A Write-Tastic Summer

So, I went to a conference thing a few weeks ago. It was the first writing conference I’ve been to in a few years–since college, actually, when I used to drive all over the northeast region and crazy long miles away from the only town in Pennsylvania, fueled by a desperate need to find a few other people my age who were as crazy about writing and children’s literature as I was.

Money’s been tight and conference fees are high–so it seemed like a logical thing to cut from the budget. But when I found out that this year’s New Jersey Regional SCBWI conference was going to be down the road from me, only about seven minutes away, it gave me some serious pause. I wouldn’t have to worry about hotel or travel costs this year. I was further intrigued by the fact that the keynote speaker was going to be Lauren Oliver–who I hadn’t read but had heard great things. So after a book binge which included most of her backlist–Delirium, Pandemonium, Before I Fall, and Liesl and Po–I was hooked. I absolutely had to get myself to this conference.

Amazing writing. I seriously wanted to just pull out some of the beautiful sentences and frame them on my walls. And this happened to me for all of her books. I simply don’t have enough wall space. [deep sigh]

So I went. In some ways, I was a little disappointed. From my perspective, much of it seemed more heavily geared towards the topics and concerns pertinent to picture book writers than MG/YA writers and I came to the realization that I was “aged out” from the majority of the workshops dedicated to publishing. After the intensity of the NYU Summer Publishing Institute and my own insider understanding from working in publishing (admittedly, scholarly publishing) for two years, it was all old news to me. I didn’t need these more beginner, introductory sessions. So I changed up my schedule and started attending more of the craft-focused workshops and I am so glad I did. These were the most valuable portions of the conference for me.

With authors Kit Grindstaff and Jennifer Hubbard I delved into the backstories of my secondary characters, learning all their dirty little secrets and deepest regrets. With author/agent John Cusick, I studied the structure of successful first lines in some of my favorite YA and MG books. With author Laurie Calkhoven, I explored scene structure in a way that has completely upended my writing process–in a good way. I learned so much and got so many brain-fizzy ideas about how to rework my current manuscript. The conference opened my eyes to how much wonderfulness can be written into a good novel and gave me a bit of a reality check as to how much work I need to do for this book to be ready–ready to be queried, read, shared.

Even though it’s not published yet, he shared the first line. It’s a good one! Excited to pick up a copy!

It’s a YA novel, by the way, for those wondering. On this blog, for simplicity’s sake, and also because I’m too superstitious to share it completely, I’ll call it OMM, because that’s the acronym for the working title. (Any guesses for what it is? Feel free to guess in the comments!) I really like thinking of it as “OMM” because it sounds like that soothing meditation sound people make in the movies (clearly, I do not meditate myself). Ommmmmmmmmmmm….

Right, back from that. So, with my brain crammed to burst with inspiration and new ideas, over the following weeks I was (and still am) completely swallowed by this book, in a good way. The revisions are going well. I’m about 25% done. (I’m a linear writer, so I have to go one chapter at a time, and I’m averaging around three chapters improved to my satisfaction a week.) I’m sharing batches of these chapters with a few critique partners and based on their AMAZING feedback, I know there’s going to be another revision swift on the heels of this one. I’m not disappointed by this fact, or overwhelmed by the knowledge of how much work is on the horizon. Even though the CPs are pointing out plot holes, moments where the characterization needs to be flushed out, pacing issues–i.e. things that are WRONG–the fact is that they’re critiquing an existing plot, existing characters, an existing manuscript. It’s nice to realize that I’m not writing a book from scratch. Instead, I’m revising and improving the stuff that’s already there. The revisions have successfully taken what was a big pile of mess into a real manuscript. OMM (I can’t resist. ommmmmmmmmm…) has some warts, definitely needs some more serious revising, but it’s a full and complete story, and while it’s doing a lot of things wrong, it’s also doing a lot of things right. This jumble of 50,000+ words is coming to life, slowly making some baby steps on its own.

As Lauren Oliver said in her keynote speech, writing is “something that is both an indulgence and really hard at the same time.”Dwelling in my own little fictional world, pitting the characters against each other, has been a combination of that: terrifyingly challenging but also thrilling. Kind of like those roller coaster rides I associate with summer and fairs and other wonderful things.

I’m not sure yet if the past few weeks of silence on the blog has been a preview for the rest of the summer. Sometimes, when I sit down to write a blog post, it just feels like I’m stealing writing time away from that book. Every free moment I have I want to dedicate to the book or to reading more books within the genre, to see how others before me have done it. As Stephen Barbara, an amazing agent I met at the conference, wrote in an article: “Read till you nearly go blind; write till your fingers are numb.” I am definitely doing that! In the less than a month since the conference alone I’ve written 17,000 polished words and read 6 books (5 of them YA/MG)!

For example, I just read this one and OMG STOP WHAT YOU’RE DOING AND READ IT ASAP! (Unless you haven’t read the first one yet. In that case–do you live under a rock? What are you DOING with your life!? Call off work sick and read both in one sitting ASAP.)

I really want to have OMM polished up for submission by the end of the summer, and to make more time for it, it seems logical to cut TV time (done!) and blogging time. On top of this, my job just moved location and my daily commute is a little longer. Finding writing time is becoming logistically a bit harder. But I’m doing it every day, hammering out and shaping up 500-1,000 satisfying words a day, about four days a week. My game plan is focusfocusfocus.

As for what else I’m doing with my life, I’m trying to immerse myself in writing circles by spending time on the Absolute Write forums, a new discovery in my life, which is helping keep my craft-hungry brain well-fed. If you’re already on there, friend me and I hope I’ll see you around the boards!

Also: CALL OUT FOR CRITIQUE PARTNERS!

If you’re in similar straights, writing young adult or middle grade fiction, and are looking to swap WIP chapters and develop a long-term critique partner relationship, let me know! I’m making time to seriously read other people’s writing as well as writing my own and I’d LOVE to share/swap chapters with you! The more the merrier!

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