This past week, my students explored the wonderful use of personification in their writing. When not overused, this form of figurative language can enliven tired writing. The trick is knowing when to employ it.
December has been a month of writing exercises. We've written about who we are not and--with the assistance of Kobe Bryant--taken time to say goodbye to something in our lives.
This week, let's play around with personification (attribution of a personal quality or human characteristic to something nonhuman; representation of an abstract quality in human form).
As soon as my new crop of young writers turn in their permission to be published forms, I'll share their clever lines. In the meantime, it's your turn to try.
Before you tackle the usage in a current piece of writing, practice. Our parents and coaches told us "practice makes perfect," and they were right. Nearly. Practice makes the game easier. Perfection is a whole other story.
1. Have a seat in your favorite writing space with your favorite writing tools (pen and paper work well for this exercise).
2. Create a T-chart on your paper (or simply draw a dividing line down the middle).
3. Look around the room and select one object that's not alive (a book, clock, floor tile, painting, curtain, chair...).
4. Record that object at the top of one side of your T-chart.
5. Beneath it, list the item's traits and/or actions (one per line). For example, if you choose a clock, you might list: face, hands, quiet, numbers, glass, ticks, tocks, hangs.
6. On the other side of the T-chart, list human traits and actions--again, one per line. It helps to think of one person when you do this. For example, using myself, I might write: laugh, stand, cry, listen, ponder.
7. Now, consider the two lists, and find a trait from each side that complement each other. In my examples, I might pair face and ponder: The quiet clock listens to the children's conversation.
Some examples to get you started:
The tired leaves dropped to the ground.
The empty paged mocked me.
The angry sea tossed the boat.
Still stuck or want a challenge? Study the picture above and write your best personified line. Share it below.
Considering sharing your personification practice or other writing tips with us.
“There is freedom in being a writer and writing. It is fulfilling your function. I used to think freedom meant doing whatever you want. It means knowing who you are, what you are supposed to be doing on this earth, and then simply doing it.”
― Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within
As I wind down my energy from the amped up NaNoWriMo writing sprints of November, I return to my usual routines. One of which includes my own writing exercises courtesy Natalie Goldberg's book, "Writing Down the Bones."
One of my favorite exercises in that book is one that has you focus on who you are not. I will be using this prompt with my new batch of creative writing students this week, so I thought I'd share the exercise with you as well.
Grab your writing notebook and favorite pen. Goldberg says the heart speaks best through a flowing pen rather than a computer. I often write on the computer because it's easier. Plus, I'm a messy writer. However, when it comes to writing exercises, I write freehand in my journal.
You have your notebook and pen. Now find a quiet space and set a timer for at least ten to twenty minutes. Get ready, set, write.
Who are you not?
Here's my unedited flow of words:
I'm not the kind of person to own a snake, ride a unicycle, be an astronaut when she grows up, order a burrito with extra hot sauce, dance naked in the street after midnight like my neighbor in college, wear orange tights, get a full sleeve tattoo (or any tattoo?), spank my child, not care what people think of me.
I'm not the the person who complains all the time, laughs when someone is hurt, or orders a different ice cream flavor every time she visits the ice cream shop. I am not loud or very quiet. I am not the smartest or dumbest person in the room. I am not sophisticated nor pedestrian.
I am not obscene or rude. I am not perfect or happy not being perfect. I am not the person you sit next to on the plane who talks nonstops or doesn't give you elbow room.
I am not likely to hurt myself, drive recklessly, or dive off a cliff. I am not likely to scale a building or walk a tightrope higher than one-foot off the ground, sky-dive, or learn to fly a plane.
Who I am not says as much about me as who I am.
Who are you not? Share with us.
This is my first official year joining the throngs of crazies who attempt to write 50,000 words in November. Are you one of us?
First, some history...
Despite its Viking Helmet which suggests the phenomena began in Sweden or Denmark, NaNoWriMo started in the San Francisco Bay Area in 1999. The lyrical title stands for National Novel Writing Month. The fist one took place in July begun by founder Chris Baty. Starting in 2000, the event moved to the chilly hibernating month of November.
Now there's a whole team of people who run the website and support coffee-guzzling authors.
Writers are challenged to pump out 50,000 words in thirty days. That's about 1,667 words per day. There's even a challenge for young writers.
Yesterday, November 1, I managed 2100 words. That was a Sunday with that extra hour of sleep, no work, and no kids running around asking for anything.
We'll see what I manage during the work week.
Join in the maniacal fun, and be my buddy! Cheer me on, and let me cheer you on.
I look forward to connecting with you at NaNoWriMo. If you need help getting started, drop me a note below.
Every so often, I write this post. Why? I am constantly discovering great new books and sites that support, motivate, and improve my writing.
I want to share them with you.
Here are four of my current favorites:
1. The best punctuation book, period by June Casagrande. Every writer needs a great little book at their side where they can double check where to place a comma, capitalize a noun, understand how to use hyphens and en dashes. My copy editor recommended this book to me, and I am in love with it. It's easy to use, is written simply, and is less than 250 pages.
2. Writers Helping Writers with Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi. These ladies are fabulous, and their website is filled with amazing resources for your writing. Soon, they will merge into a new site with incredible support for using Scrivener along with their books on Negative and Positive Traits. I've written previously about how I use these books.
3. The Enneagram Test. If you are building characters, this is a great place to help understand and craft their personalities. You might first take the online test to explore your own personality. Then try it as your protagonist and antagonist. The test takes less than three minutes. The results point you toward any of nine specific personality types (similar to Jung). It's a quick, fun, and scientific way to hone in on your characters' true selves. (Couple the results with Writers Helping Writers, and you have a fully developed character.)
4. Goodreads. A great writer is constantly reading other great writing. We learn from each other. If you want to write authentic and appealing middle grade fantasy, you need to read some. Read those getting good reviews and those getting panned. It's important to see what works and what doesn't. Goodreads publishes numerous lists where you can sift through books of all genres and authors. This is my go-to for locating the best (and worst) books because reviews are written by real readers.
What are your current favorite writing resources?
Share them in the comments below.
This past week, I've been taking a fine tooth comb to my current manuscript, sorting through the fodder to uncover the gold. It is a tedious task.
It reminds me of something author Shannon Hale said: Working on a first draft is like "shoveling sand into a box so that later I can build sandcastles."
I believe at the end of this process, I will need a stronger eyeglass prescription. However, my pain is your gain. Each go through of the manuscript brings me closer to the story I want. I hope these tips are useful.
Here are five important items on my editing checklist.
1. Three or more read-throughs to flesh out the story. You don't really know your story until you get to the end. Sometimes the REAL story doesn't show for several read-throughs. The plot is not the story. Listen to Martin Scorsese explain this.
2. Pluck out filter words (see, watch, look, seem, like, feel, just, that, so, then, etc.). I go through my manuscript once for each of these. I might seek out more than a dozen filter words. Utilize your software's find/replace. (I keep a list of filter words on Scrivener's Scratch Pad.)
3. Review each character for consistency in tone, physical features, word choice, background, and history. That's a read-through for each. This might be another ten or twelve reads of the story, depending on the number of characters. Each time I read with that character in mind, I consider her arc and backstory; I view her as the hero of her own story. This will strengthen the entire novel.
4. Observe the settings for consistency in descriptions, distance irregularities, and vivid portrayals. Consider Hemingway and Steinbeck. Their settings become characters in their stories.
5. Review use of language. Look for: overuse of idioms, use of clichés (yikes!), inappropriate synonyms, repeated words, useless words. (This might take three times, but this is the heart of your writing. If you can master use of language in your manuscripts, you will write prose that flows like silk.)
One more: Read your story as someone else. First, you'll need to put your manuscript away for a week or two (more if you can bear it). Next, consider your readers; who are they? what do they look like? Embody that reader, and enjoy your story for the first time. The best way to do this is by downloading a word document and emailing it to your Kindle App. Reading your story on an eReader highlights things you might never notice on your laptop or desktop. (Beta readers and critique partners are great here, too.)
If you've been counting, you'll see I read through my manuscript up to thirty or more times. I never get bored. If I do, I need to go back and fix that.
I would love to hear what you have on your editing checklist. Please share below.
First, some exciting news: I had a full request from a lovely agent! Very exciting, and a long time coming. If you want to read the opening to ON THE ROAD TO MARTY MCFLY, I'd love your feedback, too!
While I avoid stalking my inbox, I'm catching up on some great books. There are so many super YA novels out and a few I missed. For your interest, I've started a review page. Check it out! Share your opinions, too, please :)
Besides juicy stories, I've been re-reading some writing books that have me thinking about my habits. I wonder which of these are important to you and which one's I'm missing.
Here's my to do list top ten (in Late Night order) if I were starting out today:
10. Join Twitter. Set up an account that is public where you focus almost solely on writing topics. You can get personal, but consider it an extension of your workspace.
9. Participate in Twitter. That means, find chats, socialize with others in the industry. Don't stalk agents, but do follow them, so you can learn.
8. Join a professional group. You will connect with others in your genre, learn about workshops, and create lasting friendships. Try these: romance writers; children or young adult writers; sci-fi and fantasy writers; steampunk; mystery.
7. Write. We can't travel too far down this list without mentioning craft. It's so important to establish a routine. Whether it means writing for thirty minutes everyday on your lunch break or getting up an hour early while the house is quiet, you must write. Every. Day. Try these tips.
6. Read. Read like you write like you breathe. Read what you live, but most definitely read what you write. If you write picture books, read the best and worst of them, so you know what little readers like. And don't just read for fun, read with purpose. When I started studying other YA like they were textbooks, I learned so much about my audience. Join me on Goodreads where you can find lists of great books and insightful reviews.
5. Study. These books are not novels. These are books on craft. There are so many out there. I recommend three to start with: On Writing by Stephen King, Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, and Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg. Read about them on Goodreads; start with one.
4. Find your voice. Anyone can write a story. No one can write it like you. What makes you stand out as a writer is voice. How do you find yours? Go back to #7 and #5. Write and study writing. You will find your voice. Listen to author Cory Putman Oakes.
3. Find your story. Anyone can write a story. No one can write yours. You've heard the adage--write what you know. Well, what do you know? Losing someone? Laughing until you pee your pants? Moving three times before puberty? Feeling incredible unrequited love? Listen to the master, Neil Gaiman, on this.
2. Support and connect with other writers. Join a writing group; find critique partners; nurture those relationships. We can learn so much from each other.
1. Shameless plug: sign up for my free newsletter (up there on your right) and never miss another great writing tip!
What's on your writer's to do list? I'd love to know. Please share below and continue the conversation.
My apologies for being a day late with this week's blog of writing tips. We returned yesterday from a beautiful stay in New York. A week of family fun, the laptop tucked safely away. Today, back on the West Coast, I'm wide awake at 6AM and ready to write!
While scrolling through emails, ads, junkmail and trolling favorite Twitter accounts, I discovered something I'd forgotten about - the Scrivener Scratch Pad. If you use the writing app, you may or may not know all about this awesome feature. If you don't have Scrivener yet, but you're considering it, this may help you make that decision.
As you know, I'm a huge Scrivener fan. The app has organized my writing life, leaving me more time and energy to create.
What you need to know about the Scrivener Scratch Pad (on a Mac):
1. The pad is a great place to make lists of websites or links to articles and research that will help you with your story. Keeping the pad open means you can easily add a link or idea even when you aren't working on your project. You can keep the pad open at all times - no matter if you are working on Scrivener or not. Simply right click the Scriv icon on your dock.
2. You must open your projects then hide them so they can be available for the Scratch Pad feature.
3. The Scratch Pad will float in front of all other open windows. This enables you to type notes on the pad while viewing those sites in the background.
4. You can add multiple notes in the pad. Simply click the + sign to add a new note. If you are working on several projects, you can choose which one this note belongs to. Click SEND TO, and a variety of pathways will lead you to the location you want to drop in your note.
5. Click the x or OK to HIDE your pad when you're done. When you return to your project, you can open Scratch Pad in Window. This opens all your notes on the pad, so you can easily see what you've added. No need to remember, Scriv does that for you!
Scrivener won't write your story, but its organizational and time-saving features will enable you to devote your creative energies to what you do best.
What are your favorite Scrivener features? Share them in the comments below.
If you are a new or seasoned writer who seeks honest and constructive feedback, you might consider finding a critique partner. This writer will help you with your finished or developing manuscript. If you were ever to win an award for your story, this is one of the people you would thank.
Previously, you've heard me rave about my editor, Jane MacKay. While Jane provides constructive and detailed feedback on manuscripts and queries, I do pay her because she's a professional. And, even though I use critique partners and beta readers, I still hire Jane after they are through.
First of all, you need to know this: a critique partner is not a beta reader.
Beta Reader: someone who loves to read and can provide you with valuable feedback about your characters' authenticity, your plot's plausibility, your setting's inconsistencies, etc.
Critique Partner: a writer who wants to trade manuscripts for feedback on grammatical technicalities, style, flow, and all the beta reader stuff.
Mom: the person who loves you no matter how crappy your writing is or how many times you drop an Oxford comma.
Ryan Gosling: the guy who motivates you (or is it just me?) to get it done.
If you read between the lines, you might notice that you qualify as a critique partner for most other writers and maybe a beta reader for someone outside your genre. For instance, I write YA, but I love a good mystery. I'd be a good beta reader for mystery writers (but please don't send me a ms to read or my critique partners will hunt you down. Time is valuable.)
Currently, I'm partnering with several writers. I recently started working with aspiring YA author Brook Ellis. We met through Miss Snark's Critique Partner Dating Service (love that name!). Since three-thousand miles separates us, Brook and I exchange manuscripts via Google Docs and email. So far, it works. I'm also part of a local writer's group who met at a SCBWI event. Adult fiction writer Gwynne Jackson, picture writer and illustrator Evangeline, and I also exchange work via Google Docs. In addition, because we live within a five-mile radius, we meet monthly at someone's house.
I feel extremely fortunate to have these amazing writers in my life. Previously, I was unsure about working with a critique partner. I was embarrassed my work might not measure up; I was afraid I wouldn't have the time. Wrong. Wrong. Love, love them. When you want to, you can accomplish quite a lot.
So here are my top five reasons why you need a critique partner (CP).
A critique partner will:
1. Provide honest feedback. You are not paying them. They are not your mom. If something isn't working, or if something's truly amazing, they will let you know.
2. Have the skill to help you. Since your CPs are writers, they will not only be able to tell you where something's gone awry, they will be able to offer some pretty great suggestions on how to fix it.
3. Help you grow as a writer. Over the course of time, your CPs will become great teachers. Once they've learned your writing style, they will recognize your weaknesses and help you accentuate your strengths.
4. Not waste your time. They want what you want: good, constructive, honest feedback. If they can't provide this, they understand you might find a new partner. If you're good and helpful (because you're doing 1-3), they will make your time worth it.
5. Make you laugh. Make you cry. Mostly because of No. 1, your CP will sometimes tell you things about your writing that will make you feel so good, you'll laugh. However, every rose has its thorns. Because of No.1, your CP will also tell you some brutally honest facts about where your writing or story is falling down. The hope is that, because of No. 2, you will understand that the crying will help with No. 3.
If your relationship with your CPs look different, maybe it's not working. Remember, it's a partnership. As in any relationship, know when to get out and know when you're not doing your part.
I would love to hear your thoughts on finding and working with critique partners. Please share them in the comments below.
I'm always open to finding more CPs in order to create the best stories.