Workshops

A story about a Walrus

walrus brainstorm

Well, this blog post is a little delayed. Okay, a lot delayed. Between re-releasing Heart Like an Ocean, editing Embraced by the Ocean, editing for a customer, and, well... other projects... blogging just did not happen. But, since I promised a blog post about the writing workshop I did recently, here it is.

This is the second year I went to this school to do a writing workshop. I went a year ago to talk to grade 7s and 11s about writing and decided that there's nothing more boring than having someone just stand up there and talk... so we did a writing workshop. You can read about there HERE.

Anyway, on to this year.

So, once again, I went in to do a writing workshop with the grade 7s and 11s. This time, it was the first class of the day--I don't know about you, but my brain is not fully functioning at 9 am. I need a LOT more coffee before I'm ready to really think. But I figured it'd be no big deal. Brainstorming a story with a group of kids isn't that hard. Yeah... until they give you the word "walrus" as your starting point.

I debated asking for a new word... after all, I hadn't had nearly enough coffee to work with the word "walrus", but I also didn't want to discourage the enthusiasm of the student. After all, I was there to encourage and facilitate writing, not create the story I wanted to create.

So, we went with "walrus". The grade 7s seemed to have a blast with it. I really had to direct the brainstorming and ask some questions to keep them on point, but the imagination in these kids was fun and infectious.

In the end, when they read off stories, it was neat to see the strengths in each kids' writing. One girl had great characterization--she really focused on his wants and needs. Another had a fantastic grasp of active sentences. Other's told a story in just a few short sentences. Some only got an opening scene written. 

One of my favorite things about doing these workshops is seeing and hearing the different approaches to a story, even when we all brainstormed it together. Just goes to show that even though a story could have the same premise, everyone is going to tell it differently.

The one downside to this workshop was that the grade 11s weren't nearly as excited about working with "walrus" as the grade 7s were. When you have two drastically different ages together, I think that's bound to happen sometimes. Especially since I prefer to have the students give me a word, rather than me feed them one. I want them to know how to create  a story (short or long), article, essay...etc... off of a single theme or word. Walrus was a challenge, but we managed to create some fun and amusing stories out of it. 

If you're a teacher and interested in having me come and do a workshop in your class, please don't hesitate to ask. The easiest way to contact me is through my booking page.

Stop thinking, start writing: The End

Image from: http://www.freeimages.com/browse.phtml?f=view&id=1078432

Image from: http://www.freeimages.com/browse.phtml?f=view&id=1078432

This is the start of my "stop thinking, start writing" series. I was on Facebook a while back (okay, I'm always on Facebook) when a friend of mine posted about thinking about stories. So I commented "stop thinking! Start writing!" Now you might think this is a counterintuitive piece of advice, but I disagree. Yes, we need to think while we write, but the thinking I'm referring to is being stuck in a rut of thinking, thinking, thinking and never really writing your story.

I take the stop thinking, start writing approach in my own writing. I do what I call mind mapping to get a general sense of the story, and then, once I have an outline, I start writing. I don't allow myself to sit and think anymore. The story just needs to get out on paper and I'll revise after it's all done.

And that brings me to endings, or 'The End' as I call it in the title of this blog post.

Endings are particularly hard for me. I know where the story has to go for it to end, but I tend to just keep writing and writing and writing until finally I hit that point. The problem is, there is a lot of fluff. This isn't necessarily bad for a rough draft, though. It enables me to write every nuance of the story, close up every loose end, and answer every question. But it can't stay that way; it's rambling and doesn't leave the readers with any conclusions to draw on their own.

This falls under the "Stop thinking, start writing" idea. To finish a story, you need to stop thinking about that perfect ending and just start writing every nuance of the story. Once that's all done, then you can really look at it, really think about it, and figure out what needs to stay and what needs to go. I call this "going surgical". But that's a topic for another day.

In Heart Like an OceanI cut out 10,000 words from the ending in the final draft.

In Unforgiving Plains I cut out nearly 5,000 words.

Obviously this approach isn't going to be right for everyone. Some people plot everything out and think out the entire story, some people are going to be more like me. The point of me sharing this process is to let you know that you don't always have to plot out the  perfect story before finishing it. Finishing is the most important step, perfecting it comes second.

And as an example of a first draft ending and a second draft ending, here's a short story. Now both of these are rough, but the first one is the "stop thinking, start writing" approach, and the second is "going surgical". These aren't two different approaches to writing an editing, rather think of it as step 1 and step 2.

Pain shoots through my head, and it feels like it's going to split open. But pain is good, right? It means I'm alive.

I open my eyes to the blinding desert sun.

"Don't sit up."

I turn my head and my vision goes white. Too fast. I close my eyes and stretch my eyebrows up as I open them again to see Alex sitting there.

I know her name!

Alex, my girlfriend.

"I reach up, touching the bandage on my head where she'd shot me.

"Care to explain?"

"We were caught breaking into the facility."

I nod slowly. "Yes, I remember now."

"You let them take you so that I could get away. I kept an eye on you though, Jim. I needed to make sure you were okay."

"What did they do? It's like I lived two lives..." I trail off.

"You did. They implanted you with the very software we were trying to get rid of. They gave you a new name, new life, and new memories."

"Bob, 30 years old, single, pet dog," I rattle off. I know these facts all too well. I've been living them.

"But I'm not Bob."

Alex shook her head.

"I'm Jim. So how did I end up here?"

"I think you've known, for a while now. The visions of the hall. They were haunting you. I've heard you call out at night, call my name. It's like you could remember while you were sleeping, like your memories were fighting to come free."

"You watched me sleep?"

"I monitored you." she reaches out and takes my hand. "Well, I hacked into their monitors. They know everything about you. Your pulse every second, your brain activity, everything you say or do. They know it all, and so I knew it all."

“They knew I was dreaming about the hall, about the night they took me,” I breathe out.

She nods. “I tried to get you out, but I couldn’t get to you fast enough. They must have drugged your food or something. Next thing I know, you’re in the desert of banishment and they’re putting out a call for hunters.”

“You shot me.”

“I had to! I had to destroy the part of the brain that was Bob. He needed to die so that you could live.”

“it’s not over though, is it?”

She shook her head.

“They’ll know I didn’t die. They’ll know you failed.”

She nodded.

“There must be others, like me.”

“I think so.”

I sit up, supporting myself with my hands pressed against the sand. “We have to go.”

“Go where? We need to run, Jim. We need to get out of here. There’s places we can go, places we’ll be safe.”

“We’ll be safe, and how many others like me, with fake memories and a past that the government doesn’t want remembered?”

“It’s not our problem.”

I smile, standing up. “It is now.”

I turn around, looking up into the sky. Arcadia is to the east, and the sun is just rising to my left. I place one foot in front of the other and begin to walk.

The second pass, the surgical approach, is much shorter, but it also doesn't tell the reader so much. It has more oomph to it and leaves the reader thinking about the story, and who this Jim/Bob person is.

Pain thuds through my head in sync with the beating of my pulse. But pain is good, right? It means I'm alive.

Memories seem to flash before my eyes like a movie in fast forward. I see the hall, the hunter, people from a past life. I’ve been in this desert before… I’ve been banished before…

I blink a few times, the bright morning sun binding me. As my vision clears, the Hunter comes into focus. She stands over me, holding out her hand. My heartrate remains steady.

"Are you ready?"

I nod, accepting her hand and letting her pull me to my feet.

Gone is the fear and confusion. I'm left with calm and determination. I know who I am, and I know what I must do.

We turn in the direction of the rising sun, the Hunter and I, and I place one foot in front of the other.

* * *

I stand in the hall, the hall that has haunted my dreams, both waking and asleep. It stretches before me, white and sterile. The lights flicker overhead just as I remember, giving the place an eerie feel; like it’s not quite in this worlds, but not quite out of it either.

I look over to the Hunter and she gives me a nod. My hand grips the cool metal of the gun on my hand and raises it.

No one will ever take my memory again. No one will ever change who I am.

Footsteps echo through the corridor, approaching us, but we stand our ground, feet planted hip width apart, firm and unmoving.

The footsteps come closer, until a body appears around the corner. He seems to stop at the sight of me.

“Bob…”

“Bob is dead,” I grind out, my finger squeezing the trigger. “Jim has been resurrected.”

Bang!

“And I’m coming for you. I’m coming for you all.”

So, which one do you like better?

You can follow my adventures through my newsletter, where I share exclusive sneak peeks, stories, and giveaways. Think of it as the VIP club: http://eepurl.com/UKdW9

Thanks for reading,

Christine Steendam

 

The Day I Went Back To High School

20150304_153722 On Wednesday I met a pretty awesome group of teens. I had the great privilege of being invited back to my old school to talk to the grade 8 ELA class, and was then surprised by the grade 11 English class joining us. To say I was nervous would be to put it lightly. Teens can be a tough crowd, especially after sitting in school all day. I'm not saying they're bad or difficult, but they don't want to waste their time listening to something that they don't find interesting (and most adults are the same lol). So I went in wanting to do something different. I didn't want to just stand there and talk to them because, chances are, they'd tune me out. I'm just not that riveting of a speaker.

So I decided to put them through a small brainstorming and short story workshop. Rather than talk, I decided to do what I do best: create a story. This could have so easily flopped. But once we got the ball rolling... well, kids got... excited! The enthusiasm and creativity that these kids were showing was more than I ever expected.

At the end of our brainstorming session, I surprised them by asking them all to write a short story (or even just the start of one) in 10 minutes. At first they thought I was crazy. And then the pencils started moving.

I had no intention of asking them to share their stories with the class. Rather, I put the two teachers on the spot and had them share. But then one of the teachers asked a student to share hers. And then students started volunteering! That was kind of the point where I went: "Is this happening?"

And, in case anyone is wondering,the picture of the whiteboard is all their ideas. I guided them, that's it. And the truly cool thing was, when it came time to write stories, no two stories were the same. They were all based on the same plot we boiled everything down to, but they all had a different take.

All I can say is. Wow. What an awesome experience. To see a group of people get excited and enthusiastic about something I love so much was just... amazing, for lack of a better word.

I posted this little experience on Facebook on Thursday and I had parents of these students commenting that their kids were telling them all about it. This whole experience really has me excited and I'm hoping to do more of these types of "workshops" in schools or independently in the near future.

If you're interested in having me come talk at your school, please feel free to contact me at kcsteendam@gmail.com

Follow Christine’s adventure by subscribing to her mailing list: http://eepurl.com/UKdW9

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Promotional tools- Facebook

So I've been playing around a bit with my online presence, trying to find what works and what doesn't. I think it's readily apparent that just shouting out "buy my book" is not going to get me many, if any sales. Social media is not a billboard, it is a place for interaction, connection and socialization (imagine that!).

So, with the idea that I'd build a strong platform first in ONE place, before taking on every social media outlet available, I've been concentrating on Facebook lately and here's what I've learned.

Facebook is awesome for interaction. If people are following you on Facebook chances are they want to interact with you on some level, or at the very least want to know what is going on in your life/with your books. But, it is also very easy to abuse.

The thing about Facebook is, it isn't Twitter. It isn't a bunch of white noise where your annoying billboard posts with just get lost in the jumble. No, if you post too much, you will get deleted. If you treat your followers like people you're trying to advertise to and not get to know, they will delete you. Facebook is for CONNECTIONS.

So, here are some things I've discovered:

1. Don't fill people's newsfeeds with posts. Sure, some days you'll have more to say than others, but I doubt you have 20 statuses worth.

2. Same goes for content. Make your posts meaningful. Make posts that will either a) update your readers on your projects/life or b) produce conversation. Not: Buy my book! (though doing this occasionally is acceptable).

3. Use your page stats! They'll tell you peak times people are on and give you a better chance of creating discussion and, in turn, making connections. They'll also tell you what kind of posts are popular.

and 4. Follow other people (authors, editors, cover designers..etc..) that have Facebook pages and interact on their posts.

Facebook is all about socialization, not about selling products. But, making connections and friends will, in turn, sell your product without you having to sit there yelling like a street vendor.

How I did last week:

Writing: 22,000 words this week. Not quite my goal of 25,000 but since I'm nesting like crazy here, it's putting a dent in my writing time. lol

Pregnancy: 37 weeks!

House: Rail on the deck began to go up. Driveway is all prepped to be poured. Brick is going on the fireplace as I write!

Goals for this week:

Writing: Edit chapter 12 of 'Owned by the Ocean' and get a few thousand words written on 'Betrayed by the Ocean'.

Pregnancy: 3 weeks till due date! 5 weeks maximum (but it won't go that long...right? RIGHT? lol)

House: 

  • Brick around the fireplace- in progress.
  • Rail and stairs around deck- in progress.
  • Rail for front entrance.
  • Drywall garage.
  • Sod front yard.
  • Pour concrete driveway
  • Put up for sale!

Have a happy Monday everyone :)

Self-editing: tips, tricks, and tools

I used Grammarly to grammar check this post because I'm too busy saving a toddler from jumping off the counter. Haha okay, in case you can't tell this post is being sponsored by a program called Grammarly. But, I actually do want to talk about self-editing, because I'm doing a lot of it lately while releasing the chapters if Owned by the Ocean right here on my blog.

I have a few steps that I take when going over a chapter.

  1. I start with a line edit. I go through line by line, not really paying attention to the content and scope of the chapter and just fixing grammar, punctuation and word choice.
  2. Once I'm done my line edit I read through the chapter and start looking at content. Does anything need re-writing or to be fleshed out more? Does that fit the character? Is this long-winded and boring? Etc...
  3. After that, I do one last quick read through the make sure I didn't miss anything.
  4. Normally, at this point I would be sending my writing off to an editor but, since I'm not made of money and I'm releasing Owned by the Ocean in a bit of an unorthodox way, I haven't hired an editor for it. Instead, I use a program to do one last proofread for me.

Grammarly is probably the most thorough program I've used. However, it does not and will not replace the eyes of a human editor or proofreader.

As a tool, I think it is best used as a final safeguard against mistakes that may have been missed, or to proofread things like blogposts. What I like is that when approached by Grammarly they did not try and pitch it as a replacement to editing or proofreading, but as an added tool to help get the most polished product you can.

There are a lot of features that I have yet to check out, but as a proofreader I think it is useful. Just remember, it does not replace the eyes of a human editor. I am a huge believer in editors and proofreaders and don't think any program is about to replace them.

And yes, I actually did proofread this blog post using Grammarly.