This week, I have been Frederick. The classic children’s book talks about a mouse who watches all the other mice gather seeds and grains for the winter, storing them away for the cold days. Frederick is a gatherer, too, but he gathers the sights, sounds, tastes, smells and feel of summer. When dreary days of winter come, Frederick is ready with poetry to remind the others that good days would come again.
My daughter delivered her second son, my fourth grandchild this week, and I’ve concentrated on just living. On being a Frederick who soaks up life at it grandest and stores it in the depths of my heart to be brought out in a written form when needed.
Here are some of the images of the week:
Mr. GFR weighed in a 7 lbs, 20.5 inches.
Big brother marched into the hospital and literally charmed the entire nursing staff. They were all hanging over the desk to get a look at his fedora and glasses.
Mr. EIR stole the show from his little brother.
And while the household slept, I took early morning walks, just rejoicing in the richness of our lives.
Heron on the Lake on the day that GFR was just two days old.
Sometimes, every once in a while, it’s good to be a Frederick! When is the last time you just lived and enjoyed the fullness of life?
I was lucky enough to get an Advanced Reader Copy of Chip and Dan Heath’s new book, DECISIVE: How to make better choices in Life and Work. You may know the Heath brothers from their previous books, SWITCH: How to Change Things When Change is Hard and MADE TO STICK: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die. They are adept at taking massive amounts of research on topics with widespread appeal and distilling the information into something that can be used in daily life. In DECISIVE, they discuss decision-making and make it practical. Here, I have applied many of their ideas in a simple checklist: What manuscript should you write next?
Courtesy of the Heath Brothers amazing insights into the applicability of much research, these are practical ideas to help you make the best decision possible. If you want to know more, DECISIVE will be released on March 26, available now for pre-order.
You just wrote, “The End.” And you hit the SEND button. The manuscript is off to the editor.
What now? How do you decide on the next project?
Build a Career
An agent once asked this question: What is the next logical book for you in terms of building an audience that will support your career?
Do you see the criteria embedded in that question:
- Build an audience
- Support your career
Is that what you want? A career with a growing audience? Then, you probably need to stick with the genre of your first book, and turn out a second book that will appeal to the same audience. If you wrote a mystery and it sold well, write another mystery—different, better, but definitely appealing to the same audience.
But it may not be that easy. Maybe several genres interest you and you want to try something new. But that might risk your career, because you aren’t building a consistent following. How do you sort out all your ideas and commit to the next project? Here are 15 questions to ask yourself.
15 What Next Questions
- Don’t Get Trapped in Too Small a Framework. The decision is rarely one like this: Should I do Mss A or not? Instead, try to look at a range of options. Here are ideas that I have, A, B, C, D, and E. Which of these would appeal to the same audience as my first success?
- What else you could write in the same time period. If it takes you six months to write a novel, what else could you get written in that time period? What project deserves that time commitment?
- What if you couldn’t write the Mss you had planned to write next? What would you write then? For example, if you were planning a picture book biography of Shirley Temple and one was just published to great acclaim, maybe it’s not the best time for this story. So, pretend something similar just happened to your pet idea. What would you do then?
- Could you write the openings of several different manuscripts and THEN decide which one excites you the most? Multi-tracking sometimes allows the cream to rise.
- Look at the career of someone you admire and want to emulate. At a similar point in his/her career what was the next book published? Or, look at a musician or actor/actress and find parallels in their careers. For example, Sean Connery could have gotten stuck in the 007 role and never found his way to new projects. Instead, he has regularly “reinvented” himself by taking risky roles that led to an expanded career. Is it time for you to write that “breakout” book you’ve been planning?
- Looking over all the possible manuscripts and ideas—what has you the most excited? Which one are you scared to write—and therefore, will push you to write your best?
- Ask the opposite question: if you have been writing mysteries, what if your next novel was a romance? Is this the time to make a switch or not? Can you carry any of your audience over to a new genre? Is there a way to work more romance into your next mystery, so the transition isn’t total, but pulls in readers from both genres?
- Could you test new waters with a short story or a short ebook? Is there a way to TRY something new, without doing damage to your current audience? Once you decide on a new mss, you’ll have to commit wholeheartedly to write the best possible. But maybe you can take a couple weeks and try out a new market.
- Are you too attached to the status-quo? Your publisher wants more and more of this one type story and you get paid. But somehow, you feel your passions are lessened. At what point do you need to shake up the status quo?
- What would you tell your best writer friend to do in this situation?
- What are you passionate about? What are your core values? Does Mss A or B or C or D allow you to express that passion better?
- If you write this book and a year from now it fails(either not published or published to poor reviews), can you think why it would have failed to reach your audience?
- If you write this book and it succeeds, can you discuss why it would make your readers excited about your work?
- Do you set goals for your books? If this mystery doesn’t sell 10,000 copies, then I’ll try a different genre for my next project. Would a goal like that help you make the next career move?
- Are there deadlines for this project, or can you create a deadline? You’ll devote six months to this fantasy story, and then, you must write your next mystery.
You have a choice to make and the choice will affect your future and your career as a writer. What will you write next? There are no right or wrong answers, only answers that please you. You’re in control. I know–that’s scary! But that’s another post.
Hey, Chip and Dan–What will YOU write next?
Summer time is inevitably full of stops and starts in our writing. There are vacations, the pull of a sunny day, kids’ activities and much more. For me, I’m teaching several professional development classes this summer; local teachers must attend 60 hours of PD/year and often focus on this requirement during the summer. Great work for me, but more starts and stops. (In fact, I have 3 professional development classes scheduled for next week, so I may be scarce.)
Here are some strategies I try during the summer. Continue reading
I’m going today to a high school English class and writing class to talk about my writing process. It may not come up, but I’ve been thinking about what advice I would give a teen about becoming a fiction writer.
Advice on Becoming a Fiction Writer
First, be a reader. Read widely. Continue reading
by Joelle Anthony
The guest post today is by Joelle Anthony, whose first novel will debut in Summer, 2010: Restoring Harmony (Putnam)
It’s always sad to me when a writer tells me that they really need to finish their novel so they can get an agent because they’ve been at this for a couple of years and they “need to be making some money soon.” My answer is to tell them they should get a job. Not because you can’t make money selling books, you can, but because the time it takes will undoubtedly be longer than you think.
The Short Sixteen Years to Becoming a Published Author
Here is a timeline of how the last sixteen years have gone for me. And I hope that you will take this as encouragement and that it will instill in you the belief that IT WILL HAPPEN because Continue reading
Craft Challenges for the Writing Life
Whatever you write – novels, poetry, picture books, nonfiction – it’s important to keep your craft growing and improving. I take this seriously and find ways to challenge myself.
One way has been the Friday Ideas group, which has kept me searching for viable picture book ideas.
This year, I’m taking the Sky Challenge. Continue reading
Creative writing tips, courtesy of the season:
- Peppermints! When you add sensory details to a story, the most common is visual details. The two most neglected are olfactory (smell) and gustatory (taste). Flavors of the season are peppermint, cinnamon and cloves.
- Gifts! Give your character something to hold in his/her hands. It’s one of the easiest and best ways to characterize someone, while providing you, the writer, with great verbs. Put an iron skillet in Grandma’s hands and watch her rustle up a meal for the 30-odd relatives coming by tomorrow.
- Trees! The setting of a story can add to the mood, if you choose the right details. A pathetic, sad tree is aluminum, thin, sparse, leaning. A cheerful tree is straight, full, soft fir needles, well-lit, glowing, radiant. Be precise in the details you use and you’ll evoke a mood to support (or contrast) with your character’s inner life.
Worship! Just as the Wise Men, shepherds and angels worshiped the birth of the Christ, so we should remember to keep life in perspective. Writing is fun and consuming, but there’s more to life than just writing. Take time off to enjoy your family, attend a madrigal feast (I’m going Thursday night!), go caroling with friends, and ponder the Deep Magic of this special child.
For the next four or five days, I won’t write. I won’t look at a novel manuscript or a picture book manuscript or even think the word, “Revise.”
“How important it is to take the time to read literature, to look at art, to go to concerts. If all parts of your brain aren’t nourished, you become really limited — less sensitive. It’s like food. You’d get pretty strange if you at ice cream all the time.” — Kent Nagano, orchestra conductor.
I plan to shop for groceries, cook, ride bikes, visit the art center, cheer for a Razorback football game (Arkansas v. LSU), and talk and talk and talk to friends and family.
And re-read my two favorite children’s books about Thanksgiving:
See you on Monday!
Yesterday’s news was sad: PW has learned that Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has asked its editors to stop buying books.
NOTE: News has filtered down that the buying freeze applies to adult imprints, not the children’s imprints.
How Can Writers Survive in Slow Times
In light of our sluggish economy, how can writers still pay bills — make money? Of course, I’d like to become Famous Editor’s new best friend, sell five mss by January 1, receive calls asking me to write a great book on a fascinating topic (for a great advance), and so on. Not likely.
Instead, I will read Art and Fear yet again, and try these three ideas.
- Write Better. Emily van Beek, Kathi Appelt’s agent, said Appelt revised The Underneath eight times.
Help is readily available. For example, my workbook on revision, Novel Metamorphosis, helps you diagnose problems, plan a revision in 8 strategic areas, and gives you tools to accomplish those revisions.
Or take online classes, sign up for that MFA program you’ve been wanting to try, or give yourself an assignment to seek out information and learn learn new writing skills.
- Diversify. Look around for other writing opportunities such as writing newsletters and magazines: consider children’s magazines, parenting magazines, adult magazines. Publicize your public speaking to schools or organizations. Teach online, at a local community center, local university, or in your neighborhood.
To find school visits, find resources such as Authors and Illustrators Who Visit Schools, and evaluate which meets your needs best.
If you write fiction, try nonfiction. If you write nonfiction, look for new markets. Try writing a movie script.
- Maximize Your Writing Time. If you have to spend more time making money, consider maximizing your time for your own fiction/nonfiction by using things like Nanowrimo to keep you motivated to produce a lot in a short amount of time. Also check out their NanoFinMo (Finish Month) and other variations.
(Of course, be sure to morph your fast writing into great writing with Novel Metamorphosis!)
Times are sluggish, but not desperate. I’m optimistic that books will be popular as Christmas gifts. I’m optimistic that the economy will turn around soon.
I am almost sad and depressed today. Why? Because I’m looking at the wrong things. Writers of picture books or novels must remember to pay attention to their work, not the audience’s appraisal of their work.
The Audience is Always Late
The audience is always late to the party. When I sold The Journey of Oliver K. Woodman, it was three years before a reviewer ever saw the book. It received starred reviews from Kirkus and BCCB. It was an Irma S. and James H. Black Picture Book Award Honor Book. In fact, I have a file that lists the awards this book won. And it will be released in paperback in February!
In reality, when I sold the book in 2000, I was an “Award-Winning Author.” It’s just that no one knew it until 2003, when they saw the book.
The audience appreciation is always way later than the creative process.
Pay Attention to the Creative Process
On days like today, when I have a tendency to look at reviews, royalties, agents, awards, sales, speaking engagements, or any other outward measure of success, I have to pull myself back. They only speak about yesterday’s projects, not today’s.
The only thing that matters TODAY is the current project. And the writing went really well yesterday on my WIP, as I finally started figuring out the tricky POV. The writing is going well! And that is reason enough to throw off the stirrings of depression and rejoice. The writing went well yesterday and it will go well today. Rejoice.