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Blog: TWO WRITING TEACHERS (Login to Add to MyJacketFlap)
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Blog: Writing and Illustrating (Login to Add to MyJacketFlap)
JacketFlap tags: Advice, article, inspiration, Tips, writing, Erika Wassall, Freelance writing, Keeping the Flame Alive, Manuscripts, Add a tag
Erika Wassall, the Jersey Farm Scribe here on….
Keeping the Flame Alive
The farther I dive into the world of writing, the busier I become. I have done small amounts of freelance writing for years, but about a year ago, in hopes of gaining experience and honing my craft, I dove deeper into the world of freelance. I wrote for a few online magazines like Honesty For Breakfast (aimed at girls in their 20s), I did some ghost web-copy writing for travel websites and a flower shop, am working on a project with RawSpiceBar.com , and do regular posts for Family Focus Blog with farm fresh recipes and family-friendly projects.
I learned a lot about my writing too. I learned that my instinctively conversational style makes me a natural fit for certain things and not others. I’ve found great success with product description writing and online course curriculum development, because I get to play with different styles of description and ways of engaging an audience. But grant or technical writing for things like computer software manuals… not for me.
So what’s my point? Well, between freelance writing and working on my manuscripts, I am doing hours of writing every single day. And while this has been great in many ways, forcing me to flex my writing and creativity muscles, working with deadlines and not being able to stop because I’m just not “feeling it”, it can also become cumbersome.
Bottom line: Writing is very hard work.
I needed a way to regularly stoke the fire, the furious passion that I’ve always had for the written word. A way to remind myself that writing is fun!
Once a week, I schedule two entire hours, where I sit down and write without a goal, and away from the computer. No deadlines, no projects, no one to tell me what’s wrong with it, just writing. It can be free association writing, prose, anything I want. I can use characters from my manuscripts, but I don’t allow myself to work on actual scenes. I write silly rhymes that follow absolutely no patterns, write sentences with horrible grammar, and break as many rules as I can in 120 minutes.
Sometimes I spend the whole two hours writing what turns into a sort of journal entry, and I am reminded of why I fell in love with writing in the first place… the hidden truths it has always seemed to bring forward.
Basically, I indulge myself.
For me, being away from the computer is an important aspect. I do my work from my computer as a writer and a business owner, so just sitting in the chair has innate associations with obligation. This is playtime not work time.
Curling up with a notebook, a pen and absolutely nothing but chaos to guide me connects with the teenager in me who found refuge in writing as words she was constantly scribbling in the margins seemed to bring her closer to understanding herself and the world around her.
Do I always look forward to it? Nope. Not at all. I’d say a solid 40-50 percent of the time, I’m going into this thinking, ech… this is dumb. I don’t have the time to waste just doing nothing.
But (so far at least!) I have managed to convince myself to do it anyway.
Even when I didn’t FEEL like doing it, when the hours are up, I find myself unbelievably refreshed, both on a personal level, and as a writer. In fact, the times when I’ve wanted to do it the least have frequently been the times it’s had the most effect.
More often than not, I’ve sparked some new ideas for ways to handle scenes I was stuck on, or projects I wasn’t sure of. This means that these two hours actually end up SAVING me time, as I’m able to be more fluid in my work moving on.
And every single time, I renew that secret smile on my face that tells the story of how writing is a profoundly integral part of who I am.
So… do I think this strategy will work for everyone?
Well… sort of. (not exactly a deep meaningful answer there, I know. But bear with me!)
I think finding a way to reconnect with the raw passion of your writing is essential for all of us. Will a two-hour scribble in a notebook once a week do that for you?
It just might. As writers, I’ve found that many of us have similar stories of falling in love with the written word. So I would highly suggest giving it a try. But if after a few times, you find yourself drawn to something else, don’t fight it. Let the wistful, playful side of you run this show, and you may be pleasantly surprised at the outcome.
My two-hour decadent dive into the frivolous side of writing has become a stimulating catalyst for not only my writing but my own spirit and the spirit of my characters. And while I know it’s never always easy to find two hours of your time to put aside, I strongly believe that…
… you, and your manuscripts are worth it.
Erika Wassall is a writer, a farmer and a liver of life. She is a member of SCBWI and a proud Mad Scientist, bringing science experiments right into children’s classrooms, and hearts. She has a small farm in New Jersey with sheep, chickens, pigs and vegetables. Check out her new website at www.TheJerseyFarmScribe.com where as a first generation farmer, she often takes the long way, learning the tricks of the trade on The Farm. On her website is also The Shop page with tips and a free Q/A from her husband’s mechanic shop, and The Writer page where she shares stories, experiences and characters from the heart. Follow her on Twitter at @NJFarmScribe. She’d love to hear from you!
Thank you Erika for another great post. I think everyone looks forward to your posts.
Filed under: Advice, article, inspiration, Tips, writing Tagged: Erika Wassall, Freelance writing, Keeping the Flame Alive, Manuscripts Display Comments Add a Comment
Blog: Kelly Hashway's Blog (Login to Add to MyJacketFlap)
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Blog: An Illustrator's Life For Me! (Login to Add to MyJacketFlap)
JacketFlap tags: Class One Farmyard Fun, Class Three All At Sea, Class Two at the Zoo, illustration, writing, Add a tag
Remember a while ago, I mentioned that Julia and I were talking through her ideas for a new story? Well, Julia has put in a lot of work since then. The text has undergone several rewrites and the various drafts have been back and forth to our publisher, but all that work has finally borne fruit - Hodder have given us the go-ahead. Yippee!
This will be our 6th book together. I love working with Julia - we have exactly the same silly sense of humour and her texts are so incredibly visual, the pictures just leap straight into my head!
I'm delighted about this one in particular, as Julia has been trying to get another in the series published for some time. The other two have been so popular and successful, it seemed such a waste not to.
I can't start on the artwork until half way through next year, as I have too many other irons in the fire, but will certainly share my sketches with you as soon as I get going.
Well done Julia!!
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JacketFlap tags: Children, Creative Writing, Giveaway, Ocean Adventures Creative Writing, Sending You a Tropical Breeze-Review of Jan May's Ocean Adventures Creative Writing Curriculum & a G, Writing, Add a tag
|Sending You a Tropical Breeze|
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Rafflecopter will accept entries between midnight on 11/17/14 and midnight 11/25/14.
Blog: So many books, so little time (Login to Add to MyJacketFlap)
JacketFlap tags: life, writing, Add a tag
Study after study has shown that the more you sit, the more likely you are to die early. And what does a writer do? Sit, sit, sit. I also do kung fu and Brazilian jiujitsu, walk or run, use an elliptical and lift weights. Most days I exercise two hours. But all those other hours? I'm usually sitting. And those studies seem to show that just adding exercise doesn't change the equation.
I've wanted a treadmill desk since they first started being commercially available. But they were expensive. And it seemed indulgent. So for a couple of hundred dollars I bought a FitDesk, this combo bike-desk, that for me was incredibly uncomfortable. It ended up gathering dust, and this summer I tried to sell it on Craigslist. When that failed, I carted it to GoodWill.
Meanwhile, my German publisher had come to the end of their term for Shock Point (confusingly titlted Break Out - yes in English - over there), and offered again for it.
So I decided to splurge on a treadmill desk. I looked at all kind of models and thought about making my own. Ultimately I decided to go with LifeSpan. I didn't want to buy from Amazon, but with their crossed out retail prices, they always look like they have the best deal. Only it turns out a local company, Northwest Fitness, offered the treadmill desk I wanted for the exact same price. For a few dollars more, I had them deliver it, set it up, and take away the packing material.
And I started walking while I wrote. Before, my Fitbit would show me taking 10,000-15,000 steps a day. Now it's 20,000-25,000. The extra 10,000 steps are all coming from when I'm working. In other words, it's not taking any more time. I use my treadmill desk about three hours a day.
I've wanted to lose weight forever, but every year it's crept up a little, and the creeping got faster after I hurt my knee last March and had to stop running.
I got my treadmill two months ago and since then I have lost 12 pounds! I have not changed my diet (which is generally pretty healthy with healthy portions) at all.
I cannot tell you happy this makes me. I'm at the lowest weight I've been in nearly a decade. Of course, I'm already doing the kind of inaccurate math that quickly gets you into trouble ("If the stock market rose 1% today, then in 100 days, my money will double!") but even if I don't lose another pound I'll still be really happy.
Blog: Kidlit Contest (Login to Add to MyJacketFlap)
JacketFlap tags: Writing, Character, Motivation, Add a tag
I’ve been preaching all along that characters need a clear sense of motivation and objective, those twin drivers that are often part of the same coin. Objective is, simply put, what a character wants to do, and motivation is why they want to do it. Each character should have these things in their back story, even if the objectives are smaller (for secondary characters and such). The protagonist of your story should have the clearest objective and motivation of all, with an overarching need/goal for the entire story arc, as well as more tangible objectives and motivations throughout, from chapter to chapter.
When you’re thinking about this, I also want you to think about balancing positive and negative motivation. Let’s start with negative motivation. Maybe you’re someone who hasn’t had the, ahem, pleasure of experiencing a lot of negative motivation in your life, and for that I commend you. But it goes something like this:
Everyone always told me I’d never make anything of myself. Well, I’d prove them wrong. Smoothing my brand new thrift shop suit down to get rid of any last wrinkles (though doing anything about its smell was impossible this late in the game), I headed into the job interview.
I joke that spite is a terrific motivator. And it is. We often react to adversity by stubbornly wanting to best it. But it’s important to note that this is a reaction to something negative in life that we’re inspired to overcome. It’s negative motivation to want to show your bully what’s what, or land a new job because your stupid current boss thinks you’re a bad employee, or want to claw out of poverty because you never had anything growing up. The motivation is valid, but the aspiration had roots in something negative instead of something positive.
On the other hand, positive motivation is more of a proactive goal. Take one example from what I just wrote: growing up in poverty. You could write two very different characters with the same backstory and related-but-distinct motivations, one negative, one positive. Character A wants to claw their way out of poverty, indeed, because they never had anything good growing up and it sure feels crummy. The buck stops, or rather starts now, and they’re going to do something about it. Character B grew up the same way, with the same kind of deprivation. But they’re positively motivated, they see what they want to do and why in a different light. Maybe they aspire to be the only person in their family to go to college, or maybe they’d like to provide a better childhood for their own kids than they ever had.
I bet I conjure very different people in your mind just by describing Character A vs. Character B in terms of motivation. One is negatively motivated, one positively. They’ll do different things to reach their goals, and justify them with different logic.
In your own manuscript, keep an eye on who is negatively motivated and who is positively motivated. If you want to mix it up, get their negative vs. positive motivations in balance, so that there’s a little bit of both in each. They feel adversity but also possibility. That’s where you’ll find complexity.
Related but slightly different are passive and active motivation. Passive motivation is a condition that exists (unfairness in the world, for example) that your character thinks about and wants to solve or overcome. But it’s not something they can affect directly, it’s more part of their general situation. Active motivation, on the other hand, refers to something they have control over and that they can work toward by taking concrete steps. The needle is obvious and they know how to move it.
All of these are shades to the same issue, and it gives you more to think about as you craft your characters.Add a Comment
Blog: Kelly Hashway's Blog (Login to Add to MyJacketFlap)
JacketFlap tags: editing, Monday Mishmash, promotion, reading, reviews, writing, Add a tag
- Horrible Internet Connection My internet has only been working when it feels like it, so getting online has been sporadic at best. If you are waiting to hear from me, I apologize. I'm trying to get this fixed today, but you know how that goes with phone companies. If I'm delayed in responding to comments or commenting on your blog, you know why.
- January Feature on Megan McDade's Blog The very awesome Megan McDade is going to feature me on her blog in January and is asking people to comment on her post right now with questions you'd like me to answer. So I'd love it if you dropped by Megan's blog to leave me a question. You can find her blog here.
- Editing I finished a revision on my latest Ashelyn Drake manuscript, so I'm back in editing mode and working on client edits this week.
- Remodeling We finally finished painting the addition we put on the house. The countertop people are coming Tuesday (after canceling on us last week). Next up is flooring upstairs. We're getting close!
- Catching Up on My Reading I'm all caught up on reading the books I promised to review. Yay! Most recently, I finished An Absence of Light by Meradeth Houston and Rite of Rejection by Sarah Negovetich. Both were amazing!
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Blog: Darlene Beck-Jacobson (Login to Add to MyJacketFlap)
JacketFlap tags: Books, Children's Books, Poetry, stories for children, Tips for writers, Writing, writing for children, Beth Ferry, www.hmh.com, Add a tag
As parents, we are constantly teaching our children about the world: rules, facts and essential life truths such as: Be kind. Be patient. Bees sting. Eat your vegetables. Don’t eat the sand. Say please and thank you. Don’t step on that ant. As they grow older, teaching can morph into school related lessons: spelling tools, vocabulary words, and math tricks such as Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally. As they grow even older, teaching becomes somehow more life affirming: Don’t drive and text. Be kind. Be true to yourself. Do your best. Hold your head up high. High school only lasts for four years.
In return, our children teach us how to be patient and forgiving. How to be creative and inventive. How to be happy. Watching them grow and learn has taught me a lot about myself, and I am a better person because I am a parent. But it is a rare event that I learn something academically new from my children. There are plenty of instances where I’ll encounter something I absolutely once knew, but have lost on the journey to adulthood, like, you know, the sum of interior alternate angles or how to balance a chemical equation. My college major was English after all. So imagine my surprise when, while reading aloud my new work-in-progress, my teenage son says “That’s anaphora.”
Stop the merry-go-round. What is he saying? Is it Latin? Text-talk? A new girl in his class? He explains it is a literary device he is learning about in AP English concerning rhetoric. What? He shows me his list of literary terms and I suddenly morph into a kid in a candy shop, marveling over this plethora of devices that I am unconsciously using and about which I have heard nary a whisper. I scurry off to devour this list, to taste each device and explore my own skill in using such lofty literary language without even knowing it.
There are reasons that these literary devices exist. It is because they work. The use of these devices makes writing stronger, more lyrical, more beautiful. Without even knowing it, I bet you will find your work peppered with polysyndeton, anadiplosis and euphony. Here are some of my favorites:
Alliteration. This one you will know as it is very common in picture books. I love alliteration and I’m sure you are familiar with the repetition of similar sounds in the beginning of successive words. I use them a lot in titles such as Stick and Stone or Pirate’s Perfect Pet.
Anadiplosis. This is the repetition of the last word of the preceding clause in the beginning of the next sentence. So it is almost like a word-segue between sentences. It’s hard to do, but very effective. The most recent and perfect example I can think of comes from the lyrics to the song “Glad You Came” by The Wanted:
Turn the lights out now
Now I’ll take you by the hand
Hand you another drink
Drink it if you can
Anaphora. This device is like alliteration but involving words instead of sounds. It is the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of every clause or sentence. The opening of A Tale of Two Cities is the perfect example: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness. . . It was the epitome of anaphora.
Anastrophe. Using this device allows the order of the noun and adjective to be reversed – think Yoda. It is also knows as hyperbaton, from the Greek meaning ‘transposition’. Poe uses this device to great effect, “Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there, wondering, fearing.”
Assonance. Like alliteration, assonance repeats sounds, but the sounds produced by the vowels only, such as “purple curtain”. In the same vein, consonance is the repetitive use of the consonant sounds, usually at the end – stuck, streak, luck. You probably use both of these without even knowing it.
Beth will return with MORE LITERARY DEVICES next month. Rest assured…there are LOTS more!
Beth Ferry lives and writes near the beach. Her debut book, Stick and Stone, will be released on April 7, 2015 by HMH. Land Shark (Chronicle) will be released in Fall 2015 and Pirate’s Perfect Pet (Candlewick) follows in Fall 2016.
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Blog: Redheaded Stepchild (Login to Add to MyJacketFlap)
JacketFlap tags: creativity, ideas, PiBoIdMo, Writing, Add a tag
I love the posts over at Tara Lazar's site every November during PiBoIdMo! Some inspire me by presenting a new way to look at creativity, and some are reminders of things that I already knew, but seem to forget about when trying to create!
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Blog: Writing and Illustrating (Login to Add to MyJacketFlap)
JacketFlap tags: authors and illustrators, children writing, Contest, opportunity, Places to sumit, publishers, writing, 2014 Highlights Fiction Contest Winners, Highlights Fiction Contest, Add a tag
Highlights Fiction Contest
HIGHLIGHTS 2015 FICTION CONTEST GUIDELINES
Three prizes of $1,000 or tuition for any Highlights Foundation Founders Workshop. (For a complete list of workshops, visit http://www.highlightsfoundation.org)
All entries must be postmarked between January 1 and January 31, 2015.
No entry form or fee is required.
Entrants must be at least 16 years old at the time of submission.
We welcome work from both published and unpublished authors. All submissions must be previously unpublished and not found online.
Stories may be any length up to 750 words. Indicate the word count in the upper right-hand corner of the first page of your manuscript.
No crime, violence, or derogatory humor.
Entries not accompanied by a self-addressed, stamped envelope will not be returned.
Manuscripts or envelopes should be clearly marked FICTION CONTEST. Those not marked in this way will be considered as regular submissions to Highlights.
SEND ENTRIES TO:
Highlights for Children
803 Church Street
Honesdale, PA 18431
The three winning entries will be purchased by Highlights and announced on Highlights.com in June 2015. All other entries will be considered for purchase by Highlights. For details about our purchase policies, please see our contributor guidelines: https://www.highlights.com/contributor-guidelines
Highlights for Children Fiction Contest Winners for 2014:
“Harold’s Hat” by Mike Allegra
“Easter with Baba Lena” by Vila Gingerich
“Heart Surprises” by Clare Mishica
Filed under: authors and illustrators, children writing, Contest, opportunity, Places to sumit, publishers, writing Tagged: 2014 Highlights Fiction Contest Winners, Highlights Fiction Contest Display Comments Add a Comment
Blog: An Englishman in New Jersey (Login to Add to MyJacketFlap)
JacketFlap tags: writing, wisdom on the web, fiction, useful links, Add a tag
Here’s my selection of interesting (and sometimes amusing) posts about writing from the last week:
Kill What? What to Do When You Need to Cut a Major Part of Your Novel (Janice Hardy)
Amazon and Hachette resolve bitter dispute over price
When Critiques Conflict (Rachel Kent)
The Publishing Roller Coaster (Mary Keeley)
Plot Motivators (Joe Moore)
The Five Stages of New Writers’ Grief (Keith Cronin) Jon’s Pick of the Week
The One Writer I Will Not Represent (Wendy Lawton)
Managing Eagerness (Mary Kole)
10 Things to Know About Pitching Agents and Editors (Colby Marshall)
Solicitation Alert: LitFire Publishing (Victoria Strauss)
If you found these useful, you may also like my personal selection of the most interesting blog posts from 2013, and last week’s list.
If you have a particular favorite among these, please let the author know (and me too, if you have time). Also, if you've a link to a great post that isn't here, feel free to share. Add a Comment
Blog: Game On! Creating Character Conflict (Login to Add to MyJacketFlap)
JacketFlap tags: craft, editing, fiction, language use, narrative summary, proofreading, revision, show versus tell, word use, writing, Add a tag
There is an art to narrative summary. Ideally the information should be related through the point of view character's lens, not an info dump, like this:
2. Narrative transitions between scenes.
Dick skipped the shower and shave and was at the crime scene by nine thirty. He stood next to the corpse lying on the ground who obviously hadn’t shaved in days either and the bath in the river hadn’t done him any favors.
Blog: So many books, so little time (Login to Add to MyJacketFlap)
JacketFlap tags: inspiration, writing, Add a tag
A lot of readers ask me why I write the kinds of books I do.
First of all, I love mysteries and thrillers because they offer the built-in drama of life or death. The stakes can’t get any higher. There’s also crime fiction for every taste. It can be as cozy or as bloody as you like. The mystery can be solved by cats or shape-shifters, amateurs or professionals.
Mysteries and thrillers are also democratic - appealing to most people at some point, if only as a beach or airplane read. It’s one genre that attracts a wide following. Most men won’t read romance. A lot of people won’t read westerns or horror. But almost everyone will read a mystery or a thriller.
Making sense of the senseless
All too often, real life often doesn’t make sense. Events happen randomly. You get a great new job, your best friend gets cancer, someone breaks into your car and steals one boot, you go to to the grocery store, you find a five-dollar bill in the bushes. There is no story arc.
It’s not always darkest before the dawn. Sometimes there is no dawn.
Real crimes are usually senseless and stupid. A lot of murders involve, not a criminal mastermind, but rival gang members, people selling drugs, men who can't believe their wife or girlfriend can really be leaving them, or someone who is far too drunk to be driving, let alone handling a gun.The murderer may not be a black-hearted villain and the victim is not always lily white.
The randomness of life is one reason why the more predictable patterns of fiction are so appealing. And in a book, you can usually count on there being a good guy. A good guy who wins at the end. He may be bloody and bruised, but he still wins.
There is something very satisfying about writing or reading those kind of stories.
Using brain, not brawn
In a mystery or a thriller the crimes are usually clever, involving layers of deception. Each one is slowly peeled back to reveal yet another layer.
In the real world, killers are not often geniuses. The predator who manages to keep several steps ahead of the cops, or who plays a mean game of cat-and-mouse, is not a staple of real life. How much more satisfying for a reader to mentally match wits with a mastermind, not some mope with a gun.
And as a writer, it’s even more fun to think up a complicated, convoluted crime.
Blog: Pub(lishing) Crawl (Login to Add to MyJacketFlap)
JacketFlap tags: Writing Life, Jodi Meadows, Writing, Add a tag
This month I polled Twitter for a topic and one that intrigued me was “author expectations vs. author reality.” I’m going to limit it to my top three (because wow, that got long quickly), and add how I cope with these differences, but I want to know what you guys think too!
Expectation: Publication Day is life-changing. Suddenly everyone is reading your book. Bookstore rankings are shining gold.
Reality: Nothing really changes on publication day. I mean, it’s really cool! But it’s also a little anticlimactic. There’s all this build up to the day of the book release, and then the day arrives and it’s just another day, albeit a day that people can now purchase the book you’ve spent so long writing and slaving over.
The day, while it feels like it should be all about you, isn’t really. Not totally. Other books are coming out too. Some of them might have more hype and promotion and therefore feel like they’re getting more attention. It’s a bummer. It’s really humbling. And it’s so easy to just sit at home and wonder why this life-changing event (your book is coming out!!!) feels like a let-down.
How I’ve learned to deal: The day my first book came out, I stayed at home and watched the numbers on That Retailer Site. (I was disappointed.) I answered lots of tweets! (That was great.) I went to a bookstore to find they’d lost two copies of my book and hadn’t put the other two out. (I wanted to shrivel up and die.)
The next two books, I decided to travel. And I will likely be traveling on release day for all the rest of my books if I can help it. Traveling gave me a sense of control, like I was doing something useful. When the airport small talk happened, I told people I was heading to my book launch party and I gave them my card (with my book cover on it). Traveling also keeps me from checking numbers or comparing myself to others. I don’t have time to look at those things! And, as self-centered as it may sound, it gives me the feeling that the day is all about me and my book.
And while I’ve learned to accept a slight anticlimactic feeling, I’ve also started reminding myself that things have changed. My books are out. People can buy them. People I don’t know, even. And that’s pretty great.
Expectation: I can totally write several books a year.
Reality: I’ve always been what a lot of people view as a “fast” writer. Before I was published, I often wrote two or three books a year, occasionally more. I thought a book-a-year schedule was nothing — maybe even too slow. But now that I’m on the book-a-year schedule, I realize just how difficult it actually is.
There’s not just writing the book, but editing and more editing and more editing. Crit partners get a crack at the book. So does the agent. And the editor. And just when you think you’ve spent more than seven months revising a book to death and you can’t look at it again, copyedits arrive and the book must be read yet again. And no, that isn’t all! Pass pages!
As if that wasn’t enough, while you’re getting those pass pages and copyedits, often you’re already writing a new book, so you must tear yourself from the new book, stick your head back in the first book for a week or so, and then jump into the new book again.
And then, you must promote the first book while you’re editing the new book and planning (or possibly already writing) a new new book.
And boy, if you want to write novellas or collaborate on another project in there, just forget about sleep or answering those emails piling up in the inbox.
How I’ve learned to deal: Planning and schedules has become very important to me. Also, communication. I give my agent an idea of what I have coming up, how long I think it will take me, and she doesn’t so much keep me on track (I’m an adult, after all) as check in every now and then to make sure I’m still good. That way, if I need more time on something, or I’m struggling with a book, she can help me out. I do the same thing with my editor, though that’s more limited to what is actually under contract, with harder dates for when I’d like to turn something in.
And any time I start feeling like the book-a-year schedule is too slow, I force myself to think about how busy I am this time of the year, when I’m editing a book, promoting a book, planning a new book (and in this year’s special case, writing four novellas and co-writing another book). Remembering that there insanely busy times keeps me from getting out of control.
Expectation: I can just write all day. In my pajamas. And eat cookies. It’s great.
Reality: Well, it is great, but it’s not all just writing in my pajamas and eating cookies. Sometimes people ask what a typical writing day looks like, but the truth is there is no typical day besides trying desperately to make sure you get enough writing done that you don’t feel like a failure.
There’s the never-ending emails to answer, social media accounts that like to be maintained, and all the non-book writing you do (like this blog post!) that doesn’t pay but is still useful. There’s traveling, school visits (and preparation for), bookstore visits, and festivals to attend.
While it’s true that a lot of that is fun (maybe too much fun sometimes!), it’s all time that’s spent not writing. And if you’re not careful, it can really pile up and end up with missed deadlines. After all, that stuff is work too. And writing can sometimes feel like a reward (other times punishment) that you do after all the hard work is done.
How I’ve learned to deal: I remind myself that writing is my job. Not tweeting (though how cool would that be!) or any of those other things.
When I get invited to places, or requests to do school visits/interviews/blog posts, I ask myself honestly: do I have time for this? Can I do all of this stuff around writing my book? If I feel like maybe I can’t meet my deadline and attend the fun book festival all my friends are going to . . . then I stay home and write.
For the day-to-day stuff that can make writing vanish, again, I make writing the priority. If I’m feeling distracty, I close everything else that wants my attention. And I just write. Then, after I’ve accomplished my goal for the day, I go in and take care of some of the stuff I missed.
And then I go do something fun and relaxing, because I am the kind of person who will easily overwork herself and by golly sometimes I just need to knit.
So, those are my top three expectation vs. reality. What about you guys? Any others up there? How do you deal with reality?
Jodi Meadows lives and writes in the Shenandoah Valley, Virginia, with her husband, a Kippy*, and an alarming number of ferrets. She is a confessed book addict, and has wanted to be a writer ever since she decided against becoming an astronaut. She is the author of the INCARNATE Trilogy and the forth coming ORPHAN QUEEN Duology (HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen).
*A Kippy is a cat.
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First at workshop I did for the Idaho Writers League conference a month or so ago and then for the Writer Unboxed Writer’s conference, I created a “first-page checklist.” This has grown out of seeing and working with more than 825 submissions to FtQ and the manuscripts I edit. I offer it below for your consideration and use. If you want to download a PDF version, click here. The checklist also appears in my new writing book, Mastering the Craft of Compelling Storytelling, one of the content additions to the old Flogging a Quill book that is now out of print.
Let me focus for a moment on the first thing a first page should be doing:
- It begins connecting the reader with the protagonist.
This notion grew out of a workshop by literary agent and fiction analyst Donald Maass. He reported that, in his agenting business, editors will often reject a novel saying, “It ran out of steam.” The reasons most manuscripts fall short are that not enough is happening in the middle and that the editor is not truly engaged with the protagonist, there has been no strong connection made. Maass suggests, and I agree, that you’re in a stronger position if you begin making that connection on the first page. I went in and revised the first page of my WIP after learning this. I like it better.
A couple of caveats go with this checklist: first, they are not rules, they are guidelines. No writer should feel that their first-page narrative checks off every box—although it can, and if it does it has a better chance of being compelling.
Secondly, I’ve seen where a strong first-person narrative can ignore many of these items and still compel. Part of what the outliers do is have a strong voice, the one ingredient besides story questions that can compel a page turn. Another part is that a first-person narration can raise strong story questions even without action, a scene, etc.
Before I post the list, let me offer once again a FREE ebook copy (Kindle, epub/Nook, PDF) of my new Mastering the Craft of Compelling Storytelling in return for reviews. Just email me and I can send you a copy.
The paperback is now for sale on my website--it's signed, free shipping, and discounted $16.99 $15. It's also at Amazon, but not signed. The Kindle edition is available here. And here's a free PDF sample.
And now here’s a first-page checklist, though it wouldn’t hurt to hold all of your pages up to these criteria. The checklist can be a good tool for spotting shortcomings where a narrative sags. PDF here.
A First-page Checklist
- It begins connecting the reader with the protagonist
- Something is happening. On a first page, this does NOT include a character musing about whatever.
- What happens is dramatized in an immediate scene with action and description plus, if it works, dialogue.
- What happens moves the story forward.
- What happens has consequences for the protagonist.
- The protagonist desires something.
- The protagonist does something.
- There’s enough of a setting to orient the reader as to where things are happening.
- It happens in the NOW of the story.
- Backstory? What backstory? We’re in the NOW of the story.
- Set-up? What set-up? We’re in the NOW of the story.
- What happens raises a story question—what happens next? or why did that happen?
For what it’s worth.
© 2014 Ray RhameyAdd a Comment
Blog: Pub(lishing) Crawl (Login to Add to MyJacketFlap)
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This is a repost from my personal blog, and it’s something that I KEEP finding myself pointing writers to this NaNoWriMo.
As such, this has become a personal “disclaimer” of sorts, and I thought the lovely readers of Pub Crawl might enjoy it too.
I get a lot of emails (and tweets, tumblr asks, facebook messages, etc.) asking me about my process–and that’s great! I love sharing what I do, and I love hearing about what YOU do.
But the thing is, no matter what my process is (or her process…or his process), at the end of the day, the writing is all that really matters.
I think it’s easy to get caught up in different “methods” or “outlining plans” or “character creation schemes” because we’re all looking for that Top Secret Foolproof Magic Bullet. I see this most often in new writers–they want that special, insider trick that will make writing a breeze.
Heck, I see it in experienced writers too. They think, If I just follow X-author’s approach step-by-step, then the first draft will basically write itself!
Or, If I just interview my characters like Y-author does, then that first draft will pour out of me!
And I totally understand that attitude, guys! I mean, no one is more guilty of wanting a Magic Bullet than I. Whenever I’m feeling even the slightest resistance in my drafting, I’ll start scouring books on craft 0r author blogs or online workshops. I want anything that will make this writing easier!
But at the end of the day, no matter what method I use–no matter how carefully I prepare or how strictly I follow X-author’s Top Secret Foolproof Magic Bullet–I still have to write the book. All the outlines in the world won’t change that. Knowing my characters as well as I know myself won’t change that either. And even getting pumped up with my cheerleading critique partners won’t change that CRUCIAL step in writing a book.
You know, the part where I actually have to write a book.
Now, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t explore other methods and techniques. I love trying new approaches to the same “problem.” But you HAVE to realize that no matter what: you’re still going to have to write a book, word by word, page by page, and scene by scene.
You’re going to have put your butt in the chair and your hands on the keyboard. You’re going to have to push through every chapter until you reach, The End. And nothing–absolutely nothing in this entire world (short of hiring someone to do it for you) will change the fact that the writing is all that really matters.
So go forth and write. Even when you feel shaky and unsure.
ESPECIALLY when you feel shaky and unsure.
Sit down (or stand. That’s what I do.) and write one sentence. Then write another sentence. Then write another and another until you have a page.
And then write another page. And another after that.
Don’t stop! Keep going. Maybe not right away, but a wrote little bit as often you can, and eventually you’ll find yourself with a finished book.
If you like what you read here, consider signing up for my newsletter, the Misfits & Daydreamers or swinging by my For Writers page! All subscribers get a free guide to query writing OR a free extra scene from A Darkness Strange & Lovely.
Before she settled down as a full-time novelist and writing instructor, Susan Dennard traveled the world as marine biologist. She is the author of the Something Strange and Deadly series as well as the forthcoming Witchlands series (Tor, 2015), and when not writing, she can be found hiking with her dogs, exploring tidal pools, or practicing her tap dance shuffles. You can learn more about Susan on her blog, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, or Wattpad.Add a Comment
Blog: Utah Children's Writers (Login to Add to MyJacketFlap)
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One of the most challenging aspects of learning the writing craft, to me anyway, has been how to describe and depict the emotions a character feels. It's simple to just tell the reader: Elliot felt mad. Not good writing. How to make the reader feel the mad, the anger, the heat of it. Some of my best writing teachers have suggested using physical sensations to describe the emotion, since most of us feel emotions in our bodies. I find that advice useful, but it takes time to develop. When I'm writing an emotion, I stop and try to feel it in my own body and then try to get that feeling down on the page.
Recently, I came across this telling graphic depiction of the areas in the body where emotions are felt:
Wow. I think every writer should print this out and post it above your computer. Look at anger, for example. It's all in the upper body, especially in the jaw and hands. And in the heart area. That's why phrases like "harden the heart" are part of our lexicon. But of course, as writers, we don't want to rely on cliched expressions to do the work we should be doing.
I find this graphic so interesting. Disgust is mostly in the throat. Depression is a deep dark whole in the center of your body. Shame seems mostly expressed in the eyes. I wish there were many more of these images to fit more emotions.
However, we all have bodies and emotions, so start mapping out for yourself. Observe those around you. This is one of my favorite games: watch people interacting and try to predict what their emotional states are even without hearing what they're saying. You can do this with the TV muted as well, although I prefer watching real people in their real lives. Notice how other writers do this well. You may not want to steal their fabulous phrasing, but you can learn from their unique take on a time-worn description.
I am inclined to use every moment as writerly research, so use any situation you are in to track emotional responses. How are people at a funeral expressing their grief in their bodies? How about during a family quarrel? What about driving on a dangerous stretch of road in the winter--white knuckles, right? But that's cliche, so dig deeper.
I would really love to have some interaction in the comments section here. Submit your ideas for describing emotions through bodily sensations. We can all help and learn from each other.
by Neysa CM Jensen
Boise, Idaho Add a Comment
Blog: So many books, so little time (Login to Add to MyJacketFlap)
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It’s Picture Book Idea Month! Click here to learn all of this writer’s *secrets*…
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Thinking About Scrivener?
By Pamela Brunskill
You’ve probably heard about Scrivener, and if you’re wondering if you have time to learn how to use it or whether it’s as great as everyone says it is, take half an hour and try it. Scrivener allows you to organize your drafts, using tools effective writers have been doing for ages, but all in one place. You don’t need to use all that Scrivener has to offer, and it can still transform your writing process.
For a relative beginner writer like me, Scrivener has been incredibly helpful in learning how to write and manage all the details in a lengthy manuscript. There are a LOT of great features, but some of my favorites are:
• On the main screen there’s a binder on the left hand side that allows you to add folders, chapters, and research. You can import websites, images, and research there, too.
• You can split your page horizontally or vertically to see two versions of the same piece at once. Or you can use it the split the view to two different parts of your manuscript, or a chapter and a website at the same time, or…you get the idea. You can also view your manuscript as a single page.
• There’s a synopsis tab you can view on the right hand side that allows you to jot down the purpose of the chapter and keep notes you can utilize in the chapter. I like to view this tab at the same time I’m working on a chapter to remind me how to focus my writing, to keep me from going on tangents.
• By changing the view mode, you can look at your chapters on a virtual cork board where you can rearrange the note cards that represent your chapters, just as you would on an actual cork board. But, when you’re done, the program has already rearranged the corresponding chapters in your binder.
Write, structure, revise
This is an example of what your screen looks like on Scrivener.
Image taken from Literature and Latte’s website.
Scrivener isn’t magical—it won’t write your book for you, but it can certainly help you turn that first draft into a brilliant one. And once you’re ready to send off your manuscript to a critique partner, editor, or friend, there’s a compile button. You check which sections of your manuscript you want to include, and then you can print, save, or export it in various formats, such as Word, PDF, ebook, and Web Page.
I am still learning all the great tools Scrivener has available, but within an hour of downloading it, I got the basics. If you’re worried that it will take a long time to learn a new program, don’t be. Literature and Latte, the company that developed Scrivener, provides tutorials to get you started. In this ten-minute video, Keith Blount, the original designer of Scrivener, demonstrates how to do all of what I mentioned and more.
Click on the image above to view the video
If you need more help getting started, Literature and Latte offers several video tutorials, and there are a number of blogs out there devoted to the subject. Children’s and YA author Dee Romito also has a great, step-by-step overview to set up your first project at I Write for Apples. And, of course, there are books and Scrivener coaches out there as well if you want to really get into it. But, even with a minimal understanding, Scrivener can help manage your big projects and keep you organized.
I use Scrivener for my adult non-fiction and for my picture books (it’s great to see the double-page spread and visualize page turns), but there are templates for all different forms of writing.
If you want to test out Scrivener on your computer, Literature and Latte offers a free 30 day trial. The best part is that the days don’t even have to be consecutive—if you use it one day, and then again a month later, you have only used two days! If you’re wondering, I bought the program after the first day, and it’s been well worth the money, at least in my book. Right now, Scrivener costs $45, and for the month of November the company is offering discounts for those participating in NaNoWriMo. Either way, to get the software, go to Literature and Latte and download it. It’s worth it.
Thank you Pamela for writing this up for everyone to read. I started the 30 day trial after talking to you about the software at Craft Day.
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I tell clients all the time that my job is to manage expectations. Part of working with a freelance editor is expecting to be pushed outside of your manuscript comfort zone a little bit. Most writers come to me with the thought, “I am excited by my idea but I know there are several things that aren’t working. I want to learn and grow and make it better.” Maybe that writer has gotten some early feedback from critique partners about things that need tweaking. Or they’ve already done an unsuccessful submission round with agents or editors and they didn’t get the response they expected. Or maybe their manuscript isn’t meeting their own internal expectations and they just don’t know what to do about it. Enter a second pair of eyes: an editor.
A small percentage of writers, however, and I’ve only had this experience twice in my editorial career, are so convinced of the merits of the manuscript that they’re not looking for an editor. They are looking, I’d imagine, to get on the radar of someone even tangentially connected to the industry, and get a booster to the top. Maybe they think I will recommend them personally to agents. Maybe they think I’ll start agenting again myself for the sake of scooping up a hot project. Or maybe they just want the gold star from someone who has made a career of saying, basically, “yes” or “no” to thousands of other writers.
I try very hard to generate constructive, actionable feedback. I’ve never sent a set of notes that says, “This sucks, it’s dead in the water, and you should probably stick with your day job.” One time, at a conference, I met with a writer who told me something shocking. “This,” she said, “is the first manuscript I’ve written in twenty-five years. I had a writing teacher in college tell me I was no good, and it hurt so much that I stopped writing altogether.”
This woman lost twenty-five years of her writing life. She clearly loved doing it, but because one voice (in a presumed position of authority) told her she wasn’t good enough, she gave up on her dream for a quarter of a decade (and almost all of her adult life up until that point). People perceive me as an authority, too. And so I have made it my goal to never wield that power in a way that hurts a writer.
Do I rave about every manuscript unequivocally, then? Absolutely not. Even excellent writers have some blind spots. So whether I’m helping a beginning writer cut fancy “said” synonyms out of their dialogue, or I’m helping an MFA-graduate with beautiful prose work on plot and overall sales hook, I try my best to do it with the dignity and respect that each writer and each manuscript deserves, for where they are in their individual journey.
All that said, I still run into writers who have expectations that perhaps outpace their current manuscripts. Whether those expectations are of the one-in-a-million runaway success, or their shot at being a multimedia mogul, perhaps even in the query letter, I see this happen with writers. They’ve created websites, maybe, or products, or they’ve already self-published. They have a lot to say about various awards they’ve won or endorsements they’ve gotten. There’s little talk about the manuscript, though, as if that was just an afterthought.
This sends a message to me that the writer isn’t as interested in rolling up their sleeves and working on the product itself. To me, everything but the manuscript is just noise. You can send me a t-shirt with your characters on it, or a list of testimonials from school appearances, and all that is fine and good. I’m a driven, type-A personality, too, and I have way more ideas than I have time to make them all a reality. I respect proactive people. But my only concern is the manuscript.
It’s what an agent or editor will respond to. It’s what will stand out among the noise if it’s, indeed, worthwhile. I saw excitement bubbling over for a perfectly lovely client last week, and I wrote to them: “The only way to get someone excited about your work is by presenting good work, and letting it speak for itself.” It’s easy to say but very hard to do. It’s also at the very core of what I do as an editor. Every writer has a different personality, and some are more eager than others. That’s okay. My job, however, is to help put the crucial piece of that manuscript into place, and help writers create good work so that they can then present it. It’s as simple and as difficult as that, but, man, do I love my job.Add a Comment
At the Writer Unboxed Unconference last week—what a treat!—in one of agent Donald Maass’s workshops he talked about how good novel manuscripts fall short. The place they primarily fall short is in the middle. Too often editors report back to him that it just “lost steam.” He had excellent approaches to avoiding that, including engaging the reader with a character starting on the first page.
A writer at the conference posted the photo below, and it does such a fine job of showing the importance of the middle I just had to share it.
Submissions still needed for flogging. I have just one for this week.
For what it’s worth.
© 2014 Ray RhameyAdd a Comment
Blog: Plot Whisperer for Writers and Readers (Login to Add to MyJacketFlap)
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Just as some writers excel at creating believable and intriguing characters and others at creating exciting and meaningful action, some characters are better at opening up and showing emotion in stories while others excel at taking action.
The Plot Whisperer: Secrets of Story Structure Any Writer Can Master.
In my work with writers, what I find fascinating is that often character-driven writers who love to delve into the characters' internal landscape often write about characters who before moving on when faced with failure / challenges / obstacles in the middle:
- Slow down
- Reflect how they are doing
- Evaluate their behavior and reactions
- Look at what went wrong from all angles
- Learn from their mistakes
- Don't tend to stop to evaluate what went wrong
- Think less
- Act faster
- Focus on the achieving the goal
Writers who excel at creating characters who feel seem to create characters who think and ponder and evaluate on their way to reaching the reward at the end.
Which sort of writer are you?
Uncertain what to write next in a story with a plot? For plot prompts to move your writing to each major turning point and reach the end: The Plot Whisperer Book of Writing Prompts: Easy Exercises to Get You Writing
For plot help and resources during NaNoWriMo:
1) The Plot Whisperer Workbook: Step-by-step Exercises to Help You Create Compelling Stories
2) The Plot Whisperer: Secrets of Story Structure Any Writer Can Master
3) The Plot Whisperer Book of Writing Prompts: Easy Exercises to Get You Writing.
To continue writing and revising (and, lots of writers are finding PlotWriMo the exact right resource to help pre-plot for a powerful first draft. Knowing what to look for in a revision helps create a tighter first draft):
- PlotWriMo: Revise Your Novel in a Month
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