Friday, January 31, 2020

Revising My Writing Life

In January of every year, I look back on what I’ve accomplished or didn’t accomplish. I’ve had to force myself not to dwell on all the things I wanted to do but didn’t. But I do think about them and wonder why…

Mostly, it’s because I gave up at the first wrong turn. “Gwendolyn,” I say to myself, “That was an awesome idea!” Why didn’t you follow up on the critique from your writing group?

Sometimes it’s because another idea or opportunity popped up and I immediately switch gears. Sometimes it seems too hard. I doubt myself. My mind tells me “You can’t possibly write well enough to have it published. Or an editor replied with a discouraging rejection.

Then I notice a new book on the bookstore shelves about a similar subject. My heart dips. My brain sags. My husband has no sympathy. “You shouldn’t have given up,” he tells me. That’s not what I wanted to hear. But is very similar to the advice I’ve given to other writers. Find a new angle. Change your approach. There are tons of books on the market with similar themes and plots. Your job is to dig deep into yourself and find the book that only you can write and then write it from your heart.

Study the craft of writing. Join a critique group or form your own. And listen to your writing group. Try some of their ideas and think deeply about their thoughts as you revise. Think about them even when they seem to point you west and you’re determined to head east.

During those confusing times, I often board Amtrak’s Heartland Flyer and think and write as it travels through our Oklahoma landscape on its way to Fort Worth, Texas. The journey is never pointless because one of my daughters lives at the end of the track. If my revising needs a longer ride, I transfer to the Texas Eagle and chug-a-lug my way east to Longview where a niece awaits me. 

The Heartland Flyer

Are there times your writing needs revising? Does it seem as if it’s heading north and it needs to head in the opposite direction? Try changing your environment. Even a different library or coffee shop can help clear your mind and your writing. I like to visit museums like the Museum of Osteology.

Find your best train for revising. Listen for the conductor’s announcement, “The revision train is now loading on Track SUCCESS!”

Posted by Gwendolyn Hooks

Friday, January 24, 2020

One Writer’s Rx for Achieving 20/20 Vision in 2020!

TeachingAuthors continues to celebrate 2020 - a New Year that begins a New Decade - with New Opportunities to refract our eyes so we can see our world with 20/20 vision.

20/20 vision - as in, “normal visual acuity (the clarity or sharpness of vision) measured at a distance of 20 feet.”

That’s swell ophthalmologically. (Think: eye drops, dilated pupils and eye exams!)
But how might that work for writers, especially those RE-visioning their stories?
How might they see their stories more sharply, more clearly, so they can tell them to readers the best way possible?

As luck would have it – and I mean that sincerely, since I’m always grateful for opportunities to get my stories right, I’ve spent the past two months revisiting two picture book manuscripts that received requests for revision.
So here’s my step-by-step Rx for achieving 20/20 vision when returning to your manuscripts with refracted eyes:

• Look backward.
Return to your very first draft to take a second look at the story you were telling yourself. Then reread the subsequent drafts to see the choices you considered and the choices you made to tell that story to your intended readers.
Ask: “Better or worse? Better or worse?” 😊
Wallow in your early notes, your first stabs at story starts, character names, plot points, to uncover nuggets that still serve your story.
Smile at your “darlings” – those favorite phrases, names, lines, possibly lamenting their loss.
Think about where you’ve been (conferences, webinars, classes, retreats, Writing Groups) and how much you’ve learned since starting the story, then pat yourself on the back for how far you’ve come since that very first story spark brought you to the page.

• Probe inward.
This is the step in which you see with your heart.
Determine why this story grabbed you.
[Note: I addressed this question in my February, 2019 post.]
Ask yourself what your story is truly about and describe your Reader’s take-away.
Perhaps your original premise and take-away need to be distilled and refined.
Ask yourself why the world needs this story and why you are the perfect person to tell it.
Reflect on just where you are in your story.
You can do all of the above in a letter to yourself.
Digging deep not only ensures your story will connect with your Readers. It will keep you on task.

• Press forward.
This is the true “doing” part because you’re sufficiently fortified by earlier insights.
First read – several times – the suggested and/or recommended revision needs.
Restate in your own words what’s being put forth. Separate the requests into doable tasks – for instance, language concerns, format requirements, reader accessibility, elements of narrative – the plot’s sagging middle, a two-dimensional character, inorganic actions, etc.
Then read those recommendations and suggestions again.
Find mentor texts that address those recommendations and suggestions. (Think:  genre/format/tone/subject matter/characterization, etc.) Read, study and parse each text. Type out the parts that are relevant. Read reviews of each.
One by one, return to your newest iteration willing to address each task, each request, if possible.
Evaluate honestly: "Better or worse?"
Put the manuscript away for at least 3 or 4 days, if not a week or two, or even a month, then re-evaluate.

• Reach outward.
Sometimes we’re still too close to our manuscripts to honestly evaluate how well they're working.
Share both the editorial requests and your revision with your valued trusted Writing Group or Writing Partner.
If neither option is available, consider receiving a critique via a conference, contest, webinar.
Again: ask "Better or worse? Better or worse?"

• Gaze upward.
IMHO: this step requires no further explanation. 😊
We’re not in this alone! Seek help everywhere!

• Continue onward!
This last step may well be prefaced with admiring declines, or even more suggestions that require lots of response verbs that begin with the prefix RE – as in, again.
In other words: there might be some repetition of the above steps.
Or not!
This step offers all sorts of possible verbs, like breathe, believe, sign, celebrate, thank, but best of all, connect and resonate – with your readers.
The truth is, whether we take two steps forward or one step back, when our vision registers 20/20, the possibilities to get your story right are endless

Of course, I’m well aware the above step-by-step Rx for achieving 20/20 vision IS NOT LIMITED to only writers telling their stories to readers. Indeed, it can prove most beneficial to human beings seeking clarity in their lives, regardless of purpose.  We have 365 chances to see the light to get it right, “it” being whatever seeks our focus.

Perhaps "clarity" should be my Word for 2020? Though “upward” and “onward” are mighty contenders.

Thanks to children's author and poet Karthryn Apel for hosting today's Poetry Friday.

And Happy Visioning to our intrepid TeachingAuthors Readers!

Esther Hershenhorn
If you're looking for a time and place this summer to refine your vision and your stories, I'm again honored to continue facilitating Barbara Seuling's Manuscript Workshop July 12-17 at the beautiful Landgrove Inn in Landgrove, Vermont.  Innkeeper Tom Checchia is currently offering a discount on Room and Board.  Learn more by visiting my website and scrolling down the page and/or emailing me. Those gorgeous Green Mountains are downright magical!

Friday, January 17, 2020

20/20 Revision: Re-learning to See


A word of many meanings. It can be the act of seeing the physical world.

Or the ability to see into the future.  I usually can't predict what I'm having for lunch, let alone what's going to happen next year, or even next week.

Another definition, according to Webster's, is to imagine. My ability to imagine has been working at a slow speed lately. Sometimes it stops working altogether.

Then there is this, the last definition--"something seen; a lovely sight."

This is Maui, where my husband and I spent five days before Christmas, celebrating out 30th anniversary. Five days of "lovely sights." If you've never been, this place can be a shock to your senses. A carnival of color. Stark contrasts--lava fields and Jurassic Park lushness. Rainbows appearing from nowhere...then disappearing.
Perfect (for me) weather--75 degrees every day with soft breezes. Go to the top of a dead volcano, and it's 38 degrees and I don't even want to guess the wind chill.

We snorkeled. Getting up close and personal with the Yellow Tang and Rainbow Butterfly Fish is my idea of nirvana.

Under the sea--da-da-da-da-da!
 We lucked into arriving the first day of whale watching season. Our guide warned us that we might not see anything this so early, but we did!  Whales arcing over the ocean, slapping their mighty tails, the marine mammal mating call. Whale watching was Craig's idea; I was just along for the ride. But I'm so glad I did.
Whale watching with total strangers.

Maui is a great place to stargaze. The island tries to keep light pollution to a minimum. So much so, that driving unfamiliar roads at night is not a good idea, they are so sparsely lit. We signed on for a "star watch tour" at the top of Haleakala, the highest point on the island. We climbed into a van with six other tourists and our sprightly seventy-something ex-hippie guide and wound our way to the top of Haleakala, a dead volcano.

Talk about visions! The late afternoon lit up canyons and craters, a cross between the Grand Canyon in on direction, and the surface of the moon in the other. Gazing down to the ocean and small towns was the kind of view you get from a plane. A 10,000 ft elevation will do that. It's another world up there.
Me on the moon (Haleakala)

 Craig and I chuckled at the instructions to wear sweats and heavy socks and that we would be given wind suits.  We stopped laughing when we got out of the van at the summit, and were blasted with 30 mph winds. We jumped into those wind suits, gratefully accepted our guide's offer of hot chocolate and Christmas cookies, and snuggled into camp chairs to watch the sun slowly sink into the Pacific. We also snickered as other tourists pulled into the parking lot to take sunset pictures, only to discover that shorts and flip-flops really weren't a good idea. I wonder how their pictures turned out...people shivering, shoulders hunched to their ears, hair whipping their faces, screaming "Take the picture, I'm freezing!"
That's the Pacific at the top of the shot

Darkness fell. Even without the guide's huge portable telescope, the sky lit up with stars and planets. Who knew you could see Saturn without a telescope? And there were all the constellations I've read about, but could never pick out for myself. Despite the wind and the cold (and my wind pants that kept falling down) I could've stayed up there forever. But the clouds rolled in, above and below us. Time to go, while our driver could still negotiate the endless switchbacks. A fantasy ride through the clouds. The van's radio faded in and out of a classic rock station. Suddenly, The Beatles "Something" came through loud and clear, our senior ex-hippie driver singing harmony. We rolled down, down through the clouds in our warm magic bus, like a waking dream. Back to the meeting point where is was still 75 degrees, with gentle breezes and no clouds.

So you, you say, you had a nice vacation. So what does this have to do with writing.

Its the "vision thing" as a former president once said. All of these thing existed, but we had to choose to see them. We were with other tourists on all our excursions. While we were snorkeling, others chose to sit in the shade and bitch that there were no soft drinks, just water. On the whale watching cruise, people complained that it was overcast, and they couldn't take pictures of the sunset. And of course, there were those ill-prepared people at Haleakala, focused only getting a picture before they froze, not even looking at the sunset behind them.

There is always something to observe if we so choose.  No, I can't hop over to Maui when I want to refresh my vision. But I can choose to take a closer look, right where I am, even in suburban Atlanta. There are people to observe, flowers to discover, the variety of ways that rain can fall.

And on those days when nothing seems interesting, nothing sparks my eye, I can remember that the sun and moon and Venus are always in the sky, even when I can't see them.
And so aloha to our 50th state.
Posted by Mary Ann Rodman

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Wednesday Writing Workout: Befriending the Revision Monster

Today I'm happy to share a guest Wednesday Writing Workout from Illinois author Shirin Shamsi.

Shirin was born and raised in the UK to immigrant parents from Pakistan. She moved to the United States where she raised three wonderful human beings who are doing great things in the world.
Shirin always wanted to write stories in which her children would see themselves. Living on three different continents gave her a global perspective and she dreams of writing stories that inspire empathy. You can read more about her at her website and follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Shirin's most recent book is the middle-grade novel Laila and the Sands of Time (Spork). Here's a brief summary:

Thirteen-year-old Laila, still grieving over her father's death, goes on their planned pilgrimage to Mecca with her aunt and uncle. While on pilgrimage, Laila is transported back in time to 7th-century Arabia. There she faces the dangers of the desert, takes on a disguise, and saves a baby's life. But will she ever return to her own time?

Here's Shirin's Wednesday Writing Workout.
Wednesday Writing Workout:
Befriending the Revision Monster
by Shirin Shamsi

I began writing Laila and the Sands of Time when my eldest daughter asked me to write a chapter book. At the time I considered myself a picture book author only.

The journey has been a long road. I learned much from it. I was a total "pantser" before and now try to be a plotter, so hopefully I am becoming a bit of both.

I feared revision before. In fact, I believe it was the fear of revision that made procrastination much more palatable to me. My fear of revision grew and grew until it became a monster.

Image by Stefan Keller from Pixabay

Let’s face it, if you love writing then revision is going to be your companion for the duration of your writing career. It has taken a lot of time, patience, and perseverance, but I now come to revision with the same excitement I bring to writing a rough draft. Revision and I are now best friends.
From the time I signed the contract for Laila and the Sands of Time to the moment when I held it in my hands, it took two whole years. During that time I went back and forth with my editor. Without my amazing editor, I feel my book would not have been as good. It was a learning process for me, being my first middle grade novel. I was impatient to see my story in print, but even when I thought my story was perfect, my editor made it shine. Our constant back and forth conversations and revision made my book the best it could be.

I feel so passionate about revision that I would like to share a few ideas here with you:
  1. When you feel your story is complete, put it away. Let it rest.
  2. When you read it again, ask yourself if every fact has been researched. For Laila, I had to research a lot about 7th-century Arabia. I feared getting the facts wrong.
  3. Also ask yourself: Does everything make sense? Is every page interesting?
  4. Each time you revise, approach your work with a new goal, such as word choice, tone, factual details, story arc, plot.
  5. Go through each page to cut out the “widows” and “orphans” at the beginning and end of each page. It will make for a cleaner and tighter story.
  6. Read your story as though someone else has written it. Does it still excite you? If your answer is “YES” then you are ready to share your story with the world.
Revision is a lengthy process. I think of it as excavation. We have to dig deep, cut through hard obstacles to get to our gem of a story.
Image by PaulaPaulsen from Pixabay
Good luck. Keep writing. Keep revising.
Thank you, Shirin, for today's Wednesday Writing Workout. Readers, I hope you'll try her suggestions. If you do, please let us know how they work for you.

Posted by Carmela

Friday, January 10, 2020


Jenna Coleman as Clara Oswald
Doctor Who, Wikipedia.
Copyright BBC

Welcome back to Teaching Authors!

Unsinkable. That’s the One Word that my friend (I will call her Clara) gifted me on New Years Day. The word means full of energy. Not able to be defeated or to fail. Synonyms include soaring and free. Buoyant.

According to the practice, the One Word Resolution brings clarity by taking all your big plans for life change and narrowing them down into a single focus. This one word centers on your character and creates a vision for your future. It acts as a mantra or guiding principle for the new year. The idea is focused around having a central word or theme to guide your actions or what you want to embrace.

I have never considered participating in the One Word Resolution. How can a writer choose just one word?

“Fear Makes Companions of Us All.” – Clara Oswald
2019 had been a challenging year. There have been many transitions, negative and positive.

You may recall in 2017, I separated from my dear agent. I had searched for years for the right agent, firing two agents along the way because they were not serving my best interest. Finally, finally I found the ONE. After five years, and the sale of my two historical fiction middle grade books, my agent decided to focus on picturebooks and so ended our relationship. Since then, despite many hopeful connections and queries, agents requesting revisions and promising possibilities, I have not been able to find a new agent.

Of course, I haven’t stopped writing. I did manage to sell my first graphic novel.

As Rachel Olsen, co-author of  My One Word: Change Your Life With Just One Word says, this word gives you a focus on how you approach all aspects of your life for this one year. It helps you determine the kind of person you want to become. A word can’t be broken. It serves as a reminder; a filter. It’s who you want to be instead of what you regret.
"Let Me Be Brave." – Clara Oswald
I have now transitioned into Medicare age, and am facing that dreaded process. It is not without it’s own wistfulness. I am the first one in my family to make it to this age. Both of my parents and my younger brother didn’t make it this far. I am the Last One Standing. 

 But I am still here.

And, of course, there are other challenges that comes with age. Loss of beloved friends. Loss of beloved companions. Disconnections and reconnections. Then there's Trump.
"Show Me the Stars." – Clara Oswald
I am teaching more classes at the MFA Creative Writing Program at Southern New Hampshire University. I have enjoyed several of Harold Underdown’s and Eileen Robinson’s Kid and YA Book Revisions online courses and workshops. It has kept my head in the game, and I have managed to finish two novels in the last two years and revised another manuscript, a potential series, now being reviewed.

All things considered, Clara did well in gifting me this word. Unsinkable. Thank you!
What is your One Word?
As you consider your One Word, here is my gift to you, Maya Angelou reading one of my favorite picture books, Life Doesn't Frighten Me.(illustrated by Jean-Michel Basquiat. Abrams Books, 1993)

-- Bobbi Miller