Writer’s Academy – 2nd Place for my Flash Fiction!

On a whim, I signed up for the UVU Writer’s Academy that takes place throughout the month of October. As a part of the program, they have a short story contest that I’ve been having so much fun with. They give you a genre, a setting, and a random object to incorporate and limit you to 1,000 words. There are 4 rounds, with the final two being elimination rounds. You also only have a few days to write each piece!

When the scores were posted last week I was thrilled to see I’d tied for Second Place on the first round! Woohoo! This weekend I had a blast writing the second story. I don’t know if I’ll make it to the Finals, but I’m very grateful for this challenge. I’ve learned so much about storytelling and fiction these last two years, and I can see the progress in my writing. And that is the best prize of all!

Are you an Imposter?

When I first discovered writing conferences, the other attendees were super welcoming, especially at SMIAH in Kansas City. I totally fan-girled over some of the authors, and I loved being around people that had a passion for the written word, like I do. Despite that, I felt like I had a deep dark secret. (I’d never finished a novel!) I didn’t feel like I could call myself an author if I didn’t have a book with my name on it. I was a pretender. An imposter, really.

It wasn’t long before I learned that Imposter Syndrome is a real thing, and that it’s super common among beginning, intermediate and advanced writers. Success is an elusive and nebulous idea. Even authors who have achieved significant financial success often feel like imposters around those with literary awards, and those with the awards don’t feel like real authors without the commercial success.

This year I was asked to serve on the committee for SMIAH. Because of COVID, we were forced to postpone the full conference until 2021, so we opted to host a FREE, virtual one-day writing event for 2020. We called it SMIAH Mini, and if you’re a writer, definitely go sign up for it at www.smiahwritersconference.com. We have almost 30 mini writing classes, 2 live panels, as well as writing contests and fantastic prizes. It takes place this Saturday, September 26th, and the recordings will be available through October 31st!

It’s been a lot of work, but I’ve had a blast working on SMIAH Mini–coordinating the contests, editing video content and helping with publicity. All of us on the committee recorded a mini-class, and I chose to present on Imposter Syndrome. This was my first “YouTube” video, and it is totally disconcerting to watch a video of yourself, but I hope it will be helpful to the hundreds of attendees who have already signed up! The writing world is a close-knit group and nobody needs to waste energy feeling like they don’t belong.

1st Submissions to a Publisher!

Just had to pop on here and say I did it! After receiving feedback from my awesome new mentor, Stephanie Bearce, I polished up my two middle-grade non-fiction book proposals. Then, even though it was scary pushing the send button, I sent them off to a publisher just a few minutes ago!

The publishing industry is really slow, and I know it could be 5 or 6 months before I hear if they are interested, and I know it is very unlikely to get a publishing deal on your very first submission (most authors collect rejections like they’re going out of style–they’re badges of honor, really, for putting themselves out there), but still I can’t help feel a slightly disturbing, but delicious bubble of hope in my gut.

And something else…pride, I guess. I’m really proud of these books, and I hope someday I get to share them with more readers than just my kids.

SCBWI Mentorship Winner

I mentioned in a previous post how I attended my first SCBWI conference right before COVID-19 shut everything down. It happened to be a Nonfiction Children’s Book conference. I’d just joined SCBWI, I didn’t know anyone going, and I knew next to nothing about the nonfiction children’s market, but I came home from that one-day conference on fire with ideas.

As the people who know me know, there’s really no stopping me once I get an idea. I dove in and drafted 2 nonfiction children’s manuscripts during the next two months. I love research and writing and kids, so it’s really a perfect match for me!

Last month I submitted a book proposal for one of my manuscripts to the SCBWI Michigan Nonfiction Mentorship Contest. It’s called Becoming an Inventor: Train Your Brain to Invent & Explore Your Creativity.

I can’t tell you how pleased I am to announce that I was just announced as the Winner for the Middle Grade (ages 8-12) Mentorship! Suzanne Lipshaw, who I happened to have lunch with at that conference, won the Nonfiction Picture Book Mentorship. I am so thrilled for her as well!

For the next year I will be under the mentorship of Stephanie Bearce, whose awesome children’s books are right up my alley with her Twisted True Tales from Science series, and her Top Secret Files series about real spies, secrets, and covert missions. If your kids haven’t read any of her books, give them a try!

I would like to extend a huge thank you to the contest coordinator, Ann Finkelstein, all the judges, and to Stephanie for choosing to work with me!

Writing School Boot Camp

Less than two years ago I stumbled onto a Midwest writing conference called SMIAH. I’ve talked about it before on here because it has a ton of fun writing contests. But back then I didn’t know anything about it. I was a writing professional, but a total newbie to writing novels. When I saw that one of my favorite authors, Traci Hunter Abramson, was the keynote, that was enough for me. I signed up last minute and bought a plane ticket to Kansas City.

It was my first real introduction to the fiction writing world. I’d never even heard of the big Storymakers writing conference in Utah, or that, along with Indie Author Hub, they sponsor this other, more intimate writing conference. At any rate, I went, not knowing a single person there. It turned out to be an exhilarating and life-changing experience for me. Not only did I meet authors of books I’d read, all the author instructors were eager to interact and teach me their craft. 

Because of the small size of the conference, I got to have real conversations over lunch, in the hallway, and when we went out to dinner together. Everyone was interested in sharing their knowledge and helping me on my journey. For the first time I came away thinking that becoming an author might actually be possible. I felt accepted and connected. I’d found my people, and they’d left me bursting with motivation and inspiration for my writing.

This month I’d planned to attend the large Storymakers Conference in Provo. Of course I had to cancel my travel plans due to COVID-19, but instead of cancelling the conference, the incredibly dedicated volunteer staff switched gears to offer a virtual conference instead.

The benefit of this was that we didn’t have to choose a class to go to for each break-out session–we could go to all of them! That’s almost 100 amazing, mind-blowing writing classes! My husband is back to work, so it hasn’t been easy to devote the time to this, especially since my kiddos don’t finish online schooling until June 12th. I’ve also had to pause my own writing projects to take advantage of this training, but it’s been worth it. I’m about 85% through the presentations, and I’m chuck full of ideas to make my work better. In fact, if my head explodes, you’ll know why.

Quarantine Update

A month has zipped by since I last posted, and while many in my writer circles have suffered creative blocks due to the stress around us, I have managed to dig in, simultaneously attacking 3 different projects. I may be the only one in the world right now wishing for more hours each day! The best part is that I hope to have an announcement about one of them very soon!

Here in Michigan, we are in one of the worst areas for COVID-19, with the peak on April 3rd almost reaching 2,000 new cases in 24 hours. We have been trending down since then, with only 576 reported yesterday. In our county alone, overall there have been over 4,000 cases with more than 400 deaths so far.

Watching friends suffer through the disease has been heartbreaking. We have been able to stay in our home and backyard for all, but trips to the grocery store. And even then, we don masks and gloves like most everyone we see now.

My husband has a job that does not translate to remote work, and has had a temporary pay cut while we wait for it to be safe for him to return. This has been a stress and a blessing as it has allowed me to focus on my work while he shares the weight of food preparation and the kids’ online schooling.

The world is on pause. Nobody knows what to expect in the coming weeks and months. Some say even years. We all hope and pray for healing. Meanwhile we adapt and learn and draw closer than we’ve ever been before. With trials come humility, compassion and unity.

A Little Detour

I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels the word “pandemic” is almost unreal, the stuff of the distant past or post-apocalyptic novels. And although real pandemics are sprinkled throughout history with a macabre regularity, even the more recent outbreak of H1N1 with over 12,000 U.S. deaths in the first year did nothing to prepare us for COVID-19.

The fact that one little microscopic organism can shut down so many parts of the world in such a short amount of time is astonishing. None of us could have imagined that this common fictional disaster would become our reality.

We utter new phrases like ‘social distancing’ and ‘flatten the curve” on a daily basis without batting an eye. And even though our life has radically changed with fear and illness and unemployment, technology is softening the edges. A large percentage of people can continue to work from home, and although our children’s schools are closed, they are developing new distance learning skills and continuing their educations. The best part is we don’t have to wallow in isolation. We can connect with friends and family through social media, FaceTime and video conferencing.

The writer’s community is thriving online as well with online critique groups, webinars and virtual conferences. Just before the outbreak arrived in Michigan, I attended a one day Children’s Non-fiction Writing Conference in person. Hand sanitizer and elbow bumping was prevalent, but in a way it seemed excessive. I obviously didn’t realize at the time how dire COVID-19 was, and how our lives would be changing.

The conference was fantastic and opened up a whole new avenue of writing for me. Who knew that children’s non-fiction wasn’t boring anymore! 🙂 My mind was opened to all the super creative ways information can be presented.

Life right now in lockdown mode is simpler and fuller. I love having everyone home*, and while I have continued editing my MG** sci-fi novel, this week I have taken a slight detour to try my hand at drafting a MG non-fiction book. And I’m having a blast!

I feel a bit guilty enjoying social distancing as much as I am. But you have to understand. I have six kids at home right now, and so the logistics are always tricky. Our new daily life means no shuttling kids around, never a lack of workout partners, many hands for food prep and household chores, and we have plenty of people to play board games or basketball or stage an epic laser gun battle. Stocking up on food and toilet paper is common practice around here, so that hasn’t been a stress either. With my creativity having a good romp on my newest detour, my routine couldn’t be better. I really think it will be hard to go back to “regular” life.

Now I know this may come across ignorant, like I have blinders on. I get that COVID-19 is real and scary, and that brave people all over the world are out fighting it. I’m incredibly grateful for their dedication and sacrifice. My youngest child has T1D, and it would be a nightmare if he were to contract this virus. But there’s no reason to focus on what might happen, when there is so much to be grateful for now.

*Except my college daughter, whom we miss! She’s hunkered down with Grandma right now.

**Just a reminder: MG stands for Middle Grade, which is the target audience of ages 8-13.

Novel Novel Structure

The title of this post may seem like a typo, but it’s not! 🙂 I just finished reading Bickham’s Scene & Structure, and I am totally geeking out about this cool new tool in my writer’s box. Coming from a background of writing poems, essays and flash fiction, the elements of structure in novel writing are totally novel to me. Now that I know about them, it is making it a ton easier to edit.

A lot of the concepts I had already incorporated intuitively in my chapters, but when something wasn’t quite right, I could sense it, but not know exactly how to fix it. Now I know! And it has given me so much more confidence.

A writer friend suggested I read this book months ago, and I wish I had stopped everything and done it right then. But honestly, there is something about the word ‘structure’ that bores the tears out of me. And the actual book is highly conceptual and written like a textbook. If the concepts hadn’t been so earth-shattering and applicable, I never would have made it through. Bickham does include great examples that helped me extrapolate how to apply the concepts.

Anyway, if you are starting down the novel writing path, and you don’t know what I’m talking about, read Scene & Structure! I found this graphic online because I’m not the only author who’s been rocked with this revelation. Swain was Bickham’s mentor, I believe, so I’m sure his book is great too, although I haven’t read it yet.

The Best Birthday Present

Today may be my birthday, but this weekend I gave myself the best present ever. I finished my first novel! It came to a grand tally of 71,194 words, and an additional 10k words of research, pre-writing and character development. That’s about 325 pages!

Actually when I say I gave myself this marathon of words as a present, that isn’t totally true. I could never have done it without the support and encouragement of my selfless husband and fantastic kiddos. They pulled extra weight around here and cheered me on every step of the way.

The other misconception is that this actually means I’m done with my book. Au contraire! Most books are rewritten 6 to 10 times before being published, and so I know this is just a beginning.

But, as one of my favorite authors likes to say, I’ve shoveled all the sand into the sandbox with the first draft, and now I get to sculpt and mold it into something awesome.

A Vote of Confidence

Interruptions are everywhere this week with doctor appointments and half-days at school, but I am getting words in every chance I get. It is so easy to let a lack of progress raise doubts as to my ability to finish this book.

As luck would have it, my award certificates and prize money from a writing conference I attended last fall finally came in the mail. My kiddos were very impressed, and it has helped me push away the doubts.

It was just the vote of confidence I needed!

I actually attended two writing conferences last fall, before NaNoWriMo. Both of the conferences were extremely helpful. The Rochester Writers Conference was local, but its writing contests are open to all. The other one, SMIAH–Storymakers Midwest Indie Author Hub, was in Kansas City.

SMIAH has a number of mini-writing contests, open only to conference attendees. The prizes were small, but I challenged myself to enter as many as possible. You can’t win if you don’t enter, right? As you can see below, I did very well. The best part was that I learned a ton pushing myself to meet the demands of the contests, and as an added bonus, it gave me a lot of visibility as an author at the conference, which led to invitations to join much-needed critique groups.

SMIAH 2019 prizes & certificates

Another result of my contest winnings was that I have been asked to serve on the SMIAH 2020 Committee, and oversee the contests. I won’t be able to enter their contests this time, but I am excited to be able to help other writers get that same vote of confidence in their writing!

*One fun side note: This was my second time going to SMIAH. I won a number of their contests in 2018, as well. One of which was to help name the keynote speaker, Heather B. Moore’s, next book. I won, and the prize was that she would use my name for one of her characters. At this last conference, I just happened to win that very book, pictured above. So, if you read All for You, look for Sarah Lynne. 🙂