No Excuses

My daughter was at volleyball camp  and I had a rare afternoon alone with my son. I offered to go for a bike ride with him and get some ice cream.  He turned that down. Granted, it was raining a little.  Instead, he said he would like to draw comics together.  Did he see my eye roll? Did he hear my internal guffaw.  “I’m not a good drawer,” I told him.  Hello, where did my facility with the English language go? I wasn’t even going to consider the word artist.  So drawer it was.

To which he showed me

no excuses (2)

Thank you, Jedi Academy and your evil creator, Jeffrey Brown.  Ok, maybe not evil.  Maybe spot on. I want to encourage my kid to draw, right? But he wasn’t supposed to turn it around on me.  My self-imposed limitations have been a well-stitched-in part of my fabric for a while.  But I’m a mom and I can’t let my negative self-talk become his. Right? With my head in a defeated droop I follow him to the table where he is quick to the draw with a sheet of paper.

I grab a pen.  Yep, no eraser option. He’s all smiles and I’m all question marks.

He sees me staring at this blank paper and encourages me to start.

“I don’t know what to draw.”

“Draw a fluffy creature who wants to make a friend.”

Oh, how it comes so easy to his imagination.

“I don’t know how to draw fluffy creatures.” Dang, a negative self-talk escaped when I wasn’t looking.

HE encourages ME.

I’m a doodler. my doodles

 

Abstract, I call it. Nothing with bodies. Floating heads are okay in my world. But a comic strip with characters and three squares to get to a punchline?  That’s a lot of pressure. AND my kid’s watching.  He went after the comics that are more like Marvel and I went toward my background with comics, the funnies in the paper.

He’s tearing through his paper.  Rounding out his first comic while I marinate, after explaining what marinate means.

I see he’s not going to let me off the hook so I draw a line for the first box.  He plays peek-a-boo with my paper while I get some ink on it. And he keeps cheering me on.

So, by the time he finishes his sheet, I have the first box done and not sure how to give it a punch line.  He’s OK with that.  I tell him I need to marinate on it some more, but I promise to finish it.  He’s OK with that too.

Here’s to my son who wouldn’t except any of my excuses.  The next Peter Brown? video game designer? architect? oh the possibilities!

D's comic

(Did you notice, ALL FOUR?, I couldn’t even think through one! AND the back of the paper is filled with Olafs.)

And, here’s to not giving up.  To turning off the inner editor that is screaming at everything I should’ve done differently. And to total vulnerability with those who are suffering to push past their comfort zones too.

My comic

 

NO EXCUSES!

Rerouting

To plan or not to plan? That is the question and the frustration. Benjamin Franklin is credited with saying, “Those who fail to plan, plan to fail.”

I love this quote. It is a mantra of mine. I love organizers. Daily planners. Long range planning. Goal setting. I love to feel organized. To look for something and know where it’s supposed to be and for it to be there. To open my pantry door and see like items hanging out together and not dangling precariously over the edge or splattered on the floor. To come home and see the counters clear and the floor empty save for the furniture that rests on it. To sit at my desk with no pile of papers to file and the knowledge that the bills are up to date and the accounts are balanced and tracked. I’ll spend an hour or so on Sunday evening planning my week, meals, projects, writing time. And I get crazy happy when the day goes “as planned!”

I know. I’m delusional. The natural state of things is disorder, especially when other living creatures occupy the same space. My mom’s favorite phrase is, “We make plans and God laughs.”

I find that irritatingly true. First because I find myself reflecting my mother. But also because I like it when things go as planned.

Or do I?

I don’t plan out my stories. I have a vague idea where the story is going to go, but no outlined map of how to get there. I find having too tight of a plan, strangles the story. Though no editor has yet accepted one, I love my stories. I think they are beautiful, colorful, stirring, funny, lovely. So I guess that is the way I need to view my story as well. I know where I want to end up, but I don’t need to detail my days to make sure I get there. Gotta leave room for the Holy Spirit to reroute my day, which seems to be happening a lot lately.

DSC_0466

Didn’t start the day planning on going here.  Didn’t even know it existed.  My day got rerouted.  🙂

So while stories reflect life, this time I must take a lesson from my stories. Yes, I will set goals and plan out my week. Just a little more loosely. I have to trust that I will get to the most important things each day, even if some days that means no writing. Greater things happen in my day than I plan when I am open to rerouting.

By the way, I didn’t PLAN to write a blog today.

 

Book Trailers

To create a book trailer or not, that is the question.

I’m not talking about the book trailer that is used to market books that have already been published and I’m not going to debate the benefits and criticisms of them. I am going to talk about taking a day to create a book trailer for your WIP.  It may look cheesy and unprofessional, but here are a few reasons why it is helpful and some resources on how to do it. Read to the end for a reveal 🙂

Creating a book trailer for your WIP is helpful for so many reasons.

  • It requires you to deconstruct your novel down to its essence. A one page synopsis is a heck of a challenge for a 60,000 word story.  Chiseling it down to the 30 words or so that is the heart of your story gives you so much clarity.  This will help you to create your query and your elevator pitch in the future.
  • You will most likely use still pictures.  Maybe you want to create a live action trailer, but I’m not talented in that way, nor do I want to invest that kind of time.  The still pictures can help you visualize what you have been trying to portray through words.  This is especially helpful if you are writing a story that you did not personally experience.  This was my case for my first story, it takes place in Chicago in 1871.  Sometimes it’s hard to visualize the setting.
  • Setting it to music gives you theme songs that set the tone of the story.  I use music a lot when I write.  I find a theme song for my characters.  I use specific songs for scenes in the story.  I also have a soundtrack for each story. I believe that when we are using as many mediums as we have at our disposal to help us create this world in our story, it will be richer, deeper, and can come to life for the reader.  I REALLY WISH I COULD DRAW! That would raise my game to whole other level!
  • It inspires me every time I watch it. As cheesy and basic as it is, if I watch it before I work on the story, it puts me directly in the frame of mind I want to be in.  My mind is in my story and my heart is feeling the emotions I want my characters to feel and my reader to experience.
  • It is a great tool when you are getting to that point that you either are tired of your story or you don’t know what else it needs.  The trailer gives a fresh perspective to push you forward.

 

How to do it:

I’m thinking some of you reading this could better explain this than me.  So I would love to get some advice on this matter in the comments.

I used Movie Maker for Windows as the editing tool.  I used images labeled for reuse.  Your own photography would be great too, but since my story takes place in 1871, I wasn’t up to that challenge of recreating the look. And for my sounds I used songs and Pond 5 for sound effects. This wasn’t free, however. It took me the better part of a day to create it between learning the tool and editing down my story, music, and pictures.  Straining it all down to the bones and then pulling it all together was hard but so good! so very, very good!

A few more resources:

Where to get photo stock, check out these pages. Sixty-five sites. 17 amazing sites.

A couple sites with professional book trailers.  Some inspiration. Brainpickings and Book Trailers for Readers.

A critical perspective on book trailers from The New Yorker.

And a completely vulnerable moment for me.  My book trailer.

 

 

 

 

Adultish Grime Antidote

Sometimes, life is just too adultish.  Mortgage payments, dinner parties, grocery shopping, careers, taxes (yikes!), saving for college.  Oh it just zaps the kid right out of a person!  Thank goodness for the little whirlwinds in my life that help bring me back to the wonderful world of tomfoolery and bodily sounds and the smells that go with them!!

pups

These aren’t the whirlwinds I meant, but they help too!

During the month of January, I have been feeling especially adultish 😦 and this required a very  seriously unserious intervention by the best team of silliness masters and imagination gurus south of the Sears Tower (yes, Sears!).  I needed help brainstorming.

Recently, I participated in my first live webinar, Unlocking the Mysteries of Chapter Book and Middle Grade Series Writing led by Eve Adler editor for Grosset and Dunlap, an imprint of Penguin Random House.  This was made available through KidLit College.  (Be sure to bookmark this one!) One of the nuggets I took away from this was though you only submit one story at a time, you should have 2 or 3 more in the series waiting in the wings, of at least your imagination. Not entirely new information, but one I had been avoiding. Because I have been stuck, right here in that spot! I did feel a sense of relief when she said two or three more ideas on your own should be enough.  After that, agents, editors, fans, etc will help supply story lines.

The chapter book I have written lends itself to series.  But the problem was, I couldn’t think of one single bit of mischief my adorable and highly curious MC with a powerful imagination could get into.

I’m still writing a MG story in verse, that leans toward the serious side and my brain was stuck in neutral there.  Yet, I want to have a vision for the next writing project so I have something new to work on when revisions start for my current project.  I also want to be ready should an agent or editor say, “This is delightful.  Have you thought about series?  What ideas do you have for the next two or three stories?” (oh, it’s a decadent dream to have until the harsh reality of the vacant inbox hits).  What was it Oprah once said? Luck is when preparation meets opportunity.  Well, I don’t want to be caught unprepared, so  I staged my own intervention during dinner!

Incredible happenings spewed forth! Complete with up-out-of-their-seats demonstrations.  One idea spun off into other ideas, unfathomable mayhem, and a delightful (ahem) scene with a toilet.

At least three ideas came out of it plus illustrations created by my two lead silliness experts.  But, really, the best part of the whole thing was the imprint it made on my little whirlwinds, calling it one of the best nights they’ve had in a long time.

Don’t have little whirlwinds of your own? Borrow some! Babysit your niece, nephew, or for your good buddy.  This is an everyone wins situation!

Enjoy shedding the adult grime.  It accumulates pretty quickly without regular doses of fun.  Happy writing!

Before you revise . . . reflect

I hope you have enjoyed the holiday season and are finding yourself settling into writing once more.

You may have completed the NaNoWriMo challenge in November.  Hopefully you rewarded yourself with a congratulations-to-me, I have written a rough draft of a future page turner.  Perhaps you gave yourself a night out.  Or bought something for yourself that you truly do deserve.  Perhaps you even read a craft book.  Next on my list to read is A Writer’s Story, From Life to Fiction by Marion Dane Bauer. (A recommendation from a member of my critique group.)

I also hope you took a month off after you wrote the rough.  A month away from it lets the waters settle and gives you a fresh brain and perspective.

So before you read through it, here is an excellent exercise to do that I have gone back to time and again.  This exercise will narrow your vision for your story and provide you with concise verbiage to be used in future query letters.

Time to REFLECT

Time to REFLECT

***Note, I am a believer in work smarter, not harder.  So this blog was originally published in April of 2013.  It’s a good process and I still use it and love it! Therefore, I have not edited my original reflections of my first book, which are contained below.  Tempting, but I’ll leave it be.  I think.****

My revision process is certainly NOT mine but a compilation of many who have been there, done that.   There’s no point to reinvent the wheel, right?

This brought me to a blog by Holly Lisle titled: One-Pass Manuscript Revision: From First Draft to Last in One Cycle.  Ya, I won’t even attempt to revise in one pass, but  I will probably turn back to the steps she shares many times.   I appreciate her suggestion to start the revision process by discovering what my story is all about.

Her first five tasks are:

  • “Write down your theme in 15 words or less.”

This was easier than I thought.  You know when you are given a word limit it adds pressure.  But I did it, and I think it’s about right.

Obligation to family versus following your own dream.  Yep – that’s what I came up with.

  • “If you have sub-themes and know what they are, write them down too.”

It turns out I have about six sub-themes that I was able to identify off the top, there are probably more subtle ones that will come to the surface later.

We all have a story – societal positions – feminism (even though my MC is male) – overcoming fears – dealing with the death of a loved one – influence of religion  This feels like I’m missing something, but that’s OK.

  • “Write down what the book is about in twenty-five words or less.”

Twenty-five words isn’t a lot! About my story that has more than 60,000 of them!  (Ya, it’s way too long for my target audience – but it will get there!) This went through a few versions.

Boy aspires for things beyond family tradition, battles fears, fire, and family in pursuit of his own dream.  18 words!

  • “Write down a one-line story arc for the book’s main character.”

It turned into the longest run-on sentence in the history of run-on sentences.  Well, maybe not.  I used to teach fifth grade and I have seen the use of “and” seventeen times in one sentence.  Is running-on a bad habit of mine?  No, I am one of the most concise writers I know.  (ha ha – remember the 60,000 + words I have to chisel!)  And I certainly never drift off topic!  (Hey, when you have two little children, you are used to having three or four conversations at one time.  It just so happens that may brain continues to do this whether I am with my whirlwinds or not!)

Anyway, I procrastinate . . .

MC battles fears, foes, fire, prejudice (couldn’t think of an F words), and family during the Great Chicago Fire and saves a few lives along the way, but ultimately sacrifices his own dreams for the sake of his family.

Then the biggy:

  • “Write down the main characters, and a paragraph of no more than about 250 words describing the story, sort of like the blurb on the back of a paperback.”

THIS WAS HARD! All of these previous steps certainly helped, but it was not pretty.  Started off with black ink, went to orange, then red.  With arrows and line-throughs everywhere! It turned into less than 200 words (oh-ya! 172 actually!) but I don’t think I would want it on the back of my book just yet.  And therefore, I am not putting it out here either.

But what did all of this really do?  It gave me the narrowed focus I need for my read through.  It also brought to my attention plot and character adjustments I want to make.  It was well worth the hour and a half it took to do this.

BTW, What do you reflect on to help you steer your manuscript?

And one more thing – credit where credit is due – the link to Holly Lisle in case you would like to see what else she says.

25 Books I’m Thankful were Written

Inspired by the Thanksgiving holiday which you may be en route to celebrate, I offer the 25 books I’m thankful were written.

bookshelf

  1.  The Bible
  2. Freedom Train by Dorothy Sterling
  3. Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai
  4. Hamlet by William Shakespeare
  5. Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
  6. This Present Darkness by Frank E. Peretti
  7. The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
  8. The Monster at the End of the Book by Jon Stone
  9. I am a Frog by Mo Willems
  10. Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick
  11. Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis
  12. The Cat Who … by Lilian Jackson Braun
  13. House Arrest and Rhyme Schemer by K.A. Holt
  14. I Funny: A Middle School Story by James Patterson
  15. The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate
  16. Unglued by Lysa Terkeurst
  17. Marley and Me by John Grogan
  18. Wonder by R.J. Palacio
  19. Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt
  20. The Greedy Triangle by Marilyn Burns
  21. The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by Jon Scieszka
  22. Clementine by Sara Pennypacker
  23. The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes
  24. The Bear Snores On by Karma Wilson
  25. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Schaffer

 

That was hard.  Really hard to stop at 25.  I’d love to hear about the books you are thankful were written.

And the three that I’m truly grateful for are not published yet, but they have taught me oh so very much.

Happy Thanksgiving

Eat Well!

Make Memories!

And when you come out of your turkey coma, your keyboard will be ready for you.

 

Confession

I have a confession to make.

I broke the cardinal rule of writing a rough draft.

I’m ashamed to admit it, but I had to do it.

I read my entire MS.

I know, I know.

Full steam ahead.

No looking back.

But I had to do it.

Another confession.

I haven’t written in a week.

Yes, I gasped too.

So, you see,

I had to read it.

I’d lost the flow,

was loosing my MC,

ran out of steam,

while my daughter was sick.

So, you see,

I had to read it.

And I’m glad I did.

It was pretty good,

I’m on the right track.

And I’ve found the fuel

to keep writing.

5 Ways to Unlock Writer’s Block

Ever find yourself . . .

Reading and rereading a scene and not knowing where to go next.

Staring at your computer and letting your focus go in and out, in and out.

Typing anything, just to get the momentum going.

Playing a mental tennis match where no idea seems right.  Even your eyes bounce left to right as you discard bad idea after bad idea.

These are symptoms of . . . dum dum dum . .. WRITER’S BLOCK.

Road_Block,_

You are not getting through here!

Yes, it’s NaNoWriMo and you have no time for waste on writer’s block.  So here are five quick fixes to get the engine going again.

  1. Rewrite (but do not erase) the previous scene.  Perhaps that is the culprit. Perhaps the story needs to go a different direction and your muse refuses to work until you realize you made a wrong turn.  Try a completely different path in your last scene and see if that feels better and opens up where the story needs to go next.
  2. Turn off your computer. (after reading this brilliant article of course). and
    1. Go for a drive
    2. Walk the dog
    3. Fold the laundry
    4. Take a shower
  3. Talk it out with someone.  Anyone.  They might not even have to contribute.  Thinking out loud may be all you need.  I find my dogs to be quite attentive listeners sometimes. If you have a writing buddy, they may offer suggestions.  They may offer one that you like.  Or more likely, that argumentative side of your brain will negate their idea and come up with what you were looking for.  Healthy debate gets brain juices flowing.
  4. Draw it out.  I’m a terrible artist.  But my oldest sister who is a talented artist recently told me, “When writers are stuck, visual creating can help unstick. And verbal helps to unstick the visual creative.” Doodle.  Get out your kids’ crayons.    Even more fun: Finger Paint! Don’t consciously think about your story.
  5. Play! Jigsaw puzzles.  Legos! Scrabble.  Have some fun.  You have gotten yourself all worked up with the stress from writing, the pressure to be perfect, to get your word count in.  Play!

Writing a story is world building and magical.  If it has stopped being that, take a break for a while.  It’s going to be okay.

Fast and Furious Bonus 5:

  • Dance
  • Read
  • Pour a drink
  • Change your playlist
  • Write a blog!

Got a tip? Leave it here!