Writer’s Cramp is the blog and site for B. Jenne’ Hall, writer, genius, and pathological optimist. She’s written her first book, is working on her second, and she’s trying to get published. Which from all accounts seems to be as approximately attainable as the gift of flight, but who doesn’t love a challenge?


Got my pitch critique!

Yep! Received my pitch critique Tuesday afternoon. I’m pretty stunned by their turnaround, considering they had 200 participants in the workshop. Especially considering the detailed, instructive feedback I received on mine.

I’m immensely pleased. I won’t have to chuck it and completely start over, and I have a clear idea of where I need to really focus my improvement efforts. They even said that “this is a strong start for your pitch”, which was very encouraging and makes me feel like I’ve got the right idea for my approach, I just need to refine it.

So back to revisions on the ms and refining the pitch. Then: query!


Word count marathon, day 7

Despite interruptions, work continues on the Great Word Massacre of Aught 10. (Yes, I know it can’t be an Aught if it’s year 10, just go with me here.) I’ve had little time, thus made slow progress, but it’s progress nonetheless. This is a cumulative revision from the last week or so:

Starting word count: 236,303

Ending word count after revising Chapters 41 through 44: 234,792

# words cut: 1,511

I have most of the weekend to spend on revisions, so I’m hoping to clear some big swathes through the verbiage landscape. I also have Monday, which I took off (something about “a ridiculous number of unused vacation days, missy!” from our illustrious HR Director at my office) and plan to spend doing yet more revisions.

Speaking of time and the act of finding it, I’ve been thinking about John Scalzi’s post from last month about finding — or more accurately, making — the time to write. “When did you find the time to write this?” is a question I get asked a lot when people find out about my book, especially how long it is. Inevitably, the conversation turns toward how we do or don’t fit in the things we need and want to do. Scalzi’s point that you make time for the things that you really want to do is absolutely true, and doubly so for writing. As the old writing advice goes, the number one rule about writing is butt in chair, hands on keyboard.

To take it a little further, I think when writing is something you not only want to do but need to do, you simply can’t not do it. It’s not an option. I could no more not write than I could not breathe, and it has absolutely nothing to do with whether I’m published, will be published, or am even any good at it. I will forego sleep, meals, and most other responsibilities in order to write. It’s meant sacrifices, too, and finding the balance between writing and everything else is a daily juggling act for any writer no matter what their circumstances are. Really, though, isn’t that true for everyone no matter what their particular passion happens to be?

Which isn’t to say there aren’t slumps. Eru knows I’ve been in a slump for the last couple of years (ye gods and little fishes, has it really been that long?) and it’s been difficult as hell to cope with not having my daily routine of writing. Coming to terms with that reality has been as much a struggle as the actual struggles that have caused the slump in the first place. But as I seem to be emerging out of that period, I have a better appreciation than ever of just how critical writing is to my sense of well-being. And thus, how important it is to make time for it.


Random Friday

I have links! Of writerly sorts of topics!

  • April Henry posted earlier this week about a really fun and fascinating project called The Novel Live! in which 36 NW authors take turns writing an entire novel in six days, a kind of marathon-relay-writing adventure. It’s wrapping up tomorrow, but you can still catch the live stream of the project in action. Like, actually watch the writer in action AND simultaneously see the words s/he is writing appear on the screen AND chat with the writer to offer suggestions, comments, etc. (LIVING IN THE FUTURE OMG STILL THE BESTEST). This has to be one of the cleverest things I’ve seen in awhile, and it’s a fundraiser for a good cause, as well.
  • How Can One Afford To Be A Writer? (Spoiler: You can’t. Do it anyway.)
  • Okay, this one isn’t really writerly, but I just love it so much I’m posting it everywhere like a crazy person. The God of Cake, from one of my favorite blogs, Hyperbole and a Half. Just…go, click and read it. I promise, you will love me for making you.

Pitch is finished, bitchez!

After an almost-overnighter working on it last night/this morning, my pitch is done and sent off for critique. WOOOOOOOOOOOTTTTTTTTTTT!!!!!!!!!!! I feel like there should be confetti and celebratory cakes. And jugglers!

I feel pretty okay about what I sent. It’s solid but not brilliant. There were a couple of places that I couldn’t quite get the way I wanted, but the hours spent revising and refining certainly showed in the end product compared to my initial attempt.

I never had a flash of inspiration that sometimes comes when you need it most and makes the rest flow with ease and assurance that this, this is exactly right. But those flashes are rare any time, so that’s not too surprising. It went more the way that writing usually does, where you fight for every word and sentence and spend hours and hours wrangling structure, pacing, voice, and theme. And maybe the fact that it feels like a work in progress will make it easier when I get the critique back with a resounding “NEEDS WORK SRSLY”.

This was a really terrific experience and I’m so glad I did it. I’d been avoiding my query liek whoa, and while it was every bit as hard as I thought it would be, it’s a necessary part of the process if I want to pursue publishing. Brevity is my weakness, no doubt about it, so summarizing my story in eight to twelve sentences for the pitch portion of the query was a personal challenge. It turned out to be more room than I realized to summarize the story, but every sentence — every word! — still must do double or triple duty. I’ve done similar exercises in the past (55 Fiction is one of my favorites) and they’re a good reminder of the power of pithiness. A writing friend once described my style as “lyrical”, which made me beam for days, but I know veer too close to purple at times and that’s something I need to continually work on.

The great thing is that I now have my query essentially completed. (Well, the first draft of it, at least.) What a relief!

Now to complete my ms revisions. I obviously didn’t reach my goal of trimming 50,000 words in time for submitting my pitch, so for listing my word count, I put in the current count and in parenthesis: “finished manuscript, currently undergoing revision”. So while I wait for feedback from the agent, I need to finish up those revisions and get that word count down as much as I can. And I’m so happy to finally feel energized to do that and start querying finally.


Word count marathon, day 6

Starting word count: 238,428

Ending word count after revising Chapters 18 through 22, 40: 236,303

# words cut: 2,125

I didn’t have the full day to work on editing due to other obligations, so this was actually a pretty productive day, considering. Only two and half days to go until the deadline, eep!


Word count marathon, day 5

Starting word count: 241,861

Ending word count after revising Chapters 35 through 39: 238,428

# words cut: 3,433

A long, hard slog through chapters where I knew I could do some significant trimming, but that required a lot of attention to detail and thus, were slow going. Only 5 chapters revised today, after working literally all day (9 AM to 12:30 AM, minus approximately 3 hours total for eating, stretching, etc.), which leaves me with 29 more to get through by Wednesday. Not going to happen. Especially since I still need to do more work on my pitch. All I can do is all I can do.

I know I’m repeating myself when I say that every day, but only because I’m trying to get my brain to listen. It still thinks it’s somehow going to accomplish cutting 50,000 words by Wednesday AND write the most pitchiest pitch that ever pitched AND work a full-time (and a half!) job. See, now aren’t you glad you don’t have my brain?

Still, I did do the Snoopy Happy Dance when I finally dropped below 240,000. Victories where you can get them and alla that.


Word count marathon, day 4

Starting word count: 243,576

Ending word count after revising the remainder of Chapters 30, and 31 through 34: 241,861

# words cut: 1,715

Because I am a moron, I did the math today, and it sucks: 50,000 words is 169 pages, or 15 of my chapters. Great googily moogily.

So I decided that I’m just going to keep plugging away and trim however much I possibly can, and whatever the word count is by Wednesday, that’s what it’s going to be. And it’s probably going to be over 200,000, and that’s just going to be the way it is.

Because here’s the thing: the reason I leaped at this opportunity, even more than the workshop and the pitch critique opportunity, is that this is my chance to be seen by an agent (dream agent!) and it doesn’t count. Meaning, this is like a practice run at querying without having it count against me in the process, like taking the PSAT (yeah, that was the first analogy my nerd brain came up with).

When you query, and an agent rejects you, they don’t like resubmissions of the same project. In fact, they really, really, really hate it. It’s a big no-no. And they remember. Unless a signficant amount of time has passed and an even more significant amount of changes have been made to what you pitched previously (not to mention to the pitch itself), agents don’t take resubmissions.

For that reason, I’d planned to wait before I queried Agent Kristen to see what my first few rejections looked like, what kind of feedback (if any) I was getting, whether I got any requests for the first 30/synopsis/full*. I do still plan to wait until I’ve been through the query process a bit before I officially query Agent Kristen and my other top tier agents, but this is my chance to get a leg up.

So I’ll take whatever feedback she gives on the pitch and use it to make improvements, both to my query and my ms, and stop fretting that if I don’t have my number down to my 200,000 by goal, that I’ve somehow blown my big break. I haven’t.

*Depending on the agent, if they like your query, they’ll request your first 30 pages (or alternately, first 5 chapters), a synopsis, or the full manuscript. If an agent who’s known to request a full from queries s/he’s excited about instead requests the first 30 or a synopsis, it’s generally “your query intrigued me and I’d like to know more about your novel, but I’m not sure if it’s for me and I don’t want to waste your time or mine by requesting a full if I don’t like it”. A request for a full will still result in a rejection just as often as not, but it’s definitely a good sign.


Word count marathon, update

I switched to working on my pitch Monday instead of whittling down my word count, since the deadline for the pitch was this Friday. And thanks to a very productive editing/revision session with Cat via Google video chat and a shared document in Google Docs — AND ONCE AGAIN LET ME SAY I LOVE LIVING IN THE FUTURE OMG* — I felt much better about it by the end of the evening than I did before we started. So thanks yet again to Cat for preventing me from gnawing off my fingers in desperation. (Ew.)

Then last night, I had website work to do for clients, after getting home late and stopping at CSA on the way home for this week’s share, which meant I dropped into bed late, exhausted, and without so much as having opened a Word file. Is it any mystery why there’s been such a delay getting this done?

I’d hoped to make some time tonight, but it didn’t work out that way. I would be in full out panic mode if it weren’t for the exceedingly good news that came Monday night that they had extended the deadline for the pitch submission to next Wednesday. Woot! I still need to work my ass off on revisions and spend some more time on my pitch, but I sure felt like the kid who was facing a test the next morning that they hadn’t studied for, and wake up to a blizzard and the news that school’s been canceled.

I may not be in full out panic mode, but I’m still panicking. Two days lost? Ugh, it’s eating at me! Which means I plan to spend my weekend working hard on both. It unfortunately also means I won’t get to go to Wordstock this year. Pretty bummed about that actually. But such is the way of things.

*actual conversation that took place via video chat:

Me: Hello, we live on Star Trek! I LOVE LIVING IN THE FUTURE.

Cat: Omg, I know, right?

Me: When we got our Droids, I told Sal we’re now living in a time when we have actual honest-to-god tri-corders.

Cat: So awesome! Except I want my holodeck, dammit!

Me: Yes, dammit! You know what I want more than a holodeck? A replicator. If I could come home and just have it automatically have turkey and mashed potatoes and gravy ready and waiting for me? My life would be complete.

Cat: I don’t know…the chance to program my very own Karl Urban experience in the holodeck? I’d never leave.

Me: Good point.


Word count marathon, day 3

Starting word count: 244,962

Ending word count after revising Chapters 24 through 26, 29, part of 30: 243,576

# words cut: 1,386

Now that I’m into the pages past where Cat and I have done editing already, there are bigger trims I can make. I still don’t know where the big, big cutting is going to happen. I jumped ahead from chapter 8 yesterday into the section starting around Chapter 24 because that section (that goes through Chapter 32) is where I’ve always thought the story could be tightened. It’s an intentional lull, but it lulls too much there. So.

Nonetheless, I know I’m not going to magically get my 150 pages out of those chapters; we’ll see what the rest of 30, 31, and 32 yield, then I have some more ideas where I can make some inroads. And then depending on the outcome of that, I’m going to have to consider removing plotlines and/or characters. I’m not against it, but it’s far more complicated and time-consuming in this particular story than a less intricately-plotted one.

As for my pitch paragraph…well. All I can say is thank the Universe, Eru, and The Great Pumpkin for wickedly awesome and talented Cat, because she is the reason I did not have a breakdown about my pitch this evening. In response to my email of OMG I AM FUNCTIONALLY ILLITERATE THIS IS NOT WORKING WHAT ARE WORDS AND WHY DO I HAVE RED INK RUNNING OUT MY EARS, she replied calmly and reasonably with an offer of help and sanity. So she wins all the prizes, as far as I’m concerned. And Karl Urban in a bow, obviously. (No seriously, that was our deal.)


Word count marathon, day 2

Starting word count: 248,678

Ending word count after revising Chapters 5 through 8, 27 through 29: 244,962

# words cut: 3,716

More progress, though not anywhere close to where I need to be by now. And I realized today that the there wll be a law of diminishing returns, in that my calculations assumed yesterday that I could sustain deleting an average of 625 words per chapter. The reality is that isn’t sustainable, something I realized when two of my chapters had hardly anything I could cut.

Then again, Chapters 1 through 28 had been pretty well picked over before I started this mad dash of revision; Cat has assiduously applied her editing expertise and kung-fu to all of those chapters, and then I’ve made additional edits to them as I incorporated her changes into the finished draft. Which means there actually is quite a bit that can be cut from the chapters that haven’t yet received that attention, just from that process. The problem, of course, is that it won’t be possible to perform that kind of editorial review before Friday.

Which…it’s my pitch paragraph that needs to be turned in by Friday, not my entire ms. BUT! I’ll need to include my word count with my submission, and even if it’s finalized, I’d really like to have that number much closer to 200,000 than it is right now. On the other hand, I don’t want to get too frenzied or I’m liable to either A) cut injudiciously, or B) add errors instead of removing them. Because the fact remains that I’m merely submitting my pitch for critique and it won’t elicit anything more than that feedback. I’m essentially trying to get ready for a wedding when the guy (or in this case, girl) hasn’t even proposed!

I can’t help but be reminded of the J. Walter Weatherman “lessons” George Bluth taught his kids on Arrested Development. Instead of “And THAT’S why you always leave a note!”, it would be “And THAT’S why you always have your manuscript ready for submission!”

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