Monday, May 31, 2010

Happy Memorial Day! Summer is here!

Ah, summer is finally here. The birds are chirping, the lawn is growing, and the computer is humming along. It's time to write!

This is not to say that I don't write during the school year; it's just harder. Christine and I have opposite lives. During the school year, her kids (most of them) are trundled off to school and she is able to breath a sigh in the residual peace and quiet, sitting down to a nice cup of tea and her cozy writing chair to knock out her epic fantasy. During the summer, they're all home. Yikes! So much for peace and quiet.

Not so for me. During the school year I home school. Every day starts early and is filled with work. It doesn't wind down until late at night by which time I am tired. Unfortunately, dregs of the day don't produce the best writing. They're a little like the coffee grounds in the bottom of the pot.

To fix this problem, I've been adjusting my writing time to squeeze it out earlier in the day. It's harder, but produces better material. During the summer, though, I'm excited because finding writing time becomes easier.

Hurray! Summer is almost here!

Monday, May 24, 2010


I loved Christine's post last week. I felt like I was on the walk with her, hearing the gravel crunch under the stroller. She talked about opening our senses (not just our eyes) to the world around us. Seems kind of basic, but what a great idea. I think as a general rule, people get comfortable in their everyday space and forget to pay attention to what's around them unless something new pops up. If you're a writer, you've got to live an observant life. You can't afford to become deadened to the details that are around you.

When I was in high school, I had a science teacher named Mr. Jurgenson. Since it was a small school, I was fortunate to have Mr. J for general science, Physics, Chemistry, and all my computer science classes. The first day we walked into his class, he had written "OBSRVE" on the blackboard. We snickered quietly to ourselves, wondering if he realized he had spelled the word incorrectly. Of course he had. He told us that the main thing we were going to learn in science was to observe. If we were somewhat observant, we might have noticed that the "E" was missing. If we were a little more observant, we would have noticed that the small "E" to the right at the front of the room. But then Mr. J walked all the way to the back of the room behind our desks. There in the very back on the wall was a small letter "E" by the clock. If we were exceptionally observant, we would have noticed that one little letter at the back of the room.

Most of us did figure it out. We all thought we were pretty smart to find the "E" at the front of the room. But if you're livelihood depends on your ability to absorb and recreate details of the senses, you're going to have to stretch yourself every day to be the person who finds the "E" at the back of the room.

This week challenge yourself, just as Christine said, to open your senses. Share something that was there all along, but that you opened yourself up to experience.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Or Should It Be... The Last Gasp?

Just kidding.

When writing, it seems like the last draft could be your last gasp. Unlike at the beginning of the project when you are full of energy and creative crackles, the later stages of re-writing take more dedication and willpower. Writing a full-length novel or screenplay is like running a marathon. You have to pace yourself. This is where your running buddies (also known as your writers' group) help. We run together, encourage each other when one of us lags behind, challenge each other to sprint occasionally, and celebrate the little victories along the way.

Then, when you cross the finish line of completion - it won't be your last gasp!

Beth, Christine, Clarissa, Briana - YOU ARE THE BEST!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Awaken the Senses

Today the sun was shining and the temperature, pleasant. I helped my sister out by taking my almost 11 month old nephew for a walk with my five-year-old son. What a day for it!

As I walked I opened my senses. I could hear distant sounds of a highway miles away. The wind whipped through my hair and I felt the warmth of the sun upon my face. I closed my eyes. It sounded as if I were in a bird sanctuary. I heard the call of a red winged black bird ahead to my left as well as many others I cannot name. The pleasing songs filled my ears. I could smell the sweet sent of clover flowers nearby. I opened my eyes. There they were to my right and left. I would never have noticed them if I had not opened my senses. I heard the crunch of the stroller wheels as it rode over pebbles, and the scuffing of my five-year-olds feet upon the pavement we treed on behind me. He was getting tired of walking.

I have learned that as a writer, you must become more aware of your surroundings. The sights, the smells, the sounds. Awaken your senses and take everything in so you can paint a picture of the experience to the reader. When I read a novel I love to feel as if I am there. Taste, smell, and see it all before me. It opens up another dimension. You escape for those moments as your eyes devour the pages. What a wonderful adventure!

Creating with the written word is a wonderful gift writers can give to others. That is how I want to view it when I write. Do I want to give humor? Love? Mystery? Suspense? Something someone can hold in their hands and be transformed to another time and place.

Monday, May 17, 2010

How Badly Do You Want the Carrot?

Remember the idea that you could get a donkey to keep pulling a cart because there was someone holding a carrot out in front of his nose? He really wanted that carrot, dangling juicy and orange in front of him, so he'd keep on trying to get to where the carrot was.

The writing life bears unnerving resemblances to the donkey and the carrot. Publication is like the big, juicy carrot right in front of your nose. You, the writer, get to be You keep on plodding along after that carrot, day in and day out, sometimes getting a nibble, sometimes a big crunch, but you keep going. You feel like the journey is stupid and pointless. You have nothing but paper cuts, carpel tunnel, and postal bills to show for your hard work. There is no guarantee you'll ever make a dime. At this point, it feels like by now you could have made a mint flipping burgers at McDonald's instead.

Yet the carrot drives you on.

I was reading Randy Ingermanson's excellent monthly e-zine, and he addressed the issue of success in writing. Scads of people think about writing a book. Fewer attempt it, concluding thinking about it isn't quite enough. Fewer still stick with it long enough to finish the first draft, and very few make it to the final round of publication. This month Randy's e-zine was particular helpful in reminding a writer that if he wants to succeed, he's going to have to schedule time to succeed. So the next question is, how much time?

In order to acquire a level of expertise in an area, you study in college for four years at least. Writing is the same. Do not feel bad if you've been writing and studying for a couple of years and don't think you have anything to show for it. You do. You have information you didn't have before, plus experience. The only way to become a better writer is to read, write, and study. If you commit to doing these things consistently, you're going to improve. The people who give up don't get the diploma at the end of college, so don't give up.

Reflect on this when you feel like giving up. Randy Ingermanson said an editor once told him that 90 percent of success comes from just showing up. This is very true. If you just keep showing up, day after day, you will get better. Randy kindly quantified this time commitment for writers by saying that it takes about 2000 hours of work for a writer to develop his craft and a minimum of 10 hours a week to write a book in a year. (I'm assuming he's including rewriting in that 10 per week, because that's close to what I put in when I wrote a 50,000 word novel during Nanowrimo, and it took me just over three weeks for the first draft.) Everyone writes lousy first drafts, by the way, so give yourself permission to be lousy with the best of them. As James Scott Bell says, everything can be fixed, so fix it. That's what second, third, fourth, etc. drafts are for. But give yourself time. It takes time to learn a craft.

In the end, it comes down to how badly you want the carrot. Are you willing to set aside the time it takes to write at least ten hours a week so you can improve steadily? Are you willing to keep moving when you receive multiple rejections from agents and publishers? Are you willing to study so that you don't make the same mistakes over and over, trapped forever in the slush pile? Are you teachable? Are you willing to sacrifice even when there are no promises?

If the answer to all of these is yes, don't lose heart. The carrot will never really go away, because each success brings new challenges. Sad secret for you: no one ever arrives. But at least that carrot won't be hanging in pristine beauty anymore. It'll have some nice-sized chunks taken out of it because you wouldn't quit.

So get out there and get that carrot!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

A Kinder Friendlier Publisher

I read today about a publisher in Naperville, IL that will be reading and critiquing writers' submissions. The company, Sourcebooks, has publilshed a book called Publish This Book by Stephen Markley. Purchasers of the book may follow Sourcebooks' guidelines and have until June 9, 2010 to email their submissions in. Sourcebooks makes it clear that they will not necessarily publish any of these submissions, but they promise to provide a thoughtful critique within 2-6 months.

What a great gesture on the part of this publisher! And what an interesting way to sell a book!

Disclaimer: I have not received any gifts or financial incentive to recommend this book or publisher!

My Turn to Write

It is my day to write so I write. Even though I feel as if I cannot come up with a topic of interest or any deep meaningful thought. Here I go anyway. Are you happy Beth? :)

I am still involved in the task of rewriting my young adult novel. What a process it is but I am enjoying it every step of the way. Well, I suppose that is not entirely true. Chapter four (as I informed my wonderful writing group) was a chapter I just wanted to throw away and start all over again. It held no intrigue, no draw or wow. So thanks to the aid of the extraordinary women in my group I have a new idea. I am truly blessed! What do writer's do when they do not have a company of people to bounce idea's off of or tell them, "hey, that really stinks." Not that this happens.

Beth, you really know the craft. I have learned so many things from you in the "how's" of writing. You are such an inspiration to us all to dig in and learn more. Laura, your "passion for great storytelling" really comes through in all your insight. Clarrissa, you are encouraging and look at things in such a unique way. And Briana, (we miss you) you are so pure and so genuine and give such thought to what you say.

So there you have it. I want to add one last thing. The ability to create a great story comes from the Creator Himself. I never sit to write without acknowledging his presence and his hand on all I do. My scripture that I meditate on whenever I venture to create a story is-

Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and your plans will succeed. Proverbs 16:3 NIV

Commit your works to the Lord, And your thoughts will be established. Proverbs 16:3 NKJV

Happy writing!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Update: Nothing Epic

Just an update. Still on the agent trail. I feel good about the manuscripts I'm using for this, so I hope they meet success eventually, especially since Magination Press did like the first so well. More updates as we go on.

In the mean time, here are a few reading picks that young readers might enjoy:

• Seven Professors of the Far North
• I, Freddy
• The Land of Sokmunster

As you can see, I've been reading some pretty deep stuff.

Children's Book Review: Roland Wright Future Knight

Having grown up as the youngest, trying to keep up with or exceed the exploits of my older three brothers, I felt for Roland's plight in Roland Wright Future Knight.

For Roland Wright, dreaming of being a knight is an impossible dream since he's just a little guy whose dad is a craftsman. Craftsman's kids never get to be knights. Never ever ever. But when Roland's dad designs a superior suit of armor that saves the king's life in battle, Roland learns that the reward is that either he or his brother will be allowed to become a page, the first step to knighthood.

Since older brother Shelby has never expressed an interest in becoming a knight, Roland is certain he will be chosen. The dream that seemed impossible will finally become reality. His hopes are squelched when Shelby declares that he as the older son will be the page that lives in the castle, while Roland will live out his days as a nobody building suits of armor. Roland's wise father steps in and declares a contest to find who will become the future knight and who will become the future armorer.

Tony Davis has created a character worth rooting for in Roland. Boys will love the action of sword fights and humor (mostly in the form of Roland's pet mouse). I loved the clever contests devised by Roland's father which revealed not only the physical strength and agility of the boys, but also their character and compassion. The outcome is close, but I won't tell you who the victor is. (Not even if you throw me in the dungeon.)

If you get a chance to pick it up in the bookstore or at your local library, I hope you enjoy sharing Roland Wright Future Knight with your middle-grade readers as you discover together what it takes to truly be a victor.

Monday, May 3, 2010

The Writing Arsenal: The Subconscious Mind

Everyone has one. It just rides around with you all day and surfaces when you're sleeping to give you weird dreams.

No, I am not talking about the salami sandwich you had for lunch. I'm talking about your subconscious! For the average Joe on the street, it's an unused organ, like an appendix or gall bladder. But for a writer...oo la la! A veritable treasure trove of possibility awaits the person who taps into what it has to offer. But how, pray tell, does one tap in? Relax.

No, that's how you tap in. You relax. The time of day when I am most relaxed is in the morning after I wake up. As I get prepared for the day, I pray, read my Bible, and let my mind wander. This is when I get my best writing ideas. The other time, which is not nearly as productive because I'm worn out is when I'm falling asleep at night.

What do those two times have in common?
• Relaxed state of mind
• No outer demands being placed on my brain (communication, problem solving, saving the world, organizing the silverware drawer, etc.)

It seems to me that life gets awful busy sometimes. There are days that I look back, finally standing as a willing victim at the precipice of sleep, only to find I haven't written a single word for the day. Mondays are like that. Mondays are simply not my own from beginning to end, and there's very little I can do about it. Of course any writer will tell you that's bad. Writing takes daily commitment, and you should have a word quota which you fill every day, rain or shine, no matter what. But on Mondays there's just not enough time in the day for all the activities that have to be completed. The result is that the only writing I will get done on Mondays will come in the form of creating scene cards which go everywhere with me and journaling at the end of the day.

Since Mondays do have a beginning and end, however, it means there are at least two times for neutral brain activity so I can relax and reap from my subconscious plot/character/dialogue builder.

What are your best ideas for creating a relaxed situation which allows you to use your subconscious to get creative and problem solve. Do you take a walk? Hang laundry? Take a day at the spa? When do you feel most creative? Where are you when the best ideas come to you?