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Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Practical Writing Strategies for your Novel...

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Hey guys,

First and foremost, I hope all of you friends and family and readers on the East coast are weathering the storm.  My thoughts are with you and all my favorite places in coastal Maryland (like the Chesapeake Bay area where I went to college and the trailer park in Fenwick Island, Delaware, where we'd visit my grandparents every summer during my childhood and teen years. ) (This is the same trailer park where my now-husband used to visit his own grandparents, just across the street in the same trailer park. Our grandmothers were friends from way back when.  We played together as young kids, never guessing we'd some day be married to each other one day.)

I digress!  So here's the next installment of my tip sheets for writers doing NaNoWriMo (or anyone embarking on writing a novel).  (See my last entry for the first tip sheet.)

PRACTICAL WRITING STRATEGIES: At different points in your manuscript, you'll get stuck and feel despondent.  Here are some common obstacles, and suggestions on how to deal with them.  (Caveat: These are strategies I've found useful, but different writers have different approaches, so do whatever feels right for you!)

o   If you feel there's a big problem with some element of the story and you don't know how to proceed, then write about the story in your journal.  In fact, this is something I constantly do, and it always gives me a useful, big-picture perspective. This can be done in a stream-of-consciousness way.

o   Periodically, you could do a rough outline of what you have, and where you think you're headed with the story.  During revisions, I find it useful to make a list of scenes and the point of each scene, including which questions are resolved in the scene and which new questions are asked.  I also note what tension the reader is feeling in every scene and what's motivating them to continue reading. I ask myself how the scene furthers the story, develops characters, and relates to the themes.

o   If you're having a specific problem, for example, with weaving in flashbacks or alternating narrators, find books you love that do this well  and write in your journal about how exactly the authors manage this. 

o   If you feel that your characters aren't deep enough or that their stories and backgrounds aren't real enough, interview characters in your journal.  I do this all the time.  I ask my (imaginary) characters about their earliest childhood memories, what they buy at the grocery store, their favorite article of clothing, their deepest fears, the happiest day of their lives, how they feel about other characters, what they think happens next in the story.  This nearly always gets me unstuck!

o   If you're really, truly stuck, don't be afraid to consider some major changes—maybe structural changes, maybe eliminating some characters or adding new ones, maybe eliminating or adding a storyline, maybe changing the point of view.  This can feel heart-breaking, especially if you feel attached to the story as it is, but you could always tell yourself you'll just give it a try and see what happens.  Just copy the manuscript into a new document file and give yourself freedom to experiment with some drastic changes.  You can always go back to the old document if the new one doesn't work.  It's really useful to have trusted critiquers to give you feedback on major changes like this.

o   If you're feeling lost and overwhelmed, try to represent your story visually—through mapping or charting or graphing it.

o   If you've finished a draft of the novel, but you feel it could be better, and you're not sure how, try going through the revision checklist that I'll post next week.

Happy writing!


Friday, October 26, 2012

Strategies to finish your novel!

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Anyone doing NanoWriMo? I've never *officially* done it, although I realized that I've pretty much been doing the same word count requirements the past couple months, and I plan on doing it next month, too. (1500 words a day). Of course, this is my job, so I admit I have it easier than all the courageous NaNoWriMo-ers who are juggling work/school/family as they squeeze in a few hours of dedicated writing time every day.  In honor of NaNoWriMo, I thought I'd share part of a "Finishing Your Novel Tip Sheet" that I made a couple years ago for an event.  Hope it helps!

PSYCHOLOGICAL STRATEGIES: The main obstacle to finishing your novel is usually self-doubt, so you need to figure out ways to deal  with this. Understand how your creative process works, identify the glitches you'll probably encounter, and have tools ready to deal with this.   Possible strategies include:

o   Join a writers' group that requires you to submit regularly and gives you frequent encouragement

o   Give yourself a daily pep talk in your journal, remind yourself that you're capable of doing this. Find a useful way to conceptualize the novel-writing process—e.g.  maybe the story exists in its entirety in your unconscious mind, and your job is simply to bring it into the world.

o   Set small goals—like chapters or scenes—and celebrate little successes.  Set bigger goals every year as well.

o   Perfectionism usually does more harm than help until the very last stages of novel-writing.  Accept the inevitable messiness of a novel-in-progress.  That's the beauty of accepting that you'll do many revisions—it takes the pressure off.

o   Disconnect the Internet during your writing time.  ("Freedom" is a great
    program that I use on my PC-- it's available for Macs, too. $10 to download.)

o   Read books about creative processes that will cheer you on—The Artist's Way, Bird by Bird, The Writing Life, etc.

o   Don't get lost in little inconsequential  details as a form of procrastination. Move on to the big stuff.

o   Don't wallow in research for years as a form of procrastination.  Make sure you're actually writing.

o   Keep a list of reasons why you love your story, why it's important to bring it into the world, etc. Refer to this list and add to it often.

o   If you feel you can never find time to finish, schedule writing time every day or week that you honor as a priority.  This might mean hiring a babysitter to give you writing time.

o   Have a writing space devoid of distraction (like a trailer in your driveway!) or go to a cafĂ©—whatever creative atmosphere works for you.

*Lots of good wishes to you on your writing journey!  Stay tuned for more tip sheets that I'll be posting over the next few weeks...*



Monday, October 15, 2012

Things that make me SMILE!

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Many things have been making me smile lately.... here's the first, which gave me happy shivers along with my smile.  It's a poem from the dog Star's point of view, inspired by my book Star in the Forest.  The poet is Orlando, a dazzlingly talented elementary school student:

My chain traps me from the world.
It locks my smile from my face
but I think
Zitlally has the key to unlock it.
She has the key. 
I can't tell you what an incredible feeling it is for an author to see the marvelous creations her story has inspired.  I feel deeply moved seeing readers' unique connections with the story. Beautiful poem!  Thank you, Orlando!
Here's another thing that makes me happy-- 

The golden fall light at the Poudre River near my house.  I walk along it nearly every day and love watching how it changes with the seasons.

Yet another happy little thing... the Princess of Water... Leslie Nayeli.  She's the adorable new baby of my co-author of The Queen of Water, Maria Virginia Farinango.

Caught in the act!  This sneaky critter has been feasting on the apples from our tree every night along with his two buddies.  They're really fat and funny little bandits... Ian and Lil Dude and I go outside with flashlights to watch their antics, which make us smile and laugh.

My rickety blue vintage cruiser bike that I'd had for years finally broke down to the point where I couldn't justify pouring more money into fixing it... so we went out and found this gently used cruiser... and it's pink! It's so very pink that I can't help smiling when I ride it...

Thanks for coming by!  Hope you're finding lots to smile about, too!


Thursday, October 4, 2012

Mini Maryland Tour Recap

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Just got back from marvelous and muggy Maryland-- my homestate! The first stop was Clemente Middle School in Germantown, with awesome librarian Alexis Gerard and fun groups of students and staff...

After that came Dunloggin in Ellicott City, my very own middle school. I was greeted with this colorful poster in the entryway, complete with maps of where each book is set.  Cool!  If you told middle-school-me (back in the mid-eighties, eek) that she'd be coming back over two decades later to talk about her books.... what on earth would she think??  For one, she probably she wouldn't have cared quite so much about how perfectly feathered her hair was and whether her jeans were properly folded and rolled up, hehehe...

With my beloved 6th grade reading teacher, Mrs. Witt! (Oops, I mean Sandi!)

With brilliant teacher friend Dylana!

I spent a couple hours in Historic Ellicott City, my favorite going-out place as a teen and the setting of the first chapters of my book-in-progress. I took notes and weird photos like this one (in this case, to remind myself of the cobbled alley area)-- I like to get these kinds of little setting details right.  

The Baltimore Book Festival was loads of fun, and very inspiring.  Here's Laura Amy Schlitz, talented children's author and Newbery winner.  She gave a powerful, funny, from-the-heart presentation that was exactly what I needed to hear at this point in my book-in-progress.  I came home feeling invigorated and ready to leap back into the labyrinth of my new story.  (I'll write more about her speech later, when I do a post on how it feels to be at the early draft stage of my new book. Stay tuned.)

I loved her props, which included an origami swan and a poster of a maze-- here she's holding a ball of yarn.

YA author Natalie Standiford and children's author Laurel Snyder-- both great writers and witty, smart women-- were on the "Baltimore Bred" panel with me.  Here we're exploring the hidden nooks of the gorgeous author hospitality area. 

I especially love Maryland visits because I get to hang out with my family-- to my right are my Aunt Liz and Uncle Barry. To my left is my dad, and on the ground is my mom.  And I'm sure you can guess who's hiding under the firefighter's helmet...

Here I am with the lovely Oona, who I've corresponded with all year, and finally got to meet in person!  She's one of my all-time favorite readers-- look, she made me that awesome shrinky-dink Jade Notebook amulet!!!  So sweet, and it brought back fun memories of my own shrinky-dink days.

I met new readers too... this is Isaiah and his sister.  He's an avid writer, with an incredibly supportive mom who drove him and his sister a looong way to the book festival!

At the dinner afterward, I got to know my fellow panelists better, including the weird faces they're capable of making.  Here's hilarious children's author C Alexander London on the left, and on the right, the beautiful Sarah, who was instrumental in setting up the Children's Book Stage events.

At the far end of the table, you can get a glimpse of co-panelist Adam Gidwitz, who writes funny, gory fairytale re-tellings.  Check out cool librarian Paula Willey's pink locks.

On my free day, I went out to eat with my grandmom, whom I adore-- she raised four kids and was instrumental in running her family peanut factory (Schindler's Peanuts).

Thanks so much to everyone who came to hear my presentations and panel discussion! It was truly a joy to spend time with you!

Oh, and Denver area teens-- this is for you!:

Saturday, Oct. 13, 2012 -- FREE Writing Workshop for Teens! 2:00-3:30 pm, Denver Public Library (Central Library), Level 4 Rockwell Room.  Do you love to write? Do you dream of seeing your stories in print?  Here's your chance to learn more about the writing process. Laura Resau will kick off Teen Read Week by running a writing workshop just for teens (ages 12-18). Laura will teach her Creating Vivid Characters workshop using various activities.

This is free, but you need to register here: .  And please see here for more details. Thank you!!