Why Revising Is a Writer’s Most Valuable Skill

It isn’t just me. I know this because my friend Nicole just blogged about the importance of taking a piece to final vs writing one new piece after another. This GIF shows how so many writers feel about their work.

Lilo on the left represents our initial enthusiasm.  “This project is amazing!  Woo hoo!  This is the best idea ever!”

Maybe we manage to complete a solid draft, maybe not. But eventually our enthusiasm level more closely resembles Stitch. “Seriously?  Really?  Did I write this?  It is so lame. But the good news is that I have a newer, better idea.”

This is why I explain to my students that 90% of writing is actually rewriting.  The idea, powered by enthusiasm, gets us started. But that draft we get down on paper just is not as amazing as what we had in mind.  Our idea was shiny and amazing. The draft? More often than not, it is a mess. Sometimes it is a dumpster fire.

That’s where I am right now on a project. I just can’t make myself revise. All I see are problems. I could revise it and that would almost certainly make it better. But so much about it feels forced. The steps my character takes to solve the problem feel contrived. Rewriting it is going to be like redecorating a room from the studs out.

Based on what I said above about how important revision is, maybe I should just revise this version. But the problems my character faces are simply too like the problems my community i facing. Any time I don’t include a real-life problem in my story, I feel like I’m cheating. But I have to face these realities 24/7 and facing them in my story . . . ugh. See Stitch above. My story seemed thin and shallow.

Then I had a thought. Actually, I attended a webinar. In it, the author talked about setting her story in the past. By doing this, her characters are facing many of the problems she is facing but with a bit of distance. I think she may have said that this makes it easier but at that point, I wasn’t entirely listening.

I was listing the problems we are facing in our society today that my character would still be facing in the 1960s. I tuned back in to hear Nev March discuss that each modern seeming theme she could bring into her historic novel created a layer and depth.

A bit of necessary distance.

Layers.

Depth.

Modern themes my readers will identify with.

Slowly but surely I realized that I was regaining my enthusiasm for the project. I don’t think that I’ll be reopening the old file. Instead, I’ll be starting with a fresh document. But I have a good feel for how to construct the mystery, what I did wrong, and how better to proceed.

Is the first story idea going to be clearly visible in the current idea. Probably not. I am rewriting it that completely. But that’s okay. Because getting back to it is going to move this project forward. And that, my friends, is 90% of what writing is all about.

–SueBE

Why I Added a Freebies Page

Adding a “Freebies” page to my website last week wasn’t part of a long term plan. But then I saw a reading chart that neglected nonfiction and I decided to create a better one. Once I had the chart, I had to think about how to distribute it. Two ideas came to mind.

First, I would share it on Twitter. That’s where I found the inspiration for my chart. And that’s where I chat with fellow nonfiction author Annette Whipple. But I wanted something with a bit more permanence.

So I created a Freebie page on my site. This would be where people went to download it. And they have. To a certain extent. In reality, the whole thing has had much more traction on Twitter. Still I did see a bump up in my site traffic.

If I’m going to build on this, I need to keep adding to this page. So I’ve been noodling over what other things I might add. General reading possibilities include:

  • Book bingo. I’ll have to noodle this one over to make it work. A book set somewhere you’ve visited. A book written by a new-to-you author. This one will require some thought.
  • Book related art projects. Design a bookmark for a book you love?
  • Book related games. You could do a scavenger hunt or Mad Lib sort of story/sentence building game.

What else could I do? I could come up with a variety of activities that encourage writing.

  • Create an acrostic about a book you just read.
  • If you change one element of the story, how would the story as a whole change? Setting, character, etc.
  • Creative writing prompts. These could be either written prompts or photos.
  • Write your own comic strip.
  • Writing prompts.
  • A poem a day journal for national poetry month. Each day would feature a different type of poem? Or a different type of poem each week?

This is definitely something that I’m going to have to play with. I liked the reading chart because that was something that would be potentially useful to a parent, teacher or librarian. I think the Bingo card will be next. What would you do?

–SueBE

Writers and Therapists: A Guest Post from Rebecca Wenrich Wheeler

Welcome and Happy Monday! Today we have a special treat. Rebecca Wenrich Wheeler, the author of Whispering Through Water, is here with a guest post. I’ll step aside and let her get started.

What my counseling program taught me about writing fiction

by Rebecca Wenrich Wheeler

In graduate school, my Group Counseling professor said so many gems that I still remember 14 years later. Two in particular: “The only experience you can speak to with authority is your own.” and “Counseling is one profession where age is always on your side.” Over time, I’ve found these two statements not only apply to the counseling profession but also to my writing life.

I have wanted to be a writer since elementary school. My second grade teacher, Mrs. Hodge, encouraged us to write our own stories. She entered my story, The Funny Cat, into the Young Author’s contest. I won first place, and my dream was born. In the eighth grade, we were asked to write our life plan, and I wrote that I would earn a master’s degree and write a book before I was 30 (only one of those things happened “on schedule”). I earned a bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English, and later another one in Professional Counseling, but it wouldn’t be until many years later that I would publish my first book.

Which brings me back to my Group Counseling professor. I’ve learned that age is also on the writer’s side. The more life experience I accumulate the more layered my work becomes. Characters, like people, can surprise you; their motivations don’t play out in a neat line. Motivations may be influenced by environment, personal history, desires, and social norms. Motivational interviewing is a counseling method of asking questions to help a client uncover their own motivations and reasons for change. A writer might consider asking questions of their characters to help create dynamic personalities. For instance, a writer might ask “What does happiness mean to you?” Or my favorite question, aptly named the miracle question, “If overnight a miracle happened and one thing changed that improved your life, what would that thing be?”  Answering these questions for my characters helps guide me to how they respond to conflict and change.

Over the years I have often repeated the sentence: “The only experience you can speak to with authority is your own.” Not only is this statement appropriate for when I teach professional development, but it’s also true for writing. I’m a believer in the adage write what you know. I tend to set my writing in environments that I’m familiar with, which allows for more nuanced setting descriptions. I do incorporate characters with different life experiences than my own, and I must be cautious not to infuse my own assumptions onto the character to avoid falling into stereotype traps. Researching and choosing beta readers with diverse backgrounds helps to improve authenticity and provide a well-rounded viewpoint. I think of my characters as real people, like at any moment, I could meet them in the real world. A reader may see themselves in a character, and they deserve an authentic experience.

Coming-of-age is my favorite YA genre to write. Recently, I found myself pondering why so many adults love to read YA, and then it dawned on me. We spend our entire lives processing what happened to us in childhood and adolescence. As we mature, we understand more how the events of our youth affects us as adults, so when an adult reads YA, the reader gains more insight into their own experience. A truth that will keep therapists and writers employed for life.

**********

Whispering Through Water, available wherever books are sold.

IG: @rebeccawwheeler_author

Twitter: @RWW_author

www.rebeccawwheeler.com

For more stops on this book tour:

Site Updates and a Free Reading Chart

This past week, I spent some time updating my site. “What’s New” now opens with the covers for Australia and Russia as well as a schedule for the classes I teach. Aren’t these covers gorgeous? I feel like I can be all gushy and glowy, because I had nothing whatsoever to do with their creation. But the cover designer did a great job. If they see this, I hope that they’ve give themself a pat on the back!

I also added a new page – Freebies. My goal is to add something new each month and end the year with a dozen or so items. The current offering is a reading chart for teachers, librarian and parents to share with their young readers.

Not to panic! I know this is too small to read the key. But if you click through above you can view and download a page-sized, 8 1/2 x 11, version.

This particular project came about when someone shared a similar reading log on Twitter. There was a color code with various colors listed for nonfiction, mysteries, science fiction, fantasy, humorous fiction, adventure stories, and the like.

I’ll admit that it took me a moment but then I realized. Every single type of nonfiction was lumped into one category or color while fiction had five or six different colors and headings.

At first, I wondered if this only bothered me because I write nonfiction. But slowly it dawned on me that so many people love nonfiction. One new friend won’t come to book club because we read fiction. After keying a caustic comment about how skewed the chart was, I decided to actually do something. Well, something besides complain. I popped open Illustrator and got to work creating a set of bookshelves with books and, for visual interest, both a plant and a cat. Special thanks to Annette Whipple who helped me come up with categories!

I hope you’ll click through and download the reading chart. And if you have any ideas for addition freebies, let me know. I have a few ideas but a few is less than a dozen!

–SueBE

Even Quiet Books Can Surprise You

Monday I blogged about quiet picture books. I had not yet read I Know a Lot of Things by Ann and Paul Rand but it does it right. That said, when I picked the book up, I wasn’t so sure.

My first thought when I got it home from the library and flipped through it was how dated it is. That was when I decided that the illustrations looked like they were from the sixties. Since the book’s original copyright is 1956, that shows that Paul Rand was a visionary. Ha! I’m joking.

But only a little. Because, like many quiet books, this story is timeless. That’s because it doesn’t deal with the tech that is current now or current events. It deals with feelings.

It deals with knowing and growing and exploring the world. In part, the depth comes from the fact that the last page looks into the future. The rest of the book is about where the character is now. The last spread moves the focus forward to what will come. It isn’t super specific. Instead it is lyric and poetic and deliciously open ended.

The hook? That’s securely on the first spread when the narrator announces that he knows when he looks into a mirror, he sees himself. That’s the signal for the reader. “Me, too! This kid is just like me.”

The depth comes as the narrator reveals what he knows about pets and then moves into the larger natural world. Then back to himself on that very last spread.

The illustrations aren’t contemporary. They don’t look like todays digital illustrations. Or even lusciously detailed tapestries of color found in today’s picture books. Blocky though they may be, they feel deliciously retro like Converse sneakers and skinny jeans.

This book is a quiet story that just makes you want to sigh, flip back to the front of the book and begin reading it again. This will definitely be something I wrap for the kids next Christmas. You mean you’re not shopping yet? I’m not really, but I always keep my eyes open for great books to share with them and with you.

–SueBE

#PictureBooks #booklovers

Create Life-changing Rules For Yourself That Serve You Well

Today we have a special treat. Yesterday I wrote about Marla J. Albertie’s book, The Ultimate Brag Book about Yourself. Today she is back with a guest post.

As we all know, being a writer is no easy task. You have to motivate yourself and make time to write. Marla has some hints for how you can do this and more if you . . .

Create your Own Life Manifesto

By Marla J. Albertie

Having rules or some say philosophies that govern your life, behavior, and choices might seem confining and restrictive. However, you may want to change your perspective on having rules for your life. I call it creating your manifesto.

The rules you create are for yourself and not anyone else.

There is a profound freedom that comes from living by a set of rules you’ve chosen for yourself.

You can refrain from toiling over as many decisions. You follow your own rules.

You can change your rules anytime you wish.

Develop your own set of rules for each aspect of your life. Rules provide the framework for having a more productive and stress-free life.

I created rules for myself so I can discipline myself to break bad habits.

Here are some rules I have created in my life, that I live by, hence my own manifesto:

1. I get up at 7am and spend two hours to myself analyzing and visualizing my goals.

2. I refrain from checking email before 8 AM.

3. I perform some physical activity daily.

4. I call my dad every day.

5. I accept full responsibility for all outcomes in my life, both good and bad.

6. I read a minimum of 15 minutes per day.

7. I am always enrolled in a personal and/or business development course.

8. I meditate every night for 10 minutes before I go to sleep.

9. Before bed, I make a list of the most important items to complete the following day. I give my subconscious mind something to noodle on.

10. I do not complete school work on Wednesday’s.

11. I don’t take client appointments on weekends.

12. I prepare my clothes on the weekend for the next week.

13. I journal daily.

And so on.

Your rules can move you closer to your goals, and remove frustration from your life.

Follow these tips to develop your own rules:

1. Make a list of your most important goals. It’s helpful to have goals related to your finances, health, family, and personal accomplishments. Look at your vision board, what do you have on it? If you are aware of your goals, you can develop rules that support them.

2. What are your values? When you’re behaving in a manner that’s in alignment with your values, you’ll be much happier and more successful. You will learn where to give you “cares” to.

3. What obstacles stand in your way? How do you waste time? What are your weaknesses? Rules that eliminate or minimize the challenges in your life are worthwhile. Challenge yourself and do soul-searching, be honest in this area.

Most of us are striving for more freedom, and rules seem like a limit to freedom, but as we have discussed rules can get you to freedom sooner than you think, because you have created a personalized system of success.

Take the time to make your own set of rules.

The number doesn’t matter.

Start with a couple and add more as you see fit.

Make some rules for yourself and set yourself free.

What are some of your rules for life?

Note from Sue: Click through to buy a copy on Amazon here.

Spend Some Time Brainstorming a Character or Getting to Know Yourself

When I agreed to take part in the blog tour for The Ultimate Brag Book about Yourself: A Hundred Questions about How Awesome You Are by Marla J. Albertie, I wasn’t entirely certain what to expect. As I paged through the book, I realized that it was a book of lists about you.

I’ll be honest. As soon as I popped this open, I realized that I wasn’t thinking about me. I’m getting to know a new character and it was her answers that I found myself working through. The year is 1969 so what 10 meals would she know how to prepare?

  • Pot roast
  • Meat loaf
  • Fried chicken, biscuits and gravy
  • Pan-fried hamburgers
  • Pan-fried pork chops
  • Hot dogs cooked in the oven with BBQ sauce

Hmm. That’s only six so obviously I still need to get to know her. I have to decide if she’d be into convenience foods like shake-n-bake or hamburger helper.

But even when you can’t answer a category of questions, it can be enlightening. I’m also working on a middle grade novel. What does my character like to cook? That questions is virtually irrelevant because she’s stuck on the family space cruiser. All she and her siblings have access to is a small variety of preserved foods and supplements. When she thinks about preparing food, she considers how the can create a nutritious meal that isn’t disgusting but she also longs for what they don’t have.

Even if I can’t answer the question Marla wrote, I find myself world building. Why can’t I answer this? What doesn’t my character have? What is her world/life like? Each list leads to world building.

That said, I really do need to go back into this and consider how I would fill it out as ME because Marla teaches how to vision board career moves. As you know, I’m all about saying yes to new opportunities but sometimes change requires a little emotional prep work.

Here’s a bit more about the book starting with Marla’s summary and following that with ordering information and the blog tour calendar. And don’t forget to come back tomorrow for a guest post by Marla herself.

Can you imagine all the things you like, love, and adore in one book? 

Let’s be honest. We tend to forget how amazing we really are. It is easy to see it in others, but when it comes to seeing ourselves, we tend to have bad vision.

This is why I wrote this book! All your favorites are captured at one time with space to write more. How often do we brag about ourselves, take time to think about what makes us happy, or do the things we like? If I had to guess, not as often as you would like. You deserve to brag about yourself, so why not? Not only is this a bragging book, but it is a book of ideas you can use to start your next project, business, career move, or anything your heart desires.

In this book, you will learn: 

  • How to vision board your next big career move
  • How to inspire yourself by seeing you
  • That you are worthy

This book is for everyone who wants to see themselves as the person they are. You deserve to be your own cheerleader. Grab this book today and start bragging on yourself!

ISBN-13 (paperback) 979-8887592923

ISBN-13 (e-book) 979-8887592930

Print Length: 218 Pages
Purchase a copy of The Ultimate Brag Book About Yourself on Amazon or get a signed copy on the author’s website. You can also add this to your GoodReads reading list.

You can visit additional stops on her blog tour – see the calendar below. And we hope to see you back here tomorrow for her post.

–SueBE

What Your Quiet Picture Book Needs

I’ve been trying to research quiet picture books, how to write them, and how to pitch them. It has been a challenge. Not that there is nothing out there.

The problem is actually that when you try to research anything to do with quiet picture books, you get books with titles like Quiet, The Quiet Boat Ride, and The Quiet Place. That’s pretty funny because when I think of quiet picture books, I think of Jane Yolen’s Owl Moon, Marie Dorleans The Night Walk, or Hayley Barrett’s Babymoon. So what makes it a quiet book?

The focus is on emotion and quiet observation. There may be more than one or two characters but the cast is not vast. It is definitely limited and contained. So what does your quiet picture book need?

Depth and Emotion

Obviously it needs depth and emotion. This doesn’t mean that it needs to be sad or emotional. The Night Walk has a sense of awe. Or it can feel cozy and maybe a little sentimental. I tend to think of quiet stories as the kinds of pieces that would, if they happened in your family, make good bedtime stories. Or good cuddle time stories.

A Hook

Quiet picture books also need to have a hook. Think about the quiet stories that readers love. The two that always come to mind for me are Owl Moon by Jane Yolen and Dream Snow by Eric Carle. Both are seasonal books about a winter night. Owl Moon is a book about owling and family. Those are the hooks. Dream Snow is a Christmas book. The Night Walk is about family. It also sets the reader up for a discussion about the difference between night and day, sunrise and sunset.

An Audience

Knowing what the hook is for your quiet story will lead you to who the audience is. In short, who is it that will buy your quiet book? Many quiet books make excellent gift books. You could give Owl Moon to either a bird lover or a new father. I would choose The Night Walk for new parents or nature enthusiasts. Babymoon is another great book for new parents.

Are you seeing a theme here?

But don’t get hung up on the idea that your quiet book has to be for just this audience. A quiet book can be a great bedtime book without being for new parents. I think that’s where Dream Snow fits in.

Depth, emotion and an audience. These three things benefit any picture book manuscript but are essential in the quiet picture book.

–SueBE

Marketing Plans: Should You Be Buying What They’re Selling?

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I’m not sure why this trend this year, but 2023 seems to be all about marketing and self-promotion. I’ve sampled three different courses/plans.

In the first, a leading author whose indie books have been on the New York Times best sellers list showed how to boost your backlist to help make sales. Her thing is to look at your backlist and determine which books are doing great, which are doing pretty well, and which are doing badly.

Her advice it to pick one of those stinkers and first update the cover. Then update the description. Last but not least, check you price. Then she runs an ad or takes part in a promotion. Do one at a time because that way you can see if it worked and how well. The cost of her session was $0.

Next I saw webinar from someone who helps other writers market their books. He says that social media ads are pointless. They don’t work at all. Instead he advises writers to find a way to connect with “100 little Oprahs.” Find 100 social influencers with some success, and ask them to feature your book in some way. The session that I saw was $0 but he offers a detailed plan on how to do this for . . . I don’t remember. It was thousands of dollars.

Last but not least, I read a piece about success with social media ads. They offer a seven day free sample and two classes, one on Facebook ads and one on Amazon. Each class is about $175. He tells you to promote your best performing book to have even better sales.

Three different webinars or articles. Three different methods that to an extent contradict each other. So who do you believe?

There are a lot of variables when it comes to promoting your books. What works for one author may not work for another. Times change. What works in one genre may not work in another. And you have to know how to find the person who will buy your books. Note: I didn’t say where to find your reader. When you write for children, your buyer and your readers aren’t always the same person. Talk to people whose work is similar to yours in genre and audience. See what has worked for them.

Part of it will also depend on you. You may not be comfortable reaching out to 10 people let alone 100. But if you don’t have money to spend on advertising, and you have an ebook, reaching out to 100 people may cost you time but doesn’t have to cost you a dime.

There are a lot of places to go to find information on this topic. Look around and find something that makes sense to you. And don’t spend a lot of money on a class if you aren’t going to follow through.

–SueBE

Graphic Journaling

Yesterday I attended a fun, online workshop organized by SCBWI Israel. The workshop leader was Sandra Dumais who explained why she likes to keep a graphic journal and what she gets out of it. A big part of it was simply helping her to remember things that had gone on. But she also discussed thinking in terms of a graphic narrative. This in the morning led to this in the afternoon which led to this in the evening and I felt like this about it.

She took us through journaling our own day and encouraged each of us to fill two pages or sheets of paper. Given the fact that this workshop started at 11 am in my time zone, I focused on filling one page with events/observations about my morning.

As people held up their pages, it was fun to see the different styles and the methods people used to communicate. Some were text heavy. Others included no text at all. One drawing clearly depicted someone with a leg cramp.

I’m not sure why my entry starts in the upper left and circles down and around the page. It isn’t typical so I included little arrows for people to follow.

I had to laugh at my own drawings. It looks like I had a pizza for breakfast, but that’s oatmeal with dried cherries (large and round) and dried cranberries (neither large, nor round). My birds are rudimentary at best but that’s a male cardinal in the background and a junco in the foreground.

Dumais talked about how she likes to go back through these journals and see what she observed each day. She also talked about how these entries help her see the possibilities around her for new stories for young readers.

I can definitely see how doing this daily would help me learn to be more observant. How better to draw falling snow? Is there a simpler way to note an acceptance and payment? And, I may not have had a kid-centric morning, but looking at the events that came about before lunch I do have an idea for a story based on this.

What about you? Do you journal?

–SueBE