February’s Fine Writing Finds

valentines-daySo we’re coming down to the end of the February stretch and I thought I’d share the best of the month’s finds.

(I had planned to make that a regular feature last year, since I started the Monthly Writing Notes System. Somehow, that part of the system never got off the ground. Until now! Wheee!)

  1. The James Cross Giblin Scholarship Fund through the Highlights Foundation: If you have a passion for juvenile nonfiction and a strong talent for it as well, you are in luck. With this scholarship, you could find the support you need to attend one of the fine nonfiction writing programs offered at Highlights this year. I know a couple of the people giving these workshops and they’re just amazing, so please give yourself and your nonfiction a chance. Check out the James Cross Giblin Scholarship today!
  2. The Write Now, Make Books for kids of all ages: Maya Gonzalez is a children’s book author and artist who has set up a site to help kids write their own books. And no, it’s not for adults who will read all the amazing information and then guide the kids through the process. It’s for kids, to do themselves. How cool is that? I’m afraid I have no Junior Halls to test drive this program, but it looks swell, and I’d love to hear from any of you mom or teacher writers if your kids/students use this program.
  3. Hiveword, an online fiction organizer (and Writer’s Knowledge Base): If you have trouble with organizing, Hiveword is the tool for you. It won’t help you with the mess in the kitchen or the stacks of papers in a chair in your office (more’s the pity on that one!) but it will help you get those notes in order on that novel you’ve vowed to finish this year.And it’s free! So far, I’ve just played around a bit as I’m not exactly in the middle of a novel. Or at the start of a novel, for that matter. But it looks easily accessible and that’s a big plus in my book. And if you have time to fall into a delightful writing rabbit hole, then check out Writer’s Knowledge Base. (But you might want to leave a trail of crumbs to find your way out again…)

So write on, friends, and I’ll share more with you come the end of March! (She said earnestly but knowing that she might not get around to it. And yet she knew her readers would understand.)

If You Go to the Highlights Foundation Whole Novel Workshop…

You’re going to want to rewrite your entire novel.

But that’s a good thing. Because after a week of thinking, talking and breathing your novel with the amazing faculty and your new writer friends, you’re going to know exactly what you need to do. And more importantly, you’re going to know how to do it.

Honestly, I wish I had some ruby slippers for all you children’s writers (or really, any novel writer) so you could click your heels and land in Honesdale, Pennsylvania for the Highlights Foundation Whole Novel Workshop. But ruby slippers are not exactly easy to come by. So I’ll just share a few of the things I learned on my journey and maybe something will be exactly what you need, too.

I’m going to start with Janet Fox and Karyn Henley, two wonderful authors who were there as our teaching assistants. Our first class was all about the importance of finding that one sentence, the line you’ll use for your query, the sentence that encapsulates what your novel is all about.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Why would you start with that one line? Isn’t that the pitch you’ll use to get an agent after your novel’s done? Well, yes, it is. But if you’ve written a novel and you’re working on revisions, shouldn’t you know before you start revising, exactly what your novel’s about?

And now you’re thinking, well of course I know what my novel’s about. I just wrote it, didn’t I?

Hold on a minute–I just splattered my tea across Precious the Laptop, I was laughing so hard. Because I’m remembering how hard we all worked to figure out what our novels were about. Holy cow, that took some thinking. But here’s a few exercises you might want to use that helped me get to my sentence…

If you haven’t written out your synopsis, that’s a good place to start to find the heart of your story. Janet (she ‘s the lovely writer on the right, looking brilliant) suggested an exercise where you can find your story question. Plug in the following statement:

_____________(protagonist) must ________________(protagonist’s goal) by _______________(conflict with antagonist) only to realize ___________________(what the character learns that helps him/her grow).

And she gave us this example: Dorothy must defeat the Wicked Witch who stands between her and home by marshalling her friends and resources only to realize the power to go home was within her all along.

I told you she was brilliant! (And it’s not just for novels. You can use the story question for any story–check out your favorite short story, or even a picture book and practice coming up with the story question.)

And Karyn suggested this lovely little acronym for keying in on your query sentence: PACTS.

P= Protagonist, A= Antagonist, C=Conflict, T=Twist, and S=Setting

(And P.S. It must work because Karyn’s latest novel came out while we were workshopping!)

And what I love about the PACTS acronym is that you can (and should) use it in every scene of your novel to keep your story on track. And that’s really the value of knowing that one sentence. Keeping in mind what your story is about–through the entire story–is extremely helpful.

It just might save you from rewriting your entire novel for the upteenth time. (Which I need to get to right now. But first, I’m going to need a few cookies.)

Friday’s Fun: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

So I’m super ridiculously excited about the good: This weekend, I’m going to the…HIGHLIGHTS WHOLE NOVEL WORKSHOP!!!!

But the bad is, it’s in Pennsylvania. Why does it have to be Pennsylvania? (Nothing personal against Pennsylvania. It’s just so…oh, what’s the word? STINKIN’ FAR FROM GEORGIA–which yes, is way more than one word. But fear will make one lose the ability to count.)

But wait! What’s really GOOD is that I’ll be whipping that novel of mine into shape with the help of an amazing editor (who happens to be Martha Mihalick from Greenwillow who just happens to have the EXACT SAME WordPress template as Cathy C. Hall. I mean, how weird is that?). And, there will also be all kinds of other extremely talented writers and such helping me as well. Wheeee!

And what could possibly be bad about that, you ask? Well, I have to get on a PLANE because all of these people are in freakin’ PENNSYLVANIA!!!!!!

I really, really do not like to fly. Really. Especially without the Beneficent Mr. Hall there to say, “Cathy! You’re being crazy. Now calm DOWN before they kick us all off the plane.”

But I know that once I get there it will be all super fantastically, awesomely GOOD!!!!! Unless I’m so fearfully bad that the pilot tries to kick me off the plane. And that, my friends, could get epically ugly.

(See you in a week! )

P.S. Is it just me or is The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly one of the all-time best spaghetti westerns that coincidentally has the most awesome title ever to work into a blog post? And aren’t you hearing that opening music now?

Catching Up Is Hard To Do

With apologies to Neil Sedaka. (On the other hand, I’ll never get this song out of my head now. So we’re kind of even.)

“They say that catching up is hard to do…

Now I know, I know that it’s true.

Don’t say shut up and begin–

Instead of catching up I wish that I was all caught up again.”

So, I’ve been sort of missing for the last week. I applied to the Highlights Foundation Whole Novel Workshop and got accepted (Wheee!) And they offered me a scholarship, too. (Double wheee!) But then I kind of had to say I’d go (Fly on a plane all the way to Pennsylvania–eeeeek!). Plus I had to send my novel to my reader (Uh-oh.)

See, I had to make a few small changes in that novel before I could send it off to a Big, Important Editor Person. Changes in, oh, I don’t know…the goals and stakes.

Just for the record, I do not recommend making goals and stakes changes on a 60,000 word novel in 7 days. It’s doable, but only if you do the following:

1. Skim your emails, reading ONLY those that require immediate attention (roughly translated to “money is involved”.)

2. Dash through Facebook, skip Twitter, and ignore blogs (By the way, happy belated birthdays, y’all!)

3. Leave loved ones to fend for themselves (But do not be surprised if a. a Junior loved one shows up with a tattoo and/or fourth ear piercing because you said “uh huh” while you were typing and “talking”  on the phone or b. you have gained 6 pounds because your wonderful spouse offered to take care of the cooking. And by cooking, I mean “picking up tacos and/or  pizza” every day. P.S. You haven’t noticed you’ve been eating tacos and/or pizza every day.)

Now, I have a ton of catching up to do…emails to attend to, blogs to read, friends to (virtually) see, and all that other writing and reading that’s been waiting for me. Not to mention the matter of six extra pounds.  But still…

“I beg of you, don’t say goodbye!

Let me give this whole thing one more try.

Come on, y’all, I’ll start anew…

But catching up is hard to do.”

 

Finding Inspiration from Chautauqua (And a Giveaway!)

Every year, I think this is it! I’m going to jump on Chautuaqua (figuratively speaking) and get that Highlights Foundation scholarship and go! And every year, I check it out after the deadline. And worse, around this time of year, I start hearing from writers who made the deadline, and attended the workshops, and HAD THE TIME OF THEIR LIVES.

Pffft. At least this year, my friend (and writer) Gail brought back goodies from Chautauqua and is sharing the wealth!

She’s been sharing the wealth of information she gleaned from all the presenters over at her blog, but today, she announced her contest, where she’s giving away SIX books!  Books about writing for children and novels for children, too. All you have to do to win this awesome stash of books is check out her blog (with all the details). But you’ll also want to check this post where she gives tips from Julie Agnone, Vice-Pres of National Geographic for Kids. And you’ll want to read what authors Kathi Appelt and Kim Griswell had to share, too. You know what? You’ll probably want to read all of her Chautauqua posts.

Because reading about Gail’s adventure (and winning the books!) is a lot easier than remembering to sign up for that scholarship!

(And P.S. If you tell Gail that I sent you over,  I’ll get an extra point or two. Um, I hope you can remember that!)