Sunday, February 5, 2012

"Deliberate Practice" is More Than Just Practice

The idea of "deliberate practice" has been around for years, but it's become something of a buzzword lately. You've heard the drill: you need to put in 10,000 hours of work, or about 10 years of focussed practice, to achieve expertise in anything -- from writing poetry to throwing darts. Which is why your writing mentors are forever telling you to write, write, write. Because the more you write, the sooner you'll become a master of your craft, write? I mean, right?

Well, not exactly.
I've just finished an astonishing, hopeful book called The Genius in All of Us, by David Shenk. Shenk argues that we all have far more capacity than we give ourselves credit for; that through focussed application we can all become very, very good at what we dream of doing -- not only that, but we can, like the London cabbies he writes about -- actually grow our brains. The whole idea of "talent" is a red herring. People are not born with talent -- not Mozart and not Ted Williams. They became legends because they practiced really, really, really hard. But here's the real kicker:

Shenk says these arrows should actually
be pointing in the same direction

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Turning Up the Tension

Last person to identify
this movie still is a rotten egg.
The annual Florida SCBWI conference in Miami has to be one of the best kid lit conferences in the country: witness the many writers who whizzed down last weekend from Canada and New York to attend. I spent an intense day Friday in a novel workshop with agent Marietta Zacker and Y/A author Dorian Cirrone; we covered a lot of ground -- from writing tag lines to penning the novel's climactic scene, so I'll share just a piece of what we talked about when it comes to ratcheting up tension in your novel and keeping it high.

This is one of Dorian Cirrone's tips; she had ten in all. Keep an eye out for Dorian as she makes the round of national conferences. She's a pleasure to spend a day with. Her book Dancing in Red Shoes Will Kill You is available from Harper Teen.

1. Ramp up your dialogue

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Working to Write

Paradoxy has been dark for many weeks over the holidays -- but not necessarily because of the holidays. My news is: I've accepted a full-time editorial job in the education industry. And what does this mean for my fiction-writing schedule -- or my blogging schedule -- you might ask?

Got to get up early in the mornin'
It's an interesting conundrum: how to make a living while investing in your fiction writing career. I personally know one young adult author who, after signing a three-book contract with an excellent Y/A publisher, is back to looking for full-time work. The common advice: Don't quit your day job...just yet applies even to writers with a signed contract in hand. According to lit agent Jessica Faust, fewer than ten percent of fiction writers make a living solely by writing books.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

5 Reasons to Drop In on the Agent Auction

One of the most exciting writing events of the year took place yesterday, but that doesn't mean it's over for you.

Miss Snark's First Victim blog runs a yearly Bakers' Dozen Agent Auction, and it's one of the best ways I know to get a read on publishing industry trends, particularly in Young Adult fiction.

60 aspiring authors 
(middle grade, young adult, and adult) submit log lines and their novels' first 250 words. Sixteen well known literary agents bid on the submissions, offering to read 5, 25, 50, 100, 150 pages, or the full manuscript. The agent who bids highest "wins" a first look at the ms. And the author, of course, "wins" a read by an agent.

This year's auction was fascinating, on a lot of levels. You need to hike over there and have a look at the comments on submissions, written by both readers and agents, and in some cases by editors. Here are some global judgements, based on this small sample:

Thursday, December 1, 2011

NaNoWriMo: Post-partum thoughts

That's me in the red hat.
I fell 1800 words short of my 50,000-word goal for my first ever NaNoWriMo. Which is totally okay--no, really! I got so much out of doing this I don't know how to express my gratitude to the organizers. Here are four things I loved about my foray into this terrific exercise. And then three things I didn't.


1. I realized I really can write 2,000 (good) words per day. Before NaNo, I considered a 1200-word day really spectacular. And I didn't do it that often. Certainly not every freaking day. This month I learned that I can whip out 2,000 at a sitting, feel good about what I've written, and still want to go for a jog afterwards. I plan to keep doing it.