Sometimes You Get an Email That Takes Your Breath Away

July’s the month I take a blogging sabbath. Throughout the course of the month, I’ll re-run some oldies but goodies. Enjoy!
Thank you for writing May B., the email said, and sent me to this blog post.

At the end of May B., I am crying. I am crying at the ways she is so strong and capable. 

I remember that intimate dedication and I feel like Caroline Starr Rose wrote this book in part for me. 

It was as if she were writing to encourage me on behalf of all my teachers in and outside of the classroom who for years didn’t see that all the misspelled words and run-ons as a red flag. It was as if she were writing right into the places of my heart where those accusations of being careless and not good enough had settled. And she whispered that like May, I could overcome. I could hope for the good things even when they are hard. Thank you Caroline. Thank you May.

I am deeply moved and grateful Amy reached out to share this with me. I’m again reminded that what we create is always bigger than anything we could ever imagine. Please click through to Stories and Thyme to read the rest.

The Fear of Writing Outside Your Experience — And Doing It Anyway

July’s the month I take a blogging sabbath. Throughout the course of the month, I’ll re-run some oldies but goodies. Enjoy!

Yesterday I turned in my first-round edits on BLUE BIRDS – a verse novel about the Lost Colony of Roanoke told from the perspective of Alis, an English girl, and Kimi, a Roanoke girl. The story didn’t start this way. I initially intended to write solely from Alis’s perspective. But when I realized the forbidden friendship between Alis and Kimi is what the entire story hinges upon, I couldn’t keep things as I first planned.

And that kind of terrified me.

There are a lot of opinions and strong, strong feelings as to who has permission to write certain books. I’m a non-Native author. What gives me the right to try and speak for a thirteen-year-old Roanoke girl?

I’m still not sure. But I’ve been a girl. And I know how profoundly friendship can shape a person. I’ve been in new cultural settings and have learned to see the foreign as familiar and the familiar as foreign. This answer won’t be enough for some readers. I understand that. But I’ve gone ahead and written the book anyway.

In the mean time, I’m drawing courage from the It’s Complicated series at the Children’s Book Council Diversity blog.

What are your feelings about writers working outside their cultural experience?

 

 

Five Things I Learned From NaNoWriMo

July’s the month I take a blogging sabbath. Throughout the course of the month, I’ll re-run some oldies but goodies. Enjoy!

It was with a bit of reluctance I decided to join in this year’s National Novel Writing Month. For those of you unfamiliar with NaNoWriMo, it’s a month-long challenge to produce 50,000 words on a new piece of writing. I’d tried NaNo in 2009 and failed miserably. I never, ever was going to do it again. But things came together for me this year in a way that joining in made sense:

  • BLUE BIRDS was off with my editor
  • I was at the point with my research for a new novel that I was itching to get started
  • I read this blog post by Darcy Pattison
  • My critique partner, Valerie Geary, promised me peanut butter cookies if I made it through

I didn’t sign up officially. Instead I created a contest of one I called Fake-o NaNo, where I aimed to write 1500 words a day six days a week. I missed one day, had a good number of sessions I didn’t hit 1500 (and a couple I wrote more), and felt finished with the draft a few days before Thanksgiving — the exact day BLUE BIRDS “flew” back to me in a big padded envelope.

Here are five things I learned from the experience:

  1. Slow and steady has been my writing mantra this year. But sometimes fast and furious is just as important. Typically, I write verse novels and picture books. It’s a sloooow process, especially when I’m initially drafting. But with this new novel, I’m trying my hand at prose, something I haven’t poked at for seven or eight years. Throwing words on a page was a very liberating, non-committal way to reintroduce myself to this form. With my first NaNo attempt, I got stuck during the first week and decided to stop. This time around was no different. I faced the same impossible rut one week in. But I kept moving, mainly by sticking to the next lesson I learned.
  2. Sometimes you just have to write about the writing. While I’ve kept a journal for this book since April, I still have a lot of exploring to do. Many days I found myself writing about what was working in the story and what wasn’t. Things I’d have to look further into, characters I needed to add, relationships I needed to develop. Really, the draft became a running commentary, an in-the-moment chance to reflect on my ideas (or lack of them). I know this will be invaluable when I return to the book in a few months.
  3. Practice holds the fear at bay. I’ve written here a lot about how much angst is bound up in my first drafts. The creative process is a scary thing for me, and beginning (and finishing) a first draft is my biggest challenge. By holding myself to a daily goal, I was able to break through some of that fear by simply showing up and doing the work.
  4. Embrace the mess. The “draft” I finished with is quite possibly the messiest, worst thing I’ve ever written. But it’s been such a great experiment in getting words down, feeling out characters, and sometimes learning exactly what I don’t want to write about (by first doing just that). Knowing I could toss it all took me in some directions I might never have discovered if my approach had been more careful.
  5. Did I mention the cookies? Committing out loud to a friend kept me honest. And the cookies were a great pay off!
Did any of you participate in NaNoWriMo this year? What was your experience like?

This post is a part of Chatting at the Sky’s Tuesdays Unwrapped series.

2013 Writing Goals: Hit, Miss, or Somewhere In Between?

July’s the month I take a blogging sabbath. Throughout the course of the month, I’ll re-run some oldies but goodies. Enjoy!

I thought it would be fun to look over the goals I set for my writing this year, to see what worked and what didn’t. And in light of this recent discussion on author output, comparison, and finding peace with my own creative processes, the timing felt right.

At the end of last year, our SCBWI-NM monthly schmooze focused on personal writing goals. During that session, I took a one-page calendar and marked out school holidays, family vacations, and other important dates I knew in advance. And then I aimed high.

Here’s what I wanted to tackle in 2013:

  1. research for a new picture book
  2. twelve new picture book manuscripts (!!!)
  3. six months of research for a new novel
  4. three months of drafting this new novel
  5. blog/reading goal: re-read The Complete Journals of Lucy Maud Montgomery, Volumes I-V and write about it here

 Author Chris Eboch led a second schmooze discussion in July about reassessing our goals. I noticed a few things:

  1. I was already waaay off on the picture book goal.
  2. Due to some wonderful news, I needed to change my novel goals.
  3. This was all A-okay.

One of the best things I got from Chris’s talk was information on author Kristi Holl’s Rx for Writers: Managing Your Writing Space and Your Writing Time (a free mini e-book).

Kristi talks about four terms that are key to a writer’s success:

  • DREAMS: not under your control
  • GOALS: under your control
  • SUB-GOALS: specific to-do steps under each goal
  • HABITS: daily practices that support your sub-goals

The distinction between what an author can control and what she can’t is key.* For example, while aiming to nab an agent is wonderful, it’s a dream, not a goal. But there are steps (sub-goals) a writer can take to do all that is in her control in this regard, from completing a manuscript, working with critique partners to revise it, taking advantage of contests or grants that might give feedback on her work, researching agents for the best fit, writing and evaluating a query letter, and finally sending it out.

A dream that wasn’t in my control changed the course of some of my writing goals this year. Some goals, such as the twelve picture books, were way off track.

Here’s what I actually did in 2013:

  1. research for a new picture book
  2. two new picture book manuscripts
  3. four months of research on a new novel
  4. one month drafting this new novel
  5. work on first and second-round edits for Blue Birds
  6. blog/reading goal: met! Plus I read the new(ish) LMM biography, THE GIFT OF WINGS by journal co-editor, Mary Rubio

 Over all, I’m pleased with this year’s work. As for next year, I’ll consider re-visiting some of those picture book ideas, work on my novels within my editor’s time table, flex when surprises come, and keep re-assessing what’s best for my work and me.

Do you set writing goals? How have you fared this year?

 

 

*Unless you’re a local superstar author who recently shared with me she likes to set goals like “I’ll sell two novels and one picture book this year”…and does just that!

 

July’s for Reflection and Rest

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Three years ago I took my first extended blogging break. My family was going on vacation, and I needed some time to unwind. I scheduled links to old posts and left on a road trip, bringing along a copy of THE SHALLOWS: WHAT THE INTERNET IS DOING TO OUR BRAINS. If you haven’t read it, it’s a remarkable book. I wrote a few posts about it the following August, which you can read here and here.

This book and the month-long break were a real confirmation for me: I need to schedule regular periods of time away from the Internet. With a job that involves a lot of computer time, it is good and healthy for me to sometimes step away.  In addition to my blog break, I also refrain from Facebook and Twitter. If you’re looking for me, you can always drop me an email. Otherwise, I’ll see you again in August.

I’ve scheduled some posts to re-run — a “new” one each week — that I hope will interest you. Enjoy your summer, friends!

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