Category Archives: Writing Process & Craft

Storystorm with Tara Lazar

Storystorm with Tara Lazar

Hear Ye! Hear Ye! STORYSTORM, author Tara Lazar’s story idea and writing craft event is coming to a computer screen near you soon! Visit her blog to read the rules and register. 

Last year I created an insertable text Storystorm calendar to collect my story ideas and jot down notes from the daily posts. That way, my ideas and craft tips from the amazing Storystorm contributors are always at my fingertips. If you think it will work for you, download a copy below. 

Thanks for hosting this wonderful writing event again Tara. And happy 10th-anniversary STORYSTORM!

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PiBoIdMo – Picture Book Idea Month 2015

PiBoIdMo – Picture Book Idea Month 2015
The most wonderful time of the year for picture book writers is almost here.

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PiBoIdMo or Picture Book Idea Month created by author Tara Lazar, is an annual writing challenge scheduled during the full month of November. Beginning on the first day of the month, participants will receive daily inspirational blog posts and writing exercises by picture book authors, illustrators, and editors. The only thing that would make this event more awesome would be the chance to win prizes. Wait. What? Yes, there will be prizes!

 

The goal is to generate 30 ideas to deposit into a writer’s picture book idea bank. We all know the first step in the process of writing a picture book is coming up with a story idea. And we often hear what Mark Twain said, “There is no such thing as a new idea.” If that is true, how are we supposed to come up with something original that an editor or agent will consider book worthy? One way is to spin and twist old ideas to create new intriguing combinations.

 

Here are a few great examples:

 

Fractured Fairy Tales
Little Red is a fairy tale figure skater who needs to win a paired skating competition. She needs a partner. The other characters are taken. But there’s one with big eyes, sharp teeth, and furry paws available.  Little Red Gliding Hood by Tara Lazar
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Bullying
Ginny Louise is a new addition to a class of troublemakers who is so cheerful she is unable to find fault in any of her cranky classmates. And that ultimately changes their bullying attitudes.  Ginny Louise and the School Showdown by Tammy Sauer
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Rivalry
Leftovers Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast engage in a race around other foods in the refrigerator to get to that last drop of maple syrup.  Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast by Josh Funk
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Bedtime
Little pirate Ned will do anything to avoid bedtime. He convinces Papa Pirate there are things he must do before settling in for the night.  Pirate’s Lullaby: Mutiny at Bedtime by Marcie Wessels
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Determination
Percy the Pug finds the perfect puddle but the puddle pigs who inhabit it won’t share. Puddle Pug by Kim Norman
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Each one of these books started with an idea, perhaps a random thought, or a “what if” question. Reading and listening to interviews about authors often give us the story behind their story idea. And you will be surprised how, when, where, and under what circumstances those ideas came to them. That is what PiBoIdMo is about. Finding out what works for others may just work for you too.

 

There will be days during the month when ideas just won’t show up. Like they’re playing a game of ”keep away”.

 

And you’ll feel like this.

 

Hang in there.

 

Other days you’ll be thrilled when they come.
Here’s my PiBoIdMo Pledge.
  1. I will register on Sunday October 25, 2015 by entering my name in the registration blog post.
  2. I will assemble all necessary tools to be available 24/7 for 30 days of November.
  3. I will read every post, comment daily when possible, and complete the exercises.
  4. I will record all my ideas, the good, the bad, and the ugly.
  5. I will not beat my head against the computer, but I will do a jig when I think of a story idea.
Hope to see you in November, on Tara’s blog or on the PiBoIdMo Facebook page!

 

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The King Cake Baby – A Query Letter That Worked

The King Cake Baby – A Query Letter That Worked

Sub It Club featured the query letter that lead to the acquisition of my manuscript for The King Cake Baby. To see that post at the SubitClub blog, click here.

Every writer knows the importance of a query letter. A what? That’s what I asked after writing an early draft of my story. Upon learning the purpose of a query and what it entailed, I then set out to learn how to write one. Essentially, it’s a letter that accompanies your manuscript when sending it to an agent or editor and includes the following components: the hook, the book, the cook. Huh?

No worries, at Sub It Club you can learn a lot about how to write a query and more. Writers work hard on perfecting the manuscript they hope to sell. But first you must sell your story idea to an agent or editor through your query. The intent is for the person reading it to want to read your picture book manuscript or pages to your novel that’s attached.

Almost done. There’s more? Yep. To complete the submission process, you must know what agents and or publishing houses are a good fit for your manuscript. Huh?

No worries, hang around the Sub It Club  to learn all about it!

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Writing Process Blog Tour

Writing Process Blog Tour

Marcie Wessels, author of PIRATE’S LULLABY (Doubleday, Spring 2015) invited me to participate in this Writing Process Blog Tour. Marcie and I met in an online facebook group for writers. Although we live in different regions of the country we had an immediate connection and for good reason. We have traveled some of the same familiar paths, just in different stages in our lives. This time, however, we are virtually in the same place at the same time as we both become debut authors.

What am I currently working on?

I have completed a companion story to my original book, THE KING CAKE BABY (Pelican, Spring 2015). I have two other works in progress also set in Louisiana.

I am really excited about starting a new project which involves co-authoring a non-fiction children’s book with my husband who is a research scientist.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

THE KING CAKE BABY is a fractured fairy tale that follows the familiar rhythm and rhyme found in classic fairy tale of The Gingerbread Man. However the characters, setting, language and colloquial lingo used in THE KING CAKE BABY gives my story cultural significance specific to New Orleans.

Why do I write what I write?

I enjoy sharing my Louisiana culture with others. Our traditions and customs are very important to us. As a genealogy researcher and family historian I research and write frequently about our unique contributions to the multicultural landscape of the United States.

How does my individual writing process work?

The ideas I use in my writing are usually based on experiences or observations. While baking a king cake the idea for THE KING CAKE BABY popped into my head. For this story I started by using the framework of the traditional Gingerbread Man story adding my own characters and twist. Then I research. I read about the genre as well as many, many other comparable books.

THE KING CAKE BABY has a refrain mixed with English and French, so I spent a lot of time working on the rhythm and rhyme and making sure I used correct French grammar. Because this was my first children’s book I decided to seek out other writers in my area. I found a local SCBWI group, and just happened to go to my first meeting on the night scheduled for critiques. With their advice and direction I began to learn about the craft of picture book writing as well as the business end of the kidlit industry. I was very fortunate to find this wonderful group of ladies.

Revision is by far the most crucial part of my writing process. I can easily write 1,000 words but revision means getting rid of almost half of them when writing a picture book!  I have agonized for weeks over finding the perfect word or perfect rhyme. I believe every word counts.

KCB Memorial Day

To continue the writing process blog tour, it is my pleasure to introduce three authors whose work I admire. Each author will answer the same four questions I answered above. Click on the author’s name to learn more about them and their work. Look for their answers next week, Monday, June 2nd.

Diana Jenkins writes books, magazine stories, articles, and comic strips for kids and teens. Diana generosity shares her vast knowledge about writing with our local SCBWI group. Her newest release, TACKLING TOUGH TOPICS WITH FAITH AND FICTION (Pauline Books & Media 2014), is a resource book for parents and  teachers who want to help middle school and junior high students deal with moral challenges using faith.

JaNay Brown-Wood has published poetry in Highlights for Children and her debut picture book, IMANI’S MOON (Mackinac Island Press, October 14, 2014) is  about a young Maasi girl with a loving mother and a desire to do something great. When she decides she wants to touch the moon, she works hard to reach her goal, even in the face of teasing from the naysayers around her. IMANI’S MOON won the 2013 NAESP Children’s Book of the Year Picture Book award.

Kerrie Hollihan writes award-winning nonfiction history and science books for young people. Her latest book, REPORTING UNDER FIRE (Chicago Review Press, June 1, 2014), is about 16 trailblazing war correspondents who are also 16 trailblazing women. How appropriate to share Kerrie’s work on the day our country celebrates Memorial Day. In between researching and writing, Kerrie is the fearless leader of our local SCBWI group.

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“Dear Soon To Be Published Author” by Robin LaFevers

“Dear Soon To Be Published Author” by Robin LaFevers

I’ve read, tweeted, posted on FB, blogged, and re-read Robin’s post Dear Soon To Be Published Author with all my writer friends and groups. This is by far some of the most excellent advice given to writers. I am constantly in a battle with Patience. She is annoying, frustrating, and totally inflexible. I feel like an exercise in hurry up and wait. And Doubt is just demeaning.

As a debut author I am both excited and terrified. What resonated with me from Robin’s post is the importance of being our authentic selves. Writing is highly personal and publishing is a tough business. We cannot predict nor control the process or the actions by others. We must remember to be kind to ourselves.

Here’s the link to the post: Dear Soon To Be Published Author

Thanks Robin. Write on.

 

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KIDLIT411, A Writer’s Hub

KIDLIT411, A Writer’s Hub

KIDLIT411 is a writer’s hub that provides the connections you need to get to your dream destination, finding a place for your words. The founder, Elaine Kiely Kearns created a one stop information shop for all things related to writing for children. The site launched in January 2014. Elaine’s co-pilot is Sylvia Liu. Sylvia recently won the 2013 Lee and Low New Voices Award and her picture book, A MORNING WITH GONG, is scheduled for publication in Fall 2015.

If you are thinking about writing a children’s book, learning about the industry, and looking to meet others that share your passion for children’s literature, stop by http://www.kidlit411.com/ .  You will be very happy you did.

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Oh My Goodness…Sub It Club One Year Anniversary

Oh My Goodness…Sub It Club One Year Anniversary

Although I am still very new at this writing gig, I have learned something that is obviously not new. And that’s the outpouring of support and opportunity out there for writers.

I recently participated in ReviMO hosted by author Meg Miller just this weekend and completed my last writing prompt for Start the Year Out Write 2014 hosted by author Shannon Abercrombie. I will begin 12X12 with author Julie Hedlund soon and today I found Sub It Club created by Heather Ayris Burnell, Dana Carey and Lisha Cauthen when pursuing the SCBWI (Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) boards. WOWZA.

I think I’ve come full circle! Writing tips, revision tips, and submission tips covers a huge chunk of the creative process. I want to participate in Sub It Club because although I like to write, and really do not mind spending the time to revise, I need to learn when to stop and submit. After all the hard work of writing and revising, my goal is to learn to pitch and query to sub it.

For the club’s first anniversary they have a great one year anniversary giveaways. Writer’s can enter to win a submission opportunity to Ammi-Joan Paquette of Erin Murphy Literary Agency, Karen Grencik of Red Fox Literary, or Mira Reisberg of Hummingbird Literary or a first 15 pages plus query letter critique from agent Sean McCarthy, a Query Package Critique from author Kristine Asselin, or a First Five Pages critique from author Veronica Bartles.

Let’s do this!

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ReviMo 2014 with Meg Miller, Children’s Author/Illustrator

ReviMo 2014 with Meg Miller, Children’s Author/Illustrator

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Participating in ReviMo definitely conjured my creative ”muse” these past seven days. Butt in Chair, writing, revising, thinking, repeat. Chop, cut, remove, substitute. At one point I did not even recognize one of my manuscripts anymore, and another suddenly had the clarity I desired. I admit to feeling overwhelmed by mid-week, and had to find my rhythm. So I backed off a bit, continued to push and am better off in the end. I truly feel one manuscript is complete and others are on their way.

For me, revision is like that thing on my ”to do” list that I desperately need to do but put off. However, once I set my mind to it, I can’t stop until I’m satisfied with the progress I’ve made toward completion. ReviMo helped me set my mind to get my writing ”to do” list in order. Will do it again.

Note to self: Buy softer chair cushions.

Thanks Meg Miller!

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Taking the Challenge: Start the Year off Write

Taking the Challenge: Start the Year off Write

Shannon Abercrombie is offering a writing challenge this month, ”Start the Year off Write 2014”. On January 5th, for 21 days, participants will receive a daily writing prompt/exercise to complete. An impressive list of authors and illustrators will share their talents with participants. And there are prizes! With every completed challenge participants earn an entry to win one of many amazing prizes. Grand prizes include agent critiques, editor critiques, and proofreading services.

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Challenges like these are not the same as writing contests or competitions, this is a challenge to beat your personal best. At the start of a new year some people join a gym and set goals to lose weight or increase muscle. Writer’s write. Writing exercises help develop mental muscle. For some, the challenge will be to lose that negative perception that may have resulted from rejections.

I’m taking this challenge because I want to flex my creative muscles throughout 2014. And before we’ve started I’ve already come up with my own personal challenge. My goal is to turn my first picture book projected for publication in 2015 into a series!

Write on.

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“The best time to plan a book is while you’re doing the dishes.” ― Agatha Christie

“The best time to plan a book is while you’re doing the dishes.” ― Agatha Christie

My previous post told about a contest I entered that had very specific criteria. The story had to be about a particular holiday, Halloween, contain specific vocabulary and could not exceed 100 words. That exercise got me thinking about how authors approach writing, which then got me thinking about how I came to write the story I submitted. First, I typed out the three required words and starred at them on a blank page. I saw one noun, one verb and an adjective. Then I started thinking about experiences children could relate to during that holiday. Feeling frightened, going trick or treating with friends and family, getting candy, dressing in costume, and so on. That’s when I decided to write about the feeling of being frightened in a story about siblings trick or treating.

Some writers find it useful to start with specific criteria and write on demand. They may know what subjects interest them or what theme they would like to use. The story idea for my soon to be published book came to me when I was baking. Sorry Agatha, I loathe doing dishes so cannot imagine any good book ideas resulting from that activity!

After reading a well written story, are you ever curious about how the idea came to the author? I know I am.

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“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” Benjamin Franklin

“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” Benjamin Franklin

The kind of preparation needed for writing a picture book includes many different types of research. Even fiction writing has to include information that is believable. Here are the research tips I use:

* Research and read books similar to the type you are interested in writing.

* Research the authors who wrote books with themes similar to what you want
to publish.

* Research the publishers who publish the type of book you want to write.

* Research the editors who work in those publishing houses, peruse each of
the publisher’s websites for staff information since editors change.

* Research individual publisher submission guidelines. Follow them exactly.
The number of words, the format, etc. matter. Some do not accept
unsolicited manuscripts, another may require an exclusive submission.

* Research how to write a query letter and read examples.

* Research the setting, physical description and behavior of characters you
plan to include to add to authenticity to your story.

Be prepared. Submit your best work to the right publisher in the correct way. Preparation, via research, is key to the success of becoming published.

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“Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting, So… get on your way!” Dr. Suess, Oh the Places You’ll Go!

“Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting, So… get on your way!” Dr. Suess, Oh the Places You’ll Go!

An important step to fulfilling the desire for publishing a book is moving from dreaming about it to actually doing it. On an annual trip with my girlfriends, a late night discussion lead to the creation of our individual bucket lists and mine included publishing a children’s book. It was then that I decided to take the next step. Just because I enjoyed writing or felt fairly comfortable composing did not mean I was equipped to actually write a book. The dream had always been there, but not the commitment. I began to research avenues available to me to learn how to write for children. I decided to research online sources, both fee based and free and decided to join the Children’s Book Insiders. CBI is a very reasonably priced self-paced writing course. There are many websites, blogs, and articles on the web as well. Read and heed the advice given, especially from those who have been there, done that.

What’s to learn? Lots. How to develop a story idea, how to develop characters, how to develop a plot, how to write for specific age ranges and even how many words a writer uses to tell their story depending on the audience are just a few lessons. There’s even a lesson on how to deal with rejection! Even once you feel your work is as complete as it can be, there are more lessons about submission, promotion, and marketing.

Do you think you want to publish a book? As Dr. Suess says, “Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting, So get on your way!”

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“Writing a picture book is like writing War and Peace in Haiku” Mem Fox

“Writing a picture book is like writing War and Peace in Haiku” Mem Fox

Last night our local SCBWI group gathered for a meeting. Three new participants joined us. After settling some business, there was time for critiques. Anyone interested in getting feedback about a manuscript shared what they wrote. One member in particular read part of a story, the entire manuscript turned out to be more than 1500 words. Well written, but long for a picture book.

I remember well the first time I read for the group. I had about 1500 words as well. The group gave the same advice to the new member given to me. Cut to 1,000 words. Less, if possible. I think I know what my face looked like that night. And I remember thinking how difficult it will be to tell story using only 800-1000 words!

When I saw the quote, the title of this post by Mem Fox, I immediately identified. Someone once told me writing a picture book isn’t like writing a novel. As though it’s easy. That’s like saying the medical care of a child is easier than the medical care of an adult because they are smaller.

I think both are equally challenging. Write on.

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