Sometime last year I stumbled upon The Skimm: An informative email delivered to my inbox every morning that covered everything from politics to sports and everything in between. I loved it.
First off, as a mom, my article-reading time has diminished greatly. Mornings that used to be spent perusing my local newspaper are now spent chasing three beautiful girls. Breakfasts, lunch boxes, pig-tails, teeth checks. I drink my coffee cold, brewed an hour early. I don't have time for news.
Then there's my writing. A couple years ago, I started to take my hobby seriously. I wrote a book, edited a book, and started querying agents. It's why I have this blog. To chronicle the process and highlight twitter pitch contests. Needless to say, it's tireless. Between the three kids, the two dogs, and a husband with a schedule all his own; keeping up to date on current events is a challenge.
If it didn't involve Daniel Tiger, organic kid-friendly snacks, and researching the effects of dual-language charter programs I probably wouldn't have time to read it.
So I got the Skimm. I loved being informed again. Having something to say when my friends brought up current events. I even had sources and links to bipartisan news sources in my email so I could contribute to REAL adult conversation!
It was life changing.
So, I shared it with everyone I knew. Then I got this weird little email telling me that I was now considered a "Skimmbassador." It meant I got a Skimm tote and access to a group of like minded women (and a few men).
Those women and men (there are almost 9,000 now) have changed my life. With the dynamic of our country changing, so has the group in certain ways, but the best parts have stayed the same. The desire to stay informed and support one another in group endeavors. I have watched families grown, women start organizations and non-profits, I've even helped with a few wedding hashtags.
Then a few months back, I saw an article posted about the need for tampons in homeless shelters. One girl started a drive in her area. I was inspired! Why didn't people think about tampons and women's sanitary needs as priorities?
For those of you who don't know I live in Anchorage, AK. The winters here are rough, and unfortunately we have a large homeless community. I couldn't imagine going without this basic necessity. I started a drive called "28 Days" to raise awareness, money, and women's sanitary items to support two local women's shelters. AWAIC and New Hope.
The Skimmbassador program helped me realize a cause that needed support, and my Skimmbassador sisters and brothers helped me pave a path to do it. Thank you so much!
If you are in the Anchorage area and would like to help/donate a box of tampons, please consider joining my Facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1862971947276084/
If you would like to donate financially, please consider visiting my Gofundme page:
Lastly and most importantly, if you are interested in getting the Skimm sent to your inbox every day, follow this magical little link and sign up:
I'm going to start this blog off the right way by saying I am not a published author.
I'm not even an agented writer.
That being said, I write. I write a lot. It keeps me sane. Just last week my friend asked me how I write at night after my kids go to sleep. The answer is easy: I have to. Writing is one of those things you make time for at first, but soon you're itching to get to your computer to touch a self-imposed goal.
I'm on my third book, and after one big bust and one fully edited slight-miss, I feel like I've learned a thing or two. Things I want to share with people who are starting out. Things I wish I knew and/or resources I wish I had at the beginning. Shall we?
THE BEAT SHEET
So the very first thing I ask people when they talk about plot and movement issues are Beat Sheets. I'm almost always met with a "Uh, Dante, what is that?"
It's your best friend, that's what it is, you crazy pantser!
If you haven't heard the term "pantser," it applies to writers that don't pre-plot their stores. I'm what we call a "plotter" and I'm proud of it! Beat Sheets are my first step in writing, because it allows me to know what stuff has to happen.
My favorite Beat Sheet is the Master Beat Sheet from Jami Gold's website. It's free, and you can download it here: http://jamigold.com/for-writers/worksheets-for-writers/
If you're looking for any plotting worksheets- this is your spot. It's got everything from Character Sheets, to Beat Sheets, Settings, and more!
THE DETAILED OUTLINE
This one may just be a personal preference, but after I plot it out on the Beat Sheet, then transfer to my writing program of choice, I write a detailed (and I mean detailed) outline. Basically, I bullet point each incident from the beat sheet with particular details so I don't forget what needs to happen where. This is where I weave layers of character development, highlight plot holes, and make sure all the lines connect.
Again, this one is a personal thing, and there are a ton of great pantsers out there. I'm just not one of them. I look at it this way, the more I know along the way, the less I have to think later. Then I'm just filling in the blanks with prose.
Every writer needs a "home base" and Scrivener is probably one of the more popular ones. With good reason, too, because Scrivener is like magic for writers. It's a place where you can write, organize your writing, file things away, research, and it saves everything too so it's less stress for you!
You can buy it here, but if you're a Nanowrimo winner, I believe there is a discount code: https://www.writersstore.com/scrivener/
THE THESAURUS YOU NEVER KNEW EXISTED
Okay, this is morel like a SET of them.
The Emotion Thesaurus and all of it's counterparts and companions are worth their weight in gold. When writing a scene you aren't super familiar with (maybe you live in the city, and it takes place in NYC) these books help you pinpoint all those little details that make writing beautiful. I'll tell you, my little details got so much better after purchasing this book, as well as the ones on setting.
I keep them on my Kindle, which I think is awesome because I can skip to the emotion or setting I'm looking for with minimal effort.
You can find these books here: https://www.amazon.com/Emotion-Thesaurus-Writers-Character-Expression/dp/1475004958
A FANTASTIC BOOK ON EDITS
So you did the outline, you filled it in with detailed prose! Now what?
Now you edit.
Then you edit some more.
Then you have someone read it.
Editing is 90% of writing. It's taking a pile of thoughts and making it conveyable information. I've read a few books on editing but none have helped me the way that Editor-Proof Your Writing: 21 Steps to the Clear Prose Publishers and Agents Crave has.
You want clear, concise prose? You need this book. It'll help you learn what to avoid, what you need, and even goes into some detail on publishing.
I seriously suggest this book to every writer I know because it was probably the book I got that surprised me the most. I expected it to be common knowledge content, but the way it was presented was both light-hearted and funny, but incredibly informative.
Here's the amazon link: https://www.amazon.com/Editor-Proof-Your-Writing-Publishers-Writers/dp/1610351789/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1485999138&sr=8-1&keywords=editor+proof
Everyone has a method to their madness, but this is just a peek into mine. What are your favorite writing resources? Please share in the comments below!
Romy and Michelle invented Post-Its.
Or maybe it was Arthur Fry.
What I actually did was utilize something I've seen before, but I wanted to share it with anyone who may be stuck in a storyline with multiple points of view or a non-linear aspect.
For me, it involves a complicated backstory and a non-linear storyline with MANY points of view represented in small ways.
HERE'S WHAT YOU NEED:
HERE'S HOW TO GET STARTED:
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?
You might be done. If you want to get a look at the storyline and how those stories overlap, you can call it a day. If you're like me, and you want to timeline the entire thing, it's time to whip out that calendar we talked about.
I created a spreadsheet with the events lined up in one column, then used a calendar to assign dates to those events so that they all make sense. Seeing them lined up like that helped me see how many days were between events and what I needed to change/separate/add together for the story to make sense in a timely fashion.
Even if you don't need this for a complicated storyline, it's worth doing just for the organization aspect. Seeing how multiple people in one story have their own story, and it might help you find motivation for character action, at the very least gaining a visual.
Hope it helps!
I feel like it is important to state from the get-go that I'm writing this while my twelve-month-old shrieks at me. She's in that lovely stage where screaming is her only form of communication. All week long I've been planning to write a blog post on how to up your word count during Nanowrimo, but as I sped down the freeway after dropping a violin off for one kid, then hitting the Girl Scout store for another in need of a uniform, I thought to myself:
"Dante, you have one hour at home in which time you should TOTALLY be able to fold a load of laundry, feed two kids, and get a blog post in. After all, it's Tuesday and your husband is going to want to watch that last episode of Stranger Things- so there's no way you're going to be able to write tonight."
This is my every day existence, and I'm one of the fortunate stay-at-home mom writers.
So in true last-minute fashion, I'm penning this between activities, changed up with NO research whatsoever. My research this week went to upping your word count, which is what I WAS going to write on. Thanks to my highway inspiration though- this week you are getting a post on WROMMING.
BUT DANTE, WHAT IS WROMMING?
I'm so glad you asked. Wromming is the art of Momming and Writing at the same time. Because as a mom, your work is never done. You can't shut off the momming or clock out. The work hours never end, and even if you put your last baby down to bed for the night, there's always a chance they will call you in for overtime.
But when you're trying to write 50,000 words in a month to participate in Nanowrimo, you can see how hard that is. So I've comprised a few tips/hints for those moms out there eager to participate in Nanowrimo, but perhaps aren't sure how they can accomplish this when they have a kid (or three).
FIRST, NEGLECT THOSE KIDS
Okay, I'm mostly kidding here. Yes, your children need to eat, and diapers need to be changed, but there are certain ways that you can coast for an hour or two a day. My kids don't watch much tv, if any, TV, but they love playing outside. Distractions can be found with self-imposed "Quiet time" for those that aren't yet in school. My favorite is setting up an "art project" of stickers and paper and letting those little monsters go nuts. Friday nights, we do a movie night. The girls settle into bed for a movie and I hit the word-doc in order to get my goal for the day. Bedtimes, Snack-times, SCHOOL.
Seriously, there's no shame in getting a sitter for an hour so you can go to the coffee shop and edit or write. It takes me about an hour to get a thousand awful written words. So if I have an hour and a half (often times broken up over the day) I can make my daily goal to get 50,000 by the end of the month.
This cycle though, I'm participating in Scrivathon (More info below), so there will be a whole day where I've scheduled a babysitter so that I can have the freedom to write my little heart out for the whole dang day. Yes, that's right. You read that correctly. I got a babysitter to participate in a virtual write-in because I'll be able to bump that word count up AND help with Syrian Relief.
Feel free to call in favors, beg, promise first-readership or your first born (especially if you have extras).
SLEEP IS FOR THE WEAK
Then there's the option to stay up in the night hours, but if you're like me this always ends up being at the sacrifice at your time with your husband. Mine likes to hang out and relax with me at the end of the day, so I wait until he's at work or out doing other things instead. Then those late night tv-binging hours turn to type-fests where I hit the keyboard and don't stop until I'm drooling on the space key.
EARLY MORNING HOURS
Admittedly, my jam. I love those hours before anyone wakes up, and it used to be the time got my writing out for the day, just before I hit the gym. Then, because my kids hate me, they started getting up around 6:00am, I'd have to wake up at 4:00am to get my word count in. Not happening.
IN CONCLUSION, COMMIT.
It's one month. ONE single month where you may get a little less sleep, your kids may be a little more restless, and your husband may feel like you've neglected his ability to binge-watch Narcos without cheating. Load up on the coffee, the chocolate, the noise-cancelling headphones, and then force those words out of you like you force your kiddos to do their chores. You have a book in you and it's due in November!
A LITTLE BIT ABOUT SCRIVATHON
Scrivathon is a 24 hour word-sprint in accordance with Syrian Relief. Our goal, write until we can't write anymore while raising money to help those that need it. If you are interested in donating or participating, please visit A.Y. Cho's website for more information.
ALSO: Check out these other participants in the Scrivathon:
A.Y. Chao || Gurpreet Sihat || Hoda Agharazi || Deborah Crossland Maroulis || Morgan Hazelwood || Dante Medema || Miranda Burski || Maria Guglielmo || K.J. Harrowick || Rochelle Karina || Adele Buck
So I’ve got a rep (according to my friend Lindsey) as being the “pitch whisperer.”
I don’t know about all that, but I do know that I actually enjoy writing them, and I had a decent amount of success soliciting agent “likes” during PitMad. So in an effort to both write down what I did so I remember, and share my strategy with those who have asked I decided to put it here in blog form.
DO YOUR RESEARCH
So my first not-exactly-pro tip is to read the instructions on whatever pitch contest you are entering. Research how to write a pitch. I sampled a few different blog posts (from agents and writers) to discern what exactly agents are looking for when they read through these.
Some of the blogs I checked out:
If nothing else, this gives you some tips about the rules. I saw so many people missing out on valuable hashtags and shooting out tweets that weren’t ready. When you’re trying to attract an agent in about 35 characters, it’s not easy.
MY PROCESS DURING THE LAST PITMAD
Think about the three most important elements of your story. If you were going to say what the three coolest aspects of your story are, write them down.
Now there are about 3 million other things I want to convey in these pitches, but I only have so many characters to use. Especially when you factor in that I need #PITMAD, #YA, and #CON.
So then you try to factor in as many “cool” things as you can. They keep saying that agents look at later blog posts to piece together a story out of three pitches, but I’m not too sure. I’d rather take three elements and let them stand alone (at least a little bit).
Basically, make your story sound awesome, while creating some stakes.
Here are my tweets:
Dante Medema @DanteMedema Sep 8
Girl learns to forgive her father’s mistakes while solving a haunting family mystery. Why won't anyone talk about "Ace"? #PitMad #YA #CON
This received my least amount of “likes”, and I wasn’t terribly surprised. There weren’t any stakes involved, it doesn’t place an awesome setting, and there is no understanding of who Ace is. This one garnered one agent like.
Dante Medema @DanteMedema Sep 8
Girl stuck in Alaska spends summer with boy-next-door fulfilling Gran’s last wish: Will she find Gran's first love in time? #PitMad #YA #CON
So you can see here, there are stakes. It’s her Gran’s last wish- will she make it in time? Plus, it adds in the element that there might be a romance on the horizon for my main character. Another tip- don’t waste time with names. General quick description in YA is fine. Boy/Girl are often fewer characters than their name and it’s not going to matter in the long run. This one received three agent “likes.”
Dante Medema @DanteMedema Sep 8
Girl uses romance novels, an obituary, and short stories to find her dying gran’s first love during a summer in Alaska. #PitMad #YA #CON
By far, my favorite pitch that I created during PitMad for this book. You can see it has something unique about the book, an awesome setting, and stakes. It tells you something about the story in just a few words, and it seemed to do the job because (to my great surprise), it attracted eight agent and two editor “likes.”
Practice. As you can see, I put three out and got varying responses, but after the fact I can look back and really see what worked best for my novel. Do you research, listen to what the agent and writer blogs have for instruction, and then get some help! Workshop your pitches within the writing community and look for those awesome people that are out there championing each other’s journey to greatness.
Hope this helps!
So if you’re like me, and you’ve got your novel out into the universe all spliced and editing and polished, then you’re ready to query! Which means you get to do awesome pitch contests like PitMad!
For those of you that don’t know, PitMad is an amazing Twitter based chance to pitch to MANY agents and editors at the same time. Of course, there are restrictions. It has to be under 140 characters, and there is a 12 hour window. Brenda Drake runs this contest (sometimes with a little help) and you can find more information about this and PitchWars (another awesome contest) at: www.brenda-drake.com
SO YOU ENTERED PITMAD- NOW WHAT?!
First: Stop pitching with the PitMad hashtag. I know, I know, and I get the temptation to do it, but it’s just not in good taste. It does go noticed, and while this community is so great and warm and loving, it’s just better not to get off on the wrong foot. Is that really how you want people to remember you?
Think of it like every episode of the Bachelor or Bachelorette. Heck, or even Bachelor in Paradise. We want to know that you’re here for the right reasons.
Second: Give yourself a big pat on the back! It’s hard to put yourself out there! Seriously. It’s pumpkin-spice latte season. Go get one of those bad boys!
Lastly: Go query those agents and editors! They’re excited to see your stuff! I’ve seen more than one post on Twitter about being stoked to see their inboxes filling up with things that they’re excited for.
BUT WHAT IF...
Wait what? You still have questions???
I know, I know. A lot of you have been behind the scenes in subgroups and on Twitter going: “But what if…” So I got in touch with Brenda, and asked her a few of those burning questions we all seem to have.
Q: What should you do if an agent likes your pitch, but you have received a rejection letter from them? In some cases, these writers have revised their manuscripts since the rejection. They are just curious if they should send a nudge to the agent, or not?
A: Send the request and state in the query that they have seen the ms/pages/query before and that it was rejected but they have since revised.
Q: What happens if you receive a like from an agent at an agency that has already sent a pass and their policy indicates that you should not try resubmitting to another agent there?
A: Send the request. This is a different situation than submitting coldly.
Q: What happens if you receive likes from multiple agents at the same agency?
A: Send the request to all agents that requested at the agency and mention in the query the other agents that had requested it.
Note about this one: I am loving the Entagled-Twitter-MS-Battle of 2016.
Q: Oh, and what to do if you can't find information on an Agent or Editor's Twitter for their Pitmad Submission Guidelines?
A: If they can't find a tweet - follow the guidelines on the agent's website.
Q: What do you do if you have an agent like, but you already have a query with them in their slush? Or if you have a query in with an associate at that agent?
A: Same protocol as the two agent thing and just let the agent know that he/she already has a query.
Thanks again Brenda for answering all my quesitons!
THAT’S ALL FOLKS!
But seriously, if you have any more questions, just ask! This community is great! Kit Grant just did this awesome blog entry about how this isn’t a writing contest. “This is NOT the Hunger Games of Writing.” We’re all here to support one another and help build better writers and just enjoy this community! Check it out, it’s a good read! You can find it here: http://kgtellsstories.tumblr.com
Also, if you’re looking for more pitch or writing contests, check out L.M. Pierce’s WRITING AND PITCH CONTESTS: THE EPIC AND COMPLETE DIRECTORY. You can find that bad boy here: http://www.piercebooks.com/single-post/2016/09/09/ULTIMATE-WritersAuthors-Tweeter-Pitch-Contests
Thats all for today! Make sure you follow me on Twitter @Dantemedema. Tune in next week when I discuss PitMad trends with Heather Cashman and how to craft a successful Twitter Pitch.
It's time for a pitch contest entry.
This one is Son of a Pitch, and can be found here:
Title: A BRIEF ILLNESS
Age and Genre: Contemporary YA
Word Count: 65,000
Seventeen-year-old Rory Brooks meticulously planned out her entire summer: days at the lake and endless nights at bonfires with her best friend. Her perfectly arranged plans are derailed when her mother ships her off to Alaska for three months with her emotionally distant father and his new start-up family. Her summer is then obliterated when her grandmother Harriet, the only person on her dad’s side of the family she actually knows, has a massive stroke.
Rory is thrown into the role of part time caregiver for her grandmother. Then, in one of her more lucid moments, Gran asks Rory to find someone named "Ace." The only problem is, nobody seems to have heard of him, or they aren't admitting to it. With little more to go on than a box of old romance novels, an obituary citing “a brief illness,” as cause of death, and a folder full of short stories— Rory realizes that she knows hardly anything about her declining grandmother. With summer coming to an end, and Gran’s health rapidly declining, Rory enlists the help of Dylan—the romantic boy next door—to find out just who “Ace” is and why his secrets are worth keeping.
A Brief Illness is contemporary YA, with crossover potential. It is my first novel and complete at 65,000 words. I wrote this after finding a similar obituary for a family member, but I knew that the truth involved a death that was anything but brief. I was inspired to write a story about generations affected by war—about a man who suffered from war, but not at war. A Brief Illness deals with love, forgiveness, family, and finding oneself.
First 250 Words:
Yes, it's sooo beautiful, and sooo scenic. The air is clean, and the vast expanse of green trees and blue skies are the exact things you see in magazines. Alaska has never been that to me though. For me, it's always been the place I have to go every summer.
I checked my phone. Just twenty more minutes in the flight.
“Oh, I love Alaska. The landscape is just so beautiful—unbeatable if you ask me. Did I mention I was coming here to see my sister?”
Poor sister. That meant she was going to have to deal with—what was her name again? Trudy? Cindy? Nancy! It was Nancy, wasn’t it? She’d been invading my space for the entire flight, and I barely knew her. I could only imagine the treatment her poor sister was going to get.
“You did,” I said, pulling my headphones free of the tray-table in front of me.
I’ve been successfully avoiding Alaska since my dad remarried a couple of years ago. If his third marriage was anything like his second (tumultuous, out of control), then I didn’t want to be anywhere near him when that bomb went off.
Where my dad is concerned, the bomb always goes off.
Nancy was thumbing through her phone, invading my seat while she pushed an iPhone screen toward me. On it, a picture of a grey tabby cat.
It's been several years since I went to my first writers conference (through the Alaska Writers Guild). At the time, I was dabbling through my fifth awful draft of my second attempt at a book. What I learned is that writing a book is a lot of work--- seriously guys! LOTS of work.
I remember so vividly- listening in on all these panels where people discussed publishing (both traditional and self-publishing), and watching as writers talked and networked. With an eager heart I took in everything I could. Craft discussions, editors talking about what we should avoid, people discussing what they were there to talk about- their books and all the work that goes into it.
At the end of the conference, I remember feeling scorched.
Turned out, writing a book wasn't as simple as sitting at a table of college students in your Creative Writing 101 and having them tell you that your short story was "Epic".
Writing, for me has been a journey. Since I started (and sometimes stopped and restarted as we have to do), I've gotten married, had three kids, made a move from Colorado to Alaska, bought a house, said goodbye to my grandmother, helped care for my ailing grandfather, enjoyed countless experiences that had nothing to do with writing, but I always, always come back.
At this particular conference a writer named Marc Cameron (he writes the Jericho Quinn books), attributed a commonality among writers- to get this story out of you. It really stuck with me, and I found myself thinking about what he said one night when I should have been writing.
For so many of us, it is a need-often a selfish one. To tell a story we have crafted, babied, and rewritten a few times. To be omniscient to our character's every move and help them find their path and voice.
So for the past few years, through all the mess of life that is having and caring for young children, I have written a book-and one that I'm proud of.
This year, I'm going a conference prepared. I've researched like I never knew I had to for a chance to talk with agents that I will very likely never encounter again. I've reached out to other writers, learning what type of books they are working on. Most of all, I think that having a book ready and waiting is the biggest difference. I'm going, having utilized everything I got from the last conference and more.
I'm ready for you PNWA.
Where have I been?
So you finish a novel, and you think that's the big scary hard part- right? You have this book baby that you feel can finally stand on it's own two feet. Better yet- she wants to learn to walk.
I have three kids, I'm familiar with getting kids to walk. Under human baby circumstances you gently encourage them to explore and walking happens naturally. With your book baby, you have to hold onto their feet and basically do all the walking for them.
All of this is an exasperated way of saying that my free time (you know, where I can make it) is spent scanning agency websites, reading specifics on the agents, glancing through my twitter feed, and because I stumbled on it- obsessing over mswishlist.com.
In case you are wondering- MSWL stands for manuscript wishlist and it basically is a list of what agents are yearning for at any given time.
This website has been amazing to me- giving me tidbits on what agents might be looking for in their own voice, and the tweets offer insight to their personality as well. I have a running document with names of agents that I want to query, and added a few after going through every agent listed that is looking for YA. One of them, I emboldened because she seem like someone I wouldn't mind getting a cup of coffee with in addition to having an interest in a book similar to mine.
Just trying to be patient and make sure I teach my book baby to walk before running. So much to do. So much to research.
In other news- I think I might finally understand Twitter. I know... I know... I'm a late bloomer.
I've reached this point in the editing process where I was starting to get daunted by what I had in my book. Some great feedback from some beta-readers (and by great, I mean honest opinions about things I need to work on), had me wondering if I was ever going to "finish" my book.
I know there are some things about the book that need to get hammered out. That's why I gave it to beta-readers in the first place. That being said, nothing they have told me has really surprised me. Deep down, I know that there are some holes that need fixing.
Which leads me to my most recent read.
Story Fix by Larry Brooks.
Larry Brooks is a published author who also happens to coach and has a sensational career going around to conferences and teaching people how to fix the problems with their story. I read his book Story Fix per a suggestion of a friend.
Some books on writing are so dry or filled with concepts or ideas that I think are common knowledge. For example. I once read a book that said over and over to just sit down and write. Basically, convincing me that all things like plot, arc, characterization, etc were irrelevant if you weren't writing. That's true, but there was little more to offer than that mantra over and over. I can find that for free within just about any internet meme out there about writing.
Story Fix was transformative. Brooks doesn't offer to make the job of editing easier, but more clear. That's the best way to describe what happened here.
First, I started reading and became daunted with negative thoughts. "What if I read this book and it tells me that I don't know what I'm doing?" "I don't know what half of these twelve elements even mean, how am I going to write a book?" "I'm never going to get published!!!!"
After my "pre-test" if you will, he goes on to explain these twelve basic components in more detail.
Again, nothing surprised me, but it does help you step by step into checking off each individual component and helping you fix it. What I'm left with, after reading Story Fix in full, is a renewed sense of purpose with my novel, a fresh outlook, and an eagerness to edit.
I'd recommend this for anyone who has completed their first or second draft and doesn't know where to start editing/how to decide what needs editing.
Onwards and upwards-