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Friday, June 3, 2011

YA Cafe: Summer Reading Book Club

Welcome Back to YA Cafe, where book lovers can gather and chat about teen literature.  I'm your barista, along with Ghenet from All About Them Words.

Each Friday we pick from a menu of topics and share our thoughts on our respective blogs.  We've also got plans brewing for interviews, events and even some exciting giveaways, so stay tuned!  Join the discussion by responding in the comments, on your own blogs or on twitter using the hash tag #yacafe.

Today's Special: YA Cafe Summer Reading Book Club

Here at YA Cafe, we talk about about books and YA themes, so it seemed liked the logical next step would be to read books and discuss them together.  Ghenet and I thought that it might be fun to read a couple of books over the summer (some fun summer reads!) and then host a book club through YA Cafe.

Our first book would be The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny Han and we'd discuss it on June 24th.  The idea behind doing this book is that the third book in the series is out this summer, so we thought it might be a fun way for people who want to get into the series but haven't gotten a chance to catch up on the first book.  For people who've already read the first two books, they might find it fun to re-read the first before reading the new one, just as a refresher.

The way we see the book club working is we'd post on our blogs the day of the book club, and then you all can comment either in the comments, or leave a link to your blog where you discuss the book.  In addition to the actual book club, we're also planning on tying in a giveaway with one of our summer books and maybe even getting some twitter chats going.

What I want to know is... what do you think of this idea?  Are you in?

Also, don't forget about our super-fun blogfest next week.  Sign up using the linky below and then on June 10, tell us why you write YA on your own blog.  Then hop around to different blogs and see what other folks are saying.

Join our "Why Do You Write YA?" Blogfest!

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Core Workout for Writers

Melissa Paris (Missy) is always stressing to me how important it is to have good posture and to work my core.  Here are some core exercises that you can do right next to your desk and without any equipment.  For more information about Melissa Paris, check out her blog and her Facebook page or connect with her on twitter (@Melissa_Paris). 

The core is the essential part of your body.  It helps you sit up straight at your desk and with proper training can prevent you from getting lower back pain.  So lets get to it!

• Plank hold for 30 seconds
• 20 Back Extensions: face down, hands laced behind head, lift upper body off the ground.
           Repeat 3 times

• 20 Bicycle Crunches
• Side Plank 15-30 seconds each side
           Repeat 3 times
Side Plank

• 20  Standing Side Bend with towel, 20 each side
• 20 Superman: face down, hands and feet lift off floor for 2 second count
           Repeat 3 times

Thanks for these awesome exercises, Missy! I'll definitely be using them on my work breaks this week. (Even plank, which you know is my favorite :P)

Remember, you can get more information about Melissa Paris, at her blog and her Facebook page or by connecting with her on twitter (@Melissa_Paris). 

Monday, May 30, 2011

More BEA Fun!

BEA 2011 has come and gone and I've come home with armloads of treasure, some of it collected especially with you in mind, reader friends.

On the left you see a stack of books, all of which I picked up just for you (I even met one of the authors and managed to get that book signed!)  You'll have a chance to win these books over the summer and fall via giveaways either on iggi&gabi or on YA Cafe. Stay tuned.

More exciting yet, I've put together two awesome bags o' swag.  Each includes an adorable tote, two ARCs, an iggilicious journal and much more!  I assembled these bags especially to commemorate a sooper-seekrit, sooper-exciting blog milestone that will be coming up within the next week or so.  Don't worry.  I'll let you know more details on how to win these bags-of-awesome when the time comes.  All you gotta do is keep your eye open for updates.

OK, reader friends, that's all for today.  Missed you tons!  Did ya miss me?

Sunday, May 29, 2011

5 Best Books... from BEA that I Can't Wait to Read

Today I've decided to join the 5 Best Books meme hosted by Indie Reader Houston.  This week's theme is 5 Best Books I picked up at BEA, but I wanted to make it more specific.  I picked up a ton of books at BEA and it's tough for me to know which ones are the "best" until I read them.  Instead, I'm listing the 5 books that are on the nightstand right now as we speak, the 5 books I absolutely cannot wait to read.  Here's my list.

Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick
I read The Invention of Hugo Cabret and loved it.  About a year ago I had the opportunity to meet Brian Selznick and hear him speak about this new book.  I've been waiting anxiously for it ever since!

The Wikkeling by Steven Arnston
This is perhaps one of the most beautifully designed books I picked up at BEA.  The art is gorgeous, including several color plates in the middle and silhouette illustrations throughout.  Many of you who know me, know I love books that pay attention to every detail of the reading experience.  I have a feeling, this is one of those books.

The Chronicles of Harris Burdick by Chris Van Allsburg
I am a huge fan of The Mystery if Harris Burdick and the line-up of authors contributing to this anthology is nothing short of awesome.  Oh and let's not forget Van Allsburg's gorgeous illustrations.  If the stories are as amazing as the drawings, this will probably make my list of all-time favorites.

The Future of Us by Carolyn Mackler and Jay Asher
I love Carolyn Mackler's books.  I've read every single one and I've been waiting for what feels like an eternity for the next one to come out.  The fact that she's teamed up with Jay Asher (author of Thirteen Reasons Why) makes this book all the more exciting.  Also, I love books that are co-authored because I like seeing the different author voices work together.

The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer, adapted by Seymour Chwast
The Canterbury tales are among my favorite pieces of literature of all time.  What could be cooler than reading a version of the tales in graphic novel form?  Needless to say, when I saw this at BEA, I jumped on it.  And the cover image of the Wyf of Bathe riding a motorcycle... hello?  That just rocks.

For more 5 Best Books, check out Indie Reader Houston's blog.  You can also join the linky at her blog and share your own 5 Best Books list.

Friday, May 27, 2011

YA Cafe: "Why Do You Write YA" Blogfest!

Welcome Back to YA Cafe, where book lovers can gather and chat about teen literature.  I'm your barista, along with Ghenet from All About Them Words.

Each Friday we pick from a menu of topics and share our thoughts on our respective blogs.  We've also got plans brewing for interviews, events and even some exciting giveaways, so stay tuned!  Join the discussion by responding in the comments, on your own blogs or on twitter using the hash tag #yacafe.

Today's Special: "Why Do You Write YA" Blogfest!

Ghenet and I decided to do something a little different.  We've been doing all the talking so far and we thought it would be fun to hear from you, so we decided to host a blogfest!  Since so many of you write for teens, we want to know: Why do you write YA?  Post your response on your blog on June 10th.  Use the button on this post to sign up so we'll know where to find you.  Then on June 10th, hop around using the list of links and find out why other writers write YA!

We whipped up this button to help you spread the word. :)
We hope you'll join us!

 Why do you write YA?  Tell us on your blog on June 10th!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Be Back Soon...

Wow, it's been a crazy weekend and with BEA coming up, it's going to be a crazy week.  Between BookExpo and my teaching schedule, I'll have to take a few days off from posting, but I promise I'll be back soon with lots of iggilicious BEA news.

iggi and I will both be at BEA, so if any of you are there, look for me. I'll be the person with the Iggi button on her badge.

Friday, May 20, 2011

YA Cafe: 5 Facts You Should Know about YA

Welcome Back to YA Cafe, where book lovers can gather and chat about teen literature.  I'm your barista, along with Ghenet from All About Them Words.  Today we have a few guests joining us: the Editorial Staff from Verbal Pyrotechnics, an online magazine dedicated to publishing the best teen literature on the Internet.

Each Friday we pick from a menu of topics and share our thoughts on our respective blogs.  We've also got plans brewing for interviews, events and even some exciting giveaways, so stay tuned!  Join the discussion by responding in the comments, on your own blogs or on twitter using the hash tag #yacafe. 

Today's Special: The Stigma of Reading and Writing YA

I think anyone who writes or loves to read YA has experienced the Stigma.  It's happened to me more times than I can count.  For instance, I tried lending lawyer-hubby a YA book and he said "no" because he couldn't read a teen book on the subway... what if he ran into his boss or someone from the firm?  They would think that he *gasp* liked reading YA.  I couldn't see what the big deal was but I decided let this one slide, after all, lawyer-hubby doesn't make me read his boring law books.

A more painful example, though, was when I was taking a writing class with students writing in various genres.  I was the only writer in the class working on YA and when my turn for critique came up, the teacher felt the need to preface it by telling the other students to take my piece just as seriously as any other, even though it was written for teens.  I didn't know who I wanted to smack first, the students for needing the lecture or the teacher for giving it.

It's moments like these that leave me feeling somehow inferior for loving and writing YA.  Yet, if you look at the facts, YA is actually one of the most exciting places to be both as a reader and writer.

Fact #1: The YA market is booming... other areas of fiction, not so much.  I moderated a panel on Reading and Technology last week and of course, one of the many topics that came up was YA.  According to a publisher on the panel, one trend that's partially responsible for the boom in YA is that adults are reading YA, more so than ever before.  These phenomenon has made it so that while the rest of publishing is struggling, YA is doing well.

Fact #2: Today's YA is not the same YA many of us grew up with.  In fact, it's a whole lot better.  When I was a teen, YA books at the time didn't do much for me so I just skipped YA altogether and started reading books for adults.  If I were a teen now, though, I'd never want to stop reading YA.  There's a lot more risk-taking going on, and books are edgier and more sophisticated.  Frankly, YA has just gotten a whole lot better in the last ten-to-fifteen years.

Fact #3: YA fans are really into their books.  As a writer, it's so great to be writing in a category that has such dedicated fans and such a vibrant literary community.  For an "lesser-genre" we sure have a lot of fans.Want proof?  Check out this blog list of all YA book blogs.  And let's not forget The Story Siren, who is perhaps one of the most prolific and well-known book bloggers out there, she blogs about YA.  So there.

Fact #4: You can pull some stunts in YA you'd never be allowed to do in "regular" fiction.  From an anthology about Zombies vs. Unicorns, to a fairytale about a girl married to a polar bear, to a book about the struggles of a transsexual teen, YA lets you do as much or more than adult literature.  Maybe it's because readers are more willing to read outside their comfort zones.  Maybe it's because the writers are more willing to write outside their comfort zones.  I'm not sure.

Or maybe it's because genres tend to meld together in YA.  Whereas in adult literature tends to be broken up according to category, teen literature is usually shelved together.  This might be because a lot of YA often tends to cross over genres.  In adult literature, you have fantasy in one category and romance in another.  YA often combines the two.  All I know is that as a writer, I feel like I can do things in YA that I wouldn't be able to do if I were writing strictly for adults.

Fact #5: YA is awesome!*  It's that simple.  YA is fun, it's interesting, it speaks to me in a way that no other category does.  Other fiction is fine and I'll read it from time to time, but frankly, I find it a bit dull.
*OK, so this one is an opinion but you get the idea.

Have you ever experienced the stigma of reading or writing YA?  Feel free to vent about it in the comments!

Want to hear more about the Stigma of YA?  Fellow barista, Ghenet shares her thoughts on her blog: All About Them Words and our guests Verbal Pyrotechnics discuss it on their site too!  Check it out, then tell us what you think!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

BEA Survival Tips

This post is co-written by me and Melissa Paris (Missy), who's been doing the fitness series called Feel Better Write Better.  For more information about Melissa Paris, check out her blog and her Facebook page or connect with her on twitter (@Melissa_Paris).

The internet is filled with great posts giving BEA-related tips.  I recently did a BookExpo America round-up where I listed the posts I found most helpful.  Many of these posts give great advice on figuring out the logistics and getting the most out of BEA, but not all of them talk about ways to keep your mind and body healthy during that crazy week.  OK, maybe you think I'm being melodramatic, but only someone who has attended or worked at a trade show in the Javits can fully understand the utter chaos that it entails.  Here are some tips to help you keep your mind and body healthy while you're at BEA.

BEA Survival Tips

•  Wear sneakers or shoes with good arch support.   Do not wear flats, or *gasp* flip-flops. Shoes with a little bit of a heel are easier on your feet than flats.

•  Avoid carrying heavy loads for a long periods of time.  Switch shoulders when carrying that heavy bag of books or put the bag down while standing in long lines.  When lifting that heavy bag, try not to hunch over but bend down with your knees.

•  Bring a small rolling suitcase and use the available suitcase check.  Store your books in your suitcase periodically so you don't have to carry so much in your shoulder bag the whole time. 

•  While standing in line, don't lock your knees.  Keeping your knees slightly bent is actually better for your posture and will make waiting in line less exhausting.

•  Take a break and go to at least one of the conference talks.  Not only will it give you a chance to sit down for a little while, but it will also let your mind rest from all the over-stimulation from the Javits Exhibit Hall.

•  Stop to refuel.  Take a break for lunch if you can.  Also, bring snacks that are easy to carry and eat on-the-go but also pack a nutritious punch.  Trail mix is a great snack, especially a mix with walnuts and dried cherries.

•  Stay hydrated.  Take a small bottle of water and refill it several times throughout the day.

•  Don't attempt a long walk home.  The Javits Center is FAR from pretty much everything in NYC.  At the end of a long day, splurge on a taxi or take a Javits shuttle to your hotel.  If your home or hotel isn't doesn't have shuttle service from the Javits (check here), you can always take the shuttle to one of the hotels that does have service and take the subway or city bus from there.

•  Don't take it personally.  A trade show at the Javits is kind of like the Bermuda Triangle: it can drive people a little crazy and make them behave like they're not themselves.  You have to understand where everyone is coming from, though.  Exhibitors are trying to promote books and make connections with clients.  The buyers and other attendees are trying to make the most of the show and cover as much ground as possible.  Everyone's a little frantic.  Sooner or later someone is bound to say or do something that will rub you the wrong way.  When that happens, don't take it personally.  Chalk it up to the insanity, take a deep breath and let it go.

Do you have any trade show or BEA tips to share?

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

DIY MFA: Working the Workshop

When it comes to finding a workshop for your work, you have many options available.  You can try to find critique partners (CPs) and beta readers (betas), form a critique group or even take a writing workshop.  In fact, it can be overwhelming to make sense of it all so here's a handy dandy cheat-sheet to help you figure it out.

Critique Partners:  Critique partners (CPs) are individuals who critique your work and you critique theirs.  These are your partners in crime, writers who will accompany you on your journey.  These are the people who will be willing to read and re-read, and re-read yet again that one scene you just can't get right.  In terms of numbers, you can have just one or two CPs, or a whole group.

Critique Group:  This is like having a whole bunch of critique partners.  Most of these groups meet in person and can stay together for years.  My own critique group meets every week, when we critique one writer's work, rotating through the members so everyone gets a turn every few weeks.  We're basically like a workshop, only without the teacher.

Beta Readers:  Beta readers (betas) are writers to whom you send a full version of your book.  They're called beta readers because they essentially "beta-test" your book, the way beta-users will test out new software.  Usually betas are different people from your CPs so you can get fresh feedback on your work, though sometimes these individuals can overlap.  Betas differ from CPs in that the latter usually read your work as it's in progress and look at more specific problems.  Betas, because they see the whole book, can give you more global comments on the book overall.

Writing Workshop:  This is a great way to meet new writer-friends and maybe even form a critique group after class is over.  My current critique group grew out of a writing class where a handful of us started the group.  The group has changed and grown over the years, but it all started with that first class.  The advantage of a writing workshop is that you have the teacher there to keep discussion moving and to answer questions on craft.

Stay tuned for more workshop and critique tips!

Now you tell me: Do you workshop your writing? What kind of workshop scenarios have worked best for you?

This post is part of DIY MFA.  For more information, check out the DIY MFA Facebook page or join the DIY MFA list to get a FREE workbook.  You can also find links to previous DIY MFA posts by going to the menu tab.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

No-Weights Arm Workout for Writers by Melissa Paris

One of Melissa Paris' (Missy) many talents is designing workouts that you can do without any equipment.  Check out this weight-free arm workout made especially for writers.  

For more information about Melissa Paris, check out her blog and her Facebook page or connect with her on twitter (@Melissa_Paris).

A weight free upper body workout for the hardworking writer!  It's important to get up and move around throughout the day to keep your mind focused and your body healthy.  Be a better YOU and add some simple moves when taking your writing or editing breaks.  Here's the routine: 

• 20 Mountain Climbers.   Start in push-up position, bringing one knee to your chest then back down.  Repeat with the other side.   Both sides counts as one repetition.  Go as fast as you can; you should be out of breath when doing this.

• 15 Push-Ups.  Hands should be shoulder width apart.  If you cannot hold your body up on all fours, lower the intensity by placing your knees on the floor.

Repeat 3 times

• 10 Tricep Dips.   Use a chair: place your hands on the seat with your knees bent in front of you.  Bend your arms and dip your body down below the chair seat, then back up.  You should feel the burn in the back of your arms.

• 15 Tricep Push-Ups.  Similar to the previous push-ups but with hands close together and elbows tucked in.
Repeat 3 times

• 30 Boxing Punches.  Once with each arm is one repetition.  Do this exercise without putting your arms down to rest.

• 15 arm circles.  Forward and backward without rest.

Repeat 3 times

Wow!  These exercises look fantastic.  I plan to use them during my writing breaks to help me get active and clear my head.  Also, stay tuned for a bonus post this Thursday featuring Missy's tips for BookExpo America.  She has some excellent tips and ways to take care of yourself and make the most of the event!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Mindful Writing: Dealing with High Stakes

It's pretty normal to have a fear of failure but fear of success?  That's just plain weird.  Yet in my writer-brain, somehow it's far more terrifying to succeed at something than it is to fail.  Why?  Because success means higher stakes, and if failure does happen later on it hurts all the more.

It's like the Earth in the picture, just floating through space, la-dee-da, until some huge meteor smacks into it.  If the Earth were just a barren rock, then the stakes would be low because the Earth wouldn't have much to lose.  But the Earth has spent millions of years growing life from one-celled organisms to sentient beings.  It's because of the Earth's success at making living things that a meteor hit would be so unbelievably catastrophic.

It's sort of the same with writing.  The more you write, the higher the stakes get because you've invested time and effort into the project.  If you don't finish the book you won't get rejected by agents and editors because you'll never get to that point, so it's actually a comfortable place to be.  But if you spend all that time writing and editing the book and then you get rejected, it hurts.  Big time.

This is where mindful writing comes in.  In mindfulness, you need to be aware of the things you can control and the things you cannot.  You can't control whether people will love or hate your book, but you can control whether you actually finish writing it.  Success and failure are out of your control.  What you can control is whether you write the book.  After that, all you can do is accept the successes and failures when they come.

What scares you more: success or failure?  What can you do today that will take you one step closer to finishing a project?

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Why Writers Need Writer Friends

Writing is a solitary sport, one that often leaves us beating our heads against the wall in frustration.  This is why having a network of writer comrades can be so important.  This idea of an artistic community is not new.  Think back to the Abbey Theater in Dublin, the salons of Paris and the Algonquin Round Table in New York.  For as long as there have been artists and writers, they have found ways to come together and connect with each other.

Some of you may wonder why writers should waste precious writing time just chatting with other writers.  I say, it's because writing is so isolating that it's especially important for writers to connect with one another.  No, another writer can't write your book for you, but you can gain valuable advice and much-needed support on your writing journey if you take the time to connect with writer friends.

Why Writers Need Writer Friends 

1)  They will give you perspective.  When you write alone all day, it''s easy to lose perspective about the writing and publishing process.  Suddenly it can feel like everyone in the world has finished their novel or has gotten published except you.  Talking to other writers who are in the same boat as you can give you much-needed perspective. 

2)  They will give you encouragement.  By that same token, connecting with writers who have found success can also be very encouraging.  It can show you that good things can and do happen.  Seeing writer friends get agents and book deals can reaffirm that when it's your turn good things can happen for you too. 

3)  They will give you motivation.  Good writer friends will motivate you by encouraging you to send out work or finish your novel.  But motivation doesn't always have to come in the form of encouragement.  Even if all you do is sit together in a coffee shop and write side-by-side, having company can push you to be more efficient and more focused. 

4)  They will give you a shoulder to cry on.  When rejection rears it's ugly head, you'll be happy to have writer friends nearby to lend you support.  Rejection always stings--even if just a little--and it's nice to have writer friends to help you bounce back and carry on.

5)  They will be there to party with you when things go well.  True creative friends aren't just there to prop you up when you're down.  They're there for you when you succeed as well.  Julia Cameron of The Artist's Way calls these "before, during and after friends" because they're on your side before, during and after you find success.

What do you think?  Why are writer friends important?

Saturday, May 14, 2011

BookExpo America

 I'm super excited for BookExpo America, which is in less than two short weeks!  I'm also really looking forward to meeting other bloggers at Book Blogger Con on the Friday.

As I get ready or the trade show and the conference, I've been reading up on BEA so that I can make the most of this awesome week.  Although I have been to BEA before, the last time I went was for only one day and I feel like I hardly got to see any of it.

This time around, I plan to get as much as I can out of the show. Here are some posts I've found that give great advice for BEA: 

•  Natasha from Maw Books Blog gives great advice in her Do's and Dont's list and shares tons of pictures from BEA.  (Note to self: Bring camera) 

•  Girl From the Ghetto has great tips for organizing your time at BEA, like figuring out author signings and making the most of your time.  She also mentions bringing your own water (Note to self: Bring water bottle and refill throughout the day)

•  Emma Michaels of The Thirteenth Chime not only gives great advice, she also has a linky feature so you can meet other folks who are going to BEA and browse their blogs.

• Nicole at Linus' Blanket has awesome tips about New York and BEA.  I especially like what she has to say about being comfortable and planning ahead.

• Jacqueline's post at SmallPressWorld gives fantastic advice.  Her notes about business cards and what to pack for the day are must-reads!

If you're going to BEA or Book Blogger Con, link to your blog in the comments.  I'd love to check it out.  Also, I got some great BEA fitness tips from Missy and will share them next week, so stay tuned!

Friday, May 13, 2011

YA Cafe: Back Next Week

Because of the Blogger's outage last night and this morning, Ghenet and I are skipping this week's YA Cafe post. We'll be back next Friday, and we'll be joined by a super-awesome guest.  Next week's topic is one that will probably get lots of discussion going so get excited and stay tuned for more YA Cafe!

Have an iggilicious weekend!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Can Creative Writing be Taught?

Yesterday, an article in the Guardian raised an important question: can creative writing be taught?  The article listed opinions from various authors, many of whom believe that creative writing degrees are moot because the writing process can't be taught.  Others believe that writing can be taught, but only by writers who have already been published because they know how to write something of publication quality.  As a writer and teacher, I'm not sure I agree with most of the authors interviewed in that article.  Here are some of my thoughts on the matter:

The best way for a writer to learn the craft is to read.  I think a lot of people underestimate the power of reading.  As a creative writing teacher, I incorporate readings from literature into all of my lectures.  My students read something--either a short story or a poem or an essay--for every class.  I believe that writers who don't read are doing themselves and their work a disservice.

Not all great writers make great teachers.  Some of my best writing teachers have not been big-name authors.  In fact, one of my best teachers had not published her first novel until after I had taken two or three classes with her, yet she taught me more about writing than many other more prominent novelists.

While the Master's degree can be great for some writers, you can get a lot of the same benefits on your own.  I'm a firm believer in do-it-yourself, otherwise I wouldn't have devised the DIY MFA.  There's no reason why writers can't get many of the benefits of a Master's degree, even without enrolling in school.  You can do the literature study on your own by reading with a writer's eye, and a great deal of craft can be learned through practice.  Connecting with other writers in conferences, critique groups or online can be a great way to gain perspective on your writing.  Most importantly, just write!

What do you think?  Can creative writing be taught?

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Leg Workouts Anywhere by Melissa Paris

What I love about Melissa Paris (Missy) is that she always knows how to come up with workouts that you can do anytime, anywhere.  This leg work out is perfect for when you take that 20 minute break from writing.  I don't know about you all, but I'm planning to keep my yoga mat right by my desk so I can do these exercises while I let my writing thoughts percolate.

For more information about Melissa Paris, check out her blog and her Facebook page or connect with her on twitter (@Melissa_Paris).

Now, here's Missy!

It’s time to stand up!!  You don’t have to step inside the gym to get fit and feel great.  Taking short breaks throughout the day will help you reach a healthy fitness level.  If you have time you can go through the whole routine if you have a few five-minute breaks you can split it up throughout your day.

Repeat this cycle 2-3 times depending on length of break.

20 Jumping Jacks

20 Bird-Dogs: Face down with knees and hands on the floor.  Raise opposite hand and leg straight at the same time for a 2 second count. Repeat on alternating sides until you have completed 20 on each side.

30 Squats: Keep feet shoulder width apart and push off from your heels.

30 Lying Hip Raises: Squeeze your butt at the top and make sure to keep your foot that's on the ground flat.

20 Stationary Lunges: Make sure you do a 90 degree bend on each leg, then squeeze your butt at the top when you stand back up.  Remember to push off from your front heel.

20 Side Lunges:  Stand with both feet wide apart, toes facing forward.  Bend your right knee and shift your weight to the right side, keeping your left leg straight.  Come back to center.  Repeat the same thing on the left side and return to center.

Repeat all exercises 2-3 times depending on how long a break you're taking.

This week, see if you can take some time every day to do something a little bit active.  These exercises are a great place to start and can be a nice break from writing, to help clear your head.  My goal is to try doing at least one cycle of these exercises every day this week.  Who's with me?

Update: Missy just launched her new website today so check it out! 

Monday, May 9, 2011

Mindful Writing: Accepting Failure

We all have goals and high hopes that things will turn out a certain way.  As writers, we hope to see our work in print someday.  We hope for agents, publishers, reviewers, and readers to love our book.  We wish for a lot of things, but it doesn't always turn out the way we'd like.  Sometimes our projects flop, people don't like our work or we ourselves don't follow-through on our goals.  Sometimes we... fail.

So how do we deal with these moments of hurt and disappointment.  How do we bounce back from from failure?  Two words: Mindful Writing.  Today, take out your notebook and take a few moments to take stock of the parts of your writing life where you feel like you have failed.  You can do this as a guided exercise, following the five steps below, or you can just read through and do the exercise later.  Here's how:

5 Steps for Accepting Failure

1. Notice the disappointments.  Look at your writing life and write down goals you've failed to meet or places where things have not turned out the way you would have liked (i.e. rejections and other disappointments).

2. Recognize the things that are outside your control.  While some things may be outside your control--you can't control who likes your work and who doesn't--other things you may be able to control after all.  The key is figuring out which things are things you can control and which are not.

3. Take responsibility.  Look at the things you can control and take responsibility for areas where you failed to meet your goals or contributed to the disappointment in some way.

4. Say how you will not let it happen again.  Make a list of ways in which you will not let this disappointment happen or this goal be missed again.  Come up with real strategies to help you avoid this same failure in the future.

5. Let it go.  Don't ruminate on the disappointment, but move forward towards your goal.  These things happen so just acknowledge, accept and move on.

On a personal note, for me the biggest failure I've had to deal with lately was working on my WIP and making my self-imposed deadlines.  I set some rather unrealistic deadlines and it took missing two such deadlines to realize that this method of self-motivation was not working.  At first, I beat myself up for missing the deadlines, but then I realized that I need to set more realistic goals.  But I would not have made this important discovery had it not been for mindful writing.

Have you faced disappointments in your writing?  How have you managed to bounce back?

Sunday, May 8, 2011

5 Reasons Why Moms Matter in Children's Literature

The first thing you learn when writing for children and teens is that you have to get rid of the parents.  With parents or other adults around, the kids don't have as many opportunities to go on adventures and get into trouble.  The easiest way to solve this problem is to kill off (or otherwise dispose of) the parents.  I find, though, that getting rid of the parents altogether is often a mistake because parents matter in children's literature.  Moms matter.  So today on Mother's Day, I thought I'd do a little ode to why moms matter in Kidlit and YA.

1.  They provide conflict.  Read any of Carolyn Mackler's novels and you'll find that the central conflict for the teen protagonist often revolves around her relationship with her mother.  In The Earth, My Butt and Other Big Round Things, Virginia has to find her own identity, independent of the identity that her mother tries to steer her toward.

2.  They can incite a story.  In Sarah Beth Durst's Ice the story really begins when Cassie gives up her own freedom in order to free her mother from the trolls.  If it had not been for her mother trapped in the troll castle, the story never would have unraveled from there.

3.  They provide a safe place in a world of chaos.  Though Katniss' mother doesn't play a huge role in The Hunger Games (Suzanne Collins), she does provide a safe place, a home base.  In the first book of the trilogy, the mother doesn't appear very much, but in Catching Fire, when Gale is wounded, she springs into action with her healing skills.

4.  And did I mention the conflict?  In Coe Booth's Tyrell, the mother's inability to get her act together and take care of her family is what pushes Tyrell into his caretaker role.  If the mother had been a regular, responsible mother, then Tyrell wouldn't need to take care of his younger brother and he never would have come up with the plan that drives the story.

5.  Finally, even when they're not around, the mother's presence can be felt.  Perhaps the best example of a mother who has a strong impact on the protagonist is Lily, Harry's mother in the Harry Potter series.  While we never see Lily, but we know her selfless sacrifice is partly what protects Harry throughout the story.

To all the mothers, moms and mommies out there, you're awesome!  Despite the scuffs and struggles, remember: protagonists would not exist without their mothers.

To my own Mami: this one's for you.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Announcing: DIY MFA Contest Winners!

Friends, readers, fellow scribes!  Lend me your ears.  I come to share the iggilicious journal love, not hoard it for myself.  As you all may recall, one month ago we embarked on an adventure called DIY MFA and I announced the contest for these adorable iggi journals:

Well, now is the time to announce the five journal winners.  Drumroll please...  *fumbles with envelope*

*opens envelop*


*clears throat*

And the winners are...

Melinda Jones
Ashley Teatum
Jordan McCollum
Selena Wolff
MJ (@kreativelymj)

*throws confetti*

If your name is on that list, please email me with your mailing address and I'll mail you your iggilicious journal ASAP!

Thank you to everyone who participated in the contest.  If you want an iggilicious journal of your very own, you'll be able to purchase one soon, along with other iggilicious products so stay tuned because more info will be coming soon.

Remember, even though the journal contest is over, you can still sign up for the DIY MFA email list and get the FREE workbook.

Friday, May 6, 2011

3 Ways to Make Setting Come to Life

Welcome Back to YA Cafe, where book lovers can gather and chat about teen literature.  I'm your barista, along with Ghenet from All About Them Words.

Each Friday we pick from a menu of topics and share our thoughts on our respective blogs.  We've also got plans brewing for interviews, events and even some exciting giveaways, so stay tuned!  Join the discussion by responding in the comments, on your own blogs or on twitter using the hash tag #yacafe.
Today's Special: Larger-Than-Life Settings

In some books, setting is just a backdrop for the story but in others the setting becomes almost as important as the main characters.  What is it about these settings that makes them seem larger-than-life?  And how do we as writers create settings like this?

3 Ways to Make Setting Come to Life

1.  Make setting central to the story.  Settings that come to life are often a central component to the story.  One book that is a perfect example is Love is the Higher Law by David Levithan, a story could only be told in New York City.  When the setting becomes a central component to the story, it often takes on a life of its own.  In Love is the Higher Law, the powerful scene where Claire relights the candles could only happen in Union Square, in New York City.  That image of a teenage girl in Union Square, relighting candles that have gone out in the rain, still stays with me. 

2.  Drop your reader in the middle of the world.  In Sarah Beth Durst's Ice, the story opens in the middle of the Arctic pack ice, with Cassie chasing a polar bear.  We feel the ice on her face mask.  We see the crystals swirling in the air.  Right away we are engulfed by the world of the story. 

3. Details, details, details.  Take time to build details into your story and the setting will come to life.  in Love is the Higher Law we have that moving scene where Clair is looking for the railings near Ground Zero.  That detail of those railings makes the setting come to life.  Even for someone who doesn't live in New York City, they can identify with some of the emotion that Claire feels when she realizes those railings survived.  Here is that moment:
"As I turn to walk south, I am sure in my bones that the railings won't be there.  As I walk closer, I think it might be possible that they've survived.  As I turn and see the Financial Center's plaza, hurt but still standing, I think it's very possible, but still I can't believe it.  Nearer and nearer.  I see part of it is blocked off.  Then I can see it.  Right there.  I am so happy and so sad at the same time.  I am exuberant and despondent and utterly, completely beside myself.  There they are,  And I know it's ridiculous--with so many dead, so much destroyed that I can feel so much joy over a series of metal letters affixed to a metal railing.  Life ends, and life goes on.  Words disappear and words remain."
Love is the Higher Law by David Levithan

Ultimately, it all comes down to this: Believe in your setting.  Your reader will believe in you.

What do you think?  Are there other ways to make setting come to life?  What's your favorite larger-than-life setting?

Want to hear more about larger-than-life settings?  Fellow barista, Ghenet shares her thoughts on her blog: All About Them Words.  Check it out, then tell us what you think!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

4 Core Elements of the Writing MFA

Even though April is over, DIY MFA continues, though in a more relaxed fashion.  Since many participants from April are new to DIY MFA, I thought I'd do some review posts every week to go over some of the DIY MFA concepts we discussed back in September.  Today we'll go over the four core elements of a Writing MFA (Master of Fine Arts) and how you can do-it-yourself to create your own DIY MFA. 

In a Writing MFA, writers must...

Read.  Most MFA programs have a literature component, where students must take a series of literature classes along with their writing coursework.  At The New School, not only do you have to take literature classes, you actually have to write a literature thesis as part of your graduation requirement.  In that sense, reading is a huge component of the MFA process.  Similarly, DIY MFA puts an emphasis on reading the literature.  By creating a reading list, reading the books and writing responses to what you read, you can simulate the literature study you would do in an MFA program.

Write.  Of course a writing program must include a lot of writing, and so must DIY MFA.  In a writing program you'll receive instruction on the craft of writing and be pushed to produce a substantial number of pages each semester for your workshop.  This process of writing and rewriting helps you hone your craft and strengthen your own abilities.  Without a writing component, the MFA (including the DIY MFA) would miss the point.  To be a writer, you have to write.  It's that simple.

Workshop.  The workshop is a central component of any MFA in writing.  By giving critique to other writers, you sharpen your reading skills.  In receiving critique on your own work will learn to make your writing stronger, as well as develop skills to handle rejection and criticism on your work.

Connect.  One component that many writers forget is connecting to the writing community.  Connecting can happen in many different ways.  Attending readings, going to conferences, connecting with other writers via the internet... these are all great ways to engage with the writing community.  The reason community is so important for writers is that otherwise writing can be a very lonely enterprise.  Community gives us a reality check and helps us stay motivated.

Which of these elements is easiest for you?  Which is the biggest challenge?

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Fitness for Writers Blog Series: Feel Better Write Better

I've been spending a lot of time at this computer lately.  I sit and write, write and sit.  Then one morning as I was hunched over these computer keys, I realized that if I make some small but meaningful changes to my nutrition and exercise, I'll feel a whole lot better.  I'll have more energy and feel more engaged when I'm working.  And then it hit me: if I feel better, I'll write better.

It was like I just discovered gold!  It seemed so easy: just make some meaningful changes to my exercise and nutrition and I'll be a better writer... inside and out.  Trouble is, I don't know the first thing about nutrition or fitness, so I called up my good friend and trainer, Missy, and asked for some help.

Then I got another idea.  If this really works, I don't want to keep it to myself, I'll want to share it with all my writer friends (that's you!).  So I invite you all to go on this adventure with me.  Every Tuesday for the next three weeks, Missy will guest post with fitness tips and exercises especially designed for writers or people who are computer-bound most of the day.

Kicking off this series is a brief intro on Missy.  For more about Missy, check out her blog and her Facebook page.

Introducing... Missy!

Missy’s passion for fitness and nutrition is contagious.  With 7 years of personal training experience and a degree in Nutrition and Dietetics, she knows how to help people reach optimal physical performance through proper nutrition.  She has certification in personal training from NASM, a TRX certification, is Pre-Post Natal Certified and trained in Integrated Flexibility.  Missy uses a diverse selection of exercises in her approach, including: boxing, plyometrics, yoga, weights and bands.

Always challenging herself to reach optimal health and fitness, Missy competes in the bikini division of the National Physique Committee.  She took 2nd place in her first competition, 4th in her second, and made it to a Nationals just a few short months later.  Missy is proud to say that unlike her fellow competitors who used traditional dieting, she went against the grain and incorporated an all natural, organic, approach to her own nutrition.

But perhaps Missy's greatest strength is how she relates to people.  She takes a realistic approach to fitness and nutrition, and has a genuine love for making people feel good from the inside out.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Writing Challenges as Mindful Writing

Writing challenges are a great way to practice mindful writing.  I've talked about mindful writing in the past, and the idea is to be fully present in your writing and in the moment.  The question is, how do you do that when you're doing a challenge?  If you're pushing to write a whole novel in a month or a different story every day, you don't have time to be mindful, you just have to cram in as much writing as you can.  Right?  Believe it or not, challenges like StoryADay and NaNoWriMo are actually great exercises in mindful writing.

Here's why:

1.  You have to practice.  When you do a challenge like this, you're reinforcing the daily practice of writing.  You're showing up at the page every day and that's the first step of mindful writing.

2.  You have to be present.  If you're writing a story every day or trying to finish a novel, you can't allow yourself to be distracted by other ideas or projects.  You need to focus all your energy on the project at hand.  This is great practice for mindful writing because if a new and sparkly idea comes up, you have to practice setting it aside so you can work on the current story.

3.  You have to bounce back.  If you miss a day or slip up during the challenge, you have to bounce back and keep writing.  You don't have time to mope or beat yourself up for "failing" the challenge; you just have to write the next story.  This forces you to set aside those judging thoughts and go back to writing.

Remember: Mindful writing is about being fully present in that moment and in that writing project.  That means noticing when your inner critic is trying to barge in and letting those thoughts go.  It also means bringing yourself back to that project when your thoughts or ideas start to wander.

Are there any challenges you're facing in your writing?  Is there a way you can use the experience to practice mindful writing?

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Story A Day

I was recently interviewed by Julie Duffy of StoryADay and the interview is posted at  Squee!  Please check it out and share your thoughts so Julie gets lots of comments on it!

As we embark on our Writing Marathon today, I wanted to mention StoryADay, which is an awesome challenge that starts... today!

StoryADay is sort of like the short story version of NaNoWriMo, except instead of writing a novel in one month, it's all about short stories.  The idea is you write and finish one short story every day for the month of May.  Julie's set up a fantastic site where you can connect with other writers doing the challenge and post stories as you write them.  I did StoryADay last year and it was great fun.  Didn't win, but that's not really the point... the point of the challenge is to rekindle that love for writing and it definitely did that.

So if any of you are wondering what to do after your DIY MFA time in April, I recommend checking out StoryADay and trying out the challenge.

Friday, April 29, 2011

All-Day Writing Marathon, May 1

That's the day after tomorrow!

I know I haven't mentioned this in a while, but I wanted to remind you all that the big end-of-DIY-MFA writing marathon will be happening on Sunday (all day) May 1st.  For more details and to join in, head on over to our Facebook event page.

Basically how it's going to work is this: you sign up on the page so we know you're doing it.  On Sunday, tweet (#diymfa) or leave a comment on the event page when you start writing, then write your heart out!  When you've finished, tweet your end time and word count if you wish.  Also, don't forget to cheer on your fellow writers.

Don't worry if you can't write for a full day on Sunday.  You can do a half-day (half marathon) or just a super sprint.  The important thing is that you take some time that day to make writing a priority.  I hope you all will join me in this!

Write on!

YA Cafe: 3 Tips for Capturing the Teen Voice

Welcome Back to YA Cafe, where book lovers can gather and chat about teen literature.  I'm your barista, along with Ghenet from All About Them Words.

Each Friday we pick from a menu of topics and share our thoughts on our respective blogs.  We've also got plans brewing for interviews, events and even some exciting giveaways, so stay tuned!  Join the discussion by responding in the comments, on your own blogs or on twitter using the hash tag #yacafe.

Today's Special: What's your favorite YA voice?

Just as I couldn't decide on a favorite YA character, I also can't pin down one YA voice that I love because there are so many good ones out there.  Instead, today I thought I'd talk about ways to capture that teen voice.  As many of you have said in the comments voice is one of the main things that differentiates teen literature from adult fiction.  Sure, there are other considerations (like the age of the main character) but voices is generally what makes YA stand out from other categories.

So how do you get that teen voice?  There are no hard and fast rules, but here are a few tips that have helped me nail down the voice of my own characters.

1. Listen to how teens talk.  Ever done that eavesdropping exercise where you go somewhere and listen in on people talking?  You can learn a lot about teen slang and the rhythm of how they speak just by listening.  Whenever I ride the subway or bus, the temptation is to zone out but listening to how teens talk can give you insight about your character's voice.  (They say Nabokov nailed down the teen voice for Lolita by riding the TCAT bus in Ithaca and listening to local high school kids.)  When you listen--really listen--to teens talking, you'll notice things: not just what they talk about but how they talk about it.  Here are a few examples:

     "Did she tell you we used to play checkers all the time, or anything?"
     "I don't know.  For Chrissake, I only just met her," Stradlater said.  He finished combing his goddam gorgeous hair.  He was putting away all his crumby toilet articles.
     "Listen.  Give her my regards, willya?"
     "Okay," Stradlater said, but I know he probably wouldn't.  You take a guy like Stradlater, they never give your regards to people.
J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye

     "Oh."  Her voice was mock-pouty.  "Are you sure?  He's no trouble.  He hardly takes up any room.  All you have to feed him is a Mini Wheat.  Or two grapes.  And he won't poop on your rug.  Will you Cinnamon?  Go ahead, stand up and tell him you won't.  Stand up, Cinnamon."
     Cinnamon stood on my sneaker.  His eyes shone like black pearls.
     "Doesn't he have the cutest ears?"
     Who notices a rat's ears?  I looked.  She was right.  "Yeah," I said, "I guess he does."
Jerry Spinelli, Stargirl

2. Don't be afraid to add imagery.  Just because the voice captures the way teens speak doesn't make it any less sophisticated in terms of imagery and language than adult fiction.  Teens respond to beautiful imagery, as long as the language fits the style of the voice.  Don't be afraid to use metaphors or similes either, if it fits the voice you're going for.  Some examples:

     Cassie killed the snowmobile engine.
     Total silence, her favorite sound.  Ice crystals sun in the Arctic air.  Sparkling in the predawn light, they looked like diamond dust.  Beneath her ice-encrusted face mask, she smiled.  She loved this: just her, the ice, and the bear.
Sarah Beth Durst, ICE

     Then the worst thing happened.  A boy noticed me.
     He was the most unattractive boy in the room, a dog-face, a Poindexter, the one who hadn't asked any girl to dance, because he knew that no girl wanted him to.  But I was a stranger so he figured, why not?
Judy Blundell, What I Saw and How I Lied

3. It's OK to break the rules.  Some YA novels do a great job capturing not only the voice, but the vernacular of teen speech.  To write in vernacular, not only must the author have a great ear for dialogue, but depending on who's narrating the story, the vernacular can carry over into the narration as well.  In Coe Booth example below, the vernacular is not over-powering, but it's carried through out the book both in the narration and dialogue.  Even just a touch of vernacular in this book gives us a better look into the protagonist's world than if the book had been narrated in standard English.  In the M.T. Anderson, the vernacular is completely made up, invented by the author for this futuristic society, but it fits the characters and gives us an idea of what this society is like.

     I mean, she the one that called my cell this morning and told me she needed to talk.  Then all the way to her place it's like she wanna say something but don't know how to tell me.  Se we just walk without saying a whole lot, which is alright 'cause I got a lot on my mind anyway.
Coe Booth, Tyrell

     Everything at home was boring.  Link Arwaker was like, "I'm so null," and Marty was all, "I'm null too, unit," but I mean we were all pretty null because for the last like hour we'd bee playing with three uninsulated wires that were coming out of the wall.  We were trying to ride shocks off them.  So Marty told us there was this fun place for lo-grav on the moon.
M.T. Anderson, Feed

Now I want to know, what's your favorite YA voice?

Want to hear more about voice?  Fellow barista, Ghenet shares her thoughts on her blog: All About Them Words.  Check it out, then tell us what you think!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

5 Ways to Tell if It's The ONE

So far we've been talking about ways to spark ideas for new projects, but DIY MFA isn't just about coming up with a billion new ideas; it's about eventually choosing one idea and seeing it through to the end.  But how do you know if an idea is really the ONE?  Here are five things that often happen to me when I get that idea that I know will be the ONE.

1) A voice (or series of voices) starts chattering in my head.  Yes, I know this might make me sound crazy, but the truth is, when I start actually hearing my characters in my head, I know that this idea is the ONE I'm supposed to work on.  For me projects always start with the voice of the narrator or main character so if I don't hear that voice, I know the story's not ready to be written.

2) I want to know how the story will turn out.  This is why I write to begin with.  I want to know the ending so I have to write the whole thing to see how the story turns out.  If I don't care about the story or characters enough to want to know the ending, then I know it's not the ONE.

3) I get protective.  When I first start a project--if it's something I really care about--I don't tell most people about it.  Only when I'm at the stage where I need to get feedback do I open up and share the project with a few trusted readers.  If I'm too open about the project at first, I know it's not something I'm really invested in--it's not the ONE.

4) I can't wait to write.  This goes hand in hand with #2.  When I know the story is the ONE, I can't wait to sit down and write it.  At least that's true at first.  After the "honeymoon" wears off, motivating myself to write can become more of a challenge but at first when I start the project, nothing can come between me and my writing.

5) I stick with it.  Perhaps the best test of whether a story is the ONE for me is if I stick to it even when another, sparklier idea comes along.  If I can shake off that new idea and stick to my guns on the first story, then I know it's the ONE.

What do you think?  How do you know when an idea is the ONE?
Homework: Think about all the things you've worked on during DIY MFA and choose one that you'd like to pursue further.  Don't worry, this doesn't mean you won't ever get to work on all those other ideas (they'll still be waiting for you when you finish with this first one) but it's important to have the experience of finishing an entire project.  So, choose one idea and plan to see it through over the next however-many months you choose.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

You Tell Me

Dear friends of DIY MFA,

I can't believe April is only a few days away from being over.  DIY MFA has gone by so super fast and I can't believe we're drawing to a close.  I realized that many of you are new to DIY MFA and weren't here for September's extrabloganza, so I've been thinking of doing a few "review session" posts each week through May and June, covering the basics from the first DIY MFA.  I do have some new themes and series planned for May and June so it won't be all DIY MFA like it's been this month, just a couple of days each week.  What do you think about this plan?

Also, I wanted to take some time today to get your feedback on the blog in general.  Are there topics you want to hear more about?  Topics you've heard enough of already?  Please tell me what you think because I'd love to know!

In the meantime, for Homework today, I'd like you to take some time working on your work in progress.  Today's a wild card day so work on whatever project you feel needs some attention.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Setting Limits

Limitations can be liberating.  I know it sounds like a contradiction, but hear me out.  Sometimes having too many choices can be paralyzing and the best thing we can do for our writing is to set some limits.  To that end, here are a few exercises that help me keep those pesky choices in check.

Minus an "E":  Inspired by Ernest Vincent Wright's Gadsby: A Story of Over 50,000 Words Without Using the Letter "E" in this exercise I challenge you to write for 15 minutes and the only limitation is you cannot use the letter "E."  For variations on this assignment, choose a different vowel (no fair choosing "Y") and write for 15 minutes without that vowel instead.

The idea here is that by limiting which vowels you can use, you have to stop and really think about each word you choose.  It exercises your brain in a way that regular writing doesn't.  Sure, you might not produce a work of genius with this exercise, but it trains you to think about word choice and you'll start seeing the results in your writing in general.

Single Syllables:  Another exercise I learned from a favorite writing teacher is to write for 15 minutes using only one-syllable words.  Not only does it make you stop and choose your words carefully, but by using only one-syllable words you'll infuse your work with energy and punch that you don't get from words with multiple syllables.

Sometimes when I feel like a piece I'm writing needs more punch, I'll go back and rewrite a section, trying to use more one-syllable words.  The change in the energy never fails to amaze me.

What do you think?  Do you think you need to set some limits in your writing?  If so, what tricks have you used that work?

Monday, April 25, 2011

A Day for Poetry

April is National Poetry Month and today I'd like to take some time to enjoy that genre where words really count.  In poetry the wrong word--no matter how small or innocent-looking--can be the difference between pretty or pathetic, inspiring or insipid.  Words rule in poetry in a way that isn't possible for any other genre.

I can already see some of you rolling your eyes.  "Here she goes... getting all ga-ga over poetry.  Gross."  I promise I'll keep my love of verse under control.  All I ask is this: before you click away, take 30 seconds to read the following poem.  Not because I told you (though that's also a very nice reason), but because you're a writer and you love words in all flavors.  Take these 30 seconds to recharge your inner muse and enjoy words for their own sake.  This poem by Billy Collins is about reading poetry, but it continually helps refresh my perspective on all literature, regardless of genre.

Introduction to Poetry
by Billy Collins

I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide

or press an ear against its hive.

I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,

or walk inside the poem's room
and feel the walls for a light switch.

I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author's name on the shore.

But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.

Homework: Today I'd like you to visit or break open an anthology and read one poem you've never read before.  It can be a poem with an interesting title, or a poem that you've been wanting to read but never got around to.  There are no requirements except that it be a poem.  Once you've read it, I'd love to hear about what you read.  Also, do you like poetry and read it for fun, or was this new for you?  If you love poetry, what about it speaks to you?  If you're not a poetry-lover, what turns you off?

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Words, Glorious Words!

All writers--whether they write lofty literary fiction or spunky sparkly vampire stories--have one thing in common: an intrinsic love of words.  We can't get enough of words.  We're like Oliver, lifting up his bowl and saying: "Please, sir, I'd like some more."

Today's post is about glorious words that enrich our love of language.  One tool I've developed that helps me rekindle my love of words is the Word Box. 

The concept is simple, really; you just cut up a sheet of paper into lots of little slips and write a random word on each slip.  They can be words you love or hate, words that sound funny or that are fun to say aloud.  The point is that the words be random.  Once you're done, put your word slips in a container (an envelope, bag, small box.  The only requirement is that it should be easy for you to reach in and pull out a few words at random.

How to Use the Word Box: Pull out 3-7 words at random.  Write for 15 minutes and use all the words.  Note: No fair using a random word in a way that doesn't make sense or feels forced.  All the words have to feel like they belong in the piece.   Tips: (1) Start with with 3 words and work your way up to 7 with practice.  (2) Keep adding new words to your Word Box over time, to keep things fresh.

Homework: Start a Word Box of your own.  With a little help from friends, the task of finding random words can be easy.  Share some of your own word finds in the comments and borrow suggestions from each other!

Here are 20 words from my Word Box to get you started:

galaxy, gamble, fissure, scamper, flutter, flash, troll, manipulate, secret, nefarious, snarl, flinch, croak, glitz, arabesque, pirate, swirl, windswept, totem, no.

A note about DIY MFA Chat today, (5pm ET) I know it's Easter so I wasn't sure if any of you were still up for a chat.  Please tweet or comment if you're still up for chatting and I'll be there.  If enough people respond saying "yes I'll be there" then we'll proceed as always.  Watch the #diymfa thread for a twitter update on the status of the chat.  I'll a couple of hours before and let you all know if the chat's still on or if we're taking the holiday off.  Sound good?

Saturday, April 23, 2011

There Is No Finish Line
We've been working our way through DIY MFA and suddenly it has occurred to me that this is our the last week of April (and therefore also the last week of DIY MFA 2.O).  I have to admit, I panicked a little.
"OMG, what am I going to do in May?" I thought as I hyperventilated and gasped for air.  And then I remembered: there is no one finish line in writing.  You finish one phase and you start a new one.  Once one goal is met, you move on to the next one.  There are small victories along the way, of course--and we should definitely celebrate those--but ultimately there is no finish.
This news might be hard for some of us to hear.  After all, it can be nice to think of one writing project as this big goal and once we finish it, we're done.  It's the same way with traditional MFA programs.  Some students focus on the thesis and the program as the end-all-and-be-all, but it doesn't work that way.  You need to see beyond that finish line to the millions of projects that come after.  It can be overwhelming, to say the least.

Ultimately, I like to look one or two steps ahead.  If you look at all the millions of possibilities, it can make you freeze up.  I prefer to look at just the next step.  Here are a few quotes that have always inspired me:
 "My idea of life is the next page.  The next paragraph.  The next sentence."
~Charles Bukowski
"Writing is like driving a car at night.  You can only see as far as the headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way."
~E.L. Doctorow

Homework:  Go to a writing space that's comforting to you.  Bring a beverage or snack that makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside.  The point is to coddle your inner writer a little today because you'll be doing some hard work.
Before you start your sprint, take 10-15 minutes and think about the next step.  This is not a time for stressing, but a time for dreaming.  Let yourself imagine the possibilities of what could be next after your current project.  Once you've finished brainstorming, bring yourself back to the present, set the dreams aside and do your sprint for today.  (Sprint badges are posted in the photos section of our Facebook page.)

Here in NYC it's rainy and disgusting so I thought it would be a nice day to write "in."  I'll be curling up with my notebook and a pot of hot vanilla-coconut tea and will be brainstorming what's next after this round of DIY MFA.  I promise to fill you in on the details once I've figured it out!

Would anyone like to share what they think their next step is?  I know I'd love to hear it!

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