Let the revisions begin…

Today I am trying an amazing experiment. It’s possible that by doing so, my house might crumble and frogs might fall from the sky and a darkness might blanket the world for two eternities.

Today I am doing *my* stuff first. Which is to say, today, I am focusing on revising my novel. (Remember that thing? The first draft I finished way back in the spring?)

Most days, revision is on my to-do list, but way down at the bottom. Before I can get to it, I must first do all of my other writing, my chores, paperwork, scheduling, and everything else that keeps this busy household of six up and running. And by the time I do all that, I’m too fuzzy and tired to revise. Day after day, this is how it goes.

Because, isn’t that what grownups do? Get the work done before you can play?

So now it’s been six months and my manuscript just waits patiently, tucked away in its hard-drive bed, hoping that I’ll stop by and say hello. Maybe take it out for some fresh air and a good scrubbing. And every day I look at that little Scrivener icon on my desktop and say soon, soon, even as a part of me knows that today will not be the day. Maybe tomorrow. Or the day after that.

Six months have gone by; six months that could’ve seen perhaps two rounds of revisions had I *made* the time instead of hoping that someone was going to give it to me, like a weekend pass to a theme park. Oh, I’ve picked at it here and there, brainstormed and got help from some terrific crit partners on where I needed to go and what I needed to do, but nothing substantial has been done.

I’m tired of the picking and the poking and the playing around.

Does it matter if the breakfast dishes (or the ones from last night’s dinner) don’t get done until I’m cooking tonight? That laundry waits for hours in the washing machine before it gets moved to the dryer? That paperwork piles up? Heck, no.

It sounds obvious, doesn’t it? It’s just that I don’t think that way. You first, me second — that’s how I usually roll. But, if I don’t make myself a priority some of the time, who will?

Moms tend to put everyone else first — we have to. It’s our job. But it’s easy to fall into a routine in which we put ourselves way down at the bottom of the never-ending list of stuff we have to do.

I hear my writer friends cheering in the background — today, the writing comes first. Today, darling family, my work is more important than your stuff.

Luckily, I’m pretty sure that everyone has clean underwear.

Where did April go?

Eeep! It’s been weeks since I posted. What happened?

Well, for one, I finished the first draft of my first-ever novel for middle grade readers. *happy dance* The process was overwhelming, amazing, scary and a true test of commitment for me. It still needs a lot of work, but I can finally say, “I wrote a novel, even if it’s a crappy one!”.

There were birthdays — Ellie turned 7 and Joanna turned 6, on the same day — and there was spring break and there were other moments of not-so-happiness that sucked the inspiration out of me. So April, the cruelest month, was a roller coaster for me — an apt metaphor, because, frankly, roller coasters scare the crap out of me and I avoid them at all costs.

I’ve also been blogging over at Be Sure To Test, a great new site for diabetics and their loved ones.

So, that was April. Today there’s a gusty, post-storm wind stirring up the newly budded trees, right outside, and things are growing.

And, yes, this blog will be one of them. I promise.

Struggling….

Harold Underdown, on his website The Purple Crayon, offers a tremendous amount of information for children’s book writers.  One piece of advice has stuck in my head these many months….to those of us who think we have “many manuscripts ready to submit,”  Mr. Underdown gently points out that, we don’t.

What he means is we may have writing skills, we may have ideas, but unless we’ve spent hours reading and studying the specialized craft that is writing children’s books, our first manuscripts are likely exercises in writing practice.  Very good, that practice is, but it has not produced material ready to submit to publishers.

I have been trying to rework one of my first PB manuscripts.  I wrote it for Ray a dozen years ago, just for fun, a sweet, completely fictionalized tale of a boy who loved cookies and his mother who helped him learn the gift of giving.  There is some truth and a whole lotta fabrication in this story.  But it was fun to write.  I even “illustrated” it by buying a half-dozen PBs and cutting them up, pasting the pilfered pictures onto my manuscript pages.  It was a good project.

Lately I’ve been trying to rework it, tighten it, strengthen it, for the market I now know much more about.  It’s been tough.  It may be impossible.  Poor Ray of my story may never see the light of a bookstore.

I hope he does.  I’m very fond of him and his cookies.

On confidence, criticism, and the agony of writing

It is rather ironic how someone like me, so self-conscious and in constant need of approval by others, could choose writing as a profession.  Okay, I guess calling it a profession is a bit of a stretch since I haven’t actually been paid for any of my writing since I left the Boston Herald lo those many years ago.  But I hope to again soon, and now that the kids need less of my attention, more of my focus has been on this creative passion of mine.  I’ve been gathering clips, dusting off my resume, and writing, writing, writing.

I finally joined a professional group for children’s book writers and am taking advantage of the discussion boards, gleaning advice and comfort from people like me, published and unpublished alike, as we all try to put our work out in the world.

I even posted a manuscript for critiquing by others.  It was tough to do, but something I had a lot of confidence in.  Of course, I checked the boards obsessively to see if anyone responded.  Eventually people did, mostly positive and encouraging.  I was thrilled and a little smug, perhaps, to have such glowing words written about my work.  Then the real criticism began — a couple of voices pointing out glitches in meter (true enough), suggesting alternate word choices (better ones in a couple of places).

I was okay with that, after breathing a little and silencing my inner critic who daily demands perfection from me. I was hurt by one writer’s assertion that the piece wouldn’t make a good picture book, but rather a poem or song, such as Ernie on Sesame Street might sing.

Ouch.

I mean, I like the Muppets, but geez.

It took me a few days to recover, but I did.  One voice is not all voices.  I need a tougher skin to make it in this industry.  Smoking used to take the edge off; these days I try to find relief in yoga or a jog.  Okay, the glass or wine helps too.

When I wrote for the paper it was different.  I’d get an assignment, do the research, interview the players, write it up.  Pieces on things like commuting to work with kids in tow or a profile on an area grief counselor, those were pretty straight-forward.  Editors made revisions, as editors do, I made revisions, it was published.  I’d gotten my criticism upfront, from the people who got paid to do it, from who I expected it.

This sort of stuff, poetry, essays, children’s books — not so simple.  It becomes a matter of creative talent as much as effort, and we writers constantly wonder, do I have it?  Just because I can write a clean sentence does not make me a great writer of picture books or poetry.  We depend on others to accept or reject us; like in speed dating, we send out a single piece of writing to a variety of publishers and hope someone will want to see us again.  While we wait for the phone to ring, we start something else, a new project to embrace.

Because the thing is, when you finish writing something, you’re back to the beginning.  There is a blank page, a blinking cursor.  At this point, all writers are at the same starting line.

A blank page, a blinking cursor.

Here’s where I need to admit I have a lot of confidence in my ability.  It’s hard to do that.  I grew up wanting to be modest, understated, shrugging off compliments, changing the subject.  I’m coming to understand that it’s okay to know you’re good at something.  The knowing doesn’t excuse the work, doesn’t change the need to always challenge myself, better myself.  I’m good, talented, but not perfect, not complete.  Not by far.  But every time I start over I get to do it better than the last time, as good as that was.

There’s the joy and agony of being a writer.   The celebration of being finished, published; the hangover of knowing that now you have to do it all over again.

Damn.