Westview Questions of the Week

This is the last set of questions from my visit to Westview Elementary.  I have been surprised by the level of questions the students have posed and have enjoyed answering them.  Here are the last five questions.boy reading to snake

1.  What if you don’t know what to do at the end?

There is a saying that the end is in the beginning.  The main goal that the character wants to achieve must be figured out by the end.  If it was resolved, but you kept writing, it’s time to do some editing.  If you are not sure what your character wants to accomplish you probably have to rewrite the beginning.  It’s in the beginning that the main goal is set.  Through the middle conflict gets in the way of meeting that goal.  By the end, the character has figured out how to solve the problem and reach the goal.  If you’re having a problem with the end, look at the beginning.

2.  What kind of story is it?

The story I am writing is historical fiction novel for middle grades.  It’s historical fiction because the setting of the story is a true historical event, but the characters are made up.  True history and setting + fictional main characters = historical fiction.  It is intending for students in fourth through sixth or seventh grade.

3.  Why does it take so long to write a story?

It depends.  Short stories don’t take very long.  Novels take longer.  If a person writes for six or more hours a day, the story gets done faster.  If they are inconsistent it will take longer.

4.  How long have you been writing?

Most of what I have written has been academic, meaning I did it because I had to for school.  Even so, I still liked it.  I enjoy the relaxation that writing brings me when it’s going well and overcoming the frustration when it isn’t.   I liked proving my point through writing.  I also appreciated the things I learned through research. There is no better feeling than the one that comes upon completion!  Now, I entertain myself when I create a scene of my book.  I  didn’t start writing for the purpose of creating a manuscript to publish until a few years ago.

5.  How do you publish it?

There are two major routes.  The first is self-publish either online or pay a company to turn your manuscript into a book.  When you self-publish you are completely on your own with producing a great story.  The other way is to go through a publishing house.  Most publishing houses don’t take work from just anyone, so a writer needs to find an agent who will help get their books to an editor at a publishing house.  Another way to get access to a publishing house is to attend conferences where publishers also attend and invite you to submit your story to them.  They do this at writer’s conferences because they know that the people who attend are serious about their story and making it the best that they can.

That’s it, folks!  Thanks for the great questions.

Stop by anytime and enjoy Playing with Words!

Westview Questions of the Week

persevereA few weeks ago I visited Westview School in Champaign, Il to talk to the fifth grade students about the writing process.  I told the students I would respond to their questions on my website.  They have asked some really great questions.  Here’s a few for this week.

1. Do your kids write books?

Sometimes my children like to tell stories, but they haven’t started writing much.  One is not in school yet and the other is in early elementary.  For now I hope they enjoy reading books and maybe one day they will find their own story.

2. Did you ever doubt yourself or want to give up?

Sure, this has been a long process filled with times of both success and frustration.   My faith is a big part of my life, so when I feel like that, I pray.  I also take a break from writing long enough to read something for fun or watch an inspiring movie.  It also helps to have someone read something I’ve written and get some encouragement.  The main thing that brings me through, though, is my faith.

3.  Is your story on your blog?

No, I am actually saying very little about my story on my blog for now.  Until I have it on the way to the bookstores, I am keeping it pretty private.  What my blog is about is the stuff I’m learning about writing that I think might help someone else who is on the same journey.  I also like to share great books I have read and what makes them so good.

4.  What helped you become a writer?

Being a reader is the best thing you can do to become a writer.  By reading a lot you develop a sense of story.  You know how a story is suppose to work – plot, characterization, story arc, etc – by reading good stories.  It just kind of soaks in.  There is a lot to learn through books about how to write, but you can’t learn how to sense what works in a story or what doesn’t unless you are reading a lot of good stories.

5.  Is it a hard process?

I think like most things, the first time you do something is pretty hard.  You do a lot of things wrong and you learn from your mistakes.  I have written a lot of things in the past, but nothing like this.  So I am learning A LOT!  I’m hoping it will get easier with each story, but some challenge is good.  It keeps you sharp and when you get through the challenge you have grown and can feel proud of yourself.  Yes, it is hard, but not so hard that I don’t want to try.  I’m looking forward to the victory!

Next week is the last set of questions.

Until then,

Enjoy Playing with Words

Westview Questions of the Week

Mrs. O'Leary and her cow

Mrs. O’Leary and her cow

I recently visited Westview Elementary School in Champaign, IL.   I brought some questions home with me to answer on the blog.  May I add, I am impressed by the thoughtfulness of the questions.

1.  Do you like being an author?

I do enjoy writing quite a lot.  It is a bigger job than I ever imagined and sometimes incredibly challenging.  On the other hand, I enjoy seeing a story come to life at my fingertips and I LOVE hearing about the enjoyment my book brought to others.  If I can write something that makes kids want to read, then every moment of the battle during the creation is worth it!

2.  When did I first decide to write?

Sometime in 2001 I was reading about the Great Chicago Fire and thought it would make an exciting setting for a historical fiction children’s novel.  At that time I was a teacher and didn’t have the time to even dream about writing let alone try to do it.  A few years ago after being a stay-at-home mom for a while the interest came back to me.  Then one day I was sitting at a cafe by myself having some lunch and thought about how some really great ideas started on napkins.  And so I began writing some words of a story, not on napkins, I did have a notepad with me.  I had no idea what I was doing or where it would take me.  But it was fun.  (The words weren’t so good when I look back at it, but it was a great way to get started!)

3.  How many books have I written?

This is my first, but certainly not the last.  I have ideas bubbling in my head, so I need to finish this one and move onto the next!

4. Does the book have to be like the movie?

Generally, the book comes first and only a very small number of books are turned into movies.  I love to watch movies, but nine times out of ten the books are always better!

5.  How did the fire start?

For a very long time a poor cow was blamed.  Someone put that idea in the newspaper and it became fact, even though it wasn’t.   The world thought that a cow owned by Mrs. O’Leary knocked over a lantern while being milked.  That fire grew uncontrollably due to several reasons and burned for two days destroying much of the city.  In my research I read a book call The Great Chicago Fire and the Myth of Mrs. O’Leary’s Cow by Richard Bales.  In this book the cow and Mrs. O’Leary are proved innocent.  It appears that the likely cause was someone smoking behind the barn and accidentally started a fire.  No one stepped forward to take the blame.

6.  What does the main character look like?

My main character is a twelve year old boy who is an Irish Catholic.  He is lanky with black hair and blue eyes.

7.  How do you focus?

It is very easy to get distracted or to feel lazy!  It is sometimes hard to sit and get started.  If the house is too quiet it’s hard for me to concentrate.  Having soft music on or something like the weather channel or a news channel on quietly provides enough noise to help.  But if I put on a show that I like, forget about it, I’m watching tv instead!  It also helps me to set a goal.  Once I get started I want to reach that goal.  If it’s a really tough day to focus, I may even give myself a reward for completing that goal.

Questions from Westview School

It is time for another installment of questions from some very inquisitive young authors at Westview Elementary.

1. Are you a good drawer?

I enjoy drawing and painting.  I also really like to create with clay.  Most of the art I create is abstract, which means that it focuses on lines, color, and geometric shapes.  I’m not really great at drawing things the way they look in real life.

2. How many stops did take while you were making your story?

I have worked on my story very inconsistently over three years.  During the first year I got stuck on the first 50 pages.  I kept revising them and didn’t move forward.  I was also doing a lot of research in the beginning so I would write the history part correctly.  Summer months are very hard to write since my children are home and I need to keep them busy.  But over the last year I have made very good progress.  I have finished my story all the way through ( and then celebrated!) Then I revised it to look at the big picture,  Then I rewrote it taking out stuff that didn’t belong and writing parts that needed to be added.  Now I am in the middle of my next revision.  SO . . . I am hoping to not take any more breaks until I’m done, which I hope will be by the end of the year!!!!

3.  Is it fun to write all the time? Do you ever get bored?

abstract art

abstract art

I do enjoy writing most of the time.  I don’t think I get bored because it is a good challenge.  But sometimes I do get frustrated when I can’t get the scene the way I want it or when I know there’s a problem with the story, but I can’t figure out what it is.  I can also feel like there is a lot for me to still research, but when I break up one big job into many little jobs it doesn’t seem too bad.

4.  What’s the best font to use?

There are a few fonts that I like to use personally, but editors and publishers and agents prefer something basic like Times New Roman.

5. Have you ever been on an airplane?

Yes, I have.  I enjoy traveling and seeing new places.  My first time on an airplane wasn’t until I was in college, probably around 19 years old.

Thanks for the questions!

There will be more responses next Friday.

Until then,

Enjoy Playing with Words!

School Visit: Questions of the Week

kids with booksThis week I embarked on something that I didn’t think I would do for a while: visiting a school as a writer! And boy, did I learn a lot!  The fifth grade students at Westview School in Champaign were a great and patient audience!  (My timer was accidentally set to vibrate so I never heard the darn thing go off!) Nonetheless, I enjoyed the visit a great deal and hope the students got something from it too.  I was asked to speak on the writing process.  My adventure in writing coupled with my years teaching gave me the confidence to do this.

Just as I do with my kids at dinner or bedtime, I will share my highs and lows.

High: Learning new technology!  Thank you, Donna Moores for introducing me to Prezi!  Love it!!!

Low: The darn timer!!!!!

High: Favorite part of the presentation was when the students helped me create an impromptu story to demonstrate goal-conflict-disaster followed by reaction-dilemma-decision (and of course that decision creates the next goal!)

Low: lack of concrete examples that the students could relate to (next time – get a list of books in advance that the children are familiar with)

High: Take home questions that I will answer ON THIS BLOG!  There were a ton of great questions that I didn’t have a chance to answer (ahem, use an actual kitchen timer next time!), but will answer a few every Friday until they run out.  There are two questions, however, that will not be answered here: What’s the title?  What are the names of my main characters? As I am keeping most information about my actual story fairly private while its still in creation, I would rather not post that here.  But I will tell Mrs. Moores. 🙂

So here are the first five questions (names will not be posted for security purposes).

1.  What inspired you to write a story?

I have been fascinated by the Great Chicago Fire for a long time.  The more I’ve researched, the more compelling it has become.  It’s a story that should be told and there are not many children’s books on this topic.  When I was in high school, an English teacher was very complementary of the things I had written.  That coupled with my own pleasure of reading and writing gave me the courage to go for it.  Thanks Mr. Pusateri!

2.  How hard is the process when you don’t think you have any more ideas?

This is similar to writer’s block.  When you are feeling stuck go back and look at the conflict.  Did you have the steps? Does the main character have a goal? Does conflict get in the way? Does a disaster occur that knocks the main character off track? (Disasters don’t have to be big, just a big deal to the character.)  How does the character react to the disaster?  What emotions come out?  Is there a dilemma?  What choice does the character make?  His decision will lead you to the next goal.  Then you can figure out who or what will get in his way.  (more conflict, more disaster).  So, in short, conflict keeps the story going.  If you are stuck CHECK THE CONFLICT.

3.  Why would you walk away if your still working on it?

While I was busy writing the verbal vomit (rough draft) I would write for forty-five minutes and then do brainless activity (like laundry, dishes, take the dogs for a walk) for fifteen minutes.    I did this to give my brain a chance to rethink what I had written and think about where to go next.  Writing is mentally exhausting and it is good to take breaks.  But if you are on a roll, keep going.  Once I finished my whole rough draft, got all the way to the end of the book, I took a month off of writing.  I read a lot, but I didn’t look at my story at all!  I did this so I would be able to look at it through fresh eyes.  Since you are writing a short story, you won’t need to take so much time off.  A good night’s sleep should be enough to give you a fresh look at it.

4.  How long does it take to write it and publish it?  Also, how much time does it take until the book is in the stores?

Different writers take a different amount of time to finish.  Since this is my first book and I’ve had to do extreme research it is taking me three years of working on it inconsistently.  Some writers do this for a living and are very quick.  I’m hoping to get faster for my next books!  Finding a publisher can be tricky – so I will answer that question in a future post.  But once you find a publisher it takes between one and two YEARS before it’s on the shelves in bookstores.

5.  What is a good beginning sentence?

Authors battle this same question every time they start new! First of all, take the pressure off of yourself.  It’s okay if it’s garbage at first.  Just start with what comes to your mind.  You can always go back and change it once you see how your story is coming to life.  But there are some things to think about.  What kind of story are you writing?  Is it action? Then you may want to get your character moving from the start.  Is it a mystery? You may want to give a hint that all is not right in your main character’s world.  Do you want to shock your audience?  Do you want to ease your audience in by painting the setting?  Remember you are the creator of the world your main character lives in.    So consider the type of story you are writing and how you want your readers to feel from the very first sentence.  That should give you direction.  Then give yourself peace of mind because you can always change it!

Also look at how some of your favorite books were started.    I guarantee those authors questioned their beginning and probably changed it a few times too.

Great questions Westview!  I will answer more next week.

Until then,

Enjoy Playing with Words!