Tara Lazar has done it again! Formerly known as PiBoIdMo held in November, Storystorm https://taralazar.com/category/storystorm-2017/ has moved to January. I love starting the year like this. January has always felt like a new beginning, a chance to finally get the things done I have been putting off. What have I been putting off? Writing! The past few months have been extremely slow writing months, but packed full of life. I have spent a lot of time with my grandchildren, gotten a new puppy, and enjoyed the holidays with family.
All of these experiences are fueling my Storystorm notebook of ideas. I spent a week with my granddaughters while their parents were on a business trip. Watching a 15 month old literally race around the house and truly enjoy life reminded me of the joys of the small things in life. We hosted an early Christmas full of aunts, uncles, grandchildren, and dogs. A house full of kids 10 and under is a treasure box of story ideas. A puppy in the house has brought much laughter, plus story ideas by the dozens. My granddaughter and I made rolls for Christmas dinner, her first attempt at making her favorite part of the meal. Her mother treated us to Christmas Eve afternoon at the Nutcracker Ballet. We made spritz cookies, another favorite due to the use of a battery operated press. All of these activities were family bonding at its best.
Now my job is to jot down the ideas as they bubble up in my brain. As has happened in the past, I itch to play with these ideas and convert them into stories. Writing has moved up the priority list as I make time to write. So once again, thank you Tara Lazar for the motivation to record 30 story ideas in a month, and for all of the inspirational posts you and the wonderful guest bloggers have provided. I am rejuvenated and ready to write!
One morning last week, when I went down to my office to write, fog had closed in around my back yard obscuring all that was beyond. It was early. The basement was quiet, no one on the treadmill yet, no TV to interrupt my thoughts. The shroud of fog added to the atmosphere of stillness and quiet. During that quiet time, this poem flowed into my mind.
Fog wraps me in a cocoon of silence.
The world disappears creating my own little island.
Life’s distractions fade by the wayside.
My mind clears, relaxes, calm thoughts float by.
Morning is quiet as the fog gently lifts.
My day unfolds slowly making time for reflection.
I welcome the peace as I begin my day.
Part of me wishes I had thought to capture the view on my phone or camera, but I doubt it would have captured the picture that remains in my mind. Sometimes there are moments in life that stay with us. They appear in our memory returning us to the emotion it created. When I need to escape the hectic pace of life, I will remember the peace I felt when the fog wrapped me in its gentle arms.
In September, I had the opportunity to attend the Northwest Inland SCBWI conference in Spokane. The best part about SCBWI conferences is the one-on-one critiques with the conference keynote speakers. To some this is a scary proposition. No one likes to hear that the story they have labored over still needs more work. BUT…this is exactly what most unpublished authors need to hear.
I have seen attendees come away from critiques crushed. This usually happens when they go in thinking that the agent, editor, or author will fall head over heels in love with their work, offer them a contract on the spot and they will be set for life! Sorry folks, that’s a dream. It’s a dream that many of us share; however, we’ve learned that it is just a dream and it rarely (if ever!) happens like that.
So, what does happen? SCBWI critique sessions are both encouraging and instructive. The key to making this a positive learning experience is to keep an open mind and realize that taking risks is a necessary part of all learning.
This year, I was lucky enough to nab a session with author/illustrator Jennifer K. Mann. Just a few weeks after the conference, her picture book, Two Speckled Eggs, was named winner of the 2015 Washington Scandiuzzi Children’s Book Award. This lady knows what she’s talking about! Check out her website at jenniferkmann.com. Her presentation about analyzing picture books visually was full of information I’m using to study picture book structure.
For most of us, it takes a few minutes or days for the full impact of a critique session to sink in. Then we are able to relish the positive aspects of the story that were pointed out right in the beginning, and honestly evaluate the places in the story that need more work. I was challenged to look at the plot structure. So, the next week I checked out a number of picture books and looked at them with structure in mind. I’m using Jennifer Mann’s techniques to analyze them which make it much easier to see how the type of revisions she suggested would make my story much stronger.
Critique groups are great, and I learn a lot from mine (see our picture below), but conference critiques give you the opportunity to see your work through the eyes of a professional. So…be brave! Sign up for a critique session at your next conference.
My critique group clowning around at the Inland Northwest SCBWI Regional Conference. It’s probably obvious that the conference had a circus theme!
I won’t kid you. It always hurts when the dreaded rejection letter drops into your mailbox or inbox. The first feeling is one of a letdown, especially if the manuscript was at the editor or agents for many months. During those months, as much as we try to prepare ourselves for the worst, visions of contracts populate those minutes before we fall asleep. Let’s face it, we are writers. Our imaginations are often on overdrive.
When reality hits, it might take a few hours or days to recover. For me, it only took a few hours this time. I looked at my manuscript and thought, they are right. It might be a better fit somewhere else. I’m not sure where that place is yet, but this has taken me out of the waiting game and back into an active pursuit of manuscript placement. I’m doing more research, making lists of places to send it, and checking to see if there are any more revisions that are needed before sending it off again.
It has also renewed my commitment to my writing. I have read plenty of posts from successful writers, agents, and editors who all say those who persist will be successful. The more we write, the more we improve. I’ll continue to work on my craft in order to produce the best manuscripts possible and then send them off and see where it takes me. Here’s to forging on.
Conferences are one of the best investments I make in my writing. Last month I attended the Western Washington SCBWI conference in Redmond, WA. I came away energized ready to plow into revisions and test out new ideas. Being around a group of people who shared an interest in children’s literature was inspiring.
Workshops ranged from writing picture books, making the first page of your novel count, and how to connect the plot points of your novel to marketing your book, getting an agent, and what agents and editors see happening in the publishing world. Each gives the aspiring author tools to help make his or her manuscript the best it can be.
There is also plenty of time to network, not just with the presenters, but also with the fellow attendees who may become a critique partner or just someone else in the industry to go to for advice and/or support. Visiting with writers- published and unpublished- allows attendees to hear success stories and lessons learned by others who share the goal of publication.
Inspirational speeches by both an illustrator and an author rounded out the program. Learning about their journeys was enlightening. The common thread throughout both talks was an emphasis on persistence and hard work. Good writing doesn’t just happen; it is the result of continual writing and revision.
Attend a conference! You’ll be amazed at how much you can learn.
View from the Homeplace touches on a variety of topics including writing for children, country and farm life, and some musings about life in general along the way. Pull up a chair, grab your cup of tea or coffee and join me
Sunrise on the farm