Tag Archives: writer’s life

It’s a Christmas iMiracle…

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I’m writing my first blog post from my new iPad.

This is decidedly too much technology for me. My husband is wisely sitting back and letting me figure it out. My kids keep wanting to help. Evidently, all that playing on devices at the apple store is some dear education I could’ve used.

It was the last gift behind the tree.

It reminded me of another Christmas, maybe 1988? I wanted a Cabbage Patch doll just like every other girl who loved Xavier Roberts in the United States. It was the first time, but not the last time, my parents would pull the “all done! …oh, wait… here’s one more,” trick. It was a surprisingly similar feeling today when my husband pulled out one that said, “from your four biggest fans”.

You see, I may have mentioned before that I have bad luck with computers. Even as I write this I imagine my super smart iPad contemplating that sentence and learning how to fear.

Yes, my last computer had been getting worse. I will speak of it in the past tense with malice and forethought. For starters, the battery was a dud. If it was unplugged I had about three minutes to run it to its charger before shutdown. I can’t tell you how many revisions and edits this cost me when I thought the computer was plugged in, but found out otherwise when my document went black and shut down.

Also, it ran really hot. You couldn’t hold it in your lap, it was so hot. I could feel cancer being made within my thighs. It would get so hot it would shut down to cool off. This was happening more and more frequently.

It had gotten worse to the point three weeks ago when the screen would go black after a short use. I would turn it off and turn it back on again and sometimes it would come up and sometimes it wouldn’t.

Last week I desperately had to send a document that lie solely in the hard drive of my petulant lap-heating computer. It wouldn’t come on and wouldn’t come on until my husband brilliantly put it in the freezer. It came on just long enough for me to send my e-mail.

I didn’t think I’d be getting anything like this for Christmas. I was mentally preparing myself to write my next book on legal pads. That’s how I wrote my first one. I remember my Dad saying, “Barbara, promise me you’ll never do that again.”

I promised. Copying that book out from my handwriting was a task I didn’t want to duplicate. I’m so glad I don’t have to. Blog props to my spouse and my kids who believe in me enough to sponsor my writing addiction.

My husband said, “It was just so sad watching you over there, writing your blog posts on your little phone.” One finger is not ideal, writing should be all fingers and elbows and energies flowing down to all points in contact with the board.

So, now it’s time to write my four biggest fans a story.

Critique Group…

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I received one critique on my query letter from the editor at the writing workshop. She said, “You need to have right here that you are a member of SCBWI.”

“I should join them, then?” I asked.

“Honestly,” she said, “If you want to be a children’s book writer and you’re NOT a member of the largest international organization of children’s book writers, well …”

And so, the next day I paid the hundred bucks and joined the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. It felt good.
And the first thing I did was get myself a critique group.

My paragraph bio sat on the region’s group list for about a month. I kept meaning to go e-mail some of these people, but it was a crazy month. Thank goodness somebody contacted me.

Well, last month I couldn’t go because of all the myriad of children who need me to stay here and be a Mom. But, this month I shoved my kids at my husband and trekked the short bit across town to the group.

I took a new picture book I’ve been working on. It’s a good story. I was feeling like it ran long in places, but it was under a thousand words, so I left it.

Now, normally I pride myself on my professional writing skills. Edit this? No problem. Kill off my favorite side character? Without hesitation. I am an editing machine, excepting today. Today it stung.

For starters the lovely lady reading mine, read it slow, so slow and so sweetly. My peppery sassy little book sounded so awkward and long.

The first comment was, “I hear picture books are supposed to be under a thousand words.”

“It is,” I said crisply.

And then they talked about how the illustrator was going to illustrate it, unhelpful.

And there was other stuff. Some of which was (ouch!) very, VERY true.

So, here I am butchering and stitching back together, a cold-blooded serial editor. I imagine the road to publication littered with the pale corpses of pretty characters and turns of phrase once brilliant, now dull and peeling. In my one thousand words, not one is safe.

Except my first sentence, I’m rather attached to my first sentence. I don’t care what you or they or anybody says, I’m keeping the first sentence.

Writing Contests…

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The very first slot machine I ever played did not win anything. Even in that disappointing moment I felt the universal sagacity in this.   As everyone knows, if you win the first time you’re hooked.

This is why I see all writing contests through a filter of rosy glass, because I won second place in the first one I ever entered. In all fairness the contest was made for me.  The Young Adult category only asked for the first chapter to be submitted.  And I am excellent at first chapters.  I’ve been writing stellar first chapters since middle school.  I have more first chapters than stains on my white couch, and I have three kids.

I won a cash prize, one hundred dollars, and a letter that offered congratulations. The letter, which I still have somewhere, says something like, “This contest was formed to encourage unpublished writers to continue in their efforts.”  And, holey-moley did it!  It came at a pivotal moment when I was deciding how far I wanted to take this whole writing thing.

I have since learned that most writing contests aren’t something that experienced writers pursue. And some of the worst ones are little more than money-making scams.

Still, there is something about hitting that slot machine the first time. So, I enter when I have something that fits.  And when it’s put on by an organization I know with a reasonable entry fee.

So today I submitted three entries to a Kindergarten Story Contest. For someone who has no deadlines, no agent, and no editor I find it helpful to write to a word count and a deadline.  Like any good exercise I can feel the healthy working stretch.

So now I am on a high and I will use this wave of adrenaline and ambition to drive my writing until the end of nap time. I also might congratulate myself with another cookie.  Yes, I said “another”.  This makes it sound like it could be cookie number two, but it would really be cookie number four.

(Winky emoticons to all you mothers, you know you eat a congratulatory nap snack, don’t pretend you don’t.)

Writing Workshop Number Two…

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For the first writing workshop I took in my young adult novel and fielded some pretty good questions regarding my manuscript.

For my second workshop I took in a picture book and its accompanying query letter.

This particular book began six years ago at about fifteen hundred words, well too long for a picture book. At the time I was going for a story book kind of vibe.  After ten rejections or so I sat on it for a while, you know, had some kids, moved once, etc.

The second cut brought it down under a thousand. I was much happier with it, but it went through another ten rejections or so.  I sat on it again through another move and another baby.

The third cut brought it down under six hundred words and was about as bare bones as I could get it and still leave it complete. I did a little more research on query letters and cut a couple of sentences that evidenced my novice status.  But I still felt the silent dagger as the six weeks slipped by as one and another forewent claiming my little work.

So, to the workshop I carried my little book.

I believe I threw it down and said something like, “Please, tell me what’s wrong with it!”

For starters, the woman who read my piece out loud could hardly keep from laughing from one sentence to another. Everyone around the table was near riotous when she finished.  I was not expecting this and it shook me a bit.  It was pleasant, but surprising.  I mean, I had thought it was funny, but this funny?

And then the feedback came. One lady wanted to hear more about this, another wanted more about that, and so on, naming almost every piece I had cut out over the previous six years.

I confessed, “Well, yes, originally this was followed by a bit that went like this.”

Riotous laughter! Everyone loved it!  “Why would you have left that out?!”

So, I’m getting slowly frustrated because how on Earth am I supposed to squeeze all this into a picture book? And if it is indeed this good already then what on Earth am I doing here?

And then someone asked, “Have you considered making it an early reader?”

A light bulb clicked on centimeters above my head.

I didn’t hear anything after that. My little manuscript would lend itself well to the playful vignettes of an early reader.  The only problem is that this would change my writing style.  I couldn’t use any of those long elegant sentences I was so very fond of.  Sigh.  I love commas if you haven’t been able to tell.  And the story vocabulary would need to be altered.   My story may live, but in a drastically different manifestation.

So, I’ve been playing with it and I think I like where it’s going. It does appear I have signed on for a few more years, though.  And I’ve heard early readers are harder to sell.  Is this true? Anyone?

At any rate, she loved my query letter, so that’s something.

Chip, chip, chipping away!

My First Workshop…

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I finished my YA book. That is, I wrote it all down and now I’m in the process of revision.

I reread it and printed it out because I find I catch a lot on paper that I miss on the screen. I had fun marking it up, but the best moment was when I finished reading through it. I felt like I had a giant pile of play dough to mess with. I noticed that in my passion to get it all down I skimmed some of the setting and a few of the minor characters. I’ve been having fun fleshing them out.

I think the editing process is going to be my favorite part of this writing thing.

I signed up for two workshops this month, but one got cancelled. So I went through the agonizing process of deciding which manuscript to take. I decided to take the first ten pages of my YA and save the picture book for next month.

I’d never been to a workshop before or even a critique. We used to do critiques in my studio art classes, offering criticism and compliments on paintings and drawings hung up and down the hallway. It was very similar, except that I find I’m much less emotionally attached to my writing.

There were six of us and I thoroughly enjoyed reading everyone’s pages. There were two middle grade books, two picture books, and two young adult novels.

We read each other’s out loud and two, at least, I wanted to curl up with and read to the end. And then someone read mine. It was interesting to hear it in someone else’s voice. The comments and critiques I got were very helpful. They brought up questions I hadn’t considered for my character which helped me get to know her better.
In the end I found a better way to present the setting in the initial chapters that tells the reader more about what’s going on and gets to the action sooner. So, I’m excited all over again.

Now, I just need to find a couple of uninterrupted hours between nap time and school pickup to get it down.

I really, really like this writing thing.