Don’t Be Discouraged? Writers and the Creative Gap

After the first draft, there’s are really two stories: there’s the one in your head (and it’s perfect) and the one you actually put on paper (and it’s not perfect). And they don’t match up. It’s OK. Don’t let this creativity gap give you writer’s block. Revision is the process of re-envisioning.!

THE GAP by Ira Glass from frohlocke on Vimeo.

If you can’t see this video, click here.

Facing the Kickstarter Fears: Take a Risk

Guest post by Deb Lund

Most of you know me as the author of rollicking rhyming romps like my dinobooks, Dinosoaring, and Monsters on Machines, but preparing for a retreat with Darcy forced me to finally complete a first draft of an upper middle-grade historical fantasy. But kidlit isn’t where my writing started. My writing dreams began with wanting to write for adults, so I played with novels, short stories, and poetry. I’m getting back to trying an adult novel right now, but I’m jumping ahead here. Let me back up.

Deb Lund online.

Deb Lund online.

[DebWeb.jpg] Web site link for here and/or in bio below.]

Years ago, I was an elementary teacher librarian who wanted a sabbatical, but my school district didn’t know what to do with me since I already had my master’s degree (which focused on teaching writing). The personnel director said I could plan out my sabbatical year and list activities that I would do, comparable to a master’s degree, and my list had to relate to my job. My first thought was, “But I wanted to work on my novel!” And then the light went on. *Kids’ books!*

These days I find myself teaching more adults than kids. I love presenting at conferences, providing continuing education courses for teachers, and offering writing classes when my schedule allows. I often say that once I figured out I could teach adults the same ways I taught kids, we all learned a lot more and had a lot more fun.

Fiction Magic Title

That’s how my 54-card deck and guidebook set Fiction Magic: Card Tricks and Tips for Writers got its start. You’ll find them on the crowd-funding site Kickstarter right now, but they won’t be there long. Why Kickstarter?

Kickstarter makes it possible for people with creative ideas to get the backing they need to pursue those creative ideas. I thought about sending the cards out to publishers, but since this project wasn’t the usual kidlit submission, I didn’t want to face another huge learning curve for this one unique project. In what genre would you place a writing-teaching card deck and book set? And with all the presentations and teaching I had done using my homemade deck, I already knew I had an audience, especially after all the requests I had from writers who saw what the prompts could do for their manuscripts.

Here’s how Kickstarter works: You design your project, come up with rewards for people who contribute to the project, explain your project in print and on a video, have it approved, set the date, tell everybody about it, and then try to reframe the ensuing anxiety as exhilaration and excitement.

Risk it All

Fears About Kickstarter

Failure. It was daunting to put myself out there like this. To be so public about the possible failure. But as a creativity coach, I know taking risks is an important part of the creative process. Failing is part of it, too. And so is picking yourself up after a fall. I’m no longer the person who had her first rejection years ago and didn’t submit anything again for 15 years.

Imposter. And then there’s the imposter syndrome. That’s how I felt today after seeing another big-name author back my cards. This one is not only getting the cards, but paying me to talk to her. I’m used to the imposter syndrome now and I don’t stay there for long any more.

This imposter business is where it’s good to have my own inner creativity coach to balance out my inner critic. Even though I’ve always prodded and been drawn to people who mentioned something they’ve “always wanted to do,” I have to admit that there were definitely selfish reasons for taking creativity coaching training, and even if I never worked with a client it would still have been worth it.


I coach myself pretty much daily. It’s not magic. You can be your own coach, too. I remind myself of my teaching and training. Of all the successes of my students and clients. Of the accomplished writers who seek me out when they hit blocks. I must have something to say. And if I do, you do, too.

Say it. Say that something that can help another find their way, see a new vision, take a risk. A risk like going on Kickstarter. A risk like joining a critique group. A risk like signing up for one of Darcy’s workshops. A risk like writing.

What risk can you take today? Not the big dream. Just one little step broken down as far as it can go. Take that step. Let us know how it went…

Deb Lund is an author, teacher, and creativity coach. She is proud to be on the Western Washington SCBWI Advisory Committee and to chair the original Inside Story. She babbles on her blogs and dabbles in the arts on Whidbey Island. See what Deb is up to at

From Darcy: Support Deb’s Kickstarter Project here. Only 6 Days to Go! The main goal has been reached, but the stretch goal is still looming! Read about it now! (“I want all my writers to have your cards.” Jen Rofe’, Agent)

Author Website Tech: Search Engine Optimization

This month-long series of blog posts will explain author websites and offer tips and writing strategies for an effective author website. It alternates between a day of technical information and a day of writing content. By the end of the month, you should have a basic author website up and functioning. The Table of Contents lists the topics, but individual posts will not go live until the date listed. The Author Website Resource Page offers links to tools, services, software and more.

If You Build It, They Will NOT Come Unless. . .

WWW under construction building website

. . . unless they can find you in a search engine. The number of people who find your site because they know you will be few. Those who intuitively type in must have some knowledge of who I am. You need links from other sites and you need search engine traffic.

Search Engine Optimization or SEO. There’s no way in a simple blog that I can explain everything about how to get search engines to send people your way. There are books and professionals who can barely explain it. So let me do a quick explanation and then give you one big hint.

First, SEO is all about making it easy for search engines to index your site and figure out what you are talking about. If someone types into a search engine “best practices author website,” I want this series to come up. How does a search engine decide what to show for this question? The situation is hard, because search engines are constantly updating the algorithms or mathematical formulas used to decide this question; the answer is a moving target. (These updates from Google get colorful names such as the Panda update. For the most recent, as of the date of this writing, look for information on the Hummingbird update.) Still, there are a couple constants, keywords and titles.

Keywords just means what are you talking about, but it’s in terms of what people actually search for, not what you think it should be. For years, keyword research has been crucial because of the difference in searching for “childrens’s books” or “kid’s books.” With the increased sophistication of search engines, though, the two would now return the same blog posts. But it still makes a difference is you search for “best practices” or “great examples” of author websites. Now, search engines try to answer the underlying question and intent of the question. Do you want a list of tutorials on building a website, or do you want examples of great websites?

Once you decide on the topic of a post, make sure to use the words somewhere in the post. Two years ago, experts might have suggested you seed the post with the keywords, but now, most agree that a couple times is enough, as long as you are answering a key question. This means: before you write a post, think about what questions your reader might have on the topic and try to answer those questions.

Does Your Website Stand out in Today's Crowded Internet?

In today’s crowded Internet, how will you make your website stand out to search engines?

Titles. As writers, this is a snap. You must write good titles that explain what is in the post. Nothing cutesy, but direct, succinct and catchy.

Let’s say you want to know what to include on your ABOUT page.Which of these post titles would you click on?

The last, of course, is the title of the post I wrote on ABOUT pages. In writing titles, think about a long list of titles and what will make yours stand out.

Specific. Be specific. I reference two authors named Kate and that intrigues.
Numbers. Titles with numbers often get better results.
Adjectives. “creative, intriguing” will pull in more readers.
How To. Promising to explain something is important to readers, especially is you pull off the explanation well.

You know that comment you always get from editors on the rejection letters? “. . this manuscript just didn’t stand out in today’s crowded market. . .” Think of search engines as that crowded marketplace and your title as a log line or the briefest elevator pitch (you only get 100 characters or so). Make the title snappy.

And–after you’ve got everything set up and you want a couple more tasks to do, study SEO. The year I did that, I doubled my website’s traffic. It’s that important. But you’ve got time to get everything set up right before you have to stress out over this. Just know that SEO is in your future.

This graphic shows the relative importance of social media on search engine optimization–as of early 2014. This can change drastically overnight, though, so check for updates.

by johnmnelson.
Explore more visuals like this one on the web’s largest information design community – Visually.

How to Ruin Your Novel’s Opening with a Few Wrong Words

Choosing the right set of words–the diction of your novel–is crucial, especially in the opening pages of your novel. Novels are a context for making choices, and within that context, some words make sense and some don’t.

A novel sets up a certain setting, time period, tone, mood and sensibilities and you must not violate this. If you are writing a gothic romance, the language must reflect this. For thrillers, the fast paced action demands a certain vocabulary. Violating these restrictions means a bump in the reader’s experience that may make them put down the book.

Let’s look at some examples. This is from my book, SAUCY AND BUBBA: A HANSEL AND GRETEL TALE.
S&B COVER3-CS.inddJust from the title you know that this is a contemporary retelling of Hansel and Gretel and this sets up expectations for the language that will be used. This is a first look at Krissy, the stepmother.

Krissy was singing to herself. Gingerbread days were filled with music, too. Once a month, Krissy made a gingerbread house and took it into town to sell to the bakery for $200. The bakery displayed it in their picture window for a month, and then donated it to a day care. Each month, Krissy checked out a stack of architecture books and pored over them.

Let’s substitute a couple words and see if it bothers you as a reader:

Krissy was caterwauling to herself. Gingerbread days were crammed with music, too. Once a month, Krissy slapped together a gingerbread house and took it into town to peddle to the bakery for $200. The bakery displayed it in their picture window for a month, and then dumped it off at a day care. Each month, Krissy checked out a stack of architecture books and flipped through them.

I’ve been extreme here in word choice, of course. The key is to listen to your story. Where are the places where a single word might interrupt the narrative? Work hard to control your word choices and the overall diction of your story. And I’ll stay with you for the whole book.

Gender and the ALA Awards

The Newbery, Caldecott, Printz, Siebert and other awards for the best books of children’s/teen literature were announced recently. And every year the question of gender bias is raised. Overwhelmingly, the industry is dominated by female authors/illustrators, yet the awards go to male authors/illustrators.

This year the Caldecott went to 75% male illustrators, with the winner a male.
The Siebert is 20% male, with the winner a female.
The Newbery is 40% male, with the winner a female.
The Siebert is 20% male, with the winner a male.

Except for the Caldecott, it seems the awards are spread out.

Considering the possibility of gender bias–which is generally skewed toward male authors/illustrators, it’s interesting to read this article by Lilit Marcus, who spent 2013 only reading female authors. She was accused of being sexist, reverse sexist, and misandrist. “One Flavorwire commenter dismissed the significance of focusing on female authors and announced that he would only be reading books by authors who were tall.”

And yet, many readers are now contacting Lilit and asking for recommendations for women authors.

I wonder what it would look like to only read women’s fiction and nonfiction for a year. What picture books would emerge as winners? What middle grade novels would you champion? What YA novels would rise to the top? What if you spent the next year only reading men’s fiction and nonfiction? What would you learn from each year’s experiences?

Do you feel that the world of children and teen publishing carries gender biases? Where do you see it most?

Winner of the 2014 Newbery Medal for Distinguished Contribution to Children's Literature.

Winner of the 2014 Newbery Medal for Distinguished Contribution to Children’s Literature.

Creativity: 8 Ways to Keep the Stories Coming

If you want a career in writing, you must keep the stories coming. In the midst of life, with all its ups and downs, words need find their way onto paper. Here’s how to keep the characters talking to you.

  1. Create an office. Even if you don’t have a separate room, create some sort of office space. You need a consistent place to keep your computer, your drafts and supplies. Even if it’s a box that sits under your bed until you need it, don’t waste your precious time collecting supplies.
  2. Instant Success. Do something small that will give you success. Perhaps just a character description or a description of a setting. A bit of dialogue. Start and end each day with something that you know you can complete.
  3. Use psychology. Tell yourself that you only need to write for five minutes. Quickly get into the flow and when you finally stop, you’ve likely done twenty minutes. The key is to keep writing no matter what. If you don’t’ know what to type, try this: I don’t know what to write next. Repeat that 100 times if you have to until it turns into something else. Believe me, you’ll get so bored with that phrase that you’ll write something else.
  4. Plan marathons. Kids are spending the night with someone and the hubby is going hunting? Bingo. It’s time for a writer’s marathon. Star as soon as the house clears out and write until late into the night. Get up early and repeat as long as you can. Marathons like this can jump start a big project, or get you through those rough spots.
  5. Plan a writing marathon to jump start a project or to finish your novel.

    Plan a writing marathon to jump start a project or to finish your novel.

  6. Turn off the internal editor. Write, do not revise. Keep the flow of writing going and ignore the internal editor when s/he wants to stop and look up facts or check a dictionary for spelling. This isn’t the time for that. Instead, let the story flow.
  7. Stop early. Some writers swear by this technique: stop writing in the middle of a sentence and pick up right there on the next day. It makes sense. Just competing the thought gets your head back into the story and it’s easy to move on from there.
  8. Don’t wait. Are you waiting until you get answers to a bit of research or until you figure out a plot point? Instead, write and trust the process. Trust that there will be tidbits to save out of whatever you write.
  9. Trust your instinct. Don’t worry so much! And certainly don’t think about what a reader or an editor will say at this point. Just write. Trust your storytelling ability and write. Trust your sense of story. Trust your choice of words. Write, write, write.

Begin in the Muggle World: Opening Scenes

Where should your novel begin? The Harry Potter series doesn’t start with the death of Harry’s parents, because Harry wasn’t old enough to remember that. It doesn’t start with the first day in Hogwarts School because it wouldn’t bring us into Harry’s world with a strong enough sense of character and a strong sympathy for Harry.

Instead, JK Rowling begins the whole series in the Muggle world, with a misfit Harry trying to survive while living under the stairway.

Build Sympathy. One crucial goal of openings is to create sympathy for a character that will carry through many challenges and events. An orphaned child who is forced to live with disagreeable parents will most certainly get sympathy. Poor thing, to be treated so shabbily; it’s not fair. We love our underdogs, don’t we?
Start with the Normal World. For Harry and for the reader, the normal world is the Muggle world where there is no magic. It’s the right place to start, but the wrong place to linger. Readers should understand exactly what the normal situation is before something comes along to shake up the world of the story.

Start with a Day that is Different. Harry’s under-the-stairs world is normal, but it doesn’t stay normal. Immediately something is different. It’s a delicate balance to make sure the contrast is set up between normal and the exciting world introduced in the story. You want enough of the normal to set up the contrast, but too much gets boring. Normal is boring. Think hard about where you might start the story and what are the first small inklings (or big huge inklings, if you choose) of change. Start there or a bit later.

Let’s Meet in 2014

Dear Friends:

The watchwords of my website are “Believe in Your Story.” Everything I do as a writing teacher is devoted to help YOU take your story from a dream to reality. This year, I hope you’ll let me become a small piece in your journey toward publication. Here’s a brief schedule of speaking engagements for the year. Notice that there are limited spots in most of the workshops.


Baxter County Library, Mountain Home, AR

NOVEL REVISION RETREAT June 6-8, 2014. Tacoma, Washington.

Originally, this was open to only 8 people, but the response has been great, so it is open to 12. Only 2 spaces left.
For information on the Novel Revision Retreat, see here.
Download full information on the Tacoma retreat here.
Contact: Claudia Finseth.

PICTURE BOOKS AND ALL THAT JAZZ, June 12-15, Highlights Foundation Workshop.

Full information on the Highlights Foundation website.
Darcy Pattison says:
“One of the joys of traveling the U.S. to teach is meeting amazing authors like Leslie Helakoski, who has served as the Society of Children’s Bookwriters and Illustrators Regional Advisor in Michigan. This transplanted Cajun takes a delightful and insightful look at picture books. We’ll be team-teaching, riffing off one another, in this intensive picture book workshop for dedicated writers. I’ll crack the whip; Leslie will crack the jokes. Did I mention that it will be intensive? Expect to revise your gem a dozen times until it gleams. And sells.

My ebook, How to Write a Children’s Picture Book has sold worldwide, from South Africa to Canada to Arkansas. The book covers picture book genres, picture book basics, the actual writing process, the revision process, and the submission process. Leslie and I will cover all these topics—and more. Writing rhymed picture books, dummy your manuscript, phonics for picture book writers, tips on getting a reader to turn the page, and fine-tuning for that crucial read aloud quality—we go in-depth and help you jazz up your story. We’ll go far beyond the basics.”

Want to host a retreat in your area, or invite Darcy to speak at your conference? Email Darcy for more details.

This is a special four days of workshops with three options.
August 22-25. Rolling Ridge Retreat and Conference Center, North Andover, MA.
Contact: Anne Broyles
Choose one or all of the following three workshops, all of which are held at Rolling Ridge.

BUILD AN AUTHOR WEBSITE. Friday, August 22, 2014. 9 AM-3 PM

In this hands-on seminar, we’ll set up your domain/blog and learn four strategies for maintaining a strong blog with a minimum of effort. Darcy Pattison’s website ( receives half a million visits/year. Learn from her mistakes and triumphs as she walks you through the process of developing a viable website. Computer access required—bring your own computer; you will be paying for your domain (about $12) and webhosting (about $80/year), so you’ll need to be prepared to sign up for services with a credit card or PayPal.
Limited to 8 participants.
Contact: Anne Broyles

NOVEL REVISION RETREAT. Friday, August 22, 2014, 4 pm to Sunday, August 24, 11 am.

Darcy will share her unique revision methods and give concrete tools for writers who have finished a middle grade or young adult novel manuscript. The goal of the retreat is that every author will go home with strategies for revising their own particular novel. The retreat is designed for maximum participation and advance preparation is required. Writers will be in critique groups with three other writers, and are expected to have read their group members’ complete manuscripts, as well.
Limited to 20 participants.
Contact: Anne Broyles

SUNDAY, AUGUST 24 OVERNIGHT Dedicated Writing Time Meals will be available for those who want to stay at Rolling Ridge to write/canoe or kayak/have a massage/hang out with other writers.

PICTURE BOOK WORKSHOP. Monday, August 25, 2014. 9 AM-3 PM

Picture books demand strong, creative storytelling. Join picture book author Darcy Pattison to work on your word choices, story structure, pacing, addressing different audience, and the possibilities—and pitfalls—of rhythm and rhyme. You will focus and shape that vague idea into a lively story with great illustration possibilities and interactive read-aloud fun. Bring a story in progress. You’ll need to purchase the ebook, HOW TO WRITE A CHILDREN’S PICTURE BOOK, by Darcy Pattison.
Limited to 16 participants.
Contact: Anne Broyles

Want to host a retreat in your area, or invite Darcy to speak at your conference? Email Darcy for more details.

Selfie: Are you Outdating Your Novel?

Are you outdating your book? It’s easy to do. Books are the archival medium of our culture. Their production time is the longest partly because of their archival nature.

Instant. If you want something published instantly, you should use a blog post, a newspaper article, or a radio report. This type of information has a short shelf-life and has information that relates mostly to the current day.

Intermediate Time Frame. Some mediums that take a longer view of information and stories are weekly newspapers and magazines (on or off line). These formats offer a wider view of a story and provide more in-depth analysis and discussion of the ramifications of the story.

Long-term. Books are the long view of a story or information. Some books are only viable for a limited amount of time; but many are timeless, meant to be a classic view of a subject.

Let’s assume that you want to write a classic book. You are in danger of outdating your story if you use these things:

Jargon, slang or just-for-this-moment-in-time language. The Oxford Dictionary declared “Selfie,” as the Word of the Year for 2013.

SELFIE: Darcy Pattison, January 2014.

SELFIE: Darcy Pattison, January 2014.

selfie noun, informal
(also selfy; plural selfies)
a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website

If you include the word “selfie” in a book this year, will it be outdated in ten years? That’s the question you must ask yourself. While taking photographs of yourself and posting them is current HOT today, will it be hot in ten years or 100 years? Will this blog post be outdated by 2015?

There’s a trade-off, of course. You want to sound contemporary; however, you don’t want to be so contemporary that you’re outdated in a decade.

It’s a judgment call. To prevent being outdated, make sure you consider the long-term ramifications of your language.

What’s your favorite contemporary word? And have you used it in your current WIP?