Writing Update

Measuring Growth as a Writer

'Chilli Growth' photo (c) 2009, Sam_Catch - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/ Last fall, I decided to start writing a short story series inspired by the life of my pug Zelda. I had so much fun writing the stories that I turned the collection into a chapter book for kids. After I released The Adventures of Zelda: A Pug Tale, I received many positive reviews and reactions from children and adults, so I started working on the second Zelda book in October. A month later, the first draft of my second Zelda book is written with a publication date set for late December. The first Zelda book took me 9 months from start to publication. The second will be about 3 months from start to publication and I’m thrilled with the much quicker process.

So what changed?

First, the writing process was much quicker on my end. I had a general outline for the book from the start and I was able to write chapters quickly. When I knew the plan for a chapter, I wrote it within about an hour’s time.

Second, I hired an editor and cover designer before completion of the first draft. Therefore, my project was on their schedule ahead of time. For the first Zelda book, I took the process one step at a time and ended up spending a few weeks at each stage waiting.

Finally, the timespan to write, edit, and publish the first Zelda book was hindered by life complications this past spring. With the illness and passing of my stepfather, I lost many hours of writing time (which is okay, I wanted to be with him and family during this time). Maybe without these life complications the first Zelda book would have been finished in 6 months from start to finish.

When I think about the difference between the two books, I am very happy. I am especially ecstatic about the writing time. I can write faster than last year without losing quality. This gives me even more encouragement for the future as I want to produce more books quicker. Similar to many other aspects of life, you only get better at writing with more practice.

I’m happy that I’m learning more about the business side of writing. I understand the need to arrange editors and designers ahead of time and when to schedule. Some of these aspects will be key when I transition into full time writing some day in the future.

Most importantly, I’m really excited about the second Zelda book. I think it’s better than the first. I created it with a story arc in mind and it came together beautifully. I can’t wait to share it with you soon. More details will be coming on release date and storyline in the coming weeks!

All of this tells me that I am growing as a writer. It may not be in leaps and bounds, but I’m moving forward. I’m making progress.

How do you measure growth as a writer?

The Query Letter Experiment - Week One

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I love self-publishing and the freedom to publish your books to your audience. But, I also see the value in traditional publishing. So, after I wrote my novel, The Photograph, I decided to try the traditional route of publishing first.

For those unfamiliar with the publishing world, the traditional publishing process is long and arduous. For fiction, the first step is to write a query letter. I think of a query letter as a cover letter introducing your book to a potential agent who represents your genre. If the agent likes what he or she reads, they will contact you to read the entire manuscript. If the agent likes the manuscript, then he or she will sign you as one of their clients. This process can take three weeks or three months. At that point, writers do a little dance, take a deep breath, and settle in for another round of waiting.

An author's literary agent (with help from the author) will shop the novel to publishing companies. Agents usually have relationships with publishers which helps this process. And hopefully, a publisher will decide to publish the novel. More contracts are signed and editors enter the picture. Roughly a year or so after you sign with a publisher, your novel is published.

I am excited to announce I started this process a few weeks ago. I partnered with Candace of Change It Up Editing on my query letter. The final version of my query letter is fantastic. I can't thank Candace enough.

Last week, I sent out my first query letter. I plan to send a few more this week to potential agents. And now, I wait.

I am cautiously optimistic about the process- hopeful to receive responses, even if they are a no. I want to learn from this process so the worst outcome is no communication or response from agents. We will see what happens and as always, you are invited to follow along with me.

Have you ever submitted query letters? Was it successful? What did you learn?

Moving Forward - The Revision Process

The writing, revision, and editing process is different for every writer. As a relatively new and young writer, my process continues to evolve, but I am nailing down a pattern to stick with in the future. Here's the process so far. The first part is simply writing the first draft. The goal of the first draft is to get everything down without worrying too much about sentence structure and grammar. Instead, I want the essence of the story written.

The revision process starts with what I am calling my first reading. During my first reading, I read for content, story arc, and character development. I also make grammar edits and sentence structure, but mostly because I can't help myself when I reread. The goal of the first reading is to eliminate plot holes and ensure the story makes sense.

After the first reading, I send the draft to a few beta readers with a few simple questions. Do you like the story? Do you like the characters? What could be improved in the story? While the beta readers have the story, I take a break from the current project for at least a month. The month long break gives me distance from the project and a fresh perspective when I return.

When the beta readers finish and send back comments, I move on to the second reading. Before I read the comments from my fabulous beta readers, I start my second reading. The second reading is similar to the first reading. I am looking for plot holes, areas in the story which need more development, or parts that need to be removed. I write down these notes, chapter by chapter.

When I finish my second reading, I look through the notes from my beta readers. For my novel project, I found some of their revisions matched mine. But, a few didn't. I evaluated those suggestions to see if they would improve the story or if I wanted the story to go in that direction. I ended up agreeing with a few, but not all. Either way, the beta readers are extremely valuable.

After the second reading and beta readers, it's time for serious work on the second draft. I go through chapter by chapter editing and revising content, grammar, and sentence structure. It's a thorough and slow process. I am currently on this stage of the process for my novel (tentatively titled The Photograph). When I finish the second draft, the next steps are still a little fuzzy. I think I will send again to a beta reader, then to a professional editor. I am also going to query this book, so I will do that once the second draft is done.

That's my revision process for my novel so far. With Z published, I'm focused on revisions of the novel which is super exciting.  I can't wait to get that work finished and out into the world.

What does your revision process look like?

The Adventures of Zelda Trailer

I am excited to announce The Adventures of Zelda: A Pug Tale will be available on August 6, 2013 in paperback and e-book formats. You can pick up a paperback copy via Amazon or Createspace, or go the e-book route via Amazon Kindle, Kobo, iBooks, or the Nook store. Meanwhile, here is a short trailer to get you excited about the book! (Really, I needed an excuse to make a Zelda video.)

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4jlyrUqsKCo&w=560&h=315]

The Fear of Failure - Writing Edition

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA Last June, I finished the first draft of my novel and set goals for timeframes on revisions, sending query letters, and self-publishing. A year later, I completely missed the mark. I do have my Zelda series coming out very soon, but I am not even close to querying or publishing my novel. When I ask myself why, the excuses pop into my mind: work, family, life, etc. But, when I am honest with myself, I realize the biggest reason why my novel isn't ready is me. It's my fear of people reading my work. What if nobody likes the story? What if it's a disaster? What if I wasted all this time on a dead project?

Writing is a career where you put yourself out there. You become vulnerable. I don't like being vulnerable like most people. Writing is also a career of uncertainty. I don't know if the next project will be well received. I don't know if one day I can make a living off writing. I can take positive steps and make smart decisions to help this process, but it may take a long time.

I am trying to live with this fear and uncertainty. Some days are better than others. When I get positive feedback, my writing productivity soars. When I feel stuck in a story, I find myself turning on the tv or reading a book instead of opening up Scrivener.

Recently, I find myself in many conversations with friends and family about my future. They ask reasonable questions:

- Where are you going to live? (Our lease is up on our house and we are getting kicked out in a few months.)

- What are you doing next?

- What do you want to do?

The truth is I don't know where I will be one year from now or even six months from now. I don't know the details of where I will be living or what I will be doing. I do know I will be working somewhere- maybe the same jobs I have lined up right now, or maybe something completely different. But, I do know I will be writing. 

I love writing. I love creating characters and discovering how they transform in the course of a story. I love the idea of my words help someone smile on a rough day. I love brainstorming new story ideas.

And so, I will keep writing on the good and bad days. If I sell 10, 100 or 1000 copies of my next story, I will keep on writing. It's who I am.

The End of One Chapter is the Start of a New Chapter

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KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA My life has been filled with teenagers for the past ten years. For two summers during college, I served as a camp counselor at Camp Wanake for middle school and high school campers. I graduated college with a degree in social studies education and a license to teach middle school and high school students. At Habitat for Humanity, I worked with area high schools to start a Youth United program at the affiliate. I worked with Citizen Schools, another fantastic nonprofit, which mentors at-risk middle school students. And of course, I have served in youth ministry for the past six years - the first three years at Rocky River Presbyterian Church and the last three at Forest Hill Church.

The past ten years have been wonderful. I have worked with amazing young people, incredible families, and great organizations. I learned so much about people, youth, myself, the church, organization, faith, and God. I got paid to lead mission trips, go whitewater rafting, and teach youth about Jesus. I wouldn't trade these experiences for anything.

For the past several months, I have felt my passion shift. After many conversations with my husband and weeks of thoughtful prayer, I decided to leave my position as Youth Director at Forest Hill Church. I am excited for a new chapter in my life start, but leaving a position where you invest your time and heart is never easy.

I am especially excited about my future in writing and speaking. For the past couple years, I talked about writing and publishing, but I haven't focused enough time to seriously pursue a career in writing. Soon I will have more flexibility in my schedule and brain power to write. I can't wait to crank out more stories and book more venues to speak and teach about living your best story. I hope you will continue to follow along my journey.

The end of one chapter is always the start of a new chapter!

The Legend of Zelda Update

I planned on April being a big writing month. My goal was to have the first Legend of Zelda collection out on Kindle by the end of the month along with significant progress in the novel revisions. Those were my plans. And then life happened. My stepdad has been in the hospital for about a month now. For a couple weeks, it was pretty scary and I spent many hours in the hospital. Thankfully, he pulled through the worst of it and is on the long road to recovery. Needless to say, I'm not reaching my writing goals this month. But that's life and I will put aside my goals to take care of family whenever it's needed. The good news is I received great feedback on my Zelda stories a couple weeks ago at my writing group. From that feedback, I am revising all twelve stories of the first collection and I think the revisions will make the stories more enjoyable for children and adults. After the revisions, they will go through final edits, cover design and formatting. I have formatting under control, but looking for recommendations for designers and editors. My new goal is to have the first Legend of Zelda collection available by the end of May. The goal is very attainable on my end as long as life doesn't get crazy again and I find a reasonably priced cover designer.

I am really excited about the Zelda stories and my novel. Hopefully, I can get my butt in gear and get them out into the world soon!

Thanks for the prayers, love and support the past several weeks!

The Writing Group Experience

About two months ago, I joined a writing group organized by the Cuyahoga County Library. This group is for "beginning fiction writers," but the term beginning applies more to the level of workshop or writing group experience as opposed to how long you've been writing. The group is facilitated by author Sarah Willis. In March, I attended the first workshop and left with a positive feeling. We talked a little about ourselves and our writing. We critiqued the first two chapters of a group member's novel. By the end, I was feeling adventurous so I volunteered to bring one of my Zelda short stories to the April meeting to be critiqued.

We met for the second time on April 11 and I came to the meeting a tad bit nervous. I picked Zelda vs. the Snowman to be critiqued and I wasn't sure of the response or if the group was right for me. My friend Eric, recently posted on writing groups- Writing Groups: Yea or Nay? and the topic brought lots of comments on both sides- for and against writing groups.

After Thursday night, I am definitely in the pro writing group camp. The group gave me great feedback on the Zelda story and how to improve the Zelda collection as a whole. They also gave me ideas for the target audience of the series in whichever direction I choose to go (kids picture book vs kids chapter book vs adult short stories). I left Thursday night with a new list of revisions and stories to write, but also very encouraged that I really can do this writing thing. (although it will take time and more time, especially since I need to work to pay the bills!)

My group is especially helpful because we have a facilitator, an author who knows how to write and what gets published and what is successful. We also are a group of writers who are looking to encourage and help each other. That makes it work.

What are your thoughts on writing groups?

Writing Fiction During the Rough Stretches of Life

I am sure you have experienced one of those days, weeks or months where nothing seems to go your way. It could be a bunch of little things that add up to a tough week. Or something monumental which affects everything else in your life. Either way, those stretches are not fun. Currently, Brian and I seem to be stuck in one of those rough stretches. Most of the bad luck is inconsequential in the grand scheme of life. We replaced the throttle in my jetta which was an unexpected expensive repair. Both of our jobs are in busy, wear you down stretches. My stepfather is very sick. Amidst this rough stretch, I started wondering if or how the rough times affect my fiction writing.

For me, writing fiction is an escape from the world. I get lost in the characters and world I create. So when the world sucks around me, I find myself eager to write, to immerse myself in a world I create and control.

On the other hand, I also find myself adding more conflicts to my stories and being more realistic with how my characters handle adversity. For instance, I'm working on novel revisions. In one section, my protagonist, Rachel had way too good of a reaction to bad news. So I promptly made some notes to change her reaction to match the news.

The good news about writing fiction is you get to create the ending. In my life, I'm not sure when the bad luck will turn. But, in my stories, I can create a happy ending. Maybe that's why I'm so eager to spend time writing when I'm not feeling the greatest, because I know I will always end the story with a good resolution.

How does the rough stretches of life affect your writing?

The Random Update

This is the post of random updates. Every once in awhile I have updates to share with you and can't make them fit in my normal blog routine. So here's the randomness! Enjoy friends!

The Monthly Digest

Many of you read my posts through my mailchimp email newsletter. Others follow my blog through wordpress. And a few others stalk me on twitter (and used to on facebook). Now there is a new email option - the Monthly Digest! The Monthly Digest is sent out once a month and highlights all the blog posts and writing updates from the past month. If you are a once a month kinda gal or girl, click this link to get signed up!

The Fiction Recommendations

I moved my fiction recommendations post so it's a static page on my blog. Therefore, you can easily find it and access it when it's time to find a new book to read. Also, I already have included some of your suggestions! Check out the new page here and leave some comments with your book recommendations.

Basketball Season is Over

It was another fun season of basketball with the middle school girls at Laurel School. But, now the season is complete and my attention is focused on writing (when I'm not doing the youth ministry stuff). I'm excited to get back into the groove of afternoons of writing and editing!

I quit Facebook.

I gave up Facebook for Lent. It's been over a week now and honestly, I don't miss the timesuck that is facebook. I'm not sure I will go back after Lent. Anybody else out there quit facebook? How did that work for you?

Zelda Zelda Zelda

Zelda is the head of her intermediate class at Petsmart! Crazy, I know. I may have to write a story of her adventures with Rebecca the trainer and Danner the doberman. The Legend of Zelda series is coming along nicely. I have published 5 stories on the blog and have written 4 additional stories. The final 3 stories of the collection will be written in March. I hope to have the first Legend of Zelda Collection for sale in late April. I'm also working on an illustrated edition of the Legend of Zelda Collection which hopefully will be ready in late April as well.

Going Under the Knife

Finally, I am going under the knife on February 26th. I am having outpatient surgery on my left hand and will be out of work for a couple weeks. Say a prayer for a speedy recovery!

That's it for the random update. Have a great week!