Posted in The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing, Writing Life

Work to be Done

Except for writing quotes, this blog has been on hold the last two and a half months. Getting a manufactured home set up—which entails much more than I ever knew—moving out of two storage units, and an apartment, and moving into the house has taken so much time and energy. And there’s still more to do.

I likened our unpacking boxes of items that have been in storage for twenty months to Christmas. Oh, there’s that wonderful ______. Aww, I’d forgotten about ______. Yea, I have my _____ back. Other times I was reminded of a garage sale. Why’d I pack that? Or, some of it’s great stuff, but I don’t have a place for it. The result has been a lot of culling.

Which is similar to revising a piece I haven’t looked at in a while. Wow, did I write that? It’s good. Oh, yeah, I remember this part—it works. Why did I think this was important? Nice, but doesn’t fit here. Cut, cut, cut. Reorganize, rethink, rewrite.

One recent task was sorting boxes of papers from over 20 years ago. Notes and cards from friends and family, newspaper clippings, documents from and to my children in their teen years, travel itineraries, play programs, photographs, etc. What I didn’t expect was how much emotion these would create.

  • Some brought up sweet memories.
  • Others made me laugh or smile.
  • Some brought pain as the dear person is now gone from this life.
  • I was puzzled when I couldn’t remember a person in a note or photograph. Who was this person? I wasn’t even sure of context. From church? A husband’s coworker? A class? A fellow writer?
  • Others made me think fondly of those I’ve lost contact with.
  • Some I shared with those involved. Which was quite fun, by the way.

However, I didn’t expect to be exhausted during and afterward.

Writing can be mentally as well as emotionally exhausting as well. I’m reminded of my critique partner and a scene she recently glossed over—”I just wanted to get it over with,” she said when we all needed more. It was going to take further energy and emotion to get the scene right. But, when she took the time to dive deeper, the chapter was so much stronger. R.R. Martin said, “Fiction is about emotional resonance, about making us feel things on a primal and visceral level.” If we’re not feeling anything but impatience when we write, will our readers also be impatient?

I could moan about how much time I’ve lost during this physical move.  Or I can move on. I’m choosing the latter. By September I plan to be back into a regular writing routine, but I’m starting now with this blog. I love this quote from Eric Maisel in Fearless Creating: “What are any of us to do? Abandon the work or complete it, learn from the experience, cry, forgive ourselves, and move on…Now dry your eyes. There’s work to be done.”

Posted in Business Side of Writing, Market Prep, Writing Life

Finding Agents Zoom Meeting

In response to questions on KIDLIT411 (a Facebook group), I offered a free Zoom meeting today. About nine or ten writers participated and we spent about an hour together.

Getting ready for it–using a list of questions some had–I realized I’d done a live talk on a similar topic for SCBWI Oregon back in 2019. So, I took the PowerPoint from that, did some rearranging, and had a presentation.

My plan had been to record the Zoom meeting. I was almost done talking when I realized, I’d never pushed start record. Arghh. Next time I need a sign that says START RECORD right in front of me!

Since I can’t share the recording as planned, my husband reminded me I could convert the PPT presentation as a pdf. Wise man. Except it was too huge. He suggested we try google slides–it cut off some of my text. So, instead I chose outline view in PPT and copied the text of my slides and answered some extra questions I was asked:

ORGANIZING RESEARCH PROCESS

Keep track of those you are interested in!

  • You can do…
    • A Word document
    • A Word table
    • An Excel spreadsheet
      • Each tab a different agent (editor) and paste all your info including links
    • A pen and paper notebook

What info you may want to keep

  • Contact Info
  • Name
  • Email or link to submission form
    • usually forms are through agency—sometimes query manager
  • Agency/Publisher
    • website
  • Personal blog link
  • Twitter link
  • Where you found them…
  • What they want to see, such as …
    • Query or cover letter
    • Full manuscript, first ten pages, first 50 pages, first chapter
    • Synopsis – one page, brief, or …
    • Author bio
    • Comp titles
  • How they want it sent – email (attached or not–usually pasted in) or form (with link)
  • Report time – and if no response, or not stated

WHERE TO START RESEARCHING AGENTS (EDITORS)

  • My favorites…
    • Kathy Temean’s Writing and Illustrating blog – https://kathytemean.wordpress.com/
      • Usually features one agent a month
      • First page submission opportunities
      • Place to share art, find out about contests, etc.
      • You can subscribe!

WHEN I FIND AN AGENT (EDITOR) I’M INTERESTED IN…

  • I check their agency website
  • Twitter – unfortunately, you must have an account – https://twitter.com/
    • I also use this to check to see if an agent is up-to-date on queries
  • Google – search the internet for interviews/mentions/podcasts
  • I read and listen to any of the above I find
  • Ask myself questions:
    • Are they representing what I want to sell?
    • Do I like books they represent or that they say they like?
    • Do I recognize any of their clients?
    • Does their personality rub me the RIGHT way?

QUERY MANAGER

  • Accessible from the agency website or Manuscript Wishlist or Twitter
  • Let’s look at an example…
    • I review what info each agent wants
    • PREPARE ALL YOUR INFO READY IN A WORD DOC SO YOU CAN COPY AND PASTE
    • When ready click submit
    • Make sure you re-enter email on confirmation screen or it doesn’t send
    • I copy confirmation URL and paste into my file
    • You won’t always receive an email response, but can check via your link

HOW I KEEP TRACK OF SUBMISSIONS

  • I use a Word Table in a document per project – e.g. Title Queries
    • I include potential agents to submit to
    • I prepare my query letter or Query Manager info inside
    • I note results
    • I note agencies that don’t allow queries to more than one agent
    • I use color-coding so I know whom I’m still waiting on

Questions?

  • Favorite Podcasts?
    • Someone else mentioned Jessica Faust and James McGowan at Book Ends Literary
  • How much time do you spend writing versus doing writing business?
    • It depends on what’s going on in my world. I don’t know how to quantify it either. When I’m burnt out on writing, I might go catch up reading newsletters, research agents, submitting. It varies week to week. I also do the latter when the in box gets too full! 😉
  • Is there a list of good agents versus bad? No. It’s too subjective.
  • What about Query Tracker? I’ve not used it. Developed my process before it existed.

I hope this is helpful to those who couldn’t attend.


Posted in The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing, Writing Life, You Are Not Alone

Feeling Isolated from Other Writers?

With stay-at-home/shelter-in-place orders and the wisdom of social distancing, many of us are feeling isolated. I’m finding myself on Facebook more than usual just for socializing. What I’m personally not missing is my weekly critique group.

About four weeks ago we decided to try virtual meetings because I had moved away. Our first meeting, the others met up at a house and we Skyped with them all sitting around one computer. I was the only remote person. The next week we decided to try Zoom with each in one at home. It worked great and we’ve been using it ever since and have even added two others to our group. It’s great seeing everyone’s faces at once. We just have to be careful not to talk over each other.  (I’m paying for Zoom since free is limited to 40 minutes at a time. It’s well-worth the $16 something a month. Zoom lets me set up a recurring meeting which means the meeting starts automatically. Another member also signed up as a backup host.)

We are submitting our manuscripts on Monday and we “meet” on Thursday. After we share our comments on a manuscript, members return the notated copy to the author. Some of us do so via email as we’re using Word’s commenting. Others prefer making handwritten notes on a printed copy and mailing. It’s working well. And no one is having to drive anywhere. 

Most of us had participated in Zoom meetings (or webinars) which made us aware of the program/app. But there are other similar options. Here’s what I’ve discovered:

Whereby: the free option allows up to four people to meet at one time. For $9.99/month (probably plus tax), you can have up to 12 participants.

GoToMeeting: You can test it free for 14 days. Plans start at $12/month.

StartMeeting: Also has a free trial—theirs is 30 days. Plans start at $9.95/month.

Google has a G Suite Hangouts Meet: I found it difficult to find pricing and stopped looking.

JoinMe: There’s a free trial. For 5 participants it is $13/month. Prices go up from there. Appears that scheduling is only an option for a higher fee.

I just found this “Top 20 Alternatives & Competitors to Zoom” which will give you more info.

The point is, you don’t have to survive this virus without other writers. If you aren’t in a critique group, maybe now is the time to find one. SCBWI members should check their local regions and the Blueboard. If you’re on Facebook, you can find critique partners or do swaps through Kidlit 411 Manuscript Swap (For illustrators there’s Kidlit 411 Illustrator Critique Swap) or Sub It Club Critique Partner Matchup.

Happy meetings!

Posted in Business Side of Writing, Inspiration, The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing, Tools, Writing Life

Creating during Anxious Times

Yesterday, a student who deals with depression and anxiety and, like all of us, now this pandemic, said that looking at the instruction manual felt overwhelming. Yet still she had sent in her assignment. In my letter back to her, I commended her for her accomplishment and then gave her some writing “work” advice.

Writing it made me aware of my own creativity. Or should I say lack thereof.  I’m finding it much easier to do a student lesson, critique someone else’s picture book or novel, than to actually create myself. It’s easy to jump on the news, Facebook (for socializing), etc. I need to take my own advice.

We all have upheaval in our lives right now with social distancing and worrying about the coronavirus. Some of you have children home full time now. You and/or your spouse may be working from home which is another adjustment. Or someone in the family has been laid off. It’s stressful. Perhaps these suggestions for making writing “work” easier will be helpful to you, too.

First, pick one task

Get that one done today and stop. Don’t worry about other writing things that need to be done. However, if doing one tasks leads you to wanting to do more, feel free. Just don’t agonize over those days when you can only do one thing.

But how do you know what task to do?

Set yourself a writing work schedule

1. Start by making a list of all the things you want to get done:
– read recent children’s books
– brainstorm ideas
– research for one idea
– work on first draft
– revise a short story, article, picture book, or chapter
– do market research
– listen to a podcast on ____ topic
– read blog posts on _____
– analyze feedback from others on my work
– write a cover/query letter for _____
– submit manuscript _____

Be as specific as possible.

See more sample task ideas at the bottom of this article and in the chart.

2. Commit to a time period whether it is a half hour or an hour or two. Pick three to five days a week.

3. Next, if you can, prioritize you list in order of most important. If none stand out, that’s okay too.

4. Then take your “to-do” list and plot them on a calendar OR during each scheduled time just pick one off of your list.

5. Add and cross-off items on your “want to get done” list.

Word by word, project by project, if you spend a little bit of time, you will make progress. Celebrate those accomplishments no matter how small.

Here’s a chart suggestion for recording what you’ve done so you can look back on it and be encouraged:

Second, remember you are not alone

We are all affected. Interacting digitally with others can help us not feel so isolated. My critique group is using Zoom to meet weekly. Don’t have a critique group? Offer to exchange critiques via email with other writers. (You can find them through SCBWI.org, on the Blueboard, through Facebook and Google groups, etc.) Talk to others in these groups. Comment on blog posts or podcasts that you found helpful. Share those links with others you know. And/or share on Twitter.

Third, encourage yourself

I’m finding myself doing a lot of what I call “comfort” reading—that’s rereading books that I know I’ll enjoy. Recently, it’s been the Harry Potter books. I’ve also connected with some old friends whom I haven’t talked to in years. I’m getting outside in the fresh air. What makes you happy? It’s necessary to take a break from all the bad news and uncertainty.

SOME RESOURCES:

“Turning Anxiety Into Creativity”

“What You Need to Know to Start Working from Home”

“10 ways to take care of yourself during coronavirus”

SAMPLE TASK IDEAS:

Subscribe to one blog post related to kidlit creativity. I don’t read them daily but spend time periodically to read posts. Some of my standbys are:

Kathy Temean’s Writing and Illustrating https://kathytemean.wordpress.com/

Always in the Middle with Greg Pattridge
https://gpattridge.com/

Susannah Leonard Hill’s “Perfect Picture Book Friday” https://susannahill.com/blog/

Institute for Children’s Literature blog
https://www.instituteforwriters.com/blogs/writing-for-children-blog/

Read recent children’s books. Whatever fits what you want to write. A novel. A handful of picture books. Chapter books. What did you learn?

Research one magazine market. Read about the magazine in the market book, go to the magazine’s website, read guidelines and editorial calendars, and sample copies if available. Take notes, if you like. I often write directly in my copy of a market book.

Search #MSWL on Twitter. Agents and editors give updates using this hashtag.

Brainstorm picture book ideas. January Storystorm posts on Tara Lazar’s site still up and can continue to be used. Here’s a link to day one: https://taralazar.com/2020/01/01/storystorm-2020-day-1/

Research agents on Manuscript Wishlist. https://www.manuscriptwishlist.com/

Add sensory details to your short story or one scene in your novel. Taste, smell, texture, temperature, sound, and sight. What makes this setting unique?

Read an article on self-editing and practice one idea. Focus on a weakness. Do you have trouble with dialogue or punctuation? There’s help out there.

Read opening paragraphs in novels you like. Do you see a pattern? Can you apply it to your work?

Write up the backstory for one character. Then you can work in snippets of it throughout the novel. But beware of info dumps.

I could go on and on. All I know is doing something (like this blog post) makes me feel better than doing nothing creative. I bet the same will be true for you too.

Posted in The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing, Writing Life

Discipline

Recently, I had a student say children’s writing was “more challenging and restrictive” than she’d thought, and she was considering changing to an adult audience. It may be true that writing for adults is more a fit for her.

Or it might not. With this particular student, we’d only done three lessons together. She hadn’t tried nonfiction, which might be her niche if she’d give it a chance. The real issue, however, is that many of the mistakes she was continuing to make would be a problem for adult readers. So, audience wasn’t the issue. Could it be discipline?

My mother taught piano lessons in our home. I heard her students play scales and play scales. No one learns piano just to play scales—they want to play music! However, scales are a necessary step in the process. Students moved on to simple melodies and, if they worked at it, they advanced to more complicated songs. My mother could tell when students hadn’t practiced in between lessons. They weren’t improving. Writing is similar.

We have to practice, practice, practice no matter whether our audience is children or adults. We must learn the basics of fiction writing: grammar, point of view, setting, characterization, plot, etc. if we are going to succeed.

Like most instructors, I will re-explain a grammar issue, point of view, etc. in a different way in hopes that will work for the student. But sometimes I wonder, did she read what I wrote in my previous letter? Did he even try?

In both courses I teach, we give the students deadlines. Deadlines encourage discipline. Often, the students that progress the fastest are the ones who meet or beat the deadlines. Each lesson builds upon the ones before. When too much time passes between lessons, students forget what they learned earlier. I have to reteach concepts. It slows their progress which can cause frustration for both of us.

All writing is challenging in one way or another. Sometimes it’s coming up with the idea or angle. Or making a character and/or setting come alive. Or perhaps the plot isn’t working. Or the dialogue. But once those frameworks are in place, we still have to check for flow, get rid of unnecessary words, add more detail or information when necessary, etc. And, of course, proofread. The first story I sold to Highlights went through two revisions with the editor before it was accepted. This was after it had been critiqued by fellow writers and revised several times.

I love this quote from Harper Lee, “To be a serious writer requires discipline that is iron fisted. It’s sitting down and doing it whether you think you have it in you or not.” And as Patricia Wrede said, “Talent is way down on the list of things you need to write; it comes in a distant fourth, after persistence, motivation, and discipline.”