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Editorial Feedback

feedbackI just registered for a writers’ conference coming up in a few weeks. One thing I like about conferences is they offer opportunities to get feedback from an editor on a manuscript. As I mentioned in an earlier post, it’s hard to get that kind of attention these days. There was a time when editors sometimes made comments on a manuscript before returning it. At least that’s what I’m told. But those days are long gone.

Today, publishers are more likely to have a policy of contacting the author about a submission only if interested. Otherwise, nothing. So I seek out conferences where I can have a manuscript critiqued by an editor or agent who is speaking at that event. Critiques cost extra, but I consider it a good investment.

At the last conference I attended I got a critique of my first picture book biography, which I’ve been working on for a while. The editor noted a couple of main problems with it. One was the ending. The editor called it “anticlimactic.” No surprise there. I knew the ending wasn’t strong enough, but I had run out of ideas to try. The editor also said it was hard to connect with the subject of my story.

Another good thing about conferences is that attendees are often allowed to submit to editors and agents who speak at that event, at least for a limited time. That invitation includes editors from publishing houses that don’t normally accept unsolicited submissions. Because of that, I was also able to submit my picture book to an agent who spoke at a conference, and I soon heard back from her. She said basically the same things about my manuscript as the editor. I sensed a pattern.

Unfortunately, even though I knew what the manuscript needed, I wasn’t sure about how to get there. So I let it sit on the back burner for months while I tried to figure out the next step. Sometimes that’s the best thing to do with an unruly manuscript.

During those months, I worked on a variety of other projects, but the picture book was always at the back of my mind. Finally, the answer to what to do about the ending came to me in the form of an image of what I imagined would be a great final illustration. It gave me an idea of how I could end the manuscript on a high note. Anything I want to add about the subject’s life after that can go into an Author’s Note at the end of the book.

As for helping readers connect with my subject, I’m going back to the research to find additional details to show more of her personality. My new goal is to have the rewrite done in time for the upcoming writers’ conference.

A Writer’s Journal

doc067I’m celebrating an anniversary of sorts. It was at this time 36 years ago that I started journaling. I’ve made entries most days ever since. There were previous attempts at journaling, but I always gave up after a few weeks. So how is it that I’ve stuck with journaling for 36 years after so many failed starts?

The difference is that the journaling I do now is something that is useful to me. I do some writing about what’s happening in my life, but the main purpose of my journal is to keep my writing career on track. How does that work?

First, my journal serves as a storehouse for future writing projects. Whenever ideas come to me, I write them down in my journal. A look at only a few of the many notebooks I’ve filled over the years assures me that I’ll never run out of ideas.

My journals are also filled with ideas for improving my writing. Entries include tips from other authors that I’ve come across in my reading or picked up at writers’ conferences. There are also notes about biographies I’m reading – what I like about them and what I feel doesn’t work.

I write about the critiques I’ve gotten from my writers’ group and the changes editors want me to make. Accepting criticism is hard. I admit that sometimes those entries are a way to let off a little steam before I come around to accepting that their suggestions will make the writing better.

Journaling also helps me solve problems with my writing. As a beginning writer, I thought all I needed was a great idea. With the right topic, when I sat down to write the words would flow easily. I quickly learned it doesn’t work that way. There are days when everything is going well, but there are other times when the writing just isn’t coming together. So I journal about the problems I’m having. Putting those thoughts on paper helps. I’m amazed at how many times a solution to a problem comes to me before I’ve reached the end of the journal entry. Putting my thoughts on paper is a way of letting go and trusting that a solution will come.

I also journal about my writing goals. Reminding myself of what is important to me helps me make good decisions about what assignments I accept. If I take an assignment will I still have time to work on my own ideas?

Finally, journaling helps me plan my writing time. Like most writers, I’m often juggling more than one project and I worry about getting it all done without missing deadlines. So I journal. I put down on paper what needs to be done first and figure out a schedule for any other projects. Once I’ve scheduled everything, I can relax and focus on the work at hand. Of course, carefully laid plans sometimes fall apart. A project may take longer than I expected or something comes up. When that happens, I work out a new schedule during my next journaling session.

My journals are not fancy. I just use spiral notebooks. During back to school sales, I buy a supply to last a year. Each time I fill a notebook, I put a label on the front showing the date I started writing in that one and the day I finished. Then I file it away to read again when I’m looking for new ideas or writing encouragement. Because the best part of journaling is that it helps me see progress with my writing, and for me, there’s no better encouragement.

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