Robots Can Be Writing Teachers, Right?
A writing prompt, an 18-page agent letter, and TONS of writing links/resources
For writing news, resources, and links, scroll down.
On Monday I received an editorial letter from my agent, full of all the changes she’d like me to make over the summer. The letter was 18 pages. Single-spaced.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I love a giant pile of feedback. (No, seriously, I do! I welcome anything that will make my story stronger!) And I’m SUPER excited to dig into these revisions. My agent is smart and insightful, and I know these changes are going to make my manuscript so much better. But it’s not going to be easy.
For one thing, I have to get back into the mindset of this manuscript. I first had the idea for the novel five years ago. I finished the first draft two and a half years ago. The last time I read through the whole manuscript was over a year ago.
And I know this isn’t the last revision. If my agent sells the book this fall (fingers crossed!), I’ll do more revising with my editor. The book won’t come out for another two-plus years, which means when I go to author events to speak about my “new” book, I’ll be talking about a book I first started writing nearly eight years ago. Weird, huh?
But also exciting. I do love to revise.
A Robot Writing Teacher
The following writing prompt is from my long-time friend Nancy Reddy (who, to be clear, is not a robot.) Nancy and I met right out of college, during our first year as high school teachers. Our classrooms were side-by-side; she taught English, and I taught math.
Nancy is a poet, essayist, and extremely smart human. She teaches at Stockton University in New Jersey and is the author of three books of poetry, most recently Pocket Universe. She is currently working on a narrative nonfiction book about the animal experience of early motherhood (girl, I can relate!). So, without further ado, here’s Nancy:
A big part of my writing life, or at least my sense of myself as a writer, is about attunement and paying attention to the world around me and trying to always be susceptible to images and phrases that might inspire my writing. And sometimes that world includes beautiful things like hydrangeas just beginning to bloom or the wrens that have built a little nest in the bird box my kids built with my dad last spring. (I'm a big believer in the no-phone walk as a reset, and I included lots of reminders to pause and notice during this past April's daily writing exercises on my newsletter, Write More, Be Less Careful.)
But sometimes you have to take whatever inspiration you can get, and sometimes that's the stupid Alexa in my kitchen. (It's technically an Echo, so it has a little screen.) The screen flips between notifications for our front door, recipes it thinks I should try, and tik tok videos it thinks I should watch. I ignore almost all of those prompts, but there's one I secretly love: Popular Questions. Apparently, Popular Questions include things like, "Alexa, who's the winner of American Idol?" and "Alexa, how much protein does chicken have?" and "Alexa, will there be a Joker 2?" and, my personal favorite, "Alexa, how do I know if milk has gone bad?"
For today's prompt, start with a question and do some freewriting. (In my newsletter's previous iteration, as a column at PANK, I interviewed writing studies scholar Hannah Rule, who talked about the benefits of freewriting; I'm a huge fan of just following your brain to whatever weird places it wants to go.) You might try to answer your question, or you could ask additional questions, or you could create a scene where one character asks your question of another character. (Like in real life, they might answer, or deflect, or pose another question in response.) If you also have an Alexa/Echo in your house, you could take up one of the questions it tells you to ask. (Might as well use our robot companions as writing teachers, right?) And if not, you could think of a question you genuinely want to know the answer to, or a question that's important for a story or essay you're working on now, or you could wait for someone in your life to ask you a good, hard question. (Kids are great for this, of course!)
Thanks so much, Nancy! You can find Nancy Reddy at all of these places:
good creatures, her newsletter about the wilderness of motherhood
Write More, Be Less Careful, her newsletter about why writing is hard & how to do it anyway
Are You Writing a Novel this Summer?
As challenging as the revision part is, writing the first draft of a novel is (in my opinion) even harder. Want some help? Read about my virtual course Getting Started on Your Novel.
The first three lessons are available now in both written and audio format, and the fourth lesson will be hitting email inboxes this Saturday.
Lesson 1: The Big Idea. Brainstorm better ideas for your novel, get a general lay of the land, and start writing an “exploratory first draft.”
Lesson 2: Characters. Write stronger, more interesting characters, whether you’re writing a character-first or premise-first novel.
Lesson 3: Setting & World-Building. Create a setting that supports your story and hammer out details about your characters’ world, whether it’s sci-fi/fantasy, historical, contemporary, or otherwise.
Lesson 4: Plot & Story Structure. Determine major plot points and make a map to guide you from beginning to end of your draft.
Lesson 5: First Page, First Chapter, Next Steps. Learn how to hook readers with your first page and first chapter. Make concrete plans to help you finish your draft.
By the end of the course you will have the beginning chapter(s) of your novel and a good sense of where you’re going next.
Getting Started on Your Novel is available to paid subscribers only. It’s $5/month to subscribe, and the course runs from now until June 25, which means you will get all five lessons for only $5. Cancel your subscription at any time, no questions asked.
For All Writers:
Hoping to start writing regularly this summer? Read about my virtual course Cultivating a Regular Writing Practice! This series of do-it-on-your-own-time lessons will help you create a writing routine that works for you and keeps you writing regularly for the long-term. All four lessons are available now for paid subscribers.
On June 23 at 7pm EDT The Writers Center in Bethesda will host a virtual craft chat with Novelist Kate Ryan. This online event is FREE and open to the public!
Also on June 23, but at 8pm EDT, The Good Story is offering a FREE webinar on How to Write Dialogue.
This #CoachHunt from The Authors of Tomorrow on July 23 looks really cool. Pitch your story idea, and a mentor will reach out to you if they are interested in being your mentor/writing coach. (TAOT also offer a lot of great publishing workshops.)
Check out all the many resources at Camp NaNoWriMo, which begins July 1. Tackle any writing project, set your own word-count goals, join a 12-person writing group, participate in writing sprints, and more.
I used to live in Seattle and take in-person classes at the Hugo House, so I can vouch for their excellent quality. These days, most Hugo House classes and workshops are virtual… which means you don’t have to live in Seattle to be a student! Check out their course catalog with over 80 brand-new classes in fiction, nonfiction, poetry, the writing life, reading, and more—including four free classes.
I have not looked through this myself, but I thought you all might be interested in this list from Get Paid to Write of 23 sites that pay freelancers $100+ .
For Querying Writers:
On June 18 from 11am-3pm EDT, Philadelphia Stories is hosting a virtual #PitchFest in which writers can meet one-on-one with agents!
Enter the Pass or Pages Query Contest to win feedback from agents about whether they would pass or request pages based on your query. On June 21 the genre of the contest will be revealed, and the submission window is July 4-8. If you need help crafting your query, read the previous entires along with the agent feedback.
Every Friday, Operation Awesome offers one free query critique through their #QueryFriday contest.
You all read Query Shark, right? The comments can feel harsh sometimes (hey, she’s not called a shark for nothing!), but it’s a great place to learn how to write (well, actually, how to revise) query letters so they actually work. Study the approximately one billion query letters on there — the good, the bad, and the multiple-times revised.
The querying trenches are rough right now, and Twitter pitch parties are a crapshoot, but still, as I always say, it’s a great way to meet other writers and it certainly doesn’t hurt to try. (After all, I found my agent through a Twitter pitch party. I am now an official success story!) So mark your calendar for these upcoming Twitter pitch parties. And be sure to read my article 13 Things to Know About Twitter Pitch Events.
June 23 (8am—8pm EST): #PitchDis — Twitter pitch event to showcase pitches from the disabled community
June 29/30: #KidLitPit This is a new Twitter pitch event for picture books, middle grade, and YA. It’s running a full 24 hours to give people from every time zone a chance to participate.
August 1 and 2: #DVPit a Twitter pitch to agents for self-identifying, historically-marginalized authors and illustrators
August 1 (8AM - 8PM EST) for childrens & YA fiction/nonfiction
August 2 (8AM - 8PM EST) for adult fiction/nonfiction and for artists & illustrators using #DVart
Writing Conferences (in person and virtual):
In July Daniel David Wallace will be hosting an online conference on finding your readers… more details coming soon!
Write On Con, an online conference for kidlit writers is now open for registration. The conference will be held July 15-17.
And there’s also WOWCON, WriteMentor’s online conference for kidlit writers, coming up September 24 - 26.
This year the Writing Day Workshop “How to Get Published” Conferences will be held virtually. I attended one of these conferences in person a few years ago in Philadelphia, and I thought it was fantastic. I can’t vouch for the virtual version, but there are some benefits: recorded classes, no travel expenses, attend in your comfy pants. Plus, you can sign up for Zoom pitch sessions with agents for $29 a piece. Check out the upcoming conferences (and remember, anyone can attend from anywhere; just keep the time zone in mind).
After years of virtual conferences, we’re starting to see some in-person ones. (Be sure to take a COVID test before you go!) Check out these upcoming summer conferences:
Chesapeake Writers’ Conference: June 19-25 at St. Mary’s College of Maryland. A week of craft talks, lectures, panel discussions, readings, and daily workshops in fiction, poetry, songwriting, or creative nonfiction.
Killer Nashville International Writers’ Conference: August 18-21 in Franklin, Tennessee. This conferences brings together forensic experts, writers, and fans of crime and thriller literature. They also offer discounts and scholarships.
For more writing conferences, check out this list.
Whew! That’s all for now. My inbox is always open if you have questions. Just hit “reply” to this email.