This page has moved to a new address.

The Rich Writer

The Rich Writer: July 2008

The Rich Writer

How to Thrive on the Writer's Road

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Opportunities Missed

The current busy-ness in my life right now is that I'm coordinating my local SCBWI chapter's Manuscript Critique sessions for our fall conference. It's a cool volunteer position, because it keeps me in the loop for what's going on in my SCBWI chapter. It also puts me in touch with many of the writers in the Colorado area. Writers of all levels enter the sort-of contest. Sort-of, because it's not an official contest; but it feels a little contest-like because the best manuscripts will be forwarded on to editors and agents for critiques. The Manuscript Critique offers a rare opportunity to put your manuscript in front of editor/agent eyes--and then hear directly from them what did and didn't work.
The process makes me realize, though, how many opportunities we miss as writers. Entering the MS Critique was relatively inexpensive--$40 for a critique. Given all the writers in the Rocky Mountain region, you'd think we'd have hundreds of entries--but we have relatively few. Enough that there's still a bit of competition for those coveted editor/agent critique slots, but still. How many people didn't enter because they didn't think they had a shot?

This is also on my mind because I'm in touch with the folks coordinating another opportunity with our fall conference: a scholarship for writers to attend the conference. Again, entering wasn't difficult--entrants had to write a 250-word essay about why they write for young readers, their current projects, and their writing goals. Relatively few entered.

I also read recently that most editors never see the manuscripts they request at conferences.

Submitting--entering contests--putting ourselves out there to be judged. Those are tough things. But we writers have to develop tough hides if we want to make it in the world of publishing. What better way to practice than by entering a few contests and applying for a few scholarships along the way?

:) Cheryl
PS--This message brought to you by Lily, inspirational poodle extraordinaire, and her new cohort, Killian. We haven't figured out his title yet. "Your high cuteness" seems most appropriate at the moment, but he IS still a ridiculously delicious puppy. He's helping me keep the sofa warm as I write, exhausted from his job as Lily's sidekick.

Labels: , ,

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Question of the day: how will I avoid procrastinating?

I'm collecting inspiration! Here are a few recommended anti-procrastination techniques:
  • 30 min. unbreakable appointments (hourglass optional)--from Claudia Mills

  • Butt-in-Chair--Jane Yolen, Take Joy

  • BIC HOK TAM--Book-in-a-Week (Butt in chair, hands on keyboard, typing away madly;

  • Permission to write a *$!#$! first draft (even if it's a first draft of a rewritten scene)--Anne Lamott, Bird By Bird

  • Short assignments--Heather Sellers, Page After Page

  • Don't fear finishing--Eric Maisel, Fearless Creating

  • Remove to a coffee shop or library with naught but the WIP--Cheryl (moi). Sometimes escaping distractions is the best solution.

Now, I need to crochet another few rows with my pretty new yarn....NOT!

:) Cheryl

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Confessions of a Distracted Writer

I'm in the midst of rewriting my MG fantasy, Juggling the Keystone. Everything's set for me to crank out pages: I brainstormed scenes with a friend last week and hashed out the last few plot glitches. I have my days free with both kids at camp. I have no other major projects I have to work on right now. The house is even passably clean!

So...what did I do today? Here's a partial list:

  • Ran a half dozen errands. This included a suddenly urgent need to spend an hour in B&N choosing just the right crochet book from the dozens available.

  • Started a new crochet project. (It's a bag to carry my little Moleskine writing notebook, so it counts as writing time. Right?)

  • Polished up a few craft articles.

  • Listed a dozen craft ideas that I should really test, write up, and submit. Right away.

  • Researched a dozen craft markets, since my standards probably don't want me to send them a dozen crafts simultaneously.

  • Packed up that pair of boots with the broken zipper that's been sitting under my desk for 6 months, waiting to be returned to the manufacturer.

I also spent an hour and a half actually working on the rewrite. And it was hard! What's with that? I have all these beautiful ideas in my head; I think I'm subconsciously expecting them to materialize on the page, perfect as snowflakes.

I will say, I didn't recognize my blatant procession of procrastination techniques until I finally sat down at my computer to work. I'll be better prepared tomorrow!

Meanwhile, I'll try to remember that I DON'T need to get the perfect words on the page on the first try--even during the "final" rewrite. I just have to get the words down. Later, I can add the polish.

:-) Cheryl

Labels: ,

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Great Verbs

Rewriting my own work makes me acutely aware of strong verbs in others' writing. I especially love when authors coax words into unexpected meanings. Here are a few of my favorite verbs for the week:
  • bracelet: "A thin red line bracelets her wrist."

  • crosshatch: "Docks and moorings crosshatch the water nearest shore."

  • jewel: "Stars jewel the sky."

  • bleed: "Sunset bled across the lake."

  • spiderwebbed: "Silver spiderwebbed the orb's surface."

I like Lewis Carroll's thoughts about language, as expressed in Through the Looking Glass: 'When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone,' it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less.'

Today, I will practice coaxing my own words into order :)


Labels: ,

Monday, July 21, 2008

Rewriting: the Big Picture

How do you get the big picture when it's time to rewrite--and restructure--your book? I'm a visual thinker, so for me, the trick is to find a way to represent my story visually. I've tried many different methods for tracking different parts of my story: stickers, highlighters, different colors of sticky notes, webbing, outlines, flow charts. Some are more fun than others (especially if, like me, you have an addiction to beautifully-colored pens and highlighters) but in the end, I find that simpler is usually better.

One problem I'm fixing in the rewrite of Juggling the Keystone: my characters need more problems. To help me track my progress, I needed a way to track story problems from one chapter to the next. The solution? A table in MS Word. Column 1 lists each chapter title. Column 2 lists problems introduced, continuing, or resolved in the chapter. For ex., here's the (cryptic) problem list for Ch. 6 :
  • Money, etc. / KS / Guards / Paranoid king / Chirp wants out / wizard—mntns? / Stuffed animals / father / trapped / Khess captured / Khess hurt / Khess lied

Color coding helps me to see which problems are new or continuing (red), which are temporarily resolved (light green), and which are permanently solved (dark green).

It was fun to see the whole table, with more and more red blooming as the story progresses. Geeky, yes--but it helped!

:) Cheryl

Labels: ,

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Rewriting Tricks

At long last, I'm working on rewriting Juggling the Keystone, the book that placed first in the 2008 PPWC writing contest. (The book that an editor has actually asked to see in full, after reading the first 20 or so pages as a contest judge.) My wonderful critique group has read the thing, I've processed their many comments, and I've entered the re-plotting phase of the rewrite.

This is a familiar road. I walked a similar path when learning to publish articles, craft pieces, and short stories. I had to learn to fit my writing into each of these different forms.

For instance, here's how I wrote my first publishable short story (after writing many, many that remain in my files):

  1. Juxtapose unexpected characters and events. The story ideas that came easily to me weren't original. I guess they came easily to others as well. So I started to brainstorm unexpected combinations: fairies and trains, a telepathic cat and a magical orb with an attitude, rats on Mars (still trying to get that one published....) Those are the ones that editors wanted to read.

  2. Polish without mercy. Beautiful writing isn't good enough. I went over every paragraph, every word, every description to make them the best I could make them. I checked for sensory details; read aloud for rhythm and flow; ruthlessly pared unnecessary words.

  3. Analyze successful stories. For the writer who's trying to break into a new area, your best teachers are the stories and articles already published in your target market. Break them apart. How many words in the average sentence? How many sentences in the average paragraph? How much of the story is handled in description versus dialog versus action? These details will help you see why published pieces work--and apply what you learn to your own writing.

  4. Analyze story structure. In #3, I tell you to look at the details of your writing. You also need to look at the shape of your writing--and again, your best teachers are published pieces. Take a short story from your target market and diagram it. How much space is devoted to the introduction? When does the author present the story problem? How many scenes fit? What transition techniques are used?

When I wanted to sell a science article to Highlights, I studied their science articles. When I wanted to sell a short story to Spider, I studied their short stories. Now I want to sell this middle grade fantasy. It will take time and effort...but hey, if you've got a method that works, why mess with it?

:) Cheryl

Labels: ,

Monday, July 14, 2008

Summertime Sources

For many a children's writer, summer brings a host of distractions that make it tricky to find writing time. However, summer also brings a host of opportunities for research and inspiration. Too busy to write? Carry along your favorite notebook and seize these summertime idea sources:

  1. Summer camp: Have kids heading to day camp? Arrive a few minutes early with pen in hand. In the end-of-day chaos, you'll get to observe a host of character quirks, snips of dialog, attitudes, and actions.

  2. Summer camp, again: If you have a child going to a residency program, be prepared for an onslaught of interesting kid dynamics on pick-up day. Many campers will give a closing presentation filled with inside jokes and incidents from the week before. Better yet, take a look at the counselors' closing presentation. It's like the Reader's Digest Condensed Version of elementary school social interactions.

  3. Vacation travel: Many a vacation provides fodder for the children's writer. Harvest your destination for nf article ideas, character observations, and setting details.

  4. Vacations--no travel: Are you trying to find ways to entertain your kids at home after they've tired of their usual array of games/friends/activities? Consider this: any idea that entertains your kids will probably appeal to other parents fried by too much together time. Markets abound for do-it-yourself games, activities, puzzles, and projects.

  5. Driving time: My favorite part about road trips? Books on tape. If I seem fixated with Cassandra Clare's City of Bones this summer, it's because I bought the audio book and have listened to parts of it four times so far. It's a great way to pass the time--and dig into a text to figure out what makes it work.

Have fun!

:) Cheryl

Labels: , ,

Friday, July 11, 2008

A glimpse into my former life as a scientist....

This is TOOO funny:

Where were these guys when I had a thousand samples to pippette?

:) Cheryl


Distractions and Inspirations

It's funny that I wrote last about "what your writing life needs", because this week, I've ended up asking myself that very question. I'm participating in Book-in-a-Week, with a goal of writing 60 pages by Sunday night. So far, I've written about 16. Not sure I'm going to make it!

This has been a week of many distractions: a friend in surgery, an elderly and cranky dog, various doctor appointments, and a host of major decisions to make (you know--raspberry chocolate chunk ice cream versus waffle cone extravaganza...okay, just kidding). So I've been storing up thoughts about life more than writing.
Thoughts and observations about life are what bring our writing, well, to life. So here are a few of my thoughts/observations from this week:
  • Friends, family, and loved ones aren't forever... I need to make sure that my relationships remain top priority in my life.

  • Getting glasses for the first time is miraculous... When a kid puts on his first pair of glasses, he discovers a world full of more detail than he ever imagined. The clouds have texture and shape; the trees have individual leaves; the sidewalk has cracks and crevices.

  • Aging... All of us deal with it, in ourselves and in others. Aging changes people and animals on the outside. Sometimes on the inside, too.

  • Callouses... When you live with something long enough, you stop noticing it. You stop remembering that it's not normal to ______________ --you fill in the blank. Sometimes, you need to see your life through someone else's eyes to remember what "normal" looks like.

  • Denial... Some people will deny the truth, even when presented with incontrovertible evidence, because they don't want to believe it. Parents will deny that their kid stole something; kids will deny that their parent abused them; people deny their addictions.

No, they aren't necessarily new ideas--but they have renewed meaning for me. When I pull these ideas into my stories, I become a better writer.

And if you write some great story around one of these thoughts, you have to tell me!

:) Cheryl

Labels: ,

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The Writing Practice

It's BIW time again (Book-in-a-Week) and I'm participating for the first time in months. And despite the fact that it's mid-summer, there are 98 participants this go-around. I'm SOOOOO glad to have the added writing incentive. I've been so busy with projects other than my novels that I lost my page-a-day forward momentum.

Summer's an easy time to lose that momentum, isn't it? Sometimes it's okay to slow down the pen-to-page writing, though. Take five minutes to consider what would be best for your writing life this hot and lazy month of July:

  • Daily page assignments! You need a deadline--and possibly a taskmaster--or you won't get anything done this summer.

  • A few weeks to read and relax. Yes, writing's all well and good, but writing burnout isn't. You need to refuel with someone else's words for a change.

  • Play time, anyone? You need some idea-generating freedom, maybe a new pen and notebook, to discover some new characters, plot twists, and settings.

  • A date with your WIP. You're ready to write, but perhaps the fluid schedule of summertime life has kept you from spending as much time at it as you'd like. You need a date with your work-in-progress and without distractions.

Summer can turn your writing life upside down--but if you're intentional about what you want and need, you can emerge from summer already rolling down your writing road.

:) Cheryl

PS--Pictured are three of my favorite inspirations/distractions. Ain't summer grand?

Labels: , ,

Monday, July 7, 2008

Making Meaning

I think that the best writers are philosophers.

I love a great story--plotting, in fact, is one of my favorite pasttimes--but plot alone isn't enough. The books that catch me and keep me are the ones that tackle life's bigger questions and try to make sense of them. Take City of Bones by Cassandra Clare. Rereading it, I stumbled upon a wonderful line: If there was anything Clarey was learning from all of this, it was how easily you could lose everything that was ever important to you. (That's it, approximately--I don't have the book in front of me). It's not enough build great worlds, engaging plots, and believable characters. We need to draw insights from the resulting soup called story.

Whenever I'm facing one of life's inevitable ups and downs, I try to make sense of them. I try to answer those impossible questions...Do pet rats and mice go to heaven? Why does your best friend develop a brain tumor? How do you survive the loss of a loved one, a parent, a child?

There aren't formulaic answers (except about the pets question). I'd be cheating if I said there were. But when I write, I figure out a little bit about myself and the world. And I hope to help someone else out there figure those things out, too.

:) Cheryl

PS--For praying types, please send up a prayer for my best friend, Amy, who's having that brain tumor removed soon. We love you, girl!

Labels: ,

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Encyclopedia Fun for the NF Writer

As a kid, I loved encyclopedias--but as soon as I started writing professionally, I learned to shun them. After all, writers are supposed to use primary sources and hands-on research, right?

Well. Yes and no.

You can learn a lot from encyclopedias. For instance, one hot summer, I learned how to play poker: "Indian" poker, five card draw, seven card stud. I taught my younger brother and sister, then proceeded to win all their pennies. (I'm not sure my parents knew....)

My recent time using an encyclopedia introduced me to another great feature: anything that packs that much information (the history of the known world and universe) into that little space (a dozen or so volumes or, more likely, a few CDs) is a great source for article ideas. Take a look at your local encyclopedia's entries for the history of mathematics, the credit care, or zoos to gather tidbits for your next writing jaunt. Or check out the article on poker--hey, there have got to be other kids out there who want to learn how to play!

Or not :)


Labels: , ,