Tag Archives: writing tips

Yesterday: Trying to write

I watched the minutes tick by, as I was trying to write.

I made a grocery list, and I was trying to write.

I taught the kids some math, and I was trying to write.

I got caught in the FaceBook trap, and I was trying to write.

I worried and I hoped, and I was trying to write.

I had more important work to do, and I was trying to write.

I stopped ‘trying’ to write, and I wrote.

NaNo 2019 Day 15 — #amwriting

Behind on wordcount today. Again. Oops.

I mean, if I added in all the words from all the posts I’ve written this month… but that would be like cheating. It would certainly be cheating myself, since my goal is not really to just make it to 50k, but to actually finish this manuscript.

Therefore, instead of a long post today, I’m hanging up a sign on my door that may or may not help me actually achieve my goal: Continue reading NaNo 2019 Day 15 — #amwriting

NaNo 2019 Day 11 — The part where you might just quit

There are some parts of NaNo that are notoriously harder.

First week is usually a roller coaster, but mostly downhill. You’ve got nothing. Anything goes. Literally!

Second week can get a bit more difficult. Your characters are getting IDEAS. You’re trying to corral everyone, but it’s just not working. Continue reading NaNo 2019 Day 11 — The part where you might just quit

My muse didn’t show up to work, but I still had to.

Ever had it happen where you have the time to write, you have the inclination to write, and the words literally won’t come?

This is how it happened to me the other week.

Monday: I have a half hour, I’m going to get some writing done! Or take a nap. Whatever.

Tuesday: I have an hour before my usual bed time, and no other work! I should get some writing done. I’ll open my laptop and…. why don’t I know what to write? This is frustrating. I’ll just read instead.

Wednesday: I have some time, I’ll get that laptop open and get some writing time in. Fingers… frozen… send… help.

Thursday: All right, muse, I’ve been waiting for you all week. Where the heck are you?

Upon reflection, here’s where I might have gone wrong: 1) Since I gave myself permission not to do any writing on Monday (not even 10 minutes), that was enough to make the habit feel onerous. 2) On Tuesday and Wednesday, I let my muse dictate whether I wrote or not, and she was still mad that I’d stood her up on Monday.

Thus, on Thursday I decided it was time to change things up. No more waiting for the muse to show up and help me finish writing chapter 37. I was going to entice her to come back to me by (surprise!) writing.

It may seem counter-intuitive, but sometimes the way to get back into the flow of writing is to just do some writing.

Since chapter 37 wasn’t coming, I switched it up. I did some editing in early chapters. I moved on to a later scene that needed fixing (instead of writing from scratch). Thursday was a slog, but by the time I finished I felt so much better.

And you know what? On Friday my muse showed up and helped me finish chapter 37.

Has this ever happened to you? How did you tempt your muse to come back? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

Happy writing!

Image of typewriter by Elijah O’Donell on Unsplash
Image of crumpled paper in wastebasket by Steve Johnson on Unsplash

So you’ve been overrun with plot bunnies. What should you do?

I was listening to an old episode of A Way With Words, one of my favorite podcasts, and they mentioned plot bunnies.

(A quick aside: If you love words, definitions, etymology, and interesting stories, then you should definitely check out the podcast. The first time I listened to an episode I thought, “These are my people!”)

The podcast used the definition of a story that won’t go away until you write it down, and then it keeps breeding further story ideas. I’ve run across a number of slightly similar definitions for plot bunny (a story idea that gnaws at you until you write it, a story idea that keeps breeding, a story that hits you hard like a herd of wild rabbits, etc.).

What’s that, Thumper? You had a great idea? Do tell.

No matter how you define it, the a plot bunny is a really fun concept. It’s a convenient metaphor for the work your brain is always doing:  observing and thinking. Putting ideas together. Finding patterns. Taking interesting tangents.

So what do you do with your plot bunnies once they’ve begun breeding (and they’re trying to take over from the work that’s in front of you)?

  1. Many writers keep a notebook of ideas that they might use some day. From a low-tech pen and paper notebook, to a Google Doc, to an Evernote file, find a way to get those plot bunnies out of your head.
  2. When the plot bunnies begin to breed, write those down too. Whether it’s a spinoff idea, an idea for a sequel, or an idea that has very little to do with the first but is also compelling, keep it in your “notebook.”
  3. Eventually, whether it takes you a few days or a few years, get around to writing the story. It doesn’t matter if it’s for you or for publication. The key with plot bunnies is that they’ll keep gnawing until you get them completely out of your system.
  4. Understand that ideas are infinite. Someone else might “do your idea first,” (when you read Big Magic as I suggested in another post, you’ll find an amazing example of this), or you might even suggest the idea to a writer friend who might be better suited to take it on. If that exorcises that plot bunny for you, then all is well. More plot bunnies will be along if you just keep observing, thinking, and writing them down.

Here’s to hoping you have fun with your plot bunnies, but don’t let them distract you too much from your current project.

Happy writing!

Photo of fluffy bunnies by Chan Swan on Unsplash
Photo of alert rabbit by Gary Bendig on Unsplash

Things that almost happened

My grandmother once saw a large moose while she was waiting outside of a gas station. She’d just done her necessary business, and was stretching her legs a bit. Soon, her family would join her and they would continue the road to wherever it was they were going.

But in that brief, beautiful moment, she spotted a moose. She was amazed. And, as luck would have it, she had her camera. In preparing the camera to capture the moment (this was back when you had to take off the lens cap), the moose trotted away.

Rather than waste the preparation – it took a while to properly focus the camera, after all – she took a picture of the scenery. When she was showing the pictures later, it came to be known as “the picture of where the moose used to be.”

I don’t have the actual photo, but it was something like this. A barren stretch, maybe with some trees, but definitely no moose.

This is legend within our family. Maybe I’m not telling all of the details exactly right, but ask anyone on my mom’s side about where the moose was, and they all know about the picture. It’s almost a picture of a moose, but you wouldn’t know it without the back story. It’s the story that makes the picture worthwhile.

It is possible that there are an infinite number of missed moments like this. We walk past a park bench where two people almost got engaged. We drive past a bridge that a truck almost crashed into (I actually saw this “almost” the other day, and was so glad it didn’t happen). We look into the woods and see a place where a deer was just standing a moment ago, before it ran away.

Stories are generally about things that actually happen. Yes, the people who were on the Titanic experienced a great tragedy, but what about the person who missed the boat? There’s a story there, too. Today, I’m taking my inspiration from all of the “might have beens,” “almost happeneds”, and “could still bes” to see where my imagination can take me. I’m looking for just the right missed moment that makes a compelling story.

What almost happened to you today? To your characters? And what might — or might not — happen next?

Happy writing!

Photo of moose by Steve on stocksnap.io
Photo of gas station by Mahkeo on Unsplash

Persistence is half the journey

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

Lesson 9: “It’s a process. It’s a journey. Celebrate every step of the way as you work to make your story the best it can be.”

The penultimate session of the day was a panel discussion featuring Jennifer Wills (@WillsWork4Books), Linda Sue Park (@lindasuepark), Jill Santopolo (@jillsantopolo), and Brett Duquette (@brettduquette). They had tons of great advice, so I’m just going to share a bunch of random points, in no particular order:

  • Don’t sell your soul. If someone says “I’d be willing to publish if you change your main character’s name… and also all of the key plot points,” then you’re not really telling your story any more, are you?
  • When you get a rejection, look for the gems – what did they like? What can you improve?
  • The story is more important than your feelings. Making the story the best it can be is what matters, and if you let your feelings get hurt during the process you’re missing the point.
  • Don’t look sideways, or worry about what anyone else is doing (i.e. if they’re ‘ahead’ of you in the writing or publishing process). It’s your story. It’s your journey.
  • Art is not a competition, and we all want more stories, not fewer. Everyone you approach throughout the process wants stories to be successful, so instead of killing your story, find ways to improve it.
But.. that journey has sooo many steps. How am I going to make it that far?

Long story short:

Don’t give up. Sometimes, it feels like no one likes your stuff. Or like your story will never improve. Or like everyone else is getting to the end faster than you. Or like it’s too hard of a journey and you just want to get off the train. But if you improve, even by increments, then the journey was worth it.

Result: I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating – when the “I’m never going to be published” blues hit, I just need to pull up my big girl pants and take the steps I can to move forward.

I’ll keep you posted as I make progress. In the meantime, I’d love to be inspired by a story about a time when you thought your journey was over only to realize you had it in you to keep going.

Happy writing, editing, querying, publishing, and journeying!

Photo of mountain road by Matt McK on Unsplash
Photo of footprints in the snow by Bartosz Gorlewicz on Unsplash

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

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!