Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Are You Ready for NaNoWriMo?

I've been working on my graphic novel lately, and I actually like the work I've done. I've solved some pacing problems and have a lot of words on paper which means I am more or less done with a first draft and I am working on the second draft of the script. So this seems like the perfect time to get working on that other novel, right?

Yeah, don't worry,  it sounds crazy to me too. But here it is November 1st and I'm feeling inspired and hopeful, so after a 10 year absence I am attempting NaNoWriMo yet again.

The funny thing is that when you are faced with either wrestling your manuscript into submission or tackling a blank page, suddenly the blank page doesn't seem so intimidating. In fact, compared to my graphic novel manuscript, my NaNoWriMo novel is fresh baked cookies and warm tea in a room full of doilies and sunshine. I'm ready to move in! Oh, sure,the honeymoon will be over in just a couple of weeks, but why worry about the future now? Here, have another cookie.

Is anyone else attempting NaNoWriMo this year? Let's join forces and spur each other on. I'll bake you cookies if you brew the tea (Earl Grey, hot).

Monday, August 22, 2011

Does a Writer Need a Schedule?

This is the question I ask myself over and over: does a writer need a schedule? I mean scheduled hours to sit in front of the computer or notebook and write. Do they need to be the same hours every day?

I have the enviable position of deciding how to spend most of my days and furthermore for two days of the week I have the house completely to myself (minus a gaggle of cats). I don't have to spend fifteen minutes going through a drive-through, ten minutes cramming a deep-fried something-or-other down my gullet and five minutes of writing on a thirty-minute lunch break. I can nibble on healthy food all day and write at my leisure (chocolate dipped coconut macaroons are healthy food in this scenario). It beats my schedule when I was an construction office coordinator!

But I find if I don't have some structure, nothing gets done. I mean, if I'm honest, without a schedule my spouse is likely to come home and find dirty dishes piled in the sink, dinner not even contemplated let alone started, me unshowered and still wearing my jammies, clutching a mostly-empty notebook and muttering to myself about the "research" I did on Facebook all day.  Actually, the Facebook part is more productive than I am on some of those unstructured days.

On the other hand.... Well, let me back up. The reason I am contemplating my schedule today is that I haven't had a schedule for the last week and a half. My spouse and I went on a driving trip across the Canadian state of Ontario along Lake Erie to support my in-laws who are cycling all the way from Washington state to Connecticut this summer. When we returned to our house we found our cat-sitter had not done a very good job and three of our indoor-only cats were loose. Two were wrangled in short order, but one of our youngest, an ex-feral, remains at large. I have spent many a sleepless night since trying to lure him home. That's more personal information than I normally share in this blog, but the point is this: how do you write when your schedule is out the window?

My emotions are running high, my nerves have been shot, I'm not in my most creative place because I'm running on fumes. But the writing still needs to get done. Instead of scribbling in my notebook or editing my manuscript I've been recording voice memos on my smartphone. It's kind of nice, really. I can get those elusive ideas that flit through your head in the middle of the night down in their raw form and manipulate them later. And since I'm in such a vulnerable state, it's easier to get at the vulnerabilities of my main characters.

I'm not recommending someone put themselves through sleepless nights or an emotional ordeal in order to get at some deeper emotions in their writing. But I am saying that while a schedule and routine are useful tools... I don't think they are absolutely necessary to the creative process anymore.

I am endlessly curious about the creative process. So tell me, do you have a routine or schedule for your writing? What do you do to get back on schedule when life gets in the way?

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Kill the Baby: A Recap of My Experience at SCBWI's 40th Summer Conference

The very first word that comes to mind when I think back on this last weekend in LA at The Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators 40th Summer Conference ought to be "life-changing" or "inspirational." In truth, it's "exhausting." Oh, it was life-changing and inspirational too. But all those inspiring and life-changing moments really take a lot out of a girl!

I met a new friend, Liliana Erasmus (from Aruba!) simply by replying to her tweet asking where everyone was having dinner. A couple of mojitos later, we walk into the lobby and Liliana gasps, "I think that's Judy Blume!" We consult my iPhone for Google Images confirmation and then she grabs my elbow and drags me over to Ms. Blume. I blubbered (pun intended) something about how I would not be the woman I am today, would not be here without her and Ms. Blume proceeds to give me one of those high-fives where you link fingers with the person and sort of shake hands. Life-changing and inspirational, check. And this was the night before the conference officially began.

The conference itself was full of inspirational bon mots from the royalty of our business (paraphrased where my note-taking failed me):

  • Bruce Coville: Scare yourself. Be fearless. Courage is freedom. Take risks.
  • Bruce Coville: Stop scaring yourself if you are scaring yourself into not working on your book.
  • Bruce Coville: Learn to take a compliment (on Sunday he confessed he'd wished he hadn't mentioned this at the beginning of the conference because people had been testing him on it all weekend)
  • Libba Bray: Writing is scary. Bad writing is a form of self-protection.
  • Libba Bray: Perfect wants to vote you off the island, Better wants to form an alliance. (As an aside, Libba Bray is one of the funniest people alive. Check out her video for Going Bovine)
  • Donna Jo Napoli: "I write what I need to write."
  • Donna Jo Napoli: Society is built on empathy. If terrible things happen to you, you learn empathy. But children can also learn empathy by reading about horrible things happening to characters in books.
  • Donna Jo Napoli: Write from places of joy, places of fear and places of pain.
  • Judy Blume: Get that draft done! Write straight through.
  • Judy Blume: Determination as much as any kind of talent -- that's what's going to get you there.
  • Judy Blume: The first draft is finding the pieces of the puzzle. You put the puzzle together with revising.
  • Norton Juster: Boredom is an undervalued resource. We create when we are bored.
I met another new friend, Julia Kelly, a writer/illustrator, on Friday night. I was sitting alone at the lobby bar, hoping to run in to one of the friends I'd made the night before. There was a chair free at my table and seating was limited, so she asked if she could sit with me. Naturally, we got to talking about what we were doing at the conference. After discussing my novel and sharing the pain of the one-on-one critique of the first 10 pages that I had survived earlier in the day, she sat back in her chair and drawled, "Oh. You have to kill the baby."

"Kill the baby?" I asked and wondered for a moment if I really should go inviting strangers to share my table.

"Yeah, it's time to walk away from it. Put it in the drawer for 8 or 9 months. Work on something else. Maybe when you go back to it you'll see exactly what's wrong with it and how to fix it. Or maybe you'll see it's not worth the effort. But you've got to kill the baby."

I thought about her words. A lot. I discussed it with another of my new friends, Jim Hill. He nodded solemnly. "Yep. Kill the baby."

The next day I was furiously taking notes during the panel of four agents discussing the current state of the children's book market (side note, Tracey Adams of Adams Literary was every bit as cool as Quinlan Lee whom I gushed over in my blog entry A Writer's Crush). I turned to a blank page and instead of continuing my notes I drew a tombstone. I wrote in the stereotypical R. I. P. and below that the name of my novel.

I killed the baby.

And it felt good. Mostly.

I am now working on a whole new concept: MG or YA contemporary fiction/suspense novel. I'm scared. But you know, Bruce Coville says that's a good thing.

Best of Blume: Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret/Blubber/Iggie's House/Starring Sally J. Freedman As Herself       Beauty Queens       Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher: A Magic Shop Book      The Dot and the Line: A Romance in Lower Mathematics     The Wager

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

After Long Silence...

...is the name of one of my favorite books by Sherri S. Tepper. It's also an appropriate name for a blog entry after a 2-month absence.

Here's the list of excuses:
The end of May/early June was weird with that diet (see last entry) which took over my entire life. Then I got sick. Very sick. I ended up having three secondary infections from a summer cold and it took about 5 weeks to recover. Not cool. And then it was birthday and vacationing madness.

Whew, okay, excuses out of the way, I am thrilled to be back at the computer. Just in time to gear up for the 2011 SCBWI Summer Conference in LA!

I'm currently studying this list of 71 faculty members in hopes of knowing a thing or two about my manuscript consultant before stepping into the 20 minute one-on-one session. There are some I am not so sure I'd want to get, to be honest. I mean, if I sit down with Lin Oliver, I'm going to be struck speechless. She's the Executive Director and co-founder of SCBWI, plus she writes with Henry Winkler regularly. I'm in awe. But then again, I could get Bruce Coville. I'm in awe of him too, but I've met him before and he's so easy to talk to.

I'm handwriting a list of all 71 faculty members with a few highlights from their bios. Writing things out by hand helps it to stick in my memory, plus I'll take the notebook with me for quick reference. I'm putting stars by the ones I would love to chat up and an exclamation point next to those that are heavy-hitters, like Ms. Oliver.

And of course, I continue to work on my WIP. I'd love to have a few more chapters complete in time for the conference. Other than packing and writing, what are you doing to get ready for the 2011 SCBWI Summer Conference?

Friday, May 27, 2011

The Writing Diet: 30 Minutes Alone with a Notebook

I'm dieting. It's a different sort of diet than any other I've tried. You team up with at least one other person and team up against one other team. And you get points for eating meals according to the diet, exercising, getting 7 hours of sleep and not breaking any of the rules (see the link below to the book). But here's the part that was most intriguing to me: you also get points for adding one good habit and getting rid of one bad habit.

As my new good habit, I chose to spend 30 minutes alone (no TV, no computer, no books, no iPhone) with a pen and a notebook. It's not the only way I write, but I've found it's one of the best ways for me to problem-solve in the middle of a project. I can sort of "talk things out" on paper. So I thought this would be a snap. An easy 10 points every day.

Can I tell you right now how green with envy I am that my sister-in-law chose flossing as her new good habit and gave up Starbucks for her bad habit? I mean, come on, that takes, what, 5 minutes a day and an extra k-cup in her Keurig? I've got to find 30 uninterrupted minutes each day and face a blank page. There have been a couple nights when I sat bleary eyed in the near-dark while my spouse snored softly next to me because I hadn't gotten this done during regular hours.

So, I'll admit, I haven't been perfect. I haven't gotten this done every day. But my manuscript has changed SO MUCH in the last 12 days of dieting. I found out that my main character is going through a major life change - an incredibly humiliating one - that I hadn't known about before. And I found a means of getting her arch rival there to bear witness to the entire embarrassing thing. And best of all, I found my ending (it had been a sort of vague "battle ensues, so-and-so wins" thing in my notes up to that point). And I also found out a whole lot about my villain which will never actually end up in the book (but it will be richer for my knowing it).

Try challenging yourself to 30 minutes alone with a notebook -- or your manuscript if you're at the revision stage. Just like a diet, it's harder than it sounds at first, but it's really rewarding.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Book Mash-Ups

I've had this idea in my head for weeks: what if, instead of mashing up two songs we could mash up two great books?  I keep scribbling ideas down in my notebook. Eventually a couple of them became art:

To Kill a Mockingjay

I can just imagine Scout as a district tribute, can't you? And Haymitch has a certain Boo Radley quality about him, I think.

The Phantom of the Tollbooth Opera

This one's more of a stretch. Could Christina Daae and Meg Giry be Princess Rhyme and Princess Reason? Surely The Humbug has a few things in common with Carlotta.

I found a few more via Google Images:

CBC Book Cover Mash-Up Barbara Bovaird

CBC Book Cover Mash-Up 8

A few more ideas:

  • We Have Always Lived in Howl's Moving Castle
  • 20,000 Leagues Under a Tuscan Sun
  • Diary of a Wimpy Anne Frank
  • A Game of Thrones of Fire

Got a mash-up idea? Share it in the comments!

Friday, April 29, 2011

Ticky Boxes for Motivation

When I was a wee child of 4, I didn't like to brush my teeth. Or have my hair brushed. Or any number of other chores and hygiene habits that you'd want a 4 year old to adopt. So my mother created a grid with the items running down the left side and the dates across the top. Every time I completed a chore to my mother's satisfaction she'd place a gold star in the appropriate box. If I got enough gold stars in a week, I got a treat at the end of the week. Usually a small box of Lemonheads or Rootbeer Barrels from the food truck (I lived in a tool & dye shop for a year or so when I was a child... but that's another story). Oh, how I wanted those gold stars!

Apparently, I still do. I am currently reading James Scott Bell's excellent Plot & Structure  and when I came to the part where he suggests setting a word count quota and mentions that he tracks his on a spreadsheet, I knew I'd want to do it on graph paper instead, with ticky boxes that I get to X out as I progress. For those of you not up on the web-lingo:

Tick box. —n. (on a form, questionnaire, or test) a square in which one places a tick to show agreement with the accompanying statement 

A grown-up equivalent of my treasured gold stars!

Now, I'll be honest, when I first saw people on Twitter using the #amwriting hashtag and talking about their word count for the day I rolled my eyes a bit. It reminded me of NaNoWriMo, I guess, and that struck me as amateurish. I thought, "Just write until it's done! Don't hold yourself to some arbitrary number!" Please forgive me, dear readers, I was horribly wrong.

What I didn't realize is that the combination of word quota and ticky boxes would have two effects on my writing. The first one was obvious: having ticky boxes to check off would push me beyond the point where I thought I was done for the day. It was like a personal trainer for writing. But the second one took me by surprise: it curbed my tendency to go back and edit a page right after I'd written it. Oh, I know there are sentences that are too wordy, or awkward, but there they stand, waiting for my red pen. No more taking two steps forward and one step back. All my writing is marching forward.

To find my personal quota of 2,200 words/day, I wrote non-stop for 30 minutes. I took no breaks to brew a fresh cup of coffee, or research some bit of trivia or even glance at my beloved Twitter feed. I took that number and multiplied it by 6, thinking I would like to write for 3 hours each day. I figured with all the interruptions put back into my day, this was a reasonable number to start with. My first day I didn't hit that number, but the drive to keep writing took my manuscript to new places. I'm excited about my new writing motivation system.  I think I'll go buy myself a box of Lemonheads.

But here's a question: do I only count fiction writing, or can I count this blog entry? Hmm, I don't know.