December 2011


Yes, it’s this time of year again…goal-setting time! As many of you probably know by now, I’m a huge believer in setting goals for yourself. And, not just setting them, but putting them in writing so you see them often and remember where you’re headed.

I also believe an important part of goal setting that often gets overlooked is the revision of previous goals in order to form new ones. The prefix “re,” as most of you probably know, simply means “again.” So when you’re working on a revision of something, you’re trying to cast your vision again. When you revise a manuscript, you’re hoping to give it better focus, make your vision for it become clearer and come alive on the page. Likewise, when you revise previous goals, you’re trying to cast your vision for those goals again.

Instead of forming completely new goals for 2012, look back to those goals you set for yourself in 2011 (or even earlier). Which ones were you able to meet? Which ones did you come close to meeting? And which are still a dream?

If you met your goals–kudos to you! Look at those and ask yourself if they were perhaps too easy. Did you have to push yourself to meet them, or did they come rather effortlessly? This will help you in constructing new ones. Then determine if reaching those goals helped you stay on track with your overall career goals. You may’ve met your goal for writing 50 poems over the course of the year, but now that you’ve accomplished it, has it brought you closer to where you want to eventually end up as a writer?

If you came close to meeting your goals but didn’t, ask yourself why not. Were there distractions that got you off track? Did you end up going in a different direction with your writing? Did you just get lazy? (That last one can be tough to honestly admit!)

Sometimes distractions get in the way that cause our writing to take a back seat. That’s OK. If you still believe in these goals and think they are do-able, then recast them for 2012. Sometimes not meeting your goals because you ended up taking a different path is a good thing. In this case, re-evaluate those goals and see if you want to completely abandon them for your new direction. This is the power of goal revision. If you failed to meet your goals simply because of apathy or laziness, look closely at those as well and determine if those goals are still worth striving for. If your heart’s not really in it, then perhaps those need to be abandoned as well.

If you’re leaving 2011 with goals that are still only a dream and you haven’t even come close to reaching them, try to determine the reason. Were they unrealistic to begin with? If you set a word count goal for yourself with 3 kids under the age of 4 in the house, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. Or, if your goal was to hit the NY Times Bestseller List when all you’ve published so far were magazine articles, there’s a good chance you’re going to be let down.

If you truly felt your goals were realistic but you still didn’t meet them, was it was due to circumstances out of your control? In this case, there’s not much you can do but try again. Either re-set those same goals for 2012 or revise them to include only elements you can control: “I will submit my manuscript to 10 publishing houses or agents by the end of 2012” vs. “I will have my manuscript published by the end of 2012.”

You can’t control what happens once your manuscript hits an editor’s desk, but you can control the process of getting it there.

Don’t just dive into your new goals without looking behind at your previous ones. Use them as your springboard to re-direct, re-vise, and re-evaluate your writing path. You’ll have a much clearer look into the future after you’ve looked into the mirror.

Blessings for a prosperous and word-filled 2012! And, please check this blog over the next week for an update list of 2012 writers’ conferences.

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I’m excited to have a guest blogger today to share some tips on writing rhyme for kids. Tiffany Strelitz is a children’s writer and critiquer who has always had a passion for the art of rhyme.

Here’s Tiffany…

Rhyme is a beautiful thing. Except when it’s not.

Stringing together rhyming sentences is only the tip of the iceberg. Great rhyming picture books result from the seamless integration of story telling, perfect meter, bouncy rhythm, and last but not least, the rhyming words.

Below you will find a mix of tips, tricks, and tests that should help you not only gauge where you may stand as a rhyming picture book author, but also elevate your work to the next level. Here we go!

 1)   Let it flow, let it flow, let it flow.

Aka:  THE most important rule of all

Like a figure skater gliding across the ice, executing leaps, spins, and perfect landings, the words of a rhyming PB should flow effortlessly from the reader’s mouth—never forcing him or her to stumble, reread, or create awkward pronunciations to fit the rhythm.

Test: Here’s a simple test you can run to check on the accuracy of your word stresses: Pick a line in your story. Any line. Put it alone on a page and read it out loud. What syllables do you stress? Capitalize them so you don’t forget. Now put the line back into the context of your story, and read it out loud again. Are you still stressing the same syllables? If so…awesome! If not, rewrite that line. Period.

Additional test: Read through your entire story out loud while tapping your toe like a metronome. You should be able to bounce right along through the whole thing with no stumbling. Is it working? Good! Not so much? Go back to the first test:

 MON-sters are a SPOO-ky bunch

 a SCAR-y, hairy GROUP.

They RUN in packs, leave GI-ant tracks

and DINE on eyeball SOUP.

Do you hear the consistency of the meter in the stanza above?  Can you tap your toe right through it?  Do you hear how every stress is completely natural?  Note that each couplet has the same number of stressed beats as well. If we mix up a few words, we can see the stanza completely fall out of rhythm (as well as the consistency of the number of stresses that occur):

Monsters are spooky as can be

A scary group.

They run in packs, leave tracks

and dine on bone soup.

Do you hear how many unnatural stresses the reader is forced to insert in order to get through the stanza?

MON-sters are SPOO-ky AS can BE

a SCAR-y group.

They RUN in packs,  LEAVE tracks

and dine on BONE soup.

That’s the way I would be forced to pronounce the words.  Unnatural stresses are everywhere:  AS, LEAVE,  BONE….  You wouldn’t naturally stress any of those if you were saying the same sentences one by one.  (Try it!)  And as a result of the awkward reading, it’s tough (I’d argue impossible) to get lost in the story.

Tip: These tests are even more helpful if you have an objective party read your manuscript FOR you while you listen and take notes on where they stumble, etc.

2) Step right up and pick a meter….any meter….

Did you choose the right meter in the first place?  Different meters definitely lend themselves better to different stories. Try starting your story with a few meters before you commit to one.

Tip:  The right rhythm will make your whole book fall together beautifully. Experiment and see the difference! (PS: I cannot lie. This is HARD.)

3) Syllables are your friends!

Scan through your manuscript. Does every rhyming word contain exactly one syllable? Play, day, say, hay, may? No way!

Trick:  Sprinkle some two- and three-syllable rhymes throughout your story to make for a more enjoyable read AND expose children to a broader vocabulary!

4) Story first. Rhyme second. Period.

This is critical. When you write a rhyming picture book, your number-one priority should not be to make it rhyme. Your number-one priority should be to write the most beautiful, humorous, silly, lovely, heartwarming (insert adjective of your choice here) story you can…that just so happens to rhyme.

In other words: rhyme shmime. Without a solid, well-paced storyline, believable character development, real conflict/resolution and a strong open and close, who really cares if it rhymes?

Test:  Be honest with yourself. Take any (or perhaps every) line in your manuscript. Would you have written those words if your story didn’t have to rhyme?  Would your main character have said that, done that, felt that if your story didn’t have to rhyme?  Make sure your answer is YES 100% of the time. If it’s not…scrap the line immediately and rewrite.

Little Molly took her dolly

out to drink some tea.

She tripped and fell and dropped her doll,

and then she said, “oh gee!”

I can’t tell you how many times I come across verses like this when I do critiques.  The verse is completely unnecessary to the story (or at the least the final two lines are), which causes the rhyme to feel forced.  I guarantee, it is nothing they would have ever written if they weren’t searching for a rhyme.

We can replace the last line with:  “beneath the chestnut tree.”

This adds purpose to the verse (description of where the doll landed), which saves the rhyme from sounding forced. Can you feel the difference?

Well, there you have it.  A light smattering of tips, tricks, and tests to help gauge the level of your rhyming manuscript.  I hope you’ve found these useful, and remember: Rhyme is a tricky but wonderful thing. When it’s bad, it’s a mess; when it’s right, it will sing. Happy writing!!

Tiffany’s obsession with rhyme began at the age of 3, when a nursery school admissions scout asked her, “What is a flower that rhymes with nose?” and she proudly shouted: “Rose!” Twenty-five years later (give or take), now married with two sons and coming off of a long career in finance, she has reconnected with her love of words and rhyme as a writer.

To learn more about Tiffany, visit her website at www.itsrhymetime.com or visit her on FaceBook at www.facebook.com/tshauthor. And, if you write rhyme and need that objective third party to review your work, contact her for a critique quote. She can help you fine tune and find your rhythm!

While you’re considering new goals and events that you’d like to add to your New Year’s Writer’s List (you do have one of those, don’t you?), I’d like to suggest adding writing contests as well. Most writers I know do not actively pursue writing contests. They typically take the attitude of, If I happen across one and I’m not too busy to submit something, then I might consider it.

Contests, however, should be approached more strategically than such happenstance. Not only are contests an excellent way to practice sharpening your writing skills, but the rewards can be great. Most offer either cash awards or writers’ resources or toys (books, software, e-readers, and so forth) for placing in the top 3 (some even in the top 10), which can be good enough reason for sending in a submission.

But even if you don’t win or place in the competition, think of the panel of judges you’ll have carefully reviewing your work. Your manuscript would probably not gain this much attention if you sent it to an editor directly. Many writers have received book deals, gained agents, or at least got their work published because of a writing contest. And, I’ve heard of others who, even though they didn’t win the contest, the judges were so impressed with their work that they’ve used them for work-for-hire projects or have given them an open door to submit more manuscripts to them.

Not bad for a $25 entry fee and a little bit of your time.

I wouldn’t suggest entering every contest you come across, however. For one, there’s usually a price tag involved to enter, even though it’s typically small. Instead, pick and choose those that best fit your genre. If you’re a beginning writer, you’d also probably do better with a smaller contest where you’re not going to be up against thousands of entries.

I’ve chosen just a few writing contests on the short-term horizon for your perusal. In addition, at the bottom of this list are websites to bookmark for future reference, as they contain their own lists of contests held throughout the year. Pay attention to the deadlines, as most are fast approaching.

CNW Publishing – Contests for fiction, nonfiction, children’s, and poetry; deadline for all entries: 3/15/12

Athanatos Christian Ministries – Contests for Christian short stories and poetry; deadlines: 3/19/12

Fish Publishing – Contests for fiction, poetry, and short memoirs; deadlines: 3/20/12 for fiction and 3/30/12 for poetry and memoirs

Writer’s Digest – Contests in nearly every genre, including sci-fi, thriller, YA fiction, flash fiction, poetry, self-published books, and short stories; deadlines vary throughout the year. Also have one annual competition that also covers several different genres.

American Christian Fiction Writers – Contests include 9 different fiction categories, such as YA, historical, and speculative; contests open in early January and close in early March

Women on Writing – Quarterly contests for flash fiction; next deadline: 2/29/12

Arts & Letters – Contests for fiction, drama, creative nonfiction, and poetry; deadlines: 2/28/12

Summer Literary Seminars – Contests for fiction, nonfiction, and poetry; deadlines: 2/28/12

FanStory – Continual contests throughout the year in various genres

The NewPages Classifieds – Lists contests for magazines and books throughout the year

Poets & Writers – Lists poetry and various writing contests throughout the year