Be A Writing Example!

I’ve always been jealous of retired teachers who have taught in the same city for 30 to 40 years, and have former students come up to them, remembering them. We’ve moved around too much for that to have happened to me. But today there is the Internet. That changes the entire game. Or can.

A former student contacted me via Facebook. She asked if I was the Sandy Carlson who taught in her elementary school when she was in second grade. She was so impressed that I had a story published in Cricket Magazine that it inspired her to write. In high school, she finished her first novel. She has since finished college and has a job about 2000 miles from our school where we first met. And years ago, my husband and I moved about 1000 miles away from our school in a different direction.

Again, Yay for the Internet! And…boo for the Internet. Her message to me was buried for five years. (Shaking my bowed head in shame.) The good news is she is still interested in writing and still excited about her one particular book even after her one reject. 

I suggested some newbie-writer things to her, like attending a writers conference, joining a critique group, not fretting over a rejection, and then I asked if she wanted to exchange three chapters with me (as author equals), that I would be willing. She is. We will. 

I remember Moriah as an intelligent and observant child. I can’t wait to read her grownup chapters. Yay for the Internet. 

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A Writer’s Obsession(s)

Whether a writer or not, we all have our obsessions. Here are my top three:

  1. Striving to be a better writer
  2. Giving self-rewards
  3. Balancing writing with “real life”

The ways to strive to become a better writer is first of all read; read within the genre you write and read without. You may also watch; while watching shows, dissect plot or character inconsistences so you won’t. Watch Korean dramas (e.g., W – Two Worlds, or Goblin) to catch unexpected plot twists and characters who pull you out of this world and straight into theirs.

There are writers conferences, books, courses, webinars, writer support organizations (like SCBWI, RWA, NaNoWriMo, etc.), and critique groups. Go to them, join them. Learn, grow, read, make connections.

Of course, to become a better writer, the absolutely top thing to do is to write. A lot.

Giving self-rewards works for many writers. You may write to a word count or within a time frame or have a goal by a certain date. When you reach major goals (e.g., finished with first draft, or ready to send to agent, etc.), treat yourself to a rare and special treat for this milestone.

Balancing writing with “real life” is the trickiest. There may be obligatory events, which you do want to attend, but which take you away from writing, like with school or church or work. There may be children or aging relatives to attend to. Or when the grass climbs to knee-high, you run out of clean dishes to eat off of, or your editor returns your manuscript for edits the night before your vacation, saying she needs it back within the week (true story for me)…you need balance, and wisdom. Prioritize, but do not ignore the most important things to you. (For me, family trumps all, even writing.

Become a better writer. Reach for your goals. Balance your writing with real life.

Writing in Spite of Everything

There are times when outside circumstances cause me to not want to write, and I’m not talking about winter coming, John Snow. They may be priorities of a family or relational crisis, or joys, or a visit. It may be work-related times, or trees flying through our house. A death. Or a celebration. Or even when I ponder our present political oddities. It is exactly in these times when I need to write. Writing gives me focus and sanity when the world around me swirls in confusion and insanity. Whenever I think, “Why bother?” I need to center in on the bigger picture, to see beyond all the confusions and conflicts which can so easily suck me down.

Perhaps your life or thoughts aren’t as twisty as above, but you are a writer who is still not writing for all the many other reasons you can list. Well, stop it! You can always journal. When you use the highly emotional trying or joyful times to jot a few words about that moment, they can someday be used in a story. When a childhood memory is stirred up, grab it, record it, remember with all your senses.

You cannot blame circumstances for not writing. You must not blame emotional times for not writing. Those are exactly the times when you need to be writing, even if it’s “just” journaling. Writing gives us focus and clears our minds of clutter.

And then there is NaNoWriMo coming up next month. I have not finished the revisions of my one story yet, which was my plan to have done so before NaNoWriMo starts. However, as it’s not the end of the month, and I have talked myself out of all the outside circumstances, my goal has not crashed. I encourage you to do the same. Write (or revise) in spite of everything.

Volunteering Your Writing Time

I feel like this old rug has been beat to threads.  But I have volunteered for my entire life, so not doing so just feels wrong. Am I volunteering for free author school visits? No, to that. I ought to be paid for those. Am I volunteering in our public library in November to run a NaNoWriMo Young Writers Workshop for six weeks? The answer to that latter one would be yes, for I will do anything I can to help kids (and adults) to write, and write better.

Okay. You may beat the rug if you like. What are your favorite volunteer activities? (As long as they do not interfere with your own writing, that is.)

Post-Post NaNoWriMo — Step One

Yes, it’s a busy time of year between the holidays, family time, and end-of-year necessities. But you still must be writing! Never give up the quest.

Hopefully, for those who wrote words during November’s NaNoWriMo, that was only the start of a long process which you will see to the end.

The first step is to look over what you wrote last month, and to dump/delete/trash all the unnecessary words, scenes, chapters, characters, and unrelated stuff. The first year I did this, I cut 47K of my 50K NaNo words. I confess. I am a NaNoWriMo babbler.  In my defense, by forcing myself to babble I often come up with some surprising to me things. One year, I gave my middle school characters an assignment by their teacher to write their autobiographies. Of course, none of those autobiographies made it into the final story, but it was a great writing exercise for this author to get to know her characters better.

Delete. Delete. Delete.

By getting rid of your babble (excess words), you will find that what’s left is a very nice skeleton of plot and character to soon start fleshing out.

Write Alone, but Don’t be Lonely (the purpose of a critique group)

This past spring, I was at a book signing with several other authors. The woman beside me was part of the local Writer’s Guild and tried to get other authors to join. I asked if they did critiques with one another. Her eyes lit up and drifted off to the left and up before looking back down at me. “Having someone else read over your story first? What a wonderful idea!”

She is self-published, and was popular with the locals who came to the event, but as sweet as this woman was, I couldn’t get myself to buy one of her books  — without an editor or even other writers giving their imput before publication. I could be wrong. She might be one of those rare gems who is truly a word-wizard, and I missed my chance. I actually met an elderly woman once who caused my jaw to drop with her on-the-spot writings, but she wasn’t at all interested in getting published. How sad for the world.

For those of us who write and rewrite and delete and toss and revise, and revise a few more times, often doing all this before presenting anything to our critique groups, writing is a struggle. It’s time-consuming and hard work. I simply cannot imagine doing this all on my own. I need my critique group. I value their eyes and their thoughts. For me, I see five main reasons to participate in a critique group:

1. Someone other than your mother or spouse can look over the manuscript for plot structure or story arch or clarification.

2. They can point out where the characters work or don’t work, where the author has the character say or do something, but isn’t in that character’s voice or POV.

3. They can show where you’ve repeated a single word four times in two paragraphs, or have a convoluted sentence structure, or have told, not shown, etc.

4. Struggling alongside others, and each wanting to improve your writing, you can do group studies on various books of writing craft, or of books in your genre, and share the insights and promote discussions and then apply what you’ve gleaned to your own writing.

5. Critique groups keep you producing, month after month.

I’ve been in several critique groups, one for over a dozen years. I’ve also had beta readers checking word for word errors. And I’ve had editors who point out things which none of the others mentioned, and who strive to make my writing absolutely shine.

Writing is a lone business, but it doesn’t have to be lonely.

NaNoWriMo? More Like NaNoBooHoo

I was going full steam that first week in November — way back four weeks ago. I not only reached my daily word counts, but exceeded them. Then big-time disaster struck. I needed to sub something to one of my critique groups. I know. I know. I should have just passed and given them the week off of critiquing so I could continue on with my on-fire-hot-word-count-writing. What I subbed to my crit group was chapter 11 of a 26-chapter book which was “finished.” Revising it to send to them, turned my mind totally on that piece of writing, so I revised it to the end. Of course, I felt it was dynamically written, so I started looking into editors and agents. That done, like having postpartum blues, I crashed. I started writing “NaNoHaHa” in emails. About the same time I’d accepted a school storytelling assignment. I explained I only had 1800’s outfits and 1800’s stories. My contact said it wasn’t a problem. They were just kindergarteners. But in my former teaching brain, I thought, “Kindergarteners who know the 200 year difference between a Pilgrim’s outfit and a Civil War outfit. So I started making a Pilgrim outfit and researching the era. Yes, this was indeed a bit distracting. Then there was leaving the state for the weekend, and this last week, company in from out of state for the week.

So I decided not to cheat on the NaNoWriMo word count, except for adding four revised chapters from “that other novel.” I uploaded what I had, but I still didn’t win. This year. It felt more like NaNoBooHoo than anything to do with a month of writing.

I just need to say, that for anyone else who didn’t make the 50,000 word count this month, no worries. It’s only a challenge, so don’t beat yourself up. There’s always next year. Be sure not to give up on your novel, either. Keep working on this year’s NaNo project until it’s completed, so by November of 2015, you’ll be excited and fresh and rearing to go on your next novel.

NaNoWriMo Writing Tips

Writers write alone, but we must not remain alone. We need each other. We need encouragement.

Here we are at the end of week one of this year’s NaNoWriMo — National Novel Writing Month. For my first six days, my word count was all about the story. Yesterday, I drifted. But I’m back on track again today. Here are some tips which I use to keep me going this month:

Tip #1 Bank your words. In other words, in the enthusiasm of the beginning of write more than the expected word count so you can later take off a day and not feel guilty about it.

Tip #2 Don’t write according to the 1,667 words per day, which is scary to think about, but write by scenes or chapters.

Tip #3 Use tools to keep you on task, like a timer set for 15 minutes during which you MUST write, or programs like Write or Die where your computer screen changes color, then blinks, then sounds off warning blares at you when your fingers aren’t typing away madly (http://writeordie.com/ ).

Tip #4 It’s okay to drift for a day or two. Take a writing break or better yet, write about something else. Give your brain a rest and then come back to your story.

Tip #5 Expect to write drek when you are attempting to pour out 1,167 words per day this month. Revisions come later. This is ONLY intended for the first awful draft.

Writing with a Lobotomy

Literature Blogs

Being on (anti) high cholesterol meds makes me feel like I’ve had a lobotomy. Not that I’ve ever actually had one. And with my strong reaction to drugs, I was only on said medicine for two weeks — a half-month lobotomy. During those horrid two weeks, I was unenthusiastic, uncaring, unfeeling, uncreative, un-me. I got things done, making a list each day and checking it off, but I couldn’t think to write, and didn’t have any desire to read. (Are you writers freaking out at this as much as I did?) I finally figured that I’m mortal, and was going to die sometime, whether I was on meds or not. So I’d try to be a good girl and mind my diet and exercise and then naturally bring down my bad cholesterol count.

Exploring this lobotomy feeling, I’ve realized that when I am stressed or have many things “on my plate,” that I don’t make the time or energy for writing lots, like I’d love to do. It’s like I have a lobotomy all over again. A stress-caused lobotomy. These are times when I wake to do things through the day, checking off things, not wanting to do any of them, but knowing they must be done.

So… How does one write during these lobotomy (no time or no enthusiasm periods)? You write, anyway. It’s not writer’s block where you stare at a blank screen. It’s not distraction time where you check your email or FaceBook page several times in a day. It’s writing in spite of everything. You write because you’re a writer. You’re a writer because you feel alive when you write. When you complete a scene, and tears streak your face, you’re a writer. When you look at said scene the next day and don’t feel any emotion and realize there are mega revisions or deletions ahead, you’re a writer.

We write through it all — drugs, storms, moves, deaths, depression, anger, sheer joy. So, you writer who is reading this, go write a scene (or verse) right now before you do anything else. Go on. What are you waiting for?

An Evening with Jane Yolen

Literature Blogs
I blame my ignorance about learning of the event on last May’s tornado, which continues to hold a grip on me. I blame my stumbling upon the event to nothing less than divine intervention.

Last Sunday, I happened into our public library to complete an overdue critique group assignment, where I discovered that the very next day, my favorist author among all my favorite authors, Jane Yolen, was coming to my little town. How could I have missed knowing about such an influential writer speaking just a few miles from my house!

Sunday was crazy-busy for me, but on Just-hanging-out-Monday, I felt like I was getting ready for a prom date. That night, I’d see Jane Yolen in person! There was that nervous stomach thing going on, a tightness in my throat, the turning upside-down of my library trying to find and then decide which books authored by Jane I should take along, the wondering why the day seemed seven times longer than usual. Does she like blue? Maybe I should wear red instead?

I arrived at the building as soon as the doors were opened, expecting to find a line going down the street to the entrance. The parking lot was empty. There wasn’t a line. My heart sunk. Had the event been cancelled? Or maybe something happened that Jane couldn’t make it? (I found out laster, she had transportation and food difficulties.) Perhaps people hadn’t arrived because of the 82 degree summer-like weather, or because of the parent-teacher conferences going on. Whatever the reason, besides the book sellers, I was the first to arrive. I bought a couple of her new books, then wandered into the empty auditorium. I still felt stunned wondering where everyone was. I knew my teacher-friend who normally attends author visits with me <wave to Becky> couldn’t come at the last moment (conferences). I headed towards the front. I looked up to see Jane Yolen — THE Jane Yolen — gliding alone across the dark stage from the book-signing table to the podium. I felt both bold and at the same time like a small mouse. This was/is Jane Yolen, but, after all, we are friends on FaceBook. I may have leaped right up there, or I may have taken the side steps, but within seconds I was shaking hands with Jane, praying I wouldn’t purst into tears and that I’d be able to remember my own name. Eventually, about two hundred people came.

Jane’s Books and Booksigning:

Jane has written more than 300 books for children and teens, and a collection of poems after her husband died. Monday evening, she signed books both before and after her talk, personally inscribing each. I lingered nearby for the before-talk signing, hoping some of her authorship and experience would gently blow over me. She made eye-contact with each person as they handed her a book. She engaged them in conversation, asking questions. Most impressive to me was that if an elementary school aged child handed her a YA book to sign, Jane held the book in her hand, looked directly at the child, and after ascertaining her age, told her or him that the book was written for older kids, not really for her/his age group. She then turned and addressed the parent and made sure they understood, adding. “I’ll sign this now, but I don’t want you to read it for a couple of years, all right?” Of course, the child verbally agreed. Personaly, I would have wrapped the book in satin and kept it under my pillow until my 12th birthday.

Jane’s Hour Talk:

She explained how she was first going to read some picture books, and then, before she read some of her YAs, she would not feel insulted if younger kids and their parents got up and left. However, there were only a handful of teens, and many younger children. I’m thinking she adapted the talk on the fly, depending on the audience. She integrated her writing life and personal life as she read some poems in BUG OFF and five picture books, including OWL MOON. Her words and expressions sounded like her written words, e.g., “… these insects are really icky… and wonderful.” She told the story of how nearly everyone she knew knew before she did that OWL MOON had won the Caldecott Medal, but they weren’t allowed to tell her until illustrator John Schoenherr was told.  She concluded by reading SNOW IN WINTER.

About Writing:

Both of Jane’s parents were writers — her father was a journalist, and her mother wrote short stories and crossword puzzles. So child-Jane had the impression that all adults were writers. She acknowledged there were other jobs in the world, but assumed they were all authors when they weren’t working their non-writing jobs.

There were several times when I thought, I felt, I knew Jane was speaking directly to me.

She told us that she’s been other things, but she’s always been a writer. Like dancers and athletes who train and exercise every day, Jane writes every day, even if it’s as simple as title options or journaling or jotting notes for another story. I’d mentioned to her before her talk, how Emily Dickenson only had eight of her poems published while she was alive. Jane ammended that by saying it was seven poems. Then, during her talk, she brought up that very thing, adding that Emily Dickenson was “a neighbor,” living two towns away (when she lived). Jane quoted one of Emily’s poems called “Tell It All,” looking at life slantwise and how writers need todo the same.

Question and Answer Period and Beyond:

Six children came to the microphone to ask Jane questions. Two of the answers I find worthy of repeating here. 1) Q: How many years or days did it take you to write a book? A: The shortest was three days; the longest was twenty years. 2) Q: How much do you like writing? A: I’m never happier than when I am writing. I was mean when I wasn’t writing.

When I mentioned to her before the talk, that thrice my manuscipts have made it to acquisition groups, she assured me that I just hadn’t found the right editor, and urged me to keep trying. After the talk another teacher friend and her teenaged daughter <wave to Jodine and Marissa> and I talked about Jane for a while, and then as they went up for a book signing, I decide to have Jane sign a third book for me. When I reached her, Jane reminded me not to give up (writing), and then, as she handed me back my book and I reached for it, she didn’t let go. She looked deep into me and said, “Keep in touch.” I was certain she meant I was to let her know as soon as I get that elusive book contract.

Oh, how I love my heroine, Jane Yolen. I want to be just like her when I grow up.