Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Revision Robots vs. Angelic Editors: The Difference Between Literal and Figurative Revision

Recently, one of my agents, Jennifer Wills happened to be in town for a writer's conference and we were lucky enough to meet up with each other for dinner afterward.

hungry

First, it was a great meeting and we talked about all sorts for stuff from the personal (what we like/don't like to eat... no raw tomatoes for me!) to the professional (projects, process, etc.). One of the topics in the later category that came up over our dinner and discourse was revision.

I enjoy the process of revision a lot. It might be frustrating at times, but I've learned to embrace the pain because editing a manuscript almost always leads to a better result, especially with feedback from others.

However, one thing about feedback is that as authors we can take feedback too literally. Sometimes as writers, we can become robotic in our revisions based off other people's critiques. We take their comments and suggestions too literally and become confused Revision Robots, especially when there are conflicting feedback from our critique partners.



I know I'm occasionally guilty of this in my revisions... but one thing I've become better at over the years is asking the question, "What does this person really mean when they make this comment?"



Jennifer mentioned she uses me as an example for her other clients about how not to take her feedback literally. She likes that I look past her specific comments and address the underlying concerns in ways that surprise her (and me, too).

For example, Jennifer expressed concern about a dangling plot thread in a story and made some suggestions, but I didn't follow her input word for word. Instead, I thought about the source of her concern and in a moment of angelic epiphany, I realized how I could resolve the plot thread and make the whole story much better.



During our dinner conversation, Jennifer brought up a Neil Gaiman's quote:

“Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.”

What a great way to sum up the difference between robotic and angelic revision.

So, the next time you receive feedback on one of your stories try to remember to ponder the deeper meaning behind the comments. Don't just be a Revision Robot, but try to spread your wings and become an Angelic Editor.

fairywand
(Please don't take this image literally. Ignore the wand and imagine this is an angel ;)

You might just be surprised by what you find when you do.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Back to the Future: Revisiting Past Works with Fresh Eyes

If you're anything like me, you probably have a folder on your computer filled with old rough drafts in various states of un-readiness. Some files are merely ideas, others are half-baked and unfinished, but there are a few that keep calling you back to them in hopes you'll figure out the answer to "How can I make this work?"

They're the works that shout out for attention even if you are at a loss for how to proceed.

 Pick Me!

And so, from time to time, I revisit these past works and see if you can puzzle out how to fix them. The time away from these works often grants me the ability to see the work with fresh eyes and come up with some answers to the old questions my critique partners and beta readers asked that I could answer properly before I put the work away.

That's what I've been doing for the past couple months. Revisiting old works to see if any of them have finally come to fruition.

Hearts

One of the stories I revisited was something I felt had a great premise and a lot of promise, but was missing something when I finally decided to put it aside a couple years ago. I had revisited it a few times before, but no fix jumped out at me and so I put it away again and again. Sometimes these failures felt a lot like beating a dead horse.


But late last year, I hit on a way to fix the story and sent it to my agents, Nicole and Jenn. When they read it, they said it was the best thing they've read from me (even better than the story that led Nicole to offer me representation). They made a few comments on what still needed improving to make the story "perfect" and after a month of bashing my head against the last stanza, I finally figured out how to fix it and wrap up the ending in a way that felt satisfying, fun, and pulled off the right feel. Needless to say, I've been running around showing off the finished story to everyone because even I know this is the best story I've written.

booksRunningreading2

But it almost didn't get written. I could have forgotten about it after so many failed attempts, but in this case persistence paid off. Now, the story is out in Publishing Land and it is up to editors to decide if they want to bring this story into the world. Hopefully someone will take that chance, until then, I'll keep writing new stories and revisiting old ones because you never know when going back in time can make all the difference in the world.

Question: Do you ever return to old works and try to breath new life into them? Any success stories to share?

Monday, January 23, 2017

New Year, New Goals, and the ScottyFactor

Hello All and...
Happy New Year

Right before the New Year, my agent Nicole Resciniti, sent out a message to her clients asking them to think about their goals for the New Year and get ready for a "goal chat."

This prompted me to really think about what I wanted to do and also what was realistic. Knowing myself, I'm a slow writer.
typing

Because of that, I knew I should keep my goals modest. In the end, this is the list I came up with:

1) Finish the middle-grade historical novel I've been working on.
2) Finish at least three more picture book manuscripts.
3) Start a new middle grade or YA novel.
4) Get a publishing deal for one of my projects.
5) Go to a writer's conference/retreat.

I've been working on the middle-grade novel in earnest since last February. Originally, I thought I could bang it out by the Fall, but boy was that daydreamy deadline run over like this poor banana.

Steamroller3

You see, I have an optimistic nature so I tend to think I can finish projects faster than I actually can. So this year, I'm tapping down my expectations and taking the ScottyFactor (from Star Trek) approach... which is to say be much more conservative in my deadlines.

As for my other goals, I normally write more than three picture books every year, but again, I don't want to over promise and under perform and so I choose three to make sure I didn't feel overly pressured this year.

Starting a new novel isn't hard to do either. I didn't fall into the trap of promising to finish a second novel this year. Nope. Just starting one is enough.

The last two goals will be a bit out of my hands, but they are hopeful thoughts and personal treats. They are sort of the carrots to keep me going throughout the year.

Carrot

Anyway, now that I've put these goals out onto the Internet... no backies!

I will make every attempt to attain all five goals this year.

So, what are your writing-related goals for this year?

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Visions of Revisions Dancing in My Head: Critique Giveaway!

In the spirit of the Christmas season, I have decided to run a critique giveaway!

smileysantaChristmas Tree

I will provide a critique (up to 10 pages) of your picture book or middle grade novel.

There are five ways to enter:

1) Become a follower of this blog.
2) Tweet/retweet about this contest on Twitter (please provide link so I can retweet).
3) Leave a comment under this post with your favorite picture book and/or middle grade books you've read this year.
4) In your comment, tell me if there are any topics you'd like me to discuss in the coming year.
5) Last but not least, in your comment tell me how many entries you are eligible for and make sure there is a way for me to contact you.

caroling

Enter by 9 PM (EST) on Tuesday, December 20.

I'll announce the winner sometime before Christmas.

I hope you all have a wonderful holiday season full of family, fun, and happy memories.

Merry Xmashh-Happy Hanukkah

And may Santa's sleigh bring you many great story ideas for the new year.

santasleigh

Monday, November 7, 2016

Embracing the Bad: Or We Need Diverse Villains

No matter a person's race, religion, or sex, everyone has the potential to become a villain. Yet, how often are children literature's villains diverse?
Fighting Ninja

As I think through the children's stories I've read over the years I can't off the top of my head think of one diverse villain. I'm sure they are out there, but they are few and far between. Voldemort, Ms. Trunchbull, President Snow, and Count Olaf are all portrayed as Caucasian.

Why is that? Why have children book writers turned a blind eye to the diversity of evil?
Huh

I don't have an answer, but I do have my own feelings on the subject.

First, a bit of background. I lived in Detroit during my childhood and while living their I saw both the good and bad of the African-American race. Two images drive these realities home for me.

The good I saw can be summed up by my memory of singing African-American songs with other children in my elementary and middle schools. All our voices lifted up together in melody, harmony, and sometimes in off-key. It did not matter what our race, religion, or sex was when we sung together and the beautiful songs expressed the desire for freedom, unity, and love of country and neighbors.
singermusic

However, there is also the bad I saw. The way a minority of African-Americans treated the minorities in their schools. As a Caucasian, I was called cracker, honky, and other names by my fellow classmates. Thankfully, I knew many more good and kind African-Americans than the bad, but it still left a lasting impression on me and gave me a very small taste of what it feels like to be discriminated against.

Why do I bring this up? It is because we often talk about the need to write books for those who are discriminated against. We call for diversity, but we forget that diversity should include the good and bad. We can't trade one stereotype for another. We shouldn't trade Pollyanna's for Polly's (see Disney movie). We should be showing the full spectrum of good and bad for our diverse characters.

The Wave vs. Mob

I know I would have appreciated a book about African-American racial bullying when I was growing up. Reading such a book and seeing how the bullying against a Caucasian student was resolved by African-American students might have helped me immensely. Perhaps it would've helped other students, too, who might not have spoken up when I was bullied because they didn't read about others taking such a stand.

So, in closing, I believe it is important that we, as children book writers and illustrators, are willing to portray the good and the bad of each race, religion, and sex. We are imperfect beings after all and when we only give the good, we distort reality and do a disservice to our young readers who see the truth that people can be loving and kind, but cruel as well.

Monday, October 3, 2016

For The Love of Noise: Onomatopoeia and Me

One of the things I love about being a children's book writer is the ability to be noisy. Being able to use onomatopoeias in picture books and middle-grade novels is a creative freedom that isn't as present in books for older readers. And boy do I love making noise in my stories!

Frypan CLANG!

Kids love making noise, too. They might not know the official word for onomatopoeia, but they love them nonetheless. When I was a children's librarian, the kids would be most engaged by the noisiest of stories. They might sit in silence for a quiet book, but the ones that really brought out their personalities (for good and bad) were the noisy stories. The ones they got to participate in through their voices. They instinctively know when a book wants them to be noisy and like a roller-coaster going up, up, up... you can see them getting ready.

The Wave CLICKITY-CLACK! CLICKITY-CLACK!

Then the moment comes when they release it all.

They ACHOO! with the character who sneezes. Or go BOOM! or CRACK! with the thunder. They CLANG! and BANG! with the kids running around the house with a pot and pan.

When children read these noisy words, they don't hold back. They dive full on into the sound... SPLASH!

Story times with these kids are one of the things I miss most about being a children's librarian. There is sometime magical to seeing and hearing kids so engaged with these noisy stories. Their enthusiasm was contagious and made me appreciate how important onomatopoeias are to young readers. It is a lesson I take with me whenever I write a story for this age group. Not that I include noisy words in every story, but I do keep in mind that they have a special connection with kids and when used wisely and well, they can be magical to read aloud with children.

So whenever I start a book, I always ask myself... "How noisy should this book be?"

My brain will WHIRR, WHOOSH, and SWOOSH with ideas like a tornado.

Caught in a Tornado

And eventually once the brain-storming dies down, I'll know how noisy I want the story to be. Some are quiet affairs where I put away the noise, but others are like one-man marching bands... CLASHING! WHISTLING! and PA-RUMPING! to the beat of their own drum.

So, how noisy do you like your stories? Do you like quiet books when reading alone, but noisy ones when reading to kids?

Thursday, September 1, 2016

The Wayward Blogger Returns; Or Failure Is an Option. Quiting Isn't!

So, if you follow this blog, you know I haven't posted for over a month. I apologize for that, but my writing time got squeezed a bit this summer and I choose to put the blog on hold so I'd have extra time for writing my middle-grade historical novel (which is a little more than halfway done... Yeah!).

revising

Now that the Fall semester has begun at my community college, my schedule is less erratic and I have set things up where I should be able to get more writing done, which includes this blog.

Over the summer, I helped out with freshman orientation and the main speaker for this event talked about the difference between growth mindsets and fixed mindsets.

book4 vs. 2 Brick Wall

For those who don't know much about this topic here are a few good articles/videos that will help deepen your knowledge:

Growth Mindset vs Fixed Mindset: An Introduction Video


Carol Dweck Revisits the 'Growth Mindset'

What Having a “Growth Mindset” Actually Means

So what does this all mean for writers? Librarians? Students?

In short, success in academics and life isn't about how inherently smart you are, but rather how willing you are to increase your knowledge, learn from your mistakes/failures, and grow as a person.

The speaker had two main lines that stuck with me (and are the title of this blog post).

Failure is an option. Quiting isn't.

bangbreak

This is one of the main things that sets apart those with growth and fixed mindsets. People with growth mindsets, while they don't set out to fail, are okay if it happens because they view the whole thing as a learning experience.

This is an important idea to keep in mind as writers, librarians, or students. Writers know all about failures. Failed stories, plots that fall apart midway, rejected books, and other things that make you want to put your head in a bag.

Image result for bag on head emoticon

Librarians know how it feels to plan events that no one attends, to have a book you recommend turn out to not be liked by the patron you thought would love it, or any number of other setbacks that make you feel like you've joined the crew of the Titanic.

 

Students know about failing tests, being unable to finish papers on time, not understanding homework, and much more. And sometimes those failures can make you want to explode in frustration.

Explode

However, the growing writer, librarian, and student will take these failures in stride, dust themselves off and try again and again until they finally figure out how to succeed. It isn't an easy road, but it is one worth traveling because it leads not just to success, but also to more rounded, empathetic, and supportive people. After all, we understand what it is like to fail, but not to quit.

Lastly, I'll leave you with this quote, which I think sums up the growth mindset pretty well and reminds us of what it takes to be successful in life in spite of our setbacks.

"When I was young, I observed that nine out of ten things I did were failures. So I did ten times more work." - George Bernard Shaw