Tuesday, December 27, 2022

The Marie Kondo Method of Revising

By Susie Kralovansky

Although it may not seem like it from the looks of my office, but I’m obsessed with Marie Kondo, her books, and her Netflix series Tidying Up With Marie Condo.

While reading her book Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up, it occurred to me that her rules for tidying could also be the perfect rules for revisions.

The revision process is not about decluttering your story or making it look nice and neat for editors. Instead, it is about revising in a way that will spark joy when reading your final draft.

1. Commit yourself to the revision process.
Writing is revising and rewriting. And revising again. And again. Keep in mind the words of a pro: “I love revision. Where else can spilled milk be turned into ice cream?” – Katherine Paterson.

2. Imagine your ideal manuscript.
Paste your draft into a dummy. (If you’ve never made a dummy – take 8 sheets of paper, stack them landscape style and fold them in half. Staple along the fold.) Does your manuscript fit? Too much information? Too little? Your dummy will guide you as you make revisions.
3. Finish discarding first.
Go through your manuscript line by line. If it sparks joy (moves your story forward) keep it. If not, discard. This way, you’re not wasting time revising materials that could eventually be cut.
4. Revise by category.
Does your first page grab the reader? Do you have a satisfying ending? Will this keep your reader engaged from beginning to end?

Have someone read your story aloud. Is your writing sparkling? Did your reader get stuck or stumble? 

5. Ask yourself if it sparks joy.
“In writing, you must kill your darlings.” – William Faulkner. This is the hardest part - hanging on to those elements you love. They may have special meaning but will probably have your agent or editor rolling their eyes.

Remember, you’re not choosing what to discard, but what to keep. And, you only want to keep the good stuff that makes you and your manuscript shine – with joy.

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

Take a "Write" on the Magic School Bus

By Nancy Churnin 

Take chances, make mistakes, and get messy.

Yes, some of the best advice I received about writing has been from a fictional character, Ms. Frizzle, created by writer Joanna Cole for The Magic School Bus books.

Many assume that writing non-fiction is safe. How are you taking chances when you’re sticking to the facts? How can you make mistakes or get messy?

Ms. Frizzle was talking about the scientific method – which requires anyone wanting to discover new things to take chances by opening your mind to new ways of viewing the world.

That doesn’t mean you make up a fantasy about the world. It means looking more closely, deeply, introspectively about something that’s always been there.

Whenever you are describing something in a new way, you’ll probably make mistakes. Get experts to fact check your details. Instead of being afraid of those mistakes, learn from them. If you got something wrong, chances are your young readers may be confused by those details, too. How can you explain it in a way that’s accurate and memorable?

Whenever you try to write something new, you have to get messy. It can take innumerable revisions before your story matches your vision for it.

I thought I’d finish my first picture book biography about William Hoy, a deaf baseball player of the 19th century, in one afternoon. I had the facts. He was fascinating. I’m an experienced journalist, used to turning out three stories a day.

Now, sixteen books later, I laugh at the steep learning curve I had with The William Hoy Story. That first book took me more than a decade to revise, polish and sell. It took me that long to learn the craft and understand I needed to go beyond a safe arrangement of established facts and take chances with a fresh approach to telling a story. What started out as a birth to death narrative became a story that revolved around William Hoy’s use of sign language.

So take chances. Don’t worry if you make mistakes and get messy. Because if you’re not making mistakes and getting messy, you’re not taking chances. And if you don’t take chances, you lessen the chance you’ll get to that thrilling new place where your book needs to go.

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

Picture Perfect

By Stephanie Bearce

One of my favorite parts of nonfiction research is poring through collections of historical photographs. From metal plate daguerreotypes and Victorian studio pictures to 1950s brownie camera photos, I love them all. It is like holding a tiny time machine in my hand. For a fleeting moment, I can see into a world that is gone.

Historical photos can add depth and dimension to your nonfiction books. Editors love it when an author can provide photo documentation of the topic, and some book publishers require a certain number of photographs for each book project.

BUT and yes, it is a big but--photos can be expensive. Purchasing editorial rights for some famous images can cost over $150 per photograph. Some publishers provide a modest budget for photographs, but others expect the author to purchase pictures with their advance. Either way, it is important for authors to find cost-effective sources for photos.

There are numerous repositories for copyright-free well-known historical photographs. Some are familiar names like Getty Open ContentLibrary of Congress, and Flickr Commons. But other treasure troves of photos are can be found in local historical societies, libraries, and family collections.

The first stop for photos about your topic should be the area where the person lived or the place the event happened. Contact the local historical society. You may uncover pictures that have never been seen by the public. The cost of editorial rights is usually minimal, or they may be willing to share them simply for recognition in the book.

Don’t be afraid to ask local citizens for help in your photo search. Great-Grandma’s photo album may provide an image that has historical significance and could make your book totally unique. You can negotiate with individuals to purchase the photograph outright or pay them a usage fee. Often families are thrilled to have their pictures included in a book or magazine article.
When looking at photographs remember the following copyright rules:​When looking at photographs remember the following copyright rules:

All works published in the United States before 1923 are in the public domain. Works published after 1922, but before 1978 are protected for 95 years from the date of publication. If the work was created, but not published, before 1978, the copyright lasts for the life of the author plus 70 years.

Check out these sources for copyright-free photos. The following sites are great sources of copyright-free images:

Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Writing Sprints

 By Christin Liu Perkins

When my children were young, I learned to fit writing into the corners of a busy schedule: during 15 minutes in waiting rooms, 20-minute nap times, 30-minute swim lessons, 45-minute music lessons. Amazingly, I got lots of writing done in those short but precious periods of time. How?

By focusing on small but significant tasks. By thinking strategically. By writing in sprints.
Knowing I have a limited period of time helps me concentrate on a single task, focusing my energy and attention. With a block of several hours, I can fool myself and fritter away an hour "warming up" or surfing the Web. But with only 30 minutes? I’m racing against the clock.
Even when I'm not waiting for someone, I can set a timer for 15 or 30 minutes to do a writing sprint. The key to making this period productive is to focus on one small, specific task that can be accomplished in that short time span.
What can be done in short sprints of focused writing?  Here are a few ideas:
  • Titles
  • Headings
  • Interview questions
  • Theme
  • Points to make
  • Possible structures
  • Topics for new projects
  • Search for sources
  • Peruse an article or chapter
  • Take notes
  • Identify experts
  • Search for photos
  • Opening sentences
  • Outline or table of contents
  • Section or subsection
Revising and Editing
  • Rewrite a section
  • Edit a chapter, focusing on a single issue
  • Pare word count
  • Do a writing exercise
  • Read an article or chapter on craft
  • Analyze a mentor text
  • Write a pitch
  • Compose a query letter
  • List publishers or magazines for your project
  • Analyze content of a magazine
  • Analyze a publisher's catalog or website
 Try mixing in sprints with your writing marathons. Like interval training in physical exercise, doing short, intense bursts of activity can build up your writing muscles and increase your productivity.