You are such a busy person who teaches, runs a campground, takes nature photography and writes children’s books. What routines or habits do you have for writing that helps you to be successful with your writing?
The most valuable habit I have, is BIC. Butt In Chair. My writing time is at night, after school work and camp work are done, after I’ve had supper and power walked on my treadmill. I have a special little desk, in a corner in my bedroom. Only writing materials are allowed there so I’m not distracted by campground duties and teaching homework. The majority of the nights, I can’t wait to sit there and write. But there are nights when the words won’t come, and/or the words that I do force out are all wrong. No one will love them. I don’t love them. But I know deep down, if I practice BIC, I can find a couple of good words. And a couple words do lead to sentences, which leads to paragraphs and before I know it, I’ve written pages.
You incorporate a lot of what you study and observe in nature into your writing. What tips do you have for writers to help them incorporate what they notice and know into their own writing?
Our job as writers is to create an image in our reader’s minds, that is a crisp, clear, duplicate of the image in our own when we wrote it. We do this through descriptive writing, and that is my very favorite of all the revisions! You must stand back and silently see the world, not just with your eyes, but with all your senses. How does the wind sound? How does a rainy day smell? When you run your hand along a wooden railing, what does it feel like? Keep a notebook of details, so you can remember details later. Or snap photos, which is my medium for research.
And what if an author wants their character to jump out of a plane, but the author is afraid of heights? No worries! We are living in an age where it’s easy to reach out to professionals for interviews, and people love to talk about their hobbies. They also tend to blog about them, or even videotape themselves actually doing it!
And of course, don’t forget the library. Not only will you find all the details in the books there, but your librarian is your absolute best resource for research! Not only will he/she be able to find the perfect book, but they might know a community member you can reach out to for more information, or a specific website.
I tend to use all of these during the research stage of my writing.
When you go back to reread your writing what are you looking or listening for?
The first time I write the story, beginning to end, I’m putting up the frame of a house. Just two-by-fours and a roof. On the second pass, or revision, I’m adding the walls and doors and windows. This is where I’m laying the clues to my mysteries, making sure the characters are where they need to be and making sure the plot is a good, solid one. On the third, fourth and fifth passes, I’m adding descriptions.
When I have my story the best I can possibly make it, I give it to a couple trusted writing friends. They critique it and send me back notes on how to improve the story. Once I’ve revised, I then send it to my editor. She’ll read and have more ideas for improvement.
The revision stage is my favorite part! To me, it’s like a word game, where I’m trying to find that word, phrase or scene that fits exactly right and helps the story move forward. If a scene is there just because I like it, but it doesn’t lay a clue, give a hint at a character’s emotions, or help the plot move along in some way, it has to go.
I’m also looking for voice, to make sure my characters sound true to their ages and personalities. When I do school visits, I like to tell students that if they were reading Cooper and Packrat, and Cooper told his mother, “I promise to take out the trash momentarily, Mother. I need to observe the loons in their natural habitat now,” they (as readers) would roll their eyes, because no middle schooler talks that way. Especially, Cooper Wilder!
And it will sound silly, but I’m also looking to make sure I have capitals, punctuation, and correct sentence structure. Yes, even published authors forget these things!
And lastly, I will read every page aloud. I’m looking to see where I stumble over a sentence, because it feels awkward. And I’m looking for the voice of the characters. This takes time. But it is a valuable tool.
What are some tips, techniques or lessons you could share or teach students to help them with their writing process?
Read. A lot. Read for fun, but also read with an analytical eye. Did you love an action scene because it put you on the edge of your seat and got your heart pumping? Was it a page-turner? Then go back and re-read it, not with the words in mind, but the sentence structure. Did the sentences get shorter and more powerful to show action or tenseness? Were the chapter endings the kind where they leave you with more questions, rather than answering the ones you already have?
Write often. Even if it’s just a quick story starter. Or a letter. Or a chapter a night on your great novel. The more you write, the better a writer you become. Rarely does an author sell their first written piece. And I’ve never heard of one who sold their first draft of their first story. It takes time. And practice.
If you get stuck in your writing, or even bored with your project, try something new! If you’re writing a story in the here and now, try putting the same plot fifty years in the future. If it’s romance, add some fantasy to it. Is your main character female? Rewrite from the viewpoint of a boy. Throw in a rainstorm and see what your characters do. You really never know where a change will lead you! At the very least, you may become unstuck.
This is most important. Don’t be afraid to share your work for feedback. No, it’s not easy. Okay, so it’s actually more like run-from-the-room-screaming scary. But putting your words, the one’s you’ve worked so hard on, the words which poured from heart and soul, into someone else’s hands is how we become better writers. A good critiquer will give positive and “needs work” feedback so you can see what you’re doing right, and what needs improvement. They will look at your story with different eyes; less critical than our own, sometimes. But beware the critiquer who only has positive words! Our egos will love it, but the story can’t be improved upon unless we know exactly where it gets boring, or confusing, or where the plot becomes weak. You owe it to yourself and your writing to take this step.
Most of all, have fun with it!