Wednesday, September 29, 2010

An Amazing Gift

Today I started a fresh writing notebook (I love having all those blank pages waiting for me). I always get the same kind. It's a 5.5" x 8.5" spiral bound sketchbook, recycled paper. No lines, because I like the freedom to sketch out ideas. But this one is extra-special. Inside the cover there's a thank you card from one of my former grade 2 students. For the end of the year teacher gift, he had his mom take him shopping to find just the right kind of sketchbook, the kind I'd shown to the class when I talked about being a writer. I'm still touched by the gesture now, two years later, when I'm finally putting my pencil to the paper. It was an amazing gift.

Every time I see that card, I remember that boy and his passion for writing. It inspires me to keep going with my own. Interesting how such a small moment in time can make a such a difference to someone's life.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Does Reading Children's Books Affect Your Grown-Up Reading?

In the past couple of months, I've been easing up on reading MG and YA (since my 100 book challenge is going well) and reading more adult fiction.

Maybe I've made some poor choices (bestseller lists and the New section at the library?), but I've found it hard to finish a lot of the adult fiction I've picked up. Either it seemed unbelievable or I just didn't care enough about the characters. It makes me wonder if reading mostly MG and YA has affected my reading preferences or if the writing in children's books is different in some way that appeals to me. Or maybe it's just because they're shorter (ha!).

I recently read Fact of Life #31 by Denise Vega and really enjoyed it. It wasn't a particularly fast-paced story (which some of you know I tend to prefer), but I liked the emotional issues and internal struggles faced by the main character. Maybe that's what appeals to me in children's books? BTW, my teenage daughter began reading the same book and gave up on it early, saying she didn't like it at all. But I could see how she wouldn't relate to or connect with the main character at the beginning of the story, or her situation working in a midwifery. It all comes back to that connection, doesn't it?

P.S. Over at MiG Writers, I recently blogged about how I schedule my writing time, in case you're interested.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Compelling Characters: Readers Need to Care

When I signed up for the great blogging experiment about writing compelling characters, I didn’t realize how difficult it would be. For two weeks, I’ve been thinking about what to say and haven’t come up with anything besides the basic idea that readers need to care about the character. For me, this can include:

1. experiencing an emotional reaction related to the character

2. making a connection with the character based on a mutual interest or trait

3. wanting to know something about the character, like whether they’ll reach their goal or how they’ll get out of the terrible mess they’re in

Sometimes, I don’t even particularly like the main character in a novel, but if I’m intrigued about how they’ll solve a problem [i.e. I care what happens to them] I’ll stick with the story.

When I’m writing my own stories, character personalities emerge as I write my first draft. I rarely sit down and create long character descriptions or backstory. I know a few things about them. I add a slightly unusual hobby or trait. And I know what they want. After that, developing my character is a process of discovery.

I like to find out about my character through what they do and how they react to situations. Later, during revisions, I add to what I know about them to create deeper layers, or to bring out an interesting side to their personality. Are they compelling? I'm not sure. But I do know that they evoke emotional reactions from the few people that have read my stories.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Secret Identity: Children's Writer

For a long time, I was shy about telling people outside my family that I write children's stories. Even after I had a few books published with my Korean publisher, "writer" wasn't one of the first words that came to mind when people asked what I do.

It partly had to do with the fear that people would ask, "What have you published?" and I couldn't point them to a bookstore. People have said to me, "Writers don't make much money." It's hard to explain that isn't the point of it for me. It's nice to be paid for writing. When my kids were small, I worked from home as a freelance educational writer. But if someone told me right now I'd never be paid for anything I wrote for the rest of my life, would I stop? I don't think so. Writing is too big a part of who I am. I journal. I blog. I write stories my kids and I will (hopefully) enjoy reading. I know I'm a writer. And I love what I do.

Knowing that gives me confidence. I'm not so shy about telling people I'm a writer now. I even give details.  What about you? Do you tell people you're a writer?

Monday, September 20, 2010

Dreaming Up an Idea

This morning, one of my daughters told me about a detailed dream she had in the night. I immediately thought, Wow! What a great concept for a MG novel!  I wrote it on a scrap of paper (the back of a phone message) to be glued into my notebook later.

Do you ever dream anything useful for your writing? I know that Stephanie Meyer said the idea for Twilight came to her in a dream. Unfortunately, my own dreams are rarely that useful. The closest I get is having ideas while I'm lying in the dark, waiting to fall asleep. I root around, trying to find my notebook and pencil without turning on a light and waking up my husband. I'll scribble a few words, in the dark, on what I think is a blank page. In the morning, I may or may not be able to read it.

P.S. Have you heard about Angela Ackerman's awesome contest over at The Bookshelf Muse? Check it out!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Moving at a Snail's Pace

One of the things I find hard about the entire novel writing process is how slow it is. It can take months for a first draft. Then months for revisions. More months while my critique group gives me their valuable opinions, chapter by chapter. More revisions. When it's finally ready for submitting, there's the waiting for responses to queries.

Sometimes I feel very impatient. I'm tempted to rush through my revisions (I'm only on Chapter 4 of about 20 chapters), because I wanted to finish them by the end of September.

But as I'm working, questioning what I've written as I go, I notice things I have to go back and add. Or sections I need to clarify. Places where my character's voice isn't right. So I won't rush. I'll change my goal to completing my revisions by the end of October. I want the novel to be the best that I can make it. But grr! Sometimes the slowness of it all is really frustrating.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Was It All a Dream?

Why do I always get good ideas when I'm too busy to write them down?

Yesterday, I wrote a whole outline for a non-fiction article in my mind while I was on the way to the farmer's market. Of course, I didn't have any paper with me. When I got home, I tried to jot down the details but only managed to capture about 40% of it.

Acually, that happens a lot. The idea is perfect in my mind, I can envision the entire story. But when I try to write it in words, it ends up being a poor shadow of what I conceptualized. It takes weeks or months to get it to the place where it was when it sprang into my mind, if I can even do it. Does this happen to you? Why is it that "mind writing" can be so much better than the real thing?

Friday, September 10, 2010

Writing Journal: Online or On Paper?

For the past couple of years, I’ve only used my writing notebook sporadically. Instead, I began journaling in a computer file. It was easy -- I’m usually at the computer anyway, working on my novel. It’s a snap to search through the file for a key word if there’s something I want to check back to see. I can add interesting quotes or bits of information I found on the internet. All good reasons to stick with it. Except I missed my notebook.

This summer, I took my writing notebook on vacation with me. With nothing but my pencil and the smooth, soft paper of my notebook (actually an approx. 6” x 8” sketch book), the ideas burst out. The more relaxed atmosphere of the vacation might have had something to do with it. Or not. In my notebook, I mess around with doodles, notes in the margin, inserts & crossouts, glued in scraps of paper, thumbnail sketches, and different colours of ink. It’s more fun.

So, I’m going to stick with my notebook. Besides, when I’m feeling a little stuck or low, it helps to see my notebooks, lined up in their row on the shelf in my writing room. Full of ideas and fun stuff. They remind me of who I am. A writer.

Any thoughts on what I should do with my on-line journals? If it didn’t take so much paper, I’d print them out, and at least put them in a folder somewhere so they can be part of the collection.

P.S. Over at MiG Writers, I posted today on The Scrutiny of the Teenaged Critic.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Do You Use a Thesaurus?

I've heard some writing advice to the effect that if you need a thesaurus to find a word, you shouldn't be using that word. There's a danger that the word won't fit the tone of the novel, or won't capture the exact meaning you want to convey.

I do use a thesaurus occasionally. Mainly I use it to generate alternatives for words or phrases I overuse. As I revise my novel, I've realized how many times my character's "stomach tightens" in a tense situation. Thanks to the emotion thesaurus over at The Bookshelf Muse, I've managed to think up some new ways to show how my character is feeling. Thanks, Angela (and Becca)!! My alternatives aren't always words taken straight from the thesaurus, but reading thesaurus entries does get the ideas flowing.

Some ways I check whether a word works:

 1) I read my story (or that section of the story) out loud to hear how it sounds.

2) I ask myself, "Would my character use this word?"

Friday, September 3, 2010

Finding a Good Title

When I recently mentioned on my blog that my fourth novel is still untitled, even though it’s written and I’m in the process of revising it, commenter Dawn Simon mentioned that she hadn’t named her new project yet either. Why is it hard to come up with a good title? I’ve been thinking about what I want my title to do:

1. Hook the reader

2. Capture something significant about the story

3. Sound good when you read it (e.g. it shouldn’t make you tongue-tied)

4. Stand out by being a little different

Up ‘til now, titles for my novels have just come to me. I haven’t had to work at it. Sometimes, I’ve even thought of the title first and then the book developed around it. This time I’m stuck. Maybe as I revise, I'll stumble across an idea? Let's hope so. Novel #4 won't sound so great in a query.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

What Are You Starting This September?

Yay, September! Good things come in the fall. Crisp new apples. Colourful leaves. New things to learn. September has always energized me. Probably because it's always been the start of a new school year, either for me or my children. This year, though,  I'm dragging my feet a bit. I don't want to let go of the lazy, relaxed days of summer. So, to kick off September, I'm setting some autumn goals:

1. Finish query letter and send out queries for novel #2, The Ethan Project.

2. Finish my revision of novel #4, and think up a title for it.

I'm keeping it simple. If I have too many goals to focus on, I accomplish nothing. Anyway, now that I've blogged about it, I'll have to stick to it. How do you feel about the fall? What do you think you'll accomplish?