Friday, June 26, 2009

Raising a Writer

When my oldest daughter, now almost 15, was 3 she came up to me and grabbed my hand and dragged me over to the computer and said "I want to make a Poem. Type!" a few days before I had been reading her some French poetry (to which she had said very sternly "Mom, don't talk me like that!" because she couldn't understand the words.) So I sat down and she stood there with a very intent attitude, and whipped off the words she wanted. Then after she made sure I typed them in, she ran of as if nothing had happened. It was as if she had been briefly possessed. She was always precocious, but I have to admit that took me by surprise.
After that, it became a sort of intermittent occurrence, and I have several things that she made up when she was little.

Then she went to kindergarten, where a very pretty, but stern teacher who she desperately wanted to please beat her down with homework that was not age appropriate, and who was a stickler for correct spelling. So my daughter began to have a fear of words and their being incorrectly written on the page and no matter how hard I coaxed she would not write anything unless she knew exactly how to spell it. I should have yanked her right out of that class at the first sign of these goings on, but she was my first child and I was young and all of the other reasons parents allow their kids to be traumatized and beaten down until they fear writing.
It has been a long road to get back to where she loves to write, but still even though she has filled up countless notebooks and spends her free time writing stories, she barely will even turn in a writing assignment. She almost flunked out of English this year, because she was blessed with yet another Nazi English teacher - no offense to any English teachers out there; I used to be one. (I did have the sense to take her out this time, but I waited longer than I should have. . . I was under the mistaken impression that I would be able to get her to change her approach through diplomacy, so I wrote e-mails, had a meeting with her and the administration, even offered to come do a training on teen brain development - LOL - etc but to no avail - this time it went way deeper than the red pen treatment and spelling - this woman had serious issues and really disliked kids, especially my daughter which is hard to imagine and I am not one of those deluded parents who overlooks their teen's bad behavior . . . I don't think anyway ;))

So anyway, getting to the point . . . because of this history, combined with my work, (I have been at the Reading is Fundamental training all day so this is on my mind because we discussed emergent literacy) I think a lot about emergent literacy, and properly raising the writer in my children. I think it is really important to keep things in perspective when working with kids and teaching them to write. I think the quickest way to scare them off is to grammar them to death too early, and another big way to create writerphobia is to put too much emphasis too soon on spelling. These things are important but I tell people all the time, "which would you rather read? Writing that is interesting and dynamic, or writing that is boring, but is all spelled properly? That is what revision and the writing process are there to iron out the kinks AFTER the story is laid out.
I love writing because it is a fun emotionally rewarding way to get my ideas out where I can see them. I love that my daughter loves to write, and she is very passionate about it (She actually said that it is her life passion to be a writer.) So why do some teachers cheat kids out of this pleasure by ruining it all for them by nitpicking their writing when we should just be jumping up and down for joy that they are catching the writing bug?

Here are some quick tips for raising a writer:
1. Don't nitpick spelling and grammar. Sandwich specific constructive criticisms with meaningful positive comments, and never just say "it's great," or "it's stupid."
2. Always have something specific and positive to say, even if it is "I think it is wonderful that you are enjoying writing so much!" If they are not very good at it, they will get better. Keep in mind that writing gets better with maturity and practice.
3. Keep in mind age and ability levels. If a child is interested in writing at a young age, they will only get better with encouragement.
4. Keep it fun -- read books together and brainstorm with them to come up with lots of fresh and fun writing ideas; talk about authors of the books they really like and take them to book signings to meet their favorite authors.
5. It is never too late to learn the craft of writing.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Janette Rallison's Comments on Self-Publishing

Rick has covered this topic pretty well, but I'll add a few things. 1) You will notice that many if not all of the people Rick mentioned who started out self-publishing their books, when given the chance moved onto a traditional publisher. That should tell you something about the problems involved with self-publishing. 2) Keep in mind that traditional publishers send out ARCs (advanced reading copies--which look like paperbacks) to reviewers to create some buzz about their books. For My Fair Godmother, my publisher sent out 1,200. If I recall right, James Dashner's Thirteenth Reality had 4,000 ARCs sent out. If you're self publishing it's up to you to find out who those reviewers are and send out all those review copies. Also, you'll need to keep in mind that a lot of reviewers won't review self published books.

I tell people that unless you have an outlet to sell your books (You routinely give talks to large crowds about your organizing method, and you've got a book on organizing) then it's better to stick to the traditional route.

Janette Rallison

"Fame, Glory, and Other Things on My To Do List" IRA Young Adults' Choices List 2007
"It's a Mall World After All" IRA Young Adults' Choices List 2008

JanetteRallison. com
janette-rallison. blogspot. com

Stacy Whitman's Comments on Self-Publishing

I think you could pretty much group everyone's comments on what someone who
self-publishes has to do under the umbrella of "you're the publisher." That
means you take on ALL the roles that a publisher does, without the clout a
mainstream publisher has. That means you're no longer just the writer--all
the pre-production and production issues are yours (editing, copyediting,
proofreading, design, interior and cover artwork, administrative tasks like
ISBNs (beware a vanity publisher who says they'll get your ISBN--often
they're getting it in THEIR name, not yours, which causes problems in
reprints if you get that far), copyright registration, getting quotes from
printers and other vendors, etc.), and then the marketing, PR, sales, and
distribution are a major hurdle that you're handling yourself as well. As
many have already noted, you're not going to get your book in most
bookstores unless you have several books, and the quality of the book in
presentation and editing are always going to be an issue.

That's not to say that there aren't some great self-published books out
there--look at Schlock Mercenary and several other webcomic artists' books.
But they definitely fall in a niche--a niche for which they already had a
built-in audience from the webcomic of tens of thousands of fans. If you
don't already have an audience in place, it's definitely something you'll
have to consider, because building an audience for most books, at least
fiction, tends to be easier through a mainstream publisher.

Again, that doesn't mean it's not possible, but it is definitely daunting.
It's daunting for me as I start my small press, because I'm taking on a lot
of these roles myself, roles that when I worked with a larger publisher were
delegated to other employees. I will have to use all these kinds of
skills--skills that I've gained through working in a publisher--and be very
active on the selling end (going to shows, etc.) until we get at least five
books out because no distributor will even look at a small press who isn't a
self-publisher until you have at least five titles out.

The stigma against self-publishing in the publishing world is simply that
with all that up against the average self-publisher- -and nowadays the
average self-publisher *tends* to be the kind of person who insists they
know publishing better than the experts, despite never having worked on
either side of publishing as a writer or editor/other publishing staff--few
people have the expertise to manage all those roles and come out with a
well-written, well-edited, well-designed book that also sells well. Heck,
it's hard enough to do it when you've got a team of experts on your side.

Now, when I said "the average self-publisher" that often rules out anyone
who's doing their research, like networking through lists like this and so
on. Already you've got more knowledge than the literally millions of
self-publishers out there--most people who go to self-publishing honestly
think that's how a book gets published. I had an old roommate, who knew I
was an editor, ask me how much it costs to get a book published by Random
House--she honestly thought you had to pay to be published, and without more
information, would probably have ended up going with a scam.

The reason why the number of books published every year is so large is
because of all those self-published books. Few can stand out from a crowd in
the sea of all those books. But the ones that do know how to capitalize on
the skills everyone's talking about here. And it can be a very good option
for all the reasons Rick and several others have mentioned here. I know an
author who just wanted a copy of the book to hand to her daughter at a
certain age, so she decided to self-publish her picture book. For that goal,
it succeeded. She hasn't succeeded in selling out her print run, but the
emotional reason was more important to her at that time, and she has other
books she's writing for the traditional publishing route. Certainly family
and local histories have a limited, niche audience, and self-publishing can
be a great boon for those kinds of stories. Self-help nonfiction, as someone
mentioned here, can do very well in self-publishing because of all the
opportunities to use your platform at conferences and such to sell the book,
especially if you're already an expert in your field. I've heard the same
about real estate and finance kinds of books--again, those are authors with
built-in audiences, so the books will probably sell themselves.

But the thing to remember as you consider self-publishing is whether you
truly want to take on the roles of the entire staff of experts--or if you
don't want to do it yourself, if you want to enlist the help of independent
experts (there are a lot of freelance editors out there who would be glad to
help, but as Rick said, good help doesn't come cheap--I myself charge $50 an
hour for a developmental edit of a full manuscript) or if you have family
members with these skills. It's definitely possible, but it's a whole lot
easier to have a team of experts who are paying *you* to work on your book.

Keep in mind that the Eragons of the world are literally one in a million.
There are a million books out there, wanting the limited attention span of
the audience you're trying to reach. It's definitely wise to consider
whether you can and want to take on all the roles necessary to really
capture that attention. If you do, go for it. If you don't, keep going for a
regular publisher, working on getting your polished book into the right
hands at the right time--and they'll have that team of experts ready to go
at the right time.

Sorry if this appears pessimistic. I may have been the editor at last year's
WIFYR that someone said told them that "all" self-published books are bad.
If it was me, I believe I was misquoted. As I said above, *many*--not all,
but MANY--self-publishe d books tend to be of a low quality simply because
the author doing the publisher is a *writer*--not any of the other roles
that you have to fill to publish a book. There's nothing wrong with that.
But it's always best to consider these things and consider how they'll
affect the end product of your book.

Stacy Whitman

Rick Walton's Comments on Self-Publishing, part 1

Self publishing is just another option. It's only good or bad depending on the context.

Some good reasons to self publish:
You have a niche that you can uniquely access. (One thing the big publishers are not good at is accessing narrow market niches.)
You believe in your book, and are willing to risk the money, the time, and the effort to give it a chance. (Several successful authors have done this.)
You are doing a limited run for a small group, such as your family.

Some bad reasons to self publish:
Because the big publishers won't take you. (It might be that your book is not ready for publication yet, and by refusing to publish it, the publishers are doing you a favor. Instead of risking your money, risk your time and work on your writing. Improve the book.)
To justify your existence. (I've met some people who really don't think their life is going to have been justified if they don't have their name on a book.)
So you can be known as a published author. (Most people in the book industry look with skepticism on self published books. It's not there aren't good ones, there are. It's just that with the lack of screening and editing, the percentage of good books is much lower. Even if your book is great, you're going to be fighting that stigma every step of the way.)
Because you think there's something magical about having your name on a book. (Having your name on a book means nothing. It's what's in the book that matters.)

There are people who have successfully self published--Christop her Paolini (his parents had a press, which I consider self-publishing, if you publish your own kid), Richard Paul Evans, Hank the Cowdog, Wayne Dyer, Time Stops for No Mouse, 50 Ways to Save the Planet. Many successful publishing companies began as self-publishing operations. Klutz Press for example. So there are plenty of examples of people who have pulled it off.

But to do so, you need to do a few things.
Take it seriously. You're setting yourself up as a publisher, not just an author. Don't trust that your printer is going to distribute and push your books. They've already made their money off of you. They don't have much motivation to do any more.
Be willing to risk the money. It's going to cost a lot. Unless you do print on demand. Then your upfront costs are lower, but your per book costs are very high.
Make sure the quality of your book is as good as the national market books. Self published books have a reputation for being poor quality productions.

And it is true that you should not go to a vanity press. Vanity presses are called that because they appeal to your vanity. They put on the hard sell, making suggestions that they can do wonders for your books, because your book is wonderful. (To them, everybody's book is wonderful, because it brings them in money.) If you're going to self publish, shop around. Find a press that does a great job at a fair price. (Some self publishers have their books printed at the same Chinese printing companies that the big publishers use.) Get your book professionally designed.

In summary, there is nothing intrinsically good or bad about traditional publishing, print on demand, self-publishing, e-books, any other type of publishing, except maybe vanity publishing. They all have their pros and cons, and if you go into it with your eyes open, and make the right choices, you'll be just fine.

Rick Walton

Rick Walton's Comments on Self-Publishing, part 2

There are cheap ways of doing some of these things, but they are risky.

You can teach yourself to use a design program. And you can get a friend who has editing skills to edit your manuscript. And you can collaborate with an illustrator on speculation. However, you might miss something in the design, your friend might not be a great editor, and most good illustrators don't work on speculation much because they are getting paid for their work.

If anyone wants names of professionals, I can give them to you. They will be good, but they won't be cheap. if you have the time, the energy, and the ability to learn, with no mental blocks about technology,you can become fairly competent in many of these skills. But it will take work.

$3000, depending on the type of book and where it is printed, could get you between 500 and 2500 copies of your book.

Lois Brown's Comments on Self-Publishing

I think Rick's advice is very sound. Personally, I had a good
experience with self-publishing, but it was a narrow market niche and
the book subject lent itself to some obvious marketing channels. It was
a non-fiction, self-help adult book. I had to put myself out there and
get invited to women conferences to teach classes. Those I know who have
tried to self-publish fiction have a much harder time selling
it--particularly children's books. In the end, I did make money, but it
wouldn't have been worth it if I hadn't really enjoyed the subject
matter. Fortunately I did. I did not go through a vanity press. I found
a good printer myself. I did get the book into mom and pop bookstores,
and the BYU bookstore was great about working with me. However, I had no
luck with Deseret Book, Seagull, or Walmart.

Two things I would have done differently:
1. I would have gotten a better editor! My book had many typos and I
was somewhat embarrassed about it. Don't try and save money by doing
this yourself. It's worth it.
2. I would have investigated the possibility of combining my
self-published book with others of the same type to create a "line of
products." When I went to bookstores, most had the policy that they
would only take a product if the wholesaler had at least 3 to 5 products
to sale. That rules out self-publishers. My thought was, what if
self-publishers got together (each footing the cost of his/her own book)
and created a small line of products that they could then place into
bookstores? The books would be self-published but they would all be
connected with the ISBNs and an umbrella "wholesaler. " Anyhow, I don't
know about the legality of it all, but I think it's an interesting thought.

Lois Brown

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Authonomy: Worth Your Time?

A few weeks ago, I noticed a post on the Utah Children’s Writer’s listserv about Authonomy. Authonomy is an experiment by Harper Collins, asking writer’s to post their manuscript online, as well as to read and rate the other manuscripts that are posted. It’s similar to one big online critique group, with the winner potentially earning a contract by Harper Collins, except that it seems to be more of a popularity contest. As with Twitter or Facebook, it’s more about how much time you spend networking. You can invite other authors to be your friends, put books on your “watchlist”, read books and post comments, rank books, etc. Some of the manuscripts I’ve read have been worthy of a look by an editor, others have not. The ultimate goal for an author on Authonomy is to reach the Top Five chart on the site. From what I can tell, attaining that ranking is all about how much time you as the author spend networking. If you don’t read anyone else’s manuscript, no one is going to read yours.

So the question remains: Is Authonomy worth your time? If you have the time to spend or need a break from writing, enjoy meeting new authors online, looking for a little support, and have exhausted your book budget, the answer may be yes. Some authors have found the critique by readers and other authors extremely helpful – an opportunity to be part of a writers’ group without being part of one.

Harper Collins claims their editors patrol the site searching for manuscripts. Additionally, the top five books in the rankings each month are awarded a 10,000 word read, along with a critique. They are NOT guaranteed contracts, just a look.

With the struggling economy, many publishing houses seem to be exploring new platforms. Will Authonomy work? Or has the slush pile simply been transferred to an online format? I think it may be too early to tell yet. At any rate, if you aren’t having any luck getting an editor or agent to look at your work, perhaps you wouldn’t mind spending an hour a day on Authonomy networking for the opportunity to have Harper Collins take a peek at your work.

What is your experience with Authonomy?

Tiffany Dominguez is a freelance writer specializing in young adult fiction. Her blog is

Monday, June 22, 2009

Using Twitter to Promote Your Work

Unlike Facebook people don't get on Twitter to find their high school buddies. They get on Twitter to find information, experts, or network with other people in their field of expertise. I don't pretend to know all there is to Twitter, there's a whole aspect of it that I personally "don't get". This is why a lot of people don't use it. There arearticles everywhere on the multiple ways Twitter can be used and companion software for it. (like Tweet Deck, or applications that allow you to post for both Twitter and Facebook at the same time etc...)

As far as getting people to follow you, here's how it's worked for me- I write a blog or an article and then I tweet about it. For instance, I blogged on Whooping Cough and the March of Dimes was on Twitter looking specifically for tweets about whooping cough. They went to my website,
read my blog, started following me and then sent me an email. Likewise, I did a blog about my husband being exposed to Swine Flu at work, the next day The World Health Organization and another organization called H1N1 started following me. It's good form to throw in some more personal remarks about yourself, how your day is going etc.. every once in a while but for the most part people are tweeting links to things they think others will be interested in.

So... if you want to promote your book think about what kind of audience you're trying to reel in. If you're trying to attract other writers find links that other writers will be interested in reading. Find articles on the state of the publishing industry and craft. If your book is about cars tweet information (articles and links) about cars. If you're trying to attract Librarians find articles that Librarians want to read. Who is your target audience? If it's teenagers you're going to have to tweet about things they want to know. At any rate, you can tailor the perfect audience and then start tweeting about your book, link to reviews, your website, whatever.

Also, when you look for people to follow they should be a part of that audience as well. When I search for people to follow I'm generally looking for Health Professionals. There is an application (I wish I could remember the name for it) where you can put keywords in and Twitter will find applicable tweets. So if you're looking for authors find them, follow them, and a lot of them will follow you in return.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Iron-Clad File Safety: Backup Strategies

by Scott Rhoades

One potential drawback of writing on a computer is how easily all your work can disappear. A wrong move or a disk failure can result in a total loss of all your work, often irretrievably. It often takes a hard disk failure to teach us the importance of a good backup strategy, and two failures to make us start actually remembering to do it.

Today, backing up doesn't have to be a chore. In fact, while computers can be a threat to file safety, they also provide better file safety options than have ever been available. Best of all, your own short-term memory can be completely removed from the process.

This post explains one possible backup strategy that includes (at least) double-redundancy and disaster protection. Whether your hard disk crashes or aliens from the planet Xargon flatten your house with a poorly planned spaceship landing, your files will not be lost.

Best of all, you hardly have to do anything, so forgetting or neglecting to make backups will not come back to haunt you.

What Happens In Your Office Doesn't Have To Stay In Your Office

The most commonly used backup methods are easy, safe, and effective, as long as disaster doesn't strike and you don't forget to backup. Most people back up to disk, paper files, flash drives, or second hard drives. These are all effective methods for preventing the loss of your manuscripts if your hard disk fails. Flash drives are especially useful because you can keep your files with you.

But all (except maybe the flash drive) share one problem: if the Wasatch Front slides through your house, or there's a fire, flood, invasion of locusts, or other natural disaster that destroys your computer, your backups that you store near the computer will likely also be destroyed.

You need to store your files in at least two places. In the old days, people used to send copies of disks to a distant family member for safekeeping. This works, but it's one more thing to do, and you can't guarantee that the person on the other end will take good care of the disks.

Now, you can use backup software that can store your data safely and securely in another location. You can easily restore your files whenever you need to. Several backup options maintain multiple backup copies so you can go back a version or two if needed. Best of all, many of these applications are available in free versions (usually with storage space limits).

I recommend two applications to do your backing up for you. I suggest that you use both, because each has its own purpose, and using both together doubles your protection. Both are available in free Windows and Mac versions.

Mozy Home Free Edition (

Mozy Home Free Edition does one thing: it backs up files you specify to a secure location. If you ever need to restore your files, they are available for you. For free, you get 2GB of storage, but you can buy unlimited storage for a low monthly price. 2GB is plenty of space for your manuscripts. Illustrators, of course, have larger space requirements so the 2GB might not be enough.

To start using Mozy, download, register, and install the client application. Then choose the files or folders you want to back up, set a back up time, and let it go. The initial backup can take some time, but after that, only changed files are backed up so it goes much faster. Backups happen automatically, so you don't have to remember to copy your files.

There are other companies that provide similar services, but I've found Mozy works just fine for my needs, and they're located right here in Utah.

Syncplicity (

Where Mozy's goal is fast and secure backup and restore, Syncplicity has a different task: syncronize files between multiple computers. For example, if you write on both a desktop computer and a laptop, you can use Syncplicity to automatically keep current versions of your work files on both computers. Whenever you change a file on one, the changes are almost instantly copied to the other.

In the free version, you can sync 2GB of data between two computers. You can get more space by referring friends. Of course, you can also purchase a plan that lets you sync more data between more computers.

This might seem to create the same problem as backing up to an external hard disk. If Lake Bonneville suddenly returns, chances are that both of your computers will be waterlogged. But, Syncplicity also synchronizes yours files with a secure Web server, where you can access your stuff from any computer. So, for example, I sync between my desktop and laptop, but can also access files from my office computer if an idea strikes.

This has practical uses beyond backup, of course. Your files are available from any computer with an internet connection. You can share a space with your writing group for easy file sharing. Basically, you have a useful, shareable 2GB storage space that is always there, no matter where there is.

And, like Mozy, once you set it up, everything happens automatically so you don't have to remember to do anything.

Putting It All Together

No backup plan is foolproof, but if you combine redundant backup strategies, your manuscript files are as safe as you can possibly make them:

1. Back up to CD and your flash drive at key points, such as when you've completed a major revision. Store CDs in a safe place, away from too much sunlight or other things that will degrade the media.

2. Use a backup service like Mozy Home to copy files to a secure data center away from your home, where you can retrieve the files if disaster strikes at home.

3. Use Syncplicity to copy your files between computers and make them available on a secure Web site.

With this plan, you'll always have at least two safety copies if you need them, even after an alien invasion, or an invasion of children who think your laptop is a mini-trampoline. If only the rest of life could be this safe.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

the Big To-Do

Even though I tend to accuse my husband of turning a simple home repair into a major knock-out-a-wall remodel job, I will admit on my honest days I have the same tendency. Why simply write each day when I can be working on the first of 7 book pseudo-fantastical series about vampires and donkeys? I can overwhelm myself with the possibilities before I ever even think of picking up a pen and notebook!

This same bad habit kicked into high gear a couple months ago when I thought about challenging myself to write something every single day for a month. That was good, but what if I wrote a STORY every single day for a month? That was even better, BUT what if other people wrote a story every day too? AND what if we posted it on the Yahoo group? AND what if we created a blog? AND....

We had a great "30 Days, 30 Stories" project. It was a great success, and this blog is starting to become a great resource. So now regrets there.

But remember that original idea? To challenge myself into writing?

Never. Happened. I got so distracted by all the other management operations of the "30 Days" project that I never wrote anything beyond my own assigned story.

So this week I start thinking "Hey! I should challenge myself to write every day for a month!" But before another crazy, bloated thought could escape my mind, I thought "What if I started out by writing every day for a week?" "Or write a story every day for a week?" Yeah, that will be good.

Now all I have to do is pick a start date, an end date, and do it. That's the hard part: "just doing it."

I'll keep you posted......

Monday, June 15, 2009

Descriptive Writing

by Kiirsi Hellewell

Have you ever experienced this? You’re reading, nose buried in a book, when you come across a beautifully descriptive phrase. Instantly the scene becomes alive in your mind and you can vividly see, smell, and taste every detail.

Or perhaps you’ve seen the opposite…the story’s moving along at a good clip, tension mounting, when some poor writing or lack of description pulls you OUT of the story completely.

I experienced the last example recently while reading a newly-released bestseller. The description of something so basic as  time and place was so lacking that I found myself completely confused as to what was happening, and when, and where.

In a strong contrast, the book I’m reading right now, A Countess Below Stairs by Eva Ibbotson, is full of creative, lovely, and downright hilarious descriptions that make me smile at nearly every page. Here are some examples:

“The dowager was a small, vague woman in her fifties…”

“Crumbling pastry like small rain through her deft, plump fingers…”

“Roses as dark as spilled blood and roses with the delicate pink of a baby’s fingernails…”

“James…[gave] his biceps their usual evening canter down his forearm.”

I still remember the first time I read Shannon Hale’s The Goose Girl; how constantly in awe I was at the marvelous and descriptive words that flowed in nearly every sentence.

Here’s another one:

He had a face that needed to make a choice—either shave or grow a beard.

--Louis Sachar, Small Steps

So how can we—as published or aspiring writers—go about learning to create this level of descriptive art?

First, we need to notice it. I started keeping a file on gorgeous lines a few months ago. Studying these lines can, at the very least, provide inspiration and get creativity flowing. You could also look at a sentence or passage and analyze what, exactly, makes it so good.

Second, we need to practice. Pick something and write about it. You could try doing this twice: the first time, just describe something straight or “plain,” a sort of no-nonsense style. Then go back, adding some fun or beautiful description and imagery.

You could also try writing a scene using just one of the 5 senses, then go back and use another one. Which sense works better for this particular scene? Is a mixture of senses the best?

One of my sisters really has a gift for descriptive writing. I still have an e-mail she sent years ago describing a morning walk where she wrote “the birds shouted at us from the trees.” Shouting is normally something associated with humans, and using it in a different and unexpected approach like this is a good way to make a reader really imagine and live in a scene.

Do you have any tips for descriptive writing? A favorite book or website with good examples? Please share in the comments!

Kiirsi Hellewell is scheduled to contribute on the first and third Mondays of each month. You can find her online at her blog, or on Facebook and Twitter.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Who or Whom?

I found this post at and I thought this was a good way to determine which to use -- who or whom?

This is one of those tricky rules that if you get it wrong, it makes you sound stuffy or pompous, but every once in a while you run across a place where you need to use the word whom, so I found this really helpful:

Who/Whom falls into my pesky words category.

I spent years reaching for my style manuals whenever confronted with these words. Until I learned a couple of neat tricks.

In the past, I might have told you to use who when you mean the person taking action and whom when you mean the person is having something done to them.

But there’s an even easier way to deal with who and whom:

Try substituting him or he (her/she) for who or whom.

For example: Who/Whom do you admire? Test: Do you admire him? Do you admire he?

Do you admire him? Is correct and as luck would have it, him and whom both end with the letter m.

Who/Whom broke the vase? Test: Him broke the vase. He broke the vase.

The answer: He broke the vase.

Try practicing with these sentences:

Who/Whom stepped in the mud?
Who/Whom do you trust?
Who/Whom is going to the concert?
To who/whom should I address this letter?

Use this test when in doubt and you will be able to see whether who or whom is the right word. (~ jj_murphy The Writing Life)

I really like this, since I have always used a similar trick to decide when to use I or me when saying for example "My mother and I went to the store." Instead of "My mother and me . . " If you can drop off everything and say I went to the store, then you would use the '___ and I' form. But if you say, for example "Give that to your father and I right now!" "Give that to I" doesn't work, so in this case it should be "Give that to your father and me . . ." (I once had to correct the principal at the first school I taught at in front of my whole class because he came in and told them wrong . . . I don't know why he was doing it to begin with, but wow! LOL talk about choosing my words carefully!)

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Finding Literary Agents

After completing my first manuscript, I set about finding the perfect agent to represent my brilliant work. Only the most qualified and experienced agent would do! With my many, many hours experience surfing the web, I scoured sites for the insider tips on how to snag the attention of that perfect agent. I wrote and edited many times a query letter I thought had all the necessary elements recommended by editor, author and agent blogs and sites. Now, six months later, I’ve come to the conclusion that the majority of author successes are not necessarily a result of the perfect query letter, but mainly good luck, perfect timing, and a lot of persistence.

I’d like to share with you some information about finding agents I recently passed along to one of my favorite authors, Kristen Landon. She distributed it with some success during her educational session at the American Fork writer’s conference. On this cool website, you can search by an author’s name and find the agent representing him/her. So, you can search for whichever author you feel most closely resembles your genre, writing style and audience. It would be a good bet that the agent representing this author’s work would consider yours! Enter in the genres of your novel and access a database of hundreds of agents. The agent results will help you connect with agents in your specific field (i.e. young adult, romance, fantasy, nonfiction, etc.). A word of caution: some of the submission guidelines listed are outdated. It’s best to visit the agent’s website first before submitting a query. Of course, I always recommend visiting an agent’s website for the most up to date information on submissions. Agents change their preferences often and will not consider your work if you do not take the time to research their guidelines.

What are your favorite websites to find literary agents?

Posted by Tiffany Dominguez, aspiring author

Monday, June 8, 2009

Stranger than Fiction class notes

Stranger Than Fiction – How to Find Inspiration From True Stories

Presented by Allison Randall March 2009 at UVU

Notes taken by Kristin Hayes


Why use real life stories?

  • We’re all on this journey together
  • They’re more inspirational and emotionally engaging
  • Unexpected surprises

Where do you find these stories?

  • Family history
  • Observe your own children
  • People you work with
  • Make sure you get permission before you write it

Now that you have a story:

  • Write it down exactly as it happened (interview) or have the person who experienced the story write it down as they remember it
  • Consider ways for publication (ie. PB, novel, magazine articles etc…)
  • Is the story publishable as it is? Probably not. Use this formula to make the story more interesting and publishable

P+SX(2)C /A=R

P is protagonist

S is setting (place and time)

C is conflict

A is action ( protagonist tries to solve problem [conflict] try fail, try fail, try fail, succeed)

R is resolution

Finally: Make the unbelievable believable and bring it full circle.

A great example of bringing the story full circle is Allison’s PB, The Wheat Doll. A pioneer child loses her doll which was stuffed with wheat. The wheat doll, lost in a field eventually sprouts and grows more wheat. At the end of the story the girl finds remnants of the doll and the grown wheat which she harvests to make herself a new wheat doll.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Enneagram: Creating Characters

By Scott Rhoades

(Note: Because of a very hectic work schedule this week, I'm reprinting a blog post I write in January 2008 on my own blog, edited somewhat for today's post.)

Last time, I wrote about how to make your villains more realistic and likeable. If you read that, you might remember that I wrote about the difference between a hero and villain being largely the point of view, that the hero is the bad guy from the antagonist's point of view. And the antagonist might actually be right.

Today I'm going to continue down that path by showing a way to use personality tests to establish character types for the people in your stories. Different character types naturally conflict, and this creates the tension you need for the clash between a protagonist and antagonist.

I'll start out by revealing that I am not a fan of those quizzes in magazines or on Web sites that claim to be able to fit you into some narrow category that defines who you are. They can be interesting, and sometimes they come frighteningly close to my image of myself, but, in general, anything that takes real people and shoves them into tight little cubbies isn’t to be trusted. People are too complicated for that.

When you try to create fictional characters, however, these things can be a tremendous help. They can help you determine your characters’ desires and how they will act in the various situations they’ll face. This is important because, for a character to seem real, he or she has to react to situations in a way that is, if not predictable, at least can be predicted by his or her personality. A character who reacts to everything emotionally isn’t likely to sit around navel gazing, reasoning out the solutions to the difficulties faced along the arc of the story.

There are many systems that purport to categorize personalities. My favorite for character generation, though, is the Enneagram.

In geometry, an enneagram is a regular, nine-sided star figure. The personality Enneagram categorizes personalities into nine types:

Type 1: The Reformer. The rational, idealistic type.
Type 2: The Helper. The caring, nurturing type.
Type 3: The Motivator. The adaptable, success-oriented type.
Type 4: The Artist. The intuitive, reserved type.
Type 5: The Thinker. The perceptive, cerebral type.
Type 6: The Skeptic. The committed, security-oriented type.
Type 7: The Generalist. The enthusiastic, productive type.
Type 8: The Leader. The powerful, aggressive type.
Type 9: The Peacemaker. The easygoing, accommodating type.

What I like about this system is that it doesn’t say a person is one type and that’s it. It assigns you a number value that shows how firmly you fit into each type. In other words, it acknowledges a leader might be a peacemaker as well as a reformer, with strong generalist tendencies. It also defines which types bring either comfort or stress to each type. So, for example, a two is stressed by an eight, but finds comfort in a four. This tells you that, if your protagonist is a Helper, her sidekick could be an Artist, and the antagonist is most likely a Leader.

You could divide your characters into these types and stop there, but I’d recommend doing an Enneagram quiz for, at least, your main characters. It might seem overly analytical, but the act of taking the quiz forces you to think about your character’s personality in a way you might not be used to. In other words, the quiz itself, regardless of the results, helps you define your character.

I once did one of these online quizzes for a character I was working on. It involves 37 questions, with two possible answers for each. If you take this quiz, I suggest printing the page before you click to calculate the results. Then you can go back and look at how you answered the questions. Make the quiz itself part of your character profile.And, of course, you should spend some time before hand thinking about your character so you're not just making stuff up as you answer the questions.

I got these results for my character:

Type 1Type 2Type 3Type 4Type 5Type 6Type 7Type 8Type 9

These results tell me that she is primarily a Helper, with strong Skeptical tendencies. She is not a Reformer or a Thinker. So what could I do with this character? Well, since a Helper is stressed by a Leader, she obviously needs to be pitted against a Leader. And maybe she has to be put into a situation where she needs to be a Thinker. Like, maybe she needs to plot revenge against the Leader. As it turns out, this is a major part of the story I’ve come up with, so the test tells me I’m on the right track.

Why does the test tell me that? Well, if she is clearly not a Thinker, then having to become one means that there will be conflict, not only against her Leader enemy, but also internal conflict with herself as she struggles to act in a way that it unnatural for her. She’ll revert to her natural personality, which will work against what she has to do. She’ll have to struggle constantly to achieve her goal because she’s fighting against her own nature.

By taking this one quiz, I discovered both internal and external adversaries for my character. That’s what stories are made of. So I can stop now and start writing, right? No. As Sol Stein says, each character in a fictional work needs to have his own script. So, if I take the same quiz for each of the major characters in my story, I’ll get a good idea of their own inner and outer conflicts, and how they’ll each react to various situations. By keeping this information in mind, I’ll create characters with their own consistent lives, and I’ll see why conflicts arise, even between my main character and her best friend who is supposed to help her but actually causes additional stress.

The Enneagram is a complicated system, and I don’t pretend to be an expert. If you want to know more, I suggest starting with the Wikipedia article and going from there. For an even deeper examination, I recommend, where you can learn quite a bit about the system and find additional tests. For your first test, answer for yourself so you can get an idea of the questions and how the test and the Enneagram works. Then, think about your characters and take the test for each of them.

Whether you end up following the Enneagram system to build your characters or not, just thinking about them and taking this kind of test is going to help you flesh out realistic characters.

Your story will be better for it.

Scott Rhoades is an Orem-based writer who is scheduled to contribute to this blog on the first and third Friday of each month. For contact information, including his Twitter and Facebook details, see

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Creative Genius-- following in someone else's footsteps

Last night was my "out" night-- the night when I leave my small kids at home with my husband and spend sometime being a regular person. Not "Mom," not "Honey," just me. Usually I go to my favorite yoga class for some relaxing torture! (the teacher is tough!) If I were really, really good, I'd hole up in the local library and spill all my thoughts and ideas onto paper and be a writer.

But I'm not that good.... (yet).

So last night since I wasn't feeling up for being relaxed by means of strenuous stretching, I paid a visit to my favorite thrift store. While browsing the book section, I came across the book "How to Think like Leonardo da Vinci" by Michael J. Gelb.

It's an amazing book! And I'm only a few chapters into it. While reading the first chapter I came across a couple of paragraphs I wanted to share today for my post!

"Although it is hard to overstate Leonardo da Vinci's brilliance, recent scientific research reveals that you probably underestimate your own capabilities. You are gifted with virtually unlimited potential for learning and creativity."

"Baby ducks learn to survive by imitating their mothers. Learning through imitation is fundamental to many species, including humans. As we become adults, we have a unique advantage: we can choose whom and what to imitate. We can also consciously choose new models to replace the old ones we outgrow. It makes sense, therefore, to choose the best 'role models' to guide and inspire us toward the realization of our potential."

Isn't refreshing to hear that we underestimate our own creative capabilities? Too often we get down on ourselves and think we are "not enough"-- not creative enough, not talented enough, not persuasive enough....The truth is that whereever you are in your current life (published multiple times or not at all), the greatest resources of your creativity are still untapped. You are only beginning. But you won't discover more than the proverbial "tip of the iceberg" unless you keep working at.

The second quote was an eye-opener for me because I had never considered have writers as role models. Not that we need to be a carbon copy of their writing style and form, but that we follow their writing habits and perserverance. For instance, last year at BYU's Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers conference, I attended a session by Claudia Mills. She shared her writing ritual-- Swiss Miss cocoa, a one-hour sand timer, a pen, and a notebook while sitting on her bed in her bathROBE. What a great ritual. What's my ritual? Uh,....I'll get back to you on that. Great writers have great habits, make great choices, collect mountains of rejections, and keep on going. Pick one and follow their example. By doing that you make your own writing life better.

Happy Writing!

Monday, June 1, 2009

Twitter and Writing

I’ve recently joined Twitter, after hearing about it for so long. It’s really amazing to me not only how many authors “tweet,” but also the amount of writing information available 24/7. (It’s also been really fun to hold little mini-conversations with writers, some of whom seemed so far away and inaccessible before!)

Fascinating samples from just the past three days:

* many updates from and about Book Expo America

* news of a Betsy-Tacy convention this summer in Minnesota

* some really great articles on writing

Today I thought I’d post a few links to some really good writing articles, tips and websites I’ve come across just this past weekend thanks to Twitter. Enjoy!

13 Tips For Actually Getting Some Writing Done by Gretchen Rubin. Simple ideas to get busy writing and keep it up daily. (You might want to also check out Gretchen’s upcoming book, The Happiness Project. It sounds very interesting!)

Writefly is a blog that offers daily writing prompts to get some creativity flowing, along with links to writing tips and articles, among other things.

A fascinating interview with author Laurie Halse Anderson

Submission guidelines from Scholastic’s Cheryl Klein

And last but funniest, and certainly not least: There are several “characters” on Twitter from several authors’ books, as a fun way of interacting with readers. But someone has decided to really make a beloved character from a classic book series come to life. (WARNING: remove liquids and breakable materials from your vicinity before reading.)

Twitter is fast becoming a prime tool for authors (and prospective authors) to develop a large and enthusiastic fan base. It’s also just really fun.

Kiirsi Hellewell lives in the Salt Lake Valley. You can find her on Twitter here.