Experiencing your novel for the first time as an audiobook... Some thoughts...

There's something surreal about listening to the words you've spent years putting together into something cohesive, something that you hoped, God willing, was even readable. Especially when you're listening to a professional, a voice actor who interprets your words into feelings and real characters and voices. It makes it that much more real - or surreal in my case.

I've been listening to Shannon McManus read LEARNING TO FALL, and I have to admit, I couldn't stop for the first eight chapters. I finally did when I realized I had to meet a client in thirty minutes all the way across town (mind you our town is small but I still hadn't gotten out of my 'home office' attire.)

There is a part of me that's quite impressed that the story actually works :) As I listen, I am struck at the emotions that pour over me. I laugh, I cry, I feel the tension. I remember where I wrote a scene: a particular table at a coffee shop; the business office of the athletic club we belonged to; the front deck of our ranch house; or in the car as I waited for the kids in the school car pickup lineup. Sometimes I hear a scene and smile because I know exact sentences changed thanks to a beta reader who's note said: "What? I don't get that??" or when an editor wrote: "Yes. But how does that make her FEEL?" The other thing that struck me are the scenes that are missing. By the end of the novel I cut quite a few, and as I listen to Brynn's story I still expect them to be there. Especially Derek's backstory. I have to remind myself that, right... that was a conscious decision. And it was likely thanks to Heather Lazare, my last lovely editor, who would cross out full sections and say, "This is good, but keep it moving. Keep the pace up." The result is a much tighter story.

One of the other things that strike me are places where I weaved things through in the last few drafts. Where I added depth and pulled through threads that had only lived in my mind, but weren't really there on paper for anyone else to see. Those surprise me, and I shake my head when I remember how many drafts it took to get there. Those were the ones that revealed the statue beneath the slab of marble. It was a matter of pounding, chiseling, polishing, but it got there (mostly).

Do I cringe at all? Yes... there are quite a few places where I think. 'Oooh... that's terrible. I could have written that better,' or, 'I could have edited that spot,' or 'Yikes! I used that word three times in the last two paragraphs!' (Slapping my hand over my forehead, wanting to get swallowed up by some big sink hole as I drive.)

I also notice how my writing changed over time. I can hear the difference in the the scenes I first wrote (and they're sprinkled throughout the book) vs. ones I wrote in much later drafts. The style changed. I recognize that I matured as a writer. As I got feedback and went to more classes and read more and wrote more. It's exciting! You know what that means? It's true! Just like any other craft or sport, to improve we need the practice. And instead of fearing writing the next book, we should embrace it because it's likely that we have grown as writers. The next book will be different. That's a given. It will be unique. Maybe it will be a little crooked here and a little less polished there, but hopefully it will find its own readers who love and treasure it and want to read it again and again. Who cares if there will be critics who say it doesn't even deserve one star? The world is full of critics. What we need are artists. Those brave enough to keep creating in spite of criticism. We need to take the feedback that helps us learn, that teaches us, and ignore the rest.

In the end, I'm so grateful that I'm taking the time to listen to LEARNING TO FALL - especially over a year since I last made copy and proofread edits. I've had time away from it. I've had perspective. It's not perfect. I know that. But that's okay. I tried, and in the end, I've achieved my dream: to find some readers that connect with it. Some who even love it. And a handful have even reached out to me to tell me that it's brought them peace, has helped them heal after a loss of a loved one, or has even brought them back to reading after a twenty plus year hiatus. What could be better than that?

If Not Now, Then When? If Not You, Then Who?

Let’s face it. No matter which stage of life we’re at, there never seems a good time to do that one thing that we know we want to do: the right time to have children, change jobs, go back to school, or…write that novel we’ve been wanting to write for the last twenty-three years.

anne clermont writing inspiration

Why is that? Why is the one thing that defines who we are in our dreams something we don’t actually follow through with?

Whenever I go to a party someone will inevitably ask me what I do. I do a lot of things outside of writing fiction (edit novels and memoirs, design websites, create book trailers), but as soon as the words “I also write” are out of my mouth, the conversation changes.

Suddenly, the fellow partygoers’ eyes light up, their hands grip their drink a little more fiercely, their energy zeroes in, and they fill me in—as if in secret—about their own aspirations of writing, their three half-finished novels/fifteen short stories/ramblings in notebooks laying under their bed. Most of the time the conversation ends with them saying they’re going to get to it SOME DAY. When they have more time. When their children are in school/off to college/when they get help with their ailing parent/when their workload at their new job eases off.

Why is following through with writing that novel so difficult?  Lack of discipline? Fear of rejection? Fear of perfection?

Last winter I was lucky enough to see Anthony Doerr’s talk in Seattle. The main premise was how the story ideas we carry around – so elegant, beautiful, shiny, all bedazzling in their splendor – are never the same when we get them out on paper. They look nothing like what we imagined. They are the torn, stapled together, filled in with black magic marker (as in Doerr’s case), sketches of the ideas we thought about for years. They’re never perfect. They will never live up to the expectations we had for them.

But with time, maybe we learn to love these distant cousins of our shiny ideas. We can learn to love the process of sitting and writing, of struggling to get our words out, of piecing together thoughts into awkward sentences until some day, there are a few that sparkle. Ones that speak to us. Ones that convey our deepest thoughts and meditations.

Why not try? If we don’t do it now, then when will the time ever come? If it’s not us that sits down to put these words to paper, then who will transcribe our greatest ideas? Who will take those ideas and portray them the way only we can?

“So as long as you write what you wish to write, that is all that matters; and whether it matters for ages or only for hours, nobody can say.” Virginia Woolf

I say, do it. Don’t wait. Don’t go to sleep tonight until you’ve pulled out your idea, blew off the dust bunnies and sat with it. Meditated on it. Spent thirty minutes thinking about how to develop it. That thirty minutes is nothing in the grand scheme of your life, but it will bring you one step closer to achieving your dream.

Go on now. As my yoga teacher said in today’s class, “Go slay your inner dragons.” If not now, then when? If not you, then who?

Article originally published February 20, 2017 on Women Writers, Women('s) Books.

Beginner's Mind

Do you remember the first time you rode a bike? How about the first time you flew in an airplane? You definitely remember your first kiss. Was it everything you expected? Did you practice kissing on the back of your hand before then? I sure did. My best friend told me I had to, otherwise I’d be considered a bad kisser. When the first kiss happened, I never expected to have that weak-kneed feeling—nor did I expect to be so focused on the boy’s tongue entering my mouth that I forgot what I should be doing in return. It was over before I knew it.

 

 

There’s something mind-opening about doing something for the first time. You might have an idea of what to expect, but it’s vague, like the memory of a dream from the night before, flitting in and out of your consciousness. Maybe your expectations are really wild. Or you might not expect anything.

In my yoga class last week, our teacher switched up our usual routine several times. Instead of doing Upward Dog after a Chaturanga, she made us go back to Plank. When I expected to go from Warrior II to Reverse Warrior, she made us pause, turn, and squat into Goddess pose. She tripped many of us up, and though some laughed, I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who felt frustrated, wondering why she was messing with us.

Then it clicked. There’s something beautiful about letting go of your preconceptions. Even if you’re experienced at something, let your beginner’s mind take over. Don’t expect a certain outcome. Detach yourself from what you think will happen. Listen to the immediate, not ingrained cues. Be in the moment. Just accept.

“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.”
—Shunryo Suzuki

The concept of beginner’s mind has become extremely important to my writing. I wrote the first novel under cover of darkness, in secrecy, hidden from the world. I had no idea whether anyone would ever read the crazy pile of words I’d been typing. I wrote because it calmed me. I wrote because of the driving need within me to tell a story. I wrote because it felt like an emotional cleanse. I had no idea what to expect. I didn’t know much about the craft of writing. I didn’t know about three act structures, or character development, or literary agents or the world of publishing. I had a computer, an idea for a story, and an intuition of where it should go. I focused on the writing. That was it.

That first novel is almost ready for release into the world and I am having the hardest time sitting down and writing the second novel. I want to write the second novel. I want to write many novels over the course of my life. And it’s not that I don’t have an idea for a story, because I do. I have characters that are talking to me. I see the setting, and the horses (yes, there are horses in the second one, too) and I have an almost physical, tortured need to write. But I’m afraid. I’m afraid of how much work it’s going to take. I’m afraid that now that I’ve studied the craft, gone to conferences, read more than a couple dozen books on writing, and taken many classes. I should know what I’m doing. I know so much more about the craft of writing and the world of publishing that I want this next book to be perfect (okay, really good would suffice). I know the difference between showing and telling. I know each scene needs an arc and a hook. I know I need conflict on every page. I know my dialogue needs to sing. I know where my plot points and reaction beats should be. I know all of this — and it seems so big, so damn overwhelming, that the magic of writing has disappeared, hidden somewhere in that ‘expert’ mind.

Has all the knowledge I’ve tried to gain taken over my creative, intuitive mind? What about stepping back and writing for that one reader I imagined would love my first book? What about opening up again to the unknown possibilities?

It’s vital that we, as writers, step back and allow for the spontaneous, creative possibilities that happen when writing.  It’s vital not just for us, but also for the imaginative spark it elicits in others as they read our words.

And you know what? All that you’ve learned, and everything you’ve experienced, will naturally flow into your writing. (Besides, we’re going to be revising the sucker for several months anyway.)

A beginner’s mind is innocent of preconceptions, judgments, prejudices, and expectations. Having learned so much, I know that I must somehow return to beginner’s mind and allow the writing itself lead me somewhere new. Somewhere exciting. It is, in the end, all about the journey.

What about you? How do you move forward with writing your second (or third) novel? How do you clear your mind and begin on a new journey, knowing all that you now know?

Article originally posted on Writers In the Storm Blog, July 15th, 2016.

Win one of two copies of LEARNING TO FALL!

6 WEEKS TO GO!!!

To celebrate, I'm giving away two copies of LEARNING TO FALL and two pewter book marks! They're really cute, people!

Rules, you ask?

Just comment here, on my Facebook page, or on my Instagram with what was your biggest 'learning to fall' moment or what your favorite book is! Make sure to use the hashtag, #learningtofall and tag me so that I can share!

Good luck!!

Two winners will be announced next Monday, June 27th!

How I Found a Literary Agent - Part 2

How I found a literary agent

My second attempt at pitching Learning to Fall came a year later, when I attended the Maui Writers Conference. My husband and I made it a mini-getaway. Frankly we only got in the ocean once during the whole trip since I was too busy with the conference. There were two wonderful people I met there: my now good friend Amy, and an agent who requested my novel on an exclusive basis. The agent was from a fantastic agency, represented beautiful novels, and was very excited about mine. I came home from Maui with no tan, but felt that the rest of my life was about to begin.

I waited a week. Then two. Then three. A month later the response came in: she liked it, but not enough, and told me if I revised, she'd be happy to read it again. I revised and decided to cold-query some other agents I'd added to my list of three (I was casting my net wider...)

I cold queried six agents between a Thursday and a Saturday in March, and by Monday I had an agent ask to read it. On Tuesday I had a top literary ask if she could have exclusivity and read the full manuscript. I told her it was out with another agent, but I was happy to share it. She responded shortly after asking for a conversation the next day. We talked for an hour - she thought my writing held promise, was excited to work with me, and thought she could sell the novel because she'd represented an author with a similar book - but I'd have to make revisions. She gave me some ideas of what I needed to work on, suggested a couple of additional books on writing, and told me she'd love to represent me. I emailed an agent who'd asked to read it, giving her a chance at representation. She passed and I signed the contract with first choice agent.

I was in heaven. I read more books on writing, took more classes, edited and revised. I sent the ms off by May. Then I waited. And waited. And waited. I didn't hear back until the end of July. The book was improved, but still not there. To say my heart sank is a bit cliché - but it kind of did. She suggested more revisions, and I listened, took notes, but wasn't sure how to make it better. Two and a half months later I went to a fabulous writers retreat in the Bahamas, where I work shopped with talented authors; learned from incredible agents and editors; and regained stamina to finish my novel.

Shortly after the retreat I went for two weeks to Whidbey Island - alone - and worked on the novel. I ripped it apart, took all the advice I'd been given by my agent, complete with the writing classes I'd been taking and everything I'd learned in Salt Cay, and tried to apply it. It was hell. I was alone, and should have had plenty of energy, but I was used to a chaotic, on-the-go lifestyle filled with family, pets, horses, a business. I was lonely and frustrated. I did come home with most of the next draft finished. I sent to beta readers and an author for feedback. Then I revised some more.

By early January I was ready to resend to my agent. The wait began again - but not for long! She loved the changes I had made (she'd read the first half)! I waited a few more weeks and didn't hear a word. I contacted her. She had almost finished reading the novel. She loved it! She thought it could be a great novel!!!

But it wasn't ready.

I cried for a bit - likely threw myself on the ground and screamed - or at least I wanted to. Then I did the only thing that made sense: I dug back in and revised. I got help from an author and revised again. I sent it back to the agent in March. She had a couple of notes, and said she'd send on submission to publishers! I celebrated! My parents cheered! My husband said he knew I could do it! This was it! The work had paid off! I would finally get the novel out to publishers!

Mid-March came. Then April. Then May. Then June. No word. I contacted her and she finally responded. She had lost an assistant. Things had changed at the agency. She just didn't have time for a debut author.

I think I drank too much that night - and for several nights afterward. Out of desperation I sent the book out to a couple of agents I knew, and they promptly turned it down - said it wasn't for them. I renewed my license for www.querytracker.net and took a long look at my list. I sent off eight cold-queries and had a decent response: four agents wanted to read the full manuscript.

Of those four agents, two said they'd read it again if I revised. Two turned it down. One of them was Kevan Lyon, of the Marsal Lyon Literary Agency. So I stepped back, and I thought about the novel...I had a decision to make: to revise (again!!) or to keep sending it out hoping someone would represent me. I decided to hire an editor instead. I got in touch with wonderful Heather Lazare, who'd worked at Simon & Schuster's Touchstone imprint as an editor before she turned to freelance editing. She was excited about the novel and about working with me. We set a date. 

By the end of September I had the novel back and boy...did it need some work. Heather was thorough. She tore into it and made sure every single thread, every single detail, every single story line and character and plot thread were followed through on. I was thrilled, but at this point I wasn't seeing the carrot at the end of the stick. Only rejection. I didn't feel there'd be any point. But Heather got on the phone with me and talked me through and encouraged me and told me it looked worse than it was. So I re-opened the file and, with her notes, started editing. Most of it was fine-tuning, dusting, repositioning, adding an extra bit of gloss, realigning. The funny thing was, I knew the ms needed it, but I thought I'd do that with an editor at a publishing house. I thought I'd get to it all once I was aligned with a 'partner' who would help me figure out the final details and the direction we wanted the novel to go. I realized that if I wanted a chance at publishing, it was in my hands. Heather told me that it was unlikely it would sell unless it was polished until it gleamed. Until barely a comma was out of place. I resent the novel to Heather in December for feedback: to make sure I had done the work. She told me it was ready.

In January I sent the manuscript back to my old agent (who, when I told her I'd revised, was very excited to get it back on an exclusive.) She was a big agent, loved the story, had worked with me, and I really wanted to work with her. I gave her exclusivity for two weeks. Those two weeks slowly dragged into eight. I gave up. I had wanted to make it work with her, but like a relationship, it was becoming clear that it just wasn't meant to be. So I sent an option to three other agents (two who had asked to see it if I revised and one I'd always loved.) Kevan Lyon responded within an hour, saying she remembered the story well and would read it again. She asked for an exclusive. Heather and I consulted and she agreed that Kevan was a phenomenal agent: kind, courteous, and quick to respond. Heather thought she'd be a wonderful match for me. I agreed to the exclusivity.

A week later, Kevan emailed asking me if we could talk. I wasn't ready for another rejection but I scheduled the call. Kevan and I clicked immediately. She was kind, generous with her feedback, immediately went on to tell me what her agency could do for me, how they worked, all the details anyone ever recommends asking an agent about. We got on right away. She was a kindred spirits. I said I would love to work with her!

How I found my agent

And that is how I found my agent - who is all kinds of wonderful.

So, even though it may seem tough, you have to keep trying. Most importantly, you have to be open to advice, keep improving, keep learning. (Oh, and maybe hire a good editor :) )

Cheers, and never give up!

 

How I Found a Literary Agent - Part 1

Whether you're at the beginning stages of writing your novel, whether you've been at it for years, or whether you're already in the process of looking at publishing optionsat some point in time you'll come across this startling reality: publishing houses are pretty much closed to queries. Unless you have a partner, that is. The literary agent. This comes as news to most writers, the crafters of drama, creators of new universes, dreamers of romance stories. They've spent all this time writing and now they have to find an agent before they can send their work to publishers? What??? Since I scoured through most writing sites and authors' pages for blog posts on how they found their magnificent other (aka their agent) I thought I'd tell you my story.

After much of the afore-mentioned scouring of the internet, I found sound advice that I should first find books I thought were similar to mine, research who the author's agent was, and put them on my 'dream list' of agents. I also learned that I should research agencies and agents via literary agent websites to see who best represents my type of fiction. I did just that. I looked in the acknowledgements sections of books, then I discovered a nifty website querytracker.net which allowed me to streamline this process. Mind you, I did all this way before my novel was finished. Sometime between running the business, driving my girls up and down a mountain to school and after-school activities, being a wife and mom and finishing the novel, I researched a gazillion more literary agencies.

I zeroed in on three agents. Yes. Three.

Literary Agent Speed Dating

The second writers conference I attended was the 2012 San Francisco Writers Conference. Two of my top three dream agents would be there, and I knew, that if they only had a chance to see my pages, they'd immediately represent me, sell my novel, I'd work with a fabulous editor at the publishing house, and I'd be on my way to the New York Times Bestseller List. I booked a room, made it a special weekend (sent the kids to grandma and grandpa's, asked my hubby to join me for the weekend (it was Valentine's Day)) and signed up for a pitch session called 'Agent Speed Dating.' Since I'd already been married for over a decade, speed dating didn't sound appealing, but I'm not one to shy away from a new experience.

That morning I spent so much time preparing my pitch that I missed breakfast and the conference's morning sessions. I'd given presentations to some of the best scientists in the world, but pitching my novel to these agents was absolutely terrifying. Still, I drafted my pitch, targeted several agents, put on an extra layer of deodorant, and went to the pitch session.

As I neared the entrance of the hotel one of the two agents I'd targeted was rolling his suitcase down the hill. I thought of stopping him, telling him he had to hear my pitch, that I was there to see him and he would miss out on my novel, but alas, reasoning won out and I smiled as we passed - I let him continue on with his life. I breathed heavily as I climbed the hill to The Mark Hopkins in my high heels, pissed that he left before the session was over, wished I'd brought the deodorant with me, and got to the lobby. There were approximately 1,587 people in line ahead of me. Okay. Maybe that's an exaggeration, but it was close. Once in 'the room,' I had to figure out where each agent was located, and who to run to first. Unfortunately, all of the agents I wanted to talk to had a line up of about a dozen people, and we had to keep our pitches to two minutes. I calculated, being as bright as I was at the moment: 2 x 12 = no time to talk to agents. Gaaa! So I went to the ones that had the fewest people lined up.

how i found a literary agent

The first pitch was a bitch. I barely got any words out. I'm quite sure I spoke a mix of Polish/Dutch/French and English (Putfrish) but I got through it.

At table #2, a very sweet agent told me that the book was not for him. He recommended the agent that left. I thanked him with a tight smile, made him feel like he was really smart, and moved on.

At table #3 sat a great agent from Writer's House (a literary agency made famous by Stephanie Meyer's blog post on how she got an agent, I'm sure.) I made my way to the front of the line. I started to speak, he put his hand up and said, "Don't talk. Show me your first page." (It's a bit like going on a blind date and they want to see you undressed before you talk... a bit uncomfortable.) With trembling fingers I opened the laptop but couldn't get Scrivener to load. Then the page scrolled up when I scrolled down (new feature.) He read two sentences and said, "Not for me." I asked why, and he said, "It just isn't." He smiled, though his eyes said, "If you ask me again, I'm going to kick your shin," then offered to help me with my scrolling option on my new MacBook Air (the one that would help me write the bestselling novel.) He was very nice. I'll always think fondly of that date.

I tried to keep my spirits up as I went to three other tables. A couple of the agents asked to send me the work. I kept their cards in my binder. They didn't represent work like mine and I doubted it would be a good fit. I decided to finish writing the novel (did I mention I was only 3/4 of the way done?) before I pitched again.

This blog post is much longer than I expected, so I'm breaking it into a 2 Part Series... Stay tuned!

On Revising and Editing

For the last one and a half years, I have been working on revisions, attending classes and conferences, reading lots and lots and lots of books on writing, and reading lots and lots of novels. When I first started writing LEARNING TO FALL, it was purely a therapeutic and cathartic endeavor, but as the characters developed and their lives expanded, and their goals and dreams and desires became distinguished, the world became quite real - if only in my own mind :)

As of today, I hope I'm writing the penultimate draft - well, at least until the novel goes out on submission. I'm sure there will be plenty of revisions then as well. Yes, that sort of makes me cringe right now, but I know that the novel has become better, thanks to all of these wonderful drafts - and thanks to all of my wonderful teachers and beta readers!

I will keep you posted on the progress. 

I leave you with a photo of the coffee table up on Whidbey Island, where many major changes took place.

Write on!