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1. How to Get Motivated to Edit

At LDStorymakers this last May, my favorite workshop I attended was by the woman who actually put on the conference this year—Melanie Jacobsen. She talked all about how she makes herself be productive in her writing no matter how busy she is. It was really great and practical, and I came away ready to apply everything she said.
I didn’t. Part of my problem is I’m not actually in the writing stage I’m in the editing stage. I found myself wanting a follow-up class about how I can make sure I am productive in editing/rewriting, which in some ways is a whole different beast than writing your first draft.
Here are the ways I’ve applied some of her advice and also figured out my own:
1.       Have and update your outline. I’m a total pantser. All the way, 100%. But, even the most hard-core pantser needs to create an outline as they are writing the rough draft, and then update that as you edit. Otherwise you get soooo lost. And have no idea what’s going on. And your story will make no sense. Basically, organization has to kick in at some point. It’s still flexible. You can still change things whenever you want. You just need some way to keep track of what you’re doing and what needs to be fixed as you edit.
2.       Schedule time to write. This is basic, but I keep forgetting it all the time. I think I’ll just want to write, it will just happen magically because I’ll feel so inspired. But most of the time, I have to schedule it and I have to make an annoying reminder to beep at me in my phone over and over before I’ll actually get myself to write/edit consistently.Because it is a thousand times easier to write today when you’ve already written yesterday. Momentum is a big deal. Plus, I’m so Type A that I’m obsessed with checking things off my list—so if I put writing on my list every single day, I’m more likely to do it so I can check it off. And then I feel so good and productive that I want to do it again tomorrow. It works.  
3.       Write a blurb of what you’re going to write tomorrow. This is the one thing from Melanie’s presentation that I’ve actually been applying. It’s so helpful. Everyday once I’m done writing, I write a paragraph or so about what I’m going to write about tomorrow. Sometimes dialogue starts coming to me and I write it down. Sometimes I end up writing a whole page. Whatever, that’s great. That means I’ve already got the inspiration going for the next day without putting the pressure on myself for it to be “perfect” like I do when I sit down and write for real. If I’m not totally rewriting a scene but just editing it a little, I write down exactly what I need to go through and edit for. Then the next day I know exactly what I’m doing and how I’m doing it, and that makes it easier to start—especially since sometimes rewriting something can seem more overwhelming that writing it in the first place.
4.       Stop worrying about it being perfect. This relates to a point I just brought up in the last one. When you’re on your third or fourth or tenth draft, but you’re writing a whole new scene that you’re adding in or basically completely redoing a scene that was there before, you’re basically back in rough draft land for that scene and that can be frustrating. Because you’ve already gone over this thing how many times now? But it’s OK. It still doesn’t have to be perfect. It’s never going to be perfect. It just needs to be written and then you can look at it later and then show it to your critique group and clean it up. For the millionth time. I used to think that just writing a novel took patience. I’ve realized that’s nothing compared to the patience it takes to edit a novel. And I’m not even close to done. Sigh. Patience.
And all those things have helped me to be much more productive lately, which is great.


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2. Trello for Writers, Part 2: Templates

If you use Trello to manage your writing projects, you might find it useful to create cards that you can use for multiple cards.

STEP 1: Create a "Templates" Board


Let's start by creating a Trello board where you can keep the cards you want to reuse. Open up Trello and click Create new board. Give the new board a title, such as "Templates," and click Create.

That's it. That was easy enough, right? You now have an empty board, waiting for your cards.

STEP 2: Create a List

Now that your board is ready, it's just sitting there empty. An empty bulletin board isn't particularly useful unless you pin something to it, and the same is true of your Trello board. Unlike the blank slate of a bulletin board, though, Trello expects you organize your cards in lists. The kinds of lists you create on your template board depend on the types of templates you want to keep there. For this demo, let's keep it simple. You can always take what you learn and get fancy later. Let's create a single list.

That's easy enough. Turns out, your board is not exactly empty. Turns out there's a box waiting for you, where you can type a name for your first list. Let's call it "Novel Cards."


Click Save (or just hit Enter) and you'll have a list, ready for your cards.

Step 3: Create Cards


Your cards can be anything you want, but because we're keeping it simple for this demo, let's go with something high level, like the following:


  • Character
  • Scene
  • Setting
  • Submission
In your new list, click Add a card, then type the name of the card, "Character," Hit Enter, and type "Scene. Continue this process until you've created all four cards.


Step 4: Add Details

The point of these cards is to contain information that you want to reuse, so we'll need to add some details. Think about the details carefully, so you add what you want and don't have to go back and make changes.

Click one of the cards, and create a comment with the outline of the details you want. Remember, that hitting enter will save the current comment and create a new one. This is good if you want each characteristic to be its own comment, where you can add more details. If you prefer a lighter card, press Ctrl+Enter to move down a line in the current comment.

For example, for the Character card, you might want details like name, age, birthday, best friend, address, appearance characteristics, personally traits, and so on. What you include and the amount of detail depends on your preferences. Click outside the card to close it, then click on the next card.

For scene, you might want a name, summary, goal, characters present, conflict, resolution, and maybe a sequel if you write using the scene and sequel method. 

Do this for each or your cards, adding the types of information you are likely to want in each project. Once you copy the card to a project (we'll do that in another lesson) you can always edit the card to add any project-specific info that you don't necessarily need in a template, such as whether your character is on Team Zombie or Team Pirate.

Next Steps

As you can see, Trello is flexible enough to adapt to your style and preferences. 

After you've created your templates, we'll copy the template cards into a project and look at how to use them to plan your story. 



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3. Trello for Writers

Lately, I've been using Trello a lot at work to track tasks and projects. As often happens when I'm using cool software, I automatically consider how it can be used to improve my writing process. Turns out that with a little creativity, Trello can easily be adapted to be anything you want.

I guess I should start at the beginning. What is Trello? Trello is a task management system, which is a fancy way of saying it's a way to manage your To Do list.

Trello is set up like a bulletin board where you pin cards with each task into a list. Typically, you might have three lists: To Do, Doing, and Done. When you start working on one of your To Dos, you move it to Doing, and when it's completed, you move it to Done.



Of course, the cool thing about cards on a bulletin board is you can make the cards whatever you want them to be, and you can arrange them however you want. That means the ways you can use it are limited only by your imagination.

Trello is very easy to use, but there are some tricks and tips that add extra power, which you can use to improve your writing processes. If it were just about making cards and moving them around on a board, this would be a short post.

In this series of posts, we'll look at ways to use Trello to manage a writing project. We'll use it as a kind of sketching tool to map out our plot, start developing characters, and build our fictional world. I'll also show you how you can use Trello as a way to organize your actual written documents, and to collaborate with others, whether it's a co-writer or your crit partners. And once you have everything written, you can, of course, use Trello to track submissions.

The first thing, of course, is getting it for yourself. That's the easy part. Go to trello.com and sign up. Trello is a web app, so you can use it anywhere you have an Internet connection. In addition to the web app, you can get free apps for iOS and Android. The mobile apps let you do almost everything you can do on the web, except for a number of customization options and some advanced management. You'll probably want to use both the web and the mobile apps.

Trello is completely free. You can create an unlimited number of boards and cards without paying a cent. There are a couple of paid versions, but you probably don't need them. The paid versions give you a few extra features, like emojis you can use as stickers on your cards and the ability to create more personalized backgrounds for your boards. The one bit of functionality that is nice in the paid version is that you can attach bigger files to your cards--the free version limits you to attachments that are 10MB or less--but unless you work with very large files, this really won't make much difference to you. Everything I will show in this series will take advantage of the standard functionality in the free version.

I recommend that you download Trello and get familiar with the basic functionality. Create a test board and some cards and lists. We'll start digging into the details in the next post.

But for now, I've finished this post, so I can move my Intro card to the Done list. Moving a card to Done always feels like a reward!



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4. Character Arc, part 2: the Lie, the Want, the Need

In a previous post, character arc was discussed. According to KM Weiland, gaining an understanding of how to write character arcs is a game-changing moment in any author’s pursuit of the craft. Weiland is the creator of the Helping Writers Become Authors blog, a deep well of information on the multiple aspects of the writing craft.

Weiland devotes over a dozen articles to character arcs, linked here. A story should begin with The Lie Your Character Believes. This lie is the foundation for the MC’s character arc. It’s his “normal” and is what is wrong in his life. Everything may be grand for the MC (or not), but festering just under the surface is The Lie.

People hate change. We hang out safe in our comfort zones and our characters are no different. They resist change just as we do. Weiland says that is okay because out of resistance comes conflict, and out of conflict comes plot. Plot is more than just a protagonist working toward an external goal. It’s about the MC’s inner goal, the thing he can’t get all because of The Lie.

A protagonist should start the story with something lacking, some way he is incomplete internally. He probably doesn’t realize it, or at best, has a vague understanding of it. He may not be affected by it or in denial of it until the inciting incident. Weiland compares it to a tooth cavity, shiny on the outside but decayed just below the surface. A writer should introduce The Lie early and show how the MC is deeply established in it through his “normal” world. In A Christmas Carol, Dickens sets Ebenezer Scrooge’s normal as one of work, work, work. There is no time for Christmas and other such folly. The poor and destitute have only themselves to blame and will get no help from him. This establishes his Lie: that a man’s worth is only measured by money. 

The next leg of the character arc is what Weiland calls What the Character Wants/What the Character Needs. It is related to The Lie.

Every plot line features a protagonist striving for a goal, something external. When creating character arcs there needs to be two, the surface goal and something that matters to the character on a deeper level. The Lie is at the heart of the secondary goal. The Thing Scrooge Wants - money and lots of it - bolsters his Lie of personal worth is measured by wealth.

At the story’s beginning, the MC doesn’t realize he has a problem. He believes chasing the Thing he Wants will bring fulfillment. Yet, pursuing it only entangles him deeper in his Lie. He can only find contentment in seeking the Thing he Needs. What he needs is the truth.

Your main character will spend the story unknowingly seeking the Thing he Needs, while in pursuit of the Thing he Wants. What he Needs is usually not physical. Often What he Needs is merely a realization, a new perspective that will change the way he views himself. He Needs the truth. Without it, he will not grow. He’ll either stagnate in the negative beliefs that’s holding him back, or he’ll digress even further. Ebenezer Scrooge Needs to see that true wealth comes not from money, but from a connection with his fellow human beings.

Characters are complex little creatures. They’ll lie to themselves, wish for things they think they need, and ignore the things they need.


(This article also posted at http://writetimeluck.blogspot.com)

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5. Character Arcs

A question came up in my writer’s group. One of my critique partners asked, would not my main character behave differently in that particular situation? That led me to wonder where the MC is along their character arc, which in turn caused me to ponder character arcs in general.

What the heck is a character arc?

For the simple answer, I turned to a favorite expert, KM Weiland. Her Helping Writers Become Authors site is excellent chalk full of great advice on many aspects of the craft. But Weiland’s stuff on character arcs was not simple at all, rather a fifteen part series on the topic. 

Weiland says character evolution is at the heart of any good story. Whether the protagonist is changing herself or the world around her, character arcs are the whole point of fiction. The journey from one spiritual/emotional/intellectual place to another is the story of humanity. The author’s primary job is to learn how those fundamental changes work in real life, then present them in fiction with enough realism to connect with readers.

There sometimes is a debate among writers as to the importance of plot vs character. Weiland says they are connected. “The character drives the plot, and the plot molds the character’s arc. They cannot work independently.”

But that is not all. Plot and character are related to theme. The three of them are symbiotic and can’t work alone. Weiland says that the character arc is the theme. 

There are three type of character arcs. In the positive change arc, the protagonist starts with varying levels personal dissatisfaction and even denial of the lack of fulfillment. As the story proceeds, she will question her beliefs about herself and the world until she finally defeats her inner demons. In flat character arcs, the MC tries to change the world around her. She is already a hero operating from high moral ground and are often a catalyst for change in others. The negative arc is similar to the positive arc except the MC changes toward a more darker side.

Writing a great character is more than just a character changing over time. Writers need to learn how to structure a character arc. Gaining an understanding of how to write character arcs is a game-changing moment in any author’s pursuit of the craft.

In the next few weeks, Weiland’s fifteen part series will be boiled down and presented here. Clicking on the above link above will get you to her site where she can explain the whole thing in full detail.


(This article also posted at http://writetimeluck.blogspot.com)

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6. When Your Writers Group Grows Up

I'm in a group that has had a sudden explosion of success. With one writer (out of five) having published a few books now, and two others recently finding agents, the need of the group is changing. We still do the standard critiques, but it has changed. There's sometimes more time pressure, or at least one writer is too busy making a deadline to dedicate much time to a traditional group in a certain week.

With these kinds of changes and under these kinds of pressures, some groups might collapse. Not us. We're changing though. We're more about support, providing feedback when needed and not necessarily in scheduled get-togethers, cheering each other on, pushing each other to write in scheduled or impromptu writing sprints, and encouraging the two members who are still trying to join the success party.

This creates some growing pains, but we've been together long enough that, so far, we've weathered the changes. It's almost a new group with the same people, and we continue to make adjustments so we can keep helping each other. It's been interesting to watch, and it will continue to be interesting as the group matures and evolves in the face of success.

For those of you who have been through similar changes in your groups, what advice do you have? How have maturing and success affected your groups?

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7. I AM

I Am

Where are you from? they ask.
Your moms from here. Your dads from there, they say.
Im from here, from today, same as everyone else, I say.
No, where are you really from? they insist.
I ask Abuelo because he knows everything,
and like me, he looks like he doesnt belong.
Where am I from?
Abuelo thinks. His eyes squint, like hes looking inside his heart for an answer.
You come from the Pampas, the open free land, he says.
Youre from the gaucho, brave and strong. From the brown river that cleanses and feeds the land that gives us the grain for our bread, the milk from the cows.
Youre from mountains so high they tickle Señor Cielos belly,
where the condor roosts his family
 and the jaguar prowls the night.
But youre also from the warm, blue oceans,
and the elegant palm trees that stretch their fingers to caress the waves.
Youre from a tiny singing frog that calls the island people home when the sun goes to sleep.
Youre from hurricanes and dark storms.
From the copper warriors that rode the ocean and worshipped the silver moon.
Youre from sea explorers, from their courage and their maps.
From two cousins that escaped war in the land that Jesus walked,
 From these new shores where they built a home for all of us.
Youre from the grandmothers who look for their grandchildren, waiting, always waiting  in a plaza, their white handkerchiefs wrapping the sorrow of their thoughts.
Youre from Pacific and Atlantic, Mediterranean and Caribbean.
You come from the sunshine that lights our path in this world and the rain that washes away our mistakes.
But Abuelo, I ask, Where am I really from?
Abuelo laughs. You want a place?
Then know that youre from here, he points to his temple,
from my dreams of freedom and books.
He points to his heart,
 Youre from here, from my love and the love of all those before us,
those who dreamed of you, free to ask questions and have a future.
Youre from all of us.
I am.
Im not from here, and Im not from there. Im from dreams and hopes,
from hard work and love. 
I am.


Yamile Saied Méndez was born and raised in Argentina, but has lived in Utah half of her life. She's a mother of five, lover of futbol, Irish dancing, and books. She's a free lance writer and a MFA candidate at the Vermont College of Fine Arts. Her musings can be read at www.yamilesmendez.com 

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8. 30 Day, 30 Stories: The Beast

Today's contributor is Miranda Snow. It is a wonderfully told harrowing tale.

                 Like the candle sitting before me, my fire is slowly fading and thus, my friend, I write to you now. The first signs of the sickness are upon me, my head burns with fever and the painful lumps are beginning to form. Given the examples of my peers, I would guess I have but a week.
                  The night before last I had a dream. I believe it was to warn me of this oncoming affliction. It started out as a beautiful dream; I was in the wood among many animals. We were happy there, enjoying the sweetness of the morning air that brought with it the smell of flowers. I laid down to rest among my animal friends but when I awoke everything was different. It was the same beautiful place, but it seemed as if darkness had fallen upon it. I looked up and realized my grandmother was standing in a clearing before me. At first I was elated to see her but as she walked towards me I realized something was very wrong.
                  The ground beneath her feet rotted and died with each passing step, her skin was a pale gray and the air around her sizzled as if she were the sun itself. Dark blood-filled lumps covered her body and as she came closer I saw that puss and blood leaked from them.
                  Her face is what brought me to tears; it was laden with pain as if all of the hardships of her life were expressed in this one, fatal, moment. As she stepped into the wood the trees around her wilted and formed hideous flesh like lumps, much like her own, and died. I wanted to run, but the strength had been sucked out of me. Instead, I was possessed with a need, a desire, to help her and found myself standing but how I came to be I do not recall.  I reached out my hand toward hers but as our fingers met I let out a scream as I too became covered in painful boils and lumps over the extent of my body. It was then that I awoke to my grandmother's screams, it was that very morning my grandmother died.
                  Despite my knowledge and experience in healing, I have never seen anything like this heartless disease before. I have tried numerous methods to rid us of this plague, from bloodletting to forced vomiting, but none has seemed to work. It is as if the earth itself were hungry for the dust of our bodies. 
                  There are many theories surrounding this affliction and where it came from. Whether it is the waters, the meat or from the angry wrath of God himself; I do not think we will ever truly know why this has happened.  
                  I write to you now my fried to record the events of this plague for those after my time, for those who seek comfort that they are not alone, and for my loved ones already fled to the countryside. Perhaps they will find you and know that I did everything in my power to rid us of this beast.
                  It started almost a year ago, in the year of our Lord 1348. All it took was a single man to kill off over half the city. He was sick upon arrival and though the local physician and I did our best he died a few days after. It was then that everyone began feeling ill, the first victim a mere babe.  I can still remember its mother's screams, I think if I could go back and save even one it would have been that babe.    
                  The first of the symptoms was a headache, then chills and a fever, which left them exhausted and prostrate. They then experienced nausea, vomiting, back pain, and soreness in their arms and legs.
                  Within a day or two, the swellings appeared. They were hard, painful, burning lumps, on their neck, under their arms, and on their inner thighs. Soon they turned black, split open and began to ooze puss and blood.  
                  After the lumps they began to bleed internally. There would be blood in their urine, blood in their stool, and blood gathering under their skin, resulting in black boils and spots all over their bodies. It was these very boils that had earned this fearsome disease its name - the Black Death.
                  When the Pope left in May many followed him. Some of my fellow plague doctors took it as a sign and ran also; whether or not they are still alive today I do not know. But perhaps they were the wise ones.  If only we had known that this disease was beyond any of man's tools, we would have all fled to the countryside then.  Perhaps if we had, my grandmother would still be alive today.  
                  When everyone left they left their dead and their dying where they lay. They were afraid and they had a right to be, but to leave their dying behind, to die alone like that…there are times I can still hear their haunting screams echoing down the now empty streets of this cursed city. Now that I myself am in their position I understand just how much more painful it is.  
                   Most would not go near the afflicted, priests stopped giving the dying their last rights, the dead were left where they lay in their beds, and even most physicians would not dare to help. That is except for us, the plague doctors, how could we just let them die? To let those children die? I suppose I am paying for that decision now. As you read this, know that this plague has brought out the worst in humanity but in a select few it has brought out the best in us. We stayed; we fought the dying battle, and while we may have lost perhaps my story, our story, will inspire others.  

                     If those traveling through are speaking the truth then more have perished than I could possibly fathom. If history has its way it will be cruel and erase the memory of our lives. So, my friend, I write within your tear sodden pages now to try and defeat history's cruel wrath. To those that read this I have died, perhaps long ago, but I plead with you now to remember our story. Remember us.

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9. 30 Days, Not Too Many Stories

The April 30 Days, 30 Stories needs your story.

We’re a children’s writers blog, but it does not have to be a children’s story; any audience level is fine. Most genres are encouraged: poetry, prose, memoir, or cartoon. Illustrators can share their work, too. 

If you were considering sharing, email me at brueluck@ymail.com to set up a day. 

Utah is blessed with some brilliant writers and April is the month to show it.

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10. 30 Days, 30 Stories - Writers Beware

The first of our annual 30 Days, 30 Stories comes from Marion Steiger. It is a humorous account of a different kind of writer’s block.

WRITERS BEWARE
Get your head in the right place before you have surgery on your hand. Prepare for your dermatologist to tell you not to use your computer after he removes a Squamous cell carcinoma planted on top of your right hand. Yes. Right hand. Of course I’m right handed. Four to seven days minimum without writing is killing me. It hurts worse than the incision site.
Another warning. Don’t wear jeans with a zipper and metal button. I unbuttoned and unzipped after a short struggle and made it to the toilet in time. (You get to figure out the bathroom stuff on your own.) What I couldn’t do was re-zip and button up. Sloppy pull-on sweat pants worked after I balanced on the edge of the tub and inched them up one leg at a time. Warm socks came after the pants, big toe first, then more pulling and pushing, all wrong handed. 
 Don’t wear a tight pull-over T-shirt for surgery. You’ll be begging for help when your head gets stuck in the neck hole and you’re tired and a touch weak in the knees. My only suggestion for bras—wear one and have someone waiting to unhook it. Same for putting it back on. Either forget it or plan to be hooked and unhooked. 
TV, even previously recorded shows, and reading and free time are huge disappointments when they’re all you’re allowed to do. Left-handed writing is unreadable. Texting worked a touch better after I remembered my stylus, but still slower than a snail. I gave up. 
Ever opened a can of Diet Coke or bottle of water with one hand? Even with the right hand? Forget it. About eating—forget that, too, after the numbing goes away. It hurts to lift a fork or spoon. Knife? Ha. No glass of wine before and after surgery. It makes for more blood. 
If I have a third surgery, I may show up totally sleep deprived. Oh, arrange your pillows before bedtime to keep your hand elevated. And avoid rolling over if you want to keep the covers from capturing your arms and legs. Untangling wakes you and anyone sleeping beside you. Maybe sleep alone and keep the peace.
Expect to wear out your left index finger when you sneak out the laptop, which writers must do, and type with your wrong hand. Also, don’t expect your computer to read your needs. It’s smart, but refuses to text. Plan to put in your own apostrophes and capital letters and clicking the space-bar twice won’t automatically add a period. 
Here are my serious suggestions. Well, mostly serious. Don’t grow up in Florida. Don’t move to Utah to ski in the snow and on the water. Don’t hike the mountains; the altitude puts you closer to the sun. Never forget the sunblock, which we never had when I sunbathed on Jacksonville Beach.
And if you ignore these warnings, never forget to visit your favorite dermatologist regularly. Thank you Dr. Hinckley for taking great care freezing, cutting, and stitching my skin problems without scolding me once for ruining my skin.
Also, thank you to my understanding husband for never fussing about my whining and complaints and helping me with all but one problem. You figure that out.

Squamous cell carcinoma of the skin is a common form of skin cancer that develops in the thin, flat squamous cells that make up the outer layer of the skin.

We still have plenty of days open. Email me at bruceluck@ymail.com if you would like to contribute a story.

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11. 1-3-5

Many of us have trouble setting priorities for our writing sessions. Maybe we're working on different projects in various stages. We might be querying one story, revising another, and writing and researching a third. Or maybe we're focused on a single project but have a number of things to do.

Those of you who are organized at all likely keep to-do lists, which you prioritize from 1 to n. If you do, chances are you've run into problems because prioritizing this way doesn't necessarily work. You feel guilty if your list is long and you only manage to skim the top. You feel like a failure. Even the act of prioritizing that list can be daunting. Your top priority might be clear, but how you choose to order the rest of your list might as well be rock-paper-scissors. By the time you've made your list, you're ready for a break.

This is where the 1-3-5 method might be useful. It's a pretty simple concept. Before you start your day, list your priorities, only instead of trying to list them 1 to n, list them in three levels. Put your most important task on top. This is the one thing you have to do, if you don't do anything else. On the next level, put three things that are less important. You can order them if you want, but you don't need to. If you have time after your number 1, you can choose any of these, as many as you're able to do. finally, list five tasks you'd like to get to if you have time.

Now, the idea isn't that you have to do all nine things. You have to tackle number one, and that might take more than one day. Lower priorities can wait. If you don't get toy our threes but you finished your one, you've had a good day.

The next day, you start again. Maybe one of your threes becomes a one, but you might have a new one.

Your one every day might be to write a new scene on the project you are writing. Your threes might involve the work you're revising, and maybe a couple queries for the finished project. Your fives, well, you get the idea.

For those of you who like to use technology to help stay organized, there are apps to help with this method. For example, 1-3-5 To-Do is available for both iOS and Android. But this method works just as well on a white board or a good old piece of notebook paper. If you keep a writing journal, you can put your list in your daily entry, if you want.

To me, the 1-3-5 method feels more natural than the 1-to-n method. I'm not a highly organized person, but I do this almost automatically. There's always that One Thing I really need to get done. After that, priority groups just kind of happen. Sometimes I can work down a list, but for most tasks, levels fit the way I work and think.

Maybe it will work for you too.

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12. 30 Days, a Few Stories

The annual April ritual, 30 Days, 30 Stories is in on the verge of disaster. Very few writers have taken up the call to contribute a story. 

The annual event, hosted by this blog, is a chance to let the local talent shine. Talent can not shine in the dark, however, and must be brought to the light.

If you were considering sharing, please email me at brueluck@ymail.com to set up a day. Again, writers are encouraged to share their talent. It does not have to be a children’s story nor must it be fiction. Most any genre is encouraged: poetry, prose, memoir, or cartoon. Illustrators can share their work, too.


Utah is blessed with some brilliant writers and April is the month to show it.

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13. 30 Days, 30 Stories

It’s happening again. April is just around the corner and thus, it’s time for 30 Days, 30 Stories.

The annual event, hosted by this blog, is a chance to let the local talent shine. Utah is blessed with some brilliant writers and for 30 days, April is the month to show it.

A call to any and all writers to contribute a story next month. Any and all genres accepted (although erotica would be frowned upon), any audience level, poetry or prose. It can be a cartoon or a memoir. Illustrators are welcome to post samples of their work. 

Sarah Southerland has turned the reins over to me this year. If you would like to contribute, either email me at bruceluck@ymail.com or leave a comment below to schedule a day to publish your material. (Please put “30 Days, 30 Stories” in the subject field.)

We’ve had some great writing show-cased in the past. We hope to see more next month.

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14. Crappy first draft

The joy of a crappy first draft. Can there be joy in such a thing? According to the Publication Coach, Daphne Gray-Grant, there is.

In fact, she says, “producing one is exactly what will turn you into a professional writer.” As writers, we may abhor that crappy first draft. How could such garbage have come from our own fingers dancing on the keyboard? 

If that is you, Gray-Grant says to ask yourself some questions. Who else is going to see the yucky thing? More than likely, no one. If so, then what does it matter? It is called a rough draft, after all. No one does anything perfect the first time, so there is no need to beat yourself up for adhering to human nature.

She list several reasons why crappy first drafts are important to writers. It will help you write faster. One of the things I love about NaNoWriMo is that November is the one month a year I can turn off my internal editor. It is a freeing experience, writing without the agony of perfecting every word and sentence. This is a first draft, a beginning, a place for you to tell yourself the story. Throw up the words on the screen and clean up later. Gray-Grant says there is a momentum that builds by piling up words, and that allows more to flow at a quick pace. 

According to Kathleen Duey, a recent WIFYR instructor, real writing takes place in the rewrite. The best writers don’t necessarily have talent as much as they have a commitment to rewriting. How do you divide up your dedicated writing time? If you could dash out a crappy first draft, that would free up more time to come up with a good second draft and an even better third. 

So, embrace that crappy first draft. It is an unavoidable necessity that is part of the process. Get that first draft out of the way in order to have something to work with. As E.B. White has said, “The best writing is in the rewriting.” 

(This article also posted at http://writetimeluck.blogspot.com)


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15. Authentic Writing

Kwame Alexander, Newbery Award Winner 2015, is one of my new favorites. His writing is poetic and fun. His personality is huge. He is a way cool dude.

I had the pleasure of listening to Kwame in New York at the SCBWI mid-winter conference, and he was inspirational.



Kwame says that to write diverse books, we need to live diverse lives. That to write authentic books, we need to live authentic lives.

I'm not saying most of us don't do that, but I think we could all do more. When Kwame talks about diversity, he may not think about the fact that I live in Idaho, in Boise, where the level of racial diversity is sparse. However, I started thinking about the diversity I do experience every day.I look at my neighborhood. While it's all white, it has different kinds of diversity: a Jewish family on the corner whose adult son is autisitc, a next door neighbor raising her meth addicted daughter's child, political activists across the street who commit to their causes, a gay couple around the corner who are raising twin girls born of a surrogate. The public schools my kids have attended include immigrants and refugees from across the world, especially Bosnia, Sudan, Uganda, and Afghanistan.

But how can we increase the diversity we experience, whatever level we have in our daily lives? I think the best way is to stretch ourselves, go beyond our comfort zones, hang out with people we normally wouldn't be in contact with. I live very close to downtown Boise, which is where most of the homeless community congregates. And yes, they are a community. They interact like a large family, with the usual squabbles and infighting, but they are fiercely loyal when someone from "outside" tries to hurt or harass them.  I help serve them meals at our church. I could do more. I could be at the shelters or even on the streets with them. I have been active in lobbying for LBGT rights in our state legislature, and through that I have met many transgender folks I never knew before. That has brought into my life some awesome people, as well as expanded the way I think about gender and the pronouns I use.

What are your comfort zones? Where could you expand yourself, expose yourself to more diversity? It doesn't have to be racial diversity, although that is a good place to start if it's not something you are routinely exposed to. It could be age diversity, or gender diversity. It could be volunteering to build homes at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation (I grew up next to the rez)--the poorest place in the U.S. It could be traveling to another country to help victims of a disaster. Or it could be simply hanging out where the poor in your own community are and talking to them like real people.

Another fantastic way to increase the diversity in your world is, of course, reading diverse books! Read about people in other countries, in other times, of other races, religions, genders, and ages. Read authentic books.

Then proceed to write diversely and authentically.

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16. WIFYR faculty, part 2

Writing is a solo affair. It’s pretty much you, your computer, and your imaginary friends.

That makes writing conferences all the more inviting to attend.  Not only can you pick up some great ideas and come out energized, you can get to hang with others, people like you, addicted to this isolated preoccupation. 

There are some great workshops in our area. LTUE finished up last month. Coming up we have Writers for Charity, the Boise SCBWI conference, and LDStorymakers. And in June there is WIFYR, the Wrting and Illustrating For Young Readers conference, WIFYR, in June

WIFYR is the brainchild of Carol Lynch Williams, a fabulous MG and YA writer. Year after year she packs the conference with incredible faculty. Last week we examined some of this year’s instructors, including Jennifer Adams, Kathi Appelt, Julie Berry, Ann Cannon and Dave Farland. This week we will look at Dean Hughes, Lisa Mangum, Natalie Whipple, and end with Carol herself. 

Dean Hughes - Advanced Novel Workshop
Dean Huges has published over a hundred books for children, young adults, and adults. He has taught English at Central Missouri State University and writing at BYU. He spent seventeen years between the two writing full time. He has written CHILDREN OF THE PROMISE and HEARTS OF THE CHILDREN.

Lisa Mangum - Writing the Middle Grade or Young Adult LDS Novel
Lisa taught the full novel class last year and was one of my favorite afternoon presenters. Lisa has had a lifetime love affair with books, volunteering in her elementary school library, working at Waldenbooks, and assisting the publishing department of Deseret Books. She has written four award winning books including THE HOURGLASS DOOR trilogy and AFTER HELLO.

Natalie Whipple - Novel Workshop
Natalie came to Utah from the Bay Area and attended BYU, earning a degree in English linguistics. She is the author of the TRANSPARENT series, HOUSE OF IVY & SORROW, the I’M A NINJA series, and FISH OUT OF WATER.

Carol Lynch Williams - Advanced Novel Workshop
When Carol is not writing or running WIFYR, she teaches writing at BYU. Another Vermont College grad, she holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Adolescents. When she is writing, she turns our great works such as THE CHOSEN ONE, GLIMPSE, MILES FROM ORDINARY, WAITING, THE HAVEN, and SIGNED, SKYE HARPER.

Classes are filling up but there are openings in most. Early Bird registration pricing has been extended to March 31, even though the site lists the old date. You can go to http://www.wifyr.com to find out more about this conference.

(This article also posted at http://writetimeluck.blogspot.com)

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17. WIFYR faculty, part 1


I don’t know how Carol Lynch Williams does it, but every year, she assembles a staff of top-notch faculty members. This year is no different. 

Nine super writers will run the week-long morning workshops. Additionally, there will be five others one day a week for the mini-sessions. The workshops are the heart of the conference. You and your new best friends spend twenty hour critiquing each others’ work and exponentially increasing your understanding of the writing craft. There are less expensive options for attending WIFYR, but every writer should do a morning workshop at least once.

This year’s faculty members will be examined in this two part post. In alphabetical order, we start with Jennifer Adams, Kathi Appelt, Julie Berry, Ann Cannon and Dave Farland. You can go to http://www.wifyr.com to find out more about this conference.

Jennifer Adams - Full Novel Workshop
Jennifer is the author of more than two dozen books, including the board books in the bestselling BABY LIT series, which introduce small children to the world of classic literature. She’s worked as a book editor and works at The King’s English, a sponsor of WIFYR. You can visit her online at: http://jennifer-adams.com .

Kathi Appelt - Picture Book and Middle Grade Novel
Kathi is the New York Times best-selling author of more than forty books for children and young adults. She is on the faculty in the Masters of Creative Writing for Children and Young Adults Program at Vermont College of Fine Arts. (Carol is a VCFA alumni and often pulls instructors from there.) She’s won awards for her THE UNDERNEATH, KEEPER, MY FATHER’S SUMMERS, and THE TRUE BLUE SCOUTS OF SUGAM MAN SWAMP.

Julie Berry - Novel Class
Another Vermont College grad, Julie is the author  of ALL THE TRUTH THAT’S IN ME and THE SCANDALOUS SISTERHOOD OF PRICKWILLOW PLACE. She’s also written THE AMARANTH ENCHANTMENT, SECONDHAND CHARM, and the SPLURCH ACADEMY FOR DISRUPTIVE BOYS. Find her online at www.julieberrybooks.com, or on Twitter at @julieberrybooks. I am honored at being able to assist for Julie this year.

Ann Cannon - Trouble Shooting Class for All Genres
I’ve assisted for Ann before and can attest to her grasp of writing, her ease of imparting that wisdom to students. She writes PB to YA and entertains Utahns with her weekly column in The Salt Lake Tribune where she also reviews children’s books. She’s published thirteen books including CHARLOTTE’S ROSE, SOPHIE’S FISH, and CAL CAMERON BY DAY, SPIDER-MAN BY NIGHT. She’s also published feature articles in local and nations magazines.

Dave Farland - Boot Camp
Dave has mentored some bog names in children’s literature. That list includes Brandon Mull, Brandon Sanderson, James Dashner, and Stephanie Meyer. He’s an award winning, international best seller with over 50 novels in print, including ON MY WAY TO PARADISE and THE RUNELORDS fantasy series.

All great authors willing to share their expertise with others. Up next week, Dean Hughes, Lisa Mangum, Natalie Whipple, and Carol Lynch Williams


(This article also posted at http://writetimeluck.blogspot.com)

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18. Travel to Idaho this Spring

There is always so much going on in the children's literature world in Utah, which is wonderful and fun. But you might look beyond your borders to see what's going on elsewhere. For example, Idaho. We're just up the road a ways. And we seem to become a fantastic venue for kid lit authors to visit. Just in the last few weeks, we've hosted Markus Zusak, Jennifer Neilsen, and next week will be Sherman Alexie plus Andrew Smith.

I'm most excited, of course, about our Boise SCBWI conference in April, which we co-sponsor with the Boise State University Dept. of Literary, Language, and Culture and the Idaho Chapter of the International Literacy Association (formerly the International Reading Association).

This year we have several amazing speakers, including Matt de la Pena, Suzanne Morgan Williams, Utah's own Kristyn Crow, agent Sean McCarthy, and a fantastic panel of local authors.

Our theme is diversity in children's literature, which is a super hot topic right now, and worthy of our attention and examination. This conference is for all  who are interested in kit lit, whether teachers, librarians, students, parents, and, yes, authors and illustrators.

You can find more information here: http://bit.ly/1ErbbGu

And to register, scroll down that page and click on the link, or here: http://idcclw.com/

Boise in the spring is a magical place, and taking the time to get away from home and focus on your craft is worth every moment.


By Neysa CM Jensen
SCBWI regional advisor for Utah/southern Idaho


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19. Historical fiction

There is sci-fi and fantasy, but I say why build a new world? Historical fiction offers our world, but in a different time. All the writer has to do is a little research.

Okay. A lot of research.

Stories are about people. There is something I find fascinating about the lives or people in this world, yet of another time. The only problem is that the term itself - historical fiction - is often met with outstretched forefingers in the sign of the cross from wild-eyed agents and editors. 

I find the genre fascinating and don’t understand it’s adverse connotation. Story is story and if you people them with intriguing characters and you place them in perilous situations, what does it matter if they are in a time long ago? Just to get around the negativity, I have to dress my stories up with a modern day time traveler in order to sneak in historical settings.

A while back, Susan Sherman contributed a post for Writer’s Digest entitled “Tackling Historical Fiction.”

Sherman starts her research in the map room of libraries. This is to get a good working knowledge of the geography of the story. The Internet can help in this regard, but the local university may offer more if the city library can’t provide.

Then she researches the big history, the major events going on at the time. That seems obvious. But it is in what she calls the “tiny history” that details emerge that bring the story to life. She asks herself a thousand questions to discover the minutiae of everyday life. She imagines arriving at one of her characters’s house and wonders, how she got there, in a cab a carriage or on horseback, if the road paved with cobblestones or is is mired in mud, if the house is lighted and if so by candle light or gas, if the place is in a good neighborhood or a slum. All these questions provides details of the time and place that give the story a sense of immediacy and reality.

Sherman warns that we must be careful not to let the research show and turn the whole thing into a history lesson info dump. The writer can’t show off the amount of research they’ve done. The trick is to provide enough description to flesh out the character and give life to the world, without burdening the reader with unnecessary details.

The nature of historical fiction, its limits of an earlier time, does allow the writer some advantages. Authors are supposed to create difficulties for their characters. In addition to the conflicts, barriers, and misunderstandings characters in any novel can face, there were no cell phones or Google to provide the quick fixes our modern day characters may employ. Using a smart phone to locate a Starbucks in a foreign part of town is much easier than sailing to the Far East when an unchartered American continent gets in your way.

Whether as a reader or a writer, there is pleasure in seeing real people dealing with day-to-day living in times long ago. 


(This article also posted at http://writetimeluck.blogspot.com)

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20. Conference season

Oh, to be in New York City right now. The annual SCBWI winter conference is in full swing and I would love to be there, too. Utah’s own James Dashner is giving the keynote on Sunday.

It is the kick off to the 2015 writing conference season. The SCBWI is the biggie, attracting a large national level

LTUE - Feb 12-14
Life, the Universe, and Everything. That about covers it. The conference moniker is borrowed from a Douglas Adams book with the same title. Running now for thirty years, LTUE bills itself as a “three-day academic symposium on all aspects of science fiction and fantasy.” Of course, it deals with “everything” so there’s bound to be something for most any writer. It meets at the Provo Marriott Hotel and Conference Center. For complete information, go to LTUE.net.

Writing for Charity - March 21
This one day event features presenters, many of whom are Utah authors, panel discussions and a chance to have your work discussed with an agent, either Ammi-Joan Paquette or Minju Chang. They have four options for registration, each with varying levels of exposure to the two agents in attendance. Oh, and your registration fees are charitable. Writers for Charity chooses different organizations to donate to with a goal of getting books into the hands of children. They’ll also meet in Provo and more information is available at WritingforCharity.blogspot.com.

LDStorymakers - May 15 & 16
Agents galore and more Utah writers presenting on various aspects of the craft. Martine Leavitt delivers the keynote. Prices vary depending on the degree of involvement you choose. This conference also happens in Provo and their site, LDStorymakers.com provides details. 

WIFYR - June 15-19
My personal favorite is Carol Lynch William’s Writing and Illustrating For Young Readers. Like the others, this conference offers agents and Utah authors, and pricing varies. This is a week-long conference and differs from the others in that writers in the morning workshops are more active participants. Listening to a lecturer tends to be a more passive role. The workshops are interactive and intense. Their purpose is to critique and improve your manuscript. The afternoons have presenters and Jennifer Nielsen is the keynote speaker. This conference meets in Sandy and the WIFYR.com website offers details.

It’s winter in NYC, balmy in SLC. I would love to do SCBWI’s conference one of these days. But why spend the money on airfare and lodging when we’ve got some excellent opportunities for writers right here in Utah.


(This article also posted at http://writetimeluck.blogspot.com)

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21. Going from an Idea to Writing

I got a new book idea a few weeks ago. My husband asked me to explain it to him the other night and it came out like, “Well I had this dream about this topic, and then I read a blog post about it, and then I thought, that could be a book…” And I realized that it didn’t sound like much a story idea at all, just a bunch of random thoughts. I tend to be the unorganized, pantsing type when it comes to writing books, so for someone to ask me about my plans when I’ve literally written nothing is to ask to hear a lot of mumbo-jumbo that makes no sense.
I have seen a pattern, though, in how I tend to go about starting a new book, taking it from a random, nonsensical idea to a book I’m actually writing. This is pretty how much how it goes:
1.       Something sparks an idea. I love this quote that explains perfectly how this happens:
“Writers and artists know that ethereal moment, when just one, fleeting something—a chill, an echo, the click of a lamp, a question—ignites the flame of an entire work that blazes suddenly into consciousness.” –Nadine C. Keels
I’ve never been able to force myself to come up with an idea, but it does help if I have in the back of my mind that I’m looking for ideas at all times. Then, I get into this mode where at any moment all kinds of random things have the potential to spark something in my head and turn into a story idea.
2.       I write down the gist of my idea right in the moment so I don’t forget it. Ideas come to me in weird, fleeting moments that sometimes feel surreal enough that they can be totally gone before I know it. I’ve gotten a few story ideas from dreams and I’m a dream-forgetter, so I have to get those on paper fast. Like I said earlier, at this point my ideas don’t make much sense, but even the act of writing often makes something stick in my mind so I don’t lose it in case it ends up being a good idea.
3.       I think about it for days, weeks, months. It just percolates. With the idea sitting in my head, everything starts to add to it. I start getting inspiration from everywhere; suddenly everything relates to the idea in my head. I might read up on it a little. I start to form characters and a storyline.
4.       I write down any scenes that come to me. I may start at what I think will be the beginning, but a lot of times it helps me if I don’t stress myself with the idea of writing a perfect first chapter right now. I just write whatever scenes are in my head, and start to get to know the characters.
5.       I throw stuff out. I start over several times usually, because once I start seeing things on the page it I realize what doesn’t work. It usually takes me a few tries to feel like I have a story I can work with. Like I said, I’m a pantser so I don’t really outline. I’ve tried, but it hurts me. But, I do feel like I need to have some sort of idea of what the story is going to be out, some kind of solid starting place before I can really plough on through the whole thing.

I’m currently in step three, and hoping to get through it faster than I have in the past. I’m still kind of steeped in editing the novel I just finished, but I think I’ll get to step four soon. In some ways, this is one of the most fun parts of writing a novel—the part where it’s all perfect and exciting in your head. I’m looking forward to it. 

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22. What is your goal?

What is your writing goal, and how does that affect your writing? What is your motivation?

In an old writing group years ago, there was a member who was very clear about his goal: to write something that made him rich. His motivation was clearly money. I often wonder if that motivation is why he never finished the project he was working on. There's nothing wrong with that goal, really. It's very rarely achieved by writers, but it is sometimes.

I don't think it would keep me going, though. I used to say my motivation, my goal, was to have a book on the shelf and maybe someday have somebody tell me it's their favorite book. But is that really a goal? First of all, the second part of that is completely out of my control, so it's not something I can purposely work toward. Publication is a more realistic goal, and it's something we're probably all working toward.

But why is that the goal, and is it really enough to keep us motivated?

These days, publication means different things. Is it enough to just want to have a book out there on the market? Maybe it is. A lot of people are publishing their own books to meet that goal, and many of us spend a lot of energy researching agents and publishers and submitting to them.

What I've come to realize is that the prospect of publishing a book with my name on it is not what keeps me writing. It's not the thing that keeps me churning away at the difficult process of writing multiple novels.

So if it's not money, and it's not recognition, what is that keeps me going? I think that's an age-old question. Why do artists make art? When you read the comments on blog posts that ask, "Why do you write?" you see several answers that people do it because they go nuts if they don't do it, or that there are characters in their heads who demand to tell their stories, and other similar responses.

If those are the reasons, what are the goals?

It seems to me that the ultimate goal is to tell the best story you can because you love the process, as painful as it can be sometimes. Publication is not really the goal. it's validation of the goal. Whether you publish traditionally and receive the feedback and validation that provides, or you self-publish and use reviews and comments as your validation, publication (hopefully) validates that you did your job well and that people like your work, and by extension, they like you.

But the real goal was to write something, to perform at the best of your ability. That's probably the reason why you spent so many hours writing, and even more hours revising, then a good chunk of time marketing. Maybe that explains all the hours you spent thinking and planning and rethinking and researching and worrying.

Writing is different than the other arts because of the amount of time it takes to write a novel. I'm only marginally familiar with other art forms, but I think a painting or a piece of music or almost any other art form short of being an architect for a cathedral that won't be finished before you die doesn't take anywhere near as long. I've noodled with a poem for weeks or a short story for months, but it's not the same thing as trying to write a good novel.

The thing is, I'm not even sure I'm right about this goal. I just know I keep plugging away, trying to get better with every effort, challenging myself to tackle increasingly more difficult stories, even though it often feels like I have a love/hate relationship with the process. I like knowing I'm doing the best work I can. I still want to publish somebody's favorite book, but I find myself being less motivated by that as I grow as a writer, If I knew I'd never be published, I'd still write.

Maybe there's not really a goal. Maybe there is no clear motivation. Maybe, like so many other artists, we're just loonies.

I'm OK with that.

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23. WIFYR attendance options

Registration is now open for the Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers conference, or WIFYR. The week-long event occurs in Sandy, UT of the week of June 15-19.

This is a super writing conference and this year there are several options to fit varying budgets and time constraints. The prices listed below are the early-bird cost which will go up after March 15.

If you’ve only got one afternoon, make it Friday, June 19. Jennifer Nielsen (The False Prince series) delivers the keynote speech. For $18, you can join the book signing, sit in on an agent/editor panel, and can attend the end-of-conference party.

You can choose the afternoon sessions package that gets you in to all the craft presentations throughout the week, including Jennifer Nielsen’s keynote. It is going for $99..

If you’ve only got one day, you could do the mini-workshop package. These four-hour sessions take place in the morning with a different topic and instructor each day. These also list at $99 and will get you in that day’s afternoon session. You can do one or you can do them all. This is the schedule:
Monday, June 15 -  Guy Francis - illustration class
Tuesday, June 16 - Emily Wing Smith - memoir writing
Wednesday, June 17 - Sarah M Eden - YA romance writing
Thursday, June 18 - Matthew J. Kirby - mystery writing
Friday, June 19 - Cheri Pray Earl - writing a series

The heart of the conference is the hands-on, interactive morning workshops. In these sessions, participants spend the week critiquing each others’ works under the guidance of a published faculty member. Most classes are $495 with the boot camp class going for $695 and the full novel class running at $995. We’ll go into more detail next week with these classes, but if you want a quick peek now follow the link.

If you compare writing conferences, you see that you really get a lot of bang for the buck with WIFYR. James Dashner is giving back to the writing community by offering registration for five writers to attend. Applications for the James Dashener Scholarship for Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers end March 9th. There is also the Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers Fellowship Award which can help defray the cost for a lucky writer.


There are several ways to take advantage of this wonderful conference. Dubbed a mini-MFA (Master of Fine Arts) for a fraction of the cost, there are options to meet many writer’s budget and schedule.

(This article also posted at http://writetimeluck.blogspot.com)

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24. The Other Novel Questions

Many people ask themselves questions before and during the writing process. Common questions are:

  • Who is the Protagonist and what does he/she want?
  • Who is the Antagonist and what does he/she want?
  • What is the setting?
  • How much time will the story cover?
These are all essential questions, but there are others you might want to consider.

Why is this story important to me? Why is it important to my readers?

 This question helps you get to the heart of why you are writing it, and will help you decide whether the story is meaningful enough for you to spend months working on it. It might also help you find that elusive theme your English teachers always went on about.

Why am I uniquely qualified to write this story?

The purpose of this question is to help motivate you by discovering how your talents and experiences can make you feel awesome enough to put in the time and effort required.

Be careful with this question, though. Although it is an important question to ask, it is also an invitation for your inner critic to step in and try to convince you that you are not qualified at all. Don't let this happen.

What is my goal?

I wrote about this last week. You should understand what you hope to accomplish.

At the same time, I find it useful to think small. A novel is a big thing, a Big Deal. I can sometimes feel overwhelmed if I think about something as big as a book. It's easier for me mentally to think small. Even if my goal is to publish, if I think of what I'm writing not as a book, but as a story or a project, it is less daunting. Instead of writing a book, I'm writing a scene. Once I get through the scene, I can write another one. Then another.

Some of the common questions about audience, book length, genre, and so on fall under this question. Mainly, though, you just need to know what you want to accomplish and what constitutes success. Think about finishing a draft before you set a goal to write a best seller.

How am I challenging myself?

Maybe finishing a first draft is a big enough challenge for you, especially if you've never done it. If you have finished a story before, maybe your challenge is to write something more difficult that pushes your abilities to bigger limits. It doesn't have to be like that, though. Maybe the challenge is a new genre, a different time period, something out of your comfort zone. Maybe it's a daily writing goal. Or maybe it's just to get the thing written.

You know yourself and your limitations, so only you can really decide what your challenge should be.

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By asking yourself these kinds of questions, or whatever questions work for you, you get to the heart of why you're writing and what you hope to accomplish. The purpose of the questions is to motivate you, to help you realize that nobody else can put these particular words together in the way you are about to, and that it's worth doing. They are to help blaze the trail you are about to walk down.


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25. Free Writing Lessons: "Shakespeare Uncovered" on PBS

I've recently finished watching the second season of Shakespeare Uncovered, a series of documentaries exploring some of Shakespeare's plays, largely from the perspective of the people who have played the parts. I'm now going back and watching the first season again. It's not just because I love Shakespeare. It's not even because the series is beautifully done.

It's because this series is one of the greatest teaching tools about how to write that I've come across in some time.

Understand, please, that I am usually not a visual person. I learn better by reading than by watching films. I don't even particular enjoy movies or TV that much. But Shakespeare Uncovered is an exception. By starting from an actor's perspective--a person who has lived a character and the story in a personal, intimate way--we get a personal, intimate look into Shakespeare's story-telling skills.

I think this is valuable, even if you don't enjoy Shakespeare. Even if he does not appeal to you personally, due to the nature of his stories or the age or language, you will benefit from this series, as a writer.

Each episode explores the nature of stories, the development of characters, in a uniquely inspiring and moving way. We explore the internal workings of characters as diverse as Macbeth and Bottom the Weaver, learning what makes them tick, and how a master writer uses their characters to tell a story that reveals something about each of us.

As one of the men who has played Macbeth, Antony Sher, says in the first episode of the first season, "Shakespeare's great gift as a writer is that he never holds people at arm's length. He never says, 'Look at this person. Isn't he disgraceful, or isn't he ridiculous?' Shakespeare always says, 'It's me. It's you. It's us.' He always does that. It is his great gift."

This is precisely what we need to do to draw an audience into our stories. And it's why, as somebody who attempts to tell stories, I find Shakespeare so inspiring.

Whether you are a Shakespeare fan or not, this series will help you learn how to do this. It shows how to develop characters and put them into settings that amplifies their personal issues.It shows how to use those characters to develop a plot that really means something and reveals something about the way we all tick. It shows how to use current cultural elements to amplify a story. It shows how to use the rhythm of language to create emotion, and how to magnify that emotion with action and movement.

If you have Comcast, season two is currently on On Demand. Maybe it's available from other providers as well. Check it out, and see if it is as great a writing lesson for you as it has been for me.

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