Category: life

A Manual for Moving Forward: What Science Says about #kidlitwomen and #metoo

A Manual for Moving forward: what science says about #kidlitwomen and #metoo

The #metoo movement has swept the world. Last month, that tidal wave crashed into the kidlit community. It started with an article by author Anne Ursu on sexual harassment within the children’s book industry. She conducted an anonymous survey and shared her eye-opening results. Then things really took off with a post by the School Library Journal. I don’t often say this, but the comments are enlightening.

 

MOVING FORWARD

The kidlit community is still struggling with how to handle this situation. The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) revamped their sexual harassment policy. Abusers have been formally barred from the organizations and conferences. Agents and publishing houses have been slower to drop abusers who they represent and have published, but it is happening. One publisher has even made the decision to delay publication of a book so it could be re-illustrated after the first illustrator was outed as a serial abuser. And women are banding together under the #kidlitwomen movement to take back our industry.

It’s a start. But if we’re going to reshape the kidlit community, we need more people acting to make that happen.

I’ve considered how I can contribute to #kidlitwomen and support my fellow female writers. My other great passion (besides writing) is science. In a former life, I was a PhD-track academic studying language and the human brain. So looking for answers naturally led to science and what it can tell us about this moment and this movement.

 

COGNITIVE DISSONANCE: Now what?

The recent revelations of sexual harassment in kidlit were jarring. (I wish I could say that’s it’s equally jarring to see how men have consistently been supported to the detriment of women, but many of us saw that one coming.)

It’s jarring partly because the view from the outside is a very loving and supportive community. And from the inside, that is the predominant experience. It’s one of the best communities I’ve ever been privileged to participate in.

But predominant experiences aren’t the only experience within our community. Some have experienced harassment, assault, and manipulation. Professional organizations have allowed this to continue for years.

Realizing that the mostly warm fuzzy community you love was also hiding predators is unsettling. Cognitive dissonance is the scientific term for this feeling. It’s the jarring sensation you get when you have two contradictory ideas. It’s like realizing your sweet uncle Bob, that always brought you the just-right book to shepherd you through the turbulent teen years, was also a hit man for the mob. It’s upsetting. It makes you question EVERYTHING.

You have two options:

  1. Deny or downplay the new information that caused the cognitive dissonance. (“Uncle Bob would never do that!” or “But he’s a really nice guy.” or “He’s just been having a really hard time in his marriage.”)
  2. Accept the new information and change your worldview. Taking apart your broken set of beliefs and putting them back together is a truer, better way. It’s uncomfortable, but in the end, it’s better. And it’s the only way to move forward.

Cognitive dissonance doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Reassessing is a necessary part of life. You might still care about uncle Bob, but given what you now know it would be plain stupid not to change how you interact with him.

So in this moment, when our view of the kidlit community has been flipped inside out, take a breath. Don’t resist the discomfort with a “no they didn’t” or “nothing is wrong” or “it’s not a big deal.” Resist the urge to defned or rationalize away what you now know.

Pause. Listen. Process.

Then let your worldview shift. Accepting and acting on this newly discovered reality is how we move on.

 

BYSTANDER EFFECT: How do I stop sexual harassment?

Ready to take action? Great! You’re determined to be a part of the solution and put a stop to sexual harassment. How do you do that? Let’s start somewhere a little easier.

Imagine you’re in a crowded grocery store – everyone is rushing to get food for the next big holiday. And in the middle of a crowded aisle, an older woman trips and falls. She’s sitting there, leaning against cans of corn beef.

You’re just as harried as everyone else – you’ve got food to buy, preparations to make, kids whining. Do you stop and ask if she’s ok? If she’s fine, you lose time, look a bit foolish, and maybe embarrass her. Lots of other people are there and none of them seem to be rushing to the woman’s aid.

Research says you’ll most likely keep going. It’s called the bystander effect – the more bystanders that see the little woman in the canned-meat aisle, the less each one feels responsible for her.

If you saw that same older woman trip on a remote mountaintop it would be obvious that you should act – no one else is around, and she has no other way to get help. But when you’re surrounded by other people, you don’t feel quite as responsible.

It’s often unclear if help is needed. The woman may just need a minute to regain her composure. Or she could have had a stroke. She might not be able to call out for help because of her physical condition in the moment. But if everyone is looking and waiting for someone else to act, then no one ever gets around to it.

There’s a really simple cure for the bystander effect.

  1. Know that it exists and realize that people are unlikely to act.
  2. Act on that realization.

It’s the same concept that underlies the phrase “if you see something, say something.”

Smile and say hi to the women. Maybe make a joke or tell an anecdote to put her at ease and relieve her embarrassment. “Sometimes I think they put ice on these floors.”

Then offer her a hand up. She may turn it down. She may gratefully smile back, take the hand up then finish her shopping. Or she may be unable to get up or unable to respond. No more ambiguity, call an ambulance. If you need help, single out a specific person in the crowd. Make it obvious that that person, yes, you in the red shirt are now responsible for calling the ambulance. Now you’ve broken through another person’s bystander effect, too.

Now imagine that instead of a feeble woman at the grocery, you’re in a crowded post-conference get-together. Lots of those lovely kidlit folk are chatting about their favorite topic – books! – while sipping wine. You notice a man putting an arm around a woman. She looks a bit uncomfortable but doesn’t pull away. Everyone else keeps chatting, unconcerned. She hasn’t pulled away or asked for help; does that mean she’s fine? Or is it like the lady in the grocery store where everyone is assuming someone else will act. Is she trapped by the social situation in the same way the grocery lady might be trapped by her physical situation? Anyone who has given in to middle school peer pressure knows that you can be manipulated by a situation or a powerful person, be they the popular girl, a schoolyard bully, or a sexual predator hiding among the kidlit sheep. Anne Ursu’s survey results were full of examples of situations where women did not feel they could speak out on their own behalf.

What to do? Like the lady in the grocery, if you see something, do something. Approach with compassion. Try to ease awkwardness and embarrassment. And if you sense a dangerous situation, get help.

If it were me, I would walk up and say “Excuse me, do you know where the ladies room is? Could you show me?” I’ve now engaged, I can better judge the situation. And I’ve given her a valid excuse to leave the situation on good social terms. She can choose to take the hand I extend or not. But if I sensed she was in real danger – like a man separating her from me, trying to pull her away, or preventing her from grabbing that metaphorical hand, I would be more direct. “You look uncomfortable. Do you need help? Would you like me to call someone?”

Would I be embarrassed? VERY. I would probably be beet red and feel like an intruder, but it’s important. If I misread the situation, they can laugh at me later. But if I didn’t….. I don’t want to be complicit through my lack of action.

So you reading this, yes you with the good intentions feeling uncertain how to proceed, step out of the crowd and act. Act when you see someone in need. Act even if you’re not sure help is needed. Act even though you feel embarrassed. Just ACT.

 

TEND AND BEFRIEND: How do I prevent sexual harassment?

Long ago, researchers found that people have one of two reactions to threat: fight or flight. So when you stumble into a bear in your backyard, you can either fight it or run away.

That research was based on men. New research found a wider variety of responses. They found that women, in particular, are more likely to protect their children and band together for group protection. Since scientists like rhyme as much as writers, they coined the phrase “tend and befriend.”

Tend and befriend is a powerful way of dealing with threats. You can see it in action in many cultures and times. When deforestation threatened the lives of people in Africa, it was women who banded together to replant the trees. In Liberia, women organized after 14 brutal years of civil war and won peace. In the US, women have banded together again and again to create change for women and minorities.

A single person may seem to have little power, but when those small actions are put together for a common purpose, they can effect enormous change.

So how can tend and befriend work for creating change in the kidlit community?

  • TEND: First, we need to protect the most vulnerable. That means protecting those that have already suffered sexual harassment. It also means creating protections for those who are more vulnerable such as women who may be harassed by a more powerful abuser. Or women of color who are doubly vulnerable. Acting in the moment is powerful and necessary. Tend to the woman at cocktail hour with the unwelcome arm around her shoulders.
  • BEFRIEND: If we want to effect large change and create a community where sexual harassment is not tolerated, we need to join together as a band of brave women and their allies. We are stronger together, so let’s use that power.

As a band of women and allies, we can push the gatekeepers of our industry to guard the gates and keep the harassers out. Agents, editors, conference organizers – we as a group should demand that all these people have clear policies and practices that protect us all. SCBWI has begun that process as have some agents. Perhaps others are doing it behind closed doors. But I won’t assume others will act, it’s too important. I will say something.

Throughout the month of March, many women and allies will be sharing their #kidlitwomen stories. Including many ways that we can work together to create a better community for everyone. I will be supporting those people by sharing their ideas and taking action. Be engaged on social media. One voice alone is quiet, many together is a roar that can’t be ignored.

 

YOUR MANUAL FOR MOVING FORWARD:

  • Listen and accept that something is broken within the kidlit community.
  • Shift your view to a healthier, truer one.
  • Decide to act.
  • If you see something, say something. Even if you’re unsure if help is needed. (Especially if you’re unsure.)
  • Support one another but especially tend to the most vulnerable in our community.
  • Band together and put all out small efforts together to create a big change in kidlit. A change that makes our whole community a safer place.

 

CLOSING

The #metoo and #kidlitwomen movements are much larger than I can address in a single post.  I limited myself to only discussing sexual harassment and how to prevent it. But I could easily have talked about the culture that allowed the harassment to occur. Or about how the system promotes male authors at the expense of female authors. Or how the double-whammy of sexism and racism makes it especially difficult for women of color. Or the role that men need to take to help us reshape this industry into something safer and more equitable for all. I’m leaving those topics to others who are better equipped to speak to that experience. We’re a band of brave women, after all. We don’t need to deliver every message, sometimes it’s enough to pass the microphone.

A Manual for Moving forward: what science says about #kidlitwomen and #metoo

Why Some Resolutions are Doomed to Fail and How to Set Goals That Work

Why Some Resolutions are Doomed to Fail and how to Set Goals that Work

Many people set New Years Resolutions. When you set resolutions the right way, you can push yourself to achieve big things. But there’s one trap we all fall into when setting resolutions and goals.

Let me give you an example.

My biggest 2017 goal was to get a literary agent. An agent will help me achieve my larger career goals by giving me more guidance, helping me produce the best possible work, and opening more doors.

So throughout 2017, I did all the things you’re supposed to do to get a golden ticket to the land of agented writers. I wrote a lot; I improved my writing through classes, webinars, and conferences; I read copious numbers of books; and I submitted widely but wisely.

I did all the right things. No agent.

Why? Because it’s true what agents say: sometimes the time isn’t right or the fit isn’t right or the stars just do not align in my favor. I came close, but it just wasn’t right.

I “failed” my goal despite having the most productive writing year of my life, despite getting a new book under contract, despite reading a bunch of wonderful books, and improving my writing craft.

Someone rightly pointed out that my goal was doomed from the beginning because it was a goal that was out of my control.

I can’t make an agent fall in love with my book. I can’t make the industry change to suit my writing style. I can’t demand that an agent with a full client list, make room for little ol’ me. All I can do is make myself the best possible writer and be ready when the stars do finally align in my favor.

So I flipped the perspective.

Instead of goals we can’t control:

  • I will get an agent
  • I will get a promotion at work
  • I will get a book deal

I’m dedicating myself to the type of goals I can control:

  • I will write, read, learn, and submit
  • I will exceed all deliverable goals at work
  • I will write daily

In the end, these things often amount to the same thing. Doing your best on the things you can control often leads to the outcomes you can’t control. I didn’t set a goal to have the most productive writing year of my life, but it happened because I aimed to write daily.

I didn’t get an agent this year. But I did set the groundwork to be the best writer I can be. In time, that will attract an agent. I just have to remember to keep doing the work and have faith.

When my stars align, I will be ready.

 

Check out this post to learn more about setting wise resolutions.

DOs and DON'Ts for New Year's Resolutions You'll Actually Keep

Ultimate Gift Guide for Writers

Ultimate Gift Guide for Writers

Tis’ the season for gift giving. It’s easy to know what writers want: a five-book deal at a top publisher. Barring, that check out these suggestions to help you find gifts for the writers in your life.

FOOD ITEMS

happy coffee

Caffeinated beverages

If you hang out with writers, you will soon learn that we love our caffeinated beverages.

Most writers don’t earn a full-time income from writing and may take many years to “make it.” Which means most of us write early in the morning or late in the evening and subsist on caffeine. Liquid motivation can go a long way to making the writerly lifestyle work around full-time employment and other life demands.

Or maybe there’s just something about a steaming cup of coffee that’s downright magical.

In any case, find out the preferred caffeinated beverage of your writer and go to town. Options include:

  • a sampling of teas
  • a really large bag of coffee
  • membership is a tea or coffee of the month club
  • Gift card to a coffee shop or tea house

Go ahead and spring for the good stuff. A really good cup of home-brewed coffee is a nice luxury at cents to the cup.

 

I turn coffee into books mug
From: https://www.etsy.com/listing/532010884/writer-mug-green-i-turn-coffee-into?ga_order=most_relevant&ga_search_type=all&ga_view_type=gallery&ga_search_query=mug%20write&ref=sr_gallery_8

Things to put caffeinated beverages into/make them with

Again, writers like caffeinated beverages. So why not give them the gift of making a swanky cuppa at home. Or a fancy mug to hold that steaming cup of inspiration.

Consider:

If you’re feeling crafty, you can even try one of the millions* of ideas on Pinterest for decorating a coffee mug with a permanent marker.

 

Writing with chocolate

Comfort foods/drinks

Aside from caffeinated beverages, comfort foods and drinks are also a good bet.

The path to success is paved with rejection and angst. The angst of showing your work to the world. The rejection when it’s not immediately accepted as the most amazing things since Harry Potter. The angst of wondering if you will EVER get published. The angst of worry when you finally are published. It doesn’t end.

Which is why, in addition to caffeinated beverages, writers are awfully fond of our comfort foods. Ferret out the comfort food of choice for your writer and then get creative. Common choices include:

  • Chocolate
  • Wine
  • Chocolate of the month or Wine of the month club

Like coffee and tea, a little splurge can go a long way. So skip the checkout chocolate bar and go for the Godiva.

 

STATIONARY

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a writer

must be in want of stationary

– Not Jane Austen

Ok, not as eloquent as Jane’s opening line about marriage, but it does seem true that writers love the physical tools of the trade. Even those of us that do our writing on a computer, still love the old-fashioned stuff.

 

Fountain pen

A Fancy Pen (or two)

A good pen is a wonderful thing. I like to use pens as a tangible celebration of accomplishments. Like a bottle of wine, I find the price bump from “mediocre” to “good” is not too bad. But you can easily spend upwards of “that could have been a mortgage payment.”

Here are two pens that I currently own and love but won’t break the bank:

If your writer is a true pen lover out there, check out these pen recommendations.

 

Notebook

Notebook or Journal

A nice notebook pairs well with those new pens your buying. If your favorite writer has not yet discovered the joys of Bullet Journaling, they will. Trust me. I give it a year or until they open an Instagram account, whichever comes first.

Whatever they’ll use it for, you really can’t go wrong with a nice notebook:

 

Traveler's notebook
From: https://www.etsy.com/listing/552819580/custom-travelers-notebook-cover-free?ga_order=most_relevant&ga_search_type=all&ga_view_type=gallery&ga_search_query=traveler%20notebook%20leather%20feather&ref=sr_gallery_21

Traveler’s notebook

Really want to wow your favorite writer? Let them know you believe in them and that you have impeccable taste? Well, let me introduce you to your newest obsession: traveler’s notebooks.

The concept is easy: It’s a leather cover with elastic strings that let you slip in and out different notebook inserts. All the joy of a new notebook but it just keeps going forever.

(I may be slightly obsessed.)

A traveler’s notebook is an investment. Do a favor for your favorite starving artist and make the investment for them.

You can buy from the Midori, the company that originated travelers notebooks, or you can choose one of about a million gorgeous examples from around the interwebs. For instance:

 

FUN

Ok, if you have made it this far and still haven’t found anything to give your favorite writer, try these:

Story Cubes Game

StoryCubes

Story Cubes are a fun and simple game, perfect for your favorite writer ages 8+. It’s simple – roll the picture dice, and use the picture you roll to help build a story.

 

Books

Books

I left this to last because it seems…. obvious….?

Every writer is also a reader. Period. And most of us could use help financing our book addiction. If you don’t have a book in mind, try one of these suggestions:

  • Gift card to a bookstore
  • Payment of library fines (No idea how this would work but boy would it be nice.)

The ultimate (and free) gift for any writer

Whatever you’re purchasing for your writer, there’s one thing you absolutely MUST give them: your support.

It’s simple. It’s free. But it’s the one thing most writers can’t do without.

Writing can be a lonely endeavor. It takes persistence and years of dedication. Let your writer know you support them.

Support can come in many forms:

  • understanding that a friend may need to stay in and write rather than hit the town with you
  • knowing that it’s a long process and that lack of tangible progress (like a book on Amazon) is not a sign of failure
  • gifting them with the time to write
  • realizing that this is a commitment and a passion, not a hobby

However you show it, shower your writer with support, and they will thank you every time.

My October: Back Pain, Binge Reading, and NaNoWriMo

Three weeks ago, I threw out my back. It’s not the first time and won’t be the last.

I’ve been trying to convince myself that this is like a forced vacation. A chance to catch up on reading and Netflix.

I have, indeed, done a ton of reading. According to Goodreads, I’ve clocked an average of one middle grade or young adult book every two days. That’s great for my 2017 reading challenge, but the novelty has worn off.

2017 Goodreads Books reading challenge status

So now that I can sit upright again (at least for awhile), I’ve been back to writing.

And with November on the horizon, that means NaNoWriMo.

This will be first year participating in NaNo – the challenge to write a 50,000 word novel in November. In my case, I’ll be writing a middle-grade novel, so I’m aiming for closer to 30,000 words.

Last year, I was hesitant. I had never written any fiction longer than a short story. I wasn’t sure I could maintain a story for that long. So I signed up for a NaNo account but never did much.

Then this summer, an idea hit critical mass. It had been simmering on my brain’s back burner for months before suddenly hitting a roiling boil. After some intensive brainstorming, the entire rough draft came together in about four weeks.

Rough draft is the key phrase. I knew from the get-go that I would need many rounds of revisions. I was not wrong. In my first pass of revisions, I had to backfill character motivations, add subplots, and make sure my characters were three dimensional. It’s a work in progress, but I can already see it taking shape.

I was not wrong.

In my first pass of revisions, I had to backfill character motivations, add subplots, and make sure my characters were three dimensional. It’s a work in progress, but I have hope that I’ll come out the other side with something people want to read. More importantly, I have confidence now.

So this year I’m embracing NaNo wholeheartedly. This idea has been simmering for a few months now. I’ve been itching to work on it. Now that other projects are wrapping up, I’m ready to stoke up the fire and get things going.

Plot twist: it will be my first historical fiction piece. It’s the perfect marriage of my love of story and my love of nonfiction.

I’m using the month of October to prepare (Preptober). For most NaNoers that means fleshing out characters, figuring out plot points, and the like. I’m doing all that plus having to research the real events and places where my novel is set.

Right now I’m neck-deep in research. I’m not quite drowning, but I do feel a bit seasick.

I just hope that by November, I’m back on my feet, literally.

 

 

 

Happy Birthday, Goodnight Jesus!

 

Happy Birthday, Goodnight Jesus
Thanks to Emma at Charming the birds from the Trees for letting me use her lovely photo.

I can’t believe it. It’s been a whole year since my first book, Goodnight Jesus, was published.

I’ve been feeling a bit mushy about this all month. Publishing a book is a big deal. Years of work and effort go into it. And then to see people hold it in their hands, to hear them tell you how much their children love it…. It’s a feeling that’s hard to describe.

Can I let you in on a secret, though? I have no idea what this book’s birthday is.

Usually, that date is tattooed on your heart right after your wedding anniversary and your children’s births. But after years of waiting for a signed contract to become a book, I missed it.

The week that Goodnight Jesus was published was a blur for me. I was sitting at my stepmother’s bedside in hospice as she lost a battle with cancer. That week I lost a stepmother and gained a book.

Like I said, mushy.

It’s now been a year. All my plans for book launch happened eventually. Announcement and blog posts rolled out over the next weeks and months. The Goodnight Jesus activity pages I wrote took a bit longer.

I guess Goodnight Jesus is written on my heart after all. But it’s written with a name rather than a date.

Here’s to you, Bettie.

Help! How Do I Find Books for My Child?

HELP! How do I find Books for my Child-

Having a child that loves books is a wonderful thing. But often in the next breath, parents lament “how do I find books for my child?”

Kids in middle to late elementary seem to inhale books. Parents often find that keeping their child supplied with books is an impossible task. How can a parent tell if a book is going to be appropriate? Is it the right reading level? Will there be content that is too mature?

Mature content is especially a problem if your child reads above their grade-level. A child may be capable of reading a book but not have the emotional maturity to handle it. Imagine a sensitive 8-year-old reading the death scenes in the Hunger Games.

So what’s a parent to do?

Most of us can’t quit our day jobs to read children’s novels full-time. (Even if we would like to.)

I’ve gathered together some resources to help you wade through it all.

Help! How do I find books for my child?

First, you can check out lists of book recommendations. I read widely, and every year I made a list of my favorite books from the year. Check out the lists from 2016 and 2015.

2016 Big List of Books to Give to Kids

Big list of books to give to kids

Second, I also have a Pinterest board full of book recommendations. Need ideas for a 2nd grader? Or books set in Asia? Or adventure books for girls? Books for reluctant readers? Scroll through, and you’ll probably find something.

500+ Great Kid's Books to Read

Ok, but how can I tell if the reading level is right?

If your child’s reading-level is different from their grade level, then recommendations for their grade may not be a good fit.

The Accelerated Reader website lets you search for books. It tells you the reading level and word count for each book. Not every book is listed, but most often I can find what I need. Let’s look at a recent favorite of mine: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas.

Screen Shot of THE HATE U GIVE from Accelerated Reader page

The ATOS level is the grade level. In this case, this Young Adult book is readable to a student who is in the 9th month of 3rd grade.

Other things to note are the Interest Level and Word Count. The language of this book might be understandable by a 3rd grader, but it is interesting to a much older child – 9th to 12th grade. Plus, I don’t know any 3rd graders that wouldn’t balk at the sheer volume of a 95,000-word book.

Compare this to a book like Wonder by R.J. Palacio:

Screen Shot WONDER on Accelerated Reader website

 

Here the book is a bit more balanced: The reading level is later in 4th grade, and the interest level is 4th-8th grade. The length is also better for a 4th grader at 73,000 words.

But how do I know what my child’s reading level is?

You have a few options. You could grab a stack of books that your child read recently, and look them up on the Accelerated Reader website. Get an average of the ATOS level, and you’re good to go.

The Scholastic website also lets you look up books to find their reading level. It uses a different measurement of reading level: Lexile scores. Lexile scores are widely used but don’t translate easily to a grade level.

You could give them a test such as the reading level test on the free website Moby Max. You will need to make an account, but the website is free to use.

Great. Now how do I tell which books are appropriate for my child?

The Common Sense Media web page rates media designed for children. It will flag any mature content. That means you don’t have to read a whole novel to find out there’s a sex scene in chapter 37. Let’s take a look at our two books:

Screen Shot of THE HATE U GIVE on Common Sense Media

At the top, there’s a rating of quality (5 stars) and approximate age appropriateness. The age rating takes into account both reading ability and mature content. As we saw before, The Hate U Give has a low readability level, but the high-interest level bumped it up here. Further down, it breaks down mature content by type. You can click on each to get more information. The “What Parents Need to Know” section, gives you an overview.

Reading over this, I could tell that this is a powerful book that would be perfect for a high schooler or mature middle schooler.

Now let’s look at our other book example.

Screen Shot of WONDER on Common Sense Media

Wonder is a better bet for an elementary school child. The rating of age 11 reflects that there is some minor mature content (bullying and kissing).

 

Though I read a lot of children’s books, I still have to use these tricks to help my kids. Hopefully, now you feel confident helping your child find books. Do you have any tips or tricks to add?

An Open Apology Letter to My Blog

Dear Blog,

I’m sorry we haven’t written recently. What with actual writing and all, I just haven’t had time to blog regularly. I hope you understand.

Don’t be alarmed but you should know that I’m seeing another website. I’ve volunteered to help the good people at KidlitNation get their website off the ground. It’s been a big job and I’m sorry I haven’t had as much time to spend with you. I promise I haven’t forgotten you Blog and it’s for a good cause. Things should settle down soon and I’ll be back around more regularly.

Sincerely,

Your Blogger

The 5(+1) Stages of Critique Grief for Writers

I’ve just come back from an Illinois SCBWI Spring conference. The whole conference was themed around writing pitches. I got to sit down at a table with other writers and an agent while they gave me feedback on my work. Not only that, I got back an agent critique that was full of hard truths. Getting professional feedback on your work is both vitally important and…. well…. terrifying.

Which has me reflecting on the nature of the critique beast. Getting feedback on your work is a lot like the 5 stages of grief. (BUG IN A VACUUM by Melanie Watt does a wonderful job of illustrating this process.)

5 STAGES OF CRITIQUE GRIEF FOR WRITERS

  1. DENIAL: “No, you’re wrong. There’s nothing wrong with my narrative arc.”
  2. ANGER: “How dare you! What do you know anyway?”
  3. BARGAINING: “But I can leave in just this one part, right?”
  4. DEPRESSION: “I’ll never get published. This manuscript is hopeless.”
  5. ACCEPTANCE: “Ok, you have a point. I guess I’ll have to revise.”

For writers I would add one more step to the process:

6. EXCITEMENT: “Wow, this is so much better!”

This is what people mean when they say you need to have “tough skin” in this business. We pour our hearts and souls into our writing then serve it up on a platter for others to tear apart. It’s hard. Just remember that your work will be better when you accept help.

Some people get to the depression stage and just give up.  Finding flaws in your writing is not a terminal diagnosis. One-dimensional characters can be rewritten. Plot holes can be bridged. Stilted dialogue can be changed.

The only thing that’s terminal, is giving up. If you keep going and get to the other end of this process, your work will be much stronger.

This process works better the more times you do it. Every time you throw yourself into this process, you get a little better. So not only is your first manuscript stronger at the end, your tenth manuscript will start out stronger because of what you learned in the previous nine manuscripts. And by the time you get it to the end of the process, it will be a masterpiece that you couldn’t have dreamt of back there at manuscript number one.

If your thinking that subjecting yourself to this emotional turmoil more than once sounds like a writerly version of hell, let me tell you a little secret:

When you’ve been at it awhile, this process changes a bit.

5 STAGES OF CRITIQUE GRIEF FOR THE EXPERIENCED WRITER

  1. DENIAL: “No, you’re wrong. There’s nothing wrong with my narrative arc.”
  2. ANGER: “How dare you criticize my work! What do you know anyway!”
  3. BARGAINING: “Well, what if I just keep this one part? This character is ok, right?”
  4. DEPRESSION: “I will never get published. This manuscript is hopeless.”
  5. ACCEPTANCE: “Ok, you have a point. I guess I’ll have to revise.”
  6. EXCITEMENT: “Hey, this is going to be so much better. Yay!”

With time and experience, you learn to skip right over all the angst and get to the productive end of the cycle.

Ok, this is a simplification. Of course seasoned professional writers can get emotional when they’re getting feedback. They’re people, not robots, after all. But with experience these emotions aren’t so raw. And they can move to the good stuff at the end more quickly. After all, they’ve been to the other side and seen the fruits of this process.

So, take a breath. Thank the person for their time. Then go have some chocolate. In a day or a week or a month when the sting is a little less, you can sort out what’s valuable and use it to improve your work. The important part is to keep going so you can get to the shiny new manuscript at the end of the tunnel.

After this conference, I have a lot of feedback to sort through but I’m looking forward to the manuscripts that will come out of the other side.

But first, chocolate.

Holiday Nerdy Staycation – 2016 edition

Holiday Nerdy Staycation: 2016 edition

I have a personal tradition. For the holiday period between Christmas and New Years I celebrate with a nerdy stay-cation. Last year I read piles of books, watched tv, and binged on youtube series. Reading so much feels down right decadent. Watching whole TV series is sinfully slothful. It is amazingly restorative and just what my soul needs at the end of the year.

So this year, I did it yet again.

 

Books:

  1. Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow – This book inspired a musical. You might have heard of it, it also won a few things. (Like my undying admiration.) And some people posted about it on twitter.  I’m still working on this one.  It’s an audio book and at 37 hours long, that’s a lot gym trips.
  2. Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly –  It’s a truly amazing story about the Black Women who were part of the 1960’s space race.  This one has also been getting some press.
  3. Writing Picture Books: A Hands-On Guide from Story Creation to Publication by Ann Whitford Paul – I’ve been hearing for years about what a great writing craft book this is. I wasn’t sure at first. Did I really need a whole chapter on choosing a title? Yes. Yes I did. This really is one of the best writing books I’ve read.
  4. The Case of the Girl in Grey (The Wollenstonecraft Detective Agency, Book 2) by Jordan Stratford – Imagine a steampunk alternate reality where young Ada Lovelace and Mary Shelley become best friends and solve mysteries. Oh, bestill my nerdy heart! I discovered this one when I was desperate for a audiobook. By the time I realized it was the second in the series I was too hooked to go back.
  5. The Case of the Missing Moonstone (The Wollstonecraft Detective Agency, Book 1) by Jordan Stratford. I devoured this book in an afternoon. It was every bit as great as the first book (which was the 2nd) but had the added advantage that it introduced the characters and set the scene. Apparently they were in London not the countryside. Who knew?
  6. The Blackthorn Key by Kevin Sands – Adventure, mystery, secret societies, encoded messages, and blowing up taxidermy bears all set in historical London. What’s not to love?
  7. On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction by William Zinsser – Like Writing Picture Books, there’s a reason everyone recommends this one. I’m still working my way through it but I can already tell that it will become an oft-used favorite.
  8. The Detective’s Assistant by Kate Hannigan – This late addition was started just last night and will probably be done before this blog post gets cold. It has adventure, mystery, drama, and wonderful characters.
  9. Time Travel with a Hamster by Ross Welford – Like some of other books on this list, I’m not yet done with this one. Unlike some, it isn’t because of it’s sheer heft. (I’m looking at you 29 cd audiobook of Alexander Hamilton.) No, this one is taking awhile because, frankly, it drags. Still, I’m invested enough in the characters to see it through. Eventually.

 

Videos:

  1. Gilmore Girls – According to my friends I’m the only person on the planet that hasn’t seen the original series. Fixing that now. (PSST. You can stream it on Netflix.)
  2. Die Hard – This was my first time seeing it. It truly is the best Christmas movie.
  3. Crash Course World History – Still working on this one. This is actually a well-done course. Fairly sure it tromps my high school World Civilization class and not just because it has 100% more animation and Mongols.
  4. NativLang – I discovered this gem that covers linguistics topics.
  5. Christmas movies – Every year we run through our favorites. And most years I zone out to read during half of them. Nerdy staycation FTW!

Bonus:

  1. I got a membership to the Planetary Society for Christmas! I binge read my first magazine on Christmas day. It even had an article on New Horizons and Pluto. My family knows me so well.

 

You may have noticed that more of this year’s list is “in progress.” Some of that is that the books are bigger and just take longer to read. (You know you you are.) But I also spent a good bit of my break writing and trying to finish up kitchen renovation. The moral of the story is that a Nerdy Staycation should feed your soul and if your soul is hungry for writing rather than reading, go for it. The moral of the moral is that you also need to feed your stomach and having a kitchen makes that much easier.

Goodbye 2016, Hello 2017: Good Riddance and Resolutions

Goodbye 2017, Hello 2017

2016 sure was a mixed bag.

It saw some writerly highs: the publication of my first book, Goodnight Jesus. Goodnight Jesus has only been out for 3 months and it’s already headed to a second printing. I wrote 8 picture books drafts. (Thanks, 12×12!) Better yet some of them I’m not even embarrassed to put my name on! My middle grade book crossed an invisible threshold: it surpassed my Masters Thesis as the longest thing I’ve ever written.  I scored high profile interviews for my nonfiction projects. I even pulled in some freelance projects that I’m very excited about.  Not bad considering much of the year I’ve also been rebuilding our kitchen.

On a personal front it was mixed. I been to many happy weddings and welcomed many babies this year. There have also been funerals and hard losses.

2016 was also the year that brought “dumpster fire” into our shared vocabularies.

 

 

2016 gave us heart wrenching international events and an the election that gave us nation-wide depression. Plus, it was a really bad year to be a celebrity. (Yes, really. Here’s a full statistical analysis to prove it.)

All in all, I’m happy to put 2016 behind me.

Hello 2017, full of hope and possibility. May you be a year of writerly success without the taint of dumpster fires.

In 2017 I want to continue to build on my successes. Writing 5 days a week (more if I can help it!). Reading hundreds of books. Learning about my craft. And contributing to my community and accountability.

Here’s to a new year!