Friday, January 28, 2011

Take Time to Celebrate!

I was very touched when I heard Marion Dane Bauer's story about not properly celebrating her Newbery Honor win for On My Honor. And I've taken to heart her advice to celebrate each step of the way. As writer, it used to be true that ours was a solitary journey, but thanks to our writers groups, thanks to the internet, thanks to Facebook, we're now active participants in a larger community that allows us to have virtual celebrations with our friends and colleagues any time we want!

I celebrate a good writing day by updating my Facebook status, and share good news about great reviews or awards with my writers group by bringing
chocolate to our meetings. (My previous writers group celebrated with cookies - different foods, but both great ways to share good news with your friends.

Still, the writing itself, at least the first draft, is something done alone. And I do have a more private celebration ritual for good news or awards for one of my books - one that doesn't involve eating. I celebrate by getting myself a new fountain pen. It's a way to celebrate the writing, and my personal participation in it. No, I don't write my first drafts by fountain pen - but I write my notes for each book, and my journal, and my handwritten letters with fountain pens. I cherish the way the ink flows, and how a fountain pen solidly fills my hand. And I always love the way children and teachers point at it and say, "Look! A real writer's pen."
My fountain pens aren't magic, but they're special to me, and I was delighted to start writing with the newest addition to my working collection, the silver one at the bottom in this photo. We all have good writing news to celebrate much more often than we give ourselves credit for: finishing a scene, finishing a chapter, completing a first draft, trusting our first draft to our critique group, completing a second draft, completing a revision, placing the manuscript, signing a contract, completing revisions for the publisher, seeing reviews, holding the first copy in our hands. Make sure you do something to celebrate each step of the way, with writing friends, and perhaps even a personal celebration ritual of your own.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Tis the Season to Reward Writers

No matter what the Today Show thinks, January is the time for the children's and teens' lit community to reward writers and illustrators and to celebrate those awards. I love January! It's the time when I discover what I've missed in my previous year's reading, and have the opportunity to download as many books as I can afford for my iPad. Fortunately this past Christmas I was blessed with lots of ebook gift cards! I've just finished Moon Over Manifest (how could I have missed that one?) and Jenni Holm's Turtle in Paradise which I like more and more as I think about it more and more. I also loved A.S. King's Please Ignore Vera Dietz - I shall never see ghosts the same way again. And I'm still reading (and loving) Dash and Lily's Book of Dares.

This year I'm also delighted to announce that my book, An Unspeakable Crime: The Prosecution and Persecution of Leo Frank has been honored in the round of January award announcements. An Unspeakable Crime was named an Honor Book in the Social Studies - Grades 7-12 category by the Society of School Librarians International, and was also named a 2011 Sydney Taylor Notable Book for Teens. It has also been honored as a Cybils Finalist in the Nonfiction Book (Middle Grade and Young Adult) category, and a National Jewish Book Award Finalist in the Children's and Young Adult Literature category.

I am overjoyed to share my book's recognition for the same reason that I'm delighted to learn about other books that have been honored: just as I am eager to read those excellent books I mentioned above, I hope that readers will discover An Unspeakable Crime. That's why we write, after all, in the hopes that someone will read our book, and any recognition that makes it more likely for others to read it is a wonderful thing. If you're curious and want to find out about this 1913 legal case, please click here to watch a video about my research for this book. And many thanks to the organizations and committees that honored my book.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Writers' Leap of Faith

Happy New Year! Time for new resolutions, new starts, and new experimentation. Sometimes it's hard, however, to take a leap of faith and try something new, especially when it comes to writing.

Have you found a writing method that works for you? A method of planning your novel and writing that first draft that seems foolproof? A method that has worked for you reliably in the past, one with which you feel comfortable? You're confident in your writing because you're familiar with it, and you can see your word count build up as your characters grow and work their way through a plot with a beginning, middle and climax that all occur at the right proportional points in your manuscript. Well, congratulations!

But perhaps this trustworthy method isn't really serving you as well as if did the first time you experimented with it, and were delighted with the new aspects of your novel that it helped you discover then. Be honest: since you've been writing with this method, have you continued
making new discoveries and pushing your ideas to their limits? Sometimes you need to shake up your procedure, or you can fall prey to stultifying sameness that compromises the complexity of your ideas.

So start the New Year by experimenting with some new writing methods.
Check out Martha Alderson's terrific Blockbuster Plots books and videos.
Explore software like Dramatica or Scrivener. Check out my own book on Character and Plot development. These are all tools - they won't write your book for you, but they'll help you look at your idea through new eyes, asking new questions that might help you make new discoveries about your characters and their story, and explore avenues with exciting potential that you hadn't considered with your comfortable method.

Never let yourself become complacent in your writing. Complacency can stifle your imagination and prevent you from tackling the hard questions that could force you to confront uncomfortable ideas. Those uncomfortable nudges are the very ideas that could elevate your comfortable book to something challenging and remarkable and new.