Feeling Thankful

My friend K.T.s turkey cupcake, based on the design from Whats New, Cupcake?
My friend K.T.s turkey cupcake, based on the design from Whats New, Cupcake? by Karen Tack & Alan Richardson

Okay, I confess, I’m Canadian, so my Thanksgiving Day is long over. Still, I thought I’d take today’s post to list five writing-related things I’m grateful for this year, in honour of my friends south of the 49th parallel.

  1. My health – my concussion recovery is a work-in-progress: I still can’t read at the end of the day, drive, or watch a movie on the big screen. But compared to where I was last year (unable to even look at the computer or tv, crippled with migraines, and spending most of my day sleeping – or at least lying in a dark room), I’ll take it. I’m well enough to write, even if I have to take breaks, and I’m back in my online critique group. And that’s good enough for now.
  2. Getting to be an almost-full-time writer – now that all my kids are in school, I’ve officially converted from Stay-at-Home Mom to Work-from-Home Writer (yay!). Even though we’ve had a fair number of sick days this year, I’m still getting lots done.
  3. My family – okay, I know I said this list would be writing related, but I couldn’t not include them. Not only is my awesome, supportive husband the main reason I get to be an almost-full-time writer, but my fabulous kids inspire me daily. (Plus, after a scary illness that resulted in a middle of the night ER visit last week, I’m feeling even more grateful than ever for them.)
  4. Getting an Agent (squee!) – this was the goal I’ve been working toward for more than three years now, and I was thrilled to sign with Brianne Johnson of Writers House back in May (for the story of how it happened, click here.) Bri’s been so encouraging and helpful – and her revision notes are amazing! I wouldn’t be the writer I am today without her help.
  5. My still Top Secret project – even though I can’t tell you about it yet, I can say I’m grateful for the opportunity to work on it. With any luck, I’ll be able to share that news soon. Really soon. (So stay tuned.)

And that’s it, the five writing-related things I’m most grateful for this year. What about you? What are you thankful for? Share your list in the comments.

Writer @k_callard shares what’s she’s thankful for over on her blog. http://wp.me/p4iSYz-dz (Click to tweet)

What are you thankful for? Writer @k_callard wants to know. http://wp.me/p4iSYz-dz (Click to tweet)

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CANSCAIP Conference Impressions

Some of the books I bought at the conference this weekend, including one by my agency brother and all-around nice guy, Wesley King.
Some of the books I bought at the conference this weekend, including one by my agency brother and all-around nice guy, Wesley King.

Last weekend I had the great pleasure of attending CANSCAIP (Canadian Society of Children’s Authors, Illustrators, and Performers)’s Packaging Your Imagination Conference. This was my first ever CANSCAIP event, and I had a blast.

I’m not going to go into specifics of what learned, since that wouldn’t be fair to all the people who paid to attend the event (or the people who were paid to provide the content), but I will say I came away inspired and invigorated.

I think my favourite part of the whole day was the opening keynote speech by Loris Lesynski. I was a stranger to her work before the conference, but bought three of her books before leaving. Seriously, if you write (or aspire to write) rhyming picture books, you need to go check her out. The way she plays with language is not only amazing, but inspiring. I can only hope to write as well as she does one day.

I also went to a panel about the differences between writing YA Sci-Fi and Fantasy and writing adult Sci-Fi and Fantasy. To be honest, I think the differences could be summed up just by looking at the panel, which was composed of 5 female writers. Seriously, though, I came away with a great reading list and an itch to try my hand at a YA Fantasy (because, you know, I don’t have enough projects already on the go :D).

There was another panel on the future of publishing, featuring some Canadian editors and agents, who bemoaned the lack of an “Upper Middle Grade” (age 12-15) category for readers – making them totally my kind of people. 😀

Finally, I went a workshop on Picture Books, led by an editor from Canadian Publisher Groundwood Books, where I learned the ideal length for a PB in Canada is 800-1000 words. You can bet I’ll be sharing that info with Bri!

I also enjoyed meeting some people I’d previously only interacted with online – critique partners, network members, and even another of Bri’s clients – as well as being introduced to new faces, and re-connecting with old friends.

The other benefit I got from the conference came from my One-on-One critique session, which this time took the form of a Social Media evaluation. I’ll confess that the critique wasn’t quite what I was expecting, but I did come away with lots of things to think about (and change). It looks like my blog is going to undergo a bit of a transformation in the next few weeks, so don’t be scared if things look different next time you pop by.

Right, off to go work on revising both my MG and my blog. See you next week.

Ever wondered what a CANSCAIP conference is like? @k_callard shares her thoughts. http://wp.me/p4iSYz-df (Click to tweet)

Missed last weekend’s CANSCAIP conference? Let @k_callard fill you in. http://wp.me/p4iSYz-df (Click to tweet)

You Have to Break a Few Eggs…

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You can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs – any cook will tell you that. (Bonus points if you just thought, “But LOOK what HAPPENED to the COOK!”*)

What does that have to do with writing?

Everything. At least for first drafts and revisions.

When it comes to first drafts you have to be willing to make mistakes. If you spend too much time trying to make every little detail perfect, you’ll never get past the first page. First drafts are the place to explore thoughts and ideas, to let your pen (or fingers on the keyboard) fly. I’m not saying you shouldn’t plan – I’m a reformed pantser, myself – but you should give yourself permission to write badly. If a phrase doesn’t ring true, or your dialogue sounds clunky, don’t spend hours stressing over it, move on and keep writing.

In fact,  I’ve been known to skip over things when I can’t figure out the phrasing or what needs to happen. Sometimes I’ll leave a note in caps (EM SAYS SOMETHING WITTY) or (ZANE ESCAPES…SOMEHOW) -especially during NaNo- other times I’ll just leave a blank space and give myself time to dwell on it when I’m not writing.

But this “breaking eggs” philosophy can also apply to revisions. This week Bri asked me to work on a fairly significant revision of a PB I’d shown her. In previous revisions I’d tried to hang on to my favorite phrases, which resulted in drafts that weren’t much different from the original. This time I gave myself permission to break eggs – to just write out a new draft, no matter how badly it turned out, because then at least I’d have a basis for my revision.

And I did. And it wasn’t as bad as I’d feared. In fact, the new version came out quite nicely (well, okay, we’ll see what my crit partners say). And all because I let go of my fear of imperfection.

Fear can paralyze even the best writers, preventing great ideas from ever hitting the page. So next time you’re not sure whether something will work or not, let go of your fears, and give yourself permission to break a few eggs.

Do you abandon your fears when it comes to first drafts? Tell me about it in the comments.

Writers, don’t be afraid to write a bad first draft (or new version). @k_callard explains why. http://wp.me/p4iSYz-d9 (Click to tweet).

*If you haven’t watched Clue: the Movie, go do it now. Seriously, you don’t know what you’re missing.

What a Character!

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Well, I did it. I made the deadline for my honestly-I-promise-I-should-be-able-to-tell-you-soon-but-for-now-it’s-still-all-top-secret project. (Yay me!)

I’ve spent most of this week enjoying not being on a deadline by spending my time carving intricate details out of fondant for my Threadcakes contest entry (keep an eye on my Twitter feed later this week if you want to see it), and thinking about future writing projects.

And mostly what I’ve been thinking about is character-driven picture books.

The last time Bri and I talked, she told me she’d like me to try my hand at one, and, since I’m doing PiBoIdMo (see this post for details), this seemed like the perfect time to try.

Character-driven picture books are, as the name says, where the character drives the story – not the plot. The characters in these stories have big personalities, and their stories could only happen to them. In fact, if you took them out of their stories everything would fall apart.

Some examples of character-driven picture books include: Mo Willems’s Pigeon books, and Elephant & Piggie books, Jane O’Connor’s Fancy Nancy books, Melanie Watt’s Scaredy Squirrel books, and James Dean’s Pete the Cat.

Characters in these books have a few things in common:

  1. They’re likable – this may seem like a no-brainer, but your character has to be someone kids (and their parents) will want to keep coming back to.
  2. They’re relatable – the MC doesn’t have to be a kid, but they do have to have child-like qualities. Kids love being able to see themselves in books.
  3. They’re unique – there’s no one else out there like Fancy Nancy or the Pigeon. Their stories only work for them – if you pulled them out and replaced them with another MC, you’d have a completely different story, because no one else would react exactly the same way.
  4. They can be summed up in a few words – Fancy Nancy likes things fancy, Elephant worries so Piggie doesn’t have to, Pete the Cat is chill, etc. They all have one big personality trait that defines them.

Once you’ve come up with a character who fits these criteria, the next step is to get to know them inside and out – their fears, motivations, desires, and quirks. Sure, they may be defined in a few words, but that definition is going to leak over into all parts of their life. The key to having a character readers love is knowing them, and making sure their actions always stay true to their personalities.

Finally, after you’ve come up with your character, you need something to happen to them. Think up a list of possible situations and decide which one holds the most story possibilities for your character. You could even write out a few and see which story is the strongest and funniest.

So, that’s where I’m at. Brainstorming character ideas, and situations to put them in. What about you? Ever tried your hand at a character-driven picture book? Have a favorite one you’d like to recommend? Tell me in the comments.

What’s your favorite character-driven PB? @k_callard wants to know. http://wp.me/p4iSYz-d3 (Click to Tweet)

How do you write a character-driven PB? @k_callard shares her thoughts. http://wp.me/p4iSYz-d3 (Click to Tweet)