Tag Archives: writing tips

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!

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…

Unlocking the #brain for better #writing? #TEDx

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I just finished watching a TEDx Talk given by Bill Donius called “Unlocking Your Brain’s Hidden App.”

It’s 17 minutes long, but if you have a few minutes it’s definitely worth the watch. Find it here.

Now that you’ve seen it, did you write down the same animal or a different? What does it mean to you?

Unfortunately, I wrote the same one twice. I was overthinking it (if you know me, you know I overthink a lot of stuff). Plus, in college I used to practice writing the alphabet over and over with my left hand, so maybe that had an impact.*

However, even though it didn’t “work” for me the first time, I feel like there’s something here. I want to figure a way to surprise myself into not overthinking — maybe get my husband to shoot questions at me quick-fire style? — and see what happens.

My hope is that it can help me break through some of the writers’ block that’s been keeping me from understanding some of my characters. If I get a good result, I’ll certainly share…

Happy writing!

 

*This is a true story. It was during a particularly boring lecture class where the prof tended to repeat himself a good deal. He was an amazing man and had a multitude of experience to share, but he was in his 80s and often forgot which stories he’d already shared. Anyone who took a Cultural Anthropology class at Kent State during the time I was there, you know who I mean. (RIP Dr. P)  Upon realizing I was hearing the same stories for a second time, I got to thinking that if I ever hurt my right hand maybe I should know how to write with my left, so I literally filled notebook pages with left-handed alphabets. That way I’d still get my A for attendance (yes, that’s how easy that particular class was), and I’d look like I was taking notes.