MFAC Day 2: Editors and Seasons

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pathHad a fantastic evening in the dorms last night talking about books, writing, and the world’s thickest strawberry pie. The best thing about the MFAC residency is the supportive writers I get to meet. It impossible to explain in a blog. You’ll just have to come meet them yourself.

The two speakers today were Jill Davis and Clare Vanderpool.

Jill is an editor at HarperCollins (is it one word or two?) and Clare has written two YA novels (both award winning).

Jill’s BOOM Moment:

Your book needs to have something extra that an editor can use to make it stand out to the magical people who say yes or no. Because once you get an agent to believe in you and that agent gets an editor to believe in you, that editor then needs to get the publisher to believe in you before that book contract lands in your mail box. So what can make you stand out? It’s not a questions with an easy answer. And the answer is most likely different for every author. Jill noted using an interesting POV or structure.

Clare’s BOOM Moment:

There are seasons in writing. Sometimes you have fruitful seasons where you write a lot. Sometimes you have seasons where your life doesn’t permit you to write at all. No matter what season you are in, enjoy this time. What’s happening right now. Whatever it is. Get back to the writing when you can. No guilt.

I don’t know about you but when I hear smart people talk about writing, sometimes I get really scared. Actually. That’s not true. The truth is that I’m scared all the time. Scared that I can’t actually finish a book. Scared that even if I do, no one will want to read it. Scared that I’ve wasted all this money trying to learn how to write and nothing will come of it. Scared that I’m going to have to tell the people in my life that, actually, I’m not going to be a writer. It turns out I didn’t have what it takes.

Most days I feel so scared that I don’t write a single word.

I don’t know what to do about this except to send it out into the interwebs (like I’ve done a million times before) and keep trying.

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MFAC Day 1: POV Madness

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lecture pass

Here’s my lecture pass: They didn’t put my name on it!

Five hours into MFAC and I already have a MUST READ book list that’s twenty novels long.

Here’s just a few:

Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You, Peter Cameron

The Folk Keeper, Franny Billingsley

Marcelo and the Real World, Francisco X. Stork

Everything Leads to You, Nina LaCour

It’s Anne Ursu’s fault. She gave the first lecture on Point of View (POV), which included a multitude of POV examples from YA and Middle Grade novels.

Because these lectures are so involved, I’m only going to highlight my earth-exploding-that-totally-changed-the-way-I-see-writing moments from each lecture. AKA a BOOM Moment

Anne Ursu: “It all Depends on Your Point of View” BOOM:

Third person omniscient and limited POV are not black and white. What does that mean? Well, it means that you can start a book with a third person omniscient narrator and slowly move toward a third person limited narrator. In other words, start big picture and narrow in on your main character. Crazy.

Swati Avasthi: “Leveraging the First Person POV” BOOM:

When choosing a POV for your novel, ask yourself these questions:

  1. Whose story is it?
  2. Who has the most to lose?
  3. Who changes the most?
  4. Who has the agency to make change (or ability/resources)?

Easy questions to answer, right? Blurkerkhsudojfdskljlj

Seriously, though, I feel like trying to explain everything I learned in these lectures would be like trying to give you an ocean beach. It’s impossible. Those BOOM moments are literally grains of sand in comparison.

That’s all I have time for. I’m off to opening banquet where Ron Koetge, Laura Ruby, and Marsha Qualey are going to read!

More later!

MFAC!

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Dare to dream

This is a photo of part of a collage I made this week.

The MFAC Residency starts tomorrow! The focus is Point of View.

I’m excited to visit with the YA writers I connected with over the winter residency and learn from the amazing speakers and instructors.

I’m going to try to blog about what I learn, maybe every day or every other day. Stay Tuned!

In the mean time, DARE TO DREAM!

Writing Process BLOG HOP

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Angry Bunny!

Angry Bunny! (source) 

Hop that blog! I’ve been hopped TO from two fabulous writers that I LOVE and RESPECT:

The first is Araceli Esparza (what a beautiful name, right?). She is currently working towards an MFAC (Children’s Literature) at Hamline University. She teaches creative writing classes at local venues and uses mediation and practical techniques to get to the creative center she believes we all have. She writes children’s books, poetry, and short stories.

The second writer is Rachel Riebe. She is a wife and mama of identical twins and a toddler and has changed approximately 2,968 diapers this year. She is also a freelance writer and poet (after 10:00 pm) working on her MFA in Creative Writing at Hamline University. Rachel is in my writing group and is the kind of person I can never get enough of.

So. What am I working on?

My thesis novel for my MFA program! (Snobbish Alert.) Honestly, it’s always been hard for me to talk about a work in progress OUT LOUD. When I try to explain my half-baked stories, they lose their power a little bit. I don’t know why that happens, but it happens, so I tend not to share too much until I’ve got a pretty solid draft. I have around 80 pages, and I need to finish the first draft of the novel by about mid-August.

Here’s a little taste of what I have so far:

Wyatt here! Cofounder, Master Mind, and Supreme Ruler (if you don’t count Wisp) of the Lux Club, a super secret, super made-up, super awesome society of super teens concerned with the making of wondrous mayhem. If you’re reading this, it means you’ve been allowed into our exclusive club. Unfortunately or luckily, depending on your outlook, it also means that you are some sort of peer-labeled misfit/loser . Perhaps you are too smart or not smart enough (me). Perhaps you do embarrassing things in public (Wisp). Perhaps, for no reason you can discern, you are not liked by the “popular” ones. Well, fear not. You have arrived home, to a place where you can be whatever you want. (Except for a turd.)  You can be more than the “typical teenage disappointment.”  You can be a dreamer.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

There are a lot of YA books that have a great, exciting plot but flat characters and weak writing. There are other YA novels with strong writing and great characters, but the plot wonders or disappears. My goal (and I have no idea if this is different) is to write a book that has strong writing, amazing characters, and an exciting plot. Those are all the things that I admire about the Harry Potter series, so if I could pull that off, that would pretty much be the BEST.

Why do I write what I do?

The YA genre is playful and adventurous. And also, adult problems are boring. I have to live adult problems. I don’t want to write about them. And I don’t enjoy reading about adult problems. When I was earning my undergrad, my writing teacher kept asking me to elevate the emotions, the diction, the tone, everything, etc. in my work. It was later, after I graduated and the YA genre exploded that I realized I was writing YA and didn’t even know it.

How does your writing process work?

If you’ve read even ONE of my blog posts you know that first, I panic. Then, I procrastinate. After that, I ask myself seriously if writing is really what I want to be doing with my life. Working at McDonalds seems more appealing than writing at this point. What is behind all this: fear. Fear of failure. Fear of what people will think. Fear that I don’t know where the story is going. I am always having to FIGHT the FEAR.

Therefore, I developed a ritual to deal. This works best if I do it first thing in the morning. I find if I talk to someone or check my e-mail, my mind whirls away into to-do lists, and I’m lost to writing for the day. It also works late at night.

Pre-step: Turn my phone off and close all the websites.

Step 1: sit quietly for 10 minutes. This helps clear my mind. Sometimes, I light a candle. My faith is important to me, so this is one way I bring it into my process. In other words, I ask for HELP

Step 2: free write three pages, typed. I write about story issues I’m having or issues in my life that I need to get out of my head so that I can focus on my story.

Step 3: write. I write until I can’t anymore.

Process tips that work for me:

  1. If I get stuck, I go for a walk or a bike ride. That usually shakes the ideas loose.
  2. Other times when I’m stuck, the problem might be that I don’t know enough. In that case, I do free writes about what I feel I need to know more about. I might do a character sketch, a setting sketch, or explore the history of my story. Sometimes, I research (google things).
  3. I’m learning to recognize how many hours I can write in a day and leave it at that instead of pushing myself so hard. If I treat myself well, then I can write a little bit every day instead of binge writing and then not being able to write for days after.

And now, continue the HOP!

I challenge one Matthew to answer these questions. Matt is a creative who draws, writes music, song lyrics, poems, fiction, and CNF. I mean, what doesn’t the man do! He also writes about life thoughtfully, smartly, funnily, and honestly. And KNOWS HOW TO DO MATH!

I also challenge Josh Hammond, who is currently working toward earning his MFAC from Hamline University. Aside from rocking at the YA writing, he is also a teacher, a father, a supportive husband, and all around thoughtful, encouraging, smart guy.

Americans Hate Artists

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Moth

I took this picture at my parent’s farm. I want to share it with you.

Except that Americans are huge consumers of Art. Our spare time is dominated by movies, TV, music, books, magazines, comics, etc. Even food is Art, based on how popular the reality TV show Masterchef is.

But what about the artist? What about the person who created our favorite TV show or wrote our favorite book? It’s true that once the artist reaches success, they are glorified in American Culture. Every life decision they made before their success is to be examined and admired.

Take for example Steve Jobs. He’s an artist in his own right when it comes to design, and he is the most popular person people cite as a source of inspiration on living a radical life. Including me! I own books about his life. I watched the grad speech video.

But here’s the thing: when Steve Jobs was dropping out of college, getting fired from Apple, and demanding that the parts inside his computers be beautiful even if no one sees them, BEFORE the SUCCESS, everyone thought he was MAD out of his MIND. He was a loser. He had no respect.

If you’re an artist who hasn’t made it yet, you know what I’m talking about.

Maybe you left a “good” job to have time to paint. Maybe you moved in with your parents so you could be an actor. Maybe you work in the service industry because it’s the only way you can support yourself and still do your art. Maybe you still work full time and have to turn your friends down on the nights and weekend so you can work on that novel.

And if your living with MOM and serving coffee and writing that book, you will get funny looks. Pitty looks. People will worry for your future. They will ask what you’re going to do when none of this works out. They will ask you to please get serious about life before it’s too late. 401K?

BUT if you sell that book you wrote in your parent’s basement and make your way onto the various bestseller lists, that’s when the switch flips. That’s when everyone turns around and says, “You were so brilliant to quit that job. Sell your car. Work at McDonald’s. I wish I worked at McDonald’s, so I could have your success.”

What if we lived in a culture where the artist, big time or small, was respected as much as the CEO of whatever company is making a bizzilly MILLION dollars?

Because here is the truth: There would be no House of Cards. Hunger Games. iPhones. Lord of The Rings. Harry Potter. Unless some creative person out there had the guts to live a radical life for their art. To sacrifice what is “normal.” To live the life of cultural shame, so they could have the space to create the Stories, Devices, and Worlds that Americans love to stink into.

If you are a creative and you’re nervous about taking that first step toward your craft because it doesn’t look like American Success (high-paying job, house, spouse, kids, two-car garage), JUST DO IT. Don’t wait for the culture around you to tell you it’s OK. Because that will never happen.

If you have a story inside of you, don’t let the haters/doubters/fear mongers stop you from writing the next Harry Potter.

Be radical. Live different. Follow your dream.

Why Allegiant Disappoints

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allegent coverI just finished Allegiant, the third and final book in the Divergent series by Veronica Roth. I loved the first book. Couldn’t put it down. The second book was confusing and disappointing. The third book was…well…terrible. I think the biggest take away is a throw back to my last post: writers, even famous ones, need smart people they trust to tell them when their story is failing. It’s obvious Veronica shouldn’t have trusted her agent or editor on this draft. Not only was the story flawed, but her publisher was so anxious to get this book out into the fans’ hands so they could start raking in the cash that they didn’t even check for typos. I noticed at least a dozen. So many comma splices.

Anyway, if you read this book and want to redeem those wasted hours slogging through 400 some pages, then read this review on Amazon. It breaks down all the mistakes that Roth made in a way that in both insightful, hilarious, and educational. Sometimes, it’s a little too harsh, but reading this review is like a fast and dirty lesson on plotting and that tricky business of getting your character’s actions to topple into each other, one after the other, leading to the only possible climax/outcome. One warning: it’s long, but WORTH IT.

What do you think?

 

About My Writing Group

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My friend and writing group buddy Jackie Lee Sommers, who has a book coming out in 2015 and writes a fabulous blog, asked our writing group some questions about feedback. Jackie is truly the heart of our writing group, and the mom who keeps us together.

If you’ve ever wondered what a writing group could do for you or are interested in the tension around feedback on your writing, you can check out our answers here: My Writing Group’s Thoughts on Writing Groups.

Are you in a writing group?

Do you ask for feedback on your writing? If so, at what stage?

I’m back and Try Scrivener

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pink flowers

OMG colorful things!

40 novels and 160 pages later, I have arrived at summer.  This past semester was like carrying Professor Umbridge up Mount Everest as she lectures me. PS: I picture her fatter than she was in the movie. But it’s over now, and working with E. Lockhart turned my novel inside out—in a good way. I have a new main character and a more dynamic plot.

Here is an issue I kept running into though: I cannot write in order.

I’m fine up to the first forty pages, and then after that, scenes start popping into my head at random. I have no idea where they should be in the novel. Once I place them, writing to them becomes a problem.

Because of this issue, E. Lockhart recommended that I try a program called Scrivener. It changed my life. Seriously. If you want to know how it works, click here.

But basically, it lets you be as random as you need to be, rearrange scenes, make notes, drop pictures in, and do character and place sketches. In Word, my randomness was a serious handicap and caused me to have up to fifteen Word Docs open at a time.

Now, everything is contained in Scrivener, and my randomness has become a strength. For example, I’m currently working on the climax of my novel even though I haven’t written the middle.

If you haven’t taken a look at Scrivener, try it!

Grad School Black Hole

rabbit writing hat

ALL I DO IS HOMEWORK!

Hi!

I just wanted to throw some words up here to say:

Blogging World. I have not abandoned you.

I have fallen into a grad school Black Hole of endless homework.

I will be back in June 2014.

I will tell you everything I’ve learned.

Thanks. Readers.

Stay Tuned!

How do you Define Writing Success?

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TED Radio Hour logoGuess what? I’m still behind on my pages for my MFA program. So this is going to be quick and sloppy.

I wanted to pass something on to you that levels my perspective when I start to think things like this:

I’ll be happy and see myself as successful when…

1. I’m done with this book.

2. I’ve got an agent.

3. I’m published.

4. the people who said I could never write a book are proved wrong. #whatsupnowmotherfuckers!

These four things and many more squeeze my little writer heart so tight that I can’t put a single word down on the page. I might write all day long, but still decide that I failed, that I’m not successful because I haven’t arrived at those four things. When I think this way, I miss out on the joy of story creation and on the many things in my life that I should be grateful for TODAY.

This is no way to live. And not the way I want to live.

But it’s really hard to fight against defining ourselves the way our American culture has taught us to do. I need help to get some perspective. That’s when I listen to the NPR TED Radio Hour podcast called “Success.” This podcast is not straight up TED Talks. Instead, it mixes together related TED talks and adds interviews with the speakers about their TED talks. You can subscribe to the podcast and find the one called “Success” or you can find it here and then by clicking on “listen to the full show” near the top of the page (If you scroll down, you’re just going to get the TED Talk without the interviews or connections.)

If you are the kind of person who feels like failure on a regular basis no matter how hard you work, this talk is for you. Your personal success comes down to how you define that word, and if you’re defining it in a way that is destroying you, then change that definition!