Tuesday, December 20, 2011

There is life after Nanowrimo

Check out the link at the end of this post for a great book giveaway over at Write Now! Coach blog.

This year I completed my third Nanowrimo novel. It was definitely a different experience from the last two years.

The first year I flew by the seat of my pants and went in with only a vague idea that I thought would be fun to write about. At that time, I was writing primarily picture books anyway, so it was a good exercise in daily writing. Exhilarated by the competition of my writing group and family, I plowed through and finished with days to spare.

The second year, I decided to write a book for my mom about my grandmother's childhood. It wasn't a great work of literature, and I had to fill in many huge gaps of what we didn't know with my own imagination, but although harder to finish, it was a good exercise in writing and I still finished early.

This year, however, I wanted channel my Nanowrimo effort down more productive paths, but I found the way far from clear.

Having been working on a sci-fi historical fiction MG for more than a year, I decided to write the sequel for it. I wrote scene cards and a rough outline in preparation, wishing I had used Nanowrimo with the first book which was still a work in progress. On day one, I began to pound the keys. By day two, I wanted to quit.

It wasn't that I found the writing so hard. I had my general guideline. I just didn't feel like writing this year. Life in general was pressing on me, and I struggled to keep up. It got worse as I went along, because I wasn't getting enough sleep. By the end of the month I had picked up some virus and was also sick. I assessed. Brain and fingers were still functioning; therefore, I must keep on writing. I cotinued slogging along until I gasped across the 50k mark just in time on the last day of November.

Why was it so hard this year? I'm not really sure. It just was. But now that we're into December, life looks happier. My body is over that awful virus. I've had some good nights of sleep and made it through our big December events. I have over 50k of my sequel rough draft done (although not quite the ending) and I have caught up with other stuff moderately well.

Yes, there is life after Nanowrimo. In fact, it's a wonderful life. Have you found it to be true as well?

: )

Merry Christmas!

P.S. If you're looking forward to making the New Year a profitable one as a writer, swing by the Write Now! Coach Blog for a book giveaway bonanza.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Endings and beginnings: the full circle of writing

You might be looking at the title to this post and thinking, isn't it supposed to be beginnings and endings? Don't beginnings come first? They do. I guess I'm thinking of endings and beginnings right now because I just finished Nanowrimo 2011. It's the ending of a month which has been filled with pushing myself to write beyond my comfort level.

But it's also the beginning of a lot of things, like beginning the next level of editing this new novel as well as beginning some new picture books based on my best PiBoIdMo ideas. The ending of one thing always marks the beginning of something else.

How about you? Were you one of the 230,000 Nanowrimo writers this year? Were you one of the hundreds of PiBoIdMo writers? What endings and beginnings are you experiencing in your writing life this month?

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Why November is a crazy busy month

We had a great Thanksgiving. I loved going home for the holiday, which happens to be my favorite. I loved watching the Packers beat the Lions. I loved playing Scrabble and Chinese checkers with my mom and kids. It was just an all-around great few days. An ideal Thanksgiving weekend (except for a very bad cold).

I think I like Thanksgiving best as a holiday because, other than the food logistics, it's a restful holiday during which we take time to remember God's goodness and thank Him for it. Even though it is followed by the potentially stressful Black Friday, this year I stayed in bed and didn't even acknowledge Black Friday's existence other than to request my husband pick up a couple of things for me while he was out.

However, November as a whole has not been stress-free. This month is Nanowrimo. Also, it's PiBoIdMo. Also, I made it into the panel for the First Five Pages Workshop on the Adventures in YA and Children's Publishing site. Also, Examiner.com has been reminding me to submit faithfully.

Then, on top of my normally busy life, I got really sick.

So as November ends, I'm making some quality decisions. I do not plan (at this time) to participate in Nanowrimo next year. It was too hard on both myself and my family. Burning the candle at both ends resulted in becoming sick. I will not do that again. I do plan (at this time) to be part of PiBoIdMo. It's not overwhelming to come up with 30 picture book ideas during the month, and these ideas make great springboards for the following year. I'd also like to use this coming year to finish and polish my two novels and work on some nonfiction ideas for picture books.

So what are your plans for 2011?

Monday, November 7, 2011

Nanowrimo day 7: on the front lines

Nanowrimo day 7 is almost at an end. At this point, we are almost one fourth of the way through the month, and, hopefully, that far through our 50k word goal. Personally, I hit some snags this weekend. Besides housing and feeding ten teenagers (in addition to my own) and a couple of chaperones at my house this weekend, I had to catch up with grading and life in general. I wouldn't have missed a bit of it, but I did have to sacrifice a little of the word quota buffer I'd built up because I was so tired. 

As a result, I am 700 words behind my absolute minimum for today and 2800 words behind my aggressive goal. 

How about you? Where are you in your Nanowrimo journey? 

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Vote on my Nanonovel cover

Just for kicks, here are some of my Nanonovel covers for this year's book. Vote for the one you like the best.

Choice A

Choice B

Nanowrimo day 3

It's day three of the writing event of the year (at least for me) which is known as Nanowrimo.

Here's my take on it right now: I already feel like quitting. (Not that I would, you understand. I'll make it to the 50k unless something bizarre happens.) And it's not that I'm discouraged. Mostly it's just that I'm lazy. I'm tired because I've been taking from sleep time to keep my word quota going, but that won't last much longer. At some point, I'll have to get a decent night's sleep.

So forgive me if this is short. I'm over 3400 words and am hoping to add another 2k to it today.

Happy writing.

Saturday, October 29, 2011


Sometimes the only cure for stress is to escape it. And I do that by writing fiction. In fact, I am looking forward to NANOWRIMO - the frenzied month of November where participants eat, sleep and breathe 50,000 words in 30 days and live in a world of their own creation. In pleasant anticipation, I have created my book cover, which I present here (ta da!).

Monday, October 24, 2011

It's time for PiBoIdMo in November

As if there wasn't enough going on in November, I just wanted to remind you that it's also PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month). That means that you come up with a picture book idea every single day of the month of November. It's a lot easier than Nanowrimo, and it's absolutely FUN! Stop by Tara Lazar's blog to get the lowdown and sign up. (Here's extra incentive: there will be prizes!)

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Everyone likes a good mystery

Most authors, at least the ones on the wrong end of the slushpile, often feel like the publishing industry is a vast mystery. They stand at one end, clutching their manuscripts and hoping against hope that an editor will fish them out of the slushpile only to declare, "Eureka! I love this book!"

On the other end are the editors, agents, and publishing professionals who stand at the door of the publishing arena. Except for the self-published writers, they act as gatekeepers, and they're a tough bunch to get past. They have to be. Their own livings ride on their abilities to choose literary winners. For them it's about the bottom line, the connection of art to money. Not an easy spot to be in.

If you are one of the few who has made it for the first time into the hallowed halls of publication (meaning that an editor has verified your existence by making you an offer), you may have responded with all the confidence of a deer in the headlights of a Mack truck intent on making venison sausage. What on earth do you do now?

Aaron Shepard's invaluable pink book The Business of Writing for Children brings the formerly unpublished writer up to speed in less than 100 pages. It covers everything from how to submit to what you should look for in your contract to what you can expect in the publishing process. After taking a zip through it, I highly recommend it. Why?

Because although everyone likes a good mystery, your path to publication shouldn't be one.

Source of review copy: Gail Borden Public Library

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Poetry Contest

Everyone loves a little contest (or at least the prizes that go with it) so click on the link to find out more about the Children's Writer Poetry or Verse Story Writing Contest. Entries are due by October 31st, so you're not too late to enter if you get to it.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Dealing with the inner editor

As usual, the inner editor barged into my office without bothering to knock. Her heals clicked a demanading staccato across the floor. Stopping in front of my desk, she crossed her arms, staring down her nose at me, out of her oppressive black-rimmed reading glasses. "I heard all about it, you know."

I sighed and pushed back the stack of scene cards I was working on. "Heard what?"

"It's all over the office." She put both hands on my desk, fire-engine red nail polish glinting in the light from the window, and looked me right in the eyes. "Let's just get this straight. If you think you can lure me away this year to Acapulco for the thirty days of Nanowrimo, guess again. I'm going to be in your head every step of the way."

"I have no intention of luring you to Acapulco or anywhere else."

Her eyes narrowed. "Oh?"

"I might lock you in a closet, though."

She stood up and folded her arms over her chest again. "Ha! I knew it."

I laughed. "I'm just kidding. I'm not going to lock you in a closet. Actually, I have a very important assignment for you during Nanowrimo."

"Like what?" The freshly sharpened number two pencils crammed in her bun quivered like literary antennae.

"I'm officially putting you in charge of my word quota. It will be your job to crack the whip and make sure I'm keeping up during Nano. Also, I've got some posts that I'd like you to work on so I can keep blog followers updated on what I'm doing."

"It doesn't sound very challenging. It's not like real editing."

"Perhaps not, but you'll get your chance to do the real thing in December. I want you rested for what I'm sure will be a tremendous amount of revision."

The inner editor hesitated. "I get to crack the whip?"


"Well, okay. Just as long as you understand that I'm really the one in charge."

"You're the one in charge."

She turned and strode to the door, but paused before she went out. "Do I get a real whip?"

"It's more of a figurative whip, but just as effective in a literary sense."

Her brow furrowed. "I'll give it some thought." She pulled the door shut behind her.

I picked up the receiver on my phone. "United? How much is a one-way ticket to Tahiti at the beginning of November? Yeah, just one...Is it for the inner editor? No way. She's got too much work to do to travel in November." I grinned. "This one's for me."

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Remember the Inner Editor?

For those of you who missed this post last year, I don't want to unearth any unpleasant memories of dealings with your own inner editor, but it might help you understand the upcoming posts about this sometimes unpleasant character and how you can handle her during Nanowrimo.

Framed by the inner editor

I don't entirely believe in writer's block. I know you hear about it all the time, and to be honest, I've been stuck on chapter seven for a couple of weeks now, but I still don't believe in writer's block.

What I do believe in is inner editor block. Perhaps a better term for it would be creative constipation. I figured it out late last night as I finally got past the problem I was having with chapter seven.

The writer in me was knocking out the story in a pages document. She was excited because she had finally gotten past awful chapter seven and was in the zone, happy and oblivious. Then she heard a knock at the door. Not knowing better—the writer never seems to learn—she innocently opened the door with a smile on her face.

Standing before her was the inner editor in disguise, wearing one of those fake Groucho Marx glasses-nose-and-mustache numbers to hide her true identity. The writer recognized her anyway. Her hair was pulled back into a tight bun like it always is, and she had twelve yellow number two pencils sticking out of it like an academic porcupine. She peered over the reading glasses sitting on the tip of her nose and tapped a carefully manicured fire-engine red finger nail on her cold curving smile.

"I can't believe you wrote this," she said with an unpleasant snicker.

The writer looked confused. She had had to pull herself out of the story-world she had been in and back to reality to open the door, and she wasn't quite up to the reality of the inner editor just yet. "What do you mean?"

The inner editor sashayed over to the computer and pointed a long accusing finger. "This! I mean, apart from the obvious grammatical mistakes, it just doesn't flow. What were you thinking?"

The writer shrank under the inner editor's hard gaze. The inner editor pressed her advantage.

"There's no way you can go any further until you get this thing fixed. Furthermore, as penance, you're going to have to go back and rewrite every chapter you've completed so far at least ten times until I'm satisfied." She leaned against the desk, shaking her head sorrowfully. "Don't think you can get any substandard writing past me. I saw the notes you made about chapters eight and nine, too. The plot is implausible, the characters shallow, and the dialogue ridiculous. I doubt it's worth putting it down on paper. I'm thinking we need to junk this whole project and start from scratch."

The writer's eyes glazed over. She was almost completely paralyzed, caught in the evil clutches of the inner editor.

"And don't think you can blame me for any of this drivel. It's all your fault. You're the writer, after all." The inner editor smirked.

The writer shook herself, a spark appearing in her eyes. "Hey," she said, "that's right. I am the writer."

The inner editor flinched. Maybe she had gone a tad too far. "Now, now. I didn't mean you were in charge, or anything crazy like that. You need me, or you wouldn't ever produce a polished manuscript." She edged toward the door, but she wasn't quick enough. The writer grabbed her by the collar and gave her a quick shove into the hallway. The editor stumbled away, trying to regain her footing. "Hey! That is no way to treat your inner editor!"

"Too late." The writer was back in control. "When human resources sends you to Acapulco because you're a pest, you need to stay there until I ask for your help during rewrites." The writer began to shut the door, but paused for a moment. "Oh, and by the way. No one is going to pin writer's block on me when you're really the culprit. Scram!"

The inner editor scurried down the hallway, picking up the number two pencils that had worked loose from her bun. The writer shut the door and dusted her hands, taking a deep breath. It felt good to be free of the inner editor. She sat down at the keyboard, fingers poised for only a moment before they began to tap the keys.

As I shook water droplets off my arms, I ran into Jan, who had stopped abruptly in front of me. She gave a strangled cry...

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

No one plans to fail

It is October, and Nanowrimo is more than a shadow on the horizon by this time. The clock is tangibly counting down for the final days before we throw ourselves into the creative maelstrom of writing an entire 50,000 word book in a month.

There's nothing quite like it, and I have no regrets for the past two years that I have done it. Nanowrimo forces me to do what I otherwise find so difficult to do alone: write an entire novel quickly.

Still, even after two completions well before their due dates, I still feel a tremor as adrenaline shoots through my veins when November draws near. Will I make it this year? Will I give it up during the hard second week (usually when I and many other writers feel most like quitting). As a mom with so much going on, I can't depend on life cooperating with me to make it easy. Then I take a deep breath and remind myself: since when has writing ever been easy?

As the saying goes, no one plans to fail, but many fail to plan. Not wanting to fail, I'm putting together my Nano game plan now that it's October.

1. Get everything that can be completed in advance finished

This means keeping up with grading for our home school, preparing materials my kids will need for classes in November, and making sure our home is in as much order as I can make it. At church, it means getting my department's assignments out well in advance so we're ready to roll and I don't have to do a lot of paperwork that month. So far so good. I think I can commit to that.

2. Making scene cards for my book

Up to the point where I read James Scott Bell's books, I was a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants writer. I didn't outline. I just sat down and let 'er rip. Bell's books helped me a lot because he suggested a compromise with scene cards. Although I found outlines incredibly restrictive, I found scene cards very helpful. I could easily move them around, throw them out, or insert more.

So I've been working on scene cards, and I probably have more than half of them ready for Nanowrimo. It should make a difference, since I do not intend to waste a moment getting stuck in a dead end that I could not have foreseen.

3. Recruiting a support team

Writing is an isolating activity. The whole fun of Nanowrimo is that you write with other writers. Sure, you're all writing during the rest of the year, too, but it's not the same as a formal event with a common deadline and planned events where you get together to knock out your first draft. The more friends I can recruit to participate, the better I will do, because it's more fun writing with other people than writing alone. Perhaps it comes from being in the same boat.

4. Making sure my family is ready

The first year I did Nano, our entire family wrote for it too. I was proud of them. They aren't all writers, but they did it for me. We had fun, and every one of us finished. This year I might be the only one, but they understand what I'll be going through, and I'm hoping they will help me by taking care of extra tasks that I normally would do myself.

5. Setting my face like flint and keeping it in perspective

Commitment is not a popular thing nowadays, but I know that once I commit to this, I am going to do it. No matter what. No looking back. Even so, I would let it go if a family emergency meant there was no way I could finish. I am the only mom my kids have, after all. I'll do my best, but I'm going to keep it in perspective.

Have you ever participated in Nanowrimo? If so, what was your experience? Are you going to do it this year, too? What's your plan to get through?

See you at the finish line. : )

Monday, September 26, 2011

Awesome contest over at K.M. Weiland's

There are some things that are so good you want to share them. This week on K.M. Weiland's site, she's got a great contest going. If you haven't been there already, please stop by and pick up a copy of her new book Outlining Your Novel, available on Kindle, Nook, or in regular book form. It's a very timely release, considering that Nanowrimo is practically upon us. Stop by and join the fun!

: ) Beth

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Tips from a writing pro (not me)

I recently won a book from K. M. Weiland, and when I received it in the mail, I noticed it was accompanied by a bonus: a bookmark.

This pleased me, because I use (and lose) many bookmarks. Most are mine of the homemade variety derived from small adhesive notes, but I am open to using "real" bookmarks as well. K. M.'s bookmark put mine to shame, and it had such great advice on it, I wanted to share it with you.

Here are K.M. Weiland's 10 Habits of Successful Authors as found on her bookmark (but minus her extra comments). For more tips on writing and the chance to win (or buy) your own spectacular bookmark, visit her website. She's made it her business to educate writers, in addition to writing her own books, and it's a happy writer who benefits from her generosity.

K.M. Weiland's 10 Habits of Successful Authors (with my thoughts added)

1. Write every day

At first I felt a little condemned by this one until I realized that I do this. I write constantly—it's just not always on my WIP middle grade sci-fi book. I am, however, trying to make sure I work on that every day as well.

2. Complete stories

Most of my stories are completed, but as my kids will tell you, they were frustrated to get to the end of my Nanonovel from two years ago and find out that, although I had typed a tidy 50k, I had failed to include an ending. Oops. I'll have to fix that.

3. Learn the rules

I have learned the rules of writing. I am learning the rules of writing. I will be learning the rules of writing. (Probably for the rest of my life.)

4. Break the rules

Hard for me, since I'm still trying to follow the rules. I'll leave this one to the experts for now and play it safe until I'm more confident as a writer.

5. Create your own inspiration

I find my best inspirations come while I'm daydreaming in the morning before the day gets going. My brain is so engaged during the rest of the day that there's no room left for anything else, sadly.

6. Don't slack on the hard stuff

By this, K. M. meant that you have to do the hard work of writing as well as the fun, creative part. Harder things would include research and editing. She's right. You'll look like a unprofessional yo-yo if you don't take the time to learn your craft so that you can tell a story accurately as well as effectively.

7. Follow your heart, not the market

I hear this a lot, and I suppose it's true. You have to write first for yourself. If it doesn't jive with the market, too bad. You can only write what you have in you to write. (But here's a secret that I believe in: excellent writing makes a place for itself in the market.)

8. Develop a thick skin

No kidding. You're going to have to be teachable. There are over six billion people on this planet. If even half of them liked your work, it would probably be a miracle, but that would still leave over three billion who "rejected" it. Many will be editors and agents who know what they're doing when it comes to the written word. You'll have two choices when criticism comes your way. You can shrivel and collapse over a quart of double chocolate fudge ice cream, or you can listen, consider, and proceed.

9. Set your stories free

When you're done, be done. Enough said.

10. Love what you do

...or find something else to do. Honestly, I can't imagine a person who would write if they didn't love it, because it's a ton of work and a mostly thankless occupation.

So there you have them: K. M.'s top ten habits that will do all that is possible to make you a successful writer. I would only add that you read lots of books in your genre, study writing books continually, go to conferences when you can afford it, and read James Scott Bell's book Plot and Structure. Please understand these are additions to the list, not replacements for K. M.'s top ten. Do those first. Then the others, too.

Happy writing!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Finding Eden

"Eden is that old-fashioned house
      we dwell in every day
Without suspecting our abode
      until we drive away."

—Emily Dickinson

I have a friend who makes facebook posts of comical family blurbs, primarily produced by her own son. As I read yet another gem this morning, this time because the young man in question had stuffed his pants with packing peanuts because he liked the way they crunched when he walked, I considered what a wealth of material this mom was sitting on. She's not a writer, as far as I know, but if she was, she would have to look no further than her own house for excellent ideas. As they say, write what you know.

How about you? As a writer, do you sometimes feel like the greener ideas grow on the other side of the fence? Do you need to take a close look at your own life for the unsuspected writing riches that are right under your nose?

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

When you're so close you can taste it

There are days that I just want to give up, because it's very frustrating to come close to what you deem as success but miss the mark. These are the things that I think about to encourage myself so that I will keep on trying:

• I have a working computer which makes the act of writing easy. Even when I don't feel like it, I need to take advantage of the opportunity I have to write and be grateful for it.

• I've had quite a few personal notes from agents and editors. Even if they don't represent me or buy my work, it's important to realize that it means I'm at least on the right track when a busy publishing professional takes a moment to encourage me.

• Writing is work, but it's also fun. Even if no one ever buys my book, I'm glad that my fourteen-year-old son can't wait for me to complete the next chapter, even in rough draft form.

• I have a circle of writing friends who continually challenge me to improve my writing ability. They cheer for me when I achieve my goals and rally around me when I don't.

• I remember that writers such as Les Edgerton and James Scott Bell have written great books that I can read and reread. I am so thankful that they share their great knowledge so I can learn more about writing instead of having to find things out the hard way.

What do you do to encourage yourself when you have become frustrated on your writing path?

Monday, September 12, 2011

The best advice from writers

I love quotes by authors. Here are four that I like. You've probably heard them already, since you see them making email rounds occasionally, but they all bear repeating.

"The secret of getting ahead is getting started." —Agatha Christie 

I think I'll put that one up over my computer during Nanowrimo. I might tweak it a bit though and make it something more along the lines of, "The secret of finishing 50,000 words is getting typing."

"Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass." —Anton Chekhov

What a great way to say, "Show, don't tell." Thank you, Anton Chekhov!

"I try to leave out the parts that people skip." —Elmore Leonard

Honestly, I'll be putting them all in during Nanowrimo, but I'll pull them out later. For that one month, it's all about a frantically typed word count, but I am preparing scene cards to keep myself on something of a course through it. (As an aside, my son came up with the most amazing scene suggestion during our brainstorming session. I can't wait to write it.)

"Proofread carefully to see if you any words out." —Author Unknown

Again, an activity for after Nanowrimo, but one that can cause you to tear your hair out if you see a typo after you've sent a query or piece out the door. If your inner editor gets underfoot during the typing frenzy, give her a one-way ticket to Puerto Rico and promise her that she'll get her chance in December.

What are your favorite quotes that you live and write by?

Monday, September 5, 2011

Permission to procrastinate?

In an effort to become a more productive writer (hoping, of course, that it will bleed over into every other area of my life) I've been reading The Productive Writer by Sage Cohen. Today I got to the chapter in which she stated that it's okay to procrastinate a bit while you're writing if you do it productively. Basically, this is her thought process:

• Forcing yourself through tough spots, although highly recommended by most writers, doesn't always work well
• Let yourself procrastinate productively by doing other things that have to be done anyway while your mind works on the writing problems you're facing

I'd like to know if any other writers out there have tried this out. Personally, I've always been of the push-through-and-write-no-matter-what mindset, but I do have days where I just step away and get other work done when I'm thinking about plots, characters, etc. What do you think? Does this have the potential to make you more productive in the long run?

P.S. Only 56 days until Nanowrimo. (No pressure, but the clock is ticking.)

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Nanowrimo, where did you come from?

Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month) is the brainchild of Chris Baty. Thanks to him, hundreds of thousands of writers all over the world throw themselves into the abyss of plot, setting, and character for the month of November. Thanksgiving is hardly a thought in the flurry of typing an average of 1666 2/3 words per day in order to finish the entire 50,000 by midnight of the 30th.

If you haven't done this before, you should. It's a wild ride.

The first Nanowrimo didn't take place in November, but in July of 1999. It was a group of 21 friends who got together and churned out inspired fiction (or other stuff) for the fun of it. There were no rules of any kind. Six of them finished. They all celebrated.

Over the years, word of Nanowrimo spread like wildfire. Authors committed to being part of it faster than the volunteers could keep up with it's stunning growth. By the second year they had become international, much to Chris Baty's surprise. By 2001, year three, there were over 5000 participants, and the web site they had set up couldn't cover the volume.

Each year has brought new challenges to the volunteer staff. They have had to ask for donations (Nanowrimo is not for profit) to cover the costs of the materials and system that supports the writing for the year. Still, only a tiny number of participants actually donate to cover costs. To really bring home how it's evolved, you just have to look at the numbers. Last year, the twelfth year of Nanowrimo, 200,500 writers from all over the world were part of it. Of that number, over 37,000 finished their novels by the 30th. Over the years, a few have even revised their works and found publishing houses for them. Wow.

This year I challenge you to take up the torch and carry it through to the end of Nanowrimo. In the words of Walt Disney, "It's kind of fun to do the impossible." It may be look impossible on this side, but it really isn't (except in your own mind). With a support team of over 200,000 other writers worldwide, some of whom are in your own neighborhood, you have a better chance of fulfilling your dream to write a novel during Nanowrimo than you would on your own. Now is the time to write your story.

To help prepare, I suggest that you register on the Nanowrimo site to receive pep-talks from the Nano people over the next couple of months. Also, you can follow our blog as we give you a blow-by-blow account of our own Nanowrimo preparation. (I'm thinking about doing a day by day post of my own Nanowrimo progress during the month of November.) It isn't going to be easy, I admit, but you can do this.

Please leave a comment and tell me if the idea of writing a novel in a month intrigues you. Are you considering doing it?

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

I'll Fly Away

My novel writing has been going well for the last week. I have been writing down snatches of ideas -- before bed, when I wake up in the middle of the night, or after reading an interesting thought. I've been hanging from cliffs, sliding down chutes, riding in a sleigh, killing giant white cave cobras, and dressing in costumes. But, now I have hit a snag.

I'm most likely going to have to throw out another big ending chunk that I wrote some time ago. On the good news front, if I keep up my momentum, that will not be such a tragedy. On the other hand, I was celebrating that I was up to 42,000 words! Now, just like the Dow, my word count will be plunging.

I had set myself the goal of finishing by end of summer. It's a good thing that summer doesn't end until September 20. And now, on to more adventures ...

Sunday, August 28, 2011

An agent's or editor's dream come true (not)

Dear Agent or Editor:

I have recently had a fabulous idea for a book, and I wanted to share it with you because I'm sure it would be a perfect choice for publication. I'm certain that you're going to go wild over it, because it's a shoo-in as a hit movie. At this point, I'm guessing that there will be multiple printings of the book in addition to the movie deal. Possibly we'll be looking at action figures, because when I ran it by my kids and all their friends, they were absolutely ecstatic.

Before I go into the particulars, I'd like to know what kind of contract I will be looking at for this blockbuster. I'm thinking a five-figure advance would be acceptable, but with the vying that will be taking place on this manuscript, you might want to go with six-figures to insure you're in the running. I've looked into copyrighting my idea, but since I haven't done this yet, I'm sure you'll understand that until I hear from the first publishers or agents to respond, I can't give out the plot details.

I urge you to make your offer quickly and have included my email address so that you can contact me before it's too late. I'm starting the first draft this week.


I. M. Naive

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Can you prepare for Nanowrimo? (68 days and counting)

Some say yes. Some say no.

I'm inclined to agree with them.

To the uninitiated, Nanowrimo is National Novel Writing Month. During Nanowrimo, which takes place in November, writers all over the world sign up on the Nanowrimo site and write a 50,000 word novel in one month. Yes, that's 50,000 words, start to finish. 30 days. For the fastidious among us, it means that you have to daily produce 1666 and two-thirds words every day in order to finish by midnight on November 30th. Each day you get the fun of uploading your word count and seeing what you're friends are doing. If you're the competitive type, this is an excellent opportunity to get the lead out and write like the wind.

Now that you know what the insanity of Nanowrimo is, you might be wondering how you can prepare for this monumental yearly event. Here are some tips that will help you get ready.
  1. Involve your friends, family, and students. (Misery loves company.)
  2. Make a list of people for whom you can offer to do unpleasant and/or embarrassing tasks as penance for not finishing your daily word count. (This is excellent motivation to finish those 1666 2/3 daily words, because no one likes to lose face.)
  3. Make an outline or 3x5 scene cards to help you keep going with creative ideas when you feel like your brain has turned to sludge (usually in the second week).
  4. Make up your mind that even if you can't remember the names of the characters you introduced somewhere in chapter 7 and you have forgotten the original plot, you will keep typing.
  5. Come to grips ahead of time with the fact that it will be a piece of garbage when you're through, but it will be your piece of garbage, and that makes it wonderful!
If you're not the type who looks to the future, I have good news. You can sit down and punch out your word count every day without doing a single thing to prepare beforehand.
There, don't you feel better?

Truly, Nanowrimo is the best of both worlds.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

To podiobook or not to podiobook: that is the question

I recently completed a three-part interview with Mark Jeffrey, CEO of ThisWeekIn. At times when he has not been a CEO, he's been working on an intense sci-fi/magical realism series about a character with Highlander nuances named Max Quick. His first book in the series is out, his second is finished but not out yet, and his third is outlined and he's about to begin writing it. Also, the prospect for Max Quick movies is very big right now.

Where did all this Max Quickness begin? With a free podiobook. Mark Jeffrey didn't want to go with traditional publishing since that would take several years and have no guarantees. He tried self-publishing, but without much success. Eventually an acquaintance recommended free podiobooks. Sure, it wouldn't make anything, but it would get his name out there.

The result? Over a few years, he built a tremendous audience and got over 2.5 million downloads. One of his fans was Abigail Breslin, who mentioned the Max Quick mp3 in an interview. This helped him get a good agent, and the rest is history.

I love success stories like this. An author's life is hard enough just when it comes to normal sales, assuming they can even get published in the first place. Blockbusters like Max Quick is likely to be are rare, especially in children's literature.

What do you think? Is it worth it to podcast your book, even if it means no money at first, or possibly ever? Are you, as an author, willing to try something radically different to rise above the crowd? Are you confident that your writing is strong enough to create a loyal audience base?

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Appeasing the publishing gods

Feverish drum beats echo through the sultry jungle night as natives with torches, like a line of wavering fireflies, make their way up the side of a rumbling volcano. The tropical breezes drift past unnoticed as they climb past trees and around boulders, each clutching a sacrifice to his or her breast.

Finally, as they attain the rim, the reverberation of seismic activity throws them to the ground. Their chief is the first to struggle to his feet.

"My fellow writers!" he thunders to the crowd. "We must appease the publishing gods. Have you your sacrifices?"

As one, they respond with an affirmative cry over the grumbling of the volcano.

"And are they first drafts, unedited and pure in their original form, printed on pastel paper in colored inks so they are sure to gain the attention of an editor?"

"Yes! Yes!"

"Are you certain you have made no attempt whatever to research which publishers might be interested in your genre or type of writing?"


The natives are in a wild frenzy by now, waving their manuscripts over their heads.

"It is time!" shrieks the chief. "Throw your sacrifices into the volcano. The publishing gods must be appeased!"

In a cascade of colorful papers completely lacking sufficiently postaged self-addressed stamped envelopes for return responses, the manuscripts plunge into the fiery depths where they are incinerated before they can touch the molten maelstrom below. A wailing keen fills the darkness as the natives hurry down into their jungle huts.

"Do you think we'll hear anything this time?" one native whispers to his neighbor.

"Absolutely. This time I added a handwritten note about how my kids and wife loved my story. I'm guessing they'll get back to me in less than two weeks. By the way, I'm looking for an illustrator for my picture book. Can you recommend anyone?"

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

If you haven't heard: It's WriteOnCon 2011 right now!

If you haven't heard about it, it's the beginning of WriteOnCon 2011. If you get the chance, head over to their website for this wonderful online conference. Check out the contests that are available for your finished manuscripts or even WIP, too. One of this year's offerings is a free trailer for your manuscript on the Belief Suspenders blog. Check it out!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Learning curve

I'm blogging a day early this week because tomorrow promises to be a busy day. It's supposed to be the first day we start homeschool.

There are probably other schools that will be opening the doors to the hallowed halls of learning tomorrow, but I know that many are not starting until after Labor Day has passed. We tend to start a little early because it enables my kids to have more time for subjects like math. (You can't have too much time to do math.)

For me as a writer, it's different. I thought of this after speaking to a new writer today who was just starting out as a writer for children. I recommended Harold Underdown's book, and then reflected that this young man had many things to learn. The sooner he began his cache of writing knowledge, the better it would be for him. (What was possibly less encouraging was that I had already been at this writing craft thing for years and knew I still had a long way to go.)

It's too bad, but gone is the luxury of trotting off to the school bus stop to be whisked away to an academic paradise where I can study subjects for seven to eight carefully alloted school hours a day. Now there is no beginning or end to my personal school year. Besides this, I have to fight tooth and nail to fit any kind of a study of writing into my normal life.

So here's a thought for you this week. Do you constantly strive to learn more about writing and the publishing industry? Do you struggle to fit it all in, but do you find that, looking back, it's worth the sacrifices you've made to to be a better, educated writer?

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Writers Read... and Listen

I am blessed to be able to have a dedicated daily writing time - although it is occasionally disrupted by having to finish reading a book. The last two books I have read (Rashi's Daughters by Maggie Anton, and Breath by Martha Mason), have helped me greatly with my writing! The first provided great historical insight and the second provided me motivation and inspiration to keep writing!

A few weeks, ago, I had also decided to read poetry to help my writing. I chose a volume of children's poetry. It didn't work. I don't think you can read poetry with that purpose.  I have read some great poetry - most recently by my friend Stuart Card, who writes beautifully about life's challenges and a childhood in Scotland. But, I think poetry's influence is far more ethereal and subconscious -- and indirect.

I have always been a Joni Mitchell fan. I used to sing and play and listen to her music for hours on end. Over the weekend, I rediscovered her again, and what a poet she is! That poetry was implanted in my brain at an early age, and now, I can appreciate the images and stories she told in her poetry and allow that influence in my writing. She truly captured the essence of some interesting characters and the passions of a generation. I have already made some changes in my current project based on some of her musical character sketches.

Sometimes, maybe most of the time, our poetic souls cannot be fed deliberately. They need to graze and ruminate and absorb. Music helps that for me. So does time...

Thursday, August 4, 2011

When life is closing in

I can't give you any philosophical thoughts today, although I have had some recently. School is looming and I'm still trying to catalog my materials from last year while getting ready for the coming year. Somehow, someway, I've got make life work. My mom says that I've got too many things going, and she's probably right, but I hate to give up on any front. (Has any military commander ever been happy to retreat? Of course not.) The real problem is that much of what I do must be done. I've delegated much of our the housecleaning to my children (who need to know how to do laundry, vacuum, and dishes anyway, especially after the domestically helpless roommate I lived with at college), but still, there's a lot left to do in other areas.

At least on the writing front, I'm developing a measure of consistency. I'm not writing tons, but making a little progress each day. That's the name of the game. Step by step.

: ) Have a great week.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Writing in the margins

I read a post by Kristi Holl today called "Overloaded Lives," and it reminded me of a comment by a friend. She said that when she had free time, she liked to just sit and think or dream. She almost seemed embarrassed to admit it. How sad that time to dream has been spurned to such an extent that it's something no one has time for.

Kristi went on further to talk about the importance of keeping our lives from getting away from us—to make sure that we preserve our margins. The margin is where we can dream.

This week, check out your own life. Do you have any margins? Have you overloaded your own life to such an extent that you no longer have quiet places to sit and dream?

Monday, July 11, 2011

Not-so-lazy summer days

Last week we were on vacation, and things were so hectic before and after it that I didn't post. (Hopefully a few of you were on vacation as well so that you didn't notice!) Anyway, I did a bunch of reading and journaling, took lots of photos, and did a little deep thinking about life and projects in general. I didn't solve any world problems, and I'm not sure how I'm going to keep up with my new art lesson gig in addition to what I already do once school starts, but I've got the rest of July to figure it all out.

In the mean time, I hope you all had a happy 4th of July, and that your summer is as glorious and golden as mine has been so far.

In the next few days I'll be posting an interview with the wonderful Paula Yoo, writer for PEOPLE magazine, TV writer and producer, and (last but not least) children's author. Check it out on my Examiner.com page later this week!

: ) Beth

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

What's in a name?

One of my daydreaming enjoyments is thinking up new titles and plot lines. I don't do anything with most of them, but they are good additions to my idea folder. You never know when a title can inspire you to write something that will take off for you. Even though I don't read lots of YA fiction, leaning rather toward lit for the younger ages, I particularly love the trends in contemporary YA titles.

How about you? How do you come up with a plot? Do you think of a title that inspires you, or do you agonize over a title after you've written your story?

Would a rose by any name smell as sweet?

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Why Does Writing Take So Long?

Back in high school and college, the thing I dreaded absolutely the most was lengthy research papers. Theatre and music projects, more structured in nature, brought a faster reward. I finished those on time!

But a long paper?!?!?! Usually on a topic that I did not choose, I half-heartedly researched just enough to create an outline. Then I skated.....  and then didn't look at it until maybe two or three days before the paper was due. And I had to TYPE it on a MANUAL typewriter!  Most of the time, I didn't make the deadline. I must have had favor with my teachers because I think I got an 'A' on every paper despite its lateness. However, that never brought enough satisfaction to motivate me the next time!

Now that I am writing longer works of fiction, those days of one semester deadlines seem wimpy.  Two to three years is not unusual for me to write a screenplay or a novel. I guess that is why NANOWRIMO is so encouraging. I have written a full length novel in a month. That is rewarding! With that success behind me, I now think that with a little more focused attention,  I can get my current project done by the end of summer. Let's see that's 3 months from now, less than a semester. I think I can. I think I can. I think I can...

Friday, June 17, 2011

Borrowed eyes

I have been cleaning house. If this doesn't impress you, it should. My kids all have weekly jobs, meaning that laundry, dishes, vacuuming, and something akin to dusting happens on a semi-regular basis. However, this doesn't mean that the house becomes truly clean. It just doesn't get too far out of hand. But with the coming of summer, I felt it was time to stir myself into deep cleaning/ throw away mode.

It was for this reason that I found myself standing on the back sidewalk sweeping the grass clippings off the back step. After mopping and doing all the work to get the inside of the house in order, I figured I could buy more time by pushing the dirt on the outside as far away from the door as possible. When I turned around, I noticed dirt smudges on the outside of the back door's white surface. How many times had I gone through that door and not noticed them? It looked dingy. It needed to be cleaned. How had I missed it before?

The answer is probably that I've been looking right at it but not seeing it for some time. I had become so used to it that I missed the dirt-inscribed details.

This week I read Creating Characters Kids Will Love by Elaine Marie Alphin, published by Writers Digest Books. While reading the book, you're walked through a process of reaching into your memories that will help you construct more believable characters for books. This is important, because the last thing any kid wants to read (or an editor wants to publish) is a cardboard character with no depth. I found Ms. Alphi's questions valuable because they helped me adjust my vision. I started to look at my memories, at the people and places around me, and I began to focus on them and really see them for a change.

So if you're writing for kids and you want assistance that will help you create 3D characters that jump off the page and into your readers hearts, my reading suggestion this week is Ms. Alphin's book. With her help, you'll be able to borrow the eyes of a child, and your writing will be better for it.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

New this week! Interview with children's author Carolyn Crimi

Every author or illustrator interview is exciting to me, because sharing his or her experiences is encouraging to other children's writers as well as being a gold mine of information. With this in mind, stop by my Examiner.com page today to see the first of a three-part interview with Carolyn Crimi, humorous picture book writer extraordinaire.

Double your encouragement level by clicking on the links below for interviews with other children's authors and illustrators:

Lori Mortensen (author) - Part 2 - Part 3
Tammi Sauer (author) - Part 2
Jeff Mack (author and illustrator) - Part 2 - Part 3
Laura Crawford (author) - Part 2

Have a great day!

Friday, June 10, 2011

When is a prologue okay?

The answer to this question is virtually never.

It's possible I'll get a comment or two listing successful books with prologues, but it doesn't matter. Agents tend not to like prologues, and that's putting it mildly. Sometimes you can bend the rules and make it work, but generally it's better not to when you're trying to break into the challenging world of publishing. In Les Edgerton's book Hooked, which I've been reading this week, he mentioned that prologues are usually unecessary backstory dumps. Ninety-nine percent of the time, you're better off incorporating it into the rest of the book instead.

Of course, I had stuck a prologue on the front end of my middle-grade sci-fi book. If prologues don't show up in adult fiction much, they really don't show up in middle grade. It wasn't really an information dump, since I didn't give the reader much information in it at all. It was just a chunk of action that I hoped would catch the attention of the reader. It helped me get my story moving and define what direction I wanted to pursue. My writing group liked it there, but I'm planning to can it because I believe I'll be able to release that information throughout the story instead.

So back to the original question. Is there any time when a prologue is okay? I think the answer to this is yes. When you're knocking out that first draft, a prologue can be helpful to you as a writer in helping you set the stage for your story. First drafts don't matter that much anyway, primarily because most of them get thrown out or changed. An example is Richard Peck, who writes his first draft and then throws away his first chapter and writes a new one. In the first draft, you're telling yourself the story. In later drafts, you're telling your reader the story. You might need that prologue when you're telling it to yourself the first time, but don't get too attached to it or feel bad if it isn't good enough to make the cut of the rule-breakers. Better to publish with no prologue than to hold onto something that's a death knell to your publication chances.

One more thing. Before you decide there's no way you'll part with your prologue, read Hooked, because if you can't hook a reader (and remember the first readers will be discerning agents or editors with sensitive literary tastes), your book is dead in the water.

For extra info on what's happening in children's literature, stop by my Examiner.com page for book reviews and interviews with children's authors and illustrators.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Live your life: it's an investment

I have a confession to make.

I did very little writing in the month of May. I tried to keep up with my picture book writing critique group, but I let the middle grade novel go. Now, as all writers who don't write for a time, I had lots of good reasons for it. I had two homeschooled seniors graduating, plus family descending from out of town and all kinds of final grading and ceremonial senior-stuff happening. It's not like I was sitting around moaning about writers block. No, I was severely busy and severely fatigued by the time it all ended. But still, I have to ask myself, was it okay for me as a writer not to write, even for a short time?

I think this is a question that most writers have to answer for themselves. Some people will push on and write through it all. In this case, I decided not to. I'm the only mom my kids have, plus I didn't want to miss out on the opportunity to make their graduation a special event. I was their senior picture photographer, their autobiography typesetter, their graduation ceremony planner and implementer, and still their teacher and mom. I knew that May was going to be tough, so I told my critique group in advance that I was just going to take it off and live life. In retrospect, I'm glad I did it. True, my Monday blog also became a little sporadic, as did my Examiner articles, but I decided that even writers need to live life once in awhile.

No regrets.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

I have been remiss

Well, not really. Mostly I've just been busy. We just celebrated graduations in our family, and since the burden of the ceremony fell to us as homeschoolers, we were extra busy. However, I plan to get back to the writing track as soon as this week is past. I have a couple of projects I'm excited to work on this summer. I won't be giving up fiction, but I'm going to work on an art curriculum for children as well. (I find it interesting that some homeschooling parents panic at the thought of teaching art. I hope this will make it fun and easy too.)

Have a great week!

Friday, May 27, 2011

How to take the "yechhhhh... homework!" out of blogging

I was at a lawyer's marketing conference the other day. The keynote speaker encouraged blogging and video as 2 surefire ways to get increased web traffic - and ultimately more clients. He asked how many lawyers in the room blogged. There were only a few hands - and one woman said she wrote blog content for other lawyers for a living. And, I don't think that afterwards, despite the words of the speaker, a bunch of those lawyers are going to diligently blog. Why? All I could think of was "The Book Report" from YOU'RE A GOOD MAN, CHARLIE BROWN.  And, there you have all of the approaches to blogging in 4 part harmony and fugue.

1.  Schroeder - the type who ends up loving writing because it became fun and a time for great imagination.
2.  Lucy - counting every word in every sentence as it is written, because it is a chore.
3.  Linus - the type who can't help themselves - every blog is a treatise.
4. Charlie Brown - the ultimate procrastinator - because to think about reasons not to write becomes more intriguing than writing itself. Or the sunshine calls too strongly.

So, of all the models above, I choose Schroeder. So that blogging doesn't become a chore or an unpleasant duty, make up your mind to write about something that interests you, or has an emotional connection to you. All right, so I end up in the Charlie Brown category a lot. But today. I'm not - so there! No "yechhhhh!" in my blogging today!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

There is a time to not write

This week I've decided is a week to absorb rather than write.

I know, I know. My internal editor is screaming at me to knock out 1000 words, 500 words, any words. But I'm taking a little time off to enjoy my family. With preparing a homeschool graduation for my two graduating seniors and family coming from out of town, it seemed to me that there are more important issues as hand than what happens in my fictional worlds. Therefore, I'm technically on vacation.

So take a walk or two, enjoy a little of the spring time which is quickly passing into summer, and have a life. That too, is important to a writer.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Public service announcement: the world is not going to end on May 21st

Note: This is not a writing post, but just an explanatory post for anyone wondering if the world really would end today.

Some of you out there may actually be asking yourselves if today is the big end-of-everything-day. I'm not. For anyone who doesn't believe the Bible, what I say will make no difference. For those of you who do believe the Bible, but have been shaken by this guy out there claiming he's got Jesus' return date figured out, please keep the following in mind:
  • The Bible clearly states that no man can know the day or the hour during which Jesus will come back. (Matthew 24:36 "But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.")
  • In fact, as the verse above says, not even Jesus knows the time, but only the Father. In light of this, I'm a little surprised that people still devote so many hours to trying to figure it out.
So relax. If you are saved, which means that you believe that God raised Jesus from the dead and have confessed that He is your Lord, thus putting your faith in what He did for you on the cross to pay for sin, you're in good shape.

If you aren't saved, you can become so not by doing everything right, but by believing in Jesus. That should be comforting, since religions constructed by man always require that you get-your-salvation/go-to-heaven/achieve-nirvana/do-whatever by living perfectly enough or by fulfilling a list of requirements. Since I am far from perfect, I'm exceedingly pleased that my salvation has absolutely nothing to do with my perfectness, but rather is a choice to believe God. (Romans 10:9 "That if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.") No pressure. It's up to you.

If you aren't saved and don't want to become saved, you'll just have to find out the hard way. The bad thing about that is, it's too late once you're dead to change your mind, because hell is permanent. This is, of course, why God made a way through Jesus for you not to have to go there at all. (John 3:16 "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.")

Hope this clears it up for anyone who was wondering.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Jury duty: a lesson learned

Those two words pretty much say it all, don't they? Yesterday I was called to downtown Chicago for jury duty. I have to admit, I'm not a big city kind of person. I rarely go there unless it is with my husband. The idea of going it alone would have made me a little nervous except for one thing. I have a good friend who works downtown every day.

This friend took me under her wing. I met her at the train and rode down with her. Once there, she helped me find the station to get my return ticket, pointed me down the street in the right direction, and navigated me around some construction. Coming back she also helped me find my way to the right Metra entrance and get on the right train. Thanks to her, it was a fun and stress-free experience.

This week I've been reading Some Writers Deserve to Starve! by Elaura Niles. Most of the book didn't come as a surprise to me since I've been in the publishing industry a while and writing for some years. What did surprise me was a chapter which Kristi Holl also commented on in her blog this week.

The title was, "Truth #12: Writers Rarely Help Other Writers."

I found this one a real shock. The author's idea was that there is only so much room in publishing near the top of the ladder. When writers become successful, they stop helping others attain their level. They don't want the competition which will make their own writing life all the harder. These writers have quit being grateful for the help they received from others. Since the writers at the bottom of the ladder trying to make it up are really only in a position to take, the ones at the top get tired of only giving with no getting back. They tend to become, well, cynical and hardhearted. Ms. Niles wasn't condoning it, but she was just saying this is an issue in the real writing world when writers enter the upper echelons of their profession.

My jury duty adventure in downtown made me think of this. My friend went out of her way to help me yesterday. She didn't have to. I know it inconvenienced her, at least in terms of time. Her husband even picked me up after I walked from the station to the library and gave me a ride home when I was able to leave early. True, me being downtown didn't compete with my friend for her job, but she's just the kind of person who would have helped me even if it had.

In view of this, I hope that when those of us who are still on the ladder make it to the top as writers, we remember where we came from. Stay grateful. Help others. Don't let it threaten you. Personally, I'd prefer giving up writing to becoming hardhearted and only out for number one. I believe that if you always write the best you can and look out for those around you, you'll never have anything to regret.


Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Squeezing the toothpaste tube

I'm sure you've heard the object lesson of the toothpaste tube. The point we're supposed to extract from it is that whatever is in you is what will come out when you're under pressure.

When pressure is applied to the outside of the toothpaste tube, toothpaste squirts out the opening in all it's gooey glory. In the same way, whatever is in you, whether it be the good, the bad, or the ugly, is what will squirt out when life puts you in the pressure cooker. After thinking it over, I decided there were a few more good analogies in the toothpaste tube of life.

Take the cap off the tube so it doesn't explode under pressure

Life is going to put pressure on you. You might as well put that pressure to good use by writing about it. The three benefits of this are that you'll have some good material that you can draw on later if you need it, that you'll get better at writing (can't beat that), and that it will provide a private way for you to release your frustrations. It's kind of like a pressure release valve for your internal toothpaste tube. An added bonus is that your friends and family will be relieved that they no longer have to wear safety goggles around you.

You can control when and where the toothpaste squirts out

You might not feel like you have control over life, but you do have control over your writing. Harness your internal exasperation (or exultation) by grabbing a pencil and writing with that intensity instead of wasting it. As they say, write hot; revise cold.

Even when you think it's totally empty, there's always something left in the tube

Ever get to the toothpaste tube late at night after the rest of the family has managed to eek out the last of the toothpaste, only to find there isn't a replacement tube in the closet? All of a sudden, you are highly motivated to put on a little extra pressure on the tube to get what you need, because there is no way you want to climb back into your clothes and drive to the store.

Writers don't have the luxury of waiting for life to provide the pressure to write. A writer reads and writes. Lots. Just do it.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Traveling tips for writers

There are many aspiring writers out there longing to arrive at the destination of publication. In a fevered pitch, they jump in their writing car, throw it into reverse, and back out of the driveway (hopefully missing their children's bikes, scooters, etc.). Then they throw it into gear and gun the engine, feeling like they're definitely late and have already fallen behind the pack which consists of the "already published" crowd.

If you're one of these people, take a deep breath and calm yourself. Publishing is not a race, and as they say, the joy is in the journey. Here are some traveling tips for you:

Buy a map

You know, you aren't the first one to take this trip. Other authors have broken the path already, so take advantage of this through reading their books and blogs or by listening to them at conferences.

Check your oil and get regular service

I'll never forget the first time I threw a rod. End of car. Period. We had developed an oil leak and not realized it. Result? Engine destroyed. Regular service is definitely something you should take care of, not only with your vehicle, but as a writer. When I started out, I had all kinds of problems in my writing that I was unaware of. When I finally joined a writing group and attended regularly, it helped me identify these issues before they caused my story to die on the highway to publication.

Fill up your tank

This isn't going to be a short trip. Fuel up whenever you get the chance, whether it's by reading the genre you write for or just by living life. Life, which is chock full of material, is sometimes underrated. Don't miss out on it.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

What will happen the day after the royal wedding?

Knowing that the royal wedding will happen tomorrow made me think about weddings in general. I find it curious that the plans for the event itself often take priority far over the ramifications of the marriage, which would be that you are now going to be stuck with this person forever if you both take your vows seriously. Of course, there are a lot of little details to work out with a wedding: flowers, catering, cake, dress, location, photographer, wording of the vows, guest list, and much more. For Kate Middleton, it's many steps worse considering that most of the inhabited world will be watching, since many of us have a strange fascination with royalty.

But for Kate Middleton (whom I am inclined to pity), she's not just marrying Prince William, but the position that she will fill as his wife. When she says her fateful "I do," she will sentence her children to be heirs of the crown of England. There will be no escape for them. Their lives will never be their own.

What's the deal? you might ask. Isn't it great to be king? And by the way, what on earth does this have to do with writing?

Publishing a book is a little like getting married. Most writers are so wrapped up in pulling off the event successfully that they don't stop to think about what it will mean to their lives afterwards. While Kate Middleton has had plenty of time to decide if marrying Prince William is what she really wants to do with her life (and I do mean with all of her life), most writers just want to get to the place where they sign on the dotted line.

Today, as the world holds it's breath and Kate Middleton hovers at the precipice of royal matrimony, certain to throw herself into the abyss below, set aside a moment for reflection and a bit of research. What will happen to you if you get a book contract? What will be expected of you as an author? Are you ready for that kind of commitment? The links below will help you discover what you're missing if you haven't signed on the dotted line yet.

Harold Underdown's site, The Purple Crayon. (He wrote The Complete Idiot's Guide to Publishing Children's Books, and I can't recommend it highly enough. Even after working in publishing for some years, it was an eye-opener of the big picture of the publishing world.)

Rachelle Gardiner's website is always filled with concise information on the publication process and the pitfalls you'll want to watch out for before and after you become a published author.

Chuck Sambuchino's blog is a fabulous source where you can pick the brains of writers who have been there and done that. It's loaded with information that will help you on your way, published or not.

(By the way, if you want to know what Kate Middleton is facing by marrying Prince William, check out my review of Growing Up Royal on Examiner.com.)

Monday, April 25, 2011

At the core of genius

Sorry to break it to you, but I have nothing inspiring to say today. Personally, I'm okay with that, because writers don't just write when they're inspired. In fact, from what I've read, writers spend most of their time writing when they aren't inspired at all.

There's a saying that you've probably heard: genius is 1 % inspiration and 99% perspiration. I don't agree. I think genius is all perspiration, because if you aren't willing to sit down and work when you have no inspiration at all, you'll never get anywhere.

What do you think? Is genius really about showing up when you don't feel like it?

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Children's authors and illustrators interviews give you the inside scoop on success

I'm so excited about the author and interviews I've been doing over at Examiner.com and wanted to share the links in case you haven't seen them. Drop by so you can take advantage of the valuable advice by these proven children's authors and illustrators.

Sometimes writers start out in other occupations, such as teaching. Laura Crawford is a teacher whose desire to help kids learn has resulted in multiple picture book sales. Check out her interview for help in developing your own creative ideas.

Laura Crawford (part 2)

Illustrator Jeff Mack started drawing and writing as just a kid but never quit. His spectacular illustrations will wow you while his advice encourages you in your own writing journey.

Children's author Tammi Sauer has provided exceptional fun for kids (and adults) with books such as Mostly Monsterly and Mr. Duck Means Business. Get to know her better and read about her path to writing success in this two part interview.

Children's author Lori Mortensen has written many stories, articles, and children's books. If you want to know how to go from unpublished to published, don't miss any part of this three part interview.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Playing picture book lotto and beating the odds

Honestly, writing picture books is not exactly like gambling. It just feels like you're throwing the dice and waiting to see what comes up sometimes. In writing, however, you have more control than you might think. Here are some ways you can improve your odds for a sale and escape the slush pile.

• Study English

Ah, yes. We start with the ever popular study of the English language. You'll need it if you're planning to get anything published. Grammar is important if you want to communicate well or show an editor or an agent that you know what you're doing. Unfortunately, many manuscripts are unusable simply because they "ain't got no good grammar."

• Read all the time

You have full permission to immerse yourself in great picture books. Read as many as you can every day. Possibly the two biggest differences between a picture book and a short story is that a picture book needs a lot more visual potential and has a different type of rhythm. You'll develop a sense for picture book rhythm and plot that will serve you as a writer if you read many picture books.

You get extra points for this one if you set up a spread sheet, one slot per page number, and type in the text of a few of your favorite picture books. If you do, you'll begin to see a pattern which will help you in your own story development.

Double your extra points by reading Writing Picture Books by Ann Whitford Paul.

• Don't send your manuscript out before it's ready

Most writers have done this at least once. I did it more than once. (Ouch!) When you write something, of course it sounds right at first. After you leave it alone for a week and come back to it, it won't look quite so perfect. Sometimes I work on a picture book manuscript for two years before I feel it's ready to go out. During this time I rewrite and rewrite, in addition to getting feedback from other writers in critique groups.

• Know what a publisher publishes before you mail to them

Publishers don't just publish books. They publish specific kinds of books. Each one tries to fill a niche. Please, for the sake of those poor overworked editors and agents, find out what the publisher wants before you send your manuscript. Get a catalog and study it like our life depends on it. Do they only publish picture books with child protagonists? Do they have stories about animals? Do they publish self-help books for kids? Do they publish fiction or nonfiction? Find out. Make sure you are a fit so you don't waste your time and theirs.

Special tip I picked up from the 2010 Children's Writer's and Illustrator's Market: Do an advanced search on Amazon by typing in the publisher's name, age level of book, and dates so you can see what they've published in the past few years.

• Direct your muse

This takes the previous point one step further. I actually picked this up from a book on writing and selling cartoons. The idea behind it is for you to research a specific magazine or publisher before writing a story or book so you can fit into the niche they publish for. As writers, we're often encouraged to follow our heart, and there's nothing wrong with that, but a skilled, disciplined writer should be to direct his ability and fill a need.

The bottom line

Approximately 80 to 85 percent of the slush pile is not usable by a publisher. Probably less than 5 percent might even be something they would consider with more than a brief glance. If you want to be competitive, you have to be willing to do what it takes to get into the 5 percent that interests them. I know that nowadays even published writers have concerns about the industry, but publishing isn't going anywhere right now. There are authors out there selling their work. This means that when it comes right down to it, the only thing really standing between you and publication is you. And that's definitely an issue that you can do something about.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Embracing the uglies

The awkward stage of life. Nobody likes it, but we've all been through it.

I don't know about you, but I went through my personal awkward (and what I considered ugly) stage when I was in junior high and most of high school. I was academic, wore glasses, and was shy. My clothes weren't as "in" as the other kids, and the only good thing I had going for me was that I didn't have braces. I have the Kodak moments to prove it.

On the flip side, eventually I grew up a little more and left a measure of my awkward stage behind. I was still shy, but in college it was not less than cool to like studying and get good grades. I got some contact lenses, although I still prefer glasses, and things seemed to have turned out well in spite of my earlier awkwardness.

Where, you might be asking, am I going with this? Well, in both writing and art, you have to travel through preliminary stages. This is unavoidable and necessary, because it is in the "ugly" stage that you discover your vision for a project. Without it, you'll never arrive at your desired destination.

I find this slightly easier to do in writing than in art. While painting, I always have the uneasy feeling that someone is looking over my shoulder. I know what's coming, because I'm in the ugly stage, and no one will understand that it has to be there unless he or she has painted before. It's a time of vulnerability that I do not enjoy.

I find this particularly true with murals. You're out in the open for everyone to see while you work. I've had people stare, obviously perplexed, at what I'm working on. I can see by the look on their faces that they were running under the assumption that I had some ability in the painting area, but suddenly felt they'd been grossly misinformed. Sometimes it's only when the complete vision manifests on the wall that they relax and smile. Now they get it. Now it looks good to them.

So this week, embrace the uglies. Don't let disapproval from outside or inside stop you. The uglies mean change, but they also mean growth, and growth is a good thing when you come out on the other side.

What kind of uglies have you had to face? Did you give up or press on?

Monday, April 18, 2011

Stop by to read the interview with author Tammi Sauer

Having enjoyed reading some of Tammi Sauer's books, such as Mr. Duck Means Business and Mostly Monsterly, I was thrilled to interview her this week for Examiner.com. Please drop by the site and read the first of my two-part interview with her.

If you're feeling particularly adventurous today, try out her dance "The Librarian," too. (It's also on the site.)

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