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!
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:
- Okay for Now by Gary Schmidt (in my Goodreads review I said Gary Schmidt wrote Wednesday Wars just so he could meet the MC for Okay for Now. This book also made my list of top 25 books I’m glad were written. Don’t miss this one!)
- Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi
- A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Philip C. Stead
- Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell (Heather called this one of the most vulnerable YA characters we’ve had in a long time.)
- I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson(Language is important! Imagine what a different story this would be if the homonym was used instead, I’ll Give You the Son!)
- Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy
- Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo
- The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen
- Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
- Raven Boys by Maggie Steifvater
- Roller Girl – Victoria Jamieson
- Pax – Sara Pennypacker
A book that has changed the world:
- A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park
Picture Books that demonstrate tight lean writing
- All Alone by Kevin Henkes
- The New Girl by Jacqui Robbins
- Star Bright by Allison McGhee
- Zombie in Love by Kelly DiPucchio
The author has a clear sense of the backstory
- Wonder by RJ Palacio
- Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron
Best first sentence, according to Sarah Aronson:
- What Jamie Saw by Carolyn Coman
- The Rag Bone Shop by Robert Cormier
Books on the Craft of Writing
- Wired for Story by Lisa Cron
- Free Play by Stephen Nachmanovitch
- Writing Stories by Carolyn Coman
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 🙂
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
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.
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!
(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.
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.
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.