So You Think You Can Write

sytycd

It is no secret that I watch — pretty religiously and usually while drinking or snacking to further differentiate myself from the sinewy dancers bodies — So You Think You Can Dance. It is pure entertainment, and unlike American Idol or The X Factor or The Voice, the talent on this show are (usually) highly-trained performers who have been working toward this much of their lives. There is less nonsense, in other words.

Besides that, there’s the other, slightly more private and embarrassing fact about me, that I secretly wish I could dance. I do not secretly harbor the same fantasies for being a singer. I also live with the daily knowledge that my future will never include me formed in the graceful lines of a pirouette. (As proven by my foray in Hula while visiting Hawaii this summer, which can be viewed here.)

But I’m straying from the topic. As I watched So You Think You Can Dance this season, I have also been in the very emotionally abusive (totally masochistic, I should specify because the agents have been very kind) journey known to all aspiring authors as querying. 

Of course, to soothe my own misery, and because I’m a writer who looks for storytelling tools, I drew some parallels between the Road to Publication and the Road to America’s Favorite Dancer, that I am now going to share with you. (And, because I know you’re getting ready to ask, there will be visual aids.)

1) There is a long line of talented, charismatic, maybe even gorgeously beautiful (for writers, more social networking savvy) people in front of and behind you vying for the same position as you are. There is room for many to succeed, at some level, but the majority won’t make it past this point.

sytycdThat is not meant to be discouraging. Querying agents is an ambiguously difficult task, where you can never really know if you’re doing it well or if you will ever make any headway.

Confession: I have developed a serious (borderline neurotic) phobia that all my emails go straight into spam folders. I have fantasies, and not the good kind, of the internet netherworld where emails from me wander around in limbo. Even when I get prompt replies, I then worry over my response email. Really…it’s becoming a problem. One with no solution because as a querying writer it is essential to maintain a front of cool. In other words, no psychotic Twitter stalking, no emailing to check they received your other email. Guys…we just have to wait.

2) Even if you make it past this stage into the first round of eliminations, (or what can be compared to a partial request) that may be where your journey ends. This, of course, is up to how well you dance and how willing you are to be vulnerable on stage. (Is your writing “there”? Did you revise enough for a stranger to connect with your words?) Also, what kind of contestants they are looking for this season. Producers have an idea of the kind of show they want to make, you just may not be what they are looking for. (The “Not for me, not right now” response.)

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Many writers, after multiple partial requests without an upgrade to full, will give up. It is draining to have the hope dangled — even with good intentions, as I am inclined to believe agents generally have — in front of you, for it to then be snatched away.

Confession: I try to see requests as nothing more than a first date. The agent is grabbing coffee with your MS, flirting, maybe fantasizing about kissing, maybe looking for an out. It is not a commitment for more, but could result in further courting.

3) You make it to the top 20! Yay! This is further than almost every other dancer in America. You should be proud. You should be grateful. You still just really want to win. Winning is the goal, not placing, not getting some recognition only to be told you’re not popular or talented enough for the big time. (You’ve had a full requested, but still no offer of representation. You’re progressing, but your goal is an agent willing to rep you, not nice words about how much they love your book…just not enough to take it on.)

Your road to dance success may not be through So You Think You Can Dance, it doesn’t mean you can’t dance.

sytycdeliminationsUltimately, you want an agent who gets your book, can conceive of how to make it better, will be able to sell it, and will defend it right along beside you to anyone who doesn’t get it. Submission is a bitch, mediocre feelings won’t carry you through it. An agent who passes because of that is a kind person indeed, who respects their position in the author’s life and sees they aren’t the best to represent them.

Confession: I actually would rather continue to search for the right agent than sign with the wrong one.

4) You make it to the top 10. (A position I will equate with having an agent, but being in revision still, maybe even out on submission with no luck. I have no agent, though I feel I will always be in revision.) You’re gonna go on tour, you know that much. You’re popular. Your talent is real, and your discipline to improve has so far held up. Any number of things can result in your elimination at this point, but the greatest seems to be that you just aren’t what America is drawn to right now. It’s really not about your skill, but what you’re selling.

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Jenna, who I thought was a very talented dancer with a lot going for her, never seemed to grip the audience. In the end, both she and Tucker were eliminated after dancing beautifully all season.

Confession: I am not a technically perfect writer. My grammar can be lacking. I’m a fan of a comma in odd or random places, and my education has come from reading a lot, writing a lot, but not going to school a lot. This does not make me better or worse. In fact, betas on my early drafts probably wanted to strangle me, but somehow also still loved the story. However, technique isn’t the most important thing. Technique can be improved by practice and a willingness to learn, something easily managed by all if we put our minds to it.

5) Even when you make it to the end, you still may face disappointment and set-backs. (Expectations for your publishing deal, your sales, your fame and fortune are not met.) The truth is, this is what it all leads up to. The finale.

aaron

This season of So You Think You Can Dance featured a really talented tapper who made it to the finale. Aaron had auditioned three times for the show. He had made it to Vegas twice. He had made it through multiple cuts only to be sent home before the Top 20. Finally, he made it into the Top 20, then the Top 10, then the Top 4. His skills as a dancer were top notch. He had a great charisma on stage. He was masculine and strong and, really, not bad looking. I was rooting for him. Sure, I liked Fik-shun. I thought he was talented. I loved him with Amy, etc. But I wanted to see the happy ending for Aaron. I hoped, after all the years of him knocking on this door, him seeking this prize, the answer would be America’s Favorite Dancer Is…Aaron.

Why? Because I want that. As do all writers on the journey toward publication. To pretend we don’t dream of a great publishing deal, a New York Times Bestseller, a film adaptation that doesn’t suck, would be a boldfaced lie. This dream isn’t about the realistic, the what we know will probably happen, because in the end we will be happy to be published and continue writing books — no, the big dreams are what keep us sending out queries, revising, writing. We must write, this will not change if we are never validated by a publishing deal, but the yes from an agent, the sell to an editor, is our goal.

We hear nonstop about the subjectivity of this business. So You Think You Can Dance beautifully illustrates this concept. In the end, what another person loves is not up to you. Be a champion of what you love. Write the stories you want to write, with the characters you can’t ignore, and have faith that you will one day become Your Agent’s Favorite Query, That Editor’s Must Read Submission, The Bestseller Everyone Loves, or The Book That Someone Won’t Be Able To Put Down.

A Quandary in Exposure

Image by mikerigel

There’s an issue that’s been weighing on me lately, one that I think may or may not press on the minds of other writers seeking publication. It’s something I wonder about, I question, and then I throw out the window to hopefully see it splat against the wall because that’s how annoying I find this issue.

The issue? What people learn about you when they read a novel you wrote, and how much you cannot control the perception of you created by that novel and its moral or world view.

I think this accompanies the reality that when we write, the very cultivation of the words digs into our soul and pulls pieces out. I think this part is freaky and also exciting. It comes from the same part in us that rubber-necks alongside a car wreck and secretly smiles when a celebrity is arrested. It’s that kind of morbid fascination we have with pushing our boundaries, social or otherwise. It also lets us get to know ourselves and our world better, which is good, though can be a little embarrassing. But when you are writing in the hope of being published, this excavating also reveals the bones of the author to the reader (critics, friends, and bullies, alike) and that is the part that makes us recoil.

I recently did some work on my manuscript. Some necessary exposition, so to speak. This work will appear largely in the first third of the book. It deals in an aspect of the protagonists backstory that I have fought with putting in for every rewrite up to this point. I have lost the fight. My agent friend, in her editorial feedback, wanted to see this particular experience is technicolor. I wanted to hide from this particular experience. I wanted to hide from it, and yet I could neither change it nor make it less gut-wrenching.

This fact made me feel immediately exposed, like I am in front of a camera with noonday sun overhead. Whenever you write anything, it comes from a place in you. Either a place where you have been , or a truth you understand. We cannot be separate from our words, and therefore, when our words are read by others we cannot pretend it comes from a foreign place. It doesn’t. And owning that is what make this so hard. It’s also what makes it so rewarding for the reader.

Manuscript One

I will readily admit that I can be a little bit obsessive. Often, this will translate itself into a tenacity and ferocity in the things that I have my mind on. I am a deeply devoted friend, mother, and wife, which can mean anything from worrying about my son’s sleep habits to giving unsolicited advice. This can be nice or enraging.

Last Tuesday evening (as some of you may know from Facebook) I finished my manuscript. I was gleeful. The excitement of having it all out of me and in my computer created wings in my soul. I had a bird inside. I made sure it was backed up and then promptly danced around the apartment with Sam. We looked like this:

Then I realized there was still so much work to be done that my head was maybe going to explode from the pressure. Okay, okay, you can do this. YOU. CAN. DO. THIS. I then looked like this:

My husband’s enthusiasm was not so easily dampened. He began to typeset my manuscript to make it more fun to read. The result was a couple days where I learned the basics of typesetting. (This is fun when there is no pressure, and annoying when InDesign fraks up.) Thursday morning, Sam and I took a leisurely walk through the neighborhood to a copy center on 7th Avenue. This was a fun trip for both of us because the copy center also sold toys. SCORE.

The copy man gave me a discount. He was surprised by the page volume and I guess felt bad for me. Sam wanted dinosaurs. I got a project folder for the manuscript. When the pages were printed and sat in front of me on the counter I felt that rush again. Nerves and excitement, adrenaline and nausea. Now physically in my hands, on paper, looking like a book, I knew a few things even more clearly than before. I knew I would finish the work because the hardest part was already done. The part of pressing through the creating.

I have a full story. No, it’s far from perfect, but it will go through many more stages before it reaches (or doesn’t reach, because there will always be flaws in anything created by human hands) perfection. This too, is OK.

I have been ensconced in editing since Thursday. I’m a little over halfway through the manuscript. I’m cutting words like nobody’s business. There are a few pages — *see below — where I thought, WTF?!? Those pages will become almost unrecognizable. Eventually the words will be right, and then the obsession will turn into something else.

This blog is about Writing (Or whatever I want, cause it’s mine.)

You may think my name is a pretty lame title, but consider that this blog will hopefully carry over into my splash as a published author, and then it may make more sense. Most of what you will read here will be about the process, which can be daunting, of getting a novel published. Though, there is no guarantee that I will not write about my son, Sam.

Or my dog, Samson.

But mostly I believe it will be about writing. Writing bleeds into everything I do, filling my world with ideas and voices I sometimes wish I could silence. One of these voices became the heroine of my first novel, and others sometimes find there way into the cracks and crannies of the narrative I’m trying to construct. Sometimes I have chats with them, which prompts my son to ask me who I’m talking to, and sometimes I just let them stew inside. I marinate them.

So, if you are a writer, or a reader, or a person who thinks children, yorkies, and Brooklyn, NY are interesting, then you may find this blog a welcome distraction. It may also be a useful tool to draw from, or a source of amusement. (If you think someone rambling on about YA romances or the crazy shit her son says is humorous.)Whatever it becomes, I hope we can learn from it together, or laugh at it together, or triumph in it together.

Alright, that said, I really must get back to work, and you probably should too since I’m posting this in the afternoon on a Monday. Enjoy your day, wherever you are, and remember to look around you. Inspiration is literally everywhere.