Mistakes! Mistakes!

I feel like I am in a kind of stupor lately. I have so many ideas and so many things to do that I don’t know where to start or how to begin. Julia Cameron says having too many ideas will keep you blocked creatively. She goes on to say that you as an artist and writer and creator have to start with one simple idea at a time. She also says that reading is like an addiction to writers. 

Don’t we all know that! But then how many of us do not repeat the same mistake over and over again? I personally have a problem when it comes to learning from my mistakes. I say this with such regret and heartache. Sometimes I get so excited about articles and ideas and stories I read on the internet but when I tell my daughter about my plans I only hear her say: “Mom you’ve been there. You did that already. Don’t you remember?” 

Here are some quotes on career killing mistakes offered by editors and publishers that I have jotted down over the years and which are worth taking note of:

“I find that most authors don’t spend enough time on their cover letters. I get so many cover letters with grammatical errors and misspellings.” 

Query

“Publishers and agents notice manuscript format first. Incorrect margins, spacing and fonts positively shout from the pages.” 

“New authors frequently pitch the wrong agents for their literary genre.”

“I firmly believe that perspective, or point of view, is the NO. 1 style problem for most writers. There’s no wrong point of view, or even mixture of points of view, to write in, but be careful not to confuse the reader.” 

“Don’t give away your best stuff in the opening, of course, or there’s no reason to keep reading.”

“Sometimes you’ll write something you feel very strongly about emotionally, but it really adds little to the story.”

“If you think your work is perfect when you hand it in, you may be in for a rude awakening.”

“The wrong agent will waste your time and diminish your reputation.”

“Every successful writer has taken an idea out of his head and put it on paper. Allowing ideas to linger in your mind doesn’t make you a writer. Writing does.”

Have a great week of writing everyone!

ChK

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Be Bold!

We all know how important networking is in selling our work and promoting ourselves. Social media has a big influence on people and the scouts out there who are always on the lookout for new talent. Even the publishing world relies on the internet nowadays. More publishers are taking on new authors and signing contracts with them based on their sale figures online.  

Caitlin R. Kiernan writes:

“You have to be good. But it’s also very important to network and get to know people.” 

Kiernan, an Irish born American writer, said once in an interview with Writer’s Digest magazine that when she finished writing her first novel “The Five Cups”, she picked a handful of horror writers whose works she admired and sent them the prologue to the book, as well as a letter of introduction. 

She writes:

“I did not have enough self-confidence to think I could land an agent right off the bat. I said in the letter, “If you like this, I would like you to read the novel with an eye toward giving me a blurb that I can use to help land an agent.” From everything I’d read, I knew that I needed an agent- and a really good one- if I wanted a chance at getting this book and my career off the ground.”

Advice

What an unusually brave strategy for a first time author!

Guess what? One of the writers she solicited not only asked to see the manuscript but also passed it on to her agent. The agent asked to see her novel but rejected it on the grounds that there were so many other novels of the same genre out there. But that’s not all! He then asked her to write him another book.

A fairy tale story. But that was back in 1996. Many of us would be so lucky nowadays to be asked to write another book after getting a rejection.

I remember the first rejection letter I got. Not only had the agent gotten the title of my book wrong, but he had also addressed me as sir even though I had mentioned in my covering letter that I was a wife and a mother of two. But maybe I wasn’t as self confident and bold as Caitlin R. Kiernan was.

“You have to be bold. When you see someone that you need to know, an editor or someone, then get to know that person, try to have someone introduce you. You can’t sit back and wait for things to happen. You have to make it happen yourself. And you have to find the people who can help you make it happen.” Caitlin R. Kiernan 

Be bold!

ChK

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“If they did it, so can you.”

On a yellow post it on my desk I have the following quote: 

“If they did it, so can you.” (WD 1996)

The caption is from a Writer’s Digest magazine from 1996. I was living and working as a teacher in Dubai when I enrolled in a creative writing course with the Writer’s Digest Writing Program. All correspondence was carried out by mail back then, I didn’t even have an email address. 

I remember how excited I used to be whenever I received my Writer’s Digest magazine in the mail. The articles in them were priceless to me. I remember each time I finished reading an article I would be so inspired that I would go straight to my notebook and start writing. I would carry them with me to school and whenever I had a minute to spare I would leaf through them, my heart beating fast in my chest. To me those magazines represented my dream.

I would underline, highlight, even copy the parts that I liked in special notebooks that I to this day keep on a shelf in the library near my desk. And on days like today when I find it hard to create (after reading news on the internet) and I feel I need some inspiration, I simply open a notebook and start reading.

Here are some more quotes from the same article. 

“All my life I had three goals that I wanted to achieve before I turned 40. I wanted to learn to swim, learn to cook and publish a novel. I failed on all three counts.” Irving Benig 

“I first had the idea back in 1982. I had almost every scene and character and theme of the book [in mind] before I wrote it. My real crisis of confidence was the initial question: Could I do it? Before you worry about getting an agent, before you worry about whether a book is good or not, the real test is, can you do it? Can you finish it? I thought I could, but I wasn’t sure. But once I started writing it, I got more and more confident. When I finished the initial draft, I still wasn’t confident that it would sell or that it would make money. But I was confident I had done what I wanted to do- that I’d written a good novel.” Irving Benig

At the age of 52, in the fall of 1994, Benig’s first manuscript “The Messiah Stones” was auctioned by his agent to Villard for $500,000. 

And he writes: 

“We’ve (his agent and him) talked about the possibility that [the book] might be big. But I’ve been in the business world and learned it’s not over until it’s over, anything can happen. [Villard’s bid] was like going on a date and getting your first kiss: You know there’s a chance, but you’re still pleasantly surprised.” 

Surprise

I wish you all a pleasant surprise, and all the best in doing what you want to do!

ChK

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Get Carried Away!

My productivity has been in a bit of a slump lately. The usual ‘family’ and ‘things to do’ stuff. Mainly there’s just too much else to pay attention to. 

I have to confess that roughly every week for the past two years I have been planning to sit and write. Almost every Sunday night I go to bed promising myself that I will start writing on a regular basis every day only to find myself cleaning and arranging my desk or my library or reading a book the next day. 

According to Julia Cameron the reason we don’t create is not because we are lazy, but because we are afraid. The fear of the outcome keeps us in a blocked state. Come to think of it, it’s true. Just when I sit at my desk with an idea in mind, I can’t help but start having doubts about it before even putting it on paper.

I ask myself: Is it a good idea? Will anyone like it? Will I be able to pull it off? Once I start writing will I be able to finish it? Or will I just abandon it due to other complications in my personal life? With my doubts I sort of create a spider web for myself and cling to it.

But in my heart of hearts I know that what I am doing is wrong. I know that if I don’t start now chances are I will never start. Who said my writing has to be 100% perfect? Isn’t being 95% perfect good enough? 

Rewrite

Maybe I should start writing short articles and short books instead of long ones as a start. Or maybe instead of setting big goals for myself I will have to make do with short ones. Short goals are more easy to achieve than long ones anyway. Perhaps I should stop agonizing over every comma and stop being critical of my writing while writing. 

Or maybe, just maybe, I should totally forget about what my mind tells me and follow my heart and allow myself to get carried away by my imagination and my emotions.

“Emotions are the key. Focus on everyday events, explore them. Search your own heart for the emotions these events evoke. Capture these memories with the five senses, and express them vividly in your character’s lives.” Laurie Moeller (aka Laura Anthony) 

ChK

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All Good Books

Jane Austen wrote:

“It is only a novel… or, in short, only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour, are conveyed to the world in the best-chosen language.” 

In 1996, when I was taking a correspondence course in novel writing with Writers’ News Writing School, I wrote to my then tutor expressing my worry about a novel idea I had at the time. I had in mind a story based on the civil war in Lebanon. My book was not going to be political, nor religious, nor anything partisan. 

All I wanted to do was tell the story of ordinary people, a couple and their struggle to survive. The difficulties and dangers they faced every day when gunmen ruled the streets and bombs fell randomly around them. I was worried that even if I went ahead and wrote the book, there would not be a publisher interested enough in my story.

She wrote back to me saying, “I suspect the difficulty will arise if you home in on the Lebanese aspect, whereas it is the human element that makes the story. Ignore the setting for the moment and think about your story in the most basic terms. A novel is about the way a person or people relate to the world in which they live. In this case we have a couple struggling to survive in an environment where things that affect them are largely outside their control- not of their own making. They need to adapt and to respond to the things around them if they are to have any life together. It is about human behaviour and how people act in times of adversity.”

Best advice I have ever received. This was all the encouragement and inspiration I needed to hear to go ahead and finish my book

Book4

Ernest Hemingway wrote:

“All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they had really happened and after you are finished reading one you will feel that all that happened to you and afterwards it all belongs to you: the good and the bad, the ecstasy, the remorse and sorrow, the people and the places and how the weather was. If you can get so that you can give that to people, then you are a writer.” 

ChK

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In My Imagination

“You can’t be a wallflower if you want to have a lasting career.“ Jack Clemens

It’s been five years that I started blogging. From having zero followers to 2936 is quite an accomplishment for me, or so I think. I know, it’s not a big number, as I know that there are millions of other writers and bloggers more successful than I am. They are the ones who have built successful careers as writers and bloggers.

Sometimes when I read others’ blogs I go, “Damn, I wish I could be as good as them.” Then I realize that whatever my focus was when I started my blog, I have faced so many disappointments and hardships along the way only to come out stronger, and a more capable writer. 

But I’ve got one big problem. When it comes to self-promotion, when it comes to making my writing and myself as a writer more visible to the world, I feel like a shy teenager blurting out words on her first date.

And I wonder, isn’t my writing self-promotion enough? Do I really have to do this? Can’t someone else help me and do it for me? But where can I find that someone? What can I say or tell him/her?

Writers4

Last summer I was out shopping with my daughter. I had gone looking specifically for J. Herbin fountain pen ink. I found some at a store in the Eaton centre. When I first explained what I was looking for, the saleslady, who was about my age, was extremely helpful. She mentioned all the different brands and types of ink they had in the shop, and which ones were her favorites. Then she asked me what I use, and so on. We spent about half an hour talking about our love of fountain pens and all.

The minute I was out of the shop my daughter exclaimed, “I don’t believe you mom! Why didn’t you say anything about your writing, your blog, or your book, or anything?”
I know I didn’t. But the moment I think about saying something, anything, I get so shy that I feel paralyzed. The same way I couldn’t ask Robert Fisk if he had read my book and I probably never will.

In my imagination I am this self confident person who knows how to approach people. In my mind’s eye I do not worry about what people will think about me as a writer. In my imagination I am this outgoing personality who can speak her mind and her heart. But the sad reality is:

“You just can’t escape from yourself.” Jane Guill

ChK 

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Ideas Anyone?

“Don’t sign on the dotted line just because a publisher has offered you a contract. First, put it to this five-step test to make sure you’re signing a smart contract.” Timothy Perrin (An Offer You Can Refuse- Writer’s Digest March 1999)

I’ve had this issue of the magazine since the day it was released. I have not only read it but sort of studied it too, underlining and highlighting the main points in it. But did I refer to it when I signed a contract with Raider? No.
 
When I was about to immigrate to Canada in 2006, my husband suggested we buy back the rights for my book “The Lost I”, from my publisher. Publishing rules are different in the UAE, at least they were when I wanted to publish in 2004. Not only does the manuscript have to be approved by the ministry of education and sent straight to the publisher, but also the ISBN is issued by them, hence giving my publisher the rights to sell the book only in the United Arab Emirates. 

So we shipped all the remaining boxes together with our belongings to Canada hoping that I will somehow find a publisher and be able to sell the book in this part of the world. And find a publisher I did. Raider International Publishing published my book in March 2009. A mistake I regret to this day.

Not only did I not get what was promised me in the contract, publicity, sales, money and so on, but to this day I am kept in a loop. It’s been more than three years that my contract has ended with them and the book, the paperback edition, is still on sale on Amazon. I realize now that the internet is full of complaints and lawsuits against Raider. 

Promo

My problem is I don’t know what to do. Because at the moment I have no product or book. And I can’t approach any other publisher without resolving this problem. 

How do I get out of this terrible situation? What do I do? Do you have any similar experiences you want to share? Please, I appreciate your help!

ChK

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