Teachers Write 7/3/13 Q and A Wednesday

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 Lynda Mullaly Hunt, Jenny Meyerhoff, and Lisa Schroeder.

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. Please say thanks by sharing their books in your classrooms and libraries!

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: Please be patient with me if you’re a first-time commenter – I’m traveling this week, so it may take a little while for me to approve your comment before it appears.

Got questions? Fire away!

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95 Comments

  1. Kerri Schegan
    Posted July 2, 2013 at 9:44 pm | Permalink

    In the past, I’ve always been a “beginning-to-end” kind of writer. I remember hearing an author at a keynote address once say that she always writes the endings of her books first and then goes back and writes the rest. I have a firm grasp on how my story will start and end, but I’m struggling with the middle. Do you write beginning-to-end, or do you jump around as your are drafting?

    • Posted July 3, 2013 at 9:14 am | Permalink

      Hey, Kerri,

      Your question made me smile, because it is rare to find another like me who finds writing beginning to end difficult.

      I begin by writing the first couple of chapters, followed by the last chapter. Then, I write all of the chapters in between, but in a random order. I don’t plan this; the books just come to me that way. While I am making coffee in the morning, I have no idea what I will be writing that day. When I am done with a chapter, though, I write the chapter title on a 3×5 card and put it on a magnetic white board. Then, in the coming months, as I add more chapters, I also work on putting those cards in order. It’s like doing a giant puzzle!

      • Posted July 3, 2013 at 10:12 am | Permalink

        This is helpful and freeing to hear, thanks!

        • Posted July 3, 2013 at 10:18 am | Permalink

          You’re very welcome, Diane. I tell kids in schools that 10 writers will have 10 different approaches. When it comes to writing, go with what *feels* right, not what you think you should do.

      • Kerri Schegan
        Posted July 3, 2013 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

        Thanks for all the responses! I’m excited to keep going, trying this jumping around for the first time. It seems to be the way the story wants to come out.

        • Posted July 3, 2013 at 11:59 pm | Permalink

          Yes, I admit it took some getting used to, but I think it’s worked out pretty well. 🙂

      • Posted July 3, 2013 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

        This book seems to be jumping around because a lot of the writing we do here brings out another idea or chapter. I can deal with that. Thanks.

        • Posted July 4, 2013 at 12:08 am | Permalink

          Yes, Sandra! For me, I think my chapters come out in this random order because they are driven by emotion. I go with it because I can muster up the pieces of a scene but not always the emotion associated with it. So, if the emotion is there, I go along for the ride. Yeah, a bit of a roller coaster. But, that’s part of the fun 🙂

    • Posted July 3, 2013 at 9:31 am | Permalink

      Hi Kerri,
      I tend to be a very linear, beginning-to-end writer, but I always go back and layer stuff in. Sometimes as I’m writing, other times after the first draft. But I have yet to write scenes out of order and am not sure my brain would ever allow it!

    • Posted July 3, 2013 at 10:44 am | Permalink

      Hi Kerri,
      With my picture books, I’m a beginning-to-ender, letting the story out and then going back to edit. I smiled at your mention of struggling with middles, however, because that’s what happens with me –and many of my author pals (I’m gonna need to know what kind of coffee you make , Lynda!) –on longer works.

      • Posted July 3, 2013 at 11:43 am | Permalink

        Ha! Yeah, the cards are the hardest part of this process! And, yes, I do drink a lot of coffee. 🙂

        My mind, however, is a tad inconvenient. I don’t have epiphanies as to what order the cards should be in while I’m standing there studying them. I’ll get those while standing at the deli waiting for sliced cheese. Ugh…

  2. Shannon Minner
    Posted July 2, 2013 at 10:25 pm | Permalink

    What was the hardest part of breaking into the industry? Do you have any tips for those of us who would like to be published?

    • Posted July 3, 2013 at 9:20 am | Permalink

      Hey, Shannon,

      Well, I would HIGHLY recommend that you join SCBWI, if you haven’t already. It’s an amazing organization that offers help with craft, finding critique groups, and opportunities to meet agents and editors.

      Also, sometimes when we are breaking into “the business” and we get a lot of feedback on our work (which is an excellent thing to do!) we have not yet developed the confidence in our own work to know what feedback is going to work and what isn’t. Feedback is essential–I still seek it out with every book–but you should not implement every piece of advice you get. Have confidence in YOUR own voice to know what will fit and what won’t.

      • Posted July 3, 2013 at 10:50 am | Permalink

        I needed the LIKE button here. i agree with Lynda–SCBWI is a fabulous non-profit, with listserves, conferences, how-to’s on their web site. OK so I used to be one of the Regional Advisors and I may be biased but it’s the best resource you’ll find–and you don’t have to be published to join.
        http://www.scbwi.org/

        • Posted July 4, 2013 at 12:12 am | Permalink

          Yes, Erin!! No question — I would not be published without SCBWI. And I wouldn’t be nearly as happy without the dear friends I’ve made there.

    • Posted July 3, 2013 at 10:14 am | Permalink

      Hi Shannon,
      I think the hardest part is staying focused on writing the best book we can possible write. It’s so seductive to get caught up in query letters and agent searches, and then marketing and networking…all “the business” stuff. But the most important thing is writing the best story we possibly can, and always being open to learning more. I truly believe that if we put our energy into writing great stories, great stuff will come.

      (And joining scbwi, doing things like teachers write, all work toward that goal!)
      Jenny

    • Posted July 3, 2013 at 10:43 am | Permalink

      My tip would be to keep writing. While you are querying your book, start writing another one. This does a couple of things – it keeps you occupied while you wait for your replies and it gives you something new to be excited about, in case the results of that querying aren’t what you hope. I wrote 4 or 5 novels before I wrote one that was good enough to be published. I think of this as my schooling. 🙂

  3. Sonja
    Posted July 2, 2013 at 11:07 pm | Permalink

    I love to write–I’ve always been a writer–but my issue seems to be making that dedicated time to write each day—so difficult for me to do with young kids. Any tips? It seems like every time I get in the groove someone in the house needs something and only Mama will do!

    • Posted July 3, 2013 at 6:43 am | Permalink

      Hi Sonja–it IS really hard to find time every day with small kids. When my three were little, I wrote at whatever odd times I could (nap time, early morning, after they’d gone to bed). But don’t be too hard on yourself if you can’t carve out the same block of time, every day. However, it’s great to get into the habit now, while they’re young, of carving out an hour here or there as often as you can and NOT doing the dishes or folding laundry. Give yourself permission to use the time writing. Better yet, splurge on a babysitter from time to time. It will get ever so slightly easier as they get older (but I still do a lot of writing in weird places, like in the (parked) car or sitting in bleacher seats!)

      • Sonja
        Posted July 3, 2013 at 7:28 am | Permalink

        thank you! It always helps to know you’re not alone in this—-I need to move past the frustration and fully into my reality—and make sure I carry a notebook with me everywhere!

        • Posted July 3, 2013 at 9:23 am | Permalink

          Hey, Sonja,

          I LOVE Sarah’s answer. And I always carry a notebook in my pocket – it’s been invaluable!

          Lynda

        • Posted July 3, 2013 at 10:57 am | Permalink

          You are definitely not alone, Sonja! I can remember writing the first draft of GOLDIE LOCKS HAS CHICKEN POX in the pick-up line at my daughter’s elementary school, on three different kinds of paper (what ever was in the car or my purse) and four colors of ink and pencil. Found myself revising aloud while in the shower–my only alone time. : ) I like the idea of giving yourself permission to hire a babysitter to allow writing time. I’m a firm believer in showing our kids how parents follow their dreams. : )

  4. Ericka
    Posted July 3, 2013 at 7:58 am | Permalink

    I’d love to hear about your experiences with writer’s block, and some of the ways you were able to move past this frustrating phenomenon.

    • Posted July 3, 2013 at 9:43 am | Permalink

      Hi Ericka,
      I get stuck sometimes and it means my brain doesn\’t know what happens next. To un-block myself, I usually need to step away from the work and do something else that\’s not writing, and find it will come to me eventually (sometimes it takes a few days). I also find talking out my story with a sounding board is a good way to figure things out. I often talk at my husband about my writing–I say \’at\’ because it\’s the act of talking out my story that helps me think it through.
      Good luck – I hope you don\’t get too stuck very often!

      • Posted July 3, 2013 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

        For me, when I get stuck I re-read what I’ve written up to that point to my husband. He sits and thinks and does the , “what about…, or maybe this…” He knows that one of his suggestions will usually spark an idea that I can then run with. I’ve also posed questions of my students. Sometimes their suggestions sparks an idea. It also teaches them that everyone has difficult areas and talking with someone else is just one possible solution.

        • Posted July 4, 2013 at 12:15 am | Permalink

          This is awesome, Sandra! What a wonderful experience for your students!

    • Posted July 3, 2013 at 9:51 am | Permalink

      I think most writers experience times when the idea well feels a bit dry. Thing is, though, you have to push through it. One of the ways I do that is to get up and move. I will sometimes go for a walk, but I will more often blare some music and dance around my office. (Yeah…erm..that\’s true.) I\’ll often choose a song my character would relate to.

      Another thing I do is to draw a picture of the scene I am trying to write. Now, let me tell you – I draw like my hands are wrapped in duct tape. Horrible. So, we\’re just talking stick figures here. But, often, that simple image creates a technicolor one in my head. (If I got the same picture in my head, I\’d be in deep trouble.)

      I also find that sometimes going back to other parts of the ms and reading aloud will kickstart ideas. But, mostly, I just write stuff I know isn\’t working–and keep going! Because in that five or six pages of drivel, I\’ll often fine ONE SENTENCE that\’s good–good enough to become it\’s own chapter. Ironically, some of my favorite chapters have come from those times.

    • Posted July 3, 2013 at 10:04 am | Permalink

      Hi Ericka,
      I think about this one a lot, and so far what I’ve noticed is that for me, when I have trouble writing, it’s usually one of two different things. The first one happens way more often and is much harder to deal with ( for me) and that’s just a general resistance to the task of writing. It’s hard, and my inner critic can be really discouraging, and it’s so easy to come up with a million little tasks that delay writing time until there is no time left. Two things really help me get past writing resistance. First, I start with a little ritual, two or three things that I always do int the same order at the beginning of every writing session. This is a habit now, so once I do the first thing, I keep going all the way through to the writing. And the first step is something super easy, like lighting a candle, or writing the date, something that its really easy to get yourself to do.
      The second thing that helps me with resistance is writing with a timer. So many minutes on, then a break, then another session. I like to write in chunks of 25 minutes. It’s long enough to get stuff done, but short enough that it doesn’t feel overwhelming.

      Sometimes though, the reason I’m struggling with writing has nothing to do with resistance. I’m showing up, I want to write, and I can’t think of anything. Nine times out of ten, when this happens it means I’ve taken a wrong turn in my story somewhere. If I back up, reread, think about if my characters are really acting true to themselves, or if I made them do something just to move the plot along, I’ll find the place I’ve veered off course, and I’ll be able to continue.
      Jenny

    • Posted July 3, 2013 at 11:04 am | Permalink

      My first issues were sort of writer’s block–I had this editor in my brain thinking the story had to be perfect right from the start, so I would revise what I had written the previous day and never get to the next scene. These days when I’m stuck I work in the garden or walk the dog–anything but stare at the manuscript–and solutions/epiphanies show up. This may sound strange but I also immerse myself in the characters and let them tell me what comes next.

    • Posted July 3, 2013 at 11:25 am | Permalink

      I think getting writer’s block is similar to getting muscle cramps and soreness when you first start exercising. As you get into better shape, you get fewer and fewer aches and pains. Writing really is like exercising a muscle–you train your brain to do it. If I get stuck, I do what Joanne suggests–step away for awhile (run, walk the dog, read a book). Usually an idea comes to me, but if it doesn’t, I write something crappy. Better to write than not to write, and better (I think) to have something than nothing, because you can always fix it at the revision phase!

      • Ericka
        Posted July 4, 2013 at 11:09 pm | Permalink

        Thank you all for responding to this….you had some really creative solutions to these less than ideal writing situations – I can’t wait to try them next time it happens!

  5. Posted July 3, 2013 at 8:01 am | Permalink

    This is one for Jenny! I checked out your website and loved your page for writers http://www.jennymeyerhoff.com/writers.html#worksheets, both as a teacher and someone who is trying to write. I can’t believe how organized you are about the process. Does it always work the way you plan. Do stories or characters ever take over your really in depth, well thought out and organized planning. Plus…can I use your sheets for myself or in my classroom? What a great resource you are! I read Liz & Geoff’s post the other day & I’ve realized I’m a bit of a pantser writer. You seem more like the Queen of planning. Just want to hear a bit more from the other side of that fence. Thanks so much for taking the time to help us explore the writing process! Stefanie

    • Posted July 4, 2013 at 1:19 am | Permalink

      Hi Stefanie,
      Sorry for the delay in reply, my comments weren’t coming through for a while. Yes! Please use my planning sheets. That’s what they are there for.
      Your question is a great one that I think a lot of people who jump in a write an exploratory draft often ask. The idea of planning seems so foreign, but I think ultimately it winds up being the same thing. I’ve tried jumping in and writing, and what I’ve learned about myself is that I can’t storytell and plot at the same time. I need to do an outline draft, or a planning journal, where I come up with the plot, then a draft where I tell the story. Of course it’s not perfect at that point. I do lots of revising.
      Friends who jump in and write seem to be the opposite. They plot better when they are storytelling. Or they write a draft first and then they outline.
      I guess what I am trying to say is the two ways of writing are more similar than different. No way is easier and both ways can be filled with those spontaneous “character takeovers.”

  6. Posted July 3, 2013 at 8:02 am | Permalink

    I would like to note that the comment box was tiny & I really need some question marks!

  7. Posted July 3, 2013 at 8:16 am | Permalink

    I took advice from a Linda Urban workshop recently. She suggested changing the tense in which the story was written. I tend to write historical fiction and have always used a the past tense. For my summer class I took my \”past\” piece and switched it into the present tense. It was one of those wonderful writing moments and an \”A-ha!\” I cannot believe how it improved the piece. When I shared the draft in class my colleagues were able to tell it was set in the past even though the story was told present tense.

    Here\’s my question. As children\’s authors do you feel one tense is more effective than another? Or, Do you find yourself testing out different tenses to see which fits the story? Finally, do you have a sense for what readers prefer?

    Thank-you!

    • Posted July 3, 2013 at 9:50 am | Permalink

      Hi Kimberly,
      When I write typically one tense just comes out of me without too much thought, but that doesn’t mean it’s the best tense for the story. I usually do try out a chapter or two in a couple of different tenses, and my personal preference is the one that disappears the most. If readers are noticing my tense, that’s a big red flag for me. I want them to fall into the story, so I always choose the tense (and point of view) that feels the most seemless.
      Jenny

    • Posted July 3, 2013 at 9:59 am | Permalink

      Hi, Kimberly,

      Originally, my second book (Alphabet Soup, 2015) was written in past tense because I thought I *should* use a different tense than my fist book. However, I ended up having to go through and change the entire thing to present tense because I just couldn’t “drop into the characters” well enough in past tense.

      For me, present tense feels immediate. There are a few things you can’t do with it (such creating a hook by having a character look back with regret – i.e. “If only I had known then…”)

      However, for me, it’s about conveying emotion and I feel like I do that best in present tense. I will, however, continue to experiment with other tenses. If Linda Urban suggests that, it’s a good idea! 🙂

      • Posted July 3, 2013 at 10:12 am | Permalink

        If you can believe — and you know I have no qualms about playing devils advocate — my answer is exactly the same as Linda’s! To the tee. Just rewriting an ms from past — that i did that way to “push myself” back to present (along with vast other revisions). And the word immediate is the same word I use. Some manuscripts lend themselves to the more distant tone of past tense too, and sometimes, I’m not even sure on this one… it’s really one of those things, I think, you hope to feel the answer to in your gut.

        • Posted July 3, 2013 at 10:21 am | Permalink

          YES, Gae! It’s all about the guts. This writer can mess things up with that pesky thinking. 🙂

        • Posted July 3, 2013 at 10:23 am | Permalink

          Thank-you both. Those answers were perfect. When I made the change I was “in” the character rather than observing. I am going to test a passage in the MG novel I’m working on and see if it has the same impact.

  8. jason gottlieb
    Posted July 3, 2013 at 10:15 am | Permalink

    Good morning! Thank you for sharing your expertise today with us. My query is if you have any good websites that are ones you use to inspire your writing or ideas that you’d mind sharing with us?

    • Posted July 3, 2013 at 10:50 am | Permalink

      Every Monday morning, Jo Knowles posts a writing prompt. Here is an archived list of all of those prompts: http://www.joknowles.com/prompts.htm

      Ideas do not come easily to me, so I keep an idea journal and sometimes spend time with it, brainstorming ideas. I have pages of settings I’d like to write about, other pages with words I like, other pages with little seeds of ideas that might come from news stories or overhearing people talk.

      Good luck!

      • jason gottlieb
        Posted July 3, 2013 at 9:41 pm | Permalink

        Thank you! I do so enjoy Jo Knowles’ posts!

    • Posted July 3, 2013 at 10:52 am | Permalink

      Hey Jason,

      I guess the only site I use for ideas is Google. I do try to give my characters layers – interests the reader may not expect, for example. At the same time, though, they must “fit.”

      So, if I have an idea for an interest, etc., I’ll google it and read through articles and blogs on the subject. I look for connections that already exist in the story. Analogies and metaphors, perhaps.

      This kind of research has helped me deepen characters (such as Toni’s love of Elphaba and the Broadway show, WICKED in my first novel, One for the Murphys. The idea of Defying Gravity fit into the existing story very well.)

      Good luck, Jason!

      • jason gottlieb
        Posted July 3, 2013 at 9:42 pm | Permalink

        I am going away this weekend and have a copy of your first book! Can’t wait to dive in. So cool to know the little bit of background I will come to read about. Thanks Lynda.

  9. Kristin Russo
    Posted July 3, 2013 at 10:17 am | Permalink

    Hello Everyone,

    Good morning! My question is about a big challenge I face as an English and writing teacher. When I give out one assignment, I now have 85 papers to read and to grade. That leaves very little energy for working with a critique group because I am too burnt out to read other writers’ writing, and I can’t ask them to read my work if I’m not able to give solid feedback on theirs. That’s why this summer workshop is so great!

    Do you have any advice for working with a critique group during the school year?

    Also, Lynda Mullaly Hunt, I saw ONE FOR THE MURPHYS at the library last week. Was going to take a picture when I went back this week, but it wasn’t on the shelf. I guess it had gone home with some avid young adult reader. 🙂

    Have a great day!

    • Posted July 3, 2013 at 11:00 am | Permalink

      Oh boy, I can see how that would be hard!

      I suppose one option for you would be to hire an editor to read and give feedback. There are many out there who will do this. Most of the time a critique group is the way to go, but for someone like you, maybe paying someone would be better?

      Rhonda Helms is one I can recommend: http://www.rhondaedits.com/services/ I’ll come back if I can think of any others.

      Or if you can’t afford to do that, you might want to try finding just one or two people you work with, rather than a group of like five or six. I know Maggie Stiefvater has worked with the same two critique partners since the very beginning. Finding people can be hard, I know, but I know at verlakay’s message board, people often post when they are looking for someone to exchange with. Sometimes it takes a few tries to find a good match. http://www.verlakay.com/boards

    • Posted July 3, 2013 at 11:14 am | Permalink

      Hey, Kristin!

      Thanks for the Murphy report 🙂

      Perhaps some teachers who are writing and working full time can weigh in here, too…

      This is a tough one…I think that you need to find a way to separate YOUR writing from your teacher self. Perhaps, when you write, it should be in a different place than where you correct your students’ work. Perhaps light a candle ONLY when you turn to your own writing. How about a baseball hat you wear only when you write your own stuff?

      I guess this sounds a little hokey, but I do think that our brains can be triggered this way. This is why some writers ALWAYS write at the very same time every day.

      Also, when I need a break from writing, I read – but I rarely read within my genre when I am writing a book. I typically read non-fiction. Perhaps, you could experiment with writing things that are totally different than what you are correcting.

      As far as critique groups go, I draw energy from other writers. One of the reasons I love to visit with my writing buds. For me, I think it’s important to connect with them on other levels beyond just what you’re writing. Make dates to meet–and keep them. Write when you can but give yourself a break, too. Even if you write only five good pages, that’s five more than many others,

      Take some time to really think about what it is you want form a group. There are writers that thrive with groups and others who feel like they do better on their own–who will not meet with a group until they feel their writing is polished. Be honest in reference to your needs. Maybe a group for you is dinner and discussion about the challenges of writing while working full time at something else. A release valve so that you can go back with fresh eyes and a willing spirit.

      Those of us who have taught understand what an wonderful experience teaching is – but it is FAR from an 8:00-3:00 job. t can be physically and emotionally exhausting. However, I think you’ll have more in your emotional tank for the group itself, it you MAKE time to write. Take a Saturday for yourself. Take a personal day to just WRITE!

      As Kate has so aptly said, you don’t find time – You MAKE it! But you do have to prepare yourself emotionally to be ready for it. Reach out to writer friends, too. We help each other out! I’m happy to help <3

      • Posted July 3, 2013 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

        Ok, I’ll bite. I’ll weigh in here.
        This may sound crazy, but… Know yourself first. Early birds write in the morning, night owls at night. I get up at about 4:15. That gives me a good 45 minutes with no interruptions (and if I’m motivated I can even sneak in some exercise! Umm, not so motivated there.)
        As far as the correcting load goes, like everything else, I balance it as much as I can. It’s never perfect and I keep adjusting. I conference as much as I can in class so that I have less drafts I need to take home.
        Also,
        I talk about my writing often with my students. I’ll say to them, “I’m so excited! I get to meet with my writer’s group tonight.” I find talking about my writing with my students pushes me to be consistent with it, and they get a lot out of it to.
        Here’s the thing: I wrote less last summer than I did during the school year. I even stopped going to my writers’ group for a while. I know. Shameful.
        As I got ready to start the school year that all changed. I was focused again – in that strange way busy people are.
        The difference this summer? The two things keeping me motivated? Teachers Write and CT Wrtg Project Summer Institute.
        That, and the fact that my house is absolutely silent at 4 in the morning.
        Me.
        Coffee.
        Dog.
        Notebook.

        Happy writing!

    • Posted July 3, 2013 at 11:50 am | Permalink

      Hi Kristin,
      Boy can I relate to those piles of papers waiting to be corrected. One thing you might consider is starting a writer’s group at school–a monthly lunch with interested kids and teachers–wherein you each read a chapter or a few pages of your own work aloud. (No correcting hard copies.) Reading aloud is scary and yet a great way to discover your own editing needs.

      When I stopped teaching full-time, I was in a critique group with 4 other authors but the English teacher in me kept spending way too much energy and time on my pals’ manuscripts. (Once a teacher, always a teacher!) I left the group and we now have lunch together occasionally to talk shop. Now I have a few “Beta tester” pals and we swap manuscripts or chapters when needed. This works much better for me.

      Good luck! Where there’s a story, there’s a way.

    • andrea p
      Posted July 3, 2013 at 9:06 pm | Permalink

      Hi all-
      I also teach ELA and school is so time consuming. I love summer, so I can concentrate on my writing. This workshop is a great way to enhance your writing and collect thoughts about writing with your own students next year.
      I found when I had a monthly dinner date with my critique group that I wrote more consistently. At least I had something to share, even a page or two. I also learned a lot about the business and the craft of writing by meeting regularly. But my critique group “broke up”. It can be like dating. We just went too long without meeting and the others found different groups. I focused on school this year, and an independent study on the craft of writing, which I needed. Reading about writing really helped. Now, my group is trying to get back together, but it’s a challenge.
      I find that the easiest time to write consistently is early morning. And, keep track of the time and number of pages in a chart. It lets me see what I accomplish and makes me feel good about writing. Long story short, I think it’s a good idea to find a critique partner… “date” till you find the right critique group for encouragement and support. The “right” group fits your schedule. Maybe it may be someone online. Does anyone have an online critique group? How do you find a reliable online critique group?
      Thanks, and happy writing!

      • Kristin Russo
        Posted July 3, 2013 at 10:14 pm | Permalink

        Thanks, Andrea. I feel like I am not alone when I read remarks like yours, and I love your idea about “dating” until I find a critique group with a good fit. Of course, that means writing partners will be “dating” me too, and I don’t know if I can handle the pressure! Thank you, and happy writing to you too!

        • Posted July 4, 2013 at 12:30 am | Permalink

          Hey, Kristin! 🙂 We’re never alone in this community! You are awesome 🙂

      • Posted July 4, 2013 at 12:27 am | Permalink

        Hey, Andrea! Yes, critique groups are a wonderful resource and make the journey a lot more fun. I agree with you in that they change over time because the needs of the members tend to shift. I have never joined an online group but I know others who have found them through SCBWI and have been very happy as you read and critique on your own schedule. Here is the link: http://www.scbwi.org/

  10. Posted July 3, 2013 at 10:17 am | Permalink

    I love this summer workshop, keeps me writing, thanks. Do you know of other year-round workshops like this?

  11. Paul W. Hankins
    Posted July 3, 2013 at 10:20 am | Permalink

    If you have multiple ideas in the brain pan, how do you sift out the one that seems to be the shiniest or at least has the most potential with a little polish? Can you speak to the commitment that comes of attending to THAT idea?

    • Posted July 3, 2013 at 11:13 am | Permalink

      Hi Paul! Oh how I envy you if you have so many ideas you’re not sure which one to focus on. Ideas don’t come easily for me!

      Do you have an idea notebook – that is, a notebook that is used exclusively for ideas? Laini Taylor told me to do this, and it was one of the best things I’ve ever done. I find if I spend time with that notebook, writing out the ideas I have, it often becomes clear which one I’m most excited about and which one is the most fleshed out.

      The other thing you might want to do is get the book SAVE THE CAT by Blake Snyder, and go through the “beat sheet” he provides for two or three of the strongest ideas, and see how things play out. Some ideas might be easier to plot than others. It’s actually a screenwriting book, but I have found it SO helpful with my writing.

      Once you’ve chosen the book to work on, when it gets hard, of course new ideas will seem fun and shiny and you will be tempted to turn to those instead. Laini calls these “the slutty new ideas.” When that happens, you write down the idea in your idea notebook and get it out of your system, and then you go back to the story you’ve chosen to write and then you go back to the project you’ve chosen to write, and you keep working on it until you finish it!! If you get stuck, usually that means you need to spend some time with a good plotting method and figure out what needs to happen next. I’ve gone from being a discovery writer to an outliner because I have seen first-hand how much easier it is to write that way.

      Hope that helps. Good luck!

      • Posted July 3, 2013 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

        Could you say more about your move to being an “outliner?” Is there a particular method you use? Do you work on an idea first before moving to the outline stage?

        • Posted July 3, 2013 at 4:15 pm | Permalink

          (note to Kate: please approve this one instead of the other one, I got a link wrong in the previous one. Thanks)

          Hi Elizabeth,

          Yes, I come up with the idea (i.e. what does my character want), keeping in mind that basically it all boils down to conflict = story.

          I’ll refer you to a few different resources that have helped me over the years as I’ve studied plot and tried to get better about planning out my story rather than just writing by the seat of my pants.

          A 9-box plotting method that I used at first, as I got used to the idea of planning out my stories. This method isn’t overwhelming, and I think it’s great for people who have never outlined before. Credit goes to C.J. Omololu http://cynjay.blogspot.com/2009/02/how-to-write-book.html

          A post on screenplay structure, because again, story is story, and it’s understanding where the turning points need to happen.
          http://www.storymastery.com/articles/30-screenplay-structure

          And this blog post by Laini Taylor that I like to refer to as I’m trying to decide on a scene: http://www.lainitaylor.com/2012/01/scene-stuff.html

          When I outline, I’m keeping in mind the structure the story needs to have while at the same time coming up with scenes that will be fun or suspenseful or intriguing or whatever to accomplish what needs to happen to keep the story on track. For me, outlining is part structure, part creativity, part gut and part hope. I spend a lot of time doing my outline – one to two weeks, really taking care to think about the scenes I might create. I now do a chapter-by-chapter outline so that every time I sit down to write a chapter, I have an idea of where I’m going. It’s like a road map, and it makes the journey SO much easier.

          Like anything, it will feel almost impossible at first, because you’ve never done it before, but over time and with practice, it will get easier. At least it has for me.

          Hope some of that is helpful. Good luck!

          • Posted July 4, 2013 at 6:25 am | Permalink

            Helpful to all of us! Thank-you. I’ve already bookmarked the sites.

        • Posted July 3, 2013 at 11:17 pm | Permalink

          Elizabeth, I wanted you to know I wrote a long reply with some links, and I think it must believe it’s spam, because it’s awaiting moderation. Hopefully it will show up at some point. 🙂

    • Posted July 3, 2013 at 11:23 am | Permalink

      Hi Paul,
      Great question! I usually go with the idea I’m most passionate about. (Make sure you write all the others down for later, like Kate suggests.) The story that means the most to you will have voice and energy far more than one you choose because it may be right for the market. (Plus remember that if you judge the market by what’s coming out now, by the time you submit your manuscript and it finds a home, trends will change.) That being said, I find when I’m working on a novel, picture books pop into my head that won’t go away until I pay attention to it. Sounds like a metaphor for teaching or parenting, doesn’t it?

      • Posted July 3, 2013 at 11:27 am | Permalink

        Ooh that book sounds fabulous Lisa. I’ll have to check it out. Thanks!

      • Posted July 3, 2013 at 11:30 am | Permalink

        Hi Paul,
        I have lots of ideas, too, and it’s usually the one that keeps tapping me on the shoulder at unexpected times that I pay attention to. I think in one’s heart of hearts you know which ideas are the better ones. But I agree with Erin and Kate–write them all down!

        On a side note–I’m realizing just how bad at math I am as I post each comment. I just had to get out a pencil and paper to do the addition on my last “Please Do the Math” post. Oy.

        • Posted July 3, 2013 at 11:37 am | Permalink

          I finally pulled out my calculator–!!!
          (Here we go again…)

    • Posted July 3, 2013 at 11:27 am | Permalink

      Hey, Paul,

      As they say, “The true motivation is the deadline.”

      So, the piece that is shiniest for me, is the one under contract or due.

      However, I typically do work on multiple books at a time. Now, my primary project is revision on the next book. However, I do have things pop into my head that characters in other books would say…So, I write them down and put them in the corresponding file. I keep manila files for each book idea. By the time I am ready to work on it, I open a folder with scraps of paper, napkins with notes, etc.

      When this present project is all wrapped up, I will then have to choose among three other ideas to form into a novel. (Of course just because i have an idea doesn’t mean it’s a GOOD idea!)

      When the time comes, I’ll choose the one–not with the most ideas–but the one I *feel* the most. For me, the best writing doesn’t come from the brain. It comes from the guts.

      • Posted July 3, 2013 at 11:28 am | Permalink

        Yes!

      • Jane
        Posted July 3, 2013 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

        This is very helpful. Even though I’m deep into one project, two other ideas keep interrupting. Who knows if they’re any good, but they seem to enjoy distracting me. Manilla folders it is! Thank you so much for all your advice.

        • Posted July 3, 2013 at 5:41 pm | Permalink

          Hey, Jane! You’re very welcome. I know that a lot of authors like to use apps to organize their notes (I do take notes on my phone sometimes) but I love the tactile nature of the folders and scraps of paper (as well as 3×5 cards to organize). I think it helps with my nutty process. 🙂

    • Posted July 3, 2013 at 11:55 am | Permalink

      Hi Paul, I love Lisa’s idea of playing out the ideas using the STC Beat Sheet. For me, I get nagged with new ideas around the time I’m near finishing a project–I think it’s my subconscious getting ready for the drafting process again. I let them twirl around in my head and pick the one that seems most viable and timely or maybe even the one that’s most high concept. Although I love writing for writing’s sake, pursuing a career as a writer means looking at what editors might want and what holes there might be in the marketplace.

    • Posted July 3, 2013 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

      I too have the issue with multiple ideas. If I’m in the middle of writing, I pull out my idea notebook and write it down. If it keeps interrupting , I write down those ideas as well. If it is an idea that I know will require a lot of research I designate a day or two during my writing week to do research just for that project while I continue to work on my WIP, I have one that the research has been going on since 2010. However, my WIP is about 3/4 done and I am almost done with all the research I need to work on the next one.

      • Posted July 3, 2013 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

        Yes! It’s kind of a pain at the time, but when it comes time to move to another project, it’s nice. 🙂

  12. Karen Jameson
    Posted July 3, 2013 at 11:44 am | Permalink

    I am trying to dip my toes into the nonfiction pool and wonder which types of resources are welcomed by publishers and which ones are frowned upon. For instance, would a children’s magazine editor or book publisher be turned off by a writer using website only resources? How about print only? Maybe a combination? How does one know which sites have verifiable facts? Of course, primary sources are always best, but not always as accessible. What are your thoughts?

    • Posted July 3, 2013 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

      Hi Karen,
      I took a workshop from Carolyn Yoder on writing non-fiction and she suggested these online sources:
      Library of Congress http://www.loc.gov/index.html
      National Archives
      Smithsonian
      Newspapers of the time (see their archives)

      Many times, if you use a book, the author has annotated his/her data or info with the original source.

      Hope this helps.

  13. Posted July 3, 2013 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

    This may seem like a simple question but it is one that is a pain in my side. Titles. How do you come up with something that is original, yet draws a reader in. My current WIP is called Preacher’s Kid. It tells what the story is about, yet seems to be lacking. Any hints?

    • Posted July 3, 2013 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

      Titles either come really easily to me or they are impossible. I do think when you’re starting out, a great title can make an agent/editor sit up and take notice. However, it’s not the end of the world if you can’t come up with some spectacular. Titles often end up getting changed by the publisher anyway.

      Look for a phrase in the manuscript that is especially meaningful or gets at the heart of the story. Because of Winn Dixie by Kate DiCamillo is about a preacher’s kid, but there is a dog she names Winn Dixie and it plays a key role in getting Opal connected with all of the special people in that novel.

      When I brainstormed names of the cupcake shop and came up with the idea of It’s Raining Cupcakes, I knew it would be the perfect title for the book. And it was! I’ve learned over the years that the more you can try and make it special and unique and memorable, the better. I actually love the titles of Jennifer Smith’s latest YA novels, because they are fun, unique and memorable (The Improbability of Love at First Sight and This is What Happy Looks Like). Go for words that make someone sit up and take notice.

      Good luck!

    • Posted July 3, 2013 at 5:36 pm | Permalink

      Hey, Sandra,

      I don’t think coming up with titles is a simple question at all! They are tough.

      I title books and chapters the same way–and they usually come when I am not searching for them. I love what Lisa said about titles above and I also love Jennifer Smith’s titles for the reasons she does.

      One for the Murphys was originally entitled, “CLIP” until I came to the place in the books where I typed the phrase, “…one for the Murphys.” As soon as I did, I froze, knowing that it was the new title.

      I try to do a few things when choosing a title. It should raise questions in the mind of a reader–spark interest. If it’s a phrase that can be taken in more than one way, that’s good – or a play on words. It’s nice when a title can serve as an over-arching description or metaphor for a book. One for the Murphys is a layered meaning in the book. It’s also a red herring. Lastly, a lyrical title is nice; Jennifer Smith nails that!

  14. Kristin Russo
    Posted July 3, 2013 at 4:40 pm | Permalink

    Thank you all so much for your practical advice.

    I know it sounds silly, Lynda, but I never actually asked myself what I\’m looking for in a writers group. Your response was not \”hokey\” at all; in fact it was very \”me,\” these are exactly the types of things I would do and could do to switch gears between teaching and writing. And thinking about what I actually need from a group of fellow writers (and what I feel I can give) will prevent me from feeling too overwhelmed, or worse, avoiding it all together.

    Erin, your advice helped me realize that I have to be willing to change things that don\’t work for me. Your decision to stop meeting regularly with your group and to touch base only occasionally sounds like the perfect solution to me. I am obsessive about editing and \”correcting\” too, and it stresses me out when I try to work with other writers who are not my students. It\’s all about personalizing and being flexible, but I just didn\’t think of it this way before. And all throughout the spring, I\’ve been rising early and, like you, it has been me, coffee, notebook, dog. These have been very productive writing sessions for me.

    Kimberly, I love your idea about incorporating my writing into my classroom. The best way to teach is to model! And you\’re right about fall being a time of energy and focus. I sort of naturally slow down in the summer (many teachers probably do), and I just have to accept that as part of the normal ebb and flow. I know from experience how energetic and focused I am in the fall, so it\’s okay to wait for that part of my personality to come alive again. Nothing wrong with cocooning and pondering in the meantime, right?

    Thank you all again very, very much.

    • Posted July 3, 2013 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

      Yup. A good friend of mine calls that time “marinating.” Perfect for summer, isn’t it?

    • Posted July 3, 2013 at 5:38 pm | Permalink

      You’re very welcome, Kristin! I loved reading others’ answers to your question as well. Lots of good stuff. 🙂 Kimberly – I use the term “marinating,” too. 🙂

  15. Jen
    Posted July 3, 2013 at 5:56 pm | Permalink

    I’m working on a YA piece where the point of view changes between three teens. It’s early yet, but I’m finding that two of the three have much more “to say”. Does that mean the third character (who is the most different of the three-politically, spiritually, pop-culturally) isn’t needed or right for the part? Do readers want the same pattern/order of voices with equal amounts of story or could one voice pop in and out less frequently? Could I change up the order of when they’re heard? Or is that too jarring for the reader?

    I\’m trying to think back to the various books I\’ve read that alternate pov well and I can\’t remember specifics. Thank you!

    • Posted July 3, 2013 at 7:55 pm | Permalink

      Hey, Jen,

      Well, this is kind of a tough one because I think it’s up to the individual reader. Also, I don’t have too much experience writing in multiple POVs. That said…

      Now, I don’t know anything about your premise, these characters, etc., but in generalities, I’d say that you should not add word count to a character for the sake of evening appearance time among the story’s players.

      If the word counts are similar it seems that their importance to the plot development would be similar as well. If their word counts are vastly different, the “less heard from characters” may feel like secondary characters. (Wonder by R. J. Palacio does this.) That’s okay, I think.

      I would ask myself if the two characters who seem more similar are too similar and I would be sure to either clearly delineate between the two or consolidate them into one character.

      I would also ask myself if it would be appropriate to do some brainstorming re: the character who may not be as developed. If this character is “equal in stature” you may want to do this.

      In general, (especially for writers trying to break in) I think a predictable structure or pattern is a good idea. If one character “speaks” more than another, that may work fine. Still though, consider a bit of predictability. If you had characters “A” “B” “C” perhaps POV chapters could look like, “A, A, B, B, C, A,A,B,B,C…) so “C” appears less but the structure feels predictable.

      I hope this help. 🙂

    • Posted July 3, 2013 at 8:39 pm | Permalink

      Hi Jen,

      You’ll find that fantasy does multiple POV quite a bit. One series that comes to mind is DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE and DAYS OF BLOOD AND STARLIGHT by Laini Taylor. Some characters show up a lot, others not so much. She is a talented writer and is able to pull it off.

      My YA, CHASING BROOKLYN, has two POVs, that alternate between a teen boy and a teen girl. What I discovered in writing it is that it’s almost like writing two books – each character has to have his/her own story arc. It really is a much more challenging way to write a book. But the payoff can also be huge, of course.

      A couple of other recommendations: ARISTOTLE AND DANTE by Benjamin Saenz, which one a bunch of awards last year, HOW TO SAVE A LIFE by Sara Zarr, and JUMPING OFF SWINGS by Jo Knowles (this one has four POVS, FYI).

      I will tell you that I wrote a book with 4 POVs a couple of years ago, and ultimately, after multiple revisions, it didn’t sell. The editor wanted me to try writing it w/ 2 POVs instead, as the feeling seemed to be that two of the characters were the ones with the most story to tell, and the others were more “extras.” It’s going to be a huge rewrite, so I’ve set it aside until I have time to devote to it.

      You might want to try writing it with just the two characters telling the story and see what happens, if you’re already wondering if the third character needs his/her own story. He/she can still be a part of the story, of course.

      Ultimately, I think it comes down to going with your gut. Good luck to you!

  16. Posted July 3, 2013 at 7:13 pm | Permalink

    Rather than a question today, I have a huge Thank You!! to the participants for the cogent questions and to the team of writers for the practical and insightful answers. From the SCBWI website to juggling multiple ideas, I have benefited so much from the discussion today.

    • Posted July 3, 2013 at 7:31 pm | Permalink

      Thank YOU, Yvette, for taking the time to thank us. Nice to know we can help others making their way into the business. I know that others helped me–and I’d like to do the same 🙂

  17. Posted July 4, 2013 at 9:04 am | Permalink

    I received an email from a publishing house in Charleston, SC, that they are considering my manuscript but they are afraid sales will be limited to just the area where I live (the setting of my story). I’ve been sent a marketing questionnaire to fill out. Does anyone have any pointers? Thanks in advance!

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