manuscript and notebook She Who Comes Forth work in progress

The Work Progresses

You would think by now it would be easy. After all, I’ve written and published five novels and a bunch of short stories. I have idea notes, planning notes, things-to-fix-in-the-rewrite notes, and problem-solving notes.

But writing the first draft is still hard. In fact, some days it’s a real struggle. And yet, it lurches forward.

The work in progress is a sequel, which complicates things. It means I have to know everything each character knows about all kinds of things. Who knows what? Who lied to whom? It’s amazing how many details I’ve forgotten from the previous book, even though I wrote it.

Some characters from the first book have changed quite a bit. I need to account for those changes–plausibly, and in a way that contributes to the plot.

It will be bad news if something I think is crucial for the sequel doesn’t line up with, or even contradicts, something important in the first book. (A good argument for writing both books before publishing the first one.)

Then there’s First Draft Daily Anxiety Syndrome. I’ve managed to keep up with the page a day resolution I made back in December, but knowing I have to put in the required time every day to crank out the next page or two can be a cloud on my horizon as I emerge gummy-eyed from sleep.

Strange thing, though: sitting down and picking up the pen has an almost magical effect. With only the vaguest idea of what is going to happen next, I start to write, and a scene unfolds, complete with details and nuances. (Whether it will stand the test of the rewrite is another issue.)

I’m 85% through the first draft and on schedule to finish it by the end of June. The trouble is, now that daylight arrives early and lingers late, the garden exercises its own allure. I may have to shift my writing sessions from first thing in the morning to what I call Glare Time, the hours between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., when the light is harsh and bright and the garden is devoid of magic.

Never mind–at least now I can finally see the day I’ll get this one off the ground!

hot air balloon on ground rainbow colours
Image from Pixabay

Fellow writers, I’m sure many of you have WIPs under way. What works for you? What gives you fits? Share your WIP woes and wins.

Tomato plants and tomato cages late May

Growing Tomatoes, Part 2

Once frost is out of the question and night temperatures don’t fall much below 10C (50F), it’s safe to put the young tomato plants into their permanent spots. In my case, that’s the biggest plastic pots I can get my hands on–the kind nurseries use for young trees and larger shrubs. This year I have nine pots.

Tomato plants in big pots mid May
Three of the nine

A week or two before transplant day, I prepare a soil mix that consists of the contents of last year’s tomato pots and a generous helping of fresh compost plus bagged manure. I also add lime, because tomatoes prefer a soil with a pH close to neutral, and mine is somewhat acid. Too acid a soil leads to a calcium deficiency which produces blossom end rot.

Tomato plant in big pot mid May

My plants are of the indeterminate type, which means they keep growing indefinitely, unlike the determinate or bush types. The plants were already starting to grow tiny new shoots in the leaf axils when I planted them. I remove those. Left alone, they would turn into additional stems. It makes no sense to let potted tomatoes grow extra stems, but three stems per plant may be manageable in plants grown in the ground.

Tomato plants in big pots mid May

In any case, the plants will need to be supported as they grow, which means cages or stakes. Cages are preferable for my pot-grown tomatoes, since the pots sit on the asphalt driveway. Plants in the ground may be staked–3 or 4 stout stakes per plant with twine wrapped around them. In my experience, mature plants that have set fruit always get unwieldy and need extra supports for their last month or so.

Tomato plants and tomato cages late May

But that’s in the future for these plants. For the next few weeks, all I have to do is supply water, remove those unwanted leaf axil shoots, and wait for the plants to produce flowers.

Tomato plants and tomato cages late May
Tomato plants and tomato cages late May

Laburnum and Erysimum "Bowles Mauve"

Bigger Pictures

My garden photos are often closeups of individual plants or groups of plants. So I thought it was time to post some wider views, in the form of a tour. The garden is at its best right now (early May), when it’s still lush and green.

Laburnum and Erysimum "Bowles Mauve"
A nice conjunction of bloom next to the driveway–laburnum tree and wallflower (Erysimum) “Bowles Mauve”
Front walk, perennial bed, lawn, and magnolia
Up the front walk… Perennials on the left, magnolia on the right
Perennial bed to west of front walk
Perennials on the left (west) side of the walk
Perennial bed on west side of house, looking north
Along the west side of the house. More perennials and the lilac in full bloom
Back garden
The back garden. The part to the right of the path used to be a vegetable patch, but is now a mixture of herbs, refugee plants, and volunteers. The pond area is behind the trellis and the shed is in the right hand corner, hidden by the apple tree.
Garden pond
The pond is at the end of the main path in the back garden
Back garden looking toward shed from pond
Looking east over the pond toward the shed. The ladder is there because of work on the shed’s roof, but I issued a stop-work order because chickadees are nesting in the birdhouse under the eaves.
Back garden, looking west to pond bench
Looking west from the shed to the cedar stump bench by the pond, which is hidden by the ferns
Perennial bed on west side of house, looking south
Leaving via the west side path
Heuchera "Key Lime Pie"
Heuchera “Key Lime Pie” and potted hellebores wave goodbye.

I hope you enjoyed the tour!

New rules

For all that I love arguing with rules for writers, here are some worthy suggestions from author Kevin Brennan, along with others from artist Richard Diebenkorn.

WHAT THE HELL

Artist Richard Diebenkorn had some rules about the way he should approach his work. I can’t remember where I got these, but I was inspired enough to copy and paste them at the time. I was also inspired enough to come up with a few of my own. When the going gets tough, it’s always good to have some reliable aphorisms you can fall back on.

Diebenkorn’s: 

1. Attempt what is not certain. Certainty may or may not come later. It may then be a valuable delusion.

2. The pretty, initial position which falls short of completeness is not to be valued—except as a stimulus for further moves.

3. DO search.

4. Use and respond to the initial fresh qualities but consider them absolutely expendable.

5. Don’t “discover” a subject—of any kind.

6. Somehow don’t be bored but if you must, use it in action. Use its destructive potential.

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submission of manuscript

Feeling Submissive?

I’ve already written a post about my problems with the words “submit” and “submission” as used in the world of publishing. Even I think this is a bit of a bee in my bonnet, but there it is… Everyone has a bee or two. Before leaving this point, however, I’ll just note I had a really hard time finding an appropriate image for this post. Try a search on the word “submission” in Pixabay. Interesting, eh? No hopeful writers there, but quite a few handcuffs.

When I started writing seriously, I assumed I would offer my novel to agents or publishers, and do it well enough that a publisher would take it on and turn it into a real book. One day I would be on the bus and the person next to me would be reading my book. Or I would be invited to have a serious discussion with a literary journalist on national media about how I came to write it. Yes, that stuff.

Well, I bought one of those fat directories of agents and publishers printed on pulp paper in tiny print. (This was in the early 2000s.) I pored over it and selected targets. I beavered up query letters and synopses and put together packages of paper.

In 2010 I published my book myself.

Now I sometimes read advice to writers about submitting, and realize I would have a really hard time getting back into submission mode. The process of scrutinizing agent and publisher websites, making lists of likely ones, following each one’s requirements precisely, putting together the query letter, synopsis, and first few pages or chapters–that takes a lot of time and mental energy. And that’s before the rejections come rolling in.

Then there’s the skewed mentality of the submitter. You have to be confident but humble, hopeful but pragmatic. You have to believe in the piece of writing you have created, while at the same time realizing it’s nothing special (except to you). And you have to think of the fellow human beings to whom you’re appealing as powerful divinities, eternally busy, always overworked, too preoccupied with important matters to give your flawed offering more than a few minutes seconds of attention.

(Uh-oh, this is turning into yet another foot-stomping, pouty, watch-me-hold-my-breath-until-I-turn-blue rant. ‘Nuff said.)

What I meant to say before that happened is the writer has to psych themselves into the correct state of mind before undertaking a round of submissions. Some say it gets easier the more one does it. That wasn’t my experience in the ten years I spent querying and waiting, processing rejections, querying and waiting, processing more rejections. When I decided I would probably be dead before I got published, I was delighted to discover that self-publishing was a viable option.

At least now that most queries can be emailed, one is spared the tedious and expensive business of preparing SASEs (self-addressed stamped envelopes).

For those intending to submit, here are some (slightly jaundiced) tips:

  1. Prepare by cultivating the correct attitude. Instead of posts like this one, read some of the many with serious and helpful advice for hopeful writers on how to submit
  2. Ponder the fact that publishing is a business. Big business, in the case of the Big Four (formerly the Big Five, and before that, the Big Six). Starry-eyed romanticism won’t help you at all
  3. Don’t think of your novel as an extension of yourself, but as a potential product for a competitive market
  4. Try to convince yourself that the busy businesspeople who will look at your submission are evaluating your writing, not your worth as a human being. (Yeah, I know…)
  5. If you don’t already know your novel’s genre, figure it out and bone up on the salient points of that genre, such as reader demographic and key words, to give your submission the correct tone
  6. Study agent/publisher listings assiduously so you don’t waste your time directing your efforts to the wrong ones
  7. Once you have compiled your list of likely prospects, follow each one’s submission guidelines precisely. Don’t assume they’re all the same
  8. Consider dividing your list into two or three groups. After sending your first lot of submissions, distract yourself from fretting about them by preparing another batch
  9. If an agent or publisher requests a “full,” i.e., your full manuscript, rejoice. But don’t assume imminent success
  10. You will notice that most agents/publishers do not tell you exactly why they “pass” on your submission (i.e., reject it). Assume it’s because whoever read it thought it would not sell enough copies to make it worth their while
  11. But do not try to guess the reasons for rejection and fiddle with your manuscript before sending further submissions. The next person will evaluate it by their own criteria, which are likely different from the previous ones’
  12. Remember that once an agent or publisher has rejected your submission, you cannot re-submit it to that person unless they ask you to (which in my experience rarely happens)
  13. Prepare for rejections by invoking whatever activities, thoughts, or people make you feel good about yourself and your writing
  14. Persevere. If you have the energy and desire, write short stories, submit them to journals, enter them in contests. Building a track record of such publications may be helpful in finding an agent or publisher for that novel.

“Good luck with your writing journey.” Indeed.

And remember also that publishing your own novel is no longer a mark of failure, but a viable option.

So fellow writers, which of you have followed the submissions route? Have any of you succeeded? What are your thoughts about the process?

Featured image designed by Audrey Driscoll using Canva, incorporating an image by Peggy_Marco from Pixabay