Tag Archives: writing

To pen name or not to pen name

One reason I’ve been too busy to update my blog in the past six months is that I’m working on a kinda secret project. I’ve been writing in a category and genre completely different than I have for the past ten…um, twelve years.

It’s been fun to explore a new genre and to write for a new age category. Really fun. And I plan to work towards publication of this new project.secret project

Hence the big question: to use a pen name or not?

Using my real name will make promotion so much easier. I can build on the base I’ve already created and I won’t have to fear someone finding out who I really am. I won’t have to duplicate social media efforts and have multiple web sites.

But, using a pen name means I can protect my real identity and my reputation as a children’s writer. And just because I’m experimenting with something new doesn’t mean I’m turning my back on my MG and YA projects, so I do need to protect my reputation. Someday, my novels for tweens and teens will be published and I wouldn’t want to confuse my readers.

If you’ve used a pen name, why? How have you handled the marketing and promotion piece? Would you do it differently if you could start over?

If you’ve chosen not to use a pen name, why not?

I’d love to hear from you so please leave a comment with your answer to the above questions or just some support. I wouldn’t have survived this long on the journey without my friends, so thanks to all of you!

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Writers write. Period.

Writers write.writing

I’m sure you’ve heard these words. It’s how we explain what we do, our addiction or obsession or compulsion or whatever. It’s how we keep ourselves motivated.

I’ve even used them with Sprite. He told me recently he wants to be a writer when he grows up. But I never see him writing and he doesn’t express an interest in writing now. Most writers I know started as kids. We all have stories of the journals we kept or the stories we wrote in elementary school. I wrote a mystery story set on a cruise ship in middle school and entered poetry contests in high school.

For Sprite, I think it’s a matter of wanting to be like Mom. I can’t imagine why. I don’t exactly make it look glamorous. But who knows? Maybe he’ll catch the writing bug when he’s older.

While I have no trouble accepting myself as a writer, as an author is another matter. I’ve now had six books published, all freelance projects for the educational market, and one in my own name. By definition, an author is someone who writes, but we commonly use the word to mean a published writer.

So why do I find it so hard to accept the title of author?

Maybe because the freelance gigs were just jobs and I haven’t yet published the kinds of things I always dreamed of having published: novels for teens and tweens.

Is it a magic pill? Once I (finally) get a novel traditionally published, will I suddenly feel like an author? How does an author feel that’s different from a writer?

All I can do is continue on my path. To write.

To my published friends, when did you start feeling like an author?

To my pre-published friends, do you think you’ll feel differently once you’ve been published?

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Writing from the Womb

I read a post recently on agent Rachelle Gardner’s blog about not saying in a query how long you’ve been writing unless it’s relevant. Apparently, some people like to include that they’ve been writing since birth, thinking that will impress an agent, or that it serves as valid publishing experience. I am not such a prodigy. I don’t remember birth. In fact, like most people, I don’t remember much of the first 4 years of my life.

However, I remember writing a mystery story in 7th grade. It took place on a cruise ship and was influenced by Nancy Drew, Cherry Ames and Agatha Christie. A friend read my first 12 pages, hand-written of course, and told me it was “vivid”. I lost steam after that.

Next, I wrote a song on the piano. I think that was in 9th grade. Oh, let me clarify – I wrote lyrics and a melody. My brother can still sing it more than twenty years later:

I’ve worked hard the past few years,
Now it’s gonna pay off.
Hard work, persistence and talent
Are all I need,
To go to the top… (la la la la la)

Here I go,
I’m on my way,
Not gonna let anything stand in my way.
I’m goin’ all the way
To the top.
Gonna be number one
When I go
To the top.

Not surprisingly, my career as a songwriter was short-lived.

In high school I took a creative writing class, wrote poetry, and even entered a contest (got an Honorable Mention!). I also lazed around a lot on the hammock strung between two huge trees, and sang to myself in English and French, while contemplating the big issues in life. Crushes, avoiding helping my dad in the garden, friends, where do people go when they die, how annoying my little brother was…

In college I took a course on reading and writing short stories. I wrote three short stories and had them critiqued by the class. We then revised our stories and had a private conference with the professor. This definitely prepared me for my life as a writer today. Critique groups, conferences, consultations with editors and agents.

I started writing a novel in graduate school (I have a Master’s in International Relations), influenced by my year as a student in Paris. Unfortunately, my computer kept crashing in the middle of writing papers. So my father replaced the mother board. Bye-bye novel. That experience taught me to always have a back-up.

Now here I am, all this time later, four manuscripts under my belt, the fifth underway. Querying agents, attending conferences, critiquing and being critiqued. Most of this information won’t end up in a query letter, but it has made me who I am today.

Maybe I should revisit that novel set in Paris…

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Serendipity and Creativity in the Writer

Today we have a special treat – a guest blogger.  Suzanne Lilly is a writer and an elementary school teacher (and an awesome critique partner) who finished three novels, Gold Rush Girl, House of Chimes, and Blooming with Hope, and is busy writing another.  When not busy writing, she enjoys swimming, knitting, reading, fine arts, cooking, and blogging about teaching, writing and cooking.  She lives in California with her family and has yet to feel an earthquake. 

To learn more about Suzanne, visit her at www.suzannelilly.com.

Serendipity and Creativity in the Writer

As I tossed several new story ideas around recently, I began to wonder about serendipity and creativity. What is it, and why should we invite it into our lives? According to James H. Comroe, a biomedical researcher,

“Serendipity is looking for a needle in a haystack and finding the farmer’s daughter.”

It can’t be explained much better than that, which may be why the word serendipity defies accurate translation into many languages.

Writers need serendipity. To see a kernel of an idea germinate from a seed into a full grown novel, takes a huge amount of hard work, and a tiny bit of chance happening. Serendipity is when things happen by chance that lead to wonderful discoveries, inventions, creations, artistry. Serendipity is when events and thoughts align to bring success to the writer’s work. Serendipity is the seed that germinates into the root of the endeavor and then, after much time and care, becomes fully formed.

Just as a seed needs water to germinate, writers need serendipity. Yet the seed doesn’t get water by working for it. It receives it when it rains or when the farmer decides to water the field. The seed has no control over when the water will come.

So too, with writers. We have no control over when serendipity will enter our creative lives. We just have to be open and receptive. It won’t happen while we are straining and pounding our keyboards in anguish over the dearth of writing ideas. Rather, serendipity tiptoes into our writing mind secretly, silently, sometimes fleetingly. We can only catch it if we are relaxed.

“Love happens when you least expect it.” How many of us can remember our mothers saying this adage? Love is serendipitous. Some of the best creative writing is serendipitous.

Writers are creative people. Yet creativity doesn’t simply mean coming up with new ideas on demand. In fact, every plot conceivable has already been done. For a writer, creativity consists more of the sagacity to make connections between two things that are unrelated, or that haven’t been brought together into the same thought frame before.

Bette Nesmith, the mother of Michael Nesmith of the Monkees, a 1960s pop band, developed Liquid Paper quite innocently. She needed a way to erase mistakes made on the typewriter she used as a secretary. She thought of putting white tempera paint into a nail polish bottle, and voilá, Liquid Paper was born. Bette didn’t invent anything. She simply thought of combining things in a way no one had done before. She didn’t even plan to make money on it, yet as things worked out, she died leaving an estate of $50 million dollars. Now that’s serendipity.

As a writer, any chance event may be a spark that can be nurtured and allowed to grow until it becomes a bigger idea. Something as mundane as a trip to the grocery store may bring a wonderful happening that is a new story spark. A news article may trigger a reaction that begins a creative process. Even something as simple as dropping an egg on the floor could be the impetus for a new children’s book.

Serendipity happens all the time, but we may not recognize it because we are too focused, our vision has narrowed with our life expectations, we are too overworked and we’re trying to get it all done, or we have a negative view of life. Release all those things and let your mind open wide to new possibilities.

Serendipity arrives without warning, on silent cat’s paws. It sneaks up on us. It isn’t found when we’re looking for it. It’s found by relaxing, and being aware. Let’s all agree to keep our eyes open with no judgments, no expectations. Then serendipity will be free to enter.

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