Friday, November 8, 2013

Past, Present and Future, or How My Stupidity as a Parent Teaches me About Writing

I'm not a perfect parent. I happily share my mistakes with anyone who will listen, and I especially abhor parents who pretend that they are perfect--it just makes everyone else feel alone.

So, yesterday, my oldest son did something that made me mad. Yelling mad. Whipping shirt mad. Madder than I needed to get.

Today, of course, I'm thinking-thinking-thinking about it. And then...I apologized to my son. I told him I shouldn't have yelled. That I should have been calm about it. After all, he is only learning.

I wanted him to understand where I was coming from and why I got so pissed off.

I told him:

I don't just see you in the present. I see your entire past and all the hopes for your future all wrapped up in this one moment. It makes me super angry because this is the 1,000th time you've done this behavior (your past). I get angrier because I don't think that a thirteen-year-old should be behaving this way (your present), and I worry about your entire future because if you can't learn from this, I don't know how you will survive out in the real world (your future). That being said, I totally should not have gotten so mad! That was my baggage. My problem. You're an awesome kid and you're gonna turn out fine. :)

And this extreme reaction reminded me of writing. Specifically about why some portfolio pieces are so hard to write-- query letters, synopses, blurbs. It's so hard to come at those things calmly, with a clear sense of the project at hand.

I think these things are so hard not just because it is hard to boil an entire novel (or picture book) into tiny summaries, but also because as the creators, we see the entire history of our project (every single draft and all those revisions), we worry about what our project is at this moment (is it good enough to send to an agent/publisher), and we have this amazing dream of what this project might become.

Experiencing all that information at once immobilizes us.

So, when you are writing your query letter, your synopsis, your blurb, try to just think about what your project is today. If that makes you anxious, then you might need to go back and revise until your project is closer to what you dream it could be. If you still have trouble, ask one of your betas or a critter to help you execute the summary because that person won't have all the baggage that you do about your project.

Have you yelled at your kid recently? Have you yelled at your novel? :) What's your biggest frustration right now? I showed you mine--you show me yours!

Author's note: while composing this blog post, my daughter's birthday cake overflowed the pan and is now cooking onto the bottom of the oven. (Burning, in fact.) But that is another blog post entirely.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

One True (Writing) Thing: About Self, Writing, and Community

I read a YA thriller yesterday. (Escape From Eden, by Elisa Nader--an author I met at a recent conference--she's delightful, by the way, and her book rocks!) In a fast-paced scene, (okay, it was all fast-paced with delicious twists at every turn) Elisa took a beat to describe the sound of blinds tangling as a door slammed shut.

And, I thought to myself, wow, that is exactly how that sounds. What a great nugget of truth.

It might seem unnecessary to bring that piece of sensory truth into the novel--it didn't advance the plot, it didn't strictly need to be there, but that one piece of truth lent reality to everything else.

By anchoring your reader to familiar things, it allows them to believe in all the made up stuff. :)

Knowing one true thing about your writing journey can show you the reality of how to advance your writing career.

A few years ago, I led a special interest group for first time conference-goers at the marvelous NE-SCBWI spring conference. I asked the writers/illustrators to think of that one thing that they needed to get their career to the next level. I mean, there isn't just one thing, but there is always that one bald truth staring us in the face. If I could overcome that, one thinks, I could go places. :) It was especially important advice for the conference, because attending workshop after workshop can be overwhelming. If you know what one thing you are trying to get out of a conference, then it changes the whole reality of the experience. You can take breaks instead of trying to take in every little piece of information. By focusing on what matters, you can learn how to do that one thing much more quickly.

Now, I meet a lot of writers on a daily basis. I talk with people who are interested in joining our local community, The Writers' Loft. I find out what they are writing and what they are looking for. Because everyone who wants to join a community is looking for something specific. And since I know our community of writers, since I attend writing conferences, since I read books about craft and publishing, and since I try to keep abreast of publishing news, I can sometimes connect people with what they need. That one true thing.

 You probably don't need to talk with another writer to find out what you need. (Although it certainly can't hurt.) It's probably that nagging irritating thought that won't leave you alone. If only I had time to write. If only I knew how to get this Picture Book into the hands of an agent. If only I had a great pitch for my book. If only I knew how to add tension to my revision.

Focus on that one true thing and go after it! No excuses. And, if you need a writerly friend, email me. Open invitation. I'd love to help connect you to the answer of your one true thing need.

Finding community doesn't have to be hard.

My one true thing? I am trying to not lose the thread of my writing projects while I grow my non-profit. My answer so far is that I am leaning on my writerly friends to keep me accountable for my writing, and I'm learning everything I can about project management. What about you? What's your one true writing thing right now?