All posts by katiemerkelwriter

Katie Merkel is a writer, actress, and teacher. She has a bachelor’s degree in Spanish education and a minor in German from Millersville University and is a certified Spanish teacher in the state of Pennsylvania. She has an associate’s degree in performing arts from Harrisburg Area Community College. She currently teaches Spanish at an elementary school where she also assists with their drama program.

Brutal Editing

Hello everyone!

So, you’ve written something and are ready to get it published. You have read and re-read your piece and are sure it’s worthy of being seen by readers, but is it?

Back in January, I entered WritersWeekly’s Winer 2017 24-Hour Short Story Contest. There were a lot of submission guidelines and a list of common themes to avoid; themes the judges had seen in so many submissions that they had become groan worthy. I read the submission guidelines and the list of common themes three times: before the prompt was posted, the day the prompt was released, and right before I submitted my short story. I was 100% certain that I had followed all of their instructions. I had worked hard and done research to make sure that my take on the prompt would be too original for anyone else to duplicate. It sounds vain, but I expected to win or at least get an honorable mention because the idea was so unlikely to be replicated. When the winners and honorable mentions were announced, my story was not listed. I was disappointed, but I have been to too many acting auditions to let it crush me. Competitions, like auditions, are subjective. You can do everything right and still not be chosen.

I read the list of common themes seen in the stories submitted for the Winter 2017 contest and was satisfied to see that my story did not contain any of those repeated themes. In that respect, my research paid off.

My thought was to post my short story on my blog so that others could see what I had done and get a feel for my writing style. I e-mailed my brother a copy of my short story and asked for his feedback. I know many people say you should never ask your family or friends to critique your writing; because, they will tell you it is wonderful to save your feelings, but my family is not like that. My family tells me what I did well, but they also tell me what confused them, where I have plot holes, or where they got bored. Then, they offer suggestions on how to make the weak parts stronger.

After he read my short story, my brother called me. When I asked if he thought it was ready for publication, he countered with, “What do you think of your story?” That made me stop and evaluate my story differently than I previously had. Up until my brother asked me that question, I had only focused on the originality of the idea, the accuracy of my research, and making sure that the ending wrapped things up nicely. When I started listing to my brother the things I was proud of, it suddenly struck me that the plot itself was not very compelling. The protagonist made a decision at the end of the story, but up until that point, she had passively let life happen to her. It is very boring to read about a passive rather than a proactive protagonist.

I was so focused on being different that I ignored perhaps the most crucial part of any story: the plot. My brother made some suggestions for how to rewrite the story so that the protagonist was taking a more active role in outside events or so that the conflict was all internal.

After our talk, I understood why my story had not been chosen. I also became more conscious of a tendency which I need to watch out for as a writer: I become so focused on details that I forget about the big picture.

When it comes to editing your own work, I have four pieces of advice:

  1. Unless you are participating in a 24-hour short story competition, put your writing away for a few days before you edit it. This break from your work will give you a fresh prospective on what you’ve written.
  2. Find someone to read over your work who you know will be honest with you. This person should be good at pointing out what you did well and at explaining why something needs to be improved.
  3.  Do not be defensive about your work. If you want to write something that is worthy of publication, you need to be willing to demolish and rebuild your story multiple times. Kick your ego to the curb and put your story’s interests before your own.
  4.  You can’t please everyone, so at least make sure you like what you wrote. Remember that writing is an art and, therefore, subjective. Have the wisdom to know when the feedback you receive reveals an issue with the plot, characters, or writing style and when the feedback is just the reader’s personal preference. I am part of a writing group and my rule is if half the group has the same question or issue, I need to make a change. If only one person has an issue, it is probably personal preference; I can use my own discretion and either reject the advice or make a change.

Good luck editing and happy writing!

Katie

Spring into March Madness

Hello everyone!

It’s that time of year again: March Madness. The time where TV sets are usurped by the basketball lovers in the household and sports bars are filled with fans who were beaten to the remote.

In honor of March Madness, choose one of the writing challenges below:

  1. Write a short story about an adult who is trying to watch his/her team play, but is continually being thwarted. This could be a comedic or tragic story depending on how you present it.
  2. Choose an age group and create some basketball themed brainteasers (logic problems, riddles, etc.) for that age group.
  3. Write an article about the history of March Madness or explaining what March Madness is and how brackets work. Choose a sports magazine and try to write your article within the parameters of that magazine (word count, style, etc.).

Happy writing “and may the odds be ever in [your team’s] favor” (Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games)!

Katie

Picture Books: The Underlying Structure

Hello everyone!

One of my goals as a writer is to get at least one picture book published.  However, the picture book market is very competitive.  Below are two blog posts and an article about how to structure a successful picture book.  I hope you find them to be as helpful as I did.

“Writers: The 20 Questions I Ask a Picture Book” by Rachel Hamby: https://rachelhamby.com/for-writers/ (Special thanks to Laurie Wallmark for leading me to this article.)

“Concept book, concept book. What do you see?” by Bonny Becker: https://booksaroundthetable.wordpress.com/2017/02/06/concept-book-concept-book-what-do-you-see/?wref=pil

“7 Ways to Structure Your Picture Book” by Brian A. Klems: http://www.writersdigest.com/whats-new/7-ways-to-structure-your-picture-book (This article ties in with Bonny Becker’s article.  I think of the seven structures as seven writing challenges.)

Happy writing!

Katie

Dr. Seussified

Hello everyone!

On Dr. Seuss Day at school, one of the teachers read If I Ran the Zoo to the students and then had them create their own creature by joining the head of one animal, the body of a second, and the tail of a third. The students also had to name their animal. I liked the art assignment so much, that I’m borrowing the idea.

In honor of Dr. Seuss’ birthday your writing challenge is to create an animal out of three or more different animal parts.

  1. Draw the animal.
  2. Name it.
  3. Create a short rhyme about your creature.

After you’ve finished, please share your rhyme in the comments section below. I would love to see what you come up with!

As an example, I have shared my animal below.

Animal’s Name: Bullark

bullarkSelected Animal Parts

1. Shark’s head

2. Bull’s body

3. Eagle’s wings and talons

 

Rhyme:

Have you seen a bullark?

They glow in the dark

And eat sea birds and hay.

The dreadful bullark’s

A cousin of sharks

And scares sea cows away.

Happy writing!

Katie

Marketing Children’s Picture Books

Hello everyone!

One of the most important things authors do is market their books.  Check out the articles below for ideas on how and where to market your children’s picture book(s).

“How To Market Children’s Books” by Jessica Schein: http://www.lulu.com/blog/2012/07/how-to-market-childrens-books/#sthash.IugZi6m3.dpbs

“Tips for Marketing Self-Published Children’s Books” by Alex Palmer: http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/authors/pw-select/article/67610-not-child-s-play.html

“Getting the Word Out: Marketing Children’s Books” by Barbara Cohen: http://www.underdown.org/marketing.htm

Happy writing!

Katie

Behind Every Leader…

mount-rushmore-8

Hello everyone and happy Presidents’ Day!

“The best leader is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and the self-restraint to keep from meddling with them while they do it.” – Theodore Roosevelt

It is easy to look at a leader and attribute his/her success to his/her own drive and personality. Although the individual is the focal point, the credit for his/her accomplishments also partially belongs to the members of his/her support group. Every leader surrounds himself/herself with people who can offer advice, emotional/financial/political support, etc.

Your writing prompt for the next two weeks is to select a job title for a leader and then create a supporting cast for him/her. Your leader can be a political figure, the head of a corporation, the principal of a school, a pastor, the head of a household, etc.

  1. Create between three and five supporting characters.
  2. Define each character’s role/relationship with the leader.
  3. Give each secondary character a minimum of one strength and one flaw.
  4. Create a backstory for how each character met your leader character and how each character came to earn his/her trust enough to become one of his/her main support personnel.

For my history lovers, you could alter this writing challenge by choosing a leader from history and researching his/her three to five closest advisers, family members, friends, etc.

Happy writing!

Katie Merkel

Trademark Trolls

***Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer.  I recommend that you speak with a lawyer about any legal questions you have.

Hello everyone!troll-1

I recently found the following article about trademark trolls and thought you would also find it interesting.

“Has a Troll Falsely Accused You of Violating Their Trademark? Here’s What You Should Do” by Angela Hoy: http://writersweekly.com/angela-desk/has-a-troll-falsely-accused-you-of-violating-their-trademark-heres-what-you-should-do-by-angela-hoy

For those of you who would like to do some research on your own, I have included a few more links which I believe you will find helpful.

“Trademark vs. Copyright Protection”: https://www.legalzoom.com/trademarks-patents-copyrights/summary-compare-trademark-copyright.html

United States Copyright Office: https://www.copyright.gov/

U.S. Trademark Law (January 14, 2017): https://www.uspto.gov/sites/default/files/documents/tmlaw.pdf

United States Patent and Trademark Office (Especially look under the “Trademarks” tab at the top of the page.): https://www.uspto.gov/

Happy writing!

Katie