WFMAD Day 8 – accountability


You made it through the first week!

Most of you.

If you were able to write at least 15 minutes a day for the last week then HUZZAH!! What (if anything) felt different about this past week’s writing?

If you stumbled, then I will pat the back of your hand, brew you a cup of tea and murmur soothing sounds. It’s OK. I understand. That’s why we do this project in the first place, because we all fumble and stumble a lot when it comes to our writing.

If you don’t want to be soothed and find yourself wishing I was more of a drill sergeant, then brace yourself. The following paragraph is for you and you only:

Stop whining and write. Get off your ass and write. Turn off the television and write. Take all the time you use to complain about not-writing and write. Just do the damn thing already!

(I don’t like yelling. Can I stop now, please? And I have the overwhelming urge to make you some tea. Do you take sugar or honey?)

In the Comments yesterday, Jeni asked “Do you ever revise one project and work on a new one at the same time?”

I always have at least two projects going, often more. There is always the Number One Priority Project, but I find it’s helpful to be doing research or scribbling notes on something different at the same time. Jane Yolen once told me she always has many projects going at once and she doesn’t decide what she’s going to work on until she sits down at her desk in the morning and figures out what kind of mood she’s in.

And then there is the difference between writer-projects and author-projects. Right now these are my writer-projects:

  1. Draft of new YA
  2. Research for next historical
  3. Research for next non-fiction picture book
  4. Notes for next series book
  5. play with ideas for fictional picture book

These are my author projects:

  1. Continue generating new website content
  2. Prepare presentations for book tour
  3. Daily blogging for WFMAD

Pretty much every author I know could generate a similar list, if you asked them.


“First, find out what your hero wants, then just follow him!” Ray Bradbury


Turn off the phone and step away from the Internet. And the television. And, and, and…

Today’s prompt:

Write 25 one-sentence descriptions of books that you want to write. You heard me; 25.

If there is still time in your 15 minutes when you are done with the list (or you want to write longer!), expand on the five projects that are the most exciting OR terrifying. Actually, the terrifying ones would be more interesting.


WFMAD Day 7 – Ready for the Close-Up?

When I am teaching writing to students, I sometimes tell them to think of themselves as a film director. Like Clint Eastwood, who dabbles in a little of everything; writing, acting, directing, financing, cooking, etc. The director has assembled her actors (characters), she kind of knows what she wants to do with the scene, but she isn’t quite sure of the specifics (the unfolding of the narrative) or the camera angles.

OK, maybe this director isn’t Clint. I imagine he’d have all of this nailed down before the filming began.

(If you are on an early draft of your project, this analogy make more sense if you think of yourself as Christopher Guest directing, writing, and acting in Best In Show, because so much of the dialog was improvised.)

So there you are, actors/characters standing around yawning, texting, filing nails, eyeing the snack table while you are burning valuable daylight. You know this is supposed to be a scene about two frenemies running into each other at the grocery store, but you can’t figure out how to get the scene started.

In situations like this, I tell the students to experiment with the kinds of shots available to a director; close-up, medium, or long shot. I have often rewritten scenes three times, starting with a different camera angle and length of shot as I try to figure out which works best for the scene. The long shot would show the entire grocery store and would have many different kinds of action. A medium shot would be composed of say, one aisle, and might contain two or three characters.

Choosing the close-up shot is the most challenging of all. It can lead to some of your best writing. At the same time it might make you tear your hair out and register for graduate school courses in accounting, so proceed with patience and tender care for yourself.

The close-up can be maddening because there are so MANY details you can focus on! Which one is the best? The ketchup shelves? The way ketchup and mustard compete for shelf space? The way the smears of red and the yellow look if the character forgot to put his glasses on? (Why did he forget his glasses, btw?) The torn label on the third bottle of Heinz organic ketchup? Or the dried wad of gum sitting on the shelf in front of it?

I’ve found that if I keep pondering until I find the right details to focus on, the rest of the scene falls into place.


“Taking a new step, uttering a new word is what people fear the most.” Fyodor Dostoyevski


Turn off the phone and Internet and tell your loved ones that even though it’s Saturday, you need fifteen minutes to write. Put up your boundaries in a friendly way.

Today’s prompt:

Free-write a scene that starts with a tight close-up on a detail of the scene. If you can’t think of something, take a picture and enlarge it until you can only see one part of it. Write about what you can see, then slowly pull the lens back and incorporate the surrounding details. Once you have close-up details established, go back and make one or more of your characters interact with them, so you have action as well as descriptive narrative.

Need help? Use these photos. (be sure to mouse over the photos for extra help)








WFMAD Day 6 – When The Words Don’t Come

We all have days when the words don’t come.

I hate them.

It’s like all my creativity is frozen in a country that has never been drawn on a map. Write? Me? Ha!

::bangs head on table::

Where do these days come from?

Sometimes you can pinpoint the spot: you are worried about someone you love, another rejection letter arrived or your royalty check was for less money than the postage stamp it took to mail it. Maybe you’re coming down with a virus. Or you ate both pizza AND hot wings for dinner and you woke up to find your body has decided to slide into a semi-coma, complete with depression and headache, to make you suffer for eating such crap.

And then there are the days that mystify you. Everything is fine. You ate chicken and steamed broccoli for dinner. You’ve been flossing. You children help elderly people cross the street and then rescue kittens from storm drains. Your writing is even going well.

But you have one of those days anyway. You wake up sad or irritated with the world and when you set your timer to fifteen minutes and you sit down to write, you get absolutely……… nothing.

Your creativity is frozen.

I have a new way for you to look at those days. I think they are a natural part of the creative rhythm. Everything in nature cycles between fullness and fallow, between wax and wane. Why should your soul be any different?

The trick is to learn to recognize when you’ve stumbled onto a fallow time and to be prepared for it. You don’t want to stop writing – dear heavens, anything but that! Because it’s my experience that these mired, frozen times usually come right before a burst of creativity, and you want to be all limbered up and prepared for when that day dawns.


“You must do the things that you think you cannot do.” Eleanor Roosevelt.

Set… turn off the phone, disconnect the Internet

Today’s prompt: Write about what it feels like to not be able to write. Curse vehemently. Describe your entombed creativity ten different ways. Give it a color, a sound, a song, a name. Describe what it would look like if it were a dog. A zombie. A banker.

Once you are done, take the paper that you wrote on to a safe place. Set it on fire. When the ashes are safely disposed of, go for a walk. Be sure to listen to lots of music for the rest of the day. Things will be better tomorrow.


WFMAD Day 5 – Suckitude plus Confusion


Let me expand on yesterday’s remarks about the suckitude that often pours onto the page in the early stage of a writing project.

I’m going to use the writing of WINTERGIRLS as an example.


When I was first fumbling around with the first draft, I knew that I wanted to write about what it feels like to be trapped in an eating disorder. That was all I knew. I did a lot of free writing –  letting words trickle down my arm and drip on the page. This is one of the first things I wrote, exactly as I wrote it:

“One graham cracker, broken into four pieces.

Sixteen grams of dry, yellow cheese.

Seven grapes.


What did that mean? I had no idea. I was at the Suckitude PLUS Confusion stage of First Draft Writing. Earlier in my writing career, I would have obsessed about those four lines and tried to squeeze them into dialog or develop a scene around them, or waste several hours rearranging them on the page like Christmas decorations on a tree.

But it was an ever-so-slightly wiser me who wrote those four lines. They felt like they were getting closer to the voice of the main character, but I knew that I wasn’t there yet. I kept writing. And then this popped out of my brain:

“They say, “Eat this Camille. Eat this please eat please just this please little bit.”


They are vultures stalking me, wings folded neatly behind them, pink throats studded with white hairs like porcupine quills, thick beaks built for tearing flesh.

They want to snatch a bite – from my calf, maybe, or the inside of my arm – tug the meat from the bone, rip it free and fly away with their treasure.

It is very hard to kill a vulture.”

Except for the fact that I still hadn’t nailed down the name of the main character, and that the last line was unnecessary chicken poo, this felt better. But there was a problem: I had absolutely no idea what it meant or what the heck was going on with the character as she whispered those words to me.

I was confused. And quite sure (again) that I couldn’t write my way out of a wet paper bag. But I kept scribbling. A lot of what I wrote was awful and every once in a while a few lines would appear that felt real. Eventually, I had a bunch of pages that I called the first draft. Here is Page One:

Meh. Underwhelming, tho’ it has many of the elements that made it in the final book. I kept muttering to myself and writing. The second draft wasn’t much better than the first. But the third draft had some life in, enough so that when I reread it from start to finish, I could finally see the direction the story wanted to go. I scribbled all over that draft. See?

A lot of this material wound up moving to the second page in the final draft, but it was at this point – months and months after I started work on the project, that I finally felt like I knew what I was doing. Those lines about the graham cracker and dry cheese were thrown out. The section about being surrounded by stalking birds, hungry to eat her (I changed them from vultures to crows) wound up belonging on pages 264-265 in the final book – about 10 pages from the end of the story.

My point is this: judging your work early in the process or being afraid to write or quitting because you know what you’ve written is chicken poo, or you have no idea what any of it means is ridiculous. Part of the fun of writing is figuring out what it means. It is exciting and gratifying to revise chicken poo into strong storytelling.


Pablo Picasso said “Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.”


Turn off your phone and television.

Today’s prompt:

Choose one of Picasso’s images to study. Write about the person that he painted in the image. Don’t try to make sense of what you write. Just listen to the still, small voice inside. Go weird, dear friends. Venture outside your comfort zone.

Scribble…. Scribble…. Scribble!!

WFMAD Day 4 – The Big Secret of Writing

I could get in a lot of trouble for this.

The Author’s Guild might send ninja zombies to my house. My agent might draw a line through my name in her Big Book. She’ll use my blood for ink. SCBWI will throw my membership card into the ocean. No one will return my calls.

But you guys are all putting your heart into WFMAD. I hear your stress, feel the twangy nerves that vibrate like overtightened cat guts on a battered violin. By now you are figuring out that simply writing for 15 minutes a day will not transform your writing or your life.

At least, it won’t transform those things quickly.

And you are doubting yourself. Your resolve is failing. There are so many other things to do: that job that pays you every week, or family that needs your love and the car needs an oil change or email has piled up or laundry or you need to exercise, and the dog’s nails have to be clipped and your coupons need organizing…

This is why I have to tell you the Secret.

(No, not the Secret Weapon, Sherlock. That’s for another post.)

The Secret of Writing is this: most of the time, your writing is going to suck. Nothing personal, don’t look at me like that. This pertains to ALL writers. Everywhere. And me. Especially me.

The writing that gets turned into a book is usually pretty good when it finally gets to the Magical Book Stage. That’s because the author has busted her butt to make it so. That first draft? It sucked. The second one? A little better, but not by much.

This means that most of the time an author is working on her book, she does so in the full knowledge that at that precise moment, it is pretty crappy. Not a comfortable feeling. But it’s one you can get used to, kind of the like the discomfort that comes when you are stretching your hamstrings. You know it won’t kill you, you wish it didn’t hurt, but it does, so you deal with it and keep stretching.

It is OK if what you write today is a steaming heap of chicken poo. Because this is not a test. It is your imagination sticking a shovel in the ground of your soul and trying to unearth something. If the shovel raises a couple of blisters, are you going to quit? I sure hope not. It is possible to have the voice in your head telling you that your writing sucks…. and IGNORE it. I do. Every day up until the point when the book I’ve worked on for months and months and months is finally ready to be published I hear that inner critic. Because until the very, very end, the book is kind of awful. Until I finish the work. Then it’s not so awful any more.

That’s when I write another book.

My Writing Process = First Draft of Inspiration and Suckitude divided by ((revision + craft)) x 6 drafts).

It’s OK if what you are writing today is not of the quality to be published tomorrow. It means you are human, which gives you permission to write about the human condition. You’ll make it better when you revise, trust me. Just keep writing.

Any questions?


David Almond once said in an interview “Don’t think about doing it or talk about doing it. Do it. Don’t think everything you write has to be good. It can’t be, so feel free to write rubbish. We all know that writing can be difficult, serious, burdensome, etc., but it is also a form of play. So enjoy yourself, and play: doodle and scribble, experiment with possibilities.”

Turn off your phone. Lock the door.

Today’s prompt:

1. Grab a piece of paper and a pencil or pen. Put them in front of you.

2. You are going to read a poem as fast as you can. You are not reading for meaning or enlightenment. You are trolling for words. (You’ll find a link to the poem I want you to use below.)

3. As you read the poem, write down 3 – 5 words or phrases in it that resonate inside you. I don’t care why you choose those words. But find the ones that make your antennae wiggle.

3a. If you can’t find at least 3 words on the first read-through, read it a second time, but you have to read it out loud. You’ll feel it when a word has some weight that your Muse wants you to explore.

4. Write for 15 minutes about those words. You can weave them into a story, stick them in a character’s mouth, or riff on the memories those words evoke in you.

Use this poem: “Completely Friday” by Luis García Montero, translated by Katie King.