Monthly Archives: March 2016

Writing Goals

Ready, Set, Goal!

It was my second flight solo-parenting my four-year-old twins. <Bear with me, this will be about my writing process.> We got to the airport in plenty of time – one and a half hours before our domestic flight. But it took a long time to check bags. And make a trip to the bathroom. And get through security. And ride the airport train to the last stop. And walk all the way to the farthest gate (the moving walkway was under construction). And they had started to board early. So for the first time in my adult life, I was the last person on the plane. Not necessarily a problem, but it was a Southwest flight. Which means open seating. Which meant there was no row available for me and my little boys.


The flight attendant made an announcement, offering drinks and such. Nobody moved. I walked to the middle of the plane, saw rows with empty middle seats, and no way for me and my four-year-old kids to sit together. I promptly burst in to tears.


Back to writing. My goal for 2016: “Get an agent who reps and sells in my genre.” Now, I’ve done a lot of goal-setting in my personal and professional life. Make that goal a SMART goal (specific, measurable, achievable/action-oriented, realistic/relevant, time bound). Make it aggressive, but attainable. Make it within your sphere of control.


My goal is fairly SMART – “Get an agent who reps and sells in my genre in 2016.” It’s specific. Measurable. Action-oriented. Relevant. Time board. Achievable? Realistic? Up for debate. And that’s the crux.


Other writers have suggested I adjust my goal to “Query ten agents in 2016.” Because querying is within my control. I can finish and revise my manuscript and then submit a tight query letter to the right agents. I could definitely achieve this goal.


But back to my traumatic flight. My goal was to make it to the airport at least an hour before my flight. But as I stood crying in the aisle, I realized my *real* goal – be ready to board when it was my turn so I could sit with my kids. Similarly, querying ten agents isn’t my goal. It’s a milestone. It’s a step to make my true goal. But it’s not the goal itself. The goal itself is get an agent. If I met a kick-ass agent at a bar who had an amazing track record in my genre who asked to see my manuscript and offered me representation without my ‘technically’ querying  her – I would take it. I wouldn’t say, “Wait – let me send you (and nine other agents) my query letter.”


It’s scary to set a goal I can’t control. But there are things I can control. I can revise my manuscript multiple times, getting feedback from other writers and readers in my genre. I can research agents to make sure I’m not sending my query out to people who don’t rep what I have to sell. I can polish and polish. And I can cross my fingers.


But I have to be honest with myself. While sending out x number of query letters will definitely make me feel like I’ve accomplished something, it won’t be accomplishing “the” thing. So I’m putting it out there. Even if it means I won’t make it, I’m shooting for the stars.


And I’ll get to the airport earlier next time, too.

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“Dear Author…” Advice to Middle Grade Writers from 5th Grade Students


What advice do you have for authors who write books for you? I posed this question to my gifted and high ability 5th graders- and was not at all surprised that they were eager to offer guidance and insight to middle grade authors.

I have had the opportunity to teach this group of students for the past five years, meeting them when they were sweet 1st graders, wide-eyed at the prospect of all that school offered. Now, sophisticated and school savvy, they have developed into thoughtful, passionate learners and readers. Here are some highlights of their responses.

Dear Author….

• Put lots of emotion and love into your books. I want deep meaning in a book. -Kylah

• I like to read about what happens in the real world. My world. -Kylah

• Give me action and horror! –Tyler

• Don’t force your creativity. Just write what you love and we’ll feel your love and love it too. -Nicolas

• I love descriptive language—I want you to make me feel like I am right there. -Nicolas

• Have the book teach me life lessons like “don’t give up” or “you can overcome evil” or “be nice to your family.” -Nicolas

• I read novels so that I can have a doorway into stories and situations that are extraordinary. -Bennett

• I want to be sucked into the story as soon as possible. When I’m done, I want the book to be so good that I feel sad when I am finished. -Bennett

• Write about other cultures. We need people to understand each other better. -Ella

• Fill your book with emotion. The best part of a book is the emotion. Whatever you write… realistic fiction, historical fiction, fantasy or something else, it’s the emotion that makes it a good book. -Ella

• I want to be able to put myself in the story and to imagine the characters as my friends. I like a book where you get attached to the characters and wonder what you would do in the same situation. –Quinn

• I like complicated books; books that make you understand something totally new. A book can teach me that there are different people in the world and many different ways to live and solve problems. -Talile

• Make some characters bad and some good and some a little of both, but have at least one character that everyone loves. -Elly

• I want a book to be so descriptive that it makes a movie in my head. I want to get sucked in… -Elly

• Make the book really, really, really, really long. -Ezekiel

• I like books about people who are not like me. I want to understand other people and books help me to do that. -Ezekiel

• It doesn’t matter if the book is set in the past, present or the future. What is important is how the characters figure out what is around them and what they have to deal with. -Ezekiel

• Don’t make the books for older kids so much harder to read than the books for younger kids. Just make the situations more complicated and interesting. -Ben

• Do NOT start your book slow. Don’t be dull. Don’t make the book too long. Long isn’t necessarily better-Ben

• Write a series. Then I’ll read your books for a long, long time and never want them to end. -Ben

• I want you to write books that tell about others and life all around the world. I want to read about characters that are kind, helpful, hopeful and who never give up. -Ximena

• I read to learn about how I can improve myself and become a better person. A good character is a better teacher than a long lecture. -Ximena

• Don’t write to me like I am a kid. Write to me like I am a person. -Marcos

• I like to read novels because I like to get lost in adventure and action and EXPLOSIONS. I want emotion, destruction and suspense. Make your books exciting. -Tai

• I hate “happily ever after endings because they are extremely cliché. Make it real. -Tai

• I like very long books because I want to feel like the book will never end. -Tai

• One word: Magic. Fill your book with magic. All kinds of magic. -Sasha

• I read so I can enter and explore a world other than my own. I like to learn about history through books, so I can imagine what it was really like in the past. -Henry

• I read to escape the world. Make me imagine a whole new world. -Rowan

• Don’t make the characters stupid. -Rowan

• I know you don’t want to hear this, but graphic novels are the best. -Ahmed

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