Teachers Write! 7/25 – Q and A Wednesday

Wednesday is Q and A Day at Teachers Write! Virtual Summer Writing Camp, so if you have questions about writing, ask away!

Authors are always welcome to drop by and answer questions (you never quite know who you’ll run into here!) But today’s official author volunteers are Diane Zahler, Jaclyn Dolamore, D. Dina Friedman, and Danette Haworth.  They’ve promised to be around to respond to your questions today, so please visit their websites & check out their books!

Teachers & librarians – Feel free to ask your questions in the comments.  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.

25 Replies on “Teachers Write! 7/25 – Q and A Wednesday

  1. My writing is geared to shorter pieces-picture books and poetry- than most of the work I have seen posted here. What suggestions would you have for someone not pursuing a novel?

    Again, my thanks to Kate, Jo, Gae, and Co. for hosting a delightful camp! I can’t wait for s’mores around the campfire and the scary storytelling….oooooo.

    1. Sorry I didn’t see this earlier Mary, I was out of the country. Since I write exclusively picture books and short form pieces, I’d be happy to respond to any specific questions you have if you want to reach me through my website.

  2. Hi Mary!

    I’m not well versed in PBs, but I would certainly read all the PBs I could, note what I liked and try to discover WHY I liked it. SCBWI workshops usually have a PB track, and you don’t have to be a member to attend. Also, check out Verla Kay’s website; she has a highly trafficked forum that includes a thread just for PB writers. Hope that helps!


    1. Danette has good suggestions, and while I’m not very experienced with picture books or poetry either, I’m also a big fan of reading aloud even for novels, but especially for picture books and poetry. The biggest problem I saw with rhyming PBs when I belonged to a mixed genre crit group was problems with rhythm and metre. I would try and read aloud other people’s picture books, as well as your own manuscripts, and maybe even see if you can get someone else to read your picture book to you to see where they might stumble. Even when something isn’t rhyming I still think it’s very important to see how the words will feel read aloud to a child. I also recently saw a suggestion on Verla’s to get a critique from an illustrator as to how a book would be to illustrate, and I thought that was a great tip too, since illustration is so important in that genre.

      1. Many thanks to you both! Love the comments to the desert island post too! Have a wonderful Wednesday!

  3. Like Desert Island Discs, but different… If you were stranded at a writing retreat and could only bring one book, one piece of advice from another writer, and one medium for documenting your thoughts, what would you bring? 🙂

    1. What a great question!
      Book: I’d bring either Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird (for great advice) or Roget’s Thesaurus (to find synonyms for “said.” And “laughed.” And “nodded.” And…)
      Advice: William Faulkner wrote: “Always dream and shoot higher than you know you can do. Don’t bother just to be better than your contemporaries or predecessors. Try to be better than yourself.” Good advice for anyone, anywhere.
      Medium: I assume there’d be no place to plug in my computer, and the battery life has dwindled to a few minutes. So, one of those yellow legal pads. I used to write everything in longhand on a legal pad. I still do sometimes, if I’m not too sure of myself and want an extra editing step built in between writing and typing.

    2. One book: Probably a book of photography applicable to my WIP. Right now it’s portraits by August Sander. I dig it out all the time to find faces for characters.

      Advice: I’ll admit I don’t have a quote in mind. Mainly I just try to remember, as a sort of collective of many wise quotes, to stay focused on writing and not “publishing” and to do it because I love it.

      Medium: Well, I’m going to assume there IS an outlet at a writing retreat. Because, frankly, I NEED my desktop! Yes. Only a desktop will do. Laptops kill my neck in no time.

      1. Ah! Hoisted by my own petard…
        Book: I read Stephen King’s _On Writing_ not long after it came out, but I haven’t gone back to it since. I remember being impressed by his insights into his craft. I’ll bring that to reread.
        Advice: Two recent quotes from this forum jumped to mind, one from Kate and the other from Karen Day. I’ll bring Kate’s since she’s been so gracious in paying the rent around here for two months… ““You need to write something before you can write something *great*.”
        Medium: I used to prefer drafting by hand, but working on a laptop has won me over in the last 3-5 years. That said, I have a simple black Moleskine journal. The only time I use it is when I’m traveling. Writing in it makes me happy in a way that differs from pressing keys, so I’ll bring that and a few black ballpoint pens.

  4. Thanks again, you helpful writers!

    I seem to keep asking similar questions, but oh well. What keeps you writing when you aren’t quite “feeling it”? Do you have a daily writing routine no matter what’s going on?

    1. I don’t have a real routine, but I try to write every day, even if I think what I’m writing isn’t working. The next day, I go back and polish (or delete). If I’m really stuck, I keep on anyway but file the problem mentally until I’m in the car on a long drive or on a long walk. Movement seems to free my brain to work out problems. I used to drive my son to school 45 minutes away, and that daily 1.5 hours in the car was great for fixing my writing. If I can work it out mentally, then it flows onto paper (or computer). What’s important — for me, anyway — is getting the words down. They can always be changed or improved (or deleted).

    2. If I get really stuck and I hate what I’m doing I try to still write SOMETHING on it every day. If it’s really bad I might make a pretty modest goal, like 300 words. Then when I’ve written 300 words I allow myself to work on something more fun or even just go do something else entirely. Sometimes you do have to step away and put a project on the back burner to work itself out in the subconscious, but it’s also a fine line between putting something on the back burner and procrastinating forever or giving up. So if the project I’m stuck on is my #1 project, I try not to let it go entirely. I’ve found that forcing myself to write even a little bit every day also forces me to keep thinking about how to solve the problem until I get a lightbulb moment.

      I also find that certain activities trigger lightbulb moments more often, like taking a shower or reading a really good novel in a similar genre or a book that has some research-related pertinence to whatever I’m writing.

    3. During the school year (when all is quiet in the house), I have a routine that I stick to. It begins with getting the kids ready, and the rest of the schedule falls like dominoes. I have a set time that I must start writing. Sometimes, I am really dragging, working hard but gaining very little distance; other days, the words flow, and I hit word counts that shock me (not usually the case, though!).

      I find that having a routine keeps my mind primed, same as a regular exercise routine keeps the body primed.

      Now summer is different altogether! Activities, visitors (I live in Florida, an hour from Disney and Cocoa Beach!), and vacations throw my writing schedule waaaay off. I try not to feel bad about that–my kids are only young once, but I’ll always be a writer.

    4. I’ll jump in here to complement the previous comments by Diane Z, Jaclyn and Danette. I write both nonfiction and fiction books, and my writing strategy differs depending on the subject and what I”m trying to achieve. What I find interesting is that as I develop more competence and achieve a higher level of craftsmanship, I need less inspiration to keep writing. The writing itself because easier because I am building on a framework, and whilte this takes a certain level of skill and craftsmanship, there’s a yoeman’s quality to it that is simply easier. In part, This is because the inspiration for me usually comes in the conception of the initial storyline, basic plot points, and (in the case of fiction) identification of principal characters.

      That said, Diane G., I think you are actually asking about something more basic: How do you continue with the creative enterprise of writing when you really don’t feel very creative. It seems like work. For me, at least, I find that my writing grinds to a halt when (both for fiction and nonfiction) I don’t have a good story or I’ve hit a point in the story without a clear direction forward. I like Jaclyn’s recommendation to step away. In my fiction, I’ve resolved several plot problems during my morning jog. One time, the idea that ended up anchoring my entire nonficton book (on urban planning) came over coffee talking to a young engineer. The key was to step outside the specific confines of the project while letting your brain not completely check out.

      I think Diane and Danette’s recommendation to try to keep writing, even if it’s uninspired, is really, really important (although not necessarily on the same project). It keeps the routine going, and, writing books is often as much about perseverance and endurance as it is spirts of creativity and inspiration.

      More importantly, I think, the more you write, the more you improve your skill and competence as a writer. All writing requires the development of basic skills before a level of craftsmanship can be obtained. That craftsmanship builds on the basics. Once a writer attains a level of craftmanship, he or she can take it to the next level as art. That’s where we produce really interesting stuff. But, it takes time, practice, experience and the discipline of writing consistently to create the foundation for using the higher level skills and techniques associated with craftsmanship and art.

      This is another reason why all the upper level undergraduate and professional masters courses (I teach in social sciences) are oriented toward writing.

      I know this is a long winded response, but I hope it is helpful.

      1. It is a wonderful response. I totally agree that the need to develop the craft of writing — the nuts and bolts of building sentences that turn into paragraphs that turn into stories or essays — is vital. I worked as a textbook writer for years and years (still do!) before I published children’s fiction, and I don’t think I could have written my books without those years of honing my craft. It taught me to write daily even when I didn’t want to or found my work uninspiring (some textbooks are far more creative than others!). While I think writing for a living is the best job in the world, there are always parts of it that qualify as perspiration rather than inspiration.

    5. Thanks, Diane, Jaclyn, Danette and Sam, all helpful replies. I can’t get enough of writers saying to “just keep writing”, that it all adds up in one form (or story) or another. So thank you.

      I guess it’s harder when all I have is this one story that I’m working on. It’s probably different for “real” writers, as you all seem to have different stories going on all at the same time. Maybe I should try to develop other stories, too.

      I do feel the return to school breathing down my neck, as it will start next month. I hope I can keep up this writing habit once school starts.

      1. I do think it helps to have two things going. Because sometimes I’ll actually figure out what’s wrong with Project A from working on Project B!

        Now, if you get into having LOTS of things going at once that can also just become another way to procrastinate…but I think two or three is a helpful number.

  5. I’m a newbie, just started writing in Jan of this year. I’ve been working on a pb and it seems to be going the way of a chapter book. Is there such an animal as a pb chapter book? I work with early learners and I read longer books to them in stages. They like it. However, is there a real market for this? I know, I’m late.

    1. I can think of at least a few examples of what I think you’re talking about. The Henry and Mudge series by Cynthia Rylant are heavily illustrated, with simple text, but divided into chapters for early readers — and they’re wonderful. The Amber Brown books by Paula Danzinger and the Minnie and Moo books by Denys Cazet are other easy-reader chapter book series. Judging from the success of these books, I’m sure there’s a big market for them. Take a look at some of them and see if that’s the direction you’re going, and good luck!

      1. You’re a gem, Diane! I have not heard of the Minne and Moo books. Thank you so much for the list of reference books. Off to the library this weekend.