Saturday, October 30, 2010

Because Interesting People Are Interested

Growing up, when I whined to my mother that I was bored, she used to tell me, "Boring people are bored and interesting people are interested." (And then she told me to go clean my room, of course.)

Actually, by the time I was 15, I understood this zen-like advice. I am cursed with a common writer's curse: I'm interested in everything. My mother, an artist, probably suffered the same way.

Being interested in everything causes me no end of problems. I should write about hawks! Aren't they fascinating? But first I should try glass blowing. I wish I knew more about electricity. I use it every day, and in 1787, Ben Franklin knew more about it than I do. We share a birthday. I should totally research him more. Oh, volunteer at my daughter's school for the Odyssey of the Mind project? Sign me up! It sounds so INTERESTING. Just like everything else.

So the crux of the problem of being interested in everything is to figure out how to stop myself from overcommitting to learning everything, volunteering for everything, and researching everything. It is finding the tipping point where a balanced life turns into a scattered life.

Does anyone have any tips on stopping themselves from exploring every interesting subject? I'd hate to cultivate boredom, but I'm running out of options and boredom is starting to sound heavenly.

-- Kate

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Keeping readers' attention

Unlike my husband, who reads every night, I tend to read in spurts. I’ll read like crazy and then go months without a book. (In my defense, I find it hard to read when I’m elbows deep in my own writing project.) I have a good-sized “To Read” pile. And last a couple of weeks ago, I picked up the next paperback in line. 
I tried. Really, I did. But I’m about half way through and have decided to stop reading. I can count on one hand how many times I’ve given up on a book midway. I like to finish what I start but the older I get, the less patience I have for books that aren’t keeping my attention. 
Here are some of the reasons I’ll stop reading a book:
Not relating to the MC (This was the reason this time around.)
Too challenging (I like to be challenged but I hate needing a dictionary to get through a book!)
I don’t really care about the MC’s problem (It seems lame or too far-fetched.)
Plot is plodding along (I find myself skimming to “get to the good parts.”) 
The writing is showing - if I’m thinking “Man, that needed some more editing” then I’m not caught up in the actual story. 
I think all of this is useful information as I settle down to write my own stories. I don’t always get it right, but if I’m writing to please the READER inside myself then I can’t go wrong. 
What about you? What makes you give up on a book? 

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Puppies and MC's

My husband and I are talking about getting another dog. We’ve always had two dogs but when we had to put down our beloved Daisy last March, we decided we’d be a one pet family for a few years. And - as the person who is home all day - I’ve enjoyed having less barking to deal with, less animal hair on the floor and less whining to go out.  As a nice bonus, our current dog seems happier and calmer as a single. 
We weren’t even *thinking* about another puppy. I’d been in plenty of pet stores, looked at all those cute, little creatures and walked right out without any regrets. But then a friend of a friend’s dog had a litter. There is one puppy left. He’s a black and white Border Collie and Lab mix. (We love Labs.) He’s free and ready to go and my friend has offered to bring him home when she travels in the next two weeks.  It seems that, once again, a puppy “found us” instead of the other way around.
I haven’t even officially agreed to take him, but I’ve given him a name. Right now, I’m having mixed emotions. I’m excited by the idea but also wondering what the heck I’m thinking. Puppies are cute and all, but they also pee and poop everywhere and chew things and whine and need food, a crate, and lots and lots of attention. On the other hand, a puppy would be such a thrill for my daughter - a kid who has had to deal with a lot lately. 
Change is challenging. Even when it’s good. I’m not really the adventurous type. I see change coming and dig my heels in. Maybe this is why the new book I’m working on has a main character reacting the same way to the changes going on in her life. I can relate!
I haven’t worked out my full outline yet but I know my MC will eventually learn change is inevitable. One of the themes is that life keeps marching on no matter how much you will it not to. 
Do you suppose this means I’m getting a puppy? :-) 

Friday, October 15, 2010

Birthdays and Character Development

Since it’s my birthday today, I’ve been thinking about the significance of birthdays in books and children's lives.

In my kindergarten classroom, birthdays are huge. They are a source of power, e.g. “I’m not going to invite you to my birthday”, and conflict, e.g. “I don’t want to come if there’s a clown.” The child who has a birthday loves to feel the attention that’s showered on them on their special day, not to mention the cake and presents.

As kids get older, they develop some birthday savvy. They might invite kids they barely play with to their parties to get more presents. Or they might bargain for not having a party if they can have a bigger gift. With teens, I’ve noticed that a birthday “party” could be as apparently ordinary as a shopping trip to the mall.

I’ve never thought much about my character’s birthdays, but given how important they are to kids, I should. In fact, the day a child is born turns out to be pretty important in my latest novel because that’s the day a decision is made about where a character is going to grow up.

Have you ever given your character a birthday party? How important are birthdays in your characters' lives?

-- Andrea

Wednesday, October 6, 2010


I can always tell when it’s time for me to get a haircut - I start wearing headbands. And I can always tell when it’s time to start my next project or start reading a new book because I feel antsy. The problem is, my brain spins like a roulette wheel and it never seems to land on any particular space. 
I have a stack of To Read books and I chose each one because it appealed to me for a different reason. What am I in the mood for? I don’t know. Which book might help inspire me to write my next book? I don’t know.
I have several ideas and characters running around my brain. Which story do I know enough about to start writing? Which character is calling me the loudest? Which one is most marketable? 
I don’t know.
All I know is that, most of the time, it’s not the book or idea that’s important. What’s important is that you only keep moving. Pick something - anything - and see how it goes. A step in any direction is still better than standing still. 
So, today I will open my journal, write a title and see where it takes me. I just have to do one thing first - set up an appointment to get my hair cut! 


Monday, October 4, 2010

Baby Steps

I’m sitting down tonight plotting my next novel. There’s something exciting about starting a new project. Yet at the same time, writing a book seems like an overwhelming task at first, too! Not only do I know I have to write a compelling story, realistic characters, and something that hasn’t been done before, but I also have to convince an editor to buy it. And then once it’s bought, convince my readers to read it!

Okay, so thinking about all of that totally stresses me out. So for me I have to take baby steps.

Phase I- Plotting and Character Sketches

1. Brainstorm like crazy

2. Submit my ideas to my critique group and gain their input (I heart my critique buddies!)

3. Brainstorm again

4. Begin plotting and create character sketches

5. Share my plot with my critique buddies and adjust as needed

Phase II- Fast Draft

1. Plug in my iPod and fast draft- write as fast as I can so I can stay in the groove of my story

2. Stay within my weekly word count goal

3. Eat lots of dark chocolate and drink gallons of coffee

4. Write, write, WRITE!!!!!

5. CELEBRATE when I finish the first draft!

Phase III- Find the Problems

1. Work on plot holes

2. Analyze character motivations and inner conflicts

3. Slice and dice- cut anything not needed

Phrase IV- Share

1. Submit to my critique buddies

2. Make changes according to feedback (note: this phase is often the hardest)

Phase V- Make it Beautiful

1. Polishing- fix grammar, spelling and more surface issues

2. Formatting the manuscript

Phase VI- Out into the World

1. Write my query, cover letters, and the synopsis

2. Get more feedback from critique group

3. Create a list of potential agents or editors

4. Send out and eat more chocolate

Okay so now I’m stressed out again thinking of this HUGE process and I didn’t even go into all of the details. So I’ll just focus on Phase I right now and worry about Phase VI when I get there.

How about you? What keeps you from getting overwhelmed by the enormity of the work it takes to write a book?


Saturday, October 2, 2010

Hey, it's Time Management-A-Palooza!

With their previous posts, Andrea and Debbie and their commenters have inspired me to think more about time management. I have a full time job, two kids, and a major home renovation in progress. My company asks me to work overtime almost every day. In addition to writing, I like to sew, read, and play computer games. Since I don't have publisher's deadlines (right now!), it's very easy to let other priorities come first.

Like Debbie, I don't watch much TV. Like Andrea, I bring a book everywhere. One thing I do that I find crucial is that I read out loud to my kids every night. One is 11 and the other is 7. My 11-year-old and I just finished reading Rules by Cynthia Lord. So inspiring! Often when I read to my kids, I think that I can't wait to write something myself. Also, I go to the library every other Monday evening and browse the new arrival shelves in all age groups to keep up with the industry.

I use downtime at work whenever possible. Mandatory meetings that I know don't really apply to me? Those are opportunities to sketch out a synopsis or hook. I take breaks from my office to walk around the block and think about writing. If I get a good idea at work, I write it down. I keep index cards in my purse in case an idea occurs during the commute. While I'm driving to and from work, I listen to music that I've selected that reminds me of my story worlds.

MigWriters is a huge inspiration to me. They really care if I make a breakthrough! In addition, they give me deadlines. When it's tempting to slack off, I can look at our critique schedule and realize that if I get back to writing, I can submit something on time.

But I also find it invaluable to meet with local writers. These meetups don't have to be businesslike, but it is nice to keep me focused. This is what I do. I take time out to meet with other writers because I am one of their tribe.

I have also learned to accept that I do so many things because I don't have the world's longest attention span. Some days, I open up a Word document, write for 15 minutes, get up and do laundry, write for ten minutes, get up and make pasta salad, etc. This actually works for me. I think I get my best "what happens next" ideas while folding laundry and washing dishes ... although I often have more choppiness to resolve on revision than I would like.

Wow, just reviewing these ideas makes me want to open up a Word document right now! I can write for ten minutes before I get distracted!

-- Kate