~By Amanda Smith
You know those days where you spend an entire day revising a picture book manuscript, making dummies and cutting your manuscript into little strips and studying the dialogue to make sure your characters’ voices are distinct yet consistent?
But at the end of the day nothing looks much different.
Or those days you research agents to query, and after many hours, have nothing more than a list to show?
Do you sometimes feel that drawing up maps or house plans for your novel, or filling out character sheets are wasting writing time, because no actual words are added to your WIP?
A lot of the work we do as writers, cannot be measured in tangible, concrete ways. It is easy to discount these aspects of our work. Yet, all these things are part of the writing journey and we need to acknowledge them as valuable. That is why, at the beginning of this year, I knew I wanted to track my writing progress in a way that included all these aspects of writing.
Enter: The bullet journal.
Wait, hear me out. I’ve also looked at bullet journal blogs and thought What is this chaos? or This seems like a giant time suck. But that is the beauty of a bullet journal: You can make it exactly what you need it to be.
To have a journal that functions for you, there are a few questions to answer:
1. What is the purpose of your bullet journal for you? What do you want it to do?
Some authors, like Kate Messner, use one journal to manage all aspects of their life. If that sounds ideal to you, I encourage you to read Kate’s blog regarding bullet journaling here.
However, I needed something dedicated to writing and writing-related business ONLY. The rest of my life, my children’s schedules and dentist appointments still went in a daily planner. What I needed was a home for all things writing.
2. How decorative do you want it to be?
I like pretty. I buy planners, folders and notebooks based entirely on looks. I want beautiful covers AND decorative pages inside. Very early on in my research I realized that, if left unchecked, the bullet journal, instead of the writing, would become the project. I could easily spend all my time making it pretty, with swirly calligraphy and coloring pages. But that was not the purpose. The journal was to be my tool. I settled on a simple, functional format, with a little pretty on each page. I do not spend more than an afternoon a month to prep the next month’s tracking pages. (I would not recommend setting up your entire journal at the beginning of the year. As you and your journal grow together and get used to one another, you are going to want the freedom to tweak the format.)
Also consider size here. I wanted room to spread out and use sticky notes and notecards, so my journal is 7X10 inches.
3. What do you need in your journal to move you towards reaching your goals?
I took some time over my Christmas break last year to research other writers’ bullet journals and noted which components would be helpful to me. Inspired by M.M Chouinard, I jotted down what I wanted to track in my journal.
Here is where I landed:
A Writing Dashboard with all my projects and in which stage of the writing journey they are - an overall view of all my current projects. I love using sticky notes on my dashboard, because I can easily move projects from the “Drafting” heading to the “Revision” heading as the project moves along.
A place to track yearly and monthly goals. The image shows my monthly goals for September, but I also have a page in the front of the journal where my yearly goals are listed. I check in on those quarterly to see if I am on track.
I like to tally reading with my monthly goals. Some writers have separate book logs in their bullet journals, while others like to use a coloring sheet glued into the journal.
Towards the front of the journal I have a page to track overall progress in my individual projects. For novels I mark progress by scenes. For picture books, I check a box every time I do a revision.
For every month I have a writing log to jot down daily word count. For revisions I write the section/ scene I revised and its changed word count. Notice the celebratory sticker at the end of the month? Don't forget to reward met goals with happy carrots!
On the page next to my writing log, I use Five Things a Day to track other writing related work such as agent research and days spent on querying, critiques, blogs, research, and so forth. Even though I hardly ever fill all five boxes for the day, I do learn a lot from looking back at these pages. I have learned, for instance, that I prefer not to write and revise on the same day.
I have a section designated for monthly blog meeting notes and blog related business. If you do not have a blog, you might want a designated space for website planning and maintenance, or social media strategies.
A grid with sticky notes keeps track of queries for each project. I still keep detailed records in a spreadsheet, but with this tool I know at the drop of a hat exactly where which manuscript is.
Having everything writing related in one place made this a super productive writing and querying year for me. What do you need to track your progress and other writing related notes? I would like to encourage you to take some time over the next few months to come up with a custom-made system that will empower you in your writing journey.
Guest blog by Meg Lysaght Thacher
When people ask how I found a publisher for my debut book, SKY GAZING, I say “It’s a long story.”
Because I didn’t find a publisher. A publisher found me.
In June, 2017, this appeared in my inbox:
Okay, this does not seem like a short story: publisher contacts me to write a book. I write a book. The End.
But why did they contact me in the first place?
Storey publishes exclusively nonfiction; they seek out specialists who also have writing experience. I teach astronomy at Smith College, and by 2017 I’d written 19 articles for Cricket’s nonfiction magazines Ask, Faces, Odyssey, and Muse. Their issues have a theme and a content editor, a few of whom work at Sky & Telescope. Thus, my magazine writing led directly to my book.
If you’re intrigued by magazine writing, the first step is to find magazines to write for. There’s a list in The Book, available to members on the SCBWI website. Parents’ Choice Award-winning magazines are listed on their website (https://www.parentschoice.org/product-category/magazines/). If you are really serious, get an account on submittable.com, where you can Discover and Follow magazines, get on their email lists, and keep track of your submissions.
Next, go to a magazine’s websites and click on “submissions” (often cleverly hidden in the “contact” section). There, magazines list how to submit material, what format they want it in, and most importantly, what the magazine is currently looking for.
Finally, read a few issues. Get an idea of the tone of the articles and what kinds of topics they cover. Check your local library or request a sample issue.
If you write fiction, you’ll submit a full article. If you write nonfiction, most magazines ask for a query or pitch.
A pitch consists of a paragraph or two describing the scope of your proposed article, an outline, and a list of references you will use. Write your pitch in the format requested by the magazine. Your cover letter (or email) should include your qualifications and a hook: why are kids interested in this? Why is this piece right for Magazine X? As with querying agents and editors, your pitch and cover letter should be your best work and reflect your voice. When you’re starting out, submit pitches that are aligned with your career, hobby, or education.
If your pitch is accepted, make sure to meet your deadline (say no if you can’t) and write the number of words asked for, in the agreed-upon outline.
If your pitch is rejected, remember that most magazines are fewer than 50 pages, and there are other writers submitting their work. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and submit some more pitches. Or submit the pitch somewhere else!
Not only is magazine writing a great way to get published before you get published, but you will also gain an understanding of the publishing process. You’ll experience working with an editor, meeting deadlines, writing to spec, researching, and writing concisely. All skills that editors and agents appreciate.
For a more detailed look at the children’s magazine market, check out The Book, the SCBWI Non-Fiction & Work for Hire blueboard thread, and http://evelynchristensen.com/mags.html.
Meg Thacher’s debut book, Sky Gazing: a guide to the Moon, Sun, stars, eclipses, and constellations (Storey Publishing) comes out on October 13, 2020. Find her—and more magazine info—at megthacher.com.
To purchase a copy of Meg's debut book click here.
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