One Writer’s Journey

July 12, 2019

A New Manuscript: How to Start Writing

Getting started can be the hardest part.

One of my students mentioned to me that she is having troubles starting her manuscript.  She has the research.  She has the outline.  She just can’t get the words to flow.  Here are three different ways to start writing a new manuscript if you are having this problem.

When you worry that the beginning isn’t perfect or you aren’t sure how to pull the reader in.  Don’t start with the beginning.  Skip it and start with the body of your article, story or book.  Honestly, it doesn’t matter if you start with what will ultimately be chapter 2, chapter 5 or the end.  Start with a section in which you are confident.  Once you get that part written, you can write the preceding section or the following section.  Which part you write first is not important. Getting words down is important.
When you are intimidated by the blank page.  Some writers stare at that empty page and just can’t get started.  If you are a good typist, which I am not, turn off your monitor.   Write, write and write some more.  Then turn the monitor on.  Your page is no longer blank.  If you aren’t sure you can fill that WHOLE page, work with a smaller page.  I’ve roughed several picture books out on post-it notes.  Each note is a spread.  Filling these tiny little pieces of paper takes almost no effort.
Spellcheck, grammatic and all that underlining is distracting.  If you are certain you will remember to turn them back on, then turn them off.  Or you can write on paper.  Really.  That’s how the old timers used to do it.  In all truth, my first few manuscripts were written on paper because I didn’t own a PC or laptop.  I was a poor newlywed with a legal pad and an electric typewriter.  Sometimes I still write by hand.  It brings a different feel to the whole experience.
If I didn’t address your particular problem, feel free to comment below and I’ll try to help you find a solution to what is making it hard for you to get started.
–SueBE

June 18, 2019

Why Writing Is Like Beading

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Those of you who have read my blog for any time know that not only do a write, but I also craft.  Knitting, crochet, and beading help me recharge my creative energy.  Lately, I’ve been beading lariat-style necklaces.  These necklaces are a single four foot strand of beads.  There is no clasp, so you knot or loop the strand.  Or whatever.

The point is that they are really flexible just like the books we write. A picture book can be fact or fiction.  It can be written in rhyme or prose.  It can also come together relatively easily (relatively) or take multiple tries.  Just like beading a necklace.

Sometimes following the pattern works.  When I tell you how to storyboard a picture book, that’s like giving you a pattern.  Follow these steps to create a picture book.  Sometimes you follow the steps and it works.  Your writing style and my writing style are enough alike that you can use my method.  Ta-da!  When I made my first lariat necklace, I used different beads than the pattern called for but it came together easily.

Sometimes following the pattern doesn’t work.  You write nonfiction.  I write nonfiction.  But when you try to follow my story boarding steps, it doesn’t work.  The balance is just off and, although you notice this early on, you keep working hoping it will sort itself out.  But it doesn’t.  So you study my steps.  Then you study what you have.  You see where you can tweak things to make it work.  That’s what happened when I tried making a necklace for a friend, but with a few adjustments it came together.

Sometimes you think that something isn’t going to work but then it does.  Last week, I got a rewrite request from my editor.  I read one of the things that she wanted and . . . uh, no.  There is no way that will work.  So I made all of the smaller changes and saved this until dead last.  Fine, just fine!  I made the changes she suggested and . . . it worked.  When a friend asked me to make her a necklace in golden and deep red beads, I cringed.  These weren’t my kinds of colors and I just couldn’t see it.  But I started stringing and . . . wow.  It looked great.

Writing is a lot like beading.  Sometimes you follow the steps and it all comes together.  Sometimes you have to make a few adjustments.  Other times, you are certain you’ve been asked to do the impossible and it all falls into place.

Word by word.  Bead by bead.  The creative process is a funny thing.

–SueBE

May 13, 2019

Field Trip! Literature and Writing in the Wide World

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If any of you are in St. Louis, Missouri, make time to head to the St. Louis City library headquarters on Olive for the Print to Pixels: How Words Changed the World exhibit.  It runs through June 2.

The exhibit traces the history of print from cuneiform to modern printing — there is even a 3-D printer working away at one end of the exhibit. A time line the length of the library’s main gallery traces the development of paper and other medium on which text is printed as well as the printing process itself.

For me the highlights included getting to see cuneiform, Balinese books printed on bamboo strips that are gathered into a fan, illuminated texts, a King James Bible and several antique type writers.  They even had one there that doesn’t feature the qwerty keyboard.

There is also a functioning letterpress run by Firecracker Press.  They print note cards, journals and posters that are offered for sale.  They also have hands on workshops from 1 – 2 on various Saturdays but these dates and times are not on the library website.  I would call for dates and times if you are interested.

Younger people who have never used a typewriter will likely appreciate the table of typewriters at one end of the hall.  Visitors are encouraged to type a letter that will then become a part of the display.

The exhibit is super informative but it is also billed as interactive.  That, in my opinion, is a stretch.  But then I’m used to the interactivity of the Magic House and various exhibits at the Science Center.  Call it interactive and my expectations are high.

Still it was definitely worth the trip.  One thing that surprised me was the reaction the invention of the typewriter.  This was seen as a ground breaking innovation that would allow people to become their own publishers.  Given that at one time books were so expensive and time consuming to produce that they were chained to library shelves and you’ll understand that this was a very big deal.

Not sure how I will use this is a story but I am noodling it over.

–SueBE

April 9, 2019

What Do Your Writing Rituals Looks Like?

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My Rejection Jar

Some people have a number of tried and true writing rituals.  Some people have very few.  I have two.

One comes into play when I have a lot to do and I feel like I’m not making much progress.  I set a timer and write for 25 minutes.  Then I get up and either walk on the treadmill for 5 minutes or do some quick picking up in one room.  I might pick up the shoes in the entry way, hang up jackets that are piled on the coat rack or clean off the dining room table. The latter is especially helpful if I have to get writing done and get the house cleaned because people are coming over.

Write intensely.  Then do something else for 5 minutes.  Write intensely.  Then do something else for 5 minutes.  Then write again.  After that I take a break up to half an hour and then repeat the three cycles again.  I’m not sure why this works but my productivity always increases.

When I am working on a rewrite, I print off the manuscript and go sit in the dining room.  I have my cup of coffee and my licorice candle. Again, working in the dining rooms seems to send a signal to my brain.  I’m just happy it works!

I used to have a third ritual. Whenever I got a rejection, I would pull a slip out of the “rejection jar.”  Each slip listed a treat – listen to a book and knit, go to a movie, go buy the yarn for a new project.  This way I associated rejection with something good.  And in reality it is a good thing because you are getting your work out there.  I actually haven’t done this in quite a while but it was really helpful in the past.

What writing rituals do you have?

–SueBE

February 25, 2019

Writing on Retreat

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Write, write, write.

Just how much would you get done if you had unlimited time to write.  I pretty well found out this weekend.  I was at Toddhall Retreat Center (see photos) for an unstructured writing retreat.  I am going to be so productive!

Friday:

Before leaving town I finished a very rough draft of my latest Abdo book.  Once I got to Toddhall, time to decompress.  I listened to two hours of my audio book and several WriteOnCon podcasts and videos while knitting.

Saturday:

I rewrote and cleaned up a synopsis and a query letter for Puke-ology.  I also reworked my proposal for a series.  All are ready to edit on paper.  Woo-hoo!

Still not sure how to proceed on the mystery, I decided to put that off until Sunday.

Sunday:

I finally sat down and made myself write 800 words on the mystery.  It was not pretty.  But I wrote a bit more.

This weekend really proved to me that I am not entirely a pantser.  If I don’t know where I am going, progress comes to a halt.  If I know or even if I have a vague clue, like with the nonfiction, I make good progress.

Will I do this again?  Not right away.  But I might try one of the study room at the library, somewhere close to home where I can write and not be distracted by the 7000 other things that need doing.

Hmm….

–SueBE

February 11, 2019

Loving What You Do: Reading Great Books

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Since this is Valentines week, I’ll be writing a series of posts about loving what you do, how to keep your writing energy high and your enthusiasm up.  Because, let’s face it, being creative takes a lot of energy.

One of the most important things you should do is read.

Read the types of books you want to write.  These books will show you what has already been written.  From them you will also see how writers create three-dimensional characters, exciting plots, living settings and more.  For me, this means reading good nonfiction. One of my favorite nonfiction titles in 2018 was Chester Nez and the Unbreakable CodeA Navajo Code Talker’s Story by Joseph Bruchac, pictures by Liz Amini-Holmes (Albert Whitman and Company).  It tells his childhood, his life at the Indian schools, being trained for the military, and how his culture helped him survive the horrors of the war and the memories after.

Read books you love.  I will  never write an “own voices” story as a marginalized author.  It’s just not in the cards.  But I love many of these books and reading books you love fuels your enthusiasm for books and for writing.  Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi (Henry Holt) was one of those books for me.  I can’t write an authentic African experience, but I can appreciate a fiery female protagonist who has to overcome her own insecurities to fully be herself.  And I can write that kind of character even if she will occupy a complete different type of story.

Read widely.  Read books that were popular when you were a child, the books that encouraged you to love reading.  But also read what is popular today, because unless you are a teen the chances are that things have changed between then and now.

But read.  When a rewrite is being unbearable, briefly shelter in a great book.  Remind yourself just how much you love to read.  It makes the agony of writing worthwhile.

–SueBE

April 12, 2018

Writing: Getting the Words Down NOW

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I know writers who wander around waiting to trip over their muse before they actually write.  I have a book due the end of next week. When you have a deadline, you have to write.  Period.  You can’t wait for Ms. Muse to make an appearance.  Here are three different ways to make the writing happen.

  1. The Pomodoro technique.  This a productivity tool that can be used by anyone who has a big job to get done.  You work for 25 minutes then take a five-minute break.  Work for another 25 minutes, take another 5 minute break.  Work for another 25 minutes and take another 5 minute break.  Then you work for one more 25 minute period and then you get a longer break, 20 to 30 minutes.The Pomodoro technique works really well for me.  I think that a big part of it is simply knowing that I only have 25 minutes to get something accomplished.  Click to find out more about the Pomodoro technique.
  2.  Dictate your story.  One writing buddy of mine dictates her work using Dragon.  I’ve heard various writers say that this is a great way to develop your voice and improve the dialogue in your stories.  I plan to give this a try when I draft my novel.  But I don’t think it will work with the teen nonfiction book I am currently writing.  For one thing, I can’t imagine trying to say all of those Latin taxonomical names.A word of warning.  Dictation software isn’t 100% accurate but dictation is a major pain in the rear.  Once you get really good at transcription you can usually type 30 minutes of dictation in 90 or so minutes.  More often it will take closer to three hours.  Doesn’t that sound like fun?  This is why I plan to give Dragon a try.
  3. Writing out-of-order.  You can also write scenes or chapters out-of-order.  If something is giving you trouble, skip to another section.  I do this with nonfiction more often than I do it with fiction.  When I finish one chapter and have just a small amount of time to work on the next, I often write the sidebars first.  They are short so I can get two or three done and feel a sense of accomplishment.

If you have a technique that helps you keep the words flowing, share it in the comments below.

–SueBE

February 7, 2018

The Most Important Thing for a Writer’s Career

I don’t remember where I saw this on Tuesday.  I read blogs while I’m on the treadmill.  But somewhere on the great web, someone made the comment that the most important thing an author can do to further their career is develop their online presence in a way to help sell their books.

Now, I’m not discounting the importance of this.  It is vital. But there are two things that are actually more important.

First, you have to write.  So  many people talk about how much they want to write.  They have ideas.  They have plans.  They set up a workspace. They buy cute office supplies.  Ooops.  Writing at home is too distracting.  They buy a lap top and set up shop at the local coffee shop.

What they don’t do is write.  Sadly, that’s kind of central to the whole idea of being successful as a writer.  Sorry, but it is true.

Second, you have to finish what you write.  I don’t mean that you have to finish a draft.  That’s important.  You aren’t going to get anywhere without that first draft.  Because the first draft is the raw material that you shape into the second draft.  And it doesn’t end there.  You keep working until it is as good as you can make it.

But wait!  There’s more.  (Ha! I’ve always wanted to say that.)

Then you take it to critique group.  They read it and comment on it and now you have a plan to make it better.

All of this has to take place before you have something publishable.  Until you have something publishable, you have nothing to sell.  I’m not saying don’t develop an online presence.  In truth, there are days that the online community is all that keeps you going.  But to be a successful writer you have to write something of quality.

Then you can sell it.  But first?  You need to write.

–SueBE

 

January 26, 2018

5 Minutes a Day: First You Have to Believe

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5 Minutes a DayIn September 2017, one of my fellow Muffin bloggers challenged everyone who reads the blog to state a big, hairy, audacious goal.  I decided that I wanted to finish a draft of my new chapter book.  If I could just squeeze in 5 Minutes a Day.

The problem was that shortly after decided this I landed a contract for two more teen nonfiction books.  Writing one of these books in just under two months is tough. Writing two in just over three was going to be brutal.  But I didn’t want to give up on finishing my chapter book.

When I set the 5 Minutes a Day goal, I had two chapters or 1000 words.   I hadn’t made noteworthy progress in 2 weeks.  But even working on the other two books, I managed 5 Minutes a Day.  Doing this for one month resulted in a finished draft. At 6,400 words, I knew it was short but it was a draft.  I blogged about this on the Muffin.

Reader response to this blog post surprised me.  People were absolutely floored that i had managed to do so much in five minutes a day.  I must have had an extensive outline.  I must have known exactly what to write. I must have some special trick because this just wouldn’t work for them.

Sure, I had a sketchy outline.  Ten chapters.  Two or three sentences per chapter.

The most important thing that I had?  Belief.  I believed that I could accomplish something worthwhile in 5 Minutes a Day. Without that belief, I wouldn’t have tried.  Without actually trying, I would not have finished my draft.

I hope you are ready to join me in making strides in your writing career throughout 2018.  But the first thing you must have is the Belief that it is possible.  You must believe that 5 Minutes a Day can help you achieve something worthwhile.  Why?

Because without that belief you won’t even try.

Click here to read another 5 Minutes a Day post.

–SueBE

 

October 2, 2017

Ho Hum Boring Words

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Especially when your word count is limited, it is important to use vibrant, meaningful language.  Why say very hot when you can say molten?

But there are just times when your brain gets stuck.  What’s a better way to say good or bad?  Happy or sad?

Author Jack Milgram at the Custom Writing blog shared this info-graphic of “28 Boring Words.”  But Jack wasn’t happy just to tell us what words to avoid.  He gave us several possible substitutions for each weak word.

Check this out and see if you don’t find a better word for very or things.  Whether you are writing a poem, a picture book or a novel, strong language pulls the reader into the world you have written.  They help provide the details that bring it all alive.

Sometimes you are trying to choose a more interesting word.  Sometimes you are striving to find a more accurate word.

But don’t let this search bog you down.  This isn’t necessarily something I worry about in draft one.  But it is something that I make sure I address when I rewrite. I should be working on chapter 3 of my next project so —

Happy writing!  Or now that you have this word list, perhaps you will be rewriting?

–SueBE

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