Category Archives: Writing

Submission Stories: 2016’s Cautionary Tale

I was instilled from a young age by my parents – Mom in particular – that I could do anything I wanted. What no one told me was that I couldn’t do everything at the same time. It’s been a long year of operating at the uppermost limits of my capacity while trying not to lose what’s left of my sanity while I also suffer from a rather rare condition called FOMO – Fear Of Missing Out.

So begins the cautionary tale of 2016…

Back in January, the Utah Horror Writers decided on the theme for our next anthology. I was still riding the high of being published in the last one and started right away on brewing up a new story – this one even better than the last. Or so I hoped. A few weeks later, I had come up with a premise for the story and jotted down a few notes. But I was still deep in the throws of the first draft of my latest novel so that’s all I paused for. My subconscious could work on it while I finished the current project.

Fast forward to March when all the craziness of running a chapter of the League of Utah Writers descended on me – because I couldn’t say no, of course. Progress on the novel continued and I tried not to admit how much the pace suffered while I split my “writing time” with things related to writing but not all of it spent putting words on the page. The main focus still the completion of my latest novel, the horror story could wait a while longer. How long could it really take to bust out a short story, right? I’m a professional now with two of them published so I thought it wouldn’t be a big deal.

Then I decided to go back to school and things ground to almost a halt on any writing – minus my English Comp courses that is. It was then, when my self-imposed deadline (goal) of having the novel finished before school started flew past and I still wasn’t finished, that I admitted, as I struggled to find balance in my everyday life, school work spilling over into my writing time in order to keep up, that I wasn’t going to have time to write a short story for the anthology.

I told myself it was fine. My number one writing goal is finishing this novel. This amazing novel that started early on to pour from me. I refused to step away from it long enough to build and grow a completely different story since that would take me two steps back when it was time to return to the project. Added was the fact that all this time had gone by and no concise story or characters had grown from my initial premise I’d jotted down months ago. Which meant it wouldn’t come easy if I did pause work on the novel to write it.

Nope. I do not have a short story to submit to the anthology this year. Sorry. I told everyone this. I was fine with this. I was sticking to what my number one goal right now is and I felt good about it.

Then my fear of missing out reared its ugly head. I went to my writing retreat and there were several people working on short stories for the very same horror anthology. Some of them read excerpts aloud and they were good. I wanted to have a story to submit. Why couldn’t I? Oh, right, because my original idea was complicated enough it required a full novel to do it justice. No, I reminded myself that my number one goal was still the novel.

No short story. No short story. No short story.

I told everyone who asked that I was not submitting. Nope. Not this year.

Two days before the submission deadline, a snippet of a dream came to me. One that I’d had years ago and had stayed with me, plausible and terrifying at the same time. Hey, it would work as a flash fiction piece – super short, maybe one scene. BAM. Self-delusion engaged.

I started to write it between my school assignments. It was really cool and really fun to write. I finished it about an hour before the submission deadline. Finished the FIRST DRAFT, that is.

Everyone knows you don’t submit a first draft. Anywhere. For any reason. You’ve got to step away for at least a day or two to get perspective on the writing itself. Better if it’s longer. Then you read it and revise it because you WILL find problems. No one writes a perfect first draft. No one. Ever. Once you’re done with your revision, you’re still not ready to submit. You’ve got to show it to other people. Have them read it and tell you what you missed but didn’t see. You incorporate that feedback and do another revision. THEN you’re probably ready for a submission.

Did I do any of that? Nope. None of that. Zilch. Nada.

I SUBMITTED MY FIRST DRAFT.

Yes, you read that correctly. I completely justified it to myself. I had read it three or four times. Out loud once, too. It was fine. Because the alternative was not getting it submitted before the deadline and then I’d for sure miss out.

I hit send at 11:57pm – with three minutes to spare.

I regretted it almost immediately. I knew better. What was I thinking?

Understandably I was not selected to be part of the anthology this year. It was perhaps my easiest rejection ever, since I agreed that my piece wasn’t up to par when I went back and read it a few weeks later. It still hurt. It was a rejection all the same. But I understood.

Did I learn from the experience? Yes. Will I ever do that again? I want to say absolutely not, but I also know myself and I can’t guarantee it.

What’s my lesson in all of this? The “rules” as they are loosely thought of by most of us are there for a reason. Let this be a painful lesson I lived through so that others don’t make the same mistake I did. Do not ever submit a first draft no matter how great your desire to do so. Do not query a manuscript until it is polished and just as perfected as you can get it.

I’m back to focusing on the novel – amidst the chaos of being a college student again. I’m keeping my eyes on my biggest goals knowing that right now there are major things that I’ve got vying for all my resources and it will most certainly mean missing out on other things in the future. But that’s okay.


Author Interview at “Idea Creations” today

I did an interview with Kathryn Elizabeth Jones. Check it out HERE. It was a fun interview and I thank Kathryn for having me!


Bittersweet Priorities

It was exactly a year ago I was making official appearances at events like Steamfest and gearing up for Comic Con – approaching now in three weeks. Instead of being at Steamfest this weekend with many of my writing friends, I was fulfilling commitments to family and friends. It’s tempting to look at a small snapshot – this time last year vs. this year – and be sad that I’m missing out.

In the past year, I had another story published, became highly involved in the League of Utah Writers, and continued writing. I was promoted at my day job, returned to college and now have two competitive dancing daughters instead of one. But I’m not at Steamfest and I’m not scheduled as a special guest at Comic Con.

It is tempting to wallow in all the fun that I’m missing. Fear that my absence at these events this year will look to the public like I was some kind of flash in the pan that has already faded away. All very human nature reactions.

I’d be lying if I didn’t have moments of these kinds of fears.

board-928392_1920

However, I’m also a realist who is very good at pulling myself up by the boot strings (or putting on my big girl panties if you prefer that cliche over the other) whenever those moments creep up on me.

No, I was not a guest at Steamfest this weekend. No, I am not a scheduled guest at Comic Con this year.

BUT…

I AM almost done writing one kick ass novel – if I don’t say so myself. One that at least one acquisitions editor already wants to see when it’s finished. It isn’t my first novel, but it is the first I’m proud enough of to find an agent and a publisher for. This alone is epic.

I just successfully facilitated one of the premier events of the summer for the League of Utah Writers – an advanced workshop on querying that brought together professional agents and editors to give inside secrets to others like me ready to find homes for their work.

I am on the planning committee for the League of Utah Writers Fall Conference coming up next month. It will be a two-day conference unlike any the organization has put on before. Two full days of presentations from industry professionals with new and exciting content that no one has seen before in the Utah writing community.

My chapter of speculative fiction writers is still growing and folks who come to check us out seem to stick around. It’s a sign that we are offering all the things that I was looking for in a local community group several years ago, back when I was at the cusp of being published and needing to leave my solitary writer existence. This writer gig is a lonely life but it doesn’t have to be. I’m thrilled that, for some, our group is a beacon in the dark while on their own journey.

I’m going to attend Comic Con, helping represent both the League and our local chapter of the Horror Writers Association, but I have to pay my way in the door. So what. I’m also not obligated to dress up in cosplay which was never my thing to begin with.

My husband, who is not only supportive but exceedingly indulgent when it comes to all the time I take away from our family to make my dreams of being an author a reality, is also my voice of reason. Recently, while I was lamenting that I wasn’t going to be at all the events this year, he reminded me that I’ve been doing more important work that none of the rest of it would matter without: I’ve been writing. And I need to keep doing that more than I need to go to events.

The life of a writer is a mental exercise of self-motivation, full of more rejection than success. The drive to keep going when the odds are stacked as highly as they are against every one of us is enviable. If you have it, even a tiny inkling of it, it must be nurtured.

Instead of worrying or obsessing about all the differences that this weekend has over last year, I’m focusing on what my main goal is: novels with my name on the cover. As long as what I do every day, every week, puts me further down the path that leads there, then I’m doing the right things.

As bittersweet as it is, I know that not being at Steamfest or Comic Con doesn’t mean I’m not still doing the things that matter. Without having written books that people want to read, there’s no reason for me to be there anyway. So I’ll keep plugging along. My fear of missing out be damned!


Testing the Overachiever to the Max

For years I’ve prided myself in being an overachiever. Made it part of my life’s motto. Labeled myself as “Writer, Runner, Overachiever” when I first started writing as a professional. Many things have changed in the past years. Running has been replaced with yoga for a time while I healed. My corporate day job takes fifty hours a week instead of forty now. But I’m still an overachiever. It’s always been hard for me to say no to things if I think I can commit the time required. I could always give up something frivolous, like television and eight hours of sleep every night, to add something I wanted to do. Now, with my responsibilities to the League of Utah Writers I’ve been pushed to the maximum. There is nothing else to give up.

Which is why returning to college this fall to finish my degree is probably not the smartest thing I’ve ever done. I’m doing it anyway. I’m now a sophomore at Southern New Hampshire University thanks to my transfer credits from my first two years of college back in the nineties.

SNHU

Why the hell would I do something this insane?

Because after twenty five years as a working professional I’ve finally hit the ceiling of promotion potential without a college degree. Some may say, ‘who cares, you’ve got a great job now, why worry?’ Except I have a development plan that includes promotion into management. Something I can’t do without a degree. So, here I go – back to college at age forty four.

The best part, and what makes any of this feasible in my mind, I’m getting an English degree in Creative Writing.  I’m old enough to know exactly what I want to do when I grow up this time around. While my degree will benefit me in my corporate job (a piece of paper is a piece of paper), it benefits me just as much as a writer. I get to work on writing projects as part of my coursework, which means the next two to three years will be enjoyable on top of all the added stress. Tackling school without having to completely give up my writing is a righteous bonus in my book.

Classes start mid-August. Which is now my deadline to finish drafting my novel so I can get it out to editors and querying it before I have to figure out how to be a college student. Luckily for me, I found a program I can do online while everyone else is sleeping so it won’t take too much adjustment. Wish me luck. Here’s hoping my years of overachieving has prepared me for this ultimate test of my skills.

If any of you reading this are still in school, let this be a lesson to finish your college education when you’re young. Trying to go back later is a mighty pain in the ass and it never gets any cheaper!


The Truth In the Details

I wanted to title this “Learning to kill” but refrained from tempting the search engines and NSA quite so much. I’ve finally got time to recap the best things about recent appearances – namely World Horror 2016 and Spring Into Books.

World Horror was a convention rich in guests and very lean in attendance. It was a shame for the organizers but those of us who were there got unprecedented access to authors and other guests that normally would never happen. I’m not complaining that I’m now on hugging terms with greats like Kevin J Anderson after spending a convention weekend in Provo – we even talked politics and religion for an hour over drinks.

Best part of World Horror was the ballistics gel presentation by D.K. Goddard, a local author and publisher. He brought a lifelike slab of ballistics gel and let us all pretend to stab and maim it with weapons. All in the name of authenticity when we are writing action scenes. I learned that if you’re going to stab someone, it is much easier to push the knife into flesh than I anticipated and far more difficult to pull the blade out. Fully-engage-your-muscles difficult. Also, slicing someone’s throat – something that looks as easy as cutting through room temperature butter in the movies – takes great effort. It’s more like dragging the blade through six inches of crusty bread. If your weapon of choice is a hammer, you can do far more damage using the pointed side designed to extract nails than the blunt side. Here I am in the throws of intense research…

2016-04-30 21.16.29

 

Best take-away from this intense experience was realizing that the truth is in the details. It’s sufficient in my writing to say a character was killed by blunt force trauma to the head. But it’s much more intense to describe the sensations of what it feels like to wield the weapon. The lesson was invaluable and will be called upon in the future for certain.

A month later, at Spring Into Books, I got to meet an adorable eight year old who loves horror. (Shown here with permission from his mom.)

2016-05-28 15.00.01

I had the pleasure of teaching a presentation on writing for beginners, the last half of which we spent plotting an action scene where a mutant zombie destroyed a tank. We took that one sentence and showed how it happened rather than telling that it happened. It was both interactive and fun and I thrilled to see several attendees pause to take notes during the workshop. I love giving back and mentoring young writers. This annual event put on by the League of Utah Writers is a great place for young and old to find free workshops and meet local authors and I enjoyed being a part of it.


Staying Focused Through Temptation

Sticking with the long vision – and hard work – of completing my current novel (the one I hope to be my debut novel) has become more challenging than I anticipated. Especially with the lure of a writing contest.

I knew the minute I heard about this contest that I would be extremely tempted to pause and crank out a short story. After all, I’m really good at them now! That little voice in my head started whispering, beckoning, tempting me with the potential of another publishing credential. That voice is good at getting into my psyche, but I resisted. I vowed not to stop work on this novel until the first draft was finished.

Yes, vowed, I did. (Insert Yoda voice of course!)

This oh-so-tempting writing contest is put on annually by The League of Utah Writers. As a chapter president in the League, it’s my job to promote it among my chapter members. Turns out, I’m so good at motivation, I sucked myself right into distraction.

I told myself that I had two pieces I’d already written which I could enter without having to change anything about my current work plan. I committed to the chapter coordinator that I had a short story (the horror story that I had under contract with a publisher last year who flaked out without ever publishing it, and a personal essay I’d been trying to find a home for but know nothing about that particular market). That’s easy, right? Two things, already done, ready to go.

Back to the very efficiently run chapter that I lead… the one focused on supporting our members in getting critique and feedback to help polish and perfect the entries before the deadline. Yes, because we are that magnanimous and truly care about the success of each other. But also because we threw down the proverbial gauntlet with the chapter who consistently wins most of the prizes and we wanted to make sure we had the best possible outcomes.

Next thing I know, four people had read my non-fiction piece and given me feedback. I’ve never written creative non-fiction before and it turns out that piece was nowhere near ready. So I rewrote it using the valuable critique I had gotten from my chapter group.

It was that easy… to get sucked into distraction.

So easy, in fact, that an entire week went by without having written a single word on my novel. Something I can’t afford during the first draft. If I lose momentum, take myself out of the story, the world I’m capturing on the page starts to fade at the edges. Starts to come apart at the seams so it’s no longer coherent in my mind.

I found myself staring at my project not quite knowing where it was heading or where my mind had been going the last time I’d written. Luckily I’ve trained myself to think like a business person and not a creative person who, left to my own devices, would continue to flit through projects with no solid plan.

I took action…

When asked where I was with my second re-write of my contest entry, I said it was on hold. I know it might only take me a couple of weeks to get it done. I know it would be worth every minute and that I would grow as a writer. (Because everything I write grows me as a writer.) But the truth is, I need to be focused on the plans that I’ve made – like a business plan. I said as much and the response was swiftly accepted with no judgement. It was anticlimactic and I felt great after.

Difficult as it sometimes is, I am the boss when it comes to my writing and I’ve said that priority number one is getting this novel drafted. Stick with it I must – no matter how difficult that is.


Spring Into Books

I’m teaching a free workshop on “Writing For Beginners” as part of  Spring Into Books this Saturday, May 28th. This is a free public event you won’t want to miss.

Terra Luft

This is a great event geared toward readers with extra fun things for writers, too. The main area will feature TONS of local authors with books to sell who love to talk to (and find new) readers. Family friendly with a children’s carnival and activities. If you’re a writer, there are workshops being taught all day – also free. I will have copies of both of my books available and would love to talk to anyone who loves to read.

I’m teaching at 3:45pm upstairs. If you’re local to the Salt Lake area, I hope to see you there!


Magical Moments: why it’s important to share a first draft

I’ve spent ten years writing. First as a hobby and now as a second job. I have a dream of someday hitting it big and being able to replace my corporate paycheck with a writing career. (A girl can dream!) In all that time, I have come to know one universal truth about writing: the first draft always sucks!

FirstDraftQuote

I also have an editor and a writing group who has seen me at my very lowest of roughness. The draft where there were those two words “The End” written but, plot holes and inconsistencies aside, was still the biggest pile of unpolished dirt that ever existed. If there were diamonds in there somewhere it was a hopeless endeavor to find them.

I’ve published two short stories. These are fantastic accomplishments, but they are still not a novel with only my name on the cover. Something that, if I dwell on it, makes me a little discouraged given how long I’ve been working at it. I quickly remind myself that I’ve written three novels, and re-wrote two of them. It’s still something I struggle with.

Part of the purpose of my chapter of The League of Utah Writers is to inspire and educate fellow authors. There’s always someone who has more experience  – even when you’re a published author. Last month I took the first chapter of my current work in progress (WIP) for critique. If the fearless leader isn’t comfortable sharing work, who else will? My editor happened to end up in my critique group that night. I was so nervous knowing I hadn’t done a single thing to polish this piece of work. PEOPLE WERE GOING TO SEE HOW MUCH IT SUCKS! When I got great feedback from everyone, with only a few things that didn’t work, I wondered if I was on candid camera – or Punk’d.

On the way home, my editor (who also is one of my closest friends) went on and on about how strong my writing has become that I can write that well in a first draft. There might have been some reprimanding about how rarely I share my work at the early stages but we’ll skip that part. She reminded me of how rough I used to write and how many times I’d have to revise to get as many layers as what I instinctively can put down the first draft now.

While I still felt like I was being lied to, since positive feedback is often hard to believe when I’ve only got myself to listen to, I realized what a gift it is that I have others who see where my writing came from and where it has evolved to. Without having put myself out there and shared my work – as terrifying and nerve-wracking  as it was and still is – I wouldn’t be able to have this kind of feedback.

This feedback will keep me writing and by continuing to write, I will continue to improve. That’s another universal truth about writing. If you are a writer and aren’t sharing your work with other writers as part of your process, you’re doing yourself a disservice.


My First Royalty Statement

I reached another milestone today in my journey as a professional author: my very first royalty statement! Proof that I’m earning money from my writing. The first story I published has all proceeds going to charity so this milestone is a bit late in coming, but I am still thrilled at its arrival. Of course the money I’ve made in the six weeks since the release isn’t enough to warrant the publisher cutting me a check yet. But I’ve earned money, and that’s what really counts. Especially in this business where getting published is often easier than getting readership, which is the most important part.

If you’re a reader partially responsible for this milestone, because you bought and read my story in It Came From the Great Salt Lake, I thank you from the bottom of my heart!

Part of me wants to stop the hard work of novel writing and pump out another couple of instantly gratifying short stories for upcoming publications. I’m refraining. If I ever want to take the next step: a novel with my name on the cover and no one else’s, I must stick to the hard stuff. Current stats put me at forty percent complete on my first draft (assuming I can tell the story in sixty thousand words). If you need me, I’ll be writing!


Author Spotlight

Look who got interviewed and forgot to tell my own web followers so they could check it out!

http://conniesrandomthoughts.com/2016/03/author-interviews-terra-luft/

Many thanks to Connie Cockrell for hosting me on her weekly spotlight. I had a great time doing this interview. Hope you all like it!