Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Not Listening to Critique

I have been a naughty girl.  I realized I have been a bad critiquee.  Yes, I always say please and thank you.  No, I wasn't picking feedback fights.   I just wasn't listening.   (And this after my recent post on the value of critique groups.)

It wasn't on purpose.  I swear.  Cross my heart and hope to die, stick a needle in my eye.  (geesh, that's morbid.  Why do kids say that?)

Here's what happened.  I was diligently accepting the line edits and other simple suggestions, but I was totally missing the real critique.  "Make more room for the illustrator." "Focus on creating scenes."  "Dialogue will help you avoid telling."  It was there all along...

The ridiculous thing is I feared someone was taking the line edits from my critiques and thinking it was ready to go.   Was my subconscious banging its head on a wall trying to alert me?

Since my naiveté is tired of being picked on, I blame my process.  Even though a manuscript may have been sitting for awhile, I always give it a fresh edit before a critique.  I'm still too close to the story when the critique comes.   When I read older critiques now, the real feedback is obvious.

"Oh horsefeathers!"
by Andreas Blum via
New process starting today:   I will read critiques and make line edit adjustments immediately.  Then the manuscript and critiques go into deep freeze for a month.  No matter how much the story cries, I will not open the door and send it to a publisher. 

At the end of the month, I will read the story and crits again.  I will say "Oh horsefeathers!" or something worse when I realize how much opportunity there it is.  Then the editing really starts. 

Do you have a process for reviewing critiques?  Where do you start?  Any recommended resources?  

P.S.  Do not for any reason ever google images for "stick a needle in my eye."  However, I do recommend "silly horse."

Monday, August 27, 2012

Back to School: Great Books about Writing for Children

I was moving and grooving, learning about the craft of writing picture books.  I faced obstacles, but I continued to grow just like a character in my stories.  Then my growth kind of stalled and puttered and twittered and finally stopped. 

What happened?  Had I reached my peak and discovered I was hopelessly average?  Why wasn't I getting better?

And then it hit me:  I wasn't reading a writing book.  I had Summer Break Brain Drain.  It was time to get back to school, so I picked up Writing Picture Books by Ann Whitford Paul.  

If your brain is on summer drugs too, here are favorite insights from other writing books:

You Can Write Children's Books by Tracey E. Dils

On reviewing your dummy book: "Is there enough action to illustrate on the spread you've chosen?   Is there too much action to illustrate? Is there a variety of scenes or a variety of different actions of interest throughout the book?  Does every page move the story forward, both in terms of the plot and in terms of the visual action?"

"For a picture book story, make sure you have enough "scenes" to provide variety in the illustrations. For a magazine story on the other hand, don't have as many, as space limits the number of scenes that can be illustrated.  The number of scenes determines whether a story is best suited to a picture book or a magazine."

"To say that a girl has pigtails is obtrusive.  To say that a girl's pigtails flew out behind her as she raced the street gives you a bonus...that same information plus action tells you more about your character. "

Picture Writing by Anastasia Suen

"Telling talks about the character.  Showing lets readers see the character in action.  When readers see their own picture, it makes the story part of the readers' experience.  Readers are in the story too."

"...not only children read children's books.  Parents, grandparents, teachers, and librarians ultimately make the decision of what their children will read..."

What are your favorite books for writing for children?   You better share them in the comments, if you don't want to be an enabler of my brain drain.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Middle Grade Urges
I am a turtle hiding in my shell this week.  Or perhaps I am a caterpillar curled up in a chrysalis about to emerge as a tiger swallowtail butterfly.  I may be metamorphosing.

I'm feeling some middle grade urges.  And I don't mean the urge to kiss Tommy Washington under the monkey bars.  I mean the urge to write for middle grade.

What is enticing me about middle grade:
1.       I like to read descriptions.  I enjoy curling up with a book as it takes me to a magical place.  I don't see the movie version of books because I get outraged by differences versus my imagination.  I want to describe the situation.  I want to use adjectives.
2.       Picture books really have a co-writer called the illustrator.  I can't figure out how to leave room for the illustrator without feeling like I didn't get to tell the story.  
3.       Cool stuff happens in pre teen life.   Kids are really defining themselves.  Their lives are full of drama.  Though it isn't as serious perhaps as a teen, it is just as intense.   I also enjoy potty humor and slapstick comedy.

What is holding me back:
1.       I have little picture book reading kids.  I have been checking out middle grade books to expose myself to the genre.  But I don't hang with 11-year-olds.  Do 11-year-olds still hang?  There is much I do not know about kids born in this millennium.  And a 9-year-old stated unequivocally I was "uncool" the other day; so that helped my confidence.
2.       I have such limited time I feel the need to concentrate somewhere.   Exploring means learning about a new genre's rules.   It also means a new set of publishers to research when the time comes.
3.       I fear I may be copping out.  I haven't been practicing writing picture books that long.  Though I may not have the magic yet, it doesn’t mean I won't pull out a rabbit eventually.  Am I feeling urges out of fear?  I am yeller-bellied without a doubt.

I realize now the butterfly metaphor was overstated.  I am just a speck of a green egg about to hatch into a caterpillar.  In that case, I'm going to let my muse gorge herself into a fat caterpillar.   She needs to keep writing picture books to learn how to leave room for the illustrator.   But she can spend her free time describing the most polite ways to deal with the wet mess Tommy Washington left on her lips. 

Do you focus or do you let your muse flit from teen lit to board books to mysteries?

Thursday, August 16, 2012

I Heart Critique Groups

With Writeoncon in full swing and RedLightGreenLight starting, I have critique on the brain.
I have read a few blogs recently bullying the critique group.  Well, this is a no bullying zone, so let's all be nice.  (But not too nice, or we'll be proliferating one of the complaints about critique groups.) 

I was stuck before I found a critique group.  I thought I had edited to perfection.  I knew the stories weren't the best I had ever read, but I didn't know how to take things up a level.  My first critiques felt like Superman came and picked my truck out of the landslide.  I saw my story from a whole new perspective.   And I wasn't stuck anymore.

The process catches mistakes you became blind too.  One pointed out my tense was wrong in the first sentence.   I took a drink of water just so I could spray it out of my mouth in shock. How had I missed an obvious error?  Goes to show you need a fresh set of eyes.

Critique groups help you let go.  You gave birth to two beautiful sentences you love, but they say the same thing.  Critique gives you permission to throw away that sentence you don't need.
"Sally ripped off her doll's head.  She was mad."

A group of readers will see unique pictures in your words.  They will help you leave room for the illustrator.  "You described too much.  I thought Eddie was floating with a bunch of balloons, but then you described a pink-polka dotted kite with red ribbons."  

Why Critique Groups get Bullied

Critiquers come with a variety of experience, y'know like me with around zero.  Writers at different levels can still help one another.  My newbie critiques mainly reflect my application of the "rules" and my schoolmarmly editing.  I can help with a little humor, and I hope the writer gets at least one good tidbit.

Sometimes submissions have significant grammar and spelling issues.  With my corporate background I have to edit first; I was trained to not trust things with errors.  Unfortunately, that means I am not open to really hearing the story until it is corrected.  You should always share your best work.
Red line critique
My Dad was ruthless with the red pen in high school.

You can get differing opinions.  One may say "scratch the dragon and focus on the boy" and the other say "scratch the boy and focus on the dragon."  This is frustrating, but the message is clear: you need to focus the story somewhere.  You are the writer.  You get to pick.

At the end of the day you don't have to change anything about your manuscript you don't want to.   Of course you will change some things, because you want your story to be the best it can be.  Absorb the critique, and let it flow back out through your own voice.

Love 'em?  Hate 'em?  Please share your critique group experiences in the comments.

Monday, August 13, 2012

What Happened When I Interviewed Myself in a Dream

Sometimes I do things backwards.   The other night I was dreaming about being a famous writer.  I was getting myself all riled up wanting to yell, "please let me be a writer!"  I had to do something to relax my brain so I could get some sleep before my two little alarm clocks woke me up at sunrise. 

So I interviewed myself.  About an imaginary book.   Interviewing myself about an actual manuscript would have been too normal.

Lauri Meyers Children Book Writer
My Burst of Inspiration
(by ba1969 via
Interviewer:  Lauri, how did you come up with the idea for your amazing, believable character?

Lauri: Well, it was the 2012 Olympics and I was thinking about the drive the athletes have for their sport.  They forsake so many things in their lives to focus fully on their passion...

It was my first interview, so I rambled on incessantly for awhile.   I woke up enough to flip on the light. I grabbed my purple composition book and wrote down my interview answers.   I loved this character my dream future self had created!

Maybe this was a backwards way of developing a story, but voila, I had a character with interesting traits, a key weakness, and obstacles to overcome.  I brought in an idea I had previously had for an adult character.  Could a teenager be in a situation with stakes that high?  Yes.

I could see the supporting characters too.  There is the blonde best friend who is the best at everything.  Her parents try so hard to be supportive but just end up annoying.  Where did this boyfriend come from?  He seems to believe she is the best at everything.  Ooh, he's a keeper.   Who is this sinister guy in the shadow?  He believes in her skills too.  Let's get to know him more.

I was all a flurry.  Six pages shot out of my fingers.    For the first time I had the inspiration to write a YA novel.   Check back in a few years to see if I let this MC tell her story.  I hope it wasn't just a dream.  

How do you find your main characters?  

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Where to Look for Inspiration

Lauri Meyers children's book writer
I was sick this week.  Unfortunately, it was not the sniffly, sneezy kind of sick where you spike a sweet fever and your imagination sparks (literally) a bunch of amazing ideas.  No, this was the other kind.  I can tell you there is no inspiration at the bottom of the toilet.  

So where do you look for inspiration?

Here's my top five:

The other day I pondered what two ducks were talking about at the end of a dock.  Will it grow into a story?  Probably not.  Turns out ducks talk a lot about pooping and fish.  Then the green duck would not shut up about coming over to watch the slides from his last migration which sounded super lame.  Still it got my juices fowling flowing.

Hang with Children
My daughter and I were remembering grandma sleeping in the toddler bed to try to convince my littlest to sleep without mommy.  I told her grandma would sleep on her head if she had to (which is pure and simple fact).   My kiddo cracked up, because she was seeing the picture.  Kids don't see limits - anything is possible.  

Try something new
Those little neurons just start building new pathways each time you try something new- or even something old.  The other day at the lake several 10 year olds inspired me to cannonball (maybe they were taunting me, but that's not relevant).  I tell you there is no feeling like that one where your feet leave the dock and there is no going back.  My brain was all aquiver the rest of the day.

I can be a real procrastinator, so forcing functions are always a good idea.  I just learned about Write On Con - an online conference for children's writers happening Aug 14-15.   You have the opportunity to share a query and first page writing sample in the forums where "Ninja Agents" lurk ready to attack your submission.  Ooh!   But the idea I want to use isn't quite ready...voila! I am thoroughly inspired to finish editing. 

I admit my gym routine has been hijacked by school break.  But when I make it, the elliptical machine creates a sort of white noise like the hum of a fan at nighttime.  It is enough to shut off the random noise in my brain and let the ideas come out to play.  At least until my heavy breathing makes all the ideas run home to their mommies.  

Inspiration can strike anywhere, so keep your handy dandy notebook with you at all times.   Even in the bathroom.   Because even though there is no inspiration at the bottom of the toilet, sometimes there is inspiration on the toilet. 

Where do YOU find inspiration?  Please share in the comments!

P.S. Bonus points to the first author who answers the question "Where did you find inspiration for your book?" with "Well, I was on the john one day..."

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

My Journey in 7 Links

I heard from my friend Kasie who heard from her friend Darren who heard from his friend Stanford who heard from his sister Kyla that all the cool kids are doing the 7 Link Challenge. 

Since I am on a little va-cay this week, this sounded like a splendid idea.  Plus I always wanted to be one of the cool kids.  

1.      Your first post - Committing to Be a Writer reflects on the decision to join SCBWI and the realization children's books weren't written by people jotting down rhyme in a few minutes here and there. 
2.      A post you enjoyed writing the most - Stand Up Comedy for Writers was written on the way to celebrate my 10 year anniversary in Puerto Rico.  Drink service really gets most of the credit for the post. 
3.      A post which had a great discussion In the Middle of the Lake with no Breeze  Rejection letters are like boo boo knees on the playground: when you get one all the writers come running to take care of you. Instead of Band-aids they usually suggest wine, chocolate, ice cream, and more writing.  It always works. 
4.      A post on someone else’s blog you wish you’d written. For Newbies- How to Get an Agent by Linda Epstein. I'm not an agent so clearly I couldn't have written this one.  I have read volumes on publishing, but this post was the moment it all made sense. 
5.      A post with a title that you are proud of - How to Write for Children and Executives   I really thought I was making a dramatic change in how I wrote by moving to children's books from the corporate world, but it is basically the same.  
6.      A post you wish more people had read - Hello do you think I named this post How to Stalk an Editor to scare you away?  No! I did it to make something exhausting like researching publishers a little more enjoyable. So go read it already.  
7.      Your most visited post ever – My Liebster Blog Award had the most views, partially driven by sharing publicly I was a writer.  The most comments came from the Versatile Blogger Award which forced me to bare my soul (in regards to guinea pigs and NPR at least).  
I can totally see why all the cool kids are doing this.  What a great time I had reliving the short but exciting journey to this point.  Thank you to all of you blog members and readers for creating a supportive environment.  
Now back to the beach!
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