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In honor of Banned Books Week, I’d like to ask the opposite question: What would happen if we forced kids to read everything? I once had a teacher who did this. He was a gentle man with a quiet … Continue reading
It seems that all the mail in my inbox this week has a theme: motivation. In fact, my the message at the top of my inbox had the subject: ISO motivation. HELP!
It’s such an important part of the writing process. Because no one looks over your shoulder (esp if you don’t have a dead line), staying motivated is the key to success.
Let’s just be clear: Writing (in my world) is a long haul. It’s okay to need a little kick in the pants.
What do I do?
To help myself, one of the things I’ve done is write down great quotes on notecards. Every morning, I pull one out randomly. I consider it “divine inspiration.” Then I think about it. I write in my journal. That usually gets me started.
I also loved yesterday’s, too (I shared it on my blog!):
“Long before I wrote stories, I listened for stories. Listening for them is something more acute than listening to them. I suppose it’s an early form of participation in what goes on. Listening children know stories are there. When their elders sit and begin, children are just waiting and hoping for one to come out, like a mouse from its hole.”
If you like writing tips, sign up for MONDAY MOTIVATION on Sarah’s website, www.saraharonson.com. Every Monday, you’ll receive a message with quotes, inspiration or writing exercises.
Good morning, Writers! Today I got an unexpected writing reminder in my bikram yoga class. For those of you who haven’t tried it, this is the yoga done in a hot room. (As in 105 degrees!!!) There are twenty-six postures and two breathing exercises.
Here they are! (I do them three times a week. Since I started: no back pain and NO carpal tunnel.)
On Mondays, I take the 6:30 class. Today, I felt pretty good. But as soon as class started, I began to struggle. Twice, I had to sit down. As I drove home, (as I often do), I thought: well, I learned a lot. About myself. And about my writing life.
1. You have nothing to prove.
Yeah, most of the time I don’t sit down. After two years of consistent practice, I’m pretty proud of that. But so what? Today was a tough day. My goal quickly became: just survive. Stay in the moment. Work on breath.
Often I feel the same way about my writing life. I need to remind myself that I have nothing to prove, that no one is watching my career and judging. There are good days and bad days….and really bad ones. You have to deal with it.
2. Challenges aren’t challenges unless they’re difficult.
Getting through the poses in the heat? Hard.
Writing that new book? Hard.
3. Stay in the moment.
Once I accepted that today was going to be tough, I listened to the teacher and tried to really stay in the moment…no thinking ahead…no anticipating what would come next.
(I need to remind myself of this more often.)
Without a strong foundation, the rest of the pose is impossible.
Without knowing what a character wants?????? You see where I’m going.
I’m working on something new and I think I still have some foundation work to do. Today I’m going to break out the BIG PAPER and see what I can discover.
Have a great writing day! -Sarah
I LOVE funny books.
When I want to write funny, one of the great role models on my shelf is this guy:
Charlie Joe belongs to Tommy Greenwald, who is also pretty funny–even in emails. When his first book, Charlie Joe Jackson’s Guide to Not Reading was released, I interviewed him HERE. (For a while, after I posted that interview, people thought I was funny, too!)
Well…..now Charlie Joe is BACK with Charlie Joe Jackson’s Guide to Extra Credit. And I am still laughing. But now I want to know more.
Because, like a lot of writers, I would really like to know how to write funny..or maybe funnier, So, for today, I asked Tommy to share some of his secrets.
Because he is very funny.
Or maybe he wants a favor from me.
Because he did it!
Are you ready to learn? Because here he is:
Write my blog post, Tommy!!!!!
(no problem, Sarah!)
People always ask me how am I able to write such funny books.
Then they realize I’m not who they thought I was, and they give me a slightly embarrassed look and walk away.
I think that may be what happened with Sarah, the nice woman who asked me to write this blog. (note from Sarah: flattery may not be funny, but it gets you everywhere!!) But the difference is, she asked me over email, so she can’t tell that I’m not the person she thought I was. And if she’s walking away embarrassed, I can’t see her.
So I’m writing the blog anyway. Just try to stop me.
How do you write funny? Wow, that’s a really good question. It’s kind of like asking, How do you BE funny? There’s no real answer. There are just a few tidbits, hints, suggestions, guidelines, bits of nonsense and wild guesses that I can share. It might help you. But it probably won’t.
So, there you have it. My non-rules for writing humor. Follow them at your own risk. Except for the gastro-intestinal joke thing. That’s a must.
Thank you, Tommy!
You’re welcome, Sarah!
READERS: if you want a good laugh,
and we KNOW you do…..
check out Charlie Joe Jackson’s Guide to Extra Credit. If you would like people to look at you funny, read Charlie Joe Jackson’s Guide to Extra Credit IN PUBLIC! It’s a fun book.
(Just don’t drink anything while you’re reading. If you know what I mean!)
And don’t forget….if you have a question for Tommy….or you want to try making him (or me) laugh, post a comment!!!
Sarah Aronson is the author of books with mostly subtle humor. (Another way of saying: not really all that funny. But still good. Just not all that funny.)
Sometimes, I need to teach. Sometimes I need to write a review, and sometimes (well, every day) I need to be a mom, a writer, a wife, a food shopper, an organizer, and did I say writer?
It can be a bit overwhelming.
Actually, it was overwhelming TODAY. (This post is coming about eight hours late!)
What can we do to keep our writing lives a priority when there are so many other people/things/jobs calling our name?
Here’s my list:
1. Recognize that there IS a list. Prioritize every day. Most days, I get the writing done FIRST. Then the other stuff.
2. When something BIG comes up…a wedding…or someone is ill…or a friend is in need, or your family moves (like mine did), forgive yourself. Reshuffle that list. Give yourself the time to take care of this BIG LIFE issue. The story can wait. You can’t write when you’re distracted anyway.
3. Make goals. Short term. Medium term. Long term.
A looooooooong time ago, I heard Kate DiCamillo confess that she writes two pages a day. Then she does other stuff. When someone commented that that did not seem like a lot, she said something like, “If you do it every day, you’ll have a novel in 75 days.” POINT TAKEN.
4. REST. READ. Eat chocolate. These are compulsory balance activities. BE NICE TO YOURSELF. Celebrate the good stuff–no matter how small it is.
*****DON’T FORGET TO EXERCISE!!!! A healthy writer is a happier, more productive one.
5. Last, to have balance in your life, you must engage your loved ones in the process. Let them know when you have a deadline (Elliot, are you reading this???). Let them know when you are going to be stressed out. Don’t pretend you can do it all. A lot of us women bought into that supermom image, but let’s face it: there comes a time when we just have to ignore the house or the kids or the hubby or the shopping list. Engage your family in your process and they will be more sensitive to your need for pizza night!
Do you have any tricks for maintaining balance in your life?
If you have a minute more, please share!
If a writer friend has asked you to read and critique their work, they are giving you an enormous and honored responsibility. It is YOUR JOB as a reader to respond honestly…and compassionately….but also to help the writer envision what could happen.
Here are my reading guidelines:
After reading the novel, I tell the reader THREE THINGS that are really working in the draft. I try to be as specific as I can.
Then I get into the nitty gritty!
Title: does it make you want to read the book? What do you think the book is about?
First line/first page: are you hooked? Would you keep reading? Think about the inciting incident. (placement, effectiveness, ability to propel the plot forward) Was there a point where you got very excited about what might happen next?
Point of view character: Can you identify the main character? How quickly did you find the main character interesting? Why? How did the author pull you into the character’s head/story? Be specific, if you can. Do you know what that character wants and why? Are you excited to turn the page? Why?
Is the main character likeable? Talk about places where you took the character’s side…or you questioned the motivation of the main character.
Does the main character change during the story? How? Look at the places in the novel where that change begins. Describe the effectiveness of the important scenes. Does the main character cause the action in the story? Were there moments when the secondary characters took over the story?
Dialogue: Think about the sound of dialogue. Did it sound real? Appropriate use of tag lines? Beats? Does it push the story forward?
When do the secondary characters enter the story? Comment on the connectivity between the main characters at the beginning of the book. Were there characters you did not believe or want to know more about? What about their motivations??????
Is the antagonist worthy of your protagonist?
Narrative voice: How was it unique? Be specific.
Show versus telling? Tell the writer what scenes REALLY worked and why.
PLOT: Think about the rising action of the whole novel. Indicate shining plot points. Was the ending inevitable and surprising? Think about how the beginning and ending are connected.
Pick 1-2 memorable scenes in the novel. Why did they work? How many scenes could you describe without looking at the manuscript? If you were asked to convince another reader to buy this book, could you sell it?
Think about the characters that were present during the most important scenes. Were any characters missing from these scenes?
Was there a scene that could have been more exciting? Please be specific.
Was there a scene that confused you or seemed out of place?
Was there a scene that you skimmed? A place where you lost interest?
Did you guess/know the ending? Did this facilitate your enjoyment? Or hurt it?
Pacing: Look specifically at chapter endings and beginnings. How did the author handle the passage of time?
Description: Find moments where description enhanced a scene or mood.
Appropriate length? Places where the writer could have done more? Places that could be cut?
I learn SO MUCH from reading WIPs. I always share this with the writer. In the process of writing, we all learn from one another. I always THANK the writers who give me the opportunity to learn from them.
If I had to title the month of May, I would call it “Feedback Frenzy.”
I am reading manuscripts for my upcoming Whole Novel Class for writers.com. I have also begun to receive manuscripts for Highlights’ Whole Novel Workshop!
Tami Lewis Brown just read my newest WIP and gave me GREAT feedback!
(I’m also anticipating my first editorial letter on my upcoming YA novel, BELIEVE, and already have a notebook full of ideas!)
FEEDBACK is an essential part of the process. But getting it can feel like showing up for a blind date naked. It can make us feel VERY vulnerable. And giving it…well….for me, this is about trust. When I read someone else’s book, I treat it like a baby! Reading is a HUGE responsibility.
Today, let’s talk about it!
First of all….I would bet we all have bad feedback nightmares.
My worst experience was this: a reader friend said to me, “There is NOTHING I like in this submission.” No laughter. No comment after that.
Not a good day.
And yet, in the beginning…..
I thought feedback was about figuring out what was going wrong. That was the kind of feedback I found most useful. “How do I fix this?” was my main question. “What is missing?” I thought the “positive feedback” was just my readers’ way of preparing me for the “real” comments.
Back then, I didn’t understand what it meant to “re-imagine” my stories. I thought that the structure was set in stone the first time. (hahahaha) I thought that my job was to write the first story better.
Now that I am often the commenter, I couldn’t disagree with myself more. Yes, what isn’t working is STILL part of my responsibility as a reader….but it probably ranks as #3 on the scale of importance. AND it means: how can we re-envision these relationships? These scenes? This story?
Now, I’ve come to realize that feedback is much, much more.
For today, here are my first BIG questions:
***WHAT IS WORKING? WHAT DO I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE ABOUT THE BOOK?
When a writer knows what is working (POV? VOICE? CONFLICT?), they can build on that. They can learn from their strengths. They will feel better about what ISN’T working….knowing what IS working gives a writer confidence and knowledge.
***WHAT ARE THE POSSIBILITIES?
When I read, I look for SEEDS….places in the book that need tending and nurturing, places that need more attention. I look for possibilities and places that seem out of order with the rest of the book. I look for places where I say, “YES!!!” and “HUH??” I look for moments where the character is ACTIVE…where they REACT….and where they don’t. I examine the flow of tension in the book.
***WHEN IS THE DREAM BROKEN?
I acknowledge that I am one reader. But I want my students and friends to know where I put down the book…where I became too aware of the writer’s hand. I also want them to know where I couldn’t stop turning the pages.
***HOW MANY TISSUES?
(I cry at the end of almost EVERY book I read.)
The responsibility of reading is a sacred one. When you get great feedback, you see the possibilities…you form ideas. You make connections in your manuscript that deepen the story.
Tomorrow, I will post my “questions for discussion,” questions that help us understand what is working…and not working…in a manuscript.
In the meantime, let’s talk about feedback. Got any good stories? Anything to get off your chest?