Morgan’s 2020 Resolutions

As January firmly establishes itself, I’m finally ready to talk about what 2020 is going to look like for me.

Last year was intended to be a year of reading, revision, and reflection.

Thusly, I listed my goals:

  1. Blogging/Vlogging
  2. Reading
  3. Revising
  4. Querying
  5. Beta-reading
  6. Conventions
  7. Writing

As I shared last week, I did great on everything on that list — except my revisions and querying — you know, the parts of the list that actually get me closer to publication. Does anyone else see the problem here?

This year? This year my focus is on revisions and querying/submitting.

As always, I like to set SMART goals –

  • Specific – you’ll see numbers and dates!
  • Measurable – you’ll still see numbers and dates
  • Achievable – I set goals for things I have influence over. I’m aiming for an agent, getting something published, but unless I self-pub, I have no control over that.
  • Relevant – I’m keeping my exercise goals and healthy eating off this post. These are all about my writing, the relevance should be clear.
  • Time-sensitive – Obviously, these are intended to be completed in 2020, but some items may have specific dates associated.

So? Let’s take last year’s list and put it in a new priority order.

Morgan, a long-haired brunette, is laying on a carpet, legs in slippers kicked up behind her, writing in a notebook.

Behind her is a table and a bookshelf.

1. Revising

Last year’s goal of revising 3 full manuscripts was… ambitious. I clearly was thinking more about what it takes for me to edit (clean up a draft) than about what it takes to get feedback from others, integrate it, and polish the draft till it comes out in my voice.

The manuscript I had ready for querying last year is in the middle of revisions with my wonderful mentor. But? The mentorship officially ended last April, and, although she generously volunteered to keep at it with me, she has paying work that, of course, comes first. So? We’re working through my novel 30 pages at a time.

My hope is to have the revisions done by the end of May, when I hit Balticon. But, life happens. So, what can I do to speed up the process on my end? Make sure that the next 30 page chunk is as ready to go as I can make it before I get feedback from the previous section.

I’m cutting a secondary character’s role in the last 3rd of the journey, and changing the nature of the last leg of the journey quite a bit, so I already know a large part of the plotting changes. Plus, my mentor keeps reminding me to add visuals. As I’ve said before, I worry about what’s in the character’s head and the action. I forget people want to see the world itself. So, that’s my revision priority.

But, of course, there’s going to be some downtime.

To fill that in, I’ve been nudging my alpha reader who has my middle-grade contemporary fantasy (the school play story) and should hear back in the next week or so.

Also? Last year also included writing some short stories and some poetry. Between revising my middle-grade story and getting those shorts and poetry ready for publication, I’ve got a lot to work on.


2. Querying & Submitting

If you haven’t tried to get your work published before, this item might seem confusing. What’s the difference?

Querying is a intro-letter and first chapter or so that you send to a literary agent. Once you have an agent, they often make you do revisions, before submitting your work to a publishing house.

Why do you need an agent? There are many publishing houses that do not accept unagented work. Agents understand what your contract should look like and what is negotiable. Plus? The agent’s job is to know the market — and thus know what your book needs in order to best sell it — and to whom. Typically, you query 5-10 agents at a time.

Submitting a manuscript/short story/poem is what you can do to any editor/publisher who is open to it: publishers (who are open to unagented work), literary magazines, anthologies, etc.

When you’re sending a cover letter and your story to the place that will actually print/publish the piece, it’s called a submission. Typically, submissions are exclusive (unless the guidelines state otherwise), so you have to wait to hear back before you can send to another publisher.

This year, for my short stories and poetry, I’m going to try to get at least 5 stories ready for publication and submit them to at least 10 markets. At least half of those submissions should be before July, just to make sure I don’t forget to put myself out there.


3. Blogging/Vlogging

With you, I’m finding an audience and, I hope, creating a community. You are the people whose queries I help polish as you look for an agent, whose books I add to my massive to-read pile, the people I feature in my Author Spotlights. Blogging puts me out there, keeps me accountable, and gives me a way to give back to the community.

Plus? I haven’t missed a week on my blog since February of 2016 (although, I have done reruns) nor a vlog-post since I started vlogging on June 27, 2017. So? I’d hate to break my posting streak! Thus, I’ll continue putting out a new blog/vlog every Thursday with writing tips or writerly musings.

I’m already off to a great start with this, but when I have them lined up, I’ll also be sharing Author Spotlights or Query Corners on Tuesdays.

I’m thinking of adding some Authortube videos of my massive to-read pile, or maybe an occasional brief weekly check-in since those were popular during NaNo. I just need to find a time that works every week for those, so I can schedule them in advance and make them interactive.

Quote on a grey board on a brown shelf with books behind it.
“And to think, some of life’s best stories haven’t even begun”

4. Reading

I did great on this one last year, but I’m not gonna look a gift horse in the mouth. I had a lot of travel, and managed to hit 41 books, but there’s no guarantee this year will as generous. I even managed to read a decent amount of physical books — but a lot of those were new or re-reads. Not as many from my to-read pile as I’d like to admit.

So? I’m keeping my goal from last year of reading 26 books – a little more than two a month. This time? At least 10 of them should be physical and ALREADY on my bookshelf.

So far? I finished a short story collection I bought over the holidays AND read a book that’s been with me since before I moved. Not a bad start!

5. Writing

Yet again, writing is so far down my list!

I can hear your thoughts, your concerns. What’s wrong, Morgan? I thought this was your writing blog. Why isn’t this more writing focused? Do you want to be a blogger/vlogger more than a writer?

Well, first? Rewriting IS writing, and revisions are tops on my list. The goal is publication and I’ve got 4 manuscripts, 21+ short stories, and 30+ poems just waiting for a home.

More writing right now just means a larger backlog of things to be polished.

But! Never fear, I will be doing OctPoWriMo again — writing a poem a day for all of October. And then NaNoWriMo — writing 50,000 words in November. If I’m really stumped in November, I’ll rebel and revise either 5 shorts or a full manuscript. But, knowing me, I’ll probably make new words.

6. Beta Readers

I’ll be reaching out to beta readers as I wrap up my revisions on my middle grade novel, hopefully before August. Last year’s goals of having revisions of two different manuscripts done by May AND July were unrealistic.

As always, I like to keep my beta reader pool to no more than 8 readers, typically from different backgrounds. I usually give them separate copies, so that their feedback won’t influence each other.

I’m considering joining a local critique group and feel that short stories work much better in those venues than a full manuscript. Especially since I’m more interested in feedback on my pacing and characterization than the chapter itself. I guess it’s arrogance, but I think I know where my problem points lay.

On the flip-side, I’m now a contributing editor to The Oddville Press, an online literary magazine of odd, but not really fantastical tales. I’m also a regular beta-reader for my dad (who’s retired from a day job and enjoys filling my inbox). Not to mention, I have a few critique partners, and writer friends who have been known to reach out for feedback. I will try not to commit to more than 3 full length betas this year.

Morgan taking a selfie while sitting near the front of a room full of chairs. (She's at a writing panel at a convention)

7. Conventions

Actually, maybe I should have changed the name of this goal. This should be all the in-person writing goals. I aim to attend 6+ open mic nights, 4+ monthly writer meetings, try a critique group, and 3 NaNoWriMo events (kickoff, 1 write in, and the all-nighter till 11pm). Plus? Two+ conventions.

I intend to hit Balticon again (May) and — if everything works out — WorldCon (August) in New Zealand (!!). I submitted to be a panelist at Balticon again… and this time was accepted! And? I think they approved the panels I suggested (topics from this blog that I feel I can talk competently on, and that my unpublished perspective won’t be a detriment to my authority on the subject).

How do I know they approved them? They recruited me to be on their Programming team! (Apparently, after attending nearly 30 panels a year for the last 5 years, they suspected I might have opinions about what makes a good panel and who are the good panelists.) So, that’s another time commitment.

What does being on panels net me? Why do I want to do this?

First, it’s a greater reach for my blog and vlog. Plus, a larger audience when I do get published. Hopefully, a way to make more friends and supporters. Plus, a chance to talk about all the stuff I obsess over on my blog and on my vlog in person with actual people.

But how does attending conventions count as a writing goal? Isn’t it just fun? Or part of your social media addiction?

Well, if you’ve been following my blog, you’ve probably noticed that over half the content is actually write ups from notes at convention panels! I attend the panels, for those who can’t (or don’t). Also? My sister teases me that I act like a teacher, trying to get her recertification credits, all in one weekend.

And? Well, I talked about it in my post on attending conventions, but, of course, there’s the networking aspect. The science-fiction and fantasy conventions I prefer are full of readers, writers, and even some publishers and agents!


In Summary

As is becoming my trend, the first part of my year will be focused on revisions, the middle on conventions, and the end on writing. Plus, I’ll be reading and blogging and vlogging throughout the year.

Except December. I’m not a writer in December — everyone needs a chance to breath.

We’ll have to wait until next January to see if I had 2020 foresight.


What does your plan look like for 2020

Did you build in flexibility?

And, how SMART are your goals?


See my previous years resolutions and reflections:
2017 Resolutions | 2017 Retrospective
2018 Resolutions | 2018 Retrospective
2019 Resolutions | 2019 Retrospective

Improving Your Readings

From authors who are asked to read their own work at signings, to audiobook narrators, to podcasters, there are a lot of us out there who want — or need — to get better at readings.

At the titular panel, at Balticon 53, Tee Morris, Jean L Cooper, and Mike Luona shared their best tips.

6 Steps Toward Creating Character Voices

  1. Keep the character’s background in mind
  2. Use a key phrase to get into the character’s voice, to help with consistency
  3. Use your ‘normal voice’, (or something close to it), for the narrator and/or main character
  4. For opposite gendered characters, you can pitch up or down a touch, but don’t fake it
    • For some female characters, a breathier tone works, even if you don’t change the pitch
  5. Listen to how other actors present their different characters
    • For a fantasy accent — try combining 2 real world accents badly
  6. Avoid stereotypes!
    • For accents, if you can’t skip it — try acting classes or online videos but do these with a light touch

5 Tips For All Readings

  1. Practice cold-reading
    • Pick up a book at random and just reading a few pages!
  2. Hit the narration just as hard as the dialogue
    • Paint a mental picture with your voice
  3. Know when to pause
  4. When a phrase becomes a stumbling block, slow wayyy down.
    • If in practice — go over it very slowly, mouth it carefully, repeat it a few times, get that muscle memory in thereIf live — pause, mouth it to yourself, then try again
  5. Don’t be afraid to be dramatic – the audience builds off the energy you bring to the table. Feeling a little over the top is probably just right for most of us.

And one bonus tip, specifically for audio books:

  • If you can, read the book to yourself once ahead of time, marking all proper nouns, unfamiliar words/terms, and confirm pronunciation before beginning.

Any tips the panelists ran out of time to mention? Anything I got wrong?

What do you do to practice? Any toastmasters out there?


New Year’s Resolutions: Dusting off my shelved manuscripts

As January firmly establishes itself, this might seem a bit late for a resolutions post, but I always planned to take January off from writing and relax some, so you haven’t missed anything.

For me, this is going to be a year of reading, revision, and reflection.

Blogging/Vlogging

I’ve got such a lovely streak going here, I’d hate to break it. So, I’ll continue putting out a new blog/vlog every Thursday on writing tips or writerly musings.

When I have them lined up, I’ll be sharing Author Spotlights or Query Corners on Tuesdays.

Plus, I’m contemplating maybe a picture post on the weekends. I’m debating if Saturday or Sunday is better. Suggestions?

Reading

They say one can’t be a writer without reading. And, finding out what’s new and good in your genre is research, right? Although, that doesn’t mean I won’t do plenty of ‘for fun’ reading.

My goal is to read 26 books this year, one every other week on average. (Although, I tend to read in binges.) I’m looking at taking breaks from writing to focus on downtime and reading in January, MarchMay, and July. And I hope that planning intentional breaks will help fight the feeling of being on a never-ending treadmill, where I fail if I let myself take a break.

So far? I’ve read a couple romances and all 4 books in Charlie Holmberg’s The Paper Magician series. I think I’m off to a good start.

Revising

I’m sitting on a backlog of 4 manuscripts in various states — mostly collecting dust. It’s time to fix that.

I got some great feedback from a critique partner back in November for Manuscript #1 (a secondary world young adult fantasy), but it was kind of a bitter pill to swallow. I have been brainstorming and messaging with the critiquer on ways to fix it. But I took December and January off, partially sulking, partially trying to figure out how to solve the issues mentioned. I’m going to let the ideas percolate a bit more and plan to hold off until February before implementing my fixes.

Then, in April, I’m going to pull out MS #2 — the sequel to MS #1.

In June, I’m going to pull out either MS #3 (my gender-bent Robin Hood) or MS #4 (my middle-grade contemporary fantasy, where the more you connect with what you read, the more your world shifts to be like it… physically!)

Querying

Once MS #1 has been revised, again, I’m marching into the query trenches once more.

Starting in March, I intend to send out 3 queries a week for 4 months, unless I get an R&R. If it goes no where, I’ll contemplate edits in August.

Beta Readers

I’ll be reaching out to beta readers as I wrap up my revisions on MS #2 (May) and MS #3 or #4(July).  Readers for MS #2 will, by necessity, be people who have beta read or critiqued MS #1, but for the others, I’m open to a small pool of new readers.

I like to keep my beta reader pool to no more than 8 readers, typically from different backgrounds. I usually give them separate copies, so that their feedback won’t influence each other.

If my Alpha reader’s schedule permits, I’ll send my manuscripts to her for quick feedback, but otherwise, these may just go straight to my beta readers.

In August and September, I’ve blocked time to incorporate the feedback — at least for MS #2. And perhaps, some updates for MS #1 (either as query feedback suggests, or to better set up MS #2’s plotting).

Conventions

I intend to hit Balticon again (May) and WorldCon (August) in Dublin (!!). I submitted to be a panelist at Balticon… but after they’d already started sending out panel invites, so I may have been too late there. We’ll see. (Keep your fingers crossed!)

Writing

Hmmm, there’s very little actual writing on this project plan, but sometimes, that’s how the cookie crumbles. Besides, I’ve been assured that editing and revising and brainstorming ARE part of the writing process.

Plus? I don’t have a big idea pushing on me right now.

That said, I intend to do OctPoWriMo again — writing a poem a day for all of October. And then NaNoWriMo.

If I don’t have an idea by then, I’ll do a rebel NaNo and revise whichever manuscript hasn’t been touched.


And that’s my plan for the year. If you got a little lost, here’s the plan in chart form.

I’ll be focusing on reading every other month until the last quarter, revising most of my backlog, querying, a couple conventions, and a bit of writing.


What does your plan look like for 2019?

Did you build in flexibility?

5 Tips For Reading Your Own Work

As you might know, I do some voice acting for the Folk Tale Audio Drama Anansi Storytime where I’ve been everything from a narrator, to (many) Goddesses, to a turtle. Plus, as a writer, looking for an agent, I’m dreaming of that day when people show up to listen to me read my own work (as terrifying as that is).

So, when I see panels on ‘reading your own work’ at conventions, I like to show up and see what else I can pick up. (See here)

Usually, they’re workshops. This year, at Balticon, the session was more of a panel, with a round or so of audience participation at the end. But I learned a LOT of things specific to reading your own work that I didn’t already know.

Here are my top 5 tips for reading from your own manuscript at an author reading.

Girl, hugging her knees, sitting at the edge of a cliff with mountains in the background.

Photo by Pete Johnson on Pexels.com

1. Pick a scene with action, dialogue, and stop on a cliff-hanger

I’d always imagined that you needed to start your reading at the beginning of the book, otherwise you’d surely confuse the readers!

In truth – no matter how your novel actually starts though, when you’re reading for an audience, you want something active that isn’t too full of introspective!

Although, you still want the scene to focus on the main (or one of the main) protagonists.

Girl smiling at herself in the mirror. Orange blouse, brown hair.

Photo by bruce mars on Pexels.com

2. Rehearse

So often, writers (and audiences) believe that since you wrote it, you should know your novel forwards and backward.

But, even if you aren’t a writer, can you remember a joke you made 3 months ago? With the exact wording? Probably not.

I promise it isn’t the marker of a ‘fake’ writer or someone who’s ‘not meant to do this’. Most authors practice.

After several read-throughs, you’ll get to know how many pages will typically take you to the 1-minute mark, the 5-minute mark, or the 20-minute mark, whichever length of reading you’re preparing for.

Make sure to give yourself a little extra script if you need to be sure to fill the time. Nerves and a live audience make most people speed up, no matter how much they’ve practiced.

Feel free to give an intro and talk about the book and yourself and the story — not telling the backstory — but selling yourself and the novel! You don’t have to just read your story during a reading.

Person holding a blue ballpoint pen writing.

Photo by picjumbo.com on Pexels.com

3. Print it out and mark it up

A lot of authors print that scene out in the big font, so they don’t lose their place and mark it all up.

Put in pauses, when you raise your pitch, and when you lower your volume.

Highlight the different characters’ dialogue in different colors!

Whatever you need to make the reading more exciting to listen to.

4. Be EXPRESSIVE!

Use multiple voices! (Those ones you just highlighted in different colors)

Use over-exaggerated faces! (If you commit, so will your audience.)

E-nun-ci-ate! Make sure that you don’t turn your story into a mumble.

5 Bic pens fanned out. Green, black, pink, blue, and red.

All of my Bic editing pens. I meant to color code but haven’t really been doing that. Just using different colors for different things.

5. Don’t be afraid to EDIT THE SCENE

Wait. What?

I was stunned and yet it seemed so obvious when they mentioned this tip. I’d always imagined half the audience having the scenes memorized and ready to ding you if you misspoke a single sentence. But that’s not who you’re reading to!

This audience wants you to succeed. They showed up ready to be entertained and to have the experience of the words being spoken by the writer. To have something fresh and new!

If you’ve ever been to a concert, which is more exciting? A set playlist where everything is by the books and they wait exactly 90 seconds of applause before coming out for the ‘surprise encore’.  Or a band with a huge song list, picking and choosing which song they feel like tonight, with a more organic feel?

The audience is there for your take on it: the sound of foreshadowing in your voice, the excitement of the scene, the wrinkled nose in a character’s disgust at kiwi (what can I say, some characters have no taste!).

So make it easy for them to love your reading.

Cut the dialogue tags — especially if you’re using voices.

Do you have asides and mentions of side plots that aren’t relevant for this scene? CUT THEM!

Do you head-jump a lot and don’t have a full reading’s worth from one character’s point-of-view? Clip them together!

Make the scene as stand-alone as you can — except for that cliffhanger ending and leave ’em with your number buy links.


balticon52Banner

These notes were taken from the #Balticon52 panel “Reading Your Own Work”. The panelists were Dave Robison, Starla Huchton, Valerie J. Mikles, Steven Howell Wilson, and moderated by Erin Kazmark.

 

If there’s a topic you’d love for me to talk about, feel free to comment below or email me at morgan.s.hazelwood@gmail.com

Teacher Appreciation Week

I grew up blessed.

Blessed with a family full of readers.

Blessed with teachers who supported and encouraged me.

Blessed both my own personal what-to-read-next advisor and access to all the books I could want.

 


In honor of teacher appreciation week:

An empty classroom looks at a white board and podium.

Here’s to Ms. Quesinberry, my long-term substitute teacher in 2nd grade–who was there when I got moved to the accelerated reading group and helped foster my love of reading.

Shelves full of books, in a decently lit library.

Here’s to Ms. Firesheets, my elementary school librarian, who introduced me to so many books, taught me how to use a card catalog (the year before we went electronic), and made the library into a second home.

Coverless side of 7 thick books.

Here’s to Ms. Haney, my 4th-grade teacher, who, one day after she took away 2 books, and I pulled out a 3rd during class, had me empty both my desk and my locker and return some to the library. There were 7.

A hand balances 3 notebooks on the palm.

Here’s to Ms. Hardt, my 6th, 7th, 9th, and 10th-grade social studies and English teacher who encouraged my writing, supported my genre preferences, and taught me that edits are suggestions that I should mold into my own image.

pexels-photo-339805.jpeg

Here’s to Ms. Hoppe, who scared a group of 8th graders–on their first day, during their first period, in the big, scary high school–with an amazing Gollum impression, and allowed us as both 8th and 12th graders to act out our Shakespeare. (Despite our initial discomfort, doing the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet with Michael wasn’t too embarrassing. )

Grape hyacinths, blooming at dusk.

And here’s to my mother. A retired high-school librarian and former children’s librarian who can read stories with the best of them, keeps her shelves full, and always knows what to suggest for me to read next.

P.S. Sorry I went through the Foundation series in two weeks. Thanks to Game of Thrones, I now know the pain you suffered between books.


Happy Teacher appreciation week to ALL the teachers out there.

And Happy Mother’s Day.

Your support and encouragement are remembered and appreciated.