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Cheryl's Musings

Cheryl's Musings: October 2009

Cheryl's Musings

How to Thrive on the Writer's Road


First Drafts: what to do with rewrite suggestions

If you’ve stopped by here of late, you know I’ve spent the past few days at a writing retreat where I’ve received feedback on some of my writing. Most of that feedback was on my latest WIP, VOICE, the story of teenage Cass and her father as they return to the island where her mother was murdered twelve years before.

san juan1

I’m about a third of the way through the first draft and have cranked out a LOT of pages over the past week. Now, I have some terrific feedback on the first 40 pages from several different authors, editors, and agents (and yes, an offer of representation even, but I told him I was already taken, Gary.)

Writing question of the day: what the heck do I do now? Do I continue to plow forward with the first draft, to get it out? Or do I sacrifice my forward momentum to incorporate comments while they’re still fresh in my mind, laying a firmer foundation for the pages that follow?

:) Cheryl

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Bottling a bit of life

iStock_000002707616XSmall I want to bottle it up: this delightful self-confidence. I’ve come home from my writing retreat feeling like there’s no stopping the words that pour from my pen…feeling beautiful and interesting and funny and yes, I do cave to the occasional attacks of writerly insecurity in all these things. I think I have a pretty decent self-concept most of the time, but in this business of writing, where feedback is rare and minimal, it’s easy for my heart to override my head and drag me into self-doubt.

I don’t think this is an uncommon problem. I’ve taken to asking fellow writers about their struggles with self-confidence, and every person I’ve asked has a story about their own moments of doubt. this includes writers of all ages and all ethnic backgrounds; writers who are just starting out and those who have their first book on the shelf and writers who have won national awards and well-established careers.

I think of these as self-doubt attacks—as someone or something that lays siege to my self-confidence. I know I’ll have others in the future, maybe even soon, although I suspect that this recent writing retreat will hold me for the next few months. So…how can I bottle up all the feedback, encouragement, and inspiration I was given in the past week? Should I write myself a letter? Make a “down day” file? Or do I have to plan to attend another retreat event in six months? Although that last idea is certainly attractive, I’m not sure I have either the time or money to do so.

What about you? How do you hang onto those moments when all is right in your world? I’ve been given such a gift in the past week and a half. I want to savor every bit of it!

:) Cheryl



Theoretical distractions in snowy Colorado


Theoretically, a Colorado writer could get totally derailed because the next words in her sentence are supposed to be the name of a teen folk-rock band.

Theoretically, she could then spend an hour or so looking up teen bands, band names, and baby names (that might become a cool band name;) and, also theoretically, that might lead to time spent reading blogs, researching the local band scene, and investigating the band names that are already out there.

This could take up a lot of a writer’s time.

I’m just sayin’.

:) Cheryl

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Back in the real world

iStock_000004825825XSmall[1] After ten astonishingly wonderful days at the Writing Away Retreat in Breckenridge, CO, I’m back in the real world—richer by several friends, a list of books to read, a pile of thoughts to pursue on writing and life, and a host of questions generated by late-night philosophical conversations in the hot tub.

I’m also poorer by many hours of sleep, which I hope to pay back ASAP. In my experience, sleep debt is not a good long-term investment.

So here I am, feeling a bit daunted by piles of laundry and bills and a poodle whose hair is WAY too shaggy, but at the same time filled to brimming with inspiration, encouragement, and renewed confidence that I’m on the right track writing-wise. Homecoming is sweet; I’ve been homesick for my family for the past week. And at the same time, I’m now homesick for my cozy writing spot by the fire and my new, wonderful friends.

Ultimately, that’s what a writing retreat can give you that a conference cannot: concentrated time with other people crazy and wonderful in the same ways you are. Nowhere else in my life have I met so many people I loved so much in such a short space of time: funny, irreverent Deb with her book proposal that will challenge readers to think and change; ever-cheerful Chris, with her amazing YA voice and cool plot twists; quiet Bryan, with his puckish hair and wit and a vortex in his apartment; clean-cut Brandon, with his habit of reading the first half of an amazing short story so you had to track him down later to discover what happened; innocent-looking Aaron who talks his (amazing) scenes out loud when he thinks no one is listening; and, of course, our wonderful host Cicily, who has an endless number of tales of jazz, interviews, and this crazy writing life.

Wow, and that’s not even CLOSE to everyone who left a major impact on my life. And I only mentioned my fellow writers, not the faculty, some of whom I know will be lifelong friends.

Save your money. Plan your time. Do something like this retreat . It will change your writing life forever—in an amazing way.

:) Cheryl

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Kate Gale on blogging

kate_snake One of the best aspects of the Writing Away Retreat is the opportunity it provides for writers to pick the brains of all those lovely keepers of the keys in the New York publishing industry. Or the LA publishing industry, as in the case of poet/editor/publisher/(unofficial) stand-up comedian Kate Gale.

Kate was one of the two folks I asked to critique my nonfiction children’s books projects…a conversation that quickly evolved into a discussion of the future of the children’s nonfiction book market. Since I’ve devoted years of my life to working on these two nf projects, you can imagine this is a subject near and dear to my heart.

See, here’s the deal: I started on the nf projects years before because nonfiction, theoretically, is easier to sell; I have a science background; and I actively enjoying researching and writing about my latest obsession in the nf world. The problem is this: now I’m a bit farther along in my writing career, and I’ve done quite a bit of market research, I’m realizing that the children’s nf book market is actually much smaller that I’d first believed. And most of the nf market is educational publishing, which is fun and all, but my two pet nf projects (the almost-finished, I’d-like-to-send-them-out-soon projects) definitely don’t fit most educational publishers’ lists. And I’m not sure they appeal to a wide enough audience to appeal to many trade publishers.

Wisdom from Kate: the future of children’s nf lies in online content associated with the book. Science teachers want the kind of stuff I’m writing—but I have a much stronger platform if I can offer online content to augment material in an actual book. For instance, can I include additional info on the books’ topics in my website? How about a choose-your-own adventure approach to expanding the material? An hour critique appointment transformed into an hour-and-a-half brainstorming session and ongoing conversations throughout the weekend on ways to add value to my book concepts.

What’s the blogging connection? Well, Kate authors a smart, funny blog that covers everything from her latest speaking engagement to her thoughts on news, education, and nude beaches. It also includes pieces that will appear in one of her own nf book projects. She sees the blog as a way to discipline herself to produce the material for her book as well as building a platform on the topic.

Hmm. One of my ongoing blogging concerns is what value I add to the blogging community. I mean, sure, I love blogging, I love reading about other writers’ ups and downs in their writing lives, and I love collecting my thoughts on how the heck we thrive in the crazy writing life some of us choose—but I also want to reach beyond my circle of writers to the folks who might, someday, become my readers. I want my writing to reach a wider audience. I’ve never had a good idea how to do that.

Thanks for the food for thought, Kate! And for my fantastic readers, I’ll add this: someday, somewhere, find a time and place where you can ask smart people in the publishing industry smart questions about writing, career, marketplace, and so on. Those conversations are valuable beyond measure.

Plus people who share this weird writing life have GOT to be the best, most interesting people in the world, so you’ll have a darned lot of fun, too :)


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The Conversational Shoplifter reports on all things retreat….


In case you’re interested in a different perspective on the retreat thus far—or if you just want to laugh your socks off for a bit—check on new friend Deb C’s hysterical observations on characters, conversations, and the happy mix of writers, editors, agents, hot tub, and fine food and drink we have here at the 2009 Writing Away Retreat.

Plus she manages to overhear some of the funniest bits of dialog I’ve ever heard anywhere. And yes, I’m officially joining her team of conversation spies. What can I say? She’s irresistible!

:) Cheryl

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Breckenridge, writing, and a lovely dose of creative energy


I’m about to start the second session of the Fall 2010 Writing Away Retreat—and I’m in a very different place than at the start of the first session. I showed up for the first session exhausted, stressed about leaving kids and dogs, with my focus scattered between multiple projects. Now, I’m rested, recharged, with renewed focus on what kind of writing I need to be doing right now.

I wasn’t sure about coming to two sessions. It’s a pretty big deal for any mom to leave her family for ten days, never mind the financial side of things, but it’s turned out to be a valuable gift to my writing self. I feel like I spent the first days stripping away a lot of the “shoulds” and “have-to’s.” Maybe I could have accomplished that at home; but I’m not sure I would have. I would have kept plowing forward, trying to do everything, rather than questioning which part of “everything” is really important.

Today’s quiet and snowy—I plan to sit in front of the fireplace and immerse myself in story.

:) Cheryl

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Where is Cheryl, take 2

I have, thankfully, completed my research into all things illness. (if confused, check out my previous post!) In fact, I believe I’ve done enough research on the subject to last me quite a while, so if you have any influence with the flu/bronchitis/pneumonia and other agents of mass destruction, please mention that I can be taken off their lists.

It’s kind of nice to return to the real world (at least, at least as real as the world of the writer ever gets….)


Actually, I’m not in the real world at all right now. I’m at a ridiculously wonderful writing retreat in Breckenridge, CO, basking in all things creative. This session, I’ve had the chance to meet "officially" with editor Kate Gale of Red Hen Press, author Justin Taylor, agent Sorche Fairbank, and agent Scott Hoffman of Folio Literary Agency. They're all very nice and human. And smart. And funny.

And can you imagine any other setting where you have official one-hour meetings with so many different people in the industry? Pretty cool. Add in amazing food, a hot tub, and a seemingly bottomless bowl of peanut M&M’s, I’m definitely feeling inspired! Especially now that I stopped trying to grind out the projects I thought I *ought* to be working on in favor of the project I *want* to be working on.

Message for the week: when writing, follow your heart. Maybe that’s not always the right answer, but it’s definitely working for me right now! So I’m off to write more about Cassandra Fort as she drops into the sleepy community of Rodger’s Island, WA, with all the subtlety of a breaching whale…a character who makes me laugh aloud when I write about her. More later!