REVISION REQUEST! HOORAY! Now What? (One Author’s To-Do List)

I’ve been so busy revising a picture book manuscript this past week, per an editor’s request (yay!), that I didn’t think I’d have time to write a blog post. Then I realized it might be interesting and maybe helpful if I shared my process.  So, here’s a list of what I have done over the last several days.

  1. Printed out a fresh, clean copy of the story I’d submitted.
  2. Read and re-read it several times, over a period of a day or two.
  3. Pulled up every earlier version of the story in question and read and re-read each as well looking for nuggets to possibly re-work into my revision.
  4. Brainstormed revision ideas in my notebook and recorded snippets of inspiration – possible new rhyme pairings and plot escalations – using the notes feature on my iPhone.
  5. In several sessions, separated by self-imposed time filters (i.e. walks, dishes, school work etc.) I wrote and rewrote until I had something I felt good about.
  6. Sent my revision-in-progress to a couple of trusted critique partners.
  7. Repeated step five and six as needed (and it was definitely much needed).
  8. Celebrated with a happy dance when, at last, I had a revision that I was really happy with.
  9. Resisted urge to send it right away to my agent – knowing that one extra time-filter can never hurt.
  10. Spent afternoon diverting myself by volunteering at our local history museum’s Sheep to Shawl Festival.  That littlest one is only two days old, by the way.
  11. Finally, after one more read through, I wrote a note to my agent and got my revised story ready to email first thing Monday  morning.

What would you add to the list?  Happy revising!

PUMPKIN TIME: Thoughts on Carving Stories

IMG_1284There’s a sudden new nip in the air and it finally feels like fall is here.  With that in mind, I couldn’t resist re-posting this pumpkin-themed post from 2014.  Enjoy!

The way I see it, the stories we write are like pumpkins. The good ones are well-rounded with firm plots. They also possess a certain quirkiness, or one-of-a-kind feel, just like those jack-o-lanterns we enjoy at this time of year.

But here’s the thing. Even if you think your current pumpkin-in-progress is the best pumpkin you’ve ever written, most likely it could still use a good scooping out. Sure, extracting the extraneous goopy bits from your story will be messy, perhaps even disheartening. You may say to yourself, I’m taking out all the best parts. You may may even worry that there’s nothing left!

But, getting rid of the goop will help you hone the structural essence of your story. All those gloppy first-draft ramblings will have been scooped away. Then, to make your story glow, you will need to carve your pumpkin’s soul (i.e. face) with purpose and heart. Add jagged teeth (conflict) and a penetrating gaze (character). Maybe even carve in some goofy eyebrows (humor). Don’t rush. Savor the process. And when you are ready, light a candle and see if your story, er pumpin, glows! If it does, rejoice! If not, double check to make sure you haven’t overlooked any hidden goop. Then keep carving as necessary.

But don’t toss that goop out too quickly! For tangled in those slimy strings, you will find something precious – seeds. For various reasons, these discarded seeds didn’t fit your current pumpkin’s plot. But if saved and explored later, a special few of them may germinate into new and completely different, but wonderfully creative pieces.

Happy Pumpkin Carving all! And don’t forget to save the seeds.

GUEST POST: On Revising and Never Giving Up with Tami Charles

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Today I am delighted to have children’s author Tami Charles as my guest.  Tami and I first met at a NJSCBWI gathering at a local tea shop.  She was in the midst of revising her first novel,  LIKE VANESSA (Charlesbridge 2018).  This summer, again, we organized our own little writers’ retreat and  spent a lovely day on my porch (and inside, too ,because it was dreadfully hot) revising our current works-in-progess.  Disciplined, smart and funny- she knows her stuff.  Take it away, Tami!

So, you wrote a picture book. You received feedback from your critique partners. Your agent has given it her stamp of approval. She submits it to editors and you sit back and wait for the offers pour in. New York Times Bestseller list here you come!

But then, the unthinkable happens…

(Cue horror film music.) 

Radio.

Silence.

Several months pass, your hair turns grayer, and the rejections start rolling in—nice ones, albeit. The feedback from the editors is pretty much the same, and you just know what you have to do…revise.

Revisions can sometimes be painful, especially when you’ve already revised your manuscript many times over. But there’s no time for wallowing. It’s time to put a new spin on your story and here’s how to get ‘er done:

Step 1: Take your old manuscript, ball it up, and throw it in the trash. Follow this cathartic moment with a beverage of your choice.  (Iced, skinny caramel latte, anyone?)

Step 2: Go back to the trash and take out your manuscript, silly goose! (Then wash your hands, please!)

Step 3: Strap on your big kid boots and get ready to freshen up your manuscript. Clearly, it was good enough to be subbed out in the first place. It just needs more work. So here are a few tricks to get the ball rolling:

  • Gobble up those mentor texts. Read as many books as possible that fit the theme of your story. Sure, you probably read comp titles when you first wrote your story, but that was a long time ago.  There are new books on the shelves waiting to be explored. Read them. Study them.
  • Rewrite your story in a different verb tense. Is your original manuscript written in past tense? Try writing it in the present. Or take a risk and write it in future tense. Don’t be afraid to experiment with verb tense until your story feels shiny and new.
  • Change the point of view. Did you write your story in third person POV? Consider switching to first person. This will give your reader insight into how all the characters are feeling—not just one.  You could also try second person POV, which if done right, can be an enjoyable reading experience. There are several books that do this well. Some of my favorites are: “Warning: Do Not Open This Book” by Adam Lehrhaupt and “How to Raise a Dinosaur” by Natasha Wing.
  • Rethink your setting. I speak from experience on this one. A few years ago, I shopped around a picture book that had only one setting. Agent feedback was basically the same. Can the characters go somewhere else besides the kitchen, so that the story doesn’t feel stagnant? Challenge accepted. After many revisions (and several lattes), I created additional settings to help move the story along. And guess what? I got an offer! Hooray! Try this tip and thank me later.

Step 4: Submit and MOVE ON! Once you’ve done the necessary revisions, go out on another round of submissions. It may take a while, but trust me, your “yes” is waiting. Use the down time to work on your next manuscript.

Here’s the hard truth: The kidlit universe is a tough industry to crack. Whatever you do, do not give up. You are full of stories and the world needs to hear them. I wish you productivity, creativity, and lots of luck as you revise.

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BIO: Recovering teacher. Amateur gardener. Debut author. Tami Charles writes picture books, middle grade, young adult, nonfiction, and enjoys the occasional work-for-hire project. Her middle grade novel, LIKE VANESSA, debuts with Charlesbridge in spring, 2018. She also recently sold two picture books, but can’t spill the beans just yet! For 14 years, Tami served as a public school educator but now writes full time. She is represented by Lara Perkins, of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency and lives in Central New Jersey with her husband, son, and a family of deer who take pleasure in annihilating her garden.

Connect with Tami on Facebook,  Twitter and at her website: http://www.tamiwrites.com

 

PHEASANTS and WEASELS: Avoiding Word Blunders

Bird Under ParasolPlease join me over at my online critique group’s blog – PENS AND BRUSHES – for some thoughts on avoiding embarrassing word blunders. I’ll make it easy for you. Press here.

WEEDING BAREHANDED: Thoughts on Tending Our Stories

photo 1My husband likes weeding with gloves on which definitely has its advantages. It keeps dirt from getting stuck under his fingernails and protects his skin against nettles, thorns, and other prickly bits of nature. It’s also an effective safeguard against the wayward poison ivy which occasionally creeps into our flower garden from the wild weed patch next door.

I, however, prefer weeding barehanded. Scandalous, I know. To me, gloves are a hindrance.  When I have them on, I can’t properly feel the roots of those pesky weeds. And when I have gloves on, one of two terrible things happens:  1) I end up extracting only the top portion of some weedy nuisance, thus encouraging future weedy growth, or 2)  my hands are so clumsy that I inadvertently pull up more than just weeds! Either way, my garden suffers.

But, weeds beware, without gloves I’m going to get you!  And yes it’s dirty  My nails get cruddy and the swirls and curves of my finger prints really stand out in muddy relief, but it also feels good. Barehanded, I feel a connection to the rich soil beneath my garden. And it’s easy to identify the roots of each weed and to extract them completely. If my garden could speak, I think it would thank me, because when I weed barehanded the garden looks better.  Much better.

My writing, too, needs weeding and it’s done best without gloves on. Barehanded revising is messy, but if you are willing to dig in to your garden of words – mud, worms and all – and if you are willing to get to the root of the weedy bits, even if it means getting cruddy in the process, your story will flourish. Indeed, if your story could speak, I am quite convinced, that like my garden, it would thank you.

Don’t be afraid to take off those writerly gloves of inhibition and really dig in to the messy process of revising!  And may your gardens, er stories, flourish!

Vroom! Ptta! Clack!: Thoughts on Vacuuming and Beating the Inner Editor

lost toy bits

Please join me over at my online critique group’s blog – PENS AND BRUSHES – for some thoughts on beating the inner editor. I’ll make it easy for you. Press here.

MY LITTLE ANTIQUE IRON: Thoughts on Finishing Stories

IMG_0332Among the treasures I keep on my desk is a little antique iron. It belonged to my grandmother. Known as a “flat” or “sad” iron, which is an old word for “heavy”, my little iron has a very distinct #2 on its back.  After a little research, I learned that iron manufacturers numbered their products by size. The larger the iron, the larger the number. A #2 iron is on the small side. By the time this little iron was heating up on the stove, all the necessary lead-up work – the sewing (if it was a new garment), the washing, and the overall pressing – would have been completed. Only the last dainty details would have remained such as the delicate pressing of the lace on a collar or the little pleats on a shirt front.

Though in real life I despise ironing, I find this little iron inspiring.  To the writer in me, it signifies joy. It’s a reminder that after weeks of laboring and revising, there comes a point where my story is almost finished! The overall story is well-stitched and the time has come to delicately and attentively press through each sentence, making sure that every last comma and verb agreement are correct.

At what stage of the writing process do you find yourself today? Are you in the final, exhilerating round of pressing out every last comma, or are you still stitching away?  Either way, I hope that my little iron encourages you to press on!  Happy ironing, er writing, all!

 

PUMPKIN TIME: Thoughts on Carving Stories

IMG_1284The way I see it, the stories we write are like pumpkins. The good ones are well-rounded with firm plots. They also possess a certain quirkiness, or one-of-a-kind feel, just like those jack-o-lanterns we enjoy at this time of year.

But here’s the thing. Even if you think your current pumpkin-in-progress is the best pumpkin you’ve ever written, most likely it could still use a good scooping out. Sure, extracting the extraneous goopy bits from your story will be messy, perhaps even disheartening. You may say to yourself, I’m taking out all the best parts. You may may even worry that there’s nothing left!

But, getting rid of the goop will help you hone the structural essence of your story. All those gloppy first-draft ramblings will have been scooped away. Then, to make your story glow, you will need to carve your pumpkin’s soul (i.e. face) with purpose and heart. Add jagged teeth (conflict) and a penetrating gaze (character). Maybe even carve in some goofy eyebrows (humor). Don’t rush. Savor the process. And when you are ready, light a candle and see if your story, er pumpin, glows! If it does, rejoice! If not, double check to make sure you haven’t overlooked any hidden goop. Then keep carving as necessary.

But don’t toss that goop out too quickly! For tangled in those slimy strings, you will find something precious – seeds. For various reasons, these discarded seeds didn’t fit your current pumpkin’s plot. But if saved and explored later, a special few of them may germinate into new and completely different, but wonderfully creative pieces.

Happy Pumpkin Carving all! And don’t forget to save the seeds.

Do You Floss Your Stories?

IMG_0811Today I’m posting over at Pens and Brushes, my critique group’s new blog, on the topic of flossing our stories.  Curious? Well, then please check it out!

GUEST POST: “Henny Penny and Penny Lenny” by Penny Parker Klostermann

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Please join me in welcoming guest blogger and picture book author Penny Parker Klostermann.  Penny and I met at the Poets’ Garage, an online critique group dedicated to critiquing poetry.  I quickly grew to love her excellent metrical ear and her wonderful sense of humor.  Her debut book, THERE WAS AN OLD DRAGON (Random House), will hit shelves everywhere in Fall 2o15.  In the meantime, I know she’s busy writing up a storm and I’m tickled that she has agreed to write a post.  Take it away, Henny, I mean Penny!

When Laura asked me to guest post, I decided I wanted to do something with Henny Penny. It seemed packed with good advice:

Don’t panic.
Don’t follow the crowd.
Don’t believe everything you hear.
Don’t get lured into a fox’s den.
Well maybe not the last one, but the first three were perfect for a blog post.

Another direction I could’ve gone would be to compare this story to what sells in today’s market. I don’t think a fox snapping off the heads of Henny Penny’s friends would fly ☺

But then I started thinking about why I even remembered this story from childhood. The most obvious was because my name is Penny. To be exact, my name is Penny Len. Often I was called Penny Lenny which is so close to Henny Penny ☺ But I loved the other characters names, too. They were so silly and fun to say—Cocky Locky, Ducky Lucky, Goosey Loosey, Turkey Lurkey and Foxy Loxy.  So, I decided to let the characters lead the way and use their silly names to talk about a few things I have learned related to writing picture books.

Henny Penny with names

Cocky Locky-I shouldn’t be cocky about my writing. I shouldn’t think my first draft is perfection. My first draft isn’t anything more than a first draft. I may feel like it’s a genius story when I write the last word, but really the manuscript is just starting its journey to possible geniusness ☺  On the journey I must be willing to sift through structure and plot. I must be willing to examine each sentence and each word and then revise. I must be willing to listen to my critique partners, which is an essential step in my writing process. They keep me from being cocky. They point out what is working and what is not. I must not get defensive as I read their comments. I must learn from them in order to improve my manuscript. Cockiness will get me nowhere.

Ducky Lucky-Some say that luck is involved in publishing. Maybe it is to a small degree. But I, for one, don’t want to rely on luck. I’d rather take advantage of the resources provided by SCBWI. I’d rather take writing classes and attend conferences. I’d rather follow blogs that talk about all things writing. I’d rather read in my genre and study mentor texts to benefit my writing.  I’d rather be writing, writing, writing. Yep! I’d rather rely on hard work than luck.

Goosey Loosey-I need to make sure my text doesn’t run loose. I write picture books, after all. I need to make every word the best word choice. I need to cut text that will be evident in the illustrations. I need to keep a tight rein on my text. As a writer I tend to read picture books with a critical eye. Not in a criticizing way, but in a learning way. I notice when the marriage between text and illustrations works well or seems off kilter. I know I can’t tell my illustrator what to draw, but I think my best bet of ending up with a perfect marriage that will celebrate many anniversaries on shelves is to think through every word as I write my manuscripts. I want to do my best to pave the way for the illustrator to tell their part of the story by keeping my text tight and not loose.

Turkey Lurkey-Writer’s who want to get published can’t just lurk. With the Internet and the abundance of social media, it is very easy to feel a part of the writing world without doing a lick of writing. I can read about writing 24/7 if I choose to. There are plenty of free resources so it’s easy to sit back and lurk instead of spending time with my keyboard. I’m not suggesting that I isolate myself but rather find a healthy balance. I guess it can be likened to eating healthy and counting calories. They say if you really want to know what you’re eating you should keep track of it and make better decisions based on your habits. I know some days I get in WAY too many Internet calories. So I must be aware of this and load my plate with plenty of keyboard time, making sure my portion of lurking isn’t throwing my writing diet askew.

Foxy Loxy– Foxy was hungry. Foxy was foxy. And Foxy was pretty smart, too! He took in the landscape around him and considered it as he made his move to get what he wanted. I want to be somewhat like Foxy. Not that I want to eat a rooster, a duck, a goose, and a turkey . . . but I want to take note of my landscape and consider it as I make my moves and write my manuscripts. I can’t ignore what appeals to editors and publishing houses. I need to watch what is going on in the picture book world.  At the same time, I can’t listen to the negative things in my head. If I hear the sky is falling due to rejections or the slowness of the industry, I must focus on my hunger and work smart. I must be foxy!

Henny Penny-It’s her story! She’s the star. So what did she do right? Well, let’s face it . . . she knew how to draw a crowd. When she got hit over the head with a fantastic idea, she went with it. She developed it. Her words were few, but compelling. Repetition and rhythm reigned. The sky is falling! The sky is falling! (I know I’ve felt that way when I’ve been working on a story!) And even though she panicked for a bit, she came out ahead in the end . . .  well she came out with a head

And there you have it—the things I halve learned from Henny Penny and her fellow characters as they relate to my writing!
Don’t be cocky!
Don’t count on luck!
Don’t let your text run loose.
Don’t over-lurk!
Be foxy!
And learn from Henny Penny—keep your head in the writing game and you’ll come out ahead in the end ☺

Penny Parker Klostermann-photoPenny Parker Klostermann writes picture books and poetry for children. Her debut book, THERE WAS AN OLD DRAGON, is coming from Random House Children’s, Fall 2015. Penny has been known to hug her favorite picture books and seriously hopes that someday her books will gain huggable status too.