Timesheet

The beauty of this whole writing life, is that it happens at my home, on my time, right?  So, despite the fact that I’m not getting paid for any of this time, otherwise, it’s a pretty sweet gig.  I couldn’t agree more, except it’s really not as easy as you think.  (Well, not YOU, because if you’re reading this then there’s a good chance you know what I’m talking about… I’m talking about non-writing folk).  I realized over the course of the past couple of weeks that I hit a wall.  Not a writer’s block kind of wall, one of those little brick half walls that takes some effort to climb over but allows you to see the other side?  My day job right now is also one that I do from home.  I’m a great self-motivator.  I’m goal oriented and I love deadlines.  I’m fairly efficient and feel confident that I can be effective at whatever is in front of me.  But I struggle so much with applying those same principles to my writing.  I decided enough was enough, I needed to traverse the wall and make some adjustments. Over the course of the past few days, I had some ‘Aha’ moments, that I think will prove to be significant.  In no particular order, here they are:

  1. I account for the time I get paid for from my employer, every minute of it and I can tell you how I spent my time and what I accomplished on any given day… looking back on my time spent writing, and I have no idea how much, or when, or what I’m working on. I am not keeping track of anything when it comes to my time spent writing. In fact, though I feel like I’m writing every day, I haven’t worked on a new manuscript or revised one of my WIP in quite some time.  Which leads me to my next revelation…
  2. Social Media is sucking my productive time! I don’t get on Facebook when I’m ‘on the clock’, I’m careful not to check Twitter or Instagram while I have a project to finish, but as soon as I start ‘writing’, I do. And not only that, I waste such precious time and scrolling mindlessly through that it zaps all of my creative energy and leaves me restless and unsettled.
  3. I used ‘writing’ in quotes just earlier because I’m actually not writing! I’ve not written anything in the past few weeks, I’ve been thinking of writing… intending to, planning on it, and carrying around a notebook, but except for a weekly blog post, nothing creative or productive has made it onto paper.

Mixed up in all of this, is a self-proclaimed ‘identity crisis’; but more on that another day.  (Trust me, it’s not nearly as dramatic as it seems.) With all this new awareness came the understanding that if I continue down this writing path, I need a process.  I can’t keep shooting from the hip, that’s not how I operate.  I don’t shoot from the hip in any area of life, (except parenting, I guess, but don’t we all?) my writing life should be no different.  I’ve established new rules for myself and am trying my very best to hold myself accountable to these…

  1. Set a goal each week for time spent writing… this week I aimed for 8 hours. I finished nowhere close, but I know that because I’ve started,
  2. Keeping track of when I write and what I’m doing, generally speaking at least. And now I have an idea of what I did accomplish and what I need to work on next, not to mention I have a goal to keep aiming for. And finally, probably most importantly,
  3. Limit social media time! I gave myself a very small allotment of time (2 hours/week), and I’m keeping track of how often/how long I spend on social media. On top of that, if I’m going to spend time perusing Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, I must be productive.  In some way, I must be building my network, watching a webinar, posting a critique… something productive, no mindless scrolling allowed.

So, here’s my time card for the week:

Monday, I spent 30minutes on Social media & 1-hour writing (which was actually, catching up on Storyteller Academy webinars)

Tuesday had 20 minutes of Social media time & 30 minutes writing (revisions of a manuscript, recording myself reading other manuscripts)

Wednesday looked a lot like Tuesday. (Completed my Master Studies homework for Storyteller Academy)

Thursday, unfortunately, had similar Social Media time, 30 minutes and ZERO writing minutes. (so, nothing to report here)

Friday, well I wrote this post on Friday, so that’s a good chunk of writing time, I also finished some major revisions on a delicious little manuscript I’ve been working on, and spent ZERO time on social media.  I’m giving myself 2 hours of writing credit and a pat on the back for staying on track.

That’s a grand total of four hours writing… 2 hours on Social Media, and the rest of it spent working, mom-ing, and wife-ing. Next week I’ll do better… I hope. It takes two weeks to create a new habit, right? Wish me luck.

*Important footnote- There is so much wonderful benefit to social media, the entire Kid Lit community resides there and we’re all just the click of a button or the touch of a screen away from each other.  I’m grateful for it!  I just need help with my own boundaries… I need more time being productive and less time perusing.  I think there will be a post expanding on this in the not too distant future.  Also, stay tuned for more on Storyteller Academy/Master Studies, my Querying Conundrum, Developing a Process and the above mentioned, Identity Crisis.

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

 

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The Big Finale!

Today is a great day.  Not your run of the mill great day either; I’m talking about a ‘stars have aligned, my hair isn’t frizzy and I’m having the best cup of coffee ever’ kind of great day.  On top of all that goodness, it’s the last day before school starts in our house, the official end to our #100PictureBookSummer, marks 6th months to the day that Magnolias & Manuscripts has been in existence… and it’s my birthday. See, what I mean!

Before I talk more about our day, I want to rewind a few months.  On a not so hot, not as humid, late springtime afternoon I received an unexpected package.  Feeling confused and excited, I opened it to find one of the more thoughtful gifts I’ve ever received.  A dear family member surprised me with the most wonderful vote of confidence and whole hearted support, in the form of an adorable monogrammed book bag you see at the top of the post and my very own stationery.  Being the sentimental type, I cried and knew that I was holding in my hand something very significant.  The book bag lit such an enthusiastic fire under me, from a writing perspective.  I’m convinced that it’ll always stand out as a turning point in my journey.  It validated that there are people who believe in me, and on those days where I’m feeling so far from the top of this picture book mountain, I look at the bag and remember that I need to believe in myself. The bag quickly became one of my most treasured possessions and has lovingly carried each and every library haul on our 100 book journey.  Here are numbers 91-100, and I’ve included the link to the full list if you’re interested… But like I said last week, this week was all kids choice.  We went ‘off-list’ and picked ones that called to us from the library shelves. Here they are, in no particular order…

  1. Super Fly Guy by Tedd Arnold
  2. Hide and Sheep by Andrea Beaty & Bill Mayer
  3. Maxwell’s Mountain by Shari Becker & Nicole Wong
  4. Jack by Tomie dePaola
  5. No Dogs Allowed by Linda Ashman & Kristin Sorra
  6. Fortunately, Unfortunately by Michael Foreman
  7. Doodleday by Ross Collins
  8. My Brave Year of Firsts by Jamie Lee Curtis & Laura Cornell
  9. Llama llama, Time to Share by Anna Dewdney
  10. How this Book was Made by Mac Barnett & Adam Rex

http://www.booknerdmommy.com/100-picture-books-summer-reading/

In order to mark all of the goodness of today, but especially to celebrate the fact that my kids and I have eagerly devoured every part of 100 books this summer, we spend the morning at Barnes & Noble.  Being a family that is frugal and faithful library patrons the actual BUYING of books are saved for extra special occasions, and today was exactly that.  Each of our kids and their momma chose a book to add to our home library, and then we had lunch! We took our time, read a few, talked about a few more and made very careful decisions.  YC picked a favorite from week one, MC chose one that features a familiar feline, OC decided on the first of a fancy new series, and I decided to surround myself with extraordinary women. Regardless of whether you’ve been following along from number 1 or just caught the last 10, I appreciate you being here. This summer has been one for the record books, and I loved sharing our journey.  The start of school marks the end of my mid-week posts, but also the start of exciting new opportunities. h Join Emma Bland Smith and I on Sunday for a conversation about her debut picture book, Journey: Based on the story of Or7, The Most Famous Wolf in the West. As always…

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

Week 5 of Our #100PictureBookSummer

 

I can’t believe that we’re half way through our summer reading list!  I have to be honest, I lost track of the week with yesterday being a holiday and today feeling like ANOTHER Monday.  But I’m here, we’ve been reading and this week is all about OC.

Seven and a half years ago, we dove head first into our life as parents with the birth of this precious girl.  She made her grand entrance earlier than expected, and with a little more excitement than we planned.  Wouldn’t you know it, she still does things on her own time and always with a bit of flair.  Her curly hair was and still is, a perfect match for her personality.  She’s equal parts cautious and impulsive, inquisitive and certain, and one hundred percent generous and thoughtful.   Lucky for me, she has the memory of an elephant; that often comes in handy when you’re an absent-minded momma.  She’s the first one to read any of my manuscripts, and she’s the silent third party of all my critique partnerships.  OC reads well, reads often and loves it most when she’s reading to her younger brothers. This week, with the list below, I asked her to read a little deeper into each story.  I wanted to know, not only her favorites but also the theme in each one.  We talked about the main characters, and the change each one underwent as the story unfolded.  She couldn’t pick out of the following two, and who was I do decide?  (spoiler alerts below)

  1. Ellie by Mike Wu
  2. The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by A. Wolf as told to Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Lane Smith
  3. Caps for Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina
  4. Swatch by Julia Denos
  5. Sleep Like a Tiger by Mary Logue and Pamela Aagarenski
  6. Red Cat, Blue Cat by Jenni Desmond
  7. Balderdash! By Michelle Markel and Nancy Carpenter
  8. Are We There, Yeti? by Ashlyn Ashtee
  9. Tuesday by David Wiesner
  10. Cloudette by Tom Lichtenheld (this one was a personal homework assignment from a friend, and a perfect fit… thanks, JH!)

For the full list of books we’re reading check out Book Nerd Mommy’s blog here http://www.booknerdmommy.com/100-picture-books-summer-reading/

“First, I really liked Red Cat, Blue Cat.  At the beginning of the book, they don’t like each other, until they try to be just like the other one.  Once they tried to be each other and it didn’t work out, they realized that being their own selves was the best of all.  That’s how it should be, really, you should always be happiest with who you really are.  I also liked Ellie, she was so sad because she didn’t have a talent.  All she wanted to do was help, but in the end, she discovered she had the greatest talent of all and saved the day.  We all have special things about us, we just need to use them.”

Wise words, from my wise girl.  I appreciate these books and the conversations they inspire more with each passing week.  But then again, picture books have always been, and will always be pure magic.  Thanks for hanging in through 50.  Wish us luck for our last few weeks!

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

July

July has arrived, with all her sweltering heat and mighty mosquitoes.   As a family, this is often the month where we take a collective sigh and settle in for the second half of summer.  School starts in early August in these parts, so this is our calm before the school year storm.  As a writer, my month will be full and fun… here’s a little of what I have going on.

  • WOW Nonficpic (July 10-14) is an online seminar on writing non-fiction picture books hosted by Children’s Author, Kristen Fulton. I’m a history buff, and a science nerd so the thought of expanding my writing skill set to include non-fiction books is very exciting.  For more info, http://www.kristenfulton.org/
  • I’m working on an author interview series that will begin here, on Magnolias and Manuscripts next month. I’m not ready to discuss all the nitty gritty details yet, but it will involve debut picture book authors and it’s going to be great! Stay tuned!
  • #PBHOT62 (http://www.renatraxel.com/literacy–art/summer-reading-challenge-for-picture-book-writers) is an exciting opportunity that I signed up for, but I think I bit off more than I can chew. Rena Traxel, librarian and children’s writer put together a fun and interactive challenge to encourage picture book writers to read more picture books.  Each day, for the next 62, participants will post pictures of themselves from her list of suggestions, reading a different picture book.  I thought it would fit in nicely with our #100PictureBookSummer, but I just don’t know that I can manage 62 posts, because…. drumroll….
  • The most exciting thing going on for me this month… I’ve been asked to be a part of a book launch team! I mentioned Randi Mrvos in an earlier post, she’s been a kind and generous mentor for me and I’m very excited to return the favor and help to introduce the world to her ‘Maggie’.  If you follow me on Instagram, Twitter or are a Facebook friend of mine, you’ll see daily posts starting tomorrow to help spread the word about her book debut which happens this August.  (I even get an ARC to review!  You’ll definitely hear more about that here.) To learn more about Maggie check out her journey at http://themaggieproject.blogspot.com/

Blame it on the heat… or the holiday, but that’s all I have for today.  I hope everyone has a wonderful and safe Independence Day.  Here’s to the land of the free, home of the brave.

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

How many stars?

I believe there are two types of people in this world; people who read reviews before making a purchase, and people who suffer from buyer’s remorse.  My husband lands at the extreme end of the spectrum, reading EVERY review he can get his hand on.  I fall safely into the first category, though I’d rather just take an average.  I am always thankful that they are at my fingertips and hopeful that they’re on point. The reviews are there for the reading, from grocery items to major appliances and everything in between.

Now if you’ll follow me down a momentary detour, I’ll show you how this all connects… I promise.  I talk often about the Kid Lit community, and what a great bunch of people they are, collectively and individually.  As I get further in, I want to play a more active role.  The best way to support an author, of course, is to buy their book.  The problem is, if I bought every book I wanted, my family would be broke, and my house overrun with books of all genres.  I have to exercise great restraint when I walk into a bookstore or find myself doing a bit of online shopping.  I want to support authors of all walks of life, but I must keep my family fed. I’ve come across a couple of articles lately about ways to support authors that don’t cost any money, and they’ve stayed with me.  This morning it happened again, and so I decided I would share, and here the dots connect.

From what I’ve read, because I do still have the ‘aspiring’ prefix on my title of author, an online review is a big deal.  More specifically, an Amazon review is a big deal.  Good, bad or otherwise, all authors want reviews.  Whether you feel the book was a one star, five stars or something in between, they’d love to know why.  For one, authors are always honing their abilities and working to improve their craft.  Honest feedback is what writers live off of, and that doesn’t change when your book hits the shelves.  The second and equally important reason is that books with more reviews garner more attention.  I heard once that if a book receives 50 reviews on Amazon, it’ll start to show up on the “Customers who bought this item also bought” menu.  That’s free publicity, which is nothing short of a gold mine.  Shame on me, I’ve known this for a while now and I haven’t done anything about it.  So, we’ll do it together… right now, it’ll be the first of MANY Amazon reviews I contribute and I’ll start with one of my new favorite picture books.

>>>> pause for Amazon review<<<<<

Of the 21 previous reviews for this book, 81% gave 5 stars, so I’m not alone in my love for this precious book. I am happy to know that my review was number 22, one closer to the coveted 50 spot. I also gave the book five stars.  Here me out though, because I don’t believe in pouring on praise for work that doesn’t merit it.  I truly loved this book.  I also added a comment, but one with substance, specifics and hopeful expectation. (In case you’re wondering, I’m not sharing the title here… at least not yet). I want to reiterate, it’s not just the good reviews that are helpful.  ALL reviews are helpful. (To clarify and I know this goes without saying, but trolling, trashing and bashing, do not count as reviews.)  I know that I won’t love every book I read, and one day, when it’s my book receiving reviews (putting out good energy), there will be some ‘one stars’ for sure.  But if you like an author, appreciate a style, or just believe in good karma, leaving a kind and honest review is the way to go.  So, to wrap up this summertime Sunday evening… Do you have a favorite book? Library book? A loaner from a friend? Take a few minutes and write a few reviews, sending out good feels and warm fuzzies to the universe.  Whether it’s a picture book, self-help book, coffee table book or sci-fi/romance/who done it/thriller, there’s an author behind that book who’s just chasing a dream.

On Wednesday, we’ll be back to our #100picturebooksummer following a brief beach hiatus.

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

Tie your rafts.

I wish I had a dollar for every time I heard someone say, “I’d be lost without my critique group” or “my critique partners got me to where I am today”.  What’s a critique partner you ask?  It’s how we say ‘friend’ in kid lit-anese.  Trust me when I say, a writer in this world is nothing without them.  Tying your raft to a good and trusted partner, or an active and engaged group is the difference between floating alone in the Kid Lit ocean or floating with others, who bring drinks, chips, and dip and maybe even a karaoke machine.  You’re all still floating, but tied together will be much more fun!  It’s the strangest thing, sitting patiently while a good friend takes a red ball point pen to your latest creation, and magically, in the end, everyone wins.

Let me back up a little bit.  Only a couple of months back, I felt like the most eager, but isolated writer on the planet.  I shared here, many times, about my struggle to find my place in the community.  Then as the weeks passed, connections were made.   Some happened thanks to blogs, this one or others.  Different forms of social media have played a role, and as always seems to happen, the world grew smaller and connections bloomed from right under my own nose.  If you’re reading this and feeling like you’re bobbing alone, missing out on the party, I’d love to share some of the places I’ve met friends.

  • Facebook, seems obvious but there are so many groups it can be daunting. Some are active, others are not.  Some allow for good news to be shared, others only allow for questions to be asked and craft to be discussed.  I’ve found a critique group through Facebook, and there’s also a steady stream of blog posts and interviews that appear, always filled with new and exciting authors, or advice from the more seasoned ones.  This is really the best place to build a community.
  • Instagram is filled with book reviews and ‘beyond the book’ activities. It seems like each day there are one hundred book reviews, new and old.  Publishing houses post here too.
  • Twitter… sigh, I have an account now, but I still don’t really get it. I have heard that this is THE place to get info from agents and editors, and all around general kid lit news.   Using things like #MSWL (manuscript wish list) you can find out firsthand what they are all searching for and get a feel for whether you would be a good fit.
  • The Writers Match. This is a fantastic website that offers all the benefits of social media without the drama/excess.  The Writers Match is a place to help writers find critique partners, which hopefully turn into long and fruitful friendships.  You’re able to create a small bio, select what genre you’re interested in critiquing (anything you want is there, way more than just kid lit) and send private messages back and forth. I’ve had a wonderful experience since joining. thewritersmatch.com
  • Blogs! This is what’s always exciting for me because it’s the reason Magnolias was created.  I was in search of a community and convinced that others were out there too.  I’m fortunate enough to have crossed paths and connected with a few of them, and I’d like to introduce you to their sites as a way of saying thank you.  We have a lot of similarities between us, but we are all in different stages of this journey.

https://meganhaslemjones.wordpress.com/ Megan and I are kindred spirits, who met through NaPiBoWriWee.  We live on opposite ends of the country, but I’m convinced we were next door neighbors in a previous life, living in a cute little cul de sac with a certain other someone (*cough*Jody *cough*) living in between and balancing us out.

https://julielacombeauthor.wordpress.com/ I am lucky enough to be in the same critique group as Julie.  We quickly discovered that our writing styles are similar and personally we have a lot in common.  She even has a Cajun connection!  Our journeys started around the same time and continue to mirror each others I hope this doesn’t change.

http://www.patriciasaunders.com/ About ten years ago, I spent part of two summers living with my aunt and helping at a camp for gifted kids that Patricia was teaching at.  Fast forward to current day, and unbeknownst to be, she’s chasing a similar dream.  That same aunt helped me reconnect with her and she’s taken me under her wing and nudged me in the right direction on more than one occasion.  Her debut picture book, and a second, will hit bookstore shelves soon!

And finally, http://themaggieproject.blogspot.com/  Randi was probably one of the first connections I made and has been a gracious mentor and friend.  Her debut picture book is due out this summer!! You can learn more about Maggie, and her journey to publication at the link posted.  Randi has a couple of other websites, including an e-magazine that she publishes. They’ve all been filled with great information. I’m honored to be a part of her book launch team next month! Stay tuned for more!

This is surely not a list of everyone’s path I’ve been fortunate enough to cross, but they are all wonderful writers who I’m lucky to call friends.  If you have a moment, check out their websites and read their take on this wonderful journey.  As always, I appreciate you spending time here.

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

Happy Birthday-ish!

This week I’ll celebrate a birthday of sorts.  Not my actual birthday, though today is my sisters …Happy Birthday, AC! But this coming Thursday, June 15 will mark one year, to the day, that my first picture book manuscript was written.  I had been struggling with the desire to write for years, although at times I couldn’t identify the urge.  I started with a novel.  Eesh… then for a while most of my reading was Lifestyle/Parenting Blogs… I tried my hand at that too.  It took me entirely too long to realize that I was completely avoiding the genre that called out the loudest to me.  If I’m honest, I probably ignored the internal call to write picture books for six months before acquiescing myself to the idea. Even then I waited for the inspiration but to bite. Then one day, while traveling home from a business trip, enjoying the summer sunshine and the quiet car… BAM… it happened and Nathan’s story was born.  In fact, I remember being so overwhelmed with excitement and inspiration that I started talking out loud to myself and did so for the rest of the drive home.  For the next few days, I was completely preoccupied with the story, until I finally sat down and on June 15 put in on paper.  The preoccupation hasn’t lessened, and my desire to write has only grown.  It’s been a wonderful year. It’s been a stressful year.  I’ve been fortunate to make some exciting connections and have bigger, more exciting adventures on the horizon.

I love the original draft of Nathan’s story, and I can still recite it in its entirety.  I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that it could be a poster child for’ Everything You Shouldn’t Do When You Write a Picture Book’.  I literally made every mistake in the book.  The ones I didn’t make, I can promise you I made in the second draft.  The Original, as I’ve affectionately named it, rhymed with no reason or method to it, opened with a terrible cliché, had almost no conflict, and his mother was the protagonist.  It held no character development, no story arc, a preachy-theme and too many words.  It was a hot mess.  Thankfully I’ve learned a lot, though I still do love the mess.  What I love more, however, is where the story stands now.

My birthday present to myself, and to Nathan is a contest.  Rate Your Story, a website that allows its members to submit stories to editors and authors for feedback, hosts an annual contest open to members and non-members alike.  (I’m not a member, but I’ve love to hear from you if you are!) The 2017 RYS contest opens for entries from July 15th-July 31st and I do believe he’s grown up enough to enter.  I’ve enjoyed the experience of sending my kids off to school for the first time, and I hope this contest is no different.  I have a month to make sure his uniform fits, his hair is trimmed and there’s no food on his face.   My opener is cute, there are no rhymes, he is his own hero and I finished in just under 500 words.  His mom only makes a cameo and no longer has any speaking lines, though his younger sister shines in a lovable supporting role. He’s met two freelance editors, and been through eight different critique partners! It’s not always easy to read feedback on my work, but I’m so grateful for every bit that I’ve received.  I think my boy is as ready as he’ll ever be.

Another thing I’m treating myself to this summer is learning more about the world of Non-Fiction Picture Book writing.  As a science and history buff, it seems obvious that I would enjoy this style of writing but I’ve not yet exposed myself to this side of the industry.  Thanks to some guidance and encouragement, I’m signed up for a weeklong on-line seminar called WOW-NonFicPic, hosted by Kristen Fulton.  This will almost certainly be something I expound upon here as I learn more… that’s the point of all this blogging, after all.  I’ve included the link to both the contest and the seminar below in case you want more information.

https://rateyourstory.blogspot.com/p/writing-contest.html

http://www.kristenfulton.org/wow-nonficpic.html

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

JP

Game Plan.

I’m going to give away a little of myself as a sports fan and tell you, today I called an audible.  For those of you who are football fans, you get the analogy.  If you aren’t, an audible is when the quarterback changes the play on the line of scrimmage in the seconds before the ball is snapped.  I had a post ready for today, and it was uncharacteristically somber for me.  In a nutshell, I’ve found myself struggling lately, having lost sight of all that I have in the shimmery fog of all that I want.  To quote my previously written, then scratched blog post ‘I could share the internal conversations I’ve been having, but I’ll spare you the gritty, melodramatic details.  Let’s just say there’s a healthy mixture of envy, irritation, frustration and impatience.’

Thankfully, one well-timed blog post and two nuggets of information saved my spiral. For starters, Bookends, Literacy Agency posted a short and sweet kick-you-in-the-pants-and-keep-your-eyes-on-the-prize blog post about believing in yourself and your story.  It struck a nerve with me, in the best possible way, and helped me to remember what’s most important.  I believe in all my stories, but Nathan, my first-born protagonist, has taught me so much. I believe in Nathan, and I believe in his story.  That should be all the motivation I need to keep pushing on.  Sure, I’ll keep wrestling with doubt.  It’s only natural to think that I’ll feel incredibly self-conscious as this journey continues, this is all uncharted waters.   But I owe it to Nathan, and the others, to keep putting one foot in front of the other.

Secondly, I found out about two conferences that are, believe it or not, in my neck of the woods, and both in October.  The best news, both are both being visited by agents I was hoping to query.  Coincidence? I don’t believe in such things.  I need to sit with this a while, but I’m sure we’ll talk more about it one day.

Then earlier this evening, I had a small revelation.  My natural instinct is to move fast.  I’m decisive and quick to act. I value efficiency in others consider that, at times, one of my strongest traits.  You don’t need to know much about the publishing industry to know that it operates at a very different speed.  I can be patient, but this persistent patience is a beast of a different color.  So, I have a choice; I can continue to resist the slower and more deliberate pace of this industry, making headache and heartache for myself, or I can reset and realign, embracing the time that I’ve been given to sharpen my skills.  No doubt this lesson will be a work in progress, but let’s get started.

So. I have two conferences on my horizon, with an entire summer ahead of me to hone my skills, read more picture books, and fill my tool box.  The other manuscripts waiting in my wonderful blue binder can now get the attention they deserve, and I can continue to document my journey and expand my network.  I think this sounds like a mighty fine game plan indeed.

Down, Set, Hut…

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

 

Clutter.

If you visit my house, you would see that I’m a ‘stacker’ by nature.  It’s always clean but sports a lived-in look.  With summer break staring me in the face and having 3/3 kiddos at home with me after this week, I was starting to sweat.  The only way I can even think about our time together, and not feel overwhelmed, is by finding a way to pare down first. So, I declared May the month to ‘clear out the clutter’.  I’ve made my way through the pantry, fridge, linen closet and laundry room ‘catch-all’ closet.  Today I tackled my own closet, and this coming week it’s my kid’s turn. (Lone socks, stained clothes, and kids-meal toys, beware.) I’ve even managed to move a little furniture around in the process.

That should’ve been my cue.  When furniture starts moving around my home, internal shifts start happening.  I can think of numerous times, large and small, conscious and unconscious that I started moving furniture around when I needed a good kick in the pants.  I’ll give you an easy example; Last summer, my oldest daughter found herself gripped with anxiety about her upcoming first-grade year.  She had heard horror stories about how much more difficult first grade was the kindergarten.  By the time she could explain her emotions and her convictions that she wouldn’t do well, it was almost enough to ruin the summer.  So, I used a dose of my ‘therapy’ with her and we moved her bedroom furniture around.  Together, she and I rearranged her room, using all her existing furniture and decorations, but when we were finished it had a completely different feel.  We declared it her ‘first-grade room’, and slowly, in her new space, she found the confidence she needed to face the school year.  Here we are at the end of first grade, and she did beautifully, just like I knew she would.

This week, it was my turn. I finally admitted that I was in a rut.  It was three-fold too; a mom-rut, a work- rut and a writing- rut.  Coincidentally, or not, as three pieces of furniture switched places and changed roles, I started to find my way out. From a writing standpoint, it felt contradictory, because I was writing more than normal.  Once I was honest with myself though, I’m not sure how much of it was productive.  I rarely feel like I have enough time to write, but suddenly I found my scale tipping towards the quantity as opposed to the quality. I’m trying to iron out wrinkles in my Picture Book manuscript and I’m finishing up a Board Book entry for a contest with a deadline quickly approaching.  I was editing, revising, rewording and reworking and not feeling confident that any of it was advancing my stories.  Thankfully, I received timely feedback from other writers who helped me keep focus and stay the course.   On the day that I moved furniture around, I also had a long talk with myself about my energy and expectations.  I’ve written already about designating time to write each day.  Somehow I fell out of practice, so I took a step back, re-read my post and pressed the reset button.   As I’ve cleaned through the clutter in my home, I’ve managed to start sifting through the creative clutter as well.

My to-do list for this week is lengthy,

  • I need to polish up my BB contest cover letter and entry. I have some rhyming wrinkles and inverted grammar to iron out.
  • I plan to work out a few more kinks on my PB manuscript. I hope to have it ready to send back to a critique partner and get another round of feedback.  If someone can help me know ‘when to say when’ and stop editing this thing I would be eternally grateful.  Do you ever really feel “done” with a manuscript?
  • I have a Sunday post (done) and a Wednesday post (blank) to work on.
  • I also have an idea brewing for a blog series to start this summer, I need to do some homework on it… stay tuned!
  • Organizing my kid’s closets and drawers… a mountain of a task.
  • I need clear work boundaries. In my real job, meaning the ‘not-writing-but-pays-the-bills’ one, I work from home. I love it, and I struggle with it too.  I owe it to my work, and my kids to find a rhythm that will work well for the summer.
  • Did I mention I have two books waiting to be read? Yikes!
  • Oh, yes, tball and softball games this week, too.

Thanks to the antique yellow pie cabinet that’s now residing in my living room, and even a new header image here on Magnolias & Manuscripts, I’m ready for the challenge.  I always appreciate that you take a few moments from your own busy day to spend time here.  I always hope you consider it a good use of your time.

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

Lessons from a Dummy

It’s a fact, the dummy changed my life.  Dramatic as that may sound, from the perspective of a picture book writer who felt stuck in her own revision process, it’s completely true.   I’ve known about the concept of dummy picture books for months now, and I’ve heard (or read) tons of people talk about what a necessary step it is.  I must be a slow learner because I’ve been avoiding it until this week.  But I did it, and I love it and I can’t wait to talk about it.

I used scrapbook paper because I like the weight of the paper in my hands.  After I cut them in half, stapled them together and numbered them 1-32, I pasted in my text.  I started on page 5. (And if anyone has a different opinion on this, please share.) For this dummy, which will be the first of many, I just separated my sentences into what I thought would work best.  You have to start somewhere, right?  It blew my mind what a different feel the story had, now that it’s not in paragraph form on 8.5 x 11” sheets of paper, and instead actually resembles a book.  Many of my hiccups became clear, as did clumsy wording and soft spots in my story.  There are a few of my sentences that need to be tightened up, and for probably one-third of those, I could easily see how to do so. I’m going to keep chipping away at the edits that are surfacing from this experience.  Of course, I’m going to make another, if not more after that, touching things up along the way. How crazy that I was leaving out this incredibly crucial step!

As I’m still digesting the revelation that I talked about in my last post, and coming off my ‘dummy’ high, I know what wrinkles need to be ironed out now… Read Aloud Potential.  It’s the obvious next step and is exactly what the dummy is helping me to discover.  I don’t just want to write a picture book; I want to write some kid’s favorite picture book.  On top of that, I want to write one that parents love to read to their children.  (aka Panda Cake!)  That’s where the magic happens in this corner of the market, and it’s completely unique to picture books.  I know my opinion of the book I’m reading affects the quality of my reading and the tone of my voice.  I know the pain of being asked to read a story to one of my kids that I REAAALLLYYYY don’t like, or when I suggest one that’s not a favorite of my kids. On the other hand, I know the joy and delight that comes when I read a story that we all love, and what a richer experience it makes.  I want to write one of those, and I need its real aloud potential to be off the charts.  (Mary Kole just posted a great video blog on this exact thing, you can find it here if you want more info)

So, the moral of this story… make a dummy of your picture book manuscript, in fact, make a dozen.  I’m going to the store tomorrow, stacking up on paper and glue sticks, and will turn my sweet little writing desk into a dummy factory.

 

In somewhat unrelated news… Kid Lit College is having a Board Book contest, with two categories (standard & novelty) going on now through May 31.  There’s also a chapter book contest going at the same time.  I’m going to enter the board book contest with a blend of one of my NaPiBoWriWee stories and a previous project!  The winner gets their manuscript critiqued by five editors, what a great opportunity.

Also, my daughter finished and submitted her #50PreciousWordsforKids entry.  We had a blast working on her story together.  This was one she had previously written but was way above the word limit, so we talked and walked through a bit of editing together.  Mother-Daughter editing; it did get as dicey as it sounds, but that was short-lived, and she was very proud of her finished product.  You can read Mia the Cat and all of the entries here. The contest received entries from 15 states and 6 different countries.  It was a wonderful lesson for my seven-year-old on just how small the world is while at the same time expanding her view beyond the city limits of our small town.  Whew, I think that’s all I have for today.

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP