Monday, September 6, 2010

It's a struggle!

I can honestly say that struggle is not a word I use very often.  My son, however, loves to point out whenever I am, in fact, struggling.  Whether it is with the computer or straining to reach something that he can grab without so much as rising onto his toes, he's right there with the raised eyebrow and the wry tone in his voice saying "Strugglin'?"  So where is he now?  Not that I need confirmation.  I am all too well aware that I am struggling.  I'm long past our submission deadline and I'm about to blow the extension.  

The truth is that I have been struggling with writing all summer.  I'm not exactly sure why.  It is probably because everything I have already written needs revision which isn't nearly as much fun as the initial crafting.  I'm still struggling with the agent vs editor submission dilemma and, of course, trying to choose the right ones. If I am really honest I can admit that I am struggling to accept that I don't have anything that is quite ready to be sent out.  A year ago, I thought I had three straight to the bookshelf slamdunks.  A year of research and working with my writers group has taught me otherwise*.  A good story and a good, marketable story are two different things.  But it is hard to change your vision, rethink the rhyme and the reason, to make the stories better.  And so, I struggle.  I procrastinate and I open document after document without any clear purpose and I get frustrated.  And I accomplish nothing.  And, as Julie Andrews sang in The Sound of Music, "Nothing comes from nothing, nothing ever could..."

Maybe I should call Julie - she wrote some terrific children's books;  The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles being an all time favorite in our house.  Of course, she'd probably have me singing about raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens and, THAT, would really be a struggle!

*Ed Note:  My writers group has been incredibly helpful, encouraging and spot on with their critiques.  My only complaint is that they are honest brokers of the truth and that can be very humbling.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Consider yourself invited!

My sister's youngest is turning 7 next month and so my latest writing effort, and only completed effort in awhile, is her invitation.  Since I posted some of Regan's invite back in June, I thought it was only fair to let Leslie see her invite in print as well.  Her theme this year, after two years of dog themes, is cartoons.  She'll probably be a vet someday because she is all about animals and was from the get go.  Read on to see all the fun you'll be missing:

Bugs is missing a tail – Quick pin it on!
Then hunt for your prize out on the front lawn.
Next give the piƱata a really good whack,
‘Cuz when the cartoons start you’ll want a li’l snack!

Last but not least, with your stuffed friend in tow*
We’ll snuggle into the couch to watch a great show.
This invites the real deal; it’s no hoax
So RSVP today, cuz… "that's all folks!"

Add in some cute Warner Bros clipart (that I don't feel comfortable copying to a public site) and you've got yourself an invitation.

On the 'real' writing front, I am helping to coordinate the first meeting of the Hoosier Links for the Indiana chapter of SCBWI.  Their mission is to create opportunities for writers and illustrators to meet more frequently locally to supplement the limited number of bigger conferences that can be coordinated each year.  We invited about 40 from our geographical list and are expecting about 20 for the gathering.  It's always inspiring to get a bunch of creative souls together, so I am hoping that this, along with the energy from the start of a new academic year, will be just the ticket to jump start my writing projects.  Otherwise, I'd better watch out because someone just might drop on anvil on my head.  

Tuesday, June 22, 2010


That's what my house was for 75 hours this weekend.  Without power. Lacking electricity.  And yet, life went on.  Pretty much as normal.  A few more dirty clothes accumulating than usual.  No whir of the air conditioner.  A wet pony tail for me rather than blown dry locks.  And yet, by hour 62, we were all a little less vibrant, bored with each other, bored with ourselves, frustrated by our inability to make things work the way they usually do.  There was plenty to do and plenty that could be done and yet, nothing we wanted to do except that which was impossible without power.  Why did we feel so unplugged?  Creatures of habit, slaves to life's conveniences...maybe?  I'm not really sure.  I am only sure of something I have suspected my whole life.  I would have made a lousy pioneer woman.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Wanna go for a ride?

Yesterday Conor passed the first hurdle toward his ultimate goal of getting his license - the practical driving test.  He's actually a good driver so it took, as he foretold, about 15 whole minutes to prove it to the instructor who then stamped his permit, gave him a thumbs up and sent him on his way to merrily hurl his breakable body along in 5,000 pounds of steel at speeds far too fast to make sense to anyone but the delighted 16-year-old boy behind the wheel.  Ain't life grand?  Tomorrow, he'll take the written test and it will be official.  He'll have a lousy picture of himself (smiling but showing no teeth as required in Indiana) on a laminated piece of cardboard that will say to the world, "I have arrived.  I have been tested and found capable."

I guess that's a little bit like it must be once you can say you are published.  You can hold up your publishing credential for the editor/agent and say, "I have been tested and found capable.  Wanna go for a ride?"

Thursday, June 10, 2010

What makes a story a story?

This weeks submission to the critique group was another revision of my very first book idea: Mrs. K and her Little Red Wagon.  I wrote it initially as a tribute to my mom after she died almost 7 years ago.  It's still a tribute to her, but I have tried to make it more universal and make her more of a character (although anyone who knew her would say she was quite a character).  I mean, of course, more of a character in the literary sense.  Still, I am struggling with the fact that it isn't really a story in the truest sense of the word.  Oh sure, there is a main character: Mrs. K.  There is a setting: the beautiful lakes of the north woods (Wisconsin though I don't say so).  There is action: boating, tubing and skiing.  There is a beginning where we are introduced to Mrs. K, a long middle where all the action happens and Mrs. K proves repeatedly that she is generous, fun and patient and an end in which the children and Mrs. K recap the days events in their own way.  But it's not so much a story with a real plot and conflict as it is a 'day in the life'.  It's a series of vignettes and could probably be retitled Scenes on a Lake (which would ensure that no one will ever buy it).  So the question is: Is that enough? 

It is, of course, written in rhyme, but if I wrote it in prose it would go like this:  The neighborhood kids ask the bare-footed lady next door to take them out in her boat.  She agrees and they scramble to get ready.  She drives really fast and they love it, except for the no wake zone.  Then they go tubing, which is wild.  Then they go skiing and she is really patient for kids who can't ski very well.  Then she puts the boat back into the hoist and goes inside to play scrabble with her friend, while the kids roast marshmallows and brag about their adventures.  Well, now it's clear as mud.

I think before our meeting our Thursday, I will do a little searching of current titles at B&N with this question in mind.  I seem to remember reading lots of books to Conor when he was little that fit this structure, but I need the reassurance of finding and reading them again now.  

(So much about this publishing process would be easier if my memory wasn't shot to hell!  Kevin Kline played a character named  Otto in A Fish Called Wanda that is oft-quoted at our house.  He'd be given a series of instructions and at some point he'd always say "What was the middle thing again?")

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Does this count as published?

I just emailed my niece's birthday invitation rhyme to my sister.  She's turning 10 this week and we started this tradition on her 6th birthday.  Back then the theme was bugs; this year she's having a softball party (after school gets out so I'm delivering it right under the wire).  Here's a snippet:

Swing for the fences in the batting cage,
Then we'll have some wiffle ball fun.
Whistle a fast ball across home plate, 
Then score the winning home run!

My sister will print it up on some cute paper and send it out to Regan's friends and their moms will all RSVP with gushing comments about how cute and clever the invites were.  I'll demur with "oh that, I whipped that up in 15 minutes..." but the reality is that I will eat it up with a spoon.  Brian says I'm a little bit of a praise whore (and that is truer than I like to admit), but now that I'm caught up in an industry where there is often so much rejection and negative feedback, it's doubly important to find outlets that help buoy your spirits and inspire you to keep creating.  And these invites, which I also do for her younger sister, are really how I got my start in writing.  Conor's birthday invitations were some of my best work.  My favorite was his fourth birthday where I seamlessly melded a dinosaur theme with a gymnastics party.  It was genius ... and really wowed the other four year olds :-).

My nieces, though, are among my biggest fans and since they live far too far away, I love that we have this special connection once a year.  They understand that I go to all this trouble on their invitations just because I love them.  With the rest of my projects, I need to remember that I go to all this trouble just because I love writing.  Anything else (praise, publishing, etc) is just gravy!

Friday, May 28, 2010

Hey, I've got an idea...

The last post was on this little book/assessment called Strengths Finder 2.0.  If you haven't read it, you might check it out first for a little background (the post, not the book).  My 5 top strengths came out as Ideation, Responsibility, Strategic, Learner and Input.  Nothing listed that made me cock my head to one side and say 'huh'?  After all, from the time I was 5 years old, my mother described me as the responsible one.  My brother, 13 months older, was the cute one.  My mother swears that I was also cute, but my brother was definitely not responsible.  Anyway, that's fodder for the therapist, not the blog.

The Ideation topping the list helped me understand my 'process' both at my day-job and in my writing.  The Insights section tells me (among other things) that: Because the printed word feeds your mind, you frequently generate original plans, programs, designs, or activities.  It's very likely that you recharge your mind by creating ideas for new projects.  This occurs even before you have completed your current assignment.

This may explain why I've been feeling like I have adult-onset ADD lately.  I'm not lacking focus, I'm just hyper-creative.  I like that explanation so much better.  At work, I've been driving my teammates a little crazy with all my plans, suggestions and possible new programs.  With writing, I've got eleventy-seven different projects all in various stages of development: this month's critique submission was a memoir/essay for a magazine titled The Truth About Santa Claus. I've been working on my secret project a little, but not enough to have it ready to go.  I started revising my very first book about my mom and her boat, Mrs. K and her Little Red Wagon, to make it a little more universal. I've got a query letter in the works to submit In This Chair to another agent.  I've been reading some other early chapter books to try and wrap my head around where I need to go with Bring Your Tools to School.  And of course, there's this blog which is what I write when I tell myself I don't have time to really write.

I may need to develop that Responsibility strength a little more.  All the fabulous ideas in the world won't amount to a hill of beans if I don't push some of them all the way to the finish line.  (This race image makes me giggle because, in 23 years of marriage, my husband swears he's never seen me run.  However, in all things, he is right there behind me with all the encouragement and support a girl could ever hope for so, in that way, this image is dead on!)  I know the finish line is out there.  It's just that I'm still a little fuzzy on the length of the race I entered.  5K?  Marathon?  Either way, it starts with that first step.