REDISCOVERED WRITING

by Judith Ross Enderle

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MAGIC can happen when you clean your office or your desk or your garage files, or when you go through your computer documents.

The magic is in rediscovered manuscripts that you abandoned or that were rejected. (Even happens to famous authors.)

You may be surprised at how good the manuscript was and still is. Perhaps it was rejected because the timing wasn’t right (YA wasn’t selling; yes, there was that time) or there were too many books about . . . or no one was interested in American History (and now there’s a children’s book award for this very thing). Whatever the reason, you abandoned the manuscript.

But another look, fresh eyes, more experience as a writer can make a difference. Old manuscripts can be revived, reborn, become new and better.

As you sort, start a possibility file. And, when you are ready, analyze one or more of these abandoned manuscripts. Ask yourself:

Would the title tempt me to take this off the shelf?
Does the story need to start in a different place or time?
Did I pick the right main character? Did I choose strong names?
What if I changed past tense to present tense or vice-versa? Same with first or third person.
How much do I read before my mind wanders? Why?
Is the pacing off with too much time getting started, a slow middle, an ending that happens too quickly?
Do all the characters sound alike?
Does the main character solve the problem? Is there a problem?
Do I even care about the main character? Why or why not? Is there a reason for every secondary character to be in this story?
Are there sensory details? Is the story grounded?
Will today’s kids want to read this story if I revise it?

While much of this applies to novels, take another look at picture books and nonfiction manuscripts and all of the writing you’ve tucked away in boxes, bins, drawers, and on your computer. Maybe you didn’t have enough for an illustrator to work with in those picture books, but they might be magazine stories. Maybe you need to update your research for that nonfiction project and find out how it fits in the school curriculum. Perhaps it can be made more reader friendly.

Whether you are moving to a new home or doing spring cleaning or just procrastinating about your current writing project, dig deep. You never know what magic might be waiting.

No Butts About it!

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I have no New Years resolutions, but that’s because I was not very successful in fulfilling last years. The problem, I find, with writing is that it is so easy to get distracted. I can find a zillion other things to drop my writing down my daily list of “to do’s,” until it slides right off the end of the page. So this year, I plan to go back to the basics—

 

1) Butt in chair equals writing.Unknown

2) Create first, edit later.

3) If there’s no flow, just write any way,(Butt in chair still

equals writing, even if it’s Gobble-de-gook.)

 4) I hereby promise to finish one manuscript before I begin another. (just have to choose which unfinished one I should start with.)

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5) I have decided that “slow but steady (writing) wins the race, not creative spurts here and there, that I think are pure genius until I look back later with an editor’s eye. (As I am working on a Sea Turtle book, I think that is quite apropos. )

I love motivating sayings. If you have a favorite, please post it. We all need help to get over the bumps and through the potholes in our New Year writing journey!

I wish everyone a brand new start, and great success. Reach for your goals. You can do it in 2015!Unknown-2

FRIENDLY ADVICE by Laurie Knowlton

Promotion Photo  Recently a friend posted on her face book an amazing statement that I so wish I was the author. It went like this:
“Sometimes when I am bored I go to the garden and cover myself with dirt and pretend I am a carrot.”
I called my friend the minute I saw her post and said, “Please take that statement off your page and let me have it.”
(We are really close friends)
She laughed, and said “I got it from a friend, but go for it.”
I told her, “I love it! That statement is a great beginning of a children’s book—actually it would be a great beginning of a middle grade, a mystery, or even a YA.”
Now you have to understand my enthusiasm. It has been a long time since I have had a smidgen of an idea. The past two years have been consumed with the illness and the death of both of my parents, my father-in-law, and then the death of my youngest daughter’s marriage. Grief, anger, sorrow, and numbness have been my constant companions.
That one wonderful sentence woke me up. It was magnificent! It was unique! It was fun! It was inspiring. It has also traveled all over the internet like wild fire.
Bummer.
I wanted that idea. I needed that idea. I clung to that one statement like a drowning person. But after a day or so I knew I had to give it up. I had to stop with the obsession of owning that one fantastic line.
It wasn’t mine. But it did get me thinking.
And then it happened… a smidge of an idea. My idea. My emotions. My writing. And I realized all I had to do was change my focus from all those sad consuming thoughts and look around me. Ideas surround us daily begging to be claimed.
Sorry, I have to go. I’ve got some writing to do.

What Writers Are Thankful For

Cheryl Zach

It’s November, and in the U.S., that means an annual holiday: Thanksgiving. Like everyone else, writers are thankful for loved ones: family and friends and pets; for good health; a reasonable prosperity, and a place to call home.

Writers are also thankful when the computer doesn’t eat your last and best chapter for no apparent reason. . . there’s never an apparent reason!

Writers are thankful for notebooks and pens of just the right size and color: variable according to individual. I have a friend who swears that lavender pens produce the best ideas–I wouldn’t dare argue.

Writers are thankful for odd minutes when ideas come from the strangest places.  Maybe in overcrowded waiting rooms when you’ve quietly made up life stories for every stranger coughing along side you, and suddenly the plot problem of your latest WIP seems ready to untangle itself because a character in your book has become easier to decipher.

Writers are thankful for hours when they actually get to write. Somewhere between baking the pies and marinating the green beans and wrestling with the turkey, somewhere among the blessed days of left-overs, when you sneak back to the sneakier computer, there will time to write!  And the annoying relative or dear but trying friend has surely jarred loose another promising idea. . .

Happy Thanksgiving.  Happy writing.

Cheryl

 

BEGINNING AGAIN

by STEPHANIE JACOB GORDON

OLD PICS ARE THE BEST PICS                                   How many times have I begun again? Somewhere between 96 and 1,811 times. It is what I do. I am not only talking about my writing, I am talking about my life.

It’s not so much because I’ve failed a lot, it has more to do with my expectations failing me. What else is new?

It wasn’t my daddy’s fault that he could finally buy a house so we moved one month before the end of grammar school, leaving behind my 6th grade teacher—the only one who ever liked me–far behind. It’s a long story about my other teachers and it has to do with my working in studios since I was 17 days old. My new teacher at my new school really hated me—I bit my nails—the whole class lost hearing Kon Tiki until my nails grew out—the kids hated me, too.  One month until Jr. Hi arrived.

Begin again.

It wasn’t my fault that at 74, having live around LA my whole life, I have moved To Mount Vernon, Washington. Yesterday, missing a slew of old friends, I was griping a “little,” and my granddaughter, Sarah, said, “Bubbe, go make lemonade with all those lemons.” She was right on. Upward and onward.

Begin again.

My oil painting teacher said I had talent—I painted and painted—my watercolor painting teacher said I had talent.  Really  Me?  My artistic soul dreamed, but it was not to be. My dream of a garret in Scotland and becoming famous—Poof! Three wonderful kids.

Begin again.

Then there was my stained glass window class of 10,000 cuts. Even if I was good at it (?), I felt I might need my fingers in later life. I took my 10 X14 masterpiece home, and covered my hands with Hello Kitty bandages. I found out I am blood type B negative.

Begin again.

Piano—zip. Violin—zip. Ballet—zip. My mother’s dreams for me—zip—zip—zip. My dreams—not so much. What was there out in the big world meant for me?

Begin again.

The UCLA Writing program? I liked children’s books, didn’t I? I liked essay exams, didn’t I? I loved writing stories for kids, wouldn’t I? Besides, if that didn’t work I could always…SIGH.

Begin again.

So I went back to college. I took classes from the best, Sue Alexander, Eve Bunting, Sid Fleischman, and met Judy Enderle. Authors, editors, agents, publishers. A new friend who was already published! Good start, right?

Miracle! Someone wanted to buy my first YA. All 140 pages of it. Problem was; it was 250 pages long. What did I do? Of course. Nothing new here.

Begin again.

Second book—perfect! Almost. Begin again!

Third book—exceptional! Nearly. Begin Again!

Sometimes the editor can be wrong. You have begun again so many times you’re not sure what you were writing in the first place. It happened to Judy and me, and the editor had the book for six years. Changes after changes.Beginning again and again and again. The editor was fired. The book was returned. We sold it to another editor. The last time when we began again, we put it back in its original form. Sometimes you are right—your book is perfect.

BUT, if you want to sell it you smile and…Begin again.

 

THE VALUE OF WAITING

Editing1     By Judith Ross Enderle

I’ve been waiting. My writing partner Stephanie has been waiting, too. We are both waiting for the same thing: for life to settle down so we can get back to revising our middle-grade manuscript.
(An editor is patiently waiting, too—we hope.)

So why all this waiting?

This has been one of those unexpected-events-in-life summers. MOVING! And I mean more than getting out of my desk chair and taking a walk. I mean choosing a different house, selling the house I thought I’d never sell, packing billions of boxes, piling those boxes in a new house, unpacking those boxes, trying to decide what goes where. (I swear I rearranged things on the living room mantle at least a dozen times, and I’m still not sure it’s right.) Decisions!

Yup! I moved. I moved about six streets from where I lived before. BUT—I wasn’t the only one.

Stephanie moved, too. She can tell you all about her move (much farther than six streets) in her blog post coming up.

So what does all this have to do with waiting? When I’m moving I find it hard to focus (and I’m too tired to focus) on anything but getting from point A to point B. The writing I do during this time consists of lists: who to contact to turn off utilities, who to contact to turn on utilities, change of address lists, to-do lists, must-have and want-to-have lists.

Writing during this time is brief: what’s in each box, all packed and taped, and what room does it belong in.

Writing during this time fills Post-It notes galore: things to do, arrange, give away, buy, calls to make etc.

And then there’s getting the office disassembled and reassembled, with fingers crossed that everything will work. And when it doesn’t,trying to figure out why.

Moving is not for sissies!

During all this moving, the revision has been waiting. But the time hasn’t been wasted. Time away from any work always seems to help to see the story in a clearer light. There’s that voice problem with the one character. I think there’s a solution now. The motivations of the characters can be shown in a clearer way, perhaps. Got to check to be sure we’ve shown what’s at stake, physically and emotionally.

Yeah! Waiting. Maybe not such a bad thing after all. Could mean a much better story. Now it’s time to stop waiting and get busy revising. Ready, Stephanie?

CONFERENCE MUSINGS

I’m back from the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Conference in Los Angeles, as usual a terrific conference, and slowly getting over the brain overload–normal– and slightly sprained ankle–not normal–that I acquired during the week..

The good news this year is that everyone from Simon & Schuster Vice-President and Publisher Justine Chanda, who spoke about ‘The State of The State of the Industry,’ to Deborah Halverson, who gave the annual market report, (available to all SCBWI members), to various editors and agents, all agreed that children and teen publishing is in great shape, which cheered conference participants immensely.

Young adult fiction is still going strong, with the exception of dystopian novels, which are generally believed to have passed their peak.  (Personally, I never liked them that much to begin with, although some good books have come out of the trend.) Self publishing continues to be more accepted, although those who do it are urged to do it well, with careful attention to editing and book design.

One of the most interesting comments I heard, several times, was the agreement that YA novels are getting a lot of cross-over; that is, that many adults as well as teens are reading them.  No wonder, then, that so many YA novels have graced this last year’s best-seller lists. Someone, I forget who, put up a quote from TV comic Stephen Colbert, that said something like:  YA novels are regular novels that people actually read!

There were many good keynotes and many, many good workshops–I wish I could have attended twice as many as I did.  There was an editors’ panel, one composed of agents, and one with marketing and sales people.  Add that to seeing old friends and making new ones, and it was a very productive week.  (Have to come clean:  I’m on the SCBWI Board and have been a member for over 20 years, so not exactly unprejudiced, here. : )

I think most of us came home with renewed enthusiasm to get back to work. So excuse me while I switch to the WIP.

Cheryl

PS During the Board meeting, the dispute between Amazon and Hachette Book Group was discussed, and a statement will be released about that, soon.

Time and the Writer

Some writers I know have been discussing how unfair it is that more and more editors and agents are not responding to queries or manuscript submissions. That is, if the writer doesn’t hear back, you are to assume that the publisher or agent is not interested in your submission. If the editor does want to read more or make an offer, or if the agent is interested in representing you, of course, they do contact you, although there might be a long wait first.

The writers feel this is unprofessional and, as I noted, unfair. The editors and agents usually note that they regret this necessity, but they are receiving more and more submissions and simply do not have the time and perhaps lack the staff to send out rejections for each one.

I can see both sides of this. I can’t help remembering my husband telling the kids when they were younger, “Who said life is fair?” when they made the same complaint over some household rule. And goodness knows the old form rejections were not satisfying. “Tell me what you don’t like,” we wanted to scream, when we got the meaningless: “This does not meet our needs at the current time.” Most published writers remember the immense relief when we finally graduated to a “good” rejection when the editor scrawled something specific on the rejection letter.

I know most editors are hard-working people who wish they could do more for hopeful writers. They often read queries or ms. on the subway home or while they eat a hurried lunch at their desks. And I’ve seen their desks–overflowing with paper, even in these computer driven days! They’re not out there plotting to make us miserable.

And yet, it’s more than frustrating for us writers. Time is what writers also don’t have, what writers snatch out of hours and minutes of their days and nights.  I remember well trying to write after a full day at work, after coming home to throw together dinner, get kids through homework and baths and bedtimes.  I remember going to sleep with a pad of paper in my lap–the original laptop! So what can we do? No magic answers, I’m afraid. Keep writing, keep sharpening skills, most of all, just keep on keeping on. Go to conferences for greater access to editors and agents, and as Winston Churchill famously said, never, never give up! Talent, hard work, determination, the same answers as always, are the ones that will- sooner or later–and sadly, it’s most often later than we wish–carry us through. Mostly, don’t give up!

And of course, there are more avenues today than traditional publishing, but that’s a whole other column. : )

WHEN THE MUSE VACATIONS by Judith Ross Enderle

shutterstock_132452552Every once in awhile my muse, that creative cheer leader that whispers encouragement and shares fabulous ideas, takes a vacation. I don’t know where she goes or how she chooses a time to leave, but sometimes she’s not anywhere around. This missing muse used to panic me. What if I never had a good story idea again? What if I couldn’t finish my current project? What if there were no what-ifs ever again? (Writers are so good at imagining the worst.) But then I realized that a muse needs time off in the same way a writer sometimes needs time off. And perhaps for the same reasons. So—

Here’s what I try when my muse takes time off:

I might take a break, too. Shift into a different mode, another interest. Gardening helps to calm my brain and I find it often helps me solve plot problems (no pun intended).

Read. Read. Read. I try to pay attention to what keeps me turning pages, how the author solves a knotty problem for the main character, word choices, the voice of the author and the voices of the characters, emotions made visible through showing, the setting details, the sensory images. I’ve learned a lot about writing from reading.

Walk. I enjoy walking. On a long walk I can let my mind wander and explore the outdoors.
Sometimes I call a fellow author. I’m not the only one whose muse goes off to a muse convention or on a Hawaiian vacation.

An afternoon out can help. Over lunch with a friend, we can catch up on life. We might talk about old times and new times to come. Sometimes we talk about everything except writing. Perhaps a muse notices when you aren’t missing her as much as she expected and she comes back sooner than planned.

Still, every once in a while, unexpected life happens outside of writing. Sometimes we need to abandon our muse to take care of family, ourselves, all kinds of life happenings. That’s important. The muse understands. How else will we know how to create the tough times and the emotions that go with them when we get back to our story characters, when life settles down, when the muse is there to whisper to us again?

Have you found other ways to get past the missing muse times? Or the tough life times? If so, please share in the comments.