Why Keep Going?

I’m sure that some of you authors-in-training are out there asking yourself this question and it is a legitimate one; especially if you have been chiseling away at your craft, learning the business, reading in your genre, watching Twitter posts and participating in a myriad of workshops, pitch wars and all that is the writing life. And after saying all of this I say, yes, keep going. Why? Well for one I am and here are the reasons.

Because all that information you have been gathering is going to culminate into your ‘ah ha’ moment and then it will all come together. I say that because that is what is beginning to happen to me after plugging away for years. You begin to see a pattern forming. You start to make connections between things. You notice a trend and then you say ‘Oh, so that’s what they meant.’

Now I am going to tell you something that everyone has told you: accept rejection and keep moving. I wrote an earlier post Why I Love My Rejection Letter that may help you get over the sting. At this point I take them in stride and look forward to getting them so that I can take that agent off my Excel spreadsheet and add another one. If you get feedback which unfortunately is rare, cherish that. I save those and try to apply what little morsels they dole out. I always try to thank those agents/editors in particular for taking the time to do that since they are very busy people.

But a pubbed writer and critique partner gave me the best advice: READ, READ, READ. Since I have a full time job and other responsibilites reading is very hard to fit into my schedule so I go to the Overdrive app for my local library and am reading a lot more. Believe me when I say it makes a H-U-G-E difference because you start to notice trends in structure, language and content that you can use in your own work.

Make your book the best you can make it before you send. At first I had issues with that but have learned I really have to take it as far as I can even if I end up being asked to revise it several more times. Be willing to do that work for the sake of the work and the reader. If you value what you do you won’t have any issues with revisions. It’s a win for all involved so be grateful for the suggestions and apply them.

I also suggest you not allow yourself to get discouraged until you have sent out at least 80 queries (and yes there are 80 agents/editors out there for your genre). It’s almost like job hunting – its a numbers game. I use the CWIM and also make sure I check the agency/publisher website in case something has changed. In the latest version Chuck has included some examples of first pages that several different agents critiqued and they all had differing reactions to the books. That was a big eye opener as to how subjective it is; all agents won’t view your book the same way and that is a good thing. It gives you hope that maybe there is one out there that will love it.

I try to research the agent to find out something about them personally and what they tweet, blog about so that I can get to know them before I submit. If I don’t find much I just approach them with the same respect and courtesy I would any new person I meet in business.

If you participate in online pitch wars make sure you work on the pitch in advance and use the most descriptive words you can; don’t be vague – you only get one shot at it (well maybe two in the 8 hr period but you know what I mean). It’s nice to get agent likes and that feels good so consider that a win as well even if you don’t get repped.

Well, I’ve got a conference to attend shortly so hope this advice helped and happy writing!

Manuscripts: Focus, focus, focus

One thing I have learned, and continue to learn, about putting together a manuscript is that it is not like writing a letter about something that happened to you or someone else. It is structured — whether you intend to do so or not. It has a beginning, middle and end of course, but there is so much more to it.

I’ve read lots of writing books (i.e., Writer’s Digest Great Fiction series, which I highly recommend, and Story Engineering by Larry Brooks) and from what I have ascertained, once the structure is in place, I can relax and just enjoy the writing part.

I was listening to an interview on Twitter with author Jill Santopolo and was happy to hear her co-sign the same approach I have added to my arsenal after reading the aforementioned references: to create the shell, and then fill it in. What does that mean? Well she didn’t say it that way exactly, but in a nutshell, you create an outline of each chapter so you know where you are going. It does not have to explain every little detail, just a basic sentence or two about what needs to happen. Then you can craft the direction you need to take so that you do not forget. Granted, I am a project manager so I am especially fond of clarity, direction and getting there properly — so sue me.

Anyway, here is an example: in James Scott Bell’s book Plot & Structure, he explains the ‘doors of no return.’ These doors are major events that thrust the protagonist forward in the story. Events that cause them to act — whether they want to or not. It’s fascinating reading and it really works! So putting this into practice I can ensure the story has direction, as well as conflict and excitement in all the right places. It’s not easy and I am still a novice at it, but the more I do it, the better my writing becomes.

You must admit, keeping kids’ attention these days is tough, so if you are going to write a kidlit book, it is crucial to use a methodology (uh oh, my PM hat again) that will keep them focusing on your book, not the XBox. 🙂

Middle Grade on a Mission!

Well I’m back after being VE-R-R-R-Y busy the last 30 days. As you know, I completed Susanna Leonard Hill’s PB class and now I am in Dashka Slater’s PB class! (yes I am a glutton for PB punishment!). But get this, I am also writing an MG novel! Yep, it’s a series called Halle Harris & The Truth Seekers — about 4 would-be sleuths who help classmates solve their problems. Want to hear my elevator pitch for the first one? OK here goes: Four sleuths-in-training trying to save a classmate from a bully could end up ruining her life. 

I don’t have a completion date…taking my time to get to know my characters and delve into the world of 11-year olds. More on that later.

I also won an award a few weeks ago — that’s one reason I’ve been MIA. It was for a cookbook I wrote, called The Real Book on How to Cook: Secrets mother never told you (amazon and b&n). It won ‘Best Cook Book’ at the African American Literary Awards in NYC. How cool is that? Readers nominate and vote so that makes it extra special.

Well, gotta go! 

Off and Writing!

Ok I must admit I’ve been pretty lame bringing you tidbits from the 30 day PB quest. I did get the book written and tweaking it now. In the meantime, I won an award for my cookbook I released in June! More on that in another blog! Anyway, I am working on a middle grade novel about 4 would-be sleuths who try to help a girl being bullied but end up nearly ruining her life! More on that later too. Well, I am attending Dashka Slater’s PB class in two weeks so will try to do better!

In the home stretch…

We are now at Lesson 12! I know…this is moving at lightning speed for me too. LOL. But so far we have basically covered the main elements and are now focusing on the story approach…the theme, purpose, etc. for the character. This has made me decide to re-write my book and give my character more of a challenge  (btw after I realized my first PB was going to be w-a-y too long for a PB, I switched to another).

This new book is not new to me but it’s called In Search of Wonderlicious and is about a 6-year-old’s adventure at the library where her mother works. Her normal routine is to go there after school, read books and wait for her mom, but this day is different; this day she sees a book that is forbidden and she wants to read it! Stay tuned.

Lessons and Lessons and Lessons Oh My!

I am SO behind in updating this blog about my PB lessons! We are already on #8 and we are being kept SO busy! So in a nutshell here’s the skinny:

#3 – We had to choose a setting (I already had mine)

#4 – We focused on word count. HARD. My book is w-a-y too long. 😦

#5 – Learned there were all types of PB approaches:

  • Classic
  • Circular
  • Cumulative
  • Familiar Sequence
  • Flip-Flop
  • Parallel
  • Question & Answer
  • Timeline

(I will explain these later)

#6 – We had to come up with 3 different beginnings for our books. I changed my twice.

#7 – We were encouraged to write 3 endings for our picture book. I love my new ending!

We have a lesson everyday and I can only write so much!!! Cya

Lesson 2 – what’s going on?

In lesson two we are admonished to discover just what the real issues are in our PBs.  We are to focus on the type of conflict our character might face by answering questions in our own childhood. such as our worst fears, our most memorable moments and things that made us angry or sad. It’s a great way to conjer up old feelings and get you to thinking about how to use them in a story!

They Just Had to Say It

Got up early this morning and started writing but not on my PB book. I started writing the intro I’ve been meaning to start for my MG (middle-grade) series, Halle Harris and the Truth Seekers. Halle is a young, inquisitive and stubborn 12-year-old-going-on-mature and she has a problem. It’s going to get resolved of course but I had to allow her and her best friend Olympia to tell me about it this morning. Sometimes characters wake you up and make you listen. this was one of those times.

I also heard from my other protaganist in my chapter book series Delsa Dearheart. She had to tell me about her experience starting school. She’s going to be a writer someday…when she learns how to write. 

Anyway, I was in the middle of dying my hair (now my hands are blotchy and my favorite nightgown looks like it’s polka dot). But I did my duty and listened and now that I’ve heard from them both, I’m glad I did.