Sunday, October 17, 2010

This is Sparta!

Autumn update: I now have everything I need for my fairy godmother costume for Halloween, and I'm really excited/determined to use it. It involves hair dye. I know. Exciting, right?

Also, I'm going with three friends to Wisconsin next weekend! We're heading to a farm complete with pumpkins, corn mazes, and hayrides. I am ridiculously excited. Probably a bit too excited, but I'm so in love with October.

Last Tuesday we had a guest speaker at the writing group I'm in, NSTF. Her name is Kat Falls, and she got her MFA from Northwestern. Now she teaches screenwriting, and she writes YA! I was so stoked to see an academic who writes YA, because usually when I tell NU people what genre I write, the situation gets awkward.

She had a lot of great advice, so I'm going to try to pass the condensed version along via this blog. Here goes:

1) Don't wear out your story before the marathon.

Kat said she doesn't talk about a book before it's written. I'm pretty sure this is subjective, but I agree 100 percent on this one. So many times, I've described a story, talked about it, given away the ending, and then lost interest. Not surprising. In order to write a compelling story, you have to be engaged, and if you've already brought out the big guns, what fun is it?

2) Make the checkpoints outrageous.

"When I'm outlining a novel, I like to make one major scene wildly different from the next. It makes it more fun to write." This boils down to, if the writer is surprised, the reader is DEFINITELY surprised. If the writer is engaged and intrigued, so is the reader. Writing is hard work, but transitioning from scene to scene can be more fun than you think.

3) Keep it about the people.

My writing teacher once said, "don't write a story based solely on the situation." Granted, I think a lot of stories have very interesting situations, but the characters make or break a story. Kat said that good characters are tantamount to a book. If your characters aren't interesting, forget about it. On the other hand, if you have strong characters, they can sometimes make the reader forgive a weak plot.

4) Do your research.

Ohmygoodnessbuteveryonesaysthis. True. However, Kat went a step further when she talked about the agent search. She researched recent book deals and the agents' likes and dislikes in order to find an agent who liked the type of book she'd written, but hadn't signed something JUST like it. Taking research up a notch can really help the querying process.

5) Don't wallow.

Rejection is kind of like a breakup in some ways. It's ok to eat a little bit of rocky road and feel sorry for yourself, but if you spend a week in bed watching chick flicks and eating whipped cream from a can, you've gone too far. Kat said that she made sure to have eight queries out for every one rejection she received. She totaled at about 60 something queries, and she never had time to wallow in rejection. Productivity is almost always the solution to depression in the writing business, so never give up, never surrender. This is Sparta!

She said a lot of other great things, one of which sparked an idea floating in my mind for a while now. This isn't quite verbatim, but bear with me:

"Getting an MFA is like having two years to write. You talk about writing and write, so if you just want time to write, grad school is good for that."

Before those words, the only vision I had of grad school was similar to a jail. I thought I'd "done my time" with the higher education system, and if I had to take one more class I didn't like, someone was going to pay. However.

However. The idea of having two years of workshops, two years with BA teachers who really know what they're talking about, two years to improve the most important thing in my life, well that sounds a whole lot more enjoyable.

I still need time off. I need to breathe, to live, to discover cool things in the world and new parts of myself. But I'm almost positive at this point that I'm going back for my MFA. And yes, it'll be a lot of hard work, but I'll enjoy it too.

So that was epiphany #1.

Epiphany #2 is about Crash, mostly that I shouldn't give up on it. So I've been working on it (but not talking about it) and I'm pretty excited about where it's going. (Happy dance)

That's all for now.

Listening to: Iron and Wine
Reading: On Writing and Stardust
Drinking: A Cherry coke and LOVING IT.

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