Writing with Joy
Hello everyone. Cate here. I want to talk about some wonderful writing advice today. Writing with Joy!
Hello everyone. Cate here. I want to talk about some wonderful writing advice today. Writing with Joy!
It's that quiet week between Christmas and New Years.
Advent is complete, and we have celebrated the birth of our Lord with joy, but since it is still the Christmas season, I thought I would follow our December theme for today's post.
My favorite recipe is very much on my mind as I just made it for Christmas dinner. If you'd asked me this question ten years ago, I undoubtedly would have shared a Christmas cookie recipe, but this dish has taken over.
My daughter found the recipe several years ago on this website - Keepin' It Kind.
I wouldn't want to steal credit for her recipe, so I'll just show you two quick photos of our batch in progress and then refer you back to her for the glorious finished photos.
three large sweet potatoes cut into medallions, pomegranate arils, orange juice, maple syrup, sea salt, chopped pecans, coconut sugar or brown sugar, and ground cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and nutmeg.
You may notice in the picture that my daughter chose an assortment of colored sweet potatoes. Who knew there were purple ones?
Sprinkle with pomegranate arils and chopped pecans.
Bake and enjoy!
But do go and visit the website for this recipe.
For years I played Elf at my students' request, but I never really paid attention. This year, after hearing so many adults say it was their favorite Christmas movie, I watched carefully. I get it. I actually cried at the end.
It seems each year that I find myself posting on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. I don't think it's a day many people are thinking of writing. Thoughts are more likely turned to families and friends, pies and stuffing and how best to cook that bird.
So what's a Seeker to post about?
Well, many of you might know that I have a weakness for sentimental commercials. I've posted about them before. I particularly love the ones that manage to intrigue us with a story while they're trying to sell us on something.
At this time of year, and honestly since about Halloween, we're inundated with Christmas commercials. Out of curiosity, I decided to Google Thanksgiving commercials. I was pleasantly surprised to see there are some lovely ones - centered around family and food of course.
Here's a sampler. Take a peak while the pies are baking.
A little Thanksgiving humor...
There is some writing craft involved here. I love to see how even in these very short clips, the ad writers managed to tell a story, create characters which at least I come to care about, inject some pathos and some humor, and sell us on a theme of the importance of family and love and togetherness - often in less than a minute.
If you watch this one through to the end, you'll see the message we all send to all of you. We're so grateful for you, so thankful you are in our lives.
You know how the Thanksgiving Parade always ends with Santa's arrival? Here's a Christmas preview.
As writers, we can appreciate the twist ending.
Happy Thanksgiving Seekerville!
I don't know how old I was when I discovered the awful truth of what happens to books that have outlived their shelf life. Long before I was ever a writer, images of piles of books with their covers torn off, ready to be trashed broke this young booklover's heart.
I was reminded of that today when I saw a post on Twitter from an author who had gone into a bookstore and offered to sign the copies of her books that were in stock. After a number of embarrassing encounters, she was told that the store manager didn't want her to sign them because then "they couldn't be returned."
I cringed when I read that, and my heart hurt for that poor (angry!) writer.
It was a sad reminder of the short shelf life of the work we've labored to create. It's especially painful for category writers who know their books get a mere month in the sun.
All this week, I've been struggling wondering what to write about today. School has commandeered all my time, so my creative well is rather dry. My mind has been painfully blank.
But then my daughter called. It was rainy and foggy and she had a long drive ahead of her. She wanted company. In the the course of conversation, we got to talking about Taylor Swift's new album Midnights - you know, the one that sold a million copies in three days. (Caveat: I have not listened to this album yet, so my comments are strictly on the business aspect of this, not the merits of the music).
My daughter mentioned a story she had read recently about Taylor rereleasing her versions of her original albums. Do you know the story of how she wouldn't give in to the music industry claiming ownership over her work? If not, you can catch up with the story here. Why is Taylor Swift Re-Recording her Old Songs?
Our conversation reminded me of a blog post I wrote a few years ago. This was part of it.
She wrote what she loved, until she loved what she wrote, and she sent it out one more time.I have no idea where this quote came from. I have it on a scrap of paper that is so old it’s turned yellow and brittle.When I tried to Google the source of that quote, I got a bunch of links to Taylor Swift’s new album. It’s really tempting to tag Taylor in this post and see our views skyrocket. I have no idea why that quote triggered Taylor's name, but when I thought about it, I was glad it had.A lesson in procrastination vs. persistenceThe other day, I was supposed to be writing, but when I signed on to Twitter to join my #1k1hr group, #TaylorSwiftonGMA was trending. I very easily got sucked down a rabbit hole of Taylor Swift videos.Avoiding that kind of rabbit hole is a constant struggle for me. My husband used to drive me crazy flipping channels on the television. It seemed he’d stay on something just long enough for me to get hooked. He would move on, but by that time, I would be begging him to turn it back (to some show I'd probably be embarrassed to admit watching), because once I'm hooked, I need to find out what happens.Which is what happened last Thursday on Twitter. First there was a video about Taylor's father handing out pizza to the people who waited on line overnight. Then there was Taylor singing a song from her new album. Then... and so on.It's important to note here, I've never particularly been a Taylor Swift fan. I was just curious about what all the fuss on Good Morning America was about. My interest had been piqued.Am I alone in this? I know we joke about going to Facebook to check one thing and discovering we've spent an hour instead of the scheduled 5 minutes.As it turns out though, watching Taylor Swift videos for an hour wasn’t without some benefit. One of the clips on GMA gave a history of her career starting as an 11 year-old girl determined to make it in Nashville. She explained that her mother and little brother waited in the car while she delivered karaoke demos she’d made. She talked about walking up and down Music Row knocking on doors.
"I would say, 'Hi, I'm Taylor. I'm 11; I want a record deal. Call me."I cannot imagine having that kind of dedication at my age, let alone at 11.But the story didn't end there.I found an article on ENews that included this:"She came back from that trip to Nashville and realized she needed to be different, and part of that would be to learn the guitar," Andrea told EW. "Now, at 12, she saw a 12-string guitar and thought it was the coolest thing. And of course we immediately said, 'Oh no, absolutely not, your fingers are too small—not till you're much older will you be able to play the 12-string guitar.'
"Well, that was all it took. Don't ever say never or can't do to Taylor. She started playing it four hours a day—six on the weekends. She would get calluses on her fingers and they would crack and bleed, and we would tape them up and she'd just keep on playing. ENewsWhat intrigues me is how someone has that kind of drive to succeed - especially at such a young age.Taylor is not unique in her work ethic. We hear stories all the time about athletes and their superior dedication to their sport, practicing endless hours until they can sink that three-point shot flawlessly, or lead a team to another Super Bowl victory.
Back to my conversation with my daughter. She related to me a story she had read.
On September 15, following a viral TikTok trend involving "Wildest Dreams" (2015) that was gaining traction, the older recording of the song accumulated 735,000 plays on Spotify, marking the highest single-day streams ever for the song on the streaming platform. On September 17, Swift teased the re-recorded song's bridge as part of the said trend with a snippet on TikTok, captioning "if you guys want to use my version of wildest dreams for the slow zoom trend, here she is!". "Wildest Dreams (Taylor's Version)" was subsequently released to streaming platforms. Swift stated that she saw "Wildest Dreams" trending on TikTok and thought fans should have "[her] version" of the song. In its first four hours of availability, "Wildest Dreams (Taylor's Version)" amassed 2,003,391 Spotify streams, breaking the record the older "Wildest Dreams" had set a few days prior. Wikipedia
So what does all of this have to do with a writer's blog?
Well, aside from the persistence and the passion, and the sheer amount of effort our crafts require, it reminded me a lot about those trashed books, and how changes in publishing have allowed writers to re-release their old books, giving them a second chance at life.
Just like Taylor took control of her work, we now have the opportunity to rescue our work. We can get our rights back. We can re-imagine our stories and breathe new life into them. Our work doesn't have to be consigned to a sad stack of cover-less trash!
So my message today is to take hope from Taylor's success. I certainly don't expect to sell a million copies of any book in 3 days (though it sure would be nice!), but I can remember to persevere (even when things are tough), and I can continue to learn new marketing techniques, new technologies, etc to
And if Taylor can do it, and I can do it...so can you!
Just remember to reach for the stars!
How do you write?
This past July, I participated in a virtual writer's retreat organized by a friend. Some participants were writers I know; others were new to me. The format was simple - we met in a zoom room, chatted some, then sprinted. The room stayed open and people could come and go all day as they chose.
One day some of us got to chatting, and Lee Tobin McClain mentioned a method of sprinting that she was using quite successfully. We decided to try it.
The idea is you start writing for 20 minutes. Then a quick stretch break. Then you sprint for 15 minutes, take a break. Then 10 minutes. The final session is 5 minutes. Usually you don't bother to take a break between the last two.
My friends, that method has been life-changing for me. After the retreat was over, I mentioned to a friend that I was sorry to lose the sprints. We decided to keep them up with a few other friends. So each morning for the past three weeks, we have met at 9am - either in Zoom or a FB room, and done the sprints.
In that time, I have written 50,398 words!
To understand how impressive that total is, you'd have to know I probably only managed 5,000 between January and July. I'm not bragging here. I'm amazed and oh so grateful for a chance encounter that was a game-changer.
So why do I think this works? It's the power of a timer, accountability, routine, and friendship.
The long days of summer make it hard to stay at the keyboard, but for many of us, they're also a time when we have more time to write. It's with this in mind that I'm doing a re-post.
The reason I'm reposting this particular post is because last week I attended a webinar hosted by FHLCW that featured Shana Asaro. Shana spoke for over an hour and answered tons of questions about writing for Love Inspired and Love Inspired Suspense.
During much of her presentation, she focused on the importance of GMC - the goal, motivation, and conflict needed for a successful submission.I found it particularly fascinating when she mentioned that several years ago, the Love Inspired editors read and studied this book together. That was enough motivation to get me to pull my copy off the shelf and dust off the cobwebs. I figured we could all use a refresher, so here is my original post on the topic.
Before I begin, a caveat - I can't say GMC by Deb Dixon is one of my favorite craft books (for reasons which I will explain), but there's no doubt it's an important and beneficial one.
You see in many ways I could be that cautionary tale veteran writers use to terrify newbies. Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, when I first began to write, I had no idea that there was such a thing as structure or that stories followed any prescribed formula.
I should amend that comment. I was not consciously aware of it. But because I was an avid reader, and had been for my entire life, I had a somewhat intuitive sense of story structure even if I didn't know that's what it was.
So, picture me happily writing away without a care in the real world, lost in my own wonderful story world.
But then I took a break from writing for a while - children, work, grad school, there just weren't enough hours in the day to make it all work, and writing took the back seat.
Cue the violin music.
No, seriously, the reason I'm explaining that is because I so very clearly remember coming back from my self-imposed writing exile to attend a writer's conference. And I remember being confused because of all the buzzwords I was hearing - and the buzzword that was on everyone's lips was GMC.
GMC. I had no idea what they were talking about. It was like everyone else was speaking a different language.
Finally, some kind soul clued me in to Debra Dixon's book (which had been published while I was off on writing hiatus).
I read it. I saw it's value (which it clearly had since everyone was talking about it!), and I ignored it.
I didn't want to write conflict.
I liked happy stories.
I didn't want to make them be mad at each other.
Are you laughing at me yet?
I learned my lesson, and that got me book contracts. So here's hoping it will help you too.
I'm going to use a photo of the back cover, because I think this shows why the book is so important.
I could try to give examples, but that would sort of be plagiarism, so I'll just recommend you get yourself a copy if you don't have one to dig out of the cobwebs.
GMC is apparently also a really popular topic here on Seekerville.
If you're interested in looking more into it. check out some of these posts:
Mindy's Engaging Openings
Missy had one in the Archives - Battling Through Your Manuscript...Once Scene at a Time
(Note: Missy really gave a detailed explanation of how she uses a GMC chart.)
Then there are all these GMC posts in the Seekerville archives!
So tell me, are you a GMC chart maker? How do you handle planning the goals motivations and conflict for your characters?
School ended yesterday. Today is the first day of summer vacation, so I promise you won't have to read middle school-inspired posts for a while after today.
But today, we do have one more. I recently read Lord of the Flies with my 8th grade class. The book is old (older than me!) and a lot of people don't like it, but I have so many activities that we do with it, that the book really comes alive. I'm always stunned when students tell me it's one of their favorite books we've read.
This year, after we finished, I asked them to reflect on this quote by the author William Golding.
When asked about the meaning of his book, he replied:
“There have been so many interpretations of the story that I'm not going to choose between them. Make your own choice. They contradict each other, the various choices. The only choice that really matters, the only interpretation of the story, if you want one, is your own. Not your teacher's, not your professor's, not mine, not a critic's, not some authority's. The only thing that matters is, first, the experience of being in the story, moving through it. Then any interpretation you like. If it's yours, then that's the right one, because what's in a book is not what an author thought he put into it, it's what the reader gets out of it.”
I love this answer so much.
I was thinking about it with two different caps on my head - as the teacher who asks students to consider the meaning of the story, but also as an author who is in the business of making meaning out of words.
I was really interested to hear my students' thoughts - both as their teacher and as an author.
It turns out that the line that most spoke to them was "The only thing that matters is, first, the experience of being in the story, moving through it."
One student, in explaining how she had moved through the story stated, "Through the characters, I got to experience the chaos, the peace, the sadness, and the thrill of everything that happened."
Another said: "In some parts of the book, I felt like I was actually in the book and moving through it. But there were parts where I did not get this feeling. An example where I did not get this feeling is when the hunters went hunting I didn’t really feel the story moving. The part where I felt the story moving along was when everyone was working together and not fighting."
But a third said "There were parts of the book where I felt as if I was really going through the motion of everything and other parts where I was left confused. Some parts that I really connected to were the murders. When both Piggy and Simon died I truly felt like I was there watching it happen."
Another: "I felt like I was on the island with all the other boys I felt like I was one of the little ones watching everything fold in itself, watching Jack become a brutal savage and watch Ralph losing control and seeing Piggy get killed I really felt part of the story I was reading."
They were also really eager to tell me the meaning they took from the book. I think William Golding would have been proud of the range of thoughts. They took his words to heart: "If it's yours, then that's the right one."
I think this book was about how people can get insane and out of control with an obsession with a passion, they have while others try and prevent it but end up getting hurt in the process.
What are we really without manners and common sense? Savages? That would make us no different than animals. We hide behind a mask of intelligence and basic knowledge to separate how similar we are compared to animals. Without all we have learned, we’re basically just a vessel driven by emotions of hatred and greed. Would we really know right from wrong if we didn’t have common knowledge or at least look like we have the brains? It really felt overwhelming to interpret so much. Then again, it would make sense. The only difference is that we are more evolved than animals. We have the common sense to just go around killing people, there are usually reasons behind it. But sometimes, there isn’t a reason behind it. Does that make us unstable to live in such a “perfect” society? If we compare ourselves to savages, then killing would be completely normal right? Or would it?
I believe the book is really about the true nature of us. How we act when theres no adults or rules around. When we can do anything without being punished since theres no boundaries.
This book is about nothing more than boys trying to survive on their own and trying to keep their insanity (sic) in the process.
While the topic of change was a big message of the book, I do believe there is another main message. Lord of the Flies also shows us the importance of rules and civilization. Once the boys turned away from Ralph all humanity and civilization were lost. They began to become too accustomed to Jack’s uncivilized methods. Without any rules or grasp on humanity boys such as Roger turned from normal kind kids into animals. It was because of this lack of civilization and order that Piggy and Simon died so tragically. It was also why it was so hard for the boys to look at themselves once the navy found them. They knew they could never truly return home because a part of them would always be on that island.
So why am I talking about this today?
Because as a teacher, I am privileged to have the opportunity to really talk to readers about their reading, and that is invaluable to me not only as their teacher, but as an author. Hearing what matters to them as readers, learning how invested they were in making their own meaning from the books gives author me something to ponder.
As authors, are we trying to impose our meaning on our readers? Are we heavy-handed with our message, or do we wield our pen delicately, giving the reader options, offering a chance for them to create their own message from our books. Especially if it's a message they need in their lives.
As I was pondering this, I was also thinking about a book I had recently read. Because I could really relate to the widowed character, I probably took a completely different meaning from the book than a different reader would - and I appreciated the nuances of the character that allowed me to do so.
And that leads me to thinking about craft and how we make our books the best possible experience for readers because, to quote another student,
He didn't write the book to give it a specific ending (message) but to entertain the readers.
And of course that is what we have to keep at the forefront as we write.
One of my students was rather succinct in describing Golding's craft.
Mr. Golding used good words to set the mood for the story.
As writers, that is our task, to use good words to entertain.
If only it could be that easy!
But easy or not, it is the responsibility we assumed when we chose to write stories. Our good words have the power to affect readers.
One of my students commented: "The experiences of reading books helps us to open our eyes to different wonders in imagination. It leads us to creating our own works and maybe inspiring others."
And to finally quote a wise student - "That is the great thing about reading."
And we get to inspire that. How lucky are we to be writers???
I'd love to hear your thoughts - as readers and writers.
*Photos courtesy of Pixabay
Hello Seekerville. 👋
They say confession is good for the soul, so I'll start with a confession right up front.
I haven't been writing much lately - like at all!
And it's killing me!
I'll come back to that in a minute, but I had to get it off my chest up front before we delve into a discussion.
I just finished reading a book with my class.
Peak by Roland Smith is the story of a young boy climbing Mt. Everest. It's a wonderful adventure story full of conflict and challenges, and my 7th grade boys were hanging on every word. To be honest, I was too. I read this book with a class almost every year, and I still love reading it.
It's fun to read through my post-it notes to see what kinds of things I've taken note of in the past and what my thoughts were as I read it each time.The colors of the notes change from year to year so I can see what was different in my thinking. But one question is consistent across the pages and across they years. WHY???
Why would anyone put themselves through what these characters are enduring just to get to the top of a mountain?
Peak is a wonderful book to use to teach students about conflict because there are so many kinds - Peak vs nature, Peak vs his father, Peak vs society, Peak vs himself. The novel is also easy for teaching plot structure because the climax occurs literally at the peak of the mountain. Everything after is just downhill.
But maybe you're asking why am I writing about a middle grade novel?
It comes back to that question WHY???
Why do climbers risk very probable death to climb a mountain. As the title character, Peak Marcello, wisely states: The only thing you’ll find on the summit of Mount Everest is a divine view. The things that really matter lie far below.
Do you ever ask yourself that about your writing?
Why would anyone put themselves through this???
Why would anyone face tight deadlines and endless revisions only to risk harsh reviews and uncertain sales?
Let me digress a moment before I answer that.
I saw a tweet this morning asking would you:
a) drive 100 miles to meet your favorite author in person, or
b) stay home and use the money to buy more of her books.
There was a wide range of answers from people who would drive AND buy all the author's books to be signed to people who felt so introverted they knew they would back out at the last minute.
Yesterday Laurel Blount was talking about how wonderful it is to get away with other writers because they get us.They get the struggle. That's so very true. Unfortunately it's not always possible.
But during the pandemic, this desperation of authors to connect yielded some cool opportunities. Multiple virtual events sprang up. Some were hosted by individual authors on FB live. Julia Kelly started Ask an Author (a FB group with over a million members)
Some were also hosted by bookstores looking to stay afloat and help readers stay connected to their favorite authors. It turned out the advantage was many more people were able to attend than on an in-person author event. I remember at one point being able to chat with authors almost every night of the week!
Friends and Fiction started out as a chat between five authors who happened to be friends but who also had books releasing in the spring of 2020 and had no idea how to marker them. The weekly chat sessions spawned a FB group with over 70,000 members! If you need a writing fix (and writing tip from well-known authors) then this is the place to be on Wednesday nights.
Last week the 4 friends interviewed Laura Dave. They were talking about her mega best-selling novel and they were also talking about how to fit writing time into a busy life. Almost everyone agreed they had to do it first thing when they got up or it just didn't happen - because writing is so hard!
It is hard work. Incredibly rewarding hard work, but mind-blowing, exhausting, draining work - and that'a when it's going well.
So that brings me back to my question - why do we do it???
We all have our own reasons, but I think it's similar to the reasons people have for climbing Mt. Everest - because we have to. There's something inside us begging for release. We crave the rush of putting words on paper. we have stories that need to be told. We don't know how not to write.
Remember I said I'd come back to the not writing part. Work, family demands, stress - all of these have kept me from writing lately - but you know what - they left me CRAVING time to write. The need to dwell in my stories became a physical ache. I had to write.
I'd love to hear your thoughts on why you write.
Or if you don't write - and you are an avid reader - I'd love to hear your thoughts too.
Why do you do it?
As I mentioned in an earlier post, I was summoned out of retirement to fill in for the rest of the year after a teacher abruptly quit. The good news is I am loving the experience. The bad news is it leaves little time for writing.
However, sometimes my worlds align. This happened recently when we had an author visit to the classroom. The author, Sarah Scheerger, wrote a book called Operation Frog Effect. It's a middle grade book about a fifth grade class told as journal entries their teacher assigned. My students loved the story and were so enthusiastic about the opportunity to ask the author questions.
I loved seeing their enjoyment, but I particularly appreciated Sarah's discussion of author's craft, so I thought I'd talk a little about that today.
Operation Frog Effect is told from NINE points of view. Eight of them are students and one is the teacher. Sarah did a really effective job of differentiating the characters, and she explained to the students how she did it.
One character is a girl named Emily. Sarah admitted that this character was most like her and the character's conflict was based on something she experienced in middle school. She used punctuation to develop Emily's character, using a lot of question marks to show her uncertain feelings and a lot of exclamation points to develop her girlish middle school character. As a middle school teacher, I definitely felt she nailed this character's personality and you felt her pain at her friendship troubles.
Kayley is the mean girl, but she's not a stereotypical mean girl. She is "doing it for Emily's own good" because she thinks Emily needs to make new friends (since her besties are going to a new school in September). She is also arrogant and condescending, thinking she knows better than her teacher. The author created this persona within one diary entry just with her word choice (which makes it really good for helping students to understand how word choice affects tone).
Sharon writes all her entries in verse.
Blake is an artist, so his entries are told in illustrated cartoon blocks.
Henry plans to be a movie writer/director, so his entries are all told in script form complete with stage directions
Cecelia has decided to write her journal entries as letters to her abuelita, so they are a mix of English and Spanish with glossary entries as she pretends to teach her abuelita English words.
Kai has the fewest entries, but his are written as messages to the class frog (who jumps out of Blake's pocket in the opening scene and is adopted as a class pet). His are mostly updates on what is happening in the class.
Sarah was also really honest with the students about the difficulties of being an author and the uncertainties of a publishing life. She explained that for all her books that are published, she has at least again as many that were rejected, but she keeps writing because she loves it! She spoke about writing what she believes and how that sometimes comes into conflict with what publishers want.
As a writer, I am in awe of the creativity and work that was required to produce such a stunning array of characters. Just like I spoke about in my post last month, I am reminded that children's books can be a great source to study for writing tips.
As I was getting ready to do my post, I had something in mind, and I was looking for an older post I had done either here or on Yankee Belle that had to do with green bean casseroles. I never found that post, but I found one from 2019. As I was reading through it, I couldn't help but think of all the ways our worlds have changed since then, but all the things that are the same - the things that matter - faith, family, friends.
So, rather than the post about writing and green bean casseroles that I had in mind, I decided to update the 2019 one.
This Campbell's soup commercial gets me every time (even though I loathed green bean casseroles). So thankful is a good ear worm to have.
My family had a tradition that I imagine is shared by many others who gather on Thanksgiving Day. Before diving into the turkey and all the trimmings, we joined hands in prayer and then shared what we were most grateful for that year.
Today, on this Thanksgiving Eve, let us gather around a communal Seekerville table and share that tradition.
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