Archive for April, 2019

Businessman rolling up sleeves

It’s been a while coming, but that excitement and enthusiasm that proceeds starting a new writing project has finally returned.  I felt it’s slow approach for quite some time, like a long winter portends the spring.

In fact, that’s exactly what it was like.  Last July, in the hottest part of the California summer, we packed up our possessions, loaded them onto trucks, and moved to the beautiful Pacific North West.  Practically Canada, in fact.  We were tired of the weather as Bill Hicks put it, “Every day, hot and sunny.”  Autumn arrived one afternoon, like literally one day it was colder and everywhere the trees started turning yellow and orange that day. Then shortly it was winter.  I mean actual winter.  Not like in California, where it rains a little and the wind blows a bit and you might have to put on a jacket.  Feet and feet of snow on the lawn and in the trees and on the roof and on the roads.  This February we piled up just about as much snow as this region usually gets all year.  And it went on and on and on.  And on.  Winter lasts about five months, up here.  I mean, intellectually, we knew spring must be coming.  But it felt like it was taking years to get here.  The snow just kept falling.  Then, just like autumn, one day in the middle of March spring arrived.  The temperature went up like 10 degrees, and in two weeks the snow was gone and we could see roads and lawns and flowerbeds again.

My muse returned the same way spring did.  I felt her approaching, knew she would get here at some point, made plans for that day, and … waited.  Like contemplating the impending dawn.  Like looking forward to an eighteenth birthday.  Like your anticipation that I will eventually get to the actual point.

Well, here it is: Inspiration is fickle, but eventual.  Some days it overwhelms you like a blizzard, and other days it is like trying to catch a soap bubble on a breezy day (you can’t; you have to let it land).  But that doesn’t mean that in the meantime you can’t buy a clean, new notebook and sharpen some pencils.

For me, it meant choosing my next project.  I had an embarrassment of ideas, any one of which might have become my next novel, but all of which needed research and consideration — a kind of feasibility study.  When I decided six years ago to get serious and write a novel fit for publication, I had to choose between completely rewriting the adult fantasy novel I had already written in high school and college, or starting a completely new children’s book.  I had to weigh all of the pros and cons, compare the amount of joy each prospect gave me, evaluate how much work each would be.  This time around I had two MG projects already started, and a third entirely new notion for adults.  Which should I pursue?

Here are the things you should know so you don’t waste valuable time when your muse swoops in and grabs you by the frontal lobe:

  • Who is your audience (age group, genres)?
  • Where does your story take place?
  • When does your story take place?
  • Who is your main character?
  • What is at stake in your character’s story?
  • Does this story excite you?

For me, the difference between this second book and the first one is that when I started the first one I didn’t really know the answers to all of these questions, except for the last one.  And as it turned out, passion alone was not sufficient to write a marketable book.

You don’t have to be in a writing mood or feel bound to produce a certain number of words-per-day as long as you are moving forward with your research and development.  Sketch in some backstory.  Color in your setting.  Research your time period.  Learn the local lingo, the local hangouts, the local weirdos — or make them up.  Nail your character’s conflict.  Write the perfect 35-word pitch (because if you can’t do that, you don’t have a clear handle on the stakes, yet).

So, don’t fret if your muse is a seldom or fair-weather friend; spend your time in between visits doing your research and getting ready. Such forethought might even make her stick around longer once she finally does arrive.

Manual typewriter and screwed up paper

I’ve been absent for awhile, because I haven’t had anything new to say.  It’s taken me awhile to realize that that’s a problem.

It’s not that I have some hubristic need to spout my “wisdom” to the unsuspecting world on a weekly basis.  The simple fact is, I find writing a blog to be personally useful; it helps me hone my chops, focus my ideas, and clarify my thoughts by forcing me to express them to an audience.  But my first rule has always been to only post things I think will be interesting or instructive to the children’s writing community at-large. About a year ago I reached a point where I had no new useful thing to talk about with regard to my manuscript and my drive to find an agent.

That should have bothered me.

It took me a whole year to realize the problem: I had refused to give up on my dream.  Why is that a problem?  Because I didn’t have room or permission to move on.

Early on I made a commitment to myself to do everything possible to see my MG book, Princess Material, traditionally published.  “Never give up! Never surrender!” And for four years I queried, entered contests, engaged critique partners, and hired professional editors.  The manuscript and query letter steadily improved.  But after over 100 rejections, I have been forced to consider that there is something fundamentally flawed about that book (or it’s just not a good fit for the current market), and no amount of tweaking or polishing will make it right.

And that gave me the opening I needed to refocus my attention on a new project.  I had started a sequel to Princess Material, but part of my evolving attitude about it included the realization that there was no point in writing a sequel to a book that nobody was ever going to read.  So I needed a new project.

Ideas I had.  Even an entire outline.  But until I gave myself permission to put my first book aside, I didn’t have the bandwidth to really focus on an entirely new project (I seem to be a one-book-at-a-time kind of guy).

Notice I didn’t say I had given up on my dreams.  To become a published author, to see my book on a retail shelf, to start a second career as a children’s author.  I have not given up on those.  And I haven’t entirely given up on the dream of getting my first book out there.  But for right now, I have given myself permission to put that particular dream aside so that I can chase a new dream.  It’s a whole lot like the first, but it means starting over with a new book.  Not completely over, of course.  I have gained tons of experience and wisdom over the last four years, which I will make liberal use of going forward.  I will be scrolling back through this blog and revisiting posts from the early days of writing my first novel.  And I will be chronicling this new journey here.  Stay tuned for details of my new project, and maybe a bit about some of the ideas I had along the way.  If you haven’t already, please subscribe.  I expect to be posting here every week, just like before.