When Writing Plans Get Derailed

My husband had a big birthday this week. For months, we’d planned a vacation to celebrate. With three glorious days off work, my husband and son would golf and I would write. The anticipation built. As I crossed items off my legal job to-do list, I looked forward to the break. I would make so much writing progress during this getaway.

When my throat began to feel scratchy, I told myself it was nothing. Perhaps I’d been drinking too much sparkling water. But then my head–well, it seemed to weigh a thousand pounds. How had I ever held it up? My ears ached and popped. Things might improve overnight, I decided. But the next morning, I could barely lift my head from the pillow.

Thankfully, my husband and son stayed healthy. Off they went to golf in sunny California. I could write from home, of course. I didn’t need a vacation. But between my pounding head and disorienting fever, it turned out that I was utterly unable to focus.

Guess how many words I wrote this week? Zero.

It’s been a letdown, especially since I had All These Grand Writing Plans.

I’m sure you know the feeling. Life often gets in the way of our writing. As I emerge from the sickly haze back into the brightness of health, I’m struck by two things. First, in my everyday rushing around, I take much for granted. What a joy it is to be able to breathe, to have the energy for an afternoon walk.

And second, my writing project didn’t disappear during my absence. What a welcoming reassurance to realize that I haven’t lost my chance.

I can’t get this week back. But now I have the luxury of a decision: spend another day berating myself for the lack of progress, or open the file and get back to writing.

5 Ingredients for a Love Story

Welcome to the month of candy hearts and rom-coms. Whether you celebrate Valentine’s Day or not, this seems like a good time to explore what makes a compelling love story.

When I say “love story,” I mean a slightly larger category than “romance.” What I have in mind is stories about love of all kinds—a child, friend, lover, or even a pet.

(1) Flawed protagonist meets a counterpart.

Stories are mostly about transformation. In a love story, the protagonist usually has an obvious gap or flaw, something they’re missing or struggling with. Meeting a counterpart will suggest to the reader how the two might complete each other. In Kate DiCamillo’s Because of Winn-Dixie, the main character struggles with loneliness until she meets her first friend: a dog.

(2) The relationship encounters a complication.

It’s not going to be a very compelling story if everything goes smoothly, is it? A complication can be an illness or war or natural disaster. In romances, a complication often arrives in the form of a love triangle.

(3) They break up, separate, or argue.

In Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Mr. Darcy stumbles a bit when he tries to confess his love. Essentially, he tells Elizabeth Bennett that, against his better judgment, he will make her dreams come true by accepting her as his wife. Elizabeth hasn’t learned her lesson yet either and attacks not only his personality but also his social class, assuring him he would be the last man she would ever love.

(4) One or both does something to profess their love.

The characters are beginning to see the error of their ways. But to turn things around, sometimes a big gesture is needed.

For example, in Nicola Yoon’s Everything, Everything, Maddy buys a plane ticket for New York to find Olly. Sometimes proof of love involves a personal sacrifice. Picture the harried business woman leaving an important meeting to attend her daughter’s ballet performance.

(5) Look at us now.

The takeaway of many love stories is this: we are different people after spending time together. Often, in happier love stories, the protagonist and his/her counterpart reunite—and they do so in a way that reveals how they’ve transformed over the course of the story. Even when they don’t stay together in a happily ever after, such as in (spoiler alert) John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, they’ve been changed for the better.

For more info, check out:

Save the Cat: “Buddy Love” https://savethecat.com/buddy-love

Checking In

We’re now a few weeks into the new year and it’s a good time to check in on those writing goals or resolutions. I don’t know about you, but I like having a checklist and it can feel frustrating if I’m not completing tasks as quickly or efficiently as I would like. This frustration—spoiler alert—doesn’t fuel improved productivity; instead, it breeds more negativity. I’ll never accomplish what I’ve set out to. I’m a failure.

There are many different personality types, of course, and it makes sense to take stock of your personal preferences and your typical trajectory. I’ve found it helpful to transform negative self-talk into positive affirmation. Perhaps the short story I’m working on hasn’t been accepted yet. I can tell myself that I’m not a good story writer. That’s a heavy burden to carry the next time I approach the blank page.

Consider switching up the narrative. For days I’ve been getting up before sunrise to revise that short story. My effort is worth a little pat on the shoulder, isn’t it? Doesn’t that positivity, a modest dose of self-affirmation, make it more likely that I’ll feel up to trying again tomorrow?

Much of life is out of our control. Our writing practice can get de-railed by job frustrations, a loved one in the hospital, house repairs, you name it. Giving ourselves grace can keep us coming back to the page. Let’s take this moment to re-assess where we are with our writing goals. And let’s affirm what we are doing right.

Let’s Get Started

Happy New Year! I’m looking forward to spending time with you this year as we explore fiction writing together. Our programming for 2022 centers around the theme of fiction writing as a journey. To get us started, I’d like to share a bit about some of the workshops that I’ll be offering.

Starting Off Strong: An Invitation to the Reader

Whether you’re brainstorming a new project or returning to an existing manuscript, this workshop is designed to help you get started. By using found objects—family heirlooms, items from nature, intriguing newspaper articles—we’ll uncover what sparks our imagination. We’ll also look at examples from contemporary literature—beginnings that sweep us into the story world. Your goal is to invite your ideal reader in and entice them to take this trip with you.

Mapping the Route: An Itinerary for Your Fiction Writing Journey

Let’s talk big picture practicalities. What do you want your fiction writing path to look like? Is an independent publisher a good fit? When do you need a literary agent and how do you get one? This session will be driven by participants’ questions and goals.

Navigating the Messy Middle: Are We There Yet?

Join me and another Piedmont author (or two!) to chat about different techniques for tackling what comes between an exhilarating beginning and dramatic ending. This event will include a panel discussion as well as audience participation. When it comes to narrative arc, it’s easy to get lost, but we’ll get you back on track.

Discovering the Destination: How Far We’ve Come

The right ending resonates with readers long after they’ve put down your story. Using visualization and meditation techniques, we’ll polish your final scene until it shines.

Coming Soon:

First up, join us Jan 24 at 6:30pm for a virtual workshop on Goal-Setting for Fiction Writers.

It’s New Year’s Resolution time! In this workshop we’ll identify concrete, attainable goals—customized for you—and brainstorm strategies for achieving them. Perfect for fiction writers at any stage. Let’s make 2022 your most productive year yet.

To sign up for this free online event, email me at hbelladams@gmail.com

The shared goal of our 2022 journey is to emerge anew—unstuck and re-oriented. Together we’ll find our way.

Counting Blessings

(Photo Credit: Melissa R. Campbell)

As I look back over the past year, I’m so grateful for the many ways we’ve connected. You attended children’s book classes and programs, celebrated Juneteenth with me, listened to readalouds and got to know NC children’s book creators through posts and webinars. My heart is full from our journey. Thank you for the warm welcome and support. It has been an honor to be Piedmont Laureate and walk in the footsteps of the amazing writers who came before. Get ready for the magic of 2022 Piedmont Laureate Heather Bell Adams!

Much love to the United Arts Council of Raleigh & Wake County, Raleigh Arts Commission, Durham Arts Council and Orange County Arts Commission for choosing me for this incredible role. What a gift to build bridges through children’s literature. Thank you to all of my children’s book creator friends who participated in programs and spread the word about my work.

We’re blessed to have some of the best children’s book authors and illustrators in our state. Want to learn more about their books, connect or consider booking them for a program? Please visit Writers and Illustrators of North Carolina and the Carolinas Chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Want to keep up with me? You can visit my website or connect on Twitter and Instagram @kelstarly.

I’m excited that the NC Humanities Council and the Erik Jones Foundation started a fantastic partnership to salute NC children’s book creators and spread the love of reading. Ty’s Travels: Zip, Zoom, my easy reader with illustrator Nina Mata, was chosen as the first title. See NASCAR Driver Erik read the book here and learn more about the program here. Stay tuned for more exciting reads.

There have been lots of challenges this year. But so many blessings too. I’m immensely proud of my final project as Piedmont Laureate, the Hope Shines Through writing contest. We asked fourth and fifth graders in Wake, Durham and Orange counties to share a challenge they faced and how they overcame it. With the many demands and stresses on kids today, it means so much that they took the time to open their hearts and share what they’re feeling. Inspiring doesn’t do their beautiful stories justice.

Thank you to children’s book authors Judy Allen Dodson and Frances O’Roark Dowell for helping me judge the entries and to all of the sponsors who made the contest possible and donated prizes.

As we enjoy the holiday season and look forward to the promise of 2022, I’ll close by showcasing excerpts from some of the winning entries:

” . . . I wish I could do a triple turn,” I thought and I walked out of the classroom. I grabbed my bag tightly and left the dance studio. I sunk into my mom’s car feeling bad. She looked at me and asked in a quiet voice, “Are you okay?” I didn’t answer. I rode home in silence.

The next day I was sitting at my desk in school when my teacher said, “this man kept trying until he got it!” She was talking about Thomas Edison but I felt like that she was talking to me. I practiced every day. At recess, during breakfast, after school, in the bathroom. I was determined to get my triple turn. The next week at turns class we got to work. First, singles. Then, doubles. And last, triples. I took a deep breath and pushed everything out of my head except what my school teacher said. I turned. “3…2…1” I counted as I spun. “I just did a triple!” This time, I did not need to pray. Miss Claire walked towards me and put her hand out for a high five. “Amazing work, Lila,” she said.

– Lila

“On Friday, March 13, 2020, my school closed for the Covid-19 pandemic, but that wasn’t the only devastating news I received that month. One week later, I learned my best friend, Blake, was moving to Rhode Island in two months. We’d been neighborhood friends before kindergarten, and when I heard that she was moving away, it felt like my newly isolated world had crumbled.

Blake was a special part of my life and we were suddenly separated by an invisible virus and soon to be hundreds of miles. With masks on, our parents let us play outside one last time. The mask protected us, but it seemed to block our smiles and our ability to tell each other how much we meant to each other. We hugged each other, hoping it wouldn’t be our last.

Over the next year, Blake and I learned to connect virtually online. But my favorite way to share my feelings was by writing letters. Opening her letter felt just like a big hug I needed from my friend . . . ”

Laura

“Life is full of challenges that come like unwanted visitors on a stormy day. One of my challenges is Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis (JRA). When I was eight, I was experiencing severe ankle pain. It felt like an elephant was stepping on my ankle. My parents took me to a Foot Doctor. I was told that I had a fractured growth plate. I had frequent check-ins with the doctor but did not get better. I had to get a boot and use crutches. They didn’t work. After nothing worked, frustration added to my challenge. I was referred to a Rheumatologist and diagnosed with JRA.

I was doing gymnastics but had to quit when my ankle got super sore. Activities that involve a lot of movement in the area with arthritis can worsen the swelling and soreness. It was like someone snatched what I loved and replaced it with pain. The Rheumatologist prescribed medicine that had to be taken by injection. It felt like I got poked by a thorn every week. Eventually, the shots became too much for me, so I switched to pills.

I have ankle pain sometimes and check-ins with my doctor, but I’d still say I’ve overcome. I’m in remission. I had to stop gymnastics but started Taekwondo. I didn’t think I would like Taekwondo, but I tried it and loved it! I recently earned my purple belt. I have learned that challenges may be unwanted, but they make you stronger, more courageous and can open new doors.”

– Alivia

Here’s to peace, love, big dreams and rainbows after storms.

Wishing you blessings,

Kelly

Results of the Contest!

Exciting news: We received 51 entries for the Hope Shines Through writing contest. The stories were personal, touching and full of meaning. Thank you to everyone who entered. It’s tough to put your heart on the page. Our young writers gave their all. So proud of them.

Hugs to children’s book authors Judy Allen Dodson and Frances O’Roark Dowell who helped me judge the contest. We loved the creativity displayed in the essays and were moved by how the students overcame the challenges they faced. From managing anxiety and learning to ride a bike to coping with the loss of a grandparent and navigating life with Covid, each story shone with candor, resilience and hope.

To us, every student is a winner. We urge you to keep writing, keep believing in yourself and keep standing tall. We see you and honor who you are.

Here are the students whose essays earned prizes:

First place: Lila Mishoe

Second place: Laura Bendz

Third Place: Alivia Alexandra Akinbinu

Rounding out the Top 10:

Audrey Zheng

Noah Hildebrand

Adrian T. Jolly

Raina McMullin

Damara Wilson

Rachel Joseph

Nicolas Otero

Honorable Mentions:

Armand Etienne

Lizeidy

Vaibhavi Kode

Abigail Wiliams

Gabriella DeWitte

Congratulations! Your prizes will be sent by next week.