The Clean Up

My husband works in the construction industry.  His job is to supply contractors, large and small, with the equipment they need for their respective projects.  Sometimes it’s an air compressor, or a welder or any number of things that are hard for me distinguish.  But according to my boys, he has the cool stuff too, like bulldozers, excavators and dump trucks.  Over the years, those projects have ranged from hospitals, university dormitories, and even a grocery store or two. From time to time, the projects are also demolitions.  How convenient! See where I’m going with this?  I can stick with my theme.  (Because I do not have my own home renovation to have learned from… and I’m not sad about that!)  If you missed last week, or any week for that matter, I’m in the process of a major revision of my picture book manuscript.  I’m tearing it down and going to build my story back together.  Like any remodel, I’m hoping it resembles the original with a noticeable facelift.  I want to keep the emotional core of my story, I want to keep the main character, and I’m pretty set on the support staff too. At this point, it looks like every other aspect is on the chopping block.

From my crash course in demolition, I learned that as soon as the tear-down phase is complete, the clean-up begins.  This is when the contractor sorts through the rubble, determining what’s trash and what’s not.  Perfect!  That’s exactly where I’m headed.  I used the following questions to help guide me through my manuscript cleanup.  (These were also picked up in a recent webinar I attended called How To Be A Better Critique Partner by Heather Alexander.  I figured it would be wise to turn them on myself.)

  • Who is the protagonist? Well, this one was easy, I created him after all.  I elaborated in my Knots post, that I talk to him, asking questions and trying to learn more about him.  I do need to know ALL about him; the good, the bad and the whiney.  (He does whine a little in my story.  Which breaks cardinal rule number one in the house I grew up in… thankfully my parents have softened a bit as grandparents.  I wonder if imaginary grandkids count too?)
  • What does he want? He desperately needs (in the way five-year old’s do) a solution to the enormous problem staring him in the face. He’s Bored.  I’m talking painfully bored, the kind that makes you restless and irritable.  He wants to have fun but is having trouble finding someone to help him.
  • What is his ultimate goal? To salvage his day, which seems to be spiraling, if you ask me. It’s going to take something BIG to get his day back on track.
  • How will he achieve it? He starts with all the usual suspects; friends and family… even daring to broach the topic with his mom. He strikes out. I don’t want to give away too much, he does ultimately come up with a solution but not before striking out a couple of times.
  • What will happen if he doesn’t? As a mom, a bored kid is a ticking time bomb of the worst sorts.  They (at least my own) get whiney, emotional and utterly distraught.  Boredom, once it sinks in is terribly difficult to shake off, especially when your five.  He needs to figure something out, or there’s likely big trouble looming in the distance.

So, I think all of this is my ‘good stuff’, the salvageable parts of this story that I’ve been toiling and tinkering with for the better part of a year.  What didn’t make the cut? Well, the first thing to go was the rhyme.  I’m feeling good with that decision and looking forward to getting to know this new side of my writing self.   Many of my word choices, I would imagine, are also holding the story back.  For some reason, the ‘less is more’ philosophy I ascribe to doesn’t translate into my words.  I almost often use too many words to explain myself, both in speaking and in writing.  I know I have at least 200 words to shave off from where my manuscript stands now.  I also need to keep the emotional theme of my story securely in my cross-hairs, and any parts that contradict, or deviate from the emotions I’m trying to convey, need to go. Regardless of how attached I am to them.  I do know that I need to learn more about ‘pacing’ so that my story can efficiently move in the direction it needs to.  I see another webinar in my future.

If I can be honest, some days my ‘trash’ pile feels tall, and my ‘keep’ pile feels small.   The good news is that one the rubble has been sorted, the next part is the dirt work.  If I can be thorough in what I’m doing now, I will have the space and the tools that I need to build a brilliant foundation for this story.  Plus, I know where I can get a bulldozer if I need one

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

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Demolition

Two things happened recently, that have greatly altered the course of this little writing journey I’m on.  First, I watched a fantastic webinar on ‘How to Be a Better Critique Partner’ given by Heather Alexander.  I learned a great deal, and I’m still unpacking much of what she said, but one part resonated with me (and it actually had nothing to do with critiquing).  During her presentation, she made a comparison between that the revision process and a home renovation.  She made it clear, not the kind of remodel that involves slapping on a coat of paint and changing the light fixtures; what she was referring to was ‘knocking down walls kind of stuff’.   I’m a very visual person, and I appreciated the analogy, I even went so far as to write her words in large print on the bottom of my notes page.  But kids got home, life moved on, I slept and somehow lost track of it.

Fast forward a couple of days, and I received feedback from someone who graciously agreed to beta read for me.  I could’ve pinched myself when she agreed to do so. She’s previously published (with more picture books on the way) and comes from a similar background (healthcare turned writer) with much more experience.  I heard back from her sooner than I expected, and her feedback was all too familiar.  For the third time now, someone with industry experience told me, “Drop the Rhyme.” All three times it was said with much more tact, but I like to cut through the fluff when possible.  Three different times, each one separated by months and miles, but the advice didn’t change and this time I heard it.  If I can be honest, I felt like I had the wind knocked out of me.

I am terrified at the thought of not writing in rhyme.  It’s all I know.  In my family, rhyming is my ‘thing’.  Just ask my parents to see old Anniversary cards or Christmas picture books, and you’ll see that my history of rhyming goes back a long way.  Heck, I won a poetry contest in the eighth grade… I RHYME…IT’S WHAT I DO.  I know I’ve talked about writing versions of my story that don’t rhyme, and I promise I did.  I just I never did so with the intention of putting all my eggs in that basket.  I don’t know if I’m even any good.  But I believe, with every ounce of my ‘wanna-be’ writer self, that fear should never be the reason to hit the brakes.  At least not in situations like this.  Sure, it feels foreign, a little scary and like I’m starting from scratch, but the boy at the center of my story deserves for me to try.  (As an aside, I recently read “… if you write, then you are a writer” so I’m trying to settle in with the title.)

I think I’m starting to understand what Heather was talking about now.  Not that I hadn’t done major revisions before, because some those had been painful, but this is taking “kill your darlings’ to a whole new level.  (For my non-writer friends, don’t panic… the ‘darlings’ in this case are words, favorite words even, that need to be cut from a story.  William Faulkner said it, so you know its good advice.)  One of the first things I did was go back to my main character and ask for his help.  He did not disappoint.  What he did do, however, is throw the entire sequence of my stories about him in a tailspin.  I have three stories written about this boy and they landed in different pieces and different places than I had ever previously considered.  I think he may be on to something, but to get there will take a few more swings with a sledgehammer.  Words are starting to flow, but I’m not taking off my hard hat yet.

Sure I loved my ‘house’ before the renovation, it was filled with first words and early lessons, but I can already see I’m going to like the changes. It’ll make a mess in the process, but I feel energized and I’m eager to see where this takes me.  So here I go, in the middle of a self-induced rhyming fast (library books included) and venturing into foreign lands.  I’m also halfway through the Picture Book Page Turns webinar (kidlitcollege.org), I think I’ll be making a dummy with my WIP this week.  I’ll share what I learn soon. Wish me luck!

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

#SocialMediaStruggles

I was a part of the original Facebook generation.  I remember waiting, anxiously, for Facebook to find its way to our campus.  It did so right at the end of a semester, in the perilous time where finals were approaching and grades really mattered. I allowed myself to join as a reward for surviving another semester of nursing school and was instantly hooked.  I wish I could say that I kept up with the crowd, that it was easy for me to stay excited about and that it’s been a beautiful love affair ever since.  Sadly, it has not been.  Navigating Facebook was never an issue, but as it ventured away from a college networking site, and into the worldwide monster it is now, I lost enthusiasm.  My relationship now is friendly, but for the ten plus years in between, it’s been downright contentious.  It came to the point where my real-life friends, and even my husband at times, stopped asking, or caring really, when I mysteriously disappeared from Facebook, knowing I would always come back.  I appreciate it now, more so than I have in a while, and I’ve even branched out a bit. #backonagain

One of my writing friends, shout out to The Monster’s Club, told me that I needed an Instagram.  She added that it is one of the best places to keep up with the Kid Lit world, up and coming authors and new release books.  I’d be silly to pass that up, right?  Except I’m 30 years old and 7 years late.  Long story short, my social media-savvy sister agreed to spoon feed me everything I needed to know to get started.  So, I did and then panicked a bit.  Surely the Instagram world will sense that I’m illiterate?  I thought for 48 hours about my first post, and bam, I used my first hashtag.  I’m a few weeks and a handful of timid posts into it now… I have exactly 12 followers. EEK. #bitthebullet

The blog, not one but two Facebook accounts and now Instagram.  WHO AM I?  Do you want to know my secret? I am enjoying it.  They’re all pushing me in different ways, outside of my quiet, little comfort zone.  After all, I’m going to need people to buy my books one day, I’d better get a head start on finding them.  More importantly, I’m making connections and building a network.  I’ve been talking about this very thing since Magnolias was born, and each ‘follower’ is proof that it’s working.  #socialmediawin

I do struggle with boundaries though.  I’ve found that the days when I check Facebook early, I end up checking it often, often mindlessly, hoping for ‘notifications’, I don’t know why I have a hard time realizing that checking seldom and seeing 10 notifications is much more exciting, then slowly collecting one at a time.  In the same way, I’m excited with each new ‘like’ or ‘follow’, on Instagram or WordPress, but like many people, I’m sure, I tend to get carried away once I start looking.  And now I have a hard time keeping up.  My finger accidently brushed up against my screen while I was trying to figure out this whole hashtag thing, and I found a message from my sister.  What? How the heck did that get there? (B, I’m going need you to call me and talk me through this one.) Bear with me y’all, I’ll figure it out soon enough.  Surely I’m not the only one, right? #thankgodforlittlesisters

#toomanyhashtags?

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

Handing in my homework

I’m happy to report that I actually did tackle the homework assignments I gave myself last week.  I re-wrote my story without rhyming at all, and I loved it, which was a pleasant surprise. In the spirit of full disclosure, the last time I tried this, I did so without a lot of effort.  This time, I wrote with intention and polished it up real nice… in fact, I’m not finished editing it, because I may need it after all.  I realized in the process that I need some outside help figuring out this eternal RHYME vs PROSE dilemma, and if I’m going to ask for opinions, both versions must be equally well written.  I am excited to say that writing the story in prose did, in fact, help me untangle the words in my brain, and I could ‘finish’ this draft, cute little rhyme and all.

So, where do I stand now?  I have my rhyming story, the 6th revision of it, and I have the same story written without rhyme, draft number 1.  I also have the second in this series that I’m slowly chipping away at.  (Have I mentioned that my first book is part of a series?  Again, this goes against most of the advice I’ve received but I can’t stifle this sweet boy and the stories I’ve been asked to tell about him… more on this another day).  This weekend I have the first of a two-part webinar, presented by Ann Whitford Paul titled Picture Book Page Turns and First Pages.  I’ve mentioned her book Writing Picture Books, before.  I’m thrilled because I learned so much from it, I can’t wait to hear her live.  This is an area I’m needing a lot of help in now that my story is “finished”.  A ‘page turn’ is where the text of a picture book is divided, from one 2 page spread to the next.  There’s so much emphasis placed on this concept because I want the reader eager to turn the page and see what happens next.  The page turns help the story to build speed and momentum, setting the pace for the story.  (Pacing is another concept I’m excited to learn more about too.)

One thing I hope she goes through and explains in the course is the benefits of ‘making a dummy.’  There’s a whole chapter devoted to this in Writing Picture Books, so I think it’s safe to assume she will.  A ‘dummy’ is exactly what it sounds like, blank pages, stapled together to resemble the 32 pages of a picture book.  Then, after I’m schooled on ‘page turns’, I can put words on these blank pages and see how well my story reads, as a book. (For those of you who didn’t know this, there’s a standard layout for picture books, which uses 32 pages. Typically, only 24 pages of the 32 are used to tell the story… put this on my “list of things to elaborate on, one day”)

I did something else this week that I’ve been excited about.  I finally mustered up the courage to approach one of the ‘cool kids’ on the playground, and ask if I could play with them.  It didn’t surprise me that she was super nice and approachable, it DID surprise me that she said yes! Slowly but surely, I’m building my writing community.  You know the saying “you are who you associate with.”  Well, I’m trying.

So, what’s on tap for the next few days? Part one of the webinar, ironing out wrinkles in my prose version of my manuscript and figuring out how to blend in with the cool kids. (I have a bad habit of either trying too hard or coming across as reserved and shy… crossing my fingers I can find a happy medium here).  That’s all for now!

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

Rosita

I believe that over the course of our lives, we’re blessed with many different role models, sent to help us along a leg of our respective journeys.  These role models, whether they know it or now, and regardless of if we even ever meet them in person, can help us to keep our eyes on the prize.  I was recently “introduced” to such a woman, and I don’t even know her last name.  Rosita, who’s a mother like me, has recently figured out how to chase her dreams, in the midst of raising her large, squealing family.  She goes to great lengths, even constructing an elaborate ‘machine’ to both lessen the impact on her family and give her the flexibility needed to practice her songs and steps.  (For the record, if you know where I can get myself one of THOSE, I’m all ears!)  As she follows her heart, and her authentic self, the most tremendous thing happens, she not only finds success but herself and her family are the real winners.  She’s a better mother and wife when she’s true to herself and her calling. Now, in the spirit of full disclosure, we don’t share many similarities, other than motherhood, and the fact that we’re chasing dreams, but I think that’s more than enough. If she found a way to practice harder while raising twenty-five children, I can surely find a way to write more with three. She found her own voice, albeit, with a microphone, I’m slowly but surely finding my own, on paper.  Every time our paths cross, and she dances across my TV screen, I’m filled with excitement for both of us.  I still don’t know much about her; she does sound a lot like Reese Whitherspoon and I do know she’s a fan of Katy Perry, but that’s the extent of it.  I’d love to meet her in person one day and tell her how much I look up to her.  But sadly, that will never happen… because, well, she’s a dancing, singing pig… and I’m not.

Okay, enough silliness for now, even though I meant a lot of what I said.  We have to take full advantage of whatever inspiration we can find, right?  Today was a holiday in my world, so I’m keeping it brief… if today was a special day in yours, I hope it was a great one. If you need a reason to smile, treat yourself to the movie Sing, you won’t be disappointed.

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

Knot Writing

For all my writing about writing the past couple of weeks, forests and elephants included, I’m afraid I’ve given the impression that I’ve been prolific in putting words on paper.  Truth be told, the only words that have made it out of my brain, are the ones that have been lucky enough to find their way here.  I do believe that I’m up to my elbows in revising, though at times don’t feel like I’m making any headway.   Today I came up with a great analogy for how I feel, and if you’ll bear with me for a moment, I’m sure I’m not the only one.

The back door of our house is a set of French doors.  We have blinds hung over the windows of both, but 90% of the time, the blinds are pulled all the way up to allow beaucoup* natural light in.  If you can imagine, the strings for the blinds are long and hang coiled on the ground and seem to stay in a constantly tangled mess.  With the frequent opening and closing of the door and subsequent swinging of the strings, often I find myself with knots to untangle.  Truth be told, I don’t hate the knots.  I love working through them, loosening the string and making progress, even if it does happen slowly. Right now, my brain is one big tangled knot of words.  I’m committed to my storyline, main character and rhythm.  I (think I) know how it starts and how it ends, and I feel most comfortable with the middle passages.  I know I have the words… I just need to get them untangled.

I wish that they would unhook from each other and fall into place, but of course, writing isn’t that easy.  I realized that I needed to get outside of my head, so last week I decided to ask my main character what he thought.  This will, no doubt, sound bizarre to many of you, but as I was driving to a meeting, I turned off the radio and literally talked, out loud, to him.  I asked questions and started to better understand who he is. For starters, his favorite color is red, he loves rocket ships and wants to be a fireman when he grows up.  He lives in a city, much larger than what I’m familiar with and he wears glasses. None of this is in my story, and most of the answers surprised me.  Aside from learning more about who he is, I did find some clarity and I think I have a better understand of how he’ll act.

I also decided to rewrite the story, in prose… again.  It’s cleaner and more concise than the last time I attempted this, and maybe this will help me sort through words.  But before I do that, I’m reading through all the previous drafts.  Some were much too wordy, a couple too fluffy, one felt forced and clumsy, and all left much to be desired… but the came from the same well of inspiration that I continue to try and fetch words from.  Maybe I cut something I shouldn’t have.  Maybe a line was wrong, but it holds the right word(s). Maybe if I pull here, it’ll loosen something.

So, as you can see, I have plenty homework assignments. There’s my upcoming webinar, which I mentioned, on Sunday.  I need to read my earlier drafts, again, and write the story in prose (meaning without rhyme). I’ve also been instructed to study other picture books that center around the same theme as my WIP. Which makes me realize, they don’t call it a ‘work in progress’ for nothing…

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

*For those of you reading who don’t have a French background, Merriam-Webster defines beaucoup (\ˈbō-(ˌ)kü\) as ‘in great quantity or amount’.  How can anyone not love being Cajun, we have some of the greatest words!

Writing with an elephant

Contrary to popular belief, there is only one way to eat an elephant.  Though I’m sure your elephant looks vastly different than mine, whether it be in size, shape, or schedule, the fact remains.  Some days, I feel like I have a dozen elephants on my plate, but the one I’ll focus on today, you guessed it, is my writing.  The problem I struggle with being that I find myself ravenous for knowledge, education and community, is that I’m overwhelmed with options… and at the same time, feel completely out of the loop.  How do I get into the loop?!? Where do I start?!?  Where can I find more hours in my day? I’ll tell you what I’ve done so far, and I’m open to suggestions.

WEBINARS- I started out with a subscription to Writer’s Digest, and that was great for opening my eyes and introducing me to current industry standards.  I know I’ve mentioned before that I participated in and enjoyed WD webinars that were pertinent to Picture Book writers, and a couple of general webinars for aspiring authors of every variety.  I have also recently begun participating in Kid Lit College, my first webinar is in two weeks, on Picture Books & Page Turns.  I can’t wait.

BOOKS- I’m old fashioned. I love to hold an actual book in my hands and I’ve started to develop a small reference section of my home library.  Writing Picture Books by Ann Whitford Paul, which I’ve mentioned in earlier posts was the first and continues to be the most informative.  I plan to continue to fill my tool box, even if I must borrow.  What’s your favorite?

BLOGS- This is a whole other world for me, from reading to writing. Mary Kole, Tara Lazar & Vivian Kirkfield are some of the big-name bloggers that I’m following now. I’m also quietly learning from men and women who are finding their own success and still blazing their own trail.  I read every book review and author interview that comes across my radar, hoping to find nuggets of knowledge and learn about new releases.   My writing here started out as an exercise for me to push myself to use a different side of my writing brain. I can’t tell you how thrilled I am when my own site is found (and followed!) by someone in the Kid Lit world.  In one of the blogs I mentioned above, I read that “networking is like a slow dance.” So, I’ll continue my weekly posts, follow others, and reach out with comments when the opportunities arise.  I’d like to think that this site is creating blossoms for me, that will one day result in delicious fruit that resembles relationships, opportunities and real-world experiences.

BETA-READERS- A concept that I’ve remained wary of until very recently, beta-readers are a group of trusted and informed individuals, who read over a project and offer honest feedback.  It was fear that made me wary, and once I realized that I knew that I needed to pursue this opportunity.  I’ve reached out to a few women, each of whom offers a different set of experiences and expertise, and if they agree to be so generous with their time and energy, once I finish my revisions, that’s where my book goes next.

CRITIQUE GROUPS- If you’re looking for a birthday gift for me, I’d like one of these please! I’m kidding, kind of… I know that one day (hopefully soon) I’ll find my place but I’m not there yet.  If networking is a slow dance, developing the trust and rapport it takes to be a part of a critique group must be something along the lines of a crawl.

SCBWI- The Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators.  A club for people just like me! I’ve been in touch with my local chapter, and plan to get involved soon… but as I explained in a recent email to the chapter president, ‘real-life and “real”-work continue to get in the way.’ I’m going to find a way to make it happen this summer, right now I have my sights set on the June meeting.

All of the things I mentioned, and probably dozens more are wonderful opportunities providing a wealth of information and experience.  How do I fit it all in? How do I continue writing, and learning, and networking, all while working, wife-ing, and mom-ing? How can I squeeze more out of my already jam-packed schedule? Getting back to the elephant I mentioned earlier; the only way to eat it is one bite at a time. Which led me here, posting early on a Sunday and squeezing in a few informative posts before anyone wakes up.  I’m going to find a way to more seamlessly fit some part of this into each day.   It’s all a bit foreign to me though, and I imagine it will continue to be so for quite some time.  But I’ll stay the course, one bite, one post, one webinar at a time, and as always, I’m open to suggestions!

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

Writing from the forest

It’s a saying I’ve heard countless times, “Oh, she can’t see the forest for the trees.”  In fact, it’s one that I use often.  For example, as a young mom, I often can’t see the forest of LIFE from the saplings constantly clamoring for my attention.   As a writer, it’s something I’ve been guilty of and I’m grateful to the women who’ve now pointed it out on two occasions.  Of course, as freelance editors, they didn’t use that phrase, keeping it much more politically (and grammatically correct).  But as I read each of their respective feedbacks, first in December, and again last week, it’s the phrase that continued to surface.  I realize that I am putting my own literary spin on it here, so let me elaborate.

I spent a good part of 2016, especially the second half of the year trying to educate myself.  I read every article and blog post I could get my hands on.  I combed through Writing Picture Books by Ann Whitford Paul with a fine-toothed comb and dove into some excellent webinars.   One of the lessons, repeated in almost everyone, is ‘make sure your main character is the protagonist (hero) of his own story’.  I read it over and over and committed it to memory.  Had you asked, I would’ve checked it off my list with a satisfied ‘Got that!”.  Low and behold, when I received the critique back from the first editor I worked with, that was her most significant piece of advice.  The sweet little boy that my story is about, didn’t save his own story.  I was shocked when I realized how glaringly obvious it was too.  His mom was the hero of his story, and I never saw it coming. I had been so close to my story, that I hadn’t seen the problem that I was certain I avoided.  In the three rounds of revisions that followed, I wrote the mom completely out of the story, then back in, and out again, as I struggled to give all the credit to my sweet boy, after all… it is HIS story.

Another common theme in my Kid Lit education was the importance of the ‘Rule of Three’.   I’m very familiar with it and was something I thought I incorporated well into my WIP (work in progress).  Alas, this last editor had similar advice, from a different perspective.  Guess what she said to me, in regards to the Rule of Three in my story?  It was non-existent!  To share a line from the editorial letter I received last week, “Generally, a protagonist tries three times to get what they want before they succeed.”  To explain it simply, if a dog is trying to jump over a fence, he’ll fall short on his first try, again on his second and third, finding success on his fourth attempt.  I knew this.  Somehow, in my rewriting and revising, I lost it, though. The boy in my story has a problem, and BAM solves it on his first try. Even young children deserve for the stories they read to have enough drama to draw them in and make it exciting.  This lack of struggle translated into a lack conflict, probably creating one of the major issues with my WIP.  When I stepped back from my story, having been ‘too close to the trees again’, I discovered a fluffy story, full of warm and fuzzies… and a dragon… it was confusing, even to me.  Once again, I was blindsided.  So I’m back in revision mode, this time creating conflict.   Thanks for joining me as I unpack these great editorial lessons, rest assured, there are many more to come.  I’d love to hear from you if you have your own experience to share.

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

P.S- As I was wrapping up my post for today, I learned of an exciting opportunity from kidlitcollege.org.  ‘Page turns’ is another important concept in children’s literature that deserves its own conversations. It is related to my post from today, however, because conflict creates page turns, so maybe it’s a conversation I’ll have soon.  Ann Whitford Paul (mentioned above) is teaching a KidLit College course at the end of the month Picture Book First Pages and Page Turns.  Sounds like something I need in my life, and I’m sharing in case you do too.