March 2018 Monthly Wrap-Up

March was a happy and busy month characterized by so much writing success! I launched my new website, The Hardworking Creative; received my first ever royalty check for my book; had several great articles published, including a print article where I interviewed a world champion athlete; started writing a new novel; went to an amazing writer’s conference; got three big new long-term, steady writing jobs; and made lots of money. Wow!

That was the main focus of my month, but I also coached softball twice a week (LOVE), worked at my nonprofit 1-3 times a week (most interesting conversation: a fifth-grade Burmese refugee casually telling me about her arranged marriage), and my family began visiting a new church that we all really like.

My health was pretty bad this month, so don’t ask me how I managed to do all this fun stuff. But here it is: went to Hobby Lobby and lunch with Cari and Erin; went to lunch and boutiques with Andrea; Brooke N came over for lunch (lol my friends and I like food) after church; I made new friends and had the BEST day at the Atlanta Writer’s Workshop; we went to the farm with some old friends; Brooke N and I went out for lunch and Barnes & Noble; Mom and Joshua and I saw The Greatest Showman (third time) and got fro-yo; we went to a nursing home with our new church; Cari and I had dinner and went to PetSmart (always a good time); Dad and I saw Black Panther; we went to a party/Easter Egg hunt with our old church; and we went to a Stations of the Cross event at Adventures in Missions.

This month I’m…

Reading: Salt to the Sea, Ruta Sepetys (reread–the BEST). This Savage Song, V.E. Schwab. Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, Kate Douglas Wiggin (reread). A Cactus in the Valley, Olivia J. Bennett. I’ll Scream Later, Marlee Matlin. A Time to Die, A Time to Speak, and A Time to Rise, Nadine Brandes (MY NEW FAVORITE BOOKS IN THE HISTORY OF EVER). Sisters First, Jenna Bush Hager and Barbara Pierce Bush. Hello Universe, Erin Entrada Kelly. 10 total.

Watching: Building a Youpreneur Business Around a Personal Brand. Rise on NBC. The Greatest Showman (third time). Black Panther (loved it!). Bringing Up Bates. Lots of sign language vlogs as well as my old ASL curriculum DVDs (as research for my new novel).

Writing: Where do I start? Okay. I launched my new website/blog, The Hardworking Creative, on March 1st. I received a royalty check for Hope is the Thing with Feathers (so COOL) and sent my novel Angelica to be critiqued. I did lots of research for my new historical fiction novel World on a String and wrote 7k words of it. I wrote four short stories and submitted stories to 20 magazines; I also applied to 8 jobs and pitched article ideas to 5 publications. I got several fan emails from strangers, including a few people who literally begged me to be their freelance writing mentor. (?) I spent basically the whole month in phone meetings. I had a fantastic Skype mentoring session. I spent the BEST DAY OF MY LIFE at the Atlanta Writer’s Workshop. I began a new job writing for a running shoe website; a freelance job I started in Jan finally kicked in with some work; and I’m in the trial phase writing for two marketing companies. (Aka I have ZERO time to do any writing I want to do anymore–but, I’m making money.) Last but not least, here’s everything I had published: “Sports for Homeschoolers” (print–Practical Homeschooling magazine); “Next Generation Focus” (print–Up in Cumming magazine); “Freshman Year,” Sunlight Press; “The 5 Craziest Words in English and How to Use Them,” Craft Your Content; and “Declaring the Light,” The Life.

Listening to: Never Enough, Greatest Showman. Love Goes On, Hillsong Y&F. Bandstand soundtrack. Man of Sorrows. Glorious, Rise (so obsessed). Get your Hopes Up, Josh Baldwin. Runaways, Sleeping Wolf.

Loving: The Strength to be Still by Bethany. How to Study the Bible: The Verse Brainstorming Method by Grace. 5 Things You Should Be Doing EVERY DAY To Stay Creative + Focused! by Abbie. to my writer friends by Hanne. Chronic Pain and the Book of Philippians by Esther. Let’s Rethink Our Language of “Calling” by the IMB. YA Contemporaries NEED economic diversity! by Sherbet Lemon Reviews.

I blogged two times over here this month: Atlanta Writer’s Workshop: What I Learned and Get Your Hopes Up. I blogged four times over at THC, and you can check out those interviews and posts here. (I’ll be writing over there much more than over here now, so definitely go sub by email if you haven’t.)

Grateful for: Sunshine and flowers and coffee. Dealing with horrible people at work being made not so horrible by laughing hysterically about it with coworkers when the person left. Reading a book in Spanish to one of the cute little boys at work. Having a baby in the house on a regular basis. All my amazing writing opportunities!! Sitting around a table eating chicharrones with Hispanic and Indian kids. The fact that our new church is the CUTEST building in the middle of the CUTEST valley. Brownie pie for pi day. Coming home at 8 intending to go to bed, but staying up for two hours reading old journal entries with Mom and Joshua. Making Easter baskets for some kids in the foster system. My favorite four-year-old unexpectedly climbing into my lap when we praying. Sitting down on the bucket of balls to give my 8U team a pregame talk and half of them immediately trying to sit in my lap.

What did you do in March? Tell me in the comments!

Get Your Hopes Up

I haven’t had steady freelancing work since last September. I’ve had lots of one-time jobs, but no steady clients–that is, until this past week. In the last seven days, I’ve gotten four steady freelance writing clients. I’ve spent the week trying to learn how to use three online platforms and sitting in phone meeting after phone meeting and taking notes on the invoice format that each client wants. It started out as exhilarating and descended into just overwhelmingly stressful. (The only reason I have a spare fifteen minutes to write this blog post is because one of the online platforms is having technical issues this morning, so I can’t upload my post.) I was still working hard every day and applying to tons of jobs during those six months, so what’s the difference between six months of not much and then this sudden explosion of steady clients that just keep calling me? At first I was baffled. But now I think I know.

I can’t tell you how many times I used to say the phrase “I don’t want to get my hopes up” every day. It was a lot. I was talking with a friend about faith a couple of weeks ago, and also thinking about another friend of mine who has so much faith. I wrote in my journal last week, “I never want to get my hopes up. But because of Who God is, am I free to get my hopes up? Hope will not put me to shame.” I wrote the specific name of a website that I had applied for a position with, but had heard absolutely nothing from them for two weeks, which seemed unusual. Right after writing that in my journal, I opened my email and I had an email from them. The next day I got that job.

Then things just kept flooding in. I began writing for the running website this week. I began writing about fitness for a content company (I technically got this job back in Dec/Jan, they just didn’t have any work for me until this week). I had a few meetings with a marketing company, and I’m in a trial phase working for them. Then last night–when I was already figuring out how many of my weekend plans I could cancel in order to stay home and work–I got a phone call from a company that helps musicians market themselves (something that I’m very passionate about–the whole reason I started The Hardworking Creative–and wanted to do, but didn’t know how to get started), and I’m in a trial phase writing for them.

Like I said, it started out really exciting this week–Wow! I’m going to be writing 40+ hours a week and making an adult salary!–and descended into insanely stressful–Wow, I’m going to be writing 40+ hours a week. I keep shortening my time at the nonprofit I work for (even though I love it there and I feel like I’m meant to be there) because I have so much writing work, and I haven’t worked on my new novel all week. This is what I wanted–to be a full-time freelance writer. The money is great, most of the work is fun, and it’s validation for my decision to skip the college degree (at least for now) and stay home and work this year. So I shouldn’t complain. But there’s definitely going to be a learning curve. The problem isn’t the writing itself–it’s figuring out how each company works (daily meetings? Oh. Okay), when invoices are due (introducing my three daily planners and my phone reminder app), and how to use the dang online platforms (all I have to say about this is ughhhhh).

Hopefully things will settle into a rhythm soon. (Unless any more clients call? I wouldn’t be surprised.) A few people have asked me lately what my day to day actually looks like. It’s always different, but I hope to get into more of a set schedule soon. Ideally, I’ll start waking up at 8 (it’s a struggle #chronicfatigueproblems); do freelance writing work from 9-11; work out/eat lunch/do chores or VO or something away the computer from 11-1; do freelance writing work from 1-4; hopefully still have the energy from 4-6 to work at my nonprofit or work on my own projects (like writing my novel); and then read or coach softball after dinner. If that’s even feasible? More and more clients keep getting added to my planners–definitely more than six hours’ worth of work per day. I work on Saturdays and I wanted to knock out some tasks from my new jobs today, but no one is around to help me out. So I’m off to watch my brother’s baseball game (my 8U team had their first game last night and lost 23-0…) and see Black Panther.

Anyway. This was just a stream of consciousness type thing to say that I’m officially a full-time freelance writer making big money, but it is not all rainbows and unicorns, and that I don’t think it’s a coincidence that all these clients came flooding in right after I got my hopes up, because hope won’t put me to shame.

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Do you struggle with having faith and getting your hopes up? 

Atlanta Writer’s Workshop: What I Learned

Yesterday I went to a writing conference at a fancy hotel near Atlanta, and it was basically the best day ever! (Totally exhausting physically–but amazing in every other way.) I came away with two big impressions: one, although I’ve always wanted to make a living through being an author specifically, I would be happy to work in this industry in any capacity. And two–I have SO MUCH to learn about writing. Anyway, today I’m going to summarize my notes for all you fellow writers! This is going to be long (and probably not very cohesive), so feel free to skim through and just hit the seminars that are most applicable to you. (I also got my first royalty check in the mail Friday, so I’m feeling very much like a #professional #author this weekend.)

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Block One: Wordbuilding in Fantasy and Science Fiction (Tips and Traps)

This was probably the session where I learned the most. I don’t technically write fantasy or sci-fi (I write dystopian and historical fiction), but I love reading them, and a lot of the advice was applicable to general writing as well. Here’s some of it.

The golden standard of worldbuilding is this: not a word left out, and not a word left in. Don’t omit anything essential; however, remember that the reader doesn’t need every detail. They need to visualize it, but no info-dumps. You will need to know a lot of things in your head about your world–history, economics, etc. You can even write this out if you want. But don’t use it. Just let it influence your story.

The weirder your world is, the more you need to anchor your reader at the beginning of the scene. Anchor it in time, place, and POV (the reader needs to know whose head you’re in). Provide concrete and sensory details.

If you need to give your readers information about your world–while avoiding info-dumps–a good way to do this is to have a character who’s clueless and needs to be explained to. (Lots of authors use this strategy; think about the first Harry Potter book, or when Lucy first stumbles into Narnia.) Another good vehicle for dispensing information (especially about politics) is to have people argue. (Plus, this is more entertaining!) Try throwing in a curmudgeon or a know-it-all to argue with; people like bickering. That’s why reality TV gets such high ratings. Arguing stems from goals and is a form of conflict. Tension on every page is what sells books, and arguing definitely adds tension.

Filler scenes are where books go to die. The kitchen table scene–where characters are sitting around and discussing either what just happened, or what’s about to happen–drives agents crazy. If possible, cut a scene like this.

In addition to the overarching conflict that’s the core of the novel, every chapter should: resolve current conflict (giving the reader immediate gratification), set up the conflict for the next chapter (making sure the reader keeps going), and hint at the conflict for the chapter after that.

Block Two: Voice and Craft–Tips on How to Write like the Pros

This session was mostly review for me, so I’ll just skim through my notes. Brian Klemes (former Writer’s Digest editor) recommended avoiding prologues whenever possible–especially prologues that happen out of time sequence. When starting your novel, open with conflict–not action. Have the main character face a challenge right away in order to help the readers get to know the character. Conflict drives readers’ emotions.

A “save the cat” moment is when you establish that your character is a good person (think about the firefighter rescuing the little old lady’s cat from the tree). Most books have this in the first 10 pages; think about Katniss volunteering in place of her sister. Alternatively, you could have a “kill the cat” moment.

Tighten your sentences; only use necessary words (not like this song). Keep dialogue short, too–in TV shows, characters never say goodbye when on the phone because it takes up unnecessary time.

Include hooks at the end of your chapter. A hook is different from a cliffhanger–cliffhangers are something big, whereas a hook can be smaller.

Pick up the pace of your novel; every five pages or so, give your MC something unexpected. JK Rowling does this well.

Develop your voice–the personality and style in which you write. This is like how every musician puts their own twist on the Star Spangled Banner. Be aware, though, that sometimes your character may have a different voice than your own.

Lunch

I went to lunch with some new friends I met in the morning–one girl Lauren (plus her grandmother) whom I didn’t know previously, and another girl, Aleigha, whom I vaguely knew from the Young Writers Workshop Facebook page. We walked to the mall food court and had a great time talking. I also got to meet agent Tessa Emily Hall later in the day. Honestly, the best part of the workshop was interacting with other writers–when I walked in and saw the registration line, it hit me that all of these hundreds of people also wrote stories and also had big ambitions for their stories, and it was so cool.

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Block Three: “Writers Got Talent”–A One Page Critique Fest

I slipped into this session at the last minute (literally) just because my friends were going–I didn’t submit the first page of my novel. But here are a bunch of random notes from the half-dozen agents that critiqued the first pages of several writers’ novels:

You only have a few seconds to grab agents. Don’t begin with lots of description or exposition–no one cares. We should know who your character is within the first paragraph. Never start off with someone dreaming or waking up. Be careful with the shape of the text (basically just how the words look on the page); again, avoid long info-dump paragraphs, and never include backstory at the beginning. Everything is about spacing out backstory. Agents like to see dialogue pretty soon on the page–have a good balance of narration, action, and dialogue. Make sure to establish your genre (history? No pop culture references. Fantasy? Add in fantasy elements on the first page). Avoid purple prose (lots of adjectives–a form of telling). If you make your reader be invested in something, follow through. And finally, never start an MG/YA book with a description of hair or clothes.

Block Four: How to Revise and Self-Edit Your Manuscript

Gather up feedback from betas, agents, and editors before jumping in. If you don’t agree with feedback but you’ve heard it more than once, think about it.

Character should be different, but consistent. They shouldn’t speak like the narrator–each one should be recognizable by the structure of their speech.

Really keep track of your days and times and make sure they flow, because people will nail you on that. And don’t let plot threads drop–even if it’s as small as mentioning that the characters started working a jigsaw puzzle, then they need to be shown finishing it at some point.

Do a search and kill all overused/weak words (really, very, pretty). Otherwise, you’re instantly marked as a newbie.

If people are saying they didn’t connect with your characters, think about POV. 3rd person is too far from the action and doesn’t cause connection; consider making it closer.

Some books call for a prologue, even though most people hate them. The person in the prologue should be the MC–or at least, the prologue should connect well to the rest of the story.

Rather than making an outline before you begin, try just making a list of things that need to happen at some point in the story. This might work for you if you float in-between being a plotter and a pantser (like me).

Commercial fiction–you see a movie in your head. It’s a page-turner. Literary fiction–beautiful words. The characters meander through. It doesn’t necessarily end well, but people love those beautiful words. Upmarket fiction–has a literary feel and a big hook. Something different. Girl on the Train, for example. It doesn’t translate to movies well. Mainstream fiction–not genre-driven. Appeals to a wide audience. If you’re not sure where your book fits, think about store bookshelves and how many words are in front of “fiction.”

Having a pro editor take a look at your manuscript before querying agents is a good idea. They’re typically $2-$4 a page. Never pay $10/page.

Block Five: 25 Questions You Need Answered Before you Seek an Agent or Self-Publish

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Things that stuck out to me:

You don’t NEED an agent. Some publishers accept unaccented queries. However, you’ll have to handle the business stuff, and you may not have as many connections as an agent would.

If an agent charges you money to represent you, run.

#1 reason agents reject writers–writers query agents who don’t represent what they’re writing. Do your homework. Try the annual book “The Guide to Literary Agents.”

Query letters have four parts. Intro–the basics; book title/word count. Pitch–abbreviated version of your story (MC, their life, inciting incident, subplots, climax, and DON’T reveal the ending). Qualifications/credentials–don’t mention small awards, only big ones. Finally, end with why you picked that agent, or mention what books are comparable to yours. If an agent requests a synopsis, send 1-2 pages covering the plot points, challenges, and the ending.

Always keep 5 query letters in circulation. If there’s a point where you want to give up, query 20 more agents after that. For novels, 80-100 queries is a good benchmark.

When pitching agents, be helpful, kind, and make yourself visible/make friends before beginning the business stuff.

Always stay excited about writing. Enjoy every step in the process.

Wow! That was a lot. Which seminar would you have most liked to attend? Have you ever been to a writing conference? Did you learn anything from my messy notes? Did you/do you want to indie publish or go traditional?