Wednesday, October 26, 2016

NaNoWri-Nopes

Are you doing NaNoWriMo this year? For those of you not in the "know" (heehee!), this is short form for National Novel Writing Month, wherein you attempt to write a complete novel in 30 days.

"Can that be done?" you ask. (See how I resisted the urge to add adverb here? I was considering "incredulously," which would be plus-one in word counts.)

Well, yes and no. Technically, you can bank 50k words in November, although your kids may not eat balanced meals and your spouse may do a lot of laundry. The work is not, however, submission-worthy in any way, shape or form. It's gotten to the point where agents and editors absolutely dread December because so many exhilarated NaNo-ers simply cannot resist the urge to ship that thing out over the interwebs.

So, do I recommend NaNo? Having successfully "won" the game several years back, I would say it's worth trying at least once for the following reasons:

  • It is a real motivation and creativity boot camp. You work that writing muscle EVERY DAY and it does cause a shift in form--you get, you know, writer abs (they are NOTHING like CrossFit abs, just fyi).
  • You learn to write without revising the previous day's work. This turns out to be an important aptitude if your goal is FINISHING a novel in any timeframe
  • You join an amazing writing community and make wonderful new friends, along the way reading terrific, insightful support posts from some incredible authors.

Those wonderful benefits aside, please DO NOT:

  • ...show anyone the mangled mess you wrote, unwashed and stuffed with Cheetos, in the wee hours while your children slept in the same clothes they wore by day. It is called a First Draft for a reason.
  • ...read said First Draft before letting it marinate in a drawer for AT LEAST 30 days. Longer, if possible. (Consider the duration states require for a teen to hold a learner's permit before acquiring a driver's license.)
  • ...be afraid to consider your NaNo product a "learning piece" or a "warm-up document." If, in good time, you can revise it into submission-worthy shape, that's great. But know that the month will not have been wasted if your product is less than the Great American Novel.

Best of luck if you decide this is your NaNo fall. And, if not, I hope you log some lovely words next month all the same!


Friday, October 21, 2016

It's College Application Time: Why did you choose your reach, match and safety schools?

That it is important to begin the application process by properly identifying your target schools seems like an absurdly obvious point. However, a key opportunity that is missed by not fully understanding the WHY of this protocol. Despite the ease of clicking around Big Future, College Confidential and other websites, the college search should be much more than a computer game in which you overlay your grades and test scores over a rubric of college acceptance rates and parameters, and perhaps a few other factors such as geography, size, and Greek life. In fact…


I will demonstrate why by first asking you to complete this worksheet:
Having difficulty? Here are some examples of good and bad answers:

I chose this school because…

BAD ANSWERS: It is a cool or famous university. My best friend/girlfriend is applying/attending. I have seen it. It is near my house.

While not necessarily untrue, are these answers getting you or the desired institution any closer together? No. Are they good reasons to apply to a university? Probably not.

Consider these GOOD ANSWERS: It has a great undergraduate writing/biology/business program. Professor X teaches there and I’ve read all her books. I attended a summer program there AND enjoyed Y about it. It offers both X program and Y activity.

As you continue completing the worksheet, avoid citing your GPA or test scores, commute times, or the fact that you googled “business schools in Alabama" and got this one. Try instead for specific answers related to how a school can support your planned course of study, extracurricular/community objectives, and long-term career plans. Find an honest reason you would “enjoy attending” even your safety schools. Otherwise, this process can kind of like walking a plank.

AFTER you have honestly completed the worksheet to the best of your ability, ask yourself:
  • Are there any similarities between the schools I am choosing (e.g., strong Spanish departments, BS/MS Engineering options, fantastic school newspapers, ten a capella groups)?
  • Am I using the same type of language across many of the explanations about why I would be a good fit or enjoy attending (e.g., I have student leadership experience or I would like to continue tutoring kids through your college’s terrific outreach program)?
  •  For the reach schools, would you like to follow through on the steps that might enhance your application? Why did you list this as a reach school in the first place?
  • Do I honestly believe I would be a good fit for every college on this list? Does each of these schools truly belong on my application list?

Now, circle the name of the college that you feel is the most natural fit for you (it may be a reach, a match or even a safety school). Write a one paragraph letter to someone important in your life (a parent, friend, girlfriend, mentor) explaining why you want to attend this school.

Somewhere in that paragraph, there is likely the germ of an idea for your Common App essay. And you haven't even looked at the prompt options yet! DON'T, by the way. I'll tell you why in a coming post.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

I'M NOT YOUR MANIC PIXIE DREAM GIRL by Gretchen McNeil

Happy Book Birthday to the talented and hilarious Gretchen McNeil. Do yourself a favor and buy a copy of her latest novel, a clever, witty, stereotype-twisting delight!


But you don't need to take my recommendation. Here's the stellar scoop straight from the pages of KIRKUS REVIEWS:
A math whiz develops a formula to fix her high school experience...Bea’s cold and clinical nature is another plus: she isn’t driven by raging libido but rather a righteous anger that makes her a calculating badass. A quintessential thinking gal’s love story. 

Thursday, October 13, 2016

It's College Application Time: The Dreaded Essay

When I'm not writing, reading or marketing works of fiction, one of my favorite jobs is grounded in a challenging reality: Helping high school seniors through the college application process. In my experience, regardless of his or her academic, athletic or extracurricular profile, every student arrives at my door with eyes full of panic. And, many kids tell me that the scariest part of the process is writing the dreaded ESSAY (Common App or school-specific). 

I believe that, if approached correctly, working through the components of a college application helps a student reach a deeper understanding of his or her talents, goals and needs. In this way, the pedagogy of the application drives toward identification of a compelling topic (often a key challenge for students), and a successful essay. This, in turn, gives a student a sense of satisfaction with the self-portrait painted in the application, a sense of agency in what can be a very disenfranchising process, and ultimately a satisfying acceptance outcome.

There's a long-form for the "how," including understanding how the essay fits into the application as a whole, analyzing the reasons colleges have been prioritized on an application list, and paying attention to technical elements of writing but, for today, I give you the second slide in the essay writing section of an admissions presentation I am preparing. Invite your stressed-out high school senior to stop thinking about how-to-impress admissions officers and consider this:


I believe this is a good tip for personal essay writing in any situation. 

Sunday, October 9, 2016

It's Teen Read Week



For the latest and greatest about this annual event, visit the fantastic HUB blog maintained by the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA).

In keeping with this year's theme -- "Read for the fun of it!" -- and because I'm currently obsessed with dual-viewpoint narratives,  I'm going to recommend two vintage, two-POV delights!

FLIPPED by Wendelin van Draaenen



WILL GRAYSON, WILL GRAYSON by John Green & David Levithan

Have, you know, FUN!

Monday, October 3, 2016

FREE CLASS THIS SATURDAY at KCLS WOODINVILLE: WRITING DIALOGUE WITH KIM BAKER

SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 10, 2016

10:30 AM - 12:30 PM
 Second Saturdays Writing Program at Woodinville Library 
17105 Avondale Road NE, Woodinville

DIALOGUE IN NOVELS, SHORT STORIES & PICTURE BOOKS 

In this dynamic workshop, KIM BAKER, Society of Children’s Book Writes & Illustrators writing retreat coordinator and the award-winning author of PICKLE: THE (FORMERLY) ANONYMOUS PRANK CLUB OF FOUNTAIN POINT MIDDLE SCHOOL, will teach you how to create conversations that leap off the page and add incredible dimension to your stories.
This workshop is open to writers in grades 7 to adult. Registration is not required but, if you're so inclined or want more details, click here