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Writing Proofs, or, When in Doubt, Print it Out!

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Writing Proofs, or, When in Doubt, Print it Out!

*Check out my 10 Tips for Writing Revealing Dialogue on the Carve blog!*

When I was nineteen, I dropped out of college, drove to L.A., and tried to become an actress. When that didn’t pan out, I went back to school and thought about what I could do for a living now instead of starring in Hollywood blockbusters. At that time, I loved creative writing, but I didn’t think it was a career option, and after my time in L.A., I didn’t want to pursue something else that involved a lot of rejection. So I decided to become a math teacher.

I was under the impression that I would need to major in math if I wanted to teach it (this is untrue — all you have to do is pass a test that’s easier than the math section of the SATs), so I started taking a bunch of math classes: Multivariable Calculus, Differential Equations, Complex Analysis.

My least favorite classes were the ones taught by the crazy Russian professors, who, I’m pretty sure, knew only three words in English: “yes,” “no,” and “elementary,” the last of which being their aggressive comment as they scribbled onto the chalkboard strings of equations that did not seem elementary to me.

One of my better homework assignments from college math.

One of my better homework assignments from college math.

My favorite classes were the ones in which we proved theorems. In a way, writing an elegant proof is a lot like writing a story. You start with a set of givens, and you usually know the conclusion you want to reach at the end. But you’re not quite sure how to get from point A to point B. You have to be creative. You have to play around and try different things. You start out with a sentence (mathematical, of course), and another sentence logically follows. There’s usually a turning point towards the end of the proof, and then suddenly, the result becomes clear.

Sometimes, when I couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong in a proof or a math problem, I would write everything out in really large handwriting, taking up entire sheets of paper. It sounds stupid, but when everything was bigger, my mistakes would become glaringly obvious. And with the math screaming at me from the page, it was usually easier to see what I needed to do next.

*  *  *

Minoring in math was somewhat of a hindrance when I first started teaching. I taught Pre-Algebra and Algebra I to students who barely knew their multiplication tables. I had to come out of the clouds of higher mathematics and back down to the basics. What was elementary to me was not for my students, and it took me a while to realize that.

One thing that did carry over from my college math days was an insistence that my students write things down. I encouraged mental math, but also insisted that they write things down, especially on tests and other times when it “counted.”  I adopted the catch phrase, “when in doubt, write it out.”  I also told my students the trick of writing large. “It sounds silly,” I said, “ but the bigger you write, the easier it will be to see your mistakes on the paper.”

My very first classroom.

My very first classroom.

And yet, I don’t always follow my own advice. Can you believe that I submitted one of my novels to my mentor, to readers, and even to agents, without ever once printing it out and revising it on paper? I’m really embarrassed to admit that, but it’s true, and I’m confessing right now.

The problem is that I’m stingy and environmentally-friendly. I figured, why spend twenty dollars at Staples and kill trees when I can just revise on my computer instead?

The reason should be obvious by now. It’s so much easier to see your mistakes on paper.

Last week I worked through the edits and revisions my agent gave me, and as a final step before sending the manuscript back to him, I printed it out at Staples and read through it one more time. I found so many things to change.  There were missing commas, unnecessary adverbs, repeated words, awkward phrases. I was mortified that I’d sent such a messy copy to my agent in the first place.

I’ve learned my lesson, and here it is spelled out for the rest of you:  If you think you can do all your revisions on the computer, you’re wrong. Print it out. Print it out double-spaced, and maybe even in a font larger than 12. If you’re worried about the trees, print double-sided and change the margins to 0.5. Write off the expense on your taxes.

When in doubt, print it out. Because I guarantee, you will catch more mistakes on paper than you ever will on the computer. It’s elementary, and I’ll never forget it again.

Take a good look at your manuscript..on paper!

Take a good look at your manuscript..on paper!

Lessons on Tweeting, or, Why Writers Should Love Twitter

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Lessons on Tweeting, or, Why Writers Should Love Twitter

I joined Twitter two years ago, but for a long time I didn’t get what it was good for. I tweeted at my favorite musician, Beck, and got no reply. I read my friends’ tweets, which were mostly funny things their kids said, or random thoughts they were having while standing in line at the grocery store. I linked my blog to Twitter, but I had no followers.  How was this going to help me as a writer?

I’d heard that Twitter could help me build my author platform, as in make people aware of me and what I write so that when I have a book with my name on it, I’ll have a ready-made audience to sell it to. But I wasn’t sure how to gain followers, and I didn’t understand what made Twitter better than facebook or blogging.

It wasn’t until recently that I learned the secret: before Twitter can help you build your platform, you have to use it as a way to gather information. Once you have information to share, people will automatically want to follow you.

I follow Beck.  He does not follow me.

I follow Beck. He does not follow me.

I am in no way an expert at Twitter, but here are some basics I’ve learned…

#1 Make Twitter a way to gather information on specific topics.
I started following authors, agents, editors, and organizations like Winning Writers, Writer’s Digest, Literary Rejections, Burlesque Press, Jen Violi, and Writer’s Relief. These entities constantly tweet info about writing conferences and contests, agents who are open to submissions, trends in publishing, and new books to read. They also tweet writing prompts, helpful links, and encouraging quotes. I’ve realized that Twitter can be an incredible resource.

#2 Follow people who have the info you need.
This pretty much goes along with what I said in #1. Instead of worrying about who’s following you, follow people who tweet the info you want. You can find these people by searching in the Twitter search bar, seeing who other people follow, or googling, for example, “Top Twitter Lists for Writers.”

Of course, you probably still want to follow your friends, too. And you might want to follow Ellen, because she’s funny, or Beck, because he’s amazing. Now, here’s where it gets complicated because your Twitter feed will start to get really full really fast, and you will be overwhelmed with the number of tweets to scroll through. That’s when you can start organizing the people you follow into Lists, which is a Twitter feature. For example, you can make a List of your friends and family, a List of writing people, and a List of miscellaneous. Then, depending on your mood, read only the tweets from one of those lists.

#3 Search tweets using hash tags.
I’m going to be honest, I don’t totally get hashtags — how do they get started, for one thing? But I do know they can be helpful. You can search Twitter via a hashtag and find posts from anyone who has used that hashtag, whether you follow them or not. Some helpful hashtags I’ve learned about are:
#amreading
#writingcontest
#writingtip
#querytip (tweets about querying literary agents)
#MSWL (stands for “manuscript wish-list” and is what agents use when they are tweeting about the types of submissions they’re looking for. For example, agent Julia Weber recently tweeted “I’d love to see mss about the model/fashion industry. I don’t mind if it’s fun or shows the darker side.#MSWL”)

If you’re not sure what hashtag to search for, try typing different things into the Twitter search bar, or look at what hashtags are trending in the side bar of your Twitter feed.

#4 Retweet and favorite
Let’s say you read a helpful or interesting tweet. You can retweet it so that all your followers now have access to that information. Not only can retweeting bring you to the attention of the person who tweeted (and maybe they’ll start following you), but if you retweet enough good stuff, people will take notice and start following you.

Favoriting a tweet can be nice, too, because although it doesn’t share the tweet with your followers, it is a way to mark a tweet you like so you can refer back to it later. (Twitter keeps track of your favorites.) It’s also a way to let the person tweeting know that you appreciate their content, and again, maybe they will decide to follow you.

#5 Repeat tweet.
I have my blog connected to my Twitter so that every time I post on In the Garden of Eva, a link is automatically posted on Twitter. Which is great. But, I’ve noticed from reading my own Twitter feed that it’s nearly impossible to read all the daily tweets, and it’s really easy for a great tweet to get lost in the shuffle. Which is why, on occasion, I will tweet the link to my blog post again the next day. I don’ t do it so many times that it becomes annoying, but just once or twice in case people missed it the first time.

Tweet.  Tweet.  (Paul and Eva with some parakeets.)

Tweet. Tweet. (Paul and Eva with some parakeets.)

My Biggest Twitter Success Story (So Far), or, Why Writers Should Use Twitter

I happened to be scrolling through Twitter about a month ago when I saw that Writer’s Digest had tweeted:
Spread the word: If you write fantasy or sci-fi novels (adult or young adult), pitch agents on Twitter during #SFFpit today.

I had done one of these Twitter pitches a few weeks earlier and nothing had happened, but I decided to try this one. Plus, condensing a novel into 140 characters is a great challenge. So I tweeted:  When the Piper spirits away the children of Hamelin, leaving crippled Brigitta behind, she journeys to find them. (Lower YA) #SFFpit

This meant that any agent looking to obtain a Sci-Fi/Fantasy manuscript could search Twitter for #SFFpit and see my pitch, along with everyone else’s.

A few hours later, I got a bite! A new agent in Canada favorited my tweet, which meant she wanted me to query her with the first 50 pages!

I queried her, and she wrote back the next day, asking for the full manuscript. I sent her the manuscript, and to make a long story short, we talked on Skype and she offered to represent me. At the same time (because this is how these things go — when it rains it pours), I got an offer from Alex Christofi with Conville & Walsh, and, in the end, I decided to go with Alex as my agent instead.

But it was all pretty exciting, and that Canadian agent signed at least two other authors that she found on Twitter through #SFFpit.  If that’s not a good enough example of why writers should use Twitter, I don’t know what is.

So go out there and get tweeting!

 

 

Put It Out There, or, Why It Helps to Have a Blabbermouth Blog

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Put It Out There, or, Why It Helps to Have a Blabbermouth Blog

When I was in high school, I had this theory that if you liked a boy and wanted to increase your chances of going out with him, you should let it slip to a blabbermouth friend about your crush. Inevitably, the news would trickle through various ears and mouths until your crush heard about your interest. After that, one of three things would happen. If he didn’t like you, you could play it off as a rumor. If he did like you, he would now have the courage to ask you out. (High school boys have fragile egos, and they don’t like to make the first move unless they’re pretty sure they won’t get shot down.)

And then there was a third possibility. Maybe he had never thought of you in that way before, but after hearing about your crush, he would be flattered and intrigued. He might look at you in a different way and develop an interest in you he never would have realized otherwise. (It works the other way, too — I’m pretty sure I went out with some boys in high school just because I heard that they had crushes on me.)

In other words, if you put your desire out there into the world, you’re more likely to get what you want, one way or the other.

Let your secret out! photo credit

Almost exactly two years ago, I started this blog as a way to put my desire out there into the world. In my very first post, I said: I want to publish a book; I want to make writing my job.

This was a big step for me. For a long time, I hadn’t told people about my writing goals because I was afraid that if I didn’t achieve them I would look foolish.

The blog was, in a way, me telling a blabbermouth friend (the Internet) about my desires; it was also a way to hold myself accountable. Now that I had announced it, I couldn’t hide in the safety net of math teaching any longer. I had to go out there (and by “go out there” I mean I had to sit at home in front of my computer) and try my very best to make a career out of writing.

*   *  *

And then something else happened in those first few months of blogging. I put another desire out there. In My Most Personal Post Yet I wrote:

What I really want more than anything else… is to be out on the beach… sitting in a low canvas chair next to a man I love, drinking beer and watching our children play in the sand. I don’t want to always be thinking about getting home and writing about my experiences so I can share them with others. I want someone to be at my side, experiencing things with me, in the very moment that they happen.

And, ironically, it was right around this time that someone (someone named Paul) started reading my blog and taking an interest in me…

Nauset Beach in Cape Cod, where I was living when I first started this blog.

Nauset Beach in Cape Cod, where I was living when I first started this blog.

I hope I’m not sounding like The Secret (which I’ve never seen/read), or acting too New-Agey. (“Set an intention, and the universe will hear you.”) All I’m saying is that if you admit to yourself and to the world what it is you really want, you increase your chances of getting it. Because not only do you start trying harder to make these things happen, but now other people know what you want and might decide to help you.

It seems to be working for me. Recently, I got an agent who is going to help me sell one of my novels (and then hopefully help me sell more!) And, last week, Paul asked me to marry him.

I’m not saying these things wouldn’t have happened without this blabbermouth blog, but it sure didn’t hurt.

Eva and Paul.  We got engaged in front of the International Fountain in the Seattle Center.

Eva and Paul. We got engaged in front of the International Fountain in the Seattle Center.

Interview with Author, Editor, & Frolicking Businesswoman, Jen Violi

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Interview with Author, Editor, & Frolicking Businesswoman, Jen Violi

Jen Violi is the author of Putting Makeup on Dead People, a BCCB Blue Ribbon Book, and founder of Jen Violi: The Business, with world headquarters in Portland, Oregon, USA. As a mentor, editor, and facilitator, Jen helps writers unleash the stories they’re meant to tell. Sign up here for her free monthly newsletter, brimming with writing ideas and resources.

Ahh, I still remember the day that Jen Violi handed me her business card. Jen Violi: The Business, it said. I laughed a big belly laugh, but really, if anyone has enough wisdom, character, and overall know-how to be a business, it’s Jen. So I asked her a few questions about her writing, her business, and her overall awesomeness…

I’m fascinated by the challenge of condensing a novel into a one-sentence summary. What is the one-sentence summary for your YA novel, Putting Makeup on Dead People?

PMODP is the story of how one girl learns to grieve and say goodbye, turn loss into a gift, and let herself be exceptional–at loving, applying lipstick to corpse, and finding life in the wake of death.

You describe what you do as developmental editing instead of copyediting. Can you talk about the difference?

When I started my business five years ago, I said yes to some copyediting requests and quickly realized I didn’t want to check for grammar or consistency of facts and language usage–some of the basics of copyediting. I’m so grateful for good copyeditors (for my own writing and reading pleasure), and I’m so grateful I don’t do that anymore. What lights my fire (and what I also happen to be good at) is considering what makes a story sing through the big picture in terms of themes, character development, pace, voice, and story structure, and then guiding writers accordingly.

I’ve learned that one of my gifts is seeing into the heart of things: what’s there, whether someone is conscious of it or not. I love those moments when I can say to a writer, “I saw THIS at the center of your story,” and they say “Yes, that’s exactly it!” Because the heart leads the way to everything that needs to happen next–deletions, additions, revisions, and polishing to a dazzle.

 

What are the most common things writers need help with? Where do people seem to get stuck?

Accountability is huge, which is something I also know firsthand. So many of us write to seek connection, so when we have no plan for anyone else to see what we’re writing, it’s hard to stay motivated. And deadlines (which are really lifelines). When you know you have to send something by X date to someone else and that someone else is going to read and respond, you get the gift of not only accountability and a deadline, but also connection and the reassurance that someone cares you’re writing.

 

How much time do you spend with your own writing versus helping other people with their writing versus frolicking in meadows and smelling the wildflowers? (The latter is something I always imagine you doing.)

I would say 90% frolicking and 10% divided equally between the other two.

Or maybe that’s what I wish was true.

In actuality, it’s been more like 10% frolicking, 50% other people’s writing, 30% my writing, and 10% angst-ing over how to shift this balance. 2014 has already been a big year for me in terms of shifting that balance and realizing how crucial it is to schedule retreat time into my calendar, both in terms of frolicking rejuvenation and making space for my own writing. I’ve been softening my edges, working at a more breathable pace, and shifting my dark undercurrent of “if you’re not suffering you’re doing it wrong” to a lighter streak of “what would it look like to do this with ease and joy?”

Jen enjoys frolicking in meadows and smelling the wildflowers. photo credit.

You write an inspirational blog, Story Water, and you are always tweeting (@JenVioli) writing prompts and uplifting advice. What do you think is important for a writer to hear on a semi-regular basis?

Most writers I know–including me–never get too much encouragement to play without restriction, affirmation that their voices matter, and reminders that they’re not doing it “wrong.”

 

Do you plan on writing any more novels — YA or otherwise?

I have actually written three more novels which would be categorized as YA, but they haven’t yet found a home. This spring, I had the big realization that although I love each of these books, for the last five years I’ve mostly been writing more YA novels because that’s what I’m supposed to be doing, what would be good for my career, etc, and finally stopped to ask myself, “What do you really want to write next?” And the answer right now is nonfiction, a book on the body, mine in particular. This is simultaneously terrifying and delightful. Terrifying because I’ve spent most of my life ashamed of, confused by, or ignoring my body, and it is uncharted territory to put that stuff on paper. Delightful because what a tremendous relief to listen to the drumbeat of my soul and write to that rhythm again, like I did with PMODP, a book I simply had to create.

 

You’re amazing. What’s your secret?

Unicorn Tear Gel Mask with cucumbers over my eyes every morning, regular conclaves with the sasquatch community, and the narwhal that lives in my bathtub and whispers secrets to me at every full moon.

Also, Eva, you are lovely. Thank you for saying that I’m amazing. The feeling is mutual. Although I don’t think it’s a secret, I find that I feel most amazing when I take time to see and name and give thanks for the amazingness around me, as well as when I let my freak flag fly, choose based on what brings me joy, and remember to breathe.

Jen Violi

Jen Violi

Moving, Versus Standing Still

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Moving, Versus Standing Still

*Check out my latest post on the Carve blog!*

Over the July 4th holiday, my friend Leigha, her husband, and their two small children came to visit Seattle. They stayed with me and Paul in our apartment, and it was a little crowded, but we had a great time. We walked to the Space Needle, rode the monorail downtown, went to the public market and Olympic sculpture garden, and ate conveyor belt sushi.

I was amazed we were able to fit so much in because everything moves at a slower pace when you have a two-year-old and a six-year-old in tow. There are a lot of trips to the potty and breaks for resting and snacking.

During one of these breaks at the public market, we were standing around near the stairs that lead down to the waterfront. Leigha was fishing fruit bars for the kiddies out of a massive backpack, and her husband was recuperating from carrying his daughter on his back for the last ten blocks.

“Look, there’s a man on the wall!” one of the kids said, pointing. We looked up, and sure enough, there was a small, silver man holding a light bulb, walking on the side of the wall.

“Wow!” I said. “I’ve been here a bunch of times, and I’ve never noticed that before.” We looked around and saw another one, along with a chalk drawing of a robot on the sidewalk with an arrow pointing down the stairs, which we decided to follow.

There’s something to be said for standing still.

Aluminum figures created by Dan Webb serve as light fixtures in the Seattle Public Market. photo credit.

Normally I walk fast, and I don’t tend to stay in the same place for very long. Paul and I moved to Seattle last July, and already we are moving again. At the end of the summer, we’ll move to Minneapolis for a year (for his job), and then it will be on to somewhere else.

In some ways, moving is great. I gain new experiences, new perspectives, new possible settings for my stories. I’ve read that moving can make you smarter because getting to know a new city encourages the growth of neural pathways in your brain. Plus, I’m gaining an impressive list of places I’ve called home. Once we’re settled in Minnesota, I can brag that I have lived in all of the following U.S. regions: the deep south, Appalachia, the east coast/mid-Atlantic , the northeast/New England, the west coast, the Pacific Northwest, and the mid-west.

But all this moving means I don’t always have time to get to know each city in a meaningful way. Moving a lot might grow your brain, but staying in one place develops roots. And without those, I’ll always be a tumbleweed and never a mighty tree.

Eva with the kiddies at Olympic Sculpture Park.

Eva with the kiddies at Olympic Sculpture Park.

In the afternoon, we finally made it to the Olympic Sculpture Park.  We sat on some rounded benches in front of a large fountain and ate more snacks.  “That man is taking a shower,” the kids said, pointing to the fountain.  Yet again, I’d been blind. I hadn’t noticed the statue of a man standing in the middle of the sprays of water.

While Leigha went to ask a nearby coffee shop if her son could use the bathroom, we mosied around by the fountain, and after a while we realized that the benches we’d been sitting in were actually a large pair of eyes if looked at from behind.

Eyes in the sculpture garden.  (The kids are the nose and mouth.)

Eyes in the sculpture garden. (The kids are being the nose and mouth.)

You know, I do hope to settle somewhere in the next few years. I want to plant a few roots. There’s something to be said for staying in one spot for a while. You notice more that way.

But until I can settle down, I will try to move at a slower pace and develop the curious eyes of a child. Eyes that look in unexpected places and see the things that others tend to miss.

 

It Finally Happened — Was It Fate?

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It Finally Happened — Was It Fate?

The other day, I got to thinking about fate. Could it be that fate has brought me to this point?

In a way, it goes back to my somewhat random and hasty decision to get my MFA from the University of New Orleans. During those years, I learned to write better, but, more importantly, I met Jennifer Stewart who was working as the coordinator of the UNO writing programs abroad, in which I participated.

Jeni and Eva wearing Burlesque Press t-shirts.

Jeni and Eva.

Jeni, who now directs the little-literary-conglomerate, Burlesque Press, happens to knows everything there is to know about the writing world, and recently she told me about the WoMentoring Project, a program that matches up women writers with mentors.

I looked at the WoMentoring website and was excited to see Scottish novelist Lisa O’Donnell on the list of mentors. I had read Lisa’s debut novel, The Death of Bees, the previous year and loved it. In fact, I’d written a glowing review of it for Burlesque Press’s blog. (Come to think of it, Jeni had recommended the book to me as something I’d enjoy…)

So I applied for the WoMentoring Project, and Lisa became my mentor. She read one of my manuscripts and told me it was ready to be sent out to agents.

“Well, the thing about that is…” I told her I had already queried thirty agents with a slightly different version of the novel, and they had all turned me down.

“What about agents in the U.K.?” she suggested.

It was an intriguing idea….

A few weeks later, Lisa decided to send the manuscript to her agent:  Alex Christofi of Conville & Walsh. And he liked it! We spoke on the phone on Monday, and he said he’d like to represent me. I said I’d like that as well.

What a great birthday present!  I turn 33 tomorrow, and I couldn’t have asked for anything more.

But I can hardly believe it, to be honest. Getting an agent for my writing is something I’ve been wanting for so long, and now that it’s happening, I’m weirdly nervous. I don’t want to do anything to mess it up.

And I can’t help but think, if I had never met Jeni… If I had never gotten Lisa as a mentor… If my friend Nikki hadn’t encouraged me to quit my full-time teaching job in DC and focus on writing…

In fact, it was exactly two years ago that I drove up to Cape Cod to stay rent-free at Nikki’s house for six months, and that was when and where I wrote the first draft of the manuscript that is now going to become a book.

Crosby Beach, a short bike ride from Nikki's house on the Cape.

Crosby Beach, a short bike ride from Nikki’s house on the Cape.

It makes me wonder:  was this a long cause-and-effect chain of fate that led me to this very moment?

I’d like to think so because that’s a romantic notion, but the truth is that this moment was probably going to come somehow or another.  I’ve been working at this writing thing for a while now, and in the end, hard work is probably more important than fate. There were many possible paths I could have taken to writing a book and finding an agent. Some might have been shorter, or longer, or easier, or more difficult, but they all would have led me here:  to becoming an agented author.

That being said, I’m quite happy with the path I’ve been on, and with all the people who have been helping me out along the way.

Nikki and Eva

Nikki and Eva

Good News Comes in Threes, or, I’m a Big Tease!

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Good News Comes in Threes, or, I’m a Big Tease!

Normally I write two posts a week, but this week is my birthday (on the 3rd), and America’s birthday (on the 4th), plus I have a family of four coming to stay at my apartment, and I need to prepare for that (fun) insanity. So, for this week, you’ll get this teaser today and an official post on Wednesday.

I’m turning 33 on July 3rd, which seems significant. Good things come in threes, and I have a feeling this year is going to be full of good things (knock on wood!) In fact, I have some good news to announce, and I will tell you all about it on Wednesday. See you then!

Here is a picture of me with a birthday pinata I bought for myself at a market in Mexico a few years ago.  For three years in a row, I spent my birthday abroad.

Here is a picture of me with a birthday pinata I bought for myself at a market in Mexico a few years ago. For three years in a row, I spent my birthday abroad.

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