Friday, June 21, 2013

The Summer of Staying Focused (or Thinking Positive): A Friday Five

   Three weeks into summer vacation and I'm not complaining yet about being unproductive - a record! Several projects have been keeping me busy:
  • Bookhounds is hosting the Freedom to Read Giveaway Hop from July 2-9. I love Bookhounds because 1) they review many great books; and 2) the description under their blog title reads 'Books, Gardens, & Dogs, three of my favorite things. There is still time to sign up if you want to participate. 
  • Submitted an essay for an anthology. Fingers crossed!
  • Read the funniest essay this week by YA author Libba Bray on her woes of crafting a manuscript. It's long but worth it in advice and chuckles. 
  • I'm s-l-o-w-l-y making progress on the rough draft. Today I wrote almost 1,800 words at warp speed, but upon reading it at day's end, decided it was GARBAGE and deleted almost half. Maybe tomorrow...
  • Happy Summer Solstice! Why not celebrate with a just-released copy of Solstice by YA author P.J. Hoover
    Have a great weekend!

Monday, June 17, 2013

Snapshot Bios: Monday Mini Challenge #5

Faces and snapshot bios of some famous criminals
 incarcerated at Alcatraz. Hopefully your characters will be
more law-abiding than these guys! 
     As I work on the rough draft for this middle grade novel, I'm filling in character worksheets as I go. Some of the characters seem fairly well-rounded for this early stage, others not so much. These personality-deficit characters take a little more muscle to flesh out.
     To get started, I like Darcy Pattison's blog post on Fiction Notes. I sometimes use her strategy to begin, writing my character's description as a simile. From there, I'm looking at one of my favorite craft books, Creating Characters Kids Will Love, by Elaine Marie Alphin. She suggests interviewing the character and gives two pages of sample questions. Years ago, I went to a workshop given by Richard Peck. He shared that he writes a first-person poem about all of his characters to get started.
     There are a bazillion exercises to help develop characters. Can you write a simile about one of your characters following Pattison's advice?  About about interviewing one of them? Better yet, have your character write you a pen pal letter, introducing him or herself.
   You have five minutes.
   Ready, set, GO!

Friday, June 14, 2013

Saying Yes: Five Ways to Boost Your Writing Life

     Last year I wrote a post about the word 'No' and the value of turning down obligations that get in the way of writing. I'm as guilty as anyone of filling up the calendar, chipping away at the time I could spend writing. But I've also discovered a few things which lift me up when my writing life doesn't feel in sync.  
  • Connecting with other book people in person. Sure we're online all the time, blogging, interacting on listserves, tweeting and commenting on Facebook, but how often do we get face time with our critique partners, librarians, or maybe writers/poets at live readings? We are so often alone while we write that meeting people, especially like-minded people, gives us an encouraging boost. If you live in an area far from opportunities to meet people in-person, set up a Skype/Facetime date with a critique partner. And do take advantage of one-day workshops and writing conferences. If you've never attended an event with dozens or hundreds of book-loving people, you don't know what you're missing!
  • Try a new activity. Even when you're not actively writing — surprise! — you actually are. Okay, so taking an extended weekend to shop the outlet mall in the next state over is not the best use of your non-writing time. And I'm not suggesting signing up for a month of community ed classes on creating with paper mache. But if it interests you, go for it, especially if one of your characters runs a homemade pinata business. Being serious now: the point is, new experiences open up the world for your characters, too, helping you to make them three-dimensional with passions and interests all their own.
  • Exercise. A healthy body equals a healthy mind. 'A sound mind in a sound body is a short but full description of a happy state in this world.' - John Locke, English philosopher. 
  • Set Weekly and Monthly Goals. Are you making steady progress on your writing? Do you have off days (like everyone else)? By making weekly and monthly goals, you can see at a glance what you've accomplished. I set goals in three areas each month: reading (number of books), writing (by tracking word count), and business/social media (blog posting, contests, etc.). Then I break these goals down even further into weekly goals. If I don't make a mini-goal during the week, so what? I have three more weeks to pull it off. The pressure is minimal and tracking your accomplishments help keep the morale up. 
  • Help Someone Else. Remember when you were a beginning writer? You had endless questions about craft, goals, the industry? Guess what, someone else is at that point right this very minute. There's been several people who've helped me from the beginning. Early on, I promised myself that I'd return the favor to someone else someday. The pluses of mentoring someone is two-fold: someone benefits from your expertise nd helping someone else can lift your spirits. 

Happy Writing!


Friday, June 7, 2013

Outlining, Schmoutlining

     I like winging it.
     A manuscript would take much less time to produce if I had a blueprint before I started writing. But really, it's wishful thinking.
     Aside from a few pages of vague notes, my characters perform better if I don't boss them around in the rough draft stage. I've told them an outline would help. They don't care. But I'll keep trying, and when I see a different method for outlining, I take notice.
     I found an interesting exercise for outlining the other day over at Teaching Authors. This exercise was conceived by Alicia Rasley, but was brought to my attention by TA contributor Jeanne Marie Grunwell Ford. Thank you, Jeanne Marie!
     In "Outline Your Novel in 30 Minutes", Rasley suggests you set a timer and answer a set of nine questions, allowing yourself three minutes for each question. Touching on plot points and character motivations, the questions allow you to respond quickly without becoming bogged down with the details. Honestly, it may take you more time to read the article and prepare yourself mentally than the actual exercise.
     I can see this exercise as a useful tool to use a few times in the early stages of writing. I'll be trying it for the first time today as a warm-up. Try as they may, my characters won't be able to stop me.
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