Monthly Archives: September 2010

Today’s Writing Exercise Starts Tomorrow

Over the years (lots and lots and LOTS of years), Chris Crowe has helped to bring many children and young adult  writers to Brigham Young University to read from their work.

Tomorrow is no exception (Friday, October 1, 2010). Gary Schmidt will read from his work in the Harold B. Lee library at noon. Schmidt’s won Newbery Honor twice, once for LIZZIE BRIGHT AND THE BUCKMINSTER BOY and the following year (I think) for WEDNESDAY WARS. You can get your books signed right after the reading, too. He is the author of more than thirty books.

When I was getting my degree from Vermont College, I had to give a 45-minute lecture. I spoke about writing with emotion and I used Schmidt’s novel LIZZIE BRIGHT to show examples of putting emotion on the page without telling the reader what the main character is feeling.

Have you read the novel? If not, do. Check out how Schmidt controls the writing so the reader understands exactly how Turner Buckminster feels in  frightening or hilarious or terribly sad situations.

Now, look over what you’ve written. What have you learned from Schmidt? Instead of “He was scared” how can you imitate the showdon’ttell writing you see in LIZZIE BRIGHT AND THE BUCKMINSTER BOY?

Getting to listen to published authors read is great fun, too. So if you have even a bit of a free moment tomorrow, come on down to Brigham Young University to hear Gary Schmidt.

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really real realness

At book group last week, someone brought up the topic of being real with each other. Of sharing real things when they happen to us so that we can take turns supporting one another when those real things happen. Because, since we are all living real lives, real things will happen. And by “real things” I think I mean all things. Bad things. Hard things. Good things. Tired things.

I am, unfortunately, the kind of person who takes a long time to trust people. So as the people at book group were saying this, and wondering how we could do it, I thought immediately, “Time. Trusting people takes time.” At least, it does for me.

And then I realized that this is why finding books is so great. Because we can find someone who understands us, who puts voice to what we are experiencing, and we can trust them more easily and more quickly than we sometimes can in real life. We can read a story and for three hours or ten hours or however long it takes, we are sharing their experience and it feels SO GOOD even when hard things might be happening.

I know this doesn’t happen all the time and there are authors you don’t trust, etc. But finding that author who understands the real things in life and makes you feel understood for a while? That is priceless. That is what Carol and Ann Dee have in spades.

So keep making that mess, Ann Dee, and keep writing those scenes, Carol, because the rest of us really need to read your stuff.

And, Ann Dee, let me know when you figure out the secret to getting kids to sleep. I told my husband last night, “I haven’t slept through the night since 2002 and it’s starting to get to me.” I am so tired. Do you think if I write a book about tiredness it will feel really real and everyone will love it?

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Shaving Legs and Another Depressing Blog Post

I should. Because I don’t care until I’m sitting in a skirt and the hairs are glistening in the sunlight. I wish they wouldn’t glisten.

Today as I contemplate my life and my hair, I have decided that some things are not easy like life. And some things also funny like life. Like when you’re manuscript is, let’s say, not so bad. Pretty good, actually. And then you look at it five hours later and HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA what were you thinking?

This is me right now. Pieces of my story are in various places and various drafts and various computers. I find myself either feeling overjoyed about the book or completely depressed. It’s hard to wade through. Like that time at the haunted house when I was thirteen and all my friends went and this guy stole my shoe when we were going through the foam pit. It was horrible but funny all at the same time. My book is horrible and funny all at the same time. In a horrible way.

I am also behind on life like answering emails, reading emails, going to sleep without a kid on my face, exercising, grading papers, going to the beach, getting over myself, giving people loaves of bread, doing my hair, folding any type of clothing item, and maintaining a sanitary and organized environment in which peace can occur.

Here is my advice for writers today: Be nice to everyone. Everyone. Because you know maybe even better than others, that no one is without frozen laundry and sweaty houses. We are not alone in our hard times. That’s what makes the heart hold in our books.

Also, when you decide to write a novel, please know it’s a messy messy process but without the mess, would it be worth it? I hope not. Because this thing is messy and if it doesn’t turn out, oh my.

Follow Carol and Ally and Kyra’s advice and don’t listen to me. I am a scattered non-shaver.

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Moving On and Self-Critique

I can’t believe how much easier this new book is to write than the DD. What does that mean? What? I have no stinking idea.

Last week I met with my critique group. Every year or two we change things up and we’ve done that again. We’re now going to be a Go Out to Eat group. And we’re going to critique whole novels instead of just chapters–which is what we sort of did before. So, last week at our first restaurant, Cheri Earl (who is Miss Bossy of the group) wrote down our goals for us. No, she didn’t tell us what to do. We told her what we wanted to accomplish before the next time we met and et (et is Southern for eat.). I decided I wanted to write so many words a day on this new piece. Then I re-decided that I wanted to write so many scenes. Ten a day, I said later on Facebook, that’s all I ask. Ten scenes a day. Woot woot! (BTW, I accomplished this goal on Friday.)

Anyway.

I know that while writing this new book (which will be banned by some Christians because of the title), I am going to be checking over my a final draft of  MILES FROM ORDINARY (which comes out in March of next year, I think) and I will also have to do major rewrites on the DD. So, even though I am on to a new book (I am so glad that draft is off to my editor!!!!), I am still in editing mode. Or I will be again. Soon.

I thought I’d give a few hints that help me when I’m going through a novel.

Steps for Good Self-Critique
1. read silently on computer screen
2. read out loud from screen
3. print and read silently, making comments on the paper as you go
4. print and read out loud, continue to make comments to yourself
5. have someone else read out loud where you can hear  when they make mistakes (Why are they stumbling? Why is the read not going smoothly? Listen and take note of this. It’s important.)
6. get final comments by another individual you trust to do a good job

People ask if I do this, and yes. Yes, I do. I go through all these steps. I want whatever I am sending to my editor to be in its best possible shape.

I’ve heard people say, “Oh, I don’t have to worry about misspellings (or which ever mistake they are excusing). That’s what an editor is supposed to do.”

I have two things to say to that. The first is an editor WANTS to read the cleanest draft she can get her hands on. The truth is, while an editor is looking for the next book she can fall in love with and publish, she is trained to set a book aside the moment she is no longer interested–or as soon as a book feels unprofessional to her. I had an acquisitions editor tell me he didn’t even open a book because he didn’t like the title.

The second thing is this–I’m not exactly sure what’s going on, but I am reading more and more books that have problems that an editor should have caught. Plots holes, places an author could have strengthened the story more, and I just read one book that is full of tense problems. Tense problems. Like present tense AND past tense in the same paragraph. And this was a famous author–who’s won lots of big awards.

Authors need to make sure the books they hand over to their editors are as clean as possible. No–most editors aren’t messing up on this kind of stuff–but more and more are. And can you imagine how embarrassing it would be to see that in a book you’d written? Mistakes? Or to have someone point out how your plot could have been stronger if you had done whatever? (And believe you me, people do this. To your face.)

I think I mentioned this before– A writer once told me that she didn’t need to clean up her writing because the genre she writes for excuses bad writing. All I could do was just blink. When I finally caught my breath, I said, “But don’t you want this to be the best book you can write?”

(Sigh.)

And I’ve said this before, too, but one of the main reasons Ann Dee and I started this blog was because we wanted to maybe be able to help people who want to publish. I hope our hints have helped you improve your writing. Next week, I’m going to start through a checklist of things you can look for as you write your masterpieces so your novels are as clean as they can be.

Oh, and Douglas C.? I’m going to see if I can get an answer for you, too.

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