Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Enter to win a free critique from the Manuscript Maven!

by Kim Van Sickler

I met Sharon Mayhew online. She was working with agent Terrie Wolf and ran two back-to-back manuscript contests on her blog: S.K. Mayhew, Kid Lit Writer: one seeking MG story submissions and another seeking YA. I submitted the historical fiction Muleskinner to the MG contest and contemporary Snatched in Gullybrook to the YA one. 

Sharon took an interest in the edgy Snatched in Gullybrook. She selected it as the recipient of a first chapter critique and stayed in touch afterwards. When I revised the book and decided to self-publish, she asked for updates. I sent her an electronic version of an advanced reader copy and she wrote a glowing review and posted it on Goodreads. Not only that, but she bought a copy to give away in her own blog contest.

You can't get a better cheerleader for your work than Sharon.

And now you can feel some of that love too. Sharon has decided that agenting isn't what she wants to do after all. She'd rather polish manuscripts than all of that other stuff agents need to do, and that works to our benefit. Sharon has become The Manuscript Maven

Read what Sharon has to say about her career move here.

For your own chance to win a critique from The Manuscript Maven, leave a comment below. A random winner will receive a critique/line edits for the first 250 words of a picture book, the first seven pages of a novel, or  a query. You have until December 3rd to vie for this prize.

Best of luck in your new venture, Sharon! 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Storyboarding 101

by Melissa Kline

A few years ago at our 3rd Swagger Reunion I was having some difficulty organizing a work in progress. I had too much going on – side stories, unnecessary characters and a weak plot overall. So I decided to get creative and try storyboarding the novel with various colored paper. The process helped tremendously! After seeing what I had to work with using the storyboarding method, I had an organized story and focus on exactly where to go with it.

Since then, I’ve experimented with various ways of storyboarding and now host a workshop where I explain these different methods and how to use them. I wanted to share some of my ideas and ways of getting creative with the storyboard process.

Collage: Use poster board, magazine clippings and printouts to create visual inspiration. Try to convey the entire book and its overall storyline on one large board. Arrange images of characters, settings, situations, (don’t forget the drama!) and events. This is a very fun and creative way to better understand your book and its characters. 

Timeline: Use charts, graphs or just basic timelines (from elementary school) to organize your story’s plot, peaks and important events. This is especially useful if you have various dates, seasons or even years to keep track of.

Maps/Family Tree: If you have a novel with extraordinary settings – made up worlds, lands or complex landscapes, you may want to consider using maps as a visual reference. Many books include maps of their made up lands/clans/houses, so consider the possibility of including it in your book for your readers. The same concept applies if you have several ancestral lines, families or clans. Keep track of them with a visual family tree.

Sticky Notes/Colored Paper: Use colorful bits of paper to organize/clarify your overall storyline. Use specific colors to identify characters, settings, situations and important events. The greatest thing about this method is that you can move the paper around and play with what works. This is an oldie but goodie.

Bonus: All of these creations can be proudly displayed in your writing space to fuel inspiration. :)

Have you ever had to use the storyboarding method? What techniques do you use? I’d love to hear about it!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014


by Kathy Cannon Wiechman

As a writer of historical fiction, I have certain responsibilities. I have to work hard at research and make historical events and details accurate. I have to put a reader into the time and place I write about.

I also have the responsibility to tell an engaging story, to create characters a reader will care about, and use the best words possible to make that character live and breathe. The plot has to be believable and filled with turn-the-page moments. When readers pick up a book, they put a certain amount of trust into an author’s ability to make the read worth the time they invest.
For all my years of writing, I have tried my best to live up to these responsibilities. But the readers I originally hoped to reach have moved on, and a new group of readers has filled their chairs. I didn’t have readers yet; I had hoped-for readers. But I tried to write as though my stories would be read.

After I signed the contract for my Civil War novel LIKE A RIVER, I began a new set of revisions for my editor. I also received a check for the first half of my advance. People were investing money in me and my book. I finally had something that could actually reach those hoped-for readers. Talk about responsibility. It made me tackle those revisions with a new awareness of an author’s true responsibility.
LIKE A RIVER will be released in a few months, and readers can decide if I have lived up to the trust they and my publisher have invested. It is not something I take lightly.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Pass the Carving Knife, Please

by Kim Van Sickler

IWSG Badge
The first Wednesday of the month is for IWSGers. Go here to learn more.

I didn't start writing seriously until I was laid off from my job eight years ago and decided to cross book writing off my bucket list. Like many other writers, I discovered that writing a story worth reading is extraordinarily difficult and time consuming. It's a delicate mix of patience, focus, and skill made exponentially better through trial and error. I got my writing groove on.
My newest dog, Ghost, requires not only a daily walk, but also lots of "Me" time.

But my groove required time to exercise AND walk the dog, care for my family, and volunteer for my kids' activities. Plus quiet time to roll plot lines and characters around in my head like worry stones.
My new job!!!
Then last month I started working full-time again. In a job that all of my volunteer work naturally led to and I'm happy to be doing. A job that I planned to find time to write around.

I haven't found time to sit down and write anything new besides a blog post since.

This month I've determined to carve out writing time for myself a few days every week. I've got to. Bits and pieces of my next book are flitting around my head like light-starved moths. Ass in chair, words on paper. My mantra for November.

To those of you who work full time and still manage to write, you are my role models.

Now, tell me how you do it.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Spook-tacular Halloween Writing Ideas

By Melissa Kline

Design-A-Costume. This is a great exercise for a writing group or class. Pick a partner and “design” a costume for them while they do the same for you. Write about the details – what it looks like, its function and where the costume might be worn. Then share your designs and why you think it’s the perfect getup. As an added exercise, draw the costume with color and details.

Speed Candy List. Set a timer for 1 minute and list as many candies as you can. If you are in a group setting, compare lists to see who has the most listed and which candies are most popular/rare. Then write a short story and incorporate as many candies as you can without listing them.

Potion Concoctions. Come up with the most creative magical potion that you can think of. Write about its purpose - what it does when used for good…or evil. What does your potion look like? Does it have a scent? Color? Texture? Is it made up of various items or just a few? Don’t forget to give your potion a name! Group Bonus: Fill a bunch of jars/bottles with colored water and let each member choose a “potion” for inspiration.

Character Doodles. You will need a few sheets of paper and at least two people for this exercise. Fold paper(s) in thirds. Each participant draws a head on top half first, then passes and draws torso. Pass one last time to draw the legs. Do not let anyone see your doodles until they are complete and don't forget to include continuation lines. When characters are complete, unfold and reveal your kooky creations! Use your creatures as a writing prompt or discussion piece.

Do you have any Halloween inspired writing exercises you’d like to share? I’d love to hear about them.

Happy Halloween, Friends!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014


by Kathy Cannon Wiechman

Three years ago, a group of 8 friends at a Highlights Foundation Writers’ Workshop started this blog. It was the brain child of Kim Van Sickler, and Kim has been the main member to keep it afloat.

Since its inception, one member has left to deal with enormous health issues (We love you, Grace!) and two members left to begin their own inspirational blog at City Muse/Country Muse. A few others only occasionally put in rare, but welcome, appearances when their busy schedules and inspiration allow. But Kim has gone out into the blogosphere and developed a following, and always manages to come up with a post when needed, no matter what.

When Swagger began, I couldn’t envision being able to write new posts on a regular basis. After all, I was busy with ideas for novels and short stories. So were all the other Swaggers. But over the past 3 years, I have written more than 100 blog posts, some of them on topics delegated by blog hops. Others were inspired by events in my own life, like getting a publishing contract for my debut novel LIKE A RIVER (due out April 7, 2015 from Calkins Creek). I have also told stories from my childhood, that had been tucked safely in a file drawer inside my mind.

Life has thrown many things at all of us, those kinds of things that Life throws, things that could end a blog’s existence. But Swagger survives—and thrives.
                                Happy birthday, Swagger!