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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

Four years ago today, according to my writing journal, I met Jack Elliott, a.k.a. Graypay from my book, Unforgettable Roads.

birthdaycake

Jack Elliott is modeled after a man I see at church. He is handsome, all grey, and very devout. I didn’t get to know him until after Unforgettable Roads was accepted for publication, and I was amazed to learn that his name is Jack. Coincidence?

Shortly after I wrote a short story about Jack Elliott and his granddaughter, I registered for the Calvin College Festival of Faith and Writing. This was my fourth writing conference. I expected to go, listen, learn, and then write – same as always. But I went with Beth, my friend and writing partner, and the conference was completely different.

I hope you have a friend like Beth. She pushes me gently, inspires me even when she’s not around, and encourages me. I tried to do the same for her at this conference by staying up late to go to the poetry reading from 8:00 – 11:00 PM. I’m all for staying up late, but this was a push for me. I had been gone all day, was missing my kids, and was overwhelmed by the amount of information I’d received. But my love for Beth was stronger (plus my kids were already in bed, so I wasn’t going to see them anyway) and I gladly walked into the room.

It was my first poetry reading and I loved it. I also felt a little jaded by the fact that there wasn’t a short-fiction reading. What’s a fiction author to do but raid the second night of the poetry readings with a short fiction piece?

That’s where I shared the chapter of Graypay, a.k.a. Jack Elliott, with my first audience. If you have the book, it’s the chapter titled, “Time Machines”. The buzzer sounded ten minutes after I started reading, so my writing obviously wasn’t short enough, but the audience protested with the time-keeper to allow me to finish.

Talk about a boost in self-esteem!

Several people loved Graypay’s character and wanted more. “Is this a part of a novel?” they asked.

At the time it wasn’t, but through their enthusiasm, I did start to think about the larger story.

The point of this post is to encourage you to keep a journal. As a parent, teacher, writer, doctor, business owner, grandparent - whatever you do & whoever you are - a journal will help you trudge through difficulties, celebrate milestones, and track the events of your life. Just like Jack’s journals play an important role in the novel, your journals can do the same for future generations. Write about your successes, your plans, your failures. Share the expectations you have and the reality of the world; be it authentic awe or disappointment.

writing pics 009

The notes in my writing journal that I kept while writing Unforgettable Roads are filled with my research, travel notes, photographs and practice scenes with the characters. I use it differently each day: sometimes to track a to-do list, other times it’s a place to try new ideas for current writing pieces. My journal is also where Eddie, another character from the book, sprang to life. I’ve never experienced that before – a character just showing up – and it wouldn’t have happened without the journal. I’m working on writing a second book that follows Eddie after his conversion.

My journal, like Jack says, is like my brain with all my thoughts, ideas and memories locked into existence with ink.

So stop reading – go write!

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

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.

So you can finally cross “Getting Published” off your bucket list. Fantastic!

Now what?

You need readers for your book. The prospects of marketing are more daunting that you first imagined. All your friends and family have purchased a copy…and sales have stalled. If you are looking for a way to market your book without investing any money, just a little time, then read on.

indie and small press

I’m putting together a group of dedicated authors who are interested in increasing their readership base, have a blog, and have at least two (2) forms of social media forums. If you request to be a part of this group, here is what is expected of you:

1. You will be interviewed about you, your book and writing in general. Each author will receive a list of questions generated by me that will fit your book and mission.

2. You will have two weeks to answer those questions and return them to me. Sooner is better, but life is busy, I know :)

3. Here’s the meat of this plan: Each time an author’s interview goes live on my website, you will receive an email. Post a link to that interview 2x’s a week for 2 weeks on all of your social media: Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Tumbler…whatever.

4. Committing to this group will keep you posting these links from March 2014 until February 2015. Anyone who does not continue to share posts, will be removed from the group. Sounds harsh, but think about it – you have your interview and see and increase in sales and blog visits and then you do nothing to help the next in line. Not fair. Pay it forward. Keep the momentum going. It doesn’t take long to post on a few networks, and the results for you and the other authors is invaluable. If we fill the calendar, there will be 24 (plus me, that’s 25) authors who will share your interview, book, and links to purchase on all their social media. That has great potential.

5. Send me a copy of your book, either hardcopy or a link to download the ebook version. (I’ll send you my contact info once you are accepted into the group.) I would like to read the books before I send you questions so each interview is personalized and unique.

The goal of this is to help all of us reach a wider base of potential readers. Potential for increased sales and blog followers in amazing. I took part in a similar author panel last year and have made some wonderful connections.

If you are interested, comment on this post with your name, the name of your book, and a link to your blog.

Then send me an email (jessicaschaubwrites@gmail.com) with your name and contact info. Include the back cover blurb of your book, a link to where it’s sold, and what genre it is. I won’t interview authors who write erotica, include intense violence in their novels, or use vulgar curse words. Yep, I’m old fashioned. I also have a blog that I’m proud to have my children read. My audience is young at heart and simply young. This blog will remain a safe environment for them.

If you have any questions, ask them in the Comments area. I’ll answer them as quickly as I can.

Blessings to you!

Jessica

 

If you’ve ever dreamed of being an author of a picture book…listen up!

I copied this right from the website so to give you the best explanation:

 For less than the cost of a single conference, picture book writers and illustrators can become members of 12 x 12 and get access to all the benefits of a writer’s conference — learning from experts, craft advice and assistance, the fellowship of community and the opportunity to submit completed, polished manuscripts — without having to travel. You’ll get the motivation and accountability you need to get those drafts finished, all with the support of the friendliest writing community on earth.

The 12 x 12 offer has three different levels of participation: Margaret Wise BRONZE level (write only), the Shel SILVERstein level (write and revise), and the Little Golden book level (write, revise, submit).

Here’s the link to the website:

http://www.juliehedlund.com/registration-for-2014/?hop=cbkinsider

Why you should consider this:

On any level, the accountability to put your butt in the chair and write is increased through the motivation you gain from the other members. If you only write 12 picture book manuscripts, that is 12 more manuscripts you will have to polish up by the end of the year. If you register for the GOLD level, you have input from other writers and the opportunity to submit those manuscripts to agents/publishers.

This is the cover from my first picture book. If all goes as planned, Frog will have many more adventures this year!

This is the cover from my first picture book. If all goes as planned, Frog will have many more adventures this year!

I’m going to go for it. Take a few minutes and read through the website (above). If the idea is intriguing, join me. If you aren’t sure, think about it for a few days. If the lure is too strong to refuse, join me.

Happy Writing!

Yesterday’s entry was a little negative. While it’s completely true, it also brims of an attitude of ‘it’s all about me’.  Over the past several months, a dark, unsettling cloud has taken up residence over my head. I’ve been thinking about my role in my life. What am I? Who am I? Why am I?

I need a mission, a plan, a goal, a target. And it just came to me.

I’m declaring 2014 the Year of Momming.  (this might also be a year when I make up a words that battle dark clouds).

Momming (v) 1) the act of putting all people in need of help before personal needs; 2) a formal term for multi-tasking; 3) referring to the act of caring for others in any capacity needed, not excluding night shifts; 4) often refers to women, but men are often seen momming although the proper term is ‘fathering’; 5) refers any person who lovingly cares for another.

Because so many New Year’s Resolutions deal with health and fitness, I will be treating ‘Momming’ like a workout:

 

  1. Lift the weighty spirits of those around you. Repeat 10 times.
  2. Sprint to those in need.
  3. For optimal heart health, hug those you love, snuggle often with children (dogs and cats work too), and cook homemade meals at least once a week (or at least present a meal in your own dishes, on a set table with napkins and candles).
  4. To stay motivated, repeat this phrase often: “The two most beautiful things about me are my smile and gentle touch.”
  5. Celebrate great weeks of ‘Momming’ with a dressed up date to a favorite place with your children.
  6. Didn’t have such a great week of ‘momming’, reboot your goals with a dressed up date to your favorite place with your children.
  7. Spend time with other Moms      who have a positive outlook on life, parenting, and marriage. Allow their enthusiasm to motivate you.

I’m working on marketing (thinking of ways I can promote my writing and my public speaking) and flipping through the pages of Writers Market 2014 looking for places to submit Ceiling Tiles (also known to my family as Gravity…a book in need of a better title :) )These are tasks that require as much creative writing as writing a novel. There are four things that are keeping me from completing my to-do list: my kids.

Around me is noise. Loads of resounding noise. There is a 3-year-old son in the bath tub singing with the 12-year-old daughter who volunteered to give him a bath (and is therefore in the running for daughter-of-the-year award). The other two daughters are practicing their instruments; a viola and a flute. This is the noise of my life. Whether it’s music or laughter or screaming (joyful or frustration…take your pick), there is a constant noise in my life.

Despite promises to myself to remain calm, by 2:00 PM I’m ready for ear plugs. I prayerfully try to begin each day with a request to God to not allow my name to weigh me down.

The incessant, “Mom, I can’t reach…

Mom, where is my…

Mom, he won’t stop…

Mom, I’m so hungry…

Mom, I don’t like green beans…

Mom, I need…

Mom, why…

Mom, your hair is turning gray…

Mom, where are you going?

I fondly remember an evening in December of 1999 when I was supremely pregnant with my oldest daughter. I was bloated and emotional and suffering from gestational diabetes. I wondered aloud what the house would sound like with a baby, then a toddler, then a baby and a toddler. It was anticipation of those ‘little feet’.

Fast forward almost fourteen years…I can tell you what a house sounds like with a teenage daughter, two tweens, and a three-year-old boy…loud. Just plain loud. As I’m typing this, the 3-year-old is now out of the tub, in clean pajamas (because I never dressed him today), and making excellent motor sounds with his truck on the table. That award winning 12-year old is now sawing away on her cello. All the girls play their instruments well, I just wish they were playing the same song.

20140106_190809

I’d love to tell you that I love all the noise. I’d be lying. There are moments (sometimes full days) when I would give my left lung to have 12 hours of peace and quiet, to listen to nothing but the sound of my own breathing, to run to the grocery store in the car and not the 8-seater truck.

My son, in response to my request for a little ‘peace and quiet’ brought me a plate of legos mixed with green pattern blocks…”It’s a big serving of Peas and Quiet.” God bless him!

Alas, there is no lesson to this post. I have no silver lining to offer because the sound pollution in my house prevents me from embracing it. What I can offer is understanding to all the frustrated moms out there. You are not alone and I’m praying for you all right now!

I will also remind myself to breathe in those quiet moments as if they were my last breaths. The stillness of night has become my sanctuary and I pray that your night is filled with sleeping children, content husbands, peaceful breezes, and bladders the size of a 2-liter.

Until the kids are asleep, I’m setting aside Writers Market to go to the family room and build with Legos and drive trucks across the floor. Happy Parenting to All! And to all a good night!

 

 

  1. Write a prayer. Even if you don’t practice a faith, write a prayer. It can be a letter to God about anything you want. You can say anything you want. Don’t worry, you won’t be struck by lightning…God can take your worst.

 

  1. Write a sentence, paragraph or short story using the word ‘defenestrate’.

 

  1. Copy the first paragraph of your favorite book by hand. Reflect on what you learned about the way to introduce a story, the sentence structure, the introduction of setting and character. How can you apply those same ideas to your current story?

It’s been months since my last post. In fact, you probably forgot you had subscribed to this blog :) But October, November and December were far from useless months. While my blogging went to the bottom of the to-do list, I did spend a great deal of time in prayer, reevaluating my life as a Catholic Christian, wife, mother, friend, author, and public speaker.

In the months leading up to September and the release of a new book, I felt a pull in my heart. I was missing something important. Society told me otherwise. I was published – three times now. I was speaking frequently and book sales were good – considering I’m essentially a nobody. Pressure to establish a platform, to share my expertise, to promote fellow authors and my own work is all very good, but it’s pressure and I caved. My family and my faith were not a part of that ‘success’ equation, but in reality, faith and family are my top two priorities. That was the pull – me pulling away from all the blessings I had to reach for a means of success that really isn’t success.

Two books at Schuler's Book Store in Michigan...dreams do come true!

Two books at Schuler’s Book Store in Michigan…dreams do come true!

Over the last few months, I’ve stayed away from the Internet as much as possible. Instead of checking emails, blog posts, and facebook posts, I’ve been diving into teaching Latin and Logic with my children. I’ve read more, and have written more. I seemed to be on the right track when the screen on my laptop stopped working, forcing me to hand-write my next novel. Oh, I didn’t hand write the whole thing, but I did manage to write 5 chapters and edit all that I have so far.

My speaking calendar is more open and book sales have dropped a bit, but my family is happier. It seems a very fair trade, but with the new year in full swing, it’s time for the resolutions. In the spirit of doing things my way (go ahead and sing it – “I’ll do it my way!”) I’m not going to make any resolutions. I’m going to revolutionize my priorities.

Faith First.

Family next.

I cooked that meal...and helped put together that solar system model hanging from the light. Scoring points for the Super Mom Award :)

I cooked that meal…and helped put together that solar system model hanging from the light. Scoring points for the Super Mom Award :)

Food is important. I’ll make meal planning and cooking priority number 3. I suppose a 3.1 would be to continue to teach my children to cook, to follow recipes, to take chances in the kitchen (not with knives or fire, obviously, but with spices).

Homeschooling is a commitment my husband and I made almost 10 years ago. I’m renewing that commitment and -you guessed it – revolutionizing our format. Maybe I’ll write something about our journey…it’s been quite a trip.

And then I will write. I’ll write to my children in the notebooks I have for each of them; letters of love and encouragement, notes of wonderful things I witness in their lives, and comments on things I see them struggle.

I’ll write poetry. It’s not a natural pace for me, but I love to form the words within the molds of structure, to paint with letters.

Novels. I know I’m a ‘big picture’ kind of gal and writing a novel is my favorite challenge. I finished another novel this year – time to polish and submit. There are three more in the works – time to focus.

If I can focus, motivate, speak truth, model faith, and look for beauty, I can revolutionize my life. Instead of seeing a daunting task of marketing and writing chapter after chapter, I will see smaller tasks that can, when added together, have a greater impact on my overall success as a faithful woman, wife, mother, daughter and friend.

What about you? What can you do this year that will revolutionize your world? Do you seek greater wisdom? A stronger and healthier body? Can you repair lost trust? Broken hearts?

Of course you can. It all starts with you, a plan, and a prayer. Everything else will fall into place.

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