I find myself without literary representation after nearly five years working with my former agent. We parted ways in August because her list has changed and she no longer feels well-connected with children’s lit editors and publishers. She worked very hard on behalf of me and my stories, but now I’m agentless. That’s the bad news. The good news is that I have a brand-new, shiny middle grade manuscript ready to query other agents. Unfortunately, the querying process often requires the inclusion of a one-page synopsis of the entire work.
Have you ever tried distilling a 48,000-word novel down to 500 words? It ain’t easy.
However, a writer friend reminded me of Susan Dennard’s 2012 post on the Pub(lishing) Crawl site: How to Write a 1-Page Synopsis so I’m using that format. Still, it’s not fun and I keep finding other stuff to do instead. Such as writing this blog post which is basically me complaining about how I’d really rather not have to write a synopsis! And searching for a fun goat photo to make me smile!
So, aside from announcing I share the near-universal dislike for writing a synopsis, what’s my confession here? Well, it’s that I keep learning and relearning how different my writing brain is from many other writers. I don’t think in Three Acts or even Beginning, Middle, and End. I write more on an instinctual level. That’s fine, but it also means it takes me longer to pinpoint my novel’s Plot Points and the story’s Midpoint (which doesn’t refer to whatever happens on the exact middle page of the manuscript). No doubt I’ll figure it out as soon as I stop procrastinating. After all, I’ve written synopses before and can do it again. Still, it’s kinda a bummer to realize after all this time that it’s still a struggle to write the darn things.
I am overflowing with joy right now after finishing the latest round of revisions on my middle grade novel. One full day ahead of my self-imposed deadline!
July 15, 2021
I love this book. But for the next little while (two weeks, at the absolute minimum), I’m not going to think about those characters and their problems at all. I’m gonna soak up some of the life that takes place away from my standing desk and refill my well. Starting with our first camping trip of the season later this week. Woot!
Joyful tidings, indeed.
P.S. Did you know that a flock of magpies is called a “tiding”? Me, neither. So how cool is it that this morning’s oracle card drawing from my feathered messengers deck was . . . MAGPIE!
These are incredibly hard days on the planet and I’m overwhelmed. But as I revised my middle grade novel this morning, I felt a renewed sense of purpose because this story matters. It’s about community, friendship, mass incarceration, and taking one step forward on the long road to abolition.
This story matters and my voice matters. I cannot crawl into a hole and give up.
March 13, 2022. (Photo by Zippy)
I am on this earth to shine my light and lend my voice to the fight for a better world. This post is a reminder for when I begin to falter again. 💓
When the brothers began a joint grooming session this morning, their synchronized licking (back legs held high) made for a great photo, and I hurried to grab the camera. But by the time I returned, the session had come to an end.
Loki & Marcel. March 22, 2022
They’ve been napping there for hours (surprise-surprise) and the entire time, Marcel has kept watch over my project notebook. When I gently removed it from beneath his sleeping body just now, the pages were warm. I choose to interpret that as a positive review for my latest middle grade novel.
This photo was selected in honor of a manuscript I haven’t thought about in a few years — POPPY VALENTINE LUCKS OUT — because when I remembered it yesterday, my first thought was “that book was so much fun to write!” Poppy, her little sister Fiona, and some cremation ashes. Because I wholeheartedly loved that book and believed in it so fully, I drafted a companion novel (which was also a blast to write).
I’m proud that in addition to creating those characters and their hijinks, it was a joyful experience. And because I’m making a concerted effort to celebrate my creative achievements, I selected this photo to accompany today’s tribute to those literary efforts.
A garden bloom on May 16, 2020
Then I examined the image more closely and had a completely off-topic/bonus thought: this photo reminds me of Gladys Knight & the Pips! Look at the choreography of how those buds are leaning in and swaying behind the blooming Gladys. If I squint my eyes, I can practically see the three buds execute a synchronized spin as Gladys belts out “Midnight Train to Georgia.”
Just me, my quirky brain, and Poppy having a little more fun.
Only 16 days to finish these revisions before I send the middle grade manuscript to my critique group. It was a bold move, requesting that critique slot when I’d only revised slightly less the half the manuscript, but I needed an incentive. And because I’ve been making solid progress, the last few days I’ve congratulated myself for imposing a deadline.
August 4, 2021
Today, though, I feel tiny in the face of all the work that remains. Onward I fly.
Okay, I’m being a big dramatic. But something’s gotta give here in Day 4 (or is it Day 5?) of working on the same damned chapter. I’m stuck.
Each time I think I’ve sorted things and gotten some momentum, I come to another screeching halt. It’s part brain, part exhausted-by-reality, part lack of confidence, and part what’s-the-freaking-point.
Maybe I’ve jinxed myself by repeatedly expressing my gratitude for being able to create during these incredibly difficult days. Earlier this week, I did just that, sharing with a non-writer friend how grateful I was to be able to immerse myself in my project. I told her many creatives aren’t functioning as they’d like these days.
And now I’m not, either. Instead, I’m stuck between the rock and a hard place. Send lawyers, guns, and money.
This Rocky Mountain Bee Plant feels like a symbol of where I’m at with the revisions of my middle grade novel. Some aspects of the story have fully bloomed and won’t change much as I continue revising.
August 7, 2021
Other aspects are still revealing themselves to me. Slowly unfurling their blossoms to become beautiful, integral, and incredibly obvious how-did-I-not-already-know-that components of the whole.
It’s an exciting and gratifying place to be in the process.
I was working on revisions in bed this morning when Marcel decided to check out the happenings. In true feline form, he chose to curl up on the very document I’d just set next to me.
As gently as possible, I removed it from beneath his vast bulk. Not to be dissuaded from his mission of chaos, Marcel began noisily licking the plastic bag containing my highlighters and post-its. I was less gentle in that removal.
A few minutes later, I relocated to the patio. Marcel is an indoor-only cat.
P.S. While they didn’t directly obscure my materials, a couple hummingbirds got into multiple dust-ups as I worked outside, distracting me with their darting aggression.
It’s pretty obvious that I deserve a medal for getting any work done today.
I get where Patti Smith is coming from in this quote: “In art and dream may you proceed with abandon. In life may you proceed with balance and stealth.” And I think when I originally drafted my work-in-progress, I did approach my art with abandon.
But today, as I continue to revise, I’m feeling a bit stealthy as I sow bits and pieces of backstory throughout the first 50 pages of this middle grade novel. I need the reader to know certain things, but I don’t want the reader aware of my presence. I very much do NOT want those bits and pieces to scream
WARNING: HEAVY-HANDED AUTHOR ON THE LOOSE!
Instead, I’m trying my best to adopt this squirrel’s attitude.
July 30, 2021
No sudden moves. Only careful and deliberate revisions that I hope won’t call attention to my presence.
(Note: Patti’s quote resonates with me so much I previously used it here.)
[Update on Please don’t be dead . . . my laptop isn’t zombie-infested ! When I called to verify the computer doc was open for business, he asked a couple questions, then diagnosed and prescribed treatment over the phone . All is well!]
In other good news: after letting my manuscript sit for 10 days, this afternoon I read it in one sitting and am very pleased with the draft. My work-in-progress has good bones AND most of the flesh on those bones is also good. There’s still much work to be done, but the middle-grade story is definitely much closer to my vision.
How did I know it was time to read and get back to work? When I shut off the light to go to sleep last night and then moments later, turned on the light again in order to jot a revision note to myself. Up until then I hadn’t thought about my novel at all.
But I’m now back in the thick of things and it feels quite nice.
As mentioned here (and here and here), I set a goal to finish another draft of my middle grade novel by June 30th. Today is that day and I’m pleased to report I just placed an order to have the manuscript printed and bound!
To be clear, this is NOT a photo of me. I don’t have mad hops, not even on my best days, and right now I’m too tuckered to leap anywhere except possibly onto the couch. Rest assured, though, my inner Tracy is currently jumping for joy.
Hooray for setting and meeting personal goals!
At this point, I’m not sure which is more difficult: a flat-out sprint on a narrow wire suspended many feet above the ground
or successfully and seamlessly including all desired character and plot elements in this draft I’m committed to finishing by June 30.
The pressure comes from knowing I’m going to print and bind this draft and that it’ll be much easier to work on it if all elements are already included. The thing is, I’m probably being too ambitious because there’s SO MUCH going on with this subject matter that I’m trying to include. But at this point, I’m inserting stuff as placeholders with the knowledge that some (most?) will get cut farther along in the process.
Anyway, that power line challenge looks pretty appealing right now.
My self-imposed June 30th deadline is fast approaching and today I chose to write in a different location. Specifically, the driveway. More specifically, the great white campervan known as Moby.
Temporary set-up as we wait to have a van conversion company pop Moby’s top.
I did that for a couple reasons. One, I really wish I was off camping somewhere and working inside the comfort of Moby felt like the next best thing. And two, the WiFi connection is iffy inside the van which meant I couldn’t procrastinate by going online.
I’m pleased to say I got much work done, not so much word count as layering in plot/character stuff. Some of that happened after I woke from a short nap and had an immediate epiphany about how the story’s pieces fit together. I love me some epiphanies!
Writing a novel is like riding a rollercoaster of emotions that can change in a flash (this sucks this is great I can’t do this I’m almost there I hate these characters so much I’m gonna drive them all off a cliff), but in this particular moment–the right here, right now– my arms are raised in triumph as the car roars along the tracks and I scream WOOHOO!
This draft might possibly be quite solid. 🙂
I drove Zebu to the airport this afternoon and hugged him goodbye, a parting made easier with the knowledge he’s happy to return to his new home and life in Seattle. After driving the 40 minutes back here, I resumed drafting a new scene in my work-in-progress I’ve neglected for the past four days. The scene is bumpy, but I keep reminding myself it’s impossible to revise a blank page which means ugly writing is better than no writing. I’ve set a goal to finish this draft by June 30 and then will reward myself with a printed and bound copy of the draft.
“June 30th” is my new mantra and it’s pulling me through some rough patches as I write this book. Two years ago today I was camping and photographing birds, without any notion of this latest middle grade novel.
Dark-eyed Junco, State Forest State Park. June 12, 2019
Then again, maybe the story was already beginning to simmer and I just didn’t know it. Either way, I will honor my commitment and finish this draft by June 30. I owe it to myself and the characters.
Photo by Kindel Media from Pexels
You have to believe in yourself. But you know what? There’s a fine line between believing in yourself and being delusional. ~ Mick Foley
Lately, the nasty voice in my head is firmly on the side of “delusional” and it’s getting harder and harder to believe in myself.
Wonder if it’s too late to pivot toward professional wrestling.
This afternoon I finally did something I’ve been meaning to do for months: I mopped our family room/kitchen/dining room floor. I put on Led Zeppelin–loud–and got to work. The music energized me and I kinda, sorta had fun, which made me think of former neighbors (mother and teen daughter) who used to put on Neil Diamond to get pumped up for cleaning. I always thought that was so funny. I mean, “I Am . . . I Said”?! “Song Sung Blue”?! I’ll take “When the Levee Breaks” any cleaning day. Or non-cleaning day, for that matter.
So, what’s the deal with this dog? Well, I went to Pixabay in search of a “mop” image and this popped up. Not sure how this adorable face is related to mopping, but I couldn’t resist. Maybe this pug knew I was about to make unkind remarks about Neil Diamond and my neighbors’ musical tastes, something that should be off-limits. After all, I’m a writer hoping to get my fiction published and I know all too well that taste is subjective.
I only hope Mops the Pug can forgive me.
And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom. ~ Elizabeth Appell
April 8, 2021
This feels like a universal quote that applies to all of us, possibly on multiple levels. Here’s hoping we all blossom in one way or another this week. Remember, spring is the season of new growth. (And yes, I’m also speaking to myself here.)
Cooper’s Hawk by Zippy. Sept 18, 2020
I’ve been driving the struggle bus lately and haven’t been disciplined about working on my latest book. In the past, I’d work hours and hours at a time on my projects, coming up for air only to discover it was late afternoon and that I’d done little else. These days, I don’t have that drive. Sometimes I’m at peace with this change. Other days, not so much; those critical voices can get pretty damned loud in my head.
Yesterday I realized it felt worse to not work on my book. So I opened the document and reworked a critical early scene between one major and one minor character. Page-wise, I didn’t make huge progress. But characterization and plot-wise, that little bit of work moved the revision forward in a significant manner. Plus, by taking action I was able to douse my angsty-guilty feelings. I hope to do the same today. However, whatever happens I’m going to try hard not to judge myself. It’s hard times on the planet and we all deserve some grace.
Last night I was reading ECHO MOUNTAIN by Lauren Wolk, basking in her gorgeous prose, when I felt a pang about my work-in-progress that isn’t progressing very quickly. I set down the book and closed my eyes. And then it came to me. I reached for my project notebook and wrote:
This is what I think needs to happen if I am to finish this book.
I must let myself write WITHOUT checking facts & figures. Write this story as I feel it and know it and believe it. THEN I may check facts and figures, and revise accordingly.
Cooper’s Hawk out my window. January 22, 2021
I know, I know. Pretty basic insight. That doesn’t mean it’s not also liberating and kinda profound.
And now I’m off to write/revise without scurrying off in search of confirmation, validation, or procrastination.
April 27, 2020
Writing is an amazing place to hide, to go into the rabbit hole, and pull the trap door down over your head. ~ Ann Patchett
Note: I didn’t have any rabbit hole photos so opted for this hole in the neighbor’s crab apple tree that hosted a pair of chickadees last spring. (Photos by Zippy)
As mentioned before, I have a new middle-grade project that I (mostly) drafted in November and December. My critique group read it and offered excellent insights in mid-January. Since then, I’ve jotted many thoughts and ideas in my trusty notebook. But I didn’t start working with the actual manuscript until last week.
When I began reading it again after all that time away, I fell in love. One critique partner commented that the draft has good bones, and I totally agree. I’m so grateful for this project and the enthusiasm I feel when working on it.
However, various difficult Life issues are taking up lots of head space lately so I’m following the lead of another critique partner who writes one hour per day (and even has her own hourglass). I’m reading through the draft, making revision notes that I highlight in yellow. There are still a bunch of plot issues I need to resolve, but I’m making progress.
I will prevail. One hour at a time.
As I stand here at my desk, revising a beloved manuscript (yet again), I’m feeling prickles of doubt about the direction I’ve taken. I’m wondering and worrying and feeling a bit shaky on my writer-legs. There’s one eternal question:
“Are you making things better or worse, Tracy?”
Muse-dog Emma on November 20, 2020.
I’d dearly love the answer to this question in the right-here-and-now. However, only time will tell. And only if I complete this revision. So, best get back to it.
My Writing Roosters critique group had our zoom meeting last night to discuss my work-in-progress. As mentioned here and here and here, I was paralyzed with indecision for several weeks because I’d become convinced my story was an irredeemable hot mess. Guess what? It’s not! As one member said on our call, “I think maybe you were getting inside your own head.”
Me? Inside my own head? How could that possibly be?! 🤣 🤣 🤣
I’ve got some plotting issues to sort out, but the two main characters got a thumbs-up from the group. Whew. Color me noodly with relief.
Poppy blooming in front garden. May 16, 2020.
I chose the poppy image for this post because (1) it’s a very cheery and vibrant color and (2) last night one of my critique partners caught a reference to a previous manuscript about a girl named Poppy Valentine.
After weeks of angst and confusion over my latest middle grade project, I just hit SEND on an email to my critique group. I am so relieved! The email has multiple attachments including an unfinished first draft + a Word document with my revisions ideas and a whole lot of questions for them + an alternative chapter written in 3rd person (rather than 1st person). Basically, I sent them a big, fat mess, the likes of which I’ve never done before. I didn’t want to inflict that on them or embarrass myself, but I had no choice. I need help.
Now, I’m going to try my best to stop thinking about the project until January 13th, when the collective genius of the Writing Roosters comes to my rescue.
This calls for a happy, hoppy goat dance!