Category Archives: critique

Why you should invest in coaching as a writer or illustrator

Bill Gates said in 2020 — “Everyone needs a coach. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a basketball player, a tennis player, a gymnast, or a bridge player.” But let’s finish that sentence.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re a writer. Or an illustrator. Or both.

Everyone needs a coach.

If you don’t immediately agree with me (or Bill) here are some benefits for you to consider. And if you do already agree with me, and are a member of the RMC-SCBWI, head right on over to read specifically about the Michelle Begley Mentor Program, a six month program that offers great value for investment, which I am thrilled to co-coordinate this year with Laura Perdew. The application is open until November 9, 2021 and this year we are offering a scholarship courtesy of the Writing Roosters and two grants!

 

Ongoing Critique and Feedback

I am part of two wonderful critique groups that meet regularly, yet working with a mentor is still a unique experience because *your work* and *your craft* are the entire focus of the conversation. Together you discuss your vision and over the course of multiple months, you bring that vision to light.

 

Improve your current work in progress

First and foremost, your mentor will work with you on a manuscript (or illustration portfolio) that you’ve been working on. As established professionals, they bring their expertise to your work and will help you develop it to be as strong as it can be. In my own mentorship with Anna-Maria Crum as my mentor, she helped me rework my plot and character motivation – my inciting incident was buried way down deep in my manuscript, and this reorganization immediately made my work stronger.

 

Improve your craft going forward

There will be countless elements of what your mentor points out in your work that you will be able to carry forward for years to come. Two personal examples — I learned about some of the weaknesses in my plot (build stronger motivation for action – no coincidences!) as well as in my dialogue (make sure my characters react to what is said as opposed to making unrealistic leaps in the conversation because the lines sound cool). It opened up my eyes not only to what I could improve in the novel we were discussing, but what I could carry over to every scene I’ve crafted since.

 

Coaches can help you set realistic goals

Our mentors have been there, done that, but the fact is that every artistic creator is different. A mentor can talk through your process and experience and help you set goals for your work – goals that are within your control and that you will meet during the course of the six months. Which leads us right to…

 

Having a coach is motivating

Coaches give you deadlines. They are there, waiting and expecting for you to work with them. They are looking forward to seeing your progress. And having that built in accountability can do wonders.

 

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There are many other reasons to have a coach, and many personal experiences about successful mentor/mentee relationships. Read testimonials here about what others have gotten out of the Michelle Begley Mentor program, and share in the comments some of the benefits you have experienced in working with a mentor (or being a mentor!).

And consider securing a mentor of your own through the Michelle Begley Mentor Program. The application is open until November 9, 2021.

 

**Reading this after 11/9/21? Join us next time – the application period for the Michelle Begley Mentor Program is typically October through November 1.

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Filed under Coral Jenrette, craft advice, critique, Revision process, RMC-SCBWI

Highlights of Highlights!

By Rondi Sokoloff Frieder

I have very strong childhood memories of getting the Highlights for Children magazine in the mail. First of all, it was mail – for me! (And my brothers, but mostly for me.)  I’d spot it on the kitchen counter, whisk it off to my bedroom, and immediately turn to the hidden pictures page. Then I’d search and search until I found every last rake, spoon, ice cream cone, and whatever else was listed at the bottom of the page! Today, Highlights publishes entire workbooks of these puzzles. They even have an app.

The first issue of Highlights magazine came out in 1946 and was published by the Pennsylvanian husband-and-wife team – Garry Cleveland Meyers and Caroline Clark. These days, the company’s corporate headquarters is  based in Columbus, Ohio, and includes Zaner-Bloser, Stenhouse Publishers, and Staff Development for Educators. But there’s another arm of the organization you may not know about – The Highlights Foundation. This is a 501 c-3 non-profit, established in 1984, that offers “workshops, retreats, and other support to writers, illustrators, and all creators of kid-friendly content.” (For a quick history of the company, go to: https://www.highlights.com/about-us/history.) The Foundation was established in 1984  in Chautauqua NY, but is now located in an idyllic rural setting in Honesdale, PA. George Brown, a descendant of Garry and Caroline, is its dynamic Executive Director.

During the pandemic, I took two of the Foundation’s classes online: “Filling the Writer’s Toolbox” with Emma Dryden, and “DIY Revision for your Novel or Non-Fiction” with Susan Campbell Bartoletti. But in August, after being prodded by my writing coach and award-winning author Sarah Aronson, and fellow Story Spinner and RMC-SCBWI Regional Advisor, Susan Wroble, I attended my first in-person event. And even though I am not a fan of mosquitos, ticks, humidity, or frizzy hair, this truly was the “highlight” of my summer.

“The Whole Novel Workshop,” was a six-day intensive for writers of MG and YA fiction. It differed from my other two classes in that it required an application. That meant submitting the first fifteen pages of my MG manuscript, a synopsis, and a cover letter. When my acceptance arrived, I literally whooped and hollered to the dog! Only that’s when the real work began. Not only would I be working on my revision during the workshop, I would also be receiving an in-depth critique of my full manuscript (from the brilliant, hilarious, and award-winning author, Crystal Allen) before I even arrived on campus. There were also three Zoom meetings with our  group (twenty participants and ten faculty), two books to read (one YA novel, one on craft), and partial manuscripts, synopses, and cover letters to read from the members of our assigned “Brain Trust” group (7-8 people). We used the Canvas platform to introduce ourselves (and our pets) and to explore writing prompts, articles, and podcasts. Needless to say, “The Whole Novel Workshop” could have been called “The Whole Summer Workshop!”

Finally, on August 21, the big day arrived. I pulled up to my home for the week, “#16,” the Jane Yolen cabin! (OMG – how did they know???) and basked in the beauty of my surroundings. There was a lovely front porch, with windows overlooking a wooded glen, a bookshelf filled with Jane’s books, posters on the wall, and an owl perched on the rafters. (I love OWL MOON!)

                .                                 

That evening, we all gathered for the start of what can only be described as a week of serious work, tremendous growth, and pure joy. There were craft workshops, thought-provoking morning prompts, critiques, time to write (alone or in community), Brain Trust groups (45-minute discussions about your manuscript led by YOU), one-on-one discussions, interviews with your main character (conducted by the dramatic Crystal!), pristine walks, and time to think about and work through your revision ideas. And the food! Ask anyone who has attended a Highlights workshop and they will definitely talk about the food. The chefs and servers prepare gourmet works of art three times a day, with snacks available twenty-four seven!

I could talk about this magical week for hours. (And believe me, I have.) Instead, here’s a  stream-of-consciousness recap:

Know who your audience is and what your character really wants. (So true, Rob.) Emotion drives action. Look for the fractals. (Jennifer) Journal until you’ve figured things out and do the swirlies. (Sarah) Discuss ideas with fellow novelists. (We love talking about these things, right Nora?!) Go for long walks. (Thanks for being our guide, George.) Play with tense and POV and balance dialogue, narrative, and description by using colored pens. (Nancy) Get rid of unnecessary characters. (Find your orderly, get rid of the priest- Crystal) Try new plotting tools. (Can’t wait to use yours, Erin.) Writing prompts open your mind to new possibilities! (Yes, Melissa!) No writing is wasted time. (More Melissa) Don’t be afraid of marketing. (I will be in touch, Mia.) And other assorted other words of wisdom: Pay attention to your secondary characters. It’s all about voice. Play and think in the rock garden. Be open about making changes. Make writer friends and support their work. (Miss you all!)

And of course… Keep going!

Our incredible faculty rocked it EVERY DAY and worked alongside us. (There was an open mike night on our last evening… WOW!) Endless thanks to: Crystal Allen, Sarah Aronson, Nora Shalaway Carpenter, Rob Costello, Erin Dionne, Mia Garcia, Jennifer Jacobsen, Erin Entrada Kelly, Alex Villasante, Nancy Werlin, Melissa Wyatt . Can you believe this line-up? I am still in awe of each and every one of them.

You must go to Highlights. (Even with the mosquitoes, ticks, and frizzy hair.) Put it on your to-do list. Right now. highlightsfoundation.org/upcoming/workshops.

I can’t wait to go back.

 

 

 

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Filed under craft advice, critique, Partners in Literacy, Revision process, Rondi Frieder, Susan Wroble

Receiving Feedback

Critiquing is a critical part of the writing process – getting feedback from others gives us guidance and can shed a light on where we might focus in revision. There is so much we can’t see as the writer of our own work and getting other people’s responses to what we’ve written is truly illuminating.

 

But receiving feedback – literally sitting there while someone tells us what they think about our work –can be hard. Sometimes it can be really hard. It’s great when people say, “I love what you’ve done!” but it can be hard to listen to people say, “Here are the things I think you need to fix.”  It can even be hard when they say, “I love what you’ve done but here are some things to fix.” Someone can love your piece, and it can still need work.

The fact is, even if it it’s combined with positive feedback, receiving critical feedback can be challenging.

Here are a few recommendations for how to handle the moments when your piece is getting critiqued.

  • If your group is reading the piece for the first time while together, allow someone else to read your piece aloud. Hearing where they read smoothly and where they stumble can give great insight as to where you might want to revise at the sentence and word level.
    • No critique partners? Critique partners read everything in advance? Your piece is longer than a picture book or a few pages? Use a Read Aloud function, like you can find in Word – Google docs also seems to have a text to read function
  • Try to take feedback in and listen without getting upset.  It’s very natural to have a knee-jerk reaction to critical feedback. “But that’s not what I meant” or “you’re not understanding” – if they didn’t understand, it might not be on the page the way it is on your head. Try to take in critical feedback without being defensive.
    • If you’re too defensive or upset receiving critical feedback, it may hurt people’s ability to be honest with you in the future.
    • The exception — respond to any kind of clarifying question that will help someone provide feedback from a place of understanding
    • Sometimes one critiquer will say something is missing on the page (a motivation, for example, or an emotion), while another critiquer will have gotten exactly what you were trying to say. In this instance, consider whether what you are trying to get across is obvious enough. It may be. It may not.
  • Relish the positive things people have to say. You need to learn what works in your work. Even if a line is cut or a scene doesn’t make it, if people loved it, find out why so you can replicate.
    • Some people are great at this. For others, it can be really hard to take in the positive. Some people want to skip right over the positive and get to the critical because that’s where the work is, but make notes about what people love, so you can keep those things in your writing, and celebrate those things as the critical feedback comes rolling in.

 

What other recommendations do you have else for those moments during a critique while people are actively giving you feedback?

 

**Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

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Filed under Coral Jenrette, craft advice, critique, Revision process

WRITING IS A STICKY BUSINESS!

By Rondi Sokoloff Frieder

In the “About” section of this blog, In the Writer’s Web, we end our mission statement with the following sentence: “We want to provide insight, information, and inspiration to writers everywhere. Because… writing is a sticky business.” I love that last line. But what exactly does sticky mean? The Merriam-Webster online dictionary provides these synonyms: gluey, gummy, tacky, difficult, problematic, sensitive, tough, tricky, complex, complicated, hard, intricate, involved, serious, demanding, exacting, exhausting, stressful, and problematic. Yikes! On the other hand, here are some antonyms from the same site: easy, effortless, manageable, painless, simple, straightforward. So, if writing is a such a tricky-sticky business, why do we do it? Because we love it!

Most of you will agree that the past fourteen months have been extremely “sticky.” It was the epitome of so many of those adjectives I listed above. But the writer in me actually got a lot done. I became unstuck in many ways. I used my new stay-at-home lifestyle to develop a more serious writing practice. I hunkered down in my studio each morning to write and read. I revised a novel, got feedback from trusted critique partners, and revised again. I also dusted off another novel that had been sitting in a virtual drawer and began making some important changes. I attended online classes, webinars, conferences, and book launches. My critique group, The Story Spinners, began meeting on Zoom, twice a month, rather than once, in-person. And my Tuesday writing group, The Nanos, got together for Zoom writing sessions and lunch every week! I can honestly say that my writing, and my writing community, became my biggest comfort during this time of isolation.

But don’t get me wrong. I had many sticky writer moments during the pandemic. At one point, I had to put my novel aside. The events happening in our world today were so similar to what was going on in my historical MG novel. Hatred and bigotry still rage in our communities. On the flip side, I’m even more motivated to get my book out there, not matter how sticky the process might be.

When YOUR writing life becomes sticky, try some of these strategies:

  1. Write something new. A first draft written with abandon, or an early morning writing prompt might just be what you need to get those juices flowing. Journal, draw, make lists!
  2. Try writing in a different genre. If you’re writing picture books, take a stab at a middle grade or a novel in verse.
  3. Interview your characters, both primary and secondary, at various times. They may have changed during the course of your revision. (http://www.rondibooks.com/getting-to-know-my-characters-again/)
  4. Make a map – seriously – draw out where your story takes place with colored pencils or markers. It will help you navigate the details as your characters move through your setting.
  5. Chart out how many times each character appears in your book. Are they all necessary? If the answer is yes, you may need to have them do more so the reader will remember them.
  6. Color-code dialogue, narrative, and description, and see if you have a balance. You can print the pages out and use markers, or highlight with different colors on your computer.
  7. Take classes! I particularly enjoyed workshops with Emma Dryden, Kate Messner, Linda Sue Park, Julie Berry, and Grace Burrowes. I also worked one-on-one with Sarah Aronson and am looking forward to my next class with Susan Campbell Bartoletti. The pandemic has isolated us, but also brought us together. These classes were all available on Zoom along with handouts and recordings.
  8. Have others read your work and take time to digest the feedback. Emma Dryden says that 80% of the feedback will not resonate, 15% will make you think, and 5% will be so on point, you’ll go running to your computer to put in the changes!
  9. Make a list of strong verbs and inspirational metaphors from mentor texts. Then find ways to strengthen your own writing.
  10. Get rid of unnecessary words. I totally overuse: just, that, I think, begin. Also, trim tag lines.
  11. When you’re in the thick of revision, Sarah Aronson suggests writing down what your main character is like at the beginning and end of your book. Have they changed? How? Julie Berry had us write a love letter to our novel. So great! I go back and read this from time to time. It reminds me why I am working so hard to make this book the best it can be.
  12. Have the computer read your manuscript out loud to you. In Word, go to Review and click on Read Aloud. It’s a computery voice, but it still helps you pick up on repetitive sentences and awkward dialogue.
  13. Read books on craft. Even just a chapter or two. And do the exercises suggested.
  14. Read inspirational books about being a writer/illustrator. Here’s one of my favorites:
  15. Read  a wide variety of books, but be current on what’s being published in your genre. With picture books, you can also find read-alouds on Pinterest.
  16. Subscribe to writing blogs (like this one!), join groups on Facebook (especially SCBWI, Sub It Club, and Kidlit411) and connect with other writers/illustrators on Twitter and Instagram.
  17. Take classes and attend workshops. Places to look online: SCBWI regional and national webinars and conferences, local SCBWI regional Connects, Free Expressions, Highlights, Writers Barn, Lighthouse Writers, Writer’s Digest, StoryStorm, ReFoReMo, NANOWRIMO, etc.
  18. THINK about your book. Go for walks, ride your bike, or hang out in the shower. When an idea occurs to you, send yourself a text (or you may forget this little inspirational nugget) and transfer it to your notebook or actual ms when you get a chance.

No matter what – Stick with it, stick to it, and stick it out, because although writing is a sticky business, it is also very, very sweet!

Note: This was the blog I wrote in January before I left my laptop toooooo close to a humidifier. It got… misplaced for a while.

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Filed under craft advice, critique, Main character, Revision process, RMC-SCBWI, Rondi Frieder, WORD NERD, Writing during the pandemic

Building your TBR Pile

Stack of Books

A new year is coming, and that means another year of writing and reading goals! I wrote about creating categories around your To Be Read (TBR) list. Nothing beats word of mouth hearing from a friend that they loved a book you must try, or having a bookseller or librarian listen to some of your favorites and make a recommendation or two. But if you’re thinking about reading in specific categories, here are some ideas of where you might look for books to try.

No matter how you find your 2021 TBR books, I wish you a massive and diverse list of books and many happy days and nights of reading!

 

Diverse Books

Diverse books make up a fraction of publishing, yet they are so critical for readers young and old to see themselves, and to see people other than themselves.

We Need Diverse Books has compiled a list of sites that recommend diverse titles – by going to this page you can access many different sites that suggest diverse books.

 

Award-Winning Books

The Newbery was “the first children’s book award in the world… [and is] the best known and most discussed children’s book award in this country.” A full list of award winners going back to 1922 can be found here.

The Geisel Award is given annually to the author(s) and illustrator(s) of the most distinguished American book for beginning readers published in English in the United States during the preceding year.

The Caldecott Medal goes “to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children.”

A great list from @sailyreads on Instagram highlights book awards that celebrate diverse authors and stories. Here is how these books are described on their websites.

  • The Pura Belpré Award, established in 1996, is presented annually to a Latino/Latina writer and illustrator whose work best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience in an outstanding work of literature for children and youth”
  • The Coretta Scott King Book Awardsare given annually to outstanding African American authors and illustrators of books for children and young adults that demonstrate an appreciation of African American culture and universal human values.”
  • “The goal of the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literatureis to honor and recognize individual work about Asian/Pacific Americans and their heritage.”
  • “Awarded biennially, the American Indian Youth Literature Award identifies and honors the very best writing and illustrations by Native Americans and Indigenous peoples of North America. Books selected to receive the award present Indigenous North American peoples in the fullness of their humanity.”
  • “The Schneider Family Book Awards honor an author or illustrator for a book that embodies an artistic expression of the disability experience for child and adolescent audiences.”
  • The first and most enduring award for LGBTQIA+ books is the Stonewall Book Awards, sponsored by the American Library Association’s Rainbow Round Table.

 

State/Regional Lists

Consider adding local authors to your list! Almost every state has an award list. “The Colorado Book Awards annually celebrates the accomplishments of Colorado’s outstanding authors, editors, illustrators, and photographers.”

There are also regional awards that highlight specific interests. For example, “the WILLA Literary Awards honor the best in literature, featuring women’s or girls’ stories set in the West that are published each year.”

 

SCBWI

Of course, our beloved SCBWI is a great place to find possible books! You can browse the BookStop, where members’ books are listed. SCBWI has multiple awards as well that are given each year to published books, including the regional Crystal Kite Awards (“a peer-given award to recognize great books from 15 SCBWI regional divisions around the world”), the Golden Kite Award (“the only children’s literary award judged by a jury of peers”), and the Spark Award (“recognizes excellence in a children’s book published through a non-traditional publishing route”).

 

Recommended Books

According to the Goodreads website, they are the world’s largest site for book recommendations. They have a recommendation engine that will make suggestions, you can browse books by genre, and you can see readers’ favorites by looking at the Goodreads Choice Awards, which have finalists and winners broken out by genre.

The Indie Kids’ Next List includes recommendations from indie book stores, where you can read a paragraph about why a particular bookseller recommends that book.

Big bookstores will be happy to recommend you books: you can look them up here, even if you end up checking them out from your local library or purchasing from an independent bookstore. Amazon offers a best children’s books of the year (this one is for 2020), broken out by age group, as well as monthly recommendations.

 

Starred Books

Books are ‘starred’ when specific book reviewers award them a star as part of their review. They are hard to come by, and many excellent books and many popular books don’t receive them. These reviewers include Booklist (published by the American Library Association, also known as ALA),  Kirkus, and School Library Journal (also known as SLJ). Some are subscription-based to see the full review, but a search of the title will usually show if it has been starred. Some publishers will post quotes from these reviewers on their book. These review journals will also publish ‘best of’ lists.

 

Best-Selling Books

There are lists available that include the books that are selling the best over a period of time. Two major ones include The New York Times Bestseller list, which includes books ranked by format and genre, and USA Today’s Bestseller List, which shares the top-selling 150 books, across formats, including bookstores and online retailers.

Indiebound aggregates sales from hundreds of bookstores across the country to create their bestseller list, which is broken down by genre.

Amazon shares their top selling books if you click on Books and then a particular category. So does Barnes & Noble, which will break it down by Kids and YA.

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This list is by no means exhaustive, or an endorsement – hopefully it will help you find new books to love and give you new ideas of where to search.

Other places you love to look at for book recommendations? Add them in the comments below!

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Filed under Coral Jenrette, WORD NERD

Facts From a Week in the Life of a Writer

I am ready for a game of Trivial Pursuit or Jeopardy! Perhaps, I’ll actually get a few answers correct. No, on the other hand, I have no need for a competition today. After all, trying to get published is plenty of competition for me. I would rather brew up some tea and share a cup of facts and findings from my past week of research for my new young adult novel, a nonfiction kids article, and a picture book. Oh, how lucky I am to be a perennial student, day after day!

Enjoy! (These are not in any particular order):

  • In the 1960’s, farm kids who ran away from home were called, “field rabbits,” because they roamed the roads with no attachment to their parents.
  • According to an FBI report, in 1967, there was a record number of teenage runaways in the U.S. Some 90,000.
  • The Beatles hit, “She’s Leaving Home,” is based on the true story of 17-year-old runaway Melanie Coe. In the 1997 biography PAUL MCCARTNEY: MANY YEARS FROM NOW, McCartney recalled, “We’d seen a story in the newspaper about a young girl who’d left home and not been found…there were a lot of those at the time, and that was enough to give us a story line. So, I started to get the lyrics – she slips out and leaves a note and then the parents wake up. It was rather poignant.”
  • A high school freshman in California has a collection of more than 3,000 library cards.
  • The first library cards were probably issued at membership libraries, 18th Century organizations where members paid fees (and sometimes books from their own collection) in exchange for the right to check out materials.
  • Crows have a unique way of marking the location of their snacks. They don’t bury food; they cover it with a leaf, twig, grass or other item.
  • Ever since their 2020 audition on “America’s Got Talent” TV show, Brothers Gage have made harmonica hip for teens. 15-year-old Brody and 17-year-old Alex have both been playing since they were five. The harmonica-playing, dancing duo perform at events and school pep rallies around Los Angeles.
  • Some researchers believe that in the 1970’s, teens were running TO something, such as communes, freedom, cults, etc., whereas, today, they are running AWAY from things, such as difficult home life.
  • A strong simple first sentence in a YA: “My name is Mary Katherine Blackwood.” WE HAVE ALWAYS LIVED IN A CASTLE by Shirley Jackson.
  • A strong simple character name in a YA: Uncle Big. THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE by Jandy Nelson, also author of I’LL GIVE YOU THE SUN.
  • A beautiful turning point in a picture book: “Feeling unsure, the girl thought the best thing was to put her hear in a safe place. Just for the time being. So, she put it in a bottle and hung it around her neck. And that seemed to fix things…at first.” THE HEART AND THE BOTTLE by Oliver Jeffers, also author of THE GREAT PAPER CAPER and HOW TO CATCH A STAR.
  • In the early- to mid-20th century, most New York City libraries had live-in superintendents. They were known as the families that lived behind the stacks! And, all their kids had 24-7 access to books. One girl used to have sleepovers and in 1965, went on to hold her wedding in the library.
  • Early library cards were also called “tickets.”
  • In 1886, a library card for the Lowell City Library in Massachusetts stated, “Marking of all sorts on books is punishable by statute with fine and imprisonment, and directors will prosecute.”
  • In 1924, Oakland Free Library (CA) issued two different cards: One was “good for any book.” The other stated, “No fiction shall be issued.”
  • Darby Free Library, which started in PA in 1743, is America’s oldest public library.

By the way, a photographer and journalist came up with the idea of Trivial Pursuit while playing Scrabble. Photographer Chris Haney was always open about being a high school dropout, often joking, “It was the biggest mistake I ever made. I should have done it earlier!” The board game artwork was done by 18-year-old Michael Wurstlin.

And, in case you’re wondering… the word trivia is a derivative of trivium. The origin of trivium is, place three roads meet. Oops, I forgot to share: Peril is a synonym for jeopardy.

Hmm, maybe I am ready for questions. Game on! If my answer is wrong and I get the gong, I’ll simply say, “I Should Have Known That!” (a board game for young adults) and brew up another cup of tea.

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Karen McChesney, Main character, WORD NERD

Writing with Others (at distance)

At this point, you may already have figured out how to navigate working with your writing and critique partners in this time of distancing. Some of us already critique at a distance, so the change is nothing new. But here are a few things you might consider if you’re not already trying them.

The Move to Video Conferencing

We’re all used to the phone, and many of us have used FaceTime or Skype to talk one-on-one to friends and family. Your whole group can meet using one of this video-conferencing platforms, such as Skype, Google Meets, or Zoom. Many of these platforms are free for users to set up meetings, they may just limit the amount of time you can meet before they kick you off.

The benefit of these formats is that you can see multiple people, and they can sign on from anywhere, as long as they have a Wi-Fi connection or a data plan on their phone. For Zoom, the only person who actually needs to sign up to Zoom is the person setting up the meeting – everyone else just clicks a link.

Video conferencing is the closest many of us can come to see our writing friends and critique partners, so I highly recommend it. Here is a link discussing different options (also where the groovy picture came from).

My group uses Zoom, so I’ll talk about that here, but just know there are plenty of options.

 

Ways to Use Zoom

One way to use Zoom is to simply move your regular critique time to this format. You can still see other, talk one at a time, and see facial expressions and reactions. Zoom doesn’t allow for side-conversations, unless you pay extra to have break out rooms. You can use the chat function, but honestly it can be distracting. But Zoom can get you 80% * of the way there for your critique group. * Not an official scientific number

Zoom allows you to share your screen, so if you want to reference specific parts of the manuscript, you can show it to everyone if that’s helpful to draw attention to your point. That could be critical for discussing illustrations, layout ideas, etc.

We’ve also started using Zoom as an accountability tool. I belong to a writing group whose purpose is to get together just to write. We do timed writing sprints, and then visit over lunch. With the pandemic, we’d been doing the writing sprints via text. But we discovered that we did a better job at showing up if we were literally showing up. Now we login to Zoom and show our faces as a way to ensure that we’re working away.

 

SOME ZOOM TIPS

Mute – a lot

Our computers and headphones pick up a lot of background noise. The larger your group, the more distracting it can be. It’s better to stay muted until you want to talk. Just be prepared to start talking and have someone remind you, “If you’re talking to us, you’re still muted.”

 

Gallery View vs Speaker View

On Zoom, you can choose between Speaker View (where Zoom decides who is ‘talking’ and has them in the center of the screen) or Gallery View (where everyone is their own box, very Brady Bunch. I like Gallery View because if you’re eating an apple, or one of your kids shouts something in the background while you aren’t muted, you are taking center stage.

 

Log back in again

If you’re working from free Zoom, your meeting with three or more people will end after 40 minutes (at the time of this blog post). But never fear! If you just log back in again, you can restart it with the same link. So as long as you don’t mind restarting the meeting, you don’t need to pay for Zoom. Make your meeting as long as it needs to be, and then just click the link again if you get booted off.

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Writing buddies and critiquing partners are so critical to us, as writers and just as people. However you do it, and however often you use it, find a way to stay connected. We’ll be back together again soon! Stay safe, everyone.

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Filed under Coral Jenrette, critique, Office organization

I WRITE, BECAUSE…

I write because it’s my

rock,

church,

wrinkles,

pain,

loudest laugh,

amid deep doubt

on mornings when I’m convinced the birds are singing,

“scrap it, stick with vacuuming.”

Second chance,

even when revision and I aren’t getting along.

Need for risks,

such fun to throw terrible twists at my characters.

Addiction to curiousity

and what, where, when, why,

by the way, how the heck did my research lead to the story of the chef who made the world’s largest dumpling,

and then on to 10 synonyms for said

that I’ll delight in using way too many times.

Decisions,

as complex as Colorado weather

and a one word sentence.

Seeing through lotsa lenses,

each a chance to make metaphors,

as like

and like as.

One what if after what if,

navigating the creative mess I’ve made.

Commitment to writing The End.

Reminder to trust

and hope,

oh, please, may my 10 years of revising

90,000 words make some sense!

I admit, it’s often my desperate attempt to whittle, whittle away at a chunk of wood

seeking the perfect knot

that I want to sand, buff, stain,

repeat;

and often, it’s a return to my rebellious teen,

sneaking up the stairs after curfew

with secrets of my doings deep in my Levi’s pocket;

and often, it’s my science lab,

experimenting with wit,

but, ending up with the same result,

me laughing at my same corny ideas.

Raw truth,

much, much better than any mirror.

Every wee fear,

including those I haven’t met.

Pillow and blanket,

especially when I want to hide from characters that I can’t bear to inform:

“I don’t know if you would laugh or cry over this matter.”

Giddy childhood,

when my four brothers and I wrapped towels around our necks

and raced our bikes two miles to the public pool,

competing all day for the biggest cannon ball splash

and finding enough coins on the concrete to buy Baby Ruth’s and lemon drops.

Freedom,

flying down a mountain on my bicycle at 40 mph,

hearing only air,

only!

Tuner,

honing in on how-to’s,

like my character’s nervous habit,

or, whether she should whine, sigh or snicker.

Adrenaline rush,

when rarely, oh so rarely,

six sentences in a row,

flow,

flow,

as if my character is in charge.

Admission

to the humbling fact,

yes, my characters will lead,

if you would listen,

they’d love to whisper:

“Get your ego out of the way, god damnit!”

Shower,

making sure I scrub deep, bid farewell to the filth and start all over.

Challenge

that wakes, sparks and jests me,

like when I hide dark chocolate in the freezer,

yet, keep avoiding, avoiding

till I must have a bite,

and then, you know what happens next,

I eat the whole bar!

Shovel,

reminding me: dig up, dig up, dig up the muck,

more,

more,

because, beneath is the real stuff, THE story,

arriving at an unexpected reality sign:

“welcome to the story you never knew you were telling!”

My rescue crew,

always ready with a

hug,

wisdom,

feedback,

nudge,

prayer,

a plethora of ideas,

edits,

commas,

periods.

Fresh baked paper

just out of the oven,

ready for my pen to

dabble,

let go,

forgive,

say hello,

how are ya,

goodbye

to mom, dad, brothers, best buds.

Stories

I write,

because,

I always have.

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Filed under Karen McChesney, Main character, Revision process, Uncategorized, WORD NERD

ACCOUNTABILITY: A WRITER’S BEST FRIEND

“I have to get back to work. Goodbye.”

That’s what I say if I’m talking to someone, and it’s time to show up in my studio and write. The time is blocked out on my calendar, like any meeting or appointment. I got the idea from a writer friend while sharing our routines – and how we show up to our writer job.

Oh, the tricks I play on myself! But, they work. Well, okay, not always – especially during this pandemic, when my teaching and personal schedule are topsy-turvy, and my self-motivation is wavering. But, I keep trying. While sipping morning coffee, I turn on my studio light and open the curtains, so my office shouts, “I’m ready and waiting”. I set my alarm for writing sessions. I put my cell phone in another room, so I can’t hear the buzz of incoming texts or calls (which are perfect distractions when I’m stuck on a scene that I’ve re-written a dozen times!).

Unfortunately, the demons of distraction and procrastination still like to hang out in my office. Ugh! Good news is, I know my own worst enemies really well. Gradually, I’m learning to negotiate with them, so, my favorite co-worker, accountability, can kick them out and pull up a chair!

Here’s what accountability and I have been up to – and what’s really working:

Setting a timer. I try to follow a rigid routine during my scheduled writing time: For writing, I set a timer for one hour, take a 10-15 minute break, repeat. For research, I set a timer for a maximum of 30 minutes.

Monday accountability group. Every Monday, I do an email check-in with a group of kid-lit writers. We submit our goals for the week and report briefly on progress made the previous week. Wow! Keeps me honest and realistic! In our brief format, we manage to celebrate, challenge, and remind each other to keep plugging away, and that it’s okay to take a break.

Text-writing. Once a week, I have a writing “date” with another children’s writer. We text a few minutes before our start time to share what we’re working on or what we want to accomplish. Usually, we do two 45-minute rounds. Then, we briefly check in. We’re always amazed at how much we get accomplished in such a short time.

SCBWI Rocky Mountain Chapter critique group. Once a month, my SCBWI critique group meets in person. We’re the Story Spinners and we’ve been meeting monthly for 20 years. We email our work in advance, then, when we meet, each writer has 20 minutes for their work to be critiqued. When members don’t submit work, they can use their time to update the group on projects, invite brainstorming or advice on a project, share notes from workshops/classes, or etc. They’ve helped me think through SO many critical bits and pieces, such as how to end a pb or write a hook for a YA synopsis, a book title, an angle for a nonfiction article, and the list goes on. We hold separate meetings, as needed, to critique a member’s full manuscript.

Story Spinners are my rocks! Without their passion, drive, support, professionalism, desire to learn, confidence, nudges, wisdom and wit, I would have given up on my projects a long time ago.

SCBWI British Isles North East critique group. While living short term in England (twice), I met weekly with the same critique group. Through email, we continue to: exchange same genre manuscripts for overall feedback, check in bimonthly on current projects. We’re considering holding FaceTime meetings, as needed. They, too, are my rocks, my support group!

Oops! My alarm is going off. I have to get back to work on revising my YA. Goodbye!

 

Writing is hard, hard, messy work. Going out and doing talks and signing books is all wonderful, but a writer has to return home and go back to work.   

Julia Alvarez, author of AFTERLIFE, BEFORE WE WERE FREE, ALREADY A BUTTERFLY

 

 

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Filed under critique, Karen McChesney, Revision process, Uncategorized

Be A Word Nerd!

By Rondi Sokoloff Frieder

You’ve heard it all before. Show don’t tell. Limit your use of adverbs. Create gorgeous metaphors. And the most important writing rule of all – Use strong verbs!!! But this is often difficult to do when you are working on an early draft. When you are further along in the revision process and ready to edit your work for “word choice,” try using some of the following strategies:

Mentor texts

Study outstanding books in your genre. Then, along with paying attention to the development of the main character’s arc and the twists and turns of plot, take note of the author’s exceptional use of language. This might mean underlining or highlighting words as you read. I keep a list of “words I love” on the Notes App on my phone, especially when I am listening to an audio book. I later transfer this list to my manuscript file in Scrivener and keep a second list in Word. Some of these words seep into my subconscious and suddenly appear in my writing. Others do not. That’s when I go back and read through the list again until I find a word that perfectly captures my character’s mood and motive.

Here are verbs from my latest list, taken from Gillian McDunn’s CATERPILLAR SUMMER and Melanie Crowder’s LIGHTHOUSE BETWEEN WORLDS: bristled, buzzed, carved, coasted, hooted, jabbed, jostled, looped, lumbered, lurched, quirked, rasped, rummaged, scowled, scuffled, shuddered, skittered, sloshed, snarled, stumbled, thrashed, threaded, throbbed, thrumbed, trudged, twinkled, whooshed, and withered.

Thesaurus and Websites

A thesaurus can give you a wide variety of words to use in place of your usual fare. But there’s also a website that puts your run-of-the-mill thesaurus to shame. It’s an extraordinary tool recommended by Jessica Brody, author of SAVE THE CAT WRITES A NOVEL, called OneLook.com. When I first discovered this site, and put the verb “jumped” into the search box and checked related words, 338 synonyms came up! My favorites were: plunged, soared, bounded, leapfrogged, lunged, rocketed, and zoomed. Another website to check out is https://7esl.com/verbs/#Types_of_Verbs_Verb_Examples. It’s slightly more difficult to navigate, but is a valuable resource for writers in any genre.

If you would like some craft books on this topic, try the seven book thesaurus collection by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi (including The Emotional Thesaurus and The Urban Setting Thesaurus) and Strong Verbs Strong Voice: A quick reference to improve your writing and impress readers by Ann Everett.

Be Creative!

I am a sucker for exquisite descriptions. In the MG novel, CATERPILLAR SUMMER, the main character, Cat, spends the summer at her grandparents’ beach house on Gingerbread Island off the coast of North Carolina. Take a look at these gems that connect us with Cat’s personality as well as the setting of the book: A rainbow of candy, an ocean of worries, freckles polka-dotting his skin, a sky puffed with clouds, a breath of strings, a blizzard of birds, a whisper of voices, fingers of fog, a look that was all sunbeams, a wave of people crushed onto the sidewalk, the world swirled green and gray as tears popped in her eyes. Now come up with your own descriptions, relating them to the characters, themes, and settings in your story.

 

Don’t Rush!

Revising a book is hard work. After you’ve made your unique characters flounder and grow in an interesting setting with an action-packed plot that keeps your reader turning the page, it’s time to polish your writing until it sparkles and shines. The first thing to do is a search for words you overuse. For me, those are often: that, just, really, I think, and very. The technique here is simple: slash or replace. Another strategy is to edit the pages of your manuscript out of order. Create a number grid and randomly choose a page to edit for word choice only. Then color in that number in and move on to another, jumping around on the grid.

If you are a writer, you MUST BE a word nerd. There’s just no avoiding it! Are there techniques and resources you’ve found helpful in your writing practice?

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under craft advice, Revision process, Rondi Frieder, WORD NERD