On Writing


I read a lot of queries this week–about one hundred. I sent a lot of rejections this week–about ninety-something (I requested four manuscripts).

Getting rejections is never easy (remember: I get them, too!). Sending rejections isn’t easy, either. But when I pass on your project and tell you to keep writing, I mean it. The passage below explains why. So even if you think I’m a jerk with no taste for passing on your project, you should listen to Ira Glass, because he’s a really smart guy.

Keep writing.

Looking for a little light reading/book chat/way to procrastinate whatever tasks are on your to-do list today? Head on over to the excellent Mother.Write. (Repeat.) blog, where I’ll be answering reader questions about all things books until 5pm. today.

I’m currently in the process of finishing up intensive manuscript revisions with several of my clients. And since I’m a total geek, I think it’s a whole lotta fun. But I’m not so sure my clients agree with me, at least not at this particular moment in time.yes

Giving editorial advice and doing revisions with clients is a large part of my job, and I take it quite seriously. That’s why, even when I sign clients whose manuscripts are in fine shape, I have them do at least one round of revision before I submit their project to publishers.

Why am I so keen on revision? Is it because I enjoy being a slave driver? Because I’m addicted to the pretty colors that pop up on the screenwhen I use track changes? No and no. You see, editors are constantly bombarded with manuscripts—way more projects than they could ever hope to accommodate on their seasonal publishing lists. For that reason, editors say no to many more projects than they say yes to. Which is why it’s of utmost importance for a manuscript to be in tip-top shape before sending it out to publishers. It helps you stand out from the pile, rather than getting lost in it.

When I begin an edit with an author, and sometimes even before I sign them, I (more…)

sand_drawingIf you have never participated in the Twitter feed #kidlitchat, you really ought to give it a shot. The discussions are always about smart topics and draw a wide range of commentators—both veterans and newbie writers, editors, agents, and the occasional gibbering weirdo. (I’m looking at you, @chrisrichman.) The tweets ratchet up the Twitter client in a fast and sometimes furious stream, so quick as to be nearly unreadable. Trying to follow the many threads of conversation is like watching three hundred tennis matches held simultaneously on the same court—there’s no way to keep the threads separate, and yet … you try anyway.

Last Tuesday night’s chat was a gem. You can read the transcript here, but the gist of the discussion was this: What qualities make a manuscript middle grade instead of teen/YA? How do you know which you have? (more…)

TypewriterIn my younger and more vulnerable years, I was given a piece of advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since. (And no, it is not to shamelessly rip off The Great Gatsby’s opening line; that I do all on my own.) The advice was this: Write a thousand words of your work-in-progress each day. No more, no less. Just a cool grand.

Here’s the why of the advice:

  • A thousand words is a fair bit, to be sure. But it’s not so much that you can’t see the end of your target when you sit down to begin. It’s not so much that you can get lost in those thousand words. It’s not so much that you’ll have to set aside hours and hours of your day that really should be spent working for a living or cleaning the house or reading other people’s books or petting the cat. It’s just enough that you can do it in a good hour or so of work. That is to say, it’s eminently doable.
  • A thousand words a day means you can (more…)

7-habits-of-highly-effective-people-habit-oneSeptember—ah, September! The hot haze of summer has blown away, and along with it our laid-back summer ways. The publishing industry, which has been snoozing away these last few weeks, is back from its vacation, and editors are at their desks and ever-anxious to discover that One. Perfect. Novel.

There’s something so energizing about back to school time. It always makes me think of getting organized, setting new goals, and accomplishing them. And is there a better time than back-to-school to refresh your commitment to your craft, your creativity, and your goals as a writer? I think not.

With that in mind, I’ve cobbled together a list of advice about the act of writing. You’ve heard some of it before, no doubt, but if you try doing just one of the things on this list,  you’ll see an improvement in your productivity—and your writing. [Find the list after the break.]

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Well, Labor Day is past and so we here at the Crow hope you all are settling down to some serious work. We certainly are.

mametAmong the many helps we’ve found during our off time is this memo from the mighty David Mamet—the profane, too-often-too-thinky, shamelessly wordy (and so close to my heart) playwright, director, and essayist. His sage advice keeps us focused, our eyes on the prize and our noses to the grindstone and our shoulders to every cliché within shouting distance.

On the off chance his admonitions might help you, you can find them here. This is a note he sent to the writers of the now-defunct television show The Unit, which, despite its unfortunate name, has at least given us this kick in the ass.

Okay, summer’s over! Now put your butt in your chair and get to work!

Bulwer-Lytton-200x274

It’s award season and the results are finally in!

No, no, not those awards, which remind us that the people who create children’s books are artists as well as craftspeople.

No, I’m talking about the Bulwer-Lytton Awards for worst opening sentence. It is Edward George Bulwer-Lytton whose 1830 masterpiece Paul Clifford begins:

It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents—except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.

In his honor, each year hundreds of writers compete to write similarly overwrought and overextended sentences, and they are always a riot. Mere badness isn’t enough; these entries are all hilariously awful. Check them out at the link above!

marginaliaThere are two sorts of people in the world: Those who write in and mark up books; and those who view those of us who do write in books as sacrilegious pigs.

Okay, okay—maybe there are a few other sorts of people. (I’ve never been a fan of that whole “There are two kinds of people” routine, except where it is inarguable: women/men; living/dead; rational people/fans of Glenn Beck.)

Myself, I’ve gone from treating every book as a sancrosanct object (as a boy) to routinely scribbling in books (as an adult). Some I so love that I want to puzzle out how they work, and I buy multiple copies and mark them up (Moore, Munro, Cheever, Konigsburg, others). Some books I find so maddening that I have to immediately vent my hooting disdain (among them recent award-winners and bestsellers—don’t ask). Years later I’ll be flipping through an old copy of something and find an expletive in a margin and think, “Really? Was it that bad?”

But my marginalia is as nothing compared to the marginalia of the greats.

There is a wonderful little piece by Ian Frazier in this week’s New Yorker about the marginalia in books owned by famous writers, among them Nabokov, Coleridge, and Twain—who probably wrote the most entertaining marginalia: “At the end of an unusually exasperating chapter, [he wrote,] ‘A cat could do better literature than this.’”

So writing in books: Bad? Good? A necessary evil? A perversion that must be stamped out? Do you write in your books?

twentyI was fortunate enough last summer to speak with Bruce Coville at an SCBWI event in Orlando. (He’s an amazing speaker—truly amazing—and if you catch word that he is speaking somewhere, by all means go and see him.) Bruce mentioned something he called “The Rule of Twenty.” He doesn’t recall where he picked it up—a business article? a self-help book? a primer on original thinking?—but wherever it came from, I have since relied on it and relied on it often.

What is it? Put most simply, it is this: It is only when one reaches the twentieth or so idea that one starts entering the realm of the truly original idea.

The first five or ten? Those are the obvious ones that the brain goes to along its well-traveled paths. Most people’s heads will go that way and think of that thing. (Are you disappointed when you can see the plotline of a movie from a mile away? That’s thanks to the filmmakers working the shallows of the Rule of Twenty.) In the teens, you are starting to bushwhack into uncharted territory, where most people’s brains (more…)

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