Highlights Fiction Writing Contest, 2011

Hey! Highlights Magazine has announced their 2011 theme: a fictional story of an embarrassing moment. (My, don’t we all have a few dozen of those kind of stories to send in?) Stories due at the end of January. The three winners will be announced and published in their June 2011 magazine.

Here’s the link: http://www.highlights.com/highlights-fiction-contest

Writer’s Inspiration Boost

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I’ve been thinking and thinking and thinking of how to connect two main characters in one of my novels (besides the obvious conflicts). I need (want) them to be interconnected, but I can’t brainstorm how they do. It’s been a struggle on my poor brain. I think about them, wander away, sometimes for a couple months, then come back to think some more. I keep wondering why it’s not working, or if I should just trash one character or perhaps the entire story. (It’s not really writer’s block. Although, I admit, I don’t know what that is besides an excuse.) However, the problem makes me wonder about various ways to boost inspiration and imagination and creativity.

1) Eat well, sleep well, get exercise, see your doctor. Being pain-free, and having blood moving swiftly through your body and into your little grey cells, can only help stimulate writing thoughts and get those creative juices flowing. Sometimes when I’m stuck, I take a LONG walk. This does three things for me: unfreezes my stiffened muscles from sitting hours in one position at my computer; distracts me with neighborhood happenings; and releases some built up story-making-adreneline to free my mind to think more clearly.

2) Get off of drugs which make your brain sluggish. (Talk with your doctor about this one.)

3) Get onto drugs, which make your brain a wilderness to explore. (A Federal Marshall I know who is a mystery writer solves his writer’s block or plot problems by “sitting down with Jack” (a bottle of Jack Daniels) until he comes up with a solution in his plot. Personally, I think this way would turn my mind to mush, so it’s not something I recommend; just something I know works for one crazed writer.)

4) Find writing support. Join a writing organization and participate. You can also find writing support by taking a class or by reading books on craft. Three of my favorite ones include ON WRITING, THE FIRST FIVE PAGES, and NOVEL METAMORPHOSIS: UNCOMMON WAYS TO REVISE. In the Nov/Dec 2010 issue of SCBWI bulletin, Kate Dopirak writes about forming her “writing team” in a classroom of middle school kids. A self-published author I know uses his “editors,” who are six beta readers, including librarians and teachers. There are unlimited writing support groups on-line (critique groups, forums, listservs, blogs, etc). It can be done live (critique groups, writing conferences, going to hear visiting authors, local write-ins, etc.). 5) Step back from the story. Maybe start another one. But then come back to your original story, knead out those bumps, and become an award-winning author.

What additional ways do you have to boost your writing?

The Amazingly Creative Darcy Pattison

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A little behind on my email catch-up, but too early for epiphany (January 6), I saw this writing reflective article by author-speaker Darcy Pattison, and absolutely had to share it. In it, she gives writing tips from the song, “We Three Kings.” She also lists other writing tips from other Christmas-y subjects. Amazing, fun, and creative woman!

http://www.darcypattison.com/revision/7-writing-tips-from-the-3-kings/

Character Careers

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I was thinking about the various careers I’ve given characters through my stories, and how each of those careers make for something interesting to add to each story. It may be because I’ve held several different types of jobs myself, and oodles more if you count all the volunteer stuff I’ve done.

Years ago, when I received an email telling me I won a laptop (disclaimer — I’m not always that gullible), I was wading through their many pages of questions about me, when it started getting more and more personal. I thought to just quit, but decided instead to start making up things. After all, I AM a fiction writer. For my career, I wrote down “Hair Growth Specialist.” I have nothing for, nor against, these people. It’s just something I knew absolutely nothing about. I never did get that laptop (without having to buy a bunch of things), but even today, my spam will pick up emails about Hair Growth, and it cracks me up. I still know nothing about the job. So I’m thinking my next story will have to include either a hair growth specialist, or else a compulsive liar. Either one makes me smile.

So what out-of-the-ordinary jobs have you given your characters?

Clinging to What We Want

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In 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt moved Thanksgiving from the fourth week in November, as President Abraham Lincoln first set it, to the third Thursday in November. This was done to give more buying time for Christmas and boost our nation’s economy. It was moved back to the fourth week a couple of years later. Today, however, there is no need to move holidays around. Christmas lights and Halloween decorations together are not an uncommon sight, presidential degree or not.

I can’t do much about boosting the economy, but I do know about things I would like to have and have already started a Christmas list. Most of my suggestions come from book stores, of course.

When our first-born was about 18 months old, we were going through a store. He was strapped in his stroller. Suddenly, he did something he had never done before. With a lightning reach, he grabbed and clung to a pillow. It was the front and backside of a beaver, printed on cloth, with the word “smile” on its T-shirt. Our son didn’t say anything, like, “Want this.” He just grabbed and hugged tightly — a man of action.

With this think-of-what-I-want season,  besides the biggies (love, joy, peace, faith, hope, family), I allow myself to be selfish and think of  some things I’d like. Besides a few simple material things, what I want to cling to is the freedom and time to write. Writing (and reading) would be my pillow with a “smile” on it.

NaNoWriMo 2010 Struggle

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NaNoWriMo comes in November. So does Thanksgiving and my husband’s birthday. Last year, my first NaNo, I ended up not writing the last six days of the month because of cooking company. (Here is a good sidetrack point about grammar. With a missing comma or word, you may come to the conclusion that I am a cannibal. Not true. I meant that I was doing a lot of cooking, and better than normal cleaning, for company.) Hence, I did not “win” last year. However, I did get a completed novel out of it later, which was, in my opinion, the whole purpose of the NaNoWriMo exercise.

Although I’ve kept up with the daily word count so far this year (1,667 words/day), and have even stashed away some extra words each day, expecting not to be writing around the Thanksgiving period, I found myself sinking into a slump. I was doing well. I am doing well. And yet here I am in a writing depression. What is that about?

And then I open my NaNoWriMo email from my regional leader. She mentioned that Week Two was the hardest week of all. What? Had she come into my house? Into my head? How did she know that? I suppose I should have felt more comforted, knowing other writers were feeling, at this point, the same as I. “No!” I shout. “I am not a groupie. I am an individual writer! I will not be like everyone else. Ha. I’m not depressed any more. There.” And I’m off to write my 1,667+ words.

Face to the Grind — Writing Challenge

 

Grand Traverse Bay

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Face to the grind.. Not quite sure what that means, except that it sounds painful. I’ve got my face to the grind, working on NaNoWriMo this month. It’s not painful, actually; it simply requires discipline. Then again, perhaps that is painful in a sense.

From participating last year, I know the NaNoWriMo group gives ideas periodically for what to write about for the day, in order to add to your word count. Just like never getting bored, I never have trouble thinking up things to write. What I have trouble with is the discipline of writing. Therein lies my writing challenge for you — do some raw writing about this photo I took on a trip up north last week. Set the timer for ten minutes… Ready? Set? Go.

NaNoWriMo Starts Next Week/ Next Month

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I know several people who will be participating this year in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writers Month). It is a great writing challenge and discipline. I’ve known about this group since its second year, and now this will be my second year participating. (My user name there is SandyCarl, if anyone wants to buddy me. Don’t forget to send me your UN as well, because it doesn’t automatically reciprocate.)

Last year I was more prepared for it, doing lots of research ahead of time. However, this year, particularly this month, I was working on finishing up a WIP before NaNoWriMo started, so my writing focus has been on that project. I’m afraid my head is still there in those revisions. I hope I can compartmentalize enough to work on two projects at once. I used to do this freely — work on two or more writing projects at once. I would switch when I got bored, or hit a plot block, etc. Lately, though, I’ve been focusing on getting one story ready to completion for submission before working on another.

Does anyone else work on more than one project at a time? Do you find it helpful or distracting? I’ve done it both ways. I’m sure either is a better way. Just keep on writing (and revising and submitting).

Good luck to all NaNoWriMo-ers! On your marks… Get set…

SCBWI-MI Fall 2010 Writers Conference, Final Conference Post

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The final speaker-talk at our SCBWI-MI Fall Writers Conference was Darcy Pattison. She spoke on Social Media. First, she did a hand-show questionnaire. I must admit that I felt rather proud of our chapter with so many raising their hands to having a website, a blog, on FaceBook, on Linked In, on Good Reads, YouTube, etc.

Darcy told us to focus, that social media is driven by content.

Know who you are – What do you like to do, consistently?

Who is your audience? Kids? Parents? Teachers? Librarians? Writers? Illustrators? Your on-line presence is different, depending on your audience.

When do you do things on line? For instance, Twitter is today’s news gotten yesterday.

Where does your cyber audience live? (i.e., which listservs, forums, chats, etc)

Research what is typical for what you like. Follow 10-15 blogs. Join in on conversations; leave comments.

Why do social media? Darcy did it to find a peer community. (I can relate to this point. When I lived in South Dakota, there were a total of twenty-eight SCBWI members in both North and South Dakota combined. The closest member to me lived several hours away. My live critique group in Rapid City were all adult writers who thought what I wrote was “nice.” Yeah. Needed more than that – a peer community.)

Put sustenance of real value on your blog. Don’t let it just be about me, me, me. Let what you say be of value to your audience.

 There was so much more she shared, lots of interesting details or suggestions. Buy her books or CD, or go to a conference or retreat where she is a speaker. You will not regret it. Check her out at www.darcypattison.com (Thanks, Darcy.)

SCBWI-MI Fall Writers Conference, Pt 5

(Two conference speaker summaries today; I happened to have invited both these ladies to the conference.)

Speaker One: On Sunday, October 10, I participated in (listened in on) a group critique time with Tor Senior Editor Susan Chang. She chose five story outlines from the participants and gave each a fifteen minute critique about what worked and what didn’t. Here are the highlights from the five stories. The opening pages need to have action. Every chapter has something moving the plot forward or building the character arc. With more than one plots, each one must escalate the rising arc. A strong story foundation is needed. Shaky or thin plot problems collapse the story. Determine what your foundation is, and then if it is strong or weak. Make your characters believable, and make sure there are links between cause and affect, i.e., why is the character acting like this? Susan mentioned that showing while writing (v.s. telling) makes it more like a movie, and this is a good thing. She recommended the book MAKING GOOD SCRIPTS GREAT

Speaker Two: Amy Lennex, Senior Editor with Sleeping Bear Press in Michigan, spoke about who and what Sleeping Bear Press is, and things they publish. Amy shared with the group the publishing process. After the writer writes a story, and it goes through the revision process to become polished, an editor must love it. The editor takes the manuscript to the editorial group, and they must love it. It then goes to Acquisitions, and they must love it. A projected positive profit and loss statement is developed to determine if accepting this manuscript is a good investment or not. If it is, then a contract is issued, and the story is put on a pub schedule. The last step before publication, is the search for an illustrator. They listen to what booksellers have to say. What age group is this book written for? Will adults as well as children like this book? Is there a need for this subject matter, or has it been done before? Will this book have media attention? (i.e., is it timely?) Amy gave the example of FIRST DOG, which was written before President Obama gave a dog to his girls. The story was written, but since the illustrator didn’t know what kind of dog it was going to be, he left a blank doggie shape on each page, to be “revised” as soon as the dog type was known. Advice from Sleeping Bear Press authors: Love your book and promote it. Love words. Enjoy the process, and write every day. Those who attended the conference were given two colored stickies, one for each editor. It is to go on their submission envelope. Although Tor is open to submissions, Sleeping Bear Press is not. By attending the conference, attendees got a “free look” pass for their manuscript to be looked at by Sleeping Bear. I used up one of my colored stickies already.