One Writer’s Journey

June 22, 2017

Focus: When You Need to Write

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:07 am
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This past week has been a bit of a writing night mare.  I have writing to do.  Some of it I want to do. Some of it I have to do because deadlines are involved.  But I am just barely meeting those deadlines and I’m doing it with no wiggle room to speak of.  My focus has been, to put it politely, shot.  To prove that point, I went online to find information about the topic and came up on this handy-dandy infographic.

As is so often the case with something like this, all of these solutions are not THE solution at any given time.  But as I looked this over a few things jumped out.

Turn off the phone.  I’ve been trying to work with my cell phone nearby for a variety of personal reasons.  But my phone loves to buzz at me when someone comments on Facebook or when I get an e-mail.  Heaven forbid someone actually try to reach me.  And Amber Alerts?  They are important but I think I may have fractured my kneecap.  The phone needs to stay in my purse while I’m working.

Shut Off Everything You Are Not Using.  Um, yeah.  That’s a lot like my phone and embarrassingly true lately.

Time yourself.  This one works really well when I have vast stretches of time.  When I have a day to work, it is amazing how much time I can piddle away.  But when I set that timer, I write.

I this point, I think shutting things off is the best way for me to go right now.  It doesn’t help that certain people know when I’m at my desk and message me.  It also doesn’t help that I”m a compulsive message checker.  If there is a text or Facebook message waiting, I’m compelled to check it.

So if you can’t reach me today – there’s a reason for that.  I’m a writer.  I need to write.



March 14, 2017

How Many Manuscripts Do You Work on at Once?

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 2:00 am
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One of my writing nonfiction students has been struggling with which one of two topics to choose for her project.  The problem is that she’s waiting to hear back from someone about Topic #1 so she wasn’t sure if she should go ahead and pursue Topic #2.

I suggested that she pursue both.  While she waits to hear back on Topic #1 she should work on Topic #2.  Sometimes it is just a good idea to have a back up.

Me?  I always work on more than one thing at once.  This past week this list included:

  1. The young adult science fiction novel I am roughing out,
  2. A picture book about caves that had stalled out but on Thursday THE solution came to me so I need to get back to work,
  3. A picture book about schools that I roughed out,
  4. The 8th grade level manuscript that I’m researching for Abdo,
  5. A picture book about space flight that I roughed out, and
  6. Oh, I nearly forgot.  And the pitch that I’m working on.

Why so many things at once?  I’ve been working on 1 and 2 for a few weeks now but #2 had stalled out so I was focusing on #1.

I roughed out #3 while working something up for the blog.

The idea for #5 came to me while I was researching #6 so I quickly roughed it out so that I’d have the idea down.

Yeah.  I’m probably a little crazy.  Right now my focuses are#4 since I have a deadline Friday and #6 which is due tomorrow.  But I’m also trying to work on #1 a little bit every day.

I am a very focused, intense writer.  If I know where I am going with something, I can rough out 250-350 words in about 15 minutes.  But once I’ve written this intensely for at most 30 minutes I’m pretty much done for an hour or so.  I can do research.  I can play with my frame for a story.  But I can’t write that hard until I’ve done something else for a while.

What can I say?  This is what works for me.  How do you write?  Do you work on more than one manuscript at a time?



December 7, 2016

Rewriting: Working from my Editor’s comments

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:06 am
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wondering-and-wanderingAbout two weeks ago, I got a rewrite request from an editor.  She had some comments and would be willing to take another look at my manuscript.  I sent out a note saying I would make the changes and then put it off.

In part, that was intentional.  I’m the kind of person who needs to let these things gel a bit.  It makes the rewrite that much easier.

But it wasn’t entirely intentional.  I also landed a contract with the first chapter and outline due tomorrow.  Obviously, that has been my first priority.  I also got sick.  Let’s just say that sneezing etc can be very time-consuming and leave it at that.

Today I set about making the changes. Part of the reason that I like to let things sit is because it gives me time to really consider the editor’s comments.  If I don’t, I make the changes in the simplest, most straightforward way possible.  There’s nothing wrong with that but these kinds of changes often feel cosmetic and superficial.

When I take the time to think about the changes, I can think of how they would ripple throughout the story.  I can consider what existing elements I can pull into these new sections to make them appear original.  My first set of changes were amended to eliminate one of the new settings.  Why?  Because it seemed to spread things out too much.  The rewrite led me to do a bit of research on traditional house design.  My first set of changes sent the characters in one direction and then another.  It terms of illustration and overall story flow, it seemed like a single path would be more easily understood.  I just needed to lengthen the path.

Their journey which wanders a bit more than before led to wondering between the characters.  Why do you think this?  Because of that?  This in turn made the characters seem more 3-D.

I’m going to let the story sit again and take it to my critique group before it send it back in.  I’m hoping that taking a bit more time with it will enable me to complete a manuscript that is whole and hearty and able to please young readers and editors alike.



December 6, 2016

Where Should You Focus: Marketing or Craft?

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:36 am
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focusWhere should you be focusing your energies and time as a writer?  Should you be working on craft or marketing?

I’m going to tell you right now, my answer is not the popular one.  My favorite retreats and conference sessions have always been those led by my fellow writers and illustrators. I want to hear how other people work.  What takes them from fizzy new idea to finished manuscript?  How do they focus their rewrites?

For those of you who don’t know, for 10 years I was Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) Regional Advisor for Missouri.  That means that I was responsible for sending out the quarterly newsletter and scheduling writing events.  At the end of an event, I would pass out a questionnaire.  What did you think of today and what do you want to see tomorrow?  Even if they loved learning about poetry from Constance Levy or mystery writing from Vicki Erwin, they also wanted to see the same things at future events.  Agents and editors.  They wanted access to markets. Craft might have been what they needed but it isn’t what they wanted.

And to a point, I see the logic in this.  Even if you write like Hemingway, you need to do who wants to publish Hemingway.

But the problem is that you first need to learn to write like Hemingway.  Really.  You need to study your craft. Here are five tips for my fellow craft hungry writers.

Read.  Read works that are similar to what you want to write and those that are not.  What do these writers do well?  Study those techniques.  What doesn’t quite work?  Take a hard look a these pieces too and figure out what you would do differently.

Study how-tos.  Check out some of the best how-tos on writing.  Everyone has their favorites and mine include Writing Picture Books, Writing Metrical Poetry, The Plot Whisperer, The Emotion Thesaurus, and Novel Metamorphosis. It doesn’t do any good to just gather such books.  Read them. Apply the techniques. If they include exercises, do them.

Write.  The only way to figure out if you’ve learned anything is to write.  Writing is a practice intensive vocation.  Write, write and write some more.  You’ll either figure out that you don’t really like to do it or that you are getting better.

Rewrite.  It doesn’t do any good to write one story after another.  Although some first drafts are really good, none are perfect.  You have to learn to compare the story you intended to create with the one you got down on paper.  Darcy Pattison’s Novel Metamorphosis is a great tool for accomplishing this.

Rinse, lather, repeat.  That’s my quirky way of telling you that step #5 is to keep doing steps 1 through 4 again and again and again.  When you’ve honed your craft, you’ll actually be ready to take advantage of any market news that comes your way.  Until then?  You may have a market, but you won’t have a market worthy manuscript.


October 6, 2016

My Misfit Manuscript

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 3:56 am
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work-1357001_1920I had a critique group meeting this afternoon.  I love my group and really wanted the chance to get some feedback.  But I’ve been working on the Race and Racism book, due Wednesday.  So that I didn’t have to miss out on their feedback, I pulled out an old manuscript that I jokingly refer to as my misfit toy.

When I wrote it, my publisher was planning to start a series of early readers.  “Can you write a few?”  They printed up scads of examples and sent me an entire box full of material to read.  Yes, you read that correctly.  A box full.  I read.  I thought.  I read some more and then I drafted three manuscripts for them.

They cancelled the program.

When a publisher put out a call for easy reading picture books that could be adapted into an app, I went through these old manuscripts.  I really liked one of them.  I rewrote it with this publisher’s specs in mind.  They loved it and we discussed the app.  Our ideas for this book meshed perfectly.

I waited for the contract.

And I wanted for the contract.

They explained having to delay things for a while and I waited some more.

Then they announced that they had produced the last of their apps and books.

Is this manuscript worth reworking again?  Or should I just let it slide?  At this point in our relationship, I have no perspective.  Is it a misfit or just unlucky?  So I ran it by my group.

They declared it not a misfit.  Then Rick suggested that I add another attempt before the solution is found.  And Rita recommended more onomatopoeia.  I can clearly see how this will improve the piece.  It looks like once I rework it that it will once again venture into the world of publishing.

Hopefully the third time really is the charm.


September 8, 2016

My Writing Process: Working on a New Nonfiction Book

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:44 am
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library-869061_1920A week ago, I got an e-mail from Red Line Editorial.  Would I like to write a book for a new Abdo series?  As always, my first response is “Yay! Someone wants me to work for them!  I’m going to get paid.  Hey, wait a minute.  What do they want me to write about?”

Why the subject is never my first thought remains a mystery, but it always takes me a moment to get there.  Truly, my process always follows set steps.

  1. Yay. They want me.
  2. Wait.  What will I be writing about?
  3. Sure. I can do that.
  4. Wait.  What do you want again?  What are the specifics?
  5. Cool. This is so do-able.  And I’m perfect for the job.
  6. I wonder what my library has on this.  There — books requested and journal articles saved.
  7. There’s so much information.  But I have to make sure that X, Y and Z make it into the book.
  8. Whoa. This is really complicated.  I’m not sure I can pull this off.
  9. Take more notes.  Take more notes!
  10. Ah, this is going to work after all.

Four Abdo titles sitting on my shelf, two more sets of author copies to arrive any day, and two more in production, but I go through these same 10 stages each and every time.  Where am I right now?  Step 8.  I’m writing for a series on racism and the thought of explaining microaggressions is freaking me out.  Why microaggressions vs everything else, I have no clue but I tend to panic about something pretty specific.

So far I have 18 pages of notes.  I need to skim through them and pull out the sources for my bibliography but I have about 13 more sources to read.  I have to admit that I love electronic sources such as PDFs.  Why?  As much as I love the feeling of a print book in my hands, when I research I copy and paste material directly into my notes.  I started doing this on book #2 because while writing book #1 (Ancient Maya), I got tired of going back to the orginal source to see exactly how the author had worded something.  It was a bother when I was writing my draft.  It was a huge bother when answering my editor’s questions. It is a lot easier to know that I have everything at my finger tips.

Ah, well.  Back to the reading.  6 of these sources are books so finishing up the research stage is going to take some time.


August 10, 2016

Follow Your Passions

Fort Piokens tunnel-1572456_1920Follow your passions.” That’s the advice that we so often get about writing.  Write what you love.

So I look at the things that I love and I think … maybe.  The list includes:

Textiles/knitting – Color and textures mesmerize me even if my skill level is so-so.

Science – biology, rocks, animals.  I love it all.

History/Archaeology – I especially love what I call “fringe history,” the stuff that not everyone knows because it isn’t mainstream.  Let’s just say that I was into diversity before it had a name.

Then this week I read a blog post by Karlin Gray who wrote a nonfiction picture book about one of her childhood passions — Nadia Comaneci.  Gray was an Olympics crazed kid who loved gymnastics although it wasn’t something in which she excelled.  She wrote Nadia: The Girl Who Couldn’t Sit Still, and it is out in time for not only the current games but Comaneci’s perfect 10.

Gray came up with her topic after thinking about the things she loved as a five year-old.  So what would be on my five-year-old list?

Fabric and thread.  My mother and grandmother loved to sew.  Mom made wedding dresses and suits.  My grandmother did embroidery.  She and I embroidered a quilt together.

Horses and, by extension, other large animals including cattle.  Horses were my first love.  I learned to ride when I was about 6 or 7 and so short that my legs stuck out and I had no hope of reaching the stirrups.  This wasn’t a pony but a Tennessee Walker with a ruined mouth who couldn’t feel any of my signals on the reins.  He would notice when I started to slide off sideways, walk to the fence or the barn wall and let me push myself back up.

Fort Davis.  One set of grandparents lived in Alpine, Texas and I loved visiting this fronteir fort.  I also loved visiting Cahokia Mounds, Ft. Bellefontaine and every other site I ever saw.  I saw the cell where Geronimo was held at Fort Pickens.  I spent the better part of an afternoon figuring out how I would have broken him out.

Hmm.  Maybe just maybe the things that I loved as a child have fed into the things that I love know as an adult and there really and truly are stories to be had…


July 5, 2016

Chapters: How Many Is Just Right?

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:28 am
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A few days ago, I pulled out my outline for What’s Up, Chuck?  If I’m going to have it ready to submit by the end of August, I had better get to work.

I hadn’t worked on a new chapter for a while so I didn’t actually remember what chapter I was writing.  It turned out to be chapter 4.  Cool. That puts me at just under half way since I told the editor there were 10 chapters.  Actually, she asked if there were ten and I said, “Yes!”

Anyone who knows me knows that I don’t remember numbers.  Phone numbers, house numbers, room numbers, number of chapters.  Pbbt.

According to the outline, there will be 7.  That’s great in terms of the fact that I am over half way.  That’s not so great if the editor really and truly wants 10.

Just how important is it that there be 10 chapters?  It depends.

If I was working on a book for an ABDO series, the number of chapters would be important.  After all, these are books published in series which means that each book needs to cover similar things.  The format needs to be the same.  This means that the number of chapters need to be close if not the same.

But this isn’t for a series.  Does that mean I can completely ignore “10 chapters”?

Unfortunately, maybe not.  There is always the chance that the editor knows how many chapters work well in this kind of format (a picture story book).  She is, after all, the one with the experience in taking a piece from manuscript to finished book.

I should probably attempt 10 if I can divide things up in such a way that it feels natural.  If it doesn’t feel natural, then I’ll have to go with a different number of chapters.  Fortunately, I’ve already spotted a few changes that I can make to expand the number of chapters.  It’s all in how I group the information.

For now, I’m going to focus on drafting the whole.  Once I have a complete draft, I can play around with how I group the information.  I’ll try for 10 chapters if it works.  If not, we shall see what we shall see.



June 9, 2016

One Manuscript, Two Attempts

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:57 am
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thinkingHave you ever had a manuscript that seemed to morph from one form to another?  That’s been the case with “What’s Up Chuck?”

As I did the research for a  book about why animals vomit, it became obvious that there was a lot of information.  In fact, there was probably too much for a picture book.  I was three chapters in when Get the Scoop on Animal Puke by Dawn Cusick was released from Imaginel Publishing.  Eighty print pages her book touched on a lot of the same animals but didn’t go into the science like I had planned for my book.  Still, I felt that the two books might too easily compete.

I took my manuscript to the Missouri SCBWI retreat and showed it to my critique group.  “Rewrite it as a picture book!” they said.

So then I created the picture book version.  Just as I was finishing that up, I needed a manuscript for the next Missouri SCBWI retreat.  Naturally, I sent the editor “What’s Up Chuck?”  I hoped to get a few hints that would make it sing.  ::cue the music of doom:: To put it simply, the editor likes my voice but thinks this book is way too short to work.

Now I vaccilate.  I’ll be talking to the editor in two days.  Based on her comments, I think she considers this a much better chapter book idea than picture book manuscript.  I still love the idea of this book and I have to admit that I really like the idea of writing it up as a chapter book.  There is so much information and the science is really interesting. Yes, it’s gross but it is also interesting.

But my last critique group was certain it would work as a picture book.  Certain.

I’ll be talking to the editor and I’m running three chapters through the peer critique group.  I know that whether this book ultimately takes shape as a picture book or chapter book, the decision is mine to make.  I just need to make up my mind.

Think . . . think . . . think . . .



February 16, 2016

Have You Written Your Two Throw Away Books?

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:08 am
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office, working, mailThe first book manuscript that you finish may very well not be the first one that you sell.  Why?  As an unknown author, you need a book that is going to pack a powerful push to help you gain readers.  Once you’ve done that, a book with a little less market appeal may be possible.  That was how I had always rationalized that so few writers sell their first book.

A writer friend just shared another reason with me.  He was told by an agent that most writers don’t write anything publishable until they get at least two books out of their system.  Which two are these?  The one that is derivative and the one that is autobiographical.

A book doesn’t have to be fan fiction to feel derivative.  For those of you who aren’t familiar with the term, fan fiction is writing a story using another writer’s characters.  It should be obvious though that I’m not suggesting that most writers actually use another writers characters or even setting.  A piece can feel derivative without  actually doing either of these things.

Writer a rhyming picture books full of silly, made up words and you may be told that your work is too like Dr. Seuss.  Write a middle grade novel set in a school for wizards and someone will compare it to Harry Potter.  In truth it may not be nearly that obvious.  And it generally isn’t intentional. Sometimes a writer will pen something only to have it compared to a book he or she has never read.  I once critiqued a manuscript that felt like a combination of Magic Treehouse and Droon, right down to specific details.  The eery part?  The author had read neither.  Nonetheless, the story felt derivative.

The other throw away is the piece of autobiographical fiction.  Why is this a problem?  Often when we write fiction based on our lives, we don’t have the distance from the topic to do it justice.  We want to keep certain details, chains of events or results the same as they were in real life even when reality doesn’t work within the story.  We fight making the changes that make for a better story.

I understand what my friend was telling me but I have to admit that it worries me.  I can’t pin point which of my stories is derivative and which is autobiographical.  I seriously have no clue.  And I have to wonder if this means that I simply haven’t written them yet.


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