My Month of Poetry

I recently found myself in a writing rut. A hectic home life, a stressful and stressed-out world, and somehow writing became both trivial and inaccessible. I could not connect with my creativity, and it felt self-indulgent even to try.

Over dinner, a wise friend suggested a poetry challenge. Write a poem a day for thirty days, to clean out the spiders of doubt and despair, and to get my creativity flowing again.

Huh, I thought. Poetry.

I’ve written poetry off and on since college. I’ve never let anyone read it, not even my wife. But this wouldn’t need to be shared. This was about healing, not productivity or entertainment. And April, being National Poetry Month, certainly seemed an appropriate time for it.

I quietly decided to give it a try. The only rules I set were that each day I had to write a poem at some point before midnight, and that I was not allowed to read it after I closed the document.

I wasn’t sure how it would go, and so for the first week, I didn’t tell anyone that I was doing it. As the days stacked up, though, I became more confident. And then I began to have fun. Poems allow for such freedom to play with language and with white space. Amazing things came up. I would open the blank document expecting to write about one thing, and almost immediately, something entirely different came to my fingers. That’s what I’m worrying about? Who knew?

Some days were harder, particularly as I happened to choose the month we were moving back into our not-quite-fully renovated house. So, sometimes the poems were really short. On the day we moved, I wrote a haiku. Other days I wrote longer and more nuanced pieces. The topics varied. Some were intense, others light. The key was that I didn’t judge myself for what I wrote—for how good it was, or how many words I got down. I allowed myself to experiment and to explore my thoughts.

I started this in late March, so my thirty days are up today. It’s been both fun and illuminating. I’ve gotten back into the groove of daily writing, which feels wonderful. I have a moment each day of reflection and creativity, which I don’t believe I will be able to relinquish. My creativity has been primed, and I have a few new ideas for stories and writing projects. Perhaps most importantly, I’ve found a way to remember that writing is, for me, healing. I know that writing is a business, but that’s not all it is. It is a sacred practice, a way to connect with myself. And if I allow it to, it can save me.

For those looking for more ideas about writing and reading poetry, Laura Shovan, the wise friend who started me on this journey, has a wealth of information on her blog, including, this month, an amazing lineup of interviews with verse novelists. And if anyone is inspired to try a month of poetry, here are some prompts to help you get started.

Katharine Manning blogs here and at From the Mixed-Up Files of Middle Grade Authors. She writes middle grade stories about strong, brave girls who sometimes make mistakes. She was thrilled to serve as a 2016 Cybils judge for poetry and novels in verse. You can find her online at www.katharinemanning.com, on Twitter, and on Instagram. Her book blog is KidBookList.

Creativity to the Rescue: Finding BIG Ideas

As a piggyback to last week’s BIG IDEAS post in our Master Your Craft Series, it occurred to me that many of our readers may still be struggling with their concept not being quite BIG enough to commit months or maybe years to writing a story. Or maybe you’ve only got a small nugget of an idea. So what do you do?

First let’s break concept down into bite size chunks.

Inciting Incident: The “what now” that sets your story in motion! This is the scene where something happens to cause the protagonists to change course.

Protagonist: A main character with specific characteristics.

Goal: What must your main character achieve in your story?

Stakes: What will happen if the protagonist don’t achieve his/her goal?

If you have these four ingredients, you can write a logline.

Standard logline: When/After {INCITING INCIDENT OCCURS}, a {PROTAGONIST} must {GOAL}, or else {STAKES}.

But what if you don’t have all those ingredients? Well, it’s going to be difficult to write a story! You need a creativity boost!

There’s been much written about how to maximize your creativity. Basically, you need a method for opening your mind to jiggle loose new ideas. Physical Movement often helps or sometimes a nice long bath does the trick. Sometimes we get ideas through serendipity, like from dreams or watching people, or by cross-pollinating ideas by watching the news or enjoying art. Writing prompts can help too, but sometimes you have to go grab creativity and force it to work for you.

Creativity tricks for writers:

  • Apples to Apples Game: No, I’m not asking you to play it! But you can use the game cards to help you generate ideas. There are 749 red noun (person, place, thing, or event) cards, 249 green adjective cards, and some blank cards.

Example: Say you’ve got a main character {a quiet young boy who’s ignored by his busy family}, but that’s it.

Easy! Pull out three adjective cards and three noun cards and start making some connections. Let’s pretend you get Demi Moore, The Great Depression, and NYPD for your nouns and Scary, Mysterious, and Hard-Working for your adjectives.

So obviously, a story where Demi Moore is the goal, inciting incident, or the stakes is a little bit too weird. But you see the words scary and mysterious and you might remember that Demi Moore was in the movie Ghost. Then your mind starts to pull the other words together to form a bigger idea. Let’s try inserting some of this into the standard logline structure.

After {moving into an old house in New York}, {a quiet young boy who’s normally ignored by his family} must {convince his family that their new home is inhabited by a ghost}, or else {STAKES}.

Okay, this isn’t perfect and I wouldn’t pitch it to an agent, but it’s got your brain working, which was the goal. I ran out of steam with those cards. I didn’t use them all and some of them were just used to generate other ideas (Demi Moore=ghost, NYPD=New York, The Great Depression=the time period just before their house was built). Also, I’m not done. I don’t have STAKES yet. So pull another set of cards and see what you come up with for the stakes. If you completely hate the idea, start over and draw more cards or move on to another trick.

  • The Dictionary: Just turn to a random page, close your eyes, and point to a word. Repeat this until you have an assortment of words to work with and fill in the blanks just like you did with the Apples to Apples game.
  • Magnetic Words: Every writer has those magnetic words that speak to them. (Heck, one of my favorites is the word “magnetic.”) Keep a list of your magnetic words in a handy spot (like a favorite journal or an easily accessible file) and use those to fill in the blanks just like we did with Apples to Apples.
  • Misfortune Tellers and Tarot Readings: Author John Claude Bemis has great creativity exercises on his website that can be used to help fill in the blanks for your logline.
  • Talk it out: Once you’ve used the ideas above to come up with your best possible BIG IDEA, talk it out with a friend or family member. See if they think you’ve come up with a BIG IDEA, or maybe they can help you make it BIGGER!

Happy Writing!

MICHELLE LEONARD is a math and science nerd, a chocolate biscotti baker, and a SCBWI member who writes middle-grade and young adult fiction. Her young adult sci-fi short story IN A WHOLE NEW LIGHT will be published in the BRAVE NEW GIRLS ANTHOLOGY: STORIES OF GIRLS WHO SCIENCE AND SCHEME releasing August 2017. Connect with her on Twitter.

Master Your Craft: The Big Idea

Master Your Craft
Welcome to this week’s Master Your Craft post! Each Wednesday we’ll  discuss prewriting and drafting a new book from the BIG IDEA to QUERYING. (For more information, see last week’s intro post.) This week, I’ll discuss The Big Idea.

So you’re ready to write a novel. You’ve got a character, maybe a scene, a vague idea of the plot…you’re ready to sit down and start writing, right?

Not so fast.

Even seasoned writers can be fooled by a Shiny New Idea. So before you dive into drafting, take some time to test your book-to-be and make sure your new idea is also a Big Idea.

Here are some of the questions we Pennies ask ourselves at the dawn of a new idea:

  • Do I have passion for this story? This might seem obvious, but a novel takes a while to write, and it’s crucial that you have a deep and abiding passion that can sustain you. Another way to ask this question: Is this a story I must tell the world, or is it just a story I’d like to read? I wrote 20,000 words of my current WIP before realizing that one aspect of my story just wasn’t interesting enough to me to push me through all the research I needed to do. I’d love to read that original idea, but it isn’t a story my heart longs to tell.
  • Do I feel urgency to tell this story NOW? I have an entire file of story ideas. Some of them are really cool! But none of them are begging me to tell them right this second. That sense of urgency is another indication that this is a Big Idea.
  • Do I have a vivid protagonist with an overarching goal? In other words, who is your main character, and what does he or she want? Can you hear his or her voice? This is the foundation of any story, and if you don’t have this, it’s going to be so much harder to spin a full novel out of your idea. I’m not sure The Hobbit would have had such enduring power if Bilbo hadn’t longed with his entire being to be back in the Shire.
  • Can I visualize the entire story arc? Often the beginnings of our ideas are just the flash of a character or a scene. But of course, novels need more than one brilliant scene or one fascinating character. Take some time to consider where your story is going. What sets off the action? How does the MC change as the story progresses? What peak conflict will push your MC to the end of the story?
  • Can I write a logline for this story? If you can write a pithy pitch for your idea before you write a word of the story itself, chances are you’ve got the makings of a Big Idea.
  • Are others excited when I tell them my idea? How do your CPs react when you tell them your pitch? Are there “oohs” and “aahs”? Or are they asking questions and offering “what ifs”? Other writers are especially good at recognizing Big Ideas, and if they’re not sold, chances are you have more work to do. And it’s pretty important to get feedback at this stage, even though we can all be very protective of our fledgling stories. Our agented Pennies have reported sending slews of new ideas to their agents only to be told that none of them quite pass muster as is. Most of the time, this just means you need to do the work of fleshing out the idea and finding a unique way into the story. But it is way better to learn this before you write 60,000 words.
  • Is there a market for my idea? Although this question can put a damper on your Shiny New Idea excitement, it’s really important to do this research. Don’t be the author trying to sell a dystopian after the market flood of apocalyptic fiction!

Sadly, some story ideas are flawed from the get-go. Stubborn writers can spend years working on stories that will ultimately go nowhere…and a lot of that heartbreak can be avoided if you take a few days or weeks to really road-test your story first.

And if you can answer “YES!” to all these questions? Congratulations! You’re still not quite ready to write, but you’re one step closer to seeing your Big Idea become a Big Fat Novel.

(Need help coming up with a Big Idea? Check out this earlier Winged Pen post about creative cross-pollination, this one about writing prompts, or this one exploring where ideas come from, to get your creative juices flowing.)

Come back next Wednesday where we’ll discuss Main Character Development.

Brandon Mull’s Creative Juices

Brandon Mull writes for boys using his relentless imagination and his scouting experience.

He has written Beyonders, Fablehaven, and Five Kingdom among others.

Mull says in an interview with Tori Ackerman, “I wanted to go to a world where there was a lot to discover, but still light and fun.”

If Brandon Mull’s series appeal to every demand of one’s imagination, it’s because the author wanted his worlds and characters to be fresh and new.

With so many retellings inspired by legends and folklore, authors who bravely come up with new worlds are harder to find. Kids are drawn by the novelty of his worlds.

For example, Brandon Mull came up with mysterious castles in the air and jumping swords. Even if the sword is a valuable weapon in one world, it is useless in another. Brandon Mull came up with very distinct worlds within worlds. That’s why the books are reminiscent of framed stories like the Arabian Nights. Each episode brings new discoveries and surprises.

The books are movie-driven with episodic adventures, as well as dialogue-driven. Short, snappy episodes do not mean that the plot is less complex. Obviously, there is a lot going on, but each episode is a new adventure bringing on new characters, even late into the story. The ideas are big, but the way things are explained are simple and accessible. Heroes are driven by the moment, by their instincts rather than by their experiences, but they always come up with smart, creative, and resourceful solutions. Yet, in these fast-paced stories, dialogues go on and on for pages without being boring. That’s because dialogues are used to describe the worlds and their mechanics. They are fascinating.

Brandon Mull says in an interview with Book Zones Boy’s Life, “Scouting has significantly helped my career as a professional writer. To create stories, I need details, and my experiences in Scouting helped me learn at least a little about a wide variety of things.”

Mull’s epic fantasies bring to life ordinary kids who survive by their wits in wild worlds. Kids can easily identify to courageous and tenacious heroes. Mull manages a large cast of characters, realistic endeavors, and honest characters with a strong sense of right and wrong. In Fablehaven, Kendra and Seth’s job is to protect magical creatures contained in a reservation. The sense of danger is always present. Characters are sacrificed. Miracles happen too. Treacherous characters make the lives of the heroes difficult. The reader roots for heroes who do not hesitate to take risks, calculated or not. Not only the pace is fast, the adventures constant and the creatures interesting, but also the main characters barter with each other all the time. Their relationship battles between love, hate, and teasing. Many Brandon Mull’s characters challenge each other verbally, adding tension and fun to the chapters. Kendra reflects at the end of a Fablehaven’s adventure, “Many of her experiences here had been dreadful. […] Life would seem so dry after the extraordinary events of the past couple of weeks.”

All in all, Brandon Mull attracts kids by appealing to their sense of adventure and curiosity. The kids want to know what creatures or monsters are in the book. They know they will be surprised. They also appreciate things that blow up, things that get punched, new creatures, cool little guys, things taken from the mythology and from the pop culture, and non-stop action. The quick, dynamic plots sustain little introspection, but they explore new ideas for kids, out loud. Brandon Mull’s stories are a delight because they are full of imagination, conflict, tension, extreme measures, driving motivations with high stakes, and quirky heroes with weaknesses. It’s a new epic that’s tailored for boys and for kids who dream of quests and new worlds.

Resources:

 Brandon Mull’s website. http://brandonmull.com/

Writing Excuses.http://www.writingexcuses.com/2008/10/19/writing-season-2-episode-2-how-to-write-for-children-with-brandon-mull/

Writing Excuses. http://www.writingexcuses.com/2008/10/27/writing-excuses-season-2-episode-3-characters-with-brandon-mull/

20 Thrilling Books for Kids Who Like Percy Jackson. http://www.whatdowedoallday.com/books-for-kids-who-like-percy-jackson/

♥♥♥

If you liked this article, visit Sussu Leclerc at Novel Without Further Ado.

A follow up on Twitter or Pinterest is always appreciated.

Thank you for reading.

 

 

 

 

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.

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Creativity is Messy. Get Over It!

Maybe the hardest part of creativity is to face the critical eyes of others. We have been raised to see organization everywhere, respect schedules, be on time, be logic, put things where they belong, put things in boxes. Although there is a lot of value in being organized, there is also a lot of value in creativity, in being messy. No one more than writers and artists know that.

St.Sebastien,_1989
By Milena palakarkina (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0] , via Wikimedia Commons
Artists, and true innovators in art, publicity, marketing, engineering, etc., defy this basic rule: organization is everything. Learning to be creative, to use intuition, imagination, and being able to express emotions are part of every successful businessperson and writer’s toolbox.

Creativity is messy, yes. So get over it!

My kids know this.

I know this.

You know this.

We might forget it sometimes.

When my homeschooled kids have been peppering their little creative workshops all over the house and we have our hands covered in paints and goo and we juggle with parts and pieces, sometimes it feels like too much.

But what we tend to forget is that their minds are working hard. Kids need to be messy, just like us. Often we insist that they be organized and clean. If we only knew what a little dirt can accomplish!

Things are not what they seem, especially in art.

Your mind, as a writer, will go every which way. Let it!

Your mind at times will go through rollercoasters and your feelings will be all over the place. Let them!

It’s good for you.

You can always warn others that you are in your creative mode, and that won’t be forever. We need to be like that to get to the bottom of our creativity.

Look at the beautiful things we can create with a piece of wood and wire!

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Image by Mikelvaras (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
It looks messy at first sight, but flash a good light over it in the right direction, and look at the wonderful organization!

Creativity is messy, yes, and for everyone who wants to be successful, it’s a patchwork, a mosaic that comes together harmoniously in the end.

The secret of creativity is: Do not see yourself through other people’s eyes.

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By couscouschocolat (Flickr: DSCF0509) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Do no see yourself as a puzzle builder just because it’s more organized. The problem with puzzle builders is that, if you miss a piece, you will be stuck.

Heard of writer’s block?

Picture yourself as someone who organizes his or her own hodgepodge. Be messy, at first: scatter around you notes and sketches, ideas and combine what does not go together at first glance. Then find the logic streak and build on it.

Build a mosaic.

Mosaics are made with random pieces, but they do make beautiful artwork, don’t they?
Allow yourself to be messy, then put all the pieces at your disposal, and find the harmony, your harmony. Be on your way to success.

___________________

Sussu

If you liked this article, visit Sussu Leclerc to read more writing articles at Novel Without Further Ado and follow her on Twitter. Your support is always appreciated!

 

 

Happy NaNoWriMo!

NaNoWriMoToday marks the beginning of the frenetic bundle of amazingness that is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). This month, thousands of writers around the globe will try to write a 50,000 word first draft of a new story.

With an all-star line-up of NaNoWriMo Pep Talks, and hashtags on Twitter for both writing tips and daily sprints, this month is a great time to start writing that novel that you’ve been meaning to write for ages.

Here’s what the some of the Pennies have to say about their own NaNoWriMo experiences:

Julie Artz: I first learned about NaNoWriMo in 2012. And even though my story that year unraveled at 22,000 words, I was hooked. I came back in 2013 with a little bit more advanced planning and claimed the winner’s badge a few days before month-end. In 2014, I used the month to finish a story I started earlier in the fall. And in 2015, that manuscript made it into Pitch Wars. It was that 2013 story–a middle-grade post-apoc with steampunk elements–that first caught my agent’s eye. She offered a revise and resubmit on the manuscript, but, with her permission, I sent her my newest story instead. And the rest is history. This year, I’ll be cheering you all on from the sidelines as I revise for her instead of drafting, but it will be with a pang of envy, because I’ve got this new story idea that’s just itching to be written…

Jessica Bloczynski: In the fall of 2013, I ran out of every episode of Star Trek Netflix had to offer. I even suffered through Enterprise. I was bored. Climbing the walls bored. Honestly, finding NaNo was a fluke. I stumbled upon a Facebook group of folks doing NaNo together and an idea that had been riding around in my head for about a year spoke up and demanded to be written. And I figured, why not, might as well put my creative writing degree to use. I started writing, did writing sprints with friends and shared snippets of my WIP with other newb writers. Basically, I found this amazing, encouraging community and instead of writing my book alone, I wrote it with thousands of others. That’s a powerful feeling. At the end of November I had a very messy draft, that would, in the fullness of time, become the sci-fi novel that earned me a spot in PitchWars 2015. My advice? Do it. DO IT. Do it for the confidence it builds, the community you find and 50,000 words you can shape into something wonderful. And remember, it doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to be finished. Go Nanokids!

Mark Holtzen:  I first participated in NaNoWriMo when I was stuffed in a room with gobs of swarming third graders five days a week and I had two kids under five at home. I had no time and even less energy, but I figured if I was ever going to write a children’s novel in a more efficient way than my first one, I’d have to find the time somewhere in the day. O’dark thirty seemed as good a time as any. The timing wasn’t great–after three days of getting up early I’d pass out at 8:30pm, but that month did get me into the habit of staring at my computer screen for an hour each day. Sometimes I only managed forty minutes, sometimes ten, but I learned the important part was visiting the story once every day. It turned out to be a great thing to share with my students as well.

The Shadows We Know by HeartJennifer Park: My up-coming debut, The Shadows We Know By Heart, was a NaNo project in 2014… I didn’t win, but it jump started the draft and I got a lot of work done on it… I’m going to use this Nano to finish possible book 2. Definitely start strong and surpass your daily word count when you can, because I always lose the week of thanksgiving because of kids and traveling and just being busy… we’re moving this month, so I’ll be surprised if I make the 50k… but there’s always hope! And what I love the most about NaNo is that the momentum really carries through into the following months… I probably get my highest word counts in the months following NaNo because it’s so motivating, and you get to the point where 3000 a day is easily attainable. And I’m competitive, so if friends are doing better than me, I’ll work that much harder. And, no matter whether you win or not, we’re all doing it together. So it’s good to know that when you sit down to get that word count out, so is everyone else.

Kristi Wientge: I’ve participated in NaNo in 2012, 2013 and 2014. I won each of those years. Part of it I attribute to my inner drive that will NOT let me NOT do something I say I’m going to do. The other part I attribute to organization. I use notecards to map out my days. I also jot down notes and names and things I know I’ll forget later on, but don’t want to waste the time to scroll through finding. Usually, I have the first seven cards mapped out. So, my first week goes smoothly. Then, I do the next week and so on. It gives me structure, but still allows me to be flexible. Typically I use a Save The Cat type of beat bullet point to keep me on track and to ensure I actually complete the story. But, if I really find myself stuck, then I take the day to free write from one of the character’s POV’s. It’s words and it counts!

Happy NaNoWriMo writing friends! Share your NaNoWriMo story in the comments below.

Claim it!

via GIPHY

When I had my first child, sure my life changed. My sleep was dictated by her cries. I had to take her with me on all my errands and be sure there’d be a place I could nurse. Worse case, I had to time my arrival so I could feed her in the car.

No more running in shops or popping out for a coffee. There were schedules to follow and a baby to entertain.

But, overall, my life was like a less selfish version of its former self. I still worked. Colleagues and students called me by my name. In fact, many didn’t even know I had a family.

I was still Kristi or Mrs. Kristi.

Then, six months into my second pregnancy, I quit my job. My hair went from curly to straight. I only interacted with mothers. I was sick and tired and hungry and sweaty.

All. The. Freaking. Time.

The people at my daughter’s school, art class and music class called me, “Sylvia’s Mommy.” When I walked down the street with a big belly, pushing a stroller, I was invisible. Everyone looked at my cute toddler’s face and smiled at her. I was suddenly no one.

Just a mom.

That’s how it felt, anyway. Eleven years later, I’m only just now rebuilding my identity. I had three other children, went through the ups and downs over and over. I’ve had to be called “So-and-so’s Mommy” for much longer than I ever intended.

My writing felt like a selfish indulgence. So much so that I’d squish it in between naps and after bedtimes. I only told two people that I was even doing it. All the while, unhappily ticking the “homemaker” box on forms for doctors, schools, etc.

Last year I signed with my agent. I still ticked “homemaker” because I convinced myself that my book hadn’t sold yet so technically I wasn’t an author.

Then, my book sold. I still ticked “homemaker” at the gynecologist.

I signed my contract and I still hesitated and let my hand hover over my children’s Punjabi school form next to the line: Mother’s Job:_____.

I STILL wrote “homemaker.”

I told myself that I’d write “author” once my book comes out in print.

BUT, why?

Why should I wait? What if my book gets bumped and doesn’t come out until 2018 instead of 2017?

If a friend asked me, I’d be telling them not to be silly, write “author.” Why won’t I let myself write it?

Being an author is like being a homemaker. No one really knows how much time, effort and work you put into things. Like when I do a really thorough cleaning of my flat. I feel like I accomplished something. Then, the kids get home from school, have a snack, run around outside, invite neighbors in. By the time my husband walks through the door, he wonders what I’ve actually done all day because the house and dinner are kind of all over the place.

My writing time can be the same. I spend hours working and reworking only to have family say, “You’re STILL working on that? How long does it take to write down some words?”

Recently the FOWP group shared our favorite writing quotes. Mine? (It’s funny now that I think about it!) Here it is: Claim it!

Yep, I’m pretty sure it was from a NaNo pep talk.

So, all of you who have a manuscript hiding in a drawer or maybe you’re in the query trenches or maybe your book is on submission…still. Claim it!

Posting this is my promise to myself that after claiming it to all of you, I’m going to claim it to myself as well. I promise to take a photo of the next form I fill out and post it here. You better be sure I do!

 

Photo on 3-19-15 at 1.23 PM #2Kristi Wientge is the author of KARMA KHULLAR’S MUSTACHE out summer 2017 with Simon & Schuster BFYR and is represented by Patricia Nelson at Marsal Lyon Literary Agency. 

Feeding Your Inner Artist

Some of my earliest memories are of going to the art museum with my father. music-1311106_640Later, when I started playing violin, my parents took us to the symphony. We read widely, went to plays and art festivals and were generally immersed in the arts.

Before I started my family, I spent years attending live music, traveling to some of the world’s best museums, and grabbing a seat at every literary lecture and reading I could.

Things changed. I spent several years not availing myself of art. I had some good excuses: young children, a fixer-upper house that needed lots of fixing up, lack of money. Eventually, I stopped using excuses altogether. Experiencing art just wasn’t something I did anymore.

But then I met my friend Nancy, a dancer. She invited me to one of her performances, which was to be held at the building where we both worked, in a small studio space crammed with a few chairs and lit sparingly.

idea-1301427_640During the performance – an unfinished avant garde piece she was testing out for a choreographer friend of hers – I found that lost piece of myself, the one that is fueled by art. And I had an epiphany.

Writers are artists. I am an artist.

That’s probably a big duh for most of you. I hope it is anyway. But I have found a surprising number of writers who don’t consider themselves artists, or at least don’t refer to themselves that way.

And I think it’s important that we do. Artists create. Writers create. Writers are artists.

Sure, you should read a lot in and out of your chosen genre. But my inner artist is hungry for more. Every art meal I feed my inner artist sparks a new idea in me or gives me an interesting new direction for my work.

Feed your inner artist:

  • Get a membership to the art museum in your town. When they have a show featuring a particular school or artist, go and see how the ideas and style evolved over time.
  • Attend plays and listen to the dialogue. See where the playwright, the director and the actors savor the words, and where they rush.
  • Check out some out-of-the-box performance art. How does the artist use surprise or shock to communicate?
  • See musicians who aren’t in your musical library. How does listening to new music spark your own creativity?
  • Spend time with other artists. Talk to them about their work, learn how to discuss your work. Encourage each other!

In short, expand your artistic horizons.

I am more grateful than I can express for my writer friends and their support, advice and camaraderie. But my inner artist craves the connection with other creative types, too.

Nancy and I often set aside times to discuss art – the creative process, the ups and downs of creating, revising and polishing, the public reception, the germ of a new idea. Our work in different mediums isn’t an impediment to discussion at all. In fact, it enhances it. We often try to bring in other artist friends who can express similar ideas through the lens of photography, sculpture, ballet, architecture, or music.

I attended a concert and discussion recently where the moderator asked a songwriter about intention. The songwriter said he often started out thinking that a song was about one thing, only to find that it ended up being about something else entirely. That happens to me almost every time I write, and hearing another artist talk about that made me feel less alone.

Since that first performance of Nancy’s, I have seen her dance several times. I’ve also started to seek out art again, including going to more live music, taking my kids to art festivals, museums and theater, and generously tipping the fantastic cellist at the farmer’s market.

Each time I experience a new piece of art it feeds that creative part of my soul and reminds me that far from being frivolous or a luxury, art is essential to my well being and the well being of the world.

Art matters.

Your art matters. Feed your art — and keep on creating!

What feeds your art? Do you connect with other artists, either in person or online? Let’s meet in the comments to discuss!

Where Do You Write?

One of the great things about writing is that there’s no wrong way to do it…as long as words are getting logged somewhere. Anywhere. On a laptop, in a notebook, on thick, creamy paper, or in a recording on a cell phone to be transcribed later. But with all these options, we all have our own comfortable patterns we fall into.

IMG_0418Two members of The Winged Pen talk about where they write and why this works for them.

Where do you write?

Rebecca:

I’m a home office girl. I have visions of being a regular in a hip coffee shop, lattes available for the asking when I’ve sweated through so many words that my brain needs a break. In these visions, a critique partner would be writing by my side and we’d brainstorm a plot bunny over the coffee break.

But writing in Starbucks is not for me. One word: Noise. I need quiet to write. I don’t even listen to music. The only words I want to hear are the ones in my head or on my screen. The only voice – my characters’. Anything else slows me down. I have written in coffee shops, but I save that for when I’m more focused on connecting with writer-friends and getting a little work done. Never when I’m doing the Big Revision.

Richelle:

I have an “office” at home, but I rarely do my best work there. Instead, I am that annoying regular at the coffee shop, taking up a table for hours while nursing a cup of coffee.

I like the noise and bustle of the coffee shop. I love to watch people and imagine their backstories, or better yet, listen to how they talk and interact with their companions. Of course, when I’m really cranking, I put my earbuds in and turn on music, which ends up as white noise as I lose myself in the story. But when I’m stuck for a word or the direction for the next scene, all of that inspiration is right there, just over the brim of my coffee mug.

I think the coffee shop calls to me for a couple of reasons: One, my day job is at home, so when I sit down in my “office” I feel guilty if I’m not working on a paid gig. But more than that, at home, there is always something else that I could be doing: dishes, laundry, cleaning up cat vomit, organizing that one closet or drawer that never seems to stay organized, sweeping the dust bunnies from under the sofa. At my local coffee shops – shout out to Rain or Shine and the Bipartisan Café! – nothing is expected of me except that I write.

Describe your typical writing spot.

Rebecca:

I have a desk in the room over the garage. I share my “office” with my kids, so the focused work needs to be done before school gets out and that room gets noisy with video games and homework. My desk is a mess: The Emotional Thesaurus and Story Engineering are always within arm’s reach. There’s a notebook or two with my jotted “do not forgets” for next chapters or revisions, as well as sticky notes with “to do” lists. I also have a Yankee Candle that gets lit when serious writing will be done and a collection of kid art projects.

Richelle:

When I’m not perched on a stool at the local café, I sit in a blue chair in my living room with my beagle curled up asleep behind me. I have a bucket from IKEA that holds my notebooks, and if I lean a little to the left, I can snag a reference book off the bookshelf. I’m more minimalist at the coffee shop, where it’s just me, my laptop, and a notebook and pen.

When you get the big book deal and need to lock yourself away for a month to make the words happen (oh, please let this happen someday!), what would be your dream writing local?

Rebecca:

On the Outer Banks of North Carolina, listening to the surf crash into the beach. Of course, that nasty sand would never get into my laptop and gum up the works. And it would be 70 degrees and partly cloudy and not 95 and scorching…I mean, since we’re dreaming.

Richelle:

I’m with Rebecca, only on the opposite coast! A beach house on the Oregon coast, with a view of the surf tumbling onto the sand and summer sun streaming in the picture window would, I’m certain, inspire me to new story heights.

 

Where do you write? Do you pick your writing spot for creativity? For productivity? What do you think would happen if you tried something new?

We’d love to hear from you in the comments!

 

2014-5 NESCBWI croppedREBECCA J. ALLEN writes middle grade and young adult stories that blend mystery and adventure. Her best story ideas come from her two crazy kids. Unlike many writers, Rebecca did not write her first story at age eight…at least not fiction. She wrote for her high school yearbook and edited it her senior year. She also wrote for her college newspaper. But her first fiction course scared the bejeezus out of her! Having overcome her fear of fiction, Rebecca loves see how much trouble she can get her characters into, and sometimes back out of. You can find her blog here. She’s also on Twitter.

rm-picRICHELLE MORGAN writes, works, plays and drinks too much coffee in Portland, Oregon, often in the company of her husband and their three spirited children, mischievous beagle and long-suffering cat. When not writing fiction for young adults and children, she pens fundraising letters and other marketing copy for progressive nonprofit organizations. Richelle keeps an occasional blog about nonprofit marketing and communication. She has also written feature articles for The Oregonian, and her short fiction has appeared in Voicecatcher. You can find her on Twitter.