Book Give-Away

Needing a reason to write during these times of isolation and challenge?

I am giving away a copy of my book 101-and more-Writing Exercises to Get You Started and Keep You Going to the first 19 people who contact me.

Email me (with ‘Writing Excercise book’ in the subject line) and I will put a copy in the mailbox asap. To wherever in the world you might be.

When you’ve used it for a while, I’d love it if you’d send a an optional one-line review.

ALSO: nine people – selected at random – will also receive a copy of one of my kids’ books to share in person or virtually with a young reader in your life.

 If you’d like to suggest I send 101 Writing Exercises to a friend or fellow writer instead, I can do that.

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“Were there handouts?”

Writers emerging from classes, courses, workshops and conferences are often asked, “Were there handouts?”

I know that presentations I have attended are always enhanced by something to take home and review. Whether it’s a list of recommended reading, inspiring or useful quotes, informational  tips and strategies, or a list of online resources to follow up on later, they are always helpful.

Many I have hung onto for years, and continue to refer back to.

I have started to post handouts used in current and recent workshops and presentations on the Adult Presentations page of my website here.

Anyone is welcome to use them in any way they like. But when possible, I do ask that you credit them to me and my website.


Deadlines, bloody deadlines

 

Deadlines. Actually, I am a fan of the things. Tell me, “Just send it when you’re ready,” or “Get it to us as soon as possible,” and I will be in a  right royal flap. “What do they mean by ‘ready’? I wonder. “How soon is soon.” “What is possible?”

So give me a date. And whether it’s a writing deadline, grant application, job application or medical test, I will be there.

But what I love even better are deadline extensions. Not the ones I request… I think I have done it once… but those that are granted to me, based on the amount of work the person at the other end is anticipating. And their need for me to hold off on adding my project to their To Do list just yet.

deadlines-crushing-personI like to feel I am being helpful by holding out for a couple of extra weeks.

Which is the case right now.

I took time off work and had scheduled the next ten days down to the last minute. Much of which would be spent on tracking down photos, documenting them, making a spreadsheet of source info, downloading images, and marking up the MS. to indicate where they might go. I also had to do a number of revisions based on the highly useful and insightful notes sent to me by the sensitivity reader, a senior researcher with the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness who spent the past three weeks with the manuscript. 

I could have done it. I was fully prepared to hit Send on the whole kit and caboodle on Dec 30 to meet the publisher’s Jan 1 deadline.

But it turns out I now have a couple of extra weeks to play with. Time to dawdle a bit. Plan an unanticipated move that is coming up mid-Jan. Play hooky over the holidays for a few hours. Catch up with a few friends I have overlooked for the past year. Read a book or two.

I can breathe a little easier. 

That for me is the best gift of the season so far .

HAPPY HOLIDAYS TO ALL.

 


Step by step

This draft (numbered five, although there have been a number of sub-drafts, too) of my kids’ book on homelessness is nearly done.

But it’s not over yet.

In the next day or so I will be sending it off to a homelessness researcher at York University. She will serve as ‘sensitivity reader’ providing feedback on accuracy, pointing out what I might have ‘got wrong’ in writing about this topic, and I hope letting me know if there’s anything I have not covered that should be there.

I don’t know about how much she knows about writing for this age group. So along with the MS. I will be sending her a few notes about my goal of informing, eliciting empathy and addressing myths around homelessness, without overloading the readers with detail. But at the same time – at the publisher’s request – conveying the situation in the US as well as Canada.

Easey Peasey!

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Photo: L. Peterson The owner of this cart sweeps the downtown streets to help local businesses, and in return is grateful for cash, coffee or a good meal.

While she is reading the book, I will be doing photo and image research. In some cases using images I have received from individuals and agencies. Others sourced from stock photo sites. And a few I have taken myself. These need be logged, and notes placed in the relevant area of the MS to indicate there they might go… about 40 of them!

Once the MS comes back from the sensitivity reader, I will have a couple of weeks to address any issues that she has pointed out, finish compiling the log and notations about images, and submitting it all to the editor by Jan 1.

Then the waiting to hear back about what will need changing, revising, editing, etc. will begin. Always a fraught time. “What if they hate it?”

All in all this nonfiction business is much more complex than writing fiction, in which I just sat around writing ‘whatever came into my head’.

But I have a real commitment and obligation to ‘get this right’. I want the book to be useful, to be accessible, and I hope it will be  a tool to change minds, illuminate an important social topic, and generate empathy in the reader… who I hope will share it with the adults around them, some of whom are sadly lacking the empathy department when faced by something they don’t understand.


What me? Panic?


I’m not really panicking. Honest.

Well, maybe just a bit.

I have just six days to finish a ‘good’ first draft of my non fiction book, so that DB can run through it with his red pencil while I am on my travels.

I am determined NOT to think about the project while I am in Turkey. But I am a bit concerned about how little time there is left before 11 p.m. next Wednesday. My ‘cut-off’ time. (After all, I do need a couple of hours to pack!)

I have been on a roller-coaster of doubt and panic over the past many months. Fiction was easy… kind of. I just had to somehow transfer the mess in my head to the page, then fix it up once it was there in front of me in black and while.

For this project, I have read numerous reports, scanned hundreds of news articles, studied websites and blog postings, sent  emails, juggled phone calls, done interviews, researched picture sources… and there will  be more of everything to do between this first draft and the next.

Some days I feel as if I am on top of it all. At other times, I am not even sure how to get to the point where I would be able to send the MS. to my editor.

 I am very afraid that I won’t be able to a) do justice to the very complex issue of homelessness, and to everyone who lives with it every day, or works to help people find a safe home, b) live up to the expectations of my publisher with whom I have published eight books, and c) do justice to my own need for achievement and perfection.

I can’t do this. I can do this. I can’t do this. You will do this. Maybe it would sound better set to music!

I know the best antidote to fear is action. In the same way I have learned that the best response to writers’ block is to actually write

So I am now going to quit moaning, publish this post, and get on with the job in hand. Because the one thing I have learned in the last few months is that if I am busy working, I can’t panic at the same time.

And as I have so many times before, I will follow the admonishment, “Leap, and the net will appear.”

L

flight

 

 

 


Research #7: Why I quit Google Alerts (which seemed a very good idea at the time)

Every morning for the past few months I woke to find links to about 30-50 recent news articles that related in one way or another to homelessness.

If I didn’t get through them all in the morning – bookmarking some, printing out others, and trying to read through all the selected ones at least once – I tried to get through the rest of them in the late evening before bed.

I started and ended my day with lots of hard information – and harder news. And sometimes – surprisingly often – some good news, too.

(And in between, I was juggling the actual work on the book with my job at the shelter. )

Every day, all day was about homelessness.

But it started taking its toll. I dreaded turning on my computer first thing in the a.m. And found I was not sleeping well at night.

So I’ve quit. Not the job. Nor the book… as the deadline inches ever closer. But I have taken back control of what I read, download and absorb. (This on top of other materials and information that comes my way by other means.)

Now I do it on my time. With a break of some sort either before or after. 

I have cancelled the four alerts. Instead, every few days I very intentionally do a Google search, using one of three subject headings. I spend 45-minutes max. scrolling through, picking out the items that either reflect most closely the topic I am writing about or researching right now, or those that grab me because they offer something new I have not yet delved into.

Then I don’t do it again for another few days.

I have taken back control of what I read, download and absorb. And when.

Over the past three months there has been a lot of repetition in what Google Alerts have  thrown up. Homelessness resisters rally. Shelters get closed. Or open. People speak up. Businesses pitch in. Government set priorities. Researchers publish reports. Campers get moved on. Helpers step forward. Homeless people get fed, clothed, provided with medical attention, food, showers when they need it. Or not. People talk. Individuals tell their story. Or state their case. Children show compassion. Bureaucrats agonize or patronize. Funders provide money. Or withdraw it. Neighbours get up in arms. Or take up arms to help. People collect money. Videos get made. And panned or praised. Newspapers publish letters to the Editors…

I can’t get it all. I can’t read and absorb everything, and still have the energy to keep going.

I no longer dread opening my mail. Instead of being burdened by alerts, almost every day I am buoyed up by responses to my queries and requests. Yes. Please use our photos. Certainly, give me a call. Of course, I will connect you with the person you need to speak to. I am happy to forward that piece of information, study or contact info. Or you can find it here. Do let me know if you need anything more. Keep me posted. Keep going…

Google Alerts proved to be really useful, as long as I needed them

But I’m glad to be done with them, for now. So I can get on with my job, my book, and my life.


Working hard vs hardly working


Sometimes it’s just bloody hard work.

But that’s no reason to stop. 

I’d rather do something hard that was important to me, than drift on doing the easy stuff that just does not matter – to me or anyone else.

Even so. Sometimes this project is just bloody hard work. So I recall – once again – Anne Lamott’s story in her wonderful book Bird by Bird. 

“Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write. [It] was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said. ‘Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.'”

And I take her father’s advice to heart.

These days, when I sit down to work I don’t tackle the whole thing at once. I pick a topic, a section, just one simple fact I need to research or write about. And I ‘just get on with it,’ as my own mother might have suggested. 

(Building the book will come later, once I’ve had a chance to review all its various parts and figure out the best spot for each one.)

So today I’m reading up on street newspapers. 

There are more than 100 worldwide, I learned from the International Network of Street Papers’ website. The first one documented was in New York in 1989. But others in other cities may well have started earlier.

Street newspapers usually serve three purposes.

  1. The provide a small income for the sellers who buy them from the publisher at cost, and sell them at a small profit.
    (In the case of the Vancouver publication Megaphone, sellers pay 75 cents a copy and sell them for $2.00. Most of them working regular patches somewhere in the city, where their customer get to know them, and they get to know many of their customers.)
  2. They offer a voice for low-income and homeless people who get to contribute writing and artwork that documents and explores their own lives.
  3. The publications themselves serve to share information about homelessness and poverty-related issues, and advocate for change.

So today I read a few pages of research, wrote a few hundred words, contacted three street newspaper publishers and associations for pics, and in the process set one bird free. 

Excuse me now. I’ve got to fly.

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Research #6: Finding my way through the maze


Working on a topic as challenging as homelessness means I often get overwhelmed by both the complexity of the issue, and the need to distill it down into concepts and language that are easily understood by young readers.

My process so far has been to read and study the specific topic I am focussing on, commit to the page anything and everything that I think I need to include, then back up and edit that section or passage for clarity. At that point I also identify information that I still need, subjects that will need a graphic or photo, and any primary research I still need to do – and the people or organizations I might need to contact – to ensure I have a full picture of the issue.

I have also done some research into strategies and systems for researching and writing nonfiction. Perhaps the most useful has been an article called How to Simplify Complex Ideas by Henneke, on the Enchanted Marketing Website. Although the article is intended for authors of blogs, it’s applicable to non fiction in general.

In short, Henneke’s five steps are:

  1. Ask the right questions – and make each one small enough to answer in 1,000 words.
  2. Reduce the clutter
  3. Rewrite and rewrite again
  4. Organize
  5. Draw Pictures

As my book is built around the ‘Five W’s and How’ of the issue, I found myself halfway there to framing research questions that helped me delve into the causes, affects and responses to homelessness. (I have consciously decided to avoided using the word ‘solutions’, using ‘responses’ instead – as sometimes they work, and sometimes they don’t. Even if the intent is there.)  

Henneke’s first guideline has really helped me drill down into each specific topic, thereby reducing the clutter and the amount of time I spend lost in the maze of information, stats and opinion.

Photo: The maze of Horta, Barcelona. By Carlos Lorenza www.barcelonaphotoblog.com/2006/04/get-lost-in-green-maze-of-horta.html


Research #5 – KIS(S) Keeping it Simple

 

After spending an hour trying to come up with a kid-friendly description of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, I did a random online search for ‘Maslow’s Hierarchy for Kids’ and came across a useful article on Wiki Kids Search.

Snip20190508_39I often suggest that writers use kids’ non fiction book as a launching point for research on difficult or complex topics, but had not discovered this online tool before.

Lists of library online databases (which I consider are the most under-used and under-appreciated of any public library resource) usually include several for kids, useful for homework and general research. And I’ve often them found them invaluable in the past.

But the Wiki Kids Search gave me what I needed this time.

I did not spend too much time checking out other topics. But did come away with some useful information expressed in an easily-digestible way for my current project. And will add this to my resource list for future research use.

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Finding a balance


The topic of homelessness is a big one. And whatever reading and I research I do reveals it to be more intractible and pervasive than I could ever imagined. Even though I work ‘in the business’.

But I am learning lots, and in the process discovering just how much I can take in one day, and still come out on the side of thinking that people living in precarious situations can find solutions to their problems.

And that I can develop the tone and establish the boundaries for what I need to share in the book.

I’ve now implemented a bit of a schedule so I can manage both my work and my emotions.

1. In any given week I alternate research and writing about the complexities of the issue, with a close look at all the good that organizations and individuals are doing.
Today I learned about Netherlands inventor’s Bas Timmer’s ‘Sheltersuit’ – which has already been distributed to 6,000 homeless people in the Netherlands and Europe, and asylum seekers in Sarajevo and Greece.

2. The issue of homelessness is huge in my community of Nanaimo. And there are many social network platforms where this – and other social issues – are heatedly discussed. I’ve withdrawn from all the groups which attract the most vitriol and negative thinking about the causes and conditions of homelessness, and those affected by it.

Being exposed to such mean spiritedness does nothing to help me frame the subject in a  way that meets my goals of ‘providing information, challenging attitudes and encouraging empathy’.

(Although the ‘Myth Buster ‘sidebars in the book will address a number of common misconceptions I hear voiced over and over again.)

3. I alternate work sessions with other non-book related activities. Starting with a ninety-minute work session early in the morning, another ninety minutes in late morning or early afternoon, then again in the evening. In between I do some work, (also homelessness-related, but very specific work that makes a difference in 30 shelter guests’ lives every day), read a book, do an errand, take a walk, make a meal…

34. When I’m out and about in the community I do the one thing I recommend everyone try once in a while. Connect with someone on the street – with a smile, a quick conversation, a small donation. 

Many people who live on the street say that the human interaction is just as important to them as whatever donations of cash or food they might receive.


Research #4 – Those ‘aha’ moments


Most days I start work by scanning 10 to 30 links thrown up by three different Google Alerts that I’ve established. All have to do one way or another with the children’s nonfiction book on homelessness that I’m working on.

Some days it’s depressing work. So many communities struggling in so many ways with so many issues related to the problem. Growing numbers of unsheltered and unhoused people. More and more evidence of the impact of addictions and compromised mental health. So many individuals and neighbourhoods opposing efforts to create more shelter beds, more services and supports.

The scope of my research covers all of N. America. So every day there are a lot of links to follow, articles to read, and determinations to be made about if/how what I’ve just learned relates to my book.

And if it does, how to archive it and track it so I can find it when I need it.

Some days it can be hard going.

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Photo: Readers Digest

But I’d estimate that for every five ‘bad news’ stories, there is at least one good one. One of the  most heartening elements of  my research is just how many individuals and organizations are coming up with innovative and effective ways of supporting homeless people. Like this one. Nine-year-old year-old Californian Khloe Thompson was so affected by the homeless women she encountered in her neighbourhood, that she set up a charity called Khloe Kares. So far she has raised over $10,000, some of which has gone towards making homemade bags which she fills with toiletries and other sundries to distribute in her community.

Another bonus to this kind of scattershot research is that it also throws up information that might not directly relate to my subject, but is compelling enough to take note of, and get back to.

Today a CBC news post alerted me for the first time to Metis road allowance settlement. When Metis people were deprived of their homes through the ‘scrip’ program, many settled in the ten-foot road allowance proscribed by the Northern Land Survey, alongside roads and railways lines. 

This led me to check into the subject further through the Indigenous Peoples of Canada website

At first glimpse, I was not sure how and if I could use this information, fascinating – and chilling – as it is. But then I thought of the connection of our modern-day tent cities to the shantytowns of the Depression, and how actions of – or inaction by – governments and bureaucracies often lead people to find their own solutions and create their own communities.


Research #3: Keeping track of online sources

 

From the beginning of this project – when it was still a tiny germ in my mind – I knew that one of the most important things I needed to do was keep track of all my sources of online information.

It’s not enough to create bookmarks of websites, blogs, database articles, etc. Online material changes, it may get deleted or moved. I therefore keep a Research Master File, using either a Word table or Excel spreadsheet.

For every piece of info. I find online that might be useful, I note:

  1. The title of the article, paper or file and the author name.
    In this way, if worst comes to worst, I can probably track it down again later with just this information.
  2. The name of the website and its url.
    Both is better than just one or another. 
  3. The date I last accessed it.
    This is important. One of the last things I do before I submit a piece of work that is based on online research is check all those links again so I know whether they are current and I can rely on them for fact checking or for including in the body of the final work.
  4. A few notes about the most important content and how and where I think I might use it.
    It’s quite likely that I find something that I think might be useful at one point, but weeks later forget all together a) what I was looking for when I found it or b) why I thought it might be useful.
  5. The name of the hardcopy folder when I’ve saved a printed copy of the article or page*.
  6. A column, left blank at this point, where I can later note where this information is used (chapter and/or page#) in the final  MS .

I know this creates a lot of paper, but I then *print out a copy of the website page or article, date it, and file it in the appropriate hardcopy folder. This may seem unnecessary duplication and a waste of paper, but sometimes it’s quicker just to grab the hardcopy to review rather than to go back to the source, and I need to have a copy in case the electronically archived/bookmarked material disappears.

Lastly, I create an electronic bookmark, saved in a named folder, so I can find the source material again if I need it without resorting to the Research Master File or my hard copies.

(I do also from time to time print out a copy of the list all the bookmarks for this project, which I will admit might be ‘surplus to requirement’).

Sounds like a lot of work, and perhaps OTT organization. But I find that starting out by developing processes for documenting and archiving research sources and content saves me the time and effort of having to make it up as I go along.

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Research # 2 – Mining Wikipedia for facts

Not everyone knows that the online encyclopedia Wikipedia is a collaborative – and not wholly authoritative – endeavour. Almost anyone and everyone can contribute and edit articles. Which means that not everything you may find there is definitive or accurate.

But I certainly don’t overlook it as a source for research information.

Rather, I use the footnotes and references at the bottom of any article of interest to use as leads for attributed information I might find useful.

For the purposes of this post, I randomly selected the topic of Pasty. The article is obviously written by someone with a fondness for the traditional Cornish takeout food, and quite a bit of knowledge.

My grandmother’s pasties set the bar high for any I’ve eaten since, and I like to think of myself as the pasty expert, based not only on the number of the meat and potato-filled pastries I’ve eaten, but also on the ‘facts’ I hold to be true. For example, that their crust is intended for thick miners’ hands, the men who carried them underground for their lunch, after which the ‘carrying handle’ could be discarded. And that the only proper ingredients are potato, swede, beef and onions at one end, apple and raisins at the other – despite what the ubiquitous mass-produced Cornish pasty manufacturers (many of whose products are all made across the River Tamar in England) may suggest by their brie and apple, or sausage and cranberry offerings.

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Cornish Pasty

But instead of digging too deeply into the article to see what the author had got right or wrong, I scrolled down to the References at the bottom of the page. All 73 of them. Plus links to four books and two other websites.

This is where I am most likely to find useful resources, the origins of which can be followed, explored, evaluated, attributed and footnoted if I ever want to publish a treatise on the issue, and have my work stand up to the scrutiny of a fact checker.
             

So while Wikipedia is not at the top of the list of sources for secondary or tertiary research, it’s a useful place to check out if you need to know who already knows more about your topic than you do. 

Miners enjoying their Cornish pasty lunch.


Research #1 – Google Alerts

 

I’m going to be spending the next year deep in research of all kinds for a project that will shortly be announced.

Until then, I have created a number of Google alerts, using four variations of search terms. Which means every morning I receive four emails with between four dozen and 100 links to various articles and references to my subject.

Right now I spend about an hour every morning browsing through them. The ones I think might be useful, I bookmark. Soon I will have to schedule a good hunk of time each week to review each saved item, determine if I will need the information and how I will use, and archive the material I plan to use.

What I love most about research, even these Google-generated items, are the surprises that leap out at me. Referring me to something I had not thought of being associated with my topic. Links to great work being done by wonderful people. Trivia and miscellanea.

The secret will be figuring out what I need, what is too much, and when enough is enough.

 

 


Back in school

 

With no new book out in the past couple of years, requests for school visits and library presentations had dried up. But then I received an invitation to present to Grade Three to Seven students in two Surrey schools.

EbbLast week I really enjoyed the opportunity to strut my stuff, telling the creation story Why the Tides Ebb and Flow, talking about my early reading and writing, and sharing information about my books with gyms-full of students.

I’ve also been back in the classroom lately teaching a short course called Writing From Life to participants in Vancouver island University’s Elder College program. And have a workshop on research skills coming up at the may Federation of BC Writers Spring Writes Festival.

I’ve spent too much time recently with my head in stories that seem to be going nowhere and a job which, while very rewarding, is also very demanding. 

It’s been nice to be reminded where my heart is – connecting with readers and writers. I hope to be able to do even more of it in the coming months.


LP’s Book Club


I read a lot. And quite fast. So it’s not unusual for me just a couple of weeks later to remember a book but not its author or title.

At one point I started a notebook to keep track of everything I read, but that was a hit and miss kind of thing.

I did join Goodreads, but as I try to keep my social networking to one platform, I only maintain my page there erratically. And I have never really got the hang of Instagram.

So FB is my usual destination for sharing anything, and learning what others in my world – both the real and the virtual – are up to.

As a way to keep up myself with what I’ve been reading, share with others, and to elicit some kind of easy response I have created a new Album on my LPwordsolutions page.

Check it out. Comment on what I’ve been reading and share your own recommendations.

 


Taking lessons from visual art


I’ve been dabbling in sketching lately. And even though I know I will get farther by putting in time actually drawing rather than reading about it, I can’t avoid picking up a how-to book from time to time.

This week it was a $6 second hand copy of Lessons in Pictorial Composition by Louis Wolchonok from Bucknucks Books in Qualicum Beach.

Scanning the first chapter on the way home, I came across this:

“Every composition expresses some degree of tension. This element adds a dynamic quality, which gives added life to a picture. I have divided tension into six type of opposition. <>
It must be understood that most  paintings are not limited to one type of tension. Generally speaking the greater the number of forces working in opposition in a pictorial composition, the great its dynamic quality.”

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Wolchonok lists the tensions as:

  1. Opposition of weights
  2. Opposition of direction
  3. Opposition of shapes
  4. Opposition of values
  5. Opposition of moods
  6. Opposition of colour

It seems that I only have to substitute the word ‘story’ or ‘writing’ for ‘picture’ or ‘painting’, and I can find a parallel in writing – whether it’s fiction or nonfiction. I am going to have to spend a little time determining which story elements might equate with ‘weights’, ‘direction’ and ‘shapes’ in his theory, but values and moods easily find an equivalent – in my mind – in my work. And Wolchonok’s approach to creating tension in any piece of work is a good reminder of what drives story and helps a piece of work resonate with the reader.

 

 


NaNoWriMo2018: My Three a Day

 

In this case, I’m not talking about meals in a day. I’m talking NaNoWriMo Sprints.

I believe they are designed as a way for NaNoWri-mers to motivate each other to put in the time and come out with a bunch of words.

I’m racing against myself.

I read somewhere, quite long ago, that for many people a 90-minute working stretch is the most profitable period of time to commit to one task. And it’s worked for me for quite a while.

For the purposes of NaNo, and during a very busy November at work and in life, I’ve been aiming for 3 x 30-minutes Sprints a day, writing against the clock, using one of the actions identified in my Writing Down the Page exercise – which is as far as I’ve got with outlining or plotting this baby.

It turns out that my average production rate in a 30-minute stretch is 1,000 words. Work it out. If I managed to do Three a Day, I’d accomplish over 3,000 words, well over the average of daily 1,667 words required to meet the 50,000 word goal by the end of the month.

I’m lucky if I do manage two sprints. But even at that, I might stand a decent chance of making the Finish Line in 13 days.

sprint-297803_960_720

 


NaNoWriMo 2018: Then What? – a quick plotting exercise


Whenever I find myself treading water on a piece of fiction – can’t figure out where to go next, how to get where I think I am going, of am just plain bored with where I find myself – I fall back on a practise that came out of a workshop presented by the dynamic duo of Jack Remick and Robert Ray.

JR WEN

It’s called Writing Down the Page… or, as I call it And Then

I begin with a very brief summary line to conveys my starting place (sometimes picking it up from the MS), then riff down the page one line at a time, each of which begins And Then

As this is a brainstorming exercise I don’t judge or edit what gets listed, but I do try to start each line with an active verb – which helps provide momentum for the scene.

This is what one riff looked like, when I was stuck in place on a chapter book entitled Cheese Dreams.

Set-up: Brianne and her brother Peter have just arrived at the new apartment over the shop that their dad will be running as a cheese shop and deli. His businesses always fail, forcing the family to move, yet again, which means Brianne finds it hard settling in and making friends. She hopes this will be the last time they have to move if her Dad can make a success of the deli.

Their mother starts unpacking in the upstairs apartment.

And Then (AT) Brianne follow their father downstairs to inspect the shop
AT – When Dad unlocks the door, the alarm goes off
AT – B is sent upstairs to ask her mom for the alarm code
AT – Her mom tells her its in her dad’s pocket
AT – B races back downstairs to tell her dad.
AT – Brother cries because the shop alarm hurts his ears

AT – Their dad finds the code, punches it in
AT – the police arrive
AT – While Dad huddles with the police showing proof he owns the shops
AT – Brie and her brother go inside to look around the premises
AT – Their father joins them, to show them where the coolers and the counter will go
AT – As leads them out, Brie notices what looks like a mouse hole in the skirting board
AT – She hurries her dad outside before he sees it
AT – Back upstairs Breanne wonders how she can get rid of the mice before they ruin her dad’s business by eating all the cheese.

This seems – and is – a very simplistic example, but the process can be helpful in keeping you going when it feels as if you’ve come to a dead stop. And it can work even better when you get someone else to throw ideas at you. Don’t judge them, just keep And Then-ning until you run out of steam. 

Then you can go back and see what elements work to bring the scene alive.


NaNoWriMo 2018: Give them faces

When I teach Writing Historical Fiction to school students, I first give them a whole raft of pictures of people’s faces of many eras, pulled from all kinds of sources.

I get them to pick the picture of a face they ‘like’ – one that appeals to them for any reason – then their first assignment is to create a frame for the picture, then name the subject. That person will be their main character.

In a similar exercise, when I first start a story I go in search of a face to represent the main character.

In this case, I selected this person to be a stand in for my character Rowena Cole. (She is fact, Nancy Talbot Clark, the first women to graduate from medical school in the US in 1852).

I like the vulnerable, but somewhat determined look in her eye. The plainness of her hair, and for the purposes of writing THE ROUGH DRESS, the man’s hand on her shoulder which conveys an element of the story.

I will probably print out her picture, and put it in this frame, the same one I used to house the picture of Elsie Miller, the main character in my midgrade historical novel SILVER RAIN.

Elsie

Elsie Miller, protagonist of SILVER RAIN

If Nancy Talbot Clark could overcome all kinds of obstacles to forge a career in medicine, I can surely write 50,000 words!