You are plunging into a pit of despair. You are sick, your brain is in a fog. Thoughts seem to flick like wraiths, just out of reach. You can’t think but you have writing deadlines: a blog post; a story for a competition; a manuscript that you have ideas for and you want to write but you just want to crawl back to bed, curl up and sleep until you are well.
Oh am I hearing you! The last few weeks have been one thing after another. Which, as my daughter and close friends pointed out to me, is not unusual. If there is a strange virus to get; weird allergic reactions to odd things (i.e. anaphylactic to Strepsils); infections that don’t respond to antibiotics; then I will get it/have it.
Chuck into the mix living with Fibromyalgia, commonly known as a muscle disorder, but it can affect every part of your body and nearly every system (which is probably why the above things happen to me), then I really know how you are feeling. Winter is never a good season for me. My legs feel like lead and it is exhausting having to drag them around. And my muscles and tendons tear just because they can. And I work part time as well.
And over the last two weeks I’ve had double ear infections. One ear has cleared up the other has not. Then I blacked out Friday night and I am going through tests to find out why.
So how do I manage to get a blog post up nearly every week? How do I continue to write stories and enter them into competitions and submit to publishers? How am I able to be active on social media? How do I manage one critique a week for my online critique group? And how do I all these things, have a have friends visit, go to my monthly writer’s group, enjoy my life, as well as live with Fibro? (Notice I said ‘live with’ and not ‘suffer from’)
Here is my secret. Are you ready?
I just do it!
Ahhh! I hear you screaming at me! Noooo! It can’t be that simple. Well...it isn’t. I do have strategies in place to help me through.
Strategies that work:
Underpinning all this is the answers to some questions that I asked myself at the beginning of my writing journey – when I decided two years ago to start writing seriously. So I put them to you.
Serious questions to ask yourself:
It was only after I had taken the time to ask myself these soul-searching questions, come up with the answers, and write them down, as well as being able to articulate it concisely in a few short sentences, that I began to be able to write whenever.
Yes there are times that I feel so sick that I don’t want to move. I rest when I need to. I take time out when I need to. How I manage my illness alongside my writing is the main hurdle that I have had to overcome. I don’t use excuses. I do what I do because I love it and my motivation comes from deep within me. Nothing is going to hold me back from doing what I am doing.
Have a quick look around my website. It won’t take you long to find out what keeps me motivated on my brain fog and unwell days.
But…yes, there is a but…what works for me may not work for you. You just have to try different strategies starting somewhere. Anywhere is better than no-where.
So I hope that this post has helped in some way so that the next time you feel unwell or your brain is in a fog, you'll know what to do. Happy writing!
What works for you?
Similes and Metaphors
Using Similes and Metaphors in your writing is like using seasoning in cooking. It flavours it. Your writing will come alive and jump off the page. See what I did there? Fun isn’t it?
'Simile: the comparison of two unlike things using the word ‘like’ or ‘as’. ‘The biscuit tasted like a coat button.’ ‘It’s as black as troll poo in here.’ Both examples from Jen Storer's own work.
Use sparingly. Contrary to what Miss Sternberger might have said, creative writing does not revolve around similes and metaphors.
Metaphor: a figure of speech wherein one thing is not only compared to another, it is said to be that other. Macbeth says that life is a pathetic actor, not that it is like a pathetic actor. Thus he is speaking metaphorically:
‘Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.’'
From Jen Storer's blog, 10 Literary Devices. Or How to Zhoosh Up Your Creative Writing
At this month’s writer’s group I decided to look this use of metaphors and similes in writing. I love reading, and reading widely. The following are three examples from three different books by three authors whose books that I have read recently. I found that they use simile and metaphors in their writing that enriches the reading experience.
‘He made his way down broken storm-littered roads out to La Incoerenza, the Bliss Estate. Outside the storm had been even wilder. Lightening bolts like immense crooked pillars joined La Incoerenza to the skies, and order, which Henry James warned was only a man’s dream of the universe, disintegrated beneath the power of chaos, which was nature’s law. Above the gates of the estate a live wire swung dangerously, with death at its tip. When it touched the gates blue lightning crackled along the bars. The old house stood firm but the river had burst its banks and risen up like a giant lamprey all mud and teeth and swallowed the grounds in a single gulp.’
Page 23 Two Years Eight Months & Twenty Eight Nights by Salman Rushdie.
‘After that they saw only forest for several hours, but come evening they arrived at a country cottage abandoned by its owners. Two muscular trees had demolished the place, although they grew on either side of the building. Where their boughs had met they had done so like the punches of boxers, and remained outstretched in jabs and hooks. The cottage’s centremost rooms had been bludgeoned the hardest, but there was shelter to be had in half a sitting room, secure on the leftmost side of the house.’
Page 77 The Trees by Ali Shaw
‘It became clear to Albie that he had done very little with his life, and seeing it paraded before him convinced him that he’d had enough. So right there and then, Albie made another decision. He decided to leave. Quietly he rose, lightly as an angel. The water slipped by him like a satin cloak and he emerged through the surface with more grace and confidence than he had experienced in his life.’
Page 8 Tensy Farlow and the Home of Mislaid Children by Jen Storer
These are gorgeous descriptions that paint amazing pictures in your mind as you read. These authors seemed to sprinkle similes and metaphors (although with Salman it is liberally sprinkled), as well as using other ways of describing people, places, objects and situations.
A word of caution
There was one book I read that read that I end up putting down as there was just too many similes and metaphors in the text. At one point the author used three of these devices to describe one thing. I got bogged down in trying to decipher what the author had meant. In the end I lost the thread of the story and had no idea what was happening.
The reality is that we all use similes and metaphors on a daily basis, often without even thinking about it. This can be a trap for writers. Many of these similes and metaphors are so well known that we instinctively reach for them as we write. Instead, we should mix things up and breathe some freshness into our writing or else our writing will come off as trite.
Writer’s Group Activity:
Take a well known metaphor and re-write it within a context. (Same meaning but fresher)
A heart of stone (A person is said to have a heart of stone when they cannot show sympathy or they are very cold towards you)
"Watching Peter asses the girls' injury, he peered at her with a icy clinical glance. The glacier which formed his fractal heart showed no signs of shifting or melting." Jacqui.
Elephant in the room (An obvious problem or difficult situation that people do not want to talk about)
"It sat between them like the rotten core of an apple. Each taking tentative bites around the edges, avoiding the centre." Ester
Fear is a beast that feeds on attention. (Often times fear is just the warning but it can quickly turn into a beast)
“Her fear intensified as their criticisms stuck fast as surely as needles to a magnet.” Anita
As I was have an off day due to two ear infections I could not think of a way to rewrite A stitch in time saves nine. (Get things done on time a prevent yourself from having more work later). So I wrote how I was feeling instead.
"My mind is a fog bank and the words flick out of reach like shadows."
So this was a lightening quick run down of the use of similes and metaphors to jazz up your writing. I love to share as I learn, so if you have anything to add, please feel free to share in the comments.
To sum up:
1. Use metaphors and similes sparingly.
2. Use metaphors that will extend the description of what the story is about.
3. Metaphors are often better to use and gives a more powerful description than a simile.
Jen Storer has written a great blog post over on her Girl and Duck website. It is titled 10 Literary Devices. Or Ways to Zhoosh Up Your Creative Writing. I've just started on my first novel, so this will certainly come in handy to really enrich my writing. Check it out...and happy writing.
Woohoo! How exciting. You are about to embark on your first author/illustrator visit. Or perhaps you are not like me who looks at it as an adventure.
“I’m off on an adventure!” Bilbo Baggins
Or is it when you think of the visit and all those children looking at you, your heart leaps into your mouth and you feel like you are about to be sick?
Questions roll like a storm in your mind. What am I supposed to do? How am I supposed to keep these kids’ attention for 20/45 minutes or an hour or two? What do I say? What props do I take? What do I need to let the school know? Who looks after behaviour? Will I be left alone with a bunch of out of control children? Ahh! I haven’t even got a book published. What do I do? They won’t even know me, why would they even bother? Can I be interesting enough that they will recommend me elsewhere?
To tell the truth, some of these questions are ones that I struggled with before I went on my first school author visit. I’m an emerging children’s book author, so most of the children didn't even know my name. I was fortunate that a friend of mine, who is a teacher at the school, trailled one of manuscripts in her class for two weeks last year. This meant that some of the children were familiar with my name, and at least one of my stories.
The biggest question that I had was:
How can I, as an emerging author, with no published books, make a positive impact in even one of these children’s lives?
It came down to the preparation, what I did on the day, as well as following up and finding out how I went.
Step 1: Preparation
1. Ask yourself, ‘Who am I as an author? As a person?’ Write it down if you have to. (Click here to see my what mine are as an example). This will affect what you do on the day, and how you will run the presentation. For example, some say to use crazy hats, humour or even to rap your story. That may not suit you. So, don’t do it. But, it is essential to have fun.
2. What is your aim or goal for the visit? Write it down and keep it mind as this will help you focus and not go off on tangents.
3. Have a theme. Some suggestions from PETAA are:
4. Communicate with the school and, according to PETTA, ‘clarify the school’s expectations as to what each of your sessions will entail. You should also assess your own confidence and abilities in relation to managing a variety of student groups and, if necessary, take steps to ensure that your visit will be as successful as possible for all concerned.’
5. Make a list of all the items you will need. Have all items ready before the day, so that you are not stressed out before you get there.
6. Have extra topics/activities to do just in case interest is waning, you can quickly move on to something else. I always follow the motto, ‘Better to have too much than not enough.’
7. Have an activity for the children to do when they go back to class. Using what I did as an example: each class went back with a story outline on butchers paper that they would use as a springboard for their own stories. For the preps, I sent them back with a copy of my story that I had read to them. As the story is only a manuscript, I photocopied the laminated photos that went with the story, so that they could do a sequencing activity when they went back to class.
8. If you are close by, visit the school the day before to see where you will be, set up as much as possible, and check and make sure that all equipment works.
"The best author visits come from when the children at the school are prepared by the teachers for the author to visit."
Step 2: On the day
1. Have fun, relax and breathe. (All very important tips if you want to survive the day).
2. Crazy hats and props are good and getting the kids to join in the craziness always helps to engage with them. (I didn’t have a crazy hat, but I had a monster from one of my stories).
3. Make it fun, fast and crazy.
(Thanks Georgie Donaghey for the above three tips).
4. Get there early to make sure that you have everything, everything is working, and you have time to finish setting up before the first session.
5. Just be yourself. I’m a little quirky. I love sci-fi and fantasy. I love reading and writing. I have dyslexia, and I have a passion to encourage children that are struggling, for whatever reason, to want to read and write. This all comes out in the way I speak, and what I speak about.
6. Keep to your goal for the visit. For me, it goes back to the above. So, I share a little about myself and what I like to read. I also share my ‘learning to read journey’, and what I do now. I speak directly to those children that may be travelling a similar road, to encourage them. I share about my stories, as well as where the ideas have come from for each of them. Then I read one of my stories that is suitable for the age group.
My main goal was: I want to encourage just one child who is struggling to read, not give up and to keep trying.
7. Take rest breaks.
8. Chat with the children.
9. Chat with the teachers.
10. Bring your own lunch as the school may not provide you lunch.
11. When you get home, fall in a tired yet satisfied heap.
I found a great resource is on the PETAA website. They have a wealth of information along with some great links to further information.
Many of the above hints have come from there.
Another is a blog post on the SCBWI Australia and New Zealand website. This one includes hints and tips from panellists and SCBWI members, Peter Carnavas, Pamela Rushby, Charmaine Clancy, Prue Mason and Amanda Worlley. Here they kindly and candidly shared their experiences, as well as their ideas about how to hold successful author events in schools. Make sure to check it out.
Step 3: After the visit
1. Send a ‘Thank you’ email to the school.
2. Send a follow up email with a feedback sheet with no more than four questions as teachers are very busy. Some authors don’t bother with this. But I did as I felt that this would help me to be able to improve as this was my first visit.
Here is a link to a feedback form that I used.
3. Write down what you have felt about the day. i.e what worked and what didn't.
4. Gather feedback, as well as your own observations, and see how you can improve for your next visit.
Find some further tips on preparing for an author visit by Sue Lawson over on Sheryl Gwyther’s blog.
And if you are a teacher thinking of asking an author for a visit, check this blog post out on how you can make the most of the author visit.
UPDATE: July 2017. Jen Storer has written a great post on How to Survive School Visits.
I hope that this has been useful in some way. I love hearing from my readers, so feel free to comment and share.
Today I’d like to welcome Ester to my blog. Recently she tag-teamed with me to run an Author/Illustrator visit at Kosciuszko Street Primary School in Traralgon.
Since early childhood she has been an obsessive doodler. She still has old school reports with angry comments such as “it is impossible to read Ester's work as it is covered in scribbles!”
Growing up in Townsville, North Queensland, her imagination went wild with Enid Blyton's The Magic Faraway Tree and she obsessed over the details of the illustrations in the comic books Tintin and Asterix and Obelix, as well as the dark, elegant line work of Victorian illustrators such as Arthur Rackham.
Now, as a primary school teacher, she doesn't know who is more excited during storytime–the kids or her!
How many times have you done workshops with children in schools about illustration?
I did workshops at Morwell (Crinigan Rd) Primary School last year–also at OSHCare4Kids and I have taught elements of illustration informally as part of lessons in other schools where I have taught. Kids are amazed to discover that the illustrations in books aren’t just spat out of a computer program–someone actually creates them!
And there’s a big process to it–that’s another thing–it’s not instant! It’s fun to come into the classroom and not be the teacher–just have a bit of fun and give a bit of cheek–and let the teachers deal with behaviour management etc. As a teacher, I sneak in art anywhere I can–I have managed to get less confident kids to write by illustrating their stories in funny cartoons for every paragraph–good motivator – and it gives them a sense of their story being something worth sharing with others.
What was different about this one at Kosciusko Street Primary School?
This time I was tag-teaming, with you, Miss Meg! What was cool about this is that we are an author and illustrator team–so we were able to refer to each others’ work and how we are working together. One thing you and I have in common is a passion for inspiring kids to create–and that making stories is something they can do alone or with friends, and isn't just something you do in class.
What preparation do you do before the day?
Woooah... heaps! Illustration is a big process–and when you're demonstrating that process to all grade levels in a school, you really do need to show different things.
Schools are on a tight schedule so you have a small amount of time as well. I probably dragged the kitchen sink with me, because I wanted to show the kids the whole process, thumbnails, separating the text into pages, character sketches, and how you decide on the style and medium-(not in that order)–that's a LOT!
Everyone works differently. I am not a neat, systematic person, so my process involves messy scrap-folders of resources pictures, hundreds of very chaotic and scribbly draft ideas, and thumbnails that probably make no sense to most people at all (I am working on neatness...blah!)
I also wanted to show them the “bloopers”–that is, the pictures that don't end up in the book. They got a bit of a laugh out of those.
Years ago (when I was thinking about doing book illustration, I showed some early attempts to Australian author and illustrator John Winch while he was visiting the Australian Museum in Canberra. He commented “you seem to have a thing for bottoms–all your characters have big bums!” Funnily enough I realised that they do keep appearing–that gave the kids a bit of a giggle.
What did you do during the workshops?
I thought I showed them the process of illustrating a book, but looking back over the film footage, I realised that I leapt about like a hyperactive lemur, drawing crazy pictures while making odd sound effects... one day I will grow up...
How did the children respond to the workshops?
We had fun- lots of giggles and good interaction. Kids are an honest audience- they let you know if they are interested or not pretty quickly. I had a few children approach me during lunch to show me their drawings and stories, which is great–as the whole purpose for something like this isn't even so much to show kids how to write or illustrate, but to encourage them to give it a go themselves–like I said, to value their ideas and talents.
What was your favourite comment from the day?
Me: Does anyone have any questions about illustrating books?
Prep: My cousin has a guinea pig and his name is Charlie and he eats potatoes.
What has been some of the feedback from the day?
Cameron, Grade 5/6 teacher:
“Esters enthusiasm is infectious and her quirkiness was a real bonus. The students were absolutely enthralled by the detail in her fantasy pictures, and comments after the session had them thinking about how long they must have taken, and how many drafts it must have been. It has led to increased emphasis on illustrations for stories with varying sizes throughout the texts.”
Liz, Grade 5/6 teacher:
“Ester’s art work has inspired the students to illustrate picture story books after the workshop. All the students were very engaged and had lots of questions about Ester’s techniques, and they were in wonder of her beautiful art works. There was such a great variety - the students were blown away. They were really surprised at how hard an illustrator must work to illustrate a text by thinking out of the box and not just drawing the words - showing the students that the illustrations are their own text.”
Jacqui, Grade 2/3 teacher:
“The students were so excited that they couldn’t wait to get back to the classroom and begin their own illustrations. They were particularly excited to create their own ‘Imagine’ pages and everyone wanted to take home the amazing charcoal drawing they watched Ester create during the workshop!”
What are you currently working on for others?
I am seeing the first edits of Lily Fabourama Glamourama (Oh my gosh! Oh my gosh!) which I illustrated for Emma Mactaggart, the author of Imagine.
I am in my final stretch finishing a book for singer/songwriter Merelyn Carter (of country music duo Carter and Carter) called To the Moon and Back–Granny's Space Rocket Adventure. The book accompanies the music album To the Moon and Back–and it's going to be great! I ran the text past a panel of kiddy experts (a few primary school classes) for ideas on what they would like to see in the illustrations, so I can't wait to go back into their classes with the book and show them their ideas as a finished product.
Merelyn's grandma character is based on herself, and she's a pretty slim, foxy and glamourous kind of gran. But the gran in my illustrations is rather portly and wears spotty undies. One of my grade 2/3 “panel” at St Mary's Newborough pointed out that “being in zero gravity would be very good for fat grandmothers with arthritis!” (Important to note!).
I am also working on what I intend to be a beautiful, highly detailed heirloom-style Christmas book called Shop on the Corner by Joanne Creed. I finally caught up with Joanne at the Meet the Publishers KidsLitVic2106 Conference in Melbourne in early May, and she is an amazing writing talent. I am a details person and this is an opportunity for me to go crazy on detail- it's that kind of book.
Do you have anything that you are personally working on?
I have my own story, Gnerk, which is a long-term project. You can read about it on my website. Everyone has at least one thing that they must must must create- this has sat in me for years, struggling to find its own voice. I finally began to really find it while studying art in my thirties. I began trying to write “for kids” and found myself sounding trite and cutesy- (vomit!) when I chucked away the rules and just let the story tell itself (or was it that spider that took over? You'd have to read it to know that one!), that it really took on a personality of its own.
So, what is next for you?
You know exactly what, Megan! You and I are going to create the wonderful Raymund and the Fear Monster! Like Gnerk, it's been turned over and inside out many times, and it's beginning to take on its own unique shape. I have designed the monster (even I”M scared!!!) and have my big, messy collection of resources, scribbles, thumbs, character sketches... and of course our best resource- our panel of kid- experts to help us along the way!
Thanks for sharing with us, Ester. It’s been a lot of fun. I am sure that many people wonder about illustrators and what they do. It's been enlightening.
If you want to know more about Ester and her work, head on over to her website.
On my blog you will find:
You can find more about me, and read my children's stories at Creative Kids Tales
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