Episode 20: Word of the Day- Why

In this episode

Melanie asks herself why, why, why??

Why is WHY so important? 

  • Readers don't read for the what, they read for the why.
  • While writing, constantly ask yourself WHY.
  • Asking why gets you to narrow down that thing you secretly want to write about.
  • You must be both universal and specific.

Jennie, hilariously, chooses a workout station next to a librarian at the gym in order to pick her brain for added insight into the topic.  Jennie and Abby talk about:

  • The struggle children's authors have when choosing the age of their main character (and narrowing down the target age of their readers).
  • How to target readers by being specific. Sometimes by isolating a group of readers, you can ultimately attract a larger audience. (Think Harry Potter-- how many of us were teenage boys when we read Harry Potter?!)
  • You have to dial into who your book is actually for, and to do so you must DECIDE.
  • Make decisions- choose one thing and let the others go.

While we now know that Lewis CK has total issues, back when we recorded this episode he was just another funny comic. Jennie references this clip:

Episode 18: Writing and Parenting are Iterative

in this episode

Parenting and writing are both iterative processes. Having to be flexible with both doesn't mean that one or the other isn't important or deserving of attention. In this episode, Jennie Nash, Abby Mathews, and Melanie Parish talk about how parents have a unique ability as writers because they understand that just as you teach your children concepts that progress over time, so it is with writing - a first draft becomes a final draft (just as a child becomes an adult) through circling back again and again, learning and refining and gaining understanding through process.    

The way real writers work is iterative - you go back again and again to the same concepts, deepening and filling them with nuance.  It's almost how they teach math in school - concepts are taught and gone back to again and again, year after year, and they get more complex or understood on a deeper level.  

The more you learn, the more you go back and lock things in. It’s one of the things that makes it so fun!
— Jennie Nash

A mistake a lot of writers make is thinking that the goal is to crank out a draft and call it a day.  Then you have this thing that might not be what you want it to be, you don't know how to get it to where you want it to be, and there's this push and pull between not wanting to mess with your finished product yet knowing that it's not quite right.  Jennie is teaching Abby and Mel the process of understanding iterative writing.  Nothing is final, ever - it's all a very fluid process, and that allows you the freedom to go back to your work and change it without feeling like you failed the first time.

How do we switch between writer and mom?  The mental switch when you're "writing at the kitchen table" can be a struggle. When your child is in crisis, whether it be a stomach illness or a bad day at school, it's the first priority in your mind and that is absolutely normal and expected. But eventually, even as your kids get older, it can become habit even if you're at the point when you're not solving all their problems anymore. Part of this is asking yourself if this is something you need to take care of immediately, and part of it is letting your writing take up space in your life and your head.  

Jennie talks about May Respicio and her writing process - she wrote her book while she had two small children at home.  She made a commitment to herself to write at least five minutes a day.  Five minutes at minimum - some days it would be only this, and some days it would be much more, but eventually, May had her finished product, The House That Lou Built

You can make progress in small chunks of time, but it’s the commitment to the process that gets you where you need to go.
— Jennie Nash
The House That Lou Built
By Mae Respicio

Episode 17: On Being Derivative & Abby's Feedback from Blueprint for a Book Lesson 1

In this episode:

I got a little emotional in this episode talking about my story. A lot of unconscious elements bubbled up as I worked through Week 1 of Blueprint for a Book. Jennie helps me sift through all my ideas and thoughts and organize them into something I can work with to create a story. Here are some of the things we talked about:

  • The point of your story is usually a cliche, so don't let that hold you back. To use everyone's favorite comparison, the point of Harry Potter is "love conquers all."
  • On being derivative: no one works in a vacuum.
  • Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon
  • On being derivative: it's helpful to remember and understand the tropes in your particular genre.
If you’re worried about being too derivative, then you’re probably just worried about the plot, when what the writer really has to worry about is the why- the deep level why.
— Jennie Nash
  • I get emotional talking about my story and the parallels my husband drew between my story ideas and his relationship with his grandfather. 
  • You can draw from other stories but you design your world to push your characters. 
  • Jennie helps me organize all my thoughts into something workable. 
  • We talk about kids' books, and how I am afraid to make it too dark or too sad, but also feel like that is where my writing is leading me. I feel like I'm trying to force my story to be comedic, and something feels off.  
Don’t shy away from the thing that you’re feeling that is dark and scary as a mom because that’s going to be the thing that makes your book amazing.
— Jennie Nash

Jennie's Recommended Reading:

The Girl Who Drank the Moon
By Kelly Barnhill

I reference an article I read in Psychology Today called The 5 Traits of Extraordinary People, by Dr. David Sack.  I also reference a TED Talk by Tim Ferriss called Smash Fear, Learn Anything. 

Episode 16: Melanie's Feedback from Blueprint for a Book Lesson 1

Things we cover in this episode:

  • Killer sentence

  • Why You Are Writing This Book

  • What’s the point of your story?

  • Jacket Copy

  • Working titles

A book is an extremely complex and deeply layered thing.  It doesn’t matter where you are in it - it’s a hard thing to hold in your head.  The big picture work is the work that most writers skip over.  The purpose of these exercises is to really pin that down.  

Click to tweet: @@One of the superpowers of a good book coach or editor is to see your book before you can@@

The big picture, the WHY of your book is the most important but most ignored and missed aspect of book writing.  There is usually a really potent and powerful reason why writers write what they do, and getting at what your work means to you is getting at why your readers will come to your book.  

The point of the jacket copy exercise comes from the start-up world - with a start-up, you want to have a prototype of your project aka minimum viable product.  And although you can’t make a minimum viable product in a book (you have to write the whole thing), the book jacket exercise a) describes what happens in the book, b) describes why it is meaningful to readers.  

  • Context - where are we in the world?  

  • Whose story is this and why are we following them?  What do they want and what is standing in their way?

  • Character motivations and story arc need to be clear.

In general, what questions are ok to leave for the reader and what questions do writers need to answer?  The mistake that most writers make is that they leave too much out.  What makes a compelling story is not making the reader come up with those answers, but giving them enough to understand why it matters to them and giving them a reason to care is paramount.  Err on the side of giving too much information (except sometimes in cases of mystery or thriller).  People do not read to find out what happens - they read to find out why it happens, both in terms of characters and plot. What we want in the story is to get to the universal why that everyone carries within them. Readers need something to identify with.

On giving your readers enough information, and pacing: read the first 5 chapters of the first Harry Potter book and notice when JK Rowling raises a question in your mind about a character’s motivations or role in the world, and notice as she begins to answer those.  Rowling is pulling you along, giving you just enough to go along and getting those answers just in time. She also builds trust with the reader in answering most of the questions she brings up.  If you’re writing and trying to figure it out as you go along, you’ll lose your reader.  Write with authority and know where you’re going before you start, and you’ll know what to give out, when.  

The Blueprint exercises are a plotter’s map without being too rigid.  Pantsers’ and plotters’ superpowers are brought together to help you get to the point of your story and why it matters to you, and ultimately your reader.

Episode 15: Week 1's Blueprint for a Book Lessons

In this episode: 

Jennie introduces us to Week 1 of the Blueprint for a Book class. If you are interested in seeing the lessons, LINK HERE

  • Set the foundation of your book strong so you can move forward with confidence.

  • Think BEFORE you write.

  • WHY are you writing?

  • Define the POINT of your story with a killer sentence and jacket copy, as well as a working title.

  • The majority of writers make the mistake of not thinking about the big picture. Instead they just focus on what happens plot-level.

  • We don’t read to find out WHAT happens, but we write as if that’s the case. In reality, we read to find out WHY.

  • Example, in John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany, he gives everything away on the first page. Despite already knowing WHAT happens, readers keep turning pages. 

  • The problem in a poorly written story is rarely with the plot, but rather with the internal why things happen. You have to tie your plot to the internal why in a strategic and intentional way.

Jennie references John Irving's A Prayer for Owen Meany, where Irving gives it all away on the first page. Here's the opening line of his book:

I am doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice – not because of his voice, or because he was the smallest person I ever knew, or even because he was the instrument of my mother’s death, but because he is the reason I believe in God; I am a Christian because of Owen Meany.
— John Irving, A Prayer for Owen Meany

BONUS Laura Franzini, Matchmaker: How Writers and Coaches Get Paired

Managing Editor for Author Accelerator, Laura Franzini, joins Abby & Mel on Mom Writes to give us the lowdown on the human-centered process of pairing writers and coaches.

IN THIS EPISODE

  • Get to know Laura as she talks about her time at the Boston Globe, the LA Times, and how she was part of the Pulitzer Prize-winning team that covered the San Bernadito shootings. 
  • Listen as she talks about how she "reads" the needs of writers, picking up on subtle clues in their applications for Author Accelerator.
  • Her process of elimination to narrow down which coaches would be a good fit for each writer
  • Abby and Mel talk about how spouses sometimes make the worse CPs!
  • Coaches also read a writer's application before the final pairing.
This relationship is holistic. It’s not just about the writing. It’s about two people having a connection, being supportive.
— Laura Franzini
  • Click to tweet: @@The writer-coach relationship is holistic, about more than writing. It's about connection.@@ 
  • Aligning on a writing level is the top priority, but Laura also shoots to make non-writing connections and bonds between writer and coach. 
I’m the number 1 fan of everyone’s story... they just don’t know it!
— Laura Franzini
  • LINK TO JENNIE NASH'S UNIVERSE OF SUPPORT
  • Laura reminds us that some coaches have a near-invisible online presence. And others market their online presence to readers, not other writers. The writer-reader persona may be different than the writer-coach persona, and oftentimes coaches prefer to edit in a genre outside of their own. 

Episode 14: Needing and Accepting Help with Your Writing

In this episode

In writing and in life:

  • We all need help.

  • Asking for help is hard, but knowing what you need is harder.

In writing:

  • Everyone who wants to write a book is a reader.

  • Everyone who wants to write a book also writes a lot in daily life.

  • But no one is taught how to actually write a book in school.

  • Even though writers are avid readers, our brains are wired to get immersed in story such that you aren’t paying attention to the technicalities of how it’s done. So we need help.

  • As proof that all writers get help, just check the acknowledgments page of any book!

If I ask you to think about something, you can decide not to. But if I make you feel something? Now I have your attention.
— Lisa Cron, Wired for Story

Recommended Reading: 

Also, speaking of acknowledgments, check out this article from NPR titled #ThanksForTyping Spotlights Unnamed Women In Literary Acknowledgments. It's also a pretty cool hashtag to follow on Twitter! 

Episode 13: Melanie's First Book Coaching Experience

In this episode 

In this episode, Jennie reads Melanie Parish her welcome letter to the Blueprint program and gives initial critiques on her submission.

Some highlights (or lowlights, if you’re Melanie!):

  • People often make the same mistakes, so the book coaches at Author Accelerator often say the same things to the authors they are coaching.  You’re not alone in facing the problems you face with your work.  

  • Being honest with yourself, and with your coach, is key.

  • Context:  We have to know what is happening, and where we are in time/space.  

  • Dialogue - make sure it is in context, both in time and space.

  • Character: Don’t make the reader guess on what your character is thinking and feeling.

  • Physical reactions are NOT internal reactions!  Don’t make the mistake of adding in too many physical reactions and leave out what is going on in your character’s head.

  • Again, don’t make your reader guess about information!  Give them as much to go on as possible.

  • Be careful about chronology - don’t confuse the reader.  Be very clear about what is happening, when, and why.

  • The big action needs to happen on stage, where we can watch it unfold.

  • Understanding the structure of a scene is key - what happens, and what drives the next scene, is important to remember as you’re writing.

Melanie wasn’t especially surprised at the criticisms Jennie had for her.  Jennie says that writers need to trust that feeling when something isn’t right- that’s the muscle that needs to be built and exercised.  Your instinct can be honed and trained to avoid these pitfalls.  

Melanie highlights the problems of making big changes after you’ve written a large chunk of your manuscript.  As we learn, getting help from a book coach or editor after you’ve written so much is challenging and it’s important to remember that you don’t need to hold onto your work so tightly.  If the words aren’t serving you, you’ll know it, and real writers know when they need to throw stuff out.  In weeks 4-5 of the Blueprint program, Melanie and Abby will get lots of practice in “throwing things out.”

Your words can’t be precious.  The words you write have to serve the story.  If they don’t, you have to be able to throw them out.
— Jennie Nash

 

Jennie gives suggestions on taking your old manuscript and making an entirely new document that helps you process what you decide to keep and what you decide to trash.  What passes the test and meets the criteria that allows those words to come over the wall?  Only the things that are working for your story, that serve the story, get to come over the wall.    

What’s a fatal flaw to a manuscript?  According to Jennie, sometimes it can be endless descriptions of physical things.  Physical aspects like weather, details of rooms, abstract tangents on things that don’t relate or make logical sense - in small doses they can add to the story, but humans are much more interesting and they’re what your reader wants to read.  Don’t let your story go off the rails on tangents that don’t serve your character’s purpose and your point in writing the story.  Don’t let your characters be puppets on a stage - let them connect to your readers over the things that are universal to everyone.  Tell your readers who your characters are and why they matter, and why they do the things they do.  

Jennie, Mel, and Abby discuss how you decide what to keep in your story, and what to throw away, and the hard questions you have to ask yourself when you’re trying to decide what in your story is worth fighting for.  Jennie describes the process of habitual, deadline-oriented accountability that Mel and Abby will experience in the Author Accelerator Blueprint program, and how it can help them finish their novels while getting the fundamental foundations right.  

Episode 12: An Introduction to Fan Fiction with Michelle Hazen & A Mom Writes/Lulu, Jr. Giveaway

Scroll to the bottom for information on our Lulu, Jr. giveaway, Ending Monday, Oct. 9!

I think fan fiction is the perfect gateway drug to the crack that is original fiction writing.
— Michelle Hazen

Do your kids want to participate in NaNoWriMo but perhaps they aren't sure what to write about? Bestselling Kindle Worlds author, Michelle Hazen, gives us the perfect solution: FAN FICTION! (By the way, Michelle is also one of Author Accelerator's book coaches. So not only can you read her work, but you can work with her, too!)

In This Episode:

  • Fan fiction is an easy start because:
    • It can be any length- from 500 words to 300,000 words!
    • You can post it at any length you want- chapter by chapter as you work or wait and post a finished book. 
    • You can use it as training wheels to learn different writing skills, such as plotting, dialogue, and voice differentiation. Michelle talks about how you can use fan fiction as a template to follow and gives us some good exercises to try. 
    • There are also lots of online prompts to get you started if you don't know where to begin. 
  • You automatically have a built-in audience. Try FanFiction.net or WattPad. 
  • Fan fiction reviews vs. book reviews: people who review fan fictions are often speaking directly to the writer, while book reviews are generally speaking to other readers. 
  • Michelle also gives us an overview of Kindle Worlds. 

Click to tweet: @@  @michellehazen says fan fiction is a gateway drug to the crack that is original writing@@

I love the idea with fan fiction of art inspiring art- where music inspires story and movies inspire music to be made. It’s this beautiful renaissance of the creative process to have all these multimedia blends. Fan fiction is a great example of that.
— Michelle Hazen

Here is the link to one of Michelle's blog posts about using fan fiction to learn to write dialogue. Click here

And here are the links to the Fan Fiction and WattPad sites. 


A Mom Writes Podcast Giveaway!

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Here at Mom Writes we believe that sharing your passion for writing with your children is super important- for you and for them. And I personally believe that one of the most powerful ways to capture a child's attention, grow their imagination, and make them feel important is to give them something real. While homemade books made from folded printer paper and held together with staples are wonderful and precious (and real in their own right), imagine how proud your child would feel to hold an actual, printed book from a publisher? Close your eyes and imagine yourself holding your finished book in your hands. If you've already published, grab a copy of your first book and try to remember how you felt the first time you saw your name and your words in print. Now imagine the powerful emotion that same act would have for your child's confidence in his or her writing ability. Let me show you how it made my daughter feel the first time she held HER book in her hands:

My daughter, Beatrix, with her finished Illustory, Jr. book. See that smile?! Also see that chocolate cake? She made me serve cake for her "book birthday." I didn't raise a fool... 

My daughter, Beatrix, with her finished Illustory, Jr. book. See that smile?! Also see that chocolate cake? She made me serve cake for her "book birthday." I didn't raise a fool... 

That's why I called the folks over at Lulu, Jr. and they agreed to give us not one, but FOUR Illustory, Jr. kits to give away! And a whole bunch of swag! 

Are you in? Of course, if you don't win, you can always get yourself one here

Due to a glitch with the entry form, we are extending the giveaway until Monday, October 9, 2017! 

CLICK HERE TO ENTER!

Illustory graphic.JPG

Episode 11: Wattpad and NaNoWriMo with Maya and Allegra Walker

Today writer-mom Maya Rushing Walker and her 15-year old daughter, Allegra, join us on Mom Writes to talk about Allegra's successful experiences with NaNoWriMo. Allegra first did NaNo at the tender age of 11... and won! She has participated a total of 4 times since then, although she says she only won 3 times. That's 3 times more than me, so I was undeniably impressed with Allegra.

During the course of our conversation, we talk about the pros (and cons) of Wattpad. Wattpad is a free online storytelling community. Allegra has used Wattpad as a way to get her writing in front of readers- a lot of readers. And while she doesn't think Wattpad is the best place for feedback, it is a good place to start if you are interested in sharing your work with a large number of readers. Allegra tells us that Wattpad readers like writers who post frequently, so it might be a good place to share your daily NaNo writings. 

However, Maya does caution parents that Wattpad does have mature content, so you will want to monitor how your teens use the site.  

Episode 10: Doing NaNoWriMo with Your Children with Book Coach Kemlo Aki

Book coach Kemlo Aki's daughter was 11-years old the first time they did NaNoWriMo. And guess what? They both won! Listen to today's episode to see how Kemlo used NaNoWriMo as a tool to instill a love of writing in her children. I'm going to call Kemlo NaNoWriMom from now on!

In today's episode:

  • Kemlo wanted her kids to have a passion for writing first. And let the more technical aspects of writing come second.

  • When using NaNoWriMo as a tool with kids, you have to shift your perspective and evaluate success in a different way.

  • NaNo with kids is more a way to practice writing and creating a writing habit. It’s for the fun of telling stories, writing something, experimenting with words.

  • It also helped her children not be so intimidated by word count. Later when they were asked to do a five-page paper it felt like nothing!

  • In the end, her daughter would sometimes polish parts of her NaNo work and publish it privately as a gift for family at Christmas.

  • When kids have a goal that is meaningful to them, it’s more motivating than some top down imposed goal of so many words.

NaNoWriMo was about not being intimidated by having to crank out pages. So later when they had to writes essays, it was like, ‘What? Five pages? That’s all?’
— Kemlo Aki

Kemlo's Recommended Reading: 

Families Writing
By Peter Stillman

Episode 9: NaNoWriMo Tips, Fast-Draft with YA Author Rachel Solomon

Today's amazing guest is YA author (and total master fast-drafter), Rachel Solomon. You can find more information about Rachel here. Her book, You'll Miss Me When I'm Gone is available January 2018 from Simon & Schuster/Simon Pulse.

In this episode:

Rachel's writing process includes fast drafting. Here's how she goes about writing 50K words in a month:

  • plotting, plotting, plotting
  • chapter by chapter outlines, which she often writes nonlinearly
  • keep notes of plot points or details that need to be included along the way
  • if research bogs you down, research after you get the story out, aka do things like {insert medical research here}
  • If you get stuck, don't stagnate. Skip around!
  • her personal mad-libs style of drafting
  • ways to keep track of your personal writing/word count goals
  • the importance of *ahem* getting dressed and ready each morning, even if you never leave the house
You'll Miss Me When I'm Gone
By Rachel Lynn Solomon

Episode 8: NaNoWriMo Tips with Author Jade Eby

We are joined today by hybrid romance author Jade Eby! Jade has written 18 books and participated in NaNoWriMo for 10+ years. She brings a lot of NaNo experience to the conversation as we talk about how to prepare for NaNo and what to do with all those NaNo manuscripts!  

Click to tweet: @@The joy of writing is the fun. NaNo is a good time to play! @jade_eby@@

In this episode: 

  • The difference between the years she was successful with NaNo and the years that she wasn’t? Jade says it all comes down to planning.

  • To successfully prepare for NaNo, Jade Eby says, “The most important thing is knowing where your story is going and what your story is. Like Lisa Cron of Story Genius says, story isn’t what happens to a bunch of people, it’s really about how your character changes and how that affects everything else within the story. Knowing that going in is so important, because it will be so much easier to get those words down.”

  • Jade time tracks and mood tracks her words, to realize the correlation between her mood and her writing progress. 

  • Her planning timeline pre-NaNo (or for any story, really) is dependent on the amount of research required for the book.

  • If you aren’t comfortable with your planning by the time November 1 rolls around, Jade reminds us that NaNo is fluid. If you start and you make progress, you’re a winner.

  • Find your place on the spectrum of NaNo- between being intensely serious about it on one end to not taking it seriously enough and slapping a crappy manuscript up for sale on Dec 1.

  • Jade was a teen the first time she did NaNoWriMo.

  • How can we use NaNo to instill a love of writing in our kids?  

  • Jade is the perfect NaNo candidate because after a decade of writing she knows that her best work is produced by this process: fast draft followed by several revision drafts. “It’s all about trusting your process.”

The joy of writing is the fun. NaNo is a good time to play, experiment with something new, and see what happens.
— Jade Eby
Lost in NYC
By Jade Eby

 

 

Episode 7: Jennie's Take on NaNoWriMo

For week 2 of our launch, we are bringing you 6 episodes on NaNoWriMo!

In this episode 

Click to tweet: @@Curious about @jennienash take on NaNoWriMo? Listen here!@@

  • Jennie's pros and cons of NaNoWriMo

  • How many writers aren’t using it the right way

  • If you fail to think before you write, it will lead to an inherently flawed manuscript

  • Melanie shares her experience with NaNoWriMo

  • NaNoWriMo is valuable to cultivate a habit of writing

  • The flaw behind the idea of a “shitty first draft”