Why Novelists** Make Crummy Bloggers

Jul 03

I feel awful. I haven’t posted on my blog in over a month. I’ve thought about it. In fact, since early June, I’ve scolded myself daily for not logging into Porridge Report to update the blogosphere on my latest exploit or rant about the deleterious effects of digital media on kids (most of which I’ve experienced through first-hand observation of my three boys.)

I do have an excuse. Well, two excuses. One is that it is summer. And my three kids create a never ending stream of distractions when I write. As of now, my ten-year-old is asking me what extra virgin olive oil means as he stares at our barren cupboards looking for a snack. (Really??!)

I respond: I don’t know… it’s really good olive oil. Does it matter? I’m trying to concentrate here…

But I digress.

The second excuse is that I have been writing daily – on a manuscript. Because the middle grade story I’m writing takes place in a fantasy world, I find that the few crumbs of creative energy remaining after a bout of writing aren’t enough to write a decent blog post. Hence, the neglect.

I imagine that’s why many novel writers find blogging more akin to slogging. When the passion for writing is dedicated to the creation of a well-written book, it’s hard to squeeze in another hour of pithy blogging. My plan had been to complete the manuscript and begin querying agents by the third week in June. That plan fell by the wayside when my online critiquing group informed me that my last two chapters should be scorched alongside my kids’ marshmallow s’mores.

So, it was back to the laptop to bang out a more creative/feasible/mind-blowing resolution to my story. Now, the summer has arrived and I have the boisterous company of my three sons (24 hours a day, 7 days a week) to add more delays and distractions.

Thankfully, my manuscript is now complete (well, dependent upon how many more times I re-read it over the next few weeks and reconstruct various components). I should be able to return to responsible blogging. Then again, I have this amazing idea for a Young Adult novel… Priorities?

**FOOTNOTE: I am not an “official novelist” as I’ve not been commercially published, but in this post, I am counting anyone who is working extensively on a novel as a “novelist”. So there.

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Why Rejections Have Made Me a Better Writer

May 24

“I don’t know how you keep writing and writing,” my husband said to me last night as I lay reading a book in bed. “You’re so self-disciplined, it’s impressive.”

I laughed lightly. “Or I’m just impressively delusional.”

We were referring to my latest manuscript project. I call it project because it has spanned the last four years (with another manuscript and several other writing projects in between) and has undergone more surgical procedures than Joan Rivers’ face. Now, I’m heading into my third round of querying, which is a huge undertaking all on its own. The book’s first submission effort (three years ago), resulted in a modest number of rejections. I was a real newbie at the time and had already suffered the rejections of my first kids’ chapter book a year earlier.  But this time, I was sure, the agents would be lining up with their offers. It was that good.

When all my queries were rejected (probably around 40 in all), I was heartbroken. I did what most starting writers do at this point in the game: complained that the submission system was unfair to new writers. I railed against the agents and editors who didn’t recognize a good book when they saw one. Then I licked my wounds and moved on to my next writing project. So convinced in the quality of my middle grade book, I wrote a sequel to it.

Through the course of writing it, a funny thing happened. My writing improved. A lot. I forced myself to write almost daily, studied books on the craft of writing, and revised, revised, revised. By the time it was complete, I had an even better book than the first one. Maybe the first one wasn’t as good as I’d initially thought.

I shopped around the sequel to a handful of agents. Wrote up a killer query and tried to sell the two books as a package. Then the rejections came. Again. But this time, I received a few personal notes rather than the usual cold form letter, as well as a request for the manuscripts for further review (which just delayed the rejection). However, it was an improvement. I knew I was getting better at the game. But still, I’d taken a beating and decided to give up on these books and move on to my newest story idea (a Young Adult novel).

As I worked on my newest manuscript, those darn middle grade novels gnawed at my consciousness. Maybe I needed to give it one last chance. In November of last year, I decided to follow my gut and re-work the first book. Change the characters’ names, re-do scenes, raise the reading level. I didn’t think it would take long. Wrong again. The more I delved into the manuscript, the more I realized its weaknesses. Determined to make it the killer story I envisioned, I wrote daily, joined a children’s literature critique group, studied more writing resources, opened myself to advice from veterans. And, did I mention I wrote daily?

And something funny happened, again. I realized why my book was rejected three years ago. It wasn’t, um, as good as I thought. Today, I am more confident than ever that this middle grade book is awesome. Yeah, I said it. Awesome. Is it good enough to be picked up by a publisher? I’m not sure. I’m painstakingly crafting my query right now. Time will tell if all my work has paid off.

When my husband asks me how do I keep going, I usually shrug and shoot a finger at my temple (POW). But, deep down, I know the real answer. I see my writing improve, and along with that, my opportunities to be published do, too. The rejections are a call to action: write more, write better. Don’t. Give. Up.


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Disney Movies Offer a Plot Structure for Dummies Guide

May 07

disney movies aid writers

Lion King's appeal is universal

Movies that have inspired my writing. This is today’s post theme for bloggers who are participating in thethrough the month of May. And, I have spent a good portion of the day agonizing over my inability to get inspired by this particular idea. Movies? Writing? Yes, the two go hand-in-hand. Good writing, after all, leads to great movies. Furthermore, great movies are often based on wonderful stories written by incredible writers. I get the relationship.

But still. I can’t drum up a list of movies that have had much, if any, impact on my writing. Sadly, my mind keeps meandering toward Disney movies. Embarrassing, isn’t it? How does an adult who has diligently pursued the craft of writing for several years relate her writing, in any way, to formulaic Disney flicks? And, just in case you’re wondering, I’m not the kind of person to traipse around the Magic Kingdom (which I’ve visited with my kids many times) wearing Mickey Mouse ears or flashing a lanyard laced with trading pins. I have too healthy a dose of cynicism to do that.

Since I began my latest rewrite of my middle grade novel, I’ve agonized over whether each scene relates back to the book’s main theme and plot. And, more pathetically, what exactly is the main theme of the book? Is the hero even moving toward the central goal that he will ultimately achieve? I often recount the simple formula of a Disney movie to remind myself to keep the book’s message universal, and thus, appealing to a young readership.

Everyone knows that Disney’s films are stereotypically simple, yet they are wildly successful among both kids and their parents. Why? Because every audience member immediately identifies with the struggle of the hero or heroine. Whether she yearns true love, parental acceptance, or a sense of identity, the desire is one in which every person can relate.

My novel, on the other hand, has meandered in and out of this simple formula and has become – at times – unnecessarily complicated. When I’m feeling frustrated and lost inside my own manuscript, I think about a Disney movie. It’s a sort of Plot Structure for Dummies guide that helps me clarify the direction of my story.

While I hope to finally craft a complex and well-developed character facing a challenge with many twists and turns along the way, I need to maintain a clear sense of direction for the character that keeps the readers rooting for his success.

Disney movies are uncompromisingly good at that. Within the first fifteen minutes of every movie, viewers know exactly what the hero or heroine needs to accomplish and what evil villains will get in his way. We’re cheering him on from the very beginning and experience fulfillment, ourselves, when he reaches his goal.

While I proudly admit that Prince Charming will not figure in my novel, I’m more than happy to have him lead me the way.

Related Posts

Mbird.com  - The Mouse Knows What You Want


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Ten Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Start Writing

May 04

Stop watching cat videos and writeProcrastination is a writer’s worst frenemy. We resent it, yet can’t ever seem to get enough of it. Especially now that it’s so darn easy to do, thanks to the internet. Back in the olden days, when writers had to duke it out with a clankity-clank typewriter, procrastination required effort. A writer had to, well, stand up… walk away from the desk… and find something else to read or watch or do. Today, one simply needs to bounce and glide a few finger tips to leave the frustrations of a document behind and escape into the wonderful world of brainless distractions. Watch a video of a cat playing the piano, tweet a complaint about the rain, comment on your friend’s Facebook update, pick out what you’d buy from Banana Republic online, if you could only afford it (ok, that’s just me).

It takes a mighty strong will to resist the allure of the internet and focus on that dang manuscript that you plan to finish today… tomorrow… next week? Next month?

For the truly seasoned procrastinator, the natural course of action is to blame Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, throw in a little Zuckerberg, and whomever invented Google… I could look up his/their name(s) right now, but then I’d be back in the digital land of diversions and may not return to this post for another hour. The only person to really blame for your procrastination, however, is you.

As a writer, myself, who flits from blogging to business writing to fiction writing, I have many times been seduced by the call of procrastination. However, I’ve also learned a few tricks to help me stay focused on my latest writing task, which I find is particularly hard to do for novel writing because the only one checking in on my progress is me. I’ve compiled a list below to help writers, like me, shun digital procrastination and stick to their personal deadlines.

Top 10 Ways to Stay Focused on Your Writing, and Not Procrastinate

  1.  Allow yourself a certain amount of time every morning (or before you usually start writing) to visit your favourite sites (shopping, YouTube, news sites) and get your guilty pleasures over with.
  2. Unplug your wi-fi and step away from the router. Don’t turn it back on until you’ve written a minimum amount of words or worked a set amount of time.
  3. If you’re a sucker for Twitter or Facebook, limit yourself to one or two times during the work day that you can connect with all your friends and followers to share your own pithy updates.
  4. Keep a timer by your laptop. Use it throughout the day for various writing projects, especially the ones that are easiest to procrastinate on (you know the ones). Don’t allow yourself to a break until the timer buzzes.
  5. Reward yourself for your progress. For example, for every two chapters you complete, allow yourself a small prize, like a glass of wine or an overpriced Starbucks specialty coffee.
  6.  Find a writing partner with whom to compare progress and cheer one another on. See who sticks to their deadlines best – you don’t want to be the loser, do you?
  7. Read the Books section in your newspaper regularly. Want your masterpiece in there one day? Well, remember that next time you push back another deadline for your manuscript.
  8. Accept that some days, no matter how hard you try, the words will not flow out of you. But don’t excuse yourself from sticking to your required writing time. Part of learning the discipline of not procrastinating is staying the course even when it’s not producing the results you want.
  9. Set a notepad beside your laptop and record how often you toggle out of your writing screen and onto the web. Track the amount of time, too. That will help you realize where you are wasting the most time and help you to rectify it.
  10. Write an awesome note to yourself that tells you what you want to accomplish – whether it’s finishing a novel, finding a publisher for your non-fiction book, or seeing your short story in The Atlantic. Post it where you can see it, and every time you find yourself straying from your goal, READ IT.

Did I miss any ideas? Feel free to add more in the comments section if something has worked well for you. Then, get back to your writing!

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When You Write a Post You Didn’t Plan to Write

May 01

Today is the inaugural post for the month-long blogathon in which I’ve signed up to participate. I had planned on writing about how a self-professed lazy blogger, like me, would manage to post every day for an entire month. I was going to write about how I’m not a lazy person. I simply am lazy when it comes to blogging. How I’d rather be writing for a client, writing my latest novel, or, well, just procrastinating in general. I was going to write about my sources of inspiration to write more diligently this month of May.

But I’m not going to write about that. Well, not really. That’s because I found out this morning that my friend died. So, writing about a blogathon doesn’t seem right today. She was…is?… was (that doesn’t sound right) an incredible woman. As a mother of three boys, myself, I know that her greatest pride is her children. She stayed home to raise her three sons, encouraging them to reach their fullest potential. She was a loving wife to a devoted husband. Both she and her husband gave (give?) an incredible amount of their time to the community.

She was a fixture at her kids’ schools and her church where she volunteered in every capacity. Her radiant personality filled a room with positive energy the moment she stepped into it. Anyone she knew found it impossible to talk to her without erupting into a fit of giggles. Her personality was larger than life. Those of us who know her are so grateful to have been a part of her life.

She touched people by her very presence. Her physical presence. And her community is all the better because of that. Blogging, Facebook, Twitter, Google – certainly they all provide a means to connect us to one another. But my friend reminds me (she reminds us all) that the greatest connection between humans is through physical company. Being present offers a personal intimacy that cannot be replicated through a status update on Facebook, or a post about one’s kids. Her life of giving to others inspires me to never underestimate the importance of sharing personal time with family and community.

Perhaps after reading this post, or maybe at the end of your work day, you might consider shutting off your computer, and powering off your smart phone. Then spend some uninterrupted time with your family or friends. Maybe even consider ways in which you can become better involved in your real (not virtual) community.

I had planned on writing about my source of inspiration, which is a post I came across on the well-known blog, Her Bad Mother. It stressed the importance of every blogger to “give good blog” which compels online writers to commit to ”principles of good virtual citizenship and to actions reflecting same.”  

I started blogging, a few years back, for that very reason – to try to make the virtual world a better place – which is why “give good blog” resonated so well with me when I read it. I hope today’s post not only inspires a more compassionate virtual world, but also a more compassionate real world.


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Young Woman Awaiting Lung Transplant Shows Power of Social Media to do Good

Mar 19

The power of social media to wield good is irrefutable to anyone who has taken notice of 20-year-old Hélène Campbell’s digital footprint. Diagnosed with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis in September 2011, she now awaits a double lung transplant. Shortly after her diagnosis, Campbell began documenting her experiences on her blog, A Lung Story, which included a move from her native Ottawa to Toronto so that she could be close to Toronto General Hospital when that fateful call arrives.

With her lungs operating at about one-quarter of their capacity, she remains uplifted by the outpouring of support she has received around the world. Justin Bieber was among the first to boost to her social media presence when he tweeted about her #BeAnOrganDonor campaign. About that success, she wrote in her blog:

This is the kind of response we wanted. Guys, we did it. As a team, we used social media, put it into use and for a good cause. I am sorry to those who got in trouble with their teachers in school or approached by your bosses at work for being on your phone, but it paid off.

As a result, Ontario’s Trillium Gift of Life Network website beadonor.ca saw a huge leap in new donors and has ever since been averaging more donors per day.

Next, Campbell appealed to Ellen Degeneres with a video she posted on her website. It worked. She appeared via Skype on The Ellen Degeneres Show shortly after, where the host surprised her with pair of tickets to Toronto’s Hunger Games Premiere tonight. She tweeted earlier today to her 9000+ followers:

@TheEllenShow My brother and I are SO exited to see the Hunger Games tonight, my oxygen has been cranked up all day

— Hélène Campbell (@alungstory) March 19, 2012

No one can dispute the success of her blog, where her online presence first grew. There, she states the goals as:

  1. To document the journey of a remarkable, energetic young woman who now needs new lungs to breathe well again.
  2. To permit those who want to help financially by contributing to Hélène’s living expenses in Toronto.
  3. To raise the awareness of organ donation registration and the importance of giving blood.

Her shared experience continues to be a testament to the power of social media to do good. A lesson that is well worth learning for all of us.

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