What the NFL Draft Can Teach Writers

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Written by Brendan O’Meara

 

The rejection feeling.
The rejection feeling.

Yes, the NFL Draft, the annual meat market where football coaches and general managers look to project a human being’s value, has come and gone. The lessons of the Draft are so valuable to the writer. Take Geno Smith.

Smith was the quarterback for the West Virginia Mountaineers. He was projected to be a slam-dunk first-round pick. But his name was never called. He dropped and dropped. At last he went early in the second round. At least he wasn’t Tom Brady who didn’t get drafted until the sixth round as the 199th overall selection.

Think about that for a moment. Tom Brady, Super Bowl hero, super model marrying, Ugg-endorsing playboy was deemed the 199th best player in the 2000 draft. In writing terms, he was rejected 198 times. He then saw owner Bob Kraft and told him he was the best decision he ever made.

As the rejections mount for your book, or your essay, or your love life, just think every no is one step closer to a yes. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve let the ‘no’ devalue my worth. One ‘no’ ended my baseball career. I can’t begin to tell you how many rejections I’ve received for the three books I’ve written. My first, unpublished, has probably 20 rejections. My second book, Six Weeks in Saratoga, was rejected 15 times or so, and The Last Championship is, let’s say, getting up there, a career-high even.

One agent went so far as to bash the writing. Let’s excerpt that for comedic effect:

Thank you for the chance to read your proposal for The Last Championship: A Memoir of My Father and Baseball, and please accept my apologies for the time it has taken me to get back to you. The father-son relationship at the heart of this story is appealing, but, ultimately, I didn’t find the characters or the scenes as engaging as I’d hoped. Without the necessary enthusiasm for the writing, I’m just not confident that I’d be able to sell the book effectively. I’m sorry that this wasn’t a match, but I’m grateful to you for the opportunity to consider your work and wish you luck in finding representation.

Trust me, I was licking my wounds after this one. I came close to hitting the EJECT button on the cockpit of my career using a promising love of donuts as my parachute. Usually agents don’t go so far as to say they don’t like your writing. I appreciate the time he took to write this and to address that it was a total bomb.

What did Tom Brady do when 198 players went before him? He out-worked everyone, took advantage of Drew Bledsoe getting injured, and took his team on a 13-year run the NFL has never seen.

The diamonds are the ones who slip through the cracks. Your job, my job, is to make all those people who said no wish they hadn’t.

That then begs the questions: When might it be time to give up/retire? But that’s for another blog post altogether.

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The Eroticism of ‘No’

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Written by Brendan O’Meara

When I need a dose of motivation, I watch Don Draper in action. When a fire lights under his ass look at how he burns.

At the beginning of this scene, Don enters Roger’s office and grabs a drink right away. Even Roger is taken by this “drinking with a purpose”. Don doesn’t want piddly business, he wants big fish. Screw bagging a few marlin; he wants Moby freakin’ Dick.

Don laments how his letter denouncing Lucky Strike has effected his mojo with potential clients. Rogers throws it right back at him, “You used to love no. No used to make you hard.” He goes on and I do hope you watch the entire 5:20. After all, it’s what we do.

What?????!!!!!

All we are are salesmen. We are always on the clock.

All publishers, magazines, newspapers, are are customers/clients looking to benefit/profit from our services. At every turn you need to give them reasons to say yes, of course, but you need them to question why on earth they would even consider saying no.

Now, imagine you go into a meeting, or a phone pitch, with any editor and you pitch cold the way Don does in this scene? Can you imagine facing rejection? Can you imagine the gall should they say no?

So. Go on. Say no. I want you to say no in my face so hard that spittle gets on my sunglasses. I also want you see the face of doubt in your own reflection.

Because ‘no’ … ‘no’ is one step closer to yes.

Have a great week, I’m on the road.

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Best in Tweet 2/27/13

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Written by Brendan O’Meara

Hot dog, we’ve got some good ones this week. Buckle up. It’s this week’s Best in Tweet.

 

 

 

 

 

Good times for readers and writers

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Put up your ducks, I mean dukes.
Put up your ducks, I mean dukes.

Written by Brendan O’Meara

I’m not prone to fun. I don’t like crowds. I have broad shoulders so I tend to bump into people. I’m not very social. I like to watch movies on my somewhat undersized TV and read books. My wife doesn’t like me^1^. If there’s wet blankets, I’m like the smallpox-infected blankets Jeffery Amherst gave to Native Americans.

But I have fun when I listen to Book Fight: Tough Love for Literature. It’s a podcast for writer’s, though serious readers would dig it too. It’s a podcast about books, but a podcast recorded as if it were cool to talk about books at your favorite bar. It’s profane^2^, curmudgeonly, and just good company.

Tom McCallister, co-host of Book Fight and author of Bury Me in My Jersey: A Memoir of My Father, Football, and Philly, is a friend of sorts, though we’ve never met. 51flccWHfVL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_We “met” through email when I gave his memoir a 2-star review on Goodreads. He wrote to me about it and I gave him my reasons. He does a great thing in his memoir that has to be applauded: he writes an unflattering picture of himself, which is a lesson unto itself in memoir. I gave it 2 stars because I wanted more of his father in the story and I don’t like footnotes^3^. He’s a great writer, an unpretentious product of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, which says something in and of itself. All in all, if you’re writing memoir, you should read his. His book has 45 ratings on Goodreads, which is a ton (I have 12) and most are 5 stars. Overall it’s a 3.84 stars out of 45 reviews. That gives you an idea that it’s a great book.

Since that first email a few years ago, we’ve kept in touch about sports and writing. Then he started the Book Fight podcast with Mike Ingram, fiction editor at Barrelhouse. It’s a fun listen. I’m listening right now.  Naturally, if you’re a geek for the mechanics of prose, subscribe to it on iTunes.

Footnotes

1. Not entirely true. She likes the occasional social interaction where I’d rather stay home and read.
2. Not overly so, tastefully profane, like talking sports at a bar. But not a Philly, New York, or Boston bar. Maybe like a Seattle bar, or an Asheville, NC bar.
3. I have since come around to footnotes. I found them so disruptive to the narrative that I usually can’t continue reading. It’s like reading with the TV on or something. They make for funny tributaries that don’t belong in the main river.

The offer still stands, for a time, that should you subscribe to this website, I’ll send you a personalized copy of Six Weeks in Saratoga. Subscribe, I’ll reach out to you. My thanks to you. If you factor in shipping, that’s a $30-value, if you’re into value plays.

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The Best Book on Writing You’ve Never Read

images-1Written by Brendan O’Meara
Word Count: 518

I’ve tried to build a following by writing infrequently, say once a week. Hasn’t worked too well. Now, I’m going to try and write several times a week and see if the spaghetti sticks. Maybe a little bit of blogging will help warm me up before hit the “real” writing. Who knows? I stress about platform building way too much. Or do I ???

What is this book I’m referring to, the best book on writing you’ve never read? It’s The DC Comics Guide to Writing Comics. Yep, a book on how to write comic books. It’s 122 pages of wonderful tips. My great mentor Thomas French, author of Zoo Story among others, assigned this to us and it was one of those against-the-grain teaching tools that makes him so brilliant.

Part one of the book is the most valuable as it pertains to the basic fundamentals.

Story Structure
Creating Drama
Subplots
Characterization

One pointer author Dennis O’Neil touches upon early is this

Telling you story as clearly as possible

How easy and how difficult is that? You have all these flourishes of language, maybe even a couple of wonderful sentences, but are they driving the story forward? Respect the reader’s time might be another way of saying what O’Neil said.

Here are some other things I highlighted:

Know the end of the story before you write the beginning (I call this the Lighthouse Effect. You’re stranded out at sea. You don’t know where to go. But what’s that? A light! You start swimming toward it. This way you know that all your words are in service of that ending. You can’t do this all the time, but I feel you should be thinking of an ending before you reach the end. It might come to you 500 words into your story or 5,000 or 50,000. But once you figure it out you’re writing downhill, baby.)

People are interested in people, not things (the exception is the Ring of Power and maybe the Elder Wand. This is especially important if you’re dealing in story where not a whole lot happens, those narratives of revelation. If readers love the characters enough, they’ll go along for about any ride.)

Put your hero out on the end of a limb and start sawing.

Show only what’s important. So start the scene as late as possible and once the dramatic point is made, end it.

Heroic failure is the stuff of great drama.

Never write a scene, or a single panel, that does not contribute directly to your plot. … that every word should contribute to the emotion you’re trying to engender in the reader.

Tell you what. I’m going to stop there. I think there’s enough nuggets there to either talk about or think about. If nothing else, writers across all genres need to find inspiration and tips from other creative media. That’s why DVD commentary is so valuable, especially, when available, DVD commentary on deleted scenes (If you own Ratatouille, listen to director Brad Bird talk about why he deleted scenes).

Bonus question: Who’s the best orphan? Clark Kent, Bruce Wayne, Peter Parker, or Harry Potter?

I’m still doing this pretty slick giveaway. If you subscribe to my website, I’ll send you a personalized copy of Six Weeks in Saratoga.

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Best in Tweet, 2/19/13

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Written by Brendan O’Meara

My aim is to give some people props on Twitter. People have some great things to share and that sharing should be rewarded, even at this little place I call a blog. Without further ado, here’s 10 tweets from cool stuff I found. (Some go back quite a ways. It don’t mattah!)

 

 

 

 

 

There you have it, lots of stuff for you to enjoy.

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Breaking from Research

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Written by Brendan O’Meara
Word Count: 347

Read Time: 2 minutes

I need to step away for a moment. Going from one form of writing to another, but eff it, I’m doing it. This is my life and who asked you anyway? I kid, I kid.

Well, what’s new? What can I share? What will make this post of any value to YOU. It is Valentine’s Day, so I could wish you a happy Valentine’s Day. So … Happy Valentine’s Day. Here’s a poem inside the wrapper of some pretty kick ass chocolate the wife gave me today:

Awww. We must be in love, or something.
Awww. We must be in love, or something.

Ever feel like you’re being watched?

Quoth the Raven???
Quoth the Raven???

Naturally, being totally skeeved out by my smallest dog, I went out for a few minutes to get a cup of coffee.

Grande Pike, splash of Half and Half, tablespoon of brown sugar, you nosy reader.
Grande Pike, splash of Half and Half, tablespoon of brown sugar, you nosy reader.

When I came back, I set up my camera rig. Yeah, it’s down and dirty, how I like it. Gonna start doing some cool video marketing that I hope to parlay into other ventures for authors.

Jealous? Little bit ...
Jealous? Little bit …

Oh, and this arrived today, which is always one of the high lights of my quarter.

IMG_1238
These hips don’t lie.

So I’ve been averaging three pages a day as I look to finish my baseball memoir. Been reading Danielle Trussoni’s Falling Through the Earth. The structure is similar to mine. A live thread and a discovery thread. Good stuff. Hers. Not mine. Maybe mine. Too early to tell.

I guess I have to get back to work here. Oh, one more thing. I’ll leave you with one of those annoyingly cute dog pictures.

Jack loves to be under covers and by a space heater. Don't feed him after midnight or get him wet. He turns into a gremlin.
Jack loves to be under covers and by a space heater. Don’t feed him after midnight or get him wet. He turns into a gremlin.

Why don’t you subscribe to my blog/website/future email newsletter? I want to fully nauseate you on as many platforms as possible.

And if you subscribe, I’ll include a free signed copy of Six Weeks in Saratoga—a $30 value after shipping—for you, oh loyal follower.

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Self-publishing vs. Traditional: A 90-minute Crash Course for Your Book

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Written by Brendan O’Meara

385 Words, Read time: 90 seconds

Only one will live?
Only one will live? $3.99 on Amazon

If an agent immediately recognizes the value and salabiility of your book, you might hand representation quickly. On the other hand, the process can also go on for months or even years without results, which can be excruciatingly frustrating and discouraging.

—Agent and Author Rachelle Gardner

Any writer who takes themselves seriously recognizes the above statement from How Do I Decide? Self-Publishing vs. Traditional Publishing not for having read it anywhere, but because they have felt it.

Perhaps part of that deals with a misunderstanding of publishing. You wouldn’t teach if you didn’t know how to develop a lesson plan. You wouldn’t open a restaurant without knowing that it’s about more than food. So why would you attempt to write a book without knowing the fundamentals of publishing? Yet thousands and thousands of writers and would-be writers approach the craft whimsically.

Literary agent Rachelle Gardner’s e-book—a book that takes no more than 90 minutes to read (I’m a slow reader, you may read it faster)—irons out the nuts and bolts of publishing and lays out itemized lists to guide you down the path to either traditional or self-publishing.

Self-pubbing may be worth it if, “The frustration of agent querying and rejection is probably the number-one reason many authors choose to self-publish,” Ms. Gardner writes.

“A defining factor of self-publishing,” Ms. Gardner writers, “is freedom: there is no external barrier. Essentially it’s all up to you.”

As an agent with a large catalog of authors and a social network extending into the 40,000s, Ms. Gardner is just the type of writer who can benefit from self-publishing. She has a ready-made audience. That very same ready-made audience is what would make her attractive to traditional publishers as well.

You might also think as a gatekeeper, Ms. Gardner would staunchly advocate for traditional publication (and one Amazon reviewer picked her language apart for this very reason), but she plays both sides.

I, too, like to pick through language, and I was ready to read a book with a slant toward the traditional, but having been a long-time follower of Ms. Gardner’s blog, I know she’s more in favor—and a fan of—great writing and story telling, no matter the form.

What thought have you given toward self vs. traditional publishing?

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Manuscript Impossible: Taking Control of You and Your Work

Written by Brendan O’Meara

A show I can’t get enough of is Restaurant Impossible on the Food Network. Chef Robert Irvine visits dilapidated restaurants in need of a facelift. He. Gets. Brutal with the owners and staff. He has two days and $10,000 to give them a second chance. It’s Extreme Home Makeover for restaurants.

Many of the restaurants have dingy carpets. Smells hit you in the face. Staff is unfriendly and unknowledgeable. Trash, clutter, and waste fester in kitchens. It’s a look inside the cluttered minds of these restaurant owners.

Robert blitzes in. He’s like Gordon Ramsey and Simon Cowell with Mr. Olympia biceps.

Here’s the show’s flow chart:

1. Establish how futile the restaurant is
2. Charts a course to save the restaurant, though can’t see how it’s possible
3. Atomic bombs the menu
3a: Brings in design team to make the restaurant over on tight budget
4. Work
5. Address underlying issues/Raise the stakes with staff and owners
6. Marketing new food to Chamber of Commerce
7. Re-open “new” restaurant. Tears flow (Yes, I get misty here. So does Robert: the drill sergeant becomes Pooh Bear)
8. Robert coaches the kitchen, iron out kinks on the fly
9. Epilogue: did the restaurant make the changes stick? Most do, some fail and fall back into the same habits that brought out the failure in the first place.

As I watch, I get motivated. Robert’s passion is undeniable for food and restaurants and he finds it insulting when others don’t take their craft seriously. It made me think: Am I doing what I can to uphold the craft of writing?

I too get insulted by people who do say they “would like to write a book some day,” as if all it takes is a little time and nothing else, just something they can squeeze in between lattes and knee surgery.

My manuscripts feel like the dingy restaurants, with complacent sentences hanging there because they can. Just because this sentence is written, doesn’t mean it’s great; just because it’s readable, doesn’t make it acceptable.

Whatever the manuscript and whatever the length, you can put yours through the ringer too: Manuscript Impossible. But you have to get brutal. It’s not enough to murder your darlings, you have to draw and quarter your darlings, put them on pikes outside bridges to deter invaders. Gruesome? Well, do you want to get on the right path or not? Good.

1. You’ve got a manuscript. Great! Also: B.F.D. Big fuckin’ deal.
2. It’s bad. You know this. But what must happen?
3. What scenes (in nonfiction, are there scenes? Do the Yellow Test) must go? Enhance?
4. Start trimming. It’s probably too long. This piece was 646 words. It’s now 601.
5. Evaluate work habits. Trash clutter as clutter leads to procrastination.
6. Allot time for social networking and promotion. Connect with readers and writers in your genre on Facebook and Twitter. Set a kitchen timer for one hour every morning and tend to this garden (visit and comment on related blogs. This feels like a waste of time, but it’s an investment. Bloggers = reviewers. We ain’t getting’ into the New York Times Book Review)
7. Wow. Look at that slim manuscript! It looks pretty good. You never knew it was in you!
8.But it can be slimmer. Every. Word. Show. Let’s not waste anyone’s time.
9. Epilogue: TBD

I’ve used this quote before. I think it helps in all areas of life, not just in writing:

One does not accumulate but eliminate. It is not daily increase but daily decrease. The height of cultivation always runs to simplicity.

—Bruce Lee

 

Now let me know what you’re up to in the comments.

 

Tag Lines: How Netflix can improve yours

Written by Brendan O’Meara

Yes, tag lines. What are they and why are they important? First, it’s a one-sentence summary of your book. In about 30 words, can you successfully and succinctly sum up what your story is about? Second, in your marketing questionnaire, you’ll need to build one so it will fit nicely in a catalog. Or, if you’re lucky enough to be in the presence of an inquiring agent or publisher, you need to pop this sentence off and hook them in the ten seconds it takes you to recite it.

Now that I’ve defined it, how can Netflix help you out?

On the live stream, every show has a tag line below it. Here’s the one for my favorite show, Lost:

After their plane crashes on a deserted island, a diverse group of people must adapt to their new home and contend with the island’s enigmatic forces.

26 words. Quick and easy. It doesn’t mention the greater game at play between Jacob and the Man in Black. It doesn’t mention the Dharma Initiative or time travel. You know a plane crashes on a mysterious island. I’m hooked.

Another one of my favorite shows is Breaking Bad. Here’s the Netflix tag line:

A high school chemistry teacher dying of cancer teams up with a former student to manufacture and sell crystal meth to secure his family’s future.

No mention of escalating drug wars and gruesome grips for power. Perfect.

How about something a little lighter, say, from the movie Thor:

Powerful thunder god Thor is stripped of his power and banished by his father Odin, forced to live among humans on Earth to learn humility.

Here’s Walking Dead:

In the wake of a zombie apocalypse, survivors hold on to the hope of humanity by banding together to wage a fight for their own survival.

Bottom line we see what the stakes are and why we should be interested. You must be able to do this. It’s a good exercise in brevity, getting to the point, and using word economy to sell your work.

And another important matter, if you can’t sum it up in a tag line, you don’t know the what you’re book is about. If you don’t know what your book is about, you can’t distill its essence to a greater public. You won’t even reach that far. It won’t get to the public until you can reduce your 100,000-word tome to 25 words. It ain’t easy. So let’s play.

What’s your tag line for you project? Let’s workshop them in the comments. I’ll start with two of mine.

For Six Weeks in Saratoga:

Filly Rachel Alexandra caps off an undefeated season by beating the boys for a third time en route to being named Horse of the Year.

For The Last Championship:

A son watches his father play senior softball and learns to reconcile to the bitter end to his own baseball career by playing again.

Now it’s your turn!