Tinkering around with a new revision strategy

I wrote a picture book story of Black Creole girl a while ago. The few editors that responded did like it, but they either a) weren’t in love with it enough to buy it OR b) wanted me to up the stakes.

One particular editor commented that as she read it, it made her want to get up and dance. This is actually my favorite piece of criticism so far. It stuck with me.

Last week, I decided to dust off the manuscript and try it again. I printed it out and took notes directly on it. I made a list of things that I wanted the new manuscript to do. I went through with my trusty pen and crossed out everything that I didn’t think would help  to reach my list of manuscript goals.

I have about four sentences left, and they’re still not fully exempt from the chopping block. I even changed the title! Was it hard to get rid of that much text? I’ll admit that I did pout for like two minutes. I got over it though.

I feel fortunate that I”m not one of those people who gets extremely attached to their writing. Did I love this manuscript enough to revisit it? Yes. I guess that does show some attachment. However, I’m not so attached to it that I’ll horde words just for the sake of keeping them, especially if they’re not beneficial.

I’m sorry! I haven’t touched upon the title of this post yet. I mentioned that the editor mentioned liking the sound of the manuscript. So, that’s one area of focus I’m really trying to bulk up. Remember the cartoon Madeline? I loved how it sounded as a kid, so I’ve started listening to old YouTube episodes of it as I do my revisions.

Will this land me an agent or result in a sale? I have no idea, but I”m having fun. Never stop having fun on your writing journey.

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I got a critique that hurt my feelings.

So, here’s what happened. I’d written something that I thought was great. Like…every time that I read over it, I expected some sort of holy light to shine down on it. Real talk. I am just that ridiculous.

So, I sent it over to my faves at Rate Your Story, and it came back with some straight to the point feedback, definitely no compliment sandwich in sight, and a score of 6. 6?! I friggin love this story, and 10 is the lowest score possible. How dare they give me a 6. Don’t they know I have a book coming out? I know what I’m doing!

Nope! I do not. And to be honest, I had to laugh at myself. The whole reason I was extremely eager to send the story in for feedback is because I’m trying out different genres. (Disclaimer: I’ve taken PB, CB,and MG courses, so I’m going into this totally blind.) But, as I’m sure you know, executing what you’ve learned when crafting your own story and really making it your own is completely different that reading some text from a class and being like “Oh yeah. I totally get that.”

So, I spent an hour or so being bitter, and then I printed out the feedback sheet. I printed out my story, and then I got excited. I underlined different parts of the feedback that I thought were spot-on and took notes about possible changes to make and where.

That’s the thing. Feedback should challenge you. At the end of the day, yes, I am the writer and the final decision is mine regarding what changes to make. However, a good writer will take the time to truly assess what will make the manuscript stronger.

I tell my students this all of the time. Feedback isn’t meant to hurt your feelings. It’s to help you grow. It either affirms things about your writing or challenges them.

Honestly, this set of feedback made me wish I knew who’d actually given it. I’d write them a note letting them know that their comments made me pout but then push harder. Thanks.

Oh, and do I recommend Rate Your Story for critiques? I do. I’m a fan. Honestly, I’m currently saving my coins to buy another year of membership. Besides, they did give me some solid feedback on the manuscript that I did end up selling (hoping we can soon get another dose of that magic potion brewing).

And with that, I’m off to do some revisions.

On leaving my agent

I know you’re probably shocked to see me post since I haven’t posted in ages, and for that I apologize. You see, when your life revolves around your use of words, you sometimes have to know when not to run your mouth.

I’ve posted several times about my desire to be transparent with you about my writing journey and all it entails. My time of silence was not at attempt to keep you in the dark. Instead, it was a self-check. Yes, sometimes you have to check yourself. Deciding to leave my agent was one of the toughest decisions that I’ve had to make since embarking on this writing quest. I chose to confide in family and my trusted writing friends (new and old). What I didn’t want to do was to blog away while still all in my emotions.

That being said, after making a tough business decision(it wasn’t personal at all), I am back in the query trenches. It’s a scary thrill right now. I actually plan to start querying in about two weeks. I’ve been working on my query letters and new manuscripts. I’m ridiculously excited about the new manuscripts that I’m working on! (Judge your mother. I know I just ended a sentence with a preposition. What of it?!)

Am I sad that the path I thought I was on came to an end? Of course! But, if I’ve learned nothing else, I am definitely learning to hang on and enjoy the ride. You’ll never know what you’ll learn and who you will meet along the way. If you’ve hit a few bumps during your own writing journey, know that you’re not alone. Take time to regroup and press on.

So, here we go again (smile).

“But what if the other kids bully me?”

This is the reasoning my 5yo gave me as to why he doesn’t want to tell the kids at his new school that he is Muslim. I’m torn between a wth and an ugly cry. I was prepared for his other questions:

  • Will I make friends?
  • What if I don’t make friends?
  • What if I can’t make the other kids like me?

I was equipped with my standard answers. You can’t control how people treat you. You can only control how you treat people. You try to be the best you that you can be. Know who will always be your friends (Mommy, Daddy, your brother ).

I was bullied in school. I’ve always struggled with my weight. (We have a love/hate relationship, but this post ain’t about us right now.) But that didn’t come until like 3rd grade or so, and it was minor compared to what kids go through today. I, however, do not recall being worried about being bullied because of my religion at the age of 5.

What is happening? Why is this the new normal?

The other storyteller

You may recall me saying that my kids prefer my husband’s stories since they’re predominantly action-driven. Well, it looks like I’ve been one-upped again, this time by my mother-in-law.

I was in the middle of reading a story when my 5yo interrupted,”Where’s grandmother?”

“Ummm…in the kitchen doing grandmotherly things.”

“Grandmother was telling me stories of Mama Frizz last night. Do you know any?”

“Nope, so I’ll see if Grandmother is available.”

Of course she made herself available. That’s what grandmothers do. She set the mood and told stories of Mama Frizz. She told stories of being in the country as a little, city girl.

She gave him a bit of family history for story time. It was wonderful. As she left the room, she said something that I couldn’t help agree with.

She said, “For stories, I think that sometimes the real thing is best.”

 

A little Aesop, a Bit of Thunder & Self-Actualization of my Writer Self

I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before: my mom was all about representation when I was younger. Sure I lived in a predominantly Black neighborhood and attended a predominantly Black church, but school was on the other end of the spectrum.

I was in one of those gifted and talented programs, and there were only a handful of people of color in it at any given time. Clearly I learned a great deal, but there were also a few experiences that clearly stand out from the rest.

  1. My third grade math teacher was a Black woman. I don’t remember her last name, but I remember her first name was Bathsheba. She probably didn’t know it, but she made my day–Every. Single. Day. Her being brown made me feel less awkward, less alone. Seeing her made me feel like maybe I could grow up and feel like I could have an important job too. Maybe I could even be teacher.
  2. In my elementary years, I was also introduced to the first Black characters in a school-assigned book. My English teacher was white, and I couldn’t tell you her name now if my life depended on it. But I am thankful for her. Having followed the traditional route of reading what most kids read, what you naturally assume are books featuring non POC–Where the Red Fern Grows, James and the Giant Peach, Charlotte’s Web, Bridge to Terabithia, etc., imagine my surprise when we started reading Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry. Brown characters! Brown characters all around! I guess this class was also when I had my first of what we would now call “woke” experience. I was surrounded by white people and was reading about ill-intentioned white people. It was a new layer to the feeling of difference. But, I was reading about brown people. It was also the first book I remember making me cry. It was also important because it was the first POC book that I remember beyond Aesop’s fables. Yes, it was also dated, but it made me feel relevant.
  3. The first two events sparked something another first-the first time I changed my mind about what I could be when I grew up. Maybe I could write too. I vaguely remember that we had a reaction assignment. I remember writing about slaves. My Uncle read it before I turned it in, and I remember him asking if I’d really written it because it was really good. My teacher also thought it was good. Maybe that’s when I first became a writer. It just took me until my 30s to remember my purpose and step back into it.

That weird space between goals and dreams

As a writer, I feel like this is my permanent home. I’m constantly somewhere between goal-chasing and dreaming. I haven’t really given this limbo-like space much thought, so maybe I’ll have a bit more clarity by the time I’m done this post.

Perhaps what fills this space is waiting–waiting to hear from critique partners, my agent, an editor, a publisher, my agent again, etc. For someone whose mind is constantly going a mile a minute and who is so impatient she yells at the microwave to “Friggin get a move on!”, to say that this is a learning experience and a test in patience is certainly an understatement.

What do I do as I strive to reach my dreams of being a full-time writer a reality? I wait. Honestly, I write more. I whine to my husband. I strategize my next move. I feel like this is an impossible goal, and then I tell myself to knock if off and keep pushing.

Maybe those strange little dudes were on o something with that whole “whistle while you work” thing. Maybe small distractions that you can do while you work at a larger task are ideal. Whatever the case may be, I know I have to keep at it.

 

Say it: I’m a writer!

I was one of those people who wouldn’t come out and say I wanted to be or was a writer when I first started. I know I”m not the only one who does this. Why is that? We live in a society that thrives off of titles and recognition. We celebrate our differences (well…sometimes), so why is it so hard to yell it to the world?

I’M A WRITER!

Is it because we expect some snarky remark like the following:

  • Well, who isn’t?
  • Aren’t we all?
  • How’s that going to pay the bills?
  • Well, where’s your book?

Well, writer friend, let me tell you something: You are a writer. If you write, have writing goals, are working on your craft, etc. you are a writer. Don’t let anyone tell you anything different!

Seriously, it takes a lot of heart to become a writer. This journey does not come pre-paved or even cobbled. Many of us wander around getting, our feet and legs getting cut with rocks and sticks as we move forward in faith. Yes! We have faith in our writing, even if it may waiver from day-to-day. What we must keep on a daily basis is faith in ourselves. My journey may not be the same as yours, and your journey may not be the same as the next person’s. It doesn’t matter. Own your journey and enjoy it.

Why Cree had to win the day

I took an unexpected detour on my writing journey and did a bit of editing. How did that happen? An old college friend who knew of my published picture book quest reached out to me. When she told me of what she and a colleague wanted to do, I couldn’t say no. They didn’t just want to write a picture book, they wanted to birth a unique character to add to children’s bookshelves. That’s just what they did.

Ti and Lora created a perfectly imperfect African-American girl character. Think on that. Two African-American women from Philly saw a void and filled it. It’s as simple as that. See a need. Fill a need. While self-publishing can come with its difficulties, they persisted. Their community of friends, family, and loved ones helped their dream become a reality. Not only did Cree win the day, Lora and Ti did as well.

Cree Wins the Day isn’t just a story for girls. I have two boys, and the closest rival to this book in our home right now is Pete the Cat. What makes Cree so appealing to them? My 5yo likes that Cree wets the bed. My 2yo likes Cree going to school. (Those are all the spoilers you get. Go buy the book  from Amazon if you want to know more.)

Cree embraces what makes her different. Cree’s abilities, that sometimes make her days  a little crummy, show readers that our day-to-day lives may not be perfect or go as expected and that’s okay. We should always love ourselves and know who helps us to have a healthy mental space. That’s a lesson anyone can get behind.

 

cree

 

Pre-k graduation & other tragedies

Yes, I was on the fence about my kids’ pre-k graduation at first. Then I was super excited about it and disgruntled because we were running late. As luck would have it, so were they. We ended up being like 15 minutes early while also being 15 minutes late. Feel free to let that sink in for a minute.

The graduation celebration basically had two parts. The first part was the kids doing Quran recitations and sharing other tidbits that they’d learned throughout the year (or in my kids’ case, the past couple of months). The second part was more for the parents and gave basic information about the school’s first year of existence. I guess you could say that the celebration was for the kids and the school as a whole. I commend the principal and the board. I mean, I imagine that it’s no small task to start a school!

Anyway, my 2yo was being a typical 2yo and wanted nothing to do with the entire thing. He drank water, kept the teachers running after him, and then came and sat on my lap during the performances. It’s not like he didn’t know the routine. He did it from my lap and cheered his brother on.

My 5yo was awesome. He was most active during the songs, and that’s what I expected. He shook and sang for al it was worth. It was great.

I’m pretty sure they called my 2yo as one of the first ones to get his certificate just to get him out of the way, and I totally understand that. He actually went back and sat with the other kids after he got his graduation cap and goody (goodie?) bags. I couldn’t help but smile when my 5yo proudly got his certificate. He has had an eventful year (in and out of pre-k, a couple of floods, moving, etc.).

The tragedy?Maybe 10 minutes into the parent part, the principal tapped me on the shoulder saying my 5yo had got hurt. Apparently he had been playing on a scooter, and the scooter proved to be the victor. He was upset, crying, and bleeding. I gave him kisses and told him I was proud of him for being so brave. The teachers, volunteers, and assorted sisters of the community all helped. They were great.

So yeah, that totally sucked. But, a little cuddling, ice, and biryani when we got home and all was well. An assortment of text messages from the sisters of the community didn’t hurt either.

All in all, it was an exciting day. But hey, I’d expect nothing less from my family. Oh yeah, I did say tragedies, huh? I guess the other tragedy would be realizing my babies aren’t babies anymore.