Thursday, July 31, 2008

Writing Rituals and that Zen Place

This summer at BYU's terrific Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers conference, the brilliant (and funny!) Claudia Mills talked about her daily ritual which involves making hot chocolate, snuggling up with a notebook, turning over A REAL LIVE hourglass and writing until the last grain of sand drops. Having this established ritual puts her in that special Zen place, and over the years Claudia has managed to publish something like a thousand books even though she's a professor and a mom, too.

What's your writing ritual?

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Read it Clear! Read it Loud! (Part Two)

So as long as we're talking about the value of reading your own stuff out loud--I've recently decided it's also important to listen to other people's stuff read out loud. This is where the whole books-on-tape thing comes in.

I'm kinda new to books-on-tape, actually. I love listening to music so much (recent favorite discovery--the Black Keys) that I've always resisted books-on-tape. Seriously, I thought only people touring America in Winnebagos went in for them. BUT! I was wrong. Being read to is a pleasure--you feel like a kid in grade school again. You come in all hot and sweaty from recess, put your head on your desk and let the wonderful words of WHERE THE RED FERN GROWS wash over you.

Best of all, you get to HEAR how the pros do it--how they structure their sentences and manage stuff like dialogue and description. Lately I've had fun listening to all the Hamish Macbeth novels (so yeah I'm a sucker for a kilt and an accent). Meanwhile I've picked up a few hints from M. C. Beaton (prolific author) about how to create lasting visual images with a few quick broad strokes.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Read it Clear! Read it Loud! (Part One)

Heard from my good friend and former editor Chris Hicks yesterday who reminded me that I've been writing a newspaper column for over ten years. TEN YEARS! My oldest son was in high school when I started up, and honestly I didn't think I'd survive his adolescence, but lookee here! I'm still alive! And so is he!

Right now I'm looking for new ways to keep the column fresh--meanwhile I try to read each new piece aloud so I can see if at least I still SOUND fresh. Over the years I've relied on a few honest friends to listen while I read and give me feedback--my friends Lisa Bickmore and Becky Thomas and my funny brother Jimmy Edwards. And of course my husband is a great listener. I can tell if something is working (or not) by their reactions. Meanwhile I can pick up problems I might not see if I simply read the thing silently.

My point? Reading what you write OUT LOUD is one of the single best things you can do to improve your work.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Overcoming Writer's Block: Tip Number One

Last week when I was at the Orem Public Library talking about my new book (that would be THE LOSER'S GUIDE TO LIFE AND LOVE) with a group of young readers, one of the kids asked if I "believe in Writer's Block."

ME: You mean I have a choice? I can NOT believe in Writer's Block?

Turns out that a previous visiting author passed along the observation that Writer's Block isn't real--it's just a figment of our imagination, don't you know.

Well, I told the group that I not only believe in Writer's Block, I experience it on a really, really sadly regular basis--which is why I'm happy to pass along tips (free of charge!) for powering through Writer's Block. The lovely Shannon Hale (one of my favorite authors and human beings) says that the fear of not being good enough is the greatest cause of Writer's Block. So how do you get past your fear as a writer? You give yourself permission to write a wretched first draft while exercising a little faith that you can make it better.

More tips to follow . . .

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Hey! Look at me! I've got a blog now, thanks to my computer genius pal, Chris. (Thanks, Chris.) Anyway, welcome to my blog where I'll be discussing all things related to the writing life. I hope you'll visit often.