Monday, October 27, 2014

Lost that Lovin' Feeling?

Before we jump in, I’ve recently discovered something: a majority of my posts are either pep talks, or advice on how to get through being stuck.


But I think that’s normal. Roadblocks in a manuscript can come from so many different things: your plot may have taken a wrong turn down a dead-end road; you may be hitting a complete blank on what happens next; good, old-fashioned fear may have you paralyzed. And then there's the super-sad explanation: you just don’t feel the connection to your story. 

I’m working on a new WIP, and I’ve hit every single one of these roadblocks over the past month. Hard times in the Smith house, y’all. So, I dug into my arsenal of roadblock-bashing material. The most recent blockage I hit was that super-sad one I mentioned: lack of connection to the story. One thing I’ve come to embrace is the Manuscript Love List. I can't take credit for this one; I got the idea from Stephanie Perkins.

Here's the idea: you make a list of all the things you love about your manuscript. Easy, right? It may sound super-basic and you may be wondering how that can possibly help, but I urge you to give it a try—you may be surprised! For example, here are a few of the love list items from my upcoming YA Contemporary, PLAY ON.

Starry skies
Pick-up trucks
Wide-open fields
Baseball games during cool springtime nights

I jotted these down in the early stages of the story, and as the story grew, so did my list. Just reading over the things I love about the story gets me into the mindset of its atmosphere and, most importantly, of why I wanted to write it in the first place. So if you’re stuck, give it a try! You may just fall in love all over again. J

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Let It Go... Or not!

It's the perfect time of year to reflect on our accomplishments and revisit goals that may or may not have been met. My goal for 2014 was to take my rewritten YA Sci-fi and find an agent equally excited about it. It was new and shiny--I'd raked over every word, hooked every chapter end, and added short term goals for my MC to ramp up the tension. (Look for a later post from me about over editing) I knew this manuscript forward, backward, and sideways. The world I'd created completely sucked me in.

I've been very open about my query process...the partial and full requests...the rejections...and the LaLa Land some of my submissions fell into. I fully intended to send my queries in batches, tweak things as needed, and to not stop until I reached one hundred agents. I have several dear friends who submitted over sixty, seventy even eighty queries before they received agent representation so I knew going into it that it might be a long haul. But here I am, only a little over halfway through my goal and I've found my heart just isn't into it.

You see, I have a new manuscript (a YA historical fiction). New characters insisting I share their secrets and dreams. They. Are. Consuming. Me! Anything that takes me away from their lives--even if it's something as simple as researching new prospects for my Sci-fi, puts me into a tailspin. It's insane. So I've decided to put my old MS on the shelf for a while to prevent distraction from my WIP. I'm not letting it go forever. Someday I'll pull it out and read it with fresh eyes. And who knows, maybe I'll fall in love with it all over again.

photo credit: jackoraptor via photopin cc

Monday, October 13, 2014

Prepare Yourselves: NaNo is Coming.

Five NaNoWriMo Prep Steps

It's mid-October. Leaves are falling, Halloween costume selections are dwindling, and it is THE TIME to get prepped for National Novel Writing Month

How much should you prep for NaNoWriMo? Some people prep for months. I do not. But I do think that whether you consider yourself a plotter or a pantser, having a few ducks in a row before November 1st couldn't hurt. 

Here are five, last-minute prep steps I'm taking to try and get my NaNo WIN. You still have a couple weeks, so if you haven't already, why not:   


1) Get your research out of the way. Whether you have just a vague idea of your story's setting (maybe near Devil's Tower?)  or you are absolutely certain your protagonist will need to know the hunting habits of a prehistoric mosasaur, NOW is the time to get those details in order. My NaNo project will feature a colony of bats. I know more waaay more about bats than I need to. But I won't waste any precious time in November looking up the average lifespan of a Townsend's big-eared bat. (16 years, btw)

2) Jot down a tagline. If you have a general idea about your storyline, you could try writing a one-to-two sentences summary. It could give you more focus. 

Example from the screenplay Pirates of the Caribbean: 
A 17th Century tale of adventure on the Caribbean Sea where the roguish yet charming Captain Jack Sparrow joins forces with a young blacksmith in a gallant attempt to rescue the Governor of England's daughter and reclaim his ship.

There are still plenty of holes to fill in the Pirates of the Caribbean example, but it gives you some framework. 

3) Make a few character sketches.  You'll be spending a lot of time with these characters over the next few weeks. If you have an idea who will be starring as your cast of characters, get to know them. There are lots of cool resources for character sketching. NaNo has a good one here. 

4) Let your friends and family know what's about to go down. Writing is a solitary venture. It's also time consuming, and NaNo's 1,667 words-per-day average is whole different level of involvement. 
WAIT. Before you go writing, could we make a 7-layer Jello Mold?

In my case, I'm married with two little kids. I am planning for easy dinners, packing lunches the night before, getting up reeeeaaally early, and have discussed all of this with aforementioned family unit. It's THAT KIND of commitment. 

5) Find Writerly Support. Connect with writing buddies on the NaNoWriMo site. There is a NaNoPrep thread where you will find lots of friendly writer peeps looking for buddies to encourage and support each other.  You can find me on the NaNo site as Arena26. (ICYW, that user name dates way back to a NCAA Online Bracket challenge that ended well for me.) 

How about you? Are you prepping for the NaNo plunge? Have you checked out the NaNo Prep resources on the official site? 

 How do you plan on achieving that NaNo WIN?

Monday, October 6, 2014

Tackling Goals

Gotta love football! 

For me, the fall is a super crazy, busy time of year. Last week, I sat down and made a list of the most important things that needed to get done. This turned into some real goal setting since I plan on participating in NaNoWriMo in November again! Yay! :)

When planning goals there are a few things to consider:

  1. What can you realistically accomplish? Think long and hard about it.
  2. Create a timeline for the project(s). 
  3. Be specific. Finishing a novel in a month is great, but without the details, it might flop.
  4. Design benchmarks to measure your project and keep things running in a timely manner.
  5. Accountability! Set up specific times to check in with someone who will encourage you to stay on track. 
If you have big dreams, try whittling them down to what your schedule allows or to what you know you can do easily. Think on a daily, weekly, monthly basis. Divide and conquer! Check out Rina's mini task list blog; it's amazing. Sometimes those monstrous, looming projects are easier to manage in small doses! A back-up list is always great to have on hand too if you find you've achieved your goals ahead of schedule. 

And even though accountability is the last on the list, it's one of the most important things! When you share your dreams and ask others to either help by giving you the time to do them, or ask you about them, just the asking can keep you trekking toward your accomplishment. Whether it's telling your CPs, best friend, mom, or significant other, letting them know what's important to you encourages them to support you! Ask around, you could gain an accountability partner and be one for someone else.

So.... What do you want to accomplish before the end of 2014? We love hearing from you! :)

Monday, September 29, 2014

Querying and Dealing with Rejection - Revisited

Hello Fellow Writers. :) Today was my day to blog--I knew it in advance, set an alarm on my phone, circled it on a calendar (so primitive of me!) and yet still, despite having the best of intentions, I ran out of time. I know all of you totally understand how the balance of work work, writing work, and life can get the best of us. Throw in there a few doc visits for some sick kiddos and suddenly you're unable to meet a deadline.

So I hope you'll forgive me for recycling an old post. This was one of my first for RW and one of my favorites since it still applies. Enjoy and thanks so much for reading. :)


So you’ve finished your book, ran it through your critique group (or groups) edited, edited, edited, sent it to a handful of Beta Readers, edited it again and now you’re finally ready to get that book to a publisher. Time to celebrate, right?

Wait! Stop the confetti toss -- there are several more steps.  Okay, sure, take a minute to be proud of yourself. Eat a Twinkie. Play ‘Crazy Train’ on your air guitar. Sing ‘I am the Champion’ at the top of your lungs. You completed a book. WOOT! WOOT! Someone once told me that only a small percentage of persons who start a book ever finish it. I’m not sure how true that is, but it’s nice to think that I’ve accomplished something special.  A few times actually… But my other manuscripts gathering dust were great opportunities to develop my skills, right??

For any of us who’ve decided to get our books traditionally published, we know what’s next.  Oh yes.  I’m talking about catching the attention of an awesome literary agent, an amazing cheerleader-negotiator-guidance counselor-editor-marketing guru who’ll love our words as much as we do. But in order to catch the attention of an agent, we first must enter *cue evil music* the dreaded Query Zone. 
 Don’t misunderstand. Literary agents aren’t evil. Actually, every agent I’ve encountered either formally (SCBWI conferences) or informally (Twitter, rejection emails/letters, blog posts) have all been polite and professional. And I’d go a step farther and say they have even been pretty dang nice! Not yet have I met one with a set of horns, spear-ended tail or split tongue.

I know, I know -- when I decided to write a book I was supposed to slap myself around for a good year or two to develop that thick skin.*picture Arnold Schwarzenegger – I eat green berets for breakfast!* Because writers trying to break into the ‘biz’ should know that rejections are just part of the cycle…

Yes, of course, rejections are part of the process. But the truth? No matter how cool I want to appear to fellow writers and family (you know what I’m talking about -- that brush off the shoulder – oh yea, I eat rejections for breakfast!). The truth is rejections hurt.  There I’ve said it – in front of everyone. They HURT dang it!!

*jumping down from soapbox* Since I’m revealing everything, let me go a step farther and admit that not only do rejections hurt, but I’ve actually developed different levels of rejectionitis.

A rejection from a query – a twinge of discomfort deep in my belly.

A rejection from a query, synopsis and sample pages - heaviness in the abdomen.

A rejection from a partial – moderate, lingering discomfort in the chest and a burning sensation on the back of my neck (I know weird, right? Last time my husband almost dialed 911)

And finally, a rejection from a full – all the above plus nauseous sometimes with or without vomiting. 

Okay, so I could go on and on, but enough whining.  I've actually found ways for dealing with rejectionitis.

Clown Around: Laughter really is good for the soul and I can often find the humor in pretty much anything. In truth, though, clowns kinda freak me out.

The Rotation: Send out a new query every time a rejection comes in. I researched and found fifty agents I thought might be a good fit for my book and notated them in Query Tracker. Then I sent out ten queries. Every time a rejection comes in, I send a new query out to the next agent on my list. It feels good to know that even though an agent has passed there’s another who might feel that special connection with my story. (Did you know in Twitter and Tumblr there is a Manuscript Wish List? Check it out #MSWL)

Go West Side Story: Reach out to your posse – your fellow writers who have been there. It’s nice to remember you’re not alone. *When you’re a Jet, you’re a Jet all the way*

Get Possessed: Jump into a new story. There’s something therapeutic about making up new worlds and throwing yourself into them. Into the story that is – not the pits of hell.

Of course, when you query, it’s important to follow the rules.  Spend time researching the agents to make sure they handle what you’ve written and personalize your message to them.

So, now that you have permission to stomp your feet and scream “Why not me?” Do share. How do you handle rejections?

photo credit: CherrySoda! via photopin cc photo credit: bunchofpants via photopin cc

Monday, September 22, 2014

It's Okay to Take a Break

Writing is exhausting.

I love, love, love writing. Have I mentioned that I love it? Because I LOVE it. But just like any other job, working nonstop can result in major burnout. Symptoms of burnout include, but are not limited to: fatigue, irritability, and the desire to throw your computer across the room because JUST FIX YOURSELF, MANUSCRIPT.

Ahem. It’s possible I almost reached burnout status recently. The feelings are still a bit raw.

For the safety of computers everywhere (and our brains), I’m going to talk about something that has become a lifesaver for me: Mental Health Days, or what I lovingly refer to as brain breaks. As awesome as our brains are, they can become overworked and worn, just like any other part of our bodies. They need rest.

On that same note, the creativity well needs refilling every now and then. We need books and movies. We need walks outside and we need sunlight. Heck, sometimes we need to binge-watch twelve hours of Friday Night Lights on Netflix. These things give us material to keep the gears turning.

And to be completely honest, sometimes you just need a break. Sometimes you’re worn-out with this whole writing thing, just like with any other job. And that’s okay! It happens. Don’t beat yourself up over it. Mental Health Days can last a day, or a week, or even a month or two. If you’re facing a deadline, a month-long break may not be feasible, but walking away from the computer for a day or two can work wonders.

The bottom line here is to give yourself a little grace. Don’t beat yourself up for not being a production factory. Brains need to recharge. Creativity needs to recharge. You need to recharge. It’s okay to take care of yourself. Promise.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Plots and Possibilities: Taking Cheryl Klein's Plot Master Class

The plot that was fine was not fine. 

Last month, my plot lines, in all their one-dimensional glory, spread across the pages of my work-in-progress. They seemed content. They were fine

Fast forward one month. I had the chance to attend Cheryl Klein's Plot Master Class in Sioux Falls, SD. During the class, odd things began happening to my manuscript. Certain story lines, tired of the murky depths I'd left them in, slogged their way to the surface. Two of my minor characters plead their case for more significant roles.  

My former one-dimensional plot lines pushed and stretched until they stood off the pages, like the three-dimensional peaks and valleys they wanted to be. 

It was eye-opening to say the least.

Things that are worth doing...

Second Sight. You can find it HERE.
Cheryl Klein is the Executive Editor at Arthur A. Levine Books, an imprint of Scholastic Books. I'd heard Ms. Klein speak at a conference in Miami and thought she was brilliant. I got a copy of her book Second Sight and enjoyed it very much.  When I learned she was teaching her Plot Master Class at a SCBWI-Dakotas event, I knew I had to go.  

After I registered, I got an email with some instructions attached. This would not be a typical, listen-and-learn conference setting. Nope. There was homework. 

If you can bookmap with 2 screens: BONUS.
To get the most out of Cheryl Klein's Plot Master Class, you need to do the assignments. She asked each participant to create a bookmap of their current WIP. This meant analyzing each scene (with special guidance, she sent us instructions). She also asked us to read Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork, an award-winning YA novel that she edited. Marcelo served as our touchstone read for examples through the bookmapping and work-shopping process. (sidenote: Marcelo in the Real World is amazing.)

The workshop itself ran two days. For two days, Ms. Klein helped us critically examine the different nuances of plot and structure, and how we could apply these theories to our very own WIPs. We also hit on characterization and voice. It forced me to really put the screws to my WIP--and it creaked. 

It was a little scary. My WIP suddenly fluttered with orange CAUTION! flags. Holes to fill. Themes to dredge. Characters to bolster. More fixes than I'd thought.

Missed Opportunities: Avoided. 

But on my three hour drive home, my head-spinning slowed, and excitement took over. I had real ideas for making  my manuscript better. Maybe much better. Every fluttering flag alerted me to a possible missed opportunity. I want kids to read this book and have fun.The adventure, the humor, the creepiness, the warm-fuzzy parts--I want these elements to be the best they can be. The bookmapping and work-shoppping made the path more clear. 

A most worthwhile journey indeed for this Revision Warrior.



Pamela Merchant, Regional Advisor for the SCBWI-Dakotas, was responsible for bringing Cheryl Klein to Sioux Falls. I asked Pam how she thought to bring the Plot Master Class to South Dakota:

"The reason I wanted to feature editor Cheryl Klein is to fill a void in our conference line-up for SCBWI-Dakotas. We tend to offer more workshops and speakers for picture book writers and illustrators, and often for beginning authors and illustrators. I felt we needed to focus on intermediate to published authors with a concentration on novel writing.

At the 2013 SCBWI national conference in New York the buzz was on Cheryl Klein and her editing workshop. Everyone was talking about her and how much they were learning from this co-editor of the last two Harry Potter novels. I contacted her at Scholastic and a year and a half later, we were able to host here here in the Dakotas." 

- Pamela Merchant, Regional Advisor SCBWI-Dakotas 

I want to say a big thanks to Pam for all the hard work she put into organizing this outstanding event. We attendees were all so fortunate Pam knew about this very buzz-worthy class. THANK YOU PAM!