Monthly Archives: September 2010

A look to the future.

I’ve always wanted to duct tape my kids.  I’ve threatened and teased, but in the end, I’ve never had the opportunity to use the all-purpose tape on them until now.  Suddenly, my future looks very bright.

Finally, disposable clothes!

Though not as bright as the outfits my DD and her BF are sporting for homecoming dress-up week.  Yep, that’s duct tape.  The silvery multi-purpose, fix-everything-from-books-to-tractors tape has a new look.

From tie-dyed to fluorescent, duct tape has an eye to the future–as should we. 

We can learn a lot from DT’s marketing department.  They didn’t stop at functional, but rather branched out to appeal to our aesthetics.   They hit a niche market I didn’t even know was out there.

I guess it’s really important for us to think outside the box and keep our eyes open for opportunity even if something seems absurd.  After all, I’m sure the rep who pitched colorful duct tape was laughed out of the room at first.

And now he’s the one laughing on the way to the bank.  Wonder if he’s the one who suggested Duct Tape clothing as a homecoming day?

As writers, we would do well to remember that our futures depend on our readers, whatever–or whoever–they may be.

Don’t just catch the trend.  Be the trend.

Are you bold enough to break outside the norm, or do you feel more comfortable writing about the tried and true?

Sniff Your Shoes: if you dare!

The other day, our house was filled with our normal array of kids.  As is typical for teen boys now-a-days, most of the shoes on our front rug were black with some kind of white stripe on them.  On occasions, DH and I have been known to tie them all together when the kids are watching movies. 

We didn’t get the opportunity, however, before one young man ran up stairs on a mission to somewhere.  He grabbed a handful of shoes and began sniffing them. 

Yeah, like nose to the foot hole, deep breath, sniff.   

 “Doesn’t smell like mine,” he said and dropped the shoe, only to sniff another.

I learned something that day.  Not about recognizing my own foot odor, but about recognizing my style. 

Most writers have a distinct style when they write.  Their words and sentences flow across the page with a familiar flair.  The same sentence structure, the same descriptive patterns, similar dialogue, etc.

This may be a result of writing in the same genre (fantasy, steam punk, crime, etc) book after book.  Yet as I examine my pieces of fiction, I have to believe it is something else.  Something that comes from deep within us and the way we experience our words and our worlds.

My picture books are distinctly mine, as are my chapter books and middle grade novels.  There is something about the way I write that makes my writing my own.

No other author could sniff test them and believe they were theirs.  Nor could I mistake someone else’s style for my own. 

Have you noticed you write with a unique style?  If so, does this help or hinder you when writing outside the same genre?  Is it even possible or desirable to carry your style across your stories, let alone across multiple genres?  Or am I just over thinking this thing?

Take a look at writing and let us know what you find.

Dare To Be Different: writing lessons from a tree

I have a tree in my front yard.  Its green leaves haven’t begun to turn.  I also have a cranberry bush on the north side of my house that has sported green leaves all summer long. 

Both these plants each boast one branch of red leaves.  A single branch of all red in the midst of velvety green.  It’s a crazy anomaly and one I can’t help but applaud. 

Dare to be different.  Even nature knows that sometimes a splash of unusual is preferable to uniformity.

LESSONS FROM A TREE

  • It’s okay to be a tree.  We don’t have to reinvent a new plant every time we write a book.  At the heart of it all, each book has a trunk (MC), branches (plot, story arc) and leaves (conflict and resolution told in a thousand tiny details.)  It’s the texture of the bark, the reach of the branches and the shape and color of the leaves that creates something new and exciting, not the tree itself.  Don’t go too far out on a limb with your project or you’ll have agents, editors and readers too afraid to plant your manuscript in their yards. 
  • It’s okay to be different.  We don’t need a new topic to write a good story, just a new twist.  A red branch, if you will.  Something that sets our manuscripts apart from the other trees in the forest.  After all, blending in completely won’t do us an favors on the book shelf.  Nor will a regurgitation of Twilight or Pirates of the Caribbean catch us the attention of an agent or editor.
  • It’s okay to bend a bit.  When the wind blows, my tree sways.  It may lose a leaf or two, but in the end, it still stands proudly as the center point in my front yard.  When we receive constructive feedback from our critters, we need to be open to a new perspective on our writing.  Bending without breaking can be the difference between a good manuscript and a great manuscript.  It can determine who is left standing in the literary world after the storm passes.
  • It’s okay to need nurturing.  Mother Nature generally waters my trees.  However sometimes she needs a helping hand.  When the skies clear and things heat up, I’ve been known to turn the hose on.  If you ever feel isolated as a writer, don’t.  Communities abound where people understand what aspiring writers need.  Your significant other may not always be able to provide enough nurturing.  Your writing community can.  Use it.  Plant your roots, because if the drought goes on too long, the damage can be irreparable.
  • It’s okay to be different.  Yeah, I know I already said that, but it’s worth repeating for another reason.  Every tree in my yard has a unique shape.  Some are bold, with a few strong branches.  Others gracefully reach to the sky with delicate limbs.  Some stand tall while others sprawl.  Accept who you are as a writer and a person.  Don’t prune your branches too look like everyone else.  Embrace  your uniqueness and share your shade whenever you get the chance!

Are you okay to be a tree?  What lessons from a tree are hard for you to accept?  Which ones feel natural? 

Starts With P: writing advice

Our preschool letter of the week is P.  We talk about pickles and pinecones, pigs and peacocks, porcupines and pillows.  Not in that order, and certainly not in the same breath.  Yet, like all things, I could string them together into one cohesive theme if given enough time.  I’m just crazy that way.

While contemplating this today, it struck me that novels would never get completed without the all-powerful letter P. 

And so I present you: Writing Advice with the Letter P.

  • Premeditate: Every good story needs a bit of forethought before putting pen to paper.  While I’m a pantster (writing without an outline), a certain amount of premeditation can go a long way in understanding the nuances of a novel.  For instance, I researched multiple personality disorders for Whispering Minds.  I read four books, checked out numerous websites and tapped into my psych classes from college to pull together pertinent info to my story.
  • Plot: Next I plodded plotted my way through my story.  I wrote one word after another, stringing sentences into paragraphs and pages into chapters.  Soon, I had a viable story line with a workable plot–a conflict and a resolution.
  • Progress: Every day, I wrote a minimum of 1,667 words.  While that sounds impressive, it was a self-imposed timeline posed by NaNoWriMo and their annual novel-writing contest.  Regardless of the reason, however, I made progress toward my 50k words in thirty days goal.  Each and every day, I worked on my novel.  Forward motion is the only way progress is made.
  • Perseverance: Don’t get me wrong, there were days I wanted to quit.  Procrastination could have been my friend.  Instead, I persevered through the doldrums and worked despite my absent muse. 
  • Posterior: Eventually I reached THE END.  The backside of a novel writing endeavor is a much cherished success.  Whether our words ever get read by another human being or not, simply reaching the climax of a novel and wrapping up the loose ends is a success few wannabe writers ever reach.  If this is as far as you get in your career as a writer, congratulate yourself on a job well-done.  Only 17% of those starting NaNoWriMo each year complete their goals. 
  • Practice: After our final words find their way to the page, aspiring writers feel empowered with their success.  We want to rush our babies into the literary world.  Don’t.  Suppress this urge.  Quash it.  Kill it or hide it in a box in a dark closet.  Your rough draft is your practice piece.  Nothing more and nothing less.   
  • Polish: After a solid finish, your practice manuscript needs a good spit-shine.  It needs echoes beat out of it.  It needs plot holes filled and characters plumped.  It needs to be edited over and over again until you have clarity.  It needs beta eyes to pinpoint problem areas and help make your writing a work of art–precise, polished, perfect.
  • Perfection: Okay, maybe that’s too strong of a word.  But the gist of it is, if you ever want to go from wanna-be writer to aspiring writer to full-fledged author, you must learn the delicate balance between as-good-as-I-can-get-it and editing-the-magic-out.  When we reach that comfortable place in our rewrites, we must stop the urge to tinker and start pimping our babies to the professionals.

What other P words pave the way for good writing habits and stellar manuscripts? 

Inquiring minds want to know.

Spot Cleaning:carpets and manuscripts

When things get old, they shed and begin to smell.  Their body oils change and they start to drool.

No, I’m not talking about the folks in the nursing home.  I’m talking about my aging black lab.  The one who languishes at the end of the couch, making a gray nest of hair, oil and dirt on our cream carpet.

For the record, I never put in the white carpet.  It was here when we moved in.  It should have been the first thing to go.  Now we are waiting for the dog and the kids to go hopefully to different places before we spend the money on new floor covering. 

Just like writing.

On a rough draft, we put in white carpet because it’s pretty.  We fill our rooms up with children and dogs.  And, as in real life, these things can muck up our manuscripts.  They have a way of shedding, dragging in dirt, drooling and leaving juice-spilled Rorschachs on the carpet.

Just yesterday I spot cleaned Geriatric Dog’s gray, end-of-the-couch nest and an apple juice drawing.  I don’t cry anymore when I walk by the living room.  I am also spot cleaning my manuscript. 

WHAT IS SPOT CLEANING?

  • Taking out unnecessary words like “that”, “just” and “like”.
  • Replacing dialogue tags with action tags.  “Don’t drink your juice on the carpet,” I said with a sigh and grabbed my rag to mop up the mess.  “Don’t drink your juice on the carpet.”  I grabbed my rag to mop up the mess.
  • Cutting down on descriptive strings.  The grumpy, over-worked, tired writer scrubbed the oily, hair-filled, dog-spot until it disappeared.   The over-worked writer scrubbed the dog-spot until it disappeared.
  • Discarding be-verbs.  I will be kicking the dog out of her nest.   I will kick the dog out of her nest. 
  • Taking out echoes.  My dog is old.  My dog sheds a lot.  My dog is dirty and my dog gets the carpet dirty when she lays on it.   My dog is old and dirty.  The carpet gets filthy when she sheds.
  • Eradicate over-active ly’s.  Our geriatric lab gingerly walks to the end of the couch so she can slumber blissfully.  Our geriatric lab hobbles to the end of the couch for her blissful slumber.

These simple tips can tidy up a manuscript as easily as spraying Oxy Clean on a graying dog-spot.  Most of it can be done via find and replace in a Word document, while the rest can be scrubbed out on a subsequent read-through. 

What other issues can be spot cleaned from a manuscript?

What comes first the MC’s age or the Genre?

Lately, I’ve been discussing age with a lot of my writing buddies.  Not theirs or mine.  Heaven knows we don’t want to start a wrinkle comparison or a gray hair contest.  Rather, the question of matching an MC’s age to his/her genre has been a hot topic with a huge question mark at the end.

Writers want to know who is reading what about whom.  It seems like the answer should be obvious, but it’s really convoluted and nuanced when you get right down to it.

One of my writer buddies wrote an entire ADULT novel only to learn that it really was middle grade.  Another penned a fun and spunky picture book–that really needed to be a chapter book. 

Stories like this are not isolated events.  When a beginning novelist sets out to writer their first major manuscript, we know NOTHING about the biz.  We simply write the story we hear in our heads with the characters who are clamoring to get out of our heads.  We pay little attention to how these masterpieces will actually fit on the bookshelf.

Yet, genre is one of the most important aspects of marketing our wares.  Agents want a neat little package they can sell to publishers who can then pimp our fiction to book stores across the country.  All this means is that our manuscripts must ultimately fit on the bookshelf in a place where our audience can find them.

When we try to pawn off our chapter book to adult only agents, the answer will invariably be the splosh of our manuscript hitting the bottom of the wastebasket.

Think middle graders want to read about bunnies having a fight with their mommies?  Think again.  Middle school students rarely read middle grade, let alone picture books.

Nope, these ‘tweens are more concerned about what’s happening in the hallways of your make believe world.  Their thoughts are to the future–jock talk and pep fests,  not warm squishy comforts of  yesterday.

How do you determine the age of your MC and the type of book you will write?  Have you ever written your MC into the wrong manuscript?  If so, how do you remedy the problem: by pumping up your MC’s age or by toning down your story line and language?

Have you ever written a book where the MC’s age cannot be changed without ruining the entire storyline?  Did you trash it or try to salvage something from the wreckage?

Age-muddled minds want to know!

Shout Out on a WIP Read-Through

Over the weekend, I read my NaNo09 novel for the first time.  I’ve had good intentions several times and have actually started puttering with the first few pages a time or two.  However, I never really got into it.  I think I was petrified–afraid it would stink worse than a road-kill skunk and terrified that the manuscript was simply too big for me to tackle.

The long weekend, with eight hours of driving time, forced me into it.

And boy am I glad I did!

Whispering Minds is a YA, psychological thriller.  It’s my first complete young adult novel and I was certain it was horrible.  60,124 words of horrible. 

Surprisingly, it wasn’t.  In fact, I cried over Granny, got a bit squishy inside when my MC cozied up to her best guy friend and had goosebumps raise the hair on my arms while watching a video over my MC’s shoulder.

Not that it was perfect.  Or anything bordering on good, but  it wasn’t a disaster.  It’s definitely clean-up-and-submit material.

And, thanks to some wonderful writer friends, I am ready to edit.  I am no longer scared by the huge word count–which is more than double my longest manuscript to date.  Instead, through critiquing my buddies’ WIPs, I’ve learned to critique my own work, not just edit.

WHAT DID I DO?

  1. Read through the entire thing as if I was reading a novel.
  2. Made notes in the margins.  Not typos or grammar or any of those bothersome things.  Rather, notes on questions, confusions, time line discrepancies and unclear passages. 
  3. Wrote a mini critique like I do for my buddies.  This helped me focus on the issues that needed fixing. 

WHAT DID I LEARN?

  1. That my writing is prone to the same mistakes everyone else makes and that by critiquing it in the same way I do for my friends, I am more apt to see my problems than when I try to edit as I read.
  2. That my characters are as flat as a road-kill skunk.  While I inherently know this is my downfall, I still write rough drafts with pathetic supporting characters.  They need lots o’ work.  But at least now I know where and why. 
  3. That I have major plot holes.  Of course I do.  It was a rough draft.  But this time, I can actually see them laid out in my critique.  I know where I have to spend my time.

WHAT I WON’T DO?

  1. Read it again for quite some time.  I will find my plot holes and fill them in.  I will plump up my characters and tweak timelines. 
  2. Line edit until after another front to back read through.  I will ignore the typos and grammar issues that I typically focus on and once again read for content, not copy.

All in all, this entire novel was a unique experience for me.  While I wrote my first draft, I simply made notes when I got stuck and moved on.  I never reread anything from the day before and simply started with the previous sentence.  I certainly did not edit as I went–which I’ve been known to do so often it inhibits my ability to finish a manuscript.

My shout out is not so much that I actually critiqued my novel, or that I believe it has market potential.  Rather, I’m thrilled to learn that I have, indeed, learned.

I’ve matured as a writer–both in how I write and how I edit.  And that is something worth shouting about!

Can you tell when you’ve grown as a writer?  If so, what did you do differently and how does it affect your approach to your writing journey?

Growing minds want to know!

Heading North

Dear Friends,

I left behind the sun and drove right into a cold drizzle.  Up north this time of year is a blast–usually a chilly breeze off the lake.  Our kids will no doubt find time to don their suits regardless of the 63 degree expected high.  No doubt, I will eat myself sick.  One thing DH’s family does is cook very well.  Appetizers are more common than the cold once school starts.  Quite a bit tastier too.

What this means is that my blog will lay dormant over the weekend–quite possibly into next weekend as I go back to work full time.  I may have to cut down on blogging and schedule my posts like other smarter writers have done.  I’ll miss the daily banter and the awesome outlet for my ever-busy mind.  Hopefully I’ll slip into a routine quickly, my family will adjust to having me gone and I will be able to continue blogging with little interruption.

Until then, thanks for bearing with me, have a great weekend and hope to see you on Tuesday!

hugs and drive safe~

Price Check on Aisle 3: rating social groups

Price is one of the things I look for when buying something from the store.  Quality, durability and functionality also play a big role in what I buy and why.

As a member of several online writing communities, I notice that I am more active in some than in others.  If I were to buy them at Walmart, I’d have a value assessed to them so I knew which ones were worth my hard-earned cash.

One of my faves–and I won’t lie to make other networks feel good–is Agent Query.  AQ has a vast array of writers.  Some have very recently taken pen in hand, while others are seasoned veterans.  My only disappointment in the AQ arena is that their juvenile lit groups are not as active as I would like them to be.  I know, selfish, but there you have it.

Another great resource and community is the SCBWI.  The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators obviously provides me with the one thing AQ does not–child centric conversation and commiseration.

Likewise for Verla Kay and the BlueBoards.

Then there’s twitter and Facebook.  Both of which I fail at miserably.  While I love, love, love the tight writing of twitter, I don’t get on there as much as I should or provide great insight like I could.  Again, I’ve been limited in my contact over there and it is 100% my fault.

Facebook.  Hmmm.

I used to participate in a very active group of NaNoBuddies on Live Journal, but then they changed some things and, unless I upgraded to a paid membership, I had to sit through annoying video ads EVERYTIME I switched pages.  This saddens me to no end.

NaNoWriMo is my staple during the months of October, November and early December.  I live there.  I love there and I never want to leave.  I’m sure my family is relieved when NaNoSeason is over.  Obviously the downfall to this community is that it is filled with crazy wannabe writers who jump into the writing world feet first and fizzle out as the month progresses.  Definitely not a long-term support.  More like therapy for the insane! 

And blogging.  The love of my writing life.  I could blog all day if it didn’t feel like such a time sucker.  I am heartbroken when I don’t get to visit my fellow bloggers like I want to. 

Writer’s Digest Community–the name speaks for itself.  As an avid reader of the magazine for half my life, I can’t say enough about the integrity of its backer.  However, as a whole, I have found that interaction is a bit slower and somewhat one-sided than some of the other sites I frequent.  Though I must say my time on there has been well worth it in finding fellow writer and blogger, Elisa!

I won’t rate my social network groups, as I love them all for various reasons.  However, the fact that I will be starting back to work (outside my house) full-time means that I will have to prioritize.

Price check on aisle three.  How do you decide which communities to engage in?  Why do you spend more time in some than in others?  If you had to pick just one, could you do it, or would you find yourself cheating as time went on? 

Bad Hair Day in Writing

The last time I got my hair cut, I was more specific than I’ve ever been. 

I don’t like how my long and short layers don’t blend.  It makes me look like a mushroom head.

I guess that means, cut the short shorter and leave the long, because now my layers are even more pronounced and I look like a mushroom head with a mullet.

My hair grows so fast, my bangs definitely need to be shorter.

The minute I walked out of the salon I had to pin them back because they were in my eyes. 

Please cut my hair so the back flips out, not under. 

Under makes me the spittin’ image of my mom and is extremely hard to flip out even with the stiffest hair spray and the hottest curling iron.  I aged ten years in ten minutes.

Bad hair is the lowest of the low.  It affects the time it takes to get ready in the morning.  It affects whether we will be crabby or happy when we walk out of the bathroom.  It taints everything we touch or do for the day.

Enter the bad edit.

The one where we start with a vivid picture in our minds of what needs to be done.  Fluff the character, trim the adverbs, smooth the plot holes, dry out unnecessary storylines, brush up the active verbs. 

When we are finished primping, we look in the mirror and…well…we took too much off the top, thinned out our plot, frizzed the characters to something unrecognizable and have a mushroom head with a mullet.  In essence, we have destroyed our manuscripts by being so focused and trying to do too much all at once.

Either that or we’re just crappy hairdressers editors.

I have a manuscript like that.  I took an idea and ran without it.  I regret it bitterly.  So much so that I haven’t even looked at it in two years. 

Have you ever given your manuscript a bad hair cut?  How do you rectify your mistakes?  Is it easier to start over or spend more time primping?