In a few weeks, one of my favorite writing events of the year rolls around: National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). I know quite a few writers who are going to participate and *hopefully* I’ll be joining them.

What is NaNoWriMo? It’s an organization ( and an event, a time when writers around the world collectively commit to writing a ridiculous number of words in a single month. People come to it with different hopes. Some just want to see if they can write a book. Some see it as a contest. Some enjoy the encouragement and camaraderie–there are in-person write-ins one can join to meet with other writers on the same journey. Some want a deadline to motivate their creativity and energy.

You’d be surprised what people can accomplish in a month.

The most successful enter the month with a plan. For me, it’s not about competition or even the camaraderie (although it’s cool to think of all those other writers working out there). For me, it’s about setting aside some time to write the project I haven’t gotten around to writing. I wrote my current project-in-revision, Juggling the Keystone, during NaNoWriMo. This time around, I’m hoping to use the month to write a book I’ve been kicking around in my head since February.

Anyone else going to participate? Happy writing to you!


PS–Image courtesy of

Writing Strategy of the Day

When, for whatever reason, I’m stuck in a passage of writing, one of my favorite strategies is to make lists. Lists are a nonthreatening way for me to sidestep my internal editor; they let me collect concrete details about a scene, character, or plot line; and they help me slip into a state of flow, where words waterfall from my subconscious unhindered.

For setting? I list smells, tastes, feelings, and sounds as well as what my character sees. I also list my characters thoughts, emotional reactions.

For a conversation? I list phrases, information, snappy comebacks, snide remarks that might pop into the scene.

For a character description? I list physical details, smells (again–I’m big on smells), and sounds; but also analogies and metaphors I might use to encapsulate a key characteristic.

For character actions? I list what they’re thinking about, how they’re feeling, what memories the current events might draw to the surface.

No, I don’t use every idea that hits my list–but I write them all down. That’s part of the process of getting into flow and turning off that internal editor. When I’m finished, I usually have a nice collection of details that let me move the story forward.

Happy writing!


Writing: The Mind Game

The “mind game” aspect of writing has been on MY mind a lot lately, maybe because I’m trying to overcome it long enough to get some words down daily. For me, writing is all about conquering–or maybe wooing–the mind. I have to put my mind in another place to write a great scene description; slip my mind into another body to write convincingly from someone else’s point of view.

Today’s mind game? Sidestepping the following:
  1. Existential writing questions (you know, the “What is the meaning of writing, the universe, and everything?” kind, or worse, the “Should I really spend the time on this rewrite or would it be smarter to come up with a REALLY great idea…?”)
  2. Sudden hunger/thirst/caffeine attacks
  3. Laundry
  4. Puppy lips on my keyboard (theoretically)
  5. Lists of “to-do”s that are really “to-don’t”s, at least during writing time
  6. Napping urges
  7. A dozen new craft ideas that I should test and write up RIGHT NOW (not that that would be a bad thing, in that I’d have some crafts to submit and get some more subs out there, but they aren’t my current top priority)
  8. Sudden ideas for other stories/characters/worlds/magic systems
  9. Repeats of above nap, food, drink, and caffeine siren calls
  10. Cruising the net and reading all my favorite blogs….

:) Cheryl

PS–No, I was not kidding about the puppy lips. Look at that face! Could you push him away? 😛

Most Common Writing Mistakes: RMC-SCBWI 2008 Fall Conference Editor/Agent Panel (Part 2)

Continued from yesterday: More questions and responses provided by editors/agents John Rudolph (G.P. Putnam’s Sons), Julie Strauss-Gabel (Dutton), Melissa Manlove (Chronicle), and Barry Goldblatt (Barry Goldblatt Literary Agency).

6. Explain how imprints/umbrella publishing organizations work?

Julie: Submit only to one person at the publishing company per pass, not to two people from two different imprints. As a rule, imprints don’t compete against each other. YOU pick the best imprint for your manuscript before submitting. Also–never submit the same manuscript to two editors at the same imprint.

John: Each imprint has its own personality and set of submission guidelines. Note–you can submit to one imprint first, the to another.

7. What trends do you see in the children’s publishing market?

All: If you (authors) see a trend in publishing, they (the editors/agents) have already bought that type of manuscript for the next several years. Don’t try to follow trends.

Most areas of the industry are doing well except for picture books.

John: Even in picture books, there are exceptions, books that will sell.

Julie: There’s a spread. There are two or three hugely-successful titles (for ex., vampire books). Then a few more of this type of book hit the shelves because readers are actively looking for them. Then this book type comes out in established series paperback originals. By that point, they aren’t looking for more of the same.

Consider: they are currently working on they’re 2010-2011 list.

8. What type of book do you want to see more of?

Barry: Good ones! There are lots of different types of readers, so a single “book formula” doesn’t work.

John: It’s too difficult to categorize. If a book is good, we buy it.

Barry: We don’t want a book. We want writers or artists we can work with for a long time.

9. What type of book would you like to see less of?

Barry: Bad ones :)

Melissa: Books that will appeal to a broad audience. Ask yourself: how many people will love your manuscript? One hundred is not enough. Need to sell tens of thousands to make a book successful.

Julie: “Good enough” is not good enough for the children’s writer. Ultimately, our goal as writers should deal with what happens when our books get to their kid readers.

10. What kind of competition do aspiring authors face? That is, what percentage of submissions do you actually acquire?

John: Small. In 2006, he wrote 500 letters to people who had potential. 10-12/year actually published.

Melissa: Receives unsolicited 12,000 subs/year, of which she publishes 1-2.

Barry: Signed no new writers last year. This year, he’s signed two. He receives 200 queries per week.

[Cheryl: I think I’ll remain in denial about those figures. Sheesh! I’m used to facing tough odds, but those are ridiculous.]

11. What do you want to see in a query letter or cover letter?

Barry: The purpose of the cover letter is to make him want to read the book. Don’t spend time telling about yourself. The cover letter should be like the preview for a TV show. A preview doesn’t tell you about the actors’ schooling or previous films. Focuses on the story and why you want to see it. The letter should read like flap copy. Anything extra provides him with potential reasons to say no. (Note: Later, Barry added that he doesn’t find it valuable to hear about publishing credits, etc., in a cover letter, either. It’s all about the book concept and the writing.)

John: DON’T tell him how to sell your book.

Julie: Keep the letter simple. Put a taste of what’s in the book, but not too much. (Barry disagrees. In his letters, he wants more info about the book.)

Melissa: Don’t put in “It’s charming/great/my kids love it.” Tell her about the manuscript.

Note: all but Barry would like to see publishing credits, if relevant. However, these are only 10% of the decision.

:) Cheryl