26 August 2014

Teen Writing Opportunity: Oklahoma Youth Poet Laureate

I’m excited to be serving as a judge for the Oklahoma Literary Arts Alliance’s new program: the selection of an Oklahoma State Youth Poet Laureate! This is a brand new program, and it looks like it will be a really exciting one.

Here’s some info from the OLAA website:

During the months of August, September and October of 2014, OLAA will accept submissions from young poets, rappers, leaders and activists ages 14-19 from across Oklahoma who are interested in representing Oklahoma as the inaugural OK State Youth Poet Laureate. A group of esteemed judges will choose 12 Finalists, all given the distinction of “Oklahoma Youth Poet Ambassador,” and we will select one teen to be honored with the title of “OK State Youth Poet Laureate.” Along with winning the prestigious title of “Oklahoma State Youth Poet Laureate,” the winning poet will also win a book deal from Penmanship Books to publish their first collection of poems, as well as a library tour.

They’re accepting a wide variety of work—from written to performance poetry. The deadline is October 20th. For the complete rules and application process, visit the Oklahoma Literary Arts Alliance’s website.

I wish Oklahoma had had something like this when I was a teen. (Though, honestly, poetry has never been my strongest genre. But still, I would have applied!) If you’re a teen writer in Oklahoma, it’s definitely worth checking out.

7 August 2014

Flashback: To Be a Writer, Be a Reader

Since I’m migrating my blog from my old livejournal account to my new website, I thought I would repost a few of my favorite entries here. The old blog will remain up, but I’ll be posting all new material here from now on.

Originally posted on November 5th, 2012

I was once part of a conference where we were hosting one-on-one editing sessions: blocks of time where the editors had done critiques on short stories and novel sections and then sat down to talk to the writers about them. As one of the editors, I was talking to a woman about the manuscript she had turned in. Sadly, her story wasn’t great—tons of clichés, poor writing, etc. To try to get a handle on what she was going for with it, I asked her what she liked to read. Her answer: “I don’t read very much.”

I was completely flummoxed by this. Because for me, wanting to be a writer without first being a reader is like someone who hates eating wanting to be a food critic for Bon Appetit. Just as someone who doesn’t like food probably won’t be able to tell a good recipe from a bad one, a writer who doesn’t read the work of other writers won’t have the tools to tell good stories.

So here are a few pieces of advice I give everyone who wants to be a writer:

Read. To start with, just read, because any reading that you’re doing is ultimately going to make you more sensitive to style, pacing, character development, and all the other tools you’ll need in your own writing.

Read widely in your genre. Want to write a YA science fiction novel? Read other YA science fiction novels. Same goes for mystery, romance, fantasy—whatever you’re writing. When you read in your own genre, you learn a lot of useful things. How long do these sorts of books tend to be? Does the age of the narrator matter? What are the general rules and tropes of this genre? (Because you can’t break the rules until you know what they are.) What’s already been done here—and what’s been done to death? In short, really know the genre you’re writing in. Believe me, readers can tell when a writer doesn’t have much familiarity with their genre.

Read in genres that you’re not writing. While it makes sense to read in your genre, reading outside it might sound counterintuitive. But it isn’t. Different genres have different strengths and reading outside your own genre will let you tap into those. Also, reading outside your genre can get you thinking about your book or stories in new ways. When writing The False Princess, for instance, I read mystery novels to see how they balanced between parsing out clues to their mysteries and holding them back—how they gave readers enough information to make their big reveals make sense without giving them away too early.

Didn’t like a book? Figure out why. So you’re reading a book and not liking it, maybe enough to put it down right now. Or you read a book to the end and thought, Wow, I won’t be recommending that to anyone. This might seem like a waste of your reading time but, as a writer, it actually isn’t. Whenever you dislike a book, take a moment to figure out why. Was the style clunky? Did the characters act out of character? Was the end too easy or neat? Was the villain unmotivated? If you can figure out what turned you off to a book, you can make sure to avoid those same pitfalls in your own writing.

Short version, for me reading is the first step to becoming a writer (and possibly the most important after “actually write something.”) If you’re already a big reader, you’re on the right track; just make sure that you’re reading critically, and thinking about your own writing a little while you’re enjoying yourself. If you aren’t a reader, but want to write, head down to your library or bookstore. You’ll be amazed at how it changes your writing—for the better.