This week feels SO relaxing after having WriteOnCon last week. The good thing about the entire writing conference being online, though, is that all the blog posts, videos, and Q&As are still available for free. You can check them out on the WriteOnCon website here, or read Super Critique Partner Kira’s recap of the whole thing on her blog, here.
This was my third year attending WriteOnCon, and it just gets better every time. I highly recommend it.
Also, a super generous and talented attendee, L.L. Tisdel, drew a picture of Olivia (the protag of CADENCE) for me. HOW AWESOME IS THIS?
This week’s Wordy Wednesday is a song called “History of Me.”
VERSE1 [C, G, Em, G] [capo 2]
I don’t know what to say, what to do
All I know is I’m staring in the mirror at you
And I’m falling apart
Some of these tears are from happiness rising
Others are from my hopes dying
And my eyeliner’s smearing now
That one song’s playing from the radio
Telling me it’s time to go, go, go
But go where? To be who?
TRANSITION1 [G, Em, C, D]
And I want to be the girl who’s got it all figured out
But instead I can’t even tell if things are going right
CHORUS [G, Em, C, D]
’Cause everything’s falling in place but I’m falling to pieces
Tell me your name and if I can keep this
Just need to know if I should carry on
Life is crazy but I will make it
At least that’s what I say when I’m breaking
Wish I saw the future but maybe not
[C, Em, Am, D… G]
Don’t tell me where I’m going
’Cause I’m better off not knowing
And I’d rather let my dreams rock me to sleep
Dreaming this will someday be
A memory in the history of me
VERSE2 [C, G, Em, G]
I am walking down a street
the sickness is catching up with me
And that sickness is called apathy
For everything in my life
It’s so easy to lose sight of the sun
When you’re so sure someday you’ll have won
The war against the moon
TRANSITION2 [G, Em, C, D]
And I want to be the girl who knows what the future holds
But I don’t know a thing and this night is getting cold
[BRIDGE: C, Em, Am, D]
You should know that I just spent the better part of an hour trying to get this picture. It was this week last year that I started doing the “Thanks for reading!” webcam shots and I decided to try to copy the original… Forty five minutes later, I ended up with this. Not quite the same, but you’re welcome anyway. 😉
Before today’s Wordy Wednesday (whoohoo, a writing process post, what what!), one last reminder that the super totally crazy awesome WriteOnCon is going on right now. (CHECK IT OUT HERE.) If you’re a writer, you don’t want to miss this. (Please note that all the posts and videos will still be available after the conference is over, so even if you do miss it, you still, you know… haven’t actually missed it.)
Oh, and I got a Twitter. In case you want to be cool and follow me or something. (I’ll probably more than likely follow you back, if it’s looking like one of my more technology-savvy days.)
I haven’t talked about it much in public, but for a little over a month now, I’ve been doing a pretty intensive round of revisions on Cadence.
If you’ve been here for a while now, you probably know what Cadence is.
If you’re new (Welcome! I love you!), Cadence is a young adult spy novel that I’m currently querying. (And if you don’t know what “querying” means either, you lovely non-writer, I explain it here.)
This is my kitchen table covered in a chopped up list of the scenes in Cadence. It was this way for about a week. My parents were ready to put me up for adoption.
Why am I revising? That is something for me to know and you to maybe, someday find out–if we are all incredibly lucky and pray really hard and the Writing Industry Fairies smile down upon us. (That exact combination of factors. It can’t happen without that exact combination of factors.)
However, what I will tell you is this: Revising Cadence for the past month has taught me a ton about writing. Which seems crazy, because I just began the first draft a little over a year ago–and I just finished said first draft in January–so how much more could I have learned already?
It turns out, quite a lot.
Of course, it helps that since January, I’ve taken an intro to short story writing class through U of M, attended the Writer’s Digest Conference East, gone to a couple of writing workshops, and oh yeah–it’s WriteOnCon right now. Not to mention reading a more-than-obsessive number of blog posts and articles on craft and revising and all that awful fun stuff.
But truly? Most of what I’ve learned–or at least, most of what I’m taking into account while revising–is stuff I’ve taught myself.
Reading articles and taking classes based on other more experienced people’s observations on writing is great, but the real learning has been coming from the things I observe and take note of myself. Like how, while rereading Divergent by Veronica Roth, I found that one of the things that helps establish her rapid fire pace is her short, snappy sentence structure; and after sifting through some of my other favorite YA page-turners, I found the same thing. So I was able to go through Cadence and work on pacing by restructuring my sentences to make them shorter and therefore punchier.
Other lessons came from my own writing. My short story The Things I Leave Behind won the children’s/YA division of the 82nd Annual Writer’s Digest Writing Competition. I wrote that story back in January for the U of M intro to short story writing class (just a week or so after I finished Cadence, actually) and ever since then, everyone who’s read it has adored it. None of the other short stories I wrote winter semester garnered anything like the reactions I’ve gotten to that first one.
So what makes The Things I Leave Behind–which was just another story to me while I was writing it–so special? I finally just sat down and read through it the other day, from the perspective of someone who’d done far too much analyzing during AP English, and I realized: it’s the back story. At any given point in time, there are at least three layers of narrative occurring, one over top of the other: (1) what’s happening in the present, (2) how the narrator is reacting to it, and (3) how the bits of personal history she reveals affect both 1 & 2.
It’s because the story has layers. It’s because a good piece of writing is like an onion.
Do I get a thumbs up for a Shrek reference?
Not to say that The Things I Leave Behind is good, per say, because believe me–I don’t want to pat myself on the back. But obviously something about it is working, if it’s been so successful.
While the industry pros are always going on about how there shouldn’t be too much back story, I’ve learned, now, that having too little back story can also be a problem. It’s important to develop your world and the characters within it–and then to share that back story. Not only enough for the reader to be able to understand what’s happening on the surface level (1), but also enough to understand why the main character and their supporting cast are responding the way they are (2).
Both learning that writing shorter sentence increases pace (and often tension) and that back story can be used as a device to better allow the reader to connect with the story are important lessons–and they’re just two of the many that I’ve learned and applied to Cadence during the past month of revising. I’ve also learned that using descriptions rather than dialogue tags to identify a speaker can make a scene more immersive, saying things like “I realize” or “it occurs to me” are distancing, and there is such a thing as too little foreshadowing (because while some surprises are good, others just completely throw the reader for a loop).
Cadence is the fifth novel I’ve completed. I began writing it just a few months after finishing my fourth novel, and I can tell you without a trace of doubt that my first draft of Cadence was a hundred times better-written than the most recent (ergo, best) draft of Dreamcatcher. And now my most recent draft of Cadence–the one that I just finished my intensive revisions on, and is now making the rounds with my critique partners–is the strongest draft of a novel I’ve ever written period. By far.
Although I’ve been writing for longer than I can remember, I’m still learning. Every day I’m learning. I learn from going to conferences and workshops and reading articles with tips and guides, and I learn from reading my favorite books with a critical eye. I learn from talking to people, going out and doing things, and studying my own writing.
Even revising has become a learning process–every time I finish a draft, I know more about voice and structure and plot and sentence structure and character development than I did going in. I have a better idea of what I want the novel (or short story or whatever) to be. And I know more about who I want to be as a writer.
Me being a Super Cool Writer Person in Chicago last week–because the kind of writer I want to be is one who does proper research instead of blindly rambling about a subject.
Learning, just like anything else in the writing industry, and life in general, is a developing, changing practice. It’s something I’m beginning to embrace more, now, as I get older and realize how much I truly still have to learn. And it’s a great thing to look forward to–knowing that while the Writing Fairies might not smile down upon me in the near future, they have at least granted me the the gift of everything I’ve learned over the past month or so. And that, in itself, has been worth it.
August is one of my favorite months of the year. As much as I hate how it signals the end of summer (ugh, I’m going to be back in classes this time next month; HOW DARE SUMMER VACATION END?), it also brings with it this really great thing called WriteOnCon.
WriteOnCon is a free, online writing conference targeted towards the kid lit audience. Anyone can attend, but it’s really, primarily for picture book-through-new adult writers. It’s a ton of fun, super educational, and a great way to network with other aspiring authors without having to spend a cent on attending a conference in-person. Outside of the scheduled panels and lectures, WriteOnCon also hosts a bunch of critique forums, where you can post the query letter, first 250 words, and/or first five pages of your novel (or other work of children’s fiction) in order to get feedback from other aspiring authors and even some industry pros.
The forums are already open right now, but the conference itself won’t be taking place until next week (it’s Tuesday the 13th through Wednesday the 14th–full schedule available HERE). During the conference, the forums get even COOLER, because then a bunch of anonymous literary agents (known as “ninjas“) descend upon them to critique and make requests. It’s basically the funnest thing ever.
If you write kid lit–from picture book, to middle grade, to young adult, to new adult, and everything in between–make sure to check WriteOnCon out!
In other news, this past weekend mi madre and I went to Chicago in order to do some in-person research for a novel (I’m sure you can guess which one). Although I can’t tell you much about what we did while there, because that would–you know–give away important plot points in the book, I figured I WOULD share just a few pictures with you.
The Bean! We spent a lot of time exploring Millennium Park on Saturday. Although I’ve been there too many times to keep track, it was a unique experience visiting during Lollapalooza, which was happening right across the street at Grant Park. I was a little bit jealous of everyone attending, because what I heard of the music was fantastic. Lollapalooza is definitely on my have-to-do-this-before-I-get-too-old bucket list now.
We treated ourselves to a fancy brunch on Sunday, in a restaurant located high above the city. They stuffed us with waffles and fruit and rolls and ten different kinds of desserts and it was delicious.
This gorgeous view of Chicago is courtesy said-restaurant’s bathroom. (Please note that I was not the only creep taking pictures there.)
The trip was super helpful, and I am now busily working away at adding the new information I learned to the manuscript.
The winning category for this week’s Wordy Wednesday is poem/song lyrics. This poem is one I wrote a couple years ago, at this point, exploring the idea of whether life is worth it if you don’t get to really live.