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Danielle Haas

Mother of two, Writer of romance novels, Lover of wine

Month

August 2016

Learning Your Craft

This past week has been a whirlwind for me. I’ve had so many ups and downs in my writing life, I’ve had a hard time keeping up. Now that I think about it, it was more of a whirlwind couple of days that felt like a lifetime. I entered PitchWars this year via Twitter, and found out on Wednesday (I think it was Wednesday, like I said it was hard to keep up) that I wasn’t picked to be a mentee. To be fair, I think around 2000 people entered and only around 200 were picked. Not good odds. My hopes weren’t pinned to high on this, and I told myself it wasn’t that big of a deal. Then Friday came. A publisher had requested a partial and Friday was D-Day. I think I checked my email close to fifty times before the one came through I was waiting for. Yet again, I wasn’t picked. At the same time I received an email from a woman who agreed to look at my first couple of chapters and critique them for me. Wow, buddy, did she have a lot to say! It felt like I’d been punched in the gut not once, but twice. I saw the big fat no from the publisher, I saw all of the problems a fellow writer thought I had with my MS, and I wanted to crawl into a big ball in the corner and just cry. Unfortunately, I had family in town and I had to pretend nothing was amiss and attempt to enjoy the limited time I had with my sister and dad.

After some time passed, I opened both emails again and was surprised at what a different perspective I had.. The publisher had some very positive things to say about what she read, and was kind enough to give me some amazing feedback on what to work on. Not only that, but she told me if I chose to make some of the changes she recommended she would love to review my work again. I took a breath, feeling a little better, and opened the second email again from my CP. There were so many notes, I was completely overwhelmed! But when I dove in to what she had to say, I was so appreciative of the fact that this woman I’ve never met would take the time to pick apart my work and dissect it and give me tips on how to make it better. She wasn’t trying to tear me down, she was trying to help build me up and make me better. I sat down and took her advice and holy schnikes, my chapters are SOOO much better!

So, I went from down and out and ready to quit, to feeling optimistic for the future and ready to work to get to a better place. And also, so appreciative that PitchWars led me to such amazing people who are willing to give up their time to help me. I also realized I was completely naïve about this whole writing thing! I studied the numbers, I know the likelihood of getting an agent and being published. What I didn’t realize was how hard the actual writing would be! Sitting down and writing out the thoughts in my mind has always been fairly easy to me. My husband sill laughs about how I’d sit down the night before a 20-page paper was do and knock it out in a couple of hours…usually with a beer in hand…and always get an A. What I didn’t understand is the art of writing a novel. The art of using the right words, or not using the ones you want, to make the sentences flow better. I didn’t know about the craft. I didn’t study my craft.

I should smack  my own face here. Most people don’t know that I started out as a Creative Writing major in college. That’s the whole reason I attended Bowling Green State University, so I could study creative writing. The only career I ever considered was being a writer. But when I came in to school as a timid and shy freshmen and discovered I would have to read some of my work in front of every student in my major to graduate, I panicked. I fled. I quit. I changed my major seven times (Should have been a clue that nothing else was the right fit!). I know the choices I made led me where I am and so I wouldn’t change that, but I want to go back and kick my ass for quitting the one thing I really wanted to do. I should have known there was going to be more to writing a book than simply sitting down and pouring my heart and soul into my pages. I mean, hell, I was planning on spending forty thousand dollars to figure out how to do this at one point.

So now it’s time to crack open some books and get to work. I hope I’m able to keep getting awesome critiques from the new people in my life, but I need to do some studying of my own. I need to figure out the correct way to pour my heart and soul into my pages. I need to discover all the amazing resources out there that can help me be a better writer. (Does anyone have any suggestions?) I need to learn my craft so I can go all the way with this writing thing. And then I need to go back to BGSU and read my own stuff in front of all those creative writing majors. I might not be able to go back in time and kick my own ass, but maybe I’ll get the privilege of kicking someone else’s….I mean inspire some one else. And if my CP is reading this, yes I know my sentences are too long but it’s a blog so I’m taking some creative license!

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Life’s Little Plans

Ok, I’ll admit it, I have a huge problem. I am a very independent woman who likes to be in control. My mother jokes that my first sentence was, “I’ll do it myself.” The fact that this is also my daughter’s main philosophy in life brings dear old mom endless amounts of joy and satisfaction. I like schedules, I like routine, and I like a good plan. I do my research, I figure out what is the best path to take, and I stick to the plan. Plans make me happy, plans give me stability, plans keep me sane. Even if you were to look at the main path I’ve taken in my life, it’s almost comical to see the way I stuck to the exact plan I always had. I graduated high school with good grades, I went to college, I met and fall in love with my husband, I got married,and then had two beautiful children.The plan was good and I love where following my plan has brought me so far in life.

My daughter was the first person to really show me that I can’t control everything around me. I realize how sad that may sound, that it took twenty-seven years for me to finally find a force of nature that rivaled my own. I wanted her on a schedule and felt like an utter failure when that didn’t happen at six weeks old. I wanted her to sleep through the night in her beautiful nursery once I was able to finally cut the cord  and put her in there, instead of her waiting until she was over a year old for the that first blissful night of full sleep. I wanted her to stop screaming at the top of her lungs because she was upset that I put her pink pants on instead of her purple ones. Looking back, it’s down right hilarious how Tootsie and I have battled each other on all of lives decisions since the day we brought her home from the hospital (Her teenage years should be a hoot). But she taught me a valuable lesson. If I wanted to control everything, I should never have become a parent.

Fast forward close to four years, and I made the decision to yet again try to find something in my life I can control. I wrote a book. Actually, I’ve written two books and I’m currently working on my third. I will be the first to admit, I get way too much pleasure over being able to completely manipulate and control the lives of the people I create in my mind. These people always do what I tell them to, and they never talk back or cry when I tell them their shoes are on the wrong feet. It’s down right euphoric.

But now, reality has set in hardcore and I once again find myself in what I assume will be a valuable life lesson about patience and learning to let go of control. I HATE that I have to learn to navigate the murky waters of the publishing world, and figure out how to make my story into what agents are going to want to represent, I HATE learning how to use twitter and figuring out how to respond to a damn tweet, and I really HATE not having a damn plan about the best way to get my work out there for all of you beautiful people to enjoy. I feel like I’m at the mercy of all these people I don’t even know, and I have to admit it’s driving me slightly crazy.

I understand I haven’t been at this for long and it takes dedication and perseverance to achieve even mild success in this industry, but I can’t help but wonder if I should just do it myself. ( I guess some habits are hard to break.) The self-publishing world is so alluring to me. The thought of being able to publish myself and follow the plan I create gets my heart pumping and my mind churning. I am such a goal oriented person, that the idea that I can set a goal that I know I can achieve is like a delicious glass of wine sitting on my table just begging me to drink it. How do I resist? Should I resist? Will the wine calm my nerves and help me sleep, or will giving into the indulgence end up giving me a migraine I can’t get rid of?

Too many questions and not enough answers. So many unknowns and possibilities. I know these things don’t need to be decided right away. I know I’m forming relationships with people who can help point me in the right direction and answer my questions. I just need to find the patience I know it’s hiding somewhere within me to figure it all out. Maybe I need to try to enjoy the unknown and not let the fact that I don’t have a plan  lead to anxiety and stress. I need to learn to just focus on the work, and let the rest fall in to place while I do my due diligence. And damn it, I think I really need to drink that glass of wine.

Pass The Salt

So I’ve written a romance novel I love, I’ve read a ton of books about what I need to do in order to find a publisher/agent, and I dove right in to writing my query letter and sending submission after submission after submission. And nothing. I’ve gotten some feedback from some people I submitted to who were kind enough to offer a little bit of insight as to why they didn’t feel I was the right fit for them. But the most common line I’ve received is, “I’m sorry, but I just didn’t connect with your writing the way that I’d hoped to.” What the hell does that mean?

Knowing that I needed to get more insight as to why I haven’t landed the agent of my dreams so far, I started looking into different ways to get some feedback. Finally, last week, I got what I’d been searching for when I received an email letting me know that I did not advance any further in a contest I entered months ago. My first response was not the gut-wrenching disappointment I was expecting at not advancing. Some of that might be the fact I forgot I had even entered the contest in the first place. My first reaction was absolute dread at reading what the judges had to say. Knowing up front I wasn’t moving on led me to believe their comments were not going to be all that flattering. How was I going to handle their blatant rejection of something I worked so hard on, something I love so much?

Interesting enough, I was so happy with what they had to say! These faceless critics weren’t being nasty, or giving me unsolicited advice I didn’t want. Hell I had technically paid them for it! I realized it was the difference between calling my mom and demanding she tell me what I needed to do to get my baby to stop screaming, and a woman I barely knew casually telling me for the hundredth time I needed to let my baby cry it out when I had never asked for her opinion in the first place. Asking for someone’s input and then deciding for yourself if you want to listen to them is completely different than a random person telling you what you have to do. I asked for this advice, and I need to listen to it.

That doesn’t mean that every time I seek the opinion of others I have to do what they say. On the contrary, I need to take what they have to say with a grain of salt. This is still my book, my voice, and my decision. But…and this is a big but…I haven’t gotten anywhere with it yet. There are so many people out there who have so much more experience than I do, and I need to listen closely to what they have to say. After the my contest critique, I was lucky enough to stumble upon another woman from my local writing chapter who agreed to critique my first chapter. I waited with bated breath for her response, and cringed a little when I saw all the red marks on the document she sent me. I took a deep breath and dove into what all she had to say. And almost everything she recommended made my writing so much better! Not only that chapter, but every chapter after it as well.

I wish I would have sought this advice out sooner. I wish in all the research I did I would have read about how important it is to seek out a good critique partner and look for beta readers. I know I did my research, I just was so zeroed in on getting an agent and being published that I didn’t look beyond how to write a damn query letter. At this point, I know my writing is getting stronger, and hopefully some of the people who’ve helped me this far will continue to do so. My fear is that I asked too late for the help I needed on my first book, my first baby, and my impatience and lack of knowledge will hinder me from getting to the place I ultimately want to be. Only time will tell. In the meantime, I’ll keep writing and striving to get better. I will keep looking to others who know more than I do, but keeping my vision in mind while I grab that salt when I see what they have to say.

Finding My Tribe

When I had my daughter a little over four years ago, I didn’t know it, but the greatest gift that I received was the love and support of so many wonderful friends. I moved to northeast Ohio after college, and still hadn’t made a lot of very close friends. I was lucky that my husband was still very close to the guys he went to high school with, and their wives were nice enough to adopt me into their already close-knit group. But it’s always hard to be the new girl, no matter how old you are. I was always the one who didn’t understand the inside jokes, and I didn’t share any of the memories that were often dragged out during get togethers. I always felt a little on the outside. All of that changed when I become a mom. These women who I was slowly building stronger relationships with, quickly became my go-to people for questions I had about my newborn daughter. They became the ones I vented to when I was so fed-up with a screaming baby that I couldn’t make happy, and they were the ones who dragged my tired and weary ass out of the house and made sure I took some time for me. They became my lifeline, they became some of my best friends, they became my mom tribe.

I’ve realized over the last few months that this type of companionship is what I’m missing in my writing life. I have a few beta readers, who all consist of family and friends, but that’s about it. And although I value their opinion when they read my work, I know that I need more than that. I’ve taken a few tentative steps towards trying to find what I’m looking for, and it’s been amazing for me to see how one choice has led to so many other wonderful possibilities. The first step I took was joining Romance Writers of America. I thought this would be a great resource for me, and hopefully a way to meet new people. I also joined my local chapter, NEORWA, and it has been absolutely amazing! I’ve only met two women so far, but the correspondences I’ve had alone has been worth it’s weight in gold.

And then something crazy happened. By opening myself up to one group, it opened my eyes to so much more! Technology is not my thing, and I always swore I’d never join Twitter, but a fellow NEORWA member mentioned a twitter pitch and I knew I had to get in. Did this twitter pitch land me an agent? If you’ve read any of my other blog posts you would know the answer is a big fat no. But what it did, is show me an online community that I can try my damndest to figure out, and a ton of new ways to learn about new contests and opportunities. This led me to PitchWars. I’ve submitted my first MS, and chances are I will not be getting a mentor from this, but something else has already come from it. (Insert shocked face here) I’ve found a Facebook support group for romance writers who entered PitchWars and are looking for critique partners/groups. Posts have been made and connections have already begun to form.

One thing I have told myself through this entire process, is that I need to work on putting myself out there. I’m generally a pretty quiet person when I first meet people, and I was literally sweating bullets and fighting a panic attack when I went to my first NEORWA gathering. But it is incredible the positive things that can happen when I step out of my comfort zone. Just like my mom tribe, my writers tribe is slowly coming together. It’s going to take more work and effort on my part to find the right people to help me, and me them, but I know it will be worth it. I know my mom tribe is here to stay, and hopefully I can find the same types of relationships in my writer groups that will be with my for a long time to come.

 

How To Get Where I Want To Go

When I started writing Second Time Around, I had no idea what to expect. The thought of sitting down and writing an actual novel was extremely daunting. I decided to look at it as writing down one sentence at a time, putting down one thought after the other. I know what I love to read, and I knew I had an idea that could potentially create a family that I, and hopefully others, could fall in love with. I had one big plot to work with, and I wasn’t sure how I’d be able to spin that into a whole book. But each time I sat down with pen in hand (literally, pen in hand before we bought a new computer), it amazed me how one sentence seamlessly flowed into the next, and how one thought would be transformed into the creation of an whole world of possibilities.
Looking back now, it’s funny to me how writing the book was the easy part! I was able to be creative, and just  lose myself to this world I was creating on days when the kids were just too much for me. Instead of talking to myself (an annoying habit I blame on my mother), I was talking to my new friends Jonah and Jillian. I found this made me appear a lot less crazy. Writing had become my therapy. Submitting my writing, I would soon find out, would cause me to feel as though I needed  therapy. I had no idea where to start, so I obtained countless books and read a billion articles about query letters, finding the right agents, and the dos and don’t of self-publishing. I started having flashbacks of all the books I read about how to properly raise a tiny human, and felt the anxiety and desperation crawling through me as a tried to just find the one correct answer to why my sons poop was green. Just like there seem to be a hundred and one different reasons for that disgusting phenomenon, there also seemed to be one hundred and one ways to write a damn query letter. How was I supposed to get my book published if I couldn’t even figure out how to start the first step of the process? And why wasn’t there anybody out there who could tell me exactly how to do this?
In the months since starting this road towards publication, I’ve learned at least one thing. Just like with parenting, there is not one wrong or right way to do things. Okay, so there are actually a lot of wrong ways to do things, but those things seem more like common sense. I mean, did I really need a book to tell me not to write to an agent that I’m the best new author since Nora Roberts and to just go ahead and send me a check and I’ll send them my book? Apparently someone before me made that mistake, so I guess I’ve got my shit together a little bit more than somebody out there. But probably not by much.
So where am I in this journey to get my books out for everyone to read? It looks like I’ve backed the big ol SUV out of the driveway, but haven’t yet made it to the road. I’ve written my query letter and have received a lot of rejections. I’ve gotten a little bit of interest, and a lot of  positive words of encouragement and crucial advice for improving my author package. I might not have gotten even close to where I want to be, but I’m realizing that this is a lot harder than what I thought to get there. It’s a lot more work than just sitting down and writing a book that I love. It’s more detailed than simply showing an agent or publisher my work and having them fall madly in love with it. Finishing the book was just the beginning, and I can’t wait to see where the next step takes me.

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