I’m at the beginning stages of a new novel project. If you follow my blog or Facebook page at all, you already know that I am hard at work on the sequel to Champion Chocolatier. And while I don’t want to give away too much info… I am willing to share that in this book Emmy will travel to North Carolina and gets to spend time at the Biltmore Estates – the largest privately-owned home in the United States.Read More
In the writing world, novelists typically live in one of two camps… either among the plotters or the pansters.
is a writer who strategically maps out what is going to happen in their story before they begin writing it. Whether through outlines or a story map, this writer charts the course of their story and before they even begin chapter one, know what is going to happen in the beginning, middle and end of their book.
Despite what your time in middle school might have taught you, a pantser in the writing world is not someone who runs around pulling down people’s pants.
A writer who is a panster is…
someone who flies by the seat of their pants. They let their story blow and flow wherever the wind (and characters’ desires) take them.
Up until recently I have spent most of my time in the pantser camp.Read More
Today’s blog post is in the form of a graphic essay. What the heck is that?
Not to brag, but my third grader could tell you. He recently stayed in from recess (his choice!) to work on his personal graphic narrative. In this case, graphic doesn’t mean gruesome or explicit. (Although I’m certain there was farting in my son’s story.) Graphic means pictures are involved. For Kam, this meant telling a story as a comic. It’s a real thing. I’m telling it true!Read More
Occasionally you hear of authors scraping entire manuscripts or making massive, time sucking changes. Maybe it was the need to switch from third person close POV to first. Or perhaps they decided to cut a character or start from an entirely different place. I had heard of cases like this and seen the frustrating and emotional social media posts. I had read the authors notes in which the writer bemoans the number of drafts and thanks their editor and significant other for tirelessly supporting them when they didn’t think they were going to live to see the other side of the project.
But like an idiot I thought “that will never happen to me”. It was not an intentionally arrogant thought. I did not think I was better than these other authors, I just… I don’t know… didn’t think I’d be willing to throw away hours, months, or even years of work.
Call it karma or the boomerang effect, if you will, but I’m currently finding myself in the very place I’d never thought I’d be.Read More
Guilty pleasure (defined): an activity one enjoys despite feeling that it is not generally held in high regard or is seen as unusual or weird.
Most people use the term guilty pleasure in connection to the entertainment industry, but the majority of my guilty pleasures are consumables… Pop Tarts, Diet Pepsi, and in the fall… candy corn.
If you were a fly on the wall in my office, kitchen, living room or car it would not take you long to discover that I am fairly regimented in my daily routines. I try, at all times, to maximize my own efficiency in hopes that there will be just a little more time to do x, y or z.
This is why protein smoothies are my favorite lunch. I can easily eat-drink my meal during my daily commute to teach my 12:40 Intro to College Writing class. I’d be fine if we cut cable because I rarely watch TV and I make grocery lists to avoid extra trips to Target.
I also usually select my reading and listening material base on what it will provide me, and often times, ENTERTAINMENT, does not top the list.Read More
Today marks a momentous milestone for me and my blog. This is post #100. To celebrate, I’d like to share 100 pieces of writing wisdom. Below you will see an epic collection of writing tips, techniques, resources, suggestions and quotes from talented writers. A gift from me to you.
With love, from the Word NerdRead More
I know that I’m behind the times on the topic that I’m going to talk about. I know that my sister and cousins (all younger than me) have been doing for years what I’m about to suggest. I know that other writers in my critique group have also discovered this wonderful medium as well, so I’m late to the party. But now that I’m here, I’m so glad I came.
What on earth am I talking about?
Last weekend I attended one of my favorite word nerd events of the year. The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Fall Retreat! Three jam-packed days of fun, professional development, networking opportunities and books. Books, books, books… so many books.
It’s easy to see why this is one of my happy places, but just in case my reasoning isn’t 100% transparent, I thought I’d spell it out. Are you ready to learn more about this incredible international literary organization? Then read on.Read More
I’ve been writing on my blog for quite a long time now. I’ve been celebrating Writing Wednesday since February 2016 to be exact. This is post #97! And you know what? I’m really proud of it. It’s got a lot of great content and it looks good. But you know what makes me sad? That so far, it isn’t as far reaching as I’d like! I could put literary gold up on the site, but if there is no one there here to read it… its value diminishes.
That’s why I’ve taken extra steps to make it even easier to access. Last week, with the help of my business coach Chynna Haas from 29Rebel, I added a subscription service to my blog. Just sign up HERE and each Wednesday when I post, my helpful and motivating words will arrive, almost as if by magic, to your inbox.
I’ve also done a round up of a few posts I think you might be interested in… that you may have missed over the last two years. First up? My most popular blog posts ever!Read More
I’ll start with the first one, which came from the book Steal Like an Artist., by Austin Kloen. I know there are some people who would consider me boring, and I guess I probably wouldn’t argue. Maybe that’s why I’ve never really had trouble with getting work done. I’ll confess, this summer, surrounded by fun options and people who do not have to go to work or school… being productive proved a little more difficult. I often felt stressed that work wasn’t getting done, or guilty that I wasn’t hanging out with my family. I knew that situation was temporary, and now that the school year has started, I’m ready to set my vacations and afternoons at the pool to the side and be super productive (and boring) again.
But I’m still in uncharted territory. For the first time in my life, my professional hours are not dictated by a strict bell schedule.Read More
Even though my last day of full time teaching was June 6th, the beauty of electing a twelve month pay schedule has kept my pay checks coming all summer long. For someone going into business for themselves, three months of guaranteed payment is a glorious thing. This summer I have been able to test out my “working hours”, add to my freelance work load, advance a few fiction manuscript projects, and still take all of our family vacations. (Which, when you have a two-teacher family and no work in sight for several weeks, is admittedly, a lot.)
A few days ago, on September 1st, I needed to officially start earning my own way. I have done a lot of things to make this opportunity a success. If you are thinking of quitting your day job to “go pro” in your creative pursuit, here are some steps that I took, that you may want to consider.
Go Pro Envelope
In January 2017 I made the resolution to set aside 20% of my writing earnings into an envelope (Dave Ramsey style). I lovingly called this my “Go Pro Fund”. In a year and a half, I amassed just under two months of income. My plan was to have a pool of cash to pull from if I ended up short of my goal earnings at the end of the month. (Tip: Figure out what you make in your take home pay on a monthly basis from your day job. Use this amount as an earning goal as you move forward into self-employment.) When my computer unexpectedly crashed in July, my Go Pro Fund also acted as an emergency fund to replace this necessary tool without negatively affecting my family’s savings. This purchase was the first time I ever pulled from the envelope, and I did so guiltily, but how is a writer supposed to earn a dime without a computer!?!?
Business Bank Account
The second financial step I took was to create a business bank account. It is where I have been putting the other 80% of my writing earnings. I use this money to pay for conferences, book orders, contest submission entry fees and office supplies. At this point, the account is not bursting at the seams, but it does hold a balance that will allow me to continue to pay for a few of these expenses for a while. This account will allow me to continue to operate as a financial benefit to my family, instead of a drain. I have also pre-paid the conference entry fees for events I am attending in September and October and have a healthy supply of (already paid for) books in my basement. (Let me know if you want one, or a dozen!) It feels good to know that my major financial obligations are covered in these first two months of my self-employed journey.
Diversify Income Opportunities
Another important action I took was to diversify my income opportunities. I now am paid by Western Technical College, Big Shared World, Teachers Pay Teachers, KWiL Publishing, Amazon and events including in person book sales and school visits. At their varied income levels, one of these income streams alone could not sustain me, but at the same time, I am not reliant on any single company/employer/revenue generator to keep me afloat. Should one collapse or cease to exist, I could still press on and make it. I also worked to fill up my calendar, giving myself guaranteed money making events in the near future. You can check out my website for the fun word nerd events I have scheduled in October, December, February, March, April and June!
Have a Back Up Plan
And finally, I have a back up plan. On paper, I have earned all I need for the rest of 2018. BUT, if everything crashes and burns by January 2019, I always have the option of substitute teaching for $120 a day. It’s not ideal and it’s not what I really want to do. But I can, if I have to. It’s peace of mind, and mighty fine to have in my back pocket should I need it.
Starts ups take time to grow. I know because I’ve been at this writing gig for 7 years now and am just now ready to take this leap.
If you have any tips of your own to add, please share them with us in the comments below. If you have any questions for me on how I made it to this place, feel free to comment on this post or email me!
If you are contemplating your own creative leap, I wish you the best of luck. With passion and planning, you can do this. I know it, because I have.
What was once a dream, is now my reality.
In between all of my writing and traveling, I did manage to read a few books this summer, and some of them were spectacular. I wanted to share them with you in case you are looking for something great to read as the weather cools down and we spend more time inside. Check out my list of books below, encompassing many genres, age levels and topics.
Even though I won’t be teaching middle school this year, I can’t dump my love affair with middle grade and YA books. This summer, I encountered two amazing ones.
Breakout by Kate Messner
Mark my words, this book will be willing all sorts of accolades come book award season. It tackles the really tough topic of racism, through the lens of the prison and media institutions. Set in a small town, this book tells the story of a real-life prison break, through the eyes of the Prison Superintendent’s twelve-year-old daughter, Nora. Captured in bits and pieces, this narrative is completely made up of letters, text messages, school announcements, newspaper articles, and recorded conversations. When Nora decides to take reporting into her own hands, many great ELA teaching components come into play including accurate quoting, reliable sources and the importance of doing research. Questions of prison and town demographics, reported incidents of prisoner abuse, stereotypes and societal rules arise as Nora digs into the events that are turning her town upside down. The final gem of the book is that Elidee, a newcomer to the town, reflects on her feelings via poems and song lyrics inspired by famous writers including Lin Manuel Miranda and Jaqueline Woodson. This book will inspire… inspire conversations, inspire activism, inspire writers and inspire friendship. I’m not kidding when I say dust off the Newbery. This book might get it. Bravo Kate Messner! Add it to your child’s bookshelf ASAP.
The War I Finally Won by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
This book is the sequel to the Newbery Honor winning book The War That Saved My Life. I will confess that it sat in my To-Be-Read pile for FAR TOO LONG. (Life is busy!) But once I picked it up, I couldn’t put it down. Ada is living through WWII in the English countryside with her brother Jamie, and guardian, Susan. The war permeates everything they do and attacks their personal lives from every angle forcing the characters of this book to push on, move on and live on… even when they don’t want to. Who is your enemy? Who is your friend? What is family? What is right? What is wrong? Lessons abound and so do wonders. Especially wonders of the heart. This book is a treasure. I admire Kimberly Brubaker Bradley for taking on difficult and controversial topics with a grace that makes them accessible for middle grade readers. Her words tug at my heart strings and pull me entirely into her story. This historical fiction at its best, and even though it is written for middle schoolers, readers of all ages will love it. (Both my mom and I did!) Head over to Amazon and put this one in your cart; you won’t be disappointed.
Books My Boys Loved
Some of my favorite reading I did this summer, was with my boys. Whether in a tent on the deck, in the car, or just before bed, we were able to experience some fun stories this summer!
Hide and Seek-A-Saurus by Sherri Roloff
Dinosaurs, pizza and a game of hide and seek? What could be better? Pretty much nothing in the Zieba boys’ estimation. We have so much fun reading this book, counting down while the dinosaurs hide and then trying to find them in increasingly difficult spots in their backyard. And when the game is done, everyone gathers in the kitchen to eat the pizza that had been cooking while they played. This is not a passive reading experience! A perfect, interactive, read aloud. Bonus, Sheri is a Wisconsin author! Show her a little literary love by requesting that your local library add this book to their collection, or by buying it for your child’s classroom teacher as a back to school gift! (Pssst. There’s a coloring book version too!)
The Day of the Dinosaurs by Johnathan Rand
My boys have a favorite author, and it isn’t me. (I get the coveted #2 spot.) #1 belongs to Johnathan Rand, thanks entirely to his series Freddie Fernortner, Fearless First Grader. When I returned home from a trip to Michigan where I was teaching at Johnathan’s young writer camp (Author Quest), I brought back the newest installment in the series. The Day of the Dinosaurs starts in a sandbox, but quickly travels to a land of faraway imaginings, many, many years ago. My sons love the adventures Freddie goes on, and the delightful illustrations that occasionally accompany the story. There is no hope of reading just a single chapter with this series. As soon as I read the last word, they are begging, for just one more chapter. If you have little boys in your life that are ready for chapter books, add these ones to your list!
Books for Writers
Your shelves are full of these, right?!?!? Make room for two more. Don't worry, they are small in size, but not in power.
Steal Like and Artist and Show your Work by Austin Kleon
These two tiny books are the best pep talk I have read in a long time. The amount of quotable inspiration that comes from Austin Kleon in these pocket-sized how-to manuals is mind boggling. Almost every page bears the addition of my ink, underlining important thoughts or jotting down my ideas that it has spring boarded into existence. The books go beyond inspiration to practical applications creatives can take to move their work and their career forward. The best part is you can read these books quickly. Just a chapter in a few minutes, or the entire book in an hour or two sitting. It is great for writers to learn and read, but at the end of the day, writers need to write, and creatives need to create… if we spend huge chunks of our time NOT creating… for whatever reason… that’s a problem. These books are the remedies. I know that the holiday season is a long time away, but if you have a creative on your list, pick up these two books and you can check stocking-stuffer off your list. (Or just surprise them when a little pick me up… just because you love them and want to see more of their work.)
Okay, that's it.
I mean, not entirely. I did read other books. These were just my favorites from this season. What did you read? What did you love? What's next on your list/pile? Comment below!
Happy reading! :)
I have been fortunate enough to attend three, four-day writing excursions this summer. Since leaving the full-time teaching world, my home office hours are mostly dedicated to paying gigs. But, on these writing retreats, I splurge, allowing myself to dive head first into my fiction work.
This summer my fiction project is revising my YA Fantasy manuscript. As I’ve poured over these words (in some cases for the 3rd, 5th or 8th time!) I’ve learned a thing or two.
Curious to hear my tips? Head on over to my friend, fellow Wisconsin author Valerie Biel's blog to read the rest of this article by clicking HERE.
Then, check back here next week, and every week, for more Writing Wednesday goodness.
Character. Without it, your story is meaningless. Your reader needs something to care about, SOMEONE, to root for, empathize with, and emotionally invest in.
Two of my current fiction projects are demanding that my attention be focused on character, which got me thinking about how to better understand who my characters really are. How do you get to know someone you created in your imagination? There are plenty of activities and workbooks out there. And some of them are really great. Here are two I strongly recommend.
The Proust Questionnaire started out as a parlor game in France as a way for a host to better get to know his or her party guests. You can find the list of questions here. It’s a great place to start when trying to figure out who your character is at the core.
Crafting Incredible Characters Workbook
Written by one of my favorite writing gurus, Kristen Kieffer, Crafting Incredible Characters, a digital workbook will walk you through the character creation process one step at a time. Beautifully designed pages and expertly curated questions make working on this aspect of your story a true joy. (Just be careful that you don’t have so much fun with the workbook that you use it as your excuse not to ACTUALLY WRITE your story. Take it from a guilty party… this workbook is so good that it’s easy to fall into that trap!) (Side note: the recommended price for this amazing resource is only $9.00, but if that is a financial stretch for you, Kristen has a generous pay-what-you-can business philosophy.)
But I’d already done those. I needed something different. I needed to stretch my brain and take it to new places.
So, I dug into my teaching materials and head and came up with the character creation activities below. Go ahead and try one, or all of them. Let me know what you come up with! What did you discover about your character? Did anything surprise you? What new quirk, talent, or flaw did you learn about the star of your story? Comment below or send me an email. I’d love to meet to the person of your brain’s creation.
25 Things You Don’t Know About Me
My sister religiously reads US Weekly. For years she got the subscription to it as a Christmas gift. Kind and generous sister that she is, Kate would often gift me her magazines once she was done with them. I didn’t mind being a week or ten behind on the celebrity gossip… I mostly just enjoyed looking at the fancy dresses. Inside the magazine there is a feature called: 25 Things You Don’t Know About Me. Each week they ask a celebrity to share several little-known facts about themselves. Try this with your own character. What little idiosyncrasies or preferences does your character secretly harbor? How can you bring those unique individual characteristics to the surface to make them memorable for your reader?
If you find yourself stuck, do a google image search for “US Weekly 25 Things You Don’t Know About Me” and dozens of images like the one above will pop up. Use them for inspiration. Tim Gunn, mentor on Project Runway confessed in his edition that “few foods make me happier than French fries” and he had a terrible stutter as a child and teen. These two facts add layers of depth to a persona that to the world seems a polished and poised gentleman. Picturing Tim sitting in some diner eating French fries (probably with a fork) while listening to a diction podcast via Marc Jacobs earbuds is downright delicious. What character facts can you unearth and how can you use them?
Thought-Shots are a great way to get into your characters head. The activity described below will help you add additional insight and character motivation to your story. Confused or want to see an example of this trick in action? Watch these video clips of the opening scenes in the movies The Hobbit and How to Train Your Dragon. Through the character’s thoughts we are treated to behind the scenes information, motivation and personal levels of understanding.
Last week I was driving and saw a bumper sticker that said, “If you are what you eat, then I am fast, cheap and easy.” I immediately thought, Nailed it, that’s totally me. (For real, my diet is made up of Cherry Pop Tarts, Diet Pepsi and Mac n’ Cheese… I kid you not.) This small declaration on the back of a beat-up car spoke to me, defined me, and showcased a specific character trait all in 36 square inches.
I thought it would be fun to do the same for a character. You can make up your own bumper sticker slogan for them, or if you are struggling to come up with a witty phrase, use the internet. (Warning: several results during this search bring up offensive language and content. Thicken your skin and scroll fast! Pinterest had more friendly search results.)
Make Your Character Uncomfortable
If you want to put your character into an interesting situation, try the activity below. Making our characters uncomfortable is one way to see how they will act. Do they crumble when outside their ordinary bubble? Or do they rise to the occasion? Are they feisty, passive aggressive or confident? Put them in hot water and find out.
Name That Tune
I’ve spent a lot of time in the car this summer driving to a variety of writing and family events. While in the middle of no-where Midwest I was struggling to find a radio station that matched my particular musical preferences. I wound up scanning through the 5 options (NPR, orchestral compilations, classic rock, old time country and religious talk radio) again and again and again. As I drove and thought and scanned I wondered who would actually enjoy listening to each of these stations. I mean, somebody must… they don’t produce them for no one! Mini character profiles sprung to mind for each station. Why not reverse engineer this process with the activity below? Use music to uncover hidden personality traits and style of your character.
And finally, once you’ve completed a few of these, organize your thoughts into the chart below. Keep it handy so you can continually influence your story with characterization… instead of forgetting about it after you write chapter 1.
You can use this chart two ways. I initially created it because I was struggling to decide on the kind of character I wanted to lead my new series. Boy or girl? Caucasian or a person of color? Sassy or witty? Outgoing adventurist or tech geek introvert? I used this chart to create three distinct characters, complete with strengths and struggles, clothing preferences and backpack belongings. I’m not certain I’ve made any solid decisions yet, but this certainly helped me on my way.
The second way you can use it, is to record the character traits of several different characters in your story. This way you can remember who is a vegetarian and who won’t leave home without their bird watching bible.
To get your free editable copy of this chart, click this link. Then go to file, make a copy. Once the new doc opens up, you can edit and save as you wish! Struggling? Just send me and email and I'll walk you through it!
Alright, that’s it for this week’s Writing Wednesday! I hope found these activities helpful and that your brain is boiling with all sorts of new possibilities. Feel free to pass on this link to another writer you think might find it helpful, or better yet, do as my writing group did last week, and complete the activities with a friend. When you are finished, share all the good stuff you write with each other and give feedback on which traits most resonate. Good luck with your character creation and happy writing!
Last week I spent time at a magical writing place called Cirenaica. I came home with 2 chapters solidly workshopped and revised, 2,700 brand new words, a bunch of word nerd friends and my very first literary award.
Cirenaica, which in Uruguayan means “siren of the sea”, is the name of a cabin in central Wisconsin. The owner of the property thought the name would symbolize the alluring sensation writers (and other artists) feel when their work pulls them away from the responsibilities of their daily lives. I agree, it is the perfect name for a creative retreat, and can attest that it accomplished its goal.
For the past three years this oasis in the woods has been rented by the Chippewa Valley Writer’s Guild. Each summer, for five weeks, a writer in residence and ten other word nerds gather for four days of writing, work-shopping, and camaraderie. The summer of 2018 retreat series has seen the likes of Nicholas Butler, Michael Martone, Lindsay Starck, Holly Hughes and Karla Huston.
With Lindsay, author of Noah’s Wife, an allegory tale depicting a modern village’s trouble with constant rain and a flooded zoo, we worked to add tension to our novels and short stories in progress. Here were a few of my take aways from my time with this Augsburg MFA teacher.
On the final night of each session, the retreat participants host a reading for the general public. After each writer shares their piece BJ Hollars, director of the Chippewa Valley Writer’s Guild, gives a few thank you’s and then, announces the winner of the coveted Toilet Seat Award. The award, created earlier in the summer when a writer went above and beyond to fix a cataclysmic bathroom catastrophe, is meant to honor a person who “embodies the spirit of Cirenaica”.
And last week, that person was me! As I stood proudly before the small crowd, tightly clutching the unusual traveling trophy, I confessed, “This is my first literary award!”.
You might be wondering, Amanda, how did you earn this prestigious honor? Let me tell you the story.
We were moments away from dinner. Chef Michelle was making the final meal preparations, wine had been poured, the record player was rocking, BJ and Lindsay were tenaciously battling the wireless printer and I had an idea. Rather than sit spread out among the room, deck and kitchen for dinner, occupying random chairs and eating off our laps, I wanted to eat dinner with my new friends. All of them. At the same table. How could we spend our last dinner together scattered about the cabin and property? In my mind this simply wouldn’t do. I wanted us to be together.
So, I set about gathering extra tables and instructed others to grab some chairs. Within just a few minutes, we managed to assemble an eating space large enough for all fourteen of us. And even though our presentation may not have done Martha Stewart proud, it looked great, with each and everyone of us sitting around it, together. Apparently this is the first time in three summers this feat has ever been accomplished, and because the retreat I attended is the last ever Cirenaica retreat, we dubbed this “the last supper”.
For me, this picture exemplifies the magic of opportunities like the Cirenaica retreat. BJ had told me many times about the power of this place and the amazing things that happen here. And for me, the coming together, the creative community all at one table, is as magical as it can get. I am thankful the Chippewa Valley Writer’s Guild not only recognizes this form of magic but works diligently to create and support it. Thank you, BJ, not only for the award, but also for seeing my small action as something more than arranging furniture. Thank you also to the Chippewa Valley Writer’s Guild for the opportunity to be a part of your magic. I look forward to the next time I can write with you and create more of it.
One of my favorite story elements is setting. Even though I don’t get to travel much in real life (it’s not really in the teacher-write budget!). Or maybe BECAUSE I don’t get to travel much in real life… I LOVE reading about far away places. And far away times too.
This summer I read a book about a place not-so-far from home, Madison, Wisconsin, more specifically, the campus of the University of Wisconsin Madison. And even though I’d been there many times (Go Bucky!), author Angie Stanton made it feel alive in a whole new way.
In her book, Waking in Time, Angie tells the story of Abbi, a college freshman who quickly finds herself traveling backward in time. Unable to figure out why or how she travels, Abbi is thrust backward decades at a time with only her knowledge of campus architecture and fashion trends as markers in history. When she becomes her deceased grandmother’s roommate and best friend, and falls in love with a mysterious boy, her desire to figure things out kicks into high gear.
I had chance to ask Angie a few questions about her award-winning book. See what this Wisconsin author has to say about her writing process, intriguing research and more in the interview below.
Waking in Time is a mash up of historical fiction and science fiction? How did you arrive at this genre? Were you nervous about writing a story that crossed genres?
I arrived in this place by accident. Truly. I don’t have a grand plan when it comes to my books. I write the story that my heart wants to tell. The fact that time travel happens to be considered the sci-fi or fantasy genre by some didn’t concern me. I wouldn’t consider it historical fiction either, but perhaps it is. The story has a very contemporary feel to it despite the fact the character travels back in time.
Did you attend UW Madison? How did your personal experiences at college influence the story? If you didn't go to college at UW Madison, why did you decide to place your story there?
I did attend the UW Madison, but not as a traditional student who lived in the dorms. My college education started at a tech school with an associate’s degree. After working a few years, I decided to go back to school, but by then I was older and commuted to campus every day. My experiences were quite different than Abbi’s. However, I did have a class in the large auditorium in Bascom Hall.
I placed the story on the UW campus because of its long history. Many of the buildings date back more than 100 years, so as much as things have changed over the years, they’ve also stayed the same.
The college campus almost seems like a character in and of itself. What steps did you take in your writing process to make the presence of UW so strong?
There were a few spots on campus that I wanted the reader to really know and feel. Those included the Union Terrace, Liz Waters dorm, and Picnic Point. Crucial parts of the story happen in each of these locations. While I’ve spent a lot of time on campus over the years, mostly when we go to the terrace in summer to enjoy the lake, live music and libations, I did take a couple of “research” trips to Picnic Point and Liz Waters. I interviewed one of the resident managers at Liz Waters and took a ton of pictures of the iconic building. You can see some of these on my website.
What tips do you have for authors who want to maximize the story element of setting in their writing?
Because Abbi was alone without friends or confidants throughout much of her journey, I needed to use setting, fashion, and trends of each time to bring the story alive. My advice would be to immerse your character in their world, not just by description, but also weaving emotion and conflict into the setting. It almost has to be like another living breathing character.
The relationship between your main character and her grandmother is so special. It was easy for me to relate because I often felt like my grandma was one of my best friends. Was this built on a personal experience?
It actually wasn’t. I adored my grandmother (she lived to 102!) but I only saw her a couple of times a year. I’m glad you were able to relate to their close relationship of Abbi and her grandmother. It was pretty special to me too.
The fashion trends throughout the story were some of my favorite details. It was a brilliant way of showcasing the passing time. Describe your thought process and research process for including these iconic story details. (Bonus question, if you had to wear the fashion from one of the time periods featured in your book, which decade/style would you pick?)
I’m not a big fashionista, so other than the eighties, which I lived, there was a great deal of research involved. While Google played a major part, I also went to the Wisconsin Historical Society and met with the curator of costumes and textiles. She was able to show me actual clothing from various eras. She also suggested I look at old Sears and Roebuck catalogs from the eras I was working on. That was most helpful of all.
If I were to pick an era of favorite fashion, it would definitely be the 1930s. The dresses were flattering and stylish. There were beautiful hats and gloves. The shoes were heels yet practical and comfortable. Even in old farm photos, the woman wore their chunky heeled shoes on a daily basis.
What are you working on next?
Next up is the story of a girl who discovers she was stolen at birth, which I’m really excited about.
Several days a week I go to the YMCA, around noon. As I walk around the elevated track, I watch the basketball games going on below. Each day around 20 people are gathered, making enough for 4 complete teams for two simultaneous games.
The players are young and old. They are brown, tan, white and black. They are mostly male, but at least one woman is usually among them. There are buzz cuts and afros, dreadlocks and ponytails, and even a bald head or two. Some are decked out in Nike or Under Armor while others are clad in t-shirts sporting logos of their church/favorite team/company. Half of the players wear nondescript blue jerseys.
These people, these ball players, run and dribble and shoot and score. They pass and shout and call for the ball. They smile and offer up high-fives and sweat. These people show up in the middle of the day, in a public space, to do what they so clearly enjoy. They will be back tomorrow.
And if I had to bet, I would put money down on the fact that they talk about their games outside of the gym. I bet they dramatically tell about the perfect shot while miming a hook shot… in the living room, at the grocery store, or while picking up their kids from daycare. I’d also be willing to wager the responses to their stories are not phrases like this…
“Dude, give it up. You’re never gonna go pro.”
“Seriously? Back at it again?”
“Have you signed a sponsor yet?”
“Wait? You pay someone… to LET you play basketball? Something you could do at a public park for free?”
My question for you today is this: Why is writing any different?
Why, when you spend time on your creative pursuit, do you feel the need to justify your time, energy, and expense? Why, are you asked by friends and family if your creative pursuit is financially rewarding? Why do other people get to hunt/golf/quilt/garden/fish/travel with zero societal pressure of success, but writers (and creators in general) are not afforded that same luxury?
The answer should be, writing is not any different. But, if we are being honest, it is not viewed with the same lens. And if we don’t force others to realize that our free time is being scrutinized in a way that others’ is, it will never change.
Today, do this.
Schedule your writing time religiously. Ask your family to honor that time, guilt free. Take the class. Talk about your writing projects with your friends. Sign up for the retreat. Simply put, practice your hobby/craft/passion/whatever-you-call-it the way you see the rest of the world practice theirs.
Why is writing any different?
The answer is, it’s not... if you don’t let it be.
Before my children were born I spent exorbitant amounts of time reading at my in-laws. Like hours and hours. I would also sleep a lot there… something about the amazing bed and lack of responsibilities, and the sleep inducing fumes we joked my mother in-law pumped through the house. It also probably had something to do with the fact that my in-laws often gifted me with books.
In their house, on their couch, I could devour chapter after chapter, passing hour after comfortable hour, uninterrupted in a reader’s haven. But it wasn’t only books that I read at their house. I also occasionally picked up one of the many magazines to which they subscribed or the newspaper that came every day.
The Star Tribune blew our little town, twice a week newspaper, out of the water. Entire sections were devoted to entertainment and travel. World Issues and more ads than any one shopper could truly tackle waited in a neat stack on the coffee table every, single, morning.
In was in this grand newspaper that I discovered an article about Minnesota (formerly of Florida) author Kate DiCamillo.
Side note: Kate is one of my favorites. Her words are purely delectable to consume. Heartwarming. Spellbinding. Imaginative, while also grounded in reality. And did I mention her word choice is to-die-for delicious? Ahhhh, Kate DiCamillo. A literary hero. A word nerd goddess in human form.
Even though the article I’m going to tell you about was published 4 years ago, it impacted me so greatly that here I am, writing about it today on my blog. When I looked it up online to quote it correctly, the words were familiar. I believe this is mostly because of a conversation between Kate and another Minnesota author, Louise Erdrich, that was recorded in it.
Two years later Kate published her Newbery Honor Award winning (and also debut novel), Because of Winn Dixie. She accomplished this award winning, life changing feat, approximately 6 years after she started seriously writing.
When I first read the article, I had been writing seriously for three years. I knew that I wasn’t Kate DiCamillo. But neither did Kate DiCamillo three years before she made it big in the writing world. It sounds strange, but because so much of the writing industry is made up of shrouded-and-secret-conversations-behind-closed-doors-with-elite-individuals… or at least that’s how it often feels to me… I was THRILLED to have this tangible piece of a road map to success. Or, at least a piece of someone’s road map to success. Needless to say, I clung to it. I just had to keep writing. For three more years. If I kept at it, I could do it. Kate did.
It is now 2018. 7 years since I started writing articles on Yahoo.com for pennies a click. 7 years since I started seriously working on my craft and a novel idea I’d first had 4 years before that. 7 years and 8 self-published books later. 7 years and over 80 blog posts later. 7 years. Now in 2018, I can say that writing makes up over half of my income and will continue to grow.
7 years later, in 2018, I can proudly say that I just signed my very first traditional publishing contract, with KWiL.
See that mention about a geocaching series... THAT's ME!
Louise was right.
So for all of you word nerds out there despairing, hang in there. You can do this. It might take 6 years, or 7, or 28. But it can be done. It can be done by YOU. To help, here are a few more great pieces of advice I got from that fated article four years ago about Kate, via the wonderful Star Tribune journalist, Laurie Hertzel.
If you are hungry for more of Kate DiCamillo’s work or advice, head over to her enchanting website.
Until next time word nerds, hang in there. Keep writing. You can do it.
“I’ve been procrastinating the start of this new journal. I bought it intentionally early – even though my last one still has about 25 blank pages. That previous red journal chronicles this last school year. There is so much baggage between the covers of that journal and I want to leave it behind. I don’t want to take any of the old ugly into my new journey. So I bought this lovely new journal.” – My journal, June 9, 2018
I wrote those words 48 hours after leaving school for the last time. I had thought about writing in that new journal for days before I actually did it. At first I wanted to wait until school was officially done. I wanted to make my first entry a meaningful stepping stone into my new life, and I couldn’t do that with one foot still firmly planted in the old world. And then, when I was officially done, I waited some more. I wanted to write something momentous. Something important. Something memorable.
“Maybe I’m putting too much pressure on myself. Maybe in this big monumental – I finally quit my job – moment, I’m afraid that the things I write won’t measure up. Maybe I want to be full of wisdom and wonder, but can’t because there is still a bunch of waiting.”
I was waiting to see what my new life would look like. I was waiting to see how my days would unfold. I was waiting for a really big form of validation that eventually arrived, just slowly, like all things in the publishing industry. (THAT NEWS IS COMING SOON!). But finally I decided that I was done waiting. Nothing gets done if you just sit around and wait. And I am, if anything, a girl who gets stuff done.
“But here, I’ve done it. I’ve pulled off the proverbial Band-Aid and written my first entry. I’m looking forward to finding the answers to all of my what next’s in the pages of this new journal, and to committing my thoughts to these pages along the way. So cheers to a new journal, a new journey and all the twists and turns life will throw my way. Full steam ahead and happy writing.”
Here is my advice to you.
Don’t wait, write.
All those lovely journals you’ve hoarded over the years, just waiting for the right story to strike you, the right occasion to present itself, the right words to record… pick one out, grab a pen and get going. I promise you that no matter what words you put in them, the journal will look better filled than empty.
But it's not just the journals. So often people tell me... I will write when I retire. When the kids are a little older. When I have saved enough to take a sabbatical. When the school year winds down. When... when... when... WHEN???
Don't wait, write.
Take an hour a week, or twenty minutes a day. Or a four day retreat. If writing is something you love to do, then just do it. Plain and simple. You can do it. Don't wait, write.
Just for fun. How many empty journals are in your possession right now? How many have you completely filled? Tell me in the comments below! I’m on journal #4. I take it everywhere, mostly out of fear that I will have an idea that I just might forget. I record everyday thoughts, blog post ideas, story scenes, lines from favorite books I’m reading and more. Once one gets filled up, I place it on the shelf and grab another. (Trust me, there is always one waiting!)
When I was a kid one of my favorite days of the year was back-to-school-supply shopping day. It’s not that I was impatient to actually begin school… I just loved all of those fresh notebooks, full of crisp and clean pages. I couldn’t wait to get them home and use my fancy new pens to fill them with words. But inevitably, I would turn the cover, poise my hand over the blank page and… nothing. No ideas. Not a single one.
I would settle for writing a few of my friends letters, detailing all of our plans for the upcoming school year and then… well, to be honest, sometimes I’d just write my name… like a hundred times. I wanted to write… something… anything… so, so bad, but I didn’t know what.
Any of this sound familiar? These days I have more ideas and more projects that I have time to develop, but that wasn’t always the case. Tanner Christensen, author of The Creativity Challenge, helped me figure out why this is the case. Tanner, lead product designer at Atlassian, former Facebook employee, independent developer of creativity apps, and founder of Creative Something helped me to understand that creativity is a muscle. The more you use it and stretch it, the stronger it grows. (P.S. Check out his blog ... it is hella-amazing. Inspiration, a pep talk and a kick in the you know what to get creating, all in one!)
Over the course of my adult life, I did just that.
I tried new creative writing endeavors.
...writing in journals
... for my blog
... using a variety of prompts
... pursuing story ideas in several age categories and genres
until eventually ideas came to me even when I was not even looking for them. It’s amazing (and sometimes frustrating that I don’t have time for them all!).
Sound appealing? Today I have prepared for you a creative writing prompt that will hopefully force you to flex your creativity muscles and also provide you plenty of fodder to fill the pages of your favorite notebook (new or not).
Ready? Set? Let’s write!
Before we begin, I want you to imagine that the story we are going to create is like a meal. The final result will be something delicious we can’t wait to sit down and devour. Of course we know that before a roast beef dinner with sides of mashed potatoes and glazed carrots was tongue-temptingly-appetizing, it was first just a shopping cart full of ingredients - single items set for sale on a grocery shelf. The same is true for our story elements. So before we write, we are going shopping.
The first item on our list is a situation. Randomly pick a number 1-6, or if you have a di handy, roll it, and record your number. Now, scroll down and see what situation matches your number. Force yourself to stick with your initial selection, even if something else looks appealing or seems easier. Remember, we are stretching our muscles, expanding our current skill set to include new ranges, topics, methods and techniques.
1- Your character discovers something mysterious
2- Your main character desperately wants to win a contest
3- A time machine malfunctions
4- Your character loses something very important
5- A UFO is seen hovering in the sky
6- A secret has just been spilled
Write down your situation and move to the next aisle.
Item #2, SETTING.
Browse through the images below and pick the landscape that looks most interesting to you. Keep in mind the situation you have already selected, it might help you make your choice.
Item #3, CHARACTER.
Quickly jot down the answers to these questions.
- Is your main character a male or a female?
- What is their most distinguishing physical feature?
- How would they be noticed in a crowd? Ex: Harry has his lightening bolt scar and glasses, Pippi Longstocking has her twin braids and plethora of freckles.)
- What is your character’s most distinguishing positive personality trait?
- What is your character’s most distinguishing negative personality trait?
- Visit OneStopForWriters.com for extensive trait listings to making the most of this trait in your writing!)
- What is your character’s prize possession?
- What is your character’s favorite hobby?
- I would encourage you to pick a hobby that you personally enjoy. Why? Because you already know all of the equipment, vocabulary, celebrities, history, and itty bitty interesting factoids of information about this hobby without doing a lick of research. Your knowledge of this sport/pastime/hobby will make this character seem really, real. What’s that you say? This particular hobby isn’t a great fit for your situation or setting? Pssst… we’re stretching creativity muscles here, remember? Reach a bit further… you can do it!)
Okay! Now you have all of the ingredients for your story!
Time to cook ‘em up! Use this random assortment of story elements to tell a story. It doesn't have to be long. Just jot down a scene or two. Then, sit back and admire your effort. A workout, and you didn’t even have to sweat (much)! The final project might not be the best thing you have ever written, but you can be satisfied knowing that you flexed your creativity muscles and created something new. The page is no longer blank and that in itself is an accomplishment. Bravo!
If you are willing to share, I’d love to read your culinary story concoction. If you’d like more writing prompts, you can check out my Story Seedlings products, or email me and I can send a few more your way.
P.S. I have a few spots in my Word Nerd Writing Workshop and Retreat taking place in August. You can check out all of the details HERE!