Tag Archives: advice for writers

Guest blogger J.M. Cooper: A Badge For Writing

Girl Scouts badgesMy grandfather is a retired Episcopalian minister. He used to talk about The Calling as some kind of mysterious, undeniable force that brought him to the church, a voice that couldn’t be argued with, the most knowable thought one could know, an irrefutable decision. I wanted that assurance—when I was a kid and well into my young adult years. I wanted to know what I was.

One day my daughter and I were looking at my old Girl Scout sash, peppered with patches I’d earned when I was her age. Tracing the colorful badges, she said, “Mommy, you are good at a lot of things.” Initially, it shocked me that my little girl was the first person to say something I hadn’t heard out of anyone’s mouth. But then I had the realization that although I was no longer earning badges, I still hopped from hobby to job to hobby, when what I really wanted was to have that one thing. I wanted to excel at a single thing. I didn’t want to be a collector of patches.

If someone asked me “what I did,” I always said I was a mom. Somewhere along the line, probably around the same time my daughter pointed out my various unrelated skills, I knew I couldn’t go on the rest of my life answering that question the same way. What would happen when I was sixty? Would I then just change the answer to grandmother? The thought haunted me. Yes, I was a mother and someday I’d be a grandmother, but that did not define me or even come close to completing me, nor is it necessarily supposed to, even though that is what common culture often has us believe. It took me a very long time to understand this, but once I did I was able to hear my own calling.

Really, it had been there all along.

I began writing around age ten; journals, stories, poems, observations. I only paused for a few years when my first two kids were babies, because who the hell has time for anything when there are two babies in diapers?! By the time my third child was born, I’d learned a better balance and I labored through writing my first novel. And then, inevitably, somewhere around when I was thirty-five, I began admitting to people that I was serious about writing. When I earned my MFA I could no longer hide behind “Mom.” I was called to write. The voice was loud and in my ear most of my life. The difficult part was that it required me to change my life drastically. I had known that for a very long time and ignored it. Callings are not usually easy.

My calling is not as simple as a single vocation, or title, but more a chosen way of life, a life where I choose to put my energy and passion into what truly fulfills me, no matter how broke I am, or where I live, or who I love. My calling pulls me out of bed before the sun is up, forces me to read the words I’ve written, and then add more. When I can’t do this on a daily basis, I begin to go a little crazy. Nothing in my life has equaled this sustained attraction. And now when I look into my future I’m confident that my answer will never change when someone asks me what I do. I know who I am. I’m a writer. I wonder what the Girl Scouts badge for reaching your vocational nirvana would look like?

Jessica head shotJessica Cooper is a freelance writer and editor with an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. She writes middle grade and young adult novels and has been published in Ars Poetica and Curious Parents Magazine. Jessica earned second place for Amazon’s Breakthrough Novel Award and was recognized as one of Warren County New Jersey’s “Writers on the Rise.” Find her online at jmcooperauthor.com and @jm_cooper_

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Guest blogger Jodi McKay: Why We Love Quirky Picture Books

Jodi McKay

Jodi McKay

Is it just me or are we seeing more and more quirky picture books elbowing their way onto bookstands? I’m not complaining, as that is what I like to write, but I am curious about why they are becoming so popular. What is it about this style of writing that has agents and editors adding it to their wish list and readers asking for more? For me, I believe it’s because of the following:

They exercise the imagination. These types of books go above and beyond reality, allowing the reader to explore possibilities that they didn’t even know existed. Stuck, by Oliver Jeffers is a prime example of this. No one in their right mind would think to throw a bicycle in a tree to dislodge a chair, but somehow it makes sense to then throw a kitchen sink to unstick the bike. Jeffers made sense where sense didn’t belong and it made me think of what else could happen. That’s how we want kids to think as well.

They have a sophisticated sense of humor. Just as books are evolving, so are the jokes. Quirky books tend to have a subtler, clever humor that children understand and enjoy, and parents can appreciate. The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt, hits humor spot on. Kids find the anthropomorphized crayons and stories funny; parents love the perfectly appointed personalities of each crayon. This type of humor creates cross over appeal and that is a huge win for both readers and the author.

They surprise. We will often see skillful little twists or unexpected endings in books like these. For example, the classic meta-fiction book, Monster At the End of This Book has the reader believing that if he/she gets to the end of the book a monster will be unleashed. Spoiler Alert: we come to find out that the monster is the lovable Grover himself. What a brilliant way to increase suspense and then, BAM! it’s not what you thought it was going to be. Things aren’t always the way they appear to be in these books and that is a great message given in a non-didactic, humor-driven way.

They are all about connection. Authors have a duty to give children books that they can connect to and these eccentric books work overtime to do that through creating a reading experience. They pull the reader in to the story through interaction or by the character/narrator breaking the fourth wall and by doing that, the reader feels as if he/she is a part of the book. Take Chloe and the Lion for example. Through their dialogue, Mac Barnett and Adam Rex, do an incredible job at helping the reader understand what it takes to produce a story and they are entertaining at the same time. Genius!

What are some of your favorite quirky picture books and why do you think they work? Do they make you think, or laugh? Is there a sneaky twist or do you feel like you are a character in the book? Maybe it’s something else entirely, and if so, I want to know! Feel free to post your thoughts.

Jodi McKay writes off beat picture books. Jodi holds a master’s degree in Developmental Psychology and is a graduate of several writing courses. She lives in Detroit with her husband and son. She is an active member of SCBWI, 12×12, and various other writing organizations and you can find her online at JodiMcKayBooks.com and @JLMcKay1

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Tricks to Break Through Writer’s Block

Writer's Blocks?Let me start off first by saying I don’t really believe there’s an actual thing that is “writer’s block.” I just put that in the title so people would click the link. Seriously. It’s my belief that there’s always something for a writer to write. You might get stuck at some point in your manuscript, but you can always write something. A list. A character study. Backstory. A description of a place. A blog post about “Tricks to Break Through Writer’s Block.”
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Ok, let me be totally honest with you all now: I have a YA story that I desperately want to write and when I sit down at the computer, the blank Word document stares back at me, and NOTHING happens. The story is stuck in my head in bits and pieces, fragments flitting around my days, nudging me, poking me, but NOT GETTING PUT INTO WORDS ON PAPER (or computer).

So, this blog post is actually for ME. And, if you’ve been reading theblabbermouthblog.com for a long enough time, you’ll know that actually it’s all about me. (I keep telling my husband and kids that it’s ALL about me, but they’re not biting.) So. Here’s my list of 7 tricks to break through writer’s block, even if writer’s block doesn’t exist. I’m writing the list for me. You’re welcome to try some of these tricks, too.

images-11. If you’re stuck for ideas for a story, make a list of stories you’d like to read. Any kind of story. It can look like “a story about a boy from Boise who yearns to swim in the ocean; a story about a girl who’s jealous of her cousin; a story about an alien invasion; a story about a hippo who wants to make pancakes.” Anything. Just make the list. Then pick one of the things on the list and go with it. It doesn’t matter if it’s the “right” one or not. Just start with that one.

2. If you do have a basic idea of the story you want to write, just write down the “what happens.” Again, this is just to give yourself a road map. It doesn’t need to sound good or look good or ever be shown to anybody. Just jot down the basics of your story. Just for fun. Just do it. No pressure.

3. Make a list of any of the characters that you know will be in your story so far. Write their backstory, just for yourself. So, you don’t need to “show not tell” or have it be well written. The plan is not that this will be included in your manuscript. You should spend at least 5 minutes doing this (but 5 hours or 5 days are both ok, too).

images-24. Describe a setting. It might be a room, a vista, a town, whatever. Just describe it in all the detail you can muster; sights, smells, sounds, everything.

blahblahblah5. Write a scene that is all dialogue. It should be at least 2 people talking to each other, but can be more. Pay attention to how each of them speaks and make sure that they sound different from each other.

Family portrait6. Describe the key players of your story. This is different than writing their backstories. This is what they look like, their mannerisms, how they dress, how they speak, wear their hair, what they smell like, their facial expressions, if they have good teeth, a hearing loss, a particular tic or movement they might make, bad skin/good skin, freckles, fat, thin, buxom, well hung, balding, swarthy, eye color, etc… Describe them. Count on the fact that most of this will NOT end up in your manuscript.

maxresdefault7. If you basically know what your story is going to be, write an elevator pitch or query letter for it. I know, I know, pitches and query letters are the hardest things to write. But, if you can get that done now, even before you write your story, it will be like a beacon of light in the muddy muck that writing a novel can be. And it psyches you up for writing the story!

So, that’s a start! Doing some of these things can get you (me) writing about and playing on paper with your story. And now, some inspirational quotes for you!

Our friend Yoda said: “Do. Or do not. There is no try.”

And our friend Jo March said, “I want to do something splendid…something heroic or wonderful that won’t be forgotten after I’m dead. I don’t know what, but I’m on the watch for it and mean to astonish you all someday.”

And our friend Chandler Bing said, “Hi, I’m Chandler. I make jokes when I’m uncomfortable.”

Ok. That’s it for now. Happy to hear other people’s tricks for breaking through writer’s block in the comments below! (Even though writer’s block doesn’t exist.)

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