Pitch Wars Mentor Spotlight: Tara Creel
Tara Creel is co-mentoring for the first time alongside third-time-mentor, Jenna Lehne (who mentored Tara last year!). As a 2016 mentee, Tara writes primarily in the picture book and middle grade categories. She also offers editorial services for writers, through Write On Editing, crafts book reviews for The Deseret News, and to top if off, she's an editor for Month9Books, Tantrum Division.
Jenna Lehne writes spooky YA/MG, and can be found blogging at The Midnight Society. Her books include: SECOND HAND LACE, and the fun and quirky anthology, A PIZZA MY HEART.
And now to the Q&A!
Hi, Tara, and welcome! In addition to writing YA, MG, and picture books, you’re an editor for Month9Books, you review books for The Deseret News, and you offer freelance editing services through Write On Editing. How do you balance everything? And how has your work as an editor impacted your own craft?
Hi! I’m so happy to be here, thanks for having me! For me, the key to balancing everything is a lot of organization. I love lists and schedules. I make sure not to take on too many manuscripts or book reviews to ensure I can fit them into the two to three hours a day where I get to work, so that the rest of my time can be spent with my family. I still have four young boys at home, so they are my priority, but I also think it’s important for them to see me work hard at things I am passionate about. Editing has impacted my craft immensely. I think everyone is this way, but it’s so much easier to see craft elements in other people’s work, because we are distanced from it. Seeing how other people do things well, and then catching myself correct something in a manuscript that I notice could be useful in my own writing, is all influential in developing my editorial eye and writing skills.
What are some of the most common weaknesses you see in manuscripts?
Something I see myself commenting on a lot is about redundancy. This happens in dialogue and throughout the plot, but a lot of times it occurs in the narrative. When we’re stuck in a character’s head, we need to make sure we’re not repeating their same thoughts over and over. I know it’s realistic, there are a lot of things I think about the same day after day, but it’s not fun to read about. We need to see the character’s growth through internal and external devices and keep them moving forward.
What is your best piece of editorial advice?
My best piece of editorial advice is to get editorial eyes on your manuscript. Whether you pay for it or have valued critique partners, your manuscript cannot move forward on your eyes and thoughts alone. While writing is a solitary profession sometimes, no book has made it from idea to bookshelf without anyone else giving their input. That can be tightening grammatical errors or even adding a key plot element you haven’t thought of — which is totally okay! Believe in your idea enough to make it a bit of a team effort and let others teach you and improve your writing for future projects as well. Oh, and never, ever, ever give up. But that’s more a general life lesson, not strictly editorial. :)
You were a mentee in Pitch Wars 2016, and this year you’ll be mentoring! Having been on both sides of the fence, what advice would you give the mentee hopefuls for 2017?
My advice is to just go with your gut and let it ride. Sometimes we have to do things which scare us and push us. Putting your manuscript out there, whatever the results may be, is only going to be for your good. Use this experience to move forward and into the next step in your career and you’ll go far. There will be highs and lows and so many feelings, but that’s the fun about it. Let yourself experience and feel all of these things and use them for your good.
What qualities will you and Jenna be looking for in a mentee?
My co-mentor Jenna and I are looking for someone who has put in the effort on their story. We don’t expect or want a perfect story — or what would we be useful for? — But, we expect our mentor to know basic grammatical and story structure rules. We like to fill in the muscle and fat on an already good set of bones. We want someone who wants to work hard in their career and someone who is adaptable to both our editorial suggestions and the different paths PitchWars may take them (because there are so many.) Jenna was my mentor last year and we became fast friends and CP’s, so we would love it if our future mentee will let us stick around for, you know, forever ;).
What tips do you have for writers who are new to receiving (or giving) critiques?
Publishing is a wonderful career, but you need thick skin. You also need to know your story well enough to know which critiques are organic to your story and which ones to pass on (because that’s perfectly fine to do!). You need to be able to delete lines you love, which totally sucks, but is sometimes necessary. When giving critiques, I’m a huge sandwich fan. I try to say two compliments for every critique so that my clients know how much I love the story, even though I’m working hard with them to improve it.
What part of the writing process do you find most challenging and how do you tackle it?
The further along you get in your writing career, the more you’ve picked up on elements of craft and what should be included in a story. When I start a new manuscript, sometimes I get overwhelmed with everything I know should be there and how to fit it all in in my initial thoughts and outlines. I have to step aside and realize that the most important thing about the first draft is to get the words and story down on paper. That’s it. You can’t fix a story that isn’t written. So you write that most likely terrible first draft (making notes along the way on how to better the theme, character voice, dialogue etc.) and then take one element at a time in subsequent drafts and strengthen the story afterwards.
What are you reading, or otherwise currently obsessed with?
I’m finally reading OUR DARK DUET by V.E. Schwab and I just finished FUNNY GIRL: FUNNIEST. STORIES. EVER., which is an MG compilation of short stories by authors like Shannon Hale, Libba Bray ,and Lisa Graff. So cute. And I’ve been totally obsessed with THE GENTLEMAN’S GUIDE TO VICE AND VIRTUE by Mackenzi Lee … I’m recommending it to everyone everywhere.
I’ve read bits and pieces of some of your stories and you are an incredibly talented writer! Is there anything you can tell us about one of your current WIPs?
Awww, thank you! Aside from editing a few manuscripts of my own that need some revamping, I’m writing a middle grade mystery called TALL TALES AND TREASURES about a group of kids who go underground “Goonies-style” in Yellowstone National Park in search of a treasure.
I hope you enjoyed this Q&A with Tara as much as I did! I want to thank her for taking the time to craft such thoughtful answers, as well as sharing her tips on giving/handling critique, and the importance of powering through that first draft.
If you have any burning Pitch Wars questions, please hop on over to Twitter and tweet Tara directly at @Tara_Creel. Or tweet Jenna at @raddestgirlever! You can also find them hanging out on their respective author websites at taracreelbooks.wordpress.com and theprintingprincess.blogspot.ca.
For those entering Pitch Wars 2017, Jenna and Tara's MENTOR WISHLIST IS HERE!
And to learn even more about Tara and her writing journey, don't miss Episode 88 of the 88 Cups of Tea podcast with Yin Chang. This was a special milestone episode in which eight lucky listeners were featured, and Tara was one of them. Click here to listen right now!
And, as always,