Amy Finnegan has been an event coordinator for Utah Children’s Writers and Illustrators, and a chapter president for the League of Utah Writers. She was the first place winner in the children’s and young adult category of the 76th Annual Writer’s Digest Writing Competition. As a writer, she tries to apply the wisdom of Leonardo da Vinci: “When the spirit does not work with the hand, there is no art.” And, currently, she’s craving one of those yummy pretzels you can get at a mall or movie theater. With parmesan cheese.
Twitter, Facebook, Blogs galore . . . most nationally published authors have a plethora of ways for me to follow them, but I would never get any writing done if I tried to keep up with every single one. What I’ve found, though, is several children’s lit authors who I like to follow for different reasons.
Sarah Dessen, for instance, talks a lot about her family life, her errands, and other craziness throughout her day—I can totally relate. I wonder how she gets time to write. This makes her feel normal to me, not superhuman. It helps me believe a busy mom like myself can accomplish a lot, too.
Neil Gaiman posts bits of his personality several times a day. It’s really just entertainment value for me there. But he also posts his upcoming speaking engagements and appearances, and I’ll admit it’s kind of fun to follow someone who I think acts more like a rock star than a writer.
As for Laurie Halse Anderson, I follow her somewhat religiously. Her snippets are often related to writing, and both inspire and educate me. Here are a few of her recent Tweets:
“Revision means throwing out the boring crap and making what’s left sound natural.”
“Writer’s Block has as much power to stop you as you give it. We are our own worst enemies in this regard.”
“NOBODY sees my first drafts. My editor usually gets draft 5. What you see in the book is usually Draft 7.”
Why do these bits and pieces from authors inspire me? I have a tendency to believe things come so much easier for excellent/successful writers. I mean, look how easily the story flows on the page. Reading WINTERGIRLS was like watching the summer Olympics—those gymnasts seem to toss themselves into the air for a triple back flip without an ounce of strain. How did LHA write such a tough story so effortlessly? Well, now I know that it took a lot more effort than she made it look. And that, for a dying-to-get-this-right-writer, is comforting.
Do I check for author updates daily? No. And rarely during writing time—only if I’m stuck and need a little break. But writing can be a lonely world, and it’s nice to know there are others in the world who know what it’s like to stare at a blinking cursor for an hour, or be faced with the painful task of cutting your favorite scene from your manuscript.
Personally, I wouldn’t suggest being linked into Twitter on an RLS feed, meaning that every time someone Tweets, you’re notified. Don’t you get enough email already? Some authors post updates multiple times a day so it’s easy to get caught up in it (many people do).
The best solution I’ve found to keep up with my favorite feeds is to connect to an author’s Facebook wall. Most authors have linked both their blogs and their Twitter account to their Facebook account. So as long as you’ve subscribed to their Facebook fan page (or in some cases become their “friend” on Facebook), your own Facebook home page will show you every Twitter post they make, and each time they post a new topic on their blog.
Technology is getting pretty fancy, I think. And convenient. And oh-so-distracting!
How do you decide which blogs/tweets/etc. will help you grow as a writer? Not that I’m scientific about it, but if I were to make myself a list of formal questions, it might look like this:
1) Can I learn something from this writer? Unfortunately, this doesn’t always mean I think their writing itself is spectacular, but let’s say that their connection to their readers is—that they have a massive, active, online following. Or that their publisher is doing a killer job marketing their books. If not for the author’s writing tips, would it be worth following him/her to learn a thing or two about these other things? I think so.
2) Is it a stroke-my-ego fest? Obviously, when you go to anyone’s blog, Facebook wall, or whatever, you can expect a certain degree of narcissism. It is their blog after all. But I have a hard time respecting authors who insult their agent, editor, or publishing house in a public forum. And it’s most often phrased in a way to solicit comments such as “Oh, Mary Sue! Your book should be on the bestseller list! Your marketing team sucks! And OMG! You didn’t like your cover and they made you have it anyway?” I think this is unprofessional. And immature. True or not, these are frustrations to discuss privately with friends and family (and especially one’s agent or editor) not fans.
3) Does a particular author encourage or discourage my own progress? Some authors have a way of making me feel like it was just so easy for them to sell their first book, so what in the heck is wrong withme? They have no sense of humiliation or appreciation for the process. They’re just amazing without any effort at all. Others, like Carol Lynch Williams and Ann Dee Ellis, remind me every day that this business is tough, that it takes work. Lots and lots of work. There are highs and lows, and most of the time, it’s pretty lonely in the trenches. And if this is the life of even successful writers, I must be on the right track. One day, I’ll get there, just like they did.
When I read these blogs and Tweets, I think I’m subconsciously looking for a reason to keep writing. It would be so much easier to give up. Call me needy, but I have to be reminded on a regular basis that most published authors were once exactly where I am now: so close that I’ve never felt so far away.
It sucks that I’m not Stephenie Meyer. Or Edward-the-beautiful. But I’m not. But neither was J.K. Rowling, and she’s now richer than the Queen of England. So there.
Side note: Rowling was told by her agent that she’d never make money in children’s books—not a promising prospect to a single mother on welfare. Her advance for Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was 1500 GBP. The first print was just 1000 copies (half of which went to libraries). In the U.S. and U.K. alone, book 7 sold over 11 million copies in just the first 24 hours.
This sort of stuff keeps me going. It makes me believe!
If you want to be similarly inspired, check out the online domains of authors whose writing you respect or who you think can teach you something about marketing themselves. The best of the best will fall into both categories—become one of them!
On Twitter feeds or Facebook pages, there are usually links to author’s websites as well. On blogs, look for the box where it gives you an option to receive an RSS feed for posts (your inbox may get slammed if you select the “comments” options). If you select the “posts” RSS option, you’ll only be notified when the author posts a new topic on their blog. Usually, by looking at the subject line on your email, you’ll know if you want to take the time to read the post. The Throwing Up Words blog you’re reading right now has its RSS option box on the right side of the page.
To get you started, I’ll include a list of some nationally published writers whose Twitter feeds I like to watch. From there, you can follow them yourself, or check them out elsewhere on the internet.
A Sampling of Nationally Published Children’s Lit Authors on Twitter:
Carol Lynch Williams – carolbooks
Neil Gaiman – neilhimself
Laurie Halse Anderson – halseanderson
Jessica Day George – JessDayGeorge
J.K. Rowling – jk_rowling
Libba Bray – libbabray
Rick Riordan – camphalfblood
Sarah Dessen – sarahdessen
Meg Cabot – megcabot
Scott Westerfeld – ScottWesterfelt
Nathan Hale – MrNathanHale
Shannon Hale – haleshannon
Sara Zarr – sarazarr
Bree Despain – breedespain
Melissa Marr – melissa_marr
Aprilynne Pike – AprilynnePike
Brandon Mull – brandonmull
Emily Wing Smith – emilywingsmith
Robin McKinley – robinmckinley
Laini Taylor – lainitaylor
James Dashner – jamesdashner
Wendy Toliver – wendytoliver
Brandon Sanderson – BrandonSandrson
Carrie Ryan – carrieryan
I tried to find you Ann Dee. Are you not a Twit? 😉
Everyone, please leave comments about your own favorite author feeds/blogs/whatever. In a future post, I’ll list blogs and such from the many editors and agents who have an online, public presence (this is a good way to get to know these professional minds before you submit to them.) And also on helpful writing sites. Thanks in advance for your contribution!