Tag Archives: Linda Urban

Prompting Writing: Re-energizing a Draft

At some point in the middle of a piece of writing, whether it’s a short story or a full-length manuscript, I invariably hit a slump. Given the number of publications, workshops, tools, and challenges out there, I’m pretty sure I’m not alone!

Here are some tools that might be useful to you in moving a recalcitrant manuscript forward.

Books

Of course we all read books about writing. Every writer has their favorite dog-eared copy of certain books.

One that continues to inspire me to create writing that is filled with my own spirit is Steering the Craft: Exercises and Discussions on Story Writing for the Lone Navigator or the Mutinous Crew, by Ursula K LeGuin. How could LeGuin NOT write a really great book about writing? Working through the exercises in this book has taught me how powerful a change in point of view, length of sentence, or approach to paragraph structure can be in “waking up” a manuscript that has become predictable. More than one of my Mixed Up Files buddies recommended exercise just like these when I asked for help. I’m listening!

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, by Anne Lamott, helps simply because I can open it and find something to inspire me, to reassure me, or even to push me to try something with more abandon.

A friend just pulled this lovely little book off her shelf, remembered how helpful it has been for her, and got me my own copy for my birthday. I can’t wait to dive in to Story Structure Architect, by Victoria Lynn Schmidt, as I work and re-work this manuscript to make it even better.

Workshops and other in-person learning opportunities

Shortly after I inherited my father’s publishing company, I attended Write on the Sound, a local writing conference, after years of wishful thinking. It was just right for me – small and welcoming and not too scary as I dove headlong into the world of writing and publishing.

What I discovered was the gift of deep inspiration and commitment that can be found when you encounter a really good instructor. The lessons I learned about historical fiction from the lecturer were powerful tools I share with students today.

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Another favorite workshop introduced me to exercises based on author and creativity coach Deb Lund’s  fun deck of cards called “Fiction Magic.” These provocative questions, prompts, orders, magic tricks can be used in a variety of ways. It was really fun to play with them in person with their creator and a room full of enthusiastic writers.

Of course there is my local SCBWI chapter to turn to for inspiration and help – amazing meetings, drink nights (which are often sketching/noodling/doodling and writing nights, too), and also the meet ups with other authors that have come about because we discover like interests or common writing hangouts. I learn much from doing exercises on the page, but I learn even more for getting together with other people and talking about the process, the ideas, the struggles…

Challenges

I love deadlines, too. They motivate me. At least, they usually do!

I have participated in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) several years running, which for the uninitiated is a month-long sprint challenge in which writers all over the world attempt to finish a manuscript draft of at least 50,000 words. This challenge is not for the faint of heart, and requires a huge commitment. For getting the bones of a new book onto the page, it’s fantastic. And the fancy certificate you get at the end (along with discounts from a wide variety of writing-related vendors.

For the most part, I prefer my challenges in more manageable chunks; though NaNo is something I look forward to each year, I can’t always give up the month of November to hide in my writing cave.

Here are two shorter ones I’ve used with good success in the revision stages of my work, when it’s easy to put other things first (since I edit for others as well, I often put my writing at the bottom of the list. Small challenges help me to put it in the spotlight in reasonable ways).

WFMAD- Write Fifteen Minutes a Day, by Laurie Halse Anderson

WFMAD – Day 1 – Let’s start at the beginning, shall we?

All you need to do is read these posts from 2013 and you will be able to create your own challenge. Invite your friends to join you. This series comes with great stuff to do beyond writing for 15 minutes- it really is an invitation to examine your writing and get over being afraid to just DO it.

Write Daily 30 – Linda Urban

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Middle Grade author Linda Urban has offered this challenge/support several times, where you sign up on a shared spreadsheet and post your progress. You create your own goal and the others in the challenge prod you and hold your hand. I’ve presented my own a couple of times since, without the spreadsheet, just daily tweets with the hashtag #WriteDaily30 for 30 days. I’ve made tremendous progress on projects by having the accountability to check in frequently and cheer for others.

I happen to be subbing in Middle School writing lab as I put finishing touches this post (I’ve been encouraged to use my own writing practice to set a good example for students). They are calling on their classmates for inspiration and using images to jump start ideas, and I’m watching.

What tools do you use to move your writing forward?

 

In fourth grade, Valerie Stein touched an ancient artifact from an archaeological dig. Though she never got to travel the world in search of buried treasure, she ended up journeying to new and exciting places between the pages of books. Now she spends her time researching history, in museums and libraries, which is like archaeology but without the dirt. Valerie’s book, THE BEST OF IT: A JOURNAL OF LIFE, LOVE AND DYING, was published in 2009. Her current work focuses on historical fiction set in Washington State. Valerie is proprietor of Homeostasis Press, and blogs at The Best of It. She manages Gather Herean online history site for middle grade readers and teachers.

 

 

 

Sweet Reads & A Giveaway For National Donut Day

There’s good news if you like donuts (or doughnuts)! Today is National Donut Day—a good excuse to indulge. Even better, some shops traditionally give out free donuts today to celebrate the event.

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Surprisingly, a company with the words Dunkin or Krispy in their names did not invent this holiday. It was created in 1938 by the Salvation Army to honor the women who served donuts to soldiers on the front lines in Europe during World War I. (Fun, but slightly gross, fact: The donuts were often cooked in oil inside the soldiers’ helmets.) While the holiday began as a fund-raiser in Chicago to help those in need during the Great Depression, the tradition of celebrating this delicious dessert continues.

For those of you who want to skip the sugar and calories, but still observe the holiday, here are some great books in which donuts figure prominently. Whether the donuts represent the bond between characters, the pride of a town honoring its founder, or a sought after breakfast treat, they’re a sweet addition to any story.

Read on to find out about these fabulous books and to see how you could win an autographed copy of Lily and Dunkin and a ten dollar gift certificate to Dunkin Donuts.

9780553536744Lily and Dunkin by Donna Gephart

In this poignant novel that tackles transgender and bipolar issues, Norbert Dorfman, who hates his name and loves donuts, is nicknamed Dunkin by his new friend Lily Jo McGrother, who was born Timothy McGrother. Early in the novel, a heartfelt passage shows readers the importance of donuts in Dunkin’s difficult life: “I wish Dad were here. He loves Boston Kreme donuts, too. I doubt they have donuts where he is. When Dad was in a good mood, he could chow down half a dozen donuts in one sitting. Sometimes a whole dozen, except for the couple Mom and I would eat. And Dad wouldn’t even get big from eating all those donuts, except that one time when they changed his meds and he ballooned like the Goodyear Blimp.” In a starred review, Booklist called the novel a “sensitively written work of character-driven fiction that dramatically addresses two important subjects that deserve more widespread attention.”

9780544340695The Center of Everything by Linda Urban

Soon-to-be-twelve-year-old Ruby Pepperdine is trying to make things right in her life since her beloved grandmother passed away. The story is set in a town founded by a fictional character, Captain Bunning, who invented the donut in 1847. (In a note from the author, Urban tells how she made up the story after reading about Captain Hanson Gregory’s invention of the donut. See The Hole Story of the Donut below for more about Captain Hanson.) Ruby hopes her problems can be solved by a town tradition that involves making a wish on your birthday and tossing a quarter through a hole in a bronze donut held by the statue of Captain Bunning. While donuts play an important role in the plot, according to one reviewer, donuts also figure into the structure of the story. Meg Wolitzer writes that the novel “travels a satisfying, circular path that deliberately echoes the shape of a donut …” The novel earned several starred reviews and has been praised for its depiction of family, friends, and community.

9780147508577Absolutely Almost by Lisa Graff

In this novel about Albie, an only child who struggles with learning difficulties, donuts represent an important bond between Albie and his babysitter, Calista. Not only does she let Albie use his allowance to buy donuts each day, she also helps Albie forget about the bullies in his life by drawing The Adventures of Donut Boy and Art Girl, a comic based on Albie’s love for donuts and Calista’s love for art. Albie soon learns to take pride in the things he does best, and Calista learns a bit from Albie, too. In a starred review, Booklist called the book “a heartfelt portrait of a child searching for nothing more than a safe place to thrive.”

9780142404157Homer Price by Robert McCloskey

Originally published in nineteen forty-three, this classic tells about Homer Price, who lives in a small town in Ohio called Centerburg. It’s a place where you can win a hundred dollars by eating all the donuts you want; where houses are built in a day; and where Homer can foil four bandits using nothing but his wits and his pet skunk. In one story, Homer’s tendencies to get involved in outrageous incidents find him tending to an out-of-control donut-making machine in his uncle’s diner. Generations of reviewers have praised the humor in these stories.


9781492614012Danny’s Doodles: The Squirting Donuts
by David Adler

Something has gone wrong in Danny and Calvin’s fourth-grade classroom. Mrs. Cakel has transformed from a rampant rule-enforcer to a quiet excuse-accepter. Has she been replaced with an alien? Has she undergone a top-secret personality makeover? Danny and Calvin decide there’s only one way to find out what’s really going on: spy. But spying soon leads to a greater mystery filled with dog chasing, jelly-injected donuts, prune butter-included experiments, riddle mania, and more! Booklist wrote that “the book artfully portrays a dynamic friendship between seeming opposites that points to ways of making better choices without losing the fun.”

9780062343208Stick Dog Tries to Take the Donuts by Tom Watson

It’s morning, and the dogs are hungry. So Stick Dog and his team of strays are off on another outrageous canine caper—this time to take the donuts. To snatch some breakfast treats for his hungry pals, Stick Dog will need to stop a moving truck, outfox a man on a telephone pole, and calm down a very caffeinated Karen. But that’s not all. He’ll also need to manage the greatest confrontation in history when his good friend Poo-Poo comes face-to-face with the ultimate enemy—a squirrel.

9780544319615The Hole Story of the Donut by Pat Miller, illustrated by Vincent X. Kirsch

Who knew the donut was invented by a New England mariner? Turns out in 1847 the inventor, Hanson Crockett Gregory, worked as a ship’s cook. But hungry sailors complained that his breakfast of sugary fried dough balls had greasy, raw centers. That’s when Gregory got the idea to cut holes out of the center and fry the dough like that. The rest, of course, is pastry history.

To celebrate Donut Day, Donna Gephart has generously donated an autographed copy of Lily and Dunkin, and I’m offering a ten-dollar gift certificate to Dunkin Donuts. For a chance to win one of these prizes, tell us in the comment section about a kids’ book that features donuts or just tell us about your favorite donut before midnight Sunday, June 5. I’ll pick two winners at random and announce who they are on Tuesday, June 7. (Continental U.S. only, please.)

Dorian Cirrone has written several books for children and teens. Her middle-grade novel, The First Last Day ( June 2016, S&S/Aladdin) is available for preorder. You can find her on Facebook and on Twitter as @DorianCirrone. She gives writing tips and does occasional giveaways on her blog at: http://doriancirrone.com/welcome/blog/

Writing Retreat 101

Seven years after I took my first writing for children class, I went on my first writing retreat this November, run on the gorgeous shores of Lake Champlain by the fabulous duo of authors Kate Messner and Linda Urban.

The view from a writing retreat on Lake Champlain.  Don't you feel inspired?

The view from a writing retreat on Lake Champlain. Don’t you feel inspired?

I went because I wanted to meet Kate and Linda, and because it seemed like something that writers “do,” but I did not have any other idea of what to expect or how to prepare.  After going on this retreat, here’s what I would tell other newbie retreaters:

  1. Expect to really focus on one manuscript. We went through many writing exercises that pushed us to think more deeply about our characters and plot structure.  For this reason, I think writers who came with a manuscript they had been working with (instead of one that they pulled out of a drawer) were able to hit the ground running on the writing exercises.  You’ll have more questions in your mind about your manuscript, and a better sense of what you want to address.
  2. It helps to know the works of the people running the retreat. While Kate and Linda referred to a wide variety of books, their most personal and in-depth knowledge came from, not surprisingly, their experiences with their own books.  For example, in a writing exercise about plot, Kate took us through her process for looking for plot holes in her book, CAPTURE THE FLAG; knowing the story ahead of time helped me understand exactly how the exercise should work.

    Capture-the-Flag

    Having read CAPTURE THE FLAG, made Kate Messner’s writing exercise more meaningful.

  3. Expect to make a bunch of new friends! You’ll meet a fascinating array of people who share your passion for children’s literature, and you’ll be sharing your precious work with them.  I loved hearing about other writers’ journeys, and how they expressed their passion for books and writing.  Participants included children’s book fair organizers, the head of a non-profit giving books to children, a co-host and founder of the #mglitchat Twitter discussions, and a leader in writing pedagogy.
  4. You won’t just work on your manuscript – you’ll work on your craft and your ‘writing life.’ While I thought I had exhausted the depths of books on writing craft, going to the retreat showed me that I was just getting started (and that I needed to take a second look at some of the books I already had, including The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp).  I also loved learning about the writing habits of other writers and what made them strong, consistent writers.  As an extra bonus, Linda shared her excellent #WriteDaily30 program with us, which I’ll write about in a future post.

    creativehabit-default-web

    Linda Urban found so much inspiration in this book – I decided I needed to take a second look.

  5. You won’t want to leave. The retreat was three days long, and around the middle of the second day, I had the horrible realization that I would have to leave.  Luckily for me, I was going to a conference in a few weeks were I would see some folks from the retreat.  But my big take-away from this was have an exit strategy.  Get the  names and e-mails of your new friends (or Twitter).  Treat yourself to a new book on craft to look forward to.  And as Linda urged us, have one small, concrete step in mind for your manuscript to tackle when you get home.

And of course, you can start planning your next retreat!

Wendy Shang’s next book, THE WAY HOME LOOKS NOW (Scholastic), will be released in April 2015.

Share your favorite retreat tidbit in the comments below.