Creative Cross-Pollination

Cross-pollination: the transfer of pollen from one type of plant to another type of plant of the same species, often by insects or wind.

When you’re working really hard on a writing project, tunnel vision can creep in. It makes sense. Your life is busy, the publishing industry is slow, and you need to finish your book yesterday. So if you have time to do anything, you focus on books written in the genre and age-group that you’re writing for. You follow writers, editors, and agents in that specific field. And while some of that intense, single-minded focus is absolutely necessary, I’m going to encourage you to be open to cross-pollination.

Cross-pollination for plants is necessary for their survival. Some trees, such as willows, depend on it because willows don’t have male and female plant parts on the same tree. For other plants, cross-pollination ensures that the successive offspring are diverse, robust, and potentially more likely to survive changes in the environment, such as drought.

In order to create books that will stand out in the marketplace, I believe it’s necessary to open yourself up to influences outside your literary ‘gene pool.’ Suzanne Collin’s The Hunger Games is a case in point. In an interview, Collins noted that she’d read the Greek myth of Theseus and the Minotaur when she was eight and it had stuck with her. And then,

One night, I was lying in bed, and I was channel surfing between reality TV programs and actual war coverage. On one channel, there’s a group of young people competing for I don’t even know; and on the next, there’s a group of young people fighting in an actual war. I was really tired, and the lines between these stories started to blur in a very unsettling way. That’s the moment when Katniss’s story came to me.

Collins had already absorbed a literary precedent (Greek myths). Her open mind then took in a story of children in war (journalism/non-fiction) and a story of children in a competition (reality TV): those disparate sources came together to create a literary work that was compelling, complex, different—and an enormous success.

So go ahead, blur the lines. If you write MG fantasy, read PB non-fiction. Read biographies, like the one that inspired Lin-Manuel Miranda to create Hamilton. Read manga and a book of obituaries. Go to the circus and think about writing. Listen to podcasts about the past. Learn a new language, do something you used to do when you were younger, sing in a choir. Take in the ballet, watch a documentary, visit an art exhibit or an ethnic grocery.

I think most writers do this very naturally; but this year, one of my goals to cross-pollinate more consciously. I’ve set aside pages in my journal where I’m listing the disparate things that spark something for me. Interestingly, the more I do this, the more I see.

So, be the bee. Blur the lines. Stay open to the wind.

I’ll be tweeting cross-pollination inspiration under the hashtags #amwriting, #creativity, and #crosspollinate, as well as on my blog. I hope you’ll join in with what inspires you.

This week’s inspiration: a man devotes himself to sculpting espaliered trees.

 

Further reading:

Austin Kleon’s book Steal Like an Artist and his blog

Jessica Crispin, The Creative Tarot

Cheryl Klein, The Magic Words

 

IMG_1617 GITA TRELEASE writes YA fantasy. She was born in Sweden and has lived in France, Italy, and the United States. In her former life as a college professor, she taught classes on fairy tales, monsters, and Victorian criminals. Along with her artist husband, teenage son, and Maine Coon, Gita divides her time between a boarding school in Massachusetts and the wild Maine coast. Her current project takes place during the French Revolution: hot-air balloons and gambling, decadence and dark magic. Connect with her on Twitter and Instagram.

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

The Four C’s — Yoga Rules for Writing

Back when I took my first yoga class, the teacher warned us to avoid “The Four C’s” – comparing, competing, complaining, and criticizing.

balance-1107484_640I can still vividly remember feeling so chastised – I had committed every single one of those sins!

In the years since that first class, The Four C’s have popped into my head at various times – while taking yoga or other gym classes, while going about my daily life, and while writing fiction.

But while The Four C’s are big Don’ts, they can lead to some even bigger Do’s.

DON’T Compare

It’s so, so tempting to look at other writers and wonder why you don’t have the same success they do. How does she write so fast? How come he is getting a multi-book deal? How did she sell so many copies if everyone thinks she’s a terrible writer?!?

But here’s the thing: comparisons don’t move you forward. All of your observations about other writers could be 100% true (although they’re probably not), but they have absolutely nothing to do with what you’re writing. In fact, wasting a bunch of head space on how another writer is progressing just gets you mired in picking apart your flaws and all the ways you can’t measure up.

DO Study and Learn

Where it’s damaging to compare, it can actually be really helpful to look at what another writer is doing to achieve such success. That writer with the killer output? Maybe she’s getting up at 4am to write every day or another productivity technique you could use in your own work. And the best-sellers? Study what they do right rather than picking apart what they do wrong. People are buying them for a reason – can you see what that reason is?

DON’T Compete

I was at a children’s soccer game recently where a parent was so upset that his son’s team was losing that he lost it. He began yelling at an eight-year-old child on the opposing team and had to be escorted out of the park. It didn’t help his son or his son’s team play better, it didn’t increase anyone’s enjoyment of the game, and it didn’t change the outcome. While some drive to win is a good thing, in general, competing with your fellow writers isn’t going to get you where you want to go.

DO Collaborate

hands-1445244_640Instead, try collaborating. My fellow Pennies have given me fantastic writing and life advice. They spot my weak spots and celebrate my strengths. Different minds have different takes on the same situation, and working together can help everyone succeed…and make this often lonely journey a whole lot more fun.

DON’T Complain

I like to complain as much as the next person. But let’s face it: whining about a situation isn’t getting you any closer to fixing it.

It’s OK to have a venting session if you need it. Get that frustration out with a trusted friend. But once you’ve purged the bad feelings, try to remember what an incredible privilege it is to have the time, energy and ability to create art.

DO Embrace Challenges

Writing — like life — doesn’t promise to be easy, comfortable or fun. Instead, it promises one challenge after another. So embrace those challenges. Come up with creative ways to solve them. Sometimes, the knocks we take in writing end up pushing us to heights we never would have reached without them. (And sometimes they’re just knocks. Sorry.)

The bottom line: the sooner you embrace writing’s challenges, the more joyful the time you spend writing will be.

DON’T Criticize

Criticism has no place in yoga, where the idea is to do the best practice you are capable of doing at that specific moment. But what about in writing? Shouldn’t we criticize in order to produce the best possible work?

Well, no. Criticism is inherently negative. Criticism is that voice in your head that tells you you’ll never be able to do justice to this story, you are a terrible writer, and you should probably just set your laptop on fire to save the world from your pitiful attempts at fiction. Criticism hurts.

DO Critique

Unlike a good critique, criticism doesn’t leave a whole lot of room for what’s you’re doing right. And I actually think that is often just as important — if not more — than what’s going wrong.

In their fantastic book on change, Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard, Chip and Dan Heath talk about one of the key steps that people who successfully change situations take: they follow the bright spots. By looking at what is working and trying to do more of that, we’re usually more successful than if we look at what’s not working and try to change it.

In other words, endless criticism is not going to get you where you want to go as fast as thoughtful critique. Try to look at where your current story gets your heart pounding. Why? What are you doing there that you can do in the rest of your story?

In my Saturday morning spin class a few weeks ago, the instructor ended the class by telling us, “I want you to go out today and remember: You showed up, you tried, and you didn’t quit. That is something to celebrate!”

That powerful message – and my mantra for whenever my writing gets a little tough — is the opposite of The Four C’s.

How to Break Your Resolutions & Live to Tell About It

It’s still January and everyone’s talking about goals. Making goals, keeping goals, how to write your goals and Blah, Blah, Blah!

Actually, I’m a very goal oriented person. I love goals. I make goals to shatter them, not just reach them. BUT 2016 was a bit of a different story.

Shortly after finalizing the edits for my first book, I hit a huge snag. A snag that ripped right through my writing mojo and into all other aspects of my life.

  • I didn’t achieve my Good Reads goal of 60 books (Holy Crap!!! I was reading 100-200 books a year for the past 5 years! In 2016 I couldn’t even manage 1 a week!!!)
  • I wasted spent 8 months trudging through drafts and scribbles of a second manuscript only to agree with my agent that we needed to put it aside and start on another.
  • I failed my NaNoWriMo attempt. I wasn’t even motivated by the chart this year! Usually that rising bar graph is what gets me out of bed in November.
  • I got 0, zip, zilch writing done from mid-November till my kids started their new year on the 3rd of January.

Sure, I could have forced in some writing, but sometimes you just know it’s going to be crap. So I threw myself into some embroidery projects and my girls got me hooked to Dance Moms (don’t judge because all those episodes actually sparked a thread in my incomplete NaNo project).

As you review the month of January or even all of 2016 in preparation for 2017, it’s really important to remember a few things as you create and/or break your resolutions:

  1. Analyze your situation: Are you lacking the motivation or desire to write? Are you being lazy or in a funk? These are important distinctions to make. Sometimes I’m too scared to sit down and write because I know I set up a bunch of question marks for the next day and I’m avoiding rolling up my sleeves and writing through it. Other times, I’m truly, truly in a funk and everything feels stupid and worthless and hopeless.
  2. Don’t make excuses: It’s okay to give yourself a break and pull back when something isn’t working or go make that 20th cup of coffee or meet that friend you haven’t seen in months for lunch, BUT be sure you’re not just giving yourself any old excuse not to get your butt in the chair.
  3. Take the kind of advice you give: Ask yourself, “What would I tell my friend to do in this situation?” And do that. Don’t give in to the funk!
  4. Find people who motivate you and push you: There are too many downward spiraling moments in anyone’s writing journey not to have people to share it with. Writing people are everywhere! Find them!
  5. Don’t take yourself or your goals too seriously: Part of the creative process is the down time it takes to work problems, plots, themes, etc. out. You need to have an end goal. You need to get your butt in the chair, but also: life happens.

So, as you break into 2017 and possibly break a few resolutions, remember it’s okay to fail. View your setbacks as learning opportunities. Take a break, but don’t make excuses.

Happy 2017!

Kristi Wientge is the author of KARMA KHULLAR’S MUSTACHE out 15th August 2017 with Simon & Schuster BFYR.

Bullet Journals for Writers

Life has gotten really full. There are emails to answer, phone calls to make, and have you signed the kids up for summer camp yet? Enter the bullet journal. It’s basically a notebook into which you pour all of your appointments, tasks, plans, goals, lists, musings, and memories. And once you have it written down, you’ve captured it. That little thing that you’re afraid you’ll forget? You can let it go, because it’s in the book.

Bullet journals are completely customizable. You set it up exactly as you need to for your own quirky mind and habits. If you need two pages for a single day, go for it. If you want to see an entire month at a time, in vertical list form, it’s all you. You need a special column for your mom’s doctor appointments? No problem.

Bullet journals are especially appealing for writers, because they involve all the things writers love—paper, pens, stickers, penmanship, obsessing over minutia. The downside is that the journal can be time-consuming to establish and maintain, especially if you fall deep into the rabbit hole of perfecting the pages. DO NOT OBSESS OVER HOW PRETTY THE PAGES ARE.[1]

Here is a rough overview of how to get started (for the full story, see the video here).

The Book

First, you need to pick a notebook. Here’s my preferred bullet journal. It has thick numbered pages, two ribbon bookmarks, a pocket in back, and isn’t it so lovely? I am devoted to mine, but I must admit that a multiple-notebook binder like this one has some appeal, as you could choose to have one notebook for appointments, another for sketches, or your work in progress, or your many lists. You can also go for something cheap and easy to start and see if you like it, and there are websites where you can have a custom journal set up for you, if you don’t like filling in the pages yourself.

The Index

What bullet journalers call an index is really a table of contents,[2] and it’s crucial. This part really blew my mind. How many notebooks have I filled in my life? And why did it never occur to me to include a table of contents? I now use them for all of my notebooks. For instance, if I’m going to a writing conference, I’ll use one notebook for my class notes, follow-ups, and critique notes, and leave a few blank pages at the front for my table of contents. Then, three months later when I’m trying to remember Wendy Mass’s incredible talk on blueprinting your novel, I pull out my New England SCBWI Conference journal and flip right to the correct page. So satisfying.

The Schedule

It takes a little while to perfect your system. I have monthly and weekly calendars, all in the front half of the book, and the back half blank for my lists. My advice is to look around at the endless bullet journal boards for ideas, and try a few things out before you commit to filling in an entire year’s schedule.

The Lists

This is where the bullet journals really shine. You can use your blank pages for all the things that you need to pour out of your brain, and you can also use them for inspiration, to help you reach your goals, and to amuse you. The possibilities are endless, but here are a few types of lists that are particularly useful for writers.

Productivity

There are a million ways to track your productivity through a list. I do a little chart in the corner of my weekly calendar where I track writing days, as well as exercise and overall steps toward world domination. Specific pages for word count, scenes or chapters written or edited, pomodori completed, or blog posts written, can also be useful, as can a submissions tracker or chart of your various works in progress. It is so satisfying to fill in those little boxes, let me tell you.

Brainstorming

Corral your ideas for stories, snippets of dialogue overheard (I can’t be the only one eavesdropping during field trips), character traits or habits, inspiring books or movies, found images and metaphors, and great names.

Work in Progress

I actually do this in a separate notebook (with a table of contents!), but you can do it in your bullet journal, if you’d rather have it handy. I include my outline, themes and story questions, titles, character sketches, scene planning, and anything else that strikes me. Some other ideas that might be fun are sketching out your dream cover, or drafting a dedication and acknowledgements page for your work in progress.

Reading

If you’re like me, you have a towering to be read pile and are constantly encountering more books that you want to add. You can track what you’re reading or want to read, as well as your impressions as you’re reading, and reviews written.

Fun

Make some room for delight, as well. Consider including a spot for words you love,[3] writing prompts, six-word stories, doodles, and inspiring quotes. I have my favorite poems, for easy perusing when I’m in the mood.

Good luck! In the comments, I’d love to hear how you use your bullet journal, or your ideas for lists that writers would appreciate.

For more inspiration on productivity, check out Richelle’s post on Writing Goals, and we have a fantastic start to your to-be-read craft books list here.

Katharine Manning may never master calligraphy, but she makes a darn good cake. She is a middle grade writer and mom who lives in Washington, DC, home of the uber-productive. She blogs here and at From the Mixed Up Files…Of Middle Grade Authors and is thrilled to be a 2016 Cybils judge for poetry and novels in verse. You can find her online at www.katharinemanning.com, on Twitter, and Instagram.

 

[1] Please note that I am currently trying to learn calligraphy so I can make my pages prettier. I am terrible at calligraphy.

[2] Don’t mind me, just obsessing over minutia.

[3] Isn’t “hush” wonderful? I love that word.

Creating Your Brand

Welcome to “Creating Your Brand,” the first in a three-part series on basic marketing for authors.

BRANDING

If you are like me, a complete novice in the area of promoting yourself, this is the place for you.

In 2016, I made it a priority to learn all I could about this subject. I had one-on-one brainstorming session with a published author and marketing specialist, attended workshops with literary agents, and read A LOT! Now I am ready to share the basics. Let’s start with some easy questions.

What is a brand? It is an image, tagline, or look you present to your audience. In the case of writers, the audience is readers, parents, teachers, librarians, agents, and editors.

What is the purpose of a brand? It defines you and your work and makes you recognizable to your audience. Think about these easily recognizable examples (yes, they are on a much larger scale, but they may help clarify):

Coca-Cola
Apple

 

 

 

 

 

Where is your brand used? Your brand is used in all areas representing you. That includes social media, swag, book signings, school visits, presentations, and more.

What are the rules for creating a brand? There are no rules, but your brand should be focused, concise, and consistent. It should be clear that you understand your audience. Of course your focus will change throughout your career, so don’t be afraid to rebrand as necessary.

CREATING A BRAND

Now that we know what a brand is, it’s time to get to the good stuff. Creating one. But how does an author just starting out, without a huge advance to spend on a marketing team, create a brand? Excellent question. Before we get to that, let’s look at a few websites that clearly define the author:

Rob Sanders – His website is colorful and animated, with a banner in pastel colors of children walking in a line. It clearly shows he writes books for young children.

Kim Liggett – Kim’s website is dark with red, black, and gray, and gives you a spooky and creepy feeling. Kim is a young adult horror writer. In addition, the image on her website includes a black ribbon, which is a central theme in her first book, and clearly represents her work.

Ellie Terry – Ellie’s website is simple, yet whimsical and colorful, just the right feeling for middle grade readers. In addition, her background is consistent with her upcoming book cover and her bio picture.

Okay, so where do we start?

The first step is to decide what central idea you want to convey to your audience. Think about it like this, most writers have an alter ego. You may be an accountant by day and writer of humorous, laugh so hard you snort, stories for children by night. Will kids want to see you in a business suit with tax papers in front of you, or read your jokes that makes milk come out of their noses? I love numbers, but my vote is for squirting milk.

One tip to find your central idea is to list the types of stories you write. Do you stick with one particular age group or genre like the examples above? At first glance, your books may seem different, but if you dig deep, I’ll bet you find some similarities.

You believe you have an idea, now what?

Think of it in a visual way. Are you drawn to sleek, whimsical, black and white, color, photos, or something simple like just your name. Even a name or tagline is visual because you will want to decide on which font best represents it.

You’ve narrowed it down. You have a visual. Great! Now make it happen.

You want me to do what? How am I supposed to do that?

With a lot of researching to find what engages you, even more playing around with styles, and most of all, not being afraid to try.

At least that’s what I did.

I write for middle grade and young adult readers. Both are kids, but are far different in terms of likes, dislikes, ideas, goals, and interests. I wanted my brand to encompass both, so fun and moody at the same time.

I also write in different genres. My novels are all based in current times, but each have an element that makes them unique, such as science fiction, paranormal, mystery, own voices, and more. Based on that, I leaned toward a generic look.

The last thing I wanted to include was something about myself. An image that clearly showed what I loved best. Besides my family and superhero movies, that would be books.

So I took my ideas and sent them to my wonderful illustrator Eva Folks. She played around with a few sketches and color palettes to create my brand. And thanks to her incredible idea of listing the genres I write in the final product, whenever my audience sees my brand, they know what to expect from me. Here is the finished product:

You can see my entire website and more of Eva’s drawings at halligomez.com

Is creating your brand stressful? YES! You want to present yourself in the best possible way, but remember to play around and don’t be afraid to try.

Stay tuned for part two of the series “Your Website” coming in February. I would love to hear your tips on creating a brand. Please leave them in the comments.

 HALLI GOMEZ teaches martial arts and writes for children and young adults because those voices flow through her brain. She enjoys family, outdoors, reading, and is addicted to superhero movies. You can find her on Twitter.