Wednesday, March 26, 2014

I'm Going To Camp!

Next week I'm going to camp--Camp NaNoWriMo!



April would be a terrible month for me to fast-draft a 50,000-word novel. Mostly because I'm distracted by my daughter's big looming college decision. So I'm excited that Camp NaNoWriMo is letting us set our own word-count goals, as well as projects.

I'm going to write a 10,000-word short story! YAY!!! I'll certainly need something to distract me from that big looming college decision.

Delving into a big fat novel will be the perfect distraction when my daughter heads off to college in a few months--in one direction (hundreds of miles away) or another (thousands of miles away).

?????

Friday, March 21, 2014

Newbie Mistake #1.79

Often when I finish a long work of fiction, I'll spend some time working on short stuff, sort of like a brain cleanser while I research or cogitate on the details of the next big project. Early in my career, writing magazine stories also helped me obtain publishing credits for that I'm-the-real-deal paragraph in my query letter.

Contests are another great way to pump up that last query letter paragraph. I've tried many times to win the Highlights For Children contest. I'd brainstorm a list of ten ideas and write ten magazine stories, quickly. I'd work on the best ones and submit them to the contest. While I never won, I did end up with pieces I could submit to other children's magazines. Some of those have been published.

So far, so good. But here's where the mistake occurs:

In 2003, once again, I failed to win the Highlights contest. No biggie. I popped the piece into the mail again.

Magazine #1 said, no.
Magazine #2 said, no.
Magazine #3 said, maybe this should be a picture book?
Me: YAY!!!! I've written a picture book!!!! (I immediately popped it back into the mail.)
Book Editors #1-#6 said, NO!!!!

So I filed the manuscript and moved on to other things. No lesson learned. Yet.

A couple of weeks ago, I came across a book publisher looking for just the kind of story that's been sitting in my file cabinet for the last decade. YAY!!! I rushed to the file, ready to submit my picture book.

But I hadn't written a picture book, I'd written a magazine story. No wonder all those publishers said, no. Magazine stories have a few spot illustrations, but the description in the text provides most of the details. Picture book text leaves much more to the illustrator--and it needs a dose of magic to inspire reading over and over again. That kind magazine editor wasn't telling me that I had a picture book manuscript, only that I had an idea that could be developed into a picture book.

The thing about me in 2003? I wasn't fond of revision. I wanted to be published NOW, NOW, NOW!

Thus, Newbie Mistake #1.79: Not taking time to revise (always mistake #1, combined with not knowing the difference between two writing genres .7, plus rushing the process and sending stuff out too soon, .09).

I have now scrapped everything but the idea, and, wow, writing picture books is hard. Maybe that's why I write short stuff--it makes me really excited to delve into something long again!


Monday, March 10, 2014

Blogging Elsewhere

I'm over at YA Outside The Lines today, blogging about how my books are used in the classroom. Except, my books aren't used in the classroom--I am! You can read the post here: http://yaoutsidethelines.blogspot.com/2014/03/my-name-isnt-nathaniel-hawthorne-its.html


Friday, March 7, 2014

A Post In Which I Incidentally Reveal That I Watch Bad TV

So a strange thing happened while I was doodling and making notes about my favorite American Idol performances--I found myself writing down one of judge Harry Connick Jr's comments, "Work on the things that are hard. Work on the things that make you uncomfortable and you will improve."

I love that advice.

What is hard for me? What makes me uncomfortable? Poetry.

No form of writing makes me feel more stupid than poetry. I still vividly remember one of my high school teachers quoting a poem in which the narrator feels "big as a house."
My teacher: "Of course that means she's pregnant."
Me: What the huh? I thought she was fat. Man, am I stupid.

Poetry plagued me in college, too. Those fat Norton anthologies contained stumps of partial stories (who wants to read part of a story?!?!?) packed between poems, poems, poems, and more poems.

I would never want to be married to a guy who wrote poems for me. Just watching contestants on the Bachelor read poems makes me squeamish.

About a year ago, I decided to tackle my poetry problem. Poetry might make me feel stupid, but fearing an entire literary genre is stupid. I bought Sage Cohen's Writing The Life Poetic: An Invitation To Read & Write Poetry.



Slowly I've read through each chapter and worked through most of the writing exercises. I've written a lot of bad poetry in my writing practice notebook. But I'm determined to shape a few of those messes into something worth reading. Although I did scrawl a note next to one verse-y passage, "maybe a better short story?" No. I will make it a poem first.

I can't say that I'm comfortable with poetry yet, but I have been reading poetry before bed. I started with the accessible Billy Collins and now I can say that I'm actually enjoying Polish poet, Wislawa Szymborska's collected work. I vow to continue reading poetry--just a few poems a day. I can't say that I understand all that I'm reading, but every now and then I feel a spark of joy when a poem speaks to me. I get it! I get it! Yes!


I'm going to continue to write poetry, even though I really do suck at it. Even though it scares me more than spiders and snakes. I do think that my study of poetry has helped me think about word choice, description, and unique phrasing in my fiction writing. Harry Connick Jr. is right: work on what's hard, work on what's uncomfortable and you will improve.


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