Wednesday, May 27, 2009

For once we were all in one room!

Lisa is in town this week. She's transitioning from the six month stay in the Netherlands to the next six months with her family in Oregon. She and her family stopped by Central Virginia to collect some of their stuff and catch up with friends.

By chance, last night was our usual critique night. Finally, Lisa could be there in person! We've been planning this meeting for a while. I recently bought the SCBWI Master Class DVD with Richard Peck, and had put off watching it until we could see it together. And we should do a writing exercise...and maybe a tutorial about the blog for the Slushies who aren't contributing yet...and so on.

There was no way all this was going to happen in two and a half hours, which is the amount of time we usually have for our meetings before Panera kicks us out. So Steph suggested we meet at her house, and maybe have a sleepover.

We all brought snacks, and for once everyone was in the same room. There was a lot of hugging. Sarah brought a camera. Bridget caught us up on the progress of her students. Lisa shared her insights into why the residents of the Netherlands are some of the happiest people on earth. We watched the DVD, and we all thought Richard Peck was funny and engaging. With all the catching up we had to do, we decided to skip critiques for the evening. No one even mentioned the writing exercise.

The Slushies who had to be up early for work or their kids left around ten. Sarah, Lisa and I stayed until almost midnight. No one ended up sleeping over, but that's okay. The best part of a sleepover is staying up late chatting, which is exactly what we did.

It was only on the way home that I realized we forgot to take pictures!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

An Exaltation of Larks

Rembember the word games we played back in December? It turns out that the one about groups of animals has a whole book dedicated to it. How did I not know this? In the midst of birthday gift-giving of language and writing books, my friend Melinda offered to buy me this book written by James Lipton, and originally published in 1968. On the grounds that I already have too many writing books, I gently declined, but checked it out from the library instead.

Mr. Lipton has researched the word origins of many unusual terms of venery, or collective nouns, including the aforementioned pride of lions. Of course candidates running for office are called a slate; that's where their names were originally listed. School of fish? Turns out it's a corruption of the word shoal. My new favorite of the old ones is a kindle of kittens. "To kindle means literally "to give birth."

The examples go on, eventually including several contemporary ones that Mr. Lipton invented himself. Perhaps you've seen a squeak of sneakers on display at the sprawl of malls. Or an eyesore of graffitti created by a yo yo of street gangs. Unexplained skin condition? You may need a rash of dermatologists. Or maybe in these troubled times you've experienced an evaporation of annuities, for which you blame a commission of brokers.

This book is definitely an inspiration to play with the language.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

When you're reading about writing instead of writing

Face it, we've all been there. If you're reading this blog instead of writing at this moment, you're doing it now. The problem is, when do you know how much is too much?

I think the Slushbusters all agree that we love Bird By Bird by Anne Lamott, and Stephen King's book On Writing. The Writer's Guide to Crafting Stories for Children by Nancy Lamb has the best technical advice I've read. And although it was intended for younger readers, Gail Carson Levine's Writing Magic has some wonderful story starters. But where do you stop?

I had a birthday the other day. I received several books about writing from my friends. I'm still working on the ones they gave me for Christmas. Now, I know part of this is my own fault, since I'm not an easy person to buy gifts for, and I keep referring people to my Amazon wish list. And I love my Amazon wish list. But suddenly it's become a case of "Be careful what you wish for."

So this inspires two questions: First, how do you find the balance between writing, and reading about writing in order to improve? Second, what are your favorite writing books?

Thursday, May 14, 2009

What are your favorite blogs?

Everyone has a few favorite blogs. 

It's hard to keep this list short, but some of my favorites are:

Miss Snark's blog. This was the first writing blog I ever read. And I started reading after the anonymous, gin-guzzling, stiletto-wearing, Clooney-loving agent stopped blogging. The archives are great. I learned so much about the writing industry, and the query and hook contests helped me understand how to craft my own. When I finish my novel. Which is now up for another round of revisions.

But I digress.

Query Shark. This is run by Janet Reid, who critiques real live queries. The results aren't always pretty, but they are instructive.

Editorial Anonymous. Great site for children's writers. Again, the archives are worth reading through, and the occasional slushpile contribution makes me believe that I do have a shot at being published. 

Oh! And then there's Nicola Morgan's site. The posts are a tad technicolor, but what else would you expect from someone who owns turquoise boots? This Scottish author of more than 90 published books has tons of good advice. And it's fun to Google the random Brittish terms that pop up now and then... crisps, crabbit. Good stuff.

So tell me. What are your favorite writing blogs? I'd love to find more good ones. 

It's not like I should be writing or anything...

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

We Finally Did a Writing Exercise!

When the Slushbusters began a couple of years ago, we did a writing exercise at the end of every meeting. The group grew. Submissions got longer and we got more of them. We got to be less regular about writing at meetings. Stephanie would say, "and tonight we're gonna do a writing exercise." But we critiqued until Panera started turning out the lights on us and it didn't happen. And then Steph's writing exercise became a kind of inside joke, which is unfair really, since she has our best interest at heart.

I have a spiral notebook specifically dedicated to these exercises, and I date them. It had been fourteen months since our last group writing exercise. (I imagine the Slushies are gasping in shock as they read this. "Really? That long?")

Last night the drought broke. After we all commented on how well drawn Lisa's new characters were, she mentioned that she had written a list of character traits to help her develop them. "I read it on a blog," she said. Sarah had seen it too. So we all did it as an exercise. Each of us wrote 20-25 traits for one of our characters. We read them aloud. Steph wrote hers in first person in full sentences, like a journal entry complete with how the MC feels about these facts. Alison learned that she doesn't know JoAnna as well as she thought she did. Joan seems to know her MC pretty well. And I found out that mine has a tendency to mix weird food combinations, like cottage cheese and peanut butter. Who knew?

Thanks to Sarah for finding the original blog post and emailing it to us later on.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Favorite Words

This is a little fun thing inspired by one of Tess Hilmo's tips about keeping a word journal. I've just started compiling my own for inspiration. So, let's share our favorite words. Here's the first few on my list:

clutch (n.)
twine (v.)
scrabble (v.)
skirl (n. or v....I like them both)

I have oodles more (oodles is one of them), but I'll leave it at that for now. What are some of your favorite words?

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

I really wish I'd thought of that...

Hey folks!  Tess Hilmo is hosting a great, get to know your writing game over at her blog. You should check it out!

Monday, May 4, 2009

My Little Experiment

I recently conducted a little experiment (in the least scientific way possible). I wanted to see how much something being in print (like, book form) influenced the way I read a text; namely, how critical I am?

Let’s face it, we don’t read books the same way we read submissions from our critique group. When I pick up a book, I assume it’s good. After all, it’s been published, right? (Don’t even go there…that’s another blog post.) When I pick up a Slushie submission, I assume it needs work. That’s what the critique group is for.

But what if I were to pick up a book and read it with the same critical eye that I read our submissions? Yup, that’s right, they all need work.

The Phantom Tollbooth—a little more descriptive narrative when he goes through the tollbooth, please.

Eragon—Maybe it would be better if the main character didn’t go unconscious every other chapter…just a thought.

Harry Potter—watch those adverbs.

The Secret Garden—I’m just a teensy bit unclear about what’s happening here.

Yes, even The Secret Garden, a book I adore, could be improved (in my humble opinion). I read one chapter as I would read a Slushie submission, and though I found little to comment on, there were a few places where the meaning was unclear or someone appeared out of nowhere.

All this leads me to say that a book is not an equation with a definite answer. Plots can always be tightened, characters fleshed out, and words tinkered with. But you have to stop somewhere.

It also makes me realize that we Slushies are a tough set of gals; we don’t let anything get by. So the next time I’m overwhelmed by the amount of feedback on my chapter or all the suggestions for change, I’ll just remember that we would have done the same to Harry Potter.