Saturday, November 5, 2011

Everything I Know for Today Part 3

Even at an...advanced...age, your brain can function the way it did when you were a young college student. However, it will protest. Profusely.

It will march with large signs that say, "Don't believe what Oprah says. Getting older sucks!"

Not that your brain is trying to diss Oprah.

It's not a mean brain.

So you become a cheerleader and chant, "Go big brain! Go big brain!" expecting this to help with its bad attitude and low self esteem issues.

But your brain doesn't take it this way. It flips the sign over to a new one that says, "Go hug someone else!"

Of course, you're at a loss because you were only trying to help. And when you try to help your brain and it refuses to comply, it brings out your inner hard core jailer. You shove the school textbook in brain's face and scream, "Read the thing. Now!"

Well that just ticks your brain off, so it turns around. Completely shuts down. Won't even send you a little message on its sign board.

Which, of course, ticks you off more. So you turn around and give your brain the white sign treatment right back.

But pretty soon you both turn around. You start chugging like a little 'I think I can' train while your brain gives you a derisive look and pulls off the cobwebs. And even though it doesn't want to study, it does.

Because staring at a white sign is very, very boring.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Ages and Stages

The family survived post-deployment reintegration with minimal scars. The kids survived the first day of school with minimal drama. And I survived another birthday with minimal irritation.


Since that fateful day, my spam box is now frequently overrun with new ads which read:

50+ dating! Love and seniors is our specialty!


I will concede that I am no spring chicken anymore. My knees remind me of this every time I run or sit at my computer for a few hours. I creak worse than the stairs I limp down every morning.

But I am, in no uncertain terms, anywhere near the makings of a senior. Nor am I in the market for a new hubby.

The author of these emails has no idea who they are writing to. They have no idea about the minor irritation they have caused in a slightly over 40 year old married woman who will never, EVER, use their website.

Because at some point, you have to think about what you're doing. And who you're doing it for.


I agree with the common advice given to young writers (in experience, not age) encouraging them to focus on writing their own novel rather than trying to make it fit into something. The freedom that comes with that experience helps them to learn how to develop voice.

But Chapter Books are not Middle Grade are not Young Adult. Elements such as word usage, theme and style are different for each age group because the audiences are, developmentally, at very different stages.

Most beginning writing I've critiqued, including my own, falls into a grey area. Not because the stories defy categorization, causing everyone to swoon and offer million dollar deals, but because critical elements of language squeak and creak down the stairs worse than my knees. Which leaves your book with plenty of scars, and you to face the drama moment of divorcing your novel and then searching 50+ new ideas to find a new love to work on.

Take time with that new love. Develop it. Take it through ages and stages. Your work deserves more than blind writing tossed to the internet wind of an agents mailbox.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Everything I Know for Today Part 2

My husband has been home for one month. I don't have to pretend that his pillow is him anymore. I like it very, very much.

After only two weeks, my kids are bored with summer. I wasn't sure this was truly possible. It is.

The kids and I are taking a trip to Spain while my husband goes fishing in Alaska. Heat and sunshine. Sand and swimming. Sangria within walking distance of my room.

The gears are still turning. I'm not sure where they're words are coming out on the page yet. But I have faith that they will take me somewhere.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

A Little Bit of Quiet

I'm not going to apologize for being gone for a while.

One, it would be a lie.

And two, I'm a person who doesn't always have something to say. I don't believe in chitter chattering your valuable reading time and my valuable writing time by filling it with blah...blah blah...blah...blah.

But today I actually have something I've been thinking about. Yes, the gears are turning. At slow speed. But turning, nonetheless.

Sometimes I am very disappointed in things like blogs*. And facebook. And myspace. And twitter. Because there are so many people talking in blips that I wonder if we are losing the ability to create and sustain...anything.

Conversations are quippy. Witty. Tossed out like torn pieces of a note to a boy you had a crush on who picked your best friend instead of you. Nothing is personal. Because you've posted your secrets for everyone to read. And value is marked by the number of friends high fiving you during an endless walk down a high school hall, distinguishing you as cooler than the rest.

I am so NOT that girl.

I get the value of networking. I do. I'm not fond of forced social situations, but I understand that no one can sit in front of their computer every day for the rest of their life having repetitive conversations with themselves.

Well...they can. But they probably shouldn't.

And it's probably fair to say that my somewhat blasphemous thoughts are deeply rooted in a fear that I will forever be living the high school outsider girl life.

But I also wonder, as I read current titles and story lines that all sound like they are trying to get the same person to read them, if we are losing the ability to take time and be innovative. Do something different. The way Brian Selznick did with The Invention of Hugo Cabret.

In the midst of blips and quips shouting out through the universe, creating such a ruckus of high fives that you can't even hear yourself think, are we losing our ideas?

In my weird, neurotic way, I worry about that. In a conversation with myself, of course. Right before I write something quippy, of course. All the while promising to try to come up with something new.

Someone described me once as 'the sassiest, funniest, nicest person you will never meet at a party.' Which is probably true...the never meeting part, I mean...but it's only because I like having a little bit of quiet. I need it.

It's where my ideas come from.

But that's just me. What do you do for your ideas? Besides the conversation with yourself.

*Note: I am fully aware of the irony of this situation since I am, obviously, writing a blog.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Everything I Know for Today Part I

When someone says the last two months of a deployment are the longest days you will ever experience in your life...

They would be right.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Perfect to Reject in 3 Easy Steps

You know...I left the Today I Won post up for a few weeks, because, if you know anything about writing, when you finish a project...for a little feel like you've done something perfect.

And then the day after you feel like a total reject. Because that's when the letters start pouring in.

Let me show you how this happens:

When the 'no' letters start to come in, you're sad but still hopeful, so only the letter 'p' falls off to make:


And then a letter comes in full of praise, but still 'no,' confusing the letters and making them think...hmmm, why not? they switch places and become:


And then a particularly wanted letter comes in...'no'...and it knocks you on your keister so you can't breathe...which also knocks the letter 'f' completely backwards and upside down until it almost doesn't look like itself anymore. In fact, it looks like a 'j'. So now you have:


See? Perfect to reject in three easy steps. That is why a writer has to have skin the thickness of a 2x4. And that's also why you don't stew about it and cook yourself into some serious mental health soup.

You start over. Which I did.

And you laugh about it. Which I am.

And you have a good time. Because if you're not doing that, you shouldn't be writing in the first place.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Today I Won

Did you know that today I won a pizza, found the secret to wrinkle free skin AND can get larger breasts???

Now that's a lucky day.

I love reading the subject lines from the emails in my spam folder. They crack me up. All the lines read the same, screaming out:

You are special.

You have won.

You want this and you didn't even realize how vital it was to your existence until you saw this email.

Well...maybe. Pizza and wrinkle free, sure. The breasts...I'm fine with what I got.

As a writer, I think it's easy to fall into the trap of needing to hear someone say you are special. And good. Some form of acknowledgement that putting your heart, your work, your missed family time that you can't get short, your life...into something is going to pay off. That, in some way, you will win in the end.

And I, being perpetually unhappy with most of what I write, find it very easy to look to someone else to tell me what I haven't told myself.

Over the last year, I wrote a story that I like. It is different. I would even say special. Parts of it are good. And today, I sent it off to an editor. A very cool editor who might not even be a good fit for this book, but that I would love to work with someday.

So today, except for the pizza...and the wrinkle free skin...and the breasts...

I won.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Puke Factor

I finished the line edit. Chopped 2,500 words. Added maybe 1,000.

Now the manuscript is ready to go out on submission.

But, you might challenge with an outsider's wisdom which, I promise, is much smarter than me: How do you know it is ready?

I have two standards by which I measure readiness:

1.) Anne Lamott's BIRD BY BIRD reference to kneading faces while feeling burned out and rubberized.

2.) The puke factor.

Every other time I finished a draft, it felt good. I'd celebrate draft success but I knew I had TONS more work to do. And I refused to let my neurotic need to send my crappy writing overtake my neurotic need for it to be really good.

Been there. Done that. Hid my face in the sand about it.

But when I finished this draft, I wanted my husband to look at it. And then I wanted to throw up.

That's how I knew it was ready.

What do you know about your writing process? How do you know when you're done?

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Snipping it in the Bud

The hubby has come and gone. My parents have come and gone. The hiatus was...sort of a hiatus. I didn't truly put things aside because I was thinking about writing even if I wasn't putting words on paper.

Actually, I was taking them away.

While I set the book aside as promised, I did work on the SCBWI W-I-P Grant application to make sure the first three chapters of my book didn't go over the 2,500 word limit. I agonized over every word and every sentence in those chapters.

I snipped. I clipped. I even blipped.

Yep. That's right. I swore. Like a drunken sailor. In German, of course, so my kids didn't know.

I couldn't figure out how to get the lousy thing smaller when I was finally down to cutting the last 50 words. Every word I cut found it's way back in because, without it, something was missing.

A smell. A sound. A feeling. An image. A character thought. A hint of voice.

I wasn't looking at sentences at this point. I was looking at every. Single. Individual. Word.

And two good things came out of it:

1.) I did finally find a spot that always felt a little wonky but I didn't know how to fix. And I fixed it. And my writing sample was 2,496 words.

2.) I really understand what Richard Peck meant when he said to write the tightest page you can. And then cut 10 words.

You have to snip it in the bud. Without taking out what's important.

And hopefully you figure out how to do it before your kids understand whatever language you are swearing in.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Killing a Tree

I'm truly understanding the value of killing a tree. Also known as a line edit on a printed copy of my manuscript. Holy marking up my paper to fix bad sentences.

I knew I tended to underwrite early drafts. I hadn't realized, at this point, that I was still missing a chapter. Or two.

Or that each page would look like a three-year-old took a black marker to it.

The thing is...I've been writing long enough that I know this. I've done line edits before. Yet every time it smacks me alongside the head and I say, 'Oh yeah...ummm...this works really well. Thank goodness I didn't send it yet.'

Which leads to two things:

1.) I won't have this manuscript out before my husband gets home for his mid-tour leave. It'll be close, but no cigar. And I will happily set it aside to give him my full attention.

2.) I'd be really interested in a study examining absorption and retention of student readers when they read from a computer screen vs. the printed page. My bet is the physical object holds more weight, figuratively speaking, than the digital one.

I even Googled to see if I could find anything. All in the name of distracting myself from writing the missing chapters, of course.

But now I'm's 5:32 am. I've been up since 4:30. And George is getting very impatient about that missing chapter.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Making it Yours

There is nothing quite like the high you feel after finishing a draft. The draft. The one that agents and editors have requested to see. Thirty thousand words that shoot you flying high in a cloud because people other than your family can read it. And then...

The query.

250 words.

250 words that will suck you into a hole faster than mud.

250 words that will force you to use the other side of your brain, which has slowly shriveled away as you etched out thirty thousand.

I don't have a prescriptive formula. I don't have worksheets. There are plenty of other people on the net who have great resources, like Elana Johnson.

But after twelve hours of staring at the computer and multiple drafts of drivelous puke, the query that worked had something different than the others. It stood out above them.

Because I made it my own.

Much to the surprise of both sides of my brain, I wrote my query the same way I wrote my book. Draft after draft. After draft. After draft. Draft. Draftdraftdraft.

No formula. No worksheets. Just me, showing them what they need to know.

So now I can go fly high again. Until I have to send them out this week. But that's another story...

How is your query process going? Are you ready to? Or thankfully done with it?