Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The 30-Minute Writing Exercise

I work best when I have deadlines or time limits. I learned this in college when I had weeks to work on a paper, but I started it only a few hours before the deadline. I work well under pressure, and if I have too much time to mull things over then I get nervous or awkward or I over-analyze and I talk myself out of doing it altogether.

NaNoWriMo was awesome for me because I got to start, work on, and "finish" an entire project with a specific word and time goal. But I've struggled with finishing up the novel that I've been working on for about three years. It was easy when I started it because I had a writing class with weekly deadlines and word-count expectations. But now, I'm on my own.

The other day someone on Twitter asked who was up for a 1 hour writing challenge. I responded that I was, and she set the goal of 1,000 words in one hour. We started right then. So, here's the thirty minute challenge: Write 300 words in 30 minutes. Start now. Don't stop. Don't correct. Just write write write for thirty minutes (or until you get 300 words). Thirty minutes from now, post a comment and let me know how it went.

Write on!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

How-to Write a Kiss Scene

My favorite Kiss scene ever--Rory and Dean kissing at the grocery store before Rory steals a box of corn starch. 

I am not the person to ask about kiss scenes.
Particularly, first-kiss scenes.
Most of my first kisses with people were agonizing.
Somehow the first kiss moments in my life have been drawn out,  slobbery, not reciprocated, or just a failure.

I've had avoided kiss attempts.
Unexpected kisses.
Big-mouth kisses.

I'm wondering though, how many people actually have that one stellar first-kiss like they show in the movies? I mean, do those actors really just shoot the kiss one time and it's perfect? I doubt it.

So, what if I wrote a kiss scene that wasn't perfect and magical, but was a little more awkward and uncomfortable? Would it be believable? Would it still be as sweet as a perfect kiss? Would people still like it?

I have written my kiss scene at lest three times now and I can't get it right.
So, instead of telling you how to write a good kiss scene, how about you tell me?
PLEASE please! PLEASE.
Give me any advice you have.

Write on!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Writing Exercises: The Movie

Hey hey! I just wanted to get everyone jazzed up for some writing exercises, so I made an awesome video.
Since I've been working on my physical fitness, I decided it was also time to work on my writing fitness. In an attempt to be completely awesome, I combined the two into a totally intense writercize.

Writercize #1: put your notebook on the couch, and lie on the floor with your feet also on the couch. With pen in hand proceed to do sit-ups and at the top of each sit-up write a word or two before moving back to the ground position. Repeat this process until you have written your first chapter... :P

Writercize #2: Do push-ups while holding a pen in your mouth. During every down part of your push-up write a letter...or draw a creative-looking tree before returning to the upward position with elbows locked.

Writercize #3: holding a pen in each hand (using one finger if you feel advanced enough), curl  each pen one at a time. I'm not sure how this will help your writing...except maybe it will get you familiar with the weight of your pen :-)

Writercize #4: tell all your friends about my blog (and my awesome videos) so that everyone can enjoy my awesomeness and work on their writer fitness.

Write on!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

How To Write Nothing

Welcome to another Tuesday How-To.
I've decided to dedicate my Tuesdays to sharing my knowledge with the world. We all have something to share, and so here are some instructions on how to do the things I know how to do.
Writing Nothing is something I'm very good at, and with a four simple steps, you can be too!

Step 1: Check your email.
This may seem like a simple task that takes maybe 5-10 minutes of your day. But, if you're like me then you can draw out this process throughout the day, checking back every couple minutes or so to see if you have another email.
Step 2: Log into Facebook. Read all messages. Look at each red flag thingy. Then proceed to scroll down the feed page over and over again until you're sure you've seen every post. Occasionally update settings, profile, and status. Comment on photos and videos, and "Like" the things you don't want to read other comments about.
Step 3: Pick a book off your shelf and begin reading. Continue reading until you have completed the entire book.
Step 4: Search on the internet for items you dream of possessing. Amazon is a good place. So is Mountain Hardwear. Be careful with this one or you might just end up draining your bank account, too.

By the time you're finished with each of these steps, it's likely time for bed.
Congratulations, you've now mastered the art of Writing Nothing!

Please add a comment if you have ideas for more steps to include in this process.

Write on!

Monday, January 21, 2013

Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Okay, I didn't do much to celebrate one of the awesomest people in recent history.
Actually, I went to the gym.
And I watched three episodes of Gilmore Girls.

But, Martin Luther King Jr. is one of my heroes. And so is Rosa Parks.
I admire people who see problems and then do something to change it.


Write on!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things

I don't think the butt on the cover was quite big or round enough, personally...

The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things by Carolyn Mackler won a Printz honor award. The Printz award is for excellence in young adult literature. I thought I'd give it a go, despite my very tiny ass.

Surprisingly, I felt like I could relate to the main character, Virginia, despite our contrasting body types.
While Virginia struggles to lose weight, I often struggle to gain it. The only time I've ever gained any significant amount of weight to the point where someone commented on it was my freshman year at college. My only option living in the dorms was to have a "meal plan" which meant that I had unlimited access to the cafeteria which had an island of doughnuts all day every day which turned into a special ice-cream sundae island on Sundays. Most of the hot meals slopped onto my plate came smothered in cheese and other dairy products (including my favorite cheesy potatoes of which I always ate seconds and sometimes thirds). Everything, it seemed, came dripping with butter or sugar or both. And, to top it all off,  I always had a glass of creamy chocolate milk.

I was proud of my weight gain after years of people constantly telling me I needed to eat a cheeseburger. Or saying, "You're so skinny!" as though it was a crime and I should be ashamed of myself. For once in my life I could say I had love handles (disregarding the fact that they were likely only suitable for small hands).

My sophomore year of college when I moved off campus and had to buy and cook my own food, my weight slipped back to normal and my boss commented on how I was finally losing my baby fat. I was pretty sure the only time I had fat was as a baby, and I wasn't sure how to take this comment. Was it a compliment? I was never fat or even close to fat. With my weight gain I still had a firm hold on the "skinny" title, but this comment confused me and was one of my first experiences of the contradicting views of society.

It is "wrong" to have a body with high metabolism and almost no weight gain when eating ridiculous amounts of food (although I imagine if I'd kept up with my mostly dairy/sugar cafeteria eating I may have figured out what fat really means), yet it's "wrong" to be overweight in the slightest and good when you lose weight or "baby fat".

I've never understood how people feel entitled to make comments about other people's bodies. And I particularly don't understand the obsession our society has with being thin.

Regardless, when I picked up The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things at the library it was because of the silver P on the cover. I wanted to see why it was good enough to receive a Printz honor, and after reading the first page I worried I would disagree with whoever gave the award.

By the end of the book I felt satisfied. The book had good pacing, strong characters, and incredible emotions. I love Virginia and I cheered for her, craved doughnuts with her, and felt pissed off with her through the ups and downs of her story. The last line was perfect.

I'd recommend this book with only one caveat. The food descriptions are perhaps a bit too vivid for anyone trying to stay away from twinkles, doughnuts, cookies, and potato chips. Be warned.

What have you read lately? Anything good that I should check out?

Write on!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Writing Exercises: Character Building


Exercise, as we've all heard over and over, is good for the body.
But, what I sometimes forget is that exercise is good for the imagination, too.
Muscles get flimsy and weak without exercise, and so do writing skills.

I've decided to dedicate a day a week to writing exercises. It'll be my Wednesday Writercize.
Today we'll do character building. And maybe next week we'll work on our gluts.

The best exercise for starting any story is to get to know your main character (or any character in the story for that matter).

I like to use interviews to get to know my characters, so here are a few different ways employ the interview.

1. Author to Character. This is where you interview your character yourself. You lay out the questions and they answer (hopefully). This isn't always the best way, because sometimes as an author we like to ask straight forward questions that our characters don't want to answer. But here are some ideas:
-How old are you?
-What is your name?
-What are your parents' names?
-Where do you live?
-What is your biggest dream?
-Who is your best friend?
-Who is your worst enemy?
-What is your worst nightmare?

These are all good things to know about your character, but keep in mind--this is an exercise! Not all of this needs to go into your story. It's just good for you, as the author, to know in order to tell your character's story.

But what if you character won't answer your questions?
Then you've got to get someone who will.

2. Best Friend to Main Character. Say you've got a teenage girl character. She's got to have a best friend, right? What do they talk about at a sleepover? Maybe they're playing truth or dare. Maybe they're just chatting. Here's some questions:
-Don't you think, Ricky Grateby is so cute?
-What are you going to do for summer break?
-What are your plans for spring/christmas/thanksgiving break?
-Are you going to send a valentine to anybody?
-How did you do on that math test today?
-What's up with your mom/sister/dad?

Don't know the best friend that well? Or your character is more of a loner? There's always someone.

3. Therapist to Main Character. Maybe your character sees a counselor. Think of what the counselor would ask (could be a school/career counselor or an actual psychologist). And how would your character respond? Maybe they won't tell the whole truth or feel completely comfortable, but maybe you'll get some good body language out of it. Here are a few to get your mind going:
-Why did you decide to see me?
-What do you want out of life?
-What are your expectations for yourself?
-What do you expect from others?
-Where do you see yourself in five years?
-How do you feel today?
-Is there something you'd like to talk about?

But maybe your character isn't the type to see a shrink or even a school counselor.

4. Grandparent to Main Character. Maybe your character visits his grandmother once a month. What would she ask him? My ideas:
-How are you?--No, really how are you?
-Are you eating enough? What do you eat?
-Why don't you visit more often?
-How are you doing in school/work?
-What's your mother/father doing these days?
-Are you still playing the cello/tuba/zither?
-Would you like to play a game of canasta?
-Do you have a boyfriend/girlfriend yet?
-What's wrong? (maybe they only visit when something goes wrong)


The questions can be anything you want, really. The key is to not be afraid to ask any question. Figure out who your main character is closest to and write a scene where they have a question/answer or spill-the-beans sort of conversation. The point of the interviewing is that you want to get to know your character. You've got to know what makes them uncomfortable (so you can put that in the story somewhere), what they want the most (so you can make sure they don't get it), and what they'll lose in trying to get what they want.

Here's your exercise challenge for the day: interview one of your characters.
And if you're feeling nice, leave a comment below and tell me your ideas for getting to know who your characters are. :)

Write on!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

How-To Give Excellent Critiques


As I've mentioned before, I joined up with a new writing group that focuses on picture books.
I had only ever critiqued two picture books before, and I wasn't sure I did a very good job. This picture book group had me so nervous that even though I'd spent an hour or so the day before, I woke up extra early in the morning to run through each manuscript again. I took a break to read through some of my favorite picture books, and then was sure to pay attention to each line in each manuscript.

I'll be honest, I wasn't just nervous about giving critiques to experienced picture book writers. I was nervous that they would eat me alive and tear my manuscript to shreds.

Fortunately for me, my sparse novel has taught me a thing or two about leaving out unnecessary words. The group found my manuscript re-freshingly clean. They told me that I'm a good writer.

What felt even better was to hear that they thought I was good at giving feedback. I wasn't sure if picture book writers were perhaps a little more sensitive than other writers (who are already VERY sensitive), so I didn't want to be too bold, but on the other hand I wanted to be helpful, not dishonest.

Since I've come away from that critique session with compliments on my writing as well as on my critique-giving, I've thought a lot about what makes a good critique.

Here's what I've come up with:

1. Make sure you write notes--whether they be by hand on paper or electronically in a document--on the manuscript. Be detailed. This way the author can refer back to them and not have to remember everything you said out-oud.

2. Read through the manuscript once before making any comments. Just to get a feel of what's coming. This is especially easy for PBs because they're generally short. Then go through the second time and write feedback.

3. Always look for the positives. Find the things that make you laugh and point them out. Write a note to the side with "ha ha" or a smiley face. It doesn't have to be huge, but be sure to make the good things known. I like to use a smiley face because it's quick, easy, and says it all.

4. Suggest ideas. If you see something that you know doesn't work at all, don't simply circle it and move on. A lot of times, writers know which things they are struggling with, but they don't know how to fix it. If you have an idea for how the ending or the beginning should be, then write it down. The author doesn't have to follow your advice, but often it will help them think about their story in different ways. Instead of simply suggesting to re-word a sentence (which works sometimes), give a suggestion for how to re-word it. When writers see an example then they'll get an idea of how to better other parts of their writing as well.

5. Don't rush through. The purpose of having a critique group is to help others improve their writing and to get help on your own writing. I try to give as much time to each manuscript I read as I hope others will give to mine.  There was always a huge difference between that nazi-English-teacher who marked your page with red commas and periods, and the one who wrote comments in the margin and actually paid attention to the content rather than just the punctuation of your essay. Sure, fix the little details if you must, but don't let it distract you from the content of the work.

6. Be honest. Don't hold back out of fear of hurting someone's feelings. They can't improve if you say you liked all of it, but you really didn't. But, don't be rude. Remember that it's about providing constructive criticism. And don't be afraid to disagree with something another writer suggests. Sometimes it helps if the writer knows they have different options and they'll probably come up with something completely different from either opinion. Be polite, and suggest things as though that's what you think, not what is "right," and leave it open for other possibilities.

7. In a live critique session, avoid repeating things other writers have said. Sometimes a quick ditto is okay, but the author will see from your written comments what everyone else noticed. If the "good" is sparse and has already been voiced, then it's generally okay to repeat that--you're trying to encourage your groupies--but don't continue to rail on the same mistakes that have already been pointed out.

I may be good a giving feedback, but I'm certainly not the expert. Do you have any tips for giving feedback on a piece of writing? Or are there things that you wish people would or wouldn't do when critiquing your manuscript?

Write on!

Monday, January 14, 2013

Critique Groups: Deadlines

I've posted before about critique groups. What they are. Why they're important. When to form one. Who should be in them. Where to hold them. How to structure them. How to go about critiquing someone's manuscript. 

I realized today, after checking my email and finding a submission from every person in my critique group, that groups are always works in-progress. I originally started what I refer to as my "Ogden Group" by posting in the utah children's writers listserv asking if there was anyone in the area that wanted to be in a writing group. My intent was to find people in Ogden (where I live), and instead I got responses from three people. One from Syracuse (an actual place in Utah--not just New York!), Salt Lake City, and Perry (another town I'd never heard of). Each were willing to meet in Ogden, since it turned out to be a sort-of half-way point for everyone.  As the founder of the group, I took the liberty to establish rules. Things like, 2500 word limit, starting each critique with things we liked, and limiting each session to only two hours.

The word count we did pretty good with (only going overboard a few times--but nobody really minded that much). Critiques kind of just go however they go, and although we may not alway start out with the things we liked, we always throw them into the mix. Time limit has turned out to be extremely difficult for this particular group. Part of this is because we are not only critique buddies, we are also friends. So, we chat about our lives and changes and everyday stuff. We also tend to wind up on tangents quite a bit, and like to look things up right there if we can't remember a definition or we want to find a better name for our characters.

Sometimes we try to enforce the time limit. And we usually don't do very well. But one thing that has been a little frustrating the past little while is submission deadlines. Originally we planned to send our manuscripts out a week in advance to give everyone a chance to read through and make comments. We got very lax with this, and a couple times nobody submitted or a few didn't and we simply didn't hold our session.

For me, having a writing group means more than just getting someone to comment on what I've written. It's also having a motivation to write new stuff. The problem is, when I don't have strict deadlines, I tend to put off writing new things.


The last time my group met, we decided to choose a specific day AND a specific time that we had to have our manuscripts emailed out. Before our loose deadline was the Friday before we met (we meet on every other Friday), which somehow turned into the Wednesday (meaning two days) before we met. It wasn't working. This time we chose Sunday (to allow the weekend for last-minuters to write) at 11 p.m. to make it a deadline we had to stick to.

I submitted my manuscript almost 12 hours early and was feeling very good about myself. But I couldn't stop checking my email throughout the day to see if my groupies had submitted yet. By the time I went to bed around 8:30, they still hadn't and I worried the deadline wasn't going to work.

This morning I was so happy to see EVERY last one of them had submitted something. And even though one of them was an hour or two late--it worked!

I'm hoping we can stick to this specific deadline thing and stay regular with our critique sessions. But, I've learned that like with any relationship or any aspect of life--writing groups take commitment and continual work. It's a process to find out what works best for certain people. I think for us, we've realized that deadlines need to be specific.



Write on!

Friday, January 11, 2013

The Ugly Duckling: A Re-Telling

Hello! It's time for a Friday Film!
This is my creative take on the classic Ugly Duckling story.
Feel free to leave comments. Watch on YouTube and click the "thumbs up" button if you like it.
Happy Friday!



Write on!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Dance

Lately (maybe all the time) I've been thinking about spirituality.
The past couple years have been very rough for me because I've been distancing myself from organized religion.

Coming away from a set way of perceiving divinity, afterlife, the present, and the before-life time, I've struggled with labels. I came from a religion that emphasized God as a perfect being and male father figure. When I was first trying to make it on my spiritual own I felt (and perhaps still do, somewhat) a resentment toward the word God.

For Christmas, Jo's mom asked the older children to share an experience that has strengthened them. I was included in this invitation. Normally, Christmastime in their home is about celebrating Christ. It was really no different this year, but Jo's mom made an effort to use different words for essentially the same thing. Instead of asking us how God or Christ had strengthened us or how the Spirit had touched us, she asked us to simply share an experience that has strengthened us.

As I thought about what I wanted to share, I couldn't help think about the choice of words. The simple change in word-choice meant a lot to me--because it meant that she was aware that Jo and I have different beliefs, and that she wanted to make us feel welcome. I realized that the only difference was words. She meant the same thing, and when I shared my experience we all felt the same thing. We just use different labels.

What some people might call God, Christ, the Spirit, the Creator, Allah, or Buddah, to me is still Love. I believe that regardless of all the differences we might have with other people in the world--be it skin color, culture, sexual orientation, stated religion, language--we all have one essential thing in common. Love. Without taking a poll, I know that every single person in the world loves someone else. It is what ties us together. It is what connects us to our family, our friends, and even strangers in the grocery store.

I believe in a sort of greater existence, if you will. There are no words for what I believe. Oriah Mountain Dreamer uses words like "the presence" or "the Great Mystery". I don't think I can ever truly describe what it is I feel about why we are and what we are as beings of the earth, but I feel that whatever it is I am part of it all. In a way, it's as though I am God or the Mystery--along with everyone and everything else. I believe that matter cannot be created nor destroyed and because of that, perhaps we go through cycles of what eastern religions might call reincarnation. Perhaps in another "life" I was a rock or a tree or a river, and maybe as such I learned patience, or how to weather the storms, or to be steadfast. And here in this new form, I get to learn something new (or maybe the same thing!).

I believe in energies. That I have energies and so do the rocks and sticks and animals (essentially what I'm saying is, like Pocahontas in the Disney movie, I believe that every rock and tree and creature has a life, has a spirit, and has a name). But, I think that maybe that life, spirit, and name is the same for everything. With my limited vocabulary and understanding of everything, I'm going to choose to call it Love.

So, my goal for myself and my spiritual adventuring is to simply learn to be my true self (the self that is made of Love) and, to dance.

I believe that poetry is our way of trying to connect to God or the Mystery or the divine energy within ourselves. And so, I share with you a poem that has touched me, with the hope that it will in some way touch you. I could analyze and explain away the things I've taken away from this poem, but I think it best to simply let you see it how you will. But, maybe, after knowing some of my beliefs, you'll also be able to find a connection to me through this beautiful stranger's words.

The Dance

I have sent you my invitation, 
the note inscribed on the palm of my hand by the fire of living.
Don't jump up and shout, "Yes, this is what I want! Let's do it!"
Just stand up quietly and dance with me. 

Show me how you follow your deepest desires, 
spiraling down into the ache within the ache, 
and I will show you how I reach inward and open outward
to feel the kiss of the Mystery, sweet lips on my own, every day. 

Don't tell me you want to hold the whole world in your heart. 
Show me how you turn away from making another wrong without
abandoning yourself when you are hurt and afraid of being unloved. 

Tell me a story of who you are, 
and see who I am in the stories I am living. 
And together we will remember that each of us always has a choice. 

Don't tell me how wonderful things will be...someday. 
Show me you can risk being completely at peace, 
truly okay with the way things are right now in this moment, 
and again in the next and the next and the next...

I have heard enough warrior stories of heroic daring. 
Tell me how you crumble when you hit the wall, 
the place you cannot go beyond by the strength of your own will. 

What carries you to the other side of that wall, 
to the fragile beauty of your own humanness?

And after we have shown each other how we have set and kept the
clear, healthy boundaries that help us live side by side with each other, 
let us risk remembering that we never stop silently loving
those we once loved out loud. 

Take me to the places on the earth that teach you how to dance, 
the places where you can risk letting the world break your heart, 
and I will take you to the places where the earth beneath my feet
and the stars overhead make my heart whole again and again. 

Show me how you take care of business
without letting business determine who you are. 
When the children are fed but still the voices within and around us
shout that the soul's desires have too high a price, 
let us remind each other that it is never about the money. 

Show me how you offer to your people and the world
the stories and the songs you want our children's children to remember, 
and I will show you how I struggle, 
not to change the world, but to love it. 

Sit beside me in long moments of shared solitude, 
knowing both our absolute aloneness and our undeniable belonging. 
Dance with me in the silence and in the sound of small daily words, 
holding neither against me at the end of the day. 

And when the sound of all the declarations of our sincerest
intentions has died away on the wind, 
dance with me in the infinite pause before the next great inhale 
of breath that is breathing us all into being, 
not filling the emptiness from the outside or from within. 

Don't say, "Yes!"
Just take my hand and dance with me. 
Oriah Mountain Dreamer


Share your thoughts--on spirituality, poetry, or life--in a comment below. 

Write on!

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Bucket List

Yesterday I did something that has been on my bucket list for several years (partly because of Regina Spektor's song, The Ghost of Corporate Future).

I cut my own hair.

I know, I know. Lots of people do this all the time. Trimming their bangs or the dead ends.
But I have never cut my own hair, and oh what a glorious feeling it was!
Dreads are not my thing right now. I can look cute in anything and with just about any hairstyle, but I was tired of trying to sleep on rolls of hair and having to wash my hair all the time to keep them in the right shape.

So I cut them off. They look really gross sitting there on the sink like ugly rodent tails. I'm trying to convince myself that they didn't look that bad on my head...but if they did I can only be more satisfied now that I've cut them off.

I can now say that I tried dreads once. I did.

Now, I'm trying a new hair style:

Along with a new writing style: Picture Books.

I posted my picture book manuscript on this very blog not too long ago, and in a brave attempt at tying to really make it into a book I've joined a new picture book critique group.

Today was my first meeting with the new group and I think it went rather well.
The other members praised my concise sentences and gave me some good feedback.
They also said that I was very good at giving critique--something I was a little nervous about in a picture book group.

But I surprised myself. I know more about picture books than I've been giving myself credit for. I've gone to workshops and conference classes about picture books, and while I have continued to feel inadequate with picture book manuscripts, I think that in all that going I must have learns something along the way, too.

Another thing on my bucket list is to write a picture book (and get it published). I'm nearly there (with the first part) and I'm feeling very excited about it.

Leave a comment and tell me what things you want to do during your lifetime.

Want to see more of what's on my Bucket List?

Write on!