The character struggle.

Don’t they say ‘It’s a sign of strength to know your weakness’? I’m not sure who ‘they’ are either but someone says that, right? Or something similar maybe?  Well, regardless I just said it and one of the areas that I struggle with most is Character Development. For the most part, my characters are flat, one dimensional and probably a little cheesy which leads to the dreaded ‘sweet’ labels that my stories so often get. (As a gentle reminder for those of you who haven’t been on the receiving end of this word, ‘sweet’ is typically not a good thing… not in this picture book world. Here it basically means ‘soft’.) I’ve mentioned before that I’m participating in a book study right now of Ann Whitford Paul’s WRITING PICTURE BOOKS, and let me tell you, I’ve been anxiously waiting for Chapter 6, Creating Compelling Characters.  By anxiously waiting I’m talking about the kind that comes when you’re sitting in the waiting room at the dentist office, and you’re pretty sure he/she’s going to tell you that you have a cavity, even though you really have been brushing twice a day albeit a little hurriedly each time. In your defense it’s only because you’ve been busy writing brilliant picture books. Not to mention, when an idea strikes you have to act on it, even if you just so happen to ALWAYS be brushing your teeth. Still, you know you need to hear it. You’ll be glad when it’s over, even if it’s a little painful and you’ll have a better, healthier mouth as a result. Sure.

I was having a conversation about this struggle of mine with a dear friend (and book study moderator- extraordinaire) when two things hit me:

1.       I struggle with only feeling productive when I’m actually writing/revising a manuscript so stepping back to do a character study on someone you only see for 500 words is easily dismissible. (I know this line of thinking is only hindering me, I’m working on breaking this habit.)

2.       I did one. I did a massive character study on a certain main character from a certain first (and shelved) manuscript. (CoughNathanCough.) I knew him inside and out, front and back. I know his favorite color, family life, interests, etc. You name it, I knew it, and it didn’t get me anywhere. If I can be honest, a part of me feels a little burned.

And I had this conversation with a fellow picture book writer that I had the pleasure of meeting at the SCBWI JambaLAya Kid Lit Conference in March.

As a writer of picture books, I’m always aware that I will have no say in what my characters will ever actually LOOK like. I don’t get to decide their facial structure, eye color or physical quirks.  I won’t get to decorate the walls of his bedroom. I don’t know if her hair will be in pig tails or braids. I don’t know the color, size, shape or shine of any of these characters that are swimming around in my brain. The illustrator gets to decide all of this.  I think I have a very healthy appreciation for this unique aspect of writing picture books but, as a result, the characters I’ve created are all a little blurry in my brain. I think it’s how I keep myself emotionally detached, but if I can’t envision your face, how well am I ever going to know you? Even all of my far-flung writing friends have a Facebook photo I can glance at.

And this is all to say that I really have no excuse. Everything I’ve ever read says that if you want to write a picture book that has any chance of becoming successful, regardless of your definition of the word,  you have to know your characters and know them well beyond the 32-page snippet of their life. There’s a part of me that also thinks character development should be an active, engaging, creative process in and of itself.  I’m often called away from the computer when I start leaning in that direction; maybe I grab a paper and pen, or a sketch book and pencils, once was even molding clay, but I never got very far with any of them. I spent so much time gathering supplies and making glamorous, glorious plans, that I didn’t have any time to actually do anything creative. So, I probably need to let that go too, this expectation that I’m going to make something wonderful as I get to know my character. Or maybe I don’t need to let it go, but reign in it. Maybe I need a process and one that is easily reproduced? I definitely need to change my line of thinking that it’s not a productive use of my time. I also should quit wallowing in the past and be grateful for everything I learned the first time around. I also need to let myself own my characters a little more. They are mine after all, they shouldn’t be blurry.

I have 4 manuscripts that I consider ‘priority’ right now for one reason or another. I owe it to all four to pause and flesh these characters out, regardless of whether or not they are submission ready or not (or even submission SENT.) Oh, well. There’s no time like the present! In order to hold myself accountable, I’ll post here and update on my progress next week. Doesn’t that excite you? Won’t you sleep better just knowing I’m brushing my teeth like I’m supposed to? 😉

 Hold the phone!  What was I thinking? It’s NaPiBoWriWee! It’s #50PreciousWordsforKids! The character studies still need to happen, but two of my favorite writing challenges converged on the same week (when I’m also up against a big work deadline!) It’s go time, folks… stay tuned for more on NaPiBoWriWee (National Picture Book Writing Week) and #50PreciousWordsforKids. 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

 

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What’s the question?

Almost every day of the week, for the past 36 weeks I’ve helped my daughter with her homework. This week, as we started the fourth and final quarter of the school year, something on her study guide caught my eye.  Right smack dab in the middle of the page her teacher had written, just like every week prior two words: essential question?  If I had been in a movie, it would’ve been the scene where my head started spinning and it all came together. The essential question.  Ann Whitford Paul wrote about this very thing. Professional critiques have touched on the same concept and last week a critique partner of mine challenged me to dig deeper into a work in progress and build up this one element of the story… The essential question. IMG_1012

I’m a member of a wonderful group of wise pre-published picture book writers and we’re in the middle of an online book study of WRITING PICTURE BOOKS by Ann Whitford Paul.  (You remember how much I love this book, right?) Early on, in Chapter two, she challenges her readers, assuming we’re all aspiring picture book writers of course, to find their ‘Story Question’ and soon after, their ‘Story Answer.’  These two concepts, she argues, are fundamental to guiding the course of a picture book from point A to the finish line while keeping a reader actively engaged. (I’m not doing this concept any justice though, you really have to read it for yourself)

For the sake of the book study, I wrote a new story rather than slowly working through one of my many existing manuscripts.  It’s a silly little story about socks and its one of the reasons I’m so in love with my current genre.  (Where else can you write an entire story about SOCKS?) I hammered it out one afternoon and then per the book study guidelines, posted it for the other members to review and discuss.  All of our stories were very different, and Story Questions for each varied greatly.  Some were silly and shallow, others dove deep and broached the subjects of acceptance and authenticity, all of them were eye-opening and stimulated great conversation.  It was a great exercise but, for some reason, I haven’t done it again.

Why did I show this brand, new, baby manuscript enough love and attention to probe with these deep, though provoking questions, and not do the same for my older, more polished manuscripts?  It was a critique partner of mine that I should really give the lion’s share of the credit to.  I talked to her about my love of WRITING PICTURE BOOKS weeks ago, and on my recommendation, she bought and started reading her own copy. We’ve been trading manuscripts for a few months now and are starting to know each other’s style well.  This month, my submission to her was weak, rough and scattered. She honed in immediately and challenged me to ‘find my question’ and give my story more direction. So, imagine my surprise when I found these same words on my daughter’s study guide.  My eight-year-old has a better handle on this then I do! She knows the ‘essential question’ for every story she’s studied. Do I know these questions for each of my works in progress?  More importantly, if I know the question, do I know the answer?  If I don’t know the question and answer, will my reader? My daughter has read my stories more than anyone else, every draft of every story even.  Would she be able to pinpoint the essential questions of each?   Truth be told, I’m nervous to find out because even though it’s essential to the process, it’s a deceptively difficult task.

I had given myself the assignment of creating a(nother) dummy for my nearly-submission-ready manuscript, but first I have to start asking questions for all of my works in progress. 

          What if you don’t love the work you’re expected to do?

          What do you do with a broken heart?

          What will it take to change a stubborn, little, picky-eaters mind?

          What can you do if you aren’t appreciated for being you?

          Who (or what) determines your self-worth?

          What is making that noise?!?

Do you know your ‘Essential Question’?

Next up, I will be making a dummy because the submission window for the SCBWI Work-In-Progress Grant ends on 3/31! Plus, as of the end of this month, I’m determined to be ‘submission-ready’. My story has been critiqued many (many, many) times, my word count is down, my illo notes are almost non-existent, my query letter was critiqued, my ending is tighter, my opening is stronger and my mind is made up. Look out editors (and contest judges) here I come!

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

The bridge.

 

Two scary things happened to me on Friday morning. Before I go any further, I want to be clear that I don’t mean life-threateningly, earth-shatteringly scary, more like ‘public speaking’ scary. The second scary experience happened about one hour in to a three-hour drive.  I had my radio cranked up, cruise control set and a glorious amount of windshield time before I arrived at my very first SCWBI Regional conference.  What else do you need on a Friday morning? I can tell you what you don’t need… TRAFFIC. Bumper to bumper traffic, and the kicker? The traffic crawled to a stop about a mile before the tallest bridge in the entire world! Okay. So, it’s not actually the tallest in the world, but for me it’s the stuff that nightmares are made of.  Fun fact, I have a strong distaste for anything that takes me higher than a step stool. I find heights to be disorienting, distracting and incredibly disconcerting.  The bridge in question was going to get me across the Mighty Mississippi. There’s no way around it, under it, or through it… only over. Believe it or not, I had never been stuck in traffic on the Mississippi River bridge but just the thought of it has caused a healthy amount of anxiety. What if I roll backwards? What if people are speeding past me and I’m stuck with the bridge bouncing beneath me?!? What if my car gets a mind of its own and drives itself over the side without warning? Right, all very rational concerns.  So, there I was with a solid fifteen minutes to stare straight at the brake lights inching up the bridge and psych myself up for what was about to happen.

Pause.  Let’s rewind about four hours to the quiet moments after I dropped my kids off at school. I came home to pack, print out query letters and hit the road. Everything was just as I planned it, except I was on the verge of tears.  The conference that had been beckoning me for months had finally arrived and I felt distressed. It wasn’t about leaving my family, my husband had things well under control and my kids were excited I was going. It wasn’t the road trip. It wasn’t the cost of the conference or about missing work. For a moment I wasn’t sure what it was, but it was very real and spreading fast. Thankfully, I’m a pretty self-aware girl, not to mention I’m a nurse, so self-diagnosing is kind of my ‘thing.’  It didn’t take me long to realize that I was riddled with a terrible case of insecurity, maybe even my first touch of the imposter syndrome I’ve heard so much about.  My lack of formal training, poor grasp of grammar and countless technical short-comings haunt me on a daily writing basis. Those things are easy enough to hide when I’m in the privacy of my home and I was about to leave the comfort of my hiding spot behind.  I was momentarily frozen with fear that I would be sniffed out as a fraud during the conference.  That I would be overpowered by intelligent conversation and blown away by the skill and success of the writers around me that I would run home on Sunday with my tail between my legs. 

You’ll be happy to know that neither the bridge, nor the worry got the best of me.  When I was crawling towards the bridge I thought back to the tears that fell and the conversation that ensued.  I realized that this was only the beginning.  Hopefully, the beginning of a long and illustrious writing career. More likely than that, though, is that this was the beginning of really believing in myself.  It’s one thing to ‘talk shop’ hidden behind a computer screen, but it’s a whole different ball game when you’re doing it in person.  I was putting myself ‘in the arena’ in a very new and real way.  Just like I was going to have to suck it up and cross the Mississippi River bridge at a sails pace, trusting that I wouldn’t get smashed, or bashed or splashed, I was also going to have to find a way to pump the brakes on my pity-party before it was too late. I know I belong there. I belong there just as much as you belong there and you belong there just as much as the writer across the table from you, and the one sitting behind her, and they one sitting behind him.  We all belong there! I had a conversation with myself at the bottom of the bridge, remembering that there are always two camps, spinning their own version of the same story.  I could continue listen to the self-depreciating, self-doubting, self-conscious version, or I could choose differently for myself, at least for a weekend. So, that’s what I did and I let the bridge help me do the work.  I decided that when I reached the very top I would look to the left and down at the river down below.  (I NEVER look over the side!) Sure, there were trucks driving past, cars switching lanes and the bridge was wobbling more than I care to discuss. But in that moment, looking out on the Mississippi River, I was okay! I let go of my worry and allowed myself the glorious opportunity to embrace 72 hours of full-time writer-mode.  That’s all I really needed, anyway, to just be me and tell the stories that I have to tell. 

The Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators is a gracious, warm and welcoming group of people who are driven by a passion for telling stories aimed at a young audience.  The group of individuals gathered in New Orleans this weekend was no different. I reconnected with old friends & made a few new ones.  I soaked up the information that was given out like a sponge and I ate INCREDIBLY well. I laughed a lot, jotted down notes and had a query letter critiqued. I know that I said that I was trying to write more pointed picture book information here and ramble a little less, but I also said I wasn’t making any promises.  I figured if it happened to me, then maybe it happened to you and if was important to me, it may be an important conversation for you, too.  Whenever your self-doubt creeps in, please know, for what it’s worth, that I don’t buy it.  I’ll be your cheerleader! After all, the greatest gifts we can give each other are support and encouragement, regardless of where you fall on the spectrum from pre- to prolifically published.

I’m still digesting so much of what I learned, but I came back encouraged, excited and inspired. Is anyone surprised? Of course not! That’s what happens when you surround yourself with like minded people.  That’s the beauty of talking shop and sharing stories with people who know EXACTLY WHAT YOU’RE TALKING ABOUT. In BIG MAGIC, Elizabeth Gilbert talks about making room for our fear. Instead of fighting it, she suggests we invite it along for the ride but insist that it sit quietly and doesn’t get a voice in any major decisions. Well, insecurity is just fear in a costume, right?  Right.  So, it can’ come along, but I’m banishing it to the back seat, locking the windows so it doesn’t get sneaky and going to keep blaring music and crossing bridges.

Would you look at that? I’m 1200 words into this post! I don’t mean to be rude, but would you mind showing yourself out? I have a stack of revisions calling my name.

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

 

 

Nathan called.

Okay, so he’s not a real person and he didn’t actually call. But I spent the better part of two years getting to know him and his story, in the way only writers can. Technically that’s my second to longest relationship, ever. Nathan is the main character of the first picture book manuscript I’ve ever written. When I started blogging, there were a few picture book drafts in my desk drawer, but his story was still consuming more of my time and energy than the others. Last week, in one of the Storystorm guest posts, Jared Lerner talked about wrestling inspiration into its place and boy, did I ever wrestle with Nathan’s story. I worked through more drafts than I can count. His story was my first critique, my first submission and my first rejection. He and I had many long talks, we changed direction, we rhymed, we didn’t, we argued, there were tears and finally, he was shelved.  Although, I don’t really think it was a mutual decision.
To be fair, I had a number of very valid reasons. For one, I’m pretty sure we both needed a break from each other and the painful revision process. I told him it would be temporary, and that we could still be friends. Second, since I wasn’t focusing all of my energy on his story, I was able to give life to the other stories that were surfacing. There’s no way I would have written the other manuscripts that I have, had I stayed immersed in Nathans’ world. Third, I realized that few authors ever publish their FIRST story, and that maybe Nathan’s job had only been to get me down this path of chasing my dream. Maybe he was sent to introduce me to the wonderful world of Kid Lit because when I started swapping manuscripts, Nathan’s story was all I had to offer. Some of the writers who offered their feedback have morphed from strangers to critique partners and are now my dearest writing friends. There’s something to learn from every relationship, and I thought that maybe Nathan and I’s relationship had run its course because I learned what I needed to from him.
Anyways, like I said, he called. He actually has been for quite some time, but I was doing the writer’s equivalent of silencing and screening. Finally, I answered. I pulled his dummy out and read it for the first time in months. I can still recite the words, I still love the premise of his story and reading it completely excited me.  Thankfully, I’ve learned a little since I last worked with him and the only way I’ll agree to give his story another try is if he understands that we can’t be exclusive.  There are plenty of stories waiting to be written, his will need to share some brain space. Also, he hinted around that he misses his rhyme. You may remember that Nathan’s story was born as a rhyming story. I’ve talked much about it here, along with my decision to drop the rhyme and try to get his story told in prose. I did a decent job in prose, and using those writing muscles paved the way for all of my other main characters to see daylight. But if I’m being totally honest, his story is still, just decent.  I do hope to straddle the fence and write stories in both prose and rhyme, so it seems now is a good a time as any to start rhyming again.  That’s not to say I’ll start with Nathan, because a little part of me feels like he’s asking me to un-do all that I’ve done.
So, what’s the first thing you do when an ex calls you out of the blue, you call your best friend and spill your guts; that’s what I’m doing here. I’m telling you that he called, and I’m not quite sure what his intentions are yet, but I agreed to talk to him about it. We’re meeting for coffee next week.
There’s a line from one of my favorite books on writing that I keep going back to, especially on the days that feel tough. In the introduction of STEERING THE CRAFT, Ursula le Guin wrote, “Skill in writing frees you to write what you want to write…Craft enables art. There’s luck in art. And there’s the gift. You can’t earn that. But you can lean skill, you can earn it. You can learn to deserve your gift.”
Did you hear that? YOU CAN LEARN TO DESERVE YOUR GIFT. I think I need to blow that up poster size and put it over my desk… or maybe use it as wallpaper. I’m still not sure if Nathan’s story is one that the world will ever read, and that’s okay. But I’m almost certain I’ll agree to pull him out, especially as I’m working to ‘deserve my gift.’ I think he has more to teach me, and if anything will push me out of my comfort zone, again. I just keep reminding myself that when I learn something from one manuscript, all of my stories- past, present and future will benefit. So, I guess, I really have nothing to lose. Right? Thanks for listening. I feel better already.

And as always,
Thanks for reading, come back anytime!
-JP

A WYRI Tale.

A couple weeks ago, I was lucky enough to snag a spot on Susanna Hill’s Would You Read It? Series.  For those of you who are writers, you know how important your pitch is. If you aren’t a writer, rather a reader, let me explain.  Remember the post about my first conference experience, and my less than stellar pitching experience? Well, we all need pitches for our prospective books. There are different forms, Twitter pitches written with hashtags and character counts, ‘elevator pitches’ for if you find yourself lucky enough to get 15 seconds of someone’s attention, and so on. The lengths may vary but the concept is still the same; in as few words as possible, you have to sell your book.  Susanna’s series is designed for writers to help other writers, in this case, its all PB (picture book) and MG (middle grade) stories that are pitched.  I followed her guidelines, submitted a pitch and a short bio, then patiently waited my turn. (It’s a weekly series, held on Wednesdays only). Once posted, other writers, by way of the blog’s comments, offer suggestions, feedback and pose questions to help sharpen the pitch and get it ‘ready’.  I had a wonderful experience! I struggle greatly with pitches, (as you might have heard) and I appreciate every bit of help that was sent my way. I’d like to share a little of the process with you here… (click here if you’re interested in reading the entire Would You Read It? post on Nov 8. If you do, please check out the blogs/websites of the writers who commented. There are so fantastically talented names on that list. I’m sure some you’ll be familiar with and some will be exciting discoveries of soon-to-be up & comers)

So here’s my starting pitch:

Dewey heard the rumblings, this rainfall would be a big one. As he peeked over the edge of the cloud to check the drop zone, he saw the thing he dreaded most of all. All he wanted was to make someone smile, but would he ever get the chance?

And here’s a few snippets of the feedback I received:

  • “The opening sentence is all right but if you could cut part of it out and combine part of the second sentence, it would be stronger. This brings me to the other part…who does Dewey want to make smile and what does he dread? I feel these should be included or at least one of these questions answered in the pitch to pull the pitch together.” 
  • “The first sentence contains a comma splice. Better to make it two sentences or rewrite it so that it isn’t two independent clauses. Or just add the verb “knew” – i.e., Dewey heard the rumblings and knew this rainfall would be a big one. Also, I wonder whether children would know what a “drop zone” is? Maybe find a way to shorten and combine or rephrase the last two sentences?”
  • “Currently the pitch reads as one scene from out of a whole story which leaves the reader hanging, but not in a good way. Rewrite giving a summation of the story from start to almost end – don’t give away the ending, but write so we want to know what it is. Also, remember to add a hook – preferably not in question form.”
  • “I have not done many pitches, but I am leery of ending on a question when you have such a dramatic spot in the middle. All the lines work, but I wonder if they should be reordered?”
  • The MCs name, Dewey, makes me feel this is going to be about libraries via the “Dewey” Decimal system, so I was completely throw off.”
  • “…the rumbling cloud and “drop zone” do a great job of creating tension in expectation of the action. Consider mentioning Dewey’s goal before the obstacle and giving brief specifics about both. A better sense of the plot could make reading this story irresistible to me.”

Isn’t that just fantastic feedback! I have everything from the technical ‘comma splice’ aspects, to major questions about the fundamentals of my MC. (Who IS a raindrop… though I’ve changed the spelling of his name to Dewy.  I still can’t believe I didn’t catch that!) That’s not even all of the helpful comments, either.  Here’s a little of what I did:

  1. Changed the spelling of his name
  2. Included that he is, in fact, a raindrop
  3. Rearranged the order of my sentences
  4. Included more information to thicken the plot and ‘show’ more of Dewy’s story.

So here’s how it reads now, still not ‘finished’ but hopefully closer to being so:

Dewey wasn’t sure he liked being a raindrop. Whether he showed up at recess or on a parade, it always seemed to ruin someone’s day. From the rumblings, he knew today’s rainfall would be a big one. As Dewey crept to the edge of the cloud, he peeked out and saw the very thing he dreaded most of all. There was no way he’d see a smile today.  All he could do now was hope not to land on the cake.

I was so overwhelmingly grateful for the nearly 20 different writers and readers of Susanna Hill’s blog who stopped by to offer their assistance.  If you aren’t familiar with her website, her contests and her challenges you should definitely check it out… right now.  You still have plenty of time to get ready for her Holiday Writing Contest, guidelines should be posted soon! (I received an Honorable Mention for my Halloweensie  contest entry!!)  As if this all isn’t helpful enough, each month one pitch is chosen to receive feedback from a real, live editor! The other pitches from November have been really great, so I know the competition is steep, but I already feel like a winner with my new and improved pitch! Alright, I think that’s enough exclamation points for one afternoon.

I hope everyone has a fantastically joyful and stress-free Thanksgiving.

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

Let’s Talk, The Writers Match!

If you don’t mind, I’d like to go back to last May for a moment… It all started with NaPiBoWriWee, and a serendipitous blog connection.  I was clicking and scrolling through comments that other participants were leaving on the daily blog posts.  I clicked on a name and felt compelled to comment on her blog… she returned the favor… and for a while, that’s how it went.  Then one day she told me about The Writers Match and how well it fit into her (relatively) social media free life.  She talked highly about the critique partnerships she’s made and I found my own way there.  Every connection I’ve made, thanks to The Writer’s Match, has been fruitful and founder Megan Ur-Taraszkiewicz has been a kind and gracious host.  She agreed to join me here for a conversation about her ‘brainchild’, her projects and her place in the Kid Lit community. I’m always inspired by innovators; people who see a problem and take steps to make a change.  That’s exactly what Megan did in the creation of this website designed to create critique partnerships.  If you aren’t familiar with the website, check it out here…. but first…

Megan! Thanks for playing along, I’m so happy to have you here! I’m going to start with a question I’ve been dying to ask you… HOW in the world do you pronounce your last name? Thanks, Jennifer! As you can imagine, I get that question a LOT. We pronounce it TUH-RAS-KA-WITZ. The Polish pronunciation is more like TARA-SKEHV-ITCH. I always know the people with a Polish background because they’ll pronounce it that way and I mentally give them extra credit. Technically my last name combines my maiden and married name so my full name is Megan Ur Taraszkiewicz. Yes, my maiden name was only two letters long (It’s Hungarian) and I repeatedly asked my husband if he’d rather take my name to no avail. So now I’m Megan Ur Taraszkiewicz!

Can you tell us a little about yourself and how you started writing for children?  It took me a LONG time to realize that I wanted to write for children. Looking back, though, the signs were always there but I ignored them. I never spent my days writing or reading but I always made up stories in my mind. After college and a brief stint as a daycare teacher, I got my graduate degree to become a media specialist. I got married, became pregnant, lost my job while we were in the midst of buying a house and my brother was dying of cancer. Life was a rollercoaster. Losing my brother in 2009 was difficult but losing my son in 2013 was devastating. My son, Owen, died after a virus triggered a rare disease called HLH that we didn’t know he had and the doctors missed. It was after Owen died that I committed myself to pursuing the joys and passions in my life. I began writing more and more and attended my first SCBWI event a few months after he passed. I felt like I finally had a purpose and direction for my life.

Such a profound lesson, and beautifully poignant journey.  With it being such a deep-seated awareness, I have no doubt you’re writing from a rich and fertile place.  How would you describe your writing style? What kind of stories are you drawn to tell? I write humorous stories with lots of wordplay. I love clever and funny stories that are also short and sweet. Exclamation Mark by Amy Krouse Rosenthal is one of those books that I feel like is as close to perfect as possible. I was equally enthralled by it and mad that I wasn’t the one who wrote it when I first read it. I feel similar about Stick and Stone by Beth Ferry. Just so simple and yet complex at the same time. I use Bob Shea’s books as mentor texts all the time, too. Love his humor! I have a goal to write a nonfiction picture book one of these days. I have a draft done that I’d love to get out there one of these days.

Oh, I do love Bob Shea! I’ll need to put those others on my list.  I’m a new member of SCBWI, but you’re very involved with NJSCBWI.  (Which seems like a force to be reckoned with.)  When did you get involved?  How have you found your place? Well, I’m involved with NJSCBWI as a participant only. I do not organize anything with them. They are an amazing group of hardworking individuals who create awesome opportunities for the kid lit community. Their Fall Craft weekend was my first official writing event that I went to in November of 2013. Boy, have I come a LONG way since then. If anyone ever gets the chance to go to a NJSCBWI Spring Conference, it’s a must! As far as finding my place, I feel like I’m still doing that. I do have a reputation for wearing quirky dresses to events and people remember me from that. I think it helps me stand out and is also part of my “brand” as far as being an author who writes humorous stories.

Brilliant!! I mean I do love dresses, but I’m talking about your ability to set yourself apart from the crowd, in a way that’s perfectly authentic.  Bravo!  Now I’m rethinking my outfit for my conference this weekend. Okay, let’s get to the meat and potatoes of why you’re here… The Writers Match.  Tell me all about it!  The idea for The Writers Match had been swimming my head for a while. When I went to the NJSCBWI Fall Craft weekend in 2016, I was lamenting about how hard it was to find good critique partners to another writer and I explained my idea for a “match.com for critique partners”.  I decided to just make it happen. I can’t remember the exact date the website went live because it was “live” for a bit while I worked on it with my web developer. I had my trusted critique partner, Nicole, sign up first and be our guinea pig in all things TWM. We have 116 members today which is great considering I have not been able to advertise the site as widely as I want yet. I am hoping to get some ads in Writers Digest soon.

I love the profiles, the message system and the ability to filter members both by genre and by experience.  (Picture Books and Unpublished for me!) What do you think the best way to use the website is? Me, too! I really wanted it to be easy for people to search for suitable critique partners based on whatever criteria they wanted. For example, if you are writing a book that takes place in Florida but you live in Alaska, you should be able to search for a critique partner in Florida to help you with your setting. Or if you are a male writer writing a female character, you can search for women to give you feedback.

I think the way to get the most out of the site is to spend some time really writing out what you want in your profile. Write down if you love romance but hate historical fiction or if you are a sci-fi expert but would like to read a contemporary middle grade. It helps other writers get a sense of who you are and if you might “click” as critique partners.

Ah, I saw what you did there! Bonus points awarded for play-on-words! What is your vision for the future of TWM? I firmly believe that having good critique partners is the key to success as a writer. I would love to have a site where thousands of writers are swapping stories daily and making connections. Ultimately, I’d love to offer in-person critique partner meet-ups or critique conferences.

That’s a wonderful, big picture idea.  Then we can all support each other in the big (conference) and little (critique) ways.  Speaking of support, I know that in addition to TWM and SCBWI, you wear a lot of hats and seem to have many irons in the fire in your community.  How do you juggle writing and the rest of your life, raising an adorable young family and all that good stuff?   Thank you. My most important hat is “MOM”. I have two young daughters that take up a lot of my time. My older daughter just entered kindergarten, which has freed up the time that my younger daughter naps so I can do some work. I also try to get up at 6am so I can work for about an hour before they get up.  Last year when my older daughter took a dance class, I went to the library and worked while she danced. I squeeze it in wherever I find the time. I love my community so I try to be as involved as possible. I work with my son’s former school and PTO to organize a race every year to raise money for his school in memory of him. It takes months to organize and plan the race. We just had the race last Saturday so in the weeks leading up to it, I got no work done and that’s okay! I try to be gentle with myself and not put too much pressure on my writing self.

Sounds like great, healthy boundaries.  Slowly but surely, I think I’m getting there. What phase of your writing journey are you in now?  I feel like I am just on the threshold of being published which has made me a bit more impatient. It’s sort of like the third trimester of pregnancy; so close but it feels like a really long time and it’s hard to get sleep-ha! When I meet with agents and editors at conferences and events and they have positive things to say about my writing and stories, it’s a great feeling. When I submit those stories and get nothing but the sound of crickets in my inbox, it becomes frustrating. I recently had a great agent say, “I love this story! It’s perfect…but I’m not representing picture book authors at this time.” In those moments, I just shake my fist at the sky and yell, “NOOOOOO!” But, like life, publishing is a rollercoaster and I’m in it for the long haul. I currently have 10 queries out to agents and I’m trying to write as much as possible while I wait

Oh, I love that analogy! I feel your pain… but only in the actual pregnancy sense, not in the publishing way. Maybe I’m close to the end of my first trimester? Hmm… Interesting.  Since you’re so close, can you share what you consider the most valuable writing tools in your toolbox?  I recently won a scholarship for the 12×12 Challenge (12x12challenge.com) and it has helped me have the most prolific year of writing possible. I’ve written at least one draft each month and a few of those have been good enough to start querying with. I want to make sure I have a deep well of drafts from which to draw from when an agent comes knocking.

The program offers webinars, online support, critique partners, and unique querying opportunities each month. Other than that, I participate in Read for Research Month or ReFoReMo and StoryStorm. I will do anything that’s offered for free and I am always reading new books. I get huge stacks from the library every week or so. My kids love all the new books and they don’t realize it’s mom’s “work” to read them.

12×12 and ReForReMo are both on top of my to-do list.  I missed both in 2017, but don’t plan to let that happen again.  Do you have anything on your Kid Lit wish list that you hope to accomplish in the next year? Well, the ultimately goal is to have an agent, right? Fingers crossed that I get one soon! I plan to do at least one conference next year. As I said before, I love the NJSCBWI one and I really enjoyed going to the NESCBWI this past year so I may try to get there again. I’d LOVE to do a retreat but it may not be in the financial cards. I’d love to organize a retreat through The Writers Match with lots of critiquing and a professional to help. I think that would be awesome! As always, though, the goal is to just keep writing and to keep growing as a writer.

That sounds like a great plan, keeping sights set on both the ‘big goals’ and day-to-day writing at the same time.  Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to us! I wish you all the best and look forward to crossing paths with you.  One day soon we’ll be celebrating your debut picture book, I can feel it! Thank YOU! I can feel it, too. I know the hard work will get me there!

And that’s not the only interview I have on-tap for this week! Come back Friday for the next installment of Paper People with Liz Wong.  Her debut picture book is the adorable Quackers and it’s a hot-ticket item right now.  Have you heard about Read for the Record? Are you signed up? Check out this video clip! You won’t want to miss our conversation! See you soon!

 

 

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

The Search for Mentor Texts

“Read more books about this topic,” she said, “Some of the best writers read 50 comp titles.”   I’ve heard this before, probably too many times.  “But I read picture books all the time!” I thought with frustration and also, “How the heck  am I going to get my hands on that many books?”   But in the spirit of critique group etiquette, I slept on it.  I thought it over.  I did my best to detach from my manuscript and read it with the same critical eye that she did. Guess what? She was right.  (That seems to be her pattern.) I am reading LOTS of picture books, but rather than reading with intention, I’ve fallen back into the habit of quickly casting a wide net that includes some new titles, a few old favorites and a couple that my kids grab on face value alone.

The challenge that my kids and I undertook this summer was to read 100 Picture Books.  But knowing myself and my tendencies to grab-&-go, I followed a list, as closely as possible, to guide us to stellar books we hadn’t yet read.  It was a smashing success, but since the summer has ended (early August around here), we’ve slacked off on our library runs and I’ve been a lot less intentional with my selections. Now that I’m writing more and polishing up a handful of manuscripts to begin the querying process, I need to hone in on the topics that I’m writing about now.  I need mentor texts. I need comp titles.  I need help.  Just a quick Google search usually reveals a good starting point.  If I’m lucky, there will be a Goodreads list on the topic.  Just for the sake of experiment, I searched for the following lists on Goodreads and was blown away by the results: Picture Books about… Seasons, Food, Family, Friendship, School, Geography, Emotions, Holidays, I could go on and on.  (Addendum, I just listened to a podcast that talked about utilizing Amazon searches/filters to find comps, another great idea.)

I also set off to the library as soon as it opened. Low and behold, there it was, the very book that my critique group facilitator suggested, waiting for me on display.  I read it and it was brilliant.  Having comparable titles has always been a bit of a struggle for me.  I understand their importance, but it just doesn’t come naturally. I could give you the laundry list of reasons why,  but  I’ll spare you the details.  They’re just excuses anyway.  Just because something doesn’t come easy, doesn’t mean it isn’t necessary.  In fact, that’s the very reason I need to submerge myself in mentor texts.  Thankfully there are a number of social media outlets and though I had only heard of it, I knew it was time dive into the world of ReForReMo.  Reading for Research Month Challenge, held in March, “was developed to help picture book writers reform writing by reading and researching picture books.” (http://www.carriecharleybrown.com/reforemo).   I’m a few months early to sign up for the challenge, but there’s a Facebook group… request to join, sent and accepted.

The most wonderful thing happened, I found exactly what I was looking for!  Taking it further than this manuscript, I posted a question looking for mentor texts for another project.  For this second one, my searches weren’t producing much fruit but the members of the ReForReMo group sure did in a hurry.  Here’s just another great example of the Kid Lit community looking out for each other.  I know this world is filled with fantastic writers, many of them who still carry the pre– in front of published.  The fact is, I I feel blessed to be writing in this day & age (cue Full House theme song). So as I sit and soak up the goodness of this latest library haul, guided by suggestions, I’m sending up grateful vibes to the kid lit universe; grateful for the chance to just sit and read picture books on a Saturday morning, grateful for this new tool in my toolbox and especially grateful for my new ReForReMo friends, and the brains behind its wonderful operation.  Happy reading and happy writing!

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

Let’s Talk, Writing Picture Books (and so much more)!

It was one of those surreal moments that will forever be embedded in my brain.  Right in my inbox, an email from the Contact Me page here on my blog. She read my recent post and thanked me for mentioning her book.  This line was the kicker, “If you ever want to interview me for your blog, I’m available… “ANN WHITFORD PAUL, Y’ALL!  I started this blog to make connections, but this was more than I dreamed of.  You see there was a time at the end of last year when I decided that it was time to invest in myself and my writing journey.  Being a one (and a half) income family with three small kids, a mortgage and a life, I had to spend wisely.  At that time, I wasn’t fully aware of the expansive Kid Lit online community, but I did come across a deeply discounted webinar package that came with a copy of Writing Picture Books by Ann Whitford Paul.  I had been eyeing this book for months, and the price of the whole bundle was exactly what I was looking for.  As soon as the book came in, I devoured it and it has since found a permanent spot on my nightstand.  For me, this book was the beginning of my education as a writer; it’s my kid lit foundation.  In addition to her impressively informative book, my kids and I are also huge fans of her picture books and she has another coming out soon! So, I invite you to come along for my conversation with Ann as we talk about her writing career, including books for both children and adults.

Thank you so much for agreeing to visit with me, Ann! This is such a wonderful treat.  Can you start by telling us a little about yourself and how you started writing for Children?  I was born and lived mostly in the Midwest, Chicago and Madison Wisconsin, with interludes in Philadelphia.  Graduated from the University of Wisconsin and Columbia University School of Social Work.  I worked for several years in a hospital where I met my husband.  Our honeymoon was a drive across country to California where he had taken a job.  I stopped doing social work when the first of my four children were born and would have loved working part-time but Ronald Reagan was governor and cutting back on social programs.  I had to find something else and it was that lovely quiet time of reading with my children that inspired me to try writing books that other grown-ups and children could share together.

Your first picture book was published in 1985, and you have upcoming books scheduled for the next two years, how tremendous! How do you keep up with the changing industry?  How do you keep your writing skills sharp? I think I keep up with the changing industry badly.  It’s been a special challenge when editors are looking for “edgy”.  That’s not me, but I do try to add a little more humor to my writing and to think outside the box.  Still, I’m me and it’s hard for me not to write who I am.  I keep my writing skills sharp by writing every single day and I belong to a monthly kid’s lit group where we discuss a new middle-grade or YA and a picture book.  That keeps me up with the latest publishing trends.

What is the most interesting shift in the children’s book market that you notice happening now? When I started out in the business, most sales went to the school and library market.  Now on-line and independent stores are where the sales are going.  That means the books have to appeal to parents who are not necessarily savvy about what makes a good story.  Art is becoming much more important and especially what appears on the cover to attract buyers. 

In 2009, 24 years after your debut picture book was released you published Writing Picture Books.  What prompted you to put this book together?  Was there anything new about the publishing process in writing for adults? I had been teaching for over ten years at UCLA Extension and at numerous conferences.  One of my students suggested, no pushed and prodded, me to write a book.  It was certainly a challenge, but once I told myself to look at each chapter as a long picture book, I was able to fool myself into thinking I could do it.  One of the super-nice things about writing for adults is that I didn’t have to split my earnings with an illustrator.  And I hear back from so many writers about how the book has helped them.  I love getting those notes and e-mails.

I have to tell you, my critique partners and I call your book ‘The Picture Book Bible’. Writing Picture Books is filled with such invaluable information and advice.  How did you organize and compile all your thoughts for the book?  See what I mean about hearing back from writers.  Thanks so much!  The organization was actually fairly easy, because I tried to organize my classes around those chapter subjects.  Also, because I’d given many talks, I was able to adapt some of those into the book.

 It sure seems to have a life of its own. Has the book accomplished everything you hoped since its publication?   What does the future hold for Writing Picture Books?I’m so glad you asked this question, because right now I am deep into doing an updated and revised edition of WRITING PICTURE BOOKS which will be published fall 2018.  There will be some new chapters, all new examples and all new books cited.  Also, Writer’s Digest Books (the publisher) and I are partnering to fund the SCBWI Most-Promising Picture Book Award to recognize and encourage the work of aspiring picture book writers.

Ohh, that’s very exciting!  I can only imagine the wisdom those pages will hold.  Since you’ve taught so many of us HOW to write, I’m curious, what is the most important piece of advice you’ve been given as a writer?  “Write what you know.”  I’m aware that’s mundane and everyone has heard it over and over again, but I’m an insecure writer and have lived a fine and thankfully uneventful life.  I’ve never saved a child from drowning, never stopped a bank robbery and never swam the English Channel, (but my son did) so I worried, and still sometimes do, wondering what on earth I have to write about.  But years ago at an SCBWI conference, hearing those words made me think about the patchwork I loved sewing and about how the names of the patterns spoke of long ago life.  I was so inspired, I finished the manuscript for EIGHT HANDS ROUND: A PATCHWORK ALPHABET IN six months.  That my hobby, my love of history and how people lived, could resonate with others (the book is still in print after twenty-five years) has made me less likely to push aside my ideas that might seem pedestrian.  I accept that my ideas might be boring to me, but exciting and fascinating to others.  Write what you know and are passionate about and your stories will touch others.

 Such great advice!  I try to remind myself often to be authentic in my writing, I can only tell my stories, not someone else’s right?  Speaking of my stories, I’ve learned from more than just your book, in your webinar for Kid Lit College, you talk about the importance of making a dummy.  That webinar is still one of my favorites. It completely reinforced what you wrote about in Writing Picture Books and totally transformed my creative process.  Why is making a dummy such a crucial step for writers? I’m glad you found making a dummy so helpful and transformative.  It was, and continues to be, the same for me.  There’s something about seeing your words cut out and pasted onto pages that you have to turn that shows you where your story weaknesses are.  Invariably when I make a dummy, I find words that can be cut.  Recently I’ve noticed in my writing that I tend to go on a bit too long after the problem has been solved.  That usually means I don’t have enough in the middle of my story or that I can delete or tighten the wrap-up at the end.  The act of reading my dummy aloud and turning the pages helps me to create stronger page turns also.  I would never submit a manuscript without making a dummy first.

Next month (October 2017) you’re scheduled to release If Animals Said I Love You.  This makes your Animals an adorable series. Congratulations!  Can you tell us a little about how the second book came about, eight years later? (If Animals Kissed Goodnight, 2009 was the first) On a trip to New York, I decided it would be a good time to meet the editor, Janine O’Malley, who had taken over for my original editor on IF ANIMALS KISSED GOOD NIGHT and had a lot to do with making it into a board book.  I arrived at an auspicious time for that very day, FS&G had ordered a huge reprinting of the book.  The board book, much to my joy and delight, had taken off in this new format.  In that meeting, Janine had suggested writing a follow-up, which I did.  I wrote TWO!  One about animals bathing in tubs and another about animals wearing clothes.  She rejected them both and suggested I write IF ANIMALS SAID I LOVE YOU.  I was doubtful.  Wasn’t that very close to IF ANIMALS KISSED?  However, my son Alan and his family live in South Africa and we were headed there for a visit and I determined to at least try and write that story while there.  We went on several safaris where I made notes and wrote couplets about them.  Also we went trekking to see Gorillas.  Something I would never do again—three hours straight up to find them.  I ached for days afterwards.  To make this story a bit different, I decided not just to have parents and children express love, but grandparents and cousins and siblings.  The manuscript was completed during our three week trip.

That sounds like the trip of a lifetime, and it was productive to boot! Fabulous! I actually have a safari themed manuscript and going on safari is on top of my vacation wish list, now my wheels are turning… Hmmm… Okay, before I get carried away let’s get back to the good stuff… The rhythm and rhyme scheme of If Animals Kissed Goodnight is one of my all-time favorites.  Was writing the second book more, or less challenging than you anticipated?  It was both.  When there’s a first book, the format is already determined, so you’re kind of locked into it.  The challenge for me was to work to differentiate the two since they were both about ways of expressing love.

While I was preparing for this interview, I read a 2013 interview you did with Henry Herz and I realized we share a love of Jane Austen! Just to make sure my daughter started her little life off right, I read Pride & Prejudice to her as a newborn.  Are you reading anything now?  Who’s your favorite author? Jane Austen is definitely my favorite author.  I’m also hooked on Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache mystery series.  I belong to three different book clubs so am always in the middle of a book—one is a couples reading club, another women only (and you wouldn’t be surprised to discover that co-ed book clubs are drawn to different books than the single-sex ones.)  In addition, I belong to a book club of teachers, librarians and writers and illustrators that read one novel (middle-grade or YA) and one picture book each month.  We post our discussions here:http://bookchatthursday.blogspot.com/

Is there anything else you have coming out soon?  Where can my readers find you if they want to follow along?

There are two more books upcoming in the animal series.

IF ANIMALS SAID MERRY CHRISTMAS will be published in the fall of 2018

IF ANIMALS WENT TO SCHOOL will be published in the fall of 2019

WRITING PICTURE BOOKS—New and Revised edition will be published in the fall of 2018.

I publish a monthly (sometimes less frequently) newsletter that you can sign up for here:

Sign up for my e-mail newsletter

Check out my web-site www.annwhitfordpaul.com.

Thank you so much for sharing your time, energy and wisdom with me! I had such a hard time narrowing my questions down to these 12.  Congratulations on your upcoming releases! Happy Writing! 

 Guess what? I have ANOTHER exciting interview coming next week… actually, make that TWO.  First up, is my chat with Megan Ur-Taraszkiewicz, founder of The Writer’s Match.  Do you have enough critique partners? Do you have a go-to place to find and connect with more?  If you answered ‘No’ to either of those questions, stop what you’re doing and check out The Writer’s Match.  It’s a free website that creates critique partnerships and allows you to search based on genre, experience level, and more.  I’ve had great success, and I know you will too! And after I share Megan and I’s chat, it’ll be time for Paper People with Liz Wong, author/illustrator of the adorable Quackers.  She has so many exciting things happening, you definitely don’t want to miss it.  Okay, that’s all for now.

And after I share Megan and I’s chat, it’ll be time for Paper People with Liz Wong, author/illustrator of the adorable Quackers.  She has so many exciting things happening, you definitely don’t want to miss it.  Okay, that’s all for now.

 

See you Friday!

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

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

 

Turning the spotlight

There’s one thing that I take almost as seriously as my writing, and that’s my critiquing.  For those of you not familiar with this aspect of the Kid Lit world, I’ll fill you in because it’s a curious but necessary process. You can pay people to critique your manuscript, join critique groups, and/or establish critique partnerships.  It’s a swapping of stories, suggestions, and constructive criticism, from people across the industry.  Think of it as “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” but instead it’s “You read mine, provide feedback, I’ll gladly do the same.”  Many published authors provide critiquing services for a fee since they have the industry insight and personal success to stand on, but there are countless free opportunities as well.  I’ve talked about it before, I have a group, a few partnerships and some experience with paid services.

I enjoy critiquing, and as I said, I take it seriously.  If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a posse to publish a book.  I try hard not to use empty words, keeping my comments productive and never shy away from the hard/awkward/clumsy/obvious questions.   I approach every critique as a way to help another writer, and I’m hopeful that those who look at my work for me do the same.  It’s all about karma, folks. I want to be an active and engaged member of this community. I want to contribute in a way that helps me to find success but also helps others on their way to publication.  I want to be known as a good and effective critique partner.

Every chance I can, I learn something about writing, and the same is true for my critiques.  I make notes and follow a similar set of questions/prompts.  I always give it more than one look, and usually ‘put a sleep cycle on it.’ Do you know what I don’t do?  I don’t do a very good job when it comes to critiquing myself.  This glaring truth surfaced this week, as I was getting ‘final’ thoughts from a couple of different partners, and they each sent stories my way.  I thought about the WIP that I’m readying for a contest, and realized that if I looked at my own work, I would have comments for days! What’s the deal? Why is there a disconnect in my brain?  How is it that I can hold others to higher standards but my own story slips by with major structural/formatting issues? Thankfully this came to light in time to shine the light on my own work.  I took my critiquing process and turned the tables, forcing myself to look at my WIP as someone else would.  To make a long story short, it was a roller coaster and my self-esteem took a hit.  Thankfully, I’m resilient and I was able to work through it.  I think, and hope, that I elevated my story to a new, and necessary level.  As soon as I hit ‘publish’, I’m sending in my contest entry.  He’s as ready as he’ll ever be.  Wish me luck!

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP