Category Archives: Boosting confidence

take the spot your super power quiz

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Photo by Vicky Lorencen

Photo by Vicky Lorencen

In 2013, I was fortunate to receive a critique from the lovely and ever-encouraging YA author Cynthia Leitich Smith. After reviewing the opening chapter of my second middle grade novel, Cyn told me humor was my super power. Me? I have a SUPER power? Well, if I have one, I know for certain you do too.

Maybe your super power is . . .

  • Writing realistic dialogue
  • Riding that fine line between sweet and sentimental
  • Creating rich, other-worldly settings
  • Weaving intricate, suspenseful plots
  • Concocting quirky, but believable characters
  • Being just plain funny
  • None of the above–it’s your own proprietary blend

It’s always easier to pinpoint someone else’s super power, isn’t it. My friend Lisa Wheeler is a whiz with rhyme. Catherine Bieberich and Kelly Barson are able to strike a perfect balance between heart and humor. Jennifer Whistler crafts novels with a highly visual, cinematic quality. Others, like Monica Harris, are grand researchers who cull little-known tidbits from old texts to make even snoresville non-fiction topics intriguing.

What’s the point in knowing your super power? Well, as with a lot of things, it’s empowering to have a “go to”—like that perfected dish you can always whip without worry or that compliment-winning outfit in your closet. You can’t make lemon chicken piccata or wear that same suede jacket every day, but when the time is right, it’s confidence-building to know it’s there when you need it.

You can’t lean on your superpower for everything. (Even Superman had his day job as Clark Kent.) That’s why it’s important to read widely, request critiques, participate in workshops and stretch yourself by writing outside your comfort genre. Because my super power is humor, it’s easy for me to write in silly sound bites and let my characters make clever asides. While being funny can be engaging and amusing, overuse of humor can lapse into what I call “snarkasm.” Chronic quipping distances readers and makes otherwise 3-D characters seem shallow. A clever boy can become what political consultant David Alexrod described as a “congenital smart aleck.” There’s nothing super about that.

So, how about you? What’s your super power? (You may even have more than one!)

Spot Your Super Power Quiz

  1. When someone critique’s my work, the first positive thing I most often hear is:
    1. You’re so ___________________________.
    2. Your writing is ________________________.
  2. I feel most at ease writing ____________________.
  3. If I had to compare my work to someone else’s, it’d have to be:_____________________ and his/her work is known for ____________________________.
  4. Three words I’d use to describe my work:
    1. ___________________________
    2. ___________________________
    3. ___________________________
  5.  Text/call a fellow writer and ask for three words to describe your work:
    1. ___________________________
    2. ___________________________
    3. ___________________________
  6. Is there an overlap between the answers to questions 4 and 5? If so:_______________________.

My super power is:__________________________.

Super! Please use your super powers for good. And remember to pick up your cape from the dry cleaners.

We must be careful with our words – we’re like superheroes and words are like our super powers. Super powers should always be used to help others. ~ Dianna Hardy

 

4 simple ways to keep writing over the holidays

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Photo by Vicky Lorencen

Photo by Vicky Lorencen

No, my little sugar plums, I haven’t been sampling the “enriched” eggnog. There really are at least four simple ways to keep putting one snowshoe in front of the other (writing-wise) through the holiday season.

Now, I know some of you actually first-drafted an entire novel in November (HUZZAH!), but instead of taking a well-deserved break, why not keep that keyboard humming? And if you’re like me, and didn’t exactly knock out an entire book last month, maybe you’ll want to try these ideas to keep your writing muscles from going fudgy and flabby.

To keep writing a part of the holiday season without turning into a stark raving nutty fruitcake:

  1. Have a way to capture thoughts/quotes/ideas with you at all times. Time spent with friends and relatives over the holidays can be golden opportunities for writers. Jot down details, mannerisms, expressions, dynamics, kid’s questions–in an inconspicuous way, of course! These notes will make fabulous fodder to kick-start your January writing.
  2. Use the time doing semi-mindless tasks, such as gift wrapping, cookie baking or waiting for wee ones to finish pageant practice, to think about your writing. Ponder how to make a character’s personality fresher or concoct a new barrier to put in his path. You could untangle a knotty plot problem while you untangle the Christmas tree lights. Or use your noodle to dream up the perfect title or a character’s name.
  3. Give yourself the gift of 30 minutes three times a week to write. If you have a day job, you could use your lunch hour. It’s not really so much about word count as it is maintaining forward momentum. It’ll make it a lot easier to charge ahead in January. And while we’re on the subject, try idea number four.
  4. Compile a list of writing goals for the New Year. Go for realistic and specific. Say adios to the grandiose.

DSC02577Sound like too much? Just try one or two of the ideas. Or come up with your own (and please share!)

Oh, and remember to write yourself a thank you note. You’re so amazing!

One of the things I learned the hard way was that it doesn’t pay to get discouraged. Keeping busy and making optimism a way of life can restore your faith in yourself. ~ Lucille Ball

 

encouragement is like hot buttered toast (gluten-free, of course)

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Last week I sent the opening pages of my third middle grade novel to my critique group. My accompanying email read:

Photo by Vicky Lorencen

Photo by Vicky Lorencen

Here are the first measly, tender baby words of my new middle grade novel. Now, I will be completely transparent and say I’m really looking for encouragement here, but not the fake kind where you’re just making stuff up to make me feel good. I want you to be honest, but mostly focus on what’s going right (if anything no matter how small), so I can do more of that. You will be welcome to be much, much tougher once I’m further along.

Thank you so much for taking the time to look at my new baby. Remember to support her head, and for Gerber’s sake, keep your dang thumb away from that soft spot on her head would ya? (And I apologize in advance if she smells like poopy.)

Is it just me? You’ve been there, right? I was so vulnerable and needy (one of my all-time favorite states of being for sure). I knew my critique group would be fair and kind, but I was not prepared for the first comments I got back.

I got dark chocolate covered, name in neon lights, to Neptune and back, crazy ENCOURAGEMENT!!!

How did that make me feel?

Hopeful!

Energized!

Confident to push ahead!

As I see it, encouragement is more than good cheer or offering support. It’s fortifying a friend who is afraid–afraid to act, afraid to take a risk, afraid to speak up or afraid to ask. In other words, encouragement provides courage (See there? It’s right in the word itself. How ’bout that?) And that’s what my group gave me.

Photo by Vicky Lorencen

Photo by Vicky Lorencen

Encouragement is like . . .

  • Jumping through the sprinkler on an August scorcher.
  • Finding $20 tucked in your wallet.
  • Scoring a gorgeous pair of shoes (at 75% off).
  • Savoring a well-timed cup of tea (with a scone, of course).
  • Receiving an unexpected hug (or a wink).
  • Admiring December’s first snow.

Encouragement makes your soul say, ahhhhhh. You feel full, different, better and ready to take the next step. Little wonder Frog on a Dime‘s primary goal is to provide encouragement to writers.

Who’s been your biggest encourager lately? Who will you encourage today?

Remember, man does not live on bread alone: sometimes he needs a little buttering up. ~  John C. Maxwell

4 perks of sitting at the kids’ table

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Photo by Vicky Lorencen

Photo by Vicky Lorencen

It’s nearing Thanksgiving and my brain is shifting into stuffing-mashed-potatoes-and-pumpkin-pie (a la mode) mode. I’m recalling those big family gatherings where the grown-ups sat one table and the kids at another. The kids’ table was typically of the folding variety on hiatus from the front closet. It was set with the B-list china and plastic cups instead of stemware. But that was okay. You were with your cousins or sibs—away from the cheek-pinching, bum-patting relatives—and there was pie. Life was good.

When I ventured into children’s writing half an ice age ago, I didn’t know I was sitting at the “kids’ table.” I plunked myself down with such enthusiasm, I’m sure I toppled a glass or two. But everybody was new to me and nice to me. I couldn’t tell the adults from the kids.

Since then, in meltdownable moments, I’ve pushed my chair away from the table a few times, surmising I’d be wise to walk away, but something—typically someone—pushed me back to the table, shoved a fresh crayon in my hand and insisted I keep on writing. And I did.

But as the years stack up like so many pie plates, I’ve begun to feel like that cousin you see only once a year. Everybody is so shocked by how big she is. She’s actually in junior high now, for turkey’s sake, but still she’s sat at the kids’ table. That’s how I feel. I have OCS (over-grown cousin syndrome (don’t bother looking it up—it hasn’t made it into the DSM yet)).

And as I’ve grown as a writer and more than outgrown my little chair, I’ve watched as some of my dearest tablemates picked up their plates, glasses and silverware and one-by-one excused themselves to go sit at the grown-up table. I’ve felt happy for them. Absolutely. Their dream of getting an agent and a publishing contract came true. Their name would be next to the word “by” on the cover of an actual book.  And, no point in denying it, I’ve swallowed hard and pushed back tears too (sometimes unsuccessfully).

Being at the kids’ table isn’t as fun as it once was. But you know what? As long as I’m here, for as long as I’m here, I figure I may as well make the best of it.

Here are 4 perks of sitting at the kids’ table:

  1. No kitchen timer—expectations are a lot lower when you’re pre-published. No deadlines. No reviews. No line edits. It’s just you and your muse.
  2. Always new guests at the table—and if you’ve been at the table awhile, you’ll have something to share with the new kids about which “menu items” to avoid, which funny looking “veggies” are actually good for you and which “pie crust” is just a little too flaky.
  3. Loads of time to load your plate—this tour of duty at the kids’ table offers opportunities to grow, listen, network, take classes on craft, join a critique group, establish an online platform, eat pie, eat pie (did I say that already?)
  4. Room to master your manners—like any business, publishing has its own etiquette. Sitting at the kids’ table gives you time to learn which fork to use and where to put your elbows before you move to the table with the big folks.

You bet your drumstick I want to move to the grown-up table, but until I do, there’s pie here and friends, and at least four perks. I can wait my turn. (But I would appreciate a bigger chair.)

And just because I like you, here’s a pre-Thanksgiving treat from The Onion.

you just never know

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Photo by Vicky Lorencen

Photo by Vicky Lorencen

At the close of the SCBWI – Michigan conference on Mackinac Island, book reviewer, blogger and first grade teacher extraordinaire Ed Spicer (I know cheers will erupt at the mention of his name!) shared about one of his students. Brycen struggled with reading. He simply could not decipher those black squiggles on the page. That is, until he found a book that unlocked the magic for him. The title of the book isn’t significant to Brycen’s story. It was well reviewed and nicely illustrated, but it was not a groundbreaker or a bestseller. That didn’t matter to Brycen. He simply loved that book, and it loved him back by patiently waiting for him to decode it word-by-word until he could read it with ease. By reading it over and over and over, that story gave him the confidence to select more titles.

He’s such a book lover now that, well, why don’t I let Brycen tell you . . .

Ed Spicer shared Brycen’s story to remind authors and would-be authors that our stories make a difference regardless of critical acclaim or popularity. We may never know how one of our stories set up camp in a child’s heart and made a forever home there. And that’s okay. We just need to make the best stories we know how and trust they’ll find the hearts that need them, hearts like Brycen’s.

Feeling small or discouraged today? Keep crafting your stories with love and care. Because you just never know.

There’s so much more to a book than just the reading. ~ Maurice Sendak

five benefits of being uppity

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Okay, so maybe it’s another of my odd habits, but when I walk into a library, hotel lobby or museum, I typically look up. Come to think of it, I look up on walks through the woods. Or when I’m outside on a cloudless night.

Photo by Vicky Lorencen Hidden Lake Gardens, Tipton, Michigan

Photo by Vicky Lorencen
Hidden Lake Gardens, Tipton, Michigan

(Yes, I’ve had a few near head-on collisions, but it’s almost always worth it.) I like to see what’s up there, not just what’s straight in front of me. Looking up gives me a different perspective, both in the physical realm and that weird world that exists between my ears.

Photo by Vicky Lorencen Navy Pier, Chicago

Photo by Vicky Lorencen
Navy Pier, Chicago

Here’s one of my favorite “uppity” quotes: “The gloom of this world is but a shadow. Behind it, yet within our reach, is joy. Take joy.” ~ Fra Giovanni

I love this quote because it reminds me I have a choice. I can look down and focus on what’s painful or scary or I can look up to focus on what’s possible.

Photo by Vicky Lorencen Mackinaw Bridge, Michigan

Photo by Vicky Lorencen
Mackinaw Bridge, Michigan

For me, looking up doesn’t involve donning rose-tinted shades and pretending everything’s perfect. I think it means, given the choice, why not be positive? Having an upbeat attitude does not have the power to influence reality. In other words, my looking up will not equate to a polished manuscript, a publishing contract or calls from agents. (It’s never that simple, but you know that already.) But looking up does reorient my point of view, my perceptions and how I choose to respond to my reality.

Photo by Vicky Lorencen Grand Central Station, Manhattan

Photo by Vicky Lorencen
Grand Central Station, Manhattan

So, while it may not be magic, shifting my perspective upward . . .

1. Infuses me with hope.
2. Energizes me when my reserves are on E.
3. Takes my eyes off the immediate and helps me see the bigger picture.
4. Gives me buoyancy.
5. Makes me slightly more tolerable to be around. (And that right there is the price of admission, I’d say.)

Photo by Vicky Lorencen Chandelier, Grand Hyatt, Manhattan

Photo by Vicky Lorencen
Chandelier, Grand Hyatt, Manhattan

I’d be a pimple-faced liar if I told you I manage to keep my head up every single day. As I’ve shared in early posts, some days I full body hug the berber. It is not pretty. I get overwhelmed with pessimism, break out in envy pox and become enveloped in self-doubt (which by the way, I am convinced is the leading cause of cellulite). When I’m looking down I become paralyzed, unproductive, and kinda pitiful. And I’m stuck with my own company. Bleh.

Thankfully, a lot of my days, with the help of encouraging friends and some stern self-talk, I can rise above that compost heap of negative glop.

Let me encourage you to remember you have a choice. I hope you choose to look up. You might like what you see when you become “uppity” too.

Photo by Vicky Lorencen Shedd Aquarium, Chicago

Photo by Vicky Lorencen
Shedd Aquarium, Chicago

Photo by Vicky Lorencen John Hancock Building, Chicago

Photo by Vicky Lorencen
John Hancock Building, Chicago

Photo by Vicky Lorencen New York Public Library

Photo by Vicky Lorencen
New York Public Library

Photo by Vicky Lorencen Giordano's Pizza, Chicago

Photo by Vicky Lorencen
Giordano’s Pizza, Chicago

Photo by Vicky Lorencen Hidden Lake Gardens  Tipton, Michigan

Photo by Vicky Lorencen
Hidden Lake Gardens
Tipton, Michigan

the importance of living dangerously

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Photo by Vicky Lorencen

Photo by Vicky Lorencen

I am not a risk-taker, generally speaking. I wear my seat belt, hand sanitizer and sunscreen. Brush twice a day. Eat my burgers fully cooked and avoid stepping on sidewalk cracks.

Yes, I’ve been on the back of a motorcycle (once). I floated in the gondola of a hot air balloon, sat in the front seat of a whirling helicopter, cuddled with a Burmese python, sang an original song to hundreds while wearing a helmet with horns and even walked the streets of Chicago’s north side, but those were exceptions to my usual play-it-safe life. Oh, and once, I even used a public restroom without putting one of those paper doilies on the seat first. So, yep, I guess you could say I’ve sauntered on the wild side a time or two. (I saw you roll your eyes, by the way!)

But here’s what I know: you get what you risk for (or at the very least, you up your chances exponentially).

This spring, comedian Jim Carrey addressed the graduating class of Maharishi School of Management in Iowa. In a rare moment of transparency, Carrey shared how his father had the potential to be professional comedian, but opted to become an accountant because he thought it was the safer choice. It was not. He lost his job.

“So many of us choose our path out of fear disguised as practicality,” Carrey said. “I learned many great lessons from my father, not the least of which, was that you can fail at what you don’t want, so you might as well take a chance on doing what you love.”

Is there a polished manuscript that’s “circling the airport” because you’re afraid of rejection? Submit it.
Is there an agent you want to query? Do it.

Feel the fear, but do what you want to do anyway. You can do this. (And I will join you.)

A ship is always safe at the shore, but that is not what it is built for. ~ Albert Einstein

choosing sides for volleyball and other curious forms of torture

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Photo by Vicky Lorencen

Photo by Vicky Lorencen

Reason #10 I love going to writers’ conferences: never having to choose sides for volleyball (or softball or basketball . . . ). You see, I possess no eye/hand coordination. Zippo. My left hand is only there to make me look symmetrical. Strictly window dressing. It’s a wonder I can type. So, it’s a real load off not having to demonstrate my athletic ineptitude for the astonishment of my fellow writers. Oh, sure, authors can be strong athletes, but I’m confident a lot of us were picked last (or next to last on a good day) when choosing teams in gym class. We were out of our element and there was no competing with the real sports people.

Of course, that doesn’t mean authors don’t engage in our own kind of competition. I’m not talking about contests. It’s more about the weird competitive dynamic among writers seeking to be published. We have this crazy notion in our heads that there are a finite number of publishing contracts to be had and when one of our fellow writers snags one, that’s one less available for us. Well, hey, now. It’s not like that. There’s no song that goes like “A hundred publishing contracts on the wall, a hundred publishing contracts, take one down, pass it around, ninety-nine publishing contracts on the wall . . . .” (Thank goodness because that would be really tedious.)

The truth is, we compete with ourselves for what we want. We compete with our own schedules, inner critic and insecurities for dominance. We are not competing against each other. We are not rivals. We can all win. And for the record, it’s been my experience that children’s writers are among the most generous, supportive and encouraging people toddling on ten toes. My husband was shocked by this. He couldn’t understand why writers would be so helpful to people who are their competitors. Maybe it is odd–but the good kind.

And, by the way, if we were choosing sides for volleyball, I would totally pick you. (But please, please don’t bump the ball to me!)

I have been up against tough competition all my life. I wouldn’t know how to get along without it. ~ Walt Disney

are you mything something?

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Writers, the real ones I mean, are magnets for neuroses, paranoia, depression, fits of rage, and yes, occasional bouts of constipation. (I tried, but there was no way to pretty that up.) It’s a wonder we have enough strength to smother our sorrows in Haagan Dazs.

And as if this crazy cocktail wasn’t enough, many of us succumb to Seasonal Myth Disorder. Not familiar with SMD? Perhaps you are. You just didn’t know it has a name. Let me explain. Assuming we agree life comes in seasons (and not just the April showers variety), it’s important to recognize that with these life seasons come some myth-perceptions, otherwise known as Seasonal Myth Disorder. (Don’t bother looking for it in the DSM V classifications. If you must know, I made it up.)

In any given season of life, especially the ones that ram us down a rabbit hole, it is easy to mistake these three myths for fact:

1. I am alone in this season.
2. No one understands what it’s like to be in this season.
3. This season will last forever.

Let’s myth bust these one at a time, ever so gently, shall we?

1. I am alone in this season. Are you struggling to find time to write, much less produce anything worth reading? Trolling around Facebook will lead you to believe you are the only one who isn’t there yet. Everyone is landing agents, agents are landing contracts, books are launching, movies based on the books are debuting, writers are churning out novellas before tea time . . . and then there’s you. Everyone is wildly successful and you’re nothing but a schlep with digestive issues. NO YOU’RE NOT! (And lay off the Facebook for a while.)

2. No one understands what it’s like to be in this season. HIGH SODIUM LUNCHEON MEAT! (aka BOLOGNA!)

3. This season will last forever. IMPOSSIBLE!

Okay, okay, so maybe that wasn’t so gentle. The point is, these are all myths. You’re a smart, literary person. You know what a myth is. It ain’t true.

You are not alone. In fact, you’re in good company.

Every single writer you can name or will ever know struggles with seasons of despair from time to time (even the super cute ones). Lots of people understand what you’re going through. If you don’t know any, join SCBWI, start a critique group or do something to connect with at least one other writer. You’re sure to find some sympathetic souls.

And no, this season–even though it feels like a six-month-Michigan-winter–will not last forever. You’ll get your groove back. You’ll have some small successes. Heck, maybe even big ones. So, please stop mything all over yourself. You’re too fine a person for that. And you know what that does to your gut. Let this be the start of Be Kind to Me season, okay?

Now, my little creme brulee, put down the spoon and go write something.

If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant: if we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome. ~ Anne Bradstreet

how to “get lucky” in five easy steps

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If all it takes to sell a book is talent, work hard and perseverance, more of us would be published. Like it or not, luck is a piece of the process. But can you make your own luck? I think so. You just have to be willing to ask for it, compete, put out, flaunt a little and sell yourself.

1. Ask for it. Whenever I receive a manuscript critique from an editor or agent, I always end the conversation by asking if I can send him or her my manuscript. Pride is too pricey. Go ahead and pop the question the editor or agent is expecting you to ask. (And then make sure you follow through. Send that manuscript and mention the invitation in your cover letter.)

2. Put out. Sweetie, shyness is simply out of your price range. You really must interact with other writers and members of the publishing community via social media. Send cards. Build and cultivate a blog or web site. Comment on other’s blog posts. Be generous and offer your help to others in the form of critiques or feedback. Aside from surrounding yourself with a supportive community of talented people, you never know where those connections may lead.

3. Flaunt a little. Humility is pricey too. You’re going to have to loosen up and show off a little. An author/illustrator friend of mine, Ruth McNally Barshaw, was contacted by an agent after a friend encouraged her to share her sketches online. Ruth wasn’t looking to lure an agent, but posting her work resulted in the start of a fabulous partnership and the launch of her graphic novel series–Ellie McDoodle.

4. Be willing to compete. When was the last time you entered a writing contest? In 2012, I entered a contest sponsored by the National Association of Elementary School Principals. Did I win? Uh, noop. But my picture book manuscript placed in the top 5 out of more than 750 entries. Did that boost my confidence. Yes, indeedy. Children’s Writer and Highlights run themed contests regularly.

But don’t limit yourself to writing contests. If there’s a pricey conference you want to attend, chances are there’s a scholarship contest to go with it. I have had the privilege of receiving funds for both a regional and a national SCBWI conference, as well as for a Highlights Foundation Writers Workshop. And don’t assume you have to be penniless to apply. Check out the requirements to see if you qualify and go for it. Even if you don’t win, oftentimes filling out the application gives you great practice for a query letter or synopsis. So, it’s time well spent even if it doesn’t result in cash.

5. Sell yourself. Have that elevator pitch memorized. Be ready to talk intelligently about whatever you’re working on right now. Know how to introduce yourself as a professional–including a beautiful business card. Work it, Baby.

Make yourself some good luck this week!

Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity. ~ Seneca

You know, Hobbes, some days even my lucky rocket ship underpants don’t help. ~ Bill Watterson, Calvin & Hobbes