Some Writing Resources and a Blog Hiatus

Summer is coming! That means it’s time to take a blogging break (actually, since it’s quite a while since I posted, it may seem that I’ve already been taking one. I hope this post will make up for that, a bit at least.)

Before the blog goes off on its vacation, I’d like to share some resources with you. Some you may already be familiar with, others may be new to you. This is just a sampling of the plethora of resources out there. I hope you’ll find something helpful in the ones I’ve shared in the links below.

Websites:

KidLit411 has been named Writer’s Digest’s top kidlit blog for another year! It’s a well-deserved honor. The brainchild of Elaine Kiely Kearns and Sylvia Liu, KidLit411 is a one stop shop for all things related to the world of writing and illustrating for kids, from the littlest ones to the oldest readers of YA. If you ever are looking for resources, links, information, advice about writing or illustrating for kids, go to KidLit411 first.

Susanna Leonard Hill is an author who truly believes in giving back to the writing community. She is the driving force behind Perfect Picture Book Friday, she hosts a weekly opportunity for writers to hone their pitches with Would You Read It Wednesday, she has fabulous writing contests throughout the year (which are pretty much world famous 😉 ) and as if all that weren’t enough, she posts writing advice from time to time in Oh Susanna, and the list goes on.

Tara Lazar isn’t just active in January when writers join her StoryStorm challenge to come up with story ideas. Tara’s blog runs year-round, and has tons of information for writers. Check it out!

Emma Walton Hamilton is a very busy woman, and doesn’t have time to blog as often as she used to, but her blog archive is a treasure trove of writing advice for anyone writing picture books, middle grade novels, or YA novels.

The Writer’s Lesson Book is a new-to-me website that fits right in with the use of mentor texts that I’ve been posting about this year. The subheading of the blog says it all — Tips for Writers from the Books We Read.

Fiction University with Janice Hardy is also a treasure trove, for writers of any genre for any age. Her posts cover the full gamut of writing advice, advice about getting an agent, publishing tips — you name it. I recently worked through Janice’s Revision Workshop, and it was an excellent in-depth month-long course that I know I will benefit from for the rest of my writing career.

Magazine:

I mentioned Writer’s Digest earlier in this post. If you’re not already reading this bi-monthly magazine about all things writing, then I urge you to start. It’s available where magazines are sold. I’d also urge you to find back issues at your library, if your library carries it. I keep my issues and often refer to them. Their website is also a fount of information.

Facebook Groups:

KidLit411 also has an excellent Facebook Group where writers and illustrators can find support, information, and encouragement. From their own description of the Group: “A Facebook group of children’s writers and illustrators run by the founders of the website www.Kidlit411.com. Share your information and kid lit news and join a fun community. They also have a manuscript swap group and a portfolio swap group.

StoryStorm has a year-round Facebook Group as well, focusing on all things kidlit during the months that the challenge itself isn’t happening. From the description on Facebook: “A discussion group for writers participating in STORYSTORM every January.As I said, though, the discussion ranges over a variety of topics related to writing, just as Tara’s blog does.

Children’s Book Hub Facebook Group. I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention the Facebook Group that Emma Walton Hamilton and I co-administer. It, too, is intended to cover all things kidlit. From our description: “This private group is for established and aspiring children’s book authors, illustrators and editors. It is intended to facilitate news and discussion about all things pertaining to writing and publishing books for children and young adults.

There are so many other resources — I could go on and on (and on). Come back next fall, when I’ll share more with you in the new blogging year. Until then, happy summer, and happy writing!

 

Making a Mad Dash — or is it a Hyphen? A Grammar Owl Post

Although the difference between dashes and hyphens may not seem to fit neatly under the heading of grammar or word use, the Grammar Owl and I are in agreement that formatting is very important when creating a manuscript, and learning the difference between dashes and hyphens is part of that.

They’re just little lines, aren’t they? What’s the diff which is used?

They are indeed little lines, but they differ in length and in purpose. Whether you’re submitting your manuscript for consideration by agents and/or publishers, or you’re self/independently publishing, using the appropriate little line at the appropriate time helps to make your manuscript look professional.

There are actually three types of those little lines: the hyphen, the en dash, and the em dash.

Huh?

Hyphens are the shortest, the most common, and are the ones we learn about early in our schooling. They are used to join two (or more) words, such as end-to-end or Smith-Smythe. There are never spaces around hyphens. They like to touch the words or letters they are joining.

As we see from the definition found at the Purdue Owl site (I wonder why the Grammar Owl chose this reference?), hyphens “connect two or more words (and numbers) into a single concept, especially for building adjectives.”

They are used to connect phrases like two-year-old girl, or world-famous opera singer. This tells us that the words must be considered together in modifying the noun that comes after them. You can’t leave out year, and say the two-old girl, and although you could have a locally famous opera singer, you’d not be likely to encounter a world opera singer. So, to show that world and famous are one concept, hyphenate them. (The opera singer will be grateful.)

Hyphens are also used to stand in for the word to, such as writing “the book is intended for ages 9 to 12” as “the book is intended for ages 912.” And while we’re on the topic of numbers, they must be used when you’re writing out numbers above twenty: twenty-one, forty-three, ninety-seven.

However, hyphens are NOT dashes. Dashes join two clauses, or set a phrase or clause apart from the rest of the sentence. Dashes like space around them. They don’t like to touch other words the way hyphens do. And dashes are always longer than hyphens.

Because of the way computer programs often automatically create hyphens, it isn’t easy to illustrate the difference in length between dashes and hyphens, but I shall give it the old Owl try. (“Whoooooooooo are you calling old?” I hear from the nearby barn window.)

Hyphens are one short line, touching the words on either side of them.  –  side-by-side

An en dash is the shorter dash (but still longer than a hyphen). It’s like two hyphens together, and in some computer programs (including some versions of Microsoft Word), to create an en dash, type word space hyphenhyphen space word. If I did that in my version of Word, with regular words and spaces, you wouldn’t see the two hyphens one after the other, you’d see the finished product.

An em dash is a slightly longer dash. It looks like three hyphens stuck together. Just to confuse the issue, some versions of Word, as well as Scrivener, turn two hyphens into the longer dash. Sigh. —

There are rules regarding when to use en dashes and when to use em dashes (of course — there are rules for everything!) I won’t try to list them all here, but I suggest you read this post from the appropriately named Dash Hyphen website for more information.

The Owl and I hope this has helped you understand the difference between hyphens and dashes.

And now, if you’ll excuse us, we must —

A Different Take on Mentor Texts

I have a very short post for you today, but I hope it will give you something to think about as you continue to read to learn about writing.

Last month, I talked about choosing books in the same genre and even the same topic as the one you’re writing for the mentor texts you use.

Sometimes you may be surprised, though, and will discover a mentor text in a style, genre, topic or category that you would never think of writing. So last month’s post isn’t everything there is to say about mentor texts. Keep an open mind, and be prepared to find mentor texts anywhere.

As an example, I don’t write adult mysteries or police procedurals, but I love to read them as recreational reading. Lately I’ve been reading the Mars Bahr series by Minneapolis writer K.J. Erickson.

I found myself thinking as I read the second book, “I would love to take a writing class from this woman!” She is masterful at creating and describing setting vividly. Her characters are well-crafted and believable. Those elements carry across into any type of fiction one might write. (Note that my assessment of the second book is a bit different to the reviews I’ve linked to.)

As the Publishers Weekly review I linked to says (of the first book), “The writing here is so flawless, the tone so true, that the reader wholeheartedly enters the world of Mars Bahr and others. Well-chosen details about Minneapolis’s history and the politics in city hall enhance the setting; a strong, precise style and deftly handled transitions make the book sheer pleasure to read.”

Although, lamentably, there’s no writing class by K.J. Erickson, I plan to go back and re-read her series to study how she creates such vivid settings and true-to-life characters.

So be alert, even when you’re just reading for fun. If you find an author who is particularly good at characterization, or plot twists, or any other aspect of writing craft, consider taking some time to analyze why their technique works, and how you might adapt it to your own writing.

Happy reading! Happy writing!

Novel-Revision Workshop Coming Up at Janice Hardy’s Fiction University!

Do you have a first (or second or third) draft of a novel manuscript? Are you unsure how to proceed with your next draft? Do you find the process of revision daunting?

Many people struggle with revision: how to evaluate their draft, how to deepen the character development, how to enhance the plot arc, how to deal with comments from critique partners — how to bring all the necessary elements together to make a successful finished manuscript.

There are many ways to address this. I’ve recently learned about one that intrigues me, and I thought you might find it interesting and potentially helpful, as well.

Janice Hardy is a novelist and has also authored many books on writing. She has a website called Fiction University that is a treasure trove of information and assistance for writers. Her blog offers posts on various topics pertaining to writing, guest posts from experts, and “real-life diagnostics” that look at passages from actual manuscripts and discuss how to improve them.

Beginning on March 1st, she’s offering a month-long, FREE at-home workshop called Revise Your Novel in 31 Days. If you sign up to follow her blog, each day you’ll receive the next post in the workshop’s revision process. She assures potential participants that if a step takes longer than a day, that’s fine — you go at this at your own pace, despite the workshop’s title.

It’s a chance to get some expert suggestions on how to proceed with your revision, try them out, and continue the process throughout the revision of your next draft.

It sounds like an excellent opportunity to dig deep into revision — and you have to admit that the price is right!

You can find out more about it at this link: Revise Your Novel in 31 Days.

Happy writing! Happy revising!

On Your Marks — A Grammar Owl Book Recommendation

Have you ever heard an owl chuckle? They do. Well, to be accurate, what sounds like a chuckle usually expresses annoyance, but our Grammar Owl is definitely chuckling with amusement today. (To hear what an owl chuckle sounds like, listen to this.)

He’s been reading a delightful book called On Your Marks: A Package of Punctuation by Richard Armour, a poet and humorist.

The book is out of print, but it’s worth looking for (I found it in a small town library — I am grateful for our wonderful library system that makes books available all over the province, free of charge.)

On Your Marks is a light, poetic look at the most familiar punctuation marks and the way they are used. In each poem, the particular punctuation mark is written in red. Here’s an excerpt from one of the poems (in italics, just to indicate that it’s a quotation):

The Dash

How dashing the dash is
So straight and so narrow,
It aims at a word like a spearor an arrow
And luckily hasn’t a point at one end
Or it might
Just by accident
Puncture a friend.

Although light verse, the poems do give guidance in how to use the various punctuation marks, and when not to use them, as well. For example, the poem above ends with this explanation and warning:

It’s used to gain emphasis, vigor, a touch
Of surpriseand it’s alsoby some
Used too much.

See why the Owl is chuckling?

Sometimes a little lightheartedness goes a long way to helping us remember what we need to know as writers. I hope that if you are able to find a copy of this book in your library, that you’ll enjoy it — and learn from it — (there are those dashes!) as much as the Owl and I have.

Vital info:
Title: On Your Marks: A Package of Punctuation
Author: Richard Armour
Publisher: McGraw-Hill, 1969.

If you’re not able to find this book, check out Eats, Shoots, and Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynne Truss. Also fun, though not in the same style as On Your Marks at all, Eats, Shoots, and Leaves covers a lot more territory (and is, admittedly, based on British English usage, so some standards will differ from those of American English.) Her website looks like fun, too.

Happy reading! Happy writing!