Category Archives: Writing

Monthly Recap: September

I hate how late this recap is! I’ll try to do better next month…

Books I Read

Finished my reread of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling

A Dash of Dragon by Heidi Lang and Kat Bartkowski

#bookstagram Images of the Month

Watched

Sing (cute), The Secret Life of Pets (forgettable), and Wonder Woman (finally, I know – I really enjoyed it but maybe not quite as much as everyone else).

September Happenings

I went on vacation in Savannah (the week after Irma hit)! I still want to talk more about this in a future post, but you can read my thoughts on two of the city’s bookstores here and just know that I really enjoyed my time there! It’s such a beautiful city.

My birthday! I turned 31 and it wasn’t even too painful, ha ha. It was a good one, with several celebratory dinners around it.

I attended the SCBWI Midsouth Conference for the fourth (I think?) year in a row, and it was such an enriching experience, as usual. But it didn’t start out roses and rainbows.

For the first time, I paid for a critique from an editor. You can do face-to-face or written, and I chose the latter. I submitted the first ten pages of the WIP I have been pouring into pretty much since my first SCBWI conference, and had recently revised due to feedback from various CPs. I thought it was in pretty good shape and was hoping for some constructive criticism. While the feedback I got back from the editor wasn’t flat out negative, it wasn’t very positive either. I understood some of what she was saying, but some of it was clear she just wasn’t getting the story. Whether that was my fault or not, I don’t know, but that was the reality.

But I immersed myself in the conference and didn’t worry too much about the critique. Then came time for our optional critique group, which is where you’re assigned to a group to critique a few pages of each other’s work. Between getting the paid critique and just already getting a lot of feedback on Earthbound, I decided to share the beginnings of a new story I just recently started working on and haven’t even completed a draft of yet. The response from those in my group was so positive that it really kind of blew me away, and definitely encouraged me. I could feel in my soul what my next course of action was – shelve Earthbound for now, give it time to simmer, and focus all my efforts on my new project.

So I’m excited! It can be hard to move on from something you’ve spent so much time on, but I honestly feel really liberated. Earthbound would be a hard sell for a debut author; this new contemporary is much easier to grasp onto. If I can write it as well as I believe I can, I believe getting an agent with it will be very possible. And here’s hoping that I can bring Earthbound back out one day, once I have that trust in place. My goal is to have my first draft of Love and Sax finished by the end of the year.

Also, these ladies are my writing lifeline!

Looking forward to in October…

Needtobreathe concert! I get to see my other favorite band this month and I cannot wait!

How was your September? 

Podcasts I Enjoy About Books & Writing

Sometimes when I’m working, driving for a decent length of time, or engaged in some other activity where I would like a break from music, podcasts are perfect for 20 min – 2 hrs. of time that need to be filled with chatter. I listen to a variety of podcasts ranging from Star Trek discussion to a Christian radio show and several more, but today I thought I would focus specifically on four podcasts I enjoy that focus on books and writing.

Books

Owl Post is a fairly new podcast that is a must-listen for any fan of the Harry Potter books. Each episode is an interesting discussion of a chapter of the books, and they’re still early in the first book, so it won’t take you long to catch up! I tend to pick and choose my way through episodes of most of the podcasts I listen to, but I’m subscribed to this one and actually listen to each episode quickly after it airs (rather than my usual tactic of keeping a backlog open for myself).

I love the premise of Overdue: a podcast about the books you’ve been meaning to read. I only download the episodes where I have read the book or know the story already, but I’ve enjoyed every episode I’ve listened to. The hosts provide both humor and insight into the books they discuss.

Writing

You know you’re listening to a world-class writing podcasts when one of the hosts is Brandon freaking Sanderson. I’ve been listening to Writing Excuses for a few of their seasons now and they do such a great job of providing fresh and insightful writing advice every week.

Punch It is a very different podcast from Writing Excuses, but it’s fun. The hosts of this podcast were long-time hosts of a Star Trek Voyager podcast called To The Journey, and they seriously gave me a new appreciation for the show through their discussion. So when they decided to embark on this new endeavor, I knew I had to check it out. The show is still pretty new, but they discuss the writing of TV shows and movies, either how they themselves would write it or how effective the writing was. Star Trek is still a regular focus of the show as well, which I appreciate.

Do you have any favorite podcasts about writing or books?

It Will Happen When It’s Supposed To

Last Saturday I attended the SCBWI Midsouth conference for the third time. For the uninitiated, SCBWI is for writers, illustrators, and enthusiasts of children’s literature (which includes young adult). I always walk away from this conference feeling really encouraged, inspired, and ready to improve my craft. I always meet wonderful people who feel like my people. I could go on about what I learned, but there’s something else in regards to this conference that has got me to thinking: How did I get here?

I believe whole-hardheartedly that things work out the way they do for a reason. I also believe that God is the one who orchestrates all these events in my life and weaves them together just so. But regardless of your beliefs, you have to admit how things come together can be pretty awesome.

I often tout that I had a worthless major in college. And I stand by that. But two things happened in the course of this “worthless major” that I believe led me to SCWBI conferences:

  1. I took a fiction writing class my last semester, because I needed another elective.
  2. I couldn’t get hired straight out of school, so eventually I ended up in a string of temp positions.

The fiction writing class is what got me back into writing. I clung to writing during that time of unemployment when I felt so useless. As for the temp position, that is where I met the woman who first told me about SCBWI.

At my first SCBWI conference, I really had no idea what to expect. I went in there thinking I knew one person, but reconnected with another girl who lived in my town that I had known from church. We ended up in the same critique group at the end of the day, and we kept in touch. That day I also met another girl who lived in our town. We stayed somewhat connected, though we did not hear as much from her as she became a new mom. Then several months ago, she reached out to me and the first girl, and we have been meeting and critiquing each other pretty consistently ever since. It was so great to sit with both of them at the conference this year.

I also learned about publishing from my first SCBWI conference. I was mostly blind to the whole process, but I learned about agents and queries and editors and the whole nine yards.

Before my fiction writing class, I had also been very afraid of sharing my fiction writing. That class was an epiphany – exactly what I needed – the kick in the butt to share. So I was able to share myself, my writing, at these conferences, with these girls I have come to know (and some others as well).

Before the conference this year, I paid for a fifty-page critique of my novel, and it was not an easy thing to do, but it was the right decision. A decision I would have never made, a place I never would have been ready for, had it not been for SCBWI. I got some much-needed constructive criticism. After that critique I improved the first few pages of my story to bring to the conference, and got even more feedback. So I’ll be revising again, on those first few pages and on the rest of the manuscript.

My goal is to have another full revision by the end of this year, ready for some beta readers. This is with the goal of being ready to query sometime early next year. I have made goals like this before that I have not met, but I KNOW I really am much closer this time. Between the paid critique service and my critique partners and what I hear in these conference sessions I know I am headed in the right direction. I am completely convinced I can make my dream to become a published author come true.

And I wonder if I would even be here right now had it not been for that “worthless major.”

So no, I did not get published at 25, I probably won’t have a physical book of mine out by 30 (but hopefully, maybe, I will have a book sold by then?!), but that is OK. I believe publication will come at the right time.

Right now, my own story is being written.

The Confirmation I Needed: TN Writer’s Workshop

I attended an event a couple of weekends ago that was a writer’s workshop, taught by Chuck Sambuchino. He shared a lot of great information that I know is going to help me when I get ready to query, and I am very glad I went and heard what he had to say.

But there was one part of the workshop that did not focus on advice that made the whole thing really worth it for me.

After lunch, they had four literary agents sitting at a table in the front of the room. Chuck would read the first page of our manuscript that we brought with us. As he read it out loud, the four agents had their own copies and they were reading it to themselves. When the agent reached the point they would stop reading if this came across their queries, they would raise their hand. When two of them had their hands raised, or once the page was completely read and no one or only one of them had raised their hand, the reading stopped, and they discussed what did and did not work for them. It was selected randomly and there wasn’t time for all of them, so you sat there feeling queasy and wondering if your page was going to get picked and what they would say about if it did. If you think it sounds like torture, you’re pretty correct.

I decided to go ahead and turn in a page. For the past two years I have attended an SCBWI conference, and they do something a little similar, except it’s one agent up there and they go ahead and read the whole page and then say what they think. My first year, the guy was pretty 50/50 about what he liked and didn’t like. I had turned in a page for a different story that year and he didn’t really love mine. The next year I did not turn in a page and THANK GOODNESS because that particular agent did not like ANYTHING, and I am not exaggerating. It seemed she wanted something very literary, but this was a bunch of YA submissions and most YA is just not literary. But I had hoped that this time, with four agents, I could get some constructive criticism if my page was chosen.

What I got was better than that.

In case your imagination is as vivid as mine, I’ll go ahead and explain that I did not get one of them to ask me to submit to them (that did happen with one story and one agent though, and when that happened I thought, dangit, that was what I was hoping would happen to me!).

But let me set the scene: I had a crappy lunch out due to traffic and other stupid stuff, and I had just scarfed down an awesome warm chocolate chip cookie I bought at the hotel to make myself feel better, and I was sitting there nervous and just praying to God that someone liked my page. Several pages had been read, and there were mixed responses (though none of them had been real mean), and most of the complaints I was hearing, I felt, did not apply to my page. I don’t feel connected with the character, too much description up front, etc. So I was feeling pretty decent about my page… unless they decided the dialogue was crappy or something. But I have revised this beginning a lot thanks to the people I met at the last conference I went to.

Chuck starts a new page: “Genre: young adult.” I took a deep breath, because that meant it could be mine. He started reading. It was mine! I was watching the four agents carefully, and I literally felt my heart thumping in my chest, racking against my ribs. I waited, watching for hands, but none were going up. Halfway through, almost to the end, then it was finished… no hands! Victory! Then the comments. They were all pretty positive! One had a minor issue that one of the others disagreed with, so that hardly counted in my mind. Overall, they said they loved the voice of the character. And then later, someone else’s page even got compared against mine, one of the agents saying that mine had provided the sci-fi element of the story much more organically. I just kept thinking, Holy crap, four literary agents just read my page and they liked it. 

I can actually do this. 

Because I have wondered if I could. There are so many published authors my age or YOUNGER, and even though I know that there is no age limit to writing I still wonder if I could still make it, if I haven’t missed out, or if I’m just plain not good enough. There are thousands of queries being sent to agents every day and will mine really stand out?

Not everyone in that room had their entire page read without a hand going up. That was an accomplishment. And to have virtually no complaints about it just added to it.

But that was only one page, probably the page that has had the most work done to it. So I need to keep cracking at the rest of the story until it is all just as strong as that page. And then write a query that can capture someone’s attention, which, thanks to this workshop, the convention I attended last year, and Susan Dennard’s “how to write a query” PDF that I got a few months ago, I feel like I can do that.

But even if I get an agent, that doesn’t even recommend we can get the book sold.

But this is a step in the right direction. I can do this. It might take 6 months or 6 years but I can do it. That little bit of confirmation meant the world to me, and I will hang on to it.

So here’s to moving forward, as Chuck said a writer should always do.

When was a time you were encourage to continue a pursuit that was important to you?

My Writing Strengths & Weaknesses

As I am attempting to revise my novel Earthbound, I have been discussing it with and sending some chapters to my writing buddy Cassie. I’ve got to say, you can’t really write alone. Unless perhaps you’re just an amazing prodigy, in which case I just hate you. But having someone who can point out what you need to work on is just crazy instrumental for the process. I grew up writing but never sharing it, and I have to say that I started to grow leaps and bounds as a writer when I started sharing my work in college for a fiction writing class. We workshopped each other’s short stories, and it was amazing how much my eyes were opened to my natural strengths and weaknesses while writing, and these things have been reiterated to me as I have critiqued with others at writers’ conferences and in my comments from Cassie.

Characters

It makes me really happy to say that my characters always get love when people read my stories. To me, my characters are people I care about and I’m glad that other people care about them too! I also love character-driven stories, so I guess it’s not too surprising that when I write, I can create likable characters.

earthbound-charactersDialogue

Once upon a time before anyone had read any of my writing, I thought I was awesome at dialogue. Why? Because it flowed out of me so easily! I could just write down a conversation between characters that took place in some void because I had no idea where the heck the characters were, much less how to describe it to a reader. But man did I know what they were saying. But I’ve been told more than once that sometimes my dialogue can sound a little wooden, or be too on-the-nose, etc. It’s not that what the characters are saying is bad, it’s just how they’re saying it sounds unnatural. So this is an area I’ve had to work on, and it’s one that I have to remember to work on because I forget that I’m not super awesome at it.

Description

Remember what I said before about writing a conversation that takes place in a void? I’m totally not kidding. I struggle – a ton – with getting myself to describe settings, characters, etc. on a page. HOWEVER, when I make the effort of actually doing it, I get praised for it and told that I’m really good at it! It astounds me because I am so not wordy or purple-prosey when it comes to my fiction writing, but if I push myself at description apparently it works. Maybe it’s because when I actually try, I describe concisely but completely, not taking too much space talking about the setting but not leaving people wanting to know more about it. This was something I really could not do at all before my fiction writing class in college, and that’s when I really trained myself to work on description.

space-station-corridorPlot 

By the time anyone reads my writing I feel good about the plot, so I don’t feel like this has been discussed with me much in terms of my writing, but I struggle a ton with actually planning a plot out before I get the words out. That’s why I have like 100 story ideas but only 4 completed ones (of novel-ish length). Time is a factor too, but mostly it’s just the struggle and commitment to figure out what happens between the beginning and the end and writing it out in a coherent fashion. I’m not like those writers who have no problem doing terrible things to their characters to up the stakes, I want to protect them! But alas, I have to find a way to raise the stakes, otherwise, what’s the point behind it all?

Revising

As I revise, it’s easy for me to be overwhelmed. I’m more of a big picture person, so sometimes it’s hard for me to get into nitty-gritty details, but that’s what the revision process is all about. My characters are good, but they could still use some more work, especially the secondary characters. How can I flesh them out, make them feel more real? How can I describe a setting in a scene better? Does this dialogue sound natural? Does the plot flow? Is it too predictable? What can be tightened? There’s so much to look at.

Recently I was thinking about this and suddenly I remembered where I have read other writers talk about writing in layers. So I’ve decided that now that I have gotten the story written out, I need to focus on the details: the characters, their settings, etc.

For example, Earthbound is set in the future with a vague time frame, but despite the fact that there are families living on a space station, it doesn’t feel very futuristic. I feel I need to focus on adding some details concerning technology that we don’t have today, without bogging down the story. I think Lauren Miller did a good job of that in Free to Fall.

Also, my characters are suffering from grief and some are struggling with depression, OCD, etc., but I’m not sure if it feels like a real struggle I want to make sure they feel realistic, and that you can see them growing and healing.

beach-coupleIf you’re a writer, what do you find are your natural strengths and weaknesses in your writing? Do you have any tips on tackling everything that needs to be taken care of in revisions?

Photos taken from my NaNoWriMo Story Inspiration Pinterest board, which you can check out here