Why I freelance

At the end of October, I had eye surgery. I was supposed to be resting afterward.

I did, sort of, until I got a developmental editing project, a bunch of articles to write and edit, a few rush-job editing projects, a health care communications project …

And in the middle of all that, I finished a rough draft of my novel-in-progress.

So, November was busy. My eye hasn’t exploded, fortunately.

I’d always rather be busy than unbusy, so I’m not complaining (but don’t tell my ophthalmologist what I was up to). Theoretically things have slowed down for the moment, but sometimes the freelance life means not knowing what your day is going to look like until you switch on the computer that morning.

Turns out I like that freeform sort of flow, since I can also, say, duck out to volunteer at my daughter’s holiday boutique (she demanded I look the other way while she was shopping for me) or take my son to Cub Scouts, while still meeting deadlines. Or run over to the farm during CSA season to pick up our share of produce. Or meet a friend for lunch and a write-in. None of that was possible when I was stuck in an office for eight-plus hours a day, then stuck in traffic for another hour-plus, so I do appreciate the freedom. (Especially considering how many hours I also spent last month sitting at the eye doctor’s office.)

It’s not the life for everyone—you have no co-workers to gossip with/about, and if you’re having computer problems you can’t exactly call the IT department—but I concentrate better when it’s quiet. This sounds like a paradox, considering I spent 20 years in noisy newsrooms, but I got pretty good at tuning out the phone chatter, TVs perpetually blaring news updates, and other assorted white noise; now, I don’t have to. I can just focus.

So I’m not sure yet what December is going to be like, but it’ll be fun to find out.

What I’m reading: I’ve gotten slightly obsessed with “Giant Days,” the off-the-wall, goofball story of three friends and roommates trying to survive both college and romance troubles, which is both hilarious and beautifully illustrated. (Side note: Apparently I’m going to read every comic book Boom! Box publishes because that’s how it is.)

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I don’t let the kids read this one, because there’s a fair amount of sex- and drug-related humor—the characters are in college, remember—and even though the dialogue does an amazing job of hinting at what everyone is talking about without ever being graphic or explicit, I’d rather wait until the kids are closer to YA-level age. Still, so few TV shows, movies or books really get at the sort of confusion, questioning, and small steps toward adulthood that happen in college; this comic comes pretty close. And bonus, it’s set in England, so you get to imagine all the dialogue with British accents.

And I just finished “Posted” by John David Anderson, which unsurprisingly is amazing, because “Ms. Bixby’s Last Day” was also amazing and made me cry. Anderson is great at detailed, lyrical storytelling that somehow still sounds like it’s coming from a tweenage boy.

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It’s about what happens at one middle school after phones are banned and kids grab sticky notes to send messages to each other instead, and how even that low-tech system spins wildly out of control when kids start to use the notes for attacks and insults. It’s also about how a change in social status can wreck a solid-seeming friendship. Plus plenty of Dungeons & Dragons jokes for this former D&D player. My one note, and it’s a minor note, is that when Frost, the main character, describes himself as “part of the chorus” in the beginning, it’s a little too accurate; he’s a thoughtful observer of everything happening around him, but he isn’t exactly driving the action until close to the end, and the main drama centers around two other characters. Still, the book is well worth reading, especially for kids who’ve had their own experiences with bullying, online, offline, or through mean little notes.

Recapping NJSCBWI17

I love this conference. It’s so friendly and informative. I see friends, I walk away with story and revision ideas, I get to admire amazing artwork and I get to buy people’s books. Entirely a win-win.

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What I bought at the conference. Missing: Robin Newman’s “The Case of the Poached Egg.” My son poached it.

OK, also I love that there are so many great kidlit resources in my own state. That is highly convenient and proof that New Jersey is a superior place to live. Don’t believe the jokes.

Conference workshops included in-depth discussions on creating characters of a different race or ethnicity (short answer: you absolutely can, just do the research and avoid tropes); on using white space and text placement to pace the emotion in a picture book; on solving problems in a story by looking elsewhere in the text for the answer; on being your true (and gracious!) self on social media; on how to build your story’s world without info-dumping; and on why you shouldn’t be afraid to talk to your agent.

I enjoyed Gabriela Pereira’s workshop on middle grade and YA novels so much, I went and bought her “DIY MFA” book conveniently just as she was walking into the book fair area. It’s nice to be able to tell someone, “Hey, I’m buying your book, thanks for your help!”

Really the best part of the conference is being around other creative people, all of whom are trying to accomplish the same thing you’re trying to accomplish, all of whom care deeply about quality children’s literature. People have a way of cheering each other on that I think might not be typical of other corners of the publishing world.

It was also entertaining to share a hotel with — I think — two weddings and two proms in one weekend. (Side note: Prom dresses are so much more sophisticated than when I was in high school. Slightly jealous.) A bridesmaid was overheard asking if she was allowed to have some of our coffee. I hope she went for it — we had plenty!

And now on to rereading my notes and revising manuscripts.

Hurry up and wait

So here is where my day job conflicts with my fiction writing.

My day job currently consists of writing news and features articles, and editing pieces for various companies. I’ve done the newbie-reporter gig of covering municipal meetings and county fairs, and logged a number of years as a newspaper copy editor. The copydesk edits all articles in the paper, writes the headlines, fine-tunes (or fully creates) the page layout and clears everything to go to press. What does all this have in common? It needs to be done right now. Or ten minutes ago, if you can swing it. Deadline waits for no one. Missing deadline and making the paper late invites capital punishment. Think I’m kidding? Here is the original definition of the word “deadline.”

When I started seriously writing fiction and researching the kidlit industry, imagine my surprise to discover right now is not how it works. Agents and editors don’t want you to rush. They want you to put the story down, give it time, then pick it back up with new eyes so you can revise it properly; if you send them a revision too quickly, they’re liable to decide you took too little time on it and reject it. I was at first baffled by this, then slightly tearing-my-hair-out about it. “But don’t you want it to be done? Isn’t it done now? How long should I be taking to make it done? Arrrrrrgggghhhhhhh.”

It’s taken some practice. But I’ve been getting better at allowing time for breathing room, and letting the story be done when it’s ready to be done. So, don’t make my newbie mistake. Put it down. Give it time. Breathe.

(But if you’ve got a firm deadline, please, don’t blow it.)