Writing

Writing Books Takes a Crowd: Here’s How


We can write alone but we can’t get published alone.

I have found that while writing is a solitary job, to truly succeed you need to be in a room alone—and surrounded by a crowd.

The author John Green wrote, “Writing is something you do alone. It’s a profession for introverts who want to tell you a story but don’t want to make eye contact while doing it.”

This is true in your creative space, but today authors are called on to live uncomfortable public lives which can be hard for introverts. We must get out of our comfort zone. It IS hard to put yourself out there as a writer when mostly we just want to hideaway in our fiction dream worlds.

But we are also SO lucky to be writers in an age where the writing community is wonderfully accessible. We can meet authors in person and online and get to know them as mentors. We can engage with our peers and share resources. Yes, it takes away from writing time, but it also opens up so many more doors for opportunities to improve our writing and get published.


I’ve found no other job like writing that involves constant change…and constant rejection. You need a positive support buoy to keep swimming in this career or you will sink. Wherever you are in the writing journey, look to elevate yourself now with people that can help you finish that first book (or second or third…) and get it to market.

Where to start? Here’s the crowd that filled my space when I was working toward getting published (and still fills my space)–and could fill yours.

Hundreds of people
I was surrounded by writers of all levels at multiple writer’s conferences. Scared stiff, I went to my first writer’s conference eleven years ago and met other writers for the first time. From this one event my entire life changed, and my network of peers expanded into an amazing circle today. Spring forward, and I was back at that conference—as a presenter. I grew into my role as an author, and putting myself ‘out there’ enabled me to do this.

Dozens of people
I surrounded myself with dozens of people as an attendee of local writer coffeehouses, author readings, and book signings. As writers we need to do this! Get out there on a regular basis in small groups and mingle with writers and readers. Online or in person. It’s the human contact we need to keep our spirits up. Sometimes I didn’t always want to leave the house, but I never regretted it. Every time I did, I met a new person or learned something new. I still am.

The same goes for connecting with dozens of folks by joining writer organizations like SCBWI, Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, or International Thriller Writers (ITW). Volunteering with these organizations can play a significant role in meeting influencing people who can help your career path. In past years, I’ve volunteered for ITW doing social media for debut authors and as a contributing editor to their magazine the Big Thrill. I’ve also been an author member for the middle grade blog, Project Middle Grade Mayhem and grateful now to be part of From the Mixed-Up Files. Having mentors and peers to boost you up within your genre is gold. Many authors I’ve met this way have endorsed my books. Authors like to pay-it-forward, and someday you will too. I’ve been honored to have given three book endorsements over the years.

A Dozen People
I fell in love with writing for children with a challenge to myself. I heard of a class called How To Write A Children’s Novel in 9 Months and thought, “Wouldn’t that be different from my writing thrillers for adults?” I signed up right away. It was hard. I knew nothing about writing for kids. I hadn’t read children’s books in years. So I read and I wrote, and I learned from my teachers and my peers. And along the way I fell in love with writing for kids. You never know what road you will go down in thinking outside the box, and taking a risk. I’m glad I did.

A Handful of People
For nearly a decade (until the pandemic!) I met weekly at Wegmans Café with a wonderful group of women writers. We are slowly meeting up again. We call ourselves the Weggie Writers (sounds like Peggy not wedgie!). This informal group grew over time to be eight of us. Writing across diverse audiences and genres. We didn’t all come each week, but when we did we sat and wrote side-by-side. We gave advice, shared resources, and offered shoulders to cry on. We were a giant brain collective that elevated each other! Since getting together, we’ve celebrated getting agents and book deals and MFA graduations. We are awesome. I hope you have your awesome handful.

One-on-One
I’m so lucky to have a critique partner, Erica George, who also writes for kids. We get together for a writing day once a month, go on retreats several times a year, and critique each other’s work. Our friendship and feedback have been critical in getting our books published—and keeping each other going through rejection. I’ve learned in this publishing industry that no matter how many books you’ve published, you will continue to experience rejections and may need to move on to new projects if one doesn’t sell. OR revise the manuscript that isn’t selling OR wait to go on submission again when the market is hot once more for that particular story. My critique partner and I now even share the same literary agent (my second agent—for if one doesn’t work out, don’t be afraid to seek a new champion for your work). Finding that one special person you connect with on the same level can be key to elevating your success.

Once you get a book deal, it’s more people in your room of course! An agent, a publisher, a publicist, and more editors—and editing. Check out my article on the 8 steps to an agent, a publisher, and a two-book deal.

And once your book comes out, you can chuckle over the multiple ways folks butcher the title. Because they will—and it can be funny!

Here are the funniest Blooper Titles of my first middle grade book, Joshua and the Lightning Road:

Joshua and the Lightning Tree
Joshua and the Lightning Rod
Joshua and the Lightening Road
Joshua and the Lightening Rod
The Joshua Tree (one of my fave U2 albums!)

I’d like to see the cover design for these. Wouldn’t you?

Getting published is not all challenging work, of course. There are fun rewards like the week your book releases, doing school visits, talking with readers, getting great reviews, and book trailers. Check out my new one for Secret Beneath the Sand. The crowd in my room helped this book come to life 😊.

 

Do you surround yourself with people as a writer? Do you recommend any other ways to surround yourself with a strong writer network? How have you benefited from a writer network? 

Writing Mojo: Tips for Getting Off Hiatus

I don’t know about you, but my writing mojo has been on hiatus for the past few years. I want to be writing and coming up with creative idea after idea, but I haven’t had the focus and motivation to make it happen as much as I’d like. I’ve been hearing similar things from writers I know.

What’s the issue? I think collectively there’s just been too much to worry about. On top of typical life issues, the pandemic has consumed our thoughts, added additional stress to the logistics of our lives, and resulted in social separation that’s left people with a dwindling well of inspiration. But things are changing, life is changing, and writing mojo doesn’t just disappear . . . it hangs on, waiting to return.

Many of us have been doing what we can the past few years to keep that spark going—Zoom writer’s groups and other virtual meetings. And now we can do more and more out in the world. So, what has been working for writers? Here are some tips from myself and a few MUF bloggers on filling up your creative well and getting back to your writing self again.

Tip #1. Get out there, get physical, get lost.

Writers spend too much time in their heads. And if worry is filling it, there’s not much room for much else. One way to make some space for inspiration is to get out of your head and into nature. Walking has always been healing  and inspiring to me. I like to get lost for a while, occupy my mind on the route ahead, and focus on my surroundings. I notice life a little better and my head clears so that it can wander. Trying another kind of art helps too, one that is more physical than writing. I’ve been trying some macrame lately and getting out into the garden. It opens up the writing part of my mind. When it can wander, new writing ideas have space to wiggle in.

Tip #2. Connect with community again.

If you’ve been avoiding book and writing events for a while, like many of us have, start venturing out again. Being with others in the writing community is such an inspiration. Volunteering to help with book-related events can help spark that excitement us writers have about what it is we love. There are likely many outdoor events in your community now that the weather is nicer. See what you feel good about attending and then start connecting again. Or start a book-related event yourself—maybe a free children’s book table at your local farmer’s market. Talk with people about children’s books. See how books affect their lives.

Tip #3. Follow a writer’s program on your own or with a group of writers.

A friend of mine mentioned The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron the other day. If you haven’t heard of it, it contains exercises, activities, and prompts to cultivate your creativity. Having a structured method to explore creativity may be the right way for you to get back on track with writing.


MUF blogger Dorian Cirrone
also had some thoughts on what’s been keeping her writing mojo alive:

Two things have kept me writing during the pandemic. The first has been reading. During these past couple of years, I’ve become a voracious reader of suspense fiction in order to escape reality. And with each book I’ve read, I’ve gotten ideas on how to enhance my own writing, which is always exciting to me.

The other thing that has kept me going is watching webinars on writing. I’m amazed at how many fantastic free or low-cost webinars and videos are available to writers. I know a lot of people have webinar fatigue, but I’ve found many that have been inspiring. Here are a few sites to explore:

 

MUF blogger Heather Murphy Capps offered these thoughts on what motivates and inspires her:

It’s been such an up and down time for writing during this upside down time in our lives … and I have loved reading about other ways of filling the creative well. Here’s what usually gets me excited to write or try out new ideas:

  1. Read the newspaper! I know—that seems counterproductive given the dumpster fire of a world we’re living in. But I want to remind everyone that there’s more to the paper besides the front page. Scientists are discovering black holes, advice columnists are still advising people on how to deal with families and friends, sports teams are still doing amazing things—especially local small teams and high school sports.
  2. Listen to the radio! Listen to MOTH radio and StoryCorps on Fridays on NPR. If you’re like me, you will inevitably cry (!!) but you will also be rejuvenated listening to stories of real people and they often spark ideas about what your fictional people might do or want or think.
  3. Watch bad television! I love watching television, I’ll admit it. And one of the benefits from television is it allows me to turn off my analytical brain and just feel or react … which often spurs ideas. I am not often a person who does subtitles or artsy television— I like it, but I find that serialized drama is a great way to just relax my brain. And then the ideas come, which is a beautiful thing.
  4. Finally, and I know people say this all the time, but I do definitely think that getting into quiet and nature is a foolproof way to spur creativity again. Being quiet and observing beauty and not being required to interact with the world ALWAYS helps free up my brain.

 

Hope these ideas help get you off your writing hiatus. It’s still a work in progress for me, but I’m trying. What’s worked for you? Please share some of your tips in the comments below!

World Building with Bestselling #Kidlit Author Lisa McMann

Author Lisa McMann stopped by The Mixed-Up Files Of Middle Grade Authors to talk about hew new middle-grade fantasy, THE FORGOTTEN FIVE: MAP OF FLAMES; world building; and what goes in to writing a series. Here, she shares her process on beginning a new series and what to do about readers who don’t start from the beginning. 

Mixed-Up Files: Tell us about your new book.

The Forgotten Five: Map of Flames by Lisa McMann

Lisa McMann: THE FORGOTTEN FIVE: MAP OF FLAMES is the first book in a middle grade fantasy series. It’s about five supernatural kids, raised in isolation, who enter a hostile-to-supers civilization for the first time to search for their missing criminal parents…and the stash they left behind.

MUF: Let’s talk about world building. How does the shape of a series come about? Do you come up with a single story first, or a world you want to flesh out?

LM: I usually come up with the immediate setting first—where are we when the story begins? In MAP OF FLAMES, it’s a criminals’ hideout on a beach with no electricity, no technology, just a handful of cabins in a lush setting that’s isolated from the modern world. Next I came up with the destination—where are these kids going and what does that look like. I wanted a big contrast between the two things here, so I went with a NYC or Chicago-type of city. When I imagined how the kids would get from one place to the other, the map of southern Europe factored in—I pictured the hideout at the boot heel of Italy, and the big city of Estero at the bottom of Spain (though I brought them closer together so it wouldn’t take so long to get there). So that map was in my head, as well as the contrasting locations. In one of my other series, THE UNWANTEDS, the hidden magical world of Artimé is designed to look like a place where my mother grew up, along the shore of Lake Michigan. I took that real life location and added magic to it.

The Unwanteds by Lisa McMannFor me the shape of the series comes from two things: developing flawed characters and their relationships, and introducing a plot in which the antagonists push the protagonists too far, forcing these main characters to take action. Both things drive the series, with all kinds of setbacks as the heroes attempt to overcome evil and build strengthening relationships at the same time. The bigger the world and its problems, and the more troubled the characters and their need to fix themselves, the longer the series can run.

MUF: What are the biggest challenges in writing a series, and how does that compare when you write a stand-alone novel?

LM: Now you’ve got me looking back at my career and realizing I’ve only ever written three stand-alones out of 28 books. So maybe my biggest challenge is being able to write a book and actually tie up all the loose ends!

With a series, you are writing a story arc within each individual book, but also a story arc for the whole series. That can be tricky to get the hang of—parts of the plot need to resolve while other parts need to become more conflicted. It’s definitely something that my editors have helped me see and understand in past series’. It really takes a conscious effort to recognize the two different arcs.

Author Lisa McMann

Lisa McMann, author. Photo by Ryan Nicholson

MUF: Do you expect that readers will always read in order, or do you find that many people jump in in the middle of a series? If that’s the case, how do you provide back story for new readers without turning off anyone who’s started with book #1?

LM: I absolute wish I could force everyone to read the books in order—I’m a bit controlling this way, haha. But I know this doesn’t always happen. In the early pages of every sequel, I try to weave in key elements of things that happened in the past, kind of the same way TV shows give you the recap of important scenes from the previous episodes. I don’t want this to ever feel heavy-handed or annoying for those faithful readers who read the books in order, though. So it’s a delicate balance to inform or remind but not overdo.

MUF: How much collaboration is involved with your editor on a book series?

LM: I think this depends more on the editor than the writer. Some editors want an outline ahead of time that they can contribute to or approve of. Others are fine with letting an author do their thing and being surprised with the way a book turns out. Both ways work. I prefer not having to write an outline, because I feel like doing that takes something away from the creative process of writing the story—it feels limiting. But if that’s what the editor needs, I’m happy to provide it.

MUF: How do you keep track of your characters and their environment so you don’t forget details?

LM: I keep it all in my head. I might jot down a few notes on my phone app—notes about a key sentence that will carry through to the next book. But it’s also not too difficult to search for the information I need in previous books if I can’t remember something. I know many writers keep copious notes and use other means to track everything—they are likely cringing right now. I just work a different way. I can see a picture of things in my mind. I think my book details take up most of the space in my brain because I can’t remember what I had for breakfast.

MUF: If you would like to share any recent/new-ish middle grade books you’ve enjoyed, we’d love to hear your recommendations! 

All Thirteen

LM: I love Kelly Yang’s Front Desk Books. And Christina Soontornvat’s non-fiction All Thirteen. On my nightstand I have A Comb of Wishes by Lisa Stringfellow and The School for Whatnots by Margaret Peterson Haddix—excited to dive in!

 

 

 

 

 

 

You can find Lisa at @lisa_mcmann on Twitter, TikTok, and Instagram and /McMannFan on Facebook