Friday, December 28, 2012

Year in Review

I decided to sit down today and glance through my files so I could get a gauge on what I accomplished in my career this year. I've been fortunate to have a steady stream of work in 2012, but there is definitely room to improve my productivity and branch out into new markets. I'm already making plans to attend at least one writer's conference this year and subscribe to some helpful publishing newsletters. Here's a look at the accomplishments I'm most proud of for 2012:
  • My articles appeared in 10 out of 12 issues of Lake Norman CURRENTS.
  • I had two bylined articles in Making Waves, the official newcomers guide to Mooresville, N.C.
  • I wrote four articles for Great Lake Living, the official newcomers guide to Lake Norman in North Carolina.
  • I broke into my first Canadian parenting publication with a reprint.
  • My article “Writing for Free Opened the Door for Paying Assignments" appeared in the March 2012 issue of The Writer.
  • I began working as editor of Little Ones, a bi-monthly regional parenting publication based in Charlotte, N.C. This past year, I edited and wrote copy and feature stories for all six issues of the magazine.
  • My post “My DIY Writing Retreat” appeared on WOW! Women on Writing’s Friday Speak Out blog.
  • I wrote my first two short stories for children and am now submitting them to the appropriate markets.
  • In November, I wrote the first draft of a middle-grade fiction book in 23 days.
  • I made the decision to turn an unpublished manuscript from mainstream fiction into a YA book and am currently working on that outline before I make revisions.
What were some of your most notable accomplishments for the year? What do you hope to accomplish in 2013?

Saturday, November 24, 2012


In October, I had the wonderful and rare opportunity to spend a whole weekend doing nothing but writing and researching. My husband took my kids on a camping trip and you would not believe the amount of writing I was able to work on. You can read more about the fun (and free!) experience here:

Thanks to the WOW! Women on Writing blog for letting me share.

During that retreat, I decided to participate in a writing marathon during the month of November. I didn't necessarily want to participate in National Novel Writing Month, which requires you to write at least 50,000 words, but I focused instead on working on a middle-grade book idea I had. I set a small but manageable goal of 20,000 words by the end of November, which averaged about 667 words a day. In between my paying work (mind you, I had a magazine to edit and produce during this month) I wrote. There were a few days I didn't get to work on the story, but I doubled my word count on other days to make up for it.

I'm happy to report that I finished my book today, six days ahead of my goal! Obviously, revisions are in order now, but I am so proud of myself. It just goes to show how much you can accomplish when you have a fun idea to work on and focus. The book is targeted toward girls ages 8-12 years, and I handed my daughter at least two chapters a night to read. She loved it, and it was such an enjoyable experience sharing it with her. I know this is only the beginning, but I am optimistic and willing to put in the time revising, editing, hiring a professional editor and, finally submitting with the hopes of publication.

I hope all of you are having a fantastic month as well!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

When Random Characters Appear . . .

Sometimes we can't control the creative process, no matter how hard we try. There are so many times when I've sat down in front of my computer to work on a piece of fiction, and a completely different character appeared on the pages. I'm trying to learn how to let those characters have a voice, even if I don't like what they have to say very much.
For example, I've been working on a middle-grade fiction novel, and it's taken off in a completely unexpected direction. What originally started out as a "don't judge a book by its cover" theme has evolved into a story about bullying and how hard elementary school can be. I suppose it's to be expected. My own years in elementary school were very difficult and I definitely encountered my fair share of "mean girls," so I'm trying to go with where the story is taking me. I wanted the book to be lighthearted and fun, but maybe, just maybe, based on my own life experiences, I have a different story to tell.
Regardless, I'm 7,000 words into a 20,000 word goal, and I began working on this story on Nov. 1. I decided to do my own modified version of NaNoWriMo. Based on what I've accomplished so far, I'm thinking the narrator of this book definitely has something important to say.
Happy writing!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Try Something New

It's funny to look back and see how my writing career has evolved in the past several years. I've heard writers talk about how their career "grew along with their kids" and for me, that statement couldn't be more true. I started out freelancing for magazines and websites, and most of the queries at that time related to pregnancy, babies, toddlers and early childhood. Now my kids are getting older. They are both in elementary school (when exactly did that happen)? Over time, I've developed a specialty in writing human-interest stories and profiles, as well as dabbling in fiction. I was having a conversation with my 9-year-old daughter one day, and out of the blue, it hit me that there is an entire market targeted to her age group that I haven't tapped into.
I think many parents who are also writers consider writing children's picture books, especially when we are immersed in the popular stories loved by our children. But children my daughter's age are also voracious readers, and I began thinking back over my own childhood experiences and trying to figure out what I could use for inspiration. I began checking out a few of my beloved middle-grade fiction books from the library and studying them. I started trying to reason with myself. I've written an 80,000-word novel that I'm still revising, but wouldn't it stand to reason that if I set my mind to it, I could probably come up with a 20,000-word middle-grade fiction book?
I am happy to say that along with my regular writing and editing assignments, I've started writing short stories for children and submitting them to some of the more popular children's magazines, and I'm a few chapters into a middle-grade fiction book targeted to girls my daughter's age. This is the most fun I've had writing in a long time.
My advice to any writers who are stuck in a rut is to try something new. It might be hard at first, and it may take awhile to find a different writing groove, but I promise you, it will be worth it.

Friday, October 19, 2012

A Resourceful (but Renegade) Writer

I have a secret to confess. I collect books about writing -- particularly freelance writing. Some of them I won through contests and giveaways, others I purchased on my own. I mine them for information on how to be a more productive, prolific and profitable writer.
Yes, I understand if I spent less time reading and more time just writing and submitting, I'd probably make more money. I've been trying to do a lot more of that lately. Still, it's good to peruse the old favorites every now and then. You never know when inspiration for a good story idea will strike, and luckily I've been filled with ideas lately!
I was scanning The Renegade Writer by Linda Formichelli and Diana Burrell today and noticed some ways I've let my inner renegade shine through this week. One, I didn't send one query out via snail mail, although most writer's guidelines still advise that as the best way to reach editors. Instead, I became an "e-mail detective" and tried to pinpoint which editors at the publications would be most interested in my queries. By the way, do you know how difficult it is to find the aforementioned e-mail addresses? Those things aren't published to the general public for a reason. It takes a lot of persistence and research to actually find the right editor and the right e-mail address and still get the query out before the story idea becomes outdated. I hope that my "Renegade" self is proud of the formerly nervous, apprehensive, "play by the rules" writer that used to live here.
Querying national magazines does take a lot of research, but it can get costly to get your hands on six back issues of a magazine before sending out a query. I'm fortunate that my husband has access to several national magazines at his job, and I have not one but three great libraries within a 10-mile radius of me. One day last week, I actually sat in the children's section of the library taking notes on all the stories a children's magazine recently published so I could get a better idea of their needs. Being a resourceful renegade is my success story for the week. I'd love to hear about your adventures in freelance writing this week!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Best of Me (Part One)

I recently finished reading the book "The Song Remains the Same" by Allison Winn Scotch. The narrator of the book is Nell Slattery, a thirty-something New Yorker who is one of two survivors of a plane crash. The catch? She has absolutely no memory of who she was before waking up in the hospital, and must rely on some questionable family members and friends to help her put the pieces back together. Nell's sister puts together a playlist on an iPod titled "The Best of Nell Slattery," and the music gradually sparks memories of the events that shaped Nell's life. As I read the book, I started thinking of what my own life playlist would look like.
There are so many artists and songs in a variety of genres that I could say accompanied me on my journey so far. I don't even know that it's possible to narrow it down, but I'm going to try and mix up the upbeat and depressing songs that always make me stop and take pause when I hear them. In fact, there are going to be so many songs that I'm going to divide this post into two parts -- the first 18 years of my life and then college and beyond. And I want to know, what would be on your life playlist and why?

1. "The Tide is High" by Blondie. The opening notes of this song instantly take me back to my childhood in Texas, hairbrush microphone and all.
2. "We Got the Beat" by The Go-Gos. Another great dance number.
2. "Time in a Bottle" or "I'll Have to Say I Love You in a Song" by Jim Croce, an artist who left this world way too soon. My stepfather shared a great deal of his favorite music with me when I was a child and Croce was always one of our favorites. I can't hear either of these two songs without instantly tearing up.
3. "American Pie" by Don McLean. And "Vincent." These are just two great examples of magnificent songwriting -- basically poetry set to music.
4. "Go Your Own Way" by Fleetwood Mac. Okay, it's honestly difficult to pick just one of their songs to go on my playlist. I'd really need to put the entire "Rumours" album on there, and "Beautiful Child" from "Tusk."
5. "Jessie's Girl" by Rick Springfield. That's right. Raise your hand if you DIDN'T want to be Jessie's girl?
6. "Just What I Needed" by The Cars. My parents were huge Cars fans and I don't remember a time not listening to them. I loved Ric Ocasek's dark glasses.
7. "La Isla Bonita" by Madonna. I was a huge Madonna fan in the 80s and early 90s, so it's hard to narrow it down on this one. But I do have a great memory of singing this during our sixth-grade end-of-year chorus concert. It was a blast. And the boy I had a crush on that year played a mean air guitar during that number.
8. "Hazy Shade of Winter" cover by The Bangles. I still can't watch the movie "Less Than Zero" without getting severely depressed. But Andrew McCarthy and Robert Downey Jr. make it doable.
9. "Runaway Horses" by Belinda Carlisle. Again, lots of dancing, singing and writing really bad poetry during this era.
10.  "Smells Like Teen Spirit" by Nirvana. I consider this an appropriate segue into the college years.

And of course . . . a discussion on how music influences my writing to come later!