Tuesday Writing Tips – Stay Calm and Keep Writing

IMAG4714It has taken me a long time learn to be patient about my writing, but I feel like I’m finally getting there. Hard as it has been for me to accept, the fact is that writing and getting published is a long term process that can’t be hurried. You just have to stay calm and keep going. It takes as long as it takes and that’s just the way it is.

My SCBWI Nevada Mentorship has been an amazing ride and it’s far from over yet. I have hopes to be published as a result of the mentorship, but no expectations.

For me, I’ve already achieved so much.  My verse novel manuscript has gone from an initial draft of 17,000 words to the current version of around 50,000 words – and I know that there’s still a long way to go.

I have a plot that I’m reasonably happy with and two characters that I feel I know almost as well as my own children.  There are still scenes to develop and places where I know I can make the words work harder.

IMAG4710My goals for the project were to hone my verse novel writing skills, learn more about global readers and find an international publisher for my book.

I feel like I’ve already achieved the first two goals. My mentor, Ellen Hopkins has been truly amazing with her helpful, encouraging and perceptive feedback. Under her guidance, my characters have gone from admired acquaintances to close family members.  She is pushing me to be the best writer I can be.

So I guess my point to all this is that nothing happens overnight in the world of writing and publishing. We have to just keep calm and keep going.  We have to be patient.

My verse novel Hating Ric started out life as Street Racer back in 2008 (I’m still debating about which name I prefer). Here are some of the steps I’ve gone through to get it to its current stage.

2008 – First draft and another three drafts completed.
2009 – Rewrote in prose as an experiment to see if I liked it better – I didn’t.
2010 – Back to writing in verse. Queried with a couple of agents with some positive feedback but realised manuscript wasn’t ready – back to the computer.
2011 – Good friend Svetlana Bykovec wanted a YA novel to make into a book trailer. Here’s the result.
2011 – Attended the SCBWI LA conference and did a verse novel writing workshop with Ellen Hopkins
2012 – Many more drafts
2013 – Apply for SCBWI Nevada mentorship to work with Ellen Hopkins.
2014 – Finish the novel and submit it to agents (I’m still working on that one.)

I’m off to Nevada again on 20th April for the next part of the mentorship.

It’s going to be great to catch up with my mentor and all my writing and illustrating buddies again.  I’m looking forward to finding out how everyone else is going with their projects, and I’m going to be attending  a session on how to write a query letter and synopsis – definitely things I need to perfect.

IMAG4962Don’t be disheartened that things aren’t happening fast for you in the publishing world. Stay Calm and Keep Writing.

Writing is like a good wine it has to have time to mature – it can’t be rushed. Eventually, I’m hoping to send Ric off into the big wide world, but not until I’m absolutely sure that he’s ready.

If you have tips on what keeps you going with your writing, feel free to share them in the comments section of this post.

Happy writing:)

Dee

My mentorship experience was made possible thanks to the generous assistance of the Copyright Agency Cultural Fund which provided me with Creative Industries Career Funding. http://www.copyright.com.au/cultural-fund

Writing Tips – Another Nevada Epiphany – Don’t Rush Out of a Scene

My mentorship with Ellen Hopkins through SCBWI Nevada continues to inspire, and teach me so much about writing and about the way I write.  I’m learning more about my own weaknesses – the things I have to watch out for – the mistakes I keep making with my writing.

I have realised that I have a tendency to rush out of a scene – to be in too much of a hurry to see what happens next for my characters, to not savour the moment and explore what’s happening in the ‘here and now’.

And I’ve come to realise that it’s one of the things that can cause me to tell and not show – that can leave my readers feeling a bit breathless.

IMAG4716Here’s what I mean.

EXAMPLE 1

This is a ‘scene’ from my verse novel, Hating Ric.  My character Kate has just come out of a coma and her best friend Abby is visiting.

My first version

A blonde girl walks in,
says she’s my best friend ,
Abby.

So why don’t
I know her?

ELLEN’S COMMENT:  Can this be a scene? Abby trying to talk to her about stuff she cant remember?

MY CONCLUSIONS:  I can’t believe I didn’t see this myself – that Abby WOULD try to talk to her best friend – and that there would be strong responses from both Kate and Abby. This is too big a moment in the story to gloss over.

IMAG4801My revised version

A VISITOR

Walks into my room smiling.
“Hey girlfriend
welcome back.”

She’s blonde and gorgeous
with a voice like
the rhythm of
the sea.

She sits on the
edge of my bed
leans over
to hug me.

I pull away
Do I know you?

Her eyes
look into mine
uncertain

IMAG4714a single tear
trickles down
her perfect
unscarred
skin.

“It’s me, Abby.”
She glances
across at
the nurse
who nods and
mouths
“Amnesia.”

Pain rips through
my neck
when I shrug.

IMAG4788The girl’s eyes flash
from the nurse
to me.
“I’m Abby.”

She repeats her name
as if that
will help me
remember.

She opens her wallet
and pulls out a photo
of
us
standing close
heads together
laughing.

In the photo
my skin is
perfect too.
no missing hair
or teeth.

I push the photo
and her hand
away
watch mesmerized
as another
single tear
slides
down
her perfect face.

EXAMPLE 2

In this scene, Kate is learning to walk again with her new leg, without using hand rails.

IMAG4962My first version

I get to share it
with Abby.

She’s here to see me
and can’t believe
how far I’ve come.

ELLEN’S COMMENTS: Can this be a scene?

MY CONCLUSIONS:  This really does need a scene to show the reader more about the relationship between the girls, Kate’s strength and Abby’s character.  It’s another important moment that I raced past in my original version.

My revised version

FAST TRACKED

to walking around the room
without rails.

I try increasing my
distance
and
pace
with
every circuit.

IMAG4954This morning
I’ve pushed it
as far
as I can
go

too far.

My good leg
collapses
under me
and I have to grab
onto a wall
to catch my balance.

There’s a gasp
behind me
and Abby rushes over
tries to help me
to a chair.

“No… I can do it.”
sweat trickles
into my mouth
and pools
under my arms.

“Kate, that
was amazing.”
Abby’s eyes
are shining.

IMAG4979I wanted to share the knowledge I’m gaining from this mentorship because we are often told we need to tighten our text, but sometimes we actually need to expand it and delve deeper, to draw the reader more closely into the story.

I hope you’ve find this post helpful. I’ll be sharing more from my amazing Nevada journey – and I’ll be going back there in April – can’t wait:)

Do you have any ‘bad writing habits’ that you have worked through? If so, feel free to share your experiences and solutions in the comments section of this post.

Happy writing:)

Dee

P.S. I’ll be talking about my mentorship at the SCBWI Victoria meeting on March 15. Might see you there:)


TUESDAY WRITING TIPS – REVISING – Some Technical Tips

January was  very productive  for me.  I spent the entire month immersed in revisions for my young adult verse novel, Hating Ric.

This is the one I’ve been working on for my SCBWI Nevada mentorship and I’d had lots of great feedback from my mentor, Ellen Hopkins with suggestions on how to make it better.IMAG4962

I’ve added an extra 15,000 words, developed my characters, altered my setting and I’ve even managed to bring two black bear cubs into my story.

During the revising and editing process I discovered a few things that worked for me so I thought I’d share them here.

1.  I printed out the entire manuscript and read it. I find that when I read on screen my mind doesn’t seem to absorb things in the same depth. So I pick up superficial things like typos and vocal, but I struggle to see the overall story problems or pick up character inconsistencies or weaknesses.  I find I need to hold paper in my hand to get close to my characters.

2.  This book has two main characters so I looked at each character’s story arc and rearranged the pages according to flaws I found in the plot – where the tension wasn’t rising and things seemed to be happening in the wrong order.  My mentor was also great for pointing out where these kind of changes needed to be made, and where she didn’t think a scene fitted.

3.  I opened up two new files – one for each of my main characters – and I wrote new scenes for them – scenes to develop their characters – scenes to develop the setting – scenes to create rising tension – scenes to add layers of meaning.  By writing the scenes separate from the story, I was able to create them with fresh eyes and make them lively but relevant.  I printed them out and slotted them into the appropriate places.

4. I checked through my mentors comments and suggestions to make sure I had incorporated the changes that fitted with my vision for my story.

5.  I did a spell check.

6.  Screen Shot 2014-02-02 at 10.04.00 PMI did ‘find and replace’ to change certain words. And here I admit I ran into trouble. My character changed from being a rower to a basketball player. So when I did “Find rowing and replace with basketball”, it changed ‘growing’ to ‘gbasketball’. Thanks to my clever writerly friend, Thalia I learned that there is a remedy for this. Tick the ‘find whole words only’ box in the ‘find and replace’ option in Word.

7.  I saved my document as a PDF file – imported it into iBooks and read it on my iPad as an e-book.

8.  I attached it to my email and pressed ‘send’.

I’m sure there will be plenty more work to do on my manuscript, but I feel that now I have a practical way to handle those revisions and edits.

I’d love to know any technical tips you have for revising and editing. Feel free to share them in the comments section of this post.

Happy writing and editing:)

Dee

My mentorship experience was made possible thanks to the generous assistance of the Copyright Agency Cultural Fund which provided me with Creative Industries Career Funding. http://www.copyright.com.au/cultural-fund

Tuesday Tips – The Importance of Writing Goals

Screen Shot 2013-10-13 at 9.04.07 PMIn just over a week, I head to Nevada to start my mentorship with New York Times bestselling verse novelist, Ellen Hopkins. I’ll be developing my YA verse novel, Hating Ric (formerly Street Racer).

I’m attending a writing retreat at Lake Tahoe where I’ll meet all the fabulous mentors and mentees in the program, and I can’t wait.

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The mentor program is by run by SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators ) Nevada, and I’ve been very lucky to receive funding from CAL to help pay for the trip.

I’m so excited to be going, but one of the things I’m most pleased about is that applying for and getting the mentorship is a writing goal that I have actually achieved:)

Screen Shot 2013-10-13 at 9.07.09 PM My very good writerly friend, Maureen (Mo) Johnson first put the seed in my head when progress on my novel had stalled.

Screen Shot 2013-10-13 at 9.09.03 PMIt seemed like a really good idea, but also an impossible dream.  Nevada was so far away from Victoria Australia, and expensive to fly to, and apart from that, there was no guarantee that my mentorship application would be successful.

Screen Shot 2013-10-13 at 9.11.27 PMThanks to the encouragement and support of Mo and good writer friends Alison Reynolds, Sheryl GwytherTania McCartney, Karen Collum and others, I wrote the mentorship boldly on my list of writing goals and set out in hot pursuit.

I attended every available seminar  to find out as much as I could about putting together arts’ grant applications. (And blogged about it here). Then I set about applying for every available arts grant – no matter how unobtainable or obscure it seemed. I figured it was good practice anyway.

Screen Shot 2013-10-13 at 9.07.36 PMI was overwhelmed to find that not only had I received a mentorship with Ellen, but I had also secured funding – so now I could definitely go.

I’ve unsuccessfully applied for both mentorships and funding before, but this time it was different – this time I made the mentorship a serious writing goal.

Nothing comes easily in this business, but one of the many things I’ve learned from this experience is that it does pay to have writing goals – and it does pay to give them priority.

MY WRITING GOAL SETTING TIPS

  1. Set goals that are realistic
  2. Don’t be afraid to aim high
  3. Set goals that you want to achieve, not things you think you should achieve.
  4. Don’t compare yourself or your achievements to others – your goals should be ‘yours’.
  5. Set goals that you can achieve – that you have control over (you’ll don’t have control over acceptances or publication dates)
  6. Set  a manageable number of goals
  7. Set goals that are specific but realistic achievements

I hope you achieve your writing goals. For me, they have helped me keep the dream alive.

I was also fortunate to have a book trailer made by an optimistic and very talented friend, Svetlana Bykovec.  When I watch my book trailer http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GZs78xyveTQ, I feel that this book could be/will be published.

Book trailers are not expensive to make if you do it yourself – perhaps you can use one to help you keep your dreams and hopes alive – it could be one of your writing goals. If nothing else, making a book trailer is great for helping you understand the essence of your story.

If you have any tips on goal setting, we’d love to hear them. Feel free to share them in the comments section of this post.

Happy writing:)

Dee

My mentorship has been made possible thanks to the generous assistance of the Copyright Agency Cultural Fund which provided me with Creative Industries Career Funding. http://www.copyright.com.au/cultural-fund

Tuesday Writing Tip – Dare to Dream

We writers talk about it often – writing is hard. It’s hard at every stage of the journey.

It’s hard to come up with the idea for your story, it’s hard to formulate that idea into a compelling plan, it’s hard to get the whole story down on paper, and it’s hard to force yourself to sit at the computer for hours upon hours honing, shaping and polishing that story till it’s as good as you can possibly make it. And all that’s before you even attempt to enter the publishing fray.

But sometimes there are golden moments, splashes of brightness in a seemingly bleak landscape, events that make everything worthwhile – that  make us realise that writing is exactly what we are supposed to be doing – and that it’s okay to dream.

img009

Years ago I wrote a young adult verse novel about a boy who makes a split second mistake that he and the other teen character in the story will be forced to live with for the rest of their lives.

Every one of my writerly colleagues who read it  found it compelling. In my heart, I knew this was a story I had to tell. In my heart, I knew that verse was the way this story needed to be told.

But verse novels aren’t easy to get published; particularly here in Australia.

So I was persuaded to rewrite my verse as prose – replace  the sparse text and powerful imagery with continuity and conversation.

It didn’t work for me or the publisher.

But I couldn’t let this story go. I went back to the verse format, which I knew was the right for me and my story. In spite of having rejected it already, the publisher asked to see the work again.

But after all the rewrites and resubmissions they advised me about “the danger of writing too much bleak realism” and rejected the manuscript. The went on to say that they “couldn’t imagine any teenager wanting to stick with it”.

I admit that I was gutted. In fact I couldn’t touch a keyboard, pen or manuscript for at least six weeks.  But then my spark of determination and belief in my story returned.

This was helped by my two teenage boys who read the manuscript and said what the publisher said was ‘crap’.

I squared my shoulders, took a deep breath and started working on my novel again.

I knew it wasn’t perfect, and  I wasn’t really sure what to do with it next. Then I met the amazing Ellen Hopkins whose verse novels had inspired me to try this format in the first place.

She suggested I apply for a mentorship through SCBWI Nevada to work with her on my verse novel.

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It seemed like an impossible dream. I’d have to compete against many other writers  for a mentorship and not only that, how was I ever going to be able to afford to do it?

The mentorship wasn’t expensive, but it involved two trips to Nevada with two lots of $2,500 air fares from Australia.

It WAS an impossible dream, but I knew I had to at least try.

I ran writing workshops to raise money, and I applied for every piece of funding known to man or woman – and I kept working on my manuscript.

In late June I was over the moon to find that I’d been award funding by the Copyright Agency Limited (CAL) under their Creative Industries Career Fund.

In late July, SCBWI Nevada advised that I had been accepted into the Mentor Program with Ellen Hopkins as my mentor.

I haven’t stopped Happy Dancing since, and I’m not sure I ever will.

My faith in my story has been restored. I have been awarded funding and given a mentorship based on this piece of work – on a story so close to my heart that I can’t abandon it.

img011I’m about to embark on an amazing journey, being mentored by a writer whose books have inspired me for so long.

Whatever the outcome is, I know I’m going to grow as a writer and meet  extraordinary people and learn a lot about myself and my work.

But what this whole experience has taught me already – it’s okay to Dare to Dream –  to strive for a writing goal that seems impossible.

I can’t thank my writerly friends and family enough for their belief in me through all this – and especially Mo Johnson who gave me the initial push I needed to follow my dream.

And I’m so grateful to Ellen for choosing to mentor me, and to CAL and to SCBWI Nevada for making all this possible.

MY TIPS FOR ACHIEVING YOUR WRITING DREAMS

  1. Set yourself a real, tangible writing goal.
  2. Stay forcussed on the ‘prize’.
  3. Surround yourself with people who offer positive suggestions and encouragement.
  4. Develop a plan for how you hope to reach this goal.
  5. Follow each step of your plan, but don’t be afraid to vary it or try new things along the way.
  6. Accept help that’s offered by people who unconditionally want the best for you.
  7. Don’t give up.
  8. Be realistic, but Dare to Dream.

I’m going to be blogging about my mentorship so I hope you’ll share the journey with me.

Happy writing and dreaming:)

Dee

Photos: courtesy of Dana Robinson

My mentorship has been made possible thanks to the generous assistance of the Copyright Agency Cultural Fund which provided me with Creative Industries Career Funding. http://www.copyright.com.au/cultural-fund

Tuesday Writing Tips – Verse Novels

My first introduction to verse novels was through the work of bestselling verse novellist Ellen Hopkins. Her novels, Burned, Impact and Crank, just to name a few, hook you right into the story from the first page.

I was lucky to first meet Ellen and hear about her books at a Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) conference in 2008.

Inspired by Ellen’s work I moved on to devour the wonderful writing of Australian authors, Sherryl Clark, Lorraine Marwood, Sally Murphy, Steven Herrick, Catherine Jinks and Margaret Wild.

There’s something about the rawness of verse novels that gets right to the heart of the emotions – it draws the reader straight into the main character’s world.

Verse writers tell us so much in so few words. They take the reader on an intimate journey, make you feel that you are there by special invitation – that it’s just you and the point of view character taking this path.

Keep it simple

The power of verse is that it doesn’t have time or space for adverbs and adjectives.

The reader has to visualise using his/her own imagination. They come to understand the main character’s world through the way that the main character acts and reacts to what’s happening around them/to them. And through the way they speak…their voice.

A good verse novel is like a well decorated Christmas tree – balanced and striking with no excess baubles – beautifully simple.

A natural form

A verse novel isn’t just a novel with fewer words in an easy to read format. There has to be poetry and power in those words.

For a verse novel to work, it has to be the natural form for that piece of writing.

Breaking a piece of text up into stanzas or verses doesn’t make it a verse novel.

Sensory Detail

As Ellen Hopkins said at her 2011 SCBWI LA workshop,

” A verse novel has sensory detail…not just in a visual sense but as a way to show information about emotions.”

How long should a verse novel be?

This really varies depending on the age of the readers and the story.

YA verse novels can range from around 14,000 words (Psyche in a Dress by Francesca Lia Block ) to more than 65,000 words (Identical by Ellen Hopkins). Junior novels might be even shorter.

Like any book, a verse novel should be as long as it needs to be to tell that particular story.

Steven Herrick and Pookie Aleera

Steven Herrick is an Australian verse novellist who has been a full-time writer for twenty-five years. The Sydney Morning Herald has described him as “The king of poetry for children”.

His latest verse novel, Pookie Aleera is Not My Boyfriend is a typical example of how Steven weaves reality and strong imagery into his powerful verse.

One of the appeals of his writing is that he takes everyday situations and places like swimming in the creek and turns them into something much more.

Pookie Aleera is Not My Boyfriend is set in a country town and brings together the lives and stories of the Kids in Class 6A.

There’s Mick, school captain and sometime trouble-maker, who wants to make the school a better place, while his younger brother Jacob just wants to fly. There’s shy and lonely Laura who hopes to finally fit in with a circle of friends, while Pete struggles to deal with his grandpa’s sudden death. Popular Selina obsesses over class comedian Cameron, while Cameron obsesses over Anzac biscuits and finding out the true identity of Pookie Aleera.

These characters and their lives are woven together in a rich tapestry that draws the reader into the story…and sparks their curiosity about who is Pookie Aleera?

According to Steven Herrick, Pookie Aleera is Not My Boyfriend is the book “he’d been wanting to write for a long time.” Steven’s strong vision for this book is apparent in the telling detail, and the sensitivity and gentle humour. It’s a story about life and friendship and the differences and similarities in us and the things that make us happy and sad.

Pookie Aleera is Not My Boyfriend has a large cast of characters, but strong characterisation makes each one distinctly different.We see each character’s vulnerability as they walk the line between childhood and adolescence.

Like all Steven Herrick’s works, this book is full of beautiful imagery. For example, Rachel’s response to “Night Sky” written on the board is “It’s like a blanket for the earth to sleep under.”

Pookie Aleera is Not My Boyfriend is charming, funny, and evocative.

It would be a great book for classroom discussion, dealing with life issues in a gentle and non confronting way. Being so accessible in its content and form, Pookie Aleera is Not My Boyfriend would also be a great tool for introducing  kids to verse novels.

Pookie Aleera is Not My Boyfriend is published by UQP for ages 9+

This book is a true example of how verse novels have the power to get to the heart of the emotions, and take the reader deep into the point of view character’s world.

Have You Ever Lost Your Writer’s Voice?

Tania, me and Claire

I have. It was gone for over a month, but now it’s back – thanks to some great writer friends and the stars.

I’m in Canberra this week with my son who’s doing work experience at Mount Stromlo Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics. He loves astronomy so it’s going to be a great week for him.

It has worked out well for me too because it has given me time to write, and the opportunity to catch up with writer friends like Tania McCartney and Claire Saxby (who happened to be in Canberra by chance).

But most important of all, I’ve had the chance to step back and look at things from a new perspective.

I came to Canberra expecting to work on a new manuscript. I had put aside my work in progress after receiving some unsolicited feedback on my writing style that took me by surprise (not in a good way) and dried my words up.

I’m not normally this fickle – normally one manuscript is the centre of my focus and I don’t deviate from it until the current draft is finished, and I put it aside knowing that I’ve gone as far as I can at that point in time. But over recent weeks, I’ve been unable to touch my work in progress.

Inspiring Ellen Hopkins and Mo Johnson

On my way to Canberra I deviated, and that’s where I found the first piece of my voice. I went from Melbourne to Canberra via Sydney where I caught up with the Mo Johnson (author of Boofheads, Something More and Noah’s Garden, and Ellen Hopkins. Ellen’s amazing books, Crank, Impulse, Burned (and many more) were what first inspired me to try my hand at verse novels.

It was so exciting to be among YA novellists talking about YA novels. I’d been feeling a bit disheartened lately because although I’ve had quite a bit of interest from overseas, it appears that Australian publishers are not publishing the kind of YA that I write at the moment.

Just being with Mo and Ellen and talking about our writing was invigorating. It also reminded me that we have to write what’s in our hearts. As Ellen says, “We have to tell the story that we need to tell”.

Ellen’s words reminded me that although being published is fabulous, we write because we have something to say.  And so we must say it…no matter how many setbacks we have…no matter who is going to read it…we have to tell our stories in our own unique way.

So this is my week for putting aside all the things that have held me back from working on my YA thriller…that it might be ‘too dark’ or ‘too different’ or ‘too something else’.

After a long break, I’m getting back into it with fresh eyes and renewed vigour. I believe in this manuscript (I almost always have:) and I’m determined to make it work.

The break has been good for both me, and the manuscript, but now it’s time to immerse myself in it again.

Today, when I was lunching with Tania and Claire I realised that I’d let the words of one person paralyse my writing.

Whether it’s a bad review or a ‘too personal’ rejection, it can cripple our creativity, but the fact is that we have to move on.

I’m lucky to have my ever-optimistic and supportive crit buddy, Alison Reynolds who has encouraged me and had faith in me every step of the way. I’m lucky to have such wonderful and empathetic writing friends who have helped me more than they know.

If you lose your writer’s voice, here are my suggestions on how to get it back.

MY TIPS

  1. Take a break from your manuscript
  2. Identify what’s holding you back and deal with it
  3. Find or read about inspirational people to inspire you (go to conferences, join writer’s group, go places where you can meet and share with other writers)
  4. Read books by people who inspire you.
  5. Have ceremonial burnings of painful reviews or rejection letters
  6. Celebrate your successes, large and small

Have you ever lost your writer’s voice? How did you get it back?

We’d love you to share your stories and suggestions in the comments section of this post.

Happy writing:)

Dee