Archived Blogspot Blog Posts

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Failure is but a step en route to success

If you've never failed,
you've never lived.

Here's an inspiring video well worth checking out. Thanks to my friend Caroline Fyffe for the link.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Grateful for the Golden Heart

Personal Weather Report - Calm. Pressure Dropping.

Writing Activity - Working on new story. Currently at 7,200 words.

November 17, 2008 will be a day remembered by many not-yet-published romance writers. This was the deadline for the Romance Writers of America® 2009 Golden Heart® contest. With a trembling finger, many talented women in the U.S. and beyond have pressed "send" in recent weeks, zapping their entries through Cyberspace.

For many a romance writer, the Golden Heart is the contest upon which she pins her hopes and dreams. Why? Because it's the most prestigious. A final in the Golden Heart, the crowning jewel in the contest tiara, sets the finalist apart. With over 1,200 entries, the competition is intense. A finalist spot garners attention and gives each finalist a noteworthy accomplishment to include in query letters, signature blocks and on business cards.

In the fall of 2007, I entered the Golden Heart for the second time, never expecting to final. I'd entered one manuscript the year before. I allowed some talented writer a spot in the top half of the finalists, my score having placed me in the bottom. Last year I had four completed manuscripts, and I decided to enter them all. My goal? To see if one of them could earn a score that would place it in the top half.

When the phone on March 25th of this year and RWA board member Terri Reed told me two of my four entries were finalists, I had a hard time believing her. For several weeks after the call, the soles of my shoes saw no wear.

A final in the Golden Heart really can make a difference. I'm the self-appointed keeper of statistics for the 2008 Golden Heart finalists, keeping track of who has sold how many book to whom. The numbers are amazing. Of the 64 finalists, 16 have already sold. A whopping twenty-five percent! So, yes. It's true. The Golden Heart can be a "golden ticket" for some.

I'm not one of the 2008 finalists who has sold. (You'll hear me shouting when that day comes, let me assure you.) My two finaling manuscripts need major revision before they'll be ready for an agent or editor's eyes. How they even finaled is beyond me. But they did, and I'm grateful. Very grateful.

Why am I so happy with my finalist status? Isn't the ultimate goal publication? Yes. But I've gained so much as a result of being a Golden Heart finalist that my heart is full of gratitude. Here are just some of the gifts I've been given:

•I'm one of the 2008 Golden Heart finalists, the Pixie Chicks as we call ourselves, a group of some of the most talented, fun, generous, knowlegeable women I know. I'm blessed to know each and every one of them.

•I attended my first RWA® national conference, held in San Francisco this past summer, where the other finalists and I were treated like royalty.

•Before I finaled, I wrote in isolation. I prayed for writer friends. I now have more than I ever imagined possible. I've met them on the Internet, at RWA Nationals, through my local RWA chapter, and on my blog, others' blogs, Yahoo! loops, Facebook and Twitter. Finaling in the Golden Heart brought me out of my cave and into the company of many awesome folks.

•As a result of the connections I've made, I have three awesome critique partners: Anne Barton, CJ Redwine and Melanie Dickerson. I appreciate them and their helpful feedback so much. With their wise counsel, my writing will improve.

•Finaling in the Golden Heart gave me the confidence I needed to expand my computer skills. Before I finaled, I knew how to check my email. I'd visited one blog to see the tummy shot of a friend who was expecting. She had all of three posts, and yet I was very impressed. I had no idea how she'd set up her blog. It looked mighty complicated to me. I now have two blogs, this one, where I post personal reflections, and my professional one, Romance Writers on the Journey. In addition, I have a Web site I set up and manage on my own:

These are but five of many reasons I'm grateful for the Golden Heart and why I would encourage any unpublished romance writer to enter the contest.

Have you entered the Golden Heart? If so, what did you gain from the experience? Would you encourage others to enter? Why or why not?

Monday, November 10, 2008

Finding My Voice

Personal Weather Report - Record Highs.

Writing Activity - Began a new story, a Contemporary. Currently at 5,300 words.

My daughter has a lovely singing voice and is happiest when she's belting out show tunes with such volume that our cats run for cover. Emblazoned on the front of one of her favorites tees are the words," Warning. Owner is subject to spontaneous outbursts of song."

I also like to sing. Our two feline friends are subjected to my impromptu ditties during the day when no one else is home. But I shy away from singing in public, a reluctance that stems from less than constructive criticism by a choir teacher in my youth.

My supportive family tells me my voice is fine. I haven't seen folks around me cover their ears or cringe when I sing in church. But vocal music is not my strong suit.

As a writer, I've heard plenty of talk about voice. My dictionary defines the word in this context as "the distinctive tone or style of a literary work or author."

Some writers have such a unique voice that readers can pick up one of their works and know within a few paragraphs or pages who authored the piece. I admire those pillars of publishing.

During the first two years after I began to write in earnest, I attended conferences where I heard more than one attendee say, " I found my voice when . . ." I marveled at such revelations and longed for one of my own.

I asked myself how one goes about developing this seemingly elusive voice. In an effort to learn, I read books on the writing craft. As a result, my mechanics improved. I no longer "head hopped," jumping from the point of view of one character after another. I added sensory detail, a feature sadly lacking in my earliest manuscripts, and I trimmed wordy descriptions.

And yet, I sensed something was missing.
My stories were flat, but I wanted them to sing.

I intentionally curtailed my writing for a few months, during which time I read books written by some of the best authors in my genre, started critiquing the work of others and served as a contest judge. I began to see why some writers' works resonated while others' didn't strike a chord with me.

The day came when the characters in one of my stories begged for me to let them speak. I'd resisted the voices in my head because I feared I'd produce more work at the same level as before, and I wasn't content to do so.

But I had a wonderful surprise in store. As I put fingers to keyboard last week for the first time in months, an incredible thing happened. Everything came together. My writing was markedly improved. That's not to say Nora Roberts, Debbie Macomber or Deeanne Gist have anything to fear, but I saw progress.

I'd felt like I was running into a brick wall for a long time, but then a door was thrown open. The first three chapters flowed from my fingertips as freely as show tunes do from my daughter's lips.

What made the difference? You guessed it. At long last I'd found my voice.

If someone were to ask me to explain how it happened, I'd say I gave myself permission to fill my writing with more of my unique way of saying things and to let go of my former strict adherence to the "rules." Not that I ignore them, by any means. I'm far too OC for that. I finally relaxed, trusted myself and my abilities, and let my voice burst forth. And I'm having a blast.

I'd love to hear from you. How long had you been writing before you found your voice? What happened that led to the discovery? And how would you explain the process to others?