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1. 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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2. 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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3. SCBWI Is Here for You

If you're involved in children's writing and/or illustrating in any way (which I assume you are since you're reading this blog), and if you don't already know about SCBWI, let me enlighten you. Because this organization will help you in perfecting your craft, learning about the industry, connecting with colleagues, and avoiding many mistakes that will save you time. 

The world's most unpronounceable acronym stands for the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. Our international headquarters is based in Los Angeles, and we have regional chapters throughout the world. The region we're in is Utah/southern Idaho. You can learn lots more at the web site scbwi.org and at our region's page on that site. 

Tonight--yes, July 18, 2014--you have a chance to connect in person with others in the organization, including me. We're gathering for the annual summer potluck, which is just a time to socialize, talk shop, and generally have a blast.  Here are all the details:

Hello writers and illustrators in Utah and Southern Idaho!

Writing or illustrating can be a lonely endeavor, so join us this summer for some much-needed social time.  We'll be coming together at the Rice Terrace Pavilion at Liberty Park (600 E. 900 S. in Salt Lake City, Utah) on Friday, July 18th from 6pm-9pm to eat and mingle.

You don't have to be a member of SCBWI to join us for this free event, so bring all your writing or illustrating friends with you. The more the merrier! 

Potluck assignments are as follows:
YA writers: pasta salads, potato salads, deviled eggs
MG writers: fruit, fruit salads, desserts
Picture Book writers: fried chicken, finger sandwiches, other finger foods
Illustrators: green salads, chips and dips
You may want to bring your own lawn chair as well.

Are you still struggling to figure out where to start with your online presence? Bring your smartphones and other wifi-enabled devices and we'll help you get connected. We'll have teachers on hand to walk you through the steps to signing up and using your social networks of choice, as well as offer suggestions on ways to contibute to the online conversation.
Can't make it to the social? This year you can join us virtually! We will be using the hashtags #GoSocial and #SCBWIUtahSouthIdaho for this event, so you can follow the event on twitter, instagram, and other social networks.

We hope to see you at the social (in person or online)!

For a map and directions to the pavilion, please visit our website at http://utahsouthidaho.scbwi.org/events/2014utah-summer-potluck-social/

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4. Read Like a Writer: The 100 Rule

More than one local prolific author has said she read hundreds of books in her genre before writing her own well. Hundreds. Good books, bad books, but all in the genre in which she intended to write.

I think this is possibly the best course one could take for writing. And you'd be surprised how many people I know want to write in a genre that they don't actually read: people with a picture book idea who think if they throw some rhyming words together it is publishable without ever cracking a published picture book, people who read nonfiction but want to write dystopian YA, people who only read romance but want to write memoir.

It's normal to be in love with our own ideas. They are our babies, after all. But if we are going to send them out into the world, we have to know what their place in the world could be. And to do that, we have to know something about their peers. (It also helps with writing the dreaded queries ... a topic I'll discuss on my next post.)

So I want to pass on this advice: read in your genre. Read a lot in your genre. Yes, hundreds of books. Okay, start with 20 and build. But make a serious goal.

But when you read, read like a writer.

Reading like a reader is passive, it is as simple as deciding if you "like" or "don't like" a book.

To read like a writer is to question and answer exactly what it is that is and isn't working. In fact, finding a book that you don't like can be of more value than digging into a book that you love. When we love a book, we are taken by it in a visceral, emotional way. It becomes "ours" in a way that our own writing is "ours." It is hard to be critical of your darlings.

On the other hand, good old favorites—the ones you've read over and over, the ones that you feel you already know—can be useful to look at closely because you aren't getting caught up in the plot. You know it well enough to lift the curtain and see what is underneath each page.

When you are reading hundreds, though, you are bound to find those that you don't like. Those can be easier to take apart. Because the undeniable fact is that this book made it. So you have to figure out what it is about the book—the language, the construction, the story, the setting, the dialogue, the characters—that managed to get it passed the gauntlet of queries, slush piles, agents, publishers, and book stores to find its place on this shelf (be it physical or digital).

So, break it down.

Really understand the construction of the book. Think of it as a scaffolding upon which the words hang. Even in a picture book—the most compact of stories—plot is carefully built like the frame of a building. It must be solid and balanced. Writers are engineers. Read like an engineer.

Carefully note dialogue that moves you and dialogue that seems unnecessary. Then figure out why that is. The "why" isn't always that easy to decipher. It may be the language, or it may be the setting in which the dialogue takes place. Also look at the balance of dialogue to exposition. When does the description of a movement from a character "say" more than dialogue? How is it done?

Are there single, carefully chosen words that tell more about the setting than a lengthy description?

Whatever it is you want to learn, you can learn a lot about it by the careful reading of many examples. The more, the better. Say, one hundred.

How long will you take to read one hundred ... like a writer?

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5. Another Way to Use Your Writing Group

Most of us know how useful a writers group can be for receiving feedback on your works in progress. My group has been invaluable, improving not only the quality of my work but my skills as a writer as well.

We don't limit ourselves to critique sessions. We email each other, share work online, and have our very own top-secret Facebook page. Occasionally, two or three members of the group will meet at a local cafe to write for a while. The women in the group have even had overnight writing retreats. We are there for each other, to trade advice and support each other how ever we can, even when we're not sitting around a table.

Yesterday, we tried something a little different.

Some of us have been struggling to write recently, with all the usual summer distractions or heavy workloads. So we decided to meet for an afternoon of writing. We didn't set any ground rules except one: meet in a neutral place so nobody had the distractions of home.

We considered several locations, from work conference rooms to libraries, and finally settled on the church near one member's home. It was a good location, quiet and comfortable.

A couple of people couldn't make it, due to work schedules or World Cup parties. I often miss daytime get-togethers because of work, but we intentionally scheduled it during my vacation.

I can't speak for the others who were there, but it was a productive afternoon for me. I'm revising a difficult part of my WIP, and it has been easy to find excuses to avoid the work. But sitting in a nearly empty church building from about 1:30 to about 5:00 meant that I could either work or sit there and do nothing. Sure, some of that time was spent socializing, but for most of it, we worked. Once in a while we'd ask each other for advice on a difficult passage or commiserate when struggling with a name or a scene. Mostly, we supported each other and kept each other on task.

And, of course, we enjoyed treats. That goes without saying.

So, if you're part of a group, or even if you just know some writers, I can recommend taking an afternoon to write together. Ultimately, writing is still mostly an individual process, but sometimes working by yourselves together can provide a great boost and ensure that you don't spend another day mastering your avoidance skills.

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6. Break It

Naturally the UCW has been all agog over WIFYR. And sadly, I was not able to attend this year (sigh). But it got me thinking about all of the inspiration I've received from writing groups and conferences over the years. One speech given last year at WIFYR by Stephen Fraser, a literary agent from Jennifer De Chiara Lit Agency, has really stuck with me.

What he essentially talked about was the importance of following your inner compass.

At many conferences and at many writing classes, the fear for most not-yet-published writers is to look like an unpublished writer. To look like an amateur. So a zillion classes are given about what the "rules" of publishing are: exactly how long each genre should be, exactly how it should be written, exactly what most publishers are looking for ....

I don't know about you, but I always bristle at these boxes and labels and rules. My hand is the one that shoots up every time with the every annoying "But why?" (Yep, I'm still that kid in class.) Why do books with beautiful illustrations have to be for three-year-olds? Why do characters in middle grade books have to use pop-culture vernacular? Why can't a picture book have 1500 words? Why ...? Why ...? Why ...?

There are many reasons to follow many of the rules. But the answer usually given to me is always the least satisfying: Because publishers know that X sells because that is what has sold.

But Fraser pointed out the importance of being the first. You never know if your version of breaking the rules could be the one that starts a new trend.

Who knew sparkly vampires would be irresistible until it was done? Who thought that mixing fairy tale archetypes into a hodgepodge world based on Greek mythology and Joseph Campbell-like folklore would capture the fascination of young readers in today's pop culture ... until it was done? Who knew that rewriting classics using monsters would be a "thing"? Who said Death could be a popular narrator?

And this viewpoint came from a well-known literary agent who had previously worked at such publishing houses as HarperCollins, Scholastic, and Simon & Schuster. In other words, a guy who is looking to publish rule-breakers. There are those in the publishing industry that can think outside of the highly organized, very rigid box of publishing.

And they are looking for writers like you and me.

This fact has probably given me more strength and determination to keep writing than any I've received.

So break it. The rule. The narrative arc. The law. The genre. The stylebook. The mold. The norm.

Take that idea of yours that just doesn't fit and run with it.

Write it from your soul. Be the one to do what hasn't yet been done.

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7. Guest post: Sharon Mayhew on her writing process

Scott's note: I'm happy to introduce Sharon Mayhew. Sharon commented on one of the posts in my Mobile Author series about her not-particularly mobile writing method, which spawned a couple of requests for more information. I'm happy that she agreed to write a guest post showing her process in detail. And so, without further ado, here is a highly instructive post about one writer's process. I hope you find it as helpful and interesting as I do.

When Scott invited me to share my organizational system for writing, I was thrilled. I've been writing and blogging since 2007. I occasionally blog about writing, but usually my posts are about life, books and other writers. There are so many blogs doing a terrific job on the craft of writing that I thought I would stick to other things.

Some people say they are plotters and some say they are pantsers, to be honest I'm not sure what I am. Maybe you guys can tell me once you see my writing process.

For the historical fiction MG novel I just completed (well, until I hear otherwise), I started by listening to my grandparents tell about their experiences during WWII. I started taking notes and telling them why I was jotting down their memories. I took lots of notes and am so grateful they were willing to share what was a difficult time in their lives with me.

I also wrote letters and got letters back from other family members who lived during this time period.

Then I typed up notes and potential scenes to use in my manuscripts.

I read a lot, both fiction and non-fiction. Some books were for children and some were not, most notably I read selections from Winston Churchill's THE SECOND WORLD WAR series. (I have to quote him here, as his words were and are such an inspiration to me.) ~Never, never, never give up~ I realize he was talking about the war and the spirits of the people in England, but for me it took on a whole different meaning. Sharing my families and friends stories is something I have to do and I won't give up until it is published. It was my honor to fictionalize moments in their lives.

I visited museums and took lots of pictures, then organized them into envelopes, so when I started writing I could pull out photos for those scenes.

One museum I visited had replicas of government brochures, posters, and letters available for purchase. These items were extremely helpful for finding details about daily living. I also visited antique shops and purchased bits and pieces to inspire me. My grandfather gave me some documents from the war, too.

Then I organized all the research and books into files based on locations that they applied to.

I printed of a variety of different maps of England. I even found one that showed the railroad system during the war.

To my surprise, one of my blog friends, Gary at Klahanie Blog, told me he was from the village in England I was writing about. He sent me photographs, which was spectacular, as I hadn't been to Leek since I was a child.

Once I finished with my initial research, I organized and typed up my notes. Then I wrote them on index cards. It may seem redundant to write notes, type notes and then write them again, but each time I did this I was ingraining the research into my brain.

I kept a list of words and phrases that I liked and were appropriate for the time period. I mounted them on poster boards and then hung them up on bulletin boards in my office.

By now I kind of know where the scenes are going to take place in my story, so I mount the scene cards on poster board and then mount what could potentially happen in each location. I try to use the senses as much as possible in each scene. (ex: the sounds, the smells, how things feel and taste) 

Most of the poster boards  were hanging on the bulletin boards in my office, so I could glance up from my desk and review them as I was writing and thinking. I also used an easel for the scene I was currently working on close to me.

I didn't use all of my research notes in this manuscript, but I left the manuscript open ended so if I do have the opportunity to write a sequel I already have some starting spots.

I'm sure there are much better ways of organizing your research and thoughts, but this worked for me. I think you have to find what method works for you...

Thanks for letting me share my process with you guys. If you are interested in reading my blog it's called SK Mayhew, Kidlit Writer. I'm @SharonKMayhew on Twitter.

So, what do you think? Am I a plotter or a pantser? 

What are you?

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8. Holiday

All work and no play makes Jack (or Jill) a dull boy (or girl). It probably makes for uninspiring writing, as well. 

WIFYR was, again, amazing. 

Ann Cannon is a great instructor, my classmates are serious writers. Carol Williams puts on this annual event and runs it to perfection.

It kicked my butt.

Thus, I’m going on holiday. I’m going away and am not taking my laptop, will do no writing at all. Not even for this blog for the next two Saturdays.

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

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9. How Marriage is Like Writing

 This week I’m a little caught up in a very important milestone—my 30th wedding anniversary. First of all, I can’t believe I’m that old. And second, I’m pretty proud to have made it this far, seeing as how lots of my friends have been divorced. So even though I want to focus on writing, I’m distracted by this momentous occasion. So I thought, why not combine the two?

I've compared writing to gardening, parenting, and a host of other long-term occupations. Marriage has many similarities, as well.

Like, it’s hard. That’s kind of cheating; everything really worth doing is hard. But I think a lot of people enter into marriage in that deliriously happy stage of love where everything is sunshine and roses and they can never imagine how hard it will be at times. It’s all so easy in those new love moments. Writing is the same. I know hundreds of folks who think writing is the easiest thing in all the world. I mean, everyone does it, right? Facebook, twitter, everywhere you look, people are writing. Which is great. But they aren’t really writing that well, nor are they writing with a book length manuscript in mind. Nor do they have to revise (although sometimes they really should) or work with an editor or make sure their characters are consistent. Writing is just as hard as any other work, more so than some. No one would say playing the violin in the New York Philharmonic is so easy anyone could do it. Really good writers work equally hard on our craft as professional musicians or professionals of any kind. Because it’s hard.

Successful marriages don’t just happen. They are in need of constant attention and dedication. Same for writing (and any artistic form). You have to practice it, do it consistently, pay attention to it, and work on it. You don’t sit down, write one draft, and call it good. Just as you don’t recite your vows, buy a house, and that’s it. You have to think about it all the time. I’m constantly writing in my head, even when I’m not at the computer or with a pen in hand. I’m always asking my characters how they would react to a certain situation. I’m communicating with my work. Just as I communicate with my husband all the time about various things big and little in our lives.

Marriage is a partnership, and sometimes others are needed to help the marriage thrive: counselors, friends, family. Writing is a collaborative process, in the end. Sure, we all sit at our desks and write as solitary beings. But to bring that work to the world requires the help of critique friends, editors, agents, production staff, sales staff, etc. It may feel like a lone wolf profession, but even self-publishing authors should seek the help and support of all those people in order to produce the best work possible.

Delayed gratification is a hallmark of both a successful marriage and a successful writing life. Or, as the Rolling Stones sing, “You can’t always get what you want.” You know what I’m talking about. There’s rejection, over and over again. Even when your work is acquired, there are often years of work still ahead before it hits the shelves. Marriage works the same way. It’s not a finished product, ever.  It’s always in a state of revision or work in progress. You don’t just get married and have the white picket fence dream at once. Sometimes you live in your parents’ basement until you can afford a house. Or sometimes you put off having children until you are done with graduate school. Or sometimes you never get the “dream house” you have always wanted. Sometimes you drive a broken down car instead of a new one in order to send your kids to college. Life is full of delayed gratification in order to achieve a goal or a dream. I wish more writers understood this. New writers, myself included all those many years ago, are so eager and anxious to get published that they send work out that isn't even near ready for publication. Delay that gratification and work on the writing. The rewards are great in the end.

In marriage, as in writing, it is totally acceptable to celebrate every small step toward success. Our first anniversary, we celebrated enormously. One whole year. Wow! The first time I got paid to write, I was so happy. Yes, celebrate each milestone, knowing that many more will come your way if you keep working hard, putting in the time and energy, focusing on growth and renewal, and waiting for the right time to move ahead. 

by Neysa CM Jensen
(in Boise, Idaho)

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10. The Mobile Author, Part Seven: Managing Your Writing Life

Today,  I'll end the series with some tips for using your mobile office to help you manage your writing life. These ideas can help you work better so you can achieve your writing goals.

Make It a Habit

One common problem for those of us who try to work writing in with our busy lives is making the time to write. Unfortunately, nobody has made an app yet that adds a couple hours to the day or makes our day jobs go away or extends the kids' nap time. However, there is a class of apps that enforces good habits and helps to break bad habits. These can be used to remind us to write, and to check our progress against our goals.

Apps like HabitBull (Android, free) and Way of Life (iOS, free for three habits, $3.99 for more) let you set goals. These apps can be configured with whatever parameters you want. Use them to cut down your soda intake, or to spend more time doing something you love, like writing. For example, if you want to write three days a week, you can set a habit reminder that asks you every day if you have written. You wouldn't want to disappoint your tablet, right?

 The Habit Editor in HabitBull

In addition to yes/no goals like whether you wrote today, you can set number-based goals. Want to write 1,000 words a day? Set that up as a habit, then set a reminder each night that asks you how many words you wrote. 

Each habit app is a little different, so look for one that will suit your goals. 

Keeping Focused

To meet your goals, you need to stay focused.

One simple use for your tablet or, especially, your phone, whether you're mobile or stuck at the office is a timer. A timer can you keep you focused. Make a goal to write for a solid hour without checking Facebook or email or grabbing another root beer float at your favorite cafe, then set a timer and don't stop writing until it goes off.

There are tons of timer apps, and they all do what a timer does, so really it probably doesn't matter which one you use. Two I like on Android are Timers4Me+ and Timely Alarm Clock. Both support multiple timers, alarms, and include a stopwatch. Again, I'm not sure what to recommend for your iPad or iPhone, but it really doesn't matter much. A timer is a timer. You can make it pretty, give it fancy options, or whatever, but in the end, it keeps track of time and lets you know when time is up.

Track Your Progress

Anybody who has learned about goal-setting has learned that an important part of meeting your objectives is to make your goals measurable. The apps I've mentioned so far will help you do that. But another way to measure your goals is to track your progress.

The Writeometer app for Android helps you meet your goals. It includes a timer and a writing log, and gives you rewards (guavas) if you meet your goals. For every writing project, you can set your total word count goal and your daily writing goal, and you can set a deadline date. Then, you can set reminders to kick you in the pants. By gamifying your goal tracking, Writeometer keeps you more engaged, and helps you feel good when you accomplish what you set out to do.

Writeometer log

If your goals are fairly basic, such as writing 50,000 words in November, you might like an app like NaNoProgress, also for Android. The concept is simple: enter your wordcount for each session and the app displays a bar showing your progress toward 50,000 words.

Those apps are great for Android users, but what about authors who use an iPad or iPhone? They have options as well, such as Word Tracker. I didn't find anything quite as fancy or fun as Writometer, but all you need, really, is a place to enter your goals and measure your progress.

 Keep a Journal

Finally, many Utah writers come from a background where keeping a journal is encouraged. A writing journal (see "The Writer's Journal," a post on this blog from way back in 2009), helps you be accountable to yourself, and helps you vent those natural writing insecurities so they don't build up inside you. You can track your objectives, note ideas and problems that need to be fixed, and remind yourself where your next session is supposed to start. 

Writeometer includes simple journaling functionality, and the app stores include tons of journal apps. You can use one of those, or you can use the note apps or writing apps we've already talked about in this series. You don't need anything fancy. The only thing you need is something you like writing in so you are motivated to keep your journal.

And So...

There you have it, pretty much everything you need for the well-equipped mobile office. By choosing the approach that works best for you at each step of the writing process, you can easily break the chains of a desk and write wherever inspiration hits you best. Or, if you still do most of your writing in your office (I call my home office my Schreibwinkel), you have everything you need if an idea strikes while you are on the road. Your writing comes from your own brilliant mind, so doesn't it just make sense to have your office wherever that mind of yours happens to be? Even if you prefer the routine of writing in the same place every day, sometimes the best cure for writer's block is a simple change of scenery. If your computer screen becomes the intimidating monster that sucks your creative juices, get away from it for a while.

I hope you have enjoyed this series, and that it helps you to be more productive. The key to writing, it is said, is putting your butt in the chair. But nobody says it always has to be the same chair in the same place. It's 2014. You don't have to lash yourself to a desk anymore. Enjoy your freedom and let the words flow wherever they come to you.

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11. Critique

WIFYR season is upon us and there are 150 or so hopeful writers who are getting giddy about it. We’ve been waiting all year and now it is on our doorstep.

Critique is the main focus of the morning workshops. It is a critical process that every writer and every story needs. We authors get so close, too close, to our work we can’t see it objectively, the way others not as vested can. New eyes can provide a fresh look and clarity where we are unable. The story may be clear in our heads, but we need unbiased evaluations when it is not coherent in the mind of others.

Finding the ideal writer’s group can help you get the most out of a critique. I’ve been in a few, some that have worked and some that have not. Success may depend on organization of the group - convenient meeting times, driving distance, etc. I had a great writer’s group, but the drive from Salt Lake to Ogden was long and tedious and our meeting times were not ideal for me. The key ingredient in the success of a group comes down to the people. My new group is ideal. The logistics are fine, but mostly we’re a good fit, we mesh well together.

Critiquing at WIFYR is unique in that you are thrown in with a hodgepodge of people, most of whom you’ve never met before. Some are strong writers, others are still finding their way. Of course, we seek to improve our own stories, but through the appraisal of others, we enrich our own understanding. Our purpose is altruistic, we’re there to help each other out. Yet, we become better writers ourselves as we pull each other along. You’re only with your WIFYR new best friends for a week, but an intensive five days it is. 

I’ve read their incredible stories. I can’t wait to meet them. 

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

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12. The World Cup Post

Brazil 2014 starts today, and I admit, I'm happier than a kid on Christmas morning or my middle schooler on the last day of school. In my house, we breathe, eat, drink, and dream futbol (I detest the word soccer, sorry). This is the one time my two passions merge. Books and sports are beautiful. Sports inspire my writing, and writing has always been the medium through which I express myself, like a sport. It's no wonder my first "real" novel had a futbol soccer star love interest, and this one I'm working on is about an Irish dancer. Some say dance is an art, others that dancers are God's athletes. I tell you, my Irish dancers practice up to eight hours a day during the summer. They're athletes in every sense of the word.

If you're new to the World Cup but want to know more about it, this short clip explains how it works.

And here's a link that will tell you all the schedules, TV listing, etc.

Now back to books. Alex Morgan, the US Women's National Team super star and my daughters' heroine, has a series out. It's cute and fun and it's about girls being strong and wonderful!

There's also Hope Solo's bio for young readers.  

There's even a Magic Tree House: Soccer on Sunday.

Do you know of any books I can add to this small list? Name them in the comments! I hope you have a wonderful World Cup month, whatever you do!

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13. The Mobile Author, Part Six: Submitting

So far in this series about going mobile, we've seen how to set up your mobile office so you have everything you need wherever you are, how to use your mobile devices to organize your projects, plan them, and write them. But once you've written your work, it's time to submit. So, today I'm going to discuss how you can use your tablets and phones to track your submissions.

There are online submission trackers, such as The Writer's Database and Duotrope. They work well, but they are set up using somebody else's system. You are a mobile author. You are free. You can do what you want, where you want. So why would you want to use somebody else's system when you can create a system that works the way you like, and keep it in your pocket, purse, or backpack?

I'm going to suggest three options for doing it your way. You might have something else that works for you. Whichever approach you choose, the important thing is that you have it with you wherever you decide to work today.


The word spreadsheet causes fear and trepidation among my fellow office workers everywhere. But a spreadsheet does not have to be feared. Turns out, spreadsheets are actually a pretty good way to keep track of stuff. I use one to track my own submissions.

My submissions spreadsheet for each project is pretty simple. I have columns for the agent's name, the agency, the agency's website, contact info (the address or email address I used to submit), the date I submitted, the date I heard back, the date I (fingers crossed!) sent the partial or full, the date I heard back again, and a column for notes or comments. That's it. As I submit, I enter all of that info in the next available row.

Several rows below the submission records, I have a list of agents I might submit to in the future, with all of the info but the submission and reply dates. When it's time from the next round of submissions, if I don't already have somebody in mind, I draw from that list. If you like to sort your spreadsheet by different columns, you might prefer to keep your list of potential submissions on a separate page.

This is easy to do from your mobile office. You can use either a Google Spreadsheet or use the spreadsheet function of your mobile office suite. Google Spreadsheet was made even more viable on April 30 with the release of the Google Sheets app, which eliminates the requirement to be online. I highly recommend Google Docs for this task, but either option works.

Bulletin Board

Spreadsheets work great for tracking submissions, but they are not exactly a delight to use. You might prefer a more visual approach. For that, I recommend Trello, which I've mentioned before. Trello gives you a visual bulletin board where you can easily see the state of your submissions.

Dragging an agent record from "To Submit" to "Submitted" in Trello

I haven't used Trello to track submissions, but if I did, it would be pretty simple. I'd create a card for each agent I wanted to submit to. I'd sort the cards in stacks called something like To Submit, Submitted, Rejected, Requests, and Accepted. I could track multiple projects on one board by color-coding each story. That approach would give me a quick view of what's going on with my submissions. It might be a little harder to see whether I'd already submitted to a particular agent than a spreadsheet would, so I'd have to pay attention to that.

The card approach has advantages over the spreadsheet besides being visual. You could put all kinds of info on the cards, like snippets from websites or interviews you want to use to personalize your queries, or copies of the responses you receive. Bulletin boards are very free-form, so you can pretty much do whatever works for you.


If spreadsheet is a scary word, database might trigger a full-on panic attack. But it doesn't have to. A database is a good way to organize stuff, and once you set it up, can work very well. A database record is really just an index card or Rolodex card with the info you need to keep track of, except that your pile of cards is sortable by any piece of info.

The difficult part is setting up the database, but it's not that hard. If you are an uber-organizer, you might not find a better approach.

Android users who are into this kind of fancy-pants thing might try the free Memento Database app to set up a database. iPad users apparently don't have access to Memento, but they have other options. I didn't notice any obvious free choices in the App Store, but there are plenty of database apps.

Next Step

So far, this series has shown how to set up and organize your mobile office, and how to manage your writing project from the planning stages through submission. Next week, we will discuss some apps that will help you manage your writing life.

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14. All the pieces

Writer’s should read and perhaps the most compelling reason is that reading good writing reminds us of what we aspire to. 

There are a few authors whom I want to write like. On is Matt Kirby after reading Icefall.  Gary Schmidt’s Doug character pulled me into Okay For Now. MG author Tom Angleberger impressed me the way he saved the final resolution of The Strange Case of the Origami Yoda until the last page. And John Green is John Green. Who wouldn’t want to write like him? 

Add to that list Carol Lynch Williams.

Carol is an amazing writer. I just finished The Chosen One for the second time and once again was blown away. Ann Cannon has assigned reading The Chosen One as part of our WIFYR workshop. I checked it out online through Overdrive and received both the audio version and an epub format.

There are number of elements key to a good book. These include compelling characters, dramatic events, believable settings, and a strong writers’s voice. Carol not only applies them, but squeezes the most from each. 

She draws you in immediately with her first line, “If I was going to kill the prophet,” I say, not even keeping my voice low, “I’d do it in Africa.” Thus begins the story of a 13-year old polygamous girl chosen to marry her 60-year old uncle. 

Most of us Utahans may have encountered polygamists on the street and peered curiously at them. Carol takes us inside an isolated polygamous community where we accept as normal the three wives of Kyra’s father. Carol enriches her setting with scorching heat, red desert dust, and Russian olive trees.

The Chosen One is character driven and Kyra is a compelling MC. She unquestioningly accepts the lifestyle yet does not fit the mold they have cast for her. Books have been banned as the devil’s words, yet she has a yearning to read. Kyra has an interest in a boy and wants to choose him to marry rather that have the prophet dictate who her husband is to be. 

Besides her incredible voice, a technique Carol employees masterfully, is the way she raises the stakes for Kyra. This poor girl not only must deal with her sins against the rules of the community and the approaching marriage to the uncle she despises, but faces other traumas. Carol perpetually ratchets the tension until resolving the story nicely.

Carol’s an amazing writer. She also puts on a great writing conference, coming up later this month. (Classes still open, more info here.)

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

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15. The Life Cycle of a Book

When writers get together, sometimes we talk about which we like better: first drafts or revisions. It seems that most of us like revising more, and there are many good reasons for this. I personally have a "grass is always greener" response: I like whichever one I'm not doing.

Currently, I'm in the midst of a revision on one YA novel and the first draft of another. While it feels and sounds somewhat schizophrenic, it kind of works for me.

I really love first drafts. Maybe everyone does. I mean, it's usually a fairly new idea, which means exciting, intriguing, fresh, not yet muddied with many critiques and different ideas about where it should go. You can experiment with voice and format, structure and characters. It's play time. No one can take their first draft seriously. And that's why I like it so much. I allow myself to be completely free to write crap, to not make sense, to not censor my ideas, and to just let it all be so very messy. How much fun is that? I can leave large gaps in narrative with just a note to myself that I need to add a scene here that is interesting. I don't actually have to write the interesting scene. I am getting to know my characters and their back stories. I get to create the world they will inhabit.

The hard thing about first drafts for me is that you have to create something out of nothing. While I find this creatively fulfilling and stimulating, it's also extremely hard. It's like being pregnant. You have to create one cell at a time until the whole being is there. It's exhausting and exhilarating at the same time. Sometimes the creative spirit is there and the writing seems to fill the page almost magically. Oftentimes, the writing feels like concentrating on each single breath you take in  a day, as if you have to make yourself breathe instead of it being an involuntary act your body does automatically.

But when all is said and done, you have a mess of a first draft. Ugh. Now you have to make it into something that other people might want to read. This is really hard work. It's so natural to look at this beautiful baby we've created and think it is just perfect and needs no additional work. But we all know that's not true at all.

However, revisions can be a playful time as well. I love to get critiques from my writing group, from editors at workshops, from my daughters who are also writers. There are so many wonderful ideas and possibilities. I get to look at them all and decide which ones fit the story I'm trying to tell. It's a collaborative time for me. A social time.

The comforting aspect of revisions for me is that at least I have something already there to work with. However, much of it will be cut by the time I finish revising. I always save those sections, just in case I decide to use a certain turn of phrase or save the scene for some other book. So I never really delete things--just save them  for another day. For example, one of the characters in my current revision project came to me more than 25 years ago, and waited around patiently until her turn came. Sometimes I cut several chapters completely. Less experienced authors sometimes gasp when I tell them this, but I never regret having written those scenes--or having to cut them. They were a piece I needed to write in order to know something important about my characters or my story. It just doesn't work in the storytelling.

Usually, for me, the first draft is fast and dirty. I just want to get the whole thing out so it's all there on the page. I rush too much and don't include enough detail. Structure and meaning often fall by the wayside. And I skip a lot of internal and emotional plot in order to get the bare bones set up.

So revision is my change to go back and add the rest of the parts to that skeleton, the sinew and the connective tissue. The guts and the muscle. It's often a layering process. I usually end of up a layer of skin first to keep it all held together, and then I add the internal organs to keep the life force flowing. Bit by bit, until I get the teeny nerve endings in there in the final revision, the ones that help it all make sense and transfer imagery and meaning. This part is more like raising the child you gave birth to--it takes a long time and a lot of work (hopefully not 18 years, though). Eventually, you launch it into the world.

My favorite part of all is the having done it. Being done, knowing I put my best into it. It's such a satisfying feeling to see what I have made. Just like the baby I raised into an adult--it is so amazing, beyond my imagination actually, what came from my efforts.

What happens after that is out of my hands.

by Neysa CM Jensen
(in Boise, Idaho)

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16. Voice

It is one of those elusive things. Writers try to develop it. Publishers look for one that is unique. It is an essential element of effective writing. So what the heck is voice?

Simply put, voice is the way you write, your individual writing style. As there are a zillion of us tapping away at keyboards, there are just as many variations on voice. As a trumpet, a clarinet, and a violin all are capable of playing a melody, the sound of each produces will be different. Voice conveys the author’s attitude and personality. It’s what makes writers unique; it’s what makes your writing pop. It’s what draws a reader into a story.

Ann Cannon posted recently on her blog about voice. She says that “we all recognize it when we see it—a narrative style that makes you sit up and take notice, one that feels fresh and wholly original—a style that is as unique and individual as an author herself.  Voice elevates an ordinary story and makes it memorable, even extraordinary—and when a voice feels authentic, we as readers feel like something so natural must also be easy to pull off.” Then she confesses it is not easy.

I will be the assistant for Ann at the Writing and Illustrating For Young Readers (WIFYR) conference again this June and my guess is she is planning something on voice. She has assigned us to read the works of two masters of voice, Carol Lynch Williams and Ann Dee Ellis, both Utah writers.

I had read Carol’s The Chosen One a few years back. Rereading it does not diminish the power of her voice. Carol writes with such authority. The main character Kyra’s story is so compelling, the reader is completely pulled in. It is hard to put down and the voice stays with you after you close the book.

Ann Dee Ellis displays her gift of voice in both her first two books, This Is What I Did and Everything is Fine. I’ve just begun hearer latest, The End Or Something Like That, and it promises to serve a big slice of voice. Ann Cannon can’t think of another YA writer “who has the gift of voice in the way she does…  Ann Dee’s voice draws you into fictional words that simultaneously ring both eccentric and true. Her use of language is startling.”

Ann Dee will be doing the WIFYR Friday mini-worship and her topic just so happens to be, drum roll, please,  voice. Carol and Ann are running morning workshops. Carol’s class is full, but if you want to learn a thing or two about voice, there are still spots available with both Ann and Ann Dee.

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

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17. It Was a Dark and Stormy Night ...

I recently finished reading the classic book "Wrinkle in Time" with my eight-year-old. It begins with the famous—and much maligned—line, "It was a dark and stormy night ..."

Writers look down on this opening phrase as being "obvious" and "too moody." It has been the butt of jokes from "Throw Momma from the Train" to Peanuts comics. But I'd like to write a brief defense of Madelaine L'Engle's linguistic choice as well as take a look at what makes descriptions work ... or not work.

L'Engle's phrase, at its most basic, does, indeed, set a tone for the book. And it describes the intensity that the character Meg feels. It also foreshadows the "dark"/sinister beings the characters will encounter, as well as the darkness through which the characters travel during their cross-planetary adventure. So I think that mentioning a "dark night" is thematic and relevant to L'Engle's whole book; she writes it as a fight between love and "the dark."

So what about the complaint that to describe night as dark is too obvious? I would argue that there are all kinds of nights. There are nights that seem like a faint orange hue hangs between the greenness of piled snow and heavy-set clouds. There are purple nights. There are also cold bright nights when the sky is clear and the moon shines like a shadeless pendant bulb.

And yes, there are stormy nights when the darkness seems to swallow up every detail out of reach, as though a cocoon of black velvet envelopes you: a dark and stormy night.

But these days, readers want more than that. We expect writers to paint with words in a more extraordinary way.

On the other hand, overly long or beatific descriptions are considered passé: Flip to almost any page in the classic "Anne of Green Gables" series and you'll find paragraphs of detail like: "a veritable apple-bearing tree, here in the very midst of pines and beeches ... all white with blossom. It's loaded [with apples]—tawny as russets but with a dusky red cheek. Most wild seedlings are green and uninviting."

While most of us still appreciate (and even love) L.M. Montgomery's lengthy stylistic descriptions for its time, these days such florid language is considered "purple prose."

Needless to say, descriptions can make or break even the best concepts and plots. Writers need not only to be gifted storytellers, but word makers and image creators of a new bent.

One author who excels in this is Mark Zusack. Consider some of these images from "The Book Thief":

  • a short grin was smiled in Papa's spoon
  • one [book] was delivered by a soft, yellow-dressed afternoon
  • empty hat-stand trees
  • the gun clipped a hole in the night
  • the summer of '39 was in a hurry
  • the smell of friendship
  • [the] crackling sound ... was kinetic humans, flowing, charging up
Zusak has an uncanny ability to describe. A grin is offered up as if it is a picture from a film director's storyboard. A sound is described using imagery. A feeling is described as a scent. Ideas are personified and people are chemicals.

So think well when you are describing. Go over your story and take the time to find new ways to bring imagery to your reader. And keep it somewhere between "purple" and "dark and stormy."

Do you have a favorite metaphor or simile? Share it below!

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18. Online Contests

One of the hardest parts of the writing process for me is finally submitting to agents. This entails crafting the dreaded query letter and subjecting oneself to the agony of rejection and waiting. For some lucky ones, query misery lasts a few days or months. For others, i's a much longer process, at least if the writer is pursuing traditional publishing, which I am.

One wonderful alternative to querying are online contests. Mind you, they won't let you off the hook of writing a query letter. In fact, in most of them, a query is essential. In most contests, the point is to submit a killer query or pitch or first page, or all three of them.

I've been on Twitter for a while, and every few months, I heard calls for #PitchMadness, #Pitchmass, #QueryKombat, and The Writer's Voice, among others. Every time I saw them, I vowed to inform myself a little better for the next time I had the chance to enter.

Well, I found out The Writer's Voice had a entry date on late April, and I put it on my calendar with various reminders. I entered. I have to say, I didn't escape the agony I had experienced with querying because, you see? There were almost two hundred entries for this contest, and only 32 spots for the agent round. Four coaches would pick their team of eight writers who had submitted their query and first page.

To my utter surprise, I made it into the rafflecopter pre-selection that trimmed the entries down to one-hundred and fifty. The day the coaches were announcing their teams--by commenting on the entrants' blogs--I was a nervous wreck. That night at nine, I had prepared myself not to make it to the next round. To my surprise, I made it! Elizabeth Briggs and Krista Van Dolzer chose me to be part of #TeamRockstar. They helped me hone my query and first page, and on the day of the contest, I ended up with three full manuscript requests. More importantly, I met a lot of wonderful people, from my team and the other teams, who cheered me on and inspired me with their own stories.

Right now, #QueryKombat is taking place, and honestly, even if I don't make it to the next round, I've already learned so much from the querying process! I have a better query right now and I'm more confident with my first chapter. And again, I found a wonderful community online that makes me feel less alone during this difficult times of waiting and waiting and more waiting.

Brenda Drake hosts several contests every year. I also participated of The Writer's Digest Middle Grade First Chapter Contest and #YAHugs, of which I also was a finalist. The common denominator in all of these contests has been the support of fellow writers and agents.

Here's the link to a success story from a contest. I invite you to jump into Twitter and take part of the opportunity these contests offer. For some, I've had to tweet my pitch in no more than 140 characters. And guess what? After much trying and experimenting, I was able to, and I also secured a full request this way.

If you are on Twitter, look me up. My handle is @YamileSMendez and I tweet about books (of course), diversity in books, and now with the upcoming World Cup, I'll be tweeting a lot about soccer. Now it's your turn: tell me, have had any experience with online contests? Share it with us!

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19. The Great Critique

Giving and receiving critiques on your writing is one of the most helpful and necessary parts of the process. I value my critique group beyond any other writing tools I have. They let me know what works and what doesn't, when something I thought was crystal clear is not, and when my characters are acting out of character. They offer encouragement and cheerleading.

Not only has constant critique made me a better writer, it has made me a more professional writer. When I receive notes from agents, editors, and other professionals, I am able to receive the notes with a professional calmness. I don't get defensive. I get revising.

I hope everyone who writes is able to find a group or a few trusted beta readers who can offer valuable critique, but I know that there are quite a few writers in our SCBWI region (Utah and southern Idaho) who may not even know any other writers in their community. Or perhaps they don't know how to get a group started. Or have never critiqued anyone else's work and feel inadequate.

That is why we started a region-wide event called The Great Critique. We give you the opportunity to meet with other children's writers in your area and critique away. On one day, August 9, we all meet throughout the region, helping each other become better writers (and illustrators--they get to participate as well!). During the summer, you'll receive excerpts from manuscripts by the others registered in your area. You'll read them, prepare comments, and then meet in August for live critiquing. And if you don't have a meeting close by, we offer an online location as well. This event is FREE, and we hope you take advantage of it.

In addition, if you wish to have a critique from a publishing house editor or an agent, you can register for that through our web site. And for an extra bonus, you can get a professional query critique.

You'll find all the details on our registration page. So there are no excuses. Sign up NOW. Registration is open until June 15.

by Neysa CM Jensen
your regional advisor for SCBWI
(I live in Boise, Idaho, but don't hold that against me.)

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20. Social media update

Okay. I’ve been on Facebook for a week now and can’t say much has happened. 

It could be my fault. I haven’t added much since setting it up. Posting writerly things would be a start.

I did have contact from several long lost friends. I clicked on some of them to see what they’re doing with their lives. I’ve learned FB can be a big time-suck.

Scott Rhoades commented and said social media is trending toward generating more discussion than blogs. He says that people wanting to know more about you as an author are more likely to seek you out on Facebook.

One author that effectively uses social media is John Green. I recently heard about this guy on the WIFYR blog. Becca Birkin was talking about an author who knows how to “speak teenager.” I have consumed several of his books hoping to develop an ear for that jargon.

John Green is an outstanding author which probably pushes his “likes” up to 1.3 million. (Beats my 31). His The Fault In Our Stars is coming out as a movie this summer. Besides his talent, what also is impressive about him is his use of social media. For TFIOS as well as Looking for Alaska, he uses this technology to answer readers’ questions about things in the books. He has a FB page, Tumblr and Twitter accounts, his own website, and a YouTube video channel he created with his brother.

So, what is a poor unpublished writer to do? I guess go out and write a book that people would want to inquire about. Write like John Green. And quit frittering away valuable writing time on Facebook.

And… WIFYR is still accepting writers wanting to lift their craft. Go to WIFYR.com.

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

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21. Join Us on BlogTalkRadio's World of Ink Network show Stories for Children

The Stories for Children show is on Mondays and hosted by Mom's Choice and Award-winning Author Virginia S Grenier, who is joined weekly by guest authors to talk about writing for children and/or their favorite children's/YA books. Grenier, with her guests, hope to not only share their love of the written word, but also what makes a good book for young readers and much more.

This week on Monday May 19, 2014 at 3pm Pacific - 4pm Mountain - 5pm Central - 6pm Eastern, Grenier will be joined by two members of the Utah Children's Writers blog team.

Our guests are: 
Scott Rhoades has enjoyed writing since he was about five years old, when he used to make his own books by tracing pictures and making up stories to go with them. He especially enjoys writing stories set in the Middle Ages. He was a technical writer for Novell, Inc. from 1992 to 2007, after starting his career at Atari in 1988. He currently runs his own company, Write Field Documentation Services, LLC. He is also on the Board of Directors of The Tiferet Center, a center for Jewish education, ritual, and community service based in Vermont. Learn more at http://www.scottrhoades.com/index.html

Julie Daines spent eighteen months in London where she studied and fell in love with English Literature, Sticky Toffee Pudding, and the fellow who ran the kebab store around the corner. After editing for other authors, she decided to take up writing again--this time in the young adult genre. Learn more at http://www.juliedaines.com/

Writers are invited to call-in during the show at (714) 242-5259 or join us in our chatroom located on the show page (http://www.blogtalkradio.com/worldofinknetwork/2014/05/19/utah-childrens-writers--the-stories-for-children-show)!

Learn more about our shows and network at our website http://worldofinknetwork.com
Find great books and articles on our blog or follow us on our Facebook Fanpage

You can also catch the show through Facebook, Twitter, itunes and many more!

Listen in Monday May 19th at 4pm Mountain at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/worldofinknetwork/2014/05/19/utah-childrens-writers--the-stories-for-children-show

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22. "Inspiration"

I used to think I had to wait for big bursts of “inspiration” in order to write. But I found that my most productive writing spurts were when I was bored. I had nothing else to distract my thoughts and so they went to writing and my invented world made up for my boring reality.

Unfortunately, adult life generally leaves little space for boredom. It didn’t take me long to realize that if I waited around for “inspiration” while running around my busy life, then I was never going to get any writing done.

Luckily, I figured out what had been true all along: “inspiration” came when I gave myself time to focus on my story. If I can make myself sit down and just write gosh-darn-it and give myself enough time to really get into that flow state—then the “inspiration” came. I can make my “inspiration” happen if I want it to.

It takes discipline. I don’t have any kids yet so I probably don’t know the half of it, but when I set a New Year’s resolution to wake up early and write every morning, I did not realize how hard that would be most mornings. To say I’m not a morning person would be something of an understatement. But I finally caved because it’s so wonderful to write at a time of day when there’s nothing to distract you. Except for maybe your lovely bed.

I am far from keeping my New Year’s resolution perfectly. But I’ve learned that the key is to remember that I can always start over. No need to give up because you’ve failed to keep your goal for a day or two, or even much longer (guilty). We can always start again today getting those juices flowing, getting that stuff to come out of you! Because we all know how great it feels when you really get into it and the time is just passing and you don’t even know it and all of a sudden you’re late for work (also guilty). But it’s so worth it!

So here’s to lots of “inspiration” in our future—the kind that we make happen every day.

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23. The Mobile Author, Part Three: Managing Your Project

Once your work space is organized, you'll want to organize your work life and your projects.

It helps to think of a writing project as a job. Not the boring 9 to 5 kind, but rather a totally awesome job with the hours that work best for me. And, being a mobile author means I can write wherever I want to. I can write in an office or den if I want to, and that's often the best place to do it. But, if I want to, I can also go to a cafe or coffee shop, or I can work from a hotel room, or on the plane, or a train. I'm mobile; I can do what I want.

A calendar, a notebook, and a task manager should give you everything you need to stay on track.

Wunderlist task manager app


If you treat writing as a job, you'll want at least the basic organization tools. A good calendar is a must.

There are many calendar apps, many of them free. You might be happy with the one that came on your phone or tablet, or you might want to experiment a little with other apps until you find one you like better. As always, check reviews and feature lists to make sure the calendar you choose is going to work for you.You'll want to make sure your calendar can sync with the calendar for your day job, if you have one. You'll also want it to sync with your personal calendar, like a Google calendar or iCal.

Use your calendar to schedule deadlines, even if those deadlines are no more than personal goals. You can also use it to remind you of local writing events, conferences, signings, and presentations. If you are in a writing group, you might use your calendar to keep track of your group meetings, with reminders to prepare your chapter for critiquing. A shared calendar, like a Google calendar, used by all members of your group, is perfect.


You're also going to want a good notebook. My definition of a good notebook is one that you like to use so much that you actually do.

For me, that means having the ability to keep multiple notebooks so I can place certain types of notes in the right notebook. It also means being able to search the notes so I can find what I want. Finally, I prefer a notebook that syncs across devices without me having to remember to copy my notes. Or having to remember to do anything at all, really.

I find it useful to keep two kinds of notebooks, a fancy robust one for serious note keeping and a lighter notebook for quick notes. Kind of like a composition book and a stack of stickies.

One of the most popular apps in all of appdom is Evernote. Evernote is one of those rare apps that has the ability to be almost everything for almost everybody. You can store ideas and notes, write a whole scene, store photos, record voice notes, draw diagrams--you name it, you can do it in Evernote. Evernote lets you create your own organization style, with notebooks for each project, for your ideas, or whatever you need your organizational style to be to actually stick with it. And of course, everything you put into Evernote is automatically available everywhere you have the app, as well as on the computer in your home office. You can put an icon or widget on your device for easy access. And it's available for Android, iOS, Windows, and Mac. And it's free, although you can also pay for additional features and more storage space. You want this app.

If you have a recent version of  Microsoft Office, you likely have Microsoft OneNote, which is very similar to Evernote. I use both, although I tend to use OneNote more for my day job. If you have it, use it. It works well, and has a handy app for most major devices.

There are many other note apps, so if you want to try another one, check out your app store. You might want something that looks more like a paper notepad, for example. Many notebook apps let you save to Dropbox or Google Drive so your notes are available wherever you need them.

In addition to a robust notebook, I like having a second app for quick notes. Although you can use Evernote or OneNote, I find it convenient to use a smaller notebook. The iPad and iPhone come with a good note pad, but Android somehow neglected to add one. The recently released Google Keep fills that hole. I use Keep for short reminders, pictures, or short voice notes. Notes are stored on Google Drive, and are synced with any device where I've installed the app. It can't compare to Evernote or OneNote for sheer awesomeness, but it's a good part of my mobile writing toolkit, and it's a perfect app for that smart phone you always have with you.

Just remember the number one requirement that I mentioned above: a good notebook is one you like to use so much that you actually use it.

Task Manager

The third app you'll want is a good task manager. You could use your notes app for tracking tasks. Evernote and Google Keep are both good for checklists of tasks.

The best task managers, though, give you more than a checklist. The ideal task manager lets you create and track subtasks, the many little tasks that need to be done to complete a larger task. It also syncs with your calendar. Of course, it goes without saying that you can access your lists from anywhere and from any device. And, it's a joy to use, so you'll use it.

Two of the most popular task managers that meet my criteria, both available for Android and iOS, are Wunderlist and Any.Do. Both are free.There are many others, so find the one that does what you need.

For a task manager that goes beyond to-do-lists, especially if you are visually oriented, you might try Trello, which I've recently discovered. Think of it as a bulletin board (or as many bulletin boards as you need) where you can pin cards for each task or group of tasks, and move the cards around as you work on them. For example, if a card is in your to-do stack, you can move it to your Doing stack while working on it, and when you finish that task, you can move the card to your Done stack. If you are collaborating with another author or an illustrator, or want to review your plans with your writing group, Trello includes collaboration features that let you share and work on your boards with others. Trello works on pretty much anything, either through the mobile app or a web browser. You'll see this app mentioned more than once in this series.

By the way, your smart phone is a great place to keep your task manager. Most task managers don't require a large screen, and you probably have your phone with you all the time.

Next Step

Now that your portable office is ready and you're set up to manage your projects, you can start to plan your story. Come back next week to find out how to use your mobile device as a convenient story planning tool.

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24. WIFYR special guests

I don’t know how she does it, but Carol Lynch Williams seems to always pull in some big names to the WIFYR conference and this year is no different.

Thursday’s keynote speaker will be The Maze Runner author, James Dashner. The trilogy includes The Scorch Trials and The Death Cure and the movie hits the theaters in September. The Maze Runner is what he is most notable for, but Dashner has also written The 13th Reality series, the Jimmy Fincher series and two books in the Mortality Doctrine series.

The book I’m reading now is book one of The Infinity Ring, A Mutiny in Time. As a WIP is a time travel book, I wanted another perspective on the genre and Dashner starts with an interesting premise. Modern society is dystopic, and Christopher Columbus did not discover America. Dashner’s characters must travel back in time to repair breaks in history, such as the one in which the mutineers on the Santa Maria prevented his famous discovery. Similar to the 39 Clues series, each the book is written by a different author, including Utah’s own Jennifer Nielsen and Matt Kirby (a current and former WIFYR instructor respectfully). Scholastic Books has picked it up and has online games that go with it. Talk about use of social media.

Attendees at WIFYR will have greater access to the publisher guests. Editor Kristin Ostby will be there from Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. Agent John Cusick returns and he represents Greenhouse Literary Agency. The other agents are Michelle Witte from Mansion Street Literary Management and Amy Jameson of A+B Works.

The once thing about this conference is that these agents and editors respect the time and energy writers put into writing and their commitment to the craft. Utah has been noticed by the publishing world and they come to WIFYR seeking that talent.

James Dashner’s keynote is Thursday afternoon, June 19. Conference attendees, of course, get in. Others may come for free, however they must have a ticket, a copy of which just happens to be below and above. Print it out and present it for admission. Print out several and bring your writer friends, too.

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

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25. The Mobile Author, Part Four: Planning Your Story

Even pantsers need to do some planning. Today I'm going to tell you about some apps that can help the mobile author plan a story.


There are many ways to plan a story. My favorite is to make notes that summarize key events in the story. The note apps I described in last week's article are perfect for that. But there are some other useful tools that you might find helpful, depending on your work style.


Many writers like to start with a detailed outline. I'm not one of them, but for this article, I looked for a good outlining app. Outliner seems to be almost perfect for you Android-using planners. It enables you to make a detailed outline, and even create a task list based on the outline. If you're an outliner, you might try this app. I also see several outlining apps in the Apple App Store for a variety of prices. Let us know if one of these works for you.


I admit it, I like mindmaps. I've used them to organize projects for my day job. I've also used them to help me spawn ideas by creating word associations and following character traits through a map. If you want ideas for using mindmaps to create a novel, you might start with this article.

 A character mindmap in SimpleMind Free

There are several mindmapping tools you can try, but the one I've used on my tablet is called SimpleMind for Android. SimpleMind is also free in the Apple App Store, so iOS mindmappers rejoice.

SimpleMind is easy to use, even on a small screen. It's easy to create nodes and move them around, and the mind maps are simple but attractive. I haven't tried syncing a map or saving to Dropbox. You're more likely to want to use this on your tablet than your phone because the bigger screen is nice, so syncing between devices might not matter much unless you have more than one tablet.


The whiteboard is a perfect tool for story building. What can be better than a blank slate and colorful pens? You can free-associate thoughts and words, make mind maps, do whatever. When you have a blank white board, you have no limits.

I've been playing with a whiteboard app called SyncSpace Shared Whiteboard (Android and iOS). In addition to being a cool whiteboard with the features you'd expect and infinite zoom in an out, you can share your board across devices, including over the web, for collaborating. It's free for Android. The iPad version will set you back $9.99, but you get significant additional features.

There are tons of whiteboard apps for both Android and iOS. This is another app category where the best thing to do is try a few and decide what works for you. Go to your app store and search for "whiteboard." If you find a favorite, let us know.

Bulletin Board

I mentioned Trello in the previous article in this series. Trello is essentially a bulletin board that you use to pin and organize cards. Like a real index card, a card has two sides that can contain anything you want it to, and you can organize your cards in a list, which is basically a bunch of cards pinned together in a column.

Think of the possibilities. You could have a card for each character and include whatever information you want, including a picture. Then, keep all of your character cards in the character list. Or, you could write a summary of each scene on its own card, then organize the scenes in order or into chapters. You could easily rearrange scenes, add new ones, or discard them into a discard list.

Because Trello is a Cloud application, all you have to do is set up an account and install the app, and your cards are available wherever you are, on any device.


Back in December, I wrote a detailed review of the Cardboard index card app and how it can be used for storyboarding. I'm happy to say this app has gotten even better since then, with better terminology and some interface changes. Best of all, the plug-in that included card styles for writers is no longer needed because those cards have been added to the main app. There are cards to help with common story elements, plot in traditional acts, or follow the journey of the hero.

If you like storyboarding with index cards, or if you like the storyboarding feature in programs like Scrivener, Cardboard could become one of your go-to apps in your mobile office.

Next Step

Next week, I'll get down to the nitty-gritty with some suggestions for using your tablet to actually write your story. I'll discuss some full office suites, some minimalist text editors, and some ways to use the features of your mobile office to keep you focused on meeting your writing goals.

Part One: The Portable Office

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