Thursday, July 30, 2015

Your Story Is Not What You Thought*

*if you thought what I thought

This summer, I've been participating in two writing classes, KidLit Summer School: The Plot Thickens from Nerdy Chicks Rule and The Craft & Business of Writing Children's Picture Books from the Children's Book Academy.

Both courses have been very helpful. But even with as many aspects of writing that they have delved into, my major revelation so far has been that your manuscript can best be likened to a Legos wall turned Transformer.

It's not at all what I thought - that your manuscript is a lilting, beautiful story, your gently quirky, humorous and painstakingly created word-baby that you write from beginning to end.

No. No, no, no. No.

It's more like Legos.

You build that story block by careful block following the formula for your genre of choice. So then you have your first draft. Which you keep re-writing and having people critique until about draft #1,000. But then . . .

. . . revision strikes. You take blocks out. You move them around, replace them with a different color, make the blocks overlap each other in some places, make them line up in other places where they didn't before. Throw a whole bunch of blocks out even though you really, really, really love those purple blocks that you put in there just so, with loving affection. 

And then this happens:
because you took out the wrong blocks or half blocks and then that whole section fell apart in a jumble of ugly.

But it feels more like this:

And when you don't have any chocolate in the house, your dog is throwing up in the dining room and you stayed late at your other job three times this week, it feels more like this:
The chaos gives you agita, but you can't leave your poor word-baby in that state. You are far too stubborn for that. So you rebuild.
And parts come out kind of cool, even though you're still a little ticked off about ditching your amazing purple blocks that apparently no one else got why they were there.

You keep building your now new-feeling story that has been all torn apart and re-ordered, while wishing little yellow people in red hats would come and do it for you.

And then it kind of starts to make sense. It doesn't matter which part of it you work on. You don't have to take them in order. You have a vision for the whole.

You might like it. Even if it doesn't have your beloved purple blocks. You really loved those purple blocks. You actually have them hidden away in your computer somewhere. You will see them again. The world will know your purple blocks. But I digress.

Things start to come together in a whole that makes sense.

Before you know it, your word baby is looking pretty buff:

You keep building block by block, taking A LOT of blocks out, keeping some, adding new ones, rearranging all of the blocks in a way that gives form to your whole word-baby. 

Wait, that's a different word-baby.

Anyway, after you bleed from your eyeballs some more, and rearrange, add, and subtract more word blocks, and the little yellow people in red hats help even though you might have imagined that part at 2 a.m., 

your word-baby has transformed into a rocking, fierce collection of words the world needs. 

Now send that baby out into the word-needy world.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Full of Win! My Website Adventure

Teachers always put off until summer home or personal projects that we can't do during the school year. If you are not a teacher and don't understand why we can't get these things done during the school year, READ THIS. Truth, right there.

Here were some things on my summer list in no particular order:

ü  Colonoscopy (ewww)
ü  Clean out file cabinet (this took 7 hours – not exaggerating)
ü  Revise PB manuscript (and send back in – yikes)
ü  Create author website

Check, check, check, and check! *pats self on back*

Since I am all freaked out about the third thing on that list, the author website is what I am most excited about at the moment. 

My four day saga, condensed version:

I had a few platforms in mind to check out thanks to sharing on the topic with the SCBWI Carolinas forum group. Shout out SCBWIC - thank you! 

Decided to try out the free versions of Weebly, Wix and WordPress to compare functions, capabilities and how easy they were for me to use. Note: 'for me'. 

Got very frustrated, over a four day period, with trying to get all three sites to do what I wanted before settling on one. 

What I wanted to do.

My needs: A site that looks clean, sleek, uncluttered and is easy for visitors to navigate*. Needed to be able to link already existing blog to it. Needed to be able to use a domain name I already owned. Needed to be able to have more than 5 pages without additional charge. Needed to be free or the lowest cost possible with your own domain name. Needed to be easy to customize the way I envisioned without needing programming knowledge. Need to be able to add pages and content to it with relative ease as I go along. Tech-wise, I know how to do what I need to do, but I am not a tech wizard. Wish I were.

What I should have done.

WordPress: I had great hopes for this since I know a ton of writers use this for their blogs. I was really disappointed. It is not for me. I don't need a blog - already have one on blogger. I needed a website with the capabilities above. There is a way you can default your blog page to a website home page and build a site from there, but the rest of it didn't work for me. The available themes were not what I was looking for and to modify them to do the website functions that I need, you have to have programming knowledge. So, no go for me.

Weebly: Their available themes are ok. Not great, but okay. They don't have 'hundreds' to choose from as they say, though. I counted 157. I really tried to make one of them work for me, but you can't manipulate various elements of the theme (modify header,create dividing lines, etc.) the way I wanted to. Had some back and forth with support and basically, it just can't be done the way I wanted. Not bad in respect to domain, price, and page number, though. This is the one I thought I was going to go with when Wix was buggy (see below), but the limit on manipulating themes was frustrating.

Wix: This is the one I went with. This is also the one I was, at first, the most put off by since after I signed on, chose a theme (they have nice ones) and started to manipulate the elements, the text editor stopped working. Couldn't do a thing for two days. Apparently, it was a bug and it is now fixed. I am crossing fingers it is truly fixed and that won't happen again. I liked the way I could manipulate the design elements in the theme (more flexible than Weebly). Easy to use, edit, modify.

*The way I really want my site to look: Ruta Sepetys' website. But that wasn't remotely available anywhere as a theme and I would have had to pay big bucks to have it designed. I attended one of Ruta's workshops a few years ago. A-mayyy-zing. Just a huge wow. Spoke to her a bit afterward and she completely inspired me. Fan girl here. By the way, read her books. No, really. Read them. Huge.

Website at last!

My new site doesn't look like a lot of kid lit authors' sites do. That's a little on purpose and a little because I am not an artist. And a little because I can add fun elements as time goes on. I also write YA and wanted a site that doesn't look like it is strictly for the lower elementary crowd. I wanted minimal with option to add a bit of fun.

I do have a 'Books' page but it is hidden until I get published! It will happen! It will, it will! I am nothing if not determined. Mom and Dad, the stubbornness* that frustrated you in my childhood has paid off as determination and perseverance in adulthood. 
*this might have actually been referred to as 'hard-headed'

My photo on the home page is just a place holder. I'll change it to my book cover when I get published. See above paragraph.

My 'Media' page will eventually have fun stuff like downloadables on it. Maybe a Twitter feed? 

My 'Events' page right now has events that I am attending and learning from as a writer, but will in future have events that I am presenting, like school visits.

And the big question: Do I really need an author website now? I'm not even published (yet)! Well, no. I guess not. Not really. But see up there where I'm talking about teachers and the school year? No harm in being prepared. Too, frustrating as it was at times, it was actually a good learning experience. 

So sally forth with your big website ideas and make yourself one!

Monday, July 6, 2015

The Value of Time to Think

So far, my summer has been a whirlwind. Teacher's summer: taking care of the million things that you didn't have time for during the school year.

Aside from a plethora of doctor's appointments, errands, chores, cleaning and such, I am immersing myself in writing this summer.

I am taking an online course from the Children's Book Academy called The Craft and Business of Writing Children's Picture Books. A week in, I am finding it very helpful, especially the small critique group within the course.

But I am also finding that simply having time to think is what I have needed. I've read a number of quotes and memes about writers writing in their heads at all times, no matter if they are taking out the trash or soaking up sun on a beach. I can see truth in those quotes and memes.

More importantly, I think time to be and to think without dashing, harried, from one must-do to the next loosens up the brain and (after some decompression time) lets the creative thoughts begin to flow.

My brain loosened up enough to make a decision on a topic that was bothering me: where to go next with my writing. The picture book market today is dominated by (very) short, quirky, fun books that each have a unique flavor or selling point to them, whether that is the structure of the book, the memorability of the character or the concept or art.

I don't have a manuscript like that. I don't have a concept like that (yet). Moreover, as a teacher, I am drawn to, and need in our classrooms, longer picture books that may deal with some deeper topics and issues.

Do I spend the next few weeks coming up with and working on a short, quirky, fun concept? Or do I keep working on the manuscripts that I have already started even though they don't match the majority of today's picture book market? One manuscript is about ready to send back in. Another I have started is a more introspective character driven story. Another that is ready for a critique group is a quieter tale with repetitive language.

Decision: Since these are stories I can't get out of my head, I devote time to them right now.

There's plenty of time for that short, quirky, fun concept after that. The beach sounds good . . .