Wednesday, August 31, 2011

When Do You Consider Audience?

During her surprise presentation at the SCBWI conference in L.A., Judy Blume shared this bit of advice, which I think is wonderful: When an idea hits you, write it. Do not worry about the audience. Do it your way and the story will find its way and its audience.

This inspired great conversations among my friends. Most of us agreed that we do consider the audience before we write. Thinking about audience may even influence our writing more than we’d like. Some (and I’m not dropping names) admitted that considering the audience too much or too soon has been a major distraction from the story at hand.

How liberating to not worry about the audience, at least during the first draft. Frankly, I have enough to fuss with while I’m trying to get a story idea pinned down to a beginning, a middle, and an end.

And each story does seem to find its own way. By the time I’ve etched out a first draft, for example, my protagonist is naturally of a certain age and a he or a she. The problems and situations are clear enough to determine the audience.

What do you think? When you are writing, or even reading, do you consider the intended audience before the story? Or do you consider the story before the audience?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

What’s In Your Survival Kit?

Survival kits are not just for outdoor enthusiasts. Life can be tough. We all need things to get us through the rough spots, whether these be first drafts (pause to shudder), the marshy middles of our writing projects, unexpected bad news, or those days when everything goes wrong.
Here are some of the items in my survival kit:

Sustenance. Sure, protein bars are great when hiking, but when I'm at my desk and thrashing through a first draft (which I’ve been doing this summer), I go for jellybeans. Jelly Belly jellybeans, to be specific. I find they are great sustenance during tough writing times. They heal. I’m pretty sure this a scientific fact. When the times get tough, the tough pop jellybeans.

First Aid Supplies. I don’t know about you, but I can be my own worst enemy. When I am writing, I can wallow like a water buffalo in pools of self-doubt. That’s when I apply a hearty dose of reality as if it were antibiotic cream. I remind myself that what I am working on does not need to be perfect. I can always revise. Revisions are first aid for broken and bruised, scratched and messy writing.

Water. It soothes. It hydrates. It is a necessity for survival. So is music. Unlike water, it inspires. When I am writing, it can help me get through the toughest parts of the process (another shudder as I consider the first draft). When I am having a bad, bad day, music is therapeutic.

Flashlight . . . or a Good Book. When out in the wilderness at night, a flashlight could be really helpful to a lost hiker. Anyone who reads knows that a great book is also helpful for finding a way out of a rotten day or rough period. Call it escapism. Reading is fabulous, too, I think, for writers needing some breathing space away from an ornery manuscript. Reading feeds writing. Not only does a writer get a break, but she (or he) refuels and recharges.

What’s in your survival kit? I bet it’s interesting!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Butterfy Effect

You probably know that the butterfly effect is, very simply, a small happening or alteration that can result in larger changes. For example, a butterfly flaps its wings which leads to the creation or absence of a hurricane. Bruce Coville opened the SCBWI conference in L.A. with an inspiring keynote address in which he talked about how what writers and illustrators do often ripples out and affects others. I love this idea, especially since it’s not exclusive to being published.

What we do, whether it be writing, illustrating, bagging groceries, or even driving down a road, can make a difference when there is an opportunity to offer support, kindness, or some form of grace. I know someone who stops his car when he sees a turtle inching across a road. He gives the critter a lift (literally) to the side. I love this. Simple acts of kindness can be respites of relief in a world that is often too harsh. Sometimes just a smile can make a difference, even between strangers.

Maybe I’m biased, but I do believe that writing and illustrating gives those of us who indulge in one or the other or both a special opportunity to send out ripples. Consider the people who share their time and creativity for the benefit of others. Maybe by blogging, tweeting, or posting on Facebook; maybe by supporting the blogs of others; maybe by sharing guidance and wisdom in critique groups; maybe by sharing knowledge with a new writer. We creative sorts tend to be sensitive by nature. Having the support of kindred souls makes a huge difference, I think.

So, cheers to those who act with a good heart and a desire to make a difference in a positive way. Great things can and do result. As Bruce Coville said, we can start a ripple with even the smallest gesture.

What do you think? Have you seen the butterfly effect in action? Do tell! : )

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Interior Monologue

I’m still spinning from the 40th anniversary SCBWI conference in L.A. I had a blast. I caught up with lots of writer and illustrator pals, was dazzled by speakers such as Richard Peck, Judy Blume, David Small, Gary Paulsen (WOW, was his life story ever amazing), Laurie Halse Anderson, Libba Bray, and Norton Juster [who I chatted with during an elevator ride while fawning shamelessly over his The Phantom Tollbooth]. These people are not only amazing writers (some illustrators, as well), but also incredible speakers. How is it possible that some people are graced with so many talents? They enlightened, entertained (not kidding when I say I laughed, I cried….), and mesmerized 1,342 attendees. Seriously amazing.

I’ll be sharing lots of information once my brain solidifies again (it’s pretty much pudding at this point). Today, though, I thought I’d post about interior monologues since coincidently my head is still buzzing with conference chat.

In a great workshop on voice, editor Krista Marino discussed interior monologue—the often unspoken thinking of a character. Inner thoughts can reveal what a character is considering, feeling, processing, and valuing. Because it can show back-story, attitude, and information about the character, interior monologue opens the door to reader empathy by allowing the reader to get to know a character’s true heart. The novel Speak, Krista reminded us, is a great example of interior monologue.

But how much interior monologue is overkill? Too much can lead to excess telling (and, of course, too much telling rather than showing can ruin a good story). Sometimes interior monologue can not or should not be revealed (the reader may not need to know everything). Sometimes too much interior monologue can get confusing or boring or weigh a story down. Interior monologue is sort of like seasoning—a heavy handed application can ruin the deliciousness.

When you’re writing or reading, what is your take on interior monologue? How much is too much?

I’ll leave you with that question as I go to refill my mug with something caffeinated (I’m still on California time).

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Recharging the Batteries

There is nothing like a great conference to recharge the batteries that power creativity.

Do you have a favorite conference or retreat that you find inspiring and energizing? I love the annual SCBWI conference in LA. This year is the 40th Anniversary Conference, which means an extra sprinkling of celebration and excitement. I’ll be flying out to LA tomorrow. I am buzzing about this event for a bunch of reasons.

To begin with, this conference is promising keynotes and workshops by best-selling authors such as Laurie Halse Anderson, Libba Bray, John Green, and Norton Juster, just to name a few of the talented people that will be sharing their wisdom and insights. And, of course, there is the poolside party on Saturday night and the Golden Kite Awards Luncheon on Sunday. Fun!

Want to be part of the excitement even if you can’t make it to the conference? Here are a few ways you can join in:

You can follow the conference on Twitter by using the hash tag #LA11SCBWI .

You can also read the conference blog. SCBWI’S TEAM BLOG will be blogging live from the conference. Here’s the link:

If you happen to be at the conference and spot me (don't be surprised if it's in line at the hotel lobby Starbucks), please elbow me and say “hi”! It would be great to meet face to face (not that there’s anything wrong with blog to blog).

That's a bit about my most delicious get-away. I’d love to hear about your favorite conferences or retreats or ways that you recharge your creative batteries. Do tell!