Monthly Archives: August 2016

Embracing the Tortoise Writing Life

6Tp6R4AkcTortoiseAUGusethisConfession: When I started meeting with my critique group and attending writing workshops, I envied how quickly others answered questions, gave on-the-spot feedback, and completed manuscripts. Everyone sounded so clever, eloquent, insightful. I felt like the slow study, as I multitasked between listening, jotting notes and figuring out, “what was the question?” and “what did she say?” My insecurity took me back to grade school days when teachers said, “She’s a daydreamer, always off task, staring off in space…”

Today, I laugh and am incredibly grateful for my attentive graduate school advisor who helped me discover my learning disability, slow logical processing, which makes it difficult to track conversations, follow instructions, and, as my husband and friends will attest, keep track of time. No wonder, I journaled my way through school, never finished books, and loved wandering (and still do)!

I can’t imagine life without journaling and writing. The past year, my writing has been my truth mirror, my reality check. I’ve realized, Okay, so you’re slow…so what if you take much longer (to write, revise, critique) than your peers. Then, “the” truth hit me: my frustration with my slowness is not because of my learning style, it’s because I compare myself to others. It’s my ego. Big sigh. Or, as Natalie Goldberg says, “it’s just resistance…it’s me battling myself.”

When I embrace and sink into my tortoise shell, I’m totally lit. I’m curious and sparked. I sing and dance. I’m me. I just have to trust myself. I have to trust and practice ancient wisdom about the tortoise – they carry all they need on their back and remind us to make good use of our abundance.

Thanks to my critique group and author-teacher-mentors, I’ve found abundant tools that reel me in and stimulate my writing practice. I rely on them. Of course, I still get stuck in the mud, but it’s getting easier to pick up my tools, put them on my back and start again.

Here are the tools that keep my writing and revising on track, slowly and steadily.

  • Set a timer. I put my cell phone in another room and set the timer for 50-60 minutes of writing or revising. Then, I re-set it for a 15-minute break and repeat. When time is limited, I set the timer for a 15-20 minute session (even if that’s all I can do that day).
  • Start anywhere. Who said I have to write and revise in order? One week, I may work on the middle of my YA, the next week, I dive into the last chapter. I follow my gut and lately, my main character.
  • Type your purpose for each chapter. I started doing this in revision #1 of my YA – type a set of questions above each chapter and answer them before digging into the chapter. It’s like holding a magnifying glass to my work; it pushes me (big time!) to hone in and tightly focus on the purpose of each chapter. The first question I answer: What does your main character want or need at the beginning of this scene? I learned this technique in award-winning children’s author Denise Vega’s workshop, “Crafting Compelling Scenes in Your MG/YA Novel”. (Find out more about Denise’s classes at &
  • Leave it and move on. When I’m completely stuck or can’t figure out a word, sentence, or entire paragraph, I just leave it. I insert a parenthetical sentence or question mark in blue. I move on and do not return to the blue lines till my next revision.
  • Go outside. Walking around my yard or eating lunch on my patio clears my head and rekindles creative, positive thoughts. On a long walk this summer, I videotaped birds flying from branch to branch and poof, it hit me: move my main character out of her neighborhood, put her on a bus, get her out of her comfort zone…
  • Switch things up. When my writing feels blah, I switch to longhand and let it rip. Or, I lay out big sheets of paper and markers on the floor and play – mapping out a family tree, drawing my main character’s bedroom, etc.
  • End each session with a question or thought. Regardless of where I end each session, I try to type (in red) a list of questions or thoughts. Usually, it’s a part I can’t figure out or need to research. This one’s tough for me, since I jump around, but wow, it reels me in!
  • Be gentle with yourself.

What reels you in and helps you stay steady and on track with your writing?

The tortoise crawled on
Slow and steady was his pace.
He was determined

–The Hare and the Tortoise Storytime Song by Shauna Tominey



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Getting To Know My Characters Again

By Rondi Sokoloff Frieder

Prismatic-Question-Mark-Fractal-4-No-Background-800pxI did some serious preparation before pounding out the first draft of my current MG novel. After thinking about the story for years, I came up with a plausible beginning, a somewhat-hazy-but-action-packed middle, and what I thought could be a satisfying ending. I did rough character sketches and gave each person a name, a family, and a physical appearance. I visualized the various settings. Then I typed out a detailed five-page chapter outline. But when the actual writing began, things changed. A lot. You know how it goes. My characters came to life and did what characters do. They went on unexpected adventures and made unanticipated decisions. They directed the action and their personalities and passions bubbled up and morphed along the way. I thought I knew these kids before I wrote the story. But they’re different now. Their voices and desires have evolved. Some names have even been changed. So before I begin revision #1, I’m sitting down to interview each one of them again to make sure I know exactly who they are.

I like using the character inventory from Debbie Dadey and Marcia Thornton Jones’s book, STORY STARTERS, but have modified it over the years. This is  the interview form I use today. I open my computer, visualize my character sitting across from me, say hello, and ask away:

What is your:

  1. Full Name:
  2. Nickname(s) Who calls you these nicknames and why:
  3. Age and grade in school:
  4. Birthday:
  5. Name of school:
  6. Hair color:
  7. Eye color:
  8. One distinguishing physical feature you like about yourself and one you don’t like at all!
  9. Who do you resemble in you family? Appearance, personality?
  10. A physical habit you have:
  11. One speech mannerism that makes you sound like you:
  12. Hobbies:
  13. Family members:
  14. Earliest childhood memory:
  15. One distinguishing personality feature that you love about yourself and one you don’t:
  16. Pets you have and pets you want:
  17. Thing of which you are most proud:
  18. Thing you hope nobody will ever find out:
  19. Strengths:
  20. Weaknesses:
  21. Fears:
  22. More than anything, the one thing you want is:
  23. The perfect way you might spend a summer day:
  24. The perfect way you might spend a winter day:
  25. Favorite sports to play, watch, or attend:
  26. Favorite musicians:
  27. Type of music you listen to:
  28. Games you like to play:
  29. Favorite foods and snacks:
  30. Clothes you love to wear:
  31. Clothes you hate wearing:
  32. The best part of school:
  33. The worst part of school:
  34. Best friend(s):
  35. The one thing worth fighting about with your friend?
  36. Prized possessions:
  37. Best birthday party:
  38. Favorite holiday and why:
  39. Where do you live? Describe in detail.
  40. What does your room look like?
  41. Favorite place to spend time alone:
  42. What new relationships do you develop in this book?
  43. How do you change and grow in this story?
  44. What part of what you want do you get in this story?
  45. What new thing(s) happens to you that you didn’t expect in this book?

This form is also great to fill out before you “Scrapbook Your Novel.” Our very own Carrie Seidel has written a blog about how to do this. Check out her post from October 2015 or read her article in the SCBWI newsletter Spring/2016. Then Google, cut, and paste.

You’ll be surprised at how these new details will add depth to your story and get your readers to deeply connect with your characters. For example, after I realized how important astrology was to my main character Cori, I assigned birthdays to two of her close friends based on compatible signs! What other items would YOU add to this personality inventory? Let me know and I’ll add it to the list. Write-on!





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