Tag Archives: writing

Homeschooling isn’t wrestling, either.

“Imagination is our greatest gift and our greatest curse…” -Max Landis, from his short film Wrestling Isn’t Wrestling

I’ve been on a Max Landis kick. Ever since I listened to his episode of the Nerdist podcast a few years ago I’ve been intrigued by the way he tells stories. After seeing his recent tweet about his mom and the Jeopardy question about costumes for Indiana Jones, I ended up finding, and reading, his entire treatise on Carly Rae Jepsen, watched The Death and Return of Superman, and then Wrestling Isn’t Wrestling.  [Fair Warning: his stuff, including the above linked tweet and video, tends to be NSFW]

Two immediate reactions:

1) He shared that the first thing people say to him about wrestling is, “You know it’s fake, right?” It reminded me of the way people react when I announce that I homeschool. It’s frustratingly predictable, and coming from someone who has no experience of it, a response like this almost feels designed to make you feel bad about yourself.

2) Max Landis isn’t going to feel bad about himself, and neither am I. His contention, quoted above, is that people need drama and stories because our infinite imaginative capacity can leave us bored, and wrestling fills that gap for him. “We love watching people grow, change, struggle. Good people; bad people. We don’t care. We want to see it, man.”

This is closer to what wrestling looks like at our house.

Reading and writing, homeschooling, and even falling down the Max Landis rabbit hole all charge up my imagination in different ways.

Max Landis probably isn’t for everyone. But the stuff that is “for everyone” tends to get bland and watered down anyway. So if you’re feeling daring, check his stuff out. Maybe you’ll find a new favorite source of entertainment to satisfy your ever-hungry imagination.

Happy doing-whatever-it-is-you-like-to-do-best-ing!

Wrestlers photo by Martin Kníže on Unsplash
Panda photo by Jackson Ingraham on Unsplash

The time might not be now

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 fifth in a series of posts on lessons learned from the SCBWI Northern Ohio 2017 Conference.

Lesson 5: “But do we need to know it now?”

For my fifth lesson, I opted to do a one-on-one critique with Linda Camacho (@LindaRandom) an agent with Prospect Agency.

We had a lovely 15-minute chat that went all over the board, and much of it was personal to my story. However, I’d like to share a tip she suggested (in regards to showing rather than telling, which seems to be a problem of mine) that really stuck with me and felt universally helpful.

When you’re looking at the amount you’re telling in terms of backstory, ask yourself these two questions:
1) Is this something we actually need to know to further the story? If no, delete. If yes…
2) Do we need to know it now?If no, delete. If yes, find a way to work into dialogue if possible, or pare it down to bare bones.

Of course you want to tell all of the nuances of your character that you spent hours and days and weeks building. But if the readers don’t need to know something, it’s okay to just hint at it, or leave it out altogether. If they do need to know it, are you giving it in an information dump? Does it even really make sense to be in that particular part of the story?

Long story short:

Don’t dump. Yes, you want to get your key points across, but resist the urge to drop backstory on your readers like a load of bricks. Parcel it out, in conversation as much as possible, and only give the most important tidbits. Save the reason your character will only wear white socks for a time when that fact actually helps forward the story.

Result: I’ve got some editing to do. Not news, but now I have one more tool to help me do it.

I’ll keep you posted as I make progress. In the meantime, let me know a favorite nuance you created for a character that you can’t find a way to work naturally into your story.

Happy editing!

Photo by Alex Holyoake at Stocksnap.io

He who smelt it… had a more interesting 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 fourth in a series of posts on lessons learned from the SCBWI Northern Ohio 2017 Conference.

Lesson 4: “Show, don’t tell.”

My fourth session of the conference was a self-editing seminar run by Gloria Adams and Jean Daigneau of Two-4-One Kid Critiques. They offer services to help aspiring authors edit their manuscripts ahead of submission or self-publication.

This is not the first, nor will it be the last, session I’ve attended on self editing. Each time I get additional nuggets that make me a better editor. Though they gave out a plethora of great tips, most of them lead back to the same point: show, don’t tell.

One key example of this was action verbs. They began the session talking about using the strongest possible word. Did your character cry? Or did she weep? Or were her shoulders shaking with sobs? They recommended searching your work for passive verbs (by searching for words like “was” and “is”) and replacing with better active verbs.

Another was adding sensory-specific imagery. Did your character bite her lip? If so, did she bite hard enough to draw blood? What did the blood taste like? What could she smell? What did her teeth feel like, pricking into the soft skin of her lip? They recommended highlighting sensory descriptors throughout your work with different colors so you can see how often you use each of the senses.

Don’t just stop at “pretty.” What do the flowers smell like? How do they feel in her hands? What do they remind her of?

Long story short:

Editing is a process with many steps, but it’s do-able if you look for more ways to show and not tell. They gave plenty more examples of ways to self edit, and you can even hire professionals, such as the two amazing ladies who gave the talk, to help you through the process.

Result: I’m certainly going to start rooting out passive verbs and looking for ways to insert more sensory language in my own manuscript.

I’ll keep you posted as I make progress. In the meantime, please feel free to post your own self editing tips, or share an egregious example of weak verbs or boring language you were able to move past once you edited.

Happy editing!

Notebook Photo by Mona Eendra on Unsplash
Tulips Photo by rawpixel.com on Unsplash

Agents are people, too.

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 third in a series of posts on lessons learned from the SCBWI Northern Ohio 2017 Conference.

Lesson 3: “Insulting the agent you’re querying, before or after the no, is a bad idea.”

I attended a session on writing a good query letter with agent Jennifer Wills (@WillsWork4Books). While I’ve attended other query letter talks and walked into the session thinking I already knew most of what she was going to say, I was hoping to gain a few good nuggets. I was blown away by the great amount of information she shared, and new angles on some of the things I’d heard before. My notes pages are packed with tips and takeaways, and I got more than one good laugh from her session.

Though there were plenty of takeaways, here are two key points that stood out for me:

1) Subject lines

I hadn’t heard, nor even thought about, the subject line of a query email. Combing through hundreds of emails, some of which are queries and some not, Jennifer suggested that making it short, sweet, and clear was the best way to go. Her ideal email subject line would be “Query: Title/Author/Genre” and the name of the conference where you met, if applicable. That’s it.

2) There’s a long list of “don’ts”

Jennifer had us giggling at the list of things NOT to do, from sending a query that asks if it’s okay to query, to telling the agent that your book still needs work but you’re sending anyway. (Hint: if you think your book still needs enough work to be worth mentioning, it’s not ready to send.) But the one that completely astounded me is how rude some people can be towards agents.

She shared a few stories, and we sat in shocked silence hearing how some people start rude (you’ve never seen anything this good, and you’d be stupid not to take it) and others get rude upon rejection (you must be stupid since you passed up this opportunity, and you’ll never get it again).

Her advice was to assume that the agent is also a person. That they are doing their best to do their job. That their rejection isn’t personal, but there are more queries than there is time to do anything about them, and you’re essentially asking a stranger to do something for you.

In the end, it’s like a relationship – just like a person you want to date, the agent you want to work with doesn’t owe you anything. If they reject you and you think it was undeserved, then they’re probably not the right match for you. And badmouthing them, to their face, to your friends, or on social media, isn’t going to make it better. At best, it makes you look bad. At worst, others will stay away because you seem like someone who won’t treat them well.

Yep, rejection hurts. But that’s no reason to burn bridges.

Long story short:

It turns out agents are actually just people. They put their pants on one leg at a time, just like the rest of us. They have full email inboxes, just like the rest of us. And they don’t like to be yelled at or insulted, particularly by someone who’s asking for something.

Result: I was never going to be intentionally insulting, but now I’m going to make it a point to be especially nice. Plus, I know what my email subject line is going to be.

I’ll keep you posted as I make progress. If you have any great stories about querying you’d like to share, I’d love to hear ‘em.

Happy querying!

Photo by Nonsap Visuals on Unsplash

Writer, edit thyself

I just attended a workshop at the library on the subject of self-editing your novel with Jennifer Sawyer Fisher of JSF Editorial. She gave us a good deal of great information, and plenty of examples to help drive the points home.

In no particular order, here are a few of my takeaways:

  1. I might have to cut back on the subplots
  2. Trying to push through and edit a full-length novel all in one sitting would be as silly as trying to write the thing all in one sitting.
  3. Writing and editing go together like peanut butter and jelly. Okay, I made this one up. But it’s still the basic gist of what she said.
  4. One day, when I write a murder mystery, the rule of thumb is a death in the first three chapters. Don’t need this now, but I’m just filing away the info for later.
  5. Hiring a good editor is worth every penny. Though Ms. Fisher didn’t specifically say this, I think it was implied. And probably very true.
  6. This I’ve heard before, but it bears repeating:  just because there are super-long books on the bookstore shelves doesn’t mean a first time author is going to get a super-long book published. Cut the fluff.
  7. When it comes to accepting or rejecting an editor’s, agent’s, or publisher’s suggestions for your book, go with your gut.
  8. Also not news, but worth repeating: action verbs, action verbs, action verbs.
  9. I need to stop using the same word so many times in a single sentence/paragraph (for example, I just edited a second word “session” out of my sentence below and replaced it with “workshop”).
  10. Full page paragraphs are a big no-no.

It was an inspiring session. Thanks to Ms. Fisher and everyone at the Hudson Library and Historical Society who made the workshop possible!

Happy editing!

Have you received a great piece of writing or editing advice lately? Please share in the comments.

Photo by Anastasia Zhenina on Unsplash

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. 😉

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!

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.

Leonid_Pasternak_001

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)

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.