Tag Archives: writing

Irving Williams and the Lighthouse Ghost–part 4

I am experimenting and putting up this story as I write it.

 

Click here for part 3.

Click here for part 2

Click here to begin at part 1 

The sun was bright. The air was warm. The sand was hot. The sound of the waves was rhythmic.

Irving and his family wondered onto the beach, carrying towels, chairs, umbrellas and fishing gear. After several minutes of searching, they settled on an area near the walkway to the main street.

As soon as Lucas took his shirt off he ran toward the water.

Irving’s grandfather chuckled, “I see now why you have to put the sunscreen on before we go to the beach!”

“Yeah, it’s very difficult to wrangle him when he sees the water,” replied Mrs. Williams.

Irving took off his hat, shirt, and flip-flops and grabbed his boogie board, ready to sprint to the waves.

“You on the other hand mister are able to wait.” His mother handed him a blue bottle of sport suntan lotion.

“Put it on. Remember how painful it was last year when you got sunburned. It was no fun for you, and it was no fun for us.”

Irving hung his head, took the bottle, and lathered himself in white lotion.

Carrie covered herself in her own special sunscreen. She placed her sunglasses on her face and she laid down on her towel.

“Hoping to see Aaaadam!” Irving teased.

She looked up at him, “Are you hoping to see tomorrow?”

“You two! Just one day!” said their father. “Irving you’re covered in sunscreen, head onto the water. I’ll be there in a few minutes.”

Irving bolted to the water. He gasped at the coolness of the water, but he kept going. He jumped and put the board out in front and landed on the board. His body rose high into air as the first wave lifted him and brought him back down. We wiped his hair out of his eyes. He turned his board and began swimming back to shore. He looked over his shoulder for the next wave.

It came quickly.

It lifted his feet and legs up, and pushed his body forward. His arms worked fast to keep his board on top of the wave. He felt his legs going higher into the air. His right shoulder went under first. His body tumbled like in was in a washing machine. The water pushed him forward. He came up on the shore on his stomach.

He wiped his eyes.  When his vision cleared, two legs stood in front of him.

“You wiped out on the first wave of the summer?” said a voice from above Irving.

Irving looked up in a daze.  “Hey Alec!”

Irving stood up. He wiped the sand off of his face, and shook Alec’s hand. “My grandfather told me you and your brother were in town this week.”

“We got here this morning.” Alec replied.

“Where’s your brother?”

“I don’t know. Probably looking for girls.”

Alec looked over his shoulder for his brother Adam.

“My sister will be in an even worse mood if she sees him talking to other girls,” Irving replied.

Alec laughed.

He lifted his boogie board and looked at Irving, “Now, let me show you how this is done.”  The boys raced back into the ocean to catch the next wave.

The many things to learn from Neil Gaimen–Ideas for writers and other artists.

I published my first book in 2013.  It was a children’s picture book.  

At that time I thought I would keep writing picture books.  I felt out of sorts when my second book was not a picture book.

But then I learned about Neil Gaiman.

He does everything.

neilgaiman1

I knew that he had written Coraline.  I had read the book and seen the movie and liked it a lot.


Then I saw him appear on Youtube with a wonderful commencement speech.

And an amazing speech at Bookfest in 2013.

Then, I read American Gods.


Wait?  The guy that wrote Coraline is the same guy that wrote American Gods?

How is that possible?

Then it seems he writes many other things.

He takes the time to write short stories.

 

Hold the phone–

He began his career writing comic books.

 

And before that he was a journalist.

And it was as a journalists that he learned to write fast and under a deadline.

What I did was work as a journalist. It forced me to write, to write in quantity, to write to deadline. It forced me to get better than I was, very fast.

Oh, and P.S. he didn’t go to college.

HE. DIDN’T. GO. TO. COLLEGE.

And yet he has an honorary Doctorate.

Oh, and now he does audiobooks.

Yes, his books aren’t made into audiobooks.

But not only that….He narrates them.

Seriously,.

And he does pictures books

Now he’s just showing off.

My favorite book of his is, Fortunately the Milk.

Just wonderful.  I remember reading it and thinking “Man, this is the book I wanted to write.

(Seriously I can’t recommend this book enough.  Just pure joy from start to finish.)

Here’s what I learned from reading his books and reading about his career.

  1. Write many different things.

  2. Learn to write fast.

  3. Be creative in different domains

  4. Enjoy the process of writing.

I’ll leave you with his eight rules of writing.  Very beneficial for anyone trying to write.

  1. Write
  2. Put one word after another. Find the right word, put it down.
  3. Finish what you’re writing. Whatever you have to do to finish it, finish it.
  4. Put it aside. Read it pretending you’ve never read it before. Show it to friends whose opinion you respect and who like the kind of thing that this is.
  5. Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.
  6. Fix it. Remember that, sooner or later, before it ever reaches perfection, you will have to let it go and move on and start to write the next thing. Perfection is like chasing the horizon. Keep moving.
  7. Laugh at your own jokes.
  8. The main rule of writing is that if you do it with enough assurance and confidence, you’re allowed to do whatever you like. (That may be a rule for life as well as for writing. But it’s definitely true for writing.) So write your story as it needs to be written. Write it ­honestly, and tell it as best you can. I’m not sure that there are any other rules. Not ones that matter.

Check out my post about Neil and the need to market like a dandelion.

Also check out my latest book:

 

What to do when you have no idea what to write about

When you don’t have any ideas.

I had dinner with some friends tonight. One friend, like many teachers, has always wanted to write a children’s book.  But she says she doesn’t have any ideas.

There is the mistake.

Most people who want to write but don’t, make a fundamental mistake.  They wait for the idea first and then they begin writing.  This is wrong.

Wrong.

Louis L’more said “In order for the water to flow you must first turn on the faucet.”  Or something like that.  I’m not looking it up.

In other words, come to the paper (or computer) first, then you write.  Then come the bad ideas, and then later come the good ideas.  But it is, always, first write.

When I decided to try and write a children’s book, I had no idea where to start.  So I did what any good teacher does.  I gave a writing prompt.  When writing Kevin and the Seven Lions I sat down at the computer and wrote several sentences as writing prompts.

Kevin slept in class.

That was the sentence that started the Kevin series.  That sentence didn’t make the final book, but it started the whole thing.

Here are some of the other sentences I wrote

Bobby rounded third and slid into home plate.

Sally was a shark.

I am still thinking about the shark book.  The baseball reference above I don’t think has anything to do with Baseball and Aliens.  But just writing down words.  ANY WORDS.  Got the ball rolling.

When you are completely stuck my recommendation, just write a sentence.  Any sentence.  Put your fingers on the keyboard and let the fingers talk.

Seriously any sentence, and see what happens.

If you are stuck.  Write your sentence.

Trust me on this.

 

P.S.

Get this blog post early, free short stories, and my next book for free if you join my Insider’s List.

Four reasons why teachers should write books

This is an updated post that I guest posted over at AJ Cosmo’s blog.  Check my interview I did with him a year ago.

I am a teacher.  I think more teachers should write books.  They just should.

Cats.  Internet.  I win.

Cats. Internet. I win.

Here are four reasons why.

 

1)      Writing a book is hard

 good-writing-is-hard-work

 

Even in this new world of indie publishing, with the gatekeepers falling away, completing a book is still hard.  I have seen teachers tell me they have an idea for a book, but as time moves along-no book.

A colleague told me she always wanted to write a book, but she had no idea of what to write.  Another one apparently started, but never finished because the illustrator was an unpaid family friend who didn’t complete the work.  So the project was abandoned.

Finishing a book is hard.

Which is exactly why it needs to be done.  When you finish such a difficult task students will look at you differently as a teacher.  Your colleagues will look at you differently.  Your boss will look at you differently-with more respect.

 

2)      You will inspire your students

 

This past year I taught fifth grade.  After sharing illustrations and rough drafts with my students, they all were inspired to write their own books in class.  During literacy station time, a lot of students spent time creating illustrations and writing their own stories.

There was a whole series about Zompires in my classroom.  What is a Zompire?  Why the combination of a zombie and a vampire. Apparently zompires don’t eat your brains, they just suck your blood.  But you need garlic and to cut their heads off to stop them.  I liked reading about Zompires.  I would actually have to remind students to work on other projects outside of making books.  I had a whole chart up in my room about it.  Too much book writing, nice problem to have as a teacher.

As a side, I teach in a high poverty school with a lot of English language learners.  These aren’t students with lots of books in their house.

See my link about my first fan fiction.

 

3)      You will bring added value to your career

 

I taught first grade for several years.  In Virginia, the fifth graders are tested in writing.  I published a book.  Boom.  I got moved to fifth grade.

Moving from first to fifth was a challenge.  But I enjoyed the challenge.  Having experience at first and fifth brings me a lot of value.

Teachers teach read reading and writing.  With a book a teacher will bring credibility to their lessons, students and colleagues will respect you more.

When you write a book, BAM!, you’re an expert.

School administrators need experts in their buildings and their classrooms.  Write a fiction or a nonfiction book, doesn’t matter, put it out in Kindle and paperback format and you are now an expert.  You’re an author.  You’re officially different.  And different in a very good way.

4)      You will experience a tear in the space-time continuum

Space time continum

What! You say?  Stay with me.

Early in the year I ordered classroom copies of two of my books, Kevin and the Three-headed Alien, and Dolbin School for the Extraordinary, and put them in my class library.  The students competed on who would read each book first.

During one lesson, the students were to get out a book we were reading.  One student was reading one of my books.  He didn’t put my book away.  I instructed him again to put away other books and get the book we were working on.  He still didn’t comply.  He was more interested in reading my book.  I was so confused.  The writer in me jumped for joy.  The teacher in me was frustrated.  My body was split in two over the meta-physical problem that was occurring right in front of me.  Seriously.  Who has this problem?

Who has students who would rather read books written by their teacher, as opposed to books the school system tells them to read?  I do.  I have that problem.

I love having that problem.

I want you to have that problem as well.

 

P.S.
One of my books Dolbin School for the Extraordinary is free for a couple of more days.  Check it out.

P.P.S. Join my mailing list to be the first to know when my new picture book comes out.

Captain America 2 and the indie writer

I caught Captain America last Friday on its opening day.  Marvel has a thing going now.  They have broken out of the linear prequel-sequel story lines, and now they have an entire universe to play-in.  All of the other Avengers were mentioned in the movie, yet they didn’t appear.  At the end of the credits we get a notice, a la James Bond, that Captain America will appear again in Avengers 2.

.Captain America 2 Winter Soldier Poster

Actual Comic books made from paper have been doing this for decades.  Movies based on comic books have only recently caught onto this idea.  I think Disney is also about to take the Star Wars franchise down this road as well, with a new trilogy on the way and then two other side movies in the off years.  (As a side note Disney, I am available for any parts…)

Cool poster.  If you know who did this let me know so I can give proper credit.

Cool poster. If you know who did this let me know so I can give proper credit.

But as writers without corporations or committees needing to be appealed too, writers, and indie writers in particular could really do well with this approach.  The general wisdom on the street is to write in a series.  Well, why limit ourselves to a linear series.  Create a single world and write all about it.  I have thought about it.  I have three books about Kevin.  Maybe I could spread the universe out a little and write about one of his friends, and have Kevin be a sideline character.  I have no idea what I would do, but again this is a possibility.

Maybe we need to stop thinking linearly, and thinking about whole universes.  After all, we create.

 

The math behind getting creative stuff done.

Looking at my posts I realize that I have been neglectful of this blog over the holidays.  Thanksgiving, Christmas and work responsibilities can get overwhelming.  But stuff still gets done.

In 2013 I put out three books for children.  I have a lot of teachers ask how I was able to put out three books in the past year, while also teaching.  First, let me say that there are other writers that are able to get more work out than I have this year.  I try not to compare myself to others in how much work gets down or how successful it is.  But I fail at that.  I am human.  I compare.

Maybe that is why teachers ask me how I have done it, they’re comparing themselves to me.  So here goes my plan.  And it is very simple.

Maybe I am stealing from Tim Ferris here.  I don’t know.  He advocates a 4 hour work week.  I am not even suggesting that much for a side project.

15 minutes a day.

That’s it.  That’s my goal.

15 minutes a day equals 250 words.

Just 15 minutes a day.

Just 15 minutes a day.

During a normal day I teach 5th grade.  That alone is enough.  Lesson plans, meetings, parent conferences, grading.  You know, teaching.

Then there is family time.  I have a two year old in the house.  I want to spend as much time as possible with her during this time.  So I do.

But if I set a goal of 15 minutes a day I can get stuff done.  Not blazing fast.  But stuff gets done.  And that’s the goal.  Get stuff done.

Here is the math.

For my writing speed, 15 minutes is about 250 words. 250 words is about half a regular sized paper.

With 250 words a day you can have the text to a picture book in 4 days.

With 250 words a day you can have a rough draft of a 10,000 word early chapter book in 40 days.  (At that rate you can have 9 rough drafts done a year.)

With 250 words a day you can have a rough draft done for a 50,000 word novel in 200 days.

But 15 minutes is the minimum.  Most of the time I go over that 15 minutes.  You get in the flow of writing and you can’t leave.  Before you know it, you have 500-1000 words in front of you.  But aim for 15 minutes or 250 words.  Set yourself up to win.

If you set yourself up, to say, I am going to write 1,000 words a day.  Well.  You write only 750 words.  You’ve failed.  Set a goal of 15 minutes a day and you can easily surpass your goal daily.

What happens when you set a goal and you consistently fail at it?

You stop trying.  You’re human.

What if you set a goal and consistently surpass it?

You keep going.  Before you know it you find that you are creating on a regular basis.

In order to help me with my goal, I am writing this on the first laptop I have ever owned.  It is my hope that the laptop will help me get more writing done.  I won’t be stuck to the desktop to get work done.  So far it seems to be working.

But ultimately we are busy.  We have work, family, friends.  But small chunks of time really begin to add up.  Before you know it you have a work of art that you can be proud of.  All while holding a day job, with family responsibilities.

The math examples are directed at writing, but the concept can be used for any sort of creative side project, photography, illustration, design.

And what happens when you finally publish that first picture, chapter book, or novel?

Well, your life changes.

And it changes for the better.

Teachers Should Write More Books

I know that several of you that follow this blog are teachers.  I also know from talking with you online and in person several of you are trying to write your own books.  And several of you have just thought about writing books.  If you have just thought about making a book but can’t think of an idea.  Get over it, start writing ,and make a book.  It will make you a better teacher.

Write a book just to see it here.  Trust me.  (P.S. image not from  my school library)

Write a book just to see it here. Trust me. (P.S. image not from my school library)

After years of teaching first grade, I was moved this year to teach fifth grade.  I was surprised that several of my students did not know about my Kevin books, because the first one is in our school library and it was mentioned on the school announcements.  I know.  How do they not know!
So recently I brought in a copy of Kevin and the Three-headed Alien, and I wrote the book with third graders in mind, but these 5th graders were competing to read one of the copies I brought to class.  A lesson learned is that in can be very hard to narrow a children’s book to a very specific age group.

Three-Headed Alien Paperback-1
My class asked if everyone could get a copy.  What a wonderful request.  A request that I cannot afford.  (Some how people seem to think I get the books for free.  Cheaper? Yes.  Free? No.) But with two copies in the class students have a waiting list to read the book.  You are missing out if you never experience that as a teacher.

To alleviate stress in the class I changed my lesson plan, (don’t tell my admin) and did a shared reading lesson on my own book.  I read the first chapters and the students made connections with the text.  They made personal connections with the text and made connections with other texts.
As a writer this is unbelievable access to how your market is connecting with your work. As a teacher I have engaged my students more. Now they are creating their own books in class. One student told me they were going to upload their book to Amazon. Engaging your students and inspiring them to create their own work is why more teachers should be writing.

P.S. I have another book out soon.  It would be great if you joined my mailing list.  If you are on the list you will get news of the new book first.  Don’t worry I don’t spam, I am too busy.  Click here to join the list.  Thanks!

P.P.S.

Seriously, people go write those books.

Great Resources for Indie Publishing

I’ve talked to a few people in the last 48 hours who have mentioned they are reading this blog for ideas on how to publish their book.  I figured a better way maybe instead of me doing all the writing, but instead share what I have read and am currently reading.

Books

APE, Author-Publisher-Entrepreneur came out after I was well on my way finishing the first Kevin book.  It covers the whole process from the writing, to the publishing, to the marketing part.  It is written by Guy Kawasaki, who a major tech player, having once been a Chief Apple Evangelist and himself has over 1 million twitter followers.

One thing I disagree with him on is a social media presence.  He suggests getting that started before anything.  I wouldn’t agree with that.  Write your book, but also work on developing your audience, which could include a large social media following.

But still the best book on the whole process from beginning to end.

This is another entry in how to publish.  David Gaughran is an Irish writer who has a great blog on the subject.  His book doesn’t have as much on the promotion end as the Kawasaki book does, but still tells you step by step what to do.

Be the Monkey, doesn’t really tell you how to publish, but it does the best job explaining about what is going on in the publishing world.  Both writers are best-selling authors with traditional contracts who have gone the indie route.  That alone speaks volumes of the publishing industry.

Websites and Blogs

Here is a list of some great blogs by writers who are doing the indie publishing thing.

James Altucher’s writing is what got me to thinking about self-publishing.  He has books published both traditionally and self-published.  This post from 2011 is probably what got the ball rolling for me.  His blog is wonderful for things beyond writing.  It was his blog where I discovered the phrase “choose yourself.”  But that’s for another post.

Let’s Go Digital is David Gaughran’s blog who wrote the above Let’s Get Digital.  Great info about the industry and how to get your name out.

Failure Ahoy is the blog of Edward Robertson who has several self published scifi books out.  He does an unbelievable job digging into the nitty-gritty of the Amazon store’s algorithm.

Dean Wesley Smith is a former traditionally published author who now indie publishes.  (Noticing a pattern?)  He does online workshops for people, which I have not done, but his experience that he passes on is great.

A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing is written by Joe Konrath who helped write the above Be the Monkey.  See this post on his blog about a writer who used to publish thrillers through Harlequin but now does them on her own.  See where I am going with this?

Barry Eisler apparently used to be an actual James Bond, expect that he is an American.  And has been writing spy novels for years, now he has taken back the rights to his books and published them on his own.  Great resources here.

Hugh Howley is the writer of the Wool Omnibus Edition (Wool 1 – 5) (Silo Saga)
.  His self published series has been bought by 20th century fox to make into a movie with Ridley Scott directing.  So there you go.

Anyway that is what I currently reading about this new world.  The online community is very helpful.  I am also a part of the A.P.E. community on Google+.  Great community.

I am making this whole thing up as I go, and the more we share together the better.  We are all in this together.

P.S. yes the above Amazon links are affiliates, I make a little money if you buy through those links.  That doesn’t make a bad person, other things do.

Step 3 Tell People You’ve Written a Book.

The next step I took was telling people I wrote book.  I didn’t tell anyone at first because I had never done this before.  I mean who am I to think I can write a book?  No one from New York or London had ordained me a writer.  Who am I?

The simple math is that you will sell zero copies if you never tell people.

There is more than gaining sales when you tell people, you also earn respect.

Here’s the honest truth I didn’t even tell my wife at first.  I mean she had read an early draft of the book when I first wrote it several years ago.  But didn’t even tell my wife that I had hired an illustrator and was finishing a book.  Yeah, that’s the kind of husband I am.
But after I got around to telling her, I used Facebook to publish a few illustrations from the book to tell everyone.  Carla’s illustrations made it look like a legitimate book.
By publishing the pictures people actually began to be interested in the book.  It took me by surprise.

As if by some divine intervention Disney bought Star Wars, and the news covered my Facebook feed for the evening.  So I decided to jump on the wave and post the pictures the same evening.

My first press release.  A full 10-12 weeks before it was ready.

My first press release. A full 10-12 weeks before it was ready.

In some ways it would seem that telling people that you’ve written a book would be obvious. But telling people about a new project, especially something you’ve never done before, is a learning experience.
Telling people that you’ve made a book changes your life. And it changes it in ways you didn’t expect.
I received various questions from “where did you get the idea”, “who published you?”, “how did you do it?”
I was unprepared for the questions, in many ways I still am. But I realized if you not only write a book, but also format it, get a cover, and put it out there then you’ve done more than most people, and that separates you from the rest of the crowd.  They will want to know how you got there.

Okay, you’ve finished a book, and put it out there.  You have done what thousands of people have wanted to do, but never got around to doing it.

So go ahead and tell people, you’ve earned it.

Step 1. Just start writing.

As people began to ask me about writing Kevin and the Seven Lions, several people said “Oh, I’ve always wanted to do that!” or “I want to do that but just can’t come up with an idea.”  The best advice I can think of for ideas, is just write.

 You want to write a book.  So write.

That’s how the book was born.  I just started writing.  This sentence came to mind “Kevin slept in class.”  That was the sentence that I first wrote down.  For the longest time the story didn’t have a name.  The story just sat in my hard drive as “Kevin slept in class,” because Word saves the first sentence of anything you write as the title until you change it.  “Kevin slept in class” as a sentence didn’t make it into the book, it was changed along time ago in some editing phase.  But the book was started by one simple sentence.  Don’t make it a big deal.

I know it sounds slight and condescending to say “just write.”  But it is what I learned in this process.  Don’t over think it, don’t think about what would the kids want to read or your audience.  Write what you would want to read.  Write for you.

Writing your own made up story should be fun.  If it isn’t, for crying out loud, stop.

Okay I’ve written something, but doesn’t someone have to publish it?

I originally shopped my story around to different agents and publishing houses.  More than anything I just wanted to learn how querying agents worked, maybe I could get some feedback.

I got nothing.  I lost count after contacting 20 or 30 something agents and houses.  It was a lot of work keeping track of who I sent the manuscript to and looking for people to send it to.  It was too much work, a spreadsheet was involved.

But now in the 21st century there are no more gate keepers.  

No one is going to come down from on high, lay hands on you and ordain you a writer.

And that’s a good thing.

If you are a teacher, like I am, you read a lot.  Reading a lot helps with writing.  Stephen King wrote in his book “On Writing” that writers need to read, a lot.  I read a lot of children’s books.  I mean a lot.  On an average, vanilla day, I read four different picture or story books.  That quickly adds up.

It is this math of books that lead me to writing a children’s book, as opposed to say a spy novel.  I do read lots of James Bond books, but I read more children’s books.  Lots more, it is a consequence of my job.

All that should help people that want to write a book, to well, write a book.

What if no one buys it?

So what if no one reads it.  Upload it to Createspace make a paperback and bring it with you to an interview, and automatically you stand out more than the other people competing for the same job.

Post it on Amazon, and then order a copy from Amazon.  Having the UPS man drop off one of those boxes with the smile on it, with YOUR book inside, is an awesome feeling.  I know, I took a picture of the box before I opened it.

Kevin and the Seven Lions in Amazon Box

Knowing that your book is inside of Amazon box is a pretty cool feeling. You should try it sometime.

But step 1 is, just start writing. The ideas will come.