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Saturday, November 24, 2012

Vegas was weird...

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Very, very weird.  Vegas is such an artificial place-- it seems designed to keep you trapped indoors, far away from fresh air and daylight.

I was there for the NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English) conference a few days ago.  The people part was great-- Random House editors and sales folks, authors I adore, enthusiastic teachers and librarians, my wonderful agent.

Loved the workshop I was part of-- Social Justice and Kids/Teens Literature. I gave a talk about The Queen of Water and was on a panel, *and* I got to listen to other authors' speeches and teachers' ideas/reflections.  Fascinating.  Made me miss teaching! And I came home with a suitcase of free books!

But I gotta say, I was really, deeply craving fresh air and sunshine.  I'm the kind of person who goes on a long walk in the woods every day, and I spend my indoor time near lots of windows where I bathe in the sunshine like a lizard.  I came home late from Vegas and the next morning I practically ran to my favorite trails by the river and gulped in the sweet woodsy air.  Ahhh.

Hope you had a lovely Thanksgiving.  We had old friends stay with us-- lots of little boy energy and firetruck play (I counted six firetrucks at one point.)

I'm itching to get back to writing-- I took a week off for these various adventures, and man oh man, do I want to get back into my book-in-progress. (I'm about 2/3rd through a first draft.)

That will have to wait till Monday though. Life at the moment revolves around Lil Dude, whom I'm about to bathe right now.

Happy weekend,

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Creative Writing Pep Talk

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Hey guys! I was asked to write a pep talk for writers in my region who are doing NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month).  I thought I'd share it with you, too.  Even if you're not in the midst of a novel, it might motivate you to engage in any creative project... and it will definitely give you a sense of what goes on inside me as I write my books. Here goes: 

Hello fellow novelists,

Two weeks down and two to go… congrats! Right about now you might be feeling crazy and desperate, maybe craving a pep talk that goes beyond “Butt. To. Chair.”

I give myself pep talks almost daily.  I have twenty years’ worth of journal pages filled with variations of the same self-pep-talk: Yes, Laura, you can finish this book.  No, Laura, it will not suck. And where would I be without the inspirational quotes plastered all over my writing space?  My latest ones are from Einstein, whom I’ll quote in this particular pep talk (for you science-minded types who might roll your eyes at my Rumi quotes.)

Einstein Quote #1: “The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious.”

Writing a book is mysterious.  Even after seven published books, I feel this way. Just when I think I have the process all figured out, I fall flat on my face.  We writers yearn for step-by-step instructions on how to realize our dazzling and intricate visions. The mysterious can be exasperating.

Here’s my take on it:  Writing a story is a dance between your mysterious-deep-huge mind and your small-rational-ego mind... with the mysterious-deep-huge mind leading.  My small mind comes up with thousands of ever-shifting reasons why I shouldn’t delve into the depths, thousands of reasons why I should give up on my story.  My small mind is scared of relinquishing control.  It wants to quit.

What I’ve learned is this: Embrace the mysterious. This is your source.  Know that it is fearsome but beautiful.  Know that as a writer you must swim down into its darkness, explore it, and then return to the sunlit surface, laden with treasure.  Figure out your own metaphor for this.  Figure out your own way of humbly connecting with your source and showing gratitude.  (To do so, sometimes I put a vase of flowers on my desk or light a candle or get on my knees and give thanks.)  (Am I getting too mystical? Sorry. I tend to do that, which is why I started all this by quoting a scientist.)


Okay, back on track. 

Einstein Quote #2: “A human being is part of a whole, called by us “universe,” a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest… a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness.”

Why do you write stories?  I write stories because I have a strong urge to do so.  I hesitate to use the word “calling,” but honestly, that’s what fits best.  Writing stories makes me feel alive and purposeful in this vast universe. (Also, I get grumpy and head-achey if I don’t write.) 

All of you who have embarked on NaNoWriMo have this calling, too.  Maybe your reason for writing stories is different from my own… but to sacrifice sleep, a social life, and possibly basic hygiene for a month, you must feel a calling. 

Over space and time, certain humans have had this irresistible urge to tell stories and the courage to do it.  You are part of this sea of story-teller souls.  This is an incredible gift.  Humans need stories, and you – you-- have the calling to give them these stories.

Offering and receiving stories breaks down that “optical delusion of consciousness” that Einstein mentioned.  Stories let us exist in other skin, other minds, other lives.  They give us a sense of oneness with people—real and invented-- who might be, on the surface, vastly different from ourselves.  Isn’t that a miracle of sorts?  And you’re a key part of it.


Einstein quote # 3: “There are two ways to live your life—one is as though nothing is a miracle, the other is as though everything is a miracle.”

During this month, your small-rational-ego mind has probably found hundreds of reasons why you shouldn’t finish, why your book sucks, why you suck. Your duty as a storyteller in this universe is to ignore that jabbering, and dive down deep, courageously, into the mysterious.  This month, you’re practicing the dance between the small mind and the big mind.  Honor this miracle. 


Einstein quote #4: “The distinction between past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.”

I wrote one of my favorite self-pep-talks in the early nineties, over a decade before my first book was published.  In my journal, I told myself, “Laura [um, yes, I often address myself by name in my journals], your book already exists, somewhere, in a future time. All you have to do now is write it.” 

Your book already exists.  Trust this.  All you need to do is write. Now.

(Well, and then revise for a few years… but that’s the topic of another pep talk.)

For the next two weeks, as your butt is in the chair and your fingers on the keyboard, may your insides thrum with wonder and gratitude and courage.

Warm writing wishes,


*Also, quick reminder: for those of you interested in participating in a live online chat with me about The Queen of Water on Nov 28 2012 as part of Global Reads, please go here for more details.   This is a really cool, free program, and everyone is welcome!*

                                                                    (Another Einstein quote... couldn't resist!)

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Tips on Revising your Novel...

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Hey guys,

Here's the third installment of my novel-writing tip sheets, in honor of NaNoWriMo-- hope it's helpful!  This is something you'll want to use after your first draft, but it can't hurt to look it over now, and let your unconscious mind start working its magic...

Laura’s Revision Checklist

  • Storyline, Pacing, Structure

    • Are important transformational moments and revelations given in scene, not summary?
    • Does each of the subplots have a clear narrative arc or a storyline that corresponds with characters’ changing feelings?
    • Are the central story questions established early on?  Are all the threads and subplots developed and resolved?
    • Are suspenseful moments as suspenseful as possible?  See if you can make them more suspenseful—perhaps by slowing them down, perhaps by clarifying or raising the stakes.  Remember that suspenseful moments need play-by-play narration in scene, not in summary.

  • Characters, Relationships

    • Is each character’s voice distinct?  Pay attention to each character’s way of expressing her/himself—the unique cadence, sentence structure and length, word choice, metaphors, etc.
    • Are all characters—even minor ones-- three-dimensional, with their own motivations and quests?
    • Do characters act in ways consistent with their personalities (and if they diverge, is it clear why)?
    • Is there enough back story to understand the characters (but not too much)?
    • Do all important relationships grow and change?  By the end, is there clear evidence of how the main characters have changed?

  • Theme, Language, Style

    • Is the language rich with sensual details and imagery (but not over-doing it)?  Is the setting vivid?
    • Is there a good balance of scene and summary? Are you showing rather than telling whenever appropriate?
    • Does every scene have a point?  When possible, does each scene ask a question, then answer the question, then ask a new question at the end?
    • Does every scene resonate on several levels? Have you cut irrelevant parts and any repetition of words, phrases, or content? 
    • Do scenes open strongly?  Are the scene breaks powerful? Active, (not passive) verbs when possible? Tenses clear and consistent?
 *Stay tuned for next week-- I've been asked to do a regional NaNoWriMo pep talk, which I'll plan on posting here, too. I'm having fun writing it...*