Monday, December 11, 2017

Balancing Work and Writing



Some writers are lucky enough to be a full time writer. But even writers who write full time as their job have other priorities like family, errands, housework etc. And for those of us who still have a part time or full time job on top of our writing careers, sometimes it seems impossible to juggle everything and still find time to write.

The first thing that helps me balance my full time job and my writing is prioritization. Do I have any deadlines? Projects that need to be turned into a publisher, editor, agent, or even a blog I try to prioritize first. Next I look at my self-imposed deadlines. I’m very goal oriented so saying I want to finish a manuscript edit or drafting something by a certain date usually helps me prioritize things as well.

But…

Sometimes you have to follow the muse. Sometimes your brain is clogged for some reason and won’t let you work on that deadline project. It’s okay to take a break and work on something that’s really speaking to you. Follow those thoughts for a little bit then come back to your deadline. Sometimes that time away helps clarify why the deadline project isn’t flowing and gives you some new perspective.

Another thing that helps me keep moving forward with my writing projects is having set writing time. Once a week I meet up with local writers and we sit at a coffee shop and we write. Sure we talk and share ideas and talk through plot bunnies, but we also write. That’s my guaranteed writing time, and I very rarely let anything trample that time. It’s mine and no one else can have it.

It also helps to realize that just because you aren’t writing words on the page doesn’t mean you aren’t writing. You may not be drafting a new manuscript, but writing an outline, brainstorming, world building, working on character development, editing, thinking about your story and what’s working vs not all counts as writing. Just because the word count in your manuscript doesn’t go up (or even if it drops) doesn’t mean you aren’t writing. All these things contribute to the success of the end product.

And last but not least, give yourself a break. You can’t do it all. Any progress should be celebrated. It’s not easy to work then come home and sit down to write something. Some days it’ll be there and other days it won’t. If you have to skip a day because the words aren’t coming or you really want to do something else, that’s okay. Your brain needs down time just as much as it needs active writing time.

So that’s my list. What other things help you as a writer stay focused on the task while trying to balance life, a job, family and other things?

Monday, December 4, 2017

Battling Back Imposter Syndrome

Last week I was talking to a teacher friend about how difficult it can be to find a balance between the time demands of teaching and the other parts of life. She mentioned she no longer brings school work home at night because she needs a break from it and has too many other things going on. “And I know that makes me a bad teacher,” she said, speaking to the guilt we teachers typically pile on ourselves. Anyone working in education knows the workload usually leaves us feeling like we aren’t measuring up to what we expect of ourselves or what we see our colleagues accomplishing.

It occurred to me that feeling this way isn’t so different from a writer experiencing Imposter Syndrome.

I’m guessing you've heard of Imposter Syndrome before. The idea that despite whatever you’ve achieved as a writer leaves you feel like you still aren’t good enough, and you don’t deserve to celebrate whatever successes you’ve had? It seems like most of us deal with this at some point, whether you’re struggling to finish drafting your first full-length manuscript or if you’re a veteran author with several published titles to your name.

I’ve been battling with Imposter Syndrome quite a bit recently, even though, in some ways, my writing year has been successful. No, you know what? There are traces of Imposter Syndrome even in the way I just phrased that. My writing year has been very successful! I’m closing off the year with a new manuscript I’ve both written and revised within the confines of 2017, after starting with a brand-new story idea that hadn’t even existed as late as March. A whole new manuscript from idea to revision inside of a year? I should feel okay to celebrate an accomplishment like that, shouldn’t I?

At first I was pretty happy with what I’d written, but after spending some time away from it I started to mentally pick apart everything that could be wrong. The things I liked at first didn’t seem as valid anymore. If one of my few beta readers offered any compliments, I was usually ready to counter with a criticism to balance out the positives. Fortunately I eventually figured out what I was doing to myself and how counterproductive it was, and took a few steps to work out of feeling that way.

Maybe if you ever find yourself traveling down that same rabbit hole, some of these ideas might help you find your way out:

*Remind yourself that whatever it is you’ve accomplished, you’ve earned the right to feel good about it. When I thought of how quickly my new manuscript came together this year, it was easier to think of it in terms of how it only took x number of months to finish. When I reframed that and reminded myself of the hundreds of hours spent in front of the computer and how I was constantly taking random notes throughout the planning stages, it seemed like more of an accomplishment.

*Remember the value of self-care. Shari wrote a post about this not long ago that’s worth checking out if you didn’t see it before. Writing can be consuming, and it’s important to do what’s necessary to keep a healthy balance in your life.

*Give yourself permission to take time off from writing if you need it. Here’s where I might have messed up a little, because I went from finishing my revisions into NaNoWriMo only days later. I pushed myself hard to reach the goal and win (hooray), but it was no small amount of work to make that happen. When the writing feels more like something I have to do than something I want to do, that’s usually a sign, for me at least, that something isn’t going well. I’m happy I won another NaNoWriMo, but in retrospect it probably would have been better to take this year off.

*Don’t compare your journey. This is the kind of nugget that fits onto any writing advice list, but there’s a reason for that. Not only is everyone’s situation different, but none of us really know what anyone else had to go through to get where they are, or what they’re still going through now.

We’re all following different paths. From that perspective, there shouldn’t ever be any time wasted on something like Imposter Syndrome. You can't be an imposter when you're figuring out your own way. All any of us can do is be who we are and write what we write.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Tokoyo the Samurai's Daughter, by Faith L. Justice



Meet Tokoyo, a noble Samurai’s daughter who ventures into the depths of the sea alongside the humble women of her village, who seeks to free her wrongly imprisoned father, and who wrestles questions of morality with equal bravery and grace. 

She’s the captivating lead character in Tokoyo, the Samurai’s Daughter by Faith L. Justice, published by Raggedy Moon Books. This enchanting adventure is steeped in Japanese culture and mythology, from ancient customs to curses, from ritual tea to a terrible sea demon.

The story is a winner from the start. Justice draws us in early, starting the tale undersea, where we learn bits of Tokoyo’s life and her desire to make a difference in the lives of others. But when her peaceful existence is turned upside down, she must come to terms with losing her position of power and prestige. 

Her diving skills, once a hobby—a way for her to escape the strictures of noble life—become vital to her survival and to her ability to save her father from a cruel fate. Tokoyo’s determination and humility combine to create a fascinating hero.

Readers will delight in the beauty of ancient Japanese culture, while also contemplating some of the injustices and inequalities that existed in the time of this story. It is both thought-provoking and likely to encourage young readers to seek more knowledge and a greater understanding of the world around them. The contrast with modern western culture is profound and leaves readers considering the strengths and weaknesses of each.

Kayla Gilliam’s excellent black-and-white illustrations add to the beauty of the story while also developing the cultural elements surrounding the tale. 

A captivating read start to finish, Tokoyo, the Samurai’s Daughter would be an ideal gift for anyone who loves the sea, Japanese culture, or adventures. Order your copy at amazon, Barnes & NobleiTunes, or iBooks.
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Monday, November 27, 2017

Giveaway: Paper Chains, by Elaine Vickers


Katie and Ana share everything with each other—friendship bracelets, hidden messages, and ice skating adventures. But lately, Katie and Ana have been keeping secrets from each other. Katie is adopted, and she’s been wondering about her birth parents and her birthplace. She worries that saying this out loud—even to her best friend Ana—could mess up the perfect family she has now. Ana’s family has been falling apart ever since her dad left, and it’s up to her to hold it together. But Ana fears no matter how hard she tries, her family may never be whole again. At a time when they need each other the most, the links between the girls are beginning to break. Before they lose each other, they must work through their secrets to reveal the shining truth underneath: friendship, just like family, is worth fighting for. Sometimes, it's the strongest link of all.
 
What I loved about this realistic middle grade, told in alternating points of view:
  • Ana’s love for her younger brother Mikey, especially when she replaces the slimy radishes on his Thanksgiving dinner plate with a candy bar pie, complete with a golden, flaky crust and gentle waves of whipped cream.

  • Ana’s persistence. She’s determined to convince her absent dad, a professional hockey player, to rejoin their family. Because, in Ana’s words, “How were you supposed to be a family with an empty spot on the roster?"
 
  • Katie’s longing to know more about her birth parents, a yearning that grows during the holidays. In Katie’s words, “The whole point of Christmas was a birth story that millions of people had already known for thousands of years. The thing that matters is how and where you were born.”
  • The scene where Katie learns that her favorite figure skater is from a Russian village near her birthplace. “They had something in common—something big. Maybe she could do beautiful, amazing, impossible things too, even if she never learned to quadruple toe loop.”
 
  • The message that friendship is often our strongest link. I loved the girls’ matching friendship bracelets and the candles they lit in their windows as a signal to meet. This lyrical, heartwarming middle grade, set around the holidays, is a perfect story for this time of year.
Additional praise for Paper Chains:

★ “A well-told story celebrating the power of friendship to comfort and heal when families fall short.” Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

 “Endearing, authentic...A captivating story with tremendous heart.” School Library Journal

 “Vickers offers insightful portrayals of the two main characters as well as the complex backstories that make up their family lives.” Booklist

 “The novel is honest about how difficult changes, internal and external, can be, but is ultimately reassuring: traditions, even beloved ones, are allowed to evolve.” The Horn Book

Author Elaine Vickers has generously donated a hardcover copy of Paper Chains (plus bookmarks!) to a MG Minded reader! For a chance to win, simply leave your name and email address in the comments below. A winner will be drawn at random.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

A HINT OF HYDRA Cover Reveal & Giveaway

Today we have another amazing cover reveal!

A HINT OF HYDRA by Heidi Lang & Kati Bartkowski

Jacket copy:
Thirteen-year-old chef Lailu Loganberry must stop a war between the elves and scientists in this follow-up to A Dash of Dragon, which Kirkus Reviews calls “a recipe for success.”

It’s the Week of Masks, a festival held to chase away evil spirits. But Lailu doesn’t have time to worry about demons. She has bigger fish to fry—or rather, griffons, now that she’s been asked to prepare a mystical feast for the king’s executioner, Lord Elister.

Unfortunately Lailu’s meal is overshadowed by the scientists’ latest invention: automatons, human-shaped machines that will respond to their masters’ every order. Most people are excited by the possibilities, but the mechanical men leave Lailu with a bad taste in her mouth.

Even worse, the elves still blame the scientists for the attacks on them weeks ago, and Lailu worries that the elves might be cooking up revenge. So when she and her sorta-rival-turned-almost-frie
nd Greg stumble across the body of a scientist, the elves are the prime suspects. With help from Greg, her best friend Hannah, and the sneaky, winking spy Ryon, Lailu has to discover the truth behind the murder, and soon—because hostilities between the elves and the scientists are about to boil over faster than hydra stew.

And just ask any chef: war is bad for business.

Author bio:
Heidi Lang and Kati Bartkowski are a writing team of two sisters with twenty years of experience in Judo. Heidi likes to fling food across her stove while attempting to cook new dishes, and Kati enjoys trying new cuisine at fancy restaurants. Between the two of them, they love creating characters that kick butt both inside and outside the kitchen. You can find them on Twitter at @hidlang and @ktbartkowski.

Fun fact about this book:

Kati's absolute favorite holiday is Halloween, and she would love to have it last a whole week. This was the inspiration behind the Week of Masks festival in the book. Heidi just wanted a chance to include a super awkward dancing scene between Lailu and Ryon...which is also in this book.

Pre-order link (Indie):



To celebrate, we're giving away one signed copy of A DASH OF DRAGON. Leave a blog comment with your email by Wednesday November 29, 2017 and you will be entered to win.


And without further ado, check out this awesome cover!
Cover illustrator: Angela Li
 
 


Sunday, November 19, 2017

Inspiring Talks for Writers

Every writer needs a pep talk once in a while, and so I recently compiled a list of the talks that I've found most helpful as a writer.

First up, "Why Your Critics Aren't the Ones Who Count" by Brené Brown. She reminds us that as creative people the one constant we can always count on are the critics. We can respond to them by giving up and getting out of the arena, or by saving them a seat.



Next, "Success, Failure and the Drive to Keep Creating" by Elizabeth Gilbert. She discusses how success can be just as unsettling as failure, and how to find the drive to keep creating regardless of the outcome.

Finally, Eduardo Briceño shares his insight on "How to Get Better at the Things You Care About." As professional writers, we tend to spend most of our time in the 'performance zone,' where we face deadlines and constant high stakes. However, in order to improve our craft, we need to carve out time for the 'learning zone,' where we study and experiment without any real risks.

Friday, November 17, 2017

More books!!

I don’t read much while I’m drafting a new novel. I do consider reading a very necessary (and most excellent) part of the writing gig, but I’m more write-a-bunch, read-a-bunch, repeat. But all the good books! They call to me. And so, as I edge closer to the terrifying moment of clicking send on this manuscript, I’m antsy to get back to reading.

I’ve indulged in a little reading time lately, of course, despite the looming deadline (because how could I not?)

  • Recent read: WISHTREE, by Katherine Applegate. WISHTREE is narrated by a tree. Now, I’m not a huge fan of non-human narrators, to say the least, but I figured, if anyone can pull this off, it’s Katherine Applegate. I’m so glad I gave this book a chance. Funny, poignant, insightful. I give this 5/5 stars.
  • Currently reading: THE WAY TO BEA, by Kat Yeh. I’m not very far in yet, but I’m loving the voice and story so far!
  • Currently listening to: TURTLES ALL THE WAY DOWN, by John Green. I’m not completely in love with the narration, but still, it has me hooked. Loving the characters!
  • Next on my pile: SERENDIPITY AND ME, by Judith L. Roth, and THE BONE SPARROW, by Zana Fraillon.

My TBR pile is impossibly huge (and yet, I keep adding more…go figure). I wouldn’t mind some help prioritizing, so tell me, what have you read and loved lately? I’d especially love to hear about any middle-grade that’s particularly heartfelt/poignant, verse novels of all sorts, and lyrical historical novels. Hit me with your recommendations! As soon as I send this draft off to my editor, I’m diving in to reading!

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Book Review: INKY'S GREAT ESCAPE by Author Casey Lyall





We don't often review picture books here at Middle Grade Minded, but when middle grade author Casey Lyall decided to write about a roving octopus, well, we had to check it out!

About the Book:


First of all, you have to adore a book that starts with the line:

Inky was the greatest escape octopus of all time.

And make no mistake: Inky is lovable, even if he does have eight arms.

He loves to play crazy eights and charades.

He's an incorrigible tale teller.

But when he's finally called on one of his tall tales, that he can escape anything, Inky has to prove his abilities and defend his honour.


My Review


This is a charming book. The story is witty and sweet and has you rooting for the book's eight-legged intrepid hero.

The illustrations by Sebastià Serra are colourful and hysterical.

Best of all, there is a real old-time charm to both the fonts and the pictures. 

The book is mesmerizing and delightful. A wonderful book for a any child, but especially one drawn to marine animals!




When Inky escapes again, I hope he comes to my house!


There is a rumour that Inky is about to escape again. On November 15th (today!) check out #InkysGreatEscape and see where's off to now!

Monday, November 13, 2017

Mice of the Round Table: Voyage to Avalon Review and Giveaway!






Background


Julie Leung has done it again.

Charmed me with her stories of brave knights, both large and small.

A year ago, she introduced the Mice of the Round Table in her wonderful book A Tail of Camelot, and now she's back with book two, Voyage to Avalon.

Our favourite hero, Calib Christopher, is back.

The Description:


Young mouse Calib Christopher has nearly completed his training to become a squire to the Knights of the Round Table when news of a deadly plague comes to the castle. Soon all of Camelot is showing signs of the illness, animals and humans alike. Desperate to find a cure, Calib and his friend Cecily set off on a treacherous voyage to find the mythical, healing island of Avalon. 
But even as their journey takes them over land and sea, back at home, Calib's human friend Galahad discovers that the true enemy may have already found a way inside the castle walls…
Perfect for fans of New York Times bestselling series like Wings of Fire and Warriors, Mice of the Round Table brings to life a legendary world of animals and magic that kids will want to return to again and again.


My thoughts:

As with book one, Leung creates two full worlds in Camelot: the world of the Two-Leggers and the world of the mice.

Her use of language, her ability to create memorable characters, and thrilling fight scenes is amazing.

It is not always easy to write animal stories that don't slip into comical cuteness or that ring true, but Julie Leung achieved this in spades. You care about her characters, and you want to see them succeed.

Equally her antagonists are fully developed and a match for our heroes.

Children will love Calib's newest adventure, finding their own path to bravery, strength and wisdom. Add in another beautiful cover, Leung's latest book will be gobbled up by children and the adults in their lives!

Want to learn more about Julie Leung? Visit her website


Want to win copies of Julie's books?




We're giving away a hardcover copy of Julie's last book, and a softcover copy of her first book.

In order to be entered in the contest, leave a comment below!

The contest runs Monday November 13th until Thursday November 16th. Good Luck!


a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, November 6, 2017

Revise and Resubmit: A Gift or a Curse?



I was sitting at my computer one day when my email dinged—that glorious and terrifying sound for a querying writer. It’s infinitely more terrifying when you have fulls out to agents. When I saw the name of the sender, my heart dropped. It was from an agent that had my full. I tentatively clicked on the email expecting a couple line response including a thanks but I didn’t connect enough to take this on. To my surprise I saw a decent sized paragraph ending with the phrase “I’ve decided to pass, but I’d be happy to take a second look if you decide to revise.”

And here I was. It wasn’t a no, but it wasn’t the happy yes either. I was stuck in limbo. The gift and curse of a revise and resubmit. If I did it well it could be that yes, but if I screwed it up, didn’t do enough, or took it in a direction the agent didn’t like, it’d be a no. I didn’t know if I could handle that kind of pressure.

What did I do?

I reread the paragraph again. There was a line of notes about what the agent liked and many more about what wasn’t quite working. But in reading it again, I started to get angry. It didn’t seem like this agent even read my whole manuscript let alone really liked it. Why even ask for a revision? I stewed for a bit then messaged one of my critique partners with HELP WHAT DO I DO???

After what seemed like an eternity, my CP got back to me. I sent her a copy of the email from the agent. After reading it, she said, wow it sounds like this agent really likes your work and gave you a lot of great notes.

Wait, what? Were we even reading the same email? I expressed my concerns to my CP, and she told me to read the email again.

So I did. I read it about five more times. And the more I read it, the clearer it became. This agent did really like the story, and despite my original inference, it did appear she’d read the whole manuscript with interest in the concept and had passion for the story. But if I hadn’t taken a step back and gotten some additional advice, I might never have seen that. I might have just stewed in anger forever.

That said, there were still some items there that I agreed with and others I didn’t, most of the feedback though I didn’t know how to address. One of the comments was one I’d even seen before from two other agents, but I still didn’t know how to tackle it. So instead of responding that day to the agent, I sat on it. I periodically went back and read what the agent said expecting a great epiphany to hit me, but it didn’t.

I put the email aside, but in the back of my mind were some changes I had previously wanted to make running through my head. They didn’t really address the issues the agent raised, but it would make the story a bit better. And on top of that, was one piece of important information about my main character that I’d always known but hadn’t ever mentioned because I didn’t know how to make it mean anything to the story.

All this information was swirling around in my brain and bugging me. And then that evening when I sat down to watch TV something clicked. That piece of information about my main character I’d always known but not included, I finally knew how to make it matter. Even better, the key to making it mean something was rooted in the feedback I’d gotten from the agent. I’d had this comment twice before and not known what to do with it, but something in the way this agent had written it made it finally click in my brain. I FINALLY understood the problem and knew how to fix.

Once I’d made the big epiphany, the wheels began turning and the ideas were flowing. I took lots and lots of notes. When I felt like I had a clear path forward, I opened a reply email to the agent. I thanked her again for her time, that I appreciated her honest feedback, and let her know that I’d be interested in making some edits.

And then I hit send.

It wasn’t another minute before the panic set in. What was I thinking? I had no idea what I was doing. What if the agent hated the direction I was taking the manuscript? I hadn’t told her what I was thinking, just that I’d like to opportunity to edit with her feedback in mind. What if I did all this work and the answer was no?

After many frantic messages to my CPs and their reassuring words that I was doing the right thing because I had a direction and a passion to make this manuscript better, I finally calmed down a little bit. But I still had this fear in the back of my mind. A fear of doing what I needed to do, what was right for the story.

This fear was crippling me. There was so much riding on this. If I did this right, I could come out with an agent. If I didn’t, it was back to the dreaded query trenches. As my brain reeled I had to ask myself an important question. Was I doing this just to get an agent or because I wanted to make my manuscript better?

The answer was first and foremost that I wanted to make the manuscript better. Sure I wanted an agent, but whether that happened or not, I believed in this manuscript and the new direction I had planned up.

In order to move forward, I put the crippling thoughts aside (as best as I could), and threw myself head first into the edits. Sure the doubt crept in from time to time, but every time it did, I went back to that important question and my answer: this was about improving my manuscript, making it the best it could be.

And when I finally finished the edits and submitted them back to the agent, I was proud of the manuscript. I was proud of what it was and even more proud of what I accomplished. And whether that agent decides to take it on or not, I had the best piece of work I could offer. And that was something to smile about.