Check out the crafts section for some spinning science fun and you’ll see instructions on how to make a Super Spinner. If your child makes a Super Spinner, send me a photo on Facebook or Twitter or by email and I’ll share it on my blog.
Hello, manuscript. Get ready to work. I have some serious December writing goals. Tomorrow, I will start a new post and update it daily, with notes to myself, in order to be accountable and to reach these goals.
It’s not like I haven’t been writing. I did write in November, I just didn’t do NaNoWriMo. But that’s fine. Honestly, it’s about whether I am writing, not about what or how much. I did NaNo for a few years for confidence and practice and quantity, but I think I need to focus on quality now.
I have three completed novel manuscripts. I’ve submitted one for agent feedback several times, but I’d like to have two others ready to submit. I feel like these two others have good legs when it comes to having strong premises (not just ideas) and interesting, unique characters. They are all middle grade and I feel that’s my sweet spot.
So, let’s start with Dare Club.
It has 24 chapters. If I can read, edit and revise 2 chapters a day, that would take me 12 days. I’m already done 5 chapters, so that leaves 19 and I believe I could complete this in 10 days.
I don’t have a good title for this manuscript. But the premise is: what happens if a boy who always says the wrong thing finds an iPod that lets him read people’s thoughts?
My pitch is weak. But it’s a start.
“Jace is really good at always saying the wrong thing. When he finds a magical iPod at a flea market, he thinks he has the key to his dreams, starting on the soccer team and getting his first girlfriend. But his life turns into a nightmare when the iPod – and knowing people’s secrets – causes more problems than it solves. Will Jace figure out the real power of the iPod before it’s too late?”
I’d like to 1. write the outline and synopsis. 2. Read, edit and revise. 3. Submit in January.
Also, I need a title. Maybe “iSecrets.” No, that’s dumb. Maybe “Open Mouth, Insert Foot.” That’s my working title. Maybe “Shuffle.” Ha.
Outline should take a day, reading and revising 2 chapters a day means at least 2 weeks. And so just this manuscript plus Dare Club takes up all of December.
This manuscript also lacks a title. But the premise here is: What happens if the girl who never finishes anything decides she’s going to run a marathon?
The pitch goes something like: “Nobody ever takes twelve-year-old Whitney seriously, mostly because Whitney doesn’t take life seriously. But when Whitney decides to run a marathon, no one believes her. Will Whitney change who she is in the eyes of others or learn who she really is?”
I’d like to 1. write the outline and synopsis. 2. Read, edit and revise. 3. Submit in February.
Also I need a title. I’m thinking “Finisher.” Or “DNF” (that stands for Did Not Finish).
Probably the same timeline as Manuscript 2. Can I do three manuscripts in two months? Maybe if I give myself a clear accomplishment goal like “two chapters a day.” That feels defined and manageable.
Short Story Manuscripts
I also need to finish revising “Will Call” and “The Hunter Case” and send them in to the ghost story competition before January 2017.
Picture Book Manuscripts
I want to draft the text for “I Really Love You, Mom, and I Mean It” and bring that to critique group. I also want to craft the dummy for “Digit” and send that on to my selected publisher.
Can I get those short stories and picture books done by February?
Only if I don’t do anything else.
Coin Capture is a fun game that can be played on a rainy day with easy to find household materials. It also gives the players a chance to do some simple math and can be played over and over again. It’s fun for adults and kids to play together.
Object of the game
Players try to push their coins into their Score Zone. Players earn points based on the value of the coins from their team that land in their Score Zone. The player with the most points wins!
A white board
2 different color erasable markers
8 coins (2 quarters, 2 dimes, 2 nickels and 2 pennies)
Use a ruler to find the middle of the white board. Draw a two lines, one of each color, down the middle of the board.
Use the ruler again to divide the two halves of the board into equal sized zones. Mark off the Score Zone and Push Zone for each color.
Each player gets four coins, 1 quarter, 1 dime, 1 nickel and 1 penny.
Flip a coin to decide your color and Score Zone.
Start in your Push Zone and try to push your coins into your Score Zone.
Don’t take coins off the board until the game is over! They will get bumped and pushed around into different zones.
Coins on the middle line don’t count for points but can be pushed into a Score Zone.
If your coin stops in the other player’s Push Zone, they get to capture it, flip it to their team, and use it.
A penny is 1 point, a nickel is 5 points, a dime is 10 points and a quarter is 25 points!
Winning the Game
When all of the coins have been pushed add up the amount of your coins (heads or tails) in your Score Zone and see who wins.
We finally have a Little Free Library in Tyler Park! About a year ago, I was in Minneapolis, MN, for a volunteer conference. While I was there, roaming around the very flat city, I walked by my very first Little Free Library. I had heard of these delightful book boxes, but never seen one.
As you can guess, I was incredibly inspired by the idea of sharing books with the community. I promised myself then and there I’d get one in our park. And it happened. Sure, it took over a year, but I never said I’d do it fast.
First, I mentioned the idea to my neighbor on the board of our neighborhood association. Then I emailed the info to the board. After they approved the idea, they got approval from the township to install it in the park. Then I selected the design and ordered the LFL. It arrived in early June…and sat on my back deck for several months. I was sad about that, but there wasn’t much I could do. I’m not skilled with digging holes and pouring cement and I did not want this to be installed poorly.
I dreamed of the day the LFL would be ready. My husband and I visited the park often and debated where the best place would be to put it. We settled on a spot near the playground and the driveway. I often looked across the park and pictured it. But every time I tried to line up installation, scheduling or weather got in the way.
So at the bus stop one morning, I mentioned my dilemma to some other families, and a dad volunteered to help me out. And that Friday, we met at the park and dug in!
We had a little helper who loved to measure.
While the LFL shipped with basic installation instructions, the steps were a lot more involved than I could implement at the park. We didn’t have electricity for sawing wood. So I purchased the installation materials based on a useful blog post I discovered at Hugs and Kisses and Snot. Their idea was genius in my opinion. All we needed was two mail box posts, cement and screws. I did a very good job holding the mailbox posts in place.
It was so great learning tips and tricks from my very skilled neighbor. After we leveled the posts, I assumed we’d have to mix the cement in the bucket, but he pointed out it was just as easy to mix it right in the ground. That smoke is like magic!!
We let the cement set for a day. Bright and early Saturday morning my neighbor secured the LFL onto to the posts with a kind of construction glue and screws. Then the kids, my husband and I hustled over there with our big box of books and loaded it up.
Little Free Library Opening Day
We didn’t have a huge Opening Day celebration. But the Little Free Library worked like a charm. My kids saw books that looked interested, grabbed them out of the LFL, and cracked them open. Perfect!It was very hard and very easy to make this dream come true. The Little Free Library is open in Tyler Park. I’ve checked on it every day since it opened. (Yes, I’m over eager) It’s exciting to see that people have taken books and left new ones! We even got a thank you note! It’s pretty thrilling.
It’s funny, when I saw that Little Free Library in Minneapolis, I didn’t even open it. I remember I gazed at it longingly, but didn’t open the door or take out a book. I could have, of course, because the books in Little Free Libraries are available for anyone. But I realize now I thought those books were only for Minnesotans. So I declare now, if you visit Tyler Park from you are allowed to take books from our Little Free Library!
“Sometimes I read your stories and I like them, Mom,” said my middle son. “But sometimes, when I read some of your stories, I forget I’m reading. That’s when I know they are really good.”
He’s right. And that’s all thanks to details.
Everyone know the phrase ‘devil is in the details’ but I don’t really like it. It makes details sound like a trick or a scam. Details are super important. And I know that. But sometimes it is so hard to make sure my novel has really good details. Maybe that’s the devil’s fault again, but I think it’s really just mine. It takes a lot of work to check every single detail. But if you love what you do, isn’t it worth it? I think it is, no matter what you’re doing whether it’s writing a novel or building a robot or cooking a meal. The results are worth it.
Here, take a look at these photos from my recent house renovation. These are examples of how our excellent foreman has a keen eye for detail. He takes his time, he does it right, and the results are worth it.
Photo 1 is a close up of the top of some cabinets. The ceiling is sloped just slightly enough that the moulding wouldn’t fit. So the ceiling needed another thin layer of plaster. It took a little more work, but now the moulding will look smooth and clean.
In your story, you want every sentence to read smooth and clean. Where do things slope too far away? Could you add some details to even things out?
Here’s a photo showing the precise markings of some blocking that will support our floating shelves. The shelves will look like they are just floating magically against the wall, like magic. But it’s really careful math and science.
What parts of your story do you want to feel magical but haven’t given them enough support? Are there details you can add so that the entire plot has a good foundation?
Here’s an example of some wall outlets. It’s a bad photo, so just trust me. These wall sockets aren’t aligned. Our foreman didn’t put these in and I know he’d never install wall sockets without lining them up.They were put in decades ago, and they look bad. They disrupt the lines of the wall.
What parts of your story just don’t line up? What details can you add to get things into line?
Here’s a rather amazing example. After laying new floor and installing a new door, our foreman noticed the crew had to chip a tiny hole out of the floor to get the door frame to fit. Our foreman knew right away this hole would bother us every day, since it’s right at the top of the stairs that we use to enter the house. He left a note to himself to fix it.
What tiny plot holes have you left gaping open that you need to close? Is there one detail you can fill in to make the story feel complete to readers?
Details can be added as you hammer out the first draft, but are also a big part of revising.
Details are connected to our senses, so as you’re revising, think about how things look, but also how they sound, smell, feel and taste. One of my favorite details in my manuscript is the sound of cicadas. That sound is part of the Maryland summer soundtrack. I also want to add in the smell of hot tar on a parking lot, and the taste of honeysuckle.
These are all small examples, but details are small. As you read through your favorite books, take note of the details that mattered and how small they are. Then go back through and add them to your story.
In May, I attended the SCBWI Western PA Agent Workshop. I learned a lot and got some excellent advice for writers on pitches, storytelling, and revision and I wanted to share it with you!
Pitching Advice for Writers
While they need to be short, they still need to include the main character, the obstacle and some sense of resolution.
This was my pitch and it was well-received.
Storytelling Advice for Writers
- Mirror, Mirror. Please don’t use the tired device of describing your character’s physical appearance by having your your character look into a mirror.
- Too Much Telling takes away from action.
- Why Should I Care? This is the feeling that readers get when they confront too much backstory. Weave it in, don’t dump it.
- Bubble Boy or Girl. Or Alien. Make sure your characters don’t exist in a bubble. Describe the setting and use all five senses!
Revision Advice for Writers
More advice for writers covered how to revise your manuscript. Envision your manuscript as a road that your readers will travel on a wondrous journey. The first draft is like that rocky, dirty, bumpy path carved out by construction equipment. Each stage of renovation makes it smoother, easier, more pleasant to travel.
As you read your manuscript, look for places where you’ve left out setting details, where you’ve used passive voice and -ly words, and if your main character is changing. If not, go back and call in that construction crew.
Advice for Writers of Picture Books
Did you know 60% of the story should be told through illustration? That means for non-illustrating writers like myself, I should only write 40% of the tale in the text. This is an interesting way for me to examine my texts, even though I never considered myself particularly mathematical. I like the idea of making sure the larger part of the tale comes through in the art, even if that does make writing harder.
Recently, I let my kids watch ALL of the Harry Potter movies before reading ALL of the books. I know some parents don’t allow this.
Looking for comments on both sides of the debate!
This is a post of mini-updates about writing.
- I’m in a really cool work group of fellow writers and illustrators that is working to support each other and promote each other for school visits. Exciting!
2. I was super excited to discover that my local library has an entire shelf full of the Newbery Award winners! The only challenge is that these specific books can’t be checked out.
I’m also working on getting a poster that I saw in the library. Super exciting because I feel like I just discovered a tool to help me reach my goal!
3. I also discovered another thing about myself as a writer. I’m in a writing community right now that’s very focused on pitching freelance articles to online outlets and I have found myself increasing my pitching frequency! But I realize that I’m doing that because I’m responding to the vibe of that group. No one is peer pressuring me, I’m peer pressuring myself. But I think it’s good to be working on a variety of writing types and to recognize this aspect of my personality.
4. I set my writing goals (finally) for this year. One of them is to write a really good personal essay and get it published. I have several topics in mind. Stay tuned!
Let’s say you’re reading a book and the author makes a reference to something and you just don’t get it. It could be a phrase, a symbol, a name. Whatever it is, it doesn’t make sense to you. Some readers might feel confused and give the book a bad review. Some readers might just skip over parts they don’t get, finish the book or story, and go on with their lives. Some intrepid readers might do a little research online to try and understand what they read. I think the worst scenario is the reader who doesn’t even know they didn’t get some understand some reference, finishes the story and says, “huh? didn’t make sense” and then leaves a bad review.
Is the problem bad writing or bad reading? Is it the writer’s fault? When is it the reader’s fault?
I’ve been watching a lot of The Good Wife lately. Yes, I’ve been binge watching. But this is a darn good show. First, I love the focus on female characters. Second, the story line is strong and compelling. Third, it also explores a lot of psychology and motivation of people. Many episodes also explore the concept of blame and responsibility.
(See, binge watching can be good for writers!)
I think it would be really cool to have a courtroom style drama to explore whether bad writing or bad reading is to blame when certain parts of a story are not understood.
“You Honor, the book didn’t make any sense. No writer can expect a reader to understand the phrase Plumtree’s potted meat.”
“Objection, your honor! Any well-read reader knows that a home without is incomplete!”
[the above is excerpted from my not-yet-written one-act stage play in which James Joyce is charged with obstruction of instruction.]
Yes, I’ve been reading Ulysses and learning a massive amount from his densely symbolic writing. Let me just say it’s been quite an education. But seriously, Ulysses is an excellent example.
I don’t have the grounding in the daily life of early twentieth century Dublin to get all of his references, just as much as I didn’t get all of the references in T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland or those short stories by David Foster Wallace.
Is it really Joyce’s fault if I don’t quite get all of the things he has to say in his really excellent, moving, comical, intellectual, insightful story?
Is it bad writing or bad reading? I think in Joyce’s case, it’s not bad writing.
The condom and the burka
(Here we come to another interesting question. Do symbols really have meaning once they leave the hands of the writer? Once a writer puts a symbol in the story, they are leaving the symbol open to the interpretation of the reader. As a reader, I can imbue those symbols with something that matters to me and that something could be quite different from what the writer intended. I did this recently at my critique group where I applied a much deeper meaning to a condom and a burka than my fellow writer had intended. This is a longer discussion.)
Bad Writing or Bad Reading?
But back to the main question. Let’s say it’s important to the story, When is a failure to understand a reference a problem with the reader’s background, or with the writer’s writing?
At a recent critique group, we faced a problem I often hear when reading someone’s work and we have the chance to question the author.
I used the name “Selene” as the name a Moon base, used the phrase “star sailor” to describe a Greek astronaut, and had a character make a claim to another character that “we are all made out of stars.”
More than one person didn’t get my references and suggested I take them out of the story. But my story is about a child celebrating Christmas in his home on the Moon. Is it my fault as a writer that they didn’t get my carefully chosen words and phrases? And if it is writer error, how can I address that?
This story about Christmas on the Moon is intended for kids and it’s meant to be a short story. I have word limits, and I think adding in things like “the moon base was named Selene because that’s the name of the Roman moon goddess and NASA has a history of naming their space projects after mythological deities” is a bit awkward for story flow.
How else do readers figure out symbols and meanings when they aren’t in English Literature classes writing papers? Maybe they won’t get it. But if they don’t get it, then they might not enjoy my story as much. But is that my problem? It could be, if it gets bad reviews or if people feel I’m a terrible writer because of it.
Maybe it’s question of finding the right audience. But wow does that feel like a gamble.
(P.S. – I just asked my husband about this and he said, “it’s your fault.” Then he said, “know your audience!”)
(P.P.S. – Then he just made a huge claim that not every symbol needs to be gotten! Then I countered that it feels so disheartening to think people would read my story and miss out on some of my favorite little symbols. And he said, “Some will, some won’t. Those that do get it will enjoy a happy accident, a little serendipity.” So I said, “it’s not serendipity when I put it there on purpose.” And he said, “touche.”)
Now what do you say?