Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Letting Go

I've gone through an unusual phase of writing recently (although probably not too unusual for beginning writers). I have become stuck. And it's not just writer's block. It's more like writer's panic. I have read in numerous places that you have to "let go" and just write. Don't worry about how it sounds, how it reads, whether it's good or not...just write, just write, just write.

Ironically, though, the more I learn about writing, and what makes something good, the more I panic and freeze when I try to put a story down. That's happened just this week on my Meg story. I started, got halfway through and said to myself, "Yuck, self. What are you doing? This is so not where you wanted this to go, self. Go sit in a corner and think about what you have done. Shame!"

I've got to work on subverting the perfectionist within and just letting my mind wander. I know it can be wrangled back together in revisions, so why is it so hard to let go?

I think part of my problem is patience. I'm at the point where I want to see some concrete reward for all my work up to this point. My rational side tells me I will probably have to wait longer. "But if I come up with that one humdinger, you may just get noticed!" my irrational side shouts. So I freeze. I sit at the computer and freeze...hoping the humdinger will ooze from my veins through the keyboard.

And it's even harder for picture books, I think. There's a tightness to picture books that sometimes stifles my shifts at the computer. In my mind, I'm wanting this story to be narrow of focus, filled with images, easy to read. Instead, I get this long narrative that meanders. How do I get this to 32 pages????

I think I'll go back to my corner and think it over.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

With Kids Like Mine, How Come I Don't Have a Book a Day?

I try not to pull all of my story ideas from my children's lives. I was a child once, too (in the dark ages). And I was a pretty funny kid if I say so myself. But my kids take the cake. I realized after a conversation with a fellow writer recently, just how marketable my children are. Evidently in Amato's Riot Brothers books, the two boys have an underwear scene (what mg boy book doesn't?) in which they put multiple layers of underwear on their head. If only I had been paying attention to my own son, who in the not-too-distant past, came waltzing into our dining room with at least 10 undershirts and as many pairs of underwear pulled tautly over his body. To top it off, he had on elbow and knee pads. It was a sort of fruit-of-the-loom armor, if you will.

But my daughter, at the tender age of 5 (going on 16), has been my most recent inspiration. At the doctor's office a few weeks ago to get her influenza vaccination, she was offered the mist or the shot. Mind you, I and her bigger brother had already received the shot form. Not to be outdone, my daughter insisted on getting the shot, too, and even rolled up her sleeves to get ready. Yikes! As you can imagine, she is one tough lady. So a character was born. Mighty Meg Galooley. It's my latest story, and hopefully will be done before Maggie turns 16, which should be any day now.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

More Thoughts on Character

Can you tell I'm in the mood to blog today? One more note on character. I took the character advice to heart from the conference and rewrote my Grandpa Bill story. While Grandpa Bill was awesome (if you read the story you would agree, of course!), he was an adult and stealing all the thunder away from Abe, my kiddo. (Good advice, Mr. Greg Ferguson of Egmont USA). So I decided to rework the story, focusing on Abe. I did my character web/sketch. I figured out all sorts of things about him, but still the story was akin to birthing my children. Painful. Suddenly, I realized Abe could not be Abe anymore. The name just did not fit once he was the focus. So I hit a couple of baby name sites (there are others of you out there who do this, right?) to see if the right name would hit me. A couple of searches on names that mean clever brought up 'Wylie.' Boom. Once I renamed the boy, the story came out. Wylie was perfect. Clever, sneaky, but sincere at heart. What a revelation that a simple name change can open up a character for you.

MO-SCBWI Conference

I did not get as much out of the conference this year as last, but after a year of writing, I know a little more. So stuff was more repetitive. I guess that's a good sign that I'm learning my ropes. There were a few overarching themes, however, and a piece of good news that had me leaving thoughtful and even a little uplifted:

1. Get an agent. This is a new idea for me. I'd heard over and over again it is as hard (if not harder) to find an agent than a publisher, so you might as well send to publishers. This time, the editor, agent, and a few other presenters were pushing for agents. Okay, this makes sense to me, but it's an education in selling yourself. My impression is that it is easier to get an agent if you have at least been writing for awhile, because they want to see someone who has more than one work to sell. So that's my goal. Get 5 good stories together (I have at least three now), send the best out to some great agents, turn three times, kiss my left toe, and hope for the best.

2. Focus on character. Okay. This is hard for me. I'm not an English major, so talk of character, plot, sub-character, narration, pov, and so on, scare me. I can't help it. But I can understand the appeal of a great character. Looking back on my own childhood, my fondest books all revolve around a really great character: Curious George, Amelia Bedelia (my absolute fav), and Raggedy Ann. And the books my children love now have strong characters: Olivia, Duck, Franklin, Percy Jackson. I get the message. Character-driven books are a slam dunk. (It shouldn't be too hard to pull one of those out of my hat, right???)

3. Picture books are coming back. Hallelujah. After years of hearing the picture book is dead, Jennifer Mattson predicts a comeback. Thank you and thank you. I love the picture book. I'm almost embarrassed to raise my hand at conferences when asked, "Who writes picture books?" Because I know there are a lot of people out there writing a lot of mediocre picture books about puppies and frogs and jumping over logs, etc., etc. But I think picture books can be one of the most beautiful forms of literature around. A perfect blend of text of pictures is an awe-inspiring thing (insert my audible yearning for being someone who can pull this off). So Ms. Mattson has inspired me to stand up among the proud and admit I write picture books.

On Seeing Mary Amato in Jeff City

Mary Amato, author of 10 children's books, visited our fair city this past week. She did a great job with the children present in the room. You can tell she loves kids and hearing what they have to say. I especially appreciated her words of encouragement for all would-be writers in the room. She admitted that as a child, she hated to write! She would sit before a blank sheet of paper and freeze.

I had this preconceived notion that all writers were born that way. Pen to paper as soon as they could hold a pen upright, so to speak. I was one of those, too, who found it intimidating to write. There were just too many ideas swimming in my head to commit one over another to paper. (There still are...you should see my notebook!) I would journal occassionally, but even that became laborious and too introspective. Now that I'm writing some fiction, I actually feel liberated in a way. I can let my imagination fly, with no personal repercussions. It's still hard to wrangle all those thoughts in a cohesive story, but it sure is fun to try.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Conference Time

I'll be heading to the MO-SCBWI conference in a few days, and I am really excited. Last year, I was a newbie and totally freaked out, thinking, "What am I doing here?" But a year later, I have learned so much and want to know more. I'm learning to take the rejections more as challenges than injuries. I feel the right story is somewhere deep inside, and if I keep digging, I may just be able to unearth it!