Cleaning Creative House

Summer is drawing to a close, and even though only one of my three kids is in school, it feels like we’re in a transition period. My response to this, creative type that I am, is to go head-on into finishing a bunch of stalled projects and planning to start new ones come the change in season.

I am an avid/obsessive knitter, and this week I will be finishing up a Christmas stocking, a purse, a dress, and a sweater. I may sew some shorts and a pincushion, too. You know, for good measure.

I have tried to reflect on where this creative burst is coming from (last night I stained two end tables that had sat incomplete in our living room for the majority of the last year). Part of it is that the change of seasons does something to my mind, which likes to compartmentalize—this happens here, then that, then we’ll be ready for this other thing. I recognize life doesn’t work that way, and that the changes often bring us much more exciting experiences than we would have come up with on our own.

Still, I like to have a plan. If you don’t believe me, you could ask my kids. My four-year-old asked for a calendar for his birthday. My two-year-old regularly suggests what he’d like to eat at his next meal, finishing with, “Is that a good plan, Mom?”

A good plan is one that gets the job done, but that allows flexibility for real life to happen. A good plan means there’s a realistic goal and a reasonable amount of time to accomplish it—with the understanding, of course, that something entirely different might take place instead.

For me, a good plan gets the juices going, gives room for me to produce, without causing upheaval in the rest of my life. At this point, it means completing what I’ve started, seeing something (somethings, rather) through to the end, so that my mind, my plate are fresh and clear.

I have a plan to edit two novels in the remainder of the year. I’m hopeful that one, if not both, will be ready for beta readers by New Year’s Eve. But then, something else might take me on another path. And being willing to follow it, if it’s promising, is the best plan I can manage.

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Update and Pitch to Publication Announcement

The writing life is happily busy these days. While I clearly haven’t been writing blog posts, I have been at work on a number of other pursuits that have me feeling creative, productive, and artistically encouraged.

After four years of its being on my shelf, I finally read On Writing by Stephen King. I was, frankly, terrified of this book. (I know, Stephen, I know, drop the adverb.) I was going to seek writing advice from someone as successful at King? Really? I didn’t expect to be able to assimilate a word on the page. Turns out, the book is incredibly accessible, and honest and encouraging to boot. My copy is underlined and dog-eared, and won’t be spending too long on the shelf before I break into it again.

Earlier this month, I published an article with Verily about my experience with miscarriage and a few seemingly minor changes everyone can make in the way we speak to help those who suffer such losses to acknowledge the pain for what it is. In a day, it had over a thousand shares, and now it’s over 9K. I’m amazed and humbled to see how working at my craft has affected so many other people. Practicing writing by reading, editing, writing fiction meant that I could communicate my story in a way that resonated with readers. For the first time, writing really feels like a gift. There isn’t an endpoint on the journey of being a writer, but this is a milestone I will treasure.

In addition to caring for my three little humans (the youngest will be four months this week!), I have also been editing my CampNaNo project from April and reading a ton. The novel is not finished, not even close to the polish stage, but I’ve been making time for it, and it’s exciting to see it coming along, even as I chuck pages and pages out at a time.

I also start half marathon training today. The schedule I have is almost the same as my writing schedule, as to which days are on and off. It was a totally subconscious move, but I guess I’ve found my groove. I’m a little concerned about how I’ll fit it all in, and still have the hours I need with my kiddos, but it will work out. In both pursuits, I have family and friends supporting me, and I know from experience that engaging in activities that grow my artistic and physical dimensions make me a better mom—as long as I don’t let the scheduling get out of hand.

Both finally and simultaneously, I am about to embark on the first Pitch to Publication event at WriterPitch. I’m participating as an editor. It works like this: Writers submit queries for their finished manuscripts, along with a list of five editors they’d like to work with. Editors then get to select the authors they’d like to see more from. We see partials, then work together to determine who works with whom. After a month-long editing period, the manuscripts are off to agents and then to publishing houses, if things are ready to go. It’s the whole process in a matter of months, which promises to be challenging in a good way. I’m looking forward to it!

So much on my plate, and so many things to be grateful for in this artistic life. Here’s hopes for a fruitful summer! Stay tuned—another editor/author interview is in the works, too!

Editing, When You’re Four

The other day, my four-year-old overheard me telling my husband I have a lot of work to do to edit my latest NaNo novel. Always helpful and convinced he can do anything (and be the best at it), he piped up, “I’ll edit it for you, Mommy.”

I said sure and thanked him for his help. A moment later, he spoke up again.

“What’s editing?”

Don’t we all feel that way sometimes? I have 50,000 words that I’m sure aren’t in the right order, and most of which probably won’t even stay on the page. If there are strict rules to editing, I haven’t figured them out. It’s a layered process of cutting what isn’t helping the whole and adding in other pieces to make each line sing. It’s push and pull. It’s frustrating. It’s hard to know when you’re finished. But it’s a necessity.

Before editing, all I have is a first draft. That’s something commendable, for sure, but the “first” part sticks out to me. It will probably be months before I can put “final” on this draft. Often, the time goals I set are too ambitious. But every time I sit down to work on it, I get a bit closer.

Sure, there are days it seems that handing it off to my little guy might not be such a bad idea. What I really need, though, is his attitude—that I can do anything, and because this novel is mine and mine alone, I am going to be best editor for it.

What Lisa Ann Sandell Learned While Writing a Novel

Today I’m excited to share an interview with the talented Lisa Ann Sandell, executive editor at Scholastic Press and author of The Weight of the Sky, Song of the Sparrow, A Map of the Known World, and contributor to the collection, 21 Proms. Lisa writes for young readers in both prose and verse, and has generously offered to share her wisdom on writing and publishing.

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Here we go!

You were an editor before you were a published author. How did your day job prepare you for being on the other end of a project for the first time?

I think I was an associate editor, assisting two more senior editors, when my first novel sold to Viking. I was incredibly excited. I wanted to be as professional as possible and wanted to deliver the cleanest manuscript I could. I just wanted to do my best to make the process as smooth as I could. As a writer, I tend to agonize over the most minute details – I can scrutinize a comma for hours. I’m not sure whether that stems from the ingrained habit of poring over details like this in my day job, or whether it’s just my personality!

Now that you have published three novels of your own, what has changed about the way you work as an editor?

As an editor I always try to be highly sensitive to the authors’ feelings and needs, and above all to their sense of a book’s integrity. A book is an author’s baby, and I make sure to keep that at the fore of all my work. I love editing; I love working with authors – it is always an adventure, always an amazing and rewarding collaboration. Working with an author on a book I love and that resonates with me and speaks to me and moves me is just the most wonderful gift.

What are the challenges of performing both roles simultaneously? What are the benefits? 

The primary challenge of doing both jobs at once is finding enough time in the day to do everything I want to do. So much of my editing work gets done at night and on weekends. When I was working on my own novels, that time was split between my editing and reading responsibilities and carving out some pockets of time to focus on my own writing. It’s a juggling act. But now that I’m a mom, I have to say, it all seems so easy in retrospect – ha! The greatest benefit of working as both an editor and a writer is that I just feel more mindful overall – of text, of story, of what it means to deliver a book into the world.

Your sculpture played a large role in A Map of the Known World. How does engaging in other creative activities influence your writing?

I think creativity begets creativity. Letting my imagination and my mind and my hands play in one medium simply allows for everything to feel more free and opened-up when I turn to the next medium.

Your work is largely influenced by personal experiences—living in Jerusalem, the artistic legacy your grandparents left you, etc.—and yet the stories are not autobiographical. Do you find yourself more compelled by the idea of “writing what you know” or of discovering something new?

I very much wrote of what I knew in my first book, The Weight of the Sky, and once I was done with that story, I went on to write something that I knew about only academically. Song of the Sparrow was probably the most enjoyable writing project I’ve ever embarked upon. I loved diving into the research, and I loved writing about a world that I mostly got to imagine from scratch. But I do love research, digging through old texts, looking up random facts, like what sorts of vegetation would have grown in the time and place where the story is set. I think, for me, the most ideal sort of story to tell is one that contains some measure of context by which I can connect to the world I have to build, but that also has a very wide field in which I can play and learn.

You write beautifully in both free verse and prose. What advice would you give to an author interested in playing with structure and form?

Thank you so much – that is very kind of you! I think the best advice I can give is to just read as widely and deeply as possible. Reading the works of one’s predecessors and understanding the craft will give younger writers the tools to explore and experiment and invent on their own. Then, go play!

Anything else you’d like to share?

Thank you so much for this fabulous opportunity!

Where can readers find you online (Website, twitter, goodreads, facebook, tumblr, etc.)?

I am on twitter (@lisaannsandell), goodreads, and facebook, but here’s my embarrassing confession: With two little toddlers at home and a lot of books to edit, I’m not online nearly enough. Readers can also visit my website: www.lisaannsandell.com

Thank you, Lisa, for your time and thoughtfulness. Now, back to writing . . . or whatever creative venture is speaking to you today!

Camp NaNo

This year, two of my goals were to repeat challenges I completed and enjoyed last year.

One is running a half marathon. I have my sights set on one in September, with training to start at the end of June.

The other is NaNoWriMo, which . . . I just finished! But wait, it’s not November!?!?

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April is one of the Camp NaNo months the site offers. Thank goodness! While, of course, I could sit down and commit to thirty days of novel writing starting any day of the year, I love the little bar graph on the site that tracks my progress. Small joys, big results.

Today is a day of celebration! I have a third novel on the page, so to speak, and I didn’t have to wait another six months to get it there. There’s a ton of editing work to do on this—the chapters aren’t even in order—but I’m looking forward to that challenge. It’s good to have it out of my head, and it’s taken some twists I can’t wait to push and pursue.

To sum up, current novel standing looks like this:

Novel A: agented, rejected on first round of submissions, major rewrite paused for birth of child

Novel B: November 2014 NaNo novel, editing not yet begun

Novel C: April 2015 Camp NaNo novel, editing to commence mid-May, after a short story edit for writers’ group

And now, it’s time to make dinner.

Stay tuned for another interview coming your way very soon . . .

Return to Blogging

My late winter hiatus turned out much longer than expected. But then, it was a long winter—too much sickness, the passing of my grandmother, and more heavy snow than I would have liked.

But now we are here in spring. I have a beautiful little girl, whom my bigger boys love dearly. My first contraction came at our local library, which I hope says something about her interests as she grows. In the few weeks after she was born, I spent a lot of time in our rocking chair snuggling, nursing, and reading. A few of my favorite things, you might say, and good inspiration for new writing projects.

Currently, I am two-thirds of the way through a CampNaNoWriMo WIP that is pulling together a lot of ideas I’ve had over the last few years, as well as surprising me with a bunch of new ones. It may sound crazy to be writing right now, but life has slowed down so much since my girl was born that my brain has had a good deal of space to be creative. Must find a way to keep this up as she gets bigger!

Here on the blog, there are a couple of interviews on the horizon, one I hope to post later this week or early next. Freelance work is up and running, and my writers’ group is active and well.

This spring feels like a new chapter in so many ways, more than normal. I hope it’s that way for you, too, and that there are exciting pages coming your way soon.

Back to work!

Storytelling, Without Paper

Just over a week ago, my sweet, beautiful grandmother passed away. She was ninety-eight years old and had been in hospice for about three months. Her passing was peaceful, but of course it still hurts to know she is gone from this world.

 

For most of the time she was in hospice, she was in very good shape mentally. I’d bring my two young kids to visit and they’d talk and she’d laugh at the way they would climb on her bed and play with her Christmas decorations and look at her pictures (mostly the ones of themselves). Sitting next to my mom, beside my grandmother, with my kids at our feet is something I will always treasure; it’s a gift one can’t count on having, and I am grateful I experienced it.

 

The other beautiful thing about the last few months with my grandmother was how much of the time she spent telling me stories. Sometimes, they were updates on my cousin or something that had happened to her recently. But the best ones were the ones from her childhood.

 

One day, we were talking about how she didn’t like chocolate ice cream (perhaps the only moment in time I questioned our being related). She told me how, as a child, she preferred to buy a bag of candy for a penny from the corner store. She’d go down with her friend, Margie, I think, and they’d squeeze the bags to find the biggest one, until the shopkeeper told them to pick one and move along. The candy, she told me, was the leftover bits, probably some of them were from the floor, but she loved it.

 

I’d never heard this story before, but when she finished telling it (and laughing; she always laughed at her own stories), she said, “Why do I remember that?”

 

“I don’t know,” I told her, but I was so glad she did. To have a glimpse of my grandma as a girl, to imagine her life almost a hundred years ago, to experience a moment of her life with her in memory—this is the power of story.

 

The things my grandma held on to, the things she treasured, were stories. Stories of her family and friends, stories she shared so freely with anyone who would sit and stay a while with her. There was joy and love and humor in her stories. There was family I never knew, but have at least an image of in my mind now. My grandma told stories with her heart and she laughed with her soul. I am grateful to have witnessed and shared in that part of her legacy, and it is something I will continue to hold very dear.

 

May she rest in peace.