What Kinds of Crafts and Activities are Publishers Buying?

When taking photos for your activities, try several angles. You don’t want to end up with a grouping of semi-mysterious circles.

Lately, I’ve been surprised by some of what my editors want, but it all makes sense when you think about it.  Here is some of what I’ve learned from my editor:

  • Don’t give them something they have already published.
  • An oldie but a goody that they haven’t published on recently may also  be viable.
  • Look for twists on popular products and themes such as recycling, back to school, and seasonal topics.
  • If it is something that is big in adult circles, it may have a parallel for kids.  Adult crafters do influence the small people in their lives.

Take a look through my most recent batch of crafts and activities from Education.com and you’ll see these guidelines at work.

Back to School:
Bookworm Bookmark, fun reading inspiration.
Felt Pencil Case, hand crafts and organization rolled into one project.
Flower Bookmarks, an elasticized bookmark for reading inspiration.
Locker Board, organizational and easily personalized.
Reusable Lunch Bag, environmental and do-it-yourself.

Apple Pizza, a simple after school snack.
Breakfast Burrito, and easy breakfast recipe.
Swiss Oatmeal, cold, make ahead breakfast.

Balloon Static, why a balloon creates static in your hair.
Marble Physics, Newton’s third law of motion demonstrated.
Popcorn and Candy, young scientists learn to compare and contrast.

Black and White Pumpkin, drawing in white on black paper.
Halloween Acrostic, poem displayed in a frame.
Halloween Collage Cards, fun with Modge Podge.
Sensory Poem: Halloween, seasonal writing project to get young minds thinking.

What have you seen crafted for brides and other big girls that can be translated into a child friendly project? What seasonal focus is coming up?  (Ho! Ho! Ho!)  All this and more can feed your craft and activity ideas.


The Dangers of Pitching an Idea

My site has a whole new look.

Who knew that one little pitch would toss my whole week on its rump?

I’ve wanted to resurrect my nonfiction class for some time so I pitched it to Angela, my editor at WOW! Women on Writing.  This, of course, meant filling out paper work and I eventually got to the line that said “web site.”

No thanks, I wrote.  I’ve already got one.

Kidding!   But when I read that line it hit me, I needed to update my web site.  To be honest, I needed to do a bit more than update it.

If you are anything like me, you have a picture in your head.  Then you set about creating that picture whether its through a manuscript, a home decorating project or a web site.  Let’s just say that the picture in my head and the actual site were about Seven Leagues apart.  I should have set about fixing it then and there but I was so fed up with the software that I was in grave danger of deleting the entire site in a fit of temper.

Update.  The.  Site.

Now I had to do it because I needed a page for my class.

Had. To. Do. It.

It took me a while, but I figured out how to change the overall look of the site.  Update text.  Replace one photo with another.  Bingo.  New home page.  New contact page.  Bit by bit its coming together.

Writing?  Something I would much rather be doing but this is, as they say, a necessary evil.  And it all came about because I pitched an idea to an editor.


What Do Picture Book Writers Do during NaNoWriMo?

It’s that time of year again.  Leaves are changing.  We’re shopping the sales for candy to nibble on while we write.  And a bunch of people are drafting an entire novel in one month.  But what do you do if you’re a picture book writer?  Or if you simply have no interest in writing a novel in only 31 days?

You sign up for PiBoIdMo — Picture Book Idea Month.

Sponsored by picture book author Tara Lazar, Picture Book Idea Month, or PiBoIdMo, encourages picture books writers to brainstorm ideas.  The goal is to come up with 30 picture book ideas in 30 days.  Given the fact that I have 3 deadlines in November and will have to good and clean and actually pay attention to my family, this seems like a much wiser path to me.  Besides, I love brainstorming.

All you have to do to join in the fun is sign up here.

There will be inspirational blog posts as well as opportunities to check in.  I’m not sure how many people have signed up for that other challenge, but I was #312.

Why not join in the fun and develop some ideas to keep you busy in 2013?




Why I am Not Participating in NaNoWriMo

At first, I thought that I was the only writer on Earth who isn’t enamored of NaNoWriMo.  If you have somehow missed this spiffy phrase, NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month.  Writers sign up with the goal of writing 50,000 words in one month on a single project.

But not me.  I tried NaNoWriMo once and about drove myself nuts.  First of all, I was SCBWI Regional Advisor at the time.  Our big annual conference is in November which just happens to be the same month as NaNoWriMo.  And some ding-a-ling actually put Thanksgiving in November too.  Two big deals and 50,000 words.  Let’s just say that I tried it once.  Why my husband didn’t have me committed remains a mystery.

But the big reason that I’m not doing NaNoWriMo is this.  Getting words down on paper isn’t all that tough, at least not for me.  In fact, I’m pretty darn good at getting my stuff to the point that it needs one really horrid rewrite (the one that shifts the structure and makes things wonderful) and then going on to something new.  Or, worse yet, I get things past that point, send them to my target publisher and then, if they are rejected, simply sit on them.

So while many writers are NaNo’ing themselves batty, I’m going to knuckle down and get things rewritten.  I am going to focus on getting the languishing manuscripts back out there.  Because getting that first draft down on paper is a big step, but it isn’t the last step if your goal is to be published writer.


Why Emotional Depth Matters to Your Readers

Does your story have the emotional depth that it needs to hold your reader’s attention?  This was one of the topics we explored at the September revision retreat with Darcy Pattison.

Think of the emotions in your story like musical notes.   Play one musical note.  Is that a song?  Hardly.  Play it again and again.  Is it a song yet?  Does it matter if sometimes you play it loud and other times you play it softly?  Nope.  Still not a song.

A story that strikes only one emotional note will be monotonous.  Strike a strong emotion, and nothing else, again and again and the best that you can hope for is exhausting.  Simply put, the characters in your story need to experience a variety of emotions.

Because I wasn’t sure that I had succeeded in this, I decided to mark the emotions experiences by each character at the beginning and ending of each chapter.  This would help me see if I had the emotional variety that I need but also if I had changing circumstances in each chapter.  Did I shake things up enough for my characters?  My biggest concern was that each character consistently experienced only one or two emotions and that I was mistaking this for over all depth.

Why would this be a problem?  Think of music again.  If you have five instruments, a piano, a violin, a flute, a trumpet and a clarinet, how will it sound if each instrument plays only one or two notes?  Sure that’s better than if they play the same note, but it may not give you the variety that you need for a striking piece of music.

What did I find?  You can see some of the emotions in this photo — noted in the right margin of the page.  At first, I wasn’t sure I had pulled it off.  In some scenes, everyone ends in a panic.  Or angry.  But let’s face it.  When a spell goes awry in a bad, bad way, people are going to panic.  Some scenes will strike only one or two emotional notes.  But overall, I did have the emotional variety that I need and my hero’s emotions are shifting gradually towards the climax and his opportunity for growth.  My own emotional note?  Relief!

What about your WIP?  Do you have the emotional depth that you need to hold an audience?


How to Balance the Dialogue in Your Manuscript

One of the things that I’m taking a close look at in my manuscript is the dialogue.  As writers, we know dialogue is vital.  It creates white space for the reader.  It lets the characters be heard.  It drives the story forward.  But there has to be balance.

Sometimes a secondary character tries to take over the story.  That’s what I was afraid would happen.  My  main character can talk a blue streak but his  sidekick is more verbal.  I needed to make sure he didn’t take over.  Take a look at the marks in the left margin of my shrunken manuscript.  Each color represents a different speaker.  While some scenes have more red (the sidekick’s color) than others, red doesn’t dominate the verbal landscape. Whew!

So far so good.

I also need to have balance between the overall amount of dialogue, action and narrative.  The very beginning of my manuscript doesn’t have a whole lot of dialogue but the chapter seems to  have a fair balance.  My main character is running from school to the local swimming pool.  He’s on the move and you see and hear what he sees and hears along the way.

Once my characters start talking, they yack and yack and yack.   Look at all that ink!   In some ways this is okay because they are usually doing something while they are talking.  I think.  I didn’t actually mark that and it is something I need to  do — use a highlighter throughout the text to show the action.

My biggest concern at this point is narrative.  Once things in my story get moving, they talk and they do but I very seldom show.  My setting goes by in a blur.  From swimming pool to shop space, I’m not sure the reader has the chance to take much in.  Obviously, after I highlight action, I’ll be highlighting narrative.

Dialogue may be important, but so are action and narrative and I definitely need to bring them all into balance.


Three Ways to Take Stock of Your Manuscript

Please forgive the slanted angle as I try to dodge a table, a wall, a rocker and a cat!

Anyone who reads this blog knows that I am a firm believer in rewriting.  No manuscript is perfect straight out of your mind, and a rewrite helps you take it from what you got on paper to something closer to what you meant to get on paper.  To do this, you need to have a good idea of what you actually accomplished.

In her book, Novel Metamorphosis: Uncommon Ways to Revise, the first thing that Darcy Pattison does is help you take stock of what is actually written, not the novel you think you wrote but then one that you actually have.  She takes you through three different ways to do this.  In the first, you create a chapter by chapter list.  On one line you write the main action of the chapter.  On another, you write the main emotion.

I’ve seen this second method before but it’s a good one, using a spread sheet.  This is a little more flexible because it is up to you what spread sheet columns you create.  Possibilities might include setting, character, plot point, or emotion.  Using a spread sheet let’s you sort by column, checking out how often a particular element comes into play.

Perhaps because I am so visual, Darcy’s third method is my favorite — the shrunken manuscript.  In a shrunken manuscript, you reduce the font and format the manuscript single-spaced.  The goal is to be able to mark up the manuscript (what you mark depending on what you need study) and then lay the whole thing out n the floor.  You want to be able to see the whole manuscript at once.  My manuscript came out at just over 20 pages.  This time around, I was checking for two things.

The first is dialogue, both the proportion to the manuscript as a whole but to also make sure that other characters don’t take over.  My main character is more action oriented than verbal while his best friend is more of a chatter box.  I can’t let the best friend take the lead because, simply put, he isn’t the lead.  As has been pointed out to me by my son, adults also have a tendency to drone on and on.  I want to make certain that Mom and the swim coach don’t stall things out indefinitely.  In the photo, I’ve marked the dialog with a different color for each character.  These marks are in the left margin of the manuscript.  The inventory helped me see what I did right and what I still need to work out but we’ll discuss that tomorrow.

Secondly, and I haven’t done this yet but will before I write Thursday’s post, I’m going to take an emotional inventory.  Using the same colors that I used for dialogue, I’m going to record where each character is emotionally at the beginning of the chapter.  Then I’m going to record where they are emotionally at the end of the chapter.  Obviously, this will only apply to the characters who are in each scene.  What did I find out here?  Because I haven’t actually done it yet, I’ll let you know on Thursday.

How do you take stock of your manuscript before you begin a rewrite?  Is this something you even attempt?


What Should I Offer in My Class on Writing Nonfiction for Children?

And here’s another — also from Gryphon House.
This recent Gryphon House titles contains some of my nonfiction.

I really enjoyed teaching my class on writing nonfiction for children and have been looking for a way to resurrect it.   It looks like a solution may be right around the corner.  It looks like I’ve found a host site and we are working out the details.

One of those pesky little details is an outline of the course.  I have an outline but it hasn’t been updated for something like 8 years now.  Has it really been that long since I’ve taught this?  At the very least, I need to update links, but I also want to take another look at the course content.  Among other things, I probably need to add more information on ezines and other web related content.  But what else?

Here’s where you can help.   If you were going to take a class on writing children’s nonfiction, what would you want it to include?   Hopefully, the things that you mention will already be part of my plans but just in case I’ve overlooked something, I’d like your feedback.

So — what content would you want more than anything else?


Technology and Creativity

How has the technology available to you influenced what you create?   I’m not one of those writers who characters are toting around I-pads or Netbooks or anything else.  An I-phone?  Not in my story.  That said, I use technology to create my work each and every time I sit down to write.

Joshua Harker, see one of his pieces in the video below, is an artist who uses 3-D printing to create pieces that he could not create in any other way.  Read what he has to say about his work here.

Inspired?  I know I am!



Add to Your Tension with Pivot Points

Your character doesn’t see it in the path ahead, but something is going to change the mood of the scene. (Photo, SueBE at Missouri Botanical Gardens)

Yesterday I wrote about one way to increase the tension in your writing.  Foreshadowing is a technique that allows you to hint at things to come.

Another way to increase the tension is by including a turning point in your scene.  As defined by Sandra Scofield, a turning point is the point at which the mood in your scene shifts.

Think about a scene in your work in progress — your main character has a goal, something she wants to accomplish.  In this particular scene, she is doing X to accomplish this goal.  At some point, something happens and she realizes that her plan is not going to work.  She will not achieve her goal in this scene.

My own work in progress has a variety of pivot points throughout the story.  Some of them involve other people and take place when a parent walks in (busted!) or a school project is ruined by a younger sibling (you brat!).  Other times, things simply don’t go as planned — a spell goes awry and the results are not what my hero expected or when he finds out that he doesn’t have all he needs to do a spell.  Other times someone reveals something and my hero realizes that he isn’t going to get what he wants.

All of the turning points that I’ve managed to identify in my own work and in recent movies that I’ve seen have been reversals.

This has me wondering what you call a turning point that is good news . . . a long lost friend walks through the door, the firemen arrive just in the nick of time.  Is there a different name for this?  Or is it too called a turning point?  Inquiring minds want to know.