Sunday, May 03, 2009


Your Cinderella Story Can Come True

When you were a little girl, did you ever dream about being Cinderella? You know, playing and singing with the mice and the birds, finding your Prince Charming, and showing those ugly stepsisters that you really were the special one. I know I did--I wanted my own fairy godmother, too. "Bippity-Boppity-Boo!"

Last month, a teacher friend asked me to come and talk to her students about what a "real" writer does. One question she wanted me to answer was, "How much do you write that actually never gets published?" Boy, she was asking the right person! So, while preparing my talk, I decided to include information about how many rejections I had received and how many of my picture book stories were still searching for a home, and so on. But would fourth graders be impressed with my statistics? So, I wanted to find the perfect Cinderella story to wow them and show them that you should never give up on your words.

J.K. Rowling has a great Cinderella story, and she would be somebody that the kids knew had been wildly successful. The story is that J.K. Rowling was a single mom, living on state benefits while she wrote the first Harry Potter manuscript. She got her idea in 1990, wrote for five years (sketching out the other six books, too), and a publisher finally accepted it in 1996 after being turned down by several large publishing companies because the book was too complex for kids! She did have an agent that believed in her--so even with an agent, the rumor is she was rejected 12 times by publishing companies. And you know the rest of this Cinderella story--she is now reported to be worth over 1 billion dollars.

When J.K. Rowling sat in coffee shops writing her novel, do you think she thought she would see Harry Potter on the big screen some day? Really? Sure, we all dream, but we also know that it's tough work. Here are her words explaining this time (from an interview on-line): "I had lots of rejections. But I expected everyone to reject me, so I was already braced for failure. However, I loved Harry so much that I just wanted to get him into print whatever the cost in emotional energy," she said. (From Accio Quote! website)

So, what does all this Harry Potter and Cinderella stuff have to do with you? Well, you really could be the next Cinderella story, couldn't you? With hard work, perseverance, and determination, you could see your beloved characters charming millions of readers. Believe it! And remember. . ."A dream is a wish that your heart makes. . ." (from Cinderella)

Happy writing!
Margo Dill
Read These Books and Use Them! (blog)
photo by Raymond Brown

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Saturday, April 25, 2009


A Recent Re-Focus

This past week, I realized that my writing was all over the place; I was not using my time to the best of my ability; AND I was just not happy with my results. Am I ever going to finish this YA novel I've been working on for the past four years? Am I ever going to send out all those picture book manuscripts I have? Exactly what do I want to do with my writing career?

So, after a bit of introspection, I realized that I need to reassess my goals and to figure out a new game plan. I have a bit of writer burn-out, and this can be dangerous. Here are some questions I asked myself to discover where I want to go with my writing career. I thought I would share them with you in case you are feeling the same way.
  1. What is my ultimate writing goal? To be a book author? Freelance magazine writer? Support my family on my income? Enjoy a writing life?
  2. How much money do I need to make right now to help my family?
  3. Do I have enough regular writing jobs to make this amount of money?
  4. How can I best spend my writing time each day to reach the answer to question number one?

After answering these questions, I realized that

  1. My ultimate goal is to be a children's book author. I want to have several children's books published and do workshops at schools for children. This will incorporate my love of education with my love of writing.
  2. I won't disclose this amount, however, what I realized is that I can sub only part time instead of full time. This, of course, gives me more writing time. So, I need to write to make up the difference.
  3. Yes, I do. I am spending so much time on the freelance job boards and querying magazines that I am not focusing on my four regular gigs each month as well as a couple repeats that I have every couple months. This doesn't mean I won't check out the job boards once a week or read my Premium-Green issue from cover to cover, but I don't need to be on the freelance sites every day for every job.
  4. I need to stop querying so many national magazines and focus on my children's book work and my regular freelance work. I need to stay focused

I did all this soul-searching on a walk, which is really helpful (and good for you, too!). I've felt a huge weight lifted off my shoulders ever since. Even if I had 24 hours a day/ 7 days a week to write, I could not have finished all the projects that I was trying to do before I became re-focused. And I don't want to spend that much time writing. I love writing, but I also love my family, reading, a few TV shows, walking, and scrapbooking.

Frankly, I've discovered there has to be balance and focus. I hope in a month or two if you ask me how it's going, I can still say how focused I am. We all concentrate on goals at the beginning of the year; but then after a few months, they often fall by the wayside, or we realize they were unrealistic. It's okay to take some time and reassess. It might be the best thing you ever did for your career!

Happy re-focusing!
Margo Dill (Read These Books and Use Them)

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Thursday, January 08, 2009


Some Writing Advice IS NOT Worth Listening To. . .

When I did my survey of writers for my last post on Dec. 31, I also asked them, "What is the worst writing advice you have ever heard?" I thought this question's results were important enough to share with The Muffin readers by themselves (and not with the rest of my best of/worst of list)! I know you have heard some of these lines before--I had, and I have even listened to them. I just pray that I never told anyone these "words of advice." Of if I did, they were smart enough NOT to follow my tips. I racked my brain trying to remember if when I taught a community writing class at the YMCA on writing for children, did I say, "Write what you know?" I hope not. I've blocked it from my memory. :)

So, here we go. . .

Worst Writing Advice:

  • The old standard “write what you know.” If I followed that advice, I would never need to research, and it would severely limit the scope of what I write (4 writers) (Many people added GOOD ADVICE to this one: Write what you are interested in or you can research!)
  • Put page stops on all pages in your manuscript. HUH?
  • Make changes to a manuscript that changed my voice.
  • For me, the worst writing advice I heard is from a successful (with very narrow, limited vision) genre writer trying to hammer a promising literary or mainstream writer into a genre slot "because genre is easier to sell." That hat is not one size fits all.
  • Write a Book in 14 Days or Less Guaranteed: Use a timer that goes off every 5 minutes and then you're done with that section of the book. It totally shatters the flow of the story and eliminates all spontaneity.
  • I have the right way that you should write. Follow my plan, and you will be a successful writer.
  • Forget being published, big houses are only interested in big names. Be happy with writing letters.
  • There is only one way to write a book.

So, do you have any more? Please share with us because NONE of us want to follow bad writing advice this year, and we need to start early in January on the right path!

Happy Writing!
Margo Dill

Read These Books and Use Them (blog)

photo by nyki_m on

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Tuesday, September 02, 2008


Establish Effective Writing Goals

Lately, it seems we've been talking a lot about goals and accountability.

One of the biggest struggles freelance writers and aspiring novelists face is establishing a daily writing schedule.

In the the workforce, an employer assigns a time that the workday begins and ends, as well as the time and length of lunch and breaks. Work-at-home writers have the luxury and curse of defining their own schedules. It's often difficult to carve out the time to write when juggling traditional employment, domestic responsibilities, and caring for children.

The best way for a writer to meet her daily word count is to set effective writing goals. It's not enough to say: "My goal is to be published by the end of the year." Goals need to be measurable, meaningful, and attainable.

Attainable. It's always great to dream big. The NYT Bestseller List. Oprah's Book Club Selection. Appearances on the Tonight Show and Good Morning, America. There is nothing wrong with dreaming. Post those images on your Vision Board.

The distance between where we are and where we want to be often seems insurmountable. Establishing effective goals can help close that perceived gap. Baby steps. Bird by bird. There are a number of ways to describe the same concept of taking manageable and doable steps toward reaching our goals.

If your dream is to become a self-supporting, full-time freelance writer and leave your day job, make an action plan to get you to your destination. Outline each individual step. Take a business course for freelance writers, so you know how to properly set up your new business. Examine your knowledge base and decide what markets you want to pursue. Join something like Premium Green--a resource for information and market listings and an organization of supportive women freelance writers on a private listserv.

Perhaps you're a freelance writer and you've always wanted to write a novel. Take the steps: take a novel writing class, come up with your premise, outline your story, do any necessary research, join a local or online critique group. Give yourself a challenge to get moving: join other aspiring novelists and participate in National Novel Writing Month. Each individual step you take brings you closer to attaining your dream.

To set attainable goals, you must be realistic about what you are able to achieve. If you set goals like winning next year's Oscar for Best Original Screenplay before you've taken your first screenwriting class, you are setting yourself up for failure. Make the goals do-able.

Measurable. It's always good to want to become a better writer and be successful in your writing career, but those aren't measurable goals. You can only gauge your progress toward your goals by using concrete and measurable results.

Define your goals in terms of time and number. "I will write X number of pages this week." "I will submit five queries by Wednesday." Don't get bogged down by over-scheduling yourself. You won't feel any sense of accomplishment if you pile too much on your goals plate. Take those cliche baby steps one-at-a-time. You have to crawl before you can run, grasshopper. It's best to have success at a few incremental goals than failure with a lot of big ones.

Meaningful. The most important point I can make is to remind you to run your own race. Set goals that are meaningful to you. It's not about keeping up with other writers. There will always be someone who has received more accolades, achieved greater financial success, or acquired more publishing credits. In the end, reaching your writing career goals should be personally satisfying to YOU.

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