30 Day Writing Prompts to get you back into writing

I don’t know about  you, but I’m loving the summer: walks on the beach, runs along the seawall, evening paddles on the Gorge, and there is always always more to do in garden. The only problem is that for a writer, summer can get you out of the habit of work. I recall a writer friend telling me long ago that the best way to write is to actually sit your butt down in a chair and do it.  Summer has been tempting me away from that chair and the computer screen, but I’ve found a perfect way to get back into it…The 30 Day Challenge over at Galley Cat.  I have to tell you that I’m totally pumped about trying this out. To give you an idea about why you should consider taking up the challenge too, here’s the first prompt.

“Day 1 —Select a book at random in the room.  Find a novel or short story, copy down the last sentence and use this line as the first line of your new story.”

Now that you know how awesome the whole idea is, I hope that the first thing you do in September is head on over to Galley Cat’s 30 Day Writing Prompts for September and get writing.

I’m going to cheat just a tiny tiny bit and hold off doing this exercise until October since I’m helping with my daughter’s wedding in September and  have a ton of things to do not to mention a houseful of visitors.  But, I’d love to hear from anyone giving it a try about how it’s working for you.

Multicultural writing opportunity

If you are a writer in Canada who writes in languages other than English (including French or Aboriginal languages), check out Rainbow Catepillar.  They are a multicultural, community based bookstore for children in Toronto running an annual writing contest that may be of interest to you.  They’re aim is to encourage literature in a rainbow of languages.  Here are some of the languages they carry books and games in: Arabic, Chinese, Farsi, French, German, Hebrew, Spanish, Italian, and Urdu.  Now that is cool.


Summer editing

Summer time can be a bit slow in the publishing world. Books have been labored over,  a bevy of sales conferences have been attended, and the fall list is being sold. The little lull before the spring list has to be hustled through it’s paces allows publishing houses and literary agencies a breather. Yep it’s editor and agent vacation time. And, it’s the perfect time for doctoring manuscripts that have been rejected.  Just keep in mind that there’s always room in the world for another wonderful story, and it could be yours.

Even if you’re in a writing group that’s taking a summer break, you can whip your manuscript into shape.

First off, look at the big picture.

  • What is the problem at the heart of your story? Is it clear?
  • Is the voice authentic, engaging?
  • Is the point of view consistent?
  • Is the opening working? Are you hooking your reader?
  • Is the pacing tight, especially in the middle of your manuscript?
  • Is there too much telling and not enough showing?
  • Are you information dumping or using excessive description?

Now Look at Character.

  • Are your characters three dimensional? Well rounded?  Flawed?
  • Do your characters evoke empathy in the reader, even if they are not likable?
  • Are you allowing action to reveal character?
  • Is the dialogue consistent with your characters’ age & sensibility?
  • Are your characters’ responses and actions in keeping with who they are?
  • Are you being too kind to your characters?
  • Have you allowed your characters, and not coincidence to solve their problems?
  • Do your characters change throughout the story?

Most stories can also benefit from a story scene by scene analysis.  Sometimes individual scenes go on for too long, lack clarity, are overly descriptive or do not contribute to the plot.

So, by all means, enjoy your summer, but do take a little time to revisit those rejected manuscripts.  Who knows, by the time the fall rolls around, you may be submitting the next big literary hit.  Good luck.

Advice for improving your writing

Imagine being asked, “What can I read to improve my writing?

Julia Eccleshare was recently asked just that by an 11 year old reader.  In part, she replied, “As your question suggests, reading and writing are very closely linked so what you read will influence what you write and how you think.” Former Penguin editor, children’s books editor for The Guardian, and author of 1001 Children’s Books You Must Read Before You Grow Up, goes on to suggest reading the classics as well as the best in contemporary literature…Philip Pullman, Dick King Smith, Roddy Doyle, and Patrick Ness to name a few.

It’s not surprising that the advice Ms. Eccleshare gives to an 11 year old is similar to the advice one would give to any adult trying to break into the world of publishing….read great writers!

A unique voice

Karen Rivers is a brilliant writer. If you’re an unpublished writer trying to figure out why your manuscript keeps getting rejected, Karen’s writing will help you. Read her. Read everything she’s written; middle grade fiction, young adult fiction, and her short stories in anthologies. Her work epitomizes what publishers and agents are talking about then they say they are looking for great writing with a “distinctive voice”. No one writes quite like her.

Frankly, I love Karen’s work…from her latest novel The Encyclopedia of Me, to a recent blogpost on lightening which is a miracle in more ways that she realizes.

Whatever you do though, do not…I repeat, DO NOT try to imitate Karen Rivers. You could never write in her voice as well as she can.

In fact, do not try to imitate any writer!

But do read lots and lots of other fabulous writers.  Read them and reread them.  Writers like: John Green, David Levithan, and Sharon Creech are each superb storytellers, but each has a style that unmistakably theirs. Read them first to enjoy their stories. Read them again and think about what makes their voices unique.

Now think about what makes your voice distinct from anyone else’s and write from that place which only you can write from.



Writing is a process not an event

Rejections are a part of every writer’s life. Even some of the most famous writers have been rejected. And, more than one famous writer has been rejected many times over. Writers Write has a list of  50 Iconic Writers Who Were Repeatedly Rejected which is worth checking out. Thanks to friend and colleague  Margriet Ruurs for the link.

Basically it means that if you want to be a writer, you have to have thick skin.  I was lucky that my first book was accepted immediately, but I’ve had plenty of rejections since.  Some who are new to the writing field figure that once they’ve had one book published, they’re home free. Not so! Even if you’ve “made it,” there are many reasons for a publisher to reject your second book.  It may not be right for them. They may have published something similar recently. They may not feel there’s a strong enough market to sell it. Or, they may feel it simply isn’t good enough.

Even if you’re lucky enough to get that first manuscript accepted, you’ll likely have a round or two of editorial revisions to deal with. Again, you’ll need a thick skin.  Remember, your editor wants to help you produce a great book. Acceptance and revision go hand in hand.

And, for those of you who haven’t been accepted, you’ll need to be prepared to revise and resubmit. Yep.  Rejection and revision also go hand in hand.

Having a writing group  can be helpful during the revision process.  This is not your husband or your mom or your best friend.  It’s a few people who know something about writing or who are willing to learn.  It’s a group who can give you honest and constructive criticism on what is and isn’t working in your manuscript.  It can be a local group that you meet with weekly or monthly. Or it can be an online group.  it doesn’t really matter.  What does matter is that the tone of the group  is constructive, honest, and supportive. But that’s only the start.  You will need to have the ability to listen to your group’s criticism, evaluate it and apply what is helpful to your writing.  Not all criticism is going to be useful to you.  But, enough of it will be that you can revisit your text and improve it.

The thing to keep in mind is that writing is a process, not an event.  Rejection is part of that process, and so is revision. If you work hard and you’re lucky, and you spend the time it takes to ensure that your work goes to appropriate publishers, eventually, celebration will also be a part of the process.  The bottom line is, keep writing.

John Green, BEA and the book industry

And now back to books, or in this case authors.  One of my favorites was slated to speak at BEA, but since John Green’s wife is just about to give birth, he spoke via a video feed.

John is passionate about books. He uses his speech as an opportunity to support the book industry and refute the “insidious lie” that authors don’t need anyone aside from readers.  He does not consider himself to be an example of someone who is changing the publishing paradigm through the use of new media.

Listen to what he has to say, and I’m sure you’ll agree that this is one awesome guy.  And, if you haven’t read his books, get out to your local bookstore or library immediately and read read read!

And for those of you who think that the industry (your publisher, your editor, your sales rep., your librarian, and your bookseller are “value-sucking middlemen;  I feel sad for you!


Contests; yeah or nay?

Breaking in as a new writer is tough these days and so is getting publishing experience.  It used to be that the magazine market was a good way to break in, but with so many print magazines going under, what’s an unpublished writer to do? One way to slip a few credentials under your belt and sometimes even get published, is by entering writing contests.  But, it’s a writer beware world out there and not all contests are created equal.  Some contests are scams in disguise.  Others are thinly veiled vanity presses. Translation…you, as a writer have to do your homework to ensure that the contest you’re  entering is worth the effort.  The BabyBook Blog offers some great tips on self-publishing kids’ books as well some very solid advice on entering contests. Check it out.  Then polish you’re stories, and hunt for a contest or two that will suit your work.  Good luck.

A Resource for Rhyme

writing-dog-pattern writing

A lot of kids love rhyme and so do I.  In fact, I adore rhyme, and have successfully written and published several books in rhyme.  But, and there always is a but isn’t there, it’s always been difficult to get a rhyming picture book published.  There are lots of reasons for that publishers aren’t interested in rhyme. An important consideration, and one you may not even have considered, has to do with how well a book travels in the international sphere.  Rhyme doesn’t translate well, so This is the Dogtranslations are not an easy sell.  Of course, a more obvious problem is that in a surprising number of rhyming stories, the rhyme dictates the story rather than the other way around.  New writers are often attracted to rhyme, but simply don’t have the skill to pull it off.  So, if you want to brush up on your rhyme, Rhyme Weaver is a website you may want to check out.  Thanks to my colleague Lois Peterson for reminding me what a great resource it is.



Writing Tools

I’ve been working so hard lately, not at writing, but at learning a new program; Scrivener, which I think will help enormously with my latest project…a graphic novel. For anyone interested, they offer a free download for a month so you can give it a try by clicking on the Scrivener link above.  I’m finding it a bit of a challenge so far, but I think it might even be helpful for picture book writing and for managing writing projects in general so I’m committed to sticking to it.  There are so many awesome features that I think it’s will be a great writing tool.  I’ll report back periodically.  If you’ve used Scrivener, I’d be happy to hear it you found it useful or if you having any tips.

Of course, life is all work and no play…I’ve finally gotten over a series of winter illnesses that kept me off the water, but last night I went out in the voyageur canoe with a few fellow paddlers and had a wonderful time. Thanks Sue Douglas for organizing us and for the lovely pics.  Thanks Mile for being our trusty stern and happy birthday Alice.

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