Friday, 31 December 2010

A New Year, a 2nd Blog Birthday and one writer's journey...

2010 is coming to an end and with the New Year comes my blog's second birthday.

So I too thought I'd write a list - but not a list of books because I wouldn't know where to start.  Who do I include? Who do I leave out?  Do I compile a list of historical books, mystery, crime, fantasy or humour?  Do I write lists for my lists?  How do I possibly choose and what does it mean anyway?  Reading a book is such a personal, subjective experience.  Some very popular books have left me cold; some have made me laugh out loud and some have made me cry; some are wonderfully written; some stay with me still; and some are really just ok. 
And what about the books I haven't managed to read yet? 

But what I would recommend is that everyone should read at least one book outside of their favoured genres or age group.  You never know what you might find.

And that every debut author featured on my blog is a writer to watch out for and if you haven't done so already, try to become acquainted with their work.  Sometimes the gems of the book world aren't the ones written by the well-known big names, sometimes we have to look a little bit further.
Let's make 2011 the year we all try authors whose names we don't yet know, and then we can all say, I was there at the very beginning. 

So to end the year, I thought I'd compile a list of things I've learned on my writing journey - through personal experience and through the interviews I've posted on my blog. I shall include a couple of books on my list but you'll see there is a reason for them being mentioned. 

One Writer's Journey 

1.  Where it all began.  The book that made me first see children's books in a whole different light.

When I was a young reader my choice of reading matter was limited to The Famous Five and Secret Seven, Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys.  As I grew up and began to seek out other new worlds contained within the pages of a book I jumped from children's to adult books in one leap, and so I found Stephen King and James Herbert.
It wasn't until some time this century that I read Philip Pullman's Northern Lights and fell in love with children's literature.  I loved this book!  It made me want to write books just like these.  For the first time I realised that children's literature was imaginative, inspiring, sophisticated, intelligent and inhabited by characters that stay with me still.  Even now, I find myself more inspired by children's and YA books than by many of the adult books I try to read.


My first children's novel - Pig-boy and the Quest for the Cinnamon Forest was full of purple prose, adjectives and adverbs.  But I finished it!
I'd written a novel, an historical fantasy that I was proud of.
My first attempt at a book - all 80,000+ words of it.

I entered it into a competition run by Waterstones and got absolutely nowhere.
Boy, that made me depressed!

A bit later I picked myself up and took another look at Pig-boy and the Quest for the Cinnamon Forest.  I revised it - it became a leaner, more tightly written story albeit still with an overuse of adverbs and adjectives.
I entered it into the 2007 Wowfactor competition run by Cornerstones Literary Consultancy and made the longlist of ten.  Yay!!
I later joined SCBWI in 2007 and entered it into their inaugural Undiscovered Voices competition and it received an Honorary Mention!!  Even bigger Yay!!  

I received some fantastic feedback from an agent on the full ms.

3.  My first very valuable lesson learned: LESS IS MORE.

Get rid of the purple prose and the over-use of adjectives and adverbs.  They weaken the story.   


If you write or want to write books for children and YA, join SCBWI.  You join via the US website but I'm sure most countries have their own branch.  I belong to SCBWI British Isles and this has probably been one of the most important things I've done on my writer's journey.
To be involved with others who share and understand the journey you're undertaking is a valuable experience.  Writing can be a lonely affair and to be able to interact with others certainly helps keep me motivated.


Being a member of a critique group should be about honing your craft and improving your writing in an environment with people you respect and trust to be honest and helpful. I've belonged to a couple of peer review sites such as Youwriteon but the trouble with sites like these are that you can be critiqued by other writers who know nothing about writing for children or YA.
I'm now a member of an online critique group via SCBWI and every single member is widely read in, and understands, children's and YA literature, so they can critique work with knowledgeable insight.  They are a huge asset to have and I'm so very grateful for their help and encouragement.  So I would just like to say a huge public thanks to Candy, Nicky, Kathryn, Jeannette, Jackie, Jeannie, Beverley and Ellen.


Two of my favourites are:

How to Write a Blockbuster
by Helen Corner and Lee Weatherly

From Where You Dream
by Robert Olen Butler

7.  READ AND WRITE then READ AND WRITE some more

Know what children's and YA books are like today.  Read, read, read.

Then write, write, write. 

8.  What agents and publishers are looking for ~

Make sure you get all three and you could be on to a winner!!


One thing I hope I've shown on my blog is that there is no single way to becoming a published author.  All my interviews show that the journey to publication can be as different for each author as it is for the style and story and genre of each of their books.  Some have been published with their very first book, some have written several books over many years and only then made the breakthrough.

And being a good writer isn't necessarily enough - as number 8 on my list shows, get that heady brew of all three aspects, Voice, Character and Plot and then maybe you'll have written that breakout novel.

The first draft is exactly that - a first draft.  Revise, fine-tune and edit some more.  Then do it all over again.


We can often feel like we're wasting our time, that our dream of publication will never be fulfilled, that every rejection hurts more than the one before.
* If you get requests for fulls - let this inspire and motivate you.
* If your form rejection comes with a few scribbled words of encouragement - let this inspire and motivate you.
* If you get longlisted, shortlisted or win competitions - let this inspire and motivate you.

It can be hard but keep on writing and keep yourself motivated because each new word, each new sentence, each new paragraph and page becomes another milestone achieved.

That's my Top Ten of things I've learned and the book that first inspired me.  I'm still a novice and I must heed my own advice but one thing I do know is that if it's happened for all the debut authors featured on my blog, it can happen to any of us.  

So I want to wish you all a Happy New Year and may all your dreams come true in 2011

And if you'd like to share any words of wisdom or lessons learned on your writing journey or you have a book that first inspired you to write, I'd love to hear from you.



MC Rogerson said...

Thanks for this post and for running such an inspiring blog. Like you, I'm still on a journey and trying to enjoy every minute - even the difficult times. I believe that every word I write makes me a better storyteller. Wishing you a very Happy New Year, Tracy and hope your writing dreams come true in 2011.

vh said...

Great post! Makes a lot of sense. Must find myself a critque group once I have finished my PhD. Hope 2011 brings you lots of happiness and success

Sandra Patterson said...

Thanks Tracy, and for the inspiration you've given many (including me) over the past year. Hope 2011 is extra special for you.

Tracy said...

Thank you all for your kind words. And once again, thank you to all my readers and interviewees for making this blog what it is. Here's to a great 2011 for us all. xx :)

Nick Cross said...

Tracy, you've been such a force for good this year and I'm sure that will continue into 2011 and beyond. Good luck with the competition and I sincerely expect you to be signed with an agent and maybe with a book deal in the bag by this time next year!

Nicky S (Absolute Vanilla) said...

Great post, as always, Tracy! Here's to 2011 and more fun critiquing and learning and heading towards success!

Kate said...

Great advice, Tracy!

I can't believe your blog is only 2 years old. You've achieved so much in that time.

All the best for an even better 2011!

Tracy said...

Post New Year so feeling rather fragile but I hope everyone enjoyed their celebrations. x

Nick - Thank you for such kind words. And I hope you're right about the agent and book deal. And I'm sure 2011 will be your year.x

Nicky - see you in the crit group. Thanks for all your support and I hope 2011 brings you all you wish for.x

Katie - I know! The blog's still a baby but boy how it's grown!!
Happy New Year and I hope 2011 is a good vintage for you.x

Maureen said...

I'm a bit late, but a big Happy New Year to you. You should be very proud of your achievements with this blog and with the progress you've made on your journey. You are still my favourite interviewer :)
Maureen x

Tracy said...

Thank you Maureen :D xx

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