I knew this workshop would be beneficial. Plus, I always enjoy hanging out with writers and authors.

The workshop took place March 9–12, 2017 in the Smoky Mountains, in Tennessee. We stayed in a beautiful lodge that was never warm enough for me! There were hot tubs, fireplaces, and yummy food every day. I got to meet some amazing writers, eat lots of chocolate, and learn so much.

We started every day with breakfast at 8 a.m., then had instruction until noon, when we broke for lunch. Then more instruction and breakout sessions until around 3:30 p.m. There was a break until dinner, and then a panel after dinner. Long days, chock full of great information.

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(via Madcap Retreats)

The big speakers were Daniel José Older (SHADOWSHAPER), Nicola Yoon (EVERYTHING, EVERYTHING, THE SUN IS ALSO A STAR), and Leigh Bardugo (SIX OF CROWS, CROOKED KINGDOM), but lots of wisdom was also dropped by Dhonielle Clayton (TINY PRETY THINGS, THE BELLES), Heidi Heilig (THE GIRL FROM EVERYWHERE, THE SHIP BEYOND TIME), Justina Ireland (PROMISE OF SHADOWS), Julie Murphy (DUMPLIN’, RAMONA BLUE), Adi Alsaid (LET’S GET LOST, NEVER ALWAYS, SOMETIMES), and Tessa Gratton (THE CURIOSITIES).

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(via Madcap Retreats)

There was a LOT of information presented at this workshop, so for the sake of brevity, I’m only going to focus on the things that spoke to me the most.

“Writing is personal, and personal is political.”

As writers, we have a great deal of power. We can lift up, or we can destroy. A carelessly placed word in a book could set off deadly ripples for generations. But the perfect sentence can give someone the strength to try another day.

As a writer for teens, I want to lift up. I want my readers to feel valued and like they matter. So the main takeaway I got from the workshop was that to write well cross-culturally, having empathy is KEY. If you are empathetic to the people you’re writing about, you’re naturally going to want to represent them fairly and with care. You will see these characters as 3D people, not as stereotypes or caricatures.

Writing cross-culturally does not mean simply race or ethnicity. It’s all identity markers, including but not limited to:

  • race
  • sexual identity
  • disabilities
  • religion
  • ethnicity

All of these are deeply personal markers, but also highly political. For some of us, our very existence is political. We are all programmed with unconscious stereotypes, and that carries over to our writing. So, how do we fight this?

In publishing, media, and movies, some groups are only allowed a single story. I’ve touched on this before. That story becomes the narrative for everyone in that group. Black stories are only allowed to be urban or Civil Rights or slavery. LGBT+ stories are all coming out narratives, just to name a couple. This single narrative creates stereotypes. Now, the stereotypes may not be untrue, but they are always incomplete. It robs people of their dignity.

Danger of a Single Story TED Talk by Chimamanda Adichie (3:48) (entire talk)

So, how does one write cross-culturally with sensitivity and with care? How does one avoid writing this same narrative, this dangerous single story?

  1. Read widely. Check out books and writers outside of your comfort zone. Look at what came before and how it was received and criticized. Google stereotypes and work to deconstruct them. Learn your tropes, and keep them in mind as you write. TV Tropes is an amazing resource, but be forewarned—you can easily get lost in a weeks-long rabbit hole there!
  2. Write with empathy. See the characters as individuals. Be specific and intentional in creating these characters. Go deeper than appearance, the foods they eat, the clothing they wear. What is in their heart? What makes them vulnerable? Then, write for the entire audience, not just those who share your viewpoint.
  3. Get some diverse friends! Learn about them as individuals, not as one-dimensional figures to serve as plot fodder.
  4. Checks and balances. Get a reader outside your cultural lens. Get a reader from the group you’re writing about. If the cost is prohibitive, consider trade or another service. This is hard, heartbreaking work, and the readers deserve compensation. If you do make mistakes (and we all do and will), it’s OK. Accept it. Listen to feedback, even if it’s uncomfortable. Then, revise!

OK, this is a lot of work, right? Becoming aware of these stereotypes and actively working to fight them is a LOT. So why would anyone decide to take this on, if they simply want to tell stories? The answer is that writers tell truth, and the truth is that we live in a diverse world. And if you’re willing to study things like plot, structure, and pacing, why not study this important and essential part of characterization?

Finally, if you are writing cross-culturally, please be mindful of your privilege and whose spot you may be taking. Many authors of certain marginalizations are still being told “We already have our [insert marginalization here] book for the year, so we’re going to pass on yours.” And that spot is usually taken by someone from a dominant group. Ask yourself, always ask yourself, is this your story to tell? Are you willing to do the work to deconstruct stereotypes and avoid presenting people as one-note? Are you willing to focus on the smaller things, building a character from that soft place inside? Are you willing to be empathetic? If so, then you’re 90% of the way there.

The right book can create empathy, understanding, and possibility. The right book can change the world, or the world of one person. The right book can save lives.

Look at all these people who want to change the world.

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(via Madcap Retreats)


This post is brought to you by Ronni Davis at ChiYAwriters.com.

 

From A to Z: Who are you, anyway?

From A to Z is an occasional series on ChiYAwriters.com that examines the nuts and bolts of the writing (and publishing) process.

question markI recently submitted an application for a volunteer position that included a prompt for a brief personal essay: Tell us about yourself.

I’ve been thinking about that prompt in the context of writing fiction, since I’m transitioning from a manuscript whose characters I’ve gotten to know over six years to a brand new world with characters I’m still feeling out. I’d really love for them to tell me more about themselves.

When a reader comes to a story and meets new characters, it’s with this same question. But readers aren’t afraid to pry—in fact they’re expecting to—so the real question they’re asking is much deeper: Who are you, anyway?

In my opinion, this question must be answered on at least three levels. Today I’m going to walk through what those levels are, how to touch on them in your own writing, and how they interact with one another.

1. We are who people perceive us to be.

In middle and high school, this reality seems inescapable. Even after that, most of us remain conscious of it for the rest of our lives.

This is the most basic way to answer the Who are you? question: it includes age, race, cohesion to gender norms, and perceived sexuality. It includes the way we dress, the color of our hair, our posture and mannerisms and accents, the names we were given and the names we choose to use.

We might not like it, but humans are creatures of habit and prone to snap judgments: Who we are on the surface will always color the way we’re able to navigate the world. This reality should impact our characters too. That’s why you can’t only tell me that a character is, for example, an immigrant: in order to believe it, I need to see how that surface-level detail impacts other aspects of their lives.

Which brings us to:

2. We are the person inside our own heads.

The image we project on the outside matters, but so do the conversations that happen in the privacy of our own brains. These conversations are directly impacted by how others perceive us, but they also include all those moments of self-doubt, of pride, of desire, of superiority, of cruelty, and of regret that we might never share with other people but that are nevertheless part of our identity.

This comes through especially clearly for characters in first-person or close third, but it should be felt in any perspective. Who we are in our heads informs the things we choose to talk about and how we talk about them. It informs the options we think we have available to us and our perceptions of right and wrong.

The people we are in our heads are often the most interesting, and these quirky, specific things are what bring characters most to life—but to be fully realized you have to be honest about them, including times when your characters’ values and beliefs come into conflict.

In the privacy of our heads, we tell ourselves secrets. When we’re writing a story, we’re letting our characters share those secrets with strangers.

And in sharing those secrets, we realize that…

3. We are the choices we make, given the constraints we’re handed.

We all have constraints. Some constraints hang out for everyone to notice (see point 1), while others live below the surface but are still very real, including trauma, mood disorders, and emotional baggage. Other constraints might include income, geography, and the expectations of the communities you’re part of. In a story, a character’s constraints will also include the overarching plot.

What we believe influences what we do, though it doesn’t control it. A character might believe himself to be brave, but that won’t stop him from committing a hit-and-run. A character might believe herself weak, but that doesn’t preclude her from jumping into a lake to save a drowning child. Individuals who seemingly face the same set of constraints may react differently given their personalities, experiences, and other constraints we may not see or fully understand.

It’s easy to write characters who do stuff, but that’s not actually why readers are coming to your story. More often than not, they’re picking up your story because they want to see characters make tough choices (and subsequently do stuff). Your plot should seem to grow out of these choices, rather than the other way around.

The more clearly you’ve drawn your characters’ internal life, the easier it will be for you to understand the choices they would make (beyond what the plot might want to dictate). This will also make it easier for a reader to understand and believe a character’s choices, even if they disagree with them.

When you ignore one or more of these levels of identity, you create flat characters.

You won’t capture everything in the first draft, or even in the second. Think about how much learning you’re still doing about yourself, and you’re inside your own head 24/7!

Give yourself permission to write flat characters as you come to understand who they are. But also push yourself to ask how each aspect of their identity informs the others. How do their beliefs contradict or facilitate their actions? How do their actions cause others to change their opinions about them? How do the opinions of others influence their self identity and their future choices?

The interactions between how others react to us, what we tell ourselves, and what we choose to do in a given situation are what make us fully human. They’re what make us fascinating and contradictory and frustrating and heroic and unique.

So. With that in mind, let’s go craft some characters and find out who they are, anyway.

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This post is brought to you by Anna Waggener at ChiYAwriters.com.

From A to Z: Imagination as Empathy

From A to Z is an occasional series on ChiYAwriters.com that examines the nuts and bolts of the writing (and publishing) process.

Mohsin Hamid empathy quoteSometime in the early 2010s, I heard an interview with a woman who was homeless. She lived in a car with her children, and she said the worst part was at night when she would try not to wake up the children with her crying.

This story stayed with me and eventually became the very real inspiration for a fictional story. Instead of writing the mother’s perspective, I imagined the experience of one of her children. In my mind, this teenage child was not sleeping but rather pretending to sleep while listening to his mother’s tears.

Writing is an intimate exercise in empathy. I would never claim to know the exact dimensions of another person’s experiences, but through writing, I can take what I know of life and use it to imagine others’ lives. For example, I have not been homeless, but I have slept in a car. I know the stiffness that comes from spending the night at crooked angles. And I have not faced food insecurity, but I have skipped meals. I know the dull ache and distracted attention that come with hunger. The specificity of the details is what creates the illusion of reality, so I start with my own experiences and extrapolate from there to create the landscape of my characters’ lives, inside and out.

And when it comes to the important things, to fear and jealousy and love and longing, I don’t have to stretch too far. I have felt all of these emotions myself, and although the reasons might differ, the result is the same. Much as an actor draws on her own personal history—her own moments of shame and pride, of joy and sorrow, of anger and calm—I unearth my own deep wells of emotion to reveal these feelings in my characters.

So when my main character, Ben, hears his mother crying in the car at night, I can feel not only the pain of being crammed sideways in the passenger seat of a car but also the pain of witnessing another person’s grief and being unable to do anything about it.

And if I have done my job properly, my readers will feel the same.

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This post is brought to you by Lizzie Cooke at ChiYAwriters.com.

From A to Z: Surviving the Query Trenches

From A to Z is an occasional series on ChiYAwriters.com that examines the nuts and bolts of the writing (and publishing) process.

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I’d planned on writing an article about being in the query trenches, and how hard it was to keep motivated when the rejection rate is so high. But then I got an offer from the wonderful Caitie Flum, so I wondered if that topic was still relevant.

Friends, it is. I’m FRESH out of the trenches, so a lot of the feelings are still there. Querying authors know what I mean. The fear, anticipation, and hope that comes when sending out a new query. Then the paranoia! Rechecking the sent email, praying no typos snuck their way into the email mid-send! And then the waiting. Some agents respond quickly, some take a while, some not at all. And it’s such a roller coaster of emotions. I went through a myriad of them while in the trenches, to the point of “quitting” several times. The beauty of quitting a thing like this, though, is that the next day you can start again.

I’m very lucky. I have several writing communities and friends that helped me through the rough spots. Allowing me to step away when I needed to, for as long as I needed to, but gently encouraging me not to give up. And it worked. I survived the trenches long enough to sign with an amazing agent.

So now that I’m out of the trenches, here are a few things that kept me going, and still do:

  1. Community, community, community. Having safe people and spaces where I could vent my frustrations, my insecurities, my worries, and fears is so important to me. They are a shoulder to cry on, a pillar of support when I just want to crumble. I doubt I’d be here if I didn’t have that.
  2. Remembering who I was writing for. Every time I got determined to throw in the towel, I remembered little me, desperately reading anything and everything, trying to find even a little bit of myself in those characters. I don’t want any more little girls and teens to feel that desperate and erased.
  3. Plain old stubbornness and persistence. Being determined to make it no matter the odds. And the odds are so much harder for a black woman writing about black characters in publishing, especially when those characters are outside of stereotypical lenses. I simply refused to let the rejections completely wear me down.
  4. Comforts. Every time I got a pass, especially if it was on materials, it stung. Every single time. Even if I could nod along with the feedback and think, “OK I get that.” Some of the sting was because I felt like I should’ve known better. Some of it was guilt, feeling like I wasted that agent’s time. And of course, despairing if I had what it takes on many levels, to keep going in this business. So, I’d chat with my writer friends, pull out a Harry Potter book or movie, and eat junk food. Self-care is definitely important, but even more so when feeling rejected and vulnerable.
  5. Keeping it in perspective. Especially at the query stage. When I go to a bookstore and pick up a book, read the jacket, and think, “Nah, not for me,” and put it back, it’s no reflection on the author or the author’s talent. That story just isn’t my jam. I do this with NYT bestsellers all the time. Obviously those stories are resonating with a lot of people if they’re selling that many copies, but again, it might not be my jam. And that’s OK. When I think of a query rejection that way, it helps ease the sting. It really is subjective.
  6. Having a strategy. Some people send out queries in batches of 5, test the waters, revise/rework, and try again based on feedback. Others send a huge load at once and hope for the best. There are some who send a new query as soon as a rejection comes in. I was one of the send 5 at a time lot. I tried to be very deliberate, and I ended up querying fewer than 30 agents over the course of my year in the trenches.
  7. Distractions! Most people start work on another book while they’re waiting. I was worried I’d be a one-trick pony (even though I’d written full novels in the past, many times), but somehow, I began brainstorming 2 books! I also worked a LOT. Working a 9–5 plus freelance jobs keeps one busy. Also holidays, family, Netflix, day-to-day life, and a major surgery kept me distracted enough so I wasn’t refreshing my inbox over and over or stalking Query Tracker. Much. Also, I made a commitment to keep learning the craft. There are so many free writing resources out there. Pinterest has a plethora of links to explore, and there are even agents giving query and writing advice. Filling my life kept me from obsessing about query/submission status.
  8. Patience. That’s the hardest part. You’re excited about your work, and you want to move forward NOW. But, publishing is SLOW. At least to outsiders. Why does it take 2 years from announcement for a book to come out? Why do some agents take several months to respond to materials? The answer: Everyone is swamped! On the inside, there’s never enough time to do everything that needs to be done . . . but somehow, it all comes together in the end. Keeping that in mind helped me reflect on really pursuing this. As a matter of fact, I’ve come to embrace publishing’s slow burn.

I queried Caitie on August 2, 2016, and officially signed with her March 1, 2017. I’m excited and thrilled. She gets me and she gets my book, and her passion, her smarts, and her dedication makes me think we’ll be a great team.

The point of all of this is: Don’t Give Up. Every no, every hiccup, is a nudge toward the right agent. Keep going, keep working hard, and keep believing. And in the meantime, there’s chocolate.


This post is brought to you by Ronni Davis at ChiYAwriters.com.