Pay It Forward

Not my cake, but it does look pretty good!
Photo by Akili cole

They say the best gift you can receive is the satisfaction you get from giving to others, so, since today is my birthday, I’m going to try something a little different. Instead of a post for the Unlikely Teachers Series, I thought I would share some of my favourite writing resources. In no particular order, here we go! 

Absolute Write Forum: A place for writers of all levels to answer questions, post questions, and get a feel for the online writing community. Great for all genres.

LINK: http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/

Verla Kay Blueboards: Whether you have yet to pen your first story or you’re drudging through submissions, the Blueboards are the place to be. This forum is meant for kidlit writers and illustrators and it is such a warm, informative community. The people on the boards honestly feel like my kidlit family. If you write anything from board books to YA or you’re an illustrator, I highly recommend you become a member.

LINK: http://www.verlakay.com/boards/index.php

The Purple Crayon: Harold is a seasoned professional that is highly knowledgeable about the industry. If you want to stay on top the latest kidlit publishing news or you just need to know how to format your manuscript, his site is the place to be.

LINK: http://www.underdown.org/

Kidlit.com: Agent extraordinaire, Mary Kole, talks about all aspects of the kidlit industry. Her blog is a must read.

LINK: http://kidlit.com/

Emotion Thesaurus: If you are looking for your characters to do more than sigh and smile, this is the place to look. A multitude of character emotions at your finger tips. Just check out the right side bar on the site.

LINK: http://thebookshelfmuse.blogspot.ca/

Written Sounds: I personally have a difficult time figuring out how to write a sound, so I feel like this page was made for me.

LINK: http://m.writtensound.com/index.php

Grammar rules: A great site if you need  help with grammar rules. They also offer a great newsletter.

LINK: http://www.grammarbook.com/

Twitter Hashtags for Writers: This is a page I recently came across and I think that it’s pretty neat. 40 Twitter Hashtags for Writers.

LINK: http://www.dailywritingtips.com/40-twitter-hashtags-for-writers/

Children’s Writer Newsletter: This is the only thing on this list that will cost you money, but in my opinion, it’s worth it. This newsletter is filled with great articles and their contests are free to subscribers. You can receive this newsletter by snail mail or email.

LINK: http://www.childrenswriter.com/

Funds for Writers: A newsletter that I really enjoy. Great articles partnered with some wonderful writing opportunities. Plus, it’s free!  What more could you ask for?

LINK: http://www.fundsforwriters.com/

If you are so inclined to give me a gift, I would love to hear about your favourite writing resources! Drop me a line in the comment section.

Writing Lessons From My Cat

Marble. How cute is he!?

It’s no secret that I’m a cat lover, so I was thrilled when Craig W. Steele came to me with a post about his cat, Marble. Even though there has already been a cat post in the series, I just couldn’t resist. Without further adieu, I give you Craig and Marble! 

 

The feline approach to dispensing lessons about writing is unique. My cat, Marble, is a black-and-white shorthair who takes his role of mentor to this writer quite seriously.

 

Those flowers are mine!

Cat:  Several years ago, my wife, Kitty (how’s that for irony?), asked me to stop buying her flowers. Not that she dislikes flowers – just the opposite is true. However, we quickly learned that the kitchen table and countertops were no obstacles to Marble’s leaping ability while in pursuit of fresh flowers; true also of the fireplace mantel. We thought we’d won when we placed the next vase of flowers atop the refrigerator. But we hadn’t reckoned with his cleverness in using the adjacent kitchen work desk as a halfway platform in his quest for the top of the ‘fridge – albeit not without experiencing several very un-catlike, whole-body introductions to the kitchen floor. Eventually he perfected his technique and was soon happily munching the flowers.

Lesson: Perseverance pays off. No matter how great the obstacle, Marble continued improving his ability at leaping. No matter how many times he smacked the floor, he’d stagger to his paws and try again. How can I be dismayed by a plot line temporarily stuck in neutral or a little thing like another rejection when I have his “cattitude” as inspiration to continue leaping toward my goals?

 

Happiness is a clean litter box.

Cat:  Marble loves his litter box. He spends considerable time each day filling it with personal treasures and artfully burying and rearranging all the crusty globs and spongy cakes. And after it’s cleaned out, he happily begins the task anew.

Lesson: Don’t be intimidated by a blank screen or an empty sheet of paper. Treat either one as a clean litter box just waiting to be filled with treasure, artfully buried or rearranged as necessary. And take joy in your opportunity to do so.

 

No amount of whining gets me out of the basement until the door is opened.

Cat:  Marble spends the night in the basement, for the preservation of the house and our sleep. I’m first up in the mornings, usually an hour or more ahead of Kitty and the kids. Marble begins whining to be let out as soon as I step into the kitchen. Although he’s never been to school, he reproduces the fingernails-on-the-chalkboard screech perfectly. But he has to wait, because if I open the basement door, I know he’ll shoot straight upstairs, park himself outside one of the kids’ bedroom doors and start whining to be let in.

Lesson: Whining doesn’t overcome writer’s block. When I’m trapped in that basement, which often resembles a medieval dungeon, no amount of complaining, grousing, ranting or venting gets me out until the door opens. I used to just wait until my muse opened the door for me. But after listening to Marble, I’ve learned to take positive steps, detailed in many “how-to” books and articles, to turn the knob and open the basement door myself – after all, what’s the use in having opposable thumbs if I don’t use them?

 

What has your cat taught you?

 

Craig W. Steele is a writer and university biologist whose creative musings occur in the urban countryside of northwestern Pennsylvania where he writes for both children and adults. His poetry has appeared recently or is forthcoming in Stories for Children Magazine, Spaceports & Spidersilk, the Aurorean, Astropoetica, Stone Path Review, Popular Astronomy, The Lyric and elsewhere. He also has a new short story up at Stone Path Review.

Writing Lessons From My Favourite Foods

Chocolate, chicken fingers, and chili. These are some of my favourite foods. I also feel the need to note that it is just a coincidence that they all start with C… Anyway, cutting to the chase, this is what my favourite foods taught me about writing.

 

Just macaroni and cheese

Food: When I was a kid, I went on very specific food binges. When I found a food I loved, I wanted it and nothing but it (Okay, I am still a bit like that sometimes). I had an obsession with Kraft Macaroni and Cheese for the longest time. I loved it! But after a while it just wasn’t the same. In fact, I actually started to dislike it!

Lesson: Too much of a good thing is hazardous. Most writers have a word that they latch on to and they bludgeon it to death by using it so much. Try not to worry about these words in your first draft, but when revising, search through your writing for words you overused and either replace or cut them.

Then there is body language. Just as words can be overused, so can body language. Characters should not be sighing, shrugging or smiling  on every single page.  Just like I started to resent macaroni and cheese after eating it everyday, a reader will get sick of repetitive words or actions. Mix it up and keep it fresh!

 

“Why on earth would I try that? It’s made of what!?”

Food: I know what I like to eat and I certainly know what my favourite foods are. Trying new food can be terrifying, making it easy to get stuck in a food rut.

Lesson: Don’t be afraid to try a new genre. Sure, it may be anxiety provoking and I’m not saying that you’re going to be good at it right off the bat. Heck, honestly I’m not saying you’re going to ever be good at it. But even if you’re worst fear is confirmed and you write something that is absolutely horrendous, at least you don’t have to wonder anymore. Plus, in my experience, trying to write something new can be the key to unlocking the creative flood gates. Even if I fall flat on my face with a new project, if it helps me with another project that I am more serious about, I consider the failure worth it!

 

Under the bed, in pots and pans and taped under the table.

Food: If you’re like me, when it comes to your favourite food, you aren’t very fond of sharing. I have to admit that I am a bit of a squirrel. If I buy myself chocolate I will often stash it away. When it comes time to eat my treat, I hate finding out that it is already in someone else’s tummy.

Lesson: Set aside some time everyday that is specifically for writing. It can be as little as 10 minutes and you can write as little as 3 words. The idea is that you are writing. Try treating writing time like your favourite food. I try to stash my food away from hungry bellies and I also try to schedule my writing time away from interruptions. It’s not a perfect system. Just as someone may occasionally stumble upon my snack stash, interruptions do happen. Life is busy, we all know that. There are a million and one things that could be done instead of writing, but if you’re serious about honing the craft, set aside the time needed to get it done.

 

What’s your favourite food and what has it taught you?

Writing Lessons From My Guilty Pleasure Part 2

 (If you missed Part 1 of Writing Lessons From My Guilty Pleasure, you can read it here)

Another show that’s part of my guilty pleasure is Phineas and Ferb.  I think that this show is the most genius and entertaining thing to hit the world of children’s television in the past decade. I would be more excited to meet the show’s creator, Dan Povenmire, than I would be to meet a high-profile celebrity like Madonna! Here are a few things I love about the show and what they taught me about the craft of writing for children.

 

A decade and a half

Phineas and Ferb: The show’s creator, Dan Povenmire,  pitched the show for 14-16 years before it was picked up by a network. 14-16 years!

Lesson: Perseverance is something that I have touched on before and this is a great example of how it can pay off. Povenmire believed in his work and look what happened! Anyway, I’m sure you know about perseverance, so another great lesson to take from this: Be professional and take your work seriously. If you don’t take yourself seriously, how do you expect anyone else to, especially someone that is investing both time and money to publish your work? Think of it this way, even if writing is just a hobby to you, for editors and agents, it’s often their main source of income.  No editors or agents because you went or plan on going the self-publishing route? You are still expecting readers to invest time and money to read your work.

 

The characters are well-defined

Phineas and Ferb: Candace is high-strung, always trying to bust her brothers. Perry looks like an ordinary platypus, but he’s a secret agent. Ferb hardly ever talks etc.

Lesson: Give your characters something that makes your readers want more. Give your characters  a mission, a catch phrase, or a personality trait that helps define them and makes them memorable.

 

Great repetition

Phineas and Ferb: “Whatcha doin’?” – Isabella

“Where’s Perry?”- Phineas

“Oh, there you are, Perry.”- Phineas

“Ferb, I think I know what we’re going to do today.”- Phineas

Above I have listed some phrases used in almost every episode of Phineas and Ferb.  I love hearing these catch phrases and I’m not even a kid! They add familiarity and consistency to each episode, along with a certain element of fun.

Lesson: Kids love repetition. In writing, repetition doesn’t have to be a catch phrase, it doesn’t even have to be in the dialogue, it can be anywhere in your text. Keep in mind that even though repetition can be great, it should not be excessive, it should not obstruct flow, and it should not be placed in the work just for the sake of using it.  Repetition can help make a piece of work shine, but only if it isn’t forced.

 

What have children’s shows taught you?

Writing Lessons From My Guilty Pleasure

Why yes, I do believe that is a plastic prop horse in the right corner. That alone should explain why this is my "guilty" pleasure.

Guilty pleasures. We all have them. Mine is watching the Family Channel… even when there are no kids around. Yes, I’m probably way too old to indulge in shows like Hannah Montana, but isn’t a children’s writer really just a kid that had to take on life’s responsibilities? Plus, if I learned some great stuff about writing along the way, doesn’t that count for something? 

Shhh! It’s a secret

Hannah Montana: In the world of Hannah Montana, hardly anyone knows Miley’s secret, but in the real world, the entire audience knows her obvious shocking secret. Miley is Hannah Montana! *gasp* Hope I didn’t ruin it for anyone. :P

Lesson: Readers, especially kids, love to know a “secret” that your story’s characters have yet to learn. Letting readers sink their teeth in to a juicy tidbit is great way to create irony, humour and tension. If properly utilized, this is a great device to create a page-turner.

 

Get wiggy with it

Hannah Montana: Wig off, she’s Miley. Wig on, she’s Hannah. Yes, slightly unbelievable, but in the show this small change makes a world of difference.

Lesson: Small changes can yield big results. This could be applied to both writing skills and WIPs. For example, I know that one of my writing downfalls is punctuation. Not an easy thing to admit, especially since I feel like you’re going to scan this post for mistakes now, but it’s the truth. Hey, the important thing is that I’m working on it. By identifying the weakness, reading about how to fix it, and practising, I have already noticed a difference in my writing. I also take pride in knowing that the more my punctuation improves, the more seriously my work will be viewed.

For WIPs, the small change rule also applies.  Sometimes adding or cutting a scene or just reorganizing plot points can have a profound effect on the work as a whole. The great thing about changes and technology? If it turns out the change didn’t improve your work, just go back to your previous draft! No harm done.

 

Best of both worlds

Hannah Montana: That blonde wig allows Miley to live the life of a superstar AND the life of a normal teenager.

Lesson: Consider using a pseudonym. Chances are you aren’t going to need it to separate your normal life from your superstardom (Even though one can dream), but here’s a few other reasons to use a pen name that you may not have considered.

You write different genres. Will the readers of your romance book be disappointed to pick up your new sci-fi book?

You write for different age groups. Do you want a middle grade reader to pick up your new adult novel?

Work and/or your community would not take kindly to what you write. If you work at a daycare or live in a conservative town, do you really want everyone to know you write erotic novels?

Your name is long or hard to pronounce. If your last name is Snicklebottomisma, will readers have a difficult time remembering or pronouncing your name?

You wrote a novel based on real life. If it’s an embarrassing and/or painful story, do you really want everyone to know who it’s about?

Of course, there are a lot more reasons, but those are a few common ones.

 

What has your guilty pleasure taught you about writing?

3 Things SATC Taught Me About Writing

The fashion, the R rated bits, and Mr. Big. Can you guess the show?  Sex and the City is one of my favourite comfort shows. The familiarity is soothing and even though I know what’s going to happen next, I can’t turn away. Now that I’ve figured out that  SATC has taught me some great stuff about writing, I have an excuse to I should really rewatch all the seasons!

 

A shoulder to cry on

SATC: One of the biggest lessons from SATC is the value of friendship. They may piss each other off sometimes, but at the end of the day, Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte, and Samantha are there for each other.

Lesson: Writer friends can be indispensable, especially when the rejections start to roll in. Sure, friends that aren’t writers are a good shoulder to cry on, but there’s just something about someone who’s been there and experienced the same pain that helps you feel better. Some great places to make writer friends are conferences, SCBWI, critique groups and writing forums.

 

$$$$$$$

SATC:  It’s always bugged me a bit that Carrie makes all those frivolous buys (mainly shoes) that cost major moula when she lives on a freelance writer’s salary. Add that to the fact that she eats out every day and how often she goes out for drinks, it makes her lifestyle unbelievable. Of course, without those things it just wouldn’t be SATC, however, the portrayal of a writer is greatly skewed.

Lesson: If you surveyed all the published writers in the world, I can guarantee that the majority would say that they weren’t in it to make a truck load of money. Maybe they use it for a little extra income, but most will tell you that they do it for the love of the craft. Having a fire burning inside of you that forces you to write, having characters dancing in your head itching to tell their story or using writing as a creative outlet, these are all sufficient (and common) reasons people write. Sure, there are a million more reasons, but my point is that if you are looking to get rich, you are in the wrong business. It is difficult to make a living as a writer, let alone get rich from it.

 

“This isn’t the kind of thing I can get over.” Aidan

SATC: Carrie cheated on Aidan with Mr.Big causing the demise of her relationship.

Lesson: Carrie’s relationship ended because she broke a rule, she was unfaithful to Aidan. They say to learn from your mistakes, but this time, let’s learn from someone elses. Follow the rules! Yes, some rules can be broken in writing, but what I’m talking about is submission guidelines. They’re there for a reason so read them and follow them closely. The majority of publishers will take your submission less seriously if you don’t follow their guidelines and some will even trash your manuscript altogether. The road to publication is bumpy enough, why add extra potholes?

 

What has Sex and the City taught you?

3 Things My Vacuum Cleaner Taught Me About Writing

Cleaning is often a daunting task, especially vacuuming. After I accidentally sucked up a sock as a kid and made the vacuum smoke, I am especially not fond of those suckers! (Bad pun intended) Who knew that we could learn some great writing lessons from vacuuming? The fabulous Laura Wynkoop did, that’s who!  Please give her a warm welcome.

I don’t know about you, but  household chores aren’t exactly on my list of favorite things to do.  Sure, I love the way my house looks when  it’s clean, but I often wish there was someone else to do the dirty work for  me.  After all, I’d rather be  writing.  Or researching.  Or revising.  Or checking Facebook.  Wait, ignore that last one.  At any rate, when I get to the point  where I can’t stand my house, I’m forced to get off my computer and start  cleaning.  And as I grab my Dyson  Upright out of the closet, I realize that vacuum cleaners can teach us a lot  about writing.

 

1. My vacuum cleaner  sucks.

Vacuum  Cleaner:  This is probably  pretty obvious, but vacuum cleaners are meant to suck.  It’s what they do.  And if you’ve got a Dyson, they’re  guaranteed to never stop sucking (they’re not paying me to say this, I  swear).

Lesson:  At times, your writing will suck.  And that’s okay.  I once heard Libbra Bray say, “Embrace  the suck.”  It’s perfectly fine to  make mistakes because that is how you  learn.  Nobody writes a perfect  first draft.  Or second draft.  Heck, I know writers who feel like their  twentieth draft still sucks.  But as  long as you keep writing, keep learning, and keep working hard to improve your  craft, you’ll one day find that you’ve written a draft that, amazingly enough,  doesn’t suck.

 

2. I love freshly vacuumed  floors, but I don’t love vacuuming them.

Vacuum  Cleaner:  Freshly vacuumed  floors look awesome—they’re tidy and dust bunny-free, and they have those  mesmerizing little wheel tracks across them.  But as much as I love the way they look,  I don’t exactly love vacuuming them.  It’s hard work!

Lesson: Author Dorothy Parker once said, “I hate  writing.  I love having written.” I know many writers who share this  sentiment, because, let’s face it, writing is hard work.  It’s especially hard if you’re a  perfectionist, and/or you have a really tough inner critic.  It’s important to not make this job  harder than it already is.  Learn to  open your mind and let the words and ideas flow.  Tell your inner critic to go away until  it’s time for revisions.  Forget the  rules.  Forget about getting  published.  When you free yourself  to write what YOU want to say, you’ll find you’re having a lot more fun.

 

3. Vacuum cleaners don’t  get everything the first time.

Vacuum  Cleaner:   When you’re  vacuuming your carpet, sometimes you have to go over the same spot several  times.  And even then, you might  have to bend down, pluck something sticky from the carpet fibers, roll it into a  tiny ball, and throw it back on the floor so you can properly vacuum it up.

Lesson:  When it comes to revisions, you’re not  going to clean up everything in the first round.  You’re going to have to go over that  paragraph, or that sentence, or that word time and time again until you’ve found  the best way to fix it.  And  sometimes, you’ll have particularly sticky areas that need to be completely  reworked until they’re just the way you want them.  At that point, set your manuscript aside  for a few days or weeks (or even months).  When you pull it out and go over it with fresh eyes, you’ll be amazed at  how much more effectively and objectively you can clean up your work.

 

What has your vacuum cleaner  taught you?

 

Laura Wynkoop lives in Southern California where you’re much more likely to  find her writing than cleaning.  She has been published in a variety of  children’s magazines including Boys’ Quest, Fun for Kidz, Highlights for  Children, Jack and Jill, Turtle, and many others.   She also edited and contributed to a middle grade poetry anthology  that was published by Marshall Cavendish Children’s Books.  For more  information, you can visit her website at www.laurawynkoop.com.