Tag Archives: writing life

2021: The Year We Finish Our Books

The WriteOwls have made a pact. 2021 is the year we will finish our books! After a chaotic 2020, we are ready for some positivity in all aspects of our lives, including our journeys to becoming published authors. So, below, we outline what we each hope to accomplish in the new year.

Laura’s Goals for 2021:

  • Finish revising my book
  • Write every day for at least an hour
  • Read at least one middle grade historical fiction novel a month
  • Query agents

I finished the first draft of my manuscript in April – one of the few good things to come out of a pandemic-inspired self-quarantine. While writing it, the story was still revealing itself to me and I left fill-in-the-blank, go-back-to-this-later holes throughout. In re-reading it over the summer, I realized there are more holes than I thought. But, armed with a better sense of who my characters are and a more focused storyline, I’ve been revising in my spare time. In mid-December, I learned I had been selected for a mentorship sponsored by my region’s chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. The program runs from January through September, and the mentor I’m going to be working with is a writer I admire and respect. It was an honor to be selected, so one of my goals for 2021 is to make the most of the time I get to work with her. I’m making it a top priority to complete the revisions before the mentorship ends, so I plan to write for at least an hour every day before I do anything else. I also intend to read at least one middle grade historical fiction novel each month so I can learn from others in the same genre. Finally, before the clock strikes midnight on Dec. 31, 2021, I intend to have started querying agents to represent me and my work. Get ready, 2021. Big things are about to happen.

Megan’s Goals for 2021:

  • Finish revision of current work-in-progress.
  • Submit revised manuscript to agents.
  • Get an agent.
  • Outline my next manuscript.

The pandemic really got in my head in 2020. There was a long stretch when I just scrolled through news stories about the coronavirus while listening to news podcasts about the coronavirus. Even when I came out of the doom spiral, I had a hard time focusing on fiction. I did read some books this year—but not many. Honestly, I should have already finished half of these 2021 goals in 2020. But, I did what I could, and there’s no point in kicking myself for a pretty common reaction to a global disaster. So now it’s 2021, numerous healthcare workers in my family have already been vaccinated, and I have a glimmer of hope for normal family interactions in the coming months. (I’ll keep my wild desire for plays, live concerts, and football games in check for a bit longer.) In the mean time, I’ve adapted to the world as it is and am committed to making it just a little bit better through writing. It’s not a cure for the pandemic, but it is my offering of hope for a better future.

Stacey’s goal for 2021:

2020 was stressful, chaotic and so was my writing. I didn’t make any real progress on reworking my novel—and it desperately needed re-working. In fact, I barely wrote anything for a long time. Things were just too crazy, and I couldn’t get my head in the right place. But in the last two months, things have started to move again. I wrote nearly every day in November and December, and though two days out of three I wound up deleting as much as I wrote, the third day was usually a good one. So my goal for this year is to simply finish my book! That’s it.

Write by Midnight Pep Talk 10-26-20

At the beginning of the COVID-19 lockdown, the WriteOwls agreed to write at the same time during the week so that we didn’t feel so isolated. We kept one another motivated and accountable by texting at the beginning and end of each session. We were surprised how productive we were during that time. So this month, we recommend you try a similar strategy. After you come up with your writing schedule for November, find a partner or group to help you stay accountable. Share your schedules so that each person knows when the other is supposed to be writing. Then, message each other with a reminder that it’s time to get to work. After the writing session is over, let each other know how you did. If you’re really ambitious, agree to exchange your work at the end of each week. Let us know if this strategy helped you meet your writing goals for the month.

Writing With Soap, Tea, and Sequins

I have a bar of soap on my desk. It’s not for washing my hands. It’s not there by mistake. I bought it a couple of years ago at a quirky little handmade soap shop with a half-dozen other bars, intending to give them out as little gifts whenever a little-gift occasion came up. I did give the rest of them away, but not this one. I loved the scent, fresh and clean, but also like the ocean and crushed mint. And then I realized that the quirky soap shop owners had decided to call this particular scent ‘hangover,’ and I’d just never found anyone I felt good about giving it to. So I kept it, and it gravitated to my desk because its scent made me happy. Soon it didn’t just make me happy, it helped me kickstart my brain. Whenever I’m pondering a scene, I just reach over, grab the soap bar and inhale its ocean-mint scent, and changing one sensory input gives my brain a little jolt and helps me approach my writing with a fresh perspective.

I also have a blackberry sage tea canister that serves a similar purpose. The scent of the tea—leafy, fruity and bitter—lingers in the tin long after I’ve steeped the last bag, and its aroma has the ability to shift my mental focus and give me the nudge I need to think about my writing in a different way.

I like to keep something tactile nearby to work with my fingers while I think. It used to be one of those desk magnet things—until my children carried the little pieces away. Now it’s a slap bracelet with reversible sequins which one of those same children abandoned on my desk. Sequins aren’t really my style aesthetically; I’m more of a natural fibers kind of girl, but if I see reversible sequins, I must touch them, run my hands up and then down. Every. Single. Time. Addiction, y’all. But also a physical prompt to shift my perspective and renew my mind.

There are plenty of ways to shake up your environment in order to shake up your mind and your story. You just have to find the one that works for you. Change the lighting in you room. If you usually stick with a bright overhead light, try softer lamplight or natural light. Open a window. Light a candle. The oppressive heat of summer here has just been replaced by the invigorating chill of fall mornings, so I’ve moved my writing outside today. All the birdsong and fresh air has kept me going for a solid hour already. 

What props or techniques do you use to renew your mind while you write? 

Write by Midnight 9-30-20

We have long been proponents of setting positive incentives for reaching your writing goals. Finish revising that scene? Reward yourself with a piece of chocolate. Write for an hour? Treat yourself to a night out with your significant other or a friend. But sometimes negative incentives are just as motivating. To continue making progress on your writing project, consider finding ways to help you meet your deadlines and goals by promising to do something you don’t like if you miss the mark. Didn’t write 1,000 words today like you planned to? Succumb for a week to the one household chore no one wants to claim. Fail to write a new scene today? Ban yourself from something you love doing for the next day. Hopefully, when you check in with us at the end of October, you won’t have to admit how low you had to stoop to meet your goals for the month.

Treasures abound in research rabbit holes

Laura Ayo

Amid the extreme tides of the Bay of Fundy is a tiny island known as Isle Haute. I learned about its existence while doing research this summer for my current work-in-progress, a middle grade historical fiction novel set in 18th century Nova Scotia – then known as Acadie. I turned to the Internet to learn more about the rise and fall of the world-famous Fundy tides since they would have been a significant part of everyday life for my characters. And before I knew it, I had not only learned about the 50-foot tidal exchange and watched way-cool videos of people walking on the ocean floor during low tide, but I had stumbled upon Isle Haute.

What caught my eye about the island – notable for its 320-foot-cliffed sides – was that it appeared to float above the water, especially on misty mornings, thanks to those dramatically fluctuating tides. I should have shut down my Wi-fi right then and there and gone back to writing. But a floating island? I had to read more.

So, over the better part of the rest of my day, I read more about Isle Haute and how it not only appears to float, but has been known to disappear and reappear in a new location within the bay, or so people claim. Local legend says pirate Ned Low buried stolen treasure there in 1722 and then beheaded a member of his crew so its ghost could safeguard it until Low returned to collect the loot. But Low was captured and hanged, never to return to reclaim the treasure, and the flaming headless ghost emerges every seven years, prompting the island to change its location.

Buried treasure, of course, means there have been attempts to unearth Low’s rumored stash. And in reading about those efforts, I came across one nugget of information that actually related back to my WIP. My story is about a brother and sister who are separated from one another in 1755 when the British deported thousands of Acadians from their homeland. Thanks to my tangential research into Isle Haute, I learned there are some who believe the Acadians hid their valuables on the island during the expulsion to keep them from falling into British hands. It was also suggested that some Acadians hid out on the island to avoid the deportation.

Was there a way for me to work all of these fun tidbits of information into my story? It seemed like a stretch, so I set aside the “research” and lamented the fact that I had just spent an entire day working on my manuscript with nothing tangible to show for it.

Fast forward to last week. I tuned in to this year’s virtual YA-hoo! Fest’s historical fiction genre talk hosted by authors Vicky Alvear Shecter, Kathleen Burkinshaw, J. Kasper Kramer and Amy Trueblood. These well-spoken and engaging panelists shared their thoughts about falling down the research rabbit hole. Their agreement that it’s not only an inevitable part of the process for historical fiction writers, but that it shouldn’t be a shameful thing – or regarded as a waste of time – was exactly what I needed to hear as I’m starting to revise my story. I’ve been neck-deep in a lot of rabbit holes while researching this novel.

Shecter embraces the process, saying it’s where she discovers interesting gems to use in her stories. She advised editing the finds, however, by incorporating only the ones that are relevant to your character’s specific journey.

While elaborating on that same idea, Kramer said the rabbit hole is worth exploring, especially when it leads to an emotional, pivotal moment for your character.

Burkinshaw even followed up the discussion with words of encouragement on Twitter: “Keep going and don’t be afraid of the research rabbit hole.”

I digested their comments over the past few days and had them in mind as I worked on my story this weekend. As much as I think a middle grade audience would love to read about flaming headless ghosts, my story isn’t about hunting for pirate treasure. And, if I’m being true to history, my tween protagonists would never have paddled a canoe across the Bay of Fundy by themselves to hide their family treasures. I did, however, find a feasible way to work in a small bit of what I discovered in the rabbit hole, and I’m energized to flesh out the scene to add it.

When I’m finished writing it, I’ll move on to the next item on my “To Research” list. Surely, it won’t take long to find out what kinds of crops the Acadians were harvesting right before the deportation. Let me just check the Internet real quick….