Monday, June 9, 2008

Back to the Beginning

June may seem a strange time to talk about beginnings. After all, we’re in the middle of the year, not the beginning—whether we’re talking about a school year or a calendar year. Okay, maybe it is the beginning of the fiscal year for many, but I’d rather not talk about money:)

Instead, I want to talk about two different types of beginnings that are very appropriate to discuss at this time of year…going back to those goals you set in January (you did, didn’t you) and going all the way back to whenever you might have started your writing career. The first won’t take long and won’t be painful (I hope). Remember those goals you set for yourself at New Year’s? So many people fail, give up, and that’s the end. It doesn’t have to be…think of this as forgiveness month, feel free to start back on the path toward your goals--whether in writing or losing weight. Look back over your list—I always write mine in my day planner on a separate page and actually check off the long-terms when I reach them.

Okay, now to the second type of beginning. I joined RWA in 2002. I took creative writing courses in college, wrote a manuscript, sent it in cold, received a form rejection letter, and stopped. I had no idea how the business worked. To be truthful, my college classes—at a school well known for its writing program—didn’t even teach us how to write anything longer than a short story. I was lost.

So, I didn’t write other than poems between the years 1986 and 2002. I joined RWA when my children were both in school, I was established in my day job, and ready to go. I’ve attended my local chapter meetings regularly, have served on the board, and attended one Nationals. Oh, and I’ve attended many local master classes.

I still don’t believe I know what I’m doing. Therefore, I want to start a discussion about how writers can better mentor other writers. First, if I were to start all over again, I’d have a reading list for new authors in order of digestibility. The book I remember hearing about first was The Writer’s Journey. I think it’s too esoteric for a beginner. There’s also Dwight Swain’s Techniques of the Selling Writer, Deb Dixon’s GMC, and Donald Maas’s Writing the Breakout Novel. All of these may belong to an advance class. To be honest, I only read Deb Dixon two years ago, and the others THIS year. I didn’t see a future in this field so I only wrote and went to meetings. AT changed that for me.

I think it would be helpful for RWA chapters to have a New Members notebook, or maybe even files available on the Yahoo groups lists we all seem to have. The first page would be reading materials—and start with something simple like, “Writing a Romance Novel for Dummies.” I’m not kidding—I found that the most helpful for an overview of the writer’s process.

Next, I would include a timeline—not of things out of the writers’ control, but things within his/her control. For example, the writer could have a goal for writing a chapter, three chapters, finish a manuscript. Analyze novels in his/her chosen genre. Research agents in his/her genre. Research publishers in his/her genre. These tasks may seem simple, but to someone just walking in to a meeting wanting to write a book, knowing where to begin is overwhelming. Not only that, smaller chapters like the LowCountry RWA need to tailor their meetings toward all members—some of whom have published in the double digits.

Finally, for now:), I just attended a Congregational Meeting at my church where several new members stood up and said, I’ve never been in a church—how do I get started? The church assigns new members a shepherd, someone to help the new people steer their way through the tough parts. I propose that RWA chapters assign new members a mentor. Not a critique partner (I haven’t had one stick yet, the ones I have had are now sick, pregnant, or the wrong genre), those are too personal. A mentor would simply be available for questions. I understand how busy we all are and many just want to write, but… Chapters everywhere are struggling to get their work done. Contests are closing because they can’t find judges.

Just think—if you make the new members feel welcome, they’ll stick around, and if they stick around, you can get out of some work!

So…what do you think (I may have sidestepped into chapter business, sorry)? If you were going to advise someone at the beginning of their writing career, what would you say?


Savanna Kougar said...

Hi Lexie, I think you've raised some excellent issues. Truthfully, I have no answers for you. I help wherever I can and whomever I can, but it's not formalized as in a chapter setting, except for the Passionate Ink chapter of RWA, where we all help each other, especially via the forum.
As I've mentioned before, my journey has not been one which should be followed by anyone else. There was no step-by-step process. It was guided by a Divine Hand in a very mysterious and mostly incomprehensible manner to me. Or, to say it differently, it makes no logical sense whatsoever.
I'm sorry to hear various chapters are having problems. I personally think the contest market is over done, so to speak. Meaning too many contests for the amount of entries available. And with economic times now more difficult, who can afford it? Time, of course, is also at a premium. I do as much as I can, and it's never quite enough in terms of promotional opportunities.
This isn't an easy business, unless, it's just your hobby. Something you're doing purely for the fun of it.
I know I haven't really answered your real questions and concerns. And I am sure there are others much more qualified. However, if I can help you in any way, I will.
BTW, I liked your story premise, the one you talked about at the beginning of CJ Lyon's blog.

Lexie O'Neill said...

I'm glad you liked the story premise--I'm really into it now:) I don't so much have questions as I am suggesting new ways of working...and I'm thinking of taking any suggestions anyone has and turning them into a newsletter article for my chapter.
Would you know, I just got asked by a writer friend if she could read and critique last year's manuscript. Yay! But my point is, we could be more systematic...

Mel Hiers said...

Hey, Lexie!

I think a basics manual is a great idea. When I started thinking about submitting, I rambled around the 808's at the library and hung out online and it seemed like authors were referring to things that everyone else seemed to know about but I didn't. (Like what the heck sell through was. Or what a query was.) At the time, I was targeting straight-out fantasy/sf markets.

I found some wonderful sites online, though. Holly Lisle has mentored a whole bunch of writers with her blog and all of the extra content on her site. Miss Snark's blog went a long way toward demystifying agents. But no one really seemed to have it all in one spot. I had to follow threads from one source to another.

I still have no idea what I'm doing. But I'm new to RWA, too. I think their resources will help a lot with my publishing education.

Savanna Kougar said...

Sorry, Lexie, if I misunderstood your intent. Yes, it could be more systematic. However, the state of change the romance market has undergone with the changes in genre trends and with the emergence of e-book small print publishers really doesn't lend to a systematic approach. Not as it was before.
Okay, have either you or Mel read Kathleen Barrows -- I think that's her name -- the woman who founded Romantic Times magazine -- her book on the romance business. For it's time, it was excellent. And RT has always carried articles on what new writers can expect and how they can go about getting published. Of course, the RWA does have great article resources also. Especially articles on legally protecting yourself and your work. It is a nasty jungle out there if you're dealing with the Big Boy publishers, unless you have a good agent. Of course, there are the bad apples in the e-book small print game also. The contracts are a lot simpler, however, and to my thinking a lot more fair, unless you're a top selling author.
Look, this is a plantation system, the big boy book business, in how authors are treated. Why do you think some of the big name authors jump ship and go with a smaller publisher. I don't mean to imply that's always the answer. It isn't. 'Cause, there are those bad apples or the publisher runs out of money, or the owner becomes too sick. Because you're not being paid to write, it's only what actually gets sold. Then you get paid. There was one new e-publisher offering $1000 for e-established authors. But that's not the norm, so far. And I have no idea if their business is working.
This isn't a business for sissies. You either truly do it for the love of writing, or you do it as a sideline, a hobby.
Unless, you're Nora Roberts. And she doesn't have it easy, either!

Terry Odell said...

I didn't even take a creative writing class. I never dreamed of being a writer. So I really came into this business from left field.

Our local RWA chapter has a mentoring program, where new members are paired with published authors. It's not a critique service, but the 'mentees' can ask just about any questions of their mentors.

We don't have a manual, but our meetings feature programs for the novices as well as bringing in more experienced authors as special speakers.

I don't think there's a 'one size fits all' answer. It's a tough business, but everyone's going to find a slightly different path.

I found workshops and small conferences more helpful than all the how-to books. I browsed all the 'how to write' books at the bookstore and was totally intimidated. After all,
if there was a book with all the answers, then everyone would be a writer. No single book works for everyone.

If I had to recommend ONE book, it would be "Self Editing for Fiction Writers" by Browne and King.

Lexie O'Neill said...

Dear Savanna,
Thanks for the ideas! I'm co-pres of my local chapter and haven't even written a single newsletter article. I know it's a tough business, but I want to try to make it better (as much as I can, for my chapter:).

Lexie O'Neill said...

Thanks for the website ideas--I'm all for learning!

Lexie O'Neill said...

Thanks for blogging! I really liked the Self-editing book as well--I'm going to include it in my list. I'm glad to hear another chapter is already doing the mentor thing--I think it would be a big help.
I agree no one book does it all, or even one workshop or conference. I will say I feel like I've gotten to a point where I can read the books--before I was too overwhelmed as well.
Have a great day!

Terry Odell said...

Lexie --
I didn't read "Self Editing" until AFTER I'd finished my first draft. Partly arrogance, I'm sure -- after all, I knew how to construct a sentence and got good grades in English.

Then, of course, after I read it I knew what I had to fix. But I'm not sure I could have done it if I'd read the book first. I'd have been so intimidated about getting something wrong that I wouldn't have finished the manuscript--or I wouldn't have had any fun.

Savanna Kougar said...

It's always a balancing act, isn't it? Grammar, sentence structure are important. However, at times, self editing can just kill the story and kill the fun of writing. I think that's one reason why writers block can occur. It's like dancing, if you're trying to get every step right, you can't feel the music and just dance.