Thursday, May 27, 2010

Book Recommendations and Contests and Jury Duty, Oh My

There are A LOT of great contests going on right now, and there are two I'd like to bring to your attention. First off, my lovely writing group friend Megan Rebekah is having a 500 followers contest on her blog. She's got 3 books to choose from or A FULL MANUSCRIPT CRITIQUE. Trust me when I tell you, you want the critique (even though she's got some awesome books too). Megan is a fantastic beta. Her notes have made my stories SO MUCH BETTER.

Second, I'm sure you've heard about Elana Johnson's book deal giveaway extravaganza this week. It's been epic. There is still another day or two to enter to win one of her prize packages. They are all super cool (all of them include Girl Scout Cookies!), so you should go leave a comment there too.

So you all know I'm trying to read 100 books this year, right? The book count currently stands at 31 and the year is almost half over, so I may not make it (or I may need to start counting picture books!). But I have read several amazing books this year though and I thought you might want to know about the very best book I've read so far this year. The Help by Kathryn Stockett was amazing. I know it's a bestseller. I know many of you have already read it. But those of you who haven't need to pick it up.

And finally, I have jury duty next week. I think this is pretty unfair since I served on a jury just a few years ago and my husband has NEVER been called, but I'll smile do my civic duty. Anyway, because of Memorial Day and jury duty I may not be around much next week so I hope you all have a great week. May agent offers and book deals abound!

What's the best book you've read so far this year?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Finished!

I finished my first draft yesterday. YAY!!!

It is the slowest first draft I've ever written. It took me seven months to write 30,000 words. I was a little disheartened by this until I started thinking about these seven months.

The first two months were November and December (Thanksgiving and Christmas!)

During three of the months I had terrible morning (all day) sickness and sitting at the computer for longer than fifteen minutes wasn't really an option.

Two of the months were spent working on a different project.

So really, it wasn't THAT slow.

I've been trying to decide if I should jump right into revisions or let this manuscript simmer and write another one. I think I'm leaning toward the simmering option. After seven months I'm really anxious to write something new! And I have the perfect summer project in mind.

When you finish a first draft do you start revisions right away or do you set it aside and work on something else for a while?

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Influences


We've just wrapped up a huge family reunion. Thirty-five family members were in town and it was up to my mom, my sister-in-laws and me to shelter, feed, and entertain them for two days. We had a great time. I'm tired.

We did a lot of talking and during one of the family chats my cousin's boyfriend asked me what author influences my writing most.

That should be an easy question to answer, right? But I just stood there, for an awkward amount of time, trying to think of someone. I couldn't.

There are hundreds of authors who I admire. I would love to be able to write quirky stories like Roald Dahl, or laugh out loud funny scenes like Shannon Hale, or gorgeous prose like Markus Zusak. But I don't think I write like any of them.

When I first started writing I tried to mimic the voices of authors I loved, but the results weren't good. I probably wasn't good enough at writing to make it work. My words felt like a lame attempt to write like people who could write. It wasn't until I finally decided not to try so hard, just to tell a story in a voice that came naturally, that writing became fun.

Even though I don't have that one author I'm trying to emulate I hope that all of the books I've read influence the way I write. I've read some really great books. I hope they rub off on my writing, at least a bit.

How about you? Do you have one author who influences your writing more than anyone else?


And I just want to say congratulations to the beautiful and talented Elana Johnson who announced her book deal on Friday! If you don't know her, you should. Her blog is a must read for writers. Plus, she's super cool, and possibly the friendliest blogger out there.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Busy and Productive

This week has been a little insane. Kind of like last week! I think I was kind of nuts to think May would be LESS busy than June. My girls are finishing school and with that comes school programs, field trips, art projects, and assignments. And right now we're gearing up for a huge family reunion this weekend. It's going to be awesome, but people are staying at my house which means it has to be clean...

Anyway, despite the crazy week I've been able to get a lot done on my WIP.

Have you ever heard the saying that if you want something done you should ask the busiest person? The idea behind it is that busy people know how to manage their time.

I think there might be something to this. I know when I don't have much going on in my life I don't manage my time very well. I spend a lot of time online and waste time doing stuff I really don't need to do. But when life gets really crazy I HAVE TO figure out how to fit everything in and as a result I usually get more writing done and have a cleaner house, despite the added workload elsewhere. It's kind of cool actually. I do get overwhelmed by busy weeks sometimes (like last week!), but most of the time I'm pretty productive.

Have you noticed that you're more productive when you're busy? Or does too much to do overwhelm you?

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The First Draft

It is a miracle, but I think I am going to beat my deadline by a week and get this first draft done by Friday.

Yep, that's right. It only took me 7 MONTHS to finish it. I know, I'm speedy.

I've realized some things about my first drafts that I thought I'd share.

1. The beginnings are always way better than the endings. This is because I am a compulsive revisor, so while the end is a true first draft the parts before have all been tinkered with and the beginning has been revised a lot.

2. My first drafts are always short. This one will only be about 30,000 words. This isn't too horrible because I write middle grade, but I know that the revision process will bump it up to about 40,000. I tend to write my stories with sparse detail and fill in the blanks later.

3. When I finish a first draft my first instinct is to trash the whole thing and start over. The idea of revising and rewriting is really overwhelming. A part of me (well most of me actually) just wants to start something new and never look at that mess again. Right now I have a shiny new idea that I can't wait to start on, so that doesn't help.

But I will get this one done! I plan to get the revision finished by the end of the summer (and get a good chunk of the shiny new story written too.) I don't know if this goal is reasonable with the kids being home all day, but I'm going to try.

What do your first drafts look like? Are they long or short? Messy or clean? Are you excited or terrified to dig into revisions?

Sunday, May 16, 2010

The "Dream" Agent

Last week literary agent Kristin Nelson posted about agent submission etiquette, saying that when an author gets an offer of representation it's courteous to let all agents reading the full manuscript know that an offer has been made and give them a chance to offer as well.

I thought this was pretty common knowledge, but the comment section proved otherwise. Almost half of the commenters felt that an author should be able to take the first offer when it's given and just inform the other agents that the manuscript is no longer available. A few of the commenters made valid points, but most used this argument: If the first agent to offer is the author's "dream agent" then why should the author even talk to the other agents? It will just waste everyone's time.

How does one determine who their "dream agent" is?

I admit, I used the term when I was first querying. There were a few agents who had fantastic blogs that I'd read for months. They were cool. I liked them. Then there were a few agents who represented authors I loved. They were on my "dream agent" list too.

  • At the time I didn't have a subscription to Publishers Marketplace, so I didn't know about any of their sales histories, and I'd never met them in person or talked to them on the telephone.

  • I didn't know anything about their communication styles. Would they let me know what was happening with my submission every week or just when there was news or just when there was good news?

  • I had no idea if they were hands on editorially and I didn't know if they'd want a major rewrite or just a few edits.

  • When the project was ready I didn't know whether they would submit to 5 editors and be done or whether they would see the project through until every option was exhausted.

  • I didn't know how they'd feel if I got tired of writing MG and decided to write YA or picture books--would they still represent me?

I knew almost nothing about them, so how could I know they were my "dream agent?"

When Sara offered representation I asked her about all of these things and many more. Her answers fit with what I wanted in an agent. But one of the coolest things about Sara was that when she was done answering my questions she asked, "Do you have other fulls out right now?"
I told her I had two. She encouraged me to let both of them know I'd received an offer and give them a chance to respond.

I was so excited about her offer I would have jumped right into signing if she'd been pushy about it, but she wasn't. She told me that she loved my book and she really wanted to work with me, but I needed to make a decision I felt good about. In the end one of the other agents offered too. She was lovely and it was a difficult choice, but I felt like Sara was the right one for me.

Having choices is not a bad thing. You'll have to work with your agent for a long time. You should like him or her. You should work well together. You should know what to expect. How will you know if you've made the right choice if you go with the first person to ask you?

So yeah. There may be a good reason to accept the first offer you get, but an offer from a "dream agent" isn't that reason. When you all have agents fighting over you I hope you'll take the chance to talk to all of them, weigh their pros and cons, and make the choice that's right for you.

Do you have a "dream agent?" If he or she offered would you accept on the spot or would you talk to other interested agents first?

For the agented: What are the things you love about your agent that you never would have known before you talked to them?

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Thwarted

I was doing great until 2 days ago. Then life decided now was NOT the time to write 1000 words a day.

There was some pregnancy exhaustion, made worse by the fact that my daughter spilled a gallon of milk on the carpet, which meant I have to clean the whole house so the carpet cleaners can come and rescue our noses from the rotten milk smell.

Then there was that dinner I had to take to a sick neighbor, and the activity I'm in charge of coordinating for 15 girls and their moms at my church tonight, and the clay projects for my daughter's kindergarten class that need to be glazed ASAP. Oh and my grandma's 90th birthday this Saturday. But the icing on the cake happened a few minutes ago when my two-year-old threw up. Yeah. Life just got a little nuts.

Writing probably needs to take a back seat for a few days. I'm still going to meet my May 31 deadline, I just might need to cut myself some slack for the next few days.

Do your goals get thwarted sometimes?

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

How Are Those Goals Coming?

Last week I decided that I'm going to finish my first draft by May 31. I planned to write 1000 words a day in order to reach this goal. I am happy to report that I am doing well! I've written 1000 words everyday (or caught up on words I missed) and I'm right on target to finish by the 31st.

I haven't written this consistently for almost a year so it's been a challenge, but I'm liking the results. I've been surprised that it's easier to sit down at the computer and write now that I know I have to meet my goal. Also I've been pleased to find that the story is coming along nicely and doesn't feel forced.

I've never been good with daily writing requirements, but I'm starting to think I just haven't tried hard enough to make it work before now.

Have you ever tried to write a certain amount every day? Was it hard or did you get used to it after a while? How are your goals going?

Sunday, May 9, 2010

For Mothers and People who have Mothers

Before I was a mom, I thought I knew what I was getting into. And I did, sort of.

I knew there would be nights of interrupted sleep. I just didn't realize I'd have them EVERY NIGHT for the next 6 years (and counting).

I knew I'd have to clean up occasional accidents. I just didn't realize there would come a time when I would clean 3 or 4 A DAY.

I knew my kids would want to play. I just didn't realize that sometimes the ONLY way to play is to dump every toy they own onto the family room carpet and cover the mess with couch cushions and every last blanket, towel and sheet from the linen closet.

I knew they would have to eat, and I hoped that eventually they'd learn to feed themselves. I just didn't realize this milestone would come with new messes (like blueberry yogurt all over the carpet).

I knew I would love my children. I just didn't realize I'd love them more than ANYTHING else in the world.

I'm so grateful for my wonderful mom and I'm so grateful to be a mom. My family is everything to me. Writing is a fun thing I do when I have a few minutes to myself, but it isn't my focus.

One of the reasons I've made so little writing progress these past few months is that I'm pregnant. I was terribly sick for a few months and it was hard to do anything more than feed and clothe myself and my kids. But it will be worth it! Now I'm feeling good and my life should be fairly normal until the new baby comes next fall.

To all of you mothers out there HAPPY MOTHER'S DAY! And to everyone else, HAPPY MOTHER'S DAY TO YOUR MOMS! They've raised beautiful, imaginative, talented children. You should thank them.

Friday, May 7, 2010

What We Can Do

I've mentioned before that I get overwhelmed when I see news coverage about natural disasters. I feel helpless. I know I can't fly down to Haiti and feed hungry children suffering after the earthquake. I can't do anything to staunch the flow of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. And I can't go to Nashville and put my arms around the people who have lost their family members, homes, and livelihood.

But, I can give money. Even if it isn't a lot.

There are some fantastic opportunities right now to share with people effected by these disasters. I'm sure you've heard about the Do the Write Thing for Nashville Auction raising money for flood relief. You can bid on agent critiques and phone calls, editor critiques, books, and so much more. It's a great opportunity to get professional feedback AND help out people in need.

And if there's nothing at the auction that interests you, there are hundreds of other ways to give (just make sure to only donate to legitimate charities!). I hope you'll do something if you can.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

THE WINNER and Trying to be Productive

First off, thanks to everyone who participated in Spread the Awesome and thanks for all of your comments and book recommendations! I now have more books on my TBR list than I could read in a year, but I'm excited to dive in.

I selected a winner this morning using Random.org. The winner of a copy of When You Reach Me is Christina Lee! Congratulations Christina! I'll email you to get your address.

Now onto today's post.

My kids get out of school in four weeks. Once summer comes they will be at home 24 hours a day. I'm really excited about this actually. I love having them home. I love walks to the park and lazy afternoons in the backyard.

But... I know my writing (and blogging) will have to move to a back burner. And that is why this month needs to be productive. I've been working on the same first draft since November and I need to get it done before summer comes. I have a few REALLY good excuses for taking so long to write it, but my excuses have run out and now I just need to get it done.

So, for the rest of May I am committing to write 1000 words a day and finish this manuscript.

I've mentioned before that I do better with deadlines than daily word counts so I'm also going to set a date for finishing. I will be done with my first draft by Monday, May 31.

Do you have something you need to finish? If you need a kick in the pants to get something done I urge you to join me. Let me know what you plan to accomplish in May. It will be fun.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Spread the Awesome: When You Reach Me

A few weeks ago Elana Johnson had this great idea to have a day celebrating the books and authors we love. Today is the day. A bunch of bloggers will be highlighting favorite authors and a lot of us will be giving books away (some people even have SIGNED books to give!) Go check out Elana's blog for a complete list of participants. With so many giveaways the odds are in your favor to win a book or two. And who doesn't like free books?

For me choosing a favorite book is like choosing a favorite child. I just can't do it. So instead I chose a recent read that I really enjoyed: Rebecca Stead's When You Reach Me.

I am not too good at book reviewing, and I really don't want to give anything away (there story has some great surprises), so I'll keep this short and sweet. This was an awesome read--well written, page-turning, and sweet. I was engrossed from beginning to end. It was brilliant, and you don't have to take my word for it, it won the Newbery. Um yeah, that means a lot of other people thought it was great too.

Read it.

I'll be giving away a copy. To win it all you have to do is:

1. Follow this blog
2. Leave a comment telling me about a book you love

I'll pick the winner Wednesday morning. If you comment before midnight on Tuesday, you'll be in the running!

We're doing a blog chain so you can check out all the Spread The Awesome posts if you want to. Next up is Windy Aphayrath. She's highlighting Elizabeth Scott and she's giving away SIGNED books. Enjoy!