Prepare to be impressed: Young Adult writer, Grammar Queen and founder of The Write-Brained Network, Ricki Schultz, shares the details of her glamorous life (speaking at RWA 2010!) and her vision for The WB. You can read the full interview this fall on The WB. (We’ll link to the full interview as soon as it goes live.)
Ricki interviews agents and blogs about conferences on Chuck Sambuchino’s Guide to Literary Agents blog. She is also a contributor to Writer’s Digest Market books, and has articles in the 2011 Guide to Literary Agents and Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market. When Ricki isn’t writing or running The WB, she is using her grammar skills to edit for other writers.
RS: That’s tough. On some level, I’ve always known—I have “books” I wrote dating back to first and second grade, and from about grades four through eight, I wrote over 40 adventure stories about this one character.
However, it never really dawned on me in high school and college that I wanted to do this. I was gung ho about theater then, and if you asked me from ages 14-22 what I wanted to do with the rest of my life, I’d have told you I wanted to be on General Hospital—perhaps with a role opposite Sonny or Nikolas—heh.
I always loved writing, and although I majored in English, it wasn’t because I wanted to be a writer—it was because I was good at writing and getting a degree was going to appease my parents (I’d have something “to fall back on”—you know, in case I didn’t become a soap star ).
It wasn’t until I became an English teacher that I even thought about writing as a career.
Not because I disliked teaching—quite the contrary—but that avenue was never something I wanted to do for 30 years. It was more something I thought I’d be good at and something related to my interests of English and drama ( both of the kid variety and of the stage variety).
Writing crossed my mind the year I taught middle school language arts, when my school sent me to a two-day conference on a literature program we’d just adopted. During one of the breaks, the instructor mentioned NaNoWriMo—the marathon of a writing competition that occurs every November (National Novel Writing Month). It sounded wonderful and horrible at the same time, and when I returned home the next day, I signed up . . . and that’s how I started writing my first novel.
RS: I kind of fell into it by accident. I originally thought I was writing chick lit.
At the first writers’ conference I ever attended, I submitted the first 50 pages of my work-in-progress (WIP) for a critique. During my meeting, the critiquers said they thought my voice sounded more YA than chick lit. I still wasn’t sure (since I’d used some four-letter words, etc.), so, I sought the advice of two other faculty members. They said it was definitely YA.
As I came away from that conference, took a look at my manuscript again, and evaluated everything I’d learned, everything clicked into place. It was like, “How did you not know this was YA before?” *doink!*
And being that I taught high school English, I kind of fell in love with that age. I’ve always loved a good coming-of-age story—and I’ve always liked the word bildungsroman—so there you go.
RS: It’s been just how I think it should be. It’s like a rite of passage.
While I started out all fresh-faced and giddy when I sent my first few queries—did the “request dance” with my husband whenever I got one, etc.—I have also experienced periods of extreme lows.
But I think that’s kind of “the rule.” Not that it wouldn’t be nice to be “the exception,” but I feel like I’m earning my “street cred” by taking this journey. (I’m also pretty sure putting street cred in quotes like that disqualifies me from getting it.)
I’ve learned just how much the details matter, and I’ve learned what it’s like to grow that “thick skin” everyone is always talking about.
I’ve learned that it’s important to be naïve at first—to get excited—to think, after each request you get, “This could be it!” Even if you’re sorely mistaken. Because if you’re not reveling in those little victories and allowing yourself to be excited, you shouldn’t be doing any of this.
I’ve also learned I’m not alone (that’s the nice thing about being the rule and not the exception). I have a tremendous support system in family and writer friends alike.
RS: Hehe—I think it’s four things: luck, drive, tenacity, and preparedness. Not necessarily in that order, and I’m not sure what percentage one needs of each. (I could list things like follow-through, support, and sleep deprivation, but they seem to fall under the umbrella of those initial four.)
The Writer’s Digest stuff was definitely all four of those things for me. I met Chuck Sambuchino at a conference last summer. During some down time, I checked to see if any of the presenters were on Facebook/Twitter/had blogs, etc., and when I came across Chuck’s Facebook page, it said we had a mutual friend. (!)
I mentioned this to him after one of his sessions, and that basically served as an icebreaker. Later on that evening, a fellow conference-goer and I had dinner with him and an agent also speaking at that conference, and we just kind of hit it off. We had similar fiction interests as well as senses of humor, and because of that, I felt comfortable enough to follow up with him after the conference ended. I did some literary agent interviews for him, he liked my work, and it all kind of grew from there.
In terms of speaking at conferences (the new thing I’m addicted to!), I have a lot of people to thank for that.
I had no idea I could do this (at this stage), but the more I talked to my husband and various writing friends, the more I realized I do have something to offer now.
And with my teaching background (which I miss), it seemed to click (another *doink*)—like a natural progression. Once I figured out what sorts of sessions I could teach, I researched conferences, put together my proposals, and got them out there—and people said yes. (Most recently RWA nationals—!)
RS: I started the IRL group first, and I did this for two reasons: I had just moved to a new state and wanted to meet people, and I was at a point with my first manuscript where I wanted feedback on it.
I started SWO (now The WB) a few months later, and that was at the suggestion of one of the SW(IRL) members, who thought it would be nice to have an online forum for the group.
With both, I hoped to connect with other writers as a way of cultivating my own, as well as others’, writing. I also saw the online group as a means to stay in touch with people I’d met at conferences.
Sometimes it’s too much to e-mail all the time—or it’s awkward if you weren’t buddy-buddy, etc. That’s why Facebook is so popular. You can stay up on what everyone’s doing in a lot of ways with social networks (which is what The WB is—like a mini Facebook, just for writers). The Grou.ps Network (which hosts The WB) offers a lot of options that way.
RS: I would absolutely *love* to see us put on a conference one day. That’s in my five-year plan. Maybe even sooner than that.
After witnessing the awesome of WriteOnCon a few weeks ago, I see what wonderful things can happen when great people put their minds together—and I’m lucky to have such talented people working with me.
RS: I don’t know if this is “advice” necessarily, but: Your hard work is worth it, even if it doesn’t always feel that way.
I have spent a lot of time building that community, and I’ve likewise had many days where I’ve asked myself, “Is anybody even looking at this?”
But I’ve learned, if you keep at something—utilizing that tenacity I mentioned earlier—it will pay off.
Even if all 80 members aren’t posting links or blogs or questions in the forum or attending the chats all the time, people are checking things out. And participation is at an all-time high for us right now.
I don’t know why that surprised me, being that I too am a “lurker” on some e-mail loops and forums. (Another *doink*!)
But I have gotten a lot of feedback lately that tells me all the effort I’m putting forward is appreciated. While I don’t need a pat on the back every two seconds, the support I’m receiving with regard to the expansion of The Write-Brained Network, has been truly overwhelming and has convinced me—more so now than perhaps ever before—that I did the right thing (leaving teaching).
BG: Thank you for sharing your thoughts with Inky Fresh Press readers!
For those of you new to Ricki’s group, The Write-Brained Network is a password-protected online writing group. The group is full of motivated writers and is growing fast. If you’d like access to forums, contests, book reviews and some of the coolest writers online, then check out The WB.