The beauty of ideas

I attended another lovely workshop at the Hudson Library (@HudsonLibr) this week in their “Writing to Publish” series. This one was veteran children’s author Tricia Springstubb (@Springstubb), who had great stories to tell, and plenty of advice to dish out.

I’ll write up a full report on what I learned soon, but I wanted to share one gem of a quote that Ms. Springstubb gave early on in her presentation. The poetry of these words struck me, and now I will think of pebbles every time I have a new idea:

Ideas are pebbles to polish, kernels to pop, sparks to fan.
— Tricia Springstubb

She said that, of course, some pebbles aren’t worth polishing, but when you find one that is, it’s a beautiful transformation. So here’s to a handful of pebbles, with at least a few worth polishing!

Happy writing!

P.S. Thanks to Tricia Springstubb and the Hudson Library for this wonderful, inspiring event.

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Photo of hands with stones by Creative Vix on Stocksnap.io

Writing is…

Writing is a difficult journey.

Writing is an exciting adventure.

Writing is a slow process.

Writing is a sprint to the finish.

Writing is a personal effort.

Writing is a group activity.

Writing is taking a chance.

Writing is what you make of it.

©️2017 Jaelithe Russ

Photo of journals by Simson Petrol on Unsplash

Every part of the journey is yours. Even the parts you did not want.

After attending my first writers’ conference, I came away inspired, and with a bucketload of great ideas! Of course, I won’t post the content of anyone’s actual presentation, as that’s not mine to share. However, I hope you benefit from these thoughts on what I learned, and some ideas on how I plan to apply them in my own journey. This is the tenth in a series of posts on lessons learned from the SCBWI Northern Ohio 2017 Conference.

Lesson 10: “It’s not about what happens to you. It’s about what you do with what happens to you.”

The closing session was a lovely talk by Jill Santopolo (@jillsantopolo) that she’d titled, “Off the Beaten Path.” She told the story of expectation and heartbreak, discovery and hope that got her to where she is today. She told us that it wasn’t what she planned, but  revealed that she’s had some amazing opportunities because of the journey she has taken.

By now, you may have noticed a theme appearing throughout these posts: the whole conference was about the individual writer’s journey. This session reinforced the same messages I’d been hearing throughout the day. “Don’t worry about anyone else’s career. Don’t worry about artificial timelines. Follow your heart.”

No matter where your road takes you, it’s not a detour. It’s all part of the journey.

But my favorite part of the presentation was Jill Santopolo’s final piece of advice, given in three parts:

  • Be kind to yourself.
  • Write every day if you can.
  • Write the story that only you can write.

It’s so easy to get down on yourself on the days when your story doesn’t feel good enough. Or the days when the time you spend moving words from your head to the page feels wasted. These last three sentences struck a chord with me because I’m not always kind to myself, and that sometimes gets in the way of me writing.

Result: Jill Santopolo helped me give myself permission to write my story without thinking about whether it’s ‘good enough.’ Just the act of writing is worth doing, if only to feed my inner creative spirit.

I’ll keep you posted as I make progress. In the meantime, please share ways you’ve found to be kind to yourself and what keeps you going.

Happy writing!

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Photo of train journey by Jayakumar Ananthan on Unsplash

Persistence is half the journey

After attending my first writers’ conference, I came away inspired, and with a bucketload of great ideas! Of course, I won’t post the content of anyone’s actual presentation, as that’s not mine to share. However, I hope you benefit from these thoughts on what I learned, and some ideas on how I plan to apply them in my own journey. This is the ninth in a series of posts on lessons learned from the SCBWI Northern Ohio 2017 Conference.

Lesson 9: “It’s a process. It’s a journey. Celebrate every step of the way as you work to make your story the best it can be.”

The penultimate session of the day was a panel discussion featuring Jennifer Wills (@WillsWork4Books), Linda Sue Park (@lindasuepark), Jill Santopolo (@jillsantopolo), and Brett Duquette (@brettduquette). They had tons of great advice, so I’m just going to share a bunch of random points, in no particular order:

  • Don’t sell your soul. If someone says “I’d be willing to publish if you change your main character’s name… and also all of the key plot points,” then you’re not really telling your story any more, are you?
  • When you get a rejection, look for the gems – what did they like? What can you improve?
  • The story is more important than your feelings. Making the story the best it can be is what matters, and if you let your feelings get hurt during the process you’re missing the point.
  • Don’t look sideways, or worry about what anyone else is doing (i.e. if they’re ‘ahead’ of you in the writing or publishing process). It’s your story. It’s your journey.
  • Art is not a competition, and we all want more stories, not fewer. Everyone you approach throughout the process wants stories to be successful, so instead of killing your story, find ways to improve it.
But.. that journey has sooo many steps. How am I going to make it that far?

Long story short:

Don’t give up. Sometimes, it feels like no one likes your stuff. Or like your story will never improve. Or like everyone else is getting to the end faster than you. Or like it’s too hard of a journey and you just want to get off the train. But if you improve, even by increments, then the journey was worth it.

Result: I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating – when the “I’m never going to be published” blues hit, I just need to pull up my big girl pants and take the steps I can to move forward.

I’ll keep you posted as I make progress. In the meantime, I’d love to be inspired by a story about a time when you thought your journey was over only to realize you had it in you to keep going.

Happy writing, editing, querying, publishing, and journeying!

Photo of mountain road by Matt McK on Unsplash
Photo of footprints in the snow by Bartosz Gorlewicz on Unsplash

To reel in your audience, you need to start with good bait

After attending my first writers’ conference, I came away inspired, and with a bucketload of great ideas! Of course, I won’t post the content of anyone’s actual presentation, as that’s not mine to share. However, I hope you benefit from these thoughts on what I learned, and some ideas on how I plan to apply them in my own journey. This is the eighth in a series of posts on lessons learned from the SCBWI Northern Ohio 2017 Conference.

Lesson 8: “You have to ask yourself what makes your story unique.”

The eighth session I attend was with Linda Camacho (@LindaRandom), the self-same intrepid agent with Prospect Agency who had kindly critiqued my work earlier in the day. The session was about how to stand out in the YA market, and I’ll give you the high level right here up front: there’s not one single right answer.

She gave us a variety of examples that taught various lessons, all of which add up to a standout story. One of her points that stuck with me especially was when she asked us to think of what makes our writing unique. “If the answer is ‘nothing,’” she said, “how can you tell the story in a different way?”

I think what especially struck me was that I hadn’t really thought about changing my writing for the market. I’d thought about telling the story I had to tell. But, from a pragmatic point of view, she’s totally right. A story that sounds just like all the other stories is hardly going to catch the attention of a publisher or reader.

The thing that makes your story different is the thing that’s going to draw your audience in.

Long story short:

Bait the hook. Unique characters, interesting points of view, a question that pulls you into the story – all are important pieces of the puzzle when you’re coming up with a concept that will catch the eye of your audience. You still need to write what you’re passionate about, but maybe be aware of your value proposition – why would someone trade their time and money for your story?

Result: I still plan to tell my story my way, but maybe ‘my way’ has some elasticity that I could take advantage of. I’ve got to consider what makes me unique, and push the boundaries.

I’ll keep you posted as I make progress. In the meantime, I’d love to hear about what makes you, and your story, unique.

Happy writing!

Photo of fish by Brenna Hogan on Unsplash
Photo of pumpkins by Kyaw Tun on Unsplash

And how does that make you feel?

After attending my first writers’ conference, I came away inspired, and with a bucketload of great ideas! Of course, I won’t post the content of anyone’s actual presentation, as that’s not mine to share. However, I hope you benefit from these thoughts on what I learned, and some ideas on how I plan to apply them in my own journey. This is the seventh in a series of posts on lessons learned from the SCBWI Northern Ohio 2017 Conference.

Lesson 7: “Most manuscripts are rejected because there’s no emotional connection with the main character.”

In my seventh session, Vicki Selvaggio (@vselvaggio1), Associate Agent for The Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency, discussed how to make our stories into cohesive journeys. She walked us through the parts of the story and the key considerations we need to make for each, and I came away with some ideas about how to add depth to my story and characters.

The biggest point that caught my attention, though, was her quote above about why manuscripts are rejected. I realized that, no matter how amazing my prose, no matter how fun my world, if an agent or publisher doesn’t connect emotionally with my main character, I’m sunk.

Does your main character make you want to hold on tight and go on an adventure? Or do they leave you feeling… meh?

Long story short:

Nobody’s perfect. If your main character seems that way, they’ll probably come off as flat. Make them more of a real person and it will be easier to connect, and probably easier to get published.

Result: I’m going to take a good, hard look at my character, and talk to my beta readers about why they did or didn’t connect with her emotionally. Then I’m going to take Vicki’s advice and add further depth.

I’ll keep you posted as I make progress. In the meantime, please tell me what type of character you connect with the most and why, or share an example of a character you couldn’t connect with.

Happy writing!

Crying man photo by Tom Pumford on Unsplash
Hands photo by freestocks.org on Unsplash

All’s fair in love and publishing

After attending my first writers’ conference, I came away inspired, and with a bucketload of great ideas! Of course, I won’t post the content of anyone’s actual presentation, as that’s not mine to share. However, I hope you benefit from these thoughts on what I learned, and some ideas on how I plan to apply them in my own journey. This is the sixth in a series of posts on lessons learned from the SCBWI Northern Ohio 2017 Conference.

Lesson 6: “I have to love something if I’m going to advocate for it.”

My sixth session of the conference was a plenary by Brett Duquette (@brettduquette), Senior Editor at Sterling Publishing, on the publishing process from acquisition to publication. He talked about his team structure, and how each piece fits into the puzzle of determining what books they’ll choose to publish, and how the process works. The biggest lesson wasn’t exactly a surprise, but was definitely something I hadn’t thought much about.

One of his points was that the publishing process takes time. The books he’s trying to acquire now won’t be published until 2018 or even 2019. Therefore, if an editor wants to take your book on, they will have to spend a lot of time and energy convincing others that your vision is worth pursuing. They’ll become your advocate from that end of the process.

Long story short:

You need a strong vision for your story, and you need the confidence to convince others of it. And you need the patience to walk people through it. And you need the thick skin to understand that not everyone is going to get it. And you need the conviction that if an editor doesn’t get it right away, they might not be the right fit.

Result: Each little piece of the process has helped me realize I need to build my own confidence in my story. If I don’t believe in me, I can’t expect other people to believe. Again, nothing I didn’t know, but it helps to hear it from the pros.

I’ll keep you posted as I make progress. In the meantime, please share something surprising, but not surprising, about your own writing/editing/publishing journey.

Happy writing!

Homeschooling isn’t wrestling, either.

“Imagination is our greatest gift and our greatest curse…” -Max Landis, from his short film Wrestling Isn’t Wrestling

I’ve been on a Max Landis kick. Ever since I listened to his episode of the Nerdist podcast a few years ago I’ve been intrigued by the way he tells stories. After seeing his recent tweet about his mom and the Jeopardy question about costumes for Indiana Jones, I ended up finding, and reading, his entire treatise on Carly Rae Jepsen, watched The Death and Return of Superman, and then Wrestling Isn’t Wrestling.  [Fair Warning: his stuff, including the above linked tweet and video, tends to be NSFW]

Two immediate reactions:

1) He shared that the first thing people say to him about wrestling is, “You know it’s fake, right?” It reminded me of the way people react when I announce that I homeschool. It’s frustratingly predictable, and coming from someone who has no experience of it, a response like this almost feels designed to make you feel bad about yourself.

2) Max Landis isn’t going to feel bad about himself, and neither am I. His contention, quoted above, is that people need drama and stories because our infinite imaginative capacity can leave us bored, and wrestling fills that gap for him. “We love watching people grow, change, struggle. Good people; bad people. We don’t care. We want to see it, man.”

This is closer to what wrestling looks like at our house.

Reading and writing, homeschooling, and even falling down the Max Landis rabbit hole all charge up my imagination in different ways.

Max Landis probably isn’t for everyone. But the stuff that is “for everyone” tends to get bland and watered down anyway. So if you’re feeling daring, check his stuff out. Maybe you’ll find a new favorite source of entertainment to satisfy your ever-hungry imagination.

Happy doing-whatever-it-is-you-like-to-do-best-ing!

Wrestlers photo by Martin Kníže on Unsplash
Panda photo by Jackson Ingraham on Unsplash

The time might not be now

After attending my first writers’ conference, I came away inspired, and with a bucketload of great ideas! Of course, I won’t post the content of anyone’s actual presentation, as that’s not mine to share. However, I hope you benefit from these thoughts on what I learned, and some ideas on how I plan to apply them in my own journey. This is the fifth in a series of posts on lessons learned from the SCBWI Northern Ohio 2017 Conference.

Lesson 5: “But do we need to know it now?”

For my fifth lesson, I opted to do a one-on-one critique with Linda Camacho (@LindaRandom) an agent with Prospect Agency.

We had a lovely 15-minute chat that went all over the board, and much of it was personal to my story. However, I’d like to share a tip she suggested (in regards to showing rather than telling, which seems to be a problem of mine) that really stuck with me and felt universally helpful.

When you’re looking at the amount you’re telling in terms of backstory, ask yourself these two questions:
1) Is this something we actually need to know to further the story? If no, delete. If yes…
2) Do we need to know it now?If no, delete. If yes, find a way to work into dialogue if possible, or pare it down to bare bones.

Of course you want to tell all of the nuances of your character that you spent hours and days and weeks building. But if the readers don’t need to know something, it’s okay to just hint at it, or leave it out altogether. If they do need to know it, are you giving it in an information dump? Does it even really make sense to be in that particular part of the story?

Long story short:

Don’t dump. Yes, you want to get your key points across, but resist the urge to drop backstory on your readers like a load of bricks. Parcel it out, in conversation as much as possible, and only give the most important tidbits. Save the reason your character will only wear white socks for a time when that fact actually helps forward the story.

Result: I’ve got some editing to do. Not news, but now I have one more tool to help me do it.

I’ll keep you posted as I make progress. In the meantime, let me know a favorite nuance you created for a character that you can’t find a way to work naturally into your story.

Happy editing!

Photo by Alex Holyoake at Stocksnap.io

He who smelt it… had a more interesting story.

After attending my first writers’ conference, I came away inspired, and with a bucketload of great ideas! Of course, I won’t post the content of anyone’s actual presentation, as that’s not mine to share. However, I hope you benefit from these thoughts on what I learned, and some ideas on how I plan to apply them in my own journey. This is the fourth in a series of posts on lessons learned from the SCBWI Northern Ohio 2017 Conference.

Lesson 4: “Show, don’t tell.”

My fourth session of the conference was a self-editing seminar run by Gloria Adams and Jean Daigneau of Two-4-One Kid Critiques. They offer services to help aspiring authors edit their manuscripts ahead of submission or self-publication.

This is not the first, nor will it be the last, session I’ve attended on self editing. Each time I get additional nuggets that make me a better editor. Though they gave out a plethora of great tips, most of them lead back to the same point: show, don’t tell.

One key example of this was action verbs. They began the session talking about using the strongest possible word. Did your character cry? Or did she weep? Or were her shoulders shaking with sobs? They recommended searching your work for passive verbs (by searching for words like “was” and “is”) and replacing with better active verbs.

Another was adding sensory-specific imagery. Did your character bite her lip? If so, did she bite hard enough to draw blood? What did the blood taste like? What could she smell? What did her teeth feel like, pricking into the soft skin of her lip? They recommended highlighting sensory descriptors throughout your work with different colors so you can see how often you use each of the senses.

Don’t just stop at “pretty.” What do the flowers smell like? How do they feel in her hands? What do they remind her of?

Long story short:

Editing is a process with many steps, but it’s do-able if you look for more ways to show and not tell. They gave plenty more examples of ways to self edit, and you can even hire professionals, such as the two amazing ladies who gave the talk, to help you through the process.

Result: I’m certainly going to start rooting out passive verbs and looking for ways to insert more sensory language in my own manuscript.

I’ll keep you posted as I make progress. In the meantime, please feel free to post your own self editing tips, or share an egregious example of weak verbs or boring language you were able to move past once you edited.

Happy editing!

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