The details that make the story

After attending my first writers’ conference, I came away inspired, and with a bucketload of great ideas! Of course, I won’t post the content of anyone’s actual presentation, as that’s not mine to share. However, I hope you benefit from these thoughts on what I learned, and some ideas on how I plan to apply them in my own journey.¬†This is the second in a series of posts on lessons learned from the SCBWI Northern Ohio 2017 Conference.

Lesson 2: “I did not need to think of a new story. I only needed to create the details.”

My second lesson came from opening remarks given by Newberry Medal Award-winning author Linda Sue Park (@lindasuepark). The first thing you should know about her is that she’s really funny and a great storyteller. Second, while she has given a voice to Koreans and Korean-Americans in many of her stories, she also loves baseball, cooking, knitting, and many other things that make her unique.

She shared a quote about two basic plot structures (attributed either to John Gardner or Joseph Campbell depending on the reference you use):

  1. A stranger comes to town
  2. A hero goes on a journey
Is she a hero going on a journey or a stranger coming to town? You decide.

What she loved about this was the freedom that comes with it: if there are indeed only two kinds of plots, all she had to do was fill in her own details. She encouraged passion for the details, and pointed us to the Fuse8 blog by Librarian Betsy Bird (@fuse8) as an example of details (in this case knitting needles) that were wrong.

Her point, and well taken, is that the people who are passionate about a particular field will definitely notice when you get it wrong. If you’re going to write about something that isn’t your field, you should do so much research that you become a part of that community. And you almost certainly already have passions you could write about that you would be frustrated with if someone else got wrong. The devil, so we’ve heard, is in the details.

Long story short:

You’re unique, and so am I. Though I had heard it before, I was reinforced in the knowledge that each of us has our own story to tell, and we are the only ones who can tell it our way. We should write something that ignites our passion, that we spend the time to know well.

Result: I’m going to continue to write my passion, and know that telling a story my way is the only way I can, or should, try to tell it. And I’m going to be sure to get the details right.

I’ll keep you posted as I make progress. In the meantime, please share something you’re passionate about that has come through in your writing. Or tell me your story about the girl in the photo above…

Happy writing!

10 things I do when I’m avoiding writing

All writers know (heck, all people know) that when you have work to do there’s a pretty good chance you’ll spend at least some of your time avoiding actually doing it. Here are a few ways I might avoid work (in no particular order):

10. Eat jordan almonds. They are delicious and addictive. And if I only take four at a time, I can keep going back to the cupboard to get more, thus delaying work further. I like to think of it as “pondering time.”

9. Play a game. A board game with my kids if they’re awake. If not, then it’s Trivia Crack or Candy Crush all the way. Wasting time has never been so fun.

8. Take online quizzes. Turns out I’m Daenerys Targaryen.

7. Watch TED Talks, such as this lovely one on procrastination. I can literally feel the monkey on my back.

6. Read everyone else’s Facebook status updates, because there’s nothing so important as being sure your friend’s kid did great at their soccer game/dance recital/school project that you just became aware of.

5. Clean out my email. Needs doing, and now is as good a time as any.

4. Recenter my Chi. No, wait, that’s something Iron Fist does. Maybe I could learn to do it? That would almost certainly take some time.

3. Do research. Which is to say, google a bunch of stuff that may or may not be relevant to my writing, going down one rabbit hole after another, until I’ve found out whether ancient Romans used toilets. That may not have been the question I was asking, but I feel completely satisfied with the answer.

2. Read a book. Probably a YA fantasy or scifi novel. Hey, as a writer I’m supposed to read to improve my craft, right?

1. Write a blog post about avoiding writing. ’nuff said.

Which of these do I recommend? None. Get back to writing. ūüėČ

What are your favorite ways to avoid work? I’d love to get some more ideas…

Emotion vs physical action in writing

After attending my first writers’ conference, I came away inspired, and with a bucketload of great ideas! Of course, I won’t post the content of anyone’s actual presentation, as that’s not mine to share. However, I hope you benefit from these thoughts on what I learned, and some ideas on how I plan to apply them in my own journey.¬†This is the first in a series of posts on lessons learned from the SCBWI Northern Ohio 2017 Conference.

Lesson 1: “The way readers connect to your character is through emotion.”

My weekend began with an intensive workshop called Plotlines and Heartlines given by Jill Santopolo (@jillsantopolo), an Editorial Director with Philomel books who also authored the Sparkle Spa series and an adult contemporary novel called The Light We Lost. The main goal of the workshop was to bring our own story ideas and work through the action as well as the emotional journey our main characters

Is she hungry for love, or a sandwich? Make sure readers can connect with your characters’ emotions.

As we worked through the five act plot structure and the emotional arc of our stories, I discovered something very important:

My character had nothing driving her other than my keystrokes.¬†Plot structure isn’t enough. If the protagonist isn’t following a desire then she’s just floating along through the story. Sometimes a character’s deepest desire might be hidden from herself, but as the writer I need to know what’s driving her, and I need to make sure readers know. Turns out, the unspecified desire and drive might be why my story feels so slow in some places.

Result: I knew it deep down, but I put into writing what it is that drives my character. Now I need to go back through and make it apparent to the reader. I need to make sure the emotional arc is tied throughout, and that the reader has reasons to care about the character.

I’ll keep you posted as I make progress. In the meantime, let me know how you feel about whether your character needs to know her own drive, or just share what’s driving your characters.

Happy writing!

#StainedGlass window is finally done! #crafting #inspiration

This is it! The 6′ x 3′ window I’ve been working on since 2010 is finally done.

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The pictures speak for themselves, so you can stop reading if you don’t want to know any more, but below I’ve put a few thoughts on the process.

IMG_1155 Finished piece waiting on the table in the garage.

Why did it take so long? Life gets in the way. Given the amount of time I have to work on this type of project, had I done it straight through (meaning, had I not gotten pregnant had a small baby, and taken a couple of years off of glass crafting because it takes time and concentration, both of which I didn’t have), I think it would have taken a¬†couple of months. But it’s that much sweeter to see it hanging in our morning room knowing that it’s been waiting for me for a while now.

This has been my largest piece to date, and one that I did every step entirely on my own (other than installation; my wonderful husband and father did that for me) — all my own cutting, foiling, soldering, etc. Feels really good to have accomplished it!

IMG_1186 One of the boys working on installing the window.

A few lessons I learned along the way:

1) Making your own design is fun, and doesn’t have to be hard. I don’t think of myself as an artist, but I couldn’t find a design that quite did what I needed it to do (i.e. covering the strips that were already between the glass in the window this went in front of). Turns out, you don’t have to be a great artist to make your own design — just try it and see what you get. Plus, unless you go crazy on colors and textures, just about any glass looks nice together.

2) It’s always good to consult with professionals. The advice I got from the glass shop (Leaded Glass Design over in Cuyahoga Falls) was invaluable. For example, I did not know the value of an exact cardboard template until the people at the glass shop mentioned it. I actually ended up taking a “large panel” class there to make sure I did everything right, and it was very helpful.

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Finished window, installed. Cardboard template is resting on the scaffolding below.

3) Don’t be afraid of the glass.¬†I also got great advice from a professional¬†installer (who ended up telling us we didn’t need to pay him to do it, but instead told us how to do it on our own). There’s so much fear when you’ve put this much effort into something. Mostly fear that it will break.¬†The installer told us to¬†be careful, take precaution, but he said that if you’re afraid of the glass you’re much more likely to drop it than if you lift and carry it as if you’re not afraid.

All in all, it’s been a great journey. Now I get to decide what my next glass project will be!

Happy Crafting!

5 tips to get past #writer’s block #writing #amwriting

5 tips to get past writer’s block

I recently read a post by a fellow writer who talked about how she doesn’t have the luxury for writer’s block. Like me, she is a busy mother who also works, so when there’s time to write we MUST take advantage of that time or lose it. With so little extra time, losing it takes a heavy toll.

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Her contention was that she doesn’t get writer’s block because she can’t afford to. I agree with her, but as I pondered the post I realized that I do sometimes get writer’s block, I’ve just had to come up with ways to deal with it as quickly as possible. Here are five of those ways:

1) Read something

That’s right, grab someone else’s work and read it. Flip through a magazine. Read a chapter of one of the books you’re in the middle of. You could even read a short story or a chapter of one of your other pieces of writing. Sometimes, a turn of phrase will catch your fancy, or an idea will lead you to further research. Inspiration can come from places you don’t expect.*

2) Take a brain break

Yep, seems counter-intuitive. Take a break when there’s no time to waste? But the truth is that you can’t force it, either. So do something else — something that you’ve been wanting to do; something that gets your juices flowing. Just be sure to set a timer (about 15 min usually works for me) so that you can try to get back to writing while you’ve still got time to do it.

3) Write something else

So you’ve got a block that won’t let you move forward with your main story and characters? Write a different story. Maybe with different characters. Or maybe just a totally different part of this story that you haven’t gotten to yet. Maybe skip to the end you’ve envisioned and write that scene. Either way, the key is to keep writing.

4) Draw a picture

This tip came from one of the pieces I read in preparation for NaNoWriMo last fall. Sometimes, the reason you’re blocked is because you just can’t picture it. No matter whether you’re good at drawing or whether (like me) your drawings are still riddled with stick figures, try sketching something about your story. Maybe it’s something your characters are wearing. Maybe it’s a map of their city, street, or house. Or maybe you just try a quick Tangle (see my post on Zentangle for more info). But just using that part of your brain can help get the other creative parts working as well.

5) Walk the stairs

It is well known that exercise can get your brain working again. However, if you’ve got limited time to write, you probably can’t throw on your sweats and head to the gym either. So you take the exercise you can get. Walk up and down the stairs three or four times. Or you could do a few yoga poses, squats, or sit ups. Just take five minutes to get your body moving and your blood flowing to your brain. Then get yourself back into that chair and write.

I hope these tips help you get past your next bout of writer’s block!

Happy writing!

*For example, I was once writing a tricky scene on a pirate ship, and got an idea from reading a few chapters of a Geronimo Stilton book to my kids.

(image: Throes of Creation by Leonid Pasternak; from Wikimedia Commons)

#CherryBlossom #crossstitch

Just wanted to share. This is the cross stitch that I entered in the needlework show at the library (she’s about 14×16 on 18 count Aida fabric):

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Here are some close-ups of the cool details, including cording and backstitching with complementary colors as well as gold thread in some places:

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Her belt is also corded, and I had to learn how to do lazy daisies for her hair:

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This is how she looks displayed on my wall with two smaller companion pieces I made to go with her:

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Happy stitching!

6 Reasons we use @ABCmouse for #homeschooling

6 reasons we use ABCmouse

We’ve been using a program called ABCmouse to supplement our homeschooling efforts. We use it more on some days than others, and it certainly doesn’t replace the work we do in workbooks or with hands-on projects. However, there are many reasons why we love the program.*

1) Good for both kids

Both kids (6 and 3 years old) can use it — in fact, I was surprised at how quickly the 3-year-old picked up how to navigate the program!

2) Age-appropriate activities

With different levels to choose from, the activities that each of the kids receives in their respective lessons are age-appropriate, so they don’t get frustrated.

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3) High production value

The graphics are great, and the whole site has a very high production value. For example, the ABC videos are super cute. I literally can’t get some of the songs out of my head (“Bobby Bugsby had a Bike. A Birthday present from his Brother Mike…”), and the videos are engaging. The three-year old recognizes more letters from these than from my drilling with him.

In fact, if you don’t want to pay for the whole program, it would be well worth it to just get the ABC videos (available on their own in an iPad app).

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4) Wide variety

There are so many activities that there’s something for each of them no matter what mood they’re in. Puzzles. Mazes. Books. Letters. Fables. Pets. Reward tickets. And so many more!

5) Provides an activity when you don’t have any hands available

It’s good for the 6-year-old to supplement math and reading, but there’s also a side-benefit: sometimes when I’m trying to work on a specific project with my 6-year-old, this is a good way to get the 3-year-old involved in something that he enjoys and that keeps him occupied for 10 or 20 minutes.

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6) iPad-ready

We just got the kids iPad minis, and the full version of ABC mouse is available as an app (it’s called Early Learning Academy) — you just sign in with the UN and PW you created on the computer. That makes it even easier for us to use when we’re traveling. Also, no more fights about who gets to go first. ūüôā

So, in my humble opinion, ABC mouse is worth a look for anyone who has younger children, particularly if you’re homeschooling.

Happy homeschooling!

*To be clear, ABC mouse didn’t tell me to write this post, didn’t give me anything for free, and probably doesn’t even know who I am other than a name in a database. I just really love this resource and wanted to share.

You can do it too! #Kumihimo with #beads, #beading

Looking at some of the amazing beaded Kumihimo* projects in the book I have (see below for a link to it), I was initially a little bit nervous. But when I finally tried one, it turned out not to be so bad. Here’s what I made on my first try:

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Here’s what I learned from it:

1) You can’t tell, but that’s two colors of beads (white and light green). Unfortunately, the mint-colored thread I used overpowered the white beads and they all ended up looking like the same color. I’ll use white cord if I’m using white beads next time.

2) I used a ton of cord to make sure I’d have enough and it ended up being way more than what I needed. There is a way to figure out how much cord and how many beads you need, which is shared in this book:¬†Braiding with Beads 2 – Braiding Solutions on the Kumihimo Disk¬†by Karen DeSousa.

I ended up capping the ends right near the beads and turning it into a bracelet. In any case, I’ll definitely try another beaded project as this one was fun and turned out looking beautiful. ūüôā

Happy Kumihimo-ing!

*If you don’ t know what Kumihimo is, check out my post on the subject from a few weeks ago: What is Kumihimo?

Three tips for succeeding at #CampNaNoWriMo — week 1 in review #amwriting #writing

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Dear mom and dad,

Here I am at Camp NaNoWriMo!

As you know, I was super excited to come to Camp NaNo for the first time this year. In fact, before camp began I was thinking,¬†“Yay! The support of NaNoWriMo in a spring month! I can’t wait to get writing!”

I’m writing to let you know how my camp experience has been going so far.

Here’s what happened on April 1st:

“Well, it’s not REALLY NaNoWriMo — I mean, I got to pick my own goal and it’s lower than normal NaNoWriMo — so I could blow off the first day and still be okay.”

Here’s what happened on April 3rd:

“Even with my lower-than-50K goal I still need to get almost 1,000 words per day. Better get going!”

One week in, with a goal of 7,000 words the first week, I’ve only completed about 2,000 words. (cue Debbie Downer music: wah wah wah waaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhh.)

But you taught me to always look on the bright side. Just call my Pollyanna! Here’s what I plan to do for the rest of the month to re-start my momentum:

Tips for Camp NaNoWriMo

1) Treat it just like you treat NaNo in November.

That means no excuses. Somehow, in November I managed to find time to finish 50,000 words even with work, kids, laundry, etc. So this month, I need to stop letting work be an excuse. And just because I set myself a goal of 30K rather than 50, I still need to take it just as seriously if I actually want to meet that goal. (And I do. I soooooooooo do.)

2) Shoot to exceed, rather than just meet the goal

For most of us, even when we’re not using excuses, there just isn’t time to always write every day. Given that, rather than shooting to meet goal each time I sit down, I’m going to write as much as I possibly can. If that falls short, meets, or exceeds the goal for the day, I’m going to be proud of myself for getting it done. And if it exceeds enough times, hopefully I can make up for what I missed.

3) Make use of the time you have

Who says writing has to all happen in one big block during the day, anyway? Back in November, I took my Chromebook everywhere I went. If I was in a waiting room for 20 minutes, that meant 20 minutes of writing. In an effort to catch up to my goal for Camp, I’m pledging to myself that I’ll do the same this month.

Bonus tip:

There are SO many resources available at the Camp NaNoWriMo site (cabin mates, pep talks, writing resources, etc) — if you’re not already taking advantage of these, this would be a good time to start doing that. (Yes, I was talking particularly to myself just there, but you’re welcome to take that advice as well.)

After taking the time to write all of this, I’m pumped! Maybe I’ll take this momentum and get going on catching up. 30K, here I come!

Happy writing!

P.S. If you’re at Camp NaNo as well, feel free to message me and say hello! I’m JaeRuss on the site.