Keeping the Words Flowing

Back when we were the age of the kids we write for, summer used to mean long, hot, lazy days filled with reading, outdoor fun, and friends. But for writers, summer can be a huge time of distraction.

hilarity-1349125_640Schedule changes like vacations and having kids home from school for the summer months can really eat into my writing time. So I asked my fellow Winged Pen members how they keep writing through the summer chaos – or any big schedule changes like moving, a new job, a new baby or family visiting.

Here are their creative suggestions to keep the words flowing.

Julie: After basically not getting to write a word for a couple of summers, I vowed last year that I’d make time for writing. Then I overdid it and spent too much time at the computer and not enough with my kiddos. This year, I’m hoping for a bit more balance. First, I’m going to keep up my early morning writing habit. Second, I’m going to scale back my expectations a bit. I’m lucky this summer because my son needs to do an entire school year’s worth of math so that he can enter an accelerated program in middle school next year, so I will be able to slip in writing time while he’s busy with Khan Academy, but that still leaves my daughter. I’ve got some art and writing projects lined up to keep her entertained and both are avid readers, so hopefully that will be enough time to help all make it through the summer with smiles on our faces.

Laurel: I’ve used the 15 minute plan a lot. If you have a brainstormed scene list (however sketchy!), you can pick a scene to draft, mind-map the characters until you find the conflict, set the timer for 15 minutes and write like mad. If you don’t have a scene list because life is tooooo crazy, you can try a prompt. Once you have enough “sand” you can review it and see if there’s a castle in there somewhere. My most effective book for prompts (to use with or without a current project) is Roberta Allen’s THE PLAYFUL WAY TO SERIOUS WRITING.

My kids are older so it’s more of a people suddenly need me for something and interrupting myself. I had really good luck with Joanna Penn’s calendar method earlier this year. And then we went away for a week and I’ve never quite gotten it back on track. I’m trying to get back in the groove before school gets out for my youngest.

Gita: I’ve been struggling to get my work done and the 15-minute plan (or, for me, the 500 word plan) works because it’s just enough writing to keep my head in the game. And I don’t judge the quality of the work when I’m only writing 500 words. It’s just getting words on paper until I feel better/have a longer chunk of time to work AND not letting myself get psyched out that I’m not writing. If I skip a day I’m lost and it’s twice as hard to get back into it. Timed writing also works.

In A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf says, “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.” And I think if she’d had children, she would have said that some of the money is for summer camp or babysitters.

When my son was little, I pooled resources with another friend and hired teenagers to play with him and his buddy in the mornings so I could work. Now that he’s older he sleeps in, so I force myself to be productive at that time. This year: 3-week sleep away camp, a gift from his grandparents. Really, though, it’s about finding bits of time and defending them—not letting them get used for anything but writing.

Rebecca: I know I do better with a couple big blocks of time then a lot of small ones. So Tuesdays and Wednesdays are my writing days. The benefit is not just that they are big blocks so I can make some significant progress on a revision, but also that they are easy to defend. These are always my writing days, so I might schedule a tradesman that needs access to the house (reluctantly) but I push off any guilt about bills, groceries, laundry, etc. For drafting, I switch up to shorter chunks of time over the summer because I can’t write new stuff for 8 hours straight.

Halli: I also try to fit in 15 minutes a day at the minimum. Whether the kids are home or we are on vacation. Sometimes it has to be something completely new if my current WIP is on the computer and I can’t get to it (for example screen time is shut off for the whole family) then I will write something with pen and paper. It also helps with keeping my mind active and the creative juices flowing. I find that in the summer when the kids are sleeping in and husband is at work, I get some good productive time in.

Karin: Summer camps = writing time! All four kids are going to sleep away camp this year for the first time! Okay, it’s only for a couple of weeks, but still it will be exquisite. I won’t have to worry about cleaning and cooking and entertaining them. Of course, we will do fun stuff but it will be great to have this quiet time to write. Then they have a couple of weeks of local sports or music camps. The older ones (8th and 10th grade) can bike to their friends now and even hang out at the community pool on their own.

Kristi: I wish I had a suggestion… I just end up throwing my hands in the air and passing out i-pads and typing in the password on the computer and telling them leave each other alone and give me an hour…

Sometimes life really does demand that you take a break. But if you’re struggling to stay in your writing groove this summer – or any time during the year! – try out one of these suggestions and let us know how it goes! And if you have any other ideas, comment away!

 

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.

8 on Eight: June Contest Feedback

Theight on eight 2ank you to all the brave souls who entered this month’s 8 on Eight contest! Sharing your writing takes courage, and we appreciate your enthusiasm for our contest.

If your name wasn’t drawn from the Triwizard cup this time around, keep an eye out for when our next contest window opens at 8 PM on June 30th. Below, we’ve posted the first 8 lines from this month’s winner, along with feedback from at least eight of our members. We also encourage our readers to share their (constructive) suggestions and encouragement in the comments section below.

Halo and the Boomerang Effect, MG Fantasy

Halo held her hands in front of her face, fascinated as each finger faded in, then out, reminding her of those holograms used in space movies. Flicker. Flash. Flick, flick. Zap. Her whole body shifted into solid form, and once again, she became a resident of Loblolly Pines.

After each eleven-month disappearing act, she loved her magical homecoming within the Christmas tree. Materializing never got old.

Ten cartwheels along the branch brought her to the trunk. She leaned in and sniffed. Pinewood with a damp muskiness…best fragrance ever. Halo nudged a finger under a sliver of bark and tugged. Snug. The sap’s tackiness confirmed a healthy tree.

Julie: I love the title–it’s perfect for middle grade and instantly made me want to learn more. You’ve created a lot of mystery around Halo in these first few lines (What is she? Why does she disappear for 11 months out of the year? Why does she reappear in a Christmas tree?). You do a great job of showing us that she’s tiny (if she can do ten cartwheels along a tree branch!) and I love the sensory details of the sticky sap and the damp muskiness of the tree. But I’m not as grounded in the opening paragraph as I wish I was. I love the image of a hologram, but I’m wondering if focusing on what materializing feels like (which is internal and unique to Halo’s experience) would be better than focusing on what it looks like (which is external, like we’re watching a movie instead of experiencing it from Halo’s perspective). Best of luck–this sounds like a great story!

Laurel: Thanks for sharing your story! Here’s a bit of feedback from my reader experience. Of course, every reader sees things differently, so if I’m the only one going off on that tangent, feel free to ignore. I felt Halo’s fascination with her fingers and tripped when I got to hologram. After reading this first paragraph three times, I got a “Beam me up Scotty!” image. Hologram says 3D-projection to me, rather than flickering. Halo and hologram are close in sound but very different in meaning. Is there a connection or am I looking for one in the wrong place? The zap puzzled me. (Were there zaps in Star Trek?) I start out very solidly inside Halo, looking at her fingers, and then I’m outside her body watching it flash. A bit more of Halo’s reactions might clue me in to the direction you want me to go. I love the specificity of loblolly pines.

The next paragraph made perfect sense until I got to “within the Christmas tree.” Why a Christmas tree? Whose Christmas tree? Or is Christmas tree short-hand for any kind of conifer? Is it a live tree in the middle of the forest? Or a cut tree in a house in the town of Loblolly Pines? Was she “within” the tree or did she materialize on the branch? “Materializing never got old” made me smile. Is there a cost to materializing? Maybe that will come up later in the story. 🙂 There’s a tiny speed bump for the eleven-month disappearance because Christmas falls in the 12th month. It’s all correct, but it made me stop and subtract for a second.

The third paragraph tells me Halo is outside of the tree because she’s doing cartwheels on the branch. I liked the cartwheels and felt a bit nervous about being scratched, since pines often have so many sharp twigs. It didn’t occur to me that Halo was small until I read Julie’s comment above.

The last paragraph was easy to follow as a reader. I wondered if you needed “pinewood” instead of “pine.” Halo checking the health of the tree hints at an intriguing caretaker role for the forest. “The sap’s tackiness” surprised me because I expected to read about the bark. Is there a connection there that’s important for the reader to know? Or is it enough to say that “Snug bark meant a healthy tree”? Or that her finger is sticky? I love that you engage the senses of smell and touch in this very small passage.

I love the loblolly pine setting and “the boomerang effect,” whatever that turns out to be! Lots of interesting hooks in the opening of your story! Best wishes for success with it!

Gabby: I think the title is great, and I like the first sentence as well. I’m not wild about the one word sentences that follow though, for two reasons. One, you’ve already told us her image is fading in and out, so it feels redundant. Two, as Julie points out, it takes me out of the action, instead of pulling me in.

You’ve got some great intrigue in the next sentence, but no stakes yet. I think you could maybe leave the fact that it’s a Christmas tree for later, as it will certainly need more explanation. String us along into her world with breadcrumbs as they become relevant. Let it just be a tree, for now. Focus on her having been gone eleven-months and what that feels like. She loves materializing, but give us more. Her body language/actions in the last paragraph imply she’s really glad to be back (to be home?), but is she wondering what’s she’s missed? Maybe she knows what she’s missed, and can’t wait to catch up. Maybe she’s wishing she could be in two places at once.  Maybe she’s keeping one eye open for the cat/snow/fall/friend/whatevs.

You need there to be some tension in these first lines. Micro-stakes is fine, but give me some conflict. You’ve done well with the sensory descriptions, but I’d cut the “snug” line, and I’m not sure why we need to know about the health of the tree here. It feels like a jump. An intriguing beginning! Best of luck.

Michelle: This is very intriguing! When I read the first sentence, (which I really like) I wanted to know how it feels to materialize. Bring in some more senses. Is it cold? Hot? Tingly? Fizzy? Like Gabby said, I don’t really think the one word sentences add much. You could say something like, “Each time her fingers flickered,…(then add how it feels).”

I don’t think the second paragraph adds anything that we need to know just yet. Having it where it is seems like backstory. I’d save it for later. Love the sensory details in the third paragraph. They make me want to read more!  Good Luck! Keep us updated on your progress!

Kristi: I LOVED this! Your 1st line had me thinking about Search for Wondla. Then, the 10 cartwheels to the trunk line really drew me in. Everything kind of solidified in my head and I could start picturing it all. I agree with Michelle that you can get rid of the 2nd paragraph at this stage and use that to add a hint of what’s to come or a hint of danger or stakes. It’s never too early to add those kinds of things. Otherwise, I’d for sure keep reading.

Gita: An intriguing beginning! This feels fresh to me, which makes me eager to read on. There’s a lot of mystery: I don’t know who or what Halo is, where she comes from, or even where she is (at a tree farm or in a house). But that’s ok with me. Still, I’d be even more willing to follow Halo into this story if I felt a little more emotionally connected to her in these opening lines. We learn that it’s a “homecoming” for her to materialize onto the tree, but I don’t get a sense of how she’s feeling. It makes me wonder: is the place she lives the rest of the year different from Lobolly Pines? In what ways? Do these differences matter to Halo (I hope they do)? Which does she prefer? If Halo travels between these places, is there any tension for her in the process? What does she want? When I fall in love with a character, it’s because she’s a thinking, feeling, wondering being who’s at odds with her world—even if only a little bit. I’d love to see more of what Halo’s feeling/thinking right up front as a way of bringing out the tension that’s going to keep your reader reading. As an example, here’s EB White’s opening to Charlotte’s Web:

“Where’s Papa going with that axe?” said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast.

You can check out the earlier, less tension-filled versions here.  Happy writing!

Rebecca: I love sci fi and fantasy, so this story is right up my alley! I also like your start with very cool magic, but as others have said, you could slow down here to introduce the sensations that accompany her fading and appearing at in new place and how she feels about it. When you create a new world, it is very important that the reader can visualize is so that they can experience it with your characters. Because this means of transport is so far off from our poor, muggle experience, you want to take the time to really get the reader grounded in it and bring them along. That will get them more invested in the story.

Great start! Best of luck with your story!

Halli: Thanks for entering the contest! As just about everyone said, I love your title. I have been known to choose books on titles alone. I think you have some wonderful detail and descriptive sentences here. For some people, that is the hardest part, so job well done! The first paragraph is very interesting and definitely grabs my interest. I agree with the other critiques about needing to be more in Halo’s mind by describing her feelings and internal thoughts and not external observations. For me, sometimes that comes down to wording. For example, you wrote: reminding her of those holograms used in space movies. The words “reminding her” remind me that a narrator is speaking. Try the sentence without it and see what you think. I do love the last sentence of paragraph one.

The second paragraph threw me just a bit. I see it is a transition between materializing and the tree – which I assume her checking to see if it is healthy will be significant. It may be because there are several different thoughts in this short space: materializing, an eleven-month absence, and the Christmas tree, and one of the biggest ones (the eleven-month absence) is not explained.

Paragraph three goes back to the wonderful details: ten cartwheels on a branch, the damp muskiness. Wonderful!

Great job! Hope these comments help.

Karin: This sounds lovely and different! I think Halo is some kind of fairy or ghost, but then why is she watching space movies? Also, space movies pulled me out of this world into a very different world. Not sure if you did this intentionally. Anchor us into Halo’s world by giving us a sense of her size, and whether the tree is inside or outside, decorated or not. Also, maybe an aside after “snug” to indicate that this is a good sign. “Good. very good.” Then she can say, “And the sap’s…” By increasing the build up, we know this is a very important part of Halo’s job and we’re intrigued to learn more!

Good luck!

 

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Up Your Game with the Write Fashions from THE WINGED PEN

closed Mac laptop with fingerless purple mittens and sparkly jewelry
Essentials for the productive writer: laptop, warm hands, and bling. Sweatpants not shown.

Can the right clothes inspire writers?

In a word, yes. My Winged Pen fellow, Michelle Leonard, pointed me to this article about how clothes affect our performance. Get your red sneakers now before there’s a run on them!

So what do productive writers wear?

Lucky socks? Writer’s baseball cap? NaNoWrimo Winner t-shirt?

I once had a beloved writing sweater with a monk-like cowl with pom-pom and deep pockets to keep those typing hands warm.

I asked the other Pen fellows about their writing soft-wear. Here’s what they said:

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Kristi Wientge: “My clothes don’t matter (although I can’t be in PJ’s), but I do NOT write productively without eye makeup. It’s true.”

 

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Halli Gomez: “I do have a baseball cap that says Writer on it but I don’t wear it to write. I wear it run to keep the sun off my face. I can write in pajamas, jeans, shorts in the summer. Anything.”

 

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Jessica Vitalis: “Anything as long as I’m warm. That usually means I’m writing in a fleece hat. In the winter, I add a down robe to the mix. It’s quite a look.”

 

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Rebecca Smith-Allen: “Slouchy jeans that my husband is always telling me to replace (um…but the point is that they’re slouchy), a comfy, old t-shirt, and slippers that are on when I’m cold, then off when I’m hot. Then I’ve forgotten where I left them when I need them again because I’m cold.”

Photo credit: Gail WernerJulie Artz: “I almost always write in wild socks. I have knee high fuzzy IMG_2762purple/hot pink striped slipper socks for when it’s cold, a pair complaining about the rain that Matt got me when we decided to move to the Pacific Northwest, and a variety of rainbow colored stripes, polka dots, and argyle socks. I also usually wear a kitten for a lap-warmer.“

Photo credit: Gail Werne

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Michelle Leonard: “What I’m wearing isn’t nearly as important as holding a bag of warmed cherry pits, even in the summer. I get so cold when I write! I have to warm them in the microwave every 30 minutes or so. Getting up to do that is exercise, right?”

 

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Kate Manning: “I’m usually in a soft, warm sweater and, of course, my fox slippers.”IMG_2763

 

 

 

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Gabrielle K. Byrne: “Slouchy for the win. Sweats and a robe or long sweater. Oh – I have two rings I don sometimes as inspiration. One’s a giant fossil and the other is a dark blue droozy that sparkles like the night sky. There’s definitely a kind-of “I’m fancy” illusion that’s going on between the bathrobe and the jewelry.”

 

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Jennifer Brister Park: “I always wear workout clothes so I can remind myself at some point I have to get up and exercise.”

 

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Hilary Harwell: “I wear workout clothes too, and I’d like to think I do so for the same reasons as Jennifer Brister Park, but it’s mostly because they’re comfortable and stretchy. My hair is usually up in some wild knot and my clothes are rarely matching. I like to think of it as the crazed writer look.”

 

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Mark Holtzen: “Fleece early morning. When I venture to coffee shop I up my game. Trying to be more professional and treat it like the work that it is. I guess I’m maturing? (Nah.)”

 

 

So now you know how to up your writing game–with these fashion tips from THE WINGED PEN! Do you have an inspirational writing get-up? Share in the comments below.

IMG_4373HighResHeadshotLDLAUREL DECHER writes stories about all things Italian, vegetable, or musical. Beloved pets of the past include “Stretchy the Leech” and a guinea pig that unexpectedly produced twins. She’s famous for a nonexistent sense of direction, but carries maps because people always ask her for directions. When she’s not lost, she can be found on Twitter and on her blog, This Is An Overseas Post, where she writes about life with her family in Germany. She’s still a Vermonter and an epidemiologist at heart. PSA: Eat more kale! 🙂 Her short fiction for adults, UNFORESEEN TIMES, originally appeared in Windhover.

 

What Knitting Taught Me About Writing

I started knitting when I was in my mid-20’s. My mother is an expert seamstress and had tried to teach me to sew, but it just never took. I couldn’t muster the patience or the exactitude necessary for sewing. (Really, I hated all the ironing. I still don’t iron, unless you count tossing things in the dryer for a few minutes.) By a strange coincidence, I also started writing for a living in my mid-twenties, about four months after I cast on my first stitch.

For years, I didn’t think the two were related at all, except that when I am in a knitting phase, I’m not writing quite as much, and when I’m in a writing phase, I’m not knitting as much. If I thought of them together at all, they were competitors for my time.

But one day, one of my kids was looking at my latest project, and she said, “Wow, that sure is a mess. Are you sure you want to keep making it?”

Hold the mustard! That is something I say to myself in the middle of every single thing I write — fiction or fundraising or email to a friend.  And in that moment, I realized that all these years of knitting and writing have been far more inextricably linked than I ever knew.

The Beginning: Casting on

IMG_0626Every piece of knitting starts with that first cast-on stitch (Fancy expert knitters who know some fabulous technique for starting without casting on: Pipe down! I’m making a point here!), just as every piece you write starts with that first word.

Those first few rows of knitting – just like the first few sentences you write – are maddening. Full of promise of what’s to come, but messy and often confusing…and absolutely necessary to get to the good stuff. They’re never the prettiest stitches or the most beautiful prose. But they form the foundation for what is to come.

As you add row upon row, word upon word, you feel pretty good. You’re making progress! Your fingers are flying! This is AWESOME!

Until you look at your word (or row) count and realize how much further you have to go.

The Messy Middle

Which is when you get to the big slog, which looks like this:

IMG_0611Can you even imagine wearing that? Can you imagine wanting to?

The same thing happens when I’m writing. I get to the middle and feel absolutely certain that everything I’ve done up to that point was a complete waste of time. There are stray thoughts everywhere, paragraphs that start strong, then peter out into nothing. Structure? What structure! It’s an amorphous blob that will never amount to anything.

But I keep plugging away. Because I’ve come this far, and because I’ve done this enough times to trust that it will somehow, some way, work out.

Done, But Not Done

And then you finish. You type that last word, cast off that last stitch. It feels great, and hey! It doesn’t look half bad.

IMG_0620Of course, it’s not ready for prime time yet. There are all those loose plot threads to tie up and those seams – and themes – to sew up.

And this is where I really start to lose heart. I’ve spent so much time with this project – during which I’ve thought of a dozen other projects I’d rather be working on. And I’ve kind of gotten sick of even looking at this one. Why did I pick out this ugly yarn anyway? No way am I ever going to wear this monstrosity!

I know a lot of knitters – and writers – who get to this stage and simply stop. They have completed but not finished sweaters taking up space in their knitting bags. Writers have finished but not polished novels.

But this is what knitting – such a visual and tactile medium – has taught me aboutIMG_0625 the more intellectual medium of writing: DON’T GIVE UP.

That extra little effort to finish and polish and press is so worth it.