Monday, September 21, 2009

Writing Merit Badges

I'm not an Eagle Scout. I made it as far as First Class in Troop 174, but I quit just before my second Survival Camp Out because I wasn't up to chopping the head off a live chicken and then eating that chicken for dinner. (Yeah, we were hardcore. Luckily for me, the first Survival Camp Out was vegetarian, and all I had to do was cook an egg in an orange peel.)

And, while I admit that I don't get to use my semaphore as much as I would like, the boy scout program taught me at least one thing that is essential when you're setting out to accomplish a big goal like publishing a novel--You have to set smaller goals and celebrate your accomplishments along the way.

So, I'm offering up a list of writing merit badges to celebrate the fact that--whether our books have been published or not--we have all accomplished some important things that we shouldn't overlook:

Point of View Merit Badge: You get this one if you've written in more than one point of view and can actually tell them apart.

Showing and Telling Merit Badge: You get this if you can tell the difference between showing and telling and have done both in your writing.

Punctuation Merit Badge: You get this if you have correctly used a period, question mark, exclamation mark, semi-colon, colon, and the variety of dashes in your stories, even if you ended up taking them out again.

Good Grammar Merit Badge: You get this if you can properly diagram a sentence.

Short Story Merit Badge: Have you finished a short story? I mean, really finished it? You get this merit badge! Have you submitted it to Genre Wars? If so, you get the first ever:

Genre Wars Merit Badge

Which might also get you the Short Story Publishing Merit Badge (Flash Fiction accepted).

Outline Merit Badge: For anyone who has completed an outline

Plot diagram Merit Badge: For anyone who has completed a plot diagram

Good Critique Merit Badge: You get this if you have offered up your work and critiqued a fellow writer's work in a constructive way.

First Novel Draft Merit Badge: Yes, even if it's not done, getting to the end of a first draft is a big accomplishment!

Query Letter Merit Badge: For finishing that dreaded query letter

Synopsis Merit Badge: For finishing that even more-dreaded synopsis

Public Reading Merit Badge: If you've read some of your work in front of an audience. Bonus points if there was a microphone involved.

(Are you ready for some more challenging ones?)

First Completed Novel Merit Badge

Second Completed Novel Merit Badge

Third Completed--Oh, you get the point.

Publishing Merit Badge (Self or Non-self accepted as long as you can offer a book for me to read.)

Acquiring an Agent Merit Badge

Acquiring a Publishing Contract Merit Badge

Getting your first Fan Mail Merit Badge

Seeing Someone Reading Your Book On the Subway Merit Badge

Obviously not everyone will try to earn all of these merit badges. We have to pick and choose our steps based on our own personal goals. But, let's celebrate the completion of those steps and not forget that we are constantly making progress as long as we push ourselves to become better writers.

So, which merit badges should be listed here that aren't already? Which merit badges have you earned? Or, perhaps more importantly: Do you take the time to celebrate your goals, even if they aren't your ultimate goal?


  1. Merit badges, how fun! I like how you start small and work up to the subway. Such a small moment, but how amazing would that be!?

    I should receive many of these badges! I was surprised that I qualify for a bunch of them. :)

    A few I think you could add:

    (1) Correct Genre Merit Badge (I've noticed that many writers, even though their work may not fit neatly into a category, have a hard time figuring out what they should call their work when they are soliciting for an agent/publication)

    (2) Description Merit Badge (when you've mastered description to the point that it doesn't hinder your writing, but enhances it. This is always so much easier said than done, and takes writing to another level when mastered)

    I think it's important to celebrate our successes along the way. Everybody is on a different path, and we even have different destinations. But I think we can all safely say we'd like our writing to constantly improve, no matter where we're at.

    I wouldn't cut the chicken's head off, either, Davin. I'd do the egg in an orange peel, though. :)

  2. Woot! I've earned a few in the short story column. How about a Jack of All Trades Badge: You get this if you've written and/or been published in various genres.

  3. Thanks for such an upbeat Monday morning post. I’m surprised at how many I can stitch to my banner. I think the next one I’m likely to add is the Genre Wars Merit Badge, but I have until December first, right? I’ve never written one, so I’m glad that winning the Genre Wars is not a prerequisite.

    I can’t wait to see someone on the subway reading my novel!

  4. You people are killing me! Outlines. Merit Badges! Public Speaking!

    Kidding. Great post, and I have quite a few of those merit badges . . . but Lady Glamis, did you have to mention genres??? Every single time I think I've placed my work of brilliance into the precise genre . . . Poof . . . I read a blog post that suggests it might not be the correct genre. I swear, my book suffers from Multiple Genre Personality Disorder!


  5. What a happy post! I'm not very good at celebrating my goals along the way, and this is a great reminder to do so.
    I'm all over the punctuation and grammar badges since I'm an editor in both my jobs.
    Now I want to work on the publishing badge, I think in flash!

  6. I've earned a bunch, although I'm still waiting for the coveted "Acquiring An Agent Merit Badge."

    Since there are no subways within several hundred miles of where I live (rural America), how about "Seeing Your Book on the Dashboard of Someone
    Else's Truck Merit Badge" or "Seeing Your Book on the Shelf on Your Local Library Merit Badge"?

    Now if someone would just design the actual badges so we badge earners could download them and print them out or copy and paste to our blogs. . . .

  7. I made an awful Brownie when I was little (I wanted to join the Boy Scouts - they had more fun!) but I love the idea of Writing Merit Badges. Probably because I could pick up a few all at once and it gave me a thrill of accomplishment! :)

  8. Thanks, Davin! I agree with Bridget - this is a wonderful way to start the week. Michelle is right, too - it IS important to celebrate our successes while along our path to publication. Helps to keep us, well, on the path. ;-)

    Even though my novel is way too long at the moment, I'm happy that I've earned a few of these already... such as POV, punctuation, good grammar, outline, good critique, first novel (draft & completed!), query letter, and synopsis. Oh, and I guess I've earned a short story merit badge, too - I once sold an erotic story to a CD-ROM company, and I posted a more family-friendly one on my blog yesterday! Yahoo! I feel good already... now I'm off to finish another critique. :-)

  9. This Webelos Den Leader loved your post :) Very fun.

    And, I don't think our troop does the live chicken least I hope they don't. Ick.

  10. If these applied to poetry too I'd be able to qualify for some of them but since they don't, I don't think I am eligible at the moment.


    Great post!

    Glam, I like those ideas.

    As for celebrating the small goals, I've done that mostly when I finished my world-building (or re-building) and began the re-write of a project.

  11. I like the progression, and I can't wait until I earn the final merit badge. Every time I see someone reading on a plane (I travel by air more frequently than subway) I always think how cool it would be if it was a book I had written.

    We should also have a re-write/revision merit badge. We could have sub-badges in there:
    - Cut out unnecessary backstory badge
    - Combined multiple incidental characters badge
    - Spackled gaping plot holes badge

  12. Michelle, Those are great merit badges, and it doesn't surprise me that you've earned several. I don't recommend the egg and orange peel recipe. Well, it was fun to do, but orange-flavored eggs aren't that good, at least in my opinion.

    Rebecca, Yes, the Jack of All Trades is a nice one!

    jbchicoine, Thanks! I thought this was a good Monday topic. Yes, the contest deadline isn't until December 1, so you've still got several weeks!

    Scott, I may be wrong on this since I don't have that much experience with it, but I think YOU get to decide on your genre. Just choose where you'd like to see your book in the store.

    Annie, I hope this serves as a good reminder that you do have plenty of things to celebrate. I know. I've read your story!

    Becky, the dashboard and book store merit badges are a great idea! Sorry I slacked on the actual designing of the merit badges. Maybe that's a good new project for me to work on--I've been having much too much free time lately. ;P

    Ann, that was the point. We should all keep in mind what we have accomplished!

    Laura, wow you've got a bunch of these. Congratulations! And, good point that celebrating these accomplishments also KEEPS us on the path we are moving on.

    Tess, about half of our scout troop fathers were retired Marines or Police Officers. They ran a right ship!

    Novice Writer Anonymous-Well, you can definitely celebrate the poetry accomplishments!!!

    Rick, Ugh...I shouldn't have forgotten the revision merit badge. Especially since I'm in the middle of one at the moment. Here's my scenario: person in public transportation is reading my book and I am sitting across from them. They start crying because my book is so good, and they, momentarily believe that they have fallen in love with me. The page to the author photo, then look up to see me there in the seat looking humble and intelligent and warm and cool and friendly and handsome. Then, they start tapping the shoulders of everyone around them telling people how wonderful I am.

  13. You're so right that we do so much better when we achieve smaller goals on our way to hte big ones. Just reading your list made me feel better already.

    Someone reading my book on a subway: wow! I want that one.

    What about a having-written-a-scene-in-which-a-chicken-is-beheaded merit badge? (I have one of those. It's not a gross scene, just an early memory of my superhero grandmother.)

  14. Yat-Yee, I actually do have a scene in my book dealing with this. The book is called Rooster! :) It's really funny that you should bring this up. I had this happen with another writer who asked a large group if anyone had written a drowning dog story. I had. We joked about creating an anthology of drowning dog stories..and then someone mentioned that they liked stories where dogs DIDN'T drown. As a result, we got an anthology called Dogs: Wet & Dry that is represented by an agent and will hopefully find a publisher soon!

  15. Davin: This is a lovely post. Thanks for reminding us that we all have accomplishments, no matter where on the journey we are.

    I second Rick's suggestion for revision merit badges. I have a slew of those. You've got, what? 46 of them?

    When I'm riding the bus, I try to see what books everyone is reading and then try to figure out which of those readers would buy a copy of my book. I also have the fantasy of being recognized by my author photo. "You're..." they'll say, unable to finish, overcome by awe at my awesome coolness and undeniable charismatic genius. And then I get off the bus and go to my day job.

  16. Davin: you're kidding!!! I hope to see Wet and Dry out soon. And I don't think a collection about beheaded chicken would have as much appeal. ;)

  17. Well, in that case then, I get the POV, show and tell; I realized I do have the short story one (but I put the story on my blog so it's not eligible for the genre wars).

    As for the real work of novel writing, there's first draft and outline.

    Oh, and public reading for poetry.

  18. Those are great! So, can I get one for completing my children's book manuscript and the agent query letter? I'm going to have to work on my First Draft one. I have a lot of beginnings, some beginnings and middles, but no endings. I hope this doesn't speak of my life as a whole... starting, but not finishing.

    Cool post!

  19. One of these days I'm going to have one of those sashes with all of these badges all over it (think the fat little kid on UP) and I will make ridiculous claims about the art of writing while pointing at my badge as if that makes everything I say absolute and incontrovertible FACT.

    Love the blog! Just found you guys today via Mr. Bransford's little website.

  20. Kenny D: "ridiculous claims?" It's all true. All of it. Thanks for stopping by the blog!

  21. Scott, I do the same thing. Whenever I see anyone reading, I wonder if they might be a part of my audience as well.

    Petula, You most definitely can. I'd guess that most of us have a lot of starts. It's one thing if not finishing is some sort of mental block. But, it's another if you are just exploring ideas that don't pan out.

    Kenny D, Well, thanks for stopping by, and I'm happy to hear you like us! That kid in Up was pretty cool.

  22. Ah, this is exactly what I needed to read today. I had a long conversation with a friend last night about this--well, sort of. In the end though, we decided that I was looking beyond everything to THE END. You know, the having a published book end. And there's so much in between that I was missing.

    All these merit badges.

    So thanks!

  23. What I liked best about your post is that it's "writer-centric", meaning that accomplishing most of these tasks lies in the hands of the writer.

    It's not all about publication.

    It's about those little things we can do, everyday, to improve our craft.

    Great Post.....wish we really had little badges......


  24. I want badges! Little LitLab Merit Badges. After this great idea, Davin, you need someone to design buttons that folks can capture after describing how they earned them. We could have these little sidebars with badges on our blogs. Sometimes we need to be reminded how much we accomplish, how far we've come while climbing that mountain. Thanks for a smile today.

  25. I'm with Elana--I get all caught up in the *next* badge (and the biggie badges at the end) and forget about the ones I've already earned--and for which I once felt very proud for accomplishing. Thanks for the uplifting post!

  26. Fun post. Somehow it is affirming, even if it is a bit silly.

    How about this one:

    Been rejected 100 times merit badge. It might seem like backwards thinking, but from what I've heard there are people who have had success by embracing high levels of failure. I once heard an author say that only one person in 1,000 gets accepted, but he would take those odds because he can take getting rejected 999 times.

    Would that I were more like that.

  27. ElanaJ, I don't think you're alone in this. I often feel the same way, so this post was as much as reminder to myself as it was to anyone else.

    Shelley, Yes, that's what's most important, right? We should feel good about the things that are in our control. So much other stuff is random--but still admirable.

    Tricia--okay! Keep your blog-eyes open for a good button designer! It would be nice to have them, I agree! :)

    MG Higgins, you're welcome, and you're not along, obviously. Let's celebrate what we have done and be proud of it.

    Dave, that is indeed an excellent one. Yes, the 100 rejections merit badge definitely belongs on the list!!

  28. I just realized -- with two boys in Scouts for years -- that there is no creative writing Boy Scout merit badge! How unbelievable is that?


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