Monthly Archives: April 2015

Write By Numbers

It’s week 34! I was writing about some of my experiences here in Mexico. There was the possibility of a cute story sitting right here in front of me.

Right away, I could tell my story was going to be long and rambling. I started again. On the second try, things weren’t going much better. So I tried a completely new tactic.

I wrote by numbers. I looked at the story from a technical/structural point of view. I looked at the story as if there would be 24 written pages on 12 spreads. I numbered a page from one to twelve. Then I made a quick outline of the plot, dividing it into twelve sections. This took some manipulation and moving of items around until I had a structure I liked. Next I took another page and divided it into twelve sections of four lines each. This was the space I had to write my story. I stared writing. I would simply look at my first list and write whatever section was next. The section could be shorter than four lines, but not longer (a couple did go longer, I’ll admit).

Good things that came from this.                                                                                                                    1. I got the story written and it was pretty easy.                                                                                        2. I was able to get to the meat of the story without a lot of fluff.                                                      3. It was easy to see how the plot was progressing and to see my character arches.                4. It helped me create reasons for the reader to turn the page.                                                          5. I could visualize the illustrations.                                                                                                                6. I was more economical with my words.

Not so good things that came from this.                                                                                                      1. I didn’t feel as free with my writing.                                                                                                           2. The dialogue suffered.                                                                                                                                     3. My voice and the characters’ voices were stifled.                                                                               All of this can be worked out in rewrites, so they aren’t big problems.

I don’t think this is a technique I will use very often, but it was certainly helpful in this case. I can see trying it again if I feel my story is getting away from me.


Mexican Art Attack

The art supplies came out folks. Hurray! And it feels so good.

When I first started traveling thorough Asia, seven months ago, I brought paper and colored pencils. I intended to create some art. Nope. I rarely saw those pencils. I need time and space with my art. On my trip I had neither.

Now I have time and space. I have a table that I can devote to my art supplies. I started drawing. I then decided I would enter the illustrators showcase when I went to the Los Angeles SCBWI conference this summer. This is a big decision for me. I don’t have a prepared portfolio. A lot of work will be involved. I toyed with waiting another year, but why? Do it now, give it a try, then do something even better next year. I’ll get some mistakes out of me, then I’ll be that much more prepared for the next one.

Besides, preparing for the showcase gets me drawing. I have created a list of illustrations I would like to include. Already I have finished two of them. And I’m going to create not one, but two dummies books. Plus I need post cards to put next to my portfolio at the show. Ok, now I’m thinking I might be crazy. Yikes!

What else? I’ve had a very productive week. I wrote my weekly first draft. I will admit that I really love it. I started with a strong character, strong premise and a unique look at the world. I let the characters do what they wanted and the story just popped out, wrote itself as they say. I love it when writing is easy and fun. It encourages me to do so much more. The story is long, over 1000 words, but it needs a lot of work so that could change drastically .

Also I worked on a book of poems I  wrote years ago. I knew some of them could be better, so I sat down and changed them. And I dug out another rhyming story to I wanted to fix. I found a new beginning and ending that really ties everything together.

And I got out one of my first drafts from earlier this year. It’s really grown on me. I tightened it up and sent it off to my critique group to get some feedback. I’ll be interested to hear what they say. I’ll admit that it is a little odd, so it could be hit or miss.

Wow! I’ve surprised myself with how much I’ve gotten done. How long can I keep up this pace?

Oh, and how about all the stuff that comes with living in Mexico? 100+ degrees for weeks on end. A possum just died under the fish pond. We’ve just discovered that very large scorpions run all over the place at night. More to write and draw about I guess.

Just Some Rambling

I’m at a loss as to what I should write about this week. I’ll just wander about this page and see what comes out.

The visa for my stay in Mexico is 180 days. Since we plan to be in Mexico more than 180 days, I have to leave the country at some point before our time is up. I’ve decided to use the time to go to a writer’s conference. The big one. The SCBWI summer conference in LA. I’m all signed up, I have a place to stay, and now I just need a flight. Unfortunately, all of the flights have just jumped up hundreds of dollars from when I looked a few days ago. Oy! I’ll wait a little to see if there’s a drop in prices.

Mexico is lovely. The woman who’s home we are watching just left for Canada this morning. Robb and I are now on our own. Now we have about six more months of keeping a small heard of dogs and cats happy and healthy. With the temperature already floating around the 100 degree mark, I think we’ll have many lazy days with lots of water involved.

As far as writing goes, his was week 32 of 52 weeks. 20 left. the topic for this weeks first draft was similar to one I wrote just a few weeks ago, so I won’t bore you with the details. I do find that not being on the road, having a single location to call my own, makes the writing so much easier. More productive. I have been writing, rereading some of my old drafts, getting ideas for changes, rewriting, and editing. I think my time here in Mexico will be good for my writing.

I’ve also been filling my time by “reading” more picture books. It helps me to see how other authors do it, what I like, sometimes what I don’t. I see what gets published. I say reading in quotes, because I have no access to books here. Luckily, online, there are many places to find picture books being read. This week I’ve been looking at ones done by the Screen Actor’s Guild’s (SAG) Storyline Online. I just listened to one of my all-time favorites, Library Lion, written by Michelle Knudsen, Illustrated by Kevin Hawkes, read by Mindy Sterling. Gosh, I love that one!

Hola from Merida, Mexico

What a week! So many changes, and all of them so fast.

Just two weeks ago Robb and I applied to be house-sitters for a home in Mexico, a home with 2 dogs and 8 cats. We were accepted, and now I am sitting under a palapa with a warm Mexican breeze blowing across my keyboard and a cat wrapped around my feet. It’s truly lovely, the house, the dogs, the cats, everything. We’ve signed on for 7 months. It will be interesting to see how many Mexican influences show up in my writing.

As you can guess, I didn’t have a lot of free time this week, so I cheated a bit. Instead of writing a whole first draft, I only wrote half of a first draft. The second half. Over a year ago I attended the SCBWI Winter Conference in New York City. It was an inspiring week. I found myself coming up with lots of ideas for picture books. As they came to me I wrote them down in my notebook.

Today I was going through that notebook, remembering all of the wonderful things I had learned. One thing I found was a half finished story. I had started writing it on the bus ride  home from that conference, somewhere between NY and Washington DC.

It was cute. It deserved to be finished. Since my other idea would be a lot more work, I opted for the easy way out. My other idea will be happy to wait till next week.

This all made me take a fresh look at my unfinished story file. There’s some good stuff in there. I feel like there are too many unfinished stories out there in the world.  Poor things.  I’ll start giving the ones I have a chance. Who knows, the book of my career may be hiding in there. They must have some promise or I wouldn’t have started them in the first place.

How many of you have stories that could use a little love? Maybe it’s time to give them another look.


Let’s Party! (#PBParty that is)

So, I entered my first writing contest this week. I found out about it through one of my critique group members. It was #PBParty  sponsored by Michelle Hauck and Sharon Chriscoe.

I entered a story that I had written in my third week of the 52 First Drafts Project. The story had gone through my critique group and been rewritten and refined many times. It was ready to see the sun.

Authors had the opportunity to submit a query and first 50 words of a picture book. These were reviewed by Michelle and Sharon. Their top 21 were displayed on Michelle’s blog so they could be seen by agents and editors. The process took about a week. This is where the party part of #PBParty came in. Many of the participants gathered each day on Twitter to exchange ideas, wait for contest updates and offer each other support.

How did I do? Well, I was not chosen as one of the top 21.

Was I disappointed? A little. I’m pretty good with rejection having been an actor for so many years, but it’s still nice to be recognized for your hard work and ideas. I’m not saying I deserved it more than anyone else. The top 21 were terrific  and I’m sure that everyone who entered worked just as hard and believed in their manuscripts.

Even without being selected, I learned many things.

1. As children’s book writers, we belong to an incredible community. The enthusiasm and support that poured out of the participants, tweet after tweet, was heart warming and inspiring. It made me want to write more, and participate more.

2. There are amazing, dedicated people out there like Michelle and Sharon who truly want success for all of us. This contest was not about competition, but support.

3. Agents aren’t that scary. Ha. Being a fairly new writer, I’m just in the very beginning stages of looking for agents. Taking the time to read about some of these agents, and looking at their comments during the party put me at easy. They show themselves to be very supportive members of this community.

4. I learned to use Twitter. I had an account, but I never touched it. Now I follow a few people, make my own voice heard, and have even use it as a tool to look up folks in the  industry.

5. The query. I’m not disappointed with mine. It says what it needs to, but in reading some of the others, I have gotten ideas to make mine even stronger.

6. The first 50 words. This was a fantastic exercise I will use with all of my stories. When you put only you first 50 words out there with nothing to back them up, they have to be good. Mine should have been great in the first place, but his made me look at my story fresh and improve upon it.

7. Consider what the contest asks for. I am happy with my first 50 and with my query. I didn’t consider, however, how to effectively use them together. Mine both kind of said the same thing. A missed opportunity to offer more information. Next time.

8. My work is good. After reading the final 21, I didn’t feel intimidated. My thought was that I was on the right track. Persistence! I plan to keep my eye out for more of these contests.

By the way, I have reached week 30! My 30th first draft was tricky, I had an idea (More a concept) that I loved. I wrote it out and found it had a major flaw. I rethought it and rewrote it only to have a whole new set of problems. The idea is still good. I need to let it rest, then come back to it fresh. Maybe much later.