Wednesday, December 1, 2021

ISWG: Writing's Peaks and Valleys

 

Photo by Rohit D'Silva on Unsplash




Writing isn't any easy path. I keep writing because I can’t stop. Like a challenging hike that ends with a phenomenal view, sometimes you have to wade through the brambles to get to the beautiful bits.

The valleys:


1.    Comparing myself to others. I’m not on social media much anymore, but people posting their daily word counts (always higher than mine) used to stress me out.

2.    The marketing part of writing. While I’ve learned to write a decent query letter, I've never gotten used to the ups and downs of querying. Can someone else sell my writing, please?

3.    Worrying about what other people think. When I let that “what will x think of this?” get inside my head in the middle of drafting, I don't do my best writing. Writing must always be truthful, which will probably offend someone.

The peaks with their mountain views:


1.   The surprise aspect of writing. I've never written a scene or a piece of dialogue that came out exactly as I expected. I love it when the characters and plot surprise me.

2.    When the seemingly random threads of the plot come together. In my current WIP, I thought a secondary character's medical condition wasn't that important. But then—boom—I wrote a scene where it became everything and the driving motive for my main character. Those types of connections make writing fun.

3.    When I get a life-changing critique. It’s always hard to hear criticism of your work, and sometimes I need to wait a few days till I can see my way to solving any problems. But a good critique always helps you see your work in new ways, a true gift.

4.  Writing has taught me that criticism helps you grow as a person. Writing has given me a thick skin. It's not easy separating yourself from what you write and be willing to hear the hard stuff. But being open to feedback is an invaluable skill in life. And there have been many non-writing times when I've been glad I've learned not to take criticism personally.

5.    Getting words on paper. It’s often hard to stare at that blank page, but after you’ve written a bulk of your novel, it’s amazing to realize you created something out of nothing. It is a great privilege to use the gifts I’ve been given in this way.

What delights you and what stresses you out about writing?

What is Insecure Writer's Support Group?

Purpose: To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!

Posting: The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. Post your thoughts on your own blog. Talk about your doubts and the fears you have conquered. Discuss your struggles and triumphs. Offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling. Visit others in the group and connect with your fellow writer - aim for a dozen new people each time - and return comments. This group is all about connecting!

 To see more IWSG posts, go here. 



 





Wednesday, November 3, 2021

ISWG: Only So Many Words

 

Photo by Florian Klauer on Unsplash

When I was in high school, my English teacher asked me to be on the high school yearbook. She knew I liked writing, so why not write for a school publication? Much to her surprise, I said no. I wanted to save my words for my fiction writing. I thought if I worked on the yearbook, I'd use all my words up on that. I wouldn’t have any words left over for my own writing.

As an adult, it’s much harder to save my words, and prioritize my own writing.

But that’s what I’ve been doing lately. I’m not blogging as much—sorry faithful readers—but I am writing.

I am now almost half way with a draft of a new YA novel. I’m happier and more excited about writing than I’ve been in a long time. So, perhaps this saving my words thing is working.

Never fear, I do plan to get back into writing on this blog more frequently and doing book reviews again. As soon as I can manage to juggle both.

This month’s question: do you find the title or the back copy harder to write?


Back copy hands down. My husband is really good at titles. He’s come up with 80% of my titles. But struggling through a query synopsis is very hard. I’ve gotten better at it over the years, but it’s still not my favorite thing.


How about you? Do you find that if you do a lot of writing for other purposes, you don't have words left for your own writing? And which do you find harder: back copy or titles?

 

What is Insecure Writer's Support Group?

Purpose: To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!

Posting: The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. Post your thoughts on your own blog. Talk about your doubts and the fears you have conquered. Discuss your struggles and triumphs. Offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling. Visit others in the group and connect with your fellow writer - aim for a dozen new people each time - and return comments. This group is all about connecting!

 To see more IWSG posts, go here. 



 



Wednesday, October 6, 2021

ISWG: Why I’ll Never Write a Memoir

Photo by Kourosh Qaffari on Unsplash


Many years ago, a friend wrote a semi-autobiographical novel. She turned this in for a creative writing assignment. Although almost everything in the story really happened, the professor said her story was unbelievable. She was incensed. And I thought it strange. Why wouldn’t the truth be believable?

Recently another writing friend told me she has met a lot of new writers who want to write their own life story, thinly veiled as fiction. Some great or terrible thing happened to them, and they feel called to share it with the world. My friend keeps telling them they need to learn story craft first. But she isn’t sure they are convinced.

All of this led me to think about what I will not write about. There is one line I will not cross: I won’t write about myself. Not directly.

A few reasons why:

1.  Criticism: To be honest, criticism, which is an inevitable in writing, would hit too close to home if I wrote about myself. It’s one thing to have people dislike a world or characters I made up, but quite another to have people hate me. (Although I know that might be inevitable with fiction as well.)

2.  Reliving difficult or even happy circumstances. In Emma, Mr. Knightley says, "If I loved you less, I might be able to talk about it more." That’s how I feel about certain parts of my life, especially the dramatic moments. I’d rather treasure my memories in private.

from http://rachelberman.merytonpress.com/


3.  I see my past experiences as boring. I grew up in a small town. My life has been pretty ordinary. Maybe everyone’s feels like that. But if I’m not that interested in my childhood or past experiences, I wouldn’t bring a passion to my story that would make other people care.

4.  I don’t like seeing myself in fiction. I purposely avoid books or movies that are too close to my lived experiences. I’d rather use my experiences to deepen my understanding a character rather than to tell my own story exactly as it happened.

5. When I get the urge to “tell people my story,” it’s often for the wrong reasons. Having an epiphany in my life often makes me want to enlighten others. But, people, not surprisingly, are not that interested in my epiphanies. Good stories, the ones everyone loves, always have a theme. But it’s so cleverly woven into the story that you hardly notice it.

That’s what I aim for when I’m writing. To write a story so captivating that you forget it’s not real.

As for other lines, I am a PG writer, because I write for kids and teens and because of my own Christian convictions.

How about you? Is there anything you would not write about? 

Photo Credit

What is Insecure Writer's Support Group?

Purpose: To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!

Posting: The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. Post your thoughts on your own blog. Talk about your doubts and the fears you have conquered. Discuss your struggles and triumphs. Offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling. Visit others in the group and connect with your fellow writer - aim for a dozen new people each time - and return comments. This group is all about connecting!

 To see more IWSG posts, go here. 



Wednesday, September 1, 2021

ISWG: Not Losing Your Enthusiasm



That is one of my favorite quotes. It’s got me through the long, sometimes discouraging days, of writing. Initially, I expected, like a lot of newbies, to sell my first novel—and in record time. Perhaps it was because my first writing teacher often told stories of students who’d followed her advice and sold their books quickly.

I would be one of them.

But my writing journey has been slow and meandering instead. It was often interrupted by life, like children, family health issues, and jobs. Those things might have sidetracked me for awhile, but they always ended up enriching my writing.

Yet, I’ve had some success. I’ve had my work published in well respected children’s magazines and anthologies. When I finally had a piece of fiction published that felt like a major milestone.

I still don’t have a book published, but that is okay. I am still working that.

Perhaps this is just a way to soothe my ego, but I no longer gauge my success by whether or not I’m published. I look at whether I’m improving at my craft.

And that isn’t measured by whether I’ve gotten a bunch of books in the mail. Although I look forward to that day…

I feel successful because:

1.      People (critique partners and others) enjoy reading what I write.  

2.      I have been published—even if it’s only a few times.

3 .    I enjoy writing, and I’m taking steps towards my ultimate goal: seeing a novel-length project in print. Many people say they want to write, but never even start.

4.     I usually get “good” (a.k.a. encouraging) rejections when I send my work out there. I used to keep a file of all the good feedback I got from editors/agents. It keeps my spirits up.

5.     I use what I’ve learned from writing in my teaching (a.k.a. my day job). I’ve shared my rough drafts with students and encouraged creative students to pursue writing. It’s my way of paying it forward to the teacher who encouraged me in fourth grade.
 


 
How about you? What makes you feel like you’ve arrived as a writer?


What is Insecure Writer's Support Group?

Purpose: To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!

Posting: The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. Post your thoughts on your own blog. Talk about your doubts and the fears you have conquered. Discuss your struggles and triumphs. Offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling. Visit others in the group and connect with your fellow writer - aim for a dozen new people each time - and return comments. This group is all about connecting!

 To see more IWSG posts, go here. 







Monday, August 9, 2021

#IMWAYR/MMGM: Two Middle Grades to Make You Laugh



I was a fairly serious kid and an intense and brooding adolescent. It’s taken me a long time to learn how to laugh at myself and not take life so seriously. And interestingly enough, it wasn’t till I could laugh at myself that I was able to create humorous scenes in my own writing.

Maybe because I’ve had to work so hard to learn to write humor that I’m an awe of writers who seemingly do so naturally. Although maybe they have had to work as hard as me too—but hide it well.

Today I’m sharing two humorous and fun MG books. Both of these are sequels, and often sequels are not an improvement on the first book. But this is not true here.  I hope you enjoy these picks!




The first is Lord and Lady Bunny—Almost Royalty! by Polly Horvath

Synopsis from Amazon:

This hilarious sequel to Mr. and Mrs. Bunny-Detectives Extraordinaire! is a bunny-rific "tail" that even includes a guest appearance by J. K. Rowling a.k.a. "Oldwhatshername".

Madeleine wants nothing more than to save money for college, but her impractical, ex-hippie parents are broke. When the family unexpectedly inherits a sweet shoppe in England that has the potential to earn serious profit, they see an answer to all their problems. . . . Meanwhile, Mr. and Mrs. Bunny—formerly of the detecting persuasion—are looking for new professions, and Mrs. Bunny decides she would like to be Queen. Soon they, too, are headed across the pond. Brought to you by National Book Award-winning author Polly Horvath and Caldecott Medal–winning illustrator Sophie Blackall, the adventures of Madeleine and the Bunnys are zanier than ever.

My thoughts:

I reviewed the first of Horvath’s Mr. and Mrs. Bunny books two months ago. I liked this one even better, but then I have a soft spot for anything set across the pond. Not only does “Oldwhatshername” make an appearance and give the bunnies some interesting advice, but Horvath has a cameo as well. The puns and silliness are even better than the first book. Madeleine’s parents discover sugar—and her mom temporarily becomes Cruise Mildred, who likes to shop. The bunnies rub noses with snobby hedgehogs and a rabbit Shakespeare group. Horvath, as always, takes lots of pokes at modern life. I especially enjoyed the English royalty and suburban mom jokes!



And then there's The Willoughbys Return by Lois Lowry:

Synopsis from Amazon:

It's been 30 years and with rising temperatures melting icy mountain tops the previously frozen Willoughbys have thawed out and are about to return! From living legend and Newbery medalist Lois Lowry comes a hilarious sequel to New York Times bestseller The Willoughbys—soon to be an animated film starring Ricky Gervais, Maya Rudolph, Terry Crews, Martin Short, Jane Krakowski, and Sean Cullen on Netflix!


Although they grew up as wretched orphans, the Willoughby siblings also became heirs to the the Melanoff candy company fortune. Everything has turned out just splendidly, except for one problem: Richie Willoughby, son of Timothy Willoughby, is an only child and is quite lonely.
Winifred and Winston Poore have long admired the toys of their neighbor Richie Willoughby and finally befriend the mysterious boy next door. But just as Richie finally begins to make friends, selling sweets is made illegal, and the family's fortune is put in jeopardy. To make matters worse, Richie's horrible Willoughby grandparents—frozen atop a Swiss mountain thirty years ago—have thawed, remain in perfect health, and are making their way home again.


What is the point of being the reclusive son of a billionaire when your father is no longer a billionaire? What is the future without candy in it? And is there any escaping the odiousness of the Willoughbys? These are the profound questions with which Newbery medalist and ignominious author Lois Lowry grapples in
The Willoughbys Return.
 

Lowry has an amazing range. The first book I read by her was A Summer to Die when I was in elementary school. Then there’s The Giver, a dystopian classic.

But Lois is not just a serious writer, she knows how to make fun of herself and classic children lit. The first Willoughby book roasted kidlit’s love affair with orphans and babies being left on doorsteps. In The Willoughbys Return, she has the running joke about how poverty is glorified in kid lit, like in Little Women. The Poore mother is always “Marming”—offering Marme-like advice, which no one takes seriously. The joke continues with plays on words in the character names: Richie is rich and the Poores are poor. The Willoughby parents are still persnickety despite being frozen for 30 years, and their lack of understanding of modern life (What’s Google?) made me chuckle throughout.  

What books have made you laugh lately?

 If you'd like to read more middle grade reviews or join in the MMGM fun, go to Greg Pattridge's Always in the Middle blog. 

 


Wednesday, August 4, 2021

ISWG: Writing Backwards

 


I’ve had a lot of craft books that have inspired me over the years. I’ve read great things about characters, plots, scenes. But I'd never found a book on creating a character arc/internal plot.
 

Oh, is this something I need help with. I have the tendency to create Mary Sues for my protagonist, and the few times I’ve tried to create a character that needed to grow more—no one liked them!

I’ve heard lots of advice online on how to create a character arc. I read that I just needed to focus on the main plot and add the internal plot in later or not to really worry about it. If you write the book, the internal arc will come.

But that wasn’t working for me.

Then a friend loaned me Story Genuis by Lisa Cron. It’s the first book that spelled out how to create a character arc in a way that made sense to me.

The story is what creates beautiful writing...not the other way around. Lisa Cron


What I learned from Story Genuis:

1. The main story is the character arc. Lisa Cron goes into a lot of brain science to back up this claim in the book, but basically we read stories to vicariously experience someone’s life struggle. The character arc is the plot.

2. Write an “origin scene” for your character’s misbelief. I knew the importance of creating a misbelief, but I didn’t know how to make it organic to the story. Once I wrote my character's origin story, her struggle became so much more real to me.

3. Details begat details. After writing your character’s origin story, you write the scenes from that scene to the start of your present story. I ended up with at least 4-5 scenes that happened before the book starts. And even though not all of them will make it into the novel, what I learned about my main character will.

4. If a scene is not working, ask yourself whether the events challenge your character’s misbelief. This was an issue for me before. I’d often create lots of action-packed scenes, but they often had nothing to do with the character’s misbelief and  weren’t very compelling. 


5. Interiority comes easier when you filter everything through the lens of the character’s misbelief. As I kept asking myself Lisa’s scene questions as I wrote, tension and internal conflict seemed to come automatically.

6.   If you get stuck, go back to the backstory. I use Cron’s technique of writing backstory scenes whenever I get stuck. I’ve written some scenes for my other characters just to get to know them. I don’t like writing character history or charts, but writing scenes helps me understand them on a deeper level.

A couple caveats: I don’t think Cron’s book is the best book for new writers. It doesn’t go over the basics. For me, this was okay, because I really needed to work on character arc. Also, her examples are from chick lit, so if you write something else (like me), you’ll have to apply these ideas to your genre. But I think her principles work for every genre.

What craft books have inspired you lately?


Purpose: To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!

Posting: The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. Post your thoughts on your own blog. Talk about your doubts and the fears you have conquered. Discuss your struggles and triumphs. Offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling. Visit others in the group and connect with your fellow writer - aim for a dozen new people each time - and return comments. This group is all about connecting! Be sure to link to this page and display the badge in your post. And please be sure your avatar links back to your blog! Otherwise, when you leave a comment, people can't find you to comment back.

Let’s rock the neurotic writing world!

Our Twitter handle is @TheIWSG and hashtag is #IWSG.

Every month, we announce a question that members can answer in their IWSG post. These questions may prompt you to share advice, insight, a personal experience or story. Include your answer to the question in your IWSG post or let it inspire your post if you are struggling with something to say. 

Remember, the question is optional!

August 4 question - What is your favorite writing craft book? Think of a book that every time you read it you learn something or you are inspired to write or try the new technique. And why?

The awesome co-hosts for the August 4 posting of the IWSG are PK Hrezo, Cathrina Constantine, PJ Colando, Kim Lajevardi, and Sandra Cox!


Monday, July 19, 2021

#IMWAYR/MMGM: Secret Sisters of the Salty Sea and The Explorer

It’s been a little while since I’ve made it to my computer to write up a middle grade review. We’ve had the usual end-of-the-school year busy-ness, and last week we went to visit some friends in Eastern Oregon.  Along the way, we stopped to see the beautiful Painted Hills (one of the seven wonders of Oregon!) and dug for fossils. Summer must include a few adventures!

The famous red hill from the Painted Hills.


Today, I wanted to share two summer reads with you. I read them awhile back, but they stayed with me. They both have adventures, perfect for summer. 

Synopsis for Secret Sisters of the Salty Sea by Lynne Rae Perkins (synopsis from the author’s website):

Alix and Jools are off on a family vacation. It’s their first vacation ever that isn’t about visiting relatives. And even though it’s also going to be the first time they see the ocean, in real life, Alix is pretty sure she knows what it will be like.

But of all the things that happen, not a single one is something she expected. Because you just never know what amazing thing will happen next.

I was a little unsure of this book at first because I wasn’t a huge fan of Perkin's Criss Cross, but I’m so glad I picked this one up. So many middle grades deal with things that couldn’t happen in real life, but this is a sweet read about the ordinary adventures of a family on vacation.

When my kids were younger, I often worried they were bored because we “only” went to the beach for vacation most summers and never anywhere exotic. This book is a good reminder that adventures can be had anywhere if you look for them.

Favorite quote: “They would do this for a week, then come back home and remember it forever.”

The Explorer by Kathleen Rundell (synopsis from Amazon):

From Boston Globe–Horn Book Award winner Katherine Rundell comes an exciting new novel about a group of kids who must survive in the Amazon after their plane crashes.

Fred, Con, Lila, and Max are on their way back to England from Manaus when the plane they’re on crashes and the pilot dies upon landing. For days they survive alone, until Fred finds a map that leads them to a ruined city, and to a secret.


I picked this up because I have loved almost everything by this author, especially Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms and The Roofkeepers. The Explorer reminded me a little of Hatchet, but with a larger cast and an Amazon setting, including sloths and tarantulas. But what I liked best the theme of what makes someone an explorer. (It's not what you think.) This book would be perfect for animal lovers and kids who are interested in the Amazon rainforest.

What books have you loved lately?

 If you'd like to read more middle grade reviews or join in the MMGM fun, go to Greg Pattridge's Always in the Middle blog. 



Wednesday, July 7, 2021

ISWG: What Would Make You Quit?


This month's question: What would make you stop writing?

Note: This post is updated content from my June 7, 2017 ISWG post.

I have many different times in my life when I wanted to quit. The longest stretch was about twelve years ago. I had a lot going on in my personal life (my younger son required two surgeries within the space of a few months), and I’d gotten some discouraging feedback on a new project. I’ve since learned never to let anyone see my first drafts, but I didn’t know that then. I was so discouraged I set that book aside.

That’s when the writer's block started. For a few months, I just wrote, “I can’t write anything,” in my journal. At least I was writing words, right?

About five years ago, I almost quit again. I had gone back to work full-time after many years at as a stay-at-home mom. I didn't see where I could squeeze writing in. 

How did I find my way back?

Both times, I asked myself what I really wanted to write if I didn’t have to worry about anyone else reading it. This led me to tackling a YA retelling, a book of my heart. Now I'm working on a YA sci-fi I'm really excited about. Instead of writing for the market, I wrote just for me.

That book didn’t sell, but I got a lot of good feedback on it. It served its purpose though. I found my love of writing again. Because if I don’t enjoy writing, why am I doing this anyway?

I’ve since learned that I’m often most vulnerable to giving up when life presents me with a mix of writing obstacles and difficult life circumstances. But now dealing with those bad days or or months when writing comes harder is easier. I know they won’t last forever.

All I need to keep in mind is why I’m writing in the first place: What do I like to read? What do I like to write?

If that’s my focus, I won’t give up for long.

Is there anything that would make you quit writing?



What is Insecure Writer's Support Group?

Purpose: To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!

Posting: The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. Post your thoughts on your own blog. Talk about your doubts and the fears you have conquered. Discuss your struggles and triumphs. Offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling. Visit others in the group and connect with your fellow writer - aim for a dozen new people each time - and return comments. This group is all about connecting!

 To see more IWSG posts, go here. 

Monday, June 14, 2021

#IMWAYR/MMGM: Mr. and Mrs. Bunny—Detectives Extraordinaire!




I have another bunny book for you today! I can’t believe how long it took me to discover Polly Horvath, but if the rest of her work is like this enchanting chapter book, I have a new favorite author!

Not only is this a mystery, it’s hilarious, and it includes bunnies (of course!) But it’s also set on Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands in the Puget Sound, near where I grew up. My husband and I went to the Gulf Islands on our honeymoon. They are rustic and beautiful—and I’ll never forget seeing a pod of Orca whales a few feet from our kayaks.

But on to this fabulous story.

Synopsis from Amazon:

In this hilarious chapter book mystery, meet a girl whose parents have been kidnapped by disreputable foxes, and a pair of detectives that also happen to be bunnies! When Madeline gets home from school one afternoon to discover that her parents have gone missing, she sets off to find them. So begins a once-in-a-lifetime adventure involving a cast of unforgettable characters. There's Mr. and Mrs. Bunny, who drive a smart car, wear fedoras, and hate marmots; the Marmot, who loves garlic bread and is a brilliant translator; and many others. Translated from the Rabbit by Newbery Honor-winning author Polly Horvath, and beautifully illustrated by Caldecott Medal winner Sophie Blackall, here is a book that kids will both laugh over and love.

"National Book Award-winner Polly Horvath's latest, a rabbity romp complete with whimsical illustrations and a quirky cast of characters, has both the look and feel of a classic children's book," raves The Washington Post.


What I liked:

1. A girl who’s smarter than her parents. Oh, this kind of character is one of my favorites! Think Matilda or Gladys Gatsby from All Four Stars. Madeleine is a regular kid and very practical, but her ex-hippie parents are rather clueless at times.

2. Animals that have defined personalities! Mr. Bunny thinks making car noises will start a car. Mrs. Bunny is the straight man for his jokes and wants to adopt poor Madeleine. Then there’s the marmot who likes to be called “The.” And many more!

3.  Unique mystery plot: In most mysteries, the reader is trying to piece together the clues to figure out what happened. In this book, due to multiple POV, the reader knows what happened, but the suspense is whether these rabbits, who think being a detective means wearing a fedora, can rescue Madeleine’s parents.

4.  Canadian setting: This book is infused with the atmosphere of the Gulf Islands. I also liked the importance placed on Prince Charles’ visit and how different characters viewed this event. This was clearly a Canadian story.

5. Lyrical, humorous writing: This book reminded of the Roald Dahl books I loved as a child. It’s rare to find a children’s book that doesn’t take itself seriously and understands how children think. Horvath has a firm grasp on what makes kids and adults laugh.

And there’s a sequel, which I currently have on order. Lord and Lady Bunny—Almost Royalty!

What books have you loved lately?


 If you'd like to read more middle grade reviews or join in the MMGM fun, go to Greg Pattridge's Always in the Middle blog. 

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

ISWG: Letting the Paint Dry

 


If there’s one thing I’ve learned over this writing journey is that you can’t rush.

When I first started writing, I different goal posts in mind. Get published by x age. Or after x years. Somehow I thought that meant success.

I definitely made the mistake of rushing—and not shelving—that first draft of my first novel. With each novel, I’ve learned the importance of taking a step back.


It’s like watercolor painting. You have to let each layer dry before you add another layer. And like in painting, you also have to know when to stop. I’m always amazed at the difference between a wet painting and a dry painting. What I thought was awful is not so bad when it’s dry.

Writing is like that too.

Yet with each book I have a different process. Sometimes I’ve written a messy first draft all at once, no stops. Other times, like now, I’m writing and revising and plotting and brainstorming all at once.

Which one is better? I’ll let you know.

For now, for longer works, I generally take at least a month off. Although more time is even better.

For shorter works, I take less time. But it really depends. Short works also tend to get the back burner.

But no matter how much time, the key is not to rush. The more I step back, give it time, and see it as a whole, the better it is.


Other writing news:

If you haven’t had a chance to see it, Amy Tan’s Unintended Memoir, is very inspiring. It’s still on PBS online, but you might have to have a PBS passport to view. Here is the trailer:





Savvy Authors Courses: I recently took my first course with this site.  These are self-paced courses (for a certain length of time, usually 4 weeks). It takes place via discussion board. The teacher posts content and exercises twice a week. It’s really helping me hone in on my WIP. And these classes are very affordable ($30-40). No, I’m not an affiliate or anything. It’s just so hard to find affordable writing classes. Highly recommended!

Last but not least, I have passed the 10,000 word mark on my WIP. It’s been a very long time since I’ve been in the drafting stage on a new novel. I consider the reason I got this far is due to the wonderful Story Genius book and the support of an in-person writing friend, who’s keeping me accountable by meeting me for coffee and the reading of chapters every week.

To learn more about ISWG or to sign up, go to the ISWG website.

What about you? Do you take a certain time away from first drafts?


Monday, May 17, 2021

MMGM/#IMWAYR: Swipe


I have another dystopian book for you today. I plan on branching out to other genres soon, but this one was too good to pass up.

Synopsis from Amazon:

Everyone gets the Mark. It gives all the benefits of citizenship. Yet if getting the Mark is such a good thing, then why does it feel so wrong? 

Set in a future North America that is struggling to recover after famine and global war, Swipe follows the lives of three kids caught in the middle of a conflict they didn’t even know existed. United under a charismatic leader, every citizen of the American Union is required to get the Mark on their 13th birthday in order to gain the benefits of citizenship.  

The Mark is a tattoo that must be swiped by special scanners for everything from employment to transportation to shopping. It’s almost Logan Langly’s 13th birthday and he knows he should be excited about getting the Mark, but he hasn’t been able to shake the feeling he’s being watched. Not since his sister went to get her Mark five years ago . . . and never came back. 

When Logan and his friends discover the truth behind the Mark, will they ever be able to go back to being normal teenagers? Find out in the first book of this exciting series that is Left Behind meets Matched for middle-grade readers.

What I liked:

  1. World building: The key to a good dystopian, fantasy, or sci novel is the world building. And for me, the backstory of why the world is the way it is has to make logical sense. (Don’t get me started on the dystopians where they banish stupid people!) Angler did a great job with including some fun elements (houses are built in stories since land is too expensive), while having logical reasons for why the world worked as it did.   
  2. Sympathetic Main Characters: I thought both Logan, with his anxiety and missing sister, and Erin, with her interest in spying and longing to get her family back together, were well-drawn and realistic. Having completely different ways of looking at the world added to the tension. 
  3. A dystopian that’s really a mystery. If I were to categorize this book, I’d put it more firmly in the category of mystery, but with a dystopian setting. I liked discovering along with Logan and Erin what was really happening to those who took the mark, who the Dust were, and what happened to Logan’s sister. 
  4.  A main character you can look up to: I read a book with a similar plot line where the main character didn’t rise to the challenge when faced with a difficult choice. But this book was different. By the end of the book, Logan wasn’t satisfied to hide and stay safe. He was willing to risk his life to find out the truth about his sister—and that’s the kind of hero I love. 
  5. An ending that gave closure, even though it’s a start of a series. It’s frustrating when the first book of a series ends on a cliffhanger that doesn’t tie up any lose ends. This book had a clear climax and resolution, but left a few open threads for the next book, which I’m reading right now.

Minor Quibbles: This book is multiple point of view. While I felt like that worked most of the time with Erin and Logan, when other characters’ POVs were included, it got a little muddy for me. But this was a small thing.

 Book trailer:


About the author (from the author's website):

Who is Evan Angler?


Evan Angler is safe, for now. He lives without the Mark, evading DOME and writing in the shadows of Beacon.

As a kid he was quiet and well-behaved, having grown up in a town not unlike Spokie, where he enjoyed music, drawing, hover-dodge, astrophysics, hiking, virtual reality . . .

None of that matters now.

Evan Angler is the author of the Swipe Series. But if anyone asks, you know nothing about it, and you didn't hear anything from him. Don't make eye contact if you see him. Don't call his name out loud. He's in enough trouble already.

And so are you, if you've read his books.

 


                                                Evan Angler  

 

Don’t you just love that bio?

What books have you loved lately?    


 If you'd like to read more middle grade reviews or join in the MMGM fun, go to Greg Pattridge's Always in the Middle blog. 


 

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

ISWG: The Surprising Effect of Your Own Words

 


I still remember the first time  my writing affected someone else. My aunt died of leukemia when I was in junior high, and I wrote a very thinly veiled short story about someone dying from cancer. I gave it to my best friend, and she cried.

As clich├ęd as that is, that was one of the first sparks that made me what to be a writer. Not that I wanted to make people cry, but I wanted my writing to affect people.

Over the years, I’ve often gauged my writing skill by people’s reactions. There was the time I attempted to create heroine with a very big character arc. Well, she was unlikable and her character arc paltry, and I’m thankful for the critique partners who told me so—to my surprise.

There have been many other times that people’s reactions stopped me short and made me rethink my story or my characters.

I’m not sure if this is a sign of growth, but I’m finding that the longer I write, the less I am surprised by people’s reactions. Of course, most of my audience is other writers, but I’m finding more and more when I write a funny scene, other people do laugh. Except for my teenage friend, I don’t know anyone else who cried.

I will keep working on this—trying to make what emotion I want to evoke on the page actually come across to the reader.

That is the hardest task of writing, but the most satisfying.

Has your writing affected other people in surprising ways?

Insecure Writer's Support Group:

 Purpose: To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds! 

Posting: The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. Post your thoughts on your own blog. Talk about your doubts and the fears you have conquered. Discuss your struggles and triumphs. Offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling. Visit others in the group and connect with your fellow writer - aim for a dozen new people each time - and return comments. This group is all about connecting! Be sure to link to this page and display the badge in your post. And please be sure your avatar links back to your blog! Otherwise, when you leave a comment, people can't find you to comment back. 

Let’s rock the neurotic writing world!

Our Twitter handle is @TheIWSG and hashtag is #IWSG. Every month, we announce a question that members can answer in their IWSG post. These questions may prompt you to share advice, insight, a personal experience or story. Include your answer to the question in your IWSG post or let it inspire your post if you are struggling with something to say. 
 
 
Remember, the question is optional!

May 5 question - Has any of your readers ever responded to your writing in a way that you didn't expect? If so, did it surprise you?


Monday, April 19, 2021

MMGM/#IMWAYR: On the Other Side of the Island


I’ve sort of been on a dystopian reading binge lately. But honestly, I’ve started many books in this genre and have not been able to finish them because they are just too dark.

On the Other Side of the Island was different. And even if you’re not usually a fan of dystopian, I think you might still like this book. It raises interesting questions about control, individuality, and family loyalty.

*While I’ve seen this title listed as YA in some places, the main character is 10 when the story starts and the voice is decidedly MG.

Synopsis from Amazon:

In the eighteenth glorious year of Enclosure, long after The Flood, a young girl named Honor moves with her parents to Island 365 in the Tranquil Sea. Life on the tropical island is peaceful—there is no sadness and no visible violence in this world. Earth Mother and her Corporation have created New Weather. The sky is always blue and it almost never rains. Every family fits into its rightful, orderly, and predictable place…
 
Except Honors. Her family does not follow the rules. They ignore curfew, sing songs, and do not pray to Earth Mother.  Honor doesn’t fit in with the other children at the Old Colony School. Then she meets Helix, a boy with a big heart who slowly helps her uncover a terrible secret about the Island:  Sooner or later, those who do not fit disappear, and they don’t ever come back.  
 


Honor knows her family could be next, and when the unthinkable happens, she must make the dangerous journey to the Other Side of the Island—before Earth Mother comes for her too…


What I liked:

1.Lyrical prose. One of my pet peeves with dystopians is that they often have lots of action, but little attention to the actual writing. Goodman’s writing is beautiful, and she creates such a rich mood and atmosphere. I felt like I was there on this island.

2.The importance of names. One of the major plot points of this book is about Honor’s name. In this society, kids from the same birth year are named with the same letter. While Honor’s name does start with H, the h is silent. I loved how her name showed so much about her parents and later was instrumental in the story’s conclusion.

3.Conformity vs. being unique. This theme is often common in dystopians, but I liked Honor’s character arc of how she grew from wanting to be like everyone else, which tweens will relate to, to fighting the system.

4.Awesome parents. You know how much I love good parents. These parents are nonconformists, even when Honor urges them not to be. They embrace originality and art and are working hard to remember the real past—and trying to get Honor to remember too.

5.Nods to class literature. It’s very unusual to find classics in dystopian books. One of my favorite parts of this book was when Honor discovers that the real Wizard of Oz really has a tornado in it. (In a world where bad weather has been eliminated, books about storms are banned.)

6.Open Ending. This book has gotten some complaints about its ending. I don’t mind an open ending as long as it works for the book. Not every plot question is answered at the end, but that made it all the more believable.

For my writer friends:

This is not a MG, but I just finished the most amazing craft book, Story Genuis by Lisa Cron. If you ever struggle like I do with crafting your protagonist’s misbelief, this book is genius (couldn’t help myself with that pun)! It’s a great step-by-step guide on how to build your plot from the inside out with an emphasis on the character’s internal struggle and character arc.




Highly recommended.

What books have you loved lately?

If you'd like to read more middle grade reviews or join in the MMGM fun, go to Greg Pattridge's Always in the Middle blog.









Monday, April 12, 2021

MMGM: Death Cloud

 

 


 

We’re a huge fan of mysteries at our house. When we have a long car trip (which admittedly doesn’t happen as often now), we usually listen to Sherlock Holmes on Librovox. Monk is a family favorite. My 16 year old son (reader extraordinaire) got the Complete Tales of Sherlock Holmes for his last birthday and has read it cover to cover multiple times. I was really drawn to the idea of a young Sherlock Holmes.

If you like a plot-driven tale with lots of nods to Holmes, you will love this book! And it’s the first of a series, so you could be busy for a long time.

Synopsis from Amazon:

It is the summer of 1868, and Sherlock Holmes is fourteen. On break from boarding school, he is staying with eccentric strangers―his uncle and aunt―in their vast house in Hampshire. When two local people die from symptoms that resemble the plague, Holmes begins to investigate what really killed them, helped by his new tutor, an American named Amyus Crowe. So begins Sherlock's true education in detection, as he discovers the dastardly crimes of a brilliantly sinister villain of exquisitely malign intent.

What I liked:

1.   Great sidekicks! I really enjoyed Matty, a street-smart orphan. Sherlock treated him as his equal, and Matty was important to the plot and solving the crime. In Conan Doyle’s books, Sherlock takes the lead in detection, but I liked how Sherlock needed his friends in this book. Victoria, a sort-of sidekick and love interest, was an equal partner in facing down the villain as well.

2.   An interesting villain. The villain’s backstory, his particular weaknesses, and the why behind his actions were some of the most interesting parts of the book. Behind every good plot is strong villain!

3.  A large canvas. It was fun that the plot took place in lots of locations—London, the countryside, a boarding school, France, a water boat, a tunnel under London.

4.   High stakes. The bad guys are really bad and do not shrink from trying to harm a child. This makes this book a little on the violent side for MG, but the high stakes led to a fast paced read.

5.  Great fun for Holmes fans! It’s always fun to imagine your favorite character in another setting. Although at times he was less eccentric than the original Holmes, I really enjoyed reading about Sherlock at 14. Mycroft makes a few appearances as well!

Minor Quibbles: Due to the multiple murders and attempted murders, I would classify this as upper MG and not for sensitive readers.


What mysteries have you loved lately?

If you'd like to read more middle grade reviews or join in the MMGM fun, go to Greg Pattridge's Always in the Middle blog.


 


Wednesday, April 7, 2021

ISWG: What I Learned About Writing From Atomic Habits




Every few years I pick up a time management book. I'm always hoping that it’s going to help me be more organized, write more, and well, do all the things. Like New Year’s resolutions, my new habits generally only last for a short while. But reading these books, which tend to say the same things in different ways, always prods me to get writing.

Recently, I read Atomic Habits. I guess it’s quite popular, but I’m not one to really pay much attention to bestseller lists.

I thought he had a lot of great points and good reminders—like good habits are not about will power, but about making the good habit more attractive and easier. 

So true. I write better when I have a cup of Earl Gray and listen to the La La Land Song Track. “The Fools Who Dream” song inspires me every time.

But my biggest takeaway from Atomic Habits was: “The greatest threat to success is not failure but boredom.”


His point was that we often think that people are successful because they “really want it” or “have a lot of passion,” so when we get bored or don’t feel passionate about our dreams, we feel like we aren’t passionate enough. But the truth is, those people who are successful don’t always feel passionate or excited about their work either. The difference is that they keep showing up, even on the boring days.

Perhaps this is another way to say BIC (Butt in Chair), but what I liked about is that I often beat myself up because I feel so-so about writing. Sometimes I wonder why I’m even writing or maybe if I was more passionate, more driven, or more (fill in the blank), I would be farther along by now.

But it’s not true. I have a very busy life. But I am plugging away one word at a time. And that’s what I’ve learned is important. I am doing the other things he suggested too. Making writing easier for me—putting my laptop  where it’s easy for me to access. Having an accountability partner.

But even more important (and this is not in the book) is giving yourself grace when writing doesn’t go as planned. When you’re not super excited about your plot. When you’re stuck. It’s still showing up or maybe giving yourself permission to step away or do “research” instead.

Because passion will wane, but if you can keep working even when it’s boring, you will finish that book, story, poem, or article.

Do you think passion or conquering boredom is more important to writing success?


 To read more ISWG posts or to sign up, go Insecure Writer's Support Group.

The awesome co-hosts for the April 7 posting of the IWSG are 

PK Hrezo, Pat Garcia, SE White, Lisa Buie Collard, and Diane Burton!

Our Twitter handle is @TheIWSG and hashtag is #IWSG.