Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Notes From Carol's Class: What If Your Dad Dies?

My dad died last Thursday (Dec 15th at 4:30 am). The funeral services are today. I've known for a while that this was coming because he's smoked his whole life and the doctors said he'd only have about 18 months left about 23 months ago. My sister said there was an updated prognosis a few months ago, but nobody ever told me about it. Anyway, the week before last I received a call from my sister saying that Dad wasn't doing so well and he might not make it through the night. I got off work early and drove down to Richfield to be with my family. Dad put up a good fight and put us kids through some hell that we'd have been happy without, but I think I learned something from it...maybe.

Okay, so Carol never actually talked specifically about "what if your dad dies." But I think one of her writing tips applies rather well here. You will probably not have experienced what your character is experiencing. For instance, the main character in my book does something with a baseball bat that I never have done (and hopefully never will do). The key to good writing though, is to borrow emotion. Take something you have felt and use it where your character needs it.

With my dad, I've had a lot of varying emotions. When he was first diagnosed with lung cancer I already expected it, but the offical diagnosis dug up a lot of anger in me. I hated my dad for neglecting his health and for not trying to quit smoking sooner. I hated him for not trying to be part of my life more and for thinking that he could put all the responsibility of our relationship on me. I was in the anger phase for a long time. When I went to Richfield the first time this month and saw how bad my dad's health was, it was hard. I hated seeing him in so much pain and I couldn't even bear to stay for long. He was angry too. I think angry at what he'd done to himself. Embarrassed that he couldn't walk by himself or use the toilent alone or even wipe his own ass (I did it for him while I was there). Telling you how I felt wouldn't begin to allow you to know how I felt. I stayed up with him until 2 am trying to get him off the toilet and into his bed. He didn't wnat to move. The only audible phrases he would muster up were "Get the hell away from me" and "leave me the fuck alone". So, I tried to keep him hydrated as much as I could by feeding him Otter Pops becuase it was the only thing we could get him to keep in his mouth and swallow. He wouldn't open his eyes much. I think he was ashamed at the state he was in and he couldn't bear to look at us. Every move he made hurt. And every touch from his kids hurt even more--especially when we tried lifting him off the floor. He spit pills at my sister. Punched me in the leg. Tried to kick my sister in the face. He didn't go without a fight. And every time he cussed at me, I cussed back--something my sister didn't appreciate very much. I guess I was still in the anger phase (and to be honest, I probably always will be).

I left after that weekend. My sister didn't want me to leave. She hadn't slept in at least a week. But I couldn't stay. I had work and errands and I didn't want to watch my father die. 4 days was enough for me. I talked to my sister on the phone later in the day when he died. She was angry at me for not staying. Angry that I didn't want to meet with the funeral home right away so we could plan his funeral services. Angry that I wouldn't just put my entire life on hold to watch my dad die. I don't think she was ready to let him go. There were a lot of emotions flying around. Guilt. Regret. Uncertainty. Confusion. Anger. And a lot of hurting. It's funny how even when you know somone is dying it always comes as a surprise. You never know exactly when the moment will be.

I have a character in my book who lost a husband to cancer. She's the character that my MC can't relate to and doesn't understand. Maybe it's because she's sill grieving for her husband...maybe she does it in a different way than I would or than my main character would...maybe it's more like the way my sister is grieving--I don't get it, but I know that she has put a lot of pressure on me and I don't like it. Maybe that's why she was so angry at her own sister--for not being there when he died. For not helping. For not being the friend she had always been before.

Wow. I'm amazed at how I end up figuring things out about my characters when I try to share the things I've learned.

Okay, so here's some scenarios.
Your MC has been taken back in time and is in the land of dinosaurs. Where do you find the emotion for that?! Have you ever flown to a brand new city and had no clue where anyone was? Or a different country where you didn't speak the language? Or have you ever been hiking and seen a bear or a moose? Or have you just been on a stroll aroud the block and been chased by a dog? Or have you been left home all by yourself at night time and you thought that the shadows in the corner were creepy lurkers about to kill you? Maybe you can borrow some of those emotions to help you feel what your character is feeling.

Your MC played around on the jungle gym at recess and split his pants open and everyone could see his mickey mouse underwear (mickey mouse is so first grade and your character is in the fourth grade). But you never spit your pants open and never had mickey mouse underwear? Well, have you ever laughed while drinking somehing and it all spewed out? Have you ever forgotten to zip up your fly and someone had to point it out to you? Have you ever misspelled the simplest word (like gote or kat or sandwitch) and somebody asked if you were really an English major? Surely you've had some embarrassing moments in your life--now's the time to pull them out of the closet you've ashamedly stuffed them into and put them to some use.

Your MC's dad dies at the climax of your novel. But you've never had anyone close to you die. Are you sure? What about the time when you were six and your puppy got hit by a car and you dug a grave for him out in the back yard and held a funeral and everything? Have you ever had to flush a goldfish? Have you ever seen a horrible accident on the highway? Or did your lover ever go out of town without you for a few days and you missed them fiercely? Did someone ever cut you off in traffic and you were in a hurry already and they didn't even use their blinker and you had to slam on your brakes? Borrow that emotion.

The thing about emotion is that it can be very specific to a character or situation, but it's also very transferrable and universal. You don't have to experience exactly what someone else has in order to relate or empathize. We've all felt pain, embarrassment, uncontrollable laughing type joy...you just have to use what you feel and figure out where when why and how your character feels that too.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Notes from Carol's Class: Interviews

It is critical that you know your character.
No one should read a line in your book and mistake it for any other book.
Find a metaphor that is unique to your character.
Let your character's emotions feel sharply defined to your character.
Every character is in a different world--one in her own body. Your job as an author is to find a way into that world.

Carol always makes her students interview their characters.
How are you going to get to know them if you don't get to know them?

There are a lot of ways to go about interviewing your character. It's important to keep in mind that you don't have to go about it the way Barbara Walters does.

The point in interviewing your character is to get her to tell you her story. Probably you shouldn't interrogate her...

Start with the basics.

What's your favorite color and WHY?
Who do you hate? What happened to make you hate them?
What's it like in the town/city/place you live?
How did you meet your best friend?

The point is to ask questions that aren't one line answers (unless that's how your character is then maybe that's all you'll get). You want to draw their story out of them.

Keep in mind that you may not use all the information from your interview--but the point is to get to know your character, get in her head, understand what her past is and how that has made her who she is or how it has shaped her personality or the way she speaks or how she treats other people. Then write your story once you know who she is.

Write on!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Notes from Carol's Class: Voice

Today's notes are actually from Emily Wing Smith.

She came to our class and talked about voice--because basically she's the master.
Don't believe me?
Then read her book, The Way He Lived.
It's a story told from SIX different voices, and I think every one of them sound authentic and unique.

Here are some of the master's tips:

Do whatever comes naturally to you. Don't worry about what your mom's book club will think. Even if someone gets upset over your book, there's nothing you can do about it--you can't just NOT publish your book and not be true to yourself. If you try to cater to people, you'll have to change everything about your book and there will still be people who don't like it. Be true to yourself.

Don't be unfair to your characters--if your character would swear then let them swear. Remember it's fiction, not the story of your life--these are fake characters, and they don't reflect who we are (at least not exactly).

Make your metaphors fit the voice--you can know by ear if it fits because it will sound good.
Let it flow along.

Let your characters do their own thing rather than labeling.

Characters can change--say you start out with a character who is a gymnast, but it doesn't fit the voice that keeps talking in your head because really, she's a debater, then let her change. Let her be what she is.

Use the right form for your character's voice. (Emily used several different forms for her charcters in The Way He Lived--first person, second person [crazy right!], third person...). Maybe one of your characters would speak in short bursts (like my Sophie character) and chopped line would be appropriate. Or maybe a different character you have writes lots of letters or writes in a journal (like in The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky). Or maybe your character likes to include pictures because she's an artist and that's how she sees and expresses things (such as in Everything Is Fine by Ann Dee Ellis).

The best way to find the right form, tense, and point of view is to experiment. If it doesn't seem to be working then try something else. It's important to remember that it's still your story and you can change whatever you want. Find what works.

Write on!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Writing Through the Sludge of Life

Every so often I realize (as though for the very first time) that I NEED to write.
Not because I have this burning passion for it (although that's true, too), but because I can't turn my brain off if I don't.
If my brain doesn't turn off then I can't sleep.
If I can't sleep then I'm always tired and it affects my schoolwork, my work work, and everything else in my life.
When there are tough things I need to sort through writing is the only way to completely satisfy my mind enough to let me sleep.

It doesn't even seem to matter what I write. I just have to start writing. Usually when my brain is running and running and getting muddled all over the place I have to get out of bed, turn on the light, dig through my backpack for my journal and a suitable pen and just start writing about how frustrating it is that I can't sleep. Once I start then all my thoughts seem to spew out on the pages and in allowing them to escape and have somewhere else to be aside from my head, I'm calm and ready to rest.

Do you ever get to that place where your thoughts are racing and you can't seem to slow them down or gather them into one spot? What do you do about it?

Write on!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Notes From Carol's Class: A Writer's Goals

Today the notes are actually from guest speaker Cheri Pray Earl (if I remember correctly--I'm not really a super good note taker to be honest).

Goals as writers in any novel:
  • emotion
  • tension
  • laughter
  • connection w/reader
  • story--let the character tell it, and tell a GOOD story
  • keep the MC (main character) from getting what they want
  • MC gets what they wants
  • finish
  • closure
  • satisfaction
  • suspense
  • page-turner
  • NOT Twilight

Thursday, November 17, 2011


So, I have this thing that I'm working on. There's this journal that wants to publish this thing. And they've been working with me--giving me feedback and telling me what to expand or trim. I was supposed to send them my updated version of this thing last Wednesday. I didn't. I sent it to them yesterday, but didn't even work on all the stuff they wanted.

I realized that this is the first time I've ever really worked with a publisher type person on a manuscript. I mean, there was that one time, but mostly that was me saying I wanted some changes and I didn't like a couple of the edits and then it was done. This time I keep looking at my manuscript and thinking it has such a long way to go and it should never be published (and maybe it wont because maybe the journal will have a mind change) because there's so much in there that just doesn't do what I want it to do.

It's cool to have deadlines though. I mean, ones that other people are holding me to. Its easy for me to be flexible for myself and to wave off those times when I don't make the cut with one of my goals. I'm harder on myself when I miss a deadline that someone else expects me to meet. Why is that? Shouldn't I be more important?

I think I have at least a partial reason. I'm with myself all the time. I know how busy things are and how often I change my mind about what I value or what's important. I'm okay with shifting around my goals and accommodating myself.

I guess, when it comes to publishing, it's a good thing other people have deadlines for me to meet (or be late on) because otherwise I might never get anything done with all this mind changing and value re-aranging.

Anyway, I'll let you know if I make the cut and get this thing published (but don't get too excited).

Write on!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011


Do you ever sit down to type away your wonderful stories and scenes and characters only to find that you don't really have all that much to type?
Maybe sometimes you'd rather be crunching the leaves outside.
Or building a snowman or flapping a snow angel?
Maybe you'd rather make playdough sculptures of unicorns.
Whenever I do anything I have to take my time. If I'm going on a trip I have to allow myself enough time to stop and get lost or to swing at a playground or to spend thirty minutes blow-drying my hands in the coolest public-restroom-hand-dryer ever. Basically, what I'm saying is that I putter. I take my time getting places (and because of this I almost always arrive 15 min to an hour late to everything).

I take my time creating, and thinking, and cooking. I've realized that because of the way that I putter I tend to think that I never have enough time to do anything. Making pesto is going to take so much time--I can't manage it in only an hour! When really, it takes like 15 minutes to make pesto (longer for me because I like to watch the blender do its thing so I let it go slow for a long time).

Anyway, I think my point is that it's okay to moodle. I think actually, it's really important to putter and to take time for things--to MAKE time for puttering is absolutely essential. Because, "you see, imagination needs moodling -- long, inefficient, happy idling, dawdling, and puttering." - Brenda Ueland

Crunching in the leaves and swinging on the swings and flapping snow angels and staring at the pinenuts blending around with the basil and the oil and the lemon etc is all part of letting the imagination breathe and live and grow.

How do you moodle?

Write on!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Notes From Carol's Class: Action

Action advances the narrative. It pushes the story forward.

But, action only get's you so far--"remember that in your love lives."

Don't forget to let your characters drive the story, too. Spend time on your character's thoughts and development of relationships.

Monday, November 14, 2011

It's 5 a.m.

And I could write my damn essay about The Dead.
Or I could write a proposal for another damn essay.
Or I could work on my novel.
Or I could just stalk people on facebook.
OR Listen to Rachel Maddow only because someone posted a link on facebook of pictures of her and AI was curious to know why she's so important and now that I'm listening to her show I'm still curious to know why she's so important...

Or I could just go back to bed. Who wakes up at 5 a.m. anyway? Who gets out of bed at this time of morning?

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Notes From Carol's Class: What's your MDQ?

Okay writer friends.
I decided to start something cool.
Do you know Carol Lynch Williams?

She wrote that awsome book, The Chosen One
And that other awesome book, Glimpse

And that other awesome book, Miles From Ordinary
And all those other awesome books...just go look them up.

Not only is she a super fantastic writer, she also teaches sometimes at BYU.

I took a class from her.


But not because I failed or anything...

Basically, she's one of the best writing teachers in existence.

So, I've decided to make Tuesday the official "Notes from Carol's Class" day.

Please note that while these notes were taken during some of Carol's classes, some of the ideas, tips, or writing techniques may actually have come from another source (such as other students or guest speakers) in the class other than the beautiful Carol Lynch Williams. I will try to keep all referencing as accurate as possible...

Every story has a Major Dramatic Question (MDQ).
It's that point where a character walks through a door and can't turn back.
It's a disruption of a routine.
A struggle with the disruption.
And then a fatal (or positive) choice--the ultimate point of no return.

Once you get there, you're set up for the CLIMAX.

The Secret Tip:

You have to know what your character has to lose from the very beginning. And you have to risk it.

What's your MDQ?

Write on!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Probably You Should Tell Your Writing Group

So, I sorta kinda quit my writing group.
And by that I mean I ignored all the group updates and the notifications that my submissions were due...
Because I'm busy and doing school and work and blah blah blah.
Mostly, I was trying to convince myself that I wasn't quitting. I would have time...eventually for sending feedback and posting my own submissions.
But, really, I knew I couldn't keep up. And I didn't tell my group. Because I didn't want to feel like a flake. And because I sorta forgot. But then one of my group members read my post about how I'm not working on my novel right now because it's not the time. And she called me out on it.

Moral of the story is, probably you should tell your writing group when you quit. And here's the thing: It's okay to move on. Or to let your group move on without you. It's okay to say, "I can't do this anymore". But, it's better to let your group know so they don't keep expecting you to be there and hoping for your feedback and not getting it. and not getting it. and not getting it.

To my writing group (because I know some of you read this): I"m sorry I didn't tell you. I'm still learning that I can't take on the whole world. But, I'd also like to say that you've been an AWESOME group. You've all given me a lot of very helpful feedback, and I really enjoyed reading each of your stories (I won't lie, I'm really holding out for Winston the most). I appreciate the times when we got to just chat about our stories a bit and work through some issues. Overall, the group has been a great learning opportunity for me. Thanks Bruce, Susan, and Michelle! Good luck with your writings. :)

Write on!

Blog Writing

So, I haven't learned to be very consistent with my writing for this blog.
But, I've really been trying to keep up on this other blog (http://lgbtvoices.blogspot.com) lately. It's a collab blog, which means I'm not the only one who writes on it, which gives me a little more motivation to post every week on my day (Sunday, if you'd like to look at my posts). I just finished my project of finding almost entirely all new members for the collab because I wasn't getting the dedication and consistency that I wanted out of my bloggers. Now we've got a whole new team of wonderful writers.

I've been thinking about blogs and wondering why I value them. What is the purpose of blogs? It seems like an un-updated blog isn't very useful (right?). With the lgbt voices (or Breaking the Silence) blog I feel like I have some sort of direction--I want to address issues people don't really talk about. I want to cultivate understanding for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and to let a few awesome people have a voice.

I don't know exactly what my purpose with this blog is. I like having a place where I can spew a few thoughts about writing habits (or non-habits), but to be honest I think I created this blog becuase I wanted to make sure I had a space where people could find me (you know, for when I become a famous writer)... Maybe it's also a good place to connect with other writers, too. I like things like that.

Do any of you have any ideas for my blog? Or at least any ideas for things I could write about? Maybe that would be helpful. Maybe I just need to be more creative and to learn to be more funny...or something.

Anyway, thanks for reading...even though it's a bit boring right now.

Write on!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

I write best in the morning

Okay, so we already established that I'm not working on my novel right now.
I'm over it.
Well, at least I'm trying to be.
Now just isn't the time for the novel.
I have work and school and discussion panels to focus on just now.
Once I graduate, it is novel time.

I did realize something important though.
Even if I'm not working on my novel, I need to write.
And the best time for writing is in the morning.
When the sun is barely creeping up over the mountains and the world is still quiet from the night slumbering.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Creative Genius

Okay. I've been AWOL. Partly becuase my life got super busy when school started. Partly because I've been neglecting my writing and have therefore felt ashamed of updating my blog with that on my conscience. Partly because this blog just hasn't been my priority lately.

Anyway, someone said something somewhere...I just wish I could remember what it was.
Creativity. Basically, we're made of it. We ARE creativity. It is the power that made us and the power that allows us to feel pleasure, to connect to others, to understand our own universe.

I realized something after hearing that. Or reading it. Or however it came to me...
I realized that for a long time I've associated creativity with certain "artsy" things like writing or painting or ice-sculpting. But, that's not just where creativity exists. It is in my finger tips and my toes. Creativity can come out in so many other ways: clothing, walking, running, cooking, scrubbing the dishes, eating, bed making, showering, teeth-brushing.

Sometimes I am hard on myself for not letting my creative genius come out to play more often. But, I'm realizing that I DO let her play. She's out playing all. the. time. She's there when I sew projects, when I make smoothies, when I drive to work or walk to school.

Basically, I'm trying to say that I haven't been writing on my novel. Of course I've been writing--I can't NOT write. But, even if I wasn't writing at all, it's okay. Because I'm still being creative. I'm still using my super awesome powers to make beautiful things and to enjoy my life. Sometimes we just have to accept that certain outlets for creativity aren't always going to be the way we need to express our creative genius. And I think we'd do ourselves good to recognize and celebrate our other creative outlets a bit more.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Lyrics as Poetry: Simple Life

When I was in AP English my senior year of high school, my awesome teacher set aside a time every week for what we called Lyrics as Poetry. We each got to bring a song that we loved and thought was poetry then we'd listen to it and go over the lyrics to show why we thought it was poetry. I think it's time to reinstate the weekly Lyrics as Poetry sharing.

Here are some characteristics of Poetry:

· Poetry is emotional

· Poetry engages the heart and mind of readers

· Poetry expresses a theme

· Poems share an idea not necessarily a mirror of our own experience

· Poems come in a variety of structures (eg. haiku, limerick, cinquain, sonnet, free verse, etc.)

· The structure of a poem may contribute to the overall meaning

· Poetry relies on sound

· Poems reflect concise language and specific diction

· Poems contain sound devices (eg. assonance, alliteration, consonance, onomatopoeia, etc.) to support the content of a poem

· Poems contain figurative language (eg. simile, metaphor, hyperbole, etc.)

· Poems contain imagery (language that appeals to the senses and creates pictures)

· Poems may include rhythm (the regular recurrence of stressed and unstressed beats)

· Poems may contain rhyme

· Poems are written in stanzas or concepts whereas prose is written in paragraphs

· Poems contain breaks at the ends of lines whereas prose is written in sentences

I know that my class had much more extensive (and better) list of what poetry is, but this will have to do.

This week I chose a song by the Weepies called "Simple Life"
So, listen to the song. Now.

Then take a look at the words as you listen to the song AGAIN.

When I get up in the morning, put the kettle on
Make us some coffee, say hey to the sun
Is it enough to write a song, and sing it to the birds
They'd hear just the tune, not understand my love for words

But you would hear me and know...
That I want to live this
I want to live
I want to live a simple life

I dreamed you first, but not so real
And every day since I found you, such moments we steal
Like little fields, we rub our hands
And hold our hearts between them

But will you hear me and know...
That I want to live this
I want to live
I want to live a simple life

Move on, move on, time is accelerating
Drive on, all night, traffic lights and one ways
Move on, move on parking violations waiting
Turn off the car, breathe the air, let's stay here

I'll kiss you awake, and we'll have time
To know our neighbors all by name, and every star at night
We'll weave our days together like waves, and particles of light

I want to live this
I want to live
I want to live a simple life
I want to live this
I want to live
I want to live a simple life

There is so much imagery in this poem. traffic lights. parking violations waiting. And it is so expressive. My favorite part is in the first stanza "Is it enough to write a song and sing it to the birds? They'd hear just the tune, not understand my love for words". It's packed full of emotion and definitely has a set rhythm and even some rhyming.

What are some of your favorites songs or lyrics and what makes them poetry?

Write On!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Collecting Words

I've always collected words.
Beautiful words.
Meaningful words.
Words that sound funny.

I love words. I love how they look the same and sound different. OR sound the same and look different. their there they're.

Words are so powerful. And at the same time so weak. The beautiful thing is we have a word for that! paradox.

Here are some words that I've collected because they are beautiful and hold at least some truth for me.

Go where you want to go; be what you want to be.

There is pleasure in the pathless woods. There is beauty in the lonely shore. There is society where none intrudes by the deep sea, and music in its roar. I love not man the less, but nature more.

We do not choose our friends because they embody all the pleasant qualities of humanity, but because they are the people that they are.

Those who follow the greater part of themselves become great humans.

If I go violently, who can say it was before my time?

Damn I love life. It's so exciting and unknown and scary and beautiful.

live your own truth

Sometimes on your way to a dream you get lost and find a better one.

Snorkel. Flamingo. Hippopotamus. Floundering. Isotope. Wanderlust.

What words do you collect?

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The importance of bringing a journal

I went on a hike with a friend yesterday.
The weather was gorgeous.
The air smelled fresh and delightful.
The sunset painted the sky orange and pink.
It was perfect.
And it made me think.

Sometimes when I think of something brilliant,
or something I want to think about later,
I have to write it down.
For times like these, I carry my journal.
It may seem silly to carry an empty book around while hiking.
But it isn't.

I learn so much from my thinking self when I'm off hiking or walking or working or just talking with friends.

The reason I started my current novel is because my friends were in this funny situation and I wrote it down. Later it evolved into what it is now.

When you leave the house and you're making sure you have your keys, wallet, and cell phone, don't forget to also bring your journal.

Write on!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011


I've neglected my writing.
Because I'm too busy.
I work long hours.
I don't have time.
But these are just excuses.
I can make time.
What are my priorities?
Work--because I got's to live.
Friends/Famliy--because I got's to have a reason to live.
But these two things don't have to take up all my time.
I know, I know.
What about all these youtube videos I make?
Or the other blog that I write for every week? hmmm?

This is what I've come up with. I am a writer. I am. I always will be. But sometimes other things are more important. Like working really hard for a job that will only last a little while. And spending time with my friends and family who give meaning to my life. As for the videos and the blogs--I want to change the world. I want to make a difference. I know that my books could do that in a small way. But, there are other things that need attention NOW. Gay rights for one. Acceptance and understanding. I'm not neglecting my writing too much. But, I kind of am. For now.

Write on!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Dear Muse

Hey fellow writers! I have a good friend who does a youtube channel called Dear Muse and it is AWESOME. I just thought you might want to check it out. She's funny, creative, and cute.

So, watch her videos. Comment and rate. And don't forget to subscribe to her channel :)

Write On!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Writer's Block

You've all been there. That place where you don't know how to write another word because it's as though your mind has blanked out and you've forgotten how to spell. You start to feel a bit like this guy:

And then it escalates to the point where you start to feel more like this guy:

And you can't think of a single word because you're not sure words even exist anymore and you're confused about everything because didn't there use to be words? Or was it just something you dreamed up and none of it was ever real? And then you just go crazy to the point where they lock you up in a mental inst

itution and diagnose you with Writer's Block disease.

I don't actually believe in "writer's block". Call me crazy, but I don't believe in it. Before I go any further on this idea, I better mention something a friend of mine said to me, because I'm thrilled and flattered that he asked my advice. This is what he said:

I have been working on a developing book(s) idea for t

he better part of eight years. It's shifted and evolved as I have grown as a writer. I'm so close to what I want it to be that I can taste it.

But I'm stuck. I can't get past this last hurdle to see the overall story line. I know what themes the story has (they were the true birthplace of the story). But on top of that, the body that the themes take place in, it's all blurry. I can't figure it out.
Any ideas? Tips? Let me know if you have any thoughts on how to get past writer's block. Cause I can't think of a dang thing!

So, now that I've gone off saying I don't believe in writer's block, let me tell you why I don't believe in it. When writers say they have writer's block, essentially they are saying that they don't know what's going to happen next. They don't know what the story is going to bring or what choice the character is going to make. My advice to all you writers who start to feel writer's block, is to think about those times

when you get Life Block. You know, those times when you just have no idea what the world has come to and you don't know what you're going to do next or what will ever happen in your life. What do you do then? Live.

You feel it out. You get out of bed in the morning and you just let things play out. You have to live life before you know what your own story is. And the same thing goes with writing.

It's the BIC theory/rule/law ??


You have to sit down and write whatever comes into your head. Write the stupid things. Write the funny things. Write the redundant things. Write the brilliant ideas that your brain can finally produce now that your butt's in the chair and your fingers are typing away on thekeyboard. That's my quick solution to writ

er's block. You can't whine or complain o

r pull your hair out because you can't see a clear picture of the entire book. The only way to overcome writer's block is to write.

I remember my high school cross-country coach telling me to push through the pain. When you're running a tough race and your sides hurt, you have to run through the pain. The same goes for writing. There are definitely tough parts, and writing

hurts. But you have to write through the hard parts. Y

ou have to push through the pain.

Now, that may not be the answer my friend was looking for. But that's the simple solution. As far as other tips go, it might be easier if I knew specific details such as genre. I might say something different to non-fiction than I wou

ld to YA fiction mostly because in non-fiction you usually have to write the facts. In fiction it is all about getting to know your characters (something I've written about in previous posts). Sometimes you have to figure out why some things are the way they are. There are a lot of different ways to do this. One thing that might help is a critique group.

For example, my character Sophie is angry at h

er mother even though her mom seemed to do this heroic thing for her. I couldn't figure out exactly why Sophie is mad at her mom. While I was in a critique group, people were saying things about my story and how Sophie is angry and it makes sense and all this and all I could think about was this one instance when Sophie's mom walked in on a particular scene in Sophie's life and the two of them made eye contact and all Sophie's mom did was back away and close the door. She knew

Sophie's one secret that nobody else knew and she did nothing about it. (Okay, I'm going to be really honest and say that I actually didn't think of that specific thing until just now. I wasn't really thinking about it during the critique group, but I was thinking about how Sophie's mom knew what this horrible thing

was in Sophie's life and she didn't do anything.) The best thing about this post is that I just got myself a very specific scene in my mind that all of my character's emotions hang on throughout the entire story. WOW!

Am I good or what? Didn't I say to just WRITE? All you have to do to clear up writer's block is to start jotting things down. Get into your character's head a little bit. Or do some research on something specific. I know i

t helped me a lot with developing Sophie when I researched softball. I didn't know a damn thing about softball, but I had to learn because Sophie is a softball player. I've also found that just writing down your frustrations can help get things going. Try writing everything you hate about writing and stories and plot and themes and then just go from there.

I will also say this one thing concernin

g theme. Dear friend, I don't know what your themes are or even what genre you are writing, but you cannot let theme take over your story completely, no matter what kind of story you're writing. You've got to let the s

tory come out and let action and emotions drive your story. The problem you're having might not be writer's block, but it might be that you're trying to force something to fit a theme that it just doesn't fit. So, my advice is to start writing and see where that takes you and if you wander away from your original theme, don't worry; just go with it. Sometimes we can't force a storyline to follow a set scheme.

If you want your writing to be good and satisfying, then write. Don't worry about plot or theme or morals or anything else. Just write what comes out. And if you don't like something, you can always get rid of it.

In the end you'll be writing some brilliant ideas like mad and you'll feel more like this guy:

(he's supposed to be a happy writer)

Write on!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011


Sometimes there isn't enough time in the day.
Going to work shouldn't make life so complicated. Right?
A normal 9-5 job should permit plenty of time for writing.
Except then I get a fire call.
I'm out in the field interviewing people, collecting evidence, looking at indicators, and before I know it my day is gone.
I'm exhausted.
And dirty.
Fire isn't the easiest job to have.
Especially when I also need to be a writer.
And I feel conflicted sometimes over how dedicated I really am.
I haven't posted my next few "chapters" to my writing group and it was due last week.
I haven't sent out any emails to my WIFYR friends and I think we're supposed to meet tonight.
So what do I do about all this?
I blog.
Instead of getting to it and posting/emailing my manuscript.
Some people.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Getting to Know Your Characters

Another thing I learned at WIFYR (again, from Kathleen Duey) is how to get into your character's head.
Good stories come from the main character's voice and thoughts NOT from the writer.
Here are a few things you can do to find out who your character really is and to get them talking.

Start with an interview.
Not the kind where you've got a list of questions you want answered. Just sit down with your character as though they're a stranger on the bus. Just chat. Ask them about the Spiderman tattoo on their arm. Or start with something simple, ask where they're headed. Let them talk. Don't force anything, and don't be too intrusive.

If your character doesn't want to talk to you, then approach her in a different way. Maybe your character will talk to her grandmother. Or her best friend. Or her stuffed animal. Maybe she'll talk to herself in the mirror, and you can hide out in the bathtub behind the curtain listening in and jotting down notes. (Does that sound creepy?) Do what you have to do to write your story. But get it from your character's point of view. Nobody wants to listen to you tell as story about some character.

Sometimes our characters have things that are none of our business. And maybe they'll tell us that. Just let is slip. If you want to know something and they aren't talking, then move on. Get the story that they do want to tell.

Keep writing :)

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Synopsis Hints

Okay. I'm not quite to the point of being ready to write a synopsis. But for the WIFYR conference last week I had to submit a synopsis of my novel along with my first ten pages. I can write a story. I cannot write a synopsis.

If you're finished with your novel and ready to start sending out submissions to agents and editors then it's time to get cracking on that synopsis.

So, here are a few tips that Kathleen Duey shared with my class during the morning session of WIFYR. Hopefully, one day I will learn to write a good synopsis, because good writing doesn't just sell itself.

Bring your character in for the first paragraph. (Don't double back). Remember your story is your character and your events are the challenges your character faces.
Example: Candace lived with her father all her life, and the amazing thing is she's still alive.

Give a backdrop while writing the tour-guide version of your story, and leave out the connective tissue.
Example: Candace has lived in Ohio all her life. It was never where she wanted to be.

Here's a breakdown of what your synopsis should look like:
1. Character
2. Challenges
3. Precipitating moment
4. Quick world description
5. Secondary characters
NEVER mention any names other than the main character. Introduce them only by their relationship to the protagonist.
6. Consequence of what happens. The low point.

The important thing to remember is that this is a showcase for your main character.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

WIFYR: Kathleen Duey

I wanted to sign up with a different author for my morning sessions, but the slots were all filled.
Instead, I signed up with Kathleen Duey.
Her book list scared me.
I didn't think our styles would work well for critique sessions together.
Because she writes fantasy.
And I write contemporary.

After two days with Kathleen Duey I felt anxious about the end of the conference.
The end of critiques and question/answer sessions.
I didn't want to go home at the end of the day because I wanted the conference (and especially the morning sessions) to last forever.

For those of you who don't know what WIFYR is, see the post before this one. The best part about the conference is the morning session where you meet with a published author and a group of other writers to critique each others' manuscripts.

Kathleen set such a good tone for our critique sessions. She made it easy to get to know each other and to be open and honest. She established a conversational tone, and gave us very good advice on writing.

Here are a few great things she said in our sessions:

"The truth about writing is you write one page a day, you will have a book in a year."

"Whatever gets you over the finish line is a good thing."

"Tell a few truths that matter."

"Women are the only people who went from not having a vote to having a vote without shedding blood."

"Use your ink for where you want your reader's attention, because where you spend your ink is where your readers spend their time."

"Interview your character as if they're a stranger on a bus."

"Don't describe what the reader will see without your description."

"One of the strongest tools we have is punctuation."

"Interesting people write interesting stories."

"Take the risk. Write what you want, what you're passionate about."

And this one sums up her personality as far as I can tell: "If I didn't say it how it is I'd have to make it up, and I only do that if someone pays me."

I'm so glad that I ended up in Kathleen's class. I'm glad I was wrong about my initial worries over genres. I learned so much from her. I think I had a far better experience in her class than I would have had with the other author I thought I wanted for the morning session. Some things happen for a reason :)

Friday, June 17, 2011

Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers Conference

Okay. I have too much to say about this because the conference lasted an entire WEEK. I had a great critique group and an awesome author-mentor. If you are not familiar with WIFYR then go here and remember to sign up at the beginning of the year for the best conference of your life.

I promise more details to come.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Critique Groups: Where?

Wherever you want!

My new group meets at a public library. I've had a couple other groups before that met at public or university libraries.
They make good meeting places because there are books all around. It's good to have an atmosphere of books when working on your own manuscripts. Also, most libraries have little rooms you can reserve just for little group meetings.

But, there are other places, too. Personal homes (great for including snacks--like fresh cookies). Parks (probably only in the summertime...depending on your location).
Other public buildings...
Online. Email groups. Chat groups. Skype. (my group right now meets in person once a month and does online critiquing once or twice a month).

The key to picking a place is making sure that it's accessible to everyone and that each member agrees on the place. It's important that each group member feels comfortable in whatever location you choose.

Where do you critique?

Friday, June 3, 2011

Critique Groups: How? (pt. 2 nitty gritty details)

After taking a couple classes from Carol Lynch Williams (http://throwingupwords.wordpress.com/) up at the BYU, I've learned a few things about what makes good writing. Carol is the best trainer anyone could have, and here's what she taught me.

Pay close attention to -ly words (ie adverbs).
You could actually use many beautiful and extravagant words to caringly describe things.
Or, you can cut to the chase.
I'm not good at using adverbs anymore so forgive my sad attempts.
Whenever I'm critiquing someone's manuscript I circle all the -ly words.
Sometimes it's okay to use a good adverb. But, it's important to be aware of what you're writing and how you want it to sound. Toy around with words and see if you can write the same thing in a different way (only without the adverbs).

Watch adjectives too.
The big, ugly, hairy, scary monsters will eat you before you get the chance to describe them when you have too many adjectives. Keep it simple.
Let your verbs and nouns speak for themselves, and your writing will be much stronger.

Avoid using was -ing.
I was typing. (Now I'm not.) Gotcha! I'm still typing.
I was going to see a movie. (But someone died.)
He was talking. She was eating. They were throwing up.
First of all, if you use the was -ing you are using too many words and your writing is weak. Second, people might think something that isn't what you intended.
Instead say, I typed. I watched a movie. He talked. She ate. They threw up.

Show. Don't Tell.
This one is tricky. Because how do you show something in words?
The best way that I've found is to put it into scene.
Let us see it as it happens in the NOW.
Use tiny details. Someone shuffles their feet back and forth as they try to ask someone on a date. Someone tears at the hang nails on their fingers when they're nervous or bored.
Let the voice tell the story.
Here are some examples.
Tell: Hank is ten years old.
Show: Hank is such a ten-year-old boy. I've been here for a total of five minutes and he burps in my face.

Let the reader make the connections. Not everything has to be spelled out.
Tell: My little sister's name is Angie.
Show: They separated me and Angie.... I miss my little sister.
Tell: My mom didn't do it.
Show: "It's traumatic for anyone at any age have their mother go to prison," I say. Especially for something their mother didn't even do.

As you critique others, keep an eye out for some of these things and make comments.
One big thing to keep in mind is you don't have to tell a writer how to fix their problems. Just point out the places that need work. Maybe tell them that there are too many adverbs or they need to show this part rather than tell. Once they're aware of what needs attention they can go through and figure out how to re-write it.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Critique Groups: How? (pt. 1 overall structure)

I decided that the "How" will need two posts because there's the overall structure, and then there's the little details on how to make strong writing. So, here's Pt.1 the over all structure.

There are a lot of ways to go about critiquing. I know I haven't done the "where" section yet, so for this blog I will focus mainly on the hows of critiquing in person. Since I just met with my own new critique group this week, I'll share how we decided to do things.
Once we got together we laid out some ground rules.
  • Cell phones off (or at least on vibrate, so it's not distracting)
  • Meet on time
  • Talk about anything that's bothersome so we can make things work

We decided that we can always change or add to the basic rules as needed. I especially liked that we established an atmosphere of open communication.

The next step is to decide the process.
Establish an amount of writing to bring to each group. It could be 5 pages. Or, if you write like I do sometimes (in verse with a lot of white space) then it might make more sense to go by word count and say 2500 words. Make sure it's doable and that whatever amount you choose will work with whatever time constraints you have. Which leads me to the next issue of time. Maybe you have a lot of time, or you have a short amount of time. There are a few ways to work with either option.

If it's possible to send out manuscripts before meeting in person so everyone has a chance to read them then it will save time on reading it out-loud to the group. It will also allow for group members to jot down notes and come prepared to critique, making the process faster.

Something that helps keep things on time is to set a specific amount of time for each person. Say you're critiquing 5 pages (or 1250 words) then you might want to give each person 15 minutes. At that rate 4 writers would have the chance to be critiqued within an hour.
Designate a time-keeper, someone to set a timer or to watch and make sure that the exchanges are all on time.

Once that's all decided then you have to jump into the actual process.
Even if you send out manuscripts before hand so everyone can read them and be ready to comment, I suggest at least reading the first page or so when beginning. And of course it's an option to read the entire 5 pages (or whatever you decide) when you're all together.
I like to have someone else read my writing so I can see how someone else takes my writing. I know what I mean and I know what words to emphasize when I read aloud, but that doesn't always help my writing.

After reading the manuscript (or a segment) then I like to use this format:
  1. Compliments/good things/what works, etc.
  2. Constructive Criticism/Helps/what doesn't work/what's confusing, etc.
  3. Encourage writer to keep working/remind them of the good things

Just one last bit that I find absolutely critical to the process is that the person being critiqued must remain SILENT during the critique. This session is about listening to what others think and learning from them. It is not a time to get defensive or to explain what your intentions were--if you have to explain it then your writing isn't doing its job, and there's room for improvement.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Critique Groups: Who?

Once you decide that it's time for a critique group, how do you know who to join or recruit?
There is no single answer. Just like the "when" of critique groups, the "who" depends on each author. Some people like to have others who write in similar styles or genres. I think that this is especially helpful for me because if someone I'm working with is familiar with the children's or young adult market and literature then I feel like their feedback will be most helpful. On the other hand, there are certain things that someone not familiar with my particular genre can point out.
When it comes down to it I think the most important criteria for group members is how they approach critiquing.
Group Members should:give positive feedback
  • be easy to work with
  • point out what needs work and refrain from giving their specific opinions on how to fix it
  • be committed to writing
  • contribute both compliments and constructive criticism
  • are able to take criticism easily
If you get into a group and the members aren't as dedicated to writing as you are, or they tell you that you suck, or they can't take criticism, or they just don't seem to be a good match for you and your writing, then find a new group or new members. Nothing says you have to stick with people that aren't helpful or easy to work with. Sometimes it takes a while to find the right critique group, but like any good relationship it's worth sifting through until you find a good match.

I went to a reading and book signing at the King's English in Salt Lake City for Gail Carson Levine. She shared a story about an assignment she did when she was young and still in school. The teacher had written on her paper that her writing was pedestrian--that it was boring. She didn't write for years after that.

What that teacher should have done was point out specific areas where the writing or the plot or the characters seemed to slow down or lose the reader's attention, so that she could re-work over those parts and make her writing stronger and more engaging. If you encounter a teacher like Levine's then move on to someone else who can recognize the good, strong parts of your story as well as help you identify the not-so-strong parts. Don't let anyone tell you that your writing sucks or that you should stop writing. Even if your writing is boring, that doesn't mean that you can't make it exciting--just keep writing. You can't get better at something unless you do it regularly. No matter what anyone says, DON'T GIVE UP.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Critique Groups: When?

Now that we've gone over what a critique group is and why it's good to have one, how do we know when to get one?

Sara Allen @http://fromsarahwithjoy.blogspot.com/ says that she recognizes the importance of a critique group, but she doesn't want anyone looking at her manuscript until it is finished. I've heard a few people say that this is how they like to do things, and I'm sure there are plenty more out there who need to finish their first draft before letting anyone else take a look.

On the other hand, I find it very helpful to have a group throughout my writing process. I like to workshop as I go because sometimes I get hung up on plot or character or rhythm or pacing and it helps me to hear other people's ideas even if I don't use them. Most of the time I probably won't use my group members' ideas, but their input helps me see where I need to improve and I fix it in my own way.

Are there other options? Maybe some people like to wait until they've already gone through a couple finished drafts before taking it to a critique group.

I'd say, if you feel ready for a group to help you along, then go for it. But, I will advise that you at least have something written before you look for a group. Ideas alone just won't cut it when it comes to critique groups.

When do you think is the right time for a critique group and why? How do you know when you're ready?

Monday, May 16, 2011

Critique Groups: What?

In my excitement to talk about why critique groups are wonderful I forgot to start with what a critique group is.

I'm sure most people know what a critique group is and if they don't I bet they can figure it out. But, just so I can be safe (and so I can be ocd about completing each of the what why when where how questions) let's define exactly what critique groups are.

Writers get together with other writers and give each other feedback on their manuscripts.

That's really all there is to it.

There are good groups and inexperienced groups and every other kind of group you can imagine.

Of course critique groups can also apply to a variety of works. Perhaps it's a group of painters or composers or screen-writers. The gist of it is that people critique each other in some way, most often on a piece of work (maybe you can find a group to critique your outfit every day or your cooking or your mannerisms). For the purpose of my blog, though, let's stick with the first definition and just apply critique groups in the writerly sense.

Do you have a different idea of what a critique group is? Do share.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Critique Groups: Why?

I had an interesting conversation with a fellow writer (Sarah Allen @ http://fromsarahwithjoy.blogspot.com/) today about critique groups. She works in different ways than I do as a writer, but we both agreed that there is value in critique groups.
I've come up with a few things for the Why, how, where, who, and when on critique groups. Today is the Why?

Why have a critique group?
Almost every author will tell you that having a critique group helped them become better writers.
Carol Lynch Williams and Ann Dee Ellis @ http://throwingupwords.wordpress.com/ are involved in a critique group with some other fantastic writers, and it helps them catch little things in their manuscripts that they can't do on their own.

It's hard to see the flaws in your own manuscript, especially after you've worked on it for so long and gone through dozens of drafts. It helps to have a new set of eyes on your words to help with anything from huge plot structure problems to placements of commas and periods.

Not only is a critique group a chance for you to get your stuff workshopped, but it also gives you a chance to see what other people are writing and to learn how to receive feedback as you give it.

A great aspect of critique groups is the motivation factor. Sometimes it's hard to get to work. It's hard to finish a chapter or a whole novel. A critique group could be your reason to meet your deadlines. They'll help push you to be great just like a piano teacher or a track coach or the director of a play. Your group members will keep tabs on you and ask you where you're at in your writing. And you'll do the same for them.

Most people enjoy a sense of community at least on some level. A critique group will give you a small community where you can share what you love with others who love the same things. They'll support you, love you, and cheer for you all along the way in your process towards publication.

If you have a critique group, tell us why you think it's a good idea to have one. If you don't maybe you should think about getting one, or tell us why you don't want one.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Writing Conference

I went to a writing conference last week. I took my mom with me. The conference was a sort of birthday present/mother's day gift to her. She loved it. And I enjoyed being with her.

I asked my mom what her favorite part about the conference was.
She said that, other than the food (which was delicious), she liked the workshop we went to about show, not tell.
Here are a few tips on how to show instead of tell a story.
  • Use the 5 senses. Try to have at least one per page. But don't forget the overlooked ( or undersmelled) ones like touch, taste, and smell.
  • Let the reader SEE what is happening. Include tiny details such as facial expression, gestures, setting.
  • Never say your character is sad. Show us their body language and their expressions so we can see what they're feeling.
  • Be specific. Avoid vague words such as tall, big, small, etc. because they are only big or small when compared to something else. If a man is tall, then say he had to duck through the doorway and when he stood up straight he made the 8ft ceiling seem low.
  • Instead of saying what happened, put it in scene. Let us see it happen. Rather than saying, she made cookies, let the reader watch her shuffling around the kitchen with all the cupboards open and flour dusting her eyebrows.
There you have some tips.
If you can think of any more then let me know!
I'd love to have your comments.

Thursday, February 3, 2011


I have a lot of friends who write.
Some of them are published. Some are not.
Most of my writer friends have blogs because, they say, it is good to have a web presence as a writer.
Consider this my writerly web presence where I share all my deep, dark secrets about being a writer.
Perhaps this blog will represent my "coming out" as a writer.
Whatever you want to call it, I hope this becomes a fun place to share secrets, tips, cautions, and whatever else about writing, editing, and publishing.