Measuring Success

This weekend is a big deal for my family. The kids and I will cheer on my husband as he runs the NYC marathon. Though he has run ten marathons before, it will be his first time running this amazing event. He’s tried for years. It’s a tough race to get into without a corporate or charity sponsorship. But this year is his year. He’s finally in! He’s well trained and he’s more than ready to run. And we are more than ready to be there!

But as we get ready to see him off at the starting line, I can’t help but think about how many times we’ve done this very thing over the past seven years. I also can’t help but think about the fact that in the same year he started running (2007), I started writing. I set out to write a children’s book in the same year he set out to run a marathon.

Hmm…

So it has crossed my mind (more than a few times) that my uber determined husband has accomplished his goal—ten times over so far. He’s even accomplished running goals that he set AFTER he set his original goal, namely qualifying for and running the prestigious Boston Marathon. And I couldn’t be more proud of his focus, dedication, and achievements. 🙂

But still.

In all the time that he’s reached so many of his goals, I haven’t reached my ONE. Nope, I have not published a book for children.

I could feel like a failure. I could wonder why in the world I keep at it. I could throw in the towel. But I guess you guys know by now…that’s just not me. Sure I have days where I compare myself to him. I see him bring home shiny medals and plaques and gourmet peanut butter. (It’s a running thing). But then I think about all he’s done to get where he is…

I see him create a training plan at the beginning of each year. I see him lace up his running shoes and head out the door- in the rain, slush, hail, snow, dark, cold… no matter how tired he is, or what work deadline he has to meet. I see him push through injuries and rehabilitation. I see him overcome bouts of self-doubt.

But I also see him accomplish small goals, which lead to big ones. And I see him smile when he comes back from a good old- fashioned run. I see him run because he loves to be out there, in the cool, crisp sunshine. I see him run because he loves it.

And that’s when I realize, I am not too different from him. I am not a failure. I know exactly why I keep at this and I will not throw in the towel. Why? Because I love to write stories for children. I want to see my stories in their hands. I want to know my words have made even one child feel hope or happiness. I want to know my words have made even one child smile or feel like someone understands what they are feeling. I want to know my words have taken a child someplace they may never go, with friends they will carry with them long after they read the last page. I want even one child to know that anything is possible.

We all have our reasons for writing. We all have our own writing goals. Some may be measurable and some may not. Sometimes your gut feeling is all you can measure your progress by. And that’s what I have—a gut feeling that I’m close. And that’s why I keep running, chasing my goal with pencil in hand. My finish line may be in sight, or it may be miles and miles away still. But as someone wiser than me once said , “Life is not a sprint, it’s a marathon.”

So in honor of my husband, who inspires me every day (in more ways than just running), I’ll get my book published someday. Until then, I’ll keep cheering for him (especially this weekend!) and I know he’ll keep cheering for me. My small accomplishments may not be tangible, like a PR (personal record) is for runners, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t there. They are. I’ve set them and I’ve accomplished so many of them already. And even though there are no crowds cheering for me when I reach those, it doesn’t mean they aren’t important.

And so I will continue to make my writing plan at the beginning of each year. I’ll get my butt in the chair, and open up my laptop at 10:00pm or 5:00am even when I can barely keep my eyes open or write a coherent thought. I’ll re-write problem scenes. I’ll make my stubborn characters come to life. I’ll revise and revise again. I’ll critique other writers’ work. I’ll craft those dreaded query letters and loglines. I’ll research agents. I’ll read books in my genre. And I will write. And write some more.

And I hope you will too. We have so many amazing words to share. So even if you aren’t getting a ticker-tape parade for a scene you’ve written, or a partial request you’ve received, don’t let that stop you. At the end of the day, we all get to write. And to me, there is no better reward.

Manuscript Monday #9

Manuscript Monday is a series of blog posts which chronicle the life of my manuscript. It follows the journey I take to turn my week old baby story idea into a fully grown, polished novel. Take the journey with me. 🙂

My 9 week- old manuscript:

Electric ideas. They don’t hit often, but when they do, the feeling practically knocks you off your feet. It doesn’t care whether you’re wearing your favorite platform heels, sensible boots, or slippers. Electric Ideas don’t play favorites. And I’m not talking about the kind of idea that starts out as Hmm… and over time turns into Ah-ha! (Though, those are good too.) I’m talking about the kind that comes to you in a daydream while driving or running or folding the clothes, and within seconds jolts you out of your sub-conscience la-la land with a zing. A force so strong you know in an instant. This idea is really good.

I had an idea this week for my manuscript and I have to say, it was electric. Like nothing I’ve ever felt before about an idea. Most of my ideas take a while to take shape. This one hit me like a jolt from an exposed wire. And because of that moment, I can proudly say, I am back in the business of writing this story!

I had hoped it would be only a matter of time before the ideas began to flow again. My brain had been so overloaded with my work writing project that I was beginning to feel like I’d never have room for something new. But last week, I completed that rough draft (yay!) and it opened up a whole lot of creative space, I guess. (Yippee!)

So as this super-amazing, electric idea came to me (while folding laundry), I raced to my computer. (No time to jot it down on a napkin or old receipt. The details were pouring out too fast!) I opened up my previously neglected WIP and pounded my laptop keys. I wrote and wrote and wrote. I could see the scene play out like a movie. The images were so real, the new characters were so life-like, and the setting was breathtakingly beautiful. I was only sorry I was drafting because I couldn’t waste too much time on word choice for fear of missing an important detail.

I wrote until my ideas ran out. But not in a bad way. It was a huge start. And now the best part is, these two new characters are about to play a starring role in the life of my MC. I can feel an eerie, wonderful connection between them already and I haven’t even written then in a scene together yet. They may not even connect for a while! (It’s going to be that kind of story.) But I’m really looking forward to writing the build-up. It’s going to be epic. Middle Grade epic. 🙂

It feels great to be energized by a new story. I love having a story I just have to tell—one that I think kids will want to read. The worst part is, now it’s going to take forever for me to get it in their hands. I know. Patience. Patience. Write the story first!

So my nine week-old manuscript is taking shape. My word count is still pretty low, but it’s creeping up there. And I’ll keep at it. I proved to myself over the last few weeks that I can write a lot of words in a day if I put my mind to it (and if I have enough hours and snacks). My personal record is now 5500 words! So while that won’t be possible every day, I can at least be consistent. It’s so much easier to keep drafting when your head is firmly planted in the story every day. So, I’m planning to continue to write at least 500 words per day and even more if I’m able. Wish me luck!

How did you do working on your WIP this week? Even small victories are worth celebrating and I’m here to say, “Yay, you!!” So tell us. What was one of yours? Give us a chance to cheer you on!

Effective Feedback

Many of you may be in the middle of revisions on a completed manuscript. Some of you may even be done with revisions, ready to send your work out into the world. Or are you?

Before you take that step, I caution you: Don’t do it until you’ve gotten enough feedback on your manuscript!

Many new writers make that mistake and it’s understandable. They want to get their book published. They want to send their work to literary agents. They want their book in the hands of readers. I get it. I want those same things. The problem is, if you haven’t gotten enough feedback from the right kinds of readers, you may waste your opportunity.

I’ll write a post about publishing some other time, but for now I think it’s important to talk about feedback. And I’m not talking about feedback from your family members. We all know they will love every word you write simply because you wrote them. (Honestly, it’s true.) I’m talking about feedback from other writers—preferably from writers who are at your same level or (if possible) even more skilled than you are.

It’s important to get feedback at several points during your revision process. Once you have a completed novel that has gone through basic polishing (like revised at least once) it would be helpful for a fellow writer to give you their thoughts on major areas like character, basic plot, prose style, and even dialogue. At this early stage, this information can become so important. Their comments can help you to see where you need to clarify world building, flesh out a cliché characters, or correct unrealistic dialogue.

Once you complete your revisions based on this information, it’s important to have another writer read through this version. If that original writer can take another look also, that’s great. If not, it doesn’t have to be a problem. A fresh set of eyes can give you their perspective on the current version. It’s important to have as many different writers give feedback as possible. This way you can notice themes developing. All your critique partners may notice the same problems. They may all love the same scenes. This is helpful because a comment that consistently shows up, may be one that certainly needs to be addressed.

But what if the comments aren’t consistent in a particular area? Don’t worry. It happens. Consider all comments, but remember, this is your story and at the end of the day, you know best. If you’ve had several writers read through your work and only one suggested a particular change, then it may not be worth changing- unless you want to make the change.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have some amazing critique partners work on my most recently completed manuscript. Very early on, I had one of my long -time CPs read it through. He was quick to point out world building confusion. Places that seemed clear to me, were pretty foggy to him. I knew right away I needed to make these sections clearer. He also seemed to click with my main character. This was so helpful to me because I knew at least one other person in this world was starting to love her as much as I did!

Before long, I did a thorough revision and I was lucky enough to connect with a new amazing critique partner—one who was soon to be published! Say what?? How did I get so lucky?? She was strong at things I wasn’t—character development, setting descriptions, and character connections. Yeah, she’s that good. She has a way with words that I can only dream of having one day. Did I mention her name is Beth Hautala and her amazing MG book is coming out in January? Anyway… her feedback allowed me to go back through my manuscript with a keener eye. Her feedback was spot on. But most of all, she loved my main character and the world I had created for her. That bit of information made me realize that even though I had areas to fix, they were absolutely worth fixing. And that’s a big thing.

For the longest time after that I worked on my own revising. I had a few beta readers read for me and that was helpful with overall plot issues. I have to say though most of my beta readers gave a lot of positive feedback and very little constructive feedback. That’s exactly why I say it’s important to get the right feedback. Yes, I loved hearing that they loved my book. But what I really needed to hear was what I could do to make my story stronger. I really needed to find someone who could tell me that.

And then I got an email. It came from a fellow writer I had connected with on twitter. Yes, twitter! She was looking for a critique partner. I could tell from where she was in her quest to get her manuscript published that we would be a good fit. And I was right! She’s been reading through my manuscript for only a short time now, but so far her feedback has been invaluable. I really needed a fresh set of eyes on my work and she has been able to provide that. And the best part…she really gets my main character! To me that’s so important. 🙂 So even at this advanced point in the life of my manuscript, feedback is incredibly important.

At all stages of my manuscript, it has improved because of the feedback I’ve received from fellow writers. And I’m sure I’m not alone. I’m sure many of you can share stories of how feedback from your critique partners has helped make your story stronger.

So if you’re wondering if you should have another set of eyes look at your work, I say do it! Even if you’re ready to start submitting it to literary agents, it can’t hurt to give it to one more fellow writer. Just be sure to return the favor! Effective feedback can make all the difference. It can lead to a stronger, more sparkly story. What’s better than that?

Thanks for stopping by the site today. It means a lot to me. 🙂 I hope your day is full of awesome and your words are too!

Manuscript Monday #8

Manuscript Monday is a series of blog posts which chronicle the life of my manuscript. It follows the journey I take to turn my week old baby story idea into a fully grown, polished novel. Take the journey with me. 🙂

My 8 week- old manuscript:

Hi there! Happy Monday!!

I’ve decided I feel bad for Mondays. Nobody likes them. Nobody. Including me. How sad is that? But I’ve decided to change my attitude about them. I’ve decided to look at them the same way I look at the month of January and the first day of school…as a new beginning, a chance to start fresh. I’ve decided to approach Mondays as the day I get to determine how the week ahead will play out. Why feel so down on Mondays just because we have to go back to work? Instead, why not feel great because we get to go back to work? We get to do something productive. How amazing is that?

Now before you think I’ve gone all Candy Cheerful on you, I am at heart, a glass half- full type of person anyway. So it just makes me feel better to approach Mondays like this now.

Okay then, so on this Manuscript Monday I’m particularly cheerful, because my self- imposed hiatus from working on my middle grade manuscript is almost over. One more week and I think I’ll be back. Here’s why…

I wrote another 10,000 words this week on my first draft of my professional manuscript. It’s actually less than I had hoped, but as I drafted, I realized this particular first draft doesn’t need to be as long as my middle grade stories are. It doesn’t (and won’t) contain all of the business related content that it will have once I start revising. Yay! So this project is going better than I thought. The story is taking great shape and I’m pleased with the direction it’s going in. And as you all know, that is a great feeling!

The best part is, I’ll be finished drafting soon and as much as I enjoy drafting, I love revising. That’s where I can turn the story that I actually wrote on my paper, into the story that I actually intended to write on my paper. Again—yay!

That doesn’t mean I’ve haven’t been thinking about my new middle grade project. I have. Ideas have been swirling around in my head all week. I’m trying to give them a chance to settle though. Some will make it and some won’t. We all know how that goes. You have a brilliant idea as you fall asleep at night or even in the middle of the night, but by morning your head wakes from its foggy slumber and you think, Um, no!

So I’ll wait for these ideas to take residence in my brain, and in the meantime I’ll work on my work stuff. But it’s only Monday. I have a whole week to see how all of my writing endeavors will play out. And you do too! So why don’t you join me? Show Mondays some love. 🙂 Who knows what amazing words we all can create—starting today!

The Importance of Writing Every Day

On October 2nd, I stumbled upon a twitter hashtag: #OctWritingChallenge. For those who are not familiar with twitter, a hashtag is simply a word or un-spaced phrase preceded by the # symbol to form a label. People who have a twitter account can post tweets (140 characters) about the topic listed on the label. The writers who created the #OctWritingChallenge have had such success in the previous month’s twitter challenges, they created a website to go along with it. Go to www.writingchallenge.org to get all the details.

Basically, the idea behind #OctWritingChallenge is this: Writers attempt to write at least 500 words per day for the entire month. They post their words counts at the end of each day, with the hashtag in their tweeted message. That way other writers can look up the hashtag, cheer each other on, and keep each other accountable. The creators of the site feel that writing 500 words is a great benchmark for writers to use. It’s enough to be challenging, but not too overwhelming that it’s impossible. I mean let’s face it, we all have other things we do each day than write, right? Sad but true. 🙂

So I decided to join the fun this month. If you read Monday’s post, you know I’m working on a business related manuscript. That’s my current job. I need to have a first draft completed by the end of October. This challenge for me, came at the perfect time. I was extremely behind in my word count. I think I was at 5,000 words on October 2nd. I knew I would have to pull off a miracle to have a 45,000- 50,000 word draft completed by Oct. 31. I’m a writer, not a magician. I figured this was a great way to keep me motivated and on track. Even though I need to write much more than 500 words each day this month, the fact that I am expected to post my word counts keeps me accountable. It helps for me to read about other writers who are writing every day too. Knowing that some of these other writers have goals similar to mine has helped tremendously as well. Many of the writers I’ve “met” have lofty word count goals like I do and knowing they can reach them, inspires me to reach mine too!

This whole writing every day topic has really gotten me to think. Does it make a difference to your writing if you write every single day (or at least almost every single day)? My answer is YES!

When I write every day, I find it so much easier to keep my head in the story. The process of entering my story’s world doesn’t take as long when it was just yesterday when I last visited. If I wait much longer than that, it takes me a good thirty minutes to get my head where it needs to be to draft. The voice is easier to fall back into, and the tone and pace are too. I also find it easier to write for a decent amount of time, if writing becomes part of my daily routine. If I make it a priority like cooking dinner or taking a shower, then I’m more likely to do it. Daily goals work for me, but sometimes weekly goals work better. That way I can determine which days have higher word count goals based on what other obligations I have for the day. I also give myself days off. Everyone needs a rest day, no matter what the activity because even if it’s your favorite thing to do in the world, you will get sick of it if you don’t take breaks.

What do you think about writing every day? Does it work for you? Do you do it only when you’re drafting (like me) or when you’re revising too? I’d love to hear what works for you! On that note, I encourage anyone who has a serious writing goal in mind to check out the awesome writing challenge website and give it a try. It looks like the fabulous writers host one every month. It might be a great way to reach that pesky goal of yours. It’s working so far for me. Maybe it can work for you too!

Have a great week and cheers to you and the writing goals you’ve reached this month so far! 🙂

Manuscript Monday # 7

Manuscript Monday is a series of blog posts which chronicle the life of my manuscript. It follows the journey I take to turn my week old baby story idea into a fully grown, polished novel. Take the journey with me. 🙂

My 7 week- old manuscript:

Happy Monday!

Today, as much of our country closes down and takes a breather in honor of Christopher Columbus, I thought it would be fitting to remember just how important the discovery process is to any manuscript we write. (A far- fetched connection there maybe, but I did try.) 🙂

I’ve spent most of my Monday Manuscript posts so far, talking about this very thing. I think it’s safe to say we’ve established that it’s important to discover exactly who your characters are and exactly where in the entire world they will tackle the tough tasks you’ll throw their way.

But that’s not the type of discovery I’m talking about right now. I’m talking about the discoveries we make about ourselves, as we write our manuscripts. I could probably write a whole (boring) short story about the lessons I’ve learned from writing mine over the last several years. Don’t worry though. I won’t do it. That would be the worst short story ever!

I did discover something new this week though that I bet many of you can relate to. Although I have a pretty big imagination and a creative mind (like most writers)…it does have its limitations. I may be able to juggle several characters in there at once and even a few subplots too, but there does come a point when I can’t shove any more story stuff in there. At All.

I discovered this week that as much as I want to be working on my new manuscript, I can’t right now. Yikes. I said it. And here’s why… I work as a writer professionally too. My current assignment is to write a non- fiction book with fiction elements to it. It’s a great assignment and I’m loving working on this project. The trouble is, this story needs to have believable characters, high stakes, real life conflicts, and an interesting setting—all things that any great book has. In order for me to write this story well, I had to take a break from writing my new middle grade manuscript. I was going crazy this week trying to keep both stories straight.

If you’re anything like me, your stories float around in your head and make their presence known at random times throughout the day. These are the times my best ideas take place. I can flesh out my characters this way, or figure out how to best resolve their conflicts. Then when I’m ready to write, I know where to begin. But over the last few days, I’ve discovered why I’m having such a hard time outlining and drafting my new middle grade manuscript. It’s because I’m knee deep in the middle of this business story draft and these characters are taking over all the creative space in my head!

My intention with my Manuscript Monday posts is to show what it’s really like writing a manuscript from start to finish—the good and bad. But earlier this week I was hesitant to put this manuscript on the back burner even for a week or two, especially because I’m supposed to document my progress on this blog. I felt like I was letting anyone reading these posts down. But a good friend of mine reminded me that taking a break is exactly what happens to most writers at some point while they write their story. We all have obligations—kids, jobs, whatever. They all need to be taken into consideration by any writer. And so that’s where I’m at in week seven of my new MG manuscript… I’m taking a short break while I focus on my work project. Hopefully next week, or the week after that I’ll be back at it. 🙂

But… since this is a blog about writing, you might be interested in my progress with my work- related book. This week I made it to the 1/3 way mark of my draft. I reached 15,000 words! I’ve been writing about 2000 words almost every day for weeks. I’m not sure about you but that’s WAY more writing than I usually do. So I am really happy with that. 🙂 I’ll be writing even more (2500 words/ day) for the next few weeks since I need to have a finished draft completed by the end of the month. So even though I haven’t made much progress on my own story, at least there’s that!

How about you? Do you have any writing updates to share that can push the rest of us to keep going forward? It’s been great to connect with so many of you lately. So what do you say? Let us know what you’re working on!

Permission to Read

So, I was sitting in the snack bar at the hockey rink last Saturday, waiting for my son’s game to begin. Normally I would be catching up with the other hockey moms, or hanging out with my daughter. But my daughter was off doing teenager-y stuff and my hockey mom-friends were, I guess, running late. So what’s a girl to do with say a half hour of free time on her hands? Well, I pulled out a book and read, of course! But what I was reading may not have been so logical apparently. The conversation I had with one of my hockey mom- friends a few minutes later went something like this:

“Why are you reading that?” my hockey mom-friend asks, disturbing my bliss, laughing like my book has three heads growing out of the pages. (It didn’t. It wasn’t a fantasy book, duh.) I look at the cover, forgetting I’m reading a middle grade book—with a bright purple cover no less.

“Oh, I read middle grade books all the time—you know that well, um I’m a writer? Well, this is the age group I write for, so it’s sort of like research I guess.”

“Seriously?”

“Yes. It helps to have a feel for middle grade language and tone and voice….” my own voice trails off.

“Oh, okay. Doesn’t it feel like you’re copying the ideas in there?”

“No! I’m not actually trying to copy what’s in the book. It helps to immerse (is that a word?) yourself in the head of middle school kids so you can write in language that appeals to them. You know, write in age appropriate style.”

“Oh, I get it.”

I bet she doesn’t. Conversation stops until I change the subject. Yeah. See, that happens to me all the time. Can you relate? So, even though my non- writer friends and family (except for my supportive husband and kids, who live amongst the chaos of MG and YA books) don’t understand why I spend my free time on purpose reading books in my genre…I still do it.

I do it because I genuinely like these books. If I didn’t, I really shouldn’t be writing them. And neither should you or any other writer. Reading books in the genre you write is essential to writing an authentic story. Through reading, not only will you learn the proper language of your audience, but also proper pacing and dialogue. I read mostly contemporary middle grade books and now speculative fiction or light fantasy stories because that’s what I write. It helps me to know my target audience and to know them well. It feels like I gain a better understanding of the genre with each book I write.

Just last weekend, I read a fabulous debut middle grade novel by Jen Malone, AT YOUR SERVICE. Not only was the story fun and well written, it taught me a bit more about voice. (Yeah, voice…uggh). In case you missed it, my Monday post this week was about voice and a trick you can do to find yours. Well, that trick came to me after reading that book! Chloe’s voice is everywhere throughout the story. And it got me thinking. What if Chloe weren’t so Chloe-ish? What if she weren’t so capable? How would she talk? How would she act given her circumstances? In essence, I gained a better understanding of the skill of voice by reading in my genre.

I also recommend reading across genres. A lot can be learned from reading a mystery novel for instance. Plotting needs to be precise in those books. I mean how Rebecca Stead created the puzzle that is WHEN YOU REACH ME, I will never know. I can merely just kiss the ground she walks on when she walks by me (sometime). Let’s not even talk about the mad world- building skills of J.K. Rowling. I’ve been practicing my curtsey for years on the oft chance I will run into her (someday). It’s also a good idea to read in other age groups too, thank goodness, like YA. THE HUNGER GAMES is one of my favorites and taught me how important it is to have big stakes in your story.

So there you have it. If you’re a writer, I give you permission to read as much as you want, especially in the genre in which you write. It will make you a better writer and you’ll feel like you’re on an adventure while you’re doing it. How great is that? Looking for suggestions? Check out the To Be Read or Book Nook– Middle Grade or YA tabs. I’ve added some new titles to the pages. I know, I know. The YA page is a little bare. I’ve been so bad about updating it. I do have more titles to add to it though and I will try my best to get on that this week. Thank you again for stopping by my site. I hope it’s been a worth- it use of your time! Have a fantastic end of the week and weekend. Hopefully many of those days will even include one of your new favorite books!

Manuscript Monday #6

Manuscript Monday is a series of blog posts which chronicle the life of my manuscript. It follows the journey I take to turn my week old baby story idea into a fully grown, polished novel. Take the journey with me. 🙂

My 6 week- old manuscript:

I’ve been asking myself a question all week? What is the trick to finding your character’s voice?

Writers know how important it is to have great voice in their story. The trick is knowing exactly how to do that. I’m sure many of you have scoured the internet for articles on this very subject, just like I have. And I bet you’ve heard this phrase over and over again: Voice is hard to describe, but if a story has it, you will recognize it.

That’s so true. One of my very favorite books, LOVE AUBREY, by Suzanne LeFleur has amazing voice. Another, a debut middle grade that was just released, AT YOUR SERVICE, by Jen Malone has fantastic voice in my opinion too. Chloe is a 13 year- old girl, but not just any 13 year-old girl. And you’ll feel like you know her, and know how she would react to any situation after just a few pages. The voice in the story leaps right off the page.

But…even if you know how to recognize a story with great voice, it’s still takes a high level of writing skill to write a novel that has it. Of course some writers seem to be born with this skill. Don’t you hate those writers?? The rest of us may have to work at a bit. In my quest to weave voice into my current manuscript, I’ve come up with a trick, or maybe more of an exercise to help you find yours.

A few months ago, when I was working on revisions for my last novel, I tried to focus on where in my manuscript the voice was lacking. I scanned each chapter and highlighted areas where I felt my main character really displayed great voice. Those are the passages I wanted to study. Why does she come to life in those places? I came to two conclusions:

  1. She uses phrases the reader knows she would say, even without knowing that she’s the one that said them.
  2. She has a certain way of saying things, like only she would say them. These small details bring what she says to life.

Once I recognized this, I found paragraphs where she fell flat. There wasn’t much emotion in what she said. It could have been any character speaking the words. In fact, she wasn’t speaking in “her speak” at all. She made statements or asked questions, but not in a way that stayed true to her character. Those are the scenes I rewrote, working to make her feel more alive. The result was a scene that sucked the reader in. Readers follow characters they connect with. They rarely will connect with a character who falls flat.

So the million dollar question for many writers is: How do I find my character’s voice? How do I make her sound like a real person? If a character (honestly) feels real to you, she will feel real to your reader.

This trick may help. Find a paragraph that includes your main character. In a new document, copy this paragraph. Under it, tell what you have learned about your character from reading it. How difficult this task is, will determine how well you’ve written with voice. You should be able to tell a lot about them just by this paragraph!

Don’t be discouraged if you can’t. The reason why, may be that you don’t know what you’re trying to convey in that paragraph to bring the character to life. Try this:

Take that same paragraph and rewrite it several times. Your job, when writing each paragraph, is to convey a different attitude for your character.

I’ll give you an example of how I did that for the opening paragraph of my latest middle grade novel:

In my opening paragraph, eleven year-old Kia is sitting in an outdoor theater with her class for the Opening Ceremony of the Piedmont Challenge on a really hot day.

To find her voice, I rewrote it several times:

(Angry Kia)

My sixth grade class sits in the amphitheater outside Crimson Elementary School. All five hundred of us are squished shoulder to shoulder for the opening ceremony. I mean are you kidding me? The Piedmont people couldn’t spring for a bigger place for us to hold this opening ceremony. Who can I talk to about this? Heads are about to roll.

(Nervous Kia)

My sixth grade class sits in the amphitheater outside Crimson Elementary School. All five hundred of us are squished shoulder to shoulder for the opening ceremony. The sun is scorching the back of my neck. My pony tail even feels hot. I don’t care about the heat. My sweaty palms are the problem. What if I drop my competition tickets? What if I faint before I get to the front of the line? What if I drop the tickets once I get them?

(Confident Kia)

My sixth grade class sits in the amphitheater outside Crimson Elementary School, where all five hundred are squished shoulder to shoulder for the opening ceremony. The sun is scorching the back of my neck. My pony tail feels hot. Good thing this competition is going to be a piece of cake. I’ll solve my tasks in no time and get home to jump in the pool by noon.

(Spoiled Kia)

My sixth grade class sits in the amphitheater outside Crimson Elementary School, where all five hundred are squished shoulder to shoulder. The sun is scorching the back of my neck so bad even my perfect pony tail feels hot. I am so disgusted with this whole situation. How can we be expected to solve not one but seven tasks in these conditions? My lip gloss is dripping now too. Where is my assistant, with my fan?

Now there’s a fair bit of “telling” in these examples, but I want you to notice instead how different each of these characters are. See how voice can bring your character to life in so many different ways? As you read through the examples, did Kia seem like a different person in each one? None of these examples are the actual opening paragraph in my manuscript, but they helped me flesh out who Kia really is- what type of personality I wanted her to have. In this situation, I wondered, How would Kia react to her circumstances? She’s at the opening ceremony for a big competition. The stadium is a million degrees. Hmm…

Here’s my real opening…until I change it again because writing with perfect voice is hard!

My sixth grade class sits in the amphitheater outside Crimson Elementary School. All five hundred of us are squished shoulder to shoulder for the Opening Ceremony. I don’t mind that the sun is scorching the back of my neck or even that my ponytail feels hot. The metal bleachers may be burning my legs too, right through my uniform skirt but it doesn’t matter. None of that can wreck this day. I’ve been waiting five whole years for it to come.  

In this paragraph, I’m trying to show that Kia is excited for the competition while including some sensory details in the process. Does it work? I’m not sure, but I’ll keep working on it!

For my new manuscript, I did this very exercise this week with my opening. Before I get too far along, I want be sure I know who Atria is, what type of person I want her to be. I can’t tell you how much it has helped me to do this! I hope it works for you too. Now I’m off to write more words. Hopefully a lot of them! Good look to you on your writing too. 🙂 See you Wednesday!

Writing Milestones

Today I’ve got the whole idea of milestones on my mind.

I’m writing this post, back at my computer, after a morning that will stay with me for a long time. Today I took my daughter for her road test—to get her driver’s license. Gulp.

She passed. She’s over the moon. She can’t keep her mouth from forming into a grin. Her afternoon at school will be fun I’m sure as she tells her friends the news. (Yaay Danielle!!)

And then there’s me. So excited for her. So proud of her accomplishment. So proud of the responsible, capable young lady she’s become. And yet here I am wondering where my little girl is. I know deep down she’s still here. She’s just hit a major life milestone that’s all. And that’s a huge deal for her. And for me. 🙂

So as I ponder her latest milestone (with my heart firmly lodged in my throat), I’m thinking about writing milestones too. What are they? Are they a big deal?

The second question is so much easier to answer. If writing is important to you, if it’s a piece of you, then YES, hitting a writing milestone is very big deal. But why?

Milestones are like check points. They can tell you if you’re on the right track. Like my daughter. In her quest to become an independent adult, obtaining a driver’s license is one hurdle that she must be able to leap over (without tipping the hurdle over). It brings her one step closer to reaching her goal. It’s a milestone that we can celebrate. Hurray!

The same goes for writing milestones. It’s important for us to celebrate our successes (however small) along the way. But what are writing milestones? I guess only you can answer that question because it depends on what your ultimate writing goal is.

If your writing goal is to complete a novel- kind of like a bucket list item, then once you write that last sentence, add The End, and close the page, you’ve reached your writing goal. Maybe for you then the completion of each chapter would be your writing milestones. It would be important for you to celebrate finishing each chapter because each one is a huge milestone. Many people dream of writing a novel. Many people even start one. Not many people though can actually write chapter after chapter until the story is complete. As most of you know, that is a very big deal!

But what if your writing goal is to see your novel published, sitting on the shelves of a major bookstore (or better yet- the small independent ones), and eventually in the hands of an eager young reader? Well, I can’t speak for everyone, but I can speak for myself. That IS my writing goal and for me there are so many milestones to hit along the way. Here a just a few of mine:

The first time someone said they loved my story. After I completed my first novel, I sent it to a friend to read. She called to say it was amazing and that she had tears in her eyes as she read the ending. The next day another friend’s 10 year-old daughter, Juliana, left me a voice mail saying that she hated reading but she loved my book. She told me it was the best book she had ever read. I saved her message on that answering machine for three years!

The first time another writer said my work was good. My writing journey has been different from many other writers I know. I didn’t write in high school or college, or dream of becoming an author when I was young. I simply had a story idea that I couldn’t get out of my head. I had written an entire novel (the one Juliana read) plus one full chapter of the second before I hit this milestone. After my first novel was rejected 12 times, I began work on another. (The first was not worth revising). I found a critique group and they read my first chapter. After getting all those rejections, hearing I had potential from my new writing friends was life changing for me, and definitely cause for celebration!

My first full manuscript request from a literary agent. This came from my dream agent for my second novel. This request literally brought me to tears. I felt it was some sort of validation- that even if she didn’t ultimately take me on as a client (she didn’t), at least I didn’t stink. My writing couldn’t be that bad if she read the first ten pages and was interested in reading more. I celebrated this milestone with everyone in my family for longer than I care to admit!

My first revise and resubmit request. This came from another dream agent for my third novel. She sent me an email the equivalent of four written pages of things she loved about the book and suggestions on how to make it better. I worked on her suggestions (which were awesome by the way) and resubmitted it. She ultimately passed because she had too many spec fiction books on her list at that point, but boy did I celebrate the fact that an amazing agent loved my work enough to help me make it better!

I hope I’ll have more milestones to share with you in the months to come. But as I sit here and think about the ones I’ve already hit (even the small ones like writing my first query letter), I can’t help but celebrate each small victory. They’ll add up to bigger ones eventually, but until then I’ll toast to whatever I can. And I hope you will too. Writing is hard. It takes patience and perseverance. But it helps to have check points. It helps to applaud yourself along the way. So cheers to you… and all the writing milestones you’ve hit already. I’d love to hear about them in the comment box so please tell us about a milestone you’ve hit. I bet we all can relate to it!