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NaNoEdMo

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is almost upon us. For those of you unfamiliar with NaNo, the goal is to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days during the month of November. Impossible? I guess not.

Personally I haven’t ever done a NaNoWriMo challenge. Maybe someday if I have an idea percolating that’s ready to come out, but I’m one of those people who writes better with a strong idea than out of habit. I want to be one of those writers who can sit and crank out 3,000 words a day without batting an eye, but alas, not yet.

Each November I try to challenge myself to some writing goal, and this year, I am creating my own National Novel Editing Month! I currently have 4 projects that are between second-draft stage and ready-to-query stage. All of these books need different kinds of attention, whether it’s editing, polishing, adding critique comments, or writing a query/synopsis.

My distraction level is at an all-time high on the weekends, so my goal for November is to edit something everyday and not just when it’s convenient. This will be a challenge since I’m pretty burnt out on the weekends, and then some weekends get crazy with extra work, volunteer events, and family obligations. I’m hoping to stick to my guns and get this done so I can be one step closer to one of those writers who can sit and write all morning despite the temptations of Netflix and the internet!

Anyone doing the traditional NaNoWriMo this November? Anyone else creating their own version to fit their writing goals? I’d love to hear about it!

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Filed under Editing, nanowrimo, query, Uncategorized, writing

Secret to the Perfect Query

…don’t you wish there was one?

Here’s what you need to know: there’s no such thing as a perfect anything, especially when it comes to art and writing. The beauty of art is that it’s personal expression, and the downfall of art is that it’s personal expression. As much as you like it, there will always be people who think it can be improved. You put your love, sweat, tears, midnight-coffee-runs, tendonitis-flare-ups, and more into your books to make them as “perfect” as they can be.

Once your books has gone through proper revisions, drafts, and critique groups, you are ready to start the publishing process. This is much harder than it seems. Your lovely, full-length novel must now be compressed into 300 words or less! It sucks, it’s hard, and it’s doable. Remember: as great as your book is, the next task is to get someone to buy it. If you decide to go the agent route, that means a query letter.

A perfect query is the writer’s dream, but what you really need is a query that does its job well. You need an agent to: get hooked into your idea, understand the story, knows the important characters, and know a little about you, the author. Now, while there may not be a “perfect” query, there is a formula YOU MUST FOLLOW. I don’t care how awesome and creative you are, an agent’s job is to sell your book, not be entertained with a new version of a query. Make an agent’s life easier and get the attention your book deserves!

Basic query structure (Whole query is 300 words or less):

  1. Dear (AGENT): Personalized reason why this person will love your book. Keep it brief, always use the agent’s name unless querying an entire agency (which does happen) 1-2 sentences will show them you did your research about the agent/agency and also gets to the good stuff faster!
  2. Paragraphs 1-2: Hook the agent and give a brief summary of the events in your book. Don’t give away major plot points, but don’t be so vague no one knows what your story is about. Think of the back of a book cover you read at the library to figure out if the book interests you or not. Keep this under 200 words.
  3. The genre and word count of your book. Round the word count. Don’t be “that person.” If your book is 58, 432 words, you can say 58,500.
  4. Your Bio: Only put down things RELEVANT TO WRITING. Put down: other publications (magazines, short story contests, book talks, and other novel publications all count.) If you haven’t published, it’s okay to say that versus using unnecessary filler information. If you are write paranormal romance but you’re also an aspiring gardener who loves cross-breeding tomato plants, guess which factoid is worth mentioning? Unless your profession/serious hobby is relevant to your book do not fill space. If you haven’t published, that means your writing bio is: “This is my first novel.” Boom. Done.

(The examples and resources at the end of this blog do a much more in depth version of this)

I have been through countless drafts of my query for a couple years and it’s always changing. I’m lucky to be part of several groups that help with queries and other aspects of writing and critiquing. If you write anything from PB-YA, join the Society for Childrens Book Writers and Illustrators (www.scbwi.org) It’s an invaluable resource.

Seeking help, reading examples, and being open to throwing out what you have and starting over is crazy-making, but all part of the process. Writing a query is one of the hardest things you will have to write, but a good letter with the right balance of hook, summary, intrigue, and characters can get you on the path to publication.

Great sources for guidelines and examples:

Agent Query

Writer’s Digest

Fun Examples

Writer’s Market Books

Agencies: Many literary agencies have examples and guidelines on their websites. Great resource, especially if you want that agency to represent you.

Have you used other resources for writing query letters? Please comment and share!

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Filed under agent search, Editing, query, Rejection, struggling, Uncategorized, word count, writing

To Do Lists

I love lists. I always have. It started when I was a kid creating massive “creative” lists of names for horses with my friend Cece. That then turned to names for creatures/characters in the books I tried to write in middle school, and eventually graduated to normal adult To Do lists including chores, groceries, and not forgetting simple things.

I’ve got several MS projects in the works, and now that most of the writing is “done,” I need to start focusing on other aspects of writing. I need critique partners, MS swaps, query help, agent names, the list goes on and on. Going back to my roots in list making, I made one on a little piece of paper. It was great, some small things to make me feel like I accomplished something (who doesn’t love crossing things off a list?), big picture things to work towards, smaller projects to tinker with to keep the creative juices going. Awesome, right?

Then I lost it.

Sure, it wasn’t hard to remember all those things, but after I lost my list I felt the need to create a new list before I could get anything done. (#Procrastination)

Guess what happened to that list?

Then I decided what I needed to do was simple: get a post-it note app for my laptop. Handwriting is soooo much more satisfying (again, crossing things off is the best adrenaline rush), but my ability to loose things defeated the purpose of having a list.

Honestly, why didn’t I do this weeks ago? When I open my laptop, BAM, the list is staring at me, judging me, telling me to do things. It’s a little thing, but I’ve already crossed something off this morning. If it works, go right ahead and do it, no matter how simple or silly you think it is.

What is on your list?

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Fear of Critique

I was raised as an only child, and that combined with being the youngest grandchild in the family makes me sometimes want attention! Because of this I’m usually too eager to share my works in progress (WIP) with others. I enjoy being critiqued because a lot of the time there are large sections that people enjoy, and it makes me happy to hear that. (What writer doesn’t get all warm and fuzzy when someone likes their writing?) I’ve gotten better at being “selfish” with my WIP and waiting until I’m totally in love with the project before I open it up to my family or my critique group. However, for the first time in a long time, I’m nervous about critique.

I’m proud of this YA project, but for once I’m hesitant to get critique. I want this book to do well, and while I’m excited about my concept, I am battling with a lingering fear of rejection. I’ve been trying to get one of my MG books published and I’ve taken a break because of the rejections. Now that I have another WIP I think can succeed, I’m nervous others won’t feel the same way.

What if the drama feels forced?

What if my characters are not believable?

What if people like the concept but hate the writing?

What if…AHH!

Writing, like all art, takes courage. It’s risky letting others read your work, regardless if it’s family or a stranger I met on SCBWI. Family may be kind, but the people I let read my WIP are honest despite their bias. I can take critique, all of my novels have gone through MASSIVE overhauls because of the advice given by different people. The books always turn out better than they started. There will always be people who don’t like the book and that’s okay, but if everyone I show the book to sees that it’s not working then what do I do? For once, I’m having a hard time (as Stephen King so eloquently wrote) “murdering my darlings.”

In a few weeks I will have to let the outside world in. The MS has gone through 3 drafts, is likely as complete as I can make it on my own, and needs some other eyes on it. For now I’m still tinkering in case I catch a big problem before someone else does. I’m sharing this MS at the end of the month with my aunt who is also a writer, reader, and artist herself. I look forward to her critique, reminding myself that all my MSs are better after others read them…although a big part of me still wants to hold my darling close!

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Filed under anxiety, Editing, on writing, Rejection, second guessing, struggling, Uncategorized, writing

Focusing on Editin–SQUIRREL!

So I’ve let my most recently finished draft sit, untouched, for 8 weeks. I know King said to let it sit for 3 months, but I feel it’s been enough time to kind of “forget” the MS and come back to it fresh. However, I’m having a lot of trouble with the next step.

King’s ideal theory is to sit and read the whole MS in one sitting and make no corrections, unless they are minute grammar ones. I am finding this impossible. Once I focus, I feel I do get a lot done. However, I cannot just sit and read this MS. Yesterday I spent a couple hours reading AND editing about 1/3 of the MS. In the moment, it feels good to make these corrections and additions, especially since this MS is on the short side, even for YA. Yet it is frustrating when I cannot let go of old habits and try a new technique.

I understand why King says to just read the darn thing and not touch it. I’ve never read the MS as a whole. I’ve worked at it as we all do, in writing or editing small chapters at a time.  While I am spending time with the whole project, it’s difficult for me to sit back and read it like an actual book and not a work in progress. I may be able to do this once it’s closer to a final draft, yet even then I know I will keep fussing and touching it up.

I know a part of this “issue” is habit. I’m used to having a limit time frame to write, (30-90 minutes during nap time when nannying) and I’m also used to reading and editing other people’s works in my critique group. The majority of my experience is fixing and writing in short spurts, and I my lack of attention span is painfully clear. Even on days, like today, when I am not at work I’m having trouble focusing on the project at hand.

All people are different and have methods of writing and editing that work. I’m not saying this method is horrible and awful and shouldn’t be done, I just think I need practice and help with improving my focus for times like these when I do have a whole day to focus on a MS. Procrastination is real, and the internet is NOT helpful. (I’m even writing this blog when I should be reading my MS.)

For those of you both old and new to writing, what are some techniques you use to battle against procrastination and improve your focus to the craft? I know many of us struggle with this, so advice and techniques that work are always welcome ideas to consider!

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Filed under Editing, ideas, on writing, questions, struggling, Uncategorized, writing

(Don’t?) Write What you Know

“Write what you know” is my least favorite sentence in regards to writing. I write books about kids learning how to ride dragons. Do I know how to ride dragons? Do you? (Does anyone really?) If I only write what I know, 90% of my books would not exist.

For me, even when writing realistic fiction, I like to stray away from my own life. While I have many interests, I’m not really an exciting person. I’m cautious, I hate frequent travel/road trips, and I do watch a fair amount of Netflix while taking pictures of cats. For me, what I write makes me a more interesting person. I take on new characters and personalities to explore the world (real and fantasy) from the comfort of my own dining table. While I’m sure I could find something in my life worth writing about, I prefer topics far from what I know.

I can see why some people like “write what you know.” It’s familiar and safe, and it can be a good place to start. However, if you only stick to what you know it can limit your creative potential. I am writing a YA novel with a higher level of grief and loss than I’ve ever experienced. It’s a risk since I’ve never been in the situation I threw my main character into, but I’d rather write this book than about my high school experience playing clarinet in the school musical while studying for AP exams. (Oooh, over achieving in high school…fascinating…)

Instead of “write what you know” think “write what inspires you.” I promise, if you’re interested in a subject, someone else is too. Your friends may be interested in other genres, but there are more people in the world who do have similar interests. I met a person who wanted to write a super commercial romance novel in order to sell it and make money. This person did not read much romance or really like the genre, they just wanted something to make it big. There are a ton of red flags here. If you don’t love the idea or genre, it’s not going to be good. While there are no guarantees of anyone being the next Stephen King, Nora Roberts, or JK Rowling, it’s still important to love your own writing! If you are inspired to write a flash fiction piece, short story, poem, novel, etc. then do it. The more excited and passionate you are about the project the better it will be.

I’m a classical musician so I’ve been to many recitals and concerts. I’ve heard many amazing talented performances that are super technical, but the lack of musicality makes it harder for me to enjoy the performance. Writing is the same way. If you’re writing something because you can, not because you’re passionate about it, it’s clear in the writing. If “writing what you know” inspires you, then go for it. If you’re inspired to write something but afraid to write something because you don’t “know” it, write it anyway. Stretch yourself and see what you’re capable of.

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Filed under artist, ideas, inspiration, on writing, Uncategorized, writing

Rough Draft? DONE!

Finished another first draft of a new MS! I’m really excited about this one. I think the overall idea is strong and I like my characters. Of course, there are chapters I wrote thinking “This sucks,” but hey, it’s a first draft.

It’s become a habit of mine to read Stephen King’s On Writing once every couple of years or so. I finished it again a couple weeks ago and there were many things I had forgotten. While I do not agree with EVERYTHING in that book, there are many core ideas that have stuck with me. Regardless of where you are in your writing journey (just started, seven MS in Word, successful and published) I suggest reading this book.

When it comes to first drafts, there are a few things King suggests that I’ve heard other places and that I, through experience, have found to be true. Here’s a basic breakdown of how I handle first-drafts:

  1. Don’t. Edit.
    1. If you’re about to go back and check for spelling from the day before, stop. Just, stop. The most important thing right now is the story and your ideas. Get them out on paper before they fly away! It happens, they will run away if you don’t pay enough attention, like a toddler or an off-leash dog. Get those ideas on paper. You can spell check, edit, rearrange, etc. once the draft is done.
  2. Be Selfish
    1. Don’t share your book with anyone until after you have finished 2 drafts. It doesn’t need to be Publisher-Ready, but when a book is raw and unfinished, so are your ideas. As writers, no matter what we tell ourselves, we do want people to read our stuff and like it. Don’t let someone else’s ideas get in your head before your book is done! There is plenty of time for critique once the drafts are finished and all YOUR ideas are fleshed out.
  3. Murder Your Darlings
    1. (King’s words, can you tell?) Once the rough draft is done, let it sit for several weeks and don’t look at it. I know it hurts, but let it simmer. Come back when you’ve forgotten some of it. It makes it easier to trim the fat.
    2. The delete key is both satisfying and painful, but it’s incredibly important. Less than 1% of any writers’ first drafts are ready to be published. They need to be cut, re-formed, cut, smashed, molded, and written again. It’s a long process, and it’s an important one. Even if you really like that one chapter no one else does, if it really holds no value to the story, that delete key is your new bestie.

In my opinion, no matter how many drafts a book goes through, it is never done. Would I change some things in my published work The Healing Pool. Yes. Yes. YES. I don’t think I will ever feel finished with any of my books. There will always be something you will want to tinker with and change, but when those changes become smaller and smaller, it is time to get that work out into the world.

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Filed under Editing, ideas, on writing, rough draft, Uncategorized, writing

Too Many Ideas

I have a stupid problem: I have too many ideas for books.

Before you cuss me out or throw things, think about it this way: I have ideas, but that doesn’t mean I have a book. Sometimes I start writing all excited, then I get to page 11 and I’m like “well, that was fun, what happens next??? Oh right, I don’t know.”

I’m having a hard time focusing on one project. I have my trilogy, but I’m also inspired to work on another MS. However, I also really want to get published so I should edit that first book in the trilogy. Oh, but what about this cool idea. I should write that first. (And so on.) It’s strangely frustrating. It’s nice having options since I can’t write without being inspired, however I want to work on editing my trilogy versus starting another book.

Again, it’s a stupid problem.

Part of the issue I think is that I’ve spent so much time editing the first book in the trilogy I’m getting sick of it. I’ve queried but I’m taking a break to get some feedback on the opening and work on the synopsis. I think it’s improved, but i don’t want to burn out all of the agents I want to query before it’s where it should be. I have the query, it’s solid, but I don’t want to keep sending it out if the material still needs a little extra something.

I want to be motivated to edit this trilogy since I have a history of abandoning projects. I’m so far down the road I know I won’t abandon it, however it’s been a while since I’ve looked at it. Every time I try to edit I keep skimming and getting nothing done. I’m waiting to hear from one more person on the book, hopefully then I’ll have enough feedback to put in the final touches and start sending it out again.

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Fox Cities Book Festival!

Today was the first day of the FCBF. There are so many great authors attending, including Leonard Pitts Jr., Michael Perry, and Jacqueline Mitchard to name a few. I want to attend at least one event a day while also spending my week in WI with my family and friends from college.

I saw Leonard Pitts today and, although for me it wasn’t an eye-opening speech, it was a good talk. Most of what he talked about I have heard or experienced before, but it was fun to hear of another author whose characters wrote the story for him. My characters always have surprises in store for me. They get in fights, form relationships/bonds with someone unexpected, die, etc. A true writer lets the characters run the show. (They know without them we as writers are helpless!)

I am gearing up for my presentation on Friday afternoon (3pm at the Kaukauna Public Library.) I don’t know every author on the list for the week but I know I’m on the young scale, if not the youngest author. It’s pretty intimidating being among authors who have made names for themselves, but it’s also a huge honor. I was asked to present because the Kaukauna librarians loved my event I did with their students a year ago. You never know what kinds of connections you’re going to make.

Hope to see some of you around this week!

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Filed under Fox Cities Book Festival, marketing, Self-Publishing, Uncategorized

Rubbed the Wrong Way

I recently finished the first draft of a new MG novel and I was eager to get some help with it. I know it’s a first draft and it probably needed more time with me before I sent it out, but I wanted to see if anyone was interested in doing a MS swap anyway. I found someone at SCBWI who was interested. I explained it needed help/was a first draft in my email when I sent it along.

I got an email from this person with critiques. They were honest and helpful about specifics I should be aware of for MG writing, but at the end of the list this person admit that they didn’t finish my MS because I needed to get the basics right first. I went through the attachment they sent and it looks like they only read 16 pages of the MS.

Now, I don’t know about you, but this feels rude. I am reading this person’s full MS, regardless of what condition it is in, because that is what we agreed to do. There was a full disclaimer that my novel was in the infant stages yet this person took a brief look and decided it wasn’t worth their time. I expect that from agents/editors but not from a fellow writer.

The comments they wrote made sense. I know I need to get to the action quicker, and there was a good point on how I should make the protagonist younger to fit the age of my audience. However, if I were critiquing the MS, I would put examples of good action and how to connect the dots. I would have read more to get a sense of the whole plot arc; to get a better idea of what was working in addition to what needed work. Reading 16 pages out of a 150 page MS is not enough. I don’t know this person’s views on what parts work for the age range since most of the action happens later. This person has written a couple MG books, but I can’t say I was helped since I don’t know what’s working. Why not say how long it took until you were engaged in the story instead of bowing out after chapter 3?

The basics I need to change (according to this person) include: age of character, getting to action faster/hook, and keeping interest in a first person POV. I don’t know if this is enough. These are things that can be improved, but it also sounds like problems with the beginning. What about the middle when more happens? How can I get there faster? What is too old/young for the age group in future events? I have so many things I want to know but I won’t get to because this person never critiqued the whole story. I can handle tough critique, I just can’t handle not fulfilling a promise of a full critique.

Am I justified in being upset and frustrated? Has anyone else had a critique partner who did a similar thing?

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