ON WRITING

my deskI used to visualize what things would be like once I was a published author. (It’s important to think positively!) While I commuted to my job I’d make up the blurbs that would appear on the cover flaps of my books. Or I would compose acceptance speeches for awards I might win. I’d dream about writing full-time, in my spacious office, and all the conversations I’d have with my editors.

Well, for the longest time my office was really a desk my husband built for me in the corner of our family room (though I did have a view of our backyard). Once the kids started moving out I upgraded to an actual home office.

My editors rarely call. They typically just email me (most often to reject a manuscript or to tell me, sorry, they’re leaving the publishing industry).

However, I DO write full-time (sort of), there ARE blurbs on my books and I HAVE won awards (though no acceptance speeches – yet).

I AM a published author – just like I dreamed!

BUT it’s important to remember that you don’t have to be published to be a writer. If you write, you ARE a writer!! I was a writer long before I was published. And I wrote a LOT before I was published. Luckily, like with most things, the more I wrote, the better I got. Here’s how I go about it.

IDEAS

I usually start with an idea that grabs me. And ideas are EVERYWHERE. My ideas come from memories, from reading newspapers, magazines, and books, from listening to conversations, from observing my kids, strangers, or even dogs at the park. A catchy word or phrase might be enough to get me going! I get a lot of my ideas when I’m out walking, and the best ones always give me a little shiver. That’s when I know I have to write about it. I always have my antennae up. I can’t help it – I’m obsessed! (Ask my family.)

WRITING and EDITING (and editing and editing)

After I get an idea I type or write it down as soon as I can. Usually I start with simple statements, or phrases, or feelings. I need to get them down fast (on paper and then into my computer) so I don’t forget them – ideas disappear quickly! They provide the early plan or structure for the story. I might start working on it right away or if I’m busy with another story, I just leave it there on the computer. Someday I hope to get back to it. If I do, I take those phrases and ideas and flesh them out – adding more details and situations and dialog. I move things around so that the order works better. I fill in events and conversations. With children’s writing, less is more. So every sentence, every word must serve a purpose – or it’s unnecessary.

I ask myself lots of questions. What needs to happen to build on a theme, or lead to a particular set of circumstances or conclusion? What develops the plot? What improves the illustration potential? I pretend that I am the main character. What does he feel? What motivates her? I look closely at the language I’m using. What words would make it more playful? More emotional? Is my verse tight and rhythmic? I try to come up with the right words and rhythm so that it sounds natural, or tender or funny, or lyrical. I play with it until I feel it’s complete. Sometimes it takes only a couple of days, sometimes a couple of months, sometimes YEARS!!!

I make notes on the manuscript and tweak and massage it until, at some point, the text starts to read like the story or poem I’m aiming for. At this stage, it’s usually ready for my critique group and so I email it to them and wait for their feedback. This invariably means more changes. Finally, when I think it’s about ready, I try to leave it alone for awhile. By distancing myself from a manuscript I usually find that, when I come back to it in a week or so, I have a fresh perspective. And guess what? This usually means even more revisions! In fact, most of my manuscripts go through dozens of rewrites.

WRITING TOOLS

I use a Thesaurus a lot and, if I’m working in verse, I spend lots of time with my Rhyming Dictionary, too. In the old days I used it so much that the pages are falling out! Now I use online versions.

I also spend a lot of time at the library (metro Denver has awesome public library systems). Once I had 330 books checked out at the same time. Two of the books were for my son, Steven, and the rest were for me. Guess who lost a book? Anyway, now you’re only allowed to check out 300 books at a time. Jay says they changed the rules because of me.

It’s important for writers to READ, READ, READ. I read books to see what I like and don’t like. I read to see how other authors write. And I read to make sure my story will be unique from other books already published.

As I mentioned before, I belong to a critique group – sort of a writers’ support team. This is one of my most important ‘tools’. We read each others’ manuscripts, making suggestions for improvement and pointing out problem areas. I submit all my manuscripts to them (only one at a time, though). Getting feedback from other people helps a writer see her manuscript more objectively.

CROSSING MY FINGERS

Finally, I’m ready to send my ‘baby’ off to a publisher – usually to an editor I’ve worked with already. I wait and I hope, and I start working on something new. You have to wait a lot in publishing, so it’s good to be patient. And it’s helpful to focus on other projects or you might just go crazy!

I still get LOTS of rejections, but if I’m lucky, I’ll get an email from my editor saying she wants to publish it. Then, after contracts are signed, I work through the manuscript AGAIN and AGAIN with the editor, polishing it until everyone is satisfied that it’s the best it can be.

While this is going on the illustrator (picked by the editor) works on the art. I probably won’t see the pictures until they are complete! In a year or six it will actually be published and hopefully people like it enough to buy it or borrow it from their library – and read it of course!

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