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.)

Friday’s Fun Find: Part Two (I Write Like…)

So maybe you didn’t win the book today. But I’ve found a swell consolation prize for you!Image

I’ll bet you have a favorite writer–maybe a handful of favorite writers. And deep down (or maybe not so deep down), you’ve always wanted to write just like her (or him). Maybe, if you’re anything like me, you savor every word from your favorite writers’ novels, and when you are done, you sigh contentedly. But then, almost immediately, you are struck by an urge to slam your head on the desk, whilst crying piteously, “I’ll never write as good well as that. Never. Never. Never.”

But maybe you will, dear writer. Maybe, unbeknownst to you, your writing craft is improving every day. And maybe, if you were able to compare your writing from, say, your latest Nano manuscript, you would find that you write like…MARGARET ATWOOD!!!

And maybe you wouldn’t go around, adding “st” to words because you got swept up into the la-ti-da writing moment.

Anyway, when I plopped a block of text into the site, I Write Like…, up came Margaret Atwood. And so I stuck the handy little widget on my blog to inspire me as I continue my Nano journey. Because honestly, I’ve loved Margaret Atwood since I read The Handmaid’s Tale, lo those many years ago. It’s nice to think that a little of her has perhaps rubbed off on me.

So I’m not sticking anything else in the analyzer. I’m perfectly happy to quit while I’m Margaret Atwood.

P.S. Please leave me a comment if you try it. I’d love to know who YOU write like!

How Good Reading Makes For Good Writing

So I was thinking that the Beneficent Mr. Hall would really enjoy Harlan Coben’s The Woods–plus, it was free, so I brought it home. (I can be beneficent, too, you know.) And wouldn’t you know it? The man had already read it.

So there lay the book on my table…waiting.

Now, of course I’d heard of Harlan Coben, and read a couple writing articles by Harlan Coben, and knew he was all that and a bag of chips. But I’d quit reading mysteries years ago. I love a good mystery, but after years of reading tons of mysteries, one gets halfway into the first chapter and says, “He’s the guy. (Or girl, as the case may be.)” Which sort of defeats the purpose of a mystery, right?

Still, it was New York Times best-seller Harlan Coben and I thought, okay, fine. I’ll read one more mystery. But it better be good.

Oh, it was good. It was real good. It was why-must-you-torture-me-with-your-excellent-writing good.

So. I’m thoroughly chastened. And not just because I’d pooh-poohed mystery reading. I read The Woods through the eyes of a wannabe published author and learned SO much about writing that works… great pacing, authentic character development, just the right mix of description and narrative, true dialogue. And the way he wove so many stories together so effortlessly and organically  was brilliant. (And how in the world can he do that without outlining???).

It was way more than reading. It was an education. And it was there, all along, just waiting for me.

So, how about you? Got a book like that? ‘Cause I’d sure love to read it. (Perhaps the Beneficent Mr. Hall would, too. But he’ll have to wait till I’ve finished it first. I’m not that beneficent. )

P.S. I came across this list of Six Page Turners You’ll Tear Through from Oprah’s book picks. Since I tore through The Woods, I thought I might try one of these, maybe learn a little more. Holy moly, I hope my brain doesn’t explode this summer!

What Not To Do Wednesday on Revisions and Bathrooms

The last week or so, I’ve been doing a major bathroom makeover at the Hall house (well, I haven’t been doing it–I have a guy) and working on a major revision on my YA novel (which I have been doing, all by my lonesome).  I do not recommend pursuing these joint activities if at all possible. Unless you work better with buzzing, sawing, thumping and other builderly things going on in the background.

So I woke up this morning, thinking of Becky Levine and a contest she held a while back in which I won her book, The Writing and Critique Group Survival Guide (a very swell book, by the way). Becky wanted three sentences with a metaphor for revision (and a whole bunch of points she wanted us to make) and here’s what I wrote:

Revisions are like the Bathroom Makeover from Hell when you look around your very serviceable bathroom, knowing there are some things you must keep because you love them so, some things you can’t change without ruining the structure, and some things that absolutely must go because they’re just unnecessary or downright ugly. So you roll up your sleeves and get to work, and along the way, you find that everytime you make a change, it affects the whole makeover. Till at last, after a TON of blood, sweat and tears, you’ve got a pretty decent bathroom–and you vow you’ll NEVER do that again, until you walk into your very serviceable kitchen.

I would just like to say that the Bathroom Makeover from Hell was extremely apt.

But I need to add a few points because, grasshopper, I have learned a few things about makeovers and revisions since then.

1. Do not assume that the work will be done in the time period first agreed upon. Stuff happens. So you could probably save yourself a whole lot of stressing if you picked a date about 30 days after your projected completion. Then you’ll be all “Wheee! I’m going to finish early!” Which is way better than sending an email saying, “Could I get a few extra days? Say like 30?” To editors or relatives planning to stay in your home.

2. Check the details. Sure, it may seem obvious what side of the trim board should be painted. But trust me when I tell you that it can be trickier than it looks. The same way that it may seem obvious that you no longer need a character and can easily dump him/her. But that, too, is way trickier than it looks (though you may not realize it until 70 or 80 pages later).

3. Save everything. Of course you’re going to save important stuff like receipts and contracts. But you also need to save little things. Like that extra paint label that’s some sort of secret coding to paint guys–or else you may end up sending a Juniorette Hall to the store to buy more paint in the middle of the project with a paint can lid that you’ve wrapped ever so carefully but somehow still ended up with a mess on your hands. So save every version of your manuscript you’ve worked on. You never know when you may need that one little paragraph from way, way back–and if you try to recreate it, you’ll find that you’ve dropped a few words here and there, making a mess of things.

I’m sure I could come up with lots more What-Not-To-Do’s. In fact, I’m sure you could come up with something I’ve left out and I’d be glad to have your insights. Because I’ve got plenty more revising and painting on the horizon/bathroom.

Fun Friday Finds (Or Who Says Friday the 13th Ain’t Lucky?)

Today was very lucky for the person who won Chicken Soup for the Soul’s Messages from Heaven. I threw all those names into Random.org and randomized away until this name popped up: STACY!

I sure hope you enjoy the book, Stacy. And for the rest of you non-winners, I have something that will make you feel so much better, you’ll laugh right out loud. (Stacy, you can read it, too.)  It’s Colin Nissan’s “The Ultimate Guide to Writing Better Than You Normally Do.”

I came across Colin’s article over at McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, and seriously, I could spend the entire day there, reading stuff and laughing out loud. But then I’d be breaking one of Colin’s rules and never get to writing better than I normally do.

I may not get to that point, anyway. But at least now I feel pretty good about blaming McSweeney’s.