Teen Writers Bloc

A Blog by the New School Writing for Children MFA Class of 2012

Sona Needs A Resolution, Right?

Posted by Sona Charaipotra On January - 1 - 2013

january 1 2013 Sona Needs A Resolution, Right?So here I sit again on January 1. Another year, another resolution, right? You knew it was coming. It’s always inevitable — and then I inevitably break it. So this year, my resolution is not to resolve at all, but rather to evolve. It’s time to give up the gung ho race to the finish line and reassess what might actually work for me. After all, I’m in this writing thing for the long haul, right? Not just for the quick sale and the even quicker burn out.

I’ve often lamented here about my dilettante ways, how I’m always juggling three projects at once, rushing to get things done — and therefore not really moving forward at all.

So this year, I’ve decided to really focus. Focus on what my big picture goals are, focus on getting things done — but really, to focus on slowing down the pace, enjoying the process, and therefore actually managing to finish my projects, one at a time.

I’ve also decided to not jump into the querying process after I finish the first project, which is already quite near completion. Many of my fellow writers don’t understand the why behind this, but I just have to keep reminding myself of my long-term goals, rather than the short-term impatience — and believe me, I’m amongst the most impatient people I know. As a writer who works in two different genres, I’d like to be well-prepared, when seeking representation, to have a completed project in both areas, so that I can find an agent who really knows what she’s getting into, who really understands what my work is all about, who really sees the same big picture I’m seeing.

In the meantime, now that I have my lovely (if petite) desk and my awesome peacock blue velvet tufted chair to return to in a few short days, I do want to make one real, tangible plan-of-action and stick with it — and that is to put my butt in said gorgeous peacock blue velvet chair and spend some quality time with my WIPs at least five days a week. I won’t set unattainable word counts or ignorable deadlines. Instead, I’ll take my time, keep those eyes on the prize, and remember, for once, that the only person I’m racing is myself.

Amy’s Advice (Not) Looking Forward: It’s Okay to Be Bad

Posted by Amy Ewing On December - 6 - 2012

frustration.gif 300x201 Amys Advice (Not) Looking Forward: Its Okay to Be BadI’m not one for making New Year’s resolutions, and this year will be no different. “Resolution” is such a stressful word. But I’m going to need something to get me through 2013. So what I’ve come up with is this.

Deep breaths. It’s okay to be bad.

Now, as a debut author with an outstanding agent and a superb editor, things are often sunshine and rainbows and unicorns and puppies. I have worked incredibly hard on my first book, which has undergone two major revisions and is hopefully nearing that wonderful moment when my editor will proclaim, “Yes! This is just how we want it. Send it to the copyeditor!” And I will dance around my apartment with joy.

And then the realization will slowly sink in. Book One is over. I have to write Book Two now. A first draft. Something entirely new.

It’s been over a year since I’ve written a first draft of anything, and to be honest, I am terrified. I’ve never written anything with so much expectation on it. Writing a first draft is like learning how to walk again, which is just about as much fun as it sounds. Lots of falling down, bumps and bruises, awkward movements. But I need to let myself off the hook. First drafts are supposed to be bad — they are where you fumble around and screw up and figure it out. I need to give myself permission to fail, to try things that may not work. I need to go into a little hole and pretend that I’m writing this book just for me, because at the end of the day, loving your story is the most important thing.

Of course, I say this now. I’m certain there will be dark times ahead, times where I think, “I can’t do this. I’m a failure. Why did anyone ever buy this series in the first place?? It’s terrrrrrible!” And hopefully, I’ll remember my 2012 words of encouragement.

Deep breaths. It’s okay to be bad.

 

Photo Credit: www.theelitemembership.com

Why does Caela write the most during football Season? (Also: Go Irish!)

Posted by Caela Carter On December - 4 - 2012

 Why does Caela write the most during football Season? (Also: Go Irish!)This fall, for the first time in 24 years, my beloved Notre Dame Fighting Irish football team is ranked #1, has a 12 and 0 record, and is heading to the National Championship in  Miami in January to take on the Alabama Crimson Tide in a fight for the crystal football.

(For you non-sporty people, that means they played twelve games, won them all, and get a chance to become this season’s champions.)

Twenty-four years ago, I admit I didn’t pay all that much attention to college football. I was a six-year-old girl. (Although, if you asked me, I would have told you I liked Notre Dame.) So, to me and everyone in my generation, this feels pretty remarkable.

But, this fall, other than the success of my football team, our recent graduation from The New School, and my new marriage, life was usual.

 Why does Caela write the most during football Season? (Also: Go Irish!)My husband (who is thankfully also an Irish alum) and I attended five football games — three at Notre Dame, one in Boston, and one in Dublin, Ireland, which we fit in on the way to our honeymoon. At the end of our honeymoon, after traveling for 24 straight hours home from Crete, we watched the Michigan State game on only a slight delay before getting some sleep. The next weekend, I was at a beautiful wedding and I spent the reception as one of four heads bent over the same iPhone to watch the Michigan game streaming live. (I felt slightly bad about this until the bride called out to me to ask about the score.) And suffice it to say, I lost my voice shouting at the TV in the Public House in New York City during the Oklahoma and USC games.

But my football commitment goes beyond simply watching and attending the Notre Dame games. My family spent hours of Thanksgiving Day talking about who would go to which bowls. My friends and I email/Facebook/Tweet constantly about this subject. My husband and I, along with our friends Linda and Nestor, wrote a musical tribute to our star defensive player, Manti Te’o, to the tune of Taio Cruz’s “Dynamite.” And, in some ways, this year’s time commitment has barely taken its toll because the Fifth Annual Carter Bowl (in which the members of my family pick teams and then trash talk brutally for the entirety of bowl season, all in a fight for the Carter Bowl trophy, pictured above — and, yes, that is a toilet bowl…) has not yet begun!

And yet, somehow, this was fall-as-usual for me in one other way. This year, for the third year in a row, I wrote the bulk of an entire draft of a novel during football season. In fact, during fall of 2010, (I attended four football games, moved to New York from Chicago, and spent every other Saturday watching football non-stop) I managed to complete my first draft of Me, Him, Them and It, which will become my debut novel when Bloomsbury publishes it this winter.

The past two years I marveled at this productivity. I thought to myself, “Imagine what I will accomplish in the winter when my brain can be consumed entirely by writing.”

But not this year. This year, I peer nervously ahead toward the winter months. Because in the past years, winter, spring and summer have not been ripe with words and inspiration the way I have planned. In some trick-math equation, more time does not equal more pages. So instead, I have to wonder, “why am I most productive during football season?”

Perhaps it’s simply the fall. As someone used to being on a school-schedule, maybe I’m just most productive when the leaves change because that was always the symbol of fresh starts and a new year. But, I don’t think so.

Maybe it’s that football provides some sort of structure for me. I always work hardest when there is a reward in store: write five pages today, go out to dinner tonight. But anyone who has followed a team like Notre Dame knows that this doesn’t necessarily work the same way. Because you are going to watch the game whether or not you deserve it. And because you approach the game with trepidation, unsure of whether it will be reward or torture.

No, after much thought, I’ve concluded that it’s pretty simple. I’m most productive during football season because I’m happiest. I mean, I’m a pretty darn happy woman in general, but during football season, even when we’re losing, I always know what my plans are on Saturday. In the moments that I’m being driven crazy by the world falling into the torrents of political upheaval and violence, I can always distract myself with a somewhat more trivial article on ESPN.com. And most importantly, my geographically disparate friends and family somehow feel a little closer when I know exactly what they’re all doing for at least four-hours of each week. (But it’s better when we’re winning.)

And, for me, happiness, more than time, leads to pages.

So now I just need to figure out something to create this much happiness in the winter. And don’t say basketball. I don’t have time for that!

Photo (and trophy) credit: Rich Carter

Spring Cleaning: Alyson Quits Scrubbing Bubbles

Posted by Alyson Gerber On April - 25 - 2012

hoover65 lg 426x600 Spring Cleaning: Alyson Quits Scrubbing BubblesI love spring cleaning, any kind of cleaning, really. Whenever I have a bad writing day, or I’m not sure what’s going to happen next in a scene, out come the yellow rubber gloves, Windex, and Clorox.

The thing is, I know exactly what is going to happen if I scrub the kitchen counters and meticulously vacuum and mop the floors. They are going to sparkle and shine, like it says in those 1960s Hoover advertisements. Plus, cleaning is the perfect distraction from writing and re-writing a scene that could end up being absolute trash. And I’ve managed to rationalize it as a perfectly reasonable alternative to actually working. I’m still being “productive.” I’m outlining in my head. I’m thinking through dialogue. I need a break to digest what I’ve written. Lies. All lies.  I am procrastinating.

And the thing about cleaning is that everything just ends up getting dirty again.  If you like to dust and organize as much as I do, you can find dirt to wipe up anywhere — at any time, like on a Saturday afternoon when I should be writing, finishing my thesis, and catching up on Publisher’s Marketplace. Or at 3:00 a.m., when I should be sleeping. In fact, cleaning has become the very bad habit I have to give up, because my shirts don’t need to be folded or color-coordinated again. But as I edit the final scenes of my manuscript and get started on the next one, I can’t seem to stop myself from rearranging everything around me.

The problem is I’m cleaning the wrong thing, and I know it, even as I take the Scrubbing Bubbles out from under the kitchen sink.

What I need to do is de-clutter my life. I have to clear out space in my mind and make more room to think about my books. So this morning, I woke up early and worked out, for the first time in longer than I’m willing to admit, even to myself. I had time alone, away from my Swifer Wet Jet, to think and brainstorm and not worry about anything except my characters. I got to go somewhere else, a land I invented where there is no such thing as dust.

Photo courtesy Hoover

mousewheel Spring Cleaning: Dhonielle Must Pull Back on the Day Job and Stop Spinning Her WheelsAlas … the dreaded day-job — well, really, afternoon, early evening, and weekend job — is cutting severely into my productivity. There aren’t enough hours in the day for me to make a dent into my on-going, never-ending to-do list. I try and try to get up earlier, take a shorter lunch, sit in Starbucks, but I can’t seem to get it all done. I always have to create a worksheet for a kid or I’m running to make photocopies of test prep material or scooting up to the Upper East Side at rush hour, fighting through the crowds to get to Madison or Park or Fifth Avenue.

It’s a never-ending loop. You could say, “Dhonielle, you have your whole day all to yourself.” YES! I do have that. I can get up leisurely and write. But I’m always preparing or behind, so I need to get caught up so I can use my day-time hours more efficiently. That, and going to bed at a decent hour. I get home from tutoring and decompress with a little TV, and then try to do more work. By the time I’m finished it’s 3 a.m.

And at the end of each day, even if I’ve checked something off the to-do list, I still feel like there’s a mountain on top of me and I’m spinning my wheels.

My list of bad habits that need to be kicked this spring are:

  • Staying up past midnight
  • Eating past midnight and thus fueling myself to continue working
  • Staying in bed past 10 a.m.
  • Taking on new tutoring clients
  • Ignoring my thesis!

But here’s a sample of what’s on my plate to justify my whining:

  • Editing and cleaning up my thesis!
  • Completing the last 50-75 pages my current w-i-p MG novel — smoothing it, editing it, giving it to Amy Ewing to read — to turn a full into the agent
  • Finishing a massive edit of a collaborative project
  • Launching a website with Jess Verdi — details to come soon
  • Slowly working on another collaborative project with Lisa Amowitz
  • Reading and critiquing
I know what needs to be done. And I plan on getting there.

Photo Credit: Secretary of Innovation

Spring Cleaning: Corey Wonders What REAL Focus Feels Like

Posted by Corey Haydu On April - 20 - 2012

4097914782 35bd96c858 Spring Cleaning: Corey Wonders What REAL Focus Feels LikeI blogged last month with The Lucky 13s about my overly rigid habits as a writer. That I “can’t write” unless I’m at a certain cafe at a certain time drinking a certain drinks in a certain way. I wrote about how prohibitive that process can be for me, how it blocks me from taking advantage of all available writing time. That’s certainly one habit I’m working on curing, in baby steps. In fact, this past weekend I wrote all Saturday night — at home, no less! It was a big step.

But the real Spring Cleaning that needs to happen for me has to do with that elusive work-life balance. It’s a bit of a cyclical problem: if I’m ONLY writing and not experiencing life, I feel deflated and have have nothing to write about, I feel uninspired. But if I spend too much time living life, being social, having adventures, then I don’t actually end up doing any writing.

Recently, during Teen Author Week, author Ellen Hopkins talked about writing for 8-10 hours a day. I was at once insanely jealous and totally positive that that would never work for me. When she’s working, she’s WORKING and nothing else. That kind of intense focus, that total disregard for the life outside the computer screen — that isn’t my style.

You know why I write in a cafe? Because in a cafe I know that something exciting could happen. Life could happen, while I’m sitting and writing. I could meet someone! There could be a brawl! An impromptu party! An awkward first date or breakup conversation to eavesdrop on! I need those things. I need the promise of excitement, I need to be constantly working AND living life, in tandem. Talking about writing when at drinks with friends. Hoping for a friend to drop by while I’m deep in writing or revision. But I’m not sure these desires are reasonable, or even making me happy/keeping me productive. I’d like to try JUST writing, or JUST living. I’d like to be focused on my friends when I’m with my friends, to talk about things other than writing when I’m sharing french fries with a writer-friend. And when I’m writing, I’d like to have a taste of Ellen Hopkin’s razor-sharp focus. I’d like to be only thinking of my characters and nothing else.

I’m not sure it will happen. I can’t seem to get writing out of my mind, even at the best, busiest, most delicious wine bar. And I can’t seem to forget about the wonder of Real Life, even when I’m deeply entrenched in the creating of a Fictional Life.

Photo Credit: Savvyblogging.net

Spring Cleaning: Mary Denies Her Problems

Posted by Mary G. Thompson On April - 18 - 2012

12406pgephldncy Spring Cleaning: Mary Denies Her ProblemsOkay, this month we’re supposed to write about bad writing habits or problems. What, me problems? Because I’m a subscriber to Scientific American Mind, I know I’m not unique in bearing this psychological trait: I’m sure that none of my problems are really my problems. Which is to say, they’re not my fault. Which is to say:

I’m not lazy, I’m just tired.

I’m not procrastinating, I’m percolating.

I’m not surfing the Internet, I’m researching.

I’m not sleeping, I’m active dreaming.

I’m not reading, I’m learning my craft.

I get headaches, so sue me.

Do you have any Excedrin? I’m out.

I said, do you have any Excedrin?

I SAID, DO YOU HAVE ANY EXCEDRIN???

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!

It’s not my fault you didn’t give me any Excedrin. I really can’t be held responsible for my actions. For example, why has my nice book about some kids prancing around in a fantasy world suddenly turned into a senseless bloodbath involving body parts and spurting guts? Possibly it has something to do with the way THIS COMPUTER SCREEN IS GIVING OFF SO MUCH *&(#*& LIGHT!

[Four hours later.] In all seriousness folks, I could work more. I know that some people think I already work a lot, but it’s not good enough. I still spend way too much time being tired, percolating, researching, active dreaming, and of course, learning my craft. I could blame the headaches, insomnia, distractions, work-work, or my stuffed pink pig. But the truth is, I should just try to buck up and work more. Probably that means I’m going to have to start getting up earlier. Also, I should actually do the things on today’s to-do list instead of just moving them to tomorrow over and over again. Finally, I should work more. There aren’t really any gnomes inside my head making me forget what I’m doing and play ping-pong with them. That’s just a story I made up to avoid writing another 1000 words today. But now that you mention it, I think I will play another game.

Image Credit: Simon Howden

Spring Cleaning: Caela Simply Refuses!

Posted by Caela Carter On April - 17 - 2012

 Spring Cleaning: Caela Simply Refuses!Here’s the bottom line when it comes to me and spring cleaning: NO.

It’s not that I shouldn’t be tidying up, believe me. I should be listing, organizing my schedule, setting a writing goal and meeting it everyday, focusing.

For one thing, I have three projects going on at once right now. I also have two peer groups and I’m critiquing up to 100 pages of awesome writing a week. Plus, I’m blogging for Teen Writers Bloc and the Lucky 13s and soon to be blogging for the Class of 2k13. I’m working on getting my name out there — tweeting, creating a website, etc. I’m finalizing both parts of my thesis, the creative and the critical.

And on a totally different note, I’m getting married this summer and I’m somewhat ashamed to say that I sometimes lose hours or even days to silly things like trying on dresses or scheduling hair trails. (What is a hair trial? you may ask. But I’m afraid I’m not exactly sure.) Plus, I’m trying to spend time with the fiance, to ensure that we each actually still remember the other is on the wedding day.  Then there’s trying to spend time with family, friends, and everyone in between.

Oh yeah, and I still have that almost-full-time job.

At this point, I have so many things on my to-do list everyday that I rarely get 50% checked off.

So I totally need to spring-clean like woah! I need to prioritize that WIP!

But the thing is that I only get married once.  And I also only get one debut novel. And I only get one MFA thesis. I want to make sure I make the most of each of these.

There is a light at the end of the tunnel. We graduate in May. I get married in August. After that, there will be a lot more room in my schedule for cleaning and carving out time for new words as I have in the past.

 Spring Cleaning: Caela Simply Refuses!

For now, I’m really resisting this whole Spring Cleaning thing, and I didn’t really know why. I’m usually all for structured time. I’m usually quite diligent about my writing.

But I’m happy. I’m happy not knowing exactly what I’ll accomplish when I wake up each morning (as long as I at least get something written). I’m happy in this crazy hectic schedule (with the knowledge that it’s temporary, of course).

And this career isn’t one to cling to for any reason other than happiness. It’s inconsistent. It’s not very lucrative. It’s not even all that well-respected. If you want to be a writer for children, there’s only one reason: because it makes you happy. Because it’s all you can imagine doing.

I know that I’ll be cleaning up come fall. For now, I’m happy and I’m writing something or another everyday. For now, that’s good enough.

I’m ready to enjoy my messy spring!

Photo credit: harpyness, shutterstock

Spring Killing: Riddhi Wants to Kill the Fear

Posted by Riddhi Parekh On April - 16 - 2012

thoughtbubbles Spring Killing: Riddhi Wants to Kill the FearA few weeks ago, I smacked my laptop shut and said, “That’s it. I don’t want to write anymore. It’s too hard.”

I was fed up with the insurmountable task of putting words to a blank page. I had some concepts in mind, but after chalking them out, I pitied the fool that might have to read them.

And sadly, that fool was me.

I gave up trying to “create” and decided, instead, to polish another story — one I’d been keeping a safe distance from. I had been “building” on it for a year now, but every time I tried to plough through, I seemed to get stuck.

Perhaps I should have outlined it better. What is really going on here? Why have I cooked up this messy stew that I’m too afraid to sip on? I can’t see the path ahead. It’s too hard. Help! Help!

Or perhaps I was too attached. I couldn’t seem to chop evidently extraneous characters and scenes. Who should I keep? Who should I cut? Help! Help!

Once again, I smacked the laptop shut and gave up.

I told myself this would all be over soon, and that after the MFA, I’d never ever write ever again. I backspaced and deleted 40 pages of that tale. I dug a deep trench and buried myself in that cold, dank and dark space where there was no pressure to write. No need to create. No words or pages. Just space to imagine it perfectly in my head.

I told my classmates about how I was DONE with writing.

Dhonielle told me to get out of that hole.

Lenea gave it to me straight up and said, “You’re being fickle.”

They were both right.

A lot goes on in the mind of a writer. As Jess pointed out at our last peer group meeting, sometimes you can imagine a conversation that your characters are having and it occupies at least a whole page — in your head. But when you sit down and actually write that dialogue, it’s difficult to stretch it beyond a paragraph or two.

This semester, I discovered that, often the parts of my writing that I almost cut out or was too embarrassed to share were the ones I got most compliments for.

But for me, there is always fear. The fear of being judged. And the fear is a bad habit. One that can easily stop you from going farther with your writing. What are people going to think of me? Is this lame?

A writer once told me that he’d rather be walking down Sixth Avenue naked with the whole world staring at him than have people read his poetry. I concur.

As writers, we place too much of a burden on ourselves, trying to sift through our billions of thoughts and stringing them into sentences and paragraphs to make the text perfect. And when we reread our work and share it with others, it is as if our writing is the metaphorical dead frog about to be dissected.

More so for everyone at Teen Writers Bloc, because we have a few weeks in hand to write that masterpiece of a thesis.

So for now, the one bad habit I’d like to “cleanse” myself of is the fickle-minded one. The one that plagues me with fear. The one that makes me overthink it.

I am my own worst enemy. I must bid adieu to that scary, imagined audience. I will no longer allow you to run up my laptop-repair costs. I will write and rewrite and write some more, unafraid. And the text shall remain on the screen.

Speech Bubbles image courtesy http://www.freedigitalphotos.net

Spring Cleaning: Amy Adopts A Positive Attitude

Posted by Amy Ewing On April - 13 - 2012

positive thinking Spring Cleaning: Amy Adopts A Positive AttitudeIf someone had asked me this time last year what bad writing habit I would want “spring cleaned” from my life, it would most definitely have been procrastination. A trait I inherited from my father, I am a master procrastinator. But failure is a great motivator. Unlike so many of the other lovely and talented TWBers, my first attempt at querying did not result in an agent. Such is life. And, of course, there was a lot of moping and moaning and sadness and feeling like I’d never be good enough, but really there was only one thing I could do to improve my situation: write another book.

So I did. I threw myself into a new project and, by treating writing like an actual job, I was able to finish a novel rather quickly (note: it does help when you have a part-time job and no money, forcing you to stay inside, where you feel like you have no good reason not to write). And now I find myself once again on the brink of querying agents. To say that I am dreading the experience with every fiber of my being would be an understatement — I am dreading it far more than that.

But this time, I am determined to keep a positive attitude. I will not crumble to pieces every time the words “Dear Author” appear in my inbox. I will not replay phrases like “I’m sorry I did not love this enough to offer representation” over and over again until they’ve been seared into my brain. I will not find myself slumped on my couch, crying into a large glass of wine while watching The Vampire Diaries, cursing at Elena because her biggest problem is deciding which hot vampire to make out with. (Okay, that last one will probably still happen…)

This spring, I will be positive. Yes. Happy thoughts. Good vibes. Strength of heart. Of course, it’s easy to say this now. Let’s see how I’m feeling by the end of the month…

pixel Spring Cleaning: Amy Adopts A Positive Attitude
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