Sunday, January 5, 2020

Looking back, Stepping forward. Hello, 2020

I'm participating in a 12 Days of Christmas with author Julie Hedlund who runs the group PB 12x12, which inspires writers to write 12 new PB manuscripts a year. I've loved being a member of this supportive and resourceful group.

As part of the 12 Days of Christmas program, one the exercises Julie gave was to make a list of successes and surprises. I did this exercise for Day 1 and Day 2, but I'm only getting around to posting now because I'm still catching up with life and return to work after having family visit for the holidays and then taking a short trip to the Cotton Bowl with my husband, who is a Penn State fan. I'm just thankful the game was exciting and the stadium was indoors. :)  

Anyway,... I lumped my lists of surprises and successes into one, because my successes surprised me. Here are a few:
1.     I completed 13 new, solid picture book manuscripts, thanks to the monthly goals set for writing and revision in PB12x12, as well as being involved in 3 critique groups (2 online and 1 in-person) that kept me to a schedule, and inspiration that flowed from #PBChat on Twitter as led by @JustinRColon. I suppose I hated the idea of showing up each month empty-handed and missing out on the opportunity for suggestions and feedback from my writing friends.

       Writing 13 picture book manuscripts was such a surprise, especially because there were times that I felt my well of ideas had surely run dry. Nope! While I had set the goal for 12 manuscripts and had met that in early December after inspiration struck out-of-the-blue for a phrase I had scrawled in my notebook in August, the 13th manuscript came during revision as I felt daunted by finding ideas to fill 14 page-spreads in manuscript-#12. However, rising above what I thought were boundaries of what would "fit" in my manuscript opened me up to new ideas that led to its companion book. Hello, Manuscript-#13!  

      While I'm really tempted to use Manuscript-#13 as Manuscript #1 for 2020, I'm not going to do it. I'm keeping myself open to the first picture-book-idea-surprise for the new year. After all, I've got the fruits of Tara Lazar's #Storystorm to look forward to @TaraLazar.

2.     I had a R&R with an editor from a big publishing house in NY. Although her boss eventually ended up turning down the book, it was a great experience and I feel my manuscript and writing came out stronger from the experience. (And yes, it was frustrating, but I've long left those feelings behind.)

3.     I received compliments from published authors and an agent as I sent my current Work-In-Progress out for critique, along with strong urgings to finish it. This WIP is a middle grade novel that is close to my heart. But finish it I will! I've got Kathryn Purdie's workshop in June (@KathrynPurdie) to look forward to at WIFYR 2020 (Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers), where my plan is to revise the finished novel and bring it to full potential with submission-ready status. This will be my 4th year attending this conference/workshop, and I'm so looking forward to connecting with my writing friends and making new ones.

4.     Participated in 3 critique groups (2 online), and still managed to work on my own material while helping others improve theirs. Participating in three groups seemed daunting, but perhaps being an empty-nester has helped free up more time than I had in the past.

5.     I read hundreds of picture books and at least a dozen middle grade novels, along with a few young adult and adult ones (hello, Kate Morton, favorite author of The Lake House and Nicola Yoon who debuted in 2016 with Everything Everything, and then followed that one up with The Sun is Also a Star). 

6.     Attended a few conferences, like SCBWI's mid-year meeting in LA because I love visiting Cali and love working on the craft of children's writing even more, as well as Carol Lynch Williams' retreat for writers in March, and Picture Book Summit in October.

7.   I won marvelous critiques of 2 different picture book manuscripts through different opportunities from Twitter events. One was from author Diana Murray (@DianaMWrites) through @BrianGehrlein and his Picture Book Spotlight blog.  The other was from @DawnProchovnic via a nomination from Rebecca Gomez (@GomezWrites) that came out of @JustinRColon's #PBChat mentorship program. 

8.     Made progress on physical therapy with the goal of avoiding back surgery, which was advised. Toward that end, I swam 35 miles, walked 240 miles on the treadmill, and did numerous "exercises" over the course of the year (although most of that occurred in the last six-ish months when I started physical therapy). As I look at where I've come and how I'm feeling, I hoping I've been successful! Time will tell as I move through springtime in the new year.

I'll leave it there for my surprises and successes of 2019.  Cheers to finding your own in 2020!

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Conference Notes and Nudges. 10 Tips for Children's Authors

I'm horrible at keeping my social media updated with where I'm going and what I'm doing in regards to my writing pursuits, particularly in regards to conferences. Over the past year and a half or so, I've enjoyed quite a few, from the big SCBWI conference in LA to smaller ones, like the writing retreat with author Carol Lynch Williams, to online gatherings like Picture Book Summit in 2019 and 2018.  For me, attending these conferences provides fuel for kindling new ideas and sprucing up old ones.  They keep me moving forward on this writing journey, connect me with friends, and build bridges for making new opportunities.  For any writer, conferences can be invaluable.

Today I'm sharing some of the things I've learned.

1. Make connections and build relationships, particularly on social media. For a while, it seemed that "social media" was a four-letter word. It was deemed to be a drain for creatives, whose time would be better spent writing or illustrating. And for a while, I bought into this mindset, and stayed away from it for a handful of years. But while writing is one of those endeavors that requires separation from the rest of the world if any meaningful storytelling is going to be put on paper, I've learned that social media helps keep me connected to a wider world and allows me to share in the ups and downs of this publishing business that so many of us are trying to break into.

Some of my favorite social media gathering spots are on Twitter and Facebook.  Twitter has a whole network of picture book writers and editors that connect through hashtag conversations, such as #PBChat which was started by @JustinRColon earlier this year, as well as #PBCritiqueFest as started by @BrianGehrlein and #kidlit. On Facebook I'm a member of a handful of groups such as Julie Hedlund's 12x12 PB challenge and NF for Children's Writers. 

2. Write what you know.  This bit of advice has changed over the years.  Lately, I've heard: write what you interests you--even if you don't know it! Go out and learn about it. Personally, I follow the idea of: write what you love. Fall in love with your characters, your idea, your piece of nonfiction, and bring it to the best life it can live through the words that you feed it.

3. Ask questions. What does your character want? What is your emotional connection to this book? What are things you've fought for? What are things your character is fighting for? Do you have a sense of place on every page?

4. Keep writing through the submission process. Don't get hung up on one idea.

5. Comparative titles and Mentor titles are not the same thing. Comp titles are a sales tool to use in a pitch. They are a previous published book that you refer to that helps explain the nature of your manuscript to an agent or editor. Examples of how comp titles can be used are: I) My ms could be described as X meets Y; II) X but with the addition of Y; III) Readers of X will like Y.

6. Surprise them. Editors and agents like to be surprised in what they are reading. Share something with them that they didn't know about. Write something that only you know how to write. If you are moved by your own writing, it's likely that other readers will be moved as well. Write in a compelling, entertaining way about something that matters.... These sentiments were common themes that I heard from agents and editors at SCBWI-LA in August.

7. Advice from MT Anderson that I loved: Take the familiar and make it unfamiliar.  Take something unfamiliar and make something surprisingly familiar about it. Show us the invisible that lies all around us, but only you can see.

8. Advice from Tiffany Liao: If I can change the age of your MC and it doesn't affect what's presented, then the story is too watered down. Character drives everything.

9. Advice from Mem Fox: When writing, think about the child you're writing for, and nothing else.  And:  "I don't want children to understand everything I write. I teach them how to love reading with the right number of syllables and beats in the right place."

10. Advice from Brandy Colbert and Elana Arnold: Add a ticking clock. Give your MC a limited amount of time to achieve their goal or else face consequences.