One Lump or Two?

I just read an interesting article at the Teaching Authors blog on food and fantasy. It reminded me of an exercise I did once for a big project. I wanted to get to know my characters better, so I wrote a few questions for them. A couple of the questions were “What is the character’s favorite dessert?” and “How does the character take his tea or coffee?” I used it just to get to know my characters better, but the answers came in handy later for a scene where the characters drink hot tea after a harrowing experience. I knew the MC always had his tea with a little bit of honey.

In other news: today, I turned in the first twenty pages of a young adult science fiction novel for my workshop in January. I really like the story, but I have a feeling the first draft of the first twenty pages isn’t very good. I’m also almost done with the second draft of my middle grade novel. And my last packet is due December 10! I feel this semester should be over already, but just three more weeks.

I imagine I won’t post in the next week (family in town), so Happy Thanksgiving everyone!


And today, I typed 40 double spaced pages. My hand hurts, and I’m ready for bed.

Twenty Pages

Today, I wrote twenty pages.

My hand hurts, but I feel pretty good. My packet is due on Thursday, and for once, I feel mostly prepared. I am so glad that I don’t have to divide my attention between creative and critical work anymore.

Yes, that means that I have finished my critical thesis. I’m just proofing it one last time before I send it to the office.

I’m getting really excited about the January residency and seeing everyone again. I need that boost every so often. No wonder people come back for the alumni weekend. I’m definitely going to look into joining SCBWI for after I graduate. Having a writer community is a huge help.

Is anyone doing NaNoWriMo this year? I thought about, but I think I’ll get my 20 pages for workshop and that’s it. If you are doing NaNoWriMo, I’d be interested in what genre you’re writing and how many words you’ve got so far.

I’m off to do non-writerly things for awhile. I hope to update again before next year.

MLA Format is Somewhat Lacking

I’ve spent most of the last three days wrestling with MLA format. MLA does not have guidelines for a paper with headings and an outline, for how to cite software, for how to cite multiple pages from one website, for how to cite hypertext narratives (no surprise there), or how to cite picture books. That last one doesn’t directly relate to my critical thesis, but the rest do. I’ve just been making things up the best I can.

Hypertext narratives usually have page titles rather than page numbers (whatever shows up in the blue bar at the web browser, for example). My current citation solution is to put the page title in brackets where the page number would normally go. Thus a citation after a quote from Michael Joyce’s afternoon, a story would look like this: (Joyce [preface]). We’ll see what my mentor says. . . .

In addition to that, MLA has changed the works cited formatting this year quite a bit. Now, we’re required to put the medium after every works cited entry (web, print, CD, etc.), and we don’t have to include URLs. I’ve been bouncing back and forth between Diana Hacker‘s website and the OWL at Purdue trying to make sure I get everything right.

Now that my thesis is mostly done (for this packet), I should get to my creative writing. I don’t know how I’m going to switch to my creative brain after so much critical thinking.

P.S. For some reason, blogger won’t let me post a comment, so here is my reply to Lina:

You might enjoy it, although not everyone will like nonlinear stories.

I actually liked the book better when I read it out of order.

I’m doing pretty well. My allergies always seem to act up right

before I have a packet due. Maybe they’re stress related. . . .

How are things going with you?

Critical Thesis: Hypertext Narrative

I realize it has been far too long since I updated. Toward the end of last semester I began to really struggle with getting everything done. I often thought of updating, but I couldn’t if I wanted to get everything else done on time.

I’m now in my third semester of graduate school, which is the critical thesis semester. I’m writing my thesis on hypertext narrative and children’s literature. I’ve spent several hours today at a coffee shop writing the thesis. I think it’s going fairly well.

I read a book for my thesis that just screamed hypertext narrative. If you want a taste of what a young adult hypertext narrative might be like, get a copy of Criss Cross by Lynne Rae Perkins. I would suggest reading the book in a random order. Just pick a chapter and start reading. I read the book in order until chapter 16. Then I read randomly, picking chapters here and there, keeping track of which ones I had already read. I loved reading the book this way. I thoroughly enjoyed the book, except for the ending, which I felt was forced. If the book had been written as a hypertext narrative, it wouldn’t have needed an ending, so maybe that’s why it was forced. Try it and see what you think.

Anne M.

Fourth Packet Panic

Obviously, I’m still struggling with the whole grad school + real life thing or I would have updated during the second and third packet periods.

I’m used to this time of year being done with school, not having the fourth packet panic. When I was in college, I could push myself through this I’m-so-tired-of-school! feeling because the end was in sight. Just a couple more weeks! Actually, this week would have been my finals week—I’d be done! Instead, I have over a month left. I’m thinking that perhaps the fourth packet is the hardest. Last semester, my fourth packet was the worst packet ever! This packet is looking that way.

I’ve been trying to research for two essays, but that’s about all I’ve got so far—some unorganized research. I’m also supposed to write something new this packet because . . .


I finished my middle grade novel! (the first draft). However, I’m not so good at coming up with new ideas on command. I’ve got an idea, but it has to percolate before I can put in on paper. And so, I have a little over one week left to write both my essays, 20-40 pages of creative work, and try to finish my sadly lacking bibliography.

And the worst part is? I don’t want to do any of it! I want a break! I need a break! One month this summer is not going to be enough, but I will have to make do.

I’ll try to write more authory things later.

Space? Time? Continuum?

This packet period has been fun, exciting, challenging, and now, stressful. The first week, I was sick in bed, so I did most of my reading then. I tried a sampling of contemporary novels.

The next week, I did most of my writing. I’m working on a contemporary middle grade novel, and I am thoroughly enjoying it. I’ve got about 30 pages so far, and I’m still working on planning it out.

This past week, I did more writing and tried to get going on my essays. I have my topics and did some preliminary writing, but I have more research to do.

I’ve been working (job) more since I got back from residency, and that’s been eating into my school time. I’m also having trouble finding time and space to call my own for writing. I’m living in a house with three people whom I love. I enjoy living with them very much, but since I love them so much, I can get distracted. In order to really get into my writing mode, I need to have my own space. For now, I’m thinking of taking up residence at a nearby coffee shop.

This week, I have to buckle down on my essays, type my manuscript, and do a couple of odds and ends for the packet (my bibliography, a short two-page piece on my ideal reader, my packet letter, etc.). I have two afternoons of work and a day where I’ll be out of town, so I’m anticipating a few late nights.

I don’t know how people have full time jobs and do grad school at the same time.

The Start of My Second Semester

I’m just finishing the second-to-last full day of my second residency. This residency has been much more relaxed. Not as many people graduate in the winter, so I have fewer lectures from which to choose. That might sound like a bad thing, but if you knew how packed the summer residency was, you’d know this is a relief.

I have my adviser for the semester, and I am really excited. I think that my learning style will match her teaching style. I was able to express that style to her and that I am a visual person. She appreciated that as it will help us to get started.

I plan to start the semester writing a contemporary middle grade novel. My short story from last semester is my only attempt at contemporary fiction so far. I’d also like to try some poetry, if not to write it, then to learn how to read it.

I’m excited to get started, but I’m going to take the weekend off. I need a brake from the writing focus. I’ll probably update about once a month, as I did last semester. So, until then!

Favorite Books of the Semester

I just sent off my end of semester materials. I’m officially done with my first semester of graduate school. (I’m still waiting for my mentor’s response to my packet, though.)

I’ve already begun reading for next semester. I’ve been reading books by the faculty members to help me get a feel for their writing styles. I also have a huge reading list ready to go.

My classmates and I have been sharing our favorite books from the semester, so I thought I would post mine here:

Picture Books:

  • A Tree is Nice by Janice May Udry
  • Flotsam by David Wiesner (wordless PB)
  • Cook-A-Doodle-Doo by Janet Stevens & Susan Stevens Crummel
  • Nothing by John Agee

Chapter books:

  • Frog and Toad Are Friends by Arnold Lobel
  • Saying Good-Bye to Grandma by Jane Resh Thomas (dealing with death)

Middle Grade:

  • Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbit (has a prologue)
  • The Boggart by Susan Cooper
  • Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech (frame stories)
  • The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin (mystery)

Young Adult:

  • The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman (omni POV)
  • Brisingr by Christopher Paolini


  • One-Room School by Raymond Bial


  • Call Down the Moon: Poems of Music edited by Myra Cohn Livingston


  • The Power of Point of View: Making Your Story Come to Life by Alicia Rasley

I hope that you enjoy! Oh, and I try to never spoil the end of a book without clear warnings. 😀 Let me know what you thought of Brisingr, Carolyn!

Planning for Next Semester Already?

I’m about halfway through with my last packet, and I have two weeks until I have to stick it in the mail. I’ve read a dozen picture books, two novels, two MG non-fiction books, and some other bits and pieces. I’ve also written about 20 pages of my science fiction novel as well as 20 pages of a new contemporary piece I’m working on (yes, I work in pages rather than word counts). Not too bad.

Aside from school, my writing has been going okay. I’m still having trouble with the POV of my sci-fi novel, but I really like my new contemporary story, Aside from the short story I wrote earlier in the semester, this is my first attempt at a contemporary piece. I submitted it for my workshop piece, so we’ll see how that goes.

I’ve been trying to decide what to work on next semester. I’m thinking of working on my contemporary piece, but I’m not sure what else I’d like to work on, if anything. I’m also debating what craft areas to focus on. I’d tried to work on POV this semester, but I’m still struggling. I started a book list so that I can have something ready for my semester plan. I’m so lost when it comes to famous kid’s books. I always just read what looked fun to me, which means no Charlotte’s Web, no Phantom Tollbooth, no Wind in the Willows, no Where the Wild Things Are, etc.

I also have to start thinking about my critical thesis for the third semester. Hmmm. Not so much fun. I had thought about doing something on hypertext, but I’m not sure if that’s feasible.

I should get back to writing my bibliography for this packet. Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Writing is Hard Work

As hard as this semester has been, I think this packet period was the hardest. I felt overwhelmed. I think I realized how much work I have before I will become a good writer. I also realized that the first semester of my graduate school is nearly over, and I have not learned nearly enough! I need to buckle down and focus.

This was also a busy period for me. Friends from out of town come to visit, we celebrated my husband’s birthday, my work schedule was a bit hectic, and I got sick.

I am starting to feel more confident. I’m figuring out how to show motivation. I have made astounding progress with POV (if only I could keep it up!). I’m also getting more story ideas.

I love dreams. When I get stuck in a story, I often have a dream that unsticks me. I have had several such dreams the last few nights. Maybe being sick wasn’t such a bad thing.

Well, I hope to do better this coming packet period. I also have to get something ready for my workshop. I have an idea for a contemporary novel. We’ll see how well that works.

Until I write again (at the end of the next packet period?)!

P.S. “College Kids” by Relient K is an excellent song. 🙂

Handwriting vs. Computers

I’m finishing up my third packet right now, and I need a brake. I discovered where my writer’s block this packet period came from. I usually handwrite my stories, but I have to send typed versions to my mentor (so she can read them). The first packet period, I decided that I didn’t have enough time to handwrite the story and then type it up. So the second packet period, I just wrote straight into the computer.

This period, I found myself procrastinating a lot. I finally realized that I didn’t want to type my story straight into the computer. For one thing, staring at the computer too long hurts my eyes. (That’s one reason I’m so good at typing without looking at the screen. I used to unnerve my friends when they’d come talk to me while I was IMing. I’d finishing typing my IM while looking at them and listening to what they said. Ha ha, okay, I’m done with my sidetrack, and I typed the whole thing without looking!).

For another thing, I don’t like to be stuck at my computer. I like to go outside or sit on the couch or sit at the dining room table. And if I handwrite the draft, I can take it with me when I wait at the doctor’s office and other places. So, I have decided that no matter how much extra time it takes, I just have to handwrite first. Just another aspect of my love/hate relationship with technology.

Annie M.

It’s Weird to See a Backbone Walking Around without Any Other Bones or Flesh

I’m having even more trouble than usual this packet period. I just want to procrastinate so much. I have a story idea in my head, but I can’t flesh it out. I have a couple of characters with very unique qualities that give me the bare bones of a plotline. Not even, really. More like the backbone of a plotline. I can’t figure out where to go from here.

In addition to my inability to get something on the page, I’m having trouble with my reading. I’ve mostly read one craft book this period, The Power of Point of View by Alicia Rasley. Actually, I haven’t even finished it yet. I’ve read a few chapter books and excerpts from other books for POV examples. Maybe its okay if I mostly read craft books this packet since I didn’t read any craft books for my last packet. I got a few books on writing for young people at the library. I need to read those.

I feel kind of lost right now. I think I need to go do something mindless with my hands while listening to rock music. Then maybe I can get this plot to work! Maybe I should draw a picture of my main character. Or do laundry. I need to do that anyway.

Anne M.

From My Point of View . . .

Several people have told me that I need to work on point of view (POV). Most of the people in my workshop told me that I kept switching POV’s. I asked them if they thought maybe I should use a different POV, and they suggested omniscient as opposed to third-person. I tried that only to have my mentor tell me that I have no clue how to write omniscient (not surprising considering I’d never tired it before) and that I wasn’t telling the story from my characters’ points of view.

So, I picked up a book called The Power of Point of View by Alicia Rasley. I like it so far. Actually, I like it better than all of the confusing and conflicting advice that I’ve been getting from other people. I think that I’ve finally figured out what’s going on.

Omniscient POV isn’t trendy right now. First person is the trend. At least half of the readings that I heard at the residency were written in first person. Since this is the case, writers have been telling me that I can’t write in anything but first person or deep third (deep third is basically first person without the “I”). However, I don’t like to read first person very much, so I’m not too fond of writing it. More importantly than that is the fact that only particular stories can be told in first person. Some stories just don’t lend well to a first-person POV.

Just because I like to write stories in non-deep third-person or multiple third-person doesn’t mean that writing that way is wrong. According to Rasley, I can even start a scene in omniscient and then move in to third—something I had been told was taboo. It’s like someone said at the residency (Marion Dane Bauer?). She said that an editor told her she wasn’t a picture book writer when what he really meant was, “This isn’t a picture book.” People have been telling me, “You can’t write light-penetration third,” when maybe they should have said, “Light-penetration third is an okay POV, but you need to work on it. You don’t have a handle on it yet.”

Now, I’m not saying that I don’t have problems with POV; I definitely have some things to work on. Although, I do feel that a lot of my issues have to do with voice and character rather than directly with POV. I have trouble developing character voice, and I have a tendency to remain distant from the story. This affects my POV, but it’s an issue in and of itself.

Anne M.

The Creative Juices are Beginning to Flow, but Slowly

Well, I did it! I wrote a short story focusing on character. I really like it, but we’ll see whether or not my mentor does. It’s a little over 4,900 words. Is that about right for a short story? Since I’ve never really written one before, I have no idea what the range is. I just know that the range is pretty big. I should listen to classical music more. That’s how I got inspiration for this short story.

My problem now is that I have to write about twenty pages of something else. And I’m not sure what. I have a few ideas, but I don’t really know if any of them are good for right now. I’ve never really written in omniscient point of view before. I realized that it would be a good POV for my huge project, so I tried writing my project in omniscient POV for my first packet. My mentor told me it was terrible (which I knew; I’ve never written in omniscient before) and that she didn’t think it was a good idea for my story. Well, I’ve decided to put that project away and force myself to write other things, no matter how painful, but I’d still like to learn how to write omnipresent POV. I’m not sure if I should try that now or save it for another semester.

I also can’t decide what genre in which I’d like to write. Do I want to write something serious or fun? Fantasy or sci-fi? Or do I want to try something different all-together? I had planned on writing an historical fiction piece this fall, but I thought maybe that was too ambitious for a first-semester project (since I’ve never written one before). However, I’m not quite sure what else to write. And the point of this whole program is to learn.

Okay, I’ve breaked long enough. Time to get back to work.


When I finished the rough draft of my science fiction story, I decided to put the story away for awhile and try something else. My something else didn’t make it very far, and I got caught up in college. After about a year, I picked up the story again to polish the first three chapters for my grad school application. About a year or two later, I was finally accepted to graduate school! And then—I realized that I hadn’t written anything (except for polishing those first three chapters) in three years. I’d had writer’s block for longer than some of my classmates have been writing!

I thought that I would work on something completely different while in grad school—ignore my other story completely and go back to it when I have the tools to write it well. The only problem is that I can’t seem to write anything else. Ideas don’t jump out of the woodworks the way they used to. I have to struggle to come up with ideas. I’ve tried starting a couple of stories, but I just can’t get into them. They seem flat, and I have to force myself to keep writing. What happened to my passion? What happened to the days when I just wrote and wrote and wrote and couldn’t wait to wake up the next morning so that I could write some more?

My second packet is due in about two weeks, and I haven’t written anything. I’m supposed to write a short story focusing on character development. I’ve written only about one or two short stories in my life, and they were terrible. I don’t know how to write a short story. And I’m not any good at character development. So where do I start? I have been trying, but nothing’s come. So far, all my graduate school work has been absolutely miserable. I hope I can get into the grove soon.

An Open Gate

A friend once told me, “There will always be an open gate for you.” I have found that gate. I have just begun an intensive two-year program. By the end of these two years, I will have learned how to craft a story that children, young adults, and adults will want to read. This is not what I hope to accomplish. I will accomplish this. That is my promise to myself. Many nights, I will stay up late writing stories and essays. Many days, I will read and read and read. Nothing good ever comes without hard work. Hard work builds character. And from my hard work, I will learn how to build characters.

I am very excited. I have never taken a class or a workshop on creative writing. I have never belonged to a critique group. Everything I know about story comes from what I’ve figured out on my own, and what I’ve learned in the past five years from about half a dozen craft books. I have much to learn.

I hope that you will join me on my journey. Passing through the gate is only the beginning. I have a long road to travel. But like a heroine on a quest, I will meet friends and companions to help me face the obstacles ahead. Together, we can defeat the villains of empty plot, one-dimensional characters, and confusing language. And in the end, may we, together, pass through the glass to the amazing world that lies beyond.