Friday, December 31, 2010

Goodbye 2010

As December 2010 comes to a close, I thought the best way to reflect on the past year would be to create a Wordle of my 2010 blog. You can view it easier if you click on it. I love how my three biggest words are time, summer, and writing! I wonder what that says about me?

Wordle: Untitled

 I wish everyone a Happy New Year!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I've included a list of the things I'm thankful for as a writer. 

I'm thankful for:
  • The time to write (no matter how minuscule it seems on some days);
  • My son who has written 1,001 words of his first novel and has developed a love of writing;
  • My writing friend (and my BFF) who lets me read her writing and gives me hope that I can one day write as well as she does;
  • My online critique friends who keep letting me send them my writing;
  • Published authors who write amazing stories and provide me with wonderful mentor texts;
  • My friends in the blogosphere who inspire me on a daily basis; and
  • The desire to write, even on the days when I'm filled with self-doubt.
 I wish you all a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Saturday, October 16, 2010


I challenge you all to participate in November's NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month): 30 days, 50,000 words, and a whole lot of fun!  If you've ever thought about writing a novel, here's your chance.  And hold back those excuses -- I'm a single mom working two jobs, and if I can still find the time, so can you!

Join here and add me as one of your Writing Buddies!

Check out what John Green (Looking for Alaska, An Abundance of Katherines, Paper Towns) has to say about NaNoWriMo: 

Monday, August 9, 2010

Circle of Friends Blogger Award

I received this wonderful award from Catherine A. Winn at The Writing RoomThanks Catherine! My job is to pass it on to five other bloggers.

Renae at The Write Groove 
Debbie at Writing Soup
Michelle at Michelle Teacress 

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Juggling Time

You may or may not have noticed, but I've been absent from my blog (and other blogs) for most of the summer. I had grandiose visions of being a full-time writer and dedicating my summer to finishing my novel.  

But, like some well-thought out plans, my vision failed rather quickly. I discovered that I work better on a tight, rigid schedule. With too much free time (like my summer as a teacher out of school), I tend to fill in the gaps with non-work: reading, playing with my kids, going to movies, etc. It surely didn't leave me enough time to write. In my mind, I was on vacation (loosely translated, no work!). Then it became easier and easier to push writing to my "back-burner."  

Now, three weeks before I have to return back to school, I can't imagine where the time went. Did I write every day? No. Did I finish the first draft of my novel? No. Did I stay caught up on blogging? No.  

But I can say that I had an enjoyable summer. Three months ago, my kids and I made a list of the top 50 things we wanted to do this summer. We didn't accomplish everything, but we did manage to hit 24 activities on the list. Not too bad, I think.  

What I realized this summer is that I tend to accomplish more when I have less time. Surprising, isn't it? I think I prioritize better when there's less time. I'm looking forward to getting back into a rigid schedule again, one that includes time to write. 

What about you? Did you achieve all that you wanted this summer?

Monday, July 12, 2010

Once Upon a Read-a-Thon Begins Today!

Get ready ... Get set ... Start reading!  

Today is the first day in a three day read-a-thon, sponsored by Angela at The Reading Angel.  You can join in the festivities from her blog.  Each day from July 12 to July 14, there will be mini-activities that you can complete (and there are PRIZES!).

These are the books on my list to read:

A Blue So Dark by Holly Schindler
Glimpse by Carol Lynch Williams
The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe

So grab your own books and start reading! What's the next book you're going to read?

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Developing Character

I admit that I don't spend a lot of time before I start writing a manuscript to outline my plot, sketch my characters, or create an emotional arc.  Instead, I write and let the characters develop themselves and the plot.  

I know that there isn't only one right way to be a writer, but here's some advice that I learned about character development from published authors at the Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers conference:
  • All characters--heroes, villains, and secondary/tertiary characters--need to have strengths and weaknesses. (Alane Ferguson)
  • As characters matter more to each other, they matter more to the reader. (Brandon Mull)
  • Make sure secondary characters aren't "cardboard"--especially parents and young children. (Sara Zarr)
  • Avoid stereotypical characters.  Each character must be "fresh." (Alane Ferguson)
  • Characters need to relate to others, be interesting, and be likeable. (Brandon Mull)
  • Be personally involved.  Be passionate about your characters and connect on deeper levels.  (Sara Zarr)
 What about you?  Is there any other advice about developing characters that you can add, either with your own experience or from conferences you've attended?

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Gateway Books

In celebration of today's release of Eclipse, I want to praise the Twilight saga.  Now, this is not meant to be a forum to debate Stephenie Meyer's writing skills (we all know there are passionate feelings on both sides of the spectrum).  Instead, I want to focus on her books from the viewpoint of a high school English teacher.

As writers, it's easy for us to question why some books get published, especially when we feel adamant that we are better writers.  But as an English teacher, I've learned to appreciate any book that my students read.  My job is to get my students to read.  And to enjoy reading.  If it means they read a Twilight novel rather than Shakespeare, I'm okay with that.  Because at least they're reading.

We've all heard the term "gateway drugs."  (If not, defines it here.)  But have you ever heard of gateway books?  These are the books that turn non-readers into readers.  I see that happen every school year. 

That's why I put every book I buy (or win in a contest or obtain as a donation) on my classroom shelf.  Because I never know which book will be the next gateway book for my students.  If I can help at least one non-reader become a reader, I'll feel like I've done my job.  

Let's be realistic as writers.  We need readers.  How else can we make a living as writers?  I applaud those writers, the ones like Stephenie Meyer, who can spin a great story and create energetic teen readers.

Here's my question to you: What were your gateway books?  Which ones helped you to become readers and/or writers? 

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Why Do You Write?

I spent the past week at the Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers conference (WIFYR).  It put me on a rollercoaster of emotions.  Being around so many fabulous published and pre-published authors made me feel inferior at times.  

Several presenters asked the following question: Why do you write?  I thought it would be interesting to find out why everyone writes.  I admit this is somewhat selfish of me because I really could use the inspiration right now (but I doubt I'm the only one who could be lifted up from other people's examples).

Here's my answer to the question: Why do you write?  I write because: 
  • I have stories to tell.
  • I like the sense of accomplishment I feel after finishing a first draft.
  • It's a rush of excitement when characters or scenes write themselves.
  • When I'm not writing, I can't stop thinking about my characters.
  • Even though it's hard at times, I really enjoy writing. 
So now it's your turn: Why do you write?

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Attack of the Inner Editor

I have a very strong inner editor.  In arm wrestles, she always wins.  What does this mean for my writing?  Sometimes it takes hours for me to write a chapter.

I envy those who can sit at their computer and just write.  Even when they know it's not perfect and it will ultimately need some serious revision.  

I can't do that.  I've tried, trust me.  But I can't stop myself from going back to reread and rewrite.  In fact, before each writing session, I review the previous chapter and rewrite words, sentences, even entire paragraphs.  I suffer from a bad case of perfectionism.

In her book Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott spends one chapter championing bad first drafts and another chapter denouncing perfectionism.  She states, "Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people.  It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft" (28).  She continues, "Perfectionism will ruin your writing, blocking inventiveness and playfulness and life force ... Perfectionism means that you try desperately not to leave so much mess to clean up.  But clutter and mess show that life is being lived" (28).

Do you agree with Anne Lamott?  What do you do to restrain your own inner editor?

Friday, June 4, 2010

Point of View Preferences

I never really spend time considering the point of view of my manuscripts.  I just write whatever feels "right" as I begin my story.  That means that my first manuscript is in first person, while my current WIP is in third person.

Now, I'm wondering if I should be less arbitrary with my point of view decision.  Fifty pages into my current WIP, I'm considering a change to first person, like my first novel.  I just don't think third person is working well, especially since a major conflict of my story is my main character's mental illness.  In a first person point of view, I think I'll be able to better capture her inner turmoil.

Before I take the time to transform my entire WIP into first person, I'd like a second opinion from my wonderful blogging community.  What do you think?

Do you have any POV preferences?  How do you choose what POV to use?  Are there any POV's that you dislike as a reader?  As a writer?

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Contest Winner!!!

Thanks for everyone who participated in my 100 Follower Contest!

I've been busily preparing for the end of the school year, and this week is no exception (final grades, yearbook stomp, graduation, etc.).  Consequently, my blogging has been pushed to the back of my mind.  I apologize for my absence!  

But I promise to return in full force next week.  Somehow I'll figure out how to balance blogging with my writing time.  I'm so excited to begin writing full-time!

OK, here's what you've been waiting for: the winner of the 100 Followers Contest!  I used to generate my winner from the comments.  And the winner of a $20 Barnes and Noble gift card goes to ...

Congratulations to #15 ...

Thanks again for participating!  Have a great week!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Reading Like a Writer

I've noticed a subtle change lately in the way I read. I've always been a voracious reader; it's not unusual for me to finish 2-3 books in a weekend.  But now, I read differently.  I pay attention to the language used, I analyze the characters, and I critique the plot.  Who knew writing would interfere with my love of reading?  Now, I'm not saying it's a bad thing.  It's just different.  

Does it make me a better writer?  Definitely.  Whenever I give my high school students a new writing assignment, I provide them with models.  Reading good books provides the same benefits.  We can learn from the experts.  Earnest Gaines, author of A Lesson before Dying, provides writers with sage advice: "The Six Golden Rules of Writing: Read, read, read, and write, write, write."

But what about poorly written books?  Is there a benefit in reading them too?  Stephen King, in his book On Writing, believes that "bad books have more to teach than good ones."  When we can identify the weaknesses in a poorly written book, then we can find out what to avoid or to improve in our own writing.

What do you think?  Is reading beneficial?  Would you spend your time reading "bad books" too?  How has reading affected your own writing?

Be sure to comment on my 100 Follower Contest here. It ends at midnight (MST) on May 31st.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Interview: Author Sara Zarr

In a single week, I got not one, but two opportunities to meet Sara Zarr, a young adult author who writes realistic fiction.  She has published three novels: Story of a Girl, Sweethearts, and Once Was Lost.

First, Sara spoke to a group of teachers from my school district.  She was very personable and willing to answer any questions about her books, her life, and her writing/publishing experience.  Sara explained she writes realistic fiction because she believes that the genre allows teens to make connections to the characters in ways that help them adjust to their own adolescent experience.  

The second time I met her was when she signed a book for me at the Children's Book Festival at the Provo Library, an event celebrating reading and Utah children and young adult authors.

Out of the kindness of her heart (and a little bit of Leatherby's ice cream), she agreed to do an interview on my blog!  Check out the interview below:

How would you describe your most recent novel in 140 characters or less?

Fourteen days of youth group, mini-trucks, record heat, local news, and crime in a small town!

What was the hardest part of becoming a published author?

The hardest part on the journey was having patience and faith that it would eventually happen. Once I arrived, the hardest part was realizing there is no such thing as arrival. It's just forging ahead on the same path, passing through different cities and countrysides with different companions... Like a lot of people, I thought being published would change my fundamental identity and writing would magically be easy and I'd never be insecure again. Haha! 
What was the most rewarding part?

Knowing that something I wrote moved other people and mattered to them, that I made a connection. 

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

Be patient and diligent. Don't fret over how much talent you may or may not have. Work hard and put your all into making your writing the best it can be. If you're spending more time researching markets and reading agent blogs than you are writing, change that.

If you could have lunch with any author, dead or alive, who would it be?  Why?

Oh, I'm sure my answer would change every minute. There is no ultimate person for me. Right now I'm in a Wallace Stegner phase and would love  to resurrect him for a conversation. He just really seems to understand himself as a writer, and goes deep into that.

*  *  *

Thank you, Sara, for answering my questions!  I will be in her morning workshop at the Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers conference this summer.  Although I'm intimidated to share my own writing with this award-winning author, I can't wait to learn from her!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

BLOGFEST: Let's Talk

It's been awhile since I've participated in a blogfest, so I've decided to jump back in and participate in the Let's Talk blogfest, hosted by Roni Griffin at Fiction Groupie.

Below is an excerpt from AGAIN, my YA paranormal.  Enjoy!

[Excerpt has been removed to protect my work.]

Monday, May 17, 2010

My First Contest

The most amazing thing happened on Friday: exactly four months after my first post, I hit 100 followers!  (Thank you Kaylie for being #100!)  I never imagined that so many people would be interested in my blog, especially within such a short time frame.

To thank everyone for reading and commenting on my blog, I'm hosting a 100 Followers Contest.  Based on posts from across the blogosphere, it seems that people prefer simple contests.  Since I, too, like to keep it simple, my rules will be short:

1. You must be a follower to enter the contest.
2. You must enter a comment to this post.  Share with us a piece of writing advice that you've learned. 

Although I'm not requiring that you post this contest on your blog, I'd appreciate it if you'd spread the word.  

Entries will be accepted until midnight (MST) on May 31st.  I will use to choose one winning comment.  The winner will receive a $20 gift card from Barnes and Noble.

Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Page-a-Day Challenge

To jump-start my summer plans of being a full-time writer, I have joined forces with other bloggers to complete a Page-a-Day Challenge.  Initiated by

Friday, May 14, 2010

The Arrival of Summer

Summer.  I can nearly taste its arrival.  Blame it on the nasty weather we've experienced lately or the huge stack of essays on my desk I need to grade, but until today, summer seemed more like a dream than a reality.  

The best part?  There are only three weeks left until I get to be a full-time writer.  Well, at least for the summer (the benefits of being a teacher who gets summers off).  This will be the first time that I'll be devoting my summer to writing, and I'm excited!

Of course, if I had my way, this would be my view from my desk:

But since I don't own a private paradise--at least not yet--I'll settle for my humble writing desk.  Besides, how could I write with that outside?  If my full-time writing experience is going to be effective, I have to limit as many distractions as possible.  

I'm curious, what do you do to limit distractions?  Do you set a writing schedule or a word count?  Do you plan your blogging/commenting time?  Do you reward yourself for good behavior?  I'd love you hear your suggestions before I embark on my new adventure.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

In My Mailbox #3

A new week means another trip to the library.  Truthfully, I went last week too, but I never got around to updating my blog because my brain was mush after my Novel Revision Workshop.  So this week, you get two week's worth of books for the meme In My Mailbox, hosted by Kristi at The Story Siren.

Last week's books (I've read them all this weekend and liked them enough to recommend to you):

The Girl Who Chased the Moon by Sarah Addison Allen
Heist Society by Ally Carter
Rules of Attraction by Simone Elkeles

And don't forget this week's books:

Birthmarked by Caragh M. O'Brien
Jekel Loves Hyde by Beth Fantaskey
Jumping Off Swings by Jo Knowles
Mr. Darcy Broke My Heart by Beth Pattillo

Be sure to check out my Goodreads widget on my sidebar where I rate each book I finish (between 1 and 5 stars).  Like always, if you've read any of these, let me know what you thought about them.  With so many options, I always struggle deciding which one to read first!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

To Be or Not To Be

I don't know why I have such a hard time referring to myself as a writer.  Maybe it's because I've only been seriously writing for less than a year.  Maybe it's because being an English teacher has defined me for so long.  But probably it's because I'm afraid.  Afraid that I'll never be good enough to see my books sitting on the shelves at Barnes and Noble.  Afraid that I'll never be able to quit my day job to write full time.  Afraid that I'll never truly reach my writing dreams from over a decade ago.

Yet, my son has no trouble with it.  I received the best Mother's Day gift from my eight-year-old: the validation that I am a writer!  This is what he wrote in his fill-in-the-blank Mother's Day card that he made at school:

"My mom is a writer and an English teacher.  She likes to read long books and write stories.  She always tries to write 500 words every night."

If my son can call me a writer, then why can't I?  He even put it before my day job!  And I love the word goal that he's put into writing.  How can I not fulfill it when my sweet little boy is watching out for me, making sure that I obtain what I want to accomplish?  

The greatest joy for me will be if I can teach my boys that they can achieve anything they want in life with a lot of determination and hard work.  I will publish books that will sit on book stores' shelves, I will be a full time writer, and I will reach my writing dreams.  Thank you, my two sons, for your belief in me. 

Happy Mother's Day to my blogger friends!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

I've Been Tagged ...

Thanks to Michelle Teacress, I've been tagged in a fun blogging game.  Here are the rules: I must answer the following questions five times each and then tag five people to do the same.  

Are you ready?  Get set.  Go!

Where were you five years ago?
1. Living in Midvale, UT, where my landlady charged me $50 for not mowing the lawn in April
2. Desperately counting down the days until my lease ended and I could buy a home
3. Dipping my feet into online dating (yeah, I can't believe I just admitted that)
4. Raising my two young sons on my own
5. Finishing up my second year of teaching

Where would you like to be in five years?
1. Published at least one young adult novel
2. Traveled to Italy
3. Purchased a new house
4. Have an office for writing
5. Found someone to cook gourmet meals for me and my family

What is on your To-Do list today?
1. Catch up on grading (high school and college students' papers)
2. Buy milk at the grocery store
3. Write in my WIP
4. Start reading a new book
5. Stay sane at work (only about 21 days of school left before summer!)

What snacks do you enjoy?
1. Dove chocolate
2. Leatherby's ice cream
3. Gummy bears
4. Junior Mints
5. Chocolate-covered orange sticks (I'm sensing a sugar/candy theme.  Oops!)

What would you do with a billion dollars?
1. Build my own home with a custom library/writing room
2. Buy a vacation home somewhere warm and near water
3. Put money aside for my children's college educations
4. Quit my job to be a full-time writer
5. Add stamps to my passport

Who I've Tagged:
3. Angie Paxton at Answering the What If
4. Liz H. Allen at Writing Mommy
5. Sandy Shin at In My Sandcastle

As my son would say, "You're it.  No touch-backs!"

Monday, May 3, 2010

Novel Revision Retreat

I had the most amazing weekend: my first SCBWI regional retreat.  If you ever get the opportunity to attend Darcy Pattison's Novel Revision Retreat, do it!

In Pattison's book Novel Metamorphosis, she breaks down revision into smaller, manageable chunks like characters, plot, and setting.   At the retreat, she gave us mini-lessons in each of these areas, providing us with several examples from published novels and picture books.  

Pattison is a strong supporter of whole manuscript critiques.  Before the retreat, each participant exchanged completed manuscripts with three others.  We didn't do line-by-line edits; instead, we looked at the "big picture" for inconsistencies, strong and weak chapters, and good examples of characterization, setting, and language.  I stayed with this group throughout the retreat as we discussed each of Pattison's mini-lessons and how they pertained to our own manuscripts.  It was so helpful to receive input from three other people who knew my manuscript.  

Another suggestion that Pattison gives is to use a shrunken manuscript.  She describes this more in her book, but it's a way to visually represent your entire manuscript in about 30 pages to look for places where your conflict, dialogue, and scenes may be weak.  I'm a visual learner, so seeing my manuscript this way was amazing!

I admit that my brain hurt when I left Idaho and headed back home.  But it was a good hurt.  I have so many ideas of how to revise my manuscript.  Now I have a summer project: to make my novel better so I can start querying by the fall.  Of course, there's that other WIP that I'd like to finish.  It's going to be a busy (but productive) summer!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Thank You, Thank You (Awards)

OK, you know you're an official member of the blogosphere when you start to get awards.  In the past week, I've earned two, which really made my week.  Once again, it's the little things that excite me!

My first ever award cam from Angie Paxton at Answering the What If.   Thanks Angie!

I'd like to pass award to these wonderful bloggers:

1. Charity Bradford at My Writing Journey
2. Jennifer Daiker at Unedited
5. E. Elle at The Writer's Funhouse

My second award came from Anne Gallagher at Piedmont Writer.  Thanks Anne!

I'm passing this award onto these fabulous buddies:
2. Crystal Cook at Write Because You Must
3. Roland D. Yeomans at Writing in the Crosshairs
4. Angie Paxton at Answering the What If

Thank you everyone!  I started my blog about four months ago, and I'm almost at 100 followers.  Yes, that's right: a contest is on the horizon!  I'll give you more details when I get a little bit closer, so stay tuned ...

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Last Lines Blogfest

Note to self: Do not sign up for a blogfest until after I make sure I have a piece to submit!  I get so excited when I learn about new blogfests that I forget to think about whether or not I will have time to put a piece together.  The Last Lines Blogfest, hosted by Lilah Pierce, was more difficult than I anticipated.  

Some of my best "last lines" occur during crucial plot moments that I'm not ready to share yet.  So, rather than posting a significant cliffhanger moment, I've chosen a lighthearted scene between my main character and her friends.  It's from Again, the novel I'm currently revising. 

[Excerpt has been removed to protect my work.]

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Moving Past the Negative

Why are we so willing to believe the negative and forget about the positive?  We could receive a dozen positive reviews about our writing, but it just takes one negative comment for us to break down and cry or to begin doubting our ability to write.  

So how do we overcome these bumps in our confidence?  Here are a few tips (trust me, I have to remind myself of these on a daily basis):

1. Writing is subjective.  There will never be a manuscript that 100% of people will love unconditionally.  We all bring our own experience (background knowledge) into what we read.  I may like someone's plot because I connect with it, but someone else may hate it because it seems ridiculous.  Don't even get me started with characters (just think Team Jacob vs. Team Edward).  So it's unrealistic to think that everyone who reads my manuscript will like it (as much as I wish it were possible).  We can't get upset when someone has different taste than ours.  

Similarly, we all have our own strengths and weaknesses as writers.  Sometimes we're more attune to our weaknesses and tend to look for them in our critique partner's writing (maybe because it's at the forefront of our minds when we write).  Make sure to take the time to focus on your strengths too.

2. We don't have to give in to every criticism.  Just because someone thinks you've done something wrong doesn't mean that you have to change what you've written.  As the writer, you ultimately get to decide what your manuscript looks like.  If a suggestion makes you feel uncomfortable, don't change it.  This even applies to suggestions made by agents and editors.  Of course, you run the risk of losing them as agents or editors, but you shouldn't let anyone force you to make changes that you don't want to make.

3. Don't give up!  Most writers, at one point or another, have allowed their self-doubt to creep in and make them wonder whether or not they should continue writing.  Maybe you gave up a job to become a full-time writer.  Maybe you're sacrificing a couple hours of sleep each night.  Maybe you've spent oodles of money on a writing workshop or retreat.  Don't let one negative comment derail you from your purpose.  Instead, take a step back and use it as a learning experience.  How can you use it to improve your writing?  

What other tips do you have to add?  What do you do to get past the negative?

Saturday, April 24, 2010

In My Mailbox #2

During the past three days, the students at the high school where I teach participated in a poetry slam.  We were fortunate to have some local authors donate their time to help judge: A.E. Cannon, author of The Loser's Guide to Life and Love; Kim Williams Justesen, author of My Brother the Dog; Ann Dee Ellis, author of Everything is Fine; and Carol Lynch Williams, author of The Chosen One.  Thanks again to those wonderful judges!

Two of the authors gave me a copy of their book, which I will place in my classroom library for my students (as soon as I reread them, of course!).  They are the first two books In My Mailbox, a meme hosted by Kristi at The Story Siren

Everything is Fine by Ann Dee Ellis
The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams

I also took a trip to the library yesterday to pick up books that I'd put on hold awhile ago.  I haven't finished reading the books from my last In My Mailbox post, but my hold was about to expire. 

Balancing Acts by Zoe Fishman
Breathless by Jessica Warman
Chasing Brooklyn by Lisa Schroeder

Now I just have to find the time to read all of these interesting books ... without sacrificing my writing time!

Body Language Blogfest

I admit that I nearly forgot about the Body Language Blogfest, hosted by Harley D. Palmer at Labotomy of a Writer.  Thanks to Roland D. Yeomans for reminding me!  

Below is my excerpt from Again, the Young Adult manuscript that I'm currently revising.  I haven't spent much time revising the chapter that my excerpt is from, so please understand that it's still a work-in-progress (the self-conscious side of me needed that disclaimer).  It was so hard to eliminate all the dialogue and only use body language!

[Excerpt has been removed to protect my work.]

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

A Rep to Protect

Writing is a roller coaster ride of emotions.  It's easy to succumb to its ups and downs.  We love the thrilling rush of writing the perfect scene, a snappy exchange of dialogue, or a blush-worthy description of our character's first kiss.  

Yet we despair at the constant feelings of insecurity: Will our novel attract an agent or editor?  How much rejection is normal?  Should we give up? 

So how do we prevent our bi-polar emotions from discoloring our online reputation?  

Any interested agent can instantly peruse our online presence through a simple Google search.  Every comment, every post is up for immediate viewing.  Have we displayed ourselves well?

Here's my question to you: What would you consider inappropriate to list on your blog?  Or comment about on another blog?

Saturday, April 17, 2010

What Happens Next?

Last summer I participated in the Central Utah Writing Project, a program that helps teachers become better writers and better teachers of writing.

I credit the program and its members for giving me the courage to start writing my first manuscript, a dream I'd had for over a decade.  

During the Summer Institute, A.E. Cannon, author of The Loser's Guide to Life and Love, gave us valuable advice about writing.  She said you should always end your daily writing in a place where you know what is going to happen next.  That way, you won't waste time the next day staring at your computer screen, wondering what to write.

You know what made me think of her advice?  Sitting in front of my screen, wondering what to write next, and wishing I'd followed her advice.  I'm at a point in my novel where I'm stuck.  I've hit the dreaded writer's block.  

What do you do to overcome writer's block?  How do you avoid it?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

In My Mailbox #1

To celebrate National Library Week (April 11-17), I've decided to begin my first "In My Mailbox" post.  For those who are unfamiliar with an In My Mailbox post, check out The Story Siren.  Since I read far more books than I can afford to buy, my books come from today's trip to my local library. 


 Boys, Girls & Other Hazardous Materials by Rosalind Wiseman
The Everafter by Amy Huntley
Sing Me to Sleep by Angela Morrison
The Unwritten Rule by Elizabeth Scott

So many choices!  Have you read any of these?  What did you think?  Any suggestions about which one I should read first?

Monday, April 12, 2010

Weekly Check-up

Whew!  I did it.  I survived my first week after setting my writing goals.  It wasn't easy, nor did I complete every goal.  But I wrote more than I would've written without the goals, so that makes it all worth it in the end.  Oh, and still no word from VCFA ...

My check-up on last week's goals:
  1. Write 500 words a day for at least 5 days on my current WIP. I wrote 500 words for only 4 days, but now my manuscript has 2000 more words than it did a week ago.
  2. Work on revisions for chapters 9-11 on my previous manuscript. I'm going to a revision workshop in the near future.  When I told my friends that I was going to work on revisions before the workshop, a wise friend told me that it was like washing my clothes before taking them to the dry cleaners.  So I abandoned this goal ... for now. 
  3. Finish critiquing a writing partner's manuscript before my writing group meets on Saturday. I finished all but one chapter on my writing partner's manuscript, but I also read the first chapter of her new WIP (so I think I made up for it).
  4. Submit online. I didn't do this one because I'm not sure my manuscript is ready to be submitted (see goal #2).  Maybe after the revision workshop.
 My new goals for this week:
  1. Write every single day, but at least 500 words on 4 days.
  2. Finish critiquing a manuscript for my group at my upcoming revision workshop.
  3. Read The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman (homework for the revision workshop).
What I learned this week: Even with my goals, time has proven once again to be an elusive foe.  I've learned that I give in to far too many distractions.  Of course, some distractions take a priority over my writing (like my darling children), but I learned that my best writing time last week occurred when my kids were in bed asleep.  And I mean really asleep, not in their rooms awake, preparing to come out every five minutes.  

I also learned that it will not be the end of the world if I don't get into the MFA program that I applied to weeks ago.  Everyone had great suggestions of how I can work on improving my craft, namely practice, practice, practice. Thanks for all the helpful suggestions!

Happy Library Appreciation Day!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Revision Tip

At ... and this time, concentrate!, Summer introduced me to Wordle, a website where you can post an entire manuscript and it will visually display the words you use the most.

To better see my Wordle results for my WIP Again, click on the image below.  

Wordle: WIP: Again

Wow, what an eye-opener!  I'm aware of some of my overused words, but others surprised me.  Now I can go through my manuscript and utilize the "search and edit" function to change these words.  

Thanks Summer for this great revision idea!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Still Waiting ...

Still no word from VCFA*. But that's OK ... now that I know I'm not the only stalker out there. (But I do feel sorry for postal workers worldwide!)

Thanks for all the encouraging words and suggestions. It's a relief to know that I'm not alone, that there are plenty of impatient writers like myself.

I'm discovering one major downside: my confidence keeps slipping lower after each disappointing trip to my mailbox. I keep questioning my writing ability and whether or not it's up to the standards of an MFA program.

No matter what, even if I don't get into VCFA, I refuse to give up. It just means I may need to take a few steps backward and work on becoming a better writer.

So, here's my question: Where do you go to improve YOUR craft? Are there any excellent books or online classes that you would recommend?

Just in case. Of course, still keep your fingers crossed for me!

*Update: The admissions counselor emailed me and said they had more applications than they'd expected, so it could be another week or two until I receive something in the mail. I guess that means I can postpone the mailbox watch for a little while.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Search for Sanity

I've started stalking my postman. No, really. I mean, does it have to take an entire hour to stuff the mailboxes in my neighborhood? That's just counting the time I arrived home from work. Who knows how long he was out there before I saw him.

I'm not normally a stalker. I promise.
You see, at the beginning of March, I sent in my application to the MFA program at Vermont College of Fine Arts. The admissions counselor advised me that I would hear back from them in 4-6 weeks. It's now Week 5; hence, the close relationship with my mailbox. (Actually, it started after Week 1, but who's really counting?)

My impatient waiting has made me question my ability to stay sane when I finally begin the querying process later this year. I know that it could take months (or years!) of querying before I receive a favorable response.

How do you all stay sane throughout the process? I'd really like to stop stalking my postman. (I'm sure he'd like it too!)

Monday, April 5, 2010

Thanks and Goals

I owe a great big thanks to all of you who commented on my blogfest entries! All the thoughtful comments were filled with encouragement, which I greatly appreciated. Even better, the number of followers on my blog more than tripled this weekend. As a newbie blogger, my heart sings to see all those who showed an interest in my blog! I can't wait to be one of those bloggers who celebrates having 100 followers.

Thanks to the example of Crystal Cook on her blog Write Because You Must, I'm going to start setting weekly goals. They seem more manageable than monthly or quarterly goals because I tend to procrastinate. I commend all of you who manage to write 1,000 or 2,000 or 3,000+ words per day, but I'm not there yet. As much as I'd love to be able to write that much, I know that if I set my goal too high, I'll give up before I even begin. Besides, I haven't written since the March Marathon on Throwing Up Words, so any word count will be better than my current situation!

This week's goals:
  1. Write 500 words a day for at least 5 days on my current WIP.
  2. Work on revisions for chapters 9-11 on my previous manuscript.
  3. Finish critiquing a writing partner's manuscript before my writing group meets on Saturday.
  4. Submit online.
I can do this, right? What weekly goals you set for yourself? (For when I begin to aim higher, of course.)

Friday, April 2, 2010

First Page Blogfest - Part Two

I figure that while I'm exposing myself with my first manuscript, I might as well do it with my second one too (see previous post for more information).

Below is the first page of Over the Edge:

[Excerpt has been removed to protect my work.]

First Page Blogfest

I ran across an interesting idea today: a First Page Blogfest hosted by Kelly Lyman. Basically, it involves posting your first page of your WIP and letting readers comment about it. I've done this several times on Miss Snark's First Victim ... but anonymously. I know I need to develop a thicker skin, so I'm crazy enough to try this. Please feel free to provide as much constructive criticism as you'd like. Being the nervous sort, I do have to add a disclaimer: this is still a work in progress, so please don't expect perfection. :)

Okay ... (deep breath) ... below is the first page of Again:

[Excerpt has been removed to protect my work.]

Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Big "R"

Revision. It's a word that makes my students groan ... every time. To them, when they finish a first draft, it's their last draft. I used to be the same. Mostly because it was a writing assignment that I didn't enjoy. Once I got to the final period, I was finished. Period. :)

Not anymore. I've learned to love revision. It's my chance to fine tune every word, phrase, sentence, paragraph, and so on. I've lost count of how many times I've revised the first 1-2 pages of my manuscript. I jumped into the hook faster, I changed the tense from the past to the present to the past again, I made it less telling and more showing, etc. Each time I revise, I'm confident that it's so much better.

And then I discover another error I've made.
Sometimes I wonder if the revision will ever end. I know that my manuscript needs to be the best it can possibly be before I seek representation and/or publication.

So, here's my question to my wise readers: How do I know when my revision is finished? Or will it ever finish? Will I ever be fully satisfied? I know, that ended up being more than one question, but I'd really love some advice!

In the meantime, I'm sure I find find something else to revise.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Right of Passage

On every agent/editor blog or website I see lately, they post a disclaimer that if you don't hear from them, consider yourself rejected. Whatever happened to the rejection letters sent in the mail?

I remember going to a presentation by author Shannon Hale a few years ago where she talked to teachers in Jordan School District. She showed off her rejection letters, yards and yards of letters that she'd laminated together into one long row of papers.

Stephen King, in his book On Writing, talks about how he used to post his rejections on his wall until he ran out of room and had to find something larger to hold them all.

Am I going to miss out on this particular right of passage? I'm pragmatic enough that I expect rejection. But I was really looking forward to celebrating my first rejection letter. Am I out of luck? I guess I'll have to find another reason to celebrate.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

March Marathon

Whew! I did it. I accomplished the goal I set for the three-day March Marathon (a writing marathon engineered by Ann Dee Ellis and Carol Lynch Williams on the Throwing Up Words blog).

My goal was to write 5,000 words in my new novel. Two days ago, my novel had 329 words and I wasn't sure where I was going to go with it. Today, I have 5,341 (!) words and a better understanding of the novel's plot.

I'm starting to realize that I work really well with competition, especially when the competition is with myself (like where I've set a goal that I will be really disappointed in myself for not meeting). Normally, I procrastinate far too much and let life get in the way of my writing. Maybe I'll have to set up more writing marathons for myself in the future.

Now, it's time for me to reward myself!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Constructive Criticism

Accepting criticism is hard, no matter who you. As a writer, it's been difficult for me to put my "baby" out there for others to see. Lately, I've had to learn to suck in my pride and accept help from others. It hasn't been easy, but it's been worth it.

My crit group, Writers in Paradise, has been supportive and helpful throughout my first draft. But I knew I needed additional help. A couple of months ago, I stumbled across Miss Snark's First Victim, a blog that has random contests where writers can anonymously place parts of their writing for others to view and comment. Excited for a new opportunity, I submitted an excerpt of of my manuscript in the Talkin' Heads contest.

Then the comments began. Fourteen people wrote essentially the same criticism over and over again: my characters sounded stiff and unnatural. Although I was frustrated, I didn't give up. I went back to my manuscript and started reworking all of the dialogue to make it sound more authentic (more like teenagers were speaking).

I decided to try again. This time I entered the blog's Secret Agent contest that examines the first 250 words of a manuscript to see if it "hooks" the reader. When I entered the contest, I knew that my beginning needed work. And I was right. Some liked it, but others thought it was "unremarkable." So I went back to my manuscript -- again -- and reworked the beginning. In fact, I changed my beginning so much that now it's in the present tense instead of the past tense.

The biggest lesson I've learned is that I need to stay humble and be willing to accept criticism. Revision is a long and challenging process, but it's necessary. After each new revision, I feel like my manuscript is stronger and better than before. I can't wait until I learn more at the two workshops I'm attending in April/May and June. After those workshops, I hope to be one step closer to sending my manuscript off to an agent.

In the meantime, I've started my second manuscript. It's a long, hard road as a writer, but I'm loving it!

Monday, March 8, 2010

March Contests

I don't know about you, but I love contests. Starting today, I will post contests that I've heard about. Here are two writing contests for March:

March Marathon at Throwing Up Words. The best part of this contest? You get to set your own goals and prizes! Be sure to sign up soon because it begins on March 18. Oh, and mention my name as a referral.

"Dear Lucky Agent" contest at Guide to Literary Agents. Submit the first 150-200 words of your novel-length manuscript. It must be an urban fantasy or a paranormal romance. Hurry and submit because this contest ends on March 14.

Good luck!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

My Future

The past two weeks have forced me to second guess my future plans. I've been an educator for seven years, and it never occurred to me that I would abandon teaching. Until two weeks ago. Now I'm not sure if I will survive as a career teacher. It's disheartening to see how people in my state do not value education and how easy it is for them to take away funding, increase class sizes (we're already at 40+!), and lower teacher morale.

While reading Scribbler of Dreams by Mary E. Pearson this weekend, I found this quote: "I am through writing about regret and what might have been. I cannot change the past--only the future. And the only thing I can really change about the future is me. I have me, and I have my writing, two gifts ... and that is a lot to built a future with. Enough" (215).

What perfect advice for me! I've recently been regretting my decision to be a teacher instead of a lawyer, a choice I made over ten years ago. But regret doesn't get me anywhere. Moving ahead does. And I want to build my future, particularly my writing future, which is why I applied this week for Vermont College's Master of Writing for Children and Young Adults. When I told my parents about my decision to apply, their first question was, "Will this help you earn more money in your job?" No! And why should it? This is something that I'm doing entirely for ME. The degree is great, but it's what I will learn along the way that is more valuable to me.

Now I just have to wait the 4-6 weeks to see if I'm accepted. If I don't get in, I may need chocolate. Lots and lots of chocolate.