Determine Your Destination. Know Your Route.

As a fresh Driver’s Ed graduate, I remember the first time my dad asked me to take him on a drive.

tractorAwesome! At last, I could show off my driving skills—to my dad—kind of a big deal. Mostly because the last time I’d been allowed to drive (age 10) I’d almost wrecked the tractor. But you can’t hold that against me, the steering wheel came off. Not my fault—mostly. In any case, I’d aced my driver’s test. I had this.

I got behind the wheel and held my hand out for the keys.

He turned in his seat, looked me in the eye and asked, “Do you know where you’re going?”

“Aren’t we just going up town?” Silly question, he’s the one that asked if I wanted to drive him to town. He couldn’t have forgotten already, right?

I shot my hand out, palm up, like a kid waiting for a congratulatory gumball.

He didn’t budge, instead, he asked, “Do you know which route you’re going to take?”

“Of course. I . . .” I paused, there were options. North? South? Each led to town, and each route led to more choices. Okay, so he had a point. After a moment’s thought, I recited my chosen plan.

My reward: A set of keys in my outstretched hand.

As we headed to town, (I picked the North road) he explained that no matter what, know where you’re going and plan your route—before you start the car.

It’s that advice that I find myself revisiting on a regular basis.

Getting married? Determine the destination. Know your route.

Want financial freedom? Determine the destination. Know your route.

Plan to write a book? Determine the destination. Know your route.

Now I’m not knocking any seat-of-your-pants writers. I enjoy my own fair bit of pantsing (that sounded better in my head), and I absolutely love the thrill of discovery in a free write.

But stop a moment and ask yourself, where is all that free-writing going? Are you on a road to nowhere? Idling along a nonexistent path in the cow pasture? Watch it, that’s a cowpie just waiting to happen. Oh, sh—splat.

It’s only a suggestion, but don’t knock it until you try it: Before you start that engine, before you put that pen to paper, those fingertips to keyboard . . . take some advice that has served me well: Determine your destination. Know your route.

It’s a destination that gives you purpose.

It’s a route that gives you direction.

Stop spinning your wheels. Get off that road to nowhere. Determine where you want to be at the end.

Dodge Polara 1973

Ask yourself:

-What’s the plan for the end?

-How am I going to get there?

 

 

 

p.s. And if you find yourself up a road without a steering wheel, (listen up you panster’s) you’ll at least know you had a plan. After all, you can’t plan for everything—even if you ace every test.

 

Readers

“I’d like to emphasize that when a reader finishes a great novel, he will immediately begin looking for another. If someone loves your book, it increases the chance that he or she will look at mine. So there is no competition between writers. Another writer’s success helps build a larger readership for all of us.”

-David Farland

This is your brain –on insomnia

Ah, at last, bedtime. Deep breath in . . .

           Breathing in.

Fill those lungs, now breathe out . . .

            Breathing out.

Pace it out, slower . . .

           I am going slower. How come you aren’t sleeping?

Give me a few minutes. Now breathe . . .

            I don’t think this is working very well for you.

Is too. Be quiet.

           What if I can’t go to sleep, what if my ideas won’t let me?

Then we’ll just get out the virtual white board.

           White board?

Sure. Just put everything you think of on the board.

           Like this?

Exactly. Now erase it right away.

           But that was a good idea up there.

Oh really, what was it?

            Well, it’s all about this boy and he’s all alone except for his dog . . .

(a long while later)

I can’t believe you tricked me like that. Back to the board. No cheating.

             I was just—

I want nothing but a mind numbing expanse of white up there.

            But I what if I want a story? Just one more story?

Do you realize how late it is?

            But I have this idea that if you take that boy and add in a girl, a kind of scary girl . . .

(an even longer while later)

What are we doing still awake? What were you thinking? That’s it, you were thinking. No more thinking.

            Can I have a drink of water?

Don’t try to distract me.

            But what if I have to go to the bathroom?           

You should have thought of that earlier.

           But I think—

That’s just it, bedtime is for dreaming, not thinking. You can think in the morning.

          But—

No more buts.

           Pretty please?

You need your sleep.

           But, oops. I mean pretty please, with sugar on top?

Erase. Erase. Erase.

            If you don’t write it on that notepad on our nightstand, my whole idea will disappear.             Forever.

White. Peace. Nothingness. White. Peace. Nothingness. White, Pea . . .

(Silence)

Oh alright. If I write it will you go to sleep?

            Cross my heart.

                              notebook

(Light on. Scribble, scribble, scribble. Light off.)

             Thank you.

You’re welcome.

             You know, if that girl and that boy had super powers, you know, if they could fly–

                             BUZZ-BUZZ-BUZZ

             Time to wake up! Hurry up sleepyhead, now we can think AND write!

Grlmmbphffft.

 

Do you still want to be a writer?

I know I doubt my sanity. I never had to question it before I allowed the writer brain out. Now, well I don’t want to think too hard about it.

Tell me, does it ever go away? I mean, once the book is done? Or do you just move on to more books, more thoughts, more sleepless nights spent in fruitless argument with yourself?

Please, at least tell me I am not alone.

 

 

 

 

Author Interview: Ann Dee Ellis

Ellis_AnnDee

Originally posted on April 18, 2014

Spending time with Ann Dee Ellis is never boring as you will see from her interview. The year I attended her workshop is a memorable one full of learning, laughter, tender moments and lasting friendships. Every WIFYR experience has taught me something new and helped me become a stronger writer. One thing I learn from Ann Dee was about finding the voice of your character. We are fortunate to have her teaching a mini-workshop on that topic, on Friday, June 20 at the WIFYR conference.

Ann Dee is part of the great blogging team at Throwing up Words.

Q:  Ann Dee, do you have a writing ritual – a particular location, a certain time of day, etc?

A:  I write in my bed, in the middle of the day, while my baby and my two year old sleep. I try not to eat too much candy but sometimes it can’t be helped. Red Vines, peach rings, and if I’m really having a hard time, chocolate covered cinnamon bears from the BYU bookstore. Sometimes I feel bad about all the candy but other times I remember as a child dreaming of the day I could drive myself to the grocery story and buy myself as much candy as I wanted. That day has arrived.

I also enjoy writing in remote cottages on the beach. I think. I wish. One day.

Q:  What were some of your favorite books as a child?

A: I loved Drummerhof. I loved The Little House. I loved The Funny Little Woman.

My mom would read to us at night in her gigantic waterbed that would slosh around when you climbed on it. She read us The Secret Garden, Little House on the Prairie, Charlotte’s Web, Charlie and The Chocolate Factory, and a novel about a Native American tribe that had a ritual where if two men wanted the same woman, they would each take an arm and pull. The one who truly loved the woman would finally give up and let her go so that she wouldn’t be hurt. This was romantic. Except when neither let go. Then it was sad.

When I was a teenager, I loved Louise Plummer’s books. I cried my face off in the basement bedroom while reading the Romantic Obsessions and Humiliations of of Annie Sehlmeier. 

Q:  What do you do when you aren’t writing?

A:  I sit on the heater with my kids and color. Sometimes I put make up on. Other times I draw on the sidewalk. Sometimes I teach college students. Or make them cry. I go to church and walk around the halls. I talk to people and watch them.

Q:  Of all the characters you’ve created, which is your favorite and why?

A:  My Mazzy from Everything is Fine. I love her. I feel like she’s been neglected and she doesn’t deserve it. She’s brave and she’s weird and she puts oranges in her bra and she yells at boys and does yoga and eats marshmallows and watches Oprah and I love her. I miss her and I love her.

Q:  What is the hardest part of writing for you?

A:  Letting go.

This is my favorite part about writing and also the hardest. Especially when I have limited time.

When you have so little time to write, you don’t want to waste it. You want every minute to count.

That’s a problem because when you create, you need the space to mess up, to go the wrong way, to write big chunks of lovely that will later be cut. You need the freedom to laugh and be ridiculous and try new things and not worry about what you mother or editor or fancy writing friend might think.

Writing is a mind game. It’s about letting go when everything tells you to hold on. To control it. To plan it. To make it good. The hardest part of writing is letting it be bad or weird or nothing. Just writing.

Q:  What makes you laugh?

A:  My boys. All five of them.

Q:  Can you tell us about what you are working on?

A:  A book about a girl and a boy and a trailer park.

Blog Tour and Interview: Jennifer Nielsen

JenNielsen_color_small-300x200

Originally posted March 5, 2014

The first time I heard Jennifer Nielsen speak, I learned so much about making a novel powerful, that I had to go read her book, The False Prince. The plot and other elements of the book kept me engaged to the last page and wanting more. Fortunately there is more.

WIFYR is offering the opportunity to spend a morning with Jennifer Nielsen learning about plot. The blog tour also visits Jennifer today with a focus on plotting. http://www.jennielsen.com/archives/1157

Enjoy the interview below.

Thanks, Jennifer!

Q:  What were some of your favorite books as a child?

A:  I really loved “The Wolves of Willoughby Chase” by Joan Aiken, and for years, I read that nearly on a loop. I also loved “A Wrinkle in Time” by Madeleine L’Engle, “The Westing Game” by Ellen Raskin, and all the Hardy Boys books. But perhaps the most important book to me as a child was “The Outsiders” by S.E. Hinton. Because she had written the book when she was so young, she was the first author I thought of as a real person, someone not too different from me. She was the first person to get me to think that becoming an author might be a real possibility for me. I will always be grateful for the influence of these authors in my life. And when something about one of my books gets a child to start writing their own story, I consider that the highest of honors.

Q:  Of all the characters you’ve created, which is your favorite and why?

A:  I don’t know if “favorite” is the right word, but I definitely love to write Sage’s character from THE FALSE PRINCE. He is so mischievous and stubborn and willing to do incredibly stupid things, that I am often just as surprised as the readers by what he does next. In writing that series, I feel like I went on this huge journey with Sage, and that the reward for it is understanding him better. He still holds secrets and surprises, and I hope there will come a time when I can explore those too.

Q:  What is the hardest part of writing for you?

A:  Waiting. Publishing is a slow moving boat, and patience is not really my strongest virtue. You write a manuscript, then set it aside and wait while it settles. You submit a query, then wait for a response. You get an editor, then wait until you can announce it. You wait for editing notes, wait for publication, wait to see how readers receive it. There is really just so. much. waiting. But it’s part of the business, so eventually I hope to get used to it. It’s also why I strongly encourage writers to have one project always at some phase of development. Because you should always be moving forward, even while waiting.

Q:  What do you wish published writers had told you before you started writing?

A:  That I can make it. We spend so much time warning aspiring authors of the difficulties, the rejection, and the frustration – and those are definitely part of this business. But I also think it’s important to let authors know that publishers are always looking for the next great book, readers remain passionate about stories they love, and that for those who are willing to keep going, there is a place for them in this industry. More than anything else, I am convinced that success in writing is a test of perseverance, and for those who keep going, success is a “when” and not an “if.”

Q:  Can you tell us about what you are working on?

A:  My next book will be released in Spring 2015 and is called THE PRAETOR WAR. It takes place in Ancient Rome with an escaped Roman slave, some stolen magic, and a battle to control the fall of the Roman Empire. I am in love with this story, and I think readers who’ve enjoyed THE ASCENDANCE TRILOGY will find a lot of what they already loved, combined with the new elements of magic, and the grandeur of this ancient empire.

 

Blog Tour and Interview: Sherry Meidell

sherry-2

Originally posted on March 20, 2014.

Illustrator, Sherry Meidell, will present a Mini-Workshop on Tuesday, June 17 at Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers. With a collection of illustrated books and an intriguing topic, Stepping into Your Picture, her workshop is sure to be a treat to those who attend.

Read the interview below to learn more about this fabulous illustrator. Follow the blog tour to see some of what Sherry is working on and read the WIFYR guest post.

http://sherrymeidell.wordpress.com/

Welcome Sherry!

Q:  What influenced you to illustrate and write books for kids?

A:  In elementary school I would get lost in book illustrations. I studied them and the stories they told. At night I stared at the ceiling of my room and imagine faces made by the shadows there. When we would go up to my grandparents house I would study the Saturday Evening Post covers by the great illustrators of the day. I suppose that early love of art sent me in the direction of illustrating children’s books and wanting to create my own stories. `

Q:  Do you have an illustration ritual ? a particular location, a certain time of day, etc?

A:  I have a studio in my house. After a bit of morning reading and excercise, I love to head up to the studio. The morning sun will come in the windows and set the mood for a nice day of illustrating. I always have projects going whether it’s a book dummy I’m working on or a watercolor to paint or another story to work on.

Q:  Who are some of the writers and illustrators you most admire?

A:  I love the illustrations of Jerry Pinkney. I have a nice collection of the books he has illustrated. I also love N. C. Wyeth and Norman Rockwell and Beatrix Potter.

Q:  What illustrating advice do you have for emerging illustrators?

A:  One of the best tools any artist can have is a sketch book and a pen. It should be with you almost always to capture things that are around you. They strengthen you muscle memory and skill. They are a valuable place to keep ideas and memories.

Q:  What have been some of the greatest moments in your life?

A:  Great moments come every day. This life is filled with beauty.

Q:  What makes you laugh?

A:  I seem to get laughing at times when it is not acceptable to laugh which usually makes me shake uncontrollably and laugh harder. In my younger days, I was in a musical of the Wizard of Oz. I was one of the munchkin lullaby league. There were three of us on stage. It was time for us to sing our song. We represent the lullaby league, the lullaby league the…….. and it hit. Two of the lullaby league hung their heads with uncontrollable giggles and the other girl sang a very nice solo. Was I the one singing the solo so nicely? No I was the one who giggled through the song and most of the night.

Q:  Can you tell us about what you are working on?

A:  A book dummy. :)

(Note: A book dummy is a mock-up of your book, meant to show editors the layout.)

Interview, Part 2: Lisa Mangum the Editor

Originally posted on April 11, 2014

Yesterday we interviewed Lisa Mangum, the author. Today she is talking to us with her editor hat on. She works at Deseret Book. Every time I hear Lisa speak I learn something valuable.

Thank you Lisa, for sharing these insights with us.

Q: What is a typical day for you as an editor?

A: I always start my day by checking my email and tending to any urgent issues that cropped up from the night before. Because I know I’m sharper in the morning, I try to set aside some solid hours in the morning to tend to my editing assignments. Afternoons are my time to tend to all the smaller tasks that have accumulated during the day. I almost always have at least one meeting to go to every day, sometimes more. But one of the things I love about being an editor is that, even though the tasks are the same, the books are all different, so my days are always different depending on the books on my desk.

Q: How has being an author changed you as an editor?

A: I’m a nicer editor now. Having been on the other side of the desk (so to speak) has given me a greater appreciation for how scary deadlines can be, for how complicated it is to write a book, and how helpful it is to have an editor who listens and understands the process. I think it’s also helped me stay abreast of reading trends and what writers are excited about.

Q: How can an editor help an author improve a story?

A: A good editor can help an author see the strengths and weaknesses in a story as well as offer ways to push the story from average to excellent. A good editor can help the author’s voice shine in the manuscript and facilitate communication between author and reader. The best editors are entirely invisible to the reader. Editors are not the author’s adversary; editors are the author’s advocate.

Q: What is your favorite part of being an editor?

A: I love reading through the slush pile and finding that manuscript that makes me pause and say, “Oh, there is something wonderful here!” And I love taking that manuscript and working with the author to make the story shine as brightly as it can. I love the first time the text is typeset into the design and it looks like a real book for the first time. I love knowing that I had a small part in the magic of storytelling.

Q: What do you look for most in a query?

A: Strong writing voice, an interesting idea, and a compelling conflict. Query letters are tricky to write because you have to sum up your amazing story in one paragraph or one sentence. But it can be done! I pay attention to authors who can tell me four important things about their book in the first sentence or first paragraph: I want to know (1) who the hero is, (2) what the goal is, (3) what the obstacles are, and (4) what the consequence of failure is. It can take some practice to hone down your idea into a quick sentence like that, but it is well worth the effort.

Interview, Part 1: Lisa Mangum the Author

 Lisa Mangum

Originally posted on April 10, 2014

We have a special treat from Lisa Mangum. Today we interview, the author. Tomorrow, you will hear from the editor.

We welcome Lisa to the WIFYR faculty. She is the author of four award-winning books: THE HOURGLASS DOOR trilogy and AFTER HELLO. Lisa is teaching Full novel class in the morning workshops. She will also teach two afternoon workshops, Pitch Perfect and Killer Openings.

But for now, here is Lisa Mangum the author.

Q. Do you have a writing ritual—a particular location, a certain time of day, etc.?

A: Because I have a full-time job as an editor as well as being an author, I have to be really careful with my time. I don’t write at work, and I don’t bring work home. That means I do all my writing in the evenings and on the weekends. When it’s time to write, I like to settle onto the couch with my laptop and write. My cat often falls asleep on my legs, which is actually a great help to me. I’ll finish a chapter and think, “Oh, but I can’t disturb Allie. I’ll just write a little longer—until she wakes up.” As any cat owner will tell you, cats can sleep for a long time, but that just means my word count goes up and up.

Q:. What were some of your favorite books as a child?

A: My earliest book memory is of my mom reading The Secret Garden to me. I also remember discovering Dragon’s Blood by Jane Yolen when I was young. That was my gateway book into epic fantasy, which I devoured whole for years and years. Some of my other favorite books were Peppermints in the Parlor, The Phantom Tollbooth, and anything by Roald Dahl.

Q: What is the hardest part of writing for you?

A: Writing is hard—period. But sometimes it’s the getting started that is the hardest for me. I’ll get an idea, develop it, love it, and then I sit down to write it and I feel some paralysis as I stare at the blank screen on the computer. I have to get past the feeling that my first line has to be the best line ever, but once I do, I can pick up speed and get into the flow. But that first line sometimes makes me crazy!

Q: What writing advice do you have for emerging writers?

A: I’m a big believer in attending writing conferences. I think they are excellent places to learn, practice, and network. Writing can be so solitary, and it’s nice to get out into the world once in a while and hang out with other writers who understand the journey. I also love learning new techniques from other writers and hearing about their struggles and successes.

Q: What makes you laugh?

A: Playing board games with my friends. An unexpected surprise. My cat playing with a string. Mystery Science Theater 3000 movies. Song parodies. The TV show Community. Playing LEGO video games with my husband.