Blog Tour: My Writing Process

I’ve been invited to participate in the fabulous #MyWriting Process blog tour! Today is going to be all about process, process, process.

I was tagged to be a part of this tour by the awesome Ellar Cooper, who shared her writing process last week. Ellar is a heart-stopping writing talent. Seriously, I can’t wait for her books to be on the market! She writes young adult fiction and fantasy, and is a Dystropian from Vermont College. Be sure to read her post and peek into her brilliant mind.

And onto the tour…

MY WRITING PROCESSPeter Pan Book

What are you working on?

I’m working on a YA steampunk re-imagining of Peter Pan. There’s no magic and Peter and Hook are the heads of rival gangs that sell a hallucinogenic drug known as Fairy Dust. Wini Darling, the daughter of a bank mogul, is lured into the whimsical and artistic world of the Nevers, a secret underground artist community, in order to help her drug-addicted brother who’s been captured by Pirates. Only it’s not so easy to find her brother and leave the Nevers as she thinks.

Wini finds herself intoxicated by the no-rules artist culture of the Nevers and simultaneously mixed up in a street war between the Pirates and the Lost Boys. Then there’s that thrill-seeking, drunk-on-life Peter fellow who’s got one hell of a sweet spot for Wini Darling. Sometimes, not growing up can be a dangerous adventure.

How is your work different than others in your genre?

The tricky part about this question is I’m not sure how you might classify this book’s “genre.” It happens to be its own crazy cocktail made up of:

  • 1 part bastardization of Victorian steampunk
  • 2 parts fantasy world building
  • A ton of multi-cultural characters to keep track of (Game of Thrones style)
  • A pinch of Doctor Who influence
  • A smidgen of Robin Hood
  • A timeless gargantuan dose of never-gonna-grow-up Peter Pan
  • Two cups of hot-pink graffitti
  • A dash of Ingrid’s deliciously sensual writing
  • And some esoteric psychobabble on the importance of art…
  • Sprinkle in a little fairy dust, grab the spoon second to your left and stir straight on till morning.

So… yeah, please tell me what genre that is.

Why do you write what you do?

I only write stories that have been simmering in the back of my mind for a long time.  This one’s been cooking for at least 5 years (maybe longer if I’m honest). I write the stories that I can’t seem to forget. I write the ones that have some emotional nugget in them that keeps twirling itself over and over in my brain and whispering: explore me, write me, there’s a truth in here and it’s waiting for you to find it.

I suppose those are the stories worth telling: the ones that haunt you, the ones that demand your heart.

68701d459c1e0ce432536991c6835b8eHow does your writing process work?

My writing process is a daily, hourly, weekly, yearly exploration of the demands and needs of each individual project. And the needs of each novel (like all the relationships in one’s life) are different.

This book demands immersion. She demands focus for hours at a time. And I’m not talking half-assed freewriting or NaNoWriMo first draft word-puke. This novel wants my blood (kind of like Captain Hook). This novel is a jealous and fickle girl too. She hates it when I look at other projects or I divide my attention with puny necessities like food or sleep. This book wants all of me.

I do the best I can to keep myself immersed in this novel as much as I can (because she likes to hole up and shut me out for weeks if I’m not diligent). I keep an extensive Pinterest page for this novel to make sure my imagination is constantly exploring this world visually. I steal words from other books that sound like they might fit the voice of my novel. I try morning writing where I focus on a detail: the view outside Peter’s window, the color of a mermaid’s hair. Sometimes that detail grows into a scene. Sometimes it’s just drivel. The goal is to keep my mind exploring the story every day.

I do the hefty writing on the weekends. I set aside large chunks of hours and get lost. Immersion. I go to Neverland in my mind and I’m there all day. This book is not a vomit-first draft. It can’t be. I have to spend too much time figuring out who these characters are and their motivations. I can’t skim the surface with them. Instead I dig in and write a scene, then re-write the scene, re-position the scene, re-word the scene, re-everything until I find an emotional heartbeat in it. This isn’t a fast process. But it’s a heartfelt one.

The process for writing every novel is different. For this one … slow and steady wins the race.

May the Tour Continue!

If you enjoyed this little glimpse into the writer’s life, please follow the tour as I pass the torch to Amy Sundberg (my sister in last name, but not by blood) who will share her dazzling process next week!

Amy Sundberg is a SF/F and YA writer. Her short fiction has appeared in Redstone Science Fiction, Daily Science Fiction, and Buzzy Magazine, among others. She lives in California, and when not writing, she’s either buried in a good book, singing musical theater songs, or trying to add more pins to locations visited on her world map. She is an avid blogger at practicalfreespirit.com and can be found on Twitter as @amysundberg

Please also check out the process of my fellow Dystropians who are also posting today as part of this blog tour!

Happy writing everyone!

5 Tools to Survive as a Writer

“Don’t tell me what I want to hear. Tell me what is intolerable to bear alone that we must hide it in a story.” – Libba Bray

In all her guts, glory, humor, and wisdom the fabulous and charismatic Libba Bray spoke at the 2011 LA SCBWI Conference. During her keynote speech she shared the devastating story of writing a 560 page novel and having to throw it out and start over. If she wasn’t your hero before, she might be now. The following are her tips on how to write it all wrong and survive.

A little Backstory:

  • Libba wrote a 560 page novel all wrong…
  • It’s okay! Embrace the suck!
  • When she discovered the 560 page novel she wrote was all wrong she began to freak out and feared it wasn’t good enough.
  • She got a 12 page single spaced letter from her editor confirming that everything about it was wrong.
  • She did a 900 page revision of the book and only 100 pages of the original 560 were kept in that revision.
  • Find the real imbued with honesty, emotion, and truth. Her novel needed to be true to itself and it wasn’t.

 Libba Bray’s Five Tools to Survive as a Writer:

1) Gather Your Tools for Survival

  • “The voice is in there, we just had to find the right tools to find it.”
  • Your book is in there!
  • Use playlists to help you find it.
  • Go to your local café to find a comfort zone.
  • Do you have a reward system? Find yours.

2) Avoid the Quicksand

  • Beware of your irrational fear telling you “no one wants to read this book.” Or “what if my ex-boyfriend read this and realizes he’s the base for the asshole in my story?”
  • Breathe deeply!
  • That thing you are writing is AWESOME! (That message was on a postcard that Holly Black sent out to her writing friends).
  • Be your own thing and not a trend.
  • You are safe in the writing cave. No voices are allowed in the cave (the negative voices telling you you’re not good enough).
  • Readers are not trends, they want a well written story told from your soul.

3) Perfect Wants to Vote You Off the Island

  • Perfect wants to vote you off the island, but better wants to make an alliance.
  • Lower your standards!
  • Realize that you can’t make a book that is perfect. Perfect = Failure.
  • You just have to make it better.
  • Do it in small steps. Make that little bit of dialog better, or change that metaphor.

4) Explore the Whole Island

  • Sometimes you need a change of format.
  • Change the POV, format, tense, etc.
  • Form is function – this is what the architects tell us.

5) In Case of Emergency – Break Glass!

  • Writing is freakin’ scary!
  • Writing is vulnerable. It’s intimacy with a reader, and the possibility of failure and rejection.
  • We often write it wrong, because we think that’s what others want and we are afraid to show who we really are.
  • All writing holds our DNA, our bones and blood – a part of ourselves.
  • We are evasive and inarticulate when talking about projects that are emotionally autobiographical.
  • “Don’t tell me what I want to hear. Tell me what is intolerable to bear alone that we must hide it in a story.”
  • Find the part that hurts. The story you needed to tell.
  • Like us, stories have an adolescence that is awkward and gawky and pimply. It needs time to grow.

Other Great Advice from Libba Bray:

Libba Bray is the author books for Young Adults, including Going Bovine and the Gemma Doyle Series: A Great and Terrible Beauty, Rebel Angels, and The Sweet Far Thing. In 2010 she was awarded the Michael L. Printz award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature.

Fourteen Fabulous and Fun Take-Aways from SCBWI’s 40th Conference!

I’m back from the island of misfit toys (aka: the 40th SCBWI LA Conference!) where kidlit authors and illustrators gathered to learn, dance, and dream. I’ve got a  notebook filled cover to cover with scribbles as I attempted to jot down the wisdom of kidlit giants like Judy Blume, Gary Paulson, Laurie Halse Anderson, Jon Scieszka, and Bruce Coville (only to mention a few)! Yup, SCBWI doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to turning 40!

As I’m furiously typing up my notes here’s a few quick take-away’s to give you a glimpse of this weekends wonders:

1. Children’s book writing is about responsibility and engagement, said author Bruce Coville in his opening keynote address. He went on to quote the Broadway play Into the Woods in saying “move a finger, say the slightest word, something’s bound to linger, be heard. No one is alone.” Write with purpose and heart.

2. “Writing holds our DNA, our bones, our blood. It is a part of ourselves. When writing, don’t write what you think we want to hear. Tell us what is so intolerable to bear alone that it must be a story!” – Author Libba Bray

3. “Social Media only works when it is genuine to who you are. Don’t force yourself to blog and tweet.” – Editor Julie Strauss-Gabel

4. “24 hours a day is MORE than enough time to meet the demands in your life! You have more control over how you spend your precious time and energy than you want to admit.” – Author Laurie Halse Anderson

5. “Life is a shit-storm. When it begins to rain the only umbrella we have is art.” – Quoted by illustrator David Small

6. It took Judy Blume (yes, the amazing Judy Blume) twenty-three drafts and three years to finish her novel Summer Sisters.

7. Libba Bray suggests that whenever you get stuck with your writing that you always go back to this one central question: What does my character want? Start there, dig deep!

8. Agent Marcia Wernick suggests you treat writing like a business. Create a business plan of goals for your writing. Make good goals like: Deliver a new book in six months, get 300 new Facebook friends this month, or make contact with your local newspaper. Be realistic and stick to it. Give yourself annual, bi-annual, and monthly reviews.

9. In our media-saturated society it’s important to teach kids media literacy. This is exactly what author Jon Scieszka is trying to do with his Spaceheads series. The objective is to get kids to access, analyze, evaluate and create media in a variety of forms in order to be media literate.

10. “The number one element I see missing in manuscripts today is not enough interior monologue.” – Editor Krista Marino

11. “Art disturbs the Universe! We are here to continue the revolution and make it grow.” – Author Laurie Halse Anderson

12. “We need to speak to the head and the heart of the child. Just because a child can read Dostoevsky – read the words – doesn’t mean they understand it. We need to be sure the emotional needs of the child are nurtured.” – Editor Beverly Horowitz

13. When illustrating every visual element needs to feel essential to the telling of the story. It’s a portrait of rain and a portrait of lightening. – Illustrator Jerry Pinkney

14. Jump! Risk when you are writing!  You may crash and fall or you may grow wings. No jump. No wings. – Bruce Coville

Nuts and Bolts and Chocolate

Picture book author Tony Johnston has over 125 books for children in her repertoire! She was kind enough to speak at the 2011 Southern California SCBWI Writer’s Day and share her immense knowledge and insight. This was one of the most heartfelt talks I’ve ever been too. Johnston is passionate and moved by her responsibility as a writer.

The following notes were taken during her talk:

"Giant" by N.C.Wyeth

Where Do You Find Inspiration?

  • “Keep alive to everything.” – N. C. Wyeth
  • Bumble through life at the ready.
  • “If I keep alive to everything, a story will find me.” –Tony Johnston
  • “I have not exhausted the ground I stand on.” – N. C. Wyeth (on why he doesn’t need to paint the alps. There is plenty to see and explore where he lives.)
  • Notice things more and more. Inspiration doesn’t always come from an emotional core.
  • The LA Times is a great place to find stories.

 Let the Feelings Catch You:

  • “Be caught by feelings.”
  • “Words from the heart, enter the heart.” (Saying in the Torah ??)
  • Sentimentality is the cheapest lie.
  • You don’t have to include significance and meaning to have a heartfelt moment in your book.
  • Make ‘em laugh, but do it honestly.
  • Heartfelt silliness is also an emotion.
  • When writing about difficult subjects (like racism) remember that children don’t flinch. It is the grownups that flinch.

On Writing Picture Books:

  • Keep it simple.
  • “How difficult it is to be simple.” – Vincent Van Gogh
  • Writing simply does not mean words must be short and easy. It should be the words that belong.
  • “The difference between the right word and almost the right word can be the difference between the lightning and a lightning bug.” – Mark Twain
  • Don’t slip into Cinderella’s Syndrome. Don’t try to fit a story into something that doesn’t fit. The glass shoe is the shape/structure of your story, if you try to force it, it will break.” Johnston’s example of this was a picture book that was really a novel, but she didn’t realize it till an editor pointed it out to her.
  • Find the right form for your story.
  • Listen to your editor.
  • Don’t sentimentalize or trivialize.
  • The process for every book is different.

The Essence of Childhood:

  • Great picture books deal with the essence of childhood. Essence is the spirit, the pith, the heart of a story.
  • The language of essences is clean, like an arrow, straightforward.
  • “To the memory nothing is ever truly lost.” –Eudora Welty
  • You must get back to the place where it hurts.
  • “No tears in the writer. No tears in the reader.” –Robert Frost

Be Bold When You Write:

  • Don’t play it safe. Writing is about risk taking!
  • Writing is about sharing yourself.
  • “Don’t hold anything back. Don’t hold anything for the next one (book). It’s the only way to write. It’s the only way to live.” – ?

 Other Thoughts and Wisdom:

  • Any small goodness is of value.
  • We need to take time to halt our lives, become introspective, and focus on what is important to us.
  • “It is in the early morning that I think about what I believe and want to say.”
  • How do you write a novel? Hemingway’s answer: “First I clean the Fridge.” (He’s finding space to think).
  • Johnston is a bit superstitious. She believes it is “spiritually healthy” to let her manuscript to “rub elbows” with other great books. Before she submits a manuscript she puts it on her shelf between other great books and lets the essence rub off onto her work.
  • If you are in the middle of a cocktail party and inspiration strikes, politely say “I’m writing a novel, I’ll be right with you in a moment.” Then go and get out what you need to. “It is about the writing, not the cocktail party.”

Tony Johnston has written around 125 books for children. She studied under the renowned poet, Myra Cohn Livingston, and has taught creative writing at UCLA. Her awards include Honorary Texan for The Cowboy and the Black-Eyed Pea, Simon Wiesenthal Award for The Wagon, and the John and Patricia Beatty Award for Any Small Goodness.

Writing for Kids: A Three-Quarter Life’s Work

Author Gordon Korman has been in the children’s book industry since he was a teenager, and has over seventy novels and books under his belt! With such a long prolific career, he is an asset to all of us looking to break into this industry. The following notes were taken from his 2010 SCBWI LA Conference keynote speech.

“I’d like to dedicate this speech to Paula Danziger. She always cared about the new guy. She wanted every writer to enjoy the view she had.” – Korman

Korman’s Take on His Audience:

  • “Not bad, pretty good,” is the best compliment you can get from an 8th grader. Korman sees his audience like little New Yorkers. They’ve seen everything.
  • Kids are more subtle than you think they are. The stuff we adults think is important goes over their heads. But they notice other things.
  • Kids are not an exotic sub-species. You are just an older kid. You need to have a sense of what’s cool to a kid, and honestly it’s not that different. Rick Riordan has a great sense of what kids will think is cool.

It’s a Hard Life Writing Humor…

  • Humor doesn’t get a lot of respect in most careers/businesses (movies, TV, books).
  • Aristotle jinxed us 2000 years ago when he said “Comedy is Lower” (the lower form of storytelling).
  • But Korman doesn’t agree. What do you use more in your day to day life? Your sense of humor or your ability to use foreshadowing? What do we teach?

Funny Bits and Anecdotes:

  • No more dead dogs in stories! We’ve had enough! (Where the Red Fern Grows, Old Yeller, White Fang, etc.)
  • The title of my book Liar Liar Pants on Fire does not translate into French. In French it translates to “Teller of truths your trousers have combusted.”

How Korman Got His Start In Publishing:

  • Korman wrote his first book at age 12. He later sent it off to Scholastic using the info he found in the book fair brochure. Amazingly enough a fork lift operator found it and gave it to the “higher ups” and the rest is history.
  • Korman suggests we all find a fork lift operator with an eye for new talent and get our work out there!
  • We all have some story of luck that helped us to get published, but what’s more important than luck is the stubbornness and the persistence.

Writing Tips:

  • You will have to let go of some stories because they just don’t make sense.
  • Lighten up. Inject humor into tragic situations. Korman used his book Pop as an example.
  • Good relationships with editors will bring you to the right place at the right time.
  • Picture a bored, disaffected, 11-year-old saying “I don’t care about this,” to you when you are writing.  It will keep you on your toes. Remember, what will kids think is cool?

In The End…

  • It is not an easy ride for any of us. None of us have a seamless journey. We all try a lot of different things. Work like you are using spaghetti – throw it against the wall and see what will stick!

Gordan Korman is the author of seventy novels for kids and young adults, and most recently Pop,  Zoobreak, and The Emperor’s Code. His writing career began at the age of twelve when his seventh grade English assignment became his first published novel. Now, more than three decades later, he is a full-time writer and speaker, with over eighteen million copies of his novels in print in twenty three languages.

A Tender Bridge

Quotes and Advice from Ashley Bryan:

  • “If you put art into the world, you will get beauty in return.”
  • If I can conjure up the joy of the voice of the book, then the child will want to read. Kids don’t want to be put on the spot. A kid can work with you if you give them time.
  • I hold the book as I speak the words so the kids know where the words come from.
  • I rejoice in the spirit of the oral tradition.
  • Kids need to know how the words will speak through them. This is different for everyone. Work cooperatively, and allow the child to ask you how to pronounce something. This will give them confidence when they perform a poem.
  • Poetry infuses fiction and non-fiction.
  • I hope that in the reading of the book you can hear the original storyteller.

Books and Poems Recited by Bryan:

  • There were many poems presented. These two I jotted down.
  • Black Bird (Folk tale picture book)
  • Nicki Giovanni’s “Why I like Chocolate.”

Ashley Bryan’s numerous awards and honors include the Coretta Scott King Award for Illustration, six Coretta Scott King Honors, the Arbuthnot Prize, a Fulbright Scholarship, and several honorary doctorates. He illustrated The Story of the Three Kingdoms, The Sun is So Quiet, Ho God Fix Jonah, and many others. He retold and illustrated many books of African folktales and six books of African American Spirituals. Mr. Bryan studied at The Cooper Union in New York and earned a degree of philosophy from Columbia University. He lives in Islesford, Maine.

Writing Novels for Today’s Kids

Newberry Honor winning author Gennifer Choldenko spoke at the LA SCBWI 2010 annual conference. The following notes were taken during her keynote speech on how to write novels for today’s kids.

Are Today’s Kids Different Than When We Were Kids?

  • Do kids grow up faster now that when we were kids? True? Each child and age group has a huge range of behaviors.
  • Kids are more outwardly sophisticated today than we were as kids. But on the inside they are the same.
  • It’s hard work growing up.

Why Was A Wrinkle In Time So Successful?

  • Great characters.
  • Original Story.
  • No Fat.
  • It’s not the Newbery that makes the book still resonate with kids today.
  • Another book that still has resonance today is The Little Princess. And it’s over 100 years old!

We Need More Multi-Cultural Authors!

  • Kids need to see voices that reflect their circumstances in life.

How to Get Boy Readers…

  • Ask yourself if you can compete with Xbox. Video games are getting more complex rather than shorter, they also have more action.
  • We need books that reflect the emotional reality of boy’s lives.
  • Kids don’t start reading at age 14. Publishers don’t only want YA. They need readers early so they will grow into YA. Think through what you hear.
  • Human beings need stories!

How Publishing and Media is Evolving…

  • The delivery systems (for books) are expanding!
  • The industry is not getting easier to break into, but there are now more doors/ways for books to be published.

On Writing For Kids…

  • “Write up for kids, not down.” – E.B. White
  • Childhood is a lot harder than it looks. Dig deep.

Craft and The Writing Process…

  • What you experience while you are writing is what we (the reader) will experience when reading.
  • Don’t trick-out your protagonist and no one else. Be sure everyone is three-dimensional.
  • Pay attention to how people walk, talk, etc. Be a notorious eves dropper.
  • Every detail must work within the context of the world you have created.
  • If you’re not totally engaged in your work, then something is wrong.
  • No set-up scenes! Each scene must be gratifying within itself.
  • If every risk you take pans out, then you may not really be risking much.
  • Push your protagonist. Readers like to see a protagonist do something they (the reader) would never do.
  • Put your characters in the lion’s cage and see who they really are.
  • Skill matters! Varying levels of practice is more important than talent. It’s about the time!

Clever Quotes and Anecdotes…

  • “Once you have your first draft, re-read to see what you have been avoiding.” – Her editor
  • “The idea for my next novel is contained in the scribble my subconscious hands me.” – Choldenko
  • “Next time fail better.” -?
  • “You need to feel your way through a novel, not think your way.” – Mailer (?)
  • “Throw your heart over, and follow.”  -?

Take Care of Your Writer Self…

  • Keep the caffeine flowing (or not.)
  • Stay away from toxic people (who want to tear you down).
  • Make yourself the time to read and write!

Set Small Goals…

  • BIC = Butt in Chair
  • Try to make a page count or word count for the day!
  • Beware of quantity over quality.

And a Few Other Words of Wisdom…

  • Critique groups are not for everyone.
  • Don’t let promotion overshadow your work.
  • Make sure you have a book worth marketing.
  • Know when to hold on and when to let go. Follow your guy. It’s a visceral decision.
  • Rejection happens. Get used to it.
  • No one can teach you to write. You have to teach yourself. It’s done through writing!

Gennifer Choldenko’s novel Al Capone Does My Shirts was a Newbery Honor Book and a a School Library Journal, Kirkus, and Publisher’s Weekly Best Book of the Year. Other books by Choldenko include: Notes from a Liar and Her Dog, If a Tree Falls at Lunch Period, and No Passengers Beyond this Point.