Saturday, July 27, 2013

Writing With Kids

This past week I had the extreme pleasure of writing with some junior authors in the Carlsbad Educational Foundation's Book Writer's Club.  It was only a week, but three hours each day.  All in all, it was awesome.

The kids really cared about their writing, just look at the covers of some of their books below:
We took some pre-made blank books and water-colored our covers.  Love the brightness!

Although the kids worked side by side, everyone's story and cover was completely different!

My students ranged in age from 8-13, which seems like a huge gap, but when you are as passionate about writing as these kids were, we really didn't notice that some were older and some were younger.  It was just about the writing.

And the laughter.  Oh my gosh, we laughed so much.

I have been in the revision ravine for so long, it was good to remember how important it is to have a great time when you are in the middle of it all.

But last night, I started thinking of some of the things I wish I had remembered to tell them.  (I mean, you think a week is long enough to impart all of your pearls of writing wisdom onto the next generation, but NOT SO!)

So, if you will indulge me, here are a few things I forgot:

1.  Finish what you start. Even when you don't really want to.  And you don't have to finish everything you start (see #2), but you will learn a lot from getting to the end, as in, figuring out how to write an ending!

2. It's okay to start something else sometimes.  Just not all the time.  I mean, I would be a happy camper if someone just paid me to start stories and someone else would finish them.  But that's not realistic.  Nor would the book be as good as it could be if I had committed myself to learning from it and seen it through.  So, finishing is good (see#1).  BUT, and this is a big but (inside joke!!!), if what you are writing is boring to you and you just can't think about writing it anymore without your brain wanting to vomit all over (another inside joke!!!), please for the love of toast, write something new!

As you can see, we were full of inside jokes this week.

We ended the last couple of days doing something with  my book THE SEVEN TALES OF TRINKET that was so much fun.  Most of the kids were unfamiliar with it, so at the end of the day, I'd let a few kids pick a random page and I'd read it.  I usually like my stories chronological, but it was cool to see all of the things they picked out and understood from the story just hearing snippets here and there.    I highly recommend Random Page Selection as a way of getting kids excited about a book.

And they made me melt when they asked if I could stuff them in my suitcase when I go to SCBWI next weekend.  You're going to meet real authors??  Can we come??

So in the end, although there was less work getting done (revising!) on my end, my heart was filling up and that is always a good thing.


Friday, July 19, 2013

Breaking Points

In the Winter of 2010, I almost gave up on my book, The Seven Tales of Trinket and shelved it.

It's not something I talk about much.

I don't quite understand breaking points--the whole straw that breaks the camel's back kind of thing.  I don't know why it seems easy to deal with something one day, then the next, it is completely undealwithable.  (Yes, I just invented a word.)

But that happens in writing sometimes.  You go along and you go along and you go along and then, for some reason, you just can't go along anymore.

Trinket was being queried. I was a methodical querier, but not a fast one.  I'd been sending out about one query a week since October.  In the mean time, I was working on other things.  One of these other things was a YA.

I know. Seriously.

It was a funny little YA about a teenage girl who worked at a renaissance faire and fell for a boy who actually WAS from the 16th century.  I had such fun writing that book, and it gave me the freedom to not worry about Trinket.  But, as Trinket was not getting the nibbles I had hoped for, I started thinking that maybe, if nobody wanted it (even though it was my heart and soul between those pages), I would "trunk" it.  Then maybe I'd polish up the YA and we would see.

I was at the breaking point.


Because when you get to the breaking point, you have to be REALLY honest with yourself.  It's a big decision, to toss something aside.  It's big.

So, I was brutally honest with myself and reread my query.  Did it sound like a query should sound?  Yes.  Did it describe my book, really give the feeling for it?  meh.

I had work to do.

So I rewrote the query, following none of the rules, but describing my book much more truthfully.  And I gave her one more chance, all the while polishing up my little YA. One more chance.

The gist of this story is that Trinket was not shelved.  And agent requested it from the new query and then it became a book (eventually).

Yay!  Confetti and all that!

But I think the important thing here is that sometimes, although the breaking point is a scary place, it forces you to confront your writing in a very honest way. A way that you wouldn't really otherwise, (because it is hard!!) unless you had somehow stumbled into a breaking point.

I am there now, at the breaking point.

I am struggling with a story that I believe in so much.  So very much.  But I am close to the point of, "maybe I ought to just shelve it," because I have not been able to make it work in the right way.  Not yet.  And I've been at it a while.

But I know I need to give it that honest eyeball before I decide.


Okay, as for the YA, it has not been "shelved" necessarily, just put in a stated of suspended animation.  Only two friends have seen it, and neither is an agent or an editor.  But right now, I don't feel like I am a YA author.  I have to find a way back to that voice before I can give it what it needs. That is what the honest eyeball says.

Maybe I ought to make an Honest Eyeball--kind of like a Magic 8 Ball....hmmmm.  What do you think?

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

National Writing Project and All That Jazz

This morning I presented at the California State University San Marcos branch of the National Writing Project.
It's called Cal State Stair Master for a reason!

My talk was on balancing the life of a writer with that of a teacher--something I struggle with all the time!  I am no expert, and preparing the powerpoint really made me think about what I do and why I do it, and what I would do differently, and what I would never change.

Self-reflection is very powerful and good.

I also met a lot of great folks who are like me, teacher and writers.  That's what's so amazing about the NWP.  Some really smart people realized a long time ago that if we want kids to write better, we need to support the writing efforts of teachers.  I mean, I would never ask someone who had never skydived HOW TO SKYDIVE!  I can teach writing better (though I am far from perfect) because I drag my butt to the computer (or my writing notebook) and make it happen every single day (mostly.)  I understand how sometimes it is hard for kids to get their ideas across the way they want because, guess what?  It happens to me, too.  There are ideas kids have that they can't seem to let go of in their writing, themes or topics that they visit again and again and that we as teachers really hope they'll get over soon because, sheesh.   Well, that happens to me, too. (I am looking at you, Chicken Wizard.)

If you are a teacher reading this, check out the NWP.  If you are a parent, see if any of the teachers at your child's school are fellows of the project.  If not, maybe they would be interested...there's lots of teaching folks who love writing.  

And if you are a student reading this, (and you are nearby) my class for the Carlsbad Educational Foundation is almost full.  It's from July 22 to July 26.  

Well, off to the movies.  

What summer movie has you lined up at the door?  You WON"T believe mine!


Monday, July 1, 2013

In the Name of Research

Oh, hello July.  Fancy meeting you here.

Yeah, yeah, I know.  I am supposed to re-visit my June goals and make some new ones.  But the truth is, I just don't feel like it right now.  One of my goals for the year was to have a little more gratitude about things in general--and what better way to appreciate the lazy days of summer (where I have more freedom-of-time than usual!!!) than to NOT stick to my schedule? (I pronounced schedule as "shedule", as one does.)

Anyway, instead I thought I'd share a few things I have done in the name of writing research. They weren't all on the same book, and some were a few years ago, but here they are, in no particular order:

Met with a guy and his falcon to see how the whole falconry thing works

Attended a joust

Climbed to the top of Blarney castle to kiss the stone

Timed how long it would take to write a sentence ten thousand times using a quill (I didn’t not actually write the sentence ten thousand times, just a few, then extrapolated)

Sampled various types of spiced cider

Visited a heavily seal-populated cove

Watched a couple of episodes of Ancient Aliens (they have the SAME scientist guys every time, but their hair looks different—like they are trying to trick you into thinking there are more scientists who subscribe to the ancient aliens theory.  There are three.)

Watched a documentary on Area 51…but I can’t tell you about it because…well…

Watched the Curiosity film clips from Mars

Doodled a picture of a Viking dragon boat

Visited the Air and Space Museum

Visited the Star Wars exhibit at the Discovery Cube

Spent hours perusing the illuminated manuscripts at the Getty

Just to name a few.  So how about it?  What strange things have you done in the name of research?