The Writing Cave

This week I’ve been revising the last two chapters of my middle grade novel. And it’s consuming my life…well maybe only my thoughts but that’s pretty much the same thing. And so writing this week’s blog post has become a challenge.

You see when I’m stuck in my writing cave, I have trouble focusing on anything else. Sure I can go about my everyday life of working, taking care of the kids, folding laundry, grocery shopping and all that. It’s just that I’m basically going through the motions. My mind is definitely someplace else…

It’s stuck inside the fictional world of my story.

It’s not really a bad place to be. After all this time, I’ve grown to love the characters in this book. The good ones and the bad. I actually like hanging out in the pretend camp where they’ve spent most of their summer. I like listening to their conflicts and reading how their dramas have played out. And if it sounds like I’m a little strange, talking about my story as if it’s real, then maybe I am. That’s the only way I know how to revise. I need to jump into their world.

And so sometimes I feel like I’m in the writing cave. My thoughts are so focused on my story that it’s hard to think about other things- like what I’m going to post on the blog this week. And that’s why I’m writing about the writing cave. I wondered if any of you sneak into yours sometimes. Do you get so preoccupied (or obsessed) with your story that you think about it all day long. Do you think about it as you mindlessly brush your teeth in the morning? Do you think about it as you drive to work or as you make the beds?

In case you’re wondering, I may be stuck in this cave for the rest of the week. It will take me at least that long to get through the last chapter. When I emerge though, hopefully this manuscript will be better than when I crawled in! So wish me luck and maybe even send cookies. I may need them. Like Snickerdoodles. Yeah definitely Snickerdoodles. 🙂

Writing with Emotion

I mentioned in last week’s post that I’m having trouble connecting with the book I’m reading. Like I said, I’m determined to push through it though. This week I read a whole five pages. Not even a whole chapter. See what I mean? Not connecting with it!

This got me thinking. What exactly makes a reader feel connected to a story? Is it the character? Is it the plot? Or is it the emotion? Maybe it’s the emotion attached to the characters and the plot.

We’ve all read books filled with emotion. Charlotte’s Web is one that comes to mind. Old Yeller also. I mean who doesn’t feel a lot when reading those books? Love, Aubry is a perfect example. That ‘s just about the most emotional story I’ve ever read! How about The Hunger Games? Especially the beginning, right when we learn about the world that Katniss lives in and the situation she finds herself in. Totally emotional.

So how exactly do you write with emotion? How do you get your readers to feel mad or excited at the very times you want them to? How do you make them laugh until their cheeks hurt, or sob with each page turn? Actually, it’s not as hard as you think.

They key is writing with the emotion you are currently feeling.

In the second novel I ever wrote, there is a sad scene. A very sad scene. A twelve year-old boy, who has recently lost his father to an illness, wakes up one morning to find nothing but a note from his mother. She’s gone. Now he’s all alone.

I knew this would be a sad scene to write because the situation itself is very sad. I never dreamed that I could write the scene in a way that would make anyone cry. Including myself. But I did. I often go back to that novel and read the first few pages. I still cry (like sob tears) every time I read it. And I’m the one who wrote it! How can that be?

I think it’s because, I went to a very deep, dark place within myself when I wrote it. No, my own father didn’t die when I was young. My mother never left me alone at age 12 to take care of myself. None of that ever happened to my own children or anyone else that I knew.

But what if it did?

I thought about that over and over. And I cried every time I imagined it happening to me or to any child I knew. The thought of it was horrible. I shuttered inside. I winced deep in my heart. I felt panic and fear. Though the idea was made up, the emotions were very real…because something like that could actually happen. And so as I wrote the words to my story, I used those emotions to describe the scene.

The revision process on that scene was long. It was hard to not make it overly dramatic. It was hard to fit the words to the actions playing out. It was hard to describe the mannerisms that might go along with the actions. But in the end, the scene felt real to me. That was my objective. I had to put myself in the main character’s head and convey what he would really be feeling. The result was an emotional scene. Emotional but real.

I think that’s they key to writing with emotion. Dig deep within yourself and keep it real.

If you feel angry, use that emotion to write a scene that needs anger. If you feel scared, use that emotion too. Tap into what it is that makes you feel afraid. Describe it in anyway that feels real to you. If you can do that, the result will be a very realistic scene because you’ve written it with your heart, not just your head.

So that’s my focus for writing this week as I revise. Are my scenes filled with the right emotions? Do they feel realistic? My readers will be the best judges of that, but if something feels off, hopefully I can catch it before they see it, and dig deeper. 🙂

On a completely unrelated note…

We have some exciting things happening on the blog!

First, next month is Swirl and Spark’s 1st Birthday. I love birthdays and so we are definitely going to celebrate! Please stay tuned for details because there could be presents involved.

Also, the September Critique Round is fast approaching too! Click on Critique Corner for details. I haven’t decided yet if this will be a critique round for kids or for adults. That totally depends on my readers. Please comment in the box below if you’d like to see a round for adults (since we’ve never done one before) or a round for kids. I need to know if we have interest either way. I will say this, for the first time in this critique round, I will offer a writing related prize. 🙂

So please, drop me a quick comment. Whether you’re ready to participate by submitting your work or just want to read to read the samples, let me know if you’d rather see work from adults or work from kids this time around. I want to target the greatest need right now.

And lastly, I will be adding more titles to the Book Nook shortly so stop back to check those out too!

Have a great sun- filled week of writing! And don’t forget to bring the emotion!

NOT Finishing a Book

Has this ever happened to you? You’ve started a book, gotten about a third of the way into it (enough to know whether you like it or not) and… You. Really. Just. Don’t. Want .To. Keep. Reading. It?

*Gasp!*

For shame. I know I know.

Reading this book has become torture. It’s 300 pages and you’re only on page 117. Every day it taunts you, daring you to pick it up. You want to finish it. Really you do. In fact you have to. You can’t start another book before you finish this one. That’s just the way it is, right? It wouldn’t be okay to just put it back on the shelf or return it to the library un- read. That’s the unwritten rule of book reading! You have to finish a book you start.

Or do you?

Well, honestly, I’m not sure. I guess it depends. I’m not talking about school books, or any type of assigned reading for a class or for work. My answer in that case is, “Definitely yes.” You have to read those books (or die trying) no matter how badly you want to shove them under your bed or into the back of your closet forever.

I’m talking about a book you chose to read. On purpose. It may have been a book you heard about from a friend, or a book written by your favorite author. Let’s say you went to the bookstore, or borrowed it from the library, or downloaded it onto you Kindle. The back cover description sounded good. The first page was even better. The characters seemed intriguing. And so you started reading it. It’s a well written book. The plot and story are interesting. But, for some reason, you just can’t get through it. You can’t connect with it.

Don’t worry. It’s not your fault.

You’re not going to love every book you read. Just like you’re not going to like every person you meet. Reading is so subjective. What appeals to one person (or a million) may not appeal to you.

I’m the perfect example and I’ll tell you why.

All of the world loves Harry Potter. Because, duh, he’s Harry Potter. He’s heroic and likeable and everything a great main character needs to be. The world loves JK Rowling too. With good reason. She is one of the greatest storytellers of our time. She has a knack for world building not matched by many authors. The Harry Potter series is one of the best known and loved series in the world today. Children and adults of all ages love every single book in the series. In fact, my daughter’s boyfriend is currently re-reading the series this summer. He’s sixteen. He read them as a child, and devoured the whole Harry Potter culture. Today he is a busy teenager. He has sports and a job and friends to hang out with and textbooks to read for AP classes. Yet in his downtime, he’s reading Harry Potter. Again. 🙂

And then there’s me. I read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, the first book in the series to my then seven year- old son about seven years ago. I was amazed at the writing, the story, and well just about everything. We moved onto the second book, The Chamber of Secrets. We got through two chapters. But we didn’t finish it.

There. I said it. I never finished The Chamber of Secrets. I’d like to blame it on my son. I’d like to say he wanted to read a different type of story next. The Harry Potter books are quite long after all. But I can’t blame him. As amazing as the Harry Potter books are, fantasy books are not my favorite. I’ve read many great fantasy books but I prefer books set in the real world. That’s just me.

And so the day I stopped reading Harry Potter, I told myself I would finish it one day. It just didn’t feel right closing the book after only two chapters. Yet I did it. And it’s sort of bothered me ever since.

And that brings me to today. I’m now half way through a middle grade book that I started reading in December. Yeah. December. This book feels like torture to me. And yet it’s a really good book. I just can’t connect with it. As in, I don’t care that much about what’s happening. But, I am forcing myself to finish it this summer. It has been taunting me long enough. I need to finish it and move on.

Careful readers of this blog may know the book I’m referring to because I mentioned in one post that I was reading it.I will not say what books it is here though, because in all honesty, many of you would LOVE it. It is a really good book. The characters are well- written. The premise is amazing and different. I picked it because I wanted to read more middle grade fantasy. I have a lot of blog readers who love this very popular genre. I wanted to add it to the Book Nook if it was worthy. But again… I’m not a huge fan of fantasy. And there you have it. A second fantasy book I’m having trouble connecting with.

We like what we like.

So should I have closed the cover on this book? Maybe. But I’m not going to. I want to give this book its due respect. If it was a terrible, poorly written story maybe I would feel differently. But it’s not. Far from it. And so I will forge ahead, page by page until the very last one. And if you pay attention, you may see it in the Book Nook by the end of the summer. And I’ll give you my honest opinion.

What are your thoughts on NOT finishing a book you’ve started? Have you ever put a book back on the shelf un-read? Did you feel bad about it? Or did you feel a huge wave a relief? I’d love to hear about it. Maybe you can relate to my guilt over taking a long (seven -year) break with Harry Potter. Or maybe I just need to make peace with the fact that reading is subjective. We like what we like, especially when it comes to books!

Family Stories

If ever you feel like you have run out of topics to write about, I have the perfect solution…Take a vacation with your extended family. Invite any family members that you can find. It helps if you have a variety of ages. It’s even better if you have lots of kids, especially if you can find one like my four year-old nephew, Van.

Living under one roof with a trillion people is nothing short of chaotic. Living with Van is like living with built in entertainment. In fact, I feel like he was purposefully plopped into our vacation house for the sole purpose of providing me writing material!

I always say that when you create characters you have to make them memorable. Van is definitely memorable. He’s a bundle of energy with the most adorable face. He’s all action all the time except when he’s eating, or telling you that he thinks his ears just got longer. When you ask him about it he will explain that it’s because they must have tomatoes growing in there.

I promise not to bore you with stories of my family trip. I won’t promise that a random story or two won’t show up on this blog sometime in the near future or even in one of my chapters though. There’s just so much great material!

For many reasons this vacation has been amazing. Just like I had hoped there’s been an abundance of water, sunshine and family. I’ve even managed to write outside by the water, read on the balcony, kayak on the bay, do yoga by the dock, ride my bike and run on the quiet road, catch up with my family, and even try crab cakes!

Oh and… I have been writing in my journal! I’ve been keeping a daily account of our adventures. Big and small. Important and not so much. I figure even if it doesn’t seem like a big deal today, I’ll want to read about it some other time.

So take my advice. Spend some time with your family and friends this summer. That’s bound to give you some good materials for your next story!

Happy 4th of July!

This weekend, my family and I are leaving for vacation. But not just any vacation. This will be a family bonanza to celebrate my parents’ 50th Wedding Anniversary. Yeah…50! That’s a big deal in my book. My siblings and I and our spouses have rented a pretty giant house on Chesapeake Bay in Maryland for the week. There will be 22 of us, including 12 grandchildren. From what I can tell from the pictures and descriptions on-line, the area is beautiful. It has water, a quaint little town, and plenty of room for the kids to run around. What could be better? It’ll be fun to catch up with my family and all the kids—crazy maybe, but fun for sure!

While I’m away I’ll do some reading and hopefully some writing too. The water always inspires me, and with such a breathtaking view, I’m sure I’ll get some great story ideas. Besides that though, I think I’ll try some journal writing. I’ve never been a journal writer. I’m not sure why. But this week I’m going to give it try. I’m planning to keep a written account of all our adventures-from kayaking in the Bay (which I’ve never done) to relaxing by the pool (which I don’t get to do often) to sunrise yoga (led by my 16 year old daughter) to roasting marshmallows over the fire pit, to a whole bunch of celebrating with my parents!

I may have to record my thoughts bullet point style. I mean really…with 12 kids running around and 9 other adults to catch up with, that may be all I’m capable of! I’m determined to do it though. Far too many vacations have come and gone. After awhile they all blend into each other and I don’t want to forget a second of this one. It’s been a long time since we’ve all spent a week together like this. It’s going to be amazing! And that’s why I need my journal. I’ll write as much down as I can and maybe by the end of the week I’ll even have a story idea or two to use in the future.

So I’m off to finish the job of packing for myself and overseeing the packing of two teenagers. My husband will have to fend for himself. He’s not that picky anyway. As long as he has his bike and running sneakers, he’ll be happy!

Next week I’ll let you know how the trip is going…if I can break away from the sunshine and water long enough! Until then, Happy 4th of July! I hope you have your own wonderful celebration too. Just don’t forget to write about it in your journal. You never know what great story idea will come from it!