Reflection and a Tip From a Critique Ninja

I loved how Stacy McAnulty blogged about her takeaways as a 12×12 Critique Ninja (Read HERE). I’m sure her comments were as helpful to other members of the 12×12 community (and other blog readers) as they were to me. As children’s writers any reflections, tips, advice, etc. help us on our journey. Even if we’ve heard the same tips and advice before it’s amazing how hearing something over and over again helps it to become ingrained in our writing process. So I decided to write a blog post reflecting on my time as a Critique Ninja. But instead of making several observations I’m addressing the revision process. Specifically, the importance of taking your time.

As part of this post, I’m sharing a post I wrote in December of 2014 when I was blogging with EMU’s Debuts. EMU’s Debuts is a blog written by debut authors from Erin Murphy Literary Agency who are excited to be setting off down the path toward publication and blog about a little bit of everything along a writer’s journey. Even if you haven’t gotten a book deal yet, it’s worth your time to follow that blog.

The content of my 2014 post still holds true for me and that’s why I wanted to share it on my own blog as I finish up my time as a Critique Ninja for Julie Hedlund’s 12×12 Challenge. For those not familiar with the 12×12 Challenge: 12×12 is a year-long writing challenge where members aim to write 12 complete picture book drafts, one per month, for each 12 months of the year.

As one of many benefits of the challenge, members can post their manuscript in a Forum to get feedback. Members give each other feedback but can also receive feedback from a Critique Ninja like me. Critique Ninjas browse the forum, choose manuscripts, and make “big picture” comments for the author to consider.

Notice I said “for the author to consider. As I finish up my time as a Critique Ninja I wanted to focus on that word . . . consider in terms of revision. Why? Because when I first began writing and receiving critiques, I didn’t consider comments from the critiquer to the degree that I should have. I rushed in and addressed specific comments without considering all aspects of my story. How would my revision strengthen my story overall and not just that particular part/line. I’ve learned to slow way down and consider carefully.

During my time as a Critique Ninja I noticed some really quick revising. In fact I saw some stories posted two times in the same day with the second one titled “revised” or “revision.” I wondered if it was done too hastily. Not “hastily” because the writers don’t care deeply about their manuscripts. More like “hastily” because they care so much and it’s so exciting to improve a story.

NOTE: It’s very important to me that you know that I’m not writing this post to reprimand or criticize anyone who posted a quick revision in the forum. NOT AT ALL. Because just a few sentences ago, I told you that I’ve done the same thing — a quick revision. And I’ve done it many times. My purpose in writing this post is to challenge you to read my words below from 2014 and do your best to carefully consider critique comments as you move forward on your journey as a writer. Take your time with a revision. If someone suggests a really great change for your meter in a rhyming story you must consider their suggestion in terms of your entire story…not just one line. If someone suggests something for your character, setting, etc., you must consider their suggestion/s in terms of your entire story…not just the character, setting, etc.

We know that EVERY word counts. And when we say that, it doesn’t mean “word count.” It means we have to consider EVERY word in terms of our story. Each word counts toward making our story the best it can be.

Now as a reminder of all aspects/elements of our story that we need to consider as we make revisions, here is my 2014 post from EMU’s Debuts.

Writing in Reverse

In one of my earlier posts, I talked about the fact that my car was totaled in a June hailstorm. That unfortunate event necessitated a new car. My old car had a backup camera, but this car has a BACKUP CAMERA! It’s amazing. It has this beeping-warning system that lets me know if someone is passing behind me or if I’m getting close to backing into something. The other day I was backing out of my garage, looking at the view in the backup camera, when the phrase Writing in Reverse just popped into my head. You may have noticed from my posts here that I love analogies. So when I thought about Writing in Reverse, I knew I had to use this for a post.

Before Writing in Reverse, I have to get my my story down. So I just drive/write a first draft. Yes, I do need to have a destination in mind­—a character, the semblance of a plot or structure, events to drive my story forward, etc. I need to keep the Rules of the Road/Genre in mind as I write. I need to be aware of traffic/the audience I’m writing for, and I need to watch my speed limit/word count. OK, sometimes I do go a few MPH/WPM (words per manuscript) over knowing I can probably get by with it for a draft, but I don’t want my speed/word count to get completely out of control. So, pretty much, I just drive/write on. The first draft is a hugely important part of writing. If I never do this part, I’ll never get anywhere. My ideas will be stuck at home and never see the light of day. Never get out into the world. And once the first draft is finished, I do feel like I’ve been somewhere. But I know this same journey will become very familiar . . .

. . . because now comes Writing in Reverse/revision.

Screenshot 2014-12-20 19.58.47

It’s time to take the same drive using my backup camera. It will be much slower. I will cut my speed limit to a crawl. Each twist and turn will require my complete attention. I will be more cautious and more aware of any obstacles that will hinder my story. I will listen to my internal beeps/alarms noting when something is amiss. I will listen to my critique group who will make me aware of my blind spots. This journey will take much longer than my first draft, but it has to be taken to get to that “sweet spot” for submission. I know this. It’s tough. But it must be done. And it’s worth it.

Recently my second deal was announced. A COOKED UP FAIRY TALE sold to Maria Modugno at Random House Children’s who also bought THERE WAS AN OLD DRAGON WHO SWALLOWED A KNIGHT. It will be illustrated by Ben Mantle who also illustrated my dragon story. Talk about Writing in Reverse! I had 102 “Saved As” files of A COOKED UP FAIRY TALE. Not all were complete rewrites, but all had tweaks. Some major, some minor. That’s a lotta Writing in Reverse. But it served me well. When I emailed Tricia (love my agent) that 102nd file, she deemed it “ready to go”. In two days, we heard back from Maria. She wanted my story 🙂

So make sure you use a BACKUP CAMERA! A really good one. Take that slow, Writing-in-Reverse journey where you pay attention to every detail and find that “sweet spot” before submitting. It will be worth it!

writing in reverse final

Last note to 12×12 writers: So as you make revisions in your manuscript make sure to consider all aspects/elements of a great picture book with each change you make. By doing this, you will be presenting your best work to critiquers — whether it be a Critique Ninja or a 12×12 member kind enough to comment on your work.

Good luck and happy considering and revising!

A Great Nephew and a Great Aunt Guests: Laura Chamberlain Gehl With a Son and a Daughter

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Thanks to Amy at The Poem Farm for hosting Poetry Friday. If you’d like to know more about Poetry Friday, click HERE for an explanation by Renee LaTulippe.

Ants may rule the hill, but they don’t rule here! Art by Landon

Ants may rule the hill, but they don’t rule here! Art by Landon

Hello, Great Readers of our series! Just In case you haven’t visited before, let me tell you a little about A Great Nephew and A Great Aunt. My great nephew, Landon (a seventh-grader) and I (his great aunt) collaborate. I write a poem which he illustrates. We started this collaboration in the fall of 2014 and have had so much fun with it that we decided to invite others along. Landon and I will continue to have a new episode on one Friday of each month. The other Fridays are filling up quickly with guests. I have created a page on my website to view all the episodes of A Great Nephew and a Great Aunt. Click HERE to visit the page and enjoy past episodes.

Today it’s my pleasure to share a creative collaboration from . . .

Laura Gehl, Her 8-year Old Son, and 6-year Old Daughter

From Laura: My youngest two kids were very excited to collaborate with me on this project!

I wrote this poem because my daughter had a lot of trouble learning to swim, with plenty of crying and refusing to get in the water.

In their artwork (my son drew, my daughter colored), the mermaid you see is the mother mermaid.  I thought it was wonderful that my daughter insisted the “Mommy mermaid” should be smiling with “welcoming arms” even though in my poem the mother is a bit annoyed with a grim face.  The mother mermaid is on a blue background to show that she is in the water, encouraging the reluctant little mermaid to join her.

Laura’s Poem

Art Drawn by 8-year Old Son and Colored by 6-year Old Daughter

Art by Laura’s Son and Daughter

The Gehl Family on Kangaroo Island in Australia

Many thanks to Laura, her son, and her daughter for sharing their talents with us today.


Meet Laura: Laura Gehl’s picture books include One Big Pair of Underwear, illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld, and the Peep and Egg series, illustrated by Joyce Wan.  Her next two books, both releasing in October 2017, are Peep and Egg: I’m Not Taking a Bath and Koala Challah, illustrated by Maria Mola. Laura is also excited about other upcoming books, including My Pillow Keeps Moving, illustrated by Christopher Weyant, and I Got a Chicken for My Birthday, illustrated by Sarah Horne.  Visit Laura online at www.lauragehl.com.


Meet the Artists: These two adorable artists also love to read and write. At the moment, they both plan to be writers when they grow up (although astronaut is another option–or possibly teacher, because teachers get lots of gifts from their students, including cookies). Check back in 15 years for a career update.

A Great Nephew and a Great Aunt Guests: Betsy Devany and Her Grandson, Landon

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Thanks to Catherine at Reading to the Core for hosting Poetry Friday. If you’d like to know more about Poetry Friday, click HERE for an explanation by Renee LaTulippe.

Ants may rule the hill, but they don’t rule here! Art by Landon

Ants may rule the hill, but they don’t rule here! Art by Landon

Hello, Great Readers of our series! Just In case you haven’t visited before, let me tell you a little about A Great Nephew and A Great Aunt. My great nephew, Landon (a seventh-grader) and I (his great aunt) collaborate. I write a poem which he illustrates. We started this collaboration in the fall of 2014 and have had so much fun with it that we decided to invite others along. Landon and I will continue to have a new episode on one Friday of each month. The other Fridays are filling up quickly with guests. I have created a page on my website to view all the episodes of A Great Nephew and a Great Aunt. Click HERE to visit the page and enjoy past episodes.

Today it’s my pleasure to share a creative collaboration from . . .

Betsy Devany and her Grandson, Landon (5 years old)

Before you hear from Betsy I wanted to say that this collaboration touched my heart like none before. It’s sweet and sad and happy all rolled into one which I believe are some of the emotions we feel as we move through grief when we lose someone so very close.

From Betsy: My grandson Landon has been train-obsessed since his Pop Pop introduced him to the world of model trains. Landon wasn’t even one at the time. So when Landon and I talked about this project, it didn’t surprise me when he drew a train, inspiring a poem with lots of fun train sounds.
That wasn’t what Landon wanted.
“I drew this train for Pop Pop and I want the poem to be for Pop Pop, too.”
Landon, who is five, is still grieving Pop Pop. (My husband died on June 1, 2016, five months after being diagnosed with ALS.)
Wanting to write the poem on his own, Landon wasn’t sure where to begin. “Who did you draw the picture for?” I asked. “I drew the train for Pop Pop,” he said. So he started there, asking for my help along the way.
Through this collaborative process I was reminded how art can heal us. It’s how we find our voices after we’ve lost our way. And sometimes art helps a young child express their grief and discover the world is still a safe place. And that there will always be trains and memories of Pop Pop. 

Poem
by Landon and Betsy (last stanza is Betsy’s)

Landon’s Art

Art by Landon

Landon at work on another drawing.

Landon and Pop Pop.Landon giving Pop Pop an Eskimo kiss.The collaborators: Betsy and Landon.

Many thanks to Betsy and Landon for sharing their talents with us today.


Meet Betsy: Betsy writes for all ages of children, and is the author of Lucy’s Lovey, illustrated by Christopher Denise, and published by Henry Holt/Christy Ottaviano Books. When not writing, she explores the natural world with her camera, entertains her three grandkids, and is honing her Legos and model train skills. She also works part-time at an old-fashioned toy store where she delights in hand-selling children’s books. She has a blog series (#WhosYourLovey) where guests share their childhood lovey stories. Betsy lives near Mystic, CT with her rescue dog, Buddy and her rescue cat, Terrapin. You can connect with Betsy online:
Twitter
Website
Facebook

A Great Nephew and a Great Aunt: Preston and Penny

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Michelle at Today’s Little Ditty is hosting the Poetry Friday Roundup today. If you’d like to know more about Poetry Friday, click HERE for an explanation by Renee LaTulippe.

Ants may rule the hill, but they don’t rule here! Art by Landon (Click to Enlarge)

Ants may rule the hill, but they don’t rule here! Art by Landon (Click to Enlarge)

Hello, Great Readers of our series! Just In case you haven’t visited before, let me tell you a little about A Great Nephew and A Great Aunt. My great nephew, Landon (a seventh-grader) and I (his great aunt) collaborate. I write a poem which he illustrates. We started this collaboration in the fall of 2014 and have had so much fun with it that we decided to invite others along. Landon and I will continue to have a new episode on the second Friday of each month. The other Fridays are filling up quickly with guests. I have created a page on my website to view all the episodes of A Great Nephew and a Great Aunt. Click HERE to visit the page and enjoy past episodes.

Ever since my great niece Kennedy collaborated with me this past December, her younger brother Preston has been anxious to follow in her footsteps. So today you’ll meet Preston and have a chance to enjoy his art. Not only did Preston draw for this collaboration, but Kennedy joined in the fun, too.

I had a snow theme in mind because they live in snow country and there is usually snow in March. But guess what? Not a flake in sight! But they’ve had plenty of experience with snow and you’ll see their past snowy memories served them well. Their art is a real treat!

Aunt Penny’s Poem

Preston’s Art

Art by Preston (click to enlarge)

Preston at Work

(click to enlarge)

Kennedy’s Art

Art by Kennedy (click to enlarge)

Kennedy at Work

(click to enlarge)

Thanks so much for joining us today. I appreciate all of you who read this series. See you week after next when I’ll have guest collaborators.


Meet Great Aunt Penny (the one who blogs here): Penny Parker Klostermann is the author of There Was an Old Dragon Who Swallowed a Knight (Random House Books for Young Readers, 2015) and the upcoming, A Cooked-Up Fairy Tale(Random House, 2017). She loves all kinds of books, but especially loves very silly picture books that make her laugh. She has been known to hug her favorite picture books and seriously hopes that someday her books will gain huggable status too.

Penny grew up in Colorado and now lives in Abilene, Texas-the Storybook Capital of Texas!

Other Places to find Penny
Facebook
Twitter
Pinterest

A Great Nephew and a Great Aunt Guests: Marcie Colleen and Three Nieces-Elizabeth, Elena, and Emily

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Thanks to Heidi at My Juicy Little Universe for hosting Poetry Friday. Today many poets will be sharing the work of Billy Collins who was Poet Laureate of the United States from 2001 to 2003. If you’d like to know more about Poetry Friday, click HERE for an explanation by Renee LaTulippe.

Ants may rule the hill, but they don’t rule here! Art by Landon

Ants may rule the hill, but they don’t rule here! Art by Landon

Hello, Great Readers of our series! Just In case you haven’t visited before, let me tell you a little about A Great Nephew and A Great Aunt. My great nephew, Landon (a seventh-grader) and I (his great aunt) collaborate. I write a poem which he illustrates. We started this collaboration in the fall of 2014 and have had so much fun with it that we decided to invite others along. Landon and I will continue to have a new episode on one Friday of each month. The other Fridays are filling up quickly with guests. I have created a page on my website to view all the episodes of A Great Nephew and a Great Aunt. Click HERE to visit the page and enjoy past episodes.

Today it’s my pleasure to share a creative collaboration from . . .

One Aunt and Three Nieces
Marcie Colleen, Elizabeth, Elena, and Emily

From Marcie: My three nieces are very creative visually and therefore, I knew right away that I wanted to include all three of them in the collaboration. The only problem was, I don’t fancy myself a poet. But then, while doing some cleaning I discovered this poem that I wrote when I was a kid! It’s like I am time traveling—kid Marcie gets to work with her kid nieces. What could be more fun!

Marcie’s Poem: Written in 3rd Grade

marcie-poem-larger

And now for the art. Be sure to read Marcie’s reactions to her nieces’ works. You’ll find an art-specific comment below each piece.

Elena’s Art

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Pencil drawing by Elena (8-years old).

From Marcie: Just look at those cheerful little bees dancing in the rain!

Emily’s Art

emily-copy

Pencil drawing by Emily (12-years old).

From Marcie: I love the flower with a clock center and the bees holding the umbrellas!

Elizabeth‘s Art

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Detailed pastel work by Elizabeth (14-years old).

From Marcie: I just marvel at the water droplets!

I just love Marcie’s obvious delight over the illustrations 🙂

The Collaborators

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Elizabeth (14), Aunt Marcie, Elena (8), and Emily (12)

Many thanks to Marcie, Elizabeth, Elena, and Emily for sharing their talents with us today.


marciecolleen_headshotMeet Marcie: Marcie Colleen has been a teacher, an actress, and a nanny, but now she spends her days writing children’s books. She is the author of the Super Happy Party Bears chapter book series (Macmillan/Imprint). Her debut picture book, Love Triangle, illustrated by Bob Shea (Blazer+Bray/HarperCollins, Oct. 3, 2017) sold in a five-house auction. It is about best friends Circle and Square, and Triangle who comes between them. Other upcoming picture books include The Adventure of the Penguinaut (Scholastic, Fall 2018) which will be illustrated by Emma Yarlett. Marcie is a frequent presenter at conferences for SCBWI, as well as a faculty member for Kidlit Writing School offering courses with a focus on plotting and revising picture books. She lives in San Diego, California with her husband and their mischievous sock monkey. Visit her at www.thisismarciecolleen.com or on Twitter @MarcieColleen1.

A Great Nephew and a Great Aunt Guests-Sylvia Liu and Her Daughter, Sarah

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Thanks to Karen at Karen Edmisten* for hosting Poetry Friday today. If you’d like to know more about Poetry Friday, click HERE for an explanation by Renee LaTulippe.

Ants may rule the hill, but they don’t rule here! Art by Landon

Ants may rule the hill, but they don’t rule here! Art by Landon

Hello, Great Readers of our series! Just In case you haven’t visited before, let me tell you a little about A Great Nephew and A Great Aunt. My great nephew, Landon (a seventh-grader) and I (his great aunt) collaborate. I write a poem which he illustrates. We started this collaboration in the fall of 2014 and have had so much fun with it that we decided to invite others along. Landon and I will continue to have a new episode on one Friday of each month. The other Fridays are filling up quickly with guests. I have created a page on my website to view all the episodes of A Great Nephew and a Great Aunt. Click HERE to visit the page and enjoy past episodes.

Today it’s my pleasure to share a creative collaboration from . . .

Sylvia and Liu and Her Daughter, Sarah

From Sylvia: This collaboration is one that bends the space-time continuum, because it’s between my almost-13 year old daughter and my 13-year old self. Sarah wrote the poem as part of an English assignment, which was to write about something the student would like to do but is not old enough to do, in the style of Langston Hughes’ I, Too. My drawing of an eagle seems like an appropriate illustration of this poem.

Sarah’s Poemslide1

Sylvia’s Arteagle-sketch-s-liu-1-copy

Sarah and Sylvia visiting an art installation in Norfolk, VA, called Stickwork, by the artist Patrick Dougherty.sarahjacobs-stickwork-1-copy-2sylvialiu-stickwork-1-copy-2

I absolutley love that Sylvia created her art when she was similar to Sarah’s age. That makes this episode extra special in my mind. Thanks to both of them for sharing their talents.


© K Woodard Photography

© K Woodard Photography

 

 

Meet Sylvia: Sylvia Liu is a children’s author and illustrator. Her debut picture book as an author, A MORNING WITH GRANDPA, illustrated by Christina Forshay (Lee & Low Books 2016) won the Lee & Low New Voices Award. She is inspired by her family, the ocean, aliens, kraken, and cephalopods. Sylvia’s website is www.enjoyingplanetearth.com, and she co-runs the kid lit resource website, www.kidlit411.com.

A GREAT NEPHEW AND A GREAT AUNT: LANDON AND PENNY

poetry friday button

Jone at Check It Out is hosting the Poetry Friday Roundup today. If you’d like to know more about Poetry Friday, click HERE for an explanation by Renee LaTulippe.

Ants may rule the hill, but they don’t rule here! Art by Landon

Hello, Great Readers of our series! Just In case you haven’t visited before, let me tell you a little about A Great Nephew and A Great Aunt. My great nephew, Landon (a seventh-grader) and I (his great aunt) collaborate. I write a poem which he illustrates. We started this collaboration in the fall of 2014 and have had so much fun with it that we decided to invite others along. Landon and I will continue to have a new episode on the second Friday of each month. The other Fridays are filling up quickly with guests. I have created a page on my website to view all the episodes of A Great Nephew and a Great Aunt. Click HERE to visit the page and enjoy past episodes.

With today’s collaboration, Landon and I are wishing you a belated Happy Valentine’s Day or maybe an early Happy Halloween. If that seems confusing, I think you’ll get it once you read the poem and see the illustration. (And just so you know…Landon did not hide an object in today’s art.)

Penny’s Poemslide1
Landon’s Art

landons-frankenstein

art by Landon

Thanks so much for joining us today. I appreciate all of you who read this series. See you next week when I’ll have guest collaborators.