Twitter: Using Lists to Organize

Now if you’ve known about Twitter lists for a long, long time . . . shhhh.  I don’t want to hear about it.

I only joined Twitter reluctantly because the idea of even more social media weighs me down.  But Karen Boss of Charlesbridge fame advised everyone at the retreat to get on Twitter.  Blog posts may be months or years old but the things that move through your daily twitter feed are current.

Ugh.  More Twitter.  She must have heard me moan, that or she’s used to listening to writers whine.  Instead of scrolling through 100s or 1000s of tweets a day, organize the people you follow into lists.  Of course, this meant that I had to figure out how to create a Twitter list. Fortunately it is straight forward.

To create a List:

  1. Sign into Twitter.
  2. Click on your thumbnail (top right of screen) to open the Profile and Settings drop-down menu.
  3. The third item is Lists.  Click on it.
  4. Click on Create New List.
  5. Name the List and, if you want to do it, include a description.  Very few of mine have descriptions because my titles are self-explanatory.  Agents.  Authors.  Publishing Houses.
  6. Select either Public or Private for the list.  Mine are all private because I am simply using them to organize feeds.
  7. Save the List.

Once you’ve saved the list, you can add people to it.  I wish there was an easy way to do this but I’ve yet to find it if there is.

To add or remove people from your Lists:

  1. Go to “Following.”
  2. When you spot someone you want to add to a list, hover over their “User actions” selector and then click on it.  It looks like a stack of three dots.
  3. Choose add or remove from Lists
  4. Choose the List you would like to add the person to.
  5. You can also search for “agents,” or whoever, and then visit their profiles and add them to your lists.

Since I follow almost 300 people this is going to take way too long to make me happy.  But once I have people categorized by list, when I have a few moments, I can go to my lists and click on Agents and see who wants what.  I can click on Authors and see what everyone has been up to.  Publishers will let me know which of my faves have books coming out.

It’s going to take a bit of time, but this will make twitter much more accessible.  What a relief!


Setting: Keeping Track of What’s What

Whether you are writing fiction of nonfiction, keeping track of who is where and how one location related to another can be tough.  In scene one, your character goes upstairs and down the hall to fetch the jacket she left in her bedroom.  In scene 10, her bedroom is the first room off the stairs.

It’s imperative that you keep all of this straight.  When it comes to buildings, I look for floor plans.  For my upcoming novel project, so far I have three.  Two are homes – one mid-century modern and the other craftsman.  With the floor plans I don’t have to remember how many bedrooms there are, where the entrance to the basement is or how many steps it would be from the front door to the kitchen.  It’s all there for me.

But what about larger areas?  Again, you can borrow from reality, using the street map of an actual town even if you are creating a fictitious town.  I may be doing that for my project but you can also draw a map.

A friend recently showed me a map she drew. Her story takes place on an island and it was critical for her to keep track of what path led where.  Her map includes the boundaries of the island, the paths and forest. It’s a simple pencil sketch but it gets the job done.

If you really love creating maps and want to try something fancy, you can draw a map with Photoshop.  I have to admit that I have not tried to do this myself.  At least not yet.  But I found Fantastic Maps, a blog by Jonathan Roberts with tutorials on how to create fantasy maps.  He does use a graphics tablet which I admittedly do not have.  If I’m going to be doing much of this, and it may come in handy for several jobs, I’ll be looking into one. Roberts tutorials include towns, canyons and more.  His instructions are incredibly detailed.

Whether you chose to use an existing building/floor plan or map or create your own, take the time to do one or the other.  You need to keep your setting right in your mind so that your reader can follow in the footsteps of your characters.




Gut Instinct: Paying Attention to Your Writing Hunches

One of the stories that Karen Boss of Charlesbridge told at the KS-MO SCBWI Advanced Writers Retreat was about sending out a rejection letter.  She e-mailed the writer, briefly explaining why the manuscript didn’t quite work.  She got a response.  “Thank you for your feedback on my manuscript.  That’s what I thought was the problem, too.”

The funny thing is that she’s received that kind of response several times.  Sometimes it is face-to-face at a conference critique. She’ll suggest that a writer should change something and they agree, telling her that they too spotted the problem.  Other times she gets this response following a rejection.

Why does she mention these responses?  What’s the problem with them?

It’s pretty simple.  If, as you finish up your manuscript, you have this niggling feeling that the setting is too generic or you need more beats of action, do it.  Fix it.  Rewrite your story.  Don’t wait and see if someone else notices the problem. This is especially true if your work is going to an agent or an editor.

You shouldn’t submit anything that isn’t as good as it can be.  That means fixing whatever is drawing your attention as wrong or even just not quite as good as it could be.

The exception to this is if you want to try something new.  It might be a new genre to you.  It might be something you’ve never seen done before and you just aren’t sure that it is going to work.  Try it and then take it to your critique group.  Admitting that you suspected there was a problem to your critique group is one thing. You can explain to them what you were trying to do and why.  They can help you see why it didn’t work and what might work better.

Saying something like this to an editor who might have published your work?  That’s something completely different.  If you see the problem, fix it.  Then submit your work.  It will greatly increase your chance of making a sale.



Memorial Day

Memorial Day is one of those odd holidays.  People celebrate with BBQs and picnics.  But the other name for this holiday is Decoration Day.  It is really about remembering those in our military who have given their lives in defense of their country.

Not that I’m complaining about the BBQs.  We Americans have a tendency to get a bit intense about things.

I’ve got two book ideas that would tie in neatly to Memorial Day and I’ll be starting on one of them soon.  I have my new camera, I started figuring it out last night.  Now I just need to collect the images to make my pitch.

But, truthfully, this weekend hasn’t been a working weekend for me.  I hope you’ve taken some time off as well.  Recharge and come back ready to write!


RIP Richard Peck

This is not the post I planned to run the Friday before Memorial Day.  I was going to run something short and upbeat.  But Thursday morning I learned that Richard Peck had died Wednesday.  Sadly, I can’t let that pass without comment.

Unlike some of my fellow writers, I didn’t know Peck’s work when I was his target audience.  And that’s a shame because I would have loved it even then.  His quirky characters have always reminded me a lot of Twain.  As a writer, I have always loved his work which I discovered early in my career.

A big part of it is that his work is hard to pigeon-hole. Platform?  I’m  not sure I’ve heard him say the word unless it was associated with railway.

Yes, he wrote historic fiction set in small town Illinois.  But his most recent book, Best Man, was a contemporary middle grade novel that explored issues of sexuality and self-identity.  It is still quirky and laugh-out-loud hilarious even while it explores issues that have polarized our society.  I love him for that.

I’ve read more of his work than I actually own and may have to rectify that.  But until I get my next check, I’ll satisfy myself with a trip to the library.  I’ll start with The Ghost Belonged to Me which a friend, a teacher, just recommended.

Time to get re-acquainted.



Setting as Character

Make your setting vital to your story.

We’ve all heard that bit of advice but I’m never sure if I’ve pulled it off or not.  At least I wasn’t sure until this weekend when one of my critique partners pointed out that I had succeeded in making the cave a character. Now picture me doing the Happy Dance.

The dance party only lasted for a moment until I realized something.  I wasn’t sure how to repeat this success.  Obviously I needed to do a little research. Here are the tips I found about making your setting a character in your story.

  1.  As you carefully choose the details that you use to portray your setting, look for details that can be linked to emotion.  Perhaps your setting is a happy place or it might be pensive or suspicious.  Whichever emotion you choose to portray, select details that support this emotion.  Think about the Wicked Witch’s castle in the Wizard of Oz.  What was it that made it feel evil and foreboding?
  2. Your setting can interact with the characters.  It responds to their actions.  They respond to it.  You see this when a story is set on a space ship of some kind.
  3. We are used to characters changing in the course of the story.  Show how the setting changes. It could be the change of seasons or it could be a place that is modernizing, being gentrified, or even going into decline.
  4. Make the setting personal as one character experiences it.  In part this means seeing the setting through that characters eyes such as when readers see Huck Finn’s take on the river.  This isn’t just any river and it isn’t just any person experiencing it.  It is a singular location and experience.

Obviously, you probably would not use all four techniques in any given story.  I used change and the passage of time.  It’s important that I understand what worked because I’m launching a massive rewrite.  There are a lot of things in the manuscript that need to change. My living setting is not one of them.  Fortunately now I think I can hang onto it as I make other essential changes.



How to Avoid Rejection

Author on the prowl for an editor?

Why am I posting about how to avoid rejection vs how to get an acceptance?  After spending the weekend with Karen Boss (Charlesbridge) I am more convinced than ever before that it is really tough for some editors to tell you specifically what they want.  Although I know Boss really likes nonfiction, I can’t point to one manuscript and say “that one.”  Her tastes are pretty diverse.

But she was able to give us a couple of specific things she doesn’t like.  She is not the right choice for high fantasy.  And picture books have to have more than a sweet story.  They also cannot be sermons in disguise (my words, not hers).

Does that mean no lesson’s allowed?  Hardly.  But the lesson has to be secondary.  The story has to come first.

When asked what she liked, Boss always hesitated.  She isn’t really an “I’ll know it when I see it” person.  But she doesn’t want to rule something out by not listing it.

And when we were, as a group, discussing Manuscript Wish List, she reminded us to go beyond what the editors want.  Pay very close attention, she warned, to what they don’t want.

Why?  Because an editor who publishes chapter books may not know he’d love your story centered around a family owned food truck.  After all, he isn’t a foodie.  But he does know that he doesn’t want your book in rhyme, your middle grade fantasy or your graphic novel.  Those kinds of things just don’t speak to him.

And, no, I wasn’t talking about a specific editor in the preceding paragraph.  It is simply a fictional example.  I didn’t want you to think I was quoting Boss.

Too often we prowl Facebook and Twitter looking for posts by editors and agents.  What does she want?  What are his hobbies?

Instead, spend the time honing your craft.  That will definitely increase your opportunities of getting an acceptance.


Critique: Take the Time to Do It Right

Strange.  This was supposed to post last Thursday.  Because I was on the road, I didn’t realize it never “went live.”  My apologies.  Let’s see if it posts this time around!


This weekend, I’m going to be at a writing retreat.  I’m not sure how other retreats are organized by this one features time with an editor – both one-on-one with feedback and your work as well as workshops on various topics.  It also includes critique groups, time to get and give feedback.

If you’ve never critiqued another writer’s work, it can feel intimidating.  You want to be honest and helpful but not every work speaks to you.  In fact, you may fail to connect with a piece and not be sure if it just isn’t something that appeals to you or is problem that the writing is somehow off.

I solve this by taking three steps to critique a manuscript.  Obviously, I can only do this when I get them ahead of time but this is my preferred process.

  1. I read the manuscript through without making a mark.  Then I set it aside for a day or more if possible.
  2. Then I read it again.  This time I let myself mark it up.  I check or underline any place I feel moved to make a comment. Sometimes it will be that I loved the humor.  Other times I will point out that a particular word choice pulled me out of the story.
  3. Then I type up my comments.  The last couple of events I’ve been to have asked us to use the SCBWI Gold Form.  We aren’t required to do it but it is encouraged.  I like the form because it doesn’t let me short cut the process.  It asks about strengths, characterization, plot, voice and more.

When you make extensive comments on a manuscript, start with something positive.  It makes the rest easier to take in.

Yes, I’m telling you to be positive.  Period.  Not just if you liked it.  Not all manuscripts appeal to every reader but you don’t want an editor to tell you your work is fabricated so you should play nice as well.

This isn’t always easy.  I am not particularly articulate at critiquing preschool picture books.  So I admit that up front.  Next, I comment on what I liked – the word play, the character, the situation . . . whatever.

Then I comment on what needs work.  It might be the voice.  Perhaps it doesn’t have that read aloud quality that a picture book needs.

And I almost always recommend books.  This is an author who does this well . . . Your piece reminded me of . . .

Take time to do it right when you critique someone’s work.  And then?  Use that same level of analysis on your own work.  You may be surprised at what you find.


Writing Events: Why Do You Go?

This week, I’ll be posting about the Kansas-Missouri SCBWI writing retreat this past weekend.  First things first, it was an amazing event.  While there, someone asked me about my priorities in going to a writing event.  Do I go to meet agents and editors or my fellow writers?

Short answer:  Both

Medium answer: I never pick an event if I’m uninterested in the editors or agents but I also take full advantage of the opportunity to network with writers.

Long answer: If you have the opportunity to attend an event with Karen Boss from Charlesbridge, go.  Do not hesitate.  Hock the silver.  Just go.  Everyone came away knowing how to improve their manuscript whether it was picture book, middle grade or young adult, fiction or nonfiction.  She is a dynamic teacher.

But the editor/agent is only one opportunity.  Because of my membership in SCBWI, attending events, and meeting my fellow writers, I have work published through:

The Institute of Children’s Literature



Writer’s Digest

Writer’s Market

Young Equestrian Magazine

This may not look like much, but tally up my sales to each of the above and I estimate it would be 75% of my work.  I didn’t make these sales because I met an editor or agent at an event.  I made these sales because I met a writer.

One writer asked if any of us were interested in writing how-tos for our fellow writers.  She sent our names to her editor.

Several times an author has told me about a sale to a particular magazine or newsletter. After hearing about these experiences, I pitched and made sales.

Another time a writer gave me the name and e-mail addy of her editor.  I sent my application directly to the person who would do the hiring.

Yet another time I met a writer who later became an editor.

Not once have I made a sale to the big name editor or agent.  I haven’t given up, but I also keep my eyes open for those other opportunities.  You never know when you will meet someone who knows a guy or gal who is key to your next writing venture.


Writing Retreat: See You on Monday

It has been a while since I got to go to writer’s retreat.  As much as I love events that focus on writing, retreats are my favorite.

A big part of it is that I get my own room.  I know – it sounds trivial, doesn’t it?  But I’m an introvert who works at home.  I’m used to a certain amount of time without other people around.  Workshops, conferences, and retreats are great for all the ideas and information that come my way, but they are also tough because of the amount of time I’m around other people.

But at this particular event participants get their own rooms.  This means that I can go in my room and work without interruption.  If I don’t care if someone interrupts me, I can prop my door open.  There are also plenty of public places where you can situate yourself if you want to chat.

Pacing yourself is hugely important for an introvert at an event.

Other than that, I’d recommend that you take Judy Blume’s words of wisdom to heart.  Most of us go to an event knowing that we need help with something specific.  It might be the pacing of a manuscript or knowing how to approach an editor.  Get the help you need but don’t forget to just listen.  There is so much wisdom to be had if you poised to hear it.

And if you aren’t hearing what you need?  Ask questions.

Pacing yourself doesn’t just mean spending time in your room.  It also means interacting with your fellow participants.  I’ve worked for Children’s Writer newsletter and RedLine Editorial because of connections that I made at writing events.  Get to know people and you will have connections that can help you get your foot in the door.

Have a great weekend and next week I’ll share some of what I learn this weekend.