Posted in The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing, Writing Life

Work to be Done

Except for writing quotes, this blog has been on hold the last two and a half months. Getting a manufactured home set up—which entails much more than I ever knew—moving out of two storage units, and an apartment, and moving into the house has taken so much time and energy. And there’s still more to do.

I likened our unpacking boxes of items that have been in storage for twenty months to Christmas. Oh, there’s that wonderful ______. Aww, I’d forgotten about ______. Yea, I have my _____ back. Other times I was reminded of a garage sale. Why’d I pack that? Or, some of it’s great stuff, but I don’t have a place for it. The result has been a lot of culling.

Which is similar to revising a piece I haven’t looked at in a while. Wow, did I write that? It’s good. Oh, yeah, I remember this part—it works. Why did I think this was important? Nice, but doesn’t fit here. Cut, cut, cut. Reorganize, rethink, rewrite.

One recent task was sorting boxes of papers from over 20 years ago. Notes and cards from friends and family, newspaper clippings, documents from and to my children in their teen years, travel itineraries, play programs, photographs, etc. What I didn’t expect was how much emotion these would create.

  • Some brought up sweet memories.
  • Others made me laugh or smile.
  • Some brought pain as the dear person is now gone from this life.
  • I was puzzled when I couldn’t remember a person in a note or photograph. Who was this person? I wasn’t even sure of context. From church? A husband’s coworker? A class? A fellow writer?
  • Others made me think fondly of those I’ve lost contact with.
  • Some I shared with those involved. Which was quite fun, by the way.

However, I didn’t expect to be exhausted during and afterward.

Writing can be mentally as well as emotionally exhausting as well. I’m reminded of my critique partner and a scene she recently glossed over—”I just wanted to get it over with,” she said when we all needed more. It was going to take further energy and emotion to get the scene right. But, when she took the time to dive deeper, the chapter was so much stronger. R.R. Martin said, “Fiction is about emotional resonance, about making us feel things on a primal and visceral level.” If we’re not feeling anything but impatience when we write, will our readers also be impatient?

I could moan about how much time I’ve lost during this physical move.  Or I can move on. I’m choosing the latter. By September I plan to be back into a regular writing routine, but I’m starting now with this blog. I love this quote from Eric Maisel in Fearless Creating: “What are any of us to do? Abandon the work or complete it, learn from the experience, cry, forgive ourselves, and move on…Now dry your eyes. There’s work to be done.”

Posted in Craft, The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing

I, I, I – Writing in First Person

It’s so easy when writing in first person to start too many sentences with “I” or a form of the word. A recent student had a whole page where every paragraph started with “I,” “I’ve,” or “I’m.” I suggested different methods of changing up sentences. These include adding time, rearranging, and removing “I” entirely. Let me show you with a simple one sentence example.

Instead of:
I added to the list in my notebook.

Mention time (or place) first:
All day I added to the list in my notebook.
Off and on throughout the morning, I added to the list in my notebook.
In my bedroom, I added to the list in my notebook.

Rearrange:
The list for what I need is saved in my notebook.

Remove I:
There’s this long list in my notebook.
We have this long list in my notebook.

Other options to cut the number of “I”s are to combine sentences, add a modifying phrase, or change a statement into a question.

Instead of:
I woke up when the dryer buzzed. I sat up and brushed hair out of my face.

Combine sentences:
When the driver buzzed, I woke up and brushed hair out of my face.

Add a modifying phrase:
The dryer buzzed. Waking up, I brushed hair out of my face.

Take from statement to question:

Instead of:
I knew he was coming here.
Ask:
Wasn’t he coming here?

Another way to cut the number of “I”s is to avoid, “I thought,” “I wondered.” Trust your reader to get it. In the opening of Hunger Games, Katniss has this thought about her sister: She must have had bad dreams and climbed in with our mother. It’s obvious from context without the words, “I thought.”

One of the big dangers of writing in first person is filtering or distancing the reader. Warnings of this problem are, “I saw,” “I heard,” “I watched,” “I noticed,” etc. Simply state what’s happening and the reader will assume the main character is seeing, hearing, observing, etc.

Instead of:
I watched the car turn off the main road onto a rutted gravel road.
Write:
The car turned off the main road onto a rutted gravel road.

In a similar manner, don’t state emotions with a simple “I,” such as “I felt.” In Wish by Barbara O’Connor, Charlie doesn’t say, I felt worried or I worried. Instead, she says, The worry clutching at my heart, told me my mama might never get her feet on the ground.

My final suggestion if you’re feeling as if you’re drowning in “I”s, is add someone else to the scene. As James Scott Bell says, “Don’t leave your lead character alone very long. Two or more characters, plus conflict, animate scenes.”

Perhaps you have other suggestions for caging wild “I”s—please post them in the comments.

Posted in Business Side of Writing, The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing, Tools

Backing Up Emails

The horrible thought hit me: what if the email service dies? Like permanently goes away (as yahoo groups did). I’d lose years and years of information.  So, I went to yahoo help and found there is no export of emails provided: https://help.yahoo.com/kb/backup-email-options-yahoo-mail-sln5033.html. These are your options:

  • Forward emails to another email address at another service
  • Print emails (or print to pdf)
  • Copy and paste emails into a document
  • Use a 3rd party app to download your emails

The first three deal with individual emails—talk about time consuming!!! The latter provides a link to more information: https://help.yahoo.com/kb/download-email-yahoo-mail-third-party-sln28681.html. Many creatives don’t have technical skills and may be frustrated following through with this method. I’m fairly technical and find it a bit intimidating. Plus, it has to periodically be redone.

Next, I searched on google for “Yahoo Email Backup Software.” Here are some I found that are rated well. Most work for PCs and Macs.

As yet, I haven’t determined which one I’ll try. I am wary of the free app for such a serious endeavor.

Gmail, I discovered, has a native backup tool. Here’s a how to: https://computer.howstuffworks.com/e-mail-messaging/back-up-gmail.htm. The article says, “Just remember that this method will only back up incoming emails.” The article also mentions third party backup options.

Right now it all seems overwhelming to me. So, I think it’s going on my “to do” list. Meanwhile, if anyone else has experience with this and wants to share, I’d love to hear what you do/have done.

Posted in Business Side of Writing, Promotion, The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing, Tools

Twitter Tips

Tweetdeck

When I started using Twitter, author Jenn Bailey taught me to use Tweetdeck. I don’t know why I stopped but recently I was reminded of its uses. One of my favorites is being able to schedule tweets. For some silly reason, I had totally forgotten this fact so was using my calendar to remind myself to tweet about things on a timely basis. Now I’m back to using Tweetdeck and scheduling those tweets. Ahh, the simplicity! (Tweetdeck automatically connects with Twitter. Here’s a tutorial on using the app.)

Hashtags

In a group Zoom discussion about Twitter, someone asked how to find active hashtags. Debbie Ridpath Ohi has a collection specifically created for writers here. There are two pages full. However, groups are added and groups change. I often use the simple method of typing a hashtag and seeing if something pops up. Some popular ones I see frequently are: #WritingCommunity, #amwriting, #writingtips, #writerslife, #amquerying and specifics to category and genre: #picturebook, #middlegrade, #YAFiction, #mystery, #scifi, #fantasy, etc. Upper and lowercase are not necessary, but often used for visual clarity. There are also ones related to events: #PBParty, #SCBWINY21, #Storystorm, #writingworkshop or pitch parties: #PBPitch, #pitmad, #RevPit. Here’s a list of 2021 pitch parties. (Need more info on hashtags? Check out this resource.)

Images

In a limited test, I noticed my posts with images got more traction (likes and retweets). The article on “17 Twitter Marketing Tips That Actually Work” agrees, and even mentions that emojis help. If you don’t have your own images, my favorite go-to site for free photos and illustrations is pixabay.

Analytics

Author Nancy Castaldo explained analytics to me. It’s how you can see what is happening with your tweets. On the menu on the left, click on More, then choose Analytics. Right now mine shows that in the last 28 days, my number of tweets is down 44%. I’ve had 635 visits to my profile—down 23%. Mentions are down 18%. However, followers have gone up by 10. And my top tweet earned 593 impressions. The top tweet with media (image) earned 231 impressions. So, what is an impression? How many times a tweet is seen. I’m sure these numbers are very low, but it is still interesting to see what is working.

You can also check an individual tweet. In the upper right corner of your tweet, click on the three dots, then chose View Tweet activity. You can then see impressions and engagements. Twitter explains right there on the pop-up window what each means. FYI, you can’t see analytics on someone else’s tweets.

Following Versus Followers

You want to have more followers that those you are following according to this article “How to Get Noticed on Twitter — 15 Tips for Writers.” So, I went looking for ways to cut down on who I was following. At first, I was manually looking at people’s profiles. I found some hadn’t tweeted for years! But what a time-consuming method. Internet to the rescue, there are programs that can suss out those people. The one I chose—easy to use and free—was UnTweeps. Here’s the site that introduced me to it. Am I there yet? Not quite, but it is more even than it was.

I hope this information is helpful. If you have any tips to add, please feel free to share in the comments.

Posted in Inspiration, Market Prep, PB, So Many Good Books, The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing

Keeping Up with Picture Books

It could become a full-time job keeping up with all the new picture books coming out. And especially with libraries and many bookstores still being closed, it’s harder to do than ever. This is where I’m grateful for a number of blogs that help me stay in tune.

One site I’ve not shared before is Picture Book Builders. Formed by a group of well-published authors or author/illustrators, their goal is to explore“how one element of a picture book’s story or art manages to grab us or wow us or strike an emotional chord.” They take turns blogging about picture books. It may be an interview with a new author or illustrator about a book, or a recommendation of a new picture book, or maybe even a giveaway. The blog started in 2014, but I only discovered it last year. I subscribe—there are about 8 posts a month—so the info comes right into my inbox. A recent book from this site that I want to read is FIVE MINUTES (That’s a lot of time) (No, it’s not) (Yes, it is) (Putnam, 2019) written by Liz Garton Scanlon and Audrey Vernick and illustrated by Olivier Tallec.

I think I’ve talked about Susannah Hill Leonard’s blog before. I’m interested in her “Tuesday debuts” and “Perfect Picture Book Friday” posts. For the latter, anyone can add picture books they are reviewing or recommending, too. Susannah’s shared books on Fridays aren’t always the newest books, so there’s a nice mix of old and new. One of her recent posts is a book I’d already discovered, but love so much I’M A HARE, SO THERE (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2021) by Julie Rowan-Zoch. Susannah posts about 3 times a week. Again, I subscribe.

And if you’re familiar with Storystorm, you probably already know about Tara Lazar’s Writing for Kids (While Raising Them). It’s not just a January idea month blog. Posts are often written by other authors sharing their inspiration for a book, a cover reveal, success stories, etc. Here’s a book birthday post I recently enjoyed: BIRDS OF A FEATHER! (Philomel Books, 2021) by Sita Singh and illustrated by Stephanie Fizer Coleman. Except in January when posts are daily, posts vary but usually there are several per week. Again, I subscribe to get them in my inbox.

And the final blog I depend on is Kathy Temean’s Writing and Illustrating. Among her variety of posts there are always book giveaways—they aren’t always picture books, but I love the interviews and insights into these books. One that caught my attention recently was LITTLE EWE: The Story of One Lost Sheep (Beaming Books, 2021) by Laura Sassi illustrated by Tommy Doyle. Posts are daily! And, yes, I subscribe.

Do I look at these posts every day? No. Instead I take a few hours a few times a month and look at a batch of posts. Sometimes that means I miss out on giveaways from all of these sites, but since my main purpose is to get my eyes on picture books, that’s okay, too.

Do I like every book they share? Of course not. Books are very subjective. But I definitely find books I want to read. My library doesn’t always have them, but that doesn’t stop me from requesting they order the picture books!