Top 5 Mistakes For First Time Queries & Making Yourself Write

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First of all – if you haven’t already realized this I’m going to say it again – we all generally hate ourselves when we sit down to write. I’m currently holed up in a hotel room working on this podcast instead of writing, because it seems I have completely forgotten how to.

I’ll remember, maybe after a nap, but I have the luxury of knowing that I will remember how to write. I’ve been here before, in this doubtful place with a blank screen and a cursor staring at me, a gulf of indecision and inadequacy opening up inside.

I’m sure that feels familiar to you if you’re a writer, but like the listener posing the question on Twitter, you might not have that resource to fall back on – knowing that you have done it before, and will again. Eventually.

Maybe after a drink.

Or perhaps petting the cat.

For an hour.

Also, I have to pee.

This is called procrastination. Writers are excellent at it. It’s an answer to our problem of fear – being afraid of failing. We can’t fail at something we don’t actually attempt, can we?

You also can’t succeed.

Making yourself write is most definitely the way to put it. It truly is a forced endeavor, at times, and often I meet aspiring writers who feel like they aren’t writers because it’s such a struggle, because they have to force themselves to do it.

For example, just last night in the elevator with writing friends I squared my shoulders right before the door opened on my floor and said, “Okay, I’ve got to go write.”

To which one said, “Don’t do that to yourself.”

Yep. In an elevator full of traditionally published, successful authors, absolutely everyone – including myself – was in pain just at the thought of writing.

If this is you, take heart.

But Mindy, if it’s truly a passion, truly a love, truly a creative instinct and drive – shouldn’t you want to?

No, not necessarily.

I absolutely love my boyfriend. I don’t want to be with him every moment of every day. That’s emotional work.

So is writing.

Work, hard work, work embroidered with your soul – work that someone else might hate, work that – when shared – feels like disrobing, an intimate moment. If you don’t want to do it, the best thing to move yourself is to ask yourself why?

Is it because you are afraid of failing?

Realize that you might. Then ask yourself if you’re okay with never trying.

Is it because you aren’t feeling inspired?

Me neither. Writing is not (usually) a disembodied fever dream that flows from your fingers. Those moments do happen, but they are rare and I don’t question them, or dissect how they came to be for fear of killing it through observation.

I’ll add that those fugue state words are often ones that need a lot of heavy lifting after the fact – serious editing to – in some cases – inject logic into what they are trying to convey.

On the other hand, those tedious paragraphs that took me hours to deliver? They don’t need a lot of polish because I spit on each word and gave it a serious side-eye before moving on to the next one.

Two weeks ago I talked about word vomits – getting words out while not overly considering quality. Quantity is the aim in a word vomit. You’ll clean it up later.

What I’m talking about right now is a dry heave – painful excretions of each syllable. And – much like a real dry heave – less to clean up.

Are you not writing because you have other, more pressing things in your life?

Is it your family? Valid. Is it your friends? Valid. Is it your day job? Valid. Is it Netflix? Is it your bladder? Is it an excuse?

Are you not writing because you don’t know how?

Answer – do you read books, watch TV or movies, or go to plays? Then you know how. Do it.

Are you not writing because when you put down five words they look so small on that white page?

Put down five more. That’s ten. Do it.

Are you not writing because someone told you there are rules and a right way to create a novel and you’re afraid of doing it wrong?

They’re wrong. Do it.

You probably picked up on the refrain – do it.

That’s the best possible advice I can give on writing. You just have to do it. When I first started writing, I would put myself in front of my laptop and say, “Alright Mindy, make some shit happen.”

If it helps to swear at yourself – do it.

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This question came from Facebook, a poster asked me to share some common mistakes for first time query-ers and submit-er’s.

Can do.

First – don’t bulk email query. Many agents prefer a personalization in queries they receive – a reason why you are querying them. This will definitely get their attention, but I do like to stress that it’s not a necessity. I landed mine with the simple, Dear Ms. Ranta, followed by a hook. But what they don’t want to see is a BCC in their email, knowing that they were just hit with a query that not only wasn’t personalized – but the writer didn’t even bother to send it to them as an individual. What’s worse? Not BCC’ing, so that everyone can see who else got the email. It’s like getting a prom invite that says, also, if you say no, I’ve already asked Sherry, Jana, Emily and Darlene, so, no pressure, but also don’t feel special, kay?

Second – don’t respond to a rejection. A simple thank you for your time is fine, but also unnecessary – hopefully that was your closing line in the query or submission, anyway. Most rejection responses are inherently defensive in nature, border on passive aggressive – or, are flat out aggressive. I’m going to assume you are smart enough to not do any of those things, and move on to the next point. Let’s be honest – why are you responding? Because there was a minor compliment in the rejection and you want to hear more about what’s working in the manuscript? Of course you do – but, that’s also not the job of this agent… that’s the job of your agent, yes. But this person isn’t your agent – they just rejected you. You’re asking them to do their job for free… nobody likes that. And again – why are you responding? Because you are hoping that your response will be so eloquent and beautiful or witty and moving that they change their minds. That’s why you’re responding. They’re not going to. Move on.

Third – DO follow query and submission guidelines. Yes, I know. They are hoops you don’t want to jump through. It’s arbitrary. It’s annoying. It’s not part of your creative process. When I first started doing the processing at my library job, one of the things that the woman who held the position before me did was handwrite the barcode on page 25 of every single book. That’s ridiculous, I thought. I’m cutting that step out. Then a book came back to the library with the dustjacket (therefore, the barcode) torn off. I couldn’t return it. I didn’t know whose it was. I couldn’t put it back in the system. Oh… so this is why she did that. Guidelines and processes exist for a reason. It may not be obvious to you why they exist, but it’s not arbitrary, and it’s not a game to see if you’ll do it right, only to buzz you out if you don’t. Going rogue and doing your own thing is cool on the creative side, not so much on the business side.

Fourth – Don’t slam someone already established in the industry. Yes, you may think you are a better writer than they are, in fact you might actually be. It doesn’t matter. They are successful for a reason – one that you haven’t figured out yet. Maybe they had an awesome hook, or a high concept plot. Maybe a frantic bidding war made that book sell for way more than what you deem it worth. Maybe you just don’t like them, personally. Doesn’t matter. Publishing is small, and if you are trashing a writer on Twitter, their agent will see it. And you might want to query them.

Fifth – Don’t tell an agent or editor in a submission that if they pass they will regret it. It will be the biggest mistake of their lives. You are a genius who is breaking down creative walls and history will remember them for being the person who held their sledgehammer for them. Quite frankly – don’t be a dick. Flip side – Don’t tell the agent or editor that this is your first novel, that you don’t really know what you are doing, that if they pass you will understand, because honestly, it’s probably pretty bad. In other words – don’t sell yourself short. Yes, these queries DO happen and either way, you’re presenting yourself as someone they don’t want to work with – the diva or the needy.

Hope that helps – some of these things are obvious, I know, but you’d be surprised how often they happen.

As always, if you have a suggestion for something you’d like me to address dealing with writing, publishing, or questions for me in general – feel free to ask! Email me at Mindy@MindyMcGinnis.com or ask me on Twitter.

2 thoughts on “Top 5 Mistakes For First Time Queries & Making Yourself Write

  1. I find it so difficult to write when not inspired. Do you focus on your current project or give yourself creative license when you’re just not in the mood?

    1. I usually am only drafting one project at a time, and that’s the one I’ll be working on – inspired or not. There is a definite element of forcing yourself to write, at times. But like a car that doesn’t want to start, once you get warmed up you will take to the idea of running.

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