I’m building a new website and am starting to post there. Please consider following me there at suesantiago.com and I have a new post there about the end of my first experience at the Highlights Foundation.
Life can make it so very difficult to gain momentum with the things we love doing. As I think about my many cycles of writing it is highlighted by the stutter stop effect. There are good times of coasting, making strides, WORLD BUILDING! but then life inevitably complicates a good thing and the everyday writing becomes hit or miss until it is completely stalled.
It gets tempting to throw in the towel. But inevitably my darlings beckon. My characters nudge my thoughts for some attention. I turn my computer on to pay the bills and a pesty muse redirects me to open a writing folder. The engine starts to stutter until I demand that life makes room for me to write. Again. Finding hidden minutes, keeping the dictaphone on the passenger’s seat, waking up before the kids. It is possible because
Writers must write.
Dogs must bark.
Children must play.
Trees must sway in the wind.
Who am I to deny the way I was created? So write I must, write I will.
And it feels so good!
I remember spending endless hours at a green blackboard that was taller than me for short while. At first I used it for drawing and scribbling, but soon my pine-green canvas became an instrument upon which I used to teach my imaginary class all kinds of interesting things: simple addition, subtraction, and printing. The math progressively became harder and the printing turned into cursive. Over time, that blackboard became a display case for scientific facts, historical figures, a running record of who got detentions for interrupting my spelling bee, and of course, homework assignments. The blackboard became smarter, its simplicity long gone, and my love for it faded. Now the only sign of it is the eraser dust it left behind in the cracks of my bedroom floor.
The best gift we can give our children this holiday season cannot be unwrapped. Our love and time and opportunities to grow their imaginations are far more valuable than anything we can put a bow on.
Have a wonderful time making treasured memories this holiday season.
When you watched arguably the best baseball game in recent history and held your breath during the ninth inning after the Cubs didn’t get any runner in, waiting to see what the Indians would do, then to go to a rain delay, and the incredible tenth inning, I bet you didn’t notice the fundamentals. Watching how the players gripped the ball before they threw it, or how the hitter aligned his knuckles, or the outfielders using 2 hands to catch the ball probably escaped you. The strike outs, the homerun, and that throw from Bryant to Rizzo! Holy cow! The big plays. That’s what gets us. But we don’t get the big plays without endlessly practicing those fundamentals.
Think about young Bryant and Rizzo playing little league, practicing catching the hit to third, throwing to first, catching, tagging the runner and the base. Day after day. Year after year. Messing up many times along the way.
Well, my dear writing friend, we have our own set of fundamentals that will hopefully lead to your own big play.
1. Write, everyday possible.
2. Read, read, read. Read what’s in your genre. Read what’s not in your genre. Read craft books to help you critique and edit your own work.
3. Join or form a critique group. Not sure what to do with one? Here’s a suggestion. The most important thing to bring to group is a willingness to hear your weaknesses. The best thing to offer at group is your reaction to the piece. You have an opinion, yes. But it’s one opinion. The author ultimately must decide what to do with the feedback.
This is my critique group, the Six Pens. (One is not pictured.) We are picture book, chapter book, middle grade novel, non-fiction, memoir, education, historical fiction, contemporary fiction, fantasy, humor, action/adventure, heart-rending writers. There’s lots of opinions to go around. Two are published, with one more story on the horizon.(Whoop! Whoop!) We are all hopeful. And we need each other to keep applying butt to chair and writing when the motivation is running low.
4. Go to conferences. And watch your local writer’s society for smaller craft nights. My critique group attended the recent Prairie Writers & Illustrators Day that the Illinois SCBWI chapter holds every November. It sharpened and inspired. And we can pool together the different things each of us learned from it to edify our group as a whole.
I bet you can’t tell, but this is my critique group again. We are now the Super Six Pens, tackling troublesome stories in a single bound (or many revisions.) Another bonus of attending conferences is open door access to editors at otherwise closed houses. If you don’t have an agent already, this is golden!
5. Never, ever, ever give up. I once heard it said, that many successful writers started with 10% talent and 90% dedication. I’m six years in, I’m receiving incredible feedback from agents and authors who critique my work. I’m not published yet. YET.
Never. Ever. Ever give up!
After a recent, especially helpful critique I was left with the impression I needed to mainly focus on two things. The first was moving a wrongly placed conflict. It didn’t surprise me. I had had a feeling about it myself, but justified it at the same time. The beauty of writing is the save as button. Nothing has to change forever. If I decide I like the original way better than the revised way, I can revert. But it’s always worth the try to do something that makes you a little uncomfortable, something you are not quite certain about. It may turn out to be magic.
The other big note is on world building. And admittedly, here is where I struggle. It’s historical fiction. And I’ve done A LOT of research on the time period and the events in my story. How do I build this world of long ago without dumping all of this info onto the page? Then there’s the question of what do I do about the areas that are fuzzy? The areas the research didn’t reveal? Do I fill in the gaps creatively or find a way around them?
My brain leads me to further research, but of a fun kind, for me. I got to reading. Here are the seven things I’ve gleaned from the first three chapters of seven historical fictional novels. Hopefully it will lead me to build one vivid world.
The seven books I studied:
*Timeout for a plug. One of these lovely authors is the person who critiqued my first three chapters. Do yourself a favor and keep an eye on Kidlit College for opportunities to grow your craft. Ms. LaFaye empowered me to plunge back into a story that had become stale, helped me to see the good in it, and showed me where I needed to grow in a way that made me feel strengthened instead of diminished. Besides, hearing words like compelling piece and powerful story is a confidence boost that makes the baby seem a little less ugly. FYI the Novel Direct Contest is open until November 1, 2016. *
The good news is there’s no one way to do this. The bad news is there’s no one way to do this. So, more often than not, here is what I discovered.
What do you think? How important is it to tell the age of your protag? Or maybe it’s better to show it.
Okay, I have six books to finish reading and an opening of a story to reshape. Lots to do. Always lots to do!
This is the face of satisfaction:
But it’s really like this:
258 free verse poems roughed
it’s an ugly baby right now
but it’s complete!
And it doesn’t take long to feel like this:
Reading Wired for Story by Lisa Cron
while revising older stories
and researching people and places to submit to.
Marinating on the two ideas
I’m contemplating for my next projects
the research I need to complete
to round out the rough draft
before going through the
MANIA OF REVISION!
OOH! Now I can get that haircut I told myself had to wait until rough was done.
Rough is done!
Phillip Larrea, a poet from California, is credited with creating the poetic form called Tricube. It is deceptively simple. Three stanzas. Three lines per stanza. Three syllable per line.
Time to play!
time to write
Towel* wrapped bod
wet foot prints.
Dash through house
kids not shocked
“it’s just mom.”
drip down too.
*Okay, towel is technically two syllables, but not when you say it the normal way, right?
Sound the alarm!
Sound the alarm!
There’s a rumbly monster outside!
It’s getting nearer.
It’s getting closer.
It’s coming for us!
Time for the power bark!
It’s passing us!
We’ve got it running for cover!
You better keep going you yellow-bellied giantly rumbler!
Our alarm has worked!
We have protected our people!
Now we can return to sleep.
or maybe a good bone would be better.
Yes! I could go for a good gnaw.
That monster got me all worked up.
This bone will get me all worked down.
Just gnaw, gnaw, gnaw
now grind, grind, grind.
Now the other side.
gnaw, gnaw, gnaw
grind, grind, grind
OOH! Sue’s eyes are open.
but she’s not blinking.
she’s just staring
i better make sure
she’s not moving.
I think I’ll go sniff her.
her eyes are following me!
I bet she’s proud
of the way
the rumbly monster away
now she will give me
the best good morning scratch
One of the great things about going to a conference is coming home with a big fat list of books to read. If they could help me find more time to read that would be just downright magical.
From the four keynote addresses, the eight break out sessions, and the one intensive, I give you books to first enjoy and then study. You are probably well read and already familiar with many of these, but I encourage you to take another look to grow your craft.
From the intensive on voice with Heather Alexander, literary agent from Pippin Properties comes most of the books. Though we discussed what each did well in voice, they all are great studies in the craft of writing:
A book that has changed the world:
Picture Books that demonstrate tight lean writing
The author has a clear sense of the backstory
Best first sentence, according to Sarah Aronson:
Books on the Craft of Writing
Happy reading and creating!
Go ahead update your to-read list on Goodreads.
The SCBWI Wild Wild Midwest Conference occurred last weekend.
First – a big plug for SCBWI: If you are a children’s writer, meaning you have a story you are playing with, even if it’s only in your mind or a scrappy notepad next to your bed stand, do yourself a favor and discover SCBWI. You will find a tribe of people who, though they are competing for a slot in someone’s inbox and dream of their cover facing out at the local bookstore, are incredibly supportive, warm, and know how to laugh at themselves. No hierarchy. Our name tags did not denote the number of publications, awards won, or the pre-published. So do yourself a favor and reach out to your local SCWBI group in your area.
To the point of the matter: As I marinate on my 30+ pages of notes I realize I need to process this soon before it just becomes a great memory.
Of course I cannot go into details about the massive variety of breakouts and four keynote addresses, but I certainly can share how what I learned influences my writing now.
As I think about the big picture of what I brought home the following topics comes to mind.
Knowing my character and her voice.
Writing matters, correction – story matters.
Loving an ugly baby.
So these are upcoming topics I want to think more about, hence they are upcoming posts. And I list them here to hold myself accountable to my craft and my blog.
If you have recently attended this conference or another one, please share a nugget you brought home with you.
Happy writing 🙂
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