The More Things Change…

It’s been a while. Life and all that stuff is my excuse. I’ve been writing and making wonderful progress. Both YA novels are in some form of revision and I’m pretty happy with the direction they both took. I meet with a writing critique group twice a month. They’ve offered invaluable advice and support. I’ve kept up the habit of writing everyday, usually about 1100 words. So writing is good.

Actually, writing is great.

And that’s where my life is changing. I’m beginning to feel a distinct calling to do more writing work. I’ve been reaching out to friends who freelance and getting their advice on building my own writing portfolio and maybe starting a little writing work on the side. Today I took major steps toward that interest. I offered to do some volunteer writing and I answered a posting online looking for blog writers. Nothing may come of either, but in the end I made that small tiptoe toward a calling I feel.

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Life After a Writing Conference

If you ever have the chance to attend a writing conference I cannot recommend them strongly enough. I learned so much and met so many new people; the networking alone is enough to spend the money and go.

Here are a few take-aways-

1. If you can swing it, do the optional classes/sessions before the conference gets into full swing. I went to a the Pitch Perfect session with Chuck Sambuchino from Writers Digest and left feeling like I had a great bag of tricks for writing and presenting a solid, yet interesting pitch.

2. Bring business cards- I did not and wish that I had. I talked to so many great people and took their cards with the express purpose of reconnecting with them once we’d left the conference. I put all the cards in one place and was able to email people one by one and check in with them a week late. This networking will help me build a great base of writing partners, writing friends, and beta readers. And the more we stay in touch the more likely we’ll be to buy and read each others’ books. But, I didn’t have a card, so my email address is swimming around lost in notebooks or on the back of a napkin that got thrown away.

3. If you have a very personal question, please wait until after the panel or speaker is through to ask it. Personal questions are best left for one on one conversations and not so great in a ballroom full of people.

4. If an agent, editor, or otherwise expert speaker says something you didn’t understand, please ask them to clarify. Please do NOT start arguing with them in the middle of their talk.

5. Be prepared, do you homework, know what you want to get out of the conference. If you are pitching to an agent or editor be sure they represent the type of work you’re pitching. Don’t ask questions that can be easily found online or that you should know if you’re trying to break into the writing business, like the difference between an editor and editing your book for submission.

6. If you’ve got a great story to tell, by all means do- but keep it brief. When you’re sitting around at the workshops, panels, and speaking sessions everyone is very friendly. I was able to practice my pitch and get feedback with lots of different people. I was also happy to be  a sounding board to people who wanted to practice their pitches. I know, as writers, we’re all in love with our books and could probably talk forever about them, but please don’t.

Now that the conference is over I’ve got a lot of work to do. I pitched to two agents and both responded with requests to see my work. One of the agents also wants to see another story I wrote last year.

Now that I’ve received feedback and gotten the request to send an older manuscript, I’m busy with the revision process. The book I pitched needs some work in the middle and end, though I think those changes will be fairly easy to make- maybe 10- 20 hours worth of work. The other manuscript needs a complete overhaul. A lot of the scenes are salvageable but the plot is changing pretty dramatically.

Oh, and did I mention I signed up for Camp Nanowriomo with my writing group, so I’ve also committed to writing a brand new story in the month of July.

I’m hoping to be finished with rewrites, revisions, and edits and ready to submit in early September. That may be a really ambitious date, especially since I haven’t done any work on either manuscript in a week. So, instead of blogging I should be writing. Well, you know, writing writing.

Holding Myself Accountable

Remember that last post about feeling underwhelmed once you finish writing something? Well, that was my life for the last three months, which is partially why you haven’t heard from me. But now I’m back (…from outer space). So here’s the run down:

!. Finished revising book

2. Sent it to writing group and friends for feedback. In the meantime I was going to read it again,  without trying to revise it, just read it through like a book.

3. Signed up for an Agent’s and Editor’s conference. 

4. About 25 pages I wanted to cry. It was not the story I wanted to tell. All that work, feeling like I was maybe close to done, Oh, the humanity!

5. Got great notes and feedback from my amazing writing friend, Candace.

6. Reevaluated story. Created quick outline of how it needed to be rewritten.

7. Started rewrite, excited about the new direction.

8. Then life happened. I started doing a lot of creative writing at work and felt tired and creatively spent at home. I didn’t make time for writing.

9. Got an email with my agent assignments. Realized I had very little time before I was supposed to pitch this story.

10. Started to have a nervous breakdown, not really, but maybe a little. 

11. Used the forums at She Writes to find an accountability partner. I was very productive during Nanowrimo when I emailed my accomplishments to my writing group everyday. With this insanely close deadline, I knew I needed to light the fire under my, ahem, laptop.

12. Found two amazing partners and have written everyday since then!

I’m now steadily developing the story I meant to write in the first 3 drafts. It’s an exciting time as I realize how much of a story there was, that I wasn’t telling. I’m so grateful for my writing group and my accountability partners. Knowing I needed to send the email every day has really made writing seem like less of an optional activity and more of something that’s nonnegotiable.

Three Dimensions

Something that bugs me in the YA books I’ve read recently  is making the characters too one-dimensional, too much like stereotypes. This is especially true of female characters that are meek or shy at the beginning of a story and then suddenly transform throughout the story in response to a quest or other dramatic event. Wouldn’t it be fair to say that most kids, most people, have a little bit of everything in them?  We’re usually not one way all the time. With some people we’re outgoing, with others we’re reserved. In some situations we’re adventurous and daring and in others we’re terrified.

I saw this most clearly in my own writing when I finally got a chance to spend some time with my 16 year old niece. The story I’m currently revising is very loosely based on some of her life experiences. From an outsider’s perspective, I thought I needed to make the character angry and cynical, in order to make some of the big events and revelations make sense. And, though I wrote certain glimmers of happiness and contentedness, I kept the character sort of guarded and surly through much of the book. However, when my niece came to visit, I got a glimpse into the life of a 16 year old. And maybe there is some anger, but mostly there’s still growth and development. Sixteen year olds like one thing one minute and another the next minute. They want to wear make-up and have sex, and they want to make origami boxes and color the driveway with chalk. They’re walking contradictions as they discover who they are.

It was stunning to realize how much I’d underestimated and pigeonholed this character, because my own memories of teen life are permeated with angry, discontent feelings.  Those strong feelings clouded the others. So much that I forgot about the humdrum of daily life. I forgot that I wasn’t angry all the time, or even half the time. After I spent time with my niece, I went back and reread my story. I didn’t do the age, the experience, or the inspiration very much justice in what I’d written.  I know there needs to be elevated emotions and drama to come across strongly on the page, but I want to do a better job of making my character well-rounded and more accessible to lots of different types of readers.

On a side note, this post seemed timely because I did the same thing in real life.  I sort of under-estimated, or maybe assumed is a better word, I assumed things about someone I work with because of his position in the company and his experience in business. Instead of thinking of this person as a well-rounded human begin who probably has many likes and interests, just like everyone I know, myself included, I assumed he was stuffy and maybe uninteresting. When in reality, since I’ve learned a lot from him and about him, I’ve been surprised by how wrong my initial assumptions were.

 As a former teacher, I should know the rule about not judging a book by its cover. I’m working on it, though. It’s a hard habit to break. I think maybe it’s not about breaking the habit, but rethinking the process- maybe it’s okay to make initial assumptions, as long as we actively seek to find ways to contradict them.

I’m a Survivor…(take 2)

So the Mayan Apocalypse has come and gone. What do we do next? How do we live our lives without the end of the world looming? We prepare for the next apocalypse, of course. We throw ourselves in to being better people= better friends, better spouses, better parents, better coworkers, better neighbors, better puppy-mamas. We do this by re-evaluating what’s important in life and what accomplishments we’ve made in the meager lives we’ve lead thus far. And then we strive for better.

Huh. Apocalypse preparation sounds a lot like New Years Resolutions. Every year, I set New years goals. I’d rather strive to do something than resolve to do it. The verbage is just more inviting, The goals are all over the place, but I usually try to set goals that pertain to body wellness, mind wellness, heart wellness, and “soul” wellness. I put soul in quotes because I think we all define that word a little differently.

This year, like last, many of my goals have to do with writing. Last year I wanted to develop a writing habit and write a lot. And in reflection I really did. Sometimes it was easy, most of the time it was tough. But when I take stock of what I accomplished toward my 2012 writing goals, I feel proud. I am currently sitting on 8 pieces of writing in one stage of completion or another. Eight pieces of writing done in one year, while I worked full-time, and for most of the year worked as a classroom teacher, the most time-consuming job I can think of. It’s something to be proud of.  So here’s a recap of 2012 writing:

1 short story written, revised, edited, and submitted. Submission accepted and published in an online literary journal in May and then republished in a hard-copy anthology in July (https://www.createspace.com/3947262).

1 short story in draft phase, taken from a writing exercise I began a few years ago.

1 handwritten novel in draft form, perhaps 20-30,000 words done. This was the piece that propelled me into writing this year. I had this glimmer of an idea and then everywhere I went I heard news stories, saw movie titles, read articles about the topic. The universe was talking to me, loudly, so I listened. I’d love to get back to this piece soon, I’m just putting it off because of the dread of having to first read my messy draft scrawl and then having to type it out.

1 late-chapter book/ early middle grade story that is being revised with the help of my writing group. I picked this story up when I dropped the handwritten one. This was meant to be a picture book, but the character came alive to me, so I kept writing his story. I completed one draft of this, had a former student read it and give me some notes, then reworked it a little.  I’ve been working with my writing group on notes and am currently rewriting the beginning and trying to carry some of those new threads throughout the rest of the story.

1 middle grade stab at supernatural/ fantasy-ish. It’s probably 20,000 words in and then I got stuck. I have the story outlined, so I know where i want it to go, but I need to do more research on Salem and magical gems.

1 YA novel, draft 1 completed during Camp Nanowrimo in June.

1 adult-ish, I’ll admit veering dangerously close to chick-lit, novel started before Nano. One chapter, about 20 pages written.

1 YA novel, draft 1, completed during Nanowrimo in 2012. That’s a lie, 50,000 words of it were done in November. I kept writing it to bring the story to some sort of completion for my writing group. It’s currently in their hands. We have plans to spend the month of February revising our work together.

So, proud as I am about my first year of really trying at this writing thing, one big thing jumped out at me when I reflected on all this work. The word draftdraftdraft. I wrote a lot. I got caught up in story telling and embedded myself and my characters in new worlds and new activities, but I didn’t get past that fun part of making stuff up. So my 2013 writing goals are simple enough. Get over making stuff up and start making stuff better. This is my year of revision and editing. I’m going to rework, reimagine, rethink, reinvent, redraft, redefine, retell, and revise my little writer’s heart out this year.

The ultimate goal of all of this will be to get 4 pieces revised, redrafted, edited, and ready for submission by the end of the year. Next November, I’d like to be sitting down to write my Nanowrimo novel knowing that 4 of my novels are currently out there in the world being read and reviewed by people who could make publishing a reality.