Weasley is our king, and other writing inspiration.

On a road trip with the kids over the weekend, we listened to the fifth Harry Potter book (The Order of the Phoenix). It was the first time the kids had read that one, and I warned them ahead of time about some of the things that might be frustrating about the book. I remembered it as one of my least favorite because Harry is so moody the whole time. Oh, and don’t get me started on Dolores Umbridge… grrrrr.

But as we listened I found myself laughing out loud much more often than I’d expected. I forgot all of the lovely, funny quips and comments that J.K. Rowling peppers throughout her books, and Order of the Phoenix has so many of these. Also, Rowling knows how to write characters you care about (or love to hate), and storylines where you can’t wait to find out what happens.

Plus, the song. I had completely forgotten about the song. (“…he always lets the quaffle in…”)

I was inspired! I’ve been on a bit of a break from my own writing, but listening to Harry Potter made me want to pick it back up. And so, as Dolores Umbridge might say…

I must make writing a daily habit.
I must make writing a daily habit.
I must make writing a daily habit.
I must make writing a daily habit.
I must make writing a daily habit.
I must make writing a daily habit.
I must make writing a daily habit.
I must make writing a daily habit…

Happy writing!

Image of crown by Ryan McGuire on Stocksnap.io
Image of pen and paper by Aaron Burden on Stocksnap.io

Things that almost happened

My grandmother once saw a large moose while she was waiting outside of a gas station. She’d just done her necessary business, and was stretching her legs a bit. Soon, her family would join her and they would continue the road to wherever it was they were going.

But in that brief, beautiful moment, she spotted a moose. She was amazed. And, as luck would have it, she had her camera. In preparing the camera to capture the moment (this was back when you had to take off the lens cap), the moose trotted away.

Rather than waste the preparation – it took a while to properly focus the camera, after all – she took a picture of the scenery. When she was showing the pictures later, it came to be known as “the picture of where the moose used to be.”

I don’t have the actual photo, but it was something like this. A barren stretch, maybe with some trees, but definitely no moose.

This is legend within our family. Maybe I’m not telling all of the details exactly right, but ask anyone on my mom’s side about where the moose was, and they all know about the picture. It’s almost a picture of a moose, but you wouldn’t know it without the back story. It’s the story that makes the picture worthwhile.

It is possible that there are an infinite number of missed moments like this. We walk past a park bench where two people almost got engaged. We drive past a bridge that a truck almost crashed into (I actually saw this “almost” the other day, and was so glad it didn’t happen). We look into the woods and see a place where a deer was just standing a moment ago, before it ran away.

Stories are generally about things that actually happen. Yes, the people who were on the Titanic experienced a great tragedy, but what about the person who missed the boat? There’s a story there, too. Today, I’m taking my inspiration from all of the “might have beens,” “almost happeneds”, and “could still bes” to see where my imagination can take me. I’m looking for just the right missed moment that makes a compelling story.

What almost happened to you today? To your characters? And what might — or might not — happen next?

Happy writing!

Photo of moose by Steve on stocksnap.io
Photo of gas station by Mahkeo on Unsplash

My New Year’s Revolutions

Happy 2018!

No, the title of this post is not a typo. The other day, in the serious way of the very young, my 6-year-old asked me what my New Year’s revolutions were going to be. We had a good chuckle and a quick explanation of the difference between “revolution” and “resolution.”

I explained that I normally don’t set resolutions. This is for many reasons, not least of which that it feels like setting myself up for failure.

Do I have to fail? Nope.

Would a good action plan help? Almost certainly.

But the cultural norm is to laugh about resolutions. To make a joke of them before they even start. (I can’t be the only one who is astounded by the number of people whose automatic response to hearing you’re going to do something new is to say something like, “Do you know what percentage of resolutions fail within the first month?” How is that supposed to be helpful?!)

So, most years I just choose not to set a resolution. I begin the year the way I mean to go on, and I don’t think too much more about it.

But my conversation with my son got me thinking. Upon reflecting on the way that each year is a revolution of the Earth around the sun, and each day is a small piece of that revolution with the Earth twirling itself around, we decided that “revolutions” might be a fitting name for those things I’d like to take on in the new year after all.

Therefore, I’m going to use the days of 2018 to make some revolutions of my own.

  1. I’m going to revolve the way I think about cooking dinner. It’s not usually my job, but that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy doing it once in a while. I have a new wok (the only Christmas present I asked for), and I’m going to learn to use it. Not a resolution, but it could be revolutionary to our meal planning.
  2. I’m going to revolve the way I think about Saturday mornings. Every Saturday, I drive my daughter an hour each way to fencing class, and sit, trying to work for the two hours of class, but really watching the fencers. I’m already there. Why shouldn’t I try something new and get some exercise at the same time? I’m now a beginner fencer, and learning the moves and steps has already begun to been revolutionary for my muscle groups.
  3. I’m going to revolve the way I’m thinking about writing my book. I’ve been treating it like a chore. It’s not under deadline by some other entity. It’s up to me — do I want to finish telling this story or not? If I do, I’d better make a plan to get it done. For real this time. Finally getting my book done will be revolutionary after sitting on it for so long.

In what ways are you going to revolve your thinking this year? I’d love to hear more about it in the comments!

Happy revolving!

Photo of calendar page by Brooke Lark on Unsplash
Photo of journal page by Estée Janssens on Unsplash
Photo of coffee mug by Nathan Lemon on Unsplash

Putting the social back in ‘social media’

“There’s a big difference between your number of followers and your number of engaged followers.”

–Jennifer Wills (@WillsWork4Books) at a presentation about social media at Hudson Library (@HudsonLibr)

The other day I attended another free writers’ workshop at the Hudson Library in Hudson, OH. I’m going to get to the meat of it in a minute here (though you can probably guess where I’m going based on the quote above), but I want to first take a minute to plug the Hudson Library. The amount of free resources they provide to the local writing community is crazy amazing. Thank you, Hudson Library!

And now, back to your regularly scheduled blog post.

The workshop, presented by Jennifer Wills (whom you’ll remember from a couple of my SCBWI conference posts), was about improving your social media platform. With advice from “Google yourself and do damage control,” to “yes, you really ought to have an author website,” her talk ran the gamut of social media topics. She is an engaging and fun speaker, and I learned plenty, even about pieces of advice I’d heard before.

One of my favorite points, quoted above, was that, no matter what platform(s) you choose to spend your time on, the amount you spend engaging with other people is way more important than the amount you spend promoting your own work. That is to say, if you are constantly tweeting “buy my book” without engaging the community, it’s going to fall on deaf ears. On the flip side, if you engage and build a following, it won’t take too many “buy my book” tweets to get people moving.

A few handy social media tips to build a stronger audience:

  1. Do something (pick a social media, any social media; and yes, in this day of authors needing to also market themselves, you have to do something on social media)
  2. Do it consistently (both in terms of following your brand and in terms of posting regularly)
  3. Engage! (don’t just push your own content, but talk about other things you’re interested in, converse with followers, like and share other people’s stuff, etc)

If you build an engaged audience, then no matter how you publish you’ll be more likely to sell books.

Happy “socializing”!

Photo of hands and tablet by NordWood Themes on Unsplash

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.

Photo of flower in stones by Markus Spiske on Unsplash
Photo of hands with stones by Creative Vix on Stocksnap.io

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!

Photo of sign by Annie Spratt on Unsplash
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