Lisa_RogersI LOVE this post by today’s Tuesday 12 x 12 featured author Lisa Rogers! Every single writing lesson she shares here resonates hugely with me – especially #1 and #7. The main reason I started 12 x 12 was because I desperately need deadlines in order to get any writing done, and people like Lisa, who actually meet them month after month (which I don’t although I’m still trying!), are the ones who inspire ME. From reading this fantastic post, I have no doubt that we will be seeing Lisa’s books on the shelves in the very near future. Please welcome Lisa!

Lessons Learned on Deadline:
“That which does not kill me, makes me stronger”

That was the quote (German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche wrote it long before Kelly Clarkson’s anthem) taped onto the police scanner in the middle of our newsroom, and let me tell you, it was there for good reason.

Like many of you, I always wanted to be a writer. But trying to wrench information out of closed-mouthed cops and getting thrown out of post-election parties whose candidates blamed me for defeat wasn’t quite what I had planned.

Still, those sometimes exhilarating, often painful years at that mid-sized daily paper left me with lots of story writing—and editing—experience for which I remain grateful. Sort of.

Turns out, as I aim to publish in the children’s market, I still need deadlines. That’s why I joined PiBoIdMo in 2011 and 2012. PiBoIdMo led me to 12 x 12 in 2012 where I pumped out 12 picture book manuscripts in 12 months. Guess when? Usually, okay, always, either the day before or the day of the deadline. (Thanks, Julie!) Turns out, I also need Julie (and all of you in 12 x 12) to get those manuscripts out of the computer and off to an agent or editor.

Let me share, then, what I learned, in the hopes that you won’t have to suffer like I did.

1. Stuck for a story idea? Get out there. During a hurricane, my editor stood on a desk in the middle of the newsroom.“Your stories are outside, not inside,” he shouted. “Get out there!” Stories are everywhere—but usually not at your desk.

2. Study the best of them. We reporters revered Miami Herald crime reporter Edna Buchanan, who wrote the kind of leads that not only hooked you, they knocked you out. “Gary Robinson died hungry” led her story about an ex-con whose desperate longing for fried chicken went unfulfilled when he turned a tad too impatient. For the kidlit version of excellence, look no further than Kate DiCamillo’s Because of Winn Dixie: “My name is India Opal Buloni, and last summer my daddy, the preacher, sent me to the store for a box of macaroni-and-cheese, some white rice, and two tomatoes and I came back with a dog.”

3. Practice. Write as much as you can—and about as many topics as you can. Try that story from every angle possible. We wrote two stories per day, every day, from conception, to calling sources, hitting the pavement, getting the facts, and attempting to throw it all into a comprehensible whole. Which leads to…

4. Write tight. As our newshole shrunk with the economy, so did our story length. If you couldn’t say it in 12 column inches, too bad—the bottom would be cut to ribbons. I learned to make those decisions myself rather than surrender to an editor desperate to meet deadline.

5. Three’s a trend. When we sniffed around and found three people saying the same thing, that was fodder for a story. If you get three critiques recommending the same changes, you’d better listen. Time for rewrite!

6. Speaking of rewrite: Know what the story is about and be true to it. It’s easy to get lost in the details. Lay back and study your story’s structure. Make it work no matter how painful the revision.

7. Love those deadlines: Don’t have an editor breathing down your neck? Set deadlines within your critique group. Pal up with another writer for a weekly or monthly check-in. Tell someone you’re going to finish/rewrite/submit, then do it. Take advantage of all the 12 x 12 opportunities you can!

8. Let the story go—it doesn’t belong to you. We all hope for readers—lots of them. Your story came from you. But it really belongs to those who read it and share it with others. Let them enjoy it. After all, deadline’s coming—and you need to meet it!

Lisa Rogers worked for nearly 10 years as a newspaper reporter and editor. When she came to her senses, she became an elementary library school teacher, where she’s inspired by the way her amazing students respond to literature. She lives in Wellesley, MA with her historian husband and novelist-future engineer daughter. Her foxhound Tucker has endless ideas for his blog, dreamsdudog.blogspot.com, and someday she would like to have as many readers as he does. Learn more at lisarogerswrites.blogspot.com.

 

Categories: 12 x 12, 12 x 12 in 2012, Authors, Books, Children's Books, Dogs, Goals, Guest Blogging, PiBoIdMo, Picture Books, Writing

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62 Comments

  1. I really like these comparisons with your newspaper writing, especially #1, the story’s everywhere but your desk. And I like #2, study the pros! Thanks so much, Lisa!

    • Hi Tina,
      Yeah–that hurricane story was a tough one to explain to my family! But that editor was right. So every time I think I’d be so much more productive if I didn’t actually have to work, I try to remember that inspiration comes from the real world. Good luck with your writing!
      Lisa

  2. Writing tightly is difficult for me, but I am slowly learning. Thanks so much for these very insightful tips, Lisa!

    • You’re welcome, Jarmila! I remember that we reporters thought tight editing would mean the loss of the good parts of our stories. Turns out that they got so much better with that work. It’s so important with today’s low word counts. Lately I’m on the lookout for writers who sneak beautiful words into low-word-count picturebooks. It’s fun to find them and see how they do it.

  3. Great post – great advice!

    • Carol,
      It was worth the pain (I guess!) to be able to learn from that experience. Thanks to Julie for giving me a chance to share what I learned!

  4. Pat Haapaniemi

    Wonderful post! Great advice! Thanks, Lisa!

    • Thanks, Pat! May I say that 12 x 12 is a super community and after the horrific events at yesterday’s Boston Marathon that today I am especially glad to be part of it? I so appreciate your comments.

  5. Lisa, this is wonderful advice. I would encourage folks to consider children’s magazines as well. There are often deadlines for queries and pieces for specific issues. You get a lot of work on your hooks as you try to sell pieces. And it forces you to write, write, write and get better.

    • Kristen,
      That’s such a great idea! All the parts of what you describe hone different parts of the craft–research, writing for a particular market, querying–and not putting off the work. Thanks!

  6. Wonderful post! I particularly like number # — and also need deadlines to get it done! Thank you ~

  7. Haha, that would be #1 (that I especially like)!

  8. As a recovering journalist. You had me at #1. Happy writing.

    • Hi Stacy! Recovering…yep! It really was fun to think about all the positive aspects of that sometimes exciting and always tough job. Happy writing to you, too!

  9. Lisa, thank you for this wonderful post! #6 is especially relevant for me today as I am tackling revisions. “Know what the story is about and be true to it.” Love that!

    • Andrea,
      Brave girl! Revisions are so hard. After I wrote my first draft, I used to write at the top of my news stories: “This story is about…” and then read down to see if I really had written what it was about. Usually I hadn’t!
      Good luck with your work today!

  10. Penny Klostermann

    #6, is especially relevant for me, too. I have several I need to revise as much as I can. I know some of the revisions will take more thought, so I tend to stall the complete revision. I find that if I will just go ahead and start the painful process of revision, as you suggest, things start to fall in place and give me new direction. This is a wonderful post that deserves revisiting! Thanks, Lisa.

    • Penny,
      So good to know I am in excellent procrastination company. Your point about finding a new direction is really perceptive. While I save all of my drafts, I almost never go back to the earlier ones, and it’s probably for the reason you give. Best of luck with your revisions.
      Remember Nietzsche!

  11. @ Jen DuBose: I think your first reply needed no correction. ALL of the tips are great! Thanks, Lisa.

  12. I have always admired journalists, for their quizzical eyes and spontaneous interpretations of the moment. It’s no secret that they make the best novelists! Great tips!!

    • Carmela,
      Thanks! Learning by doing has its benefits. “I’m a trained observer,” one of my editors would say. I enjoy seeing how a journalist–or any writer– pieces together those observations into story, whatever the topic or genre.

  13. Thanks, Lisa, for the post! I’ve been working on the “write tight” part for some time. I find that I am more effective at revising a piece if I pretend I haven’t written it.

  14. Thanks, Lisa, for the great reminders. As writers for children, we never graduate from first grade! Your experience as a journalist has definitely served you well.

  15. Cheryl Lawton Malone

    For those of you who don’t know, Lisa ran the Boston marathon yesterday. I understand that trying to find her husband who was waiting in Copley square, was the most horrifying part. Everyone is so glad you are ok, Lisa. Our prayers go out to the injured and dead.

    • Cheryl, I value you as a great critique partner and friend. You almost had me as a houseguest last night (Cheryl lives on the marathon route)! What was a joyous tradition in our beautiful city turned horrific. Yet so many selflessly helped others, including me and my husband. There is a lot of love and caring out there.

  16. Fabulous post with “use them today” tips, Lisa! Every one resonated with me, but #7 “Love those deadlines” hits home the most – I write this as I am a day late for my critique group submission! Ha! Thank you for sharing yourself in this post. =)

  17. Lisa, I loved your post. It took me back to my days at The Miami News. I had an editor there who would frequently say things like, “I don’t want it perfect, I want it now!” As far as the shrinking news hole you mention, we were definitely under that gun, which now that I think of it was great training for Twitter. One of my fellow reporters came up with the line that we were going to strive for stories shorter than the headline above them. I never achieved that goal, but I do remember two and three sentence stories that somehow got the job done quite well.

    • Miami! Wow, Ray, you must have seen some pretty colorful news there. I can’t imagine what that newsroom must have been like.
      Clearly, though, deciding when to stop tinkering with a piece, without an editor standing over you, is important. And getting it out so that it actually can be read is really the goal! I’m always thanking Julie’s 12 x 12 deadlines for that push.

  18. Not only helpful, this post was fun to read! Feel like jumping up on my own desk, well, at least to get another perspective! And the Nietzsche quote is great…except when something does kill you! That’s a German-speakers inside joke!

  19. Lisa – great post! Loved every. single. bit

  20. Melanie Ellsworth

    I loved your newsroom perspective in this piece – definitely a new and useful angle from which to consider children’s book writing. I ought to pin #3 and #7 up on my office wall! Thanks for sharing your blog link as well; I was very sorry that your first time running the Boston Marathon had to be on such a tragic day. Glad that you’re safe. Growing up in the area and living in Fenway for many years, I always enjoyed the happy energy of the day and hate to think of how the race will change now.

    • Melanie,
      Thanks so much for your thoughts. Re: writing, I always really liked the double challenge of revising a piece and trying it from a different angle. My adrenalin always kicked in big time then.

      Re: the marathon. I learned firsthand that it really is the great race it’s cracked up to be. I live on the route in Wellesley and dreamed of one day trying it myself. The day began so joyously. As you well know, it always is a glorious event in an amazing city. I also learned firsthand of the selflessness and caring of others for those in need. You know Bostonians love their traditions with a ferocity; I have to believe that this fierce and true love will prevail.

  21. Thanks, BJ! It was fun to write, and I had a deadline, too. All good.

  22. My favorite–the story’s “out there”, not at your desk. Inspiring! Thanks for the post.

  23. Hi Pat,
    That looks like one inspired baby–ready to get that story down! Good for you for encouraging young writers!
    Best,
    Lisa

  24. great post. my stories on deadline – they always get finished on time. the other ones languish… time to scribble some deadlines down.

    • Hi Sue,
      Isn’t that a crazy thing? I have a hard time letting go of the everyday stuff to concentrate on the creative work that really makes me feel good–or take care of personal relationships. So after always saying, “let’s get together,” a friend and I made a pact to call each other on the 10th of each month to catch up. We now look forward to that and have been pretty good about keeping in touch.

  25. Thank you Lisa! This is a post we should all put into our folders. That write tight part is definitely where I struggle. I don’t like tight jeans either. Ha. But I am trying and won’t forget your pearls of wisdom. :-)

  26. Super advice! Thank you Lisa!

    • Catherine, I love your blog! I like the found poem idea, with different lines from different poems. That would be fun to try with my students. (I’ve just now figured out how to find people’s blogs from these comments—duh!–so Catherine’s is the first one I’ve looked at). As a poet, you’re always writing tightly and I’ll bet you find inspiration all around, too. Thanks for reading!

      • Cool! I find WordPress blogs easily via email or through WordPress but a log of Blogspot ones I lose, it’s hard and I don’t like RSS. I just end up with a huge email in box. Thanks so much for visiting my blog! Inspiration is all around

  27. Great post, Thank you! I especially like the “Three’s a trend” rule. Helps a lot. Thank you!

    • Thanks, Michelle. Having editors rip my work apart and question every detail helped me learn that it really is hard to say what we mean (see Sylvia Liu’s March 12 post, The Value of Critiques). Don’t you find that with most rewrites, the work does get better?

  28. Kathleen Cornell Berman

    Thanks for the tips LIsa. #1 is a good one. I think someone said recently that “the best ideas come from work itself”, so true. Today I have been trying your “practice” tip by rewriting a story from different
    angle. Good luck in your writing career.

  29. Lisa, thank you for the terrific advice from your years of experience as a journalist! That’s hilarious that your foxhound has more readers for his blog than you do for yours, but I can relate because when my dog was alive and had her own Twitter account, she had more followers and more Tweeters who communicated with her than I did. ;)

  30. Fabulous post. Writing tight is especially important in the PB market, considering the limited word count. Thanks for the tips.

  31. So true, CC–giving new meaning to that old “make every word count” standard! Thanks for reading and best wishes on your work.

  32. Great post, and great tips! Thank you, Lisa!

    • Thanks to you, Beth, for reading and for commenting. With everyone busy doing their own work, it’s really great that so many people take time to reach out and respond.

  33. Lisa, your points were wonderful. Thanks for sharing them. I’m weakest at #4–write tight. I am slowly learning to say more with less, and this community helps on that…esp my critique group and my WR forum fellows.
    So glad you and yours were safe in the marathon. My wife and daughter did the Little Rock marathon last month–not nearly the magnitude of the Boston event, but we had a small sense of the joy and celebration that comes with such a venue. It made the angst much more real, though we were far away. Our prayers and hearts are with all involved.
    Love Tucker’s blog. Forwarded a link to my dog-loving daughters.

  34. Thanks so much for your thoughts on the post–I hope they are helpful–and especially on the Boston tragedy. It has been a very difficult week but Boston has unbelievable spirit and strength. Tucker is wonderful for inspiration and gets me out there whether I want to or not! He can write tight when not waxing on endlessly about himself, or when his sleeping schedule requires an immediate nap. Thanks for forwarding!

  35. This has been an unbelievable week and I can’t believe you’ve been here when you’ve been in Boston. That right there shows “Boston Strong.” I’m just in awe.

    Awe also for the craft inspiring post you wrote. Thanks so much. I love all the tips. Now to somehow get this in my inbox. I’ve tried all the usual things but still can’t subscribe so it shows up there.

  36. Clar, thanks so much for your kind thoughts. It has been a completely draining week. We ache for all the victims and for our city, but we are together in resolve. Having this group to turn to helped refocus some of my attention. I still hope to get a nonfiction pb draft out this week according to my deadline–hey, I have a day! From reading your blog, I think your memoir about caring for your late husband would be helpful and healing to many. Good luck on your project. About subscribing–maybe ask Julie for help?
    Best wishes,
    Lisa

  37. What a fabulous post to read, entertaining and insightful. Lisa, you have a fellow deadline lover here and a last minute to actually act upon something friend as well. :)
    Jacque

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