Gone Too Long from Blogging

Well, that was a long hiatus.

I got pregnant, which isn’t much of an excuse because the baby wasn’t here yet, but that’s what happened. I let myself get distracted by new clothes, rearranged rooms, doctor appointments, the complicated, borderline torturous task of finding child care. There were family illnesses, family deaths. The holes were filled with writing, editing, critiquing, all with a constant film of worry over what kind of country I was bringing a kiddo into.

Then, the baby came. She became everything. A whole pink cooing farting world. Caring for her, and sleeping, were my only concerns.

And then they weren’t.

She didn’t become easier (I think she’s harder now) but we’ve grown used to each other. I started reading more, and I wrote my novels.

My blog was still untouched.

Now a year has gone by since everything changed — for the better, though sleeping past 8 is still a fervent dream. Even longer since I hit “post”on something more elaborate than an Instagram picture.

But as everything else eventually settled back into its place, maybe this is coming back to me, too.

Baby Toys.jpg
The varying things a toddler loves.

Meeting Authors at Boston Book Fest

Last weekend was Boston Book Fest. Being a free festival, and me having a Saturday with nothing planned, I drove down to amble among booths with a friend and sit on on a couple of panels.

The best one I sat through was a middle grade panel, The Power of Friendship, featuring panelists Jo Knowles, Ali Benjamin, and Paul Griffin. All three of them talked about some great things: where ideas come from, keeping your child character in danger as long as possible, and the pain of childhood. And the kids in the audience asked some dang good questions at the end.

What hit home for me was when Ali Benjamin (The Thing About Jellyfish) brought up the idea that got stuck in her head that there was an “other world” of writers that she could never be a part of. Now she’s written a book, and is even nominated for the National Book Award. She discovered that there is no other world.

Before leaving, I grabbed a copy of Ali Benjamin’s book to have her sign. When she asked me about my interest in children’s literature, I answered: it’s what I’m trying to write. She got very excited and interested then, even when I brought up the struggle of getting my work noticed, and of comparing my progress with others. “I didn’t get my first book published until I was 40,” she said, and Jo Knowles, sitting right next her, chimed in that it had taken her 10 years before anything happened with her work.


“Trust yourself,” Ali wrote in my copy of her book, right about a quick sketch of a jellyfish. And I will, whether that means genre hopping (I think it’s time to go back to that contemporary story of mine) or tossing out something old to work on something new. I’m going to keep doing what I think is right, and maybe someday it will be.

All Those Selfish Worries

Oof, I haven’t written in a couple of months! But I do have an excuse. My husband and I are expecting our first baby in March, and as we crest the halfway point in the pregnancy, I keep finding things that take up a lot of thinking and researching time: day care, pediatricians, which cribs are actually safe…

Image result for steven universe baby sour cream
Here’s hoping my baby is this cool.

But while I stress over all these things that are technically for future baby girl, I’m also stressing over things that are a little more selfish. Namely, the things that I’m going to lose, or that I’m worried I’ll lose. Most of these are just me overly panicking, because I have to think about something when heartburn keeps me up at night, but they’re there, all the same.Read More »

Query Problems: Writing That Synopsis

Probably the thing I hate the most about querying (aside from the hours spent researching and emailing agents, only to get very polite but still disheartening rejection letters) is writing the synopsis. Not ever agent I research asks for one. Some will only want the query letter, others a few chapters, a blessed few who just want you to send the whole dang thing along. But many want a synopsis, so they know what the story is about before they decide to ask for more and dive in.

I get it. Agents don’t have a lot of time, and a synopsis is a quick way to figure out what you’re trying to sell them before they invest more of their reading hours on your stuff. But it’s hard to do.

Take a book you have spent years writing, where you’ve changed and reworked and perfected all the twists and turns. Now condense the whole thing into a page. Maybe two.

wp-1472136525235.jpgI have to decide what events are important enough to describe, what plot twists need to be left out because it takes too long to explain. I have to keep the whole thing concise, while also making it perfectly clear what happens, and why.

The issue for me is that the story has swollen to something so big in my head, I feel like I’m taking a mountain and shrinking it down to a vaguely detailed fist-sized rock: you look at it, get the gist of what it is, and can still imagine how impressive the real thing is. That’s not something I do easily (which is why I’m sure I failed miserably at #PitMad last time I tried), so I spend a lot of time staring at my notebook, or my screen, and feeling very frustrated.

It is useful, though. Not just because if I can figure out how to do it, writing a decent synopsis can get my one step (half-step?) closer to getting published. But also, if I learn how to shrink down the description of my story, I feel more confident when I describe my novel to other people: friends, family, maybe by some luck a person in the publishing industry. Other than it being required for some queries, I want to get good at this, so I will keep working at it, tweaking it, and I will force ask very nicely that my friends and writing group mates take a peek and give me their own opinions, and maybe I can figure out how to concisely, and intelligibly, describe what the heck my novel is about.

What do you have trouble with when gathering your query materials? Do you have trouble writing synopses as well?

For useful synopsis advice, I’d check out Jane Friedman’s post on her blog.

Moments in Editing: That Paper-Wasting Stage

I’m back to that paper-wasting stage of editing, where I print out the whole danged novel, read it out loud slowly and scribble directly on the paper. As I’ve said in the past, this has always been the best way for me to get my thoughts out, and also to make sure I actually fix the mistakes I see rather than just let my eyes pass over them. I need it, so I don’t feel bad, plus I recycle everything afterward, so I feel even less bad.

I like this stage of my editing. I’ve gone through already to fix plot and character problems, I’ve already did the really hard parts of trying to make myself as clear as possible. So now, as I read, I find the little things. Weird spacing, misspelled words, changing the wording a little when I need a pronoun instead of a proper noun or I accidentally rhyme.

wp-1470924179811.jpgThere are some times when I cross out sentences and paragraphs, because I can see where they aren’t needed, or I rewrite a phrase to make it sound just a tad bit better. But mostly, I find myself enjoying my story, feeling satisfied with the flow of the words, and with the emotions that it seems I just maybe finally got across clearly.

I like this stage of my editing because, for now at least, it feels like the hard work is done. I can enjoy what I’ve written, and feel confident that this is something that other people will like, that other people will read, that other people will publish.

And that’s why I have to hurry up and finish editing, so I can send this puppy out before my self-esteem comes crashing down again.

Moments in Editing: Move Your Body, Find Your Words

I’m sitting at my desk, staring at my screen. Specifically, staring at one paragraph in my novel. A paragraph that sort of gets at what I want to say…except, not really, no. The idea is firm in my head, but the words that will make it clear, understood, those are out of reach.

Or maybe, I’m beginning to suspect, they don’t exist at all.

I delete. I type. I write in my notebook. I write again. I stare out the window, flip through Twitter, pet my dog. Nothing helps. I don’t know what I want to say.

sweet pea outside writingMy water cup has run dry, so I get up. Go downstairs. The rain has stopped, so I open the door and stand on the porch. The dog runs past my legs, and I breathe deep the smell of warm wet grass and dirt.

And I know what I want to say.

Just like that the words are in my head, perfect — or at least, perfect for now. I write them out, plug them in, and with a little bit of jamming they fit into the story. Not a one hundred percent fit, but I can sand them out later, when they’ve settled more, and I’m not quite so proud.

Right now it’s a relief to have found something workable. I sigh, and take a satisfied sip of water.

And I look at the next paragraph.

On Sitting on the Beach and Getting “Nothing” Done

wp-1467123265854.jpgWork load wise, I didn’t get a lot done this weekend.

I did some editing/rewriting for myself, one day. But I didn’t write any blog posts, I didn’t do any critiquing.

Yesterday particularly, you can’t say I did anything towards bringing my story to completion.

So what did I do?


I ran for two miles.

I watched The Mindy Project while I sewed beanbags.

I ate leftover barbecue on a porch.

I sat on the beach for two hours, reading, running my feet through warm sand, taking pictures of speckled rocks, staring at the ocean while I ate an apple and listened to families shout at each other and dip their children in sea water for the first time.

Work load wise, I didn’t get a lot done.

But I don’t think I wasted much time.


It’s Still Writing When I Do This (Right?)

I’m not always sitting at my desk. I’m not always just writing pages of story. But there are lots of things that I do that I think count as writing.

  • Trolling thesaurus.com because that one word is only almost correct, and I can’t remember the right one.
  • Scribbling illegibly in my notebook as I try to work out my character growth/plot point/back story or whatever else is just barely out of my reach.
  • Reading.
  • Staring out the window. Watching that crow strut her stuff or just the wind through the leaves.
  • Running.
  • Lying on the couch. Staring at the ceiling.
  • Walking the dog, muttering to myself. (Probably scaring away the neighbors.)
  • Cleaning the refrigerator.

The story doesn’t stop just because I’m not hunched over the laptop, I’m not done working it out just because I’m chopping onions or going to bed. If I can get into it enough, it just keeps churning, it just keeps untangling itself in my head. It keeps — I hope — getting better.

What non-writing do you do when you’re writing? Do you think you’re just as productive as when you’re churning out a thousand words in one sitting?

Writing Problems: I Want to Be Done

So a couple months ago I finished polishing up my manuscript, and sent it to my critique partner and posted it in my critique exchange group. I’d finished inputting criticism from the last round of critiques, and I thought to myself, “I’m in a good place.This will be easy.” Not that I believed that there wouldn’t be problems — of course there will be problems, there are always problems — but there would only be a few. Things I could fix in a few weeks. Then I’d clean it up again, and boom, off to agents I go.

Well, no.

While problems of plotting aren’t getting mentioned (thank goodness) and there don’t seem to be overwhelming instances of my characters not being up to snuff, my to-do list for this manuscript keeps growing, and growing, the more I read my criticisms. And I realize my original goal of being ready to ship out by the end of June was laughably naïve.

This is not what a page from a manuscript you’re “almost done with” looks like.


I know I can’t let myself get hung up on everything that critique partners tell me. Sometimes you just have to leave a piece of advice behind.


But, you have to take some of it, too. Especially when there are persistent problems — wishy washy character, descriptions that don’t go far enough — that you know about your writing, and that people are still noticing when they read it for you.

I want to be done. Not because I’m sick of my story (I wouldn’t have gone through this many revisions if I was capable of getting sick of it), or because I have other ideas (I do, though), or that I just don’t want to do the work (though yeah, I’m lazy). No, I want to be done because I don’t want to do it forever. I don’t want to be caught spinning my wheels, rewriting and editing the same things over and over again, never reaching a real stopping point. I don’t want to put of getting published. And I don’t want to keep finding so many problems that I decide my story is unfixable and quit on it altogether, burying it as far into my drawer as I can.

I don’t want to get frustrated, and leave my story unfinished. I want to see it through to the end, and make the best attempt that I can to put it out into the world.

To do that, my story, my characters, my writing, have to be as flawless as I can make them.

Which, unfortunately, means I’m not done, as much as I wish I was.

Critiques: What to Take, What to Leave

As a writer, it’s really wonderful to have people who are willing to take on the time consuming task reading your work and giving you feedback. Outside eyes can see where things aren’t working, can look without sentiment on the parts that have become too precious to you to know if it’s really good or not, and they can reaffirm decisions that you were hoping, hoping, hoping were the right ones when you put them to paper. And, possibly most important, they can give you a perspective you didn’t know you were missing, rounding out your stories, and your characters.

But it can also be a little too much.

20160606_105650The problem with so many new voices is that there are so many new voices. If more than one person is looking at your story, you’re bound to get more than one opinion on different parts. Or one reader will find they don’t like one bit of your story that you always thought worked, that reads to you like one of the best bits of the manuscript. You get a list of things you feel you should change, to the point that you feel you’re rewriting everything every time a new critique comes in. It’s overwhelming, and makes you feel as if you’ll never, ever get this damn story finished.

It’s really important, when working with critiques, to take readers’ opinions of your work seriously, to accept that you’ve made mistakes that other people have found, and now you have to take the time to fix them.

But it’s also important to remember that you don’t have to take every single bit of advice you’re given. When your book finally makes it out in the world, it’s basically an impossibility that it will be universally beloved. No matter what you do, or how you change it, someone will think that it doesn’t work, that it fails, even if others love it. Some of that opinion will have to do with your own skills and the quality of the work, and some of it will have to do with that person’s point of view and life experience and how that causes them to relate to what you’ve written.

I have a problem with internalizing every critique I get, and trying to apply a fix to my manuscript. It’s how I wind up with stories that get rewritten too many times, that get changed one way and then back again, stories that never feel quite done. I love getting all of these opinions, knowing what’s boring or preachy or what is good or clear or exciting. But I also have to trust my own self on some things: that this bit of word choice is what I want; that this flashback does add to the development of my character; that the timing of this joke works just fine. When I agree with the criticism, when I can’t ignore it, I’ll change the wording, I’ll work out the puzzle — it’s something I actually enjoy doing, after all. And I’ll give every bit of criticism its moment, analyzing it, weighing whether or not it will make my story better.

But I won’t make it perfect for every individual who ever picks it up — it’s not possible, and it’s not something I would expect when people take in my critiques. I’ll take what works for me, and make my story the best in my own eyes.

How do you deal with critiques? Do you ever have a problem with suggestions you disagree with? How likely are you to change a large chunk of your story based on what a critique partner says?