By Kelly Carey
I always write in a solitary environment. While I enjoy my writing community, when it comes to the act of writing, I don’t go to the library or a café or anywhere in public. My fragile first drafts, those timid beginning sentences, need privacy while they mature into a shareable manuscript. When I get in the writing zone, I don’t want to be interrupted by thoughts of someone else reading my work. Hearing a cough or movement about the house, would surely pop me out of the zone.
When my 24 Carrot Writing partner, Annie, gave us the opportunity to escape for an entire weekend of writing, my initial thought was extreme trepidation. Could I be creative with other writers watching? Or would I feel inhibited?
There are many moments along the path from first draft to a submission ready manuscript where you feel silly. Doubt tells you that you’re crazy to think you can create art on a blank page. I believed that I was able to push through these moments because I tapped into my creative chutzpa. It’s what allows me to sing loudly in the shower, dance in my pajamas, and daydream about being interviewed by Oprah. But I don’t let anyone see me doing these things. I thought having an audience for this creative process would leave me frozen.
Our writing retreat showed me that other writers, rather than cramping my style, invigorate my writing process. They worked hard. So I worked hard. I got more done because we rode a tsunami of creative activity and no one was going to turn on the TV, distract us with requests for meals, race to move the laundry along at the sound of the buzz, or goodness forbid vacuum (lucky for us the vacuum broke the day before we arrived – phew). We couldn’t even get lost in Facebook because there was no Wi-Fi (yes, it was scary at first, but it made the weekend so much more productive). Instead of feeling lost in the swirl of their writing energy, I felt inspired. When doubt crept in, I had like-minded people to tell me this type of insanity is a good thing.
By the end of the weekend I had once again been reminded of the power of a supportive writing community, and the benefits of stepping outside your normal writing routine. I discovered the adrenalin rush that comes from sharing a common goal and sense of purpose. Not to mention a completed draft of a middle grade novel I've been working on for years.
I have been writing for decades and have never taken a writing retreat. While I recognize that they don’t come along that often and can be costly, look for opportunities to share in the act of writing with a community. Check out the drop in Scribe & Snack days offered at The Writer’s Loft in Massachusetts http://www.thewritersloft.org/events/write-ins/. Or seek out write in events hosted by NaNoWriMo http://nanowrimo.org/come-write-in.
Don’t be afraid to write in public. Last month, Annie’s blog reminded us to share our success; this Writing Retreat Weekend taught me that we can also share our process. Write together. And if you're fortunate, do it by the ocean with a superb group of fellow writers.
by Francine Puckly
Congratulations! You’ve made it to the fourth and final chapter of our long-term planning process! This month we’re going to put the entire view together.
Last month we talked about your annual plan (http://www.24carrotwriting.com/-blog/planning-part-three-your-one-year-roadmap). Planning is great, but we need to get to work! And the best way to break up your annual work is to divide the estimated volume or hours of work by the four quarters in the year—making sure to shift your workload if one quarter is expected to be less productive than another based on personal and day-job demands. This is a guestimate, of course. Do you write long fiction? If so, you can estimate the number of pages a draft might be and set word-count or page goals for each quarter. Or if you’re writing shorter pieces like magazine articles or picture books, you can estimate how many drafts or ideas you might generate in three months.
Once you have the first quarter of work laid out, divide that work into three months, allocating about a third of the work per month. You probably guessed the next step—dividing that first month into four weeks! All of a sudden, you have the first week of work in front of you, and it’s time to get cracking!
I’ve attached examples of my five-year and annual plans.
Once I have my annual goals listed, I took these long-range goals and plugged them into quarterly and weekly charts. Here is my third quarter layout, as well as the guestimate of my fourth quarter, beginning October 1st. While I've provided you pretty charts to use, mine were originally completed on loose-leaf notepaper!
I hope this gives you an idea of how work is being boiled down from that long-term vision into workable and tangible quarterly, monthly and weekly plans. I keep my quarterly plan posted in my work area at all times. While it lists my weekly targets in the monthly sections, I often write a weekly list of what I hope to accomplish on an index card. It helps me keep focus. This weekly evaluation also allows me to accommodate schedule changes. If something big is going on in my personal life that week, I list that on my chart and index card as a reality check. Each morning I glance at my weekly goals and jot down a few must-do’s for the day.
Final Thoughts on Long-Term Planning:
We can’t always predict the pace of creating a manuscript, painting, or picture book dummy from scratch. My current manuscript has taken a full year longer than I’d originally planned. I could beat myself up about being slow, but at the end of the day, I did all the writing hours I said I would. That story just took a little longer to finesse.
The critical thing to remember is that it’s more important to show up than to hit specific targets (they were estimates to begin with!). You can’t call it a missed goal if you’ve shown up for all the hours you anticipated writing.
Happy planning (and accomplishing!) this quarter!
P.S. Remember you can find the other three long-term planning sections in our blog archives:
~ by Amanda Smith
Tara Lazar, the wonderfully talented picture book author, queen of kid-humor, and coordinator of Picture Book Idea Month (PiBoIdMo) released her second picture book early in August. I THOUGHT THIS WAS A BEAR BOOK is a fractured fairy tale filled with bright illustrations, colorful speech bubbles and laugh-out-loud silliness. Tara graciously granted 24 Carrot Writing an interview.
I THOUGHT THIS WAS A BEAR BOOK is your second picture book. In what ways was the publishing process easier the second time around? How was it harder?
I don’t think it was necessarily easier or harder, just different. I changed the resolution after Benji had already created his initial sketches, so he had to figure out a way to draw it all over again in only one spread. It was probably a lot harder for him than for me! (Sorry, Benji.) I said I wasn’t going to dictate the look of it with the text and that he could do whatever he saw fit. If I needed to add text later, I would. (But I didn’t!) What also made this book different was that it’s told all in dialogue, so you have those pesky speech bubbles taking up a lot of space. I had to drop a few jokes because they just wouldn’t fit without blocking all the characters!
As pre-published writers this is our conundrum: We often look at books with minimal text and story revealing illustrations and wonder “how”? How did the story and the pictures come together so well? How many art notes did the writer include? In I THOUGHT THIS WAS A BEAR BOOK, you use only dialogue. Could you give us some insight into that process? What did your manuscript look like? Did you use any art notes (“Prince Zilch shakes hands with bush” – my favorite illustration) or did you completely trust the illustrator to catch those moments from your manuscript?
I always have very minimal art notes. I did write that Prince Zilch shakes hands with a bush, but that might be one of the few notes I included. I didn’t even know what a “Zoopfoop” was! Benji figured it out from the text: “Whoa! Please do not tickle my Zoopfoop, sir!” I knew he would make it funny.
My manuscript looked more like a screenplay than a picture book. I don’t know WHY I wrote it all in dialogue, it just came out that way and I trusted the process.
You have to remember that your illustrators are seasoned professionals, real geniuses when it comes to visual storytelling. You have to trust them. And believe me, they will blow you away every time.
Listen, with my upcoming book NORMAL NORMAN I didn’t even specify what kind of animal Norman was! I just didn’t know and I thought the illustrator, S.Britt, would come up with something far better than I could. And he did! NORMAN is a purple orangutan.
In what way did Benji Davies surprise you? Did he add something you didn’t expect or intend?
He surprised me in just about every way! The most exciting part of the process is seeing the illustrations come to life.
I love the “Far Side” tourists taking photographs of the bears and Prince Zilch meeting for the first time and Mama Bear’s formidable tush sticking out of the spaceship. He decided what books fall off the shelf and he made one of them Monstore-like. He figured out how to draw a book-within-a-book, too. Every page is a delight to me and I hope to the readers, too.
Where did the idea for this story come from? Is it a PiBoIdMo baby?
I had been working on another story that wasn’t going well. I wasn’t “feeling it.” So I looked over at my nightstand and saw a post-it note. It read “character who doesn’t belong in the book he’s in”. I don’t think it was a PiBoIdMo idea—but it could have been, I just don’t remember. But I immediately thought of an alien, because kids love aliens and an alien is already foreign! Then I thought about the opposite of an alien and decided upon furry, cuddly bears. With the first few drafts it wasn’t the bears from Goldilocks, but when she snuck into the manuscript, I realized this was a story about two books colliding on a shelf.
You have such a quirky sense of humor, which is a handy thing to have when you are a picture book writer. How did you develop this ability to see the quirky and funny in ordinary things?
My father has a very dry, witty sense of humor. He’s always coming out with these pee-your-pants one-liners. I definitely think my sense of humor is derived from his example. I was raised on Pink Panther movies and Saturday Night Live. I married a very funny man, too. I love to laugh. It’s the key to a happy life.
You often use funny sounding names and words, both in THE MONSTORE and in I THOUGHT THIS WAS A BEAR BOOK. Do you keep a list of words?
I enjoy playing with language. If you can get the right combination of words, they sound delightful on the tongue. Remember that a picture book is most often read aloud. You have to make it interesting to say!
I do have a list of “fun, cool and interesting words” on my website. They’re crazy and unusual words like cockamamie, akimbo and whippersnapper. http://taralazar.com/2014/06/09/list-of-200-fun-cool-and-interesting-words/
At 24 Carrot Writing we are big on goal setting. Do you set detailed writing goals, broad yearly goals or do you fly by the seat of your pants?
I am totally a flying pants girl. I like to sell two picture books a year and that has always been my broad annual goal. But I don’t like to put undue pressure on myself. This job is supposed to be fun. It’s no fun for me if I’m adhering to a strict schedule. I’m no A-type personality. I let ideas take their time to marinate. I might not write for a few weeks at a time but then BAM!, feel that the time is right to sit down and get something out.
This is the process that works for me and I encourage other writers to find the process that works for them. No two writers are the same.
Do you have a mission statement for your writing career? What do you want to accomplish through your books?
“I love children’s books. My goal is to write children’s books that you’ll love.”
I want children to have FUN reading. Their first experiences with books should be highly enjoyable so it instills a life-long love of reading. That’s why I’m not about teaching lessons or spreading messages, although you can find those things in my books. They’re just subtle. They come from the telling of the story, organically. I don’t begin by saying, “Now I’m going to write a book to teach kids to cooperate.” No, absolutely not. I say, “I’m going to write a hilarious story.”
You motivate and inspire countless writers through PiBoIdMo. For me participating in PiBoIdMo was life changing as it confirmed to me that I do can do this. How did PiBoIdMo change your life?
PiBoIdMo completely surprised me with its popularity. I never set out to “establish a platform,” like so much authorly advice circulating online. I just thought it would be fun, so I did it. The fact that thousands of people have participated is something I never expected. I receive letters telling me how inspiring the event has been, how it has changed writers’ lives. That’s the best reward, knowing I have helped someone on their journey, to their goal, their dream of being published.
What have you learned through running this annual challenge?
That I’m more organized than I think I am! LOL.
I’ve learned more about the creative process and how it differs for every single artist. That’s always interesting and inspiring.
Why picture books? Do you write other genres too?
I’ve always had a natural tendency to write short. I’ve always loved short stories. I read them and I wrote them in college and I still write them today. Right now I’m reading an adult short-story collection by Roald Dahl. It’s marvelous. As was the one I read before it. More people should know his work for adults, which is how he started in the publishing business.
I remember being 8 years old and being pushed toward chapter books, most of which had no illustrations. I was devastated. I loved the art! I loved the pictures! You can’t take them away from me!
I am thrilled to be writing in a genre that is artistically stimulating. The illustrations are the best part.
I have begun middle grade novels and abandoned them, mostly because I feel like I get lost in the woods without breadcrumbs…or I’m meandering too much. One day I’ll get the courage (and the organization skills) to do a novel. It’s a goal of mine. It’s a challenge.
Kids can be our toughest critics. Can you give some examples of your favorite kid feedback on your books?
Just last week I did a library appearance and almost everyone there bought a book. A boy named Max came up to me, shook my hand and said, “Looks like your book’s going to be a big hit!”
LITTLE RED GLIDING HOOD will be out in October. Congratulations! Would you share with us about the development of that story idea?
My critique partner, Corey Rosen Schwartz, had recently sold THE THREE NINJA PIGS and she was wondering what to do next. I said, NINJA RED RIDING HOOD!...which is exactly what came next. Then, one day she said to me, “I have this great title and I can’t do a thing with it. So I’m going to give it to you because I know you can write it.” That was LITTLE RED GLIDING HOOD. And the rest, as they say, is history! Corey and I plan on doing appearances together without two LITTLE RED books! It’s going to be the most fun ever!
When does registration open for PiBoIdMo 2015?
I typically open it the last week in October and let it run through the first few days of November.
What’s next is more stories, always more stories. I just revised something I have been tweaking on-and-off for three years. Hopefully this latest revision is THE ONE.
Thank you, Tara, for giving us insight into your process, for reminding us this is hard work even though it is spectacularly fun, and for making us laugh along the way.
Be sure to visit our Book Pics here for a review of I THOUGHT THIS WAS A BEAR BOOK.
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