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12 X 12 July 2019 Featured Author – Lindsay Leslie

12 x 12 July 2019 Featured Author – Lindsay Leslie

12 x 12 Member Lindsay LeslieAdvice.

Oh, there is so much advice going around, and everybody knows exactly what you should do and how you should go about getting published. I wish it were that easy. I remember when I decided to begin writing for children and wondered what in the world do I do now? I tried this and that. I read this and that. I joined this group and that group. I wrote and wrote and wrote. I failed and failed and failed. That’s the thing. This writing gig is so personal and completely yours and very different from anyone else’s road to publication. Getting and taking advice is kind of at your own risk and your own success.

So what piece of advice do you listen to and cling to, and what do you let slip out of your mind and out your ears? Some advice can be harmful. Some advice can be super helpful. How are you to know? I think trial and error, really. Plus, if you’ve heard it over and over again, there is probably something to it. I wanted to talk about the advice I have heard and took to heart as a debut author. This advice may not be new and ground-breaking, but it’s what helped me most on this wicky wacky, up-and-down joyous journey to publication.

Write what you write. This reminds me of the saying, “Be you, because everyone else is taken.” The same thing goes for how you write. “Write you, because everyone else is taken.” I think we are all looking for new, for intriguing, for funnier than funny. But you can’t get that if you are mimicking other people’s work all the time. I’m not saying don’t be inspired. Oh, please, do get inspired by other people’s work, but don’t try to copy their style to the detriment of losing your voice and what you bring to the page.

Chase the story inside of you, don’t chase trends. There is a caveat to this one. You may be really passionate about something that is trendy. Then go for it! But if it isn’t coming from your heart and it isn’t your story to tell, I’d suggest steering clear. Go with what resonates with you and makes a visceral connection. What you find on the page will be filled with power. That passion will show through your words.

Read, read, read. That doesn’t mean you have to over-analyze someone’s work and morph it into your own. Again, write what you write. Just read the wonderful work out there and let it soak into your subconscious. I remember author Cate Berry saying this a year or two ago. The power of the subconscious to do the work it needs to do. Keep feeding it yummy, original works from your favorite authors and from authors you’ve never heard of before. You never know what will spark that next story idea or help you unstick a sticky point in your current ms.

This Book is Spineless by Lindsay Leslie CoverDummy out your work. When I say dummy, I don’t mean you have to draw stick figures or anything. Get out 8 pages of 8.5×11 paper, fold them in half, and write your words on the pages as you see them flowing. This way you will see how dynamic your page turns are and how well your story paces. I listened to some advice from a critique partner, Michelle Miller, who said write your story down on each page in pencil rather than using sticky notes to move the words around. This way you will become more economical with your word choice and more connected to the story.

Bust out of what you know and play. Write across genres, try writing some poetry, try a different structure, switch the point of view. Really what it comes down to is allowing yourself to play. And this is advice from Charlotte Sullivan Wild. PLAY! Our minds are a playground. Let your mind roam free and goof around and mess up. Really, let it be a child. Write all the words even if they don’t make sense and totally suck. There will be gems in anything you do.

Give yourself time. This is a big one for me, personally. I need my story to go sit in a drawer for a long time, so I’m almost a stranger to it when I pull it back out to edit. That time in the drawer is my best editing tool. I was once under deadline for an R&R and I feel I did not set expectations well and was trying to rush on the turn-around. In the end, I believe my work suffered. My manuscript needed more drawer time and my brain needed more space.

Trust your gut. Really it’s about trusting your subconscious. It is doing so much hard work all the time without you knowing. Your thinking brain can only do so much. If you have a gut twinge about something, LISTEN. Explore what you are feeling really great or uneasy about.

This is the advice I took to heart. It’s the advice that grounded me. It’s the advice that made me focus on building a solid foundation. And with a solid foundation, the rest will come in its time.

Now, my question to you is … what one piece of indispensable advice would you share with all of us 12X12ers?


Nova the Star Eater by Lindsay Leslie Cover

A diary keeper, a journal writer, a journalism major, a public relations executive—Lindsay Leslie has always operated in a world of written words. When she became a mom and began to tell her kids bedtime stories, Lindsay connected the dots to children’s literature. She likes to bring her unique outlook on life, quirky humor, and play with words to the page in picture books. Lindsay is the author of THIS BOOK IS SPINELESS and NOVA THE STAR EATER (Page Street Kids). Her third picture book, DUSK EXPLORERS (Page Street Kids), will launch in the spring of 2020. She lives with her husband, two young boys, and two fur-beasts in Austin.

Twitter: @lleslie / Facebook: / Website: / Instagram: @lindsaylesliewrite

Leslie is offering a copy of NOVA THE STAR EATER and a picture book manuscript critique to one lucky 12 x 12 member at the July check-in. Get that July draft done for your best chance to win!

This Post Has 116 Comments
  1. Thank you for all the great advise on advise! It’s true that suggestions on how to write Picture Books pours in from all around and it’s sometimes hard to separate out what is truly helpful. Congratulations on your new books!

  2. I think the advice that resonates with me the most is that we are each on our own journey and we can’t compare our path to someone else’s. This is true in publishing as well as in life. Thanks for the great post and congratulations on your success thus far!

  3. Lindsay! Thank you for continuously dispensing advice and support! I feel like this post is what it would be like to be in your critique group, which leads me to my own advice: Be in Lindsay’s critique group… ha ha – or find your own cozy, supportive, and guiding critique group and participate!

  4. This is wonderful advice, Lindsay! And I love your so very creative This Book is Spineless! I can’t wait to read your other two picture books!

  5. Thanks, Leslie, congratulations on your new book. I think the most important advice I hear and give is read, read, read current books in the genre your writing. Of course read other genres, for inspiration and great words

  6. Thank you for passing along the advice that really helped you. I especially agree with leaving a story to percolate. I also advise walking. Most of my new ideas come to me while taking a walk. I know others say the same about the shower. I don’t even have to be thinking about any writing project but while I’m out walking “poof” there it is. An idea.

  7. What great advice, thank you! I am still working on trusting my gut. There are times when I take my story down a path of helpful critiques but end up with something different than I meant to write.

  8. What wonderful advice! I was happy to see that you mentioned the subconscious mind several times. I’m looking forward to reading your books.

  9. Great advice Lindsay! I agree with all your advice! One not on your list that I followed & has helped tremendously is to join a critique group. I don’t think I would have made the strides I have in writing without my critique partners.

  10. Lindsay I am going to print out this post and paste it above my desk. A great go -to on those days when nothing seems to work, or that rejection has just arrived, or maybe just before the day begins. Sharing these thoughts makes a difference.
    My advice to myself comes from the book we shared last in 12 x 12 – Keep Going!
    Thank you for being July’s featured author!

  11. Thank you for sharing your keeper words of advice. I love your list. I guess that I would add making connections with other writers and educating yourself through workshops/conferences.

  12. I agree that it is all trial and error. We can be advised to not do certain things, but sometimes we have to do them in order to learn not to. Like wise with ignoring things we should do. We’re all learning as we go.

  13. Great advice — we probably all know it, but need to be reminded again and again. I know I do. I get bogged down and stuck writing something that doesn’t have my heart, so I need a kick in the pants to get me back on track.

  14. Thank you for the wonderful advice. It is always good to hear one’s journey is one’s own, especially in the face of all the dos and don’ts out there. Much appreciated! For me, one piece of advice that has been particularly important is the idea of persistence pays and keeping at it over time, butt-in-chair!

  15. Thanks so much for these excellent reminders! They’re always so important to read… In fact, I’m going to read this post again in a few days! I think the number one thing that has guided me on this journey has been the incredible sense of community offered to those committed to writing kidlit. What an excellent place to turn to when stressed or celebrating!

  16. Thanks, Lindsay. One piece of advice I try to follow is, “Read what you write”. This probably works better by genre. If you write romance, read romance. If you write mystery, read mystery. Picture books cover a broad category, but you could still break it down by humor, educational, rhyme, etc.

  17. Great post, Lindsey!! Thank you for giving us a peek at your writing life and the advice that helped guide you. I totally agree with leaving a manuscript to percolate, and also to write… YOU. I have never been one to write according to trends but write what my heart and my muse lead me to.

    My advice… is to garden. Most of my new ideas come to me while working in the garden… or if I need to work out a problem there is nothing like getting my hands dirty and just chilling out weeding.

  18. Put it in a drawer–great advice! I wrote a chapter book about 12 years ago and put it into a file that I didn’t look at until two years ago. With updating and tweaking, that story will be a real book this September! I needed to be ready to finish the work it needed. Letting things rest is sometimes a good idea!

  19. Thank you for a great post. And thanks for sharing your advice. My one nugget of advice is to type out some favorite texts or write them out in that 32 page dummy. That has been quite a good tutorial for me.

  20. Thanks, Lindsey! You have added to my belief not to forsake my style and love for writing by compromising or trying to write like someone else. I want to stay true to me with my stories.

  21. Hi Lindsay, thank you so much for compiling such helpful and grounding reminders centered on staying true to each of our own voices while still seeking to grow, to explore, and to push our boundaries. I loved your reminder to play – writing should be fun(!) – and that there will be gems in anything we do. Your message is highly motivating!

  22. Fabulous, down-to-earth and easy to follow advice. Thank you so much, Lindsay. To answer your question (not that I’ve been published – yet): my best piece of advice, which I try to follow myself, is to put yourself out there, be open to critiques and comment … it can hurt, it’s hard to hear sometimes – but it’s all valuable.

  23. Thanks so much for the great advice! I love what you said about PLAY. Writing is hard work and we need to make it fun, try new things, discover. One of the best things I ever did was to join a critique group (two, actually) with writers you trust and connect with. I put it off for too long, feeling I wasn’t good enough. Critique groups are invaluable in helping you grow.

  24. Love this post — it’s so inspiring and reminds me of what’s important about my writing. No doubt I will return to it again and again!

    My advice? Enjoy your writing. Life is short and if you’re not enjoying what you’re doing, then maybe you need a break to experience some of the other joys that life has to offer. Oh yeah, and take frequent breaks from writing so your body isn’t all hunched or cramped while you’re chasing down that next elusive phrasing. Your back will thank you.

  25. Of course, I always adore your advice. And your friendship, and your family and naturally, your books (though it’s perfectly fine if I don’t win this giveaway too-ha!) and our shared love for Muppets and…..
    Lovely post, my friend!

  26. Yes! I put it in the drawer and it comes back almost a stranger ! I didn’t look at that as a great editor drawer, I thought I was losing too many brain cells! I second this process!!

  27. Thank you, Lindsay, for all the great advice! Putting a manuscript away in a drawer for some ‘time out’ is at the top of my list. One line of advice I have (which applies to all aspects of life) is ‘listen to everyone, then do as you darn well please.’

  28. Slumped into a library chair reading and laughing my way through THIS BOOK IS SPINELESS, I kept thinking, “Wish I could meet this author! A spot-on sense of humor and talent!” How COOL to “meet” you! Your photo shows your zestful spirit and voice expressed in your writing.
    I’ve copied and printed your sage advice, posting the printout on my Wall of Motivation, different than my Wall of Inspiration. My favorite quote of yours for this day is “Write you because everyone else is taken.” Many times in my research of picture books, I find trendy, lackluster language and thought. Then a jewel of a book blinds me with its magical words, child’s viewpoint, and heart. When I read the soon-to-be released THE SCARECROW, I bowed to the author’s gifted writing, which was illuminated by The Fan Brothers’ amazing artwork.
    Your insightful advice so clearly translates into one of the keys to keeping the joy alive in writing. Kidlit people are a supportive, gifted group, and 12 x 12er’s are even more so by offering heartfelt critiques of our work.
    As a first-time 12 x 12 participant, I say read and critique stories posted in Discussions, especially ones with “No Comments.” I’ve discovered much about my own writing from reading others’ work and from formulating specific comments that might guide or inspire revision direction for the authors.
    Thank you, Lindsay, for your authentic voice in this post and in your books. Your clear-cut, down-in-the-dirt wisdom has boosted my determination. Can’t wait, but obviously must wait, to read your next gem!

  29. Especially love the points “chase the story inside of you” and “bust out of what you know and play” — thanks for the inspiration, Lindsay!

  30. You’ve given writers so many excellent tips in ways to approach their manuscripts. Thank you for sharing!

  31. Thank you for the excellent advice, Lindsay! I completely agree about letting a manuscript sit for a while, to give you the opportunity to view it with fresh eyes. To answer your question, I think my advice would be to let your story stay in your head a little while–to play with it there–before ever writing it down. (But, never share your idea until your first draft is complete, so your excitement doesn’t wane.)

  32. Hi Leslie! Your advice is so helpful! My Twitter intro says the same quote—be yourself, everyone else is taken! Just wanted to say how much you have inspired me to keep writing! My students loved your book and it inspired them to draw pictures of something they want to do without fear.

  33. Lindsay, what a terrific post. I love your specific pieces of advice and heartily agree with all of them.
    I would add, read your work outloud, over and over. (I read that an editor will have to read your story 10 times or more, and still like it, so the test is whether you can do the same!)

  34. I love your advice of becoming a stranger to your manuscript in order to gain perspective. My piece of advice would be to relinquish the illusion of control over the result and enjoy the process each day.

  35. Thank you for this fabulous post. It’s full of the stuff that we keep needing to remind ourselves of. I especially like Write What You Write … I’ve been struggling of late with trying to completely change a couple of my stories on the advice of a couple of people, but have felt that the altered versions just aren’t ME! SO maybe I need to stick to my guns and listen to my gut more!

  36. Thank you Lindsay for your post. It is hard to know what will resonate with who at what time and that is why I love your advice on writing what you love and being true to yourself! Both of your books look so clever (and beautiful!). Can’t wait to read them.

  37. Lindsay,

    This was the perfect advice post. I think your last point is the most important for those of us who have already committed and been doing the work: trust your gut. Be you. Loved it. Thank you for sharing!

  38. I’m impressed that all your work and using drawer time has helped you with three books that are coming out. Lots of writing and wait time and now you have the success to build on with more books. Good Luck with your next big masterpiece. Thanks for the ideas you presented, I am writing them all down.

  39. Oh, I am SO GLAD I read this this morning. I’ve been taking in the wonderful abundance of advice offered (so generously and lovingly) through 12 x 12 and at conferences, etc, most of which rings true for me. But some hasn’t felt right–and I’ve struggled with that–but you explain it with eloquence here: the need for each of us to filter through the advice and find what’s helpful for us and let go of the rest. I’ve done that with critiques for years, coming from a poetry-study-background. But I hadn’t brought that mindset to “advice” yet. Ah, this is so freeing! Thank you for reminding us to trust our guts, to follow our hearts, to allow ourselves to be ourselves. I hope I win your book. If not, you can bet I’ll be purchasing a copy (or, well, asking for it for Christmas because I keep spending too much on picture books…and hermit crab supplies (please, please don’t let these crabs die!) but that’s another story).

  40. Fantastic to see you here, Lindsay! #Newin19 authors rock. Forging our own paths, but with such great support from folks like you.

  41. This is great advice! I think accepting that the process is slow is important. It’s hard to slow down and can be discouraging when things aren’t falling into place at the rate you’d hoped. If you accept that it’s a long journey that can make it slightly more bearable.

  42. My favorite piece of advice here is to “goof around.” That is an important part of deciding what to write about and also of the writing itself.

    My advice would be – Don’t goof around too much! GAH! You’ll never get anything finished…

  43. Congratulations on finding success and thank you for the wisdom on how to find success each in our own way.

  44. Thank you Lindsay for sharing this helpful advice. I took notes to remind me. I chuckled at “Be you, write you, because everyone else is taken.” What a great way to express the need to be ourselves in our lives and our writing!

  45. Thanks so much. I especially loved the bits about writing what you write instead of mimicking others. I also need lots of drawer time because I feel I am a great revisionist, but that first draft is gonna be rough rough rough.

  46. The whole process is really trial and error, isn’t it?

    The way you say to dummy out the work made a lot of sense to me. Before, I was trying to do it with rectangular boxes on a single page. To make a paper dummy with ‘real’ pages is so much more tactile and works much better for me. Bottom line–there are many ways to dummy, so use the one that gives you the most information.

    Trust your gut–oh, oh! I have one line in my WIP that just irks. I am going to get on that one right now. Thank you so much!

  47. Thanks Lindsay for the great post. I really enjoy “This Book Is Spinless “. Congrats on your new book! The best advice I have received was to read. Read current books and across genres. It’s so simple, but valuable!

  48. Make sure to capture all your ideas— on paper, napkins, in your phone, anywhere— just don’t lose them!

    Don’t rush yourself or your writing career. Everyone is on their own path. Over and over, I hear that authors try to push towards publication before they are really ready. Build the body of work and push on!

  49. Hi everyone! I’ve read every single one of your comments. Thank you for your kind words and for sharing the advice you all take to heart. I must slap myself a few times for not mentioning critique groups and writing partners. I would be no where without the help and fresh-takes of my trusted writing buddies. Writing may seem solitary, but it is anything but. Have a great summer, y’all, and I’ll see you on FB and on the forum.

  50. Great advice, thanks Lindsay. As for my piece of advice: play like a kid. When I am playing with rough drafts or looking for ideas, I use poster paper and colored markers to brainstorm or to write a rough draft. For some reason, this tricks my brain and my internal editor stays quiet while my imagination leaps free.

  51. This post was great for the tips within tips. Like I’ve been dummying my writing (as an illustrator to also prompt me to sketch), and I loved the tip not just to dummy, but to write the story in pencil to encourage economy, connectedness. Also, I have recently had a hard time feeling like I’m playing. That’s what I *want* to do, but that’s not how I feel when I think, “I should edit so I have a shareable for my critique group.” I get concerned about style and dialogue and color and everything BUT enjoying it for itself.

  52. “Write you, because everyone else is taken,” is my favorite part of your advice. I appreciate that you share that not all advice will work for everyone and some advice even works against you. Thanks for sharing your journey!

  53. Thanks for sharing! This take on “advice” is so insightful. I like the idea of letting our minds play. Sometimes if I get too focused on all the advice my creative self gets lost in the shuffle. I also needed to hear the part about waiting and putting the manuscript away for awhile. I’ve heard that several times before but that’s a tough one for me. Now I’m thinking I should pull some old manuscripts that I gave up on and see if I have a fresh, new look and approach.

  54. These are all pieces of advice that I can endorse, and have heard during my years in kidlit. I generally cross-reference advice with things my trusted CPs tell me, with mantras of seasoned industry professionals, and with my own experience. The pieces of advice that pop up among those common threads are ones that we can take to the bank. 🙂 One thing that encourages me and that helps me cope with the pace of the industry is: “This is a marathon, not a sprint.” Anytime I try to beat myself up for having a few slow weeks, that mantra reminds me of how far I’ve come over the last few years, and how a steadfast devotion to my work will yield great things in the long run. There are so many instances, where that piece of advice applies. Itching to rush through the final edits of a MS? This is a marathon, not a sprint! Can’t wait to hear back on illustrator selections for your PB? This is a marathon, not a sprint! Waiting for replies on the pending queries, and you can’t think of anything but refreshing your inbox? This is a marathon, not a sprint! 🙂

  55. Thank you for the great post. And for your follow up comment about critique partners. They can help us decide which advice to take. And I love it when their feedback on manuscripts builds on each other so we get a more clear picture of changes the manuscript wants.

  56. This is so, so good. Even though I know it all and it makes a lot of sense, I find it essential to read / see / hear it every now and then, especially when things are rough and you’re in doubt if everything you are and everything you’re doing.

    Thank you for this.

  57. Thank you Lindsay. You asked what my advice is to 12X12ers? Mine is not to submit a manuscript when you feel in your gut (as you said) that it is not the best it can be. I know impatience is so prevalent in this field and we want our work out there, but submitting a story too early is harmful. Thanks again and congratulations on Nova the Star Eater.

  58. Good advice. Hard to follow at times—especially trusting your gut. Mine is a bit wonky. 🙂 I love that you end with a question for us. My advice is to keep challenging yourself. With each new project or season or year, set a goal to improve your craft. Then figure out what you need to do to get there. Usually for me this means more classes or more critiques or more queries. If it makes my stomach ache, it’s the right goal. I believe it was Will Smith who said, “The best things live on the other side of terror.” So maybe not terror but definitely discomfort.

  59. Thank you so much for this post. I truly believe in writing stories that resonate. Along that line, I would add that freeing yourself from writing for publication is liberating. It allows me to focus on writing for story. I’ve accepted that most of what I write won’t be shared with the world and I’m okay with that. That doesn’t mean I give up on quality. I still strive to make the best story I can without as much pressure.

  60. Thanks for this post, Lindsay. You are right about so many different bits of advice flying at a rookie author. I wish you well on your writing journey!

  61. Lindsay, Thank you for sharing your advice. Several comments rang so true for me. I have recently participated in a wonderful critique group. Excellent writers shared their comments, and I dutifully revised including each one. Oh my, I am now sorting back through to regain the spirited rhythm of the story I wrote. Consider all and use the best has become my motto. Again, thank you for your helpful suggestions.

  62. Thank you Lindsay! All of your suggestions have rung true for me. The piece of advice that changed things for me was to remember it’s about the journey and not the destination. Love what your are doing on your way to your goal, because that’s really all you have. Changed my attitude about so many things and lowered my anxiety. Thanks for a terrific post!

  63. Leslie –
    I just sat down to begin to edit my new draft of a manuscript for the first time when I read your post.

    I dread having to get rid of my hours of research “darlings”. So, I just took the eight pieces of paper you recommended and folded them in half and from memory, I will try to write my story again to see if I can get the word count down but still keep the story’s heart…Thank you!
    Shelly Pollock

  64. Thanks so much, Lindsay. I’ve resisted doing dummies, but you’ve convinced me of their value. Good luck with your latest book.

  65. All gems of advice, Lindsay. Thank you. I love coming back to a story with a freed mind so the story is fresh.

  66. I really loved this post – so much I took notes?! Not sure how your alchemy worked, but your ideas prompted me to complete two manus and I’ve already run one thru my critique group to raves! Then went back and revised some old manus. Very happy and Woo Hooing! Thank you!

  67. “Read, read, read. That doesn’t mean you have to over-analyze someone’s work…. Just read the wonderful work out there and let it soak into your subconscious.”
    Thank you so much for this, Lindsay. I try to read several picture books a week, and I want to really sit down with them all as mentor texts–type out the text by hand, note the page turns, the story arc, the word choices, what makes the characters real–to really analyze what makes them work. *But I don’t have time!* Thank you for validating that it can be enough, sometimes, to just enjoy them and absorb them.

  68. You’ve offered lots of great tips.
    I think “trust your gut” is often one of the harder ones to follow.

  69. I love the idea of writing the manuscript text in pencil rather than using sticky notes when making a book dummy. I also truly appreciate the encouragement.

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