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Archive for February, 2013

Where do you draw the line when it comes to changing your story based on critiques and edits?

A few years back, I shared with my six-year-old granddaughter that my writing instructor wanted me to make drastic changes to one of my picture book stories.

I said, “If I make the changes that she wants me to make, it won’t be my story. . . .”

My granddaughter finished my sentence. “It will be hers.”

At the time, I thought, Wow, this is a no-brainer. Even a six-year-old can see it. I ignored my instincts and changed the story anyway. In this case, I think it might have been for the best. I love the new version. However, things did not go so well for another one of my stories.

I loved this story. It tugged at heartstrings. It was action-filled. And it was technically sound. Then the edits started. I made my first edits based on suggestions from my critique group. The next edits were steered by a professional critique editor’s suggestions. A copy editor made the final edits. For the most part, I was still happy with my story. However, the word count haunted me. It was around 1,000 words. After having “500 words – 500 words – 500 words!” drilled into my head by the writing community, I figured this story didn’t have a chance unless I word-chopped it to pieces. Instead, I left it as is and turned it in for a writing assignment.

My instructor helped me edit the story down to 650 words. I was thrilled until I realized that we had word-chopped the heart out of the story. It was a skeleton of “my” story. I ignored my instincts because I was excited that I finally had a short picture book. After all, that’s what “they” say will sell.

Although my instincts told me something was missing, I trusted that my instructor knew best and ignored my inner voice. I started submitting the story. With each rejection, I ignored my disappointment and instincts. I continued submitting until an editor sent me a rejection with two sentences that helped me see where I had gone wrong.

She wrote, “. . .  Also this story does not have enough scenes for a book. It is more of a length for a magazine piece.”

I immediately became defensive. First thinking, I know what I’m doing. Of course, there are enough scenes for a book. I would never submit something so messed up.

Then I found myself speaking aloud to no one, “What! Not enough scenes? You’re crazy!”

I had to prove that crazy editor wrong. I opened my document, studied the scenes and paginated the manuscript. It was a push to get twenty pages out of the manuscript. Now, feeling a bit crazy myself, I did the only thing any self-respecting author would do. I went back to my original, action-filled, heartstring-pulling story. It had 29 pages worth of scenes. It had a tighter beginning. And it was “my” story not “theirs.”

My disappointment and anger at the editor has since transformed to gratefulness. What a great wakeup call.

LESSONS LEARNED

1. Do not lose your focus on ANY aspect of your story telling. I was so focused on 500-words that I forgot the basic elements of picture book writing.

2.  Do not get lazy or overconfident and bypass using a dummy book to test your scenes and pages. Always test the final manuscript before submitting. I had initially tested my manuscript with a dummy book. However, I never realized how drastically it had all changed in the end. If I had tested the final product, I could have saved myself this embarrassment.

3. Do not trust others more than yourself. Even though the story no longer felt like mine, I continued to ignore my instincts. I forced my authentic self to write what I thought they wanted. If you try making changes others have recommended and your instincts tell you it is better for you, follow your authentic path and see where it takes you. However, listen with respect if your instincts scream, “This does not work for me!”

4. Rejections are not all bad.

It took me a long time to get over the embarrassment of submitting something “so messed up.” I had to work hard to make peace with the fact that I presented that manuscript to the agents and editors that were gracious enough to read it. I initially saw these submissions as blown opportunities. Now, I am viewing them as opportunities to learn.

You can bet it will never happen again.

WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO THE STORY?

I put it aside, trusting that I would know when to pick it back up.  Recently, I considered what the editor had said about it being better suited for a magazine. I decided to cut even more words from the story and submit it for the 2013 Highlights’ Fiction contest. In addition, it is still there awaiting its return to a touching, action-filled picture book (otherwise known as “my” story).

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My last post encouraged you to exercise your right to change your mind. This week’s post is about exercising your right to be imperfect, make mistakes and fail. By exercising this right, you open yourself to learning, growing and succeeding.

Some writers perceive rejection letters as failures. This can create a sense of fear each time we go through the submission process. I say embrace these fears and perceived failures. Why would I suggest we embrace fear and rejections? Because each time we muster the courage to submit, and each time we receive a rejection letter, we have an opportunity to learn and grow. The following quote demonstrates how one might grow from being imperfect. Just like Michael Jordan, we can fail our way to success.

“I have missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I have lost almost 300 games. On 26 occasions, I have been entrusted to take the game’s winning shot . . . and missed. I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why . . . I succeed.”      — Michael Jordan

The next time you fear submitting a manuscript, or you become frustrated or sad about receiving a rejection letter, remember that these are merely steps along your personal road to success.

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Before, I start my ‘Chooser’s Remorse Clause” post, I want to do a quick check in with my blog followers. I have been wondering if my Life Balance blog series is time well spent on my part. This is important to me because I want to find the best possible use for my blog, and if I am not moving in the right direction, I need to know. I am considering dropping the Life Balance series. I would appreciate comments or email if you have been following this series and if you have any interest in seeing it continue. Thank you in advance for your time.

Now, on to the post!

People often fear making the wrong decision. This fear can grow to such proportions that it prevents people from taking any action, and they remain stuck in place. There is no formula for revealing the secret choice that is just right for you, or which choice comes with a guarantee. At some point, you must consider all the information you have, along with all your options, and then make a decision.

At one time or another, all of us have difficulty selecting among our many life options. When this happens, we can think in terms of choices rather than decisions. Some people think this is just playing with words, but there is more to it than that.

A choice is a selection of one thing over another – a preference. Deciding involves passing judgment, forming a definite opinion or arriving at a conclusion.  If we drop the “de” from the word decide we are left with cide. That’s the same syllable found in suicide, genocide, and homicide. With it comes an image of killing something. Sometimes, deciding can feel like a kind of murder – a killing of alternatives.

Some people, when faced with a decision, react with thoughts such as . . .

“Well, I don’t want this. I don’t want that. So, I guess, all that’s left is this.”

With that type of reasoning, they have killed off the alternatives and assumed their decision is final. The thought process goes something like this . . .

“If I decide this, I will have to live with it forever. My fate is sealed.”

No wonder deciding is tough. Thinking we must live with our decision forever is pretty scary stuff.  Deciding in this way is not a freeing experience. In fact, it might feel like entering prison. However, choosing instead of deciding can change everything.

Choosing is a process that leaves other options intact. The scenario changes when we choose instead of decide. Now, the process goes something like this . . .

“Let’s see. What do I want to do? I could do this, or that, or this. Hmm, I could even do this! Well, I’m not sure, so I’ll just choose this, for now.”

This person has left her options open. She can opt for one thing now and reconsider her choice later. At the time of reconsideration, she might choose something different. Or, she might even come up with a totally new idea. Either way, there is no harm done.

The key feature of this choosing process is that no killing takes place. Not only do the alternatives escape unharmed, they are in robust health waiting to be considered at another time. Choosing “for now” does not rule out choosing again in the future. Our options remain alive.

One tool that promotes this process is Dave Ellis’s “Chooser’s Remorse Clause.” This is similar to an early effort at consumer protection called “The Buyer’s Remorse Clause.” Such measures date back to the days when some door-to-door salesmen used tricks, manipulations and half-truths to peddle a year’s supply of soap or enough cutlery to require a mortgage on your home. In response to this trickery, some states passed laws stating that within, say, three days, you could change your mind. You could return the items and tear up the sales agreement. You owned nothing, and you were not obligated to pay a penny.

A chooser’s remorse clause is much the same. The advantage of using one is that it offers you the freedom to experiment.

“Well, I’m not sure which option to pick.” You can say. “But today, I feel like this one.”

After choosing that option, you can sleep on it. You can also talk to other people about it and see how it feels after some hours pass. And, if that choice does not sit right at the end of your remorse period – whether that’s three hours or three weeks – you’ll know it. Then, you can choose again with no penalty or guilt.

When you exercise your right to change your mind, some people might accuse you of being fickle. “I’m not fickle.” You can reply. “I’m merely exercising my chooser’s remorse clause.”

Even when a choice makes it past your remorse period, you can still review it later. After you have chosen, you can review that choice every month or every year. At those times, you can step back, get the big picture, and see if your choice still makes sense.

Note that invoking the chooser’s remorse clause is not the same as being wishy-washy or uncommitted. We can be fully committed to trying an alternative or experimenting with a strategy. We can play full out, even as we keep our options open.

This is your life. You have the right to choose and to change your mind along the road to fulfillment.

What keeps you from exercising your right to change your mind? How can you overcome that obstacle and make the choice that is best for you at this time?

The information in this blog post is modified from the book “Human Being: A Manual for Happiness, Health, Love, and Wealth” by Dave Ellis.

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pphillyisnew4

Click here for TIME TO DREAM life balance post.

Groundhog Day, 2013

Susanna Leonard Hill’s Punxsutawney Phyllis showed up  in pphillyisne3McKinney, Texas this morning. It was a sunny, 75 degree day with breezes 10 – 15 mph. Phyllis saw her shadow, so it looks like six more weeks of winter, which is generally no big deal in Texas. Maybe that’s why instead of retreating back to her burrow, Phyllis sunned herself in the pool, and then took a little dip. Or maybe it is because Phyllis dares to be different.

Phyllis is making her way around the globe for Groundhog Day Week. Visit Susanna Leonard Hill’s blog to see more fun with Phyllis, and to learn more about Susanna’s books, including “Punxsutawney Phyllis.”

 

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In my post titled SETTING THE FOUNDATION TO BUILD YOUR LIFE UPON, I asked you to look deeper into your balance wheels by creating more categories and identifying obstacles to achieving your desired life in those areas. I also suggested that if you wanted to get ahead of the game, to brainstorm in your journal regarding what it might take to bring each wheel area up to a ten. If you haven’t done that, I recommend you spend some time doing so before you move on to the following steps.

TIME TO DREAM

By identifying obstacles, you were working backwards into identifying solutions. Once you know what your obstacles are, you can find solutions for overcoming the obstacles.

Next Steps

Go back, look at your wheels, and choose four areas total from the three wheels. For example, you might choose two areas from the wheel of life, one area from the health wheel, and one area from the writing wheel. Or maybe you want to choose all four areas from your writing wheel of balance. This is your life, you choose. However, because the goal is to create balance in your life, I recommend you start with the areas that you feel are creating the most imbalances. For most people, this tends to be the areas with the lowest satisfaction scores.

Once you have chosen your four areas, it is time to use your journal.

  1. For each area, ask yourself the following questions. What do I really want? What would have to happen for me to feel fulfilled in this area? DREAM BIG. What would a ten look like?
  2. Brainstorm about your dreams or vision for each area.
  3. Make a bullet pointed list of steps you could take to achieve these visions. Be specific. Your list should be written in present tense. You may write in paragraphs if that works better for you. Write as though you are already living a ten. Write as though that area of your life is working exactly the way you want it to. Remember this is your time for dreaming. You are not making any commitments to anyone. Please give yourself permission to dream without judgment, fear, or negativity. Enjoy this time.

The following examples are very basic. I hope you will make your bullet points or paragraphs as grandiose as you wish. Have fun. Dare to dream.

Examples:

  • My husband and I have date night once a week. We also have alone time every night between 9:00 and 10:00. We are more in love today than we were twenty years ago.
  • I call my mother every Sunday and visit her twice a year, once in June and once in January.
  • I have a closer bond with Jason. We work together cleaning his room every Saturday, followed by lunch and a movie. I have learned more about him, his refusal to do homework and his anger. Jason is doing much better in school and speaks to me with love and respect.
  • My writing community is growing. I have made hundreds of writer friends and contacts online. I attend SCBWI events monthly. I meet with my local critique group monthly. I offer support and get support through these wonderful groups, and my writing has improved tremendously.

I will give you a couple of weeks before I post the next steps in this series. Come back next week to read about “The Chooser’s Remorse Clause: Reserving the right to change your mind.”

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