Join me over at SCBWI Germany + Austria: I’m blogging about doodling

Hand-drawn doodle in pen and colored pencil with the heading 'Things I want to try, visit, read, remember because of the SCBWI Europolitan Conference Belgium 2017'
My doodle for the SCBWI Europolitan Conference in Belgium. ©Laurel Decher, 2017.

Hanging out with all of the illustrators at the 2017 SCBWI Europolitan Conference in Belgium must have rubbed off on me. I created the doodle above on the train ride home.

Just what I needed, a quick way to ‘revisit’ the conference in the months to come, without wading through pages of notes.

Read the rest of the post here: “Doodle Your Way into the Writing Life”.

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Writing Gratitude Countdown (4): The Gift of Feedback

Worker in orange vest squeegees windshield of ICE train in Dresden Train Station.
Who helps you see your work clearly? © Laurel Decher, 2016.

This is the fourth post in my Writing Gratitude Countdown. It’s a series about people who’ve helped me on my writing journey so far. I’m taking a moment to say a heartfelt thank you!

(You can find earlier posts here: 1. The Gift of Attention , 2. The Gift of Permission, 3. The Gift of Hospitality.)

4. The Gift of Feedback: the value of clear sight

a. How critique works: The earliest critique group I can remember was in high school, in my Creative Writing class. I think my beloved and brilliant writer friend Zina got me to sign up. Mrs. Chloe Vroman and her Creative Writing class at Provo High School. This is where I learned that it’s easier to see inside someone else’s story than inside your own. And that the right critique can open up the story for the writer. I wish I’d said thank you before it was too late! 😦

b. How a group works: Smart and funny Colin Ryan led me to my first critique group in Vermont, led by lovely, hospitable Margie Sims. As well as sharing her writing expertise, she modelled simple organization, communication, snacks, structure. Later, the group became a collaboration between me and the industrious and highly capable JoAnn Carter. All of them taught me how to make a safe space for writers.

c. How writers can sabotage their own success and how critique partners (CP’s) can save them: At the Ockenga Writers Publishing Workshop, I found another group of thoughtful, generous readers. (I wrote more about the Workshop here. My dear friend Eileen first invited me there and it changed my life.) My patient CP’s put up with my unconscious but annoying thrashing* until I finally learned to stop it.

We encouraged each other to keep on going and believe in each others’ work. A vote of confidence is so valuable! Thanks a million million Girard and Jeanne Doyon and Lisa Morrison!

*thrashing–the neverending revision of a single piece of work, generally prompted by waiting for someone else to tell you what your story should be about.

d. How critique groups raise the bar: I’ve written about how I became a part of The Winged Pen here. This group of power writers is the epitome of “set your sights high.”

I call this the calculus factor after the feeling I had when the girl next to me in calculus class asked questions until she understood everything on the chalkboard. It opened my eyes: “Oh, we’re actually supposed to know this so we can use it.”

Gratitude is an interesting lens. The more I look through it, the more I see how I’ve been helped. When writing is a wall that blocks the way forward, it’s useful to remember what kinds of help are possible.

Another unexpected benefit: it’s fun to reconnect to people I’ve lost track of. I’m enjoying the successes of my long-lost friends and mentors! Well done, all of you! It’s an honor to know you.

Happy writing!

So that’s my fourth installment of gratitude for my writing journey. (The earlier posts are: 1. The Gift of Attention , 2. The Gift of Permission, and 3. The Gift of Hospitality.) More to come!

If you’d like to share about people who helped you see your own work clearly, please feel free to comment. I’d love to hear about it!

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If you’d like to stay in touch, sign up for my Reader’s List. Once a month, I share new middle grade fiction, story-related freebies, and/or related blog posts. If it’s not your thing, you can unsubscribe at any time.

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Writing Gratitude Countdown (2) The Gift of Permission

A stone face with a water spout mouth. Pink flowers behind.
Give yourself permission to spout off. Get writing! Rhöndorf, Germany. © Laurel Decher, 2016.

This is the second post in my Writing Gratitude Countdown. It’s my way of re-discovering the richness of the creative life. You can find the first post here: The Gift of Attention.

2. The Gift of Permission: the value of allowing yourself to create

Giving yourself permission to write is a way to counteract the doubts that come when we face a blank page:

Is it good? Am I a writer? Should I write more? Have I got a story here?

Permission is a cycle. It starts and ends with you, the writer, and in the middle are all kinds of readers.

a. You: Giving yourself permission to take time to learn, create, and revise.

The people who helped me most with permission are the ones closest to me. My husband takes on childcare so I can go to writing conferences or local writing groups. My children patiently traipse through research museums with me, take photos of settings, listen to garbled explanations, and put up with slapdash meals because the creativity was all used up by the time we got to food.

When other people make sacrifices for your dream, it’s the most tangible kind of permission there is. Thank you darling family!

b. Readers: Friends who read books agree that what you’ve written sounds like a “real” story.

At the beginning of the writing life, it’s hard to find other writers. The closest you can come are people who read a lot of books. They have taste and experience.

Sometimes the most encouraging people won’t be your “target audience” that is, they don’t read the kinds of books you’re trying to write. Don’t forget to value them.

Our dear neighbor Rebecca told me once that she didn’t like novels because she didn’t enjoy reading about the conflict between good and evil. But because she was a reader and valued books of all kinds, she still encouraged me to write. I still miss her.

Other friends have promised me that they will read or buy my book when it comes out even though their personal and professional interests are in totally different areas. It’s a special vote of confidence.

Librarians and teachers are a special category of experienced readers. I hope you have many special ones in your writing life!

c. Writers: Other people who write make it all seem normal.

My husband’s cousin is a talented furniture maker. He knows all kinds of people who makes things with their hands. (He put in our kitchen–Thanks, Matthias! We enjoy it!)

I’ve been writing for a while and I have so many writer friends I can’t list you all! It’s natural and wonderful. Thank you writer friends!

It’s fun to “talk shop” when you’re learning a new skill. Comparing tools, asking for opinions, and practicing getting the words down together can be a blast. An afternoon of writing prompts at a local coffee-shop, a day-long local workshop, or book festival can re-charge the writer batteries.

Watch your local newspaper and library bulletin boards to see what writers in your neighborhood are up to. You’ll be pleasantly surprised.

If you’re still looking for your own set of writers, you might enjoy: Six Tips to Find Your Online Writing Community and my round-up of middle grade writing communities: Writers Working Together: 8 Things We Can Do Better Together.

(More about my current critique partners is coming in a later post, so stay tuned!)

d. Authors: Published writers (or any writers ahead of us on the path) share insight into the whole writing and publishing path. Secret handshakes are also a kind of permission.

It’s always an honor when someone who does something well treats your early attempts with respect. Susan Gilbert-Collins is a published novelist (Starting from Scratch) and much more experienced writer than I am. I’m so very grateful for her generosity. She read my “trunk novel” graciously and I’ve lost count of the number of times she has read and praised my middle grade work-in-progress. Thanks a million, Susan! I’m looking forward to your next novel!!

Tracy Barrett is the author of 22 books, including Anna of Byzantium. and a brand-new The Song of Orpheus: the Greatest Greek Myths You’ve Never Heard. She’s also an active and generous member of SCBWI. (If you write children’s books and want to find like-minded people, visit the SCBWI website and extensive discussion forums.) Tracy gave me a personal critique at an SCBWI Germany & Austria workshop and I’m still referring to her notes. Thanks, Tracy!

PitchWars is a classic example of authors giving back to the writing community. Author mentors coach mentees through an extensive 3-month revision and then help them connect to a stunning list of literary agents. The generous Brenda Drake (Thief of Lies) has been organizing this amazing growth opportunity for writers since 2012. Thank you Brenda Drake!

Author Michelle Hauck (Grudging) runs several contests, including the New Agent Contest. I won the chance for a mentor to get my query and first 250 words in good shape. My mentor was the wickedly smart and amazingly tactful author, Wade Albert White (The Adventurer’s Guide to Successful Escapes). Thanks Michelle Hauck! Thanks Wade White!

e. Agents and Editors: People who can assess writing for its qualities and marketability.

The first time a real live agent or editor seriously listens to your pitch or reads your query while you’re sitting there is amazing. I’ll never forget watching the classy Meredith Bernstein consider my written pitch at a conference years ago or her hand-written comment on my manuscript: “You deserve time and attention.” Now maybe she writes that on other people’s manuscripts–I have no idea. She gave me written permission to write and to persevere. Thank you Meredith Bernstein!

f. Reviewers: People who assess published work for its qualities and marketability.

Here we’re back to experienced readers. I don’t have any reviewers (Yet ;)) but I review books I enjoy and try to nudge them towards friends who’ll also enjoy them.

g. Readers: People who want to read the next thing we write.

Seth Godin coined the term permission marketing and explains it better than I can. People who voluntarily give their e-mail addresses in exchange for finding out when your next book is coming out give you the ultimate permission.

They want to read things you haven’t even written yet. They are inviting you to write something new. Thank you so much to all my e-mail subscribers! It’s an honor to have each and every one of you!

h. You: Giving yourself permission to try something new.

And that brings you back to the blank page where you need to give yourself permission all over again.

Happy writing!

So that’s my second installment of gratitude for my writing journey. (You can find the first post here: The Gift of Attention.) More to come! If you’d like to share about people who gave you permission to write, please feel free to comment. I’d love to hear your story!

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If you’d like to stay in touch, sign up for my Reader’s List. Once a month, I share new middle grade fiction, story-related freebies, and/or related blog posts. If it’s not your thing, you can unsubscribe at any time.

 

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Solve writing jitters the same way you solve speaking Jitters

Rope climbing course in Cologne's Rhine Park
Motion chases the jitters away. Rope climbing course in Cologne’s Rhine Park. ©Laurel Decher, 2015.

In Toastmasters, a community organization that helps people learn public speaking, I learned to move around during a speech. It really does make you feel less nervous. Your large muscles burn up the adrenaline and energy so you aren’t standing there, trembling, with your voice shaking.

If you think about it, doing something that frightens you while standing still makes no sense. It’s like playing freeze-tag with a saber-toothed tiger. Your body is trying to tell you to run away.

I recently noticed that the same thing seems to work on the page. When I start a new sketch or scene or revise a new section, I often move from one chair to another or one room to another or, best of all, from inside to outside on the balcony. Moving helps burn up the nervousness, the resistance, and the hesitation that shows up as soon as I try to challenge myself with something new.

A Scrawl Crawl is what happens when a group of artists and/or writers wander around and create word and picture sketches. It’s the ultimate writing or drawing prompt because it happens in three dimensions. The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Ilustrators members had a few all over Europe this last weekend.

A Scrawl Crawl lets you move from place to place while you write or sketch. This is what I do when I write at home in three different places. Maybe this keeps the editor brain busy with bookkeeping. On my own, I let my writing determine when I move. In a group, it works a little differently. Maybe knowing you will move at a certain time keeps the editor brain busy too?

I’ve been getting lots of chest pains during revision. I’m anxious about finishing it—I think I physically NEED to finish the edits and revisions. Mostly what helps is allowing myself to be immersed in the project. Moving helps me stay immersed.

Caught myself looking at Facebook and Twitter because I had the jitters from a new scene for my current work-in-progress. (Dumb bunny.) Surfing is the electronic version of wandering around the house to jumpstart your project. Except it doesn’t work. It just feels like moving away from the saber-toothed tiger.

On the other hand, a walk or an hour-long seminar that physically takes me away from a project often leads me back into it.

Fortunately, I know of at least two more Scrawl Crawls planned for this year: September 19th in Cologne and November 7th in Düsseldorf. More details soon on Twitter. 🙂

How about you? Does moving from place to place make you more or less productive?

Writing Process Blog Tour

It’s fun to follow the epic and perhaps infinite Writing Process Blog Tour backwards. My favorite description is by Bethany Hegedus. “[T]his collection of blog posts offers tips of the trade, confessions on what makes a writer’s process unique.”

Thanks to Jenni Enzor who tagged me for the Tour. Jenni’s a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) and I met her on the SCBWI discussion boards. She writes YA historical fantasy, MG mysteries, and historical nonfiction. You can see her answers to the epic Tour questions here.

Here are my answers and a link to Amanda Hill’s blog where she will answer the same questions:

What are you currently working on?

I’m querying THE WOUNDED BOOK, a middle grade historical novel, right now and starting to think about what I want to write next. A novel in the same vein or something in a different genre that popped up after a visit to a natural history museum in Bologna? It’s relaxing to dream on an empty slate.

The front of the Museo di Zoologia in Bologna, Italy

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

THE WOUNDED BOOK is a historical fiction for upper middle grades. My main character was inspired by the innocent and intrepid Philippa Somerville of Dorothy Dunnett’s The Lymond Chronicles. Dorothy Dunnett’s series is set 600 years later than THE WOUNDED BOOK and her work is definitely not middle grade. An award-winning historical writer, she is a master of the genre I call “overly complicated with a fine sense of humor.”

Tracy Barrett’s Anna of Byzantium has a similar setting but is written for older readers than THE WOUNDED BOOK.

Both Tracy Barrett and Dorothy Dunnett have more knowledge about history, Latin, Italian, byzantine literature and geography in their little fingers than I will ever have in my head. The best spin I can put on this is to hope that readers will find my work accessible because I am forced to stay on the fringes.

Men in medieval dress, shield and spear and long, blue, and red and orange tunics parade through an Arezzo street as part of the jousting festival.

I love a snappy, witty exchange between characters when I’m reading and am delighted whenever my characters spontaneously oblige. Dorothy Dunnett is amazing at this.

Why do I write what I write?

I’m still guessing, but the things I don’t seem to be able to stay away from are Italy, music, libraries and cultural differences. It always interests me to know that there is more than one way to do everything–with all the tension that can create.

Story ideas tend to come to me as metaphors, helping me understand one part of life by comparing it to a very different part. Life is fairly mysterious and writing helps me metabolize my experiences. I like to read about characters who are working out their courage to try new things and to take risks in their lives. I hope this comes out in my stories.

How does my individual writing process work?

It would be so convenient to know this. A few things I’ve noticed: 1) When I get uncertain, I look for tools*. As if there were one right answer. It is dawning on me that it is more productive to acknowledge the risk. 2) A fast draft helps me get out of my own way and find out what the story is about. (NaNoWriMo) 3) Twyla Tharp (The Creative Habit) writes about detachment and engagement. She’s so right! I call this the Hokey-Pokey school of fiction writing: you put your whole self in to draft, then take your whole self out to revise.

Walkway on top of Bad Münstereifel city wall, Germany
Walkway on top of Bad Münstereifel city wall, Germany

*I use outlines, spreadsheets, markers, notebooks, and collections of flashbulb moments for the rough draft. My favorite tools are Scrivener (for writing and revision) Toggl (for time tracking), Hiveage (for invoicing) and libraries.

TAG, you’re it!

Amanda Hill, author of a rollicking, fairy-tale mash-up I can’t wait to read: THE WOODSMAN

See Amanda’s answers here.