Tag Archives: Writing, Reading and Publishing

10,000 Hours

In the November 24, 2008 issue of Time Magazine … which I’m feeling uber-smug for having already finished … there’s an article about Malcolm Gladwell. He’s a brainiac who has written his third book, OUTLIERS, which Time describes as, “a frontal assault on the great American myth of the self-made man.” It’s a book about exceptional people who “operate at the extreme outer edge of what is statistically possible.”

He’s a remarkable man and the book sounds like a good read. But I was stopped short when I read about Gladwell’s 10,000-Hour Rule. He says the key to success in any field takes simple practice, 10,000 hours of it … 20 hours a week for ten years, regardless of talent.

I read that paragraph three times because I’ve heard for many years — since I’ve become serious about writing — that only those who persevere will have a career as an author. I’ve heard a million stories, give or take 200,000, about authors who took ten years to become ‘overnight successes’ because that’s the industry average. I know mediocre writers who are quite successful. Why? Because they don’t quit and they learn everything there is to know about the publishing industry. And I know excellent, make-your-heart-leap-into-your-throat writers who will never get published. Why? Because they give up or refuse to learn about the industry.

I also read recently, in the December issue of The Writer magazine, (again, feeling smug to be current in my reading) about William McGonagall (1825-1902), the world’s worst poet, whose “confidence far surpassed his talent.” Chuck Leddy, the author of the article, maintains that “to persist in the face of hurled insults and howling laughter, is a unique sort of genius that remains worthy of celebration.” I wholeheartedly agree. In fact, if I had my Wayback Machine all lubed and oiled, I’d buy Mr. McG a Guinness.

Mr. McGonagall obviously dangled his legs off the cliff of talent, but it’s clear he put in his 10,000 hours. After all, it’s 2008 and he’s still the subject of magazine articles. There are studies documenting Gladwell’s 10,000-Hour Rule … it’s not just anecdotal, trying to make us feel better about trying to be published authors for all these years.

So I started looking at my timeline. I’ve been serious about writing … and let’s define that using Gladwell’s scale by saying it’s conscientious writing 20 hours a week … since about October 1999, to the best of my recollection. I never seem to do any writing on weekends, so twenty hours a week is four hours per day. If we count reading craft books, reading in our genre, critiquing others’ manuscripts, participating in critique groups, attending conferences, workshops and lectures … well, golly! I’m overdo for my breakout novel because I’ve put in more than 10,000 hours. And I really hope that “regardless of talent” piece is true.

But if the ten year thing has to be part of the equation, then I only have another year to strengthen my book signing hand!

Ready when you are, Universe!

Are you close to 10,000 hours of practicing something to fulfill your dream? If you could do anything in the world, what would you want to spend 10,000 hours practicing? (And I know that leaves me absolutely open to all kinds of funny, possibly obscene, answers, but it’s a chance I’m willing to take! Let ‘em rip ….)

Novel Retreat and Me

novel-retreat-nametag1

I’ve been avoiding writing about my experience with the Novel Retreat in 3 Acts. It was just too darn overwhelming! Plus, I had to wait for the waves of exhilaration followed by crushing bouts of self-doubt and depression to pass.

And I feel bad, because lots of people knew I was attending and they want to hear about my experience. But until today, this is how the conversation would have gone:

Them, all enthusiastic: How was the writing retreat?
Me, faking a smile and hoping they’re asking just to be polite: Great.
Them, still enthusiastic: Yeah? Tell me all about it.
Me, averting my eyes like a dog who just piddled the rug: Um. It was great. Awesome. Fabulous.
Them, all huffy: Fine. Be that way, you stinky creepazoid. If you don’t want to tell me, just say so.

See why I had to wait?

But now that my exhilaration and self-doubt have blended up nicely in a delicious smoothie of balanced and serene writerly emotion, I can keep my promise to Nancy Sharp Wagner to write a series of blogs about this amazing series of writing adventures she’s developed.

Lest you think I’m acting abnormally altruistic, I’m not. I simply want to do my part to promote these retreats so she keeps having them. I want to go again! I’m certain it’s been the best thing I’ve ever done for my writing career.

Today I’ll tell you what I got out of the retreats. The rest of the week will be the story behind the retreats, the specific program details, information about the awesomely gorgeous monastery they’re held at, ending with testimonials from the participants.

So, in no particular order, these are some benefits I received from the Novel Retreat in 3 Acts.

• I now have another critique group I know I can trust my manuscripts to. I don’t know about the other groups, but we decided to keep our group going until we croak. Even though the four of us are spread all over the country and it will be a long time before we meet in person again, we bonded about eight seconds after we met and it seems like we’ll be friends forever. I trust them explicitly with my writing because they’re honest, they’re smart, they understand what I’m trying to do, they don’t sugar-coat their comments, they’ve all got exceptional and wide-ranging talents, and darn it, they’re just great fun to hang around.

• The 20-ish other people who didn’t happen to be in my critique group are just as important to me. There’s really nothing better than knowing people who are traveling the same path as you are. We’re not all at the same place, but we’re all heading down that yellow brick road together. I know that if a scary lion jumps out at me or I detour into a field of poppies or when I catch my first glimpse of the Emerald City … they’ll be right there with me consoling or kicking my heinie or cheering me on.

• I finally feel like I have revision tools in my toolbox, thanks to Act 2 of the retreat series.

darcy Led by Darcy Pattison, it focused entirely on revision. My small group read each other’s complete first draft before the retreat and after Darcy talked about each concept, we’d stop to apply them to our manuscripts. My new favorite tool? The shrunken manuscript.

• I have a two-page letter from Rebecca Sherman at Writer’s House detailing her critique of my submission package. Plus, I have her handwritten notes on my query, my synopsis AND the first ten pages of my manuscript. That kind of information and experience from a well-respected industry professional is hard to come by.

• I’m pretty good about outlining and mulling over novels for a long time before I start writing. I have five completed manuscripts in various stages of readiness. I wrote the first drafts of each in a month or less, so first drafts are a breeze for me. Unfortunately, they’re usually quite crappy, too. So the ideas I learned from Elaine Marie Alphin reallelaine-gify spoke to me. Even though I’m perfectly comfortable working from a plan, Elaine really showed me how to “lay tracks” before writing so that the writing time is more effective and I’ll have less revision to do.

• This experience was yet another reminder that writing is a continuous cycle.

Write
Revise
Revise
Revise
Send it off to agents/editors
Lay track for your new novel
Write
Revise
Revise
Revise
Send it off to agents/editors
Lay track for your new novel

That’s the only way to have a career as a writer.

• The other big benefit of participating in these retreats is that they ‘fill my cup.’ It’s almost impossible to explain why I … someone who is able to write on a daily basis without the distractions of preschoolers or a pesky day job … need my emotional cup filled. But it’s all tied up in the other writers I hang out with, and the getting away from home, and the daily highs and lows of writing. If you’ve done much writing, you know some days it’s a snap and other days it can make your eyeballs bleed. Suffice it to say, there’s something quite fulfilling in hanging for a few days with like-minded eyeball bleeders.

• And a million other benefits.

So do yourself a favor. Read all these blog posts then write a letter to Santa, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, your significant other, your kids, your grandparents, anyone with purse strings you can tug at and tell them THIS is what you want for Christmas and/or Hanukkah and/or your birthday and/or your anniversary … or for no reason other than it’s what you need to fill your cup and continue your writer’s journey.

If you’ve made a commitment to your writing, then you absolutely deserve it.


What do YOU need to feel energized about your writing?

I Was One of Miss Snark’s Victims

And yet, I don’t feel victimized.

Recently I submitted 250 tension-filled words from my work-in-progress to Miss Snark’s First Victim blog. Here are the comments I received:

Just_Me said…

I’m not madly in love with the black lightening bolts. Can the MC see auras? Is this physical? Or is this just his description of her?

I do love the motion you project, and I hate Big Al. Hope he burns. A kid shouldn’t flinch from their parent.

Blogger AC said…

I don’t really understand the black lightning bolts either. Maybe it makes more sense in the context of the story. But I love how Aggie is constantly moving in the scene.

I thought the everyday conversation between the mom and dad take away from the forward motion a bit; everything else is so good, and then you have to stop and read through some mundane chitchat before you can get going again. Maybe there’s a way to minimize it?

Anonymous Ashleen O’Gaea said…

I liked the effect of the juxtaposition between the MC’s knowing that Aggie didn’t run into a door and the effort to maintain the appearance of normal life. That rings very true. And I liked the last sentence a lot.

Blogger Sissy said…

Lots of good tension in this one! I’m wondering, though, if Dad is the abuser. Does anyone else realize this in the family? Or am I reading things into this that simply are not there?

Blogger Authoress said…

There is tension, but I think the dialogue needs to be trimmed down, tightened. (For example, Mom’s lines when she sees that Dad is home already. They need to be crisper, shorter.)

The black lightning bolts were hard to get my head around until I paid attention to the fact that the character is a synesthete. I imagine that, in the context of the novel, the reader gets used to the way he perceives things with color.

The closing sentence is strong.

Anonymous Lo said…

Good tension, just not loving the lightening bolts. Revisiting the image at the end of the chapter doesn’t add anything, rather it seems repetitive.

[Becky here. This is the funny thing about critiques. What works for one person (“the closing sentence is strong”) won’t work for the next (“rather it seems repetitive”). You can get all the feedback in the world, but ultimately the writer has to decide.]

Blogger Luc2 said…

The lead in really is necessary here. I’m not sure if the chitchat between the parents detracts from the tension, or actually underlines it by contrast.

I wonder if her dad gave her the black eye.

[Becky here. I love this comment … “I'm not sure if the chitchat between the parents detracts from the tension, or actually underlines it by contrast.” I love it when people ‘get it’! The correct answer, folks? Ding, ding, ding … “underlines it by contrast.” Thanks for playing!]

Blogger Karen Duvall said…

The black lightning bolts are kind of odd, mainly because lighting isn’t black, so the combination is off-putting. If this is some magical thing she does, try to think of a different way to describe it.

There may be too much pedestrian action here that dilutes the tension you attempt to build. The girl is angry, the POV character is confused, and the parents are oblivious. That’s a lot of diverse emotion among 4 characters for one page of text. I’m not sure it works.

Mary said…

I made sure to look up synesthete before reading the excerpt, so wasn’t confused.

Good tension here, and a unique MC. It leaves the question open whether Dad is the abuser or someone else. Great job showing the signs of abuse rather than telling. I could probably learn something from that.

[Becky here. This comment feels like a gentle pat on my head. So often writers are told ‘show, don’t tell’ that when we do it right, it’s like a gold star on our homework!]

Anonymous blodwyn said…

Good tension, esp. with the abuse and the questions about who did what and who is lying, and the suspiciousness. I also liked how her Dad, being in a good mood, suddenly acts like everything is fine again and seems oblivious to her fear.

Minor nit: I don’t think you should switch from “Dad” to “Al” in the dialog tag, it’s almost a POV switch.

[Becky here. This is one of those 250-word constraint problems. My main character doesn’t like the way the word “dad” looks so he calls his dad “Al” instead. It’s not a POV switch, but it’s been a ridiculously complicated little quirk.]

Blogger Lori said…

Are these lightning bolts actually physical, or is it a metaphor for anger? If it’s the latter, I don’t think it’s working very effectively just yet.

I also felt some of the dialogue was overdone, i.e. too formal or forced. Try reading some of these lines aloud (or get others to do it for you) and see how they sound to you.

[Becky here. I’ve realized I need to do some surgery on the first chapter, for various boring reasons unrelated to this tension discussion. The passage you read is the very end of chapter one. My next step after the revision is to, ugh, read the whole freakin thing out loud. I know deep down in the marrow of my bones that it’s an excellent exercise. The thought of doing it, though, seems horrifyingly time-consuming. And weird to think of my voice echoing around the house. However, I do talk to myself on occasion, so maybe it will feel natural.]

Blogger danceluvr said…

Good tight, active writing.

I like how you slip in Dash’s condition (black lightning bolts): seeing sounds.

While this is a tense moment, my impression is more of Dash’s frustration and worry and maybe curiosity than tension.

Of course, you’re saying that Al had hit Dash’s sister.

I’d read this further.

Blogger Trish said…

I thought that this one was great. Very tense, realistic and different. I actually loved the black lightning bolts.

Anonymous fairchild said…

Lightning bolts threw me off but by the end sentence I suspect he actually can see voices. In that case why isn’t this labelled YA Fantasy or something?

Anyways, I could definitely feel the tension between Aggie and her dad, and Dash and the complicated situation.

*****

So, those were the comments I received about my 250 tension-filled words. I found it a really interesting, valuable experience.

Miss Snark blogged about the 250 word limit, as she found it a bit confining for her entry. (Yes, she submits her work and comments, too!)

Here’s what I told her:

This was my first time playing in this sandbox and I found it fun and educational. I was post #5 … the one with the synesthesia.

Since I was a clean slate, I didn’t really know what to expect but accepted the comments about my MC actually seeing the emotions in his sister’s voice as being odd or off-putting or weird because I knew that in the 250 words, it couldn’t possibly be explained properly. Synesthesia is a real phenomenon for lots of real people but it’s not widely known.

But the comments also proved that I better make his synesthesia very clear and accessible to the reader.

I say keep the 250 word limit, too. And thanks, Miss Snark … yours is a fabutastic blog!

You can read all the other comments as well as her decision about allowing longer submissions AND her next critique category.

I highly recommend Miss Snark’s blog to any writer. Useful AND fun!

What did you — writers and non-writers — think of this process?

250 Words About Tension

I’ve been gone since Thursday morning to a writer’s retreat at a — I kid you not — monastery in the middle of Nowheresville, Nebraska. It was an entirely delightful experience in every way.

Well, in most every way. I’m overwhelmed now by an odd combination of crushing self-doubt and roller-coaster-arms-in-the-air-exhilaration. And, of course, there are the toppling piles of laundry and email to attend to.

So, I was tripping through my emails, both new and ‘saved till I get home’ and I found one directing me to Miss Snark’s blog. She is an anonymous writer devoted to helping new writers.

On her blog (which I’ve added to my sidebar), she runs these First Victim public, anonymous critiques. Today’s submission call was for 250 words about tension. She’ll start the critiques in a couple of days and I just got word that mine will be “Post 5.”

Having just returned from my Nebraska writer’s retreat, I thought I’d toss my manuscript in Miss Snark’s pot. I don’t know how many she comments on, but I love to get feedback on my writing so this is what I sent ….

Title: BLACK AND BLUE
Genre: Young Adult

Brief set-up: Sixteen-year-old synesthete DASH is unconvinced his older sister AGGIE is telling the truth about her black eye.

I grabbed her arm. “Aggie, I know you didn’t run into a door. Just tell me—“

“Let go of me! Dad’s coming!” Black lightning bolts shot through her voice.

She twisted out of my grasp and fled toward the stairs. As she passed Dad, he raised a hand to high five her but she flinched and clutched her jacket tighter.

Dad noticed me and offered the same high five Aggie had refused. “Guess who landed a big new customer today? That’s right. Big Al. Uh huh. Doesn’t make up for the twenty customers we lost last month, but it’s a start, eh?”

I slapped his hand and he continued into Mom’s office where I heard her say, “Al! You’re home already? Gosh, look at the time … dinner’s not even close to being ready! How was your day?”

“Better than Aggie’s, I take it.”

“She hurt herself again. Ran into a door. She’ll be fine,” Mom said to him.

“She should be more careful,” Al said.

“I know. I told her the same thing.”

Aggie slammed her bedroom door and my head swam. I returned to the kitchen and scooped the onion peels and celery bits out of the sink. I held my breath while I dumped them into the putrid compost can under the sink and wondered why Aggie’s voice added the black lightning bolts. It happened as soon as she heard Dad open the garage door.

Her voice only looked that way when she was scared.

Miss Snark says she wants some palpable tension that forces her to beg for more of the story. So, what do YOU think? Do you feel the tension? Are you begging for more? Why or why not?