Author Archives: Mindy Alyse Weiss

Interview & Two Giveaways with Joyce Sweeney

I’m thrilled to interview super-mentor, Joyce Sweeney today. Welcome to the Mixed-Up Files, Joyce! It’s great to have you here.

It’s great to be here, Mindy!

As a writing coach, what are the most frequent mistakes you see, and do you have any tips for fixing them? 

The most common mistake I see in beginners is over narrating, not putting everything into scenes and intruding on the scenes with too much narration. Summarizing dialog, telling the reader what to think and of course, warning them that the main character has no idea what is about to happen.  Narrators should be invisible if writers want to grab readers.  The most common mistake in intermediate writers is not being thoughtful about POV and choosing it intentionally or not being deep enough in the POV.  Most common mistake in advanced writers is not studying the structure carefully and making sure all threads are woven in tightly and things promised are paid off. 

Thanks for sharing that—it’s nice to know what pitfalls to watch out for.

Some people seem to find inspiration everywhere while others struggle to find ideas. Do you have any helpful ways for writers to come up with ideas for future books?

Writers should look into their own passions, obsessions and struggles.  Keeping a journal is one way to stay in touch with one’s own emotional struggles.  The keyword is, choose your subjects from your feelings, not from your intellect.  Your mind will always pick a topic that’s safe, or seems like it will sell or might please someone else.  If you ask your heart, you get a powerful story every time. 

Thank you! My mind is already reeling with possibilities—and I have a feeling your advice will help our readers come up with powerful new ideas, too.

What are the plotting issues you see most often? Do you have any tips for pantsers who don’t like to plan their entire novel in advance?

I think everyone should be true to their own nature.  If pantsers plot too much, they just waste their own time.  If plotters try to be spontaneous, they have trouble investing in the story.  So for process, do whatever you like.  Once you have a draft, then look at your plot and make sure you have a main character who is really actively pushing their way through the obstacles you’ve created for them and growing with each one. Make sure there is a range of emotion for the reader. Most people are weak in the act where there’s an emotion they don’t like to feel.  For instance I don’t like to feel sad, so I tend to rush through and gloss over Act 2. The Plot Clock is a great tool if you get lost and don’t know what’s missing in your plot. 

Is there a point when writers need to move on from a manuscript they love?

That’s a difficult question.  I think the thing to say to yourself is, I have to move on for now.  If you are getting no queries on a concept, you have to try a new project.  If you know you haven’t nailed a book, you have to put it aside until you can fix it.  But I, and lots of writers I know, have put books away for as much as ten years and then suddenly you take it out and you know exactly what to do.  As long as you still feel the emotions that moved you to write a book, it’s not dead. But it often takes years to see a book clearly enough to fix it. 

How did you become a writing coach?

Joyce’s bookshelf is overflowing with books from the authors she’s mentored.

I started all this back in the late 80’s, when the Florida Center for the Book asked me to teach five-week classes.  I found out I loved teaching craft and was good at it.  But I also saw that after the five weeks, people lost a lot of momentum, so that led to my ongoing workshops and that eventually led to online classes.  And now 57 people with traditional publishing contracts, so I know my mission is working! 

Wow, that’s an impressive amount of books. Congratulations!

It’s so hard to write the perfect beginning to a novel. What can writers do to make sure their books are off to a great start?

Funny you should ask.  Sweeney Writing Coach’s next webinar is today…Wednesday, February 8th at 7pm and the topic is Beginnings!  In many ways, there is nothing more important than a good beginning because this is how readers, agents and editors decide if a book is worth reading.  And for the writer, being on a good track from the start is helpful.  A lot of people think they should begin a book in a place of very high action.  Often they’ve been critiqued and told that.  But something exciting happening to a stranger is meaningless.  Job one is to bond the reader to the main character.  You can create enormous tension in the ordinary world if you know how to do it.

Joyce is giving away one spot in tonight’s live webinar: February 8, 2017 at 7pm – Beginnings. How to start, where to start, how to get all those important details in without a big info dump. There are huge pitfalls to writing a great beginning and the webinar will help you find those and avoid them This is useful for those revising or beginning something new.

Thanks so much for your generous giveaway, Joyce! One winner will be selected and contacted between 5 and 5:30 EST tonight. Hopefully the winner will be able to attend the webinar live, but if the timing doesn’t work, he or she will receive access to the on demand version. Enter using the Rafflecopter widget below. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Guess what? Joyce decided to offer all of you the chance to win one more generous giveaway—an on demand viewing of one of her webinars! The winner can choose from:

*Beginnings!

*POV (Point of View)

*Flashbacks

*Dialogue

*Endings

*Marketing

*Emotions

One winner will be selected randomly by the above Rafflecopter on Sunday, February 12. 

The winner of the Beginnings! webinar on February 8th is…

Poppy Wrote

Huge congrats, Poppy! Enjoy your prize.

I can’t wait to announce the on-demand webinar winner on Sunday. The Rafflecopter will be updated to display Poppy’s name and the second winner’s name, too. Good luck!

Thank you so much for joining us at the Mixed-Up Files, Joyce! Find out more about Joyce Sweeney on her website, Facebook, and Twitter.

Joyce Sweeney has been a writing teacher and coach for 25 years, beginning with teaching five week classes for the Florida Center for the Book, moving to ongoing invitation only workshops and finally to online classes which reach students nationally and internationally. Developing strong bonds with the students she critiques and instructs is her hallmark. She believes that writers need emotional support as well as strong, craft-based teaching if they are to make the long, arduous, but very worthwhile journey to traditional publication.

Joyce Sweeney is also the author of fourteen novels for young adults and two chapbooks of poetry. Her first novel, Center Line, won the First Annual Delacorte Press Prize for an Outstanding Young Adult Novel. Many of her books appear on the American Library Association’s Best Books List and Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers. Her first chapbook of poems, IMPERMANENCE , was published in 2008 by Finishing Line Press, her second, entitled WAKE UP will be released this spring. She has had numerous poems, short stories, articles and interviews published; and her play, FIRST PAGE CRITIQUES was produced in 2011. She lives in Coral Springs, Florida with her husband, Jay and caffeine-addicted cat, Nitro.

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.

Perfect Presents for Writers and Book Lovers

December is flying by so fast. Are you scrambling to find great gifts? Here are some perfect presents for the writer or book lover in your life.

JOURNALS

Who doesn’t love a shiny new journal—especially if it comes with colored pens or pencils? You can even personalize it for each writer. Think about adding some inspirational thoughts or writing prompts. There are so many creative ways to gift a journal!

 

BOOK BINGO

Here’s a fun, inexpensive gift you can make for someone on your own or using an online Bingo generator. There tons of free ones available, such as this one (after making the card I discovered that they charge you if you make more than 30 cards, but if you’re only making a few, the graphics are really nice). Here are some other Bingo generator sites a teacher rated online. You can include favorite book titles, characters, details, quotes…whatever you want.

 

FAVORITE BOOK TRIVIA

If you share favorite books with someone, then you can create a trivia game of favorite book details using something like index cards or printing them out on card stock with the questions on one side and answers on the other.

 

SIGNED BOOKS

Check your local bookstores to see if there are any book signings in your area. If there aren’t, you can often contact your favorite authors and see if you can order signed books from their local store or send an SASE for a signed bookplate (since it’s close to the holidays, you could gift the book and put a cute note inside saying that the author’s signature is on its way).

*Keep an eye out for giveaway posts on our site where you can win signed books! They may be too late for this holiday season, but will still be great for future gift needs. 🙂 

 

BOOKSTORE CERTIFICATES

These always make great holiday gifts for friends, family, teachers, students, etc. If you’d like to give a great book as a gift, check out our monthly new release posts and unique book lists.

 

WORKSHOPS, CONFERENCES, ETC.

The writer in your life would probably love to attend a workshop, conference, online class, or other writing-related event.

 

There are so many unique items for writers and book lovers that you can buy from places like Cafe Press, Etsy, etc. Check out these book bracelets! I even found a place that creates bracelets with one or more custom book charms—so an author can proudly wear charms of her own books or a book lover can walk around with her favorite books on her wrist.

 

For more ideas, check out this awesome Mixed-Up Files post of Gifts for the Bookish Types.

Author Tara Lazar has a post full of fun and creative gifts for writers.

I hope this holiday season will be wonderful for you! Which writer or book lover gifts are your favorite to give or receive?

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.

Revision Workbooks and Helpful Tools

Revisions are exciting…and a little scary, too. Years ago, I used to think I was revising, but it was more like tickling my manuscripts instead of ripping them to shreds and rebuilding them with the strongest possible foundation. I’ve been working hard on my revision tools and have come a long way—but the more I learn, the more I realize I still can grow.

breakout-novelMy local SCBWI (Society of Book Writer’s and Illustrators) recently invited me to take an online workshop using WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL WORKBOOK by Donald Maass. Wow! I fell in love with that workbook immediately. Every exercise I completed strengthened my middle grade novel in amazing ways. This is such a fantastic tool for writers—and for teachers to use with their students. You can figure out how to flesh out your characters more and highlight their heroic traits so readers can relate to even the nastiest characters. I also learned how to strengthen all my characters, plot, sub plots, theme, etc.

For years, I’ve cherished advice the incredibly talented author, Bruce Coville, shared at a conference—think of the worst thing that could happen to your character. It’s always been a huge help in raising the stakes. I’ve placed my characters in awful situations and thought I had mastered this task. Turns out, I did a good job (maybe even a really good job).  But I didn’t realize there was an invisible line I couldn’t cross. Exercises in Donald Maass’s workbook made that line visible and opened my eyes to even more ways to torture my poor characters. I love having a new tool that helps me dig deeper than ever and add amazing depth to my novels.

Here’s more info about WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL WORKBOOK by Donald Maass:

This powerful book presents the patented techniques and writing exercises from Maass’s popular writing workshops to offer novelists first-class instruction and practical guidance. You’ll learn to develop and strengthen aspects of your prose with sections on:

  • Building plot layers
  • Creating inner conflict
  • Strengthening voice and point of view
  • Discovering and heightening larger-than-life character qualities
  • Strengthening theme
  • And much more!

Maass also carefully dissects examples from real-life breakout novels so you’ll learn how to read and analyze fiction like a writer.

 

Another great revision workbook is NOVEL METAMORPHOSIS by Darcy Pattison:

  • novel-metamorphasisSystematically inventory and diagnose your manuscript
  • Visually manipulate your manuscript to identify problems
  • Transform dull characters into fascinating, memorable people
  • Strengthen the narrative and emotional arcs
  • Sharpen dialogue
  • Morph dull settings into backdrops that set the mood
  • Enliven narrated events by selecting the right details
  • Use language with confidence
  • Add depth with narrative patterning In-depth professional development
  • Plan your novel’s metamorphosis

The Results: A stronger, richer, deeper story, a story that makes readers weep and cry and turn the next page. NOVEL METAMORPHOSIS turns theory into radical new tools which are practical, tangible, concrete.

 

If you’re looking for intensive plotting help, check out the PLOT WHISPERER WORKBOOK by Martha Alderson:

plot-whisperer-workbookIn this writing workbook, celebrated writing teacher and author Martha Alderson covers everything from constructing spirited action and compelling characters to establishing an unforgettable ending. Packed with Scene Tracker and Plot Planner templates for you to fill in for your own unique story, she also walks you through the development of a successful narrative with exercises that:

  • Help build suspense, tension and excitement
  • Create multi-dimensional characters
  • Integrate theme and meaning
  • Incorporate effective subplots
  • Tie up all the loose ends
  • Keep the reader turning pages

 

Newest Plot Clock 2016The last incredible resource I’m including isn’t a book or workbook—it’s a free hour and a half recorded Plot Clock webinar by super-mentor Joyce Sweeney.

If you sign up for her mailing list, you’ll receive access to the webinar about her amazing four-act plot tool called the PLOT CLOCK that I use before (and often after) writing anything new. She also has lots of other incredible webinars and classes to help with revision and other aspects of writing.

 

Here’s a link to a past post of mine that is chock full of revision tips. I’d love to know what your favorite revision workbooks, tricks, or tools are.

Happy revising!

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, oblog to read more about her writing life, conference experiences, and writing tips.