28 December 2010

Setting achievable writing goals

It's this time of year: stock taking, New Year's resolutions, setting goals.
Have you been thinking how to become a better writer? A successful one? Published?Finish that b***y manuscript?
What is your writing goal?
Do you know how to achieve it?

I admit, I'm addicted to setting and achieving goals. If we don't count the evergreen weight loss, I have achieved everything I've ever really wanted, sometimes a little later than I initially thought, but generally as planned.
The key to my successes has always been the word: REALLY.
I believe that you can achieve everything you really want, although there is a price for it. A lot depends on whether you want to pay the price.

When setting a goal, any goal, you need to ask yourself a number of questions and answer them as honestly as you can.

1. What is it what you want to achieve it? Name it. Don't be shy. How will you know you've achieved it?

2. Do you really want to achieve it? Because if you don't - what is the point of trying?

3. Are you prepared to pay the price? Whether it's money, time, or some other sacrifice, there is always a price for getting what you want - can you afford it?

4. Why do you want to achieve it? This is a question about your motivation. It will come handy in times of struggle!

5. How you want to achieve it? In one big go? or as a series of little steps? If you set a smaller goal or a series of 'baby steps', keep the bigger picture in mind. Try to break big goals into smaller steps - it'll help you getting where you want to be.
Keep track of your steps, review your journey, celebrate little successes on the way. It will make it easier.

6. When do you want to achieve it? By the end of next year? within the next couple of 2 years? Be specific, but also realistic, think about potential pitfalls, like family holiday (I find it hard to concentrate on writing when on holidays), or school breaks if you have kids; it's not a very good idea to set yourself a goal of finsihing your novel in a year when you're also planning to get a new day job, sell a house, move countries, settle into new life, and... well - you get the picture (that's why my first novel is still unfinished: it's been with me through 1 baby, 2 continents, 3 countries, 4 jobs and 5 houses).

7. Set yourself up: get rid of unnecessary things, irrelevant activities, distractions.
Hard, I know - I'm guilty of checking my emails or Twitter account umpteen times a day, too.
There are ways of deleting addictive games from your computer, there are programmes, which won't allow you to use Internet for more than pre-set amount of time; mobile phones have 'Off' button, landlines can be unplugged. It's your writing time - your decision.
You can track your writing progress with progress meters -I find it very motivating.

8. Get support: from your family (it may be difficult but it will pay in the end - if you manage to convince them that you REALLY want to finish that novel they may want to support you and share some of the chores so you have time for writing!), friends, and particularly from other writers - they know how hard it is to be a writer.

Here is the graph I use when setting a goal:

My goals for 2011 are:
- sell a fiction manuscript or get an agent
- finish that b***y novel
- get another non-fiction proposal accepted

What are your goals for 2011?

17 December 2010

How to get feedback on your manuscript

So you have finished your first draft (just like me) and now are getting ready to take it to the next level (a.k.a. second draft - I'm still letting my MS ripen)?
Have you thought of getting feedback on the quality, sellability, brilliantability  brilliantness of your manuscript?
I have, and I have also thought about how to get it done.

Here's 9 ways of getting feedback on your manuscript:

1. Join a writers' group, whether in real life or online. One of my favourite writing communities Chapter79 has a few sub-fora dedicated to novels.

2. Enrol onto a writing course; there are several writing courses available online and in the real life; I've done Fiction Writing with Writers' News; but there are many out there, including university courses (at some point I thought about enrolling on OU Creative Writing course.
Downside: they can be expensive and of variable quality; I would suggest checking the reputation within the writing community before investing any money.

3. Join in one of the feedback sites, like YouWriteOn, Critique Circle, Authonomy or have a look at NaNoWriMo Critique, Feedback and Novel Swaps forum.
The downside: you may discover that not all reviewrs are as thourough and honest as you would like them to be.

4. Pay for a professional manuscript assessment and editorial advice. Again, there are many agencies and individuals who offer this kind of service, use Google and recommendations by your writing friends. I have read a lot of positives about Cornerstones and The Literary Consultancy; Joanna Penn used The Novel Doctor)
Downside: expensive

5. Find a critique partner. I have found one thanks to RWNZ critique partner scheme. If you are a romance writer, have a look at eHarlequin Community site - there is a thread for writers seeking a critique partner.
Read an interesting post on What makes a good crit buddy.
Downside: can't think of any, once you've found a good match!

6. Use Beta readers (like Joanna Penn).
Downsides: Anyone knows of any?

7. Join a reputable writing organisation, like Romantic Novelist Association, Romance Writers of Australia, or any other, preferably in your favourite genre; many of them have contests (e.g. Golden Heart by RWA, or The Clendon Award for members of RWNZ), schemes (e.g. fantastic New Writers' Scheme by RNA) or critique groups, which offer the members opportunity to receive feedback on their manuscript.
Downsides: it can be expensive, but my RWNZ membership is my best invested money in 2010.

8. Send your manuscript to a contest.
Keep your eyes open - there are many of them. Choose those which will send back the feedback sheets to you, so even if you don't win the contast, you win the feedback.
I have sent my work in progress to Strictly Single and Get your Stiletto in the Door and although I didn't win, or even got to the second round, I have recieved lots of invaluable feedback (interestingly most judges agreed on what's good and what needs more work).
If you win/get shortlisted you may (or may not, as Scott Eagan points out on his blog) even get a request for a partial/full or The Call!
Downsides: can be expensive

9. If you feel your novel is perfect (or near perfect) submit your manuscript to the chosen agent or publisher.
The upside - if it's brilliant, you may get a publishing deal.
The downside - if it's crap not so brilliant, you are unlikely to receive any feedback at all.

Whichever way your choose, make a good use of the feedback. Read it (and reread as many times as you wish as I have done with mine), but let it rest for a while and then come back and think again. Here is a piece of advice on handling conflicting critiques..
If it feels right, follow the advice, it if doesn't - don't.

Good luck!

13 December 2010

So you think you can write?

Have you written a novel? Or at least a first chapter and an outline? Or maybe, like me, you've done NaNo and have a first draft?
Can your novel by any chance be classified as romance?
Wondering what to do with that?

How about sending it to Harlequin - the global leader in series romance and one of the world's leading publishers of books for women?
It's the last challenge of their So You Think You Can Write project which featured a series of very informative and encouraging social media events in the first week of November.

All you need to have your submission considered is to sent a synopsis (5-7 pages) and first chapter (max 22 pages) of your novel (can be unfinished, but you'd better be prepared to have the rest handy in case you get a request for more in January!). Your novel can be targeted at any of Harlequin/Mills&Boon lines.

Here you will find some pointers regarding how to write your chapter and the dreaded synopsis. And if you need more info on Harlequin writing guidelines, have a look here.

Deadline: December 15, 6pm EDT. Results by 31 January 2011 (pretty fast, innit?)
I've just sent my submission - my NaNo medical romance.

Good luck to everyone :)

05 December 2010

Writing synopsis (2)

I'm writing synopsis for my NaNo novel to submit to SoYouThinkYouCanWrite contest. As I find writing synopsis much more difficult than writing the actual novel I've tried to gather advice on how to do it first.
There is a summary of what I've found.

5 rules of writing a synopsis:

1. Synopsis is narrative summary of your novel; it tells the story, hence goes beyond the plot, introducing your characters and showing the conflict and the main emotional arc; the events of the story should be shown as they appear in your novel

2. You need to start with a good hook and end up showing the resolution of the story conflict (no cliffhangers allowed!); include major plot twists and turns, but not every detail

3. In the next paragraphs you introduce your characters showing their goals, motivations and conflict; you need to show how they change as the effect of the emotional journey they embark at the beginning of your story (action-reaction-decision); focus on the main characters, introduce secondary characters only if necessary and relevant to the emotional journey of your H&H

4. The body of your synopsis should have three major parts: Introduction (The precipitating event, which sends your heroine and hero on their journey), The Bits in the Middle (the journey through obstacles and escalating conflict towards the Resolution), the End (the Resolution of the conflict); remember to show how your characters develop and are tested during their emotional journey towards the resolution

5. Be tight, use strong verbs and cut extra adverbs and adjectives; try to reflect the pace and style/voice of your novel; write in present tense, third person and format your synopsis as per your targeted publisher requirements (or other publishing standards).

ps. more resources on Lou's blog. and there is more on writing the dreaded synopsis by editor-at-large Leslie Wainger at eHarlequin website.

01 December 2010

The importance of happy endings

Photo by graur razvan ionut
at freedigitalphotos.net
Happy ending is one of the ingredients that define a romance novel. Although the story doesn't have to end with the wedding bells, a satisfactory ending incorporates at least an assumption that Heroine and Hero will live happily ever after. You need to give them a good chance to stay together for the forseeable future. This is what your reader expects from your novel.

Kate Walker says (in her fabulous 12 Points Guide to Writing Romance) that
- your first page sells the book you're writing now, but
- the ending will sell your next one.

Enough to say why a satisfactory, believable, resulting naturally from your characters happy ending is vital to a romance novel.

I have a bit of a problem with endings, so I've been worrying that my characters will never make it to the end.
I can't believe I did it!
Not only I won NaNoWriMo (that is wrote 50,000 words) but also finished my novel.

I struggled through week 2 and 3 to the point there were days, when I spent 4- 5 hours in front of the computer and wrote only 500-800 words. That's pathetic, but at least I was moving on.
I have generally very low writing output - maximally 500 words/hour, which is much less than other people can.
But I wanted to get the Nano laurels, so uploaded the novel as soon as I reached 50,000 words, although I was still a few scenes away from the end.

What was really important for me was to finish the novel. It's my very first finished novel (my other novel has been work in progress for the last 5 or 6 years!).
I got my hero and heroine to their Happily-Ever-After yesterday morning. It's my very first happy ending.

Now I need to fix the plotholes, eyes changing colours, people changing names and the like - a.k.a. known as editing and revising process. I also need to write a synopsis.

I want to submit 1 chapter plus synopsis to The Final Challenge of SoYouThinkYouCanWrite at eHarlequin and the deadline is 15/12/10.
I also want to enter The Clendon Award 2011, which is a competition for members of Romance Writers of New Zealand.

Still a lot of work to do. But what a happy ending!

Congratulations to all NaNo Winners!