writing resources

The Vermont College of Fine creative writing program is the first MFA program in the country to focus exclusively on writing for young readers, the MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults. It was founded in 1997 and quickly attracted the attention of accomplished writers and publishers around the country. For more information or to apply, visit the VCFA website.

I am so incredibly blessed that I found this creative writing program and met my Allies in Wonderland. This low-residency program allowed me to keep my job and still live in DC while attending five 10-day residencies in Montpelier, Vermont, for lectures and workshops. I then complete regular coursework through online correspondence with professional writers. I learned from Newbery/Printz/Coretta Scott King recipients, National Book Award winners, children's literature scholars, and an Officer of the Order of Canada.

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Founded in 1971 by a group of Los Angeles-based children's writers, the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators is one of the largest existing organizations for writers and illustrators. It is the only professional organization specifically for individuals writing and illustrating for children and young adults in the fields of literature, magazines, film, television and multimedia. For more information or to join, visit the SCBWI website.

As Lisa Yee says, going to SCBWI events is like finding your tribe. SCBWI is the best place to meet people who just get it. And it's not all about writing--it's about every aspect of the industry. They offer writing support through conferences, educational resources, newsletters and critique groups.

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National Novel Writing Month is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to novel writing. Participants begin writing November 1. The goal is to write a 175-page (50,000-word) novel by midnight, November 30. For more information or to register, visit the NaNoWriMo website.

Writing a novel in a month is intense to say the least. It takes an incredible amount of time, stamina and creativity. My biggest problem during NaNoWriMo isn't keeping the ideas flowing, but time management. So I follow these five simple rules:
  1. Breaking it up during the day. I try to get about 400 words during my lunch break so I don't feel so overwhelmed when I get home.
  2. Make bedtime sleep time. I make sure NaNoWriMo is not the last thing I do before going to bed. When my head hits the pillow, I don't want my mind to be racing with things I want to put on paper. So I watch a TV show, read a few pages or talk to a friend before hitting the sack.
  3. Only enter in word count once a day. It's like the watched pot never boiling. When I'm worried about hitting my word count, it seems to take longer to get there.
  4. Don't try to "make it up." If I fall behind in my word count, I can't spend the next day trying to make up for it. Some days the story comes a little easier for me and some days it doesn't. I just have to let it happen.
  5. Turn off the internet! There is no greater time-suck than the World Wide Web. When I'm writing, I can't be checking e-mail, playing games on Facebook or mapping the fastest route to the nearest ice cream place.
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The amazing Laurie Halse Anderson started the Write for Fifteen Minutes A Day challenge back in 2008 to get people writing. Every day. Yes, every day. For a solid month. The Pirate Code of Writing:
  1. Commit to write for 15 minutes a day for the entire month of August.
  2. Just do it.
It's that simple. So get writing!

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Writing about Writing
There are countless books for writers out there. These are a few of my favorites.

Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking by David Bayles and Ted Orland: I need to read this book about once a year to remind me not to be too hard on myself nor to fall into complacency with my writing.

Writing Magic by Gail Carson Levine: I love the format of this book with practical advice, specific examples and writing exercises. It might have been written for kids, but it's great for adults as well.

Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose: Analytical reading doesn't stop outside the classroom. If you aren't paying attention to what you're reading, your writing will never improve.

Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass: This book will blow your mind and get you actually thinking about what you're writing. Get the workbook version for an intense writer's course.

Characters and Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card: We are so caught up in the "high-concept" pitch that we often forget even amazing plots aren't sustainable without even stronger characters and voice.

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott: Does art reflect life or life art? They truly go hand in hand.

Narrative Dynamics: Essays on Time, Plot, Closure, and Frame edited by Brian Richardson: Be forewarned that this is a textbook, an advanced collection of lectures on narrative time. I learned a ridiculous amount reading this book, but it was difficult to wade through.

A Poetry Handbook by Mary Oliver: A great guide to writing poetry.

The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease: Every book should be read aloud, and every child (whether two months or 90 years) should experience the joy of being read to.

100 Best Books for Children by Anita Silvey: Know the market. Know what's out there and what works and why it works. You can never be too well-read.

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Grammar and Usage
Don't depend on Wikipedia to answer all of your grammatical questions--it might help when you're in a bind, but it's not always accurate and clear. Keep in mind that grammar and style rules are constantly changing, so update your reference books often. While sentimental attachment comforts the soul, it won't do much for your writing.

Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary: I'm particularly fond of this dictionary as it's specific to American English, is updated often, gives detailed word origins and has plenty of usage variations.

The Associated Press Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law: I have a journalism background, so the AP Stylebook is my constant companion. Some of the rules might seem strange at first, but once you begin to understand that media writing is all about getting to the point in the most direct way, it will become second nature.

MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers: Lucky for me, I also have a strong background in academic writing. I learned to love this book and its straightforward guidelines for writing. It's also the best resource for citations ever written.

The Chicago Manual of Style: With not much experience in technical writing, I probably use this one the least often. But with the influx of web-based publishing, this book will become more and more important to professional writers.

When Words Collide: A Media Writer's Guide to Grammar and Style by Lauren Kessler: I don't know what to say about this book other than it's brilliant.

The Elements of Style by William Strunk and E.B. White: This is the definitive grammar and style reference book for journalists. Everything I know about writing for papers I learned from Strunk and White. And thanks to this amazing book I read by White as a kid (Charlotte's Web anyone?) I tend to trust them for my fiction writing as well.

Plain English Handbook by Martyn J. Walsh: I know I'm kicking it old school with this one, but I haven't found another grammar books that is so practical, well organized and easy to understand. This book saved me more times than I can count during high school and college English classes.

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