Saturday, October 30, 2010

Many of you are on board with a NaNoWriMo alternative in which we DON'T push ourselves to the brink of insanity drafting 50K words in a month (kudos to those who do--there's a great site with support and accountability all ready for you).

Rather than call it something negative, like NaNo-No, which I did jokingly in a previous post, I'd love this to be a positive, fun, relaxed, 30-day creativity-enriching experience, so I'm dubbing it:

NaBalWriMo
National Balanced Writers Month
More creativity, less guilt!

If you're up for it, please take a moment to think about places in your life that feel out of balance, and share your list of a few simple things you'd like to try to regain sanity and creative joy this month. We can cheer each other on! I'll go first.

My November goals:

-To be more emotionally present, especially to family
-To have more energy
-To recharge spiritually and emotionally
-To explore deeply some themes that I care about
-To rediscover the joy of creating
-To offer encouragement to other writers
-To maintain momentum with querying

And my "action items"
(to steal from boring corporate training I've sat through):

-Write one page a day of memories or notes or wordplay
-Watch lots of movies
-Read widely and with relish
-Have coffee with a friend
-Do a messy craft with hobbit girl weekly
-Walk the dog 4x week on the hiking trails nearby
-Blog some journal explorations and fun stuff
-Cheer on my NaNoWriMo, NaNoWraMo and NaNoRevMo pals
-Query 10 more agents

Anyone up for designing a badge? Let me know that you did and I'll send folks over to copy it and display with pride.

What do you think of the concept? Let me know if you're planning to join in NaBalWriMo!
Saturday, October 30, 2010 Laurel Garver
Many of you are on board with a NaNoWriMo alternative in which we DON'T push ourselves to the brink of insanity drafting 50K words in a month (kudos to those who do--there's a great site with support and accountability all ready for you).

Rather than call it something negative, like NaNo-No, which I did jokingly in a previous post, I'd love this to be a positive, fun, relaxed, 30-day creativity-enriching experience, so I'm dubbing it:

NaBalWriMo
National Balanced Writers Month
More creativity, less guilt!

If you're up for it, please take a moment to think about places in your life that feel out of balance, and share your list of a few simple things you'd like to try to regain sanity and creative joy this month. We can cheer each other on! I'll go first.

My November goals:

-To be more emotionally present, especially to family
-To have more energy
-To recharge spiritually and emotionally
-To explore deeply some themes that I care about
-To rediscover the joy of creating
-To offer encouragement to other writers
-To maintain momentum with querying

And my "action items"
(to steal from boring corporate training I've sat through):

-Write one page a day of memories or notes or wordplay
-Watch lots of movies
-Read widely and with relish
-Have coffee with a friend
-Do a messy craft with hobbit girl weekly
-Walk the dog 4x week on the hiking trails nearby
-Blog some journal explorations and fun stuff
-Cheer on my NaNoWriMo, NaNoWraMo and NaNoRevMo pals
-Query 10 more agents

Anyone up for designing a badge? Let me know that you did and I'll send folks over to copy it and display with pride.

What do you think of the concept? Let me know if you're planning to join in NaBalWriMo!

Friday, October 29, 2010

The interwebs are all abuzz with the approach of November, which for many will mean NaNoWriMo: an intense 30 days of drafting something completely new, very fast, with built-in support and accountability. Intense bursts can be a wonderful thing for getting a draft underway, and if you're the sort that can schedule that kind of intense creativity, kudos to you.

There are a few alternate November support/accountability groups forming for those not starting a draft from scratch.

Sara McClung is gathering writers needing an intense burst to wrap up a manuscript in progress. It's called NaNoWraMo. Go check out her site to learn more.

I've heard buzz from many quarters about spending the month revising, or NaNoRevMo. If anyone knows who's spearheading support/accountability for this, let me know in the comments.

For me, it's going to be NaNo-No. This is simply not the time to disappear from my family. Fall never is. My husband has an insane teaching load--165 students this semester, with a grading load that would make you weep. My daughter's teacher called this AM to discuss all the emotional problems hobbit girl is having at school. I can't help but think a lot more Mommy time would do her some good.

It's all about balance. I plan to go on querying my finished book and continue researching and drafting my second. I'll be blogging as I'm able and baking more cookies, building more forts, taking more hikes and playing more board games.

Anyone else saying "no" to NaNo this year? Want to be my buddy? What shall we call ourselves?
Friday, October 29, 2010 Laurel Garver
The interwebs are all abuzz with the approach of November, which for many will mean NaNoWriMo: an intense 30 days of drafting something completely new, very fast, with built-in support and accountability. Intense bursts can be a wonderful thing for getting a draft underway, and if you're the sort that can schedule that kind of intense creativity, kudos to you.

There are a few alternate November support/accountability groups forming for those not starting a draft from scratch.

Sara McClung is gathering writers needing an intense burst to wrap up a manuscript in progress. It's called NaNoWraMo. Go check out her site to learn more.

I've heard buzz from many quarters about spending the month revising, or NaNoRevMo. If anyone knows who's spearheading support/accountability for this, let me know in the comments.

For me, it's going to be NaNo-No. This is simply not the time to disappear from my family. Fall never is. My husband has an insane teaching load--165 students this semester, with a grading load that would make you weep. My daughter's teacher called this AM to discuss all the emotional problems hobbit girl is having at school. I can't help but think a lot more Mommy time would do her some good.

It's all about balance. I plan to go on querying my finished book and continue researching and drafting my second. I'll be blogging as I'm able and baking more cookies, building more forts, taking more hikes and playing more board games.

Anyone else saying "no" to NaNo this year? Want to be my buddy? What shall we call ourselves?

Thursday, October 28, 2010

We all get stuck at times, find our productivity come to a screeching--or sputtering--halt. In THIS previous post, I discussed one of the causes--hitting walls because we hadn't let our intuition guide the process and had taken the story in the wrong direction.

In the comments on that post, I got the sense that walls are not as common as desert times for making us unproductive. So what is this phenomenon--"desert" writer's block?

Image from weathersavvy.com.

Desert

"The word block suggests you are constipated or stuck, when in truth you are empty."
--Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird 178.


"You're blocked because you have nothing to say. Your talent didn't abandon you. If you had something to say, you couldn't stop writing. You can't kill your talent, but you can starve it into a coma through ignorance."
--Robert McKee, Story 73-74

We've all been there--somehow stuck in a place where you're plumb out of ideas. This place feels hot and parched and lifeless--desert-like. Entering a desert usually looks like the following:

- Your characters are faceless mannequins.
- The story setting is a big white box.
- Your characters slump around looking bored.
- The sound loop is your head is chirping crickets, or some really annoying pop song with unintelligible words.
- When you sit down to write, the only word that comes to mind is "waffles."
- You can't blog, tweet or update your Facebook status.
- Your house is exceptionally clean.

Lamott says that you need to accept that these desert times are going to come. In that acceptance, you free yourself to begin filling up again. When the Israelites let the pillar of cloud and fire lead them, God sent them the resources they needed--manna to fell from the sky, water gushed from a rock. The fact was, they couldn't get to the Promised Land on their own--they needed divine intervention. So do we. Call it "the muse," one's "inner light," "intuition," "unconscious mind," "talent" or "the Holy Spirit"--the sources of creativity need freedom and care and feeding.

So how do you allow the empty places to refill? Acceptance, as Lamott says, is a huge piece of it. If you try to push, "Your unconscious can't work when you are breathing down it's neck" (Lamott, 182). She suggests writing 300 words a day culling your memories--just rough journaling to keep you loose. Then seek things that feed you--walks, visits with friends, reading lots of great and terrible books, go to museums and historic sites.

McKee's advice is strikingly similar. He suggests research as a way of filling up in empty times: "No matter how talented, the ignorant cannot write. Talent must be stimulated by facts and ideas. Do research. Feed your talent. Research not only wins the war on cliche, it's the key to victory over fear and its cousin, depression."

Veronica Roth had a great post on this same concept, "Not Writing, or Why Your Brain Is an Ice Cream Maker."

In other news, I just won my very own copy of Lamott's wonderful book from C.A. Marshall. Go check out her fabulous blog!

What things have helped feed you in empty, desert times? What new thing might you try based on Lamott's and McKee's advice?
Thursday, October 28, 2010 Laurel Garver
We all get stuck at times, find our productivity come to a screeching--or sputtering--halt. In THIS previous post, I discussed one of the causes--hitting walls because we hadn't let our intuition guide the process and had taken the story in the wrong direction.

In the comments on that post, I got the sense that walls are not as common as desert times for making us unproductive. So what is this phenomenon--"desert" writer's block?

Image from weathersavvy.com.

Desert

"The word block suggests you are constipated or stuck, when in truth you are empty."
--Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird 178.


"You're blocked because you have nothing to say. Your talent didn't abandon you. If you had something to say, you couldn't stop writing. You can't kill your talent, but you can starve it into a coma through ignorance."
--Robert McKee, Story 73-74

We've all been there--somehow stuck in a place where you're plumb out of ideas. This place feels hot and parched and lifeless--desert-like. Entering a desert usually looks like the following:

- Your characters are faceless mannequins.
- The story setting is a big white box.
- Your characters slump around looking bored.
- The sound loop is your head is chirping crickets, or some really annoying pop song with unintelligible words.
- When you sit down to write, the only word that comes to mind is "waffles."
- You can't blog, tweet or update your Facebook status.
- Your house is exceptionally clean.

Lamott says that you need to accept that these desert times are going to come. In that acceptance, you free yourself to begin filling up again. When the Israelites let the pillar of cloud and fire lead them, God sent them the resources they needed--manna to fell from the sky, water gushed from a rock. The fact was, they couldn't get to the Promised Land on their own--they needed divine intervention. So do we. Call it "the muse," one's "inner light," "intuition," "unconscious mind," "talent" or "the Holy Spirit"--the sources of creativity need freedom and care and feeding.

So how do you allow the empty places to refill? Acceptance, as Lamott says, is a huge piece of it. If you try to push, "Your unconscious can't work when you are breathing down it's neck" (Lamott, 182). She suggests writing 300 words a day culling your memories--just rough journaling to keep you loose. Then seek things that feed you--walks, visits with friends, reading lots of great and terrible books, go to museums and historic sites.

McKee's advice is strikingly similar. He suggests research as a way of filling up in empty times: "No matter how talented, the ignorant cannot write. Talent must be stimulated by facts and ideas. Do research. Feed your talent. Research not only wins the war on cliche, it's the key to victory over fear and its cousin, depression."

Veronica Roth had a great post on this same concept, "Not Writing, or Why Your Brain Is an Ice Cream Maker."

In other news, I just won my very own copy of Lamott's wonderful book from C.A. Marshall. Go check out her fabulous blog!

What things have helped feed you in empty, desert times? What new thing might you try based on Lamott's and McKee's advice?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Lisa Galek, a fellow YA writer, is giving away a copy of the YA historical novel I Was Jane Austen's Best Friend by Cora Harrison over at Read. Write. Repeat. Click HERE to find out more and enter to win.
Wednesday, October 27, 2010 Laurel Garver
Lisa Galek, a fellow YA writer, is giving away a copy of the YA historical novel I Was Jane Austen's Best Friend by Cora Harrison over at Read. Write. Repeat. Click HERE to find out more and enter to win.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Every writer has times when s/he can't seem to make forward progress on a project. Writing books everywhere have suggestions about why this is, and how to overcome it.

In my reading, I've seen two common ways to understand low/no productivity: as a wall and as a desert. I'd argue that all creative people will experience BOTH, because the underlying issues are different, even if the end result is the same. For brevity's sake, I'll tackle each in a separate post.

Wall

Sometimes we're happily drafting away, when BANG! we can't move ahead further. Productivity comes to a screeching halt. Hitting a wall usually looks like one of the following:

-a character is in crisis and you can't seem to get him out
-you've given the character something to do and she refuses
-your characters stop speaking to you
-despite your best efforts, the wrong characters keep flirting or fighting or snubbing each other
-you really need character Z in this scene for balance, but he doesn't quite fit
-a minor character keeps upstaging the major ones
-you've heard over and over that you can't give characters what they want
-you're miserable only making the characters miserable

Walls pop up when you stubbornly insist on continuing in the wrong direction. As writers, we serve the story. And sometimes that means binding and gagging one's rational mind and shoving it into a closet.

Instead, make space for your intuition and just try things. That might mean letting characters decide which ones get the biggest roles, and letting them show you what's truly an "in character" action. Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird has a chapter called "Broccoli" that explains how she encourages her intuition. Lamott says, "Writing is about about hypnotizing yourself into believing yourself, getting some work done, then unhypnotizing yourself and going over the material coldly" (114).

For me, walls happen when I follow writing "rules" too rigidly, or let a too simplistic understanding control how I shape scenes. Take for example "tension on every page" and "put your character up a tree and throw rocks at her." The fact of the matter is no published book I've ever read does this. There are always periods of reversal, peace, safety, humor, etc. that release tension periodically. If you have unmitigated misery and difficulty, your reader will begin to disengage, or your serious story will simply become a farce.

Think of the Battle of Helm's Deep in The Two Towers film. Peter Jackson deftly keeps ramping up the tension without wearing us out by putting in Gimli's humor as a pressure release valve.

Consider letting a character have just one crumb of the thing they want in order to keep alive the hunger and motivation for more of this desired thing.

What have your walls looked like? Have you had success letting intuition and "just trying things" move your story from stuck to steaming ahead?
Tuesday, October 26, 2010 Laurel Garver
Every writer has times when s/he can't seem to make forward progress on a project. Writing books everywhere have suggestions about why this is, and how to overcome it.

In my reading, I've seen two common ways to understand low/no productivity: as a wall and as a desert. I'd argue that all creative people will experience BOTH, because the underlying issues are different, even if the end result is the same. For brevity's sake, I'll tackle each in a separate post.

Wall

Sometimes we're happily drafting away, when BANG! we can't move ahead further. Productivity comes to a screeching halt. Hitting a wall usually looks like one of the following:

-a character is in crisis and you can't seem to get him out
-you've given the character something to do and she refuses
-your characters stop speaking to you
-despite your best efforts, the wrong characters keep flirting or fighting or snubbing each other
-you really need character Z in this scene for balance, but he doesn't quite fit
-a minor character keeps upstaging the major ones
-you've heard over and over that you can't give characters what they want
-you're miserable only making the characters miserable

Walls pop up when you stubbornly insist on continuing in the wrong direction. As writers, we serve the story. And sometimes that means binding and gagging one's rational mind and shoving it into a closet.

Instead, make space for your intuition and just try things. That might mean letting characters decide which ones get the biggest roles, and letting them show you what's truly an "in character" action. Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird has a chapter called "Broccoli" that explains how she encourages her intuition. Lamott says, "Writing is about about hypnotizing yourself into believing yourself, getting some work done, then unhypnotizing yourself and going over the material coldly" (114).

For me, walls happen when I follow writing "rules" too rigidly, or let a too simplistic understanding control how I shape scenes. Take for example "tension on every page" and "put your character up a tree and throw rocks at her." The fact of the matter is no published book I've ever read does this. There are always periods of reversal, peace, safety, humor, etc. that release tension periodically. If you have unmitigated misery and difficulty, your reader will begin to disengage, or your serious story will simply become a farce.

Think of the Battle of Helm's Deep in The Two Towers film. Peter Jackson deftly keeps ramping up the tension without wearing us out by putting in Gimli's humor as a pressure release valve.

Consider letting a character have just one crumb of the thing they want in order to keep alive the hunger and motivation for more of this desired thing.

What have your walls looked like? Have you had success letting intuition and "just trying things" move your story from stuck to steaming ahead?

Monday, October 25, 2010

Thanks to all who entered my drawing to win the easy reader Adventures of the Poodle Posse: Creepy Tails.

I entered your names in random.org and let it choose my lucky winner (so easy; why haven't I used this site sooner??)

Drumroll, please....raditta, taditta, raditta, taditta

And the winner is:


Charity Bradford!


Congratulations, Charity. Please send me your postal address to laurels (dot) leaves (at) gmail (dot) com. I'll make haste to ship it to you!

How was your weekend, friends?
Monday, October 25, 2010 Laurel Garver
Thanks to all who entered my drawing to win the easy reader Adventures of the Poodle Posse: Creepy Tails.

I entered your names in random.org and let it choose my lucky winner (so easy; why haven't I used this site sooner??)

Drumroll, please....raditta, taditta, raditta, taditta

And the winner is:


Charity Bradford!


Congratulations, Charity. Please send me your postal address to laurels (dot) leaves (at) gmail (dot) com. I'll make haste to ship it to you!

How was your weekend, friends?

Sunday, October 24, 2010

I tend to think of Sears as a place to pick up tools and appliances, though I vaguely remember their fat Christmas catalog we'd pore over when I was little--mostly for the toys, because the clothes were always so...sturdy and boring.

But check this out: Sears is now catering to a growing clientele: ZOMBIES. Check out their "Afterlife. Well spent." shop!

Go. Now. You'll thank me, because this is self-ironizing at its very best.

Think about it--Sears itself is trying to revive its style. How better than well-placed humor? And just in time for Halloween. Now that's great marketing.

Check out the site and tell me, what's your zombie style? Slow, cranky, hungry or dirty? Brain preference? Chilled, runny, boiled or a la mode?

Remember to enter my drawing HERE to win a cute Halloween book for kids.

Sunday, October 24, 2010 Laurel Garver
I tend to think of Sears as a place to pick up tools and appliances, though I vaguely remember their fat Christmas catalog we'd pore over when I was little--mostly for the toys, because the clothes were always so...sturdy and boring.

But check this out: Sears is now catering to a growing clientele: ZOMBIES. Check out their "Afterlife. Well spent." shop!

Go. Now. You'll thank me, because this is self-ironizing at its very best.

Think about it--Sears itself is trying to revive its style. How better than well-placed humor? And just in time for Halloween. Now that's great marketing.

Check out the site and tell me, what's your zombie style? Slow, cranky, hungry or dirty? Brain preference? Chilled, runny, boiled or a la mode?

Remember to enter my drawing HERE to win a cute Halloween book for kids.

Thursday, October 21, 2010


Just in time for Halloween, I'll be giving away a copy of Adventures of the Poodle Posse: Creepy Tails.

This adorable easy reader includes an illustrated story about the Poodle Posse's trick-or-treat adventures, plus Halloween activities and recipes--great holiday fun for you and the kids. It's a project I copy edited, written by one of my critique partners, Chrysa Smith. You can learn more about her poodle stories for kids at The Well Bred Book.

To enter the drawing, you must be a follower and comment below. Tweet this post for an extra entry (let me know in your comment that you did so).

I'll announce the winner on Monday, October 25.
Thursday, October 21, 2010 Laurel Garver

Just in time for Halloween, I'll be giving away a copy of Adventures of the Poodle Posse: Creepy Tails.

This adorable easy reader includes an illustrated story about the Poodle Posse's trick-or-treat adventures, plus Halloween activities and recipes--great holiday fun for you and the kids. It's a project I copy edited, written by one of my critique partners, Chrysa Smith. You can learn more about her poodle stories for kids at The Well Bred Book.

To enter the drawing, you must be a follower and comment below. Tweet this post for an extra entry (let me know in your comment that you did so).

I'll announce the winner on Monday, October 25.

Monday, October 18, 2010

More highlights from the Push to Publish conference I attended last Saturday.

Keynote
"A writer works on a novel for years. She wakes up with it, she goes to bed with it. She loves it like a person, tenderly, even if that person is recalcitrant, a bit of a sh**head, with ideas of his own of where he'd like to go..." (read more HERE). This was part of the reading from literary fiction author Paul Lisicky, from his introduction to his late friend Denise Gess's novel.

He then read an excerpt from his current work in progress, a memoir. I especially appreciated his insights about the importance of literary friendships and how they feed and grow us.

Marketing your work on a budget
With author Kelly Simmons, author and consultant Don Lafferty, author Christine Cavalier and freelance writer Kelly Whalen.

Blogging
This panel discussion included information many of us bloggers already know--that building your platform as a writer and making connections can be done cheaply with a blog.

Several of the panelists were exceedingly gung-ho for the Live Journal platform. I've noticed that those of us on Blogger and the Live Journal crowd don't connect at all and mentioned this to the panelists. They just shrugged, which made me wonder if there's something deeper than a techie issue here. What gives?

Social networks
A few pointers they mentioned are to get involved in the Twitter-verse carefully and see it as a tool for listening and relationship building and building "good karma" by tooting others' horns.

Facebook is the number two source of social interaction online after e-mail, and a powerful tool for marketing if used appropriately. Set up a separate author page with minimal personal info on it to protect your family, and recheck the privacy settings often to keep up that wall between your private and public life. Don't create a fan page for your work before you are published; it looks presumptuous and very amateur. Instead, join communities that have an affinity with your work (same genre, topics you tackle, similar aesthetic), build relationships there, LISTEN and engage in conversations.

Your goal in social networking is to seek target connection and engage. The panelists mentioned using a Google alerts and software like Tweetdeck to trawl the Internet for you and find places where you can join conversations tied to your work and your passions.

The panelists also recommended being active on a book review community site such as Goodreads, Library Thing or Shelfari. These sites will help you know your audience well and will become a place to find eager readers when your book comes out.

Creative marketing
Take care when trying to "think outside the box" with marketing. Going to bookstores and stuffing your bookmarks into books by other authors in your genre is NOT going to win you points with the bookstore staff. They'll pull them and toss them. Instead, ask to place bookmarks at the register, let them know you're available to do readings or workshops. Be professional, not obnoxious.

However, you can and should be creative in thinking about what places your potential readers might be and put yourself there. If you write fiction about a knitting club, for example, consider getting a table at fiber arts shows and selling your book there. Write MG about a kid with autism? Get a table for your book at conferences for special education teachers and for parents of special needs kids. Try to connect with those interested in your subject matter where they would naturally go. Your presence and your book will be a boon to them.

This session was an information-packed treasure trove for sure!

Tell me your thoughts about using online tools--the good, the bad, the ugly. Any favorite tips you'd like to share?

Why aren't we in the Blogger universe connecting with the Live Journal folks? How could that change?
Monday, October 18, 2010 Laurel Garver
More highlights from the Push to Publish conference I attended last Saturday.

Keynote
"A writer works on a novel for years. She wakes up with it, she goes to bed with it. She loves it like a person, tenderly, even if that person is recalcitrant, a bit of a sh**head, with ideas of his own of where he'd like to go..." (read more HERE). This was part of the reading from literary fiction author Paul Lisicky, from his introduction to his late friend Denise Gess's novel.

He then read an excerpt from his current work in progress, a memoir. I especially appreciated his insights about the importance of literary friendships and how they feed and grow us.

Marketing your work on a budget
With author Kelly Simmons, author and consultant Don Lafferty, author Christine Cavalier and freelance writer Kelly Whalen.

Blogging
This panel discussion included information many of us bloggers already know--that building your platform as a writer and making connections can be done cheaply with a blog.

Several of the panelists were exceedingly gung-ho for the Live Journal platform. I've noticed that those of us on Blogger and the Live Journal crowd don't connect at all and mentioned this to the panelists. They just shrugged, which made me wonder if there's something deeper than a techie issue here. What gives?

Social networks
A few pointers they mentioned are to get involved in the Twitter-verse carefully and see it as a tool for listening and relationship building and building "good karma" by tooting others' horns.

Facebook is the number two source of social interaction online after e-mail, and a powerful tool for marketing if used appropriately. Set up a separate author page with minimal personal info on it to protect your family, and recheck the privacy settings often to keep up that wall between your private and public life. Don't create a fan page for your work before you are published; it looks presumptuous and very amateur. Instead, join communities that have an affinity with your work (same genre, topics you tackle, similar aesthetic), build relationships there, LISTEN and engage in conversations.

Your goal in social networking is to seek target connection and engage. The panelists mentioned using a Google alerts and software like Tweetdeck to trawl the Internet for you and find places where you can join conversations tied to your work and your passions.

The panelists also recommended being active on a book review community site such as Goodreads, Library Thing or Shelfari. These sites will help you know your audience well and will become a place to find eager readers when your book comes out.

Creative marketing
Take care when trying to "think outside the box" with marketing. Going to bookstores and stuffing your bookmarks into books by other authors in your genre is NOT going to win you points with the bookstore staff. They'll pull them and toss them. Instead, ask to place bookmarks at the register, let them know you're available to do readings or workshops. Be professional, not obnoxious.

However, you can and should be creative in thinking about what places your potential readers might be and put yourself there. If you write fiction about a knitting club, for example, consider getting a table at fiber arts shows and selling your book there. Write MG about a kid with autism? Get a table for your book at conferences for special education teachers and for parents of special needs kids. Try to connect with those interested in your subject matter where they would naturally go. Your presence and your book will be a boon to them.

This session was an information-packed treasure trove for sure!

Tell me your thoughts about using online tools--the good, the bad, the ugly. Any favorite tips you'd like to share?

Why aren't we in the Blogger universe connecting with the Live Journal folks? How could that change?
As I'd mentioned last week, I headed to a great little local writer's conference on Saturday called "Push to Publish," run by Philadelphia Stories magazine. The conference featured a reading and Q&A with Paul Lisicky; "speed dates" with an agent, editor or author; and breakout sessions on various aspects of seeking publication.

Getting a speed date was my first challenge--you had to sign up on site. Though I was 10 minutes early, the sign-up line was looooong and I'd heard the agent slots had filled already. I got to the table, ready to sign up with one of two local YA authors, only to see the agent who was my top pick had ONE slot left, which I nabbed!

My speed date was fabulous. I'd had a chance to practice my pitch on a CP, so I wasn't really that nervous going in to the meeting with the agent herself. I got extremely positive feedback on the pitch and was also able to get the feedback I craved most--what's wrong with these opening pages? She read my opening scene and said she felt the emotion wasn't quite right. She pinpointed the line where the tone started going wrong and we talked through how I might approach a rewrite. My issue is very fixable, and her approach, so encouraging. I'd be blessed indeed to get to work with her regularly.

One thing she said that bears repeating: teen readers are looking for an emotional experience. They're willing to overlook somewhat clunky writing and plot holes if you move them deeply. Get the emotions right and teen readers will love you fiercely.

Anyway, once I get that new opening hammered out, she'd like to take a look again. It's so incredibly encouraging to have an action plan and agent interest!

In the next few days, I'll blog other highlights from the conference.

How was your weekend? Did you make any breakthroughs?
What are your thoughts on this agent's insights about giving readers an emotional experience?
Monday, October 18, 2010 Laurel Garver
As I'd mentioned last week, I headed to a great little local writer's conference on Saturday called "Push to Publish," run by Philadelphia Stories magazine. The conference featured a reading and Q&A with Paul Lisicky; "speed dates" with an agent, editor or author; and breakout sessions on various aspects of seeking publication.

Getting a speed date was my first challenge--you had to sign up on site. Though I was 10 minutes early, the sign-up line was looooong and I'd heard the agent slots had filled already. I got to the table, ready to sign up with one of two local YA authors, only to see the agent who was my top pick had ONE slot left, which I nabbed!

My speed date was fabulous. I'd had a chance to practice my pitch on a CP, so I wasn't really that nervous going in to the meeting with the agent herself. I got extremely positive feedback on the pitch and was also able to get the feedback I craved most--what's wrong with these opening pages? She read my opening scene and said she felt the emotion wasn't quite right. She pinpointed the line where the tone started going wrong and we talked through how I might approach a rewrite. My issue is very fixable, and her approach, so encouraging. I'd be blessed indeed to get to work with her regularly.

One thing she said that bears repeating: teen readers are looking for an emotional experience. They're willing to overlook somewhat clunky writing and plot holes if you move them deeply. Get the emotions right and teen readers will love you fiercely.

Anyway, once I get that new opening hammered out, she'd like to take a look again. It's so incredibly encouraging to have an action plan and agent interest!

In the next few days, I'll blog other highlights from the conference.

How was your weekend? Did you make any breakthroughs?
What are your thoughts on this agent's insights about giving readers an emotional experience?

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Today Elle Strauss is hosting the First 250 Words blogfest. Stop on by her blog to sign up and see the other participants.

Here's the opening to the book I'm pitching at a conference today. Because of said conference, I likely won't get a chance to make the rounds to read other posts till Sunday.

For comparison, you can see my earlier draft HERE (a somewhat unfair comparison, since it was 370 words--more like a page and a third).

======

EXCERPT REMOVED

Today's rough and tumble independent publishing world made it necessary to remove all snippets and previous versions of my work from the blog. The existence of such a "publishing trail" can be used to file false DMCA notices about my novels.
Saturday, October 16, 2010 Laurel Garver
Today Elle Strauss is hosting the First 250 Words blogfest. Stop on by her blog to sign up and see the other participants.

Here's the opening to the book I'm pitching at a conference today. Because of said conference, I likely won't get a chance to make the rounds to read other posts till Sunday.

For comparison, you can see my earlier draft HERE (a somewhat unfair comparison, since it was 370 words--more like a page and a third).

======

EXCERPT REMOVED

Today's rough and tumble independent publishing world made it necessary to remove all snippets and previous versions of my work from the blog. The existence of such a "publishing trail" can be used to file false DMCA notices about my novels.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

I've been intensely revising my first 50 pages in order to be pitch-ready for the Philadelphia Stories's Push to Publish Conference this Saturday.

Part of the day includes a "speed date" time in which we can pitch our projects. My query is in excellent shape (as in, garnering requests for pages), as is my two-page synopsis. I've done massive revisions on the opening chapters and had them critiqued by two writing groups.

On paper, I'm golden.

And they want me to TALK.

ACK!!! I'm trying to not have a total panic attack here. I'm usually most nervous about talking to big groups, but this feels like I'm stepping into the most high-pressure job interview of my life. Except I won't be able to fan open my portfolio and wow them with the graphic design work I did back in the day and hope they don't hear me babbling like an idiot.

Nope, it's just my babbling idiot self and an agent or editor or published writer. It's a first-come, first-served on the slots, so I may be with one of the latter categories. Not that it makes this any less terrifying.

Any tips for preparing to pitch? Tips for talking to strangers without babbling idiotically?
Thursday, October 14, 2010 Laurel Garver
I've been intensely revising my first 50 pages in order to be pitch-ready for the Philadelphia Stories's Push to Publish Conference this Saturday.

Part of the day includes a "speed date" time in which we can pitch our projects. My query is in excellent shape (as in, garnering requests for pages), as is my two-page synopsis. I've done massive revisions on the opening chapters and had them critiqued by two writing groups.

On paper, I'm golden.

And they want me to TALK.

ACK!!! I'm trying to not have a total panic attack here. I'm usually most nervous about talking to big groups, but this feels like I'm stepping into the most high-pressure job interview of my life. Except I won't be able to fan open my portfolio and wow them with the graphic design work I did back in the day and hope they don't hear me babbling like an idiot.

Nope, it's just my babbling idiot self and an agent or editor or published writer. It's a first-come, first-served on the slots, so I may be with one of the latter categories. Not that it makes this any less terrifying.

Any tips for preparing to pitch? Tips for talking to strangers without babbling idiotically?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

One surprisingly helpful class from my undergrad days was a theatre course I took called "Basic Movement." In it, we learned some of the tools of the trade of acting--stances, carriage, gestures, playing to the audience, and of course, choreographed violence.

An ongoing assignment throughout the semester was keeping a "movement journal," in which we recorded observations about how certain body types move, motions unique to certain activities, and how people express emotion through movement. The goal of all this analysis was to build up our own repertoires of motion, so that we could embody various roles.

I've at times joked here about "stalking" students who remind me of my characters. These motion studies are particularly what I try to do. Once I've found the right body type, I've got the perfect model from which to get the data I need. I observe his stride--smooth, bouncy, swaggering, trudging? What's his usual posture? Is he apt to smile at strangers, or have a more closed expression? How does he hold objects? Ham-fisted? Gently by his fingertips? Loose and relaxed? Precise and uptight?

Emotional exchanges go on all the time on the college campus where I work. Because of that movement class, I now watch for the postures and gestures that make up the physical expression of those emotions. You don't even need to be in eavesdropping range to discern the kind of emotions people are expressing. Their bodies shout them.

A particularly powerful lesson from that class was our focus on the body rather than the face as an expressive vehicle. We had to wear dance unitards to every class, and did most of our in-class exercises and performances wearing masks. In many classes we did charades-like exercises: a pair would act certain emotions toward one another without speaking and in masks, and our classmates would have to guess what we were expressing. Those who'd put in the time researching for their journals usually won big time.

If you struggle with "talking head" dialogue, I recommend spending some time people watching and gathering data on how they move. Watch not only faces, but necks, shoulders, spines, hands, legs and feet. An acting class can be surprisingly horizon broadening, too.

Any of you also have some theatre training? How might a "movement journal" help your writing?
Tuesday, October 12, 2010 Laurel Garver
One surprisingly helpful class from my undergrad days was a theatre course I took called "Basic Movement." In it, we learned some of the tools of the trade of acting--stances, carriage, gestures, playing to the audience, and of course, choreographed violence.

An ongoing assignment throughout the semester was keeping a "movement journal," in which we recorded observations about how certain body types move, motions unique to certain activities, and how people express emotion through movement. The goal of all this analysis was to build up our own repertoires of motion, so that we could embody various roles.

I've at times joked here about "stalking" students who remind me of my characters. These motion studies are particularly what I try to do. Once I've found the right body type, I've got the perfect model from which to get the data I need. I observe his stride--smooth, bouncy, swaggering, trudging? What's his usual posture? Is he apt to smile at strangers, or have a more closed expression? How does he hold objects? Ham-fisted? Gently by his fingertips? Loose and relaxed? Precise and uptight?

Emotional exchanges go on all the time on the college campus where I work. Because of that movement class, I now watch for the postures and gestures that make up the physical expression of those emotions. You don't even need to be in eavesdropping range to discern the kind of emotions people are expressing. Their bodies shout them.

A particularly powerful lesson from that class was our focus on the body rather than the face as an expressive vehicle. We had to wear dance unitards to every class, and did most of our in-class exercises and performances wearing masks. In many classes we did charades-like exercises: a pair would act certain emotions toward one another without speaking and in masks, and our classmates would have to guess what we were expressing. Those who'd put in the time researching for their journals usually won big time.

If you struggle with "talking head" dialogue, I recommend spending some time people watching and gathering data on how they move. Watch not only faces, but necks, shoulders, spines, hands, legs and feet. An acting class can be surprisingly horizon broadening, too.

Any of you also have some theatre training? How might a "movement journal" help your writing?

Monday, October 11, 2010

Do you ever have one of those indecisive days? When you start six different blog posts and can't finish any of them? Maybe it's the total frenzy at work or the fact I was sick over the weekend. Anyway, after being unable to finish my other post ideas, I did a quick skim through my old blogger dashboard and found loads of other unfinished posts.

For lack of anything better, I thought I'd share this post I'd started for a blogfest back in the winter. I believe the prompt was to write on breakups. I should probably turn this bizarre freewrite into a story someday. It has some great humor potential.

To my young, single readers, here's your cautionary tale of the day.

Notes to self

In the future, take care to avoid dating or any other sustained social contact with any man who

-asks you out at a funeral

-has a name usually given to dogs

-is 15 years older than you

-still lives with his parents
-even though he is a company vice president
-and owns two Mercedes
-and belongs to a country club

-is a company VP with two Mercedes and a country club membership, but usually takes you to swanky places like Pizza Hut

-takes you to "the club" only when the place is practically empty,
-and tells you fiction writing is a waste of time
-and orders you a fish entree "because that dress is looking a little snug."

-thinks it's cute and romantic to say things like "when I was studying in Paris, you were in kindergarten," as if pedophilia were cute and romantic.

-invites you to his 20th high school reunion when you just had your fifth
-and tells you how to dress
-and acts surly and sulks when you wear "the wrong shoes"

Should you have the misfortune to tangle with such a character for, say 13 months or so, don't be surprised if he calls and:

- gets annoyed you didn't answer his calls last week
-despite the fact all the phone wires in your parents' house melted in their house fire
-is completely disinterested in how you spent the time apart working 18-hour days picking through the sooty detritus of your parents' burned-down house trying to salvage your family's belongings
-whines that you didn't ask how his week was
-breaks up with you over the phone



I think I've never done anything with this because A) it's all so painfully true; B) I'm apparently still a little angry with myself about it, more than a decade later; and C) I'm not entirely sure how to structure this experience into a story arc.

Do you ever trip across old freewrites? Ever do anything with them?
Do you ever write autobiographical stuff?
Monday, October 11, 2010 Laurel Garver
Do you ever have one of those indecisive days? When you start six different blog posts and can't finish any of them? Maybe it's the total frenzy at work or the fact I was sick over the weekend. Anyway, after being unable to finish my other post ideas, I did a quick skim through my old blogger dashboard and found loads of other unfinished posts.

For lack of anything better, I thought I'd share this post I'd started for a blogfest back in the winter. I believe the prompt was to write on breakups. I should probably turn this bizarre freewrite into a story someday. It has some great humor potential.

To my young, single readers, here's your cautionary tale of the day.

Notes to self

In the future, take care to avoid dating or any other sustained social contact with any man who

-asks you out at a funeral

-has a name usually given to dogs

-is 15 years older than you

-still lives with his parents
-even though he is a company vice president
-and owns two Mercedes
-and belongs to a country club

-is a company VP with two Mercedes and a country club membership, but usually takes you to swanky places like Pizza Hut

-takes you to "the club" only when the place is practically empty,
-and tells you fiction writing is a waste of time
-and orders you a fish entree "because that dress is looking a little snug."

-thinks it's cute and romantic to say things like "when I was studying in Paris, you were in kindergarten," as if pedophilia were cute and romantic.

-invites you to his 20th high school reunion when you just had your fifth
-and tells you how to dress
-and acts surly and sulks when you wear "the wrong shoes"

Should you have the misfortune to tangle with such a character for, say 13 months or so, don't be surprised if he calls and:

- gets annoyed you didn't answer his calls last week
-despite the fact all the phone wires in your parents' house melted in their house fire
-is completely disinterested in how you spent the time apart working 18-hour days picking through the sooty detritus of your parents' burned-down house trying to salvage your family's belongings
-whines that you didn't ask how his week was
-breaks up with you over the phone



I think I've never done anything with this because A) it's all so painfully true; B) I'm apparently still a little angry with myself about it, more than a decade later; and C) I'm not entirely sure how to structure this experience into a story arc.

Do you ever trip across old freewrites? Ever do anything with them?
Do you ever write autobiographical stuff?

Friday, October 08, 2010

Dear Editor-on-call:

When is it best to use a semicolon instead of a period?

Yours truly,
Pausing for effect
(aka Shannon O'Donnell at Book Dreaming)

========

Dear Pausing,

True confession time. I despise semicolons.

When I became managing editor of a scholarly journal two years ago, I discovered an ugly secret. Academics use semicolons by the barrel-full to string together the most convoluted run-on sentences imaginable. Spend a few days with my copy-editing pile and you'll understand how hateful this problem truly is.

You might say I've been unduly influenced to see semicolons as the enemies of clear, brisk writing. They strike me as stuffy and really belonging to the realm of nonfiction. I rarely see them in genre fiction, except to clarify items in a series when there's already a comma in one or more of the items.

For example:
Buttercup packed her lacy, pink day dress; a floor-length, green velvet gown, which had once been Mother's; six chemises; and three sets of gloves.

Indeed, semicolons can replace the "and" in a compound sentence, when you want more separation than a comma, but less than a period. These instances should be rare.

For example:
Ginny's wand sailed out of her hand; it landed right in Neville's pudding.

Am I out of line here, hating on semis? Feel free to defend your precious punctuation in the comments.
Friday, October 08, 2010 Laurel Garver
Dear Editor-on-call:

When is it best to use a semicolon instead of a period?

Yours truly,
Pausing for effect
(aka Shannon O'Donnell at Book Dreaming)

========

Dear Pausing,

True confession time. I despise semicolons.

When I became managing editor of a scholarly journal two years ago, I discovered an ugly secret. Academics use semicolons by the barrel-full to string together the most convoluted run-on sentences imaginable. Spend a few days with my copy-editing pile and you'll understand how hateful this problem truly is.

You might say I've been unduly influenced to see semicolons as the enemies of clear, brisk writing. They strike me as stuffy and really belonging to the realm of nonfiction. I rarely see them in genre fiction, except to clarify items in a series when there's already a comma in one or more of the items.

For example:
Buttercup packed her lacy, pink day dress; a floor-length, green velvet gown, which had once been Mother's; six chemises; and three sets of gloves.

Indeed, semicolons can replace the "and" in a compound sentence, when you want more separation than a comma, but less than a period. These instances should be rare.

For example:
Ginny's wand sailed out of her hand; it landed right in Neville's pudding.

Am I out of line here, hating on semis? Feel free to defend your precious punctuation in the comments.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

I've been called a lot of things besides my given name at various stages of my life: shortened forms of my name, teasing terms about some undesirable trait, cozy pet names, cool nicknames, and long-story monikers.

Those nicknames often say more about my relationship with the name giver than about my personality per se. Try this little quiz to see what I mean.

Match the set of nicknames with the name-giver.

1. Lore, string bean, Ethel
2. Lars, lone xylophone, Lenzel, Lorolla
3. four-eyes, coral-doral, brainiac, freak
4. blossom, love, hon
5. Laurie, pumpkin, bird, sweetie
6. whirl, whoa-whoa, wa-wul

A. school bullies
B. father
C. nieces and nephews
D. brother
E. school chums
F. spouse

Answers at the bottom of this post.

How'd you do? Notice patterns?

A sibling loves and hates you and often calls you the strangest things based on your shared history. Parental pet names tend to be sweet and innocent, while spouses and lovers use more poetic or even suggestive terms of endearment. Tiny people often can't pronounce our names, especially if they are chock full of Ls and Rs. Bullies target qualities they don't like, or try to concoct cruel rhymes (in my case, these tended to make the bully sound stupid instead of cruel). Our friends give us nicknames that create our identities in our peer group and give us a sense of belonging--often tied to shared history or shared associations. For instance, we called my college friend Dave "Darth," because his last name was Vater. He relished it, though his expertise was Chewbacca impressions. But you get the idea.

Pet names and nicknames in the mouths of your secondary characters can communicate lots in a small amount of space. Not only the relationship, but the level of education, temperament, and background. For example, my MC's grandfathers call her "love" and "pumpkin." Pretty obvious which one's a Brit and which one's American, right?

Nicknames friends give can be shorthand for shared interests or "long-stories" that can be revealed over the course of a novel. In John Green's Paper Towns, Quentin and Ben call their friend Marcus "Radar" for such a hilariously convoluted reason, you can't help but laugh and like these guys.

If you find yourself drawn to weird names, I challenge you to consider instead giving your character a weird or funky or long-story nickname instead. Because you plucky YA heroine is going to be an unemployable adult if she's genuinely named Shimmer. Just sayin'.

Tell me about your experience with nicknames and pet names. How do you use them in your writing?

Quiz answers: 1. D 2. E 3. A 4. F 5. B 6. C
Wednesday, October 06, 2010 Laurel Garver
I've been called a lot of things besides my given name at various stages of my life: shortened forms of my name, teasing terms about some undesirable trait, cozy pet names, cool nicknames, and long-story monikers.

Those nicknames often say more about my relationship with the name giver than about my personality per se. Try this little quiz to see what I mean.

Match the set of nicknames with the name-giver.

1. Lore, string bean, Ethel
2. Lars, lone xylophone, Lenzel, Lorolla
3. four-eyes, coral-doral, brainiac, freak
4. blossom, love, hon
5. Laurie, pumpkin, bird, sweetie
6. whirl, whoa-whoa, wa-wul

A. school bullies
B. father
C. nieces and nephews
D. brother
E. school chums
F. spouse

Answers at the bottom of this post.

How'd you do? Notice patterns?

A sibling loves and hates you and often calls you the strangest things based on your shared history. Parental pet names tend to be sweet and innocent, while spouses and lovers use more poetic or even suggestive terms of endearment. Tiny people often can't pronounce our names, especially if they are chock full of Ls and Rs. Bullies target qualities they don't like, or try to concoct cruel rhymes (in my case, these tended to make the bully sound stupid instead of cruel). Our friends give us nicknames that create our identities in our peer group and give us a sense of belonging--often tied to shared history or shared associations. For instance, we called my college friend Dave "Darth," because his last name was Vater. He relished it, though his expertise was Chewbacca impressions. But you get the idea.

Pet names and nicknames in the mouths of your secondary characters can communicate lots in a small amount of space. Not only the relationship, but the level of education, temperament, and background. For example, my MC's grandfathers call her "love" and "pumpkin." Pretty obvious which one's a Brit and which one's American, right?

Nicknames friends give can be shorthand for shared interests or "long-stories" that can be revealed over the course of a novel. In John Green's Paper Towns, Quentin and Ben call their friend Marcus "Radar" for such a hilariously convoluted reason, you can't help but laugh and like these guys.

If you find yourself drawn to weird names, I challenge you to consider instead giving your character a weird or funky or long-story nickname instead. Because you plucky YA heroine is going to be an unemployable adult if she's genuinely named Shimmer. Just sayin'.

Tell me about your experience with nicknames and pet names. How do you use them in your writing?

Quiz answers: 1. D 2. E 3. A 4. F 5. B 6. C

Monday, October 04, 2010

Writing a great first line is a bear, isn't it? I can't tell you how many times I've added and taken away entire chapters from the front end of my book. This past week I spent days doing one final pass on my opening, adding setup before the inciting incident, and, of course, sweating over my first line. One of the first things I did was pull books off my shelves and look at first lines.

Here's my very favorite, because has everything you'd want--action, voice, unanswered questions and hook:

"The telephone bell was ringing wildly, but without result, since there was no-one in the room but the corpse."
--Charles Williams, War in Heaven (1930)

FYI: Williams was a member of The Inklings (the writing group that also included Tolkien and Lewis) who wrote these very trippy and intense supernatural thrillers back in the 1930s. Lewis's That Hideous Strength is heavily influenced by Williams's style.

What's your favorite first line? What do you admire about it?
Monday, October 04, 2010 Laurel Garver
Writing a great first line is a bear, isn't it? I can't tell you how many times I've added and taken away entire chapters from the front end of my book. This past week I spent days doing one final pass on my opening, adding setup before the inciting incident, and, of course, sweating over my first line. One of the first things I did was pull books off my shelves and look at first lines.

Here's my very favorite, because has everything you'd want--action, voice, unanswered questions and hook:

"The telephone bell was ringing wildly, but without result, since there was no-one in the room but the corpse."
--Charles Williams, War in Heaven (1930)

FYI: Williams was a member of The Inklings (the writing group that also included Tolkien and Lewis) who wrote these very trippy and intense supernatural thrillers back in the 1930s. Lewis's That Hideous Strength is heavily influenced by Williams's style.

What's your favorite first line? What do you admire about it?