Turbo Monkey Tales is a group blog focusing on the craft, production, marketing and consumption of Children's Literature. We are illustrators, writers, animators and media mongrels. We are readers! We are published, unpublished and self-published; agented and searching, and 100% dedicated to our Kid Lit journey, no matter where we are on the path. Join our Tribe and grab a vine. The more the merrier!

Monday, May 27, 2013

Building Rome (and Your Writing Career)—15 Minutes at a Time

by Marilyn Hilton

We've all been in that "in-between" space in our schedules: waiting in the car for school to let out, waiting on the bleachers for swim class to end, waiting in the dentist's waiting room, sitting at endless red lights or at the coffee shop for your friend to arrive, wondering what to do with the 15 minutes left of your lunch hour because you had to run to the post office or school or the gym, orgasp!you had to eat. And you're anxiously thinking about your writing to-do list and wishing you had a block of uninterrupted time to work on it.

Just as Rome wasn't built in a day, neither was a book written or a writing career launched. But a book or a career can be built in uninterrupted bites of time. Often, all we have are those 15-minute bites in which to write or research or marketand sometimes that's all we need.

In 15 minutes, you can do any of these:

  • Write 15 scene cards
  • Draft a scenereal fast by hand or typing
  • Outline a novelyes, you can: 1 inciting incident, 2 turning points, 1 final conflict, and 1 resolution
  • Draft a blog post
  • Look up era-appropriate names for your characters
  • Describe the setting of your next book
  • Identify libraries in your area to contact about speaking visits
  • Look through a magazine or the web for models for your characters
  • Research two agents or two editors to query
  • Outline a synopsis
  • List the things you need to research for your novel
  • Write about the memory that has been nudging you
  • Read two blog posts and leave comments
  • Identify schools in your region to contact about visits
  • Organize your writing space
  • Find photos that could have been taken in your setting
  • Brainstorm a list of blog topics
  • Look up one thing on your novel-research list
  • Write two pages of your manuscript (for inspiration, see Kristen's post on speed drafting)
  • Write a journal entry about something you observed today
  • Complete the easy parts of a character profile worksheet
  • Draft a query letter
  • Brainstorm "what happens next?" where your manuscript is stuck
  • In your diary, write what happened today
  • Identify bookstores in your region to contact about signings
  • Read a chapter of the book at the top of your stack
  • Spend 15 minutes on the social medium of your choice (remember to retweet and share, too)
  • Write an online book review
  • Create a new playlist for a scene, a character, or your book
  • Read something that inspires you
  • Write a letter to your growing-up self just before or just after something changed enormously
  • Read through and highlight notes you took at the last conference you attended
  • Review comments from your critique partners, letting your mind formulate solutions
  • Brainstorm speaking topics
  • Write a thank-you note to someone who critiqued your work at a recent conference, and then seal, address, and stamp it—you can take it to the post office on your lunch hour

The next time you find yourself in between on your schedule, try one of these 15-minute tasks. Or pull out your to-do list and choose one to finish. One day you may look up and realize your book is finished and your career on its way.

What can you do in 15 minutes?


What can you write in 15 minutes? @TurboMonkeys - Tweet this
Got 15 minutes (for your writing career)? @TurboMonkeys - Tweet this
How to write your book 15 minutes at a time @TurboMonkeys - Tweet this

Monday, May 20, 2013


by Kristen Crowley Held

After reading Julie’s post last week I’m even more excited about the two week investment in my writing that I recently decided to make.

Some of my best adventures in life thus far have been the result of doing something most people thought was crazy.  
Ride my bike from San Francisco to Los Angeles? Sure, why not?

A couple of weeks ago I went in search of a writing adventure and found Candace Havens' Fast Draft Workshop. The objective of the class is to write twenty pages a day for fourteen days. Twenty pages! A day! For fourteen days!

According to the class rules THERE ARE NO EXCUSES IN FAST DRAFT! Unless you’re dead or in a coma, you must write your twenty pages.

Have I mentioned I like challenges?
Flying trapeze, anyone?
Today is DAY ONE.

This morning I’ll be rising before the sun and sending my Internal Editor on a two week vacation. I’ve prepped meals for my family, scheduled hours of entertainment for my kiddos, cleared my desk and set aside at least two and a half hours a day to write.

In order to keep myself accountable I’ll be posting my daily page tally as comments on this blog entry EVERY SINGLE DAY.

My goal is to commit to a story and vomit it on the page fast enough that I don’t have time to talk myself out of writing it. It will not be perfect. It may be total crap. I may put it directly in the bottom of a trunk once I reach 280 pages. BUT I WILL WRITE 280 PAGES!!

It’s only two weeks, right? 

Even if you’re not ready to commit to writing 280 pages in two weeks, or you’re in the middle of revisions or copyedits or whatever, I dare you to challenge yourself today. Pick a goal that seems crazy and, once you’ve decided there are no excuses for not meeting that goal, post it in the comments section to keep yourself accountable. I promise to cheer you on! 

After I finish my twenty pages, of course.

UPDATE: You can read my wrap-up post on my fast drafting experience here.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Reality Check: Investing Where It Matters by Julie

In recent weeks, I’ve been working through a career research unit with my sophomores. Some days I’ve felt FRUSTRATED with how little thought and effort some of the kids seem to put into the possibilities. I worry about them not getting a handle on their own power to choose attitudes and actions—their destinies—so I push.

One day last week, we took a look at a clip from APixar Story, an inspiring documentary about the evolution of the company. We had a discussion about the challenges individuals in the fledgling company faced and what contributed to their successes. 

Mid-chat, I had a doozy of an a-ha moment.

Sometimes the things right in front of me are hard to see.
It struck me that investment is key—not so much the money kind, but the time, effort, perseverance, and belief in what could be (even during the times things look dire) kinds. Success takes real investment. Without it, how can anything really change? It's the difference between the dream of being a doctor, tattoo artist, or writer and actually being one. Of course, I knew that on some level, but now I could feel it.

The a-ha moment had less pleasant second phase (the HA part).It was uncomfortable realizing that in the last couple of years, I've invested so much heart and time and energy into being a teacher--and it’s surely meaningful--BUT it’s not all that is important and meaningful to me. My writing hasn't seen the same tangible investment and that's stressful--an emotional debt.

One of my college classes. I can't show sophomores. ;)
 What If I don’t diversify my investments, don’t get “a handle on my own power to choose attitudes and action” –the exact stuff I’m worried about for my students? I don't want to find out.

So how can I make my investment in writing more a reflection of what it means to me, without defaulting on work or family?

Step one: I’m going public with my goals for investment and productivity.

If you’re struggling with productivity, too, maybe you’ll find Gregory Ciotti’s post on “The Psychology of Productivity: A Proven Way to Get More Done (in Less Time)” as interesting as I did. There’s even a two minute video breakdown of the ideas for the truly time crunched called “The Science of Productivity” over on YouTube at ASAPscience. You should head over and check both out.

The plan?

I need SYSTEMS. Ciotti explains how scientific research suggests it’s not willpower so much as systems I need to stay on track. I need to schedule stretches of time to work on my story and make that time sacred. The hours have a way of filling to the brim with family and school tasks if left open, so I need some strict boundaries there. My goal is to set twenty hours a week aside purely for writing. I’ve blocked out time on my phone calendar and have alarms set to remind me to drop the laundry and get to writing.

I need to CHUNK.  I felt relieved reading Ciotti’s description of how our brains tend to sabotage us when we stand at the base of a pretty immense task. A daily to-do list planned the evening before and achieving the mini-goals of those set writing times create that much needed sense of accomplishment.

I need ACCOUNTABILITY.  Besides  weekly goals, I need a slightly bigger, scarier deadline. So, Monkeys, I’ll put my draft in whatever state it’s in the Dropbox file June 30th. Gifts for any who dare open it.

I need FOCUS.  Research suggests I need to not multi-task (no Internet, noise cancelling headphones, hand each child a cheese stick and a drink before settling into my chair?) and I should give it my all for 90 minutes at a time and then break for 15 or 20 minutes. We're talking full butt in chair and not half-butt.

I'd love to know what you think! Do you feel like your actual investment reflects how much you value writing or illustrating? What could you do or have you done to bring the two more in line? 

Monday, May 6, 2013

Monkey #1s: The One Thing You Wish You'd Known When You Were Just Starting Out

Amy:  I wish I’d worked harder at studying the craft when I first started (and not just spewed words onto a page.) You do learn by writing, but it’s a trial-and-error sort of learning.

Craig:  That YA should be in first person.

Ellen:  I wish rejection letters had not had such an impact on my early writing, and that I should persevere.

Hazel:  I wish I’d started earlier.

Julie:  Do it entirely for love of it, for the writing itself. That's the only thing (besides the friendships) that will keep you going.

Kristen:  There's no such thing as a day off when you're a writer.

Marilyn:  I wish I had known that writing would take lots of guts, determination, and manufactured confidence

Sarah:  (I heard it but I didn't believe it.) It's going to take a while. It's going to take time to be half as good as I'd like to be. It's going to take a while to become familiar with the industry. But more than that, it's okay if it takes that much time. Lots of good stuff happens along the way, if you have the courage and sense of adventure to stick it out.