Thoughts on NaNoWriMo

By Gloria G. Adams

Thought #1: Why is this thingy in November?

Possible answers:
1.    The month begins with an “N.”
2.    Writers have procrastinated all year and this is their last chance to actually “get something done.”
3.    Real answer: Because the weather is miserable in November. That’s according to one of the founders (Chris Baty.)

Thought #2: Why does this work?
1.    It just does
2.    Well, not always, not if you quit.
3.    Real answer: Because people tend to perform when they have to be accountable to someone else.

Thought #3: Can I do this if I am a children’s author?
1.    Yes
2.    Of course
3.    Real answer: Number 1, Number 2, and mine’s a middle grade novel, so 25,000-30,000 words, not as long as an adult or young adult or new adult novel (50,000 words+)

Thought #4: Why am I doing this?
1.    I want to finish my novel
2.    I want to finish my novel
3.    Real answer: I want to finish my novel

Thought #5: Why don’t I do this every month and not just in November?
1.    Because it sounds overwhelming
2.    Because I get lazy
3.    Real answer: both of the above.

This is the first year I am actually DOING NaNoWriMo. I made a spreadsheet on Google Docs and shared it with my writer friends and we plan to get together a few times and write. But it’s there for them to see and I am diligently filling it in. And it is working.

I participated in a “writer’s boot camp” once, same kind of concept. I only made it through half the month, then quit because it was a mystery and I needed to stop and actually outline first. I am not a “Pantser.” But I managed to write 16,000 words and I have the bones of a fairly decent adult novel. But mostly, I was so surprised that I was able to get that much done and I realized it was because I had to be accountable.

This process really can work. Will I have a highly-polished, ready-to-submit manuscript on November 30th? Heck, no. But I am hoping to have a pretty decent one that will not take forever to reach that polished state.

So, while this is not an “official NaNoWriMo,” it is my version and it is helping reach a goal. If I reach this one, I plan to do NaNoWriMo every month because that’s what the most successful writers do. If you read their tips, that one is always there: write every day. NaNo adds a specific word count per day to that, which makes it more challenging. But every challenge needs specifics.

Is it overwhelming? Yes! Will I get lazy? Probably. But if I make myself accountable, I know it’s possible.

So I need a name. “Not Just November Novel Writing Month? (NoJuNoNoWriMo?) or “Write Every Day of the Year? (WriEvDaOfTheYe?)

Hey, I’ve got it! NaNoWriMoEvMo (National Novel Writing Month Every Month.)

Who’s with me?

A Writer Rejuvenated

By Kate Carroll

Have you ever attended a retreat? How about a revival meeting?

Attending the Northern Ohio SCBWI Conference is like going to a retreat and a revival at the same time! It’s both intensely introspective and wildly inspirational.

If I may plug SCBWI for a moment…Through this organization, I found two amazing critique groups, learned how much more I need to learn about my craft, and added new tools to my writing box that helped me to publication.

This past weekend’s conference did not disappoint. As much as I attend the conference to learn, and I do, I also meet fellow writers who love writing for kids as much as I do. We are an unusual group of professionals who actually celebrate one another’s successes and encourage each other, from honest critiquing, to praying that a phone call from an editor goes positively for a fellow writer. People blow me away with their genuine care for my growth as a writer. I think this may be unique to kidlit writers, but heck, I’ll take it!

I left the weekend pumped to jump back into my projects to massage them, to strip them clean, to delete them if necessary and to make every manuscript I have, ”bookworthy”.  (Thanks for that phrase, M. Lamba)

Vegas is not the only place that corners the market on secrecy. What happens at  the SCBWI Conference stays at the SCBWI Conference. So, I can’t really share all the fabulous stuff I learned. Suffice it to say, it was pretty awesome. But, rather than leave you hanging, I’m excited to offer a cool link that children’s author, Shutta Crum, shared with us and I have her permission to share it with you.


Now, go write some great stuff.

Sense-ational Writing

By Gloria G. Adams         

If you’ve been in the writing world for very long at all, you will have heard the admonition to “show, don’t tell.” The best way to do that is to bring all five of your senses into play. It makes everything more real and relatable to your reader. But how do you do that?

Prolific author Dandi Mackall suggests making a chart of the senses and going through your manuscript to see how often you’ve used each sense: sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell. You may find that you’ve missed one or two of them altogether!

One effective strategy is to go to an actual place. Maybe it’s a beach, a restaurant, a lake, etc. Soak in everything around you. Then write down several things you experience from each of the five senses. Do the same for the scenes in your story.

What can you touch with your hands or feet? Sand and surf? Rough concrete sidewalks, mud between your toes, silk fabric? What touches you? The wind? The brush of someone’s hand against yours? Or-eww!- is that a spider crawling on your leg?                                                 

Smells can set a mood; a kitchen can smell like freshly-sizzled bacon or rotting garbage. Compare the feeling you get in a room full of clean baby fragrances to a long-empty room that’s clogged with dust and dirt or moldy walls.

Sight is probably the most often used sense; amp up your adjectives to give your reader a feeling as well as a picture. Use “scabrous” or “brambly” instead of “rough,”  “gelatinous” or “feathery” instead of “soft,” “silvery” or “dingy” instead of “grey.”

Sounds can make your character cringe, tingle, jump, scream, or cry. Sounds can remind them of a childhood memory or warn them that disaster is about to strike. Use them to add drama to your scenes. Think of the sudden roar of flames, a loud horn, cheery bird calls or raucous rooster crows, a child’s frightened scream or happy giggle.                                  

Taste gets overlooked frequently. But it is something that everyone experiences and can pull your reader right into your scene. Who hasn’t accidentally burned his or her tongue on hot coffee or cocoa? What dessert has been either sensual in the extreme or as dry as cardboard? Next time you eat something, think about how you would describe it in your book and use it to make your characters more interesting. 

Bring one of your characters into each of the settings below and describe how he or she experiences all five senses in each one.
1.    A hair salon
2.    A butcher shop
3.    A hospital
4.    An urban alleyway
5.    A farm

Top 4 questions I'm asked at speaking engagements

By Laurie L. Knowlton

I have had the privilege of being a speaker at many writer's conferences across the United States, and yet the questions are universal. I'd like to share the answers with you.

1. "What can I do to get published?"  

The answer to this is:  Do your homework. You need to read, read, read. Read all the HOW-TO books you can get your hands on. A few suggestions: Ann Whitford Paul's Writing Picture Books, Barbara Sueling's How to Write a Children's Book and Get it Published, Harold D. Underdown's The Complete Idiot's Guide to Publishing Children's Books, or Lee Wyndham's Writing for Children and Teenagers. 

Along with the HOW-TO books, you need to read books in the genre that you would like to write. Study the character development. Identify the tension used to build the plot. What did the author do to get the reader into the setting?

Attend conferences and workshops. Check your local Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators' group. They usually offer conferences, workshops and critique groups in area. National SCBWI also offers two conferences every year. One is held in California in August, and a second conference is offered in New York in January.  You can locate them on the web:

 2. "Do I need an agent?" 
I do not believe you need an agent. You can research possible publishers through the CHILDREN'S WRITERS MARKET.  First look to see if the publishing house is accepting unsolicited manuscripts. This means that they are open to un-agented manuscripts.

But don't stop there. After finding a publishing house that looks like it might work for your genre and theme of your story, then look the publishing house up on the Internet. Research the editors. Check to see if they have a blog. This will help you find out: What else HAVE THEY published? What is their passion? What type of book is on their wish list.

Make a list of possible publishers and begin sending your manuscript out. Some publishers require that you submit only to them. This is called an exclusive submission. Other publishers will allow simultaneous submissions. Always make sure you keep a record of where you have submitted your manuscript and the date you submitted the manuscript and if it is returned. If you are lucky enough to get a personal note from an editor, send a thank you note. If they made a suggestion, get to work!

3. "How do I submit?" 
After finishing your manuscript, it is important to have it critiqued by your peers or a professional. There are many authors and editors that offer critique services. Check your local SCBWI to see if there are members who have critique groups or offer critiquing. 

Make sure your manuscript is perfect. Check grammar, spelling, and punctuation. When your manuscript is ready, you will need to write a cover letter.

Use a regular business letter setup. Your letter should be short:

Dear Editor's Name,
I have enclosed my 450-word picture book: NAME OF BOOK. Then add some information about your writing history: I am a former librarian and a member of the SCBWI Ohio chapter. I have been published in the local newspaper. Then thank them for their time and consideration.

Make sure your manuscript is in proper manuscript format. Type your name and information in the top left-hand corner.  Put the word count on the right hand side, opposite your personal information. Halfway down the page, centered, put the title of your manuscript. Put your name below the title. Then begin your manuscript. It needs to be indented for every new paragraph. Your manuscript should be double-spaced. You will need a header starting on the second page. Your header should include your name, the name of your manuscript on the left side and the page number on the right side. Every succeeding page should have the header on the top.

Many publishers request a SASE (Self-addressed stamped envelope) so they can return your manuscript. Others say they will recycle the manuscripts, so you do not need to send a SASE.

4. "Do I need an illustrator?" 

The answer is, no. Publishers have a stable of illustrators that they prefer to use. They know their illustrators are professionals whose work is consistent and produced on time. Let the publisher worry about the look of the book while you do everything you can
to produce a quality manuscript.

I'm hoping these answers help you to get your work ready for publication!

Getting Unstuck

By Gloria Reichert

Writing about writer’s block is better than not writing at all. ~ Charles Rutkowski

Every writer has been there. You sit down to write – and not one idea pops into your head. Your creative juices are not flowing. Your brain has turned to mush. You cannot focus. Your muse has deserted you. Writer’s block has you in its grips. What is a writer to do?

All writers need to have an arsenal of ways to overcome writer’s block, so perhaps the following may prove helpful. 

1.  Writing prompts are a splendid way to fight writer’s block and spur creative thinking. Easily found in books or on line, writing prompts can take on a life of their own and become a new piece or poem. An added bonus is that while you are doing them, you are honing your writing skills. Prompts can be as simple as writing from the viewpoint of an inanimate object, such as a tennis shoe, a baseball bat, or a glue stick. Or they can be more complex and lead to character sketches.    

2.  Change your location. If you are at the computer, get up and go outside. Go to a park, a coffee shop, or other venue.

3.  Exercise or move around. Do some jumping jacks or your favorite workout routine. Put on some music and dance. Getting the blood flowing in our bodies also gets it flowing in our brains.

4.  Try a new writing instrument. If you are using the computer, pick up a pad of paper and a pen or pencil. Write in your favorite color of ink.

5.  Read inspirational quotes about writing.

6.  Make a Word Web. Write a word in the center of a sheet of paper (perhaps one from the piece you are writing.) and draw a circle around it. Brainstorm about the word and add lines upon which to write your thoughts. Don’t stop after the first few thoughts. Press on and keep thinking. Our best, creative thoughts come later on. 

7.  Look at pictures. Get out your family album. Peruse a magazine from cover to cover. Or sketch a picture and then write about it – even if it is only stick figures.

8.  Keep a collection of strange, meaningful, interesting news clippings that can be pulled out for inspiration – like the one I read about a rubber band contest.

9.  Develop a “writer’s morphological matrix” and use it as a tool for generating ideas. Draw a grid that is four blocks wide and ten blocks long. Label the top four blocks: CHARACTER, SETTING, GOALS, AND OBSTACLES. Number the ten vertical blocks 1 through 10, top to bottom. Fill in ten characters, ten settings, etc. This will provide many possible combinations of ideas about which to write.

10.  Keep a journal of funny things people say or humorous incidents. I remember once baking potatoes and seasoning them with herbes de provence. When they were served to a young child, she looked at the potatoes. Then she looked at me and said, “Why did you put grass on my potatoes?” That could be fleshed into an interesting story!

What are other ways of banishing writer’s block? What has worked for you? Please share your comments. We all need help sometimes! Happy writing!     

Plotting Along...

By Gloria G. Adams

If you Google “plots,” “how to plot a story,” “plot templates,” or other variations of the same, you will get thousands or even millions of hits. But there are some basics that always apply, especially for children’s books.

Here is a one-sentence plotline that can be used as a skeletal structure:

The main character has lost or wants a fundamental need and in trying to obtain it, he/she grows or changes.

Fundamental needs can be survival, love, nurture, protection, freedom, belonging to a group, self-esteem, finding one’s identity, creating/building something, solving a problem, etc.

Author Charlie Colman recommends identifying the controlling belief that drives the action of the main character in your story to obtain the want or need.

For example, in Hatchet, Brian is stranded in the Alaskan wilderness and his fundamental need is to survive. He believes he will be rescued if he can survive long enough. All the actions he takes in trying to survive, the things he learns in the process, change him into a stronger, more self-reliant young man.

When thinking of the story you want to write (or have written), ask yourself these questions:

1.    What is the main character’s fundamental need?

2.    What is his/her controlling belief that will drive his/her actions to obtain that need?

3.    What actions will he/she take?

4.    What will he/she attain? (The original fundamental need or one or two others in addition or instead?)

5.    How will the main character change?

Pick some favorite books you have read and ask those same questions. Learn from successful authors how they have answered those questions and found publishing success. Then apply them as you create your own stories.

My Kind of Writer's Block

By Kate Carroll

"Writers’ Block is when your imaginary friend stops talking to you."

Although I cannot credit the originator of this quote, I give kudos to my fellow writer and friend, Janie Reinart, for sharing it with me.

I suffer from writer’s block as most writers do from time to time.  But I think my issue is greater than a lack of creativity or imagination.  When my mind is barren of ideas, I get frustrated. Then I can’t think. Then I get stymied. And then… drumroll please… I lose confidence…

My worst enemy is my refusal to believe in myself.  Deep down, I know I have some talent with words. I know I have what it takes to write. But beyond tenacity and talent must be the belief that you can share something of yourself with the great big world out there.

I won’t trivialize writing because it’s not trivial!  Writing takes guts. Wait. No. Writing doesn’t take guts - putting one’s writing “out there” takes guts.  Personally, I hate that kind of exposure, and yet, it’s a necessity if I want to share my work with others. I’m a wimp when I feel judged by others.  Attaching my name to a piece of writing and hitting “send,” raises my respirations and sets my foot a-tapping.

 But thanks to the WRITERS on my BLOCK, I’ve developed new skills and new confidence. Even more importantly, I have acquired a thicker skin – a long overdue growth process.

The most useful tool I have in my writing drawer is my critique group(s) – in my case more than one. I require extra work. :)  They are free – so go get one and embrace your Writers Block.

Finish What You've Started

By Lana Wayne Koehler

To succeed in life in today’s world, you must have the will and tenacity to finish the job.          ~Chin-Ning Chu                                

Do you suffer from “Neverfinishitis”? It’s recognized by inappropriate musings about new and more exciting projects.
I had a really bad case of it for over a year. I continually found reasons to stop in the middle, or even the precious beginning, of a book or magazine article. The hardest part was always seeing a better story just around the corner.

The recovery process can be painful. The first thing that I did was to join a support group (okay, it’s really a critique group, but they have been very supportive). Second, I committed to send them FINISHED projects that have been already started. Nothing new. NOTHING. No matter how tempting.

So far, I have finished a much need synopsis of a book that I started a few years ago. I’m also working hard to finish an article that I excitedly began last fall but let writing the transcript terrorize me, and a middle grade novel that had been delayed due to my newfound obsession with poetry.  

One of the biggest breakthroughs, I think for me, was reading Robert A. Heinlein’s four rules of writing, one of which was ‘You must finish what you write.’ I never had any problem with the first one, ‘You must write’. I was writing since I was a kid. But I never finished what (sic) writing.                                                      ~ George R R Martin
Robert Heinlein

Robert A. Heinlein’s Rules for writing (There are actually five):
1. You must write.
2. You must finish what you write.
3. You must refrain from rewriting, except to editorial order.
4. You must put the work on the market.
5. You must keep the work on the market until it is sold

Relapsing is a real concern, especially in the summer, fall, winter, or spring.  The seasons make it especially difficult if you: have a job or are retired; are a parent or grandparent; are married, single, widowed, or divorced; are young, middle aged, or “senior”; are male, or female. I have re-lapsed many times, but fortunately, it’s not fatal.

The opportunities for re-infection are many. It usually occurs after an inspiring talk at a conference, webinar, or discussion over coffee. Be especially wary of talking to other writers. Many of them are carriers and don’t even realize that they have the disease.

There is also a corresponding syndrome called “Rewrite/Editland”.  It’s especially prevalent among critique groups. Sometimes I change my manuscript so much that it no longer has my “voice”. If that happens, you may need to put it away and work on something else until you recover completely (See #3 above).

Don’t worry too much about rewriting and editing. It’s usually saved for interactions with editors and agents, where it can actually improve your manuscript. With my first book, the editor said that she loved it, but then proceeded to change almost every line! I have to say that it’s a better book with her changes (Thanks, Zaneta Jung).

It’s the job that’s never started as takes longest to finish.     ~ J.R.R. Tolkien

JRR Tolkien

How long did it take Tolkien to finish “The Lord of the Rings”?

“Tolkien began working on the story in late 1937. He completed a semi-final draft of the main narrative in 1948 but by 1950 J.R.R. Tolkien had begun working on the Appendices. He paused his work to make changes to the background material that would be compatible with the published 2nd edition of The Hobbit. When The Lord of the Rings was finally accepted for publication Tolkien made numerous changes on the galley proofs, even rewriting many paragraphs. The final galley proofs were sent to the publisher in 1954 or 1955.

It would thus be more accurate to suggest that it took about 17 years (allowing for some breaks) from start to finish for J.R.R. Tolkien to write The Lord of the Rings. And yet, even after the book was published he continued to make changes. There was only one formally announced 2nd edition of The Lord of the Rings, which was published in 1965, but it would not be until 1987 that nearly all of Tolkien’s textual changes would be incorporated into a new edition edited by Douglas Anderson (the so-called “white edition”). And yet in 1994 HarperCollins issued even more complete edition incorporating further corrections.”

Notice that the bulk of his changes occurred after it was accepted for publication. (I never knew that he sang!).

If you want to conquer this disease, it’s important to send out your material, even though improvements need to be made. I know how hard it is to finally pronounce your book “DONE,” but if you never send it out, it will never get published and it will never be truly done.

The ultimate cure for “Neverfinishitis” is to pick a project, write until it’s finished (with some editing, of course), and send it out to editors and agents until it’s sold. Then you get to repeat with every project. What a liberating process!

As a writer, I will do my best to stop the spread of this terrible disease. Will you do your part?

If you have a writing project that seems to be stuck and would like to take the “End Neverfinishitis” pledge, please let us know so we can post your goal and make this a community event. Sign up now!

Stereotype Shuffle

By Gloria Adams

I recently attended a lecture by award-winning author Celeste Ng in which she talked about “upending” your characters. What she meant was that if your character is a stereotype, have them do things or say things that are in strong contrast to the perceived stereotypical view.

Her example was a main character in her book, Everything I Never Told You. The father in the story is Asian American, but he is a professor of American History with a specialty in Cowboys. Very unexpected.

This really hit home with me as a wonderful new tactic to make characters more interesting.

Start by doing a series of “What if’s.”

What if your character is a tiny, 5’2” blonde woman who seems very frail, but actually holds a black belt in karate and works in gym teaching boxing?

What if an ex-con covered in tattoos and piercings holds a Master’s Degree in storytelling and has a passion for cake decorating?

Try it with animals, too. What if your main character is a giraffe who is a wizard? Or a wolf that likes to wear hats and moos instead of howls?

The possibilities are endless, and any character who can change the perception of a stereotype should prove intriguing to your readers and leave them wondering what on earth you are planning in your next book.

Dear Diary...

By Kate Carroll

“Dear Diary,
I don’t get you. I don’t get why I’m writing stuff to myself since I already know what I’m thinking. You’re supposed to be secret, but what if my little brother finds my key – or I accidentally divulge my innermost secrets at the next sleepover? This is dumb. Bye forever, Diary.   

Your friend, 

As a young girl, I loved to write, but I never kept a secret diary. Honestly, the activity seemed trite to me. Many of my friends wrote faithfully to “Dear Diary” every night, but I just didn’t get it.  I preferred writing fairy tales with happy endings, or reading until my eyelids drooped.
Today, we call this popular writing pastime journaling.
I love to write, but I am not a true journal writer. I find it too demanding to write something in a journal everyday because I’m “supposed “ to. Yet, as I pursued a new career as a writer, I felt compelled to pick up a blank journal and fill it with wonder. So… that didn’t happen.  I do envy people who fill page after page, book after book with their imaginings, their dreams and their insight.
Traditional journaling isn’t my thing, but I’ve discovered a way to use journaling as an effective tool for my craft.  As a writer, I look for moments of inspiration.  Journaling can be a treasure trove of ideas, crafted from everyday experiences.  I call this intentional creativity.  Watch people at the airport and fill a journal with vivid characters and situations ripe for a future manuscript.  Go to a playground and delight in the creative play of children.
Another simple way to journal is to word journal. I love words, and I write them down in all sorts of lists and categories.  I don’t keep them in a fancy book or under lock and key; I keep them in a folder on my computer. I have lists of grade level words, verb words, magical words, adventure words, silly words and rhyming words.  These resources come in handy when I’m searching for just the right word to polish my manuscript.
When you think about it, we use conventional journaling for many purposes:

  • Food journaling
  • Diet journaling
  • Exercise journaling
  • Vacation journaling
Can you think of others?   

"Dear Diary,

You're old, but your bones are still kicking around and have found new life in this friend. 


So You Want to Be a Writer

By Lisa Amstutz
True confession: It took me 10 years to work up the courage to write for publication. During those years, I thought about writing. I read about writing. I talked about writing. I did everything but actually write. What if no one liked my work? Worse yet, what if they did? Where would I start? The fears and questions paralyzed me, and cost me 10 years of my writing life.

Here are five things I wish someone had told me at the time. If you find yourself in the same boat, I hope you will take them to heart. The world needs your stories!

Don’t Let Fear Paralyze You
It took a significant birthday to make me realize I was more afraid of never writing than I was of writing. Don’t wait around for that moment—do whatever it takes to get past your fear. Start small if you like—write something for a newsletter or a letter to the editor at a local newspaper. Write a short story and share it with a few friends and loved ones. Or use a pen name.

Sometimes fear doesn’t look like fear. It looks like excuses. I don’t have time to write. There’s already a book about that topic. I didn’t study writing in school. I have kids/a full-time job/housework to do. These thoughts may all be reasonable and true, but don’t let them keep you from trying.

Consider Yourself a Writer
I occasionally have the opportunity to mentor new writers. Many are tentative about calling themselves writers, just as I was. “If you write, you’re a writer,” I tell them. It’s really that simple. You don’t have to be published or specially trained. There’s no secret handshake. You may or may not be a good one yet, but if you write, you are a writer. And that’s a place to start.

Write Every Day
Everyone’s busy, I know. I am too. But if you want to write, choose to make it a priority in your life. Write a little every day, if possible. If time is limited, write on the subway, or dictate stories into your phone while driving. Keep a notebook by your bed and jot notes before you fall asleep. Write instead of watching a TV show. Find those snippets of free time in your life and use them to accomplish your goals.

At least 90% of writing is just sitting down and doing it. The rest is noticing the things around you and the feelings inside you, and finding the right words to express them. You’ll get better at it. But not unless you actually try.

Find a Tribe
My writing quality and output grew exponentially once I found a writing tribe. I joined a local writer’s group and SCBWI, took classes, attended workshops, and found online support. Other writers can provide the support, knowledge, and honest critique of your work that you need to grow as a writer and succeed. And on a practical level, preparing for a monthly critique meeting or class will give you a deadline and make you more productive.

If you don’t already have a writing tribe, look for local writer’s groups or organizations in your area. Take a writing class, attend a conference or workshop, or join a critique group. Look for Internet message boards and Facebook groups where you can connect with other writers.

Revise and Send Out Your Work
Once you’ve gotten some critiques on your work, revise and polish it until it’s the best you can make it. Check for spelling and grammar errors, and read your work aloud to yourself to see how it sounds. But don’t stop there. Get a copy of Writer’s Market and look for places to send it. Target your submission to editors or agents who are interested in your genre. You will get rejections—even big-name authors do. It’s OK. Pick yourself up and keep submitting.

Every writer started somewhere different—the important thing is that they started. Don’t let one more day go by without reaching for your dreams. Pick up your pen and write. You can do it!