My Books, nanowrimo

NaNoWriMo 2015

nano_logoDid I ever tell you about the time I wrote my first book? I don’t mean the years I spent scribbling story notes in spiral bound notebooks or dreaming up stories in my head, but the year I actually sat down and wrote an entire book from beginning to end.

No?

Well, sit back, because it’s story time, kids. Once upon a time, a long time ago in 2007, my brother (the talented best-selling author, Aaron Pogue) dared my father and I at the dinner table one night to write a book.

“You’ve been talking about writing a book for years,” he said to the both of us. “It’s time you actually sat down and did it. What’s stopping you?”

I”m sure we made up a lot of very clever excuses, but in the end, he held up his hands to silence us both. “This year, I want you to do this. Write a book during National Novel Writing Month. We’ll all do it, we’ll share word counts and cheer each other on. I’ll even send you some prewriting exercises to help you get prepared. You can do this. You just need to make yourselves sit down and get it done.”

I looked across the table at my dad and said something like, “Well, I’ll do it if you do it, Dad.”

And that was the end of that. Or, the beginning rather. Because the next week we had writing exercises in our inboxes and we started talking like we were actually going to do this thing. A novel in a month. 50,000 words in just 30 days. It was insane. And yet…it was also thrilling. I’d had this crazy dream just a month before that would not leave me alone and I really, REALLY wanted to know the story behind it. The dream was something like this:

A beautiful girl sits by a pool of water at the base of a waterfall. She is flirting a little with the boy sitting next to her, but most of her attention is drawn to the man standing up on the hill watching her with an ever deepening frown. She can tell he’s angry, but she’s stubborn and won’t go talk to him. Then, she sees someone behind him, an enemy. She runs up the hill to defend him, but she can’t get there fast enough. As she reaches him, the enemy casts some dark spell toward him, but she jumps in the way, light and darkness colliding and she falls in a heap on the ground, unconscious.

That dream haunted me and I just had to know what happened next. Who were these people? I could feel her intense emotions about the man she’d saved, it felt like love and panic. It was clear she’d rather die than let this man be hurt. Why? Who was he? How had they gotten there? Where were they going? Who was the enemy and why did he attack?

These questions went with me into that first Nanowrimo. On November 1st, 2007, I wrote the first sentence of what would be my very first book. Now, eight years later, I have just published my sixth book. It’s all because my brother wouldn’t let me keep dreaming about being an author, and pushed me to actually be one. Now, I have a bookshelf full of dreams come true.

And by the way, that book I wrote? It turned out to be A Light in the Darkness. You can find that dream I had in the middle of chapter eight.

Are you an author? Are you daydreaming about a story you just have to know the ending to? Tell us your story and let us cheer you on. Then, go write that next story. You never know when it will be the dream come true.

Are you joining us this year for Nanowrimo? Stop by and visit me. You can see all the books I’ve worked on through the years during Nanowrimo and get a sneak peek at what is coming next: http://nanowrimo.org/participants/sutherlin2/novels

nanowrimo, writing advice

Dear Author…

BookSigningI am a quintessential older sister. I LOVE giving advice. Seriously, I do. When I was younger, I would fantasize about having an advice column in the newspaper like Dear Abby. It was a lovely fantasy where everyone wanted to hear what I had to say and couldn’t wait to tell everyone else about how clever I was in helping them solve their problems. AND I got paid for it!  *sigh*

Well, I may not be all that clever at helping you deal with cranky neighbors or nosey in-laws, but I love helping young writers tackle their creative writing problems. This week I got a beautiful letter from a young fan in South Dakota.

“I’ve been trying to write books for a while now but I keep running into a problem. I will have a few pages of the book done and they’ll look great, but when I stop typing for any reason my mind keeps the story going. So I will only have started the book two days ago but I’ll already have made up in my mind too far in the future. So then I will start a new story in my head the old one not forgotten but, not on my mind all the time. The new character having all the attention. And the book will be stopped. So my question is, do you have this problem? If so how do you deal with it?”

The answer: YES! I had this problem for years before I finished my first book. For me, it was a problem of planning. I was taught in school to outline your writing before you begin. So, when I had an awesome story idea, I would daydream about it for awhile until I decided it was good enough to write. Then, I would sit down and outline the entire story, start to finish. Then…I was done with it. I could NOT make myself write that story no matter how hard I tried.

This went on for ages until one day I woke up with the most incredible dream. You know the kind of dream that makes you want to cry because you can’t just go back to sleep and finish it? I couldn’t stop thinking about it! How did those two people get into that situation? How on earth were they going to get out of it? Who was the mysterious villain that was after them?

I thought about it while I got dressed. I thought about it while I poured my coffee. I thought about while I drove kids to school. I thought about it while I did dishes. And then finally, I took out a notebook and started writing just to get it out of my head. But I kept writing and three hours later I was mad when I had to stop. I wanted to know what happened! That fall my brother challenged me to write my first book for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and I knew exactly what story I wanted to write. I just had to see how it ended! 30 days later I had my answer…and my first book, A Light in the Darkness. That’s when I realized the reason I was stuck after plotting out entire books…boredom. I wanted to write to see how the story ended. If I sat down and plotted out every detail then the thrill was gone, it wasn’t any fun to keep writing after I knew how it ended.

So, I write like a reader. If there is mystery in a book of mine, it was a mystery to me, too. I honestly didn’t know who the bad guy was in The Light Series until book two. NO JOKE! Once I figured it out, I was able to go back and put his name into the first book, but it was a complete shock, I swear. I remember the first time two characters kissed it was the same way. “What are you doing?!” It’s a serious rush when your story takes on a life of its own.

If you’re having trouble staying focused, maybe try writing just to see how the story ends. If another idea pops up while you’re working, jot it down in a notebook or a computer file labeled Novel Ideas and keep going. Don’t get too wrapped up in the new idea. Just dump the details so you can start with them later and keep going. I have more book ideas piled up than I could ever write and they are really fun to look through when I’m ready to start a new project. But, learning to focus on the story at hand is powerful if you’re ever going to finish one. Why don’t you join me this year for NaNoWriMo? At the end you’ll have your very first book! It’ll be a rough draft, but still, I can’t tell you how awesome it feels to type THE END on your very first book. (Who am I kidding? It never stops feeling awesome!)nano_logo

Anyone want to join us? National Novel Writing Month is coming soon! Let’s write and find out how the story ends together. I’ll be hosting a write-along all month long in November, so get your ideas ready. It’s going to be fun!

 

Writing, writing advice, Writing Club, writing exercise

Writing Club: Describing a Setting

Yesterday I met with young writers at the Main Library in Little Rock, Arkansas for our first ever NaNoWriMo group. I was blown away by the diverse group that showed up to write with us. After a long day of school, kids between the ages of 8 and 18 trickled in to share their ideas and a little of their passion for books. I heard a fifth grader swapping book ideas with a twelfth grader and saw all kinds of genres represented from poetry to crime drama. Amazing! I know some people have a hard time working with kids, but I am constantly amazed by the creativity and talent demonstrated in some of the youngest writers. I heard a few lamenting that they are forced to write what their teacher’s assign instead of what they love, but I encouraged them to write anyway because every single opportunity to write is an opportunity to improve. Then, someday you’ll be able to write what you love all day long and that is an amazing treat!

Settings
Anyway, in our short time together I shared a few tips for description and reviewed some of the brainstorming concepts I shared with all of you here a few weeks ago. I asked them to come up with three different settings. They suggested a planet, a cave, and a battleship. We listed a few adjectives to describe each setting. Here’s what we came up with:

When I see the word “planet”, I instantly picture something else entirely. Mars with its red dirt and and expansive deserts, perhaps. A green swirling fog is so unique and utterly different from what I pictured, but isn’t that incredible? With just four words we have an entirely different picture in our minds. Now the trick is to show our readers the same image we have in mind.

Show vs. Tell
 We want our readers to be able to visualize our settings, our characters, and their actions as fully as possible so that they feel as though they were in the middle of the story with them. One way to do that is to describe the setting using your five senses. So, to our list we might add a few distinctive words describing the smell of the air, the feel of the dampness on our skin, or the shouts of soldiers on the battleship. Instead of saying the deck of the battleship was wet, we will describe how the main character nearly slips as he races across the deck or we’ll describe the spray of sea water or the raging wind and rain of an enormous storm. We give our readers clues that let them decide for themselves that the deck is wet instead of just telling them it is. This involves them in the scene as a participant and gives our writing a richer quality.

It’s difficult, I won’t lie, but something we should continue to practice if we want to be better writers. So, why don’t you give it a try? Brainstorm a few settings for the story you are working on and list as many descriptive words as you can using your five senses. Then, use those words to help you create sentences to show the reader how it feels to stand in your setting. What will they see, hear, smell, feel as they enter your world? When you’re finished, come back and leave us your favorite sentence. I would love to see what you came up with as you try your hand at the Show vs. Tell technique.

                                                                       Happy Writing!

                                                                                                                ~ Heather

nanowrimo, Uncategorized, Writing Club, writing exercise

Writing Club: It’s All About The Brainstorming

It’s fall and around here that means Writing Club! Each fall I lead a group of young writers through the prewriting process all the way to our goal of finished novels for National Novel Writing Month. It’s my favorite time of year.

We have so much fun writing together and coming up with crazy ideas for our stories. I wish all of you could join the club with us. Since you can’t be here, I thought I might bring some of the fun to you! So, each Monday I’ll share one of our writing lessons with you. That way you can follow along. If you do each lesson, by the end of November, you should have a pretty good story. It takes a little work and lot of dedication to finish an entire story, but you can do it! And if you have questions, you can post them here for the writing club to answer. Sound like fun? Great! Then, welcome to the club!

Lesson One: Brainstorming
When you’re writing, do you ever feel stuck? I’m talking thick, goopy mud kind of stuck. Quick sand, stuck. Yep. It happens to the best of us. So, our very first lesson this year is on how to get unstuck. Before we write a single word in our notebooks, we’re going talk about how to create new ideas and get your brain moving from stuck to running free.

There are many ways to help you gather ideas for your story. Today we’re going to talk about three. The first is a mind web.

You’ve probably seen this idea before and maybe you have a different name for it. A mind web helps us catch related ideas and organize them. Start out by writing a topic in the center of your paper or white board. Maybe use a word that describes your favorite book. We chose the word magic, but you can use any word that interests you. Now, add as many related words as possible around the outside of that center bubble. Branch out from those words, adding more layers.

Here’s an example from our class:

Step One: Add primary words around your central topic.

 

 Step Two: Add secondary words around each primary word.

 

 

Step Three: Add a layer of descriptive words to the outer layer.


 

 

 

 

 

 

Hopefully this exercise has helped you to create a picture in your head, because that’s your next step. Close your eyes for a moment and try your best to see a clear image of your scene. Focus on either the setting or a character because this will help you most. Remember to use all of your senses as you look around. What do you see? What does it smell like to you? Can you hear anything? Is there movement? What can you taste or feel? Do your best to be there in your mind, taking note of everything around you.

Now, write down exactly what you saw. Don’t worry about writing sentences; we’ll practice putting them into sentences later.  Just list the words for now. Grab all the words you can to describe your setting and a character. Use the list to fill in your mind web. Make it as big as you can. The more words and ideas you have, the more you have to work with when you are writing your story.

What word did you choose for your topic? Leave it in the comments below and take a moment to introduce yourself so we can say hello to our new writing club members. Then, come back tomorrow and I’ll show you what to do next with your mind web.

 

My Books, nanowrimo, writer's life

What’s Next?

I am proud and very relieved to say that my new book, To Light The Path, is now available on Kindle, Nook, and Kobo. Soon you’ll be able to order a print copy from Amazon, too. I am very proud of this book and grateful in so many ways. The process of editing this book helped me to understand why I am writing and who I am writing for as I work on each new project. I started out with a story to tell, but it has grown into so much more. I can hardly wait to see where this journey takes me!

So, a lot of friends have asked me, “What’s next?” Ha. Well, that is a complicated question. I have a lot of amazing things coming up soon. Here are just a few:

  • A Light In the Darkness will be featured on some really fabulous blogs for Christian fiction fans. Watch this site for more details to come in the next few weeks!
  • Next week, I’ll be speaking at the North Little Rock Leadership Symposium. Elementary students in our district’s gifted and talented program will get a glimpse of what it’s like to be an author and hear all about how important leadership skills are in this business.
  • Next month, I’ll be leading an after school program at the Main library for young writers. We’ll be working toward finishing books for National Novel Writing Month along with writers from all over the world.
  • Meanwhile, I’m leading my annual young writer’s club every Monday afternoon and this year I’m typing up all my lessons. By the end of November, the club will all have finished novels and I’ll have a complete curriculum to share with teachers and parents everywhere.
  • Oh! And did I mention I’m working on a new series? I already have the preliminary editorial notes for my next book and I’m hard at work on revisions. I hope to introduce all of you to a new batch of characters and a whole new adventure sometime in November. It’s going to be epic!

So, that’s what’s going on here at my writing desk. How about you? Do you have big plans this fall? Is anyone joining me and the writing club for NaNoWriMo? If so, you might want to stop by next week as I start a new series on pre-writing activities that will get you ready for the big day. For more information about NaNoWriMo and how you can participate, visit their site.

Happy Writing!

Heather

inspiration, nanowrimo, writer's life

Heather Goes to Camp

I’ve been away from the blog for a few weeks and for two very good reasons: 1) I have been hard at work putting the finishing touches on my soon to be released novel, Light In The Darkness. And, 2) I went to camp.

That’s right, folks. This thirty-something mother of three went to camp for a week with a bunch of the coolest teens I know. We got dirty, down right stinky nasty running around and playing crazy games in the hot southern sun. We played games like Fish Baseball and Zombie Apocalypse Capture the Flag. We built a giant slip-n-slide. We swam in the river and had a blast. It was a wild and crazy week.

One of the things I enjoyed most about camp was meeting so many amazing kids. I discovered that two of my young friends hope to be writers someday (Hi, Anna and Kaitlyn!) and enjoyed talking with them about books they love and the stories they plan to write. I talked with a few gals who insisted they hate to read and are terrible in school (Hi, Rose and DeeAnn!) and this shocked me because they were so very cool and smart. I wish I could be their teacher for a year or two and share with them all of my favorite books and teach them how very fun and fabulous writing can be.  I hope they will stop by the site to visit once in a while and maybe pick up one of the books I have shared in You Gotta Read posts.

Another awesome thing about visiting camp as a writer is the concentrated look at teen relationships that you get in a week of camp. We saw young love and heartbreak, major girl drama and teen angst.  Mostly I saw a lot of great friendships bloom out of seemingly nowhere. We all arrived strangers and left with friends. What an amazing thing. Those memories will be useful when I am creating new characters in my YA books this next year. You can’t beat the experience of real life when you are crafting fiction.

How about you? Did you go to camp this summer? Did you meet any totally cool kids that you wish you could hang out with all year? What awesome new experiences will you be using in your writing this year?

If you’ve got a fabulous idea for a story, why not go ahead and write it? It’s too hot to do much of anything else, so a few hours at your computer desk or on your bed with a pen and a notebook will keep you cool and entertained. Besides, mom and dad can’t get too irritated when they find you writing a book instead of watching tv, right? Man, I’d give my kids cookies for that!

Here’s a great way to help you get started: Camp Nanowrimo! You can join thousands of other writers around the world who are racing to get their stories written before August 31st.  That’s a whole book written in a month!  Think it can’t be done? It can and its a blast.  The perfect kick in the seat to get you motivated to get that story that’s been bouncing around in your brain for years out and into the open page. Sign up now and scroll through their website to see all the fun and silliness that can be had when a bunch of writers jump into the word frenzy that is writing a book in a month.  It’s a blast.  As a matter of fact, my first very first novel was written during Nanowrimo a few years ago. Now I’m getting ready to share it with the world in just a few short days. You never know what magic can happen when you sit down with that idea and let it all out onto the blank page.


Gotta Write,Heather
encouragement, nanowrimo, writer's life

Write to Fight Summer Boredom

Writers are lucky creatures.  We keep entertainment at our fingertips.  So, there is no excuse for complaining that you are bored this summer like all the other kids.  Kick that rear in gear and grab a notebook or a laptop and get busy throwing some words down.  Here are a few sites to help you get moving and fight that summer boredom:

http://campnanowrimo.org/

  • What: Writing one 50,000-word novel from scratch in a month’s time.
  • Who: You! We can’t do this unless we have some other people trying it as well. Let’s write laughably awful yet lengthy prose together.
  • Why: The reasons are endless! To actively participate in one of our era’s most enchanting art forms! To write without having to obsess over quality. To be able to make obscure references to passages from our novels at parties. To be able to mock real novelists who dawdle on and on, taking far longer than 30 days to produce their work.
  • When: You can sign up anytime to add your name to the roster. Writing begins 12:00:01 AM on June 1, and again on August 1. To be added to the official list of winners, you must reach the 50,000-word mark by 11:59:59 PM on the last day of the month. Once your novel has been verified by our web-based team of robotic word counters, the partying begins.

http://junowrimo.com/

From JuNoWriMo’s about page:

JuNoWriMo is June Novel Writing Month, started by Becca J. Campbell and Anna Howard to have a slightly different take on a month long noveling adventure. For starters, you don’t have to write a novel (you can write creative non-fiction, so bring on the funny/meaningful memoirs or whatever), write a new novel (did you write 5 pages last month and you can’t get going? That’s okay, write the next 50,000 words with us!).

 

http://ywp.nanowrimo.org/

The dare machine is still running over at Nanowrimo’s Young Writer’s Program page.  Why not hop on over and give it a whirl.  It can help you power through the brick wall of Writer’s Block or at least provide a few laughs when you’re stuck in Writer’s Grump.  Make a game of it with your writerly friends.  Spin the machine and challenge each other to a dare.  You can also bum around their forums and make a few new writer friends if you are starting to feel alone in your literary world.

 

And please don’t forget to come back here for lots of writing fun.  I have more books, interviews with authors and writing exercises to get us all through the dog days of summer.  See you soon!

Heather