Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Hiding my writing

First you come up with the idea. Then you write it down. You read it, and you love it! It's perfect, you should send it out that very moment, right?

One thing I've trained myself to do is walk away after I write something. I may come back that same day and clean it up, but before I do anything else or let anyone else see it, I hide it in a drawer. Actually, it is on my computer, so I just close it and refuse to look at it for at least a month.

Then in a month, if I still like it, I begin work on it and share with my critique group. I can always tell when a story comes across our critique group that was written that day.

I find that I get so excited about things I often jump the gun. I'm not a very patient person. I want everyone to be as excited as I am at the very moment I am excited. Unfortunately, life has taught me that most people will not be as excited as I am at the same exact things that I am, and that is OK. Sometimes we have to take the time to get them excited, and when we do get them excited, it is because the time is right.

Putting my writing away helps me to be more objective. I often pull a manuscript out, read it and am so glad no one saw that but me. Other times, I pull it out, still like it and know I have something worth working on.

So what do you do when you first write a story?

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

What's in a Name

Think back to the scene from "When Harry Met Sally" when Harry and Sally are in the coffee shop.

Harry Burns: With whom did you have this great sex?
Sally Albright: I'm not going to tell you that.
Harry Burns: Fine, don't tell me.
Sally Albright: Shel Gordon.
Harry Burns: Shel? Sheldon? No, no, you did not have great sex with Sheldon.
Sally Albright: I did too.
Harry Burns: No you didn't. A Sheldon can do your income taxes, if you need a root canal, Sheldon's your man... but humpin' and pumpin' is not Sheldon's strong suit. It's the name. 'Do it to me Sheldon, you're an animal Sheldon, ride me big Shel-don.' Doesn't work.

When writing a book, you get to name your character. It takes me back to the hours, days, weeks, months of agonizing over what to name my child. The name needed to represent who he would become, who I wanted him to be. It had to be something I loved, that would not haunt him for future years....  I didn't want an accountant, so Sheldon was out of the question. .

Writing a book is very similar. You need to name your characters that represent who they are. For some people, like me, this can be agony. I often call them X, Y and Z while I go through names trying to find the perfect one. Then I go back in and fill in the name to see if it works.

Things to keep in mind:

*Your age group/audience. One of my pet peeves is when I see an overly complicated name in an Easy Reader. Unfortunately, I see this more then I want to admit when I volunteer in the classroom The kids are learning to read. They are doing great, then they come across a really hard name like Esmeralda or Iyanna. Names that this eager child has most likely never heard in their entire life. They get so confused because it breaks all phonic rules. Then they spend forever trying to sound it out. I usually cheat and tell them the name. Sometimes I'm even wrong on the pronunciation. Then every time they come to that they stumble. If you are writing for young independent readers, please, I beg you to use names that kids can easily sound out. Remember, you are growing readers here, not trying to kill them with extra hard words.

Now, if you are writing young adult, and you have an ethnic character, don't call them Anne. Come up with a great original name that relates to who they are.

*The character. I will actually do reverse definition look ups to find names that fit characteristics of my characters. Do I want them strong, independent, beautiful, spoiled, fast, a leader, religious, silly.... I take all that into consideration

*Names of other characters. Have you ever read a book with Christine and Christian? Helen and Elen. Or Anne and Anya. I'm sorry, these are too close together. I get the characters mixed up. Use different first consonants (unless there is a special reason you are doing that.) I hate reading books when I can't figure out who is who. Names choices can really help (or hinder) that. Especially for those of us who like to speed read the first time through because we are too impatient to wait to find what happens.

 One of my characters is named Harry. Why? Because I wanted him named after Harry Houdini. It ties into the book, his history, and the direction of the story. (No, he is not named after Harry Potter.)

Tips for picking out names;

*Look at baby name finders. There are books you can get, or use a website.
*Make sure the name is strong for a strong character.
*Read the name aloud, look at it's definition, study it before deciding on that name
*If you are looking to get creative, make sure others can pronounce it, especially if it's a great read aloud book.
*Keep in mind your audience
*Mix up your consonants on names, unless you are doing it on purpose.
*Mix up the syllables so characters are easier to remember
*Go visit a cemetery for ideas. JK Rowlings went to a nearby graveyard for name ideas, and that's where she found Voldemort.
*Don't be afraid to play on names to create more meaning. Like naming a city that has a high murder rate, REDRUM.

What do you think about names in a book? What tips do you use when naming your characters? Are there any pet peeves you've noticed in a book?

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Online Classes

I've been looking at taking an online class to help with my writing and motivation. I have a few I keep coming back to. I'm always looking for a way to improve my writing and learn more.

One that I am looking very closely at is Anastasia Suen's course. I think it is a great price point.

So I asked around. I hope they help if you are exploring this options. It looks like most people are happy with the classes they took.

Have you taken a class? Who did you take from? What did you learn? Anything you'd do differently?

Here are some comments from the 12x12x12 group:
Posted with permission.

 I've taken "Just Write for Kids," an eight-lesson online/home study course in writing picture books that covers everything from getting ideas and characterization to plot arcs and revision. I found it very valuable, and consult the lessons regularly when I'm working on any writing project.

I took the beginning and advanced courses at the Institute of Children's Literature and would highly recommend both. I also took an online course with Jordan Rosenfeld last winter and highly recommend her.

ICL course - as S has mentioned. I know several instructors and former instructors personally, too - and they are great writers. I also applied for (and am the current 2012 winner/recipient) of my state's SCBWI Mentorship (Wisconsin). The experience is absolutely fantastic thus far and I'm not even a month into it! My mentor, Lisa Moser, is a fantastic person and writer who is teaching me so much about writing and the business/industry side of things.

I also took a travel writing course through Writers Digest University online. It was ok. But really it was no more than a guided critique group. I think if you are lucky enough to find a couple people who are goal oriented and want to journey with you, you could go through a book together and get just as much out of it w/o the $$$ hhhmmmmm.....

Monday, January 23, 2012

Hiring someone to edit your book

Disclaimer: The purpose of this post is to initiate discussion. You will learn more in the comments section then from my mindless rambling, so be sure to visit the comments, and leave me your own thoughts.

So, when I'm procrastinating from writing or selling books, I love to increase my knowledge. I surf, and I surf, and I surf some more.

One thing I keep coming across is authors/editors/or misc other people who I have no clue what qualifies them except they see big $$$ opportunities, advertising that they will edit your book for you! (yes, this sentence needs editing).

NOTE: Editing has different definations. It may not include someone taking a red pen to your MS. For some, it is a process of identifying weak spots in the story and giving suggestions on how to fix it..

OK, it's tempting. I can pay someone from $300 for a picture book to $2000 for a chapter book (not including pages 100+) to look at my manuscript and fix it for me! Woohooo!

Some of these people I highly respect. They are authors I love, editors who have worked on books I love, or teachers.

Others, I wonder what credits they have to tell me what direction my story should go. They are the random website that offers you the moon.

Some services include just a read with a letter telling me how to improve it. These start at $200 or more for a picture book. A novel can cost $1000 just for a read. I have to admit I do wonder if I am I better off going to a writer's conference where I can meet an editor or agent in person, get their opinions and a critique.

So, let's say I decide this is a good idea, and I want to hire someone to edit, or consult, my book. Now what? (Read the comments to see how this has service has helped others.)

Editing to add this part:

First, what do I want to look for in a service:

Look for someone you trust, who has references, and who writes or edits what you write.  If you have never heard of the person or their website, I would pass. You want someone who has a track record. So for example, if I was offering you this service, keep searching. Sure I have experience, but I have more to learn then to share.

Look for someone who offers a fair price based on their time and what they are giving you. So what is a fair price? That is a question only you can answer. Look at their experience and who they are.

Look for someone who will be accessible after the critique, who you can ask for clarification without having to spend more money.

Personally, if I was looking for this service, I'd go with someone who teaches a class and offers an edit as part of the class.

What are the pros:

*My story is edited, if I pay the big bucks! Someone professional (I hope) has gone through and done all the editing. (Though I've been told this is false. A good editor won't do it for you, see comments for feedback from those who have hired an editor. It is much more useful then my blog).

*I have a new direction to work towards. Then what? Do I ask them to look at it again or go with my gut?

*If I get a full edit, I don't have to anguish about my writing, or that twist that isn't working out the way I wanted.  I just have to follow their notes to a "T" and I'm good.

*If I had a good editor, I will be able to use the techniques in future books and have learned how to edit my own book.

Now the cons, or my personal concerns:

*What if I get an editor who doesn't mesh with my vision or get my story?

* If there weren't a lot of changes, I just threw the money out the window. If there are, is that really my concept? (I had a paid critique take my story in a whole different direction, which wasn't where I wanted to go.)  The story needs to be mine.

*What happens if you send it out and it's still rejected? Do you go back to that editor? Pay someone else?

*The growth a story and author take together gives the story more magic then letting someone else do it. (Editing to add based on comments that some editors will teach you this process, so make sure you do your research).

*What if it's bought as a series? Are you going to constantly pay someone to help you write/edit your books?

*If it is bought, there goes a lot of your profits. Really, there is not a lot of money in publishing. If it's not bought, there goes a lot of money.

*How many times will you need this person to edit your stories? Are you becoming dependent on them to get a good book out?

That said, one thing to consider is would you be better putting that money into a writing class, or to go to a writer's conference?

As I thought about this great looking shortcut, I thought about the old adage:

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime

My version:
Give a writer an edit, and you can get him out of the slush pile. Teach a writer to edit and you can open up a world of opportunity to him.

That said, I would totally pay to attend an editing online course with a writer or editor I respect.

What do you think? Have you ever used one of these services? How did it help you? Would you do it again? Was your book published? What would you do differently? Is your editor teaching you or doing it for you? How did you pick them?

The best thing my editor did for me, the one who paid me for my MS, was send it back saying: "Change this."  That was all. I could discuss it with her, but she wanted it to be mine. She knew it didn't work. She may have had a problem with the rhyme, or thought it was redundant, or didn't like my personification of certain objects, but she never told me how to change it. Just to do it. I really thank her for helping me learn the editing process. It made me a stronger writer.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

I'm back!

(Sorry for the long break).

LOL, I was thinking that I needed to get over here and post. But I got out of my habit, until I had a comment saying, "hey, I checked twice and there are no updates". ---paraphrased

 I'm great at preaching, sometimes I need a kick in the pants though.

I went from warm weather to cold and it was slightly demotivating. Then I had a wonderful migraine, nothing like a headache to make you want to not stare at a computer screen. But I did dream up a very fun picture book series idea!

So I ended up behind on everything. I had to catch up on my critiques I owed my groups, plus get my own writing done.
I find though, that once I get lazy, it's hard to get myself retrained.

So, what do you do when you need a Kick In The Pants to get you writing again?

I'm looking forward to my husband starting his job next week. Not having him home will be great for me. I get so much more done when it's just me.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Check back next week. :-D

I am getting ready to go to Usborne Books and More Advanced Leadership Retreat in Orlando. I'm not sure if I will have time to update, so please check back next week.

In the meantime, take this time to come up with a great story idea inspired by a random Google Search!

Have fun,


Sunday, January 8, 2012

Critique Groups

As I was reading SCBWI's blog, I came across this wonderful little video:


You have to watch it! It's awesome!

When I first started out, I didn't want to share my writing with anyone. The only people who saw my work was:

  • My husband
  • My mom
  • My dad (the video really hits home for me because my dad is the sleeper)
  • My dog
I used their judgements to decide if it was good, and I will tell you, I was an awesome writer, hardly had any mistakes, and should have had every manuscript published. My dog always gave me kisses to let me how great it was.

As I began to become a more serious writer, I realized I needed other people to look over my work. I looked, and looked and looked and found myself not one critique group, but three. (Can you say overachiever?)

One is a chapter book, and two are picture book groups.

With the picture books groups, I love being able to make changes, and switch it between groups. So it's worked out well.

I met my partners through SCBWI's message boards, and we created our own because no one was looking to add another member. So we have all been together since the start.

I've learned more in my critique groups from working on the other writer's manuscripts then my own received edits. In my partners' work, I see my own mistakes pop out like a red thumb and see how they do look. I'm able to look at them objectively and see things I like, or learn how to tighten my writing. I've really learned a lot about how weak verbs and nouns can really dull a story.

If you are not part of a critique group and are a serious writer, find one. Mine are all online.

Are you in a critique group? What have you learned from it?

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Why I bookmark your blog, or why I forget about it. :-D

So, I read a post similar to this (wishing I had bookmarked it) where a wise blogger made some comments on how the look and feel, plus ease of use of your blog, is important. I went and made a few changes to mine, like making sure you could learn more about me and adding a picture.

Being part of this blog challenge, I'm clicking on a lot of blogs. Some I read with excitment and bookmark for future reading. Some I read, and leave feeling confused, and some I see and click off right away.

The ones I comment on, are the ones I read all the way through that give me the opportunity to express an opion or viewpoint, or even to say "Aha! You are spot on." Some I really try to comment on, but am wordless about what to say (which is hard for a writer to be wordless!)

Blogs I like:
  • Colorful.
  • Updated within the last few days, daily is better! (Unless there is a note that says, we update every Wed).
  • Mix-up of content. I do understand that blogs like to dedicate themselves to specific purposes. But I like some mix-up. The same thing everyday doesn't really give me much reason to come back. Reviews need to be different, and stand out. I want it to be something I don't see everyday. I LOVE interviews, because no two interviews are the same (just be sure to mix up your questions).
  • Aha moments. I love to learn from my blog reading. Give me something that makes me say "Dude, I can do that." Or "Wow, I never thought about it that way, right on!"
  • Inspiration. I love stories that make me want to pick up a pen and write. Or call someone to say "I love you." Or make me want to go and do something, like donate books to a great cause. Inspire me!
  • Contests!
  • Discussion.

Blogs I read, but don't comment on:
  • Not updated in the last 2 weeks. I may read, but I usually feel my comment is old by then. Plus, I won't come back unless something totally intrigued me. I'll usually give you 3 visits to update, then I erase from my bookmarks (if that old post inspired me to bookmark it).
  • Random pictures with no text. I like pictures, but if there is a picture, with no dialogue, I feel like I'm invading.  Tell me why you are posting this picture. Give me some insight!
  • Short entries with really nothing to say. It's hard to respond back.
  • Hard to find comment boxes. Some blogs make it hard to figure out how to comment, and I don't have the time (or the patience) to figure it out.

Blogs I click away from:

  • Grey background with white text. I can't read these. There is something dull about it.
  • Not updated in the last week, 2 weeks if the post intrigues me
  • Boring text. If I can't get through your first paragraph without yawning, I'm gone. Keep it lively!
  • If you post on Facebook, give me a synopsis of the daily blog or I won't even visit.
  • Too much going on. If it's too much work to find your blog, I'm gone.
  • Over abundance of ads. They are so distracting. Really, how much money do you make from these? Is it worth it?
What do you think? Do you agree with my list or disagree? What am I missing?

I am posting this not to be mean if you fit into one of the blogs I click away from, but as a hopeful "Aha!" moment, in the same way the other post encouraged me to make a few changes. :-)

    Thursday, January 5, 2012

    Comment Challenge!

    I am pleased to announce I am joining the Comment Challenge!

    I love reading other's blogs, and it's a great opportunity for me to get to know some knew people, and hopefully I can share some new thoughts and ideas with you.

    Today I volunteered at my son's school. I found myself talking to students interested in art about my book, and what goes into illustrating a book.

    I said, "I'm an author, I can't draw, but I paint pictures with words."

    I'm going to challenge myself to do some painting while I blog the next few weeks.

    Today's picture:

    Where normally the ground is covered in glistening white, it is replaced with a matted brown carpet. The sun beats down, warming the ground. Step outside. The smell of fresh air, lingering leaves and dirt invites you to begin the walk. The walk, that on any normal January day in South Dakota, would involve bulky snow pants, the heaviest snow jacket you own, itchy wool gloves, a warm fuzzy hat, and your favorite scarf. Enjoy the sunshine.

    Wednesday, January 4, 2012

    What I learned from the Iowa Caucus (as a writer)

    The Iowa Caucus was gripping, just like a football game the score kept changing. In the end, the winner declared victory with only 8 votes.

    During the weeks before, both Santorum (Though I want to call him Santarini for some reason) and Bachmann (who I want to call the I-Girl), campaigned in a similar fashion.

    "I am the only candidate to visit all 99 counties," she boasted, over and over, and over and over, and over, and over, and over and over again.... She wanted to get herself out there, and meet the people.

    Santorum visited all the counties as well, shaking hands and kissing babies.

    Both candidates did the exact same thing! One worked, and one didn't. Why?

    Well, we could go into character flaws, but the cockiness of Bachmann, the refusal to check her facts, lack of organization, and the use of the word "I" had to have contributed to her quick and easy demise.

    As writers, we can learn from her mistakes:

    • Cockiness: When we get cocky in our writing, and refuse to stand back and look at the full picture, we submit pretty bad manuscripts (that we think are great). It is important to take feedback, listen, and remove yourself from your writing to you can see what is wrong with your story.

    • Not checking facts: If you are writing non-fiction, this is ESSENTIAL. But even for us fiction writers, we can't go around rewriting history, saying that male bees go around collecting honey when it's actually the worker bees (female) who do all the work, or putting mis-information in our story. Facts need to line up. (I can't stand it when I'm watching a cartoon and they give a bug a characteristic they don't have.... grrrrrr.)

        Side note: Thank you to my critique group for keeping my manuscript in check! I have an animal character I sometimes have doing something that animal couldn't or wouldn't do. So if you use a character, study them! Great lesson learned for me. (And yes, I did make changes.)

    • Organization: When writing, it is important to be organized, both in your story and submitting. You can't jump all over, need to keep track of where you are submitting it, and should have some sort of system for keeping your writing together. This is one area I struggle with.

    • And the use of the word "I". OK, overuse of the word "I." This can be in a cover letter, or in a story. I am a great writer. I have years of experience. I went to college and majored in Journalism, so you know I've studied how to write. I have 2 kids, 2 cats, a dog, and a husband. When I am not writing, I love to read, and veg out on my computer. Currently I am addicted to Peggle. I am not doing as well with it as I would like, but I know that someday I will be a Peggle Champion. If you publish my book, I will make sure that I stop playing Peggle and go do a book signing.
    And that's all I have got to say about that. :-)


    Tuesday, January 3, 2012

    Creating good habits

    So part of my getting back into the writing game is creating good habits. That means:

    Writing Everyday

    It takes 30 days (so I'm told) to create a habit. That means I need to write everyday!

    So let's define what is included in writing everyday:

    • Blogging is a good way for me to get my thoughts out, plus it starts the day warming up my mind. For me, blogging is like Coffee. It is a pick me up.
    • Working on my manuscripts. I have many in all different stages. My goal for 2012 is to polish them up, send them out, and really work on writing as a career. If I don't do this, I will never reach my goals.
    • Facebooking and Twitter: These are great ways to work on getting thoughts in in a few words. Challenge yourself to share a coherent story in as few words as possible. It's something I enjoy doing (OK, I'm a FB addict). Plus it's a great way to procrastinate.
    What do you do to write everyday? The more creative the better!


    Sunday, January 1, 2012


    I can't believe it's 2012!  There is something about a new year that gives you a clean slate.

    Let's take a look at what was accomplished in 2011!

    *First book came out, and many book signings and school visits!
    *Earned a free trip to Canada with Usborne Books
    *Moved 3 times! (not by choice) while being part of the strangest flood in history
    *Survived a car accident, and got a new Mini Van
    *Repainted my house, cleaned it out, and redid the basement (even if not by choice)
    *Diagnosed my oldest with Aspergers, and am working to help him integrate into everyday life
    *Visited Disney World
    *My husband graduated Nursing School and got a job, to begin this year!
    *Have many manuscripts that need to be polished, but have great potential!
    *Joined 3 critique groups! And managed to keep up (mostly)
    *Finished my first chapter book
    *Began attending SCBWI workshops and meeting new authors and making new friends
    *Completed the PiBoIdMo Challenge
    *Donated at least 10 car loads of items to Jr. League thrift shop
    *Threw out a few roll-offs full of garbage and moldy memories. :-(
    *Organized a Writer's Camp at our school
    *Found my old journals from high school
    *Visited London and Edinburgh
    *Won many top sales awards at convention for personal and team sales

    It was a busy year! I look forward to what 2012 has to bring. Hopefully it won't involve water.