Friday, January 30, 2015

2015: The Year I was Realistic Instead of Dreamy by Tracy Holczer

1. Try to be more present in the moment (so you don't do things like: forget where you are at a stoplight that lasts more than thirty seconds, put the milk in with the glasses, or forget to rinse the conditioner out of your hair)

2. Wash the dog.

3. Ask your children more questions.

4. Collect compliments (so you can read them when it's two o'clock in the afternoon and you catch your reflection which includes: pajamas, a rat's nest of hair and mascara caked under your eyes because you've been writing all morning and forgot you were a human being)

5. Make sure the dust bunnies don't turn into tumbleweeds.

There! Perfectly reasonable.

May you all have a wonderfully reasonable year.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Making Glorious Mistakes: January Theme by J. Cervantes

I admit it. I have never been one for New Year's resolutions. I'm one of those every day is a new day to sprint toward the sun, to sail over the moon, to dive off the precipice into the unknown. I never said I do it with grace or fearlessness or even with my eyes open. But I do try to do it with full lung capacity. That's definitely important.

As I ponder 2015 (we writers are so good at pondering), I'm reminded of a post Neil Gaiman wrote a few years ago. I'm sharing his words here because they are brilliantly simple. Perhaps you'll find some truth or meaning in them as well.



“I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes.

Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You're doing things you've never done before, and more importantly, you're Doing Something.

So that's my wish for you, and all of us, and my wish for myself. Make New Mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody's ever made before. Don't freeze, don't stop, don't worry that it isn't good enough, or it isn't perfect, whatever it is: art, or love, or work or family or life.

Whatever it is you're scared of doing, Do it.

Make your mistakes, next year and forever.”  

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Resolutions

So today I'm supposed to post about resolutions.--and now that we're about a month into the new year,  it's a good time to take a moment to see how they are going.

My writing resolutions are going terribly.  They always do.  How about yours?

Now the fact that my writing resolutions are going terribly doesn't surprise me in the least.  For me, writing doesn't lend itself to resolutions.  I can say "I will write five pages a day," or "I will write for 5 hours" and make myself stick to it--but I won't necessarily walk away with something that's usable by the end of it.  Forcing a specific kind of productivity rarely seems to work--and yet I'm forever setting a timer, checking work counts, and checking off boxes on a list.

But sometimes writing requires work that's hard to quantify.  Sometimes it requires that I go wash dishes--because this is where a lot of plotting happened in my mind.  Sometimes it requires I spend a couple of hours fiddling with a small but crucial detail.  Sometimes it involves reading a book or watching a movie to look at ways that other people's stories come together (or don't).  Sometimes it involves taking a break.

None of these things are easy to quantify, but all of them are important. And this year, I'm resolving to treat them accordingly.


Monday, January 26, 2015

January Theme: Resolution by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich

(adapted from a recent lecture)


 Structure is good. Formulas often work to organize our thoughts and move us forward. I know from spending time teaching in an early childhood classroom that even the most seemingly free-wheeling, anything-goes environments are often very carefully crafted and structured.

 Where it can get sticky, of course, is in that compulsion to get too focused on formula. I'd get anxious when people asked "Are you a pantser or a plotter?" Uh, I guess I just start writing, sometimes a list, sometimes some dialogue, sometimes... I just..do stuff, and that works for me. Sort of. Sometimes, most of the time, I get stuck somewhere in the bog of the middle, with characters wandering aimlessly, or worse, sitting still. So then I whip out one of my trusty books on PLOT, and plug in a formula -- a Mountain...3 Acts -- wait no, 5!...hmmm, who's my Shapeshifter? Is this the right beat?

And then I get lost. In trying to make my story fit a formula that's supposed to be foolproof, I lose sight of the story itself. A large part of it, I think, is the fear of that period of WHAT THE HECK AM I DOING?! WHAT IS THIS BOOK?! and hoping that a system or formula will help me avoid that.  

“At times in my thinking I take my hands off the handlebars and see what happens. In a poem I do that all the time.”
  -William Stafford 

For me at least, there is NO ESCAPING that period "in the weeds." I will accept that. I will understand that I can use a number of tools to work my way out, but work my way out I will. Eventually. I may need to make a beat sheet or storyboard, but I also may need to just take my hands off the handlebars and knit, or take a walk, or a nap. Or just sit. I'll go further up and further in, and get through. Is that a resolution? I don't know. It's what I'm going to try. Some days it will work, some days it won't. And that's how it is.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Smack Dab in the Classroom: Teaching Community Service through Books, by Dia Calhoun

Many authors for kids use their books as an opportunity to give back--by helping charities or other community service organizations. Authors Lois Brandt, Laurie Ann Thompson, Justina Chen, Lorie Ann Grover, and Janet Lee Carey come to mind as prime examples of this.

Literature teachers could use this idea as a class project. Assign or have groups of kids choose a book from a list you provide. Then have each group brainstorm a community service link to that book. 

For example, take Laurie Ann Thompson's book, Emmanuel's Dream. It's based on a true story about Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah, the amazing, disabled bicyclist who road 400 miles across Ghana to show that disability is not inability. Students could find organizations that benefit the disabled, or disabled bicyclists, etc. Then they could map out an actual program to use Emmauel's Dream to help raise money or awareness for that organization. 

School's want to teach students about community service. What better way than through books?

Thursday, January 22, 2015

New Year Intentions

I’ve never much liked the word RESOLUTION. It’s always seemed like a hard word to me—like something difficult you have to white-knuckle your way through, and if you don’t or can’t, you’ve failed.

I much prefer the word INTENTION. It’s softer, more female, and tied into words like purpose and design. It’s more about a way of being in the world than achieving an end result.

So I don’t have resolutions, but I do have intentions. The first of which is to write every day and to put “my” work first. I began the year with a new, interesting, complicated freelance writing job with a short deadline. It would be easy to let it take over my life, but I’m beginning each day by working on my own novel, even if only for fifteen minutes. After the alarm goes off and the tea-water boils, I sit down at my desk with pen in hand. I set myself up for success by leaving my WIP notebook open on my desk. A brief note about whatever comes next is the first thing I see.

And the days when the words aren’t flowing, or the pull of the freelance job is so loud that I can’t focus on my story? It’s okay – I'm not a failure. There’s always tomorrow.

Monday, January 19, 2015

2015 Resolutions by Kristin Levine


I think my writing resolution this year is to tell the story I'm afraid to tell, the one that feels just a little bit too personal, but that I know holds the most emotional honesty after all.  
I think that's my life resolution too: to call the friend I don't know that well, to tell the story that seems just a little bit too personal, to let others into the reality of my emotional life.
Yeah, if I can do those two things, it will definitely be a good year!

Sunday, January 18, 2015

"The Perfection of the Present Day" (January Theme) by Claudia Mills

The best New Year's resolution I ever made was so wonderful that it's the same resolution I make every year. I'm offering it here to all of you:

Fill every day with creative joy.

I modified it a bit so that any kind of joy counts. When it comes to joy, I'm not all that fussy.

The guiding principle for this resolution is the instruction attributed to William Law: "Be intent on the perfection of the present day." Because that's all we have, really. Not yesterday, not tomorrow, not even the whole huge swelling total of the long unbroken line of yesterdays and tomorrows, but just the twenty-four hours of today. If I'm going to fill my life with creative joy, I need to start by filling my days with creative joy. That is to say, by filling TODAY.

As a dabbler in time management literature, I know that goals have to be SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-Related. My joy goal is attainable and realistic, given that I have a generous threshold for what counts as joy and I'm willing to accept that some days are bound to be marked by unbearable sorrow, tortured worry, and the rest of the human condition. It's time-related: the time is TODAY. It could be more specific and measurable, though. What kind of creative joy? How will I know for sure that I've had some?

So I keep in my trusty little notebook a list of ideas for creative joy, in case I get confused on what it would look like. Here are a few:

1. Write. Just write. A day with writing in it is already, for me, a day with its full quota of creative joy. But to up the joy quotient of your day, read on.
2. Write somewhere interesting. Keep a list of places you would like to write. I keep making vows to take my clipboard, pad, and pen (I write by hand, which makes this easier) and go sit on a bench near a beautiful trail, or in the art museum in Denver, or the inviting reading room at the Women's Studies Cottage the the university. Maybe this is the year I'll actually keep those vows.
3. Write with friends. Make writing dates, as Natalie Goldberg suggests in Writing Down the Bones. Organize a write-in, as my friend Jeannie Mobley Tanaka (Katerina's Wish, Searching for Silverheels) does whenever her husband is off on a business trip and she has her house to herself (well, to herself and a bunch of other writers).
4. Eat a luscious little treat when you write. It doesn't have to be a healthy treat, either.
5. Go for a walk when you need a break from writing. Walk somewhere beautiful. Notice its beauty while you're walking.
6. Walk with a friend. Make a walking date instead of a lunch date (thus totally making up for the unhealthy treat).
7. If no friend is handy, call a friend from afar and talk to her as you walk. I'd almost forgotten how much I adore the old-school communication device of the telephone, not to text on, but to TALK on. It can be like junior high school again! Or at least junior high school for those of us who remember talking to girlfriends by the hour with the phone cord stretched as far as it could go so we could crouch in the laundry room for some privacy.
8. Go on a writing retreat. Go by yourself to a bed and breakfast in the mountains. Or by the sea. Or anywhere.

You get the idea!

The best part of this resolution is that you'll WANT to keep it. This isn't a dutiful pledge to force  yourself to do something you don't down deep really want to do. It's permission to do the thing you love most in the most joyous possible way.

So do it!



Saturday, January 17, 2015

My Resolution (January Theme - Sarah Dooley)

I only made one New Years resolution related to writing:

Write.

Every day. No matter what.

I've always been good about writing daily, but recently, with so many aspects of my life competing for attention, I've slacked off a bit. So these first few weeks of the new year, I've focused on renewing my writing routine. Surprisingly difficult when my desk is teeming with bills, and paperwork, and cats. 

My daily writing routine looks a little something like this:

4:45 a.m Hit snooze.
4:55 a.m. Hit snooze.
5;00 a.m. Grumble loudly. Hit snooze.
5:15 a.m. Get out of bed. Trip on cat.
5:20 a.m. Hit start on coffee pot. Stumble into desk chair.
5:25 a.m. Open Word document. Move cat off revision notes.
5:26 a.m. Realize there's no noise coming from the kitchen. Check on coffee pot.
5:27 a.m. Grumble loudly. Add water to coffee pot.
5:28 a.m. - 5:31 a.m. Stare blankly into refrigerator.
5:32 a.m. Eat one blackberry.
5:33 a.m. Blink at Word document. Move cat off revision notes.
5:35 a.m. Begin typing. 
5:35 a.m. Stop typing.
5:37 a.m. Begin typing. Remove cat from keyboard. Remove second cat from keyboard. Remove third cat from keyboard.
5:38 p.m. Retrieve coffee. Trip on cat. Spill coffee.
5;39 p.m. Clean up coffee spill. Get more coffee. 
5:40 p.m. Move cat off keyboard. Move cat off revision notes. Move same cat off keyboard.
5:41 a.m. - 5;45 a.m. Breathe in coffee fumes until it's cool enough to drink.
5:45 a.m. Realize that it's time to get ready for work.

What I'm finding, though, is that the further I get into my routine -- as un-routine as it may feel -- the less I'm letting distractions interfere, and the more writing I'm actually getting done. 

Also, my cats love the early-morning company.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Resolutions? Nah, I’m good by Danette Vigilante

I never make New Year’s resolutions. Too much pressure, I think. Instead, I like to live each day with a little resolution here, and a little resolution there. For me, that is what works best. I don’t want my plate filled up all at once with things I hope to accomplish in the coming year. I like to picture myself skipping through a field of wildflowers picking whichever ones strike my fancy as I go.  Tra-la-la-la-la— or maybe, I’m just afraid of commitment. Uh-oh …

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Resolve: The Noun (January Theme) by Bob Krech

I like resolve as a noun. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the noun resolve as "a firm or unwavering adherence to one's purpose." Attributes like this make me think of characters.

Resolve is really a great attribute to have. When you think about it, resolve is almost always an attribute a successful main character has. As writers we usually give our main character a problem right out of the gate and then throw obstacles at them all throughout the story which they have to overcome if they want to reach the goal or solve the problem. If they don't have resolve, they aren't going to make it.

With a lot of characters, or real people for that matter, resolve can't happen until one discovers one's purpose and that is sometimes the hardest part. Once one's purpose is really known and understood, resolve often becomes a much easier enterprise and then so does the overcoming of obstacles and the solving of problems.


Wednesday, January 14, 2015

At the Heart of Resolution – January Theme by Tamera Wissinger

The turning of each year offers a great opportunity to examine those behaviors that I’d most like to change and then go ahead and try to adjust. In analyzing my behavior, making resolutions, and taking the effort to see them through, I become executive editor in my own life. It’s an important role with an eye on a more desirable future for me, but there are just two problems: Deciding to change is hard. Changing is even harder. I think that’s what has made some resolutions so difficult over the years – I put impossibly big expectations on myself when maybe I’m not ready to make big-leap changes. And then if I don’t meet my grand expectations I feel bad, as though I’ve failed.

It’s such a disappointment to feel like a failure when my intentions are always worthy, so over time I’ve changed how I think about resolutions. At the heart of resolution is solution. A solution doesn’t sound so difficult – I like solving problems. Since I am executive editor in my life, I have resolved that although change is hard, my resolutions don’t have to be – it’s okay to simply solve. As a result, some types of change have become less difficult – true, the stakes and rewards of success are smaller, but so is the risk of failure and the resulting negative emotions. And the result: I’m happier and something actually gets done. And that’s what I’m after: the answer to a problem, the key to a puzzle – fine-tuning shifts that allow me to click some new behavior into place that will help me improve and be successful, no matter how small the change.

I wish you a Happy New Year and all best wishes on seeing through your resolutions, be they big or small.

~~~~~

Tamera Will Wissinger writes poetry and stories for children. She earned her M.F.A. degree in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Hamline University. She is the author of GONE FISHING: A Novel in Verse (Houghton Mifflin Books for Children) and THIS OLD BAND (Sky Pony Press). Tamera is content with her approach to New Year’s resolution and will be celebrating the tiniest victories throughout the year. Connect with Tamera online through her Website or on Twitter.


Monday, January 12, 2015

Resolve for Writers: by Darlene Beck Jacobson

R ead more middle grade books.
E njoy all the phases of writing and editing...really!
S it down and write something each day.
O pen my mind and heart to new possibilities and where they might lead.
L earn from criticism without letting it derail me.
V ow to silence the inner critic that keeps me from moving forward and growing as a writer.
E mbrace the unknown and the discomfort it brings for it may be where the next story dwells.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

RESOLVE Has Another Name

by Jody Feldman

Artwork, Victoria Jamieson*


A couple months ago I was asked to speak at a gathering of writers. The other speaker that morning was a woman who successfully self-publishes. It was a casual gathering at a university bookstore, where we were asked to discuss our paths to and experiences with publishing. As usual, I spent a segment addressing exactly why it took so long (about 20 years!) from the day I decided I’d like to give this kidlit gig a whirl until I got my first book on the shelves.

During the Q&A segment, a gentleman asked his question. “How on earth did you hold out so long? Why didn’t you just publish the book yourself?”

Several different answers swirled in my head: issues concerning the monetary outlay, the intense marketing and sales efforts, the desire to be edited, the confirmation that a company with bottom-line responsibilities deemed my work worthy. And while I did mention those eventually, I led with something altogether different.

“I put it in my mind that I wouldn’t stop improving myself and my work until I heard that YES. That’s the way it was going to be, all or nothing.”

You may call it resolve, but honestly? I’m just that stubborn.

*Depicted is Estella from The Gollywhopper Games: The New Champion

Saturday, January 10, 2015

January Theme: RESOLVE
By Marcia Thornton Jones

My story characters don’t have the luxury of giving up. If they did, there would be no story. But the truth is, most of us do give up on our New Year’s resolutions. We can blame it on temptations, luck, schedules, or fate. But it really boils down to resolve. When we don’t back up our resolutions with resolve, or determination, we fail. Especially if our resolutions are based on external reasons (ought-tos and shoulds) instead of authentic/intrinsic desires.

This month’s theme of resolve and resolutions made me wonder:

1.      What resolutions would my characters make?
2.      Why? Are their resolutions based on external pressures or authentic reasons?
3.      What external obstacles might challenge my characters?
4.      What character weaknesses will my characters need to overcome in order to succeed?
5.      What proactive strategies could my characters use to help increase their resolve?

Maybe focusing on my characters’ resolve will even teach me a thing or two about my own!

Monday, January 5, 2015

My Revolutionary Resolution by Deborah Lytton: January Theme

I was talking about the January blog theme of Resolutions with my daughters, trying to decide how I wanted to share my ideas about beginning a new year.  My fifth grader, who is studying the birth of America, thought I said Revolution rather than Resolution.  She is getting ready for her Colonial Faire, so it's not surprising really. But I realized that she was onto something.  We, as writers, need to revolutionize our writing. We need to turn our systems upside down and try something fresh.  A new storyline, a character so unusual that it can spark an entire manuscript, or even a string of words never before put together in just that way. So this January, I am going to revolutionize my writing by changing the way I work. For this entire month, instead of beginning my writing sessions by diving into my WIP, I am going to go back to something I did when I was first exploring writing. I am going to warm up with writing exercises. One day, I am going to prompt myself with a word, and the next with a quote from a favorite book. The third day, maybe I will just outline a character sketch without any plans to use it.  I am going to stretch my creativity, challenge my imagination and hone my skills all at the same time. I challenge all of you to do the same.  Revolutionize your writing and try something new.  Share your ideas with me--I have 31 days to fill and lots of new ideas to explore.
Happy 2015!

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Megan: Resolve Like a Writer

"But you break resolutions." This was my six year-old's response when I reminded him of his New Year's Resolution. He'd just learned the concept of a resolution on New Year's Eve, and yet he already knew that most resolutions don't last past the first week of January.

But why don't they last? I think it's because they are more wishes than resolutions. I resolve to lose weight is perhaps the most common resolution of Americans. And our intentions are good. We can see that healthy version of ourselves, maybe playing tennis in a cute matching tennis outfit, or hiking the Knife Edge on Mount Katahdin (once again, perfectly attired -- perhaps I am revealing a bit too much of myself here). It is unliklely that we imagine ourselves eating less food than we currently do, passing up that second glass of wine, or sweating on the eliptical machine. Maybe for a moment, but our mind doesn't linger there. It focuses on the outcome.

This ability to imagine a different future is distinctly human, and what allows for innovation and creativity. Writers depend upon it. As writers, we create the world as we want it for our stories. We manage the characters, the settings, the plot twists. We make our vision a reality.

So maybe this year, instead of throwing a resolution into the winds and hoping some magic makes it real, perhaps we should approach our resolutions as we do our stories. We must not imagine only the end, but the steps it takes to get there. Just as a writer can't sit around waiting for a muse, so a resolver can't sit around waiting for the change they desire.

On that note, I am off to tackle this situation known as my desk.


Saturday, January 3, 2015

Mining My Past by Irene Latham

middle-grade-me
A few months ago I attended a workshop with middle grade author Candice Ransom. Something she said kind of changed my life:

"Go back to yourself as a source."

Maybe you are one of those writers who uses your own life experiences all the time in your writing, but I am not. I love the whole imaginative aspect of writing -- love writing about other people and places, more for discovery than anything else.

Of course, when writing for a young audience, I revisit the younger me to see what she might say in the situation, or how she might react. But to use my own history, my actual life story??

I resolved then and there with stars and smilies in my notebook to mine my past.

For me, this involves pushing past fear. I have worked hard to forget a lot of things that happened to me. And while instinctively I know this honest, raw place is where a writer's best writing comes from, it's also scary.

But I'm doing it.

I started by getting CREATE YOUR LIFE STORY by Marelisa Fabrega. I'll be responding to those prompts all year long.

And I enrolled in a local 12 week THE ARTIST'S WAY course -- something I've always wanted to do. Writing is spiritual practice for me, and I know that this is a program that will take me deeper.

I'm reminded of a quote from UNBROKEN by Laura Hillenbrand. It's a footnote from one of Louie's crewmates:

 "Somehow, Pillsbury survived the war, a fistful of medals and a permanent limp testifying to all he'd endured. "It was awful, awful, awful," he said through tears sixty years later. "... If you dig into it, it comes back to you. That's the way war is."

Who knows what words and stories this year will hold? I'm excited to find out!

Friday, January 2, 2015

Everyone Loves a Challenge . . . Right? By Ann Haywood Leal



"It has been like hacking away at a freezer with a screwdriver." --Amy Poehler (on writing her book, YES PLEASE)

Resolve is not only the perfect blog theme for the beginning of 2015, it is also the ideal theme for writing, especially in the verb sense of the word.  

It means to sort something out, to fix it, to straighten it and find a solution.  It means to decide firmly on a course of action or to figure it all out.

As writers, and as human beings in general, we are constantly trying to step over that slippery puddle that has the word, FEAR hidden beneath that thin layer of precarious winter ice.

So . . . I CHALLENGE YOU THIS MONTH.  Whether it's your novel, your first marathon, that mysterious stain in the upstairs bathroom . . . maybe it's that dream job you've been dying to make your own or that intimidating volume of Proust you've been wanting to tackle . . . 

Get your resolve on and make it happen.

I leave you with one more Amy Poehler quote (because I kind of want to be her when I grow up):

"So let's peek behind the curtain and hail the others like us. The open-faced sandwiches who take risks and live big and smile with all of their teeth.  These are the people I want to be around.  This is the honest way I want to live and love and write."