Teachers Write 7.26.17 Q&A Wednesday

Good morning! Got questions? Our guest authors have answers! Today onΒ Q&A Wednesday, we have Anne Ursu, Sarah Darer Littman, and Anne Nesbet as our mentor authors.

As always, if you have questions for the group, or for a specific author, just post in the comments. They’ll be checking in throughout the day to respond.

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66 Comments

  1. Martha Willey
    Posted July 26, 2017 at 7:14 am | Permalink

    Good morning thank you for giving of your time. When you’re writing your book how do you keep
    Track of the facts? I always start off writing notes down on each chapter and still seem to loose
    The thread. Any help would be appreciated. Thanks

    • Posted July 26, 2017 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

      Hi Martha! Barbara Dee jumping in here. What a great question! I don’t have a formal system for keeping track of facts as I’m writing, but once I have a first draft, I usually go back and do a timeline, to make sure events are unfolding on the calendar in a plausible way. As for all the other little facts and details, I think you notice stuff as you reread your manuscript for the millionth time! Also, I rely on editors and copyeditors as experts in picking up on any gaps or inconsistencies– so I’d definitely recommend having at least one other pair of eyes on anything you write!

    • Anne Ursu
      Posted July 26, 2017 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

      I think it helps to think of these things as a revision issue–if you’re worrying about this too much in the first draft, then it will freeze you up. And then as you revise do a “fact sweep,” just read and make sure that everything lines up, maybe take notes. We all have things we are not so good at in the first drafts–I’m terrible at creating physicality so after I’m done with my draft I write up some notes on each character and their physical details, and then just go through the scenes and layer them in. I think it’s important to figure out the things we have a harder time with and then just be really conscious of coming up with strategies to address them.

      • Mona Goodman
        Posted July 26, 2017 at 5:52 pm | Permalink

        Loved Cloud and Wallfish- such an interesting idea for a story- also based on true historical incidents. I appreciate reading MG books that have a different angle and topic. Your writing kept me wanting to hear more (audible version was excellent)

    • Posted July 26, 2017 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

      Hi Martha – I am a total research geek, so I totally sympathize with your fact tracking issue. This is why I do all my first drafts and outlining in Scrivener, an amazing program that allows me to keep the research links applicable to each chapter linked to that chapter. I can also keep any notes or books I’ve used for that chapter linked to that chapter. This is very very useful during the copyediting process if there are queries from the CE.

      Like Barbara, I also do a calendar after the first draft, and often revise it after each subsequent revision. I print out blank month calendars, which are available online, and then calendarize each chapter and scene to make sure it all ties together. I can then scan that and send it to my editor so she has it too.

    • Posted July 26, 2017 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

      Notebooks, computer files, lists of sources! I have done these things in Scrivener and outside of Scrivener. No matter how careful a person is, there will always be something that escapes you, though. Particularly frustrating is the feeling when you know you saw something somewhere that said X–but now you can’t find it again. Labeling files carefully so that research work is “findable” is extremely important. Being extra extra careful at the outset of a new project will make a lot of difference later on. And helps so much with preparing school visits!

  2. Diana Murrell
    Posted July 26, 2017 at 7:31 am | Permalink

    Thank you for answering questions today! I would like to know how you found writing groups and people who would read your work and give you feedback?

    Thanks!

    • Anne Ursu
      Posted July 26, 2017 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

      I’ve been very lucky in this regard just to have writing friends that I can share things with. But I know there are ways to match critique partners through SCBWI. I’m sorry I can’t be more help!

    • Posted July 26, 2017 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

      I had the double good fortune to move to Paris for a year in 2007 and discover that the local SCBWI chapter in Paris was super strong and had some great critique groups. So I had wonderful readers when writing The Cabinet of Earths.

      I have some dear friends who are really wonderful and perceptive readers, too. It turns out that I do MUCH better with writing when I think there is at least one person who wants to read the next chapter!

      Everybody is busy, of course, so instant feedback never happens, or happens very rarely! It’s important to be willing to be the reader for other people that you wish you could have yourself. πŸ™‚

    • Posted July 26, 2017 at 5:53 pm | Permalink

      I’m one of those people who first found critique partners via SCBWI, specifically on their online discussion boards. Those groups all disbanded in the end – I left one after a week because it wasn’t working for me personality-wise, and another stayed together for well over a year before everyone drifted away – but that was fine, because I’d always viewed them as transitional critique groups anyway. They helped me figure out what I needed to both give to and receive from a critique group, and after I’d become more established in the community of aspiring authors I found critique partners more organically through existing relationships.

  3. Jen Howe
    Posted July 26, 2017 at 7:33 am | Permalink

    Good morning! Thank you for being here today. Could you tell me (and my students) a bit about your writing process? I’m collecting author responses to help my students discover that there is no one writing process, only the writer’s process. Thank you.

    • Posted July 26, 2017 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

      Hi Jen! What a great project! And so true–there’s no one writing process, even for the author herself! Every time I write a book, it seems I have a new process: seat-of-the-pants writing for the whole thing, outline first, synopsis first, VERY rough draft first. I like to try different approaches for different books; I think it keeps things fresh. Only one thing is certain: revision is the most important part of the process, and usually it incorporates feedback from several trusted readers. However you arrive at your book, you’ve spent hours and hours on that final draft!.

      • Posted July 26, 2017 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

        Barbara, I’m kind of excited to hear this reply. My first book I wrote in complete silence. The second, I had to listen to a specific soundtrack to keep me in the noir atmosphere I was creating. This third book just might kill me. My process is all over the place, bouncing between drafting to brainstorming sessions with my poor sister, to revision, and then back to outlining the plot points, before I return to drafting again. I’m a hot mess right now! For me, the writing process has never been linear and I tend to revise or refine my plot based on frequent brainstorming sessions. I tell my students that the revision process begins as soon as your plot idea sparks to life.

        • Posted July 26, 2017 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

          I love that! Yes, it’s ALL about revision! And I truly believe every book is a new journey, a new writing process–with new characters who guide your way. If you’re a teacher or a parent, you know kids always communicate what they need from you. Same with writing–the story tells you how to write it! (Please don’t let your third book kill you or drive you nuts–maybe walk away, let it breathe a little? Good luck!)

    • Anne Ursu
      Posted July 26, 2017 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

      I teach writing for children at the graduate level, and this is something I try to emphasize all the time. The world is full of people who will tell you there is ONE way to do something, but what matters is what works for you. I used to binge-write–write a really quick first draft very obsessively, and then revise. My life doesn’t allow that anymore, so I set a goal of words I’ll write in the morning before I do anything else, and then just stop and do the other things I need to do. It took me a long time to let go of the old process–which had worked for me once, but doesn’t anymore. But I finally unlocked something by trying something else.

      • Posted July 26, 2017 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

        Agree with Anne whole-heartedly! Any time you come across writing advice that seems like it’s THE ONE WAY to work (eg, you must write every day), walk away! Every writer has a different process, and many (including me) have multiple processes.

    • Posted July 26, 2017 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

      Jen, that is a wonderful project. Ditto Anne and Barbara. I also teach in an MFA program and will reiterate – there is no “ONE” process, and anyone who tells you that there is is a charlatan. I learned from one of the smartest women in the business, Laurie Halse Anderson, that there are many tools in a writer’s toolbox, and the important thing is to find the right tools for the particular novel you are working on.

      That being said, for me, writing a first draft is like having a tooth pulled without anesthetic, so I try to get it over with as fast as possible – even if it means skipping parts where I get stuck and writing “INSERT SOMETHING INTERESTING HERE” or “RESEARCH THIS MORE”. I do this for two reasons 1) to avoid the “research vortex”, because like I said above, I’m a total research geek, am easily sidetracked by “oh, let me just research this one little fact” and then three hours later I’m down a rabbit hole and haven’t written a single word and 2) to shut up the critical voice I call the “Inner Crazy Lady” who tells me “This is the worst book you’ve ever written, all your previous (insert number of published books) books are flukes, you are never going to finish this by the deadline, etc etc etc”. If I write the first draft fast enough, I can shut that cray lady down and just tell her “shut up I’ll fix it in revision!” At least that way, I get my words on the page, and I know I can shape the rubbish I’ve written into something better.

    • Posted July 26, 2017 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

      Ah, as everyone has said, there are many ways to write a book! Each book will probably require a slightly different process–and sometimes the process has to shift dramatically from draft to draft of one single book.

      If I describe my typical process, I will be glossing over all the ways in which every book at some point refuses to be “typical”! But let’s see:

      1. I brainstorm for a while in a little notebook. Research notes, bits of plotting, etcetera.
      2. I create a kind of outline, using notecards or Scrivener’s virtual cards or notebook pages.
      3. I create a rough draft quickly, using the Scrivener “project targets” bars as motivation: aiming for x number of words a day, but REALLY aiming to get so caught up in the project that it will be composting in my head whenever I’m not typing! I tend to write right through a story, rather than hopping around.
      4. Then I let it sit a while.
      5. – 21. And then I revise and revise and revise and revise and revise and revise again. Other little notebooks are brought in to help. Editors’ letters are turned into checklists. I do everything I can to fool myself into thinking revision is possible!

  4. Diana Murrell
    Posted July 26, 2017 at 7:33 am | Permalink

    This is actually in connection with yesterday, but if teachers are doing historical research with kids, I thought this might help?

    http://education.historicacanada.ca/files/268/Primary_Source_Pyramid.pdf

  5. Joyce Uglow
    Posted July 26, 2017 at 8:24 am | Permalink

    Good morning,
    I am in the beginning stages of writing a picture book and would like it to become a series. Currently, the draft is narrative. Because I have yet not achieved interesting characters through narrative, I thought I would rewrite the story through dialogue. I’ve been thinking that the illustrations/paintings could provide the reader with the descriptive details. Thoughts and advice?

    • Posted July 26, 2017 at 8:38 am | Permalink

      Hi Joyce, I’m no expert but I write a lot of picture book manuscripts. One of the things that helps me (and maybe you’ve already done this) is to study published picture books in the style of the one I’m writing. So, if I was thinking of writing my manuscript in dialogue, I’d collect some recent picture books written in dialogue from the library (some examples: Ssh! We Have a Plan!; I Don’t Want to Be a Frog; Moo,Moo in a Tutu; The World According to Musk Ox).

    • Anne Ursu
      Posted July 26, 2017 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

      I am not a PB writer and so I am going to channel Phyllis Root, who I have the great honor of teaching with. When writers say something about leaving it up to the illustration she says “Use your words.” So I echo what Andrea says, to study PBs in dialogue and see how they accomplish those descriptive details.

    • Posted July 26, 2017 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

      I’m a non-expert here, because I haven’t written one single picture book, but I am fascinated by them! And one of the things that’s so amazing about picture books, of course, is the interaction between word and picture. I study good picture books and am in awe!

      So as a non-expert I would say . . . perhaps the goal for a writer would be to write a story that works without pictures? and for the pictures also to “work without words”? and for the combination to be something marvelous on yet another level, in which words and images dance beautifully together?

      Emphasize on the “?” of course! πŸ™‚

  6. Lisa Bayliff
    Posted July 26, 2017 at 9:14 am | Permalink

    Thanks so much for answering our questions this morning!
    My creative writing students have to keep a writing journal. I’d like to make this more relevant to them, so this summer I’ve been using one to play with words, brainstorm, and reflect on my current story. I was wondering if any of you keep a writing journal, and if so, how you use it.

    • Posted July 26, 2017 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

      I don’t keep a specific writing journal, but I use a bullet journal (thanks to Kate!) and write down ideas, revision notes, etc in there. I also keep a file on my computer where I bookmark news stories that trigger questions that might be starting points for books.

    • Posted July 26, 2017 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

      Hi Lisa! I don’t have a “writing journal,” but I carry around a bunch of little notebooks wherever I go. Each one belongs to a particular project, and I brainstorm for that project in the notebook. Choosing the best possible little notebook for any particular project is a terrific way to waste time, too! πŸ™‚ I have quite a supply by now, but I’m always looking for new ones….. I guess what I’m suggesting is that it might be freeing for students not to have one SINGLE writing journal, but to have a few different ones for different kinds of projects or thoughts! (Also, I find fancy or large notebooks a little intimidating: they seem to demand big ideas. Little notebooks free me up, because if I “mess up” [whatever that means in the context of brainstorming!], it’s only a LITTLE notebook, and I can start another one.])

  7. Dayna Collings
    Posted July 26, 2017 at 9:29 am | Permalink

    Good Morning – thank you all for answering our questions today! My question is related to picture book manuscripts. I have gotten positive feedback on two of them during this Teachers Write session which is definitely a confidence builder. However, on both manuscripts it was suggested that I “cut to the point/problem” quicker. I’m okay with that as I know picture books have word count limits however, I feel like if I take out early details the readers won’t have enough background or be able to build a relationship with the characters. How can I get to the point quicker without compromising my character development? Thanks so much!!!

    • Posted July 26, 2017 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

      Hi Dayna, I write a lot of picture book manuscripts and, as I mentioned above, one of the things that helps me is to study a lot of recent picture books (recent, because word counts & styles have changed dramatically from several years ago). Maybe you can keep one or two key details and then take away the rest? I also like to try making a “dummy” or fitting the text to a template (you can find more information and resources for that here http://inkygirl.com/inkygirl-main/2015/11/4/free-picture-book-thumbnail-templates-for-writers-and-illust.html). My third tip is to have critique partners who also write and study picture books. Sorry for being long-winded but I’ve spend a lot of time studying and trying to write picture book texts.

    • Anne Ursu
      Posted July 26, 2017 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

      I am all for Andrea’s ideas of going to mentor texts. This is how I solve all my problems. Look at the first couple of spreads–how does the writer make you identify with the characters? I think you want to go for the quick, bold, resonant detail. For example, I’ve heard the writer Lisa Jahn-Clough talk about her amazing PB LITTLE DOG. In the first draft, the first page was 500 words explaining how Little Dog was lonely and hungry and didn’t have a home, etc etc etc. Several revisions later she got it to, “Little Dog lived on the street.” That was it. One line. But it tells you everything.

      It’s also effective to just give them a desire or problem, whether it’s “I want my hat back,” or “I’m bored.” This already contains something to connect us to the character and also gives us a sense of what the story will be.

      I hope this helps. Picture book writing is like playing jenga in a hurricane.

    • Posted July 26, 2017 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

      Well, I’ve never written a picture book, but I recognize this problem from every time I’ve ever started a novel! It’s so hard to start ANYTHING. The reader needs to understand This and This and That and This Other Thing, and you want to convey something about the inner life of the character and what year it is in the story and what the world looks like and and and and…….. But the story has to get moving, too! So basically it is an impossible project, every single time, to get a tale underway. (For me, understanding that I’m being asked to accomplish the impossible is actually a little comforting–it explains why I find beginnings so dang hard.) With luck, with time, and with gallons of blood, sweat, and tears, we find a way to start that implies and encapsulates all that stuff we want to get across–but without having to natter on and on about it. Anne U’s example above is perfect. But yes, FINDING that perfect solution, that magical nutshell, is a bit of a miracle, every time!

    • Posted July 26, 2017 at 6:04 pm | Permalink

      I’m also not a PB author, although I’ve tried writing them – it feels a lot like performing brain surgery on myself with a salad fork – so take this with a grain of salt, but I think Anne is spot-on. With picture book readers, it takes much less to forge a connection to a character than it does for, say, Elena Ferrante’s readers. A single, strong emotional note in response to a situation is often enough. I’m a big fan of Deborah Underwood’s A BALLOON FOR ISABEL, for example, in which the opening page has three simple lines:

      “No fair,” said Isabel.
      “Yeah, no fair,” said Walter.
      It was two days before graduation.

      BAM! Something kind of unfair nonsense is going on, Isabel’s not having it, her pal Walter is right there with her, and there’s time pressure with a noteworthy event on the horizon. Do we know much about Isabel yet? No. Do we know what the unfair thing is? Nope. Do we have any idea that Isabel’s a porcupine? Okay, YES – it IS a picture book, after all. But that “so unfair!” reaction is gold, and is a kind of character development that’s both quickly understandable and entirely meaningful to PB readers.

    • Posted July 27, 2017 at 8:23 am | Permalink

      Thank you Dayna, for asking this question and to Anne U., Anne N. and Mike for your responses and examples! I’m going to think about how to build the emotional connection early in the story when working on my pb manuscripts.

  8. Posted July 26, 2017 at 9:30 am | Permalink

    Good morning! I am writing a MG novel with an 8 year old girl as the main character. I am wondering about how to refer to her parents throughout the book. In one book I read, the author referred to a grandmother as ___’s grandmother the entire time. My grandmother character is referred to as Gram, so it works as a name. Do I call the parents Alice’s mom/Alice’s dad throughout? Or do I switch to call them Mom and Dad? Not sure if there is an “industry standard.”

    Thank you!

    • Posted July 26, 2017 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

      Hi Megan, Barbara Dee here. I always use Mom and Dad (upper case) for the main character’s parents, and any name they use (Gram, Uncle Bob, etc) for relatives. Occasionally I see first names for parents–eg, the excellent Casson family series by Hilary McKa–but that’s not the norm in MG. Also, other adults outside the family are usually Mr., Mrs., Ms., or Miss–unless there’s a special connection to the main character. Sometimes this strikes me as unnaturally formal, but I think it’s the norm.

      • Posted July 26, 2017 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

        Thank you! I forgot to mention it is written in 3rd person. Does that change anything?

        • Posted July 26, 2017 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

          No, I don’t think so– not if the book is written from the main character’s POV.

        • Anne Ursu
          Posted July 26, 2017 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

          I was about to ask about POV. I’m going to disagree slightly with my esteemed colleague, that third person can make a difference here. (I have driven myself up the wall trying to solve this problem.) It depends on how close the narration is to the main character. This brings in the idea of psychic distance:

          http://emmadarwin.typepad.com/thisitchofwriting/psychic-distance-what-it-is-and-how-to-use-it.html

          How distant is your narrator? So in my books, I tend to say “Hazel’s mother,” because the narration–while it’s focalized through the protagonist, is still a little more distant. There’s a storyteller in there.

          That’s the technical answer–the real answer is to do what feels right.

          • Posted July 26, 2017 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

            Thanks Anne and Barbara! Right now the narrator is a little more distant from the protagonist. Of course, I’m still in the first draft so we’ll see how revision impacts all of that. This gives me a good starting point though.

    • Posted July 26, 2017 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

      I use a variety of approaches, depending on how close the narrator is to the character’s mind. Usually that ends up being “Hazel’s mother,” as Anne U. just said above (only in my case, not “Hazel”). This is a real “YMMV” question, I think, though!

      As a side issue, every time a novel goes to copyedits, I end up struggling with my preference for “her Uncle Bob,” as opposed to “her uncle Bob.” For me, “Uncle” or “Aunt” feel like part of the proper name. I would never have called my Aunt Sue, “Sue,” so why can’t “Aunt Sue” be treated like a name?

  9. Kay Berry
    Posted July 26, 2017 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

    Hello- thank you for taking the time to answer questions. I was wondering if any of you use writing programs like scrivener? In the past few weeks that I’ve been participating in teachers right I have noticed that some people say this is really helpful for them. There is also a an app that counts your words? And help to make goals? I would like to know if any of you use them or can recommend a good one. I am trying to write a YA novel.

    • Posted July 26, 2017 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

      I use Scrivener and love it! I wrote my first novel in Microsoft Word and learned that changing the order of scenes in Word was incredibly frustrating for me. With Scrivener, I can set writing targets for myself, track my process, and most importantly for me, I can easily rearrange scenes and chapters. And it’s a fairly inexpensive program to purchase. When I’m ready to, I can click a button to compile my scenes and Scrivener will effortlessly convert and format everything into Word so that it’s ready for me to send to my editor. I don’t use all of the features in the program, but the ones I do use, have been invaluable to my writing process.

    • Anne Ursu
      Posted July 26, 2017 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

      I love Scrivener. I got very overwhelmed when I first started because of all the options, but I finally realized I could just use what I wanted. I tend to have a lot of documents going–notes, an outline, the actual chapters–and so it makes it much easier for me to toggle through them.

    • Posted July 26, 2017 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

      I couldn’t function without Scrivener. It’s helped me become better at plotting, helps me keep track of research, and when I work on books in a series it’s invaluable. It also has a word count function. You can set a daily word count goal and it counts your total word count. I’m all about the word count!

    • Posted July 26, 2017 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

      I also have long loved Scrivener–BUT!–it won’t work on my new computer, for some reason. The files keep crashing. So I’ve been forced back into Word, and I’m surviving, for the moment. But I love the notecard aspect of Scrivener and the gorgeous bars that Track Progress. For first drafts, it’s my favorite thing since potato chips. Then for revision, I tend to shift into Word and bring in a lot of notebooks and etcetera.

      (This question reminds me that I have to try to get Scrivener behaving again, because I’ve got another rough draft to write soon.)

    • Posted July 27, 2017 at 8:27 am | Permalink

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts on Scrivener. I have often thought of buying it but haven’t made the jump yet.

  10. Posted July 26, 2017 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

    Hey authors, TY for being her w/us today. Am beginning to write a PB bio on a musician. Can I, w/out breaking copyright, insert small phrases of his songs in the PB here an there to give it flavor? He was a singer/songwriter, deceased, and not that well-known. Only his son survives. For example, from a song: “I’m not a student & she’s not a teacher, but we both still love the Mississippi River.” And I’d say, He was a fifth grade student and Miss Ferris was his teacher, and they both loved the Mississippi River.” There ‘d be a few like this example. I not yet written, just @ research stage. TY of your valuable time.

    • Anne Ursu
      Posted July 26, 2017 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

      This is a thorny issue, because there’s no real standard (as far as I know–someone else may weigh in with better info.) There are guidelines people use–like a certain percentage of the work–but it’s not a legal standard. My advice, FWIW, is to be judicious with it, and then talk to your publisher. But I’m going to see if I can find a NF person to weigh in here….

      • Anne Ursu
        Posted July 26, 2017 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

        Okay, I asked the brilliant Jacqueline Briggs-Martin, and she says:

        “What I would say is if this subject has a living son, I’d contact the son, tell him how much I admire his dad and want to write a book for kids about him and ask for permission to use quotes from the dad’s songs. That shows respect for the subject of the bio and his work and the son may have good stories to share. Also if the writer decides to use longer excerpts from the songs there won’t be any problem.
        Of course there’s the chance that the son will be onto the vast sums of money picture book writers make and will want a cut for permission. I have offered a percentage of royalties (5%) when that has happened.”

        • Posted July 26, 2017 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

          (Just jumping in to say this is a really interesting question–and can get tricky–and I appreciate Jacqueline Briggs-Martin’s sensible response!)

        • Posted July 26, 2017 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

          Wow, I knew it would be tricky. The rule I understood as a school librarian was the 10% rule but that applied to situations w/out renumeration. TY. Jacqueline and Anne.

  11. Diane S
    Posted July 26, 2017 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

    How long do you work on something that just doesn’t get wrapped up but keeps calling you? Some say one project at a time. All I can finish is poetry or shirt stories. Thanks in advance.

    • Posted July 26, 2017 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

      Hi Diane. At a certain point, it’s good to let go of a project and get some feedback. Do you ever share it with trusted readers? You might hear that it’s “done”–or at least done enough for submission. One thing to remind yourself is that you will have plenty of time to revise after your work is accepted for publication. (And sometimes even after publication, it doesn’t feel “done.” That’s part of the writing process, too!)

    • Anne Ursu
      Posted July 26, 2017 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

      I would say as long as it takes.I agree with Barbara that getting feedback can be a great way to see a project anew. Sometimes, too, you just put it away, work on something else, and wait for the project to call to you again. But it’s okay if it takes a long time. I have a dear friend who works on several books at once and each book ends up being 5-15 years because of it.

      Another question I’d ask is what’s keeping you from finishing? Do you feel like it’s something internal to the manuscript or a more psychological block? (This happens a lot!) Sometimes I get stuck when I’ve made a wrong choice within the manuscript, or am about to make a wrong turn–where the characters are doing something they just would not do at that point. I feel like our subconscious knows sometimes what we don’t.

      Would it help to make an outline of what you have so far and try to see if there are blocks in the plot?

      I really recommend The Writer’s Life by Annie Dillard.

    • Posted July 26, 2017 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

      Most people probably have some “open projects” hiding in their drawers or on their hard drives, I’m guessing. That’s really fine, unless the long-unfinished project stops you from moving forward. And it sounds a little to me as if you would really LIKE to complete one of these longer projects! In that case, I would pick something, and make it your Completion Test Case. The only goal for that project? FINISHING. That’s it. Doesn’t have to be great. Just has to be “done.” I did that long long ago as a way of healing from thinking of myself as “someone who never finishes anything,” and it really did help. Now I finish things right, left, and center! πŸ™‚ (Note that we have to redefine “done” slightly for this to work: “done” cannot be asked to mean “perfect”!) Good luck!

  12. Posted July 26, 2017 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

    Do you have any strategies for keeping focused while revising? I am trying to break what I need to do into smaller steps and give myself reminders like: “All you are doing is moving scenes. Fixing transitions can come later.” But I get easily distracted by new project ideas! Or maybe I’m just avoiding doing the hard work.

    • Posted July 26, 2017 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

      For me to do a serious revision I need to immerse myself entirely–no other concurrent projects! Everyone has a different process, though, and I think it’s fine to take breaks as you revise. Often your brain is incubating or working out the knots when you don’t realize it–and when you do return to the manuscript, you’ll find that your time away was well spent!

    • Posted July 26, 2017 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

      Have you tried creating a checklist for you to follow? When I’m drafting, I know that I’ll have to go back and add more setting details later, so I mark it on my revision list. Also, as I read through my work, or have my computer read it back to me, I write notes such as: revise to show the temperature dropping each day. I do tend to revise along the way, so my self-edits are more like playing with words or tightening up the plot. When I get revisions back from my editor, I address all of the easy changes first and then go back to work on the tougher revisions.

    • Posted July 26, 2017 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

      Aren’t writers always trying to focus? That seems to be one of the daily challenges, no matter where we are in the process. I second Betsy’s fondness for checklists: one of the things I do when I get an enormous revision letter from an editor, is I turn it into a nice, manageable checklist. Then I open a new notebook, and on the left-hand pages I describe what goes on in the book, chapter by chapter, and on the RIGHT-hand pages I note everything from the checklist that needs changing in that chapter. Then I let that notebook and the master checklist boss me around until I’m done! There’s always at least one moment (and by “moment,” I may sometimes mean, “week”) of despair involved by the way, but it’s like the Friday crossword puzzle: keep chipping away, and you WILL eventually triumph, unlikely as that seems at first.

    • Posted July 26, 2017 at 6:15 pm | Permalink

      Definitely the checklist (she says, as she is in the throes of yet another revision on a tight deadline). I make a list based on the editorial letter and then add to it while I’m going through the manuscript based on all the things I need to follow up and check on. But I am also a compulsive list maker, which is why the bullet journaling has been great for me!

    • Posted July 27, 2017 at 8:29 am | Permalink

      Thank you for your suggestions! These are all great strategies!

  13. Barb Jaindl
    Posted July 26, 2017 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

    Can’t decide what I’m more than xcited about — learning about the craft of writing or the stack of books I brought home from the library today that included the 3 titles Kate showcased on her launch page today! I know both avenues will allow me more opportunities to make connections with other educators and students in my schools.

    How much do you think about audience when you write? From the beginning? Input from those first readers? Editors? How much does this infirm the revision process?

    • Posted July 26, 2017 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

      First draft I just write without thinking too much about audience – because it’s more important at that point to get the story and the voice. First draft I go for real and don’t worry about language, content, etc. Revising is when it’s time to be more conscious of audience. For example, if I know my book has buy-in from book fairs, I have to be much more conscious of content and wording.

    • Anne Ursu
      Posted July 26, 2017 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

      I am sure answers are going to differ here, but for me–it’s not at all. I’m just trying to write a story. What I hope is that by centering the story on the thoughts and experiences on a character who is eleven years old, that makes the story appealing to a middle grade audience. We always get asked whether we write books for ourselves or our readers, and I could never answer that–until I realized that for me it’s the character. I’ve got this young person who is wounded somehow, and needs a story to help heal that wound, so I have to tell that story.

      For me the revision process then is about making the book what it wants to be. So part of that certainly involves communication–like when I haven’t put something that’s in my head on the page I need outside readers to tell me that. But I just consider that a part of making the book work.

    • Posted July 26, 2017 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

      Hi Barb! That’s such an interesting question–the more I think about how much I think about the audience, the more complicated and even contradictory my answer becomes. πŸ™‚ What do we mean by “audience,” for instance? There’s an abstract meaning of audience which has to do with how your book will be sorted later, and that has to be kept in mind from the start, at least a little bit (“MG or YA?” for instance). But aiming to please a vague group–like POSSIBLE editors–is much harder on the spirit than imagining a specific reader–an ACTUAL editor, if one is lucky enough to have an editor already, or a dear friend who is sweet enough to read early drafts for you. I find I can freeze if I’m thinking too much about pleasing some blurry group of possible readers! But on the other hand, having at least one potential future reader whom I know is eager for me to finish a draft is a huge motivating factor. And I’m always one of the readers I’m writing for–in fact, for me, writing is quite a bit like reading-very-slowly! So my answer is paradoxical: I think about audience–and I try to forget about audience–both more or less at once!

  14. Posted July 27, 2017 at 4:29 am | Permalink

    Thank you all for the questions and answers. I am a bit behind on these because we took our family to France. But, I really have learned a lot from theses questions. I really like the ones about Scrivener. I am using it at a basic level and would like to figure it out more. Particularly regarding the word count goals and project targets. If anyone has a good You-Tube video or another free teaching site please let me know. Thanks again!

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