Some things are better left unblogged

When I was querying literary agents, I grappled with whether to blog about it. The whole purpose of this blog is to help you learn from my experiences (and to help me grow), and I kinda felt like I was leaving you out in the cold by not sharing exactly what was going on. Several people wrote to me asking, what’s the latest with your manuscript?

But while I’m a supporter of honest blogging, I also felt like blogging about querying might hurt my chances of landing a great agent. I wanted agents to come to my blog and see the community I’ve built here, not read about how I wanted to pull my hair out while waiting for them to get back to me.

In the end, some things are better left unblogged. And for me, the details of my agent search fell into that category — at least while I was in the middle of it.

But now that I’m represented by Rachelle Gardner, I want to share my query experience with you. In my next few posts, I’ll write about what I learned from querying, as well as how I went about it. I’m also planning to post my query so you can see what worked for me. Is there anything in particular you’d like to know? Any details that might help you query when it comes to your own agent hunt?

For those of you who are querying now, do you blog about it? What other parts of a writer’s life might be better left unblogged?

As for where I’m at now with the manuscript: I’m revising. Again. And I’m sure it won’t be the last time.

Why you should reveal embarrassing details in memoir

Now that I’m revising my travel memoir, I spend a lot of time looking at scenes and paragraphs that make me uncomfortable and asking myself: should I really include this?

That’s because in my first draft, I included everything. I included details that were embarrassing, that I wouldn’t even want my mother to read. I was able to do this because no one was going to read them. It was my only first draft.

But now I’m preparing to share my manuscript with five fabulous friends who have offered to serve as guinea pig readers. Now, if I leave those embarrassing pieces where they are, other people will read them.

And so I’m having a little bit of a panic attack. Every once in a while, I’ll send a paragraph to my best friend from journalism school or my critique partner and ask, “Are you sure I should include this? The reader is not going to think I’m totally lame? You’re absolutely positive you’re laughing with me and not at me?”

This morning, in response to one of my e-mail panics, critique partner Peggy wrote this response. Another reason why she’s awesome:

I know that revealing something so personal makes you uncomfortable, but small things like that help make the reader LIKE you even more. They don’t want to read about a superwoman, they want someone real, with flaws and quirks. That is one of the first things you learn when writing fiction, to give your main character a flaw. Nothing too horrible, of course, but why do you think Hugo gave Quasimodo a hump?

Good for you to be willing to be open. You will be happy you did.

I know she’s right. Nothing that I’m writing about is “too horrible.” When you read the book, you might even pass over those parts without realizing they were embarrassing for me to reveal. But to me, exposing my personal feelings and habits is horrifying. Scary. So scary, in fact, that I vow not to think about it for the rest of the day after I finish this blog post.

But I will tell you this: I have not removed a single embarrassing paragraph. Not one. Why? Because they make the book interesting, and as Peggy pointed out, they’ll help the reader like me.

You’d better not laugh at me when you read this book.

This is cause for celebration…

I finished a draft of my book!

That’s right, I’ve written through the entire manuscript. It feels like a huge accomplishment. I’m ready to move onto the next stage: revision.

Actually, I’m already well into the revision process. I’ve edited 16 of my 33 chapters. At least one critique partner has read through them, and I’ve made changes based on their suggestions.

I realize this goes against conventional wisdom about writing an entire draft before revising. But revising along the way worked for me. And one of the most important lessons I’ve learned so far about writing a book is that I have to do what works for me, even if it doesn’t follow conventional wisdom.

What do I hope to accomplish during my revision stage?

Cut & Trim. My manuscript comes in at about 100,000 words. I want to get it down to 85,000 – 90,000, a length that will appeal to literary agents and publishing houses. That means I’ll be tossing out chapters and scenes I spent time and energy writing. But cutting is about more than losing words. Tightening my manuscript, getting rid of scenes I don’t really need, will improve the story.

Decide on a beginning. Several of my readers made a similar suggestion about the beginning of my book, that I may want to start differently. I’m going to give it a whirl and see whether that works better.

Consider the chapters all together. I’ve edited half my chapters, so I believe each works separately. But once I finish revising the rest of my pieces, it’ll be time to look at all thirty or so chapters together and see how they work as one unit.

Improve transitions. Several chapters could transition more smoothly. I’ll examine the beginnings and endings of each chapter, making changes where necessary, to make sure chapter breaks are seamless.

Reconsider all embarrassing scenes. During my first draft, I revealed everything about myself that would make the story interesting, knowing I could always delete those embarrassing scenes later. Now it’s time to decide whether I really want to include each one in the book. Am I comfortable with letting readers know all these personal details? In many ways, those embarrassing tidbits are what make my memoir interesting.

What do you focus on during your revision process?

Writers’ Roundup

Pieces of my book are starting to come together. I’m now plugging a few holes in Chapters Seven, Eight and Nine, and should soon be able to read straight through ’em.

A few links that helped focus my writer’s mind this week:

* A hilarious post on how to be a good local author. Note to self: Do not call neighborhood bookstore every week to ask how my book is selling.

* Jane Friedman of Writer’s Digest explains what it takes for a blog to become a book. “Consider how a book will offer an experience or a benefit that is unique or distinctive apart from the blog,” she advises.

* General but very helpful advice for authors on Seth Godin’s blog. “The best time to start promoting your book,” he writes, “is three years before it comes out.”

* How do prolific writers manage to write so much? Insight from the Writing Companion blog.

* A smorgasbord of 54 Tips for Writers, From Writers, including: “If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word.” — Margaret Atwood

* A revision checklist from Nathan Bradford. Saving this for later. You might also check out his writing advice database.

*Advice for pulling off a great library event. Yet another promotional tool I’ll need later.

Have a great weekend!

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