Thursday, January 31, 2013

Why you need a Helper Monkey.

No, you don't need an ACTUAL monkey, like this little guy (but isn't he cute?):

If you're a writer, you might even consider this one:

But, no. I meant my big Helper Monkey, which is what I call my husband. Let's be clear. He calls himself monkey because he's got arms like an orangutan. Don't bother asking if he can reach something. He can reach it. And he totally gets my writing life.

We were discussing the weekend plans, since Lulu is going camping. I was scheduled to chaperone the trip, but I'm not needed, so I get a whole weekend to work in a quiet house. Helper Monkey cheerfully suggested I'd have a lot of free time to write.

Since I just finished my draft on Tuesday, I replied that I'm finished writing. I planned to read for CP's instead.

His completely non-sarcastic and supportive reply: You're never finished writing.

It took all my strength not to throw the laptop down and tackle hug the man. He gets me. And I love that.

This is also how I feel about everyone I share my writing journey with. CP's, beta readers, twitter friends, blog readers. My heart grew three sizes this morning, and I'm all full of gushy love that needed to go somewhere so I could go back to being bitter and withdrawn.

Now it's yours. Go pass it on to your own helper monkeys. It's these little things that inspire me to keep going every day, so that I really never will be finished writing.

If you have a story like this, where a few simple words made you realize just how lucky you are, please share it. I'd love to have a big repository of squishy lurve to turn to when I'm feeling less writerly than I need to. Thank you!

Wednesday, January 30, 2013


That's right! I finally finished the Zero Draft of Black Sheep! It is done! Only a month after I promised myself it would be. The holidays mess with us all, don't they? But January got back on track in a hurry. It sort of took me by surprise.

Accidental WIN

I basically nano-ed this manuscript, only I did it in January. Nano-uary? Nanuary? Janano? I wrote about 50k in January. That's what I'm trying to say.

The completed draft is over 103k, but at least a few thousand words will fall to the editorial sword. I was just so determined to reach The End I stopped worrying about how long it was getting and just got it out.

Whatever. It's done. Now it gets to ferment in a drawer for a few weeks while I catch up on all the other things. If I have your MS for critique, and you have a shinier version, let me know. I'll be reading A LOT in the next week or so.


Thank you to everyone who offered me encouragement, and everyone who reminded me to stay off Twitter so I could finish. Thank you to all the wonderful folks who run and participate in #WriteClub, @FriNightWrites. I couldn't have done it without y'all. There's nothing better than breaking writing up into easily manageable chunks, like 30 minute word sprints, followed by a lot of sharing and cheering on Twitter. It sounds like such a simple thing, but it means the world to me, and has made all the difference in finishing this manuscript.

I had so many ideas for another Untweetworthy post in the last week, but I was too busy writing to make notes. I suppose that's Untweetworthy in itself.

So here's the best things I remember about the last week, in a video and a picture:

This is my cat's new favorite past-time, hanging from his little kitty tower, and trying to murder the dangling block with his back feet. Every time I try to take a video of it, he stops. Jerk.

Lulu drew me this picture of a Minecraft creeper in a tux. She has a pet creeper named Shrub, but he keeps blowing himself up. Like a sir.

And thus ends my update of bloggerly goodness. Thanks, y'all.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Multitasking Fail

Hello, everyone!

I've been really bad about keeping up to date on the blog, and really bad about keeping up to date on everything else, too. I've realized something about myself this week that's helped me get back on schedule, and feel less guilty about letting some things go.

I am not very good at multitasking.

To illustrate the point:

The other morning, I had my phone in one hand and my empty coffee cup in the other. I went into the kitchen for a refill, because clearly I needed it badly. Both hands were occupied, and I had to make a critical decision: What do I put down in order to open the fridge and get the cream? Well, my caffeine deprived brain thought, I'll put the phone down! I'm getting coffee, so I'll certainly need to keep hold of the mug. I put the phone down somewhere close to hand, got the cream, refilled the mug, and put the cream away. And then I couldn't find the phone.

I looked everywhere. I even recruited a minion to assist in the search. We sent texts from Helper Monkey's phone so we could listen for the bleep. We could hear it, but we couldn't see the darned thing anywhere. Finally, after five minutes of frantic searching (including looking inside the fridge, to no avail), I received an email to my author account, which in addition to chiming like a text message starts a green light flashing. THANK YOU JESSA! I saw the light!

I'd put it down in the ice/water dispenser in the freezer door.

If I can't even remember where I put my phone while I make a cup of coffee, something that's practically attached to my hand all day long, how am I supposed to flip back and forth between reading, writing, critiquing, writing, keeping up with my first world issues, writing, and writing? I've been biting my nails about the giant pile of books I want to read, the multiple critiques I've promised to others, the manuscript I promised myself I'd finish the draft of by the end of December but I'm still writing, and everything else I'm supposed to be doing to keep my family fed, sheltered, and generally well cared for. There is no way I can keep up with everything, and I've decided to try a new approach. Well, I'm also spending a lot less time on twitter, but everything has its downsides. In addition to tweeting less, I swear:

I am going to finish this draft.

Then, and only then, am I going to go to the critique notes I've received on the first book. I just know if I let myself get sucked into those, this draft will fall by the wayside yet again. I've never taken this long to write a first draft, and it's destroying my morale as a writer. For my own sanity, I have to finish it. And soon.

Then I will read all the promised words for everyone else.

Then I will let myself enjoy a published novel.

Then I will start drafting the new secret project that's been bubbling around in my brain since October.

I've been trying to switch back and forth between critiquing and writing for too long. I need a vacation from something, and I've decided to stop feeling guilty about taking care of my own needs. If I don't finish this draft, I have a horrible fear that I'll never be able to finish another. I will forever be a sad, unmotivated little hack who couldn't finish the story. I know that's not true, but that's my biggest fear.

So now I go off to conquer my own personal dragons. Semi-literally, since the MS that's kicking my butt right now is about dragons....

Friday, January 18, 2013

Writing in a Bowling Alley

Business first. You may have seen that I redid my blog theme a few days ago, but I had to revert back to the old one. The gorgeous theme I chose needed too much html tweaking for my limited skills to handle, so I gave up. I'd rather be reading and writing than learning website design. If anyone knows how to make the comment replies work properly, or knows how to make a few other updates to a really old blogger template, please let me know if you'd like to help me fix it. I really loved that template! Thanks!

Second item of business, I retitled the blog. I thought Writing the Bad Things out was a good title when I started, but that's not all I do here anymore. So I just called it Mittens Writes. Most everyone online calls me (or at least knows me as) Mittens. I'm fine with that. And it's a much shorter name to remember. :D

On to the bowling!

Yes, folks, that's how I'll be spending my Friday night. I signed Lulu up to go bowling tonight with her girl scout troop. I thought it would be around dinner time, like most troop events, but nooooooo. It's fancy-schmancy Glow Bowling. Which apparently requires middle-of-the-night darkness, as opposed to regular dinner-time darkness.

I was so looking forward to a quiet house, a cup of tea, and snergling up in the comfy chair with my laptop to enjoy this manuscript. But instead, I will be AT A FREAKING BOWLING ALLEY UNTIL AFTER MIDNIGHT.

The things we do for our kids.

On the up side, I forgot today is the last day of the semester at school, so the teachers have three workdays next week. FIVE DAY WEEKEND, FTW!

So there is that.

If I've promised you a crit, I swear I haven't forgotten you. I have all your beautiful manuscripts waiting in line. But you'll forgive me if I'm a little distracted tonight. It's not so much the noise and hubbub of a bowling alley, but the sheer fact that I will have to wear pants that late into the night. At least they have a snack bar.

Imagine the noise. *shudders*

Sunday, January 13, 2013


Hi. My name is Laura. I used to think I was a Special Snowflake.


I've read all the writing advice on the entire planet (HYPERBOLE ALERT), but I still never realized how wrong I was about my own writing. Everyone will advise you never to put a backstory infodump in the first chapter of your novel. They say no one will ever find that information as interesting as you do. They warn it is one of the biggest turn-offs for readers, agents, and editors.


But...but...I write fantasy, which means I NEEDED to have a ton of backstory so my readers wouldn't be confused. They had to know how the world worked, right? What better way to introduce that world than with an interesting history. It's only a page or two, and it's FASCINATING!!! Right?



The only person who found my exposition of the history of my main character was ME.

The funny thing is, I NEVER wrote another opening like that for the sequels. When I started this series, I felt I needed to understand the history so I'd be able to write the novel in the first place. I wrote that chapter for myself. And I never realized how unnecessary any of it was.

There were so many beautiful lines. So many relevant tidbits. I never realized that I brought most of those bits up  later in the MS where they were actually relevant to the plot. They didn't need to live in a huge chunk of text in the first chapter.


I know now that I am not the Special Snowflake. I am NOT the exception to the rule.

I cringed and took a hatchet to chapter one, and I am SO GLAD I did.

Total cut: five pages. 1492 words.


I'd heard the phrase, "Murder your darlings!" I'd always thought that applied to someone else. I was stricken to think it could apply to me. But you know what? It's the best thing I've ever done for my writing.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Untweetworthy, Part the Fourth

Sometimes, about a thousand untweetworthy things occur all at once. Yesterday was one of those days.

For the first time in about a year, I went out to lunch with a particular friend of mine. Our favorite thing to do is to go to Ikea, browse around until we get hungry, then eat at the restaurant, then buy as many unpronouncable things as we can afford, and then drive home in time for our kids to get home from school. It's a silly way to spend the day, but we really needed a break from the routine. I needed a writing break, and since she works from home, she just wanted to get out in the world with another (sort-of) grown up. It worked out well.

When we got there, I sort of felt like this:

Happy Strawberry.

But as things went along, and I realized they'd rearranged the entire store since I'd been there last, I felt a little:

Stunned Owl.

By the time we were done and ready to go home, I was definitely reduced to:

Because I don't speak Swedish, and I refuse to accept the printed translation, I'm going to assume this means Drunk Flower.

When I successfully found my way out of the Maze of Stylish Swedish Things, I sent this tweet:

I am proud of this because Ikea favorited it. Silly, right?

Also, I bought something called Pepparkaka. I also bought a Pepparkaka house. Both of these things made me giggle in an entirely inappropriate manner. *these things are gingerbread*

Here ends the Ikea portion of today's program. Let's begin the cat portion, shall we?

We've taken down all the Christmas decorations, but the tree is still standing, in all its naked plastic glory. I'm so sad to see it go, not because of all the fond family feelings surrounding the holiday, but because the cat seems to love it. He spends half his day eight feet up the tree.

So now we're looking into buying or building a kitty tree for him, but one made for cats. I am such a sucker.

Okay, so now, on to the comestibles.

Earlier this week, I made a really nomulent chicken soup called Cock-A-Leekie. Go ahead and say it aloud. Feel free to say it again. It is fun to say. I haven't stopped saying cock-a-leekie all week.

Last night I was supposed to enjoy a fun family meal of pizza before I had to head out to a meeting. Instead of eating and spending time with Helper Monkey and Lulu, I fell asleep in my Comfy Chair. Even more shocking, I WAS WEARING REAL PANTS! IN MY WRITING CHAIR! Who knew walking around for half the morning would knock me out? I woke up just in time to leave for my meeting.

To avoid driving off the road in my stupor, I grabbed a can of Cherry Coke on my way out. I was looking forward to my caffeine fix. First thing I did after signing in to the meeting? I spilled half the soda all over the sign in sheet, proving just how much I needed to drink it as opposed to dumping it out all over a table.

FOUR DAYS IN A ROW! That is how many times this week I have known the answer to Final Jeopardy, and NONE of the contestants on the show knew the answer. Too bad I don't get paid for playing at home. :/

And I think Twitter has already accepted all the other non-tweet-worthy things I've thought of today. It really has been a banner day for me. Between essentially rewriting the first chapter of the manuscript I've spent the better part of a year querying and then feeling stressed out about having wasted so many chances to show wonderful agents my best work, it's been full of feels. Now I am subjecting my brave and intrepid CP's to my Frankenscript. I can't even. There is too much.


Imma go drown all those feelings with alcohol and then start writing again! Wheeeeee!

Sunday, January 6, 2013

The hardest thing I've ever done

I've been thinking about this for a few days now. Apparently motivating myself to write it all down is harder than I thought, but it's still far from the hardest thing I've ever done. And I've done some pretty difficult things. I'll leave those for other posts, though.

When I first sat down to write, my intention was to write a short story. Maybe ten pages. That was it. Once I got started and realized I had more than a short story's worth of plot, I decided to attempt a novel. I never, ever, in a bazillion years, thought I could write an entire novel. It was the hardest thing I'd ever done. At least, that's what I thought at the time.

When I reached the end of the story a month or so later, I was amazed. Shocked. Gobsmacked, even. I'd done it, and you know what? It hadn't been that hard.


So I figured I'd test myself. I guessed I'd never be able to repeat that amazing feat. I'd never be able to write another entire novel. Even suggesting to myself that it was a possibility sounded like so much crazy talk. But then again, I'm famous for crazy talk, and some of it is grounded in actual, verifiable fact.

And you know what? I wrote a second novel. It almost felt like cheating, because it was about the same characters, and sort of a continuation of the story from the first novel. I didn't have to make up a whole other cast of characters, nor invent a new world for them to inhabit. Sure, there were a few new characters, and they wandered a little further afield in their world than they had in the first novel, but still, I felt like a cheater.


I assumed I'd never have another original idea for a novel, and I'd be doomed to revising that original idea forever. So I knew I had to challenge myself, and set out to write a third novel. This one had to be in a completely unique world, with entirely new characters. They couldn't have the same talents or history as the original characters from the first two novels. They had to be entirely new. This was the hardest thing I ever tried to do. Well, up until that point, anyway.

Right around that time, I decided to learn about the World of Publishing. I figured if I wanted to keep trying to write, I'd best educate myself about it a bit. I learned about agents, queries, submissions, editing, critique partners, writing contests, and the Joys and Perils of Twitter. I devoured all of this. And that's when I realized the real hardest thing I'd ever do was send my precious word babies out into the world to be torn to shreds by people I'd never met before.


After I actually went ahead and wrote that entirely new, completely original third novel, I put myself out into the crazy world of querying agents. I read the advice on writing websites that advised getting your writer friends to read and critique your work. My first thought was, "HAH! I don't have any writer friends." And then I stumbled into a MEGATON OF AWESOME WRITER FRIENDS on Twitter, through contests, and just by putting myself out into the world.


Despite feeling entirely inadequate and having absolutely NO experience offering critique on anyone's writing EVER, I decided to take a chance. I closed my eyes, held my breath, and hit SEND. And then I waited. Someone was going to read my book, and in all likelihood tear it to shreds. They were surely going to hate it and tell me to go home and never write anything ever again, for the good of humanity. It was just about the hardest thing I'd ever done. Except for maybe reading their manuscripts in return, and offering critique.

I thought they'd likely hate me after reading the notes I made. I mean, who the hell was I to point out grammar mistakes or confusing sentences?! NOBODY! I tried to enjoy the experience while I could, because I knew nobody would ever offer their manuscripts to me again once word got out that I was a nincompoop who knew nothing about writing or editing.


But all that stress was for naught. Turns out, there is no one correct way to critique someone's work. Everyone has a unique perspective and new insights to share. The critiques I got back on my own work were FABULOUS and ENCOURAGING, and strangely enough, the notes I made for others seemed to be received in a similar fashion!

So I started querying agents. I knew I'd be rejected over and over again. I knew this would probably be the hardest thing I'd ever done. I mean, rejection sucks, right? But in the world of publishing, it's pretty much a given. You go into it expecting rejection at every turn. All the writing blogs and advice sites hammer it home again and again. TOUGHEN UP THAT SKIN, OH WRITER! REJECTION IS NIGH!

And that's the truth. Rejection is inevitable. There is no way to please all of the people all of the time. But you know what? You only have to please ONE. Yup. That's it. Just one.

So the rejections rolled in. And you know what? It didn't suck nearly as bad as I expected it to. Strangely, sometimes it even helped! I was shocked! Agents were NICE PEOPLE who WISHED ME LUCK and told me I DIDN'T COMPLETELY STINK AT WRITING! They were, in general, ENCOURAGING! It's hard to feel bad about that! At least, not for very long...

And then I got a request for more pages, a request for THE ENTIRE MANUSCRIPT!!! When I finished dancing around like an idiot (and mind you, I was in the produce department of the grocery store when I got the email, so first I had to convince the other shoppers that I wasn't a lunatic), I realized what was going to happen. It really sank in when I got home and composed the cover letter, obsessively rechecked the formatting on my manuscript, and prepared to hit send. This was the moment.


The agent liked those first pages enough to make a request. I couldn't believe it, but I finally worked up the nerve to send it in. And then I sat and waited. It was so hard. It was completely out of my hands now. My words had to stand on their own. A few weeks later, I got the news that the agent was going to pass. She gave some very good reasons, and a totally new insight into some of the problems in my novel. You know what? That rejection was one of the best things ever to happen to me. Truth.

But you know what the hardest thing I've ever REALLY done was? Continuing to try. Refusing to give up. Sitting down every day and writing my heart out onto the page, with no certainty that anyone else will ever think anything I write will ever be worthy of printing out onto paper. Ever. I just don't know what will happen next, but I trust in myself, in my growing ability to keep putting words on the page in an order that is pleasing to others. I haven't thrown in the towel. And you know what? Deciding to keep doing these hard things has been the easiest choice I've ever had to make.


Will I ever find an agent? Will I ever be published? Will people want to read what I've written? Maybe. But it doesn't really matter to me anymore. I keep writing to prove to myself that I can. That I will not give up on my dream. I will keep testing myself every day, writing the next word, the next sentence, the next story. And that's the hardest thing I've ever done.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Plans. Okay, Pants.

I was going to subtitle this post "Things within my power to actually bring to fruition in 2013" or something like that, but that's just too long and too silly. I don't usually make resolutions for the new year. I'm not very good at living up to unrealistic goals, and falling short (regardless of how absurd the goal might have been) leaves me feeling depressed and unable to appreciate everything I did achieve.

Plus, I am more of a pantser. I see a list of New Year's resolutions, and I wish I could be that organized. Then again, I start out every year with a general idea of where that year is headed. Sometimes I'm thrown a curveball, but it always seems to take me somewhere I'm pleased to go (like that year I decided to start writing novels. THAT came straight out of left field!). Resolutions look too much like outlines, and I think I'm allergic to those. They make me itch.

As a pantser, when it comes to writing, I always have a few specific goals for each new novel. I know generally what the antagonist is up to, what the main characters are going to go through, and the general outcome of all the individual story lines before I start writing. But that's it. Considering my pantsing style, I've decided to pants my way through some pseudo-resolutions for the first half of 2013.

 The first thing within my power to achieve this year is finally finishing the first draft of the current project. It's affectionately known as BS at the moment, which is how I've unaffectionately thought of it on and off for the last few months. We've had an on again-off again love affair, and right now I am feeling ON. Since I have nothing else to do, at least writing-wise, for the next two weeks, I figure that's just what I need to finally crank out the last 30k words or so. I feel like I've stalled out at 70k for way too long.

 Pedal FASTER!

When that draft is done, I plan to go back to the last MS I finished and do a final edit on it.

Third on the docket is a planned manuscript that's different from anything I've ever written before. I am excited to write it, but also terrified. First of all, it's a YA story, which I've never tried to write, despite my love of reading YA. It's also a sci-fi story, when everything I've written before is undeniably fantasy. It's going to be interesting. Hopefully in a good way.


I intend to get all of this done before school lets out for the summer. That's about as far in advance I can plan for now. If I make too many promises to myself, I will just get overwhelmed and then I'd never finish anything.

So those are my writing goals. As far as personal goals, I would like to get up out of this chair more often. I love that so many of you trust me with your manuscripts, and apparently appreciate my opinions. All of your trust has meant more time at the computer. While I adore the work, this has led me to consider such purchases as the Forever Comfy pillow. The fact that I'm even thinking a gel butt pillow would be a good idea means I really need to get some exercise. I'd rather buy gel insoles for my overworked feet than gel butt support for my overworked behind.

I hope y'all have some great plans for 2013. If any of you want to participate in the Finishing of the Draft with me, I officially start tomorrow. I'll probably cheat at start tonight, because that's how I roll. YOU CAN'T STOP ME, 2013!!!

Tell me about your goals! Do you have 2013 all outlined, or do you have a general roadmap?  Have you decided to throw caution to the wind and go where the pants take you?

Whatever your plans, I hope all of them come to pass in the most delightful manner possible! Now go forth and conquer!