by Francine Puckly
Two years ago, I was struggling to find my voice as a writer amidst the demands and joys of having my two children home for the summer. I entered my July checkpoint meeting with my 24 Carrot Writing buddies having let nearly five weeks pass without a written word. Progress on my novel had come to a halt, the creative well was bone dry, and I was depressed, angry and frustrated. Depressed because I had shut out something I loved, angry I had put my desires and needs on the back burner—lest I be selfish, and frustrated I hadn’t yet kicked myself in the butt and righted the course of action.
When it was my turn to state my monthly writing goals for August, I declined comment. I could think of nothing to say. No inspiration. No goals to set and achieve. I could imagine no scenario where I would achieve any goal I set for myself—that’s how little faith I had left in my writing. The others took turns stating their goals and when we got to Annie, she said simply, “I’m going to write for 20 minutes a day.”
With that one little sentence she snapped me back to reality and snapped me back to being a writer. I decided I could write for 20 minutes a day. Because if I couldn’t give myself 20 measly minutes, what could I give myself?
That became August’s goal.
I undertook this challenge with unwavering devotion. No matter what, no matter what hour, I set the timer for 20 minutes and attacked the page with my pen. With a timer ticking along in the background, there was no time for hesitation. And day after day, scene after scene, words poured out of me.
Twenty minutes might not seem like much, but that summer I had 10 hours of writing at the end of August that I hadn’t had in July. I continued into September, then into October. Weekends, Thanksgiving, Christmas. I wrote through them all, because it was a gift to myself to sustain that flow of writing.
In all honesty, some writing days are easy and some days are more challenging. But I write anyway. If I’m drained when I write (like on those nights I pick up the pen at 11:30 p.m. because I didn’t “get to it” earlier), I tend to use prompts or pose question after question about my characters and plot and setting. Often those questions are answered in the writing sessions over the next couple of days. The thread of writing every day deepens my craft and brings a level of complexity and honesty that hadn’t existed before. And it feeds the hungry writer’s soul inside.
As I pointed out in Monday’s blog, November is the perfect month to stretch your creativity. Even if you can’t commit to NaNoWriMo or PiBoIdMo, dust off your timer (or find the one on your smart phone) and give yourself 20 minutes a day to devote to your craft. Try it for a month, and watch the miracles unfold.
by Francine Puckly
January is the most notorious month for making resolutions and setting goals, a practice that has been in place since Roman times. But autumn is also steeped in the tradition of reevaluation, readjustment, and recommitment to life-sustaining behaviors and goals. In modern times, summer vacations—with their blend of frolic and leisure—leave most of us with refreshed, relaxed minds and bodies as we head into the final months of the year. The crisp air of fall brings an energy that was lacking in the sultry summer months. So it doesn’t surprise me that November has become a month of creative pursuits and challenges for writers and illustrators alike.
Whether it’s NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), WNFIN (Write Non-Fiction in November), PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month), NaBloPoMo (National Blog Posting Month), or an illustrator pursuit such as SkADaMo (Sketch-A-Day Month) or a “30-Day Illustrator Challenge" (such as 30 paintings in 30 days), creative goals abound for every writer and illustrator out there. We join together from the far corners of the earth with the help of website sponsors and social media to journey through the month together, cheering on one another during this 30-day sprint.
I am hesitant to join challenges I don’t feel I can complete, as it is debilitating for my creative soul to miss goal after goal. I have never participated in NaNoWriMo, the challenge-of-choice for the young adult fiction writer I am, but that has never stopped me from setting—and achieving—a month’s worth of writing goals each November. November is rich in creativity. I lay the groundwork for my current project in September and October after my kids return to their school routines, and the daily focus in November blows open the work. It is a time I cherish, and I am able to face the energy drain of the holidays because I have fed my soul for weeks.
This year will be no exception. I will be participating in the November challenge by continuing my daily 20-minute longhand writing practice and topping that off with an additional objective to complete the revision of my latest manuscript. A friend is joining the creative push by dividing the month into four one-week buckets. She will sketch out one project a week. Another friend, who isn’t able to commit to the 50,000 words of NaNoWriMo due to the demands of her full-time job, is modifying PiBoIdMo. She is developing new ideas for her latest fantasy novel—world building, characters and plot—each day of the month.
Consistency fosters creativity. Whatever your muse, whatever your project, whatever longing you feel with respect to your craft, I am certain that November holds something special for you and your creativity. Won’t you consider joining the thousands of other writers and illustrators by setting specific, achievable and realistic goals this November? Grab an accountability buddy, set your plan, and give yourself the gift of time devoted to your craft. Let’s try it together…for 30 short days.
Writing is a solitary pursuit. As writers, we pour our beverage of choice, settle into our favorite writing spot, pull out our laptops or notebooks, and then brainstorm, outline, draft, and revise. If the phone rings or the washing machine beckons, we try to ignore those distractions. When children arrive home from school or loved ones pull into the driveway, we may find ourselves grumbling just a tad—it’s okay to admit it—wishing we had just a few more precious minutes of silence in which to create.
This mental isolation may be one of the most significant missteps writers make. Not in their writing itself, but in being writers. Writing requires concentration, and this often necessitates minimal distractions. But it is time well spent when writers, before or after emerging from their cozy creative burrows, connect with other writers.
When I began pursuing writing as more than a pastime, I’d sit at my computer and write. Alone. I stumbled across SCBWI’s website ten years ago and thought, “This could be helpful.” I joined. An acquaintance told me, “You should go to a conference.” But it took me another six years to finally attend one. I’m not ready for that, I imagined. Conferences are for writers with more experience than me who know what they’re doing. Umm…WHAT? No. No. NO!
After registering for my first New York SCBWI conference, my husband asked, “How do you feel?” My reply? “I think I’m going to vomit.” The conference was three months away and I had turbo jet planes dive bombing in my stomach. Three months later, I realized attending that conference was the best thing I’d ever done for myself as a writer. But not just for the obvious reasons of honing my craft, networking with agents and editors, and being inspired by keynote authors. The most important lesson I took away was how much my writer spirit had been wanting by not becoming involved earlier with the writing community. Maybe I was intimidated by it. Perhaps, because I was unpublished, I didn’t think I belonged there. Maybe I'd been fearful there would be a sense of cut throat competition. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Becoming engaged with fellow writers brings support, camaraderie and encouragement from others who know what it’s like to feel that unyielding call to put pen to paper—or fingers to keyboard—and create. Since first attending that SCBWI Winter Conference, I have attended more conferences and workshops. I’ve connected online with other writers and writing groups. And I’ve met friendly, creative individuals who have encouraged me to persevere in my writing. I now write more than I ever did before. Just when I start to feel low or worn out, I meet another writer experiencing similar struggles, I hear a children’s writer give an inspiring speech, or I listen to an agent’s unique tips on voice or plot or characterization…and I’m on track again. Ready to tackle my writing with fresh insights and renewed energy.
Do not underestimate the value of connecting with the writing community. Be it SCBWI, Facebook or Twitter contacts, critique partners, writing groups, workshops and conferences…they all play valuable roles in keeping writers centered and focused on their writing goals. Yes, I still prefer to write all by myself, with a cup of hot tea close at hand, a candle burning, and my dog resting her chin on my laptop. But without the companionship of the writing community, I’d be less productive, less motivated, and far more tempted to hurl my computer out the window during those moments of writing frustration. So, if you haven’t done so yet, discover the writing world beyond your four walls. Join SCBWI, attend writing workshops and conferences, start a writers’ group, join a critique group, and network with fellow writers online.
Write on your own. But be a writer with those who share your passion for the art of the written word. I promise…we don’t bite!
by Kelly Carey
Critique is such a harsh word. And while all writers benefit from the constructive feedback of a critique group, often what our writing really needs is support and encouragement.
A few years ago, the ladies of 24 Carrot Writing formed a writing support group. We gathered monthly but never read a single manuscript. Not even one sentence. Instead we talked openly and candidly about our writing dreams, set monthly goals and whined about the obstacles we were encountering. Every good support group needs to make space for a little whining.
Our support group has become an essential element to our writing success.
Find Your People
On the Today Show, Al Roker sometimes perches above the crowd on the plaza and commandingly declares, “My People, my people”. You need to be Al Roker and find your people; your fellow writers.
I know this is easier in theory than practice, but remember you are looking for supporters not critiquers. Isn’t that much less intimidating? You are putting a little toe in the water here. No one will be reading your work. You will only be sharing your writing goals and not your actual writing. Did you just feel your shoulders relax as you let out a nervous breath?
Look for your supporters at conferences, in local writing classes or through online groups. We found it worked best to meet face to face, so seek out a group of writers in or near your hometown. Your local librarian might be a good place to start for leads.
It will feel natural to ask fellow writers to get together to talk about writing rather than to ask them to read your manuscript. Go ahead try it.
All You Need is Love
A writing support group balances out the critique group. We need feedback and critique of our writing but very often what we really need is a good pep talk to keep going.
A support group is there to boost you when the latest rejection has sent you plummeting into self- doubt. Or when you have let your writing goals lag and you need a gentle shove to get going again. Don’t read each other’s manuscripts. This is a group about goal setting and achievement, not about a detailed analysis of a manuscript. In the words of the Beatles, all you need is love and this group is a little shot of love for your writing dreams.
At the close of each support group meeting, we go around the table and list our goals for the coming month. Then each meeting starts with a reporting on how we did meeting our goals. Saying your goals out loud to supportive folks, who understand exactly what sort of effort will go into meeting those goals, is incredibly motivating.
The folks in your support group will help you assess your goal. Is that goal attainable? Should you scale it back? Or can you go bigger? Only your fellow writers can really know the work that you are proposing to undertake, and they will be a great tool in guiding you in goal setting.
The actual writing happens solo, but a group of like-minded writers can support that solo endeavor. Find your support group, pick out a nice café then sit and chat about writing. It will be your favorite day of the month.
- by Amanda Smith
The 2014 theme at NE-SCBWI’s Spring Conference in Springfield, MA was Create Bravely: Make Your Mark (http://newengland.scbwi.org/). I pondered the theme, even before the conference. The “create” and “brave” parts I got. In this business you have to be brave. I couldn't quite see how that connected to making "your Mark", though. And it left me wondering: What exactly is MY mark? Is MY mark any good? And, with so many prolific writers, is there room for MY mark in the industry?
Now, I am certain I am not the only writer experiencing these doubts. You see, a short month after the conference, our very own, very talented 24 Carrot Writers voiced exactly those questions. How can you read The Fault in Our Stars and not wonder just a little bit about your own abilities as a writer?
As I allowed our collective self-doubt to wash over me, little word-seeds, planted in my heart by Laurel Snyder, started to grow.
The lovely Laurel Snyder was one of the key note speakers at the spring conference. She said, “Only YOU can write the stories that are in YOU.”
Only John Green could have written The Fault in Our Stars. He had a precious personal experience with Esther Earl and her family. He responded to her situation in a certain way and out of that came this marvelously written story. It is authentic because it is true to his heart. The cancer love story is as old as time. It has been done a gazillion times. But this one stood out because of what was in John Green.
This is also true about Jo Knowles and that bully scene on the bus in See You at Harry’s. I attended her seminar at a different conference where she read from Dear Bully her telling of the real-life event (“Kicking Stones at the Sun”). Her voice was filled with emotion, and her audience was sniveling. There is authenticity in her writing and characters because of what is in her heart.
The same can be said about Karen Day’s No Cream Puffs. Because it is based on her experience, her heart, the story has richness and depth.
I can wish to write like John Green or Jo Knowles or Karen Day. I can even try to copy them. But I will lose my voice and the story will be fake, unauthentic. The real challenge, I think, is exploring my heart in the story. What is it that I really want to say? Why do I NEED to tell this story?
Laurel talked about “your list.” Your deepest life-changing events. Your most vulnerable place. “Your bravest work comes from that list,” she said. She called it “your secret weapon.” Making your mark is brave business, because it requires digging into your heart.
We all have low, self-doubting moments. I think we should write through them. Let's write this brave story that needs to come out. FOR US. If, some day, there is a market for it, that is the cherry on top.
Laurel shopped her one manuscript around. She received more than forty rejections. She put it in a drawer. Moved. Got married. Had a baby. Years after she first submitted, she pulled it out again. Soon she found an agent and sold the book. The market was finally ready for it.
I LOVE this story.
This story says WRITE YOUR HEART!
Peruse blogs for advice and tips from KidLit creatives.
Click to set custom HTML
Click on the RSS Feed button above to receive notifications of new posts on this blog.