Writing, Focus, and Accountability

I don’t know about you, but these days, my focus comes and goes in spurts. Trying to get anything done is a slog, uphill both ways, with a short stopover in the kitchen for a snack.

Right now, we’ve got the whole ‘social isolation’ thing happening, with worries about how fast COVID-19 already spread, and what the job market is gonna look like when this whole thing ends. Cause it has to end, right?

If you’ve been following me for any amount of time, you should know that I’m the very definition of a Type-A lady. I need to feel some control over my life.

However, we all know the best type of productivity for this Type-A lady? Involves check-lists!


Remember a couple months ago when I started spouting the glories of using project management tools from the office for my writing? (For me, I picked Trello. They are not sponsoring me. I have no sponsors. But hey, Trello, feel free to sponsor me!)

Turns out? Offices use project management tools cause they kinda work.

I’ve almost kept up with all my self-imposed tasking. Seriously, for an unpaid vanity gig, I give myself a lot of work! Sometimes I think maybe I should focus more on my actual writing [my mom AND my dad both agree]. (But, hey, if you do find this blog helpful, leave a comment!*)

During the first 3 months of 2020, I only dropped the ball once. (Turns out, if you send Author Spotlight interviews less than 24 hours before they should go up, the replies might be done in voice-to-text. I deserved it).

To keep from making my mistake?

3 “Tricks” for Making Checklists Work

  1. Put the things you want to accomplish on them
  2. Add due dates
  3. Actually check the thing regularly

Now, I tried, really hard. It was just a bunch of small things that added up to the big miss. I added a spotlight but didn’t add it to the trello, I was sick and didn’t do my weekly task of ‘checking my trello board’, and I waited until bedtime, the day the author spotlight should have been prepped, before triple-checking my gmail draft that actually has the master list of author spotlights.


Before you go thinking I was born a Type-A, I must confess the reality of the situation. I’m a recovering messy-girl. That’s why organization is a thing I do in binges, and then coast until something goes wrong. I was the one who missed recess to clean up her desk. The one who was once hoarding seven library books in her desk and/or locker.

I am the girl who SOMEHOW managed to lose a spelling test DURING the test, before turning it in.

You think I’m joking? It started off with a messy scrawl and a spare sheet of paper where I was copying over the words in neater handwriting and ended up… I still don’t know.


Where was I going with this?

Humble-brag time. Since I’ve been home, I’ve managed to:

  • read 14 books (10 physical ones)
  • slush read for The Oddville Press
  • beta read one short
  • attend 2 virtual Balticon meetings
  • 1 virtual Anansi Storytime meeting
  • revise 30 pages and send them to my mentor
  • did my first pass at prepping the next 30 pages
  • my weekly, unattended Twitter chat: #ChatWriteNow (10pm Thursdays)
  • Plus, of course, my 3 author spotlights, and as soon as I finish this, 3 blogposts and vlogposts

Plus, a not-a-rejection from an editor on a short story. (She’s no longer the editor on that project, I need to resubmit).

When I look at my Trello board for the entire 1st quarter (I organized it like that to keep from getting too cluttered), the only things I missed were:

  1. Monthly #authortube video that wasn’t my blog — although, if joining a livestream counts, I’m okay.
  2. Updating the trello board one week (obv)
  3. Still waiting on feedback from a few readers of my middle-grade novel, so I haven’t started its revision

And that’s not counting the hours and hours I spent mindlessly browsing facebook or ‘playing’ the fb not-a-puzzle-game Hero Wars.


Isolation update:

I am doing my dayjob from home — but it’s a new project with a lot of moving parts where I’m still trying to wrap my head around it.

I’ve done a fair amount of cooking lately — pasta, stew, boxes with directions on the back. I’m surprised I haven’t resorted to stress-cleaning yet. But, I did find a pressure washer because my sidewalk needs it. Maybe this weekend?

Minor confession. Remember last week’s post where I said a lovely walk between dayjob and writing helped break everything up? Well… I sprained my ankle on Saturday, so I’ve unfortunately been forced to slack on the couch this week. But, hey, it’s been cold and rainy, so I don’t think I’m missing too much, besides the step-count.

I’ve been sleeping better, although I’m pretty sure it’s getting used to the stress, not decreasing my stress. But, hey, I’m great at binge reading when I’m stressed.


As all the experts are saying, be patient with yourself if productivity or creativity is on hold from the stress. Figure out what you can do, and make sure to leave some time to bring yourself joy — or at least distract yourself from the stress for a bit.


How are you holding up?

* Or, if you want, I did actually add a donation button over on the side. If you actually find this blog helpful and worthwhile, plus have the spare cash, I’ll give a shout out to my first sponsor.

I’m torn between, “other people are more deserving” and “I should value my own time and work”. Hence why it’s been up for months and I’m just now mentioning it. In a tiny aside. At the end.

Facing Feedback… Backwards!

After you’ve sent out your writing out to beta readers, writing mentors, or professional editors, there comes a day. A day in which they send you *dun dun dunnnn* feedback.

And then? You actually have to screw your courage to the sticking place and read it.

Some only give a few lines of feedback or a few pages — an overall impression or general advice.

However, a decent percentage (especially if they’re like me) are going to give you line edits, phrasing suggestions, requests for more details, and notes. Notes about plot holes or improvements, suggestions about how to fix things or improve them. And all of this feedback is mixed together.

So when you open your document, especially if you’re using the ‘suggestions only’ option on Word or Google Docs, you’re faced with an enormous list of those little comment boxes on the right side of the document. Dozens on each page, until they don’t align with the manuscript and you can’t even see what you’re working with.

Most of the advice I’ve seen has told me to deal with the big stuff first. It makes no sense at all to tweak each line before you even know if the scene is going to be cut or not.

I do it backwards

But me? I can’t see the forest for the trees. I can’t decide a line needs to be cut unless I see it polished and shined.

Remember, you are reading the blog of a person who, during a document review at her day job, fixed a typo in a line that she was about to delete.

The first thing I do when I get feedback is clean up all of that ‘low-hanging fruit’. The typos and line edits barely take longer than reading through the comments themselves. While I’m contemplating the larger changes, I can quickly accept (or reject) the little stuff and clear it from the queue.

This way, next time I review the feedback, I can see the shape of the story and start to look at the big picture.

There is one type of comment I leave for the polishing round.

Those comments that say “nice description” or “good point.” The ones that compliment the story or the writing, the ones that yell at the characters because I’ve made the critiquer care that much.

It’s always good to keep track of what is working.


How do you clear your feedback?

Do you start with the big stuff or the details?

Morgan, sitting on a bench outside, typing.

Text: Morgan Hazelwood: Sharing writing tips and writerly musings

Title: Facing Feedback... Backwards!

#35 Query Corner – Alisha in the Sundarbans

Welcome to:

Morgan’s Query Corner:

Fresh eyes for your query quandaries.

In this Alice in Wonderland meets The Jungle Book, Alisha follows a talking tiger to a world run by a gigantic phoenix dragon — who wants to keep her as a pet.

NOTE: If you submit your query to me (morgan.s.hazelwood@gmail.com), and you are selected for inclusion, I will give you a high-level review, in-line feedback, and my own draft of your query. If this is your query, feel free to use or ignore as much of the advice and suggestions as you wish.

[Disclaimer: Any query selected for the page will be posted on this website for perpetuity. I am an amateur with no actual accepted queries and a good number of form rejections. This does not guarantee an agent or even an amazing query, just a new take by someone who’s read The Query Shark archives twice and enjoys playing with queries.]

Overall Impression:

What a great mash-up, it definitely sums up the story and gives us a good feel for the voice — and the environment. Plus, with ownvoices being actively sought, your voice is a wondrous thing.

  1. It’s so hard not to give all the context when querying, but you need to keep a little more to the stakes. You just need a little streamlining.
  2. I’m not sure that you need the paragraph explaining the story’s context. It’s up to you if you leave it in, or if you think the story is strong enough on its own.
  3. Don’t forget the word count!
  4. NOTE: I’m not huge on loglines and descriptive text at the beginning of a query, but in this case, the queryiest was replying to a twitter pitch contest, so included the tweet’s text made sense.

Queryist’s Original:


Dear Ms./Mr.

A lost Indian girl.
A blue speaking tiger
A myriad of strange creatures
A mystical kingdom of caves
A fantasy tale of adventure, magic, and hope
Indian ALICE IN WONDERLAND + JUNGLE BOOK. #DVPit #Ownvoices #F #MG #POC

Alisha in the Sundarbans is a middle grade fantasy retelling inspired by Alice in Wonderland and Jungle Book, with potential for a series.

Alisha is a ten-year-old girl who lives a simple life in an Indian village by a mangrove forest, until she meets a blue speaking tiger. The daughter of a fisherman, her dreams go beyond living in the village. Alisha has read all the books in the school library and writes wildly imaginative stories to escape her mundane daily life.

She follows the tiger into a cave that leads to a strange new place, the kingdom of Roshanban. The tiger tells her she has an invitation to meet the Maharajah. Along the way she learns that she needs to complete challenges made specifically for her. The challenges require Alisha to overcome cultural barriers and become who she truly is. Upon completing each challenge she is rewarded with a gold and blue fragment, curved on one side. Before she can face the other challenges, she is captured and taken to the intimidating red queen, a gigantic phoenix dragon who cages her along with other ‘exotic’ pets. Will she able to escape? Will she be able to complete all the challenges and meet the Maharajah? Will she ever make her way back home?

This story is about a young girl facing cultural obligations and overcoming the stigma to be true to herself. The challenges encourage Alisha to question cultural norms, and the magical
environment and blue guides make it more possible for her to dream big.

I am of South Asian descent and grew up on folktales from India. I am a writer, artist, and academic with a Bachelor’s from [SCHOOL], a Master’s from [SCHOOL B], and a PhD from [SCHOOL C]. I am the founder and editor of an online, peer reviewed art-science publication called [JOURNAL NAME].

Thank you for your time and for considering this manuscript.

Kind regards,

Q35


You can see how the comps are great for this story! Sometimes, it can be a stretch, but the plot and setting elements are clear when you see the query. This just needed a few tweaks to make it shine.

My Revision:

Dear Ms./Mr.

A lost Indian girl.
A blue speaking tiger
A myriad of strange creatures
A mystical kingdom of caves
A fantasy tale of adventure, magic, and hope
Indian ALICE IN WONDERLAND + JUNGLE BOOK. #DVPit #Ownvoices #F #MG #POC

Alisha in the Sundarbans is a 60,000 word middle grade fantasy retelling inspired by Alice in Wonderland and Jungle Book, with potential for a series.

Ten-year-old Alisha’s simple life in the village on the edge of the mangrove forest comes to an end when a blue tiger says hello. Alisha might have read all the books in her small Indian village’s school library and written dozens of her own imaginary tales, but none of them come close to the reality.

The tiger gives her an invitation to meet the Maharaha of the kingdom of Roshanban. Following the tiger through a cave into a strange new world, Alisha is told she must now prove herself worthy. As she struggles with the challenges, a gigantic phoenix dragon captures her, presenting her as a caged pet for the intimidating red queen. Torn between traditional and modern wisdom, Alisha must learn when to let each guide her if she’s to escape the queen, complete the challenges, and meet the Maharajah. If she doesn’t master her true self, Alisha might never make it home.

This story is about a young girl facing cultural obligations and overcoming the stigma to be true to herself. The challenges encourage Alisha to question cultural norms, and the magical
environment and blue guides make it more possible for her to dream big.

I am a writer, artist, and academic with a Bachelor’s from [SCHOOL], a Master’s from [SCHOOL B], and a PhD from [SCHOOL C]. I am the founder and editor of an online, peer reviewed art-science publication called [JOURNAL NAME].

Thank you for your time and for considering this manuscript.

Kind regards,

Q35


What a great story and an amazing pitch. It got a lot of agent interest. Now? Here’s to hoping one of them says ‘yes’.

Best of luck to Q35!


And for the rest of you out there?
Best of luck in the query trenches!

Fighting Impostor Syndrome

We’ve all had our moments.

Sometimes? You’re learning a new skill, practicing and playing with it. But something is holding you back from taking the next step — be it submitting your work, trying out for that team, or selling your creations.

Sometimes, you’re placed in a position where you supposedly know what you’re doing — either because of your bluster or someone else’s assumptions. It could be on the job, online, or when they send you home with your first newborn kid (or so I’ve been told). And every moment, you’re just sitting there, hoping to keep everyone fooled so they don’t know how big of a fake you are.

Impostor syndrome. Most of us have experienced it. Some of us live with it.

For those that don’t know? Impostor syndrome is defined as “a psychological pattern in which one doubts one’s accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a “fraud”.

In my most recent Author Spotlight, Katherine talked about submitting hundreds of poems while in college and it made me think. I always wanted to be a writer, but it took me until I’d been out of college for a long time before I started taking my writing seriously. Before I even started contemplating sending my work to other people.

With my first manuscript? It’s on its EIGHTH round of revisions, because every handful of rejections, I stop submitting and start looking into how I can make it better. I tell myself it’s making me a better writer. I tell myself I’m building skills and improving. But, there’s definitely a part of me that is LOOKING for things to fix. Because if my best effort was rejected, that means I’m not good enough. I should just go home.

Dwelling on that might be good for a night or a week after a rejection, but it’s not going to get me anywhere.

5 Ways To Confront Your Impostor Syndrome

  1. Take a class

    Maybe you do stink. Maybe your skills aren’t where you want them to be. And honestly? All of us could improve, no matter how good — or bad — we are.

    In that case? It could be time to take a class, brush up on the skills we’re good at, learn techniques to deal with our weaknesses, and discover new things that can make us shine.

  2. See How Far You’ve Come

    If you look at your old stuff, compared to your new stuff, you might notice a change. An improvement.

    Or? If you like your old stuff better? Revisiting it might be the way to get that voice back — so you can run with it!

  3. Re-visit What You’re Proud Of

    Whether it’s a single sentence, a poem, or a novel, reread that thing you made that made you proud. See what you’ve done, what you’ve created. Remind yourself that this is a thing you can do!

  4. Save The Good Notes

    When a beta-reader or critique partner or reviewer says something about my work or forgets they’re critiquing, I file that away. In one (very stalling moment last October), I copied one encouraging note onto a piece of paper and taped it to my wall.

    Then? When my writing is going rough, I reread their kind words, where they tell me how much they enjoyed my writing, or compared it favorably to an award-winning series I adore, I stick my chin up, and I get back to it.

  5. Say “BLEEP It”

    Sometimes? All you can do is tell yourself: “So what if my writing stinks, and everyone else’s writing is amazing and so much more deserving. I finished this and I’m putting it out there anyway. They can take it or leave it, but it’s mine.”

    Otherwise known as ‘fake it til ya make it’.

It can be hard. Writing is years of work with no guarantee of success. It’s a labor of love and requires near-infinite patience with the publishing industry.

If you need to step away and take a break; if you need to do something else because it’s killing you? Do it! Do what you need to take care of yourself.

Plus? You can always change your mind. Your writing will always there for you. Waiting. However comforting or creepy that sounds.

Besides, you can’t be the impostor, I’m the real impostor!



Recently, I’ve been making a lot of progress on my short term goals — the ones I can control. So, what triggered my recent bout of self-doubt?

On the advice of a friend, I started applying to be a panelist at science-fiction and fantasy conventions a couple years ago. You know, the ones I like to attend 30 panels in 4 days at?

And this year? I’ve had 3 conventions accept!

Meep! I’m still an unpublished writer. All I’ve got is this blog/vlog where most of the time it feels like I’m shouting into the void. Basically, a free vanity press where all it costs is my time and my dignity. I’ve been going to these cons and taking notes from the greats! What makes me think I can sit up there and talk, that my advice and perspective is something worth listening to?

Well, as my calendar reminded me, I’ve been blogging for nearly 5 years and haven’t missed a week since before this time last leap year! I’m consistent, mostly coherent, and still giving fresh takes. I’ve got experience querying in the current market, and people I beta-read for keep coming back for more, so I can’t be too useless — or mean!

Step one for this bout of impostor syndrome was to update my business cards and add “Blogger | Vlogger” to it. Because that’s a big part of why I’m going to be up there.

Enough teaser, Morgan. Tell us where you’re going to be so we can properly stalk you. (Note: please don’t stalk. Just say hi, and keep it casual.)

I’m going to be at RavenCon 15 in Williamsburg, VA April 24-26 and once I got my tentative schedule, my impostor syndrome backed off a little. (Plus, I have my own panelist bio page that is basically the best. I’m pretty happy with what I finally decided on for my new profile pic). But, anyway, my panels.

  1. NaNoWriMo
  2. The Writer and the Beta Reader
  3. Social Media Best Practices for Writers
  4. Social Media, or, Why I Haven’t Finished My Novel

This schedule is still tentative and subject to change. But these are all things I can talk about for ages — at least the basics — without feeling like I need to step back and let the experts talk! Now to find out if I actually enjoy being on panels, and get my stuff out there to be published!

For the others conventions, I have no schedule yet, but I’m going to be on panels at Balticon in Baltimore, MD May 22-25, and in New ZEALAND at CoNZealand for WorldCon from July 29-August 2nd! With any luck, those panels will be along the same vein and I’ll really find my footing on panels.

And maybe get something published.


Have you ever faced impostor syndrome? What did you do to work past it? Or did you just run?

Have you ever paneled at a convention? Any tips for a neophyte? 

impostorSyndrome_p

When Writing? Small Changes Can Fix Big Issues

Have you ever gotten feedback from someone who you respect, saying they hated your work? They liked the idea, but think you should have done it a completely different way?

No? Just me?

Recently, I submitted a couple of short stories to different markets, but after a pair of quick rejections, I sent them to friends for another look. Most of the feedback was along the same lines, so I looked at what I could fix and what I couldn’t.

But for the reader who hated the story? We sat down and talked about what they did and didn’t like about the story.

The real issue was the set-up — it was a horror/suspense sort of story and I was giving away too much too soon.

That was entirely in line with other feedback I’d had, although more precise in what parts worked, versus what parts should be changed.

So? I sat on that for a week. I pouted. I thought. I considered if these were even changes I wanted to make.

But my knee-jerk reaction (for once) wasn’t “they don’t get my story”, it was more of a, “I don’t wanna!” mixed with “How do I do that? While making sure the ending is still properly supported” (i.e. doesn’t seem to come out of nowhere).

Last night? I sat down to start on the changes, taking out the heavy foreshadowing (easily found in italics, on their own lines). And replaced those instances with more subtle hints at what lay ahead.

Fifteen minutes later? I was done.

I still need to do a re-read, to make sure the updates are smooth. I still need a second set of eyes (maybe fresh ones to make sure the ending wasn’t too abrupt), but this huge change? That seemed like massive structural issue?

With a few short line changes, I fixed it.

Takeaways?

Remember when setting something up in your writing, be it foreshadowing, backstory, world-building, or more — oftentimes, less is more. You only need enough to spark the imagination and flesh out the world. Not enough to slow the story.


Have you ever been intimidated by a suggested change you agreed probably needed to happen in your work?

Were you ever surprised at how little you needed to change your story to make a completely different impression on the reader?

Tell me about it in the comments below!