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1. Banned Books Week: September 21-27, 2014

Next week is the American Library Association's Banned Books Week, so it's time again to celebrate the freedom to read and the free flow of ideas.

Let's start with a list. In 2013, based on 307 challenges reported by the Office for Intellectual Freedom, the following are the ten most frequently banned or challenged books of 2013:

  1. Captain Underpants (series), by Dav Pilkey
    Offensive language, unsuited for age group, violence
  2. The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison
    Offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, violence
  3. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
    Drugs/alcohol/smoking, offensive language, racism, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
  4. Fifty Shade of Grey, by E.L. James
    Nudity, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
  5. The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins
    Religious viewpoint, unsuited to age group
  6. A Bad Boy Can Be Good for a Girl, by Tanya Lee Stone
    Drugs/alcohol/smoking, nudity, offensive language, sexually explicit
  7. Looking for Alaska, by John Green
    Drugs/alcohol/smoking, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
  8. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky
    Drugs/alcohol/smoking, homosexuality, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
  9. Bless Me Ultima, by Rudolfo Anaya
    Occult/Satanism, offensive language. religious viewpoint, sexually explicit
  10. Bone (series) by Jeff Smith
    Political viewpoint, racism, violence

I always find the reasons interesting, mostly because they are so subjective.

Let's look at The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, which I read for the first time this past weekend so it's fresh in my mind. I absolutely loved the book, and intend to buy it for my 16-year-old son, a reluctant reader who I think will enjoy the book and benefit from it. This book is an interesting one to look at because it made the news in April of this year when it was banned by an Idaho school district. When a student in that district who loved the book passed out copies to others, an indignant mother called the police on her. Just this week, they decided to allow the book in those schools, but with conditions.

Yes, there is a lot of drinking in this book. However, that drinking leads invariably to the strongest possible negative consequences, including death. As a result of the bad things that happen to people who drink too much, the main character promises his mother he will not drink, ever. The way I see it, this is an important positive lesson, and using it as a reason to keep the book away from kids is counter-intuitive.

Offensive language
Based on descriptions I had read of this book, I expected it to be laced with frequent, strong profanity. What I found was a few swears, mostly mild, and none of them gratuitous. There was nothing you won't hear more frequently on a sixth-grade playground anywhere in Utah than in this book. In fact, there were probably more instances of words like shoot and friggin' than there were of actual curse words. Of course, there are people who object to any swearing in a book. If you are sensitive to swearing, you might object to this book. I personally didn't find it excessive, but what is excessive and what is offensive is really a matter of personal sensitivities.

Yes, there is racism in this book. Of course there is racism in this book. It's a book about racism. A boy from an Indian reservation transfers to a white school outside the reservation because he believes he'll improve his future by doing so. He deals with racism from white kids for being different and, even more, from tribal members who object to his "turning" white. He is also forced to confronts his own racial assumptions and prejudices toward both groups, and the discovery that it is often strongest from his own cultural group. Without racism, this book doesn't exist, and doesn't carry much of its powerful punch. The book does not promote racism. It confronts it. It examines it. It exposes it. It tears it apart. It is honest about it. The lessons about racism are positive. But, like many other books that deal with racism, exposing racism so it can be torn down results in charges that it is a racist book. This is one of many ironies in the world of challenged books.

Sexually Explicit
The book is about a 14-year-old boy who thinks and acts like a 14-year-old boy. Like all 14-year-old boys, whether we want to admit or not, Junior is dealing with the changes his body and mind are going through, and these struggles are told from a point-of-view that is deeply internal and honest. As a result, there is a certain amount of sexual content. Explicit is in the eye of the beholder, of course, No sex acts are actually depicted. Masturbation is mentioned a couple times but never shown, even off-screen. One erection, described by a term kids often use, at an inappropriate time--a fear of all teenage boys, because it happens, sometimes for no reason at all--causes the main character great embarrassment, regret, and horror. If you prefer characters in books to be completely sexless, there are a half dozen or so places in this book that might bother you a lot, and a few other places where he notices physical attributes of girls that you might find inappropriate, although they are also very real and normal. This is another area where boys can be made aware of how they think and how inappropriate those thoughts can be by watching a character in a book think them.

Unsuited to Age Group
This is a catch-all that is almost always used when a parent challenges a book. It is nearly meaningless because of its overuse. Sometimes, there's a good case for this. Fifty Shades of Grey contains material and themes that are most likely inappropriate for middle school classes. Sixth graders might not fully understand the significance of Animal Farm or The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. More often than not, though, this category is unfair to kids and underestimates their knowledge and ability to think for themselves. This criteria for challenging a book should almost never be applied to a high school class, especially an AP lit class. In general, I think educators do a good job of choosing books that will interest and challenge readers of a particular age. In the case of this book, I don't think it's inappropriate for strong readers 8th grade and up. In fact, I believe it would be very appropriate for my 16-year-old, who I think would learn valuable lessons about people, including himself, from these pages.

Which brings me to my next point, maybe the biggest point I have to make when discussing this issue. I firmly believe that a parent has the right to use his or her own judgement in deciding whether a book is appropriate for a particular child. Nobody knows the child's sensitivities better than a parent. And, some parents may choose to shield their kids from certain challenging realities. It doesn't matter whether I disagree. A parent's rights when it comes to his or her own child are nearly absolute, given up only in cases of abuse and other criminal activity that hurts or otherwise affects the child. And while I think parents should trust the school's judgement a little more, I also believe that if a parent believes a child should not read a certain book in class, that's the parent's call.

Where I have a problem is when a parent extends the decision to take that book from their own child's hand to all children in a class, school, or district, or to all patrons of a library. Parents have a responsibility toward their own children, and should allow other parents to exercise that same responsibility for their own kids. By attempting to take books out of the hands of other people's kids, they are denying other parents the right to choose what their own children read, the same right the book challengers demand for themselves.

Sherman Alexie, the author of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, reflected my feelings almost perfectly when he said, "I certainly respect any parent's right to determine what their child is reading. They don't get to determine it for a whole school or community, but that said, I was the only Democrat in my high school. I went to high school with a bunch of extremely conservative Republican Christians (in other words, the kind of people who generally seek to ban my book) and let me tell you--those conservative Christian kids and I were exactly alike. I was publicly inappropriate, they were privately inappropriate. All this stuff that is controversial is stuff that kids are dealing with on a daily basis."

These are things our kids know about. They are part of their lives. Protecting them from their own reality only reinforces the feeling adolescents have that there's something wrong with them, that their issues are theirs alone and should be kept hidden as shameful secrets. It also teaches adolescents, young people who are increasingly aware of real-world issues, that books are dishonest and irrelevant.

    0 Comments on Banned Books Week: September 21-27, 2014 as of 9/17/2014 10:06:00 AM
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    2. Reading reading reading

    I cannot deny that I’ve been doing a lot more reading than writing these past few weeks. I feel kind of guilty when that happens, and I have to remind myself how much my excessive reading is necessary to my writing. It’s how I got into writing in the first place, which I think is true for almost everyone. These days I can count it as research—bonus points if it actually is a nonfiction, informational book about the time period my historical fiction novel is taking place in (I did read one of those last week! Ten points for Gryffindor!). I struggle with research. I feel guilty unless I’m writing. I take comfort in the fact that the author of The Book Thief, Markus Zusak,felt similarly and his historical fiction novel is light-years beyond I could dream of mine being. I try to give myself permission to just read. I would be nowhere without the countless examples of other authors. They constantly inspire me to keep going.
    On that note, you’ve possibly seen going around Facebook a chain-letter type post where you list the top books that have influenced your life and then tag other people to do the same. My aunt tagged me in one of them recently, and I eventually decided to play along. When I think along the lines of what books have “influenced my life,” I automatically think of what books have most influenced my writing. It’s really hard to pick, so I changed it to favorite authors as well as books (I’m a cheater). It brought back great childhood memories of when I first start scribbling down my own stories, shamelessly plagiarizing every tactic I saw my favorite authors using (You’ll have to forgive my taste back then. I was about 8 or 9 probably). So, I thought I would share that list with you and invite you to make your own if you haven’t.
    Disclaimer: This is potentially one of the most gut-wrenching, awful decisions ever. It’s like picking favorite children. To quote Ever After (best movie): “I could no sooner pick a favorite star in the heavens.” So, here they are, in no particular order whatsoever, and I’ve definitely left some great ones out:

    • 1.       Jane Austen- all 7 of em
    • 2.       J.K. Rowling- Harry Potter
    • 3.       Virginia Woolf- “A Room of Her Own,” Mrs. Dalloway
    • 4.       Marilynne Robinson- The Gilead, Home
    • 5.       Barbara Kingsolver- Poisonwood Bible
    • 6.       L.M. Montgomery- actually more for the Emily of New Moon books than Anne of Green Gables. Sorry everyone.
    • 7.       Tamora Pierce- the Lioness Quartet, the two Trickster books, etc.
    • 8.       Ann M Martin- Babysitter’s Club. I have to put it. She got me writing when I was a little kid.
    • 9.       Deb Caletti- Honey, Baby, Sweetheart got me through my teenage years!
    • 10.   Louisa May Alcott- Little Women, and also the biography about her and her dad that’s not at all written by her, but it’s awesome!

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    3. Socializing

    Writing is a lonely endeavor. Even with family and friends encouraging and inquiring about it, the writer sits and works in isolation. There is social media. One can tweet, pin, or post on Facebook. I’ve killed hours or precious writing time doing just that. But the act of writing remains solitary.

    This week there was a social event for writers. Carol Lynch Williams and Ann Dee Ellis organized it. They may have had help from Queen Bee, Kyra Leigh. All of them host the blog, Throwing Up Words (http://throwingupwords.wordpress.com). Carol and company have down this before and a few weeks ago they posted to their blog they were doing it again.

    We met at Olive Garden in Provo, about twenty of us or so. We ate, socialized, laughed, ate some more, read from our writing, and shared successes. Some of us read from our novels in progress, a few shared screenplays. Some brought spouses, some spouses were writers, too. It was a pleasant evening.

    The best thing though, was the camaraderie. There were actual writers, sitting in that room, across from you and to your sides. Other people who struggle, have doubts, and continue to write away. There’s a bunch of us out there. We work in isolation, but it’s so good to know we’re not alone.

    Thanks Carol, Ann Dee, and Kyra. Let’s do that again, sometime.

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

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    4. Indie vs. Self: What's the Difference

    By Julie Daines

    There's a lot of confusion out there about indie publishers and self-publishers. Let just get straight to the point. Here is this:

    From Judith Brileson AuthorU.org (June 2014)

    Don’t Confuse Independent Publishing with Self-Publishing

    Indie, Independent and Small Press Publishing Are So, Soooooo Different from Self-Publishing, Vanity Presses and Pay-to-Publish “Publishing”  
    I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a zillion times: yes, dear author-to-be (and those already published), there is a difference between self-publishing, vanity presses, pay-to-publish, a small press, and independent publishing. Don’t mix them up. Don’t get confused.
    She quotes Wikipedia: 
    The majority of small presses are independent or indie publishers, thismeans that they are separate from the handful of major publishing house conglomerates, such as Random House or Hachette. The term ‘indie publisher’ should not be confused with ‘self-publisher’, which is where the author publishes only their own books.
      Defined this way, these presses make up approximately half of the market share of the book publishing industry.
    This is a great article if you're confused about any of these terms. Go and check it out.
    Unfortunately, I feel the term independent publishing (Indie) is going the same way so many words have already gone--Verbicide. It is used so frequently in the wrong sense that it's original meaning is becoming lost.

    0 Comments on Indie vs. Self: What's the Difference as of 9/8/2014 10:34:00 AM
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    5. Moral weakness

    Too much writing advice is too much. Yet, knowing that doesn’t slow me down from seeking it.

    Lately, I’ve been re-examining John Truby’s The Anatomy of Story: 22 Steps To Becoming A Master Storyteller. The guy looks at stories from every possible angle. Among other things, he discusses seven steps of structure that every story needs as it develops over time, in its growth from beginning to end. They are:
    -Weakness and need
    -New equilibrium

    These are not something external, such as the three-act structure imposed from the outside. They exist within the story. Truby calls them the nucleus, the DNA of the story. They are based on human action because they are the same steps people must work through to solve problems. 

    The step I’m currently paused at is an aspect of weakness and need. At the start of a story, the MC must have one or more weaknesses that holds him back from reaching his goal. It should be something so profound, it is ruining his life. This flaw forces a need for the character to overcome the weakness and change or grow in some way. This is a psychological flaw that is hurting no one but the hero. I get that.

    Truby says most stories incorporate that. What elevates a so-so story to an excellent one, is a moral flaw. A moral weakness hurts not only the protagonist, but others around him, as well. As an example, he cites the story The Verdict in which the MC, Frank, has a psychological need to overcome his drinking problem and regain his self-respect. His moral flaw is that he uses people for money. In one instance,Frank lies his way into a funeral of strangers, upsetting the family, trying to round up more business. 

    Okay, I get that, too. And because Truby acknowledges its importance in stories, I give it credence, as well. But how about for an MG character? Do they need to be morally flawed for the story to pop? The stakes are lighter for MG and that’s the nature of it. Experts say there are certain lines not to cross and having the hero be morally corrupt seems like one of them.

    But this is John Truby. He really, really knows his stuff. Shouldn’t I listen to him? If Tiger Woods offered tips on your golf swing, seems to me it would be wise not to argue about it. Still, a moral flaw doesn’t feel right for that age level of story. 

    Looking back over other stories, I can’t think of any MG characters with moral flaws. There must be a few. They have psychological weaknesses to overcome. The strong-willed behavior of Kyra in Carol Lynch Williams’ The Chosen One brings the anger of the prophet down upon her family. That seems like a character strength rather than a flaw and it does raise the stakes for her. Same with Sal in Sharon Creech’s Walk Two Moons. Her denial creates angst with her father, but again, rather than immorality, it seems it’s more a matter of innocence. Both of these works are YA. It could be a YA vs. MG thing. What works for older audiences doesn’t necessarily work for all readers. 

    Julie Daines posted here a few weeks ago about listening to your gut, your writer’s intuition. That inner voice is telling me to question Truby’s on this. Truby or not Truby, that is the question.

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

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    6. Diversity Defined

    Diversity is a really hot topic in the Kid Lit world these days. At the recent SCBWI International Conference in LA, hundreds of people attended a panel about diversity and a chat afterward. You hear the word being tossed around all over the place, and sometimes I wonder if everyone is talking about the same thing.

    Blame it on my days in high school debate, but I always like to define our terms when talking about something that could mean many things. When I think about children's books/literature, I think of diversity coming in three ways.

    First, there is a diversity in authors and illustrators. From what I've seen, the Kid Litverse is full of a diverse cross section of authors and illustrators. Dozens of various ethnic and racial origins are represented. Just off the top of my head I can think of Asian, Hispanic, African-American, Native American artists in every age level of our industry. I know many LBGTQ authors and illustrators, men and women. I know some of almost any religious affiliation. Sure it could always be a higher number, which is I think where the discussion starts. It's not that publishers don't want diverse authors and illustrators, nor do they discriminate. Talent is talent. It seems to me the challenge is encouraging, mentoring, and training more people, letting them know their voices are necessary and welcomed. There are many ways we could do this--scholarships for under-represented groups to attend conferences/schools/events, mentoring programs, and contests. SCBWI is on the forefront of this, offering a wide variety of opportunities for everyone, and some special programs for under-represented groups.

    Second, there's diversity in the publishing industry. As we all know, the publishing industry does not always embrace change very fast. But there are publishers out there--Lee and Low comes immediately to mind--that particularly focus on diversity in their publishing program. Plus, with the rise of self-publishing, access is there for anyone of any age, gender, ethnic or religious background. The discussion continues into the blogosphere, where there are numerous blogs and other resources where diversity in literature is the frequent topic.

    Third, we're talking about diversity in the characters portrayed in children's books, and this is where the discussion can get heated, but I also find it the most interesting. White, middle-class characters have dominated children's literature for decades. But, as we all know, kids come from all sorts of diverse backgrounds, skin colors, religions, genders, sexual identities, and economic status. In the last few decades, we've seen a few more characters of color, particularly in picture books, which is terrific. And in the last decade, we seem to be getting more ethnic backgrounds represented in novels, too. I think we need more LBGTQ characters.  I'd love to see more characters with metal illness, handicaps, autism spectrum syndrome, ADHD. More characters from around the world. Not just Americans with different colors of skin, but different cultures from all over.

    Here's where I think things get challenging when we talk about diversity. Who's writing or illustrating these characters? Some people feel strongly that the author/illustrator come from an authentic place in presenting these characters, by which they mean, I think, that only a Native American can authentically write or illustrate a Native American character, for example. I would love to see more people writing characters from their authentic experience, but I also don't think we need to limit ourselves.

    Writers and illustrators have always portrayed characters outside of our own experience. We write about historical figures, when we never lived in that time period. We write fantasy, when we've never fought a dragon. It is possible to write characters that are outside your own personal realm of experience. That's why research is so useful and important. I am currently writing a book set during WWII in which one of the main characters is a Japanese American girl. I am Caucasian, so how can my character be authentic? Lots and lots of research. I have another WIP that includes a Native American character. I may not be Native American, but I grew up in a town just outside one of the nation's poorest reservations, and I had daily interactions with Indians both on and off the reservation, so I think I have a fairly authentic grasp of their struggles and issues, even though they are not my personal struggles and issues. I am a female, but one of my latest books is in first person from the point of view of a teenage boy. Again, I live with my teenage son, so I have a pretty good picture of his male voice and viewpoint. I have written gay characters, lesbian characters, and more. Because, basically, I think there are some universalities about our human experience that allow us to imagine and put ourselves into the shoes of people who might be different from ourselves by focusing on what unites us.

    To me, this stance isn't a cop out. It's an acknowledgement that an African-American author, for example, is in the best position to authentically portray an African-American character. However, if that author wants to write about a white, middle-class character, I have no problem with that. If he is a good writer, he should be able to manage it. And I think if I do my homework, I can manage to portray an African-American character if I want to. And I want to portray diverse characters. I hope we all do.

    I'd love to hear what others think about this.

    For more information about diversity in children's literature, check out the We Need Diverse Books campaign, which just recently announced its inception as a 501-c3 non-profit organization.

    And look for our Boise SCBWI conference next April, where we plan to focus on diversity in children's literature.

    by Neysa CM Jensen
    Boise, Idaho

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    7. Looking Back or Moving Forward?

    Anybody who has written for a while has likely faced this predicament: Do you go back and fix up an older project, or do you move forward?

    Here's my situation. I'm revising my current WIP and, although struggling a bit with the middle (what else is new, right?) I am getting close to finishing. I am also in the early stages of planning my next story, and am getting excited about it. But now I've also received feedback suggesting that my previous story might be more marketable if I increase its length by about 30 to 40 percent.

    I've been focused on my current WIP for quite a while and really want to finish it. I probably need to let it sit for a little while, but not until I finish the current round of revisions. Normally, I start my next project during this resting period, and my brain has been working on it while I go about my daily business, and I'm looking forward to finding out what it has come up with.

    So, do I want to go back and work on an older project again when my brain is trying to move ahead with something new? I really like the story, but do I like it enough? It's not doing anybody any good just sitting there, but now, thanks to this feedback, I no longer think of it as finished. I don't know how I could add that much, but I do know my brain is working on it back in some dusty corner where I don't know what's going on, and that eventually something will present itself to me.

    I also have an even older manuscript collecting dust. Every once in a while, I read about some agent who might be interested in something like it, so I shoot off a query. But, I've moved on. I don't even think about that one anymore unless something brings it to my attention.

    And, I have several more ideas for new stories percolating. I've even played around with some of them.

    It comes down to that old question writers often face. When do you let go and move on?

    I realize that it's kind of a good problem to have. Better to have too many ideas than to have only one that you work to death. It's a luxury to have multiple stories at tugging at me. But at the same time, it affects my focus on any one story. I can work on two things at once if I'm writing one and revising the other, but add one more and the balance is shattered.

    And with a month-long vacation looming on a very near horizon, with no definite plans beyond writing, decisions must be made or I risk paralysis that could keep me from getting anything done.

    I guess it beats writer's block.

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    8. Huzzah, huzzah

    "How about a story? Spin us a yarn,” says Grams. And so Sharon Creech does in Walk Two Moons. And it’s a thumpingly good one, as the main character Sal would say.

    Writers should read, we’ve been told that. They should be literary carnivores. According to author Roz Morris, “reading—the good and the bad—inspires you. It develops your palate for all the tricks that writers have invented over the years. …there’s no substitute for discovering for yourself how a writer pulls off a trick. Then that becomes part of your experience.”

    Elmore Leonard says writers should decide which books they like and study that author’s style. Then, you should take that author’s book or story and “break it down to see how he put it together.” The thought was echoed by Jennifer Nielsen at a recent 2014 Professional Writer’s Series event at the Pleasant Grove Library. 

    Fine, I’ll do that. Since I want to write like Carol Lynch Williams, Matthew J. Kirby, and Sharon Creech, placing Walk Two Moons under the microscope is a good place to start.

    What works so well in this story? Quite simply, everything. 

    Creech has plot, two of them in fact. Sal is traveling with her grandparents to Lewiston, Idaho to learn why her mother abandoned the family and went there. Along the way, she shares a story of her friend, Phoebe, whose mother also has disappeared. Sal admits that uncovering Phoebe’s story was a lot like discovering her own. The road trip to find her mother becomes a journey of acceptance and understanding for Sal.

    Plot involves characters. Creech delivers not just Phoebe and Sal, but a multitude of others, each richly drawn, each deserving of a book of their own. Sal’s mother had her reasons for leaving. Phoebe’s mother is multi-layered with a lot of stuff going on. Other memorable people include Sal’s father, Mrs. Cadaver, Mrs. Partridge, Ben, and Grams and Gramps. Creech seamlessly weaves all of them into the story without any sense of it being clunky. It’s most definitely a character-driven plot. But there is so much else going on in this book.

    The title is from the Indian saying about not judging another man until you walk two moons in their moccasins and the metaphor is used effectively. Creech layers numerous subplots. Inspirational, secret messages, including the one about the moccasins are left on Phoebe’s doorstep and come into play throughout the story. Phoebe’s wild imagination conjures up lunatics and ax murderers. There is a kiss just waiting to happen. Creech twists and turns the story arc over upon itself revealing the multiple layers. She wraps up every loose thread and ties it with a bow. And she keeps you guessing, keeps you hoping, even though she drops hints along the way. It is masterfully told. 

    To better understand the craft, I revisited this story over the summer. I read it as a writer but still managed to get choked up about it, even after sharing it multiple times with students when I was teaching.

    Huzzah! Huzzah! The story works on so many levels.

    What works have inspired you?

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

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    9. Antagonists

    The next project is a rescue. This flat story that has sat in writer purgatory for a few years, waiting for motivation to do something about it, longing for the inspiration to remedy it.

    I’m there ready to take it on, its finding the cure that is the problem. Thus, it is back to basics. Characters, stories are about characters. Check. Plot, protagonist wants something, antagonist keeps him from it. Wait, that could be it. I don’t have an antagonist, at least not in the traditional sense. 

    John Truby (The Anatomy of Story: 22 to Becoming a Master Storyteller) is my go-to guy at a time like this. He says the hero, of course, is important. So, too, is the opponent along with the rest of the cast. Truby focuses not on the main character in isolation, but looks at all the characters as part of an interconnected web. Writer’s Digest this week had a quote by mystery writer Elmore Leonard who says “the main thing I set out to do is tell the point of view of the antagonist as much as the good guy.”

    This is all well and fine, but what if your my story doesn’t have a

    Hmm. Good points, but I still don’t have a traditional antagonist. There is no detective and no criminal to pursue, my Harry Potter has no Voldemort. My protagonist has only his own shortcomings to trip over. Truby doesn’t directly address such a thing. He does illustrate his points with story examples from movies. The likes of A Streetcar Named Desire, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, andTootsie, don’t have traditional antagonists. 

    Another valuable resource, KM Weiland, discusses an “antagonistic force” and says, “nowhere is it written that your story has to have a bad guy (or girl, as the case may be).” She says there are several non-human antagonists. They include:
    -Animal - King Kong and Jaws comes to mind
    -Self - the age old existential quandary of man as his own worst enemy in which the MC must overcome his own problems before he can deal with the external one
    -Setting - survival stories in which the hero goes up against nature. Cast Away is a good example. Weather related tales are an offshoot of this.
    -Society - dystopia is the extreme example here, but simpler themes in which the protagonist faces poverty or inequalities of some sort
    -Supernatural forces - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button would be of this sort.
    -Technology - a lot of sci-fi uses overarching technological forces as antagonists.

    Non-human antagonists can be anything that throws obstacles in the way or the hero getting what he or she wants. They could be a thing, an idea, or any inanimate object that the protagonist must overcome to reach the end goal of the story. As long as you have conflict (to have a story is a must) you have an antagonist.

    Weiland says one mustn’t limit themselves to just one antagonist and most stories will use a combination of several.

    Think Sharnado.

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

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    10. Writing Is Like Chili

    I love chili.

    I love eating chili. I love smelling chili. I love cooking chili. I know a thing or two about chili, I like to think. In fact, I know enough about chili to know better than to call myself an expert, because there's always going to be somebody else who is a bigger expert, even if only in his or her own mind. That's because we chili-heads are passionate about our chili and can argue for hours about which of the many styles of chili is the only kind of chili that counts. It's kind of like pizza or barbecue that way.

    Or like writing. A lot like writing, actually.

    When I make chili, it's a long-term, complicate procedure. Why? Because I throw in a ton of ingredients to try to achieve a complex, interesting flavor. Chili doesn't have to be complicated. There are very easy recipes that satisfy a chili craving just fine.

    But when I cook it, it's an event. If not for the consumers, then for the chef. Because I never make it the same way twice. People have asked me for my recipe, but I don't have one. I just do stuff.

    I've been known to combine as many as 12 different kinds of chile, as well as other spices and ingredients, in a single pot of chili, because each ingredient adds a unique element to the complex formula.

    One of the most important elements for a good pot of chili, I believe, is time. When I want to go all-out on a pot of chili, I think about it for a while. I let it cook in my mind for a while while I figure out what this particular batch is going to be made of.

    There's a lot to consider. I consider the chili I want to make, first of all, the experience I want to create for my own benefit as a chili artist. I'd love to cook exactly the chili I imagine. See, I like my chili hot. Hot is not the right word. Scorching. Explosive. Intense. Even violent. I want the chili to be an experience as much as a meal. But searing heat alone is boring. It is only effective when combines with those complex flavors I mentioned. Problem is, if I make it exactly like I would for myself, I'll be the only one who eats it and I'll be stuck with a big pot of chili, because a small one is not possible. I have to think about my audience. I have to tone down the heat and be somewhat moderate in any experimentation because, ultimately, I want to see my audience enjoy and appreciate the end result of all the work I put into it.

    So, once I figure out what I'm going to put in my chili, I start making it. Making a good pot of chili is an exercise in constant tweaking. I want to get the flavors just right, which means constant tasting and adjusting, realizing that with every adjustment, the end result will be different than it seems the moment I make the change, because the flavors change and deepen during cooking.

    Which brings me back to time. To meld all those flavors requires time. I believe in cooking my best chili all day. Again, there are plenty of recipes that can be prepared quickly and many of those are tasty. But if I cook mine quickly, all those spices will still be separate because they need time to come together for the rich, deep, flavor I crave. It's as much about patience as it about the right mix of ingredients.

    Of course, not every chili is as successful as every other. That's the risk of making it differently every time as I try to learn to be a better chili cook. I can accept that. I don't think I've ever made a bad chili, and my audience has always seemed appreciative, but as the person who made it, I can be tough on myself, dissatisfied by the smallest things.

    Finally, I want my chili to stay with my audience after they've eaten it. Sometimes, people remember it as something that, if not life-changing, at least improved their lives for a little while. Other times, the chili stays with them in other ways, which probably don't need to be discussed here. My chili has sometimes kept me awake all night, contemplating each and every ingredient. If you know what I mean.

    And that, you see, is how writing and chili are very much the same.

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    11. You Have to Write Crap

    I’ve discovered over the years how much being a teacher’s pet was detrimental to my writing habits. The majority of my teachers from third grade on all fawned over and praised my writing even when I put little to no effort into what I turned in. This quickly taught me that I didn’t have to put effort into my writing. I could write whatever I wanted at the very last minute, not even bother to do a quick edit, and pass with flying colors.
    College changed that a little bit. Surrounded by other people who were capable of stringing two good sentences together, I started to have to actually pay attention to what I wrote and do a least some cursory editing. Even then, I found I could get away with a lot.
    But, when it comes to my novel writing I know that if I have any hope of even trying to get published, I need to write something that will hold up against some of the best writers in the world—at least enough to be placed in the same bookstore. I have to admit it—more often than not that idea totally paralyzes me. I was trained from too young of an age that I didn’t need to put any effort into my writing to be successful (in the classroom), so the idea that I could put all my effort into my writing and still not be good enough makes the idea of trying almost too much.
    In school, you write to please your teacher. You write each essay with your professor in your head, taking what you’ve learned from their lectures about their opinions and preferences and you write accordingly. That’s what I’m used to doing.
    When it comes to writing my novel, I’ve learned that I can’t do that. I have to forget the possible editor, agent, or bookstore shopper who may one day read these words. Thinking about them—at least in my first draft—cripples my writing. Whatever I do get on the page is stifled and self-conscious. So, I have to forget them. I have to write as though I’m the only person who is ever going to care about what is written. I have to just let the words come out of me and not analyze them, not worry about how good or bad they are, but just enjoy the process of getting them on the page. That’s the only way I can ever get my first drafts written.
    As a student, I wrote without caring because I knew I could get away with it. I knew my least effort would be good enough in my high school where people struggled to understand the function of a paragraph. As an amateur novelist, I have to write the same way because that’s the only way I can write. That’s the way I’ve learned how.
    Afterwards, I can deal with cutting out all the crap.

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    12. Mg or YA?

    My “next” project that I’ve been working on forever has been giving me fits. One of the dilemmas is what age to make the characters, and therefore, who the target audience will.

    I’m an MG kind of a guy. I’ve spent a career teaching fifth and sixth graders. I know how they operate, what shenanigans they think they can get away with, and the cocky attitudes they employ to pull it off. And I’m smart enough to realize they probably got away with a few things I wasn’t aware of. They’re as capable as teenagers of scheming wild ideas, just not as aware of when the silly notion won’t work.

    Earlier this week, Julie Daines said to listen to your gut, our writer’s intuition that is our friend should we choose to listen. I think my friend is telling me to take it MG. But the first time I did that, I overshot my audience. What to do, what to do?

    Then a timely article arrived this month from Writer’s Digest.  In “The Key Differences Between Middle Grade Vs. Young Adult,” agent Marie Lamba of The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency helps clarify the two. She sees a lot of queries of manuscripts with “an MG/YA identity crisis.” She rejects many of these simply because the writer did not know the basics of the age group they thought they were writing for.

    In a nutshell, the differences boil down to a few areas:
    Age of readers
    Middle-grade does not mean middle school. MG is for readers ages 8-12 and 13-18 for YA. While there is no “tween” category, middle school libraries tend to have shelves for both. There are upper and lower MG as there is in YA.
    Age of protagonists
    Kids “read up” so your characters should be on the higher end of the age of the readers. Thus a 10-year old hero would be ideal for a lower MG, 12 or even 13 for upper MG, and 17 or 18 for YA. Your YA character can’t yet be in college.
    Manuscript length
    30,000-50,000 words is the norm for MG while YA starts at 50,000 and goes up to 75,000. These are not set in stone, but a good length to shoot for. Fantasy novels can exceed that due to the world-building necessary.
    YA is usually written in first person while third person is common for MG.
    There is a difference in what is allowable in each. While there is no profanity, graphic violence, or sexuality in works for younger readers, they are acceptable for YA,  the exception being erotica. In a recent Writer’s Digest webinar, Jennifer Laughran of Andrea Brown Literary Agency says a few “Hells” and “damns” are okay for MG, but the harsher curses should be avoided. MG heroes can have romance, but it should be limited to a crush or first kiss. Generally, MG novels end on a hopeful note while that isn’t necessary of YA works. Marie Lamba says there are gatekeepers between you and your middle-grade audience - parents, teachers, librarians - who may discourage the book. That ultimately could affect a publishers’s choice to print it. This isn’t as much an issue for YA, though gratuitous sex, numerous F-bombs, and extensive violence could mean the book may sit in fewer schools.
    This is a biggie, the one I missed when I originally wrote the book. MG focuses on friends, family, and the character’s immediate world and their relationship to it; character react to what happens to them, with minimal self-reflection. YA characters discover how they fit in the world beyond their friends and family; they reflect more on what happens and analyze the meaning of things. Jennifer Laughran says that MG kids test boundaries and have adventures “finding their place within a system” whereas YA teens do the same, while “busting out of the system” and find themselves.

    There are, of course, exceptions to every rule. Once you have the writing chops of J.K. Rowling, you, too, can write a 200,000 word tale. But even Harry didn’t kiss Ginny until they were teenagers.

    So I’m listening, gut, my quiet friend. I do wish you would speak louder sometimes.

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

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    13. When Stories Collide

    Last week I wrote about finding stories through the simple act of taking a walk. I said there are stories all around us. All we have to do is open our senses and find them.

    Two days later, a possible story hit me in the form of an unusual person acting in a slightly unusual way. Now, I was in San Francisco on business, a town where unusual people are all around, but this one man and the way he was dressed and the way he moved through a crowded street struck me as though he were from another time and place.

    I've already been thinking about setting a story in San Francisco. I grew up near there, and I spend a lot of time there, and I enjoy studying the city's relatively short but very interesting history. I was a little hesitant, though, because one of my writing group partners had recently set her own story in San Francisco. I didn't want to step on her territory.

    Of course, San Francisco has many stories. Many have already been told, and there would be many more, and my story would be nothing like my friend's. So I let myself play with this idea in my head. I often have to let an idea simmer in my mind for months, even years, before a story emerges, so I was letting it hang around and occupy a part of my brain where I would leave it alone. No need to bother it. It's not hurting anybody.

    That story idea was just a situation, a what if. Many of my ideas are. The what if itself isn't a story. There's no real conflict or plot, and only sketches of characters who have not formed themselves yet.

    The new idea is a character. Who was that man I saw? What was he doing? Why did he act in such an unusual way? Why was he in such a hurry?

    I saw him on Friday, and he's been haunting my mind for the last five days. I was thinking about him last night, wondering if he could fit into the situation I was already contemplating. At first I thought he could, but as I continued to think about it, it felt like a square peg in a round hole. That's not necessarily bad. Many great stories are about a peg that doesn't fit a hole.

    But this felt forced. Two story ideas had collided, and I didn't see a good match. Combining these ideas could spoil the story I was contemplating if I tried to include too many things.

    So I thought about it some more. The situation idea I had came about because I wanted to write about a specific time in the city's history, and this what if question would let me do so while combining it with an even earlier idea I had been contemplating. I had forgotten about that. Two stories had already collided. Maybe that's why the new character didn't fit.

    But then a situation for the new character popped into my head. So now I was dealing with four ideas. Looking back at the earlier ideas, they were really just an excuse to use this city that I love so much in a story. So why couldn't I take some of the ideas from the old idea and adapt them to the new one? That's when things began to click. Maybe this collision of ideas wouldn't be a disaster after all.

    I'm already working on a story, making revisions that I hope will bring me to a finished manuscript soon. It's difficult to juggle two stories, especially when it's already hard enough to find consistent writing time. But maybe I need to take a break for a day or two and see if there is really a story in this new character I found and his collision with a previous setting and situation.

    When I have a new idea, I have a number of things that I do. The first is, I jot it down and let my mind work on it. That has worked for me before, but often the idea cools down and fades away. If it does that, I probably wasn't passionate enough about it to spend the time required to turn it into something.

    Sometimes, especially if the idea is a scene, I write it in detail. Sometimes, that fires my imagination and turns the ephemeral thought into something tangible. I've shared a few of these with my group. When that happens, I store the idea in my mind and let it work itself out. But other times, I don't feel the excitement. I don't find the story that has to be told. I put those away in my files, and scan through them once in a while when I want to find a story and see if maybe it grabs me again. It usually doesn't. The heat of the idea is gone.

    And sometimes I'll whiteboard or mindmap the idea to see if the rest of the story appears. That has worked for me before. I end up with characters and conflicts and plot points. In other words, a story.

    I don't know yet what I'll do with this new idea. I'm thinking I'll make some time to write a scene based on the moment when this new character entered my life. I'll see if he grabs ahold of some of the other ideas he collided with and takes them for himself. I know there's a story in this character. The question is whether he wants me to tell it.

    I'll spend some time with him and find out.

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    14. Pacing: Listen to Your Gut

    By Julie Daines

    I'm not much of an outliner. I've tried it before, and it just doesn't seem to work for me. I wish it did because it seems like a much better way to write. But no. For me, I just can't.

    So, I'm constantly asked, how do you work out the pacing of your novel?

    Good question.

    I am now going to divulge my secret and never-before-spoken-out-loud trick.

    I listen to my gut.

    Here's how it works:

    I'm writing a scene. It's going great. The dialogue is fun, the action intense, and the conflict building. Then suddenly, I get this wrenching, panicky feeling right in the middle of my stomach. It says, "Oh my gosh, this is getting too long. You're dragging it out. Something new has to happen. You've got to move on." My blood races and my fingers shake unsteadily on the keyboard.

    "MOVE ON!" it screams.

    I listen. I wrap it up and move on. On to the next scene and the next plot point.

    Is this a scientific method? No. Will you find it on Blake Snyder's Save the Cat beat list? No. But it works--for me.

    Our guts--our writer's intuition--can often be our best friend if we take the time to listen. Feed back from critique partners, from beta readers, pacing, character names, character reactions, almost any part of our novel will speak to us.

    Take a moment, consider carefully all sides, and listen to your gut. It is your friend.

    When have--or when do--your writerly instincts kick in and help you?

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    15. Character webs

    The “next” project is one I’ve been working on forever. 

    Okay, not forever, but for 30 years or more. It was an MG story conceived, then started, then abandoned (but not forgotten). It was the one that got me into writing. I spent a few years on it and as I sent it out, editors and agents pointed out some glaring issues with it. By then, not only was I into a new project, but had become weary of it and had no more energy to devote to it. 

    This year I brought it out again, blew off the dust, repackaged it as a YA, and workshopped it at WIFYR. There I was struck by an inner voice, perhaps the ten-year old stuck in my head, that said I’m an MG writer, not a YA. Okay, back to working it for younger readers. 

    Still, the story is missing something, no matter what audience it reaches. 

    Imitation of those who do it well seemed like a good strategy, so I’ve been re-reading exemplary MG stories.
    In A Clockwork Three, Matthew J. Kirby gives his three main characters something to work for then expertly raises the stakes making it harder for them to achieve it. Sharon Creech’s Walk Two Moons is a richly woven tale about Salamanca, a girl searching for answers to the disappearance of her mother. A supporting cast of characters are among the reason this book resonates. Solveig in Kirby’s Icefall also involves a compelling protagonist who rides on the shoulders of strong supporting characters. The lesson here: stories are about people. 

    I also revisited John Truby’s The Anatomy of Story. He says writers need to focus not just on the hero, but the whole web of characters that help define him. Most writers start by listing traits of the MC, write a tale about him, then force a change in the end. Truby says this is wrong, that the hero does not act alone in a vacuum. The most important step in developing your MC is to connect and compare them to others. This forces you to distinguish the hero in unique ways. As in life, we are affected not just by our families and co-workers, but by the idiot that cut you off in traffic, the writer that brought you to tears with her prose, or the politician whose ideology you disagree with. How we react defines our character. The heroes in our stories are no less so connected to the web of characters in our stories.

    Truby provides a writing exercise to help build your character web. It is worth looking into. 

    Okay, “next” project. I’ve got my eye on you. I don’t know if you’re going YA or MG, but you are going to have some interesting people carrying you along.

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

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    16. "The Giver," The Godmother

    I was on a recent business trip and wandered into the airport bookstore. Always dangerous. I can rarely keep my purchase contained to just one book, even when I'm traveling. This time I was able to squeeze out with one literary magazine, a terribly thick nonfiction book, and "The Giver" by Lois Lowry.

    I picked up "The Giver" because it had the gold Newberry Medal Award sticker on its cover and a fascinating illustration of an old man (not to mention the bare tree limbs that also look like crackles of lightning that merge with the old man's scraggly beard). It wasn't until after I read the back cover that I noticed that next to these copies of the book was another grouping with the same title but a cover that had the two hot teens on it with the blurb "Now a major motion picture!" 

    Being the book snob that I am, I almost put it back. I just don't like jumping into a book because it is already popular or because a movie is coming out. In fact, it almost ruins it for me. I like to find a book and love it all on its own long before someone tries to ruin it by making a movie of it (which I will inevitably get super excited to see, then afterward complain about all the details the screen version got wrong). And I never, if at all possible, buy a copy of a book that touts "now a major motion picture."

    "The Giver" was a fairly thin novel, so when I settled into my flight I pulled it out first. What piqued my interest the most was that I knew absolutely nothing about it other than what the lovely jacket with the old man on it had hinted. I love going into books like that, don't you? When there are no expectations, no preconceived ideas, no pre-knowledge of plot lines.

    As I got into it I saw that it was another dystopian YA book, but it was well done. Interesting. Held my attention. But the focus was a bit narrow and it ended somewhat abruptly and left me a little unfulfilled. I couldn't help but compare it to "Matched," "Hunger Games," and "Divergence." It had the same feel, but not quite the complexity of the others. 

    On the other hand, it felt ... clean. Clean like contemporary furniture or modern architecture. The plot line was direct, not overly embellished, and structurally sound, with a beauty coming from the complexity of its spare but perfect balance.

    "The Giver" felt like the grandmother, the genesis, of all the others. The forbearer.

    When I got home I did some research on Lois Lowry and I found that she is indeed considered the godmother of this type of book. I also found out that she wrote three subsequent novels of a similar vein with different characters, and then a fourth that wove all of their stories together. But the most interesting point was that she wrote these four books not as a preconceived series, but as what I can only describe as sister-books, related but individual, between many other novels and publications over some 20 years.

    This may all be old news to many of you, but it was a delicious revelation to me.

    I'm glad I found "The Giver," in spite of the fact that I must give credit to the movie for bringing even this Newberry Award edition to my attention. Because without the film, the book wouldn't have been in the airport for me to find.

    I'm eager now to pick up "The Giver"'s mates and, I must admit, I'm curious about the movie. 

    But I'll be sure to read all the books before seeing the film, so that I have plenty to complain about at dinner afterward.

    Have you been moved by "The Giver"? Eager for or dreading the movie adaptation? 
    What book has recently surprised you?

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    17. Take a Hike and Find a Story

    If you're looking for story ideas, one way to generate them is to get out and take a walk.

    It helps if you can walk in an area you don't already know by heart, but anywhere you go, there are stories to be found. Keep your eyes open. That kind of strange building on the corner? What could that have been? Not necessarily in reality, but in your imagination. Are the decorations possibly symbols of some heroic or diabolical nature?

    And what about that person you just passed on the street, the man who looked like he didn't want to be seen? Why? What's he up to? Is he hiding? What could he be hiding from.

    Keep your ears open too. Maybe you'll hear a snippet of a conversation. The other day, I walked past two guys. One of them was saying, "The Day the Earth Stood Still, the original, that was a really--." That's all I heard. How would he have finished the sentence? Why was he talking about it? Could he have been an alien laughing at the way Earthlings view men from outer space?

    If you happen to be where there are fountains or statues, look at them. Really look at them. Ask yourself about their expressions, what they are up too. Like this fountain I saw on Sunday:

    Why are they so happy? Why is the child in the background almost peaceful when one of her companions looks like this:

    I also happen to know that this little park is the site of the Huntington mansion, which burned in the San Francisco earthquake and fire of 1906. The only mansion that survived on this part of Nob Hill is in the background of this picture. Are these children dancing to celebrate the open space that was created by the destruction of a great house that was meant to be a symbol of not only wealth but superiority? Are they happy the other place survived? Or are they enjoying a brief moment of San Francisco sunshine? Maybe something exciting just happened in their lives.

    There are stories everywhere. If you open your senses and explore with the objective of finding the stories that are around you, you'll find one.

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    18. Submitting

    A year ago, I had an MS ready to start pushing to agents/editors when the wonderful Carol Lynch Williams offered to look it over. She found issues. Since then, my writer’s group has gone over the thing again, cleaning and tightening. This week I finished it, wrote a query and submitted to an editor. Then appears an article on submitting.

    Okay, maybe it came out with it before. It’s been a busy month. The editor at WIFYR gave us until the end of July to get anything sent off to her. I’ve been cramming to get the story in a shape to send off, so emails have not been looked at.

    The article, “Submission Tip Checklist: Double-Check These 16 Things Before Sending Your Book Out” was written by Chuck Sambuchino who is somehow associated with Writer’s Digest. I subscribe to his mailings and a link to the article was embedded in another piece.

    Fortunately, I’ve managed to follow most of the suggestions Sambuchino offers. I failed with the that says to make a final check on Twitter or their site to make sure they are still open for submissions. Another embedded article caught my attention, “Query Letter Pet Peeves - Agents Speak,” also by Sambuchino.

    He says its not just a matter of what to write in the query letter, but what not to write. Among the irritants of agents:
    -Bridget Smith of Dunham Literary, Inc., does not like vagueness. If you can’t tell her enough about the novel in the query then she will reject it.
    -Shira Hoffman of McIntosh & Otis, Inc., mirrors the same. Some authors spend too much time on their bios without presenting essential story details.
    -Linda Epstein of Jennifer De Chiara Literary reminds us that agenting and publishing are businesses and the query should be a business letter that should be professional and taken seriously.
    -Nicole Resciniti of Seymour Agency agrees. We should treat the query as a job interview. It should be professional and concise and the writer should know their craft and understand the market.
    -Bree Ogden of D4EO Literary wants to easily know what the manuscript is about. “It shouldn’t be an Easter egg hunt for the pot line,” she says.

    Not included in the above are things such as glaring grammatical or spelling errors, mass emailings sent to a dozen or so other agents, and misspelling of the agent’s name or agency. Those seem rather obvious. Most of the agents in the article mentioned statements that tell the agent the story is “the greatest,” or a blockbuster or masterpiece. 

    At WIFYR, agent Amy Jameson of A + B Works shared some of her treasured queries not to write. They included the above mistake extolling the brilliance of their writing. One simply included a picture of the writer. While stunningly handsome, there was no mention of his story specifics. Amy rejected it.

    Dang it. And to think I just blew a bunch of cash on a studio photographer.

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

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    19. The writing habit

    Taking time away from writing is hard sometimes. Getting back into it is even harder.

    The year has been a productive one for me. I found that if I log my writing time, I am more encouraged to keep at it each day. Using an Excel sheet, I’ve recorded the number of minutes on a particular writing task, and the same for the next one. At the end of the day, I’ve totaled the time and converted to hours. Each daily count was added and then averaged. For the first half of the year I’ve been spending just a tad over four hours a day on some writing activity. Not all of it was actual writing. Some was fulfilling WIFYR assistant duties or meeting with my critique group or attending a writing presentation. But still, four hours is four hours.

    The day after WIFYR, my family whisked me away to Europe. What was I to do about my writing? I was in a groove and was quite enjoying a regular dose of scribbling down words. Plus, I didn’t want to mess up my daily writing average. Yet, with the activities planned, I could tell early on my laptop was not going to get much use. Add to the fact it would be a nuisance to haul around, I chose give myself a break from it altogether.

    And that was okay. I missed it, and thought about my works-in-progress, and spent a few minutes in my characters’ heads, but I managed to live without writing.

    Now that I’m home, I’ve been surprised at how slow it has been to get back into the swing of things. Blame it on jet lag or whatever, I haven’t been productive. I can’t get motivated to open the laptop and when I do, the story I was so enthused about a few weeks back seems impossible to resume.

    Fortunately, the habit is beginning to return. Two SCBWI events this week has helped. The editor at WIFYR gave us ’til the end of July to submit to her. My writer’s group is providing a boot to the backside to help that deadline become a reality. I’m a writer and words insist on being written. 

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

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    20. Pantsing aka Free Writing

    It wasn’t until I went to the last LTUE in Provo that I first heard the term “pantsing,” short for “flying by the seat of your pants.” I attended the panel on the topic and found it to be one of the most liberating writing panels I’ve ever sat in on.
    I’ve known for a while that writers pretty much divide themselves into two camps: outliners and free writers. Both camps have their pros and cons. Outliners have the big advantage of being organized in how they approach their writing, so they know exactly what’s going to happen before they write it and they don’t have to do as much rewriting and editing later. Free writers, on the other hand, seem to have no idea what they want to write until they start writing. They just get words on the page, and only later do they go back and make sense of it. This often allows their writing to be more organic and natural, whereas outliners can be more confined by their structure (emphasis on can). However, free writers have to put in at least ten times the work that an outliner does, because they have to go back and redo everything many, many times after their initial creative word-vomit session.
    I’m definitely a free writer. Many, many times I have wished I could be an outliner. It just sounds so much easier. It’s such a struggle for me to define in advance what my characters are going to do. One of the writers on the panel at LTUE put it this way: pantsers often have the characters of a story come to us first, and we just don’t know what we want to do with them yet. We like letting the characters “decide” for themselves, which basically just means we prefer to figure that out as we go, using the character we know in our head as the guideline.
    There were many times that I felt like maybe I was less of a real writer because outlining was so hard for me. That’s why that LTUE panel had me feeling so validated. I realized how many other writers there are out there who are like me, and yet are still successful. I realized it was ok to be a pantser, as long as I recognized both the benefits and pitfalls to this method of writing, and adjusted accordingly.
    Here are a few important tips for successful pantsing (hopefully I’ll get good at following all of these one day):
    ·         You CANNOT edit as you go. If you let yourself go back and fix things before you finish your first draft—you will never finish that first draft. Also, you never know when something you went back and changed might have turned out to be just what you needed after you finish. Leave it alone, finish your first draft, no matter how crappy, and leave the editing for later.
    ·         Don’t be afraid to redo everything. This is hard for me sometimes. Not only do I get attached my writing, but I also get lazy. Sometimes I look at it and think, “This scene is already written. It’s decent. It could be a lot better. My whole story would drastically improve if I let myself completely redo the whole first half, but it just sounds like so much work.” In the end, you just have to face the monster. The biggest pitfall of pantsing is you have to go back and drastically rewrite everything after your first draft in order to end up with a decent manuscript. As a pantser, you can’t be afraid of how much extra work you give yourself because of your chosen method of writing, or it won’t work for you.
    ·         Make an outline as you write. This would have saved me so much effort if I had figured this out from the beginning. Though we pantsers never outline before we write, we need to outline after we write. After every writing session, update a separate document with chapters or page numbers listed and what is going there. Make it detailed and keep it updated, or you will be very sad later on. It helps so much to know what you’ve written and where for when you have to go back, rewrite, and rearrange. The truth is, just because you’re a free-spirited pantser doesn’t mean you get to be totally disorganized. Often times, you’re actually just making your outline by writing the whole first draft first. By the time you’re done, your outline should be ready for you to work with for when you start over again—and make it all make sense this time.

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    21. Trolling

    I'm not writing today to share advice. I'm asking you to share it with me (well, us). I have to admit that as a teacher of journalism, published journalist, playwright, and personal historian, I am pretty comfortable with my writing skills. Hey, there is always more to learn, but I feel like I have solid footing there.

    What I am truly, desperately, profoundly lacking in is even the desire to query when it comes to some of my children's stories. I am so fond of them that I'm almost terrified to let them out into the world—the cliche overly protective mother. And thus, without having had to practice, I am still not happy with or comfortable with writing query letters.

    Yes, I have the books. I know the structure. I know the rules and recommendations. But I would love to hear what you, Utah children's writers, my fellows in the trenches, have learned from your own experiences with query letters.

    What was the best advice you received on writing queries? How do you decide whom to query first? Do you dare "menage a queri" (you know, in multiples)? What little tricks have helped you write or even want to write these nasty little oversimplified descriptions of your precious darlings? (Ahem.) That is to say, when staring down the Writer's Market, where do you focus your efforts?

    When it comes to queries, what has worked, or conversely, what would would you never ever do again? Give us your best, worst, funniest query stories.

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    22. Another WIFYR come and gone

    James Dashner, Carol Lynch Williams, Lisa Mangnum, Ann Cannon, agents, and an editor. Another fantastic WIFYR is in the books.

    I don’t know how Carol Williams manages to pull this magical week off every year, but she does. And keeps up on her personal writing. And plays Mom to her five daughters. The lady is amazing. She can dance, too.

    Ann Cannon was awesome again. We had a baker’s dozen in our workshop this year. When the enrollment looked small, Ann had assigned 20 pages to share. Then one of the instructors dropped out and our class absorbed some of those writers and critiquing that many pages from so many people became a task. Certainly not in negative way. There is something rewarding about working with other writers, all helping each other lift their craft.

    One of my favorite presenters was Lisa Mangum. She had a session on pitching your work and another on reader grabbing first lines and openings. For pitching, it depends on the situation. She touched on the tradition 30 second “elevator” pitch, but sometimes you may not have that much time. At a book signing at Costco, for example, you may have only two seconds to interest someone. She gave suggestions for boiling down your book to it’s essence for situations like that.

    John Cusick, agent for Greenhouse Literary Agency and a fiction writer on his own, gave an inspiring presentation. One of his tricks for staying on task during his writing moments is a timer program that does not allow email or internet interruptions. As far as pushing yourself to write, he said, nobody cares if you don’t finish your novel. I care.

    Those were just a few of the many intriguing and energizing moments. Start stashing away your nickels and quarters now because Carol will be bringing this conference back again next June.

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

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    23. Pinterest and Your Novel

    By Julie Daines

    The other day I had the most wonderful surprise. A reader read my book, Unraveled, and loved it so much she created a Pinterest board for it with a few pictures that sparked her imagination about certain elements of the story.

    I can't believe I didn't think of that. What a great way to share fun visuals with readers. I started thinking how Pinterest could be used as a promotional tool, as a forum to draw readers together to share something they love, or as an idea generator while drafting.

    Here is a link to her awesome Pinterest board. It's only got seven pictures, but it captures the novel perfectly.

    I'm not always the best at using all the tools at hand when it comes to writing and promoting.

    I'd love to hear ideas from all of you on ways you've seen Pinterest--or any of the social media platforms--used in any part of the writing process.

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    24. Summer Doldrums

    It's hard to keep up our writing routines this time of year. Kids are home. The outdoors beckons. We take vacations. The heat makes us lazy. There's a lot of yard work, and we have to deal with all that stuff from our gardens and fruit trees. We have add things like summer camps and similar scouting and church activities. It's a wonder we can get any writing done at all, if we do.

    So what can we do about it? How do we keep from destroying our writing habits? Here are a few ideas.

    Reset Expectations

    Maybe you can't write for an hour every day. How about twenty minutes three times a week? Whatever your schedule allows, try to do it. You might keep up your usual routine, but any kind of routine at all is better than a summer of no writing at all.

    Mini Retreats

    Do you have friends who write? Are you part of a writing group? Sometimes you can jump start your writing by getting together with other writers. Meet wherever you can, even if only for a couple hours, and write away. You can spend some of the time socializing or discussing writing problems, but make sure you leave plenty of time to write. One tip: don't get together in somebody's home. That's not going to work for the host. Unless, of course, there's nobody else at home and so it's quiet and comfortable with minimal distractions.

    Prioritize Your Writing Days

    Set regular writing days and decide that you won't do anything else until you've written to your goal, whatever that is. Make sure your family knows that you are unavailable for that time, but that you'll do whatever they want and whatever else needs to be done when you've finished. This works best, of course, if you don't have small children and you have a somewhat private writing area. You might have to start early or stay up late, whatever works best for you, to avoid all those other things you need to do. You might not be able to do this every day during, but if you have scheduled writing days and your family understands that you need that writing time and that it's your time, it can work.

    Just Accept It

    Finally, you might just have to accept that summer is not a good time for you to write. If you have young kids who are out of school or other summertime distractions, you might have to take the summer off, or accept that your production will take a nose dive. If you're in this situation, just accept it. Don't feel guilty. You have priorities, and some of those might be higher than writing. There's no shame in that. You haven't failed. You're doing what's most important to you during those months. It's OK. It can actually be a good thing. Sometimes it helps your story if you can set it aside for a while and let it simmer. Your brain is still working, and you'll come back to the work with fresh eyes when school starts. Those fresh eyes will help you identify weak places you didn't see when you were in the heat of creativity.


    These are just a few suggestions. Maybe something else works for you. The point is, if you need a different routine in the summer, or if you're not able to write as much, it might just be the way things are for the life you want to live. Summer won't last forever.

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    25. Lessons from the Yard

    Let me tell you the story of a fountain. First, you should know that I love water. I mean LOVE water. But I live in a desert valley. I had this idea many years ago that I should add a water feature to my yard. And a friend had one for sale. Perfect.

    So. I bought the fountain. It's made from a special resin stuff that looks like real granite and weighs like it, too. This fountain stands about 4 feet tall and has three tiers. It's fabulous.

    My friend didn't have a working pump. No problem. I bought one. My hubby even installed an outdoor outlet so I could plug it in. I put it next to our garage in the back yard, where I could enjoy it from my patio or my dining room table. Three problems became immediately apparent. 1) It was hard to find the perfect power for the pump. One pumped the water so hard it just splashed all over the yard. Another was so little that it created barely a trickle. 2) My dog loves water, too. In fact, she drank out of the fountain and played in the water reservoir, thereby using up all the water, leaving the fountain dry. 3) I had little kids at the time and little time to go out to the yard to fill the reservoir, keep the dogs out of trouble, or remember to turn off the fountain when the weather got cold. Ruined the pump. Therefore, we unplugged the fountain until further notice.

    The troublesome dogs.

    But did I give up on it? Not at all. I always knew I would find the perfect fit for the fountain. Years later, when I tore up my front lawn and replaced it with a water-thrifty landscape, I decided to move the fountain out front. That solved one problem: the dogs don't go in the front yard. But, I also don't have an outdoor outlet in the front. I had a plan, though. I'd get a solar powered water pump and eliminate the need for electricity altogether.

    It took a while--read: several years--to find a solar powered fountain pump. I could find solar powered pond pumps and other almost-fountain pumps. Finally, I found one. But I had another problem. The solar panel had a wire that only stretched about five feet, and I had placed the fountain under a giant elm tree, so I couldn't get the solar panel to a spot with enough sun throughout the day to power the pump for more than a couple of hours.

    So we moved the fountain to a spot by the front door, which gets much more sunlight than under the tree. Problem solved. Bonus: get to enjoy the fountain every time I go in and out of the house.

    But. . .turns out the solar panel wasn't really that powerful and even with more sunshine, it still didn't pack enough punch for me. Hubby noted that the thing weighed far too much for us to move anymore, and I would have to find a way to make it work in that location. Solution: buy a more powerful solar panel/powered pump. Again, it took a while to find one, and when I finally did, the tree had overgrown most of the front yard, blocking the available sun and limiting the solar power.

    Okay. I'm not a quitter. We'd go back to electricity, so hubby found a way to run a power cord through a window with a weather protective box to cover the plug. I bought a new electric pump. Beautiful. Almost there.

    Almost? The electrical works. The pump is the right power. The dogs can't bother it. What now? Little tweaks. The water tube sometimes falls down inside the fountain. The reservoir dries up in the 100-degree heat. Sometimes leaves and gunk block up the water intake filter in the pump. These are small problems. I keep tweaking them, because when the fountain is running, I can sit on my living room couch and hear the sound of water through the front window. When I go outside to dig in the dirt, the water trickles through and I can pretend I live along a creek. And now my kids are grown, so I have the ease of going outside to tend the fountain whenever I want, without the distraction of diaper changes, bloodied knees, and arguments over who gets the last popsicle.

    Where I pretend I am when my fountain is running.

    What does this have to do with writing? Creative thinking. Persistence. Revision. Problem solving. Working until you get it right. Making dreams and goals happen, no matter what.

    by Neysa CM Jensen
    in Boise, Idaho

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