Finding Story Inspiration

For the month of January I’m taking part in a picture book exercise called “Story Storm.” The brainchild of children’s author Tara Lazar (7 Ate 9), the exercise asks aspiring, published and wannabe picture book authors to come up with 1 potential story idea or character sketch each day for the month of January.

The idea, as I understand it, is that by the time the month is done, you have a wealth of potential ideas that you can then work on throughout the year. Each day on her website, Lazar posts another guest post from a children’s author to guide writers on this journey.

My first few attempts at brainstorming weren’t particularly good, which is fine, this is an exercise after all. One idea in particular was an exercise in everything not to do if you want to write a picture book, which I discovered as a I read one of the Lazar’s guest posts.

As the month is going on and I’m reading and learning, I have come up with a few ideas that will merit further writing work later this year. One of which I am really, really excited about!

Even more important that just coming up with a list of 30 ideas (you get a day off at some point during the month), is that I’m learning how to come up with ideas. I’m listening to something or reading about something and I am learning to spin it for a potential book idea.

For instance, a news story on the radio the other day was about a moose who was walking around a hospital in Anchorage. Wow! Does that have a children’s book potential all over it or what?

Another idea came from a conversation with a friend who was looking for a particular book – she was thinking chapter book, but I could already envision a children’s nonfiction picture book.

So here’s today’s challenge regardless of what you write: read, listen, watch with an eye toward uncovering a hidden kernel of a potential story. Jot your idea down on your computer, in a notebook, on a square in your day planner, then try and come up with another idea tomorrow, and the day after that and the day after that. By doing so, you’ll ensure that when you are having a hard time filling the story water well, you’ll have some potential ideas to explore. Have fun!

Talkback: If you have some great ways to brainstorm story ideas, I’d love to hear about it. Leave a comment below.

The End

What I learned from writing a story that needed major plot changes.

No, this is not the end of the blog. I am committed to continuing with this medium, committed to talking about writing and editing, committed to reaching out to readers, writers and those who are simply interested in the writing process.

So why “The End,” because I have FINALLY (and, yes, I am shouting) finished with The Achdus Club book four, “The Wedding Dance.” Now, technically I’m not finished, finished, as I know my editor will have plenty of things for me to work on once she’s edited it. I am, however, finished with my draft of the story and it’s been a longtime coming.

If you follow me on other social media outlets, you may know that I initially had set a goal for myself of finishing this story by August 1.

Well, here we are at December 21 and I just wrote “The End.”

What happened in those few months?

Honestly, I froze! I knew I had made a mistake in the draft and I couldn’t find a way out. As a journalist I always, always fact-check everything. My livelihood depends on my getting the facts right. And when it comes to my novels, I certainly do my due diligence, but sometimes I think well it’s fiction and it’ll make for a better story, so ….

Except in this case it wasn’t just a slight or minor adjustment it was a major plot point that didn’t work. How could I fix a story when I had a fundamental plot point wrong?

Sure I sat at my computer in those intervening months and weeks. I sat and I wrote. I tried to ignore the little voice in my head that begged me to go and finish the book. I tried to do other things … nothing worked.

Nothing worked other than me sitting down, and then one page at a time, one scene at a time going over the story and reworking the plot to reflect reality. It was not easy, it did not go as fast as the initial draft did, but here’s what I’ve found:

  1. My story is actually stronger than it initially was, and I think the characters show a bit more depth and understanding than they did originally. (I hope that’s how readers see it as well.)
  2. When I typed those last two words, “The End”, I felt an incredible rush of joy and accomplishment. I actually sat back in my chair and simply stared at the screen and those two words and smiled.
  3. I found that I can accomplish something that seemed insurmountable at times.
  4. I had lots and lots of typos that I had missed in previous edits because I was so close to the material and so focused on major issues that I missed the micro ones.

How did I do it?

  1. I focused on rewriting things line by line and sentence by sentence rather than the big picture. I found by fixing things as they came up, instead of trying to solve the whole problem at once I was much more effective in my work.
  2. I enjoyed a change of scenery. My local library has several rooms that are private workrooms that patrons can use. You need to reserve the room and you can only use it for one hour if other people are waiting. Usually these are used by tutors and students, business owners for small meetings, etc. These rooms are generally in heavy use during the day. However, in the mornings they are usually empty. If no one was waiting, my local librarians were nice enough to allow me to  stay as long as I needed. Most mornings that meant I had the room for about two hours of completely uninterrupted writing time. Having this set, dedicated time to work over the last few weeks was a huge push forward in my work.

I am grateful that my publisher hadn’t given me a hard deadline; the Aug. 1 deadline was my own self-imposed deadline. As a writer who absolutely loves deadlines, I realize this book wouldn’t be as strong and the last paragraph not nearly as impactful if I hadn’t had the time to really go back and make it all work out.

A Chanukah Mystery

Happy Chanukah everyone! As a Chanukah gift to myself (and hopefully to you as well) I’m starting a new Q&A section on the blog. Every so often, I’m going to invite other writers with new books out to share a bit about their own journey.

I’m launching this new segment with Ellen Roteman. A debut author, Ellen’s first book, “The Case of the Disappearing Chanukah Candles,” was released recently from Menucha Publishers. Turns out we have a few things in common other than just our publishers; we both won Rockower Awards from the American Jewish Press Association for our work in Philadelphia’s Jewish Exponent newspaper!

Congrats on your first book, Ellen! What was it like to hold the book in your hands for the first time?

It was almost as exciting as holding a new grandchild in my arms! (After all, I dreamed as long about both becoming a reality.) Writing for children is something I’d always longed to do, but I got sidetracked over the years by a hectic life and demanding career. That career, however, in writing/marketing for Jewish agencies, was not only very rewarding, but also helped me define who I wanted to write for. So, as we say, “all things in their right time.”

How did you come up with The Case of the Disappearing Chanukah Candles? Can you tell us a little about the book?

The book is about five siblings who join forces to solve the mystery of how Chanukah candles are disappearing from the menorahs of a sweet elderly lady who lives alone in their neighborhood. I wanted to create a story and characters that would be not just fun and interesting, but “real.” Each sibling has his/her own quirks (loosely based on my immediate family growing up), which adds a lot of humor — and the others are challenged to accept, even celebrate, those qualities. One sibling tells bad jokes. Another is always taking notes, whether the so-called facts are important or not.  And the family dynamics are realistic and familiar: one child is compassionate, attentive to everyone’s feelings. And the oldest boy, the leader, is tempted to take credit for solving the mystery, but instead he helps the others arrive at what he’s already figured out and makes them think their contributions are invaluable. The action takes place around Chanukah, but it’s not just a Chanukah story. There are universal lessons around Jewish values of kindness, compassion and judging favorably, as well as mutual respect and working together to reach a common goal.

What are you working on now?

I’ve got two big projects going right now. I participate in a Society for Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators critique group, and several of my fellow writers work on novels for young adults. As we’ve critiqued one another’s work, I’ve pondered how writing for an older audience would be an interesting challenge: developing more nuanced characters and a more complex and sophisticated plot. At the same time, there is the additional challenge of keeping the novel appropriate for Torah observant youth. I’m partway through this story, for Orthodox teen girls, with the manuscript in the later stages of editing. In addition, I’ve just started another mystery for my detective siblings. Writing again about these characters I love is like coming home. I feel as if they’ve been “waiting for me” to come back and see what they’re up to now, and tell another of their stories.

The Perfect Chanukah Present

I’m so happy to announce that “Layla’s Vistaville Summer” is officially out just in time for Chanukah! It’s available online and in Jewish bookstores nationwide.

You may be wondering why I have a summer-set story being released in winter. It’s a great question. If you read my Achdus Club series, you know that the last two books in that series were sent in the middle of the winter and included the “monster” storm.

After finishing “The Accident,” and dealing with the aftermath of the big storm, I needed to take a break from all things snowy in my imagination. Thus, Layla’s story is set in the summer, though in true to my story fashion, there is plenty of bad weather to be had.

Oddly enough, my personal copies of the book arrived just a few days after we had a freak mid-November snowstorm that literally brought my town to standstill with 7-inches of snow. People were stranded throughout town including at area schools. The stories of people helping strangers that day were amazing and inspiring.

BTW, just for the record, I love winter and snow! You should see me on a snow day!

I hope you all have a wonderful Happy Chanukah and enjoy a touch of summertime weather as you get to know Layla and her story.


NaNoWriMo Tips

Hi Everyone,

Usually I’m well aware of the start of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) held every year in November. I can often count on a number of writer friends asking if I’m going to be participating again this year.  Then there’s the inevitable late October panic as I try and figure out just what I will write during NaNoWriMo and what will I not do to reach my 1,666 daily word goal.

This year, however, things were pretty quiet and I’m none of my writer friends is doing NaNo and neither am I. Oh, I’m still writing, but between my  work writing, freelance assignments and the Achdus Club series there is no way I could imagine taking on another project.

If you are participating in NaNo – You go! It’s an awesome way to kickstart your work, and no worries if you don’t reach your goal. Just the exercise of writing consistently will help you grow as a writer.

I’ve pulled together a few of my old blog posts on NaNo filled with tips, tricks and my thoughts on the whole process. Enjoy!

November Is NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month)
NaNoWriMo, Part 2 – Tips and Tricks
Time to Start Writing NaNo Fans
My Pledge to Myself: NaNoWriMo, Day 2
NaNo Day 4: Reality Check
4 Things I Learned From Not Finishing NaNoWriMo