Saturday, July 31, 2010

PROCESS- Friends to pull you out of the Mud!

Boy oh boyo! Yesterday caught me down in the dumps! What's a girl to do when the doldrums get you? (I'm immediately drawn into the chapter from The Phantom Tollbooth, when the main character is caught in the doldrums by the creatures there that lazily hang about. These are NOT your friends!)

I tried the internet. I searched the things I love: crafts, Amazon, new Barbies. I tried reading. In my mind I had it all figured out. If I could reach 75 pages I would be stuck in good! I could read away my somber attitude. No such luck. Even though the characters in the book are great, the writing fast-paced, and the plot intriguing, I didn't read more than five pages.

I flipped through my magazines—ripping out one great idea at a time. My motions were repetitive, and I was going nowhere. I tried on clothes (warning: Do NOT try on clothes when you are moody). Finally, I went to sleep. No matter what I did, I could not escape my droopy mood.

But this morning…things are better! I'm not sure if it was the sleep I needed, or the mindless activities to get me re-focused. Whatever the problem, today I am cured!

After a good hair-cut, a short antiquing spree (part of my Artist's Way requirement!) and a healthy dose of caffeine, I'm back!

Part of that "feeling good" was stopping by the coffee shop to see a friend during her book signing. Although she and I are not "phone-a-friend" type of friends at this stage, we are writing buddies. We share the same critique group and often write about similar themes and genres. And seeing her so happy and excited about her book only makes me happy and excited for her. That's what writing buddies are about. She inspires me. She makes me want to write more today. To go a little further than I did the day before (remember, yesterday I did nothing so this should be easy!). When a writer gets stuck, surrounding her/himself with writer friends should be our #1 line of defense!

If you don't have a critique group or a writing buddy, I encourage you to find one. Joining the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) is a great place to start!

See my writing buddy’s website:

Thursday, July 29, 2010

PROCESS: Reading while Writing

Why do I read so many books when in reality, I want to write them? The fact is that on more than one occasion I have run across a book that reflects the same theme/mood/conflict that I keep tucked away in my notebooks. It’s the old “I’ve bought a distinctively new car” effect. When you are confident that it’s unique, you go to pick it up from the shop. On the drive home, you notice that it looks like everyone else’s that passes you by. Same with stories. (My husband swears that he wrote a short story that was used as the base of “Gross Point Blank”.) Why do I log on to and search for MY story, MY book?

Reason #1: Know thy competition.

If I’m writing a middle grade fiction set in the depression, I search the competition. Are they successful with what they have written? If so, why? If not, what are they missing? Is it the genre? Is it the age? Maybe a topic is really hot, and I’m sitting on a story that I should bring out. What is going on in the market? I check out the displays at the book stores. I look at the websites of the authors. The literary world is changing and I need to know how to keep up.

Reason #2: Research, research, research.

Sometimes I need to know a nagging detail about a setting or an archetype. Reading up on the subject always helps. For instance, right now, YA is brave and often edgy. Call me curious. What are the ingredients? Knowing what is being used and what isn’t helps me know my own limits. In one of my stories, my protagonist’s mother has a temper problem (to say the least). Do I want to use profanity in my books? Is it necessary? How do other author's handle this?

More often than not, when I’m reading a book, I'm looking for the voice of the characters. I find that what stands out to me in the books I read guides me as a writer. A character's voice can be powerful and unique, and so far, I've not found my main characters in someone else's book. (Hurrah!)

Reason #3: Have faith in your story.

I remember the first book I ran across with the same subject matter as one of my manuscripts. I literally ran to my room and sulked for days. How could someone else write MY story? At first, I stared at the book. It was published while mine sat in a notebook. How could I continue on MY story? Was I too late?
Wrong, wrong, WRONG!

Since that moment, I've realized a few things about fiction writing. It's never truly fiction. It has bits and piece from here and there. Our memories, our friends, our own personal growth and experiences. This is what makes it unique; what makes it OUR fiction--US. Maybe someone else out there loves the same things that I do, reads the same books, had seen the same landscape as I have. That will come into their stories too. But my stories are MINE.

Although I don’t search like I use to, when I run up against the competition, I don’t look at the similarities the same anymore. Instead, I use my time to focus on my writing and the differences.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

PROCESS- Writing Daily

Ever since my 6th Christmas, I have kept some sort of diary, log, or journal. My first one had a lock and Holly Hobbie on the cover. I took up two lines for each letter. Phrases like, "I love Danny" and "My cat is SOOOoooooooo pretty" are common throughout the first few years of random writing.

My next diary had a blue cover and again, a lock. Apparently, as an elementary student, I was more in touch with my surroundings. I wrote about the day, how the sun was shining, how it was raining, snowing, cold, and how (especially during summer vacations) the scenery differed from my norm. I’m happy to see that even then, I did take my writing with me.

Then I moved on to unlocked journals. Funny how these later books of my youth actually contain the fluff that should be kept under lock and key. I have quite a few of these “revealing” books.

As time progressed, and I matured, I experimented with other forms of paper and ink “journals”. I used "Travel Journals", wrote regularly in "pregnancy journals", bought some fancy-smancy bound books with ribbons, and even "photo-journaled" my year (with short notations).

Now I'm in a different phase of writing yet again. I try to maintain the "three-pages-a-day" mantra set out in Julie Cameron's book, The Artist’s Way. (Suggestion for those of you wanting to do this, if you write 3 pages a day for a year that equates to 1095 pages. Divide that by your average cheap Mead notebook (70 pages) and that means you would fill 15 notebooks.) My writing is more regular and substantial. It's sometimes superficial, but then again, some days are.

Last night, as I was re-reading a chapter, I was tearing myself down for not writing my 3 pages the past few days. I gave myself the usual excuses: no time, no energy, no space for self, and nothing to write about. But as I was reading, I kept returning to an analogy that Cameron wrote comparing athletes and their training to writing our daily pages. I am always, and I mean ALL-WAYS a better writer when I've been writing regularly. So why take a break in my training?

As a teacher, I can set aside anywhere from 10-20 minutes at the start of the class for writing. Easy. Can I make them write? Not always so. But often my students are somewhere in that same continuum of writing that I have been. Some are ahead of me. Some students are so new to writing that I (and other teachers too) must learn to accept that this is a basic, fact-driven stage, and that after a month or so, they will move on too.

But as writers, we have to stop from making excuses. Thank goodness Nike coined the phrase for us: JUST DO IT!—write today.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

IDEAS--Finding my inner "character"

The July heat subsides a bit in the evening, and Friday night, I had the perfect opportunity to "walk" in one of my character's shoes. The sky was clear, the stars were bright, and the sounds of humanity were at a bare minimum. The road in front of me was barren (it was incredibly late...or early, depending on your view) so I took off on a short walk.

One of my character's lives in a story that takes place during the dead of winter in the 1920s, but despite this difference between his world and mine, I could easily imagine what this same place/time/scene would be like through his eyes. I embraced the solitude. First, I thought it through. "What would be different through his eyes?" "What around me would have to change?" In a way, it was similar to the visual effect from the Matrix movies, when the world human's "think" they live in shifts away, to the world that actually surrounds them, but in reverse. I was trying to visually create the world around me/my character.

After I had changed things in my mind, I started to take on my character's slouch, his mannerisms, some of the ticks that make him unique. What would he be doing out on a night like this? What would he be thinking? Would he be alone? Then, I talked it out. (Being alone is the perfect time for that.) Would he talk aloud to himself?

Although I don't see the results of this particular improvisation of my character as a specific "scene" of my story, I feel that it helped me answer a few questions that I had about him. It helped me understand his view better. Even though I have created him, I do, to some extent, feel that he exists somewhere outside of “me”.

Some authors/writers suggest writing or keeping a diary from the perspective of your character—using your character's "voice". This is a great idea, but for this one moment I had to myself, the imaginary transformation was what was needed.

Friday, July 23, 2010

BLOG Posts and Purposes for Writing

The past day or so I have given a lot of thought to the purposes and uses of my blog site. First and foremost, it is a personal space for me to write on a regular basis, about my fictions, nonfictions, and random streaks of brilliance. Yet a blog is more than a personal writing space. It's a space to be shared.

As I started re-formulating my blog, I kept returning to my number 2 job in my life--teaching. (Number 1--my family.) Deep in my subconscious, or perhaps not even that deep, lies the truth that I write BECAUSE I teach. My motto is “lead by example”. Without writing in my life, I find it hard to lead my students to be at their own personal bests. Thus, another purpose for my blog is as an educational outlet. I hope to create a place where my students and I can meet, throw around some ideas, and in the end, all become better writers.

A fellow writer in my critique group brought up the point that a blog isn't really "out-there" unless you place it somewhere so that it can be found. With that in mind, I've decided to share. If this blog space isn't your cup of tea (say, you are a friend, but not a writer; a parent of a child, but the child writes, you don't) then I ask only this: share the site with someone who might use it. I envision other writers and maybe teachers who share blogs with their students (or who would like ideas on how to share the writing tips with their classrooms). Welcome to my blog! (Perhaps there is even someone out in cyberland with a thing for reading blogs that have the word “PUDDLE” in the title! If so, then welcome to you too!) The point being, even though I had patted my back for writing on a "blog" for a week, if the writing isn't shared, then just who is it for? (Yep--I'm thinking deep today.)

I do know this: I stop reading a blog after three-five days of nothing new to read. Fear not my friends! With only the wind at my back and nothing blocking my way, I will promise to blog each or every-other day!

Again, WELCOME readers and pass it on!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

IDEAS: Naming Characters

"A rose by any other name..." this one simple section of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet holds so much meaning to me. Why? As a writer of fiction, I am forever in the process of choosing names.

In my classroom, I provide baby-naming books. I find these to be very helpful (more so than the internet because of the alphabetical listing and the ability of the writer to visually compare the names). I’ll pull out history books, encyclopedia novels, popular names of the times etc. But beyond the name books, I look for potential names everywhere.

On recent travels I saw a billboard for someone running for office. The last name was printed in blue across the board shouting out in large letters, "CHASEN". I liked it. I grabbed my notebook out of my purse and jotted it down. (Boys/men...this is why you must always either wear a sports coat with pockets, carry a bookbag, buy small, slim notebooks or ditch those stereotypes and carry a purse...a notebook on hand at all times is essential!!) The name reminded me of Jason and Chase combined. Many of the books I've enjoyed had handsome characters with these names. Of course, they are overused. Thus, ta-da! I introduce: Chasen.

At this point, my character, Chasen, has no form. No physical features, no background. Yet he does have a few things I might build on. 1. He's male. 2. His NAME is attractive (maybe he isn't...that might be his problem). 3. His name might be connected to another similar sounding word: chasten. Hmmm…4. He has lots of possible nicknames. I like characters to have at least one pet name. Something mom or grandma calls them. Maybe even the pet name is the prominent name in the story. Non-the-less, I find having pet name possibilities helpful.

If I've not been "gifted" with a name in the way I found "Chasen", I might rely on using the next best thing for my story. An advantage of being a teacher/writer is the plethora of character types that I've come across. Let's say my character is a wall-flower. She has friends, but tends to wait for decisions to be made. I'll plop a name from one of my former students (years and years ago) to hold the place until I am "gifted" with the right name for her. At least, in this way, I'm able to stay close to the character through their name as well as the action.

If you have any great suggestions for how your characters’ names develop, please share them with us. Although the name, Chasen, doesn't have a place yet in a story, it's waiting in my notebook and you’re free to try it out too!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

IDEAS from a Rainbow

As we were driving home from a vacation today, the sun peaked over the horizon enough to allow its rays to pass through a smattering of rain. I’ve always loved science, and the physics of nature’s prism--a rainbow--is truly fascinating. For almost five minutes the rainbow was full and contained all the required colors in an artist’s palette: Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo and Violet. But then, the clouds and moisture floated south, and the sun began to dip a bit more on the Western horizon. Bit by bit the colors tore apart and melted back into the sky.

I couldn't help but think of all the things that I could write about rainbows. From the simple acrostic style poem to the personal moments I've had in the presence of rainbows. My family is a Stargate family and the comparison between a stargate and a rainbow is all too easy. Even Dorothy went OVER the rainbow, so why not through the rainbow, under the rainbow or past the rainbow into another dimension?

Then there is always the folksy pot-of-gold story. Leprechauns and all. Irish heritage helps here; however, I'm not sure that I've ever trusted the red-bearded wee-ones. Images of Lucky on the cereal box jump to the forefront of my mind. But if I need a character, this could be the place to start.

While I’m making connections, unicorns and rainbows naturally go together. Growing up in the 80s, I've always like unicorns and the combination of the two creates images of peacefulness and dreams.

One simple image out of a day, in this case, my rainbow, can open many doors in my writing. Tonight I’ll try one out.

Monday, July 19, 2010


I seem to be full of them at the moment. I love that, but then, as they say, too much of a good thing...too much--A Problem—heck YES! When I'm really full of those ideas, when they pop around in my mind like the beads in a kid's toy vacuum, there IS a problem. I lose focus. I'm not sure which one to latch on to. I don't know which one I should pick or where I should start.

I could choose the memoir. The short bits of anecdotal life that help me work out a stress in my current life. For instance, my grandma is about to undergo surgery. The family has cleared out her apartment to help make the fast transition to assisted living. Photos that are grandma’s and hers alone have surfaced. Those photos have memories that have lain dormant for decades. Ideas, ideas, ideas.

Then there are the realistic YAs. I read them; I write them; I have fun with them. My characters are reflective of my friends, my students, myself. It's summer and I can't help thinking about how my characters' summer vacations are going. Ideas, ideas, ideas.

And of course, there are the historical fictions. OMG...I'm stirred by them at the moment. After attending the summer writing workshop with KATHI APPELT I can't help thinking about their personal goals. A blog that I follow recently covered the idea of writing the premise of your story as a guide. Despite my stories having a clear outline already, I can't help but think about putting the goal and the premise out and letting go of sections I have already developed, but that don't really belong in the novels.

Oh. And there are the stories, genres, and characters that really haven't played out at all yet that are swimming around inside my head using my eyeballs as their source of light. They dart in and out of my consciousness, teasing me. Ideas, ideas, ideas.

There isn't enough time in the day to write them all! What's a girl to do?

Sunday, July 18, 2010

She's back! In efforts to make a decision about starting a new blog, I found the solution in modifying my old blog. (Which, if you care to scroll through, you can see...was not a very interesting or worth-while venture.) However, this NEW IMPROVED BLOG will have a shift in focus:

Writing! Mine, yours, ours, others, famous, not-so famous, and amateurs. The way I figure it is this: I encounter problems while I write. I'm sure you do too. By sharing our problems and solutions, my hope is that this blog can be a tool for us both to use.

Each day I will share parts of my journey (by the by- most of this blog is as a result of my continued work with "The Artist's Way". If you haven't read it yet, I encourage you to. It's fantabulous!). Hopefully, I will be helping someone like you or perhaps you can help me. With this in mind...I encourage you to share any writing advice, problems, solutions and just plain info. that all students of writing can benefit from.