Recently in Tools Category

Cutting Back on the Feed

firefighter-1851945_1280.jpgList serves, newsletters, blog posts, and social media can become a firehose blast of information. I love using them when I need inspiration or motivation to write. I search for info when I have questions or want more information on a topic. And I follow editors and agents to see what they are interested in and what they are talking about. But how do you know if you are involved in too much?

The answer will be different for each creative person at different times. At the beginning, we all have a lot to learn. A beginner should probably spend more time on absorbing information, learning craft, learning how the business works, and examining what is in the market now. Seasoned writers/illustrators should have a background of understanding--not that they can't learn more--so should spend less time. However, it all depends on your purpose for subscribing, joining, participating, reading, etc.

Here are some ideas to consider:

How much time a day do you spend on the following: taking in the feed of information, the business of writing/illustrating, creating, and revising? Your answers may be different each day, so you might need to chart a week or two to see what is actually happening. Be honest with yourself.

Is your schedule regularly out of balance? Whatever that balance should be for you, of course.

Do you have certain times that are dedicated to creating and/or revising? Are you allowing other things to interfere with those times?

Do you have too much to read in your allotted time? Or are you overwhelmed by how much there is?

Is some of the information not as valuable as it once was?

Are you learning something new?

Would receiving a list serve in digest format cut down on the number of emails sent from that group?

Do you need/enjoy the socialization you're getting or is it a drag on you mentally?

What are your current goals? You could be in a submission phase, so creating less, and that would be okay.

Are you actually creating? Are you making excuses for not creating? (ouch!) Or procrastinating? Chuck Wendig said, "Here are the two states in which you may exist: person who writes, or person who does not. If you write: you are a writer. If you do not write: you are not."

Answering these questions for yourself can help you determine if you need to adjust the feed. As Brooke Warner says, "For those of you dealing with too much too much too much, spend some time prioritizing." (From the post 3 Ways Writers Get Overwhelmed - and What to Do about It.)

My Coping Mechanisms:

Periodically I go through and unsubscribe from newsletters and blogs that I realize I'm not reading. Sometimes, I delete any nonpersonal posts over two months old. At times my life is too busy and I know something must go permanently, so I ruthlessly cut the "I would like to" reads and the "interesting, but not necessary" online writing groups.

In the past I've set myself a schedule allotting time for the tasks I want to complete. The only one that was allowed to exceed the scheduled time was creating. Some writers use a timer or install an app that nags. This can be to remind you to quit or to remind you to keep going.

Re-evaluation is necessary for me as life and creative needs change.

What are your coping mechanisms? Feel free to share in the comments. (If you can't see the comment box, click on the title above, then scroll down.)

A Fresh Look at Our Writing

refreshment-438399_1280.jpegI was once again reminded how important a fresh look is on a manuscript. This week a writer friend asked me to look at a picture book manuscript that her agent had said was "too mean spirited." It was a retelling of an old story--good guys against a bad guy--with a very modern twist. I thought it was hilarious. I'd seen several versions and really couldn't see much to tone down. Then yesterday she showed it to a mutual critique partner who had not seen the story before. She pointed out areas that would soften the story. This third writer had fresh eyes and was so right in her suggestions.

I love this imagery from Arthur Polotnik: "You write to communicate to the hearts and minds of others what's burning inside you. And we edit to let the fire show through the smoke." When we are writing our own view is hindered by smoke. We're excited about what we're creating--in love with our characters, our words. Setting aside the manuscript and coming back to it later when the fire has cooled, let's some of that smoke of infatuation clear.

When we've looked at a manuscript over and over and over, we get blind. It's too easy to skim because we "know" what it says. Suzanne Paschall says it this way, "Tired eyes become blind to errors that jump out to fresh eyes..." Somehow we need a splash of water in the face to wake us up.

Right now I'm going through my own manuscript using comments from my critique group. Mine is a novel in verse and once I gave the complete manuscript to my partners, I've didn't look at it until I got their feedback. (I also tried not to think about the story at all.) Their questions and comments are helping me see it afresh. It helps me see what I know but didn't put on the page. It helps me see where I wasn't clear or left out details that will add to the story. It challenges me. And I know it is making my story better.

Soon, I'll reread the whole story again to get it ready to send out on submission. This time I'll probably first change the font so it looks different to me. This trick can help fool our eyes into seeing the words afresh.

Do you have other tools you use to look at your writing with fresh eyes? If so, please share in the comments.


Save Me!

lifebelt.jpgI was helping a new writer and she was confused about versions of her story/article. This is a common problem for many writers as it requires some computer literacy that people often don't have. Here's what I suggested to her:

  • Have a computer folder for the book project. Hers was a collection of stories from mission trips to Haiti. Her folder logically says HAITI STORIES.
  • Inside that folder have a folder for each individual story. One of her stories is titled "Anesthesia by Song"--don't you want to know what that's about?! Her inside folder where all copies of this story are can simply be ANESTHESIA BY SONG.
  • - I also use this folder to save notes, resources, etc. related to my article or story.
  • - I might have a separate folder labeled NOTES or INFO inside the story/article folder if I have a number of different documents.
  • If you want to have different versions of a story/article, name the files with dates or a number. E.g. Travel Story 4-15-17.docx, Travel Story 5-1-17.docx, Travel Story 1.docx, Travel Story 2.docx. (Or .doc for older computers.) At a glance, you'll see which is the newest version. You could also label them Travel Story first draft.docx through Travel Story final.docx.

Whether you are on a PC using the file manager (looks like a folder at the bottom of your screen) or on a MAC using Finder, organizing your work helps you know where everything is. The folders within another folder, the files within a folder, all can be in alphabetical order which makes it easy to find the file you need when you need it.

My friend was surprised to hear you can have folders within folders. I liken it to a wide hanging folder in a desk drawer. It can have multiple manila folders. But the computer is even better as you can keep nesting as far as you need.

But how do you save different versions of a document?

There are multiple methods:


  • The one I find myself using the most often is opening the document itself and then clicking on "save as" and adding a version number or date. This leaves my new document open and I can immediately start work.

  • Another option is to go where the file is and make a copy. When you save the copy, the system will add a number to differentiate it or will add the word copy. Then you can rename the copy, open it and get to work.

"Save as" is useful in other ways too.


  • Saving a backup copy to another location such as Dropbox, google drive, a USB device, etc.

  • Saving the first ten pages for a consultation/critique. Of course, you can also copy the first ten pages and paste in a new document, but you probably will lose your headers.


I liked having the "save as" icon on my toolbar, so I can click on it easily.

Another writer expressed this week how she lost six hours of work when preparing a PowerPoint presentation. We've all lost work and it is very frustrating. Here's what I do to help avoid that:


  • Name the document or presentation right away. An unnamed doc or ppt is much more difficult to find if you have a computer crash. I've also clicked on "don't save" when I meant to click on save when closing a document. Arghh!

  • When you save the file that first time, make sure you put it in a logical place so you'll know where to find it.

  • Save frequently as you work. I suggest every twenty to thirty minutes. (The "save" icon on the toolbar makes this quick and easy. Command/Control S is the keyboard shortcut.)

  • If you're inserting create commons images you've copied from the Internet, I suggest downloading them then insert versus copy and paste. You'll have the downloaded copies in your downloads folder as a backup.

And speaking of backups... Make sure you are backing up your documents and files. For further info, go to this blog post.


Online Resources for Children's Writers and Illustrators

computer-1185626_1280.jpeg

There are hundreds, maybe thousands, of writing and/or illustrating sites on the web, and many good ones. Here is a sampling to get you started for 2017.

Categories
AE - agents and/or editors
F - fiction
I - illustration
MG - middle grade
O - organizations
PB - picture books
YA - young adult



Agent Query AE
http://www.agentquery.com/

American Library Association O
http://www.ala.org/
Check here for information on awards. They have a section of author and illustrator websites, too.

Art of Storyboarding at Temple of the Seven Golden Camels I
http://sevencamels.blogspot.com

American Booksellers Association/ABC Children's Group O
http://www.bookweb.org/membership/ABC

Bent on Books AE
http://jennybent.blogspot.com/

Children's Book Insider
http://cbiclubhouse.com/clubhouse/

Children's Books
http://childrensbooks.about.com/

Children's Book Council O
http://www.cbcbooks.org/

Cynsations
http://cynthialeitichsmith.blogspot.com/

DearEditor.com
http://deareditor.com/

The Drawing Board for Illustrators I
http://www.thedrawingboardforillustrators.com/

Edit Minion
http://editminion.com/

Fiction Notes F
http://www.darcypattison.com/

Fiction University F
http://blog.janicehardy.com/

From the Mixed-Up Files... of Middle-Grade Authors MG
http://www.fromthemixedupfiles.com/

Goodreads
https://www.goodreads.com/

Guide to Literary Agents AE
http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/guide-to-literary-agents

Helping Writers Become Authors
https://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com/

The Horn Book
http://www.hbook.com/

InkyGirl
http://inkygirl.com/

Institute of Children's Literature
https://www.instituteforwriters.com/about/institute-of-childrens-literature/

JacketFlap
http://www.jacketflap.com/

Jane Friedman
https://janefriedman.com/

Kidlit 411
http://www.kidlit411.com/

Literary Rambles
http://www.literaryrambles.com/

Literature and Latte - Scrivener
https://www.literatureandlatte.com/scrivener.php

Manuscript Wish List AE
http://www.manuscriptwishlist.com/

Monster List of Picture Book Agents AE PB
http://frolickingthroughcyberspace.blogspot.com/p/monster-list-of-picture-book-agents.html

Picture Book Month PB
http://picturebookmonth.com/

Publisher's Marketplace AE
http://www.publishersmarketplace.com/

Resources for Writers - including "Writing for Children's Magazines" and "Educational Markets for Children's Writers
http://evelynchristensen.com/writers.html

SCBWI's Blueboard - for members and nonmembers
http://www.scbwi.org/boards/index.php

Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators O
www.scbwi.org

The 22 rules of storytelling, according to Pixar F
http://io9.gizmodo.com/5916970/the-22-rules-of-storytelling-according-to-pixar

The Write Conversation
http://thewriteconversation.blogspot.com/

Write for Kids
http://www.write4kids.com/

Write to Done
http://writetodone.com/

Writer Beware
http://www.sfwa.org/other-resources/for-authors/writer-beware/

Writer UnBoxed
http://writerunboxed.com/

Writing and Illustrating
https://kathytemean.wordpress.com/

Writing, Illustrating, and Publishing Children's Books: The Purple Crayon
http://www.underdown.org/

YA Books Central YA
http://www.yabookscentral.com/

If you have others you like, feel free to add in the comments. (If you can't see the comment box, click on the title above and scroll to the bottom of the resulting page.)


Why Twitter?

twitter.jpgTwitter. Facebook. Snapchat. Instagram. Periscope. There are so many options in social media that it can be hard to choose which one(s) to use. If you aren't on Twitter, don't know why you as a writer might want to use it, or don't know what to do with the Twitter account you have, perhaps this post will be helpful.

First, what is Twitter?

An internet discussion/social network where messages are 140 characters long. Some refer to this as microblogging. You can say what you want, whenever you want, and your followers can read it whenever they want. Messages are referred to as "tweets." Messages can include links to a website or blog, photos or videos, gifs, and polls.

My Reasons for Using Twitter

I started using Twitter to connect with other kidlit writers and to get better acquainted with editors and agents. It's a good place for those purposes, both which are really about connection.

Find People to Follow

Following someone is how you get to read messages in Twitter. Your Twitter feed, your timeline, is made up of messages posted by anyone you follow, plus messages you send. It's how you listen in on the conversation. It's how you join public conversations or start conversations. Messages are in chronological order in your feed with the most recent messages on top.

I started by following some writer friends. Then followed some people my friends followed. Since then I add people I meet, read about, read their books, hear speak, or find through retweets, or through Twitter suggestions. I may or may not follow those who follow me.

If I don't know anything about a person, I read his/her bio and some sample tweets. Sometimes I follow someone and later unfollow them as their tweets bother me (it could be language, or too much self-promotion, or too much discussion of politics.)

Because I now have an adult ebook out from Clean Reads, I have a Twitter handle for that pen name @SMFordwriter, too. I've found that the children's literature community--just as they are in person--are more open to conversation, helping each other, sharing, etc.--than the adult literature community.

The Conversation: What Do You Say on Twitter?

Answer questions. Here's an example that @KSonnack posted yesterday: "I need some book recs. #1: for an 8yo who just moved to a new city and is having trouble adjusting. Go!"

Follow links to articles, then comment or retweet the original tweet. (Retweeting means sending the tweet out again from your user name.)

Share articles. This from August 11th: "The 11th hour villain. I agree with this concept. http://www.starpowercomic.com/the-eleventh-hour-villain/ ...

Use the heart to "like" what someone says.

Comment on or retweet tweets. Such as: @Corinneduyvis on September 2nd: "Hugely important part of writing for me: my plot notebook. I take pen, paper, and just talk my way through scenes and problems."

Share good news, links to blog posts, writer quotes, and book recommendations.

Ask questions.

Celebrate others' good news and sympathize with bad.

Conversations: Private

You can also have private conversations by using DM (direct message) through Twitter. This only works for people who follow you. You can DM a single person or a group. More info here.

Searching Twitter

Twitter is searchable and the main tool to use is a hashtag. Hashtags can be anything anyone creates using the pound symbol (#) followed by a word or words with no spaces, but common ones start becoming known, such as #amwriting or #writingtips or #writingchallenge or #kidlit. Some are just initials or abbreviations that have become great tools.

Some of the most useful writer hashtags for submitting are #MSWL (manuscript wish list), #PitMad (pitch madness), and #PitchWars (a contest).


  • #MSWL also has a website--both the hashtag and the website offer editors and agents to post "what they are looking for." This is amazing!

  • #PitMad is a chance for writers to pitch manuscripts during quarterly events. Basic information can be found here. One of the most important things about it is that tweeters must also indicate the genre of the manuscript with another hashtag, such as #PB #MG #YA.

  • #PitchWars is a "a contest where published/agented authors, editors, or interns choose one writer each, read their entire manuscript, and offer critiques on how to make the manuscript shine." See full details for 2016 here. What a deal!


These latter two give you a chance to see if your pitches are working. Do they garner any attention or not? You can often offer different versions to try pitches out.

Search for a specific editor or agent--one you'd like to know more about--by name. You may find links to interviews or blog posts by this person. You may find comments about the agent or editor. If the agent or editor has an account, you can read his/her tweets. Seeing a "I hate squirrels" tweet would let you know not to send a squirrel story to that specific person.

Twitter Lists

One of the tools on Twitter is the ability to assign those you are following to lists. I normally add someone to a list when I follow them. That means if I want to see what Picture Book writers are saying today, I can just see the posts of the people I've put on my PB list. (Would need to use Tweetdeck or HootSuite). Lists can be public or private.

Setting Up Twitter

When you sign up for an account, you create a user name or handle--mine is @SusanUhlig, my pen name for my children's writing. The @ symbol is the common way to indicate a Twitter handle. Once you have someone's user name, you can view their page by typing in your browser twitter.com/username. So in my case it would be twitter.com/susanuhlig. Once you go to my page, you'll see Sue (Susan Uhlig) followed by @susanuhlig.

Actions you need to take asap are upload an avatar--usually a picture of you--and create a bio. You don't have a lot of characters, so keep it short and pertinent. Mine says: "Children's Book (PB, readers, MG, YA) & Mag Writer. Writing helps/book recs on my site ('cuz I always have an opinion). SCBWI Oregon. ICL Instructor." You can see I used some of my bio space for affiliations. I also get to list my location and my website in addition to my bio. Another fun option is adding a header photo, but that can come later. However, often people won't follow those who do not have an avatar.

Of course, Twitter itself has articles and FAQs that can help you get started.

Once you are set up, you can join the conversation. If you find you are spending way too much time on Twitter, set a timer for how long you want to be on and when it goes off, close that Twitter window.

Making Use of Twitter

You can also set up a Twitter widget on your website that will show a specified number of your most recent tweets. It's one way to have frequently changing content on your site. (How you do this depends on your website software.)

Someone once asked me if I could explain Twitter in 140 characters. As you can see, I can't. But I can sure tweet this post.


Cutting Back on the Feed

A Fresh Look at Our Writing

Save Me!

Online Resources for Children's Writers and Illustrators

Why Twitter?

Resizing Photos for Use on Websites

Are List Serves a Service or a Waste of Time?

Reducing Word Count

MS Wish List

Kids Reading Books and Saying What They Think

Retreat!

Poor Man's Copyright, a Myth

Missing Students

What Do You Do When You're Stuck?

BACK UP!

Writing Business Expenses

A Dark Side of Social Media

Writing and Life Balance

Make It Work for You