If we haven’t published anywhere, we fear to call ourselves a writer. Many times we fear judgment about what we write, so we stall, procrastinate and write on the surface. We fear we don’t have an MFA and don’t know enough about the writing craft.
When our short story, poem, or novel is finished, we fear to send out our work to a beta reader because we might hear something about our writing that we don’t want to hear.
One of the biggest fears? Our fear of rejection. We spend so much time perfecting a query and sending it to a lit agent only to never hear from them again, or we get a form rejection, which may be our 25th.
Fear stagnates. We stop flowing, we find ourselves trapped, or producing dull work.
Last week, I came across two helpful blog posts. (One I’d never read before). Both helped me reassess any fears I had about my writing. It is no mistake these posts found me.
In my neverending quest to move my manuscript (MS) to a literary agent and onto publication, I read info from a few ‘writerly’ resources. One of these stores of knowledge comes from Meg La Torre of iWriterly YouTube videos. I love that she gets to the point, the videos are brief but cover the subject, and she puts out new info every week.
One of the latest videos features seven lit agents who give their top three reasons why they reject manuscripts. Now, a few of the items are what we writers often hear: show don’t tell, character voice, and info dumps, but this latest video (December 4, 2019) gives us many more points.
Something is wrong/goes wrong or challenges the character
The character desires something.
The character takes action. Can be internal or external action: thoughts, deeds, emotions. This does NOT include musing about whatever.
There’s enough of a setting to orient the reader as to where things are happening.
(Go to the site for more)
This area also includes editing issues: too many problems with pacing, issues with point of view, talking heads, or amateur writing.
3. Expectations. Did the writer deliver on the query representation?
Your query highlighted specific goals, stakes, or story, but your first ten pages don’t reflect your representation. This may be a problem of not starting in the right place, a slow pace, or an info dump instead of starting in the now.
4. Is Your Story Idea Unique Enough?
What distinguishes your novel from the hundreds of other fantasy, sci-fi, or mystery novels out in the bookstores. Is your book told in a fresh way? What makes it new and exciting in an oversaturated genre? Remember, the agent has to ‘sell’ your MS to an editor and team.
If this area isn’t clear to you, perhaps you can read about the need for a sensitivity reader. The person should be able to spot cultural inaccuracies, stereotypes, bias issues, or problematic language. This doesn’t cover only ethnicities, but areas of gender, abilities, etc.
In my writing group of seven women (a diverse group of Anglo, Latinx, bi-racial, and multi-ethnic), we spot problem areas and learn from each other, including having a sensitivity reader if we believe this will improve the MS.
6. Plot and Character Arcs
This can be anything from a lack of change in the character, plot holes, inconsistencies in the timeline, or jumping around too much in the storyline. Does your novel have enough conflict, does the conflict raise the stakes in the story, does the character act and react through the story, so we know what she’s thinking or why she’s taking action. Do we care?
7. World Building
Building the world begins on the first page. This is difficult because you don’t want to dump a whole lot of info but enough to provide context to the reader. The setting allows your reader to visualize the environment and characters better. This is a critical area for fantasy, speculative, sci-fi writers who must construct an imaginary world.
To learn more about the reasons, lit agents reject an MS, watch the presentation. If you click the “Show More” beneath the video on the iWriterly YouTube page, you will see a list of the participating agents and links to their agencies and social media.
Thanks for reading and I hope this is useful for any of my blog followers who are writers. Keep on writing!
She Writes Press came up with a challenge for writers at the end of April and I thought, ‘why not.’ This seemed to be an easy way to post on social media and see what other people experienced in their writing life.
Scanning my feed on Instagram is quick because I don’t follow a bunch of people, after weeding out those men who post 101 selfie pics. Some guys use Instagram and FaceBook like online dating sites. Not interested.
But back to the topic and the 31-Day Challenge:
The questions lent themselves to introspection, figuring out how to show an answer, and exposing some of the more challenging parts of the writing life.
Here are a few of my Instagram responses.
Share the reason you write:
Growing up, I didn’t read any books with Latina characters who reflected my experiences until I was in college. Those books were few and far between, written mostly by men.
So when I began recording my words (about ten years ago), I found myself writing about loss, abandonment, and other challenges encountered by women and girls to amplify their strength and resilience. In doing so, I increased my own.
Share a photo of your writing space:
My grand-kitty Heidi Ho lets me know when she thinks I’m staying too long at my laptop. She has a routine: jump on my chair, leap to my desk, and if I’m still typing she wedges herself behind my computer where she glares and meows until I shut it and pay attention to her; which means taking her outside in the garden to stalk lizards.
She helps me balance my writing day.
What is the first/worse job you’ve ever had:
My first job and my worse job involve strawberries. I grew up in and live in the strawberry capital of the nation. Mom made us work in the strawberry fields, para que sepas (so you’ll know). We had accompanied her on weekends to pick walnuts before but picking strawberries at age 11 or 12 was harder. Walnut trees had shade. The strawberry fields went on forever, the heat blasting your back, the hot dirt. I lasted two days.
My worse job was working in the strawberry packing house on the graveyard shift the summer before college. I was not well treated by older women. As far as they were concerned, I took a job away from a mother, but that was the only decent paying two-month job I could find at seventeen.
I sorted strawberries on a conveyor belt while standing for eight hours. The cold water running through the belt splashed with each rotten or damaged strawberry I flicked into the dirty reservoir. The best fruit went to Japan, and the rest were sorted by better, good, average, and jam.
Overhead fluorescent lights beamed down, making the warehouse seem otherworldly at three in the morning. Strawberry and dirt odors lingered on my body the entire day and in my sleep.
Women writers who inspire you:
There are so many, so I listed the ones who authored the books I buy/borrow. Usually, I have three or more books written by the same author.
Share one line from your own writing:
She was sober enough to remember that liquor and men were a bad combination, but drunk enough to think she could drive.
I’m glad I took the challenge, and in the process, I found out more about my own writing life and what informs my writing.
Finding several like-minded people, who run the spectrum of age, life experience, and writing backgrounds, was a plus and illustrated how the ‘social’ in social media work.
Over on the right hand column I list my Instagram and Twitter account links if you’d like to visit my sites or follow me so I can follow you.
If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it-Toni Morrison
Writing, especially novels is a long hard road. Sometimes people ask, “Are you finished yet?” “What’s happening with that story you told me about?”
Oh, that story. Well, three years later I’m finished with the Young Adult manuscript and I believe I’m ready for the next step: finding a literary agent or publisher to bring the novel to fruition.
The book is about an eighteen-year-old young woman named Maya who suffers from a heartbreak that is so bad that she, an honors student, ditches school and finds a job selling herbs and potions in a botanica (Botánica Sirena) opened by two curanderas.
Maya’s newfound knowledge of curanderismo (the art of healing) intrigues her but proves disastrous when her novice love potion backfires leaving her ex-boyfriend in love with her mother and her nana’s 75-year-old boyfriend in love with her.
Her divorced parents are furious with Maya’s behavior as it disrupts the plan they had for her life: valedictorian, university, and a career in politics.
So Maya needs to make things right again but her novice potion is not something the local curanderas can help her with so off to Oaxaca she goes to meet with the Gran Curandera who might be able to help her with an antidote. The trip leads Maya to a journey of self-discovery.
But what is a curandera?
Curanderismo is a healing art and curanderas/os are healers in the Latin American world. For centuries, the Mexican culture has had curanderas. Some cultures call these people shamans, or medicine men or women. Some people call them, incorrectly, witches.
A curandera/o uses herbs, ointments, and cleansings to cure illness. They also conduct spiritual healings. Sage, sweetgrass, and copal are used to cleanse a house, a room, or a person of evil spirits and negative energy.
A spiritual cleansing, limpia, and is often used by bunching together selected herbs into a small hand broom. This is whacked across the entire body and removes negative energy. After this, an egg is held above the head, moved around the body, and cracked open into a container which the curandera inspects.
Why an egg? It is believed that an egg has the natural ability to absorb energies around it. Finally, water is spit on the person. I know, sounds strange but this is what happens and there are some variances to the ritual dependent on what the client needs.
The Latin American community believes the curandera has a spiritual calling to heal and they are often descendants of other curanderas.
The photo above shows a Mayan healer in Mexico. In the U.S and my experience, the curanderas were usually grandmothers wearing aprons or elderly men in work clothes who conducted their ritual healings in their home or garage. Now they are more likely to work in a botanica which sells candles, oils, herbs, and other items such as amulets.
Using the services of a healer involves a small fee or a barter. This is probably why most Mexicans and Mexican Americans used a curandera. Either a doctor visit was too expensive, wasn’t available, or the doctor dismissed an ailment.
When I was a kid, most mothers knew of a local curandera. When a mother thought her baby was ill a visit to the curandera would be in order; the likely culprit was mal ojo (the evil eye).
In some countries like El Salvador the infant would be given a red bracelet to ward off mal ojo; in Mexico, the curandera passes an egg over the baby’s head and body.
Herbal remedies from curanderas were brought to the U.S (many were in the Southwest before it was part of the US) and these cures were passed on for generations.
When we were kids my mother didn’t take us to a curandera but she used Vicks Vaporub for fevers and colds. If we vomited or had a stomach ache we drank 7-Up or any other lemon-lime soda. There was a special tea for stomachaches and periods, a rice water mixture for diarrhea, and a few dozen more for colds, coughs, and other illnesses.
The use of candles and ointments are also part of curanderismo. In our house, there was always some candle burning for some ailment, loss, or protection.
The subject of curanderismo is one that has fascinated me so much I had to write a novel featuring curanderas. The story also has alibrejes (spirit animals) and other magic realism elements. Take a look at my storyboard for this novel.
And curanderas are just the tip of the iceberg of Mexican healers. There are also specialists for massage and herbs. But that is for another post.
There are websites such as Erika Buenaflor who can give you more information on curanderismo as well as other healing practices. She is a modern day curandera. I wish I had known about her site three years ago when I started my writing project but better late than never.
Disclaimer: This post is not suggesting you use a curandera in lieu of a medical practitioner; that is your own decision.