Monthly Archives: May 2014

Career Crossovers

This Thursday, I’m presenting my first library-sponsored writing program at a local coffee shop. I’m really excited for this — and the whole series — but also a little nervous. I consider both librarianship and writing careers, but I’ve never combined them for a program like this.

Writing Elements.

As a librarian, I’m looking forward to the series because it’s the first time (at least in my tenure here) that our library has reached out to a local business to present a program there. Off-site programming is becoming increasingly popular as libraries are focusing more attention on community engagement. Dozens of libraries across the country now run book clubs that meet in bars, and I’ve heard of libraries partnering with local gaming stores, restaurants, and other businesses for various programs. For the Writing Elements series (a tie-in with our summer reading theme, Literary Elements), I reached out to a new local coffee shop where individual writers already practice their craft.

The librarian in me is also excited about the series because I know the target audience. I don’t know everyone who will be coming, but I know a few who have already told me they’ll be there. And not just because they’re my friends, but because they’re genuinely interested in a writing program.

I’m looking forward to the series as a writer because it’s a chance for me to meet and network with other local writers. I’ll have exercises related to a different topic each week (characterization this time around), and I’ll lead the group’s discussion, so the series will give me a chance to hone my skills as an instructor a bit. The writing community is so helpful and supportive, I always enjoy a chance to return that support, whether that means critiquing a friend’s work or hosting a library-sponsored series of programs.

Any tips as I make my foray into library outreach and more formal writing instruction?

Revisions in three steps

Editing.

Photo by flickr user Nic McPhee

Revisions are painful. Whether it’s a minor paper cut kind of pain or the mental equivalent of a gaping wound, if you don’t experience some amount of discomfort while revising your novel, there’s a good chance you’re doing it wrong.

To manage both the time and pain of revisions, I approach the process in three steps. There’s no sense agonizing over losing a favorite line when the whole scene will have to go in the end, so I start with the big picture. The first thing I do when I receive feedback from a critique partner is read through the general comments. Then I read through the mark-ups in the document itself, to see if there are questions there that I’ll need to address.

After thinking about everything my CP has said (and taking the time to go from staunchly defending my masterpiece to admitting my CP is probably right), I tackle the big issues. Maybe some aspect of a character needs fleshing out, or some part of the fictional world needs to be explained better. These are changes that affect most, if not all, parts of the novel in some way, so I like to take care of them before drilling down to the more nitty-gritty.

Once I’ve addressed the big issues, I look at things on a scene-by-scene basis. This is where I go back and look at the comments my CP left in the document to see if certain scenes or parts of scenes aren’t working. Typically, this step involves the most painful cuts and changes.

Step three focuses on line edits. At this point, I know I’m going to keep all of the scenes (at least until I get feedback from another reader), so I can agonize over whether I should have sunlight “gleam” or “glint” without worrying that I’ll cut that part later. I have the most fun with this round of revisions. The painful cuts have all been made, and I can focus on the polish.

How do you tackle revisions?

Writing Advice

The doctor is in.

Photo by flickr user Kara

There are plenty of blogs and articles out there offering advice to writers. I’ve thrown in my own two cents a few times on this blog. This week I thought I’d do a round-up of advice/websites that I’ve found useful.

For getting started/general motivation:

The best advice I’ve had for this actually came from a session at the Public Library Association Conference in Indianapolis earlier this year. In a talk about innovation in libraries, author Megan McArdle told the audience to “Give yourself permission to suck.” I like to apply this to all of my zero drafts and even some of my early revisions. A terrible draft is still better than a non-existent one.

For revisions:

Agent Christa Heschke shares revision advice from her clients on her blog. Whether it’s printing your manuscript, reading it out loud, or even changing the font, these tips will help you look at your work more critically to make it even stronger. One of my critique partners contributed to this series, and I definitely take her advice to heart when I’m going through her feedback.

For querying:

Query Shark.If you’re struggling to write a query letter, I highly recommend you check out Query Shark. Agent Janet Reid posts query letters (with the writers’ permission) and offers her feedback. It’s fun to watch some of these queries go from complete messes to polished products that lead to offers for representation. Reading the “sharkives” has helped me with both my queries and my novels.

For researching agents:

I always like to start directly with an agent’s website, but sometimes just deciding which agents to research can be tough! I’ve found Literary Rambles and the Query, Sign, Submit series on I Write for Apples helpful for that.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve gotten? What resources do you recommend?

Character vs. Plot: Which comes first?

Character vs. Plot. When you sit down to work on a new story, which comes first, the characters or the plot? Obviously both are key elements; author and former literary agent Nathan Bransford even declares that character and plot are inseparable because the traits that make a character compelling are revealed through the plot. But which comes first?

Recently, a writer friend and I discussed our typical paths from idea to manuscript, and learned why we work well as critique partners. My friend said that ideas come to her as plots, and she has no trouble figuring out exactly how to bring the story from Point A to Point B, with every step in between neatly laid out. For her, the greater challenge lies in developing the characters.

I have the exact opposite problem. Ideas come to me as characters, sometimes complete with decades of backstory before I have any clear idea of what happens in the actual story. I’ll have a vague idea of the plot, but the character always comes first. For me, the greatest challenge is pinning down the plot.

The one exception to this was my current WIP, a YA fantasy that came to me as a fully-formed plot. I didn’t even know the main character’s name until the very end of my brainstorming session. Her history beyond a few days before the story began didn’t matter; she was simply the girl who was going on the quest I’d imagined.

Because I’m so used to focusing on character, that part of the story came naturally as I was writing the book. I thought up and wove in backstory for all the key characters when and where it seemed important, without getting bogged down in too much history and not enough action. The result: I wrote the quickest, and best, first draft of my career.

Now I’m approaching ideas from a new angle. Instead of getting caught up in my characters early on (a mistake that led to three drafts of another project that I’ve set aside in frustration for the moment), when I get an idea, I’ll start hammering out the plot. I won’t even let myself name the characters until I know what they’re doing, and then why it matters to them. I’m confident the characters will come.

If you’re like me, I encourage you to try looking for plots before your characters have taken over with elaborate histories that could bog down or even conflict with the story. And if you think of ideas as plots, try getting to know the characters more before the story runs away with them. You might be surprised by how easily the writing comes when you mix it up.

Or am I the only one who comes up with characters first? I’m curious, do ideas come to you as characters or plots?

We Need Diverse Books

We Need Diverse Books. Following the appointment of an all-white-male panel of “luminaries in children’s literature” at this year’s BEA, there has been a lot of media buzz about the lack of diversity in children’s and young adult books. Today through May 3 there will be a huge social media push to get the word out there using the #weneeddiversebooks hasthag. Check out the We Need Diverse Books Tumblr for more details.

Why is this important? According to the University of Wisconsin-Madison Cooperative Children’s Book Center’s report on the representation of people of color in children’s books, out of the 3,200 children’s books examined by the CCBC, only 93 (2.9%) were about blacks, 69 (2.1%) about Asians and Pacific Islanders, 57 (1.7%) about Latinos, and 34  (1.1%) about American Indians. This is especially disturbing when you consider that in the 2012 census, 13.1% of the United States population reported that they were black, 5.3% were Asian or Pacific Islanders, 16.9% were Hispanic or Latino, 1.2% were American Indian or Alaska Native, and 2.4% were two or more races. Many of these populations are growing, and the percentages would be even higher if you considered only those under 18.

We need diverse books because these best friends deserve books that reflect their reality.

From Julie Bartel, from YALSA’s blog The Hub

As a librarian, I defend books and other media that represent people of all backgrounds and viewpoints. I want all the members of our community to feel welcome and included at the library. But when we look at children’s books, I think the need for diversity is even more important. Kids who don’t see themselves in the books they read may get turned off of reading, which could cause them to struggle in school. Beyond test scores, a lack of diversity in books can create false impressions for kids of what they can and cannot achieve. Ellen Oh writes about a school event where a young girl approached her with a notebook to sign and said “I love writing and I want to be a writer but I didn’t think I could because I’m not white.”

It’s time for our culture, especially our books, to represent all the members of our diverse population. It’s time for writers to introduce kids to stories about them, characters who will inspire them and show them that their dreams are not and should not be limited by their race or their background.

If you’re interested in reading more about diversity in the writing/publishing world, Pub Hub has a monthly roundup of links called Diverse Words.

What about you? How do you feel about diversity in kids’ and teens’ books?