Me and My Treadmill Desk

For those of you who haven’t read yet about my treadmill desk, I’ve written about it today for the Muffin.

I’m still not managing to walk and actually write, but I’m okay with that.  I’m working exercise into my writing day which, given my general laziness, is no small feat.

So what do I do if I’m not writing?  Reading and listening.

I read blogs.  In the past, I did my blog reading between various other writing tasks — 25 posts here, another 25 there.  I was always rushed and I tended to skip a lot.   Not anymore.  Now I’m reading many of the blogs that I subscribe to much more carefully.  This is especially true of the science blogs and I’m coming away with a lot of writing ideas which may pay off sooner rather than later as I attempt to turn a stand alone nonfiction picture book into a series idea.

Not only do I read, but I listen.  Mostly, I listen to music while I read.  But I’ve also been listening to podcasts and BlogTalk Radio. Normally reminders about these things would languish in my e-mail until I got frustrated and deleted them.

Last but not least?  I’ve learned a thing or two about playing jokes on my son.  Mess with his gaming avatars from the remote keyboard and he will return the favor when I am walking and reading.  “Why the snot isn’t this mouse doing what I tell it to do?”

I know, I know.  It serves me right.


Inspiration for Writers

Every once in a while I stumble across a book that is as inspirational for adults as it is for children.

This week I read The Fantastic Jungles of Henri Rousseau by Michelle Markel, illustrated by Amanda Hall.  Before I read it, I could point out one or two of Rousseau’s paintings.  I knew I liked them because of the bright colors and the raw energy.  Somehow they seemed unfettered by the many rules and expectations that corral so much of what we all create.

What I didn’t realize until I read this book was how late Rousseau came to art — he was 41 years old and a toll booth operator.  Think day job.  He was also self taught and couldn’t afford to travel to the jungles that filled his imagination.  He studied animals at the zoo, plants at a local botanical garden and photos to learn anatomy.

Not surprisingly, his work was not well received by the critics.  After all, he didn’t paint according to their rules and regulations.  He painted as he felt moved to paint.

It took time, but Rousseau found a following.  Pablo Picasso actually held a banquet for Rousseau complete with a throne for his fellow painter.

What can we, as writers today, learn from Rousseau:

  1. To write because that is what we have a passion to do
  2. To create our art as we  feel moved to create it — this is our art, not his art, not her art, not their art, but ours.
  3. To pay attention to what other people say but not to let it stop us from doing #2.
  4. And to remember that creating our art is not everything.  Sometimes we need to take the time to mingle with our friends, family and colleagues.

Take the time to read this book and be inspired.


Using Details to Create Mood in Your Writing

What will happen if I set up an ominous feel to the setting in contrast to my hero’s upbeat mood?

This week I am blogging about the revision retreat led by Darcy Pattison.

One of the things that we worked with was using the details in your story to create a mood.  This is one of those things that I do regularly, choosing the details from my setting to reinforce the mood in my scene.   For a scene with a lot of conflict, I often choose details that show strife or tension — rocks that look like they are about to tumble down a mountainside, chimes that sound like breaking glass, etc.

But Darcy asked us to do something that I hadn’t considered.  Instead of choosing details that reinforce the mood of the scene in general, I can use details that are in counterpoint with this mood.

This means that instead of creating a tense or ominous mood for a fight scene, I might use setting details that are light and happy for a sense of contrast.  If, on the other hand, your character starts the story on a high point, I could use details that are tense and, in doing this, set up a sense of impending doom.

In fact, I’m going to try this out for my WIP.  The story opens with him hurrying to the swimming pool.  The pool is his happy place (Mom term!) and he’s eager to get in the water and swim some laps before the team has to meet with the swim coach.  Right now, all my setting details are happy and positive.  This is where he wants to be, where he feels most competent.

What if the sunlight is harsh and the water icy?   The calls of other swimmers might be shrill and the coach’s whistle a shriek.  I’m not saying those are the details I will use but what if I use angry, harsh details to describe the pool?  I’m not sure it will work for this scene but I’m hoping that I will end up with the feel of my hero on the edge of a precipice that he doesn’t even know is there.

Why not try something like this in your own story?  It might just work in ways you haven’t begun to imagine.


Does Your Story Have Any Emotional Variety

Do you strike only one emotional note or many in your manuscript?

One of the things that Darcy had us do at her rewrite workshop was take an emotional inventory of our story.  For my part, I did it when I outlined the dialogue between two characters.  What was Character 1’s attitude at the beginning of the scene?  At the end of the scene?  And what about Character 2?  I used a different color for each character so it was easy to see the dialogue and emotions for each, but it was only two scenes.

One of the exercises that Kristin Nitz did was to mark the changes of emotion throughout the story.   Down the margin ran a list of character emotion — anger, fear, determination.  On and on.

While we were looking at Kris’s manuscript, I pulled mine back out.  Darcy had made the comment that if someone says your story is flat, you may be hitting only one emotional note.  I’m fairly certain that I don’t have that problem but . . . I may have another.

I am going to take my shrunken manuscript and mark the emotional changes throughout.  One color for Josiah.  One for Eli.  One for each character in the story.  Sure, with five characters running around, it sounds like things are emotionally complex, but with this kind of inventory I can be sure that that each character isn’t stuck with only one or two emotional notes.

I know it sounds like a lot of work, and it is, but without emotional depth, the story has no chance of selling.  Besides, I want two characters to figuratively switch places — it doesn’t take place physically but emotionally.  One gains confidence and one realizes he isn’t as perfect as he thought.  I want to see how their emotions track.  Does character 1 end up where character 2 started and vice versa?  Wouldn’t it be cool if I could pull that off?


Sensory Details Pulls Your Readers In

How does it feel to move through the water alongside other swimmers? My character could tell you. (Koi, Missouri Botanical Garden, photo by Sue Bradford Edwards)

This week I am blogging about the revision retreat led by Darcy Pattison.

One of the things that we took a very close look at was sensory detail.  Specifics are what pull a reader into our stories.  They paint the images in our readers minds.

I thought that I’d done a good job after all I had several details per page.  Granted, most of them were sight and sound but I had also worked in touch and smell where appropriate — describing the feel of the concrete pool deck and the scent of heavily chlorinated water.  As we discussed sensory detail, Darcy pointed out that her stories tend to be heavy on sound details and then sight because those are the things that she personally focuses on in the world around her.

That made sense to me.  I’m a highly visual person but I also have a keen sense of smell and I love music. Those are the three senses that I work most easily into a story.

And then it hit me.  My character is a super active 12-year-old boy.  He is a swimmer and he’s all about movement.  I know I worked in tactile details, but I have to work in a whole lot more about how it feels to get from point a to point b.

When you look for the use of details in your story, give it some thought.  Are these the details your character would notice?  If not, you’ve got some work to do.


Why You Need to Revise Your Work

It can take multiple tries to get the photo you meant to take, or the story you meant to write.

This week I’ll be blogging about some of what I learned at the revision retreat led by Darcy Pattison.  I know I’m seconding (or even thirding) what has been said by other writers.  If you get the chance to attend a retreat led by Darcy, do it.  She will change how you look at your work.

The first thing that Darcy asked us to do was realize that each and every time we write something we will need to revise.  Sometimes the revision is small.  Sometimes it is immense.  Either way, the reason that we need to revise is that the story we get on paper is never the story that we intended to write.

That’s a really important point.  Let me repeat it.

The story that you write down is not the story that you meant to write.  The story in your head is always different.  Maybe your setting is richer.  Or your characters are more artfully drawn.  Or your emotional arc is clear and well-paced compared to your plot arc.

The whole point behind revising is to make your story more than it is now and the only way to do that is to carefully assess what you have written down.   One of the tools that we used to do this was a shrunken manuscript — your novel reformatted so that it can be printed out on a much smaller number of pages.  You then mark whatever it is you need to study (the strongest chapters, dialogue vs action vs narrative, where and when various characters interact, etc).  With your marked up shrunken manuscript you can spot balance or lack thereof.

We also marked up full-sized copies of our manuscripts.  I marked dialogue — one color for my main character and one for his best friend.  The best friend is a total brainiac and uses all kinds of $10 words and phrases.  I needed to make sure he didn’t steal the show.

Whatever tools you choose, you need to find something that lets you look at your story in a different way.  Darcy is a very analytic writer vs my seat-of-the-pants approach.  Because of this, her workshop or her book, Novel Metamorphosis, force me to see what I have on paper in a different way.  Build up your own tool box and you’ll be ready to take your writing to the next level.


Rereading Writing Books

Do you ever go back and reread the writing books that you first read as a brand new writer?  Until recently, my answer would have been “no.”  I tend to read something like this once and, although I keep it on my self as a reference tool, I generally don’t reread it cover to cover.

But then I signed up for a retreat focused on rewriting your novel.  Retreat leader Darcy Pattison required us to do some reading ahead of time, including Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King.  The first time through, I marked passages on scene and on dialogue.  Later, researching for various articles, I put post-it notes in place for sections on beats and how to effectively use them without needlessly breaking up your dialogue.

What I had never marked before was a paragraph that jumped out at me this time around.  You can use narrative summary to extend a scene.  A line here.  Two lines there.  No big chunks, just little bits.  The next thing you, and your unsuspecting reader know, you have doubled the length of the scene, made it feel like something more, and didn’t noticeably slow things down.

I”m not sure this will work in my own writing, but it isn’t something I would have necessarily considered before I read this.

What old favorites do you need to pull down and re-examine?



Writers’ Event in Springfield

The Writer’s Hall of Fame in Springfield, Missouri has an event coming up.  The information below is taken from their brochure.

AWAKENING THE WRITER WITHIN! is a workshop scheduled for Saturday, October 13, 2012.  Sessions include:

“What You Need to Know to Get Started: The Simple Nuts and Bolts of Writing”
Leader : Todd Parnell

“Writing What You Know and Love”
Leader: Kaye Calkins

“Ways to Earn a Living As a Writer”
Leader: Sarah Eaker

“Are You a Children’s Writer? Here’s How to Find Out”
Leader: David Harrison

“Who Are You? Where Did You Come From? Genealogy”
Leader: Patti Hobbs

“What Do You Want Your Family to Remember? Capturing Your Wonderful Stories”
Leader: Wayne Groner

“Writing by Ear: Words that Sound Just Right”
Leader: Shellie Foltz

“Sounding Off—and Other Letters to the Editor”
Leader: George Freeman

“Self Publishing, Trade Publishing, e-Publishing, Agents: What Does It All Mean?”
Leaders: David Harrison, Maryann Wakefield, and Resa Willis

“Is Betty White Right? Learn About Facebook, Twitter, Blogging, and Why”
Leader: Jonathan Groves

And here are the bios for the various section leaders:

Kaye Calkins is an Ozarks-based writer whose first manuscript, “Deverell’s Dilemma,” was published by Avalon in 2012. She is a member of the Ozarks Romance Writers. When she’s not writing or reading, she fills her life with family, listening to music, movies, church and quilting.

Shellie Foltz, an author and playwright doubling as a high school librarian, has authored two novels , No Penalty for Love and Love Under a Dark Sky, both published by Avalon Books, and two full-length plays, Welcome to Joe’s and Related Spaces, both produced and the scripts subsequently published by Stained Glass Theatre. Shellie volunteers on Missouri’s Gateway Reader Award committee as a reader-selector.

George Freeman is editor and partner of GREENE Magazine, published six times a year and online at He is a veteran writer and editor who previously served as president and general manager of Ozarks Public Television, as editorial page editor of the Springfield News-Leader, editor of The Marietta (Ohio) Times, and The Coffeyville (Kansas) Journal. He is a past-president of the Southwest Missouri chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.

Wayne Groner, author and personal historian, is vice president of Springfield Writers’ Guild. He teaches a free monthly class, “Your Memories, Your Book: Writing Your Life Story,” at the Library Center in Springfield. He has written or edited three books, including Dumb Luck or Divine Guidance. Wayne is a member of the Greene County Historical Society and the Christian County Historical Society. He blogs at

Jonathan Groves, assistant professor of communication at Drury University, teaches a variety of courses related to writing, media, and organizational change. He worked for 14 years as a professional journalist at various newspapers as a reporter and editor before beginning a college teaching career in 2005. In 2009, he helped design and develop the Drury’s Social Media Certificate program.

David Harrison says, “As a boy in Missouri, I was outdoors much of the time crawling through caves, catching snakes, the usual stuff. I could pitch baseball and play trombone, but not at the same time.” In college, an English professor urged David to take up writing. After graduate school, he did. Eighty books later, he’s still at it and still loving it. Something else he loves to do is share his passion for writing with others.

Patti Hobbs works as reference associate in the Local History and Genealogy department at the Springfield-Greene County Library. She has attended several genealogical institutes with instruction in advanced family history research, using government documents and law libraries, accessing National Archives material, and writing for publication. She enjoys not only learning about her ancestors and understanding the historical context in which they lived, but also helping others who want to discover their own family histories.

Sara Eaker began an acting and writing career in New York and Los Angeles before working several years teaching English, creative writing, drama and sex education to inner city high school students in South Central, Los Angeles. She is a freelance writer for magazine and online publications including 417 Magazine and several grant writing efforts. She has written two as-yet-unpublished books. But, Sara looks to Edith Wharton’s perspective: “You have to paper your walls in rejection letters first.” Sara would also modestly add that she still has some rooms yet to cover.

Todd Parnell is the author of three books, his most recent being The Buffalo, Ben and Me, which chronicles his trip down Arkansas’s Buffalo River with his son in 1995. A former banker, he now serves as president of Drury University.
Maryann Wakefield is a former teacher and principal in the public schools and for 10 years has struggled to bring her first novel to life. Recently, she landed an agent.

Resa Willis teaches English at Drury. Her books include Mark and Livy: The Love Story of Mark Twain and the Woman Who Almost Tamed Him and FDR and Lucy: Lovers and Friends.

To get this information and more in a brochure, click here.



Researching Markets

I have several manuscripts that are ready to find a home.  This means there is market research in my future.

In truth, I research markets whenever I read.  Library request slips with the resulting notes litter my desk.  “Find out who edited.  Possible home for Prey vs Predator.”

But finding a solid market for my work is a lot more than just reading what a particular publisher has recently produced.  I have to look at the books very differently than I do as a reader and I have to pay attention to the authors as well.  Why?  Because as much as I may enjoy the books on their list, that doesn’t mean a publisher is the right one for my work or for me as an author.

I need to look at how many books they publish in each category.  A publisher may state that they are interested in nonfiction about animals but if all of their nonfiction consists of picture book biographies, they probably aren’t my best bet.

I need to see how many books they have published by this particular author.  If I want to break into a publisher, my best bet will not be the publisher whose catalog if filled with books by a set stable of authors. Yes, this consistency is great for them but it doesn’t give me much hope as a debut author.

I need to make sure there aren’t other editions of the books.  More and more publishers are buying foreign rights.  This is good in that readers in this country are increasingly exposed to genuine stories from Ireland and New Zealand, but that isn’t going to help me, an author from the US.

I also need to check out their authors.  Are they all Big Names?  Because I’m not.  And when I’m submitting nonfiction, I need to check out the author’s credentials.  Some publishers want authors who are experts in the subject area about which they are writing.  Again, that’s wonderful but still no huge help to me.

I’ll be looking for these things and more as I research potential markets.  What do you look for when you research a market?


Emily Brown’s Cut Paper Inspires

It comes as no great surprise — I love cut paper.  Love.  I find it highly inspirational.

But what is surprising about this artist, Emily Brown, is how she uses her cut paper.  Instead of simply framing it, which is amazing enough, she uses it to make a variety of prints including pillows with printed designs.

The next time you are thinking about how to make a living as a writer, think about Emily Brown.  Are there any “out of the box” ways that you can earn some writing income?

Although I still consider myself a children’s writer, I have earned income writing up organizational histories and even a family history or two.  I would never consider those my primary goals, but they have provided both income and experience.

What might you try?

Thank you Ann Martin of All Things Paper  whose blog inspired this post.