UCLA Writers’ Extension Certificate: DONE!

I just received notification that I’ve completed my requirements for UCLA Writers’ Extension Creative Writing Certificate in fiction! I’m beyond thrilled!!! When I first found out, I did a little of this:

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And this

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I know it’ll feel even more real when I receive the certificate in the mail. And when I take advantage of the manuscript critique, which is part of the program.¬†It’s been such an amazing experience. I’ve met some fabulous writers and made some great friends with whom I still keep in touch. I’ve had inspiring instructors who’ve helped me dissect my writing. I’ll forever be indebted to the faculty I’ve had for cheering me on, for pushing me, challenging me, and believing in me. I’ll continue taking classes periodically, even though I’m done, because I want to keep growing as a writer.

Hopefully some day, I’ll be one of their success stories. ūüôā

 

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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!

If I’m a little quiet on here…

it’s because I’m working hard! ūüôā

This is the last week of summer term, so final portfolios and research papers are coming in.

I’m also working on revisions for my novel. I’m counting my blessing for my wonderful beta readers and critique partners who are giving me some amazing feedback! My novel is printed, tabbed, and it’s starting to bleed purple (I refuse to revise OR grade in red ink…) I’m happy with where it’s going, and I’m marveling every moment in this process. I feel like a kid who’s discovering Disney World for the first time. Seriously! I’ve added the first chapter to the SOUL MOUNTAIN page above, or you can see it here.

Sprinkle in the things life throws in, just to make it interesting, as well as the class I’m taking at UCLA’s Writer’s Extension, a hiccup with health, and family life, and, well, you can deduce the rest.

But I’ll be back soon!

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. ūüôā

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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Random Monday

1. I received Veronica Roth’s book¬†Insurgent wirelessly into my phone on May 1st. I was going to wait, really, I was, but I couldn’t. I started reading at 5ish in the morning and, by the evening, I had finished the book. I had read the first book in her trilogy,¬†Divergent, last year and was hooked on her story. It is similar to¬†The Hunger Games in several ways, but, as much as I hate to admit it because I loved¬†The Hunger Games,¬†Divergent¬†was better I think. So when I received¬†Insurgent, I was hooked. Much of what I liked in the first book was there (the characters, the plot line, the world, the factions, and of course, the love story), but there was more action, the characters were developed further, and secrets were revealed. Now I have to wait until she finishes book 3, which I think is rumored to come out some time at the end of next year. *gasp* I have to wait a whole year! I’ve never gotten hooked on a book so early on. The HP series was almost all out when I started reading them, and¬†The Hunger Games trilogy was also all out when I first read book 1. This will be very interesting indeed.

2. I submitted my writing sample and application for the Novel Writing IV course at UCLA Writer’s Extension Program with Lynn Hightower. I am super excited and psyched about taking that class as I’m hoping it will get me closer to my end goal: completing a polished draft of my novel by the end of the summer. Now I wait (have I mentioned how much I dislike waiting…?) and cross my fingers. I should hear back some time around June 14 whether or not I got in.

3. I also submitted the first chapter of my novel for a manuscript consultation at the SCBWI Florida Summer Workshop 2012¬†this June. I’m scheduled for the Novel workshops and have requested a manuscript consultation. I’m hoping to take away as much, if not more, as I did this past January at the Miami Conference. I’m nervous and excited about this. I’ve had manuscript consultations before (twice on my memoir and twice with great feedback), but this will be the first YA manuscript consultation.

4. I’m listening to an audio book: Sarah Dessen’s Along for the Ride, a contemporary YA novel. I know audio books aren’t knew, but it’s the first time I’ve ever listened to one! It was weird at first. I didn’t like listening to the book. But after a while, I got into it. I’m in chapter 5, I think. I’ve downloaded it to my iPhone so I can take it with me to waiting rooms and such.

5. Next Monday, I’m having my gallbladder removed. I’m a little nervous but more anxious to start feeling better. I’m tired of the nausea and pain and the inability to freaking eat. It’s gotten to the point where even the bland stuff I don’t tolerate. So while I’m not keen on losing yet another body part (lost my appendix when I was 9), I am looking forward to feeling better. It should be a quick and easy surgery and I hear the recovery time is minimal (barring any complications, of course). I’m also looking forward to some R&R and being pampered.