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  • 23 Jul 2011 5:38 PM | Nutschell Anne Windsor (Administrator)

    Our writing group always met at Borders in Torrance. But last week, they announced that they would be closing all 399 stores, so we lost our only sponsor. I had scheduled our meetups with them all the way up to September, and now I had to scramble to find us new venues.

    Saturday, July 23rd, 2011 was supposed to be our last ever meeting in Borders. But when I passed by on Friday to check, I was greeted by a long line to the cashier that snaked around the store. There were tons of people bargain hunting and the shelves were nearly in disarray.

    In short, I had to quickly find a new venue for our group. I emailed those who had RSVP’d  for the event and informed them of the situation. I asked for their cellphone numbers so I could text them the new venue address the following day.

    Early on Saturday, I drove to the nearest library. I waited for the doors to open, and as soon as it did, I rushed to the Reference Desk clerk.

    I told her our situation and she suggested one of the conference rooms. They were supposed to be used on a first come, first served basis, but she reserved it for our group’s use from 1-4pm. The clerk used to be a member of the SCBWI, and was more than happy to help our group.

    I was so happy to have found us a great venue at such short notice. I quickly emailed and texted all my members, and though a few of them didn’t make it, most of them were happy they did come---because I gave out a whole bunch of handouts and worksheets on plotting.

    Torrance Children's Book Writers, photo by Janet Merrigan

    Most of the worksheets and handouts were based on Deborah Halverson’s incredibly helpful book Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies, and Evan Marshall’s equally useful Marshall Plan for Novel Writing.

    Following is an abbreviated transcript of the session:


    Some people are plotters-they like to outline the story and develop their characters before they even begin writing the first draft. Some are pantsers- they start with a story idea and just go from there.

    Everyone has a different approach to writing, particularly to plotting. While outlining works for some people, it might not be a pleasant experience for others.

    Whether you're plotters or pantsers doesn’t matter. What matters is that you learn as much as you can about plotting from several different sources. Because in the end, only you can decide what works for you or not.

    The first thing you need to do when reading any writing bookundefinedespecially one on plotting, is to understand what is being said. Once you understand the rule, then you can take it and use it as is, or adapt it in the way that makes sense for you.

    You must think of every writing book you read, and every writing session you attend as a GUIDE and not as a set of fixed rules or commandments.

    You can follow whatever you learn from today’s session about plotting to the letter, you can tweak the steps to suit your style, or you can even add and subtract certain steps. The point is that as long as you understand the “rules”, feel free to break them.


    Before we actually start plotting our novels, there are certain very important things we must first do.


    Who are you writing for?

    Are you writing for children or adults?

    • Knowing the exact age range of your audience will help keep your plot on track.
    • Not only that, it will help you when you begin to query your work, and will help publishers and booksellers know where to place your books on the shelf.
    • Let’s go over the following handout really quickly.

    Handout 1: Understanding Children’s Book Genres by Laura Backes

    Are you writing for girls or boys?

    From Deborah Halverson’s Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies:


    Now that you know the age range of your target audience, it’ll be easy to figure out the word count for each.

    Why is word count important?


    Knowing the genre of the book you are writing/planning to write will help agents/publishers decide whether to pick you as a client or not.

    But within each general genre, there are also specific types of sub-genresundefinedand knowing these will help you keep on track when plotting/ writing your stories.

    Handout 2: Genres and How to Choose One pp.30-33   The Marshall Plan Workbook by Evan Marshall


      From Deborah Halverson’s Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies:

      Worksheet 1: Choose Your Theme. p. 33, Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies by Deborah Halverson


        Worksheet 2: Write Your Hook. p. 71-72, Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies by Deborah Halverson.

        Worksheet 3: Novel Information at a Glance


        1.    Worksheet 4: Character Thumbnail & Profile by Deborah Halverson

        2.    Worksheet 5:  The Marshall Plan Character Fact Lists by Evan Marshall

        3.    Worksheet 6:  Comprehensive Character Profile (compiled by myself)

        No matter what worksheet/ character development technique you wish to use, there is one particular technique that you all must know and use. If there’s one technique that I recommend you use, it would be this one:

        GMC or Goals, Motivation, Conflict by Debra Dixon

        Handout 3: Goals, Motivations, Conflict by Debra Dixon


        From Debra Dixon's Goals, Motivations, Conflict

        ·       These are important questions for any story







        Why Not


        • A character wants a goal because he is motivated, but he faces conflict





        GET HOME

        1.   Get to the Emerald City

        2.   See the Wizard

        3.   Get the broomstick

        To find her heart’s desire and a place with no trouble


        Auntie Em is Sick

        1.   The Wizard is there.

        2.   He has the power to send her home.

        3.   The price for sending her home

        1.   She’s unhappy

        2.   Trouble follows her everywhere


        1.   The WITCH

        2.   The balloon lifts without her.

        She doesn’t know what she wants


        Conflict: The Power of the Dark Side by Pamela Jaye Smith

        Characterization/Motivation: Inner Drives by Pamela Jaye Smith


        1. WHAT IS PLOT?

        Have you ever seen one of those Domino exhibitions on TV? The one where an artist (or a person with a lot of time on his hands) places a whole sequence of dominos on the floor. As observers, we have an idea of what the shape of the artist’s domino work is, but we can’t really tell the final outcome until the artist finishes the process and pushes the first domino forward.

        Plot is defined as the events that make up a story, particularly as they relate to one another in a pattern, in a sequence, through cause and effect, or by coincidence.

        In short, Plot is a series of linked events. How are these events linked? By Cause and effect. Each event in a novel must have consequence and therefore, will affect the event that comes next.


        Handout 4: Conflict and Character Within Story Structure

        Simply put, every story has a Beginning, a Middle and an End.

        The Basic 3 Act Structure is very important in plottingundefinedand is important to keep in mind in any stage of writing. Some of the problems we have we our novel’s structure is due to the fact that we may not have a clear idea of these 3 important phases in our story.  We have to know where our Beginning ends, where our Middle starts and where our End begins.

        Each Act in the structure performs certain functions.

        A great article by Peder Hill explains The Basic Three Act Structure, and relates it to Character Arc.

        The simplest building blocks of a good story are found in the Three Act Structure. Separated by Plot Points, its Act 1 (Beginning), Act 2 (Middle), and Act 3 (End) refer not to where in time in the story they lie but instead fundamental stages along the way.

        From  Peder Hill's Structure & Plot

        • In the Beginning you introduce the reader to the setting, the characters and the situation (conflict) they find themselves in and their goal. Plot Point 1 is a situation that drives the main character from their "normal" life toward some different conflicting situation that the story is about.
          • Great stories often begin at Plot Point 1, thrusting the main character right into the thick of things, but they never really leave out Act 1, instead filling it in with back story along the way.
        • In the Middle the story develops through a series of complications and obstacles, each leading to a mini crisis. Though each of these crises are temporarily resolved, the story leads inevitably to an ultimate crisisundefinedthe Climax. As the story progresses, there is a rising and falling of tension with each crisis, but an overall rising tension as we approach the Climax. The resolution of the Climax is Plot Point 2.
        • In the End, the Climax and the loose ends of the story are resolved during the Denouement.Tension rapidly dissipates because it's nearly impossible to sustain a reader's interest very long after the climax. Finish your story and get out.

        From  Peder Hill's Structure & Plot


        PLOT DRIVEN STORIES: Acting on Events

        CHARACTER-DRIVEN STORIES: Focusing on Feelings

        4. HOW TO PLOT


          Worksheet 7: Plot your trigger Points p.104, Writing YA Fiction for Dummies


          Handout 5: Pushing Readers Buttons with Scenes & Chapters p.123-127, Writing YA Fiction for Dummies

          C. SECTIONS

          But how do you know how many scenes you should have in a story? And what if your story has 3 characters? How many scenes should each of them have?

          I had the same problem when I was just starting out with novel writing. Luckily I found Evan Marshall’s The Marshall Plan for Novel Writing, and the Marshall Plan Workbook.

          Marshall doesn’t work with scenes or chapters. Instead, he works with what he calls SECTIONS, which if you ask me, are very similar to scenes.

          Handout 6: The Novelmaster

          Handout 7: Section Sheets

          *As you've seen from our session today, Deborah Halverson's Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies is a great source of information. It's one of the best books I've seen out there, that guides you step by step on how to write great young adult fiction, but all of Deborah Halverson's techniques apply to writing any kind of fiction. I encourage you all to get a copy of this book , as well as The Marshall Plan for Novel Writing.

          Thank you all for joining me today.  Let's discuss whatever questions you may have about today's discussions.


        • 28 May 2011 5:29 PM | Nutschell Anne Windsor (Administrator)

          Often times as writers, we encounter moments when we begin to question our decision to write. We experience writer’s block or maybe even the general desire to just give up and take up a hobby that doesn’t require too much blood.

          Yes, sometimes, writing feels like a long drawn out war and every battle just makes us feel like weary soldiers who think the fight isn’t worth it anymore.

          But we writers all know that writing is always worth it. We just need to be reminded sometimes.

          So last May 28th, 2011, I decided that the topic for our Torrance Children’s Book Writing Group would be about “Re-energizing Your Writing Passions”.

          I’m going to share the transcript of our session.

          You can do the exercises on your own and maybe come up with some new ideas to help you in your writing. Feel free to share these activities with other writer friends, just make sure you link it to this post so they too can go through the exercises.



          • Have you been writing lately? Why/Why not?
          • How do you feel about your writing these days?
          • What are some of the things that hinder you from writing?
          • Why do you think we let these things hinder us from writing?

          At the root of writer’s block is Fear.

          Our fears hinder us from becoming the authors we want to become. In order find the energy to write, we must confront our subconscious fears and find ways to overcome them.


          1. The Fear of Failure or Rejection

          We sometimes fear that we’re not good enough to call ourselves writers.

          But we’ll never know if we don't try. Better to try and fail than to live the rest of our lives with an unfulfilled dream.

          2. The Fear of Criticism.

          Bad reviews or bad critiques always get us down. But we must remember that a bad review of our work has nothing to do with us as persons. Critiques and reviews, though they may lower our self-esteem at times,  are only there to make us better writers.

          3. The Fear of Offending.

          Sometimes we unintentionally offend people with our writing. As writers we have the responsibility to be honest with our writing and to write about what we know. We can’t please everyone and if we try to do that in our writing, then we won’t end up writing the best work we’re capable of producing. Just look at all the books who made it to the Banned Listundefinedthese writers wrote from their hearts and minds and though some people might have found their works offensive, the rest of us certainly think these books are gems of literature.

          4. The Fear of Becoming Empty.

          Our writerly muse can be quite unpredictable. Naturally, as writers, we’re afraid that we’ll run out of stories to tell. But imagination is something we’re born with and there are always ways to spark our creativity.

          5. The Fear of Success.

          Performing in front of an audience is one of the most common fears. Sometimes, as writers we are required not only to share our work but to read it out loud or to promote it even. Success is something we shouldn’t fear, but something we should embrace.

          • How do we overcome our writing fears?
          • First, we must admit to having them, and we must figure out what we are afraid of.
          • We must name our fears. Naming our fears gives us power over them.

          Activity: Naming Our Fears

          Write down your writing fears. It could be one word, one sentence or more.  Actually, the more specific you are the better.

          Now that we’ve named our fears, the next step is to find ways to overcome them.


          Dr. Masaru Emoto, a Japanese doctor and researcher, made an astonishing discovery about water, which he documented photographically. Using a very powerful microscope in a very cold room along with high-speed photography, Dr. Emoto discovered that crystals formed in frozen water reveal changes when specific, concentrated thoughts are directed toward them.

          He put stickers with words like love and appreciation or “you make me sick” on different bottles. He photographed the water before and after the stickers were placed. It didn’t matter whether the person placing the stickers understood the words. The words affected the water crystal, whether they were written in Japanese or German.

          Water from clear springs and water that had been exposed to loving words showed brilliant, complex, and colorful snowflake patterns.


          Polluted water, or water exposed to negative thoughts, formed incomplete, asymmetrical patterns with dull colors.

          "YOU MAKE ME SICK"

          This experiment shows the power of thought on water.

          • Up to 60% of the human body is water, the brain is composed of 70% water. About 83% of our blood is water, which helps digest our food, transport waste, and control body temperature.
          • With this much water inside of us, imagine just how much our thoughts affect the water inside our bodies.

          Changing The Way We Think

          • We must change our negative thoughts into positive ones.
          • We must change our fears of writing into the joys of writing.
          • We must turn that writer’s block into a glob of clay and mold it into something else.
          • We must look for things that inspire us to write, instead of things that hinder us from writing.
            • Why does writing make us happy? What are the joys of writing?


          Look at the writing fears your wrote.

          How do you turn this negative fear into a positive joy?


          I’m afraid of being rejected by an agent.

          I’m excited to be accepted by the perfect agent.

          Practical Ways to Inspire Ourselves to Write

          1.    Re-read our favorite books/ the book that made you want to write.

          2.    Read new books in the genre we’re writing in.

          3.    Read inspirational writing quotes

          4.    Find a good visual motivator and paste it to your screen/ wall.

          5.    Buy some office supplies or a new journal that you’ll actually write in

          6.    Start a new journal


          From an article by resilience coach Angie Le Van

          Mental practice can get you closer to where you want to be in life, and it can prepare you for success!

          Let’s take the case of Natan Sharansky, a computer specialist who spent 9 years in prison in the USSR after being accused of spying for US.

          While in solitary confinement, he played himself in mental chess, saying: “I might as well use the opportunity to become the world champion!”

          In 1996, Sharansky beat world champion chess player Garry Kasparov!

          • A study looking at brain patterns in weightlifters found that the patterns activated when a weightlifter lifted hundreds of pounds were similarly activated when they only imagined lifting.


          • In some cases, research has revealed that mental practicies are almost as effective as true physical practice, and doing both is more effective than doing either alone. 
          • Guang Yue, an exercise psychologist from Cleveland Clinic Foundation in Ohio, compared “people who went to the gym with people who carried out virtual workouts in their heads”. He found that a 30% muscle increase in the group who went to the gym. However, the group of participants who conducted mental exercises of the weight training increased muscle strength by almost half as much (13.5%). This average remained for 3 months following the mental training.
          • Noted as one form of mental rehearsal, visualization has been popular since the Soviets started using it back in the 1970s to compete in sports.
            • Nowadays many athletes employ this technique -  Tiger Woods who has been using it since his pre-teen years.
            • Seasoned athletes use vivid, highly detailed internal images and run-throughs of the entire performance, engaging all their senses in their mental rehearsal, and they combine their knowledge of the sports venue with mental rehearsal.
          • Brain studies reveal that thoughts produce the same mental instructions as actions. Mental imagery impacts many cognitive processes in the brain: motor control, attention, perception, planning, and memory.
            • So the brain is getting trained for actual performance during visualization. It’s been found that mental practices can enhance motivation, increase confidence and self-efficacy, improve motor performance, prime your brain for success, and increase states of flow – all relevant to achieving your best life!
          • Study results highlight the strength of the mind-body connection, or in other words the link between thoughts and behaviors – a very important connection for achieving your best life.
          • To see is to believe – to see something clearly in your mind is to believe it’s possible. Once you believe it’s possible, your mind finds a way to make it so.

          Writer’s Mental Training

          • We writers, above anyone else, need to train our minds. Why? We use our minds for 90% of our work.
          • Research, reading, plotting, creating stories, writing – all depend on our brain. Stephen Hawking, scientist, and said to be the most intelligent man in the planet, is severely disabled by a motor neurone disease known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).
            • He has lost the ability to use his arms, legs and his voice, and yet he has managed to write several best selling books such as A Brief History of Time, The Grand Design and even two children’s books co-written with his eldest Lucy, called George’s Cosmic Treasure Hunt and George’s Secret Key to the Universe.
            • He proves that even without the use of our limbs or our voices, we can still be writersundefinedbecause all our stories come from only two places---our hearts and our minds.

          So How Do We Train our Brain?

          • Earlier, I mentioned the study that stated that thoughts produce the same mental instructions as actions. This means that when we imagine ourselves playing basketball, the neurons in our brain that fire when we actually play basketball are firing when we just think about playing.
          • In writing terms, when we imagine achieving a writing goal, such as finishing a manuscript, the neurons in our brain fire as if we were actually finishing a manuscript.
            • I also mentioned earlier that this study highlights the mind-body connection. There is a link between our thoughts and our behaviors.
            • When your mind has a subtle memory of how to solve a particular problem, or achieve a particular goal, it will be easier for it to translate these thoughts into physical solutions.

          What Are Some Visualization Exercises We Can Do to Achieve Our Writing Dreams

          1. We need to establish our goals. Sure we all want to get published, but do we want a two-book deal? A Series deal? A book deal worth millions? We have to be specificundefinedand honest about our goals.

          • Sometimes, when you’re trying to solve a particular problemundefinedwhether writing related or notundefinedyou spend hours working it out, but find no solution. A friend advises you to “sleep on it” and you do. You wake up the next morning, and you have the answer.
          • In sleep, our minds still continue to work while our body rests.
          • Our subconscious minds cannot find ways for us to achieve our goals unless we’ve told it exactly the kind of goals we want.

          2. It’s not enough to think about these writing goals. We must also write them down. If you were here during our Rewriting the Manuscript Session, then you might have heard about this study.

          In 1964, all members of the Harvard Business School graduating class stated that they have, at graduation, clear goals that they want to accomplish in life. Among them, 5% took the time to write it down on paper. In 1984, a follow up study was done and it was discovered that 95% of those who wrote down their goals were able to achieve them within 20 years. Among the “lazy” majority, only 5% of them were able to reach their expected goals.

          An earlier study in Yale University also had similar results. This time, only 3% of the 1953 graduating class made written goals. Twenty years after, in 1973, it was found out that this 3% of Yale graduates were able to accomplish more goals than the rest of the other 97% combined.

          Amazing isn’t it? But let’s try to enumerate some possible and more rational explanations for these results.

          What happens when you write down your goals?

          • It becomes a written contract to yourself which usually sparks a personal motivation to achieve them.
          • It makes you define clearly what your goals are. Writing them down encourages you to state what you want in greater detail.
          • It frees your mind of perpetually thinking and “remembering” your goals.
          • It stimulates creativity and motivates you to think about the next step.

          Activity: Write down your top 5 Writing Goals

          Examples: find an agent, get a series deal, become a bestselling author, get a big enough advance to quit your job and just write, sell a million copies, win the Newberry award, be featured on a talk show, etc, use your author popularity to do speaking engagements, etc.

          Activity: The Movie in Our Minds.

          Which among the writing goals you’ve listed would you say is proof that you’ve made it as an author?

          Ex. Winning a Newberry? Signing thousands of books in one sitting? Going on a trip and finding someone reading your book?

          Close your eyes. Hold a mental picture of this moment in time, as if it were occurring to you right at this moment. Imagine the scene in much detail. Engage as many of the five senses as you can in your visualization. Who are you with? Which emotions are you feeling right now? What are you wearing? Is there a smell in the air? What do you hear? What is your environment? Eliminate any doubts that come to you.

          3.  Visualize the pinnacle of your writing career. Remember the image you just saw in your mind. You must play this scene in your mind again and again. Hold the scene right before you sleep at night. While you sleep, your mind makes connections about your last thought at night. While your body is resting, your mind is working on ways for you to make that scene come true.

          Variation of this Visualization Exercise:

          • Visualize every step of your writing career. For example, if you are still in the process of writing your manuscript, your most immediate goal would be to finish editing it.
            • Visualize achieving this writing goal. Be very specific about every detail of this ”movie in your mind”. Imagine raising your arms in victory, or laughing in delight, or calling a friend and telling her all about how you finally finished your novel.
          • This power of visualization also works when you want to solve a storyline problem. Imagine yourself finding a way to work out the kink in your plot line before you fall asleep. Chances are you’ll have a good idea of how to when you wake up the next morning.

          4. Do something physical to further promote that vision in your mind.

          No matter where I go, whenever I pass by a bookstore, I go inside and I head straight for the middle grade section. I make a space for my book.

          • The mind body connection is not a one way street. Just as our minds influence the way our body moves, so too do our bodies influence the way our mind works.
          • The act of making a space for our book teaches our mind to expect things.

          Now, What other physical things can you do to promote this vision of writing success?

          • When asked about what you do. Introduce yourself as a writer.
          • Attend book signings, especially of your favorite authors. Listen to these authors speak. List down the things you like about their presentation and think about how you would present the topic if you were the author.
          • Imagine what your book is going to look like. Create your own book covers, or ask the help of a friend who is good with art, to help you create your book cover.
          • Create a writing signatureundefinedone that you will use when you start signing those books during those book tours.
          • Imagine that you’ve already been published, and that you’ve been invited to do a talk and book signingundefinedwhether its at a school, or at a bookstore.  Talk aloud about your book, or your writing journey, or how you came up with your story idea.


          We’ve now faced our fears. We know how to overcome them.

          We’ve written down our goals and etched the mental picture of us achieving them firmly in our minds.

          The next step is to find the writing inspiration to actually achieve these goals.

          Before we become bestselling authors, we must send our manuscripts out. But before we can even do that, we must make sure we finish these manuscripts.

          I want to share some writing exercises that are bound to give you tons of creative ideas.

          1. POEM FISHING

          2. SCENE IT

          3. WORD ALCHEMY

          4. WORDPOOL

          HANDOUT: 31 Ways to Gain Writing Inspiration by Leo Babauta

          Here’s a handout. This guy has compiled several ways to gain writing inspiration. Let’s go over them very quickly.

          VI. REVIEW

          Today we named our writing fears, and found out ways to overcome it using the power of thought and several mental exercises. We also discovered or re-discovered some activities to help us gain some writing inspiration.

        • 23 Apr 2011 5:21 PM | Nutschell Anne Windsor (Administrator)

          Aura Imbarus Bio:
          (from her website

          Aura Imbarus is an educator, professional speaker, and the author of the critically acclaimed  memoir, Out of the Transylvania Night: A Story of Tyranny, Freedom, Love and Identity, and a book for teens, 101 Great Ways to Make the World a Totally Awesome Place - By Teens For Teens, both fall 2010 releases.

          Born and raised in Sibiu/Hermannstadt, Romania, or more precisely in “Dracula’s county Transylvania," Ms. Imbarus attended Lucian Blaga University, earning an MA degree in American and British Studies and a Ph.D. in Philology with the distinction Cum Laude. From 1990 to 1997, she worked as a journalist for Radio Contact, The National Journal, and Gallup Poll in Sibiu, Romania.

          In 1997, Aura immigrated to Los Angeles, where she continued her education at UCLA and began her teaching career both as a high school and college professor. She spends her mornings at West High School, a designated California Distinguished School in 1984, 1994, 1999, 2005, receiver of the Excellence in Education Award from the United States Department of Education in 1984, and nationally awarded Blue Ribbon School distinction in 1984, and her nights at LA Harbor College and El Camino College in South Bay.

          Aura is actively involved in RAPN (Romanian American Professional Network) as well as Eurocircle, a professional networking organization with over 60,000 members of European origins. She is also a mentor for Blue Heron Foundation, a non-profit and professional organization whose mission is to help Romanian orphans in her native country with money and counseling in order to receive a higher education degree. Aura is also a member of MLA- Modern Language Association, NCTE- National Council of Teachers of English, NEA- National Education Association, and many others. Other interests include: reading, painting, skiing, ice-skating, hiking, beach volleyball, and traveling the world.

          “I want to live life to the fullest," says Aura, "and in the process, to help others along the way. I want to squeeze out each and every moment of life, and use to the maximum. Every day has the potential of a lifetime."


          Aura contacted me through the Torrance Children’s Book Writers website in January of this year. She was interested in speaking to our group about her book and about her journey to publication. Over the next few months we emailed back and forth constantly, trying to figure out the schedule and venue for the events.

          We immediately scheduled the talk for April 23rd, but over the next couple of months, I had a difficult time finding a venue. Finally, two weeks before her talk, Catalina Coffee Company in Redondo Beach came to our rescue. And boy, did we strike gold with that venue! The venue was free of charge, provided we bought at least one drink. And who wouldn’t want to buy a drinkundefinedand food with all the wonderful aromas floating around in the building!

          The Catalina Coffee Company manager immediately made us feel welcome. He cleared a space for us in the Libraryundefineda part of the coffee house that looks like an actual library.

          Surrounded with loaded bookshelves and filled with comfortable couches and armchairs, the room is a haven for readers (and writers) who wish to relax in a comfy chair while sipping on their coffee. The manager told us that book clubs often hold meetings in the library during weekday nights.

          Aura came bright and early that afternoon and I immediately felt a kinship with her as she introduced herself and said how excited she was for the talk. As we sat down with our food and drinks in the library, she told us about her day so far. Her warm and friendlyundefinedeven bubbly personality shone through in the first few minutes of our conversation.

          TCBW members found their way to our meeting place, and by the time all nine of us had settled down, Aura had already launched into her story.

          Aura spoke a little about her childhood in Transylvania, and how she grew up with supportive, open-minded and encouraging parents amidst a tumultuous communist regime.She also spoke of her personal journey as an immigrant from Romania to the US. It was a scary leap for herundefinedleaving her job as an assistant professor in a university and coming to America to start from scratch.  She started off with $400 in her pocketundefinednot nearly enough money to start a new life in a foreign country, and not enough money to buy a plane ticket back to her homeland.

          Aura also told us how she had initially started writing a book about dating based on her experiences as a member of a matchmaking site. Her story about how she gets her publisher is both funny and amazing. (You can hear her story for yourselves in the video below). Enormous amounts of research, persistence and a little bit of luck help her land a meeting with an interested publisher.

          Once she had a book deal, however, a call from Romania changed her life. She learned that her mother had liver cancer and had 3-6 months to live. The last thing on her mind was dating, but she was already on contract with the publisher. So Aura spoke to her publisher and explained her situation. Her publisher, being an author herself, and having gone through the same thing with her mother, understood Aura’s predicament. She encouraged Aura to write five pages on the last week Aura had spent in Romania, to which Aura replied that she could write five pages on the last five minutes she had spent in Romania, since there were so many things going on around her, and in her mind. She sent the pages to her publisher, who liked her writing and decided that they should do a memoir. And that’s how Aura’s Pulitzer-nominated, 5-Star Amazon-rated memoir came into existence.

          Aura knew we were all writers interested in getting published, so most of the time, Aura spoke of her journey to publication. She answered all our questions and gave us valuable tips on writing, and self-promotion. One thing which stood out clearly in my mind, was when she said that writing is just 30% of the work. The other 70% is research, and another 100% was for self-promotion. Aura constantly stressed the value of constant self-promotion, especially after publication. She said that not a day goes by when she doesn’t do at least one type of self-promotion. She shared examples of how she would promote her own books, and even gave us tips on how we could start self-promoting, even before we get published.

          To give us an example of how persistence and hard work pays off, she told the story of how she got the elusive book signing spot in Barnes & Nobles, the Grove. She was a journalist, so she wasn’t shy about approaching people. So she started calling the Barnes & Nobles manager every week, until finally, out of frustration or name recall the manager picks up and talks to her. She immediately tells him that she can bring in 100 people for the book-signing event. So when the publisher called the B&N manager the following week, and presents the three authors she had for the book signing, the manager chose Aura.

          Of course, bringing in 100 people was not easy. But Aura tapped into her various social networks (twitter, facebook and other organizations she belonged to), and despite a rainy booksigning day and a sudden change in schedule, she managed to bring in the hundred people (and more) she had promised the bookstore manager.
          Aura also spoke about the projects she’s currently working on, and the stories behind them. One is a book for teenagers, written through a school project, in collaboration with her students, and another one is a cultural cookbook. She says cooking isn’t something she’s an expert on, but with enough research, and a few new ideas, she’ll be able to pull it off.

          The talk ended all too soon. We all bought copies of her book, which she signed for us. She made sure to talk to us individually, and even gave us business cards with the reminder to email her if we had any other writing-related questions.

          I’ll definitely make it a point to invite Aura over again as a speaker. All in all, Aura’s talk was funny, informative, and downright inspiring. We all left that day filled with hope, inspiration, and energized to get our own writing careers started.

          As an added bonus, if you have time, please feel free to watch the video below. It’s the first 20 minutes of Aura’s talk and you can hear all about her writing journey, as well as her other adventures,  and writing tips from her own lips.

        • 13 Mar 2011 6:16 PM | Nutschell Anne Windsor (Administrator)

          Three Sundays ago, our group met at the Torrance Airport Meeting Room.

          LeeAnne Krusemark, our guest speaker, spoke about how to build up publishing credits.

          LeeAnne Krusemark is a journalist, author, and owner of an award winning southern California public relations business since 1988. LeeAnne is a Chamber of Commerce past president and has been asked to speak at a Senate-sponsored business conference as well as for the Department of the Army. Her in-person lectures are offered at more than 200 facilities nationwide, including Purdue, and her online publishing class is offered at more than 1,000 facilities worldwide, including Harvard Adult Education. The inspiration given to others in her comprehensive workshops has even been compared in writing to Oprah.

          She started the session off with a writing activity. She gave us three words: summer, breeze and ocean, and gave us five minutes to write anything with those three words in it.  While we wrote our poems, essays, or story beginnings, she gave out handouts for the lecture.

          When our five minutes were up, we shared what we wrote.  The activity made got put us in a creative mood, and we eagerly soaked up what LeeAnne had to share with us about  getting published.

          LeeAnne emphasized that getting published is one part writing, one part timing, one part luck, and a few parts experience. She stressed that getting published is  more often than not, about climbing the ladder of publishing success, it’s about starting out in smaller, easier publishing markets and building up from there.

          The entire session focused on easier first publishing markets, which we writers can submit to, in order to gain publishing credits. LeeAnne enumerated six of these, and went on to give examples:

          1.      Fillers
          2.      Greeting Cards
          3.      Contests
          4.      Newspapers
          5.      Editorials
          6.      Alternatives (Newsletters, In-House Publications)

          Fillers are short pieces which newspapers use to fill gaps on their pages. Some readers just want a quick, easy read and fillers are a great way to put a lighter touch on a dull page, and generate reader involvement. LeeAnne says writing fillers is a great way to start off your writing career and get some publishing credits in. Examples are some the Reader’s Digest materials such as “All in a Day’s Work”, and other segments which deal with humor.

          Greeting cards are a normal part of our lives, and yet we don’t stop to think about who makes these cards. There is a good demand for writers who can come up with good greeting card materialsundefinedwhether it’s witty one liners, poems, jokes or quotes. This particular industry needs to come up with new material all the time.

          Joining writing contests is a great way to get publishing credits. It doesn’t really matter what type of contest it is, as long as you get to flex your writing muscles. The prizes don’t count either. LeeAnne told us that once, she entered an essay contest which asked the question “What would you do if you won the lottery?” Her essay won second prize, and she got several lotto tickets for free, but the most important thing was that her essay was published in a newspaper.

          Submitting articles or writing freelance for newspapers can help get your writing career started. Major newspapers such as the LA Times might be quite as eager to publish your pieces, but your local newspapers are often in need of these freelance articles. You might not get paid at all, but the payment comes in the form of another publishing credit you can add to your list.

          Letters to the editor are another way of earning those writing brownie points. Write a controversial letter that will get a good debate going, or write something that you feel strongly about. The more readers can relate to or react to your piece, the higher the chance that the editor will pick your piece to get published.

          Lastly, LeeAnne encouraged us to take advantage of whatever writing opportunities our current jobs might present us with. In house publications such as flyers, posters, brochures, company newsletters, correspondence letters, and so on are a useful way of flexing our writing muscles, and also one way we can earn those publishing credits.

          We ended the session with a question and answer portion. We asked LeeAnne whatever questions popped into our minds about the publishing industry, and about writing. She answered all our questions, and afterward, presented us with some books which we could purchase from her at a low price. These are books which she had written about various topics such as writing, finance and real estate, business, and even ways to make money with a computer.

          I thought the session went well, and tied up nicely with our previous session on Query Letters. In that session, we had talked about the author bio, which comprised the third paragraph of a query letter. A lot of us were worried about not having any writing-related credits to put in that paragraph. LeeAnne’s helped us understand what publishing credits we could use to fill out that paragraph. She even gave us a few tips to help us make our author bios more marketableundefinedsuch as how to word our author bio paragraph so that our publishing credits, no matter how small they are, can seem impressive.

        • 05 Mar 2011 5:09 PM | Nutschell Anne Windsor (Administrator)

          Last Saturday’s meetup was the biggest yet, with 19 people in attendance. We met at our usual meeting place – Borders, Torrance (thankfully not closing).

          The usual round of introductions made it clear that our group was a diverse and varied one. While most of us where children’s book writers, there were also adult fiction writers in attendance. Our genres of interest ranged from non-fiction to fantasy to historical fiction and thrillers.

          After a few announcements, where I plugged in upcoming events for our group, I asked my fellow scribblers to do something before we started our main discussion. I instructed them to pick three books that are similar to the books they are writing, or are trying to sell.

          When everybody had returned to their seats with three books in hand, I began the discussion.

          Most of my materials came from the following amazing ebooks:

          Noah Lukeman’s HOW TO LAND AND KEEP A LITERARY AGENT can be downloaded here for $12.99 as a PDF file or for $9.99 on the Kindle Store.

          Noah Lukeman’s HOW TO WRITE A GREAT QUERY LETTER is likewise FREE, and can be downloaded here.

          Elana Johnson’s FROM QUERY TO THE CALL can be downloaded for FREE on her website.

          All of these ebooks were amazing sources of information for writing a query letter. The tricky part was figuring out how to use the wealth of knowledge presented in their pages, and arranging them in a logical and comprehensive manner.

          I took it upon myself to organize all the information in these ebooks, along with other information I’ve gleaned from my research on query letter.

          In the first hour of our meeting, we discussed the following topics:

          I. QUERY BASICS
          (Based on Noah Lukeman’s HOW TO LAND AND KEEP A LITERARY AGENT)

          A. What is a Query letter?
          B. Who do you query? Publisher vs. Agent.

          10 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Query A Publisher Directly

          10 Reasons Why You Need An Agent

          When To Query A Publisher Directly

          C. Steps To Take Before You Write A Query Letter

          1. Research/ Make a list of 50 Target Agents

          • You must make a list of at least 50 agents which you wish to query
          • landing an agent is a numbers game
          • a person who mails out 200 resumes has a huge advantage over the person who  mails out 5. Same is true for landing an agent
          • Research is important. Make sure they represent your genre.

          13 Factors To Consider When Evaluating An Agent

          2. Gather more information about the agents on your list.Create your own database containing the following details:

          • Full name of agent
          • Mr/Mrs/Ms
          • Literary Agency information – name, address, website
          • Submission Guidelines
          • Email address/ physical address
          • What agent is looking for/ What genre he represents
          • List of clients he represents and their books
          • You can use the following programs to create your database

          3. Prepare the common tools of querying

          a. First 10-20 pages of your work

          b. Synopsis

          I gave everyone handouts on the above discussion, along with 26 FREE and 11 FEE based sources of resources for writers who wish to research literary agents, which Noah Lukeman outlined in his book HOW TO LAND AND KEEP A LITERARY AGENT.

          Here’s a sample of what could be found in the handout:



          2– (contains 3 resources)

          5 – 8. (contains 4 resources)

          9. Agency Websites

          10. Search Engines

          Noah Lukeman only outlined 24 free resources but I added two which I found on my own search:


          26. Literary Rambles by Casey McCormick

          One of our members, Madison, also added a couple of websites, which she found useful in her own research.


          Aside from and,, Noah Lukeman also mentions other sources of information on agents, such as :


          Writers Digest Guide to Literary Agents

          Writers Digest Writers Market

          Jeff Herman’s Writer’s guide to Book Editors, Publishers, and Literary Agents

          Literary Marketplace

          Children’s Writers and Illustrators Market by Alice Pope


          Poets & Writers

          The Writer

          Writer’s Digest


          * The key in choosing a conference is finding out in advance which agents are attending, how many of them will be attending, and the ratio of agents to writers.

          Example: 2 agents for 500 writers vs. 10 agents for 200 writers

          * Downside is that conferences can be expensive. Attend if you have the money to spare.

          Examples of good conferences for children’s book writers:

          Big Sur Writing Workshop by Andrea Brown Literary Agency

          SCBWI Summer/Winter Conference

          SCBWI Agents Day

          SCBWI Writing Retreat

          PART II of our workshop covered the formula for writing query letter based on Noah Lukeman’s Three Paragraph Rule, gleaned from his ebook  HOW TO WRITE A GREAT QUERY LETTER.

          Noah Lukeman’s THREE PARAGRAPH RULE states that a query letter should fit on one page, and should consist of only three paragraphs.

          A. The first Paragraph is the introduction, in which writers should make a personal connection with the agent.

          Examples of introductory sentences are:

          “ I am writing to you because your client, John Smith, recommended I do so”

          “I saw you speak at the SCBWI-LA Summer Conference last August, and I liked what you said about the importance of research in historical fiction.”

          ”I am writing to you because you represented TITLE by AUTHOR, and I feel my book is similar.”

          Noah Lukeman, being a literary agent himself, says that a way to grab an agent’s attention is by making the letter about the agent, and not about yourself.  Referencing a title he has represented accomplishes this, and also shows the agent that we have researched him well before we even approached him.

          B. The second paragraph is the Plot Paragraph. This paragraph should be limited to three sentences and should offer a short description of the plot and nothing else.

          Noah Lukeman outlines common mistakes to avoid when writing a plot paragraph, as well as 4 positive traits to have in a plot paragraph. Using his book as a guide, we discussed these topics:

          3 Common Mistakes to Avoid in your Plot Paragraph

          1. Don’t exceed one paragraph

          2. Don’t name names

          3. Don’t mention subplots

          4 Positive Traits to Have in Your Plot Paragraph

          1. Specifics

          2. Time Period

          3. Location

          4. Comparison

          C. The Third paragraph is the author bio.

          4 Common Mistakes to Avoid in Your Author Bio

          1. Don’t list minor credits

          2. Don’t include irrelevant information

          3. Don’t be overly personal

          4. Don’t forget the visuals

          8 Positive Elements to Include in your Author Bio

          1. Publication Credits

          2. Track Record

          3. Subsidiary Rights

          4. Strong Industry Connections

          5. Awards, Grants, Fellowships or other laurels

          6. Writing-related education or prestigious residencies

          7. Potential endorsements

          8. Insider knowledge

          PART III of our Workshop focused on the PLOT PARAGRAPH, which is actually the most important paragraph in a query letter.

          Before we discussed this however, I asked everyone to read the back cover/blurb of the three books they had picked out. I gave them a few minutes to study the blurbs.

          When they were done, I asked them what they noticed about the back cover. A lot of people suggested answers. I explained that book blurbs accomplish one thing: They sell the book. They make the browsing reader want to buy the book and take it home.

          I had asked them to pick out three books most similar to their own for several reasons:

          1. I wanted them to realize that in the same way that the goal of the book’s back cover blurb is to sell the book,  the goal of a query letter is simply to SELL THEIR STORY.

          2. I wanted them to understand that there are in fact, several books out there similar to what they were writing. This might give them an idea of which agents to approach for their own book.

          3. I also wanted them to get an inkling of the elements that make up a successful plot paragraph. They could study the blurbs and apply what they have learned to their own query letters.

          After this BOOK BLURB EXERCISE, we proceeded to part three of our workshop.

          In this part of our workshop, we discussed two techniques or guidelines for punching up our plot paragraph.

          A. The first one, is derived from agent Mary Kole’s article on how to write query letters. In this article, she listed several questions which serve as guidelines for writing the plot paragraph:

          • WHO is your character?
          • WHAT is the strange thing going on in their life that throws them off their equilibrium and launches the story?
          • WHAT (or who) do they want most in the world?
          • WHO (or what) is the main character’s ally?
          • WHO (or what) is in the way of them getting what they want most in the world (their obstacle)?
          • WHAT is at stake if they don’t get what they want?

          B. Elana Johnson’s ebook FROM QUERY TO THE CALL was an amazing source of information for writing the plot summary, and most of part III of our workshop on Plot Paragraph was taken from her brilliant work.

          Her technique consists of four elements that need to be included in the plot paragraph:

          a.   The Hook

          Your hook should:

          1. Sum up the novel in one sentence

          2. Propel the reader to read the whole letter with interest

          b. The Setup

          In the setup, you have a few goals:

          1. Provide a few details about who your main character is. You've hooked the agent to find out more about your main character, so give them what they want.

          2. World-building information if pertinent. For fantasy and science fiction, a little taste of the world would go in the setup section of the query. For mystery, horror, thriller or other genres, including the setting here wouldn't be a bad idea.

          3. The catalyst that moves the main character into the conflict. In each of the examples below (which are numbered to go with their hooks from the first part of this section), I’m going to expound on what each sentence brings to the table as far as setup. The same as in writing, what you include in the letter should have a purpose for being there.

          c. The Conflict

          So you've hooked and setup your query letter. Now to the part that everyone wants to readundefinedthe conflict. Every novel needs it. In fact, the more conflict, the better. In the query letter, you want to highlight the main conflict, not every single one in every single chapter. You can't even do that in the synopsis, so don't try.

          Main conflict [meyn kon-flikt]: The central thing that prevents the character from getting what they want. If you didn't setup what the character wants in the setup, you can do it during the conflict. In the examples section, I’ve included the hook and the setup so you don’t have to go back and find them.

          d. The Consequence

          The final element you need in your query letter is the consequence. What will happen if the MC doesn't solve the problem? Doesn't get what they want? Will evil forces achieve world domination? Will her brother die? Is it a race against time across Antarctica to find the long lost jewel of the Nile? What's the consequence?

          Elana Johnson also gives us several examples for each stage/ element of the plot paragraph:

          This sample is taken from her own query letter:


          1. Hook: In a world where Thinkers brainwash the population and Rules are not meant to be broken, fifteen-year-old Violet Schoenfeld does a hell of a job shattering them to pieces.

          Setup: After committing her eighth lame ass crime (walking in the park after dark with a boy, gasp!), Vi is taken to the Green, a group of Thinkers who control the Goodgrounds. She’s found unrehabilitatable (yeah, she doesn’t think it’s a word either) and exiled to the Badlands. Good thing sexy Bad boy Jag Barque will be going too.

          Conflict: Dodging Greenies and hovercopters, dealing with absent-father issues, and coming to terms with feelings for an ex-boyfriendundefinedand Jag as a possible new oneundefinedleave Vi little time for much else. (she’s got problems. Lots of them.) Which is too damn bad, because she’s more important than she realizes. (Whoa. She’s important? How so?) Vi’s main conflict is that she doesn’t know who and/or what she is. How important she is. But everyone else does. And it’s not something she’s going to

          like…. This is all established in a mere 42 words.

          The final blurb/plot paragraph which includes the 4th element of Consequence looks like this:

          In a world where Thinkers brainwash the population and Rules are not meant to be broken, fifteen-year-old Violet Schoenfeld does a hell of a job shattering them to pieces. When secrets about her “dead” sister and not-so-missing father hit the fan, Vi must make a choice: control or be controlled.

          Elana Johnson also posted links to several successful query letters, which I copied and gave as handouts to my members. I also printed copies of Elana’s free worksheets, along with a worksheet on creating a logline, which I had compiled.

          In PART IV of our workshop, we discussed other things to keep in mind when writing a query letter,such as the 7 common mistakes of query letters, The 4 musts of submitting queries, 3 things not to do when submitting queries, Email queries and of course, formatting basics of a query letter.

          Throughout the workshop, members asked questions, and gave their own suggestions and tips based on their own experiences.

          All in all, the workshop was a smashing success. Everyone left with more handouts and worksheets than they bargained for, and an eagerness to apply what they had learned.

        • 29 Jan 2011 5:04 PM | Nutschell Anne Windsor (Administrator)

          Last Saturday, January 29th, our writing group met up again at Borders Torrance. We had three new faces join us for the meetup on “Rewriting Your Manuscript.”

          A usual, we started our meeting with introductions. After stating our names, current projects and answering a strange but creative question from the box, we proceeded to the next activity.

          I like to start our meetups with a hopeful, positive note, so before diving into our main topic, I had everybody join in an activity inspired by the recent SCBWI-LA Westside schmooze.

          In that schmooze, Rita told us about her Illustrator friend whose instructor required his students to spend 15 minutes illustrating three dreams or goals that they wanted to achieve. They put this illustration in an envelope and forgot about it until a year later. When they opened their illustration, they realized that all the dreams they had illustrated had come true.

          I explained to the group, that though it seems like magic, the principle behind this activity is the same principle behind the Harvard study: In 1964, all members of the Harvard Business School graduating class said that they had clear goals they wanted to achieve. However, only 5% of them took the time to write these goals down. A follow up study 20 years later revealed that 95% of those who wrote down their goals were able to achieve all of them. Among the other half of the class who said they had goals but didn’t write them down, only 5% reached their expected goals.

          The truth is when we write down our goals, it becomes a written contract to ourselves. It sparks personal motivation within us to achieve these goals. And since we’ve written down exactly what we want to achieve, we see our goals more clearly, and our brain starts seeing innovative ways to achieve them.

          I then handed out pieces of blank paper. I instructed them to write down their writing-related dreams and goals for 5 minutes straight. I encouraged them to write down all the details they could think of-- the name of the agent who is going to them back and say “I’d like to represent you”, the name of the publishing house who is going to give them a six-book deal, the color of the dress they’re going to wear when they accept the Newbery medal,etc.

          The activity helped us get into a positive and hopeful mindset. We were now ready to tackle the topic of Rewriting.

          I gave out handout1 which described the four types of editing: Proofreading/Copyediting, Line Editing , Content/Developmental Editing, and Heavy/Substantive Editing.

          We discussed the difference between rewriting and editing, the four kinds of editing, and the different processes of writing, just to get a clearer picture of what rewriting means.

          We agreed that there are generally four stages to writing a novel:

          Stage 1: Writing the First Draft

          Stage 2: Rewriting

          Stage 3: Editing

          Stage 4: Copyediting/Proofreading

          Ideally when we write the first draft, we don’t stop to edit ourselves. Grammar, punctuation, spelling and all the nitty gritty things don’t matter at this stage.

          What matters is that our stories have a beginning, middle and end, and that it gets finished.

          Once we are done with our first draft, we move into the second stage of writing, which is rewriting/revising our work. In this stage, we go through our first (or 2nd or 3rd) draft with a creative eye.  This means that spelling, punctuation and grammatical errors shouldn’t distract us from polishing and tightening our stories.

          Instead, our focus is to fix the story itselfundefinedcharacter, plot, setting, etc. Before we even begin to actually rewrite our story, we must do some content editing. This means we have to look at the flow and the structure of our story.

          After developmental editing, usually comes substantive editingundefinedwhich means we reorganize paragraphs, sections, or chapters for overall clarity or readability.

          Elements of style such as punctuation, spelling, word usage, grammar and sentence construction fall under the third stage.

          Copyediting/Proofreading is the final stage before we send off our manuscripts. Here is where we check that everything is totally correctundefinedthere are no typos, the format is perfect and the manuscript is ready for an agent’s eyes.

          Content editing is basically what we do when we revise for Story. Substantive or Heavy editing is similar to revising for Structure,  since this is the part of rewriting where we rearrange our scenes, chapters (and even paragraphs) so that our story can flow smoothly.

          Before we can Revise for Story or Structure, however, there are certain steps we must take in order to prepare for a major rewrite.

          James Scott Bell in his book REVISION & SELF-EDITING lists down 6 Steps to follow before rewriting. I added my own tips, as well as other authors’ tips I found while researching the topic, and shared this with the group.

          1. The Cool-Down Phase

          2. The Preparation Phase

          3. Print Out and Prepare a Fresh Copy

          4. Get Ready to Read

          5. Read

          6. Analyze

          *** You can check out James Scott Bell’s article  here:

          Once we’ve done all these things, we’re ready to do some actual rewriting based on the many notes we made.

          The next thing we need to do is gather all our needed materials:

          • Manuscript copy
          • Favorite editing pens
          • Notebook/pad where we jotted down possible revision notes
          • Other notes that we created while working on the book, plus maps, charts, diagrams, character descriptions, etc, which we used while writing the novel.

          Robert J. Ray, in his book The Weekend Novelist Rewrites the Manuscript, says that there are three important elements to consider when rewriting: Story, Structure and Style. When you rewrite, always rewrite for structure and story first When story hums and structure runs smooth, work on Style.

          Revising for Story

          Freelance editor Victory Crayne says the following things:

          • Content is King. Your story may have technically correct English, but still fail to sell.
          • The first draft is often for you, the writer. Now go back and rewrite it for your readers.
          • Writing to entertain is much harder than writing perfect English. Writing to entertain so well that hundreds of thousands of readers can't wait until your next book comes out requires a whole lot more. It requires two critical ingredients: (1) a great storyline and (2) excellence in storytelling. Just writing perfect English won't get you there.

          It’s important that we know what our story is really about before we even try to rewrite entire paragraphs or chapters.

          Revising for Story, also known as content editing, can save us a lot of time and trouble.

          As a basis for our discussion on rewriting for Story, I used author Holly Lisle’s awesome article on One-Pass Manuscript Revision: From First Draft to Last in One Cycle.

          You can read the whole thing here:

          In this article, she recommends going through the process of discovery in order to get your story right.  She suggests activities for figuring out our manuscripts’ themes, sub-themes and story arc.

          Revising for Structure

          Every story has a three act structure, also known as the beginning, middle and end. Knowing our story’s structure, allows us to understand what’s supposed to happen within each part.

          For instance, in the Beginning, we’re supposed to introduce the reader to the setting, the characters and the situation or conflict they find themselves in, as well as their goals.  When we revise our manuscript, we must figure out if we have accomplished this or not.

          Peder Hill’s article on Conflict and Character within Story Structure was a great jumping off point for our discussion on revising for structure.

          Afterward, we discussed some techniques for revising structure. I suggested that the use of index cards was a great way for figuring out the flow of a story.

          In the index cards, we write down the title of our scene/chapter, along with a scene/chapter description. We can even assign a particular index card color to each of our major characters/major storylines.

          Once we’ve finished our index cards, we lay them out on a big table or on the floor, and figure out if our story is flowing smoothly based on the scene descriptions. If not, we rearrange the index cards until the story does flow.

          Picture from Chris Bell's blogpost on Manuscript Mapping.

          Check out her article here.

          I also suggested the use of the software program Anthemion Café Writers Storylines, as this is similar to the index card technique.

          Holly Lisle’s article: One-Pass Manuscript Revision: From First Draft to Last in One Cycle, once more came in handy.  In the final part of our meetup, we discussed steps to take in the actual rewriting of our manuscripts.

          Towards the end of our meetup, I gave out a list of writing books which I found helpful in my own process of manuscript revision.  Other members also suggested books they found useful.

          Our heads were buzzing with a boatload of information by the time we ended the meetup. All of us had our minds set on rewriting our  manuscripts based on what he had learned and shared with each other that day.

        • 17 Nov 2010 5:02 PM | Nutschell Anne Windsor (Administrator)

          Last November 17, 2010, we met up at Borders Torrance to discuss an issue which plagues writers at least once in their lives: Writer's Block.

          We started our discussion by sharing our personal experiences with writer's block. We then moved on to discussing the possible causes for writer's block. I pointed out that while writer's block is common for all writers, the cause and cure for writer's block is different for every writer.

          Following are some of the more  common causes of writer's block:


          • Writer's Block happens when you try to do everything at once.
          • Writer's Block happens when you don't know enough to begin.
          • Writer's Block happens when you've exhausted all the good or original ideas and feel your creativity flagging.
          • Writer's Block happens due to physical stress, lack of sleep, depression, and bad health.
          • Writer's Block happens due to mental blocks: fear of failure, fear of success, overbearing inner critic.
          • Writer's Block happens due to psychological disturbances ranging from neurosis to something scary

          Each cause, naturally, has a different treatment.

          I shared with them some treatments for each cause.  Some of the tips were based on my own personal experience. Others were taken from articles or books I've read on writer's block. Most of the tips, however, were taken from Jenna Glatzer's very helfpul book :  Outwitting Writer's Block and Other Problems of the Pen.


          A. Writer's Block happens when you try to do everything at once.

          • Lists are your friend
          • Organize, prioritize

          1. Set Weekly Objectives


          • Write down titles of books you want to read
          • Read books/ take courses on children’s writing

          2.  Break down your writing into smaller pieces

          • Example:  If you have a 500 word deadline, write 250 now, then 250 later.

          3.  Pad your deadline

          • Schedule yourself to submit two days earlier

          4. Create Self imposed deadlines

          5. Work with other writers - Find a deadline buddy

          6. Enter quick contests to get yourself writing

          Anvil Press 3 Day novel contests


          24 hour short story contes

          Toasted Cheese “ 3 cheers and a tiger”  short story contest

          7. Decide to meet a deadline by an outside force

          8.  Submitting on schedule - Try a commited campaign of submitting brand new material to brand new markets

          B. Writer's Block happens when you don't know enough to begin.

          • Lack of research can be a hindrance to our creativity. Err on the side of getting more information than less
          • Maybe you want to write, but don’t know where to start, or where to get your ideas.

          Getting Ideas

          Keep a dream journal

          • The act of purposely remembering your dreams and recording it first thing every morning will open up chasms in your mind--even if you start with “I had an agitating dream”.
          • You can pick up scenes, emotions, descriptions for your writing.

          Daydream, Percolate

          * Stories are born from daydreams

          Maybe you have a vague idea of what your story is about, but you don't know where your story is supposed to go.

          1. Building Your Story’s House

          • Research
          • Read up on your subjectundefinedread books in the genre you want to write in
          • Have a conversation/ interview with your character
          • Call a friend and explain your synopsis
          • Talk into a tape recorder, listen to it and try to determine where you slow down, sound unsure of yourself, skip parts of storyundefinedthese areas need to be developed.

          2. Characters Count

          • Create characters who are irresistible to you
          • Otherwise, writing becomes tedious, you try to make them interesting instead of allowing them to be themselves

          3. Meeting New Characters

          • Go to crowded placesundefinedwith a tape recorder, sketchpad, camera or video camera
          • Observe people, pay attention to looks, the way they sound, phraseologies, etc

          4. Respect your language

          Study rules of language to develop a true ear for language

          C. Writer's Block happens when you have exhausted all the good or original ideas and you feel your creativity flagging.

          1. Train Your Brain

          You Have Boundless Creativity

          • You have 72,000 thoughts a day, out of those surely 1 or 2 are worthy of writing down
          • Sometimes you just discount ideas as useless, but they might actually work.

          Change Your Brain

          • If you want to see the world differently, you can change the way your brain works
          • Change how you see your writing - Retrain your brain to see writing as a reward in itself

          Allow Yourself Time to Write

          • You do not have to write, you allow yourself to
          • Allow yourself to stop

          See through writer's eyes.

          • Look at things and see words and metaphors.
          • Example: Woman at a grocery storeundefinedwarm and inviting as a fresh baked cookie, and just as likely to fall apart.

          Make these moments happen

          • Practice consciously evoking your writer’s eyes
          • Keep a small notebook or tape recorder handy
          • Keep your perceptions sharp, force yourself to define things in words

          Just do it.

          • Start practicing today.

          Using Free Association

          • Subconscious will find its way to your head
          • Write without lifting your pen
          • Don’t correct your work, or reread
          • Can set a timer

          All writing counts

          • Any form of writing you do helps you keep that brain limber and helps you make an easier transition into writing mode whenever you want to

          Message Boards

          • Outwit your Writer's blockundefinedtrick it by actually writingundefinedanything

          2. Spice up your writing life.

          • Maybe writing has become more of a chore and less of a pleasurable experience

          Change your environment

          Claiming Your Writing Space

          Build a home office  or consider portioning off a section of the room

          Clear the Clutter

          If you already have a writing base, maybe all you need is to tidy it. Clear the clutter, organize things.

          Get more quotes

          Read works that inspire you to write.

          3. What to do when you're halfway through the story but you suddenly hit a dead end?

          Quick Fixes when you’re stalled

          Take a break

          • If you're writing a novel, stop. Write a poem instead.

          Don't be yourself

          • Be your character or a different person you admire
          • Method writing

          Opposite situations

          • Completely alter your writing environment and writing habits
          • Cd in the background, write in silence
          • Change rooms, change times, writing, rearrange furniture

          Add a prop

          • Wear a writing hat

          Look right before your eyes

          Look at objects around you and ask questions about them. Make stories up about them

          Let go when you've outgrown your story

          There’s not just one way to tell your story

          Playing the opposite game: change fundamentals of your story

          • Change sex of main character
          • Change setting
          • Change genre
          • Change POV

          If your stuck on a scene, move it.

          • Use contrast to your advantageundefinedterrible fight at a carnival, happy reunion at a hospital
          • Tell your story in emails, phone calls, letters

          Raising the Stakes

          • Show the character has a lot to lose then take him to the verge of losing it all
          • Character’s should wind up getting gmore than they intended
          • Moral should evolve naturally from storyline

          D. Writer's Block Happens Due To Physical Stress, Lack Of Sleep, Depression, And Bad Health.

          De-stress NOT distress yourself.

          Dealing with the Stress of Writer’s Block

          • Breathing properly
          • Herbal – lavender n pressure points
          • I’m good enough, smart enough
          • Exercise
          • Progressive muscle relaxation
          • Meditate
          • Bath
          • Repetitive activities – knitting, crocheting, dishes, etc
          • Using music to relax

          Invent your own relaxation techniques

          E.Writer's Block Happens Due To Psychological Disturbances Ranging From Neurosis To Something Scary

          • Writer’s block may be a symptom of a bigger problem
          • Get professional help

          Determine Your Motivation for writing

          What would you write for the sake of writing, if you knew you weren’t going to get published anyway?

          Your Reasons are the right reasons

          • Be honest with yourself about your motivations for writing
          • You’re allowed to write for whatever reason strikes you

          Cognitive Dissonance Causes Writer's Block

          • When your real goals are in conflict with the goals you set for yourself, this can cause uneasiness in your mind
          • WB might be there to show you what your goals really are

          Making Time

          • Prioritize
          • Dishes can wait

          Long Term Goals

          • Be specific, realistic

          Change is Good

          • Try new things, write new things

          Carve out Writing time despite family obligations

          • Train  your family to accept writing time.
          • Teach them to recognize boundaries

          The Money Issue

          • You can have a full time job and still be a writer

          When tough times fall on you

          • Ask yourself: is this writers block or do you just not have the concentration required to write

          Using time for simpler tasks

          • Use writing prompts

          You Must Write the Hardest Thing to Write

          • Let yourself write the very thing that is begging to come out
          • “Do not for the vanity of intellectual publication, turn away from what you areundefinedthe material within you which makes you individual, therefore indispensable to others.
          • It is the writing we must do that pours out of us effortlessly

          F. Writer's Block Happens Due To Mental Blocks: Fear Of Failure, Fear Of Success, Overbearing Inner Critic.

          1. Fear of Failure

          Stop Being So Serious

          • Writing is merely an extension of those childhood daysundefinedyour writing can be as enjoyable, freewheeling as it was then
          • Drink lemonade, eat alphabet soup while writing, listen to muppets theme song, things associated with youth

          You Owe It to the world to Outwit your block

          • Remember you’ve made the choice to write because it gives you some kind of pleasure
          • Zero in on that

          Secondary Gains from WB

          • When a person gets something beneficial from something negativeundefinedsecondary gain
          • What is your block trying to tell you?
          • Maybe it’s a form of self preservationundefinedcruel to yourself about your writing talents, then y our block may be a way of saving yourself from criticism

          Become your own best cheerleader

          Putting Your Writing Into Perspective

          • Writing is just putting words to paper

          Negative No More

          • Write down all your negative thoughts about writing
          • Replace them with positive ones

          2. Fear of Success

          Why Do You Fear Success?


          • Fear of bad reviews
          • Meet a deadline
          • Being better than your spouse
          • Fear of higher expectationsundefinedpeople will expect you to keep producing good work

          Perfectionism in Disguise

          • You’ve set yourself up as splendid writer that you can’t live up to your own expectations
          • Procrastination is perfectionism in disguise – Dr. Paul Foxman
          • Take the risk

          Writer, Compare not Thyself

          • Get caught up in comparing yourself to famous writers
          • There may be other less talented writers who got published
          • Setting bar high is good, but unrealistically high can paralyze you

          By reading good works, you push yourself to excel

          • Bring down your standard of reading material, your writing will followundefinedif you read nothing but trashy magazines, that’s what you’ll be able to write

          3. Inner Critic

          Rehabilitate Your Critic

          • Make an agreement with your critic
          • You can’t divorce yourself from bad writing because without it, you’d never have made progress

          How to Quiet Your Critic

          • Body in motion stays in motion
          • Commit to your badness
          • Write whatever garbage comes into your mind as you wake up in the morningundefineddon’t stop for coffee or whatever

          Speak To Yourself Like a Friend

          • Don’t say anything to yourself that you’d never say to a good friend ---Paul Foxman, psychologist, Conquering Panic and Anxiety Disorders

          We ended the night by affirming ourselves as writers and sharing our writing goals for the coming year.

        • 23 Oct 2010 12:16 PM | Nutschell Anne Windsor (Administrator)

          On October 23, 2010, members Torrance Children’s Book Writing Group, along with some members of SCBWI-LA joined me at the LA Public Library (Harbor Gateway Branch) for a workshop.

          After welcoming everyone, I started the workshop by doing a little survey.  I asked the participants questions like “How many of you have desks overflowing with papers, books and half eaten snacks?” and “How many of you use only Microsoft Word?”

          These questions actually point out two concepts that commonly plague writers: Technology and Organizing. I listed down a few symptoms writers might show, if they had problems with organizing or problems with using technology.

          I explained that we could solve both problems by addressing only one concept: Technology.

          Freelance editor Emma Dryden had spoken about how technological trends affect the publishing landscape in the recent SCBWI Working Writers’ Retreat. A great example would be Patrick Carman’s book series: Skeleton Creek, where he used both book and video to tell the story.

          The publishing landscape has changed dramatically. Agents and editors get hundreds of submissions per day. Understandably, they have to find ways to get through the ocean of manuscripts. Literary Agent Noah Lukeman in his book The First Five Pages, says “Presentation is looked at before all else in a manuscript, that can signal unprofessionalism to agent or editor.”

          Gone are the days when writers can submit a handwritten or typewritten manuscript. We are now in the era of computers and laser printers, so agents and editors expect us to “get with the times”. We as writers need to make ourselves more connected with the digital world and more acquainted with the use of technology.

          Technology is meant to make things easier for us, as such it is a natural organizational tool.  One way of using technology to organize our writing lives, is by using it in various steps of our writing process.

          After this introduction, I immediately dove into the meat of the workshop by discussing various SOFTWARE writers can use to organize their ideas before writing.



          The first thing we should do, before we even sit down to plot our next bestseller is to brainstorm. Since we already have a story idea, when we brainstorm, we try to come up with our story elements such as character, plot and setting.  These elements are bound to change as we write, but that’s alright. The main purpose of brainstorming is just so we can have a jumping off point for our story and so we can have a pool of ideas to pick from.

          One of the best ways to brainstorm is to use a Mindmap.

          But sometimes even mind maps can get out of hand.

          This is where the use of computer programs come in handy. Imagine if your mind map were digital. You can put all sorts of information in there: website links, pictures, articles, sounds, music and other digital data. This is exactly what the first software I discussed does:


          The Personal Brain Software is a very intuitive mind mapping utility. The primary unit of organization in the application is called a Brain.

          Each Brain is composed of thoughts--essentially, idea components, tasks, or goals--which can be created with a double-click and associated with one another freely.

          Thoughts connect to one another not merely in a parent-child hierarchy, but can cross-connect to other thoughts.

          ( I showed the participants a short video demonstrating how they can use the Personal Brain for their writing projects. )

          The software can be downloaded here.


          After brainstorming, the next step is plotting. With the Personal Brain mindmap, you have all your ideas and related research at the tips of your fingers. Now that you have an idea of where you want your story to go, the next step (since we are trying to get organized) is to plot your story.


          The Anthemion Writers’ Café is a toolkit for writers that runs on Windows, Linux and Mac. It's built with wxWidgets, a project started by Anthemion's Technical Director, Julian Smart, and designed and actively used by Anthemion's Creative Director, Harriet Smart, author of five novels published by Headline.

          Writer's Cafe is intended as a fiction-writing tool, but you can also use it for other types of writing.

          The names for functions used throughout the program refers to storytelling: storylines, screenplay formatting, character development, and there's even a "name generator" for characters. But Writer's Cafe is also useful for project-based writing such as  longer journal articles, book chapters or books, and also shorter documents like grants, forms, or reports.

          The Writer’s Café has all sorts of helpful functions:

          1. SCRAPBOOK – helps you organize and store your research. You can save texts and pictures for easy access while you’re writing.
          2. PINBOARD – provides a space for quick notes not necessarily related to writing. You could also pin pictures in there.
          3. DICTIONARY – Clicking on this icon will automatically link you up to the Cambridge online dictionary.
          4. JOURNAL – If you want to chronicle your writing, or you have a sudden urge to journal in the middle of your work, you can easily open this function up. I actually find it helpful to do a little practice writing in my journal first before I dive into my manuscript. I find that writing in my journal helps me focus my mind by getting rid of random thoughts and stray ideas.
          5. NOTEBOOK – is for writing down story snippets. Often ideas come up and you don’t know exactly where they should go in your story just yet. The notebook is a great place to store these ideas until you’re ready to use them.
          6. NAME GENERATOR – generates names for your characters.
          7. WRITING COOKIES – pop up whenever you open a certain function. The cookies are a selection of quotes about writing and are supposed to inspire you whenever you feel a little tired of writing.
          8. BOOKSHELF  - contains the manuals for each function, along with the WRITING COOKIES, and various other articles such as the WRITING RECIPES by Harriet Smart help you brush up on some writing techniques.
          9. WRITING PROMPTS – help you kickstart your creativity by giving you something to write about. It can be a good story idea generator, or a good way for you to practice writing.
          10. STORYLINES – The most important and most useful tool in the Writer’s Café program.


          Is the heart of the writer’s café program. Mostly used by screenwriters, this tool is the most helpful one I’ve found for plotting.

          StoryLines is linear in the sense that its columns move forward, one column after another. Each column can represent then a chapter or a scene. A chapter is a collection of scenes, so then it may be best to use StoryLines one column for each scene. However, you can use one column per chapter in a more general overview way. For a full novel of 25 chapters you will then have 25 columns of cards going up and down. If you choose to use one column per scene you then will have to think of more like 150 columns in StoryLines, 6 scenes per chapter, and that is a lot of work to organize ahead of time before writing your dramatic text.

          The software can be downloaded here.


          Now that you have an outline of your plot, and a list of scenes, it’s time to delve into actual writing.

          You can keep the window for Storyline open, or you can print out the list of scenes. Whatever your preference, storylines will definitely help you as you flesh out your scenes.

          YWRITER 5

          Ywriter is a software program which breaks your novel into chapters and scenes. It will not write your novel for you, suggest plot ideas or perform creative tasks of any kind. It does help you keep track of your work, leaving your mind free to create.

          Simon Haynes created Ywriter.  He has twenty years of programming experience and is also the author of the Hal Spacejock series which is published by Fremantle Press and distributed by Penguin Australia. Because he is an experienced programmer AND a published author, yWriter contains a bunch of tools a working novelist will find useful.

          Ywriter focuses on scenes instead of chapters:

          • A scene is a pleasant chunk to work on - small and well-defined, you can slot them into your novel, dragging and dropping them from one chapter to another as you interleave strands from different viewpoint characters and work out the overall flow of your book.
          • You can also mark a scene as 'unused' if you've written yourself into a dead end, which will keep it out of the word count and exports without deleting the content.
          • Of course, you can't just write a bunch of unrelated scenes. You need an overall design goal ... your plot.
          • yWriter will generate a number of different reports from your scene and chapter summaries, from a brief scene list to a comprehensive synopsis.
          • If you update the 'readiness' setting for each scene it will even generate a work schedule showing what you have to do to meet your deadline for the outline, first draft, first edit and second edit.
          • yWriter also allows you to add scenes with no content - just type a brief description and you can pretend you've written it. This is great for the parts you're not ready to write yet, or for when you get blocked. Skip over that part and come back later!
          • Unfinished scenes, rough ideas ... it's so much harder to keep track of them when they're all pasted into one long word processing document.

          Features of Ywriter

          • Organize your novel using a 'project'.
          • Add chapters to the project.
          • Add scenes, characters, items and locations.
          • Display the word count for every file in the project, along with a total.
          • Saves a log file every day, showing words per file and the total. (Tracks your progress)
          • Saves automatic backups at user-specified intervals.
          • Allows multiple scenes within chapters
          • Viewpoint character, goal, conflict and outcome fields for each scene.
          • Multiple characters per scene.
          • Storyboard view, a visual layout of your work.
          • Re-order scenes within chapters.
          • Drag and drop chapters, scenes, characters, items and locations.
          • Automatic chapter renumbering.

          I showed the participants how to use Ywriter to write and even edit their novels using the various tools and reports ywriter is able to generate.


          You’ve edited your work a hundred times, and now you’re ready to send it out your query.  To have a better chances of getting an agent, you send a hundred queries a day :D.

          A software program to help you keep track of these submissions is Sonar 3.

          SONAR 3

          • Sonar is a manuscript submission tracking program, and Simon Haynes wrote it because he was going nuts keeping track of short story submissions.
          • This program tells you which market has each story, whether a story has been sold or rejected and which stories are gathering dust instead of earning their keep.
          • If you decide to use it, you will be able to view a list of all your stories and then filter them in various ways (e.g. only show stories which are available to send out).
          • You can add markets, stories and submissions and best of all it's completely free!

          TO SUMMARIZE:

          Writing Process to Organize

          Software to Help us Organize It


          Brainstorming/ Mind Mapping

          Personal Brain

          Basic version of Personal is FREE for noncommercial use,

          The  fully-featured  Core and Pro versions, cost $150 and $250, respectively.


          Anthemion Writers’ Café STORYLINES

          A (limited) downloadable version of Writer's Cafe is available for no cost, and a registered full version costs $45 ($34 for educational discount).








          Sonar 3


        • 30 Sep 2010 11:59 AM | Nutschell Anne Windsor (Administrator)

          We met at the Mitsuwa Food Court last September 30, 2010 for our first ever Creative Writing Session.

          After a quick review of last week’s meeting, we dove into this meetup’s sessionundefinedwhich was about getting the creative juices flowing and about mastering the art of description.

          The first part of the meetup was about generating/ sparking story ideas, and what to do with these story ideas, once generated.

          The second part of the meetup was dedicated to various writing activities. The writing exercises were designed to improve writing skills, by honing the use of language.

          I explained that often times, the only kind of writing we do is related to the book/short story or article we’re working on. Sometimes we need a break from our work. We need to have moments when we write just for fun, or for the purpose of focusing on the act of writing itself. This is when creative writing exercises come in handy.

          Before we delved into the exercises, we discussed the answers to three questions:

          1. Why are story ideas important?

          2. Where do story ideas come from?

          3. How do we generate story ideas?

          Why are story ideas important?

          Most of us agreed that it’s important to keep writing, even when we’re waiting for a response on our most recent submission.

          Just as it’s important to go to the gym to exercise so we can keep our physical body healthy, it’s also essential that we exercise the muscles of our imagination often.

          Where do story ideas come from?

          Story ideas are generated by our five senses-- something we taste, smell, hear, touch, but mostly generated by something we see. Maybe we get ideas from something we read in the newspaper, a photograph or painting, an event we witness live or watch in the news.

          EJ also suggested that story ideas are generated by our experiences. I added that ideas can also be generated by strong emotions or feelings we may have.  Maybe we’re mad at something or someone when we sit down to write in our journal – and that sparks a future story idea.

          How do we generate story ideas?

          I found a few tips from a website on how to generate story ideas, and  added some of my own.

          These tips I shared with my group members:

          • Always carry a small notebook with you or any kind of writing material. Some writers carry index cards and a pen. Others a moleskin notebook that fits in their purse.
          • Keep your mind open.  Be more aware and observant of your surroundings, and of people around you.  Events you hear on the news can spark story ideas, as well as people you see on the streets.
          • When you see an interesting person, put yourself in their shoes. Imagine what their story is, or create a story about them.
          • Read the newspaper/ a current events magazine. Real life stories can spark ideas for a writing piece ---whether its fiction or non-fiction
          • Strive to have as many experiences as possible. Go to museums. Look at art pieces, or pieces of history. Looking at a particular piece might spark your next book idea.  Be on the lookout for intriguing photographs or pictures. Watch movies & Read books undefinedespecially in your genre.
          • Ask your relatives (especially the older ones) to tell you stories about their childhood. Write them down.  Take note of their dialect, intriguing names and characters they might mention, as well as the major events happening around them at the time (ex. WW2)
          • Keep a freewriting journal. Write for 15 minutes daily about anything that pops up into your headundefinedwithout editing them.  Doodle on this journal, draw, create.  Then look back at what you wrote every now and then. You might find an interesting passage to spark your story idea.
          • Most of all, constantly exercise your imagination.

          The last tip was our cue to start the creative writing exercises I’d come up with.

          PART 1 EXERCISES


          Experimentation has shown that the two different sides, or hemispheres, of the brain are responsible for different manners of thinking. Simply put, we use our right brain for writing and our left brain for editing.

          Left Brain

          Right Brain





          Looks at parts





          Looks at wholes

          This exercise allowed us to tap into our right brain and to shut our internal editors out.

          I told my group members that we were going to write continuously without stopping to edit or think, and without worrying about paragraphs, grammar or punctuation.

          To make it easier, I gave us a general topic to write about: WRITING.

          I told them to let their writing breathe, then I set the timer for 5 minutes.

          When our five minutes was up, I asked everyone to find a good sentence among their ramblings. Everyone was hesitant at first, but soon it became clear that within the seemingly incoherent sentences, gems of poetic writing and wonderful language could be found.

          Thrilled by our discoveries, we eagerly started our next exercise:


          This exercise was designed to help train our minds to keep on generating story ideas, despite not having the time or opportunity to write.

          The night before I had printed out colorful pictures of various shops such as these:

          I told them that these are pictures of shops we might see around us as we go about our daily lives. I also told them that these shops don’t only sell things, they are also a treasure trove of story ideas.

          I requestedthem to pick a picture from the pile, spend a few seconds looking at it, then make up a story about the pictureundefineda sentence or two would do.

          After about a minute, we shared the stories we came up. It was amazing what we had come up with just by looking at a picture. One of us came up with a story about a library from the perspective of a cat, another came up with a story of a girl who inherits a psychic shop from an aunt, and so on.

          Since there were more pictures, I told my group members that we should go for another round. We did the same thing and shared our ideas again.

          We all eagerly wrote down our story ideas,  knowing we would be able to use it in our own writing.

          After going through the two exercises that would help us generate story sparks, we plunged into exercises that would help us practice our use of language itself.

          PART 2 EXERCISES


          I told my group mates that  the journal every writer supposedly carries around isn’t  just for writing down thoughts and feelings, it’s also for storing story ideasundefinedas well as creating Wordpools.

          Susan Goldsmith Woodridge, in her book Poem Crazy, suggests that we collect words whenever we can. Words we see around us, or words that just pop into our heads.  Look into dictionaries, field guides, write down street names, product labels, names of people, etc.

          The Wordpool exercise is something I told the others we could do whenever we have some free time---maybe while we’re waiting for a ride home, while walking our dogs, even while cooking, as we come across an interesting food ingredient.

          Wordpools are an excellent source of inspiration and a great way to stretch our imagination.

          We created two Wordpools that night. A Noun Wordpool and a Verb Wordpool.

          I encouraged them to write down specific nouns (ex. cottage or manor, instead of house) and strong verbs (ex. staggered or stumbled instead of walked). I set the timer for a minute and we all wrote down whatever nouns and verbs came into our minds.

          We set aside our Wordpools for awhile and proceeded to the next exercise.

          WORD ALCHEMY

          I asked my groupmates what they thought Alchemy is about and they were pretty spot on with the definitions they gave.

          Alchemy, according to Wikipedia, is defined as a medieval chemical science and speculative philosophy aiming to achieve the transmutation of the base metals into gold, the discovery of a universal cure for disease, and the discovery of a means of indefinitely prolonging life.

          But dictionaries also define Alchemy as a power or process of transforming something common into something special.

          The second definition, is of course, what we should always aim to do in our writing.  And sometimes, the simplest process of mixing unexpected things together can create a great story idea.

          Susan Goldsmith Woodridge, in her book Poem Crazy, suggests giving colors to abstractions or concepts. For example: Blue love, Chartreuse agreements, Silver deliberation, Magenta pride

          In our Word Alchemy exercise, we combined two unlikely words to come up with a completely new word. On a post-it, I asked my groupmates to write down a colorundefinedmaybe something they remember seeing from a box of crayons.

          I collected these post-its and placed them in one box.

          In a second post-it, I asked my groupmates to think of an abstract concept. Examples would be love, pride, deliberation, agreement, etc

          I placed these post-its in a second box, then I asked them to pick a color and a concept, combine them and write them down.

          After writing down their new words, I asked them to pass the color post-it to the person on their right, and pass the concept post to the person on their left.

          We did this several times until we each came up with six new color-concept words.

          We came up with words like aquamarine peace, midnight suggestions, cerulean connotations and such.

          We set these words aside and proceeded to the next exercise, which was inspired by one of the exercises from the book by Brian Kitely called 3AM Epiphany.


          Synesthesia is defined as a condition in which one type of stimulation evokes the sensation of another, as when the hearing of a sound produces the visualization of a color. In writing, synesthesia is the description of one kind of sense impression by using words that normally describe another--color to sounds, odor to colors, sound to odors, etc.

          I read an example: From Diane Ackerman’s A Natural History of the Senses;

          A creamy blur of succulent blue sounds smells like week-old strawberries dropped into a tin sieve as the mother approaches in a halo of color, hatter and perfume like thick golden butterscotch.

          Synesthesia is great for describing anything from characters to scenes, writing poetry and for breaking the monotony of paragraphs.

          I asked everyone to divide their papers into 5 columns and label each column according to the five senses: Sight, Sound, Smell, Taste, and Touch.

          We spent a minute on each column, writing down descriptive words that pertain to each of the senses.

          For example:

          o       sight = blurry, twinkling,

          o       sound = honking,

          o       smell =  lemon, pungent

          o       taste= vinegary, sweet

          o       touch= furry, curdled, silky

          After five minutes, we proceeded to the final exercise of the night.


          I asked everyone to recall  the Noun and Verb Wordpools we created, and color-concept words.

          I gave them the following rules:

          o       Use at least 1 color-concept word.

          o       Use as many nouns, verbs and descriptive words from your lists as you want.

          We combined all these words, along with the sense description words from our recent exercise to write a piece.


          After writing for ten minutes, I told them it was time to give our words power by sending them out into the ether. In order words, by sharing with others what we’ve created.

          We shared our work with one another. We were amazed by the way our writing flowed when we used strong verbs, specific nouns, descriptive words which relate to the senses and added a flourish of color-concept words.

          The language in our writing was poetic and much like a melody, flowed easily.

          I summarized our creative writing session with the following words:

          Much like physical exercises help improve our body’s health, writing exercises also help us stretch our writing muscles. Doing these exercises at least once a month, or even 5 minutes before working on your book will help us improve our imaginative and descriptive writing powers.

          As a Bonus, I gave out a list of descriptive words pertaining to the senses (just like our Synesthesia exercise), which we might find useful when writing our novels. I encouraged them to keep on adding to the list.

          We ended that night with minds full of story ideas and wonderful words.

        • 04 Sep 2010 11:54 AM | Nutschell Anne Windsor (Administrator)

          It was my first time at the Lawndale Library and I was pleasantly surprised by how beautiful the library was--inside and out.

          Everything looked new and modern. There were computer terminals for students to use, as well as computerized check-in and check-out counters for the books.  Desks and chairs were spread out along the facility beside bookshelves.

          The staff was accommodating, too . I arrived 30 minutes early for our 1 pm meeting. I wanted to set up the room for our critique session and prepare the usual sign-in materials. Though the room had been reserved for 1pm, Michelle, the librarian led me straight away to the meeting room.

          There were a few teenagers working in the room when we got there, but they left without qualms when Michelle told them the room had been reserved. When I expressed my awe at how beautiful the library was, Michelle informed me the library had just been reconstructed about a year ago. I thanked her, and she left me to set up for the meeting.

          I was so impressed with how functional the meeting room was, that I  just had to take pictures.

          A long table spanned the length of the room. It had two outlets on either end for people who wanted to use their laptops. There  were two white boards complete with markers and erasers that we could use, as well as a TV.

          People started trickling in around 1 PM.  We asked them to sign-in for attendance and gave them nametags.  (It was a good thing,too, because there were a lot of new faces that Saturday).  I encouraged our members to eat the cookies I had baked for the event, as well as take some water that Amanda had brought for everyone.

          We started the meeting at 1 PM. We introduced ourselves, and gave everyone an idea of what we were currently writing or what we wanted to work on.  I always ask our members to pick a question from the box to answer. It's a fun way of getting to know people, as well as sparking story ideas.

          After the round of introductions, I introduced to them the newly formed Leadership Team, composed of Jennifer Bailey (Second Scribe/Co-Organizer), Lucy Ravitch (Steward/Logistics Commander), Amanda Touchton (Chamberlain/Treasurer) and Nandini Dev (Herald/Publicity Head).

          I went into a short review of the last two meetups, for the sake of those who were just joining us for the first time.  I distributed copies of the old worksheets and handouts to our new attendees, and explained that these materials were the reason behind my request for them to bring a binder.

          After expounding on the purpose of a critique session, and what to expect during a critique, I explained the format of our critique session:

          1.    Each person will be given 25 minutes. A voice recorder may be used to record the reading and the critique.

          2.    5  minutes will be allotted for the reading of the piece. The work must be read by another member, to give the author a chance to hear her words, and make notes on what works/what doesn’t work.

          3.    The rest of the 20 minutes will be for feedback and comments, during which time the author is not allowed to say anything. She is instead, encouraged to listen to the feedback with an open mind and take notes.

          I used the model I had learned from the SCBWI Westside Schmooze critique session I had attended (Thanks, Lee Wind and Rita Crayon-Huang!):

          TACT.  It's a word that means having a keen sense of what to say or do to avoid giving offense, as well as  a skill in dealing with difficult or delicate situations. It's also an acronym that stands for:

          T = Terrific (Where we share what we loved about the piece, what story elements really work in the writing sample)

          A = Author Questions (This comes at the last few minutes of critique time, where the author is encouraged to ask questions  to clarify comments or feedback regarding her piece.

          C= Constructive comments (Members are encouraged to give honest and helpful critique of the author's work, in a tactful manner)

          T= Talent (A round of applause ends the critique session, and we encourage the author to keep on writing)

          I asked Lucy to be the timer for our critique. We started with Nandini's  "Ladybugs", then proceeded to Amanda's "Twins", then to Jenn's "Dark Forest." The critiques went over the time limit so we had to take a break at 3PM because some of our members needed to attend to other events. During the break, we talked about logistics since our new members had questions about what to expect from next few meetups.

          I informed them that the critique session was only part of what we planned to do in the writing group. I told them to expect writing workshops,  writing sessions, as well as book discussions and discussions on various story elements. I also told them that once we got our membership up, we would invite local authors to share their work and words of wisdom with us.

          I also brought up the issue of  emails. I told them that some members might not appreciate having their inboxes flooded with meetup emails about other writing related activities or events.  We try to accommodate all our members' needs, so they should feel free to tell us whether they mind the emails or not, as well as inform us about other issues that might come up.

          We resumed our critiques with my own writing sample "Urth". I  told them I didn't mind if it wasn't critiqued that day, because I knew we were running out of time, but everyone was nice enough to insist that they at least give their feedback. So, we skipped the reading and dove in right away to their comments--which were all very helpful, by the way.

          The last critique we did was for Lucy's "Pizza Menu" picture book.  We ended at 4pm, and though some of our members left early, they all promised to be back for the next session.

          All in all, it was the best session we've had so far.  The venue was conducive and very functional,  the cookies  very helpful in "sweetening the blow" of the critiques (though everyone was very good about giving constructive and helpful comments), the water great for washing down the authors' anxieties, feedback and comments were very helpful, and much appreciated, and most of all the energy brought in by our new attendees was positive and invigorating.

          The book sale the library was having (where they were selling great titles  from 25c to $1) was only a bonus.

          I left the library 5 minutes before it closed,  lugging  the 17 books I had bought for $11.

          As I drove home, I thought about all the wonderful new writers I met today, and about all the great feedback I got.  I couldn't help but smile, and look forward to our next meetup.

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