If we're friends on Facebook or Twitter, then you've read my regular status updates saying, "I'm off to the river."
I go there for two primary purposes: 1) To be with my family, or 2) To get away from my family.
When I go with my family, we waterski, kayak, boat, swim and do all manner of outdoor sports and family bonding type things. (No, those kids are not all mine. Whew. I only have 3)
When I go by myself, it's to write.
The river house is on an island in the Colorado River near Matagorda, Texas. The island only hosts 14 houses, so there is no cable of any kind. No TV, no internet. Heaven.
You have to get to it by cable car (tramway) or by boat. The cable car only holds a few folks at a time:
Below is the view from the cable car:
I call the river house my own Walden Pond.
Now, you remember of course, for a couple of years in the mid 1840's, Henry David Thoreau lived on Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts. Being one of those deep thinking types, the writer/philosopher sequestered himself away to ...well brood and write. Transcendental thought doesn't come easy, you know. Well, neither does teen fiction. (It's a joke. Laugh. I'm certainly no Thoreau.)
For the sake of amusement, I will now pictorially compare Thoreau's Walden Pond to mine.
My cabin (Psst! Mine has running water and bathrooms. I'll only take roughing it so far):
The old road to Concord:
The old road to my river house (Thoreau did not have Jedi light sabers. Score another point for me):
Placid Walden pond in the Spring:
Placid Colorado River in the Spring:
Honestly, I don't know what I'd do without a retreat that allows me to get away from it all. Not having internet is a huge asset to someone like me who is easily distracted. It's also a gorgeous, natural place to hike around and relax between hammering out chapters.
Starbucks, Panera, the bookstore... None of those places work for me.
Nature works for me.
What works for you? How/where do you go to get away from things so you can focus?
Sunday, February 13, 2011
Friday, January 28, 2011
I met Michelle Mclean several years ago through the online writers' resource, QueryTracker. We chatted on the forum and got to know and support each other as we started our writing careers. I've even had the good fortune to meet her face-to-face.
One of the things about Michelle that struck me right away is her willingness to help others, which is why it was no surprise her first published book is aimed at doing just that--helping students and writers find a clear easy path to effective writing.
MIchelle's book, Homework Helpers: Essays and Term Papers, was recently released, and I was thrilled she agreed to answer some questions here. I want to get the word out about this book for folks like me, who have children struggling though the maze of term papers and essays or for those fighting those assignments themselves.
Michelle has donated a cool swag bag to celebrate her release, so make a comment below to be eligible for the drawing to win this!
With no further ado, here's Michelle:
Q: What is your book about? What does it include?
Homework Helpers: Essays and Term Papers is a fun, user-friendly book that guides the reader, step by step, through writing a dozen different types of essays, including the dreaded SAT essay. Using straightforward, plain English, this book shows the reader exactly what they need to do, from start to finish, and includes rough draft, edited, and final draft versions of every type of essay discussed. This book also provides chapters that include tips and instruction on researching, proofreading, and citations.
Q: Why is your book different from others out there?
Unlike other books that are so full of technical jargon they confuse more than help, my book uses straightforward language and simple steps to guide students through the essay writing process. There is a huge difference between telling someone what to do, and SHOWING them how to do it. Instead of giving general tips on how to write each type of essay, my book shows students what they need to do, leading them through every step of the writing process with easy-to-follow details and examples.
Q: Who is your target audience?
Homeschooled, junior high, high school, and college students, teachers, and writers. And anyone else who might want or need to write an essay, paper, or narrative non-fiction piece.
Q: What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your books?
Probably that they take a lot more work than I expected. I always had this vision of sitting down, cranking out a book, and seeing it on a shelf. I didn’t expect the endless edits, agonizing hours trying to choose the exact right word, and the seemingly endless bouts of waiting for one thing or another. In this one aspect of my life, at least, I’ve become a pretty patient person :)
Q: What do you love to do, besides writing?
Reading, hands down :) I am also a huge music lover and play the piano. And my family always comes first. As nuts as they make me, my kids are the loves of my life :) Of course, I’m pretty good at combining everything. When the kids are taking their bath, I’m usually on the bathroom floor reading while they splash around :)
Q: Do you have any advice for other writers who may be just starting out?
Don’t give up. The publishing world is not for the faint of heart. It’s full of hard work, heartbreaking rejections, waiting upon endless waiting, and agonizing edits. But the rewards for hanging in there are incredible. So, if this is what you truly want to do, don’t give up. No matter what.I'm thrilled for Michelle and am excited about her book release.
If you know anyone taking the SAT or in the position where he/she needs to write an organized piece, whether it be a college entrance essay or a middle grade thesis paper, Michelle's book is a fabulous resource. You can read more about Homework Helpers: Essays and Term Papers at the following links:
Michelle McLean's Website
Barnes & Noble
Be sure to leave a comment below to win the giveaway package in the picture above!
Monday, January 17, 2011
I was going through my old blog posts from my Wordpress account and came across this one. It's a couple of years old. My twins are now in seventh and eighth grade. It's relevant though. I still work in the same uniform:
My husband wears a suit and tie in court every day. My kids carefully select what they wear to convey who they are when they go to work--which for them is school. We wear clothes that set the right image and enable us to do our job best.
So, I work in pajamas.
On days I write, I get the kids off to school, shower and put on a clean pair of pajamas. The reason is two-fold: 1) I am comfortable 2) It keeps me at the keyboard and prevents me from shopping or leaving the house.
Except for last Friday. Yep. My work uniform choice backfired.
One of my 12 year-old twins had an after school party at a pool near my house. This isn't a neighborhood club, mind you; it's a high-dollar exclusive private country club to which my family belonged when I was a child, so complete ignorance isn't an excuse on my part. I knew the setting.
I've had kids at this school for 9 years, and I thought I had the party routine down. Not.
The kids were taken to the country club after school by parent volunteers--great; more time to write. I pound out the words until 4:30, which is when I leave so I can be one of the first in line to pick up my son. I assume the teachers and chaperones would have the kids ready to go and would be placing them in cars like they had at other functions. Wrong.
I arrive and there is no line. I watch from the safety of my car while parents (dressed to the nines) park their cars and stride into the country club.
Heart sinks. A twinge of nausea. Crap, I'm wearing pajamas.
Remaining calm, I decide to keep my eye out for someone that I know so I can flag her over to beg her to retrieve my progeny. No luck. You'd think out of over 100 kids, I'd recognize someone's parent.
By the time I concede defeat and accept the fact I am going to have to go public in my pajamas, every parent has arrived and is hanging out at the pool. I should have gone in right when I got there, grabbed the kid and beat it out. Now, I had to join a social melee of epic proportions.
So, I'm not fully-fluffed and in makeup. Nope. I'm au natural sporting a ponytail, a blue T shirt, and black pajama pants--my work clothes. In all fairness, they are lounge pants, not true pajama pants, so there are not little sheep or sleepy teddy bears on them, but still.
Hoping for the best, I launch mission "Get In Quick and Get the Hell Out." The mission fails.
It takes almost 30 minutes to find my son and get him out of the club. I am seen by and chat with almost everyone there. I must have heard, "You look so cute," two dozen times. "You look so cute" translates to "WTF?" in social speak.
My family thought it was hilarious. I do too, now that I'm comfortably cute in my own home again.
What do you wear to work? Any "you look so cute" moments of your own?
Friday, January 14, 2011
Sunday, January 9, 2011
My dad had a favorite saying that I'm sure most parents have in their arsenal. "Think before you speak or act." I say the same thing to my own children. I also say it to myself-- every single time I receive a critique of my writing.
Writing is personal, but if you are pursuing publication, it's important to realize it is also a professional craft and a commercial endeavor. Sometimes, pushing aside feelings is essential in order to succeed.
You've labored on a project that obviously is dear to your heart or you would not have invested the time and effort to write it. Then, you turn it over to someone who does not hold it dear. Sometimes they don't even like it. The thing I always keep in mind is that just because someone doesn't like what I have written, it doesn't mean they don't like me. It is totally separate. Maintaining this separation is difficult for some writers.
Here is my strategy for handling critique.
1. Read the critique notes carefully without responding at first. Send a brief thank you note to let them know you received their suggestions. Nothing specific. Same with oral critique in a live critique group. Listen. Really listen. Say nothing. When you have heard them out, thank them for their suggestions. If you are unclear on a point they made, ask questions without any explanations or defensiveness.
Do not explain why they didn't like it or "get" it. If they were confused, perhaps it is a valid point. As a writer, I know exactly what I mean. If the reader doesn't get it, it is probably my fault.
2. Give the information time to cure and your emotions time to cool down. This is the most important part. When I receive revision suggestions from my critique partners, agent, or editors, I read them several times and then set them aside for at least 72 hours before I respond or begin revising. (Of course, I send an immediate "Got it. Thanks!" but nothing else.)
This curing time enables me to recover from my initial reaction, which is always more dramatic than necessary. After 72 hours, I've had time to process the suggestions logically, rather than react emotionally.
My editor for Shattered Souls said that she has a client who puts the letter in the freezer after reading it so that it isn't sitting out. After a few days, she pulls it out of the freezer and is ready to go. Both letter and author have had a "cool down" period (the letter, literally).
I don't have to lock my revision letters out of view, but I do keep myself from responding or making changes right away.
3. Consider the source. Enough said, probably, but I'll elaborate. Who gave you the critique? Is this the first time you have received suggestions from this person? What is his or her professional writing status: new writer, established writer, published author, published author in your genre, agent, editor? The way you handle your response should be the same, regardless (calm, genuine gratitude), but the weight you give to the suggestions will be different.
4. Decide what fits your vision for the project and what is necessary to meet your professional goals. You don't have to make every change, even for your publisher, but your decisions should be logic-based and not emotion-based. Once again, as a writer, it's hard to step back sometimes and be objective about our "babies." I've made quite a few changes at my editor's request that I didn't object to, but didn't wholeheartedly buy into either. After making the changes, I realized how brilliant the suggestions were--so for me, there is a bit of a cool off even after the changes are made.
5. After cooling down and making the changes that resonate with you, send another genuine thank you. You don't need to explain why you didn't make all of the changes (Unless it is your agent or editor, then sometimes it's necessary). You don't need to discuss the changes in-depth. I try to thank critique partners and beta readers for specific suggestions I found most helpful. Personalizing it makes the person who took the time to read and remark on my project feel the time spent on me wasn't misplaced or unappreciated.
I'm sure there are folks who can jump right in without a negative reaction to criticism, but most writers aren't like that. Those words in that manuscript came from deep inside and are personal. So, give yourself a cool down period. Rushing into revisions or reacting immediately when you feel defensive will not only make your revisions less effective, it will potentially alienate you from the very people trying to help you become a better writer.
This post was written for and can also be found on the Querytracker.net Blog.
Wishing everyone a fabulous week.