Wednesday, December 18, 2013

November is Insane

I guess I'm going to have to get used to the fact that November is a crazy month for me. I get a lot done, but only in the teaching portion of my life. Family, writing, and regular reading (so that I may be a competent, informed writer) get pushed to the side in favor of report cards, PT conferences, and a whole bunch of other surprises that change every year.

I don't mean to complain -- I knew what I was getting into when I jumped into this profession, and the worst days are still better than the best days I've had in any other job. But it IS nice when I get to go back to being a teacher/father/writer instead of a teacher who parents and writes on nights where he doesn't fall asleep as soon as his son is in bed.

So the good news is that as winter break approaches, so does my drive to gain more ground on the previously stalled FIFTH GRADE IN BOOLEAN VARIABLES. Several nights in a row I worked on it, adding things and discovering ideas that won't work now that the characters are taking definitive shape.

Still waiting for word on I AM DRUMS. There's some really promising feedback, but the waiting game is still very much in session and probably won't be ending any time soon. It's hard to wait, but it's also silly to think, "I might be getting amazing news soon. Isn't that awful?"

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Productivity, Running, and the Really Long Halloween

A student said, "Mr. Grosso? What's today's date?"

And I said, "You can always find the date by looking at the--" I paused. My calendar still said October, even though the passage of time had clearly brought us into November. A perpetual Halloween had apparently taken over my classroom.

Other than that mishap, things have been very productive lately. I have almost 12,000 words done for a book tentatively titled, "Fifth Grade in Boolean Variables." In short, it's a book about an anti-social ten-year-old junior programmer who tries to use computer code to save the life of the first friend he has ever made.This book really started moving shortly after I tried to set it to the side and follow another idea that now has to wait.

I also have another editor getting a second read on I AM DRUMS, so there's a lot to look forward to, even if there's a long road to fruition ahead.

On top of that, I am officially on week two of running every morning. I'm already feeling the benefits of being clearer headed and more energetic for my job, and it's kind of nice to have so much more time to drink my coffee in the morning.

Monday, October 14, 2013

When You Reach Me as a Read Aloud

Read alouds are awesome. If you disagree, you probably don't like ice cream or laughter, either.

I do read alouds in class for a lot of reasons. The primary one being that books are great and should be shared with others. They say something about who we are and through them we learn about ourselves while expanding our ability to understand and empathize with others. I also do read alouds to model reading fluency, vocal tones, and inflection as a storyteller/narrator. Lastly, but not least(ly?), read alouds help me and my students discover new books. As lonely an activity as reading can be, discovering a great book alongside its intended target audience is something I wish I could share with everyone.

Last year, I read my fifth graders WHEN YOU REACH ME by Rebecca Stead. If you are into middle grade and haven't read it, I suggest you stop reading this blog and fix that. It goes without saying the kids liked it a lot, but I saw more than just a passing entertainment at work. The book contains a lot of complex layers for a middle grade contemporary (until the SF kicks in) novel.

One, it keeps the reader attentive. I introduced the book by telling the kids it was science fiction, but they wouldn't see that aspect at first. Some of them who listened closely and watched for clues might pick up on it earlier than others.

Two, there is mystery, but not the way you think. It lends itself to repeat readings. I often see kids rereading books less out of love for its story and more because they're convinced every other book stinks in comparison (DIARY OF A WIMPY KID FANS, I'm talking about you!). WHEN YOU REACH ME practically begs to be reread just so you can see Stead building the scaffolding a piece at a time. Leading the kids along the way without giving a single bit away was amazing.

Granted, I had to move slow at times. The beginning of the book makes it unclear where exactly it's going, so we spent a lot of time retelling and laying out each cause and effect relationship. Building background about the eighties, most notably the $25,000 Pyramid, took time, every second of it worth it. Kids occasionally would get left behind and, as a group, we'd bring them up to speed, filling in gaps they missed.

It ended up being a perfect example of how a read aloud can bring one aspect of the classroom to life. Engaged students, enthusiastic readers, and a teacher who's having fun doing something that has absolutely nothing to do with Common Core standards or standardized testing. Joy.

Now here's the question -- will it work with fourth grade this year?

Monday, September 30, 2013

Five Rejections Down and a Moment to Breathe

Five rejections. Fifteen still waiting.

The first wave of responses on my manuscript was pretty swift. One after another, for the most part, and most of them were either close calls or generally thoughtful. That points to positive things, and positive thinking is the only way to get through the waiting game.

But somehow, unforunately, I've found another way to worry and let my mind run away with me. There's been a silence of about a month, and after so many non-form rejections flew in at once, it's hard to stop myself from worrying. If you've submitted work for any length of time, you get used to seeing patterns of failure, and identifying them becomes a defense mechanism against the rejection you're always expecting to collide with around the next corner.

Deep down I know the truth -- selling a book can take anywhere from a few weeks to multiple years. That's a lot of self-doubting blog posts before getting to the next stop. I also know that my thoughts are turning to my manuscript more often these past few weeks because I'm adjusting to some new elements of my job. When the school year began, I didn't have a spare second to think about anything outside of the classroom. These past few weeks I've had a second here and there.

In the meantime, my latest project is moving again. And as long as I keep writing, I have something to look forward to submitting.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Querytracker Interview

The way to not fall off the writing bandwagon is to post something interesting! Or if you can't do that, post something sort of interesting. Like a short interview on how you got your literary agent.

Granted, it would have been excellent for the interview to include details on the sale of the book, but this is good enough for now. Here's to regularly scheduled postings in the coming weeks!

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Status Update (not the Facebook kind)

Three rejections from editors so far. Two of them very positive (this came REALLY close for us), but in the end, a definitive no. That's okay. My agent did a really good job of laying out expectations, making sure I knew exactly what to expect.

I also had some good news on the work front, in that I'm going to be in the same school as last year. I couldn't be happier. It's a good place, and in a job where you sink or swim based on your ability to give your all, it's nice to know I'm in a place where giving it all comes so naturally.

On another hand, I'm going to spend next week setting up my classroom and going to see a movie. In a theatre. That may seem small to some, but with a not yet two year old at home, going to the movies is like winning the lottery. Now to find something I actually want to see......

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

I Don't Know What I'm Doing, and I Never Do, and I Like it that Way

Yes, the subject of this post is a run-on sentence, and yes, I enjoy using them in a tasteful manner. And I also like beginning sentences with "and", but that's another post entirely.

On to what I really wanted to write about:

So just like that, I'm switching writing projects. My previous manuscript was starting to feel forced. I was pushing ahead at a snail's pace, and churning out scenes that worked alongside ones that didn't work at all. And the whole thing felt like a battle.

Writing takes a lot of discipline, but I've never felt like it was a battle. For me, it only works when you're engaged in something you feel compelled to finish. So what happens, then, when you realize, mid-sentence, that your brain has another idea it's more prepared to tackle?

My guess is you work on whichever manuscript feels right. Not that I'm an expert. I have tons of unfinished work (mostly ill-conceived short stories, but a few novels), and whenever I go back to them I usually find a solid reason why I left them in the first place. The problem here is that I'm not sure I'm leaving the first project out of distaste. I really like the idea I set out with. It's not perfect, and there are a lot of questions about where it's going that I don't have answers to, but that's kind of how I work. I don't outline, and the only times I've tried to outline I've only succeeded in procrastinating on the actual writing part. This time, though, I suffered a horrible lack of confidence in my ability to pull out a lofty idea that I'm not in the right frame of mind to accomplish.

Then again, maybe I'm just quitting. How can you really tell if a novel is bad before it's even finished?

Monday, July 29, 2013

The Waiting Game

Trying to get a novel or short story published is a waiting game. Patience is rewarded. Impulsiveness is not. And the waiting game doesn't end, even after people in the field start showing an interest.

Let me give you an idea:

I started writing with the intention to publish in college. But really, ignoring semantics, I started writing with the intention to publish in high school. But really I started in grade school, when I set out to write the longest story in my third grade class -- an epic eight-part adventure with swords and monsters that was a thinly veiled attempt to novelize Zelda II for the NES. I never finished it, but the idea and the inspiration were there!

Whichever starting point you pick, I've been "writing with the intention to publish" for anywhere from 10-25 years. Granted I went multiple years where I didn't write a thing and lost all sense of my writing voice, but that's still a long time, and it seems like more and more people look at writing as a means to have one's genius discovered rather than a craft to practice and polish.

As a teacher, I tell my students to practice things like math facts, orchestra instruments, and their writing, reading, and proofreading skills. Almost everyone agrees an instrument takes time, but aspiring writers often falsely believe that writing is born solely in the minds of prodigies.

Okay, maybe I'm overgeneralizing.

What I really wanted to get at is that every step you take in the process of becoming a published writer requires waiting. When you finish a story, you have to wait several weeks (at a minimum) so you can read it with fresh eyes. Once it's polished, you have to submit it to an agent (novel) or editor (short story) and wait for a response. Then you have to spend years collecting form rejection letters and waiting for your first personalized rejection (these can be brutal, but put on your rhino skin and take their advice -- they read a lot more than you do) that actually gives you some ideas on how to not suck. Then, you finally get someone who thinks your writing might be worth putting out there. But you're still not done.

Then your work gets shared with others, and someone else finds something wrong with it (they're right).

Then you find a group of people who like it, but they still think it can be improved (they're right, too).

Then you wait for a confirmation that says yes, your work will be published.

Then you wait for the day, far in the future, when your work is finally published.

So yeah, writing means waiting. A lot of it. If you're getting anxious because you're collecting rejection letters, you're already a part of a pretty cool club. There's a lot of frustration and self doubt involved, but if you can stand the heat you'll eventually become part of an even better club of people who worked, improved, and set their ego aside and risked judgment of their most vulnerable side.

Even now I'm waiting. Not on nabbing an agent (DONE!) or on finding people who believe in my work (also done, and isn't this what we all really want, more than money or fame?). I'm now waiting on a submission list of editors my excellent agent put together. Waiting for them to get back to us with what I hope is an offer is the scariest part yet. It's entirely possible that still, after all this work, every editor will say no, and I'll be back to square one. That's a lot more waiting.

The only thing you can't wait for is time to write.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Writing Goals

As I write this, the final touches are being made to my pitch letter. Once that goes out to editors, I have to prepare myself for another round of the waiting game while focusing on writing goals that will generate a new project.

Last summer, I had half a manuscript completed and a lot of positive feelings about it. I made my writing goal to complete a rough draft of my current submission. It wasn't easy with an eight month old at home, but I made great use of nights and nap time and had a completed first draft by the time I went back to work in mid-August.

At the beginning of this summer, on the other hand, I had less to work with. I had ideas floating around in my head and a couple botched attempts at finding my main character's voice. I knew I wasn't going to finish a whole draft by the end of summer, but I figured I could at least start nailing down the manuscript's voice and have a solid grasp at what I might be writing.

This idea is tricky, though. I am not an outliner. I hate them, in fact. I want to discover the story and characters as I work. I want things to happen that I wasn't expecting, as those are usually the most realistic moments in my work. This makes it hard, however, to define whether or not I've made my goal. How much do I have to have done on the page versus done in my head? Case in point, I'm not sure whether or not the five-six thousand words of workable scenes I've completed and not pitched in the trash constitute "nailing down the manuscript's voice."

Either way, I do have the early rumblings of a new manuscript. It's just weird to be building on what worked previously rather than correcting what agents told me didn't work last time. When I let go of the pressure to keep my imagination flowing, it can be a really good feeling.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Jumping Back Into Blogging

I am the type of person who benefits quite a bit from a blog. What's odd is this idea runs contrary to the fact that I feel silly about blogging -- it takes a great leap of faith to assume that electronic journal entries are worthy of going public.

So why start one now?

Writing has always been a part of my personal life, and now it may become a part of my professional life as well. I've shopped around a handful of novels for the past eight years, and over these past few months I've joined up with a genuine literary agency with a vast amount of knowledge on how to sell my work. That means I might really be on my way to doing this writing thing for people other than myself and a handful of friends and family.

That also means, more than ever, that writing regularly will become mandatory (not to say it ever wasn't). With a year-and-a-half old at home, finding time to explore my latest work can get pushed to the side when he requires thirty hours of attention in each twenty-four hour day. Blogging can be spur of the moment, and while there will certainly be overarching themes, I am not required to start where I left off. If I feel the desire to blog about komodo dragons, I can do just that.

There's another side, of course -- tracking my own path towards (hopefully) publishing my current book will keep me writing in some form or another, even if it's just to reflect on where things are going.

So that's where things are at. If I do this right, there will be more posts to come, preferably before the end of the week. Setting goals is more important than ever now.