How to Write Like a Professional

How to Write Like a Professional
6 Surprising Mistakes That Make Writers Look Like Amateurs... and How to Avoid Them

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Pass the Paper continued

Since no one has commented on last Saturday's story, I'll just add to that one this week.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Stress of Being a Writer

This is a semi-stressful confession-city type post.  This week I have felt the pull in so many different directions: a new (I mean FIRST) diet and counting calories and planning menus, WriteOnCon, networking, Facebook, Twitter, creating new Zazzle products, the anxiety of canning my first run EVER of tomatoes, my husband having to work an extra day, the lawn still isn't mowed, my children are STILL UP right now (tsk.tsk.), the "fever" of my new "Brainstorms" (the next book I'm gonna buy), and the procrastination (grrr...) of actually working on my WRITING projectS.  And I call myself a writer?  Well, what can I say?  I'm having summer priority problems.  School starts in 3 and a half weeks and I still don't know if I have a job (my last one was p/t and semi-temporary).  ANYWAY, it's all fun, but there's just not enough time in the day.  I stayed up till 4am this morning and only slept 5 and half hours.  I told myself that I would not make that same mistake again.  So I guess I still have 4 hours, and I can go to bed at 3am!  Just kidding.  But I have been on the computer nearly ALL day.  I'm having TOO much fun over at WriteOnCon.  I just hope they do it again next year.  And the actual conference hasn't even started yet!  I'm hoping to get a writer friend to go to a the SCBWI Carolinas Conference with me in September.  Okay, so I'm done rambling for now.  See you later and keep on keepin' on!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

What's In a Name?

Names are so important.  In my post on Monday, I discussed how to choose a character name.  And Sunday's poem featured a unique name.  Today's post is a picture book about children and names.  Very clever.  Love it!


This week's Gemstone: My Name is Sangoel

  • Written by Karen Lynn Williams and Khadra Mohammed 
  • Illustrated by Catherine Stock
  • Published by Eerdmans Books for Young Readers
  • 2009
  • Summary: As a refugee from Sudan to the United States, Sangoel is frustrated that no one can pronounce his name correctly until he finds a clever way to solve his problem.
Sparkle Element:  I loved how I didn't pronounce his name correctly, either, until he shows everyone else how to say it right, including me.  What a surprise!  Can't we all relate, or at least remember, how others' names were always mispronounced.  And what about last names?  We've all done that!  This would be a great book to use in a classroom in the beginning of school when everyone is learning each other's names.  I just loved it!  If I were reading aloud to my own class, I would say his name incorrectly the whole way through, I think, until he is able to teach everyone how to say it the right way.


Just remember, when you're writing, create a character name that is also easy to pronounce.


What names do you guys remember saying wrong or hearing others say wrong?  For me, it was mostly spelling, not pronouncing.  You know, there's a hundred ways to spell Christie!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Naming Your Characters

When choosing a name for your characters, no matter the genre, writers have to think about a lot of
things.  Often, I go with my gut feeling.  Sometimes I flop around in the pool of names for weeks. Sometimes I research name meanings.  And sometimes I just pick one out of the wind.


A character's first name generally falls into two categories:  who they are and where they came from.  So get to know your character!  A heroic type boy named Sterling, a girl born at night named Star, or a girl born by a creek named Brooke are examples of this.  Also, remember to make the name age-appropriate.

Here are several tips about choosing a name.

  • Importance - Names can clarify a character's personality, have symbolic meaning, or add depth to your story, but they don't always have to.  Think about all the wonderful stories and books you've read.  Think about the meanings you took with you, the plots, the characters.  Now try to remember their names.  Usually, you won't be able to remember all the names.  I remember titles and authors before I'll remember a name, unless it's one like Curious George, Shrek, Madeline, Fancy Nancy, Franklin, Wilbur, Charlotte, Harry, etc.  But more often than not, you probably won't remember the names of the characters you read about, even if it IS a book you really love.  That being said, the first thing you need to decide is how important the name really is.  Is it crucial, or would any of 10 chosen names work equally well?  
  • Personality - Get to know your character first.  Try to choose a name that has a certain connotation to it.  One-syllable vs. three syllable names.  Tom or Tommy.  Ann or Annie.  Think of what names make the character more refined, elegant, girly, delicate, tough, bossy, mean, shy, unruly, dirty, country, city, fast-paced, slow, old, young, smart, etc.  For example you probably wouldn't name a dirty shy girl living in the country Arielle.  And you wouldn't name a tough, mean boy Thomas.  Although you could.  It's all up to you.
  • Heritage - Is your character of a certain ethnicity?  If so, let that show.  Lots of names are unique to the culture in which those people live.  Take advantage of it.  Or if it's important that your characters were named after someone important, use that too.
  • Symbolism - Symbolic names often have tons of meaning and connotations in them, so be careful.  These include:  famous names (Madonna, Elvis), Biblical names (Adam, Job, Matthew, Ruth), weather and seasons (Storm, Summer, May, April), Greek mythology (Apollo, Zeus), and many more.  Don't just use a symbolic name if there's no reason to.  That defeats the purpose of using symbolism.  But aware of the risks.  Like a character named Eve might conjure up the idea that she will be the beginning of something hugely important and significant.
  • Be Obvious - Happy, Dopey, Doc, and Grumpy (Dwarfs).  Papa, Brainy, Lazy, Handy, Clumsy (Smurfs).  Bob the Builder, The Tin Man, etc.  These types of names often work best in fairy tales, science fiction, or something strangely unique.
  • Opposites - Go with something different.  Be ironic.  A hitman named Teddy.  A model named Greta or Helga.  A girl that stinks named Rose.  A preacher (or his son) named Blade.  A little bit of irony goes a long way, but only if it's useful and serves the story in some way.
  • Feel - How does the name feel when said aloud?  Names with strong sounds like "g" "p" "v" "z" "t" "s" "k" give the character more strength.  Soft sounds like "l" "m" "n" "y" "d" "h" and "b" will have a softer sound, and maybe even soften the character flaws.  It's all up to you to decide how you want the name to sound and what you want the name to accomplish.  But try to make it easy to pronounce.
Last but not least, you can use a baby name book or website.  My favorite is babycenter.com's baby name finder feature.  You can search names by origin, syllable, first letters, last letters, and narrow by boy or girl.

Happy name hunting and happy writing!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

A Poem to Inspire You

I found this awesome poem in a book titled When the Rain Sings, Poems by Young Native Americans.  It was published in 1999 by Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers.  This poem is my favorite.

When The Rain Sings: Poems By Young Native Americans

My Daddy Named Me A-dae  by Vena A-dae Romero


A-dae, everyone always called me.
Little, chubby A-dae
who wears her socks to her triple-folded knees.
Hulk-baby, Come Here!

Everyone held me,
pinched my cheeks, tried to make me smile.
My Daddy was my favorite,
My Daddy named me A-dae.

He had hands that wrapped around me,
folded over the embarrassment,
folded over the doctors who said I needed a diet.
I was too big for a three-year-old.

She's a Kiowa baby,
Kiowa babies are always big.
She ain't big neither, just filled with Indian Power.
She's gonna be the next Kiowa Princess, don't you know?

A-dae, they called.
A-dae, A-night.
I always stood by him,
even when the shine leaked from his eyes.
When tubes and machines grew like vines.

Coma, the same doctor said.
No, just a little nap.
He hasn't responded for weeks.
No, dreaming is hard to break from.

He forgot how to make his tongue alive,
how to make his mouth grow,
how to make creatures push from his throat.
He remembered A-dae.

I said I love you, Daddy,
He shook his hand like he held a rattle.
A-dae.  A-hope.
He whispered (through his skin),
Never drink like me, A-dae.

My daddy was my favorite,
especially when he said, A-dae, my Kiowa Princess!

My initial response after I read 2-3x and copied the poem long-hand:  "I really like this poem because of its opposing ideas and striking images.  I can really feel the emotion in the stanza with "I love you, Daddy."  Very good.  Very powerful."

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Fred's Bike

Fred rode his bicycle up and down the street each afternoon after school.  One day, he stumbled upon a...

Friday, July 23, 2010

A Writing Diet

Okay.  So I am now on a diet.  I've never actually gone on one before.  But I'm determined.  Hope to be a size 8 by my birthday in 9 months.  It's only 3 dress sizes, but "eating right" just isn't enough for me, so I am counting calories - strictly.  And carbs, too.  I've counted fat grams before, and protein grams.  And even loosely counted calories combined with running (training for a 10K).  That worked, and I lost 15 pounds, but a year and a half later, it's all back.  I just spent $31 on produce!  And $32 on "slim fast" and beef jerky!  I'm in Day 4, and already lost 2.5 pounds!  After the first month, it'll slow down to about a pound a week.  Works for me!  I've always only been able to lose a pound a month (except for the 10K time), with exercise alone, albeit sporadic nonetheless.

So what does this have to do with writing?  Well apparently my learning curve for losing weight is taking front seat to all my energies, so I have inadvertently been on a writing diet, as a by-product.  I spent two whole days reading my new diet/exercise book (thrift store find).  I've barely been able to squeeze in a moment for my blog posts, but I managed.  When I "master" my cooking and menu options, my time will once more be maximized for more regular writing.  I'm really not procrastinating.  I REALLY want to do some writing!!!  But I've been procrastinating good health for far too long.  Who knows?  Maybe I'll write about it some day.

Keep on keepin' on!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Nonfiction Fun

I know most of us writers write because we have a story to tell.  I think that's especially true with picture books. But in this specialized field, it is extremely hard to break into print, especially when writing fiction, even if it IS a good yarn.

Lots of professionals advise to try breaking into print through nonfiction.  I love nonfiction, especially books about animals.  And so do children.  But what you write must have a unique slant to it.  My favorite writers of nonfiction are Steve Jenkins, April Pulley Sayre, and Gail Gibbons.  They all write about animals.  And many of their books also include back matter.  Take Steve Jenkins' Actual Size, for example.  Each 2-page spread only contains one sentence.  But the back matter consists of 4 pages that include a full paragraph about each of the 18 animals listed in the book.  I ran across an article that I found a very interesting tidbit of information about the general word length and printing of picture books.  It said:
The picture book may have as little as one sentence, or just two or three words per two-page spread. The absolute maximum for a two page spread is 200 words. The ideal text is shorter.  
When you do the math, that puts a book with the typical 14 2-page spreads at 2,800 words!  It's no wonder that most publishers cap off the word limit at 2,000 (although usually 1,500 or even 1,000).  It totally makes sense!

One publisher in particular, Sylvan Dell Publishing, is well-known in the education world for their popular books about animals and nature.  The books they publish are not strictly nonfiction.  They are mostly fiction with numerous facts intertwined into the story.  The back matter in their books consists of a section called For Creative Minds.  One good book they published is Blackberry Banquet by Terry Pierce, among many, many more!  They always tie into the early elementary curriculum, too.

Well, on to writing.  I'm working on my non-fiction!  Woo-hoo!  Making leaps and bounds in my series proposal.  Thinking of sending it off for a professional critique, even.  Keep on keepin' on.

Monday, July 19, 2010

6 Tips on Writing Picture Books

Author, Kathleen Pelley, advises these 6 tips to anyone wanting to write a picture book, as found on the guidetoliteraryagents.com editor's blog.

  1. Read Aloud
    1. Read picture books that you absolutely love - aloud.  Read all the others silently first.  And when you find one you love, read it over and over again - aloud.
  2. Find Space to Listen to Your Inner Voice
    1. Give your writer self the space you need to listen to your stories.
  3. Wonder
    1. Try to write your own books as though it were someone else's that took your breath away.  Write with wonder, so it will take someone's breath away.
  4. Trust Beyond Yourself
    1. Trust the creative process, whether it be called the Muse, God, the Divine, or something else.  Know that it exists and acknowledge its presence when you write. 
  5. Find Heaven
    1. Write about what makes your heart sing.
  6. Love
    1. "Love the world the way you did when you were a little child."

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Summer

When I went to the beach last week, I watched the 2 and 3 year old girls play in the pool of water we created in a big sand pit.  What did I do?  Covered myself with wet sand, like mud.  You can't get a sunburn if there's mud all over your arms and legs.  It actually felt kind of good.  That only lasted for about 10 minutes, though.

So here's today's poem by Myra Cohn Livingston.  I found it in an anthology for kids, Snuffles and Snouts.  The poems were selected by Laura Robb and the pictures were done by Steven Kellogg.  Enjoy!

Summertime


Was ever a pig
contented as this,
to roll in the mud 
and know the bliss
of cooling off
in the muck
and grime,
having the grubbiest 
mussiest
time?

and then, when he's cool,
to slowly rise
and dry himself off
in the summer skies,
and sniff for his supper
and slop up his feed--
What else does
a happy
piggy 
need? 
 

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Pass the Paper: Tabitha Loves to Dance

Saturday's Surprise is here!  It's called Pass the Paper.  Pass the Paper is when one person writes a line (or a few) and passes the paper to the next person to write a few lines to add to the story.  Every Saturday, I'll post a few lines to begin a story, and you, my readers, will make comments to add to the story.  By the end of the day (or the week), we will have collectively participated in a writing exercise to produce what will most likely be a silly story. This is lots of fun; the more the merrier!

Here is the very first Pass the Paper story starter:

Tabitha loved to wear different kinds of hats.  She also loved to dance.  One day, she wore her purple striped fuzzy floppy hat to the park to...

Friday, July 16, 2010

A Little Closer

I just spent nearly a week visiting my family at the beach.  My dad lives about an hour or so inland from North Myrtle Beach.  I also visited with two of my three sisters.  One of my sisters was gracious enough to critique a story of mine.

I came home late Monday night.  And you know what I did Tuesday?  Here's a hint, a didn't unpack.  You guessed it, I spent hours rewriting my story - again!  Every time, it keeps getting closer.  How will I ever know when I've arrived?  I don't know.  But I do know I'm getting closer.  Just like my son here, at the candy shop.  "Just a little closer..."
 (Actually, I had him pose.  I'm surprised it wasn't candid.)

Here's a couple other fun pics.
Samantha:  "Toppled."
Shawn and Wesley:  "My fish is the biggest.  No MY fish is bigger!"

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Beach Story

This week's Gemstone:  Father Sea
  • by Clayton Creek, illustrated by Christopher Creek
  • published by Granite Publishing
  • 2001
  • Summary: An old man on the beach collects sand dollars and repairs them.  It's an allegory to how Christ makes us whole.
Sparkle Element:  Because I've been at the beach since July 7, I wanted to share a beach/ocean story.  I LOVE the illustrations and the message in this book.  The text is fairly simple and short (although I don't know the exact word count).  If your library owns a copy, it would be a great bedtime story.  Enjoy!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Revision

Re-Vision:  Seeing Again.

I'm reading an old college writing book (1995), but it still has lots of merit.  The Craft of Revision by Donald Murray, in its second edition, contains the following chapters.

  1. Write to Re-Write
  2. Read to Re-Write
  3. Re-Write to Write
  4. Re-Write to Focus
  5. Re-Write to Collect
  6. Re-Write to Shape
  7. Re-Write to Order
  8. Re-Write to Develop
  9. Re-Write with Voice
  10. Re-Write to Edit
  11. Afterword:  Re-Write Yourself
It contains lots of case histories, exercises, and detailed examples of how to revise, down to the paragraph, line, and word.  Upon picking this book up again, I read something in the prologue that resonated with me:
First readings by the student writer, the instructor, and classmates should focus on potential, not error.
I think this is sometimes easier said than done, but should try to be implemented each time we read a new manuscript.  I think anyone that wants to write, has a passion for it, has a good story to tell, can write well, IF they can also revise.  Revision is so important to good writing because no one can always (if ever) make the first draft perfect.  Re-read last month's quote, which goes right along with today's message.  The first reading/critique should focus on potential, the big picture of the story, possibilities of what could be.  Later on,  there will be time for worrying over the minute (but also very important) details of sentence structure and word choice.  We all have potential, and so do (most of) our stories.  There's always that one that we just can't seem to make work no matter how hard we try.

Happy writing and keep on keepin' on!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

A Poem About Writing

My mom wrote this poem for me several years ago as a Christmas gift.  I framed it and have cherished it ever since.  It totally goes right along with me and my dreams of being a writer.  I thought it rather good.  Hope you enjoy it, too.

Precious Christie

Amber skies await you
Near hills that rise so high
Dreams will let you travel
On wings that let you fly

Knowledge is the center
Of strength within your heart
It brings us all together
It's here where you must start

Treasures wait for those who know
A thousand wonders yet to show
A drama set, the world our stage
A major book, yet just a page

The path you choose dictates your role
There's many parts to make a whole
Know the way to travel strong
Just take a step, you won't go wrong

Friday, July 9, 2010

New Website

Hi, everyone!  Today is Friday.  A week ago, I created a new website, my very own.  It's www.christiewrightwild.com.  I decided I might as well go ahead and create it.  That way, once I'm published, I won't have to spend time creating it.  All I'll have to do is update it.  Pretty nifty, huh?  Go ahead and check it out.  I found the background at grsoft.  If any of you know a teacher in WNC, let them know about my site and who I am.  I also do school author visits.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Word Choice in Picture Books, part 2

Last Wednesday, I wrote about the importance of expanding children's vocabulary by using bigger words, even though they may not know exactly what they mean - in picture books.

Today, I'd like to write about how difficult writing a picture book is.  Picture books are often considered the hardest to write.  Why?  You have to tell a whole story, with setup, character, setting, plot, conflict, and resolution - all within about 500-1500 words (for the 4-8 year old picture book).  And most good picture books are either repetitive or lyrical, or a combination of the two.  Every word must count.

  • So you changed "slowly walked" to "sauntered."  Good!  Change multiple words to fewer words that mean the same thing.  
  • Now, make sure every word is the right word.  Do you use...  
    • dog or hound
    • cat or calico
    • flower or dahlia
    • on or with
    • to or for
    • him or her
Just kidding about the last one, but I hope you get the point.  Every word must be the exact one that the story needs to give it the right mood, voice, etc.  So, choose your words carefully.  And keep on keepin' on!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Bootcamp Wisdom SKILL (# LAST)

SHOW, DON'T TELL

This will be my last offering unto thee for the awesome Bootcamp Wisdom.  (But I'll still be writing about writing, of course.)

Showing often takes more words to write than telling does.  But showing also gives more info about the character.  For example, "Tom was mad" is telling.  But showing?  Tom stomped his feet and screamed, "Give it back!"  He ran from the room to find his mom.

Here are some sentences that tell.  Use them as an exercise to practice showing.

  1. Samantha was happy.
  2. The puppy was scared.
  3. They were bored.
  4. My garage is tiny.
  5. The movie is terrible.
  6. It was a beautiful day.
  7. The cat is mad.
  8. I was upset because Carlos didn't invite me to his house.
Notice how all of these sentences have to do with emotions, or adjectives.  That's a great time to expand.  Show it.  Don't even tell us what the emotion or adjective is, unless it's unique.  And even if you have to state the emotion, still show it!  Also, just because you have a reason WHY, doesn't mean you're showing, as seen in number 8.  Give your characters actions.  That's showable.  Simple?  Yes.  But sometimes very hard to remember.  Good thing for revisions!  We can always show later, if we can't seem to make it a subconscious habit through practice.  

So practice away, and happy showing!  By the way, I hope you're fireworks SHOW was beautiful last night, with lots of greens, blues, red sparkles, white halos, and purple fountains spraying through the dark night sky. Mine was!

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Always Follow Your Dreams

This is the first "official" post for my newest addition of Poetry Sunday to my blog.  I know on Sunday, I posted a writing poem.  So from here on out, you can expect to see some form of poetry on my blog.  Some may be my own.  Most will belong to others.  Some will be children's poems.  Some will be inspirational, as is this one.  And sometimes, it may just be a scripture verse or a notable quote.

Today's poem has no title, but it comes from a book titled, Always Follow Your Dreams, A collection of poems to inspire and encourage your dreams, Edited by Susan Polis Schutz, published in 1985 by Blue Mountain Press in Boulder, Colorado.

Don't ever give up
      your dreams...
and never leave 
      them behind.
Find them; make them yours,
and all through your life, 
cherish them,
       and never let them go.

--Elisa Costanza

Saturday, July 3, 2010

4th of July

With the 4th of July right around the corner, it brings back memories of a story I wrote and of holidays spent in years past.  It's a short story for adults about the 4th of July.  It's called A Real Independence Day.  Maybe now is the time to finish revising it.  I wrote the story in high school, I think.  I started revising it last August.

So it's been about a year since I've gotten back into writing.  And it's been going well!  I've written 4 books.  One that just need to be typed.  And five in-progress!  Nothing sent out yet, but I'm working on it.  I've attended one writer's conference and thinking about attending another one in Charlotte this September, hosted by SCBWI!!!!  IF I can find someone to go with me, or figure it out financially.

In the meantime, my small town of Marion is preparing for the fireworks - tonight!  Odd, yes.  But, we'll probably still be there.  Happy 4th!  Happy writing!  And check back tomorrow for the newest addition:  Poetry Sunday!

Friday, July 2, 2010

Books That Resonate

I read a book a year or so ago and every summer I think of it.  Actually I've probably read it 2-3 times.  The name of the book is Come On, Rain by Karen Hesse.  Every time dark clouds roll in and I want it to rain, I'll say, "Come on, rain!"  This wonderful picture book by this well-published author has resonated with me even more this summer.  We have not had any A/C since March.  And this week, it FINALLY got fixed!  I still say, "Come on, rain!" because I want our garden to grow.  And the wild blackberries.  And rain is good for the earth.  I love rain.  And A/C.  Thanks, Karen, for such a great picture book.  It's one of my favorites.  Every time it rains, I think of Tess and all her friends and mommas dancing in the hot rain.

Do any of you have a good book that resonates with you that you would like to share with us?

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Word Choice in Picture Books, part 1

Sometimes as children's writers we wonder if there are word lists out there for us to use. Schools do have word lists for each grade level, but I don't think a children's writer necessarily needs to utilize them. YA novels have a fairly well-established audience that knows how to use context clues, and how and when to use a dictionary. Actually, the same goes for middle-grade novels.

Word Choice in Picture Books || reading lists | vocabulary for children | word lists | how to write for children | vocabulary in picture books

With chapter books, I would try to create as many context clues as possible, and don't use words that, say a child wouldn't typically know until the 6th grade, since most readers of chapter books are 7-10 years old, which mostly equates to 2nd through 4th graders. Now, if you write easy reader books, then definitely get yourself some word lists for 5-8 year olds.

But picture books? It's another whole ball game. Specifically the 4-8 year old "classic" picture book. Since picture books have several things working FOR them, word choice (in one aspect) doesn't have to be so specific to the age. Picture books are meant to be read aloud. Picture books have pictures to help act as context clues. Since an adult is usually the one reading the story, if a child doesn't understand a word, then the adult can explain it. So long as the general story is understood, if a child doesn't understand a word or two, it will probably not be detrimental.

Here is a list of SEVERAL examples of words in picture books of which a child may or may not know the meaning. Some will, of course. Older children will, of course, know more words than a 6-year-old. Concrete nouns that a child wouldn't know can always be illustrated. You may find some homonyms in the lists below. The meanings of the words are the ones that a child may not understand, such as 'bear' being used as a verb.

Brave Little Pete of Geranium Street by Rose and Samuel Lagercrantz, adapted from the Swedish by Jack Prelutsky
  • hoisted
  • thump
  • herring
  • stumble
  • ignoring
Scaredy Mouse by Alan MacDonald
  • floorboards
  • scrambled
  • heaved
  • trailing
  • gleaming
  • tracks
  • nervously
  • narrowed

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