Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Value of a Critique Group

Just when I get a manuscript "perfect" I give it to my group for commenting. I thought, "Surely they'll tell me it's good enough to send out." WRONG! But, that's okay. I revise and revise and revise and revise. Did I mention that I am still revising?

I know some writers may revise 100 times and do extensive rewrites in different p-o-v's, tenses, characters, settings, etc. And other writers may do LOTS of pre-writing and only revise a ms. TWICE! Wow. I am definitely somewhere in the middle part of this spectrum.

One of my current W-I-P (work(s) in progress) has probably been revised 10 times. This time, it's perfect right? Well, actually I don't think so. But it's as good as I can get it for now. I will give it to my group and this time I will HOPE, or even BEG for even more feedback. What else can I do to make this story even better? That is the question we should ask ourselves. And every time I get my group's comments back, I go to revising, and find more things that they didn't even mention. I definitely value my awesome critique group. If you don't have one, you can start your own, or search for one online, just be careful. You don't want someone to steal your work. I'm certainly no expert in the matter, but go with your gut and use your head. Research your options and I'm sure you'll be able to find a group, too. A good springboard to use is CBI, or the Children's Book Insider. Good luck, and happy revising!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Consistency is Key

Years ago, my doctor prescribed consistency as the key to unlocking the power of exercise. Even if it's just 10 minutes a day. I find the more I think about walking and/or running, the more I want to do it and therefore the more often it happens. Or rather, I actually put forth the effort to make it happen.

Same thing with writing. After 10 years of virtually not writing, I am now WILD about it, more than I ever was before. I keep telling myself if I could just get up early and run, then eat, etc. and then write for an hour before getting the kids up, all would be well. But alas, this is not so. And probably never will be. As I am generally one type of morning person (I am CHEERFUL, awake and alert in the A.M.) but I am not the other type of A.M.-er (one who arises before the sun and sets out to accomplish many a goal before tackling everyday life - though I greatly admire those that can do this), I like to sleep in and take my time in the morning. I sacrifice my treadmill time to sleep in an extra 30 minutes because I sacrifice my P.M. sleep time to write for a couple extra hours. It's a vicious cycle. I say, "Why don't I have a consistent schedule?"

It just dawned on me today that I do, at least a little. I carry a notebook with me everywhere I go. I jot down phrases and thoughts whenever they strike. I write on the go. Whenever I have something that starts to gel and is becoming a bit more solidified, I transfer the rough draft to electronic form via typing on a keyboard at my computer. It's the notebook time that I have more of a schedule with. When I get to the computer stage, I am one of those that can't give the boot to the distractions of the net. But it's all writing-related, I justify. But I'm still not writing. But reading is important too, my psyche whines back. So, as I struggle with my computer schedule, I will pat myself on the back for the following notebook schedule:

Once a week on Gymnastics day: 1 hour of writing time.
5x a week with a 30-minute lunch: After scarfing down a frozen burrito and a fruit, I might get 10-20 minutes of scribble time.
Twice a week: 1 hour to write in between two part-time jobs.
TOTALING: about 4 to 4.5 hours!

And computer time:
Evening tube time: 10-110 minutes of semi-computer time as I half-monitor 2 children and their active play while they bounce from activity to activity in front of their favorite shows such as Looney Tunes and The Pink Panther.
After bedtime (Mon.-Thur.): Anywhere from 1-4 hours, which includes reading, blogging, writing, editing, marketing, etc.
TOTALING: about 10-20 hours!

(I should have a novel published or something with that much time, right?)

It's never enough time. I always find myself not wanting to quit and always anxious to start back up, though I may not feel like I have anything intelligent to say. If only I could write FULL TIME... And one day, I'll be able to. Because I'm consistent about it now. Not perfect, but every little chunk adds up. Just like the doctor said, "even if it's just for 10 minutes."

Friday, March 12, 2010


The more you read, 
the better you write, 
so read a book 
every night.

The more I read picture books, the more ideas come to me. The more I read picture books, the better language I use.

How to Tell If Your Story Idea Has Been Done Before || fresh new plot twist | new ideas | writing tips

I love choosing lyrical passages from my favorite picture books and using them as models for writing exercises. I have come up with 3 different beginnings for my latest story that way. When it's all said and done, it will probably be a mix between the three... or I'll come up with my own fresh new twist in my own voice - even better!

I write down new ideas all the time, but I wonder if they've ever been done before. Is there such a thing as a new idea? There are a million topics to write about and sometimes one topic has been written about a million times. But it only takes "a new idea," or rather a new twist on an old idea, to create a fresh new story plot. When I'm ready to begin a new writing project, I like to see if it's been done before.

Three ways to find out if your story idea has already been written:

  1. Basic Google search for my own working title. I see if anything pops up and how similar they are. I also search by topics and include the key words "picture book."
  2. Advanced Amazon search by topic or title, also sortable by year. The ones that really matter have been published within the last 5-10 years. Any older, and they're really not competition.
  3. A database of tests for elementary schools. IF YOU CAN FIND IT - THEY'VE UPDATED THEIR SITE *SO SAD* It tells the year of publication, the publisher, a short summary of the book, the reading level, and the word count.

Keep on keepin' on...

Wednesday, March 3, 2010


Since humor is always a big seller, it is good to learn a few techniques to help us write with more humor. I typically don't find myself a very funny person, as I can be a bit reserved in groups, unless I'm the one in charge. Like when I'm teaching a group of children. But even a group of four women at lunch, I'm never the one doing the entertaining.

What If Game || writing exercises | how to add humor to your story | craft tips for writers | plotting tips for authors

One way we can tap into our humorous natures is to laugh at ourselves in our everyday lives. I love to laugh and often think of something funny after it's long gone and way too late to even bring it up. Even when bad things happen, life is a little easier to manage if we can find a way to laugh about it.

In our writing

One game that has been around forever is the What If game. Once I think of a vague book idea and a character, I love to play What If.

  • What if the character gets caught in the rain?
  • What if she runs into a crocodile?
  • What if the animals in the zoo start talking to her?
  • What if she snores during the daytime?

And on and on it can go. For me personally, it's most beneficial when I have some type of end goal in mind, like an actual idea with a character and a story that needs help with the plot.

It's especially helpful and fun with a group of people playing it together, say, your own family at dinner time, for instance. I wrote a story that I think quite funny based on the effects of our dinner game one evening. Would I have been able to come up with every plot point and twist without having played the game with my family? Probably not. Even if a manuscript isn't born out of the results of a What If game, it is still beneficial to play. Especially with children. They find it wildly funny and invigorating. And I find it delightfully entertaining and refreshingly freeing.


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