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Say you’re a new freelance writer. (Sound familiar?) You ask someone with more experience whether you should start a blog to help attract clients and let you use blog posts as clips.
Chances are, the other writer will tell you it’s absolutely, totally imperative that you have a blog. I even heard one freelance writer tell a poor newbie, “You only have a website? But that’s so STATIC!”
I’m here to tell you that if you’re asking whether you should start a blog, the answer is No.
And if you’re wondering what topic to start you blog on, the answer is that you shouldn’t.
If you start a blog, it need to be because you already have something you really, really want to say. Something you’re so passionate about that you can’t hold it back. Something that you can envision yourself writing about regularly for the indefinite future.
For example, Diana and I have written over 1,000 posts since 2006! That’s the kind of commitment you need. If you don’t feel inclined to write 1,000 posts on a particular topic, a blog may not be right for you.
Blogs are not an easy clip. If you start a blog, you will need to keep it updated, because nothing looks sadder to prospective clients than a blog that hasn’t been updated in six months.
Also, you’ll need to promote your blog if you want to get comments — so you don’t feel like you’re just writing to yourself all the time. Blogs are meant to be read.
And…what happens when you start getting some real published clips and no longer need the blog? Will you just let it die? Will all that work be for nothing?
It’s way easier to just start pitching clients based on your experience — for example, if you have a foodservice background you would pitch businesses in that industry — or to do a free assignment or two just to get the samples.
And don’t forget that your (static!) website works as a clip. If you have some kick-ass copy on there, prospects will be able to see you can write.
There is the issue that fresh content will push your website up in the search engine results, and blogs are of course perfect for that. But you can get a similar effect by updating your portfolio as you garner new clips.
If you have plans to monetize your blog and a topic you’re passionate about, go for it. And if you want to offer blogging as one of your services, you’ll want to show prospects that you can do that. But if you feel you need to blog just for the clip — there are better, easier ways to do that. Ways that won’t have you on the hook for the rest of your working career.
How about you: Have you wrestled with whether to start a blog? How did it end up? Or did you start a blog for the clips and later felt burdened with it? Let us know in the Comments below!
I've been tagged by Vicki Leigh in the Meet My Character Blog Hop. Thanks, Vicki! So, today I'll be talking about the MC in Into the Fire. Well, one of them anyway. It's dual POV. Here we go!
1. What is the name of your character? Is he/she fictional or a historic person?
Cara Tillman is 100% fictional, though she feels completely real in my mind.
2. When and where is the story set?
The story is set in present day in a fictional town called Ashlan Falls.
3. What should we know about him/her?
Cara is a descendent of the mythical phoenix bird, and her first rebirth is only one month away.
4. What is the main conflict? What messes up his/her life?
Cara knows that when she's reborn, she's going to forget everyone from her first life. So when she imprints on the new guy in town, Logan, this spells disaster. It also makes her more of a target for Hunters, people who kill Phoenixes and steal their essence so they can live longer.
5. What is the personal goal of the character?
Cara is dying to find a way to hold on to her memories and Logan through her rebirth.
6. Is there a working title for this novel, and can we read more about it?
Into the Fire is a YA romantic fantasy. Here's the blurb:
In one month, seventeen-year-old Cara Tillman will die. But until then, she plans to enjoy every look, touch and kiss with her boyfriend Logan, the new boy in Ashlan Falls. Cara is a descendant of the mythical Phoenix bird, and her rebirth is nearing. But first, she must die and forget all that she knew before, including Logan's face, his laugh, and the way he says her name. With precious little time left for the two of them, Cara does all she can to savor every moment, unwittingly drawing a Phoenix hunter to her doorstep with every move.
7. When can we expect the book to be published?
Into the Fire was published on September 9th! You can grab your copy today on Amazon or B&N, and take the #IntotheFireChallenge for a chance to become a phoenix in the final book of the series.
Danielle Hark founded Broken Light Collective, a community for photographers coping with mental health issues, more than two years ago. We’ve been following that project for a while (and mentioned it in a mental health-focused roundup earlier this year), so it was nice to see Danielle, and Broken Light Collective as a whole, receive the attention they deserve in a New York Times profile. It was published to coincide with the Collective‘s first group gallery show, which closed in New York in August.
Ana Sofía Peláez‘s site has showcased the colorful, mouthwatering delights of Caribbean cuisine for more than five years, mixing in great storytelling with beautiful food photography. Next month, Ana Sofía will see her book, The Cuban Table: A Celebration of Food, Flavors, and History (St. Martin’s Press), hit bookstores (and kitchens) everywhere. A labor of love on which she collaborated with photographer Ellen Silverman, the book chronicles Cuban food cultures from Havana to Miami to New York.
Earlier this week, Notches editor Julia Laite, a lecturer at the University of London, wrote a thought-provoking article in The Guardian on another fascinating topic: our decades-long obsession with Jack the Ripper.
Justine Brooks Froelker, the blogger behind Ever Upward, has been chronicling her journey through infertility, loss, and acceptance in posts that are at once unflinching and moving. Now, Justine is preparing for the release of her book, also named Ever Upward, in early October (it’ll also be available on Amazon starting February). You can get a taste of Justine’s writing in this excerpt from the book’s opening chapter.
Are you publishing a book soon? Has your blog made the news? Leave us a comment — we’d love to know.
Crafting the Kidlit Novel - Four Week Online Class
starts October 6, 2014
One Bite at a Time: How Writing a Novel is Like Eating a T-Rex and Other Things That Bite Back
With Children’s Authors
Kami Kinard and Rebecca Petruck
The idea of writing an entire novel can be intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be when you learn how to move in stages. Children’s authors Kami Kinard and Rebecca Petruck break down the elements of solid novel writing, beginning with the hook and on through pitch, character development, plot structure, and practical tools for writing through to the end. Though the focus will be on middle grade and young adult writing, the tools are useful for anyone who wants to complete a publishable work.
NaNoWriMos!This class will organize your approach so you launch into November with a plan that will result in a novel-like construction and not simply 50,000 words.
Bonus Critique: Register before September 20, 2014 and receive a free five-page critique and 20-minute Skype session with Kami Kinard, redeemable within six months of the course’s completion.
In addition, you will be entered to receive a free written critique of the first chapter of your novel (up to 5 pages) from Agent Rachael Orr of Prospect Agency.
You have the option of registering for the four-week class for $250 or the class PLUS a 25 page critique with a 60 minute telephone or Skype conversation for $350.
“My name is Sally.” Remember that famous first line? No?
“My name is Ishmael.” How about that one? Even if you’ve never read Moby Dick, you probably are familiar with that first sentence.
Over the next two months, a class of teens will have my full attention as we indulge in the delicacies of creative writing. Today, the teens discussed the importance of grabbing readers’ attention in the first line or shortly thereafter.
I read the first lines from several books to them. First, they told me the book they thought the line came from and second, they told me if it intrigued them enough to keep reading.
See if you recognize what books hold these first lines:
1.“There is no lake at Camp Green Lake.”
2.“When I was in elementary school, I packed my suitcase and told my mother I was going to run away from home.”
3.“The sun did not shine. It was too wet to play. So we sat in the house. All that cold, cold wet day.”
4.“Grandchildren, you asked me about this medal of mine. There is much to be said about it.”
5.“That Sam-I-am! That Sam-I-am! I do not like that Sam-I-am!
Did you guess correctly? 1. Holes 2. My Side of the Mountain3. The Cat in the Hat 4. Code Talker 5. Green Eggs and Ham
Words quote by twowritingteachers
This is a fun activity to do with children of any age. Just choose books of which they are familiar. I guarantee most teens will fondly remember those Dr. Seuss books even if it has been ten years since they last heard them read aloud.
My son recently got into watching trivia game shows. He’s nine and almost all of the questions are out of his realm of comprehension. However, he loves the challenge aspect. Noticing this I now have greater results when I quiz him on school subjects if I do two things. I use my best game show announcer voice and use the words “challenge,” “advance to the next level,” and “you won!” If I cut out pictures of cars, dishwashers, and luggage to present as “prizes,” I wonder will he find that fun or cornball. It’s a fine line, you know.
The first lines of a book can have a lasting impression. So too, adults have the potential to influence a young life, just by what they say to them:
first thing in the morning,
first thing after school,
first thing after not being successful.
Make your first lines positive and they’ll definitely have a lasting effect.
Photo by JanusCastrane
(*And by the way, when I was a child, one of my favorite books is Try Again, Sally. I wonder why.)
In my career, I’ve worked a lot with rhyming picture book texts. Not on my agenting list, unfortunately, since the market for rhyming picture books was (and remains) tough. Of my dozen or so picture book author clients, most were author-illustrators who could bring a unique art voice and sense of balance between text and image, the rest were prose picture book writers, and only one worked exclusively in rhyme. Tough odds. The rhyming one did get a book deal during our work together (the absolutely charming GOODNIGHT, ARK by Laura Sassi, illustrated by Jane Chapman), but I heard over and over again from editors that rhyming was tough.
Well, let’s leave rhyming out of it and talk about rhyming’s black sheep sister for a minute: rhythm. If you want to write rhyming picture books, I would actually argue that rhythm, not rhyme, is king of the genre. Most people get so caught up in finding the right rhyme that their rhythm is all over the place and completely sinks the manuscript, almost before it gets started. Are you writing in rhyme and failing to count your syllables? Disaster lies in that direction.
The biggest mistake people writing rhyming PBs make is letting rhyme dictate story. Why does the dog have fleas? Because it has to eat cheese in order for the rhyme to work? Wrong. You’ve written yourself into a prison and you’re going to keep sacrificing the integrity of the story just to hit your rhymes. That’s not great.
The second biggest mistake, as you might be able to guess, is not paying attention to rhythm. If you aren’t yet familiar with syllable counts, iambs, trochees, and all the other trappings of verse, it may be worth your while to get a high school or college poetry textbook. That’s right. A textbook. Because there is stuff to learn about rhythm that was so intricate that you quicky repressed it in the 9th grade. People have been hammering away at poetry for centuries and centuries. Give their hard work at least a cursory nod and study the poetic form before you throw your hat in the ring.
You could have the most beautiful rhyme in the world but if the read-aloud factor isn’t there, and it’s pitted like a road after winter, with starts and stops, your rhyming picture book will go flat. And if you aren’t reading your work aloud as you compose or edit, especially for rhyming picture books, what, exactly, are you doing?! That is absolutely essential, because how it sounds in your head probably isn’t how it sounds out in the air.
Ideally you compose for content (story) and cadence (rhythm). Those two come first and foremost. Only when you master rhythm can you even think about incorporating rhyme.
Many years ago I attended a writing conference and one of the authors recommended writing your entire story, then throwing it away and writing it again. The rationale was that writing the first time was to help you get to know the characters. Writing the second time was to finesse it and tease out your […]
Here are more delicious rhetorical devices to add to your prose spice shelf.
Epizeuxis repeats a word in a sentence or clause for emphasis.
It was a long, long night for them both.
Hyperbole uses deliberate exaggeration. It can be funny or sarcastic. Use it sparingly.
Jane was so tired she could have slept for a year, maybe four.
Hypophora is similar to a rhetorical question, only the question is answered. Often the base clause or sentence poses the question and the modifying phrases answer it. In dialogue, it can be provocative if the character asks the question then answers it for the other person.
Jane turned to Dick. "So you want to slay the ghost, by yourself? No, no, I get it. You're strong; I'm weak. You're fast; I'm slow. I'd just get in your way. Fine, see if I care."
Isocolon stresses corresponding words, phrases, or clauses of equal length and similar structure.
Never had Dick promised so much, to appease so many, to benefit so few.
Litotes is an understatement that denies the opposite of the word the reader expects. It can use no or not. It creates confusion.
Jane was not a little angry with Dick for leaving her.
Metaphors can add richness and texture if used wisely. Metaphors compare two different things without using like or as in sentences and paragraphs. Not every simile is a metaphor, but every metaphor implies a simile. Dead metaphors and similes are often cliché, so it's important to cut them or change them up when possible. The biggest offender is the mixed metaphor in which the second proposition is inconsistent with the first.
Dick was able to shed some light on the text. (light = understanding)
Jane stared through the window at the black velvet sky. (sky = black velvet)
Oxymorons connect contradictory terms. You can find extensive lists on the internet. If you look for them, kill them whenever possible. They are hard to spot because they are so frequently used. Most readers won't recognize them as such.
A few examples include:
Next week, we will contine adding spices to your prose shelf.
For the complete list of spices and other revision layers, pick up a copy of:
I’ve been writing about making money as a freelancer for well over a decade now. I have written five books, dozens of articles and hundreds of blog posts about the subject. I get many questions, and lately many of those have been about the field of ghostwriting. What is ghostwriting? How lucrative is it? How do I get started?
The fact is that any competent writer can ghostwrite as well—as long as you understand the additional responsibilities that come with ghosting. There’s a growing market for talented ghostwriters, so I encourage freelancers to consider whether their personality, background and experience make you a good fit for the field.
Your clients’ needs may vary, but I believe that successful ghostwriters must have the following attributes:
Confidence. Confidence is a key to ghostwriting success for several reasons. First, a confident ghost is more likely to get clients—when they trust in your abilities, they’re willing to hire you to write their book or blog post. Second, your confidence in yourself will make your job easier when it comes to creating a piece of writing that sprang not from your own ideas and brain, but from your client’s. Finally, you have to have enough confidence to recognize that you can write without a byline—and that any praise your piece, whether an article or book, receives will be directed to and accepted by your client—not you. If that idea makes you uncomfortable or resentful, ghosting isn’t for you.
Creativity. It’s a rare client who simply wants to dictate his thoughts and have me write them up for him. (And that’s not really ghostwriting, but transcribing.) A ghost does much more than that—she may be called on to conceptualize, organize, research, edit and rewrite. As a freelancer, you’ve no doubt come up with story ideas, organized articles or book chapters and come up with new approaches to subjects you’ve written about that before. You’ll use those same skills when you ghostwrite.
Flexibility. When you write your own piece, you do the research and writing. When you ghostwrite for a client, though, you may need information—whether written or in the form of phone, email, or in-person interviews—directly from that person. If he’s not available when you need him, you may have to push back a deadline or move forward on another part of the project that doesn’t require his immediate input. If you’re working per your client’s deadlines (and not, say, for a traditional publisher), then he may not feel the pressure to complete the project—which means you fall behind (and don’t get paid for your work). Understanding that when you ghost, you may at the whim of your client is key to ghosting.
Ability to organize. If you’re working on a short project, this is less important. But consider, for example, ghosting a book. That requires that you organize the information you receive from your client, research you perform on your own, different drafts of chapter, and other relevant information. I like to use manila folders for book projects, and set up a folder in Word to hold all of the various research and chapters; your methods may vary but the key is to manage information, drafts, and emails in a way that works for you.
Publishing knowledge. If you’re ghostwriting shorter pieces like articles and blog posts, this is not a great concern. However, if you’re going to ghostwrite books for clients, you should have some books under your belt already. If you have published your own books with traditional publishers, you have an understanding of the industry that will benefit your clients. And if you’ve self-published with a print-on-demand, or POD, company, that knowledge will help clients who choose the same option. Ghosts who have done both—traditionally published and self-published (whether in print, or with e-books, or both)—have a huge advantage over ghosts who are great writers but know little about publishing today. In my opinion, the more experience you have with books, the more valuable you are to a client, and the more potential you have as a ghostwriter.
Ask yourself honestly whether you have these five essential attributes. If the answer is yes, then consider adding ghosting to your freelance repertoire.
Looking for a writing group in or around Houston? I don’t recall what made me start looking for these groups, but once I got started, I was amazed at how many organized writing groups there are in and around Houston. The groups listed here range from large organizations like SCBWI and The Writers’ Guild to small critique groups, and most of them have writers of various genres. Many are open to new members, so if you see one in your area that looks like it might be a good fit for you, give them a holler.
Don’t quite fit with any of these groups? Grab a few friends and make your own! Name yourselves and get a blog. If you know of others (that have an internet presence) in or near Houston, let me know. I’ll revisit this page from time to time with updates.
Perhaps you’ve heard the one about a journalist who arrived at Joyce Carol Oates’ home to interview her? “I’m sorry,” said her assistant. “But she’s working on her new novel right now.” “That’s okay,” said the journalist. “I’ll wait.”
With over 40 novels written — averaging two a year — Oates makes us all look bad.
While there’s no average time for writing a novel, a decade certainly sounds like a long time. And it feels like it too. Throughout the nine years I worked on my latest novel, I worried that I’d never reach the finish line, and even if I did, readers would no longer be there to cheer me on. I was convinced that when it came to publishing, slow and steady won no races.
What gave me hope was keeping in mind some great role models: Donna Tartt published her second and third novels eleven years apart. Loorie Moore spent fifteen years between novels; and my favorite example comes from one of my all-time favorite writers: Marilynne Robinson spent twenty-four years between her acclaimed first novel Housekeeping and her second novel, Gilead.
“Maybe it’s a question of discipline, maybe temperament, who knows? I wish I could have made myself do more,” said Robinson in a 2008 Paris Review interview. “I wouldn’t mind having written fifteen books.”
“Even if many of them were mediocre?” asked the interviewer.
“Well, no,” said Robinson.
Exactly. Once I accepted the fact that ultimately what matters most is writing the book I wanted to write — a book I would love to read — I calmed down and learned to respect my own, deliberate process. Following are some lessons I learned that helped me get there:
1) It takes the time it takes. A novel takes as long as it needs to take to say the things you need to say in the way you need to say them. Worrying about arbitrary deadlines does not influence the creative process. Nor should you be concerned about “timeliness” or literary trends, which are completely unpredictable elements. My novel is set in Detroit and Lagos, Nigeria — both are places in the news now. Who could’ve planned for that?
2) Gifts from the Universe will appear: The longer you work on a novel, the more happenings in the world that can enhance your plot. For example, the Afro-beat musician Fela Kuti figures prominently in my novel. Just as I was writing a final draft, I learned that Fela had performed in Detroit in the exact year my story takes place, and that the long-lost “live” recording of that concert had just been released on CD. That information fit beautifully into my plot — a gift that would’ve been lost had I published the book sooner.
3) The story gets to marinate. Fresh ideas and plot twists will come that only time and a deep familiarity with the material can bring. With more time you get to do more research, receive more feedback, do more revising, read more widely for inspiration. Most importantly, you get to let the work sit for a while. When you return to your story with fresh eyes, you can be more ambitious with its structure or themes. Here’s a line from my journal on the eve of my eighth year working on the novel: “It’s so me, this book. And yet it’s ambitious in a way it took me a long, slow way to be.” As all cooks know, marinades deepen flavor.
4) You will not be forgotten. No one loves you less as a writer because your book is taking several years to finish; In fact, anticipation breeds excitement. On the eve of Into The Go-Slow’s publication, I am both awed and humbled by the many friends and strangers who’ve reached out to say, “I enjoyed your first book, and I can’t wait to read your new one!”
5) Time breeds confidence. Because my new novel was so lovingly (and painstakingly!) crafted, I know who I am now as a writer. Here’s another quote from my journal in 2012: ” For the ninth-year anniversary of writing this story, do this: Don’t let up. Be relentless. Let your maturity show in the form of bravery on every page. Use all this living hence to imbue the work with wisdom.” The evolving years between novels have allowed me to become a fearless storyteller.
A final thought: Think of the long-term work spent on a novel as a personal playground in which you get to slowly work through concepts — themes and characters and POV and descriptions of place, and context. That kind of free play can yield wondrous surprises. Slow-burn writing is also a great way to learn how to balance personal-life demands and the desire to just write.
Know this: no time is ever wasted. Every year you spend on your work is another opportunity to document your creative journey, and grow as a writer. Now why would anyone impose a time limit on that?
Bridgett M. Davis is the author of Into The Go-Slow, released September 9, 2014 by Feminist Press, and the debut novel Shifting Through Neutral, a finalist for the 2005 Hurston/Wright Legacy Award.
Touted by Time Out as one of “10 New York Authors to Read Right Now,” Davis is Books Editor for Bold As Love Magazine, a black culture site; her work has appeared in The Washington Post, Essence, O, The Oprah Magazine, and TheRoot.com.
She is a professor at Baruch College, CIty University of New York, where she directs the Sidney Harman Writer-in-Residence Program. She is also curator for the Brooklyn reading series, Sundays @…..
Jodi Meadows, my fifth-cousin-by-marriage, asked me to write this. “It should be funny,” she said. Apparently, she doesn’t remember reading Rites of Passage or the fact that I don’t/can’t do funny. Just like I can’t write poetry. (She’s a lot like my mom that way—see told you we’re related.) Anyway, here goes. Remember: it’s not funny. Sorry/not sorry.
How Going to Military School = Writing a Book
Do it for yourself first—Military school is hard. It’s grueling. It’s like boot camp on crack because you add classes on top of everything else. If you’re doing it to prove something to yourself, then you’re more likely to succeed. If you’re doing it to impress someone else, it’s going to be hard to make it. There’s a lot of talk about trend in writing. What’s selling, what’s going to sell next. If you focus on that part, writing is going to be hard. Here’s the thing—the publishing industry moves slow. So by the time you’ve gone through writing, revising, subbing, selling…the trend is over. At its essence, writing is about telling a story. A story you can tell that no one else can. If you’re writing the story of your heart, then you’re more likely to succeed. If you’re writing toward a trend, it’s going to be hard to make it.
Determination—Military school ain’t no walk in the park. You get yelled at, woken up insanely early, yelled at more, forced to do millions of push-ups and other forms of physical torture, and then yelled at again. In the case of Sam, the main character in Rites of Passage, you might also get bullied and hazed. But if you (like Sam) have heart and can remember why you’re there, you’ll make it through. The same thing goes with writing. Writing a book from start to finish requires a certain amount of…chutzpah. There will be pages and pages of words you write/love/delete/rewrite/revise, etc. There will be rejection, bad reviews, and days you want to stick your head in the sand. But if you have heart and can remember why you’re writing, you’ll make it through.
Use critique but don’t sell your soul—When you’re marching/shooting/running an obstacle course, everyone seems to have a tip for doing it better/faster/more efficiently. The problem is, those tips work for them—they may not work for you. The tip-giver might be taller/faster/stronger/more daring than you. But think about what they said—don’t just toss it away. See if you can find something in there, however small, that might help. If you take what they give you and make it your own, you’re golden. Don’t feel bad if you don’t use it—this is your life. It’s a lot the same with writing. Everyone reads your book with their own background knowledge. They may want your character to do one thing while you don’t think it fits. It took me a long time to realize I didn’t have to please everyone when I write. As long as I stay true to the story and make it as strong as I can, I’ll be happy. Every critique helps in some way. If you can take what critique partners give you and use it to strengthen your story, you’re golden. Don’t feel bad if you don’t use their suggestions—in the end, this is your story.
It’s not you, it’s you ALL—In military school, it feels like a lot of attention is on you as an individual. To an extent, it is. One cadet out of step in a platoon is really obvious and looks pretty bad. But your platoon, your company, your battalion, when everyone works together and helps each other, it looks amazing. All you can do is your best and hope everyone else does their best, too. It’s the same way with books. At some point your book is out of your hand. Other people get input—your editor, your design team, your publicist—everyone looks at the book from a different angle, checking that it’s in-step, that the uniform is polished and looking its best. The goal is the same, though: to put out the best possible book. All you can do is write the best book you can. Then you hope that everyone else does their best, too.
Sam McKenna has never turned down a dare. And she’s not going to start with the last one her brother gave her before he died.
So Sam joins the first-ever class of girls at the prestigious Denmark Military Academy. She’s expecting push-ups and long runs, rope climbing and mud crawling. As a military brat, she can handle an obstacle course just as well as the boys. She’s even expecting the hostility she gets from some of the cadets who don’t think girls belong there. What she’s not expecting is her fiery attraction to her drill sergeant. But dating is strictly forbidden and Sam won’t risk her future, or the dare, on something so trivial . . . no matter how much she wants him.
As Sam struggles to prove herself, she discovers that some of the boys don’t just want her gone—they won’t rest until she gives up. When their petty threats turn to brutal hazing, bleeding into every corner of her life, she realizes they are not acting alone. A decades-old secret society is alive and active . . . and determined to force her out.
At any cost.
Now time’s running short. Sam must decide who she can trust . . . and choosing the wrong person could have deadly consequences.
RITES OF PASSAGE is available at bookstores and is also available at:
If you want an autographed copy of RITES OF PASSAGE, please e-mail or call Anna-Lisa at my local independent bookstore: Books & Co….Toys, too! Let them know if you want it personalized. They’ll even gift-wrap it for you for free if you ask nicely!
E-mail: orders (at) booksandtoys (dot) us
Phone: (540) 463-4647
Joy N. Hensley is a former middle school teacher. She used to spend her twenty-minute lunch breaks hosting author Skype chats for her students. Once upon a time she went to a military school on a dare. She lives in Virginia with her husband and two children, finding as many ways as she can to never do another push-up again.
It’s back to school season here in New Jersey (or, outside Philadelphia, as I typically refer to it) and that means big changes in my household. All summer, my kids and I are bums. We hang out at the beach, at the pool, at the mall. We travel, we sleep in, we do nothing. Summer is heaven.
But come September, my children’s lives change. Gone are the no schedule, no stress days and in their place we have wake up alarms, agenda books, and deliverables (and, it seems, a LOT of laundry!). The kids aren’t the only ones who go back to school—as a children’s book author, the school year means that I go back to school as well.
Every year, between school visits, Skype visits, and events like Dot Day or World Read Aloud Day, I connect with about 100 different schools all around the world. Because I spend so much time with school kids, I end up doing quite a bit of teaching, especially teaching writing. Which happens to be a completely different skill than actually writing.
There is a very stupid expression that you sometimes hear people throw around: “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.” I want to be very, very clear here: that is one of the dumbest things I’ve ever heard. Not only is it disparaging, inflammatory, and demeaning, it also has the distinction of being very WRONG. I definitely knew that before I personally started working with schools, but now that I teach on a regular basis, I can tell you that those who teach can do better than anyone else.
It has to do with the nature of teaching. In order to teach someone a skill, you have to know it so well that you can explain every step, even the ones you do automatically or on muscle memory. Here’s an example: when I was in graduate school, I bought a brand new Mustang that I couldn’t drive. Because it was a stick shift and I only knew how to drive an automatic. So I had a friend try to teach me how to drive stick. We got in my car, I started it up, and I asked him what to do next. He said, “OK, now drive.” I looked at him blankly. “Just don’t stall the car,” he added. I had no idea what that meant. So he said, “Don’t ease off the clutch to quickly. Or too slowly!”
At that point, I threw him out of the car. He, to this day, doesn’t understand what had upset me.
He knew how to drive a manual, and things that I needed to know—how to properly come off the clutch when changing gears, how to tell when to shift up or down, etc.—were things he’d stopped thinking about. So he couldn’t teach me to do them because he hadn’t been thinking about all those little steps that you do to succeed that once you’re successful, you completely forget about.
(For the record, I can now totally drive a stick.)
When I started teaching writing, I struggled with this same thing. I thought to myself, How can I teach something that I just DO? Trust me, this was very difficult to figure out. But the more I did figure it out—the better I got at teaching others how to write—the better I actually got at writing. Just like my friend who failed at teaching me how to drive my Mustang because there were so many things he was doing on autopilot that he couldn’t explain, as writers, we do that same thing. When you get to a certain point in your writing journey, you don’t even think about certain things like how to conceptualize a complex character or add layers to your plot, you just do it. But if you try to teach someone else how you do what you do, you have to break down every action into baby steps so that you can show your students how to mimic your actions. This forces you to think through your methods, and in the process, refine them even more.
So even if you’re not at the point in your publishing career where you are teaching, I’d like to encourage you to think like a teacher to become a better writer. For example, instead of saying, “I’m going to create a charismatic main character,” I’d ask you to analyze what steps you’d take to do that, like:
Start with something familiar
Add some positive unique features
Give the character some flaws that make him or her relatable
Give him or her positive relationships (family, best friend, etc.) and negative relationships (nemesis, villain, etc.)
Temper every extreme (like “good” or “bad”) with something that brings it back a notch (like “good but hates kittens” or “bad but rescues kittens”)
The more you go through this process of treating your writing objectives like lesson plans, the deeper you’ll understand what you’ve done when something work—and what you may have left off inadvertently when something doesn’t work.
When you’re a good teacher, your students will benefit. When you yourself are your own student, your teaching skills make you so much better at doing.
Happy Back to School!
Sudipta is an award-winning author of over 40 books and the co-founder of both Kidlit Writing School and Kidlit Summer School. Her books include DUCK DUCK MOOSE, TYRANNOSAURUS WRECKS, ORANGUTANGLED, and over thirty more books that have been acclaimed by the Junior Library Guild, the California Reader’s Collection, the Bank Street Books Reading Committe, the Amelia Bloomer list, and many more. Find out more about her by visiting Sudipta.com or her blogs Nerdy Chicks Rule and Nerdy Chicks Write.
The Picture Book A to Z series is designed to be a collection of master level classes that cover all of the fundamentals of picture book craft. While each class is complete on its own, taken together, the series will teach you everything you ever wanted to now about picture books- and a lot more!
The ability to craft a strong picture book plot is one of the factors that separates unpublished writers from those who consistently sign publishing contracts to see their work in print. This course will teach you the essentials of creating compelling plots, starting with Arcs, Beginnings, and Climaxes — then literally taking you through the alphabet. Each topic will be explored in depth, both in the lessons and in the discussion forums and webinars. The writing exercises that are a part of of the course are designed to help you apply the lessons to your own writing seamlessly and immediately. By the end of the course, you will never look at plotting the same way again! The first course in this series, Plotting in Picture Books, will begin on October 6, 2014.
Bonus Critique: Register for Plotting in Picture Books before September 20, 2014 and receive a free picture book manuscript review and 20-minute Skype session with Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen, redeemable within six months of the course’s completion.
Thanks, Sudipta! And now for the giveaway…either a 20-minute telephone/Skype PB critique with Sudipta or one of her signed books. The choice is yours. Just comment once below by September 16th to enter!
On Saturday, I had the pleasure of leading a writing workshop with three of my critique partners. We’ve been writing and editing together for a while. And while we all write a variety of styles and genres, we intersect at middle grade. To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t sure when I conceived the workshop if […]
The tendency to do this has risen to the level of such cliché that it is now a joke. But in case anyone hasn’t gotten the memo, I want to run an idea by you: do not save villain motivations until the very end. How has this usually happened in the past? A villain does all sorts of dastardly deeds, with seemingly no motivation in sight, until they have the hero in their clutches, and then they start to “monologue” about all the hurts they have endured (probably some perpetrated by the hero, often without the hero’s knowledge), and how they are now enjoying their sweet, sweet revenge. Then the power goes out, their death ray is rendered useless, and the hero turns around and saves the day, etc. etc. etc.
(Random thought: If anyone has read a lot of my writing, I would be honestly curious as to how many times “etc.” appears in my body of work. The total count must be staggering. I wish I had a way to tally all of my blog entries, my book, and my notes that I share independently with clients. I bet it would be a trip. So if we’re ever sitting down and I say something like, “You know, I think your overuse of ‘just’ is one of your writing tics,” don’t feel too badly, I clearly have them, too!)
But it’s one thing to say, “Don’t do X, don’t do Y,” and it’s another to delve into the “why?” factor. Here, it’s a matter of explaining why motivation works for your protagonist, and setting the same rules for your antagonist. Generally speaking, if your hero doesn’t have a clear reason for doing what she’s doing at the scene level or the manuscript level, it’s going to be that much harder to get reader investment (which is, probably, the most important aspect of attracting your audience). “I’m doing all this stuff and I can’t tell you why!” gets old.
The more you establish motivation, the more you can generate relatability. After all, we have goals and strive for them, so seeing someone else strive similarly is instantly attractive and releases deep feelings of empathy. You want this when creating any character, whether you’re working on your protagonist, their sidekick, or, yes, the villain*.
In my book, I talk about why Voldemort of Harry Potter fame is such a great antagonist. First and foremost, he’s eerily relatable. He’s a guy with a lot of hurt inside him, striving to know what love feels like, but going about it in a totally terrifying way. I remember the moment where, despite my best efforts, I sympathized with him. Wow! Think of all the interesting feelings I would’ve missed out on if Voldemort had been characterized in a way that saved all of his motivations and deeper drivers until the very end? That would’ve only given me a few chapters to wrap my mind around everything, and generated a much shallower experience of the story.
Another reason to leak villain motivations over time instead of saving them up until the end is the questionable payoff of “the big reveal.” There are only a few books in recent memory that have surprised me on a level that works well. Being mildly entertained by a twist is not the same thing as shakes-you-down-to-your-socks surprise. The former happens all the time, the latter, very infrequently. So unless you’re banking on the surprise to end all surprises that is so deeply rooted in the story that it will undo and reverse everything that has come before it, you’re not going to get as much mileage out of your reveal as you’re expecting.
Fiction structure and norms have before familiar. Hence the fact that we’re playing with all of these elements as clichés, hence the term “monologuing” even exists to define this phenomenon. There are few very real surprises in fiction because so many stories and plot points have been exploited over time. You aren’t likely to shock your readers, so stop investing so heavily in your reveals and start building character from the beginning. Readers these days are skeptical and wiser than their years. They are more likely to appreciate a complex character relationship instead of a big surprise at the end which, with social media and book review sites, might get leaked ahead of time and ruin the experience. A surprise is a gimmick. If you rely entirely on it, you may pay more in opportunity cost than have that gimmick pay off. (Unless you’re writing in a genre, like a thriller, where twisty plots and surprises are expected, of course.)
Plant clues and small explanations throughout about your villain’s psyche and needs. Their reasons. Their weak spots. Not only will this give your readers more to latch on to, it will give your hero more to work with when it comes time to face their foe. Don’t rely solely on plot and surprise at the climax, try for spychological depth as well.
* Come to think of it, don’t do the big motive reveal for your hero, either. I didn’t think that note could possibly apply to anyone, but now that I think about it, I might as well put it out there in case any writers happen to be struggling.
I have to go back to work tomorrow and I'm not really looking forward to it. I don't feel like I've been "off" for awhile, which is really terrible of me. I mean, I had a LOOOOONG time off in April-May. I'm just a vacation person. Work doesn't suit me. Hahahahahahahaa!
Anyway, this is my super short blog post that I felt I simply HAD to do, since it's been something like 1-1/2 months since I last blogged.
School is back in session, so that means I'm going back to my writing schedule. Summer is always tricky because my daughter and husband are home. This summer was particularly tricky because I had to stay with my parents for two months thanks to water damage and construction. While construction is still going on, I'm getting back to my old schedule and I couldn't be happier about it. There's something about knowing I have five hours to write five days a week that puts a big smile on my face. Of course I'm not just writing. I'm marketing and editing too. Right now, I have a client edit on my plate, and I'm giving that top priority. But I'm also marketing multiple novels and plotting a new book because I'm a writer and that's what I do. That means I have to manage those five hours each day and break them up in a way that will allow me to accomplish all my tasks. Of course I have my day planner next to me so I can check off all the tasks as I complete them. I'd be lost without that planner. And let me tell you how quickly I can fill up five hours. Sheesh! Who else is back on schedule now that summer break is over? *Thank you to everyone who left questions for me last week when I asked for questions for my FAQ page on my website. I'll be sure to share my responses soon.*Add a Comment
The Molotov Cocktail is self-described as “A Projectile for Incendiary Flash Fiction.” Understand I don’t usually write flash fiction, but something about the magazine: the look, the content, the attitude … I had to be part of it.
The perfect opportunity arrived when we had a garage sale two weeks ago, and I realized I hate garage sales. While sitting there, watching people dig through my belongings, I wrote an essay with only Molotov Cocktail in mind. Blessing of blessings, they accepted it.
For your deviant enjoyment, TheMolotov Cocktail presents “You Need My Shit.” (Oh, you really do.)
You Need My Shit by Sara Dobie Bauer
My husband suggested I keep my revolver in a little box during our garage sale just in case. It never occurred to me to be worried about people robbing my African statue that looks like it’s taking a shit.
Seven AM in Phoenix feels like living in a stove set to three-fifty. People show up and dig through piles of clothes I used to wear. Strange the things you remember, like how I once posed for a female friend’s camera in that corset with the red skull on the front.
There’s this one guy who shows up in a suit and tie. He laughs when I tell him he’s overdressed. He’s too friendly. I think about my revolver in the little shoebox at my side. Then, he goes into his Jehovah’s Witness spiel, and I think about the gun even more.
Who do you consider your literary influences? It's something I've been thinking about lately as I get ready to market my current WIP, The Abyssal Plain. Although I still have about 60 pages left to edit, I'm giving serious thought to my query letters, synopses, and anything else I can put together that can describe both my book and who I am as a writer.
Last night I made a list of all the authors I believe have had the most influence on my own work. In no particular order, they are:
Daphne Du Maurier
Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Edgar Allen Poe
After making my list, I wanted to know what it was these particular authors had in common and/or why they appealed to me so much. I narrowed it down to these categories:
Language. Rich, lush, yet also straightforward in meaning. Strong sentences that when read alone could almost be mistaken for poetry.
Gothic suspense. Characters and plot lines filled with a sense of foreboding and the darker side of human nature.
Details. Dress fabrics, tea ceremony rituals, the dust on Mars--I love experiencing every little nuance transporting me into a world I can see, hear, taste, smell, and until the oven timer rings and I have to choose between burning dinner or finishing "just one more page."
A brooding sense of melancholy. Although I enjoy a good conclusion to a story, I've never insisted any book I read end with "happily ever after." I'm just as comfortable with open endings, characters who end up wiser but not necessarily happier, and anything that leaves me on a philosophical note regarding human nature.
International and historical settings and culture. One of my favorite things about reading is the chance to travel through both space and time without leaving home. From medieval Sweden to modern-day Japan, I've gone there just on the strength of my library card.
Genre description: literary fiction.I enjoy reading a wide variety of genres, but I always seem to come back to what I call "literary page-turners," books that don't necessarily follow strict (or any) genre guidelines, break a lot of the "writing rules," and yet manage to hook me in so I never want to stop reading. All of the authors I've listed above fit the bill perfectly.
I'm sure there are many more connections I could make between my authors-of-influence, but for now that seems to be a good start to understanding why I write the way I do. And speaking of writing, it's time to get back to work--hoping to turn those 60 pages into a nice round zero before the end of the month!
Tip of the Day: Making a list of "where you came from" is a great exercise for developing your personal brand and marketing materials. For extra credit, why not share some or all of your list under "Post a Comment"? Inquiring minds would love to know! Happy memories, everyone--looking forward to reading your findings.Add a Comment
We hear this all of the time. Yet, many writers struggle with this very idea.
Writers like to research. We travel to faraway places, we talk with people who live there. We look through old files and photographs. We mine our memories for tidbits and call upon our imagination to fill in the rest.
We stay cerebral.
But this is where we fail ourselves. This is where we fail our readers.
We all want to write books that make people feel, but in order to do that—we must feel first. We must cry. We must get angry. We must laugh. We must fall in love. We must face fear.
But to achieve true emotion with our words, we need to get out of our heads and tune into our guts.
To do this, I like to call upon the actor’s craft.
Here are 3 tips to get out of your writer’s head and write from the gut.
Keep an Emotion Diary.
An actor knows that whatever happens to them in life is fodder for their craft. Even at a moment of extreme heartbreak, an actor knows, “I can use this.” Observe yourself on a daily basis. How are you feeling? Don’t detail the situations that are happening to you, but write down what an emotion feels like physically. Tune into your hands, your chest, your legs, and your jaw. These are places we hold emotion.
An actor practices playing with emotion. They take the time to experiment in order to better know how to portray it when the time comes. Much like a yogi will hold a pose to build strength, actors practice holding emotion in their bodies to gain emotional fluency. Refer back to your Emotion Diary to remember how a certain emotion manifests in your body. Soak in it. Go about some daily tasks while in this emotional state. (Although keep these tasks solo. You are working on craft here, not ruining relationships and getting a reputation. Hint: scrubbing the tub while angry is amazing!) Observe how the emotion affects your movement and your actions. Of course, when play time is done, find ways to unwind…we don’t want you to end up a basket case.
Embrace the First Person.
An actor walks in the shoes of others to learn to live in their moments. They speak directly from the mouth, the heart, the gut of the very person they are performing. Spend some time pretending to be your character. You can go through the same emotional practice you did in the previous step, but this time with your character’s situation in mind.
Take your character to the most heightened moment in this emotion. How do they react? Write a letter or a diary entry as your character while holding this emotion. Or create audio or video as your character. Abandon flowery metaphor and other authorly devices for the time being and speak raw, from your character’s gut. You might be surprised what you learn.
It is so easy to fall into summarizing a scene instead of delving in and living each moment. Maybe as writers we prefer to play God and observe the tough situations from afar. It’s more pleasant to be omnipresent than personally absorbed.
But when we learn to write from the gut, our hands may tremble with each keystroke, a lump might form in our throat, tears might well. It’s not always comfortable. Yet it is essential that we learn to breathe life into each moment, so that the very DNA of our story can breathe on the page and fill the lungs of every reader it touches. This is the essence of “show, don’t tell.” In fact, it takes the idea one step further.
“Be, don’t show.”
Before Marcie Colleen was a picture book writer, she was a former actress, director and theatre educator. In her 15 year career, Marcie worked within the classroom, as well as on Regional, Off-Broadway and Broadway stages. Formerly the Director of Education for TADA! Youth Theater, she also worked for Syracuse Stage, Camp Broadway, the Metropolitan School for the Arts, and Tony Randall’s National Actors Theater. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Secondary Education and Theater from Oswego State University and a Masters degree in Educational Theater from NYU. She has taught theater workshops in the UK and throughout the US, including Alaska.
Marcie’s From the Gut: An Acting for Writers Workshop (being held on September 14th at NJ-SCBWI) helps writers get out of their heads. Her up-on-your-feet techniques feature acting and writing exercises to tap into raw emotion. Through guided practice, writers learn to breathe life into the voice of every character. Time is spent exploring, playing and simply “being” emotion while learning how to transfer the discoveries onto the page in a way that creates immediacy and authenticity for the reader. Participants are given tools to deepen their writing through voice and movement even when alone in their writing caves.
A confession. I have literary aspirations but with some serious Sharknado thrown in. That moment in the movie where the guy slices open a shark with chainsaw, that never gets old for me. I want to write something meaningful and uplifting, but you know with some geekiness in the mix. So I have a I-want-to-write-something-important complex, but I also want to create something so epic-geek-weird-that-it-creates-a-cult-following-lasting-for-generations. I know this is messed up. I'm good with that.
It's time for me to write another book. Part of me want to cling to the myth that I can study the formulas and create a bestseller, but I know the deeper truth -- I'm blowing on some dice and am about to throw them out on a table. I wish that so many decisions weren't a crap shoot. I wish life wasn't that way. But I am living on a molten ball of lava that is covered by a thin skin of rock material near a massive fusion reactor (the Sun). Life is fragile, unpredictable, and I have a mere heartbeat of time to share my thoughts with the universe. I have little control and have learned I must take my chances. These are my only days.
So I started a new book this week. I have no idea if anyone will ever like it. I have my literary aspirations with my geek slant as usual. This time I'm adapting Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing into a down-home Texas mold. I'm making my choices. I will live with them. Life offers no guarantees.
I'm taking my chances. I hope that you take yours too, and if that includes some Sharknado, so be it!
I will be back next week with more.
Here is a doodle:
As human beings, our greatness lies not so much in being able to remake the world - that is the myth of the atomic age - as in being able to remake ourselves. Mahatmas Ghandi
Driving out of Sydney, crossing the Hawkesbury River on a punt, heading into the bush – one of Australia’s treasures – to speak to young people. Fantastic!
There are education department schools in the bush where kids from all over the country can come to discover indigenous bush tucker, environmental secrets of the land, trek, tell stories – the Writers’ Camp happens once a year and 4 authors go bush.
Multi award winning Simon French who was one of the founders of the writing camp at Brewongle Environment Education Centre was there of course.
Deborah Abela and James Roy came this year and there was me. Even award winning illustrator Donna Rawlings dropped in.
James Roy brought his ukele and Steve – one of the fabulous staff – brought his guitar and kids joined in.
I was in the old school house 1878 – how fantastic is that! I didn’t use the cane, but put the fire on with Queen Victoria’s photo looking over us all.
Young people are so insightful, so much to share and it was wonderful as always.