Cool Green Ink

Twinkies, Big Macs, and Your Writing

When I was much younger, my diet was about as focused on healthy choices as Kim Jong Un is focused on bringing about world peace. I consumed worryingly small quantities of fruits and vegetables, choosing instead the Twinkies and Big Macs step on the edited food pyramid. Thankfully, age and experience have given me the perspective to say: My diet was crap.

What does all of this have to do with writing? Age and experience have taught me the same thing: My writing is crap.

But see, that's okay. Yours is, too. Everyone's is. Oh, not ALL of it. It's like my 25-year-old self's diet. OCCASIONALLY I consumed something actually beneficial to sustaining human life. And it's not like I thought that Big Macs were leafy green vegetables. But time and experience helped me see my diet for what it was...and how far it was from where it needed to be. Just like with my writing.

When I was 25, I could easily churn out an entertaining (and, usually, grammatically correct) sentence. People slapped me on the back and said, "You're a good writer." But they were looking at my writing the way people sometimes look at weather and mistakenly call it climate. They were looking at cherry-picked bits and pieces and ignoring the overall.

Five years later, at 30, I looked back at writing done by my 25-year-old self and could already see the flaws. Perhaps you have done this, too--and it frequently doesn't take the passage of even five years. Perhaps you've written a portion of a story or novel, gotten stuck, and put it on the shelf for awhile. Let's say a year or two. When you return and read the cold project, somehow that passage of time has made you wiser, has illuminated the piece's flaws as if they're radioactive.

And this process continues, so that your critical lens will offer greater clarity as your experience accumulates. This doesn't mean you'll never write anything decent until you're 90. It's really a caution against the assumption that our writing, at any age, is not subject to scrutiny and growth.

At age 25, I bristled at critics of my writing. Now, I welcome them. At 25, I thought I knew all I needed to know to be a successful author. Now, I realize that there is always more to learn. At 25, I prided myself on throwing together essays and stories without rewriting--one and done. Now, I embrace and enjoy the editing and redrafting process.

I'd like to think that my writing is significantly better today than it was when I was 25 because I made myself a lifelong learner of the craft. Some people may learn everything I've learned much more quickly, easily surpassing my knowledge and experience by the time they're 25. We all have a different trajectory. 

But I hope when people sample my stuff today, they taste fewer Twinkies and more leafy greens.

When you're done with your novel...you're not really done!

After a year and a half, I finally finished my eighth re-draft of The Book of Invasions, my adult thriller/mystery novel that sends a 25-year-old physically and psychologically beaten loner, Alby Crowe, on a race across Egypt, Germany, and Ireland to find a terrifying, 5,000-year-old scroll ahead of the members of a cult bent on destroying the world order. The hard part is over, right?

Not so fast. Yes, it took time to write and polish the drafts, to enlist the services of beta readers, to conduct research, and so forth. But now that it's time to market the project, there's more work to be done.

Most agents and editors don't really want to see your whole novel...at least not right away. They may want any or all of the following, and preparing these documents can pose different sorts of challenges.

SAMPLE CHAPTERS - This is a relatively easy one. An editor will often tell you whether he wants the first chapter, the first three, or perhaps the first fifty pages. Since these are already written, no problem.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY - This is frequently a paragraph on a separate page, detailing one's writing credentials and telling a bit about one's personal life. When a writer has few significant publication credits, this part of the sales pitch can be challenging. Items that might be mentioned: Published works, writing awards, writing programs or degrees completed, experience teaching writing, influences, hobbies, family details.

SYNOPSIS - This is a bugger: a one- or two-page (at most) summary of the novel. Yet, it can't simply be a step-by-step recitation of what happened. A synopsis often focuses on where the main character is at the beginning of the novel, what circumstances shake the character out of his/her current existence and into action (sometimes called an inciting incident), how the major action plays out, how the book ends and where the main character emerges after it all.

COVER or QUERY LETTER - Sometimes, this is all an agency will ask for. Thus, it must be well-crafted and a superb sales asset. A typical letter will include a brief introduction offering the novel to the specific editor or agent, a brief description of the novel, a description of the author's credentials and platform, and a gracious closing.

AUTHOR'S PLATFORM - More editors and agents expect an author to be an active participant in marketing a finished book, so being able to describe one's platform has become a must. The platform includes anything the author can do to get her word out or sell the book. It might include blogging, social media, touring, book signings, teaching workshops, Twitter, radio shows and interviews, etc. You say you have no platform? Then you have MORE work to do.

 ELEVATOR PITCH - This is a term common to the business work, a so-called opportunity to get the attention of Mr. or Mrs. Big if you were stuck in the elevator for thirty seconds from the ground floor to the executive office suite. If you were facing an editor or agent, what would you say in that time frame in order to generate excitement about your novel? Having a standard 100-200-word grabber of a description gives you an answer. Although you may never find yourself in an actual elevator, you can use it when writing your query, or when you approach agents and publishers an writers' conferences.

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Mary Klein | Reply 14.10.2013 21.58

You my friend, are blessed! You have put such a positive spin on what could have been a terrible tale. You must have good work yet to do in this world.

Mary Senneka | Reply 09.10.2013 11.00

Other than moving to Muk-town, how can I get you to be my son's teacher?

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Latest comments

04.08 | 17:44

Hi mr rod vick,
Thanks so much for the books and the free book i finished them all, and they were all so good. THANK YOU
jaia

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14.10 | 21:58

You my friend, are blessed! You have put such a positive spin on what could have been a terrible tale. You must have good work yet to do in this world.

...
09.10 | 11:00

Other than moving to Muk-town, how can I get you to be my son's teacher?

...
27.06 | 16:16
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