Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Enough Head Space, by Matthew MacNish


I wrote this post a while back on my personal blog. I called it Storytelling, but really it should have been called How do You Know When You're Ready to Start Telling Your Story? I'm not sure why it was so popular, but it probably had something to do with Nathan Bransford sharing it on his blog.

It wasn't really a very good post. It was short, and no research went into it or anything, but I think it asked a question that really resonated with writers.

I've been thinking about that question again lately, because I'm kind of in-between projects. I'm not the kind of writer who writes every day.

Well, let me rephrase that. I'm not the kind of writer who puts words into a draft of a new manuscript every day. But I am the kind of writer who thinks about stories every day.

Lately, I've been wondering how I find the head space. Recently, I've been working on two deep critiques for some critique partners I have (they are both award winning published authors, so I'm not really sure why they trust or even need my feedback, but that's neither here nor there). I have also been putting words down on a project of my own I'm working on, but it's not a draft. It's brainstorming.

I can't say much about the project, but it's a secondary world fantasy, and I've never written one of those before, so I want to make sure to do the necessary work up front, to build the world, so that I have a sturdy foundation going in once I really am ready to draft.

So what's my point?

I'm not really sure, but I guess what I'm trying to say is that I'm okay with "not writing every day." I don't have the head space to juggle four stories at once. I mean as long as I'm working on storytelling--which, let's face it, if you're a storyteller by your nature, there's really no getting away from it--I'm okay with that.

I learn more from reading and analyzing other people's work than I do from pounding out my own first drafts anyway.

What about you all? How many projects can you work on at once?

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The winner of THE SECRET HUM OF A DAISY announced...


I had so much fun reading, then writing a blog post, then interacting with all the wonderful people who left a comment on my post about Tracy Holczer's THE SECRET HUM OF A DAISY. Now, I have just pressed the button on Random.org, and dear Random tells me that the winner of a signed copy is none other than


Which is a secret hum of a coincidence, because I will be featuring Kimberley's beautiful novel, THE TIME OF THE FIREFLIES on my other blog, Middle Grade Mafioso, this coming Monday.

What a small world!

Kimberley, I am e-mailing you to tell you of your win. Congratulations, and thanks to all who entered. I hope to do this again soon.

Monday, July 28, 2014

4 Tools for the Writing Parent by Joanna Roddy


"Mother" -Nikki McClure

Being a parent of young children is all-in, no matter what else you have going on. And it presents special challenges for us creatives who need space and time for our work in addition to bringing home the bacon or taking care of littles. But inciting a rivalry between your children and your creative progeny will only make you feel frustrated and hopelessly divided. A while back I read a post by YA author Laini Taylor about "Writers with Kids" and I liked how she phrased the topic as "Not so much 'kids as obstacle' but 'kids as given.'" 

Making peace between my own work/life balance as a writing parent is something I've been honing for years now, and what seems to work in one season can change with my own creative growth and my family's development. Here are four tools that have helped to ground me and other writers I know in the midst of a life that sometimes feels like it's been reduced to tantrums, skipped naps, and bleary-eyed late night feedings. 

"A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without
putting a word on paper." -E.B. White
Get Support:
You can't do it alone. Supportive spouses are a common theme in the Mayhem group and you do need a champion in your corner to keep the faith when you're discouraged and to let you work while they man the wheel at home. One of our Mayhemmers with five kids called a meeting to get everyone's input on whether his writing career was important (the kids agreed it was) and what he could do to stay involved with family life. This gave him clarity on how to be present to his kids' needs when he was with them. Even single parents can find supportive family members or friends who will spend time with the kids while they work. On the flip side, there will always be skeptics of your choice to invest in creative work and it's important not to let their disapproval cripple your efforts. Get your team of advocates and tune out the critics. 

Embrace an unconventional work schedule
Time is the giant hurdle for writing parents and there are a million ways to make it work. I have a hands-on husband who looks forward to time with the kids after work. He often gives me one day each weekend to write while he hosts "daddy daycare" with a bunch of his friends. Just last year I also started to get up at 4:00 in the morning to work for a couple of hours before my kids wake up. I'd never done anything like this before and I have found it surprisingly wonderful. It's a commitment that requires a shift to an early bedtime and a new paradigm on evening social commitments. But I was too tired most days by the time the kids were in bed to do much more than watch shows or tinker on the internet, so why not just go to bed and wake up fresh and ready to work? Because there's no way I am going to get up at 4:00 just to read my Facebook feed--I'm getting down to business.   

Other Mayhemmers have done all kinds of crazy schedules, like driving babies all over town till they're asleep and then writing like mad on a laptop in a parking lot until they wake up, or having a spouse with a flexible schedule and taking afternoon writing sessions a few days a week. Some have hired a sitter to give them a few hours of writing once a week (me included), some have written between innings at little league games, and some even have a spouse who works night shifts so there's daytime space for the writer to work. I used to do swaps with other mom friends: I would drop my kids with them for a few hours and go work and then come back and watch their kids and mine for a few hours while they went out and did their own thing. I even know one woman who wrote her entire doctoral dissertation in 15 minute increments. You have to get creative with your time, but where there's a will, there's a way.



Go on retreat:
One of the most helpful things for me has been getting a work weekend away once every few months. There's traction and momentum that comes with long chunks of time without interruption. Last fall I fulfilled a lifelong dream and rented a one-room cabin in the woods, a dedicated writer's refuge on an island in the Puget Sound. I channeled my inner Thoreau, cooked and slept and worked in a sanctuary of silence, and after three days had revised or written more than I had ever done at once in my life. You don't have to splurge on accommodations, though. Wait until a friend is going out of town and offer to housesit or apply to funded writing residencies in your area. 

Learn when to fight and when to flow:
Creative work is hard to choose for and you do have to get fierce about it and fight for it. When you never know the next time you'll get a chance to work, it's easy to become distracted and resentful when caring for your children, but if you can block out and commit to a work schedule of some kind, then you are freed to compartmentalize and be more present to your family when you're with them. It's also important to expect that unforeseen circumstances will sometimes intrude into your work time, especially as you rely on other people to care for your kids. If you can hold onto your own resolve to keep making the time to work, then the setbacks won't feel like failure.


How have you found time to write in the midst of family responsibilities? What other strategies have been helpful to you as a writer with kids? And if you don't have kids, how do you maintain a balance between writing and your other responsibilities? Would love to hear your thoughts!

Friday, July 25, 2014

My Love For Tracy Holczer's THE SECRET HUM OF A DAISY (And A Giveaway)

THE SECRET HUM OF A DAISY by Tracy Holczer (G.P. Putnam's Sons, May 2014)

"Writing would help me through it, just like it always had. And where I used to think that writing was like the little hole in a teakettle to let out steam, I figured it was more than that. I hoped the hundreds, thousands, maybe millions of words I wrote down would help me fill the empty place left by Mama and make me whole." (The Secret Hum of a Daisy, pages 282-283)

The words above are those of 12-year-old Grace, the narrator of Tracy Holczer's luminous debut novel. Every writer, I'm sure, can embrace such a sentiment. For how many times does writing fill our empty places and make us whole? I know it does for me.

Grace has lost her mother in a freak accident. It turns out to be the biggest loss of many losses in her life. Her father and her grandfather were killed in a car accident before she was born, which had a connection with her grandmother sending her mother (pregnant with Grace) away. How could anyone find forgiveness in all this? Especially since now Grace has ended up with the very grandmother whom see believes to be the cause of all her troubles?

The novel starts with Grace's mother's funeral, and her being taken home by her grandmother. There are many humorous scenes, where she tries to put a "Plan B" into effect, trying to force her grandmother to send her back to the friends she lived with at the time of her mother's death. (Laundry detergent being sneakily replaced by dishwashing soap, anyone?) The emotional heft of the novel feels intensely realistic, as Grace moves through her anger and resentment to some understanding of her mother, her grandmother, and herself.

The setting--a small town an hour away from Sacramento--and the cast of characters are captivating. All of them figure in the treasure hunt (a hunt both literal and figurative) which leads Grace to a greater knowledge of herself.

Finally, I loved the way the characters were so richly realized. It would have been easy to "let them off the hook," but each character is flawed--and therefore alive--in their own way. This is the sort of novel that resonates with a reader long after the final page is read and the cover closed. I wouldn't be surprised to hear the words "Newbery" whispered about it.

As for me, in my other blogging life, I am a tough old prune of a Middle Grade Mafioso. You wouldn't expect a 50-something, former Brit like me to be dabbing my eyes with a handkerchief--but believe me, I did so a number of times while reading this glorious book. (I did the same during A Bridge to Terabithia and at the ending of Charlotte's Web.) As a result, I am going to send one lucky winner a copy of this novel, so you can laugh and cry as much as I did. I'm also hoping to have Tracy Holzcer send me an inscribed bookplate for the winner. (You can learn more about Tracy Holczer at her website. There's also a great interview with her by Natalie Aguirre of Literary Rambles.)

All you have to do to be a winner is comment on this post. To add to the fun, choose a number between 1 and 312 and I will gift you with some lines from your chosen page. And believe me, each page has at least one line, if not several, which made me go "Wowzers!"

Thanks for supporting the Mayhem. You have until one minute before midnight PST on Monday the 28th to leave your comment and have a chance of winning. Winner will be notified on the blog on 7/29. U.S./Canada entries only, please.






Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The 6 Stages of Accepting Feedback by Dianne K. Salerni

I’m currently waiting on an editorial letter for my latest manuscript with equal parts eagerness and dread.

Revision is my favorite part of the writing process, and the edit letters from my HarperCollins editor have been amazing so far. She helped me turn The Eighth Day and The Inquisitor’s Mark into much better books. Based on reviews for The Eighth Day, she also saved me from making a big mistake with one of my characters.

But when I see that email in my In-box I tend to hyperventilate with anxiety. I’m betting I’m not alone in that, right? Whether the feedback is from a critique partner, a trusted beta reader, or critique won in a contest from a blogger/writer you don’t even know, do you reach for a brown paper bag to breathe into while you read?

For me, there are usually six stages of reacting to feedback on my manuscript.

Stage 1: No! She’s wrong! She is absolutely and completely wrong about this!

Stage 2: Crap. She’s right.

Stage 3: But I can’t fix it! Changing this will have a domino effect and make the entire plot unworkable. It cannot be fixed!

Stage 4: Oh, wait. I see how to fix it.

Stage 5: You know, this change is pretty good. I’m liking it.

Stage 6: This is brilliant! Why didn’t I do it this way in the first place?!

I’ve come to accept these stages. I also understand it’s not possible for me to skip the scary and upsetting ones, even though I know the later, more positive stages are coming. The trick is NOT to shoot off an email to the person who gave you the feedback while you are in the throes of Stage 1 or Stage 3!

I’m prone to shooting back an email during Stage 2, although I usually wish I’d waited until Stage 4 so that I can thank the person for the feedback, ask for any clarification needed, and already have a plan in mind for revisions. (I feel foolish when I’ve sent a note to my editor whining complaining explaining that I don’t know how to handle the changes when the next day I’ve got it figured out!)

Over time, I’ve also learned something important about addressing issues raised in a critique or editorial letter. I had trouble putting the idea into words, but luckily, Neil Gaiman did it for me:

Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong. ~ Neil Gaiman

You have the option of ignoring the feedback you get from critique partners and beta readers. Less so for agents and editors. But you should carefully consider every bit of feedback you get – especially if more than one reader comments on the same thing.  Listen to what they’re saying. Figure out why this element doesn’t work for them, and keep in mind that they can’t always pinpoint the reason themselves. You’re going to have to be the one to figure it out. Address the issue in a way that makes sense for your story. Most of the time, your fix will be better than the one they suggested – and will get you to the glorious Stage 6 faster.

Change happens. As a writer, learn to embrace it. Just keep a brown paper bag handy.