Teachers Write 7/30/14 – Q and A Wednesday

Welcome to another Q and A Wednesday!  Guest authors Kim Norman and Jody Feldman are here to answer your questions today.

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 usually try to pop in for Q and A many Wednesdays, too, so I’ll be in and out.  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!

23 Replies on “Teachers Write 7/30/14 – Q and A Wednesday

  1. Good Morning!

    Thank you both so much for being here. I so appreciate the advice, feedback and general support that is shared here.
    I most enjoy reading and writing in verse. So, my questions are more for a poet. I think. Maybe there is no real difference in writing stories in poetry than prose? Here are my specific questions.
    1. When writing verse to an outline of main ideas I can usually bang out 4-6 rough pomes that I feel really good about. Then, all of a sudden the project feels difficult and I continue to write….but writing to the theme of the outline becomes overwhelming. Does that happen to you? If so, what’s your best advice for dealing with that?

    2. When readying a MS in verse to send out, is it best to send out a MS with just the poems you envision in the finished product? Or, is it better to send out more than enough to be pared down? For example, I have a book of chapters. Should I send out several possibilities for chapters? Or, send out exactly what I think the final product should have?

    3. This is the first summer I’ve participated in Teachers Write. And, coincidently I keep running into educators I already know or people I’m meeting that write. I direct them to Teachers Write, of course. However, I’m considering organizing a summer writing workshop in my area. Where can I begin looking at how to do that? Should I simply direct myself and others to existing workshops first? I would love to have one really local….possibly even at my school.

    OK, that is plenty of wordy questions for now. Thanks again and again for your time and encouragement.

    1. Hi Linda!
      Wow, I can soooo relate to that feeling you get, where you sort of stall after the first rush of creativity. I’ve had similar problems with a collection I’ve pulled out now and then. When you say “outline,” I assume you mean something that keeps you on track under a specific subject, correct? Because you’re definitely right to do that. The wonderful, wide-open days of Shel Silverstein’s eclectic collections have passed, I’m sorry to say, although poets like Jack Prelutsky and Kenn Nesbitt can probably manage that, because of their huge followings. For the rest of us mere mortals, publishers do seem to prefer themed collections, such as Lisa Wheeler’s brilliantly titled “Wool Gathering.”
      Back to your 1st question about a stall related to your outline, maybe it’s like writing a term paper, where you choose a theme, but then find — as you do your research — that your topic shifts a bit. So, for instance, if you were doing a collection about trucks, but then began to founder, perhaps you’d decide to widen your scope and revise your theme to encompass “vehicles” in general.
      Also, it could be that your outline has guided you a ways into the forest, and then — as your writing gets going — you then revise your OUTLINE, to reflect a new direction. You’d still get through the forest, eventually, but may find yourself on delightful new paths you never expected to explore… and maybe you exit the forest at a different spot than you had expected. I certainly find that’s true when I write longer fiction, and I’m sure that could be true of poetry collections as well.
      So this one post doesn’t get too long, I’ll create a new comment for replies to your 2nd and 3rd questions. I’m excited for you! Congratulations on your first Teacher’s Write participation. It’s my first, too!

  2. oh, goodness. My question #2 doesn’t even make sense to me. I have a project with 12 segments I’m calling chapters. Each segment is a month of the year. I envision the final product have one poem per month. Would it be best to send out several poems that relate to that month? Or, just one poem per month? I hope that makes better sense.

    1. I hope to have a better answer for you sometime today, Linda. A member of one of my critique groups has just had a collection accepted (yay!!!) so I’ve written to ask her how much material she sent to the editor. Well get right back to you on that.
      I do know that a member of another of my groups did do a lot of winnowing for her collection. (Check out “Gallop o Gallop” by Sandy Alonzo.) But it’s been about 10 years since her project was accepted, so I don’t remember the details of her process. Anyway, I’ll get you that answer about the recently accepted collection and let you know what she says.

      1. Regarding your Q#3, I wish I were organized enough to know about such things! Sounds like a wonderful event! I agree that online is nice, but you just can’t beat being in a room with other folks who are as excited about writing as you are.

        Perhaps Jody or Kate will know more about that.

        1. How great that you want to organize an in-person group! I’m not sure, though, if your question refers to the organizational/logistical side (how do I contact people and where do I hold it and how long should it be) or the content or the professional input or all the above. Let me know, and I might have some ideas. Thanks!

      2. Okay, I heard from my friend, who explained that — for this particular collection — she simply submitted it as a standard picture book (they’re usually 32 pages) with the assumption that there would be one poem per page — or, more likely, per double-page spread. Which means she would have submitted 14 or 15 poems, since a standard 32-page picture book usually has 13 two-page spreads with page 5 and page 32 being stand-alone single pages. (Anything before page five is often “front matter,” like title page, copyright, etc.)

        I know that doesn’t totally answer your question completely, since you are assuming (probably correctly) that there may be a winnowing process in deciding which poems go in. But my friend’s success tells me that her way definitely worked: submitting 14 or 15 poems, under a theme, and (I’m assuming) in the order that made the most sense to her. Of course, the whole packet would have been accompanied by a cover letter explaining that it was picture book material, perhaps offering other poems if there was any interest.

        Hope that helps some!

        1. Oh, and I almost forgot to say that, since you’re thinking of a month-by-month theme, and there are only 12 months in the year, you might want to be prepared to make suggestions of how to expand it to at least 14 poems…. Maybe a couple of poems that talk about seasons? Or about how quickly a year passes, or how different a child can be from one year to the next. Just so that the editor doesn’t wonder what to put on those extra spreads.

    2. I will defer to Kim’s friend for Question #2. I will say this, in case other prose-writing onlookers are reading, whenever you submit anything, be sure your work is the best you can possibly make it. Liken it to making a first impression. There’s something to be said about shaking hands with confidence and a sense of knowing who you are and how you want people to perceive you even if you may be trembling inside.

  3. It\’s great to be here with Kim today! She got here before I did (Central time zone + necessary morning meeting, but I\’m here now), and has already doled out a lot of great wisdom.

    I will, though, talk a bit more on veering from your essential idea. It is absolutely okay to do that. When you give yourself permission to be free, to embrace visions or words or themes that may not cooperate with your plans, sometimes, you act to deepen the original intent. I\’ve often found my subconscious to be much smarter than I am. In being rebellious, it often leads me to other thoughts which, when I go with them, end up actually fitting into a vision I couldn’t fully see at the time of conception.

    So embrace the tangential. Go with the rogue. Color outside the lines. Some of those writings may never fit into your story, some may work to deepen your thoughts, and others, well, who know where they’ll lead eventually.

    1. I love “go with the rogue,” Jody! What a great line. (Of course, we’re talking writing here. I would NOT give that advice to a daughter!)

      Even on my shorter works, I’ve often ended up with a different ending than I originally saw at the beginning of the project. Sometimes things morph half a dozen times. I’ve just sold a book (as yet unannounced until contract signing) that started out as something quite different. I changed it substantially, several times, until it finally found the form it was seeking all along. But I think I had to follow that route, to get to it. Nothing but circuitous would have worked.

  4. Hi Kim & Jody….thanks for volunteering your time.
    My question is about tension/suspense. How do you create it? Know you’ve done it right? It’s one of those craft aspects that I recognize when I read it, but I don’t think I can create it (or teach to my students).


  5. First and foremost, I think it’s creating characters the reader cares about. Let’s say a girl got hit by a truck and is in critical condition. If you heard that on the news, you might say, “How sad,” and wait for the next story. If, however, it was a girl you’d tutored a couple years ago, someone bright and with promise, or truly even average, your reaction would be undoubtedly different. It also might be different if, perhaps, your dog just got run over. You would connect the two, and the impact would be greater.

    Once you start with the philosophy and you’ve built that connection between character and reader, the rest is easier, at least to me. It’s about patience. Let little things build, but don’t always build them incrementally to that climax. About 3/4 through, it’s sometimes fun to hit with a POW! I will think of an example and post that a bit later if you want.

    In addition, be sure to up the ante, make things worse for your character both on an external and internal level. For more on that, if you didn’t catch it, go to last Tuesday’s Quick Write. https://www.katemessner.com/teachers-write-72214-tuesday-quick-write/

    Oh, there’s so much. I could go on all day, so feel free to ask specific questions about this and we can continue the discussion.

    Meanwhile, a fun exercise: Watch suspenseful TV and movies, but not as a mere viewer. (Yes, the following works with reading, too, but I’ve found there’s much to learn with a variety of experiences.) Pay close attention to the set-up in the opening scenes. Simultaneously, pay close attention to your own reactions. When does your pulse start to quicken even just a little. Rewind. What caused that rush? Was it a particular line? A shot of the edge of a desk? Music in the background intending to heighten the tension? No, you can’t add background music to your writing, but you can add colors or sounds or scents that are edgier than what you’ve already introduced. Does the danger come from nature? From a bad person? From what the character him’/herself is doing? Something dangerous/illegal/ill-reasoned? What type of foreshadowing is involved? What would have made it even more tense or uncomfortable to you?

    As an aside, I’m a very visual person. If you are, too, it helps to close you eyes and try to see the scene play out as a movie. If you can hold that in your head, with your eyes still closed, type what you’re seeing. First, though, make sure your fingers are on the right keys. 🙂

    This is getting very long, so I will stop there. Again, feel free to ask for more. Back later!

    P.S. I do know when I’m on the right track. My own heart starts going while I’m writing and again when I’m reading back.

    1. Ran out of time to think up that example. Just one of those days. I will monitor, though, and get around to it in a day or two if you still want one.

  6. One more thing before I’m back later. Never underestimate the power of sentence structure. (There’s a discussion about that in the Quick Right I linked to above.) But feel free to lull readers into a comfortable spot with flowing rhythm and lovely sentence structure. Then quicken it up. Think about your breathing. How it comes. In huffs and puffs. How your thoughts scatter. How you can’t put them together. How you can’t breathe. Everything’s blurry. Or gray. The lights grow dim. Or is it your eyes? You reach. Nothing. A hand. A hand! It grabs you. An arm around your shoulders. It leads you to a couch that’s warm and comfortable and suddenly the color of the sky. And the ringing in your ears has given way to the sounds of children in the other room and your scare is on its way to being a faded memory.

  7. Thank you both for the advice above. I aim to see the poems I write be in a bi-lingual book. So, that adds another wrinkle. Have translated before turning in a MS? Or include that vision in my query and let the editor do that? After your comments….it sounds like it needs to look the way I envision it. Have either of you ever made a book in a program such as booksmart and submitted that as a manuscript? I’ve wondered if making some sort of mock up would be worth while?

    1. I’ve had some of my books translated — French, German and Korean — but they were separate translations, of course, not contained in the same book. Not sure if that’s biting off more than you can chew, if you know what I mean — in terms of proposing more than an editor is comfortable absorbing. If you can do the translation, that would help, so perhaps you could mention that in the cover letter.

      You don’t need to send anything fancy when you submit. Just plain printouts of your text in MSWord, typical fonts like Time Roman 12 point, something like that. Editors are trained to envision the book that would go along with the text. In fact, I’d be leery of sending anything other than that, for fear it might interfere with the editor’s vision. One of my editor’s once said that as she’s reading a manuscript, if she starts to see the illustrations in her head as she’s reading, she knows that’s a good sign. If she were reading something that already has some formatting or images (which you absolutely don’t need to include) I would think it might cloud that image in her mind’s eye… if that makes any sense?

      1. You can put anything you want in a query letter, but it’s more important that your work is strong enough to speak for itself on plain paper with usual black font. And what Kim said.