Mental Yoga for Writers

I have recently been to Billabong Retreat and attended an inspiring workshop on the philosophy behind the Yoga Practice. They are called the Yamas and Niyamas and I realised that they can actually be applied to anything, broad or specific. 

I’m thinking of them for me as a writer…

Yamas

Ahimsa (non-harming) 

I vow to be kind to myself and others, and my characters, even when the evil or misguided ones, I understand their path. I enjoy the journey and do not pressure myself, remembering that pressure is different from commitment.

Satya (truthfulness) 

Honesty in thoughts, words and actions is always in my mind. I accept each of my days’ reality and surrender to my limits. I am authentic in my expression. Before talking I ask myself: Is it true, is it kind, is it necessary? Does it improve on Silence?

Asteya (non-stealing) 

I respect possessions, time and energy; mine and others. I do not invade space or ideas, I don’t rob people of their peace or fulfilment. I don’t rob myself of the present time. I am present, I live the journey.

Aparigraha (Non-attachment/non-possessiveness) 

I am enough, I have enough, I do enough, I let all forms of energy draining thoughts go. I appreciate what I have, what I am. I let go of outcomes and expectations. And I remember that rejection is divine protection.

Brahmacharya (maintenance of vitality/previously seen as chastity) 

I listen to my boundaries and desires, and preserve and respect mine and others’ energies.

Yoga Practices for the Niyamas

Tapas (purification through discipline) 

I am disciplined and “I am stronger than myself” (Clarice Lispector).

Santosha (contentment)

I am incredibly grateful and peaceful.

Saucha (purity)

I organise my writing space, I observe cleanliness of mind, body, energy and surroundings.

Svadhyaya (self-study)

I understand, observe, respect upon and develop my writing.

Ishvara Pranidhana (devotion to a higher power)

I surrender and trust my creativity and the inspiration that comes from outside of me.

Discipline for the Creative Mind

How can you discipline water? Fluidity? Like trying to make water into a shape but without applying it to a rigid container? Making the inner creative mind to be disciplined is a bit like that.

Applying pressure has the opposite of the desired effect, the more pressure, the less ideas and the further you get from The Famously Creative Flow.

The way is digging the path in front of the water for it to stream through it. There is a commitment to the digging, to creating the path, to the process and the general direction, eventually, once you have created a good height difference and a worthwhile gap for the liquid to trickle into, it will come, it is inevitable. Yet, one must remember that it has its own laws of physics to follow, which may seem inscrutable to the digger, you can’t see the lay of the land where the water is coming from, or predict the weather patterns that will create the rain. But it will come, one way or another, if you keep digging.

You won’t be able to choose what comes, in which way, the amount of it, the quality, the purity… you are but creating the vessel. You can only keep digging, and believing and never stopping, because if you stop, the water pools.

This is the creative process way, inspiration is the water, and keeping at it, writing, painting, sculpting, singing, playing, is the digging of the path. We, creators, can get better and better in using the tools of the trade, the techniques, and dedicate more and more time; increasing the amount of captured inspiration and the flow of it more consistent, but in the end… we have to submit to what comes to us and not compare to anyone else, no processes are ever the same.

This is what I am doing. I have achieved, last September, something I’ve been working towards for a long time: I am working four days a week, at work, and writing (digging) one day a week, at home, plus parts of the weekend, and sometimes after hours…

It’s been six months that I’m taking a day a week for writing. Two writing days have never been the same. I spent most of today preparing the way, writing on clarity of what I’m doing, of my process, on research to support my created world, reading inspirational quotes for writers, and going to the toilet every ten minutes and then, it poured! Deep and meaningful facts and I needed to find out about this world I’m creating on paper, I mean, on virtual paper. Over 4,200 words without blinking. And until it came, there was only dry earth…

I’ll finish with one of the quotes I dug today:

“Don’t try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say.” Barbara Kingsolver

Act as If… this is a Writing Day

I am prone to listening to various sorts of… how do I put it, information? There is self-development, but not only that, also TED talks, philosophical books, books about creativity and writing, etc.

I figured, a while ago, that you can’t change your life without changing your thoughts.

I cannot read non-fiction, I get bored, but I love them in audio-books or programs. Recently there was a promotion of non-fiction audio-books and I ended up with nine of them in different subjects. I don’t listen to one, beginning to end, I listen to whatever my mood asks for.

I am listening to two books, one about how the brain works and the other about Aliens. The first tells me how the brain creates conspiracy theories by creating connections that do not exist, because the brain prefers to have a drunken pilot at the helm, a.k.a. shadowy government in control; than having no-one in control or a vessel without a pilot.

The Alien book shows all the proof that Aliens do exist and that there is, most definitely, a conspiracy.

Hard to choose what I really believe in, probably both and neither.

One of my new favourites is Liz Gilbert’s “Big Magic”. I agree with her that Artists create in spite of their hunted soul, not because of it.

One of my old favourites is Mike Dooley’s “Infinite Possibilities” that introduced me to a concept I now use all the time: ACT AS IF.

Today I’m acting as if I had full days of writing and have spent the day exactly as I would if I were a successful, highly paid best seller, and a full-time writer.

Chocolate Tales

A little while ago a colleague installed a chocolate box on my desk for charity, since then I’ve acquired an extra role: people’s consciousness. They come to me to dialogue with themselves, mostly about two things: chocolate and money.

‘Look, I didn’t have breakfast, I’m being naughty.’

‘I don’t know how you can do it, have the box on your desk…’

‘Oh that’s my favourite, we still have it!’

‘I’ll deposit $5 in case I need more chocolate later on.’

‘This chocolate box is bad. But I like it.’

‘I’m coming to look at the chocolate box, to see if I want one or not.’

Person walks away… half an hour later.

‘I want one.’

‘I’ll put some money in okay! I promise.’

‘A-ha!’ (When they found the one they wanted.)

(Uommmmmmmmmmmmm Person comes on an electric scooter.) 

‘Here we go… I just needed a chocolate.’

Person buys a chocolate.

(Person moves away on the scooter uommmmmmmmmmmmmm.)

‘You are to be my witness, here is $5, I’m taking $4 back.’

‘I had a big workout last night, I deserve all the chocolates I want.’

‘I need more chocolate, it’s so bad, can’t wait until it’s gone!’ 

(Looking so happy with a mouth full of chocolate.)

‘I’ll be back’ said to the chocolate box.

They come in a group of 3;place their faces inside the box in a huddle, pulling one or the other out.

‘I thought you liked the cherry one.’

‘No, I prefer this one.’

‘I’ll ask for another box in.’

How to Prepare a Book Submission for Literary Agents – Part 3

Part 3 – Getting the Material Ready

See how to build your shortlist of agents in part 1

See how to list the contents you will need in part 2

There is no consensus about anything, I’ve researched the details on how to format manuscripts, how to write book proposals, how to write query letter or a bio, etc. But in the end, there are just many different suggestions. You must do your own research and choose what resonates with you.

In the end if you make any decision and go with it, it is better than leaving your book in a drawer, virtual or real.

The important part is that you will need to research step by step, read on how to write each piece, how long it should be and decide on the voice and tone.

 

Query Letter

There are many articles about how to write a good query letter but I have here a few things that I think all query letters should include:

  • In the subject, include the word “query”, the name of your project, and who it is in attention to (if you are sending to a generic email address).
  • A bit about you, including where you are from or based at, whichever is relevant.
  • How many words your manuscript has.
  • The number of agents you are submitting in total.
  • Note if the manuscript has been self-published before and how did it go.
  • Make it adaptable as a submission letter if the agent wants to see a submission in the first instance.
  • Make sure you address it to the right person and add something in the letter to make it personal for them.
  • Add at least one paragraph for the specific agent mentioning something that either they have represented or their agency represents that is relevant to your project.

 

Other Material

  • Short overview
  • Synopsis
  • Complete Synopsis

Prepare a few different sizes of summaries, I would recommend a one-page overview; one three-page synopsis, and a complete synopsis of about 5-7 pages. You will probably need them all.

  • Format the full manuscript
  • Save it in the different sample sizes requested (3 pages, 3 chapters, 50 pages, 30 consecutive pages, etc.)
  • Prepare a full Book Proposal including:
    • Author Bio
    • Competition
    • Market (WHO will read the book)
    • Promotion (HOW readers will learn about the book)

Put all the material together in an organised way and make sure you have it edited and proofread.

I use online freelancers to proofread and edit my material because it is what I can afford for now.

 

This is my checklist for the reviewing process:

  • Prepare all material in a MS Word document
  • Include an updated table of contents
  • Write detailed add for freelancer online community
  • Post the advert
  • Shortlist the freelancers
  • Chat with favourite freelancer and ask a few questions (it’s a good way to see how they actually write)
  • Make a choice / Engage the freelancer and send material
  • Once the material is back, go over track changes, change by change (never, ever click accept all)
  • Format the final material into the pieces you need (for attachment, in pdf or word; or to add to body of email)
  • EXCITING TIME: Ready to submit!

Only then you are really ready for submission. Reserve quality time, when you are not too tired, to make the submissions. The attention to detail —following each agents rules and double checking nothing has changed since you noted them — is essential to your success.

Good Luck!

How to Prepare a Book Submission for Literary Agents – Part 2

Part 2 – Listing the Content you Will Need to Prepare

Once you have your shortlist of agents (see how to build your list in part 1) you would like to submit to, you must create a list of what they ask for in the first and second instances.

First Instance – Query Letter

Most agents do not accept submissions, they accept queries. They state in large bold letters WE DO NOT ACCEPT UNSOLICITED MATERIAL, or something of the kind.

But even these, sometimes, accept queries. This means they allow you to ask them if they want you to send them your material. I know, it feels like a begging process where they have all the strength and you have none, but don’t get discouraged, it is what it is and it is important to follow their rules to give you a chance to get through.

As you have seen in Part 1, I am willing, with boundaries, I won’t send my work to aggressive and grudging people, for example. But for the rest, my project deserves the best of me and I am happy to do what is necessary to get it out there. That means queries.

Each agent states what they want in their queries or with their queries. Sometimes they only want the Query Letter, sometimes they ask for a short summary or a few chapters of your book. Make a list of everything all of your agents want from you.

Second instance – Book Submission

From my research I have realised that if the agent likes your query letter and wants to see more, they want it straight away and that is not a simple matter.

Some of the agents will tell you what you should have ready if they want to see your book submission, it can be the full manuscript or part of the manuscript, it usually includes an author bio but they might ask for other book-related aspects.

Again, make a detailed list of what they might ask following. It is important to note that agents and agencies may have different demands if your project is fiction or non-fiction, screenplay or illustrated book. Make sure you note the right demands for your type of material.

Create two lists:

1) List by Agency

Agent Name

Agency

Country

  • Note if they want to receive a query or a direct submission

Query Letter

  • Email address or form-on-website address
  • Specificities about the subject line (yes, they are this detailed)
  • Note if the email is for a specific person/agent, if not, you need to add the agent name in the Subject Line
  • Any specificity of what the letter should contain
    • (e.g. a paragraph about the writer)
  • Specific demands that you fulfil
    • (e.g. that you are Australian for an agent that only represents Australian writers)
  • If they want or refuse attachments and want you to put everything in the body of the email

Submission

  • What you should have ready for the next stage, if they want to see a full submission

 

2) List by Material Needed

Separate what you need to have ready for the first and second instances. List everything all the agents are looking for and get to work.

 

See below an example of what my lists looked like.

Continue reading How to Prepare a Book Submission for Literary Agents – Part 2

Angry Agent’s & Publisher’s Sites – Are they endangering their own industry?

I get it, it must be frustrating to be a literary agent and receive hundreds of unsolicited, poor-quality material, but I’m here wondering if these angry Agents and Publishers aren’t creating their own demise. It is not all of them but still more than I expected.

In my research on how to submit my recently finished book to an agent, I’ve learned that the proper process is to send a Query Letter, and see if the agent wants to receive a submission; if and only then, you send a cover letter, with summary and submission and many other details; then you wait, possibly for months. If no agent wants to represent you, you may try to send directly to publishers, the reason being that it seems that if all the publishers have already rejected you, no agent will agree to represent you.

While reading the agents and publishers website I kept being assaulted by exasperated people right and left.

They sounded like angry teachers:

  • Do not send unsolicited material.
  • We repeat: Do not send mail that needs to be signed for.
  • WE DON’T OPEN ATTACHMENTS!
  • We do not look at work which is under submission to any other agent or publisher.
  • Do not send the whole work.
  • Do not send cassette tapes, CDs, or video tapes.
  • Binding: please don’t. We prefer that the material should be in the form of loose sheets, unbound, held together by string or cotton tape.

‘String? Cotton Tape? Printed sheets? What?’ If we writers test the patience of the agents, I’d say they do it right back at us. String?

The general tone of many Agents and Publishers websites is that we, the writers, are basically the scum of the Earth and we will be immensely lucky if they deem us worthy of their time.

There are lots of rules and regulations screaming at the reader with a thousand rules. There is a tone of lack of patience, of tired people that will take months to look at your query or manuscript but, in quite a few cases, want you to only submit to them.

I felt empathy for what they seem to go through but doubt that this is the best way to go forward in the long term.

We have to consider the changes in the publishing industry. No wonder so many authors are Self-Publishing, it is not encouraging to have to sift through angriness just to learn how to submit your work.

I have heard of many books that first made best sellers then were picked by the publishing world, it might not take long for authors to prefer going their own way. With many publishing houses and book stores closing down and going through serious restructure, I think professionalism and curtesy would be a better strategy.

I am finding harder and harder to pick which books are publishing mainstream and which are home-published, in e-books and at Amazon I simply search for what I like and don’t even look at the publisher. It is not impossible that Agents and Publishers could make themselves superfluous.

I do have the utmost respect and love for the job Publishers and Agents do. I miss the quality of the writing world before the self-publishing advent, which I’m guilty of. I miss going through a list of books knowing they are all professionally edited, proof-read, and picked as the cherries of the written word. But the reality is that that world is gone.

On the other hand, becoming a self-publisher is also a lot of work, and I’m not good at promoting and selling my books, getting freelancers to help me out every step of the way is time-consuming and at times, frustrating. That is why I am choosing to submit to agents and publishers and hope for the best. I did manage to pick some good agents and create a healthy list [see here how to create your own list].

My point is that maybe it is time for these angry Agents and Publishers to find a friendlier way to interact with their potential Authors. I find it strange that they are willing to treat badly the same people who will bring them their income. Instead I would suggest they should find better processes, include checklists for authors to follow before submission, for example. Interactive forms, where the applicant has to add the essential information, processes that would guide the aspiring writer to do it right, creating a healthy relationship from the start.