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She received an M.F.A. from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She grew up in Kentucky and Tennessee and now lives in Indiana where she writes books for readers of all ages.
We all reach a point when writing doesn’t feel very fun. Maybe because we’ve read too many rejection letters. Or maybe because we’ve revised so much we can’t recognize our story. Or maybe because we’re under a deadline and the pressure to finish takes away all the enjoyment.
But remember why we started doing this? It wasn’t because we wanted to get rich quick. (Ha!) Or because it was the only job we could do. Or because anyone was making us write. It was because it was fun.
The art of creating story was fun. We became writers because we like telling stories—we like making up details, researching history and narrating events. All of that was fun.
Six years ago, I got serious about becoming a writer and applied to an MFA program. When I got a call from the admissions office saying, “Hey – we’re doing this intensive picture book semester and we have room for one more student. Would you like to try it?”
I thought, That could be fun. And I soon found myself immersed.
Six months of reading almost nothing but picture books. Dozens of picture books. Hundreds of picture books. Rhyming ones, silly ones, concept books, fairy tales. Biographies, bedtime stories, wordless books and—poetry.
The thing about sitting down at the library and reading through a knee-high stack of poetry books is that after reading a dozen, two dozen, I started to see really fast what makes a certain one good. I really liked the ones that were centered around a theme, with varied types of poetry and bonus little nonfiction facts sprinkled on top.
I should try to do that, I thought. Being enrolled in a class that expected me to produce many picture book drafts in a short period of time didn’t let me dwell on whether it was a good idea or not. It just demanded that I try it out. That I play with it.
And I did. It was fun to research shark breeds and learn about sharks I’d never heard of before. (Hello, cookie-cutter shark!)
I spent a lot of time on YouTube watching sharks swim and thinking about their rhythm and shape and how that would feed into a poem. It was fun to learn new stuff. And it was really fun to try my hand at writing all different types of poems.
To challenge myself to make sure the next one didn’t rhyme or the next one was a concrete poem or the next one was a haiku. Not all of the experimenting worked. But every bit of it was fun.
As writers we need to remember what drew us to this field to begin with and do whatever we can to find the fun again. Here are 4 quick ways you can find the fun in writing this week:
Be a spy. Go outside and find an animal or a plant and just sit and watch it for 10 minutes, writing down whatever comes to mind. See if you can take that and shape it into a poem when the time is up.
Play a game. Find a Mad Libs. Caption a funny photo.
Have fun with first lines. Opening sentences can be really fun to make up. Write a list of ten of them and then send the list out to your critique group. Let them vote on one that you’ll turn into a short story.
Write something that is completely out of your comfort zone. If you normally write YA contemporary, try writing a scene of a middle grade historical novel. Write the end of a story. Write in second person. Do something new and fresh that shakes it up a little in your routine.
It’s worth it to take a break from the WIP and play a little. Remembering what’s fun about writing will improve your energy level on your current project.
But that’s not why you should do it. You should do it because it’s fun.
My grandmother used to tell me that I was dizzy-dolly-daydream. She said it quite a lot and I began to wonder if this was a good thing, so I finally asked her what it meant.
She said that me being in my own funny little world was a bit frustrating for her; however, she thought that that dreamers were important. The important bit made me feel ten feet tall but with little idea of what she was on about since most of my mental meanderings were to do with going to Sweety Land where I could eat everything in sight or jumping into a puddle which took me to the seaside or rescuing a sad donkey/mouse/rabbit from certain doom.
A real donkey being rescued! Don't worry - he was fine and happy
Then Granny being the pragmatic woman she was, added, 'But you do need to do something with your dreams, dear.' Thanks, Granny.
Only in our dreams are we free. The rest of the time we need wages. Terry Pratchett
We can range free in our daydreams, slip the surly bonds of earth and all that, though we are strangely constrained by some inner logic in our night-dreams and nightmares. Whatever they are - daydreams, night-dreams, nightmares - maybe the stuff that dreams are made of can make a story ... and turn the insubstantial into substance. You must have had dreams you remember? I have had dreams in which I'm falling off a tall building, only to land on a squashy car (I've had this at least three times) and the embarrassing dream in which I find myself swimming in a public pool with no costume on (please do not analyse). I have also had dreams which rehearse an important event and woken with a sense of security about what's to come (quite useful but uncontrollable).
It was all a dream ...
I have also dreamed of the dead. I have done this twice. In my dreams I talked to those lost ones, forgetting that they were dead until waking when the memory of loss returned with the most crushing sadness. So my dreams are rubbish for plotting but they have on occasion been wonderful for feeling.
And then, in dreaming, The clouds methought would open and show riches Ready to drop upon me, that when I waked I cried to dream again. Caliban, The Tempest, Shakespeare
Back to Granny. When I was about eight I had an incredible experience. I so loved being with Granny at her house and I would frequently dream about being there. One night, I dreamed about my bedroom in that house - the perfumey scent, the sunshine on the bed, the creaking wardrobe door. I woke up and for a glorious few seconds Iwasthere - in that bed, in my granny's house and my happiness was like sunshine. It lasted no time and I woke up again, confused and with a terrible weight of disappointment and a fierce yearning to be back there. Sometimes, I think that this it is what being a ghost might feel like - a tremendous yearning to get back to life. I haven't knowingly used this experience in my work but I recognise it in other stories.
Don't let her in, you fool
Like Cathy's ghost in Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte.
knocking my knuckles through the glass, and stretching an arm out to seize the importunate branch: instead of which, my fingers closed on the fingers of a little, ice-cold hand. The intense horror of nightmare came over me: I tried to draw back my arm, but the hand clung to it, and a most melancholy voice sobbed, "Let me in—let me in!"
Set on the wild and windy moors, Bronte’s Victorian classic has lots of dream-like qualities. There are several occasions when characters are guided by their dreams. The character Lockwood has an unsettling dream about a brawl at an endless church sermon while staying at Wuthering Heights, while Catherine accepts a marriage proposal from Edgar after connecting a dream about going to heaven with their union.
‘I have dreamt in my life, dreams that have stayed with me ever after, and changed my ideas; they have gone through and through me, like wine through water, and altered the colour of my mind. And this is one: I’m going to tell it – but take care not to smile at any part of it.’ the Housekeeper
There are those books which deal directly with dreams like one of my favourites, 'Marianne Dreams' by Catherine Storr.
Ill and bored with having to stay in bed, Marianne picks up a pencil and starts doodling - a house, a garden, a boy at the window. That night she has an extraordinary dream whereby she is transported into her own picture, and as she explores further she soon realises she is not alone. The boy at the window is called Mark, and his every movement is guarded by the menacing stone watchers that surround the solitary house. This story is creepy, disturbing and I realised that it echoed one of my own childhood nightmares where a witch lived in the house next door and I had to devise lots of ways to escape her attentions.
Soooooo atmospheric and dreamlike in quality
How about Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. There is a door at the end of a silent corridor. And it's haunting Harry Potter's dreams. Why else would he be waking in the middle of the night, screaming in terror?
As with Agamemnon’s dreams, courtesy of Zeus (I've waited a long time to reveal that nugget of knowledge), Harry is also led astray by subconscious thoughts implanted by a villain.
I love a spooky door
And, as if you ever needed an affirmation of Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore’s wisdom, he also has something to say about dreams:
I cannot write about dreams without referring to Alice in Wonderlandby the peerlessLewis Carroll
Lewis Carroll really took full advantage of the limitless possibilities of writing within a dream setting. The 19th century author used Alice’s ability to get lost in the dream state and make connections and observations in her real life – much like we all actually do when dreaming.
‘Yes, that’s it! Said the Hatter with a sigh, it’s always tea time.’
Then there's, Mary Shelley's, Frankenstein
With a head full of an evening’s talk of reanimation and galvanism, Mary Godwin did not sleep well: “My imagination, unbidden, possessed and guided me, gifting the successive images that arose in my mind with a vividness far beyond the usual bounds of reverie?.I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together. I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out?” She realized she had found her “ghost story.” “What terrified me will terrify others; and I need only describe the spectre which had haunted my midnight pillow.” Twilight by Stephanie Meyer
In June of 2003, suburban Arizona mother Stephenie Meyer woke up from an intense dream in which two young lovers were lying together in a meadow, discussing why their love could never work. On her website, Meyers says, “One of these people was just your average girl. The other person was fantastically beautiful, sparkly, and a vampire. They were discussing the difficulties inherent in the facts that A) they were falling in love with each other while B) the vampire was particularly attracted to the scent of her blood, and was having a difficult time restraining himself from killing her immediately.”
Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
His horror classic also sprang into existence because of its writer’s graphic nightmares. In this case, a “fine bogey tale” tormenting him as he slept grew into one of the most famous and genuinely scary English-language novels ever penned — most especially considering its all-too-human antagonist and protagonist.
"In the small hours of the morning," says Mrs Stevenson, "I was awakened by cries of horror from Louis. Thinking he had a nightmare, I woke him. He said angrily, 'Why did you wake me? I was dreaming a fine bogey tale.' I had awakened him at the first transformation scene ..."
Stuart Little by E.B. White:
One of the most memorable and beloved characters from children’s literature entered into E.B. White’s subconscious in the 1920s, though he didn’t transition from notes to novel until over two decades later. From there, the tiny boy with the face and fur of a mouse became a classic.
They say you can't wait around for inspiration to strike before you start writing or creating, but one of my big problems is trying to get away from inspiration. Maybe it's living in Albuquerque, or I read too much, or have too many creative friends, but sometimes it's all I can do to not have any new ideas. A while back I wrote a post listing my main literary influences and inspirations. The list still holds true today and I enjoyed going over it before writing today. Making a list of your own in your art journal could include:
Blogs you enjoy reading.
Heroic historical figures.
Friends and family.
Besides listing your primary movers-and-shakers, you might like to explore questions about how you work with inspiration, for instance, when you're feeling down and defeated, how do you bring yourself back up? What kinds of activities or happenings actually un-inspire you? How can you detach yourself from their toxicity? Tip of the Day: I'm a big fan of altars, especially the small, unassuming sort you make at home without really trying, such as a windowsill where you keep, say, a collection of stones and shells from a favorite beach, or a shelf filled with childhood memorabilia. Even the way you set up your art and journaling supplies can be considered a kind of altar to your creativity. In that spirit, why not set aside a few art journal pages to create a visual altar, a place where you can visit whenever the well seems a bit dry. Design and color it in a way that makes you want to return again and again for further inspiration! Add a Comment
Rejection, reviews, competition, disappointment, deadlines, and doubt. There is no shortage of adversity in the writing life, making the ability to bounce back one of the greatest skills a writer can foster. And it can be fostered.
Because resilience is not a genetic or personality trait, but a process which can be learned and practiced. Overcoming the challenges that exist in our writing lives often feels difficult because it is difficult.
But not impossible.
And if you don’t believe me—Jennifer Mann—perhaps you’d believe another Jennifer?
“There are those writing days where I feel more alive than I can almost handle. And then there are the days of all out despair where I worry I’ll never have success again. If I have patience with myself, I get that exhilarating feeling all over again, and it keeps me going.”
“A big part of surviving in this business is managing my own negative emotions. That means I protect my mind and my heart fiercely. I do whatever I need to do to stay in a healthy place, because I've realized that I'm no good to anyone when I've let a bad review or my own natural writing insecurities get the better of me.”
“Not only do real-life experiences and relationships inform and inspire your art, these will be there for you on days when the writing world is difficult or frustrating or just plain hurts your feelings.”
“We can’t get better or grow if there is no reason to. Obstacles, like critique, rejection, time constraints, tech failures, family obligations, power outages, chocolate shortages, give us a reason to change how we do things, and every time we do something differently, we grow.”
“I remind myself that it is just a book. Sure, authors can impact, and maybe even save, lives when their stories reach the right person at the right time, but possibly not as many lives as, say, heart surgeons or the inventors of airbags... and I sometimes need the reminder to just get over myself and put things in perspective!”
Do you remember when you first fell in love with stories?
When I was a young boy—before I fell in love with reading,
before I sat in front of the TV for hours watching movies—I loved sitting in
the kitchen on Sunday mornings listening to my grandfather tell stories about
his life growing up in a tiny village on the outskirts of Warsaw.
It wasn’t just his stories that drew me into the
Years ago, a friend told me that getting published was the easy part. It was staying published that was difficult.
I laughed a little. I died inside.
I was still trying to get published the first time, let alone a second or third time, and I wasn’t having a whole lot of success.
But perseverance won, and eventually I did get published. And because I was one of those annoying overachievers, I’d already written first drafts of the second and third books in my trilogy by the time I turned in my first book, which meant that I had some free time.
I wrote another — unrelated — book, revised it a bit, shared it with a few critique partners and my agent, and when I had another stretch of free time, I went back to it to make the manuscript shine.
But something was wrong. There were huge parts of the book that I loved, but I knew it had problems, and I wasn’t sure how to fix them. I knew the book wasn’t strong enough to give to my publisher, so I put it aside to wait for a spark of brilliance to tell me how to fix it.
That book is still waiting. I had to move on. So I finished writing my first series (again), and I wrote another new book. I gave it to critique partners. I gave it to my agent. I revised the snot out of it. And I thought it was ready, so I gave it to my publisher. They said they didn’t think this was the very best followup to my first series.
I started thinking about that thing my friend had said years before. I started wondering if maybe she was right. I’d been published! People liked my book! But I’d put one new book aside because I knew it wasn’t ready, and I’d had to put the other new book aside because my career wasn’t ready.
But because I had no desire to starve to death and a very strong desire to keep my career in motion, I wrote yet another new thing (while finishing working on my first trilogy). All the necessary people liked it and approved it, and that book became my second series. (For those wondering if that pattern continued, it did not. There were no books between that one and what will be my third series.)
I’m sharing all this because I think a lot of writers believe that once you’re published, you can hand in new books and a couple of years later, they appear on shelves. Not true! New books must go through the same rigorous acquisitions process as the first one, but this time with sales records of your previous books as a key factor in what the publisher decides to do.
I know a lot of authors who’ve written new things after they’ve been published, and for one reason another, had to trunk them. Maybe they knew from the start it wasn’t ready. Maybe their agent said it wasn’t ready. Maybe their publisher said it wasn’t ready.
And you know, there’s no shame in that. Trunked manuscripts — no matter what stage of your career they were written — are still useful creatures. There are no wasted words in writing, even if those words never make it to the bookshelves. All that experiences goes into the next new thing, which will be even stronger than the last ones.
We all have trunked manuscripts. Lots come before getting published the first time, but they happen after, too. For a lot of writers.
And it’s totally okay. Just keep writing. Keep looking forward. (And hopefully one day, you can resurrect the trunked manuscripts you particularly love. That is my plan!)
Recently at the New Yorker, tetchy old fogey and lousyformer film critic David Denby has published a lament about how few teens are reading books these days. He has one great overheard line—a student saying “Books smell like old people”; and he builds in a few caveats (“It’s very likely that teen-agers, attached to screens of one sort or another, read more words than they ever have in the past”); but mostly he is describing a decline of western civilization via smartphone. “If teachers can make books important to kids … those kids may turn off the screens,” he wraps up, making clear his real issue here: a favored primacy of one form of technology (ink on paper) over another (e-ink or pixels on screens).
Here’s the thing: He’s casting a transitional period … [more]
I’m thrilled to introduce author Shannon Parker as our special guest today. February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, and Shannon is here totalk about her upcoming YA debut, The Girl Who Fell, about a high school senior who is swept off her feet—and into an intense and volatile relationship—by the new boy in school.
Shannon M Parker shares the inspiration for The Girl Who Fell.
It is such a small word. Three tiny letters. A conjunction. Nothing you particularly focus on when reading or chatting.
Until it balances something ugly, justifies something hard.
When a girl tells you she knows it’s wrong the way her boyfriend treats her, but she loves him—that is when you notice this word. I did.
In my work with struggling teens, I have heard this justifying ‘but’ pass the lips of the fourteen-year-old-girl who is staying with the boy who beat the twins from inside her belly because the boy has promised her forever. Her eyes light when she tells me about the engagement ring that will come. How they’ll be married. How his father will give them the trailer at the back of the property. She tells me this and I wonder if she notices how her hands can’t help but rub back-and-forth over the band of her stomach, flat now.
Her boy didn’t mean it.
He loves her.
He will never hurt her again.
I know the college-bound student. Smart and driven. I see her long-sleeved shirts in summer, the way she hasn’t met my eyes since she met her boy. She whispers this ‘but’—she whispers now—when she tells me she’s not leaving her rural town for college. She remembers being the girl who wanted to get out, get away. But she stays behind for the boy who is attracted to her light—the bright beacon of possibilities I see fading into shadows.
Her boy loves her so much.
He can’t let her go.
So he keeps her too close.
I’ve listened to the ‘but’ on the phone when the girl who was one credit away from completing her alternative high school credential calls again to say she won’t make it in.
Her boy can’t give her a ride.
He didn’t finish school so she doesn’t need to either.
He doesn’t need her having options.
These girls were never stupid or weak. They were in love and they could not see past that love. They could not see the worth that bubbled in them like a geyser waiting to jettison into the world. My debut is not their story. It is a work of fiction, though my inspiration for the book grew out of my time with these girls and so many others. Listening to their stories made one rise in me. And I hope my debut helps end a culture of blaming the girl—writing her off as damaged—just because she falls for the boy who wants to control her.
The Girl Who Fell is about a strong, powerful, beautiful girl who falls in love. Falls deeply. Physically. Mentally. Falls so hard that the line between Before Love and After Love starts to blur. Her priorities change. Her focus shifts. And why wouldn’t it? Who doesn’t want to feel love and feel loved?
The Girl Who Fell has swooning (and much of it).
There is love.
There is kindness and tenderness and trust.
Until there isn’t.
I want to thank Shannon for being our guest and sharing her inspiration for The Girl Who Fell! By way of introduction to our readers, here’s Shannon’s bio:
SHANNON PARKER lives on the Atlantic coast in a house full of boys. She’s traveled to over three dozen countries and has a few dozen more to go. She works in education and can usually be found rescuing dogs, chickens, old houses and wooden boats. Shannon has a weakness for chocolate chip cookies and ridiculous laughter—ideally, at the same time. The Girl Who Fell is her first novel.
If you’re like me, this post raises questions in your mind. Fortunately, Shannon is here for a Q&A:
Julie: I loved The Girl Who Fell! Knowing what moved you to tell Zephyr’s story made it even more compelling, but it also made me curious! First, when did you realize you wanted to write? Did you always plan to write novels, or did your work with at-risk youth create that desire in you?
Shannon: Thank you so much for having me here, Julie! I’m thrilled that you loved The Girl Who Fell! I’ve been writing most of my life, for work and pleasure. I started writing novels about six years ago, mostly quiet middle grade novels that were honestly pretty boring. I really found my literary voice when I set out to write Zephyr’s story.
Julie: It must have been exciting when Zephyr’s story started to come together. Did you know right away that this story was “the one?” Could you tell as you wrote that this book was different from your earlier attempts? When did you first realize this was the book that would be your debut?
Shannon: Setting Zephyr’s story to paper was exhilarating and petrifying all at once. I wasn’t sure the story would sell. In fact, even after I sold the book I was totally prepared for Simon & Schuster to call and say, “Um…, yeah. We meant to send that contract to SHARON M. Parker.” Ha! Kidding, but not. My debut is edgier than anything I’d written previously, which made the entire writing experience different. But if felt authentic and that’s what kept me going. All along I was acutely aware that IF the manuscript ever sold, it would need to find a home with an editor that was willing to take risks. I’m forever grateful The Girl Who Fell found that editor in Nicole Ellul.
Julie: Thanks for that honest answer! I can’t help but also wonder what thoughts you had about reactions. I know Zephyr wasn’t inspired by any one girl, but did you ever imagine some of the girls you’ve worked with reading the book, and did you worry how they might react? Did thoughts about reactions from anyone else—family and friends, for instance–ever threaten your process?
Shannon: Oh, sure! I’m pretty much crippled with worry about my book. I was worried when my mom read it–no joke! It’s edgy. The main character experiences her sexual awakening and I’ve always feared the backlash for acknowledging a teenage girl’s sexuality on the page. I wanted Zephyr to own her sexuality and her experimentation and I knew that would cross a line for many people. This never hindered my writing process, though because the sexuality—the total intoxication of first love—had to read authentically. The reader has to believe that a strong, driven young woman could fall prey to a manipulator. So, it’s intense.
The greatest shock has come from feedback from early adult readers. Almost every woman who has read my book has told me about their story, their daughter’s story, their best friend’s story. All hauntingly similar to Zephyr’s story. So many women have lived a similar story. Survived it. The sheer numbers of woman who can relate has been a real eye-opener.
I want to thank Shannon for being our guest! Here’s more about The Girl Who Fell, which releases from Simon & Schuster/Simon Pulse on March 1, 2016.
Zephyr is focused. Focused on leading her team to the field hockey state championship and leaving her small town for her dream school, Boston College.
But love has a way of changing things.
Enter the new boy in school: the hockey team’s starting goaltender, Alec. He’s cute, charming, and most important, Alec doesn’t judge Zephyr. He understands her fears and insecurities—he even shares them. Soon, their relationship becomes something bigger than Zephyr, something she can’t control, something she doesn’t want to control.
Zephyr swears it must be love. Because love is powerful, and overwhelming, and…terrifying?
But love shouldn’t make you abandon your dreams, or push your friends away. And love shouldn’t make you feel guilty—or worse, ashamed.
So when Zephyr finally begins to see Alec for who he really is, she knows it’s time to take back control of her life.
If she waits any longer, it may be too late.
Doesn’t that sound amazing? I was lucky enough to read an ARC of The Girl Who Fell, and I can tell you that it is a powerful read.
And now I want to invite our readers into the conversation. What are your thoughts on books that deal with difficult issues? Do you have any questions or comments for Shannon? Please share your thoughts in the comments!
My kids thought it was weird when they found out I was on Pinterest. But I've found it to be an invaluable tool as an author. I have boards with lesson plans that have book tie-ins. Boards about my books. Boards with book trailers. Boards with kid activities that deal with dragons, monsters and cows. And then some miscellaneous boards on other things I like.
But the board I'm lately getting the most use out of contains a variety of images that give me insight, inspiration, and ideas for the current middle grade fantasy I'm working on. If I'm trying to figure out how to describe aspects of a rainforest, I look on my board or search for other rainforest pins. If I need insight into clothes, armor and even hats worn in ancient China, I look on my board or look for more pins to add. If I need help with wildlife or plants, I turn to my board. If I need to refresh certain ideas or get new ones, my board helps me. If it's not on my board, I find other pins that might help. And when I need new inspiration, it's always waiting there for me on my board.
I also think it might be fun for others to look at my board, to just wonder and imagine what in the world this book I'm working on is going to be about. If you're curious, check it out.
Hi friends, Stacey here, with my critique partner and fellow pub-crawler, Stephanie Garber! Today we are chatting about something we imagine most of you are all too familiar with..
Rejection. We’ve all been there, starting with the threesome of friends that decided to become a twosome without you, or the unrequited love you slathered on that skinny basketball player in sixth grade. Writing is not for the faint of heart. It often feels like the bad days outnumber the good, that the days of utter dejection and rejection will stop the ship from sailing all together. Many days, I feel like the luckiest person alive to be doing the one thing I’d always wanted to do — make a living as a writer. Some days, I feel like I might chuck it all. Go catch up on those movies I’d been wanting to watch, those travel adventures I’d wanted to take. I wouldn’t read, because reading would only remind me of my giving up. But it would be an easier life, wouldn’t it?
Statistics show that the average number of rejections writers receive before selling a manuscript is about 3,967, based on absolutely no evidence at all. Once you do make that sale, there may be and probably will be dark days ahead. There is the pain of being rejected for blurbs. The torment of not feeling cool enough on social media. The agony of reviews, both professional and bloggers. There is the consternation of not being included on ‘lists,’ or not being invited to conferences, and the heartache of being passed up for awards. There is the distress of having an agent fail you, or an editor leave, or your publisher not buying your next book.
Stacey: Speaking as someone who has a book out and two on the way, When I feel down about publishing, I distance myself. I surround myself with Stacey-supporters and avoid that thing that brings me pain. I get busy doing other stuff, cleaning out the coupon drawer (I know, I have a coupon drawer) finding stuff to giveaway to the Salvation Army, I research my next vacation spot.
Then, when I’m ready, I talk to other people who have ‘been there’ and can validate my experiences. One of my favorite quotes is, “misery shared is misery halved, and joy shared is joy doubled.”
Stephanie: As someone who has shared both misery and joy with Stacey Lee, I can say that the above quote is so true!
One thing that helps me deal with feelings of rejection is to think of books as if they are birthdays.
When it’s getting close to my sister’s birthday and my family starts talking about how we are going to celebrate, I don’t start feeling sorry for myself. I never wonder, Why isn’t anyone talking about my birthday? Isn’t anyone excited for me? Same for her presents. I’m not going to count how many presents my sister receives and then compare the number of gifts I’m given for my birthday—that would be ridiculous.
And I believe the same type of comparing can be said for books.
So, let’s say, your book is slated to come out in summer or fall of 2016, avoid the temptation of feeling bad because the winter and spring books seem to be receiving most of the attention right now—those books have birthdays coming up, they should be getting the buzz.
Stacey: It’s important to remember that there is more to you than your writing. We are not in a race. What can screw us up is the image in our head of how things are supposed to be. As nobody ever said, the flower does not compare itself to the beauty of the flower growing beside it, it just blooms. We each proceed at the pace we’re meant to proceed, taking the losses as they come, but also the wins. There is the joy of connecting with a reader who needed your book. The hug from your critique partners, whose love and support goes way beyond books. There are the emails from your publishing team calling you ‘awesome.’ There is the simple joy of losing yourself in your storytelling. These things must be remembered.
*Cue a rainbow.*
Stephanie: During the holidays I spent sometime cleaning out my closet and I found a journal from when I was in high school. I was nervous about looking inside it—I was a pretty depressed high school student—so, afraid of what I might find, I told myself I would only peek for a second. The page I opened to was a list, written in brightly colored markers, full of all the things I wanted. I listed things like clear skin, perfect SAT scores, to be able to dance, and to someday write a novel. And while I still don’t have clear skin, my SAT scores were far from perfect—and sadly so are my dance skills—I did write that novel.
And I know I’ve said it here before, but just writing a book is a huge accomplishment, whether it sells or not. I meet so many people who tell me they want to write a book, but hardly any of them actually sit down and do it. So if you have written a book that is awesome. If it’s being published, or if it’s about to be published, that is even more incredible!
Stacey: Remember the speeder chase scene through the redwood forest in Return of the Jedi? It’s exhilarating to watch that scene because the camera shows it from the perspective of the rider, Luke. You don’t get a sense of exactly where he’s going, but you feel all the bumps and jolts and swoops and loops that he experiences. As we enter this new year, take a moment to rise above the chase scene, and view it from the top, where unlike that scene in Star Wars, you will not see all the bumps and dips, but the one thing you will see is your progress.
Now it’s your turn. We know all of our readers are in different places with their publishing journeys—we’ve shared a bit about our experiences, so now we’d love to hear from some of you.
To writers out there who never have trouble finding time to write or revise: pls ignore the rest of this post.
To those who are always putting their own projects on the back burner because of bill-paying work taking priority, family obligations, favors for other people, insecurity or fear, procrastination or a zillion other reasons, feel free to check out the Inkygirl Daily Writing Challenge.
To kick off our Writers on Writing post series for 2016, we're welcoming Marieke Nijkamp, author of the arresting THIS IS WHERE IT ENDS. Today, she's talking about the three things she wishes she'd known when she was just starting out.
Three Things I Wish I’d Known by Marieke Nijkamp
There are three things I wish I’d known, way back when I first started out as a baby writer. Three things that it took me almost two decades to figure out. (Beyond the usual like plot and character and what is tension even? Because I started out as this headstrong ten-year-old and none of those were really within my skill set yet. I just needed to tell stories. And I needed those million bad words to tell good stories.)
This is what I wish I’d known (and what I still tell myself with every single story). Third: it’s okay for your writing/revision process to change from story to story. Second: to recover from a writing slump or writer’s block, it helps to find what you love in a story. And most of all: everyone has a story to tell and only you can tell yours.
3. It’s okay for your writing/revision process to change from story to story
There is no one way to write and there certainly isn’t one way that fits every single story and every single writer. And yet. With every story I write, I’m utterly convinced I’ve found the way for me. I’ve found the perfect plotting method! Character sheets that I love! (Once a DM, always a DM.) The right craft book or the right questions. But somehow, they never quite fit the next story. And with every story I write, I have to go through the motions to discover, I’m such fool.
There are certainly elements I need in all writing: a carefully structured plot (which currently means, spreadsheets FTW!), a sense of the characters’ hopes and dreams and motivations, and a good understanding of stakes. But how I get to those elements changes per story, and when I need them (very early on in the plotting process or as I’m drafting or sometimes only in revisions) is different every time too. And that’s okay. In fact, realizing that every story has its own process has been freeing. Because with every story it’s about what the story needs and how I, as author, can make that happen, and that initial journey of discovery—of falling in love with a story—is amazing. And it keeps me going too.
2. To recover from a writing slump or writer’s block, it helps to find what you love in a story
There are days when I really do not like the story I’m telling. Or rather, I want to like it, but it keeps slipping through my fingers. I keep just missing it. And it leaves me frustrated and blocked.
For the longest time, I thought the best way to deal with that was to keep writing, until I connected with the story again. Even if it meant recycling all those words a few days later. Turned out… that wasn’t the most productive method. Because usually when I’m blocked, it’s not just that I don’t connect to the story, it’s that I don’t quite understand it. To understand it, I need to go back to finding what I love. Which means stepping outside a story, fast forwarding to a scene I’m excited about, writing a letter from one character to the next, switching points of view. It means falling in love again.
And that, for me, is the hard of storytelling. Especially in the knowledge that:
1. Everyone has a story to tell and only you can tell yours
Now whether you subscribe to our storytelling is based on three basic plots or seven or eight or twenty or 36 or even just one, I think we can all agree that there are very few original stories left. And that may seem wholly intimidating. Except, the more I think about it, the more it isn’t intimidating at all.
Because it’s not a bad thing when stories share commonalities, tropes, plot devices. Especially not if they work and if they work in the context of that particular story. If, like me, you love forests, you’re not going to go to one wood and say you’ve seen them all. And in the next forest, you still expect, you know, trees. We look for details we can relate to and engage with, and that is what helps us build a framework for the stories we love and the stories we seek out or write!
And besides, within that framework, you can still write the most original and truest story there is: yours. A story that explores the world, people, the universe as you see it or don’t see it, know it or don’t know it, experience it or don’t experience it, feel it or don’t feel it. A story that reflects what matters to you most. but above all, a story that is shaped by your wonder and the way you converse with and understand life. Only you can tell that story—those stories, because they are multitudes. And they matter, deeply.
About the Book
10:00 a.m. The principal of Opportunity, Alabama's high school finishes her speech, welcoming the entire student body to a new semester and encouraging them to excel and achieve.
10:02 a.m. The students get up to leave the auditorium for their next class.
10:03 The auditorium doors won't open.
10:05 Someone starts shooting.
Told over the span of 54 harrowing minutes from four different perspectives, terror reigns as one student's calculated revenge turns into the ultimate game of survival.
Marieke Nijkamp is a storyteller, dreamer, globe-trotter, geek. She holds degrees in philosophy, history, and medieval studies, and wants to grow up to be a time traveler. Her debut young adult novel This Is Where It Ends will be published by Sourcebooks Fire on January 5, 2016.
My fourth grade self's advice, my grandmother's influence, participating in the Literacy Leaders' Forum, and even a Facebook quiz and a fortune cookie have all pointed me in the direction of my One Little Word for 2016...HAPPY.
As I reflect on 2015, while my future is still uncertain beyond June, that elusive soul-mate is well, still elusive and my best-fit agent is yet to materialize, I have a boatload of things for which to be grateful! I hope … Continue reading →
Hey, All! Stephanie here, with my good friend and fellow pub-crawler, Stacey Lee. Today, we are so excited to talk about two of our favorite things: writing and fun!
Stephanie: It’s the beginning of November, which means NaNoWriMo has just begun!
I love the idea of NaNo. I love that it’s a race to write fast, and one that everyone can win. So instead of competing, people are rooting for one another. A wide array of authors give inspirational pep talks. Strangers write together in coffee shops. Friendships are formed as people participate in group writing sprints.
NaNo is fun! And I think this is a key reason why it is so enduring. I don’t know about all of you, but whenever I’m feeling particularly stuck, uninspired, or that everything I’m writing is really garbage-y, I think it’s because I’ve forgotten to have fun with it. And I believe it’s nearly impossible to write a story others will love if you’re not feeling any love as you write.
So Stacey and I have put together a list of, Seven Ways To Bring The Fun Back Into Your Writing:
1. Fall in love with words again.
Stephanie: When I was younger, being the super-cool kid that I was, I sat in my room a lot and read my thesaurus. I loved discovering new words. I’d highlight the ones that sounded most interesting then write little stories around them. Sadly, my teachers often informed me I was actually using many of these words incorrectly—but that’s another story.
The point of this story is, I made an effort to uncover new words as if they were treasures to be found. I’m not sure when I stopped (probably around the time I started making friends), but lately I’ve started hunting for words again, and listing all the lovely words that I’d been neglecting. It inspires me—like finding the perfect party dress and deciding to throw a party because of it. Now it’s even easier to re-discover words with awesome sites like thesaurus.com.
I’m also a big fan of McGraw-Hill’s Dictionary of American Slang and Colloquial Expressions.
This book also has a thematic index. For example, if you’re searching for a term to use in place of liquor store, you’d find: candy store, comfort station, filling station, guzzelry, happy shop, headache department, headache house, juice house, leeky store, LIQ, oasis, thirst-aid station.
2. Commandeer your setting.
Stacey: Stand up, and wiggle your shoulders. Roll out your neck. Now make fists and pump them toward the heavens and say, “I am Master of my domain!”
Now sit back down and examine the world you’ve created. How can you make it better? Don’t settle for what’s ordinary, or expected because when we do that, we put readers (and ourselves) to sleep. Make it more vivid, more memorable. How? By not just adding a crooked door to the cottage, but creating an emotional connection between the crooked door and your character. Maybe every time your character sees the door, she remembers how her dad kicked it down when her mom locked him out. Or maybe the door is always threatening to fall. You can create a lot of layers, and have even more fun with your writing, by commandeering your setting.
3. Let Your Imagination Leap Out Windows.
Stephanie: A couple weeks ago a former student of mine sent me this lovely quote:
Her imagination was by habit ridiculously active; if the door wasn’t opened to it, it jumped out the window. –Henry James, The Portrait of a Lady
When I read this I pictured a bored woman jumping out of a window. But I believe the author is really saying that writers should shrug off anything confining them and take bold daring risks that will bring them to frightening and dangerous places. This goes beyond breaking rules. It’s simple to say, “I don’t care about what everyone says, I’m going to start my book with my character waking up.” But mining deep within yourself, to find a subject that will not only force your reader to see some facet of the world through a different lens but stretch you as a writer, that is something else entirely. This might not be ‘fun,’ but it’s definitely exciting.
4. Find Reasons To Celebrate:
Stacey: I think sometimes we’re running so fast, we forget to stop at the rehydrating stations. Celebrations are one of the ways we can rehydrate, along with eating and sleeping and laughing. I book a spa appointment every time I turn a draft in on time—my own private pat on the back for making my deadline. And speaking of celebrations, Stephanie and I are preparing a celebration for our one-year anniversary on Tumblr because it’s basically an excuse to be merry and giveaway an awesome stash of books.
5. Pick a Theme Song
Stephanie: I know a lot of people do playlists, which are also awesome, but playlists usually encompass a variety of emotions. A theme song should be your anchor to one distinct feeling, which you are excited about threading throughout your entire novel.
For the first book I wrote, Hoppípolla by Sigur Rós was my theme song. It was whimsical and beautiful, and it made me think of make-believe things come to life. Whenever I felt as if my writing was stale, I would put that song on and it reminded me of what I was attempting to achieve.
6. Get into a good story.
Stacey: Nothing helps me rediscover the joy of writing like reading a good book, watching an awesome film or play. When I’ve reached a roadblock, sometimes just reading the words of others inspires me to go back and kick some roadblock bootie. Great stories I’ve experienced recently:
Phantom of the Opera musical (made me want to write a tragic love story!)
The movie The Martian (plotting brilliance)
Tiny Pretty Things by Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton (the evil scheming ballerinas!)
7. Participate in NaNoWriMo.
We know the month has already started, but it’s not too late to join in the fun.
Now it’s your turn! We’d love to hear any tips you have that might help put the fun back into writing!
That’s all for this week! Next week we’ll have another pep talk for you, plus answering your questions! Comment with any questions you have for us about writing, drafting, motivation, etc. or send us as ask through Tumblr.
A long time ago, before I was telling my stories with illustrations and words, I was a telling them through the use of moving pictures, I was an aspiring filmmaker.
It all started when a friend and I decided we would be the next Tarantino; break out filmmakers, creating cutting edge film. But instead of spending thousands of dollars on film school, we took what little money we had and we were going to do it guerilla style, the indie way.
In the next few months, we drafted a screenplay, auditioned actors, scouted locations, purchased equipment and started filming. We even came up with a hollywood sounding name for our troupe, “The Yuzzi Brothers.” And since we couldn’t take a few months out of our day jobs to make the movie, we wrote a story that took place at night. It would be one of the most intense times of my life. We typically filmed from 8pm to 3am, with just enough sleep to go to work that same morning. Caffeine had become my best friend. A year later, we finally finished our movie and showed it in theaters, in all its flawed glory.
Looking back at the romanticized version of those events, I could honestly say that it was one of the best experiences of my life. We learned a lot about ourselves and about the industry, yet it was not without its challenges. We had actors & crew members who dropped out, our equipment was stolen, myriad of technical issues, schedule conflicts and even injuries. And when you’re on the 8th month of a production, you start to question yourself and your project (or your spouse would). We could have easily given up at any point, but we did not. We kept telling ourselves that we needed to finish.
Starting something new is exciting & fun. And let’s be honest, it’s probably the easiest part. The endless daydreaming of a new project gives us a sense of euphoria. But once the tire hits the pavement and the daily grind of our life gets in the way, that’s when we’re really tested. Self-doubt begins to manifest and we start looking for the off-ramp. We question our ideas, we procrastinate, we revise endlessly. We’re stuck in a never ending loop between unlived expectations and our limited abilities to meet them.
It’s only natural we should strive for perfection. But perfection is that golden goose that if you look at it long enough, it turns into an ugly duckling. That is, in fact, an important part of what makes us creatives. And as we grow and get better, we look back at our work and see the flaws. Yet it’s also important not to get stuck, to keep moving forward, to finish. That is how we grow. I know artists who actually don’t start anything, fearing that the end result will never live up to their expectations. It’s quite unfortunate.
When I feel dismayed, I go back to the reasons why I started. It’s much like reminiscing about my carefree childhood days. Everything seemed possible. I look for that seed of inspiration and use it to re-ignite my inner locomotive.
Sometimes, I realize that I am at that moment in my life incapable of telling the story or drawing that picture. I simply lack the life experience or skills to do so. This doesn’t mean that my idea is lost in the woods, never to be seen. It just means that I can put it in my back pocket and come back to it later. And trust me, I have many of those.
When we were working on our movie, there were so many variables that was ultimately out of our control. We relied on so many people, and to be able to keep it going for a year, and to finish was quite a miraculous thing.
Contrasting that to my current endeavor of writing and illustrating, where everything is really on my shoulders, gives me a unique perspective and set of expectations. I really have no excuse not to finish. It’s all on me. And If I have to spend time away from my family to work on my craft, then I better make it count.
Finishing is important. Once you’ve experienced completing a project that you’ve poured your life into, you stand among the few who have “made it.” You can tip your fedora to the naysayers and show them that you’ve done what you’ve set out to do. You’ve kept your word, your promise; even if it’s just to yourself.
Those who finish are the ones who inspire me the most, because I know how hard it is to get to that point. Not everyone can be a breakout overnight success, but we can sure break out of our walls and create something amazing, and it all starts with mastering the art of finishing.
So put on that thinking cap, adjust your monocle, get a jug of coffee, and dust off that manuscript or picture book. It’s calling your name.
Made this little sketch to celebrate the birthday of Joni Mitchell. My idol. My hero. My inspiration. I've pinched - I mean, been inspired by - her lyrics more than any other artist, to use in my work, as blog post titles, as life coaching. Happy Birthday Joni (her birthday was actually yesterday, but I did draw this late last night so it was kind of in time, although as my family and friends will tell you my birthday cards, presents and wishes are always, without fail, late).
A young Joni in, my new drug of choice, the Pentel brush pen.
We talk about a lot of things on Pub Crawl – writing craft, the submission process, the editorial process, the industry, and lots of stuff in between. We like to encourage writing by hopefully imparting insight and advice. Lots of people do; bloggers, writers, editors, agents. And at one time or another, you’ve likely seen this advice: Write Every Day. There are no excuses. Do it or you’ll never get better. Practice makes perfect – so practice every single day.
But for many of us, this advice can actually be detrimental to the process because we are going through a different kind of process: Healing. And sometimes, healing means not writing every day, or at all, for a long time. And the biggest key to this is understanding that it’s okay. That your pace may different. That even your writing routine may change. This does not make you less of a writer, nor does it mean you won’t still improve.
Full disclosure: I lost my father in March of this year. I say this not to garner sympathy, but to give some context. It was shocking in many ways, and completely unsurprising in others. But the thing I didn’t expect? How grief really felt, and still feels. How it comes out at strange times, making the rest of your day difficult to get through. It’s a daily struggle, and I am only just beginning to understand that it will be for a long time yet.
The worst of it was, I lost my will to write. For many years, I posted poetry and flash fiction on my blog a couple of times a month. In addition, I did write nearly every day, or revised finished projects, or dashed off a few lines here, a few lines there. A random scene. A conversation between characters. For a long time, I was lucky enough to be full of inspiration.
After March, I still tried to write. But I was dissatisfied with the words, with the content. Suddenly, I wasn’t sure who I was as a writer. What did I even enjoy writing? What stories did I have to tell? Everything was colored by this new way I viewed the world, however slight the difference might have been. I would begin a story, short or long, and see it through to 5,000 words before deciding I wasn’t into it. I’d sit down to dash off a line here, a line there, and end up staring at a blank screen instead.
I read advice that told me to keep writing, to keep doing, to keep practicing OR ELSE. So over and over again I attempted it, and more and more the anxiety over that command made it impossible. And you know what? It wasn’t until I finally allowed myself a break, some time away from the page to actually breathe, that writing finally started to be of interest again several months later. Now, I’m using NaNoWriMo to encourage that interest – but I’m not punishing myself when I don’t hit the word count.
This is not to say I am not still struggling. Every word is harder to write than it used to be, because I’m fighting to understand who I am now versus who I was then. This is the same for those struggling with depression, or even with physical illness. Sometimes the idea that a true writer is one who writes every day, despite the struggle, despite the emotional hardship, is more detrimental to a struggling writer than the idea that we are allowed some time off, or we are allowed to adhere to a schedule that works for us – even if it means not writing daily. We are allowed to back away for a little while, to regroup, to think, to fight.
There is only one “right” way to write, and that is whichever way empowers you as an individual. If the idea of writing is giving you anxiety, remember that it’s okay to take a break if you need one. Writing isn’t going anywhere – it’ll still be there when you’re ready.
I’m certain I’m not alone in this – if you’ve found a way to write through emotional hardships, tell me about it! I’d love to know what you’ve done, or are doing, to find writing in your life again.
It started with a girl on a train. I had to start it somewhere, so it started there.
Then I got into work and it grew (I still have to pinch myself that I go into work to draw).
I was trying to cover up the mess of the marker pens that had bled through the previous and following pages. I love marker pens, they are my new favourite thing. But they do not like sketchbooks. They do make a right old mess. Although I kind of like that. I like the challenge and, actually, you could look at it in a totally different way; the stains/mess give you something to work with.
Yeah. Plus, it really suits the way I like to create my sketchbook drawings these days. You see, this chaos and mess expresses much more about what goes on inside my head than any of my earlier 'perfect', serene, calm sketchbook drawings did. Sure, I get that I was looking for that at the time - a kind of peace - and that's what I was hoping to achieve from drawing, but, for along time I denied the mess. Not any more.
There are no rules to this kind of drawing. Nor rules or restrictions to making these kind of spreads. They're just a sprawling stream of things that are happening multiplied by a stream of consciousness. That, at this present moment in time, is my favourite way to create my sketchbooks. And, is the most interesting way too.
Okay, there's just one rule. Spotted it?
Yeah, never leave one millimetre of paper untouched!
There is still a little time to order from my shop for Christmas. Inspire someone you know, to draw their lives, with my zines or books. Or treat yourself. You can find my goodies, all created with love, HERE.
A creative tip for writers and illustrators: Every so often, take the time to look at things around you differently than you normally would. Sounds like a glib cliché, I know, but I encourage you to really give it a shot. When I'm walking through a familiar area or doing something I've done a zillion times before, I tend to take my surroundings for granted. Every once in a while, I force myself to stop and really look at something or someone. I mean really LOOK. If I have the time, I sketch or write about it in my notebook. If I only have a few minutes, like when I'm waiting in a grocery line, then I make it a mental exercise. I also do this through my found object art and encourage young people to do found object art for the same reason.
Since I consciously started doing this, I have found my work showing the benefits. I'm sharing this tip here in hopes that it might help some of you as well.
How you can apply this principle in your illustrations: Before settling on a way of illustrating a scene, experiment with different perspectives and other ways of interpreting the text. Feel free to use one of my brainstorming templates. Do more art just for the fun of it to keep yourself from falling into a rut. Doodle, experiment. Remind yourself you don't have to show anyone what you're drawing.
How you can apply this principle in your writing: Avoid describing people and things in clichéd phrases ("she was fit as a fiddle" etc.), take the time to make your characters and stories unique, don't chase trends. Carry around a notebook and jot down phrases, descriptions, ideas, names. Brainstorm. Write every day; it doesn't have to be for a book project or something you want to get published. Write for FUN. Experiment with poetry (you don't have to show anyone); I find writing poetry makes me more conscious of word choice and the sound of the words. Read what you write out loud; read in a different voice, at different speeds.
Do you have your own creativity boost techniques? Feel free to share them below in the comments.