We all have those bits of writing wisdom that we pick up along our way like gold nuggets. As we collect them one by one,they shape our writing, give us hope, and light the way on our unique writing journey. At the beginning of this New Year, I offer five of my favorite nuggets of writing wisdom that I've gathered along the way.
1. Get it Right - When I began writing many years ago, the goal seemed to be how quickly I could stuff my manuscripts into the mailbox and flip up the red flag. Writing was so exciting, I couldn't wait to launch my manuscripts into the hands of those all-important editors in New York. That approach was a big, but common mistake. Thankfully, as I continued writing, my attitude changed. Writing was no longer about scribbling off that last line and sending it off in a breathless rush. It was about getting it right, no matter how long it took. What was I trying to say? What was the best way to say it? I developed my own personal standard of excellence. Manuscripts would not leave my hands until it was the best I had to offer.
2. Put it Away - After working on a manuscript for weeks or months, everything inside urges you to send it out. “It’s finally ready!” you cry. But wait! Instead of sending it off when you’re ablaze with writing glory, put your manuscript away. If you have a critique group, this is a great time to share it with them. Time after time, when I think something’s perfect, I discover there are still flaws that I couldn't see when I was immersed in the project. So put it away for several days at least. Longer is better. Work on something else. When you read it again, you’ll be amazed at what you didn’t see before, such as poor transitions, leaps of logic, and weak words. Although it was all there in your head, usually certain ideas and details never make it onto the page. The ability to read a manuscript cold—and still have it shine—is a true test of a manuscript’s readiness. Remember that editors will be reading your manuscript with the same cold, detached objectivity.
3. Trust your instincts – When you immerse yourself in children’s literature it’s easy to wish that you’d written all those incredible children’s books too. At first, I sometimes felt like an eager puppy scrambling along behind all of those wonderful authors who had it all figured out. If only I could be like them. If only I was living the sort of life that inspired those stories. Of course, that sort of thinking led nowhere. In time, I learned to trust my instincts. When I attuned myself to my world and what created a spark in me, manuscripts blossomed under my fingertips—and it was a delight to write them.
4. Keep Going – Many years ago, I attended an SCBWI writing conference and heard the writing team of Judith Enderle and Stephanie Gordon review first pages. Attendees submitted the first page of their writing projects and Judith and Stephanie would give the anonymous author their feedback. Although I don’t remember anything they said about anyone’s manuscript, I heard one thing that hit me like a ton of bricks—“If you only knew how many times we've been rejected,” they said.Contained in that one sentence was a treasure of information. To me, it said that they wrote a ton of manuscripts—not just a handful that they shopped around forever. They worked on one project, then another.It said that in spite of rejection, they kept going and succeeded. It said that even great authors get rejected. Wow! Who knew? It was a ray of hope that continues to light my way in the writing world.
5. BIC – Butt in Chair – This is an oldie, but a goodie, proclaimed by none other than legendary author, Jane Yolen, who I met at a Highlights Foundation Workshop several years ago. In the end (no pun intended!), it comes down to showing up at the computer, sitting down, and getting it done. There’s no substitute.
Here’s to a successful New Year, strewn with nuggets of writing wisdom and publishing contracts!
Lori Mortensen is an award-winning children’s book author of more than three dozen fiction and nonfiction books. A writing instructor for the Institute of Children’s Literature for seven years, Lori is a frequent speaker at schools and SCBWI conferences and is represented by Eden Street Literary in New York. Recent picture book titles include Cowpoke Clyde & Dirty Dawg (Clarion), named one of Amazon's Best Picture Books of the Year, Cindy Moo (HarperCollins, 2012), Come See the Earth Turn – The Story of Léon Foucault (Random House, 2010), and In the Trees, Honey Bees! (Dawn, 2009). Learn more about Lori and her books at www.lorimortensen.com.
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