Blog, Writing

SCBWI Florida Conferences

I recently got back from the SCBWI Florida Mid-Year Workshops, and let me tell you, if you live in Florida and you write for kids, you’ve got to go to one of these. They’re pretty awesome.

SCBWI Florida puts together some fantabulous conferences and workshops. In January, the Annual Conference is in Miami. The theme for the next one, Jan 2014? Steampunk. How awesome is that? In June, we have the Mid-Year Workshops in Orlando. Disney. Fellow writers and editors talking and learning about writing for kids on Disney grounds? Disney. This year the workshops were held at the Disney Swan & Dolphin, a hop and a skip away from Epcot. Did I mention Disney? Seriously, can it really get any better than that?

I think I’d say I’m a veteran conference-goer. Before I started seriously writing for kids, I attended others (AWP, FIU, Sanibel Island Writer’s, and others). I’m very blessed that my employer encourages professional development, and since I teach English and writing, it’s a win-win. Every conference has been great. I’ve learned, soaked in ideas to use in my own teaching, grown in my craft and networked. And this is my plug for conferences: if you can afford them, they’re amazing opportunities to know people, to talk about books with others who get it, and to learn craft and to learn about the business side. Because in this business, we can’t fall stale. We have to keep growing regardless of whether we’re published or pre-published. 😉

Since joining SCBWI in October 2011, though, I’ve attended each of our regional conferences and workshops. Which makes this past conference my fourth. And what a difference it makes! I remember my first conference. I was shy. Nervous. Anxious. I knew no one, but I dove in and learned something new in one of the intensives: leveled readers. Then I was inspired by the workshops and the speakers and the first books panels. I saw Jessica Martinez speak and play her violin and I remember thinking: I want to be there one day (sans the violin because, well, I have no idea how to play). I did meet a couple people, and reconnected with a former colleague.

I went to the second conference a little more confident. My WIP at the time was about half-way done, and I was excited about this YA project and about the workshops. I attended a novel intensive with the fabulous lit agent Josh Adams from Adams Literary and authors Gaby Triana and Nancy Werlin, and when my first page was read during first page critiques, I nearly died when all three praised it. I hyperventilated, I’m sure, but Josh’s reaction especially gave me the confidence to keep going. I left that conference renewed and energized and ready to finish my book. It was because of this conference that I met Gaby and found my critique group, something I’m beyond thankful every single day. This conference will forever remain in my memory.

Third conference was equally awesome. My previously WIP was now completed and I had started another WIP. Not only did I get to hang out with my awesome critique group (Gaby, Danielle Joseph, and Christina Diaz Gonzalez, but I got to mingle with agents and editors and this time, I didn’t freeze up. I met the awesome Aimee Friedman, editor at Scholastic and author; Mandy Hubbard, literary agent at D4EO, author, and my former Lit Reactor instructor (love when internet world meets real world!); Michael Stearns, lit agent from Upstart Crow Literary, who critiqued my WIP. I was beyond inspired by Bruce Coville, Ellen Hopkins and Toni Buzzeo, who autographed a book for my son. Add to that the Barnyard Bookstomp dinner dance as well as agents, editors and first book panels, and it was fabulous.

This last one was also great. This time, I graduated to volunteer, and it was a wonderful experience–so much so that I hope to be more involved in future conferences! I attended the novel intensive with Brian Farrey-Latz, editor at Flux, and authors Alex Flinn, and Jordan Sonnenblick. There were lots of great exercises that pushed us beyond comfort levels, and that was awesome! Then on Saturday the Sci-Fi/Fantasy workshop with lit agent Joe Monti and author Matthew Kirby. I met new writers, and reconnected with those I’d met before. The Elixir Mixer and Silent Auction was perfect for networking and just hanging out with like-minded people. The only downside is that my fibro decided to flare-up a bit by the second day, but I got through it! I had some great critiques, too, and I loved Brian’s enthusiasm for my WIP. 🙂

I hope you see a pattern here. I’ve only listed a few of the faculty and speakers. In fact, the lineups are always great, from picture books to illustrators to middle grade and YA. SCBWI FL conferences = amazing. There’ll be a new addition on Sat, July 13: Picture Book Bootcamp at West Osceola Branch Library. For more info, go here. I have no doubt it’ll be just as informative and inspirational as the regional conference and mid-year workshop.

I’m now counting down to the Jan one because I can’t wait to meet up with old writing friends and meet new ones, and I can’t wait to see what Linda, Gaby, and the rest of the SCBWI Florida team has in store. Oh, and I totally can’t wait for the steampunk dinner dance. I’m already working on getting the perfect costume for hubby and me. Of course, I’m hoping by then, I’ll have an agent, but even if I don’t, I know I won’t be disappointed.

Blog, Writing

The art of working hard

Our culture seems to have an aversion to working hard. Everywhere I turn, there’s a clamor for instant gratification. Forget sweating, forget busting our behinds. We have a dream. We have a vision. This is what we’re MEANT to do. But we don’t want to wait. We don’t want to do the dirty work. We don’t want to put in our time and effort to get there. We want it, and we want it NOW. And we want it easily.

Reminds me of a toddler cranking up towards a massive meltdown.

The thing is, the only way to get to that dream, for it to really mean something, is by working hard. By paying our dues. I was talking with a friend and former colleague, author Christine Kling, many moons ago about writing, and she said something like this: to get close to having something ready to publish, you have a million-word internship. In fact, she wrote this post about The Million Word Rule. And I believe it because, as clichéd as the saying is, it’s true that practice makes perfect (or better yet, practice makes better.)

Sometimes, I’ll hear well-meaning friends say, “Hurry up and write it!” Or family will want me to finish, but don’t understand the time I take away from them. But if I don’t sit on my behind and write, if I don’t spend the time to develop the characters and the world, to run through the steps that it takes to start and finish a draft, and then to revise it (over and over and over again) until it’s ready to send out, it won’t happen. I’ll have a half-finished story, a draft full of possibilities that’ll simply evaporate because I didn’t put in the time and effort. A book’s not going to write itself.

And on the same note, a first draft will NEVER be good enough. It can ALWAYS be better. It’s not called a shit-draft for nothing! I drill this into my students: the importance of writing multiple draft, of reading and re-reading and revising to polish their work. I take this to heart, and it’s what’s allowed me to silence my inner editor temporarily while I get the story down into that first, exploratory draft. But again, this is work. It takes time, dedication, patience, and endurance.

I haven’t reached my dream yet of being published, of sharing my writing with the world. I also don’t have an agent…yet. But I’ve seen how much I’ve grown in the past five years since I started taking writing seriously, as a career. Every class I take, every workshop and conference I attend, every critique I receive and every story I write puts me that much closer to reaching my goals. That’s what I have to do. If I want this with every cell of myself, then there’s no other option but to keep on writing, keep on trying, keep on paying my dues so that eventually, it will happen. And when it does, the prize will feel that much sweeter because I reached it with my own effort.


Sure, there are days where it’s harder than others, days where the inner doubt creeps in and tries to take over. But that negativity is just an excuse. It’s a way of trying to take the easy way out, which I guess we’re programmed to want. So stuff a pillow in doubt’s mouth and keep going–the only way to reach that dream is by persevering! You can do it. And when you think about quitting because it’s just too hard, remember this:

“There’s only one thing that can guarantee our failure, and that’s if we quit.” – Unknown

And these:

“A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.” – Richard Bach

“It’s when things get rough and you don’t quit that success comes.” – Unknown Quote

“Most people give up just when they’re about to achieve success. They quit on the one yard line. They give up at the last minute of the game, one foot from a winning touchdown.” – Ross Perot

Keep going, keep writing (or keep doing whatever it is you need to do to succeed)!


So you want to be a writer?

There’s a plethora of advice for writers out there. Just google “advice for writers” and you’ll find it. And there really are amazing bits of advice.

Well, here’s mine: become part of the writing community.

Yeah, we all know that if we want to be writers, we have to sit down and write the darn thing, whatever “it” may be. Our projects don’t write themselves. They take blood and sweat and tears and sleepless nights (and either lots of wine or lots of chocolate). It’s a process that’s beautiful and harrowing and magical and frustrating. Walls will be put up and doors will close to test us–how much do we want this thing? How much will we work at it? If we want something bad enough, nothing should stand in our way.

But here’s the thing. A writing community offers an amazing opportunity of support. A certain amount of cheerleading. It allows us to compare notes, to be with like-minded people who will totally understand our acronyms and crazed stories about how, in the middle of the night, we woke up with a dream that told us exactly what happens next in our WIP. We get it.

And now that the world is connected, literally, with the click of a button, it’s so much easier. But seriously, if you want to write, you need to sit your butt down and write, but you also need to go find other writers. How? Join organizations. Attend conferences. Take classes (online or in person). Join critique groups. Two of the best things I ever did when I began this journey was join SCBWI and take classes through UCLA Extension. Both have offered me an abundance of opportunities. I’ve learned craft and met some amazing writers, many of whom I still keep in contact. I met my critique partners through a Litreactor course and SCBWI conference.

Something else that, for me, has been such a wonderful experience–joining Twitter. The networking possibilities it offers are amazing, and I’ve been able to connect with other amazing writers and authors.

I have found that the writing community is a close-nit, supportive one, and if you want to write, join it!


End of October?

I realize I’ve been quiet on the blog front and I apologize for that. Truth is, I have to be so strict with any moment of free time I have that it doesn’t leave me much for being on here. The semester is half-way complete, so midterm madness has ascended upon me and my students. Between grading, revising, and writing–and my UCLA classes–there’s little time for much else.

I’m so looking forward to winter break!

That said, I’m also looking forward to the start of next year. I’m starting off the year with the SCBWI Miami conference in January, and I’m hoping to add the LA conference in August to that. I’m also participating in NaNoWriMo this year, where I hope to complete THROUGH THE WALLED CITY. I have 4200 words written and I’m in love with this story just as much as I love SOUL MOUNTAIN. Maybe even more. The magic of the process has captured me again. I don’t think I can ever grow tired of it! My goal is to finish the first draft during NaNo and then start revising. I don’t know if it’s a realistic goal, but I have to try. How I wish NaNo was during the summer…

Happy writing everyone!


New Project!

With SOUL MOUNTAIN now officially in the querying stage, I’m focusing my attention on a new project, tentatively titled THROUGH THE WALLED CITY. I have a new cast of characters that are setting up shop in my head, and I’m excited about it! Today I tweeted: Write what you know, sure, but for the real adventure, write what you’ve always wanted to know. And that’s what this project is for me. I’ve always wanted to know more about Cartagena, this gem of a city on the northern coast of Colombia. It’s a current popular Caribbean port, though it’s always been popular–just not always for tourism. This city has such a rich but turbulent history with slave trade, pirates, conquests, and this is the perfect opportunity for me to learn more.

And I’m totally calling in a “research” trip to truly immerse myself in its beauty and history.

Though I’m still working on the details and characters (I’m in the planning/research phase of this project), this is the basic premise as of now. I think (hope?) it will be more magical realism than fantasy:

When fifteen-year-old Micaela “Mica” Uribe is sent to spend the summer with her aunt and cousin in historic Cartagena, she doesn’t expect to literally step into history. She also doesn’t expect to fall for the cute local, Gianluca. But as she experiences the city’s past with Gianluca’s help, she comes to terms with her heritage and her present.

So yeah. It’s vague but I’m SO EXCITED about this new project! =D And I’m choosing songs for my playlist because after I finish grading these sets of papers I owe my students, and after I finish beta reading two manuscripts, I’m going to start writing in earnest!

I’m also scribbling outlines for the sequel to SOUL MOUNTAIN, and that’s what I’ll be working on through my UCLA classes this fall.

Oh my. Two projects at once. Am I crazy? Maybe, but now that I’ve had one book-length project done, I feel more prepared to tackle these next two.

Happy writing (and revising), everyone!

Blog, Writing

Friday Five

My writing Friday has returned, and to start it off, I thought I’d delve into a “Friday Five” kinda post.

1. My son graduated from preschool. And he’s now registered for KINDERGARTEN. Yes. I am warring with myself. On the one hand, I’m so excited for and proud of him. On the other, I want to throw myself down, pound my fists on the floor, and cry, “I don’t want him to grow up! I don’t wanna!!” But I won’t. Because I’m, you know, an adult. Now we have to work on getting his uniform, school supplies, AND we have to work on a summer reading project which is due by the third day of school. EEEK! Let the homework begin.

Of course, his being bigger now is causing me to seriously think about camp during the summer. At least for part of it. I have work to do–I’m still teaching, and I have to finish this draft…I’m THISCLOSE to finishing the first draft and I’m so ready to begin the serious revisions– and he’s got a ton of energy. I’ve been keeping him busy during the day with pockets of quiet time so I can get work done, but it’s been really hard getting that balance…it hasn’t been working too great.

2. The SCBWI Florida mid-year conference was AMAZING. Not only was it held in Disney’s Yacht Club (which was beautiful and a hop-and-a-skip away from Epcot!), but I also met so many fabulous people and the intensives and workshops were great.

I attended the Novel Intensives on Friday, with agent Josh Adams from Adams Literary, author Gaby Triana, and author Nancy Werlin. What I loved about this intensive, was that it focused on strategies that will help me now as I transition from first draft to serious revision. I have the skeleton down, but now comes the real work: reshaping, adding layers, removing fluff, and working on (fixing?) characters, pace, motives, tension, stakes, and language. I’m adding layers, people! Layers.

I recently tweeted this about revision: “What I love about revision is witnessing how each round molds the story, adding yet another layer that works toward making it whole.” I know my students come to revision with groans and excuses. They hate it (most of them, anyway). I think I used to as well. But there’s a moment of clarity that happens, when I watch what I’ve written be transformed into something so much more beautiful than when it started. A butterfly emerges from its cocoon. That’s what revision does to writing, and I’m loving witnessing this transformation. So yes, revision? Bring it on!

Gaby Triana and Nancy Werlin had great suggestions and exercises for working on plot and characters. I’ve already started implementing some of these, and they’re beyond useful. They also talked about time management, which, as you can see from my number 1 in this post, is tricky! Josh Adams gave us a wonderful view into the current YA market, which writers need to know! It’s daunting and harrowing thinking about the after. After the manuscript, now what? After I finish my story, how do I do this? After the story is finished… the query letter *shudder*–I think most newbies probably follow a similar thought pattern, and that’s why knowing the market is important! (I’m still working on my feelings toward the query letter…) It doesn’t mean going out and writing into a trend (no! Though if that’s the story you must tell, then tell it. Don’t force it into a trend); it means understanding the way it works. Writing is an art, but publication is a business; writers need to know this. All three also read great first lines from current and past books, and it reinforced the importance of a great first line/page.

Then came the first page critiques. These are done anonymously and are exactly what the name suggests: critiques by the panelists of the first page of your manuscript. I submitted mine and when they started picking them at random, holding my breath, vacillating between “please pick mine” and “no, don’t pick mine.” And then they picked mine. I swear I heard nothing by Nancy Werlin reading my first page, and it was scary and nerve-wracking and all I could do was wring my hands to keep them from shaking while I waited for her to finish and for the critiques to begin. But guess what, they loved it! I must’ve sat there with an idiot grin plastered on my cheeks from the feedback I received. It was such a confidence boost, such a shock of electric excitement. I think my favorite compliment was that it sounded “lyrical.” Granted, I know it’s only one page–one out of maybe two or three hundred– but it means that what I did with the first page, and probably chapter since those have been worked and reworked so many times I’ve lost count, works. And it means I can do it. So yeah, that was pretty cool.

On Saturday, I attended the YA track with Nancy Werlin and Noa Wheeler, editor at Henry Holt Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Macmillan. It was also a great workshop, with the focus on characters. Again, we got great exercises that I’m keeping handy now as I start transitioning from first draft to revision. Then, Sat afternoon, I had my first chapter critiqued, only…it wasn’t my first chapter anymore (though it was one character’s first chapter). Still, it was good because I saw some major flaws with that character’s chapter/motivation, so I know it’s something I have to work on. Donna Gephart was sweet and insightful and gave me some really good notes.

It was a great experience, and I’m so happy I was able to go. Another pretty freaking awesome thing happened, but I don’t know if I can say much about it, so for now, I’m keeping quiet. Suffice it to know that I was excited and terrified all rolled up into one sticky ball, but that which doesn’t scare, isn’t worth pursuing! Regardless of how it turns out, the fact that it happened had me grinning, again, like an idiot for a long, long while.

3. I went on vacation after the conference, but it was the most stressful vacation ever! Why? Because I had to close out session 2 (finish grading and entering final grades) and I had to prepare session 3 (for which I had to finish converting the course to the new learning management system). I wouldn’t have chosen to go on vacation this week, but since the conference was in Orlando, this was the most obvious choice. Still, it was nice going to the parks (sometimes), and working by the pool (much better than working in my desk). I wasn’t feeling great thanks to a small flare-up and difficulty sleeping, but I trudged through and made it. I think another mini-vacation is in order. This time, to the beach. And this time, not during such a critical time in the semester!

Of course, vacation on the beach will probably look something like this:

4. I started a 4-week class in LitReactor with Mandy Hubbard, YA author and agent with D4EO Literary, on writing and selling the YA novel. This class was perfect for the month gap I had between my Novel III and Novel IV classes, and I’m so happy I signed up.  It’s been awesome, and the community of writers in there is unbelievable. Some amazing talent! And Mandy Hubbard is funny and insightful and helpful! We get our first three chapters and a query letter critiqued during the class by both classmates and Mandy, and I’ve gotten a lot of great feedback. This is what I love about classes in workshop settings, like the UCLA classes. They are invaluable for growing as a writer. Critique groups, too. The only way to get better (other than learning about craft and revision and working hard, of course) is to put your writing out there. It’s scary, but it is SO SO SO beneficial. It also teaches how to take criticism. I don’t get defensive like I did when I first started sharing my work. I take it in, let it simmer, and often find truth, which then makes my writing that much better. My first page/chapter wouldn’t be such if I hadn’t listened to suggestions of my classes. In fact, it was a classmate in my UCLA class who suggested starting with my male character! So yes, I’m excited about this class.

5. I’m also excited about starting Lynn Hightower’s Novel Writing IV class at UCLA’s Writers Extension. I received the email that I was accepted into this advanced course in early June, and I registered immediately after! I’m nervous, too, and a little terrified as it’s going to push me more, which is a GREAT thing (even if my first reaction is to bury my head in the figurative sand)! Like I’ve said in the above points, what pushes me in my writing makes me better. So I’ll gulp down my fear and my self-doubt and do it!

“The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.”– Sylvia Plath

Happy Friday, everybody!

Blog, Writing


The winter quarter is coming to an end at UCLA Writer’s Extension, and, in a last assignment, we posted our “final chunk” of material we’d written throughout the course. I was again pleased and surprised at how much I’d gotten done; in the week-to-week writing, I don’t see the end result. It’s just another scene here and there, another exploration of character and motive, another development of the plot and world. But in this “final chunk” I’m able to see a tangible result of my hard work.

I took it a step further, just for my benefit, and I put together work from the last two classes, all on my novel, and I was happy: 24,297 words in 83 pages. Wow! This past summer, I still had only had a rough idea of where I thought I was going and two main characters. Now, I have a story! I have scenes. I know where the story is going and, for the most part, how it’s going to end, though I know at any moment, my characters can throw me a curveball. I have not only started, but I’m making PROGRESS. That’s one cool bean! It keeps me motivated seeing the end to the first draft.

Next week (I think) I might start reading it at my critique group.

On another, writing related note, I submitted two leveled reader manuscripts to an editor (crossing fingers and toes!) and read another one I finished at my critique group tonight. Making some progress there, too.

I am hoping the next month goes by quickly so I can get to May, when I’m only teaching online and when my son’s still in school so I can spend my days writing. Instead of one full day of writing a week, I can get at least four; oh sweet promise!

Blog, Writing

“Dual [writing] Citizenship” and other news

I’m in Chicago this week at the AWP 2012 Conference, and I have to say, I’m loving it (granted, it’s only my first day).

This is the first time I attend  such a conference (most of my conference experiences deal strictly with fiction, nonfiction, poetry, or children’s writing, in mostly workshop form. This, however, is a different experience. For starters, it’s no small event. There are over 10,000 (if I misremember the number, please excuse me) attendees, dozens of lectures/panels happening simultaneously across two hotels, and an impressive celebrity author lineup.

Additionally, though, this conference is great because it encompasses two of my loves: writing and teaching. The lectures/panels that are available broach a wide variety of subjects that pertain to writing and writing programs. The beauty of this combination is that, in one place, I can get tools or listen to conversations about the kids of writing that I do and the classes that I teach. It’s awesome.

The title of this post is in reference to one of the panels I attended today that was titled: “Dual Citizenship: Writing for Both Children and Adults.” It was fabulous and I think it really nailed a problem I’ve been encountering, a sort of snobbery if you will. We’ve been so conditioned to accept a reality of labels that we constantly feel the need to fit into one of those labels, as if writing could be contained in such a way. We don’t have to have just one writing identity (the poet, the fiction writer, the memoirist, the kid lit writer); it’s perfectly okay in embracing this multiple personality effect!

I know that when I get asked the pivotal question,”What do you write?” I stumble sometimes because, well, I like writing it all (though not necessarily all with the same strength)! I don’t want to be known just as a fiction writer or a memoirist or a YA or PB author. I want to write it all. I want to strive to be, like one of the panelists said, Julia Alvarez. Why settle for just one writing identity when you can have several (and be good at several)? It makes perfect sense. Still, whenever I do say I write more than one genre or for more than one age group, I tend to get an “Oh” with a glazed look, as if saying I just haven’t made up my mind what I want to write, that I have to find one niche and stay there.

Well, I refuse.

I enjoy writing. Period. So I will write whatever it is that turns me upside down, inside out. Whatever fills me with excitement. Whatever decides to be what I must write right now. Then, when I’m done with that, I’ll move onto the next project that again commands my attention. Because I think that’s what writers should do. Write what they just absolutely have to write and not what they think they should write. That, I think, should be one of the main writing commandments.

Blog, Ramblings, Writing

Productive Day

It’s late and I’m exhausted, but it’s been quite a productive day for writing! Days like this make me happy.

I worked on my novel project, which I had slightly neglected over the last three weeks. I mean, I still scribbled notes here and there, but I hadn’t done any serious writing for it. Today I did, in part thanks to the start of the Novel II class I’m taking through UCLA’s Writers’ Extension, and in part thanks to my friend who has recently completed her manuscript for a collection of poems (or a novel-in-verse). I am feeling a little better, and writing + incense + Adele = a very happy and relaxed me. It’s just the way it is.

I also revised one of the leveled readers I was working on (seems like forever!) using the guidelines I got from the Leveled Reader Intensive at the SCBWI Miami Conference. I have one other leveled reader that is practically finished, and I want to work on a third. I started the cover letter (shudder – I hate those!) so at least I feel like I’m one step closer to sending that out.


So now to sleep because I’m falling asleep at the keyboard and have stopped being useful.

Blog, Writing

Eleven Things I’ve Learned about Writing

Throughout the last few years, I’ve been learning a lot. I’ve swallowed up pride, rolled up my sleeves, and immersed myself into the writing world, and after this year’s SCBWI Miami Conference, I thought I’d make a list of these “things” I’ve learned.

1. Write. This is a no brainer, but years ago, I spent so much time dreaming about writing and talking about writing without actually doing the writing. I came up with ideas and concepts and characters, but it all stayed in ideas, concepts and characters. Nothing got done. I wrote about other things, or I wrote in other ways, but I didn’t write my ideas, concepts, and characters into existence. I let them dissipate. Now, I sit my butt down and write. I make time for writing, somehow, someway, because it’s important. The more I write, the better I get.

2. Take a leap of faith. If I hadn’t taken a leap of faith this past summer, when registering for the children’s writing workshop through UCLA, I wouldn’t have been exposed to this amazing world of children’s writing (including YA), and I wouldn’t have realized how much I enjoy writing for this audience.

3. Revise. This should be another no-brainer, but I’ve only recently really learned how to revise. I mean really revise a creative work. The cyclical process of prewriting, writing and rewriting is crucial, indispensable. Like I tell my students, you can’t just sit down and write something and expect it to be great. It doesn’t happen. It can be good, even really good, but for it to be just right, you have to work it and rework it, like a piece of wet clay, until it takes on the desired shape. I’m heeding my own advice.

4. Be ready to work. It takes work, hard work, to write a story. It’s amazing work, yes. I love each “aha!” moment and I feel that giddiness and awe that comes when the characters and their stories fall into place. I love the feeling of realization that comes when a part of the plot or scene comes full circle and I fully understand what the character was trying to tell me. It’s exciting and absolutely rewarding. But it’s also a lot of hard work. For every “aha” moment, there are fifteen frustrating periods where I don’t know what the hell I’m doing or where I’m going with this or why I’m even bothering. (Okay, so I’m giving some arbitrary numbers here, but you get my point. Often, there are more frustrating moments than enlightened ones, but the enlightened ones make it all worth it.)

5. Following #4 above, know that if you want to write great literature, you’re going to have to put in grueling work. E.B.Lewis said something at the conference that resonated with me: we live in a society where we want straight A’s, but only want to do C work. This is true beyond the academic world (where I see it every day with students); this is true in everything we do, including writing. If we want something great, we’re going to have to put in a great amount of work.

6. Don’t give up. Kathryn Stockett, who wrote The Help, received 60 rejections before getting her book published. Jay Asher, who wrote Thirteen Reasons Why, was rejected twelve times and was close to giving up, but he didn’t. You get the idea. Keep at it. Sure, rejections hurt (I should know!), but they help us become better writers. Every time I receive a rejection, I take another look at my MS (or essay or short story or whatever it was that I submitted) and I revise. And I keep going. Eventually, something’s gotta give, right? Right.

7. Share your work. Really. You need other eyes to see your words and other ears to listen to your words. We don’t live in a bubble, so don’t write in one. One of the ways to improve is to share what we’ve written with others. In a class/workshop. In a critique group. To friends who like to read (and who can give good feedback, not just, “oh I like this” or “this sucks”). I did this for the first time (since I was an undergrad) four years ago, when I raised my hand in a memoir writing workshop and read aloud, in a tremulous voice, what I had written. It was like exposing my soul, but it was good. It helped. And now, whenever I can, I share my work. It makes me a better writer.

8. Read your work aloud. Really. Listen to how your words sound. I give my students this advice when writing academic essays, but the same is true for creative writing. When you read aloud, you catch glitches, awkward phrasing, mistakes. It’s a great tool for revising your work. If you can read it to someone (see #7 above), even better. I do this all the time.

9. Learn to take criticism. The biggest problem with new/some writers (and I’ve been here) is that they think their writing’s the best thing since, well, writing. They think they’ve got it right every time and that there’s little room for improvement. So when they go to a conference or  take a class, and they share their work, they get downright angry when someone else tells them their work isn’t that great and, in fact, it kind of sucks (okay, not in so many words). But the reality is that I was this delusional writer. I hated criticism because I just wanted everyone to tell me how great my writing was. That’s no help at all! If I want to get better, I need people to tell me what’s not working so I can improve it. Of course, it’s also useful to know what does work so I can keep doing that, but I’ve definitely learned to take criticism (even brutal criticism).

10. Go to conferences, join organizations, and know the market. If you want to be a published writer, you have to know what’s out there. If funding permits, go to conferences and join organizations. They are direct links to craft and market and networking. And you have to know what’s out there in the genre in which you’re writing. I’ve done all of this, and I keep doing it. I keep attending conferences and I’m joining organizations and critique groups. I’m researching the market. I go online, read blogs by agents and editors in the genre’s I’m writing.

11. Read. This is a no brainer, and it always surprises me when I hear writers say they don’t read. For me, reading and writing have a direct correlation. You have to be an avid reader to be a good writer. Reading exposes you to other voices, techniques, styles, and skills that you might otherwise ignore. And this is especially important if you’re starting out and you’re still trying to figure out your voice and style. I started as a reader, and I will forever be a reader.