For this Travel Tuesday over at The Great Noveling Adventure, I’m sending everyone to a few fantastic sites that will help ignite their imaginations and get those idea engines cranking.
Looking for some new story generating sites? I’ve got some great suggestions for you. Stop waiting for that next big idea to hit you upside the head. Find it yourself, today.
Have some fun and play with your imagination. After all, that’s what it’s for.
Stop on over and join in the conversation!
Remember, when you start working on that next big idea, I host AM #sprints every weekday morning on Twitter over at @Novel_Adventure. Join me if you need some motivation to get started or if you just need some companionship as you work on your own great novel.
Things have been moving at a break-neck pace ever since I returned from the SCBWI LA Summer conference earlier this month. My less-than part-time job has picked up substantially and the group blog I participate in is coming back from vacation next week with a bang – all new format, a few changes to the line-up, and one hell of a fabulous contest with a gazillion prizes, including books and critiques! (Details on that coming very soon.) Not to mention squeezing in all the important revising that must continue. And I haven’t even talked about our Fall Retreat that’s (ack!) in just a few weeks.
Despite all of the chaotic activity, I really wanted to get started with my yearly conference-inspired blog posts. To tease you all a bit with what I have in mind, I thought I’d start with some of my favorite quotes from this year’s event.
“Imagination and the ability to tell a story will make anyone better at anything, with the possible exception of politicians and accountants.”
- Meg Rosoff
“Craft means making choices. It’s part of the process.”
“Teletubbies, better than a valium.”
“There’s no such thing as writer’s block; you’re just editing too early.”
“When stealing from real life, there’s a process of subtraction.”
“Anyone who writes down to children is simply wasting his time. You have to write up, not down. Children are demanding. They are the most attentive, curious, eager, observant, sensitive, quick, and generally congenial readers on earth…Children are game for anything. I throw them hard words and they backhand them across the net.”
- Megan McDonald reciting from famous E.B. White quote
“You never again love a book the way you do as a child.”
-Linda Sue Park
“I’ve always struggled with my own smallness.”
“Being an artist is the way you live your life.”
-Tomie de Paolo
“I was brave in my writing in a way that I wasn’t in my life.”
Yes! Judy freakin’ Blume! Her talk was the perfect way to end the conference, I have to say. I actually teared up just watching her cross the stage to the podium. LOVE HER!!! She’s so freakin’ adorable and moving and everything you imagine that you just want to hug her to pieces and then stuff the pieces into your mouth. Too weird? Sorry. But it’s Judy freakin’ Blume!
Snapping out of my fangirl fog, let’s get back to the quotes for just a second. See if you can guess how these fantastic little tidbits will play out as blog posts in the weeks ahead as I dole out the jewels of wisdom I received on my journey out west. Until then, I leave you with some vacation pics. Enjoy!
Today is my turn to post over on The Great Noveling Adventure. I share a list of five suggestions for How to Prevent Frostbite on Your Creativity during the longest month of winter, even though it has the shortest amount of days. Stop by if you’re in need of a spark in the creative department or share your own ideas if you have some. We’d all love to hear them.
As I gear up for the ultimate writing challenge next month, NaNoWriMo, not unlike a marathon runner prepping for that insanely long distance race, I find my brain filled with a haunting tune from the prolific rappers of the 80’s. Those poets in gold chains, sporting Adidas with style and grace.
Yes, Run DMC.
Photo Credit: from Wikipedia
♫♪This speech is my recital, I think it’s very vital
To rock a rhyme, that’s right on time
It’s tricky is the title, here we go
It’s tricky to rock a rhyme
To rock a rhyme that’s right on time
It’s tricky, it’s tricky, tricky tricky tricky ♪♫
Those of you who write in rhyme know that it can indeed be tricky to rock well.
I myself have never conquered NaNo. I’ve never reached the 50,000 word goal. I’ve never been focused enough. In the past, I’ve done more lip service to NaNo than actually participating and I’ve let anything bright and shiny distract me from reaching my goal.
But this year, I vow to make it all the way.
The number one thing I’m doing to make that happen is participating; making time to park my butt in the chair. That means I’ve had to clear my schedule ahead of time by preparing blog posts and arranging for childcare so I can attend write-ins.
Did you know that you can prepare blog posts ahead of time and schedule when they release? So convenient! How did I not know about this a year ago? (It pays to read all of the directions.) I’ve been prepping posts for the first half of the month to get me started on the right foot. I even have my premier post scheduled for The Great Noveling Adventure blog already in the queue, ready to go. Now I don’t have to sweat that. I can be nervous about something completely different.
Like what the heck I’m going to write about for 50,000 words.
I do have a beginning idea, but after that, who knows where this thing will go. Thankfully, if I get stumped, I can hit the NaNo Forums to find ideas for character names, adopt plot ideas, get help developing characters, etc. I’ve never really taken advantage of all NaNo has to offer.
I also plan on hitting a lot more of my local write-in events this year, including the kick-off event set for Halloween night. My costume? A dedicated freakin’ writer.
Another way I prepared for Nano was by organizing my workspace.
My office has slowly been creeping up on me, with ever growing towers of papers – notes from conferences, critiques of chapters, books on craft to read, etc. Things were getting way out of hand. And that was just on my side. My husband and I took about a week to tackle the clutter – midway through, I wasn’t sure we’d survive the disaster we’d created trying to organize our lives. Mass quantities of beer consumed settled my frayed nerves. Then an open space in the carpet appeared, the mountain of debris dissipated. My husband redesigned and built from scratch two fantastic desks that opened up the room and made me eager to get back to work. He more than earned his Xbox time at the end of each work day.
My husband’s side.
My desk is clutter-free and ready to see some serious action. My husband also helped me set up a studio microphone so I can pace around the office and do some hands-free writing to encourage me to write with less editing – which is what this NaNo exercise is really supposed to be about for me. I need more practice letting myself write that messy first draft without editing the crap out of it.
So how do you prepare for NaNo?
Are you participating?
If you are and you need another buddy, I’m litbeing. Add me and we’ll rock NaNo together.
And don’t forget, for all you picture book writers,you’re not off the hook! There’s a fabulous program for you during the month of November called PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month) started by the lovely Tara Lazar. You should definitely check it out!
I may have lost some time from losing consciousness when coughing my brains out and then during the drug induced haze that followed, but I’m very much back in top form as we head toward the end of the month. I love it when a deadline approaches; it means it’s time to really get to work.
1. Participate, post, push, and praise much better this month, especially where #writemotivation is concerned. I did a fair job with this goal. I visited my #writemovitation friends’ blogs and hopped on Twitter from time to time, but there’s room for improvement, for sure.
2. Revise, revise, revise! I worked revising on my middle gradenovel this week and it is going very well. Some of the major changes I’ve had to make turned out great and actually increased the tension and added to the mystery element perfectly. I should have made those changes so much earlier.
Why are we so resistant to the changes that are the best for us? Hmmm.
For extra credit, I made some headway on critiquing my friend’s manuscript that I’ve put off forever. I hope to have that done by the end of the month, even though that wasn’t an official goal. It’s just way overdue.
3. Keep on freaking exercising. I actually picked this up again and did well this week. I’m feeling so much better as a result.
4. Read, read, read. I’m almost done with my second book for the week. Matt de la Peña’s Mexican WhiteBoy. It also fits into Banned Book Week as it was challenged by an Arizona school for its racial issues, which I find so ironic. This book is about struggling to find your way in the world when your biracial. I didn’t see it as racist in the least. It’s a very important book for a huge section of the population; kids who can identify with the main character and understand the struggle of straddling two worlds and know what it means to feel the guilt of striving for success, of trying for a better life while leaving your parents and relatives behind.It’s also about baseball. It’s a heavy book.
I had the pleasure of seeing Matt speak again this week here in Tulsa. One of the things I took away from this talk was how a single book can change a person’s life. He talked about how the right book at the right time can do that; change lives. For him, it was Alice Walker’sThe Color Purple. A professor at college gave it to him because she thought he would get something out of it. He did. It was the first time he really connected with the characters of a story. He thought his life, his childhood, had been awful. This story opened his eyes. This book changed his course and he became a writer.
Then, while he was in his MFA program, his dad was laid off from his job at the San Diego zoo, where he’d worked ever since dropping out of school when Matt was born. It was a devastating blow to his sense of identity and he was depressed for a long time. One day, when Matt was visiting, he asked what Matt was reading. It was One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. His dad asked him if he could read it. Matt had never seen his father read a book in his life, but he said of course. His dad read it and then asked for more books. Eventually, his dad started checking out his own books from the library, then secretly got his GED, went to college and is now a third grade teacher.
Wow. I love that story.
Books change lives. That’s why I’m a writer.
We’re taking a break from #writemotivation in October and will return in November, just in time for NaNoWriMo. I’ll probably have one more update for September. Meanwhile, some exciting things are coming up soon on the blog, so stay tuned!
And not just because he is ruggedly handsome. Or because he took the time to notice where I was from when I was in line to get my book signed and then asked me where exactly Broken Arrow was. He even talked to me about an upcoming author event he had scheduled in my area. Very nice.
And it wasn’t because he said it was great to meet me. See?
Or because he took the time to stand up to take a picture with me. Not many authors do that. So thoughtful.
Or because he gave me a copy of his short story, Passing Each Other in Halls, por nada. So awesome of him, wasn’t it?
Okay, okay. Ma-ybe he did that for all of his quasi-mental, yet adoring fans. Still, not all authors take this kind of time with their readers/stalkers/fans, believe me. Better than any fabulous swag I may have gained from the conference was the knowledge he imparted during his keynote speech and break out sessions. For that, I will be eternally grateful and a forever devoted stalker reader.
During his break out session on exercising patience, one of the first things he said was:
The first page is important but don’t mistake this for EVERYTHING has to happen on the first page.
You don’t have to cram all the major drama – the break up, the car crash, the gun shot – in that first page to make your story great and to keep readers interested. Allow your characters to tell the story; let it unfold naturally. Sometimes you have to get out of your own way and let your readers come to their own conclusions.
Which brings me to de la Peña’s next nugget of wisdom:
Not every reader has to get every thing.
He shared the opening pages from Denis Johnson‘s Tree of Smoke with us as an example of writing that allows the story to unfold without prejudice or narrator comment. The opening line is “Last night at 3:00am President Kennedy had been killed.” Within this passage, as the young soldier stalks through the jungle, there isa 2nd assassination with the death of a monkey, but the narrator doesn’t draw attention to it. If the reader gets the parallel, great. It adds another layer, a deeper connection to the story, but the reader doesn’t need to understand this connection to follow the plot.
De la Peña does the same with his own writing as well. In Ball Don’t Lie, a story about a foster kid who’s only constant in life is basketball, you don’t have to understand the game of basketball to appreciate it. In Mexican WhiteBoy, there are tons of Spanish passages that he doesn’t translate. You don’t have to know what’s being said to appreciate the story, but it enhances the experience. De la Peña says that when a kid who isn’t a big reader can translate a passage for a teacher who’s reading aloud to the class, he takes ownership of the story, which is what you want.
When reading a book, you are doing half the work; you take ownership of it. You picture the action in your mind.
I love that.
When de la Peña returned to the discussion of how we as writers can show patience in our work, he talked about his experience in his MFA program. At one point, he was trying to show off, be a real stylist by throwing everything he’d learned into his current writing project. His advisor told him the story was suffering because of it. She told him to slow the f*ck down.
Just slow down.
She was so right.
This advice has followed him throughout his career.
Sometimes the slow build is the best build.
When something big is about to happen in your story, slow that moment down. Car crashes, gun shots, even break ups can take seconds. You can slow it down in a book with many different strategies. Do you go with hypersensitivity? Backstory? Try different ways and see what works.
Sit there with the audience in the palm of your hand and make them suffer.
Ooh hoo hoo! Gives you chills doesn’t it? I’ve heard of hurting your characters, of torturing them until it hurts, but your reader? I’d never thought of their suffering while I write, have you?
But he does make an excellent point. Some of my favorite books have those delicious scenes that have kept me on that edge, prolonging the moment. It’s almost an agony, suffering the pain of the moment along with the character, but I find myself rereading these passages again and again, soaking up every bit, until I’m satisfied enough to move on.
If you are lucky enough to live in the Tulsa area, come see this dynamic author for yourself. Matt will be speaking on September 24th at the Martin Regional Library.
And not just because I get to run away every summer and play with my fellow writers in a celebration of children’s books. I don’t think I could make it through this grueling struggle towards publication without such a crazy-supportive community.
As Lin Oliver stated in her opening address of the SCBWI Summer conference, “Let’s admit that we’re all kind of weirdos”. That’s probably why I feel so at home when I’m there; the place is chock full of kindred spirits.
I always enjoy the parade of the faculty that follows her opening speech. This is when each speaker marches across the stage, introduces themselves and sums up life, the universe, and everything in one word. (Strangely, I have never heard someone use the word forty-two.) As usual, not all writers follow the rules.
Here are some of my favorites from this year:
David Weisner “Plastics”
Richard Peck “Surveillance”
Jay Asher “Subtlety”
Then Jay spoke for his writing partner who couldn’t attend the faculty parade: (in high-pitched voice)”Hi, I’m Carolyn Mackler and my word is Asparagus”.
Matt de la Peña “Honesty” and “Tequila” (I think the tequila helps with the honesty.)
Kristin Clark Venuti “Brain fart”
Ari Lewin “Bacon”
Laurie Halse Anderson made up a word, “Frenergy” which she described as frenzy and energy.
After wracking her brain all night trying to think of a word, Alyn Johnston was inspired by the talking elevator in the hotel : “L-lobby!” (Did I mention that the elevator has a very laid back Californian accent?)
After several other inspiring words, the conference got rolling with a great keynote from Laurie Halse Anderson that just made me love her forever. (Okay, I was already a fan of her work, but now it’s permanently carved into my heart: me + LHA = reader love forever and ever.)
I’ve felt an emotional disconnect with my writing lately. It’s all tied up in agent-submission fatigue and self-doubt. Anderson shot straight to the heart of that when she discussed her early writing struggles. At one point she said:
“Your fear is that you are a fraud with no talent.”
I wondered how she could see into my soul from eight rows back. I almost cried. She told us that there was a reason that we could hear dialogue and see in pictures. We have the gift of magic, of ‘Once upon a Time’.
“Books are proof humans can do magic.”
Amen! and Hell, yeah! I almost screamed out. She said that we are NOT like the other grownups; that we defend, protect, and celebrate childhood. We write books with integrity and honesty. In short, she said all of the things that recharged my writer’s heart and reminded me why I loved writing. She reminded me to forget about trends and to write what I love. It was the best way for me to start the conference – letting go of the negative crap and embracing the creative. Throughout the conference, this was the focus for me. I didn’t care this time about how to best market myself or which agents to pursue or what editors were wanting; I looked for things that inspired me.
I spent some quality time with my writing friends and sampled the local cuisine.
I checked out the art of a billion illustrators – not an original idea.
I may have even donned a costume and danced a bit.
I met some authors and took some awkward photos – they were all so generous with their time and kind words.
I may have gone overboard with the books.
(My bag weighed in at 49.5 lbs at the airport – score!)
I’ll be sharing posts in the weeks ahead about some great talks that helped me find the inspiration that made me excited about writing again. I hope you enjoy them.
As for my writing goals this month, I’ve toned them down a bit. Last month was a little crazy (which may have contributed to my negative state of mind).
1. Enjoy the SCBWI Summer Conference. DONE!!!
2. Revise, revise, revise. I have tons of critique notes from crit camp to review – not to mention my critique from the conference. I will be very busy with this.
3. Write, write, write. DITTO.
4. Read, read, read. I’ve indulged in this goal for the past few weeks and have read over six books already. More on that to come!
5. Keep that exercise routine going. Blech. Yes, I’m working on it. Stop nagging me.I’m just back from vacation, er, a business trip, whatever.
I hope you’ve all had an enjoyable summer and are rejuvenated from your various adventures. I know I am. Here’s to a productive and inspired fall!