Creative Beginnings: Part One

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This month I’d like to start a series on creative beginnings. It’s not very original. January is a time for beginning a new year and resolutions and what not.

But I am taking the excuse of a new calendar on my wall to reimagine my writing and my work by looking at what other creative people are doing. 

To start, I’d like to share an interview I did with Mary Cronk Farrell, a writer I met through a class by Dan Blank. She is a traditionally published children’s author who recently wrote PURE GRIT, a fabulous non-fiction story about the nurses who endured combat and POW camps in the Philippines during WWII.

Here’s what this professional had to say to my beginner questions:

1. I am working on historical novels and do NOT have a background in journalism like you do. How do you keep track of your research? Is there a book or class you could recommend?

I was a TV journalist so I didn’t really do much research except for interviewing people and occasionally reading documents. When I first started researching for my historical fiction I just took notes in a notebook like I did when I was a reporter.

Then I had files full of photocopies of newsclippings and pages from books etc.

Then I had files in Word filled with pages of stuff from the internet. And I usually have quite a number of books on the topic that I keep on hand. I didn’t organize it much at all.

This is what I did for basically my first four books, and it is only now as I begin a new book that I am going to get organized. So I am a horrible person to get advice on this from!

A number of writers I know swear by Scrivener. I haven’t tried it, and I keep asking them what it does that Word can’t do and I don’t get an answer that I can understand, except that you can organize your manuscript by chapter and scene and easily move things around and keep your research all organized, too.

Here’s what I am starting to do now, on the book I am just now starting to research:

1) Notes that I take, say from a book I get from interlibrary loan and have to return, I type in a word doc and use the footnote function to give the exact citation.

If I need lengthy sections from a book, I buy it. If it’s not available to buy, I will then photocopy the parts of the book I need and keep them in a physical file. I have cardboard file boxes, one for each book, or whatever.

2) For information I find on the internet, I am going with OneNote, which is the Word thing that is similar to Evernote.

Maybe you know this…in these programs you can copy text or photos from the internet and paste them onto pages in files you create. When you cut and paste it automatically adds the web address where the info came from, so you always have the link right there and go back to it.

If it’s something I will need to cite, I make sure I have the full information in case the webpage disappears.

3) I end up using a lot of newspaper articles which I often get from the library, or from other people. These I keep physical copies of in my filebox.

So…that’s about all I can tell you on research. You can probably get lots better info from others. 

2. Who helped you to get where you are in the publishing world? Who helped you with your craft? Who helped you to keep going when it would have been easier to quit? Do you have a critique group? Other support? How did you find them?

When I decided I wanted to write for children, I took a one day community college course and the instructor told us all to join SCBWI. There was one SCBWI critique group in Spokane, and after I went to a couple meetings they said they were disbanding.

I joined an online critique group, which was my only connection to the industry and other writers for a couple years. I learned a lot in that group and really got my feet wet critiquing and being critiques.

After a couple years two women from the disbanded SCBWI group decided to start a new group, and I connected up with them.

A year or two after that a published author moved to Spokane from another state and contacted us because we were a SCBWI critique group.

Sorry this is a long story, I’m going into two much detail. But all this to say that once we had this published writer, our group really got going. She shared a lot of information with us, but we started attend SCBWI conferences and we all were progressing in our writing.

We had a few writers come and go through the years, but the four of us remained the core of the group. This group has been my main support for probably the last 10-12 years, although once we all got editors or agents we stopped meeting as regularly. And this past year we have stopped meeting as a group, though we are all still friends in regular touch.

Throughout the years besides this critique group, I have attended several writing retreats and quite a number of conferences. I’ve learned a lot from that.

I have also read a lot of writing books.

I have also written a lot.

noticed over the years that I would learn something from a speaker or a book, but it was take quite a bit of time writing before what I knew in my head showed up in my writing.

3. I’m VERY focused on improving my craft right now. Do you have any recommendations?

You may be already doing these things—my best recommendations for improving craft are

1) join SCBWI and participate on the local level

2) write everyday, even if it’s only ten minutes

3) be in a critique group

I know it’s really hard to find one that is just what you need, but all I can say is keep trying. A good way is to attend a conference, try to meet people and form a group.

Also there are tons of groups on line, which is a great way to test different groups out and see what’s right for you.

4) read tons of new books in the age range and genre that you are writing.

I go to the library and look at all the books in on the “new” shelf. I’ve been doing this for about five years and I would say that after about three years of reading at least a book a week, sometimes two, I have a much better grasp on the kind of book I need to write to get published.

5) If you can afford it, attend a writing conference every year.

4. Do you have any other bits of writing or research wisdom to share?

You probably know this, but writing is REALLY hard. Don’t get down on yourself if you don’t meet your expectations. The best thing you can do is be kind to yourself and be around people who are kind to you.

There is so much rejection involved in this business, you really need a number of people to support you. Some who are writers and some who maybe aren’t writers, but they love you and respect what you’re trying to do.

Reach out.

I think if you can’t reach out when you need help, you will not make it.

With much thanks to Mary Cronk Farrell, that’s it for this first post in 2015. I feel like I’ve been beginning as a writer for more years than I want to admit in public. But I suppose Beginner’s Mind is not always a bad place to be.

Reaching out may be my theme for this year.

Wishing you all your own lovely beginnings.

That new calendar excuse for re-beginning.

That new calendar excuse for re-beginning.

2 thoughts on “Creative Beginnings: Part One

  1. Karrie, thanks you so much for interviewing me for your blog. I hope that the information will be helpful to your readers. I agree that beginner’s mind is not such a bad place to be and I plan to take your thoughts to heart as I begin the new year. And my new research process! It’s a bit embarrassing that I have been so disorganized in the past, and I’ll admit that it made things difficult and time consuming as I was finishing up PURE GRIT. But as I said, coming from local TV news where I had two or three stories due by 5pm each day–well, not much time for research. Also, TV news doesn’t require footnotes. So there’s that. What I think is key, is to remember that we are all learning and to be kind to myself. Thanks again!

    • Karrie Zylstra

      You are welcome! Thank you for being so willing to share your process, even the parts that are not perfect. It helps me so much to know I’m not alone in the organizational challenges. 🙂

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