Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Happy New Year!

With all the Best Of 2014 lists circling around right now, I figured I’d be amiss if I didn’t jump on the bandwagon and reflect back on my writing adventures during the last year.

At the beginning of 2014, the RA of our local SCBWI chapter had us write down our goals for the year. My goals were to 1) have a good first page written of my new draft by Feb so I could share it with the group, 2) go to a SCBWI conference in April and complete a second draft by then, and 3) finish a final draft of the manuscript by the end of 2014 so I could start querying.

Reading this now, I see I definitely had some hits and misses. I only finished my second draft six weeks ago and am certainly nowhere near querying.  I did finish my first page in time though. Here’s to small accomplishments! That, in and of itself, was a feat because it was the first time I shared any of my writing with complete strangers. I remember being too terrified to make eye contact with anyone as my page was read and too overwhelmed to remember much of the feedback afterwards. Except that it was positive. Surprisingly positive. And even though I intend on throwing that first page away now, that experience helped propel me into a year that I couldn’t even have dreamed of at the time.

This year I met and talked with many authors, including some I’ve admired and respected for years. I attended two conferences (including the one in April), read my work in front of many more strangers, had conversations with editors and agents, and attended a 5-day writing retreat that I thought would have to stay a dream for many years into my future. I joined the board of our SCBWI chapter, wrote an entirely new, 300 page draft of my manuscript, and met a fellow writer who has quickly become one of my loudest cheerleaders and greatest friends.

I might not have landed an agent yet or even finished the book completely. I don’t have any publishing contracts or advances coming in 2015. But my progress from the beginning of 2014 until now is staggering to me.

 More than anything, what I’ve learned this year is that I love writing—the whole process of it, even the shitty parts—but more importantly, I’ve learned that I need it. In the end, that’s all that really matters. All the rest may come eventually, but for now, I’m just going to remember to be really grateful for the progress I’ve made and look forward to writing this same post a year from now.

I can’t imagine what I’ll be writing about by then, but I can’t wait to find out.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

On our SCBWI exhibit and my love of artwork

In my last post, I said that I was going to try to relax while taking time away from my current project. Well, I clearly did a good job with that because it’s been 3 weeks since I blogged. At least I stick to my word!

No, actually I’ve been crazy busy with a little of everything. I’ve been reading and taking notes on The Plot Whisperer, which has been very helpful. I’ve been reading books. I’m finally reading Gone Girl and finished The Daughter of Smoke and Bone a little bit ago. That’s an amazing book, btw—I can see why I’ve heard so much about it at conferences. I’ve been beta-reading my dear friend’s latest manuscript and have started on a new YA draft of my own. (God, that it a lot. Is this my definition of relaxing?!)

 Plus, I also helped my local SCBWI group with our winter member exhibition. Our writers wrote picture books and jacket copies and then our illustrators were assigned to create art pieces to go along with the text. A friend, Kathryn Powers, created the piece for my MG dragon book idea (that I totally haven’t written yet) and it was SO amazing to see artwork associated with something I had written!
Kathryn's amazing (and hypothetical) cover for my book idea. I think my name looks pretty good on the cover of my book. Right?!

I’m now super envious of picture book authors who can look forward to seeing so much amazing artwork to highlight their text. YA authors very rarely get illustrations (unless you’re doing a graphic novel, I guess). Probably because it’s considered too “babyish,” but man would it be cool to see illustrations of my main characters, climatic scenes, etc. Who knows, the trends are always changing. It’s only a matter of time until illustrations are the new, cool thing in YA and I'm definitely going to jump on that bandwagon. 

Although I know it was a lot of work for all involved, I think the exhibit turned out great. Our pieces will be up until the new year and hundreds (maybe thousands) of people will be passing them as they attend the Christmas shows at Shadowbox Live (a local music & theater group). I was hesitant to be a part of the exhibit this year with everything else going on, but I’m glad I did. It’s nice to see your work finished and displayed every once and awhile—particularly when you’re knee deep in revisions and trying to finish finals week too.

And speaking of revisions, my month away from my manuscript is about to end… 

But I’ll save that discussion for another day. 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Giving Myself Permission to Relax

I’m over-the-moon happy to report that I’ve finally finished the current (2nd) draft of my WIP. Whew! Actually, I finished it almost a week ago and have put it away until next month. I thought that I’d be jumping for joy and reveling in my new-found free time, but instead I felt a little…crabby for the first few days after finishing.

I didn’t know why at first, but eventually I realized that I’d come to rely on my writing time and didn’t know what to do with myself. When I’m writing, just like when I’m at work or spending time with my family and friends, I know that I’m doing something productive. Something that I’m supposed to be doing. But after I finished this draft, it felt like I was just twiddling my thumbs and wasting time.

My first solution was to go to my To-Do list. For months I’ve been keeping a running to-do list for whenever I finished this draft. I would read it over whenever I started getting discouraged because it was nice to imagine a possible future where I wasn’t still writing this draft. The list got, well, ridiculously long. I think it has about 20 items right now, all specifically related to this current WIP. Some of the points include reading craft books, comp (comparison) books, moving everything over to Scrivener, updating different excel and outlining files I’ve created, as well as doing character journaling and more research. Overwhelming!

And yet, I now realize that if I’m actually going to put this manuscript away to let it “marinate” then I can’t do any of that. The whole point of this marinating exercise is to get the book out of my brain so I can look at it more objectively and I can’t do that if I’m tinkering with the ideas for the next month. I’m restless to get back to work, but in the meantime I’ve decided to be as productive as I can. I’m reading books that I’m excited about, blogging, and (maybe) starting to write a new YA contemporary that I’ve been thinking about for a while.  

A week into it, I’m finally beginning to give myself permission to relax and enjoy the time. I’m glad for that, but also surprised and impressed with my initial reaction to all this. Despite the short-term crabbiness, I love that I’ve gotten to a point where I need to write, need a project, and feel unsettled without one. I’d say that’s the definition of a writer and I’m happy to know the definition truly applies to me now.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Something to Look Forward To

I signed up for the Vermont College writing retreat this morning and I'm already so excited! I don't have too much coming up in the writing arena this winter (other than, you know, writing) so I love that I have a fun retreat to look forward to in the spring. Now I wish I could fast-forward and get right to March already. Of course, given the crazy winter that might be coming our way, I have a feeling I'm not the only one wishing I could just skip past these next few months! ;)

Here's to having more motivation to write!

Friday, October 24, 2014

Another excuse to buy stickers

Most writers know the adage that if you want to be a writer then you need to actually write. Seems pretty obvious, but I think all writers can find themselves struggling to actually sit down and write every single day. It can be hard finding the motivation once self-doubt starts trickling (or flooding) into your mind. Plus, we all have other things fighting for our attention…some important (like family) and some not (like Facebook).

 Ironically, I was on Facebook when I recently stumbled across a motivational technique that some other YA writers were trying. I can’t find the original post anymore because it got buried, but I’ll add it in here if I ever find it again. Now, given that all YA writers are very serious people, you can imagine that this is a pretty complex technique that they’ve created.

Naw, just kidding. They motivate themselves with—wait for it—stickers.

Stickers! I know, at first glance this might seem really silly. We’re not in third grade anymore. (I mean, it’s probably more like 11th or 12th grade since we’re always in the minds of our teen characters, but that’s besides the point.) Anyway, I actually really love this idea. It’s a simple extension of classic psychology research on behaviorism: you can increase a behavior by positively reinforcing it. In other words, if you get a little prize for doing something then you’re more likely to do it. That’s why kids get pizza parties for good behavior and students get cash for good grades. For some reason, although I teach these principles every semester, I never thought about applying them to writing in such an obvious fashion. I have to say though, so far I’m loving it!

For one thing, it’s cheap. I just printed out some free calendar pages I found online and then got a few packs of smiley face stickers at the store. Then I made a color-coded system (which sounds fancier than it actually is).  For instance, I get an orange sticker if I listen to my audiobook during my commute and a green sticker if I write a blog post. (Hello, green sticker!)

In my defense, I was super sick during that week with no stickers!
It’s weirdly addicting. I’ve hung the calendar page in my direct line-of-sight, and the sticker-less days judge me from across the room. I find myself coming up to write or read more often lately, not necessarily because it’s important (although it is!), but because I don’t want to miss out on getting my darn stickers!

So, if anyone is struggling for motivation, I’d say to go to the craft store and stock up. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a green sticker that’s calling my name.

Friday, October 3, 2014

It’s All About Timing

I’ve been working on the current draft of my YA manuscript for many months now, and I’m this close to finally being finished with the draft.  Now, knowing my schedule, ‘this close’ probably still means another month, but I’m very excited. I’m also a little nervous.  I’m not sure why because it’s not like I’m going to be querying this project soon—it still needs a pretty decent overhaul on the next draft and then a lot of tidying up after that—but for some reason I’m finding it difficult to write the last few chapters. I guess it’s because the climax is such an important part of any book and I don’t want to completely mess it up…and finishing means I have to start all over again on my next draft. Blah.

Given my nerves, I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised that my brain went ahead and created a nifty little solution to my dilemma: Write something new!  I was writing multiple choice questions for one of my exams last week when—pop!—an idea for a new story materialized in my brain. It completely took me by surprise because I’m actually not one of those writers that has pages and pages of book ideas hidden away in journals and scribbled on receipts. I have a few things running around my brain, but nothing that really stands out as a truly viable next project (particularly if this manuscript goes unsold). 

When I do come up with ideas, I tend to just get the barest bones of an idea and then it takes me time to work through all the details before I feel comfortable with it. This new idea was so different from all that. It came to me with basically no effort on my part, all of my major characters and plot lines intact, and with the resolution of the story already clear to me.  What?! I can never clearly see the endings of my books while I’m writing them. I usually come up with something that I think is the ending and then get to the end and realize it’s crap and I need to come up with something else. Good Lord, I’m still working on the ending of my current WIP and this has been a story that’s consumed all my writing focus for the last year+! And, not only was this new plot clear to me, but I actually had to stay up late one night so that I could write out literal scenes and pieces of dialogue for the climax. Talk about unheard of.

It’s been almost a week and I’m still pretty excited for this new story, but another part of me is thinking seriously?! This is the worst timing to have this great new idea because all its doing is distracting me from finishing my current WIP. Actually, I think that’s exactly what my unconscious mind was going for, which means my brain is equal parts devious and lazy.

However, I’m not going to fall for it. I’ve put way too much time into this current project to be derailed right now. This next project is just going to have to wait…but in the meantime I might start making some pinterest inspiration boards. You know, just for fun. 

Sunday, September 28, 2014

The Beginning of Fall

The last few months have been full of writing events, but last weekend it came to an end with the Northern Ohio SCBWI conference.  It was a wonderful event, full of encouraging talks and great company.  I was lucky enough to visit with many people during lunch and between the talks, including a few that I had not seen in a long while. It’s always so fun to catch up with fellow writers “in the trenches” and hear about their progress. Very inspiring! 

I went to a number of talks at the conference, including two by Jody Casella. She included my previous outlining method (discussed here) in her talk on revision.  I have to say, it was pretty fun to see my handiwork up there on the big screen. J I also went to a talk by Allison Weiss, an associate editor at Egmont, about creating pitches.  That is such a difficult topic and I’m still struggling with it, so it was great to hear her advice and get to work with other YA writers on a better pitch for my current WIP.  I wrapped up the conference with an encouraging critique and plenty of things to think about before I jump into the next draft of my manuscript.

This weekend also happens to be my birthday weekend (who-hoo!) so I took the time to reorganize my office and finally hang a new bulletin board that I made. I’ll need it to help contain all the business cards I’ve been collecting!  Now that fall is here, and my major scheduled events are complete, the next bullet on the to-do list is completing my draft and possibly reading a few craft books before I jump back in. Here’s to spring and all of the upcoming events in 2015!

Friday, September 19, 2014

The Joys of Conferencing

I love weekends like this. In just a little while, I'm headed out of town and up to Cleveland, OH for the Northern Ohio SCBWI conference.  Yay! I have never been to this conference before, but I have high hopes for it. Thinking back to the first SCBWI conference I attended years ago, before I really knew anything about publishing, it's pretty amazing to me how far I've already come. I went there completely alone, knowing no one and nothing about what was going on.  It was a truly eye-opening experience to suddenly be in the same room with real agents and editors who had flown in from Manhattan just for this event.  How exotic! It was also inspiring and terrifying to see so many published and hoping-to-be-published authors all sitting in the same room. I knew there were a lot of writers out there, but this really showed me just how much competition there was.  Luckily, all of the writers I met were crazy supportive and sweet, and I already knew at that conference that this was where I belonged.

Now, feeling a little better versed in all things children's publishing, I'm even more excited for this conference. For one thing, I actually know people!  In fact, I know enough people that I'm going to have to make a concerted effort to see them all during just one day.  I'm even friends with one of the faculty on the panel this year, the wonderful Jody Casella, which makes me feel famous by association.  ;) I'm also looking forward to the presentations and critiques. At my first conference I didn't know what to expect, but now I know I'm going to learn a lot and come home even more inspired to write.

Too bad we only have one state conference a year--I think I could use a little conference inspiration every month.

Friday, September 12, 2014

An Exercise in Visualization (Excel edition)

Since getting back from my Highlights retreat, I’ve been trying to keep the productivity ball rolling with my revisions. However, because the manuscript is so large and there are so many ideas in my head, it’s hard to keep everything straight.  For instance, I realized a while ago that there was some backstory that needed to be included earlier in the manuscript, but I needed to look at the manuscript as a whole before deciding where to place the additions. For my first draft, I’d created a handwritten outline of my entire manuscript using a roll of Ikea paper (a nice excuse to go to Ikea, if I do say so), but it was a tedious task to write this and it was challenging to add to unless I covered the whole thing with post-it notes (which I totally did). So, this time around I decided to do something a little more 21st century: an ongoing excel file.

I can say that I definitely like this system better then writing everything out on sheets of paper.  The logistics alone are much better because I never run out of space, the papers don’t clutter the walls or fall off (…ruining someone’s perfectly designed post-it collection), and I have it wherever I take my laptop/device. Probably my favorite aspect is that I can add columns of info as my draft grows.  I’m up to 13 columns now! If anyone’s interested, they are:
  • ·         chapter #
  • ·         POV
  • ·         scene # (for chapters with more than one scene)
  • ·         day/time (probably the most helpful of them all ironically)
  • ·         location of scene
  • ·         purpose/type of scene (action, narrative, etc)
  • ·         description of scene (I sometimes use this to write a brief outline if I haven’t finished the scene yet)
  • ·         list of potential problems/notes
  • ·         list of hallucinations in each scene (particular to this ms)
  • ·         placement of backstory
  • ·         starting page of chapter
  • ·         ending page of chapter
  • ·         total pages in chapter

Aka: a lot of info!!

Now, I love having all of this in one place, and I don’t regret trying this, but it still has some drawbacks. For one…I actually have to keep this updated. Honestly, that’s probably the hardest thing about this excel file. Sometimes I just want to write and it’s annoying to have to spend my precious writing time filling in all of this.  It’s also extremely annoying when I add a chapter earlier in the book because then I have to remember to change all the chapter numbers in the excel file and book file.  (Side note: Is that annoying or am I just lazy? I’m not sure about that one.) What I do know is that my chapter numbers are messed up most of the time.

I’m getting close to finishing this draft so my goal is to keep this excel file relatively updated for the short-term.  Then I think I’ll move onto my next project—moving and organizing all of these files in Scrivener! I figure I’ll keep trying new methods until something sticks (because my post-its aren’t anymore).

Thursday, September 4, 2014

My first Highlights Retreat: Tight Focus

I’ve already written about my experiences at the Highlights retreat, but I just didn’t feel like one post could cover everything. I had so much to say about the food and forests that I didn’t even get a chance to talk about revision, which was the entire reason for attending in the first place! Now that I’ve had a few weeks to think about it, I can definitely say that the timing of this retreat was perfect for me. I was (and continue to be) in the midst of writing the second draft of my current WIP, but I knew that I needed to learn more revision tricks and techniques in order to improve this manuscript. Thankfully, I learned all that and much more during the retreat.

I’m happy to say that our faculty, Harold Underdown and Eileen Robinson, gave us enough different techniques that I’ll have more than enough to work on when I finish this draft. (In fact, I wish I had a little less work to do!) We went over holistic vs. analytical techniques for viewing the ‘big picture’ in a story, including essential questions to ask yourself, plot checklists, revision mapping with excel files, and storyboarding, as well as many techniques for tightening and line-editing once the big picture is museum quality.

In some ways, the big picture review was reassuring because it showed me that I was on the right track. Specifically, we discussed creating an excel file where you can list a brief description of each scene, the purpose of the scene, the POV (if needed), the setting and time, chapter length, and so on ( and it could practically go on forever). I started an excel file like this a month or two before coming to the retreat and I was happy to know this hadn’t been a horrible waste of time. Having said that, there’s definitely room for improvement and one addition I’ll make is ‘type of scene.’ I sometimes struggle when trying to categorize my scenes (which seems silly given that it should be objective), but now I have a list of scene types which will make it easier. I’m hoping this will be a way for me to visualize pacing and see whether I have too many scenes of one type (i.e. my MC’s constantly thinking to themselves!)

The Lodge where we learned all about revision!

There were other aspects of revision that I had never tried before. For instance, I have never gone through my manuscript and highlighted adverbs. Having now done this (in the first few chapters) I can say that it is a very sobering task! Eileen gave us 16 (!) page list of adverbs which included words that I'd never known were adverbs. I already knew all of the “-ly” ones, but I honestly didn’t realize that words like “after” or “just” counted too. As Steven King has said, “The road to hell is paved with adverbs,” and now I realize that I have enough cement to go down to the underworld and back up again. Oh well, that’s why line-editing was invented. J

In addition to reviewing revision, we also did a creativity exercise that was extremely challenging but ultimately great. Sometimes I think my story ideas need to trickle down from the writing gods, but this showed me that I can generate my own ideas with a little time and effort—I don’t need to wait for a plot to magically appear in front of me.

Finally, all of the attendees were able to put this new knowledge to good use by working together in critique groups.  I really loved this part of the retreat because it was a wonderful way to bond with other writers, learn from their ideas, and share your interests. A fellow YA writer, Debbi Michiko Florence, and I bonded over our shared love of YA romance and I’m already looking forward to trading more work with her in the future!

It really was a wonderful retreat and the best way to wind down this summer. I also think it’ll be a gift that keeps on giving because revision never ends. I can’t wait to see what workshops are offered next year!

Saturday, August 23, 2014

My first Highlights Retreat: The Big Picture

I got back last Sunday from my first Highlights Foundation retreat. It was SUCH an amazing experience, and there’s so much to say about it, that I’ve decided to split my comments on the trip into two posts. To keep with the theme of the revision retreat, I’m going to call this my “big picture” post and talk about some of the major themes that made the retreat so relaxing and helpful. I’ll save my “tight-focus” experiences with revision for next time.

I don’t think anyone could write about a Highlights retreat without mentioning the beautiful surroundings. The workshop buildings are nestled in the rolling hills in the Poconos, surrounded by forests carpeted with lush ferns.  I grew up out in the country in Ohio, and my childhood home was also surrounded by forests, so coming to Highlights was a bit like coming home.  I used to love wandering the forests as a child, looking for mushrooms or making up little stories about which patches of forest held the most elves and fairies. In fact, there was a hard-to-reach section of forest that my dad and I named the Enchanted Forest. So, in some ways, I really associate my early writing and story-telling with forests.  Now that I think of it, the first two novels I ever tried to write were set in forests very much like the ones I’ve been describing.  Given this, it’s really no wonder that I found this location to be an inspiring place to write.  One of the few regrets I have is that I didn’t get to explore the woods even more…although there was talk of someone actually seeing a bear so maybe I shouldn’t be regretting it! I would love to return when the weather is warm enough to spend the afternoons writing at a table by the outdoor fireplace. Until then, I told my parents that I might need to have a little “retreat” at their house just to reenact everything!

The beautiful forests--I loved the ferns!

The outdoor fireplace where we made s'mores. Yum!

 Although the forests reminded me of home, there were a few aspects of the setting that were anything but home-like. Specifically, quiet rooms and piles of food!  I love my home and family, but it’s rare for me to wake up whenever I want to, get ready in peace and privacy, and then saunter down for an enormous chef-made breakfast.  Wait, did I say rare?  I meant impossible!  And speaking of the food…well, what can I say? It surpassed all my expectations. I even made a list of the different foods we had so that I wouldn’t forget it all!  Probably the biggest compliment I can give is that I ate so much at each sitting (and looked forward to each upcoming meal so much) that I never once ate a snack, candy bar, anything in between meals.  And that’s really saying something for me because I love to snack.  ;)

My bedroom

The "Barn" where we ate all of our meals.

Finally, this overview would be far from complete if I didn't talk about all of the other retreat attendees because they made all the difference.  I’ve met many wonderful people at previous writing events, but never have I been in the company of so many kind, welcoming writers and faculty as I was during the retreat. What a rare gift it is for me to be around other people with the same questions, motivations, and dreams that I have. We are all different—in terms of demographics, writing styles and genres--but that didn’t stop us from becoming good friends over the course of just a few days.  Our faculty members, Harold Underdown & Eileen Robinson, were also incredibly helpful and gave us so much great information for the future (but more on that next week!).

I won’t forget my time there or the new friendships that I’ve made, and I’ve only got one more thing to say for now…when can I go back?!

Some of the private cabins.

Cool bench!

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Queries, book signings, and quite a few laughs

I’ve been lucky enough to attend multiple YA-related events recently.  I already wrote about the Pickerington library author fest in my last post, and I’ll definitely be writing about my upcoming Highlights retreat (much, MUCH more about that to come!), but this past week I went to two other fun events. First off, last Saturday I attended a query writing workshop with Mindy McGinnis, the author of Not A Drop To Drink and the upcoming In A Handful of Dust. I was so excited that COSCBWI decided to sponsor this event because I’ve been through the dredges of writing and submitting query letters once before and it’s just plain awful.  There’s really no other way to explain it.  You can put years of work into writing then rewriting then perfecting a manuscript that you really love only to realize that agents (and editors…and readers) may never get to see it because you can't get an agent to read past your sparse three paragraph query.  Sometimes it just feels ridiculous trying to condense an entire novel with backstory, mythology, romantic subplots, etc into just a few paragraphs, but unfortunately that’s the way of the publishing world.

A few years ago I did write a query letter and send it out to agents (a lot of agents…like probably 70+). It’s fairly embarrassing to think about now because I have since realized that my book was not ready for submission.  But hey, it was my first time and I think that’s a fairly common newbie mistake.  I guess it wasn’t a complete failure since 3 agents (4%--whoo-hoo!) asked for additional pages (meaning they made it through the query letter), but that also means 96% did not care.  Oh math, you make everything seem so much worse.  96% looks so disheartening when written in black and white.

However, this is exactly why I was so happy to attend this query workshop since I clearly need the help.  Mindy has experience writing successful query letters and has also critiqued other writers’ queries for quite a while now.  She walked us through each section of a successful letter: an intriguing first line to make the agents take notice, a body that lays out the main plot without adding in every detail, and a last line that leaves them wanting more.  Probably the most important take home point: don’t trust your mom!  ;)  As Mindy said, moms are great but they tend to love everything you do so that basically makes them the worst people ever to critique your work (if you actually want to get better).  Afterwards, we got into groups to read and critique each other’s work, which was really helpful because you don’t always notice your own mistakes but you definitely notice other people’s! I’ve got more than enough new info now to use when revising my query…just as soon as I, you know, finish the manuscript. 

The second cool YA activity of the week was going to see Rae Carson, Ann Aguirre, and Mindy McGinnis for a YA author panel at Cover-to-Cover books.  Oh my goodness, were these women hysterical together! I haven’t actually been to many panels/book signings so I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I could have listened to them riff on each other and joke around all night.  I came home and told my husband about it, thinking that the humor would generalize to anyone—who wouldn’t laugh about having your protagonist describe herself by looking in a mirror?!—only to learn that maybe writers have more inside jokes than I originally thought. 

So, all in all, I’d say it was a productive writing week.  Now, let’s just hope next week at the retreat is even more productive.  I only have a few more weeks until the semester starts…  

Friday, August 1, 2014

Inspiration and Motivation from the YA Community

Last Saturday, I attended the first ever YA Author Fest at the Pickerington library in Columbus, OH. Twelve YA authors from the area came together to discuss their books, talk about the writing process and answer reader’s questions. The authors were Melissa Landers, Carey Corp & Lorie Langdon, Edith Pattou, Jasmine Warga, Erin McCahan, Mindy McGinnis, Emery Lord, Liz Coley, Geoffrey Girard, Natalie D. Richards, Ryan Gebhart. It was a great event for a library to host because it’s so rare to find so many published YA authors together, outside of a workshop or conference (and even then it doesn’t seem very common.) I wish other libraries would start following suit and organize more of these events for YA and middle-grade authors. It seems to be a win-win for all involved.

I had a mixture of emotions while listening to the authors speak, but I probably felt more motivation than anything else. As an aspiring writer, there’s nothing that lights a fire under me like seeing other writers achieve their dreams. I have met about half of the authors at previous events, and it’s really fantastic to hear them announcing new upcoming books and projects. It reminds me that it really is possible to live that life even if you aren’t from New York or Los Angeles, have friends or family already in publishing, or have a publishing fairy in your shirt pocket. (I’m just assuming the last part isn’t true.) That’s not to say it’s easy or common, but it does mean it’s possible and sometimes I need to be reminded of that.

I also felt so inspired (to the point of getting teary-eyed a few times—I know, total dork) to see young teen readers in awe over their favorite authors. There were multiple young girls with their mothers or grandmothers who wanted to become writers themselves. This event gave them the ability to speak face-to-face with real authors and realize (just like me) that they are flesh and blood like everyone else. At one point, a young girl I was standing behind told Natalie Richards that her book inspired her to want to be an author. Can there ever be a greater compliment than that for an author? I can’t think of one.

This brings me to my last emotion. Watching all of this gave me an enormous sense of…longing to be on the other side of the table, giving writing and publishing advice instead of receiving it. I know I still have a long way to go, but I couldn’t stop myself from dreaming about a day when I’d be sitting at a folding table, sweating in the sun, and have a young kid tell me that my writing inspired them to also write. That’s absolutely a new life goal of mine.

At first I felt a little guilty for feeling this way, but then I figured that if I attended an event like this and didn’t wish I was autographing copies of my own book than that might spell trouble. Writing is too difficult and time-consuming to continue if I don’t love it and want to be successful with every ounce of my being. No matter what the future brings, I hope I always feel the same way I did that Saturday: motivated, inspired, with just a little longing mixed in. Those are the feelings that will get me through the long slog ahead until my name is on a future Pickerington library advertisement.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Am I being productive...or just wasting time?

A few weeks ago, I blogged about my excitement at going to the Revision Retreat hosted by the Highlights Foundation.  I am still really excited about the retreat, though I’m also getting a little nervous now—it’s less than a month away!—and I also have a few other writing  seminars coming up now.  I signed up for the NOSCBWI fall conference in Cleveland, including a face-to-face critique.  I really love going to conferences and am happy that there is one close by that I can attend.  The talks are always informative and motivating and I just love the energy of the conferences.  It’s great to be around other writers and feed off their successes and excitement. I also wrote a piece for an exhibition with my local SCBWI chapter and signed up for a query writing seminar as well.

 It took some time to find and sign up for all of these events, and since then I’ve been feverishly working on my manuscript before turning it in over the weekend for critique.  (That last thought is almost literal—I was really sick a few weeks ago with a high fever but continued revising anyway.  Maybe that’ll be good practice for some future time when I’m a published author and have strict deadlines.  Well, a girl can dream at least.) My brain keeps telling me that I’ve been very busy and productive on the writing front.  I guess that’s true, but with all of these seminars to prepare for I’ve realized that I haven’t sat down to write any new material in quite a while.  I still have plenty of chapters to write for the current version of my manuscript—half a book still needs to be thoroughly revised actually—but I’ve been so focused on activities related to writing (that don’t actually involve much writing) that I haven’t been making any forward momentum of the manuscript.  I guess I’ve been tricking myself into thinking that I’m being productive…or maybe all of this preparation really is productive.  I’m conflicted about it, but ultimately I need to attend events like conferences and retreats so I guess I don’t have much choice in the manner.

I wonder if many people deal with these dilemmas? I can’t be the only one who fills their days with blogging, scanning the internet for upcoming writing events, reading, reading other people’s blogs, blogging about what you’re reading, tweeting, reading author/agent/editor interviews, and on and on.  Man, please tell me I’m not the only one! It’s just so easy to feel like I’m being productive without actually having to do any of that damn writing that I claim to love so much. 

Now that I’ve caught onto my brain’s very cunning tricks, I definitely plan on thwarting them and writing today.  Probably.  Just as soon as I look at a friend’s blog and read a few more tweets from my favorite authors.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Revising (...and partying!)

So, in the week + since I registered for my Highlights workshop, I’ve basically been doing two things. The first, unsurprisingly, is working on my manuscript before I have to send it off to be critiqued by the workshop leaders.  Even though I know that this workshop is devoted to revising, I don’t want to wait until I get there to make some of my revisions (particularly ones where I know—or think I know—what changes need to be made).  I’m sure I’ll have more than enough new edits to make when I get back so I might as well accomplish as much as possible before then. 

The second task I worked on last week was hosting my son’s 2nd birthday party.  Totally unrelated to writing, but I couldn’t hold myself back from mentioning it and posting some pictures.  We decided to do a Paddington Bear theme. Come to think of it, I guess there is a bit of a writing tie-in here since Paddington Bear picture books are some of the most classic and popular PB books sold in the UK.  I’m a total Anglophile so Paddington Bear is right up my alley, but I know most people in the US (including some of the guests) don’t know a lot about him. He really is very cute and I’d recommend getting a few books out of the library sometime if you’ve never read them.  I actually did exactly that and decorated the whole first floor with books.  Fun!  (And cheap—even better!) Plus, I enjoyed doing something a little different instead of Elmo or Spiderman.  Of course, I know I’ve got plenty of that in my future as well! Below are a few photos of the big event.

Lots of Paddington Bear books as decorations on the bookshelves.

More books on the shelves. We also took pictures of L in a blue PB coat and strung them on the fireplace as decorations. 

Here are some pictures of the cake.

And some photos of all the yummy food, complete with coordinating luggage tags so none of the guests got confused about what they were eating.  ;)

Now I’m back to revising again. I’ll let you know how it goes when I come up for air.

And Happy 4th of July!  Hope you enjoy the fireworks!

Saturday, June 21, 2014

My First Writing Retreat!

Today I have some wonderfully exciting news to share.  Nothing publication-related (I wish!) but it’s probably one of the next best pieces of news…I’m officially registered to go to my first Highlights Writing Workshop this August!!  I have been hearing about these workshops since I first joined SCBWI and have always dreamed of being able to go to one.  The Highlights Foundation supports children’s writing in many ways beyond the Highlights magazine that generations of children know and love from pediatrician waiting rooms.  From what I’ve heard, they have amazing farmland and forests in Northeastern Pennsylvania with private cabins in the woods, yummy food, and lots of quiet time for writing.  Many writers go there on retreat throughout the year just to get some uninterrupted time away from the constant thoughts of bills, cleaning, text messages, dinner prep, day jobs, and everything else that doesn’t include their latest writing project. I just wrote about how we need to calm the self-talk that constantly flows through our minds, and these retreats will hopefully do just that for me.

  My particular workshop lasts for 5 days and I’m still trying to wrap my mind around the idea of having 5 days where I don’t have to worry about anything but writing.  I know 5 days is really just a drop in the bucket, but at the same time I don’t know if I’ve ever spent 5 days focused on just one task.  Probably the closest I’ve ever come was when I was writing my generals during grad school (a time that I’ve mostly blocked from my memory), but even that was only a 48 hour period.  Given that those two days were some of the most stressful in my life, I’m crossing my fingers for a very different experience this time. Actually, I can already guarantee that this retreat will be nothing like that.  Not only do I LOVE hearing and talking about writing, which is something I can’t really say about my generals topic, but I guess there are going to be chefs making large quantities of awesome food at this retreat.  Uh-oh. I already warned my husband that I’ll likely come back a few pounds heavier.

However, that isn’t the true reason why I’m going.  (*new mantra*: It’s more than the food. It’s more than the food.)  No, I’m actually this excited because I’ll be attending a workshop on revision run by Harold Underdown and Eileen Robinson. They are both highly respected editors who have worked in children’s publishing for a long time, and Harold literally wrote the book on children’s publishing—“The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Publishing Children’s Books.”  This workshop on revision couldn’t come at a better time for me since I’m currently trying to revise my rough draft and I’m not sure how well I’m doing.  What a blessing to have two experienced editors tell me all the tricks of the trade, meet other serious writers who can help with critiques, and have the editors read my work themselves.

Originally, I had debated waiting until next year when I would be “ready,” but then I decided that was just a fancy way of saying that I was scared to go.  In fact, I can even give you the super fancy psychology term for what I was doing: self-handicapping.  I was purposely hurting my chances of success (by saying that I didn’t want to go this year) because then I’d have an excuse if I ultimately failed.  I could always just say, “Oh, it’s not really my fault that I don’t know how to revise. I wasn’t able to go to that workshop.” So instead, I’m going to go and really try to give it my all.  I can’t wait to write more about it in future posts.

But seriously, can we talk more about this food? God, I’m going to be in trouble.

Friday, June 6, 2014

The Intersection of Psychology and Writing: The Curse of the Self

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how excited I was to have a lot of time to write (full days!) while I was in between semesters.  Unfortunately, that time is coming to a close. I only have one week before summer semester starts and I still have A LOT of work to do for my new class.  So, I decided it was a good time to pause my writing for a week or two and then come back and look at what I’d written with a fresh perspective. 

One of the reasons I thought this would be a good idea was because of how quickly I was writing over the past month. I wrote about 100 pages or 30,000 words over the last four weeks.  Now, I know that’s not NaNoWriMo level, but for me that’s an extraordinarily quick pace.  I’m so excited to have made so much progress so quickly, but the one drawback is that I started to lose my sense of the novel a bit.  Particularly as the chapters piled up, I started having a difficult time keeping everything straight and making sure the scenes were flowing.  I did take the time to outline the whole first draft, but even still it’s difficult to know if the book is making sense when you’re in the trenches. I figured the best thing I could do was take a step back, put it away, and then reread.

Okay, so this is where the psychology comes in.  Right now, I’m prepping a class focused on the “Self.”The Self is basically your subjective conception of who you are as a person. One of the premises of the class is that having this sense of self is a gift because it allows you to reflect on yourself, your past, and the future, but it can also be a curse. Because humans can self-reflect, we can create all sorts of negative emotions for themselves, imagine horrible potential futures, and relive bad memories again and again.  People also keep up a running monologue in their minds, and much of that monologue can be quite negative.  Moreover, in the class, I’m going to discuss how silencing all that self-talk can give people peace and lead to less depression and self-involvement.

Now, I love when my psychology world and writing world come together, and I think this is another great example of it.  I didn’t immediately make the connection, but then I started thinking about why I’m putting my writing away for a few weeks.  My goal is to stop obsessively thinking about it, maybe even forget it a little, so that when I read it again I can have a more objective opinion about it.  I want to see what is actually on the page instead of what I want to be on the page.  This idea reflects one of the general points of my class, which is that too much self-reflection can be harmful.  Living inside your own mind, instead of in the real world surrounding us, can either lead people to be extremely positively biased (i.e. thinking they’re the best thing since Nutella (a personal favorite)) or getting bogged down in self-criticism to the point that they find it hard to work. 

All of us have to deal with these issues, but writers can be particularly at risk because we spend so much time locked away in our own minds, struggling with plot holes and sketchy dialogue.  If we let ourselves listen to that negative monologue or keep replaying the last bad critique we got, we’re at risk of not being able to see our work realistically.  That’s why we have to put the writing away for awhile—so we can detach from it to the point where we can be critical of the work without being critical of ourselves.  That’s also why trusted readers and critique partners are so important.  Even if we can never fully detach, at least someone else can.
I know all of this is easier said than done.  Many people throughout the world spend their lives trying to fight against the noise of the self in order to achieve inner peace.  I don’t know if I’m ever going to be able to shut off those inner voices, or if I’d even want to do that completely. For now I’m just going to settle for turning down the volume on myself a bit, in the hopes that I can hear my characters better.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

All about my (very long) TBR pile

Lately, I’ve seen a few other authors talking about their TBR (To Be Read) lists so I thought that might be a good topic to write about as well. I have a HUGE TBR pile—it’s kind of crazy actually. Some of the books have been sitting around on my shelves for years, just waiting for me to pick them up.  They remind me a bit of the unused toys in Toy Story that get sad when they’re never played with.  It’s not because they’re uninteresting or poorly written—in fact, many of the books are classics—but I always have to prioritize what I’m reading based on what I’m writing at the time.  For example, a few years back, I was writing a MG novel so I went out and bought a bunch of similar books so I’d know what was being published. I read many of them, but not all, and now that I’ve shifted over to YA I just don’t have enough time to read MG.  I actually really love a lot of MG novels though so it makes me sad.  One of my favorite MG authors is Jessica Day George.  She writes such fun novels full of princesses, dragons, castles, and all kinds of fantasy mischief.  I wish her books had been out when I was young because I would have eaten them up.  I buy everything she writes, but I’ve just gotten a bit behind in reading it all.

I’ve also had The Casual Vacancy from JK Rowling on my book shelves since Christmas at least.  I love JK Rowling (of course, since everyone in the world loves her), but again it’s hard to find time to read anything but YA. Speaking of YA, man oh man, do I have a lot of that to read.  I can never keep up despite the fact that it’s all I read. I’m still working on Allegiant even though it’s been out for months and I’m listening to Linger (the second book in Maggie Stiefvater’s series)…which has also been out forever.  And don’t even get me started on John Green.  I’m so behind on his novels it’s embarrassing.  I love his writing, but maybe I’m so behind because every time I start reading one of his novels I can’t help but compare my writing to his.  As you can imagine, that’s not a good comparison for my writing ego! 

Not only do I have this big stack of old-fashioned paper books sitting on my shelves, I also have a huge (and completely different) list of books to read on my e-reader and another list for audio.  I have a weird hang-up where once I start a series in one medium, I’m very reluctant to read the subsequent books in a different one.  For instance, I could have easily read a hardcopy version of Reached by Allie Condie years ago, but I’d listened to the first two as audiobooks so I had to stubbornly wait until I could find the third book on tape as well.  Don’t get me wrong, I love living in a time when I have the ability to read books in different mediums (particularly now that I can also read on my phone!) but sometimes all of these conveniences can be a hassle too. 

My goal is to make at least a tiny bit of headway over the summer. I’m behind my usual quota of finishing a book every 2 weeks (which isn’t particularly impressive for a wanna-be writer to begin with) so I better crack the whip.  No more blogging for tonight—time to go read.  J

Monday, May 26, 2014

Never enough time...except for right now

Given the holiday weekend, I gave myself some time to relax and am only now getting around to writing this blog.  Whoops.  I do have a good excuse though, which is that I’ve actually been using my time for writing!  How novel of me.  Ha, ha--get it?

 Every book, blog and writer who has ever given advice says that if you want to be a writer then you need to WRITE. Every day.  That’s definitely easier said than done for me.  Usually my days either consist of being with my son (which is awesome but doesn’t allow for much “me time”) or teaching/grading/emailing.  Sometimes I can carve out a little time during naps or in the evening, but that’s always at the expense of something else I’d like to be doing (i.e. watching TV, reading, or sleeping).  Now, I’m not complaining about all this.  I’m very lucky to have a schedule that allows me to get any writing time in, given that I work and have a young family.  But still, sometimes during the school year I get a little sad about how little time I really have to devote to writing.

So, you can imagine how excited I am that I’m currently in the middle of a 6 week vacation between spring and summer semesters.  I’ve been waiting for this since, well, last year when I was on break!  I’m really trying to take advantage of it this year. In fact, one day last week I had my son at the babysitters and I had an entire day to write. An ENTIRE day…wha?? No laundry, no cleaning, no gardening, no school work.  Just a whole day to write to my heart’s content.  That was exhilarating—and crazy daunting. At least with my usual schedule I have an excuse when I’m unproductive: Oh, I just don’t have enough time to really get into the mood for writing.  It’s a lot harder to rationalize things when the hours are stretching in front of me. So far, I’ve been doing pretty well in that arena though and hopefully I can finish strong.  So, if I run a little behind in my blogging in the next couple of weeks, at least I have a good excuse.
I’m writing. 

Friday, May 16, 2014

An Exercise in Visualization (Revising Edition)

So, last month I blogged about creating a collage of pictures to help visualize two of my main characters.  In addition to that, I’ve also recently created a visual representation of the rough draft for my current WIP.  I first got the idea after listening to Jody Casella (a fellow writer, friend, and author of the awesome book Thin Space) talk about the revising process.  She showed pictures of how various writers visualize their books and I thought that might be a great idea for me.  When you write over 300 pages and 90,000 words, it’s really difficult to keep it all straight in your head, particularly when you’ve been working on the same draft for almost 9 months (ugh…that looks even more depressing when I read it in black and white).

When I started this process, I tried to remember how I’d revised my last novel and I honestly couldn’t remember what I’d done.  That’s probably because I didn’t do a heck of a lot. When I finished that rough draft, I just scrolled to the top of the document and started rereading and tweaked anything that didn’t seem to work.  I never printed out the book and read it start to finish.  I never looked at the overall plot structure or asked questions about how my characters were developing.  In short, I never truly revised that novel—I just fixed grammatical problems and fine-tuned the existing scenes.  That obviously didn’t work out so well the first time around, so with this second novel I’ve really tried to do things right.

I liked the method Laurie Halse Anderson (of Speak fame) uses when laying out her drafts and decided to follow the instructions she gives on her blog. I bought an oversized roll of craft paper at Ikea and then listed (from left to right): the location, day, and time of each scene; the chapter #; a short description of each individual scene within that chapter; the “type” of scene it was (mostly dialogue vs. internal vs. action, etc); and any notes/problems I saw with the scene. It took a surprisingly long time to create this, but here’s how it turned out:

As you can see, I needed 3+ large sheets to outline the rough draft completely.  It was definitely a learning process and I think even my visualization needs some more visualization before I try this again.  The three pages are a little cumbersome (they’re taking over one whole corner of my office right now) so I think it would be better if I could write a shorter summary of the chapters.  It might also be good to add the page length of each chapter to see how much that varies.  Having said that, I’m definitely really glad that I took the time to do this. A few things I learned from the process were:

1) I’m horrible at keeping track of the day and time of my scenes. 

It was a little embarrassing how quickly I would forget this and need to reread a previous chapter to find out.  Given how crucial it is to know if its morning or night, Monday or Saturday, I’m definitely glad I have this to orient me.  This also taught me to just write all of this at the beginning of each chapter from now on.

2) Ditto with location.

It’s not so much that I didn’t know the location of my characters, but instead that I didn’t realize how many scenes took place in the main character’s house (or someone else’s house) until I wrote it all out.  In my head it seemed natural, but this allowed me to see that it was getting monotonous.

3) I love dialogue.  LOVE it.

Again, I didn’t notice how many chapters were entirely scenes of two people talking to each other until I had to write out that scene again and again…and again.  Unfortunately, this is a harder one to fix and I’m still dealing with it on my second draft.  Perhaps I’ll have another blog post in the future about my addiction. J

4) I have about as many notes/problems written down as I have plot summary.

Hmm, not the greatest sign, but I guess that makes sense for a first draft.  I highlighted those to keep them separate visually, and it is pretty depressing to see so much yellow all over the pages.  The one upside is that all of my criticisms are in one place so I can easily read over the notes and make sure I’m fixing things.

There are certainly other things I learned through this process (like the fact that I needed to rewrite the first half of the book from scratch given the horrid beginning), but probably the biggest thing I learned was that I need to start revising by looking at the book as a whole and deciding whether the main story arc and character development makes sense. This seems supremely obvious now, but it doesn’t always feel that way when you’re in the trenches. I think this technique is one way to help start that process so I’ll be doing this again whenever I finish draft #2.  I think it’s still going to be awhile.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Perseverance and the Ohioana Book Festival

Okay, after taking a week off for some much needed downtime, I’m back to blogging and excited to talk about the 2014 Ohioana Book Festival.  This was my first time going to the festival and I have to say that it exceeded my expectations (even though they were really high to begin with).  My only regret is that I didn’t start attending this festival years earlier!

The Ohioana festival brings together Ohio writers of all genres and allows attendees to peruse books, chat with the authors and attend panel discussions with many of the writers.  When I first looked at the schedule, I couldn’t believe how many YA writers there were from Ohio (and of course there are many more who couldn’t make the festival).  I remember that when I first started writing, I felt like all the “real” writers must live in NY or Los Angeles and I wondered how a normal girl from central Ohio could ever break into the business.  Well, I haven’t exactly broken in yet, but it was so inspiring to see all of the YA writers who have been published and are doing enormously well!  There are multiple authors living right here in Columbus and for some reason I just find it so cool to think that the same people who go to my library and shop at my grocery store could also be writing YA just like me.  If they can do it, then maybe there’s hope!

I was lucky enough to be able to sit in on all 4 (!) YA panel discussions and I found each of them so fascinating.  I could easily sit and listen to other writers discuss their writing process all day long.  (In fact, I did that exact thing today.)  Everyone has a different story about how they write and how they became published, but one of the themes I heard was perseverance.  Although a few authors were able to get published relatively early in their careers, the vast majority spoke about all of the books they wrote that never saw the light of day, all of the query letters they wrote that received form rejections, and the years that they spent writing before ever getting a publishing deal.  Some people may find that depressing or daunting (and maybe it is), but I actually love hearing these stories.  It reminds me that I’m not the only one going through these issues and that perseverance is truly one of the most important parts of this business.

Although listening to the book panels was great, probably my favorite part of the day was the chance to speak one-on-one with many of the authors.  I wasn’t able to get to all of them, but I did speak with many and they were all so welcoming and encouraging.  Many of them gave me great advice, including a comp title for the book I’m currently working on and info about blogs and websites that I might use in the future.  It was also great to put a face with a book and see them as real people with families and jobs, just like the rest of us. 

Now I can’t wait to read all of their books!!

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Decluttering my Manuscript

Although I don’t have as much time for television nowadays, there was a time when I loved watching reality shows about anything related to houses.  One of my big addictions was watching shows about professional home organizers and the crazy people who hired them. I found it fascinating to watch these homeowners sort through a life’s worth of belongings and place them into neat little piles. It must have been the psychologist in me.

I haven’t seen one of those shows in awhile, but one cleaning trick used by the professionals has stuck with me. The experts would make the homeowners sort their belongings into piles such as Keep, Donate, and Trash. To me, however, the most interesting pile was the “Holding” pile. The idea was to put anything that you were unsure about into this pile and leave it there for one week.  If you didn’t miss it in that week then you didn’t need it. The homeowners always hated this pile and argued about why they needed their old broken lamp or used coffee maker. However, it almost always turned out that the homeowners completely forgot about their supposedly precious belongings once they were out of sight, and later had no issue throwing them away.

Now that I’ve been revising and editing my manuscript for a little while, I’ve noticed a parallel between decluttering a room and ‘decluttering’ a novel. Most certainly, there are huge swaths of the first draft that I can immediately drop into the Trash pile…a depressing amount of text actually.  And, every once in awhile, I’ll find a passage or conversation that I want to put in the Keep pile.  Many times though, I’ve found myself using the Holding pile. I’ll read over a page and know that certain paragraphs aren’t working. I tell myself to just delete them and start again, but I can’t bear to throw them away.  I’ll highlight the text, my finger hovering over the backspace key, and then decide to copy it into another document instead.  It’s such a relief to know that work is still accessible, just in case I need it. The funny thing is, just like those homeowners, I always think I’ll need it. I convince myself that I’ll come back to a certain line again or use a description somewhere else in the book.  In reality, that new document is where words go to die.  I’ve never been able to use anything that I’ve copied over there and it’s rare that I even reread the passages once I copy them.  Nonetheless, I still like knowing the words are there if I want them.

 After thinking about it, I’ve decided that the process is a little like mourning. By putting the words in my holding pile, instead of the trash pile, it gives me a bit of time to grieve before I can move on.

I guess it’s like purgatory for words.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Conference Insprirations

At this time last Friday, I was standing in a hotel conference room in the middle of a state park, perusing books and chatting with other attendees at the Indiana SCBWI conference.  Only a week has passed and already I’m wishing that I could go back and experience that weekend again.  This was the first conference I’d been able to attend since 2011 (!!) so it was a big deal for me to get back in the saddle and try my hand at all this again.  It was such an inspiration to spend an entire weekend surrounded by other writers and talk about nothing but writing nonstop.  I guess for some people that might sound extremely tedious, but I so rarely get to spend more than an hour or two on my writing that this felt like pure luxury. 

Going into the conference, I told myself that I should take advantage of every opportunity, even if those opportunities made me a little uneasy. There were definitely some times when I wished I hadn’t made such a promise, but ultimately I was pretty proud of myself. I forced myself to talk to some of the authors who were invited guests even though I was very intimidated (although I know that’s silly), stuck up many conversations with complete strangers, and  did an “open mic” reading where you stand at a microphone and read your manuscript for 3 minutes and then get anonymous feedback.  I also had my first one-on-one critique with an editor from Abrams Publishing.  I had to wait outside in the hallway before the critique and it felt a little like I was waiting to go into the principle’s office…except the principle ended up being younger than me and many of the fellow “students” waiting in the halls were old enough to be retired teachers.  J  I ended up having a surprisingly reassuring (if not 100% positive) critique.  I was relieved…beforehand I’d had some visions of me limping out of the room with tears streaming down my face.

Overall, I think the best thing to come from the conference was an increase to my “self-efficacy.” As I’ve written before in a previous post, this is basically your belief about your capability to perform particular tasks.  I definitely had some reservations going into this conference… 
Could I drive to another state alone and navigate through a state park to find my hotel? Check.      
Did I have the courage to make friends with strangers and exchange information?  Check.          
To network? *cringe* Check.            
To read my book aloud to a room full of strangers? Check.         
To sit face-to-face with an editor and take her criticism with a nod and a smile? Check.

To be quite honest, seeing that list of “checks” surprises me in the best possible way.  I’m realizing that I’m more capable than I originally thought, and this makes me even more excited for all of the conferences to come!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

SCBWI I come!

I'm extremely excited because this weekend I'm going to my first SCBWI conference in 3 years!  It'll be a bit of a drive because it's in Indiana, but I'm thrilled to be able to listen to speakers, talk to other writers, and have my first one-on-one critique!  (Eek!!)  Okay, I'm more than a little nervous about that because I'll be speaking with a children's book editor, but I know it'll be good for me.  Given the amount I have to do before I leave tomorrow, I'll end this post now...but rest assured that I'll be back to tell you all how it went!