100 things I wouldn’t know

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In honor of my 100th blog post, I want to share 100 things I wouldn’t know if I’d never become a children’s writer.

Collage by Vicky Lorencen

Collage by Vicky Lorencen

  1. Follow submission guidelines like you are assembling a nuclear warhead. No fudging.
  2. Trends are to be watched, not followed.
  3. Focus on what you’re doing well. Do more of that.
  4. A synopsis is as much for your benefit as it is the editor’s.
  5. Writing is reductive. Writing should be like a sale at the GAP–it should always be 20% off. (Mo Willems)
  6. Waiting for opportunities is fiddle faddle. Create them.
  7. Don’t ask too much of a first chapter. It’s an invitation to the reader and an opportunity to assure her you can be trusted. (Andrew Karre)
  8. Query letters are the most important and least read letter you’ll ever write.
  9. Show a character’s feelings through reactions.
  10. Just about everybody struggles with jealousy. I am jealous of those who don’t.
  11. Picture books are an art form unto themselves.
  12. Query letters need to sound like your real voice, not a superficial marketing pitch.
  13. Joining a critique group can be a game changer.
  14. Having a social media presence is important, but don’t let it infringe on your writing time.
  15. Always send thank you notes.
  16. Scene = Time + Place + One Change (Candace Fleming)
  17. Having beautiful file folders makes revision more funner. More fun, that is.
  18. Do not bother with Goodreads.
  19. Use index cards to map out scenes in a novel.
  20. For novels, ask–what is the job of this chapter?
  21. Facebook can really mess with your head.
  22. Follow-up with queries and submissions. You did the sending after all.
  23. Keep in touch with the editors, agents and participants you meet at conferences.
  24. Small workshops are often more worthwhile than big conferences.
  25. Back up your files and back up your back up files.
  26. Write what you know.
  27. Write what you wish you knew.
  28. Look for the seeds to resolving your story’s conflict within the story itself.
  29. Characters have been alive a long time before they introduced themselves to you.
  30. Writing costs money, time and energy. It’s worth it.
  31. If you feel stuck in your genre of choice, shake things up by writing in a different one.
  32. Everybody wants to quit at some point.
  33. Giving back doubles the investment you’ve made in your own writing.
  34. The journey to publication is not a race.
  35. Take thank you notes with you to conferences so you can thank people right away.
  36. Identifying (and eradicating) your crutch words can help to tighten your writing. Find/replace is your friend.
  37. Print out your entire novel in 8 pt. font, highlight the “solid” parts, then spread it out to see where the plot sags. (Thanks, Darcy Pattison)
  38. One carry-on bag is really all you need.
  39. Characters must undergo an inner and outer journey.
  40. Resist the urge to hide during conferences.
  41. Talk about your dreams and ambitions.
  42. Having a blog is fun work.
  43. You don’t have to start a novel with a big bang. Let the reader get to know the character before the inciting incident.
  44. Flying solo isn’t heroic. It’s nonsense.
  45. In a query letter, use quotes from the book to show character. (Christy Ottaviano)
  46. Your first idea is not unique. Twist it.
  47. Accept critiques with grace.
  48. Give critiques with humility.
  49. An editor’s job is to help clarify what your book is about.
  50. When you read, read like a writer.
  51. Give the same amount of care to world building/setting as you do to creating characters.
  52. A good cup of tea can fix a lot of things.
  53. Progress is the difference between finding time to write and making time to write.
  54. We write to re-write. And then to re-write what we re-wrote.
  55. Editors and agents are people too.
  56. Writing is an act of revelation. (Cynthia Leitich Smith)
  57. Use Find & Replace to weed out those just so very, very, very useless words.
  58. Your family may never grasp that staring off in space in part of the writing process.
  59. Writing will drive you to do otherwise loathsome tasks like cleaning the refrigerator (at your neighbor’s house because you’ve already cleaned yours. Oh, and organized your sock drawer. Twice.)
  60. Writing makes every life experience—from fixing a flat to flying in a helicopter–fodder for future writing.
  61. Disappointment is standard issue.
  62. You can always quit. No one is forcing you to write.
  63. Reading at open mic is a hoot. (I mean this.)
  64. Figure out a way to remember names (for when you go to conferences). You’re a word person. You can do this.
  65. There are two kinds of non-writing people—those who are in awe of you and those who think anyone can be a writer, especially for children. Don’t worry about either kind.
  66. Pretend to be confident. You may be a shy person, but that’s no one’s business but your own.
  67. Rejection sucks.
  68. There are three effective ways to make rejection suck less. I don’t know what those ways are.
  69. Readers bond with characters when we ask them to stretch. (Cynthia Leitich Smith)
  70. When you get stuck, stop. Move on to something new or take a nap. Let your mind wrestle with the knots a while before you go back.
  71. Writing is like wood carving. You go from larger to smaller, so don’t focus on details first.
  72. Most parents only get to name two, three, maybe four or so people. Writers get to name lots of people. Cool.
  73. Characters may push you. Let them.
  74. Grammar matters. At least know the rules before you snap them.
  75. Be respectful to everyone, even (and especially) on social media.
  76. Stories must balance between the specific and the universal.
  77. It’s important not to have a sense of preciousness with your work. (Shaun Tan)
  78. In writing, the author is the third wheel. You’re in the way. No one wants you there. You need to be invisible. (Mo Willems)
  79. Laughing at your own writing is a great feeling, so long as you were intending to be funny.
  80. Writers cannot emotionally protect themselves. (Coe Booth)
  81. It’s important to love my secondary characters as much as my main characters.
  82. Reinvention is the dark chocolate in the writer’s life. (Jane Yolen)
  83. Secondary characters can’t just exist to serve the main character’s story.
  84. Don’t let details overwhelm or derail a story.
  85. Before you begin drafting a novel, create character sketches by interviewing each character.
  86. Stay out of a character’s head as long as possible. (Andrew Karre)
  87. Invest in your friendships with other writers. It will always, always be worth it.
  88. Pay attention to what kids do, enjoy and worry about now. Some things never change, but not everything.
  89. No one wears a T-shirt with their favorite plot on it. Readers fall in love with characters.
  90. A writer’s validation has to come from what her work means to a reader and not from reviews or awards. (Ed Spicer)
  91. Reliable WiFi and a laptop with a light up keyboard are splendid things.
  92. Create a room in your home (or at least a zone) that’s for writing only.
  93. The feel of book pitch needs to match the tone of the story.
  94. Something as ordinary as weather can be used to impact the mood of a story. [Cue the thunder-clap.]
  95. To learn about my characters, I need to ask where am “I” in my writing. (Coe Booth)
  96. You can write an entire novel without once using a semi-colon.
  97. Ultimately, the purpose of storytelling is to remind us of something ordinary or familiar. (Shaun Tan)
  98. Generally speaking, chocolate will not fill plot holes. But it can’t hurt to try.
  99. Brilliance strikes two seconds after you hit send on a submission.
  100. Everything takes longer than you think it will. Even reading lists.

The list could surely go on, and there is nothing more wonderful than a list, instrument of wondrous hypotyposis. ~ Umberto Eco

24 responses »

  1. Wow Vicky! Talk about terrific tidbits! Thank you – I hope you don’t mind if I make a copy to post in my office. Congrats on 100 posts – love your voice!

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  2. What an amazing list and a perfect way to celebrate your 100th post. Many of your observations made me smile and nod. But I’m wondering about this one–why “do not bother with Goodreads”?

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    • You are the sweetest! Thank you, Erin. So, about Goodreads . . . after Goodreads finally came on my radar, I kept thinking I should visit it, post comments or reviews, add to my list, etc., but I never felt motivated to do so (only so many things a person can track, you know?) Well, then I heard from different people in the industry on separate occasions–agents, published authors and agents–saying they don’t recommend “getting caught up” with Goodreads. I believe it’s because it’s not seen as a reliable source for reviews. I’m also guessing it can be a rollercoasterish barometer for new authors who closely monitor their Goodreads ratings and compare themselves to others. Recently, John Green’s newest “book” got a 4.1 rating on Goodreads–this rating came for a book he has yet to write!! It doesn’t even have a title yet! News was simply out that he was writing a new novel (well, of course he is!) and the folks on Goodreads were so anxious, they rated an unwritten book. I understand this unwritten manuscript outrated some of his most popular published works. I’m hoping this is just an extreme example, but it does support the point about not getting caught up in Goodreads. If you have found it useful or met some other writers there that you enjoy, then I think you are fortunate (and certainly, those other writers are lucky to have met you). So, please don’t forego something you’ve found worthwhile. I would just say, if someone was wondering if they should be making time for Goodreads, I’d most likely say no. Does that make sense?

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      • Thanks, Vicky. And, yes, your response makes sense–it’s good to hear different opinions regarding Goodreads. I’m still exploring it, and it’ll be interesting to see if it makes a difference in reaching readers (too early to tell at this point).

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