Category Archives: The Writing Experience

The Working Girl’s Guide to Journaling


by Heather Harris Brady

One can’t knock the idea of journaling, as such. However, if you’re like me, scraping tiny tidbits of time out of a day to write journaling seems to be asking a bit much. Once you’ve got the kids on the bus, you’ve put in a full day at work and cleaned after the dinner that you cooked, I mean really. Get serious.

Then I read a blog post somewhere, and I’m sorry I forgot to write down the place, about a writer who does long mystery series. She keeps a short daily journal of notes to stay on track. Here’s how:

1) Each morning she starts with the date, perhaps a short bit on her mood.

2) Add any ideas that cropped up overnight.

3) Play with a problem scene or the one you’re on if you feel you need it.  Explore those bizarre veins of thought that might not be worthy of going into the text right now.

I do via a document in Dropbox and I add to it every morning. It doesn’t take very long and it has helped me immensely. Before, I would be constructing amazing snippets of dialogue in my head while I brushed my teeth or drove to work, but by the time I could write – ten or so hours later – they were gone.

But no more! I take a few minutes and get them down. Better yet, the document is always waiting for me wherever I am, so if I have ideas at lunchtime I can add on. Maybe someday I’ll have time to journal the way a writer is supposed to do it, with some intense character navel-gazing, but for now this has made my writing life a lot better and I hope it helps you as well.

Photo source: Wikicommons

Character Focus: Guardians of the Galaxy


by Heather Harris Brady

As someone who’s spent a lot more time in the classics than the comics, I was so surprised by this movie! I’ve now watched it twice in the last two weeks. It offers writers a lot of lessons, in my opinion, so it’s well worth your time. (There are spoilers below, so run and watch it if that bothers you!)

Here are a few of the things I think it does particularly well:

High Emotional Stakes

This movie is littered with characters who have high emotional stakes tied to the outcome, from Nova guards all the way up to the main cast. This is food for thought when you look at your own manuscript – how can you amp up the stakes and make sure they’re tied to the resolution? There are some other interesting twists as well within each character.

There is one thing they all share as loners: as they come to care more and more for each other any future danger is going to cost them that much more in exchange, ramping up the stakes as they go.

Starlord/Peter Quinn: Although he appears to have less at stake than most (his primary motivation is selfish – money, glory and whatever girls he can pick up along the way) as he grows into a leader we learn his father is an unknown entity. So as the story develops he might end up having the highest stakes of all and we just don’t know it yet.

Gamora: She’s trying to escape the violent life laid out for her and her father’s clear preference has turned her sister into her greatest threat. Despite that, she’s willing to put aside her own needs (selling the infinity stone could give her freedom) in order to save people she doesn’t even know. She also tries to get her sister to change her ways, to no avail (at least for now). Another nice angle: despite his attempts she’s not going to just fall at Peter’s feet like the other “starry eyed waifs”. Her love is a prize that will need to be won and even she may not know what that will take.

Drax: His primary motivation is to avenge his wife and daughter’s murder, whatever it takes. This could have been a flat character but the writers added some intellectual twists in that Drax is very literal. As the story develops we watch him grow, hinting that there may be limits in his quest for revenge if it endangers the other guardians. He works to understand his companions and their friendship, even trying to get a handle on metaphors. He progresses from nearly slitting Gamora’s throat to reaching out to comfort Rocket at the finale.

Rocket: Small, mighty and brainy it is so fun to watch Rocket try and control his aggression as the group creates problems all around him. I especially loved the “I didn’t ask to get made” scene, where again we see a deep emotional pool under the ripples on the surface. Always the wisecracking, callous adventurer with the chip on his shoulder, the finale breaks him and we see how much he cares underneath.

Groot: I saved Groot for last because he’s so fascinating. An ambulatory tree, Groot is the only one who might be said to have superpowers. There are little vignettes where we get glimpses of these hidden talents – he makes a flower for a little girl around the midpoint, these also move toward the forefront over the last third. Although limited to “I am Groot”, Rocket can parse different meanings intuitively. In the end, when Groot says one different thing “We are Groot”, and sacrifices himself to save the rest of the group, his silent strength is both a balm and a tearjerker.

Other highlights:

  • All the characters have lots of room to grow further (even Groot, literally)
  • The story revolves around the infinity stone but the characters don’t rely on magic or superpowers – they have what we all have for the most part
  • Watch for the emotional commitment from characters with lesser screen time: Nova guards/citizens, Nebula, the ravagers – it’s there!

There are a few nitpicky pop-culture things that bugged me a little bit, but overall this is an amazing story and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. Now I wonder what else I could learn about novel writing from comics 😉

Update: I learned shortly after this post that Guardians is a surprise Writer’s Guild nomination for best adapted screenplay (writers James Gunn & Nicole Perlman), and I came across this article on Nicole Perlman

Now I love it even more!












Getting into characters: What breaks their hearts?

by Heather Harris Brady

Like a lot of you I suspect, I have pages and pages of notes related to characters, especially getting to know a main character. It’s all good information, and a good exercise but it was starting to get overwhelming. Then I saw a post today on Terri Eicholz’ great Engage Their Minds blog about making heartbreak maps. And that’s it really, isn’t it? When you get right down to brass tacks, whatever breaks your character’s heart is what is going to drive everything.

The process is simple:

  • Step one: just draw a heart shape and write all your character’s passions in it.
  • Step two: draw a line out from each passion to a bubble.
  • Step three: in each bubble write what would break your character’s heart about that particular passion.

Maybe it’s because I’m a visual learner, but I think this exercise is really going to help me crystallize the driving emotional factors behind my characters. I’m doing maps for each character and then I’m going to hang them up so I can refer back to them easily. When I get a good sample finished I’ll post it.

We need diverse books!


by Heather Harris Brady

Those of you who have explored the pages of my website know this topic is close to my heart as a member of a blended Hispanic family, and as part of my own past growing up in a small, non-diverse country town. There are so many unknowns when you don’t get to meet all walks of people on a daily basis. It is all a driving factor behind most of my work, including the manuscript I am querying right now. A Missfits Misstory stars two fashionistas (May and Valentina). May is a young Victorian woman rebelling against her Puritan town and Valentina is a contemporary 13 year-old Hispanic fashionista who moves into her house and into the middle of a century-old mystery May left behind.

I’m copying the essence of the #weneeddiversebooks tumblr below, to help spread the word for their effort:

Recently, there’s been a groundswell of discontent over the lack of diversity in children’s literature. The issue is being picked up by news outlets like these two pieces in the NYT, CNN, EW, and many more. But while we individually care about diversity, there is still a disconnect. BEA’s Bookcon recently announced an all-white-male panel of “luminaries of children’s literature,” and when we pointed out the lack of diversity, nothing changed.

Now is the time to raise our voices into a roar that can’t be ignored. Here’s how:

On May 1st at 1pm (EST), there will be a public call for action that will spread over 3 days. We’re starting with a visual social media campaign using the hashtag #WeNeedDiverseBooks. We want people to tweet, Tumblr, Instagram, Facebook, blog, and post anywhere they can to help make the hashtag go viral.

For the visual part of the campaign:

Take a photo holding a sign that says “We need diverse books because ___________________________.” Fill in the blank with an important, poignant, funny, and/or personal reason why this campaign is important to you.
The photo can be of you or a friend or anyone who wants to support diversity in kids’ lit. It can be a photo of the sign without you if you would prefer not to be in a picture. Be as creative as you want! Pose the sign with your favorite stuffed animal or at your favorite library. Get a bunch of friends to hold a bunch of signs.
However you want to do it, we want to share it! There will be a Tumblr at that will host all of the photos and messages for the campaign. Please submit your visual component by May 1st to with the subject line “photo” or submit it right on our Tumblr page here and it will be posted throughout the first day.
Starting at 1:00PM (EST) the Tumblr will start posting and it will be your job to reblog, tweet, Facebook, or share wherever you think will help get the word out.
The intent is that from 1pm EST to 3pm EST, there will be a nonstop hashtag party to spread the word. We hope that we’ll get enough people to participate to make the hashtag trend and grab the notice of more media outlets.
The Tumblr will continue to be active throughout the length of the campaign, and for however long we need to keep this discussion going, so we welcome everyone to keep emailing or sending in submissions even after May 1st.

On May 2nd, the second part of our campaign will roll out with a Twitter chat scheduled for 2pm (EST) using the same hashtag. Please use #WeNeedDiverseBooks at 2pm on May 2nd and share your thoughts on the issues with diversity in literature and why diversity matters to you.

On May 3rd, 2pm (EST), the third portion of our campaign will begin. There will be a Diversify Your Shelves initiative to encourage people to put their money where their mouth is and buy diverse books and take photos of them. Diversify Your Shelves is all about actively seeking out diverse literature in bookstores and libraries, and there will be some fantastic giveaways for people who participate in the campaign! More details to come!

We hope that you will take part in this in any way you can. We need to spread the word far and wide so that it will trend on Twitter. So that media outlets will pick it up as a news item. So that the organizers of BEA and every big conference and festival out there gets the message that diversity is important to everyone. We hope you will help us by being a part of this movement.


Photo: WikiCommons

Elizabeth Gilbert on Creativity

by Heather Harris Brady

Quite some time ago there was a SNL skit where Al Franken (as Stuart Smalley) had a regular affirmation: “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it people like me.”

I think as writers we all need to say that to ourselves at times because there’s no sugar-coating it, this writing thing is a hard slog! Here are two TED videos that might boost you up, should you need boosting at the moment 🙂 If I had a account I could embed them, but since I don’t the links will open in a new window.


 TED Video One: Your Elusive Genius

TED Video Two: The Drive to Keep Creating


Common Core: Creating Supplemental Materials


by Heather Harris Brady

Since it’s a major goal of mine to have my books become part of the educational process I think a lot about creating supplemental materials. These materials (questionnaires, worksheets, fun activities and even LitTrips) are another way for writers to reach out to teachers and guides. I know companies like Scholastic do a lot of this for their books, but if you are doing a lot of your legwork there’s resources to help.

Common Core Seven-Step Short Guide to Creating Text Dependent Questions

Complete Guide to Creating Text Dependent Questions

Checklist for Evaluating Question Quality

Professional Development Module: Understanding Text Dependent Questions

Photo: Wiki Commons

Getting more done with online apps


by Heather Harris Brady

Whether you’re a writer, a teacher, a student we all need more time, amirite? When it comes to finding reasons not to write I suspect we’re all experts. Not that we need any help when there are so many things to do as a writer these days – build the platform/online presence, stalk research agents, participate in critique groups, on and on. I can say that I’m working on it at least, trying to find ways to streamline things to make as much time as possible to procrastinate write. Here are few (mostly free) online tools worth a look, besides Google Drive:

Images from quotes

Picture editing and social media photo adjustments



To Do Lists

If you’ve found something great let us know in the comments! Happy Valentine’s Day readers –

Photo credit: This is a press photograph from the George Grantham Bain collection, which was purchased by the Library of Congress in 1948. According to the library, there are no known restrictions on the use of these photos.

Jingling your way to a query


by Heather Harris Brady

It’s been gray here for what seems like weeks, so I needed to post this picture. The fact that I am languishing in the leech-infused quicksand swamp of query-writing turns everything another shade darker. I think about queries all the time. One night while we were watching a few TV shows with the kids it dawned on me just how many older sit-com jingles are a form of query. Take, for example, Gilligan’s Island (RIP Professor):

Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale,
A tale of a fateful trip
That started from this tropic port
Aboard this tiny ship.

The mate was a mighty sailing man,
The skipper brave and sure.
Five passengers set sail that day
For a three hour tour, a three hour tour.

The weather started getting rough,
The tiny ship was tossed,
If not for the courage of the fearless crew
The minnow would be lost, the minnow would be lost.

The ship set ground on the shore of this uncharted desert isle
With Gilligan
The Skipper too,
The millionaire and his wife,
The movie star
The professor and Mary Ann,
Here on Gilligans Isle.

So this is the talel of the castways,
They’re here for a long, long time,
They’ll have to make the best of things,
It’s an uphill climb.

The first mate and the Skipper too,
Will do their very best,
To make the others comfortable,
In the tropic island nest.

No phone, no lights no motor cars,
Not a single luxury,
Like Robinson Crusoe,
As primative as can be.

So join us here each week my freinds,
You’re sure to get a smile,
From seven stranded castways,
Here on “Gilligan’s Isle.”


And of course, the Brady Bunch:
Here’s the story of a lovely lady
Who was bringing up three very lovely girls.
All of them had hair of gold, like their mother,
The youngest one in curls.

Here’s the store, of a man named Brady,
Who was busy with three boys of his own,
They were four men, living all together,
Yet they were all alone.

Till the one day when the lady met this fellow
And they knew it was much more than a hunch,
That this group would somehow form a family.
That’s the way we all became the Brady Bunch.
The Brady Bunch,

That’s the way we all became the Brady Bunch.
The Brady Bunch.


There are even examples written with the show’s voice:
Come and listen to a story about a man named Jed
A poor mountaineer, barely kept his family fed,
Then one day he was shootin at some food,
And up through the ground came a bubblin crude.

Oil that is, black gold, Texas tea.

Well the first thing you know ol Jed’s a millionaire,
Kinfolk said “Jed move away from there”
Said “Californy is the place you ought to be”
So they loaded up the truck and moved to Beverly.

Hills, that is. Swimmin pools, movie stars.

Well now its time to say good by to Jed and all his kin.
And they would like to thank you folks fer kindly droppin in.
You’re all invited back a gain to this locality
To have a heapin helpin of their hospitality

Hillybilly that is. Set a spell, Take your shoes off.

Y’all come back now, y’hear?.


Can you guess this one?
Boy the way Glen Miller played
Songs that made the hit parade.
Guys like us we had it made,
Those were the days.

And you knew who you were then,
Girls were girls and men were men,
Mister we could use a man
Like Herbert Hoover again.

Didn’t need no welfare state,
Everybody pulled his weight.
Gee our old LaSalle ran great.
Those were the days.

Are you smarter than a 5th grader? Augmenting a writer’s reality.

by Heather Harris Brady

This year both of my children received school-issued ipads for the first time. Last night my sophomore son sat on the couch with his, combining atoms to make table salt, while my fifth-grade daughter logged into her Google drive account to finish a writing assignment. We all know writing’s a tough business. Most of us hold down at least one other job, and raise a family besides, so keeping up with technology seems like just another thing to keep us away from writing. However, I would argue that if we push it aside for “later” we’re missing out on a lot of opportunities. Plus, we are deliberating removing ourselves from the real-world experiences of kids today.

My next few posts are going to focus on the technology showing up in classrooms today, and how it might work with a writer’s lifestyle. Can you find the technology hidden in this blog? You can if you have the free Layar app! (Apple, Android)

Catching Fire

by Heather Harris Brady

So now you know about my checkered musical past, you might as well know this – I am also a grade A marching band geek. It’s true, the first few notes from the drum line and I’m bouncing, clapping and grinning from ear to ear like a toddler at a birthday party.  While the embed above shows my beloved Spartan Marching Band, I only marched in high school as a twirler in the color guard. Except for a few choice moments at band camp I loved every minute of it. Even though I was a wallflower, backed up by the band I could march out without a second thought.

For my senior finale at football homecoming I twirled a fire baton. I found it in the back of the supply closet and it was old school – with little cages on the end for the gasoline-soaked cloth. For this performance I wore my regular uniform, covered in 6″ long white fringe and yeah, I probably had quite a bit of hairspray to hold my carefully feathered hair in place. No one questioned it, not the band director, not my family and certainly not me because who wouldn’t want to twirl fire, right?

That said, I cannot imagine showing up to a game and watching my daughter do it. It seems like we are all so protective now, and of course, that’s not without good reason. But I wonder, do we all have some inside need for the adrenaline rush that makes us feel alive? Maybe that’s why books like The Hunger Games are so popular. They’re certainly a lot more exciting than the books I had – back in the time when I was catching fire for myself.