You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘Writing’ category.

by Tracy Marchini

I’ve worn a number of hats in my career—and for the most part I have always had at least two hats on at once.

Now, I’m a children’s author who is celebrating her picture book debut, CHICKEN WANTS NAP, and a Literary Agent at BookEnds Literary representing fiction, non-fiction and illustration for children and teens.

But I’ve also been a newspaper correspondent, a children’s book reviewer, a freelance copywriter, a literary agents assistant, a freelance editor and a communications manager. (Well, and a pharmacy tech—which has nothing to do with this post—and very, very briefly an assistant at a wedding dress preservationist’s—which is the only job I’ve ever been let go from. I was relieved.)

Anyway, so many of these hats forced me to learn to write in a different way. Feature pieces vs. event wrap ups, editorial letters vs. pitch letters, book reviews vs. press releases—everything had a different format or tone, but there was also a lot of overlap. Ultimately, I think all of the above experience helped me with my writing and agenting career, and I hope that some of the below helps you too!

Character
I would get my newspaper assignments on Friday, do interviews and write the story over the weekend, and submit on Sunday so it’d be in my editor’s inbox by the Monday deadline. (Monday I’d be commuting to work as a literary assistant.)

My favorite pieces to write were feature pieces that honored another person’s life. People were generally so happy to talk about this person that they loved or admired, even though we’re all flawed, and I usually left the interviews feeling pretty inspired. I also felt like there was a little more room for creativity in a feature piece. A good features makes the reader feel like they’ve met the person, too.

Looking back on feature writing makes me think about a character exercise that I was once assigned in undergrad. The exercise says to pick a person you know and write about them as they would write about themselves. Then write about them through the eyes of someone that hated them. Then again through the eyes of someone that loved them. You have three different people on the page—or four, right? Because the primary subject is actually probably closer to a culmination of those three pieces than any one particular view—and I think that’s why the exercise can be so helpful when you’re struggling with rounding out your characters. Remember, even antagonists think they’re the hero of the story.

Hook
Book reviews, newspaper pieces, pitch letters, press releases, copywriting—all of it relied on being able to find a hook that was going to grab a reader and make them want to read more, attend the event, buy the book, click a link, etc.

As an author, particularly as a picture book author, you have to be thinking about what is going to make your story stand out on the shelves or in the submissions pile.

That said, your hook is not the plot summary. For example, I’ve pitched CHICKEN WANTS A NAP as “Remy Charlip’s Fortunately set in the barnyard,” but that’s not the summary.

One exercise I’ve done with friends when they’re having trouble with finding a strong concept for their own WIPs is to go through the bookstore or their own shelves, pull out and read a picture book, then find a hook. For example, DUCKS’S VACATION is THERE’S A MONSTER AT THE END OF THIS BOOK set on the beach. NUT JOB is “Ocean’s 11” with squirrels. Or, if I were to pitch a book without a comparison, I might say something like HOORAY FOR FISH is a fun and heartwarming celebration of a fish’s love for their mom.

Once you’ve had practice with some books on the shelves, tell your friend the hook for your WIP. If it’s a plot summary, your friend should make you try again. And if you can’t find the hook for your WIP—that thing that’s going to make it stand out from all the other queries/manuscripts in an agent or editor’s inbox—then perhaps it’s time to take another look at your WIP’s concept.

In truth, you might not use this hook in your query letter at all, but if you find that a common theme in your rejection letters is “not sure it can compete in the marketplace,” this is an excellent exercise to help punch up your concept!

Word Choice
Almost everything I wrote had a standard structure and/or expected word count, be it a press release, feature story, book review, pitch letter or pieces for a social media campaign. Just like in a picture book text, EVERY WORD COUNTED. I had to be concise—looking for that one perfect word instead of two to four less precise words.

So take out your picture book WIP. Are you in the sweet spot (300 – 500 words for fiction*)? Does every word convey the exact meaning you intend? If you’re using repetition, is it done in a way that builds tension, humor or otherwise adds to the story? If you’re not sure about a word or line, delete it and then read the story aloud (or bring it to somebody else). Does the story lose anything? If not, then permanently delete that line, phrase or word.

*CHICKEN WANTS A NAP is 165 words, and my current WIP is 600. CHICKEN is a read-aloud for younger picture book readers and the story just did not need another 140 words. My WIP is for older picture book readers who are starting to read by themselves. So I guess I’m saying to use the words you need and not one word more!

Speaking of one word more, I had started a different draft of this post where I went through each job individually and it quickly became a novel. And as I’m hitting that point again, I think it’s best to close here. I hope that these tricks help you in your own writing, and if you have the time or opportunity to do some freelance writing in another format—I say, why not! You’ll exercise a different writing muscle, and I’ll bet it’ll improve your current children’s writing as well!


Tracy Marchini is a Literary Agent at BookEnds Literary, where she represents fiction, non-fiction and illustration for children and teens. She’s thrilled to represent a list of debut and award-winning authors and illustrators, and is currently open to submissions. To get a sense of what she’s looking for, you can follow her Twitter #MSWL, see her announced client books, and read her submission guidelines.

As an author, her debut picture book, CHICKEN WANTS A NAP, was called “A surprising gem” in a starred review from Kirkus. She’s been accepted for publication in Highlights Magazine and has won grants from the Highlights Foundation, the Puffin Foundation and La Muse Writer’s Retreat in Southern France. She holds an M.F.A. in Writing for Children and a B.A. in English, concentration in Rhetoric.

Tracey is giving away a signed copy of CHICKEN WANTS A NAP.

Leave one comment below to enter and a winner will be chosen next week.

Good luck!

***STORYSTORM Registration is closed for 2018. You can still participate in the challenge by reading the inspirational daily posts, but you will not be eligible for prizes. Thank you.***

 

What a glorious feeling!

It’s that time of the year again, when you will be showered with inspiration!

Story ideas are gonna rain down like cats and dogs! (And maybe some will be about cats and dogs!)

Last year I changed the name and month of my annual writing challenge, from Picture Book Idea Month (PiBoIdMo) to Storystorm. Why? Answer’s here.

Any writer interested in brainstorming new story ideas in January is invited to join. Any genre, any style; student, amateur, hobbyist, aspiring author or professional.

How does STORYSTORM work? It’s simple…

  • Register here by signing your name ONCE in the comments below. Teachers participating with a class can register under the teacher’s name.
  • Registering makes you eligible for prizes.
  • Visit this blog daily (right here at taralazar.com) in January for inspirational essays by guest bloggers—professional authors, illustrators and experts in creativity.

  • Instead of visiting the blog directly, you can receive the daily posts via email by clicking the “Follow Tara’s Blog” button in the left column—look under my photo for it.
  • After you have read the daily inspiration, jot down a daily story idea in a journal (the annual CafePress journal will be linked here when ready), computer, anywhere you like to write. Some days you might have no ideas, but some days you might have five or more.
  • At the end of January, if you have at least 30 ideas, sign the STORYSTORM pledge I will post and qualify for prizes.
  • Prizes include professional consults, signed books, original art, writerly gadgets and gizmos.

Remember, do not share your ideas publicly in January. They are YOURS. No need to  prove that you have them at the end of the month. The pledge you will sign is on the honor system.

Are you in? Awesome. Pick up your Official Participant badge below and affix it to any social media account you wish. (Right click to save to your computer, then upload it anywhere.)

The final piece? Join the STORYSTORM Facebook discussion group. You need friends for the journey!

The group is completely optional, but it remains a year-round source of writing information and support, mostly focused on picture books, I admit, because that is where this all began.

Registration will remain open through JANUARY 9TH.

What are you waiting for? Register and go celebrate! I’ll see you back here on New Year’s Day.

*Storstorm 2018 logo courtesy of Ross MacDonald, illustrator of 7 ATE 9: THE UNTOLD STORY.

Hiya, friends and writers! It’s Kidlitbot here. I’m brand-new to your world, recently created by my editor-friend Alli Brydon! As she’s been oiling my joints, polishing my chrome, and booting up my systems, I’ve had a chance to take a peek around your human world a little bit. And boy, is it full of awesome stuff! Dogs, amusement parks, beaches, outer space, school…Twitter. I want to learn about it all! And I’ve heard that you folks love telling stories.

So, Alli and I have decided to bring you #kidlitbot. Here: I’ll let her tell you more about it, since it was kinda her idea.

Since starting my new children’s book editorial business, Alli Brydon Creative, I’ve been thinking about ways I can give back to a community which has given so much to me over the span of my career. So, I dreamed up #kidlitbot with the hopes of bringing more children’s book stories into the world! There are quite a few great picture book writing challenges already out there (like Tara’s own Storystorm), which energize authors to conceptualize book ideas and execute them. But I wanted to offer a new kind of challenge to kidlit writers, one that supplies prompts to help inspire those who might be stuck for ideas.

Introducing…#kidlitbot, your weekly kidlit writing prompt!

At 9am each Monday, we will post to Twitter a little tidbit to inspire you to start a writing exercise which will then hopefully wind up as a story. #kidlitbot is an idea generator for authors, illustrators, and author-illustrators to use as a springboard to write a first draft. If the prompt inspires you, please feel free to “like” it, retweet it, or comment on it using the hashtag. You can even, if you’re comfortable doing so, post a line or two from your work-in-progress. Our hope—mine and Kidlitbot’s—is that our kernels of ideas will encourage and aid you in your writing process.

OK, back to you, Bot!

Thanks, Alli. 😊 (← I just learned about emojis while she was talking to you!) And big thanks to Tara for allowing us to spread the word here on her blog.

The best way to participate is to follow Alli on Twitter @allibrydon and look out for the hashtag #kidlitbot (named after me) every Monday morning! Write me some cool stories, OK guys?

Alli Brydon is an independent editorial professional located in the New York City area. With nearly 15 years of experience developing, editing, and selling children’s books with US publishing houses, she has spent a large part of her career nurturing writers and illustrators to reach their potential. Having worked both as an acquiring editor and as an agent for children’s book author/illustrators, Alli has a unique blend of skills and an insider’s view of the industry which she brings to all projects. Please drop in at allibrydon.com to learn more to say “hi!”

***STORYSTORM REGISTRATION IS CLOSED. You can still join in the challenge by reading the daily posts and jotting down ideas, but you will not be eligible to win STORYSTORM prizes.***

dorothytoto

Oh, Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore…

That’s right, Picture Book Idea Month has been blown away by STORYSTORM! Need to know why? Check here.

STORYSTORM is a month of brainstorming new story ideas. This event is open to any writer seeking inspiration, support and community.

How does STORYSTORM work? It’s simple…

  • Register here by signing your name ONCE in the comments below. Teachers participating with a class can register under the teacher’s name.
  • Registering makes you eligible for prizes.
  • Visit this blog daily (taralazar.com) for inspirational essays by guest bloggers—professional authors, illustrators and experts in creativity.
  • Instead of visiting the blog directly, you can receive the daily posts via email by clicking the “Follow Tara’s Blog” button in the left column—look under my photo for it.

storystorm_calendar_v4

  • After you have read the daily inspiration, jot down a daily story idea in a journal, computer, anywhere you like to write. Some days you might have no ideas, but some days you might have five or more.
  • At the end of the month, if you have at least 30 ideas, sign the STORYSTORM pledge and qualify for prizes.
  • Prizes include professional consults, signed books, original art, writerly gadgets and gizmos.

Remember, do not share your ideas publicly. They are YOURS. No need to  prove that you have them at the end of the month. The pledge you will sign is on the honor system.

Are you in? Awesome. Pick up your Official Participant badge below and affix it to any social media account you wish. (Right click to save to your computer, then upload it anywhere.)

storystorm_participant

May I suggest a STORYSTORM journal to keep those ideas safe?

storystormjournal

Go to the CafePress STORYSTORM Store here: cafepress.com/storystorm.

All proceeds ($3 per sale—only if you use our URL) will be donated to Reading is Fundamental (RIF), to help put books into the hands of underprivileged children. Please remember to enter the store via cafepress.com/storystorm. If you search CafePress instead, we do not receive the funds.

Other merchandise will go on sale once the event begins, but you can order your journal now.

The final piece? Join the STORYSTORM Facebook discussion group. You need friends for the journey!

wizard

The group is completely optional, but it remains a year-round source of writing information and support, mostly focused on picture books, I admit, because that is where this all began.

Registration will remain open through JANUARY 7TH.

What are you waiting for? Register and go celebrate! I’ll see you back here on New Year’s Day.

joy

steam

Many thanks to S.britt for the logo design and Troy Cummings for the banners and badges.

 

 

Here it is, the moment you’ve been waiting for…

santaslamdunk

SANTA SLAM DUNK!

OK, maybe not what you were expecting. A little holiday humor. Let’s move on…

Those of you who participate in Picture Book Idea Month already know I moved the annual writing challenge to January instead of November. And you also know I changed the name. The new, much-easier-to-pronounce moniker is…

storystorm

Did that just blow your mind?

amypoehlerhead

I hope so!

The new logo was designed by talented illustrator S.britt (of NORMAL NORMAN fame).

Now, I hear you asking some questions.

WHY THE NAME CHANGE?

The original challenge—to create 30 picture book concepts in 30 days—was named “Picture Book Idea Month” or “PiBoIdMo” for short. Everyone pronounced the awkward acronym a different way. And if you managed to say it, it didn’t make sense to others.

“STORYSTORM” is a portmanteau of story and brainstorm that is more immediately understood.

The new name signals a broader scope—any type of writer interested in being inspired in January can now join the challenge. Novelists, short story writers, non-fiction authors and even teachers and their students are welcomed. Any writer, anyone who wants to brainstorm for a month. 

The goal is for STORYSTORM participants to jot down 30 story ideas in January. Then everyone will have thirty new shiny ideas to ponder, flesh out and write in 2017.

WHY THE MONTH CHANGE?

PiBoIdMo was originally held in November because it was modeled after NaNoWriMo, which runs at that time. But November is so busy with the start of the holiday season. Starting fresh in January—a new year, new goals—will hopefully prove to be both inspiring and motivating.

IS IT STILL FREE TO PARTICIPATE?

ABSOLUTELY.

WHEN CAN I REGISTER?

After the slam-dunking of presents down the chimney is over. In other words, Boxing Day. In other, other words, December 26th.

Registration will remain open for the entire first week of January. You do not have to register, but doing so makes you eligible to win prizes—agent consultations, books, critiques, and a whole lotta fabulous stuff that even Santa can’t make possible.

So THANK YOU for being patient while I pondered these changes. More announcements soon—like the guest-blogger line-up!

But in the meantime, join our STORYSTORM Facebook group which is active year-round for friendly support and discussion.

staytuned

 

 

 

holidaygifts-1

Once again it’s time for Santa to load up his sleigh—and good little writers everywhere will be hoping to discover inspiration in their stockings. These are the lovely trinkets, thingamabobs and tasty tidbits I’ve found that may tickle the fancy of that children’s writer you know (wink, wink, that’s you). I’ve also asked kidlit friends to suggest gifts. Plus, please feel free to leave a comment with your own holiday picks. Also remember there are many more selections on my Things Writers Like Pinterest board.

Of course, I wish publishing contracts for you all!

You get a book, YOU get a book, YOU ALL GET A BOOK!!!

.

BUILD-ON-BRICK MUG
selected by Tara

brickmug

Available via ThinkGeek

Every writer needs a good cuppa while they’re compiling their next masterpiece. A morning chai allows me to think through what I want to accomplish for the day. Taking time to stop and ponder before committing pen to paper is always a good idea. I confess to playing a daily game or puzzle in the AM to get the gears moving. So I find this playful mug serves a dual purpose—delivering a dose of caffeine while also jump-starting the creative cogwheels.

.

TYPEWRITER DESK ACCESSORIES
selected by Tara
typewritercoaster

Available via LTD Commodities

I admit it, I’m a sucker for anything TYPEWRITER. Not wanting to leave a mug ring on the pristine, polished surface of my new desk, or on a new manuscript, this coaster set seemed like a perfect solution.

typebookends
Available via Wild Orchid

I’ll take a pair of these bookends, too. Yes, I am running the risk of overdosing on Underwoods.

.

S’WELL BOTTLE
VEGAN ENGLISH TOFFEE
PILOT METROPOLITAN FOUNTAIN PEN
selected by the indecisive Deborah Underwood, author

swell veganenglishtoffee

pilotfountainpen

Available via Teavana, Chocolate Inspirations, and Goulet Pens

Speaking of Underwoods, Deborah is one kidlit author you could never overdose on.

Deborah says, “I have many loves, so this was a tough decision. Should I recommend the beautiful S’well bottle that keeps my coffee hot? Or the vegan English toffee from Chocolate Inspirations (arguably the best candy in the world)? Heaven knows writers need both coffee and chocolate to fuel our work and drown our rejection sorrows.

But no—Tara said only one item. (Ha! See what I did there?) So, because writing comes first, my pick is the Pilot Metropolitan Fountain Pen, medium nib, in black. It’s reasonably priced, it has a pleasing weight in the hand, and it makes me feel like I’ve stepped back in time to a slower-paced, more civil world. Go forth and create, elegantly!”

.

FATBOY BEANBAG PILLOW
selected by Tara

fatboy

Available via hayneedle

When you need some R&R–rest and reading–the Fatboy provides a comfortable respite. This is not Greg Brady’s beanbag chair. Made in a variety of sizes, colors and nearly indestructible, washable materials, the Fatboy will shape up to be your favorite reading nook.

.

ECHO SMARTPEN
selected by Tara

echosmartpen

Available via livescribe

This blog began when I decided to post my NJ-SCBWI notes online. I still take copious notes at every conference and writing event, and the Echo Smartpen is on my please-please-oh-please list because it records what you hear…and what you write…in-sync. So that doodle doohickey you cannot recognize? You will hear WHEN you scribbled it and it will make sense again. You could also talk to yourself while writing, as if you needed another reason for people to think you’re odd.

.

ICEY DESIGNS JOURNALS, PENCILS, PINS
selected by Marcie Colleen, author & educational consultant

iceyjournal

Available via Icey Designs 

Marcie says, “It never fails, as soon as I proclaim to the heavens, *I do not need another journal,* along comes an Etsy shop like Icey Designs and I am hornswaggled. This shop is chockfull of amazing writerly gifts, including inspirational pocket journals and notepads reminding those who need it “To Thine Own Self Be True” and “Breathe.” While you are there, you have to check out the craft-inspired pencils–my favorite is the “Let the Madness Flow” pencil. I know I can relate to that! There are also adorable enamel pins. What Harry Potter fan wouldn’t want to wear “Mischief Managed” on their lapel? Bottomline, I can’t pick just one item from this fabulous store from designer and author, Hafsah Faizal. You can bet that when the business of writing gets me down I’m heading to Icey Designs for a little retail therapy and a reminder to “Live Wondrously” as their motto says.”

bookshappy

Tara says, woozy with whimsy, “The enamel pins!!!”

.

JANSJO USB LED LAMP
selected by Tara

jansjo
Available via IKEA

I know I am partial to kitsch, so here’s something for the more pragmatic writer—a (an???) USB LED lamp. With the darker afternoons of winter, I need the extra light, especially when I am Skyping with a classroom. They can now see me and my jammies du jour. This smart and inexpensive little lamp stays in position and lights up the keyboard as well as your own fingertips do.

.

DREW THE PENCIL LAMP
selected by Tara

drewthepencil

Available via GadgetFlow

See, I’m right back to kitsch. I adore this adorable lamp. Even the cord is a design feature–wind it any which way for an extra curlicue of quirk.

.

WRITING CRAFT BOOKS
selected by Erin Murphy, literary agent

magicwords theheroisyou
Available wherever fine books are sold

Erin says, “My gift suggestion is (huge surprise) books! Every writer needs more books, and a gift certificate to a local indie is even better, so the writer can choose the books him or herself. But if you really want something with some heft for them to unwrap, you can’t go wrong with inspiration in the form of two outstanding books about craft and the writing life from two of the best editors in the children’s book business: Cheryl Klein’s THE MAGIC WORDS: WRITING GREAT BOOKS FOR CHILDREN AND YOUNG ADULTS and Kendra Levin’s THE HERO IS YOU: SHARPEN YOUR FOCUS, CONQUER YOUR DEMONS, AND BECOME THE WRITER YOU WERE MEANT TO BE.”

.

ROCK PAPER JOURNAL
selected by Tara

rockpaper

Available via Heart Stone Paper

At this spring’s NE-SCBWI conference, keynote speaker and NY Times bestselling author Wendy Mass confessed she likes to write in the bath. Knowing that could prove disastrous (and soggy) for a normal notebook, she told us she uses water-resistant, tear-resistant paper made from ROCKS. And then she gave everyone in attendance a rock paper journal. I was especially pleased because armed with my new notebook, I can now play Rock-Paper-Scissors FTW!

.

MINI LIBRARY SCENTED TEA LIGHTS
selected by Tara

tealights

Available via Uncommon Goods

If you’re an avid writer, chances are you are a voracious reader. Your nose is always in a good book. Continue to take care of that nose with this set of ten scented tea lights inspired by classic novels.

.

 

SISTER FOX’S FIELD GUIDE TO THE WRITING LIFE
BOOK SCARF
BANANAGRAMS

selected by Heidi Stemple & Jane Yolen, authors

sisterfoxfieldguide alicescarf

beachbanana

Available via Heidi StempleStoriarts and Serious Puzzles

Heidi says, “SISTER FOX’S GUIDE TO THE WRITING LIFE by Jane Yolen is a collection of poems about writing. Some funny, some poignant, all a call to get your BIC (butt in chair) and get writing. It’s not easy to get (as it is published in the UK) but, I have a supply to sell from our office ($20 includes shipping and autograph—be sure to include a name; this offer is limited). Also, book scarves (or, honestly, anything by Storiarts) made with the text of some of your favorite books, are soft, well made, and wearable. But, more importantly, they are real conversation starters. I have 3 (plus the writing gloves). I am partial to, of course, Alice in Wonderland. Don’t just buy this scarf, though…search through their site. You will NOT be sorry.

Jane says, “When we’re both working, and one of us want a break, we’ll find the other and ask ‘Banangrams?’ We play almost every day.”

(Bonus: Tara found a jumbo outdoor edition of the popular game.)

.

 

ANIMAL CARD HOLDER
selected by Tara

hedgehogcardholder

Available via Amazon

When I return home from an SCBWI conference, I love poring over the creative postcards and business cards of writers and illustrators. There are ones I want to keep in view because I love the artist’s style or I want to swap a manuscript with another author. This clever desk accessory is very practical…and comes in a variety of animal styles and colors. This one makes me want to write an albino hedgehog book.
.

 

WHEN IN DOUBT TEE
selected by Tara

whenindoubt
Available via The Library Store

I always follow this advice. I bet you do, too.

.

ROALD DAHL POSTCARDS
selected by Tara
roalddahlpostcards
Available via The Literary Gift Company

What a wangdoodle of a good idea. I bet a writing friend would love to receive this entire box…or even one sincere missive via post. Texting is so last week. Dahl is FOREVER.

.

WRITER AT WORK SIGN
selected by Tara
donotdisturb
Available via GraphicsMore

Ah, if only we could give our favorite writer the gift of time.

Until that time, let’s continue to give them space. (Otherwise known as “the space-time continuum”?)

.

WRITER’S TEARS WHISKEY
selected by Tara

writerstearsmini

Available via Celtic Whiskey Shop

Alas, if your favorite writer received another rejection, missed that deadline, or went out of print, this would be the perfect gift. Just remember—drink responsibly, folks.

.

 

thingswriterslike2015

Happy Holidays!

For more writerly nonsense and giftsense, check out my Things Writers Like Pinterest board!

kendralevinby Kendra Levin

A few years ago, my friend and I joked that there should be a National Don’t Write a Novel Month. In fact, we even created a Twitter account for it and spent the month of November that year tweeting about all the things we were doing instead of writing a novel.

Writing is hard. Writing a novel in a month is even harder. And while NaNoWriMo and Tara’s own PiBoIdMo are fantastic ways to light a fire under your butt and get words on the page, it’s just as important for writers to spend time…well, not writing.

So this year, if you’re feeling creatively fried, emotionally exhausted, distracted by the election, or just plain burnt out, try spending November replenishing yourself artistically.

Consume culture. You already know how important it is for writers to read—and not just the genre or age category you write, but all kinds of books, articles, and other content. Go see an art exhibit, a dance performance, or a concert. Play a video game. Go to a movie you wouldn’t normally be interested in. Try art forms and genres you don’t expect to like and see what happens!

Explore your world. On the way home from the gym, your job, your kids’ school, any place you visit more than once a week, try a new route. Always go to the same gas station? Try a different one. Instead of walking, running, or riding your bike wherever you usually go, head to the next town over and investigate a neighborhood you’re not familiar with. See what inspiration is hiding in the world adjacent to you.

Learn a new skill and bring new people into your life. Join a club, a meetup group, or a casual sports team. Find an activity you’re curious about that’s different from anything else you do and give it a try. Go to a place that you know attracts people with different interests than you and see if you can make a new friend.

Read your journals. If you keep a journal, you have a potential goldmine of material in the experiences you’ve had and thoughts you’ve recorded. Go back and look at what you wrote this year, last year, five or 10 years ago, or even in high school, and see what you find that intrigues or surprises you.

Make non-writing art. See what it’s like to express yourself without words, and without the pressure that can come with doing your primary creative focus. Collage, draw, paint, compose music. Make a silly video on your phone. Create a whole story just using gifs. Don’t worry about it being good. Make art with no agenda and have fun!

Meditate, be present, nurture your spirit. If you love the idea of meditation but never seem to make time for it, now’s your chance. Take a contemplative walk alone, ideally in nature. Attend a service of a religion you don’t practice, or visit a place that is sacred or spiritual to you. Spend time alone without plans and see what you gravitate toward or where your thoughts take you.

This year, let the month of November be an opportunity to find inspiration, challenge your preconceptions about yourself, and rejuvenate your psyche. By the end, you’ll be ready to roll up your sleeves and write, or to take on the next challenge life brings: the holiday season!

theheroisyouKendra Levin helps writers and other creative artists meet their goals and connect more deeply with their work and themselves. She is a certified life coach, as well as a senior editor at Penguin, a teacher, and author of The Hero Is You. Visit her at kendracoaching.com and follow her @kendralevin.

And Kendra is giving away a free 30-minute Skype coaching session to one lucky writer. Just leave a comment below about your favorite way NOT to write. Winner will be selected randomly later this month. One comment per person, please. GOOD LUCK!

Check out Kendra’s new book THE HERO IS YOU, released today!

MuggyMeter

The humidity whacks me in the face each time I step outside, so yeah, it’s August. Already.

Every summer I entertain grandiose plans to write outdoors while enjoying a picnic of luscious home-made ciabatta sandwiches and baked goods the likes of which would make The Barefoot Contessa swoon. I buy light, airy dresses, relish being barefoot in the cool grass and imagine the stack of manuscripts I will have completed, polished and prompting auction offers…

And then August smacks me upside the head. Already.

Nasty, vile August. Why do you curse me so?! You let my children out of camp teeming with bug bite scabs, force me to endure three-hour back-to-school lines at Staples, and leave my computer devoid of new manuscripts.

Well, at least someone is winning this month. Finally, a list of all the prize winners from recent giveaways!

A MORNING WITH GRANDPA WINNER:
JENNIFER PHILLIPS

PENNY & JELLY WINNERS:
CLAIRE BOBROW
POLLY RENNER
STELLA LOPEZ

THE STORY CIRCLE WINNER:
NADINE GAMBLE

DUMP TRUCK DUCK WINNER:
DEBRA SHUMAKER

Congratulations, everyone! I will be emailing you shortly.

Now, because I want everyone to be a winner in August, here are some excellent writing articles I’ve come across lately. All are worth a read!

howtobeabetterwriter

And finally, one of my favorite books OF ALL TIME, although I discovered it only a couple years ago, is MEMOIRS OF AN IMAGINARY FRIEND by Matthew Dicks. Matthew offers a fabulous newsletter jam-packed with writing and storytelling tips. You can even win a storytelling consult with him. He is a multiple winner of Moth’s Story Slam and GrandSlam competitions. He posted an engaging TEDx talk recently about how to hone your story radar and even improve your life in the process. I encourage you to watch:

.

I hope this video makes your August better than mine!

For years I mistakenly thought that writing was just about words. About particularly poignant sentences. Flourishes of the language. Creating a passage so magnificent, it makes the reader stop and ponder the meaning of life.

kenreading

Of course, it isn’t just about words. It’s about all the words, together. It’s about the story.

So in pursuit of the best story this week, I had to kill darlings. We’ve all heard the phrase before, but what does it actually mean? What are we bludgeoning to death?

In short, “darlings” are pieces of writing that do not further your story. They are superfluous lines only there because you want to admire their shine and glow. Ooh, sparkly!

sparkler

The reader should not be jolted out of the story by the beauty of your words. The point is to draw the reader further in, not shove them out.

So what do these little darlings look like?

kristy

Sorry, not Kristy McNichol.

These darlings may drag a scene on too long. The point has already been made, but you stick it to the reader one last time in such a witty way. Sorry, kill it.

Sometimes we get so caught up in fun devices like alliteration, internal rhyme and onomatopoeia that we end up with gobbledygook rather than glory. Sorry, kill it.

On occasion, we write jokes that fall flat. Sure, we laugh hysterically but to everyone else they go SPLAT, right in the kisser. Sorry, kill it.

You know that character who magically appears, says one important thing and then leaves? Why? Where’d she go? Is she ever coming back? No? Well then, murder must be committed.

And if we’re writing a story based upon real events, we can feel inclined to include things that actually happened, even if they don’t necessarily add anything but word count. Kill, kill, kill.

Edgar Allan Poe’s “Single Effect” theory suggests that everything in a short story should contribute to an overall emotional theme. Everything you put into the story, he said, should be carefully selected to elicit the desired effect.

And since we’re writing what can be considered super-short stories, we need to be even more diligent about leading the reader down a specific path. Veering off means higher word count—which can kill the story’s publication potential. Sacrifice some darlings and save the whole village!

Super-short shorts.

Super-short shorts may have killed WHAM!

Finally, don’t be sad about killing your darlings. When you have to kill one or two, just refer to these gifs. They’ll make you feel better. (I know they helped me.)

catkid

balloonpop

blowcandle

 

rejectedYou’re a lovely person. Simply charming. I mean that, I really do. You read my blog and leave nice comments and buy my books and write like you can’t go wrong. But I have to tell you:

“It’s not you. It’s me.”

In short, that’s what a literary rejection means. It’s not about YOU. Remember, YOU are lovely! It’s about the editor and whether the proposed project fits with her taste and imprint list.

Subjective, it’s all subjective! One editor’s rejection is another editor’s next book!

But editors and agents often provide writers with rejection statements that we want to understand. We feel the need to analyze, to determine what we can do better. But don’t over-analyze. Sometimes a rejection is just a way of saying “no, it’s not for me.”

Here is a list of common rejections heard by picture book writers (and other writers), plus an interpretation of what they mean. (Note that I said “interpretation”! Your mileage may vary.)

“It feels familiar.”

The editor is reminded of another book (or books) while reading your manuscript, but he can’t quite put his finger on it. Maybe it’s the character, the theme or the structure, but it’s impossible to pinpoint. In short, the story doesn’t feel unique enough. The editor doesn’t think it will stand out in the marketplace. There’s too much similar competition. If you wrote about a common theme (new sibling, moving to a new house, first day of school, etc.) without a fresh new twist, this could be the problem.

“It’s too slight.” or “It’s too one-note.”

The editor feels your story doesn’t have enough meat to it. It may be lacking a universal emotional theme (friendship, being yourself, perseverance, etc.) or a clear story arc. The editor may feel there isn’t enough going on to encourage re-readings. The story feels more like a one-line joke than a fully fleshed-out tale. The main character may not have struggled enough before finding the resolution, which is sometimes why an ending can “fall flat”. Also rejected as “needs more layers.”

“It’s not right for our list.”

Every imprint within each publisher has a specific “style”. Some are commercial, some are literary, some are message-driven, some are wacky and humorous. Know which imprint publishes what.

“It’s too similar to…”

Your story competes too closely with a book on the editor’s list or a wildly popular book by another publisher that’s already in the marketplace.

“It’s not right for us at this time.”

See above. They might have projects in the hopper that compete too closely with what you submitted. (You submitted a story about a bowling ball. They just signed a bowling ball book! What are the odds???) They may have recently contracted multiple projects and no longer have room on their list. They may be moving away from “older” picture books into the younger set (ages 2-5 vs. 4-8). Unfortunately, this rejection is also used as a polite catch-all or a form rejection.

“It’s too quiet.”

The imprint you submitted to might not publish literary fiction. The editor feels your manuscript doesn’t have a strong hook, something that will make your book marketable. They don’t feel it will stand out in the marketplace. It cannot be easily summarized into an elevator pitch, which is what their salespeople will use to market the book to stores, schools and libraries. It’s not a commercial or high-concept story.

“It’s too commercial.”

The imprint you submitted to might not publish commercial fiction. Commercial books have a strong marketing hook, are often high-concept (can be boiled down to an immediately understood, succinct statement), have a clear plot struggle and appeal to a wide range of readers. Literary fiction features artistic prose and often contains an internal conflict and more meandering plot.

papers

“It doesn’t resonate with me.”

This is really a case of “It’s not you. It’s me.” The editor may think the story is well-written and even enjoy it, but it isn’t tugging at her heartstrings. Being an editor is like dating, like finding a potential mate—the story has to light something within her to want to devote passion and commitment to it. Remember, the editor has to spend two or more years with your story, bringing it to life. They need to feel sincerely attached to it. You want them to LOVE it, you want them to be EXCITED so they can create the best book possible. Examine your emotional theme—is it strong enough?

“I didn’t quite connect with this in the way I’d hoped.”

See above. The editor may have liked your concept and pitch, but not the execution of the story. Again, the story isn’t tugging at his heartstrings. Examine the POV, voice and the emotional theme (often referred to as a “layer”). A revision might be necessary…or not. Another editor may connect. Also rejected as, “It doesn’t have that WOW factor” or “I’m not getting that YES! feeling.”

“This needs a stronger voice.”

Voice is the unique way an author combines words and strings together sentences. It is your story’s personality, its manner of expression. It’s the difference between “Oh, shucks!” and “Oh, slippery slush!” (Little Red Gliding Hood) It’s the difference between “Charmaine’s showing off” and “Charmaine’s strutting hard enough to shame a rooster.” (The Quickest Kid in Clarksville) It’s the difference between “Pancake raced away” and “Pancake rappelled down a rope of linguini.” (Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast)

Go ahead and play with your words—use stronger verbs, alter the sentence structure, use alliteration, internal rhyme, onomatopoeia and uncommon words. Heck, make up a word every once in a while! Think of voice the way a poet thinks about meter—there’s a certain beat that the reader can dance to.

Pretend YOU are the main character. How would he or she TALK? Does the way you’ve written the story—the cadence of the words—match the character, the setting, the situation?

“There’s no current market for this.”

Your story’s subject matter and/or theme is either too popular or too obscure.

Remember when vampires were all the rage in YA? Same thing with pirates in picture books. There were a slew of well-received books featuring gangplanks that sold gangbusters. (Hey, there’s “voice” again!) But then that ship sailed. The market got soaked with pirates. So guess what? Editors didn’t necessarily buy a lot of pirate titles because there was too much existing, well-established competition. But everything is cyclical. I spot new pirate books on the horizon, captain! Land, ho!

Also, your manuscript might not be a picture book because it’s too long or too descriptive, yet it doesn’t fall neatly into another kidlit category, either.

Form Rejection vs. Personal Rejection

Most will send a form rejection. There’s just not enough time in the universe—or even in the flux capacitor—to personally respond to every manuscript. But if you receive a personal rejection, the editor or agent sees something promising. You haven’t hooked him, but he sees potential. Think of it as encouraging. You’re on the right wave. Just keep swimming; just keep swimming.

On the other hand, getting only form rejections doesn’t mean you DON’T have potential. It just means the editor or agent is crunched for time.

I mean, imagine this is what gets dumped on your desk every day!

slushie

One thing you should know: if an agent or editor wants to see more of your work, they will ask. No need for interpretation; it will be there in black and white. If they complimented your story but did not ask for a revision, DO NOT send one anyway thinking they just forgot to ask. If they want it, they WON’T FORGET. And if you send something they didn’t ask for, THEY WILL REMEMBER.

Let’s face it, the fact that you’re even receiving rejections is good. Yes, GOOD! You’re putting your work out there. And the sting of each rejection will lessen with every new one you receive. So let them pile up. Read ‘em. Move on. You WILL get rejections for the rest of your life if you’re a writer. Bottom line: learn to live with them, their brevity and their occasional ambiguity. Ever onward.

And, in case you forgot, you’re a lovely person.

7ate9
Winner of the 2018 Irma S. Black Award and the SCBWI Crystal Kite!
black kite

As a children's book author and mother of two, I'm pushing a stroller along the path to publication. I collect shiny doodads on the journey and share them here. You've found a kidlit treasure box.

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive kidlit news, writing tips, book reviews & giveaways via email. Wow, such incredible technology! Next up: delivery via drone.

Join 10,624 other followers

My Picture Books

COMING SOON:

THE WHIZBANG WORDBOOK
illustrator TBA
Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
Early 2019

YOUR FIRST DAY OF (CIRCUS) SCHOOL
illus by Melissa Crowton
Tundra/PRH Canada
Summer 2019

THE UPPER CASE:
TROUBLE IN CAPITAL CITY
illus by Ross MacDonald
Disney*Hyperion
Fall 2019

FOUR WAYS TO TRAP A LEPRECHAUN
illus by Vivienne To
HarperCollins
Spring 2020

Blog Topics

Archives

Twitter Updates