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!

Party Like An Animal!

Why are we partying like animals??? We are half way through the 12 x 12 Challenge hosted by the awesome Julie Hedlund. Our challenge is to write 12 picture book drafts in 12 months. To learn more about the challenge, click HERE. Congratulations everyone for making it half way…but don’t party half way…party full out!

You know, as we celebrate the halfway mark, we have to know that we aren’t the only ones excited about 12 x 12! Think of all the picture book characters! I found out they were celebrating, too. They realize with this number of stories being written that they will have many more adventures. So, I asked a few of them to join me on my blog as we celebrate. Several animals from Old MacDonald’s Farm jumped at the chance. Since they were so eager to help out, I decided to use their theme song as I say thank you to all of you who are a part of 12 x 12. You have all meant so much to me over the last 6 months. There is such support and inspiration that it just oozes all over the Internet. Of course, I especially want to thank our main character, Julie Hedlund. So without further adieu or moo (ha) here is my tribute!

Julie Hedlund Had a Plan

Julie Hedlund had a plan—
12 x 12 in 12!
And for that plan we had to join
12 x 12 in 12!
With a join-join here
And a join-join there
Here a join, there a join
Everywhere a  join-join
Julie Hedlund had a plan—
12 x 12 in 12!

Julie Hedlund had a plan—
12 x 12 in 12!
And in that plan are special guests
12 x 12 in 12!
With a guest-guest here
And a guest-guest there
Here a guest, there a guest
Everywhere a  guest-guest
Julie Hedlund had a plan—
12 x 12 in 12!

Julie Hedlund had a plan—
12 x 12 in 12!
And in that plan are lots of posts
12 x 12 in 12!
With a post-post here
And a post-post there
Here a post, there a post
Everywhere a  post-post
Julie Hedlund had a plan—
12 x 12 in 12!

Julie Hedlund had a plan—
12 x 12 in 12!
And in that plan are Facebook “likes”
12 x 12 in 12!
With a like-like here
And a like-like there
Here a like, there a like
Everywhere a  like-like
Julie Hedlund had a plan—
12 x 12 in 12!

Julie Hedlund had a plan—
12 x 12 in 12!
And in that plan are gobs of blogs
12 x 12 in 12!
With a blog-blog here
And a blog-blog there
Here a blog, there a blog
Everywhere a  blog-blog
Julie Hedlund had a plan—
12 x 12 in 12!

Julie Hedlund had a plan—
12 x 12 in 12!
And finally, there will be books
12 x 12 in 12!
With a book-book here
And a book-book there
Here a book, there a book
Everywhere a  book-book
Julie Hedlund had a plan—
12 x 12 in 12!

As of tonight, June 27, 2012, I have five completed drafts. I plan to have another completed by the 30th of June to bring my total to six. One of the manuscripts is out on submission. That is amazing to me. Even more amazing is the overwhelming number of “writer” friends I have made during 12 x 12 in 12. I am very grateful for this challenge! Thanks, Julie!