This page has moved to a new address.

The Rich Writer

The Rich Writer: December 2007

The Rich Writer

How to Thrive on the Writer's Road

Monday, December 31, 2007

A Resolution to Prune

Some people have trouble decluttering their closets. I have trouble decluttering my writing space, both physical and mental.

The problem is that every project I work on leads to three others. That's great, in theory. Lots of writing conferences feature talks where successful writers explain how to spin multiple articles from a single pile of research. In theory, it's an efficient way to gain maximum benefit from writing and research time.

It doesn't work for me. By the time I've finished writing one article, I've usually started another and have a list of three others I really, really want to write as soon as I find the time. If I'm trying to leverage research from that first project to write a few more articles, they just add to my list. Meanwhile, I have an office filled with books to read (or re-read;) scraps of paper with images, descriptions, phrases, characters, character traits, names, words, story ideas, snippets of poetry; and a list of nonfiction book ideas, nonfiction article ideas, picture book ideas, fantasy world concepts, and poetry-in-progress.

Did I ever mention that I NEVER go to idea-generating talks at conferences? It'd be too much like taking an alcoholic to a wine-tasting. I HAVE ideas. I have too MANY ideas, which can be just as much of a problem as too few.

That's why my 2008 writing resolution is to prune my writing life. Sometimes, my mind becomes a tangle of impulses and ideas pulling me in different directions. Like an apple tree in spring, shooting up suckers in every direction, all reaching for daylight. I like the analogy because it carries further: the tree doesn't have enough resources to nurture all those suckers into full-grown branches. Similarly, I don't have enough energy to foster all my different ideas. I need to prune some of them--most of them--so that I can focus my resources on just a few.

But how do I choose which few to nurture? Cynthia Morris, a local writing coach and conference speaker, says to make a list of ideas and choose the ones about which I'm passionate. The practical side of me says to drop those concepts that aren't as salable and focus on the ones that have unique twists, something that makes them special.

From a business perspective, I will be most successful as a writer if I focus on writing what only I can write. What unique experience, perspective, or knowledge can I bring to my writing?

It's going to be tough--all those ideas are my babies, waiting to be written. (Ha! How's that for a mixed metaphor?) But when I try to do everything, I end up accomplishing nothing. It's time to prune boldly.

Besides, if I over-prune my sprouting writing ideas, I can take a lesson from the apple tree in my front yard. Last year, it received a pruning I thought would destroy it. Instead, the tree is healthier than ever--and covered with new suckers that probably need to be cut back again. I'm willing to bet that writing ideas are the same: no matter how ruthlessly I prune them, it won't take long for them to return!

:) Cheryl

Labels: , ,

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Creating a list...what motivates you?

It's the end of December. It's cold, gray, and the holidays are wearing you the heck do you find the energy to write instead of hibernate?

How about ending the year by creating a list of your personal writing motivators? Search for things that motivate, inspire, energize, or reward you for taking time to write--and you'll be prepared to begin the new year with new resolve and energy.

Although I can't say what works for you, here are a few of the things that work for me:

  1. An attractive writing space: An uncluttered, quiet corner (or room or armchair or pile of pillows on my bed) lets my mind quiet so that I can focus on creating.

  2. A project bag: I have a tote bag that I try to keep stocked with everything necessary for my work in progress, so that I can grab it whenever a writing opportunity arises. It includes items such as the book outline, a freewriting notebook, nice pens, and whatever I've written so far. As the papers pile, I add a pocket file to keep them organized. I particularly like the Wilson-Jones big mouth filer ( for its removable pockets.

  3. A fragrant candle: What can I say? Beautiful smells motivate me. The warmth, light, and fragrance of a scented candle helps me create a peaceful writing environment.

  4. A writing date: When my home is filled with chaos and clutter (even the happy chaos and clutter that occurs just after Christmas!) sometimes my best writing trick is escape. I make a date with myself and my pen at my favorite coffee shop, find a well-lit table, and can lose myself in hours of writing. Some of my most productive writing times have been in busy bookstore coffee shops--which is odd for someone as easily distracted as I am!

  5. A creativity walk: When I'm stuck for words, a walk or hike will often allow ideas to rise to the surface of my mind. Sometimes ideas are shy. They wait until I'm not paying attention to them to pop out--and walking seems to coax them to the surface.

When I combine a pinch of preparation with an ounce of motivation and a sprinkle of reward, I have the perfect recipe for productivity.

:) Cheryl

PS--No more alliteration today, I promise!

Labels: , ,

Friday, December 28, 2007

Staying Inspired

"I only write when I'm inspired, so I see to it that I'm inspired every morning at nine o'clock." Peter De Vries

I love this quote. I carry it around in my heart to keep me writing on the days when I'm tired or discouraged--or just feel more like napping than stringing words together. Writing is definitely work, even if it does give back to the writer!

But today's writer faces another problem as well: finding time. Can you imagine having a schedule that allowed you to sit down at the computer (or notebook or sketchpad or whatever) from 9:00 to 5:00 every day? Most of us, though, have other jobs and squeeze in writing on the side. Even among the writers I know who write full time, most of them split their writing time between the projects of their heart and the more practical work-for-hire writing/technical writing/editing--whatever they do to help pay the bills.

I think Peter De Vries' quote applies to us, as well, but in a different way. We need to write when we're inspired--AND we need to see to it that we're inspired every moment we have to devote to writing. We need to make it a practice to find and seize those borrowed moments, not give them up because they're too short or we're too distracted or we've discovered a sudden, urgent need to rearrange the sock drawer.

Not that rearranging sock drawers isn't important. Just find another moment--after you've written.

:) Cheryl

Labels: , ,

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Thursday's thing to love...a bit late :)

Even though I haven't managed to spend much time at my keyboard this week, thoughts of blogging and writing and such have been on my mind. Thoughts of last-minute gift shopping have also been on my mind. I guess the two mixed together, because they combined to create this week's thing to love: writing as a gift.

Have you ever thought of writing a story for someone you love? Several years ago, I wrote a few personalized picture books for my children and their cousins. The first was a Christmas book. I went all out: drew illustrations, read all about watercolors, took a stab at painting them. (The last few illustrations are definitely the best!) I learned a lot about what to do and not to do in illustrations. (Never make a small teddy bear a main player in a big scene. When the picture is reduced in size, details that are too small disappear!)

We scanned them into the computer, printed, assembled, and my husband helped me to bind them--really bind them, with a homemade book press, handcrafted paper on the cover, hand-stitched bindings. The thoughts was to create an inexpensive Christmas gift for all my nieces and nephews. After we paid for toner cartridges and fancy paper, I'm not sure they were really cost-effective--but they're an heirloom-quality gift. Even though the story will never catch a publisher's eye!

I love that, as writers, we can weave a story around a real person to create a gift that no one else can give. This Christmas, play with ways to give a gift of writing to someone else (but perhaps without all the illustrations and binding!)

:) Cheryl

Friday, December 14, 2007

Writing Inspiration: Craft Books (or--books part 2)

Here are some more writing books that fill my motivational tank, but these aren't designed to be motivational or inspirational. Instead, these are excellent craft books, the kind that leave me with so many ideas I have to go try them out. I hope you find one or two that sound helpful for wherever you are on your writing road!

Crafting Stories for Children, by Nancy Lamb: This is my absolute favorite how-to book for children's writers. Nancy Lamb tackles the basics--how to begin a story, characterization, inner and outer dialog. She also tackles trickier concepts, like story and quest, voice and tone, story structure. The book approaches writing as if you're building a house, with sections such as Building Plans, Foundation & Structure, and Structural Supports. This book is easy to follow and full of practical ways to improve your writing, whether you're a beginner, intermediate, or advanced writer.

Picture Writing: a new approach to writing for kids and teens, by Anastasia Suen: This book focuses on the study of children's literature as a means to writing great children's literature. I loved it, because it helped me to think about children's books in a new way. She also provides a beautiful illustration of the creative process that has helped me to be patient at those times when the story doesn't seem to go anywhere.

Story Sparkers: A Creative Guide for Children's Writers, by Marcia Thornton Jones and Debbie Dadey:.I wrote an entire book based on characters inspired by this duo's great writing exercises. Marcia Thornton Jones and Debbie Dadey authored the Bailey School Kids Jr. chapter book series, the books that tipped both of my boys into the land of fluent readers. This book covers the gambit of writing tools: markets, cultivating ideas, the writing process, and details of writing craft. It also provides some of the best writing exercises I've ever used!

The Writer's Journey, by Christopher Vogler. This book is a complete explanation of the Hero's Journey, or "mythic structure for writers." I had to include it because so many writers swear by it. I love the concepts and I use many of the principles of the hero's journey when structuring my own stories--but the truth is that I found his writing a bit too theoretical without enough opportunity to apply it. Check out this book before you buy--it might be perfect for you. If not, find another resource about the Hero's Journey, because the structure of myth is a great tool for great story crafting.

Writing the Breakout Novel (book and workbook), by Donald Maas: Donald Maass is president of the Donald Maass Literary Agency in New York, where he's studied enough great books to develop his theory about what makes a book succeed. Both the book and workbook provide excellent information, but if you want to dig into the material, I'd recommend the workbook. His exercises can help you reach the next level in your writing craft by showing you how to make your characters, emotions, and settings larger than life. Great tool!

Labels: , , ,

Why do writers blog?

My NF children's writers list has had an interesting discussion on the pros and cons of blogging lately. For a great article on the topic, check out Laura Purdie Salas' blog at:

Her article made me wonder: why do I blog? I began for practical reasons--web presence, marketing, connecting with readers etc.--but those aren't good enough reasons for me to spend the time on blogging right now. Web presence is good, but I don't have any books out to promote yet, and few magazine readers seek out the magazine's authors. When I get reader feedback on a story or article, it usually takes the form of, "Oh, you wrote that? I (or my son or my daughter) loved that article (or short story or craft)!" So I'm not connecting with *many* readers at this point.

And yet I keep coming back. My friend Julie says that all writing brings a reward, and I guess that blogging is no exception. So why do I blog?

  1. To sort out my thoughts on writing craft, writing struggles, and writing rewards.

  2. To connect with other writers out there.

  3. To (I hope!) provide a resource for others who are walking the writing road.

So thank you who read this, for sharing a bit of my life.

:) Cheryl

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Ack! Where's the time in December?

We headed out to cut a Christmas tree in the National Forest Saturday morning--one of the last days when the site was open. Our car died halfway there, just as the snow that had been threatening all morning decided to come down in earnest. Did you know it's difficult to get a tow truck when the roads are snowy? The Christmas-tree adventure turned into a full-day adventure sans tree. We sat in the car for hours; but luckily, in my family, there are always a few books in tow, so we read aloud for most of that time: The War of the Roses, by Astrid Lindgren of Pippi Longstocking fame. It's a fun read, and a good distraction if you're ever caught in a snowstorm.

December is such a crazy month. How do writers write, with decorating to do, presents to buy, snow to shovel (it's still coming down here in Colorado,) and countless holiday programs and parties to attend.

In my house, the writing projects are starting to stack up. It's time for me to resubmit The Last Violin, I have a half dozen nf articles I'd like to write, and there's always contract writing waiting in the wings.

I've spent most of my free moments polishing my nonfiction picture book. That's going very well. It turns out that the contract writing I've been doing has been a perfect warmup for my current phase in the nf book project. In medical writing, I need to document every little fact; as I prepare this final version of the nf book project, I need to footnote every quote and statement. It's like a treasure hunt through my research. Ideally, I would have noted all these things as I went along--but this is a first try at something as complicated as a nf book.

My time in December feels as if it is in short supply, but I keep reminding myself that I'm choosing where to spend the hours. Right now, it's more important to spend extra hours with my family and preparing for holiday celebrations; some of those hours, I'll save to write. But if the blog posts are farther between, you'll know why!


Labels: ,

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

NF Picture Book Contest

One of the members of the nonfiction children's writers list passed along this contest information: is hosting a contest this December. TELL THE TRUTH: The Write Marbles Nonfiction Picture Book Contest

GRAND PRIZE: Professional manuscript review by Sue Bradford Edwards –teacher and writing instructor specializing in nonfiction for children.

First and Second Prize: Critiques by Marbles

Open to: Everyone

How to enter: Send your polished nonfiction picture book manuscript, along with a bibliography listing primary and secondary sources, to: mail AT

How the contest works: The Write Marbles will read and judge every entry and send the top three to Sue Bradford Edwards who will choose the Grand Prize winner. The winners will be announced in early January.

Entry Fee: NEVER

If this might be something you are interested in you can go to for even more information.

:) Cheryl

Labels: ,