Tips for November Writing Challenges

It’s almost November—do you know what that means? Many writers are getting ready for fun challenges, like NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). The goal is to write at least 50,000 words of a novel in November. When I first learned about NaNoWriMo, I didn’t think I’d be able to participate because I was finishing a revision on a middle grade novel. On November 7th, I completed my revision and thought of a shiny new idea. By the end of November, I ended up with over 60,000 words! As awesome as that was, I’ve learned that it’s better to have more than just an idea. Fleshing out my concept and making sure I have important plot points in mind really helps (even though it’s possible they’ll change as I get to know my characters better). Some people love to outline, but I’ve never been a huge fan of it for my work. My favorite tool is Joyce Sweeney’s Plot Clock. Here’s a post about it, and here’s another post that shows a picture of the Plot Clock.

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Calling all teachers—did you know that there’s a NaNoWriMo Young Writers Program? Check out their Resources for Educators, where you’ll find their free classroom kit, lesson plans, and Virtual Classroom how-to. You can also find out how to connect with fellow educators.

If you want to participate in NaNoWriMo, but don’t know what to write about yet, here’s a post that can help you come up with new ideas.

Here’s a link to a helpful interview with author Dorian Cirrone. She has fantastic advice for brainstorming high concept ideas, how to come up with a great beginning, plus a writing exercise. Check out Dorian’s blog for her series on Ten Ways to Generate Ideas.

A lot of middle grade novels are way less than 50,000 words…so how can you write a middle grade novel and still be a NaNoWriMo winner? Well, I think anyone who makes great progress on a novel is a winner. Reaching the end of a first draft in one month is definitely a reason to dance around the room and treat yourself to some kind of special celebration (maybe delicious chocolate, a fun outing with family members you haven’t spent much time with because you were so busy writing, or possibly a massage to un-hunch your shoulders after all that hard work). After celebrating, I like to dive back in and hit that 50,000 mark. Here are a few ways that I’ve accomplished that:

  1. My first drafts used to have lots of dialogue, but only a small amount of description. To beef up my word count and add important sensory details, I’ve looked for areas that could use fleshing out and added more description to them. I’d often have to cut a lot of it in the first few rounds of revision, but loved how many gems I was able to keep. Find what you often lack in your first drafts (maybe it’s dialogue, you don’t increase tension enough, etc.) and see where you can add it into your draft.
  2. If you think a sequel could work for your story, jump in and start writing it to reach your 50,000 word goal. Just try not to get too invested in it, because any changes you make to the first novel could cause huge changes to any future ones—but it can’t hurt to play around with it. You might find ideas that could enhance your first book!
  3. Beginnings are so hard to get right, that I’ve gone back to write a bunch of different beginnings. Don’t be afraid to start in a completely different place. If you’re not sure which one is best for your novel, polish your favorite beginnings up after NaNoWriMo is over, then share them with your critique group or writing friends and see if there’s a clear winner.
  4. You could also start a new novel! Hopefully, you’ll have some ideas fleshed out and ready to go.

If you get stuck while working on your new project, here’s a link to Tricks to Defeat Writer’s Block.

For those of you who also write picture books, check out Tara Lazar’s PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month) where the goal is to come up with at least thirty shiny new ideas during the month of November. Then, you have plenty of ideas to choose from whenever you want to write a new picture book throughout the year.

If you have any tips to share or questions to ask, please leave a comment. I’d love to hear from you. Good luck with whatever goal you’re working toward this November. I hope the words flow!

Mindy Alyse Weiss writes humorous middle grade novels with heart and quirky picture books. She’s constantly inspired by her two daughters, an adventurous Bullmasador adopted from The Humane Society, and an adorable Beagle/Pointer mix who was rescued from the Everglades. Visit Mindy’s TwitterFacebook, or blog to read more about her writing life, conference experiences, and writing tips.

Where Do I Begin…

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I was at a routine doctor appointment today and it happened again.  I told my new doctor I write books for children and she said “WOW! I’ve written a children’s book, too! What do I do next?”

Lots of children’s authors get annoyed by these very frequent questions. (Right, Doctor Clueless. I removed my neighbor’s appendix this afternoon. So what do I do next?) But well meaning potential authors always excite me. Life may have directed them down a different path, but somewhere in the back of their minds (and in the center of their hearts) they dream of writing for children. Often they’ve already produced a manuscript with their own children.

And I’m living this person’s dream! Lucky me! I’m all too ready to share the joy!!!!

So what is next?

That’s up to you. The first question I ask a sincere author-to-be is what’s your goal?  Is it to save your children’s stories as a family legacy? Is it to become the next J. K. Rowling? Do you envision yourself as a serious professional writer in the future or is this a one time fun project?

Writing is an art and like other arts it can take many forms. A concert pianist who plays (or dreams of playing) at Carnegie Hall has a different level of training and commitment than an at home piano player who’s the hit of every family gathering and neighborhood party. There’s nothing wrong and a whole lot right with both paths.

First stop in my completely unbiased (!) opinion is visit the resources on our From The Mixed-Up Files website. We have a whole page devoted to aspiring authors and you won’t find a more accessible place to find out what to expect when trying to move forward with writing and publishing a children’s book.

Another blog I recommend (okay I’m one of the founding members there, too) is www.ThroughTheTollbooth.com  It’s a children’s writer’s craft blog written by a rather stunning group of super successful children’s authors (plus me) trained at Vermont College of Fine Arts Writing for Children & Young Adults masters program. Search the archives for just about any how to topic and you’ll find the answer (well lots of different approaches and answers) in The Tollbooth.

And perhaps the best advice is head to your local chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators – aka SCBWI.   Annual SCBWI conferences can seem pricey, but they’re well worth the investment whether you consider writing for children a casual hobby or a serious vocation, and most chapters have smaller less expensive or free events sprinkled through the year. You’ll meet kindred spirits, and you’ll learn not just what you think you need to know, but things you never knew you didn’t know, or never knew you’d need to know or… well you get the picture. There’s loads of great information on the SCBWI website, too, so be sure to pay a visit!

Finally (and by now the person who’s asked me “what next’s” eyes have usually glazed over because all they wanted to know is my editor’s personal phone number) I strongly recommend a bit (okay a whole lot) of reading.

Most adults haven’t read many children’s books since they left elementary school. Go to the children’s department of your library. Go to the children’s book section of a bookstore. Even poke around in the children’s book category of an online bookseller if you have no other alternative. Don’t focus on the books you remember from your childhood. Get a feel for what’s in style now. You don’t want your literary pride and joy to be the book equivalent of a bustle skirt or a moth eaten zoot suit– even if it is historic fiction. While you’re there pick up a copy of a good guide to children’s books and publishing like Harold Underdown’s The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Publishing Children’s Books. And pick up Anita Silvey’s 100 Best Books For Children  It’s not her only children’s book guide. It may not even be her best children’s book guide. I love her Book A Day Almanac. But if you love children’s books and you want to write them, even as a casual hobby or fling, make it your responsibility to be familiar with everything on this list.

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So what’s my advice when someone says “I’ve written a children’s book. What’s next?” I say raise a glass of champagne. You deserve it!!  (and invite me to toast you!) Then get back to work.

Tami Lewis Brown bids a very very fond farewell to From The Mixed-Up Files with this post about just starting out. I’ve enjoyed every golden moment of this wonderful community and welcome all who join behind me!

Little Dead Riding Hood by Amie Borst

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You know things are going to suck when you’re the new kid. But when you’re the new kid and a vampire… well, it bites!

Unlike most kids, Scarlet Small’s problems go far beyond just trying to fit in. She would settle for a normal life, but being twelve years old for an entire century is a real pain in the neck. Plus, her appetite for security guards, house pets and bloody toms (tomato juice) is out of control. So in order to keep their vampire-secret, her parents, Mort and Drac, resort to moving for the hundredth time, despite Scarlet being dead-set against it. Things couldn’t be worse at her new school, either. Not only does she have a strange skeleton-girl as a classmate, but a smelly werewolf is intent on revealing her secret.

When she meets Granny—who fills her with cookies, goodies, and treats, and seems to understand her more than anyone—she’s sure things will be different. But with a fork-stabbing incident, a cherry pie massacre, and a town full of crazy people, Scarlet’s O-positive she’ll never live to see another undead day. Not even her Vampire Rule Book can save her from the mess she’s in.

Why can’t she ever just follow the rules?

Amazon, Books-A-Million, Barnes & Noble, Indiebound, Goodreads

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I hold the awesome job of being the interview coordinator here at The Mixed-Up Files. It means I meet wonderful authors, interact with publicists who go above and beyond the call of duty to promote books for their clients, and I have the opportunity to read many incredible middle-grade books.

The downfall?

It’s really hard to interview yourself. But…that’s what I’m going to do!

Amie: Hi Amie! *waves to reflection in the mirror* It’s great to have you here at MUF today! Tell us a little about your book.

Self: *rubs arm awkwardly* Little Dead Riding Hood is the second book in the Scarily Ever Laughter series. It’s a companion novel to Cinderskella. Both books are co-authored by my 14 year old daughter (who, btw, was only 9 when she came up with the idea for the series). Scarlet Small (dead riding hood) is a vampire trying to fit in at her new school, but with a werewolf intent on destroying her afterlife, that’s pretty difficult.

Amie: Whoa. So you’ve got vampires and werewolves? *scratches head* Isn’t the whole Twilight thing over?

Self: That’s probably true. But don’t worry. The only relation LDRH has to Twilight is mocking it. In a nice way of course. *sparkly unicorns are the best*

Amie: Oh. I see. So what’s it like to write with your daughter?

Self: You know, I think most people would dread writing with their kids but I enjoy it. Bethanie is a hard worker, she’s dedicated and creative, and she’s not intimidated by deadlines, mistakes, or the writing process in general.

Amie: So you fight a lot.

Self: Who said that? Weren’t you listening?

Amie: *quickly changes subject* One last question. Chocolate or cupcakes? Chimichanga or chicken pot pie? Mountains or ocean?

Self: First of all, you can’t count. That was THREE questions.

Amie: Hey, I never said math was my best subject. Just answer the question. I mean questionS.

Self: Well that’s easy. All of the above!

Thanks for being here Amie!

 

Amie…I mean, I have a few contests happening, ’cause I’m a happenin’ kind of gal. The first is a giveaway for a copy of LITTLE DEAD RIDING HOOD! You can enter by filling out the rafflecopter form below.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

  The second is a scavenger hunt on my blog! This week’s prize is a free SKYPE VISIT! Wahoo! So if you’re a teacher (or know one) who’d love to have Bethanie and I virtually visit your classroom, be sure to enter the rafflecopter form below. You can also go to my blog and visit all the stops during my blog tour as well as follow the scavenger hunt for lots of great prizes through November 7th!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Amie Borst is the author of Cinderskella and Little Dead Riding Hood. She frequently talks to herself. You can find her on facebook, twitter, her blog, and two soon to be released websites – Amieborst.com and AmieAndBethanieBorst.com