Teachers Write 7/16/14 – Q and A Wednesday

Welcome to Q and A Wednesday!

Got questions about writing?  Wednesday is Q and A Day at Teachers Write! Virtual Summer Writing Camp. Today’s official author guests are Diane Zahler and Kathryn Erskine – and other folks may be dropping by to join the conversation as well.

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 many 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!

This entry was posted in TeachersWrite. Bookmark the permalink. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.

61 Comments

  1. Posted July 16, 2014 at 6:40 am | Permalink

    I feel like I write a lot and I like what I write, but I know I need more skill at writing. Do you recommend writers take classes or do you think working on exercises like those in Teachers Write is enough? Can you recommend classes or online resources that help writers gain more skill in writing?

    • Posted July 16, 2014 at 8:07 am | Permalink

      I do think it’s helpful to take classes. If writing for children, SCBWI.org is a great resource. They often have workshops and classes as well as conference and writing group coordinators (who can help you find a writing group if you don’t have one already). I’d say the single most important element for me was the workshops I took through the Highlights Foundation. Yes, they’re the magazine people but also put on excellent workshops to teach the craft of writing. Whatever you want to write, there’s a workshop for it. And the experience is amazing — you’re totally taken care of with gourmet meals and a lovely cabin or room of your own. For me, it was the difference between being a decent writer and a writer who was good enough to actually get published.

    • Posted July 16, 2014 at 9:13 am | Permalink

      Kimberly, you have the perfect mindset, the perfect blend of confidence and humility. Writing is a great start, and this Teachers Write is an awesome idea. But as a serious writer (and a teacher of writing as well) taking classes has helped me in so many ways: challenging my writing, providing feedback to others in the workshop, learning about the nuances of craft. I’ve taken a few different workshops and have found some online resources that can be helpful. I started listing some here: http://gregswritemind.wordpress.com/doing-writer-things/

  2. Dan Rogers
    Posted July 16, 2014 at 6:40 am | Permalink

    A huge thank you for being here today and your willingness to answer our questions. In the week and a half that we’ve been at this I’ve noticed a lot of campers have a work in progress. I, however, am not one of them. What I’d like to know is where (or how) do you get the ideas for your stories and what kind of a “process” do you go through before you actually sit down to begin writing? Do you make short notes of things that you want to put in the story? Do you make an outline? Or do you just begin to write and see where the story takes you?

    • Posted July 16, 2014 at 7:51 am | Permalink

      Dan, thanks for asking this! I’m also in the boat of not having a WIP—Glad to know we’re rowing together! 🙂

      • Michele Larson
        Posted July 16, 2014 at 11:03 am | Permalink

        I don’t have a full fledged WIP either, just little life stories. Thanks.

    • Posted July 16, 2014 at 7:58 am | Permalink

      Same for me! Great question.

    • Posted July 16, 2014 at 8:11 am | Permalink

      Story ideas are constantly running around in my head — usually from my experiences or what’s happening around me, immediately or in society in general. To be honest, a character’s voice starts talking in my head and I write down everything they say. I usually have no idea where it’s headed but the voices start multiplying (I know, I sound crazy!) and scenes develop and eventually the story starts taking shape. So, I guess I do a lot of note taking and then figure out a way to present it. I’m not an outliner but I will outline after the fact just to get the scenes in order and keep track of the plot and the emotional plot, too. I think at the beginning it’s very important to just let yourself go and write whatever comes into your head. Some of it won’t end up in the story but some of it will, or will lead you to a really good place.

    • Posted July 16, 2014 at 9:25 am | Permalink

      Hi — it’s not my day today, but I love this question, so I thought I would jump in. I keep an idea book in which I write down (shocker) my ideas. Sometimes it’s just a question like, “What if a girl grew up in a cemtery?” Sometimes it’s a character sketch. Sometimes it’s a scene. I have a lot of ideas that never go anywhere. Some don’t even make it into the idea book. When and idea or a character gets lodged in my mind, and I think about it for months and months, even when I’m working on other projects, then I know that’s one I really want to pursue.

      As for where these ideas come from, I think writing is just like anything else: habitual. It’s not about waiting for the muse to come. Something like Teacher’s Write is great because it gets you in the habit of writing, of seeing the world like a writer, and of noticing things that could be stories. The more you do it, the more ideas you have. The important thing is to be kind to those ideas. Don’t call them stupid or boring — let them germinate in you rmind and see what happens. I’ve also found that once I’m deep into a project, I start seeing the world through the lens of that project.

      You might not come up with your big idea this summer, but if you keep with it, you will get into the habit, and then you’ll be ready when that idea comes.

    • Diane Zahler
      Posted July 16, 2014 at 10:34 am | Permalink

      Dan, Molly, Jennifer —
      A great question! I tend to let ideas simmer in my mind until I have a vague (or sometimes pretty specific) story arc that won’t let me forget it. Often I’ve already mentally written the first pages before I start to type. It’s the ideas that keep my imagination in their grip that end up on paper. As Megan points out, all your ideas will have value. Give them free reign and see which ones have sticking power!

    • Posted July 16, 2014 at 10:41 am | Permalink

      Great question! I am at square one as well 🙂

  3. Terry Turner
    Posted July 16, 2014 at 7:06 am | Permalink

    Thank you so much for being here. I actually have a very specific question for Kathryn. I\\’m excited you are here!

    When you were working on Mockingbird, did you have a Beta reader to give you feedback on Caitlyn? I work as a para with preschoolers, many of them on the spectrum, but my WIP is on an older child and I really want to be sure that his voice and reactions are authentic and respectful.

    I hadn\\’t seen your research links until just now, and I\\’m excited to check them out. Thank you for that list!

    • Posted July 16, 2014 at 8:15 am | Permalink

      I did have a teacher who worked with kids on the spectrum read it, as well as an author friend with a child on the spectrum. I also took a lot of workshops and did research on kids on the spectrum because my own daughter is — which was another form of daily research, but the book is not about her, just inspired by her, so I wanted to get a broad range of input to understand behaviors and create an authentic character. Of course, like any person, everyone on the spectrum is different so you can’t hope to capture the quintessential character. As long as it’s a believable, realistic, well researched character, that’s all you can do. It sounds like you have great experience and, since your books of for older kids, you might find a kid on the spectrum who would like to read it and give you feedback. My own daughter did that for me, too. :o)

  4. Terry Turner
    Posted July 16, 2014 at 7:07 am | Permalink

    captcha has gone nuts, by the way

  5. Jessica Loupos
    Posted July 16, 2014 at 7:22 am | Permalink

    I’m wondering how do yo tell if you’re just stuck on a WIP or if you should quit the project?

    • Posted July 16, 2014 at 8:23 am | Permalink

      It’s true that sometimes a project is a “practice project” and not one that is THE book, but there are a number of things to do before considering quitting: leave it for a month or more before going back to it. Often, something will pop up and you’ll have one of those Aha! moments. Also, take a shower — really, something about hydrotherapy really helps (maybe it’s water on the brain…I don’t know). Have trusted readers give it a look over because sometimes (often) we’re too close to our work and a 3rd party will be able to see something obvious. To me, the most helpful tool is to interview my character. Ask them what’s going on, what’s going wrong, why they’re not cooperating, what they think should happen next, etc. It sounds wacky but it’s a way of tapping your subconscious instead of trying to consciously dissect or steer the story. Write down everything your character tells you. Don’t scoff at anything. A similar exercise is to ask, What if? Again, it’s a freeing exercise. Think totally outlandishly–aliens, anything–because as crazy as the thoughts seem, they can actually lead to something useful. In the end, if you have a burning desire to write this particular story, stick with it! There’s something about that story that needs to be told. If you have other ideas that seem more exciting and this current story feels like a burden, then you might want to move on. But put this current WIP in a drawer and come back to it later, even years from now. That’s what happened with me and SEEING RED–I couldn’t get it right but I couldn’t let it go. So a work that began in 1999 finally published in 2013. It can happen.

      • Posted July 16, 2014 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

        Hi Kathryn,

        Thank for sharing your insights and experiences. I love your idea abut “interviewing your characters” and writing down whatever they tell you. So helpful!

      • Tracy Mailloux
        Posted July 17, 2014 at 8:47 am | Permalink

        I love the idea of writing “what ifs”. I’ve had my students do similar exercises, more like wonderings, but have not tried it for myself. Thanks!

    • Posted July 16, 2014 at 10:42 am | Permalink

      Jessica,
      As Kathryn mentions, I too have found that taking a break from a stalled project can be helpful. If you take some time off — a week, a month — and then come back and read what you’ve written so far, you’ll probably have one of two reactions. You may find that you have an idea that will help you go on (the mind keeps working in the background sometimes!). Or you may say to yourself, “Oh. What on earth was I thinking?” I’ve had both happen. Sometimes a WIP is just writing practice. It’s still useful; it moves you forward in a number of ways — among them, giving you a chance to see what NOT to do. I have plenty of those practice works sitting in a box in the attic and in the bowels of my computer!

  6. Andrea P.
    Posted July 16, 2014 at 7:36 am | Permalink

    Good morning authors and thanks for your help in advance! I have two questions.

    I was wondering how you set up your websites? Did you hire someone? What site did you go with (weebly, bluehost, etc.) Please provide one piece of advice for someone who is creating their author website for the first time- thanks!

    And, how do you manage all the online responsibilities? (Website, blog, Fb, twitter, instagram, etc.) It seems overwhelming!

    I look forward to your answers 🙂 Thanks again!

    • Posted July 16, 2014 at 8:31 am | Permalink

      My website is iWeb which Apple no longer supports so I may be needing to change platforms soon. What I liked about iWeb was being able to update it myself in seconds, without learning html. Actually, a lot of free sites provide that now–although free includes ads which I don’t like so I will probably pay for one. A lot of people now feel that a website and a blog are too much so you can just go with a blog or hybrid of the two. I’m also considering that. My blog is on WordPress and, again, I’d probably need to pay in order to get the features that would allow me to incorporate my website. I’m hoping Diane has a good answer so I can learn, too! My one piece of advice would be to try and keep it current (and I have not always done this myself!) but once you start it, you really want to keep it up. Also, short postings are fine. It should be easy for you to do and fun/informative for readers. As for managing the online responsibilities, I can’t say I do that very well! I definitely find it overwhelming. One thing with blogging is that I realized I don’t have to do a long, beautifully worded post every time. Sometimes it can be a snippet and that’s fine. Or a photo. Anyway, this is a good reminder that I haven’t done anything on my blog for a while and I should go take care of that…another reason why perhaps I should combine blog + website so there’s only one place to keep up instead of two!

      • Andrea P.
        Posted July 16, 2014 at 9:05 pm | Permalink

        Kathryn, your response is quite helpful. And, I’m glad to hear just a snippet or two works for blog updates and more. What a relief!

    • Posted July 16, 2014 at 10:54 am | Permalink

      Andrea,
      I created my website myself on WordPress. It’s free and easy to update at any time. It’s a hybrid of static pages and blog, which is great because everything is in one place. WordPress makes is relatively easy (and relatively is an important word here!) to set the whole thing up — you can choose a layout and the different types of pages, add your little links to Facebook and Twitter, and do almost everything without professional help. I looked a lot of stuff up online to figure out how to do it.

      I try to blog at least once a month, though that doesn’t always work out. As for other social media — I use Twitter, but try to keep it fun and light and not overwhelm people with self-promotion. I only mention my own work when I actually have something to say. I don’t use Instagram. For Facebook, I have an author page (what used to be called a fan page) that is just for book stuff. I have a personal page for family and friends (though sometimes I post book stuff on that).

      I do spend a LOT of time on social media. I can get away with that because I work at home fulltime. For me, social media is a way of connecting with people — other writers in particular. It’s a community I didn’t have before, and I’m grateful for it. But it can be a total timesuck if you’re not careful!

      • Andrea P.
        Posted July 16, 2014 at 9:06 pm | Permalink

        Diane, I’m glad to hear about wordpress. This is one I’ve heard many times over the years. I guess it’s time to really look into it. Thanks for sharing your answers.

  7. Posted July 16, 2014 at 7:51 am | Permalink

    I would like to find a writing group (at least in the summer) in my area. Not sure how to do that to keep it small–find the right folks. A group at my public library turned into a big group with a few bossy people that I just couldn’t take…so, as wonderful as inviting anyone interested sounds….I need to find a group I could truly work with.

    Is there a resource that either of you recommend to find teachers writing workshops? I feel ready to attend one….not sure where to start.

    Thanks to you both for being here. I’m pretty star/book/author struck by the guests we’ve gotten to chat with. Thanks Kate and all for this opportunity.

    • Posted July 16, 2014 at 8:45 am | Permalink

      If you’re a member of SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) they have a service of trying to match writers up with a writing group. If you’re not with SCBWI, is there a local writing organization? They will often provide that service, too. I found my first group by taking a county class in writing for children. Several of us in the class exchanged numbers and formed our own group. Also, if you have a local bookstore they might have suggestions or a group of local writers they know. I do think there’s a certain synergy to in-person groups which is important, but online groups can also be very helpful. There might be people in this group who would like to join a critique group? You could see if there are people in your genre who are interested (YA, middle grade, picture book, fantasy, realistic, etc.). You don’t need to be that specific, but if there’s a large number of interested people you might want to limit it — I think 5 or 6 is an ideal number. And you’re right that being simpatico and comfortable with the group is so important. As for writing workshops, there’s SCBWI.org or the Highlights Foundation which I mentioned in my answer to Kimberly Moran but didn’t mention the website for Highlights: http://www.highlightsfoundation.org These are the all time best workshops, and a fantastic experience all around. There ARE scholarships so don’t be put off by the price. I guarantee that you will feel like a real writer after attending one of these. It’s really a life changing experience. Bonus: Every one of those workshops I’ve attended or taught has resulted in writing groups. :o)

      • Posted July 16, 2014 at 10:20 am | Permalink

        Do you have to be published to be a member of SCBWI?

        • Posted July 16, 2014 at 10:36 am | Permalink

          No, you don’t need to be published to be an SCBWI member. It is, however, $95 to join (I just checked), and $80 annual membership after that which I realize is a little pricey.

      • Posted July 16, 2014 at 11:08 am | Permalink

        Thank you for your reply. I think Highlights workshop first and then membership in SCBWI. One of my personal conflicts is that I need to keep my day job–which I LOVE! Truly, truly love and keeps me in touch with kids…..v. the investment of time in turning any writing I do into a published work. So, until I figure out how to wring more time out of this one lifetime….I will have to keep juggling all the irons I have put into my fire. For now, getting to communicate with authors and getting kids into books/reading/learning in my library is it. No complaints….just betting someone out there on this blog can sing my song with me? LOL.

        • Terry Turner
          Posted July 16, 2014 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

          Linda- I went to the NESCBWI conference this spring and found it amazing. Overwhelming but amazing. One of my goals was to find a critique group, but I failed. I did meet a lot of really terrific people and I took classes and listened to speakers that have all added a lot to my (novice) writing.

          I’d love to go to Highlands eventually, but it isn’t inexpensive. (And while awesome, not everyone can win a scholarship.) I’ll have to wait and save and hope for a year when money isn’t so tight. My job (I love it!) as a para doesn’t pay that great, but it does give me time for my own kids, and lately, I’ve figured out how to carve time around it for writing. (That only took about 4 years.) My job also gives me a lot of ideas and inspiration. I shouldn’t take that for granted.

          I agree that just any writing group isn’t necessarily going to work for my needs. NESCBWI lists one in my region- but it isn’t taking new members right now. And I’m not sure I want a random group of writers. I want to find a good fit! I’m freaking demanding, now, aren’t I? Till I do that, I’m making do with some kind friends who volunteered to beta read my book (when draft one is done) and a few people I beg for input from as I write. (Including my gracious 10 year old son.)

          • Posted July 16, 2014 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

            Terry, there are also online classes through places like http://www.writer.org. Often these classes involve critiquing your classmates’ work. Sometimes natural groups develop out of those classes. I’m pretty sure that happened with one of the online classes I taught a few years ago.

            • Terry Turner
              Posted July 16, 2014 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

              I’ll take advantage of this Q&A to ask about that as well! – Looking at the descriptions, I suspect I’d be happier taking the Intermediate level, but they strongly encourage taking beginning level if you have not taken a workshop before… am I too cocky about my skills? I’ve taken a 6 week memoir writing class and I’m doing Teachers Write – is that sufficient to consider myself experienced in workshops? Sometimes I’ve been too modest about my skills and been disappointed by where I’ve ended up. (Like the time I thought I should take a beginning computer class when I was starting grad school, as they recommended. Turned out it was for the base fundamentals like using a mouse. (1998) I tried to be discreet as I left.)

              And thank you so much for your advice. I feel like I have no questions and then suddenly I feel like I’m being overly demanding.

              17 +9= 26 Let’s see if captcha believes me.

              • Posted July 17, 2014 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

                Not cocky at all — I think you’re the perfect candidate for intermediate!

                • Terry Turner
                  Posted July 17, 2014 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

                  Thank you. Now I’ll go look at what there is to offer!

    • Posted July 16, 2014 at 11:09 am | Permalink

      I hope I’m not overstepping here to mention the National Writing Project which has satellite sites throughout the country and would be able to help you find writing groups, retreats, classes, and other opportunities. Try http://www.nwp.org to find a site near you.

      • Terry Turner
        Posted July 16, 2014 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

        Thank you!

  8. Cathy Duffy
    Posted July 16, 2014 at 9:24 am | Permalink

    I love Linda’s question about forming a writers group. I feel everything I have done thus far with my writing has been in isolation and I have often thought if I could find a group of like minded writers it could be stimulating and helpful.

    Authors any thoughts about forming such a group? Also when you were ready to publish your first book how did you go about it? Did you get representation? Did you send your work to publishers? Thanks again for working with us.

    • Posted July 16, 2014 at 10:47 am | Permalink

      You’ve probably seen the answer to Linda M’s question about writing groups by now, so I’ll move onto publishing: I got an agent after I received my first offer because I wanted someone in the know to negotiate the contract. It can be as hard to get an agent as it is to find a publisher, so that was definitely an easy way. I met the woman who would eventually become my agent at the Rutger’s One-on-One conference, http://ruccl.org/One-on-One_Plus_Conference.html which is a great way to meet agents and editors but it’s sought after and competitive (and the deadline for this year has passed). SCBWI conferences are a good way to meet editors and agents — you do not need to be a member to attend their conferences and workshops but it costs a little more if you’re not a member. And, again, the Highlights Foundation workshops often have agents and editors on the faculty so you can actually sit down and talk with them and they may even be assigned to review your writing. Those are definitely quality workshops and that’s how I met my editor for my first three books (and then she retired, or I’d still be with her). I did spend a lot of time blindly submitting to any open house (a lot of publishers don’t even accept manuscripts if you don’t have an agent) without getting anywhere. And even though my editor didn’t connect my name with the Highlights workshop initially, my submission was part of a small group that was allowed through a conference so it was, in a sense, prescreened and much more likely to get read and responded to. Like everything else in life, it’s the human connection that makes a difference. This particular manuscript spoke to her (which is another huge element of this writing life–finding the right editor at the right time) but also when she remembered who I was I think it was a lot more comfortable for her to move forward because I was a known quantity, a hard worker, a nice person (as long I get my coffee), etc. :o)

    • Posted July 16, 2014 at 11:06 am | Permalink

      Cathy,
      I didn’t have an agent when I published my first book (or my second, third, or fourth). I’d been sending out middle-grade novels for (gulp) a couple of decades, and my rejections got nicer and nicer — but they were always still NO. Then I sent a novel to HarperCollins, and they said NO, but they also said they’d love to see something else. And I’d just finished The Thirteenth Princess. As Kathryn said, it was the right book at the right time. An editor who loved fairy tales championed it, and the rest is (my) publishing history. I got my agent (the charming Jennifer Laughran) after meeting her personally — she lives not too far from me. I knew I needed an agent; the business side of publishing is just as unpleasant as the business side of anything (for me, anyway). I wanted never to have to try to translate the legalese of a contract again!

  9. Sheila Mustard
    Posted July 16, 2014 at 9:29 am | Permalink

    I have a general question regarding revising and editing. I use mentor text examples for many of my writing lessons, this gives student a visual for a particular writing style, and they love it. However, when it comes to editing and revising they are unable to make a connection. Do you have any helpful hints to help students understand that even professional authors have to revise and edit. What are some of your techniques for this process?

    • Posted July 16, 2014 at 10:54 am | Permalink

      I hear you. When I do school visits I like to emphasize just how many times I have to revise (dozens!). It has helped me to flip my attitude and see revising as an opportunity, a second chance, to make things really shine. I tell kids that it’s your brand, your trademark, and you don’t want your name on something that you’re going to be disappointed with or embarrassed about later. I can’t, for example, go pull all my books off the shelf if I want to change something — it’s too late. I urge them to respect themselves enough to put their best out there.
      For my own editing, I have to put the manuscript away for a while, at least a week, before looking at it again, and then things start popping out — typos, word choices, a confusing sentence, or even a confusing scene (or, heaven forbid, changing a character’s name part way through so your reader would be thoroughly confused!). Also, another set of eyes is great. My sister is a 4th grade teacher and, man, I can’t get anything past her! She is wonderful. I bet you all have teacher friends who could perform this service for you. :o) Finally, depending on the manuscript, I may revise from the beginning all the way through or I may take separate strands and work on each one (which, by default, means that you affect other strands, too, but I’m primarily focused on one at a time). I do love a tool like Scrivener that helps organize the scenes and create a timeline and color code people or scenes, etc. to help organize because I am not a linear thinker and definitely need help in the organization department!

    • Posted July 16, 2014 at 11:14 am | Permalink

      I write a lot of textbook lessons, and in composition lessons I use mentor texts to show editing and revising (one text showing pre-revision, then a corrected version). But I’m sure that students have a lot of trouble seeing the need in their own writing — I certainly did when I was in school. Now I do what Kathryn does in school visits — show examples of my work in different stages. Sometimes I even show my three- or four-page editorial letters, full of revision requests. Students are often flabbergasted to realize the amount of revision that goes into a bound book!

      For my own revision, I’ve found that reading the manuscript aloud is immensely helpful, especially if it includes a lot of dialog. Reading aloud really points up the clunky phrasing and the awkward or repetitive words. My husband is my second set of eyes — he’s a professor, so he red-pencils me half to death. And I worked as a copyeditor and proofreader for a while, so my manuscripts are pretty clean.

  10. Posted July 16, 2014 at 9:48 am | Permalink

    Thank you! Thank you! Thank you for being here and answering questions. I have two questions this morning. First of all, can you talk about where you write? I mean notebook vs computer and any tools you use. I’m feeling scattered and not sure where to write. Secondly, this may seem like a silly question, but it’s been floating around in my head…could a novel written for middle grade students be narrated by an adult? A teacher or parent? Or by definition, would that not work? Thanks again for your time here today! Please know how much we all appreciate it!

    • Posted July 16, 2014 at 11:04 am | Permalink

      I think if you’re feeling scattered you might want to capture thoughts in a notebook. There’s something grounding and more real about pen and paper and the physical act of writing. The downside is getting all those written words onto the computer BUT if you’re in the early stages, a lot of what you’re writing may not actually end up in the manuscript so you won’t need to type everything in.
      I tend to write at the computer but when I get stuck I use a notebook. Actually, Kate and Linda Urban helped jump start me on this path when my writing was stuck last fall. It was very helpful. I got Dragon Dictate in order to help me get the words from the notebooks (3 of them!) onto my computer. I’m still in that process because growing up overseas I must’ve acquired some odd speech pattern since neither SIRI nor Dragon Dictate (or any dictation program) can understand me very well. I’m talking astronomy and all of a sudden there are bananas in my back seat in Rome. ?!? Anyway, I’m working through that.
      As for writing a novel for middle grade narrated by an adult … I’m not saying it couldn’t be done, and rules are made to be broken, but generally an editor is not going to jump at that because kids want to read about kids, and books are an escape from parents, teachers, and other authority figures they have to deal with every day and they enjoy being empowered in their own realm. I would say it’s safer to use a kid narrator.

      By the way, does everyone have a little math problem before they post a comment? Mine are getting progressively easier. Does this mean I failed the higher levels? :o}

      • Terry Turner
        Posted July 16, 2014 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

        My math problems have gotten easier, but sometimes it tells me I’m wrong, when I’m not. (40+50=90, for example. Hostile little program.)

  11. Posted July 16, 2014 at 10:40 am | Permalink

    How do you find someone to seriously and critically help you revise your writing when friends and family don’t know how to help?

    • Posted July 16, 2014 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

      Hi Libby —
      This is a problem I’ve always wrestled with, and I’d be very interested to read Kathryn’s answer. I don’t belong to a crit group. My husband and a good friend of mine read every word I write, but they don’t always know what I need to do to improve the work. I sometimes feel as if I’m working in a void, so I try very hard to trust my own inner voice. I know many, many other writers depend on crit partners for help. There are online crit groups, but I don’t have info on which ones are good or bad. I’m hoping Kathryn can jump in here with more info on how to find good crit partners!

      • Posted July 16, 2014 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

        If you don’t have a critique group and you can manage to attend a workshop somewhere, sometime, that’s a great in-depth experience. Also, online classes such as those through http://www.writer.org can serve as a way to get at least some of your manuscript read by the instructor and other students. Or a conference that might have manuscript critiques offered by editors/agents/published authors (for a fee) and/or “first pages panels” which are free and anonymous — your first page is read aloud and editors on the panel say why they would or would not want to read on. There are professional editors, too, but they’re pricey. Emma Dryden is fabulous because she was an editor before starting her business, and I’m sure there are many others.

  12. Lesley Burnap
    Posted July 16, 2014 at 11:17 am | Permalink

    No questions today, but just a thank you to the authors and all of you for your posts today. I am enjoying lurking in the shadows, but wanted to express my appreciation. 🙂

  13. Posted July 16, 2014 at 11:22 am | Permalink

    Hi Michelle —
    I work almost exclusively on the computer now, though I used to write everything in longhand on legal pads. I really miss doing that! And I usually work semi-recumbent on the couch, due to back problems. But I’ve written everywhere — on planes, in cars, in hotel rooms, at the kitchen table…one of the best things about being a writer is that the job is portable.

    I agree with Kathryn about your narrator question. I’ve had novels turned down by publishers because the adult characters were too present — I think if an adult were the narrator, that would be an extra stumbling block you’d have to overcome to get the book published. But if your story demands to be told that way, tell it that way. You can always change the narration later if necessary — I’ve changed many a narrator from first person to third and from third to first. (And from dual first to single first to a completely different first!)

  14. Jen C.
    Posted July 16, 2014 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for the time and care you’re giving to all of these great questions today! And while I’m not ready to come up with a title for my WIP (that is always the last thing I do, if I do it at all) but my current summer writing students are asking me how to come up with titles. Do you have strategies for doing this or do they just happen? Do others do it for you (I’ve heard of titles changing after the fact)? Any advice would be appreciated! Thank you.

    • Posted July 16, 2014 at 4:37 pm | Permalink

      For me, it either hits me right away or I agonize forever. Also, it’s very true that editors — and marketing departments– weigh in. SEEING RED was going to be FACING FREEDOM but was deemed to “textbookish.” THE BADGER KNIGHT was a tough one, too. But my others were easy on the first try (QUAKING, MOCKINGBIRD, and THE ABSOLUTE VALUE OF MIKE). I have ideas for my current WIPs but we’ll see if they get overruled!
      I think trying to come up with a nugget that really tells the reader something (without telling the reader everything) is desirable. I like plays on words, or an important phrase that comes up in the story. It’s often a brainstorming issue. Very fun, though!

    • Posted July 16, 2014 at 5:08 pm | Permalink

      Jen —
      Three of my four fairytale books kept the original title I gave them, and the titles came to me very early in the process (one actually came before the idea for the book!) But my second book, A True Princess, was titled by committee. I called it Princess of the Northern Lights, but that was deemed “too long.” I have files in my computer under 5 or 6 different titles. We had round-robin emails going through Harper’s editorial and marketing departments asking everyone for ideas! It was funny but also very frustrating. The book didn’t have its final title until just before it went to press.

      You might tell your students that if the title isn’t there when they start, it may come to them as they write, or when they finish — or long after, when they’ve talked to everyone they know about it and everyone has weighed in. It depends on the writer, the work, the circumstance. But they shouldn’t stress overmuch about it. Eventually, through some alchemy or brainstorming, it will come.

      (54 + 93? Really, that is almost asking too much.)

      • Terry Turner
        Posted July 16, 2014 at 9:58 pm | Permalink

        It might have been ‘too long’ but I love your original/working title.

  15. Terry Turner
    Posted July 16, 2014 at 5:07 pm | Permalink

    Looking at the Q&A today, I’m seeing that I’m not the only one looking for a critique group or partners. To throw 2 questions out to the campers and mentors:
    1) What should we look for in a critique group or in critique group organizing? and
    2) Mentors: Is this a potential and appropriate platform to create some critique groups for those of us looking?

    (I just posted this to TW on FB as well. I don’t want to overstep appropriate boundaries and I’ve got horrible radar for figuring out when I’m doing that.)

    28+20=48. I’m sure this is right, captcha…

    • Posted July 16, 2014 at 9:50 pm | Permalink

      I’m interested.

      • Terry Turner
        Posted July 16, 2014 at 9:57 pm | Permalink

        Excellent! Um, now what? Do we need a quorum? A minyan? Or are you just interested in the answers to those questions?

        (Yes, I’m actually this puppy like in real life too. It would be endearing if I had a tail to go with the enthusiasm. This way it’s just kind of embarrassing.)

  16. Andy Starowicz
    Posted July 16, 2014 at 9:30 pm | Permalink

    Hi Kathryn,

    I am late to Wednesday’s party. It was a busy day at the pool (this year’s summer adventure – head lifeguard at a community pool with nine teenagers working for me – it is a lot like teaching sixth grade).

    While researching for The Badger Knight, which my class and I LOVED, what was the most interesting/favorite place that you visited (i.e. cathedral, castle)? The descriptions were so beautiful that I am assuming you enjoyed your research, but I was wondering throughout the story about what was your favorite place.

    Thank you again for all of your wonderful books. Some of my former students (soon to be seventh graders – yeah!) are reading The Absolute Value of Mike and loving it.

    • Posted July 17, 2014 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

      Hi, Andy! Great to see you here and no problem coming late … I don’t know how you and your colleagues do it all — teaching, head lifeguard, family, writing — whew!
      Thanks for your question. You’re right that I totally loved the research! My absolute favorite place was Lanercost Priory. It’s a little gem in a quiet, bucolic area that makes you feel you’re right back in that time period. I also stayed at an old B&B right on the grounds. It was magical walking around the priory and its ruins, sitting on the stone walls and thinking, and even being handed the archival copy of the history of the priory to read (carefully!) while I sat in the courtyard looking at the cloisters — wow! I’ll be posting photos on my website, Pinterest, etc. as soon as I get organized.
      Thanks for keeping your students so engaged in reading!

  • Find Kate Online