Katia Raina

The Magic Mirror

Writing Out of Order

Yikes, it’s really been a while! Sorry!!!

This post may not be a revelation to many writers out there, but the following idea was quite a discovery for me: writing out of order.

Sure, I’ve heard about it before. Somehow, I always thought this method was reserved for wizards and other super-human types. 🙂 I thought my boring brain was too logical, my inner editor too bossy for such marvelous creative chaos.

And then in the middle of my semester, my advisor challenged me.

The beginning chapters of the manuscript I sent her were fraught with problems, she pointed out (quite gently). I yearned to try and work those out right away. But she said, “no. Leave the beginning alone. Send me some middle scenes instead.” She only wanted to see the scenes that explored a relationship between two particular characters. With the next packet deadline looming, I couldn’t afford to write in order. I had to try this crazy new upside-down way.  jigsaw

So I dove in, terrified (and a little excited, too).

Oddly enough, the first thing I started with was an ending. I wrote backwards from it for a while, then I jumped into late middle. Then I went kind of all over the place, in true jigsaw-puzzle fashion.

Only now, after more than a month of this work, am I allowing myself to return to the beginning again.

It’s been crazy how good it felt. Like play. Like candy. My bossy left-brain inner editor, totally disoriented, just gave up and left me alone to indulge. My characters, emboldened, seemed to come to life.

I used to think it was important to write in order so as to trace the main characters’ arcs, to watch them grow. But when I wrote out of order, I discovered things about my characters that I could go back and build toward instead. Now that I am looking at the beginning, I am amazed at how much better I know my protagonist and those close to her.

Part of the reason I enrolled into the VCFA Writing for Children and Young Adults program was to reconsider my process.  I had tried NaNoWriMo, tried to take longer with a rough draft, tried an online Holly Lisle class, etc. All this time, I have been seeking a deeper, more honest way to write. I believe writing out of order is a big part of the answer.

Writing out of order. Scary — and freeing. Have you ever tried it? Do you think you ever will?


April 16, 2014 Posted by | Uncategorized, VCFA Adventures, What I've Learned Series, Writing Mirror | , , | 11 Comments

Hiding Out At The Pancake Palace: Another MG Giveaway — With A Catch

hiding out at the pancake palaceCome on, lovely people! Spread the word! Nan Marino’s second novel, Hiding Out At The Pancake Palace was released out into the world last week! I am ashamed to say I have not read it yet (except for an absolutely gorgeous first chapter). Still, I am privileged to say I know a lot about the story. Nan and I spent many late nights at our local diner talking about her many adventures writing this book. (Yes, I am doubly privileged to count Nan as not only my  good writing friend, but practically a neighbor! Lucky me, right?)

I have an enormous TBR list of fantasy and dystopian stuff I am trying to work through for my next VCFA packet, but I will get to what I am certain is an amazing story as soon as I can.

Meanwhile, those of you guys who are either not currently enrolled into an MFA program, or whose lists include realistic fiction, will probably get the chance to read this treasure before I do. Lucky!!!

Here is the summary: A super-famous 11-year-old singer freezes up on stage during a big-deal singing contest show. He runs off to hide in the Jersey Pines, wild paparazzi on his trail and befriends a local girl with an inability to perceive music.

Doesn’t that sound wild?            Nan and me (left to right), celebrating!

According to a Kirkus starred review, “the audience will eat it up!”


Nan, who is also the author of Neil Armstrong Is My Uncle And Other Lies Muscle Man McGinty Told Me (also from Roaring Book Press) had a long road to writing success, which is something she talks about at her book signings and visits. Yes, she went through many rejections, many manuscripts, tough times. So seeing her success now is doubly encouraging for both writers and young readers!

So, here is the deal, my dears. I have a brand new, fresh-smelling copy of “Hiding Out” sitting on the shelf, that I would be happy to give away to a worthy winner.

But a giveaway contest is more fun with a whole bunch of participants, clamoring for the prize, don’t you think? 🙂

So, this week, I decided my contest will have a catch. If you want to participate, leave a comment here. And then, bring a guest along to this party! Find a friend — preferably someone interested in great books for young people, of course.  Just one friend, I am not greedy! Tell them to leave a comment here too, and their name will be entered into a contest along with yours, as long as their comment mentions your name — that is, the name of the person who referred them.

Any questions, troops?

What’s that? Do I hear grumbling? Or is that a murmur of excitement?

To thank the participants for going through the trouble, I will sweeten the prize. Once I have a winner, I will meet up with Nan and ask her to autograph the book with the winner’s name! I know Nan will say yes. She is cool like that.

So, come on, everyone! Let’s make this big! You want me to keep hosting giveaway contests here at the Magic Mirror, don’t you? (Yes, there might be an implied threat in there somewhere… A carrot and a stick, hm?)

Take it away, dear friends and readers! And once again, congratulations, Nan!



P.S. This contest ends at the end of Friday, April 26th. Winner will be announced on Monday, April 29th. And if you guys are good and give me a nice turnout, then I’ll reward you all with one more MG giveaway next week!

April 22, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | 18 Comments

31 Days, 31 Minutes, 32 Winners, 1 Prize!

Hi all,

In the first 31 days of this year, 42 people signed up to write for at least 31 minutes every day. For those of you who tried but didn’t make it daily, the trying is just as important sometimes. Judging from the comments and the emails, most of you still had a great productive writing month, and learned things about yourselves and your writing. Not to mention, most of you wrote a lot.

For the 32 of you who stayed in the running to the bitter end — many of you also writing more than 31 minutes daily — cue in Queen, because yes, you’re the champions, dears, and I am so proud of you! Take what you learned last month, and carry these lessons forward! The projects you have completed — and made progress toward — are the icing on the cake.

And now, for the prize drawing.


I wish I could present a gift certificate to every one of you, because you all totally deserve it. It was fun, though, I have to say, picking out a giveaway winner with a nice number of participants. My daughter helped me choose, as always. I trust in her hand.

picking out the winner...

And the winner is: Christie Wright Wild!

Congrats, Christie, the winners and all the participants! Christie, please email me at katiawrites (at) gmail (dot) com with your mailing address, so I can rush the $31 Barnes & Noble gift card to your house.

According to a Russian superstition, the way you start the New Year is significant in that it will determine how the rest of your year goes. For our sakes this year, I hope it’s true. May you all have a marvelously fruitful, productive rest of 2013!



February 4, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | 6 Comments

Writing Reflections, A Guest Post

It is my pleasure to welcome yet another guest, Jim Stone, a 31-minute challenge participant with some thoughts to offer on reasons for writing and the effect the opening of the writing valve has had on him during this month.

Jim Stone writingHolding a mirror up to another mirror and tilting it just right will surprise you with an optical infinite regress (unlimited reflections) that seem to go on forever.  My experience with this 31-minute writing exercise has been much the same.  As I ponder over the blank page and begin to write, the very action stimulates my memory bank and I begin to dredge up images and events and voices from my past.  That writing begets other images and events and voices and so on and so on.  With me, it hasn’t been just a snowball effect with characters and words, it’s been an avalanche.

But my dilemma is I’ve always thought that writing for public consumption is quite egotistical and selfish. Unless one uses a “nom de plume,” one is putting his or her soul on display and has to be in love with their words so much that they need to share them with the world.  Thus my first reaction when presented with the 31-minute challenge was, “Why would anyone want to read what I write?” With ample prodding from my spouse, I made the leap and as writing resurrected my past life, it dawned on me that it felt therapeutic. It was fascinating how the pleasure and grief and trivial detail rose to the surface with little conscious effort.  It became obvious that what made me what I am could be interesting and useful to my daughter and grandson.  They are all the audience I need to justify my writing.

For now, I’ll do narratives about my life experiences (trying to be honest and not embellish them too much) and when I hopefully fall in love with my words, I can branch out into short story writing with a broader readership in mind.

Good luck, Jim, and thank you for participating, and for sharing. This was the last guest post for the month — and for participating in the challenge. We’re almost there! Happy writing, Jim, and all! –Katia



January 28, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | 4 Comments

31-Minute Challenge: A Family Affair? A Guest Post

Today I am pleased to share another guest post from Dori Stone, a writer and enthusiastic participant of this month’s 31-minute challenge. I have seen it for myself and should have warned you: writing can be a highly contagious activity! 🙂

When I started the 31-day 31-minute challenge, excitement and determination filled me.  I hoped to use it as a stepping stone to focus on my writing.  Who would have thought it would actually change my life?

I’m not a famous writer, just a person who enjoys writing.  So when Katia encouraged the challenge participants to write a guest post for her blog, I said, “Not me!”  But then, I took a breath and said. “Why not me?  What do I have to lose?” Quickly before I could chicken out, I wrote Katia and almost immediately, she accepted my offer to “submit something.”

What had I gotten myself into?

I didn’t stop to think about it, I just sat down and wrote from my heart and hit the send button. Again, almost instantly, Katia responded, “I’ll use your post in early January.”

A few days later, I couldn’t believe my eyes when my words and picture appeared online.

Something equally spectacular happened as a result of the challenge.  A couple of days before it started, Katia posted something like this: “We have 29 participants, wouldn’t it be fun if we could enlist two more people? Then, we’d have 31 writers, writing 31 minutes a day, for 31 days.”

Hmmm. I thought. My husband used to write…could I convince him to commit?

When I twisted his arm, he said, “What would I write?”

“Anything, anything at all,” I said.  Then I promised, “No pressure, just 31 minutes.” To seal the deal I served him prime rib on New Year’s Eve and promised to forget about signing him up at the gym.  And, poof, just like magic, he agreed to “try it.”

Now I can’t get him to stop! He’s up before dawn, writing. He forgets to eat, sleep and take out the trash.  He’ll sit for hours at a time with his laptop, lost in his own world spinning thoughts into story.

Yes, life is different now. Together we write, 31 minutes each and every day; most days much more than that.  To some, 31 minutes seems hardly worth doing but in our house it is life altering.

Thank you, Katia.  And good luck fellow challengers.

Dori and Jim Stone

I am so thrilled that your husband caught the writing bug, Dori! Look for his post next week, challenge participants!

So… we’re in the home stretch now, aren’t we? I know the month flew by for me, partly because of the Vermont College of Fine Arts residency, I’m sure. How about you? Just six days left! How has the writing been going? What have you been learning about yourselves, your process, your work?

Here are a few blog posts from others who have been participating:



January 25, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | , | 9 Comments

31 Minutes? Try 93! A Guest Post

This week I’d like to welcome my writing friend, the delightful Jody Bilbo Staton, an overachieving YA and middle-grade novelist, with a guest post about her ambitiously vigorous trek through the month.

Katia’s 31-minute challenge came at the perfect time, both as a welcome substitute for the standard (and usually vaguely worded) New Year’s resolutions, and as a motivating tool for tackling a revision inspired by an agent’s very nice rejection. (To quote an old Snoopy cartoon, I’d rather get a nasty acceptance!)

JodySo I took the challenge—and decided to expand upon it. Not in the promised-to-myself-and-Katia 31-minute writing sessions, though many of them have continued longer because I had pulled myself into the story. No, I’ve also made two other 31-minute commitments.

One is to sorting through the accumulations of 40 years in one house. I’m a widow now; I’ll be moving someday, though not yet. Spending at least just-over-half-an-hour a day, discarding or donating or tidying up a drawer at a time, has done more to get that accumulation dealt with than any round tuits (as in “I’ll-get-around-to-it”).

The other is to exercise for that same length of time. I belong to a gym and try to get there three times a week, but the other four days needed some commitment if I’m ever to shed the extra 15 pounds that now make some of my favorite clothes a bit snug.

 I’m sort of retired—my freelance copyediting is only part-time, so committing 93 minutes a day hasn’t been that hard. I’ve been very good about it, getting those minutes in every day so far this month. (Although I will admit that a couple of the sorting and exercising times have been a bid dodgy in what I counted. [Filing e-mails? Helping to take up a carpet?]) But it has had the benefit of pushing me past procrastination (oh, I’m very good at that!), and toward a feeling of making progress on what matters to me.

Two other concepts I’m adding to the challenge: I’ve made a graph in Excell that helps keep me on track; and when January ends, I plan to add 28 more days to it. Ease off a bit, maybe, make it a 28-minute challenge. But then of course I’ll have to up it back to 31 in March.

 Thank you, Katia, for that shove—it’s gathering momentum!  —  Johanna Bilbo Staton (Jody)


Thank you, Jody! Keep on writing, girl!

Hope the rest of you are doing well, too! 🙂

January 16, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | , | 4 Comments

Day 8 of the 31-minute Challenge: Choosing, A Guest Post

Today, I am excited to welcome a Pennsylvania writer for young people Wendy Greenley, who happens to be another 31-minute challenge participant. Read below to see how Wendy uses her 31-minutes each day, then visit her website at http://www.wendygreenley.com/

I’m Giving Katia Raina 31! Wendy's timers :)

Actually, I’m giving it to myself.

What is it?

It’s a pledge that for the month of January, yes EVERY DAY, I will spend thirty-one minutes working to achieve my dream. (your link: )

Doesn’t sound like much, you say? Well, it’s HUGE.

This thirty-one minutes isn’t just working on any old thing. It’s working on a dream. This means that I can’t just spend time thinking about it, noodling on it. It is time working to achieve it.

I thought I heard some tongue clucks. But hey, thirty-one minutes is nothing, right?

Wrong. I remember days when the kids were little and I didn’t even find time to shower. The elliptical machine tells me I burn 300 calories during a thirty minute workout. Rachael Ray has made a career out of thirty minute meals. According to an article by the Wall Street Journal’s David Biderman, an NFL football game has only eleven minutes of actual playing time! So thirty-one minutes is a substantial, but not overwhelming, commitment to make.

For this challenge, I commit to spending this time putting the finishing touches on two middle grade novels and submitting those same manuscripts. I’m putting this in writing so I don’t cheat. Cheat myself.

How could I cheat myself?

I’m not a lazy person. I am an enthusiastic writer. Maybe too enthusiastic. While other writers talk about writer’s block, I struggle with the opposite malady. Ideas are everywhere and I want to write about everything. Even if I were as prolific as Joyce Carol Oates, I wouldn’t be able to keep up with the idea machine. Which means I have to pick and choose. It’s like looking at a litter of puppies and trying to decide which to take home. It’s hard! At least for me it is. Do you work on the project that takes your breath away, or the project that your critique group loves?

I don’t think there’s a right or wrong answer as to which project a writer chooses to work on. Just make the choice. Indecision is a time suck. In my experience, if it turns out to be the wrong project to work on, I’ll know it before too long. That’s why my YA novel and another middle grade manuscript aren’t on the dream achievement list!

So, thank you Katia for holding me accountable for the month of January. It’s not just about the work. It’s about which work.

Choices, choices...

Thanks so much Wendy! Hope you’ve been having fun “choosing” every day!

P.S. If anyone has tips/advice/thoughts to share in a guest post, I would be delighted to read it and post it here, of course. You can email your thoughts to me at katiawrites (at) gmail (dot) com. Keep it to roughly 200 to 400 words, though it’s okay if you go over. And don’t forget to send a link to your own blog, plus a beautiful picture of you — or your timer(s). 🙂

January 8, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | 7 Comments

Day 6 of the 31-Minute Challenge: Learn From Your Dog

states 09 368My three-something-year-old Brittany, Lucky, is a lovely, charming girl with quite impressive dog manners. Ask anyone in the neighborhood. 🙂

Still, like any dog she knows what she wants when she wants it.

If you own a puppy of any breed, age or temperament, then you know perfectly well what a term “dogged” means.

Dogged is what they are, when they pursue a squirrel. Beg for food. Keep returning to the one spot they can’t go to — again, and again, and again.

You want something bad? Take an inspiration from your dog. Wrap your teeth around that chew toy. Clamp’em down with everything you’ve got. And don’t let go.

Dogged is the only way to be if you want to achieve anything worthwhile, anything extraordinary.

I wrote another way about this crazy doggedness a few years ago here. I hope it speaks to you.

How did everyone’s first week of the month/year/challenge go? Were you able to keep up during the weekend, too? And are you guys ready for week 2?

I know it’s going to be a crazy week for me, that’s for sure. (Will be posting on that in a few days).

Cheers to all of you! You guys are wonderful. Truly.

January 6, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | 20 Comments

Day 4 of the 31-Minute Challenge: Getting Back In The Groove, A Guest Post

Please welcome Dori Stone, who has been writing for years on a daily basis, but then got off track — that is, until now. Dori started on the 31-minute challenge early and is sharing what her journey has been like so far.  Dori Stone

What do a wedding, a new grandbaby, a retired husband, aging parents, Facebook and email all have in common?

They distract me from writing.

A few years ago, I was hitting my writing stride. I’d get up in the morning; kiss my husband and daughter good-bye, shove them out the door, grab a cup of tea and settle at my computer. Alone, I entered the world of make-believe and craft picture book stories and middle grade fiction manuscripts.

I researched publishers, sent out queries and submissions and even sold a couple of works. Yay! Me!

But then, Dad got sick, Mom’s health started declining and my mother-in-law fell and shattered her hip. With each “issue” my writing time dwindled. More distractions followed. Our daughter grew up and got married. (An only daughter’s wedding is a definite distraction.) My husband retired and we started a new business. Then, we had a series of funerals followed by the birth of the most perfect grandson in the world. (Now, that’s a fun distraction!)

I tried to get back to writing but, things were different. I could no longer give writing my all.

Slowly I stopped writing completely. I became a dawdler and spent time browsing Facebook and reading corny email jokes.

Occasionally, I’d look at my computer and feel the urge to write but how could I get started again?

On December 6, 2012, I discovered the 31 minute challenge. I didn’t think twice. Immediately, I made the commitment.

Now I’m doing it.  I’m getting back in the groove, one day at a time. On Day 1, December 7 (I decided not to wait until January) I logged one hour of writing time.  I didn’t want to stop once I started. Day 2, I wrote for 62 minutes. That day, I enjoyed two 31-minute sessions, one in the morning the other, that night. So far, I’ve seized at least 31 minutes of writing time everyday and I’m determined to keep up the momentum.

The surprising thing is how fast 31 minutes passes. I’m also amazed at how easy it is to avoid or defer distractions for that period of time. It’s incredible how quickly I’m turning out chapter after chapter of my new middle grade fiction book.

Thanks to Katia and the challenge, I’m rediscovering my love of writing.

Thank you, Dori, for sharing. When your own “month” expires, I hope you continue writing every day!

January 4, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | , | 12 Comments

Happy New Year — and Happy First Day!

Dear challengers! (or, should it be “challengees?”) 🙂 This is just a quick note to say the first day of the 31-minute challenge is rapidly coming to a close! I am hoping you got your 31 minutes in today. If not, you better hurry!

I am loving 2013 already, aren’t you? 🙂

Rooting for all of you and wishing you — one more time — a year of love, joy, success and great productivity,


New Year's Eve 2013 025

P.S. A couple of quick notes and announcements:

— Another question came up today: if you write for longer than 31 minutes on the first day, can you use the extra time as “credit,” and write for less on the following day? My answer is a great, emphatic no!  I don’t care whether or not the 31 minutes are continuous, I don’t care if you log in your time, or whatever, and I don’t care if you wrote for ten hours straight today. Tomorrow is another day. Another day means another 31 minutes.

— If any one of you need timers, one of the participants, Dori Stone (whose guest post will be posted later on this week), found a cool app on Google Chrome’s web store. According to Dori, “It’s a free download. Once it’s downloaded, you can set the timer for 31 minutes and it runs in the background.  When the 31 minutes is up, it pops up on the computer screen and a buzzer rings.”
Here’s the listing info if you’re interested: Sassy Get Aways LLC. Homeaway.com   Listing #322166 & #178510

January 1, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | 19 Comments