Adult Writing Workshop Review
"This well-thought-out course covered the essentials of creative writing in a logical progression. Class discussion and activities as well as assignments were thought-provoking and stimulating."
On October 14, I went to listen to Anthony Doerr, author of All the Light We Cannot See, speak at Shenendehowa High School East. It was actually sponsored by the Clifton Park-Halfmoon Public Library, but they had so many people register, they needed to move it to the high school auditorium, which can seat 1,100 people. There were probably 800 people there and that was the largest author event the library has held yet. The event had been booked before he won the Pulitzer Prize.
I went with my mom, Rita, who usually is my partner at the author events, along with my fellow book lovers, Julie Guzi and Karen Patchell. Tony, as he was addressed, is a very tall, thin and bald man. I thought he was much older when I read his book, but he is only 41. He had a very quirky way about him, but in a genuine and very intelligent manner. He began with photos from his youth and explained how he took a ton of different classes in college, not liking the fact that he had to claim a major. He began to record things in his life that amazed and interested him and he was very inspired by the scale of items in relation to the world around him. He had another way of looking at time. According to Doerr, "It is OK to stand silently in the weather and feel the sunlight."
I have kept a journal since I was in 7th grade. It was very sporadic, but the main theme was which boy I was in love with that week (noted by his name in a heart) and which friend I was fighting with or how unfair my parents were. It was all very dramatic and superfluous as I look back on it, but it gave insight into some of my interests and the mind of a 12-year-old girl.
My older journals focused on the love of my life, my husband Lucas, and then when I became pregnant they also focused on my other loves. From the moment I was pregnant with Nick I wrote to him. I wrote about my dreams for them and a bit about what their father and I were doing at that time. After they were born it was all about them and our extended family to a point. I think because I love history in general and because with my Dad's death we lost so many stories, I'm obsessed with recording every word, moment, deed, and life experience.
But as I go back and read the journals, I realize that something is missing. My and their father's life story. We write so much about what is going on now, which is wonderful as Stephen will be able to look back and tell his kids about his crazy childhood stories and he can bring his brother's life to light with all that has been recorded of him. It's priceless, but they don't know about my crazy antics or their father's.
Then I thought about my mom and how she has so many stories that we don't know about. So I did the only thing that a writer could do--I bought her a journal. She asked me what she should write in it. I thought about it and said, "Write about your earliest childhood memory."
There's something about starting a new novel. It's like a budding relationship. You get that tingle in your stomach and chills when you think about it. Parts of you are unsure about where it will lead, but your heart is telling you to jump in because it feels so right. It also feels like that moment when you first find out you are going to have a baby. There is so much promise, anticipation, and hope. You don't know what each day will bring, but you are constantly filled with wonder at all the changes this new creation is bringing to your life.
It has been five years since Eyes of the Goddess: Book Two of the Fianna Cycle was published and nine years since the first book Warriors Within was published. I will never complain about how slow my favorite authors are in getting the next book out! Life got in the way and it always will, but I also wasn't sure where I wanted the third book to start from. I thought it would be 18 years into the future when the Child of Prophecy Eibhlin (Ay LEEN) mac Nessa mac Art has to fulfill her destiny to save Ireland. But after taking a course in preparing your plot (you never stop learning as a writer), I decided that there was too much to tell during those 18 years and I would be shortchanging the characters and my readers.
So Through the Mist will start off right where Eyes of the Goddess ended. I'm committed to having the first draft completed by Halloween where there will be a promotion for my readers to download the other two books. If you are interested in following along my wriitng journey, you can do so in a couple ways. (Braedon, I hope you are reading and paying close attention as you have waited most patiently!)
Follow this blog as I will update it weekly, subscribe to my mailing list on my website www.janinedetilliocammarata.com
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I haven't been to a writer's conference or seminar in quite some time and I have felt very disconnected. I have made the commitment that to get published by a traditional publisher and am committed to being a well-rounded author. So I need to network and get involved with writer's groups.
I have since joined SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators) www.scbwi.org so I can pursue my love of writing young adult and middle grade fiction. This past Saturday I attended a writing class with Coleen Paratore at The Arts Center in Troy, NY where Coleen now lives. She is the best-selling author of some amazing picture and middle grade books like Big and The Wedding Planner's Daughter. Visit her website at www.coleenparatore.com to get a list of her books. The class was based on her book called Fireflies and it's a writing journal to help you 'spark' ideas for different stories. I really enjoyed the exercises and the instant camaraderie amongst the other students who all happened to be female.
Attending this class got me fired up to continue my search for an agent and publisher for my latest middle grade novel called The Puzzle Quests: Shimmer's Eggs. In this new series, eleven-year-old Luke and nine-year-old Peter are the brave knights Princess Meriwether seeks to help her find Shimmer's eggs, in order to protect her kingdom from attacks by the evil Lord Tam. Their best friends, Marc and Rose, join the quest and together they use their skills and teamwork to bond with the hatched dragons and fight back. But there is another reason that this fearless foursome time travels to this magical realm and it will forever change their lives.
I'm looking forward to keep connections growing with other authors and my readers. And don't worry fans of The Fianna Cycle series--I'm working on book three called Through the Mists and will keep you updated!
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How is that journal writing going? Are you keeping track of your dreams? Maybe you woke with a certain feeling or a song in your head or a list of things to do that day. Perhaps you went on an adventure and flew over a city to see a relative from the past. What should you do with these feelings, songs, lists, or very detailed dreams? Why do we even have them?
I have always dreamed, but as a child I was often plagued by horrific nightmares of skeletal people chasing me down and pulling me into the ground. These scary dreams would bother me all day and I was often told that it was just a dream. It wasn't until years later when I attended a dream workshop led by Robert Moss, who was just developing his work with dreams, that I realized they weren't just dreams. At this workshop and through many years of training with Robert, I have learned that I do dream for a reason and that I could do something with my dreams to improve my life.
Robert is now author of many books on dreams and travels around the world sharing his wonderful techniques that anyone can use to make sense of their dreams. The quickest one is called the 'Lightning Dreamwork Game' and it can be done anywhere, with anyone in just a few minutes. Robert best describes the process in his book, The Three "Only" Things: Tapping the Power of Dreams, Coincidence & Imagination.
The other day I was talking to some of my friends about my journals. For those who have grown up with my kids, it’s well known that if a photo of an event is needed of their child, they can ask me and I’ll probably have it. Plus, I may have an in-depth description of the event in my journal.
I have always kept a diary of some sort since I was in 7th grade. I wasn’t very good with details then, but it reflects the chaos, drama, and fickleness of a teenager. It’s quite funny, but also interesting in that much of it I have forgotten. It doesn’t seem that the writer could be me.
When I became pregnant with Nick, I wanted to keep a detailed journal on my pregnancy and then of his life so that he would remember all that he had done as a baby. We have very select memories and while it’s amazing what we can remember, it’s so sad what we forget. When Nick was born I had the nurse stamp the outline of his foot in his journal and I collected any newspaper articles about him or the family and stapled them to a page.
Eventually the world of scrapbooking became very popular so my journals became 12” x 12” scrapbooking masterpieces that combined my family’s history with a photo album. I have to say I have been very bad at keeping up with this, but all their school and artwork are in scrapbooks and I have kept up my journaling since 1995. This year will mark 20 years of journaling about my kids, my husband, my family, my hopes, dreams, and disappointments.
I have to say I am very honest in my journals. When I’m mad at someone I write all about it. Very often this gives me clarity and helps me to solve problems. I separate my journals into sections: Boys, Personal reflections, dreams, and rants. When my oldest son, Nick, passed away my scrapbooks became one of my most precious keepsakes. I have nightmares of losing them in a fire and need to scan them onto my computer for extra security. Our lives are in those books.
Every writer who wants to be published and have people buy their books knows the importance of marketing using social media. There are so many avenues to choose: Facebook, Pinterest, blogs, website, Instagram, Twitter, etc. It’s great to have all these options and there are many more, but it can be overwhelming. In order to keep writing, it’s also necessary to read the books you like to write and to see what is popular.
In 2013, I found Goodreads.com, a website that combines that social media marketing to get your books out there, as well as the ability to stay connected to the reading community. I have an author profile and my books on the site so that readers can add reviews and find out more about me.
What I love about this site is that you can search for books and mark if you want to read them, are reading them or have read them. You can leave your own review and share them with a friend. You can invite friends to join and once you have added a variety of books, a list of books you may like are recommended for you.
Even if you aren’t a writer, this site is a fantastic way to keep track of your books and to find new ones that you can’t wait to read.
I invite you to go on Goodreads.com, fill out your profile, find some friends, and check out my books! If you have any questions about my books or my writing, you can leave a question and I’ll be sure to get back to you!My Goodreads.com Profile!
I have never had a shortage of writing ideas. Whether these are poems, essays, short stories or full-length novels, my mind explodes with the possibilities. Not being able to write full-time, I have the conundrum of not only finding the time to write, but deciding which project to focus on. I first published Warriors Within in 2006 with its sequel, Eyes of the Goddess, following in 2010. At this point, the third book in this saga should have been coming out in 2014. Alas, I am sorry to tell my friends that it is not complete. My mind has ventured elsewhere determined to finish projects started years ago.
In 2007 I started a middle grade novel that I titled The Puzzle Quests: Shimmer's Eggs. I put it aside to work on Eyes of the Goddess. I have dabbled with completing it and finally have a completed manuscript, which I am very excited about. So much of my writing comes from my life and those around me. Shimmer's Eggs is inspired my Nick and Stephen and their many adventures with their childhood friends Tyler and Emily. I loved wriitng this book, because it brought me down memory lane and their voices are so strong in my head.
I recently spoke with a friend of mine who is writing her family memoirs. She has written a children's book, but never something so challenging as a memoir. To me writing a memoir is harder than writing fiction, because if you plan to share it with an audience, it has to be captivating, and you are opening your heart up to your reader. Every work produced is like having a baby and the fear that someone might reject your beautiful creation is a powerful deterrent to writing.
She had written a few chapters and told me she was stuck. Her memoir was too short and not close to the 100,000 words or whatever number she felt she had to reach to make her story worthwhile. As a new writer, I knew I had to be careful with how I helped her get through this writer's block or writer expectation. I gave her some advice that I think is worth sharing.
1. Don't write with a numeric expectation. This may differ if you are writing a research paper, but for fiction and non-fiction, writing to reach a certain page length can be intimidating and stifling to creativity. I never know how long a book is going to be until it's done. I write until I feel I have included everything that makes the story complete. For my first novel, Warriors Within, I had no idea on how to write a book. I just wrote from the research I had done and when I realized I had written over 500 words, I figured out I would change it to a trilogy. Let the words flow without criticism or editing.
2. Don't stop writing, even if the words don't make sense. Our inner editor can stop a writer as quickly as pulling the emergency brake. Sometimes free writing is the best technique to use when you aren't sure where a book is going. Even with a memoir, writing about a certain event or memory without wondering where it will fit in the book can lead you to a new chapter or theme.
3. Take a break and put the manuscript away. If your story feels stale or you don't feel connected to it anymore, put it away. Start something else or read books that you like to write. When you come back to your story and read it through, you may have more clarity or see a theme that runs through the piece or realize that you don't like what you are writing. Listen to your instincts.
4. Write a synopsis of your novel. When I first begin writing a book, I don't write an outline, but sometimes in order to keep me on track, I write a description, like I'm describing a dream or a movie to someone. If it rings true to me then that's my guide for the book. Sometimes parts of it connect and other times I may begin with that description, but take a different path. I may even write a few different synopses to see which one I like better. It doesn't matter if I use them, it helps me to clear my brain so I can find my way through the novel.
5. List events and write about them for a memoir without worrying about where they will lead. Sometimes you need to honor the memory without worrying about whether or not it will end up in a book. Keep true to the memories and the feelings these stories evoke. That's where the magic and power of a memoir comes through. Being honest and true to what you remember. Then looking back through it, you will see the connections and know how to string the stories together into a well-written memoir that you and your family can enjoy. Or have an editor see where and how the chapters fit.
The most important thing any writer can do is keep writing. Take it seriously, but do it for the love of the written word and your stories will flow.
I had the pleasure to speak with a diverse and compassionate group of young adults at The College of New Jersey this past weekend. It was organized by Brianna Dioses who was a friend of my son, Nick, and was very involved in Nick's Round Table. She asked me to be the speaker for the Relay for Life Kickoff for The American Cancer Society fundraiser. This presentation was sponsored by WILL (Women in Learning and Leadership, Freshman Class Council, and Colleges Against Cancer). Brianna was the main force in making this happen.
She felt that Nick's story was important enough to bring to her friends and fellow students. I spoke for about 45 minutes about The Power of Giving and How it Transforms Us. I told them about Nick and the other young adults who have battled cancer and are featured in my book What Makes Them Amazing. They connected to the stories, but I really feel they got the message. Despite all these young adults have gone through they still give back.