Tuesday, March 31, 2015


Many of us have trouble setting priorities for our writing sessions. Maybe we're working on different projects in various stages. We might be querying one story, revising another, and writing and researching a third. Or maybe we're focused on a single project but have a number of things to do.

Those of you who are organized at all likely keep to-do lists, which you prioritize from 1 to n. If you do, chances are you've run into problems because prioritizing this way doesn't necessarily work. You feel guilty if your list is long and you only manage to skim the top. You feel like a failure. Even the act of prioritizing that list can be daunting. Your top priority might be clear, but how you choose to order the rest of your list might as well be rock-paper-scissors. By the time you've made your list, you're ready for a break.

This is where the 1-3-5 method might be useful. It's a pretty simple concept. Before you start your day, list your priorities, only instead of trying to list them 1 to n, list them in three levels. Put your most important task on top. This is the one thing you have to do, if you don't do anything else. On the next level, put three things that are less important. You can order them if you want, but you don't need to. If you have time after your number 1, you can choose any of these, as many as you're able to do. finally, list five tasks you'd like to get to if you have time. Or, you can think of them as a big thing, three medium things, and five small things, and let the size of your chunks of time during the day determine which ones you work on. Only have a few minutes? Maybe it's enough to at least knock off a couple small things.

Now, the idea isn't that you have to do all nine things. You have to tackle number one, and that might take more than one day. Lower priorities can wait. If you don't get toy our threes but you finished your one, you've had a good day.

The next day, you start again. Maybe one of your threes becomes a one, but you might have a new one.

Your one every day might be to write a new scene on the project you are writing. Your threes might involve the work you're revising, and maybe a couple queries for the finished project. Your fives, well, you get the idea.

For those of you who like to use technology to help stay organized, there are apps to help with this method. For example, 1-3-5 To-Do is available for both iOS and Android. But this method works just as well on a white board or a good old piece of notebook paper. If you keep a writing journal, you can put your list in your daily entry, if you want.

To me, the 1-3-5 method feels more natural than the 1-to-n method. I'm not a highly organized person, but I do this almost automatically. There's always that One Thing I really need to get done. After that, priority groups just kind of happen. There are the other things I want to do, and some things I'd like to do if I can get to them. Sometimes I can work down a list, but for most tasks, levels fit the way I work and think.

Maybe it will work for you too.

Monday, March 30, 2015

30 Days, a Few Stories

The annual April ritual, 30 Days, 30 Stories is in on the verge of disaster. Very few writers have taken up the call to contribute a story. 

The annual event, hosted by this blog, is a chance to let the local talent shine. Talent can not shine in the dark, however, and must be brought to the light.

If you were considering sharing, please email me at brueluck@ymail.com to set up a day. Again, writers are encouraged to share their talent. It does not have to be a children’s story nor must it be fiction. Most any genre is encouraged: poetry, prose, memoir, or cartoon. Illustrators can share their work, too.

Utah is blessed with some brilliant writers and April is the month to show it.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

30 Days, 30 Stories

It’s happening again. April is just around the corner and thus, it’s time for 30 Days, 30 Stories.

The annual event, hosted by this blog, is a chance to let the local talent shine. Utah is blessed with some brilliant writers and for 30 days, April is the month to show it.

A call to any and all writers to contribute a story next month. Any and all genres accepted (although erotica would be frowned upon), any audience level, poetry or prose. It can be a cartoon or a memoir. Illustrators are welcome to post samples of their work. 

Sarah Southerland has turned the reins over to me this year. If you would like to contribute, either email me at bruceluck@ymail.com or leave a comment below to schedule a day to publish your material. (Please put “30 Days, 30 Stories” in the subject field.)

We’ve had some great writing show-cased in the past. We hope to see more next month.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Crappy first draft

The joy of a crappy first draft. Can there be joy in such a thing? According to the Publication Coach, Daphne Gray-Grant, there is.

In fact, she says, “producing one is exactly what will turn you into a professional writer.” As writers, we may abhor that crappy first draft. How could such garbage have come from our own fingers dancing on the keyboard? 

If that is you, Gray-Grant says to ask yourself some questions. Who else is going to see the yucky thing? More than likely, no one. If so, then what does it matter? It is called a rough draft, after all. No one does anything perfect the first time, so there is no need to beat yourself up for adhering to human nature.

She list several reasons why crappy first drafts are important to writers. It will help you write faster. One of the things I love about NaNoWriMo is that November is the one month a year I can turn off my internal editor. It is a freeing experience, writing without the agony of perfecting every word and sentence. This is a first draft, a beginning, a place for you to tell yourself the story. Throw up the words on the screen and clean up later. Gray-Grant says there is a momentum that builds by piling up words, and that allows more to flow at a quick pace. 

According to Kathleen Duey, a recent WIFYR instructor, real writing takes place in the rewrite. The best writers don’t necessarily have talent as much as they have a commitment to rewriting. How do you divide up your dedicated writing time? If you could dash out a crappy first draft, that would free up more time to come up with a good second draft and an even better third. 

So, embrace that crappy first draft. It is an unavoidable necessity that is part of the process. Get that first draft out of the way in order to have something to work with. As E.B. White has said, “The best writing is in the rewriting.” 

(This article also posted at http://writetimeluck.blogspot.com)

Friday, March 20, 2015

Authentic Writing

Kwame Alexander, Newbery Award Winner 2015, is one of my new favorites. His writing is poetic and fun. His personality is huge. He is a way cool dude.

I had the pleasure of listening to Kwame in New York at the SCBWI mid-winter conference, and he was inspirational.

Kwame says that to write diverse books, we need to live diverse lives. That to write authentic books, we need to live authentic lives.

I'm not saying most of us don't do that, but I think we could all do more. When Kwame talks about diversity, he may not think about the fact that I live in Idaho, in Boise, where the level of racial diversity is sparse. However, I started thinking about the diversity I do experience every day.I look at my neighborhood. While it's all white, it has different kinds of diversity: a Jewish family on the corner whose adult son is autisitc, a next door neighbor raising her meth addicted daughter's child, political activists across the street who commit to their causes, a gay couple around the corner who are raising twin girls born of a surrogate. The public schools my kids have attended include immigrants and refugees from across the world, especially Bosnia, Sudan, Uganda, and Afghanistan.

But how can we increase the diversity we experience, whatever level we have in our daily lives? I think the best way is to stretch ourselves, go beyond our comfort zones, hang out with people we normally wouldn't be in contact with. I live very close to downtown Boise, which is where most of the homeless community congregates. And yes, they are a community. They interact like a large family, with the usual squabbles and infighting, but they are fiercely loyal when someone from "outside" tries to hurt or harass them.  I help serve them meals at our church. I could do more. I could be at the shelters or even on the streets with them. I have been active in lobbying for LBGT rights in our state legislature, and through that I have met many transgender folks I never knew before. That has brought into my life some awesome people, as well as expanded the way I think about gender and the pronouns I use.

What are your comfort zones? Where could you expand yourself, expose yourself to more diversity? It doesn't have to be racial diversity, although that is a good place to start if it's not something you are routinely exposed to. It could be age diversity, or gender diversity. It could be volunteering to build homes at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation (I grew up next to the rez)--the poorest place in the U.S. It could be traveling to another country to help victims of a disaster. Or it could be simply hanging out where the poor in your own community are and talking to them like real people.

Another fantastic way to increase the diversity in your world is, of course, reading diverse books! Read about people in other countries, in other times, of other races, religions, genders, and ages. Read authentic books.

Then proceed to write diversely and authentically.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

WIFYR faculty, part 2

Writing is a solo affair. It’s pretty much you, your computer, and your imaginary friends.

That makes writing conferences all the more inviting to attend.  Not only can you pick up some great ideas and come out energized, you can get to hang with others, people like you, addicted to this isolated preoccupation. 

There are some great workshops in our area. LTUE finished up last month. Coming up we have Writers for Charity, the Boise SCBWI conference, and LDStorymakers. And in June there is WIFYR, the Wrting and Illustrating For Young Readers conference, WIFYR, in June

WIFYR is the brainchild of Carol Lynch Williams, a fabulous MG and YA writer. Year after year she packs the conference with incredible faculty. Last week we examined some of this year’s instructors, including Jennifer Adams, Kathi Appelt, Julie Berry, Ann Cannon and Dave Farland. This week we will look at Dean Hughes, Lisa Mangum, Natalie Whipple, and end with Carol herself. 

Dean Hughes - Advanced Novel Workshop
Dean Huges has published over a hundred books for children, young adults, and adults. He has taught English at Central Missouri State University and writing at BYU. He spent seventeen years between the two writing full time. He has written CHILDREN OF THE PROMISE and HEARTS OF THE CHILDREN.

Lisa Mangum - Writing the Middle Grade or Young Adult LDS Novel
Lisa taught the full novel class last year and was one of my favorite afternoon presenters. Lisa has had a lifetime love affair with books, volunteering in her elementary school library, working at Waldenbooks, and assisting the publishing department of Deseret Books. She has written four award winning books including THE HOURGLASS DOOR trilogy and AFTER HELLO.

Natalie Whipple - Novel Workshop
Natalie came to Utah from the Bay Area and attended BYU, earning a degree in English linguistics. She is the author of the TRANSPARENT series, HOUSE OF IVY & SORROW, the I’M A NINJA series, and FISH OUT OF WATER.

Carol Lynch Williams - Advanced Novel Workshop
When Carol is not writing or running WIFYR, she teaches writing at BYU. Another Vermont College grad, she holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Adolescents. When she is writing, she turns our great works such as THE CHOSEN ONE, GLIMPSE, MILES FROM ORDINARY, WAITING, THE HAVEN, and SIGNED, SKYE HARPER.

Classes are filling up but there are openings in most. Early Bird registration pricing has been extended to March 31, even though the site lists the old date. You can go to http://www.wifyr.com to find out more about this conference.

(This article also posted at http://writetimeluck.blogspot.com)

Saturday, March 7, 2015

WIFYR faculty, part 1

I don’t know how Carol Lynch Williams does it, but every year, she assembles a staff of top-notch faculty members. This year is no different. 

Nine super writers will run the week-long morning workshops. Additionally, there will be five others one day a week for the mini-sessions. The workshops are the heart of the conference. You and your new best friends spend twenty hours critiquing each others’ work and exponentially increasing your understanding of the writing craft. There are less expensive options for attending WIFYR, but every writer should do a morning workshop at least once.

This year’s faculty members will be examined in this two part post. In alphabetical order, we start with Jennifer Adams, Kathi Appelt, Julie Berry, Ann Cannon and Dave Farland. You can go to http://www.wifyr.com to find out more about this conference.

Jennifer Adams - Full Novel Workshop
Jennifer is the author of more than two dozen books, including the board books in the bestselling BABY LIT series, which introduce small children to the world of classic literature. She’s worked as a book editor and works at The King’s English, a sponsor of WIFYR. You can visit her online at: http://jennifer-adams.com .

Kathi Appelt - Picture Book and Middle Grade Novel
Kathi is the New York Times best-selling author of more than forty books for children and young adults. She is on the faculty in the Masters of Creative Writing for Children and Young Adults Program at Vermont College of Fine Arts. (Carol is a VCFA alumni and often pulls instructors from there.) She’s won awards for her THE UNDERNEATH, KEEPER, MY FATHER’S SUMMERS, and THE TRUE BLUE SCOUTS OF SUGAM MAN SWAMP.

Julie Berry - Novel Class
Another Vermont College grad, Julie is the author  of ALL THE TRUTH THAT’S IN ME and THE SCANDALOUS SISTERHOOD OF PRICKWILLOW PLACE. She’s also written THE AMARANTH ENCHANTMENT, SECONDHAND CHARM, and the SPLURCH ACADEMY FOR DISRUPTIVE BOYS. Find her online at www.julieberrybooks.com, or on Twitter at @julieberrybooks. I am honored at being able to assist for Julie this year.

Ann Cannon - Trouble Shooting Class for All Genres
I’ve assisted for Ann before and can attest to her grasp of writing, her ease of imparting that wisdom to students. She writes PB to YA and entertains Utahns with her weekly column in The Salt Lake Tribune where she also reviews children’s books. She’s published thirteen books including CHARLOTTE’S ROSE, SOPHIE’S FISH, and CAL CAMERON BY DAY, SPIDER-MAN BY NIGHT. She’s also published feature articles in local and nations magazines.

Dave Farland - Boot Camp
Dave has mentored some big names in children’s literature. That list includes Brandon Mull, Brandon Sanderson, James Dashner, and Stephanie Meyer. He’s an award winning, international best seller with over 50 novels in print, including ON MY WAY TO PARADISE and THE RUNELORDS fantasy series.

All great authors willing to share their expertise with others. Up next week, Dean Hughes, Lisa Mangum, Natalie Whipple, and Carol Lynch Williams

(This article also posted at http://writetimeluck.blogspot.com)

Friday, March 6, 2015

Travel to Idaho this Spring

There is always so much going on in the children's literature world in Utah, which is wonderful and fun. But you might look beyond your borders to see what's going on elsewhere. For example, Idaho. We're just up the road a ways. And we seem to become a fantastic venue for kid lit authors to visit. Just in the last few weeks, we've hosted Markus Zusak, Jennifer Neilsen, and next week will be Sherman Alexie plus Andrew Smith.

I'm most excited, of course, about our Boise SCBWI conference in April, which we co-sponsor with the Boise State University Dept. of Literary, Language, and Culture and the Idaho Chapter of the International Literacy Association (formerly the International Reading Association).

This year we have several amazing speakers, including Matt de la Pena, Suzanne Morgan Williams, Utah's own Kristyn Crow, agent Sean McCarthy, and a fantastic panel of local authors.

Our theme is diversity in children's literature, which is a super hot topic right now, and worthy of our attention and examination. This conference is for all  who are interested in kit lit, whether teachers, librarians, students, parents, and, yes, authors and illustrators.

You can find more information here: http://bit.ly/1ErbbGu

And to register, scroll down that page and click on the link, or here: http://idcclw.com/

Boise in the spring is a magical place, and taking the time to get away from home and focus on your craft is worth every moment.

By Neysa CM Jensen
SCBWI regional advisor for Utah/southern Idaho

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Free Writing Lessons: "Shakespeare Uncovered" on PBS

I've recently finished watching the second season of Shakespeare Uncovered, a series of documentaries exploring some of Shakespeare's plays, largely from the perspective of the people who have played the parts. I'm now going back and watching the first season again. It's not just because I love Shakespeare. It's not even because the series is beautifully done.

It's because this series is one of the greatest teaching tools about how to write that I've come across in some time.

Understand, please, that I am usually not a visual person. I learn better by reading than by watching films. I don't even particular enjoy movies or TV that much. But Shakespeare Uncovered is an exception. By starting from an actor's perspective--a person who has lived a character and the story in a personal, intimate way--we get a personal, intimate look into Shakespeare's story-telling skills.

I think this is valuable, even if you don't enjoy Shakespeare. Even if he does not appeal to you personally, due to the nature of his stories or the age or language, you will benefit from this series, as a writer.

Each episode explores the nature of stories, the development of characters, in a uniquely inspiring and moving way. We explore the internal workings of characters as diverse as Macbeth and Bottom the Weaver, learning what makes them tick, and how a master writer uses their characters to tell a story that reveals something about each of us.

As one of the men who has played Macbeth, Antony Sher, says in the first episode of the first season, "Shakespeare's great gift as a writer is that he never holds people at arm's length. He never says, 'Look at this person. Isn't he disgraceful, or isn't he ridiculous?' Shakespeare always says, 'It's me. It's you. It's us.' He always does that. It is his great gift."

This is precisely what we need to do to draw an audience into our stories. And it's why, as somebody who attempts to tell stories, I find Shakespeare so inspiring.

Whether you are a Shakespeare fan or not, this series will help you learn how to do this. It shows how to develop characters and put them into settings that amplifies their personal issues.It shows how to use those characters to develop a plot that really means something and reveals something about the way we all tick. It shows how to use current cultural elements to amplify a story. It shows how to use the rhythm of language to create emotion, and how to magnify that emotion with action and movement.

If you have Comcast, season two is currently on On Demand. Maybe it's available from other providers as well. Check it out, and see if it is as great a writing lesson for you as it has been for me.