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1. 44 Posts That Will Help You Escape the Content Mills & Make a REAL Living as a Freelance Writer

escapes ... (86/365)Stuck writing for the content mills and struggling to pay your bills? Yeah, you and a TON of other writers!

Content mill owners and misinformed writers have been spreading the word that if you want to make a living as a freelance writer, you need to start out by writing for cheap-o content mills, bidding sites, and revenue share sites that pay you pennies for your hard work.

And even worse, after spouting this lame advice, they offer no tips on moving on up out of the mills to start earning some REAL money as a freelance writer! So too many writers keep slaving away at the mills for $5 per article, and they burn out before they can rack up a decent amount of pay.

Well, I’m here to change that. One of my passions is helping writers earn a decent living, so I scoured the web for 50 posts that will help you escape the content mills — from motivational posts to basic articles on how to break into more lucrative forms of writing.

So…let’s begin!

Not Convinced You Want to Leave the Mills?


Lots of writers are afraid that if they leave the content mills, they’ll be left with nothing at all — and even $5 per article is better than that, right?

Not so. I rounded up a bunch of posts that will convince you to kick the mills once and for all. They show why content mills aren’t a valid “step up” to real freelancing, how the numbers don’t add up, and more.

1. The Science of Undervaluing Yourself (And How To Overcome It)

Blog: Psychotactics

Author: Sean D’Souza

A cautionary take about undervaluing yourself as a businessperson…plus great stories about clients who complained about spending $250 on one of his products, only to go out and blow $2,500 on a vacation or $30,000 on a new car. You think you can’t command high rates? This post will make you think again.

2. Writers Explain What It’s Like Toiling on the Content Farm

Blog: MediaShift

Author: Corbin Hiar

A telling quote from this enlightening post: “‘I was completely aware that I was writing crap,’ she said. ‘I was like, I hope to God people don’t read my advice on how to make gin at home because they’ll probably poison themselves.’ […] ‘Never trust anything you read on eHow.com, she said, referring to one of Demand Media’s high-traffic websites, on which most of her clips appeared.” Be sure to read the comments!

3. Why You’ll Fail at Freelancing if You Suck at Math

Blog: Profitable Freelancer

Author: Jen Mattern

You may be thinking you can make the numbers work as a low-paid content mill writer, but they just don’t add up. Read this post and you’ll stop fooling yourself.

4. The High Cost of Earning Little

Blog: Ask MetaFilter

Not a blog post per se, but this thread will show how U.S. freelancers pay more in taxes than the employed — which makes writing for the content mills even less worth the effort than you thought!

5. The Reality of Writing for Content Mills: 14 Writers’ True Stories

Blog: Make a Living Writing

Author: Carol Tice

Carol put a ton of investigative work into this post, and the result is a real eye-opener. If you’re not quite sure the content mills are something you want to avoid, reading this will MAKE you sure.

6. Why You Shouldn’t Write for Content Mills

Blog: The Matador Network

Author: Michelle Schusterman

Michelle writes, “Still…work hard on queries and send them out daily on the off-chance of getting a response months from now, or write the toilet vent piece for a guaranteed, immediate $15? I went the mill route. Here’s why I shouldn’t have.”

7. Content Mills: Why Aspiring Writers Should Avoid Them

Blog: Make a Living Writing

Author: Carol Tice

Not only do content mills not give you the experience you need to become a better — and better paid — writer, but the whole content mill model is at risk of dying. Carol offers these and more reasons why you should steer clear of content mills.

8. 3 Things Writing for Content Mills Can Teach You About Freelance Writing

Blog: The Writing Base

Author: Samar Owais

One lesson learned from this post: “There’s nothing like earning $5 an article to make you realize you’re never going to achieve your goals if you keep writing for these rates.”

9. 6 Crucial Lessons from Writing for Content Mills

Blog: Be a Freelance Blogger

Author: Shannon Cutts

What writing for content mills has given you: You have a thick skin, good self discipline, and a warrior mentality. Now, Shannon wants you to use those winning traits to land decent paying work!

10. 5 Pros and 5 Cons Using Content Mills to Start Your Freelance Writing

Blog: Freelance Writers: Expertise for Newbies

Author: Melony Candea

One notable “con” of writing for the mills: “It is a plain, hard truth that you can’t use a lot of your content mill experiences to sell yourself to quality sites once you’re ready. It doesn’t matter how well written the pieces are, the sites themselves have a slight smear on them within the writing community.”

11. Quit Getting Paid Peanuts: 10 Tips for Freelance Writers

Blog: SuccessWorks

Author: Heather Lloyd-Martin

A big takeaway from this post is that if you don’t think your writing is worth much, clients won’t either. Here’s what to do about it.

13. So You Want To Make A Living Writing? 13 Harsh Truths.

Blog: Write on the River

Author: Bob Mayer

Think everyone’s doing better than you, and it makes you want to just give up and stick with the mills? Love this quote: “People lie. Writers are professional liars. I’ve listened to keynotes from writers and known they weren’t telling the truth. I’ve seen ‘deals’ posted in Publishers Marketplace and known the agent was grossly exaggerating the sale. No one blogs about ‘my career has gone down the crapper.’ Nope. People talk about good things. So don’t let it discourage you when everyone seems to be doing better than you.”

14. How I Make a Living as a Writer and You Can Too

Blog: James Altucher Confidential

Author: James Altucher

Learn the realities of writing for money, including Altucher’s revelations that platforms are shit and bookstores suck. An eye-opener!

15. The 7 Things Writers Need to Make a Living

Blog: Copyblogger

Author: Sonia Simone

Here are all the intangibles you need to make a living writing, from love to confidence to support. But don’t be fooled — this post goes beyond touchy-feely sentiments to share some key real-world insights.

16. How To Make A Living As An Author: Joanna Penn With Mark McGuinness

Blog: The Creative Penn

Author: Joanna Penn

Here’s how bestselling author went from writer to successful author-entrepreneur. My favorite line from this post: “Stop thinking like needy artists or freelancers living hand to mouth, and start thinking and acting like creative entrepreneurs.”

17. 3 Ways to Escape the Content Mills & Earn More as a Freelance Writer

Blog: The Renegade Writer

Author: Linda Formichelli

I think it’s important for writers to know there is a VAST, good-paying market in between content mills and hard-to-break-into magazines and businesses.

18. 8 Strategies to Building Your Freelance Writing Career

Blog: The Writer’s Dig at Writer’s Digest

Author: Brian Klems

Lots of good, solid nuts-and-bolts advice that will help you pitch your way to success in a market Brian says is getting easier to break into — thanks to email and the Internet.

19. So You Want to Be a Freelance Writer

Blog: Freelancers Union

Author: Kate Hamill

Kate, head of the Freelancers Union, gives the scoop on starting a freelance writing business.

20. Creating a Stronger Freelance Writing Business

Blog: Words on the Page

Author: Lori Widmer

A sample of the “why didn’t I think of that?” advice you’ll find in this post: “Look where others aren’t–right at the doorsteps of the companies and people you want to work with. Suppose you write about organic gardening. What associations cover that industry? Who are the experts? The PR firms? What publications support the growers, suppliers, manufacturers, or organic landscapers? Go to the sources themselves with your pitch. Do your homework, write your introductory letter, and follow up in a few weeks.”

21. To Become a Successful Freelance Writer, Start Here

Blog: Make a Living Writing

Author: Carol Tice

Are you one of those aspiring writers who says, “I’ll get started as soon as I determine my niche/decide on a business name/learn this fancy word processing program”? Carol tells you how and why you need to just take action NOW.

22. How to Stay Sane While Building Your Writing Career Part Time

Blog: The Write Life

Author: Ali Luke

Some core takeaways from this post: Be realistic, look into cutting down on your non-writing activities, and create systems that work for you.

23. 3 Secrets to Quickly Grow Your Freelance Writing Income

Blog: Make a Living Writing

Author: Carol Tice

Spoiler alert: Use your job and educational background to score gigs, even if these aren’t the topics you’re passionate about right now.

Yeah, But How Do I Actually GET These Lucrative Writing Assignments?


Somehow I knew you would ask that. :) So I gathered posts that outline the very basics on breaking into several different kinds of writing that can pay well. If one type calls out to you, you can do some Google-fu to dig deeper into the details.

First, a couple posts that outline all your options for writing niches that are worth pursuing:

24. What Kind of Writer Do You Want to Be?

Blog: Writing-World.com

Author: Terje Johansen

Wow! Get all the details on 25 types of writing to choose from — from technical writing to resume writing to journalism.

25. 105 Ways to Make a Living Writing in 2015

Blog: All Indie Writers

Author: Jenn Mattern

From ad copy to write papers, this list offers 105 ways for writers to make money, well, writing. My fave quote: “If you aren’t sure where to start, or if you’re worried that there aren’t enough potential writing gigs to go around, consider this: Just about everything involves a writer in some way.”

And now, the newbie guides to breaking into better writing niches:

Copywriting 101


Freelance copywriters can earn $50, $100, and more per hour for writing ad copy, brochures, newsletters, product descriptions, and more.

26. How to Become a Master Copywriter in Just One Year

Blog: The Write Life

Author: James Chartrand

I love how this post doesn’t promise instant riches, and also delves into some of the mental aspects of becoming a copywriter.

27. How to Become a Freelance Copywriter

Blog: CopyHackers

Author: Joanna Wiebe

Solid details on how to build a portfolio, find clients, and more.

28. The Freelance Copywriter’s Unfair Marketing Advantage

Blog: Copyblogger

Author: Brian Clark

Being a successful copywriter is about a LOT more than knowing how to write well. Brian discusses how to differentiate yourself from all the other copywriters out there.

Online Writing 101


Basically any writing for an online market counts here: Web copy, online newsletters, articles, and other types of writing that appear on the web. Pay varies widely, but bigger businesses tend to pay more moolah.

29. How I Make My Living as an Online Writer (And How You Could Too)

Blog: Aliventures

Author: Ali Luke

Ali earns not just from her writing online, but from affiliated activities like coaching and running a membership site. Here’s the scoop on how, why, and how much each earns.

30. How to Make Money Writing for the Web

Blog: The Writer’s Dig at Writer’s Digest

Author: Brian Klems

Brian leaves nothing out of this informative post — from websites that list paying freelance jobs to tips on the craft of writing for the web.

Content Marketing 101


Content marketing is writing that’s meant to entertain and educate with an eye to garnering readers, loyalty, and sales — and can include blog posts, e-mail newsletters, and more. Pay varies, but many businesses are learning it’s worth it to pay more for good content.

31. How Freelancers Can Break Into Content Marketing Writing

Blog: WordCount: Freelancing in the Digital Age

Author: Jennifer Gregory

Jennifer outlines the steps to becoming a content marketing writer in this post that includes a load of great resource links.

32. Getting Started as a Content Marketer

Blog: The Content Marketing Institute Blog

Author: Joe Pulizzi

Not exactly a blog post, but a web page by industry pro Joe Pulizzi that offers up a list of resources for newbies who want to break into content marketing.

33. Epic Content Marketing: How Business Writers Can Profit From The
Content Megatrend

Blog: High-Income Business Writing with Ed Gandia

Author: Ed Gandia

Ed interviews content marketer extraordinaire Joe Pulizzi (does that name sound familiar? :) to get the scoop on what content marketing is and why it’s a good market for freelance writers.

Magazine Writing 101


This is MY baby, and let me tell you: Some magazines pay zilch, while top markets can pay $2 per word and up. I’ve actually been paid well over $2,500 for a single article for a newsstand magazine. Other magazine markets that pay include trade publications, custom publications, and online magazines. If you’re interested in breaking into this market, you may want to check out Carol Tice’s and my upcoming Pitch Clinic class. We show you how to write a killer query or letter of introduction, and we two magazine editors on staff to critique your homework!

34. How to Get Paid to Write for Magazines: The Ultimate Guide

Blog: Boost Blog Traffic

Author: Linda Formichelli (Who is that chick, anyway?)

I know this is one of mine, but it really is an ultimate guide! Get the details on who will buy your articles and how to pitch them.

35. How to Write for Major Magazines

Blog: AboutFreelance.com

Author: Allena Tapia

Allena has some great tips on which editors to pitch and how to flatter your way to success as a magazine writer.

Blogging 101


Want write blog posts for clients? Lots of businesses are realizing the value of maintaining an interesting updated blog, and they’re looking for writers who can make it happen. Pay varies, but $50-$75 per post is common, and you typically don’t have to do all the research and interviewing you’d do for a magazine article. You can also earn money from your own blog through selling products, running ads, and doing affiliate marketing.

36. How to Start Earning from Your Blog – Right Away

Blog: Write to Done

Author: Carol Tice

Carol lists a bunch of ways to attract blogging clients — but notes that if clients aren’t coming to you, you need to reach out to them. (And she has tips for that too!)

37. How to Become a Highly Paid Freelance Blogger

Blog: Writing Happiness

Author: Marya Jan

Choose a niche, gather testimonials, and blog your butt off! These and more tips will help you get started as a paid blogger.

38. How to Become a Freelance Blog Writer

Blog: Freelance Switch

Author: Leo Babauta

Lots of advice for the blogging newbie. One great tip: “Once you’ve got some subscribers (a couple hundred would be awesome), don’t submit your stuff to the social media — let your readers do it for you. And they will, if the article is worthy. If it’s not worthy, you don’t want to submit it anyway. The effect of a popular article — or more accurately, a few popular articles — is big, in terms of becoming a freelancer. It gets you noticed by other blogs, and they’re your real market.”

Self-Publishing E-books 101


Self-publishing is tough to earn a lot from, but even so it beats the hell out of the content mills. You own your content and can sell it wherever and however you like, and online booksellers like Amazon and Barnes & Noble make the selling process simple. My Amazon titles earn me a few thou in royalties every year.

39. How Can the Average Writer Make Money Self Publishing E-Books?

Blog: The Writer’s Dig at Writer’s Digest

Author: Brian Klems

A very thorough discussion of the ins and outs of publishing e-books, especially hitting that sweet spot with pricing.

40. Self Publishing Podcast 116: What We’d Do If We Were Just Starting Out

Blog: The Self-Publishing Podcast

Author: Jacob Tullos

This podcasts addresses such newbie questions as: Should I start a blog? What should I blog about? Should I write a full novel or focus on shorter books? Should I break in with a series or release a standalone title first?

41. How to Make Money on Ebooks

Blog: A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing

Author: JA Konrath

JA Konrath makes a living from self publishing, and in this post he gives an overview of what it takes — including a Q&A of common newbie questions and a pro/con list for traditional vs. self publishing.

Ghostwriting 101


Ghostwriters can make a mint penning books, articles, and blog posts under their clients’ names. I’ve ghostwritten a couple of small Chicken Soup books that paid $5,000 each, and know from experience that series like Idiot’s Guides and Dummies books (though you’re technically a “co-author,” not strictly a ghostwriter, because your name appears under the subject matter expert’s name on the cover) can pay $10,000 and up.

42. How I Ghostwrite Other Writers’ Books

Blog: The Write Practice

Author: Joe Bunting

Joe offers a thorough discussion on the ethics of ghostwriting, how to land gigs, and the process for ghostwriting a book.

43. How to Be a Ghostwriter

Blog: Standout Books

Author: Robert Wood

I love how this post outlines the different types of ghostwriting you can get into, and gives advice on breaking into this niche.

44. So You Want My Job: Ghostwriter

Blog: The Art of Manliness

Author: Brett & Kate McKay

The authors interview Dean Zatkowsky , who averages $150 per hour for ghostwriting. Lots of great info on what to expect if you want to get into this field.

And that’s 44 posts to help you break out of the content mills, say buh-bye to writing for peanuts, and make a good living as a freelance writer. If you enjoyed this post, please share with all your writer friends via email, on Twitter, and on Facebook!

Happy writing,

Linda Formichelli

photo by:

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2. Making vs. Following Fate

Here’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot recently. In my work with editorial clients, I often see two types of stories. This can extend to the offerings on the shelves. Sometimes there are stories about making fate, and sometimes there are stories about following it. Both are valid and interesting, but there are unique considerations to each.

What is your protagonist setting out to do in the story? Is their future an open book or are they bound by some sort of mechanism to a specific outcome?

In the example of “making fate,” I’d say that your protagonist has something that they absolutely, positively want (objective) and they set out to get it. They are more active throughout, and they drive the events of the story by pursuing whatever it is. They are the tip of the arrow, and the plot follows from them. They will encounter obstacles, certainly, and they will be frustrated in their pursuits, but if I look on the page, I will see someone who is spearheading the story. The character leads the plot, more or less, with usually some wrenches thrown into the mix.

In the example of “following fate,” I’d say you’re writing about a character who may or may not be in charge of dictating where the story is headed. One very common version of this is the “Chosen One” or “prophecy” story style, where the protagonist has something they’re bound to do, whether they like it or not. This is usually sprung upon them at a very inopportune time in their lives, and has dire consequences if they reject the fate or fail at their mission. In this case, the protagonist isn’t as much the leader of their destiny as they are a follower, and in stories like this, the plot leads the character’s development instead of the other way around.

Both story types are valid. But they have a lot to learn from one another. I think that, in the long run, a strong character has more potential than the one that’s simply following orders, training, learning their mission from a dusty piece of parchment or oracle, etc. etc. etc. So when there’s a “Chosen One” plot on my desk, I suggest that the writer find some agency for the character and let them lead certain events, rather than spend the bulk of the plot being groomed by others to fulfill a prophecy.

If you’re worried that this might be describing your plot, here’s a previous post on how to make the character more active, someone who manages to steer, regardless of their circumstances. And take heart, though this story type has the potential to lie flat on the page, and I see it a lot in aspiring manuscripts, two of the most famous heroes in children’s literature have started in this situation. Katniss in The Hunger Games and a little wizard named Harry both had their destinies planned. Katniss was to die as a Tribute in the Hunger Games, and Harry had the double pleasure of first facing the destiny of being forced into an ordinary Muggle life, then being forced into a very extraordinary wizard’s life. While he does end up filling his extraordinary wizard shoes (the prophecy of the Boy Who Lived comes true), he does it in his own way.

While I don’t often see this issue, a “making fate” character can run into trouble as well. When these stories go south, it’s because they can be all personal conflict (internal) without too much plot tension (external), because that decision-making protagonist tends to be the end-all and be-all within a story.

What’s the conclusion to this line of thought? The usual. It’s all about balance. If your plot is driving your character, give your character some moments of choosing her own destiny. If your character is driving your plot, let their relentless drive forward take a few unexpected left turns, courtesy of an enhanced plot.

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3. Revision (part two of three)

Last month I posted about revision, starting with a few macro items. I’m here to talk about that even more.

2. Start building on your foundation.

With the macro, we talked about the foundations of the story. Or of a house, in our analogy. (Which is going to get pretty wonky, since I’ve never built a house. You’ll just have to roll with it.) So we’ve got the character and motivation, the worldbuilding, and the major conflicts, goals, and stakes.

For me, everything is interconnected. Characters and their choices drive the plot, the world affects how they behave — that sort of thing. So while I’m talking about everything separately, it’s important to remember that adjusting one aspect of the story will likely impact several others.

And what kind of things am I looking at on this level?

a) Characters and their motivations.

I know we did this one in the last post, but since the characters are the driving force of my stories, I check this in every step until there’s no question that my characters are behaving as they should. I take a closer look at individual scenes to make sure the character development is natural and progressing at a reasonable pace. Or regression, as the case may be. I also go through to make sure that they’re never the same person they were at the start of the scene or chapter.

What’s that mean? I mean the characters need to be active. They need to make decisions. Their situation need to change, even if it’s subtly. They can learn something that changes the way they view a problem. They can take action and be faced with the consequences — either good or bad. Action can be taken upon them, and they’ll be forced to react. Or it can be as subtle as an interaction with another character, and maybe the way they view that character is a little different now.

And that needs to happen in every scene.

b) Plot and conflict.

Speaking of scenes, let’s make sure they’re all useful. A long time ago, I was on the receiving end of some advice. Every scene needs to do two things: plot, character development, worldbuilding, or theme, and one of those things always needs to be plot. If plot is not happening, it either needs to be shoved into that scene, or that scene needs to be removed from the story. Every scene has to earn its place, after all.

Furthermore, does the plot make sense? If at any time there’s an easy solution that my characters aren’t taking, it needs to be really clear why. Someone’s breaking into their house, but they’re not calling the police — WHY? Maybe the characters are hiding a dead body in the basement and it would be a shame for the police to find it. Or whatever. But it needs to make sense why they don’t take the obvious actions.

In general, people will look for the simplest solution possible. Plots that could be solved within a few pages, if only the characters took the natural action, don’t make for good books. It’s not believable.

That said, simple, natural solutions can cause further problems. Going back to the stranger breaking into the house with the people who call the cops (because they don’t have a body in the basement after all), what if the cops come and make things worse? What if they’re on the robber’s side? Or the intruder leaves and the police don’t believe that someone broke into the house? What do the characters do from there? We have all kinds of opportunities to make things worse for the characters and find a plot that both makes sense and will fill an entire book.

c) Balance and movement.

Sometimes, I find my drafts have too many discovery scenes in a row. Or too many action scenes in a row. Or whatever. Too much of one thing at a time gets boring. (Yes, even if it’s action.) When you ride a roller coaster, it’s the steady drag upward that makes the steep drop even more thrilling. And if all you did was roll down the hill . . . even that would get boring. Stories need motion. Up and down. Side to side. They need change.

I like to go through my manuscripts to make sure I don’t have too many talky scenes in a row — or if I have several, make sure they all mean different things to the character, or are about different plots. They need to build tension.

Same for action scenes. (Which doesn’t have to mean sword fights, necessarily. They can be sword fights, of course, but they can also be car chases, kissing scenes, or characters putting their plans in motion.) Constant action, without highs and lows and change is pretty boring. A ten-page sword fight is only interesting if the reader cares about the outcome, and the situation changes rapidly. Maybe people are coming to watch. Maybe there’s money riding on the outcome. Then, an airplane is on a collision course with the fighters. And a meteor! And then someone’s delivering a baby! And more things that escalate the tension.

You get the idea. Things change. There’s movement. And there aren’t a lot of back to back talky scenes, or back to back action scenes without some kind of relief.

d) Structure: Beginning, middle, and end.

For this, I can mostly link to other blog posts about beginnings, middles, and ends. But this is another thing I take a look at when I’m revising. Do I have a solid beginning? A solid middle? A solid end? Have I resolved everything that needs to be resolved?


And that’s all I have room for this time. More next month!

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4. How to chose and use your art materials wisely

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If you’re anything like the thousands of creatives out there, you’ll no doubt have something called “GotToHaveEveryArtSupply-itis”and its incurable. We get so excited and enthusiastic when the glorious sound of the art supply shop opens like an unknown force pulling us in against our will (not really), to when there’s a sale online we just have to get them all.Although with this vast growing collection of art supplies, in which we think deep down will bestow upon us great creative talent, comes being practical and responsible to.

 Each art material has its advantages and disadvantages, however its actually how you use them that will help you to produce great work.So here’s a few tips to really help  you choose your creative weapons of choice wisely and wield them like a true creative warrior!

1.  Combine materials that compliment each other – Just because you have an artbox filled with yummy supplies, doesn’t mean you have to throw everything into the mix to make the perfect receipe. Experimenting is key to know what works for you and your style to build your creative process. Look closely at the textures, contrasts and effects each material gives you and which would compliment each other nicely to create the perfect creative dish.  For example watercolours and coloured pencil work great together to create colour washes with beautiful tone work.

2. He’s got it so I need to have it to - No doubt you’ve done this to where your inspirational creative idol uses a specific art supply and  you feel the urge to possess it to achieve greatness. Although this isn’t to say its not the quality of product that gives them great results, bear in mind they’ve been honing their skills and processes with it for countless hours through “practice“. Not every art supply works the same with every creatives style and process, but experiment with different materials to see if introducing it to your creative making steps will benefit the pieces you create.

3. Invest within your budget- Last but not least investing and budgeting, understandably art supplies often aren’t cheap as they come in so many different brands, qualities and quantities at different prices. There’s also artist and student grade materials, however the key is be wise and stick to your budget. Test materials out and if you feel they have a permanent place in how you make your art then this gives you the option to invest in them further.

Good luck creatives and have fun wielding those art supplies!

Featured image by Amy Van Luijk  you can find out more about her work here.

0 Comments on How to chose and use your art materials wisely as of 3/5/2015 5:48:00 AM
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5. Advice on your adventure into the realm of a creative career

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Armed with your sword ( pencil) and shield (sketchbook) there maybe many of you who are soon to leave school education to venture forth into the big wide world. Although like a hero with your map and compass in hand, you now need to start to plot the path you want to take in life and especially if you want to pursue a creative career.

It’s a tough decision to make but there are lots of options out there for you if you’re driven and passionate enough to want to be creative. You could be an illustrator, graphic designer, photographer, fine artist, fashion designer, pattern designer, ceramist and much more.  Although many people will assume that the career path as a creative can be a pennyless one, this isn’t the case if you’re determined and clever in the plans you’re making.

Though these options may differ slightly for each country, university, internships and apprenticeships are some ways in which you can pursue you’re creative aspirations. Each have their benefits and disadvantages, so its important you choose a path that’s best for you. For example university can be expensive but it gives you time, facilities and expertise to hone your creatice practice. Internships and apprenticeships give you hands on workplace experience, but you may not have lots of time to experiment creatively.

These aren’t the only paths to choose, but they’ll hopefully give you food for thought on what to do next. Remember though you can write your creative story however you wish. If you’re not happy with the decisions you make there’s always the option to change the course you’ve set moving towards your aspirations and creative success.

Featured image is by illustrator Arian Armstrong and you can find out more about her work here.

0 Comments on Advice on your adventure into the realm of a creative career as of 2/25/2015 8:11:00 AM
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6. How Dissing a Bowlful of Marbles Can Help You Love Your Life

MarblesIt all started with a bowlful of marbles.

For years I wrote for many of the major women’s and health magazines — Woman’s Day, Health, Family Circle, Oxygen, Fitness, Woman’s Health, Redbook, and more. And part of my job was to always be researching my markets, so I read a LOT of these magazines every week.

It seemed that every year, each magazine in this niche would run an article on foot health where a podiatrist would recommend several exercises readers should do to keep their feet in good shape. One of these exercises was to toss a handful of marbles on the floor, and use your toes to pick up each one and deposit it in a bowl.

And every time I read this, I asked myself, “Is there a single woman, anywhere in the universe, who actually does this? In a country where the vast majority of women don’t even get the minimum recommended amount of regular exercise, is anyone out there taking the time every day to work on their toe strength?” It baffled me.

This next section may seem like a non-sequitur, but what I’m going to talk about now ties into all this and there is a lesson, I promise.

The Comparison Game


Even though I’m not a perfectionist when it comes to the craft and business of writing, I’m a perfectionist when it comes to just about every other part of my life. I like my house to be beautifully designed and sparkling clean, I stress when my toenails are chipped, I insist that every meal my family eats be as organic as possible and has all the macronutrients in the right amounts, and until my recent back injury, I was hiring a personal trainer to work me out three times per week — and feeling bad that my belly looked, well, like that of a 46-year-old woman.

You know how we tend to compare ourselves to others? Well, in each area of my life I’ve always compared myself to the foremost person I know in that field.

  • I compared my house to the home of my friend who’s a very successful interior designer.
  • I compared my energy and fitness to the full-time personal trainers I’ve hired.
  • How did my eating stack up to the diet of that woman who runs a blog about the evils of processed food? This mom uses a special app while on road trips to find breakfast spots that offer organic, free-range eggs. What would she think, I asked myself, if she saw me pick up $1/dozen eggs at Target?
  • Our son’s lunches needed to look like the ones featured on healthy mom blogs. (Oh damn, did she MAKE those whole wheat tortillas?)
  • How did my last e-course launch compare to the marketing genius with 15 employees who broke $1 million on his last launch? Ugh.

Comparing upwards was a recipe for dissatisfaction and stress, but it was so hard to stop. Can you relate?

And Then It All Falls Apart


My back went out in July, and after getting a lumbar steroid injection a week ago, the pain reached a horrifying peak (ironically…aren’t those injections supposed to alleviate pain?). I ended up on the sofa for several days, being waited on hand and foot by my husband, our son, and our exchange student.

I couldn’t cook. I couldn’t exercise. I couldn’t clean. I couldn’t even work that well because it was difficult to balance the laptop on my knees as I sat in the one position that didn’t cause agony.

I’ve been grateful for all the help I’ve been receiving, and didn’t want to criticize how anyone did anything for me. Gift horse and all that.

But guess what?

My husband gave our son an apple for breakfast before his dance class — yes, just an apple, before a strenuous hour of ballet — and the universe did not implode.

It took me a couple of days to get back to a client who couldn’t download the materials she bought from me. She was fine with it.

We had family over for my birthday and bought pizza and cake instead of my stressing over a homemade dinner and dessert all day as usual. Everyone had a great time.

I spent half a day surrounded by dirty plates and glasses because my husband got overloaded with to-dos. I survived and so did everyone else.

And that’s when I had my “ah ha” moment:

The Experts Picked Their Battles


The experts we compare ourselves to have devoted their lives to being the best in that one area.

  • The podiatrist offers magazine readers toe exercises and probably even does them at home because foot health is his entire life. He may eat fast food every day and live in a messy house, but damn, his feet are in great shape.
  • The famous author who pumps out a bestseller every year — I guarantee she is not on top of her laundry and she probably doesn’t take a shower the entire week before a deadline.
  • The mom who runs a blog that features beautifully styled photos of her kids’ hyper-healthy, homemade bento box lunches — creating those lunches is what she does for a living. We don’t know about the rest of her life. Hell, maybe her marriage is falling apart and her kids are entitled brats. But all we see is the thing she’s perfect at, and we extrapolate that to the rest of her life.
  • Personal trainers’ lives revolve around fitness. They run daily and have their split routine down to a science, and that’s what we notice when they train us. We see the thing they’re best at and assume they’re perfect in all aspects of their lives as well. But look a little closer and we see that maybe they’re poor marketers or get behind on their bills occasionally.

I’m not trying to be all Schadenfreude here. I’m not saying we should pick apart experts’ flaws to make ourselves feel better. What I’m trying to get across is that the experts chose one area of their lives to truly shine in, and that’s really all we can expect of anyone else — or ourselves.

Now, Pick YOUR Battles


We see these experts in our lives, and they seem to have it all together and be perfect at the one thing they do, and we aspire to be the same.

But the thing is, despite what magazines and Internet gurus would have us believe, we can’t emulate every professional and expect to retain our sanity. We can’t feel guilty that we’re not doing daily toe exercises and writing bestsellers and crafting bento box lunches and taking our kids on weekly educational field trips and walking around with perfectly coiffed hair and rock solid abs and measuring the macronutrients in our food.

Pick your battles. What is the one thing you do — or want to do — better than anyone else?

Maybe you’re a brilliant writer or entrepreneur. Or you’re a devoted homeschooling parent. Or you always look put-together and beautiful. Or you’re a wonderful host, and your home is a place friends and family love to gather. Or you work hard to rock six-pack abs and upper arms that don’t jiggle when you wave.

Don’t hang your self worth on having it all going on in every aspect of your life — let your self-esteem stem from your own personal superpower.

I’m not saying you can’t be a good parent and a good writer, or you have to let your health go to pot if you want to have a beautiful home. Self improvement is always great, and as humans we’re always striving for better and more. But realize you can’t do it all perfectly, and no one expecting you to. (And if someone is, you probably don’t want them in your life.)

You won’t see any bowls of marbles in my closet. My top skill is writing, so that’s what I’ll focus on. Take a few minutes to think about this today: What’s your superpower, and what do you need to let go of so you can shine?

**

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7. Why the Phrase “It Is What It Is” Makes Me Want to Punch People in the Throat

refusalI’ve been working on a new e-book called Control: Take Charge and Live the Life YOU Want, and this essay grew out of one of the chapters I’ve been writing. This book won’t be out for a while because, well, I just started it…but if you want to read something great, check out my top-rated new e-book Commit: How to Blast Through Problems & Reach Your Goals Through Massive Action. One writer committed her way into lining up $29,700 worth of work in one month!

Why the Phrase “It Is What It Is” Makes Me Want to Punch People in the Throat

There’s been a cultural shift towards all things Zen — accepting what is, being happy no matter what the circumstances, expressing gratitude for our blessings, and greeting irritating situations and people with a compassionate smile. The phrase “It is what it is” has invaded the vernacular.

That is wonderful. There are many things we can’t control, and it makes sense to accept them rather than rail against what you can’t change.

But in some cases, we put on our Zen faces for things we can and should change, because we’re feeling under-confident about taking charge. We’re afraid that we’ll upset other people if we insist on getting what we want, even if we’re perfectly justified in doing so…or sometimes, we’re feeling lazy or unmotivated and it’s just easier to pretend to accept the way things are.

The Gratitude Trap


In early 2008 I suffered from daily, debilitating panic attacks, and I complained to my therapist that I hated being on antidepressants…and while I was at it, I wasn’t thrilled with my Tourette’s medication either. They made me tired, and both boasted a long list of scary-sounding side effects; for example, the Tourette’s med can cause tartive dyskinesia, a permanent condition that causes — wait for it — uncontrollable movements such as “wormlike motions of the tongue.”

The therapist said, “Instead of being angry that you’re on these medications, why not feel grateful that medications like this exist that can help people live normal lives?”

I couldn’t argue with that, so for years I practiced gratitude. “Hey, I just saw a report that my Tourette’s med is causing men to grow breasts. Oh well, I’m grateful this medication is out there helping people.” And “Wow, I just read an article on how antidepressants aren’t nearly as effective as we think, but tapering off them can cause horrible withdrawal symptom — but I’m grateful because who knows…this medication may be what stopped the panic attacks.”

After reading one too many articles about the dangers of these medications, it suddenly hit me that “be grateful” can be just another phrase for “suck it up,” and decided to wean myself from the drugs. I researched methods for tapering them down to minimize withdrawal symptoms, and bought books on natural Tourette’s relief. These are actions I could have taken in 2008 and saved myself a lot of grief, but instead I was placated by the Zen-like idea of gratitude. Now, I feel like I am the one in control of my body and my health.

Being thankful for our blessings is important, but gratitude can be dangerous if it’s used to keep us stuck and take away our control over our lives. Think of the unhappy worker who says, “I’m lucky to have any job in this economy.” Or the wife who says, “I’m grateful to have any husband at all, with all these kids to take care of…so what if he’s emotionally abusive once in awhile?” Or the writer who says, “This content mill pays me only $10 per article, but I’m lucky to make money doing what I love.”

Not Accepting What Is


Accepting what is can translate as settling for less than you deserve or making do with less than you need. When you settle or make do, you’re giving up and letting the situation control you. You’re saying other people are in charge of you, and you’re going to just roll over and learn to deal with it. The philosophy of accepting what is, when used at the wrong times, results in a sense of loss of control. And my philosophy is that what we humans most desire is a feeling that we’re at least somewhat in charge of our lives and what happens to us.

Instead of trying to impress others with our Zen-like attitude when faced with a challenge, we should make sure that what we do and what we get is what we want and need.

An example: My web hosting service (I’m looking at you, WP Engine) was dinging me an extra $50 per month in overage charges due to search engine web robots that were indexing my site hundreds of times per day, which pushed my site over its visitor limit. I worked with the web host for months to block the bots, and the best they could do was offer a lame suggestion to sign up for their next-higher plan, which cost $70 more per month than the one I was paying for. I finally gave up, thinking “Oh, well. You’d think that a web host that charges premium prices wouldn’t be so petty as to penalize me for every bot that visits my site, but I’ll just learn to live with the $50 per month overage fee. It is what it is. Ohm.”

Finally, one morning I woke up with yet another $50 invoice sitting in my inbox and I had the sudden realization that I don’t have to deal with this. It took all of 30 minutes to research cheaper web hosts that allowed unlimited visits, to sign up with a new host, and hire them to move my websites over to their service.

The sense of control and satisfaction I felt when I was done was enormous. Before, I was letting my web host control my money, my time, and my emotions. Now, I was in charge again. Never again would my morning be ruined when I checked my email and found a $50 invoice waiting for me.

The phrase “It is what it is” often means “Shut up and deal with it” when someone says it regarding a situation we can change. If we want to gain a sense of control over our lives, we need to insist on getting what we pay for, being treated well, and feeling worthy of other people’s best efforts. We need to speak up confidently, though kindly, when we’re getting less than we deserve. Saying “It is what it is” when something you bought doesn’t work the way it should, or you’re asked to sign a contract that goes against your best interests, or someone mistreats you, or you receive something that’s not up to par…that’s handing over control of your money, time, and self respect to people who don’t deserve it.

When your favorite contestant on American Idol comes in second place, that’s a good time to say “It is what it is.” When you are, say, cheated out of money by someone or asked to sign an onerous contract, saying “It is what it is” is a sign of laziness and lack of control couched in Zen terminology.

Here are a bunch of clichés, all of which are apt: You are in charge of your life. You hold the steering wheel. Why should you settle for less in your life because you don’t want to rock the boat? Zen platitudes like “It is what it is” and “be grateful for what you have” work when you’re facing the inevitable…they don’t work when you have even the smallest possibility of making a change for the better. [lf]

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8. Revision (part one of ??)

by

Jodi Meadows

There have been a lot of posts covering the revision process, but since every writer is different — and every book is different — there’s always room for anther revision post. The request for this post came with a mention of revising a Nano project, so I’ll start with sorting out the most basic first draft a person can write. Like, it’s just a collection of words on paper. Things happen. To people. Maybe it makes sense. Maybe it doesn’t.

1. Start with the macro.

That is, make sure the structure of the book is solid. There’s no point in moving furniture around a house that doesn’t have a stable foundation, or has missing walls. I mean, you can’t even put a window in when you don’t have a wall.

So first, identify the things that are important to you. Those will be what you come back to in order to ensure you’re staying true to the story you want to tell. What is the story you want to tell? What’s the most important aspect? What’s the thing that drew you to the story in the first place?

Once you know all that, you can work toward bringing what you have closer to your vision.

What are these macro things you need in place? (Since you’re writing a book, not building a house.)

a) Character and motivations.

Make sure you know your characters. When they take action — or react to something — make it consistent with what you’ve already set up. Or if someone acts out of character, be sure the reader understands why they’re doing that.

Deciding a few things early on might help. “Gabrielle never runs from a fight,” or “Alexia chooses sneakiness over directness every time,” or “Sarah always sees the good in people.” If you can figure out some basic, character-defining statements early on (just for yourself, not to state in the book), then you’re going to have a much easier time building (or reinforcing) the foundations of your character.

As you go through the draft, make sure that every decision your characters make is true to what you’ve laid out. If every single one of your character is doing this, then you’re more likely to have a solid foundation for the story, with fewer “but wait, I thought–”

b) Worldbuilding.

Speaking of “but wait, I thought–“, make sure your worldbuilding is in order. If you haven’t done so already, lay out your rules. Check them for logic. I don’t care if you’re writing space opera, steampunk, or contemporary: your world has rules and you need to know what they are.

If you’re writing something set in the real world (or real world with a twist), make sure you know all there is to know about the locations where your story is set. (Laws — written and unwritten — history, driving distances, etc.) Research is your friend for making the reader feel like they are living in your world along with your characters.

If you’re adding an element of magic to the real world, make sure your new rules are logical and consistent.

And if you’re building a whole new world . . . same thing, but you’ll have to go through and invent not just the laws and elements of magic, but the geography and cultures and even the stars in the sky. Get your macro worldbuilding solid so the micro makes sense.

c) Major conflicts, goals, and stakes.

Pull out the biggest problems for your characters. Is it getting a date to Prom? Is it saving the world? Something in between?

Make sure you’ve identified the main issues. Often you’ll find a few main plots — a couple external and an internal. (Obviously there can be more plots than that, but we’re talking main plots/basic structures.) Do your characters work toward their goals? Are the goals and conflicts connected?

A quick way to weed out useless scenes is to figure out whether or not the scene drives the plot. If a scene doesn’t get the characters closer to — or farther from — their goals, chances are you can cut it. (Or find a way to make it work.)


Sooooo . . . this is a lot of just identifying what you have on the page, and I’m already at a fairly good-sized post. I guess that means I’m breaking this topic up into parts. How many parts? I don’t know.

Anyway, I hope this is helpful for getting some of the big-picture items in order! Anyone have anything to add?

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 ORPHAN QUEEN Duology (HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen).
*A Kippy is a cat.

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9. Guest Post: Getting Into Publishing (You Gotta Do It For The Love)

Industry Life

by

Danielle Barthel

Hey guys! I’m so excited to share this guest post with your from Danielle Barthel, a literary assistant from New Leaf Literary. She offers her own personal experience and insight for breaking into the publishing industry–which I’m sure many of you know isn’t the easiest thing to do.

Hello Pub-crawlers!

I’m so happy to be doing a guest post here this week!

I recently read a comment on Alex Bracken’s “You Tell Us: What Do You Want To See” post asking us to talk about hard lessons we’ve learned. For me—and I don’t think I’m alone—one of these lessons was the importance of following my passions. This was most relevant to me when I was trying to find a job in publishing.

RobinHoodDisneyThe truth is, this is not an easy industry to crack, and there were times that I felt like it was never going to happen. What kept me going was the simple fact that I’ve wanted to work with words forever. I remember the first time I finished a full length book all by myself—one of those big hardcover Disney books that were based off the movies. Remember those? I was so proud of myself.

flashlightBooks were just my thing. Growing up, I was the kid who got in trouble for reading at night by the light of my yellow American Girl flashlight-lantern (it looks a little like the one here, but I couldn’t find the exact picture).

When I reached the age that I no longer got into trouble for staying up late reading, and I still wanted to do it even though it was no longer “forbidden fruit” (and this was about as rebellious as my conscience let me get), I knew that my obsession with books wasn’t going away.

BrockportI actively realized that this was more than a passing rebellious phase, but instead a passion for something greater, when I left for college. I went to undergrad at The College at Brockport, State University of New York. It was five hours from home and the biggest leap I had ever taken outside my comfort zone. My fears about homesickness, not making friends, and being unhappy battled with my desire to learn about all things book related. Now loving books was more than just a passion—it was moving me towards a career.

I majored in English and took entire classes dedicated to Shakespeare, American lit, British lit, and young adult lit—I couldn’t believe it was a requirement to read Harry Potter in a real college class!

yorkAnd it turned out that Brockport had one of the best study abroad programs around. I could wax nostalgic about my love of England, and specifically the town of York, for hours, but I’ll spare you. Instead I’ll just say I hope everyone has the opportunity to do something that scares them (like finding your own way in a foreign country without Google Maps) at least once in your life. Because it’ll bring even clearer into focus both who you are, and what you want out of life. Or at least it did for me.

Coming home, I knew with certainty—books, words, and the people who worked on them were inspiring and I wanted to be a part of it. So I went to the University of Denver’s Publishing Institute, where I spent an entire month learning more about publishing. It was eye-opening and informative, and when I returned to New York, I set up a ton of informational interviews with wonderful, willing agents and editors to learn even more, before someone I will be forever grateful to suggested that I look into internships.

Even though it might sound like things happened quickly, they didn’t. I spent a few months doing interviews, both informational and for actual jobs/internships. I had this intense Excel grid of people I had emailed for interviews, what they were for, when I met with them, if they responded…

When I got my first real job rejection (for something I had been feeling so good about), I was pretty devastated. Wasn’t I doing everything right? English degree, Denver Publishing Institute grad, interviewing up a storm. Why was I still jobless?

Something I didn’t understand until after I’d been applying for jobs left and right is not to discount things completely out of my control, like being in the right place at the right time. I applied for an internship at Writers House, one of the biggest agencies in New York, after a recommendation from an informational interview. The Writers House intern coordinator initially called me because I was a Denver grad. I got the internship because of a mix of networking and timing and because I fit what they were looking for. All those factors together jump-started my career.

I’ve now worked in the industry I love, at a company I love, for three years as of this January. And after everything that’s led me to this place, it always goes back to my love of books.

So my lesson is this: follow your passions. Do what you love just because you love it. Don’t let those terrifying “what ifs” control your life. Thrive on challenge. And be open to the fact that you don’t have all the answers. That’s okay too.

Following her completion of the Denver Publishing Institute after graduation, Danielle began interning at Writers House. While there, she realized she wanted to put her English degree and love of the written word to work at a literary agency. She became a full-time assistant and continues to help keep the New Leaf offices running smoothly.

In her downtime, she can be found with a cup of tea, a bar of chocolate, or really good book…sometimes all together. Follow Danielle on Twitter!

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10. How being with the right kind of people can make your creativity grow.

 

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Being a creative at times can be hard, whether you love to scribble, paint, take a picture, shape clay and more all you know is you’re passionate about what you do. No one said it was going to be an easy path to follow when you start out, taking each day as it comes trying to direct your creativity in so many ways for opportunities to come your way.

Although there is that one bump in the road we all come across countless times called the “pennyless art believers”. Many of us have no doubt been there and got the t-shirt when we’re asked “What do you want to do as a career?”.

With a huge cheesy grin and sketchbook in hand we enthusiastically reply… “I want to be an illustrator” or fine artist , ceramic designer or any other type of creative professional. Its then that you suddenly see the person cringe with the assumption you’re going to struggle to make it as a creative. Yes its easy for others people to assume in the comfort of their everyday job that you’ll be a pennyless artist.

However if you’re wise about how you do things you can achieve great things , avoiding the assumption of being a pennyless artist drawing doodles for macaroons and a starbucks ( or is that just me?). If you encounter people with a negative view of your career path , don’t let that upset you and take this advice:

 

“Be around the right kind of people who will help your creativity grow and who believe in what you doBelieve in yourself and the right people will support you on your journey to do and achieve great things”.

Image is by Leah Bergman and you can find out more about her work here.

0 Comments on How being with the right kind of people can make your creativity grow. as of 1/27/2015 9:35:00 AM
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11. Eerdmans Books for Young Readers Creates a Video With Social Media Tips For Authors

The Eerdmans Books for Young Readers team has shot a Social Media 101 video for their YouTube channel. The video embedded above features “Facebook Tips for Authors.”

Follow this link to read the publisher’s social media and internet marketing guide for authors. Most successful authors know that their job is not limited to just writing. Last year, Jarrett J. Krosoczka verified this during an interview with MassLive.com.

Krosoczka explained: “You know people who are authors-only? Could I meet them? Because even though I, along with many of my peers, make my living from putting my imagination to paper, so many other roles are expected in today’s publishing landscape. Authors must also be speakers, performers, online marketeers and social-media mavens.” What do you think? Do you have any social media advice that writers would find helpful?

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12. Characters Who Care

This post is a continuation of my previous week’s discussion of stuck emotions. When a character feels inadequate or down on himself, it’s very hard to get a character who cares about themselves or the story. Another alternative to this situation is a character who doesn’t want to be involved in their particular circumstances–they couldn’t care less about taking over the family business, for example–and so they try very hard to convince themselves and the reader that they simply don’t care.

This is very difficult to forge into compelling fiction. After all, I hold that the basic aim of any writer is to make the reader care. So if a character doesn’t care, my first objection is that they’re making it that much more difficult for me, as a reader, to get invested in the story. It feels a little unfair. After all, I’m working so hard to get into the book, suspend disbelief, latch on to a character, inhabit a point of view, hear a voice…that I want the protagonist to be in the same boat. You’re ideally creating someone the reader can get invested in. And if it’s an anti-hero type or someone stewed in apathy, who won’t invest in herself, that’s a tough sell.

It’s realistic, sure. It happens in life, and it’s very full of deep and real emotions. But it’s hard to pull off well. So if your particular writing challenge is creating a compelling character who just so happens to be detached, pent up, hidden behind defenses, or just a straight-up nihilist, you need to crack those walls at some point, and soon. Even if it’s for a minute, even if only the reader can see it because it happens in interiority…some measure of vulnerability needs to happen.

And then, there needs to be something that compels the character to move forward. Whether it’s a very personal motivation, a private objective, a small bit of light at the end of a dark tunnel, whatever, it needs to pull them forward into the story. One thing I won’t do as a reader is suffer through a manuscript where it seems like the protagonist is being dragged along, kicking and screaming. Facets of this idea are discussed in my post on “character buy-in,” which becomes an important concept here. It doesn’t just have to do with suspension of disbelief, it has to do with the character finding their own reason to engage with the story.

Finally, if your character really does care but they say they don’t care, it better not last too long, because ain’t nobody got time for that! Protest less and get into the real telling of the tale!

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13. The Power of Reading Aloud

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YOUR MIND WHILE LISTENING TO A BOOK

 

I have always loved reading books aloud. When I was a teen I spent an awful lot of time on the phone. Actually talking . . . it was a landline phone. And it was in my room. With unlimited local calling for $17 a month. I held down a few babysitting jobs so I could afford that phone and one of the magical things I did on it was read books, aloud, to my friends.

I know right? I have great friends. They would humor me as I did different voices for all the characters. I remember reading Stephen King’s Night Shift to one friend in particular, story by creepy story, until one night my friend casually asked, “How about you read something that won’t prevent me from sleeping after we hang up?”

Reading aloud continued through my adult years except my new captive audience was my kids. From Sandra Boynton to EB White, I was the one who had a hard time stopping so the kids could finally go to bed. My oldest, bless his heart, let me read the entire Harry Potter series to him, even though the last book was published the year he turned eleven and he was fully capable of reading it on his own. BTW, I do a horrifying Voldemort and a kick-butt Hermione.

Now I have a new reason for reading aloud beyond the entertainment factor: EDITING my own WRITING. There is nothing so powerful as stumbling over your own words to make you realize more polishing is required. Reading aloud forces my mind to slow down and see each and every word. When I read silently, I miss typos, grammar errors, and missing words becuase my mind will fill in the gaps– it just hums along without recognizing I just had my protagonist pee around the corner instead of peek around the corner.

Even better, is listening to someone else read your words to you. My very first novel, the one that garnered me two offers of representation and an agent, was read to me by my son. He would stop and tell me when he didn’t understand something so I could put it into simpler language. I would stop him when I heard a sentence fail and fix it before he went on. It was a great partnership, but alas, he is eighteen now and has a life.

However, I have discovered how to let my computer read my words to me. Granted, my lovely Macbook can’t put the emotional nuance into the words that a human being can, but hearing someone else’s voice (Okay, someTHING else’s voice) read my work back to me continues to be eye opening. And I have become very fond of “ALEX”, especially when he reads one notch above Normal speed.

This is how you do it on a Mac:

  1. Open the system preferences
  2. In the System grouping, open SPEECH
  3. Click on the Text to Speech tab
  4. Choose your system voice with the drop down arrow, male or female (I prefer Alex or Kathy depending on if I have a male or female POV)
  5. Choose the voice speaking rate
  6. Test your choices with the Play button and alter as needed
  7. Click the check box for “Speak selected text when the key is pressed”
  8. Click the set key button to set up a keyboard command, I use Command + H which means to get Alex talking I press the Command key and the H key on my keyboard at the same time, but you can choose any combination of keys that makes sense for you that isn’t already in use, you know like CTRL + P which sends your work to the printer…
  9. Click the OK button
  10. X out of the System Preferences window and you’re good to go

Now when you have your book open in Word or Scrivener or whatever program you use, you’ll need to highlight the text to be read (click your mouse button at the top of the passage, hold the mouse button down, drag through the selection, release the mouse button) and then press Command + H.

Oh, make sure your speaker is turned on too!

What are the directions for doing this on a Windows-based computer? Why would you want to write a novel on anything but a Mac? :)

Photograph © Ruslana Stovner

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14. Believing You Can Make an Amazing Creative Portfolio

Screen Shot 2015-01-17 at 9.31.27 PM

Just another day at the art desk I hear you say, starting your sunday with a chipper smile and creative heart filled with enthusiasm, you believe everything will be absolutely fine. That is however until you sit down to start working on that creative portfolio you aspire to make.Suddenly you’re faced with an extremely sweaty brow and a blank canvas that’s been sitting there for the best part of an hour.

You may start to hear a small voice quoting in the back of your head how you can do this! However this then propels into a downward swirl beating yourself up over your lack of progress, whilst creating a rather larger  pile of screwed up sketchbook pages behind you. In all you just don’t know where to start and have an idea of a project’s “end” with no “beginning”.

Generating ideas for portfolio pieces can be tough if you don’t plan and prepare in advance what you aim to create.  Every creative person I believe though has the potential to create some amazing self-initiated projects to really blow the socks off those creative directors.  If that’s what you wanna do then here’s a few ways to help reel back your line to the beginning , generate ideas and get started creating portfolio pieces that will help promote what you can do!

1.  Understand what kind of work you want to be doing : Think about the kind of work you want to produce whether children’s book illustration , portrait photography , commercial design and more. By knowing where you want to go creatively this will help you understand the type of work you need to create.

2. Generate project ideas around your chosen work: Now that you’ve chosen your type of work the next step is to generate your own project idea. For example this could be illustrating a page from your favourite children’s book if your aim is a children’s illustration. Create a pattern design collection if your aim is to work within commercial product, licensing and more.

3. Hone your skills and think outside the box : No doubt you’ll have your collection of favoured art materials that you turn to when you create a piece. However be sure to hone your skills will other materials , softwares and processes to as this will help show how versatile you can create pieces and how diverse they can be. Last but not least though think outside the box, take inspiration from other creative is one thing but then take a little inspiration from it and create something unique to you.

Image by Matt Adrian you can find out more about his work here.

 

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15. Productivity

Working as a freelance artist, I have to switch between projects every day - sometimes several times a day. I work in a studio, at home, in cafés and sometimes in-house somewhere. It's taken me years to work out how to stay more or less on top of it all, switching from writer to illustrator to teacher and remembering to have lunch and not panic too often.

Here's how I organise my day.

First of all I have lists which I keep online, using todoist.

I keep three groups of projects: LIFE, WORK and TELL THEM NOW. (It's a version of a system suggested in the classic "Time Management for Unmanageable People" which also encourages people to buy loads of random stationery if they want to).


The one you might find odd is TELL THEM NOW. It contains every task that can be completed with a quick communication. Typical entries would be:
  • Ben, did I leave my wallet at the office?
  • Omniat, let's have coffee
  • Give me a tax rebate form please somebody
It's surprisingly useful. Every time I feel like I am not getting anything done I see if there's something I can just tell someone. It's very satisfying. - Things like meetings and or discussions don't belong in here, only stuff I am sure can be dealt with in a few minutes. - You'd think I could just do these things when I think of them, but then I find I mostly think of them in the middle of doing other tasks, and it's better to just note them down and not get distracted.

WORK and LIFE have sub-categories: projects, a shopping list, that sort of thing.

There's also an inbox to throw in small stuff that I can't be bothered to categorise. The categories are mainly markers to check that my days are balanced, more or less.

There are repeating tasks that roll over automatically - breakfast, lunch, dinner, exercise, feed the orchids, feed the cats. It's easy to forget simple tasks, I find, and satisfying to tick them off.

I also linked my google calendar up via IFTTT, so that when I make a calendar entry it automatically creates a task for that day.

Every evening I check tomorrow's tasks - todoist automatically compiles them - and put them in some sort of loose order.
I go through all the lists and pick things to do the next day.
I reschedule what I didn't finish, and maybe delete some ambitious daily task that I never actually do.

Every morning I print the list of the day. That way I get the satisfaction of physically ticking them off on paper, I get to doodle around them, I can stick them in my sketchbook, and I can put my smartphone and laptop away when I don't want to be distracted.
It also creates a nice physical record.

I use a receipt printer, because it's awesome.
This is a Dymo LabelWriter 450. Dymo warns that it will only print on Dymo-brand labels, but I've found that it will happily eat rolls of cheap plain thermal paper from my local stationer's. It doesn't work from every program, but images and plain text in Chrome work perfectly fine. (It's happiest printing from Google Tasks, but todoist works ok.)
I work in half-hour sessions, using a kitchen timer. Twenty-five minutes of uninterrupted work - pretty much anything can wait for twenty-five minutes, including snacks, phone calls, anything except for the cat, generally. When it rings I take a five minute break, have a cup of tea, make that phone call, walk around, and settle back down for another twenty-five minutes. Sometimes I take longer breaks. It's pretty much the pomodoro technique.


For some tasks I prefer to use a record as a timer. One side of an LP record is a good time to spend tidying my room, for example. I have a portable record player to take to the park if I feel the need to just lie on my back and stare at the sky while calming down about something or other, or sketch, or think.

The physical act of turning the timer or the record really helps to give me a sense of time passing, and they run their course and then fall silent and require resetting in a way that digital timers and playlists don't, quite.

I use such small physical rituals that help me feel connected to the day, but also digital tools that help me keeping organised. It's my team of small robots. Without them, I get overwhelmed very quickly.

I don't always work in the studio and I do a lot of research, so I often need to carry projects around. I use A5 paper notebooks and sketchbooks which I keep all together in one leather cover, fixed with elastic. I can quickly switch them around so I always carry the ones I am working on, plus a general notebook and some loose sheets.



That's pretty much it! Works for me, if any of it helps you out - neat.

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16. 12 Tips to Help Prevent Reader Boredom

Alikpeople_starsbigger

I thought the above illustration was a good fit with today’s post. Since I feel that this post will help you stir up you manuscript to keep your readers reading, just like illustrator Alik Arzoumanian did letting her cute lady stir up the sky.  (Note: I am looking for artwork to show off)

Alik received her BFA in Illustration from the Massachusetts College of Art and Design in Boston in 2004.   The first children’s book “Tunjur! Tunjur! Tunjur! A Palestinian Folktale” by Margaret Read MacDonald received an ALA Notable Book Award in 2007. She was also featured on Illustrator Saturday.

Hope these tips help you stir up your manuscript:

1. Keep solving problems and adding new ones. Mix up the problems by using physical, logistical, and ones with other people.

2. Make your MC be in a worse place than before the last problem.

3. Beware of the “one Darn Thing After Another” Syndrome. You don’t want your MC to always be stuck dealing with things that don’t change their circumstances.

4. Deliberately shorten your sentences in tense scenes.

5. If you keep your chapters short, you will lore the reader into reading a little more before taking a break.

6. Stun your protagonist with a negative surprise that comes out of the blue. Shock your hero and you will shock your reader into reading more by ramping up the tension.

7. Delay revealing important information to ratchet up the tension. Let your readers worry about unanswered questions.

8. Contract you protagonists universe by making sure their are consequences for each choice. Lost opportunities add tension. When he chooses one option, he will no longer be able to purse the other good things he might have bee able to do.

9. Make an ally into an oppositional character with a conflicting goal.

10. Use dialogue to imply thing that are not directly said. Add in ironic statements to keep the reader wondering.

11. Make sure all the actions are built upon, leading to something. Look for places in your story that are dead ends.

12. Each scene must have a purpose – pointless events – excessive explanations – backstory. You might want to note the purpose after the first draft to remind you why you included it. This will make it easier to see if you need to eliminate it in later revision.

Do you have any other things you do to avoid reader boredom?

Talk tomorrow,

Kathy


Filed under: Advice, article, demystify, How to, inspiration, list, Process, revisions, Tips Tagged: 12 Tips to Help Prevent Reader Boredom, Alik Arzoumanian

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17. What happens in the middle?

by

Jodi Meadows

I’ve talked about beginnings (here, too) and endings (and here’s one from Sooz), but recently someone mentioned they’d really like some thoughts on middles.

A lot of times, when people get stuck in the middle of their book, it’s because they’re not totally sure what the middle is supposed to do.. Obviously the beginning sets up conflicts and the ending resolves them, but the middle? The middle is all opportunity to make things worse.

Here’s a handy numbered list.

1. Build on established conflicts.

Take a look at what you’ve already done. Build on that by reinforcing something the characters already know, or the reader knows, and show something in action.

  • If there’s a monster marauding through the city in the first part of the story but we haven’t seen it yet, this is a great time to give us a peek. (Cue JAWS theme.)
  • If someone’s threatened war, let them announce the war is on.
  • If there’s a plague, start killing side characters right in front of your main characters.

Show the reader that these conflicts you’ve set up are that serious by giving everyone a hint of what’s to come. The middle is the perfect spot for making everything real

2. Complicate established conflicts.

Yep, I’m counting this as different than building, because by complicating conflicts, you can use twists and reveals and other things to make everything worse.

  • Someone betrays our main characters.
  • Another character appears to shake things up.
  • The characters attempt to solve the problem and they make it worse.
  • Information is revealed and suddenly everything we thought was true is an awful lie.

I always feel like the middle is my last chance to introduce new complications to the story, be it characters or events. For me, introducing those later starts to feel a bit contrived, unless there’s a sequel and something at the very end happens to complicate the situation for the next book.

3. Nudge your characters toward the end.

You’ve just made everything awful. Give them something useful.

  • Information that can help them later (even if they don’t know it yet).
  • A hint about how they might solve the big problems.
  • Even give the poor characters a chance to plan to take some kind of action.

This is your chance to line up those last few dominos so everything can just go horribly (violently!?) wrong in the ending. Godspeed.

So, that’s my basic thoughts on middles. Anyone have anything to add?

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 ORPHAN QUEEN Duology (HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen).
*A Kippy is a cat.

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18. Picking a Level of Description

I often tell writers that good writing is about the balance of action and information. I’m also always telling writers about mimetic writing. The other day, with an editorial client, I thought of a great image that helped them conceptualize these ideas in a way that made sense.

Let’s say that we have a getaway car. It’s assumed that it will be used in a chase sequence, which is primarily action. Per the idea of mimetic writing, the narrative style of this passage should be quick and to the point, since we’re dealing with a scene that’s meant to move quickly.

Now think about a camera taking a picture of the getaway car in order to convey what it looks like to the reader. This camera can take amazing high resolution images, or it can take grainy “potato quality” shots like you’d find coming from a middle-of-the-line cell phone. In this case, a many-megabyte high resolution picture of the getaway car might be beautiful, but if we try to work with that picture or send it to someone (the reader), it’s going to be a huge attachment, it’ll take time to upload, and it’ll clog up their email bandwidth. (Unless they have fiber, in which case this analogy is useless!)

For the chase sequence, then, we’d be fine with a quick, grainy snapshot of the getaway car so that we can get on with the action and not get bogged down with information. Here the balance swings to action rather than information. If we’re establishing a very important setting, then the beautiful high res image is very appropriate, and the balance swings to information. The reader wants to know the delicate details, and you can dwell on them more, taking your time.

I hope this short but effective reminder helps you craft tight and effective prose as you start a new year of writing!

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19. How Characters Can Become Stories – Erika Wassall

snowman family

Talk about character, here is a steampunk snowman family Sylvia Liu recently made, as part of a new daily creative challenge blog that she started titled, Create One a Day. You can see her portfolio at: http://www.enjoyingplanetearth.com)

erikaphoto-45Erika Wassall, the Jersey Farm Scribe here on….

How Characters Can Become Stories

I enjoy character studies. Books that give perspective into the mysteries of human nature, and how we deal with intense mental, physical and psychological difficulties.

Give me a character I want to sit down and have a drink with, or even observe from afar and watch their interactions and reactions… and I’m sold.

When I write, I’m often focusing on a character in my mind. They’re more than a name, more than any description I can put on paper. I can sense them, know their thoughts, feel their emotions.

Which is great, right?

Well… yes. And sometimes no.

I tend to get bogged down in character development. Plot, is much more difficult for me. I’m exceedingly jealous of people who are more natural at plot than character development. While probably similar to curly-haired people wanting straight hair and straight-hair people longing for curls, being able to nail down a plot always seemed like it would make things “come together” more, give me more to go from.

Reading books on plot and attending workshops has been absolutely mandatory for me.   Martha Anderson, The Plot Whisperer… I honestly don’t know where my writing would be without her insight. I highly recommend her books for anyone else who gets stuck on plot.

For me, I’ve found one trick that works wonders for me, helping me take my character molds, and create not just ANY plot, but THE PLOT. The path the character was meant to take.

It’s focused on character transformation.

One of the other problems with an overly specific character profile, is that, to me, that’s how they ARE. And it’s hard for me to see them any other way. This makes for a very stagnant character, which we all know doesn’t really work.

This process helps me on both accounts.

I take the character, in all their their moods, their quirks, their temperament, and I make them the FINAL version of the character. (obviously this can change as time goes on, it’s just part of my process).

I ask myself… why?  What happened to them that gave them that chip on their shoulder or that far away look on their face they get when they listen to a certain song? Why do they place money all facing the same way, before putting it in their pocket?

I write out/think about, three categories: Mental, Physical and Psychological. I start out with at least two major and three minor things in each category. There are overlaps, but they each must have their own, specific effects on the character.

And then I delete them.

Naomi doesn’t like to be alone because she was once left behind during a field trip and spent a horrifying weekend alone in a museum. What was she like before that? Maybe before, she didn’t see how people could be a source of comfort. Or maybe it’s the opposite. Maybe before she was just a healthily independent person, and now she’s overly clingy.

Jurret has scars on his back up into his neck from fighting off a robot scorpion that was attacking his older sister. It makes him uncomfortable taking off his shirt, and sometimes he even wears turtlenecks so no one can see it. His sister lived, but was badly injured with many scars of her own, including some on her face. He feels responsible for her turmoil as well.

What was he like before all that happened? Did he and his sister get along? Were they close? Maybe he was a gym junkie who was overly concerned with appearance and it gave him much-needed humility. Or maybe he was already plenty humble and this just drained him of his confidence. Perhaps before that, he always felt like the baby, the one everyone was taking care OF, and that day, everything changed. Before then, perhaps he never felt both the joy, and the burden of responsibility.

I do this with dozens of concepts for my character. Literally.

And I don’t always write them down. Sometimes I just think about them. While I’m driving. Cooking. Food shopping. It’s a great exercise I work into time that I’m not necessarily able to write. Then later, I’ll jot down a few notes, sometimes just two or three words, to remember the concept.

The more interesting an idea – or a “deletion” as I have come to call it – the more I actually write it out. Sometimes these “scenes” even become actual events in the book.

But I write out FAR more than I end up using.

At some point, I start to feel a general theme, a pull in a direction of a certain “type” of transformation, and certain related concepts that bring the character through that change… events, relationships, both pain and joy.

And for me, this is where I find my plot. Hidden beneath the intricacies of the character. And I know it’s right when it makes the character themselves even stronger, more solid in nature, more truthful.

This doesn’t (usually) give me a nicely-laid-out plot. But it gives me ideas, storylines I can get excited about. It helps make “plot” a less intimidating, overwhelming word, and interweaves it into what I already have.

What “deletions” could you do to your characters? Do you have other tricks or exercises that help you to develop the nature and variables of your plot?

This one really can be time consuming. And I end up throwing out countless concepts, but that’s just nature of beast! And you know that I’m a believer…

… our 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. We all enjoy your posts.

Talk tomorrow,

Kathy


Filed under: Advice, article, Author, Character, inspiration, writing Tagged: Erika Wassall, Guest Post, How Characters Can Become Stories, Sylvia Liu

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20. When to Submit

Christmas Melissa Iwai

This sweet illustration was sent in my Melissa Iwai.  Melissa was featured on Illustrator Saturday.

When I meet a new writer and they ask me for advice, I always point out not to rush to submit what they have written. That advice comes from personal experience and many years of observation. When you are new you think everything you write is wonderful and it isn’t until a few years late and many rejections that you realize you better get into a critique group and learn to revise. The trouble is a writer can go on too long with revisions and setting things aside, so when Bebe sent me this short article I thought it might provide the inspiration you can use going into 2015.

Here’s Bebe:

bebeListening Too much or Self Doubt
By Bebe Willoughby

While people who worked in publishing above us hurried off to the Hamptons on Friday’s early summer dismissal, a co-worker and I stayed in the air conditioned office to write a book on dreams. Our lack of self-confidence prevented us from sending it out.

We tucked the manuscript safely in a drawer , where it stayed for four years. We joined a writing group and brought along the manuscript. The leader, a well-known writer/ illustrator, said it was publishable and encouraged us to send it out. So we did and got a quick call from an editor who wanted to publish it.

I have another tale to tell that involves doubting myself and listening to far too many people. I wrote a short story entitled “Nothing Lasts Forever.” None of my writer friends showed much enthusiasm, and a top editor told me I did not write well enough for major magazines. I lived with that declaration for quite some time. Then a friend who did not work in publishing advised: “send it out. You have nothing to lose.” She, of course, was right, but I had not seen it that way. My tale has a happy ending. The story was published in Seventeen magazine.

I encourage writers to have others read their work, but be careful about listening too hard. In the end, you must trust yourself.

Bebe Willoughby earned a M.F.A.in creative writing at Columbia University and is the author of five works of  fiction–four children and one novel for adults. She served for ten years as an editor at Random House.

Bebe, thank you for sharing your experiences with all of us. I hope it inspires everyone to get their revisions done and submit more of their writing and illustrating this year. Remember, it doesn’t always have to be a book contract to be successful. Wishing everyone a very successful 2015. Now’s the time to start think laying out a plan.

Talk tomorrow,

Kathy


Filed under: Advice, article, authors and illustrators, bio, inspiration, Process, revisions, submissions Tagged: Bebe Willoughy, Melissa Iwai

6 Comments on When to Submit, last added: 12/22/2014
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21. Critiquing Secrets

Interested in writing a Chapter Book? Don’t miss this FREE WEBINAR with Hillary Homzie and Mira Reisberg on Friday January 2nd 2015 at 5.30pm PST! They are also going to give some late holiday presents for some lucky folks that include a free critique with Hillary or Mira and some free signed books. Wahoo! See more at: http://www.childrensbookacademy.com/free-novel-writing-webinar.html#sthash.aEum3YJW.dpuf

Mira_pic2Mira is my Guest blogger for today’s post. Here’s Mira:

Critiquing Secrets by Mira Reisberg

First of all, thank you Kathy for having me on your fabulous blog. This site has been such a great resource for our community for a long time and I feel honored to be here. As we come to the end of the year, it seems like a good time to reflect on what we did to better our craft and improve our skills as people who create children’s books. Personally, I think it comes down to three things: take courses (i.e. study and improve your craft and keep revising), join the Society of Children’s Book Authors and Illustrators, and join and participate in a critique group. For this post, I’d like to talk a little about critiquing and then share some critiquing secrets.

Over the past 26 years as an illustrator, author, editor, art director and former literary agent, I’ve learned that although your work is uniquely your own, you can’t exist in a vacuum. Receiving criticism from fellow writers or illustrators, and peers is a must have regular part of your creative process.
So let’s talk about the secrets of critiquing for plot-driven books.

After struggling with a piece, if you can, let it percolate for a while and then come back not only with a fresh eye, but with fresh sets of eyes. Other eyes may see what you have missed, offer a different perspective, and question what you have taken for granted.

While you may be tempted to have your mother, your significant other, or best friend critique your work, they should not be your only ‘eyes’. They’re not trained to critique, may not understand your work, and may try to protect your feelings, regardless of their true opinion.

So what are some great critique techniques? For plot-driven writers the main things you need to look for are:
• How enticing is the hook or beginning?
• Do we care or are we intrigued by the character(s) enough to want to find out more about them and their journey?
• Does the tension build as the main character faces challenges and obstacles along the way?
• Do they solve the problem themselves?
• Is the climax and resolution satisfying with a twist at the end?
• Is each character different with their own distinct voice?
• What makes this particular story memorable?
• Does it have any underlying universal themes that are meaningful for kids?
• How can the drama, humor, pathos, or whatever key feeling the story has, be amplified?
• Does the pacing move at a good speed or does it slow down anywhere? Is there redundancy or excess?
• And finally does the language sparkle with techniques like alliteration and assonance, rhythm and repetition where appropriate?

All of these suggestions will help you in the critiquing process to get to the core and heart of your story to make it stronger, sweeter, funnier, or whatever its essence more appealing and thus more marketable.

Finally, for tender newer critique groups or critiquing partners who are vulnerable, remember to use the hamburger technique of starting and ending with something positive and getting to the meat of what needs help in the middle. As creatives, we tend to be a little thin skinned and starting with something positive will make it easier for the person being critiqued to hear the more challenging suggestions.

BIO: Mira Reisberg Ph.D. has worn many hats in the industry including being a university professor teaching children’s literature and now as the Director of the Children’s Book Academy. Mira has taught and mentored many successful authors and illustrators.

Her next interactive e-course, for beginners to award winners, the Chapter Book Alchemist, co-taught by former comedian and award-winning chapter book author Hillary Homzie, promises to be a once-in-a-lifetime adventure with potential life and career changing benefits starts January 12th!

Click here to find out more: http://www.childrensbookacademy.com/the-chapter-book-alchemist.html

The course includes optional critique groups, weekly live webinar critiques, and the option for critiques with Mira or Hillary among other goodies!

Mira, thank you for taking the time to share your expertise with all of us. Good luck with the webinar!

Talk tomorrow,

Kathy


Filed under: Advice, article, chapter books, list, opportunity, Tips Tagged: Critiquing Secrets, Free Chapter Book Webinar, Free critique, Hillary Homzie, Mira Reisberg

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22. The Best of 2014 Writing and Illustrating

penguins

Kendra Shedenhelm sent this illustration in for us to enjoy. It makes me think of the song that was out a year ago titled, “What does the Fox say.” Must be Tee Hee Hee. The fourth book she has illustrated, “You, the Magician,” was released in November 2014, and can be viewed at http://www.youthemagician.com. http://www.kendrashedenhelm.com/

HERE ARE THE LINKS TO HELPFUL ARTICLES POSTED IN 2014

WORLD BUILDING TIPS
TIPS ON WRITING ENDINGS 
THE MANUSCRIPT IN THE DRAWER 
SELF PUBLIHING – GETTING YOUR BOOK READY 
REVISIONS
TRACKING SUBMISSIONS
PRICING STRATEGIES FOR ILLUSTRATING
MORE SHOWING LESS TELLING 
AGENT/AUTHOR REVISION TIPS 
RESEARCHING AGENTS 
PUTTING WORDS ON PAPER
CREATING SYMPATHIC CHARACTERS
AMAZON RANKING vs. DAILY BOOK SALES
WORKING OUT THE DETAILS
TEN DREADED MANUSCRIPT ERRORS
PITCH IS CONCEPT 
STATE OF THE CHILDREN’S PUBLISHING MARKET
STATE OF THE MARKET PART TWO
STATE OF THE MARKET PART THREE
ATTACKING A CONFERENCE 
WHEN DO WRITERS STOPW WRITING 
MATCHMAKING FOR WRITERS CRITIQUE PARTNERS 
SEVEN WAYS TO MAKE YOURSELF AN EASY AUTHORS TO WORK WITH 
AMAZON SALES STRATEGIES
AMAZON STATEGIES – LOOK INSIDE
AMAZON STRATEGIES – SALES PAGE 
LITERARY vs. COMMERCIAL FICTION
RIGHT TO WRITEPICTURE BOOK CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT 
90 THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT YOUR CHARACTER 
HOW TO SPOT A GREAT PICTURE BOOK
RESEARCHING FICTION
BEFORE STARTING A THRILLER NOVEL 
ROMANTIC BODY LANGUAGE 
NEVER SAY HE THOUGHT/SHE THOUGHT
CRITIQUING SECRETS 
MASTERING KID SPEAK
LETS TALK POV 
RIGHT TO WRITE 
GRAMMAR NAZI
FIVE WAYS TO FOLLOW UP WITH AN EDITOR OR AGENTS 
OUTLINING YOUR NOVEL 
BEFORE THE SALE – BOOK APPEAL 
FORMAT YOUR BOOK FOR CREATESPACE 
THREE TRICKS FOR SHOWING RATHER THAN TELLING
DEALING WITH REJECTION 
CRITIQUING SECRETS 
WRITING WORKSHEETS 
7 POINT STOR STRUCTURE SYSTEM

Talk tomorrow,

Kathy


Filed under: Advice, authors and illustrators, demystify, inspiration, list, Process, reference, Tips Tagged: Best of Writing and Illustrating 2014, Kendra Shedenhelm

4 Comments on The Best of 2014 Writing and Illustrating, last added: 12/29/2014
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23. Free Fall Friday – Why Does Your Story Happen?

I will announce the guest critique for January next Friday, but you can start sending in your first pages now. See bottom of post for submission guidelines.

erikaphoto-45Erika Wassall, the Jersey Farm Scribe here with an important question for you today:

Why Does Your Story Happen?

No matter what I’m writing, from a picture book, to a young adult novel, or even a flash fiction piece, I have learned that all stories will present themselves better, be stronger and more meaningful if the reader has an idea of WHY they are happening.

This has taken me some time to learn. I like to start out knee-deep IN the action. One problem I’ve never had was a slow beginning. I like books that throw me right in there, even if I’m fumbling to understand what’s going on at first, so that’s how I almost always write.

High energy. Instant engagement.

Great, right?

Sure, sure, it has positives. But I had to learn to take a step back. And it has to be fast. Within a few paragraphs, or a page, the reader has to be let into the details of the world, what’s going on, and WHY.

At first, instant action is exciting. The reader gets the immediate thrill (hopefully) of really feeling the movement of the story. But that will quickly wear off, and leave them with a sour taste of “okay… what the heck is actually going on here??”

The reader needs to be in on the secrets.

Not every secret right away of course. But they quickly need to feel a sense of inclusiveness and grasp of the reality they dove into.

And it has to be more than an explanation of what monster they’re running from, or that Haylie is worried about them being lost because she’s out WAY past her curfew already.

I need to introduce a catalyst. WHY did they come to this place where the monster’s roam? If Haylie is so worried about her curfew, why did she choose TONIGHT to break the rules?

It’s something I struggle with. Feeling out how much information I need to put out there.

A trick that helps me is to look at it like a playground. Clichés of kids huddle together, whispering about whatever mischief or drama is the flavor of the moment. The reader needs to feel like one of the gang, like they understand the inside jokes and are “in” on everything going on.

This can be especially difficult in picture books. Every word is precious in a PB, and it can seem like a waste to be using them up to explain how the main character got to that point or why. But it can take less than you’d think, and really adds a depth of buy-in from the reader.

Understanding WHY a story is happening can ground it more in its own reality, giving it a sense of linear tangibility, as well as natural character development. Cause and effect are a part of every world and handled differently by every individual.

Billy darts into the kitchen, begging mom for a few toy.

Why then? Perhaps Billy just came from his friend’s house and learned they were getting one and is now jealous. This could need little more than the comment that Tommy’s mom said HE was getting one.

Or maybe Billy just saw the TV advertisement. A plate of crackers in front of the TV with a spilled glass of juice and the TV still blaring in the background could paint the picture without even using a single word.

No matter how it’s done, it can make the reader feel more like an insider on the story itself, and at the same time, gives insight on what type of person Billy is, what motivates him, what set off his longing.

So take a moment, step back and make sure that you’re letting your readers in on the secrets, giving them the insight into this new world that makes them know they’ve unlocked something special. Because there’s no doubt in my mind…

… 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 kicking off the new year with this new article.

SUBMISSION GUIDELINES for January’s First Page Critiques:

In the subject line, please write “January 2015 First Page Critique” and paste the text in the email. Please make sure you include your name, the title of the piece, and whether it is as picture book, middle grade, or young adult, etc. at the top.

Plus attach your first page Word doc. to email. Format using one inch margins and 12 point New Times Roman font – double space – no more than 23 lines – only one page. Send to: kathy(dot)temean(at)gmail(dot)com.

PLEASE FOLLOW THE GUIDELINES: Last month a number of submissions were taken out of the mix, due to not following the directions for both the pasted email and the attached Word doc.

DEADLINE: January 22nd.

RESULTS: January 30th.

Talk tomorrow,

Kathy


Filed under: Advice, article, inspiration, writing Tagged: Erika Wassall, Why Does Your Story Happen?

5 Comments on Free Fall Friday – Why Does Your Story Happen?, last added: 1/5/2015
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24. Illustrator Saturday – Diana Kizlauskas

Diana Kizlauskas_photoDiana Kizlauskas says she knew she was in trouble early on. Drawing Barbie was more fun than playing with her. Drawing a poster of the Beatles was more appealing than buying one. A high school mural project meant more than ACT scores. By senior year, I made peace with my art addiction and chose it as my professional path…

With help from above and a little caffeine, I earned B.A. degrees in Art Education (UIC, 1974) and Illustration (Ray College of Design/ Illinois Institute of Art, 1991), supplementing those with drawing workshops at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. My portfolio landed me in the freelance world of advertising and editorial illustration. Then with a new millennium, came a new direction: greeting cards and children’s educational publishing. Throughout this time, I exhibited work in the Chicago area, including at Gallery 400/UIC, Hyde Park Art Center, North Lakeside Cultural Center, and had a solo show at the Beverly Arts Center. In Indiana, my work was displayed at the Anderson Fine Arts Center, the John G. Blank Center for the Arts and Purdue University.

My work, family and faith community make up my rather simple universe. A native Chicagoan, my heart is anchored to the Midwest. However, I often go beyond the familiar to work with ethnic and historical themes. Through books, various other media and travel, I enjoy learning about different eras and cultures. I’ve amassed a wealth of visual reference materials which help me render physical characteristics, geographic features and design elements of various places and times. My background in education helps me translate those images to young readers in ways they can best understand.

TECHNIQUES

The illustrations presented here are created digitally or are hybrids of traditional acrylic on canvas or colored pencil on board combined with digital media.

Here is Diana talking about her process:

1_mountain

When I start an illustration I first break down the image to its most essential components. In the case of “The Climb” from my The Twelve Ravens book project, these are: the mountain, the stormy sky, girl protagonist and the injured eagle.

2_stormy-sky-

3_girl-climbing

4_eagle

5_composition

I then scan the images into Photoshop, placing each on a separate layer so that I can manipulate them independently. I play with size, cropping, etc., until I’m satisfied with the arrangement.

6_tonal rough

Since an odd number of objects make for a more interesting composition, I’ll eventually add in a fifth element, the “swoosh” of a blizzard.

7_umber

Next, I add tones to the drawing. I do this digitally or by printing out the line art and adding shading by hand and rescanning. The prior picture is an example where I have done both to achieve the result.
I start “painting” by duplicating my black and white tonal image and adjusting its color to umber (Figure 7). This layer lies atop the original tonal art.

8_blue

I again replicate the image to create a blue layer, which lies atop the umber. Then, using various percentages of opacity in my eraser tool, I remove sections of blue to expose umber and umber to expose black and greys. This results in a balanced warm-cool color underlayment.

9_The-Climb_FINAL

I go to finish by brushing on an entire spectrum of colors, working out details, depth, drama, texture. I give myself creative license to cut, crop, chop and drop, until—voila, it’s done!

10_Mountain-Masthead

Even as I’m working on the final art, I like to keep each key component of the piece in a separate layer so that I can continue to scale it, move it or manipulate its brightness and color. This is particularly helpful when the format of the illustration needs to be changed from print edition to eBook or if you need to “repurpose” images for a promotional spot. For example, I adapted the scene from “The Climb” to use as my Facebook masthead last winter.

Dianaravens

How long have you been illustrating?

I’ve been drawing since I could clutch a crayon in my chubby little hands; I’ve been paid for it since 1991.

Dianaparrots

How did you end up going to University of California, Irvine?

I received a BA degree in Art Education from the College of Art and Architecture, University of Illinois at Chicago, known around these parts as UIC. (I have never studied in California; perhaps your question is based on a typo in one of my bio pages.)

dianaartarcticaleft

Since you received a BA in Art Education, did you teach after you graduated?

After completing my student teaching, I opted to stay home with my two children until they started grammar school. However, I do have about a decade of experience teaching part-time extracurricular classes to 3-7 year olds, including crafts, science and religious education.

dianaantarcticaright
What types of classes did you take that really helped you to develop as an illustrator?

Because a successful illustration is the result of craft, composition and creative communication, I think that Life drawing, Basic Design and Illustration Concepts courses were all indispensable.

diana79419
When did you get involved in Freelance Art?

I began getting professional free-lance projects immediately upon graduating from Ray College of Design. Their job placement services were quite helpful in getting me those initial interviews and portfolio showings.

Diana79437
What was the first thing you created where someone paid you for your work?

As a kid, I sold poster-size portraits of the Beatles to classmates. My first job as a “bone fide” illustrator was an editorial piece for the Chicago Daily Southtown newspaper.

diana79423
What made you decide to study illustration at Ray College of Design/ Illinois Institute of Art in 1991?

Ray College was a small vocational school providing a lot of individual attention to its students and geared toward getting them into the working world. At this point in my life, I felt I had had enough theoretical background and needed to jump into action.

dianacampfire
How long did you take drawing workshops at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago?

I attended Advanced Drawing Workshop for about a year.

dianalegend
Do you think taking those workshops helped improve your drawing skills?

They certainly did. But more importantly, they impressed upon me the importance of surrender to the mystery of creative process, experimentation with images, as well as pushing techniques and materials to their limits. Oddly enough, I also came away from my experience at SAIC with a personal resolve to avoid conformity to non-conformity.

dianacanoeright
When did you go digital?
I was dragged into the Digital Age in the late 2000’s by clients and agents who wanted a project done quicker, cleaner, and cheaper. I went kicking and screaming, but it was one of the best things that ever happened to me professionally.

dianatoss
How many children’s books have you illustrated?

If we count leveled readers, I have illustrated 14 books in traditional print and 4 eBooks.

dianabluebonnet
Do you still do freelance art?

All my work is done on a free-lance basis.

dianaghosts
What was the first picture book that you illustrated? When did that happen?

I illustrated The Legend of the Bluebonnet in 2004.

dianairish
How did that contract come about?

I was approached by Steven Edsey Sons artists’ reps to do the project. They had seen a piece in my samples portfolio which matched the needs of the client very closely—a Plains’ Indian family preparing a meal. The rest was, as they say, history.

dianajump
Was the Legend of the Bluebonnet the first book you did with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt?

The publisher of the Legend of the Bluebonnet was Rigby/ Harcourt Achieve. I’m unclear as to what its relation to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt was at that time.

dianamulti
How many books have you done with Harcourt?

I have illustrated four leveled readers for Rigby/ Harcourt Achieve and one for Harcourt School Publishers.

dianaweave
Would you consider working with an author who wants to self publish?

I would base my decision on the strength of the author’s credentials and the quality of the material.

dianamexico
Can you tell us a little bit about EDCO/Ireland? How did they find you and what type of work did they have you do?

EDCO is an educational publisher in Ireland. I believe their art directors saw my work on childrensillustrators.com and then contacted my current artist reps. I illustrated several stories (“In the Deep Dark Wood,” and “The Island of the Blue Dolphins”) and a poem (“The North Wind”) for them. One of these illustrations was then adapted as a cover for By The North Star, a book in their Big Box Library series.

dianacloswn
Have you worked with educational publishers? Which one’s?

Besides the aforementioned Rigby/Harcourt Achieve, Harcourt School Publishers and EDCO/Ireland, I have worked with Macmillan/McGrawHill, Pearson/Scott Foresman, Pearson Education, Compass Publishing and Quarasan, Inc. Though they might also be considered a trade or religious publisher, Pauline Books and Media contracted me to illustrate Jorge of Argentina: The Story of Pope Francis for Children (2014).

dianamice
How did those books come your way?

Nearly all of them came through artists’ reps with whom I was associated at the time of the project’s inception.

dianapedro
Have you ever tried to write and illustrate a children’s book?

Yes, I have. LETTUCE! , my tall tale about a rabbit and his rampant good fortune, is on the eBook market right now. Parents and teachers of preschoolers have given it a 5-star rating and I’m very excited about making it available in a traditional print version this spring.

dianaschool
Do you have an agent? If so, who and how long have the represented you? If not, would you like one?

Over the years I have been represented by several agencies, but since 2010 by WendyLynn&Co.

dianamultibox
What types of things do you do to get your work seen by publishing professionals?

I supply my artist reps with promotional material and advertise on childrensillustrators.com (http://www.childrensillustrators.com/illustrator-details/DKizlauskas/id=2110/). I maintain gallery and bookstore spaces on the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators website (http://www.scbwi.org/members-public/diana-kizlauskas) and I maintain an author/illustrator page on amazon.com. Also, I post regularly to my business Facebook page (www.facebook.com/DKIllustration). Most importantly, I keep my DKI Children’s Illustration website (www.dianakizlauskas.com ) updated and functioning.

dianageshia
Have you seen your style change since you first started illustrating?

Absolutely. My work is increasingly softer edged, more painterly, and close to 100% digital.

dianadriveway
Have you gotten any work through networking or the Internet?

Almost exclusively so. As I described above, nearly all my marketing revolves around websites and on-line portfolio displays.

dianaafrican
Do you use software for painting besides Photoshop?

So far, only Photoshop.

dianapope
Do you own a graphic tablet? If so, how do you use it?

Yes, indeed. To reduce a complicated explanation to bare basics: I scan hand-drawn and photo-reference images into Photoshop, then use both a mouse and stylus to create layers, lines, colors, textures and draw additional images directly onto the tablet—whatever it takes to bring the illustration to finish.

dianareading
How much time do you spend illustrating?

When working on a client project, I keep a very strict 10-hour, 6 day per week schedule. When creating promotional samples or working on my own books, I loosen it up to 6-hours per 5 days weekly. (This fall a family medical crisis put my work on temporary “hold,” but I’m slowly getting back on track.)

dianaman
Do you have a studio set up in your house?

Yes, I do. I’m very fortunate to have a large room and loft area that accommodate a drawing table,easel, computer, printer, scanner, copier, a 8’x3.5’ work counter with horizontal storage, and 3 file cabinets full of reference clippings (some dating back to grammar school). Scads of shelves house more reference, paints, brushes , pencils and pens—not to mention a potpourri of chachkies. The closet full of dusty portfolio cases and canvases bears witness to a time before computers took over.

dianaa
Any picture books on the horizon?

The Twelve Ravens , a Lithuanuian folktale which I have adapted, retold and illustrated, is a project I hope to have out by Fall, 2015. The eBook version is almost done, the print format awaits revision.

diana79405
What are your career goals?
Beautiful books for beautiful children! I want to continue communicating to children of all colors and backgrounds through positive, bright and inspiring images. Whether my illustrations attain the stature of being published by the top trade publishers in the country or are independently made and distributed, my goal is to make each one better than the one before. I believe that concentrating on the work itself and not the fame or fortune it may bring is the only way an artist can maintain sanity in an ever-changing business world and culture.

dianatrail
What are you working on now?

As I mentioned, LETTUCE! and The Twelve Ravens are on my mind, but they may have to simmer on a back burner if my agent drafts me for a McGraw-Hill Education project for which I’ve recently been approved.

diana79402
Are there any painting tips (materials, paper, etc.) you can share that work well for you? Technique tips?

Since I do all my “painting “ in Photoshop these days, there’s not much in the way of materials that I need to think about. But when working with colored pencils on paper or creating a “hybrid” piece where I draw onto a printed digital image, I like to use a wonderfully smooth paper called Mohawk Superfine. It is a 100 lb. “ultra white” cover stock used by the printing industry. It is receptive to the toner inks in my printer and is a perfect surface for multiple layers of Prismacolor pencils.

dianamecianman
Any words of wisdom you can share with the illustrators who are trying to develop their career?

Like a man walking a tight rope, look straight ahead, never down. In creative, competitive fields, people who remain positive, patient, and intrinsically motivated—eventually prevail. Or as a colleague once remarked, “I can’t NOT do this…” Really, what other choice does a true artist have? So, KEEP AT IT!

dianawoman

Thank you Diana for sharing your journey and process with us and helping us kick off 2015. You can visit Diana at her website: http://www.dianakizlauskas.com to see more of her work.

If you have a moment I am sure Leeza would love to read your comments. I enjoy them too. Thanks!

Talk tomorrow,

Kathy


Filed under: Advice, authors and illustrators, demystify, illustrating, Illustrator Sites, Illustrator's Saturday, inspiration, Interview, Process Tagged: Diana Kizlauskas, Digital Art, Ray College of Design, University of California

9 Comments on Illustrator Saturday – Diana Kizlauskas, last added: 1/6/2015
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25. Critiquing Secrets

Interested in writing a Chapter Book? Don’t miss this FREE WEBINAR with Hillary Homzie and Mira Reisberg on Friday January 2nd 2015 at 5.30pm PST! They are also going to give some late holiday presents for some lucky folks that include a free critique with Hillary or Mira and some free signed books. Wahoo! See more at: http://www.childrensbookacademy.com/free-novel-writing-webinar.html#sthash.aEum3YJW.dpuf

Mira_pic2Mira is my Guest blogger for today’s post. Here’s Mira:

Critiquing Secrets by Mira Reisberg

First of all, thank you Kathy for having me on your fabulous blog. This site has been such a great resource for our community for a long time and I feel honored to be here. As we come to the end of the year, it seems like a good time to reflect on what we did to better our craft and improve our skills as people who create children’s books. Personally, I think it comes down to three things: take courses (i.e. study and improve your craft and keep revising), join the Society of Children’s Book Authors and Illustrators, and join and participate in a critique group. For this post, I’d like to talk a little about critiquing and then share some critiquing secrets.

Over the past 26 years as an illustrator, author, editor, art director and former literary agent, I’ve learned that although your work is uniquely your own, you can’t exist in a vacuum. Receiving criticism from fellow writers or illustrators, and peers is a must have regular part of your creative process.
So let’s talk about the secrets of critiquing for plot-driven books.

After struggling with a piece, if you can, let it percolate for a while and then come back not only with a fresh eye, but with fresh sets of eyes. Other eyes may see what you have missed, offer a different perspective, and question what you have taken for granted.

While you may be tempted to have your mother, your significant other, or best friend critique your work, they should not be your only ‘eyes’. They’re not trained to critique, may not understand your work, and may try to protect your feelings, regardless of their true opinion.

So what are some great critique techniques? For plot-driven writers the main things you need to look for are:
• How enticing is the hook or beginning?
• Do we care or are we intrigued by the character(s) enough to want to find out more about them and their journey?
• Does the tension build as the main character faces challenges and obstacles along the way?
• Do they solve the problem themselves?
• Is the climax and resolution satisfying with a twist at the end?
• Is each character different with their own distinct voice?
• What makes this particular story memorable?
• Does it have any underlying universal themes that are meaningful for kids?
• How can the drama, humor, pathos, or whatever key feeling the story has, be amplified?
• Does the pacing move at a good speed or does it slow down anywhere? Is there redundancy or excess?
• And finally does the language sparkle with techniques like alliteration and assonance, rhythm and repetition where appropriate?

All of these suggestions will help you in the critiquing process to get to the core and heart of your story to make it stronger, sweeter, funnier, or whatever its essence more appealing and thus more marketable.

Finally, for tender newer critique groups or critiquing partners who are vulnerable, remember to use the hamburger technique of starting and ending with something positive and getting to the meat of what needs help in the middle. As creatives, we tend to be a little thin skinned and starting with something positive will make it easier for the person being critiqued to hear the more challenging suggestions.

BIO: Mira Reisberg Ph.D. has worn many hats in the industry including being a university professor teaching children’s literature and now as the Director of the Children’s Book Academy. Mira has taught and mentored many successful authors and illustrators.

Her next interactive e-course, for beginners to award winners, the Chapter Book Alchemist, co-taught by former comedian and award-winning chapter book author Hillary Homzie, promises to be a once-in-a-lifetime adventure with potential life and career changing benefits starts January 12th!

Click here to find out more: http://www.childrensbookacademy.com/the-chapter-book-alchemist.html

The course includes optional critique groups, weekly live webinar critiques, and the option for critiques with Mira or Hillary among other goodies!

Mira, thank you for taking the time to share your expertise with all of us. Good luck with the webinar!

Talk tomorrow,

Kathy


Filed under: Advice, article, chapter books, list, opportunity, Tips Tagged: Critiquing Secrets, Free Chapter Book Webinar, Free critique, Hillary Homzie, Mira Reisberg

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