Happy New Year! I hope this post finds you and your families well and off to a great start to 2017. Wow, 2017! Seems odd to see that number in print, but here we are. It’s time for setting both goals and boundaries as we each dive into projects that make our hearts sing! So, in the spirit of this brand-spanking New Year, I want to offer a brand-spanking-new picture book critique special.
For the entire month of January (OK, I’m a little behind since one week has already passed! LOL) I’m offering two PGWRites picture book critiques for the price of one! That’s right…it’s a buy-one-get-one-free opportunity that typically only happens once each year.
So, if you’re ready to start this writing year off with a bang, save those last few changes on that manuscript you’ve been working on and send it in! Then, when you’re ready, you can send in another picture book manuscript for a second critique absolutely free (a $50.00 value)!
Just visit the PGWRites Critiques page and follow the instructions for payment and submitting your manuscript. It’s that easy! Hope to see lots of amazing stories in my inbox very soon!
Here’s to the best writing year ever!
Sensibility– New years are for new beginnings. Dream big and take that important first step.
Sense– Set goals you can reach in a reasonable amount of time. Biting off too much in the first few weeks of the New Year can set you up for failure!
On deck for next week. . . an interview with newly-minted picture book author, Jodi McCay. She’s stopping by to tell us all about her new book, WHERE ARE THE WORDS. And she’s also offering a MS critique (double bonus!). You won’t want to miss it!
Happy fall everyone! I took a couple of months off from posting for some much-needed R & R, and enjoyed getting together with friends and family members over the summer. I hope you and yours spent time soaking up the summer sun and making some great memories! School started in my community the day after Labor Day, but I know many of you got started even earlier. I have a high-school senior this year and a college sophomore, so we’re buckling our seat belts for a great year of surprises and celebrations.
In the spirit of learning and getting back to work, I’m offering a back-to-school picture book critique special. From now through September 30th, participants will receive 25% off the regular price of a PGWRites Critique. That’s a $50 value for only $37.50!
Your personalized PGWRites picture book critique includes:
Line-by-line markup of your manuscript with edits and suggestions. (Using track changes)
A one-page written critique with a detailed explanation of the manuscript mark-up.
A list of the strengths/weaknesses of the manuscript from my perspective, as well as a list of guided questions to help with the revision process.
Answers to your questions about the critique in one follow-up email.
That’s right! All of this for the low price of $37.50! Now that’s what I call a bargain.
Simply visit the PGWRites Critiques tab here at Sensibility and Sense and follow the instructions for payment/submission and in two to three weeks you’ll receive your completed critique!
So get those stories dusted off and sent in. I can’t wait to read your awesome picture book manuscripts!
When you live in the Mitten, late frost is more the norm than the exception. We never, EVER plant annuals until after Mother’s Day, and sometimes even then I find myself covering up my blooming beauties, “just in case.” But cooler temperatures in late spring mean strong roots and beautiful blooms all summer and even into the fall. I promise you, it’s worth the wait.
We get examples of what late frost can do to fragile flowers every year. Case in point: the current state of my magnolia.
She stuck some of her petals out a wee bit early this year and now they are brown and burned from a zap of cold weather. I still have hope that she’ll put on an incredible spring show like the one in this picture from a few years ago, but the many dark, unopened buds make me doubtful. It’s important for writers to beware of “late frost” in the writing life as well. Even though it may feel like your manuscript is ready to submit, if you don’t have many revisions, some honest critiques from critique partners and even a professional conference critique or two, chances are your manuscript is in danger of catching a “late frost” from editors and agents.
It’s not that there’s some kind of hidden secret agenda in publishing- a type of literary hazing if you will- but these proven steps work. Here’s a personal example that I’m excited to share…
Last week, I received a contract for a story from Highlights Magazine! This was a dream come true for me since I’ve wanted to have something published in Highlights since I was like 8 years old. I wrote the story, “The Christmas Candles,” about 15 years ago. The first version was over 2000 words (now that’s funny:), and that was the first version I submitted to Highlights (I’m so embarrassed). Of course I received a rejection straight away. In the meantime, I joined a critique group and worked on a revision based on my group’s suggestions. I then submitted the story to their yearly fiction contest and got no response. Fast forward a few years and many, many revisions later, and I submitted the story to the fiction contest again (their contest subjects are often cyclical). And I didn’t win…again! But this time, I got a letter saying they loved the piece, and if I’d be willing to do a few revisions, they’d like to consider it for regular purchase.
I was overjoyed! Of course I had already sent them what I thought was my best work, so I knew I needed the help of a professional editor to get things just right. I hired a friend of mine that I trust and admire, and she gave me wonderful suggestions that made the story even stronger (thanks Lorri Cardwell-Casey)! About six months later, I received an email from the editor telling me they had loved the revisions but needed one more thing. Because my story was historical fiction, they asked me to find a university professor to do a quick fact check and write a short review of the piece. If I was willing to do that, then they would offer me a contract. It took a few weeks, but I found just the right person for the job and the editor loved the review. The entire process from entering the contest to signing the contract took a year and a half. But the entire process from writing the first draft to signing the contract took almost 15 years! Wow!
Through this process, I learned first hand how sending out a story too early is never a good idea. You’re more likely to get burned by a late frost than land a contract if your story isn’t ready. Would I change this journey if I could? No, not at all. I’ve learned so much and am a better writer because of it. And I can’t even describe to you the joy of delayed gratification. It makes the victory all the sweeter.
So watch out for “late frost” in your writing life. Take your time and make your stories the best they can be! It’s more than worth it!
Sensibility-Delicate new blossoms need lots of TLC to grow into mature flowers. Think of your stories in this way and take proper care of them in the early days of inspiration.
Sense- Drafting, revising, re-writing, critiquing and rewriting again may seem like a waste of time, but it’s the only way to make your story the best it can be.
“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.” Proverbs 13:12
What are some examples of “late frost” experiences in your writing life?
Today is Fat Tuesday! And at our house here in the Mitten, that means pazckis (pronounced poonch-keys).
If you aren’t Polish or don’t live near a Polish bakery, you’ve probably never tried this decadent, once-a-year treat. Pazckis are donuts on steroids…literally. Apparently, the tradition started as a way to prepare for Lent, when Polish women cleaned their kitchens of all fat. That’s why these bad boys are loaded with it, along with a fruit or custard filling and drowned in sugar. You eat one, and you need a nap. Eat two, and you’re done for the night. Don’t ask me how I know this. But I digress. What in the world does Fat Tuesday have to do with writing?
Well, I’ll tell you. We all need to indulge every now and then (and in the case of pazckis, it’s a good thing it’s only once a year). Even writers need to let themselves go and write as many words as they want. It’s cathartic. It’s therapy. It’s liberating to let go of word counts, even for a few minutes, and just write the story that’s inside of you. My first middle grade novel happened this way. I did not set out to write a novel, but I needed to get something off my chest. A memory that haunted me- that made me feel guilty for something that wasn’t my fault. Writing it out until I was done gave me permission to move on to something else. I’ve never submitted that novel. I’ve never even gone back to revise it. But it’s there. I feel proud that I had the courage to get those thoughts, feelings and emotions down on paper.
But remember, tomorrow does come. Lent always follows Fat Tuesday. And for many of us, that means fasting. In writing, that means getting rid of probably more than half of the words you wrote during your fit of unbridled writer passion. But that’s OK too. Getting the words out and flowing means you aren’t done. More words will come. Better ones. Truer ones than you ever thought possible. Cleaning out makes room. Writing it out makes room for your best work. The work that is to come.
I’m reminding myself of that right now as I look at my box of Fat Tuesday revelry. Enjoy them today, I tell myself. And be grateful for a chance to start again tomorrow.
Sensibility- Writing is never just a formula. Part of who you are comes out in every word. Embrace that truth.
Sense- While embracing the writer that is you, remember, not every word you write is vital to the story. Be prepared to cut the fat!
And speaking of writing..don’t forget to check out PGWRites Critiques. If you need a fresh perspective on your picture books, I’m here to help you!
Happy Friday everyone! As promised, I’m here to annouce the winners of my picture book critique giveaway in honor of the launch of PGWRites Critiques! The first five people who left a comment on Wednesday are eligible for this prize. Winners will receive:
Line-by-line markup of your picture book manuscript (1000 words or less) with edits and suggestions.
A big-picture plot analysis.
A list of the strengths/weaknesses of the manuscript from my perspective, as well as a list of guided questions to help with the revision process.
A one-page written critique with detailed explanation of the manuscript mark-up.
Answers to your questions about the critique in one follow-up email.
So without further delay, the winners are…
Congratulations everyone and thanks for leaving your comments! Please send your completed MS in the body of an email (no attachments please) to email@example.com with CRITIQUE GIVEAWAY WINNER in the subject line. I look forward to reading your stories!
I got another rejection today for a piece I’ve been sending around for a while now. For many writers that would sound the story’s final death knoll. But my reward for continuing to send this piece out is a lot of positive feedback about my use of rhyme and the story’s illustration potential. So I haven’t given up on this one, although it’s seen many rewrites and hardly resembles its original self any more. But that’s a good thing, and the primary reason is my 24-hour, three-strike submission rule. Here’s how it works:
The 24-Hour Turnaround
Letting the sting of rejection get the best of you and send you into the writing doldrums is non-productive. Whether you like it or not, rejection is part of the writer life. Learning to use it rather than let it derail you is the only way to survive. When I adopted the 24-hour turnaround I began to see each rejection as a stepping stone, rather than a kick in the gut.
The 24-hour turnaround is simply this: when I receive a rejection I make myself send the story out again within 24 hours. This requires working between rejections to keep a fresh list of potential buyers for each piece. It also stops me from resting on my laurels between submissions and making the mistake of keeping all my writing eggs in one basket. Now don’t get me wrong. There are times when I can’t follow my own rule, due to scheduling issues, deadlines or other interruptions. But having this self-imposed standard gives me the regular kick in the pants I need.
Three Strikes and You’re Out!
The other part of the equation that keeps me constantly looking at my stories with fresh eyes is the three-strike rule. Three rejections equal a serious revision for any of my manuscripts. Once a story has three strikes, it leaves the submission rotation and heads to the woodshed. Once there I typically send it to my critique partner with any editorial notes received (that happens only if I have a relationship with the editor). Sometimes I simply let it rest until I’m ready to do a complete overhaul. Other times I leave it completely until I see the market swinging back in its direction. I rarely put a story away for good, but it does occasionally happen.
Before You Hit Send
The most important thing to remember about any submission process is knowing when a piece is really ready. That’s truly where my system begins. If you have not work-shopped your manuscript in some way- critique group, conference, professional critique service- and already have many, many revisions, trust me, it’s not ready. And after you’ve done all of that, take time to do your homework about where to send your very best work. The shotgun approach may work for some things, but not typically for publishing.
So that’s my system. Having it keeps me sane in this bunny-eat-bunny world of children’s publishing. I’d love to hear about yours!
Sensibility- Writing with passion requires writing with discipline. Having a disciplined approach can actually enhance your creativity.
Sense- Have a system that keeps you organized and on track as you draft, write, revise and finally, submit.
It’s official, the Christmas season is in full swing at our house!
I’m almost finished decorating, and I’ve actually purchased and mailed one Christmas present (for me that’s way ahead of the game). I was feeling pretty good about things until I actually looked at the calendar this morning. Yikes! I’ve only got 23 days to finish everything on my list. No matter what holiday you celebrate, I’m sure you’ve had that moment of panic yourself a time or two. What is it about this time of year that pushes us to make everything perfect? Down to the right stocking stuffers and yummy smells coming from the oven, we need to give our families an amazing holiday experience to feel fulfilled every December.
But isn’t that true about writing as well? We feel the need to adjust every comma, place every period in that just-right spot, take out words, add words, rearrange words…and that’s before we ever show a story to a critique group, much less submit it to an agent or publisher. The writing life is like preparing for Christmas every day of the year. Being that perfect all the time is exhausting—and I hate to tell you this—impossible.
So how can we writers take our imperfect selves and make this holiday season one of great inspiration and productivity? By giving back. Yes, you heard right—give back. With each word you write you give something of yourself to this world. Hopefully, what you write fills others with joy, hope and the promise of a better tomorrow. What’s the use of it otherwise? But as a writer, you can also give to others in ways unique to what you do.
So for the next few weeks, turn off your computer for an hour or so, set that manuscript aside, and try these “give back” writing ideas:
Offer to critique a writer friend’s work that you’ve never reached out to before. Not a critique exchange, just an offer of help to someone you know is struggling with a new manuscript.
Volunteer to read books to homeless children during a Christmas party or after serving meals.
Donate books to your public library or get your critique group together and purchase a few new books for a needy classroom or school library.
Advertise your friend’s books to others for gift ideas. Authors need all the help they can get when it comes to selling what they’ve created.
Help an adult or child learn to read.
Taking time away from your work to give back may feel like you’re not doing your job. But I promise you’ll get back more from the giving than you ever thought possible.
Sensibility- Writing is a gift that is unique to you. Find ways to share that gift with others this holiday season.
Sense- Work hard on your writing, but don’t forget to enjoy these days of celebration. They only come once each year, so learn to savor every moment.
What are other ways you can give back this holiday season? Share your ideas here!
I know it’s difficult to think about, but in just a couple of weeks it’s time for the kids to go back to school!
But children and teens aren’t the only ones who need an education. Writers never graduate, and the best writers know when they need an infusion of craft-related learning to help inspire even greater heights of creativity and progress.Thanks to the Internet, there are lots of ways to find writer education without ever leaving the comfort of your office- or in my case my dining-room office space. I know, it’s sounds less than glamorous but it works! Writer webinars, online writing classes, and low residency graduate programs are all great resources when it comes to getting the education you need to keep up with current trends and continue developing your own writer voice and style. Whatever your writing goals for this fall, consider taking a class, reading a new book on craft, joining a critique group or attending a conference. I promise you’ll be glad you did.
So in honor of all this back-to-school business, I’ve selected two must-haves for your writer book shelf this fall. The winner will receive one copy of the following books:
The Plot Whisperer by Martha Alderson
Novel Metamorphosis by Darcy Pattison
All you have to do is leave a comment about a writer education experience you’ve had that you would recommend to others, or comment about your writer-education plans for this fall. It doesn’t have to be anything grandiose. Even just “I plan to read all of this year’s Newberry winners by December!” is a great goal full of learning potential. I’ll throw all of the comments in a hat and pick a winner! It’s that simple. All comments must be posted by Sunday, August 24, and I’ll announce the winner here one week from today!
So good luck and happy back-to-school goal setting!
Sensibility- Like flowers need fertilizer to be at their most beautiful, writers need an infusion of creativity and craft to produce their best work.
Sense-Set a goal to educate yourself this school year on the craft and business of writing.
Tell me about your writer-education experiences or your education goals!
It’s officially Summer at our house! Exams are over, grades are up, backpacks hang limp on their hooks, and lunch totes are enjoying a much-deserved hiatus on the laundry-room shelf. Ah Summer! That time when exhaling just comes easier, and hour after hour of blissful nothingness stretches out before me like my freshly-painted toes. But if your family is like most, summer also means…ROAD TRIP! Planning your route, making notes of things to see along the way, hiring a pet sitter and stopping the mail help add to the excitement of finally getting in the car and heading off to new territories or familiar oases.
But for writers, planning and plotting out the writing journey can sometimes feel more like tip-toeing through a minefield than feeling the thrill of the wind in your hair. There are so many things editors, agents and the markets ask of us that seem to change the trip at every turn. How you answer some all-important questions as a writer can set you up for success or for getting lost with your first turn out of the driveway. These five questions are a good place to begin:
What am I passionate about? What you are passionate about in everyday life will come out in some way in what you write. Knowing what those things are can help you develop your own unique writer voice.
What kinds of stories thrilled me as a child? If you were just as happy reading the latest Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew Mysteries as you were riding your bike, chances are you know more about mystery writing than you think. Writing the kind of books that sparked your interest in reading in the first place might be the place to begin your writing journey.
Who are your writing heroes and what do they say about you? Some of my writing heroes include: Madeleine L’Engle, L.M. Montgomery, Louisa May Alcott, Miss Read, Jan Karon, Jane Austen, Edith Wharton and Cynthia Voigt. These writers all shared stories about strong young women overcoming insurmountable odds. It is no coincidence that my main characters are strong young women that make a difference in their worlds.
What kinds of books bring you joy? I love books that make me laugh, cry and feel deeply. These emotions bring me joy because they remind me that life is precious, sweet, mysterious, difficult and wonderful all at the same time. I want my books to bring others joy.
What do you want to say as a writer? Your voice is important in this world. Believing that what you have to say through your writing can change or enrich another’s life is reason enough to keep on doing it.
Just like leaving home without your glasses can make your road trip more difficult, not knowing the answers to these basic questions can make you feel lost as a writer. The answers may evolve from year to year, but asking them often helps keep you on track in your writing journey.
Sensibility- Knowing what you bring to your writing and what you want others to take away from it can make your writing road trip all the sweeter.
Sense- Asking honest questions as you develop as a writer can help keep you focused and accountable for the work you do.
What questions do you ask yourself about writing when you are feeling discouraged or lost?
Coming Soon to Sensibility and Sense…
Teen Talk Tuesday!
Where real teens share real opinions about the books they’re reading and why. You’ve heard from editors, agents, critique groups and writing partners. Now hear from the ones what matter most…the audience. Teens taking on the latest in middle grade and YA fiction and letting you know what they really think! Come by next week for our first Teen Talk Tuesday and read what teens are saying about The Fault in Our Stars by John Green!
I had the chance to sit down with an aspiring high school writer yesterday and “talk shop.” This young lady was visiting her aunt, who happens to be a dear friend of mine. My friend asked if they could have a hour or so of my time so her neice could ask me questions about what it was like to be a writer for children and what it takes to be successful. Since I love young people and I love talking about what I do, it was a treat for me- not to mention there was really good ice cream involved!
We started in right away talking about what she was working on. I could see she was a little shy, and I wanted to quickly get below the surface so we could make the most of our hour together. So after she talked a bit about her book, I asked her, “What is your dream?” She looked a little bit stunned, so I asked the question again but more specifically, “What is your writing dream?”
And her answer was simply, “I want to be a writer.” We went on to talk about what that looked like, and I shared a little of my journey, about getting into a critique group, joining SCBWI and building an on-line presence. Things that are the essential building blocks to getting started in this business. A gave her a few books I don’t really use anymore to help her get started, and I sent her on her way- hopefully with some perspective about what it means to “be a writer.”
On my way home and throughout the evening, I thought about the very question I’d asked her, “What is your writing dream?” and I realized I hadn’t asked myself that same question in a long time. I could have answered it easily 25 years ago, and it probably would have sounded something like what my young friend said.
But what about the dream? The spark that makes me passionate about what I do and keeps me sitting down for hours every day crafting new stories and working on revisions between other writing jobs. Is the dream anything close to what I envisioned all those years ago?
I think it’s important to get back to dreaming as writers. It’s so easy to get caught up in the social media-writer-challenge/educational-and-marketing-opportunity life that is the world of writing these days. We forget that it’s the desire to tell a good story and give something of beauty and value to the world- that God-spark if you will- that got us started in the first place.
Don’t get me wrong! Writing is a business. And like any other business, it needs feeding in order to flourish. But getting too far away from your original, starry-eyed dream of writing may begin to diminish your creativity.
So, what is your writing dream and what are you doing to keep that dream alive? Slowing down and answering that question honestly may be just what you need to add some joy to the journey!
Sensibility- Writers are dreamers. Let your mind wander this week to where your writing dream was born.
Sense– Find balance between the business and creative side of writing to keep story ideas fresh and flowing.
“Miracles are a retelling in small letters of the very same story which is written across the whole world in letters too large for some of us to see.”
― C.S. Lewis
How has your writing dream evolved over the years?