Friday, January 17, 2020

Writing by Notecards

As a primary caregiver to seven school-age children, I often find it difficult to carve out the time I need to write. Luckily, I've found something that works for me. (Of course, what works for me may not work for you.) I'll share it, in the hopes that some of you might find it helpful for your drafting process.

Where once I would write in a pantsing only format and then figure the story stuff out in revision, I've changed that quite a bit - but not completely. I think I wasted quite a bit of time in my early years by only pantsing. I mean, I love pantsing, but revision was arduous, and often frustrating. I'd regularly cut, rearrange, or rewrite thousands of works in order to make a somewhat cohesive story. (Still working on that.)

With all my stories though, I now begin with a vague idea of a character and location. Who are they? What do they want? Why? What's stopping them? What will they learn? How will they grow?

Once I have those questions somewhat figured out, I take a stack of blank notecards and write a summary sentence or two on each. Then, I order and reorder them as I see fit for the story. I ask lots of "what if" questions as I fill out the cards and I don't always use each card. This process has helped me immensely.

It's so much easier for me to carry notecards and a pen (every retired educator carries a pen) and write bits here and there than it is to tote my laptop to the dance studio, or tennis practice, or piano lessons. I did that for several years. Sometimes I still do, but not nearly as frequently. When I have quiet time later (usually midnight) I can pants away with my notecards by my side!

Suffice it to say, if you have a busy life full of kids and all their activities and are trying to write a whole book, carry a few notecards and pen with you. I'll bet you can still feel attached to your manuscript and feel like you're making progress, and hopefully, you'll discover what I discovered.

Notecards keep me moving forward with the story, and the fun of "free-writing" within that notecard framework allows me to write fewer wasted words.

Good luck and keep writing!

Monday, January 13, 2020

Writers, Don't Be Jerks

We’ve all been at that SCBWI workshop where are the crazy lady who looks like she hasn’t bathed
since CHARLOTTE’S WEB was written, is rambling on about how George Soros and the Vatican
are plotting to make all the bees go extinct.

Unfortunately, I’m not making that up, and she was sitting right next to me.

I was annoyed she took up so much instruction time, but given last week on #writingtwitter, I’m
reminded of a deeper annoyance: 

Not all writers are crazy. 

Um, make that… Not all writers are certifiably insane, talking-to-walls-and-seeing-Elvis-at-
truckstops, crazy. 

Last Friday was a full moon, and #writersdontbejerks became a hashtag on Twitter. I made it. It’s a

Nobody should have to say this! 

And don’t be crazy, and don’t insult agents online. And don’t use the #MSWL hashtag of all things,
no matter how hilariously Godawful your magniloquent rant is (he calls agents “magpies”) repeatedly. 

Don’t be creepy, either. Ha ha ha, did you hear the one about the writer who slid a manuscript
under the bathroom door at an SCBWI conference?*

EWW! You're supposed to WRITE the next Fatal Attraction, not act it out.

I’ve spoken to this agent. She’s empathetic, funny, super-sharp, someone you want in your corner.
Do you really think she’s going to rep you after you’ve creeped out all her friends by being a weirdo

What’s the problem? More agents for me? 

Agents know how to get through their slush pile, but they still don't deserve to be treated badly. What
these non-competitors are doing is discrediting us all. 

Seriously, how do you live in a country with FREE healthcare and let yourself get like this?

Writing is a lofty goal, and publishing is a very opaque industry. Most people are kind, but a lot of the
business rules skew secret and counter-intuitive. And to the publishing process is very non-linear.

“Revise? If you’re actually talented, that first draft should be good enough. 
When are you getting published?”

“Oh no no no. That agent rejected your book. It isn’t good. You’re no good. Don’t query it any more
and stop writing books!”

I’ve given up trying to explain to civilians. 

Since declaring my intention to become an author, I’ve received… less than exuberant support from
family and friends. 

I’m never getting an MBA or an MIS; and instead I’m going to write kids books in my free time! Whee! 

When I didn’t stop writing as people had asked, the confrontations got more heated. The little digs
became bigger and nastier.  Work isn't supposed to make you happy, and I was delusional to think

It's not that I'm ungrateful for my experiences in Big Four management consulting and as a software
project manager. But I am very aware that this often high-stress job isn't my life's purpose.

And while Women In STEM!™can be a great feminist role model to girls... I'm pretty sure that only
works if these women are happy.

I'm only happy if writing is part of my daily routine. It's not that complicated.

But how badly non-writers perceived me truly didn’t register till after I got hit by the truck, and
mentioned to a doctor about writing books. His reaction: 

“WRITE? You think you’re that Harry Potter chick or something? Stop stuttering, re-learn Salesforce
and try to keep that JOB!”

Let's get real: "I was studying for the CPA exam!" (or whatever other professional goal that would
make a ten-year-old horribly depressed about their future adult life) would never have elicited
such venom.

What that doctor didn't realize was that in the immediate, peeing-glass-shards-and-struggling-to-
remember-how-to-spell-my-name aftermath of the accident… I missed an email from a Pitchwars
mentor interested in my manuscript. 

For the record, this is the same manuscript that’s gotten me a request for a full and a generous
scholarship to a Highlights Foundation workshop. The same writing skills that got me selected as
a Cybils Panelist. 

But, it didn’t matter then, and it doesn’t matter now. 

I’m fortunately no longer literally sitting next to Ms. Insect Conspiracy. But the Land of the Unpublished
and Unrepresented is vast, and she and I both occupy that zip code.  And to outsiders, we might
well be two peas in a pod. Even Ransom Riggs (way more my idol than J.K.) was an unpublished
nobody once upon a time. 

But writers giving screechy stump speeches in the coffee shop about aliens, and flipping out on
Twitter… realize you become the face of ALL writers. We're striving for what many people would
consider a dream job; we need to show we've got what it takes.

Clean up your act. Your passion will sustain your career as a writer, but you need
presentation to get yourself in the door.

Our eccentric little group looks only as good as our weirdest member.

Friday, January 10, 2020

12 Literary Quotes to Motivate and Inspire

At the start of a new year, we are all looking for a little inspiration, setting new goals, and hoping for the motivation to carry them past January. One of my favorite places to find inspiration (and get a metaphorical kick in the pants) is in literature. And sometimes movies. Or TV. But someone's writing those, too, so we'll count that as lit for now!

I used to keep manila folders stuffed with my favorite quotes. Now I save them to pinterest, post on social media, or tuck them away in my Evernote files for later reference. Sometimes I just highlight them on kindle or iBooks with the intent of going back to reference them later.

A few years back, I reclaimed my kids' toy room (they're teenagers and beyond!) and converted it to a writing room with the intent of filling the space with inspiration, mementos that represent my personality, and intriguing, motivating or inspiring quotes. I'm lagging a little behind on putting up the quotes. My hope is to eventually carve out enough time to plaster them on my slightly unfinished and more than slightly cluttered writing area. In the meantime, I'll share a bunch of them here. Maybe you'll scribble one or two on a sticky note. Or better yet, post them in your own writing space!

Feel free to pin or post these! What are some of your favorite quotes?

Monday, January 6, 2020

Don't Let Fear Ride Shotgun

Over the past month or so, I’ve stumbled across several things rather serendipitously. Things I didn’t know I needed until they were right there in front of me. One of these was the audio version of Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic. I’d read the hardback when it first came out, but for whatever reason, I decided it was time for a re-read.

Early in the book, Ms Gilbert shares a long list of fears that can hold us back creatively—you might be afraid you’ll be rejected, afraid there’s no market for your work, afraid your work isn’t important enough to matter, afraid it’ll all be a giant waste of time and effort, afraid of being a one-hit wonder, afraid of being a no-hit wonder, etc., etc. 

Another thing I came across was Nina LaCour’s Keeping a Notebook podcast—in particular, the episode called “Pressure” (May 20, 2019). In that episode, Ms LaCour speaks of the tremendous pressures that can interfere with our writing – pressure to finish a novel, pressure to write a compelling enough or commercial enough story to get an agent or a book deal, pressure to please a publishing team or readership, pressure to make a sustainable living from writing. These pressures struck me as being very close relatives of fear.

Now, I’ve never thought of myself as a particularly fearful person, but I was stunned at how many of these fears and pressures resonated with me. As I spent time in some end-of-the-year reflection, I recognized that for me, most (all?) of the things that get in the way of a joyful and productive writing life – including my all-time favorites, self-doubt and procrastination – come down to fear. 

This could be depressing—so many fears and pressures seem to come with creative living, like some sort of cruel package-deal. But hallelujah, all is not lost. In Big Magic, the long list of fears is followed up with a fantastic road-trip metaphor – basically, when you begin a new project, it’s like you and Creativity and Fear are going on a road trip. Fear’s going to come along, because hey, it always does, but it has to sit in the back, and only you and Creativity get to make decisions. Fear might get a voice, but it doesn’t get a vote, and it absolutely never gets to drive.

I'm not one to make New Year's resolutions, but last week I found myself journaling about intentions. (Intentions sound kinda like resolutions in disguise, so go figure...I guess I made a resolution, lol). I’m in the early stages of a new project. It’s scary. As always, I have doubts that my unorthodox writing process will workand yes, I sense the pressure to meet expectations (my own and others’). But I'm excited, too, eager for the discoveries to come--maybe even accompanied by the occasional moment of magic. So my intention is to trust -- trust myself and trust my process, and simply show up day after day, telling the story that's calling to me. 

I’m going to keep that road-trip image in mind for this journey. No doubt, Fear is coming along for the ride, and that's okay. Trusting myself doesn't mean I'm not afraid. Being brave is about being scared and doing the hard thing anyway. (But I swear, if Fear doesn't keep quiet in the back seat, I may have to find a way to toss it in the trunk for a few miles!) I think it’s going to be a great trip. :-)

What gets in the way of writing or creative living for you? What helps you be productive and enjoy the journey in spite of the challenges?

Friday, January 3, 2020

Review:A Time Traveler's Theory of Relativity

One of my all time favorite books is the Newberry Award winning A WRINKLE IN TIME. I loved it
as a kid. I loved it as an adult. I read it to my students. I couldn't find a book to match it - until now!

Author Nicole Valentine has done what I thought was impossible and has written as stunning book that captures the wonder of physics, time, and sacrificial love in a whole new story. This is a book you'll want to share with everyone.

Twelve-year-old Finn has seen tragedy in his life. His twin sister drowned when she was three and Finn's mother left the family without explanation. Finn longs for stability and finds it in his physics books and his best friend, Gabi.

Everything changes when his grandmother tells him about the family secret - the women in their family are time travelers. And they need Finn's help. Finn sets out on a journey across centuries and through worlds to rescue his mother and sister. In the end he learns that love is his greatest weapon and time is truly relative.

I won't give away spoilers because part of the joy in reading this book is all the delightful plot twists. Valentine not only has a firm grasp on the physics behind time travel, she also know the nature of middle grade kids. Her characters are vivid and real. I love that Grandma has a boyfriend! And her story pacing is perfect. Each twist at just the right moment.

Readers will love this book and writers need to study it as a lesson in excellent storytelling.
If there is one book you need to pick up this year - it's A TIME TRAVELER'S THEORY OF RELATIVITY. 
Now get yourself to the bookstore!

Monday, December 30, 2019

Lessons for Baby Author Me

In 2019, I started a new interview series on my blog called Lessons for Baby Author Me. In this series, established authors give advice to their former, naive selves. They step back in time and offer words of wisdom on topics like launch parties, book promotion, school visits, first drafts and many more. The topics vary with each interview. Basically, you hear everything that your favorite authors wish they’d known back in the day when they were first starting out.

The series was inspired by a talk I heard from the amazing Ally Carter at an SCBWI Oklahoma conference entitled, “A Letter to Baby Author Me.” At the time, I was anxiously awaiting the publication of my debut novel, Skeleton Tree, and her talk informed, inspired and spoke directly to my heart.

I’m hoping to pass on some of that love to aspiring (and established) authors everywhere with this interview series. Here are some highlights from this year's interviews:

S.A. Larsen

My biggest advice to you would be to remember that you matter, too. You began telling stories to your children when they were babies, up at all hours rocking or feeding them. And in the SUV, while driving to this youth hockey game or that one. Writing is your comfort, your inspiration, your therapy to bask in life’s joys and work through its angst. Life will happen. You will experience happiness, but also a lot of loss and pain. Don’t shut out these emotions. Embrace and use them to strengthen your stories, to take your characters to emotional depths that readers can’t resist. Be brave and trust that you are good enough to do this. You are not perfect. You never will be. But you are worth it.

Jennifer Latham

Finally, here’s the real scoop: good writing is a combination of aptitude, hard work, and craft. You think you’re pretty hot stuff right now (or you will tomorrow when you find out Scarlett sold), but you’re about to learn that every manuscript is tough. Nothing in publishing is easy. You are not as good at craft as you thought, but craft is a thing that can be learned. So dig in, babe. Grab a laptop. Start typing. Because this is the only job you’ve ever really loved, and as long as you write today, you can always quit…


Tania del Rio

Here’s the truth: reviews aren’t for you. They are for the readers. Your book is out in the world, and out of your hands. It is a wild animal running amok and some people will think it is the cutest little critter they’ve ever seen, and some will think it’s a bug that needs to be squished. Chances are you’re a reader too (at least I hope so!). Think of the books you’ve loved and hated over the years. If you look at those reviews you will find plenty of people who agree with you, and just as many who don’t. The point is, don’t take it personally. Stories are subjective and will affect people in different ways depending on their own backgrounds and preferences. Focus on the things you can control, and ignore the things you can’t. Trust me, you’ll be much happier.

To read more Lessons for Baby Author Me interviews, head over to my blog at:

About the Author:

Kim Ventrella is the author of the upcoming middle grade novels THE SECRET LIFE OF SAM (Fall 2020, HarperCollins) and HELLO, FUTURE ME (Aug. 2020, Scholastic). Her novels BONE HOLLOW and SKELETON TREE are out now. Her works explore difficult topics with big doses of humor, whimsy and hope. Kim has held a variety of interesting jobs, including children’s librarian, scare actor, Peace Corps volunteer, French instructor and overnight staff person at a women’s shelter, but her favorite job title is author. She lives in Oklahoma City with her dog and co-writer, Hera. Find out more at or follow Kim on Twitter and Instagram.

Monday, December 23, 2019

Should auld writing habits and beliefs be forgot?

It's the end of the year and the end of a decade.

Which means it's a perfect time to review what's working for you and what's not working for you when it comes to your writing!

I'm not going to focus on technical things - you can google that til the cows come home - but thought I would focus on internal things we do to ourselves as writers.

Stop thinking you are the only one who hasn't figured out this writing thing.

You are not. Heck, my third book is coming out in March and I'm currently revising two more and still I don't have a clue. Every book wants to be written differently. You are different at the beginning of each book.

And that's okay. 


If you don't start every writing project with unbridled enthusiasm mixed with unmitigated fear, you are the one writer who's got it all figured out. 

But somehow, I suspect you don't. And that's okay.

Stop comparing yourself to wildly popular authors and thinking you're coming up short.

We all do it. But it isn't helpful.

How do you become a wildly successful author? 

1. get published (cause I don't know about you, but everyone who was published when I was not seemed wildly popular!)
2. get lucky. Oh timing!
3. write a glorious, wonderful, book that somehow catches the attention of the zeitgeist.

It's that easy.

So let that go and focus on YOUR book, YOUR work. Maybe you will win awards. Maybe you will make the bestsellers list. But in the end, focusing on writing the best book you can that kids are going to love, is the goal here. Everything else will make you crazy.

Stop judging the time it's taking you to get published.

I know from experience that it is hard to wait for your big chance. 

And I know that me telling you if you just work your guts out it will eventually happen won't make you feel better.

But do one thing for me, okay? Don't judge yourself because it's taking you longer than you thought.

YOU are doing something that most of the world's population can't even imagine: you're writing a book. You're trying to get published. 

Be kind to yourself. Start another project. And try, try, try again.

You will get there.


Start Writing for Yourself.

In the end, it's only you and the blank page in this together. 

So write what you love, what you'd want to read. 

Write with joy and abandon and no self-criticism (till you start revising).

Because in the end, unless you enjoy yourself, what is the point of writing anyhow? There are parts of every job that can be a slog, but that should be your exception, not your rule. 

You've got something to say, and I think the world is waiting for you to say it.

So this next decade, try being kinder on yourself and others, and focus on you and your writing. 

Let those auld habits and beliefs go, and sally forth into a new decade with a mix of chutzpah and peace.


I wish you a happy new year and hope that all your writing dreams come true!