Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Revision Makes The Book

Jen K. Blom’s debut novel, Possum Summer, came out last spring…but it wasn’t easy getting to publication. And to get to publication, Jen had to have a solid manuscript…which is obviously never the first draft.

For some writers (myself included), the revision process is less enjoyable than writing the first draft. I’m excited to share some of Jen’s insight when it comes to editing your manuscript. Take it away, Jen!

Hey guys.

I'm here today visiting with Lorna about revising. That's right: the R word. And you're here to suffer through it with us! Well done!

I've written a lot of manuscripts over the years. But when I finally took "getting published" seriously, I had to re-examine my revising process. Before I'd taken it seriously, my revision process looked like this:

1. Finish first draft.

2. Sleep a night.


And that obviously didn't work. Because no matter how much I had read and read, and how much I'd learned in university (I studied creative writing and journalism) I couldn't send out a first draft and get anywhere.

That first draft method changed when I decided to work on POSSUM SUMMER (Holiday House, June 2011). I started a blog. I found other writers and we created a critique group. I then wrote the first draft in a month (in my defense, I travelled two hours on a train each morning and night, and so it was the perfect opportunity to do it. It's not like I'm some crazy awesome writer or anything).

Then? I set it aside. Although that killed me.

That's right. Set aside for over two months as I wrote yet ANOTHER attempt at fantasy (total fail!) and then came back to it. I learned how to revise with this book. Three different times, reading through and catching errors, lapses in logic, etc. I didn't exactly know what I was doing but the story seemed easier to me to look at now, now that I wanted to make it perfect. So I queried, and got an agent!

And we went out to ... silence ... until an awesome editor was interested! But the editor wanted things changed - things that made sense when she said them, but how could I miss those things, myself? She'd read the MS once and I'd created the darn thing, not to mention changed and revised it three times already! But I went back to the writing block and revised it according to what she'd said, making it so much better. Then? Another round of revisions. Then? One last one! Then?

OFFER! On a book that was already so much better and more meaningful, all from a couple revision changes. This little story of a first book getting published has a couple things in it for you, should you care to read further:

1. Not every book gets snapped up right away. (and that is a good thing)

2. Never, ever give up.

and lastly?


Here's what I've learned about revising, now:

- keep a notebook or an open file nearby while you're writing. When you're in the thick of your muse, you do not need to go back and flesh out something you realize you wrote wrong. Keep a list and go back.

- always, always give yourself some time in between writing the first draft and revising. You do not want to revise right away. Time will open your eyes, and time will show you where the problems are in your MS.

- Pay attention to the Five Senses: your characters don't just go through the pages. Pay attention to how they use all their senses: hearing, touch. Tasting, smell. This is important!

- does each character you introduce in your book as a secondary have an arc? The best books are well-rounded books, and the best well-rounded books are those where the satisfying thing is that everyone has a change.

- have critters for your revision process. I've found that other people are awesome readers, depending on the time I use them. I have two crit buds for the initial crap draft process, one for after the 2nd revision, and 3 for "the finished version".

Each one brings valuable insight and experience to the table - insight and experience that only they are capable of at that point in my process. I highly recommend this!

Don't despair when you finish book number 2, then book 3, and find that each is an entirely different revising beast. I'm here to tell you it's okay, and I'm here to say that it is normal. Keep a list and keep on plugging!

Just remember that a published writer is the one that didn't give up. And I would say, the one that kept revising.

Go you!

Visit Jen’s awesome blog and follow her on Twitter!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Road To Publication

After reading a Tweet from writer, Kaylie Newell, announcing that she sold her first book, I contacted her to discover what her journey to publication was like. In this interview, Newell discusses her writing and revision process to inevitable rejection, and finally, to publication.

LL: Hi Kaylie, thanks so much for taking the time to be interviewed!

KN: Thanks for having me, Lorna. It’s an honour.

LL: Congrats on selling your first book! What’s it about and when can readers grab a copy?

KN: My book is called A Death That Lingers. It’s a romantic suspense novel with a supernatural twist. My heroine, Josie is being haunted by her dead husband. And it’s not a Patrick Swayze, Demi Moore kind of haunting, either. He was a real jerk when he was alive. Being dead makes him even grumpier. And when Josie finds herself drawn to the sexy young police chief in her small Midwestern town, things get really interesting!

I don’t have a release date yet, but I’m guessing it’ll be late October or early November. Just in time to read during the spooky fall weather. It will be for sale in electronic format from the publisher’s website, as well as Amazon, etc.

LL: When did you first start writing this book? Did you have a writing routine?

KN: I started writing my book on Valentine’s Day of 2010 (I thought that would be appropriate for a romance novel!) I’d wanted to write a book ever since I was a little girl. Even though I had made up my mind to do it, the thought was still very intimidating. I decided I’d have a daily writing goal.

I bought a little dry erase board and put it in the kitchen. Every night before I went to bed, I’d write down my word count goal for the next day. I think seeing that goal the next morning every time I walked in and out of the kitchen, made it harder for me to fudge. Most days I’d write no less than 300 words. Not very much, but it added up little by little. On the weekends I wrote significantly more when I had the time (my husband and I have two little ones, so some weekends were easier than others). All in all, it took me a little under six months to write a 300 page novel. If I can do it, anyone can!

LL: What was your first thought when you read through the first draft?

KN: Relief! I was pretty worried the whole story would stink. That it wouldn’t flow, or make sense. It’s hard to get an overall picture of your book when you’re writing in little increments, so when I read through it the first time, I was happy all the puzzles pieces fit.

LL: Can you share your revision process?

KN: The revisions are actually my favourite part. It’s when the book really starts to shine and that’s a great feeling. I think I probably revise backwards, though. I’ve heard that it’s best to read through the first time and look at big things, like plot, character development, etc. Then work your way towards more specific things with each consecutive read through. Chopping adverbs, unnecessary dialogue tags, etc.

But it’s hard for me to see the big picture when I’m obsessing about awkward sentence structure. So I let my little mental editor do her thing, then when the writing is more polished, I can concentrate on the story. I went through A Death That Lingers six full times, and felt like I could have gone through several more. But for me, I had to choose a stopping point or I was going to drive myself bananas trying to make it perfect.

That’s one thing I’ve learned. What’s “perfect” for me one day, won’t look perfect the next. Eventually, you just have to have faith in the manuscript and send it out.

LL: What was the journey to publication like? How did you handle rejection?

KN: Wow. I’m having a surreal moment here. The journey to publication… Sometimes I have to remind myself that I actually sold my book! I’m still pinching myself. It was a long, hard road. I guess that’s the best way to describe it. Writing is something I’ve always loved and felt passionate about. Writing a book was a natural extension of that.

But that doesn’t mean every day was easy or enjoyable. Some nights I would cry myself to sleep (something my very loving and supportive family can attest to). Some days were exhilarating, others were exhausting. It was an emotional roller coaster.

Rejection is hard for everyone. I’m a naturally sensitive person, so in the beginning those rejection slips would devastate me. Put me into an emotional tailspin for days at a time.

Over time though, you realize that what they say is true. Writing is a subjective business. Not everyone is going to love your work. But that doesn’t mean your work isn’t good. It just means you have to try that much harder to get it in front of someone who does like it. Rejection isn’t fun, but it’s a part of writing. Look at it this way, the more rejection slips, the thicker the skin, the tougher the writer! And a tough writer can do anything.

LL: What did you learn about publication after getting that “yes” from Beachwalk Press?

KN: That’s a great question! The answer is I’m still in the process of learning all the magical ins and outs of this business. I feel like a babe in the woods. Luckily for me, I have a wonderful editor who I know will be a great teacher as well. I’m still learning about contracts, royalties, marketing, edits. The list is endless. But I read a lot about the business and that helps. I’m also a member of Romance Writers of America and its on-line chapter, RWAOL. I’ve met fantastic contacts there, some of whom have turned into great friends and critique partners. What I learn from them is indescribable.

LL: What are you working on now?

KN: I just finished my second book, a romantic suspense, about six weeks ago. I’m in the process of polishing it up. I’m also launching a romance blog with my critique partners on October 17th. That should be a lot of fun.

LL: Any advice you’d like to share with aspiring writers, who are close to or in the process of shopping their first novels around?

KN: Don’t give up! The day I sold my book was one of the happiest of my life. But it didn’t happen quickly. Work through those rejection slips and keep sending your book out. Send it out to multiple publishers and or agents. And while you’re waiting, start your next novel. Join a writing group, make friends of other writers. They’ll understand first hand what it’s like to be sending your book out. They’ll be able to teach you so much and provide a shoulder to cry on when you need it. And they’ll joyfully help you celebrate when you get “the call”!

Friday, August 19, 2011

8 Questions For YA Author, Amanda Ashby

Young Adult author, Amanda Ashby, is yet another example of a writer who did not give up. It took six years for Amanda to get published, her first book being You Had Me at Halo. Here’s a closer look at Amanda’s journey from inspiration to publication.

Hi Amanda! Thank you so much taking the time to do this interview.

You’re welcome. Interviews are always a lovely distraction from work and as you will discover, I’m a girl who likes distractions!

We can all be guilty of getting distracted! As a writer who pushed through six years before getting her debut novel, You Had Me At Halo published, what kept you motivated and focused?

Honestly, the main thing that kept me motivated was the feeling deep in my gut that one day it would happen to me. I can’t explain where it came from (certainly not from my early drafts, which were hideous!) but it was there right from the beginning. Then over the years I used to take great hope in every small break through I had, like winning a competition or moving from form rejections to personal rejections or from getting partial requests, through to full requests.

What is your writing routine like?

It’s pretty shoddy! Like most writers, I’m easily distracted by the Internet (not to mention snack food, glittery objects, and the sudden need to clean the house). However, because I know what I’m like, when I’m working on a book I always set myself a word count to hit—normally about 2k—and then if I choose to spend the entire day being naughty, I’m forced to sit at the computer all night until I hit the words. Which, by the way makes me delightful to be around the following day!

Are you an outliner? How do you prepare before writing a novel?

I’m a pantser who longs to be a plotter so I spend a lot of time making notes and outlines that I’m doomed to never follow. I find the whole thing quite frustrating and get very jealous of writers who can do lovely outlines. However, I’ve sorted of accepted that my process is messy and so I just try and write my way through it.

What’s your latest book, Fairy Bad Day about? What was it like writing it?

Argh. For a light-hearted comedy, Fairy Bad Day was ridiculously hard to write. I wrote about two or three drafts for my agent and then it had about three rounds of revisions from my editor. In fact, the only easy part was the title!

What are you currently working on?

I’m revising the second book in my upcoming Middle Grade series, Sophie’s Mixed-Up Magic, about a girl who gets turned into a genie the day before she starts sixth grade.

What inspires you the most?

Books! I was a reader long before I was ever a writer and it’s still the same. I really love reading great books and every time I do, as well as getting wildly jealous that I didn’t write them, I’m also inspired to do a better job with my own books.

If you could have dinner with any writer, dead or alive, who would it be and why?

Jane Austen or Georgette Heyer, because I love humor in books and they were both the masters of it! Plus, they both seem like they would be very well mannered, which means they probably wouldn’t complain if I had a second helping of pudding.

Considering your journey from your first novel to getting published for the first time, can you share some advice with aspiring novelists?

Take time to find your voice! Voice is one of those strange things that we often ignore when really it is what will help make your books stand out in a crowded market. So don’t be afraid to write the story the way you ‘really’ want to write it as opposed to how you think you should write it.

I say this because for six years I kept coming up with all these weird paranormal romance ideas, but because I was trying to write regular romance novels at the time, I would carefully cut the paranormal elements out of each book (I really wish I was kidding about this but I’m not). However, when I finally had the idea of a dead girl who gets kicked out of heaven and sent back to earth in a guy’s body, I realized that there was no way I could cut it all out, so instead I finally embraced the voice that I had been trying to stifle for so long and I wrote the book in all of its glorious weirdness.

Oh, and it goes without saying but eat lots of chocolate. It might not make you write a better book, but I’m sure it will make you feel better!

To learn more about Amanda and her books, visit her website!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

6 Ways To Deal With Rejection

A few weeks ago, I read a Writer’s Digest article called, “How To Turn Rejection Letters Into A Positive” written by children’s author, Sue Fliess. It was such an uplifting piece that I decided to contact Sue and ask her to share some motivational tips for anyone in the midst of pitching their manuscripts.

Here are some of Sue’s great tips to use rejection as a way to improve as a writer:

1. Save your rejection letters! Not only is it a great way to show the IRS you've been working (if you should ever have the misfortune of an audit), but it provides you with an 'editors-at-a-glance' reference to which editors sent you what. You should go through your letters of decline to see which editors sent you form letters, which showed interest or paid compliments, and which asked to see more from you. It's also a great way to open up in your next submission letter: "I know XYZ story wasn't a fit for you, but you had mentioned I could send you more of my work..." Persistence is effective.

2. How else are you going to improve your craft, but to know what you are doing wrong? Even if you think you cannot possibly improve on your impeccable manuscript, ask yourself these questions: Did I try everything I could to make it the best manuscript it could be? Did I try the suggestion from that one editor who, at the time, I didn't think knew what she was talking about? Revisit your critique group's comments. Maybe there is something in there of value that will change your manuscript for the better.

3. Rejection or redirection? Rejection is so subjective, that I prefer to hear the word rejection as redirection. Redirection letters sound less harsh. My story was not right for that editor, so she has redirected me. Now I will try another editor for whom I think it will be a good fit. I can't think of anything worse than selling your manuscript to an editor who is only half in love with it (though that doesn't happen often).

4. Rejection is tough. It's hard not to take it personally. But it is just business. It doesn't mean the editor doesn't like YOU, or even that she/he didn't like your story (unless you pitched it to her in the bathroom). Publishers reject for so many reasons and they simply don't have time to go into detail about why (some do, though). As long as you are confident you are putting your best work forward, just be patient until you find the right editor for your work. I once received advice from an author when I told her, "It just seems no one likes my story." She rebutted with: "No, you just haven't found the right editor yet."

5. Submit and write. Then submit some more and write some more. It's a game of odds. If you have one manuscript out there and you are biting your nails waiting for that “yes”, you're going to be disappointed. If you have six manuscripts floating, and are writing at the same time, you: 1) don't obsess with the one that's out there and the rejection letters that are coming in, and 2) you better your chances of someone saying yes.

6. I've found that living through the rejection part of my writing career has helped me in my regular life. I used to never be able to take no for an answer. I'm a marketer and a former publicist, so I was always of the mindset that I could convince anyone of anything. I remember convincing (though, looking back, it was more like badgering) a co-worker to go out to lunch with me. She was very busy, but we ate at this little dive in midtown Manhattan every Monday. She was too busy for lunch. But I needed my routine. I needed her to say yes. Finally, she stood up and said, “No. I'm not going. People don't say no to you very often do they?" And she was right. I was used to getting my way.

So receiving rejections without the chance to persuade or defend seemed so one-sided, so unfair. I thought I should get the chance to say, "But really, you just need to read it again and then you'll get it" or, "How can you say no when my character is so likable? Surely you need to rethink and pass it around your editorial table once more." But we don't get that chance, and we have to trust that the editor is not taking it for a valid reason, which is pretty much always the case. But rejection leaves us with a feeling of helplessness. We want to know WHY it didn't make the cut and if not, HOW can we get it right next time. And that's what your critique group is for.

Rejection is just part of the writing process. Accept it as such. Stop fearing it and use it to your advantage. I've come to realize that "no" doesn't mean I'm no good or I'll never sell anything ever again. It just means "not right now." And another way of hearing that is: "maybe later."

Sue Fliess is the author of children’s book, Shoes for Me!, with Marshall Cavendish Children's Books. A Dress for Me! and Tons of Trucks are both in development and due out next spring. Visit Sue’s website or follow her @SueFliess.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Kids Are A Tough Crowd

I wanted to write an animated children’s script for a while, so I brainstormed a concept for a new show. That progressed to a beat sheet for a pilot and eventually a first draft. It wasn’t seamless though. This was one of the most challenging things I’ve ever written.

For inspiration, I observed my four-year-old twin nephews whenever they watched their favorite programming: Dora the Explorer, Caillou, and Max and Ruby. They responded to color, voice, direct inclusion of the viewer, and sound more than anything else. The brighter the colors, the longer they paid attention. The greater the variety in pitch and voice, the more they turned their head to face the screen. They also widened their eyes whenever they heard sudden sounds. And, they really enjoyed it whenever the character (like Dora) directly addressed them. Example: Where do you think we should go next? The bridge, the apple tree, or the castle?

I knew I had to add certain elements to the script, but the writing was a different story. Every line I wrote made me panic. Is this too advanced for kids? Am I patronizing them? Is this entertaining enough? Will I sustain their interest? After I wrote the first draft, I decided it was not good enough for kids. I had to make it POP. After I sent my script to two readers and received helpful feedback, I realized three major things were missing that other children’s shows had.

Tons of Action

Writing for children requires a lot of action description. Every show my nephews watched and loved had tons of action. In my revisions, I included descriptions of action sequences, facial expressions, sight gags, etc.

Sound Effects

In animated scripts, you have more freedom to describe dramatic visuals with sound effects like a phone literally ringing off a hook. You could even have the RINGING phone BONKING the person on the head to get their attention.

Camera Direction

In live action writing, you typically don’t include camera angles. But in animated writing, showing camera direction means more interesting action to hold children’s attention. Using a SLOW ZOOM or a SMASH CUT in the telephone ringing sequence as the phone JOLTS the receiver off the hook breaks things up visually. Another element is capitalization. When I read animated scripts before my revision process, I noticed that the sound effects, music cues, and camera directions were capitalized to heighten excitement.

After I included these components in my second draft, I sent it to another writer who is naturally funny and a bit kooky (and I mean this in a good way). Her personality helped shape my script into something with just the right amount of silliness without being condescending. Writing an animated script for kids was a tough experience that I want to do again because as hard as it was, it helped me strengthen my visual storytelling skills.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

8 Writing Prompts

If you’re feeling particularly stuck lately, try some writing prompts to help jog your brain over to Storyville.

Here are a few prompts that I’ve used as a warm-up before a writing session:

Write a 15-word sentence about the most vivid dream you’ve had lately.

You’ve struggled financially for most of your life. Your wealthy aunt has passed away and left you with six figures. In order to get the money, you must fulfill an obligation in your aunt’s will. What is it and will you do it?

Think of your favorite song and write the lyrics that usually stick to your head. Write a short story (about two paragraphs) using most of the words in the song and its main theme.

Write your favorite childhood memory, describing the setting, characters, and emotions in the memory.

You wake up in a wooded area with garden gnomes and animals standing over you, each planning a different way to kill you. Write this scene.

Write a letter apologizing to someone you bullied in your past. Include specific names you called that person and the most humiliating moment you put them through.

In the middle of the night, you receive a mysterious phone call telling you that something awful has happened to one of your friends. What is it and what are you going to do?

Choose a fictional character and pretend you have to “walk a day in this person’s shoes.” Write about it.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

What To Look For In A Critique Partner

You’ve finished the first draft of your screenplay, novel, television script, or picture book. You know that it’s not “done”. Ernest Hemingway’s quote, “the first draft of anything is shit” keeps rolling around in your head. You know you need a fresh pair of eyes to go over your writing and give you feedback that will improve the first draft. I have a couple people I usually turn to when I need help with my revisions.

There were some readers in the past who didn’t quite offer much insight, but there are a couple (that I still go to) who always take their time and send me excellent notes. If you’re considering sending your manuscript to a reader, here are some questions you should ask yourself:

1. Is this person an avid reader? Those who read voraciously will have a better sense of story and structure, which will enable them to give you more substantial notes.

2. Is this person reliable? Sure, you might have a blast hanging out with them, but will they deliver what they promised? Does this person have a history of flaking out? If so, find someone else.

3. Is this person constructive and respectful? Even though this is your first draft, it’s still your baby. You spent a lot of time with this project and your characters, developing their world, and deepening your connection to it. I have found that those who understand and appreciate this connection are able to give more constructive feedback, remaining respectful of you as the writer.

4. Is this person insightful? It would be ideal to find a reader who understands narrative structure, and is also a naturally creative thinker. There have been several times when my readers would open up a new way of approaching a scene or character that got me out of a funk or helped me liven up something that felt too flat.

It may take a while to find a critique partner that suits your personality and professional needs, but hopefully, these questions will get you started on finding your story soulmate. And remember, you don’t have to take all their notes into account…it’s still your story after all.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

It All Starts With One Word

Sometimes, ending a novel or story is the easy part, while the hard part is starting. You essentially have an opportunity to grab the reader’s attention and make her want to continue reading with the first sentence. That’s a lot of pressure.

I read all kinds of books—memoirs, thrillers, fantasy, middle grade, young adult, graphic novels, non-fiction, etc. I love almost every genre and truly believe that opening yourself to different kinds of storytelling will help you as a writer. In reading various genres, I have come to appreciate the way the writers hook you in with their opening line. The first sentence sets the mood, giving you an organizational cue as to what genre you’re reading.

A great beginning may not guarantee a bestseller, but it increases the chances of a reader purchasing your book. How do we hook our readers? We are not just writers—we are readers too! Think about the kinds of beginnings that draw you in.

Here are three ways that other books spark my interest:

Invoking Mystery

Some writers begin with a pronoun (“He heard a woman’s scream”) or placing the character in a bizarre setting (“Alice woke up in a white, windowless room”). Immediately, you have an uneasy feeling when you read both opening lines. Who is this man that heard a woman’s scream? Did anyone else hear it? Is he a killer? Has he been captured? You know nothing about this man, other than the fact that he heard something dreadful…what is it and will we learn more?

The second opening line makes you wonder who Alice is, where she is, and how she got there. Will she ever get out of this room? Who put her there and why?

Some examples of opening lines that invoked a sense of mystery for me:

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.” - Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

“I am an invisible man.” - Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man

“It was a woman’s bedroom, actually a boudoir, and no man belonged in it except by invitation.” - Kathleen Winsor, Star Money

“We have been lost to each other for so long.” – Anita Diamant, The Red Tent

Springing Into Action

An effective way to start a story is to begin in the middle of the action. That way, you cut out too much of the “introduction” and get to the good stuff. In fact, I’ve had a few editors tell me that after writing your first draft, it would spice up your story to actually cut out the first chapter and start with your second. Another way to start with action is to begin with dialogue so that your reader is thrown right into the middle of a conversation.

Here are a couple opening lines that grabbed my attention because of the beginning action or dialogue:

“They threw me off the hay truck about noon.” James M. Cain, The Postman Always Rings Twice

“When your mama was the geek, my dreamlets,” Papa would say, “she made the nipping off of noggins such a crystal mystery that the hens themselves yearned towards her, waltzing around her, hypnotized with longing.” Katherine Dunn, Geek Love

Looking Back

I’ve been drawn to stories that begin with a teasing hook that tell me an amazing story is about to be revealed. These are generally written as a memory, something in the past that still plagues the character enough to unfold their story.

I really like how Stephen King does this in

“The terror, which would not end for another 28 years—if it ever did end—began, so far as I can tell, with a boat made from a sheet of newspaper floating down a gutter swollen with rain.”

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Writing With A Partner

Writing is almost always challenging, especially if you’re writing something a bit foreign to you…whether it’s a feature drama, a children’s picture book, or a short film. That’s why writing with a partner attracted me to write two things I had never done before: a feature comedy screenplay and an animated web series.

I’m not a strong joke writer and I knew I needed someone who had punchier lines to help me with a feature comedy. When I approached Jessica a good friend of mine who’s naturally funny with an idea for a feature, I was a bit nervous. Would this affect our friendship? I had never written with anyone before, but I really felt like we could do this together, and that we could do it well.

Jess said yes and seemed very excited about it. We met up at a local coffee shop to talk about our characters and write descriptions for them. The next few sessions were devoted to our outline and eventually, our beat sheet. We met up once or twice a week to start writing the screenplay. I typed it out while we literally talked through each scene. There were several times when I wasn’t sure if an idea or a joke was funny, so just running it by my partner and getting feedback was good progress.

Although we finished writing the screenplay months ago, I wanted to get Jess’s opinion on what it was like working with a partner. Whenever the subject of writing with someone else comes up, I share my experiences so I thought I’d get some insight from the two talented people I worked with.

Here’s what Jessica had to say:

“For the most part, I am someone who prefers to work alone. So when I decided to write a screenplay with a close friend of mine, I was uneasy about how the process would work. How would we be productive? What if we didn't agree on things? What if we hated each other's ideas? I really didn't know how it would work, but we had an idea worth writing, so I decided to give it a try.

“I was amazed at how well we worked together. We spent a few sessions just going over characters and a general outline. Then we came back and broke that down into a beat sheet. Before we knew it, we had a full screenplay sitting in front of us, just waiting to be written.

“It really was a flawless system. Sometimes we would get stuck on a joke and then would bounce ideas back and forth, drawing on each other's creativity, until eventually our mediocre joke transformed into something really funny.

“After writing an entire screenplay with a partner, I would happily do it again. I do think that the types of personalities are important though, and perhaps with someone else I may not have meshed as well. So, if you can find the right hard-working, dedicated, open-minded individual to write with, I say go with it! “

I also wanted to get some feedback from Molly, who is someone I often develop lots of film and television concepts with but we had never actually written something together. Since learning more about transmedia and seeing how popular web series had gotten, we decided to write an animated web series for women. We figured six webisodes would be a good start for the first season. Starting off with character profiles and springboards, we later split the writing in half: I would write three webisodes and Molly would write the other three. This process was a lot different than writing everything single thing together like I did with Jess.

After we had written everything, we sent each other our work for story editing. At first, we had different visions for a couple of the characters, but after a few meetings, we found ourselves on the same page again…

Once we shared the same vision, we met up and went through each webisode together, tightening dialogue, punching up the jokes, and making sure every scene flowed well and all the characters were true to form.

Here’s what Molly thought about writing our animated web series with me!

“Writing with a partner is a great way to meet deadlines and stay motivated. For me, this has always been a problem. However, since working with Lorna, I get things done when I say I will (most of the time!). Finding the right partner is really important. Try to find someone who complements your weaknesses and has a similar style of writing.

“For me, procrastination and motivation can be a problem. I talk myself out of problems instead of working through them. Lorna doesn't let me give up when we hit a roadblock. On the flip side, I find that one of my strengths is writing dialogue, so once we have the beat sheet (which I don't enjoy doing!) we are ready to go!

“Be honest, but objective. If you don't like something, figure out why. If you just try to be "nice" to each other all the time, you really aren't doing each other any favors. Before you start writing, make sure you have the same vision in mind. Use references to other shows, movies, plays, etc. to make sure you are headed the same direction stylistically.

“Also, sometimes you have to let the little things go. Unless you are adamant about a particular element in the script that perhaps your partner hasn't captured or gotten exactly the way you imagine, let it go. As in life, when writing with a partner, you must choose your battles wisely.”

And, for the record, I would absolutely write with both Jess and Molly again. Both experiences were fantastic…I learned a lot about what my strengths and weaknesses are and was encouraged to think about things in different ways. Writing with a partner can really open you up to other possibilities, which only enriches your own writing.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

What A Character

Everything I write is very character-driven. The more I know my characters, the more attached I get to them. The more attached I get to them, the more I want to write their story. There are times, though, when I’m working on a story and I find that I’m just not in love with my main character yet. That’s when I know that this character I’ve created is just not that fully formed.

If you’re facing this challenge, consider these questions and try to answer them so you can get better acquainted with your character and fall so deeply in love with them, that you just need to write about them.

What is your character’s gender?



Eye color?


Weight/body shape?

Emotional level?




Marital status?

Best childhood memory? Worst childhood memory?

Family life?

Biggest goal/desire?

Biggest obstacle that challenges character from attaining goal?

Best friend?

Worst enemy?

Favorite comfort food?


How would your character act on a romantic date?

What is your character like in a romantic relationship?

What kind of friend is your character?

What does your character hate about themselves? What does your character love about themselves?

It also helps me to think about my favorite characters and jot down why I like them so much. Here are four of the most memorable characters I’ve read about.

Flavia de Luce from Alan Bradley’s The Flavia de Luce Series
In this detective fiction series, eleven-year-old Flavia is courageous, sharp, hilarious, and an aspiring chemist. I laughed out loud several times reading The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. She outsmarts everyone—from her older sisters to her kidnapper, Flavia takes intelligence to a whole new level.

Jane Eyre from Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre

Jane Eyre is one of my favorite novels. What I love and admire most about Jane is that regardless of her difficult past and her suffering, she is never portrayed as a damsel in distress.

Alice from Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Although Alice displays a superior attitude considering her wealthy upbringing and social class in the Victoria era, her curiosity highly appeals to me. Her logic often clashes with the madness she finds in Wonderland, so the identity journey she goes through is also one that a reader can easily connect to, regardless of the novel’s fantastical setting.

The Little Prince from Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s The Little Prince

The little prince is an extremely noble character of high caliber. What I love most about him is his child-like character that can clearly see the flaws and weaknesses of adults.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Say Goodbye Already

Like anything else in life, your novel has to end sometime. Some of my writer friends know exactly how they plan on ending their novel before they even begin writing it. Their outlines will actually have the final line written. My other writer friends never know how they will finish their novels. While I don’t necessarily know the exact final line, I generally do know how my story will end, so that I know what I’m working towards.

Typically, there are five kinds of endings:

1. The lead gains their objective

2. The lead loses their objective

3. The lead gains their objective but loses something more valuable

4. An ambiguous ending

5. The lead sacrifices their objective for a greater cause

Sometimes, if I’m really stumped as to how to end a short story, novel, or screenplay, I look to writers I admire and flip through their works to their endings. Here are some of my all-time favorite last lines:

“You must go on, I can’t go on, I’ll go on.” (Samuel Beckett, The Unnamable)

“Yes,” I said. “Isn’t it pretty to think so?” (Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises)

“It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.” (Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities)

“Are there any questions?” (Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale)

“He was soon borne away by the waves and lost in darkness and distance.” (Mary Shelley, Frankenstein)

“Don’t ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody.” (J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye)

astly, she pictured to herself how this same little sister of hers would, in the after-time, be herself a grown woman; and how she would keep, through all her riper years, the simple and loving heart of her childhood; and how she would gather about her other little children, and make their eyes bright and eager with many a strange tale, perhaps even with the dream of Wonderland of long ago; and how she would feel with all their simple sorrows, and find a pleasure in all their simple joys, remembering her own child-life, and the happy summer days.” (Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland)

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Research Sites For Writers

A big part of being a writer is having excellent research skills. Depending on what I’m working on, I usually gather information from interview sources, research journals, and yes, the Internet. The Internet constantly proves to be an easy source, because of its accessibility, but simultaneously a challenging one considering the prevalence of content mills.

I have looked into search engines that filter out content mills to enable a more credible research process. Here’s a list of my top three:

is a simple search engine that filters out low-quality content.

is designed as a Q and A resource that many respected experts participate in. If someone on the site has not answered your question, you can just add it.

Wolfram Alpha
is a computational knowledge engine with a goal to build on scientific achievements and knowledge to generate clear results. This engine is geared towards more objective research and factual data.

I hope these sites help increase your productivity! In the meantime, feel free to share some of your favorite research sites.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Food For Thought (And Other Writerly Needs)

If you have a long day (or night) of writing ahead of you, you may discover that eventually, focusing on your work becomes pretty challenging. Just when you need to sustain your energy to continue creative thought, you may experience some fatigue. Although I’m a coffee fan, I do try to fuel my body with energy-sustaining foods for those long writing and brainstorming sessions.

While working, your brain uses lots of power as it relies on memory, creativity, and energy. To enhance my work, I generally consume complex carbohydrates such as whole grain rice cakes (fuel for the brain), omega 3 fatty acids such as nuts (to enhance the building blocks—building highways within your brain to carry information), and anti-oxidants such as vitamin C and E (to preserve the brain from free radicals).

These are some snacks that I reach for to sustain my energy without making me crash:

- almonds

- avocado with a squirt of Dijon mustard
- bananas

- pumpkin seeds

- apple with all-natural almond or sesame seed butter
- oatmeal

- celery and carrot sticks with hummus

And, here’s a treat for you! It’s a delicious recipe from Teri Gentes, who’s a good friend and a gourmet holistic chef/nutritionist. Enjoy this dish to keep you fueled and focused for a solid writing session.

SunButter Pita Breakfast Pizza

1. Begin with a 4-inch Pita Break Breakfast Pita such as Muesli or Morning Grain
(All natural and preservative free

2. Spread evenly with 1½ tsp of SunButter (Crunchy, Original and Organic)
(This peanut-free, real food seed butter is rich in Vitamin E, thiamine and iron) (Product of the USA)

3. Drizzle with 1/2 tsp of all natural local honey
(Unrefined, un-pasteurized honey contains trace minerals and enzymes beneficial for your health)

4. Sprinkle with 1 tbsp Ruth's Chai Goodness Cereal
(More Omega 3-rich than flax, more calcium than milk and a fabulous source of protein and fibre. )

5. Top with a generous sprinkle of cinnamon.
(Helps reduce blood sugar levels, lowers triglycerides/HDL, a digestive aid, anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal, anti-bacterial)

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

7 Famous Rejected Writers

There is a lot of rejection in a writer’s life. It’s easy for rejections and form letters to discourage you to the point of giving up. Here are some of the most iconic writers who were rejected repeatedly—but kept writing and became best-selling authors.

J.K. Rowling submitted Harry Potter to more than ten publishing houses who all said no. Bloomsbury, a small London publisher, accepted it after the CEO’s eight-year-old daughter begged her father to print the book.

Stephen King’s novel, Carrie, received more than a dozen of rejections. Once published, it was this very novel that enabled him to quit his day job and write full-time.

Louisa May Alcott was told by editors to stick to teaching.

Meg Cabot, best-selling author of The Princess Diaries, keeps a bag of rejection letters.

Beatrix Potter had to publish The Tale of Peter Rabbit herself.

John Grisham’s first novel, A Time to Kill, was rejected by a dozen publishers and several agents before Wynwood Press finally published it. After The Firm, The Pelican Brief, and The Client became bestsellers, A Time to Kill was republished by Doubleday in hardcover and then by Dell Publishing in paperback, making it a bestseller.

Judy Blume received rejections for two years. According to Ms. Blume, she would go to sleep at night feeling that she’d never be published, but she’d wake up in the morning convinced she would be. “Each time I sent a story or book off to a publisher, I would sit down and begin something new,” she said.

And that’s only a tiny few of well-known writers who constantly faced rejection. It’s comforting to know that the road isn’t always smooth…even for the best.