Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Aim, Shoot, Bull's-Eye: Writing Targets for The New Year

"It's the sheer act of writing, more than anything else, that makes a writer." --John Gardner

photo courtesy of

I know it's just semantics, but I've decided to set writing "targets" rather than resolutions for the new year. The "dart board"--what I'm aiming for--is to write every day. No matter how much,  how little--my goal is to at least hit one of four targets every day. Each is represented by the graduated concentric circles of a dart board. (I wish I could diagram this, but such design skills aren't in my repertoire yet!)

The four targets include:
1. The Bull's Eye: Write 1000 words. I hope to hit this mark more often than not in the upcoming year. But that is the real prize, and often hard to attain. So if circumstances--like life's challenges away from the computer--preclude this then I'll aim for...

2. The Inside Ring: Write two pages. Linda Sue Park, author of the 2002 Newbery Medal Winner A Single Shard, in an interview over at Cuppa Jolie, said: "My most valuable tip came from Katherine Paterson, who wrote in an essay about how she tries to finish 2 pages a day. I read that when I was starting work on my first novel, and it was a huge light-bulb moment. I thought, I can do that! I don't know if I can ever write a whole novel, but I sure as heck can write 2 pages a day. I've written every single one of my novels that way, and I'm positive I never would have written even one if I hadn't read that tip." Still and all, though, if time is at a premium on a busy day, I will at least shoot for...

3. The Middle Ring: Write for 15 minutes. Dan Goodwin, at Coach Creative, says: "Create every day and you get used to starting creative sessions quickly and easily. They become a routine, a habit, and you begin before you've had a chance to procrastinate. The less often you create, the harder it becomes to get started, and the more excuses and 'urgent' tasks that have to be done before you create begin to stack up...(so) start today, set aside 15 minutes, make an appointment with your creativity, and write it down. Do the same tomorrow." Yet, being realistic, on days I can't even do that I will at least...

4. The Outer Ring: Write ten words. This from Mary E. Pearson, on a  guest post at Dear Editor: "When I feel like I can't move forward, I will do all kinds of things to help me keep going, like...Trick myself. I sit down to write and tell myself I only have to write ten words and then I can get up and do whatever I want guilt free. TEN. That's all. But I have to do it every day." She says it's amazing how allowing yourself ten simple words more often than not jump starts the writing process and you end up writing more than you thought you would.

So there you have it, my targets for 2011. Every day, hit at least one. Now my aim might be poor at the beginning. After all, I haven't been all that consistent in the past. But with practice, who knows what  will come. I'm looking forward to finding out!

What are your writing targets for the upcoming new year?

It is necessary to write, if the days are not to slip emptily by. How else, indeed, to clap the net over the butterfly of the moment? For the moment passes, it is forgotten; the mood is gone; life itself is gone. That is where the writer scores over his fellows: he catches the changes of his mind on the hop. --Vita Sackville-West

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A Christmas Candle

A Christmas candle is a lovely thing;
It makes no noise at all,
But softly gives itself away.
---Eva Logue


Congratulations, Catherine A. Winn. You have won a copy of the board book, Bear Snores On. It will be in the mail shortly. Please leave your e-mail address in the comments below, and I'll contact you for mailing information. Enjoy!

And thanks to those who perchance stopped by, with wishes for light, joy and peace to all. And writing successes in your stockings! 

May you have warm words on a cold evening, a full moon on a dark night,
and a smooth road all the way to your door. --Irish Blessing

Friday, December 17, 2010

10 Tips on Voice--and a Beary Good Giveaway!

A writer's voice is not character alone, it is not style alone; it is far more. A writer's voice--like the stroke of an artist's brush--is the thumbprint of his or her whole person--his or her idea, wit, humor, passions, rhythms. --Patricia Lee Gauch

Bear Snores On, by Karma Wilson, has fast become one of my picture book favorites. I love to read it with Angelica, and anticipate reading it to the newest family member Adrian--unless, of course, his big sister beats me to it. And, not surprisingly, it has found it's way cross-country to little Nicholas, too.

Recently, after yet another reading, a whimsical  thought hit me. The story is also a metaphor for that elusive quality writers look for in their writing: "voice." After all, Bear SNORES ON until (without giving anything away) a series of events come along and he WAKES UP--and uses his voice as only he can. Which is what we writers are trying to do: wake up the voice that is only ours to speak.

Voice. A variety of definitions exist for voice.  Chip MacGreagor calls it your personality on the page. Laura Backes says voice is the way each author approaches the art of writing. Voice is "you," according to Graham Salisbury. Others say it is the identity of the writing, the way words flow, what makes the piece unique. I personally like Linda Fraustino's definition: "voice is attitude with rhythm."

Personality. Uniqueness. Attitude. Rhythm. The way words move and flow. The writer's thumbprint. Who you are. In other words, the life that a writer breathes into words.

The past year's been good for me in exploring the idea of voice--in writing and in blogging. Along the way, I picked up some tips that have been beneficial. I list them here in hopes they will help you as well.

1. Practice. Write. Write to your word count goals. Write character sketches. Free write. Journal. Write, as Backes says, simply for the pleasure of writing and not always necessarily with an eye toward publication. "Over time, with lots of practice," she says, "your voice will emerge, if you let it."

2. Let Go. I recently read an article in which Patricia Lee Gauch related how, as a young writer working for a local newspaper, she had an experience that helped her understand voice. A story she had submitted came back with these words from the editor: "This piece has no energy, no pizzazz...I want to hear your Voice." She said he looked at her to make sure she was listening. "You are going to have to let go when you write." Helpful words to us all. Let go. Self-conscious, "trying-to-get-it-right" writing will come across in just that way. Relax. Let the words flow.

3. Close Your Eyes--and Write Like You Talk. Again from Backes: " The best voices appear when authors write as they speak. (So) try typing your writing exercise with your eyes closed so you can't see the computer screen. Closing your eyes also helps you focus inward where the story is conceived. Then you'll be guided by how the words sound and feel, and that's the closest thing to your true voice."

4. Give it Time--and Be Patient. Allowing your voice to develop is a process--and it will be hampered if you try too hard. Backes: "Give it time, and remember that each of you already possesses your destined writing fingerprint. If you're patient, you can place that fingerprint on your work."

5. Expect to Write a Million Bad Words First. This comes from agent and's Mary Kole, in a guest post at Guide to Literary Agents (11/23/10). Daunting, but so true. "In order to get published or anywhere near publishable," Mary says, "you've got to write about a million bad words. That's right. A million of 'em. Only after you write a whole bargeload of BS will you: a) start to recognize what's good, and b) start getting a handle on the craft. Writing is a thing to be practiced, just like everything else. Write every day. Do it diligently and without ego until those milion bad words are behind you."

6. Be Persistent. I especially love this piece of advice. "To understand voice," according to Salisbury, "you must invest long hours of hard work. You can eat an elephant a bite at a time, and that's how we improve--a bite at a time." I don't know about you, but I'm determined to eat the elephant!

7. Be Yourself. Les Edgerton, in Finding Your Voice, says it this way: "Your mama was right: just be yourself, honey, and eveyone will love you, pimples, bad haircut, gap teeth and all. Just be yourself, compassionate or ironic, flirtatious or embarrassed, imperfect and real; with your style, your tone, and your sense of humor...Loosen up, improvise...Your words, your language. Not language borrowed."

8. Listen, and READ. Listen to others. Listen to the way you talk. Listen to other writers by reading--and read alot. "Really listen to people talk. Listen to yourself. Read all kinds of writing, from comic novels to journalistic essays, and think about how the voice works," says Editor Amy Flynn.

9. Read Your Work Outloud. "Read your work out loud to yourself and to audiences and clean up all areas that falter." This from Wendy Lamb, Editor.

10. Play with Words. "Play with words. Play the same scene from multiple perspectives...Practice the possibilities and know where your best writing flows."--Linda Fraustino

So voice comes down to this: write, write, write; read, read, read; practice; play. Repeat. To paraphrase a line from the movie Field of Dreams: if you write it, voice will come.

Now to a giveaway! I have a copy of Bear Snores On I'd love to give away. All you have to do is post a comment here by Tuesday, December 21. The winner will be announced the next day, Dec. 22. Two chances if you are a follower. You and/or the one to whom you read it are in for a real treat.

"...Ultimately if we are to succeed, we must discover and disclose our own voice...sense of style...particular embrace of language and information. Consider by way of explanation these words: authentic, nonformulaic, rhythmic, properly detailed, nuanced, musical, magical, bone-and-sinew touching...Consider writing that pulses with a heartbeat of the writer--his soul, her personality--something that connot be duplicated because it comes from within someone." --Peter Jacobi

Thursday, December 9, 2010

In This Season of Miracles

Where there is great love there are always miracles. --Willa Cather

Sometimes miracles come in increments, like words that build one by one to make a book that you can hold in your hands. Other times--the more awesome times-- come after a period of unseen mysteries in the darkness of the womb until, in the whisper of an early morning hour, the angels sing at the birth of a new little person. A new little person who, once you hold him in your hands, changes your world for the better just because he was born.

So it was for us this week when our second grandson Adrian--baby brother to big sister Angelica and cousin to our first grandson Nicholas--was born. A miracle in the warmth of his tiny body, his sweetness, his yawns and stretches, funny little grimaces, and, yes, even his loud cries that will take big sister some time to get used to.

Precious. There's nothing like the moment of gazing down into the face of newness, promise and hope, of joy and dancing of the heart.

No, it won't always be smooth going and happy dances, balloons and flowers, gifts and well-wishes. There might be nights of crying and fussiness to come. But the miracle is also in how love lays the foundation well and paves the way, lighting the path ahead.

Can you tell I'm a happy grandma? Along with Angelica and Nicholas, baby Adrian has not only captured a piece of my heart, but he has grabbed it tight with a mighty grasp for such a small hand.

In this season of celebrating the greatest miracle of all--God's gift of his Son to the world--I'm savoring a small taste of that great love in this birth week. Writing may be on hold for a few days. But you'll excuse me, won't you? I have a better miracle to hold in my hands for a time.

May this be a season of miracles for you, too.

"The child must know that he is a miracle, that since the beginning of the world there hasn't been, and until the end of the world there will not be, another child like him." --Pablo Casals

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Stay Curious--But Get the Facts

"The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery every day. Never lose a holy curiosity." --Albert Einstein

I ran across a list of explanations and definitions for historical traditions and word meanings in a recent issue of our local historical society's newsletter. While the tidbits were interesting, and in some cases downright funny, I had to ask myself if the "facts" were true. There were no credits or source information given. Hmmm. Well, let's just say such an example can serve as a reminder to double-check our research notes before taking them public. First account sources--like diaries, original documents, photos, interviews--are always best to draw from. For sure there's a reader out there somewhere itching to correct us if we slip up!

Having said that, here--from "Life in the 1500s Was No Picnic!"--is the list:

"Most people got married in June because they took their yearly bath in May, and they still smelled pretty good by June. However, since they were starting to smell, brides carried a bouquet of flowers to hide the body odor. Hence the custom today of carrying a bouquet when getting married."

"Only the wealthy had floors other than dirt. Hence the saying, 'dirt poor'."

"If thresh (straw) were spread on the floor and regularly added to, it would begin to slip out the door. To prevent this, a piece of wood (or 'thresh hold') would be placed in the doorway."

"Bread was divided according to status: servants got the burnt bottom of the loaf, the family got the middle, and guests got the top or 'upper crust'."

Yep, some curious stuff here. But, while we should never lose a sense of curiosity, in writing we should back up our work with facts that can be documented. What do you say?