The Rough Draft: Sketching Your Masterpiece

The most frustrating part of painting to me is showing someone what I’m working on  – mid-process. Kids are always the most honest.

“It’s kind of messy, Mom,” said my son, then five years old. He tilted his head to the side, squinting at my painting.

“I’m still working on it, bud. It’ll look a lot better when it’s done.”

“It will?”

“Yup. Just trust me. I’ve done this lots.”

He trusted me. That’s what five year olds do. And once it was done he did like it – even kept it on his dresser for years after that.

This story came to mind while I was stressing about one manuscript I had yet to finish. I had restarted it three or four times, but never completed it for one embarrassing reason –  I didn’t know how to write a rough draft. Not really.

A rough draft is suppose to be just that, rough. It’s meant to have phrases you aren’t sure how to complete, scenes that feel off, characters that feel flat, plot holes so big you could fall into them. I was looking at my unfinished manuscript as “messy” and instead of allowing myself to make a mess sketching out the basic lines of the story, I was trying to skip ahead and get a finish product my first time through.

Impossible.

The first draft gives us, as the writer, a chance to discover the story ourselves. This is true whether you plot out your stories beforehand or not – there will always be aspects to your plot and your character you’ll be discovering for the first time. Pausing to edit and perfect during the rough draft shuts off the pure artistic flow that comes when a writer is in the “zone.” Write now… only write. Edit later.

For you visual learners, like me, let’s look at the idea this way.

Images from www.metmuseum.org
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Raphael’s paintings started as sketches, like our rough drafts.
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With edits, he cleaned up the image, adding more detail and life to it.
madonna sketch
More edits still, and you can see how his piece is shaping in to what it will become.
After MANY improvements, we get the masterpiece.
After MANY improvements, we get the masterpiece.

Lois Lowry, the author of “The Giver” said when she writes a rough draft that she often scribbles down a variety of words that might fit in a certain sentence and goes back to find the right one during the editing process. I think that’s brilliant. She gets her thoughts on paper, but waits to polish it up once the story is ready for that step. Not before.

So, to all you other perfectionist writers, I encourage you to let go and let your rough drafts be messy. Very, very messy. Stop worrying about that flat character, or that scene that just doesn’t feel right. First get your story on paper – the whole, messy story. Then, and only then, go back and work that sketch into the masterpiece in your head.

What’s the trickiest part of the writing process for you?

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Go Away, Big Green Monster!

Need a fun, quick read to get your kids (and you) smiling? Try my favorite monster book:

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Book Info

Publisher: Little, Brown and Company; 1st edition (January 1, 1992) Fiction or Non-fiction: Fun, fun, fiction
Ages: 3-6
Theme: Monsters 🙂 Imagination and Conquering Fears

Opening Sentence: “Big, green monster has two, big yellow eyes”BGM2

Synopsis: The book takes you page by page introducing the monster and all his scary features. Then you work in reverse through each feature again, telling the monster, “You don’t scare me! So go away scraggily, purple hair” etc. until you come to the fun ending “And don’t come back… until I say so.”

Why I like it: It’s just plain fun (and very short) 😉 I’m also a sucker for books with cut out pages, or moving parts. LOVE THEM. This one is so entertaining with the layering and how it works so perfectly building up the monster, then taking him away again. Simple, but brilliant!

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Activities:

BigGreenMonsterPlaydough
Click Here to see on http://www.makinglearningfun.com

Literacy Activity

Coloring, Lesson and Snack Time Ideas

Face Pieces Coloring Page

Video

Song

 

Buy the book on Amazon.com

See a complete listing of  ‘Picture Perfect Books’ here


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Famous Authors Interviews – Words of Wisdom

Be prepared to be shocked… authors, even the extremely famous ones , are real people – like you and me.  I know, shocking huh? 😉

Honestly though, while I’m glued to my computer for my day job, I enjoy listening to interviews with these real people. Their thoughts are inspiring and motivating – especially if you’re a writer too.

I was capitvated by J.K. Rowling’s interview with Oprah (see below). If you have 45 minutes it’s worth the watch (or listen, like I did). If not, I’ve included links to some other famous childrens author interviews I enjoyed (that are a lot shorter).

Be prepared though – you’ll want to write as soon as you’re done listening. Might want to save some time for that for later.

— click on the author’s name to see the video —

Author InterviewsJ.K. Rowling (Harry Potter series) -CLICK HERE-:

She is the ultimate rags to riches story. One of my favorite things about her is her ability to remember what life was like before fame and to not lose sight of that. So refreshing!

Jon Scieszka (True Story of the Three Little Pigs) – CLICK HERE-:

What a funny guy. I really enjoyed hearing his thoughts on reading and boys – how they struggle to read more than girls. I just enjoyed this interview in general, his happiness is contagious.

Jerry Spinelli (Maniac Magee, Stargirl) – CLICK HERE-:

I enjoy Spinelli’s writing style – so I was eager to hear his interview. I loved that hated reading the required reading in school because I always struggled with that as well.

Beverly Cleary (Ramona and Beezus) – CLICK HERE-:

Beverly was a children’s librarian before becoming an author. She got in to writing because the children weren’t satisfied with the books that were available. She never received a rejection letter – ever!

 Lois Lowry (The Giver) – CLICK HERE-:

Lois Lowry dropped out of college and finished after he children were all in school. She never submitted a story formally. She was approached by an editor and asked to try writing a story for children – which turned in to her first novel.

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Mo Willems

Mo Willems (Elelphant and Piggie, Pigeon) -CLICK HERE-:

Mo fell into writing almost by accident, but man am I glad he did. I LOVE the Elephant Piggie series.

Katherine Paterson (Author of Bridge to Terabithia) -CLICK HERE-: 

She stresses the importance of reading as an author. She also talks about the real life death that inspired the book The Bridge to Terabithia.

Kate DiCamillo (Author of Because of Winn-Dixie, Mercy Watson) -CLICK HERE-: 

Kate says she loves to finish stories but doesn’t actually love to write them. Each morning she has to convince herself to get the writing done. Man, I can relate to that some days.

Before you head off to to do some writing yourself, would you share comment below about something that motivates you to write? Thanks!

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When life gives you lemons, better buy some sugar.

Happiness Door

The man looks at me then at my overflowing basket of groceries. He raises his eyebrows and turns, sealing his single apple in the plastic bag with a twisty tie. I know that look. I know what he’s thinking and the answer is yes, it’s 10 pm and yes, those are ALL my groceries.

I used to love grocery shopping. I made elaborate shopping lists and spent hours during the day checking every item off.  I nodded as I passed the other moms with screaming kids – avoided eye contact with the ones that looked really ticked off. Stopped to chat with every old lady that that cornered me to say, “Your daughter has the most beautiful red hair.” And bribed my kids more than once with candy so they’d stay in the cart. Life was good. I was on the stay-at-home mom team and this is how we did grocery shopping.

Then the rest of life happened. My kids got older. My husband’s teaching salary didn’t stretch as far as it used to and I started working. Now with all four kids in school, the carpooling headache that goes with that and a part time job to fill in the dull spaces, I find myself doing the weekly grocery trips late at night.

Shopping_cartI may not be on the stay-at-home mom grocery team anymore, but I ‘m still on a team. Most of it’s made up of businessmen in plaid shirts and flat front khakis. They look like they’re buying just enough food to get through the night. We have gym-goers whose taut glutes make the rest of our team question the choice to put three packs of oreos in our carts. We have a few single parents who I nod at respectively while they attempt to hush their screaming child in pajamas. And me, cart overflowing with goldfish and carrot sticks. Call us the Bad News Bears of the grocery world, if you want.

In reality, my Bad New Bears aren’t my favorite grocery companions (shh.. don’t tell my teammate who just finished lifting). I like the chatty old ladies, and not being the only one in line with a full basket – but this is what life is for me now and that helps me see there’s not a perfect formula for happiness in life (or grocery shopping). Every version of life has bitter moments and sweet ones. Being a stay-at-home mom was wonderful, I loved grocery shopping during the day but tired of being on call for my children every hour of every day. Now, as a working mom, I no longer have to change diapers or wake up with kids at night but do miss the snuggling and random stillness when all the naps magically aligned.

I was happy then, I’m happy now. And hopefully I’ll be happy in every phase to come – even when I’m the old lady cornering a stay-at-home mom in the bread aisle to tell her how beautiful her daughter’s hair is.

DON’T TOUCH! This is MY reading time!

Hand Over the Books

I’m in that phase of life – the Tasmanian devil in a mini van phase. And the endless running around leaves me wondering how to follow the holy grail of advice to writers:

READ – read – READ!

I tried reading in the morning while I ate my cereal. Not my brightest idea. My day goes a little like this. I wake up long before the sun comes up and wake up my children (two who are far too peppy for 6 am). Then clothes and hair and teeth and lunches. Some shoe tying and shoe finding, then library book hunting – under the bed, under the couch – until we’re five minutes past go time. One says they never ate breakfast, so I hand them an apple and bread and shoo them out the door. Repeat the process two times for my middle schooler and high schooler – throw in a little driving faster than I should ’til that school zone sign comes in to view and you’ve got my morning (sounds familiar to any of you?). I count it a success if my kids get in the front door before the bell rings, I mean, who’s really looking if their socks match anyway? So…

Reading while I eat breakfast is out.

The rest of my day isn’t much slower. I work from home part-time, which sounds magical to everyone I tell and in many ways it is. But without set work hours and no clear cut ‘coffee breaks’ and ‘lunch hours’ like most office jobs – reading while I work is not an option either.

Afternoon carpool is different. I have about fifteen minutes in the car before my kids come out. I used to try and squeeze in some writing here (and still do sometimes) but most often, I read. Repeat that twice for picking up my middle schooler and high schooler and I’ve got 30-40 minutes of reading under my belt.

Afternoon carpool reading is a GO!

Is it selfish that that’s not enough time to me? I crave a big, long chunk of reading time but almost never get it unless I do the following:

Swap TV/Internet zoning out for reading time.

With four kids and all the after school activities that come with that, sometimes there isn’t even TV time to swap. When I do choose a book over HGTV I’m always more satisfied. In reality, I wish I was one of those avid readers that always preferred a book over TV – but I’m not. Often TV wins out, but I still think – especially on the channel flipping nights- we should all do ourselves a favor by turning it off and grabbing a book instead.

The only curse (or maybe it’s a blessing) I have with reading is it puts me to sleep. Anyone else have this problem? When I read I calm down. My body seems to take that as a cue that it’s time to sleep. When I was reading the sixth Harry Potter book for the first time, I came to the climactic seen in the tower – you know the one I’m talking about. One of the most pivotal scenes in the entire series, and what do I do mid-sentence? I fall asleep. I woke up four different times trying to finish the scene and couldn’t.  I finally gave in to the sleep and finished the chapter when I woke. My husband still teases me about that to this day.

Bedtime is my reading time.

My reading curse makes bedtime a great time for reading. It helps me unwind and fall asleep faster. Before my husband convinced me to trying reading at bedtime I would lie in bed for nearly 45 minutes – waiting for the chatter in my head to quiet. Books quiet my internal chatter ’til all I hear is the story I’ve wrapped myself in.

Then… I fall asleep. 🙂

Being a reader does not require ideal circumstances. Don’t let yourself or anyone around you try and convince you it does. Readers can come from any kind of life and any level of busy – you just have to want it bad enough.

When and where do you read?

Please comment below.

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Critique Circle

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 CritiqueCircle.com

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 HOW IT WORKS:  

Once you’re willing to let other humans read your works and are sick of pestering your friends to read your stories, it’s time to create a Critique Circle account. Creating a free account is easy, and you can start critiquing others work in the Story Queue right away. You earn credits for the critiques you give (typically around one credit a critique- more if it’s a longer piece). Then you use those credits to get your own stories added to the queue. It takes 3 credits to post your own story. If you want to post more than one story during the same critique period, the subsequent stories will cost more credits.

They have different queues for the many different genres of writing. You are open CC-Queuesto critique from and post your work to any queue you’d like. At first, I preferred to stick to posting my work in the “Newbies” queue which lets others on the site know you’re new to this. There is limited time to post here, but I recommend you use it while you can.  After that, I recommend you find your genre(s) and stick to reading and posting there since you’ll find writers with similar interests who have more experience in your type of writer (makes their critiques much more helpful).

Stories are left up for one week and receive between 2 and 8 critiques each – sometimes more, sometimes less. You can stop accepting critiques at any point. After reading the nice things people say, give them a ‘grade’ for their hard work and start the reading, posting cycle all over again.  Simple!

WHY I  LIKE IT:

My husband has phenomenal editing skills, but I can only ask him to read so many of my manuscripts before it starts to feel abusive. Critique Circle lets me see my manuscript through the eyes of readers who don’t know me, so they’re more honest than husband is (smart man). There is even the option to critique anonymously, if you’d like.

The site encourages critiquers (or “critters”) to be constructive while still being positive. 98% of the users of the site stick to this beautifully. Most critiques left me feeling good and ready to make their suggested changes.

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The other – less tactful – 2% I chalked up to it being “them not me” and would do my darnedest to set their opinion aside. With any critique site you have to go in to it realizing that just like you don’t like everything you read, there will be people who don’t prefer your work. It doesn’t mean it’s not good, or not marketable, it just means it’s not their taste. Those are the critiques you politely thank for their time and then ignore their suggestions. If you remember to stay polite regardless of what’s being thrown your way then you’ll see that kindness reciprocated.

OTHER FEATURES:

While I can’t begin to list them all, there is a lot more than just story queues on their site.  There are forums where you can meet and talk with other writers. Messaging so you can talk back and forth. Tools to track your progress. Writing exercises, games. Resources to answer your publishing/writing questions and blog posts to keep you encouraged. You really have to join to see everything they have to offer.  With Premium memberships your options are even greater for a small monthly fee.

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COST:

Basic Service is FREE. Premium membership for around $3 per month and Gold for about $6.

WHY YOU SHOULD USE IT:

Agents, editors – they all want to know if your work has been reviewed by others and for good reason. Your work is your baby, and like the parent of that awkward looking baby that has NO clue their child isn’t cute – you have to have someone that isn’t in love with your story look at it and honestly tell you if it’s awkward, cute or just a ugly duckling story that hasn’t been revised into a swan yet. Critique Circle is a great place for that. I recommend you give it a try.

CHECK OUT THEIR SITE:

www.critiquecircle.com

CCLogo
CLICK HERE

Writing Goals: One Bite at a Time

Eating_the_Whole_Elephant

When eating an elephant take one bite at a time.Creighton Abrams


 It’s a new year – new goals. We’re excited. We’re pumped. THIS is going to be our year. We feel it in our bones!

Some writer’s have lofty goals: “I’M GONNA WRITE A BEST SELLER!  – 30,000 words per day! – Get published in 14 different languages!”

Some goals are a tad simpler: “Finish that darn chapter book! –  Get a manuscript under contract.   WRITE EVERY DAY!  Blog once a week!”

Then why, oh why, do even our simplest goals fall by the wayside as the year goes on? They’re not crazy goals – completely doable – so WHY?

—–> We try to eat the elephant whole. <—–

“Eat the Elephant Whole” Example:

THE GOAL:   Finish writing your novel.

THE ATTEMPT:

You start with a clean desk, a nice writing schedule. You’re doing this. You’re amazing. This story is amazing. You’ll have this done in no time! Then a deadline comes at your day job and you miss a few days writing. No prob, you got this. Just a couple days off, you’ll get back to it, you will.

You don’t – not for almost a month. Your first “writing session” back is spent trying to remember where you wanted the story to even go. You stumble through another chapter. It’s crap. You try again. Why isn’t this working? Maybe you just need a little time off?

So you let it sit for a week? Maybe two. Okay, it was really ten – but who’s counting? You think about going back to it, but then you think about how many chapters you still have to write and it’s scares you. Besides you’ve got this great new idea you’ve started on. You really need to focus all your energy on that one before you get back to this one.  After all, it’s only October. NANOWRIMO’s just around the corner. You’ll finish it then.

 

“One bite at a time” Example:

THE GOAL:   Finish writing your novel.

THE ATTEMPT:

Your first writing session you don’t write a lick.  Instead you break that big goal into little goals for that month.

January Goals:  Week one:  outline story. Week two:  list main characters; begin character free writes to learn character’s voice. Week three:  continue character free writes. Week four: try out point of views.

February rolls along. A deadline at the day job put you a week behind in January, so you adjust February’s goals.

February Goals:  Week one:  try out point of views. Week two:  write chapter one. Week three: write chapter two. Week four: write chapter three.

You couldn’t stand chapter two. It took you two weeks to get happy with it so again you adjust when making next month’s goals.

Month after month you plug away – get distracted – adjust your “bite sized” goals  – take a week off – have a writing binge – until what? You finished this sucker and it’s not even November?

You decide to skip NANOWRIMO this year because you can’t wait to start revising your novel!

Why does the second example work when the first one didn’t?

Little bites, my friends.

Don’t make the mistake of tackling the whole elephant at once. Look at your lofty goals and chop them up in to bite size goals that are easier to swallow (and finish).

This can be your year! It’ll just take LOTS of tiny bites and an exhausting amount of “chewing” – but you can finish that elephant!

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6 reasons to be grateful you’re a writer NOW

With Thanksgiving being less than a day away, it seems only appropriate to list the reasons we should be grateful to be a writer now instead of decades ago.

Drum roll please.

Thanksgiving

 

1. We don’t have to use whiteout.

Typewriters and whiteout are fun to mess around with.  The tick-tick-swuurrr is oddly soothing, but type a whole novel on that antique? NO WAY! I’m grateful for computers and not having to retype my entire manuscript when it’s time to revise.

 2. SO many books.

According to Nick Morgan on Forbes.com, there are 600,000 to 1,000,000 books published in the U.S. per year. And that’s added on top of the millions of books that already exist! The up side to this daunting number is there will always be a plethora of new stories to read. Definitely something to be grateful for.

3.  Choose your own publication.

We should be grateful that today’s publishing market is a choose your own adventure. If you’d like a road full of rejection with the hope of a substantial advance -choose traditional publishing. Want to risk it all? Choose self-publishing. Or, if you want to have a writing assignment nagging at you multiple times a week the road to blogging is right for you.

 4. You can say that!?

I’m conservative. I don’t read books with risque stuff and can’t stomach most of Stephen King (even though I highly respect him as an author). I know that what I like you might hate and vice versa. So thank you to today’s writing world for giving us variety to please every reader’s appetite.

5.  Spell check? Yes, please!

Yes, you too can have a super smart computer point out all your incomplete sentences and less than impressive spelling mistakes (insert sarcastic “Yay!”). Let’s be honest, having your word processor make you look like a grammar idiot has got to be much less embarrassing than the live human being doing the same that writers of yesteryear had to face.

 6. ‘Cuz we are liv-ing in a – a digital world (did you hear Madonna too?)

While I swear writers are the only people who use stamps regularly when it’s not Christmas time – I’m very grateful that more and more publications have moved to electronic submissions. Now instead of obsessively checking my mailbox I can obsessively check my inbox too. Isn’t technology grand?

Happy Thanksgiving Y’all!

Comment below. Why are you grateful you’re a writer now?

Getting off the Ropes

Last week I failed as a writer.

Last week, half my family was sick. My son had a birthday, there were meetings, hangouts, my job, my husbands jobs, school stuff, church stuff… yada, yada, yada. All wonderful things and all exhausting. To add a little nuts to my life sundae I signed up for NaNoWriMo this month (which I ‘m loving, by the way) but when you have a week like I had there was no way in H-E- double hockey sticks that I was going to make my daily word count. And I didn’t.

Getting off the Ropes

This week I needed a pick me up. I needed a side rink, squirt in the mouth, slap in the face, ‘you can do this’ moment. So, in case you need a pick me up too, here’s some quotes that helped me get off the ropes. And some just made me laugh.

Thank you, Goodreads.


 “If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy.”

― Dorothy Parker, The Collected Dorothy Parker

“Never annoy an inspirational author or you will become the poison in her pen and the villian in every one of her books.” ― Shannon L. Alder

 

“I have a pesky little critic in the back of my mind. He’s a permanent fixture and passes judgment on everything I write.

In order to placate him, especially when I’m endeavoring to write anything as ambitious as a novel, I have to constantly mutter, ‘I’m not writing a masterpiece, I’m not writing a masterpiece.’

This mantra lulls him into a kind of stupor so that he pays no attention to what I’m doing, because after all, I’m not claiming it’s any good. Slowly, and secretly, one page at a time, I write my story.

I know I’ve succeeded when he grudgingly admits, ‘That’s pretty good.’ And if I’m lucky, every once in a while, I blow him away.”
― Rukhsana Khan

 

“i want to never settle for anything less than my soul on paper.” ― Jonathan Culver

 

“Authors write books for one, and only one, reason: because we like to torture people.” ― Brandon Sanderson, Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians

 

“they say that girls are the ones who want fairy tail endings, but then again, who are the authors of fairy tales? mostly men…” ― Alina Radoi

 

“Publishing a book is like being pregnant. By the end, you’re just ready to get that baby out!”
― Carmen DeSousa

 

“Authors: The only people you thank for leaving you emotionally devastated.” ― Love The Stacks Bookstore

 

“If you have a dream, don’t just sit there. Gather courage to believe that you can succeed and leave no stone unturned to make it a reality.”
― Roopleen

 


 

What quotes inspire you? Comment Below.

 

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Interview with a… character

Interview with a character

Fictional writers are crazy (someone back me up here). We hear voices in our heads – they tell us their stories and we write those stories down. That’s crazy at its finest, people! So, when my head is occupied by a character that won’t leave me be it seems only right to try and get to know them. I do it by interviewing them. Yup, just me, my laptop and that squatter in my head – having a little chat. Here’s the questions I like to ask.

CHARACTER INTERVIEW QUESTIONS:

1. What’s your name?

2. How old are you?

3. What do you look like?

4. Do you have any friends?

5. What about family? Tell me about them.

6. Do you like to try new things?

7. Are you shy?

8. What scares you?

9. What makes you angry?

10. What do you do when you’re angry?

11. What’s your biggest secret?

12. Any hidden talents?

13. Who do you long for?

14. Have you ever been in love?

15. What are you most proud of?

When I interview my characters I let the voice in my head ramble, writing down every word. Their answers are eye opening! Some of the characters aren’t talkers, so their answers are short. Some ramble on for ever. Some are sarcastic and you can hear that in their replies. Others are serious and straightforward. I even find that as the character unfolds for me through these questions, I add on other questions – like “tell me about where you’re from” (especially for my fantasy characters). Or for my school based characters, I like to ask them about school.

These questions are really just a springboard to get the conversation started. They help me get to know my characters more intricately so I can write them in better detail, making them fuller and richer than they would have been otherwise.

Now it’s time to interview you  -your answers can go in the comments below 😉       So… tell me how you get to know the characters living in your head? What’s your method?

Want some other interview ideas? Try these sites:

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