January 21, 2009

Your Baby’s Ugly

I belong to two online critique groups, one for prose, and one for poetry. Both of these groups are invaluable to me.

Writing is a lonely business because most of the time, you’re working in a vacuum. Sometimes, it’s hard to see any potential flaws in my own work because I’m just too close to it. Stepping away from a project for a little while is helpful most of the time. It allows me to view my work with fresh eyes and maybe I’ll spot something I didn’t see before. But the best way to spot any flaws in my work is to have a trusted group of critique partners take a look at it. They don’t have any emotional investment in my project, so they will be able to look at it more objectively then I can.

Now putting your work up for critiques is not a natural process. As I mentioned earlier, there’s a certain emotional investment in your work. It’s like your baby. After all, there was nothing there before you made the effort to bring it into this world. Getting a critique is a little like presenting your baby to the world, only to have people say, “Your baby’s ugly.” And the thing is...maybe they're right.

Of course, a critique partner will be more tactful than that, maybe… But the point is, constructive criticism is vital to the writing process. Having someone else take a look at the story arc, character, pacing, grammar, etc., has definitely improved the quality of my work, and has made me a better writer. Over the years, I have gotten feedback that helped to make my stories shine, and some that I’ve disregarded because it didn’t fit with my vision of the story. But all of the feedback I’ve gotten, made me look at my story from another angle. That helped me craft a stronger story. Because whether I used the feedback or not, every thing in my story was there because of a conscious decision.

Now all critique groups are not the same. Some writers like to get together in person. However, that is something that wouldn’t work for me. I wouldn’t be able to commit to a critique group that met regularly and read over manuscripts. I just don’t have the time. The nice part about an online critique group is that you can critique when you have the time. If I get an hour here or there, I’ll be able to get a critique done. The other nice thing is that being online has put me in touch with people from the other side of the country, and the other side of the world for that matter. You get great feedback from dealing with such a diverse group of people. In the process, I’ve made some friends there that I wouldn't have met otherwise too. It's been a win-win situation.

January 15, 2009

A Very Nice Way to Start the New Year

Whoo Hoo!!! Guardian Angel Publishing has accepted another picture book of mine titled, “If I Could Be Anything”. This will be my sixth picture book being published by them. It’s a rhyming picture book with an animal theme and has a nice, soft tone to it. It should make for some beautiful illustrations. I’m excited to see it in print although I don’t have an estimated release date yet.

It’s a sweet start to the new year and I’m itching to write some new material. I was going through a creative dry spell recently, but the good news has shaken me out of the doldrums. It’s time to open up my writer’s notebook (I always carry a small spiral notebook with me in case a good idea strikes, or any idea for that matter) to see if any of my random brain droppings could possibly bear fruit.

Happy Writing!


January 7, 2009

Easy As Juggling Chainsaws

I told someone I know that I write children’s books and that I’m being published, only to hear the offhand comment, “Hey, I should do that.” Now this comment came from someone who has never written anything more difficult than a shopping list.

I’d encourage anyone who was seriously considering writing for children and was willing to learn the craft. But what annoys me is the misperception some people have that writing for children is easy.

I just finished a rhyming picture book that weighs in at about 510 words and is currently in the process of being critiqued. I had to create characters; create a plot; squeeze all the elements of a story into 510 words; make sure everything makes sense, oh yeah, and make it rhyme. So now you throw rhyme and meter into the mix.

Then, after all the work you put in writing and rewriting the story; going through the critique process; rewriting again; researching the different markets and submitting the story, there’s no way to really tell the effort finally be rewarded. I was seriously writing and submitting my work for four years before I sold my first story. It was four and a half years before I received my first book contract. That’s a long time to be receiving rejection letters and to wonder if you’re just wasting time.

So writing for children is easy… about as easy as juggling chain saws. However, if you want to learn to do it well, and you don’t lose any major limbs in the process, it can be very fun and rewarding.

Thanks for letting me rant.