Like most Americans, I am hanging out at home to avoid spreading the coronavirus. But I don’t think it’s fair that everyone else is out of their office, and I am still stuck in mine. The problem is that I have all the time in the world to write, but I’m doing everything BUT writing.
After speaking to many writer friends, it appears that I am not the only one. Maybe it’s having the kids home, or having your spouse home, or maybe there is just too much home home. Whatever it is, here are a few things you can do to keep your writing career moving forward during this difficult time.
1. Practice your online skills. There are tutorials about how to share screens, set up lighting, etc. but you can also practice with a virtual family dinner, or virtual critique group.
2. Tidy your computer files. I don’t know about you, but my computer likes to hide drafts in odd places. Occasionally I have to ferret them out and put them where they belong. There are probably documents you can delete, too.
3. File papers. (Yes, I still use paper. And it tends to grow like mold on my desk, side table, shelves, floor….)
4. Create your own mentor text reference list with the books you have on your shelves.
5. Spruce up your website. Update your info, add more content.
6. Connect with other writers – Starting this Thursday - KidLit Distance Social, or on NF Fest Facebook page.
7. Type out a picture book to learn about its structure and story arc.
8. Attend a webinar or virtual conference – SCBWI Regional Webinars
9. Check out a fun activity from the NF Fest chart.
10. WRITE! Pat Miller, author of The Hole Story of the Doughnut, challenged me to write for 10 minutes every day. It may sound insignificant, but it gets your butt in the chair and creates the habit. So, I pass on that challenge – write for 10 minutes every day and tell us about it.
Stay Safe, Stay Healthy, Stay Writing!
Weeks later, we were acting out the choruses of We’re Going on a Bear Hunt when it struck me. I could write an orientation book called We’re Going on a Book Hunt! The structure of the classic rhyme was a ready framework for my own bouncy tale about a class of bears who learn to use the library, complete with original choruses.
Tweak the tried-and-true to make them your own. Library shelves are home to a plethora of piggy-backed productions--Little Red Cowboy Hat and The Wolf Who Cried Boy are two more.
2. Get Emotional
My two-year-old granddaughter wanted to help make a shopping list. As I said peanut butter, eggs, bread, she made a squiggle for each. When I added tiger toes, monkey milk, and boo-boo fruit, she calmly added each to the list. Her bit-lip intensity and self-confidence charmed me. That emotional *ping* signaled to me that this incident was worth writing down.
Negative emotions *ping* as well. Recently, we received a fancy invitation to the anniversary party of a couple I didn’t know. But my husband said he was a great guy, new to their golf group. So we went. We gave them a gift, signed their bridal book, and shared a lovely dinner with a table of strangers. When we finally asked someone to point out the special couple, we realized that neither of us knew them! How did we get invited?! As we slipped out undetected, I was confused and embarrassed. *Ping!* I added the incident to my idea notebook.
Build a stockpile of emotional *pings* in your idea file. Cull them from real life and from your memories. An emotional connection helps kids identify with your character. But it can be difficult to generate while pressured by a blinking cursor. Stored episodes of affection, anger, admiration, embarrassment, etc. can be the yeasty starter for developing similar emotions in your work.
With everything that’s going on in the world right now – coronavirus, school closings, library closings, social distancing, conferences and workshops cancelled… it’s hard to focus on writing. Here are some quotes to make you smile, laugh, ponder and encourage you as you forge ahead on your writing journey.
One of the signs of Napoleon’s greatness is the fact that he once had a publisher shot. ~Siegfried Unseld
You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club. ~Jack London
The best kind of writing, and the biggest thrill in writing, is to suddenly read a line from your typewriter that you didn’t know was in you. ~Larry King
The beautiful part of writing is that you don’t have to get it right the first time, unlike, say, a brain surgeon. ~Robert Cormier
A hundred years from now it will not matter what my bank account was, the sort of house I lived in, or the kind of car I drove… but the world may be different because I was important in the life of a child. ~Simone Weil
There are days when the result is so bad that no fewer than 5 revisions are required. In contrast, when I’m greatly inspired, only 4 revisions are needed. ~J.K. Galbraith
Anyone who says he wants to be a writer and isn’t writing, doesn’t. ~Hemingway
So, you want to be a writer? Ok. Be one. ~Ed Wood
You may be disappointed if you fail, but you are doomed if you don’t try. ~Beverly Sills
I am a great believer in luck, and I find that the harder I work, the more I have of it. ~Thomas Jefferson
An editor is a person who knows precisely what he wants but isn’t quite sure. ~Walter Davenport
You can’t be that kid at the top of the water slide overthinking it. You have to just go down the chute… You have to let people see what you wrote… Perfect is overrated. Perfect is boring. ~Tina Fey
What’s the thing that’s not in the world that should be in the world? ~Lin-Manuel Miranda
No one else knows what they are doing either. ~Ricky Gervais
Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. ~Helen Keller
DAILY MANTRA: Today I will write on the edge of my ability.
In the world of writing there are several kinds of letters related to submitting an idea or manuscript to a publisher. Words like pitch letter, query, and cover letter get thrown around a lot at conferences and in writing circles. But not everyone is clear on what those things are and when to use them. If you don’t have an agent (and many people do just fine without one), all this is on you. Hopefully, this will help.
All three types of letters are designed to help you sell something: an idea, a book, or yourself. No matter which letter you are writing, your goal is to keep it short and sweet. None of these should
be more than about 250 to 300 words. Think: one page letter.
A query letter is designed to sell an idea. The point is to get an editor to request the full manuscript. Knowing how to write one is a useful skill.
A query starts with a connection (IF you have one) that shows you either know the editor or know something about their house based on your research. You might mention that you met at a conference (IF you have), or that you were pleased to note on their website that they are looking for manuscripts just like yours, or that so and so (name drop here) suggested you contact them. Be sure the letter is addressed to an actual person, and double check to make sure you have the
right name. In a pinch, if you don’t actually have a connection and the publisher’s website was pretty vague about what they might be looking for, it’s ok to start with the hook.
Now the hook. That’s the one to two sentence elevator pitch that you have memorized for those moments when someone says, “What are you working on?” For fiction the answer goes something like, “It’s a picture book (or YA, or MG, or whatever) about X (your main character) who wants Y (the problem) but can’t get it because Z (the obstacle). For nonfiction your hook
might include an interesting fact from your manuscript, a description of some scene or process in the book, or a question your work will answer. Whatever you choose to do, try to use the same tone as the book so that the editor gets a feel for the overall manuscript.
Next is the 411 on the book. This includes a short summary and vital statistics such as title, length, type of manuscript (fiction, nonfiction, informational fiction, etc.), and intended audience. Keep it to one paragraph, and make it sing. You want this part to capture your voice and intrigue your audience (the editor) at the same time.
Next comes your biographical information. This is a short paragraph about your qualifications as a writer. Don’t include your education or work history unless it is pertinent to your writing. If you are a teacher, that’s pertinent. If you are a nurse but your book is about something nonmedical, it’s not. If you have won any awards for your writing, be sure to include them here.
And finally, finish up with a polite request to send all or some part of the manuscript, a closing, and your contact information. Boom. Done.
Does this HAVE to be done in this order? Nope. But all of these pieces should be there. So, might I suggest a TIME SAVING HACK?
Create a folder for each of your manuscripts. The folder may include older versions of the manuscript, notes, and/or research on the topic. And one document in that folder should be dedicated to promotion and biographical information for that book. Write out your hook (elevator pitch), your book summary (vital statistics), and your biographical information as it
pertains to that book. Then, when you write your query or cover letter, simply copy and paste the pieces. All you’ll need to add is a salutation, a connection (only if you have one), and a closing.
Which brings us to the second kind of letter—the cover letter. A cover letter accompanies a manuscript submitted either by request or through open submissions. If it was requested, be sure to note that in your connection point. A cover letter has, essentially, the same parts as a query. But instead of asking if you can send the entire manuscript, you’ll be indicating whether the manuscript is enclosed, pasted below, or attached. (Be sure to read the guidelines on the publisher’s website to see which one is their preferred method.) Overall remember to keep it simple. Let your manuscript do most of the talking.
And finally, there is the pitch letter. A pitch letter is designed to sell YOU as an author. The goal is to be awarded a writing assignment.
A pitch letter begins much like a query or cover letter. Make a connection if you have one. This is usually only two or three sentences in a single paragraph.
Next, indicate your interest in the editor’s company. Tell why you like their products. Maybe you’ve used them in your classroom. Maybe you ordered their books for your library. But let them know you have done your research by showing them you are familiar with their work. And then let them know you would LOVE to do an assignment for them. Keep this to one paragraph.
(One caveat to this is to make sure you are not only familiar with the publisher’s books, but also their guidelines for getting an assignment. If the company has a form they want you to fill out and requires a writing sample, don’t try to write a pitch letter instead. As always, follow the guidelines.)
Follow this with a short paragraph about your qualifications (biographical information). If you are not yet published, tell the editor some experience or knowledge you have that would make you a good candidate for an assignment. Don’t worry if you have no published work to list. Assignment writing is one area where not being published doesn’t necessarily work against you.
Finally, thank the editor for their time and indicate you hope to be hearing from them soon. If you are including samples (per their guidelines), make a note of that here. And be sure your complete contact information is clearly visible somewhere on the page.
There you have it. Query letters, cover letters, and pitch letters. Easy peasy. Now, go get’em!
We sculpt nonfiction from a sandbox of facts. Much of the research stage of our work involves gathering facts to fill the sandbox before we shape our narrative.
But what happens when there's debris in the sand? In my new picture book biography, Beautiful Shades of Brown, the Art of Laura Wheeler Waring, a critical part of the narrative revolves around Waring hearing Marian Anderson sing. Waring sees how Anderson breaks down walls of segregation with her voice and dreams that a painting of Anderson will break down walls, too.
It was a challenge to collect all the facts I needed for my sandbox. My book, which came out Feb. 4, is the first that focuses solely on Waring. In the course of my fact-gathering, I read that Waring first saw Anderson sing in Paris in 1916. Wonderful! Then I cross-checked the date against timelines of both women’s lives and found that while both had been to Paris, neither had been there in 1916. What?
Scramble. Search. Dig. I knew from my research that Waring had been wowed by Anderson’s singing. But where had Waring seen Anderson sing if it wasn’t Paris?
Erin Beasley, Digital Image Rights and Reproduction Specialist at the National Portrait Gallery and Dr. Tuliza Fleming, Curator of American Art at the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington D.C., put me in touch with Madeline Murphy Rabb, an artist and granddaughter of Laura’s brother, Arthur Edward Wheeler, for help.
Ms. Rabb was enormously helpful. She went back to the family with my question and searched her great-aunt’s writings. It turns out that Waring saw Anderson sing April 6, 1916 at the Union Baptist Church in Philadelphia -- a scene you’ll see in the book and in the timeline.
Whenever I can, I like to check facts with family members or trusted sources that have known my subjects. This has been the most dramatic example of how this diligence has saved me from error. But I have always found it helpful reaching out to primary sources to make sure I am on target and my sand is free of debris. I hope this approach helps you, too!
We are nonfiction authors who support readers and writers through our writing, author visits, and workshops.
The Nonfiction Ninjas are a group of writers with diverse ideas and a strong belief in The First Amendment. The views expressed in each post are those of the author and may differ from others in the group.
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