Saturday, December 11, 2010

Saturday Stories, Jordan McCollum

Today's guest for Saturday Stories is the Grammar Guru from my Mormon Mommy Writer's critique group. The Grammar Guru, also known as Jordan McCollum, is not only a great grammarian but an amazing writer!

You can get a taste of Jordan on two different blogs. You can catch a bit of her writing brilliance over at her self-titled blog Jordan McCollum or check out her thoughts on motherhood at Mamablogga.

Let's get onto business. Allow me to introduce fellow writer and friend, Jordan McCollum.

Q--Please share some background with us. Some fun facts about your family, childhood, etc.

A--Fun facts about my family: I'm the oldest of four daughters. I'm a direct descendant of Benjamin Franklin (that's my dad's name). I have a husband, one son and two daughters. The kids are four and under (husband is older than that).

Q--Please share your journey through submitting your story and winning at LDStorymakers conference.

A--Like anyone who's writing a book, I fell in love with an idea and couldn't stop myself from writing it. The story flowed and came together really fast. Editing, however, took longer. I wrote the story in less than two months, spent a month smoothing it over and incorporating characterization changes, and then sent it off to beta readers. I dutifully waited months before I looked at it again. My betas pointed out some areas where it could use more work. I adjusted those areas and entered the first five pages in a contest. I got great scores, but there were only 2 finalists per category, so I didn't progress past the first round.

I kept working and submitted to a first chapter contest. Two months later, I got some pretty horrible feedback on it. The contest judges completely disagreed on basically every point--one said, "I can tell you've done your research!" and another said, "Be sure you do your research." One said my writing was the strongest aspect of the entry, another said it was the weakest. My big take home: contests are a crapshoot, and probably not worth my time.

The feedback was still a little devastating, but I had to move on. I swore off contests and got back to work on the novel for a few more rounds of revisions. A year after I started the book, I submitted it to a publisher. Two months later, I got rejected. I asked for and received the reader feedback forms, and while they all disagreed on some things again, they did all agree on some very important deficiencies in the novel. I did three major rounds of revisions in about two months to try to address those issues, changing character actions and motivations, adjusting pacing, etc.

After much internal debate, I decided the very inexpensive first chapter contest for the LDStorymakers conference might just be worth it. With a few more rounds of feedback, I put a final polish on the chapter and sent it in. By the time the conference rolled around two months later, I was pretty much a total bundle of nerves. At the bootcamp critiquing group, I couldn't bear to bring that first chapter, I was so nervous about the contest results. I began to wonder if this book--and even focusing on the LDS market--had been a total waste of my time.

I was very surprised to win my category (you can read about the experience here: ). It was a much-needed shot in the arm--but, as I've learned in motherhood, approval and praise from others can't be our only source of validation.

Another very interesting aspect: on my feedback forms, I didn't get all perfect scores. I didn't just get applause and praise. You can be good enough to win--and be published, even--without being perfect.

Q--Please share any awards you've won and anything you've published.

A--Aside from the LDStorymakers contest, in the last few years I've won an essay contest and an honorable mention in a short story contest at the Covey Center.

Q--Knowing that you are the grammar queen, please share a little about your background--what has helped you become the grammarian you are.

A--The biggest thing that helped me become a grammarian was my parents. My mother has a degree in English and taught Language Arts at a middle school. My dad is just a perfectionist.

In college, I studied Linguistics and minored in English. Interestingly, in Linguistics, we learn that we shouldn't impose "rules" on grammars, but observe actual usage--but it seemed like Linguistics attracted the people who already knew the rules.

Q--What have you done to help improve your writing? Any advice?

A--I've read lots of books on craft, and that does help, but I think I've learned more by looking at my own work through the eyes of my critique partners. I can better find my weaknesses and look at ways to fix them. Finding good critique partners can be hard--I'm on my third group right now, and really happy, but I still maintain a few other 1-on-1 partnerships for looking at my work with fresh eyes pre- and post-critique.

Q--Which is your preferred method of writing? Computer or Notebook?

A--Computer, usually my laptop.

Q--What is the strangest thing, person, place or event that has inspired your writing? 

A--Aside from bizarre dreams that inspired far more ordinary stories, the most unusual thing that's inspired me is probably the source of half the basic premise of my current WIP. It was based on a preview for a TV series which I've never watched.

Q--Please share a story about writing with us.

A-- I think my favorite stories come from my mistakes. A couple years ago, I had a great critique partner who really urged me to dig deeper in my writing and characterization. She gave me a suggestion for my opening chapter--to add another scene. I balked at first. I thought it was already too long, the scene wouldn't add anything, etc. So I wrote to one of my good friends. Ready to mock the idea, I began a short parody/draft of the scene.

And I fell in love with it. My friend thought it was great, too. I added it to the story, and it solved several problems in clarity in the first chapter. I'm sure it contributed to doing so well in the contest!

Q--At what point did you begin considering yourself a bona-fide writer?

A--I don't really remember. Sometimes I still struggle with this, though, especially when it's been a few months since I started a new story. (Editing just doesn't cut it sometimes!)

Q--Do you have a certain process you go through when you write or do you just wait for the "must" to come out of hiding?

A--At different times, I've had a ritual or routine to get into the writing mindset (which usually involved playing minesweeper). Right now I'm just trying to keep myself from wandering away on the Internet! A few weeks ago, I had a routine where I had to read a chapter for scripture study and write 100 words before I was allowed to check my email or feed reader.

Dr. Wicked's Write or Die tool online has been a big help to keeping me focused lately, especially when I'm just trying to get the story down in a first draft. My progress has also come a lot faster than my 100-words-a-day writing was going.

Q--How do you balance your writing and your family?

A--You tell me! Sometimes I'm good at it and sometimes I'm not. Most of the time, I have little choice because I don't like neglecting my kids to sit on the computer (I do it, but I don't like it), and they fight too much when I do!

Thanks Jordan!

***Stay-tuned next week when I will be highlighting published author Josi Kilpack.

I'm still looking for volunteers for Saturday Stories! Make sure to drop a comment and let me know if you're interested.


  1. No, thank you, Jordan. I loved getting to know more about you.

  2. It's so good to put a picture to the name. Jordan in my MMW critique group and her MS she's talking about is amazing!! So glad you got to tell us all a little bit more about you!!

  3. Jordan, I really enjoyed learning about you. I too get easily distracted when I sit down to write. I love that your parody solved your story issues. That type of Happy accidents in writing always make me smile.

  4. That was great! Thanks Lisa! You've mentioned her greatness before...



Related Posts with Thumbnails