Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Cut and Slash and Stab Fearlessly

My role at Disney has given me a modest amount of insight to the process that occurs when creating Disney & Pixar animated movies. We moan and groan in the office about how the fluidity of their story creation process makes it hard for us to do our jobs, but the truth is, the willingness that the filmmakers have to uproot, erase, and disown their work is inspiring.

My previous position in the Parks & Resorts segment of the company shows a similar method of creative discharge. I was talking to an Imagineer one day, and he said, "If my old company ran the way that Disney does, they would be out of business real fast."

Disney makes more creative sacrifices in one day than most companies make in their entire existence. Over and over again, "good" is not good enough.

Filmmakers slash scenes that have been brainstormed, storyboarded, rendered, and animated.

Writers put aside drafts that are 95% perfect and start again from scratch.

Engineers design and mock up theme parks just to see if there's a better way to do something already being done well.

Teams put together entire initiatives with toys and books and media that someone high up the creative chain nixes in favor of a "different direction."

Artists create endless versions of the same character or pose on the chance that two degrees of elbow torque will hook viewers.

It's a delicate balance. One moment, you're committed to creating the best work possible. You're proud and you're confident. And in the next moment, you must accept that labor of love, that creative victory--it isn't good enough. You have to be heartless enough to stomp on it, to forget it, to not hang on. Because if you're stuck in the past, you're never going to make something good enough for the future.

Disney has been so successful because of what it's willing to leave on the cutting room floor. Other companies say, "Well, we've already invested money and time and talent in this; it's too late to turn back." And they make good products, and then they come up with another idea, and they create it, and it's another good product, and the cycle continues. But the Disney brand defines family entertainment.

If Disney believed in "good enough", The Little Mermaid would have been released around 1940, the first time the creative powers that be thought of it. Frozen was attempted at least three distinct times by the Studio (1940ish, 1990s, and 2008) before the wildly successful movie came together.

And as much as you say "Well, Disney has the money and the resources to risk losing a good idea for a great one," the truth is that they have the money to do that now because of the successes that have come out of risks in the past.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the world's first feature length animation, shown to a world who never thought that would be successful.

The multi-plane camera, fully synchronized sound in animation, audio-animatronics.

A theme park that redefined theme parks.

These things changed the landscape of entertainment. And to do a truly successful edit, you can't be looking at your project and asking yourself what doesn't fit in the landscape - you have to ask yourself if you can make a better landscape.

And maybe later, you can go back to that creative discharge on the cutting room floor, and maybe something still has a place. But if you're holding on, tight-fisted, to a character or a scene or a setting, you'll never be able to fully embrace a new vision - a vision that could shatter barriers and defy expectations.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Staying Healthy during Writing Marathons: Tips, Tricks, and Games!

So in case my Twitter profile picture & bio didn't tip you off, during my hiatus, I got kind of deep into fitness. The gym helped me keep my sanity during the stressful times. I'm starting as a trainer at my gym, as well as competing in three sports right now.

Gym-Taryn says hello! #checkoutmysnatch #thingsweightlifterssay

But it can be easy to put writing ahead of health. I'm sure I'm not that only one who's come out of a weekend at the keyboard feeling greasy and lethargic after the days of potato chips, candy, and take out. NaNo is a particular offender, as we tend to have a never-ending stockpile of Halloween candy come November.

But, with the right preparation, you can have words AND healthy food AND an exercised body!

These tips are targeted to those of you doing a writing marathon--sitting down at the keyboard for an extended period of time. Those who NaNo in little chunks here and there won't benefit quite as much, but hopefully you still get something out of this!

1. Prep Healthy Snacks

I've harped on the importance of being prepared before your writing sessions, but that extends beyond a general idea of what you're going to write. Rather than grabbing a bag of chips and some frozen dinners, spend a bit of time upfront!

Some ideas: hard-boiled eggs (peel these right after you make them, or if you're really lazy, most stores have pre-made, pre-peeled ones near the cartons), carrots, celery, grape tomatoes, berries, bananas, apples, rice cakes, Greek yogurt (with granola or fruit), deli meat, and cheese sticks.

Keep water, tea, and coffee accessible--don't start mainlining soda or super sugary drinks, as those will wreck your focus later on in the marathon.

2. Prep Your Treats!

Here's where your self control comes into play. The temptation of a treat is a great way to get your fingers flying to the next word count milestone. But you can't really be rewarding yourself with a pint of Ben & Jerry's every 1000 words--you'd die of sugar overdose before The End.

But if you love a particular kind of cookie (or any other treat, but for simplicity's sake, I'm just saying cookie), don't be afraid to whip up a batch. Then portion them out. I recommend wrapping each serving in a paper towel, then in plastic wrap, then in foil, then in a plastic bag, just so it's harder to "accidentally" eat more than one.

Decide on a word count that deserves that cookie. Maybe it's 1667, one day's worth of NaNo words. This should be something hard, so you're not eating the entire batch in one day. Then put all your cookies into a container with a label like "1667-word cookies."

Chase the carrot!

3. Stuck? Brainstorm effectively!

Many studies have shown that physical activity invigorates our brains. So rather than trying to solve your plot hole by staring at Twitter or looking for your character on Pinterest, go for a walk. It doesn't have to be far--round the block or to the other side of your apartment complex. Bring a notepad with you in case you are hit with brilliance.

If you live in a walkable area, combine your writer's block with productiveness: head to the grocery store or post office to do your errands, but go on foot. Sure, the round trip will take longer, but you might break through your wall.

4. 500*-Word Workouts

(*Or whatever amount of words works for you.)

Every 500 words, give yourself a quick routine that you run through. This'll get you off your butt (or belly, if you write on your stomach in bed like I do) and maybe even jog some ideas loose! It should be 1-5 minutes long and you can do it with however much intensity you like. If you were on a roll, get up anyway--maybe the excitement will get you moving through the exercises with high intensity, giving you a better workout.

Make sure this fits your fitness level--a beginner shouldn't attempt handstand push-ups for example. But no matter how advanced you think you are, there's always a bodyweight movement that is challenging!

How to put together a 500-Word Workout: pick 2-4 of the exercises appropriate for your skill level. Do 3-10 reps of each exercise, for 1-3 rounds. See? This is highly customizable*!

Here are some movements to get you started! Google, Youtube, and/or Pinterest have more complete lists, as well as movement instructions.

Basic exercises: Squats, lunges, sit-ups, V-ups, Russian twists, bicycle crunches, push-ups (knees or toes), burpees, planks, chair dips, jump roping if you have a rope
Advanced (some equipment may be required): handstand push-ups, pistols, jumping lunges, pull-ups, muscle-ups, un-assisted dips, double-unders

2 rounds:
10 squats
5 knee push-ups
:30 second plank

Then back to your novel!

You can also do this with a time component. So, rather than every 500 words, you drop a mini-workout every 20 minutes.

5. Story Workouts

We've all seen those Pinterest workouts that give you an exercise to do when something common in the movie happens.

Guess what? You can make one for your novel! This may take a bit more work upfront, but it's a lot of fun--and your list can grow as you go! Maybe you start with vague bullet points:

~10 squats every time a new character shows up
~1 minute plank for every kiss/make-out session
~10 sit-ups when a scene includes a meal

But as you go, you'll learn what's unique to your story, and you can add in customized points:

~16 lunges every time Jane says her catch phrase
~8 push-ups when John accidentally blows something up
~4 burpees when Megan lies

It's a great way to not only keep yourself engaged and alert, but it also keeps your characterization consistent!


What methods do you use to keep a healthy body during writing marathons, especially NaNo?

I'll be posting some 500-Word Workouts on Twitter if you want to follow along over the next few weeks, and if you need some help coming up with a 500-Word Workout or a exercises for your unique Story Workout, give me a shout--I'd be happy to help!

Friday, November 13, 2015

The Hiatus: an Apology

It's been over four months since I posted on Twitter. Longer since I posted a blog. About that long since I've been involved in any way, shape, or form with the children's publishing community.

I disappeared when things were very chaotic in my real life. When there was car trouble and chronic illness and a new city and barely keeping-my-head-out-of-the-water survival. Two months later, when things were good again--when I finally had my feet under me--my email inbox was well over 1000 deep, and I couldn't bring myself to open it.

We're two months past that, and I still can't bring myself to open it.

I know I missed a lot of important emails. I missed potential new clients. I left current clients in tough situations. I missed old clients celebrating agents and book deals and book releases. I missed 5 months in the lives of writers I've been following, been friends with, since 2011.

There hasn't been a day that I haven't thought of the writing community I left behind, but I was too scared to even open Twitter and lurk until today. (Apparently Twitter has "moments" now?) I didn't even know my website was down until today.

So . . . why today? What is giving me the courage to come back today?

Quite simply, NaNo. Some of you know that I am a huge proponent of NaNoWriMo. I've won the past 8 years. This year I had no intention of doing it. But . . . my sister sent me a screenshot of my bio, with the last 8 years highlighted in purple, and the "Lifetime Achievement: Total NaNo Word Count: 1,050,260" tallied, and I couldn't let that streak die.

Seeing it reminded me of why I started writing. Of how I got involved with the writing community. Of why I was so involved for so long.

And suddenly I realized that "3000 emails" and "5 months" weren't standing in my way. I was the only thing standing in my way. It was selfish and weak of me to ignore the 1000 emails two months ago and even more selfish and weak to let them continue to pile up.

This community is worth the discomfort of apologies to those my disappearance hurt, and realizing that has made me realize just how terrible leaving as I did was. I had responsibilities that I ignored, and I want to make that right.

I'm only 22. I know age is no excuse for this, but I've long counted myself lucky that I'm able to be a part of a community whose participants are not my peers. In writing and publishing, we may have similar experience, but I've benefited endlessly from the life experience, wisdom, and maturity that you all have brought before me, from Twitter anecdotes to heartfelt advice in private messages.

I messed up in the way I left, and I want to make it right. This is my big public declaration of that. Over today and the weekend, some of you will be getting private apologies as well, but if you don't want to wait, or think I've missed you, feel free to email me, since I'm sure I'll miss some things in the 3000 email pile.

But this return isn't all serious apologies! I am genuinely excited to catch up with you guys. Signed with an agent? Got a book deal? Had a baby? Moved across the country? Got married? Tell me!!! NaNo-ing? Become my buddy! Give me updates! I'm at a whopping 0 words, and I haven't written anything in like a year, so I'll need your kick in the pants to get me across the finish line and not break my streak.

Tweet your updates at me--or your questions! If they're more private, email me! I'm not gonna abandon you all again . . . at least not for another 4 years ;)

Monday, March 9, 2015

Form vs. Function: A Fitness & Fiction Metaphor

So I've been thinking a lot about literary and commercial lately. Part of this is due to my friendship with Brent Taylor (he's a new agent at TriadaUS--query him!), whose taste is decidedly literary, especially compared to mine. We rarely fight the literary-vs-commercial fight, but I've been thinking about it nonetheless.

Because--and here's the fitness metaphor!--there's a similar one in fitness.

This is powerlifter Caitlyn Trout. She's a world record holder in the 123 and 132 lb weight classes. She taught me how to deadlift a few months ago.

In fitness, there are bodybuilders and powerlifters. One trains for aesthetics. One trains for strength. I emphasize "trains for" because they're both working hard toward a goal.

This is Leanna Carr, a figure pro competitor. She helped me PR my squat.

(Sidenote: girls, if you pick up a weight, you're not gonna accidentally Hulk. This takes YEARS of focused diet & training. Also sidenote: bodybuilders only look like this for competitions. Their oompa-loompa skin is not a daily thing, and out of season, they aren't quite so cut.)

In the same manner, a literary writer and a commercial writer have different goals. The literary writer doesn't sit down to create a heart-pounding page-turner. The commercial writer doesn't sit down to explore the depths of the human condition.

In a lot of cases, bodybuilders end up strong and powerlifters end up cut (particularly in the lower weight classes). There is a lot of crossover. Both Leanna and Caitlyn above dabble in the opposite sport. In fiction, most books aren't 100% literary or 100% commercial.

Yet there's still a lot of cattiness between powerlifters and bodybuilders. I typed "powerlifters" into Google, and "powerlifters vs bodybuilders" was the second result.

That's because people have trouble understanding that other people can have different goals, no matter the medium. Here are some of the key differences between literary and commercial writers:

Literary writers:
1. More carefully craft the prose itself--its flow and overall sound
2. Include lots of symbolism; what's actually happening isn't necessarily the #1 important take away
3. Make the reader think

Commercial writers:
1. Prioritize the plot with strong goals, motivations, and conflicts--including generally high stakes
2. Want the reader to keep turning pages, as opposed to setting the book down to think
3. Use accessible themes to appeal to a broad audience

But I think we can all agree that these similarities are far more important:

Both literary and commercial writers:

1. Have goals.
2. Write a story with an eye to achieving those goals.
3. Work hard to revise that story to eliminate weaknesses.
4. Play up the strongest part of their manuscripts.
5. Appeal to the audience who will appreciate their manuscripts the most.

Both sides are putting in the work. The "work" just happens to mean something different. So stop turning up your nose at commercial writing or groaning with boredom at literary writing. They're both valuable and both take work.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

The Girl with the Green Pen: REVISED! & Query Reincarnation Contest


1. Email your query, as a word document, to between 7 and 8 p.m. Eastern on Tuesday, January 20th. Use "Query Reincarnation Contest" as your subject line.

2. Your query will be critiqued and returned to you within 7 days.

3. You will be entered into a drawing for a Reaction manuscript report. Details on my editing services page here. Manuscript does not need to be complete at this time; if chosen, you may redeem the prize until June 2015 or pass it to a deserving writer friend.

4. If you already have an agent, you may enter with your manuscript's first page.

Interested in booking a discounted service this week? Visit The Girl with the Green Pen and fill out the Submit form, or email directly.

Amazing art courtesy of client Whitney Gardner.


What else is new at The Girl with the Green Pen?

Exciting new manuscript report services! From a basic Reaction package, to a detailed Rehab service, together we can find the perfect partnership to give your manuscript the makeover it deserves.

Why the Revision?

Now that I'm officially graduated from college, I'm ready to make freelance editing my full-time job. Working with my creative clients through the process of publication is my passion, and I'm ready to devote even more time and energy to you and your dreams.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Revision Road Map

One of my clients, Alison Whipp, writes zany MG with wonderful, whacky science and high stakes. I love reading her books, I love chatting with her about anything and everything, but one of my favorite things about Alison is her revision process.  The second time I worked with Alison—the first time I worked with her on a full manuscript—she replied to my notes with a thoughtful, detailed excel spreadsheet listing my note, her comments on it, and how she planned to improve the element.

I nerded out. Here’s why I loved it and what you can learn from Alison’s detailed approach:

  1. Feedback is often detailed so you can best understand the problem. What Alison did in the first box was simplify the problem into one sentence. I may have spent a paragraph in my notes explaining why and where a character was out of character and the pros and cons of making said character one way or another. Your head is swimming. Taking that paragraph and simplifying it to “John Smith is inconsistent” makes it easier for you to swallow.
  2. Alison did not just make a laundry list of things to fix and dive into her manuscript. In the second box, Alison analyzed my feedback and reacted. This section involved things like “I included that scene because X, but clearly X isn’t working” or “Yeah, I thought Character Y would have to go but I was hoping I was wrong.”
  3. But in this section, Alison didn’t blindly listen to me. If I suggested she cut Character Z and she didn’t agree, she would say so. “I really love Character Z because A B C and don’t want to get rid of him. I see that you think he’s a problem and will brainstorm how to fix the problem without getting rid of him.”
  4. The key to this section, the interpretation section, was that Alison did not just say “Well, here’s why I did this.” She understood that if I spotted a weakness, then the story element, no matter how amazingly clever, was not portrayed on the paper the way she thought of it in her head. In a few cases, this section showed me what she was trying to do, and allowed me to get on board and offer a few thoughts on how to make that intention shine in the story.
  5. The third section was the section where she detailed her ideas for fixing the problems. Sometimes they were in line with suggestions in my notes. Sometimes, as mentioned in point 3, she wanted to go another direction. Either way, demonstrating her intentions in this manner, before folding them into the story, allowed me to give feedback on potential problem spots before she invested in a whole new draft.
  6. The advantage to writing up a Revision Road Map that incorporates your feedback is vast. It allows you to have a thoughtful, thorough, rational discussion of your story with whoever gave you notes, as well as make sure that you interpreted their thoughts correctly. This is something you can do with CPs, not just me or your agent or another freelance editor.

There you have it! One way to analyze feedback that can be a huge boon to your revision process. Have you done anything similar to this?