Tag Archives: WBM

Write by Midnight Pep Talk 6-29-20

Over the past month, we’ve asked you to identify books that were either written in the same genre as your story, targeted the same audience as your work-in-progress, or featured characters facing similar conflicts to those in your story. Turning to these mentor texts when you find yourself struggling to write every day can help you stay motivated, as well as improve your writing skills. Each of us have used mentor texts in various ways. Here, we share how we have found or turned to them to inspire and inform our writing.

Laura Ayo

Laura: I believe writers have the opportunity to learn something from every book they read on their journeys to becoming better writers. Sometimes the books are vital lessons in what not to do. But, for the most part, the stories I read help me to improve my craft in subtle, though sometimes profound, ways. I’m in the early stages of revising my work-in-progress, a middle grade historical fiction novel set in the mid-18th century. The story is told from the points of view of a brother and sister who are separated from their parents and each other during their people’s forced removal from their homeland. Here is a sampling of some of the mentor texts I’m using to make my story the best that it can be.

The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley – how to consistently allow readers to experience the story through the eyes of the protagonist

Refugee by Alan Gratz and A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park – how to write about characters who are displaced from their homes/life as they knew it

Darius the Great is Not Okay by Adib Khorram – how to write about a character’s first experiences with a new/unfamiliar culture/customs and language

Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson – how to write about an epidemic in an 18th century setting (although mine is set a few decades earlier)

The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas – how to write about the ways culture and community leave their mark on characters

Salt to the Sea and The Fountains of Silence by Ruta Sepetys – how to write multiple points of view about the same (and little known and/or forgotten) event in history and how to weave period details into a story without info-dumping

One for the Murphys by Lynda Mullaly Hunt – how to write about a character hesitant to accept kindness and love from strangers

As you can see, not all of my mentor texts are historical fiction. They’re not all middle grade novels. While I’ve found something valuable in each of them to inform my own writing, they’re all brilliant and thoughtful in many respects, and may influence your stories in completely different ways. So read widely. You can always learn from others.

Megan Norris Jones

Megan: I had heard authors recommend finding mentor texts in the past, but I hadn’t really understood how to use them effectively. I thought I needed to find books that shared the same theme or subject as my work in progress, like comp titles. Now I realize that the best mentor texts are ones that excel in areas that I am working to develop. As a result, the texts I study will change over time as I focus on different aspects of writing craft. Right now I’m focusing on books that help me understand how to tell a compelling story, one that readers feel in their hearts, not just follow in their heads. My current mentor texts include Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor, Where the Forest Meets the Stars by Glendy Vanderah, and The Missing of Clairdelune by Christelle Dabos.

Naomi Hawkins-Rowe

Naomi: Years ago, I read a Random House interview with Zadie Smith in which, at that point in her career, she’d never attended a writing class and found that “[t]he best, the only real training you can get is from reading other people’s books.”  Very sage advice. (Though having been a professor of creative writing at NYU since 2010, I wonder if Smith is eating her words, or still advising her students accordingly). For me basically all of Smith’s books are mentor texts for story structure, character and well, just how she forms words into sentences.  For my current WIP, however, my mentor list includes Barkskins by Annie Proulx (setting as character), We Are Okay by Nina Lacour (difficult family relationships, among many other things), Cloud Atlas and The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell (story structure, theories of reincarnation and concepts of duel realities) and The Strange Fascinations of Noah Hypnotik by David Arnold (story structure and the blurred lines of consciousness).  While I know mentor texts are defined as books, my list extends to art and T.V. as well. Studying the surreal worlds created in Frida Kahlo’s paintings or in David Lynch’s Twin Peaks and Joshua Brand and John Falsey’s Northern Exposure have been as much help to me as Proulx’s Barkskins or the others on my list.

Stacey Kite

Stacey: I break mentor texts into two categories: those with brilliant prose, regardless of genre, subject matter or target audience, and those that have similarities to the book I’m working on.

The first group consists of novels by writers like Lois McMaster Bujold, M. R. Carey and Terry Pratchett. Though they have very different styles, there are so many things I learn by re-reading their works that it’s hard to know where to start. For rapier satire, there’s no book that matches Small Gods by Terry Pratchett. M. R. Carey’s The Girl with All the Gifts is a masterclass in the art of showing incremental character change. Bujold novels are the ones I turn to when I find myself struggling with dialog, among other things. She writes it brilliantly with the most minimalistic use of tags. There’s a hilarious dinner scene in A Civil Campaign that lasts for 23 pages, includes 20 speaking characters and yet, averages less than one dialog tag per page. And the reader always knows which character is speaking. It’s amazing.

Then there’s the second category of mentor texts: those that share target audience and themes with mine. Since my story is told from animal POVs, those have been more difficult to hunt down. There are older, classic books, of course—Call of the Wild by Jack London, Watership Down by Richard Adams and The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate, but finding contemporary, middle grade novels with animal POV’s was challenging. When my Amazon searches came out a bust, I turned to a writing friend of mine who is a middle school teacher, and she periodically asks her school’s librarian for recommendations and sends them on to me. That’s how I found Pax, by Sara Pennypacker. A wonderful MG novel with a fox for a protagonist.

Which leads me to my simple tip for finding mentor texts—ask people—especially librarians. Librarians rule!

We would love to here from you about what you look for in a mentor text and which have helped you the most.

Write by Midnight Pep Talk 5-25-20

If you’re finding it difficult to maintain your daily writing habit in this time of enforced family togetherness, take some time each day for 15, 10 or even just 5 minutes to do a writing sprint. Don’t worry about making the prose beautiful; simply get words on the page. Then, before you go to bed, no matter what time that is, jot down how you did and what your writing goal is for the next day.

 

 

 

Write by Midnight Pep Talk 4-27-20

As we enter another month of social distancing  amid the global COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve all made adjustments to how, when, where or even whether we’re writing. Perhaps you find yourselves with more time on your hands and you’ve been able to do more writing than ever before. Or, maybe your once free moments to work on your manuscript have been replaced with juggling work-from-home responsibilities while homeschooling your children. So how do you keep up a writing routine during such an uncertain time?

Our previous recommendations of how to track where you spend your time are worth revisiting as you figure out your new normal. Then, once you have a better idea of when you can carve out some time to write, you can set up a new schedule with goals that are realistic for your new circumstances. Keep in mind that even your best intentions will have to be flexible, but having a guide for how to manage your writing during this difficult time will help you stay the course.

 

Take Care of Yourselves

Under normal circumstances, we would post a Write by Midnight Pep Talk today, but our priorities have shifted in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. In the coming weeks, we hope you will do everything to stay healthy, protect yourself and tend to your physical and mental well-being.

Reading a book  is a good distraction from endless negative reports about the state of the world. Many resources for audiobooks have become available for free in recent days, so take advantage of these great options. Then, share the titles you’re enjoying with the WriteOwls community so others can check them out, as well.

Writing about your feelings is a proven method for reducing stress and easing anxieties, so consider journaling during these uncertain times.

While the writing process is often a solitary task, it’s also important to stay connected with others while you’re putting good social distancing habits into practice. There are thousands of writers, editors, agents and publishers who are sharing their journeys on social media. So follow some of your favorites for a healthy dose of “we’re all in this together” and to hear how others are coping with staying at home.

Schedule a regular time to call your writer friends to keep your community in tact. Talking to them at a set time will help you stay motivated as you establish new routines for your daily life and your writing.

Leave a comment here or Tweet us @writeowls to keep in touch and let us know how you’re doing.

 

 

 

 

Write by Midnight 2020 Roundup

Just as Write by Midnight has evolved over the past four years, so, too, have each of us as writers. We’re still discovering new things about our abilities and growing in our craft. Our journeys have been varied, interesting and unexpected. As we conclude Write by Midnight 2020, we’re excited to share with you how this year’s write-a-thon inspired and challenged each of us and how we plan to incorporate what we learned as we continue down the road to publication.

Laura Ayo

Laura Ayo: Write by Midnight is designed to help writers make steady progress on their manuscripts and develop or maintain daily writing habits. The beauty of the challenge is that it meets writers where they are without a lot of pressure. Don’t have more than 15 minutes to write today? That’s ok – just write for 15 minutes. But I needed something more from this year’s write-a-thon.

My story follows the journeys of two siblings who are separated from one another, and I had about a quarter of each of their story arcs left to write before I’d have a completed first draft of my manuscript. So my goal for this year’s WBM was to finish that draft. To succeed, I would need to write not only every day, but consistently write a lot of words – more than I usually do – every day. It felt like an unobtainable Go Big or Go Home-esque goal; and that was deliberate. I needed to set the bar high to see if I would push myself. By setting such an ambitious goal, would it ignite relentless determination in me to prove I could do the unlikely, much like a child digs in with a “watch me” attitude when an adult tells her she can’t possibly do something? I’m happy to report the answer is yes. I worked every day on the story – although some of those days weren’t writing days; they were research days. Having an extra day in the month because it was a Leap Year felt like a sacred gift. I wrote more than 4,000 words that day.

In the end, I didn’t finish the entire manuscript. But I completed one character’s arc, which helped me realize that seemingly unreachable goals aren’t out of reach after all. With 31 days in March, I know without a doubt that I can finish the other sibling’s storyline and have a complete first draft of an entire manuscript in one more month’s time. Just watch me.

Megan Norris Jones

Megan Norris Jones: I finished 2019 with a bang, completing a first draft of a new manuscript. As I wrote that draft and discovered issues with the story, I made notes of things to change in revision. My goal for Write by Midnight 2020 was to complete that initial revision list of things I already knew needed fixing before digging back into a more thorough revision process. The problem? I finished the list in January. Woohoo! or maybe Oops?  Either way, the final push to finish the manuscript in December followed almost immediately by a crash revision in January left me with absolutely no perspective on any aspect of my story. It was a perfect moment to step away and give myself a breather.

But . . . February is Write by Midnight. I LOVE Write by Midnight. I helped found Write by Midnight. I must participate in Write by Midnight.

I dug back in, and did my first read through of the completed manuscript. And had no idea what to do next. Maybe it was brilliant or maybe utter garbage. Difficult to say. So, I pulled out my favorite crafts books and searched for wisdom on revision. And still didn’t know what to do. Well, actually, I did know what to do. I just didn’t want to do it.

I needed a break from my manuscript. All the craft books recommended taking a break after completing a draft. But they didn’t mention what to do when that needed break coincided with your favorite annual writing challenge.

Finally, a natural disaster in form of a flood that threatened to inundate my parents’ home intervened. Don’t worry–the river crested lower than expected, so their home was spared. But we didn’t know that until after we had moved everything out of it and surrounded the house with sandbags over the course of two days. Definitely wasn’t writing, thinking about writing, or pretending to write over those two days. Or the next two days it took to recover from the exhaustion. What I did do was finally admit to myself that I shouldn’t be writing in the month of February. And since it took me half the month to figure that out, I might not write until halfway through March either.

And that’s okay. I’m still a writer with a completed draft of a novel I love. And I have a plan for completing it. I just need the patience to wait until the right time. In that case, I might not have finished a new draft this month, but I did learn some valuable wisdom. Patience is necessary in writing.

Naomi Rowe

Naomi Hawkins-Rowe: My goals for Write By Midnight were four-fold: to regard my writing time as sacred, to take a slow and focused approach to the development of my characters and the story, to focus on the crafting of each sentence rather than word count, and to have a first draft of Chapters 1-7 by Feb.16  to begin revising the second half of the month.

The first two weeks went well. Although I didn’t have a complete first draft of my chapters by Feb 16th like I had hoped, I had mostly succeeded in keeping my mornings dedicated to writing. Even though I have a lot to edit before I submit my chapters to my mentor this month, I did manage to write some scenes I feel proud of and I feel really good about that.

The last two weeks was a sick-factory at my house, which began with my son and ended with me getting a cold which morphed into a more serious upper respiratory thing. However, in my more lucid moments this past week, I spent time making notes and writing freehand in my journal. This time, when I was too sick to get out of bed, gave me an opportunity to really think through the direction of my story thus far. I came up with some changes that I believe will make these first chapters stronger and my protagonist more interesting.

While I’m bummed to have missed our writing retreat, I feel WBM ended up being very fruitful for me.

Stacey Kite

Stacey Kite: This year’s WBM challenge was a struggle for me, which is a mealy-mouthed way of saying I did not reach any of my goals. I have plenty of excuses: we had a small machine uprising at the beginning of the month, we’re in the middle of planning a cross-country move and I’ve been sick. But the truth is I’m simply at a point in my book where things have gotten tough.

Normally, I like to write in chronological order, but over the last year, whenever I got stuck on a scene for too long, I skipped ahead and moved on to a scene that I could really feel. That left gaps in my story, so my plan for this year’s WBM challenge was to write all those missing scenes. As it turned out, though, there were more voids in my plot than I’d originally thought—in some cases, giant, cavernous, blackhole kinds of voids.

When I realized the scope of the problem, I shifted my goal to just plotting those sections, but that did not go as planned. The reason I’d struggled with those particular scenes in the first place was either the characters’ motivations in them were on the limp side, or the causal links from one scene to the next were amorphous and coincidental. Beating my head against the problem areas and talking through them with my writing buddies gave me directions and ideas, but my progress in February was dismal. I never once got that key-in-the-lock feel for anything I worked on.

But I’ve decided I’m okay with that. I know that the right solutions will come in time. I just need to push hard for a while, then back off, then push again. Rinse and repeat, rinse and repeat.

Missing a goal is a setback, but it’s not failure. It’s only failure when you give up.

Now that you’ve heard how we fared this month, please share your WBM experience with us by tweeting @writeowls or commenting below. Then, tune in for our monthly Write by Midnight Pep Talks for tips to stay the course until February rolls around in 2021.