Marking Time

When I was in high school, I was a proud, happy member of the marching band. Every summer for four years, in the dead heat of August (and once during a hurricane that reached into the mountains of Pennsylvania), we were on the field, learning and practicing basic marching skills and the half-time show for the fall’s football games. One of the skills that we practiced and used regularly was the concept of marking time. Marking time is when the band is standing still but music of some sort is still playing, sometimes just the percussion, to keep the beat and to keep the feet moving. Instead of standing perfectly still, like you would at attention or parade rest, to mark time meant that you continued marching in place, keeping the rhythm moving so that you are ready to continue marching when instructed. It is quicker to continue marching from mark time than from a dead stop. You maintain movement.

It occurs to me that marking time in band is similar to the querying process.

I have been querying my current manuscript for a while now, and the waiting is killer. You wait for feedback on your query letter, you wait for responses to your initial query, you wait for responses to requests for partials or fulls, and you wait again after that if you manage to land an agent while the agent is trying to sell your work. It’s a lot of waiting. It’s easy to sit back and bite your nails, just hoping that something sticks, that something works, that you’ll have an offer and a publishing deal eventually. It’s also easy to think there’s absolutely nothing you can do in the meantime.

But that’s not true.

While we are waiting on our queries, we can be marking time. We can be actively working during the waiting so that we are prepared for what comes next, just like in marching band. We can keep our momentum. But how do we do that for writing?

  1. Keep polishing your query materials. I know this can seem like a waste of time and it’s so easy to sweep under the rug once it’s “done,” but your query can always use improvement. If you see a contest for a query critique, enter it. If you have a writer friend, have them read your query and offer input. I recently read that advice that if you do not receive at least a 40% request rate, then your query could use some work. Keep moving forward!
  2. Be proactive about any feedback you receive. If you do hear back from an agent, that’s great! But it may be that they want to see something a bit differently. Consider those opinions and know that as the writer, it’s up to you to change it, but these are industry professionals who know what the market needs and wants. If you need to keep polishing that manuscript, then break out the polish. The work isn’t over once you hit submit to those first few agents.
  3. Keep current on the market. Whatever genre your book is in, whatever age category, keep an eye on the current trends. If you wrote a vampire book and vampires are going out of style, your query might be harder to sell. But if you wrote something that’s just gaining popularity, then you might have an easier time. Make yourself an informed client. Keep researching new agents and looking for what agents may be searching for your book. It doesn’t stop with your first list.
  4. Don’t let the rejections get you down. There are so many agents out there. Hope is not lost. If you keep trying, you will find what is best for your book, even if it’s not an agent. Rejection isn’t the end of your manuscript, and every author faces this. It could simply be that your manuscript will fit better into an independent publisher or through self publishing. So don’t give up!
  5. And most importantly, keep writing. Agents like to hear that you have more projects in the works, that you’re not just a one-trick pony. Write other things, submit short pieces to magazines or online blogs. If your current manuscript isn’t right at the moment, perhaps your next work will be. You always want to be refining your craft, and the best way to do that is to write!

The querying process can be daunting and full of discouragement and disillusionment, but there is so much that you can do while querying that can refill and energize your creative spirit, the dreamer within you.

So don’t get discouraged, friends. Mark time, and when the order comes, you’ll be ready to march.

Advice for Aspiring Writers

  1. Claim your name. If you write, you are a writer. The longer you call yourself an “aspiring writer” instead of a writer, the longer you keep yourself from the pride and inclusion and knowledge that you are, indeed, a writer.
  2. Get serious about your craft. This means making time to write every day or almost every day. Writing out of habit and commitment will get you closer to finishing your first book than waiting for inspiration.
  3. Start even if you don’t feel ready. Because I’ll give you a hint: no one ever actually feels ready. The longer you put it off, the longer it will be until you feel like a writer.
  4. Make some writer friends. Talk to writers online. Talk to writer friends in real life. Just connect with someone who will be able to discuss the finer points of writing with you and inspire you to keep working for your dream.
  5. Read up on your craft. This includes blog posts from other writers either on Tumblr, online blogs, or, where I found most of my beginning knowledge, Pinterest. Read some classic books on the craft of writing like On Writing by Stephen King or Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott.
  6. Learn how to write. Commit yourself to learning the rules so you know how you can break them in ways that make your writing stronger.
  7. Just Write. This is the key to being a writer. Write when you don’t feel ready. Write when you’re not sure. Write even when you don’t feel like writing. Write because you’re a writer and you must. Just write. For this is literally the only way you can actually improve your writing.

How to Write a Fairy Tale Retelling

Fairy tales have become very popular lately, particularly unique retellings of fairy tales such as The Lunar Chronicles series, Ella Enchanted, Hunted, the ACOTAR series, and many, many others. In fact, the small publisher Rooglewood Press has been hosting a fairy tale retelling contest for a few years now, and they just recently announced this year’s (sadly the last): Snow White. If you’re interested in that, I’ll include a link to the contest page and previous winners below.

If you find you’re one of those people (like me) who is just a sucker for fairy tale retellings and want to try your hand at writing one, how do you going about doing that? Well, there are a few simple steps to make it the best it can be.

  1. Pick something new. Personally, I am tired of the “classic” fairy tales like Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty. Everyone and their mother retells those. What about other classics, like Donkeyskin and the Little Match Girl? I love the story Donkeyskin, but very few authors choose to retell it. Just by picking something lesser known or with fewer popular versions, you will immediately create something that stands apart from the crowd of retellings. In a world saturated with fairy tale stories, that’s a good thing.
  2. Start with the source. Go back to the source material, those first recorded instances of the story. Read the base story before you dive into creating your own version. How can you make a retelling if you don’t know the original? And no, Disney absolutely does not count!
  3. Expand to variations of the source. Look at different variants of the same story. Did you know that many fairy tales have versions in a number of different cultures? A couple years ago, Sleeping Beauty was the theme of the Rooglewood contest, and I hated how passive the heroine was. Turns out, all I needed to do was find a different version, and there she was! My active participant from a Middle Eastern version of the story. Dig around, and it will almost definitely give you ideas and inspiration.
  4. Look at other retellings. Find other, more recent versions of the story you want to tell. Look at how other authors approached the story, what they changed and kept, how it influenced the themes and plot. But don’t stop there! Look at reviews from bloggers and readers of the story. See how the audience reacted to the retelling, the elements they liked and didn’t like. Use this knowledge to your advantage!
  5. Make it recognizable. One of the most important parts of writing a retelling is making sure enough elements are present that the reader knows what story you are retelling. Otherwise, it’s just another story, not a retelling at all. Recognition is key.
  6. Make it new. We are all familiar with classic versions of stories. What readers want is a new take. Maybe there’s something different about the hero and the villain. Maybe the setting is in outer space instead of a woodland. Give your plot twists that may not have been present in the original. Maybe even mix several fairy tales together, like in the Lunar Chronicles. Whatever you decide to do, make it your retelling, not just a copy. Your readers will find it far more interesting that way.

For more reading on fairy tale retellings, you can check out this post from Ink and Quills and this post from Lianne Taimenlore. And if you have any suggestions for writing these kinds of stories, be sure to comment! I’d love to hear your input!

Rooglewood Press 2017 Contest: Five Poisoned Apples
2015 Contest: Five Magic Spindles
2014 Contest: Five Enchanted Roses
2013 Contest: Five Glass Slippers