Category Archives: craft advice

Leaving a Paper Trail

By Rondi Sokoloff Frieder

When the Covid-19 pandemic hit the United States in mid-March, our lives changed dramatically. For me, it meant hunkering down with my husband and visiting son, Noah, who had come to Colorado to ski and attend his cousin’s wedding. But after only three days, the ski resorts closed and our niece’s wedding was postponed. Noah, who normally lives in Montreal, was now here for the duration. Canada had closed its borders.

One night, during our second week of family dinners, I suggested digging out the old family videos. Noah was particularly interested in viewing the recording of his 2005 Bar Mitzvah. We all headed into the family room and began hauling out boxes of DVDs, CDs, and VHS tapes from an overstuffed cabinet. What a treasure trove of memories! Our boys’ first steps and birthday parties, family camping trips, even our wedding. Only for some reason, Noah’s DVD, and the outdated VHS tape from his older brother’s Bar Mitzvah in 2002, were nowhere to be found. Were they were behind the photo albums on the  bookshelf in the living room? I went to check. Nope. As a last resort, I went downstairs to my office/writing studio to look in my drawers, bookshelves, and cabinets. Nothing. But the reality of an even bigger problem was suddenly apparent to me. I knew it was there, lurking behind-the-scenes, but I  had ignored it for years. My work space – the creative sanctuary where I write, read, and tutor elementary school students, was a paper disaster!

Let me explain. If you walked into this lovely room (my favorite room in the entire world), you would find shelves of alphabetized books on one wall and an expansive desk on another, complete with an array of pencils, pens, and notebooks alongside my computer. Framed photographs line the windowsill and colorful artwork (many of my own pieces) dot the walls. There are some boxes filled with papers and folders on the floor, but they’re mostly in the corners and out of the way. The  problem, the one that hit me like a brick on this particular night, was hidden inside the drawers and cabinets. Crammed into these closed-up storage areas were notebooks from college and graduate school, years of lesson-plan books, thank-you letters from my former students and their parents, and an overflowing file of homemade cards from my husband and sons. I also had plastic tubs of teaching materials and lots of art supplies.

But the main source of my over-accumulation of paper had nothing to do with my collection of memorabilia, or my life as a teacher. It was my writing!  I had multiple drafts of ALL MY manuscripts, including picture books, chapter books, middle grade novels, plays, songs, poems, blogs, and articles. Many had notes attached to them from editors, agents, authors, and critique partners. I had stacks of notebooks filled with revision ideas. There were conference and class handouts, bins of research, hard copies of rejection letters from agents and editors dating back to 2005, and piles of handouts from the SCBWI workshops I’ve organized.

I know what you’re thinking. “How did this get so out-of-control? And haven’t you gone digital?” All I can say is that for me, “out of sight is out of mind.” After I put something in a drawer, it turns into “storage.” I’ve gone digital, but I also print out hard copies of my work when I revise.

I knew my “paper-saving” was out of control. I just never seemed to have the time or energy to deal with it. But life had changed. I was in the middle of a pandemic. What if I died of the corona-virus in the not-so-distant future? Would my loved-ones be willing to sort through the piles in my office or the files on my computer? No way! In fact, they’d probably throw it all out. If I wanted them to keep any of it (so future generations would know how I spent my working life), I needed to leave  a more organized paper trail. And, since I had just given my writing group four weeks to read the latest version of my MG novel, I had a month to do it.

I continued with my established writing schedule – Get up, walk the dog, eat breakfast, and head to the studio. But instead of writing, I gathered my supplies: 3-ring binders in various widths and colors, plastic bins, new file folders, post-it notes, sticky white labels, and a pile of large garbage bags for the mountains of paper I was about to recycle.

Here’s what I learned:

  1. Man, oh man, did I like to write! I had a huge body of work. While some of it was really, really bad, much of it was good. And doing all this writing had made me a better writer. But I did not need multiple copies of every draft of every manuscript.
  2. Many editors, agents, and published authors had responded positively to my work and had encouraged me to revise and keep going. I needed to put these tidbits of light and hope in a binder and read through them now and again.
  3. I had attended A LOT of writing conferences and taken A TON of classes. I needed to look through my notes, save the worthwhile strategies, and get rid of the rest.
  4. I did not need to keep all those conference folders. I put the lists of agents and editors in a binder for future submissions and tossed everything else.
  5. Many of my early picture books had potential. And since I am now a better writer, I could rework them.
  6. My plays, songs, and poems needed to be in 3-ring binders for easier access. Especially my fifteen years of original Passover haggadahs and my fifty-plus songs!
  7. It was time to get rid of the lesson-plan books. One per grade level was enough to represent what I had done in my thirty years of being a teacher and tutor. And the student writing and scholarship contests I’ve judged, along with multiple copies of handouts from the teaching workshops I’ve led – gone. Same with the college and grad school notebooks. I saved two, from classes I loved the most.
  8. Although this started out as a paper trail to showcase my life, having my work organized in an accessible way has made me feel way more professional and extremely productive. Yay, me!

And if you’re wondering about those Bar Mitzvah videos, my husband found them three weeks later. They were in a box in a cabinet in our basement on top of some old sheets and blankets. Go figure.

 

 

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Filed under craft advice, Decluttering, Office organizing, Rondi Frieder

Be A Word Nerd!

By Rondi Sokoloff Frieder

You’ve heard it all before. Show don’t tell. Limit your use of adverbs. Create gorgeous metaphors. And the most important writing rule of all – Use strong verbs!!! But this is often difficult to do when you are working on an early draft. When you are further along in the revision process and ready to edit your work for “word choice,” try using some of the following strategies:

Mentor texts

Study outstanding books in your genre. Then, along with paying attention to the development of the main character’s arc and the twists and turns of plot, take note of the author’s exceptional use of language. This might mean underlining or highlighting words as you read. I keep a list of “words I love” on the Notes App on my phone, especially when I am listening to an audio book. I later transfer this list to my manuscript file in Scrivener and keep a second list in Word. Some of these words seep into my subconscious and suddenly appear in my writing. Others do not. That’s when I go back and read through the list again until I find a word that perfectly captures my character’s mood and motive.

Here are verbs from my latest list, taken from Gillian McDunn’s CATERPILLAR SUMMER and Melanie Crowder’s LIGHTHOUSE BETWEEN WORLDS: bristled, buzzed, carved, coasted, hooted, jabbed, jostled, looped, lumbered, lurched, quirked, rasped, rummaged, scowled, scuffled, shuddered, skittered, sloshed, snarled, stumbled, thrashed, threaded, throbbed, thrumbed, trudged, twinkled, whooshed, and withered.

Thesaurus and Websites

A thesaurus can give you a wide variety of words to use in place of your usual fare. But there’s also a website that puts your run-of-the-mill thesaurus to shame. It’s an extraordinary tool recommended by Jessica Brody, author of SAVE THE CAT WRITES A NOVEL, called OneLook.com. When I first discovered this site, and put the verb “jumped” into the search box and checked related words, 338 synonyms came up! My favorites were: plunged, soared, bounded, leapfrogged, lunged, rocketed, and zoomed. Another website to check out is https://7esl.com/verbs/#Types_of_Verbs_Verb_Examples. It’s slightly more difficult to navigate, but is a valuable resource for writers in any genre.

If you would like some craft books on this topic, try the seven book thesaurus collection by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi (including The Emotional Thesaurus and The Urban Setting Thesaurus) and Strong Verbs Strong Voice: A quick reference to improve your writing and impress readers by Ann Everett.

Be Creative!

I am a sucker for exquisite descriptions. In the MG novel, CATERPILLAR SUMMER, the main character, Cat, spends the summer at her grandparents’ beach house on Gingerbread Island off the coast of North Carolina. Take a look at these gems that connect us with Cat’s personality as well as the setting of the book: A rainbow of candy, an ocean of worries, freckles polka-dotting his skin, a sky puffed with clouds, a breath of strings, a blizzard of birds, a whisper of voices, fingers of fog, a look that was all sunbeams, a wave of people crushed onto the sidewalk, the world swirled green and gray as tears popped in her eyes. Now come up with your own descriptions, relating them to the characters, themes, and settings in your story.

 

Don’t Rush!

Revising a book is hard work. After you’ve made your unique characters flounder and grow in an interesting setting with an action-packed plot that keeps your reader turning the page, it’s time to polish your writing until it sparkles and shines. The first thing to do is a search for words you overuse. For me, those are often: that, just, really, I think, and very. The technique here is simple: slash or replace. Another strategy is to edit the pages of your manuscript out of order. Create a number grid and randomly choose a page to edit for word choice only. Then color in that number in and move on to another, jumping around on the grid.

If you are a writer, you MUST BE a word nerd. There’s just no avoiding it! Are there techniques and resources you’ve found helpful in your writing practice?

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under craft advice, Revision process, Rondi Frieder, WORD NERD

Marketing Long Before Your Book is Published (And maybe before it is written!)

By Susan Wroble

I used to believe that writing came first, and marketing later. Big Mistake! It is easiest if you learn both simultaneously — they build on each other. Here are a few tips on starting your marketing journey long before your book is published…

Establish writing credentials.

An easy place to start is to write for newsletters. Many groups have regular on-line updates and are delighted to have a member feature or presentation review. For example, when I joined the Denver Rose Society, I knew nothing about growing roses, so I took notes at the meetings. It was easy to turn those presentation notes into short articles for their newsletter. Bonus — I didn’t know the national organization gave writing awards until I got three of them!

Why?

  • Simple — Agents and editors want to see that you write.

Create a blog.

When my writing group, the Story Spinners, created this blog, our goal was simply to push ourselves to learn a new skill. By sharing, we each posted about once a quarter, and we split the costs.

Why?

  • Blogging counts as writing credentials — even if your readership is close to zero!
  • You have a platform that agents and editors can get a feel for your writing and commitment to the industry.
  • A few of the posts have been expanded and been published in paying markets.

Read with purpose.

Read current books in your genre — the key word being “current.” There are blogs for every genre, but one of my favorite ways to find new kids’ books in general (after making friends with librarians!) is through IndieBound, a community of independent local bookstores. IndieBound puts out a quarterly newsletter called “Kids’ Next.” You can pick up a print copy at an independent bookseller, or find it on-line. As an added benefit, it is a fabulous resource for gifts for the kids in your life.

Why?

  • By reading with purpose, you can start analyzing, and learn how other authors have created an arc, or added layers, or built tension…
  • You learn what’s current and what is selling.
  • You learn what is already out there for subjects you want to write about.

Keep a reading log.

Record the author, illustrator (if applicable), publisher, and whatever else is important to you. I find it helpful to snap a picture of the cover. Here’s an example:

Why?

  • You learn the style of various publishing houses.
  • You can track books that are mentor texts.
  • You can track books that are comps for works in progress.

Study and track agents and publishers.

One easy way to research agents and editors is to subscribe to the free twice-weekly Publisher’s Weekly newsletter, Children’s Bookshelf. Other ways to study agents are through the sites Manuscript Wish List or QueryTracker. Here’s a Publisher’s Weekly rights announcement for my friend, author Jocelyn Rish:

Next, track the notices with agents or editors that seem like a good fit for your work. Like my reading log, I created a table in Word. For this table, I record the publishing house, editor, author and title, and the agent who represented the author.

Why?

  • You end up with a perfectly tailored list of agents and editors who represent and publish the type of work that you do.

Use Facebook.

Author Beth Anderson (LIZZIE DEMANDS A SEAT) recently spoke at the Rocky Mountain Chapter of SCBWI’s Denver South Connect & Critique. “I didn’t want to get on Facebook,” she said, “and now I can’t imagine not using it.”

Why?

  • The Groups feature. Instead of scrolling endlessly through a jumble of posts from assorted friends and distant relatives interspersed with ads, you can go directly to a group — think RMC-SCBWI, KidLit411, StoryStorm, 12×12, ReFoReMo, NF Fest…
  • These groups are the easiest places to learn about upcoming events, celebrate successes, and build community. You’ll need that community when your book is ready to debut.

I hope there’s a nugget in this post you find useful. And for you — what are the marketing tips you wish you had known early in your writing journey?

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Filed under craft advice, Susan Wroble

Revising those first ten pages

Edited page from thebookdesigner.com

I keep revising my first ten pages. Over and over again. And for good reason – it’s the first time you interact with a reader, it’s the time when they really decide if they’re going to be invested enough in your story that they’re going to keep reading. You need to establish your voice as an author, establish your main character as someone they will care about, create conflict to keep driving them forward, and on and on.

So much work to do. So much weight that the first ten pages carry – that the first page itself, that the first sentence has to carry.

You work and rework and rework it again. Share it with your crit group, share it with them again.

The right time to shine and polish and edit those first pages can vary for you in your process, and here are two right times to consider.

At the beginning. You basically write and write and rewrite and rewrite the opening until you feel that voice, that excitement, that opening, and then BOOM you rush through and write the whole rest of the book. It’s like a little toy race car that you rev and rev and rev and then whoosh you let it go and you cross the finish line.

This isn’t me. It’s not how I work. And I recommend that, if you take this approach, you make sure that you will eventually let that car go. That eventually you will leave those first pages and that you will finish the rest of your book and that your car has enough gas to get you there.

The second way is – at the very end. This is what I’m doing right now. I planned and plotted out my novel. I drafted my novel, revised it. I gave it to various readers, got their feedback, and revised it again. Now I’m majorly reworking the beginning. Cutting away, slicing away, melding chapters together, cutting chapter two completely, saving just a few lines of important information. Trimming again and again, literally thousands of words. If you’d asked I would have said, no way can my story stay intact if I cut that much. And yet it can. And it’s better. I’m also adding in more voice, making the beginning sound more like the middle where I was really hitting my stride.

There are surely other times to do it, but I think the key is that, if you perfect chapter one at the start of your process, don’t forget to finish your story. And once the book is finished, regardless of how much work you put in, be prepared for how much work you may still need to do on the beginning to get it right.

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Filed under Coral Jenrette, craft advice

Whole Novel Critique

There are lots of opportunities to get a page, a set of pages, scenes, or even chapters critiqued – and then to sit down and polish those sections until they shine. Each of these are helpful and important steps to creating the best possible manuscript. I do encourage you, early in the process, however, to do what it takes to get a full novel critique.

Why?

The key thing in a novel is how your main character changes and transforms. Unless you’re writing something more episodic (and I would argue that even in those types of stories, your main characters do have an internal shift over time), a key factor to whether your story will resonate with readers is what happens to the main character – not their external plot. You can’t get that valuable feedback on how well that shift is working unless someone reads the whole piece.

Plot holes? Can’t find them unless you’re reading extended sections of your novel.

Each of your scenes (even each of your pages!) could be filled with tension and conflict. They could have beautiful description, and zippy dialogue. But maybe your pages don’t have much description at all – and your critique group doesn’t say anything because hey, you just submitted chapter 5, and they’re assuming that the description is there in Chapter 4 (spoiler alert – it wasn’t).

How?

PURCHASE IT: One way to get a whole novel critique is to pay for one – the one you want at the early stage of your novel is a developmental edit. There’s no point in a copy edit (where grammar and typos are fixed) if the story needs to change. If you take classes, some of the teachers also do developmental edits on the side. There are many folks online who do as well (including some folks who are or work with literary agents!) – most will offer a sample of their work, and most are pricey, so really talk through what you want to accomplish and what they plan to deliver to make sure you’re paying for something that will be valuable. Ask questions around depth of edit, whether it’s a letter or inline comments (or both!) and how fast they will deliver. Developmental edits take time (typically weeks).

Here are a couple of ways to get your novel critiqued using the barter system.

NOVEL SWAP: One option is to ask someone to read your novel and give feedback, knowing that you’ll do the same for them in return. Keep in mind that this is a big ask, and that you’ll have to put out the work on the flip side as well. Make sure you’re ready to be grateful, regardless of their feedback, and that you are ready to be gracious in turn. Also be forthright with your word count, for both your sake’s. Think about how to make it feel equitable. Not all books are the same: if one of you wrote a 35,000 word middle grade novel and the other just finished a 155,000 epic fantasy (and you still want to swap!), be prepared for how you can make that work and feel good for everyone involved.

If you’ve met someone who is at a similar level to you at a conference or workshop, you could approach and ask them if they’d be open to reading and giving feedback on your novel and you would do the same for them. Classes (like Lighthouse Writer’s Workshop here in Colorado), especially those that involve getting feedback on pages, can be a great place to meet people and see if there’s someone you want to approach.

If you’re not an active participant of an in-person community, or you’re an introvert who can’t imagine asking someone to do this in real life, you can turn to online writing message boards. I’ve actually read someone’s whole novel and provided feedback when I was active on Absolute Water Cooler. If you’re a member of SCBWI, you could look to get feedback by posting on the Blueboard. I HIGHLY recommend that you engage with the community first before you start asking for folks to read your whole novel.

ADJUST THE FOCUS OF YOUR CRITIQUE GROUP: Already in a critique group? You could totally ask a member of your group if, on the side, they’d be willing to read your full. But you can also shift the focus of the group. In our critique group, we decided that each member could submit a full-length piece one time per year to get feedback from the group. And if you didn’t finish a book that year, you could opt to submit whatever you had – your choice. It kept the flexibility for folks who didn’t finish a book to still have plenty of opportunities to submit shorter works each month, and for others who did finish to get that critical whole novel feedback.

 

Whatever your method, make sure that you’re looking at your novel both in parts and as a whole so that you create the best piece of work that you can.

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Filed under Coral Jenrette, craft advice, critique, Uncategorized