Week Two Check-in!

Welcome to the second #wipmadness check-in for May!

It was so great to see all the goals posted here last week, and to see all the progress rolling by. Feel free to add your goal here if you haven’t already–the more, the merrier. ūüôā

This week’s topic is revision. ¬†Because even if you’re drafting instead of revising now, we all end up in Revisionland eventually. Right? *blinks*

I’ve posted before about applying the principles of Agile (as in software development) to outlining: http://kiperoo.wordpress.com/2011/03/23/outlining-using-agile/

But I’m pretty sure that Agile is just as useful an approach for revision in general. ¬†As a quick recap, the principles of Agile are:

  • release often = find good critique partners and share often
  • hold daily scrums = work on WIP every day
  • respond to change = listen to feedback and use it not only to strengthen WIP but also to grow as a writer

How many revisions do you typically do on your WIP? ( not including requested agent and editor revisions) What are your favorite revision methods and processes? One last question for fun. What do you prefer: drafting or revising?

Best of luck in your #wipmadness goals this week, wherever you happen to be in your WIP!

Revising? Try Second Sight by Cheryl Klein

Truth: revision is difficult.

Truth: revision makes manuscripts stronger.

Truth: revision is necessary.

It’s sometimes hard to know where to begin when you sit down to revise. This is especially true when revising your first draft. What aspects of the manuscript need the most attention? Are there any easy fixes?

The good thing is that most writers have tools available: critique partners, books about craft, and writing classes. Critique partners will help you work through the problems specific to your manuscript, will help you brainstorm possible fixes, and will tell you both what you’re doing right and what areas need work. Books about craft often focus about a single aspect of a manuscript, such as plot or character, that you know you must strengthen. Writing classes can likewise focus on a single aspect or a more macro approach–entire manuscript, or novel-writing in general, with a teacher–a mentor–to guide you.

For me, reading SECOND SIGHT was like having all of these tools at my disposal at once. It was like having a great critique partner or teacher–and not just anyone, but the well-known editor Cheryl Klein–in the room with me as she walked me through examples by authors whose work I admire, showing me what I needed to look for in my own work. From the macro to the micro, this book spoke to me about where to focus my revision.

While not a workbook in the traditional sense–like Donald Maass’ WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL WORKBOOK–this book contains real how-to information that writers can immediately apply to their own WIPs. I was personally only a few chapters into the book when I began to scribble my notes on the sides of the pages. My scribbles increased as I progressed. My notes weren’t about the text I was reading in the abstract, but about my own manuscript, for example:

What is the point? (Great question!) *scribble, scribble*

What are the main character’s flaws? *more scribbles*

What are the Escalating or Complicating Events? *scribbles running on to next page*

SECOND SIGHT might not be the best¬†first¬†book about craft to read. It does assume that its readers have some basic knowledge about the novel-writing process. Also, it’s probably most helpful to those who already have a completed draft, who are looking for techniques to revise and improve it. I’ve already found it to be a great help, and¬†I’m sure I’ll be referring to it again and again for future writing!

It’s Monday! It’s May! It’s #Wipmadness!

Welcome to the spur-of-the-moment continuation of the fantastic writing challenge that Denise Jaden started in March!

Denise and her awesome writing buds Angelina Hansen, Shana Silver, Shari Green, and Craig Pirrall kept a bunch of us motivated with daily posts as we slogged through new drafts, revisions, or related writing and reading goals that we set at the beginning of the month. They also offered up some fantastic prizes at the end, and boy, was I thrilled to win mine (wheee!).

In April, Denise continued with Monday checkins on her blog, but it’s time to give her a break and pass the torch. I know it’s late in the day on Monday, but consider this the first checkin for May! What are your goals for #wipmadness this month?


See you all here next week! Happy Monday and good writing vibes to all!


Conferences, Workshops, and Retreats!

When it comes to the kids’ writing community, I can honestly say that I’ve never been to a bad conference, workshop, or retreat. I’ve always met cool people, learned new things, and given my writing a jump start.

But now that I’ve been to a good many of them, a quick summary of the highlights:

New England SCBWI conference: I’ve attended this conference about three or four times, and have always loved it. They get top-notch presenters, and a good mix of established authors and new writers attend. Great workshops and the opportunity for individual critiques.¬†http://www.nescbwi.org/conferences/spring/

Smaller regional conferences: I’ve been lucky enough to attend a few smaller conferences, including a small one in Connecticut and two in Europe (one in Madrid, Spain, and one in Munich, Germany). The European ones are awesome because, um, they’re in Europe, but in general, I also really like the feel of a small group where you can get to know more attendees and get to chat with agents, editors, and authors in a more relaxed setting.

Rutgers University Council on Children’s Literature (RUCCL): RUCCL is a great opportunity to meet up with other serious writers. All writers are assigned mentors who will critique your work and you also get together as groups of mentors and mentees to discuss writing trends. It’s just one day, and you have to apply and get accepted based on your writing sample.¬†http://www.ruccl.org/

Highlights Founders Workshops: These small workshops, held in Honesdale, PA, offer a great opportunity to focus on your WIP with an expert and other serious writers. I attended a non-fiction Biography workshop with the amazing Carolyn Yoder, but they also offer workshops on novel writing, plotting, and more. Another bonus to these workshops: you have an individual cabin to yourself with some time to write, as well as amaaaaaazing food prepared by an on-site chef. http://www.highlightsfoundation.org/pages/current/founders_top.html

Falling Leaves Retreat: This retreat is organized by the Eastern New York SCBWI chapter, and offers a great weekend with other serious writers and a group of editors. Time is divided between writing, group and individual critique, and lectures by the editors. You can also sneak in time to write and socialize with a great bunch of people.  http://scbwi-easternny.org/conferences.php

Vermont College of Fine Arts (VCFA) Novel Writing Retreat:¬†The VCFA retreat is another great intensive weekend. The attendees choose between the writing and critique track, and everyone benefits from focused lectures and workshops led by the authors and editors who attend. ¬†It’s a great place to share your work (including out loud in front of the group!), to have time to write, and to make new writer friends.¬†http://www.vermontcollege.edu/alumni/events/novel-writing-retreat

I would definitely attend any and all of these again, and I still look forward to going to many others I haven’t gone to yet: SCBWI NY, SCBWI LA, Chautauqua, Whispering Pines … the list goes on! What is your favorite conference or retreat?

The Quiche to End All Quiche

I have to admit it: I adore quiche.

I’ve been making it for years with relative success, but I’ve fallen in love with it again after turning to Julia Child’s master recipe.

In her book THE WAY TO COOK, Julia gives recipes for several types of quiche. Spinach, Lorraine, etc.

I started with her spinach quiche, and I’ve found that I can use the basic ratio she outlines there for any veggie quiche. Well, except for one twist, with the cheese. I like a lot of cheese in my quiche. Here’s the how-to:

  1. Pre-heat oven to 375.
  2. Get out your pillsbury dough boy pie crust and place it in a pie pan. If you can make your own crust, by all means, go for it. Julia Child has a great recipe for that too, and so does Michael Ruhlman in RATIO. I haven’t ventured there yet, mostly because I’m afraid I’ll like it and have to do it every time.
  3. Eggy mixture. This is Julia’s no-fail ratio. Beat three eggs and add enough milk to get to 1.5 cups of mixture. I mix it right in my four-cup mixing cup.
  4. Add salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Nutmeg is that key flavor you need, like in a good bechamel.
  5. Chop your veggies, anywhere between 1/2 cup and a cup. Spinach or broccoli are good stand-bys. A recent experiment I tried came out great: parsley and shallots. Mushrooms and scallions might be my next experiment.
  6. Do a super-fast sautee of your veggies in butter. You don’t want to cook the color out of them. Even thirty seconds is enough for some veggies. ¬†Throw them in your mixing cup or bowl with the eggy mixture.
  7. Grate about 3/4 of a cup of cheese. I like a flavorful cheese like gruyere or emmentaler. Throw about 1/2 cup of the cheese into the mixture.
  8. Pour the mixture into the pie shell and then top with the remaining cheese.
  9. Bake at 375 degrees for 45 minutes (Julia says 35, but mine seem to need more – could be my oven, so check after 35).

It’s been coming out perfect every time for me! How does this work for you?

Failing Better

Today on her reading and writing blog, Kelly Hashway shared her thoughts about good not being enough in her own writing: http://www.kellyhashway.com/apps/blog/show/6558076-good-is-not-enough

I totally identified.

As I told Kelly, I’m always trying to improve my writing too, and I listed a few of the things that I routinely do to get there:

  • Reading great books (that “This!” moment when you see what an author has done so well). Recent a-ha moments have come from these amazing books:
    • Plain Kate by Erin Bow – poetic beauty in the sparsest of language
    • Love, Aubrey by Suzanne LaFleur – amazingly authentic voice
    • Matched by Ally Condie – a masterpiece of conflict and tension
  • Getting feedback on my work (critique partners, beta readers etc.). Everything from “I don’t think you’re starting this manuscript in the right place” to “You know, you use this word way too much.”
  • Attending conferences/retreats and reading craft books (learning from great authors/editors about how to succeed). Separate post on my favorite conferences/retreats to come!

Then I realized that this whole thing reminded me of Samuel Beckett’s words: “Fail again. Fail better.”

It’s the writing of course. My writing. The time, the effort, the work. The only way to get better is to continue to do it.

Outlining Using Agile

Bear with me, peeps.

I realize that writerly types might not be familiar with Agile Software Development.

And I realize that software types might take offense at my attempt to apply their iterative software development methodology to creative writing.

But I’ve been thinking a lot about the benefits of outlining, while realizing that I’m not very (*cough*) good at outlining.¬†Recent events that brought me to this realization:

  • Reading a critique partner’s detailed 10-page outline. The novel was already written, but needed revisions. My reaction to reading this outline: Wow. Now that you have this, writing in all these changes is going to be easy.
  • Attending Claudia Gabel’s amazing lecture on plot at the Novel Writing Retreat at the Vermont College of Fine Arts. Her example outline (also approximately 10 pages) took us through the three-act novel structure. She advised that we don’t think of the outline as a prison, and reminded us that things will certainly change along the way as we begin to write.
  • Getting some very helpful feedback on a full WIP that still needs some work on the overall character arc and plot. My conclusion: a detailed outline at this stage will keep the big picture in mind before I begin to¬†get bogged down in the details of revision.

So what does all of this have to do with Agile Development?

I know that I personally would not be able to write a juicy, detailed outline just from my original idea. This got me to thinking about Agile, and how I could borrow some of its principles and apply them to outlining:

  • Agile is iterative. It’s not set in stone. Things can change. (*sigh of relief*)
    • For me, this means I start with a “straw man,” a very rough outline. I use the 9-point-plotting technique found on my friend Cyn’s blog:¬†http://cynjay.blogspot.com/2009/02/how-to-write-book.html
    • This also means that with each major milestone (completion of first draft, feedback from beta readers etc.) the original skeleton should be changed and beefed up!
  • Release often. My release cycles look like this:
    • Run idea and 9-step outline by critique group and begin writing.
    • Send chapters to critique partners. First chapters will probably receive multiple rounds of feedback.
    • (Keep updating outline along the way.)
    • Keep writing until draft is complete.
    • (First draft of detailed outline.)
    • Send full draft out for critique.
    • (Update detailed outline.)
    • Major revisions.
    • Send manuscript out to beta readers.
    • (Update detailed outline.)
    • *Final* revisions.
  • Hold daily scrums! As a writer, daily meetings are probably with yourself (or a critique partner if you’re lucky), but I find it’s really important to at least check in with my manuscript every day.
  • Responding to change. What I love about Agile is that if something’s not working, that’s OK. Throw it out. Change it. Embrace change!

I’m about to put this whole outlining plan into action with these WIP revisions I have coming up in April. Anyone else want to give it a go? I’d love to hear reports on if this works for others too!

Creating Colorful Characters in YA

Whether reading or writing, we all want colorful characters. People who will jump off the page and make us care. When writing for young adults, the extremes seem to be:

Typical, everyday teens = not so interesting

Teens with supernatural or paranormal skills = not all that likely

There’s more to it, of course. For instance, most of Sarah Dessen’s characters seem pretty typical on the surface. And everyone knows how successful Stephanie Meyers has been with her vampires. Yep, they attend a regular high school.

But if you look closely at Dessen’s characters, they aren’t all that typical. They have special skills, unique problems, and/or interesting challenges. ¬†And the Twilight vampires are also firmly grounded in a very real love story.

So where’s that middle ground? Think of it like a college application. Not that all characters need a 4.0 or top SAT scores (boring!). But what they need is passion. For something. Or several things. They need to be colorful, and interesting.


Anna, from Stephanie Perkins’ ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS: passionate about films (and about a certain cute guy with great hair)

Lucy, from Cynthia Jaynes Omololu’s DIRTY LITTLE SECRETS: passionate about covering up an incredible family secret

Andi, from Jennifer Donnely’s REVOLUTION: passionate about her music and about the history she escapes into

These teens are definitely far from typical.

But it doesn’t mean they need to be vampires.

Why I Wish I Spoke Japanese

There are lots of good reasons to learn Japanese. A few have hit me over the years. I wish I could see the original versions of Hayao Miyazaki’s films, for instance. It’d come in handy at the sushi bar. And it just sounds pretty cool.

But the main reason is the literature. Some of my favorite authors are Japanese: Haruki Murakami, Banana Yoshimoto, and Yoko Ogawa. The images are so crisp, so unique. They stun me with their prose.

And the food – the food! How can you read KITCHEN and not immediately call your favorite Japanese restaurant to order up some pork katsudon? And who doesn’t crave grapefruit marmalade after reading PREGNANCY DIARY? I made it – it is good.

But of course I might be deluding myself. I don’t speak Japanese ¬†– except “the girls are eating” and similar variants. It might just be spectacular translation. But somehow I don’t think so.

Preparing for March Madness

No, not the basketball kind – the writing kind:


I’m in!

I did a similar complete-your-draft challenge in September, clocking in more than the 25K-word goal over the month. My goal this time around:

Write 15K words on new WIP. This is 500 words/day for 30 days. Totally doable. The 25K was clearly also doable, but in a painful, studying-for-finals kind of way.

That is all. Anything else is butter.