Friday, May 30, 2014

Summer is calling....time for a MENTAL WRITING BREAK!

Writers never really have the opportunity to take a break. It seems like we're always working. Whether it's actually writing, or just brain storming, our minds are constantly thinking about our work in progress. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but every now and then we need to a moment to wind down. It's true what they say, your brain can actually get fried from all this. So, how bout a vacation where you can STILL actually work on your writing skills without wanting to go absolutely bonkers??? Here's a few helpful hints on how to give your mind a vacation.

Travel! Fly or take a road trip!

The worst thing you could do is to coop yourself up in one spot all summer. You'll just end up getting cabin fever. Take the opportunity to get out and see the world. Not only is this refreshing for your brain, but you'll probably end up getting a slew of new ideas. Heck, when I went to Rome a few years ago, I must have thought up of a half a dozen new book ideas that are still currently churning in my "to be worked on" part of my brain. Just discovering new locations is sure to spark something in you.

My next goal? Head over to Easter Island where my newest MG, LUCAS PEREGRINUS and the ESCAPE FROM MANUKI ISLAND takes place.

Just don't forget to take something to write down all your new notes...I've neglected to do this a few times, and lost some ideas in the waves of time.

Go Outside!

This ties into the above, but seriously do NOT stay indoors all summer during nice weather just because you are trapping yourself behind a computer monitor. If you don't have a laptop or a tablet, invest in one. Use it to get out of the house, and at least write in some nice weather. You don't realize how refreshing it is to sit out on the patio and get cracking on some revisions while sipping on a nice Arnold Palmer. 

Except when the mosquitoes come out....then they must die....

Dine out and hang out with people you haven't seen in

Grab your friends, and go for a bite to eat. Seriously, stop eating all that fast food junk just so you can eat quick and go back to writing. Sit down, and have a real conversation with your friends and family. They don't even know you exist anymore because you have secluded yourself to the editing cave. 

No joke, you need to be social. Human contact is absolutely necessary to ensure you don't drive yourself mad. I've noticed the more I trap myself in my cave, the worse I become, so I be sure to at least hang out and see some pals at least once a week. It's a major brain refresher.

Talk to people about your projects

Tell them what you're working on, just so you can get some quick feedback. Don't necessarily look for criticism, just try to get a general sense of what a person's interest may be. Talking about your project out loud, may also help you figure out if what you're doing makes any sense!

Don't keep that stuff bottled in.

Finish up some projects that you put aside

Instead of jumping from project to project, take the opportunity to just finish up one you have been working on. The sense of accomplishment can be insanely rewarding. It can just be editing a chapter you've been neglecting, or finishing an outline, or heck even completing a novel! Every thing adds up to having a feeling of success. Makes you feel like you're actually getting somewhere!

Vent your writing frustrations

Do it. Complain to someone. Complain to everyone. Tell them what's bothering you. EMBRACE YOUR WRITING SOCIETY!!! We're all in this together, and we love helping one another, so vent away. 

Just don't punch Marty Moose.

And heck..if you don't want to write anymore this summer, guess what. YOU DON'T HAVE TO!! Take a legitimate vacation and put writing aside. Come back fresh after a few weeks or even a month. It helps more than you know. Give your poor, little brain a break. 

Monday, May 26, 2014

End of the school year ROUNDUP!

That's right, boys and girls...


Well, it is for our district, anyway. If you're one of the unlucky ones who has to continue the year until the middle of August because of all the snow days, I'm sorry. 

A moment of silence for your summer...

Okay, now that we've gotten that out of the way, I wanted to share the top 10 books my students found the most readable, enjoyable, hilarious, thought-provoking, and just plain fun this year.

#1: The Diary of a Wimpy Kid series
Kids can't get enough of these books. 
I've seen my students read them, reread them, and then go check them out a third time. 
Why do they like them? Simple: They're hilarious!

#2: The I Survived series
Luckily our library stocks several of these. 
Which is good because there would be rioting if it didn't.
Why do they like them? Readability along with a connection to things they've learned is a beautiful thing.

#3: The Baby-Sitters Club series
I know, I know, not your typical favorite nowadays.
But my wife (also a teacher) brought her personal collection in and the kids went nuts for them.
Why do they like them? They're fun and totally RETRO!

#4: Any LEGO book
We've got some future architects, carpenters, and engineers in our school.
Give them a LEGO book and they'll be set.
Why do they like them? Reading about your favorite toys is ALWAYS fun!

#5 The Spirit Animals series
When this showed up at our book fair, the kids emptied their pockets to grab their own copy.
They shared, borrowed, and checked out every book they could find.
Why do they like them? Animals + online games = win

#6: The Jason Strange books
I saw so many of these books in the hands of students this year.
And I can't blame them. Nothing like getting a little spooked at school to make the day fun.
Why do they like them? A good horror series is hard to beat!

#7 Wonder
Seeing a lot of students reading this book made my year.
This book has an awesome message and it's wonderfully written.
Why do they like it? Give kids a real-life story they can relate to and they'll devour it.

#8: Doll Bones
I'll admit, a lot of my students may have picked this one up after I read it.
Which is fine by me because it's a fantastic book!
Why do they like it? It's got the adventure, the spooky, and the heart.

#9: The Boy in the Striped Pajamas
I loved hearing my students talk about this book.
It was an awesome story to pull from during social studies, and it made the learning so much more enjoyable.
Why do they like it? It's something they learned but with a new twist.

#10: The Heroes of Olympus series
This series was in the hands on every die-hard fantasy aficionado.
And what better way to get them jazzed about Greek mythology?
Why do they like it? Old Percy Jackson pals with new monsters? Yes, please!

So are these the only books my students read? Heavens to Murgatroyd, no. On any day you'd find their desks, cubbies, and backpacks stuffed with stories ranging from picture books to The Hunger Games. Which made creating this list difficult. 

But I think that's a good thing. 

Because that means our kids are hungry for a variety of stories. They're hungry for a variety of books. They're hungry for diversity, for issues, for humor, sadness, knowledge.

So let's keep on feeding it to them.

Happy reading!

Friday, May 23, 2014

Watch Out For That Tree!

Drafting a novel can be magical. Beautiful. Like a new relationship, your head is in the clouds with the amazingness that is your story.

You’re going along all innocent and happy with your new shiny WIP, excited about the project that you’re sure all the agents and editors and readers are going to love… but after a few weeks the words start coming out slower and slower. Excitement is waning. You don’t know what scene to write next. Maybe you don’t even feel like writing at all.

*Cue chorus of “oooohs”*

This is something I like to call the mid novel lull. The reasons vary, but somehow there always seems to be a spot right in the middle of the drafting process where everything comes to a crashing halt.

First of all, remember: This is normal! You are absolutely not alone in this. Are there some people who don’t even blink an eye while drafting? Yes. There are also people who win lotteries and can eat a whole chocolate cakes every week without gaining a pound. Don’t worry about them, this is you. I go through this every sing time and I've learned something-- this is something we can overcome.

Here are some suggestions on how to get back on that vine and swing away: 

1. Remember what you loved your story in the first place

This is best for when inspiration or motivation is lacking but can also work if you’re stuck plotting wise because getting back to the root of what you loved about this story in the first place, can give you a whole new perspective for the middle of the novel.

There are a few different methods for getting back into the swing of things

 A pitch or a query
One of the things I love to do when planning a novel is to write a pitch or a query. Low pressure, doesn’t have to be perfect or really even pretty because no one but me will see it. One, it helps me see the novel in a new light, helps bring any pesky plotting problems to the surface, and two… for when I get stuck.

Just one quick read through an old pitch or query makes me want to start writing again.

A query is written to make someone want to read your novel. Those early queries do something similar, they make me want to *write* it.

Reread your notes
Most people at least write down a tid-bit or two in a journal before writing a novel. Even if you don’t outline, those seemingly random notes about the story in general can help spark that inspiration you’re missing. Maybe it was the first thing you wrote down after you had a dream about this story. Or the spark that took a small idea and turned it into a glorious one. Sometimes you write down a line or two for later (we writers think in narrative sometimes, no?) Most likely there is something there to remind you why you decided to write this story in the first place.

Music- Was there a song that inspired you? It doesn’t even have to be for the whole MS, maybe it was just one scene. Maybe it was a song that just reminded you of your character. Go back and listen to it, maybe even put it on repeat as you write (or put the song into Pandora and listen to similar music)

Reread what you’ve already written. And I don’t mean that last scene. Most likely, if you’re stuck or bored, that last scene won’t help. It might even be the problem. Go back to a particularly fun scene, or the first scene when you were teeming with excitement. Don’t worry about how good the writing is, or how many typos there are—that’s not the point here—the point is reliving the passion. The inspiration. Read it for the emotions and the excitement, and that alone.

2. Plan

Some people won’t like this one and that’s okay. I don’t always like this one. But it does help keep your mind on track and not get too lost in the muck (some people like the muck, there are hidden jewels in there I’m sure, but a lot of people also drown there so tread carefully).

As writers (and therefor inherently insane folks,) our minds get overwhelmed on occasion. “I don’t know what to do next!” you say to no one in particular. Chill and take a moment to sit down and plan what you are going to do next. Now you can look at the empty paper in front of you, that blasted blinking cursor and have a clear mind, a clear idea of what you want out of this story.

3. Write even when you don't want to

This pesky little problem is actually one of the reasons I love novel writing marathons like nanowrimo and campnano, it pushes you not to indulge in the idea of putting the novel away until a later date. Most likely, you’ll push past the barrier at some point, but it might not happen for months if you let yourself take the easy route. Don’t stop. Keep fighting.

I can’t even count the amount of times that word sprints have saved a deadline for me. When I get stuck I try the steps above but sometimes the words still come out SLOW. There is something amazing about sitting down and forcing your fingers to type whatever is going to come next. So long as I’ve done the steps above, I feel good about my story again and have at least some idea of what’s going to happen next, word sprints have never failed me. Even when there was no one on the other end to sprint with me. I set a time, 20 minutes, 30 minutes, an hour, doesn't matter. I just write. Write, write, write. At the end of that sprint, it’s like the whole world has opened up for me and things feel so much clearer.

At this point, I am completely over my writing slump. I may hit another bump (or tree) but for right now I’m a happy, happy camper.

Writing is hard. Novel writing is insane. There are always going to be those moments when nothing makes sense and everything feels like its falling apart, like you’ll never make it and this whole thing is a waste of time. Never, ever, indulge in those doubts because the moment when you type “The End” on a new novel is an incredible feeling (and it doesn’t matter if this is your first or 50th novel.) It is totally worth the tears and missing patches of hair. Even if you’re pretty sure what you wrote is crap—who cares! It’s yours. Once it’s on paper you can fix whatever you need to. You can’t fix what doesn’t exist. So cross that finish line and worry about what that next step AFTER you’ve celebrated profusely.

How do you get over those writing slumps? If there something in particular you do when you start feeling down about your WIP?