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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4 Ways to Find Inspiration as a Writer

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One of the most fun and most difficult parts of being a writer is finding your next story. Sometimes a bestselling idea will hit you out of nowhere, but more often than not you have to go out into the world and seek inspiration. But where do you go? And how do you do it? (more…)

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Q&A Series Part V: “How Do You Write a First Draft?”

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Hi all, and welcome back to my Q&A series, where I answer your questions in long-form on my blog! This week I decided to answer a Frequently Asked Question from Goodreads, which asks, “How do you motivate yourself to get through writing the first draft of a book?”

Writing a first draft of a book is an exciting, scary, and sometimes even emotional experience for writers, but it can also be one of the best parts of the writing process! To help you out, I’m offering you the best four tips I have to get through it as painlessly as possible. (more…)

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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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10 Creative Writing Prompts—For Kids!

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I am an advocate for children using and expanding their imaginations, not only through reading, but through writing! Whether your child struggles with Language Arts or is reading four levels above his or her grade level, providing kids with a creative outlet such as writing has the opportunity to enrich their lives and their classroom performance. But how do you get them started? One good idea is using this Scholastic website, which provides silly and fun writing prompts in a game-like form (when I put in my preferred genre and name, the wheel told me to write about a fuzzy green elf who must return to the sea—yes, please.) But if you’re looking for a straightforward list to return to, here are 10 fun, whacky writing prompts they can try!

1. Your favorite animal just stood up and started talking to you—what conversation do the two of you have?

2. You get cast in a super hero movie…do you play the hero or the villain? Why?

3. Your dad just built a time travel machine! Will you go back in time, or forward? To what year, and why?

4. Write a list of 20 of your favorite things!

5. If you were invisible, what would be the first thing you do?

6. What is the best memory you have with your family? Write a story about it.

7. Invent a new food—describe in detail what it looks like, what it’s called, how it smells, and how it tastes.

8. Describe a time when you were really afraid.

9. Your favorite fictional character has come to life. Who is it, and what do the two of you do together?

10. Write a list of 5 things you love about your best friend. Then, use those things to write them a letter!

Do you, or your children, like to use writing prompts? Let me know what your favorites are in the comments!

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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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Your Kid Did What? 4 Reasons Parents Make the Best Writers

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It seems as though in the last decade the number of parent bloggers has skyrocketed, and for good reason. Who doesn’t have a great story of their kid to share, or advice to up-and-coming parents who don’t fully comprehend the craziness, joy, and exhaustion being a parent can bring? And apart from the blog world, there are plenty of parent-turned-authors out there as well (including me!). If you’re a parent who has ever thought about picking up that pen, here are 4 reasons I think you should go for it.

You have a lifetime (and your child’s lifetime) worth of unique experiences to share: Some people don’t want to start their blog or write their book because they think it’s all been said before. But that is not true. Every child says a different funny thing, every person’s background and family life and thoughts are unique to them, and make for a unique story to be told. If you write honestly about your own experiences, you won’t be copying anyone by writing them down.

Writing can be a great way to document your child’s youth: There is so much writing can help you remember about your life than a photograph can. You’ll be able to look back on all sorts of fun memories you and your child share, and they will be able to someday read what you wrote and remember their childhood!

You can see the world through a new (younger) set of eyes: Writing from a child’s perspective can be one of the best things for a parent to do. You’ll have to work that much harder to understand their emotions and thoughts, making you more empathetic as a parent. Whether you’re writing a novel from a child’s P.O.V. or a blog post from their eyes, taking the time to put yourself in their shoes will make you a better writer and parent.

You can share the experience with your child: Basically, it’s another opportunity to bond! Coming up with blog posts together, like an arts & craft DIY or a book review will give you and your child a creative outlet to connect with, and will help them grow their own writing and creative skills. For me, writing my book was all a collaboration with my son, since the main character is one we came up with together when telling bedtime stories. A family who creates together, stays together!

Do you have a parenting blog, or a book you wrote that stemmed out of your parenting experience? Leave the name in the comments below, and we can all share each other’s experiences!

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My Journey from Single Father to Author

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I’m so excited to share with you this week an article I wrote for the Good Men Project! This was my first time writing for them, and I hope to have many more articles to share in the future. Let me know what you think of this one either in the comments, or over on the Good Men Project comments.

Looking forward to hearing from some of you guys. Enjoy!

Post originally appeared on goodmenproject.com here

When my son John was born, I didn’t expect to become a stay-at-home father. I didn’t know any other dads who stayed at home to take care of their kids most of the time. I didn’t grow up with a stay-at-home father, and the concept of being a man who changed his job description from a solid 9-5 to being a single homemaker was not something I ever envisioned.

But then John came around, my wife and I soon divorced, and there I was with full-custody of a young boy who needed someone to stay home and look after him. I didn’t know it yet, but I had just entered the greatest time of my life.

As a stay-at-home father, I felt like two different people. Half of the time I spent with John I felt like a kid again. John and I did everything together, went everywhere together, and were about as inseparable as any two friends can be. During the summers we drove through forty-eight states and five Canadian provinces.  We participated in all kinds of father-son activities: little league football, basketball, and baseball, as well as boxing, golf, boating, camping . . . the sky was the limit, and I loved seeing the smile on that boy’s face when he got lost in doing something he loved.

John got his first puppy, a St. Bernard he named Henry, and we loved him so much that I began breeding St. Bernards. Most of the memories I have of John’s youth are of our adventures, his laughter, and the feeling that I was getting to experience life through a child’s eyes for a second time. But the reality of being a stay-at-home father and raising a child by myself wasn’t always idyllic.

There was the time I arrived to pick him up at the movies when he was ten, and the theatre he had gone in was dark and deserted. He was nowhere to be found. When I finally got hold of security, we turned the lights on and found him sunk down in one of the seats, asleep and quite unaware of the panic he had caused.

There was the time when his kindergarten French teacher told me John probably had a learning disability because he was having trouble in her class. Now he speaks ten languages and has an M.A. from Edinburgh University with honors in Russian and German—and wouldn’t I love to tell all this to that teacher!

There were the six years of piano lessons that were like ripping out my fingernails just to get him to practice, until we finally threw in the towel.

There was trying to be both mother and father, parent and friend, teacher and student. I had no examples to follow, no comrade to turn to on the hard days, no office to escape to when watching Sesame Street for the hundredth time made me think I might actually be going crazy.

But those hard days are nothing compared to the good stuff.

Sitting side-by-side on cross-country trips, lots of sports honors, tons of academic awards, a year in Germany and learning German, but best of all, reading stories at night before John went to sleep. In fact, being a stay-at-home father led me to my current occupation as a children’s book author.

Night-Buddies-Go-Sky-HighIt was essential to me that John be exposed to literature and the pleasure of reading from Day One, so I stocked up on children’s stories, from Grimm, Frank Baum, Lewis Carroll, and Roald Dahl, eventually to the likes of Dickens and Victor Hugo. But one night when he was about seven, I suggested that he ought to create his own bedtime companion to keep him company while he slept—from there, the main character of my children’s series, Night Buddies, was created.

Many nights John and I made up stories involving him and this bedtime companion, a red crocodile named Crosley, until Crosley became another member of our little family. John always held onto his love for reading, and when he grew up and started traveling the world, creating new adventures for himself, I turned my memories of the little guy I once looked after, and his goofy buddy Crosley, into a book series that I would be able to hold in my hands. Because in all honesty, being a stay-at-home father was the best job I’ve ever had—I don’t want to forget a thing about it. And given the chance, I would do it all over again.

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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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Is Writing Full-Time a Reasonable Goal? The Ugly Truth Behind a Big Dream

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Every writer has been given the obvious, but kind of heartbreaking piece of advice, “Don’t quit your day job.” As in, don’t ever expect to be able to live off of your passion. Some callings are always meant to be side hustles, not real, pay the bills, careers. As always, we can look at the exceptions to this rule—J.K. Rowling the billionaire, Stephen King, James Patterson. Even Amanda Hawking ended up making a prettier penny than I ever expect to see through self-publishing. We convince ourselves that we could be the next big thing, and we might be. But does that mean having an end-goal of being a full-time writer is a reasonable goal?

I would say both yes and no. And my yes or my no are dependent on your answer to this question: what kind of full-time writer do you want to be?

Let’s say you write one book every couple of years, like myself. You self-publish. You blog each week. You market to your heart’s content. But the fact is you have a smaller pool of work to bring in a profit. So if you’re expecting to make a full-time living off of a small pool of work, no matter how brilliant that work is, I would say that goal is very near unreasonable. Let me also point out that I don’t think that means you should start cranking out books that haven’t been well written or don’t mean anything to you just to make your body of work larger. I fully believe in taking a precious amount of time to write the absolute best book possible. Yes, your bank account might not grow as quickly that way, but at least you’ll be proud of the work you’re putting out into your reader’s hands.

Now, let’s say you write a book every few months to publish. You have multiple series going, make your readers hungry to come back for more to see how your story ends, you give out free e-book once in awhile and you have such a large body of work you can hardly remember them all. Now the goal of writing full-time looks a little more reasonable. If you’re writing enough and getting enough people (not a ton of people) to purchase each book you put out, you keep your publishing costs low, and you keep at it for years, you just might be able to gather enough income to keep you afloat. But chances are, the profit you make still won’t be able to compare to your full-time job with benefits. Plus, once you decide to go for writing full-time at this stage, there will be an added stress to your writing life that wasn’t there before. This isn’t a fun hobby of yours anymore, a creative calling you love to pursue. This is what pays your bills and provides for your family—there can be no waiting for the muse to show up. You have to keep up with your work no matter what happens.

Personally, I think the most reasonable way to make writing full-time a reality in your life is to become a freelance writer on top of writing your creative projects. I know many people who make their living this way. They write articles for paying magazines and blogs, conduct interviews for websites, copywrite for brands people searching for their voices and brands. Half of their days are spent writing for other people, and the other half is spent on their creative projects. You might not be writing what you want to write full-time, but freelancing gives you so much more freedom than you would with a typical 9-5. There will still be hardships. There still won’t be a company offering you benefits and vacation time. But you’ll be devoting yourself to your passion, getting better at it each and every day.

So no, most of the time writing as a full-time career is not a reasonable goal to keep in mind unless you have unlimited resources, or are retired (let me tell you, being retired is the best thing that happened for my writing life!) But if you have the drive and are willing to do whatever it takes, unreasonable doesn’t have to be a word you care about. The only thing that matter is that you’re going to go for it.

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