Night Buddies - Adventures After Lights Out

4 Ways to Prepare for NaNoWriMo

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Halloween is almost here, and while some get excited for costumes, trick-or-treating, and scary movie nights, most writers out there will tell you that the best part of Halloween is when the clock strikes midnight…and NaNoWriMo officially begins!

Every November thousands of writers come together with one common goal—to write a 50,000-word novel (or start of a novel) in one single month. It’s crazy. It’s audacious. There is more coffee consumed in one month than the rest of the year combined. But it’s also a time to start making your novel-writing dreams come true, no perfectionistic pressure allowed! (more…)

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Writing Tip: How to Complete NaNoWriMo 2016!

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Before we get into this week’s blog post, I want you to know that I am running a giveway through this Friday, October 28th, where you have the chance to win a complete 3-book Night Buddies set! Enter on my Facebook page here.

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Well folks, we are only one week away from the most hectic, exciting, and difficult writing event of the year—National Novel Writing Month. That’s right, all across the globe writers are going to be taking on the challenge of writing 50,000 words in 30 days during the month of November, and I want you to be prepared to reach this milestone in your writing life! If you follow these guidelines, prepare to be a NaNoWriMo winner… (more…)

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Writing Tip: Commit To Your Projects

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People often talk about writing a book as similar to giving birth to a child. You conceive the idea, spend many months forming it into existence, and then birth it out into the world to develop a life of its own. While that metaphor makes sense to me, I’ve always looked at writing the Night Buddies series a little differently…

Writing a book is like entering into a long-term relationship.

You fall into head-over-heels love with your book idea, and jump into a relationship with it. You spend long nights alone together, you envision a long and prosperous life together. Maybe you’ll become a New York Times bestseller. Maybe this book will allow you to quit your day job. This book is “the one,” and it’s about to change your life forever.

But when you’re a few months into the writing process, that puppy dog love starts to wear thin. You start trying to put some distance between you and the book. “I’ve worked on it enough this week, it’s time for a break.” You get into arguments, the plot holes start to show themselves. You realize your book is actually going to take a lot of work, and it doesn’t look so pretty and fun anymore. You might start to resent your book; you may even start to hate it.

But that’s the thing about long-term relationships—they require commitment. You have to keep showing up for them even on the hard days. You have to resist the pretty new people (or book ideas) that come along and try to tempt you away from what you know deep down is actually working. And the more you commit to it, the more it prospers and develops into something beautiful, and yes, something potentially life-changing.

The only way to ever complete a project and try to see your big dreams come true is to finish what you start. You can look up every writing tip in the book, but it won’t matter how well you write if you don’t commit to writing your projects through to completion.

Commit to writing your book through until you type the words, “The End.” Commit to editing that book until it reads exactly right. Commit to working on your book until all the kinks are smoothed out. Savor late nights alone with your project. Remember why you originally fell in love with it. Don’t give up on it, even if you send it out into the world and it gets rejected, or poorly reviewed, or ignored. Keep committing to it every single day, and you will see the benefit of that commitment change your life.

You’ll get to hold your finished book in your hands and think, “That was the best commitment I’ve ever made in my life.

Do you prefer to think of writing as birthing a child or committing to a relationship? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

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Q&A Series Part 2: Advice for Aspiring Authors

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One question authors get asked all the time is, “What advice do you have for someone who wants to write a book?” or “How do I get a book published?” So for today’s Q&A, I thought I’d share my answers with any of you aspiring authors out there!

The really true, and absurdly simple, answer to the question, “What advice do you have for someone who wants to write a book?” is just to write one. That’s the great and difficult thing about writing…it doesn’t take a special degree to do it, it takes the discipline of sitting down every day to write your book until it is finished. And if you have a story you want to write, the greatest thing you can do it to let that desire drive you until the last word has been written.

That’s the best piece of advice I have—tell a story that matters enough to you that you will be motivated to finish it. When I decided to write Night Buddies, Crosley and the other characters had been living both in my head and in my son’s life for so long, telling the story so they could come alive for other children was motivation enough for me to finish it. Each book in the series has been driven by that motivation, and I’ve become a published author because I wanted to tell this story so badly.

So if there’s a story you’re dying to write, that’s all you need to write a book. Don’t let anyone fool you into thinking you need anything more to make that dream come true.

The harder question, and the one I think most people really mean when they ask how they can write a book, is how do they get it published. There are an endless number of answers to this question, but what it truly boils down to is research. You need to decide whether you want to traditionally publish, or self-publish your book, whether you want to try for an agent, and whether you want to hire an editor. If you want to self-publish, you need to decide how much you want to budget for that, what you want your cover to look like, if you want a print book or ebook, how you want the interior design to look like, etc. I personally decided to self-publish my books, in part because it meant that kids could get their hands on it much quicker than if I had to go through the long, traditional publishing route.

So how do you get your book published? First of all, write the best book you can. Work on it until the manuscript sings, and get some second opinions too. And then, research how you want to do it. Whichever way you decide to go about it, I promise that publishing a book is one of the most rewarding experiences you’ll have!

What other questions do you guys have for me? Keep letting me know either in the comments or via social media!

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Writing Tip: Sweat the Small Stuff

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Now that most kids have gone back to school, we writer-parents have a little more alone time on our hands to get back into a writing groove. Which is why I thought now would be a perfect time to share a few writing tips over the next few weeks with you!

I’ve given and been given a number of writing tips over the years—I think, as writers, we are always seeking the expertise of others to consistently improve our knowledge of the craft. But so much of the writing advice out there focuses on helping writers through big scenes. They focus on making big plot decisions, on structuring your novel, on getting your main character just right.

And while all of this stuff is MAJORLY important, I’d like to tell you all today that good writing pays attention to the small details every bit as much as it focuses on the big plot points. Don’t let any part of your book remain insignificant…even the smallest scene needs to count.

The scenes you might think need the most attention are the ones where a mystery is revealed, a character dies, an explosion happens, etc. etc. But what about the scene where your character is talking to his mother? What does that scene have to do with your story? What does it reveal about your characters or the way the view the world?

Small details, like the weather, or the time of day, or what the air smelled like, will also significantly improve your story once you really focus on them. Details ground us in stories, and they are every bit as important as the big plot point that drives the story forward.

The point I’m trying to make is that there are NO parts of your story that should slip by you as unimportant, or even as less important than something else. Make a decision to pay attention to every word you write down. Make everything count. And I promise, your story will be the better for it.

What small details do you like to pay attention to in your writing? Are you a fan of writing the details? Let me know in the comments!

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Q&A Series Part 1: Where Do I Get My Inspiration?

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First off, I have some exciting news! At the most recent American Library Association Conference, all three of my Night Buddies books were proudly on display! You can see them there at the bottom of the shelf. Just want to say a MAJOR thank you to ALA for that amazing moment and photo opp!

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I was recently looking through my Goodreads page (for any of you who want to give me a follow, follow this link) and noticed that there are so many questions people have for authors like myself. So I thought it would be a great idea to start answering some reader questions here on my blog! Once a month I’m going to be answering your questions, so feel free to start sending them my way via Twitter, Facebook, or Goodreads and I’ll make sure to answer every single one of them!

To start this new series off, I picked one of the most commonly asked author question: “Where did you get the inspiration to write your books?”

The truth is, inspiration—for every author—comes in a multitude of ways. But for me, the biggest reason I had for writing the Night Buddies series was my son, John.

As many of you know, I was a single father, and John and I had to find ways to entertain each other during our time together. What started out as reading stories before bedtime quickly escalated into creating our own stories, with our own beloved character…the red crocodile Crosley. After John had grown up, I wanted to find a way to keep our memories and Crosley alive, and share the stories we invented together with other young children who might enjoy them just as much as we did. And so, the Night Buddies: Adventures After Lights Out series was born.

Some other inspirations include the fact that I am a lifelong lover of books and reading, so the opportunity to write stories and help other people fall in love with books was a huge part of my decision to become an author. Stories by Roald Dahl were another inspiration; his imaginative worlds and the way he wrote for children have always inspired me as a children’s author.

And that just about covers it! Let me know via social media or in the comments below what questions you want answered next!

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Camp NaNoWriMo: Thoughts on Writing Books

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When you usually hear the term “NaNoWriMo” it’s equated with a marathon-sprint of writing that takes place in the month of November. Anyone in the world can sign up to the challenge of writing a 50,000 word book in a single month (this comes out to just under 2k words a day), and thousands—perhaps millions—of people finally have the excuse they need to get that book in them out onto paper.

And for the summer-loving folks, every July a spin-off event with the same rules called Camp NaNoWriMo takes the writing world by storm again, causing many authors and aspiring authors alike to ask the question, “Should I participate?”

This event has plenty of supporters, and some of those who participate go on to have their original NaNoWriMo project published as an actual book (think, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, which sat on the NYT bestsellers list for 7 weeks). But while many are quick to shout NaNoWriMo’s praise, there are a fair chunk of individuals (and authors) who despise the event as well.

Why, you might wonder, would any event that encourages people to write—and write a lot—be a bad thing?

Now, I’m not a participant of the NaNoWriMo events, and probably never will be (2k words a day sounds more like a nightmare to me than an exciting challenge). But I’m not a critic of the process either. Those who oppose it typically use the argument that writing fast equals writing crap—but I don’t think anyone who completes their 50,000 word first draft in 30 days would disagree with that when they look back over it to edit.

What those critics forget is just that—in order for a first draft to become a book, it will go through many, many rounds of edits.

Some authors prefer to take their time when writing their story. They prefer writing in slow, deliberate chunks to let the magic of their made-up world really soak into them. But other authors get bored if their first draft takes too long to put down on paper, needing a challenge like NaNoWriMo to get them out of their “perfection” brain and just write the story. In either case, editing will be needed.

Writing a book is a long process. One that takes longer than 30 days, no matter how you look at it. But if you’re participating in Camp NaNoWriMo this month, you’re taking a giant leap toward getting that finished manuscript in your hands, which is something to be celebrated!

Are you participating in Camp NaNoWriMo this month? Let me know what you’re working on in the comments!

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4 Parts Inspiration. 1 Part Caffeine.

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I’m very pleased to announce that this week we are featuring a post from author Laurie McKay about where she finds inspiration to write. 

One of the most common questions asked to writers is “What inspired you?” I never thought too much about inspiration until after I finished my first book and was asked that very question, but I wished I’d thought about it sooner. Now that I have a better understanding of what inspires me, I can tap into those resources when I get lost on a page or can’t figure out the next plot point of my work-in-progress. As such, here are a few of the places where I’ve found inspiration. May they inspire you as well.

 

1. STUDYING CRAFT

I own about fifty books about writing. Some of my favorites are the Writer’s Digest Collection: Beginnings, Middles, and Ends, Character and Viewpoint, Plot, etc. I find inspiration (and motivation) in studying writing, in learning more about craft, in discovering more about my strengths and weaknesses as a storyteller. Learning about writing – whether it be in a book, in an article, at a writing conference – makes me excited to write and gives me new ideas and techniques to do so.

 

2. FAVORITE STORIES

Analyzing stories – the parts I liked and the parts I didn’t – is inspiring.

One of my favorite movies (also one of the first books I ever read) was The Wizard of Oz. You know, a girl is transported via tornado from Kansas to the magical land of Oz, meets some friends, fights a witch, finds a wizard. Then she returns home with some shiny red shoes and a new perspective on everything.

But what do I like about The Wizard of Oz?

I like that a character from one world travels to a new one, that she’s a fish-out-of-water. I like that her dog, Toto, is along for the adventure. Honestly, I like that she has magic shoes.

So maybe in one of my stories my character should travel from one world to another? Maybe they should have an animal friend? Magic footware – why not?

In my book VILLAIN KEEPER my main character, Caden, travels from one world to another. His magnificient stallion, Sir Horace, comes with him. He doesn’t have magic shoes but he does have an enchanted coat.

That being said, my book is nothing like The Wizard of Oz. It takes place almost wholly in North Carolina, the characters are in foster care, and it’s a contemporary fantasy complete with dragons, magic, and middle school.

Also, I think it’s good to think about what I like and what I don’t like. Writing is subjective and hard work, and if there is one person who should truly love my story, it’s me.

 

3. FEELINGS

There’s a part in my second book, QUEST MAKER, where my characters Caden and Brynne are being chased through a pitch-black hallway by a monstrous long-limbed villain who can crawl on the ceiling. Truth be told, that isn’t something I’ve personally experienced. But I imagine in that situation my heart would pound, my body shake, my breaths come out in rapid pants. In short, I’d be scared. And I know what it feels like to be scared.

It’s common advice to ‘write what you know’. I might have never fought a dragon, had a loved one assassinated, or been stranded in an alternate land far from home (all things that happen to my main character) – but I’ve had to fight and face my fears, I’ve lost loved ones, and I know what it feels like to be homesick.

These same feelings can be translated to my characters and the things they go through. They can inspire how my characters feel, act, and react.

 

4. WRITING

I went to the NC Writer’s Conference at Wrightsville Beach a few years ago. The author – and I’m sorry I don’t remember her name – told the room when she was stuck and uninspired, she made herself write anyway. Oftentimes, when she’d look back at her work days later, she’d find the words she wrote in uninspired times were just as good or better than her words on days when the ideas and sentences seemed to flow.

That is some of the best writing advice I’ve gotten. Sometimes, I’ve seen this referred to as Permission to Write Badly. Write something. Anything. The plot, the writing, and the details can be tweaked later in rounds of revisions.

Now, when I’m stuck, when I can’t figure out where my story should go next or how my main character should proceed, one of the greatest wells for inspiration is in the physical act of writing (or typing in my case). If I can force myself to write something, anything, no matter how rough or horrible, I start getting ideas.

For example, I recently wrote a synopsis for a new story idea I’m working on. I had a vague idea of the plot, and I had written the first few chapters, but beyond that, I was stuck. It was just a fuzzy cloud of scenes and scenarios. Once I started punching keys, however, everything came into focus. I find when I allow myself to write and don’t get bogged down in things being perfect, or even good, ideas and inspiration follow.

 

5. COFFEE

On occasion, a nice cup of coffee on a cool morning makes writing a bit more enjoyable. What’s more inspirational that that?

 

Laurie McKay is an author and biology instructor who lives in Durham, NC. When she’s not working, she spends time with her family and her two elderly dogs. Her debut MG fantasy novel, VILLAIN KEEPER (The Last Dragon Charmer #1) and her second book QUEST MAKER (The Last Dragon Charmer #2) are available now. To learn more about her or to see pictures of her dogs (and her family) follow her at lauriemckay.net or on Twitter or Facebook. You can find her book at GoodreadsIndieboundAmazonBN, and wherever books are sold.

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Top Obstacles Children’s Authors Face, and How to Get Past Them

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Hi All! Before I get into this week’s blog post, I do have an announcement to make.

Coming up on December 5th, I will be holding a reading and signing at Scuppernong Books in downtown Greensboro at 11 a.m.

I am so excited for this event. Holding readings where I can listen to kids’ reactions, see their smiles, and meet people who have shown an interest in my stories is one of the most rewarding experiences a children’s author can have. However, children’s authors (and all authors, at that) face a number of obstacles every day that make these rewarding experiences all the sweeter. Here are a few typical obstacles children’s authors face, and my tips on how to make the most of those difficulties.

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The number of children’s books on the shelves. How do we get our books to stand out among not only all the new children’s books coming out every day, but also among all the old classics (Roald Dahl books, Junie B. Jones, etc.)? Parents will often want to read their children the same books they loved as children, and they’ll pick up other, newer books as other parents recommend them.

So how do you make this obstacle work for you? Promote your books among parenting websites, among the parents in your town, among mommy and daddy bloggers—anyway you can think of to reach parents with your books, this is how you will get your book to stand out. Word of mouth is the best promotion tool there is!

Finding an original story to tell. Children’s books tend to want to promote good, moral values to children. But how many books can be written about being kind, sharing, finding self-assurance, being a good friend…the list goes on and on. The types of characters that interest children tend to be limited as well, with countless stories featuring princesses, and dragons, and animals, and magicians or wizards.

So how do you overcome this challenge? My biggest piece of advice is to focus on your characters. Maybe on the outside your story could seem like just another stereotypical, archetypal story, but if you put in the time to flesh-out your characters, your story will be original. Just like no two people are exactly the same, no two characters, if written well enough to seem like real people, will be the same either.

Balancing writing and a day job. Writing children’s books will not make you a living. Yes, I know there are exceptions (JK Rowling certainly made more than enough money to live on with Harry Potter), but don’t expect to be the exception. Most children’s book authors also need a day job in order to put a roof over their heads and food on the table. And it’s hard to come home from a day job and get back to that book that may or may not stand out and may or may not be original enough of a story to tell, but they have to do it anyway if they ever hope to put a book out to struggle in this world.

Overcoming this challenge is simple—choose writing. Choose to put in the effort. Sit down every day. Give your hands to your day job, but give your soul to your writing. You might not make money, you might not be the next massive success, but you will be able to fulfill your calling to be a children’s author, and hopefully touch a few readers’ lives.

No obstacle in the world should stop you from doing what you feel called to do. And no obstacle in the world will stop me from writing Night Buddies books.

What obstacles have you encountered as an author, or in following whatever passion you have? Have you found a way of coping with those obstacles? Let me know in the comments!

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Writing Essentials: Tips to Build Conflict in Your Story

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After spending the past month at the Bookmarks Book Festival and SIBA 2015 (pictured above), I’ve walked away with a whole lot of inspiration and ideas about what makes a book a success, what people love to read, and what constitutes good writing. So today I wanted to share some of my thoughts on that with you!

When I first set out to write Night Buddies and the Pineapple Cheesecake Scare, I didn’t realize how essential building conflict in the story was. You can’t just have one main conflict in mind and have that carry the entire story—the book also has to be filled with little bits of tension and little conflicts that keep the reader turning every single page. Each chapter you write should contain a major conflict, each page should be your character finding ways to resolve it. Yes, you should have one main conflict (all the pineapple cheesecakes in the pineapple cheesecake factory are disappearing) but conflict needs to always be in the front of your mind when you sit down to write.

So what are some ways to do this? Here are a few tips to help you figure out how to raise the stakes, build the tension, and create the most dynamic story possible.

Create strong values for your characters. When you know what they value and what they hold closest, it is easier to come up with conflict that will interfere with those values. Let’s say a character doesn’t drink because of an alcoholic parent, and then falls in love with a major drinker . . . conflict. Let’s say a red crocodile who loves cheesecakes more than anything now has them start disappearing . . . conflict. It can be silly or serious, but values that are being tested, internally or externally, create conflict.

Bring the family into it. Families are a huge area for conflict in a story. In Night Buddies, John’s parents question him and his sanity when he talks about his adventures—they even argue between themselves because of it. This isn’t a huge plot point in the story, but it still fills the book with extra tension and drives the story forward.

Think internally. Don’t only think of external events to build conflict, like storms or people, but think about your character’s feelings. Do they feel disappointed in themselves or their life, do they hate their siblings, do they suffer from depression? Emotional conflict is just as, if not more, essential to a dynamic story.

Keep bringing back the enemy. Your story should have an antagonist—think the Joker, or in my story’s case, a band of evil iguanas. The more they show up, the more conflict your protagonist is going to have to face. Not only do they have to deal with the trouble the enemy causes, but they also have to deal with the emotional conflict of either sinking to their enemy’s level, or taking the high road and maintaining their moral as the good character.

So there you have it! There are probably a hundred ways to build conflict in your story, so just always remember that when things seem to be going too well for your character, it’s your job to knock him off his high horse!

What are some writing essentials you’ve discovered? Let me know in the comments below!

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