2014 SCBWI Florida Conference

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I love writing conferences. I’ve been attending them for about five years and SCBWI ones for the last three, when I decided to focus on writing for kids. Writing conferences offer a unique opportunity that’s equal parts inspiration, craft, and networking. And there’s something special about those that specialize in kid-lit. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but there’s a collective embracing of everyone who’s new, an inclusion into this fabulous clique. Kid-lit writers are some of warmest, nicest people I’ve ever met.

(NOTE: I’ve met wonderful writers in all the conferences I’ve attended. And I know some pretty amazing writers who don’t write for kids, writers who’ve been instrumental in guiding my writing career. It’s just that when strictly speaking about conferences, I seem to find more camaraderie at SCBWI conferences. Maybe it’s because I’m more “seasoned” now and more comfortable in my own writing skin. Maybe it’s because I know more people. There are many variables, of course.)

This past January 17-19, I went to the 2014 SCBWI Florida Conference in Miami. Third year in a row. Fifth SCBWI Florida conference. And it didn’t disappoint. In fact, if you read my I Have An Agent post, it rocked! But that’s not why I loved it (well, okay, it was part of it, but the truth is, I’ve loved every single SCBWI FL conference I’ve been to, even those where my work didn’t elicit such positive feedback–and yes, I’ve had many of those moments.) I loved this conference because of the people I met and because the workshops offered some great talks on craft and the business.

I attended the Friday Novel Intensive with agent Jen Rofe of Andrea Brown Literary, editor Stacy Abrams of Entangled Publishing, and author Chris Crutcher. It was intense (pun intended), and the topics ranged from the market, to germinating ideas, to execution and beginnings. Then the trio tackled first page critiques, and for the first time since I’ve been attending, everyone who submitted an anonymous first page received feedback. Mine offered an “aha!” lightbulb moment, which I executed right away–and it was that missing link I couldn’t figure out. During the course of the day, we learned that right now, editors are looking for:

  • Commercial and fun picture books
  • Character-based chapter books
  • Fun middle grade, especially for boys
  • Well-written, high concept YA
  • NO paranormal or dystopian
  • Nonfiction, especially narrative nonfiction (autobiographies/biographies)

There were some awesome gems during this intensive, too.

  • “Write that thing that scares you.”–Jen Rofe
  • “When you’re sitting down, writing your story, tell it in the most raw, intimate way you can tell it.”–Chris Crutcher
  • “Now is an awesome time to be a writer because there are so many ways to market.”–Stacy Abrams

I didn’t get to attend the Picture Book Intensive, but all the talk I heard said the same: Deborah Warren, Laura Whitaker, Andrea Pinkney, and Toni Buzzeo were fantabulous. If I could’ve cloned myself, I would’ve!

Friday evening was kicked off with the first-book’s panel, which is always wonderful. And this year it was even better because my writing friend Vivi Barnes was up there with her debut novel, OLIVIA TWISTED. So it was great to know one of the cool kids on the panel! All four of the authors were fabulous: Nancy Cavanaugh, Steven dos Santos, Cristin Bishara, and Vivi. Check out their books!

Then, attendees gathered at Books & Books for snacks, mingling, and a mystery panel of experts: a group of kids ranging from 6 to 16 who answered questions from the moderator, Gaby Triana, about all things books. This panel elicited many awww’s, and it was wonderful to see how eloquent the experts were at verbalizing what they read, their preferences, and what they wished there was more of out there in the book world.

Saturday was full of inspiration. We had fabulous speakers: Chris Crutcher, Augusta Scattergood and Andrea Pinkney, Sarah Pennypacker,Peter Brown, and Lois Duncan. We cried. We laughed. Our heart strings were tugged and twisted. And like with Friday’s intensive, there were beautiful, inspiring gems:

  • “Go find those fundamental things (like grief) that are so human, they’re universal. We have to be willing to go there, be embarrassed, tell it all.”–Chris Crutcher
  • “Grief– you do it ’till you’re done.”–Chris Crutcher
  • “When you’re telling a story, just sit down and tell the hell out of it.”– Chris Crutcher
  • “There are readers you will never meet but whose lives you will impact. That is what matters.”–Andrea Pinkney
  • “A book connects the reader to the rest of his tribe through time and space.”–Sara Pennypacker
  • “Everyone needs their stories reflected back at them. Not just those in extraordinary circumstances.”–Sara Pennypacker
  • “Stories allow for empathy.”–Sara Pennypacker
  • “Never give up. Learn from your mistakes and keep going…Never burn your bridges…Don’t be afraid to take chances.”–Lois Duncan
  • “Every life is a story.”–Lois Duncan
  • “The only thing stronger than law enforcement is the power of the pen.”–Lois Duncan
  • “Don’t let yourself be crushed with rejections of a book today. If you really think it’s a good book, keep it.”–Lois Duncan

The agent panel featured agent extraordinaires Deborah Warren, Jen Rofe, and Ammi-Joan Paquette, while the editor panel included stellar editors Stacy Abrams, Kat Brzozowski, Laura Whitaker, Andrea Pinkney, and Aubrey Poole. Both panels were enlightening and so fun to listen to. It’s always eye-opening to hear what agents and editors are looking for in manuscripts, what entices them to keep reading. What did I learn? The time for problem novels is over. Instead, agents and editors are looking for work that contain “issues” without being about the issues,  for diverse characters whose stories aren’t (only) about being diverse. Paranormal and dystopian are out… for now. The market and editors’ lists are completely full for now. Tuck those PNR and dystopian manuscripts for a later time. Agents and editors also looking for writers to have an online presence, but as Ammi-Joan Paquette pointed out, “an awkward [online] presence is probably worse than no presence” at all. And it certainly shouldn’t come at the expense of your writing! Others wish list items mentioned: country song in a book, boy books, dirty dancing YA, book about singing, multicultural books, picture books, exotic/overseas settings, books about food/eating/bakeries, experimentation in format, LGBTQ, diversity, piercings/tattoos.

Saturday night ended with a Steampunk smash. The Clockwork Ball was a huge success and showed just how well South Floridians like to party. The costume contest was fabulous, the food was good, and the company was even better–which means there were many sleepy, groggy conference-goers the next morning!

Sunday’s workshops were varied and timely. They included topics from voice in YA, to picture books, to romance, character development, and nonfiction–and everything in between. I wanted to split myself up so I could attend them all! I sat in Kat Brzozowski’s workshop on voice in YA and Laura Whitaker’s editor/writer relationships, and both were enlightening. Kat brought in some very cool acting exercises to illustrate how important it is to know our characters’ voices, and she had us dissecting published pages to do the same. Laura’s talk on what editors want in their writers, along with the current state of publishing, was enlightening and hilarious.

We said our final good-byes after the workshops. It was bittersweet. This was perhaps one of the best–if not the best–writing conferences I’ve attended. I’m looking forward to see what our Mid-Year Workshops (June 6-7 in Orlando) will bring. SCBWI Florida Regional Advisors Linda Rodriguez-Bernfeld and Gaby Triana, along with the rest of the SCBWI Florida crew put together some pretty awesome conferences! And check out this lovely slide show, put together by our Assistant Regional Advisor Curtis Sponsler.

Happy writing, everyone!

I HAVE AN AGENT!!!!!

This is an all-caps and exclamation marks kind of post because HOLY WOW–I HAVE AN AGENT!!!!! And she’s none other than the FABULOUS, AMAZING Deborah Warren of East West Literary!!!!!

In case the all-caps and extra exclamation marks aren’t an indication of how excited I am, here are some examples to drive that sentiment home:

excited-baby

giphy

Tangled excited

So how did happen? Sit back. Grab some popcorn (or raisinets or circus peanuts). Pull up your feet and relax.

Once upon a time, I wrote a novel. And I revised it. And I took it to conferences, workshopped it in UCLA classes, brought it to my critique group, shared it with beta readers and critique partners. I did everything I was supposed to, and even though in my gut I knew something was missing and that the market was not right for it, I decided to query it. I did my research, thought I knew what I was doing (HINT: I didn’t. Not really, but I did learn), and workshopped that query to death.

Around query #18, I stopped sending more out because my gut was telling me something wasn’t working and I needed to figure it out. But more than that, there was this fabulous shiny new idea that was more enticing, more personal. And it might even be “the one.” I took everything I learned writing my first ms and poured my energies into this project. I plotted some, I researched lots, and I pantsied some, and before I knew it, I had a first draft. Then I revised and brought it to my critique group, online critique partners, and beta readers.

When I thought it was ready, I started the querying process. I researched agents based on their wish lists, their current books, interviews and, if applicable, Twitter presence. I wanted someone who would love my work but also someone I connected with. Some of the agents on my list weren’t open to submissions, and I heed and hawed and waited because I was pretty certain at least one of them would be at our regional SCBWI Conference in January. I only sent out a handful of queries, mostly because I was swamped at work–and I was okay with it. I entered and was chosen in Pitch Madness (another post coming soon about the benefits of online pitch contests!). I got some full and partial requests. I received rejections.

I wasn’t in a rush like I was with my first ms. Part of it was, again, because I was swamped at work. In October, I got a shiny new idea and decided to try my luck at NaNo. I plotted extensively this time and when Nov 1 rolled around, I started writing. Then I entered and was selected for Baker’s Dozen. I got half-way through ms #3 (through a series of personal set-backs), when PitchWars was announced and I decided–why not? This was going to be my last contest entry. I entered and was ecstatic when I was selected by the awesome Dannie Morin to be an alternate on her team. (And in her blog post, she wrote she couldn’t put my first three chapters down and omg was that so freaking awesome to hear!)

Then I received confirmation that one of the top agents on my list who was closed to queries was, in fact, going to be at our regional SCBWI Florida conference. I was thrilled! Some pretty awesome agents also had my full, so when I got into PitchWars, I decided not to send any more queries out. Dannie sliced and diced my ms and I spent the next five weeks adding and strengthening and polishing my ms until it blinded me. My wonderful teammates became fabulous critique partners as we worked hard to make our stories shine.

Then came the conference. And it was amazing. (I need to write another post about it!) There was such a magical energy in the air. The faculty was excited and energetic. When the agent’s panel was up, and I heard Deborah speak about what she was looking for, I knew she’d be perfect. So did Gaby Triana, one of my critique partners and Deborah’s client. Gaby encouraged me to query Deborah. I did Sunday, after the conference ended, and within a few hours, I had a request to see the full.

I was floored!

Wed afternoon–the day PitchWars entries went live–I was starting class when my phone rang. I’d forgotten to silence it. As I hastily shut it off, I registered it was a California number. And I froze, doing a mental check-off of who I knew in CA. Deborah was in CA. So were some of my online critique partners, but they didn’t have my phone number. As I was in the middle of class and had to focus on teaching, I forced myself to not think until the end, even though all I wanted was to run into my office and check my voicemail. When class was over, I checked my email and almost face-planted when I saw I had an email from Deborah. She loved my work and wanted to talk! SHE LOVED MY WORK!!!! I might’ve stomped. And squeed. And possibly scared a few random people in the halls. Seriously. This was me:

Happy Shocked

But I was at work and had to run out of the office, and calling from the car seemed like a bad idea all around. I listened to her voicemail a few times while I waited to get home. I spoke with Dannie, who gave me a pep talk. I spoke with Gaby. As soon as I walked through the door, I put on TV for my son and called.

And got voicemail.

After a series of phone tags, we finally connected Thursday afternoon. When we hung up, I was over-the-moon and through-the-clouds excited. She was so sweet and so excited about my work and had a clear vision for my career!!! I took the next few days to process all the information and contact the agents who had my full and partials. My entry from PitchWars was pulled when I received Deborah’s message. And on Monday, 1/27, I officially accepted her offer.

I’ve been walking on cotton-candy clouds ever since.

SCBWI Florida Conferences

I recently got back from the SCBWI Florida Mid-Year Workshops, and let me tell you, if you live in Florida and you write for kids, you’ve got to go to one of these. They’re pretty awesome.

SCBWI Florida puts together some fantabulous conferences and workshops. In January, the Annual Conference is in Miami. The theme for the next one, Jan 2014? Steampunk. How awesome is that? In June, we have the Mid-Year Workshops in Orlando. Disney. Fellow writers and editors talking and learning about writing for kids on Disney grounds? Disney. This year the workshops were held at the Disney Swan & Dolphin, a hop and a skip away from Epcot. Did I mention Disney? Seriously, can it really get any better than that?

I think I’d say I’m a veteran conference-goer. Before I started seriously writing for kids, I attended others (AWP, FIU, Sanibel Island Writer’s, and others). I’m very blessed that my employer encourages professional development, and since I teach English and writing, it’s a win-win. Every conference has been great. I’ve learned, soaked in ideas to use in my own teaching, grown in my craft and networked. And this is my plug for conferences: if you can afford them, they’re amazing opportunities to know people, to talk about books with others who get it, and to learn craft and to learn about the business side. Because in this business, we can’t fall stale. We have to keep growing regardless of whether we’re published or pre-published. 😉

Since joining SCBWI in October 2011, though, I’ve attended each of our regional conferences and workshops. Which makes this past conference my fourth. And what a difference it makes! I remember my first conference. I was shy. Nervous. Anxious. I knew no one, but I dove in and learned something new in one of the intensives: leveled readers. Then I was inspired by the workshops and the speakers and the first books panels. I saw Jessica Martinez speak and play her violin and I remember thinking: I want to be there one day (sans the violin because, well, I have no idea how to play). I did meet a couple people, and reconnected with a former colleague.

I went to the second conference a little more confident. My WIP at the time was about half-way done, and I was excited about this YA project and about the workshops. I attended a novel intensive with the fabulous lit agent Josh Adams from Adams Literary and authors Gaby Triana and Nancy Werlin, and when my first page was read during first page critiques, I nearly died when all three praised it. I hyperventilated, I’m sure, but Josh’s reaction especially gave me the confidence to keep going. I left that conference renewed and energized and ready to finish my book. It was because of this conference that I met Gaby and found my critique group, something I’m beyond thankful every single day. This conference will forever remain in my memory.

Third conference was equally awesome. My previously WIP was now completed and I had started another WIP. Not only did I get to hang out with my awesome critique group (Gaby, Danielle Joseph, and Christina Diaz Gonzalez, but I got to mingle with agents and editors and this time, I didn’t freeze up. I met the awesome Aimee Friedman, editor at Scholastic and author; Mandy Hubbard, literary agent at D4EO, author, and my former Lit Reactor instructor (love when internet world meets real world!); Michael Stearns, lit agent from Upstart Crow Literary, who critiqued my WIP. I was beyond inspired by Bruce Coville, Ellen Hopkins and Toni Buzzeo, who autographed a book for my son. Add to that the Barnyard Bookstomp dinner dance as well as agents, editors and first book panels, and it was fabulous.

This last one was also great. This time, I graduated to volunteer, and it was a wonderful experience–so much so that I hope to be more involved in future conferences! I attended the novel intensive with Brian Farrey-Latz, editor at Flux, and authors Alex Flinn, and Jordan Sonnenblick. There were lots of great exercises that pushed us beyond comfort levels, and that was awesome! Then on Saturday the Sci-Fi/Fantasy workshop with lit agent Joe Monti and author Matthew Kirby. I met new writers, and reconnected with those I’d met before. The Elixir Mixer and Silent Auction was perfect for networking and just hanging out with like-minded people. The only downside is that my fibro decided to flare-up a bit by the second day, but I got through it! I had some great critiques, too, and I loved Brian’s enthusiasm for my WIP. 🙂

I hope you see a pattern here. I’ve only listed a few of the faculty and speakers. In fact, the lineups are always great, from picture books to illustrators to middle grade and YA. SCBWI FL conferences = amazing. There’ll be a new addition on Sat, July 13: Picture Book Bootcamp at West Osceola Branch Library. For more info, go here. I have no doubt it’ll be just as informative and inspirational as the regional conference and mid-year workshop.

I’m now counting down to the Jan one because I can’t wait to meet up with old writing friends and meet new ones, and I can’t wait to see what Linda, Gaby, and the rest of the SCBWI Florida team has in store. Oh, and I totally can’t wait for the steampunk dinner dance. I’m already working on getting the perfect costume for hubby and me. Of course, I’m hoping by then, I’ll have an agent, but even if I don’t, I know I won’t be disappointed.

So you want to be a writer?

There’s a plethora of advice for writers out there. Just google “advice for writers” and you’ll find it. And there really are amazing bits of advice.

Well, here’s mine: become part of the writing community.

Yeah, we all know that if we want to be writers, we have to sit down and write the darn thing, whatever “it” may be. Our projects don’t write themselves. They take blood and sweat and tears and sleepless nights (and either lots of wine or lots of chocolate). It’s a process that’s beautiful and harrowing and magical and frustrating. Walls will be put up and doors will close to test us–how much do we want this thing? How much will we work at it? If we want something bad enough, nothing should stand in our way.

But here’s the thing. A writing community offers an amazing opportunity of support. A certain amount of cheerleading. It allows us to compare notes, to be with like-minded people who will totally understand our acronyms and crazed stories about how, in the middle of the night, we woke up with a dream that told us exactly what happens next in our WIP. We get it.

And now that the world is connected, literally, with the click of a button, it’s so much easier. But seriously, if you want to write, you need to sit your butt down and write, but you also need to go find other writers. How? Join organizations. Attend conferences. Take classes (online or in person). Join critique groups. Two of the best things I ever did when I began this journey was join SCBWI and take classes through UCLA Extension. Both have offered me an abundance of opportunities. I’ve learned craft and met some amazing writers, many of whom I still keep in contact. I met my critique partners through a Litreactor course and SCBWI conference.

Something else that, for me, has been such a wonderful experience–joining Twitter. The networking possibilities it offers are amazing, and I’ve been able to connect with other amazing writers and authors.

I have found that the writing community is a close-nit, supportive one, and if you want to write, join it!

End of October?

I realize I’ve been quiet on the blog front and I apologize for that. Truth is, I have to be so strict with any moment of free time I have that it doesn’t leave me much for being on here. The semester is half-way complete, so midterm madness has ascended upon me and my students. Between grading, revising, and writing–and my UCLA classes–there’s little time for much else.

I’m so looking forward to winter break!

That said, I’m also looking forward to the start of next year. I’m starting off the year with the SCBWI Miami conference in January, and I’m hoping to add the LA conference in August to that. I’m also participating in NaNoWriMo this year, where I hope to complete THROUGH THE WALLED CITY. I have 4200 words written and I’m in love with this story just as much as I love SOUL MOUNTAIN. Maybe even more. The magic of the process has captured me again. I don’t think I can ever grow tired of it! My goal is to finish the first draft during NaNo and then start revising. I don’t know if it’s a realistic goal, but I have to try. How I wish NaNo was during the summer…

Happy writing everyone!

Friday Five

My writing Friday has returned, and to start it off, I thought I’d delve into a “Friday Five” kinda post.

1. My son graduated from preschool. And he’s now registered for KINDERGARTEN. Yes. I am warring with myself. On the one hand, I’m so excited for and proud of him. On the other, I want to throw myself down, pound my fists on the floor, and cry, “I don’t want him to grow up! I don’t wanna!!” But I won’t. Because I’m, you know, an adult. Now we have to work on getting his uniform, school supplies, AND we have to work on a summer reading project which is due by the third day of school. EEEK! Let the homework begin.

Of course, his being bigger now is causing me to seriously think about camp during the summer. At least for part of it. I have work to do–I’m still teaching, and I have to finish this draft…I’m THISCLOSE to finishing the first draft and I’m so ready to begin the serious revisions– and he’s got a ton of energy. I’ve been keeping him busy during the day with pockets of quiet time so I can get work done, but it’s been really hard getting that balance…it hasn’t been working too great.

2. The SCBWI Florida mid-year conference was AMAZING. Not only was it held in Disney’s Yacht Club (which was beautiful and a hop-and-a-skip away from Epcot!), but I also met so many fabulous people and the intensives and workshops were great.

I attended the Novel Intensives on Friday, with agent Josh Adams from Adams Literary, author Gaby Triana, and author Nancy Werlin. What I loved about this intensive, was that it focused on strategies that will help me now as I transition from first draft to serious revision. I have the skeleton down, but now comes the real work: reshaping, adding layers, removing fluff, and working on (fixing?) characters, pace, motives, tension, stakes, and language. I’m adding layers, people! Layers.

I recently tweeted this about revision: “What I love about revision is witnessing how each round molds the story, adding yet another layer that works toward making it whole.” I know my students come to revision with groans and excuses. They hate it (most of them, anyway). I think I used to as well. But there’s a moment of clarity that happens, when I watch what I’ve written be transformed into something so much more beautiful than when it started. A butterfly emerges from its cocoon. That’s what revision does to writing, and I’m loving witnessing this transformation. So yes, revision? Bring it on!

Gaby Triana and Nancy Werlin had great suggestions and exercises for working on plot and characters. I’ve already started implementing some of these, and they’re beyond useful. They also talked about time management, which, as you can see from my number 1 in this post, is tricky! Josh Adams gave us a wonderful view into the current YA market, which writers need to know! It’s daunting and harrowing thinking about the after. After the manuscript, now what? After I finish my story, how do I do this? After the story is finished… the query letter *shudder*–I think most newbies probably follow a similar thought pattern, and that’s why knowing the market is important! (I’m still working on my feelings toward the query letter…) It doesn’t mean going out and writing into a trend (no! Though if that’s the story you must tell, then tell it. Don’t force it into a trend); it means understanding the way it works. Writing is an art, but publication is a business; writers need to know this. All three also read great first lines from current and past books, and it reinforced the importance of a great first line/page.

Then came the first page critiques. These are done anonymously and are exactly what the name suggests: critiques by the panelists of the first page of your manuscript. I submitted mine and when they started picking them at random, holding my breath, vacillating between “please pick mine” and “no, don’t pick mine.” And then they picked mine. I swear I heard nothing by Nancy Werlin reading my first page, and it was scary and nerve-wracking and all I could do was wring my hands to keep them from shaking while I waited for her to finish and for the critiques to begin. But guess what, they loved it! I must’ve sat there with an idiot grin plastered on my cheeks from the feedback I received. It was such a confidence boost, such a shock of electric excitement. I think my favorite compliment was that it sounded “lyrical.” Granted, I know it’s only one page–one out of maybe two or three hundred– but it means that what I did with the first page, and probably chapter since those have been worked and reworked so many times I’ve lost count, works. And it means I can do it. So yeah, that was pretty cool.

On Saturday, I attended the YA track with Nancy Werlin and Noa Wheeler, editor at Henry Holt Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Macmillan. It was also a great workshop, with the focus on characters. Again, we got great exercises that I’m keeping handy now as I start transitioning from first draft to revision. Then, Sat afternoon, I had my first chapter critiqued, only…it wasn’t my first chapter anymore (though it was one character’s first chapter). Still, it was good because I saw some major flaws with that character’s chapter/motivation, so I know it’s something I have to work on. Donna Gephart was sweet and insightful and gave me some really good notes.

It was a great experience, and I’m so happy I was able to go. Another pretty freaking awesome thing happened, but I don’t know if I can say much about it, so for now, I’m keeping quiet. Suffice it to know that I was excited and terrified all rolled up into one sticky ball, but that which doesn’t scare, isn’t worth pursuing! Regardless of how it turns out, the fact that it happened had me grinning, again, like an idiot for a long, long while.

3. I went on vacation after the conference, but it was the most stressful vacation ever! Why? Because I had to close out session 2 (finish grading and entering final grades) and I had to prepare session 3 (for which I had to finish converting the course to the new learning management system). I wouldn’t have chosen to go on vacation this week, but since the conference was in Orlando, this was the most obvious choice. Still, it was nice going to the parks (sometimes), and working by the pool (much better than working in my desk). I wasn’t feeling great thanks to a small flare-up and difficulty sleeping, but I trudged through and made it. I think another mini-vacation is in order. This time, to the beach. And this time, not during such a critical time in the semester!

Of course, vacation on the beach will probably look something like this:

4. I started a 4-week class in LitReactor with Mandy Hubbard, YA author and agent with D4EO Literary, on writing and selling the YA novel. This class was perfect for the month gap I had between my Novel III and Novel IV classes, and I’m so happy I signed up.  It’s been awesome, and the community of writers in there is unbelievable. Some amazing talent! And Mandy Hubbard is funny and insightful and helpful! We get our first three chapters and a query letter critiqued during the class by both classmates and Mandy, and I’ve gotten a lot of great feedback. This is what I love about classes in workshop settings, like the UCLA classes. They are invaluable for growing as a writer. Critique groups, too. The only way to get better (other than learning about craft and revision and working hard, of course) is to put your writing out there. It’s scary, but it is SO SO SO beneficial. It also teaches how to take criticism. I don’t get defensive like I did when I first started sharing my work. I take it in, let it simmer, and often find truth, which then makes my writing that much better. My first page/chapter wouldn’t be such if I hadn’t listened to suggestions of my classes. In fact, it was a classmate in my UCLA class who suggested starting with my male character! So yes, I’m excited about this class.

5. I’m also excited about starting Lynn Hightower’s Novel Writing IV class at UCLA’s Writers Extension. I received the email that I was accepted into this advanced course in early June, and I registered immediately after! I’m nervous, too, and a little terrified as it’s going to push me more, which is a GREAT thing (even if my first reaction is to bury my head in the figurative sand)! Like I’ve said in the above points, what pushes me in my writing makes me better. So I’ll gulp down my fear and my self-doubt and do it!

“The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.”– Sylvia Plath

Happy Friday, everybody!

Peeking in…

I’ve been quite MIA here, I know. It’s been a whirlwind of a month, but a great one! From my son’s preschool graduation, to an amazing SCBWI conference, to staring an online YA Class with Mandy Hubbard, to getting accepted into Lynn Hightower’s Novel IV class at UCLA Extension, to a week in Orlando. Add to that summer classes ending and prepping for the new term that starts Mon (all during vacation), and you have a recipe for craziness. But I’ll come back soon, and I may just elaborate more on some of the above.

Oh! And I added my Twitter feed on here in case you want to follow me! I update that a little more lately. Something about bite-sized messages I can do from my phone makes it easier to update. 🙂

In the meantime, I’m sharing this pic from our trip. Hubby is getting into photography. He takes the camera everywhere and is always taking pictures of everything, especially nature and architecture (and he’s pretty good!). So for Father’s Day, I signed him up for a Nature Photography class. He was super excited! Anyway, on one of the afternoons after my conference, we took a walk. We were staying at Disney’s Yacht Club and the walk consisted of making the loop through the Boardwalk, where my son begged and begged for a disposable camera. He also loves taking pictures! We got him one and he spent the rest of the walk stopping with hubby to take pictures. In this one, two bunnies were in the grass and it was such a cute shot of them both, father and son, both with cameras in their hands.

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Eleven Things I’ve Learned about Writing

Throughout the last few years, I’ve been learning a lot. I’ve swallowed up pride, rolled up my sleeves, and immersed myself into the writing world, and after this year’s SCBWI Miami Conference, I thought I’d make a list of these “things” I’ve learned.

1. Write. This is a no brainer, but years ago, I spent so much time dreaming about writing and talking about writing without actually doing the writing. I came up with ideas and concepts and characters, but it all stayed in ideas, concepts and characters. Nothing got done. I wrote about other things, or I wrote in other ways, but I didn’t write my ideas, concepts, and characters into existence. I let them dissipate. Now, I sit my butt down and write. I make time for writing, somehow, someway, because it’s important. The more I write, the better I get.

2. Take a leap of faith. If I hadn’t taken a leap of faith this past summer, when registering for the children’s writing workshop through UCLA, I wouldn’t have been exposed to this amazing world of children’s writing (including YA), and I wouldn’t have realized how much I enjoy writing for this audience.

3. Revise. This should be another no-brainer, but I’ve only recently really learned how to revise. I mean really revise a creative work. The cyclical process of prewriting, writing and rewriting is crucial, indispensable. Like I tell my students, you can’t just sit down and write something and expect it to be great. It doesn’t happen. It can be good, even really good, but for it to be just right, you have to work it and rework it, like a piece of wet clay, until it takes on the desired shape. I’m heeding my own advice.

4. Be ready to work. It takes work, hard work, to write a story. It’s amazing work, yes. I love each “aha!” moment and I feel that giddiness and awe that comes when the characters and their stories fall into place. I love the feeling of realization that comes when a part of the plot or scene comes full circle and I fully understand what the character was trying to tell me. It’s exciting and absolutely rewarding. But it’s also a lot of hard work. For every “aha” moment, there are fifteen frustrating periods where I don’t know what the hell I’m doing or where I’m going with this or why I’m even bothering. (Okay, so I’m giving some arbitrary numbers here, but you get my point. Often, there are more frustrating moments than enlightened ones, but the enlightened ones make it all worth it.)

5. Following #4 above, know that if you want to write great literature, you’re going to have to put in grueling work. E.B.Lewis said something at the conference that resonated with me: we live in a society where we want straight A’s, but only want to do C work. This is true beyond the academic world (where I see it every day with students); this is true in everything we do, including writing. If we want something great, we’re going to have to put in a great amount of work.

6. Don’t give up. Kathryn Stockett, who wrote The Help, received 60 rejections before getting her book published. Jay Asher, who wrote Thirteen Reasons Why, was rejected twelve times and was close to giving up, but he didn’t. You get the idea. Keep at it. Sure, rejections hurt (I should know!), but they help us become better writers. Every time I receive a rejection, I take another look at my MS (or essay or short story or whatever it was that I submitted) and I revise. And I keep going. Eventually, something’s gotta give, right? Right.

7. Share your work. Really. You need other eyes to see your words and other ears to listen to your words. We don’t live in a bubble, so don’t write in one. One of the ways to improve is to share what we’ve written with others. In a class/workshop. In a critique group. To friends who like to read (and who can give good feedback, not just, “oh I like this” or “this sucks”). I did this for the first time (since I was an undergrad) four years ago, when I raised my hand in a memoir writing workshop and read aloud, in a tremulous voice, what I had written. It was like exposing my soul, but it was good. It helped. And now, whenever I can, I share my work. It makes me a better writer.

8. Read your work aloud. Really. Listen to how your words sound. I give my students this advice when writing academic essays, but the same is true for creative writing. When you read aloud, you catch glitches, awkward phrasing, mistakes. It’s a great tool for revising your work. If you can read it to someone (see #7 above), even better. I do this all the time.

9. Learn to take criticism. The biggest problem with new/some writers (and I’ve been here) is that they think their writing’s the best thing since, well, writing. They think they’ve got it right every time and that there’s little room for improvement. So when they go to a conference or  take a class, and they share their work, they get downright angry when someone else tells them their work isn’t that great and, in fact, it kind of sucks (okay, not in so many words). But the reality is that I was this delusional writer. I hated criticism because I just wanted everyone to tell me how great my writing was. That’s no help at all! If I want to get better, I need people to tell me what’s not working so I can improve it. Of course, it’s also useful to know what does work so I can keep doing that, but I’ve definitely learned to take criticism (even brutal criticism).

10. Go to conferences, join organizations, and know the market. If you want to be a published writer, you have to know what’s out there. If funding permits, go to conferences and join organizations. They are direct links to craft and market and networking. And you have to know what’s out there in the genre in which you’re writing. I’ve done all of this, and I keep doing it. I keep attending conferences and I’m joining organizations and critique groups. I’m researching the market. I go online, read blogs by agents and editors in the genre’s I’m writing.

11. Read. This is a no brainer, and it always surprises me when I hear writers say they don’t read. For me, reading and writing have a direct correlation. You have to be an avid reader to be a good writer. Reading exposes you to other voices, techniques, styles, and skills that you might otherwise ignore. And this is especially important if you’re starting out and you’re still trying to figure out your voice and style. I started as a reader, and I will forever be a reader.