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1. Writing Links

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July is my blogging sabbath, a time for me to step away and recharge. Usually during this season I re-run popular posts once a week. This year I’ve come across a number of great writing articles, so many that I realized July would work perfectly for sharing them.

I hope you enjoy what you find here. Join me next week for more.

 

On What To Ask A Prospective Agent’s Clients by Joy McCullough-Carranza :: Project Mayhem

On the Deep Disquiet of Finishing Your Book :: Lit Hub

Writing as Art, Publishing as Business :: Pub(lishing) Crawl

45+ Thrilling Historical Fiction Books for Kids :: What Do We Do All Day?
Lovely to see Blue Birds included on this list!

The Creative Pragmatist vs The Creative Perfectionist :: Seeking Intellect

The post Writing Links originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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2. Writing Links

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July is my blogging sabbath, a time for me to step away and recharge. Usually during this season I re-run popular posts once a week. This year I’ve come across a number of great writing articles, so many that I realized July would work perfectly for sharing them.

I hope you enjoy what you find here. Join me next week for more.

 

Marrying Story Structure and Character Arcs by Joanna Roddy :: Project Mayhem

The most important thing a writer must learn to do :: Lisa Schroeder

Fear is Boring and Other Tips for Living a Creative Life :: Ideas.Ted.com

Rebecca Stead and Kate Dicamillo :: Number Five Bus Presents

The Best Suggestion I Ever Got From My Editor :: Penguin Random House News for Authors

The post Writing Links originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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3. Writing Links

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July is my blogging sabbath, a time for me to step away and recharge. Usually during this season I re-run popular posts once a week. This year I’ve come across a number of great writing articles, so many that I realized July would work perfectly for sharing them.

I hope you enjoy what you find here. Join me next week for more.

 

The Hazard of Too Much Too Soon :: Marion Dane Bauer

Plot-Driven or Character-Driven? Why Not Both! by Chris Eboch :: Project Middle Grade Mayhem

What is Launch? :: Pub(lishing) Crawl 

Some Books for Now and Some Books for Later by Donalyn Miller :: Nerdy Book Club

Kinds of Success :: Avi

The post Writing Links originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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4. Writing Links

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July is my blogging sabbath, a time for me to step away and recharge. Usually during this season I re-run popular posts once a week. This year I’ve come across a number of great writing articles, so many that I realized July would work perfectly for sharing them.

I hope you enjoy what you find here. Join me next week for more.

 

Creating Compelling character descriptions :: Ingrid Sundberg

A Prayer for the Writer :: Emily P. Freeman

The Power of the Long Walk :: 99u
(This one reminded me so much of the book Daily Rituals)

On Creating :: Lisa Schroeder

Breaking Down Scene Structure into Three Parts :: Live Write Thrive

 

The post Writing Links originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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5. Plowing, Planting, Hoping, Dreaming

I ran an earlier version of this post right after selling my first book. Because it’s one of my favorites, and because I so often need to hear these words myself, I’m sharing them again today.

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It was 2004. While driving to meet my writing group, I happened to catch an interview on NPR with Adrienne Young, a folksinger just starting out. She talked about her first album, inspired by some advice she’d gotten while struggling to make it as a musician:

If you want to do this with your life, stay focused and see this through. You’ve got to plow to the end of the row, girl.

That simple phrase – plow to the end of the row – was enough to push Adrienne to continue. It became the title of both her album and lead song. I can’t quite explain what that interview meant to me, hearing an artist choose to create despite the struggle, to push against fear and sensibility and make it “to the end of the row.”

I’ve carried this image with me for years, the plant metaphor standing in for artistic endeavor, the plow the unglamorous slog needed to dig deep and make it to the end. Sometimes I find it funny I’d choose a profession so bent on forcing me to wait, so full of uncertainty and disappointment. An almost foolish optimism has kept me working, trusting that the next editor or the next agent or the next story would be the one to launch my career. I’ve haunted mailboxes and inboxes, waiting for something positive to come through. I’ve ceremoniously sent off manuscripts, chanting, “Don’t come back!” (entertaining postal workers, for sure). I’ve journaled again and again “this next editor is a perfect match!”, managing somehow to keep on plowing in midst of little validation.

After twelve years of writing and hundreds of rejections, I sold my first book, May B., a historical verse novel about a girl with her own challenging row to hoe. May’s determination carried me through a rocky publication experience: losing my first editor; the closing of my Random House imprint, Tricycle Press; the weeks when my book was orphaned, with no publishing house to claim it and its future uncertain; the swooping in of Radom House imprint, Schwartz and Wade; edit rounds seven, eight, and nine with editor number two; and finally, May B.’s birth into the world only three months behind its original release date.

I made it to the end of a very long, mostly lonely row, one that wasn’t very straight and was loaded with stones. But the soil got better as I worked it, and each little sprout was stronger than the last. The beauty of the writing life is I got to transplant the hardiest seedling and start again, this time working alongside others who nurtured it into something better than I could have ever created alone.

What is the dream of the artist-gardener? That our art will sprout and grow one day stand apart from us to thrive on its own.

But first we must reach the end of the row. Keep plowing, friends.

 

The post Plowing, Planting, Hoping, Dreaming originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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6. One more reason to be a part of a critique group

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They get it. They see improvement. They push us toward our best work. Here’s a little message from my dear critique group member, Uma Krishnaswami:

Congratulations on turning Jasper in. He grew into a fine young man on our watch, and I’m thrilled I got to be one of those who ran alongside him cheering.

The post One more reason to be a part of a critique group originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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7. When Art is Seconds Away From Total Collapse

As I’m in the midst of edits again, I’ve thought often of this post. Happy writing, friends.

The truth is that the piece of art which seems so profoundly right in its finished state may earlier have been only inches or seconds away from total collapse.
— ART AND FEAR: OBSERVATIONS ON THE PERILS (AND REWARDS) OF ARTMAKING

This quote has been running through my mind since July.

There are so many ways for a work of art to fail. But thankfully there are even more opportunities to try and get it right. During the editing process, BLUE BIRDS has balanced on the edge of disaster again and again, but it has come back, stronger, clearer, more fully itself.

And one day, I will set it free. It will be a separate thing from me. I’ll no longer need to stand by, ready to interpret or hold it steady.

It will fly.

The post When Art is Seconds Away From Total Collapse originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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8. An Interview with Tricia Springstubb, Author of Every Single Second

Twelve-year-old Nella Sabatini’s life is changing too soon, too fast. Her best friend, Clem, doesn’t seem concerned; she’s busy figuring out the best way to spend the “leap second”—an extra second about to be added to the world’s official clock. The only person who might understand how Nella feels is Angela, but the two of them have gone from being “secret sisters” to not talking at all.

Then Angela’s idolized big brother makes a terrible, fatal mistake, one that tears apart their tight-knit community and plunges his family into a whirlwind of harsh publicity and judgment. In the midst of this controversy, Nella is faced with a series of startling revelations about her parents, friends, and neighborhood. As Angela’s situation becomes dangerous, Nella must choose whether to stand by or stand up. Her heart tries to tell her what to do, but can you always trust your heart? The clock ticks down, and in that extra second, past and present merge—the future will be up to her. 

With an engaging protagonist, a fast-moving story, important themes subtly conveyed, and touches of humor, this is a richly layered story that will have wide appeal. — Kirkus Reviews, starred review

Nella’s growing awareness of endings and beginnings, the meaning of friendship, and the power of choices combine to create an unsettling, compelling, and heartwarming tale. — Publishers Weekly, starred review

What drew you to this story?

Every Single Second didn’t draw me in—it yanked me! To be honest, I was afraid of this story. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to write it. But it got hold of me and refused to let go.

I first began thinking about it when a local young woman (whose family I slightly knew) threatened to commit a crime. Even though she had problems that left her too frail and confused to hurt anyone, she was arrested and jailed. On-line, she became the object of scorn and mockery from people who, of course, knew nothing about her. Her family was already reeling from what had happened, and this casual cruelty devastated them all the more. I couldn’t stop thinking about how easily we can judge others, without any real understanding of them.

The other event was a shooting much like the central event of Every Single Second, which I read about in the news. An African-American man who’d been in a car accident knocked on a door late at night and the woman inside called 9-1-1. Police officers showed up, and within seconds the injured, unarmed man was dead. Photos of him and the white officer who shot him were printed side by side. The victim looked heart-breakingly young and earnest. The officer was also young, and his expression was a blur of confusion and fear. Their faces riveted me. Two unconnected lives had crossed; one moment had changed everything. I kept thinking about who the officer was, wondering how he became the person who pulled that trigger. Again, I wanted to know more, to look deeper and try, if I could, to understand. 

As I worked, national events, including the unthinkable death of Tamir Rice here in Cleveland, made the writing harder but also more urgent.

During my middle and high school years, three different accidental shootings affected my classmates, one resulting in death. Unfortunately, other young people have had similar experiences. Even so, I can’t think of one book I’ve ever encountered on the subject. What are some of the challenges you faced in writing about such a difficult topic?    

Writing for young readers is always an enormous privilege, but I especially felt that with this book. I so badly wanted to get this complicated story right! Stories, like our lives, don’t march in straight lines. They rush forward, slip backward, skitter sideways. We think in terms of beginnings and endings, but I wanted to show that every story starts long before “chapter one” and continues way beyond “the end”. I wrote from the point of view of Nella, a white girl who’s close to the shooter. She’s been shaped by her community, as we all are. For me, the book’s biggest challenge was to be true to who Nella is, while showing her begin to question what she’s been taught. It’s scary to reject things we’ve always believed. It’s risky to trust our own hearts, and form a new, untried view of the world. Every Single Second deals with class and racial divides, and questions of what it means to be “good” or “bad”. These are the kinds of issues middle graders get really passionate about, and my deepest, fondest hope is that the book will inspire lots of questions and discussions. (I’m very glad that HarperCollins will publish a reading and discussion guide teachers and book groups can use!)

When writing about difficult things, do you intentionally bring in moments to ease the tension of the storyline? If yes, how so? 

I was brought up to believe we need humor in bad times even more than in good. I’m a natural optimist, and love to laugh (one more reason I adore being around kids). While I was working on this book, the venerable Jeptha A. Stone miraculously appeared. He’s a monument who lives (in a manner of speaking) in the cemetery where Nella’s father is the groundskeeper, and he serves as a sort of Greek chorus. Jeptha is a pompous old guy with a heart of (what else?) stone, and he gets his own story arc. One of the book’s themes is that we all have powerful voices, if only we have the courage to use them, and one of my very favorite moments is when Jeptha speaks. Or does he?

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the monument that gave me the idea for Jeptha Stone

Maybe the biggest challenge of writing middle grade is respecting the huge issues kids face without going too far into the darkness. Let there always be light and laughter!

How is Every Single Second different from your other books? How is it similar?

I’ve never dealt so directly with violence. Some people might also say I’ve never written about anything so topical, though really, unfortunately, the book’s issues have been with us for a very, very long time. Something I was aware of the whole time I was writing was that I didn’t want to hold back. With this book, I pinned my meaty heart to my sleeve. 

But Every Single Second does share things with my earlier books. Nella’s neighborhood is crucial to the story. A sense of place is always deeply important to me (What Happened on Fox Street and Moonpenny Island are titled for their settings!).  My characters often come from working class families, and economic class is always an issue, even when it just hovers in the background. Also, I can’t seem to stop writing about sisters or father-daughter relationships!

What are you working on now?

I just finished writing the fourth book in my series for younger middle grade readers. Cody and the Fountain of Happiness came out last spring, and Cody and the Mysteries of the Universe published this April. These are such fun books to write, and Eliza Wheeler’s illustrations are genius!

Now I’m tiptoeing around a middle grade novel set in a fictional country more than a hundred years ago. I’d really love to write fantasy, but I’m just too literal a person. I’m hoping that escaping the present and wandering the past will be the next best thing.

Tricia is offering one reader here the opportunity to win signed a copy of Every Single Second. Simply leave a comment below by Friday, June 17. A winner will be randomly selected. US residents only, please.

Tricia is the author of many books for children, including the award winning middle grade novels What Happened on Fox Street, its well-loved sequel, Mo Wren Lost and Found, and Moonpenny Island. Tricia has worked as a Head Start teacher and a children’s librarian. Besides writing and, of course, reading, she loves doing school and library visits. Mother of three grown daughters (and a brand new Nana!), she lives in Cleveland Heights, Ohio. You can contact her at www.triciaspringstubb.com.

 

 

The post An Interview with Tricia Springstubb, Author of Every Single Second originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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9. Writing Links

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How to Make a Storyboard :: Uri Shulevitz

Don’t Worry, It Only Gets Harder :: Writer Unboxed

What Nobody Tells You About Being a Best-Selling Author :: Goins, Writer

Five Things I Wish I’d Known Five Months Before I Published My First Novel :: Medium

Books About Girls Who Rescue Themselves :: Powell’s City of Books
**Honored to find May B. on the top of the list!

Common Rejections and What They Mean :: Tara Lazar

The post Writing Links originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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10. Are you seldom disappointed or do you hold to wild hope?

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Last year I recorded a podcast with author Tsh Oxenreider. As we talked about submissions and rejection, Tsh mentioned the idea of “it’s just business, it’s not personal” not being an entirely helpful or true way to look at the writing life, at least in her experience. “It’s business and it’s personal” is more accurate, she said. It’s personal because not only has she invested in what she’s created, a piece of writing grows out of who she is.

This is absolutely spot on in my experience, too. An author has hope for her work, wild hope that it will connect with an agent or an editor who believes in it as she does. That wild hope must also run through the writing itself. The creative act cannot hold back. It cannot be guarded or careful or tame. For me, both writing and the writing life must be all in.

Being all in has its risks. There is the possibility of rejection. (Not just the possibility. In this line of work the reality of rejection is always present.) There is the possibility that even books that sell won’t go the way you hoped or planned. Elizabeth Gilbert says “creativity asks you to enter into realms of uncertain outcome.”

Your job is to create. You don’t get to decide the rest.

Uncertain outcomes mean sometimes you’ll be hugely disappointed. It’s important to let yourself acknowledge this, to let yourself grieve the work that didn’t have the future you’d hoped. This is hard and painful and so disappointing. But I rather do this than not hope at all.

Recently a friend told me she’d read Tony Hillerman’s memoir, Seldom Disappointed. The quote comes from something his mother told him: Blessed are those who expect little; they are seldom disappointed. He carried this idea into his writing life, a place he had huge success.

It’s interesting that just days after this conversation I started re-reading Anne of Green Gables and in it found Mrs. Hillerman’s advice, almost word for word, this time in the voice of Mrs. Rachel Lynde.

It’s Anne’s response to Rachel’s words that I prefer:

“You set your heart too much on things, Anne,” said Marilla with a sigh. “I’m afraid there’ll be a great many disappointments in store for you through life.”

“Oh, Marilla, looking forward to things is half the pleasure of them,” exclaimed Anne. “You mayn’t get the things themselves; but nothing can prevent you from having the fun of looking forward to them. Mrs. Lynde says, ‘Blessed are they who expect nothing for they shall not be disappointed.’ But I think it would be worse to expect nothing than to be disappointed.”

If I hold back hope I hold back heart, the very thing my writing needs.

The post Are you seldom disappointed or do you hold to wild hope? originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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11. Five Bits of Encouragement from My Inbox

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I ain’t going to lie. This round of edits has been really tough. So I was encouraged to find these good words waiting for me on Monday.

As soon as we realize that there is a difference between right now and what might happen next, we can move ourselves to the posture of possibility, to the self-fulfilling engine of optimism.
— Seth Godin

I’m an optimist. I don’t know why. But it has made things easier.
— Geoff Herbach (…wise words from his grandmother)

Place your attention on what is occurring now, not anticipating the future.
— Ennea Thought for the Day

In life, it’s impossible to always feel like everything is going well and that you’re exactly where you want to be in terms of success. It’s like the tide – it ebbs and flows. Sometimes you’ll feel successful, like the high tide, and other times, the tide will go out and you’ll feel dissatisfied with the way things are going. You just have to ride it out. Eventually, the tides will turn again.
— Lisa Schroeder (…from the podcast Millennial)

And this one came through on Tuesday —

Optimism is true moral courage.
– Ernest Shackleton

The post Five Bits of Encouragement from My Inbox originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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12. On Writing

A friend of mine who writes history books said to me that he thought that the two creatures most to be pitied were the spider and the novelist — their lives hanging by a tread spun out of their own guts. But in some ways I think writers of fiction are the creatures most to be envied, because who else besides the spider is allowed to take that fragile thread and weave it into a pattern? What a gift of grace to be a ble to take the chaos from within and from it to create some semblance of order.

-Katherine Paterson, A SENSE OF WONDER: ON READING AND WRITING BOOKS FOR CHILDREN

The post On Writing originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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13. That Jasper Johnson

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Jefferson “Soapy” Smith was an unsavory sort who worked Skagway, Alaska when Jasper passed through.

I can’t wait to introduce  you to Jasper next spring. For now, I’ll give you a peek into the way he thinks. (Coming across this section during edits has encouraged me. It might feel like I don’t know how to write a whole darn book, but this reminds me I don’t have to have it all figured out straight away. I’m responsible for showing up and doing my daily work to the best of my ability.)

Since leaving home I’ve stowed away and tracked down Mel and climbed a mountain and traveled the Yukon on a flimsy raft, and tackled a whole pile of other things I ain’t never done before. Now ain’t the time to start believing I got to have things figured out before I try.

Now, back to work on the editing…

The post That Jasper Johnson originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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14. Top Writing Posts of All Time

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After six and half years of blogging, I thought it would be fun to revive some oldies but goodies. The plan is to do this once a month. You can see the first, Top Posts of All Time, here, and the second, My Favorite Posts of all Time, here.

The posts below are consistently clicked most when people come to the blog for writing advice. I hope you enjoy!

(BLUE) BIRD BY (BLUE) BIRD: On Small Writing Goals and Big Change
Writing Contests and Grants: Why You Should Enter
Will Verse Work for Your Story?
There is No Schedule
5 Things I Learned from NaNoWriMo
What’s the Purpose of Your Writing?
Book Mapping My Way Through Blue Birds
Novel Revision Class: Quotes and Links on Revision
Writing Advice for the Long Haul
Running as a Metaphor for Writing

The post Top Writing Posts of All Time originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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15. The Work Behind the Work: Second-Round Edits

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Looks like no one ever taught me you’re just supposed to highlight the important parts. Oh, wait. It’s all important.

One letter, five highlighters, one notebook full of scribbling, one marked up manuscript, one calendar, one phone call with my editor. This is how second-round edits begin.

And this is the shrunk down version of the letter, a little cheat sheet that will guide me when I need direction…

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… and here’s an expanded version to take me chapter through chapter.

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I’ve never done edits precisely this way before and probably won’t do them just like this again. Each book is a journey, and I do my best to follow along.

Writers out there, do you always edit in the same way or does your approach change?

 

 

 

The post The Work Behind the Work: Second-Round Edits originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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16. Classroom Connections: Counting Thyme by Melanie Conklin

age range: 10 and up
genre: contemporary fiction
setting: New York City
Melanie Conklin’s website
Preview the first three chapters

Please tell us about your book.

Counting Thyme is the story of Thyme Owens, an eleven-year-old girl whose family moves across the country for her little brother’s cancer treatment. It’s a story about family, friendship, and finding your place in the world when life throws you a curveball.

What inspired you to write this story?

The idea for this story came to me after I read a bunch of middle grade books with protagonists who were facing serious illnesses. I wondered what it would be like to be the sibling of a gravely ill child. I wondered how the conflicts at home would influence the conflicts at school. I thought it would be especially tough if you were just starting middle school, with all of the social pressures involved at that time in life. Thyme’s story grew from there!

Could you share with readers how you conducted your research or share a few interesting tidbits you learned while researching?

In my past life as a product designer, I did a ton of research at the outset of every new project. It’s no different for me with books. Once I have an idea, I conduct an audit—which is a fancy way of saying that I cast a wide net and gather research from all of the reputable sources in that subject area. With Counting Thyme, I gathered a tremendous amount of information online, because research hospitals are very interested in sharing knowledge. I also read countless blogs posted by parents of pediatric cancer patients to gain insight into their everyday lives and the ups and downs of treatment. When I had questions, I posted them on discussion forums and parents graciously answered, helping me understand the intricacies of their world.

What are some special challenges associated with writing middle grade?

My favorite thing about MG fiction is the way it explores tough topics in an honest way, while preserving a safe space for young readers. It’s tough to nail that balance. It took many passes of revision to balance the emotion and the information in Counting Thyme, so that readers can understand what’s happening without being bogged down by too much medical information. My favorite books are the ones that manage this balance effortlessly (although I now know that a lot of effort goes into that!).

What topics does your book touch upon that would make it a perfect fit for the classroom?

Because Counting Thyme is set in New York City, there’s a lot going on in the story. Thyme’s family moves into a multiple story apartment building, so she experiences living with close neighbors for the first time, which is a great touchstone for talking about the different ways that people live. There are also characters of many different backgrounds and ethnicities, which is what makes NYC so wonderful. This theme provides an opportunity to talk about different family traditions and cultures. Other themes touch on sibling relationships, honesty versus secrets, what it means to be a friend, and what it means to be counted (in your family, and in the world at large).

The post Classroom Connections: Counting Thyme by Melanie Conklin originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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17. The Beauty of Imagination: Early Beginnings with a New Idea

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In the last year, while not working on other projects, I’ve researched,  tinkered, and thought a lot about a new novel idea. The first whiff of it came to me when I read You Are Not So Smart: Why You Have Too Many Friends on Facebook, Why Your Memory Is Mostly Fiction, and 46 Other Ways You’re Deluding Yourself quickly followed by You Are Now Less Dumb: How to Conquer Mob Mentality, How to Buy Happiness, and All the Other Ways to Outsmart Yourself.

Looking at those titles even now, if feels so obvious what this new idea of mine is about. Human nature. Holding on to things that may not serve us or even be true or right. But it’s more than that. I can’t think of these books and not imagine that everyone reading this post now knows the exact circumstance of my new idea and particularly the type of character these books brought to mind. That’s the beauty of the imagination, though. We can be exposed to the same material and end up in an entirely different place.

Two weeks ago I pulled Writing the Breakout Novel off my shelf, thinking I’d poke around in it a bit. It hasn’t been since the first stirrings of Blue Birds that I’ve read it (I found all sorts of highlights that point toward the book Blue Birds became). What started as a casual skim became a solid re-read. I always need brushing up on that thing called plot and — who am I kidding — all the other stuff that makes a compelling novel. (More than once while reading it I’ve thought “That’s what my editor was trying to tell me in my last editorial letter!”)

This time through Breakout Novel is speaking to me in an entirely different way. Because my ideas are different this time around.

That’s the beauty of the imagination. We can be exposed to the same material and end up in an entirely different place.

The post The Beauty of Imagination: Early Beginnings with a New Idea originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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18. Writing Links

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Advice for Publishing a Children’s Book :: Daily Herald

Ingrid’s Monster List of Craft Books :: Ingrid Sundberg

On Parting Ways with Literary Agents by Joy McCullough-Carranza :: Project Mayhem

Post “Meh” Debut: Your Options :: Between Fact and Fiction

To Blog or Not to Blog, That is the Question :: Rachelle Gardner

Secrets to Long-Haul Creativity :: Medium

The post Writing Links originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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19. Reflections on Morning Pages Three Months In

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Last December a friend whose life circumstances had kept her from writing for quite some time mentioned she’d started Morning Pages. She was almost 100 days in, and for the first time in years had found she was looking forward to returning to the page.

For those of you unfamiliar with the practice, Morning Pages is a discipline developed by Julia Cameron, author of the classic how-to on creative recovery, The Artist’s Way. I’ve had a copy of the book for almost ten years, but have never read past the first few chapters. Listening to my friend talk about moving toward her work with new joy and expectation, I thought about trying The Artist’s Way again. Maybe I could use regular journaling as a discipline in my own writing life.

The book is meant to be read as a self-led course, one chapter a week. Participants commit to two things: the Artist Date, a weekly experience meant to fill the creative well (what Cameron describes as “assigned play”), and the Morning Pages, a three-page handwritten daily exercise meant to reconnect the artist with creativity.

While I haven’t always been consistent with my weekly reading (and even less so with the Artist Date), I have loved my own version of Morning Pages.* Three months in, the practice has become a key part of my day.

There are no rules about the writing. Because of that I’ve been free to use the exercise for anything. Sometimes I simply type out everything I’m thinking. The Morning Pages then become a place for me to process and set aside the thoughts I might not have known were bothering me. I also write about the things I want to accomplish or need to remember, an impromptu daily list of sorts. Other times I use the writing to prime the pump for my work later in the day. I’ve used it to brainstorm the last few lines in a picture book and as a place to figure out a revision plan of attack. This blog post, which has become the most popular ever in six plus years of blogging, started in one of those ten-minute sessions. Some mornings I write as I might in a traditional journal. And when I’m truly stuck, I keep my virtual pencil moving by typing one of Julia’s affirmations: I am competent and confident in my creative work (yes, this is a little corny, but it’s a good thing to “hear” myself say!).

Here I am, close to my own 100 days, so grateful for this new experience.

Do any of you write Morning Pages? I’d love if you’d share your thoughts in the comments below.

 

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* Ten minutes of typing on weekdays.

The post Reflections on Morning Pages Three Months In originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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20. Reading and Writing Links

flamingos

How to Balance Showing Versus Telling :: Jody Hedlund

Book Club Resources :: The Deliberate Reader

21 Things I Wish I’d Known Before I Started Writing :: The Review Review

5 Rituals and Routines that Changed My Writing Life :: Huffington Post

“That was my own little MFA” — novelist Camille Pagán on frustration and success :: Laura Vanderkam

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21. My Favorite Posts of All Time

Roy truck

After six and half years of blogging, I thought it would be fun to revive some oldies but goodies. The plan is to do this once a month. You can see the first, Top Posts of All Time, here.

The posts I’m sharing today have struck a deep chord in me. Whether they made me feel like I was part of something important (the Donalyn Miller interview), were an out-of-the-blue email from a reader, or were reflections on the writing process (pretty much everything else), these are the words I want to return to, that feel familiar and right and brave. I hope you enjoy them, too.

The Book Whisperer: An Interview with Donalyn Miller
Plowing, Planting, Hoping, Dreaming
Ode to a Research Notebook
Sometimes You Get an Email That Takes Your Breath Away
Step by Step, Word by Word
The Then and the Now: Reflections Over Chicago
5 Ways I’m Learning to Write Smart and Not Scared

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22. Straight From the Source: Julie Berry on Writing Historical Fiction

Julie Berry is the author of the acclaimed young adult novel The Passion of Dolssa, the award-winning, All the Truth That’s in Me (2013, Viking) and The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place (2014, Roaring Brook), and six other critically acclaimed titles for young readers. She grew up in western New York and holds a BS from Rensselaer in communication and an MFA from Vermont College in writing for children and young adults. Before becoming an author, she worked in software sales and marketing. She now lives in southern California with her husband and four sons. Find her online at www.julieberrybooks.com, or on Twitter.

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

For The Passion of Dolssa, both character and era came first, or rather, both found me independently. For a long time I’d been fascinated by the brave young women mystics of the Middle Ages. I had wanted to explore them more in some kind of project. Quite separately, I thought it would be fun to write a main character who was a matchmaker. In yet another corner of my brain, an idea rolled around about a group of three sisters, witches in a very small sense of the word, running a tavern (although young). In another disconnected vein of my life, I was taking a history of the Middle Ages course, where I learned for the first time about the violent history of anti-heresy warfare and inquisition in southern France in the 13th Century. Then one day I had a sort of eureka moment where all of these separate strands braided themselves together as one story idea. And I was off and running.

How do you conduct your research?

Muddlingly. I try to immerse myself as much as I can in books about, and written during, that time period. One of the most important things, I find, is determining which are the most credible, current, trusted academians whose books will best help you unravel the complex past. History (the study of the past, as opposed to the past itself) is anything but monolithic and unanimous. Our study and understanding of our past is constantly changing. So I think it’s vital to be a critical consumer of historical sources, and pay close attention to choosing well whom to trust. Once I know what I’m looking for, it’s often a hunt to acquire rare or out-of-print titles that I need. I try to read as much as I can that was written during that time period, also, so I can hear the voices and language of the time (filtered through the lens of who’s doing the writing – too often it’s only the elite and the empowered). I generally need to read my important sources twice.

In addition to lots of reading, I spend a lot of time with maps and museum resources, trying to see as much as possible what the world I envision actually looked like. I look for music historians who can help me hear their nearly lost tunes, and for historically based cookbooks so I know what ingredients they had and how they cooked. I’m chasing down all sorts of things like when would the sun have set at that latitude at this date, and what did they eat/wear/shoot/burn/drive/marry, etc.. Best of all, whenever possible, I try to go to the location where my story takes place. I need to absorb the sense of place as much as my senses allow me to. 

You do have a specific system for collecting data?

I fear I don’t have a specific system for anything in my life. “Dive in and muck around” is pretty much my approach.

At what point do you feel comfortable beginning to draft? How does your research continue once you begin writing?

I usually write in tandem with the research. I’m quite comfortable making changes later as I need to. But I think getting to know a character and getting to know her world can happen in tandem, so long as you’re willing to make painful changes if needed. For example, if you reach a point where you realize that your character has attitudes or opinions she couldn’t possibly have had at that place and time, you have to be willing to perform radical character surgery. But that said, I find that I can hum along on both tracks. Writing a rough first draft as I research helps me focus my inquiries onto things I actually need to know.

What is your favorite thing about research?

Oh, I could just stay right in the research rabbit-hole and never come out. I love, love, love the learning. At first, all the strange names and places are generally bewildering. Most complex historical texts will introduce you to a long list of players in the drama of the past, and it’s a lot to keep track of. In my last book, just about every man, no lie, was named Raimon. “Everyone’s Named Raymond,” basically. So the magic, for me, is when I’ve studied enough and taken enough notes to reach the point where it’s all clicking. I remember who’s who and where’s where and why it all matters. When I can coherently explain it to someone else in detail, then I know I’m ready to make a good story with it. It feels terrific to reach the peak of that mountain.

What are some obstacles writing historical fiction brings?

The pill that was hardest for me to swallow, but most necessary, is accepting that fact that no matter how hard I work to be accurate, I can’t ever be fully accurate in my depiction of the past. This is because, no matter how I try to understand their world, their beliefs, their cultural context, I can’t stop myself from being someone who looks at it from the anachronistic perspective of their future. I am looking back. I know how their story ends. And I’m a child of a different planet, so to speak. The past is a country I’ve never visited, nor can I. Even the most devotedly researched book remains a work of artifice, of pretend, of illusion. So, in a sense, the hardest part of this job is that you know from the get-go that you’ll fail. Art comes into play as you accept those limitations and reach toward the ideal of truth, beautifully if possible, anyway.

What’s one of the most interesting things you’ve learned while researching?

Stuff that’s generally unprintable. 😉

Why is historical fiction important?

I’m not sure how many people would ever decide to study the past, preserve it for future generations, and distill what it has to teach us, if they didn’t learn to care about it, somewhere along the line. I think historical fiction, especially the highest quality historical fiction for young readers, helps link young minds to the past through the caring they come to feel for real and fictitious characters, now dead. The hallmark of good fiction is how it tells the truth and enables empathy. By pointing that understanding and caring toward the past, we help young people – not just the future historians, but future thinkers of every kind – see themselves as heirs of a tremendous legacy and the forebears of a hopeful future. In other words, as a part of, but not the center of, humanity.

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The post Straight From the Source: Julie Berry on Writing Historical Fiction originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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23. On Writing

red skies

We want to be great — immediately great — but that’s not how creativity works. It is an awkward, tentative, even embarrassing process. There will be many times when we won’t look good — to ourselves or anyone else. We need to stop demanding that we do. It is impossible to get better and look good at the same time.
— Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way

 

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24. Tinker, Breathe, Create, Play

DSC_0966

I’ve written often about Valerie Geary around here, my critique partner I met when we both started blogging in 2009. We’ve seen each other through a number of manuscripts, a million emails about the writing life, and one glorious writing retreat that included mid-morning runs, lots of good conversation, and a bottle of wine I received when May B. sold (thanks, Helen Theriot!).

I don’t know how I’d keep chugging away without friends who understand this weird and wonderful process, who encourage me when I need it and let me do the same.

Here’s a recent exchange:

me: I’m tinkering with the new book. Very slowly. Long hand and then some typing. Two and a half hours gave me something like 200 words.

Val: Keep tinkering, friend. No rush, no urgency. Breathe, find small moments to create. These first few steps are so small and feel like they take us nowhere, but they are important to building a book. We’ll take bigger steps later on down the road. For now…play.

 

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25. Leave space for the reader to contribute

airplane view

There is a much overlooked element in picture books – the white space. The designer looks after this. This is the space in which the child readers make their own interpretations. A room crammed with furniture is not inviting. Nor is a book too full of words and pictures. Leave space for the reader to contribute. This will foster literacy of both kinds in the child, the visual and the verbal. It will also actively engage and stimulate the imagination.
-Joyce Dunbar

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