The Advantages to Writing Only Once a Week

Many writers voice the opinion that if you want to be a writer, you need to write every day. I disagree. For the past thirteen years, I have been writing only one day a week (with a few exceptions). Here are the advantages:

1.You don’t write many throw-away scenes.

I spend the entire week thinking about what comes next. I get ideas, reject ideas, change ideas, and expand ideas all in my head. When I sit down to write, I’m confident that the scene I write is meant to be there.

2. You know your characters intimately.

In the time between my writing sessions, my characters talk to me. I listen. We converse. These conversations roam in ways that a story doesn’t. I learn their histories, their desires, their fears. I learn a lot of things that will never be in the story.

3.You are energized when you sit down to write.

This is true for two reasons. First, I look forward to my writing day with great anticipation. Hooray! I get to write today! Second, I haven’t been exhausting myself on other days, pushing myself to write when there is nothing there, writing crap, deleting crap, hating myself, etc. Instead, on those other days, I’ve been quietly thinking, resting up for my big day of writing.

4.You will be a better reviser.

I know I said in #1 that I don’t write throw-away scenes, but once that first draft is finished, everything is on the cutting board. On my non-writing days, I’m thinking carefully about the whole story, the character arcs, what needs more explanation, what needs less, on and on. When writing day arrives, I know what part of the manuscript I’m attacking, how I’m attacking it, and I’m excited!

5.You can take advantage of the extra time in your week to exercise.

Writers are famously inactive. I used to walk to and from work. For an hour a day (thirty minutes each way) I could think about my novel with very few distractions. Now, I swim three to four times a week. Swimming laps can be pretty boring, but for me, it’s a time of intense conversation with my characters.

Yes, there are also advantages to writing every day, and that works well for some people. Many successful writers write every day. And they’re successful. Probably a lot more successful than me. Still.

I’ve tried to write every day. But with family and work and other commitments, I was too tired, writing crap, and feeling bad about myself and my writing.

One day (OK, really it’s only a half-day), once a week, fits into my busy schedule. Rejecting the every-day writing and committing myself to once a week has worked wonders on my writing, my confidence, and my happiness.

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NaNoWriMo 2015

NaNo-2015-Participant-Banner

It’s almost November, so I’m getting ready for NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month. For the past several years, I’ve used this month as a time to revise and polish on-going writing projects. But The Stepsisters (my steampunk Cinderella) and A Mobius Tale (my Snow White with a twist story) are in fine shape, so it’s time to introduce my new project:

The Little MERmaid

This story has been percolating in my mind for many months, and I’m excited to use NaNoWriMo to begin writing it. The Little MERmaid is a steampunk version of the Hans Christian Andersen tale. My main character is a coal-mine automaton, a MER (Mechanical Emergency Responder) who becomes human after seeking help from the mischievous Prince of the Elves (a character from my Snow White story). She has one year in which to make a certain boy fall in love with her–if he doesn’t, she’ll return to her automaton form and be made into scrap metal. Intrigued? My story is more similar to the Andersen version than the Disney version, but with the steampunk elements, it’s my story now.

November is a busy time of the year for me, so I don’t anticipate finishing a first draft. But, with NaNoWriMo, I’ll keep track of my word count, and I’ll get lots of support from other writers.  If you’ve never participated in NaNoWriMo, you should visit the website. November wouldn’t be November without NaNoWriMo!

Interview with Author Pat Schmatz

Today I’m welcoming Pat Schmatz to my series of author interviews. Pat is the author of a number of novels for young adults including Bluefish, Mousetraps, Mrs. Estronsky and the U.F.O., Circle the Truth, and the recently released Lizard Radio.

Q: Welcome, Pat! Can you tell us about your new novel, Lizard Radio?

A: Lizard Radio is a coming of age story that takes place in an alternate universe, about Kivali, a gender-queer teen who might also sometimes be a lizard. It started a few years back when I sketched a young lizard wearing headphones. The lizard was trying desperately to get a signal. I began following the character, and she led me to some very unusual places. Kirkus Reviews called it science fiction, which surprised me. Others have called it dystopian. I don’t think it’s much more dystopian than our own world. I think my favorite description of it came from The Horn Book, who called it “mildly magical.”

More than anything, I’d say that it’s the story of Kivali figuring out how to tune into her own sense of ethics and truth, and to find the gray areas and gaps in the borders of a world that constantly demands either-or decisions and commitments.

Q: Many of your novels are character-driven, with a teenage protagonist who is, or thinks s/he is, an outsider. How do you go about developing your characters?

A: Like the lizard, most of my characters come to me as an impression, a feeling. They present themselves, and then I begin asking questions. I do a lot of question-asking throughout the writing process, actually writing out the dialogue of question and answer. I’ve found that a good tool for drawing out the character’s authentic voice. I also do a lot of work with setting, because I think setting and character are inextricably intertwined. I use poetry a lot. I’m not a particularly good poet, but I find the characters will often say things to me in poetry that they might not say in prose.

Q: You mentioned at a recent conference that because your novels are focused on characters, your books have been criticized for being “light on plot.” However, a starred review from Kirkus says that Lizard Radio has an “intricate, suspenseful plot.” Did you do anything differently when writing your most recent novel?

A: I did! I made up my mind that this time, by God, I was going to figure out how to plot. Someone had recommended The Plot Whisperer by Martha Alderson on draft #3, or maybe it was #4, I read from that book every day and followed instructions. I drew charts and graphs. I wrote out note cards. I hung graphs on my office wall. I thought very consciously about the rise and fall of action and emotion. I found it difficult – sort of like incorporating math into writing – but I think it helped.

Q: What do you find the greatest challenge in writing books for teenagers?

A: I don’t find any different challenges in writing books for teenagers that I do any other kind of writing. The greatest challenge for every writing project is to get a draft written. Once I have a rough story on paper, honing it is a matter of patience and hard work. But to go from the blank page to a real story, with living breathing people? That’s the challenge.

Q: What are some of the things you’ve done to promote your books?

A: I’m not a great promoter. When I visit schools or libraries, I like to have a topic or a workshop to teach. I find readings and signings excruciating, and I’m not much of a performer, but I do enjoy teaching. I’m passionate about books and creative expression – whether that’s writing, music, art, dance, whatever – so it’s fun to bring kids into that world with me.

I usually start my school visits off with the (true-ish) story about my very first school visit, which involved an almost debilitating case of nerves and an unfortunate encounter with a poopsicle (dog-flavored). That story generally loosens up the crowd and settles me down. Most everyone likes a good dog poop story.

Q: Do you have a favorite book or author?

A: The book that changed everything for me was The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton. I read it when I was 10 or 11, and it told some truths that resonated for me in a way nothing else ever had. I decided after reading it that I wanted to write for teens. I’m amazed, when I talk with students about it now, how much kids still engage with those characters.

We’ve now reached the time in our interview for the let’s-get-to-know-the-author-better, nearly-pointless, sort-of-silly, rapid-fire questions:

Q: Pizza or salad?
A: Pizza

Q: Ocean or mountain?
A: Ocean

Q: Tree house or doll house?
A: Tree

Q: Violin or piano?
A: Piano

Q: Comic story or learn-something story?
A: Neither. I’ll pick feel-something story every time.

Q: Laura Ingalls Wilder or Hermione Granger?
A: Can I pick Ginny Weasley?

Great Choice!

To learn more about Pat and her books, visit her website http://www.patschmatz.com, like her on Facebook http://facebook.com/PatSchmatzBooks, or follow her on twitter http://twitter.com/schmatz5

Thanks, Pat!

For Teachers

Comprehension Questions for Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo

Chapter One
1. Who was making a mess in the grocery store?
2. What did Opal name the dog?

Chapter Two
1. What job does Opal’s father have?
2. Why does Opal’s father let her keep the dog?

Chapter Three
1. What does Opal do to clean Winn-Dixie?
2. How are Opal and Winn-Dixie alike?
3. Why does Opal ask her father to tell her ten things about her mother?

Chapter Four
1. What are the ten things Opal learns about her mother?

Chapter Five
1. What does Winn-Dixie do when he is left alone?
2. What does Winn-Dixie do with the mouse when he catches it?
3. What does the preacher do?

Chapter Six
1. Why does Winn-Dixie scare Miss Franny?
2. Does Miss Franny let Winn-Dixie come into the library?

Chapter Seven
1. What did Miss Franny get for her birthday when she was a girl?
2. What did the bear take with him when he left?

Chapter Eight
1. How is Opal going to get the money for Winn-Dixie’s collar and leash?
2. What does the parrot Gertrude do to show she likes Winn-Dixie?

Chapter Nine
1. What does Gloria give Opal and Winn-Dixie to eat?
2. Is Gloria Dump a witch? Describe Gloria.
Chapter Ten
1. What kind of tree does Opal plant?
2. Where does Winn-Dixie sleep?

Chapter Eleven
1. What is Winn-Dixie afraid of?
2. What is a “pathological fear” ?

Chapter Twelve
1. What happens when Otis plays his guitar and sings?

Chapter Thirteen
1. What three places does Opal go to every day?
2. Who thinks the Dewberry boys want to be friends with Opal?

Chapter Fourteen
1. Why did Gloria hang bottles in a tree?
2. How does Gloria say you should judge people?

Chapter Fifteen
1. What does Winn-Dixie do when Miss Franny has a fit?

Chapter Sixteen
1. What happened to Littmus’s home and family during the war?

Chapter Seventeen
1. What did Littmus do to bring something sweet to the world?
2. What do Littmus Lozenges taste like?

Chapter Eighteen
1. What book does Opal read to Gloria?
2. Who is Carson and what happened to him?
3. What does “melancholy” mean?

Chapter Nineteen
1. Why did Otis go to jail?
2. What does the Littmus Lozenge taste like to Sweetie Pie?

Chapter Twenty
1. Who are the 7 people Opal invites to the party at Gloria Dump’s house?

Chapter Twenty-One
1. What food and drink do Gloria and Opal make for the party?
2. What does Miss Franny bring?
3. What does Sweetie Pie bring?
4. What does Otis bring?

Chapter Twenty-Two
1. What 4 things does the preacher thank God for?

Chapter Twenty-Three
1. When it starts raining, what does Opal forget?

Chapter Twenty-four
1. Why does the preacher cry?
2. Does the preacher think Opal’s mama will come back?
3. What did Opal’s mama leave behind went she left?

Chapter Twenty-Five
1. Where was Winn-Dixie?
2. What happens when Winn-Dixie smiles real big?

Chapter Twenty-Six
1. What does Opal tell her mother under the mistake tree?
2. What is everyone doing when the story ends?

Comprehension Questions: The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum

Chapter One
1. Describe the place where Dorothy lives (use three details).
2. What does Dorothy do when the house is being carried by the tornado?
Chapter Two
1. Who does Dorothy’s house kill?
2. What surrounds the land of Oz and prevents Dorothy from easily returning to Kansas?
3. Why does the Witch of the North kiss Dorothy?
Chapter Three
1. What does Dorothy do to get ready for her long journey to the Emerald City?
2. What is the favorite color of the people of Munchkinland?
3. What does the Scarecrow hope to get from the Wizard?
Chapter Four
1. Is the Scarecrow able to scare crows?
2. Who tells the Scarecrow that he will only be as good as a real man if he has a brain?
Chapter Five
1. What does the Tin Woodman hope to get from the Wizard?
2. Why is the Tin Woodman made of tin? Explain the whole story.
Chapter Six
1. How does Dorothy protect Toto from the Lion?
2. What does the Lion hope to get from the Wizard?
Chapter Seven
1. How do they cross the two large ditches in the road? Who has these ideas?
2. What happens with the Kalidahs?
Chapter Eight
1. How does the raft get out of the current and to the other side of the river?
2. How is the Scarecrow rescued from the pole in the river?
3. Why are the poppy flowers dangerous?
Chapter Nine
1. Who does the Tin Woodman save by killing the wildcat?
2. How is the Lion saved from the field of Poppies?
Chapter Ten
1. What must everyone wear before entering the Emerald City gates?
Chapter Eleven
2. What does the wizard look like to Dorothy, to the Scarecrow, to the Tin Woodman and to the Lion?
3. What does the wizard ask them to do before he will help them?

Chapter Twelve
1. What happens when the Witch’s wolves try to kill Dorothy and her friends?
2. What happens when the Witch’s crows try to kill Dorothy and her friends?
3. What happens when the Witch’s bees try to kill Dorothy and her friends?
4. What happens when the Winkies try to capture Dorothy and her friends?
5. What happens when the Winged Monkeys attack Dorothy and her friends?
6. How does Dorothy kill the Wicked Witch?
Chapter Thirteen
1. How are the Tin Woodman and Scarecrow rescued?
2. What does Dorothy find in a cupboard and take with her when they leave?
Chapter Fourteen
1. How do the friends return to the Emerald City?
2. What trick did the Winged Monkeys do to Quelala?
3. What punishment did Queen Gayelette give the monkeys for their trick?
Chapter Fifteen
1. Who is the Great Oz really?
2. How did the he get to the land of Oz?
Chapter Sixteen
1. How does the wizard give the Scarecrow a brain?
2. How does the wizard give the Tin Woodman a heart?
3. How does the wizard give the Lion courage?
Chapter Seventeen
1. How does the wizard plan to take Dorothy back to Kansas?
2. What goes wrong?
3. Who will rule Emerald City after the wizard leaves?
Chapter Eighteen
1. Why can’t the Winged Monkeys fly Dorothy to Kansas?
2. Who might be able to help Dorothy?
3. Where does she live?
Chapter Nineteen
1. What stops the travelers from going through the trees?
2. How do they solve this problem?
Chapter Twenty
1. What is on the other side of the wall?
2. Why won’t the china princess go with Dorothy to Kansas?
Chapter Twenty-One
1. Why did the animals of the forest call a meeting?
2. How does the Lion kill the monster?
Chapter Twenty-Two
1. How do the armless Hammer-Heads keep people out of their country?
2. How do Dorothy and her friends get past the Hammer-Heads?
Chapter Twenty-Three
1. What will each of Dorothy’s friends (the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman and the Lion) do after Dorothy leaves?
2. How does Dorothy get back to Kansas?
3. What happens to the Silver Shoes?
Chapter Twenty-Four
1. What does Aunt Em do when she sees Dorothy?
2. Is Dorothy happy to be home?

Children’s Literature, Fall 2015

I usually post here the books that my students will be reading each semester. I’ve changed things up a bit, which means a lot of extra (and fun) reading for me. We focus on middle-grade books, for children ages 8 to 12.

We start with fairy tales. All students must read Charles Perrault’s “Cinderella” and the Grimm brothers’ “Aschenputtel”. Then, they choose two versions of one other fairy tale to read.

Everyone is required to read The Wizard of Oz by L.Frank Baum.

Next, students choose one book from each genre:

Modern Fantasy:

Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White

The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

The BFG by Roald Dahl

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine

Among the Hidden by Margaret Peterson Haddix

One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

Historical Fiction:

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan

Bud Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis

Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell

Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko

Contemporary / Realistic Fiction:

The Lemonade War by Jacqueline Davies

Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume

Ungifted by Gordon Korman

Rules by Cynthia Lord

Novel-in-Verse

Love that Dog by Sharon Creech

Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse

I usually re-read every book I assign before the literature circles meet. I’ve got some work cut out for this semester. It’s great to have a job that requires me to read and re-read great books. I’m so lucky!

A Big Breath of Beautiful

The news, my Facebook and Twitter feeds, even the people I talk to, all demonstrate and discuss what is wrong with the world. Change won’t occur if people are unaware of the problems, the disasters, and the corruption in the world. We need to know. We need to know, so we can work to make the world better. But from time to time, we all need a big breath of beautiful.

Follow Kate DiCamillo on Facebook. Kate posts infrequently, but every post is like a soul cleansing shower. She notices the beauty in the world and shares it in words witty and wise.

If you know of other short bits of shared beauty like Kate’s posts, please mention them in the comments below.

Fairy Tales
I’ve always enjoyed escaping to a fantasy world where good behavior is rewarded and bad behavior punished. I prefer the stories in which it is mildly punished, and the perpetrators forgiven and allowed a reformed life. Revenge is dirt on the soul. So, I find many of the original tales too dark. I love the modern re-tellings and fairy tales. Here are a few I’ve read recently and enjoyed:

Gail Carson Levine’s Ella Enchanted

Wendy Mass’ Twice Told Tales

Marissa Meyers’ The Lunar Chronicles

Anne Ursu’s The Real Boy

Kate di Camillo’s A Tale of Despereaux

Laura Amy Schlitz’ Splendors and Glooms

Maggie Stiefvater’s The Scorpio Races

Gregory Maguire’s Egg and Spoon

L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz and all his Oz books

The evil in the world can seem overwhelming. We can feel utterly powerless when confronted with it. This is why I write. In my head and on the computer screen, I create a world of problems. Then I solve them. I give my characters resolution and happy endings.

The problems of the world will find you. You don’t have to look.

Happiness can seem elusive and fragile, but it exists and it is strong. You must go looking for it. Your soul-cleansing places may be different than mine. Seek them out. And when you find them,

take a Big Breath of Beautiful