Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Getting To 100%

Okay, so I'm a big believer in going my own way. (Yeah, I like the Fleetwood Mac song, so I hope it gets stuck in your head for the rest of the day. And yes, I am evil.)

I write my books how I want. Past tense, present tense, it's all good. Sometimes in the same sentence. Whatevs.

I give my characters whatever I want. Tech gadgets. Wicked-cool paranormal powers. All at the same time. Nothing's too grandiose for me.

I write my query letters however I want. Sure, I follow some standards, but I can do 3 sentences. 8 paragraphs. Whatever, whatever.

I'm comfortable doing that.

And you should be too. I see (well, hear really) so many people trying to figure out what they "should" do and what they "shouldn't." Or what's "right" and what isn't.

Dude. Get yourself to 100% and then go for it. That's my philosophy. And before you start throwing stones, hear me out.

I research my brains out. I know what queries should be. I know what writing should be. I know, I know, I know.

And then I pick and choose which rules I'm going to follow. The big ones? Yeah, I follow (most of) those. The little ones? Whatever.

I go my own way. I get myself to 100% and then I go for it. I get my MS to 100% of what I can/know how to do. And then I send it out. I get my query to 100% of what I can/know how to do. And then I send it out.

And if you're not at 100% on the MS or the query -- dude! Don't send them out. Get there first, so that when the rejections come -- and they will come -- you'll have the confidence to stay in the game.

Go your own way. Get to 100%. Then conquer.

What do you think? Overconfident? Perhaps. Do you need to be at 100% before submitting? How do you think you get there?

94 comments:

Crystal Cook said...

I really love your confidence. How is it that you have so much? I agree, get to 100! Yes that's the goal! Great Elana, you are inspiring :)

Crystal Cook said...

disclaimer: I am taking your language one more time.


Freakin freaker! I was THE first comment. he, he!


See you at WIBIJ?!

Caroline Starr Rose said...

This makes me think of teaching kids to write essays in school. Teachers share structure and basic technique, hoping children will someday use them to find their own voice and style.

Some do push beyond and really learn to write. Many stay stuck following "rules".

salarsenッ said...

Beautiful. 'Get yourself to 100%.' Classic and I'm writing it on my blog, crediting it to you.

Getting myself to that point is all I have left to do. I think you and my husband would see eye 2 eye. He keeps telling me my lack of belief in myself is the only thing holding me back.

(Thanks for giving me a new blogging topic.)

Wendy Paine Miller said...

I relate with you a lot on this. I think if you have the knowledge, you have more freedom to splash it around in your own style.

I quoted the Mac in a recent article...same song...does that make us both evil?
~ Wendy

Lydia Kang said...

I'm doing that right now! I'm at 90% and getting closer. Excellent way to put it!

Em-Musing said...

Abso-right on-lutely about being at 100%!

Erinn said...

Right now I think my novel is at a 80% I've got at least two more drafts before I'll be ready to send it out. I know this. But last night my husband was watching the SNL shorts called "Laser Cats". Yep, it's as bad as it sounds and that's the point. My fear is that I've written "Laser Cats" and I'm too cocky and arrogant to see it.

Just watch Andy Samberg's face as he pitches it to Lorne Michaels.

http://www.nbc.com/video/videos/snl_1445_lasercats.shtml

They keep pitching the movie and each time they up the ante. (Kinda like what I do for every draft)

Now I have a new reason to feel insecure as a writer.

:-)

Stina Lindenblatt said...

The question is knowing when you've got to the 100%. ;)

Natalie Aguirre said...

Yes, you shouldn't send things out until they are 100%. I agree with Stina, it's hard to know when you've gotten there. I think you've just got to do the best you can and send out those queries to see what happens.

Holly Dodson said...

I think that's an excellent outlook! You've got to have confidence in yourself and your work to get anywhere.

Scott said...

First - love, love, love Fleetwood Mac. Unfortunately, I had that album, in vinyl. SIGH!

Second - Great, great, great post. Yeah, I'm all about repeating, repeating, repeating things three times today.

Third - sorry, I told you I was all about threes. I recently read a debut novel with tons of advers, dialogue tags, and whatnot. The rules are a guideline, not a command. I break the ones I want to break. I'm a rebel like that sometimes.

"You can go your own waaaaaayyyy!!"

S

KM said...

Hey, you have to know the rules to break 'em, right? And, yes, now Fleetwood Mac will be stuck in my head all day. But it's better than what was swishing around up there: "Highway to Hell," after seeing Iron Man 2. But mine is the Glee cast version, just 'cause it's better. ;)

Matthew Rush said...

There is no such thing as overconfidence if you're an artist, er - writer. You absolutely HAVE to believe in yourself and NEVER give up if you want to make it.

That's one of the many ways you inspire us Elana!

JoLynne Lyon said...

I agree absolutely. I think a writer has to earn her confidence; and often if she doesn't have it, it's because she knows she's not at 100 percent but doesn't want to put in the effort to get there.

Jess of All Trades said...

It boils down to 'Know the Rules before you Break them.'

I've always believed in that. Picasso could draw photo-realistically. But he surpassed that realm, and broke it down into something new.

Once you're at 100%, you can start to Play. There's a difference between someone who just doesn't know what they're doing, and someone like you, who is bold and artful.

Jaydee Morgan said...

If you don't have at least some confidence, this probably isn't the right calling. I agree with you 100% - if my work isn't at 100% of my abilities, I won't be sending it out. Patience and hard work need to accompany that confidence.

Lisa said...

Girlfriend, you are the bomb! Great post today. Oh, and I totally love Fleetwood Mac :)

Lindsay (a.k.a Isabella) said...

I have some confidence, but air on the side of caution. But I agree with you on the 100% topic.
I guess I'll just keep pushing towards that mark. :)

asabourova said...

Oh no! Now I'm going to be singing that song all day long! That said, thanks for reminding us to quit worrying and just go with what feels right. Nine times out of ten it'll pay off. (And that last one time, well, hopefully we can learn from mistakes...)

Rachele Alpine said...

I think it's important to make sure you're 100%. I queried the first time when I wasn't and I feel like I lost the chance to work with some agents (even though I love my current agent). However, after revising I had a hard time accepting that I was at 100% I kept wanting to revise again and again. It's important to give it 100%, but you also need to know when you have to let go.

Kristi Helvig said...

I have a hard time knowing if my work has reached 100%. I feel like no matter how many times I look at my ms, I can always find a word to change or a sentence to restructure. :)

Jonathon Arntson said...

Elana.

I love you.

I love you.

I love you.

Okay, so in all srsns, you have given me an epiphany. A real live one, I think I'll go plant a tree...after I finally finish my book and use then thousand sheets of paper. Okay, the epiph though? I've been trying to conquer before I get to 100% and frankly it's exhausting. I thing I shall go into a hermit hut and finish my book. Take a break. Revise said book. Take another break and query said book. See you in five!

Years.

I am kind of hyper today.

Coming to WIBIJ?! ?!

Kelly Bryson said...

Haha. I love Laser cats. In fact, I may have to repost that to FB. Thanks Erinn.

I worked my tail off to get my novel finished before I pitched at a conference- not because I expected that agent would ask for the manuscript that day, but because the better it is, the more confidence I have. I agree that it's all about knowing that you've done the best you can.

Corinne O'Flynn said...

fabulous... now I am channeling Lindsey Buckingham. *thanks*

Thanks for the pass on the rules. Spend a day bouncing around the writer/agent/pub blogs and the "rules" can really bog me down.

Do you need to be at 100%? Absolutely. My problem is knowing when to stop revising and reworking. It can always be improved, right? (love the move toward parentheticals, btw ;)

You have inspired me to go big picture today, get the big things done for now.

Happy Wednesday Elana!
Corinne

Karen Lange said...

I like that - 'confidence to stay in the game'. That about sums up what we need to build to run this writer's marathon. It's not a short race; we're in it for the long haul.

Mary McDonald said...

Confidence is great, and the knowledge is the key. It's not blind confidence.

Elana Johnson said...

Dude, Jon, I'll be at WIBIJ? today, but I'm doing copious amounts of testing and surely won't win. But I'll do it, just because I need to add another dimension to my life.

And that's why I've been absent in the blogosphere too. Testing. It sucks the life right out of me, and I have nothing left for blogs. Sorry guys! I swear I'll catch up soon.

As for getting to 100%, for me, it's a feel thing. I write it. Leave it alone. Revise it heavily (which really means I write it over again by hand) and give it to my barracuda herd, AKA a crit group.

After that I do another heavy edit. Maybe a couple of betas. When the things I'm getting back are personal, I know I'm at 95%.

Then I leave it again. On my final read-through, I fix what doesn't feel right TO ME. Of course there will always be one word to change or an awkward sentence. That's a given. That's why you go through like four editors at a house.

But once I feel right with it, I'm at 100%. You can get there. It's a feel thing, a process.

Georgiana said...

Definitely need to be at 100% of your very best! Great thought that by doing so you will stay in the game when rejections come. I'd never thought of it that way before. Thanks :D

Melissa Sarno said...

I remember an old writing professor telling me you have to know the rules before you can break them.
I think you do need to be at 100% before submitting. But I think you also need to adapt- if you get a lot of the same 'nos' you should probably re-assess where you are...

Jennie Englund said...

Do you know that this is one of my favorite blogs of all time? I love coming here. Bet a ton of writers do.

My writing partner and I just had this debate of when to submit. We write essays, too, which seem to be less revised than books.

One thing's for sure: I'm 117% crazy right now, waiting for the word on my MS!!!!!!!

Christina Lee said...

Knowing that is a learning process in itself--no? I SOOOO need a pep talk today.

JustineDell said...

Whoa! You are soooo right! YOU need to love it. YOU need to make it you. Sure, follow some rules, but not all because then you might end up with something you totally hate.

I've totally been there! OMG, if I thought I couldn't like you more - I was wrong. ;-)

~JD

WindyA said...

Such good points, per usual. :)

Jen Chandler said...

This is the best post I've read on writing in a loooooooonnnnngggg time. I've been told I'm too "stubborn". Especially in the writing "world" I read so much that is contrary to who I am (as a person and a writer). Yes, there are the big rules (you should address your query to the correct agent) but I must agree that if you're at 100%, if your story is at 100%, it will be noticed.
I've also noticed that the majority of the books on the shelves are those that break the "rules". Hmmm...
But, as I heard in a movie once, you have to know the rules before you can break them.
Thanks for another great post!
And thanks for the song. It's better than the Radio Head song that was stuck in my head...

Jen

Talli Roland said...

Oh dear Lord, now I'm singing that song! Too right, go your own way - if you are 100 per cent sure. To get there, I need to do a whole load of research and make sure I'm comfortable with any deviation!

Christine Fonseca said...

I completely agree!

Sara B. Larson said...

My problem is that I never feel like it's 100%, I could edit and edit and revise forever I think. But I do wait until I feel like it's only minor tweaks, just word choice instead of plot issues.

Great post! (as always) :-)

Janet Johnson said...

Go you! I totally agree about 100%. Why waste anyone's time?

Still, you gotta let go sometime. So there is a balance. Otherwise, you could ticky-tack edit forever!

Stephanie Thornton said...

100% is what to shoot for. And I'm all about knowing the rules so I can know which ones to break. Like fragments. I love writing fragments. A lot.

laurapauling said...

I think after time, I know when I'm at 100%. If I query too early and get forms, the niggling doubt rises and I know to stop and rework something. Sometimes the wip needs to be shelved for major restructuring. sometimes it's just the query. I think if there's any doubts - listen to what they are saying. Doubts being different than lack of confidence.

Krista said...

Okay, the song is in my head, but it's the drum part because I can totally rock it on Rock Band on HARD and I can only do a few songs on that level. So I'm good, and I will probably go play it very soon because it's been a while.

The learning part of getting to 100% is interesting, because yesterday I took a look at a ms I thought was at 100% 6 months ago and things I had learned since then were jumping out at me right and left. And I WANTED to fix them. How else can I show off what I'm learning?
Great post, Elana!

Cassandra Frear said...

I love this. Oh, I do. Tweeting it now. :-)

Lisa_Gibson said...

I'm kinda like you. My philosophy is let is all wash over me, and whatever I come away with is what I work with. It took awhile to learn what changes to make that critters might offer, cause I don't generally make ALL the changes recommended. I think I'm fairly close to 100%. Probably not totally there but I'm like 98.76% of the way there. lol ;)

Shannon O'Donnell said...

Yes! I didn't get to 100% the first time. I queried too soon. I fell on my ass. I learned from that, and I don't plan to be so stupid this time around. 100% this time!!! :-)

Stephanie McGee said...

You get to 100% through practice. Meaning revising.

And with novels, having a couple practice novels under your belt.

For me, I really do think that having 2 novels behind me as I write this current project is contributing to a stronger novel this go-around. Sure it's not perfect and there are a ton of things I could still learn. But I've gotten better with each.

Practice is the only way to get good at anything. And that includes writing.

Carol Kilgore said...

Yes!!!
Excellent advice.

Write Chick said...

Thanks--I will be singing Fleetwood Mac all day now. Nice.
I loved, loved, loved this post! I feel like I'm getting in the 90% range right now. Almost there. But it is good to hear that you do the best you can and you believe in what you've written. And then you GO FOR IT! Great advice.

p.s. Coming from another teacher, testing does suck! It will all be over soon. :-)

Bethany Elizabeth said...

Great advice! 100% here I come! :) Well, I gots a bit of ways to go. But I definitely agree with knowing the rules before you break them. Knowledge is power, yeah? :D

Catherine Denton said...

I needed that kick in the butt. I tend to over analyze (everything!). So sometimes I make it about following all the rules and don't just go for it. I love your 100% rule. I've sent out a few 88% and even some 60% pieces, but I know better. Thanks for the jolt.

Winged Writer

L. T. Host said...

Great point! I think that 100% of what you are capable of is what's important. I've seen authors who have agents and sold books that use adverbs and have tense issues... guess what, they still sold. Some of the little rules make your writing cleaner and give a copy editor less to correct, sure, but if they break your story or take away from it, it's not going to help you.

Kathi Oram Peterson said...

It's all about believing in yourself. And you know what they say, if you know a rule, you can break it. ;)

Patti said...

I had a writer friend tell me that you just need to get it to 80% and then your good to go, but I guess that's like aiming for 80% on a test instead of 100%

Lisa K. said...

I'm all for knowing the rules and knowing when to break them, and other than formatting guidelines and general etiquette, I believe, too, that you can and should stay true to yourself when writing/querying/submitting. I also like the idea of getting to 100% and then going for it, although I think that is potentially troublesome for some writers. A writer friend of mine, who shall remain nameless, is so hung up on an impossible idea of her own 100% that she can't manage to finish a manuscript, no less begin the querying process. I guess like everything else, it's different for everyone.

Sandra Ulbrich Almazan said...

I don't think the 100% is constant; it keeps growing as your skills increase. What was 100% for me last year may be 90% for me now. Perhaps what really matters is knowing when you've learned as much from a project as you can. Perhaps that's when you reach 100% with it and can let it go, at least for the time being.

Yamile said...

I don't even know who That Mac guy is (related to computers at all? It seems not), but I do have Frank Sinatra stuck in my ears now. Thanks for that.
You're awesome Elana. I agree. Give it 100%. How do you get there? 1% at a time. Little by little, every day.
At the LDS conference, someone in my group told me my story was all wrong for YA: too literary, too long sentences, not enough slang. My bootcamp sargent told me not to pay attention. She loved it.
Not 100% of the people who read your work will like it, but if you give it 100% you will, and you'll have the drive to keep going, and next time raise your personal bar.

Taryn Tyler said...

Learn the rules so you know how to break them. Following them will make you like everyone else but not knowing them just means you don't know what you're doing. good post :D

Krispy said...

Great advice! Do the best that you can, and don't be afraid to be yourself. Must have more confidence!

Paul Greci said...

Good advice, Elana!

Candyland said...

You're 100% (pun intended) correct. Get everything the best you know how and then let it go.

Carolyn V. said...

I'm always so anxious to get my work out, but 100% is the way to go! (With lots of time and work!)

Theresa Milstein said...

They always say we can't break the rules until they show us someone who broke the rules in an impressive way and tell us that's the exception.

From the first sentence, I got "I'm a Believer stuck in my head.

Palindrome said...

I love it! That's a great way of thinking about things and I'm going to adopt it and then there will be two of us!

Shelli (srjohannes) said...

as long as you know the rules and requirements - you can do what you need to do. it doesnt mean you dont do your research. It means its ok to be different!

Liza said...

Hmmm, know the rules before you break them? Nice. Play with them, sleep with them, frolic with them, take long handholding walks on the beach with them, and then decide you have to let them go? Yep.

Shannon Whitney Messenger said...

I so envy your confidence! Yes, I definitely pick and choose which rules to follow and go my own way--I just do it with a big knot of stress in my stomach worrying that I'm screwing everything up. So far I've landed on my feet (though I'm sure I'm halfway to my second ulcer). Got any confidence I can borrow? :)

vdemetros said...

I love it. And I think you make a great point-even writers who feel they have "done the right thing" end up having to revise and change. So why not go with your gut and do what you think should be done? As long as you stick to the general rules, I think you're on the right track.

Charity Bradford said...

Awesome post Elana. I think I'm at 90%. Thanks for reminding me it's ok to wait and keep working. ;)

Adventures in Children's Publishing said...

Seriously fantastic advice -- and your comment about process is equally valuable. There's a TON of great stuff buried in here. Yep. This post is a keeper and I'm putting it in for our Friday This Week for Writers roud-up. Then I'm tweeting it. You are amazing. And thank you!

Martina

lotusgirl said...

Exactly. I love your attitude. I'm finding too that what was 100% a year ago is so much less than 100% is today. I'm working on getting things to their best.

Nichole Giles said...

Okay, I totally forgive you for the Fleetwood Mac thing. And the Dixie Chicks one, too, since they have a song sort of like that. It's a good thing they're both songs I like.

But I totally agree with you. The problem I see, though, is that most of us think we're at 100% when we're really more like, 60%. Then we work harder, get up to more like, 75%, and think we're 100% again. Sometimes, it takes a few tries before we really are at 100%, and then, once we do get an agent, and even a publisher, it's pretty likely that they're going to tell us that we're really only 40% and need to do TONS more work. Thus goes the cycle.

But this is not a bad thing, necessarily. Every ounce of effort involved in the work will stay ingrained in us, and hopefully, help us grow into better, more awesomesauce writers. Whatever. Ya know?

We just have to heed your words and survive. We can do hard things. We can.

foldingfields said...

I 100% agree.

Roxane B. Salonen said...

Elana, I recently spent time with a friend who is stifled with 100 percent. I'm trying to encourage her to try for 98. :) But I do know what you mean. It's really more about finding your own 100, which is a powerful and important message.

Cheree said...

You're absolutely right. You should always go for that 100%. I think I'm probably 90, so I'll keep pushing until I reach it.

Angela Ackerman said...

I am a big believer in knowing the rules and then deciding which to follow. It's called style, baby!

But, it doesn't work the other way...you have to know the rules before you choose what to break and what to follow.

Munk said...

Take it from me, I'm a scientist, there is no such thing as 100%.
Your loving blogfollower (that's right blogfollower, one word, don't hesitate, say it fast and emphasize the FOL),
Munk

Jojomama said...

Agreed. And sometimes only experience can get you to that 100% and that means failing a lot first.
Thanks as usual, girl. Dang-- nobody says it straight like a Sagitarian--I oughtta know.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

100% implies perfection and that will never happen.

And yes, you are evil. Good thing I can tolerate that song.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Oh heck, I followed so few guidelines it's a miracle I'm an author!

MissV said...

Another great post! The only problem is that it takes for-freakin-ever to get to my 100%

Jemi Fraser said...

Yup - that song is now firmly implanted in the brain - thanks :)

I'm working on this. I have a ways to go before I'm finished revising & editing, but when I'm at the 100 I may call out for a push!

Jana Hutcheson said...

I SO needed to hear this. Thanks for posting!

Shelley Sly said...

Agreed! I wish I knew this a long time ago when I'd queried too soon.

And yup, you got that song in my head, but I'm not complaining. :D

Kara said...

What a great attitude! And I agree with the 100%:)

Serenissima said...

You've put into words something that's taken me years to understand about my work process. A great post for any aspiring writer!

Journaling Woman said...

A girl after my own heart. Wait- what does that mean? Are you going to rip my heart out?

anyway - Yes!

Brenda Drake said...

Every time I think I'm at 100%, I learn something new and drop back down to 90%.

Medeia Sharif said...

I studied queries, and I took what I liked from the samples I read.

With writing, there are so many rules and tips out there. Again, I take whatever fits my writing. Even when I'm getting critiqued, I sift through the advice to figure out what will work and what won't.

I can't fit the mold and follow all the examples. Then my writing wouldn't be mine.

WhisperingWriter said...

Love this post. And I totally agree.

Solvang Sherrie said...

How do you think you get there? For me it's more a question of how do you know you ARE there? I mean, I thought I was...but now I'm not so sure...

Heather Kelly said...

This was perfect for me today. I had an agent crit the first chapter of my ms at the NESCBWI over the weekend, and although I had already completely revised it, (or maybe because I had) it felt really uncomfortable for me. It gave me the feeling that I need to GO BIG all the time. Really BIG. I think it was just the act of sitting across from an agent. I'm psyched!! Shoot for the Freakin' stars!! Woo-hoo!!!

Carrie said...

It is so true that 100% changes. My 100% is so different than it was last year. There is a short story that I probably would have thought was 100% last year but this year I keep working on it because I want it to be 100%.

catwoods said...

Elana,

I love your song pick. I'm a Fleetwood Mac junkie. I also love your philosophy to know what you know and then go your own way.

Know the rules and know why you are breaking them.

Great advice. Now divvy up that confidence!

Feywriter said...

I'm with Carrie. 100 percent, and total confidence, for my first novel feels nowhere close two years later.

You're right. Most of us KNOW the rules. We shouldn't be stressing over them mid-process, just going for it and trusting that we know what we know.

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