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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: The Writing Life, Most Recent at Top [Help]
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1. The Fear of Writing Outside Your Experience — And Doing It Anyway

July’s the month I take a blogging sabbath. Throughout the course of the month, I’ll re-run some oldies but goodies. Enjoy!

Yesterday I turned in my first-round edits on BLUE BIRDS – a verse novel about the Lost Colony of Roanoke told from the perspective of Alis, an English girl, and Kimi, a Roanoke girl. The story didn’t start this way. I initially intended to write solely from Alis’s perspective. But when I realized the forbidden friendship between Alis and Kimi is what the entire story hinges upon, I couldn’t keep things as I first planned.

And that kind of terrified me.

There are a lot of opinions and strong, strong feelings as to who has permission to write certain books. I’m a non-Native author. What gives me the right to try and speak for a thirteen-year-old Roanoke girl?

I’m still not sure. But I’ve been a girl. And I know how profoundly friendship can shape a person. I’ve been in new cultural settings and have learned to see the foreign as familiar and the familiar as foreign. This answer won’t be enough for some readers. I understand that. But I’ve gone ahead and written the book anyway.

In the mean time, I’m drawing courage from the It’s Complicated series at the Children’s Book Council Diversity blog.

What are your feelings about writers working outside their cultural experience?

 

 

The post The Fear of Writing Outside Your Experience — And Doing It Anyway appeared first on Caroline Starr Rose.

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2. Five Things I Learned From NaNoWriMo

July’s the month I take a blogging sabbath. Throughout the course of the month, I’ll re-run some oldies but goodies. Enjoy!

It was with a bit of reluctance I decided to join in this year’s National Novel Writing Month. For those of you unfamiliar with NaNoWriMo, it’s a month-long challenge to produce 50,000 words on a new piece of writing. I’d tried NaNo in 2009 and failed miserably. I never, ever was going to do it again. But things came together for me this year in a way that joining in made sense:

  • BLUE BIRDS was off with my editor
  • I was at the point with my research for a new novel that I was itching to get started
  • I read this blog post by Darcy Pattison
  • My critique partner, Valerie Geary, promised me peanut butter cookies if I made it through

I didn’t sign up officially. Instead I created a contest of one I called Fake-o NaNo, where I aimed to write 1500 words a day six days a week. I missed one day, had a good number of sessions I didn’t hit 1500 (and a couple I wrote more), and felt finished with the draft a few days before Thanksgiving — the exact day BLUE BIRDS “flew” back to me in a big padded envelope.

Here are five things I learned from the experience:

  1. Slow and steady has been my writing mantra this year. But sometimes fast and furious is just as important. Typically, I write verse novels and picture books. It’s a sloooow process, especially when I’m initially drafting. But with this new novel, I’m trying my hand at prose, something I haven’t poked at for seven or eight years. Throwing words on a page was a very liberating, non-committal way to reintroduce myself to this form. With my first NaNo attempt, I got stuck during the first week and decided to stop. This time around was no different. I faced the same impossible rut one week in. But I kept moving, mainly by sticking to the next lesson I learned.
  2. Sometimes you just have to write about the writing. While I’ve kept a journal for this book since April, I still have a lot of exploring to do. Many days I found myself writing about what was working in the story and what wasn’t. Things I’d have to look further into, characters I needed to add, relationships I needed to develop. Really, the draft became a running commentary, an in-the-moment chance to reflect on my ideas (or lack of them). I know this will be invaluable when I return to the book in a few months.
  3. Practice holds the fear at bay. I’ve written here a lot about how much angst is bound up in my first drafts. The creative process is a scary thing for me, and beginning (and finishing) a first draft is my biggest challenge. By holding myself to a daily goal, I was able to break through some of that fear by simply showing up and doing the work.
  4. Embrace the mess. The “draft” I finished with is quite possibly the messiest, worst thing I’ve ever written. But it’s been such a great experiment in getting words down, feeling out characters, and sometimes learning exactly what I don’t want to write about (by first doing just that). Knowing I could toss it all took me in some directions I might never have discovered if my approach had been more careful.
  5. Did I mention the cookies? Committing out loud to a friend kept me honest. And the cookies were a great pay off!
Did any of you participate in NaNoWriMo this year? What was your experience like?

This post is a part of Chatting at the Sky’s Tuesdays Unwrapped series.

The post Five Things I Learned From NaNoWriMo appeared first on Caroline Starr Rose.

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3. 2013 Writing Goals: Hit, Miss, or Somewhere In Between?

July’s the month I take a blogging sabbath. Throughout the course of the month, I’ll re-run some oldies but goodies. Enjoy!

I thought it would be fun to look over the goals I set for my writing this year, to see what worked and what didn’t. And in light of this recent discussion on author output, comparison, and finding peace with my own creative processes, the timing felt right.

At the end of last year, our SCBWI-NM monthly schmooze focused on personal writing goals. During that session, I took a one-page calendar and marked out school holidays, family vacations, and other important dates I knew in advance. And then I aimed high.

Here’s what I wanted to tackle in 2013:

  1. research for a new picture book
  2. twelve new picture book manuscripts (!!!)
  3. six months of research for a new novel
  4. three months of drafting this new novel
  5. blog/reading goal: re-read The Complete Journals of Lucy Maud Montgomery, Volumes I-V and write about it here

 Author Chris Eboch led a second schmooze discussion in July about reassessing our goals. I noticed a few things:

  1. I was already waaay off on the picture book goal.
  2. Due to some wonderful news, I needed to change my novel goals.
  3. This was all A-okay.

One of the best things I got from Chris’s talk was information on author Kristi Holl’s Rx for Writers: Managing Your Writing Space and Your Writing Time (a free mini e-book).

Kristi talks about four terms that are key to a writer’s success:

  • DREAMS: not under your control
  • GOALS: under your control
  • SUB-GOALS: specific to-do steps under each goal
  • HABITS: daily practices that support your sub-goals

The distinction between what an author can control and what she can’t is key.* For example, while aiming to nab an agent is wonderful, it’s a dream, not a goal. But there are steps (sub-goals) a writer can take to do all that is in her control in this regard, from completing a manuscript, working with critique partners to revise it, taking advantage of contests or grants that might give feedback on her work, researching agents for the best fit, writing and evaluating a query letter, and finally sending it out.

A dream that wasn’t in my control changed the course of some of my writing goals this year. Some goals, such as the twelve picture books, were way off track.

Here’s what I actually did in 2013:

  1. research for a new picture book
  2. two new picture book manuscripts
  3. four months of research on a new novel
  4. one month drafting this new novel
  5. work on first and second-round edits for Blue Birds
  6. blog/reading goal: met! Plus I read the new(ish) LMM biography, THE GIFT OF WINGS by journal co-editor, Mary Rubio

 Over all, I’m pleased with this year’s work. As for next year, I’ll consider re-visiting some of those picture book ideas, work on my novels within my editor’s time table, flex when surprises come, and keep re-assessing what’s best for my work and me.

Do you set writing goals? How have you fared this year?

 

 

*Unless you’re a local superstar author who recently shared with me she likes to set goals like “I’ll sell two novels and one picture book this year”…and does just that!

 

The post 2013 Writing Goals: Hit, Miss, or Somewhere In Between? appeared first on Caroline Starr Rose.

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4. Writing Links

DSC_0631

How To Kill a School Library in Ten Easy Steps :: School Library Journal

Bestselling YA Authors Share “The Book I’m Most Thankful For” :: Parade Magazine

Why Do Young Readers Prefer Print to eBooks? :: The Guardian

If I Only Had Connections…. :: Rick Riordan

Boys Will Be Boys, and Girls Will Be Accommodating: Why “Boy Books” Aren’t Always the Solution :: Laurel Snyder 

Strong Writers Do This :: Kristi Holl

No one cares about your novel: So writers, don’t be boring! :: Salon

 

The post Writing Links appeared first on Caroline Starr Rose.

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5. Straight From the Source: Katherine Longshore on Writing Historical Fiction

Katherine Longshore is a former travel agent, coffeehouse barista and preschool teacher who has finally found her calling writing novels for teens.  She is the author of GILT, TARNISH and BRAZEN, a series of novels set in the court of Henry VIII, published by Viking and the “Downtonesque” MANOR OF SECRETS published by Scholastic.  After five years exploring castles and country manors in England, she now lives in California with three British citizens and one expatriate dog.  Visit her online at www.katherinelongshore.com.

What typically comes first for you: A character? An era? A story idea? How do you proceed from there?

I typically begin with character. That said, characters come to me because of the historical era, so it becomes a question of the chicken or the egg. For me, however, the story doesn’t begin without the character, so that’s where I start.

My first book, GILT, came about because I thought, “Catherine Howard was a teenager when she married Henry VIII. She’d be a great character for a YA book!” But my narrator, Kitty Tylney, was born out of a news item about a rape at Richmond High School in California—one observed, but not reported, by as many as twenty other people. And I decided I wanted to write about a character who observed atrocities and wrongdoings, and for whatever reason, didn’t do anything until it was too late.

Anne Boleyn in TARNISH came to me on a long drive one Thanksgiving weekend—I’d been pondering writing about her, but didn’t find the courage until I thought about how she might have felt, as a teenager, being transplanted from her adoptive home of France (where she’d lived for seven years) to the very foreign world of the Henrician court.

The only book where I did the opposite was BRAZEN. I began with the historical figure—Mary Howard—a woman who became quietly independent in later years, avoiding court machinations whenever possible. But I didn’t know who she was—that is, who my fictional character needed to be—until I’d written the first draft. This was definitely a case of the story—and the writing of the novel—informing the character rather than the other way around.

How long do you typically research before beginning to draft?

I like to tell people that I researched Henry VIII, his wives, and the Tudor era for ten years before I started GILT. This is absolutely true, but invites a misconception. I didn’t do the research with the idea of writing a novel in mind, I did the research because I was fascinated and wanted to know more. Ultimately, I wanted to understand the characters, so delving into their psychology through fiction seemed a natural transition.

Once I have made the decision to write a book, however, I usually research for about a month before I begin to write. I reread histories and find new ones to look for new insights. I take notes on index cards, even though I don’t always refer back to them. I’m a visual and tactile learner, so the act of writing something down cements it more firmly in my mind.

I continue to do research throughout every draft, finding specific details like Where was Henry VIII’s court on July 25, 1535? Or What kind of dress would a kitchen maid wear in 1911? Some of the answers can be found online (the Letters and Papers of Henry VIII is an invaluable resource!) and others have to be gleaned from more books. While finishing the third draft of BRAZEN, I read Alison Weir’s wonderful book about Anne Boleyn’s last days, The Lady in the Tower, which helped me write a key chapter using the vivid details Weir is so adept at providing.

What is your favorite thing about research?

The sense of discovery, and being able to pass that on to readers. One of the things I love about reading history and historical fiction is feeling immersed in this world that no longer exists. So discovering bright details that can make the world come alive is utterly inspiring. Which tapestry Henry VIII had hanging in the great hall of Hampton Court. What the upstairs rooms in a country manor smelled like to a downstairs maid. The name of Anne Boleyn’s lap dog, the view from Greenwich Palace…Details give us the greatest impression of the reality of history—that people actually lived and died and loved like we do.

What’s your least favorite thing about research?

Dates and numbers. I was always pretty good at math, and I don’t mind it—in fact, it keeps my mind sharp. But I don’t have an affinity for numbers. I don’t remember them, and sometimes I transpose them (782 can become 287 very easily—in fact, I can look at one number and say the other out loud. Made people very nervous when I ran a cash register!) I’ve been reading about Henry VIII for fifteen years and writing about him for five of those, and I can’t tell you his birth date or year without looking it up. But I can tell you who his mother’s father’s brother’s daughter was (Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury). To me, the real meat of history happens between the people—in the gossip and their personalities and interactions. The numbers and battles never interested me, which is why I think is disliked history as a teen—that’s how our knowledge was tested.

Because life isn’t always clear cut, the motives behind our actions don’t always make sense. But stories need to follow a logical path. What sorts of decisions have you had to make about “muddy” historical figures or events in order for your book to work?

One of the reasons I love writing historical fiction is to make sense of some of the “muddy” historical characters I’ve come across. You would think Anne Boleyn would be straightforward—after all, there have been biographies, novels, plays, poems, operas, songs and movies made about her. But we still don’t know when she was born. It’s generally believed she was born in 1501, but I had to accept a later date (which some historians support) in order for her to be a teenager during the time period I chose to write about.

Mary Howard’s biography is even muddier. We know she married Henry Fitzroy (Henry VIII’s illegitimate son) at the age of fourteen. But no one knows for sure where she was for the next three years. Was she at court, serving Queen Anne Boleyn? Was she at her father’s (the Duke of Norfolk) home of Kenninghall? Or was she somewhere else entirely? Was she ever allowed even to see her husband? No one knows. There is no record. I decided to keep her at court because of a single mention of her being close to Anne Boleyn—and therefore occasionally coming into contact with Henry Fitzroy. Through this decision, I was able to explore the question, “How do you fall in love with someone you rarely get to see?” It became one of the central questions of the book. So for BRAZEN, history in some ways made the story easier to discover. The very muddiness freed me up to write a story that wasn’t hampered by all those dates I find so frustrating.

Unfortunately, history is also incredibly inflexible. I found it heartbreaking to have to write some events into my books. Deaths, arguments, poor decisions. I have used some choice words to rail at history over the past five years, but I always succumb eventually.

 

 

The post Straight From the Source: Katherine Longshore on Writing Historical Fiction appeared first on Caroline Starr Rose.

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6. Almost Five Years of Blogging: What’s Changed, What’s the Same

blog notebook

I started blogging in September 2009. By then I’d been writing for over eleven years, and though I had no publishing leads, I decided to jump in feet first: I quit my teaching job and started writing full time.

Though opinions have since changed, anyone who was trying to get published “back then” was supposed to blog.* I’ve often been thankful I started writing long before the blogosphere was born. While it was sometimes lonely writing on my own, it was also simpler, too — fewer distractions, no one else’s writing regimen or sales to compare to my own experiences. I sometimes wonder if I’d started writing then how far I would have gotten. How easy it would have been to try and keep up with everyone else on-line and altogether forget about the actual writing thing.

I remember checking out a book about blogging, and though I didn’t understand a lot of it, one thing stuck with me: with so many voices out there, a blogger needed a unique angle. I decided my blog would be called Caroline by line, a name I hoped would be catchy, would be a play on “by line,” and would help people learn I was a CaroLINE and not a CaroLYN (Five years later, I still get LYN-ed as much as before). I opened a free account on Blogger and committed to talking about writing and reading, but also the publication process as I was learning about it. I also threw in some bits and pieces on teaching. These were the things I knew and loved.

Using a weekly planner I got through Writer’s Digest, I kept record of my blog posts. I posted five days a week until I sold May B. (roughly seven months in), then switched to three times a week. In 2010, I took off the weeks of Thanksgiving and Christmas. In 2012 I gave myself a whole month of sabbath in July. It’s a schedule that I’ve stuck to since.

Though many who started blogging around the time I did have since hung up their fiddles**, I’ve continued on. Not because I’m so great, but because I’ve really fallen in love with it all. After sending manuscripts into the void, sometimes never to be seen again, having immediate feedback from readers was and is the most amazing thing. Some of my most popular posts have been my Running a Book Club for Kids series, this Third-Grade Reading List I created for the said book club, a post on sod houses, and my interview series with author/teacher Donalyn Miller discussing her title, THE BOOK WHISPERER.

I’ve tried regular features. Some have succeeded, some have fizzled, some I’d like to revive: Classroom Connections, a series meant to introduce teachers to new books; Fast Five, an up-close look at five books that share something in common; On Writing and Why We Read, which are simply quotes on the reading and writing life; Navigating a Debut Year for those new to publication; and most recently, Straight from the Source, a series of interviews with authors of historical fiction. Then there was Carpool Conversations, little nuggets I overheard while driving the neighborhood kids to and from school.

Some of you are new around here, and some of you have stuck around since the very beginning. I’m so grateful for all of you and this journey we’ve been on together, from those first days I stepped into the world as an unemployed, unrepresented author to the present, with one book in the world and four more under contract.

If you haven’t before, I’d love for you to introduce yourself in the comments below, perhaps sharing how long you’ve read in these here parts. If there are any topics you’d like me to blog about in the future, I’d love for you to let me know.

Thanks, friends! This blog wouldn’t exist without you.

 

 

 

*Now it seems those of us who write fiction have been cut some slack. It’s you non-fiction folk who are absolutely required / no excuses / get to it / must blog. Or not. Whatever works for you.

**Sometimes only frontier slang will do.

The post Almost Five Years of Blogging: What’s Changed, What’s the Same appeared first on Caroline Starr Rose.

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7. Practice and Art

I’ve been reading Seth Godin’s blog for a few months now, and though much of it doesn’t feel like it directly applies to me, I always find something interesting there. While this post is about the business word, I love how it bleeds into the artist’s world, too. And why not? Can’t business also be art?

2014-02-17 18.02.52

Practice is not the answer here. Practice, the 10,000 hours thing, practice alone doesn’t produce work that matters. No, that only comes from caring. From caring enough to leap, to bleed for the art, to go out on the ledge, where it’s dangerous. When we care enough, we raise the bar, not just for ourselves, but for our customer, our audience and our partners.

Read the rest here.

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8. The Words of Sue Monk Kidd That Are Making Me Brave

Writing outside my own culture has been a challenge, a venue of growth, and an exposure of my writerly insecurities. I’ve drawn encouragement from others who have done the same:

On writing Hetty, her enslaved character, in the first person:

“I didn’t do it lightly. I tried to write her in third person, but it didn’t work. I am intimately drawn to my characters, to see the world through their eyes and to allow the reader to do that.”

About creating a forbidden friendship between two girls, one slave, one free:

“I had to take a deep breath and get the courage to go there. [As a child] I witnessed terrible injustices and racial divides. I didn’t know what to do with that except to write a story that fosters connections across those divides and boundaries.”

Kidd says “the ‘common heart’ philosophy of Ralph Waldo Emerson, an idea that the whole of humanity is connected with intrinsic unity, has inspired her writing career: ‘I try to go there when I am far away from my experience through that mysterious process of empathy.’”

— From the article “Taking Flight,” The Albuquerque Journal, Sunday February 2, 2014

 

The post The Words of Sue Monk Kidd That Are Making Me Brave appeared first on Caroline Starr Rose.

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9. A Behind-the-Scenes Glimpse at BLUE BIRDS

While doing school visits in April I thought it would be helpful for kids to see all the hidden work that goes into writing books. Here are the pictures I shared with them — a peek at the “work behind the work” for BLUE BIRDS:

20140428_144722This is my research notebook along with a few of my books and a scattering of bookmark notes. Plus a hand-drawn map of the way I pictured Fort Raleigh.

20140428_144845Here’s the 1587 manifest (those we know as the Lost Colony), some maps, and a timeline of what happened July and August 1587 on the island of Roanoke.

20140428_144949Here’s some feedback from early readers.

20140428_144924Here are some first draft observations I made (adapted from Cheryl Klein’s SECOND SIGHT).

20140428_144808These are “quilts” I’d create after each draft — a way for me to see if the dual point of view narrative was working or not.

edit lettersMy three editorial letters. One thing I love to do is pass around my letters to students. There are usually two responses: they laugh (Whoa! These are intense!) or  they want to know if the letters hurt my feelings (Whoa! These are intense!).

My response? Editors (and teachers) are like the friend who tells us we have spinach stuck in our teeth. It may feel a little embarrassing at first to see our flaws pointed out, but this is the stuff that makes us look infinitely better. It’s amazing to me how much hard work editors (and teachers) commit to writers (and students) while remaining largely behind-the-scenes. Editors and teachers, you are invaluable!

20140428_143607A page from the manuscript itself. Along with those detailed editorial letters, my editor also mails a printed copy of the manuscript with notes throughout.

20140428_142923The manuscript pile on my office floor. (I’ll reuse these for printing future rough drafts).

So there you have it, a glimpse into the inner workings of BLUE BIRDS. Any questions for me?

The post A Behind-the-Scenes Glimpse at BLUE BIRDS appeared first on Caroline Starr Rose.

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10. It Got Me Thinking…

State of MindI want to share three blog posts that I can’t stop thinking about. These are posts that (like a good book) I kept mulling over days after I read them. They’ve planted seeds in my mind that keep growing and growing.

There’s a theme to these posts and it’s:

Perseverance.

How do we write when we don’t feel like we have the time or the heart? How do we keep writing with all the fear and uncertainty? How do we find the strength to be vulnerable and put the pen to the page? I’ve been struggling with my WIP lately, and I needed to hear all of these posts. Maybe you do to.

Writing Truth and Authenticity Amidst the Noise

by Jessica Denhart

My truth today is that I am afraid. From the white-hot center of myself, I am afraid that I don’t have what it takes to make my writing good enough. I am afraid, and when I am afraid, I close my eyes to my manuscript, my words, my expression of self, my creativity, and effectively cut myself off from the one thing that I know is my authentic self. All I hear is the noise of fear and self-doubt.”

Read More…photo-of-jess1

Jessica Denhart received her MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts in January 2013. She writes YA and middle grade fiction, contemporary with a magical-realism twist. She is also a member of the SCBWI. She currently lives in the Midwest, with longings for the taste of the salt-air, the sound of the ocean waves, and the feel of sand between her toes. Read more by Jessica on her blog Between the Shadow and the Soul.  She can be found on twitter as @jessdenhart.

Creative Input and Creative Output

by Heather Strickland

I’ve come to think of creativity as a factory. Our brains are motors: if we stop fueling them, they won’t run. Or, more truthfully, if we fuel them with crap and nonsense, they’ll run like crap and nonsense. We have to feed them something delicious, something healthy, or they won’t run the way they’re supposed to.”

Read More…

Heather StricklandHeather Strickland started writing for children when she realized she was probably never going to be an adult. She moved to Brooklyn after graduating from Vermont College of Fine Arts because she heard there was a shortage of writers in Brooklyn. Now, she likes going for walks past brownstones and peering through open windows to make up stories about the people who live in fancy apartments. Follow Heather on Twitter: @StrictlyHeather

Thoughts on Being Professional

by Amy Sundberg

“I ran across an excellent article on an economics blog I follow called “Amateurs versus Professionals.” It very much applies to what I’ve observed about writing, and I imagine it holds true for many other pursuits and professions as well … After reading this list, it occurs to me that much of the difference between an amateur and a professional is a state of mind.”

Read More…

 Amy SundbergAmy Sundberg is a SF/F and YA writer. Her short fiction has appeared in Redstone Science Fiction, Daily Science Fiction, and Buzzy Magazine, among others. She lives in California, and when not writing, she’s either buried in a good book, singing musical theater songs, or trying to add more pins to locations visited on her world map. She is an avid blogger at practicalfreespirit.com and can be found on Twitter as @amysundberg

 


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11. It Got Me Thinking…

State of MindI want to share three blog posts that I can’t stop thinking about. These are posts that (like a good book) I kept mulling over days after I read them. They’ve planted seeds in my mind that keep growing and growing.

There’s a theme to these posts and it’s:

Perseverance.

How do we write when we don’t feel like we have the time or the heart? How do we keep writing with all the fear and uncertainty? How do we find the strength to be vulnerable and put the pen to the page? I’ve been struggling with my WIP lately, and I needed to hear all of these posts. Maybe you do to.

Writing Truth and Authenticity Amidst the Noise

by Jessica Denhart

My truth today is that I am afraid. From the white-hot center of myself, I am afraid that I don’t have what it takes to make my writing good enough. I am afraid, and when I am afraid, I close my eyes to my manuscript, my words, my expression of self, my creativity, and effectively cut myself off from the one thing that I know is my authentic self. All I hear is the noise of fear and self-doubt.”

Read More…photo-of-jess1

Jessica Denhart received her MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts in January 2013. She writes YA and middle grade fiction, contemporary with a magical-realism twist. She is also a member of the SCBWI. She currently lives in the Midwest, with longings for the taste of the salt-air, the sound of the ocean waves, and the feel of sand between her toes. Read more by Jessica on her blog Between the Shadow and the Soul.  She can be found on twitter as @jessdenhart.

Creative Input and Creative Output

by Heather Strickland

I’ve come to think of creativity as a factory. Our brains are motors: if we stop fueling them, they won’t run. Or, more truthfully, if we fuel them with crap and nonsense, they’ll run like crap and nonsense. We have to feed them something delicious, something healthy, or they won’t run the way they’re supposed to.”

Read More…

Heather StricklandHeather Strickland started writing for children when she realized she was probably never going to be an adult. She moved to Brooklyn after graduating from Vermont College of Fine Arts because she heard there was a shortage of writers in Brooklyn. Now, she likes going for walks past brownstones and peering through open windows to make up stories about the people who live in fancy apartments. Follow Heather on Twitter: @StrictlyHeather

Thoughts on Being Professional

by Amy Sundberg

“I ran across an excellent article on an economics blog I follow called “Amateurs versus Professionals.” It very much applies to what I’ve observed about writing, and I imagine it holds true for many other pursuits and professions as well … After reading this list, it occurs to me that much of the difference between an amateur and a professional is a state of mind.”

Read More…

 Amy SundbergAmy Sundberg is a SF/F and YA writer. Her short fiction has appeared in Redstone Science Fiction, Daily Science Fiction, and Buzzy Magazine, among others. She lives in California, and when not writing, she’s either buried in a good book, singing musical theater songs, or trying to add more pins to locations visited on her world map. She is an avid blogger at practicalfreespirit.com and can be found on Twitter as @amysundberg

 


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12. Writing Links

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9 Reasons to Say Goodbye to Your Critique Group :: Smack Dab in the Middle

Take a Different Approach to Writing : Eat Dessert First :: Adventures in YA Publishing

Why Verse? Poetic Novels for Historical Fiction, Displacement Stories, and Struggling Readers :: School Library Journal

Hope, Optimism, Despair: Writer’s Emotional Roller Coaster :: Darcy Pattison

See Grown-Ups Read :: Wall Street Journal

Behind the Books: Ten Ways Authors Can Help Educators :: Melissa Stewart

11 Indispensable Life Lessons Every Woman Can Learn From ‘Anne Of Green Gables’ :: Huffington Post

 

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13. Author A. C. Gaughen’s TEDx Talk

I love Annie, plain and simple.* She’s talented, poised, smart, and going far in this world. Just wanted to share her TEDx talk called Brighter Than a Spark.

Here’s a guest post Annie wrote several years ago about her year in Scotland and how it changed her perspective on writing.

*My neighbor girl loves her, too. When she found out A. C. Gaughen is a writing friend, she swooned.

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14. How to Publish a Successful Book

DSC_0887

To publish a successful book, be sure you’ve got the following:

1. word of mouth (the everyday reader kind)

2. publisher support (this might come from a stellar marketing plan or in-house enthusiasm)

3. mysterious things out of everyone’s control that are often unnameable and unknown (these also can “doom” a book, like having a release in the midst of a blizzard/flood/hurricane)

4. magic

5. great trade reviews — I’m not convinced everyday readers even know these exist, but librarians and booksellers certainly do (and often base their purchases on them)

6. a great cover

7. a lot of reviews by “regular” people at Goodreads, Amazon, on blogs, and the like (this connects back to #1, but is less organic, more strategic, and less powerful, I think)

8. …and to give your book a second wind, make sure it’s nominated for awards

….

486. author efforts

How much of a book’s success is in the author’s hands? Is it even possible to measure an author’s promotional reach? The first question is easy: only the author’s efforts are in her control. But do writers really live this way? The second question is the more challenging one. I know of no hard and fast evidence that shows how an author’s promotional work affects overall sales, but I have to believe my one small voice doesn’t have the power to influence as many people as the other things on this list.

So where does that leave me?

Strangely comforted, believe it or not. I can’t make anything I write a hit. No one honestly knows how to make this happen, though we keep trying (and for those of us in publishing, it’s part of our job to do so). What I can do, though, is focus on promotion that excites me and drop the need to try everything.

How much of a book’s success do you think comes from an author’s efforts?

Anything you’d add to my list?

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15. School Visits Galore

In the last six weeks I’ve done seventeen presentations in six different schools. Here’s a glimpse into this very busy, very rewarding time.

April 3 – Literacy Night: Truman Middle School, Albuquerque, NM

At Truman I talked to both kids and parents about the writing life: how long it had taken me to sell my first book, the inspiration behind May B., and finding satisfaction in the things we love. The evening ended with students sharing odes. My favorite? Ode to My Running Shoes.

BoBlunch

April 15,16 – School visit: Dexter Elementary School, Dexter, NM

I’d never been to Dexter, NM — a community southeast of Roswell and 1,200 people strong. Let me tell you, I was incredibly impressed with everything happening there. Librarian Nancy Miles has brought thirteen authors to Dexter in the last fourteen years, all funded by proceeds from the school’s Scholastic Book Fair.

On the fist day, I spoke to K-2, doing a new presentation called The Poet’s Toolbox: Rhythm, Rhyme, and Repetition. On the second I pulled out my tried and true hands-on frontier activity called Buckboards, Bloomers, and Buffalo Chips. Dexter’s Elementary Battle of the Books team hosted a special luncheon for the thirteen “BoB” readers. Check out the gorgeous table display which included May’s apple barrel and  tinned peaches. Nancy printed “The Voice of the Wind” poem as bookmarks and called it courage and hope — the phrase I use when signing May. And speaking of signing… those eager kiddos had me sign those cans of peaches!

As they were leaving the library, a girl shouted, “I love you!” and a boy said, “This is the best day of my life!”

DexterMiddle
17 – School visit: Dexter Middle School, Dexter, NM

Day three in Dexter took me to the middle school, where I ate burgers with the BoB readers and discussed the many things that might have happened to Mrs. Oblinger after she left May. Let’s just say Dexter middle schoolers are very, very creative. I was also informed middle schoolers are definitely not too old for stickers (they gladly took the May B. ones I’d brought along). I once again presented Buckboards, Bloomers, and Buffalo Chips. For one session a BoB team from Roswell came to join the fun.

April 24 – School visit: Chaparral Elementary School, Santa Fe, NM

At Santa Fe’s Chaparral Elementary I led a Poetry 101 writing workshop for fifth graders and met with the BoB kids after school. Here’s a priceless exchange I overheard while setting up for the second presentation:

Student #1: I thought she’d have black hair.

Student #2: I thought she would be sixty.

April 29 and May 6 – School visit: Dennis Chavez Elementary School, Albuquerque, NM

I stopped at Dennis Chavez on two separate occasions, one day to talk about the writing process and another another to talk about the frontier. My favorite part? Several kids asking if I could pull strings to make more copies of May B. show up in the school library.

HolyGhostCatholicSchool

May 1 – School visit: Holy Ghost Catholic School, Albuquerque, NM

This little school reminded me of my beloved St. Matthew’s Episcopal School where I taught in Houma, Louisiana. Along with authors Kimberley Griffiths Little and Stephen McCranie I talked with kids K-8 at the school’s annual Author’s Day. The day began with an assembly celebrating books the children had written. It was a lovely thing.

For those of you interested in some nuts and bolts posts I’ve written about school visits, you can find them here:

School Visits: Seeking Them Out and Setting Them Up
Tis the Season to Skype!
Planning, Preparing, and “Performing” School Visits

 

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16. Novel Revision Class: Quotes and Links on Character

When revising, it’s essential you study your characters carefully to determine what’s working and what’s not. Here are some quotes and links I used in my revision class. I hope they point you in the right direction with your own work:

DSC_0608

Quotes from Novel Metamorphosis:

Villains and emotional complexity: “Look for a place where you dislike the villain the most. At that point, how can you work in a tender scene with the villain’s friend?”

“Most dialogue is too long winded, too formal, and includes too much information.”

Quotes from Second Sight:

“At the end of your book, your main character should be better equipped to live that life…”

Characters often don’t know what they truly NEED. Don’t spell it out for the reader! Let them figure it out.

“…a character is a plot.You just have to find the other characters and the moral dilemmas that will force the character to change and grow.”

“Put those characters in situations that fascinate or trouble you personally — problems you want to write about, conflicts that move you in some way.”

Samuel Johnson: “Inconsistencies cannot both be right; but imputed to man [and characters!], they make both be true.”

“Use backstory to show the reader how the character became who she is, what her relationships with other people are like, and why the frontstory matters to her.”

“Action: what a character does to get what they want. Action is a result of Desire plus Attitude.”

“ To the minor characters in your book, the hero of your books isn’t your main character — it’s them…Everyone has reasons for doing the things they do and you need to know the reasons.”

“[As we read] we are right there in [the characters’] heads, having these experiences with them, sharing their pain; as as a result we share their growth as well.”

Quotes from Writing Irresistible KidLit:

“No description should ever be content to play only on the surface. Whether a reader is aware of it or not, he should always be learning about character on multiple levels, especially at the beginning of your story.”

“We must always know what your characters want (each and every one of them) when we see them in a scene together.”

Unconscious objective (Cheryl would classify this as an unknown need / desire): “Characters struggling with Unconscious Objective shouldn’t be able to articulate them. But those deep desires are something that you, the writer, must absolutely think about.”

“Think of yow you can lend your stories a more complex undertone by always reminding us of your character’s worries and anxieties.”

Links:

Where Do Character Strengths Come From? :: Cynsations
Determine Your Character’s Destiny :: The Write Practice
The Sensitive, Passionate Character :: Live, Write, Thrive
Character Development :: Janice Hardy’s Fiction University (a collection of articles covering protagonists, antagonists, developing strong characters, secondary characters, and character arcs)

 

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17. Novel Revision Class: Quotes and Links on Plot

When revising, it’s essential you study your plot carefully to determine what’s working and what’s not. Here are some quotes and links I used in my revision class. I hope they point you in the right direction with your own work:

plot line

Quotes from Novel Metamorphosis:

“The connection between the inner and outer arc, the emotional arc and the plot arc, isn’t always easy to see! When you set up an initial plot conflict, you need to immediately ask yourself what obligatory action scene is set up. When the inner conflict is set up, you need to ask what epiphany is set up.”

Quotes from Second Sight:

Good fiction creates “deliberate emotion…through immersing us in the character’s lived experience [via] well-crafted prose: prose where every word has been considered carefully by the author and belongs in the work; prose that communicates clearly.”

WANTS = action plot / NEEDS = emotional plot

“The difference between starting with premise and starting with character is usually that in a premise plot, the character has something done to him or her from the outside; and in a character plot, the character is the one who causes the action, thanks to the Desire.”

Quotes from Writing Irresistible KidLit:

Avoiding the infodump: “Information must emerge organically, usually within the context of action.”

“A kid reader, whether he knows it or not, is picking up a book with the following request in mind: Make me care.”

“Fiction runs on friction and trouble.”

“Decide whether we need to see the full action of every instant in your book? …Focus on your most powerful scenes.”

“You are a writer, not a security camera…Shape events and cherry-pick the ones that are going to be the most exciting and most significant for your story.”

Links:

Plot Structure :: Ingrid’s Notes (This is an incredible series on classic plot and arch plot, alternative plots and alternative structures)
Plotting :: Janice Hardy’s Fiction University (Another comprehensive list of posts on plot)

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18. Novel Revision Class: Quotes and Links on Revision

Revision requires an author to see her work with new eyes. Here are some quotes and links to point you in the right direction:

DSC_0606

Quotes from Novel Metamorphosis:

Revision: What is the most dramatic way to tell this story?

“Revisions are the messy route toward powerful stories. …I never tell someone how to revise their story. Instead, I ask you to look at your story in different ways, apply various strategies of revisions, and tell your story, your way. You are in control and will make all the decisions yourself.”

“Competence is a hard-won prize that only comes with lots of study and practice.”

Quotes from Second Sight:

“When you’re writing that first draft, don’t worry about following the rules. Instead, tell yourself the story you’ve always wanted to hear, the story you’ve never read anywhere else, the one that scares you with the pleasure of writing it. Treasure the joy of the work, because it is hard work, but when you can find that just-right word, that perfect plot twist — there are fewer greater pleasures.”

“Editors work forward from the manuscript to make its truth all it can be…paying attention to details that add up to an overall result.”

“Good prose repeats words in close proximity to each other only by strategy or design, not by accident or sloppiness.”

“I test every sentence against the question ‘What purpose doest this serve?’”

“An editor’s greatest joy is a writer who can recognize his own weaknesses and respond with an intelligent revision.”

“For a writer, an artist, making a choice gives you something to work with. You make a choice, get the words on the page, see if it feels right. If it doesn’t, you edit it or go back and make a different decision. The hardest thing is getting past the fear of making a choice at all.”

Saul Bellow: “The main reason for rewriting is not to achieve a smooth surface, but to discover the inner truth of your characters.”

Quotes from Writing Irresistible KidLit:

“As you’re sitting down to write, you need to ask yourself: Am I writing a specific story that could only happen to this character in this world, in this time? What am I trying to say with this story? What do I want my readers to think when they put my book down?”

“What questions or mysteries does your first line raise?”

“Just because you put it first doesn’t mean that your current opening section is the real beginning.”

“Be a curator, not a camera…Believe it or not, most beginning writers will transcribe, as if they were a video camera…Another big mistake is focusing on transition scenes because you think you need to show how a character gets from one place to another.”

Links:

Novelists: You Are Gifted and Talented :: Darcy Pattison
WFMAD The Bones of the Writing Process, Parts 1 and 2 :: Laurie Halse Anderson
23 Essential Quotes from Ernest Hemingway About Writing :: The Write Practice
WFMAD (Write Fifteen Minutes a Day) Revision Roadmap #18 :: Laurie Halse Anderson
 WFMAD Temper Tantrums and Do Overs :: Laurie Halse Anderson
I don’t want an honest critique :: Darcy Pattison
WFMAD Getting Feedback on Your Story :: Laurie Halse Anderson
WFMAD Belonging to a Critique Group Without Murdering Anyone :: Laurie Halse Anderson
Balancing Thoughts, Description, Dialogue, and Action :: Between the Lines: Edits and Everything Else

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19. Running as a Metaphor for Writing

On Wednesday I posted about the similarities between running and writing. Today I thought it would be fun to look at some of these more closely:

In it for the long haul:
Just like the hard work required to add miles or increase speed, writers need to be committed long term. You can’t “become” anything overnight.

Every step counts:
It’s not glamorous to think about those early mornings you force yourself out of bed just to put one foot in front of the other. Neither is it deeply exciting to recall every word you’ve ever put down on paper. But each small effort builds on the next.

Hold onto success to motivate later:
Early last December, my sister called to tell me my brother-in-law wasn’t going to be able to make the half marathon they’d planned to run together. The race was in ten days. Would I like to take his place?

My longest race before this was a 5k. I had no time to train. My sister flew me out to Kiawah, South Carolina, where we walk/ran the first six miles. Then something came over me: I wanted to finish out the race on my own. Though I hadn’t run that far in years, I finished the last seven miles without stopping. I’ve used this moment as motivation ever since.

Have you ever had a breakthrough writing moment? A time you knew what your story was missing, a writing session where every word worked? Save those moments to use as future motivation.

This post originally ran March 11, 2014

 
 

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20. And Finally…

…wrapping up the running theme

Some days are great, some days aren’t:
Some running days are fun, some start hard and get easier, some start easy and get hard. And there are some that you just have to get through. Writing is the same. Don’t let a hard writing day scare you from getting back into the groove.

Love what you do:
I’m slow, I’ve got funny form, but I love the way running makes me feel: strong and powerful and joyful, like a little kid.

While I set goals and due dates for certain projects, I never know how easily the words will come. This is where love for the writing process helps to sustain me. Last summer I got stuck on two stanzas for a picture book and couldn’t move forward for weeks. I spent hours and hours on what amounted to roughly twenty words. Twenty words! As frustrating as this was, I’m so thankful I kept returning to the story, sat with what I had, and trusted the words would come. The writing process has never worked the same way twice for me, but I love what eventually unfolds.

Find your rhythm:
There is something very familiar and comfortable about settling into your pace. The same can be said about your own writing process. Maybe you need music in the background. Maybe you have to re-read everything you wrote the last time you sat down. Whatever your system, if it works for you, use it. From that familiar place your work will grow.

Keep track of your goals:
Just like runners love to record their fastest times, make sure you’re paying attention to — and celebrating! — your progress: finishing a manuscript, positive feedback from critique partners, requests for partials from agents. Those milestones keep you moving forward.

When things don’t work, try something new:
I’ve had my share of injuries and have had to alter the way I’ve approached running. For months I practiced the walk/run system my sister swears by. Other times I kept all running to a mile — holding onto the fun and cutting back on the work.
Are you working on a manuscript you need to retire? Are you writing in a genre that just doesn’t fit? Give yourself permission to try something new or approach your work differently.

Metaphor for life:
Running is hard, but life is harder. When I push myself physically, I feel like I can take the world on.

Isn’t it just the same with writing?

This post originally ran March 16, 2011

Update:  A friend just told me about  What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, a memoir by author Haruki Murakami. Can’t wait to dig in!

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21. Straight From the Source: Sheila O’Connor on Writing Historical Fiction

Sheila O’Connor is the award-winning author of four novels: Keeping Safe the StarsSparrow Road, Where No Gods Came and Tokens of Grace. Her poetry and fiction have been recognized with fellowships from the Bush Foundation, Loft McKnight and the Minnesota State Arts Board. A graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, she is a professor in the MFA program at Hamline University where she also serves as fiction editor for Water~Stone Review.  Keeping Safe the Stars has recently been released in paperback.

What typically comes first for you: a character? An era? A story idea? How do you proceed from there?

I always begin with a character, and from there it is a character in a situation. I’m interested in the character’s trouble—why is their story important?  What are they up against and why? That’s the early work I do on a book.

How do you conduct your research? 

I like to jump into the story, discover the time period, and then ask myself: What elements of that time period are pressing in on the story?  We are all influenced by our historical time and place, and fictional characters are no different.  The world we live in shapes us. Once I’ve settled on the time and place of a novel, I immerse myself in it through books, movies, music, and lots of web research.

You do have a specific system for collecting data? 

I wish I did. I tend to empty the library of materials, and spend too much time on Google. I call people, I ask questions of people who may have lived during that time. I’m especially interested in talking to people that would have been the same age as my characters in that time period.

What kinds of sources do you use? 

Magazine, catalogues, newspapers, books, music, films, photos—anything I can get my hands on. The book I’m working on now has required looking at old baseball cards, Schwinn catalogues, reading obscure articles on psychiatric hospitals in the 1960’s, among other odd activities. I love it all.

What’s your favorite thing about writing historical fiction?

I love the way the time period determines certain events in the book, the kinds of choices characters have available to them, the way cultural norms of the time period would influence their decisions. My previous novel, KEEPING SAFE THE STARS, was set in 1974, during the week of the Nixon resignation, and there were all kinds of cultural norms at work during that time that helped me discover the story. Beyond that, I think it’s my own particular kind of fantasy, because I’m able to return to a time that no longer exists, and make it real again—which is a fantasy for me. We know our time and place, but the work of fiction allows us to occupy another, and whether it’s an imaginary country, or a small town in Minnesota in 1974, it’s a fiction world I’ve never inhabited.

Why is historical fiction important?

Historical fiction allows us to see the path behind us, to see how we’ve arrived at this moment, and in some ways it allows us to make sense of the world as we know it now. Beyond that, it can teach us things–both major and minor–things we might not otherwise know. I don’t write books to teach, but historical novels are rich opportunities for readers young and old to learn about another time and place, to imagine what it was like to be living in a reality other than our own.

 

 

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22. Writing Links

Query Questions with Tracey Adams :: It’s in the Details
Counting by 7s’ POV :: Augusta Scattergood
The Time it Takes :: Nerdy Book Club 
(includes a great ten-year timeline showing the writing process, from idea to publication, for Melissa Stewart’s picture book, NO MONKEYS, NO CHOCOLATE)

 

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23. On Sub: What to Expect When You’re Expecting (The Writer’s Edition)

Steve BGuest Post by Steve Bramucci

A few months ago, a manuscript I wrote was “on sub.”

This means that my wonderful agent had sent the book out to editors who she felt might connect with it—leaving me free to chew my fingernails and refresh my email way too often.

It was another harrowing step in the terrifying dance with acceptance and rejection that we as artists spend our lives doing.

Being on submission can be thrilling, nerve-wracking, euphoria-inducing (It’s out there! It’s out in the world, getting read by gatekeepers!), and nausea-inducing (It’s out there! It’s out in the world, getting read by gatekeepers! What if they don’t like it? WHY ISN’T MY BEST GOOD ENOUGH?).

It’s a nasty cycle.

As a travel writer and freelance journalist, this wasn’t my first time waiting on news from an editor. I’ve had years of practice and have had to deal a nice, healthy amount of rejection. Along the way I’ve picked up four keys—four things to focus on when you’re on sub—that I truly believe help the process flow more smoothly:

1. BE GRATEFUL

After eight years of freelance writing, eight years of putting my work in front of people and saying “is this good?” I have come to believe that gratitude is the only metaphysical secret to career success. As Matthew McConaughey said in his Oscar acceptance speech: “It’s a scientific fact that gratitude reciprocates.” That’s not just our favorite shirtless actor’s homespun wisdom—it is a scientific fact, as Chris Mooney explains here:

Gratitude Reciprocates Article

Why is gratitude so powerful (particularly for creatives)? I think part of it is because gratitude is the diametric opposite of cynicism and cynicism is a cancer to the artistic spirit. Take it away Conan:

2. BE A CHAMPION

Rapture PracticeA few years ago, my friend Aaron Hartzler’s wonderful book, Rapture Practice, was out with editors. From the moment I met him, at my first SCBWI conference, Aaron has always been one of the most generous writers I’ve ever known. But with his work on submission his desire to be a champion for the writing of others went into overdrive. He called me at 6am to tell me that he was in New York describing my book to an editor—the same editor emailed me that very day. I saw him connect other friends to his agent or to TV people who might option their work. There was no financial upside for him, he had no ulterior motive—he’s just a nice guy who truly believes that “a rising tide lifts all boats.” When my novel was on submission, I did my best to pay forward Aaron’s lead and I discovered that a funny thing happens when you genuinely wish success on others: they wish it back on you. That’s not the reason to do it—do it because it’s fun to support people you like and material you believe in—but damn if that reciprocal flow of positivity isn’t a nice ancillary benefit.

3. READ

When your book is floating through cyberspace toward the desk of an editor, it’s easy to think: “There are so many books, so many people who want to write, so many people who tweet ‘#amwriting’ when all I’m doing is #amsleeping—how will I ever get my shot?” The solution, as far as I can tell, is to curl up with a good book. Visiting the local bookseller to ruminate on just how many books readers have to pick from is terrifying. The remedy? Sit down, fall into a story, and remind yourself why you wanted to write in the first place. Remind yourself that everyone has different tastes and that’s a good thing. Remind yourself that you aren’t writing to prove anything or to win awards or to spite anyone who ever said you weren’t good enough. You are writing because you love stories and you have stories to tell.

4. WRITE

In The War of Art Steven Pressfield relates an anecdote from the day John Grisham sold The Firm. According to the story, Grisham hung up the phone, rolled a new sheet of paper into the typewriter and began his next book. When I first read that in 2006, I thought, “that’s the dedication it takes to build a life in the arts.” But in the eight years since, I’ve changed my tune. What I think now is that Grisham said to himself: “Okay, Johnny boy, the day is yours! Do what you want! Get drunk at noon! Order the lobster!” Then, he thought for a moment and realized that what he really wanted to do on this celebratory, clear-the-calendar day was to start another book. Because for the writer writing is a job, but it’s also a diversion. It’s sport. It’s recess. And that—the belief that creativity is an end unto itself—is what I think a life in the arts truly requires. The world is an ocean and we artists are a bizarre species of fish that wear our nerves on the outside. We’re particularly sensitive to jellyfish stings and rejection. Creating is our way of staying afloat. It’s how we swim. And as Dory says so eloquently:

cfd8db9d7023d3ef806147ad3a6ceb85f630db1c9e4b704f7aab0016b955c06f

There you have it. I can’t guarantee you that this little playbook will work for you when you’re on sub. I hope it does. All I know is that when I send out work these four points are the only things that have ever helped me. That doesn’t mean that I won’t act like an absolute maniac the next time my work goes out to editors.

I will.

But hopefully, once my fingernails have been bitten to the quick (but before I resort to trying to chew my toenails), I’ll manage to be grateful, to be a champion, to read and to write. Maybe the past patterns will hold true and those techniques will work again. Maybe they won’t. But either way, it’ll be a better use of my energy than refreshing my email for the ten millionth time.

Steve Bramucci is grateful to his awesome VCFA classmate Ingrid for letting him write this. His first book, Ronald Zupan and the Pirates of Borneo!, is being published by Bloomsbury (2016) with a sequel the following year. He can be found on Twitter at @stevebram.

Steve in PW


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24. On Sub: What to Expect When You’re Expecting (The Writer’s Edition)

Steve BGuest Post by Steve Bramucci

A few months ago, a manuscript I wrote was “on sub.”

This means that my wonderful agent had sent the book out to editors who she felt might connect with it—leaving me free to chew my fingernails and refresh my email way too often.

It was another harrowing step in the terrifying dance with acceptance and rejection that we as artists spend our lives doing.

Being on submission can be thrilling, nerve-wracking, euphoria-inducing (It’s out there! It’s out in the world, getting read by gatekeepers!), and nausea-inducing (It’s out there! It’s out in the world, getting read by gatekeepers! What if they don’t like it? WHY ISN’T MY BEST GOOD ENOUGH?).

It’s a nasty cycle.

As a travel writer and freelance journalist, this wasn’t my first time waiting on news from an editor. I’ve had years of practice and have had to deal a nice, healthy amount of rejection. Along the way I’ve picked up four keys—four things to focus on when you’re on sub—that I truly believe help the process flow more smoothly:

1. BE GRATEFUL

After eight years of freelance writing, eight years of putting my work in front of people and saying “is this good?” I have come to believe that gratitude is the only metaphysical secret to career success. As Matthew McConaughey said in his Oscar acceptance speech: “It’s a scientific fact that gratitude reciprocates.” That’s not just our favorite shirtless actor’s homespun wisdom—it is a scientific fact, as Chris Mooney explains here:

Gratitude Reciprocates Article

Why is gratitude so powerful (particularly for creatives)? I think part of it is because gratitude is the diametric opposite of cynicism and cynicism is a cancer to the artistic spirit. Take it away Conan:

2. BE A CHAMPION

Rapture PracticeA few years ago, my friend Aaron Hartzler’s wonderful book, Rapture Practice, was out with editors. From the moment I met him, at my first SCBWI conference, Aaron has always been one of the most generous writers I’ve ever known. But with his work on submission his desire to be a champion for the writing of others went into overdrive. He called me at 6am to tell me that he was in New York describing my book to an editor—the same editor emailed me that very day. I saw him connect other friends to his agent or to TV people who might option their work. There was no financial upside for him, he had no ulterior motive—he’s just a nice guy who truly believes that “a rising tide lifts all boats.” When my novel was on submission, I did my best to pay forward Aaron’s lead and I discovered that a funny thing happens when you genuinely wish success on others: they wish it back on you. That’s not the reason to do it—do it because it’s fun to support people you like and material you believe in—but damn if that reciprocal flow of positivity isn’t a nice ancillary benefit.

3. READ

When your book is floating through cyberspace toward the desk of an editor, it’s easy to think: “There are so many books, so many people who want to write, so many people who tweet ‘#amwriting’ when all I’m doing is #amsleeping—how will I ever get my shot?” The solution, as far as I can tell, is to curl up with a good book. Visiting the local bookseller to ruminate on just how many books readers have to pick from is terrifying. The remedy? Sit down, fall into a story, and remind yourself why you wanted to write in the first place. Remind yourself that everyone has different tastes and that’s a good thing. Remind yourself that you aren’t writing to prove anything or to win awards or to spite anyone who ever said you weren’t good enough. You are writing because you love stories and you have stories to tell.

4. WRITE

In The War of Art Steven Pressfield relates an anecdote from the day John Grisham sold The Firm. According to the story, Grisham hung up the phone, rolled a new sheet of paper into the typewriter and began his next book. When I first read that in 2006, I thought, “that’s the dedication it takes to build a life in the arts.” But in the eight years since, I’ve changed my tune. What I think now is that Grisham said to himself: “Okay, Johnny boy, the day is yours! Do what you want! Get drunk at noon! Order the lobster!” Then, he thought for a moment and realized that what he really wanted to do on this celebratory, clear-the-calendar day was to start another book. Because for the writer writing is a job, but it’s also a diversion. It’s sport. It’s recess. And that—the belief that creativity is an end unto itself—is what I think a life in the arts truly requires. The world is an ocean and we artists are a bizarre species of fish that wear our nerves on the outside. We’re particularly sensitive to jellyfish stings and rejection. Creating is our way of staying afloat. It’s how we swim. And as Dory says so eloquently:

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There you have it. I can’t guarantee you that this little playbook will work for you when you’re on sub. I hope it does. All I know is that when I send out work these four points are the only things that have ever helped me. That doesn’t mean that I won’t act like an absolute maniac the next time my work goes out to editors.

I will.

But hopefully, once my fingernails have been bitten to the quick (but before I resort to trying to chew my toenails), I’ll manage to be grateful, to be a champion, to read and to write. Maybe the past patterns will hold true and those techniques will work again. Maybe they won’t. But either way, it’ll be a better use of my energy than refreshing my email for the ten millionth time.

Steve Bramucci is grateful to his awesome VCFA classmate Ingrid for letting him write this. His first book, Ronald Zupan and the Pirates of Borneo!, is being published by Bloomsbury (2016) with a sequel the following year. He can be found on Twitter at @stevebram.

Steve in PW


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25. While I Was Away: Novel Revision Class

It’s been a good, long while since I’ve written a post around here. March 5, to be exact. Since then it’s been quick quotes or photos, guest posts or repeats.

March and April have been busy for me. I was on deadline with BLUE BIRDS, taught a Novel Revision class for our local SCBWI chapter, spent a week in Spain, and traveled to Dexter, NM and Santa Fe for school visits.

I thought it would be fun to share about these experiences in detail with you here. I’ll start with my Novel Revision course.

The idea for this course came while I was on a run. I was listening to Cheryl Klein and James Monohan’s Narrative Breakdown podcast on Revision Techniques, and it struck me how perfect this podcast would be as a starting place for a revision class. From there I developed a course for SCBWI members who’d drafted a middle grade or young adult manuscript but weren’t quite sure how to go about revision.

Those who signed up for the course received copies of Darcy Pattison’s NOVEL METAMORPHOSIS and Cheryl Klein’s SECOND SIGHT. Because so many already had Cheryl’s book, I gave those participants Mary Kole’s WRITING IRRESISTIBLE KIDLIT.

Members were paired with partners and exchanged manuscripts. They focused on big-picture changes (character growth instead of punctuation, for example) and wrote a letter to their partner which focused on three things:

  • What works
  • What needs work
  • What stuck out

Participants also wrote “letters to a sympathetic reader,” a technique Cheryl Klein sometimes uses with her authors when they begin the editing process together. The sympathetic letter focuses on

  • The real thing / key ideas / effect on reader the author is aiming for
  • Where the novel started from / idea came from
  • Big ideas the author is exploring
  • The things the author loves and wants to keep
  • The things the author knows are not working
  • How the author sees their main character (their purpose, journey, etc.)
  • What the book is now and where it should be
  • Mission / vision statement for the book

A sympathetic letter helps a writer to get back in touch with their initial ideas. It can also show how ideas have changed over the course of the draft. Though partners exchanged letters, its primary function is to teach a writer about their own work.

Much of our class centered around tips I gleaned from the Revision Techniques podcast and from Cheryl and Darcy’s books. My next two posts will be a collection of quotes and links I shared with my students on revision, plot, and character.

The post While I Was Away: Novel Revision Class appeared first on Caroline Starr Rose.

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