Teachers Write 7.12.17 Q&A Wednesday

Got questions about writing?  Wednesday is Q and A Day at Teachers Write Virtual Summer Writing Camp, and we’ll have some great guest authors answering. Today’s official author guests are Christina Diaz Gonzalez, Megan Frazer Blakemore, and Nanci Turner Steveson.

Teachers & librarians – Feel free to ask your questions in the comments.  It’s fine to ask a general question or to direct one directly to a specific guest author. Our published author guests have volunteered to drop in and respond when they can.

Guest authors – Even if today isn’t a day you specifically signed up to help out, feel free to answer any questions you’d like to talk about.  Just reply directly to the comment.

Note from Kate: I’ll try to be here for Q and A most Wednesdays, too. Please be patient with me if you’re a first-time commenter – it may take a little while for me to approve your comment so it appears.

Got questions? Fire away!

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192 Comments

  1. Posted July 12, 2017 at 6:34 am | Permalink

    Good morning! I’m excited to join you all this morning! I am a school librarian as well as a writer, and I’m looking forward to sharing that experience (and more!) as Christina, Nanci, and I answer questions today. I am also a mom so I will be popping in and out as I do things like take my son to Cub Scout Camp and play make believe games with my daughter. Ask away!

    • Posted July 12, 2017 at 6:52 am | Permalink

      Good morning to you. Thank you so much for being part of Teachers Write. I am a Literacy Coach, a writer, and mom so it seems we have much in common! I provide professional development for the teachers in my district. While many teachers identify themselves as readers they do not see themselves as writers. Do you have any suggestions as to how to ease into the writing process?

      • Posted July 12, 2017 at 7:31 am | Permalink

        Good morning! So happy to be here answering questions today with Nanci and Megan. I balance mom duties along with my writing time/author duties… so we all have that juggling quality to our life. As for how to ease readers into the writing process, I think a great way to start is to work on a little bit of fan fiction. Find a story that you love and expand upon it. The characters are already vivid in the reader’s mind and the reader has likely formed a strong opinion of what should/could happen after the book ends. It’s a little bit like dipping your toe in the pool before taking the plunge.

        • Jen Howe
          Posted July 12, 2017 at 8:06 am | Permalink

          Hi Christina,
          Thanks for being here. I love the fan fiction idea! I’m already thinking of works my high schoolers could use.

        • Posted July 12, 2017 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

          That’s a great idea, because at the elementary level that looks like a series. It flexes perspective too leading to higher level discourse. Nice. Thank you so much.

      • Posted July 12, 2017 at 8:45 am | Permalink

        If you are able to use so.e PD time to get teachers writing by modeling classroom writing, that could work. That is, you could do an activity with teachers that you would do with student writers. Then talk through all the emotions they felt — anxious, frustrated, excited — and relate that to how students feel. Encourage your teachers to write with their students.

        • Posted July 12, 2017 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

          That is a great idea because:
          name the process, know how it might look, and reflect on feelings. Perfect.

      • Karen Biglin
        Posted July 12, 2017 at 10:03 am | Permalink

        Hi, I think all of the writing we are doing together this summer is giving us great insight to what it must feel like to our students. I know that sometimes I lose sight of the fact of what we are asking them to do is hard work and am more focused on getting it all done. I am loving being on the side of being asked to think and do the work of an assignment task. I have attended TCRWP @ Columbia Univ for several summers and was always more comfortable with the reading over the writing. When we were asked to write on demand, I always froze up. I was scared I’d be asked to share my work with the class or be responsible for handing it In. I think when teachers are scared to write or do not think of themselves as writers it is because it is more risky than reading.

        • Posted July 12, 2017 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

          Absolutely. Writing exposes little pieces of our soul… even the bits we don’t want to share. It’s very unnerving and can be truly frightening… but it’s worth it!

  2. Posted July 12, 2017 at 6:52 am | Permalink

    I’m wondering how much of your story writing starts at the beginning of the story and proceeds through to the end, vs. how often you write a scene from the middle or end and then circle back.

    Thanks for this great opportunity to live a writerly life and learn! I’m a K-5 Reading Consultant from Connecticut–which in my case means I get to coach kids and teachers about reading (and writing). This is my first TeachersWrite and I’m newly returning to fiction after a hiatus of my whole adult life.

    • Posted July 12, 2017 at 6:53 am | Permalink

      Great question!

      • Michele Larson
        Posted July 12, 2017 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

        I agree. I was also thinking along those lines. Do you confine yourself to a specific period of time when writing? For example, how much passage of time is too much for a story? It seems like covering g say, a whole school year, could be too much.

        • Posted July 12, 2017 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

          Each story is different. Some of my books cover a year while others are only a couple of days.I don’t think there is a strict rule.

    • Posted July 12, 2017 at 7:39 am | Permalink

      Hi Katie and welcome back to world of fiction! I usually start every story knowing how it will end, then I figure out my beginning, and finally I go on the journey with my characters to reach the conclusion I originally imagined. I think this may be a bit unusual and it goes with my personality (I’m the person who will read the spoilers before watching a movie because I like to know how things will end). Even when I don’t know the ending of something I’m reading/watching I’m that person who will guess who the killer is within the first few minutes (my husband gets annoyed because I’m usually right). The main thing is that you have to do whatever works for you to get the story out.

      • Posted July 12, 2017 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

        I can relate to wanting to skip to the end! I totally did that with Gone Girl.

        My trouble is it seems easy to come up with the premise for a story, but I get stuck in finding the plot.

    • Posted July 12, 2017 at 8:47 am | Permalink

      My approach is similar to Christina’s. I know where I am going, but not how I am going to get there. I do tend to write in order, progressing through the story with the characters.

    • Posted July 12, 2017 at 10:08 am | Permalink

      Great question. My experience is a little bit different. I’m a very organic writer and typically have a setting and a couple of characters who keep nagging at me to get something on the page. When I was writing Swing Sideways, I thought I knew the ending until I was sitting in a B&N in Brick, NJ one day, writing away with my head set on, and The Real Ending started coming out. I was so shocked I started crying, only to notice a mom with a bunch of little kids moving them away from the table next to me. I’m sure she thought I was nuts. She was probably right. Anyway, then when I was writing Georgia Rules, I “knew” the ending before I started. But it froze me. I had a lot of trouble letting my creativity fly because iI was writing to that ending. I had to literally write the ending on a piece of paper and put it in my Robert Frost box to let it go so the rest of the story could co ) me out. That part is still in the book and is certainly part of the climax, but it isn’t the final chapter. But I don’t know if I would have been able to get there if I had continued to try to write it that way. My book that come out in 2018 (Lizzie Flying Solo) I wrote the first time ten years ago. It has gone through many transitions to get it right, and the only thing I knew when I started it was there was this recently homeless girl named Lizzie who loved a pony she couldn’t have, loved Robert Frost poetry, and the woods. I started with that and kept plowing through over the years to get the final story right. (That being said, I am still in revisions with my editor, so who nows what will come in his next letter!)

      • Posted July 12, 2017 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

        Ok. Now I want to know what a Robert Frost box is…

        • Posted July 12, 2017 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

          It is a wooden box made from red pine he planted on is farm in VT in 1927. It serves as a real muse for me. I love history, I love Robert Frost, the box is beautiful, and inside it is a miniature leather bound version of the play A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen. The tiny book was my father’s. I also have three stones in front of the box. One says Imagine. One says Create, and the third says Believe.

      • Posted July 12, 2017 at 5:58 pm | Permalink

        This is one of the obstacles I face when writing stories of any significant length. I often have a theme in mind, and a general moral, but I can get easily bogged down along the way. Scenes come to mind, along with character interactions, but how they get to where they are going is often overwhelming. I have a general outline, and some specific events already developed, but connecting the dots looks like trying to draw out a detailed map of a large country that I’ve never visited. Perhaps if I can remember that the country is still being created, that will help. I appreciate how each of you has a different way of constructing your stories, and this frees me from having to find any one specific approach. Thank you!!!

  3. Andrea Mack
    Posted July 12, 2017 at 6:53 am | Permalink

    What is your best tip or strategy for revision? This is one of my biggest challenges with my own writing. It often seems like when I revise, my work loses some of its initial spark.

    • Posted July 12, 2017 at 7:45 am | Permalink

      Love this question!

      • Posted July 12, 2017 at 8:41 am | Permalink

        I agree… great question!

      • Posted July 12, 2017 at 10:20 am | Permalink

        Another great one! My process has changed over the years, thanks in part to having a really fabulous editor. I used to just keep going back and pick, pick, pick away at my draft, but now I have a much more healthy method (I think . . .). I rewrite it once, then put it away for a few weeks (which is painful but necessary). Then I use my super favorite neon colored index cards and write one out for each scene (not chapter, scene) and lay them on a glass table so I can see what is where and why. Usually, as I am going through the index card process, I find a lot of things that aren’t necessary or add clutter and I get rid of them on the spot. There is something about those neon index cards that makes me happy, and able to see what my story looks like. By the way, the index card thing happens several times throughout the revision process. I also, when needed, use two poster boards put together and draw a diagonal line, then write out the scenes along that line to be sure everything is flowing as it should to the climax of the story. As far as losing initial spark, one of the beautiful things about revision is allowing yourself to cut (I know, I know) so the cream rises to the top. After I’ve got my story down, I love going back and line by line, looking at what I’ve written and making changes to any word, or series of words, that needs to be cleaned up. It’s kind of amazing what happens during that process. I also always keep a few books with writing that I love right next to me. When I get frustrated or weary or feel dry, I pick one up and read a little and it helps the juice start flowing again. Remember that revision is the time when you have the opportunity to make your words lovely and your story move forward.

        • Michele Larson
          Posted July 12, 2017 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

          Nanci, thank you for your response. I LOVE that last sentence about revision.

          • Posted July 12, 2017 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

            I used to think of revision as math. Now I think of it as poetry. Or sculpting.

            • Posted July 12, 2017 at 6:03 pm | Permalink

              A perfect quote for the classroom wall, and for my own personal writing area.

              How inspiring!!!

            • Erika Victor
              Posted July 13, 2017 at 9:37 am | Permalink

              LOVE this analogy!

        • Posted July 12, 2017 at 6:01 pm | Permalink

          I love this idea!!!!! Time to shop for some neon index cards. I especially love that you have samples of great writing nearby to access when you feel stuck!

          Your idea is very liberating! Thank you!

    • Posted July 12, 2017 at 7:45 am | Permalink

      Hi Andrea!

      Hm, this is a good/tough question. I think every writer struggles with making their words shine without over-working them and causing the opposite to happen. My strategy is to tackle the revision while having the mindset of a reader. I try to read the story with fresh eyes and if there is something that I (as a reader) don’t like or feel could be done better, then I switch hats and tackle that section as a writer. Think about how when you are reading a book and come across passages that you skip over or that make you think that an alternate situation would have been much better… use that same strategy with your own writing. Do you as a reader enjoy it as a much as you the writer?
      Hope this helps!

    • Posted July 12, 2017 at 9:20 am | Permalink

      This is indeed a great question and I think you’ll get almost as many answers as writers. My first drafts are messy. Revision for me is all about reworking the raw materials of the draft into something resembling a story. So I take a big step back and look at how the scenes go together. I ask, “Which scenes are doing the same job as other scenes? Which scenes need more detail? What are some missing scenes? What order should this go in?” As revision goes on, I do this at the paragraph and sentence level.

  4. Josh Newhouse
    Posted July 12, 2017 at 7:21 am | Permalink

    Good morning-

    With so many great books coming out every week now, how important is it and how do you avoid stepping on another author’s ideas, especially if you are a voracious reader of the field? As a potential author, I’ll have a great idea, start writing and realize my basic concept has been done or is coming out soon. Thoughts? Thanks in advance from this Tampa librarian who is also a wannabe author.

    • Posted July 12, 2017 at 7:54 am | Permalink

      Hey, I know you! Hi Josh! *waves from my kitchen table in Miami*
      I suggest that you not worry about what has or hasn’t been done because no one has written the exact story that is in your head/heart. The catch is to know whether you are writing a story that you are passionate about (comes from your heart and you use your head to transmit it to paper) or if you are only placing words on a page because it seems to a popular concept. I would venture to guess that most people here are writing from the heart and have a connection to their story/character, so I say write your story and let the “market” sort it all out. Every story that you write (whether it gets published or not) is part of your journey and evolution as a writer… so let them all out!

      • Re Marzullo
        Posted July 12, 2017 at 8:44 am | Permalink

        Love all of this great advice in just one response.

        — Write from the heart.
        — Let the “market” sort it out.
        — All stories are part of my journey!

        Thanks Christina!

        • Michele Larson
          Posted July 12, 2017 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

          ❤️

    • Posted July 12, 2017 at 10:21 am | Permalink

      What Christina said. Write away, Josh, let your story be told. You are the only one who can write it.

    • Posted July 12, 2017 at 5:16 pm | Permalink

      The idea is step one, but the execution is what makes the story yours — and where all the work comes in!

  5. Posted July 12, 2017 at 7:37 am | Permalink

    I feel like I always start my writing with gusto and have a great start, but then somehow I lose my passion or lose sight of where I want my story to go, so I drop it. How do you maintain stamina and see a work all the way through to the end without losing your passion?

    • Diana Murrell
      Posted July 12, 2017 at 7:44 am | Permalink

      I would love to know more about this too!

    • Posted July 12, 2017 at 8:05 am | Permalink

      Hi Lynn!
      I think it’s important to know the difference between a false start (the realization that you simply don’t like the story/characters you are writing) and a bit of writer’s block. I can usually tell the difference in my writing because with a false start I will have no interest in finding out what happens next (this is when I drop the project and it usually happens within the first 20 pages). However, if I’m going through “the murky middle” where things may feel a bit stagnant, but I know that I can’t wait to write a later scene, that’s when I just plow through that rough patch. One of the best pieces of advice I can give is, when you get stuck, just write anything that will get you to that next exciting part because you can always revise a poorly written page, but it’s impossible to revise a blank page.

      Oh, and dark chocolate helps, too. Lots and lots of chocolate!

      • Posted July 12, 2017 at 9:33 am | Permalink

        Christina said pretty much exactly what I would say. As I’ve been doing this longer I have a lot more faith in myself and know when I am just feeling stuck in that “murky middle” (rather than it being a dead end). I write myself notes like “Something exciting should happen here” or “Fix this later” and move on, trusting future-me to work it out. Of course, future-me is never very happy with past-me about this!

    • Posted July 12, 2017 at 10:29 am | Permalink

      I sent in my revision to my editor with a note in bold that said “If I didn’t put this in here in the beginning, it will be there.” He hasn’t commented yet on that bit, but I met my deadline, so he knows I know I have to insert something in the beginning of the story to make sense of the latter bit. I always have places I know I have to fix, or areas when I get bored and antsy to move along to the next part, which is far more exciting than that sluggish middle. Remember, though, if you are bored, so will your reader be. Get some words down that explain what you want to put in there and move on. You can come back to the rest.

      • Posted July 12, 2017 at 10:05 pm | Permalink

        Thank you so much Nanci, Megan and Christina!!

  6. Diana Murrell
    Posted July 12, 2017 at 7:43 am | Permalink

    Hi everyone. Thanks for answering questions today! I would like to find out more about editing your writing. Do you ever struggle under the constraints of a certain structure (e.g. a limited number of pages or words allowed) and how do you decide what to keep and what to prune if your story is too long?

    • Posted July 12, 2017 at 8:11 am | Permalink

      Hi Diana!

      I’m not one to pay attention to constraints and I let the story flow to whatever it is. I usually err on the side of being too short on the first draft and then have to go back and develop scenes further. So I guess I’m on the opposite side of the spectrum. What works for me is, while I revise, to remember to “linger” on certain scenes and moments. Perhaps, the opposite could be true as well and when you are pruning your story, think whether the moment/scene is critical to the story. Maybe Megan or Nanci have better advice on pruning issues.

    • Posted July 12, 2017 at 9:39 am | Permalink

      I think this is why having some distance from a manuscript is so important. I get a full messy draft and then try to figure out what I need more of and what can go. So, sometimes that means cutting scenes or characters of the most beautifully written sentence you would ever read. I can’t do this in the first draft. Or even the second, usually. I need to have that space from my own writing in order to be able to cut.

      As for a practical tip, if it is a scene I am working on trimming, I look at my descriptions and make sure I am only describing each thing once. I like to do this on paper and cross through the words I don’t need.

    • Posted July 12, 2017 at 4:56 pm | Permalink

      One of the things I have discovered by accident is that when I go back to look line by line (looking for passive writing where active is better, looking for telling versus showing, etc) I find myself cutting a lot of excess garbage out, and adding in little details that pull more of the story out. You have to give yourself permission to completely demolish your own writing. Also: Read read read. Keep reading. An agent once suggested to the writers at a workshop that we get a copy of Tuck Everlasting and type out that whole first paragraph (about the first week in August). Then type it again. And again. And keep typing it until we understand the beautiful, lyrical flow of the words and how they are sparse yet lovely. I now do that as a starter when I feel dry, but I use different books all the time. Here’s what I have above my computer. Omit All Unnecessary Words. But the ALL is crossed out. Because it’s not necessary.

  7. Posted July 12, 2017 at 7:43 am | Permalink

    Good morning all!

    My question is a broad one, but I’m hoping you all might have some insights. I have wanted to write for YEARS but, like Lynn above, I would start a project strong, and then the story would fizzle out and I would abandon it. Eventually I gave up writing altogether for a long time.

    I realize now that the problem is plotting, and I let it meander along until even *I* am bored with the story.

    How much of your work do you plot in advance? If you’re more of a “pantser,” how do you weave those ends together to create a workable story?

    • Jen Howe
      Posted July 12, 2017 at 8:11 am | Permalink

      Hi Angela,

      I was just at a session at NErdCampMI with Lauryl Snyder and Kirby Larson that addressed this issue. Those ladies suggested that when students tell us they are having trouble with the plot, they usually mean they are having trouble with character. They suggested several activities to help students learn to know their characters even better including having your character have a secret and writing letters from your character to other characters in the story. I wonder if exploring more of what makes your character tick might open up some ideas about the plot for you. Good luck!

      • Posted July 12, 2017 at 8:21 am | Permalink

        Ooh, I love this suggestion (and I love Laurel and Kirby… such wonderful and talented ladies).

      • David S
        Posted July 12, 2017 at 11:27 am | Permalink

        I really like this idea as well! What are some other ways people develop their characters? Lists? Questionnaires? I have a brand new idea/WIP and realize I really need to figure out my characters better.

        • Posted July 12, 2017 at 5:19 pm | Permalink

          I actually avoid questionnaires. I know some people love them, but for me they become constraining. I do try writing from different character’s perspectives. I also do an exercise where I start listing words a character would use (not words about them, but words they themselves would use). It’s almost like free association and can be very revealing.

        • Posted July 13, 2017 at 6:46 am | Permalink

          David, I find that it’s through writing the first draft that I really get to know more about my characters, even though I start off with some general personality traits for each one.

      • Meghan Oppelt
        Posted July 12, 2017 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

        I wish I had made it to that session! Josh Funks & Jess Keating had a session and gave a lot of insight into the publishing business & how they originally got published -interesting!

    • Posted July 12, 2017 at 8:17 am | Permalink

      Hi Angela! I’m so happy to see that you have returned to writing. I am more of pantser, but I begin writing with my ending already in mind. This keeps me focused on the destination (which I usually love and can’t wait to get there) and so I treat the process of getting to that conclusion as an adventure that I get to take with my characters. On occasion when I do begin to meander (that darn “murky middle”), I will make a list of 5-10 things that must happen to get to my ending and divide those items up into chapters. That way I tackle the middle one piece at a time until I arrive at my conclusion.

    • Posted July 12, 2017 at 9:36 am | Permalink

      I get so enamored of my characters and setting, and would be happy to just hang out with them, so I totally understand the problem of plotting! I try to use structures to shape my plot. So, a lot of my books have mysteries in them, and that’s because mysteries impose structure: mystery established, clue, clue, red herring, clue, clue, sense-making, reveal! Right now I am working with the Hero’s Journey structure. It gives me a path that I can plot my scenes onto.

    • Posted July 12, 2017 at 10:37 am | Permalink

      Remember there is a difference between a good idea and a good story. I good idea doesn’t have a plot. A good story does. I don’t outline at all before I start (see above), but somewhere along the line I know there is a problem the MC has to overcome and I build from there. I probably take a lot more time to get things done, but that is what works for me.

  8. Melissa Schulte
    Posted July 12, 2017 at 7:44 am | Permalink

    I have a story idea in mind, but can’t figure out how to get started. Is the writing of a story best done linearly? Can authors write in a non-linear fashion(start somewhere, add bits and eventually create a great, hook beginning and compose an ending)? We have been so programmed through school to write from start to end!
    Thanks so much. I’m looking forward to your input.

    • Posted July 12, 2017 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

      Hi Melissa.

      You can certainly write in a non-linear fashion. My friend, Danielle Joseph, writes all her books in this manner. I have no idea how she does it because I’m a linear writer, but it works for her. Give it a try!

    • Posted July 12, 2017 at 5:17 pm | Permalink

      I have a friend who is a librarian who is writing this way. She wrote a lot of different scenes without any sort of pattern, just things she knew was going to happen. She is a beautiful writer and I have all the faith in the world that this method will work for her in the end. Also, I’ve never finished a book with the same opening as it was when I started. So just write and sort it out later if needed.

  9. Usha Gurumurthy
    Posted July 12, 2017 at 7:52 am | Permalink

    I have a similar problem like many here. I begin a writing project with enthusiasm but soon within writing 10-20 pages my enthusiasm fizzles out. I just seem to lose touch with words on my train of thoughts just wander away. How do I discipline myself to write consistently?

    • Posted July 12, 2017 at 8:31 am | Permalink

      Hi Usha! When I have faced similar issues, I’ve come to the realization that perhaps the story is missing something. Either I haven’t bonded with my characters enough (they need to feel like real people to you) or my plot is missing a key ingredient. Sometimes it requires more planning or if you are a pantser like me… it needs more marinating. What I mean by marinating is that the idea/character needs more time in my brain to sit and soak in the creative juices. Jen Howe (a few comments above) mentioned some exercises to develop a better relationship with your characters, but I really do a lot of “getting to know you” type of things in my imagination. It’s as if I begin to see my world through my character’s eyes and our personalities/experiences become intertwined. Once that relationship is solidified, try going somewhere where it is your own private writing getaway. For me, I have a very hard time writing from home. I usually head out to Starbucks, Panera, or something similar. A few hours at these locations is much more productive than a full day at home (plus I can people watch when I get restless… you never know when one of your characters could walk in and order coffee).

    • Posted July 12, 2017 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

      Hi and thanks for the question. It’s not an uncommon one, so don’t feel like you “can’t” do it. I have dozens of stories I’ve started and are sitting in the drawer waiting for something to ignite my passion for it again. However, if you feel the drive to write this particular story right now, and your enthusiasm fizzles, my suggestion would be to just keep pushing through, knowing a lot of what you write will be cut (please, give yourself permission to do this), but in that awful writing you will likely find a gold nugget to build on.

  10. Jen Howe
    Posted July 12, 2017 at 8:04 am | Permalink

    Good Morning and thanks for being here!

    I’ve been so uplifted at NErDCampMI that last two days and glad to be participating in Teachers Write at the same time. One of the discussions that happened at NErDCamp centered around the idea that there is no writing process, just the writer’s process. One of my goals is to really help students develop their identities as writers and to help them find tips and tricks that work for them.

    Could you share briefly a bit about your writing process? I’d love to use that information in class to show what writers do similarly and differently.

    Thank you for your time!

    • Kathy Halsey
      Posted July 12, 2017 at 8:15 am | Permalink

      Hi Jen, Jelly that i’m not a Nerd Camp. Next year. I am a former English teacher/school librarian, and I realized now that the concept of the writing process w/”steps” is so unlike how professional writers attack their work and the process. AND, I realize that w/each project, I tend to change my process! Excellent work there at Nerd Camp! E?LA teachers need to invite professional writers into the classroom to expose this practice. (Not the fault of the teachers, they were trained this way.)

    • Posted July 12, 2017 at 8:35 am | Permalink

      Hi Jen! NErDCampMI is such a wonderful thing, glad that you were able to attend! You are absolutely right… there is not one writing process, just whatever works for you at that moment. I usually begin with my ending, figure out where my story begins, and then go on the journey with my character to reach that conclusion. Can’t wait to see how Megan and Nanci approach things!

    • Posted July 12, 2017 at 9:43 am | Permalink

      Yes! I agree so whole-heartedly. When I was in college so many of my writing instructors said, “It’s best to overwrite. You can always go back and cut the extra stuff.” But I write really scanty drafts and my process is to go back in and add the details. For years I felt like I was doing it wrong, and then one day it just clicked that that was my process. I usually have a character first, in a particular setting or situation, and then just hang out with that character in my head until the story starts to break through.

      I’ve always thought it would be fun for schools that Skype with a lot of authors to ask every author the same question about process and then see the variety of responses.

    • Posted July 12, 2017 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

      Hi and thanks for the question. My process is evolving with each new book, but the one thing that is consistent for me is that I start with an idea, a setting, the emotions of a character burning inside me that I know MUST get out. I started Georgia Rules in the middle of a class one night when we had just read an essay by Frederick Buechner in which he described the inside of an old barn. Instantly I had an image of a girl who had lost her father who she never really knew, standing at the threeshhold of a barn in VT and I started writing furiously. I know my instructors thought I was such a great student for taking such voracious notes that night, But the truth is, I was writing the beginnings of that book. They now know the truth. Same thing happened with my book that will come out next year, but that time I was watching a girl watch a pony and longing to be the one riding it (I managed a large equestrian center at the time). She was clinging to a book and a line I still love popped into my head and the entire story rose from that one line. I would love to know if you ever read Lizzie Flying Solo after it comes out if you can pick out the line. So my starts are always triggered by something that moves me in a way I can’t walk away from and goes on from there.

    • Posted July 12, 2017 at 4:57 pm | Permalink

      NErDCampMI. Sigh . . . Someday.

      • Jen Howe
        Posted July 12, 2017 at 8:06 pm | Permalink

        Thank you so much, ladies! Your responses are now the first in my “how writers write” collection for my students.

  11. Lilla Clark
    Posted July 12, 2017 at 8:16 am | Permalink

    Hello everyone! I’m wondering if you can share a little about your writing process and writing rituals?
    When you sit down to write, what is sacred for you? Do you always use the same mug of coffee? Have a particular place you write? What does a typical day of writing look like?

    • Posted July 12, 2017 at 8:39 am | Permalink

      Hi Lilla!

      For me, every book is different, but what stays the same is that I need to leave the house. I usually write at Starbucks or Panera and a key element is that I often have a fellow writer meet me there. It’s like having a gym partner… you can’t make an excuse and not show up because they are waiting for you. I’ve been lucky that for several years I get to meet a friend (after we drop off the kids at school) and we sit next to each other while we each work on our manuscripts. We spend most of the time (until we go pick up the kids) working, but sometimes we “come up for air” and talk about our books, kids, life, etc. It makes the whole thing a little less solitary.

      • Lilla Clark
        Posted July 12, 2017 at 11:43 am | Permalink

        Thank you!

    • Posted July 12, 2017 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

      I LOVE this question! I am walking into an appointment but will answer this in a bit. Thank you for asking it.

    • Posted July 12, 2017 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

      Hi there, so I have discovered recently that I need to spend half an hour or so before I start writing handling my emails, posting on FB (for real), doing writing of some other kind before I plow in. I also reread a short bit of what I worked on the day before, which I refer to as my stretching exercises. Another thing I often do is when I am done for the day, I read out loud and record what I just wrote. I listen to it in my car later, or right before I write the next day. I have a box made from wood of a red pine tree that Robert Frost planted on his farm in VT in 1927 by me, along with three rocks that say Imagine Create and Believe on each one. These are always in sight of I’m working at home. I have my computer in a place where I have a lovely view, which is important to me. However! I have done some of my best work sitting next to someone in the hospital, and in airports. I do put on headphones with binary beats app that help me focus, and often when I find a piece of music that resonates with me in regard to the book I’m working on, I will listen during revisions. But I can’t listen to words with songs while writing. Only editing. I listened to one song endlessly while revising Swing Sideways, sung by 12 year old Jasmine Thompson called Under the Willow. If you’ve read Swing Sideways and listen to that song, you’ll understand why. Also, when I’m doing The Big Push which often means 6-8 hour sessions, I brush my teeth obsessively. I know, that’s so weird, but I feel like the cobwebs get out of my brain when I do that. I also turn off my phone. The. I get up and walk outside when I’m weary. And I keep those crazy neon index cards by my side with the ONLY kind of pen I like, for writing notes -to-self.

      • Posted July 12, 2017 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

        Love the idea of recording your writing and listening to it!

        • Posted July 12, 2017 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

          It is truly one of the best tools that I have because you hear things that you don’t see in writing. Only problem is when I listen to it while I’m driving it’s a little tricky to try and take notes of things. I also love to listen to it while I’m sweeping or mopping. I don’t know what it is in my brain that makes those two things go together but I learn a lot by listening to what I have written, plus sweeping and mopping soothe me.

    • Posted July 12, 2017 at 5:24 pm | Permalink

      I don’t have a lot of rituals. Working and having young kids, I need to be able to write anywhere, and I pretty much can. That said, I have an office where I do most of my writing. (Secondary prime writing location: public libraries.) I need a glass of water. I try to write 1000 words per session when I’m drafting. Once I have a completed draft, I do like to read over my work some place other than my office. It’s like a mind trick: new venue, new perspective. So I will print out a copy and read it at the library or in bed — just some place else.

  12. Posted July 12, 2017 at 8:33 am | Permalink

    I have a full draft of a ya verse novel–my first. Right now, a few beta readers have it, and I am taking a couple weeks away from it though I have a notebook of revision ideas for when I return to the manuscript next week. I wrote this because I needed to, because it had to come out (I think Faulkner said it…if a story is in you, it has to come out). Now, I want to share the story. I want to do what I ask my students to do: share their storis beyond.

    I understand that on order to publish I need an agent, who wants a query letter and 10ish pages, so it seems that those first 10 pages are the key to getting someone to read the rest. I have worked with students on their leads, but I guess I’ve never written nor taught students to write creative pieces of this length (200 pages). I’d love to hear insight into how best to approach/seek agents and if knowing they’ll look at the beginning so closely impacts how you begin your stories?

    • Posted July 12, 2017 at 9:49 am | Permalink

      I guess I would say that the agent is only the first person of many who is going to be scrutinizing those first pages. After the agent comes the editor she will send them to, then the reviewers, then the readers. If you don’t capture people with your first pages, they are going to put the book down (no pressure!). So, yes, I spend a lot of time thinking about the start of my book (once I get to the revision stage).

      As for approaching an agent, there are sites like Agent Query (http://www.agentquery.com/) where you can search for agents who rep your kind of work. You can also look at books similar to yours and see who the agents are. Then you just send out those query letters and try not to drive yourself crazy waiting for a response.

    • Posted July 12, 2017 at 5:18 pm | Permalink

      Research, perseverance and lots of tissue and chocolates.

  13. Re Marzullo
    Posted July 12, 2017 at 8:48 am | Permalink

    Good morning and thanks for volunteering your time to answer questions!
    I am curious about how many hours per day a you write. I shoot for an hour a day during the school year and 2-3 daily on my summer break, but I’m wondering if I should try and increase my seat time. 🙂 Thank you!! Re

    • Posted July 12, 2017 at 9:45 am | Permalink

      I wrote a lot of my books by staying half an hour after school to write. That half hour was sacred. No email, no Facebook, not Twitter, no students. It’s amazing what you can get done! I would need longer stretches for revision, but getting that first draft down just took the daily seat in chair. I think your timing sounds great. It’s about what I do now.

      • Lisa
        Posted July 12, 2017 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

        That’s great to hear about your schedule. I don’t have any extra mental energy during the school week, and I probably get only about 3 hours of writing done on the weekends. That never seems like it’s enough to make a writer’s life. So that’s encouraging! In the summer it’s such a treat to write more.

      • Re Marzullo
        Posted July 13, 2017 at 9:31 am | Permalink

        Thank you!

    • Posted July 12, 2017 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

      I know an author who is also an editor who wrote an entire MG novel on his iPad on the train ride home from the city every day. For me, I have more success when I have more time. I tend to do big pushes until exhausted, then rest and go again. However, if I am working on a play (my other job is as a stage manager for a professional theatre) and I only have a few minutes here and there, I grab them whenever I can. But everyone is different. Some people do it my word count. Some do it by number of pages. Each author’s journey is their own and my guess is, everyone’s method changes with time, too.

  14. Susan MacKay-Logue
    Posted July 12, 2017 at 8:59 am | Permalink

    Good morning, everyone! Thank you so much for taking the time to share your thoughts about writing with us Christina, Megan, and Nanci. My question is of a practical nature. I have written all sorts of “scenes” for a book that lives in my heart/head, but I really have no idea how to put them all together into something resembling a novel. Do I purchase a program like Scrivener or some other thing that will help me make sense of the process, or do I just create index cards of the scenes and place them along a story arc and then sort them out in Word? I guess this is the very basics of novel writing, but I’m getting to the point where I have a computer full of scenes that need direction to guide them into something more. I feel like I am letting them down because I don’t know what to do next! My story thanks you in advance for your ideas.

    • Posted July 12, 2017 at 9:33 am | Permalink

      Hi Susan! I’m a very visual learner so, for me, I would want to see everything at once and be able able to physically move things around. I would probably try jotting things down on notecards and then blend them all into word. But this is really a foreign concept for me as I am a linear writer (I write everything in order and can’t skip between scenes — even though I begin knowing how the book will end). I will defer to others who may have more experience with using Scrivener or notecards. Good luck!

      • Susan MacKay-Logue
        Posted July 12, 2017 at 10:12 am | Permalink

        Thank you, Christina. I have things written all over the place (notebooks, blog post, Word, so even getting them all together will be a chore. I guess if I figure out where the story ends, I can work backward from there. Thanks for your insight.

    • Posted July 12, 2017 at 9:51 am | Permalink

      I use Scrivener so I can see the scenes and move them around. Sometimes I do this more physically with index cards or the like and literally move scenes around on my office floor. I find Word a little trickier to move things around in, but it is possible to do it that way.

      • Susan MacKay-Logue
        Posted July 12, 2017 at 10:16 am | Permalink

        Hello Megan, the moving around in Word was really tripping me up, so Scrivener may be the way to go. I also lost one of my notebooks during a remodel at home that had my character sketches and plotting in it. Ugh! I think a program that can contain everything and can link to the cloud or dropbox may be the fix. Thanks for your help.

      • Posted July 12, 2017 at 7:20 pm | Permalink

        I just got schrivner. Giving myself time to learn it.

        • Susan MacKay-Logue
          Posted July 12, 2017 at 11:02 pm | Permalink

          Nanci, I watched a tutorial on Youtube and spent the morning organizing scenes into the program and it is starting to look like a potential book. I am so thrilled! The process really helped me solidify my thinking around the story. Great day!

    • Posted July 13, 2017 at 12:04 am | Permalink

      I have never heard of software that assists with writing! Does Scrivener just keep track of revisions or does it really help with planning\writing the book? Is there any other software out there like Scrivener?

      • Susan MacKay-Logue
        Posted July 14, 2017 at 11:10 pm | Permalink

        Crystal, I have been playing with the Scrivener all week, and I have found that it is great for keeping your work organized. I was able to write “scenes” in the program as they came to me and then I was able to move them around in different chapters and make adjustments as necessary. I like it so far.

  15. Posted July 12, 2017 at 9:06 am | Permalink

    Hi folks, so glad to be part of this today! I live in WY, mountain time, so two hours behind most of you. Sorry for being later to this already interesting party, but wanted to let you know how excited I am to be part of this today. Such great questions! Let me get my coffee and I’ll be right back with you. Thanks for being so engaged and excited to learn, and to carrying that to your kids. Be right back! 🙂
    Nanci

  16. Barb Jaindl
    Posted July 12, 2017 at 9:11 am | Permalink

    When writing a first draft, do you recommend using a digital device or not? Now that access to technology tends to more 1:1 in the classroom, educators might tend to opt to insist students write via device. My personal writing experience is that I’m fine using devices for all kinds of communication, except creative, original writing. I need the pen for flow — not as a chew toy!

    • Posted July 12, 2017 at 9:39 am | Permalink

      Hi Barb! I would be lost without my laptop and only use pen/paper when I am in the final stages of revision. That being said, use whatever gets the words flowing! I know a very successful writer that does the first draft in her notebook and then transfers it all into her laptop as a form of rewriting.

    • Posted July 12, 2017 at 9:53 am | Permalink

      This is such a timely question for me! When I started writing novels, I was commuting by train. I would write on the train and then when I got home at night I would type it up and then add to what I had written that day. But over time I switched to writing on the computer. Until this book I am working on now! I started by doing what I called “sneak writing” and just writing in a notebook, trying to sneak up on the story. I thought I had it caught, but everything I wrote on the computer was terrible. I ended up writing most of it by hand. So, to answer your question: do what works for you.

      • Barb Jaindl
        Posted July 12, 2017 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

        Really appreciate the responses about habits, but the sharing of change, as needed. Think we educators need to be extra cognizant about not communicating to budding writers of any age that there is only one pattern/habit that will yield results.

    • Posted July 12, 2017 at 5:02 pm | Permalink

      I revert to pen and paper when I’m stuck, or to doodle. Doodling is very important. 🙂

  17. Deanna Schuler
    Posted July 12, 2017 at 9:21 am | Permalink

    Okay…how do you pick ONE story to start. I have so many stories and characters swimming in my head I can’t make one of them talk loud enough to pick. I am intimated by my ideas. I want to do them justice …especially the characters that are from my life.

    My favorite character is Little Lillian (actually my paternal grandmother) the stories she told me of her childhood NEED to be shared but I want them authentic. So that will require some research. I envision her as a picture book character.

    My other characters are a mixture of my experiences as a child and what I have seen as a teacher.

    So…how to I choose…

    • Posted July 12, 2017 at 10:24 am | Permalink

      I feel like characters are like this. When one shows up, a whole bunch follow. You just need to grab one and go with it. It sounds like the Little Lillian one is the one that has your heart right now, so that would be my recommendation.

      • Deanna Schuler
        Posted July 12, 2017 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

        Little Lillian very much has my heart. In my head I see her as a character of a set of picture books. I know the first step is getting the stories on paper but should I decide to submit my stories would I “market it” as a picture book or just submit the stories and see what the editor/ publisher tells me?

        • Posted July 12, 2017 at 5:29 pm | Permalink

          Once you have a manuscript and are ready to approach an agent, you should pitch it as whatever ends up being (a picture book, story collection, etc.). The agent might come back and say, “This is great, but I think it’s actually X, let’s take it to market that way.” I think once you have it written down, it will be clear to you how to pitch it.

    • Posted July 12, 2017 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

      Hi Deanna! It sounds like you actually have chosen because the passion you have for Little Lillian comes through in your post. You may feel a little wary because you want to do this character justice and have her be an authentic representation of your grandmother’s experiences (I had similar feelings when writing The Red Umbrella which was loosely based on my mother & grandmother), but do it! Put in the research and let Little Lillian grow in your imagination. The other characters you have floating around in your head can be her friends. And don’t be surprised if that picture book blooms into a full novel — that’s what happened to me with The Red Umbrella.

      • Deanna Schuler
        Posted July 12, 2017 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

        Another reason I havent let Little Lillian play on paper yet is BECAUSE I am so connected and thus protective of her. She IS my grandmother and I fear I wouldnt do well with the editing process with her

    • Posted July 12, 2017 at 5:19 pm | Permalink

      Start writing them all and the one that really needs to be done first will win the race because you won’t be able to stand being away from those characters for too long.

  18. Rachel Blumenthal
    Posted July 12, 2017 at 9:26 am | Permalink

    Thanks for taking the time to stop by and answer questions. I have two.

    1. Can you share the story of how you successfully submitted your first manuscript? Did you have an agent? Did you know someone who helped get your manuscript some attention? Was your manuscript complete when you submitted it or did you still have a ways to go in completing it?

    2. I’m toying between having my chapters alternate between narrators (my main character and her grandfather) and having it told entirely from the point of view of my main character. What do you believe are the pros and cons of each? I like how it sounds being told from the perspective of my main character, but a colleague thought it would be nice to alternate perspectives by chapter or section.

    Thanks,
    Rachel

    • Posted July 12, 2017 at 10:18 am | Permalink

      Hi Rachel! First off, I unsuccessfully submitted many manuscripts before I successfully did so. My first novel was a YA and I started by looking for agents. I picked my top 5 and sent out queries. If I got a rejection, I would send out another. Simultaneously, I was getting ready for my marriage. That was perfect timing because I wasn’t incessantly checking my email. The Thursday before the wedding, my now-agent called and offered representation. She was able to sell my MS within a few months. Note: this never ever happens this quickly! And it took years to sell a second manuscript (The Water Castle).

      I love alternating characters when it works and there are many examples of this being an effective technique. I am intrigued by the idea of one of the characters being the grandfather — that seems like a new take on this idea. Honestly, I think it’s the type of thing you need to feel out and get feedback from people on the text itself.

    • Posted July 12, 2017 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

      Hi Rachel!

      1. My publishing story is a what urban legends are made of… at least as far as conferences go. I had been unsuccessfully querying agents with short stories, chapter books, when I decided to convert a PB idea into a full novel. I had written 15 pages of it and had a paid 15 minute critique done at a SCBWI conference where I was lucky enough to be paired with an editor from Random House. During the critique she told me that Random House would be interested in the book and asked if I would be done by the end of the summer (I never mentioned that I only had 15 pages). Long story short, I went home and finished the book (THE RED UMBRELLA) in 6 weeks and had two offers (I had met another editor a year earlier and decided to send it to her too) within a month. A little over a year later (when there was some buzz about the ARC of my book), I met my agent at another SCBWI conference and she’s sold my next books to Random House and Scholastic. It’s crazy, but true.

      2. Write whatever feels right to you. You will get a lot of advice (some good, some bad), but in the end tell the story how you envision it. Alternating voices can be cool, but it can also be distracting. Test it out and see if you like how it sounds.

    • Posted July 12, 2017 at 5:10 pm | Permalink

      Hi Rachel, I did a lot of research into agents and picked out some I thought I would work well with (because I believe that we do not have to “settle” for an agent just like we don’t settle for a partner). I got to know them through conferences and author/agent/editor dinners while I was living in NJ. I actually had an agent who I really connected with who was waiting for me to finish my first novel. Then I was driving down the road one day talking to a friend of my parents who said a friend of hers was married to “some guy in the publishing business.” She didn’t even know what he did. I asked who it was and turns out he was the founder of one of the biggest literary agencies in the country. It had never occurred to me to submit to him. A few weeks later the same friend invited me to go to a book launch at his house in NYC. I went, not expecting anything to come of it. I met my agent and my friend said, “This is Nanci, she writes books for kids!” Al (my agent) took a step back and said, “Oh how nice.” Then he fled. The friend wouldn’t let it go, though, so a month or so later she asked me send her a few chapters to give to Al’s wife, Claire. She read it and woke Al up to tell him he had to read it so she could find out what happened in the story. I got a call from his assistant the next day (and almost threw up from nerves), when I was finished I sent it to him and he signed me. Weird but true story. So you never know. Prior to that, like all of us, I had submitted to at least fifty agents/editors and I have this massive pile of rejections in a drawer. It just goes to show, it takes the right person on the right day. Don’t give up, and keep learning.

  19. Maureen Morrison
    Posted July 12, 2017 at 9:27 am | Permalink

    Good Morning and thank you for today’s plan. (You are allowing me to procrastinate from the sticky bike ride I am determined to take, while I read through questions and answers.) My question is about your first manuscripts. Agent or submission to publishers?

    • Posted July 12, 2017 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

      Hi Maureen.

      You’ll see by my response to Rachel that I submitted directly to an editor that I met at a conference. That being said, the more typical route is to go through an agent as most large houses are closed to unsolicited manuscripts.

      • Maureen Morrison
        Posted July 12, 2017 at 5:10 pm | Permalink

        Thanks! You’ve also helped me to answer a question that I forgot I had about the value of attending conferences.

  20. Helen Evans
    Posted July 12, 2017 at 9:36 am | Permalink

    Very happy to be involved with Teachers Write! for the 2nd year, and grateful for all the authors sharing their experiences and incites. I taught high school English for 30 years and have been a
    pre k through gr 8 librarian for the past 7 years. The reading/writing connection has always been an obvious one for me, and I relish being introduced to your books and your writing processes.

    I agree that eventually each student needs to find his/her own writing process, but when faced with a teacher’s expectations, directions, and deadlines, that blank page is absolutely daunting and turns many would be authors into writing failures.

    I’ve found positive student involvement with group brainstorming about what they don’t know as well as what they do know, and that offering questioning techniques, classification suggestions, and various graphic organizers help students cope with the blank page. Eventually students begin to understand that the ‘structured suggestions” can be bent to suit their individual learning/writing styles.

    • Posted July 12, 2017 at 10:25 am | Permalink

      I’m currently reading Make Writing by Angela Stockman and it has given me a lot to think about with my own writing and working with student writers. She uses the maker mindset to approach writing, and has specific tips for getting past the blank page. Her website: https://makewriting.com/

    • Posted July 12, 2017 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

      Helen, thank you for your many years of dedication and service to our students.Yes, finding ways to cope with the daunting blank page is necessary and I think your suggestions are wonderful!

    • Posted July 12, 2017 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

      Helen, I would love to see some of the activities you use with your students.

    • Posted July 12, 2017 at 5:21 pm | Permalink

      I use theatre techniques in my author programs and when teaching. Getting kids out of the chair with their friends is like taking them back to the playground. Once things get flowing, they get to their seats (usually on their own) and the writing begins to flow.

  21. Heather Jensen
    Posted July 12, 2017 at 9:42 am | Permalink

    Good Morning! Thanks Christina, Megan, and Nanci for sharing your time with us. My question is about developing characters. What do you do to develop the other characters in your stories, so that they can interact with the main characters? I would also like to know what tips I can give my young writers so that their characters interact in their own writing? Thank you!

    • Posted July 12, 2017 at 10:27 am | Permalink

      If a character isn’t coming alive for me, I write scenes from that character’s perspective to get into his or her head. These never go into the final project; they are just for me. It gives me sympathy for the antagonists, insight into friends.

      With young writers, I ask them to think about what their characters want, and what is getting in the way. Sometimes that obstacle is another character, which can make for great interactions.

      • Heather Jensen
        Posted July 12, 2017 at 9:04 pm | Permalink

        Thank you!

    • Posted July 12, 2017 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

      I try to imagine those secondary characters as the hero of their own story (we are each the heroes of our lives after all). This gives me a better idea of their backstory, desires, fears etc.

      • Heather Jensen
        Posted July 12, 2017 at 9:05 pm | Permalink

        Thank you!

    • Posted July 12, 2017 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

      I have written a journal “by” the character, I have written letters to them, I have people watched, and most importantly, I discover why they do what they do. Although their backstory might never appear on the page, I know it, which helps them have more depth. My editor told me once that two of the characters in Georgia Rules could be the same person. I thought he was telling me to get rid of one or the other, which was killing me because I loved them so much. Then I realized what he meant was they did not have distinctly different personalities to take up space in the story, so I went back and added little tiny snippets of things that made them come alive. They became critical to several themes, once I was sure of who they were. Often in my writing process a lot of this comes out, then I cut it later because it was important for ME to know, but not the reader.

      • Heather Jensen
        Posted July 12, 2017 at 9:06 pm | Permalink

        Thank you!

  22. Posted July 12, 2017 at 9:44 am | Permalink

    Good morning! My burning questions have been answered already! Love Teachers Write! Here is something that has happened for me as I’ve been working on my story. While writing, when I was in that stuck place, confused about whether I should continue pantsing or if I should have plotted after all, I had an idea for another story. I admit, this could just be my attempt at getting out of a stuck situation and avoiding the hard work. I wasn’t sure if I should hit pause on my current WIP and start the new story or stick with my current WIP. When you write – do you focus on one story at a time or do you ever have multiple you are working on? Thanks!

    Thanks!

    • Gail Crust
      Posted July 12, 2017 at 10:02 am | Permalink

      What is “pantsing”? 🙂

      • Posted July 12, 2017 at 10:14 am | Permalink

        Writers tend to define themselves as plotters (those who plot out first) and pantsers (those who write by the seat of their pants). I feel that pantsers is an undignified term. I prefer “explorer”. 🙂

        • Gail Crust
          Posted July 13, 2017 at 6:52 am | Permalink

          🙂

    • Posted July 12, 2017 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

      Oh I get the “shiny bright object” syndrome all the time. New ideas pop up right around the time when the writing gets hard. What I do is write down the idea and then give myself the incentive that if I finish X amount of writing on the current book, I’ll allow myself to brainstorm/research a little about the new book (but no writing on the new idea until the current project is done).

    • Posted July 12, 2017 at 5:24 pm | Permalink

      Hahaha! It’s amazing all the tricks we do to keep from moving forward. I used to go back and massage early chapters relentlessly. Over and over again. Then I realized I was doing that because I was afraid to move forward, because i wasn’t sure I wasn’t really an imposter. So now when I find myself doing that, I force myself to keep writing, knowing a lot will end in the trash, but hoping for one, single gold nugget. Sometimes you’ve just got to keep climbing that mountain. But, then too, if you need a break and another story comes knocking, write it down and go back.

    • Posted July 12, 2017 at 7:22 pm | Permalink

      Also I am a one book at a time girl. For now, anyway.

    • Posted July 13, 2017 at 11:36 am | Permalink

      Thanks!

  23. Mona
    Posted July 12, 2017 at 9:45 am | Permalink

    Thank you all for taking the time to share your craft with us!!!
    I was wondering if you have any strategies for dealing with writers block when you are stuck without a writing project that excites you or stuck in the middle of a writing project that suddenly seems stale?

    • Posted July 12, 2017 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

      If I am in between projects, I like to find other things to do until inspiration hits. I’ve found that I can’t really force my muse to give me ideas… they seem to pop up when least expected. Keeping an open mind and high curiosity factor about all things in our world definitely helps.

    • Posted July 12, 2017 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

      In both cases, I think the best solution is to get out and see the world. I have spent hours sitting at my computer telling myself I need to stay there until I make it work. Then I give up and go for a walk or take a shower and then the way forward becomes clear to me. Likewise, I get so many of my ideas from just noticing things that seem odd to me and wondering what the story is behind them. For example, Spy Catchers of Maple Hill started because I saw a kid’s bike next to a house in a cemetery and I started wondering what it would be like to grow up in a graveyard.

    • Posted July 13, 2017 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

      I cry a lot. Then I remember my motivation and kick myself in the rear end. Then I cry some more and sometimes I throw things. Richard Peck gave a fabulous keynote speech years ago at a SCBWI conference. He said people ask him all the time how he overcomes writer’s block. His answer was, “Don’t you know there is a wonderful government organization that helps us with writer’s block?”
      Silence in the room. 200 people leaned forward in their chairs to find out about this secret organization.
      Richard finally smiled and said (in his lovely Richard Peck voice), “Yes, its called the IRS!”
      This still makes me smile.

  24. Maureen Riordan
    Posted July 12, 2017 at 9:47 am | Permalink

    My question isn’t about the writing process but rather asking some professional advice for one of my twin daughters. My daughter just graduated high school and is headed to Emerson College. Her dream is to write novels but she is realistic that she needs to support herself so she is majoring in Journalism. While attending an Open House she learned that she could minor in Creative Writing or Publishing. My question is which minor would you recommend for her as being more helpful toward pursuing her dream of becoming a published author someday.

    • Posted July 12, 2017 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

      You are talking to someone who majored in ACCOUNTING and then went to Law School, so I really don’t know. I never took a creative writing class in my life (law school will certainly work on your writing though and there seems to be many former lawyers who are now published authors). I think having a passion for books and reading is essential.

    • Posted July 12, 2017 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

      I’ve been thinking about this question all day and I don’t have an answer. What I know is that there is no one way path to being a published author. Also, most authors do have a day job and it’s important that she enjoy whatever that is. It makes sense to me that if she wants to be a writer, then she should follow that passion and study writing.

  25. Kay Berry
    Posted July 12, 2017 at 9:52 am | Permalink

    Hello Everyone! Thanks for taking the time to answer questions. I have one question. One of my short stories that I finished has a few lines of Sylvia Plath poetry, and also lines from a Christina Perri song. I don’t really know the copyright rules. Do I need to ask permission? For instance, if I submitted this short story to a contest or magazine, do I need any type of permission? Thanks again.

    • Posted July 12, 2017 at 10:13 am | Permalink

      I ran into this with my first book, Secrets of Truth & Beauty. It had lines from some songs by The Mamas & The Papas. We had to get permission to use them, which was kind of a pain. You would need to do this for anything not in the public domain, and you might need to pay for the rights. So, if there’s any way to avoid direct quotation, my advice would be to do so.

    • Posted July 12, 2017 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

      Unless the work is old enough to no longer be covered by copyright, you’ll need to get permissions, either from the publisher or from the author (or author’s estate). I just went through this because I wanted to use “We Real Cool” in a book & ended up spending $350 to purchase the rights to use it from Gwendolyn Brooks’ estate. The good news is that you don’t need to do that until the book is actually being published, so it’s fine to include it in your manuscript now with the understanding that you’ll obtain permissions if it’s acquired.

  26. Sheila Mustard
    Posted July 12, 2017 at 10:06 am | Permalink

    I teach 5th grade and this last year had a student that loved writing. She challenged herself to add lots of description (almost descriptive word overkill) and add a sub-plot to one of our descriptive writing assignments.

    My question is on sub-plots how do you plan your sub-plot? I had her use a web and just make one of the arms that line of action, is there a better/ easier way? Also, what transitions do you suggest to let the readers know time has passed in either the major plot line or sub-plots?

    Christina I will use the advice of “Find a story they love and expand on it.” Thank-you author’s, for your great advice and suggestions today

    • Posted July 12, 2017 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

      Hi Sheila! Glad you found my advice helpful. Since I don’t do too much planning before I write the book, my subplots seem to evolve in a mysterious fashion. It seems that they just appear as the story unfolds, but I think thats because my characters all feel real to me and just like our real-life friends they deal with a myriad of issues/problems.

    • Posted July 12, 2017 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

      What Christina said

  27. Mary Lee Newman
    Posted July 12, 2017 at 10:11 am | Permalink

    Thank you Kate, Megan, Christina and Nancy for sharing your time with us today. I love pulling out your books at the beginning of the school year and telling my third graders about the “real” authors I “talked” to over the summer. They are so impressed.

    I have taken a couple of writing classes and have discovered that I write very slowly, I am wondering when you are in the throes of a book, how much time do you spend writing per day or week, and how long does each part of the writing process take, rumination, first draft, additional drafts?

    How much editing do you do after your editor reviews your work?

    I’m sure this is different for every writer. It would be fun to share a range of styles with my students.

    • Posted July 12, 2017 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

      Every book is different so I’ll give you a run down of each of my books. (I usually don’t write on the weekends).

      The Red Umbrella – written in 6 weeks with about 6-8 hours per day, had probably been thinking about it for 2 years before writing, 2 rounds of revisions with my editor

      A Thunderous Whisper – written in about 6 months with about 6-8 per day, research for about 2 months, 2 rounds of revisions with my editor (had to include a trip to Spain for research)

      Moving Target- written in about 8 months with about 6 hours per day, failed attempts at the plot for about 2 months, 2 rounds of revisions with my editor

      Return Fire – written in about 4 months 6 hours per day, 2 rounds of revisions

      Spirit Animals: Fall of the Beasts Book #7 – written in 3 months, 1 month of research, 2 weeks of plotting/outlining, 1 round of revision with my editor (Currently waiting for copyedits)

      • Mary Lee Newman
        Posted July 12, 2017 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

        Thank you so much for this. I just took a look at each of your books and I want to read them all. I suspect my third graders are a little young for most them (except maybe the Spirit Animals series), but I ordered The Red Umbrella for me!

    • Posted July 12, 2017 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

      This does vary a lot from book to book and writer to writer. The Water Castle was 5 years from idea to publication. Drafting took a long time (a couple years maybe!) because I had a lot of false starts. Most of my books are closer to 6 months to a year for drafting, and then another 6 months to a year of revision. I do 2-3 rounds of revision with my editor to get it into a publishable state.

      • Mary Lee Newman
        Posted July 12, 2017 at 5:30 pm | Permalink

        Thank you Megan. I loved, loved, loved The Water Castle, so much so I think I contacted you as soon as I finished it. I’m not surprised it took 5 years!

        • Posted July 12, 2017 at 10:01 pm | Permalink

          Thank you! It started as a YA romance with super powers, so … it needed a lot of transformation before it became what it was.

    • Posted July 12, 2017 at 5:30 pm | Permalink

      I started Swing Sideways on January 1st, 2011 and signed with Harper in April 2014. It went through several huge revisions with my editor before it came out May 2016. I wrote Georgia Rules in about 6 months (probably the fastest book I’ll ever write) and went through some hefty revisions on it, too. But it was started and in the bookstores in 2 1/2 years. Lizzie Flying Solo is on it’s 10th year of reworking, and the book that comes after that started as a short story I wrote in 2010 that wouldn’t leave me alone. That book will be out in 2019. So it varies drastically. As does the amount of time I have to write.

      • Mary Lee Newman
        Posted July 12, 2017 at 5:34 pm | Permalink

        I think students will be amazed at how long it takes to actual get a book to publication and how many major revisions there are. Being a big fan of the Penderwicks, I just ordered Georgia Rules, and I can give the students a little author’s background.

        • Posted July 12, 2017 at 7:24 pm | Permalink

          Love it! Thank you! And I have to admit, the length of time surprised me, too. But writing, especially novels, is not for the faint of heart. It has to burn inside you to keep pressing on. It has to be the thing you must do, just like you must breathe. I would write even if I was never published. It’s just who I am.

  28. LIBBY C WOOD
    Posted July 12, 2017 at 11:18 am | Permalink

    Good morning! My question is one about books rather than the writer’s process in writing them: Who is writing gripping texts with contemporary (or historical) social conflicts and brilliant characters at reading levels in the P – R range (Fountas & Pinnell or approximately 3rd grade)? I am a 4th/5th grade teacher who tries to keep reluctant readers engaged and the lack of engaging books at their reading levels continues to be an issue. There seems to be a mountain of fantastic upper-elementary through middle school books, but few below that. Any suggestions?

    • Posted July 12, 2017 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

      I really don’t know much about reading levels, but have you looked at some graphic novels like Real Friends by Shannon Hale or Sunny Side Up by Jenni Holm?

    • Posted July 12, 2017 at 5:07 pm | Permalink

      When you say social conflicts do you mean interpersonal or at the societal level?

      I’m more familiar with DRA and Lexile, but I think that books like Dana Alison Levy’s The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher and Kate’s Ranger in Time series. Christina’s Moving Target would be at the upper end of the range, and is so gripping! My students love the I Survived series. I think Chris Lynch has some good historical military fiction aimed at that age/level.

    • Diana Murrell
      Posted July 12, 2017 at 5:08 pm | Permalink

      I have had a lot of luck with the Red Rhino series. Some topics may be too mature but they are short, engaging stories with a grade 2 reading level that my struggling readers like a lot!

  29. Marilyn Miner
    Posted July 12, 2017 at 11:41 am | Permalink

    Happy Wednesday! My question is in regard to the early stages of writing. I’ve been wanting to tell the story of how a very small insect decimated acres of hemlock groves in the Appalachian mountains. I care about this because of very fond memories I have of hiking and coming upon hemlock groves which would be suddenly cooler, darker, and seemed magical. The US Forest Service has efforts underway for restoring the population of Eastern Hemlocks.

    When you are in the early stages, do you write your way into a genre? What factors do you consider when choosing a way to tell the story?

    • Posted July 12, 2017 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

      I’m not sure what you mean by “write your way into a genre”. Can you explain?

    • Posted July 12, 2017 at 8:37 pm | Permalink

      I think the best thing I can offer is to suggest you read messes of picture books and middle grade, dozens of them, and get a feel for what makes sense to you and your story. Also, as rough guidelines, a PB is usually 1,000 words (there about) and MG is *generally* 40-50,000 words. That is a complete generalization and not a complete answer, but also your target audience is different. If you started as a PB but the story is taking on its own life and building to MG, then I say let it build.

  30. Stephanie S
    Posted July 12, 2017 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

    Hello to Christina, Nanci, and Megan. Thank you for taking time from your busy lives to chat with us. I am a library tech at a K-8 school in Sac, Calif.

    My question is this – I know there is that scary moment where you first share your writing with the world and then again when you first work with an agent to get it published. How do you know you’re ready to be published? I know you’ve said we’re the only ones who can tell our story, but I wonder if it’s worth the hassle and frustration to try to be published as opposed to keeping it to yourself. And how do you know you have something that is worth being published (length, style, story plot …)?

    I guess this is coming from a writer who is going public the first time with her writing and wonder if its worth sharing my story or if I should keep it for my own pleasure.

    • Posted July 12, 2017 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

      It IS scary and hard to let your story go, but I guess you have to ask yourself why did you choose to tell the story. Was it a cathartic experience where you needed to get the story out of your head or is it that the story demanded to be told? If the story demanded to be told, then it deserves a chance to be seen by others. I am always amazed by the power of books. Stories can be powerful and can impact others much more than the writer who shared them. Sometimes I feel that I’m only a conduit for my stories and that books finds those readers who need it most (with a little help from wonderful teachers and librarians).

      I hope you choose to take the chance and give your story wings… it may just soar to the heavens! Your story might help someone feel a little less alone, feel a little more empathetic, feel a little bit stronger, feel a little more powerful, and just maybe, feel a little more willing to share their own story.

    • Posted July 12, 2017 at 4:57 pm | Permalink

      Yes, it is scary. Something that hasn’t come up here yet is that I have a group of writer friends that I share my work with. I was in a crit group while I was working on my first novel and got feedback from others who I trusted. We were all in similar stages of our careers and supported one another. It was from sharing with them that I knew the book was ready to send out. Teachers Write is a wonderful place to start forming those connections. SCBWI is another place to meet fellow writers. Having a writing community can give you the confidence you need to make the leap.

      • Stephanie S
        Posted July 12, 2017 at 6:43 pm | Permalink

        I’ve seen a few people mention it … what is SCBWI?

        • Posted July 12, 2017 at 8:32 pm | Permalink

          Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Best $80 you’ll spend all year.

    • Posted July 12, 2017 at 7:36 pm | Permalink

      It is scary, but sharing your story in critique groups first is a great way to inch forward out of the comfort zone. It’s intimidating. For me, I learned how to write by going to every single conference and workshop I could and really listening. Not getting defensive. Taking what the critiquer told me and de icing if it was valuable to me. I started hearing the same thing over and over, and that’s when I knew I still had a lot to learn. My advise is get out there every chance you have. And be prepared for rejections. It’s just what happens. I kept a spreadsheet of what each editor or agent said in their rejections and looked for patterns so I could keep improving.

  31. Lindy Lorenz
    Posted July 12, 2017 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

    Thank you Kate, Christina, Nanci, and Megan for answering our writing wonders. My question is on the publishing aspect of writing. I write for the pure joy of seeing characters born and their stories unfold. Each day in my library I share the magic of story and the process of finding the perfect book and writing strong no matter what you’re writing with my students. However, I also write because it’s my dream to be a full time author for children and young adults. My first picture book is going through the publication process and my manuscript was selected even though I don’t have an agent. I would love to land an agent! Any suggestions on the best process to submit writing to agents? I am already a member of SCBWI and have submitted to agents through information I have received at conferences; however, it seems harder to land an agent than to publish a book! Thanks!

    • Posted July 12, 2017 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

      It is hard to find the right agent! You need to have your next project ready and in the best possible shape before submitting to agents. Hopefully your relationship with your agent will last over several projects, but you query with a specific project. Of course you should certainly mention your published picture book in any query letters!

      • Posted July 12, 2017 at 7:38 pm | Permalink

        I agree with Megan. Have several things in your back pocket so an agent doesn’t feel like you are a one book person.

  32. Jen
    Posted July 12, 2017 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

    Thank you all for taking time to answer our questions! I’ve learned so much from reading all of the posts.

    My question is about format. How and when do you decide on the format (e.g., picture book, middle grade novel) that you plan to use for a particular idea? I find myself struggling with identifying the format to use when starting a piece of writing. For example, I started working on a project that I originally anticipated being a picture book, but as I’ve worked on the draft, I feel as though it’s morphing into something longer. Is this the result of poor planning or a lack of direction on my part?

    • Posted July 12, 2017 at 4:45 pm | Permalink

      Hi Jen. In the early planning stages I think it’s fine to have it morph in format.You are just playing with the idea. Obviously once you start writing, the writing style is very different between a PB and a MG novel, so you will have to decide by then. That being said, my first book was originally written as a picture storybook and when it was rejected several times I rewrote it as a MG/YA novel and found success. Good luck!

      • Jen
        Posted July 12, 2017 at 5:19 pm | Permalink

        Thank you:) That makes me feel better about the change in format!

  33. Posted July 12, 2017 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

    My question is for Nanci but any of you can answer. How do you infuse so much emotion into your stories (like Swing Sideways) without it being a constant jerker?

    • Posted July 12, 2017 at 7:59 pm | Permalink

      Wow. Thank you for asking. I hate to tell you but it’s not something I do consciously. When I started writing SS I was my Dad’s caretaker. He had three primary cancers, so there was a lot of emotion coming out of me onto the page anyway. But truthfully, and I know this sounds so “weird-author-ish” but my characters kind of guide me through the story. There were little pieces I went back and put in to soften a blow, so to speak, or to make characters like Mom and Mr. McMurtry empathy-worthy, and that book especially just unfolded that way. I related a story in another comment about when I realized the truth behind the ending and my reaction to it, and resistance of it, but in the end, the story won. I appreciate your saying that very much because I did worry about the emotional blows, but I also feel very strongly that when kids see real life on the pages of books they love (or hate) it makes it more normal for them when things happen in their lives. Because it is real. We do lose people and it hurts. I guess the main answer to your question is to thank you for saying that. I wish I could tell you some sort of method, but that wouldn’t be truthful. One thing I can tell you is that if you write something that might be hard to read, be sure to get good, sound critiques from people you trust and if they say it’s too maudlin, add some levity in spots for balance. Balance is key. In my mind SS ending, while there is sadness, there is also so much love and redemption and reunion that it shows some silver linings.

  34. Katie Jones
    Posted July 12, 2017 at 5:15 pm | Permalink

    I want to take a screen shot of each question and answer so I can refer back to it this fall when I begin a new year of school! I love the authentic, honest answers and how similar, yet different your responses are. This makes me super excited to get back to teaching!!!

    I do have a few questions.

    What do you feel is the best way to build “writers” in the LA classroom?
    What is a writing experience that your cherish from your days as a student in the MS/HS classroom?
    What would be the best way to structure writing time?

    • Posted July 12, 2017 at 9:59 pm | Permalink

      I went to a school district where writing was infused through the curriculum (we had to write poem about archery in gym class!), and writing workshop was part of every day from Kindergarten through 10th grade. In fact, every tenth grader had to take a class called Writing Workshop. I would not trade that for the world because the writing workshop model reflects real writing. We brainstormed, wrote, shared, revised, shared and revised some more, and then published our work in one form or another. Our teachers sat down with us one on one and told us what was and was not working. It absolutely set me up to be a writer.

      Given that, I think you should give writers time every day to write, and time to work through the process. You’ll notice Christina, Nancy and I all mention that we take time away from our manuscripts to revise. I think that’s one of the biggest things missing in the classroom. Deadlines can take away that time and space. If you can find away to give it back to them, please do.

  35. Theresa Wood
    Posted July 12, 2017 at 5:30 pm | Permalink

    Good afternoon (evening?)–

    My apologies for the late posting. I have a question about social media and the internet. I’m an 8th grade ELA teacher, and am writing more on my own. I’ve heard a lot about new writers needing to have a presence w/ followers before seeking out an agent. Would you agree? I’m really just starting out and feel like I need to work on developing a good habit for writing and have a lot of material to share before worrying about an online presence. That being said, would you recommend sharing samples of your writing online when just starting out to build a following, or submit to literary journals and other outlets exclusively? Thanks–T. Ann

    • Posted July 12, 2017 at 5:39 pm | Permalink

      Meh. I think if you have a social media presence with a following that can help to get a deal, but not having one doesn’t hurt you as long as the writing is good. In my opinion, social media isn’t a tool for publicity, but a tool for connecting to other teachers and authors (like Teachers Write itself!). I really value the professional connections I have made online, and that’s why I keep doing it. If anything, it can be a distraction from the real work of writing!

  36. Posted July 12, 2017 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for the wonderful advice you are offering here today. This is a treasure trove of writing feedback!

    One of my main struggles is writing from an authentic voice. When I write middle grade or YA stories, my characters often sound much older. I’ve spent a considerable amount of time interviewing teens of the same age as my characters, trying to craft my writing to sound more similar to their voices. How do you make sure that the voice, perspectives, and ideas of your young characters seem consistent with their age?

    • Posted July 12, 2017 at 8:02 pm | Permalink

      I struggled with that, too. I was a fan of classics as a kid and the language is much different, as is the pacing, the voice, etc., than today. My advice would be not so much to interview kids, but to just listen. And read every book in your genre that you can. And keep writing.

  37. Sandra Anderson
    Posted July 13, 2017 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

    Hi there. I am a teacher, literacy leader, and love writing poems and dabbling in children’s books. I would love to know how to get my feet wet in the publishing field? I’ve sent my manuscript off, and receive great feedback, but as of now I’m stuck on what else to do. Is self publishing a positive route to go?

  38. Posted July 14, 2017 at 11:50 am | Permalink

    I realize that I may be past the time of being able to get a reply. I understand if that’s so, but I am going to try anyway. 🙂

    Thank you for your responses. I have learned a lot. I hope this is not a repeat question, I tried to make sure that I wasn’t just asking the same question.

    For years I have been trying to figure out how to carve time to write, I seem to need a pre-half hour in order to settle into my chair …which is hard considering what home is like. 🙂 However, I have a daughter who is able to sit and write for hours and when I read her ‘shitty first draft’ I am amazed that she can write. I told her that if she finished her story this summer I would work on getting her moving on the next step…. She is a far better writer than I am. She is a powerful storyteller who seems to be an old soul at writing. Biased? Maybe. 🙂 But anyway…do you have advice and suggestions for how to get her set up for looking for an agent and a publisher?

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