With three weeks under her fifth grade belt, my daughter is already making strides. It’s amazing to see how she’s developing as a writer. I’ve been closely watching her writing progress over her elementary school years. One of my proudest moments so far was when her second grade teacher commented at parent teacher conference that she was an excellent writer, and was able to write for different purposes and audiences. I wanted to cartwheel down the hall, but instead shook her teacher’s hand and smiled.
She brought home her first fifth grade writing assignment a couple of nights ago. She’d begun a draft of a story that was a take on our family trip to Marine Land in Niagara Falls a few summers ago. It was full of action, suspense, metaphors and similes. It showcased her maturity as a writer so far. It had a quality about it that I’d never seen so clearly in former grades, and in her other stories. It had voice.
I could tell she was enjoying the writing process so much that at 10:00pm my husband and I had to stop her and promise that she could continue in the morning before school. I didn’t think she would after she’d written 3 full pages, but she did. The next morning she wrote another page while eating a bowl of Cheerios.
Watching her made me the remember my childhood and how I’d steal away in my bedroom or find a patch of sunshine and lay in the family room and write until my heart’s content. Watching her made me want to go back to school and relish in those assignments that allowed me to discover, and develop my voice.
Here are some books that have been my touchstones when working on my craft. What are some of yours?
Carol Higgins-Lawrence wrote her first story at the age of five. Her father paid her a quarter for it and she's been writing ever since. She's taken a variety of courses in writing for children. Multicultural perspectives are of particular interest to her. Carol is of Jamaican descent and was born and raised in Canada. She has a BA in Communications and Sociology and she has completed coursework towards a MA in TESOL. She has worked as a literacy educator for the past 15 years. She currently lives in Brooklyn, NY with her husband and two young children. You can visit her website at carolhl.weebly.com
One of the best things about homeschooling is that I get to teach my kids how to write! But I have a hard time understanding my reluctant writers. How can they stare at a blank page for SO long without filling it with wonderful words? But we’ve all been there. Sometimes it’s hard to get the words on the page. Here are 3 strategies that I use for my kids and myself when we’re struggling to write.
2. Write Stream of Consciousness. Sometimes when we write what we are thinking, and let go of worrying about the perfect word combination, we come up with the most wonderful combination of words....or not. I give my kids permission to write: “I don’t know what to write” over and over again if they want to and somehow, that’s never happened. Even if that does happen, there are words on the page.
And if all else fails, watch this chicken video. It's a well known fact at our house that chickens inspire ideas. What helps you overcome writer’s block?
Kirsti Call is a homeschooling mom of five. Her debut picture book, The Raindrop Who Couldn't Fall, came out December 2013 with Character Publishing. Her family band, Calling Out, plays songs written by her children. She contributes to Writer's Rumpus, and Kids are Writers. If you visit her house, you’ll likely find her watching her backyard chickens or writing, of course. You can find out more about her at www.kirsticall.com.
Whether you are an aspiring writer or an accomplished author, there is so much to be aware of in this industry. You should take classes to keep your skills honed (like the ones offered here by the fabulous Children's Book Academy), read newsletters and blogs to find out what's going on, review award- winning books to see what's HOT, not to mention just keeping up with your own social media by tweeting, making facebook comments, etc. Whew! That's A LOT of stuff!
The one question that many aspiring writers have, is "how do I get an agent?" Until now, I couldn't really answer that question. Like many of you, I sent a bazillion queries to agents for many different projects. All were rejected. Oh, I got close with a few. Instead of the form rejection, I had graduated to the "It's fun, I like it, blah, blah... BUT It's just not for me" or "I just didn't connect with it." It was soo frustrating.
Then I found a place where agents tell you what they want. I mean they put it right out there -- in 150 characters or less-- what they are looking for. Suddenly, this whole process got a LOT easier.
What am I talking about? It's called the Manuscript Wish List on Twitter or #MSWL for short. You can access it by searching Twitter with the #MSWL hashtag or they have it on a handy dandy website now:
What is it? A list of manuscripts that agents and editors would like to see. How cool is that?
How do you use it?
1) It's searchable. If you go to the website, on the left side of the page you can search by agent, editor, genre, or age range.
2) You scroll down to see what everyone has there
3) The idea is NOT to use this to write specifically what they are asking for, although if you are searching for ideas that would be marketable, this is the place to go.
4) Use this to find the agent that is looking for the manuscript or proposal that you have ready.
5) When you find an agent, be sure to go to their agency website to check out their submission guidelines.
A few things to remember:
When you submit, follow the agency guidelines exactly. In doing so, you have shown the agent that you know how to follow directions.
But also put the #MSWL hashtag in the subject line. Some agents have set it up so that these queries get reviewed faster than the rest in the query slush pile.
Why? Because you took the time to give them what they wanted. This is a HUGE plus!!
I have been watching the #MSWL ever since it came out and I've seen alot of agent success stories through this. I'm proud to say that I am now one of them!!
I used #MSWL to get my agent Clelia Gore, with Martin Literary Management. It happened so fast, too. I sent my #MSWL query and in less than an hour she had responded saying she'd like to talk to me about my manuscript. Was it "the talk?" It turned out to be so.
The funny thing was I sent emails to two other agents through #MSWL and both were interested, one offered and the other one might have but she got back to me too late.
Will this happen all the time? Unfortunately, No. But using #MSWL is like having a crystal ball to peek into the minds of the agents to see what they want. It's a whole lot easier than just closing your eyes and throwing a dart and hoping you hit a moving bullseye (which is what querying felt like before.).
Good luck to everyone querying. And remember-- Do you #MSWL? You should!
A self-professed science geek, Jennifer is the author of over twenty nonfiction and fiction books. She has 3 books coming out with National Geographic Kids (2015 & 2016) and one with Charlesbridge (2016). She is now proudly represented by agent Clelia Gore of Martin Literary Management .
You can find Jennifer at www.JenniferSwansonBooks.com
This month I'd like to introduce my friend and colleague, and always a first reader of my early drafts, Susan Krawitz, who recently won the Sidney Taylor Manuscript Award for her unpublished work, Viva Rose.
Since 1985, the Association of Jewish Libraries has been offering an annual $1,000 prize for a children’s book manuscript for ages 8-13 that presents Jewish life in a positive light. The award memorializes Sydney Taylor, author of the classic All-of-a-Kind Family series. The deadline for this year’s contest is September 30th. For more info, go to this website:http://jewishlibraries.org/content.php?page=Sydney_Taylor_Manuscript_Award
Susan's story follows
and i hope you all
enjoy reading this
month's guest post,
which follows. . .
Where did your story come from? is a question I often ask editing clients. Knowing the writer’s first idea spark can help me see places where the train of writing goals aligns with or runs off the rails. But it also offers me a hint of something writers themselves may not be aware of—the story’s thematic engine.
Writers often mention an emotional event behind this inciting inspiration—something they saw/felt/lived through/overheard. Often, it’s something that to most people would seem unremarkable, but for them, worked like the grains of sand that inspire entire pearls.
What turns one person’s rock into another’s gemstone is a glint of thematic resonance with their own life story. Often, we’re not aware of this consciously. All we know is that this snippet of overheard conversation, or that sighting of a damaged butterfly sticks so persistently it must become story.
"The story must strike a nerve — in me. My heart should start pounding when I hear the first line in my head. I start trembling at the risk." Writer Susan Sontag.
But sometimes, finding the real beating heart of the inspiration takes a bit of digging. The fundamental seed of my middle grade novel Viva, Rose!, came from a childhood memory of seeing a colorful Mexican serape draped over a chair in a bedroom of my great Aunt Hannah’s house in Bensonhurst Brooklyn. Eventually, I realized the serape had to be connected to stories I’d been told about my grandfather’s cousins Rose and Abe who lived in San Antonio Texas. Rose had a lovely singing voice and flaming red hair, and her brother Abe dressed like a cowboy, pool-sharked the locals at the billiard hall, and in his early twenties, defied the restrictions of his Russian immigrant orthodox Jewish family to ride with Pancho Villa’s gang during the Mexican Revolution.
A cowboy relative who’d chosen a life of radical adventure was fun to wonder about. Many years later, I gave my sister a T-shirt with a picture of Pancho Villa’s gang on it, and we joked about which bandito might be our cousin. And then she came back from a trip to Texas with a copy of an article she’d found in a San Antonio library about Abe himself that confirmed our family legends and created some new ones as well.
It was the first story idea I’d ever had that told me it had to be written as a novel. But it wasn’t until I realized that a youthful Rose had to be the protagonist that I was finally able to write it.
So the glimpse of the serape was where this story came from, and the larger-than-life tales of western cousins. But from my down-the-road perspective, I’ve realized that the real reason this idea stuck and grew was the story of personal definition and self-actualization it represented. That’s also why the story didn’t really move for me until I streamed it through Rose. As the younger sibling, she was still tied to her parents’ rules and boundaries as she watched her brother gallop off. In spite of the fact that Abe physically risked his life, she was actually the character with the highest emotional stakes and biggest potential growth arc (essential qualities, btw, for a story’s protagonist).
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the theme of self-definition appears in some form in every work of fiction I’ve ever written. And if you look over your own work, I bet you’ll also be able to see the glint of your own special thematic resonance shining within them as well.
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