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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!

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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

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

The details that make the 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 second in a series of posts on lessons learned from the SCBWI Northern Ohio 2017 Conference.

Lesson 2: “I did not need to think of a new story. I only needed to create the details.”

My second lesson came from opening remarks given by Newberry Medal Award-winning author Linda Sue Park (@lindasuepark). The first thing you should know about her is that she’s really funny and a great storyteller. Second, while she has given a voice to Koreans and Korean-Americans in many of her stories, she also loves baseball, cooking, knitting, and many other things that make her unique.

She shared a quote about two basic plot structures (attributed either to John Gardner or Joseph Campbell depending on the reference you use):

  1. A stranger comes to town
  2. A hero goes on a journey
Is she a hero going on a journey or a stranger coming to town? You decide.

What she loved about this was the freedom that comes with it: if there are indeed only two kinds of plots, all she had to do was fill in her own details. She encouraged passion for the details, and pointed us to the Fuse8 blog by Librarian Betsy Bird (@fuse8) as an example of details (in this case knitting needles) that were wrong.

Her point, and well taken, is that the people who are passionate about a particular field will definitely notice when you get it wrong. If you’re going to write about something that isn’t your field, you should do so much research that you become a part of that community. And you almost certainly already have passions you could write about that you would be frustrated with if someone else got wrong. The devil, so we’ve heard, is in the details.

Long story short:

You’re unique, and so am I. Though I had heard it before, I was reinforced in the knowledge that each of us has our own story to tell, and we are the only ones who can tell it our way. We should write something that ignites our passion, that we spend the time to know well.

Result: I’m going to continue to write my passion, and know that telling a story my way is the only way I can, or should, try to tell it. And I’m going to be sure to get the details right.

I’ll keep you posted as I make progress. In the meantime, please share something you’re passionate about that has come through in your writing. Or tell me your story about the girl in the photo above…

Happy writing!

Emotion vs physical action in writing

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 first in a series of posts on lessons learned from the SCBWI Northern Ohio 2017 Conference.

Lesson 1: “The way readers connect to your character is through emotion.”

My weekend began with an intensive workshop called Plotlines and Heartlines given by Jill Santopolo (@jillsantopolo), an Editorial Director with Philomel books who also authored the Sparkle Spa series and an adult contemporary novel called The Light We Lost. The main goal of the workshop was to bring our own story ideas and work through the action as well as the emotional journey our main characters

Is she hungry for love, or a sandwich? Make sure readers can connect with your characters’ emotions.

As we worked through the five act plot structure and the emotional arc of our stories, I discovered something very important:

My character had nothing driving her other than my keystrokes. Plot structure isn’t enough. If the protagonist isn’t following a desire then she’s just floating along through the story. Sometimes a character’s deepest desire might be hidden from herself, but as the writer I need to know what’s driving her, and I need to make sure readers know. Turns out, the unspecified desire and drive might be why my story feels so slow in some places.

Result: I knew it deep down, but I put into writing what it is that drives my character. Now I need to go back through and make it apparent to the reader. I need to make sure the emotional arc is tied throughout, and that the reader has reasons to care about the character.

I’ll keep you posted as I make progress. In the meantime, let me know how you feel about whether your character needs to know her own drive, or just share what’s driving your characters.

Happy writing!