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Author Visits, Guest Speaking, and School visits are the bread and butter of an up-and-coming author’s income. While your royalty payment per book might peak at 17%, what you make on the speaking circuit is all yours. It’s not just good for income, it’s a great way to share your message, share your writing, and network with like-minded people.

The days of BICAW (Butt in chair and writing) need to be tempered with SIFOP (standing in front of people). Okay, enough of the acronyms :) Lol. Sorry. Below is a list of steps to consider to focus your thoughts in preparation for a presentation of a school visit.


 

Now that the books are on the shelf... what's next?

Now that the books are on the shelf… what’s next?

 

STEP ONE:
Narrow your target audience and purpose. You’ve written something, and maybe it’s published, maybe not. Either way, you have something to share with others. Or do you? Here are a few questions to consider before you take your show on the road:

1. Who is the intended reader for your book?
2. Write down the message that you can share with them. Is it in a church, a school, a business?
3. What other messages are out there that are similar to yours?
4. How is your message unique?
5. Are you an expert in your field?

In my case, the intended readership for my books are Christian families looking for stories that aren’t filled with vampires or zombies. Yeah, there are those of us who love a good story that doesn’t involve the un-dead.

My message deals with sharing stories – the premise for Unforgettable Roads. For elementary students, I offer writing workshops that parallel Frog’s Winter Walk. I also share a presentation that is a humorous look at stories, how they grew from campfire mythology to the 3-D spectacles we pay $15-$20 for at the theater.

I also talk with parents about reading with their children, how to bring books into the spotlight. This is my area of expertise as my Master’s Degree is in Education with an emphasis on reading instruction. These are my tools, not my story. I use these tools to bring my published (and soon to be published) stories to new readers.

 

STEP TWO:
Prepare your presentations. Obvious step, huh? This step needs to be solid before you move to step four – looking for places to speak.

Outline your thoughts. Then write out everything you think you’ll say. You won’t use it all, but you will benefit greatly from organizing it all onto paper.
• Decide if you are in need of props, a power point presentation, etc. Know your limits or skills with technology. Stay within your comfort zone, but also work toward improving your abilities with technology, or going without.
• With a recorder, practice your presentation with your notes and then without. Practice does make perfect…or at least better.
• Once you have your presentation smooth (and it won’t be the same twice – which is what you want. It leads to a more natural approach) video tape yourself. Watch for ticks, frequent phrases, anything that makes you cringe.

On your website, narrow down your presentation to one sentence and three bullet points. Why? Summarizing the overall idea in one sentence is the flashing banner that potential schools and organizations look for in a guest speaker. The three bullet points are just a sampling of what they will receive. We all like free samples…use them.

 

STEP THREE:

thecolorofmoney
Determine your price. Oh, how I despise this part. It’s extremely difficult for me to put a price on something I absolutely love doing. However, the grocery store has no problem marking up foods and my kids have no plans to starting eating less, so I need to charge what I’m worth.

Don’t take this step lightly. Do a google search of local authors, go to a local author event and find out what people charge. The prices will be all over the board. The second and third questions will help narrow down a comparable price for you: 1) How many speaking engagements do other authors do in a year? 2) How many years have they presented professionally?

 

AN IDEA! If someone charges $1000/day to be in an elementary school giving back-to-back assemblies to school children and have five years experience, he can charge that. If you want to start small, say a few classrooms at a time, consider a barter while you’re getting your feet wet – if you can sell a certain number of books prior to the speaking engagement, you’ll speak for free. If that sales quota isn’t met prior to your date, then the organization meets the difference. Anything above that, and you can consider a small donation back to them.

Note: There is much debate over how much new speakers should charge. Offering to speak for free might cause the organization to think you are not worth anything. Just be honest – let them know you are new at the speaking, but your expertise is solid. You are trying to launch a new aspect of your business and in exchange for the early practice and networking, you are willing to exchange cost for time.

I did do this and I have no regrets. I had fun, learned a great deal about speaking, asked for comments, reviews and recommendations. I decided I would do three school visits at no cost before charging a set rate. I do not include my speaking fees on my speaker flyer. Instead, I include a note that states that I consider each proposal separately and create a quote based on the list below.

  • What to consider in your pricing rubric:
    Milage/ Travel Time
    Time spent in preparation
    Time spent in presenting

 

STEP FOUR:
Once you’ve established your message, it’s time to start talking to managers, librarians, teachers, business owners…anyone who has a group of people who would be interested in your insight. Prepare a speaker information sheet. Keep it simple, colorful, include cover art from your books, or a picture of you speaking at an event, or simply a professional head shot from your back cover.

Your speaker sheet is fun to put together. No, really! Think of it as a one page picture book about you. Be creative. Include your expertise, intended audience, photos, contact information, and links to your website. (If you don’t have any of these, I highly recommend you put it together. As a public speaker, you are now considered a business. Where do people go to check on the quality of a business? Yep. Websites.)

This is the time to play the ‘Who You Know’ card. Talk to friends, co-workers, fellow parishioners, and provide them with the information you’ve put together. Couple that with a free speaking offer, and you are certain to get a bite.

A Success Story:
I offered an Author Visit to an Elementary School and three books as an auction item for a church fundraiser. A mom won it, her child’s first grade teacher eagerly contacted me, and I presented a short writing workshop to three first grade classrooms. I learned how to use some of the new technology that is common place in schools but new to me. I met almost 80 children, and had a wonderful morning.

While I was in town, I attended a breakfast event at that church and met up with my former kindergarten teacher. She still volunteers at the school and helps arrange Author Visits.

Right place + right time + who I know = networking.

I didn’t, sadly, have any business cards left, so I came across as being unprofessional. I did order 1000 more cards the very next day. That will not happen to me again.

 

STEP FIVE:
What will you need for your presentation?

Aside from your notes, props, computer and books, you should also consider the following:

• A bottle of water
• Hot tea to soothe your throat
• Snacks or a lunch if you are working a full day
• Table cloth and possibly flowers, bookmarks, business cards if you will have a vendor table. If you don’t have a table, bring the bookmarks, business cards and speaker flyers with you in a nice looking folder. Be prepared to meet your next connection and it will happen.
• A camera to have visual documentation that you were really there ;)
• A digital recorder. Record your presentation for two reasons: One, to hear it again and make notes on weak areas, and Two, to use sound bytes on your website. Those free samples again. (True story – I’ve brought my recorder every time and have either forgot to use it or it didn’t record clearly, which is why my website is missing this feature. On my list is to purchase a microphone I can wear so I will remember to turn it on and hopefully have a usable piece. See? I’m learning.)

 

STEP SIX:
Ask for a review.

Provide the teacher, leader, or the CEO with a short comment and review sheet. Ask them to either fill it out right after your presentation or provide a stamped and addressed envelope so they can return it to you. This will provide you with immediate feedback and quotes that you can use on your website and marketing sheets (be sure to ask permission first).

  • A few quick questions to ask:
    Did this presentation meet your expectations?
    What is one thing I said or shared that you enjoyed?
    Is there anything I can add to my presentation to improve it?

 

I hope these six steps help you as you prepare or revamp how you are doing your presentations. This is by no means an exhaustive list. If you have more suggestions or a personal success or dum-dum story to share, please do!

Jessica

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Becoming a writer is just that – a becoming. Like our 18th birthdays when we become an adult, we know that despite the fact that we are legally recognized as an adult, we are too young to drink and we don’t know anything about what it means to be an adult. It takes years of being of age and feeling the pride, the sting, the work that is required to truly become an adult. Despite all the years of practice, some people never become adults.

Writing is the same. We slowly grow into a writer by studying the craft, learning from successful writers, and practice.

Loads and loads of practice.


We write short stories, try our hand at poetry, launch into a novel. We stumble, fall, are rejected and hopefully, we try again.


Just as infants first roll over, then crawl, stand, and the finally walk, learning the craft of writing (or any craft) is the same. Start by watching others, reading the works of authors who have successfully published again and again. Make this first activity a goal:


Make a list of book you want to read this year. How many books can you read in a month?

Put the list into alphabetical order (or in order according to publication dates).

Start today.

Keep notes on what you read, reflect on why the stories are wonderful

(or not, and you scratch your head wondering why that dribble was published and not your own work?

…this comment based on personal experience :)

books

In between reading, and working your other job, making meals, and finding time to exercise, you should find time to write. I suggest this next exercise with a little hesitation:

For a week, track how many words you write.

At the end of the week, reflect about what you did on the days when your word count was excellent.

What did you do on the days you didn’t write much at all?

Remember you are human and there are people in your life who need you.

This is the basic principle of NaNoWriMo.com. National Novel Writing Month (November for Novelist) is a month-long challenge that provides daily inspiration and motivation to write as much as possible – the goal being a 50,000 words. There are both benefits and drawbacks to this.

Benefit – this is a BICAW (butt in chair and write) challenge. It breaks through some of life’s distractions and focuses efforts into one thing – get the words on paper.

Drawback – The result of BICAW stories is more of a ‘diamond in the rough’ than a polished gem.

If you want to challenge yourself to write a much as possible in one day, one week, or one month, I highly recommend you invest the time beforehand to prepare your story as much as possible. Outline, brainstorm, collect snippets of ideas to have by your side before your BICAW adventure.

The purpose of this challenge is for you to go into writing prepared, but to also keep track of what prevents you from writing. It’s more of an exercise in scheduling and lifestyle; an intentional examination of what works and what doesn’t.

Find the balance to be a present human being and a prolific writer. Yeah…good luck :)


Take a break from the story you are working on and work on the query letter to an agent or publisher.

(For help with query letters, spend some time reading www.queryshark.com )

I discovered a hidden benefit when I work on a query letter – it sharpens my purpose in writing that particular story. Every story need a purpose, a lesson, theme, moral, statement – whatever you wish – but it must be there. Many books on the shelves have less than desirable purposes and morals. That is up to you to decide if you are writing a social justice statement (i.e. To Kill a Mockingbird), a tale of to-die-for teenage lust (Twilight), or expressing Christian values (anything by C.S. Lewis, but particularly The Chronicles of Narnia).

When a story starts to fall flat or when I just need a break from writing, I switch gears to work on the query or the synopsis. It’s a nice break from writing scenes, it keeps me focused on the story, and quite often leads to a story break-through.

confidence

If there was a common, and yet thin, connection between these three exercises, it’s that writing does not always include writing. Reading, thinking and, people watching. Seek balance, seek mentors, seek to be successful. Oh, and don’t forget to exercise confidence!

 

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There is something incredible about writing a book. Not only do I spend time reading and researching, writing and rewriting, there is the moment when the book is finished and I expect a ticker-tape parade. Every time I’ve finished a manuscript, there has been no trumpet blare, no pat on the back, and I am always alone. Writing is a solitary activity – for the most part.

That’s why I’m enjoying these interviews so much! I can offer a virtual celebration of work well done, an Internet pat on the back, and we can come together, however briefly, as members of the writing world.

I’m thrilled to introduce you to Julie Krantz, fellow writer, mother of four, and author of several books geared toward our world’s youth. I feel like I’ve meet a kindred sprit! We have much in common. Julie shares her story, her writing, and her experiences with us. Enjoy! You are going to love her!

Moms Headshot - 4 x 6

What inspired you to begin writing?

Oh, boy, that’s hard to pinpoint. I’ve always loved to read—as a teenager and an adult. And I guess that’s what inspired me to write—admiring those fictional worlds created by the amazing writers I read as a youth—Madeline L’Engle (especially A Wrinkle in Time), Carolyn Keene (yes—Nancy Drew’s author!), JD Salinger (everything he wrote, not just Catcher in the Rye), among others—and wanting to create some of my own.

 

I loved reading as kid, I think, because I grew up in a small town on the Delaware River in South Jersey. We didn’t have a library in Palmyra, so I’d ride my bike to the Riverton library. I loved going in that tiny yellow Victorian house and heading for the children’s room—followed by forays into adult fiction, poetry and reference books. (Remember when we had to go to the library to research stuff? Wow—that seems so antiquated now!) I also loved stopping in the ‘Sharon Shop’ with my girlfriends for ice-cream sodas on the way home.

 

What keeps you motivated?

 

I’m not sure how or why or what, but I am motivated—and hope to stay that way! I guess it’s got something to do with loving to read, wanting to write my own stories, and being fascinated by human nature, especially characters I met in fiction. Some of my favorites were, for instance, were Pip and Ms. Havisham in Great Expectations, Jerusha Abbott in Daddy Long-Legs, and Francie in and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. And, of course, Holden Caulfield and Franny and Zooey and the rest of the Glass family.

 

Can you share a favorite quote or a mantra that you might have posted near your workspace?

 

Oh, boy, this is embarrassing. I don’t have anything posted near my workspace because my workspace is in a nice, cozy recliner next to big windows overlooking piney woods and a rushing creek.

I did recently come across a quote I admire, though. It’s by fellow-North Carolinian Daniel Wallace, the author of Big Fish:

 

“I wouldn’t advertise my experience as one I’d want anyone else to have – to write for 14 years before you publish a book. That’s absurd perseverance. If your son or daughter were working on something for 10 years, wouldn’t you say, ‘Maybe it’s time to work on something else’? But “perseverance really is an outgrowth of passion and desire. … I knew I could succeed at something else. But [that] wasn’t important for me…. I would rather fail at this than succeed at [anything] else.”

 

I guess this pretty much sums up how I feel about writing, too.

 

 

In terms of marketing, what have been some of your more successful efforts?

 

Hahaha—now that’s a funny question! I’d say I’ve spent the better part of the past two years trying everything and anything I could (within reason and on a zero to none budget) to market my books—only to meet with great—shall I say—un-success? But it’s been fun. Now I know about how to leverage categories and keywords on Amazon, how to use Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and WordPress. Sad thing is, there’s something new to learn everyday. So I hope my efforts pay off at least a little soon so I can get back to writing!

 

Did you make a business plan for yourself and your writing?

 

The only thing I’ve ever made a business plan for was a kitchenware store a neighbor and I were thinking about opening in New York. I thought I did a pretty good job, even though we never opened the store—my neighbor wanted 51% share of the company without making any sort of monetary contribution at all. Hmmm. Maybe it wasn’t such a good plan after all.

 

As far as writing, I’m not a very business-oriented person (as you can probably tell from the above scheme), but I do have to thank my husband for supporting me in all my writing efforts. I keep telling him they will pay off someday….

 

Tell us about  your book, Stella Bellarosa: Tales of an Aspiring Teenage Superhero.

 

Ah, now that’s my favorite question! Stella Bellarosa (that was the original title. I added ‘Tales of an Aspiring Teenage Superhero’ to increase its discoverability on Amazon. Keywords, remember….) is about two teenage girls who get caught returning a stolen wallet (which is already kind of a silly thing—one of them didn’t even steal it) then decide to run away to midtown Manhattan rather than tell their parents they’ve been suspended for 3 days (they devise a story to tell to cover-up their suspension/disappearance). The novel is set in the 1960’s, which was totally fun for me to write about—as were Stella and Pin Pin’s adventures in midtown.

Stella Bellarosa Watercolor Orange Arch Option 3

 

I guess you could say the story came to me for a few reasons—like Stella and Pin Pin, I went to Catholic School and had vivid (sometimes silly, sometimes scary) recollections of the discipline code as well as the nuns and priests and religious rules in general. Secondly, I wanted to explore certain issues I’d encountered as a teenager—isolation, alienation, uncertainty-of-being-loved, etc.—as well as other things I knew were (and still are) important to kids today, like prejudice and immigration and poverty.

 

If I had to sum up what I want readers to walk away thinking about, I guess I’d say it’s mainly about familial love and acceptance, as well as love from other sources—like friends and friends’ families. And it’s about doing what you believe in even if it’s not always the ‘right’ thing to do, as is, sadly, sometimes the case. I also want kids to laugh—at Stella, at me, at life—really laugh, because I think that’s the best way to handle tough situations.

Isabel Plum Cover 11-16-2013

 

Your stories have appeared in various publications, including an early version of YOSHI’S YUCCA, in Spider Magazine. What kind of prep work did you do before writing and submitting to Spider?

 

Well, nothing for that submission in particular, but I did spend lots of years writing other stuff before Yoshi’s Yucca. I also spent lots of time before (and mostly after) Yoshi’s Yucca reading books about writing, reading and studying all the great fiction I could, and taking all sorts of courses and workshops—online and at graduate school. Oh, and getting rejected. Yes, lots of time getting rejected.

 

How has your family impacted your writing? With four children, I’m sure they always inspire ideas.

 

Oh, my family has impacted my writing in huge ways. The kids were fun to raise and I think that’s why I started writing for children. I love little kids—who they are, what they do, how they think. I’m a little like Holden Caulfield that way—wanting to catch them and keep them like that before they leap into the affected fields of adulthood.

But my family-of-origin has played a big part in my writing, too. I remember Pat Conroy talking about Prince of Tides, I think, and saying something about all writers coming from interesting—read ‘dysfunctional’—families. I don’t believe mine wasn’t as dysfunctional as his, exactly. But let’s just say—they were ‘interesting.’

After two of my maiden aunts died without anybody in the family knowing, I decided to dedicate all my books ‘to my family—on both sides of the river,’ by which I mean those who lived east and west of the Delaware.

 

Are you published through a publishing house or have you taken the role on yourself to self-publish?

 

I came to self-publishing reluctantly, though I have to say I’m a real proponent of it now. And I don’t think it’s sour grapes. I’ve always been a bit of a rebel, renegade, iconoclast, whatever-you-call-it (like many folks who grew up in the ’60’s), and have enjoyed seeing traditional publishers get shaken-up. I don’t dislike them, per se, I’m just glad e-publishing has leveled the playing field a bit by opening publishing up to the non-celebs and non-paranormal-dystopian-romance-writers.

 

What is one writing tool that you believe is a must have?

 

Wow, I have to think about this. I guess the first thing that comes to mind is the computer (especially the laptop, since I umm-errr write in a recliner). I also love my i-Pad, though I don’t use it for writing. I’ve written a bunch of children’s poetry and picture books, and, new to illustration, I’ve been having lots of fun drawing pictures on my i-Pad. I’m not sure they’re fun for people to look at, but they’re fun for me to draw. I know it goes against conventional wisdom to illustrate your books if you’re not a trained illustrator/artist, but I don’t care. I love doing it and think it’s good for me. Plus—who else would illustrate my books for free? Natalie Goldberg’s got a new book out on this very subject, I believe.

 

Julie, thank you for sharing your writing and your life with us! To learn more:

Visit Julie’s blog @  juliekrantz.wordpress.com/

Follow her on Facebook  https://www.facebook.com/juliekrantzbooks

Visit her Amazon Author page: www.amazon.com/Julie-Krantz/e/B00996YNZ4

 Julie has more than Stella Bellarosa: Tales of a Teenage Superhero. Her other books include:

Isabel Plum: Ichthyologist

Tip & Oliver: BFFs

Stella Bellarosa: Tales of an Aspiring Teenage Superhero

Forthcoming this summer on Amazon is

Yogabets: An Acrobatic Alphabet

 

A message to the reader: If you are an Indie Author or are published by a Small Publishing House and would like to be considered for an interview, click on the picture below…

Do you have a published book? Click on this pic to read about an opportunity to receive and share in a marketing group.

Do you have a published book? Click on this pic to read about an opportunity to receive and share in a marketing group.

 

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It’s March and we’ve long forgotten our New Year’s Resolutions. The fervor with which we planned the success of this year in January is probably frozen solid…we’ve certainly had the weather for that here in Michigan. (FYI – It was 14 below zero this morning…a temp so common now that school wasn’t cancelled despite the fact that it was when the temps were 10 below zero in January.)

Shake off those March doldrums, pour a glass of something you normally drink in the summer, and roll up your sleeves. It’s time to gear up and resurrect the goals for this year.

Speaking personally, this means that the novel I thought I could wrap up in December needs to be complete by the end of this month. I set an unrealistic deadline for myself during the Christmas season. It happens.

To keep myself on track, I did this for the month of February:

A Plan: Create an editorial calendar for the next month. Write down 5-10 things you want to accomplish and schedule time to  complete those takes on a calendar. At the end of the month, be honest with yourself and reflect on how you did. What worked? What didn’t? Repeat for the next month.

Writing Time isn’t always spent writing. Much of the time, I stare out the window as I need to first visualize a scene before I can write it. Although I appear to be day dreaming…well, that’s exactly what I’m doing, except I do need to come back to my desk to write down my day dreams. That’s where a plan is handy.

In February, I did well planning my journaling and blogging, but novel writing took a back seat. I’m going to work on that this month by spending my Wednesday writing time making notes for scenes. Thursday is my big writing day. Thursday is the day my husband is home in the afternoon, giving me from 1:00 – 9:00 PM to write. I do take breaks, but I’ve set a goal to have close to 3,000 well-written words every Thursday. Lofty, I know.

I’ve taken this exercise a step further and I encourage you do to the same. We’ve all heard that if we want to be a writer, we must write every day. It’s common sense that holds true for anything a person might want to accomplish: runners must run, athletes must practice, students must go to school. My obstacle has always been finding balance with my writing and my family. The solution that is working (for now) is to focus on one thing each day based on how much time I can devote to writing and reading.

Here’s the breakdown:

Mondays are the days I crank out my blog posts for the week. I don’t publish them all on that Monday, but schedule them for later in the week. Each day, I return to the posts to re-read, edit and revise them. By the time they are published, my posts have improved. In order to keep the blog posts as fresh as possible, I keep a notebook on my dining room table to collect ideas.

Tuesdays are reading days. No writing except in the form of notes, comments, and ideas that stem from what I’ve read.

Wednesday are scene plot days in prep for…

Thursdays. As I mentioned, this is my big day each week when I really make progress.

Fridays are too crazy with homeschooling groups to even think about writing. It’s my “Day of Rest”.

Weekends must be spent with families, but I coordinate with my husband to set aside a few hours a weekend to read or write.

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A Pro: Spend time reading Joel Friedlander’s blog/website.

Joel’s website is a treasure trove of information. Set the timer, otherwise your entire day will be spent on his blog and you’ll starve.

A Genre-Mash: Just for fun, re-imagine your novel as a picture book - or your picture book as a novel. Write a few scenes and see what happens.

I’ve done this a few times during my weekend writing hours. It’s refreshing to simply puzzle out a story in a different format. Writing styles, patterns, and techniques mature with exercises like this. What may seem a simple exercise will soon become your power yoga.

Why?

Because my favorite children’s books have quirky characters, surprising plot elements, and very often, rhythmic & rhyming verse. Stretching my thinking muscles to write in such a different format allows me the time to play with words. Instead of formatting sentences and paragraphs to show the story, I can pattern the story into rhythm patterns. Not much I do with this exercise is publishing-quality work – but that’s not the point. Trying something new…that is.

It’s very easy to feel that the success a writer creates is determined by the number of words written. That’s a trap. Don’t fall in! Writing success rides on the back of every unpublished word. The stories that don’t hold up, the sentences that fail, the characters so flat that they can slide under a door – those are the obstacles in writing we must overcome before we publish.

Writing exercises that specifically work on something we have no intention (or pressure) to polish and publish are necessary.

Enjoy the writing fun! Please let me know how these exercises work out for you.

Peace,

Jessica

Other Writing Exercises:

Vol. 1

Vol. 2

Vol. 3

Vol. 4

Vol. 5

 

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How did last week’s exercise feel? Are your creative muscles sore? Shouldn’t be too bad, you watched a movie! :)

This week’s exercise might feel a little, well, it will remind you of the good ol’ days of high school English. What? Those weren’t riveting classes where you devoured the book that was assigned to you? Yeah, me neither.

Exercise 1:

Of all the books you had to read in high school, what was your favorite? No favorite? Well, you’re older now. Go pick the first book you remember being assigned to read and re-read it. (Or read it for the first time.)

For me, the first book I read in high school was A Separate Piece by John Knowles. I enjoyed it… a little. I think I read the entire book, but that was…let’s just say it was a few years ago. I have the book on hold at the library. Apparently, people are still reading it. I’m on a list and should have it sometime in April.

Now, the book that really turned me on to reading was The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas. A great part of falling in love with this book had to do with the excellent teacher I had in high school. The other part was obviously Dumas’ superior story-telling.

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Exercise 2:

Make a brainstorming graphic organizer (think bubbles, boxes, and lines) for your current story, or a story you are thinking about. Reflect on how this exercise did or did not (because, let’s be honest, it might not work for everyone)  help you think about deeper layers for the story.

This is how I start every story – with a gigantic sheet of paper on the dining room table, a stack of colorful pens, and an idea. In the center, I’ll start with whatever idea I have. It could a simple scene, an over-arching theme, or an idea for a setting. As I brainstorm, I write everything down, connect ideas with common color-lines, and just have fun with it. In the background I play fairly loud music…that part is optional.

This is a great way to set the story ideas down on paper without fussing for sentence structure or feeling the need to organize things too quickly. Let the ideas fall where they will. Once it’s on paper, you can’t lose it.

Exercise 3:

Write a one-page synopsis for your story. Don’t hide the ending. Tell all in a short and interesting way.

Why do this? Many publishers and agents will ask for a synopsis and they are darn tough to write. As much effort as you put into writing your story, almost as much will go into hacking your story into a one-page synopsis. Hint: Don’t look at this as hacking. Make the one page synopsis fun to read. If you can’t shine up your writing to keep a potential agent or publisher interested through one page, they likely won’t ask for an entire manuscript.

Starting next week, I will be interviewing authors who are self-published or published by smaller houses. It’s been fun to read their work as I prepare questions for each of them. There are still a few spots left, so if you are published and are looking for a fresh and fun way to market your work as well as the books of other authors, check out Pay-It-Forward for details.

Did you miss the other writing exercises?

Writing Exercises Vol. 1

Writing Exercises Vol. 2

Writing Exercises Vol. 3

Writing Exercises Vol. 4

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I have only two writing exercises for you this week. I’ve tried these out over the past several months, and have enjoyed it immensely. I’ve also used these techniques with great success with my home-schooled children. Once you read the exercises, you’ll understand why these are such a hit.

Exercise 1:

Watch a movie. Outline the scenes into the following categories:

When the main character is the: Orphan, Wanderer, Warrior, Martyr

The Orphan stage of the story is when the main character is either an actual orphan (Oliver Twist, Harry Potter, Will of Ranger’s Apprentice) or in a state of living or mentality that screams ‘Orphan’ (Dorothy of the Wizard of Oz). This is when the author sets the stage, hints at the conflict, and brings the main character to life with several short vignettes that allow you to sample the character’s every day life.

The Wanderer stage occurs when the character is forced or accepts a challenge that will ultimately lead to change. (Harry leaves for Hogwarts, Will starts his apprenticeship as a Ranger). There is much to learn for the character to learn, great opportunities for trial and errors scenes. In this stage, the antagonist makes a stronger appearance. Hints toward the final conflict are strategically placed. As a wanderer, the main character will sometimes succeed in slipping away from trouble, but more often, he or she falls into it. The Wanderer stage ends with a highly tense scene that forever changes the character. At this point, the main character must give in and die or become a Warrior.

The Warrior stage is the result of that scene. Now the main character is angry, vengeful, or struggling to live. Now is the time to learn, perfect, journey, and prepare for the final battle. The antagonist is more visible, formidable, and success is unlikely for the main character. Although success seems impossible, your character is learning and growing, becoming more resolute in his or her plight. No longer is he wandering from situation to situation, but has an end goal in mind.

The Martyr Stage is the final stage, which includes the climax of the story. Here, the main character is prepared to die in order to prevent the antagonist from winning. This doesn’t mean death in a literal sense, but can mean that he will forever lose that great career (think of the movie, The Firm or Anna in My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult) or lose something else of great value to them.

After practice in identifying these four stages in a movie, take a look at your own story. Do you have these in your plot? Are they each about 25% of your story?

If these four stages are new to you, I highly recommend The Story Template by Amy Deardon. It’s a good read, breaks down the parts of a story in clear language, and gives you a basic structure in which to frame your own story.

Exercise 2:

Listen to an audio book. How is it different from reading?

Record your story/novel/poem and listen to it. Does it have the same ‘ring’?

This exercise takes far less explanation and is great for road trips, during dinner prep, and while exercising. One of my favorite books to listen to is The Willoughby’s by Lois Lowry. If you haven’t listened to this yet, rent it from the library. It’s hysterical!

I cannot stress enough how important it is to ‘hear’ your story.

Reading it aloud to yourself is only step one. You’ll make changes and are ready for…

Step two: Read it into a recorder then listen. Make edits, switch scenes around, revise weak areas of your story. Then you are ready for…

Step three: Have someone else read it to you. This will showcase areas of your writing that don’t flow well. While you do need to take into consideration the natural ability of the narrator, if two people both stumble over a section, it indicates that it isn’t ready. Also watch their expression; frowns and a decline in the pace of reading are bad.

When you are finished with both of these exercises, you will never see a movie in the same way again. And the way you write your first drafts will be challenged by the need to write the scenes smoothly. Don’t shy away from that challenge. While the common encouragement for writers is to write now, edit later, don’t believe that your three hour word-dump on your latest story means it’s ready to submit.

Writing is an art – make it beautiful.

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I’ve just returned from a mid-winter break – a concept I’ve fully embraced! For almost 10 years, my family and I have taken a few days in February to stay at a lodge in Northern Indiana that was built in the 1920′s by the CCC and is still the family-oriented destination that features woodland animals but no Disney princesses.

 

This photo courtesy of the Potowatomi Inn.

This photo courtesy of the Potowatomi Inn.

 

As we walked the halls toward the pool, the craft room, or the common room, I was aware how much my children have grown. Our first years at the lodge were spent corralling toddlers and a preschooler. Swimming was a two-person tag team for my husband and I of keeping them above water and in the shallow end. The craft room wasn’t even an option as my middle daughter always painted her face with anything (and I mean anything! Vaseline was the worst.)

This year, I walked those halls with young women. We swam together, painted little cars and wooden statues in the craft room, we put puzzles together. We watched the Olympics at night and read together in the common room in the morning. I thoroughly enjoyed the calmness of their spirits, their willingness to be together with me, and the memories we shared as we wandered the lodge and surrounding grounds playing, “Remember when we…”

As they mature, I’m constantly in awe by their changes. The interests they had just five years ago have changed, as one might expect. From horses, mood rings and dolls to books, musical instruments and, well, horses. I guess, not everything changes.

I wonder what will that lodge be like for me five and ten years from now?

And tonight I’m home. Sitting at the table for the last several hours, I’ve been polishing a poem and drafting a synopsis for a novel that I’ve finished and feel is ready to send to publishers. I started this poem years ago as a short story, but realized that it works better in rhyming, rhythmic meter. The novel began at least five years ago and has grown from an awkward tale about awkward middle schoolers to a poignant reflection on innocent times, changing times, and war times.

Everything around me is growing and maturing.

Day by day my daughters are becoming women.

Word by word my writing is developing from scenes to chapters to books.

And that’s the point: If it’s valuable to you, put your time into it everyday.

My children are my greatest source of joy, pride, and yes, hardship. As any parent, I would give every ounce of my life I have to them. Some days I feel like I really do that :)

My writing is not quite as important as my children, but I still manage to work it into each day. Some days, like today, I have hours to write. Every other day, I have about an hour or two to devote to reading and writing. It’s not much, but word by word, it’s happening.

Perhaps the writing you did today is in the toddler or preschool stage – messy and surprising. As you develop your skills, you’ll need a training bra or maybe you notice your voice is cracking, then deeper. When the time is write, you can marry that writing to a publisher and a great union is formed.

Whether you are a writer, a parent, an artisan, or a crafter, spend time doing the things you love. Little by little, those small efforts lead to a great outcome.

 

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On this Sunday afternoon, take an hour or so and give one of these a try. It is a good practice to hone your skills as a writer on something other than your masterpiece. Why? For the same reason professional athletes cross-train. Running, weight-training, stretching, yoga – it all leads to a stronger body and mind.

Writing is no different.

Read every genre, write poetry, practice outlining a mystery, give a picture book a try. Warm up with these exercises and then turn toward your current work. Ask yourself: Can I bring anything new to my story? How did these exercises help me discover my writing voice? Are the results of the exercises worth exploring further?

 

  1. In Writing Exercises Vol. 2, you printed a few pages of your most recent work to focus on how you begin each sentence. With those newly printed pages, put a box around the verbs (action and linking). How many weak (linking) verbs do you have? Play around with stronger verbs and see if it enhances the visual effect of the story.

For example: John walked into the room holding a gun. I have your attention with the word ‘gun’, right?

Now try: John stormed the room, eyes wild, his hand trembling as a gun slipped from his sweaty palm. Very different. The action is generally the same: John enters a room. With the second sentence, John is unsure and in way over his head. Stormed vs. Walked.

How about this: John kicked the door open and aimed the gun at Stewart. “I never miss,” he said. Totally different John.

I don’t normally write about men storming rooms with guns…kinda fun. Stories I read to my son are more about trucks with spinning wheels and little bunnies saying goodnight to everything in the room. Which leads to the next exercise…

  1. Go to the library and ask for a popular children’s picture book. Copy (by hand or on your computer) all the text. Note how the illustrations break the story apart. Do the same with your work, using illustrations or chapter breaks. How does that change your story?

My son recommends Good Night, Good Night Construction Site by Sherri Duskey Rinker. I love the rhymes, but it’s the illustrations that seal this book as a family favorite. With over 1,000 5-star reviews on Amazon, I’m not alone! Check it out – you’ll never look at construction vehicles the same way again.

3. Read the book that was on the New York Times Best-Seller list the day you were born. Search “New York Times Best Sellers” and “the year you were born”.

Write about the book – different than you normally read? What did you like and dislike about the book? Will you read more by this author? Leave a review on Goodreads, Shelfari, Amazon, and the like. Don’t forget to make mention of reading this book in your writer’s journal. A well-documented list of what you’ve read will be invaluable.

In the year and month I was born, JONATHAN LIVINGSTON SEAGULL, by Richard Bach was #1. Time to search the library shelves!

May your writing time be filled with lovely music in a quiet atmosphere with rich dark chocolate and strong coffee nearby. Peace!

Jessica

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Being a writer is not easy. Speaking personally, I write alone in a quiet room. It’s best when I have more than 30 minutes to devote to the task. With four homeschooled children in the house, you can imagine that this isn’t easy. When I do find the time to write, I use earphones, a little George Winston, and every minute I can.

When I do finally polish up a piece in preparation for a reader to provide feedback, I’m always disappointed. I’ve finally realized that my disappointment can only be expected when I don’t ask for specifics.

If you were to ask me what I thought of the basketball game, I would likely say that the uniforms have nice colors. For a basketball fanatic, this answer would seal the belief that I know nothing about basketball beyond being able to identify the court, ball, and all the tall players. Stereotyping, I know.

As a writer, when I ask a reader to let me know what they think, I receive the answer I asked for: I liked it; It was good; Not my style, but a nice story.

To a writer, this is incredibly unhelpful.

Here is a list of questions I can ask readers of manuscript drafts to ensure that “It was good” no longer betrays my growth as a writer.

1. What is the heart of the story? Without a heart, we are nothing. Same is true for a story. While the question is clearly a subjective question, it will allow the reader to dig deeper into the story and share their impression. If they come up with something you didn’t intend, well, that’s interesting. If they can’t determine the heart of your story, then you have more work to do.

questions for readers

2. Does it flow well? I remember watching a documentary about Sesame Street. To test the flow of the program, they mixed up the regular order of the short clips and had a handful of 4-year-olds watch it. The preschoolers were unsettled and started pacing the room. Several said to their teacher that the program didn’t make sense. While the video clips were all part of a regular Sesame Street program, the fact that they were out of order was enough to prevent comprehension. The same could be true about your story. All the pieces might be there, but are they in the best order? A bigger question: Is your story being told from the correct point-of-view?

3. Which chapters pushed you forward? Give your reader a colorful pen (I don’t use red because it reminds me of grading papers. I use purple. Much less like blood.) and ask them to put a star at the end of the chapter if they want to read more. If the chapter ended and their curiosity had died, then have them draw in a sad face. The purpose is that each chapter must spurn on the action and the investment of the reader to the story. If that dies, so does your story.

Related Articles:

Finding Time to Write

Finding Time…Vol 2

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Do you remember gym class? Outside of the horrifying gym uniforms (think green polyester shorts and a t-shirt with my last name written across my chest with a black permanent marker), the exercises we did at the beginning of each class prepared our muscles for the real work to begin.

These exercises serve the same purpose. Before you start the long haul of working on your latest, soon-to-be best-seller, warm up your creative muscles with one (or all) of these:

1. Go back to the beginning:

Write about the first chapter book you ever read. What do you remember?

Was it a good read or did you not finish it?

2. Take a step into a great challenge:

Imagine you are a first grade teacher and have been asked to include a 68-year-old illiterate man in your classroom. What might come of that situation? Make notes, write a few scenes, or run with it.

3. Go back to the basics:

Print the first two pages of any story you are writing. Circle the first word of each sentence. Are those words similar? If so, re-work the sentences and re-print.

Make these writing exercises more fun – get out of the house, order a cup of hot something (it’s below zero here in Michigan) and write the way you imagine all writers do…over coffee, in the middle of a cute café, capturing the essence of your next character from the personalities walking by your table.

Do you have a published book? Click on this pic to read about an opportunity to receive and share in a marketing group.

Do you have a published book? Click on this pic to read about an opportunity to receive and share in a marketing group.

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