Sunday, December 16, 2007
Friday, December 7, 2007
Friday, November 30, 2007
And over the past 3 years that I have been participating in nanowrimo I have discovered various truths that I think are relevant to all novelists who have deadlines to meet. And so here they are, listed in reverse order of importance:
5 things I've learned from Nanowrimo
5. A novel is LONG, and the middle is super tough, whether you're writing it in 30 days or 3 years. But it can be done. YOU can write a novel.
4. No Plot is a problem -- Despite the great title of brilliantly witty Chris Baty's book, "No plot, No problem." It really is essential to know:
WHO your character is
WHAT is going to happen to him or her (generally,) and
WHY that stuff that's about to happen is a PROBLEM he or she will have to resolve.
Until you've figured that out it's best not to get too far with the writing.
3. If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. If I'd stopped doing nano in my first or second year I'd never have reached 50K in 30 days, and missed out on the joy of it. Similarly perseverance is important in any kind of novel writing. Many published authors will tell you they still have one or more of their first novel manuscripts sitting in a desk drawer somewhere, and that no one will buy those even though their other novels are now flying off the shelves. So, keep on keeping on. As Richard Bach once said: "A professional writer is an amateur who didn't quit."
2. Peer support is essential in any great writing endeavor - this is why critique groups are so essential. (Thanks to Amy, Bish, George, Joan, Jules, Wendy, Doug, and all of the Goalies for being my crit-supporters during nano and all year round!) Afterall, we writers need cheerleaders -- people to say "This is great, I can't wait to read what happens next," or "Hey only 5,ooo more words to go :); piece of cake!" And we also need them to say things like "Wait, that plot line there makes no sense, might I suggest you get the older sister arrested here?" This is especially helpful when we're drowning in that horrible noveling wasteland called "the middle. " It happens to all of us. So, if you aren't a part of a critique group, you can find both online and local Children's Writer's Crit groups by seaching google or better yet, by becoming a member at http://www.scbwi.org/.
And the number one thing that Nanowrimo teaches me again and again each year is that:
1. Writers Write Regardless. Real writers - writers who meet deadlines, who publish, who succeed at getting books out of their hearts and onto the paper, write every day whether they feel like it or not. They do NOT wait for inspiration to strike them -- if they did, they would never get out of the middle! Yes indeed, inspiration is wonderful, but there are those days when just saying "I'm going to write 500 words today" is enough; perhaps they won't be great words, or inspired words. But that is not the point. We can (and should) revise it all later. But to get to the end, to reach the finale, we must write enough to get over the next hill then stop at a place we find interesting, close the manuscript, and smile. We've made progress today. Hip, Hip, Hooray! And we will do so again tomorrow...
*Additional info. on nanowrimo: National Novel Writing Month has continued now for 9 years. Participation is free and novelists of all ages are welcome. Items purchased in the nanowrimo online gift shop, like the mug pictured above (thanks nanowrimo,) provide funds to build libraries in third world countries, and also to keep the annual writing event going strong around the world. The "young writers" program, a part of nanowrimo, also encourages kids as young as elementary school to imagine and plot and then write their own stories. For further information about the event or to purchase from the online store and support this excellent adventure, visit http://www.nanowrimo.org/ .
Monday, November 26, 2007
Thursday, November 15, 2007
So, the other day I realized it was November. And I started thinking about tax season, which will be coming up in less than 6 months. (It's morbid, I know, especially since we've just entered the Christmas shopping season. But still, it's important to plan ahead.) So, here I was, stuffing a receipt into my "take this off from your taxes" writer's expenses slot, and I had a rather horrible epiphany. I have not made much money on my writing this year.
And yet it isn't that I haven't been writing. I have actually been working very hard...
You see, I've been putting in 10 - 20 hours a week on my literary career -- which isn't too bad since I have a full-time "day job" that I have to go to first. I've been writing, revising, getting critiqued, writing and revising again, (novels, mind you). In addition to that I've been researching publishers, querying agents, attending conferences, networking with other writers, and staying active in two critique groups. I've been preparing my first two YA novel manuscripts for their journeys into the publishing world. And I've been feeling pretty excited about that -- until right now! : )
You see, during tax season the IRS will reportedly let any new business (like the business of being a freelance writer) experience a couple of years of spending more than you make. They'll let you take off some of those writing expenses with the understanding that you, like any other new business, should soon be making some money. You should soon be coming out more often in the black than in the red. (Now, I'm not a tax person, so I'd recommend consulting yours if you have questions about what writing expenses you can take as deductions, what forms to use, and other rules and details). But for me, I realized that my novel-writing is much slower than whipping out an article here and there. And that the novels that have been growning longer and longer on my computer, are not yet at the point of making me any money.
Brilliant, I know.
So, I decided I needed to re-diversify my writing. You see, I did make some money on writing shorter things last year. It's just that this year I put most of my eggs in one basket. And unfortunately that was the novel basket, where the payment comes more slowly because first you have to write the darn thing, then hope to find a publisher, do any revisions they ask for, and then wait awhile more!
And so I've learned this lesson: Unless a writer is planning to keep two day jobs forever, putting all your eggs in the novel basket when first starting off, is a bad idea. And yet, I suspect that I am not the only novelist in this boat.
So, I am posting my change-strategy here for others to consider. And I'll be diversifying my writing again, starting now.
This means that I'll be pausing every so often in my noveling to send some work out to a few places where writers can write shorter things and get paid for them. (Imagine that!)
And, in case there are others out there who need to diversify their writing as well, here is a helpful list of opportunities for us all:
- Magazines -- accept fiction and nonfiction pieces for children, teens, and adults, and their
writer's guidelines are usually available on their websites.
- Writing Contests -- often have cash prizes (in addition to the fame you'd get for winning). And some of these will take your novel excerpt or a short story.
- Compilation Books -- like Chicken Soup for the Soul, Poetry books, Devotional books or Short Story Anthologies accept short writings from various authors and group them together into a larger work. Not only do these pay you, but they get you published in a book.
- Curriculum and Standardized Tests -- educators can find opportunities online to write curriculum on almost any general school subject. And there is often a need for writers to pen the questions for the newest version of the SAT's.
Sunday, November 4, 2007
MARCO.... POLO..... Marco.... Polo....
The waters of the pool are chilly when I stand still and indecisive like this. And my throat hurts from the chlorine. I shout again,
"Marco," then I listen. And the voices whisper back from my right, and straight ahead, and behind.
I splash toward the closest voice. I'll corral them this time. But when I get there, I find only the swish of moving water and the cold, hard side of the pool. My quary has eluded me, again.
For me, revision is sometimes like this. I know where I'm trying to go, but I just can't seem to get there.
You see, revision is all about making everything in the second, third, or fourth drafts of our novels better than it was in the first. We want to make the story stronger, the action faster, the characterization deeper, the plot more logical and the writing more flawless. We can see the problems in our stories but, for me at least, there are times when I am at a loss about how to fix them.
This is where the help of other writers comes in. You see, the techniques of many exceptional writers are all on display on the shelves of your local library or Barnes and Nobles. The novels that others have written contain techniques that can help you and I catch the elusive brilliant paragraphs in our own revision pools.
There are many stories out there with strong secondary characters, action-filled plots, and great dialogue, for example. And if we read these, it can't help but make our own writing stronger.
So grab the hand (er, the book) of another writer. They are like literary life-jackets for those of us who are drowning in revision. They teach us; inspire us; they move us forward in our own stories...
So here are some of my favorite literary life-jackets. Because we all need need a little outside inspiration sometimes!
For Main and Secondary-Characters
- The Truth About Forever (YA) - Sarah Dessin
- The Lord of the Rings, the Two Towers - JRR Tolkien
- Shakespeare's Secret (MG) - Elise Broach
- Harry Potter (all 7 books) - JK Rowling (Because Dumbledore, Hermione, Ron, Snape & Malfoy are all secondary characters, and they are well-rounded and alive.)
For Plot, Timing and Action
- Alex Rider, Storm-breaker (YA) - Anthony Horowitz
- The Black Stallion Returns (MG) - Walter Farley
- Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (MG/YA) - JK Rowling
- The Extraordinary Adventures of Alfred Kropp (YA) - Rick Yancey
For Portraying Emotion effectively
- The Truth About Forever (YA) - Sarah Dessin
- The Black Stallion Returns (MG) - Walter Farley
- Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (MG/YA) - JK Rowling
- High Wizardry (YA) - Diane Duane
- Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
- The Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King - JRR Tolkien
For Great Dialogue, and Characters with difinitive voices
- Tom Sawyer (YA) - Mark Twain
- The Wizard's Dilema (MG) - Diane Duane
- And all of the Harry Potters (MG/YA) - JK Rowling
(JK Rowling makes this list because, as you may have noticed, Professor McGonagal, Professor Trelawney, Aunt Petunia and Mrs. Weasley are all middle aged, female, tertiary characters who all manage to sound completely different. That's phenomenal.)So these are some of my life-jackets. They have recently been an inspiration to me, and I would love to hear which books, in which categories (above) are an inspiration to you as well.
Thursday, October 25, 2007
Thursday, October 18, 2007
Thursday, October 4, 2007
Monday, October 1, 2007
It was a mad dash for coffee in the morning, and then off to our first breakout session. "Illustration tips, writing dialogue, picture book concepts, and getting out of the slush pile," were some of the many topics on the menu throughout the day.
Her advice to "develop a personal cannon" of children's books that you know well, love, and can reference for plot, grammar, characterization and other writing kick-starts, was taken to heart by many. So, it was not unusual to pass small groups of writers sharing their lists of favorite books (their cannon), with each other in the halls.
Monday, September 24, 2007
Monday, September 10, 2007
4.) Notebook and pen (You'll want to take notes)
5.) A watch.
You'll be changing classes, er, sessions, just like you did in High School. And you don't want to miss anything good, (like Ian Sands' presentation at the upcoming SCBWI Carolinas Conference) by being too long in line at the bathrooms!
Wednesday, September 5, 2007
The meme rules: each player lists 8 facts/habits about themselves. The rules of the game are posted at the beginning before those facts/habits are listed. At the end of the post, the player then tags 8 people and posts their names (see below), then goes to their blogs and leaves them a comment, letting them know that they have been tagged and asking them to read your blog.
So, here's my meme list -- 8 things about me:
1.) This is the Siletz Public Library, my childhood haunt. By 4th grade I'd read most of the books in the kids' section and was sifting through the dusty stacks in the adult room for something fun to read. Alas, last year they tore it down to build a new and "better" library. Luckily I got there early enough to capture this memory.
2.) My "Fav" books during that life-stage were the Black Stallion books, the Narnia books, and the hardback Nancy Drews.
3.) I can only tell North, South, East and West when the sun is rising or setting. Therefore, I have been lost in more places than most people have been :) -- and I have photos to prove it!
4.) I almost always drink chocolate milk for breakfast.
5.) As a kid I wanted to be a tight-rope walker. I practiced for months on a thin rope my dad patiently strung several feet off the ground between the wash-line poles. I could run across that thing `like pippi longstocking on a rooftop' -- Arms out...side-step, side-step, side-step... taadaa!
6.) At age 15, a friend and I were chased through a swamp by a black bear at night. Some of our clothes are still in the swamp today.
7.) I spent 6 weeks in Russia separated from my passport in the early 1990s. (Passport, Officer? Er...um, what passport?)
8.) I have flown an airplane, studied braille, babysat pet cockroaches and dyed my hair pink. (Ok - so one of these things isn't true. You decide.)
And though some of my bloggerly friends (listed to the left) have already been tagged, I will add three more:
Joan of the journey
Kari(a)n the Librarian
And one friend I'd like to tag, but can't, because she has a GREAT writer's website but no blog...
Jean "Speck" Lauzier (@ Storycrafters)
Check her out.
Meanwhile, here is a final thought for today: Living interesting lives gives writers more fodder for writing interesting books. Therefore, like the old childrens' book title says: Choose your own adventure. (And make it worth re-telling).
Monday, August 27, 2007
9. Arrive intoxiated on anything other than caffeine.
8. Arrive either without caffeine or without the financial means to acquire caffeine when necessary.
7. Say, "I prefer to use my pen name on my name-tag, since my real name's on the sex offender registry..."
6. Critique a fellow attendee's manuscript to within an inch of death, and then cry and storm out when they do the same to yours.
5. Forget your pen and ask the editor sitting next to you whether they have one that you can borrow.
4. Hand every agent you meet a pastel, perfumed resume with your lingerie-clad glamour shot attached.
3. Wait until the keynote speaker is about to share the punchline of a joke and then loudly ask those sitting around you: " What the heck is an SASE, and why don't these crazy people realize that the synonym for the word WRITER is spelled SCRIBE not SCBWI?!!!"
2. Insinuate to ANYONE that your novel is better than or even similar to J.K. Rowling's or J.M. Barrie's.
And the #1 thing NOT to do at a children's writer's conference:
1. Bring your entire novel manuscript and attempt to read it aloud to every editor that you can corner in the elevator! ("But wait, Editor Smith, don't leave! It get's even better in chapter 17! And look, I've added my own illustrations...!")
Monday, August 13, 2007
Checking out Mike Tyson's award-winning illustrations.
Now we look forward to the SCBWI Carolinas 15th Annual Conference in Durham, on September 28-30, 2007. See you there! Don't forget to bring your children's writing-related costume for Saturday night! And stop by here in early September for a list of essential items to bring to any writing conference. Hint: ""a large, stuffed dalmation" did NOT make the list. :)
Monday, August 6, 2007
Off-hand, I know that a vertical vs. horizontal take-off promotes the best trajectory for a space-jet to enter low-Earth orbit; that there are tomato plants about to blast off on the shuttle Endeavor; and that the Karman line separating Earth from space is at an altitude of 327,ooo feet.
Am I an astronaut? A scientist? An over the top Star Trek fan?
Nay, my friends, I'm a children's writer...
I know that the prison fortress in St. Petersburg, Russia is where Alexei Petrovich was imprisoned and probably died; that the Moscow subway-system contains some of the coolest stained-glass windows in the world; and that the traditional colors of a matryoshka doll are red, black and yellow. Am I a historian? An art critique? An ex-KGB spy?
Nay, my friends. Again I say, I'm a children's writer.
Whether we're writing fiction or nonfiction, the story for all writers is the same. We say `write what you know' and research what you don't. And because of this we get the fun experience of becoming slight-experts about a lot of very unusual things. Just like the librarians, who love trivia games with a passion, we writers pore over books, court documents, thesis, disertations and web pages on every topic under (and beyond) the Sun. Whether it's bionic-hands, man-eating plants, or wild cats who love to swim -- were into it.
So, perhaps we writer-researchers ought to challenge the librarians to a dual on the trivial pursuit board - at our local libraries, 7pm. (Granted, our friends, the librarians are very knowledgeable, but I think we could give them a challenge for the trivia grand prize).
And for those in other professions who might suggest that being a children's writer is easy, requires only creativity, and leads more to child-like goofiness than to mensa-like brain-growth, perhaps we should say this ... traverse your posteriors in our direction, compatriots, the battle of wits has begun. : )
Monday, July 23, 2007
So Harry must wait in the box he came in until my book is in the mail.
One book coming in, one book going out. It's only fair. (No, no, don't tell me who dies in Deathly Hallows, I want to read it for myself! Stupify!) But unlike Rowling's, my "end" is a happy window on a new beginning. The mailing phase!
The mailing phase is so exciting -- especially with the somewhat-recent glorious invention of media mail! Not long ago I had a life-altering media-mail experience. I took one of my stories to the post office stuffed in it's customary yellow manilla envelope, and addressed to the appropriate literary professional. I stood in line, feeling awkward as I always do -- scrunched between people on all sides carrying packages - birthday presents, business documents, illegal terroristic devices (Yikes, I hope not!)... And of course all of us in the line watched as each one reached the cordoned-off front spot and was called forward by the overworked, and frankly rather gruff postal ladies, the guardian's of packages sent by peasants and princes alike. The college student's package went via the cheapest way to Chile; The business man's went overnight-priority to New York. And the postal ladies enforced the rules for each mailing with absolute, unflinching precision.
Then it was my turn, and certain that the whole world was watching I stumbled forward, placed my package on the desk and half-whispered, half-sqeeked, "I need to send this to California, please. It's...just paper..." She looked at me. "Is it media?" I glanced at the package with uncertainty. Dare I claim to be media? "Well, yes, I guess it is media - you could call it that," I faltered, looking down, unsure. She squinted at me. "Well, what is it?" My knees buckled, and I leaned in closer to her -- not because I felt safer there, but because I hoped desperately that the people behind me in line would not hear me say it, and would therefore not know that I was a"wanna-be" masquerading as something I am not. "It, um, it's a...well, it's just a manuscript," I whispered, in a voice only a mouse could hear.
And suddenly everything changed...soft music began to play... she looked at me, and in her eyes I saw that look of shocked admiration one would give to Shakespeare, or Nora Roberts, or J.K. Rowling if you happened upon them in the mall; that confused but intrigued questioning stare that says "Are you an artist? Should I know you? Should I get your autograph now and hold onto if for later?" But then she remembered we were still in the post office, and with a smile she placed the package in the shipping box with two-handed care. "Why, of course, a manuscript - that's media mail," she said firmly. I nodded at her, feeling 2oo-times braver then before, and suddenly hoping that my glasses were not askew and my hair looked all right. "Great, thank you," I said with a you-ought-to-know-me smile. "I really, truly LOVE media mail."
Tuesday, July 10, 2007
The HP Dunk-O-Meter at the bottom of this page will monitor my progress as the deadline to finish draft # 3 of my current novel nears. Then off into the big world it goes -- via my new favorite service, media mail.
Stop by here on the 23rd for an introspective soliloquy on postage.
Until then, I must return to revising! I've still got 10 chapters to go!
Sunday, July 1, 2007
Tuesday, June 19, 2007
Songs in every musical style touch the hearts of people. We remember the song we called "our song" when we first fell in love; the songs we danced to with our friends; the songs that tell the stories that make us laugh and make us cry. As writers, I think we should send kudo's to the song-writers. While we novellers toil away writing lengthy stories about people in 60,000 words or more, the songwriters bring us to tears with just a few sentences and make us want to dance with a few beats of the drum. Whether they tell us about "the day the music died," about two bored kids named "Jack and Diane," or about a generation of youth who are "waiting for the world to change," songs transport us from one place (usually our cars) into a different emotional zone.
And songs can be a great help in novel-writing. For my current novel I've made a soundtrack -- 15 songs that pull me into the mood of my main character, and the emotional pull of the plot. So whether I'm trying to write about the heartbreak of a lost love or the excitement of partying way-too- late on a Summer Friday night, the feelings I need to write about are all alive on the CD full of songs from my own teenage years. So, when I'm heading home from my "day job," all I have to do is pop that little CD into the slot and let the music move me back to my story. Then when I get out of the car I'm already right there -- at the school dance, or the graveyard, or whatever emotional place my main character needs to be. So join me, music lovers. Make a soundtrack for your novel. Have some fun with you muse!
Click here to hear 2 of the songs on the "soundtrack" for my current novel. Granted - both of these songs may predate my teen years, but the lyrics are perfect for the mood of my story.
Dust in the Wind (I prefer the version by Kansas)
Invincible (by Pat Benatar - please disregard the anime cartoon which has nothing to do with my novel LOL.)
Wednesday, June 6, 2007
Saturday, May 26, 2007
- First author who gave me great advice -- Gillian Richardson (thanks!)
- First submission and first acceptance in the field of children's writing -- Appleseeds Magazine
- First "doesn't fit our needs" rejection letter -- Odyssey Magazine (but I'll submit again)
- First writing critique group -- AWOL (thanks for the tips!)
- First writer's conference -- The Writer's Digest/Book Expo America Conference. http://www.writersdigest.com/bea/ (It was a great learning experience! Though a more local SCBWI conference is likely to give you better hands-on workshops).
- First person I interviewed for nonfiction -- NASA Mars Mission Scientist Virginia Gulick (thanks for taking the time, Ginny!)
- First cool place I visited for research -- The US Space and Rocket Center (Check it out at http://www.spacecamp.com/museum/)
- First time I actually said, out loud, "Hi. I'm a children's writer and I'm supposed to meet with (so and so) here for an interview today" -- 2005, at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center -- and then I handed her my business card, another first... It was a momentous day!
- First friends who I trusted to read and critique my first novel manuscript (note: letting friends read your work is scarier than letting strangers read it) -- Karin Shank and Joan Stradling (thanks guys, for your insight!)
- First agent who invited me to send my novel synops for consideration and then said it didn't fit her agency's needs -- Nadia Cornier (no hard feelings though - I still think she's hilarious! : ) Until recently Nadia had a great blog which shared helpful and funny tips about agents and publishing. She's now compiling the advice from that blog into a book which will raise money for charity. So, when it comes out I'll post the info. here. I suspect it will be worth reading.)
Anyway, I've celebrated a lot of firsts so far, and I'm looking forward to many more to come! I encourage all new writers to keep track of your firsts. They're great mile-markers on the road to success!
Above is a photo of the first two pages of my first magazine article for kids, published in Appleseeds Magazine, 2005. Big thanks to Appleseeds' Editor Susan Buckley for taking a chance on a new writer, and special thanks to Associate Editor Annabel Wildrick who was so helpful in answering questions throughout the process! That one first has led to various other publications.
Tuesday, May 22, 2007
I mean, look at it: "Wow, I'm in trouble already!" What a great first line! It starts with dialogue; catches the attention; lets you know there's action going on; insinuates that the plot is about to kick into high gear, and quite frankly makes you wonder if this story, er blog, is really all that safe. : ) See what I mean about 12:19 am? It's the perfect time for writing!
Well, anyway, that's my writing thought for today. It's always essential to have a tempting first line. If your first line is boring, you're done.
And now my five minutes are up, so I must run. But I'll have upcoming writing events posted on here soon. Until then, happy writing, revising and publishing! Thanks for joining me here on writermorphosis.