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The Rich Writer

The Rich Writer: November 2007

The Rich Writer

How to Thrive on the Writer's Road

Friday, November 30, 2007

Staying Motivated: Writing Books

As a writer with a full life (and schedule) one of my favorite ways to fill my motivational tank is to read a particularly inspiring writing book. Here are a few inspirational favorites:

Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott: This is one of those books I read over and over. I love Anne Lamott. She's real. She talks about good writing days and bad writing days and about writing piles of exceptionally mediocre melodrama in a way that makes me feel like I'm doing okay. Her thoughts on the writing life encourage and inspire and leave me feeling warm and thankful for the gift of writing.

Take Joy! by Jane Yolen: Jane Yolen is an inspiration in her own right. I mean, look at the breadth of styles and stories she's crafted over the years! This collection of essays gives us a glimpse into her creative life. Some tackle writing craft; most tackle the hows and whys of writing. It's a fun read, and so encouraging that it's another I read and re-read.
On Writing, by Stephen King: This book is a combination writing memoir/writing craft book. I love hearing the story of Stephen King's pursuit of the writing life--it makes my obstacles seem like mere roadbumps. This book left me inspired to write, but also inspired to write whatever the heck I feel like writing. I probably won't edge into the horror genre, though. I'd get nightmares from my own stories....

Gotta go--I've developed a sudden, urgent need to reread some books!


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Thursday, November 29, 2007

Thursday's thing to love...writing time!

Writers never have enough time. At least, not the ones that I know! Come to think of it, most of the people I know don't have enough time. But one of the things that I love about writing is that the ideas can continue to percolate even when no official "writing time" is to be found.

This week is a classic example. I've been way too busy with the new contract job to do much of my usual writing--and yet, by keeping stories and ideas at the top of my mind, the stories are continuing to form in my subconscious. Sometimes I think it's better when I'm too busy to write "officially." I love those days when I can tap the keys for three or four hours at a stretch, but I need the other times, too; the times when my subconscious spends hours working in the background, trying to fit together different puzzle pieces.

I have a new fantasy novel idea that I've been playing around with since this past summer. I sat down and wrote piles of notes and a general plot outline--but when I decided to write the book, I didn't have enough substance for the characters, world, and story to spring to life. I needed to daydream about characters having conversations with each other. I needed to listen to New York Public Radio's Radio Lab show, so that I could fill one of the holes in my story with one of the fascinating facts I heard on the show. I needed to listen to news stories for a few weeks through the filter of my story's questions. I needed to listen to kids' conversations and start finding voices for my characters.

At some point, the story ideas reach some critical mass and I can't sleep until I pour them out onto the page. So the downside of the lack of writing time is that I've been doing my writing between 11:00 pm and 2:00 am, and I'm not a night owl.

But, I have a bit of time to spread my current project across all the desks and tables in office/family room. I'll have real time, not just borrowed time. Maybe I'll sleep better for a few nights after this!

:) Cheryl

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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

YA Fantasy Market: Five Star Publishers

One of the editors who impressed me at last spring's Pikes Peak Writer's Conference was Denise Little, Executive Editor at Five Star ( She gave the best on-the-spot manuscript critiques (during a First Page session) that I've ever heard an editor give. Her spot-on comments impressed me. I'd definitely enjoy working with her.

She called Five Star a publisher of “last resort” because they pay $1000 + royalty. However, they manage to get some great reviews for their books and buy very limited rights. With good reviews , they can sell a book to mass market houses. Cheryl's translation: they don't pay much up front, but they do right by their authors.

Denise said that she accepts only email queries. She recommends submitting 3 pgs + synopsis. Five Star does not accept simultaneous subs.

Update from a writing friend: they respond quickly, but are not currently accepting any YA. Maybe in the spring?

Here's the official Five Star blurb from the PPWC conference handouts:

Five Star Science fiction and Fantasy: Five Star SF and Fantasy is a series of science fiction and fantasy novels, with some supernatural horror. These will be published initially in hardcover, with a limited option to bring them out in trade paperback and/or large print as well. The publisher is Thorndike Press, best known for their large print titles. We are looking for works of approximately 65K to 100K words, and are currently accepting electronic submissions only. Some of the authors who have participated in this series so far include Gregory Benford, Mike Resnick, Pamela Sargent, Robert Silverberg, Spider Robinson, Brian Stableford, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, Jack Williamson, Steve Perry, Susan Sizemore, Timothy Zahn, and Christopher Stasheff.
These editions sell almost exclusively to the library market. Because of this, their print runs are modest, and they do not normally distribute to bookstores, since their discounts are small (though the books are available through such on-line chains as and, and can also be ordered by practically any bookstore.)


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Monday, November 26, 2007

Affirmations--another segue on staying motivated

Yesterday, thoughtevolution posted a comment to one of the earlier "Staying Motivated" blog entries, asking whether I ever use affirmations. It's such a great topic that I wanted to talk a bit about affirmations.

First: What are affirmations? Cheryl's two-cent definition is that an affirmation is a statement of something about yourself that you don't yet believe but want to internalize. The idea is that when you say something to yourself enough times, you begin to believe it. For example, "I am a great writer."

Second: Do I use them? Absolutely! I wasn't sure they really worked until I tried the idea, but they do. Affirmations have helped me to internalize beliefs that I held in my head and not in my heart. They also help to counter the lack of feedback that comes with freelance writing.

Third: Give them a try. Make a list of five things you'd like to believe about yourself. (No, you can't include things like "I believe I will win the lottery" or "I will publish a book this year." I don't think those count as affirmations. Maybe they fit the Law of Attraction philosophy--but that's a different concept, one that I don't advocate.)

Here are a few of my own, which I fear I'd forgotten over the past few weeks. I'm dusting them off for some affirmation renewal!

  1. I am decisive.

  2. I am organized.

  3. I have great value.

  4. I am a great mom.

  5. I say "no" without guilt.

Thank you, thoughtevolution, for reminding me of a powerful technique!

:) Cheryl

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Thursday, November 22, 2007

Thursday's thing to love...a God who's real.

Funny--I never expected to write about God in my blog. This isn't a religious blog and I'm not the preachy sort, but as I thought of all the things I'm thankful for on this cold Thanksgiving morning, God is the one I need to write about today. What does God have to do with writing? I guess it's that every major writing (or life, for that matter) breakthrough I've ever had has come as a clear answer to prayer.

I don't believe anyone can prove that God exists or doesn't exist--that's not what I'm trying to do here. And I don't know all the answers. I only know what I've experienced and I'm thankful for it. So today, I'm thankful for a God who:

  • cares about my passion for writing

  • gave me the incredible gift of writing

  • actively touches my life when I ask

  • is big enough to handle everything, even though I don't understand most of life, and

  • answers prayers, even prayers about something like writing.

I guess the obvious next question is whether I've prayed that I would publish a book. I'm embarrassed to say no, I haven't! I'm not sure why. Maybe because every prayer about writing seems selfish, because writing is such a personal endeavor? Maybe because I'm afraid he'll say no. But starting today, I'll listen to my own words--and my own experience. I don't get it, but God obviously cares about my writing, so I'll start praying about that book, too.

Happy Thanksgiving!

:) Cheryl

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Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Wednesday's News!

I just received a contract from Highlights for Children for one of my favorite craft articles! I made the craft with my kids nearly a year ago, but hadn't ever boxed it up for submission until a month or so ago. (I didn't want to inundate them with crafts!) Thank you, Highlights, for encouraging me to spend afternoons creating projects with my kids.

I wonder: will I keep submitting craft articles when my kids are too old to enjoy them? Maybe they won't ever be too old. My middle schooler still joins me when I cover the table with craft materials. In a year or two, though, I'll have to borrow friends' children for craft testing. My own will soon be too old to be valid testers. Hmm. Could be fun!

:) Cheryl
PS--The photo shows two of my craft testers with "Guardian Dragon" crafts, which appeared in Highlights November 2006 issue.

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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Staying motivated...non-writing books!

Another way I kick-start my writing life is to pick up a particularly good book in the genre I write--or five books or even ten. Sometimes I read them cover-to-cover, especially if it's a new read. Sometimes, though, I just read passages. Am I stuck on a transition? I'll pick up Hilari Bell's Wizard Test and read her transition from chapter 1 to chapter 2. Am I working on dialog? I'll pick up I, Freddy by Dietlof Rieche and take note of how often he uses dialog tags. Am I worried about story structure? I'll make a chapter-by-chapter outline City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau and highlight turning points and plot climax.

Don't get me wrong--I'm not always analyzing what I read. But there's a little part of my brain that continues to think like a writer in the background. I'm not sure if it's something I cultivated or if it came automatically--I think I had to work at it at first! Now, though, I can harvest insights from my reading.

Does it detract from my enjoyment of a great book? No. In a way, I appreciate good writing more now than I would have before, because I know just how hard easy-to-read prose is to write! And meanwhile, while I'm waiting for my creative energy to recharge, I can multitask: I enjoy some fun reading while I take note of the craft concepts I'm ready to use in my own writing.

Ah. Gotta love being a writer. We get to read and read and consider it work :).

P.S.--In honor of good books, the photo shows one of my favorite young readers dressed as Eragon for Halloween. Go, Dragon Riders!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Write what you know?

I'm taking a brief departure from talking about how to stay motivated to tackle another topic: what to write. We've all heard the advice to write what you know. It's good advice--it steers us toward writing we can do with passion, detail, and accuracy--but I'd argue that it's incomplete advice. We shouldn't necessarily write what we know, because the chances are that lots of other people know the same things. Instead, we should write what only we know.

Here's what I mean: editors often talk about "overdone stories." In the nonfiction realm, stories about animal life cycles, animal rescues, and wildlife rehabilitation centers have been done and redone--making them very difficult to sell. In the land of fiction, you're going to have a tough time selling a book about a magic school unless you have a very unique twist. When I bid on jobs as a freelancer, there are lots of jobs I can do--but only a few where I will stand out of the crowd. I think the same applies to children's writing.

In the business world, it's known as playing to your "core competency"--a term which, I'm told, is a 3-pointer on buzzword bingo. Core competency is your area of expertise, which fits the "write what you know" idea. And successful businesses make sure that 1) they are better than anyone else in this area, and 2) they are unique in this area.

As you write today, ask yourself these questions:

  1. How does this piece differ from others on the same topic? How can I make it unique?

  2. What can I bring to the writing that ONLY I can bring to the writing? What knowledge or life experience or passion or details can I offer that no one else can offer?

Those are the things that will make your writing stand out of the crowd.

:) Cheryl

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Sunday, November 18, 2007

This week's vision

I'd like to start off the week with a renewed vision of what I want to accomplish. I feel as if I'm resurfacing after two weeks of craziness. Freelancing work has this feast or famine aspect: either I have no work at all or three to five times as much as I can easily handle.

Recently, lots and lots of freelance work came in--and the last and biggest project started before I'd finished other commitments, so I've spent the past week working the equivalent of two jobs. This weekend, I'm finally returning to whatever counts for normal around here. Busy, but I'll get decent nights of sleep again!

It's hard to balance children's writing with other freelance work, because the other freelance work pays the bills whereas children's writing makes deposits for a distant (and uncertain) payoff. I write for children with no guarantees of publication, and when, someday, I get a contract for that first book, the money probably won't be earthshaking! So money-wise, time spent on children's writing doesn't make "sense" if only viewed financially.

Most children's writers are in the same boat. At the start, we write to improve our craft; later, we write to gain publication credits; later still, we write in hopes of getting that book contract or series contract--but it's a long time before we quit our day jobs.

But. (Of course there's a "but.") Before we write for money or fame or credits, we write for something deeper: for self-discovery or to express a truth or simply because we have to write. This is the discovery I make anew each week: that I write for children, first and foremost, because that's who I am.

So for this week, I want to recapture that vision. I love the other project I'm working on (medical writing, where I get to learn about an amazing treatment for breast cancer)--but I commit to keeping time to dive back into the children's writing projects that have gotten lost in the busy-ness of the past few weeks. I challenge you to do the same!

:) Cheryl

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Thursday, November 15, 2007

Thursday's thing to love...critique groups!

It's funny that critique groups form the next topic on my "staying motivated" list, because I spent this Thursday meeting with some of my favorite people: my critique group. (For those of you just coming to the blog, I have a list of ways to stay motivated that I've been discussing over the past few weeks.)

I actually belong to two active critique groups. One is small--just three of us who get together every month at our local Barnes & Noble for coffee, conversation, and (usually) some manuscripts to critique. The other group is larger--fifteen or so of us from the Boulder/Denver region who meet once a month during the day. In the small group, we often critique a chapter or two at a time; in the large group, we tend to stick to whole-book critiques. Both are fun!

This week, no one had a full book to bring in, but we got to help one member brainstorm title ideas for her next book with Little, Brown (yay, Denise!) We shared good news and bad, toasted a few new contracts (yay, Julie and Wick and Sean and Hilari!,) and got to listen to a read-aloud of the first few chapters of another members' new sequel (yay, Jane!)

There's a wonderful synergistic magic that happens when a group of passionate writers get together. This group is willing to tackle anyone's writing problem, whether the genre is fantasy or picture book or edgy YA, whether the topic is plot or character or title. We bounce ideas off each other until somthing clicks and the author gets a delighted gleam in his or her gives me chills!

I'll write more about finding a critique group soon--but for today, critique groups make my list of favorite things.

:) Cheryl

PS--Thank you, Heather, for encouraging me to post!

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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Book Recommendations

Have you read any great books lately? Send me your favorite titles, either for children's and YA books or writing-craft related, and I'll add them to my rotating list.

:) Cheryl

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Tuesday, November 13, 2007


After a crazy few weeks here, I'm finally getting back to the "Staying Motivated" track. One of my favorite ways to stay motivated? Writing conferences. Conferences are great places to:

        1. Meet and connect with other local writers.

        2. Ask your writing questions directly to an author, editor, or agent.

        3. Learn the likes and dislikes of particular editors and agents.

        4. Hear the inspirational tales of how other writers broke into print--often after piles and piles of rejections.

        5. Gather ideas of how to tackle a host of common writing problems--such as finding time, staying motivated, and how to inspire your muse!

        6. Pitch your project to editors or agents.

        7. Receive excellent instruction on writing craft topics, from world-building to character development to showing versus telling.

        8. Learn about the publishing process.

        9. Collect a list of new books to read (although be forewarned: editors seem to like to use examples from books that aren't yet on the market.)

        10. Recapture your fire and energy for writing.

        I thought about listing various conferences, but there are so many available I couldn't do the list justice. I have two conferences I attend regularly: my local SCBWI fall conference and the Pikes Peak Writers Conference in Colorado Springs, CO. Both are local, which keeps down the cost; both invite children's editors, agents, and authors; both provide opportunities for one-on-one meetings with an editor or agent.

        The SCBWI conference is smaller and more personal-feeling, in my opinion. It is devoted specifically to children's writers and illustrators, so it provides me with plenty of instruction and inspiration. In years past, it also offered a Sunday workshop session, which was great for tackling a problem spot in my WIP.

        The Pikes Peak conference is for adult writers as well as children's writers, so it offers a wider range of topics. It's much larger, but because it is for all types of writers, I find that I have just as much or more access to children's writing professionals than I do at the SCBWI conferences. I particularly like this conference because it offers a writing contest, which gives writers a chance to gain extra notice from editors and agents in attendance.

        So how do you pick a conference? Here are some things to consider:

        1. Where are you in your writing career? If you're a beginner, it might not be worth your money to travel to a big national conference. You can get great instruction and inspiration in smaller, local venues--and those will also provide more opportunities to hook up with other writers in your area.

        2. Can you enter a contest associated with the conference? A contest win is a great way to stand out in the crowd of conference attendees.

        3. Do you want to focus on a particular writing genre or area? If you write for adults, an SCBWI conference isn't the best one for you; but if you write children's fantasy, the World Fantasy Conference might be a good fit. Check out the session list for workshops, topics, and other offerings that fit your needs.

        4. What industry professionals will be present at the conference? If you're attending primarily to pitch or submit to the attending editors and agents, do your research first. If they're not a good fit for your manuscript, choose another conference.

        5. Most important: ask other area writers for opinions and recommendations. In my opinion, the best way to find a great conference is to borrow from others' experiences.
        Some conference resources:

        So--when you need to add some energy to your writing life, try a conference!

        :) Cheryl

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        Thursday, November 8, 2007

        Thursday's thing to love...

        Finishing projects!

        I suppose this is two Thursday entries rolled into one. First, I'm happy that I made the deadline for the Pikes Peak Writer's Contest--just barely--last week. Second, I love that I've finished all the other projects that crowded last week's schedule. I was getting worried; sometimes, it's difficult to predict how long a given project will take to finish.

        Now I'm moving on to other projects and other writing. Perhaps I'll even get to work a bit on children's writing! I'll also post more on how to stay motivated...although that hasn't been my problem this past week. I've just had too much to do! It's good to be back on a more normal schedule.

        :) Cheryl

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