A Proposal: Looking Back

My proposal is in the mail – finally! Don’t get me wrong. I met my deadline, but I’m glad I’m finished. It was a long hard road to put everything together.

           

I now need to look back and reflect on my process. I need to evaluate, in the stages and deadlines I set, where there is room for improvement. What parts were easy? In what areas did I struggle? Was there enough time for research?

           

The hardest part for me was realizing I had spent too much time researching the body of the manuscript. I was required to present two sample chapters with an outline and a marketing analysis. I chose to use the first two points of my outline as samples. Since they were introductory chapters to the main topic, I could have bypassed much of my research and concentrated on those two specific points. My hard work was not totally wasted since the information was vital in presenting a thorough outline, but I should have managed my time better.

             

Although I gave myself three months to prepare the proposal, I should have considered how busy I would be during that time. The first two months were in the midst of my kids’ summer vacation. Days that I needed to tackle some serious research were spent on activities with my kids. I would not have traded my time with my children, but I should have allowed a few extra weeks to compensate for my shorter study days.

           

By the last month I was in crunch-mode. There was no time for goofing off. I needed to work harder and stick to my schedule. Thankfully the kids were back in school, leaving me a few solid hours to work. I was tempted to ask for a week or so extension, but then I decided against it. I want my publisher to know I can keep on track with my projects.

           

It’s good to know I can work well under pressure. But next time I will seriously look at all aspects (scheduling, difficulty of subject matter, and time management) before I commit to a set proposal deadline.

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Just the Facts

I learned a valuable lesson the other day: don’t take things for granted, no matter how “reliable” they appear to be.

           

Last week I heard from my publisher that the illustrator for my non-fiction picture book had signed his contract. Although I was joyful, my excitement was marred a bit by a question the illustrator had about one fact in my manuscript. I pulled out my sources, double checked the facts and realized his point was correct and I was wrong. How did this happen?

           

The fact had been a last minute addition on the encouragement of my critique group when I had presented the original manuscript to them in the Fall of 2007. I knew I had to verify this suggestion, so I grabbed one of my sources from a big name publisher and confirmed what I thought was accurate information. However, I didn’t verify that this big name publisher was correct. In my rush to send out my manuscript as soon as possible, I relied on one source of information instead of my normal three sources.

           

I was very embarrassed by my carelessness. I apologized to my publisher, concurred that the illustrator had been right, and admitted I had not checked out this one fact as thoroughly as I should have. Then, I retyped the information as it should have been presented.

 

Never assume your reference sources are accurate, no matter what publishing house they come from. Anyone can make a mistake and editors can fail to catch information. Check, recheck, and check again. It will save you from having to send out embarrassing e-mails to admit you were wrong.

Teachable

Are you teachable? Whether you’ve been writing for 1 month, five years, or twenty years, you need to be teachable. There is always something to learn.

           

I have learned and gleaned lots of valuable information from my critique group, the Wordsmiths. The ladies who make up our happy octave could collectively compile a wealth of knowledge that would fill many volumes of teaching aids. I have learned everything from recognizing author intrusion to writing great cliff hangers.

 

But I had to be willing to put their suggestions into practice. Just because they offered their advice and priceless tips, I still had to be the one to perfect and fine tune so the ideas could be functional on the printed page.

 

If you want your writing to work, you must be teachable. Take a class, go to a conference, and/or join a critique group. Whatever you do, never stop learning!

A Creative Cache

Do you have a Creative Cache? Actually, that’s just a fancy name for an Idea Box. I think every writer should have one. This is where you store all those little (or big, if you have the room) items that will inspire your upcoming stories.

           

You don’t need a super fancy container. A shoe box will do. The choice is yours. I found a little unfinished wood treasure chest at Michael’s art supplies. I have placed it on my work desk so I can be reminded that there are potential tales stored inside.

           

And what do I keep inside my Creative Cache? I have a piece of coral, a weird shaped rock, and a fragment of old glass. The coral came from a friend who vacationed on a tropical island. The other items were from vacations in the Southwest. They are my story starters. They are little sparks of an idea that will bring a mystery or an adventure to life.

           

When friends and family go on trips, I encourage them to find me little out of the ordinary things that I can use for inspiration. And I will keep them inside my Creative Cache. Then, when I have time to write a new story, I can open my little treasure chest and pull out what could be the start of a grand adventure.

           

If you don’t have your own Creative Cache or Idea Box, you may want to start one. It’s a fun way to ignite your imagination.

Isolation

For some reason people have a view of writers sitting in their isolated mountain cabins or island bungalows, typing up their grand opus with only the bears or birds as company. Writers do need quiet times to work (although in my household, that is a rare commodity), but writers cannot stay isolated. They need to be able to make contacts and connections in order to find and promote their work.

           

The creative process is a major component of writing, but once you have finished your piece, you must determine (if you haven’t done so already) where it’s going to go. If you are trying to publish your work, you will need contacts.

           

Contacts can come from a variety of areas. Many of my contacts have come from friends in writers’ groups who have shared information and have even put in a good word for me with an editor or publisher. One contact came from answering a newspaper ad. Others have come from meeting people at a book fair. Even commenting on blogs and joining Yahoo! Groups can lead to an increase in connections.

           

Writing calls for an audience because a work is meant (in most cases) to be read by others. But if you never reach out to make contacts, your writing efforts will be wasted. I’m shy by nature, but my desire to share good quality stories and inspire others can only come if I put aside my shyness and make efforts to meet new people in order to share what I have to say.

           

Don’t be isolated. It’s a writer’s worse enemy.