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

Down with Discouragement!

(Thanks to Dave and morguefile for this picture!)pro_author.jpg
Do you ever get discouraged about your writing and/or illustrating? I do. Sometimes it’s after reading a fantastic book and I think, I’ll never be able to do that well. Or it might be after another rejection, or when I’m struggling with my work in progress. Or even seeing a published book I think is terrible.
I remember asked another writer if they knew about Madeleine L’Engel‘s experience with A Wrinkle in Time. They didn’t. She got rejected, rejected, rejected. When the book finally got sold and published, it won a Newbery Medal (1963). I heard her tell how one editor told her, “I wish that had come across my desk.” Madeleine answered that it did. Read A Circle of Quiet to learn about her ten year dry spell!
In the early 90s a friend and critique group partner of mine sold a book. We were all excited with her. She got her advance. An illustrator illustrated the text. Then, the book was cancelled! Can you imagine her disappointment? Suzanne Williams went on to resell Library Lil (published in 1997) and Steven Kellogg illustrated it!
Susan Patron talked to her husband about giving up . . . the night before she got the call about her Newbery Medal (2007) for The Higher Power of Lucky.
I know I could find many other examples. Instead, let’s talk about what you can do when discouraged. Here’s what works for me.
Hang out with your writing peeps! I have a group of writers who meet with me to write. We aren’t collaborating per se, we’re just holding each other accountable to show up and be productive. It’s helpful to know someone else is struggling with a chapter or scene or query letter. We share, ask questions, encourage each other. I started out with only one writing partner, so all you need is one person to do this with you.
Make sure you are in a critique group. I know, you probably think I’m playing a broken record (kind of like a CD for you younger folk). I mention critique groups a lot. It’s because I believe they are so important. My writing grows because of my critique group. My work in progress deepens because of suggestions from my critiquers.
Attend a workshop or conference or writer’s talk. I’m usually inspired when I hear others talk about writing. Sometimes a magical thing happens and I suddenly “get it”–that thing I’ve been puzzling about for months or years. I meet and connect with fun people, which is encouraging.
Go on a writing retreat. Organized ones are great, but they can be expensive. A writing retreat can simply be a casual get together with others of like mind where you get to work and/ or critique. I went on one several summers ago. I met with ten other writers at a northern Missouri farmhouse. Our hostess, Patricia, provided beds, places to sit, and the internet. The rest of us provided the food and it was a very productive two days. Not only for us as writers, but for the cows as well–two calves were born while we were there.
Meet other writers online. Find your tribe wherever you can, whether it be list serves, writers’ blogs and websites, Twitter, or Facebook. I use all of these, plus reading writing newsletters. Often I get encouragement from them.
Try something new. Go somewhere you’ve never been before. Try a hobby or sport you’ve never tried. Read a book in a genre you don’t usually read. Let new experiences stir your mind.
Write something. It doesn’t even have to be on your work in progress. It could be something new such as trying a different genre, or writing a “how to” on something you’ve learned. It doesn’t have to be intended for paid publication. Write an article for a newsletter, or write a blog entry. All writing is good practice. And you get the immediate reward of a sense of accomplishment.
Eat some chocolate. My preference is dark. Or I drink a cup of tea. Do whatever little thing lifts your spirit – a bubble bath, a silly movie, playing with a kid.
Give yourself some grace. I often feel discouraged when there are too many other things going on in my life, when I’m missing sleep, or I’m not feeling well. Don’t expect too much when you are overwhelmed or stressed. Don’t make a decision about your writing when you are discouraged–that’s when you’re apt to make the wrong one.
Keep going. Here’s a quote I heard at a conference years ago: “In the end you can Give Up or Keep Going. Those are your only choices. The only good thing about giving up is that there’s less competition for those who keep going.” –Bruce Balan
I’m going to stay in the running. What about you?

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

What Would Sue Do?

WWSUED cropMy dear friend and writer buddy (1) just gave me this shirt. Isn’t it a crack up? Jenn has called me her writing mentor and comes to me with questions. She’s my social media mentor and got me started on twitter. When I have twitter and tweetdeck questions, I go to her. We encourage each other in our writing as you can tell by this gift. Thanks again, Jenn!
What Would Maggie Do?
A former critique partner (2) recently gave me this testimonial: “I worked with her on a picture book draft that she suggested I make into a chapter book based on the voice and age of the character. When the manuscript was complete, she helped me with my query and final revisions. I just sent it out and I am already getting requests from agents!!” So we’ve joked, “You should listen to Sue.”
What Would Lorie Ann/Joan/Sue Do?
Years ago I was in a critique group with two great writers and friends (3). We met every three weeks and got each other’s voices in our heads. I remember once during a critique when one of us commented on a manuscript, the writer said, “I knew you were going to say that.” The gal spoken to responded, “If you knew I was going to say that, why didn’t you fix it.” We all laughed.
What Would Dan Do?
I hear a current critique partner (4) when I see sentences like this in my own or in my student’s writing: She heard the cat meow. Dan would say, “Don’t distance your reader.” From him I learned to write: The cat meowed. It’s more active and more immediate. One of his other sayings is, “What’s the purpose of this chapter?”
What Would Lisha Do?
Pursue her goals and learn the writing craft. I met Lisha (5) when she was a writing newbie. Not only had she come to our Kansas SCBWI workshop, but when she heard we were looking for volunteers, Lisha raised her hand. She has grown so much over the years by going to conferences and workshops, participating in two critique groups, researching agents, etc., etc. On top of that she’s a terrific hardworking volunteer doing the fabulous Sunflower Scoop, our region’s list serve.
What Would Donna Do?
When I first became a Regional Advisor for SCBWI in Washington state, I used the conference notebook my predecessor (6) provided and followed her advice on handling volunteers. Still used same info when I did a stint as RA in Kansas.
What Would NAME Do?
Sometimes my What Would NAME Do is something I learned from a speaker. One I recalled recently from 20 years ago was Peg Kehret, mystery author saying, “Give the kid the good lines.” Another of her recommendations that has stuck with me is to use the terms from whatever the main character’s hobby or interest. For example, a baseball fanatic not only will talk about baseball itself, but can use baseball terminology in other areas, too. That character might say something like “foul ball” when someone makes a mistake at school.
What Would Dorothy Do?
Most of us need support in our writing. We all need others in our lives in other areas, too. One of my life long heroes is my aunt (7). She sees something that needs to be done and quietly does it. She’s not afraid to tell you something you should do either.
What Would Kathy Do?
It was my sister (8) who got me started many many years ago on a laundry process that didn’t leave my family with baskets and baskets of clean clothes to fold. Now it’s a good habit–hang them up and fold them from dryer–but at first it was hard and I’d have to remind myself to do what she’d do.
So in life and writing who are your inspirations? Feel free to share about them in the comments, and/or tell them yourself how they’ve inspired you.
(1) Jenn Bailey – her blog, her social media site
(2) Maggie Viles – on jacketflap
(3) Lorie Ann Grover and Joan Holub
(4) Dan Schwabauer
(5) Lisha Cauthen – her blog
(6) Donna Bergman – her books on Amazon
(7) Dorothy Uhlig, missionary to Thailand since 1951! (facebook)
(8) Kathy Bender

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

Don’t Throw in the Towel

I just read a fantastic kids book! You know the ones–unforgettable, award winning, really really good. Will I ever write like that? Can I ever write like that? My first reaction is: NOT LIKELY! The book was so real, so powerful that I just want to give up. Yet, I can’t stop writing–the ideas and characters in my mind won’t let me. “Real courage is when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what,” Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird, said. If she feels that way, then it is okay for me to as well.
“This is a marathon, not a sprint,” author Marilyn Singer said. “Don’t throw in the towel, use it.” She’s seen what she calls the TOWEL principal in her successful career. “TOWEL stands for talent, optimism, widespread interests, endurance, and luck.” I can’t change talent and luck, though I can definitely work on craft so that when a chance comes my work is the best I can make it. But I can work on the other three.

(Image courtesy of Michael J. Connor)

This is where it is helpful to have a good support group. It might be your family, your critique group, or as Jenn Bailey, Social Media Expert, calls them: your Jedi Council, aka writing partners. I get encouragement from all three. Let them know when you’re down and want to quit. Read an inspirational book where someone succeeded because they worked hard and endured. Remember you aren’t alone; many authors had many many struggles and rejections on the road to publication.
• Margaret Mitchell rewrote the first chapter of Gone With the Wind 70 times.
• Madeline L’Engle had a ten year dry spell before she sold A Wrinkle in Time.
• Dr. Seuss received the following rejection: “…too different from other juveniles on the market to warrant its selling.”
Widespread Interests
Shake yourself up. Don’t just read in your genre. Maybe you should try writing a picture book or a magazine piece for a change. Learn something new. Maybe you need to learn more about a hobby or career that someday you’ll give to one of your characters. C.S. Lewis said, “You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.” What other dreams do you have? Can you follow up on them?
At a conference author Lorie Ann Grover used the analogy of filling a soup pot. Before you can scoop out any stew, you have to put in some ingredients and let them simmer. Live some life and you’ll have more to write about or more breadth to add to your writing. “Writing tends to spring from what you know, what you think, what you imagine, and you can build on those by reading and being actively involved in life and remaining curious about things you see, hear, read, etc.” – Victoria Sherrow, author
Elizabeth George in Write Away: One Novelist’s Approach to Fiction and the Writing Life said, “You will be published if you possess three qualities: talent, passion and discipline. You will probably be published if you possess two of the three qualities in either combination–either talent and discipline or, passion and discipline. You will likely be published if you possess neither talent nor passion but still have discipline. But, if all you possess is talent or passion, if all you possess is talent and passion, you will not be published.”
Discipline goes hand in hand with endurance. Keep on keeping on. Two things that keep me going are my critique group and my writing partners. If they’re going to endure, so am I. And one last 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. Every day.”
So I shouldn’t give up. And neither should you.

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

Bloggers Supporting Other Bloggers

versatile.jpgI met Kristen Hilty at the Kansas SCBWI Conference last month. We talked and later she started reading my blog. Last week she awarded me the Versatile Bloggers Award, saying, “I thought some other authors could benefit from your great articles. Thanks for the advice.” Thank you, Kristen, for the award and the kind words.
Being of inquisitive mind, I wondered how the award got started. The earliest reference I could find on the net was a May 14, 2009 entry on Bits and Bytes of Life blog. The creator, Arpit, wanted to recognize fellow bloggers and created a list of awards, including this one, in celebration of the blog being a year old. Arpit is no longer blogging, at least not since January of this year. I wonder if he’s aware of where his award has gone.
Here’s the award definition from Bits and Bytes:
Versatile Blogger Award: This award is meant to appreciate the versatility of the bloggers who have the capability to divulge into different areas and yet emerge victorious. Be it sports, politics, entertainment they have always emerged with flying colors by impressing us with their opinions and posts.
I found this award scattered all over the internet with a variety of different award images. Some were personalized. Many were the image you see above. I couldn’t locate who created this image. If anyone does know who created it, I’d love to know.
I also discovered that rules vary. The rules Kristen and I received are:
Award Rules:
1. Thank the person who gave you this award and provide a link to their blog.
2. Share 7 things about yourself.
3. Pass the award along to 5 other bloggers whom you have recently discovered and whose blogs you think are fantastically versatile/resourceful/functional/adaptable.
4. Contact those bloggers you’ve picked and let them know about their award.
Seven things about me.
1. I hate chain letters, which this reminds me of. Yet, recognizing other bloggers is a good thing, so I’ll play.
2. My husband and I have been happily married for 35 years.
3. I grew up in Oregon and really miss the Oregon coast.
4. Dark chocolate is my preferred flavor.
5. I was very shy as a kid.
6. In some ways I’m a perfectionist, which is why not all of these 7 points can start with “I.” But only in some ways, which is why I don’t have five “recently discovered” bloggers in my list below.
7. I believe children’s writers are the friendliest writers on the planet. 🙂 I met Sharon Mayhew, who award this award to Kristen, at the same conference. If you’ve never gone to a children’s writing event, they are a great place to make friends!
So here’s my list of bloggers I’ve discovered recently:
Mary Kole at – She is an associate agent at the Andrea Brown Literary Agency and writes young adult and middle grade, too.
Mike Jung‘s Little Bloggy Wog – a writer whom I had the privilege of meeting at the LA SCBWI conference this summer. I’d already been amused by his tweets.
From the Mixed-up Files…of Middle-Grade Authors – started this spring by 30 middle grade authors who celebrate MG books.
Do you have any blogs you’ve come across recently that you’d like to celebrate? Go for it. We all like receiving encouragement now and then.

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

Give up or press on?

I think everyone in the creative world struggles with this question at times. Every time I do, I always come down on the side of PRESS ON.
But that’s obviously not the case for everyone. I see this as an instructor for ICL. Students unexpectedly drop out of the course. Is their writing hopeless? No. Do they need to learn more? Yes. But they often aren’t the worst of my students. If they have trauma going on in their lives, they don’t communicate that. They don’t take the leave of absent option the Institute offers. They quit. I have many other students who don’t officially drop, but don’t turn in their next assignment either. Perhaps they need a reminder that anything worth doing is going to be work.
Those who don’t see that fact may be those who give up, drop out, fade out. I’m guessing if you’re reading this, you aren’t in that group. You know learning to play scales on the piano doesn’t make you a concert pianist. You know you have to work at craft. You know you have to persevere.
persevere.jpgWhen answering a student’s question about her typical workday, Harper Lee said:
“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. Everyday. Alone. Without interruption. Contrary to what most people think, there is no glamour to writing. In fact, it’s heartbreak most of the time.”
Ouch. That’s reality. But we also need encouragement now and then. So here are some quotes from other writers I’ve come across recently. I hope they encourage you as they do me.
If one dream should fall and break into a thousand pieces, never be afraid to pick one of those pieces up and begin again. – Flavia Weedn
I would go to sleep at night feeling that I’d never be published. But I’d wake up in the morning convinced I would be. – Judy Blume
Talent is helpful in writing, but guts are absolutely essential. – Jessamyn West
Finish what you’re writing. Whatever you have to do to finish it, finish it. – Neil Gaiman
You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream. – C.S. Lewis
“Now” is the operative word. . . . You don’t need endless time and perfect conditions. Do it now. Do it today. Do it for twenty minutes and watch your heart start beating. – Barbara Sher
So I’m lifting my cup to finishing, never too old, and never give up.