Category: writing

Road trip! Or: How I Wrote Nothing for a Month and It Improved My Writing

Camper at sunrise overlooking Puget Sound
Camper at sunrise overlooking Puget Sound

The old blog has been a bit quieter than usual. That’s because I was gone almost the whole month of September on a road trip.

6000 miles.

With a dog, two kids, two adults, and one not-so-large camper.

We passed through numerous national parks, stopped in mega metroplises to visit friends and eat pastries, and even made it all the way out to the Northwest most point of the continental US. (From central Illinois. It was a HAUL.)

Glacier National park mountains and valley
I could stare at Glacier National Park all day.

 

Since I mostly talk about my writing here, let me tell you about the writing I did on this trip.

None.

Zero. Zilch. Nada. Not one word.

But it ended up being wonderful for my writing.

Before the trip, I had been revising several picture books as part of my mentorship. I was also working on a new middle grade novel. And I felt stuck on all of them.

When I say “stuck,” I don’t mean that I was waiting for the light of inspiration to fall on me complete with celestial choir. Because that doesn’t exist.

Instead, I take the approach that Maya Angelou does:

“When I’m writing, I write. Then it’s as if the muse is convinced that I’m serious and say ‘Okay. Okay. I’ll come.'” – Maya Angelou

Doing the work of writing brings inspiration, not the other way around. And nearly always, the answer to my writing problem is to sit down and do the work.

Occasionally there are other factors at play, too.

But sometimes even when I do the work, even when I’m appropriately caffeinated, things just don’t… work. Bad writing days are par for the course, but when I’m doing my best to emulate Maya Angelou and all I can muster up is Charles Darwin on a bad day? That’s not good.

“I am very poorly today and very stupid and hate everybody and everything. One lives only to make blunders. ” – Charles Darwin on a very bad, no good, horrible day

And this is where I was before our road trip. I was doing the work but not getting much of anywhere.

Ironically, this happened partly because I have been growing a lot as a writer. My own efforts and the mentorship I’ve been working on this summer have meant growing and stretching. I’m more aware than ever of the flaws in my writing, but I haven’t quite improved my skills enough to fix those problems.

I feel like this is may be a universal truth: the better you get at writing, the harder it is. Or maybe it’s just me.

So I found myself with a pile of manuscripts that were both some of the best things I had ever written and also with the realization that they were not quite good enough. But I didn’t know how to fix them. Which had me feeling very poorly and stupid indeed.

And then I took a break. A looooooong break.

I intended to write along the way. I love writing and usually can’t stay away for long, even on vacation. But it was a very packed trip (see previous regarding 6000k miles in under a month with CHILDREN). And also, my writing self was still feeling poorly and stupid. So instead I giggled like a maniac at my landlocked children experiencing the Pacific Ocean for the first time.

(In the interest of fairness, they had been dodging the surf for a few minutes before this much large wave rolled in.

When I got back, I was nervous. A month is a long time away and things hadn’t exactly been going great. But I channeled Maya Angelou and sat down to work.

And… it worked!

I unblocked a picture book revision, added a few thousand words to my middle grade work in progress, and finished a blog post that has been on my list for awhile.

Bullet Journaling for writers: Part 4. Writing a novel

A month of relaxing, putting it out of my head, listening to good books and podcasts, seeing and doing enough things to make my introverted self tired for the next year – it helped. A lot.

I routinely do walk away from manuscripts to get some distance. A little distance often helps you find solutions. And I had tried that. But I don’t usually stop writing – I just switch to a different writing project. That works well when ONE manuscript is misbehaving, but not for ALL of them. For that I needed a total break.

Which brings me to a second possible universal truth about writing: Sometimes you have to step away from the page and live for a while before you are ready to write. Hopefully, it doesn’t always involve as much driving.

 

So, when you need a break what do you do?

 

Bullet Journaling for Writers: Part 4 Writing a Novel

 

Bullet Journaling for writers: Part 4. Writing a novel

I’ve been wanting to write this blog post for a long time to share how I use bullet journaling to help me write my middle grade novels. I’m in the middle of writing a new novel right now, so it’s the perfect time for me share.

It’s also nearly NaNoWriMo time! If you’re not familiar with National Novel Writing month, you should go check it out. People all over the globe are busily preparing to write a novel in the month of November.

This post is for anyone who is writing a novel. Whether you are:

  • doing NaNoWriMo and writing a novel in a month
  • taking your time the rest of the year (or years)
  • plotting it all out beforehand
  • or pantsing your way through to THE END,

every novelist will benefit from having a bullet journal.

What is a novel bullet journal?

Wait, what’s a bullet journal?

Bullet Journaling for Writers: Part 1 The Basics

In the first part of my bullet journaling for writers series, I talk about the basics of bullet journaling. In case you forgot the details, here’s the short verison:

  • Bullet journaling is a system for tracking information that can be done in any notebook.
  • Set aside pages for an index and add entries as you make them (so you can find things later)
  • Use a future log (to track things that are off in the future)
  • Make daily, weekly, or monthly logs to track information as it comes up – like a day planner crossed with a to-do list on steroids.
  • Collections to keep track of ideas, items, lists, etc.

The earlier series shared how I have modified this system specifically for writers. Instead of a regular daily or weekly log, I use my magical-monthly log. Another post shares a list of helpful collections just for writers.

 

A novel bullet journal is different from a regular bullet journal

Bullet Journaling for Writers: Planning bujo vs. novel bujo
My silver planning bullet journal on the left vs. the teal bullet journal for my most recent work in progress on the right.

Everything I shared before was from my planning bullet journal. My 2019 planning bujo is a silver Rhodia goalbook. I use it for bringing together all the aspects of my writing career: planning for multiple manuscripts, critique groups, blogging, marketing, lists of books to read and review, etc.

I’ve found that I drop fewer balls when all the planning information is in one place, so all the planning and prioritizing go into my regular bullet journal.

A novel Bullet journal has a different purpose: to hold all the details about your novel. It has an index and a lot of collections. It doesn’t have any planning (so no logs). It’s focused so that you can focus on your novel. The bujo for my current work in progress is a teal Scribbles That Matter notebook.

 

Yes, I use a separate notebook.

Bullet Journaling for writers: the stack of my novel bullet journals
The bullet journals for my novels.

Ok, yes, it is possible to put all the novel information into your regular bullet journal in between your ideas for blog posts and daily planning. But that can make it hard to find information – especially when it spills over into a new notebook.

I start a new planning bullet journal every year. If I put my novel information into my regular journal, all that information would be spread across two or three (or more) years of bullet journals.

Instead, for each novel, I buy a separate journal. All the information for that novel goes into that journal. If I want to look up a fact from my first novel, it will definitely be in the sky-blue notebook. If I need to check a detail for the current novel, it’s in the grape purple notebook.

So for me, I keep a planning bullet journal each year plus a separate bullet journal for each novel.

If I haven’t convinced you yet, consider this: we writers love to buy notebooks and I just gave you an excuse!

 

Hopefully, I have now sold you on having a bullet journal to help you write a novel.  So let’s take a look at some of the things that can go into your novel bullet journal

 

Collections for inspiration and planning

A new novel usually starts here: with inspiration and early planning.

Inspiration or mood board

Bullet Journal for writers: my inspiration page
The inspiration page for my most-recent novel.

 

A lot of writers find it helpful to create a mood board or inspiration board for their writing. If you put those things in your bullet journal, you have a mood board that can travel to the coffee shop with you.

Consider including:

  • pictures that inspire you
  • stickers
  • phrases
  • poems
  • quotes
Quote by Anne Lamott: "Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere. Start by getting something - anything - down on paper. What Ive learned to do when I sit down to work on a shitty first draft is to quiet the voices in my head."
This quote by Anne Lamott is a good reminder to myself as I’m writing my first draft. In the spirit of it, I decided to let the spacing and scratched out bits go. **twitches**

Protip: adding large things in your journal is easy with a piece of washi tape. Plus, now you have a reason to buy pretty washi tape. The video below shows how I added some pictures and diagrams to my bullet journal for easy reference.


Brainstorming:

Brainstorming is a great way to get the creative juices rolling. I end up doing quick brainstorms throughout my writing process. I usually set aside a collection just for brainstorming. Whenever I need to think up, say, a funny name for a character’s pet chicken, I’ll flip to the brainstorming collection and make a list. When the pages fill up with these lists, I start another.

Consider:

  • character names
  • character motivations
  • setting
  • plot twists
  • backstory
  • endings
  • clues (for mysteries)
  • magical items (for fantasy)
  • literally whatever you need

Mindmapping:

Another form of brainstorming – One exercise I did with my current novel was to create a mindmap. I wrote out all the character names and settings in circles, then drew lines to show the relationships between them. It was really helpful so I could see which characters and subplots clustered together neatly and which… did not. That made it easy to target subplots to cut from an already over-stuffed plot.

Writing Exercises: 

Many books have you work through a set of exercises to help you discover plot, character motivation, or voice. I do these in my Bullet Journal so I can look back at them later. You can check out my 16 favorite writing books here.

16+ Best Books for Writers: Books for Every Writer

Collections to hold onto important information

This is where you get to the core of your novel: character, plot, setting, etc. If you’re a plotter, you’ll probably be developing all of this before your first draft. For us pantsers, you’ll be tracking this information as you write or after the first draft.

 

Character sheets

A Character sheet page from one of my novel bullet journals
A Character sheet page from one of my novel bullet journals. Many books have exercises to help you get to know your character, Story Genius is one of my favorites

There are a million names for this idea – character sheet, character bible, character interview, … Whatever you call it, it’s a place to write down all the pertinent information about your character. Creating your character sheet is a great way to get to know your character.

There are some very long lists of information to track about your character and even some templates you can print and tape into your bullet journal. Personally, I find that more information is not necessarily better – it just tempts me into including too many details that bog down the story, especially at first. For myself, I like to keep it minimal when I start:

  • Name
  • Age (especially important for kidlit writers)
  • Appearance (keep it brief: are they an elephant or a child or a pterodactyl with eczema?)
  • Internal problem/arc* (what is driving them?)
  • External problem/arc* (what is the outwardly visible problem in their lives?)

Sometimes these details change and I always learn a lot about my characters while writing. So I end up rewriting my character sheets with the new information:

  • Speech or body language tics
  • Likes and dislikes
  • Backstory
  • Personality
  • People in their lives – friends, family, pets, …
  • All the idiosyncratic details that help them feel real.
  • ….

*If you’re not sure what I mean by internal and external problems and arcs, I recommend reading a book on story structure like Wired for Story by Lisa Cron. You can get a taste from her TedTalk here.

 

Plot

Diagrams of 3-act structure in a bullet journal.

Diagram of 3-act structure in a bullet journal from Page Flutter. I lean toward the pantsing side of the plotter-pantser spectrum. So I often go into a novel with just a rough overview of the plot. When I’m first thinking about the plot of a novel, I will usually freewrite long-hand to work out my ideas.

At some point in revision, I will use diagrams and charts full of plot points and all the things that plotters love.

I like to do my plotting on a whiteboard with sticky notes so I can move plot points around until I’m satisfied with them – or identify holes that need to be filled…

Close up of my plotting whiteboard showing a post-it note with the text "{hilarity ensues}"

But when I’m done, I copy it down in my bullet journal for easy reference while writing. (Also: I have too many cats and kids for sticky notes to last through the entire drafting or revision process.)

 

Family tree/character mindmap

Bullet journaling for writers: a family tree and a mindmap of character relationships
A family tree and mind map I made for just a few characters from Harry Potter.

If you’ve got a big cast of characters, it can be helpful to have a visual to see how they all connect. A family tree is helpful for big families.

A mindmap that shows characters and how they’re related can also help you keep track of tangled social webs. For instance, look at the web I made for just a few of the Harry Potter characters.

 

Setting

Bullet Journal spread: novel setting
One of the settings for one of my novels. Check out the video above to show how I attach the pictures.

This is a place to park all the information about a setting in your novel. You can snag photos from the internet. I often draw diagrams (they don’t have to be museum-worthy – just so I keep my layout of buildings and towns consistent) or I look up building diagrams online and tape in printouts. Maps may also be helpful – either hand-drawn or printed off of google maps

 

Timeline

If your story starts in spring but 5 months go by before the end, you can’t have them picking daffodils in a spring shower in the last scene. (Unless you are on an alternate planet or reality where time and natural cycles work differently. You can make a collection for that, too.)

A timeline helps you to track the progression of time both so it’s believable and so you can nail those details that bring a novel to life: are the characters meeting while shivering under cover of night or sweating in the blazing sun of mid-afternoon summer? You can write it out by hand, but I like to type it into a spreadsheet which I print out and tape it into my bullet journal for reference.

 

Genre-specific information

  • Fantasy – world building details like cultures, languages, governance structures.
  • Sci-fi – technological details and world building
  • Mystery or thriller – Clues, villains, and red herrings.
  • Magical realism/fantasy – how does the magic “work”
  • Historical – all that research about your time/setting/characters
  • Humor – list of running jokes/callbacks
  • …………

 

Tools to help you write

 

Trackers

Bullet journal word count tracker for a novel
The title of my tracking page was inspired by the Anne Lamott quote above.

“Tracker” is the shorthand in the bullet journaling community for any type of collection that lets you track information over time. Consider:

  • word count (as you write)
  • chapters revised (as you revise)
  • number of chocolate bars eaten trying to sort out a plot hole (I don’t judge)

I like to use a simple word count tracker. Filling a page up with sparkly stickers is very satisfying.

If you’re trying to write a novel for NaNoWriMo, it can be helpful to track daily word count.  Here is the official NaNoWriMo wordcount tracker for 2019.

 

Lists and Notes:

Simple but necessary. There’s a lot to keep track of so make a collection and give it a place to live where it can be easily found later (unlike that used napkin…)

Some collections I have used to hold notes and lists:

  • list of changes to make in the next draft (“Side character names are all boring – fix this.”)
  • questions that need answering (“Why does my character hate the villain so much? Need to work out backstory.”)
  • ideas for revision (“If I change the location of the earlier scene, readers will already know the location before getting to the pivotal scene later.”)
  • people to thank in acknowledgment – I keep this running list. It gets long very quickly.

 

References and writing helpers

Wheel of emotion words
Wheel of emotion words. Larger version here.

If you find yourself looking up, say, an emotional thesaurus frequently, print it out and taping it in your bullet journal. That way it’s always handy – even when the internet goes down. (The horror…)

Consider:

  • emotion wheel/thesaurus
  • 3 act structure diagram
  • hero’s journey diagram
  • list of words to cut from your writing
  • anything you find useful

 

Literally anything else that will fit in a notebook

What do you need to keep track of?

 

How to Win Nanowrimo with a bullet journal

 

16+ Best Books for Writers

16+ Best Books for Writers: Books for Every Writer

A few days ago, my daughter leaned over my shoulder and asked what I was reading on my phone. It was a blog post about writing villains, so I told her it was about how to write a better story. Which led her to say:

“But you already know how to write.”

Yes and no. Yes, I already do know a lot about writing and have even gotten a few publications. No, I don’t know everything there is to know – not by a long shot. I can still learn to be a better writer.

No matter where you are on your journey, you can learn and improve. My favorite way to learn is by reading.

 

It’d been a couple of years since I last wrote a roundup of writing craft books – time for an update!

I’ve broken the list down into sections:

  • inspiration for all writers
  • books for fiction writers
  • books for nonfiction writers
  • books for children’s book writers
  • books on the business of being an author

A challenge: we learn a lot by studying our own genre – but I’ve also gained a lot by reading about writing in other genre’s. So consider branching out and reading a book that you normally wouldn’t.

 

Inspiration for all Writers

Book Cover for "Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear" by Elizabeth Gilbert

Big Magic: Creative Writing Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert is my top picks for all writers. Writing is hard – not just because producing good work requires substantial labor, but because our own mind often works against us in the form of internal critics, writers’ block, and lack of motivation. Her perspective will have you re-think your writing in ways that bring more joy and less fear.

 

 

Books for Fiction Writers:

Wired for Story: The Writer’s Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers from the Very First Sentence by Lisa Cron – This book is still my favorite for fiction writing. It dives into what makes a story compelling. You can check out Lisa Cron’s Ted Talk to get a flavor of what the book is about. Bonus: my writerly friends assure me that it’s quite understandable even if you’re not a brain nerd like me.

 

Book Cover: "Story Genius: How to Use Brain Science to Go Beyond Outlining and Write a Riveting Novel (Before You Waste Three Years Writing 327 Pages That Go Nowhere)" by Lisa Cron

Story Genius: How to Use Brain Science To Go Beyond Outlining and Write a Riveting Novel (Before You Waste Three Years Writing 327 Pages That Go Nowhere) is Lisa Cron’s newest novel-writing book. While Wired for Story goes through the logic of her ideas and method in detail, this one is more practical. It includes many exercises that will help you plan your story to be successful from the beginning. If you like plotting out novels and find writing exercises helpful for finding voice and discovering your character’s motive – this is a good choice.

 

Book Cover: Save the Cat! Writes a Novel: The Last book on Novel Writing You'll Ever Need" by Jessica Brody

Save the Cat Writes a Novel: The Last Book On Novel Writing You Will Ever Need by Jessica Brody  – The original Save the Cat book was written to help screenwriters, but many novelists found that, with a little adaptation, the method also applied very well to writing books. Now Jessica Brody has written a book just for us novelist – with examples and additional information just for novelists. (Though I think a lot can be applied to shorter forms – like picture books.) The method is heavy on plot development – even if you don’t pre-plot your books, it can be helpful for analyzing a rough draft and making changes to improve pacing and story arc. (I used it this way in revising my first novel.)

 

Book cover: "Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel: The complete Guide to mystery, Suspense, and Crime."

Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel: The Complete Guide to Mystery, Suspense, and Crime by Hallie Ephron – If you’re writing anything in the mystery genre, this is a great book. Even if you don’t write in the mystery genre, consider giving it a shot. After all, nearly all books have a hidden storyline that’s slowly revealed in clues over time – like backstory or important events that happen off-stage.

 

Books for Nonfiction Writers:

On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction by Willian Zinsser – This book is in its billionth revision and jillionth reprinting for a reason. This primer will help you think about how to write nonfiction books that readers can’t put down.

 

You Can’t Make This Stuff Up: The Complete Guide to Writing Creative Nonfiction by Lee Gutkind – This book is focused on a specific form of nonfiction writing – creative or narrative nonfiction. It’s nonfiction told in narrative form so the reader can step inside the story.

 

How to Write a Book Proposal by Michael Larson – When writing nonfiction you often send publishers a proposal rather than a completed manuscript. That can be daunting if you’ve never written a proposal before. This book has everything you need to know to write a proposal. If you have no idea what I’m even talking about, this would be a good place to start. It’s thorough but written to be an easy read and includes lots of helpful samples from real proposals.

 

The Weekend Book Proposal: How to Write a Winning Proposal in 48 hours and Sell Your Book by Ryan G. Van Cleave – If you want a lighter version to get you started on your book proposal, this might be the book for you. The title is misleading, though. That means 48 working hours. Maybe some people work around the clock on the weekend but I, for one, like sleep and food. Misleading title aside, it’s a helpful book and would be a good choice for someone just starting out with writing proposals.

 

Books for Children’s Book Writers:

Most writing craft books assume you are writing for adults. Principles of good characters, pacing, and plot hold for all books, no matter the age of your audience. But there are also differences between the kids and adult book markets and the needs of these audiences. So if you’re writing for kids, check out these books, too, in addition to the ones above.

 

Book Cover:"Writing Picture Books: A Hands on Guide from Story Creation to Publication" By Anne Whitford Paul

Writing Picture Books: A Hands-on Guide from Story Creation to Publication by Ann Whitford Paul – If you write picture books, you need this book. I read the original edition a couple of years ago and learned so much from it. This past year a revised edition came out with updated examples and new information about the market. A friend invited me to an online book study group to go through the new edition. Even though I had read the previous edition, I still learned a ton. It really is that good.

 

Writing Irresistible Kidlit: The Ultimate Guide to Crafting Fiction for Young Adult and Middle Grades Readers by Mary Kole – I found this book after reading many of the helpful articles on Mary Kole’s webpage. It’s an introduction to writing middle grade and young adult books. If you don’t know what that means or what the difference is, this is a great place to start.

 

Anatomy of Nonfiction: Writing True Stories for Children by Margery Facklam and Peggy Thomas – This primer covers everything you need to know to get started writing nonfiction for kids. It was a great book for me when I was getting started and it’s still a great book now that I have a few manuscripts under my belt. Note: this book goes in and out of print which means the price can fluctuate a lot. I recommend keeping an eye out for used copies.

 

Books about the Business of Being an Author

Book Cover: "The Business of Being a Writer by Jane Friedman

The Business of Being a Writer by Jane Friedman – This is the only book I’m including on the list that I have not, personally, read from cover to cover. (I’m working on it!) I’m including it based on what I have read so far, the numerous recommendations I’ve been given, and my experience of getting so much valuable information off of her blog over the years. There are lots of books that cover one aspect of the writing business (I list some below), but this is the only one I’ve seen that is comprehensive. If you want to have a career in writing – this book will tell you everything you need to know.

 

Book Cover: "The Writer's Digest Guide to Query Letters" By Wendy Burt-Thomas

The Writers Digest Guide to Query Letters by Wendy Burt-Thomas – After you’ve finished your manuscript masterpiece, you’ll have to write a query letter so you can begin to query agents and editors (i.e. try to convince them to take on your book). This one-page document is somehow even harder than writing the manuscript itself. This is an entire book that will help you learn how to craft a one-page document.

 

Book Cover: "Children's Writer's & Illustrator's Market: 2019"     Book Cover: "Writer's Market 2019"

Children’s Writers and Illustrator’s Market or, if you’re writing for adults: Writers Market – Once you’ve gotten your manuscript or proposal squeaky clean and ready to send out, you’ll need to figure out how to get it into the hands of the agent or editor of your dreams. These books are designed exactly for that. They’re updated every year to keep up with changes in the market.

 

The Book – If you write for children, you should be a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). One membership perk is this free book. It’s available on the website as a PDF or you can pay for a print version. Your first year of membership they’ll send you the print version for free.

 

There you go – 16 of my favorite books about writing. Do you have any I should add?

 

 

Nevada SCBWI Conference and Mentorship 2019

Last night I got back from a jam-packed weekend in Las Vegas. I was there for the Nevada SCBWI Pitch Perfect Conference and to kick off my mentorship program with Jim Averbeck.

 

I also snuck in a few hours of sight-seeing.

 

I love writing conferences – I always learn a ton and come home excited to work on my manuscripts. In fact, I wrote so many notes that the fountain pen in the next photo was over half empty when I got home. To put that in perspective, that’s the ink equivalent of a couple of ballpoint pens or more. That’s a lot of writing!

 

But it’s also just plain fun to hang out with people who love books as much as me.

This was my first writing conference outside of Illinois, so I can now say that writers everywhere are some of the kindest, loveliest humans on the planet. I’m running on fumes today because I stayed up every night chatting with my fellow conference-goers. It was definitely worth it.

Three days into my mentorship, I’m also excited to jump into revisions. Getting critical feedback on your work isn’t easy – but right now I’m excited to see these picture book manuscripts turn into something amazing.

**cracks knuckles** Ok, let’s get to work.

 

How a Children’s Book is Made: Part 2. The Illustrator’s Speak

How A Children's Book is Made: Part 2: How Books are Illustrated

Welcome to my blog series on how children’s books are actually made. Last time, I explained illustration from the author’s perspective. This time, we’ll look at how the illustrator does their job.

I’m not an illustrator, so I’m going to let them speak for themselves. I’ve gathered together videos and blog posts of different illustrators explaining their process.

First, let’s talk about how illustrations are made and what the process of working with an editor is like. Second, we’ll cover how to get started in illustration.


How Illustrations are Made

Lynne Chapman

First up is the illustrator Lynne Chapman who has illustrated over 30 picture books.

In my last post, I explained how the editor at the publishing company works as a matchmaker to pair the right illustrator with each manuscript. Lynne picks up there to explain what the process looks like from her side of the bookmaking process.

An editor will contact an illustrator to see if they want to work on the project. If the illustrator agrees, they’ll start making the art.

Often the illustrator will discuss the artwork ahead of time with the editor or art director. Together they will develop an overall vision or discussing what to put on each page. Sometimes not.

Often the illustrators will spend time developing character sketches before making the rest of the artwork. They may make thumbnails or other rough sketches of their work. Sometimes not.

But once the illustrator develops the line art, they will usually send it off to the editor to get their feedback.

Illustrators don’t finalize the artwork (adding color etc.) until after everyone at the publishing house is satisfied with the line drawings.

If you want to learn more about Lynne’s process, she has even more videos on her blog. 

 

Will Hillenbrand

Next up: Author/Illustrator Will Hillenbrand has done an amazing 70 picture books.

Each artist has their own process. The way I create my manuscripts is not the same as another writer, though some parts of the process are similar: we all revise. (And revise. And revise. And…)

The same is true for illustrators.

While Lynne drew her illustrators by hand with physical materials (paper, pencils, paint), in this video Will is using computer software that allows him to draw on a tablet with a stylus.

 

Isn’t this video soothing?

Notice that although the medium is different (paper vs. computer), both Lynne and Will go through a similar process: they create a rough sketch, refine it until they’re satisfied with the line art, then begin to color it in. Whatever you call it, revision really is universal.

Will has a video blog series full of more nuggets you can check out.

 

Debbie Ridpath Ohi

Debbie Ridpath Ohi is the author/illustrator of five picture books. She also creates cartoons about writing and reading that are on point.


(I have asked people weirder questions while writing.)

 

In this video, she shares how she created one of her cartoon images. Like Will, Debbie is creating this piece using computer software. And you can see how she refines her initial idea – trying variations, tinkering, and making adjustments until she lands on a final version she is happy with.

There are more videos on her YouTube channel.

Debbie’s blog is chock-full of information and goodies.

Book Cover: Where are my books

Check out Debbie’s series on the creation of her picture book, Where Are My Books. Since she was the author of this book, the first parts of the series cover writing the book. The last part of the series talks about how she created the illustrations for it.

While you’re at it, read her whole FAQ and you will learn a ton about illustrating, writing, and kidlit.

How to Get Started in Illustration

For anyone wanting to be a children’s book illustrator, this is a burning question: how do I get editors to offer me those kinds of illustrating jobs.

The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrator’s (SCBWI) is the professional organization for kidlit writers and illustrators. On their page, they share a short version of the process of becoming an illustrator. 

But we can also revisit one of our illustrators to see what she has to say.

Here Lynne Chapman shares her story of how she became a children’s book illustrator:

 

These days, illustrators typically send portfolios to art directors, art agents, or show them at conferences like those hosted by the SCBWI. If you entice them with the quality of your work, they will contact you to discuss illustrating a book.

However you get your big break, the starting point is the same: work really hard by practicing your art, perfecting your craft, and learning about the business. Joining the SCBWI is a great first step as it gives you a wealth of resources.


If you missed my first post in the series, check it out below. Next time, I’ll discuss the different paths authors can take to publication in more detail. Stay tuned!

How Children's books are Made: Part 1. The Truth About Illustrations

How a Children’s Book is Made: Part 1. The Truth About Illustrations

How Children's books are Made: Part 1. The Truth About Illustrations

Being an author is a funny thing: everyone has heard of your job. (Unlike my husband – a systems architect.)

But people don’t know what it is I actually do. (My husband and I have that one in common.)

Whether you’re a writer hoping to publish a book or a kidlit lover who is curious about the process, this series is the place to find out what really goes into making books for kids.

 


 

I’m a writer, not an illustrator. So it may seem odd that I would start off a series on making picture books by talking about illustrations.

Yet, when I tell people about being a children’s book author, the number one thing people ask about is the illustration of my books.

It comes up in a variety of ways:

  • How did you meet your illustrator?
  • I want to publish a book – how do I find an illustrator?
  • I’m an artist – can I illustrate your next book?
  • How did you know what to put on each page?

But however the conversation starts, it inevitably leads to me dropping this truth bomb on them:

Children’s book authors do not pick our illustrators.

And then comes the flurry of questions:

  • Wait, then how do you get an illustrator?
  • How does the illustrator know what images to make?
  • But…. what if the illustrator gets it wrong?
  • And why does it work this way?

So let’s tackle these one at a time.

 

How Do You Get an Illustrator?

Editors and Art Directors are matchmakers. Once they acquire a manuscript (i.e. decide to publish it) they find the right illustrator to match with the text.

Sometimes they will ask the author’s opinion. Usually not.

Yes, this can really stress authors out – especially the first time around.

For I Pray Today my editor paired my manuscript up with Amandine Wannert who had already illustrated books for them in the past. I’ve never met Amandine – she lives all the way in France! But personally, I think it was a perfect match for this book.

Book "I Pray Today" on a white background with flowers

 

How Does the Illustrator Know What Images to Make

Ready for another shock?

The illustrator decides what art to put on the page – along with the editor and art director. 

Note that the author is not in that list of people.

Authors can give general guidelines. For instance, when I sent my editor the query for I Pray Today, I told her that the manuscript

“follows a child through his day, from waking with a “Good morning, God,” to getting tucked in at bedtime – always with a prayer on his lips:

Good morning, God. The day is new. I say my first small prayer to You.         

Lord Have Mercy”

The last part is the opening of the manuscript. I never told them what to put on the page with it, yet it turned out perfectly.

I PRAY TODAY interior illustration

Author’s can (very very occasionally) include an art note to explain what illustration needs to go with a piece of text. This is reserved for cases where the text doesn’t make sense without the art. Giving a note helps the editor to understand the text in the same way that a reader would – with both text and art together.

For example, one part of I Pray Today includes the text:

Dad says dinner’s piping hot. I stuff in food, but – oops, forgot. 

Why does she say “oops?”

What did she forget?

Once you see the artwork, it makes perfect sense:

 

I PRAY TODAY interior spread 2

She forgot to pray first! In my manuscript, I included an art note to explain this: [ART: Kid starts eating before prayer.]

That’s the only art note in the whole manuscript because that’s the only one that was needed. Even then, I kept it to just what was needed to understand the text. I still left most of the decisions up to the illustrator: Who is at dinner? Are they at home, a restaurant, somewhere else? How will you show that she forgot to pray?

This came up recently. An adult reader contacted me on behalf of his child wanting to know: what are they eating? 

Good question! I really had no idea, since I hadn’t made that decision. So I sent it off an email to my editor who said:

Good question! And she emailed the illustrator to find out.

I had fun polling my friends on social media while I waited for the answer. Most people guessed chicken nuggets with either fries or green beans.

Well, we were a little bit right:

The Illustrator answers our burning question: what are they eating
the illustrator answers our burning question: Dear Jane, I like this question, it is really cute! Without colours, it is hard to guess… The little girl is eating “haricots verts et pommes noisettes”: french beans (green beans) and hazelnut potatoes (round french fries). Best, Amandine”

 

All in all, it was a lot of fun finding out the answer. (Also, I really want to try those pommes noisettes.)

 

What If the Illustrations Are Wrong?

This is the whispered question that everyone is dying to know but nervous to ask.

Aspiring authors especially seem to struggle with this. It’s scary to give up control of something you have worked so hard on.

Ready for another shocker?

It’s not just your book. It certainly feels that way – as an author, you come up with a concept, agonize over every word, and revise until your fingers fall off. But with a picture book or board book, text and illustration work together. They’re a package deal.

And also: It almost always works out wonderfully. I have worked with three different illustrators over seven books and, each time, I was blown away by their work. Every. single. time.

Goodnight Jesus interior pages

This spread from Goodnight Jesus is a great example. I gave the editor general guidelines for the form of this book, just like I did for I Pray Today. I told them it was a bedtime story focused on giving kisses – a child works their way toward bedtime but giving, and eventually receiving, kisses. But I didn’t specify how that should be shown. In my head, I imagined the child in their family icon corner kissing icons then moving toward bed giving out kisses as they go.

Instead, the illustrator put the child into the icons. I had imagined a static version, but he made it interactive. That makes for a more engaging illustration and book. Plus you can see both the love the child is giving AND the love the child is receiving. That’s a deep theological statement – but boiled down to a child’s level.

The two images together in ways I didn’t consider. Notice how the position of the two babies are mirror images of one another. Even Jesus’ body language mirrors Mary’s – each is cuddling a baby they love. That makes the images work together both on an aesthetic level,and a theological level.

The illustrator didn’t just show my story, he added to it in ways that deepened it. He brought a fresh perspective that allowed him to expand the story in meaningful ways. Which bring us to our next question:

 

Why Does it Work This Way?

Separating the text decisions from the illustration decisions isn’t a cruel thing done by evil editors. They are giving both artists – author and illustrator – the freedom to do their best work. I am not a visual artist. I don’t have the training or experience to make decisions about artwork.

No, the child in your book probably won’t look exactly like your granddaughter. The illustrations may not match what you envisioned. That doesn’t make it wrong.

If you can go in with an open mind, you’ll be able to appreciate the exceptional artwork that has been carefully crafted to enhance your story.

Secretly, I think that the editor’s and illustrator’s jobs are to make the author look good. The editor wants this book to succeed. The illustrator wants to produce excellent illustrations. All of which makes my book stronger and better than I could make it on my own.

So, no, authors don’t have illustration decisions about their books. But that’s just fine.

 

Next time I’ll share what the illustration process looks like for illustrators. We’ll pick up after the editor has paired them with a book text and see what it’s like from that side of the equation.

 

Happy New year! Goodbye 2018, Hello 2019

New Year 2019

It’s nearly the end of 2018, folks. It’s been a great year for me writing-wise.

 

Looking Back at 2018

 

2018 in Writing

I published my second board book, I Pray Today, and I had my first-ever blog tour.

Book "I Pray Today" on a white background with flowers  Blog tour for "I PRAY TODAY"

I revised my novel and got two new work for hire picture book contracts – six books total. I’m finishing up the fourth now and the other two will ring in the new year.

I officially won the 12×12 challenge for the second year running by writing 13 new picture book drafts.

 

2018 in Reading

2018 Goodreads reading challenge - 267 books of 500

I didn’t quite hit my goal to read 500 books again this year, but I’m still really happy with my total. In the past, I hit those high numbers because I read a lot of picture books, but this year I shifted my focus to more middle grade. I hit my goal of reading 75 middle grade or longer works.

 

2018 Author visits and more 

I got to teach classes at Purdue University on my favorite subject: writing for kids!

My Kidlit Karma project to blog reviews of books each month went really well! I reviewed or hosted reviews nearly every month.

 

Looking Ahead to 2019

2019 is already starting to fill up! My 2019 is likely to be just as busy as 2018 was. I have two more work for hire picture books to finish by the end of February, I was invited to join a small writers’ group for the first few months, and I’ll be finishing up my novel and begin querying it.

It’s likely to be another roller coaster!

 

Right now I’m working on setting my goals for 2019. If you’re doing the same, you might want to check out these posts on setting resolutions and goals.

Why Some Resolutions are Doomed to Fail and how to Set Goals that Work  DOs and DON'Ts for New Year's Resolutions You'll Actually Keep

 

And if you’re a writer or a planner, make sure to sign up for my mailing list so you can get my free bullet journal printable.

Free Printable Bullet Journal for Writers

Not sure what a bullet journal is or how it will help you meet your goals? I have a whole blog series that covers the basics of bullet journaling, my magical monthly spread, and collections just for writers.

 

Happy New Year, everyone!

2018 Successes – And Why Writers Sometimes Need to Brag

Right now I’m participating in the 12 Days of Christmas Challenge for Writers. Each day there’s a small reflection.

Yesterday I shared the Day 2 reflection on Instagram.


 

Today is Day 3 when we share our writing successes for the year. All of them. In public. GULP.

Although it makes me feel like a Braggy McBraggypants, I decided to bite the bullet and submit to my blog. Not because I want others to pat me on the back, but because acknowledging my successes is important for me personally.

Writing can be an emotional roller coaster, and most (all?) writers struggle to keep up their confidence and resolve in the face of constant rejection. Having the courage to openly acknowledge our accomplishments helps us see ourselves as successful and capable – things we need to keep going in this pursuit.

A lot of my successes this year happened because I pushed myself outside of my comfort zone. So **deep breath** let’s do it again and list it all out in public. In no particular order:

  1. Published my second kid’s book!
  2. Did my first author visits and readings. (I have anxiety about public speaking, so this was big for me.)
  3. Wrote FOUR Work For Hire picture books which is double my previous yearly total. I have two more due in 2019.
  4. Got to be a visiting scholar! I spent 4 days teaching college classes, giving an invited talk, and joining in on lab meetings. My first career was in academia, so I had a blast!
  5. Blogged book reviews (almost) every month!
  6. Tripled my newsletter subscription. (Which sounds impressive until you see the numbers. Lol.)
  7. Got 52 rejections! (That includes agents, editors, mentorship programs, awards, etc.) Here’s why getting a lot of rejections is a good thing for writers.
  8. Submitted to award and mentorship programs for the first time.
  9. In Pitchwars, I got two requests and a champagne rejection for my middle grade novel.
  10. Did a major overhaul of my author website.
  11. Did a blog tour for my new book.
  12. Completely revised my middle grade novel. (Like, burned it down and rebuilt from ashes. It was intense.)
  13. Wrote 13 new picture book drafts as part of 12×12.
  14. Finished Renee LaTullipe’s Lyrical Language Lab course which was excellent.
  15. Attended one online conference, one workshop, and one regional conference.
  16. Plotted out a new novel and did research for it. (Haven’t had time to write yet because of my book launch and work for hire books.)
  17. Kept up with THREE critique groups. Phew.
  18. Supported KidlitNation so they could host free monthly webinars and award scholarships so POC could attend a regional SCBWI conference.
  19. Did a webinar on KidlitNation.
  20. Blogged consistently! (Big accomplishment for me, lol.)
  21. Had my middle grade novel beta read for the first time and got good feedback. I’m rounding up more Beta readers for after the holidays.
  22. Was invited to be part of a writing coach’s new coaching group for women. She’s been coaching one-on-one for a while but we’re her beta session for doing it as a group, so I get to do it for free. Yay! And she reached out to me because I’m “a committed writer who is actively working on her craft”. Which was a nice compliment. 🙂
  23. Read 275 books this year! Usually, I hit higher numbers (500 in 2017) but after many years of focusing on picture books I made a conscious effort to read more MG this year since I write that as well. I’m currently at 73 books that are MG or longer and around 200 picture books. So the overall number is down, but I’m really happy with it.
  24. I won Storystorm in 2018!
  25. Ran an online accountability and support group and participated in another.

Bullet Journaling for Writers: Part 3 Collections

Bullet Journaling for Writers: Part 3 Collections to organize your writing

Today I excited to share the third part of my series on bullet journaling: collections to add to your writing bullet journal.

But before we jump in, if you aren’t familiar with Bullet Journaling read part 1. I’ll wait.

Bullet Journaling for Writers: Part 1 The Basics

Ok, ready to rock your bullet journal? Here we go!

 

What is a Collection?

Just in case you skipped over the intro to bullet journaling (tsk tsk) – a collection is a place in your journal where you can gather together information around a theme — usually a page or a spread of pages dedicated to a particular topic.

I’ve gathered together collection ideas for all kinds of writer needs:

  • Must have collections for every writer
  • Collections to organizing your writing
  • Collections for events and projects
  • Collections to help your writing grow
  • Useful Collections

This post covers collections to organize your writing life. I have free printables of many of these collections in my Free Printable Bullet Journal Inserts.

 

Must-Have Collections

1. Goals and Habits

At the very front of my bullet journal, right after the Index and Calendex, is a spread dedicated to goals and the habits I want to form. That’s because I want to state up front what my intentions are for my writing life this year. I start there so that through the year, those intentions will keep me on the path to my goals.

Bullet Journal Collections: Goals and Plans for 2019
Bullet Journal Collections: My Goals and Plans for 2019

Some tips for goal setting:

  1. Be SMAART: If you’ve been a New Year Resolution drop out in years past (guilty), take heart. Research says if you set SMAART goals you’ll be much more successful. Check out these tips for setting goals.
  2. Take Control (when you can): Keep your goals firmly centered on the things you can control. You can’t force an editor to give you a book contract, but you can work your hardest to produce a book that will tempt them.
  3. Form Habits of Excellence: Big goals are accomplished by forming small habits. Books are not written in one day – the habit of regular writing is what gets you to THE END. The same applies to most other goals you might want to achieve. So think of what daily habits you can build to launch you to your dreams.

 

2. Accomplishments

Let’s face it: writing is hard. You spend years writing a book, then revising, querying, and more revising before you get the joy of holding it in your hands. That’s a long time to work for proof of your progress.

Bullet Journal Collections: Accomplishments
Bullet Journal Collections: My Accomplishments collection ready and waiting for 2019

Marking the small accomplishments along the way will show you the progress you’re making (especially when you feel like you aren’t getting anywhere). I always create a collection to record small (but significant!) accomplishments like:

  • Writing a rough draft (for a picture book)
  • Writing a chapter (for a novel)
  • Giving critiques
  • Receiving critiques
  • Writing blog posts
  • Reading a craft book
  • Completing a writing class
  • Watching a free webinar
  • Attending a conference or workshop
  • Giving a talk/author visit
  • Submitting a manuscript to an agent or editor
  • Entering a contest
  • etc.

Even if you’re early in your writing journey, you can still find a fair number of these to add to your list. There are a wealth of free webinars and other resources online to help you develop your writing muscles. You’ll be surprised at how long your list gets by the end of the year.

 

3. Ideas

I think every writer has had this experience: you’re trying to fall asleep or sitting at a red light and an amazing idea springs into your head. It’s so amazing that you’re sure you could never forget. Think again.

Bullet Journal Collections: Ideas
Bullet Journal Collections: Ideas

I’ve been known to jot ideas on scraps of paper, in my phone notes app, or even send it to my husband as a voice-to-speech text — anything to get the idea down before it leaks out of my brain. But it’s easy to lose tracks of those ideas even when they’re written down, so later (when I’m not driving or trying to sleep) I move them to this collection.

At the end of the year, I migrate these to Evernote to make them easier to find later.

 

4. Business Collections

If you take your writing seriously (and you should), then you need to treat it like a business.

These are collections you will want to have somewhere. I prefer to keep them in Google Docs or Evernote (mostly because I dislike copying over lots of data), but they could easily be collections in your bujo.

  • business income and expenses
  • manuscript submissions (it can be easy to lose track of submissions!)

 

Collections to Organize Your Writing

5. List of Manuscripts

In early 2018, I was struggling with finding a way to keep track of all my manuscripts. I wrote 8 picture book drafts in 2016 and 12 in 2017,  plus I had a novel and a middle grade nonfiction book in the works. I was drowning in my own work!

 

Bullet Journal Collection: My 2018 list of manuscripts
Bullet Journal Collection: My 2018 list of manuscripts

 

I came up with this simple list to track them. I list each manuscript with a status – work in progress, draft, done, or retired. In my post on my magical monthly spread, I discuss the writing process I use to keep track of projects. But not every project makes it to that list. This collection is where I track EVERY manuscript – even the ones that get tossed in a (metaphorical) drawer as soon as the rough draft is done.

On retiring manuscripts: some manuscripts don’t work. One of my goals is to write 12 picture book manuscripts a year – not to produce 12 query-ready pieces. Only a few turn out to be gold nuggets, but ALL of my writing improves for the practice.

At the end of the year, I migrate this list to Evernote for permanent storage. So I start the year with just the manuscripts I will be working on and add new manuscripts as I complete the first draft.

 

6. Blogging

If you have a blog, you can use your bujo for managing your blog. I keep a simple list of blog post ideas and use my blogging platform for everything else.

Bullet Journal Collections: My 2019 Blogging Collection
Bullet Journal Collections: My 2019 Blogging Collection

Some bloggers prefer to use their bujo more heavily in blog planning.

You could consider adding collections for:

  • blog topic ideas
  • tags you use
  • posting schedule
  • a table of all blog posts
  • page view statistics
  • post sharing to social media

Need inspiration? Tiny Ray of Sunshine has an excellent post on organizing a blog with a bullet journal.

 

7. Your Work In Progress

There is a lot of information to track when you’re writing a manuscript: characters, settings, research, mentor texts, etc.

In a later post, I will cover this topic in more detail but remember that you can always make a collection to hold all the information about your WIP. Or a collection for a particular type of information about your WIP – like a character sheet or scene list.

 

Collections for Events and Projects

8. Book launch and marketing

Publishing a book is a big event in the life of a writer! It’s also a lot of work. There are a ton of things to do before and after.

Bullet Journal Collection: Book Publication and Branding
Bullet Journal Collection: Book Publication and Branding

Even though I Pray Today didn’t come out until September of 2018, I was already working on marketing in January. I made this collection to hold onto all the information about the book release – including these notes from a meeting with my lovely editor and marketing director.

It also housed the list all the things I wanted to do before the book released: a website overhaul, setting up a blog tour, etc.

Bullet Journal Collections: Blog tour Collection for I Pray Today
Bullet Journal Collections: Blog tour Collection for I Pray Today

Later, the blog tour got its own collection where I kept track of dates, topics, and posts. As I cleared details with my hosts, I checked them off: when we agreed on a date, when we agreed on a topic, when the blog post was finished and sent off. A blog tour is a lot of work!

 

9. Conferences and Workshops

When I plan to attend a conference or workshop, I make a collection to track all the pieces of information relevant to it: date, time, location, reminders, to do lists, etc.

Bullet Journal Collections: Conference or event collection
Bullet Journal Collections: This Collection is a place to gather information about the Wild Wild Midwest conference that I plan to attend.

I’ve already got a spread for SCBWI’s Wild, Wild Midwest 2019 with the date, location, and registration date listed. (our regional conferences fill up FAST.) Later I will add more information I need to keep track of: the sessions I register for, the hotel I’m staying at, dinner dates with friends, etc.

 

10. Author Events

Like a conference collection, this is a place to park all the relevant information: time, date, schedule of events, contact person, payment, etc. In October of 2018, I got to be a visiting scholar at Purdue University for four days. I used this collection a lot that week!

Bullet Journal Collections: An Author Visit collections from my 2018 bullet journal
Bullet Journal Collections: An Author Visit collections from my 2018 bullet journal

 

11. Project management

I’ve been writing a work-for-hire picture book series with the folks at Purdue University since 2016. Right now I’m in the middle of writing a second batch of books for the series. This deadline cheat sheet was so helpful for writing the first book that I copied it over into my 2019 bujo to keep it handy as I finish the next two.

Bullet Journal Collections: Project Management
Bullet Journal Collections: This spread is my cheatsheet of deadlines for my current work for hire contract

 

12. Meeting notes

When I have meetings about my books (like the marketing meeting notes for I Pray Today above) or my contract work, I keep all the notes in my bullet journal.

When the meeting is scheduled, I make it a collection so I can jot down all the relevant information (time, date, location, etc.) On meeting day, it becomes a place to jot down notes.

 

Collections to Help Your Writing Grow

13. Books you Read/Want to Read

Most writers are also avid readers. If you aren’t, you should consider picking up the reading habit since it will improve your writing.

Many bullet journalers track the books they read or plan to read in their bullet journals.

I prefer to use Goodreads since it’s less time consuming to keep track of the 300 or so books I read a year.

If you have time fitting in reading, check out these six tips to squeeze more reading into your busy schedule.

 

14. Critique groups

A critique group is a fabulous thing! As a writer, getting critical feedback from fellow writers is one of the best things you can do for improving your writing.

Bullet Journal Collections for Writers: A Critique Group Collection from my 2018 Bujo
Bullet Journal Collections for Writers: A Critique Group Collection from my 2018 Bujo

I’m currently in three critique groups. That’s a LOT, and I need a way to keep track of it all. I give each group its own collection. In the header, I list the names of the members and the meeting schedule.

Each month, I jot down what I submit and list each member who submits. As I do critiques, I underline or cross off the names so I can easily see which critiques I still need to do.

 

15. Writing Challenges

I love writing challenges! They aren’t for every writer, but for me, they give me a push to achieve my goals.

I give each writing a challenge its own collection. Here I can write any relevant information like deadlines, websites, etc. And since writing challenges often require writing, I put that here, too.

Bullet Journal Collections: My 2019 collection for the 12x12 challenge
Bullet Journal Collections: My 2019 collection for the 12×12 challenge. It’s immensely satisfying to see that all filled in at the end of the year.

There are a ton of writing challenges out there – you could easily spend all your time on challenges and never do any writing, so be choosy. Pick the challenges that bring you joy and help you achieve your goals.

I devised this spread last year to track my monthly progress in the 12×12 writing challenge. I write down the working title of each manuscript I write or revise as I complete them. When I watch a webinar and use one of the special submission opportunities, I check the box. It’s immensely satisfying to get to the end of the year and see this page all filled out.

I have a free printable bullet journal spread just for my fellow 12x12ers.

12x12 Bullet Journal Spread
Free printable bullet journal spread for 12x12ers

 

More Useful Collections

16. Social Media

Facebook groups, posting schedules, etc. If you need to track it, you can make a collection for it. There are some lovely examples like this one from Journal Tea.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

Hello there on this beautiful Friday! I hope you’re all having a great day so far Thank you for all your comments and messages regarding my last post! My weekend will be filled with Friends visiting us with their dog, rainy weather, planning the next week and Netflix I can’t wait Also if you haven’t seen it yet, go over to my blog (link is in the description-box) and you can read my post on planning Social Media posts and what tools and apps I love to use when it comes to Instagram ✨ If you have other tools or apps you can recommend let me know Wish you all a lovely Friday and a great weekend!! . . . #bulletjournaldecoration #bulletjournaldoodles #bulletjournaldeutschland #bujodoodles #doodleartist #bulletjournaladdicted #bulletjournalweekly #bulletjournalsetup #bujosetup #bujoweek #bujoweekly #bujoweeklyspread #weekly #newweek #bulletjournal #bulletjournaling #bulletjournalist #bulletjournalcollection #bulletjournalingcommunity #bulletjournalsetup #bulletjournalgermany #bulletjournalaustria #bulletjournaljunkies #bulletjournaladdicted #bulletjournaljunkie #bulletjournalinspiration #bulletjournal2017 #bulletjournalspread #bulletjournalsystem #bulletjournallove #leuchtturm1917

A post shared by (@thejournaltea) on


She explains the spread in a blog post on managing social media with a bullet journal.

 

17. Books to Review

In 2018 I started reviewing books every month. As I was reading through the year, when I came across a book I loved I would add it to the list. I never had trouble coming up with topics!

 

18. Pen Test Page

It’s super annoying to write one page only to realize it bled through the page and now the backside is unreadable. Grr. You can prevent this by testing each new pen or marker before using it in your bullet journal. Bonus: if you fall in love with a pen or ink, you have all the information to buy it again.

Here’s the pen test page in one of my bullet journals.

Bullet Journal Collections: Pen Test
Bullet Journal Collections:
Pen Test

When you flip it over, you can see how much bleed through and ghosting you get from your pen.

Bullet Journal Collections: Back side of the Pen test page
Bullet Journal Collections: Back side of the Pen test page

Note: Learn from my mistake. Don’t use the very last page, because when you flip it over, it’s against the dark cover, so it’s harder to tell how much ghosting you will get when it’s against a page. This year I’m using the second to last page.

 


Now that you know how to use Collections in your bullet journal, you can download my free printable. It has many collections pre-made for you!

Next time I’ll be sharing how I use a bullet journal to help me organize novel writing.

Free Printable Bullet Journal for Writers

18+ Bullet Journal Collections for Writers

 

Bullet Journaling for Writers: Part 2. The Magical Monthly Spread

Bullet Journaling for Writers Part 2: The Magical Monthly Spread

Today I excited to share the second part of my series on bullet journaling: the monthly log that is the magic to the whole system.

But before we jump in, if you aren’t familiar with Bullet Journaling read part 1. I’ll wait.

Bullet Journaling for Writers: Part 1 The Basics

 

Back? Great.

Now let me tell you how I got here.

 

How Success Led to Chaos

In late 2016 after a few years of working to build my writing career, I was finally getting somewhere. In September 2016 my first book, Goodnight Jesus, was published. That fall I also got to write my first Work for Hire picture books, the Little Elephants’ Big Adventures. Hurrah!

But that also meant I had a lot to keep track of: marketing a new book, managing contract work, writing my own manuscripts, querying, seeking additional contract work, and on and on and on.

I had also increased my writing output, but I was struggling to balance multiple projects.

Which projects is still out to query? Which should I send to my critique group this month? And I had a great idea for a new manuscript – where did I put that?

I couldn’t focus, and I wasn’t getting anything done.

In short: I was swamped.

I grabbed my bullet journal and made a monthly spread. I divided up all my tasks into different categories like marketing, submission, and writing.

I also listed out every manuscript I was working on. All of them. And I categorized them based on where they were in the writing process.

Suddenly, I could clearly see all the different moving part. I could zero in on the most important tasks and make plans for the future. And that paralyzing anxiety of too-much-to-do went away.

Magic!

Over time, I’ve refined this system, but the basics are the same. I divide tasks into categories and have a framework for managing multiple writing projects.

Monthly spread of my bullet journal
Monthly spread of my bullet journal

 

Schedule

At the top of the left-hand page, I list out my schedule and deadlines for the month. I love the Calendex, but I like having this right there, so I don’t forget things. Copying it over first, also means that I have a good handle on the month before I start making decisions on what to tackle.

 

Task Categories

The rest of the left page is broken into sections based on the major categories of writing tasks I want to accomplish each month:

  • Business and Marketing: Writing is a business, and there are tasks associated with that: seeking new Work for Hire contracts, seeking speaking engagements, website work, and blogging. When I have a new book on the horizon, this section beefs up with all the marketing work involved.
  • Submissions: Every month I submit to agents, editors, awards, etc. Here is where I can list what I plan to do for the month.
  • Craft: I’m a big believer in continually learning and improving my writing. I aim to do some craft development each month. That could be something big like going to a conference or completing an online class. Or it could be small – reading a craft-focused book or watching a free webinar.

MAKING THE TASK CATEGORY LISTS:

Most months, I tackle items in each category. That means I’m continually moving forward on many fronts. Over time that adds up to a lot of progress.

As I create this spread, I’m making many small decisions that help me set and achieve goals.

For instance, in Business and Marketing this month I have blog posts to write (like this one!), I need to gather up the last of my tax documents, and (time permitting) put together a page on my website about Author Visits.

I also want to submit to Work For Hire publishing houses to drum up more contract work for the future. However, it’s not pressing (I’m booked out through February). Also, a peek at the Schedule at the top lets me know that I don’t have time this month. I could decide this goal isn’t worth pursuing and cross it off. Instead, I decided it’s still something I want to do… just not this month. The arrow signifies that I’m bumping it down the road to the next month.

Similarly, this month I don’t have any Submissions listed. Although I try to submit each month, I know December submissions tend to languish while everyone is busy with holidays. So I decided to put my efforts towards other endeavors this month and hit the ground running after the new year.

These small decisions stack up over time. I’m setting goals and intentions every single month. By the end of the year, it amounts to a substantial amount of work all of which is aligned with my goals.

 

Project Status

Most of the right page is used for what I call a Project Status. This is my lifeline for managing multiple projects. It’s an overview of all the manuscripts I’m currently working on, sorted by their present stage in the writing process.

The Writing Process
The Writing Process

The process reads from bottom to top:

  • Simmer: I always write down story ideas when they come to me. I have long lists elsewhere in my bullet journal. The most promising get put here. I let these stew in my brain for weeks or months. That simmering time helps lets the idea-fragments coalesce into a fully-formed idea. Plus, after a bit of stewing, I can usually tell which are worth pursuing and which are… not. When ideas languish on this list for a long time, I know they aren’t worth pursuing.
  • Write: These are the things I am planning to write this month. I pluck them from the simmer list, contracted work, or a new idea that’s too exciting to wait. I try to push a piece all the way through to a complete first draft before I set it aside. Then it moves to the Draft list.
  • Resting Drafts: This is the where I place all the manuscripts that are written but not done. Resting is a vital step in the writing process. A bit of distance helps you critically evaluate your manuscripts.
  • Revise:  Most months I choose a piece from the Draft list for revision. I try to take it through a complete revision before setting it aside. I work over the whole manuscript focusing on just one aspect of revision. Usually, it ends up right back in the Draft list to rest before another round of revision. Very rarely do pieces graduate to the Done pile.
  • Done: Every step up to here has resulted in manuscripts being culled. Some never make it through the idea simmering stage. Others I may revise multiple times before I realize they’re not workable – at least not right now. But those that make it through the process end up here. These are the manuscripts I consider to be as complete and polished as I am capable of making them. They’re the ones I’m currently querying (that’s the Q designation). Even still, I will occasionally decide that a manuscript is just not publishable right now. Then I drop them off the list. Once in a while I will review a retired manuscript I find a new angle for it.

MAKING A PROJECT STATUS LIST:  Each month, I’m considering and critically evaluating the manuscripts on this list.

  1. Done: I start with the previous month’s list. I copy over anything that is Done. Occasionally, I decide that a manuscript needs to be retired. Usually, this is after I’ve queried it and not gotten any bites. Since these are the pool of manuscripts I’m currently submitting I made a simple designation to show what’s been queried ( -> Q) and what has been subbed elsewhere (like to awards and grant programs).
  2. Revise: I look at the list of Resting Drafts from the previous month and decide which is most promising to Revise this month. I try to keep this list short – one or maybe two picture books a month is about what I can handle. This month is a little longer because my novel is with a Beta reader.  I’m not doing active work on it, but it’s not exactly sitting in a metaphorical drawer either, so I listed it here with a note that it’s out to a Beta reader. 
  3. Resting Drafts: I copy over the rest of the items that are in the Resting Draft stage. As I do, I consider if these are workable or if they need to be retired, too. Sometimes I will include a note about a manuscript. I have one draft that I think may be better suited as a poem than a picture book.
  4. Write: I consider the ideas on my Simmer list from the previous month. I look at the list of story ideas and choose the most promising to write into a new draft. Again, I try to keep this list short. This month I have one picture book listed. I’ve also started listing blog posts or other non-book writing here. I don’t put my non-book writing through this full process, but it’s a reminder so I don’t bite off more than I can chew.
  5. Simmer: Lastly, I copy over any ideas that didn’t make the cut for writing this month. I consider if each idea is worth pursuing or not. If not, I leave them off. If

This whole process takes me just a few minutes. But as I go I’m making small evaluations (Would this work better as a poem? Is this idea worth pursuing? Which draft do I want to make each month?) And those small decisions mean that I am setting goals (like what I will write) and critically evaluating my work.

This month I have a work for hire picture book due and another one to begin. With blog posts, that’s more than enough for a busy holiday-filled month.

Starting with the Done and Revise manuscripts means that I’m focusing on pushing manuscripts toward the finish line. (Instead of continually producing new drafts that don’t get anywhere.

 

Top Priorities

The last thing I do is to make a quick list of the month’s top priorities. By this time, I’ve made all my decisions about what to work on. I like having a handy list where I pull those top tasks from the different parts of the monthly spread.

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Now that you know how to use my Magical Monthly spread, you can download your own copy here. In the next post on Bullet Journaling for writers, I’ll be going over collections just for writers.

Free Printable Bullet Journal for Writers