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Writing Goal for 2020: FOCUS!

Those who know me best can tell you that I can get a bit distracted (probably an understatement) by my many writing ideas. I have at least one new book idea a day, and it can be hard to resist the urge to start writing it. This is especially true in November when National Novel Writing Month rolls around and I want to participate by writing 50,000 words of a new novel.

This year, I’ve decided I will not write any new books! I have several books, from picture books to adult novels, in the revising stage. I’m not talking books that I’ve written three chapters of and abandoned — I’m talking full manuscripts of which I’ve written complete first, second or even third drafts! Many just need polishing to be ready to submit to agents and publishers. This is ridiculous!

I need to finish them. Therefore, my primary writing goal for 2020 is to finish the books I’ve already written. Nothing new until those are done.

There’s one exception to this rule, and that’s picture books. This year, I’ve joined the 12×12 Challenge. I will write 12 picture book drafts this year as part of that program, and will continue to revise the existing drafts I have (with the help of the many great members of that group).

I think that with focus and hard work, 2020 will be a great year for me professionally! What about you? What do you need to do to get your manuscript(s) publication ready?

Twitter glossary page updates and explanations

Twitter is an author’s paradise. Authors, agents, editors, publishers, and other lit influencers make ample use of Twitter to share priceless advice, wish lists, trends, podcasts, blogs, new releases, and so much more. There’s a strong indie publishing scene, too.

When you first start, Twitter can be hard to navigate. The tweets are constant, endless, and the 280 character limit prompts many people to use acronyms and word melds that you may not recognize or know how to put to use.

I created a Twitter glossary over a year ago to help writers navigate the fast-paced world of Twitter. Writers can even use the glossary outside of Twitter, too. Many of the terms are used on agent websites, author blogs, podcasts, and many other places.

I hope that writers have found the page helpful over the past year plus, and pop back over any time they saw a term they didn’t recognize. I, too, pop back once in a while to update the glossary with new terms as I discover them.

The glossary will always be a work in progress; it will evolve as the Twitter Lit world does. I invite you to make suggestions if you see a term not listed that you think should be.

That said, you should note that I’ve excluded the following from this list:

  • whole words related to writing that anyone can just stick a hashtag in front of (e.g. fiction, writing, etc.)
  • word melds with obvious connotations (e.g. fictionwriting)
  • handles (e.g. @____) because I couldn’t possibly begin to list all the people writers should be following on Twitter

You can browse the Twitter Glossary anytime by clicking here.

Myths, misunderstanding, and lesser known facts about English Haikai

Japanese poetry has been adopted by the English poetic world for generations, but there’s still a lot of misunderstandings about its various terms and forms. I’ve studied these poetics forms for many years, and it irks me that so many misunderstandings persist. I can only imagine how someone with a more immersed background in the Japanese poetic tradition must feel.

This post is my attempt to discuss some myths, misunderstanding, and lesser known facts about the Japanese poetic forms of haiku, senryu, renku, tanka, and haibun and their English counterparts. Collectively, they can be referred to as Haikai (more on that in #1 below). I may add more, but for now I’ll start with eight.

8 MYTHS, MISUNDERSTANDINGS, AND LESSER KNOWN FACTS ABOUT ENGLISH HAIKAI

1. Haikai is both a collective term for various forms of Japanese poetry and a form itself. The term haikai originally referred to a Japanese poetic form known as haikai no renga, which developed as a response to the Japanese collaborative verse form of renga. The earliest creators of haikai no renga felt that renga had become too serious and rigid. The creation of haikai no renga, in a sense, was a renaissance in Japanese poetry. Haikai no renga eventually transformed into what we now know as renku (because what is art if it’s not constantly evolving), while the earlier term of haikai became a catchall for various Japanese poetic forms like haiku, senryu, renku, tanka, and haibun.

2. English language haiku is not supposed to be 3 lines of 5-7-5 syllables. This is arguably the most pervasive myth that just can’t seem to be debunked as pervasively. In Japanese, haiku are traditionally written in three vertical lines, consisting of 17 Japanese on, in a 5-7-5 pattern. A Japanese on is a sound, not a syllable, however. English writers of haiku, and even many teachers, preach that a haiku must be three lines with 17 syllables in the same 5-7-5 pattern. This is patently untrue, and is kind of a big deal. Seventeen on is the approximate equivalent of 12 English syllables. Writing a haiku with 17 syllables, therefore, is cheating. The beauty of haiku is saying much in few words. Shoot for twelve or fewer syllables if you want to stay true to the spirit of haiku.

3. Haiku is not just a short poem about nature. Haiku is really about the human condition. Writers of haiku use nature to create an image that says something about human behaviour or life as we know it. This is why the aforementioned issue of length (see #2) matters, because it’s pretty easy to paint a pretty picture in just a few words, but not so easy to connect that scene to the human condition without adding to the length. By the way, haiku also doesn’t use metaphors or similes (in the vein of “___ is ___” or “___ is like ___” respectively), adding to the challenge.

4. Punctuation, line breaks, and spacing are a very important part of haikai. In English poetry, we place a lot of emphasis on line breaks and white space, but we don’t always put as much emphasis on punctuation. Often, we simply don’t include any punctuation at all. In Japanese poetry, the concept of kiregi, or a “cutting word”, is very important. The Haiku Society of America describes the kiregi as “spoken punctuation”, and creates a pause meant to emphasize a certain part of the poem. Kiregi is often represented by punctuation, but sometimes through a well-placed line break or white space.

5. Senryu is not pronounced SEN-REE-OO. I didn’t even know this until very recently, but the R isn’t really an R in Japanese. It actually sounds like SEN-DOO. People might look at you funny if you pronounce it this way, but you’re an artist, so what do you care?

6. With haikai, make rhythm a priority. Have you every wondered why Japanese haiku are in a 5-7-5 format? As it turns out, the alternation of short to long and back again is important in all forms. Senryu also follows the 5-7-5 format in Japanese forms. Even in longer collaborative forms like renku, subsequent stanzas usually alternate between three lines and two lines to maintain the short-then-long rhythmic style. This is not about meter the way that sonnet stanzas alternate lengths in a rigid format. Haikai is about ebb and flow more than staccato rhythm. Remember, the Japanese on is not a syllable, but a sound. Syllabic meter doesn’t fit well with haikai.

7. Tanka does not have to be 31 syllables. Tanka is one of the most ancient forms of Japanese poetry (originally called waka). It is made up of five lines, the first three being in the format of a haiku and the last two being of approximately the same length as the third (e.g. 5-7-5-7-7). Tanka is the equivalent of two stanzas of renku. Contrary to popular belief, tanka does not need to be 31 syllables. This is for the same reason that haiku does not need to be 17 syllables. In Japanese, the form is 5-7-5-7-7 on, but as previously mentioned, one on does not necessarily equal one syllable. So, tanka should be no more than 31 syllables, not 31 syllables exactly.

8. Tanka in its truest form makes use of a pivot line. Tanka is essentially a standalone poem that is the equivalent of the first two stanzas of the longer renku. With renku, the form is typically collaborative, with another writer taking over to write the second stanza, picking up where the first writer left off. In keeping with this sentiment, tanka uses a pivot line to create a turn between the third and fourth lines. The third line usually serves as the pivot line, creating a connection point between the first two lines and the last two lines, which otherwise don’t often connect. The pivot line, therefore, creates a connection between two otherwise unrelated ideas.

That’s it for now! I hope to add on to this article in time. Over the next several weeks, I also plan to publish critical analyses of some of my favourite haikai. I know a lot of you are visual learners, so I’m hoping these infographic-style analyses will help you better understand the beautiful and varied forms of haikai.

10 Tips for Pitching on Twitter

Every time a pitch party happens on Twitter, whether I’m participating or not, I scroll through the feed. I love reading and learning from the amazing pitches!

I also see writers making rookie pitch party mistakes. Since my Pitch Party list is the most popular page on my website, I thought it would be a good idea to write a short guide for how to pitch on Twitter.

NOTE: I’ve used the word “publisher” in place of “editor” in this post for clarity only. Typically, the job title of the person from the publishing house reading a tweet will be Editor.

10 PITCH PARTY PARTICIPATION TIPS:

01. RULES. Every pitch party is different. Seek out the relevant website and/or Twitter account for the pitch party you want to participate in and read the rules carefully. Follow them exactly.

02. TIMING. While you’re reading the rules, take special note of the time the pitch party begins and ends, and to which time zone it refers. Too often I see pitches an hour early or on a different date entirely. Most agents and editors only look at posts that fall within the allotted time frame.

03. HASHTAGS. Include the pitch party’s hashtag (with the correct spelling) and add any additional hashtags that are relevant. Again, look at the pitch party rules because they usually provide a list of additional hashtags you can (and perhaps should) use.

04. PERSPECTIVE. Write your pitch from your own perspective, not your character’s. You are selling your book like you would on the back cover, and in traditional publishing these are almost always written from an outsider’s point of view.

05. COMPS. Include the title(s) of one or two recently published books to give the agent or publisher a sense of the genre, style, and/or tone of your book. Do not phrase your comp as “the next [blockbuster title here]”. Write comp titles in title case and your manuscript title in all caps to make it stand out.

06. STAKES. You only have 280 characters, and several of those are devoted to details like hashtags and comps. Use the rest to make sure your stakes are clear. Stakes are what the character might lose if they fail. This is the crux of the conflict in your story. World building and interesting character details alone don’t make a story; you need conflict!

07. EDITING. Examine every word in your pitch and decide if you really need it. You only have a small amount of space to say a lot, so it’s okay to take a few grammatical shortcuts so long as your pitch flows and is clear. The bonus here is that if you prove yourself to be a great editor, agents and publishers are more likely to want to work with you.

08. INTEGRITY. Don’t spam the feed and don’t try to use the hashtag for anything other than its intended purpose. If you abuse the hashtag, you will get blocked by agents and publishers, which means that even if you learn your lesson and want to participate in future pitch parties, they still won’t see your posts. They won’t even know they’re missing them.

09. PATIENCE. Some agents and publishers don’t start reviewing the feed until later in the day. Some don’t get to it until the day after. Keep your pitch up for a few days at least. If you get a request, link to the tweet in your submission; it could be weeks before they review your submission and they’ll appreciate the reminder.

10. PERSISTENCE. You may not get a request your first time out. Don’t dismay! You may just need to tighten your pitching game a little. Maybe your comps weren’t a good match. Maybe you spelled the hashtag wrong. Maybe you were a little too wordy. Learn by reading other people pitches and seeing which ones got a lot of requests. Read guides like this on how to write a great pitch so that next time you’re more likely to get a request.

REMEMBER: If you never get a pitch party request in your entire life, it doesn’t mean your story isn’t worthy. There are dozens of reasons why you might not have gotten a request and many of them have nothing to do with you or your story. You can always submit through the normal querying process. That’s where the majority of traditional publishing deals come from.

Quiet summer, busy fall for pitch parties

After a quiet summer in the Twitter pitch party circuit, things are heating up again. The always popular #pitmad is just two days away, with many more great pitch parties on its heals, including #DVpit, #PBpitch, and #faithpitch, to name a few.

For those who don’t know, a Twitter pitch party is a way to jump the slush pile queue, in a sense. Agents and editors participate in these pitch parties as a way to scout for new talent and/or books that they feel could be a good fit for their list. If an agent or editor hearts your pitch, that means they want you to send them a query. When they are waiting for and expecting your query, they’re more likely to read your pitch before the other queries in their slush pile.

It’s a worthwhile experience for any querying writer, even if you don’t get a heart. Why? Because at the very least you’ve written and polished an “elevator pitch” for your book and have a chance to see the reaction. Writers and other supporters can retweet (never heart) your pitch to show support, and that’s a good gauge for how effective your elevator pitch is.

Seriously, if you have a manuscript ready to query, you have to give a Twitter pitch party a try! You can find many success stories on Twitter from writers who participated in one or more pitch parties and who now have an agent or a publishing contract.

Ready to get started? See what’s coming up in my updated Twitter Pitch Party list.