Sunday, August 30, 2015


I feel some capital letters coming on, so bear with me.

I used to be a process junkie. Every conference I attended, every workshop or class, I wanted to know, "What is your process?"

Because mine may as well have looked like this:

Of course, what I really wanted to know was, "How do you write a book?" Because who wants to try and fail and try and fail and try and fail if you can just ask someone else, some other successful person, how they did it and then copy the crap out of them?

"Write an outline," they said.

"Find out what is in your character's pocket," they said. "Nothing," I said. "But if they did have something, what would it be?" they said.


"Try this sixty-seven point, fold-a-paper, pretend you're a snowflake method. Works for me every time," they said.

So I tried (and still try) all of those things. And failed (and still fail).

BUT I have figured out that I can't work with an outline. And that even if my characters had something in their pockets, I wouldn't care, and that I am wonderfully horrible at anything with more than three steps. I also figured out we all have some process related things in common and that pop up with every book:

YOU HAVE TO DO ALL THE THINGS. There aren't any magic beans and for every fifty-seven things you try, you may end up with one or two that stick and become your process.

WRITING IS HARD AND YOU ARE NOT A GENIUS. Beethoven and Hawking are geniuses. Just know that if the sneaky part of your mind is telling you, "you don't have to listen to that critique/change that plotline/kill off that character," then you probably do. Because you are not a genius.

DON'T WAIT UNTIL YOU ARE "FEELING IT." I would literally never get out of bed if I waited for my feelings to show up.

TAKE BREAKS. Just because you decided to be a writer does not mean your children should have to eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the rest of their lives.

YOU MUST BE COMFORTABLE WITH YOUR FLAWS. Or, at least, know what they are. Or at the very least, know that you have them. Writing a book has this amazing ability to call forth every one of your flaws in bright screaming Technicolor and possibly stereo and then challenge them to a duel.

Please know that my capital letters are for the stubborn, know-it-all, perfectionist crazy-head that is writing this post. If you know a stubborn, know-it-all, perfectionist crazy-head writer/human, feel free to share.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Writing Interesting Characters - Glenn Wood

As an author of children’s books one of my biggest challenges is finding characters that will not only appeal to my audience but will also stand out from the crowd. That, and coming up with an original idea of course. To have a truly successful book these two factors need to work in tandem. 

What do readers remember most about the Harry Potter books? Usually, Harry Potter and Hogwarts. Harry is a fascinating character in his own right, the orphaned child of murdered magician parents and Hogwarts, a school for young magicians operating alongside the real world, was a great idea. 

For The Brain Sucker I had a strong central concept – a brilliant maniac had invented a machine that could suck the goodness out of kids to create the evil world he desired – but I also needed strong characters to really bring the story to life. 

Once my evil character was formed I needed an equally compelling hero. I wanted a character that had the guts to handle whatever was thrown at him, a boy who had already faced adversity and risen above it with strength and humour. The resulting protagonist was Callum, a thirteen year old boy who had been born with a spinal injury and was confined to a wheelchair. 

This presented me with several challenges. I knew very little about children with disabilities or the restrictions faced by people in wheelchairs. I also had a very clear idea about my character; I didn’t want him to feel like a victim and wasn’t interested in writing a story where disability was the central theme. It was important that my readers saw Callum as a teenage boy first and foremost and the fact he was in a wheelchair became almost irrelevant. 

During my research I was fortunate enough to receive help from an extremely interesting and innovative wheelchair manufacturer – Trekinetic All Terrain Limited. Their managing director was kind enough to share his insights on both the mechanical limitations of wheelchairs and the attitudes of the people who use them. This was invaluable for the development of my main character. 

To my surprise, I quickly discovered that having a hero that was confined to a wheelchair was liberating rather than limiting. The way Callum copes with his disability opened up two very strong character traits. He became fiercely independent but also incredibly stubborn and this developed into one of the main themes of my story – the importance of being able to ask for help when you need it.

Feedback from reviewers so far has been extremely positive about both Callum’s character and the way his disability has been handled. For me, being able to create unique and memorable characters is one of the most enjoyable parts of writing. 


Glenn Wood is an award winning copywriter and author who has four published books to his credit. These include his popular autobiographical novels – The Laughing Policeman and Cop Out – and two middle school books The Brain Sucker and The Bully Chip. 
 THE BRAIN SUCKER is an absolutely delightful MG--told with a great deal of humor and understanding. Be sure to snag a copy and keep up with Glenn Wood at his author site.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Little Breaks for Big Ideas, by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich

The other night, I learned how to do this:

It's a very first try at English Paper Piecing (EPP), with scrap fabric and no plan, generally thought of as a hand quilting technique. I'm not planning to make a quilt, though I love to do all kinds of needlework and stitchery. But it seemed like the perfect little fiddly thing for my mini writing breaks. You know, the times when you're trying to figure out a story problem? Or know you have a problem but aren't sure what exactly that problem might be? Or you just need to stop for 15 minutes and regroup. Or my favourite -- when I know that there's something right there, just brewing underneath, but it needs to be teased out, developed gently with love and patience. Often, those are the times that I take a walk. Getting up and moving are almost always the best ways for me to shake off any hints of block, to generate ideas, to think a story through. But sometimes, a few minutes of stitching, of working with my hands, does the trick. I learned the EPP basics on Monday night; it came in very handy yesterday as I thought "Big Picture" thoughts about a novel revision. On three different occasions throughout the day, I picked it up, stitched for 5 or 6 minutes, then put it down. Over the past couple of weeks I've been working on this embroidery sampler:

In those few minutes of doing a stitch, I give my mind the freedom to decide on whether or not to revive long-dormant projects, to ponder brand-new ones that I'll note and work on later. It's just a few minutes each time. But it helps me allow myself to let my mind move forward, backward, or even in circles; and then to grab onto those delicate threads of new ideas, wonderings, stories, and weave them into my work.

I hate to waste. I wondered for a moment what I'd do with that first attempt at EPP. It's not pretty, but still...

...Then I remembered: I've already used it. And it's served me well.

Also, maybe one day I'll make a little quilt.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015


I don’t think a writer truly has an “off” button. Our projects are always on our minds. But it’s not a bad thing…in fact, some of my greatest “ah-ha!” moments as a writer have happened away from my desk. Here’s how you can turn your own time off into productive writing time:

1.      DO SOMETHING PHYSICAL AND MINDLESS. I can’t tell you how many ideas for new books or revelations about characters I’ve had while mowing the lawn. Or painting the porch. Walking the dog. There’s something about fresh air and looking at something other than a computer screen that lets the mind wander in all sorts of new directions.

2.      READ OUTSIDE OF YOUR GENRE. Reading is still a great end-of-the-day relaxer…but reading MG novels when I’m working on an MG can make me feel like I’m never off the clock. Read a mystery if you’re working on a romance, read adult if you’re working on kid lit. It feels like you’ve traveled into a whole new world. (And you’re still learning from your fellow writers…)

3.      ENJOY AN OFF-PAGE STORY. I’ve found this one to be especially important lately, as I begin to focus heavily on plot (WHAT happens, not just HOW it’s told). Plot is especially obvious in a movie or TV show. Binge-watch something new. Get caught up in the whole what’s-going-to-happen-next feeling. Ask yourself what’s giving you that feeling. Figure out how you can incorporate it into your own work.

4.      TACKLE A NEW HOBBY. Learn something new. Take a road trip to a state you’ve never visited. Take up an instrument or a sport. As a writer, every new experience winds up finding its way onto your pages. It makes your work—and your life—far richer.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Smack Dab in the Classroom by author Dia Calhoun: Back to School

The first day of school I'd wait for the inevitable first assignment: Write a book report on a book (likely from an authorized list) that you read over the summer. Fine. But every single year?

Here are a few alternatives to liven up the assignment:
  1. Imagine the most wonderful book you can (not a real book).A book with just the kind of hero, problem, and setting that you like best. Write a book report about that book.
  2. Have you ever read a book that seemed perfect until you got to the end? Then snapped it shut in outrage because it has the wrong ending? Rewrite the ending to your liking AND explain why you prefer it.
  3. Take the hero or heroine of a book you love and add yourself to the story. Write one chapter.
  4. If you were moving to Mars and could only take one book, which one would you take and why?
So foster some creativity and imagination with this year's inevitable first assignment. Who knows where it may lead?

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Celebrations by Laurie Calkhoven

My writer’s group is big on celebrations. For a long time we called ourselves the Champagne Sisters (we haven’t come up with a new name since a man joined our ranks). We celebrated the little things—finishing a draft, having an editor express interest—and big things—signing with an agent, an actual sale. We even had champagne at our annual January session in which we celebrated the previous year’s accomplishments and set our goals for the year ahead.

Writers spend so much time alone in front computers that it’s important for use to come together and mark the big and little things. But I don’t do much more than that. I remember when I first started working in book publishing, right out of college. There was a bestselling romance author who bought herself a new piece of gemstone or diamond-studded jewelry every time she sold a book. There was another who treated herself to a new pair Manolo Blahniks. I remember thinking at the time that when I became the writer I wanted to be that I would do something similar. I never quite settled on the thing—jewelry, art, shoes, vacations—but I was sure I’d find a way to do something fabulous for myself.

I haven’t.

Of course my advances don’t reach the level of Manola Blahniks let alone diamonds, but there’s also the question of WHEN do you celebrate? When the editor makes an offer? When the check arrives weeks or even months after the official offer and usually spent long before it arrives? On publication day when the check is long gone?

In addition to the WHEN there’s a WHAT and HOW. The idea of throwing myself a publication party makes me cringe (although I love to go to other writer's parties).  I did take my group to Fraunces Tavern when DANIEL AT THE SIEGE OF BOSTON was published, but I haven't done anything like that since. And do I celebrate all my books, including the freelance jobs? What about the ghostwritten ones that don’t have my name on them? I’ve never been sure, so I’ve let all those days slip away.

But now I’m thinking about celebrations, and I’m wondering why I believe they have to cost a lot of money. I live in New York City where I’m surrounded by some of the best museums in the world. Off-Broadway theater is vibrant and interesting and a ticket doesn’t rival my monthly mortgage payment. And Central Park is free.

So in writing this post I decided to give myself a celebratory experience for each book on publication day, whether my name’s on it or not. First up is MILITARY ANIMALS three days from now. I think it’s time I checked out Whitney Museum of American Art in its new digs. And because the book comes with a paw print dog tag, I already have the bling.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

An Hour a Day (August theme) by Claudia Mills

I try to write every day. I don't succeed in doing it, but that is my goal and my dream. I'm happier when I'm writing and unhappier when I'm not writing. But my secret for not burning myself out as a writer is that even though I write most days, I write for only a short time each day, indeed only for one sweet brief hour.

I stumbled upon this way of structuring my writing life when I read an article in the Readers' Digest when I was a child: "What You Can Do with an Hour a Day." It told of artists completing work for juried shows on the hour-a-day system, of self-taught men achieving levels of intellectual brilliance by reading for an hour a day at the Library of Congress, of greatness and glory accumulated sixty minutes at a time.

As an adult I read Anthony Trollope's fabulous autobiography and learned that he wrote and published his huge, sprawling Victorian novels by writing for a short, fixed stint each morning, while working full-time at a high level position for the British postal service. He penned these words which I committed to memory:  "A small daily task, if it be really daily, will beat the labors of a spasmodic Hercules."

To measure my hour, I use this hourglass:
I love it so much! With the hourglass, I don't need to watch the clock and rue the fact that it's now 5:02 instead of 5:00, so my hour has been ruined. Instead my hour begins when I turn over the glass and begin to write.The sand trickles through the glass as words trickle through my pen.

My goal is to complete a page during my hour: just one pitiful, pathetic, puny page. Yet the simplest math will show how many pages a year one can fill with this method. How quickly they add up!

This leaves me the remaining 23 hours a day to sleep, work (I've had a full time job for most of my writing career), enjoy time with friends and family, walk, read, and Google myself to see if I've possibly won any major awards that they forgot to tell me about.

I read this line once, attributed to Goethe: "Never hurry, never rest." This is my writing mantra.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Reading/Writing Breaks (August Theme) by Bob Krech

I am very on board with taking breaks from writing. Sometimes just to go downstairs and raid the fridge and sometimes there have been a few days in a row. Some of the most productive breaks have occurred when I've put aside a manuscript for a few months or even a year. The new, fresh perspective that kind of break brings is amazing.

One thing I like to do when I take a break from my writing for any extended period of time is read something new, particularly out of my genre. Those books always seem like little vacations somewhere else. I'm away from my writing task, but still immersed in writing and reading.

When I read these writing vacation books I find myself underlining and jotting little notes, learning new words sometimes, and definitely picking up on some technique and description. The book I just read while on a little writing break is Motherless Brooklyn, a very off kilter detective novel if you will. I've never written a detective novel and probably never will, but I learned a lot and it made me want to get back to my own writing.

Reading someone else's work while away from your own is something like watching baseball vs. playing baseball. Playing baseball is fun, but it's also really hard work. Same with writing. Watching baseball is fun and if you watch it the right way you can learn a lot and be inspired. That's how I feel about my reading/writing breaks. It gets me away from my writing, but makes me want to get right back into it too.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Making Time for Julia Cameron’s Artist Date – August Theme by Tamera Wissinger

Many years ago a poetry teacher introduced me to Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’sWay: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity. It’s a structured program that guides the reader through steps to becoming more creative. There are two basic tools that Julia asks the reader to commit to doing during the program. One tool is to journal first thing each day – Julia calls it Morning Pages. The other tool is called the Artist Date. Here is the basic Artist Date concept:

…An artist date is a block of time, perhaps two hours weekly, especially set aside and committed to nurturing your creative consciousness, your inner artist. In its most primary form, the artist date is an excursion, a play date that you preplan and defend against all interlopers. You do not take anyone on this artist date but you and your inner artist, a.k.a your creative child…
Excerpt from The Artist’s Way, page 18

I’ve put myself through this program twice now – and both times The Artist’s Date has been one of the most rewarding aspects. At first it’s daunting and sounds so decadent, especially I think, to people newly claiming their position as a creative being. In the beginning, I wanted to be taken seriously. I felt that I needed something tangible to show for my efforts, to show that I was worthy of the title of writer. A play date How could I be taken seriously if I was out having fun? But I trusted the process and started taking myself on Artist’s Dates. It began to make sense to me in the vein of the old adage of “all work and no play…” My writing time didn’t suffer, and it was actually enhanced by the dates. The break was useful in gaining perspective and coming back to my work fresh, but beyond that the experience of the dates themselves opened me up to additional creative thinking which transferred to creative doing/writing when I did get back to my desk.

I’m at the point now where I take this creative break naturally and regularly. Some weeks it may be a grand date such as a splurge on art supplies, seeing a movie all by myself, or a trip to a museum. Other weeks it might be as modest as doodling with markers, a browse through an antique store, or a walk outside with my camera. The only consistent factor is that I do take the time for my Artist Date. It’s one of the best habits that I’ve formed over the years, and one that rewards me in unexpected ways every time I do it.

I wish you luck on your own creative journey and in finding the type of breaks that work best for you.


Tamera Wissinger writes stories and poetry for children including Gone Fishing: A Novel in Verse, This Old Band, and the forthcoming There Was An Old Lady Who Gobbled a Skink, and Gone Camping: A Novel in Verse. Tamera believes strongly in taking Artist Dates and breaks in order to coax out the best creativity in herself. You can connect with Tamera online at her website, on Twitter, or on Facebook.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Writing Breaks - The Pauses That Refresh. by Darlene Beck Jacobson

Many of us have more than one writing project going on during any time in our lives. There's always editing, revising, and writing to be done.  So taking a writing break provides a much needed respite.    
   A time to refresh and recharge.
It is also a time for possible reflection.  It is during these non-writing breaks that I often discover some of the best inspiration for writing.
    While taking a walk in a local park or through my neighborhood, I've discovered character traits, unique character names, bits of dialogue, better word choices, and even plot elements.  I outlined an entire picture book.  No, these things weren't painted on the sidewalk or hidden behind a tree.
    Rather, they popped up to the surface of my brain once I'd given myself permission to stop writing and take a break.  While our minds are engaged in physical tasks separate from writing, we often find some of the best ideas spring forth.
    Breaks are necessary and may even be one of the best ways to find inspiration. Enjoy your matter where they take you.  

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Need a Break? Follow Me!

from Jody Feldman 

Out recharging with my critique group (but not a real break).


Here’s something I struggle with.
Say I’ve worked crazy hours, as I sometimes do, to finish a first draft or a big revision. “Just one more week/just three more days/just one more day/just one more chapter,” I’ll say to myself, “and I can take a big break. I can read and watch TV and eat bonbons. I can sleep late and take field trips. I can give myself a week! Maybe two!”

The next day, though, after I’ve awakened at the same time, I’m drawn back to my computer to clean out my inbox and deal with other neglected tasks, and suddenly I’m sucked back into writing, faster than you can insert a semi-colon.

Last week, though, something may have changed that for me. I had the good fortune of taking a brainstorming workshop with Newbery Award winner Paul Fleischman at the Annual SCBWI Conference in LA. It was there, in and among the challenging and worthwhile exercises, that Paul said something which will stick with me long after the glow of the workshop has worn off.

Paul, who’s also an artist, will take the time between writing tasks to do an art project. He considers it a type of cross-training; also a chance to reconnect with the pleasures of playing. Tackling something creatively different, he intimated, will not only recharge your batteries, but it has the opportunity to send your mind to places it’s never been and might not otherwise have gone.

What I love best about this isn’t necessarily the idea of dabbling in something new. It’s the permission to take a breath, to stop writing for more than an overnight ... which is exactly what I need. 

Monday, August 10, 2015

Writer’s Day

By Marcia Thornton Jones

Roses are red,
Violets are blue,
I’m a heck-of-a writer,
And so are you!!

We have Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and Teacher Appreciation Day. But what about Writer’s Day?

As writers, we sit in our private spaces creating people and places with the dream of writing stories that will, hopefully, resonate with multitudes of readers. But there are no guarantees. No treasure maps pointing the way to success. No teacher giving us stickers when we do well.

Some days writing soars, and we feel light with hope and enthusiasm. Sometimes our writing crashes and burns, and we are riddled with fear and worry. Even when we finish a draft, the same ‘what-iffing’ that ignited our writing also fuels doubt. What if my story is rejected? What if it’s published and receives bad reviews? What if my next book is terrible? What if…

What we need is a day focused on what we do well. Since August is a month devoid of any other holidays, it’s the perfect time to celebrate ourselves as writers. Here are a few ideas to get your personal Writer’s Day started. Add your own in the comments section!

  1. Select a specific day in August to recognize and celebrate what you do well.
  2. Cancel all other appointments on that day. If someone asks you to do something, simply say you can’t because you are celebrating Writer’s Day.
  3. Buy ‘congratulation’ greeting cards (or make your own), then send them the old fashioned way (i.e. U.S. Postal service) to a few of your closest writing friends congratulating them on being a writer. Send one to yourself.
  4. Buy or make an ornament that reaffirms your efforts as a writer; hang it in your writing space.
  5. Buy a bunch of fun stickers. Go through notes, journals, and rough drafts, rewarding your work with shiny stars and smiley faces.
  6. Shop for a writing gift. Buy a new pen and notebook…or some trinket that has significance to you as a writer.
  7. Visit a coffee shop or bookstore. Spend an hour writing about what you do well, what makes you a good writer, and why your story matters.
  8. What foods do you think of when you celebrate? Plan a meal full of treats to celebrate your perseverance as a writer. Light some candles and enjoy every single bite.
  9. Download music that has significance to you as a writer or to the story on which you’re working. Or just sing “Paperback Writer” by the Beatles as loud as you can.
  10. After you have reaffirmed yourself as a writer, refocus on your work-in-progress by having your story character design a celebration for themselves doing all of the above. What qualities would your character(s) want celebrated? For what do they wish they’d receive stars and smiley faces? How would they choose to celebrate?
 As for me, I’m celebrating Writer’s Day on August 25th. That’s the release date of my midgrade novel, WOODFORD BRAVE. You can preorder on Amazon:

P.S. Don’t forget to mark your calendars for National Day on Writing on October 20th and National Letter Writing Day on December 9th!

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Mastering Time -- by Jane Kelley

As I thought about how we manufacture breaks, I remembered when I first starting writing. I had no control of time. Character and events were all dominated by a minute-by-minute description of what was happening. If my heroine entered the room, she couldn't confront her nemesis without first walking across the carpet, over to a chair and sitting down.

Needless to say, my stories got bogged down by minutia. I was treating all moments the same. Somehow or other, I had to master time. I had to figure out how to gracefully shift back and forth between a clock and a calendar. To cut away. To compress. To know when to slow down and when to speed up and when to stop at the edge of the cliff.

It wasn't easy. But when I learned those techniques, I began to be a real writer and not a stenographer.

If only the power I have in fiction extended to real life!

Then I would always place a family vacation when I had finished a draft. I would never have a boring waits at the Dept. of Motor Vehicles. I could magically compress those hours into a phrase or two. And that day at the beach could be savored. Each moment could be stretched until they numbered as many as the grains of sand upon the shore.

But if life really could be manipulated into art, would there be anything left to write about?

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Time to Imagine - August Theme by Deborah Lytton

This month we are talking about breaks in our writing life.  Writing doesn't get a winter break or a summer vacation.  And sometimes, writers even have to work on holidays to finish by an editor's deadline.  So we have to create those breaks for ourselves.  We have to be disciplined in creating our writing schedules, and just as disciplined in allowing for breaks.  I have discovered that I need down time between manuscripts.  I give myself that time to allow the WIP I have just finished to breathe before I work on revisions.  I also need a break before beginning a new manuscript.  That gives my imagination a chance to dream about a new story, new characters and a new setting.  Even when we aren't writing words on a page, our minds are working through story plots and dialogue.  Amazingly, my best writing comes to me when I am not actively writing.  I also use down time to read other people's books, to become inspired by their words and stories.  I stack the books next to my desk, and when I am finished with a manuscript and it's been emailed to my agent, that's my reward (along with lots of chocolate).  It's also the best time to start a new writing notebook. To jot down character names and snippets of dialogue or titles that invoke a new emotion.  I keep it with me all the time.  Because every writer needs some time to imagine.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Goodbye for Now

I do really well with deadlines. I like to not just meet them but beat them. Having one imposed on me from outside is best, but I can give myself one, too. It needs to be specific. Like, I'm working on a project now, and I have "mid-August" in my head. Not good enough. I need to choose a date. Actually, let's do it now. August 18th. I will have that draft revised and to my agent by August 18th.

Okay, now that that's settled, I'll get back to the matter at hand. Our theme this month is celebrations and breaks, and that's what I need to do: take a break from Smack Dab. (Sniff!). It's been great for me to have a deadline each month and a theme or topic. It has made me examine my own work and process, and learn from the other bloggers. But, this fall I will be going back to work as a school librarian. I don't want the Smack Dab deadline to become a burden as I try to juggle all my repsonsibilities. I want to be able to enjoy this blog. So, I am going to bow out for now. I hope to come back some day, but I will certainly be reading and enjoying the wisdom of my fellow Smack Dab bloggers. Thank you for letting me be a part of this great group!

Monday, August 3, 2015

How to Celebrate Our Writing Successes by Irene Latham

Confession: I have a hard time celebrating my writing successes. I'm constantly looking forward to the next thing instead of sitting comfortably with the current thing.

I guess it's because success scares me. I don't like the attention -- I'd much rather talk about you than talk about me.

But it's important to recognize our achievements, whether they are meeting the daily word count, placing in a writing contest, getting a starred review. So much of this writing gig is beyond our control. What happens to the words after we put them on paper is really out of our hands. Which makes it all that more important to take a moment to recognize first our part (words on the page) and then dwell in gratitude for all the wondrous things that happen, like fan letters and speaking invitations and new printings and five-star reviews and awards lists. What bounty! What amazing gifts!

One habit I've developed to help me celebrate on a daily basis is to record in my morning pages 3 things from the previous day I'm grateful for.

On today's list:

1. Unexpected quiet time to write.
2. Wise feedback from [friend] on new pb manuscript.
3. Finishing poem for Summer Poem Swap.

Just writing these things down is a celebration, a way to stay grounded in the process and practice of writing. And every now and then, I treat myself to a Birthday Cake shake from Zaxby's. :)