I shelved a piece of my heart

I recently had to make a tough decision in my writing journey.

After spending four years writing and revising a manuscript, entering almost every writing contest with it (and not getting in), two solid rounds of cold querying, and 55+ form rejections later…I finally shelved a piece of my heart.

This was not easy.

I repeat.

This was not easy.

If you’ve been following me on Twitter for awhile, you probably have seen my pitches or even helped me critique this story along the way. My feedback was always a mixed bag and at some point, I knew where this might be headed.

But. Persistence.

My story, A FEATHER’S FORCE, is a YA portal fantasy about a girl who finds out she’s from another realm and only raised human to stay safe from a grandfather, who wants to steal her powers. Here’s a pitch from the past:

Ember can’t deal with her new siphoning ability let alone glowing tattoos crawling up her arms. But when her other superhuman friend is kidnapped for the king’s next experiment, she must embrace her true self or her friend dies. DARKEST MINDS set in sword & sorcery

I believed in this story so bad and for so long. In the last few years, I also wrote several other YA and MG stories, some of which are only outlines and unfinished.

However, knowing when to shelve a finished manuscript after years of writing, revising, and querying is one of the hardest decisions in a writer’s journey. This manuscript has been through so much and I tried so hard to keep it going. I finally made one final push in querying it December 2017 through February 2018. What did I do during the waiting period? I became a CP for a new friend, offered a book giveaway for new releases, tried to blog more, and wrote a brand new story – one that’s been in my heart and mind for years. And it’s TOTALLY different. It’s an adult mystery and I adore it!

That day I finally decided to shelve my YA portal fantasy was a day I received my 57th form rejection. I wallowed. I drank some wine. I binged television. I read a couple books.

Then I picked myself back up because PERSISTENCE! I also fell madly in love with my brand new story. So, here’s to the next leg of my writing journey and I can’t wait to see what’s around the bend!

Every leg of your journey will teach you things. Here’s some of what I’ve learned so far:

  • Timing is everything in publishing
  • Be patient. Seriously!
  • How to be a good Critique Partner for other writers
  • Wrap your arms around your close writing friends
  • The value of CPs and beta readers in your writing journey
  • NEVER GIVE UP! (but it’s okay to take a break)
  • Giving back to the writing community is important – whether you’re giving away books, critiques, or anything that’s encouraging and helping other writers succeed
  • How to craft a Twitter pitch and prepare a submission package
  • Celebrate the small stuff – whether it’s positive feedback or achieving your word count or even a shiny new story idea
  • How to pitch to agents and editors face-to-face, get excellent feedback, and requests for pages
  • How to revise – especially in removing filter words and passive voice
  • How to OUTLINE
  • How to accept rejections and learn from them

 

MOTHER WRITERS: 9 bookish things you can do with your kids

Readers become better writers. Your kids deserve this same opportunity. I try to read to my 4-year-old every night while my almost middle-schooler reads for at least 30 minutes every day. However, there is a plethora of bookish activities you can do with your kids.

  1. Read to your kids as often as possible.
  2. Take your kids to the library with you. Get them a library card. I even suggest asking a librarian to give you a ‘tour’ of the library and learning about all the tools available.
  3. Bring your kids with you to other author book signing events. Got a favorite author coming to town? Bring your kids with you for the experience and to witness your excitement too.
  4. Do writing research (road trips) with your kids. Need to visit a historical site or sip coffee at every coffee shop in the city? Take your notebook and ask your kid(s) to do the same. Have them take notes from their perspective. You never know if you can weave it in.
  5. Encourage your kids to write a story of their own. Read it to the family. Short stories are excellent practice when you’re in between novels or books. Give your kid a writing prompt and see where their imagination goes. Maybe even co-author a story.
  6. Ask you kids questions about the books they’re reading. You can ask ‘What’s that book about?’ but also consider deeper questions. You know, the kind that an agent, editor, or family member may ask you about your book. Then reverse it. Have your kids interview you!
  7. Encourage your kids to buy books as gifts for their friends and siblings. I shouldn’t have to say anything more.
  8. Reorganize your bookshelf by color. Everyone else is doing it!
  9. Donate books to the library or the free library box in the neighborhood.
One of our actual book shelves!

What are some other bookish activities you can do with your kids?

MOTHER WRITERS: Morning Larks vs. Night Owls

Finding the TIME to write is an under appreciated treasure for parents. A treasure that is typically unplanned and unscheduled. When we unbury ourselves from the mom life and have our own time, we hope and pray that words come to us.

So when is the best time to write? Morning or night? For most moms, it will be whenever we can squeeze it in. However, it really just depends on your body clock. Everyone is different.

Personally, I’ve discovered that I write better after the sun sets AND when the kids (and husband) are asleep. This leaves less risk for interruptions. I transform myself into a night owl in order to find this time to write and revise.

Some nights are better than others. (side note: find yourself other writer night owls to join you in a writing sprint to boost yourself). Someone gave me a piece of advice: nap when your kids nap. I’ll say it again. Nap when your kids nap. Yeah, I know you want to get caught up on household chores, but day napping fueled my energy for writing late at night.

Night owls and morning larks have different brain structures. In a study, researchers at the University of Barcelona, Spain, compared “morning people,” those early birds who like to get up at dawn, and “evening people,” night owls who prefer to stay up late and sleep in. They found that people’s genes play a role in determining their circadian rhythm — the inner clock that regulates sleep and other physiological processes. They also found that it relates something called “social jet lag,” a term used to describe the lack of synchronization which can occur between a person’s biological clock and the society around them. Basically, we develop a behavior pattern to adapt to our social schedules.

With my career background in media and journalism, I never had a regular schedule and my body clock adapted. All those late nights working at the radio station or the newspaper meeting deadlines contributed to my current state of writing. Now with kids, I do get exhausted earlier, so there are times, I need to just go to bed and start fresh the next day.

Don’t wear yourself out. As I mentioned in other posts, take care of yourself.

 

 

 

 

 

Story Structure: Utilizing the Hero’s Journey

A little over year ago I queried my second manuscript for the first time. After receiving rejection after rejection after rejection, I decided to reevaluate my submission package and my story itself. It got to a point where I questioned my writing, especially wondering if it was time to shelve this manuscript.

I realized I needed to go deeper in my feedback and the desire for answers drove me to hire a freelance editor for the first time. The editor did a phenomenal critique of my submission package and a full read of my manuscript. I received encouraging yet constructive notes. She pointed out that my major problem was the flow of the story. All the pieces were there, but in the wrong order! 

I spent the next ten months gutting and overhauling my manuscript. Out of her recommendation, I utilized the Hero’s Journey format. Not only did it greatly improve my story, but it boosted my characters’ motives, tension, and goals.

THE HERO’S JOURNEY is a pattern of narrative identified by the American scholar Joseph Campbell. The 12 stages are listed below and you can find details for each on the website here.

  1. The Ordinary World
  2. The Call to Adventure
  3. The Refusal of the Call
  4. Meeting with the Mentor
  5. Crossing the Threshold
  6. Tests, Allies, and Enemies
  7. Approach
  8. The Ordeal
  9. The Reward
  10. The Road Back
  11. The Resurrection
  12. Return with the Elixir

Through this process, I also learned that I wrote my story as a pantser, which means I didn’t plan anything. However, during this process, I developed a simple spreadsheet to help me track my Hero’s Journey. I have it available for your download and use here:

Chapter Plot Outline – Hero’s Journey

After having overhauled this manuscript in 2017, I pitched live for the first time that fall, sent in several requested pages, and participated in Twitter pitches. I still believe in this story and hope one day the stars will align for my publishing journey.

Also, quick shout out and thank you to Lyla Lawless and her incredible editing!

MOTHER WRITER: Kill the Superstition, Save the Writer

By Justine Manzano

“I can’t write unless I have a cigarette, am sitting in a particular room in my house, on a particular chair, writing on a yellow legal pad with a red marker pen.”

The above sentence sounds, to me, like a funeral march, and it has nothing to do with the cancer stick. It is the death of that person’s writing career.

Don’t get me wrong. I know that there are some people for whom these conditions are easy to obtain reliably, but very few of us modern day writers live on a planet where they would be able to work in these conditions for more than ten minutes at a time.

I live in New York City and manage a very busy life. I work a 9-5 and have an eight-year-old boy with ADHD. I’m a wife and a person that my friends and family rely on. And, on top of all of that, I have what is ostensibly a second job. I am a writer.

I have plenty of help. For instance, if my husband wasn’t as helpful with our son or if I had a less forgiving job, the balance of my world would probably cave in. I also have an understanding support system of writers, free spirits, geeks, and athletes who rally behind my endeavors and help where they can and for that, I am eternally grateful. But even with that help, I wouldn’t be able to get more than a page written a day (if even), if I had to write in specific conditions.

I write in the morning before my son wakes up because I wake up at 5 AM. I write on the train to and from work. I write in stolen moments of very slow work days. I write on my lunch break. I write when my son goes to sleep for the night. I write in waiting rooms of doctor’s appointments and in parks when I’ve arrived somewhere early. But more importantly, I write on my laptop, my tablet, my phone, my work computer, my notebook, my desk pad. I write with music playing, in silence, and on weekends with a eight-year-old screaming “Everything is Awesome” (curse you, Lego Movie!) in my ear for the 250th time. I write with or without a cup of coffee.

Wherever. Whenever. With Whatever.

The idea that the muse will only be summoned in the proper conditions is a lie. It is the hallmark of a person who wants to feel like a writer more than they want to be a writer.

That sounds judgmental. It’s not. It’s the product of conditioning. We all grew up with the image of the starving, tortured artist chasing their muse, and the image is perpetuated by the best of us: experts in their field who tell us to find a spot, find a ritual, and write. I just read a writing book by a certain acclaimed author who claimed she could only write in specific conditions and I beg to differ. It’s not because I think little of her, but because I think MORE of her.

Rituals and superstitions are not the key to creativity. Focus is the key to creativity.

The stories are there. If they didn’t already exist in your mind, how would you be able to draw from them once you settled on THAT chair, in THAT room?  You just need to be able to zero in on them and block out the rest of the world for a moment. You don’t need a place or an object to do that. You just need you.

I challenge you to break the rituals. Start small and start subverting them. If you normally work in silence, start working with low music playing and work your way to loud music. Then, the TV in the background. Train noises. Dogs barking. Your child singing. Break the ritual.

Create a new ritual that you can do anywhere. Taking 5 deep breaths or something else that is portable. Something that comes with you anywhere, under any conditions.

It’s a challenge. It’s a risk. But if it pays off, it will make you a far more prolific writer.  So…are you game?

 

Justine Manzano is a fiction writer. You can find her online at:

Would you like to be a guest contributor this blog? Send me an email! jacy@jacysellers.com