Gift Ideas for Writers: 2017

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I love reading posts about gift ideas. Heck, I love shopping, and thinking about shopping, and yes, being on the receiving end of shopping too. As an author, over the years I’ve amassed my share of journals and pen sets. I’m not complaining! But here are some out-of-the-box, creative gift ideas for the writer in your life. Some ideas are somewhat standard [wise*ss t-shirts] but I guarantee some you’ve never thought of before–and are–get this–free [book reviews]!! Please note I get no royalties or kickbacks from any of these external sites, and I cannot otherwise vouch for their awesomeness; I just happen to think they rock. 

In random order:

  • Art!

How can you not love artwork like this, lettered on clear glass or matted in a circle? Head over to etsy  for this quote by Hemingway or one made by JaneAustenandCo, or pick your/their favorite quote and make your own.

 

  • Clothes!

There’s an Alice in Wonderland scarf and other classics from storiarts, and lots of other very clever book scarf options like this one that looks like a stamped library due date card from etsy and a bookshelf scarf from cafepress. There are a ton of options, actually. Google “books scarf” or “word scarf” or a similar combination and you’ll be amazed. Order now, though, as many are special order (and most likely worth it). I will warn against ordering book leggings online–that is, leggings with cute images of books on them. I ordered a pair from a company that rhymes with Rave Rew Rook and while I’m sure the company is full of wonderful people, their leggings are HORRIBLE quality (100% polyester) and there was no way to tell from the their website how awful they’d feel or look in real life. The stitching is atrocious. [They also took weeks to arrive but that’s another story]. You don’t have that issue with scarves so I’m thinking they are a safer sight-unseen purchase. And scarves look so classy! Such a conversation starter too. Many writers are introverts so it’s a welcomed party accessory.

Alice in Wonderland Book Scarf - Storiarts - 1

Bookshelf Books Scarf

For your dark-humored friends, how about tee with a goth take on a Christmas classic from author/artist Kaz Windness? Or this fun tee you can find on Amazon and a few other places? (They make snarky sayings on mugs too)

 Cybertela Women's I'm Silently Correcting Your Grammar Fitted V-neck T-shirt

 

  • Education!

Sign your writer up for a class, a workshop, a conference. I love SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) and it’s one nonprofit I can vouch for. In fact, why not buy your writer an annual membership? Boy will that go over well!! It can’t be wrapped but it will last all year long (join SCBWI). Everyone has a chapter near them (check here for where yours might be) and every region hosts local events, meet ups, etc.  Kidlit411 also has a list of reputable places to look for events/conferences/workshops near you and worldwide. There are lots of other good places to look for online and.or downloadable classes you can buy for your writer, that are hosted by solid industry professionals, including the Children’s Book Academy and KidLit College. They offer sessions year round. SCBWI tends to offer stellar webinars throughout the year too, for $10 or $15 members (only $20ish for nonmembers). Have a look at some upcoming ones here — check back often for updates. ALWAYS verify the credentials of the person that is leading the workshop, shop around for price, and make sure the topic is a good fit. I mean, don’t get your writer a workshop on editing if they haven’t even written their story yet; if that’s their situation, suggest they take a beginner’s class on how to write or how to get started first. (That’s one reason why I like conferences so much–they contain lots of info at various levels with lots of presenters that have different expertise, all rolled into one, and are usually the biggest bang for the buck. Here‘s one in Northern CA with editors, agents, an art director, and famous authors.)

Great books to buy that are easy to order online but of course I’m going to suggest you get from your local bookseller, include:

Product Details    Product Details

(You might wanna steer clear of that last one as a gift, given the title and all, even though it’s really a fantastic book for beginners!) Shout out to JEN Garrett for most of those craft book suggestions.

 

  •  Fun!

Grab one of these, just for fun.

 A beautiful and clever (but, yeah, expensive) reading light.

Aqua Notes Water Proof Note Pad Get bombarded with great ideas in the shower? Write ’em down with a waterproof notepad found on Amazon.

 How many classic novels have you read? Keep track with this slick scratch-off poster.

 For your writer/illustrator friend, here’s a great crayon charm necklace for only $20. They’ve got it with typewriters too.

 

  • Betterment/Writing Help

We could all use a helping hand when it comes to making our writing better. Why not buy your writer a professional critique of their work? [NEVER do this on the fly. ONLY go with a reputable, experienced author who you’ve gotten recommendations from. (What have they published recently, by what publishing house, to what acclaim?)]

Here are some writers I can vouch for. There are plenty of others too! These are literally off the top of my head. Check them out yourself–carefully! You want to make sure you get the best fit for your specific work.

  1. Carol Munro, https://carolmunrojustwritewords.com/services-for-writers/
  2. Nikki Shannon Smithhttp://www.nikkishannonsmith.com/Contact.html 
  3. ME! Bitsy Kemper, https://bitsykemper.wordpress.com/contact-bitsy/ 

Regardless of what you get your writer, knowing you shopped with them in mind will make all the difference. As gift-giving expert Lisa Bader from http://www.wrapwithlove.com says, “When it’s all said and done, the particular gift you give isn’t what matters most. What matters most is how the particular gift made the recipient feel.” They will love you went out of your way for them!

  • Support!

    1. Give your published friends an online review

If you’ve got zero money in your pocket but want to give SOMEthing, give a book review! Did you know that the number of book reviews can help boost a book’s placement on websites like Amazon Books and general Google searches? The more reviews, the higher  up it will likely show. Reviews of any kind are a HUGE factor, if not boost, to an author’s success. Even if they aren’t glowing reviews! A review shows the book has been read. And that the reader took the time to review it–which means it made an impact on the reader. In fact, a mention of the book in any form of social media is welcomed. As author Lori Mortensen puts it, “Social media makes a difference, so if you have a moment, leave a review on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Goodreads, or other social media for your favorite books. Authors everywhere will appreciate it.” I second that! I mean, who can’t give a free gift? Just make sure you’ve read the book, and make it a genuine review. Websites are cracking down on what they perceive to be “buddy reviews” and are deleting them without warning. Give a fair review. I mean sure–round up on the number of stars by all means–just don’t go too overboard on the text or it’ll come across as fake. No one wants that, not even for the holidays.

2. Check out their book from a library–or ask your local library to carry their book (and tell your friend you did so)

It might not seem like a big deal, but checking a book out of library, or even taking it off the shelf and having a librarian re-shelf it, can make a big difference in how long a library keeps a book. This is how a California librarian explained it: “If a book has not been checked out in a certain number of months, it gets chucked. Yep. And then [the] book will be gone from the system, forever.” Sad, right? She went on to say, “Basically, librarians are always actively looking for books to ‘weed.’ They have to get rid of books on a regular basis to make room for new ones coming in. If they find a book that hasn’t been checked out for ages, and it’s a book they love, they might put it on display or do something else to increase its circulation. But they might also just decide this book has lived its life, and because there is no demand for it anymore, it’s time to pass it on. Sad but reality. 

Sooooo…Even if you’ve read their book (which, let’s be honest–you probably haven’t), you can check out your friend’s book(s), and return the next day, just to get that title recorded. I know in my library they track which books have been interacted with, so even taking it off the shelf and placing it on the “go back” cart gets it recorded or noted as someone having paid attention to it. Now, if your library doesn’t carry the book, put in a request for them to purchase it. Talk to whoever is at the desk about it. They might not be able to, but you’ve planted the seed. Maybe someone else already has, or will, and your request will make the difference.

These are great gift suggestions for writer friends you don’t well enough to go out and buy something for, but that you’ve admired or have enjoyed getting to know over the years, perhaps virtually via the magic of the interwebs. <cough cough, points to self> Neither takes much time to do, they don’t cost any money at all, and the effects are longer lasting tan any scarf or book light. Your writer friend will be thrilled!

 

Lots of ideas. No excuses to not do SOMEthing! 🙂

Whatever you decide,

Merry Christmas,

Happy Holidays, and

Happy Gift Giving!

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How Do I know If My Manuscript is Finished?

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I was at a critique meeting the other day, and a beginning writer asked a fair question.

The backstory: She had brought in a manuscript that she’d spent quite a bit of time on. She’d revised it numerous times, shown it to editors at conferences, and even did the ol’ “set it aside for three weeks before tackling a final time.” She thought she was almost finished. This was her “get one last set of eyes before submitting.”

But she got such good feedback from this new group at the critique meeting, that it had her questioning exactly how “finished” her manuscript was. She wasn’t going to change any main plot points, but she was considering changing her main character’s name, part of his journey, and directly altering the story arc. (So, yeah, pretty big changes.)

She wasn’t panicking, but she was concerned. If she made those changes, what other changes might lurk around the corner? What changes would need to be made after those changes were added? No doubt, she liked and appreciated the suggestions, agreed with most of the feedback, and was open to implementing it all. She wan’t complaining. But how many more times would she be sitting in a critique group asking for and getting great feedback that would result in even more edits? More importantly–would her story ever be finished? She wasn’t in a rush to get her manuscript out the door, but she was overwhelmed with the thought of how many different ways her story could go.

She asked me: “When will I know I’m done?”

I’m the best–and worst–person to ask that question. I think my tombstone will say “Hang on–I’m not finished with that yet–” because I am ALWAYS revising, reworking, editing, tweaking. I can always find a way to change a document. When I wrote a syndicated newspaper column, I submitted that thing a half second before deadline EVERY WEEK because I was always changing and rearranging. I drove myself nuts trying to make it perfect. But is anything ever perfect?

The answer to “When will I know I’m done” is actually another question. It’s kinda simple, really, and something I have to ask myself constantly. It goes like this: WILL THESE CHANGES MAKE THE STORY BETTER?

I mean, sure, the edits will change the story–but will it change your story for the better?

You can have your duck walk over a bridge instead of swim across the pond, you can have a kid sing show tunes instead of do homework, you can shake things up a million ways from Sunday. It goes without saying that it’s YOUR story and YOU need to tell it–regardless of what other people suggest. But fine-tuning details can drive you mad. (OK yes even story arc and plotting can drive you nuts.) I know they do me.

You gotta let it go at some point, knowing it’s pretty damn good. Changes from here on might be good, sure, but doggone it, it’s already darn good. Let. it. be.

There will always be a way to edit and change. Take this blog post as an example: I can add color, switch font, toss in kooky images (researching them will add an additional 2 hours alone to the posting process–oh, look, a dancing gerbil!).

f84a802219585b87354a0d6a754bd7ba-gerbil-hamster

But will any of it MAKE THE CONTENT BETTER THAN IT WAS BEFORE?

It might change things, but if it doesn’t enhance them to the point of “I can’t live without this direction/idea/switch“–well, then, carry on, soldier.

Your work is done.

 

 

“I’ve written a children’s book…now what?”

 

“I’ve written a children’s book…now what?”

As a published author, I hear this question a lot. Technology has made many things easier, but the publishing industry is still pretty standard. Sure, you could go the self-published route, which has earned a much better reputation than the past (but some small publishing houses are glorified self-publishers, so you have to be careful. Do your homework!), but you’ll still need to follow these first few steps.

  1. Don’t illustrate!

    First off, if you’ve written a picture book, and you’re not a professional artist, DON’T illustrate it unless you are self publishing. Don’t find someone to illustrate it, or take pictures to submit alongside. Let the publishing editors do that; it’s their jobs. All you’re going to be submitting are the words to the story. (That’s a relief, right?) Other beginner tips are here in a fun video worth watching: https://bitsykemper.wordpress.com/video/

  2. Be honest: is it ready?

    Really ready? I know you are excited to get your story out there–but hold on, Sally. Your first step ISN’T finding an agent. Your first step is getting your work polished and perfect. You only have one chance to make a first impression with editors and publishers. Don’t submit a manuscript that’s “almost ready.” I encourage you to take a bigger-picture look at getting not just editing help but overall writing guidance, especially if this is your first manuscript (or art/portfolio submission). Take the time to make sure it’s in the very best shape it can be. Non-fiction books, for example, need lots of research. Tips on how and where to do that research is here: http://www.darcypattison.com/picture-books/nonfiction-research-required/ Research aside, you’ve got to fix typos, ensure your story arc is strong, your main characters are likeable, and so on. How does your story compare with what’s selling today—both in topic, word count, and style? Make sure your work is in top shape.  One tip I suggest new writers do is read 100 picture books (they’re short!) before they start the editing phase of their first manuscript, because there is so much to learn by reading other works, and by understanding the general formula and format that editors are looking for. At least read 50! No, I’m not kidding. There is a reason those books are published and you’ve got to figure out why. I’ve created a checklist that details all this, plus a discussion on strong beginnings, satisfying endings, and more at: https://bitsykemper.wordpress.com/2015/11/09/is-my-picture-book-ready-a-13-point-checklist/ Read this!

  1. Get help

    So, yeah, you might NOT be finished with that book afterall. There are authors that have taken SIX YEARS perfecting their manuscript, and they don’t regret a minute. You, your manuscript, and your readers are worth taking the time to do it right. Don’t rush it. SCBWI is here to help! Learn with us! Attend a workshop, conference, webinar, meet & greet, anything to connect with this wonderful writing and illustrating community. We’re great peeps! Find a critique partner in your region (ask your RA for help in finding some). Consider a Mentorship Program (http://www.scbwi.org/scbwi-mentorship-programs/; The Carolinas, Iowa, and Minn, for example, offer programs that fit members outside their immediate region. It can get expensive, but can be worth every penny. Professionals work directly with you and your manuscript one on one, some for several months.) If you want to hire editing help, “The Book” from SCBWI lists many reputable freelance editors you might want to contact. They each have different rates and processes, but are all professionals. http://www.scbwi.org/online-resources/the-book/Paid-for help is something to consider—but not necessary! Go online and check out the TON of free resources available online—open 24/7—to members only, like training videos and “bulletin boards” at scbwi.org! You have to be logged in at SCBWI.org order to access many of the helpful pages. Other excellent resources include http://www.kidlit411.com/ (too much great content to list!),  http://www.writersdigest.com/forum/ and http://writeforkids.org/.

  1. Social Media?

    Do you need a strong social media presence—website, blog, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat, Facebook, blah blah? Hmm. Define “strong.” The easy answer is yes, you need to be online and searchable in someway, for no other reason than it gets you practice being social and connecting with other like-minded creators. Some editors insist a social media platform is vital while others couldn’t care less. But don’t fake 2,000 Twitter followers or suddenly force yourself to gather 500 new Facebook friends just to get in the game. Be genuine. If you’re new to social media, it’s ok. But don’t ignore it. It’s not going away. It’s better to start true relationships now than to troll for friends only when you need them later. People know when you’re using them. Find some great social media tips from author Jenny Bravo here: http://jennybravobooks.com/blog/social-media-for-writers, some author platform tips from moi here, and some Twitter-specific basics here.

  1. Find an Agent, Editor

    (Either, not both) Once you’re certain your manuscript is ready (you’ve researched the industry, you’ve had a critique group look at it, it’s edited with no errors, et al), it’s time to find an editor or agent. Which one? The right one, not just any one. Spend time finding a good fit. You’ll be working with them for upwards of three years per book(!!). In this industry, you can submit directly to many editors at a publishing houses; you don’t NEED an agent. Yes, one will absolutely probably most likely help you. Get the scoop on if you should pursue an agent or if you should stick it out solo in this “How do I find an agent” post. (FYI I’ve got 16 books in print, no agent.) Whether or not you decide to get an agent or to submit directly, you’ll need to figure out who is the best person to send to. And where (which ‘house’). The BEST resource for that is SCBWI’s THE BOOK. Available to members online, you can also order a hard copy to be printed and mailed to your house for a nominal fee (I order one every year, dog ear the heck out of pages, and make scribble notes all over it!): http://www.scbwi.org/online-resources/the-book/ You have to be a member and logged in at SCBWI.org order to access it.

  1. Write Query or Pitch Letter

    Now you’re ready to submit! Start writing those agent query or Dear Editor pitch letters. The difference between a query letter and a pitch letter is best described this way: A pitch letter is sent directly to an editor or agent, with your manuscript, for them to consider taking on your work for publication. A query is a letter sent to see if the editor or agent is interested in seeing your manuscript, for the ultimate goal of taking it on; it’s the pre-step of submitting. THE MANUSCRIPT IS NOT SENT with a query–just a description of it is. Typically this is sent to a closed house where you have to ask permission before submitting. A great explanation of a query letter, and how it should include a pitch and synopsis is here: http://www.soyouthinkyoucanwrite.com/2015/09/the-pitch-query-and-synopsis-a-primer/. A great “how to write a query letter” is here: https://kidlit.com/2009/08/05/writing-a-simple-compelling-query/ Almost all submissions are done online now, although some houses still insist on paper subs. Find out all this detail, along with contact information and names of editors and agents at good ol’ SCBWI’s “The Book” (which you have to be logged in at SCBWI.org order to access). ALWAYS VERIFY INFO ON THE HOUSE’S OWN WEBSITE BEFORE SUBMITTING! Things change fast these days and you don’t want to submit to someone that changes houses four months ago, or waste your time submitting to a house that is now closed.

Chronicle Books has stellar advice of their own, which backs up most of the advice above: http://www.chroniclebooks.com/blog/2014/12/17/so-youve-written-a-childrens-book-now-what/ and a self-pubbed author named Carrie Lowrence shares her experience with the detailed steps she took here: https://horkeyhandbook.com/wrote-childrens-book-idea-execution/

Hopefully this is helpful. I encourage you to take a step back, catch your breath, and make sure your story elements are perfect before you spend the time (or money) on copy editing or, of course, submitting. One of the tips I learned from Writers Ink was to set your story aside for two or three months, then come back to it with fresh eyes. Amazing how different it looks! I know 90 days seems like FOREVER but you will thank your three-month-future-self for waiting. Your story deserves the best care you can give it 🙂

It’s not going to be easy, but it’s going to be worth it, even if you never get published. If you love writing, you love writing! Best of luck to you and your work. I am certain you’ll find ways to make it shine, and to make yourself proud.

Go get ‘em!

-Bitsy Kemper is the proud author of 16 children’s books, including picture books, chapter books, and YA. She admits to spending too much of her early career focused on the computer industry, appearing in places like CNN and co-writing a nationally-syndicated newspaper column. She’s more recently appeared in Writing Children’s Books for Dummies (“how appropriate!” you may say) and Children’s Book Insider, and is the Regional Advisor for SCBWI’s CA North/Central region (covering 36 counties!). When not nose down and knee deep creating & editing, she has found time to present at author events and writers conferences from NY to CA. Bitsy enjoys yoga, dark chocolate, and church–but not all three at the same time. She is an accomplished speaker, mother of three (four if you count her husband), and according to her business card, a really nice gal. www.BitsyKemper.com.

How do I Find an Agent?

findAgent
Google “how to find a literary agent for children’s books” and you’ll get 1,580,000 hits. Over one and a half million! And that’s just in the kidlit world. There are many, many theories on how to find one, just like there are many many theories on how to write the perfect picture book. Many roads will take you there, my friend. You just need to start walking. THEY AREN’T GOING TO COME TO YOU.
First things first. You need to make sure your manuscript is print ready. Never send something that isn’t perfect/finished! Has it been copy edited? Have you had more than one other person review it–do you have a reliable/experienced critique partner/group? Have you been working on it for longer than, say, a month? The ironic thing here is that the next thing I’m going to say is be prepared to make changes if necessary which contradicts the “make sure it’s perfect/finished” statement. An agent might have suggestions on how to make your manuscript better, and you might need to make those changes before he or she agrees to represent you. (It’s ALWAYS up to you to decide if and how those changes will be implemented. It’s your manuscript, afterall. Feel free to say “No, thanks” and move on to the next agent on your list if the recommend changes don’t feel right to you.)
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Second, you need to research the right agent FOR YOU, one that will like/accept not only your genre and age range but fits your style. That means your style of writing as well as your style of a working relationship. You do that by researching reputable agencies online and reading up on every agent that reps the kind of manuscript you have–based on what they have already sold and based on what they say they are looking for. Have they represented authors that have books similar to yours? That’s what you are looking for. This may be the only time you don’t want uniqueness. You want someone with relevant experience so they can get you the best deal and offer you the best, most applicable guidance. A super YA agent, for example, might be a crappy picture book agent. It’s a different world. Maybe it’ll work out–see what else they’ve sold. The good news is they will tell you directly on their page what they are looking for and have sold but that bad news is it’s a lot of work b/c there are so many agencies and so many agents.
How to get started researching, you may ask?
  • https://janefriedman.com/find-literary-agent/ gives an excellent overview on finding agents. It’s not specific to kidlit, but is worth reading every word. This post is from 2015 but still very much valid. Jane gives tips on checking an agent’s track record, what to expect from a good agent (are they members of AAR?), and explains submission guidelines piece by piece. READ IT. I’m not kidding.
  • The very first blog page on that Writer’s Digest site that I’d recommend you read is http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/guide-to-literary-agents/pubtips. Editor Chuck Sambuchino culled advice from real agents, who Tweeted their top tips on what to do and how to do it. For example, some advice from 2013 that still stands is from agent Jacquie Flynn’s (@BookJacquie): “Check out an agent’s website, tweets, & blog posts to get a sense of her style & taste before you query. Customize for best results.”
  • Speaking of Twitter…I’ll go ahead and quote Chuck from that same blog, who says, “Many, many agents are on Twitter. And by reading their tweets, you can get a deeper understanding of what they seek as well as what kind of writing excites them. Use an agent’s online footprint and research them. Read their blog interviews. Review their website. This helps you better target agents to query, and it also helps you learn more about each rep, giving you information you can use to begin your query letter. For example, ‘Dear Ms. Flynn, I saw your tweet about how you seek irreverently humorous young adult books such as Spanking Shakespeare. For this reason, I think you would like my YA comedy of errors, [Title].'”
Social Media

Social media is your friend when researching agents

  • And speaking of matching up agents with what they’ve already said they like…Have you heard of MSWL? If not, write it down! There is a great website/resource called MSWL — Manuscript Wish List  — where agents regularly Tweet out exactly what they are hoping to find, and the results are tallied and searchable here: http://www.manuscriptwishlist.com You can do a search for exactly what you’ve written, such as #magic #chapterbook #unicorns, and see if there are any matches. It’s worth coming back to again and again.
  • If you’re a member of SCBWI (and if you’re not, don’t be an idiot, join already!), start looking up names and agencies with “The Book” that is online to members http://www.scbwi.org/online-resources/the-book/. Go to the Agents section. It lists websites for every agency that’s worth reviewing. [“The Book” also lists all major kidlit publishing houses, and gives websites and contact information as well as if they accept unagented or “unsolicited” manuscripts (unsolicited means you need to end a query first), if you decide against pursuing an agent.] Narrow down the agencies you like, then look at their agents, and if the agent reps your age range and/or genre and you think you’d get along, then give them a whirl. There are other sources online that charge for this information and may be worth looking into if you don’t have SCBWI access. Either way, always verify your searches with the agent websites and/or agent social media accounts. Do that with a basic Google search.
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  • Wondering about warning signs, such as contests disguised as paid editing services or agents asking for a reading fee? NEVER PAY AN AGENT TO READ YOUR MANUSCRIPT! RUN AWAY, RUN AWAY! [The exception is legit conferences where you submit your work for a fee in exchange for a critique/feedback, or fundraisers like #PensforPaws where agents (or editors) donate their time to giving you feedback and the money goes to charity. These are NOT solicitations for representation so don’r count as creepy agent maneuvers.] Tally up sleeze-meter readings with help from this list created by “Writer Beware” http://www.sfwa.org/other-resources/for-authors/writer-beware/agents/
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In all honesty, you don’t NEED an agent in the children’s book industry. If you ask me (and you did) I suggest you take all that time researching agents and spend it perfecting your manuscripts. You can submit to many editors and publishing houses directly.  The key is always quality writing, not the agent that submits it. 
The bottom line is: just like when writing your manuscript, DO YOUR HOMEWORK. Perfect your work. Research out a few solid agents that will work FOR YOU, submit per their exact submission guidelines, and see what they say. If they all pass b/c they say your manuscript isn’t ready, well, you know what your next steps will be.
If they like it, well, wasn’t all that work worth it?
Write on!

Shopping at IKEA

Image result for image ikea warehouse

I dreamt that I was in IKEA, looking for a replacement piece for something from my kid’s room. I look all over the warehouse, up and down every aisle. You know how big that place is! Had people helping, looking part numbers up on the computer, nothing. Two hours. I’m out of options, on the ground floor near the register, when I decide to look a little closer, turn it upside down…and… It’s a Lego piece.

Isn’t that how writing is sometimes? You exhaust every option trying to figure out a story arc or plot point or character tic, get nowhere, only to one day–usually in the middle of the night when you have no pen and paper nearby–look at it from a different angle, and realize all this time you’ve been shopping at IKEA for a Lego piece.

Image result for image blank lego face

Sometimes the hardest thing to do is STEP AWAY. We think we need to WORK THRU IT. We can do this. MARCH ON. We got this. MAKE IT WORK, DANG IT. We won’t be defeated!

And yet, by powering on, we might be getting in our own way. We are so focused on fixing the problem–the FIX–that we aren’t examining THE PROBLEM. We aren’t holding it in our hands, placing it up to the light, looking at it from different angles. If our eyes are only set on the finish line, we can’t see the road we’re on, or we forget WHY we’re on the road in the first place. And we’ll stumble and fall and make all kinds of messes, not to mention waste all that time (ours as well as other people’s).

So how about this: the next time you’re struggling with something, set it down. Don’t think about it.

Go for a walk. Nietzsche said “All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking.” A Stanford University study confirmed it. Walking boosts the creative formation of ideas, both in real time and shortly after (“Give Your Ideas Some Legs: The Positive Effect of Walking on Creative Thinking” by Marily Oppezzo and Daniel L. Schwartz, American Psychological Association, 2014). Neuroscientists say exercise, even mild forms like a walk around the block, releases dopamine, which helps us feel relaxed and all around in a better mood. That makes the chances of having great ideas more likely. Ditto for taking a shower, hopping on a bike, or going for a drive.

Work on something else. Set your work down for a while. Literally place it in a file and don’t plan to look at it for two months. OK, fine, six weeks. What’s the rush? Ben Baldwin, who created a company that helps predict who will succeed at which job and why, points to the benefits of freeing your mind for a bit. “The subconscious mind runs in the background, silently affecting the outcome of many thoughts. So, take a break and smell the flowers, because while you’re out doing that, your mind may very well solve the problem that you are trying to solve or spark a solution to a problem you hadn’t considered before,” he said in a WSJ article packed with advice from entrepreneurs about creating ideas.

Force connections. Just for fun, force your main character to do something, well, out of character. Place them in a situation they shouldn’t be in, in a predicament they would hate, or trapped in a room with the person they dislike the most. Writer’s Digest suggests “forcing your character into a corner,” among other creative tips. See what happens. You don’t have to keep the scene, but you may find a side of the character you didn’t notice before. Maybe there is a descriptive part of the location–a balcony or city–that you can keep and use elsewhere. Even if you use none of it, you’ve forced your own creative brain out of its comfort zone. Odds are, your brain needed that push!

The point is, when faced with a challenge, the answer isn’t always to power through. Sometime it’s better to let go, just for a little while, to get a better look at the situation. Maybe you’ve been barking up the wrong tree.

Don’t waste your time at IKEA when what you really need is a Lego piece.

What Other Great Writers Said About Writing

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Authors Debbie Ridpath Ohi (also an illustrator!), Bitsy Kemper, Ellen Hopkins, Marcie Colleen taking a conference break

Why reinvent the wheel, right? There are so many great writers with so many great thoughts on writing, that I thought I’d share some of the highlights from what they told me or what I overheard heard [read: eavesdropping] at the SCBWI conference last month in L.A.

I admit the haunted hotel creeped me out to the point I didn’t sleep for five days so some of my notes may be totally made up, I’m not 100% sure. But they’re mostly accurate.

 

drewdaywalt

Drew Daywalt, @DrewDaywalt, author of the wonderful and incredibly creative picture book  The Day the Crayons Quit, and follow on book The Day the Crayons Came Home, said he worked in Hollywood, where it was cruel and knocked him down, and when he started working in the children’s book industry it was like “a million little hands picked him up.” [We’re like that, right? Such a wonderful tribe!] He shared how writing is so personal, that when you write something and hand it to someone to read, it’s like you’re standing there buck naked saying, “You like it?” But he challenged us to write anyway and not hold back.

The crazier they tell you you are, the more you know you are on the right track.”

-Drew Daywalt, author

and

To find your voice, find out who you are, and were.”

-Drew Daywalt, author

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Pam Munoz Ryan, author of picture books, chapter books, middle grade and YA novels but mostly known for her award-winning Esperanza Rising, talked about the importance of persistence, but not necessarily writing every day, if that doesn’t work for you. She herself needs breathing room and doesn’t like to force creativity. She published her first picture book at age 43! With over 40 books to her name now, including NYT best sellers and many award winners like a 2016 Newberry, she can take all the breathing room she needs. She just wishes writers would ask her about failures as often as they ask her how to get an agent. She points out success comes with all kinds of lessons learned.

Momentum is far more important than inspiration.”

-Pam Munoz Ryan, author

Continue reading

Conference Tips for Writers

 

Headed to a big conference? Wondering how to make the most of it? You’ve already figured out it’s worth going, otherwise you’d be at home in your pajamas saving all that money you’re about to drop. Plan ahead to maximize your precious time.

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Conference tips:

  1. Have an overall goal in mind. This might change for every conference. It could be to find an agent or simply break out of your comfort zone. But make it a little more specific. What exactly are you looking for in an agent? Figure that out before you go so you know what to look for, and what to avoid. If you want to break out of your comfort zone, list out three things-like initiate a conversation with two strangers, attend that awards banquet by yourself, refuse to sit in your room doing email every night. Center all your time/schedule decisions around that goal.
  2. Get ready to smile and say hey. I hate the slimy connotations of the word networking, but conferences are really about the people. Otherwise you’d stay at home. Don’t just focus on what the workshop topics are, look at who’s teaching them. Read their bios. When else will you have the chance to meet these people, and see what they’re really like? You can take just about any class online these days, but meeting someone in person? That’s why you’re there.
  3. Have your “elevator pitch” ready! You’ll be using it throughout the conference, that is, if you’re taking the conference seriously and are out there meeting people. (Here’s a good primer to get yours shiny.)
  4. Pack with a theme in mind. Not as in 1800s or hippy, but something that is consistent. It not only helps make packing easier, but makes it much easier for people to find and remember you every day, as well as afterwards. “I’m the one in polka dots” or “I was the one with pink striped hair.” You won’t be in the same thing everyday but people will start to figure out who you are by how you dress.
  5. Get your class act together. Speaking of clothes…at writer’s conferences you don’t have to dress to impress, but c’mon, this isn’t your mom’s basement. Make an effort. Dress like you’re going out to eat, not like you just woke up. But skip the heels, ladies, that’s one fashion item that’s just silly at a conference.
  6. A simple trick: stick business cards (people still use them!) in your badge holder, so they’re handy. Make sure your website and whatever social media handles/hashtags you use are included–if not, write them in with pen.
  7. You never know who you’ll be sitting next to so be nice to everyone you meet. Author and illustrator Debbie Ridpath Ohi has some great conference tips including “make the first move” – suck it up and introduce yourself around! Remember the part abut people being the reason you’re there? [See more of Debbie’s advice, including charming comics about being an introvert at a conference, at her website here.] Since most of us will be attending the conference alone (even if we traveled with a friend), it can get nerve racking. Wracking even.  Take some “survive attending a conference alone” tips from themuse.com here.
  8. Be open to learning. If you’ve attended a hundred conferences before and find yourself saying “I already know this” at every session/workshop, then you’re preventing yourself from learning anything new. I mean, if you already know everything, why are you there?
  9. Prepare ahead of time. Review the schedule. Know the keynotes. Plan your day. Choose your workshops so it’s not a last-minute choice made in haste. If you’re a true beginner and are looking for basic tips on writing your first children’s book so you don’t feel out of place at your first conference with all those other writers, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point you towards a video I made for the beginning picture book writer.  It’s fun. Really. https://bitsykemper.wordpress.com/2014/03/19/179/

Now lotion up those hands (you don’t want to be remembered as the hand shaker with the rough skin) and get ready to smile. You’re going to have a great time!