Posts tagged writing tips

How to edit a magazine (part 3)

Writing isn’t part of every editor’s job – but it’s part of mine. For each Wild Things magazine I write an episode of Owl Kids plus at least one article. I also write word puzzles and devise a board game.

Here’s how we make the game:

First, I think of an idea. Then I draw a rough draft and start testing it on my family. I test it over and over, each time making small changes to the rules until it all works. It’s fun at first, but after several days my kids are begging me please not to make them play the game again!

Once the game is devised, there’s still plenty to do. The game wouldn’t be the game without Rob Di Leva, the designer. So when I’ve settled on the final instructions for it and made a draft layout, I send it all to him. At this stage it doesn’t look much fun to play!

This was my draft layout for the September 2013 game:

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Rob spends a lot of time and imagination turning each game into something that people would actually enjoy.

Here’s what he did with the plan above.

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Notice that he’s not just a fantastic designer, but a wonderful illustrator.

In fact, if you think Wild Things looks interesting and fun in general – that’s all thanks to Rob. While I’m writing and editing, he’s spending hour after hour taking care of the visual side. Behind every good-looking magazine (or book) is a great designer!

Okay. Once everything is written, illustrated, edited, and designed, and the whole magazine is almost ready to be printed – one last task begins. Proofreading.

This takes ages, and involves the editor and several others going over and over every part of the magazine to try and make sure it’s absolutely, perfectly, incontrovertibly correct – while the designer fixes all the spotted errors.

Now, let me tell you a secret that all editors know. No matter how well you think you’ve done your proofreading, at least one mistake will somehow creep through and end up in the printed magazine.

You just have to hope it’s nothing serious …

For example, you wouldn’t want a single dot left out of an email address so that everyone sends competition entries to the wrong place, causing great panic and an urgent phone call to tech support, who have to drop everything to get all the emails redirected from the wrong email address to the right one …

You wouldn’t want that.

But that is just an example, of course.

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How to edit a magazine (part 2)

In my last post I talked about planning each issue of Wild Things magazine. That’s fun – but here’s what’s MORE fun:

Deciding who to invite (or beg) to contribute.

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Who are your favourite authors and illustrators?

Imagine you could create a magazine and invite them all to do something for it. Who would you ask to do what?

Who would you ask to design and draw a beautiful maze?

Who would you ask to write an article about your favourite animal?

Who would you ask to write a hilarious skit? And whose illustration might go brilliantly with that skit? You can team them up.

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I can hardly describe how exciting it is to send off emails to writers and illustrators I admire, enquiring if they’d do a particular job for Wild Things, and then waiting for their reply.

Occasionally they’re too busy, but usually they say yes. (Yay!) Then I send them more details about the job, so they can get going. I try not to give  TOO MUCH detail – it’s better if they have loads of freedom. Because what’s the point in asking creative professionals to do a job if they can’t be creative?

Here’s the most brilliant thing of all:

The finished work that they send back is ALWAYS different from how I thought it would be – and way better. I’m in awe of how these people’s imaginations work. New Zealand has many amazing professional writers and illustrators!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter this exciting bit, I have to do boring stuff: make sure the contributors send in invoices so they can get paid, and sometimes ask them to fill in tax forms.

Strange things can happen …

Have you seen the book, Watch Out, Snail!? It’s about Powelliphanta – incredible, rare, giant snails that live only in New Zealand. They’re way more awesome than the common garden snails that eat your precious vegetables.

The book’s illustrator is Margaret Tolland, and for one issue of Wild Things, she made us a beautiful maze where you have to help a Powelliphanta snail find its food.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWell, I think the common garden snails that keep trying to live in our letterbox must have been jealous, because when she sent me her tax form, they ate it! All they left were a few shreds of holey paper.

I had to email Margaret, apologise profusely, and ask her if she could send another tax form, because snails had eaten the first!

More about editing a magazine soon. In the meantime, keep your eyes peeled for your favourite NZ authors and illustrators in any Wild Things issues you see. (And beware the letterbox snails.)

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How to edit a magazine (part 1)

Have you ever made a class magazine?

I love working on magazines, so I couldn’t believe my luck when I got a job editing Wild Things. That’s the magazine of KCC – the Kiwi Conservation Club. KCC has members all round the country – kids like you – who get together to have fun and help save the environment.

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So. What does the Wild Things editor do?

I start planning each issue about three months before it has to be printed.

First I talk to four important people:

  • Tiff, the manager of KCC
  • Rob, the graphic designer and art director of Wild Things
  • Marina, who edits the Forest & Bird magazine (the adult’s version of Wild Things), and
  •  Mandy who’s in charge of the KCC website.

These four are always having brilliant ideas, as well as hearing important news, so I have to figure out the best way to fit all their ideas and news into one issue.

I ask myself: What could we make a puzzle or game or skit out of? What should have an article written about it? How long should the article be? What might we have to leave out, or maybe put in a later issue?

I have to remember we have only 24 pages in an issue. Sometimes I wish I could cram in a bazillion and six things – but then the writing would be so tiny you’d barely read it.

After much scribbling and typing and deleting and retyping, I have a plan I’m happy with. Part of it looks like this. See what it shows? (Enlarge it by clicking on it.)

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Yes – you just got a sneak peek at what will be on each page in the next issue.

In publishing jargon, that’s called a ‘flat plan’. I’m not quite sure why, but I suppose it makes sense: it is a plan, and it is flat (usually … unless it’s spent too long in my messy bag, or our cat Smoofie has been sitting on it.)

The next step is to see what Tiff, Rob, Marina, and Mandy think of the flat plan.

Hmmm … I haven’t shown this one to them yet – you’re the first to see it!

I better go show them now. More about how to edit a magazine soon.

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Busy Writing and Touring

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I had good intentions to write a post every couple of days on this blog – but life got in the way. Since I posted last, I’ve been to Christchurch, Wellington twice and Auckland several times. I’ve endured earthquakes (4.5 – 6.6), stormy weather, late nights and a very busy schedule. But when you do something you love – it is a pleasure!

Today I chatted to an e-book club at Christchurch Library. The kids had all read my books and had some great questions for me. I was able to tell them about my new kiwi book ‘Operation Nest Egg Chick’ coming out in Conservation Week at a very kiwi place – Auckland Zoo in the Elephant House (8th September 11am). The techie person from Pixel Book is weaving his magic so that the enhanced digital book can have drop-down boxes, activities, videos, slides and Bruce Potter’s stunning artwork tops it off. The book is about the survival of a kiwi chick raised in the Operation Nest Egg programme. If you want to see a sample of it go this website after 8th September: www.pixelbook.co.nz  At the moment you can see our first digital book ‘The Rock Standing in the Ocean’, which is about the birth of a volcanic island.

I’m also writing for the Girl Guide Association, and reading biographies about famous New Zealand sporting stars for my next book: New Zealand Hall of Fame: 25 Sporting Greats. The famous athletes’ stories are very inspiring. I love reading their biographies and interviewing them by phone. Many of the athletes are overseas so sometimes I Skype them (I was talking to World Aerobic Champion Angela McMillan in Vietnam yesterday). This book won’t be out until August/September next year.

On Monday, I received a contract for my first picture book, which is being released early March. ‘The Last of the Maui’ is about a young Maui dolphin who has to rescue his friends from the grasp of the set nets. Bruce Potter’s underwater scenes are just gorgeous. So do look out for that one.

I’m going to end with some tips to get your writing career started:

1. Read widely – you’ll absorb the different styles, the intricate language and it will inspire you to write your own stories.

2.  Write every day; whether it is emails, a diary, essays or notes. You’ll find that your thoughts, and pen/keyboard will fly when you write that often.

3.  Keep an Ideas Notebook – once you open your mind to the possibility that there are ideas all around you, you’ll want to record them. I get ideas from the TV, radio, people talking, when I go walking or driving, and sometimes I wake up with ideas.

4.  Proof-read your work and replace over-used words like car, tree, pretty, beautiful, walk, etc with vibrant verbs and precise nouns. It’ll help build pictures in the reader’s mind.

5.  Don’t give up on your dreams. I started with determination and worked hard to get my successes. It doesn’t come easy but you’ll find you’ll learn from every mistake and misfortune, and you’ll enjoy the journey along the way. Plus you’ll make great friends!

Ka kite ano!

Maria Gill

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Star Author Lied. Again

I said I wouldn’t give you any writing tips.  I didn’t need the competition. I swore black and blue not to aid you on the path to glory, knowing I’d be the one sweeping up leaves and weeding the cracks.

But I lied.

Tomorrow is my last day on the blog, (and lo, the internet was filled with the sound of weeping) so I thought – hey, I should go out with a bang. But being shot from a cannon while writing a blog seemed extreme, and my insurance won’t cover it.

So, I decided to give REAL tips, instead.

EIGHT TIPS THAT MAY OR MAY NOT BE COMPLETELY USELESS

1. It’s easy to give up. So go on, give up. Please?

Like I said, I don’t need the competition.  If you have even a dash of talent, the ability to take criticism and a ton of determination you WILL get published.  There’s nothing I can do to stop you. Sigh.

By the way, I used to do workshops. There was always someone more talented than me. But I doubt many were more stubborn. Mt writing gets better and better with practise.

(For any kids reading this, yes, I’m joking about not wanting competition.  I had one kid ask me why I made stuff about myself in bios. They said, ‘Do you like telling lies or just disappointing kids!’ Oh dear … as I explained, I prefer writing fiction, even about myself. But I digress.)

2. If you have not heard the term ‘show don’t tell’, google it. You’ll thank me one day.

3. Adverbs are very, very bad;  sort of like viruses that might infect your entire story and cause it to suffer heart failure. You can use a few, but when in doubt – vaccinate.

4. Also beware of words like ‘is’ and ‘was’, sometimes even ‘a’. Can’t really explain why, but it sounds flat. Look at this –

A mouse was looking at a piece of cheese.

OR-

The mouse eyed the piece of cheese.

5. If everyone writes vampire novels you should write one too.

Nothing wrong with a good vampire novel. Of course it won’t sell because there’s a million others out there. Oh, unless you’ve found a unique angle, in which case you’ll be a millionaire.

6. If everyone writes vampire novels you should NOT write one.

So, you read number two, huh? Are you insane? Why would you listen to me? I’ve only written two books, for crying out loud. I don’t know ANYTHING.

Look, if you are genuinely passionate about vampire novels, write one. Sure it will be a hard sell, but stranger things have happened and if you follow tip number one, anything is possible. Especially if you’ve found a new angle. After all, there were stories about wizards before Harry Potter, you know …

7. Have you ever considered, I don’t know … reading?

Um, here’s something I haven’t told anyone.  I read a book that I loved called Millions and then I read and re-read that book. It taught me about voice and I read until the voice slipped inside my head. I literally carried it with me to the library when I was writing.

I didn’t copy, that’s pointless and well, downright illegal. I can’t afford to be sued, unless the plaintive is willing to be paid out in marshmallows. Anyway, the tone of the book helped me a lot.

(I would like to point out l also got my big ‘aha’ moment after reading a book in first person, present tense called Castlecliff and the Pea Princess by Elizabeth Pulford.  The tone stayed with me and I experimented with the voice. It worked! My first piece was accepted shortly after that. Of course this might not be YOUR style, it would be boring if everyone wrote the same way.)

8. A real writer always …

Anyone who uses this phrase in ANY shape or form deserves to be shot out of a cannon, which I just happen to have in the back yard … ‘if you don’t do X, you’re not a real writer.’ You will hear it, in one form or another. I promise. I did, sweeping statements on how real writers thought, plotted and acted, which struck me down with fear. Only one thing is true – there are no absolute rules.

Not even these tips.

Wait – what does that mean? Are these even real tips? Perhaps I’ve gone back to my old tricks. Am I trying to convince you NOT to write books?

You decide. In the meantime, take up needlework. The world needs more embroidered cushions.

No, honest. It really does.

Cheers

Leonie Agnew

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Star Author Refuses To Comment

And then, there was me.

Yep, I’m Leonie Agnew, the next Star Author for June and I’ve nothing to say. I’m not giving you a single writing tip. Not one. Why?

Because you might learn something useful.

I can’t have that. You might write your own book. And when you’re sunning yourself by the pool outside your billion dollar mansion, sipping drinks from diamond studded goblets and snap chatting with J K Rowling … guess what you’ll be? MY COMPETITION!

I will be extra grumpy because I drink out of plastic cups, don’t own a tent, let alone a mansion and well, J K keeps ignoring my tweets. Can’t imagine why.

Anyway, the point is, my lips are sealed. I won’t tell you about the children’s writer’s conference in Christchurch. I certainly won’t mention the workshop on editing with Joanna Orwin. Instead, I will take her tips to my grave, written in microfiche and encased in glass, worn around my wrist and disguised as a friendship bead. Why should I tell anyone about the importance of editing and taking out adverbs, even if it does avoid unnecessary description and make your writing sharp?

She also told me something so top-secret, I’m thinking of writing it down with heat sensitive ink. That way, when historians dig up my body and find the bead (and they will, mark my words), the warmth from their breath will make the words evaporate. Clever, right?

No one will ever know Joanna said take words out and add words in – necessary if you haven’t milked the crucial moments in your chapter. That’s like, after the big moment in each chapter, you need to show the main character’s emotional reaction, not just the physical. So if your character wants to run away, it pays to make them think about it first. Understanding character motivation helps the reader to care and keeps them turning pages.

Yep, wild horses couldn’t drag that information from me. Oh … darn.

Right.

Well … give J K Rowling my best, okay? I will come to all your book launches and eat the free food. Mostly because I’ll be unemployed and starving.

Bye for now,

Leonie Agnew

P.S. I think I was supposed to tell you stuff about me. I’m the author of Super Finn and The Importance of Green. That’s a start. Stay tuned and I’ll tell you facts about my life that may or may not be true.

Usually I tell the truth, until I get bored. But it’s not telling lies. When you write lies down it’s called writing fiction, and that’s completely okay.  Just ask your librarian.

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Andy Griffiths Writing Challenge #1

Want something to do these holidays? Enter the Andy Griffiths writing challenge and you could win a Typo prize pack.

Andy Griffiths, the author of Just Crazy, Just Tricking, Zombie Bums from Uranus and The 13-storey Treehouse, has just released his book about writing, called Once Upon a Slime.  In this very cool book he gives lots of tips about writing and some activities to help you become a better writer.  You’re probably looking for something to do in the holidays so why not try an Andy Griffiths writing challenge.

In the box below there is a writing challenge from Andy’s book, Once Upon a Slime.  Why not try it out and post your writing here on the blog.  Just post your piece of writing as a comment at the end of this post, along with your name and email address.  At the end of the week we’ll choose our favourite piece of writing and the author will win a prize pack of goodies from Typo.

Write a story starring YOU!

You don’t have to be able to make up imaginary characters or exotic settings to tell a good story.  A fast way to create fun, believable-sounding stories is to start with the character you know best in the whole world (YOU!).  Choose one of the following scenarios and describe what you would do and what happens next.

  • You wake to discover that you can no longer speak – you can only bark like a dog.
  • You are in class.  It’s a hot day.  Your friend starts taking off their clothes…their shirt…their shoes…their socks…their pants!
  • You have a strong suspicion that your teacher is a vampire and, worse still, you suspect that they know you have discovered their secret.

So get writing and see what you can come up with!

 

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