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

One Day Virtual Write-In

Our 8 member writing group has once or twice yearly writing retreats. We enjoy time together, eat together, and get lots of work done. We make it affordable by staying at someone’s house (or cabin) with everyone bringing food. We share in cooking and cleanup. This year our scheduled retreat was in May. Obviously Covid-19 canceled that.

We rescheduled for July. This time instead of totally cancelling, we agreed on a substitute–a virtual write-in. If it goes well, we will probably repeat.

I thought our schedule might be of interest to others.

ONE DAY VIRTUAL WRITE-IN SCHEDULE

8:30am              meet via Zoom
– PJs welcome.
– Bring a cup of coffee or tea, maybe a pastry or an egg, or some fruit.
– While we eat, we chat.
– Each one shares what project they will be working on this morning.

12noon            meet via Zoom
– Chat for a half hour.
– Then eat your own lunch and return to work.

4:00pm            meet via Zoom
– Talk about your day’s progress.
– Play game.

Children’s book question game:

  • All of us prepare a few children’s book related questions ahead of time.
  • Whoever raises their hand first and answers correctly gets a point. If no one guesses, the asker gets a point.
  • On to the next person until everyone has had a chance to ask three questions. (Prepare a few more in case someone uses yours!)
  • The winner gets a big hurrah from all of us.

In addition, the Zoom “room” will be open all day.

  • If someone wants to chat with someone for a bit, they could get on and see if anyone else is on.
  • Or text someone and ask them to meet.

We may decide to meet back after dinner and share some work for critique, or wait for our next Zoom critique meeting.

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

Creating during Anxious Times

Yesterday, a student who deals with depression and anxiety and, like all of us, now this pandemic, said that looking at the instruction manual felt overwhelming. Yet still she had sent in her assignment. In my letter back to her, I commended her for her accomplishment and then gave her some writing “work” advice.

Writing it made me aware of my own creativity. Or should I say lack thereof.  I’m finding it much easier to do a student lesson, critique someone else’s picture book or novel, than to actually create myself. It’s easy to jump on the news, Facebook (for socializing), etc. I need to take my own advice.

We all have upheaval in our lives right now with social distancing and worrying about the coronavirus. Some of you have children home full time now. You and/or your spouse may be working from home which is another adjustment. Or someone in the family has been laid off. It’s stressful. Perhaps these suggestions for making writing “work” easier will be helpful to you, too.

First, pick one task

Get that one done today and stop. Don’t worry about other writing things that need to be done. However, if doing one tasks leads you to wanting to do more, feel free. Just don’t agonize over those days when you can only do one thing.

But how do you know what task to do?

Set yourself a writing work schedule

1. Start by making a list of all the things you want to get done:
– read recent children’s books
– brainstorm ideas
– research for one idea
– work on first draft
– revise a short story, article, picture book, or chapter
– do market research
– listen to a podcast on ____ topic
– read blog posts on _____
– analyze feedback from others on my work
– write a cover/query letter for _____
– submit manuscript _____

Be as specific as possible.

See more sample task ideas at the bottom of this article and in the chart.

2. Commit to a time period whether it is a half hour or an hour or two. Pick three to five days a week.

3. Next, if you can, prioritize you list in order of most important. If none stand out, that’s okay too.

4. Then take your “to-do” list and plot them on a calendar OR during each scheduled time just pick one off of your list.

5. Add and cross-off items on your “want to get done” list.

Word by word, project by project, if you spend a little bit of time, you will make progress. Celebrate those accomplishments no matter how small.

Here’s a chart suggestion for recording what you’ve done so you can look back on it and be encouraged:

Second, remember you are not alone

We are all affected. Interacting digitally with others can help us not feel so isolated. My critique group is using Zoom to meet weekly. Don’t have a critique group? Offer to exchange critiques via email with other writers. (You can find them through SCBWI.org, on the Blueboard, through Facebook and Google groups, etc.) Talk to others in these groups. Comment on blog posts or podcasts that you found helpful. Share those links with others you know. And/or share on Twitter.

Third, encourage yourself

I’m finding myself doing a lot of what I call “comfort” reading—that’s rereading books that I know I’ll enjoy. Recently, it’s been the Harry Potter books. I’ve also connected with some old friends whom I haven’t talked to in years. I’m getting outside in the fresh air. What makes you happy? It’s necessary to take a break from all the bad news and uncertainty.

SOME RESOURCES:

“Turning Anxiety Into Creativity”

“What You Need to Know to Start Working from Home”

“10 ways to take care of yourself during coronavirus”

SAMPLE TASK IDEAS:

Subscribe to one blog post related to kidlit creativity. I don’t read them daily but spend time periodically to read posts. Some of my standbys are:

Kathy Temean’s Writing and Illustrating https://kathytemean.wordpress.com/

Always in the Middle with Greg Pattridge
https://gpattridge.com/

Susannah Leonard Hill’s “Perfect Picture Book Friday” https://susannahill.com/blog/

Institute for Children’s Literature blog
https://www.instituteforwriters.com/blogs/writing-for-children-blog/

Read recent children’s books. Whatever fits what you want to write. A novel. A handful of picture books. Chapter books. What did you learn?

Research one magazine market. Read about the magazine in the market book, go to the magazine’s website, read guidelines and editorial calendars, and sample copies if available. Take notes, if you like. I often write directly in my copy of a market book.

Search #MSWL on Twitter. Agents and editors give updates using this hashtag.

Brainstorm picture book ideas. January Storystorm posts on Tara Lazar’s site still up and can continue to be used. Here’s a link to day one: https://taralazar.com/2020/01/01/storystorm-2020-day-1/

Research agents on Manuscript Wishlist. https://www.manuscriptwishlist.com/

Add sensory details to your short story or one scene in your novel. Taste, smell, texture, temperature, sound, and sight. What makes this setting unique?

Read an article on self-editing and practice one idea. Focus on a weakness. Do you have trouble with dialogue or punctuation? There’s help out there.

Read opening paragraphs in novels you like. Do you see a pattern? Can you apply it to your work?

Write up the backstory for one character. Then you can work in snippets of it throughout the novel. But beware of info dumps.

I could go on and on. All I know is doing something (like this blog post) makes me feel better than doing nothing creative. I bet the same will be true for you too.

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

Where Did I Read That?

Image by ijmaki from Pixabay
social-1206610_1280.pngOften, we can’t remember where we read that great article/post/quote and it can be frustrating trying to find it. Even if we’re sure what site it was on, site search boxes don’t always work well. Here are some helps:
Use your browser’s search box to find an article or post.
Let’s say I remember a piece about not having time to write. I think the title had something like “so little time” in it and I think it is on the Institute for Writer’s site: In the search box on my browser, I type what I’m looking for followed by site: and the site url. So for my example, it would look like this: so little time site:instituteforwriters.com. The third entry pops up with “Time to Write” and when I read the blurb, it’s exactly what I’m looking for. (I was using Firefox and searching with Google. I got the same result with Safari.)
But what if I didn’t remember where I saw it? I’d still use the browser search box, but I might try different search combinations. Typing in finding time to write gave me lots of good resources, but it was mostly about writing for adults. Although that applies I know it was on a children’s writing site. So, this time I try finding time to write children’s literature and I find lots of sites related to kidlit. I still did not find the exact piece I’d seen before. Even if I remembered the exact title, unless it is very unique, it’s not likely I’ll find it by a straight browser search.
However, what if I know I only read info on a couple sites? Then I can add a capital OR in between sites, like this: so little time site:instituteforwriters.com OR site:site2. I didn’t find this very effective as my second site didn’t show on the first or second page and I usually don’t look farther than that.
Let’s try again with something else. I read a great blog post on theme and subplots. Fortunately, I saved the url by emailing it to myself because I knew I’d need to reread it several times. But if I hadn’t, let’s see what I get by putting theme subplots in a browser. (Note I left out the meaningless and.) Nothing looked like what I wanted until the bottom of the page where I found a post with similar content. Win!
whats-a-b-story-and-why-that-love-triangle-doesnt-cut-it When I used more of what was in the original title: theme subplots supporting characters, the post was the third entry down.
use-theme-to-determine-subplots-supporting-characters-and-tension
So obviously it works best if you know where you saw it and/or know the exact title.
Searching for quotes using your browser.
If I read this quote “Conflict is the engine that drives plot forward. You should be creating tension on the page at all times, no matter what else is going on.” by Mary Kole and only remember part of it, I search for that part. Searching for conflict is the engine, the quote I’m looking for doesn’t come up on the page. If I put it in quotes, I get more writing related ones, but still not the right one. If I add her name, however, the first entry is correct whether I use quotes or not. Here’s the article that quote came from: “Writing Tension Instead of Teasing.”
What about searching Facebook?
Searching your feed is difficult. But what if you think the discussion you’re looking for was in a specific group. That’s doable. Go to your group on Facebook (you must be logged in to see private groups). On the left there’s a “search this group” box. (Note: this is not the search box at the top of your screen!) I find “search this group” works well. If you’re not sure which group a discussion was in, try another group. Obviously, if you belong to a lot of groups this could get tedious.
I hope my examples help you.
But note to self: if I really want to remember something, copy details into a file and put it where I’ll find it!

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

Do You Have Style?

Image by Prawny on Pixabay
watercolour-1768921_1280.jpgNot long ago I read several blog posts about the value of a style sheet, although I’d call it a master character chart. It’s a place to put details about every single character in your novel so you’ll be consistent. It’s probably easy to remember that your main character’s name is spelled Maisie, not Maisy, but what about other characters? The more minor they are the harder it gets. Was that Zak or Zack or Zach? This chart is a helpful place to consolidate that info even if you make individual worksheets for your characters.
What should you include in a style sheet? It depends on your novel and on you. But suggestions include character name (and any nicknames), physical characteristics that you don’t want to accidentally change mid-novel, perhaps where they live and what kind of place it is, parents’ names and a few details, who the characters’ friends are, etc. For a kid in Middle School or High School, their class schedule might be useful. I could see having a style sheet for places in the novel as well. There are probably a myriad of other uses–especially for fantasy or historical writers.
Some style sheets include WHEN those details appeared in the novel. That would be too complicated for me. However, I do use a story ladder which may include those details. (See post here.)
How should your character chart or style sheet be arranged?
It’s a very personal decision. For me, I want to be able to see the details at a glance. I like using a Word table. An Excel spreadsheet would work as well. Evernote has a template you could use. Or you may be more a pen and paper person. This character map is aimed at students reading a book, but it could be helpful for writers too.
More visual?
Perhaps what this author does would be helpful–she created a page with images and limited text. (Read more here.) Cut out images out of magazines and physically glue and paste, or copy images off of a free photo site, such as pixabay. I may try this with my next novel.
If you’ve used style sheets, and have tips, I’d love to hear them.

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

How Excel Can Help Creatives

notebook-1850613_1920.jpgI’ve talked several times about writing expenses and income, and often share my spreadsheet templates via email. (See posts here and here.) But this time I decided I should share them for free downloading.
The first is an expense template–this will work for writers or illustrators. Feel free to customize how it best works for you. I initially set this up based off of Schedule C, and still find it helpful when using TurboTax. It is set up to do automatic calculations for each month, and then monthly totals are transferred to the year-end sheet. It also has two extra sheets where I keep track of use of cars and equipment depreciation, and cost of goods sold.
Expense Template.xlsx
I also have an income template: Income Template.xlsx
But is that it? Is Excel only for numbers? I don’t find it so.
Some of the useful spreadsheets I have are a writing day log and a critique group log. These show dates, where we met, and who I met with. These are backups for my expense sheets and make for easy comparisons versus searching all my emails for when and where we agreed to meet. Here are those templates:
Critique Meeting Log Template.xlsx
Writing Day Log Template.xlsx
I also have two excel spreadsheets related to agents. One has agent information I’ve collected from sites and newsletters. (These are agents I think I might want to submit to.) Each agent gets their own tab (sheet) and I add more information and updates as I find it. I could use a Word Table as well for this, but entries get pretty lengthy.
The other spreadsheet is for agents who have rejected me. It includes name, agency, date, and form or personal rejection. I’m querying on a specific manuscript right now, but that could be info for another column. A Word Table would probably work as well.
Some people use spreadsheets for submission info. That could be for all submissions or for a specific manuscript.
If you don’t have Excel, consider Google Sheets–a great alternative. Though I mostly use Sheets for collating info from a Google Form I’ve created. Google Sheets are handy when you need to share a spreadsheet with someone else so you can both work on the same sheet. As soon as one makes a change, the info is updated.

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