YOUR WRITING SUCKS!

by Stephanie Jacob Gordon

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Warning! A critique group can be hazardous to your health…but only if you let it.
When I began to write for children, I took classes at UCLA. I was not looking for a career. In fact I didn’t have any idea what I was looking for. Whenever I get a desire to try something new, I go back to school. I take classes. That is what I do.
Over the years I have dabbled in many related and unrelated subjects, taken numerous interesting classes from many skilled (and unskilled) teachers, and accumulated a library of “How To” books. I fit the saying, “Jill of all trades and master of some.” I know it is none, but I have mastered some. Along the way I have learned more, experienced more, and discarded more useless information than I can name. Still I have enjoyed the ride that led me to all my diverse areas of knowledge. If institutions of learning gave out medals like the army, I’d have a chest full of them. I’d like that.
One of the hardest lessons I had to learn on my path to becoming a children’s book author can be said in a single word, CRITIQUING. No one likes to hear a negative word about anything they love. Especially their children. And for writers of children’s literature, our manuscripts are our babies. Our beautiful new- born expressions of a love for the written word. And WHO are you…to judge my baby?
It doesn’t matter if those terrible words come from and agent, an editor, or a colleague who doesn’t have such a perfect story anyway…so there! We become half Pit Bull and half Rhodesian Ridgeback, and one hundred percent Nose Out Of Joint. It is how you have to react at first. You have just been told your baby stinks. At least that’s what you heard. But, for the most part I can honestly say, that was not what was said.
When you first step into the writer’s bullpen to face the critique bull, you are wearing Medieval armor with a hole cut out where your feelings are, and you are carrying a huge sword to protect yourself. Every non-positive word goes right through your armor and stabs your heart. That is the price we pay to become children’s authors. I wish I could say that is the worst price you will have to pay…it isn’t. But those payments are not what this blog is about.
Writers need thick hides. They need to take everything someone tells them, that they don’t agree with, and practice closed mouth, a still tongue, and a smile. Your brain may be saying, “idiot,” but your face should be saying, “uh huh, oh, thank you for that thought.” You don’t have to do a thing with the critiquer’s ideas if you don’t want to: Hit delete.
Defending your writing will start a battle and a battle can cause a war. There are always casualties in a war. Your critique group could end up dead. Realize that things can be said that might drive you or the other person out of your group. A writer’s group blood bath can poison the waters for a long time and make members afraid to say anything at all to you. A nod and a smile could keep all that from happening.
And if you are the one who is trying to drive home your thoughts regardless of how they are affecting the critiqued writer and implying who the devils cares—because YOU are right—STOP! You could be next. You are setting a terrible precedent. You may be the reason the group disbands—or so they tell you—wink, wink. Yes. You could be right. Maybe the baby needs a change. Say your opinion once and let it go. An argument never changed a hurt heart.
BEST: BEFORE YOU SAY SOMETHING ABOUT WHAT YOU DON’T THINK WORKS—SAY SOMETHING ABOUT WHAT YOU DO THINK WORKS. EVERY BABY HAS SOMETHING BEAUTIFUL TO DISCOVER. SOMETIMES YOU NEED TO LOOK CLOSER. AND IN A MANUSCRIPT, SOMETIMES IT ’S HIDDEN BETWEEN THE LINES, OR IT ’S THE WORD CHOICES, OR IT ’S THE NUGGET OF AN IDEA WAITING TO GROW.
Being kind is always the best way to treat a new writer, even if her baby is stinky. (And are you so sure your baby’s you-know-what doesn’t stink?)

REALIZATIONS AND RESOLUTIONS

BY JUDITH ROSS ENDERLE

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In January one is supposed to make resolutions to mend one’s ways or achieve greatness or rid oneself of unhealthy habits.

Well, I don’t want to mend my ways; I realize I’m pretty happy with the way my ways are now.

I’ve achieved some greatness and lost some greatness and have landed back in the middle which isn’t a bad place to be. No need to resolve other than to keep moving forward and let the words fall where they may.

So that leaves unhealthy habits, usually involving food and exercise. I can swear off sugar entirely (I’m quite sweet enough), but that would be a wasted swear since I know right well that I’ll still have two biscotti with my coffee in the afternoon. So why waste a swear? As to exercise, I walk and I garden and I clean house, so my parts are moving, not too fast nor too slow. No need to promise to exercise more than that.

Thus I’ve come to realize that this resolution business is more of a taking stock, but it doesn’t mean you have to change a single thing. And how many of the resolutions actually last more than two months? Still, it is the first of a new year. How can I break tradition? So in the spirit of the new year, here are my resolves:

1: Change what I don’t like; keep what I like about me.

2: TRY to be more patient with myself and with others.

3: Make Words with Friends a reward, not a replacement for writing. A paragraph counts as writing, doesn’t it?

4: Make it one biscotti with coffee instead of two. (I know I won’t keep this one. See? A wasted swear.)

5: Be thankful for loving family and friends. This one I can do! I am so very blessed.

6: Get back to work. I can do this right now.

Off to a fine start. Six is a good number of resolutions for a year that ends in 6. May 2016 be a great year for you and yours and good luck with your resolutions. (Save your swears, you made need them when rejections show up, unless you’ve resolved not to let rejection bother you. Let me know how this works out, so I can use it for my resolution next year.)

What’s New in the Publishing World?

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I attended the 2015 Summer Conference of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators in Los Angeles, as usual, with no particular expectations except that it has always been a positive experience.  This year it seemed particularly filled with exuberant energy. (Having the delightful Mem Fox give the first keynote may have set the mood.)  I won’t try to give you an overview of the entire conference–there were official bloggers who can be found on the SCBWI.org website, as well as–for members–the annual Market Report.

In general, however, it was reported that children/YA book sales were up 21% in 2014, and up though somewhat less the first part of this year. (Last year’s sales were increased by movie tie in’s.)  Several new children’s imprints have been formed, including Epic Press, Flat Iron Books, and Imprint, the last from MacMillan.  We did not get a printout of the report this time, and most attendees I talked to are hoping they go back to that next time.

Publishers are again more open to short picture books, (short as in 500 words or less) character or narrative driven, and nonfiction is also of interest, especially on nature or the physical world, and they prefer that nonfiction also read like a story.

We were told that anything goes in middle grade: quirky action, classic MG, mystery, adventure, fantasy, nonfiction. Apparently 60% of kids read both digital and print.

YA is still the industry hot spot, but there is a lot of competition. Editors are very selective, and they receive many submissions. Contemporary realism dominates among published books, but editors are open to other genres, including S-F and horror. Pubs are keen to find new ways to reach readers, trying e-book subscription services, among other things. And of course, editors are always looking for good writers and illustrators, the ones who go just a little bit further.

I know I came home ready to write. : )  Hope you are, too!

Cheryl

P.S.  I would have made the photo smaller if I could have figured out how, and that is if it comes through at all. I’ve already wiped out the whole darn blog entry once, aggggg.

 

 

What’s New in the Publishing World?

tnI attended the Summer 2015 Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrator’s Conference In Los Angeles without any set expectations except that it’s always a worthwhile experience and found it infused with an upbeat attitude this time around. I won’t try to give you any comprehensive report–there were official bloggers who reported on the conference, which members can find on the SCBWI.org website, along with the latest Market Report and other members’ comments.

Basically, however, the market report said that sales of children/YA books were up 21% for 2014, also up so far this year but not as much; apparently media tie in’s drove some of the sales last year. The demand for picture books is picking up,  publishers open to short, character-driven or narrative-driven fiction, and also non-fiction especially about nature and the physical world.  They also want non-fiction picture books, bios and others, that read like a story.

Middle grade: anything goes, the presenter said:  quirky action, classic MG, adventure, mystery, elements of fantasy . Apparently 60% of kids read both digital and print.  And YA is still the industry hot spot, although editors are very selective, and there is a lot of competition. Editors receive many submissions, and contemporary realism dominates published books. They are open to other genres, too, especially S-F and horror. But editors and agents are looking for good writers and illustrators.

I came home ready to write. : )  Hope you are, too.

PURPLE MOUNTAIN’S MAJESTY

by Stephanie Jacob Gordon

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I am going to be honest here…I have not been writing. I was on a roll for a while. Then the editor we were working with went up in a puff of smoke and the publishing house disappeared. I just lost momentum and desire. Since then, I have avoided writing like the plague. The only writing I have wanted to do…have done, is the poetry I share with my group, The Cottage Poets. And my poems have rarely been warm and fuzzy, they’ve been mostly venting. This last year and a half has been up-ending. I feel like I have been walking on my hands with my head in my underwear. I have not had a clear vision of how I see my life proceeding or if I expect an upward or downward progression facing me in the future. I suddenly don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.

I can’t decide whether this came about because, after 74 years living in Southern California, I decided to move. A move I felt I had to make for financial reasons. A move that took me away from my family and some of my dearest friends. Or perhaps it is because some of my personal setbacks…like turning 75 this month, finding there was no more cartilage in my knees, learning to live (again) with a fifteen year old (my beautiful granddaughter, Sarah), or because my dog, Izzi, has decided she likes my daughter best and pretty much ignores me.

It is amazing to me, at my age, to live in a place where I don’t know where anything is or how to get there if I find out. Where I don’t know anyone I see, although every lady looks like someone I am sure I met at an SCBWI Summer Conference at one time or another. Where people are genuinely kind and courteous and young and old hold the door for me, waiting patiently while I limp through. Where traffic in my town goes 25 MPH and I am fine with that. AND the scenery is mind-boggling, stunning, peaceful, green-green-green. There are lakes everywhere. Quaint abounds. Vintage is the norm. And I have never yet met a tree I didn’t love. On our meanderings, my daughter Jackee driving, me looking right and left so quickly I get car sick, my favorite exclamation has become OMG! OMG! OMG!

The best OMG! My birthday. It was amazing. Laurie Knowlton came from Ohio, and Dawn Dixon came from Arizona, and Judy came from Bellingham (WA…lol). We partied and laughed and talked and talked and talked for 9 days straight. It was everything a birthday celebration should be. Thank you, Loveys.

My life in Mount Vernon, Washington is everything my life in LA environs wasn’t. I am older than I have ever been before. I am happier than I thought I’d be. I am gearing up for something. Judy, ever positive, hopes it’s writing. I miss my grandkids and my great kids. I miss my friends…you know who you are. I am up here waiting…when can you come by? I’m ready for another party (and it’s a great excuse for not writing.)

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?