Monday, December 31, 2007

New Year's Resolution

OK so every year, millions of us make New Year's Resolutions that most likely are abandoned by spring time. This year I am going to make a Writer’s Resolution - One I can stick with because it will not be centered around food! As soon as I am on a diet, I become rebellious and suddenly have an insatiable appetite.

So here it goes... My Writer's Resolutions for 2008...

Writer's Resolution #1

MAKE REVISIONS - One of my picture books is just about ready for submission. I am going to work on it for a day or two and then mail it out!

Writer's Resolution #2

POLISH PAGES 1 - 30 - I have promised an editor my next 30 pages (31 - 60) since last April. (Oh the shame...) It's not that I have been ignoring her. No. I have been busily taking her suggestions and writing and re-writing. I thought all I had to do was write forward. But because I knew what problems needed to be fixed, I just couldn't move forward. So instead I took these 8-9 months to rewrite. Now that I feel I am on the right path with this 6th draft, I feel I should mail her my new first thirty and I want to do this before Jan 15.

Writer's Resolution #3

FINISH MY BOOK! If I write 10 pages a day, taking into consideration those days when you just can't write... maybe you need to simmer, or you need a break, or you're sick... I think I can be close to done by April 2008. That is three months away. This would include critiques and re-writes. I think this could be plausible.

Writer's Resolution#4

SAVE, SAVE, SAVE - my long term goal is to attend the 2009 Bologna Children's Book Fair. This is supposed to be THE children's book fair for children's writers. I hope to shop this particular novel there. My goal is for the first book to be completed and polished and that I am somewhere in the second book in the series.

Well, I think that just about sums it up; four goals spread out over the next year. I have heard writing your dream down into a goal is the first step into turning it into a reality.

I have also been told recently that 2007 was a year of endings and 2008 will be a year of beginnings. I don't know about you, but I am ready for a beginning. Heck, and who knows, maybe I will finally loose those 15 - 20 lbs to boot!

So let's hear from you... What are your Writer's Resolutions for the New Year?

Happy New Years!

Sheri ks, ks

Friday, December 28, 2007

A Good Review!

It was my turn for a critique in my writer’s group. Often I wonder when I will ever get that critique where all my fellow writers say, Bravo! It’s perfect! Don’t change a thing! Although I secretly wonder and hope for the arrival of this unlikely day, I know if JK Rowling herself was in my writer’s group, I am sure there would still be much to talk about.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my group. I wouldn’t be half the writer I am today without them. We've been together for nine months, and although that is still a short time, the changes I have seen in all our writing is amazing. I know, personally, I have grown by leaps and bounds as a result of being part of such a thought-provoking group of fellow children’s writers. We are certainly not afraid to speak our minds, say it like it is, and challenge each other when we need it. Which is why this last critique has left me speechless. OK I am never really speechless… but I was moved to secret tears and am still in awe!

My middle grade novel has been through many, many changes. This is my 6th draft and I hope my last, but I know, even as I write this, that that is most likely not going to be the case – as there is always room for improvement. In this draft, I have switched from third to first person. I normally do not write in first person, but I kept hearing my main character speak and I kept changing it to third until one day I said, Fine, you want to be in first, then let’s go. I never anticipated the huge transformation this seemingly small change would cause, but it did. I submitted my first 2 chapters the critique before this one, and it went very well and everyone agreed, first person helped me capture my main character’s voice and breathe real life into her... I was on the right path.

But this last critique…

I was really nervous. It was for a short chapter… chapter three. Chapter three follows a chapter where something momentous happens and I was afraid chapter three was too quiet. It is quiet in the sense that it is not filled with a lot of physical action, but it is filled with a lot of emotional tension. I haven’t been this nervous about a critique in a very long time. I thought for sure, I would leave thinking, Great! Now I have to rewrite the whole chapter before I can move forward. I couldn’t have been further from the truth.

It was a unanimous BRAVO!

They all loved it. They were moved to tears, held their breath in anticipation, couldn’t stop turning the pages, and wanted more. Finally, my dream came true – to hear that you have emotionally affected a reader! Isn’t that what being a writer is all about – that the reader is completely absorbed and invested in your story? And like I said, this group can find a needle in a haystack! I am still on cloud nine. Of course there are always suggestions about how to make it stronger and more clear, and those obscure grammar rules, but to have affected these readers, is a dream come true.

Now to keep up this momentum for only another 20 chapters or so…

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Moving Forward in your Novel

I was surfing fellow writers' blogs the other day and came upon two I really liked. One is by Rebecca. I like that her blog is honest about the daily triumphs and miseries about being a writer. The ups and downs are shared in her blog about writing, and revising, and when we feel on top of the world and why we all do this crazy thing - writing stories. But it also shares the truths about those all too familiar rejection letters and how sometimes criticism is just too much to bear.

Then I happened upon Rachel's blog. Rachel wrote about a class she is taking and a new way of thinking called scenes and sequels and it has made me STOP and take notice of this now sixth revision of my middle grade novel. She says... think of your scenes in terms of goals, conflicts, and disasters. And I thought that this made perfect sense. Of course your story has a much broader goal, conflict and disaster. But each scene should have its own mini arc if you will. So there is a rise and fall within that crescendo of your story and it's grander rise and fall. Like the constant rolling of the waves within the constant rise and fall of the tides.

She then went on to speak about sequels - the emotion, thoughts, decisions, and actions of your characters within each scene as seen through narration, speech tags, actions tags, etc. It is these emotions, thoughts, decisions, and actions that color your canvas with layers. My favorite example of this is from an article in the Writer Magazine, Shtick it to Them, where Arthur Plotnik says this about adding those layers and using action, emotions, etc. to speak volumes for your characters. Some of his examples are....

"I love you," he said.
She blew smoke in his face, "How nice."


"I love you," he said.
She checked her cell phone, "Gotta take this."

In both these examples, it was the actions that spoke for the characters. The author did not have to say something expository like, but Susan could careless as she answered her cell phone. How dull that would have been? By using action to speak for the character, it gave the character life.

All these layers, what is unspoken in your words, the rise and fall of the arcs within the arcs, they are what breathes life into your stories. I can't stop thinking about it and am excited to use scenes and sequels in my hopefully (but I know it won't be) my final revision.

Happy writing!
Sheri ks, ks

Sunday, December 9, 2007

I've Been Tagged

I must admit, I am such a dork! I am so new to this. I only JUST figured out how to play Blogger Tag, so here it goes - Oh and thanks Leeza for the thoughtful comments on your blog! I am blushing. Can you tell?

OK, so here it goes... 5 random things about me...
1.) My favorite time of year is summer leading into autumn. I love when the leaves are about to change and you know the woods are going to burst into color at any moment. It is like knowing a secret.
2.) My favorite sound is the sound of babies' laughter. Music to my ears. And it is so completely contagious.
3.) I am completely affected by the weather and seasons. But not just in the way that when it rains, I feel sad and want to only stay indoors. Or when it's sunny and warm, I want to be outside. I mean as the sun moves far away from us during the winter, all I want to do is hibernate. It becomes very hard for me to stay active and full of inspiration. That's when I have to work extra hard. I think I was a bear in my former life...
4.) My favorite color is green. Green's the color of nature when its alive and thriving. But I don't necessarily look good in green...
5.) I was born on my mother's birthday. I used to dread celebrating because I felt I never had a special day to myself. Now that she has passed away, my birthdays feel so lonely without her. So I like to write her name on my cake anyway. Dec. 28th - Happy birthday Mom! Miss you everyday!

OK so now that I know how to play, it's your turn. Incase you also don't know how to play, here it goes... I am going to tag some friends. (You're supposed to tag 5 people.) You list 5 random things about yourself on your blog. When you're done, tag your friends at the end of your posting with a link to their blog. But don't forget to let your blogger friends know they've been tagged on your blog.Then it's their turn. They have to list 5 random things about themselves on their blog and tag 5 more people and so on and so on. Make sure to go back to their blog so you can read about their random 5 things.

So, here starts my rousing game of tag... (I would tag Leeza, but she's already been tagged. And she tagged me! However, check out her blog too. She's a very talented and creative children's book illustrator and writer). I tag Jeanne, Cathleen, Rachel and Rebecca. They are all children's book writers and/or illustrators and have great sites.

Happy Blogger Tag everyone!
Sheri ks, ks

Formatting Subsequent Pages

I promised I would come back to discuss how to properly format the text of your story, so here it is…

The Subsequent Pages
The Header – Remember when I said, choose a ‘Different First Page’ in the posting, Formatting your Title Page and you’ll see why later… well, now is later.

The header for all Subsequent Pages is different from the Title Page Header and although there is certain info that MUST appear in the Subsequent Page Header, there is some slight variation on how it can appear.

To set this Header up, you will need to once again…

  • go to View
  • then to Header

Because you chose a ‘Different First Page,’ whatever you do here in this header, will not affect your Title Page Header.

Here’s what it MUST have… in the upper RIGHT corner (nothing is in the left corner on all subsequent pages), single spaced, Times New Roman, 12 font, you need…

  • your last name only
  • the title of the story (or a few key words from your title)
  • and page X out of Y.

This is important because your pages should NEVER be bound. So if one page should say… fall out… the editor/publisher/peer-writer will know whose manuscript it belongs to and what page it is within that manuscript.

Here’s how you insert ‘X out of Y pages’…

  • Go to View
  • then to Header
  • then to ‘Insert Auto Text’
  • Choose ‘Page X out of Y’

Since you chose a ‘Different First Page’ if you are writing a Picture Book, then your first Subsequent Page will automatically begin numbering on page 2 because you didn’t type begin at page 0 on your Title Page.

If you are writing a novel and you remembered to type start at 0 (see Title Page Posting) then your X out of Y, will automatically begin on your first Subsequent Page as page 1.

Here’s the variation with Subsequent Page Headers …some people put all of this information on one line; some split it up into two or three lines. I say, it doesn’t really matter and depends on how long your title is. **But be sure, in your header, to press enter a time or two to create some distance between your header and your text. It’s easier on the eye.

The Text
Now you are ready to being your text. If this is a Picture book, you would have begun your text on your Title Page (see Title Page Posting). However if this is a novel, you would begin your text on the next page.

All text should be DOUBLE SPACED, 12 pt font, Times New Roman, and DO NOT skip an extra line between paragraphs. Simply press enter ONCE when wanting to begin a new paragraph, indent and continue.

**For picture books, do not indicate where you think page turns should go. Also for a picture book, do not give illustration notes unless absolutely vital to the understanding of the story. And then, do so only sparingly.

If you are writing a novel, skip to about the middle of the page and begin with your Chapter Number and/or Title. I write both chapter numbers and titles, but this varies from writer to writer. Then under your title, you would skip a few more lines and begin your text about 2/3rds down the page.

Continuing the Text
When text needs to continue from one page to the next, you just simply continue typing and the text will naturally flow onto the next page. Because you also properly set up your second Header to include a few extra blank lines, your text will begin a few lines under, making it easier to read and not jumbled together with the Header.

New Chapters
When starting a new chapter, start on fresh new page just like your very first page of your very first chapter. Begin with your Title Number and/or Title in the middle of the page, then skip till about 2/3rds down, and begin this new chapter.

I like to Bold my Chapter Numbers and Italics my Chapter Titles, but there is no hard fast rule on that. Chapter Titles/Number should be center aligned.

Alignments, Margins and Tabs, Oh My!

Text – all pages should be aligned left, NOT JUSTIFIED.

Margins – one inch margins all around

Tabs – some people do ½ inch, some do one inch. I haven’t seen any absolute ruling on this. If anyone has, please let me know.

Some writers like to type END in all caps towards the bottom of the last page center aligned. I like to do this because it just feels so darn good! But again, there is no hard fast rule on this. I recommend as a rule of thumb, if you write X out of Y pages, then you probably don’t need it. But if you choose to only write the page and not out of however many total pages, then I would suggest typing END, especially if it is a cliff hanger or open-ended ending. This way the editor/publisher, whoever, won’t wonder if he/she’s missing a few last pages. Of course this is with novel writing and is completely unnecessary with picture books.

Just be sure to…
Check all submission guidelines for each publisher before you send your manuscript. They vary slightly. Go to the Writer’s Market, then to the publisher you are interested in targeting and it will list their website. Usually, you can find their submission guidelines there.

Learn this formatting. Remember, the properly formatted manuscript looks professional. It is the first impression you make with an editor, publisher, or agent. It is the difference between being read or not being read. In other words, an unsolicited manuscript may wind up in the slush pile, but a manuscript that is not properly formatted, will not even wind up there. It will be thrown out, filed under the desk, in the trash! So put your best face forward.

Don’t try to fake it by creating your own header and not actually using the ‘header’ under ‘view.’ You can see the difference and what’s more, real headers stick in place and will not move as you alter your text, whereas a pretend one will. So no faking it. They can tell. If you can’t figure it out, call a friend to walk you through it.

Happy Formatting!


Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Formatting - the Title Page

Knowing how to properly format your manuscript is vital to your survival in the field of children's literature. Actually, it is vital in any writing field. It is the best way to show an editor that you are professional. Even the most brilliant scripts will be "filed under the desk" if it is not properly formatted and clean.

Since there is so much to know about formatting though, I am going to break this up into a few separate postings. This first posting will only deal with how to format the Title Page. A TRUE Title Page, however, is used primarily in novel writing - NOT PICTURE BOOKS. So picture book people, yours will be slightly different.

Formatting Your Manuscript - The Title Page

Step One - Opening a Header
  1. In Word go to View and then to Header.
  2. In the upper left corner, single-spaced, Times New Roman, 12 font, type your full name.
  3. Then next line – your address.
  4. Next line – your telephone number.
  5. Next line – your email or website address.
  6. On the top line, right corner, write your intended audience, such as Early Reader, Elementary, Middle Grade, or Young Adult
  7. And under that - word count. (This varies from publisher to publisher. Some do not want word count, some do. Be sure to consult the Writer’s Market under the publisher’s submission guidelines to find out.)

When setting up your header, BE SURE TO SELECT ‘DIFFERENT FIRST PAGE.’ You’ll see why later. You can find this by… going to View, then to Header, then to Page Set-Up, then the Layout tab, then check Different First Page.

Step Two - Numbering Pages

Be sure to select in your header to begin counting pages at 0. This way your title page will not be counted as page 1, throwing off your page count. This is done by...

  1. going to View,
  2. then to Header,
  3. then to Format Page Number,
  4. then Start At and type in 0.

~However picture book people should not type - start at 0 - because their text will begin on this page.

Step Three - Your Actual Title

Many people like to make their title Bold and choose a large point font, but I suggest you stay in Times New Roman. However, there is no set ruling on this – just personal preference. So, select a size font you like and type your Title in bold, right in the center of the Title Page.

Since all your information is already on this title page, it is unnecessary to write "by 'Your Name'" under the title. It is already in the upper left hand corner of your Header.

Title Pages for Picture Book Writers

All of the above is the same for you, too. The only difference is, you would then begin your text right on this page. After your title, skip a bunch of lines until you are about 2/3 down, indent and begin your text. Your text should be double-spaced, 12 point , Times New Roman font.

If you’re writing a Novel, as stated previously, your title page should only contain your personal information and the title of the story. The text will begin on the next page. I will go into more detail about formatting for subsequent pages in my next posting.

For more on formatting the text of your story, look for my next posting entitled Subsequent Pages - The Text.

Bye for now,

Sheri ks, ks

“Personal limitation exists only in our ideas of who we are. Give up all notions of who you are and your limitations will vanish.”

- Anonymous