Pet Snakes, Gidget and putting yourself out there: Update on Jocosa of the Earrings

This is a picture of me and my new best friend - my niece's snake Aphrodite! Do I like snakes? Not particularly. But I told my niece I would step outside my comfort zone of furry domestic pets with paws and claws and hold her reptilian pet snake. As writers it is good to step outside our comfort zones - whether it's opening an emotional vein and spilling ink like blood all over the page, presenting at a conference, doing interviews or whatever scares you. We put ourselves out there every time we submit a manuscript or go to a blue pencil or pitch session with an editor or agent.  

One writer who put herself out there is  Jocosa of the Earrings. It's been almost a year since the Surrey International Writers' Conference where she declared that she wouldn't cut her hair until her book was published. She'd pitched to Donald Maass and he requested the first fifty pages of the re-write. She spent the last year re-writing it. Here, in her words, she picks up the story. 
When we left off, the last two thirds of my manuscript was sculpted, but the first third was a protoplasmic mess. For inspiration I trekked down to NYC to see a play and agent stalk. Did it work? Yes and no. I was juiced to hone the opening pages, but alas, my muse refused to oil my fingers. The keyboard remained silent, the computer page white.

Fear plagued my psyche.

Had I destroyed my creativity because I was too focused on the joy of having an agent’s interest? Was my passion for my story deflating? Was my lack of craft showing? Was I fooling myself about being a writer? What had I been thinking when I agreed to have my journey to publication chronicled on
Three Dead Moths?

Maybe I was only a dreamer.

Fortunately, there’s a bit of
Gidget in me. For those of you who don’t know—Gidget is a fictional character created by Fredrick Kohner in his 1957 novel Gidget, The Little Girl with Big Ideas--about a teenage girl and her surfing friends in Malibu. In 1957 it became a hit movie starring Sandra Dee and James Darren (one of my favorite fun flicks). And in 1965 it became a successful television show starring Sally Field.

Besides being a girl with unflappable patience and persistence, Gidget also learns practically everything she needs to know from books. Love it. I have scoured many a craft book throughout my journey.
Writing the Breakout Novel and The Fire in Fiction, both by Donald Maass, The First Five Pages and The Plot Thickens both by Noah Lukeman, and The Writer’s Journey by Chris Vogler to name a few.

But the Gidget in me said, “Not this time.”

I chose to consult my notes from the 2009 SIWC. And once again, clarity came through the voice of
Lisa Rector. One of the first things Lisa said during The First 50 Pages workshop was, “I’m not going to talk to you about what you are doing wrong. We’re going to talk about what you are doing right.” If you identify what you do well as a writer and repeat it, you can prevent a lot of mistakes, such as too much back-story, go-no-where dialogue, absent tension and sagging middles.

Works for me.

So, what was it I was doing well in the last two thirds of the book that I could steal from? I admit to feeling weird about identifying what I was doing well. Felt a bit conceited and made me want to look over my shoulder to make certain no one was laughing. But if you can’t identify what you’re doing right, how can you be sure you’re doing anything wrong? And if you can’t figure out what isn’t working how will your story ever make it on to the shelves?

Next installment: Jocosa, Jocosa let down your hair! We'll have a pic of her (and another pair of her fabulous earrings) and her growing hair. 

Now, from the Gidget school of not taking no for an answer...


Angela Ackerman said…
That is seriously the most awesome name EVAR for a snake. And you look so laid back with it hanging around your neck!

I shudder to think how long my hair would be if I refused to cut it at the start of my journey, lol.
Jan Markley said…
Angela: My niece was torn between Aphrodite or Cora - both good names for a snake, but Aphrodite is better. I was surprised how relaxed I was. My hair would be sasquatch length if it represented my journey to publication!
Dawn said…
I figured joining dance classes was stepping outside o my comfort zone...but holding a snake? You got me beat, girl :-)
Angie said…
Good for Jocasa! Great advice there. I can't wait to see her hair. I would not be brave enough to hold a snake around my neck. Eeek!
Jan Markley said…
Dawn and Angie: The snake was kind of cuddly! And Dawn, I think you do well with your dance classes. Jocosa is brave putting herself out there with her vow. I'll post the next one on Thursday before I leave for Surrey!
LTM said…
thank you thank you thank you, Jan! Perfectly timed for me--oh, and I love me some Gidget~ ;p
Jan Markley said…
Leigh! Glad it was just what you needed. I think we all need a little Gidget attitude now and then!
Lynda Young said…
I like the advice: focus on what you do well.
Arlee Bird said…
My wife can't even look at a picture of a snake without being terrified. When my daughters were younger I got them a snake for a pet. They are pretty good indoor pets--quiet, don't smell, and you just have to give them a mouse every so often. It's not good when the snake escapes its enclosure--it always took a while to find it.

Tossing It Out
Jan Markley said…
Lynda: it is good advice. sometimes you have a chapter that just rocks and rolls and you can look at it and examine why is it so good and how can I replicate that in every chapter.

Arlee Bird: My niece thought she'd already lost the snake, turns out it was just hiding under her rock. You certainly don't want a snake to get out!
Elana Johnson said…
Oh, man, I am so not a snake person. At least they don't have legs. But I think it's a good point that we have to step out of our comfort zones.
Jan Markley said…
It sure is Elana. I was just looking at your posts on Query letters - good stuff. Angela Ackerman steered us to your site for info on queries when she was presenting at a recent SCBWI meeting!