Wednesday, June 20, 2018

How do you decide what story idea to write? (With Taylor Bennett!)

We are very excited to have teen author Taylor Bennett with us this week! If contemporary Christian YA fiction is your jam, be sure to check out Taylor's debut novel, Porch Swing Girl:

What if friendship cost you everything?

Stranded in Hawaii after the death of her mother, sixteen-year-old Olive Galloway is desperate to escape. She has to get back to Boston before her dad loses all common sense and sells the family house. But plane tickets cost money—something Olive gravely lacks.

With the help of Brander, the fussy youth group worship leader, and Jazz, a mysterious girl with a passion for all things Hawaiian, Olive lands a summer job at the Shave Ice Shack and launches a scheme to buy a plane ticket home before the end of the summer.

But when Jazz reveals a painful secret, Olive’s plans are challenged. Jazz needs money. A lot of it. Olive and Brander are determined to help their friend but, when their fundraising efforts are thwarted, Olive is caught in the middle. To help Jazz means giving up her ticket home. And time is running out.

Today's panel question is:

Writers often have lots of ideas. How do you choose which idea to write? And how do you keep other ideas from distracting you from the one you’re supposed to be working on?

Taylor: I have so many ideas crammed in my head, sometimes I'm surprised they don't start spilling out of my ears!! I keep track of my story ideas by (this is a little strange) making a Pinterest aesthetic board for each one. Whenever I get an idea, which I usually fall instantly in love with, I set aside a bit of free time to create a board filled with images that get my creative juices flowing. Usually, this is enough to get me excited about the story, but not so excited that I'm distracted.

If I do end up being so excited that I get distracted, I might give myself a small chunk of "writing time" to write a sloppy synopsis--just enough to get my ideas on the page, but not so much that I take away too much time from whatever I'm working on at that moment. If I'm having a hard time putting the synopsis away, I pray over it. If it's an idea that's meant to be explored, I trust that I'll still be just as excited about it when I actually have time to devote to the idea.

Shan: We’re always learning, yes? I don’t have a bit of magical advice for this topic, though I wish I did. I’m currently moving back and forth between two projects and it’s not ideal for me. At some point you’ll have to commit and once you do, you need to see it through. For me, because I have two books completed and out on sub, I’ve given myself the freedom to move back and forth for a time. But I will need to buckle down soon. Knowing which season you’re in is important and giving yourself the freedom to rebel against your own rules can be healthy for your writing.

Jill: Uhm . . . I’m really bad at this. There is this sort of honeymoon thing that happens when a new story idea grips me. I can’t think of anything but that new idea. And if I’m working on another book, that’s BIG trouble. Because then I don’t want to work on the old book. The old book is boring. It’s hard. And I’d really rather play with that new idea that’s got me all starry-eyed. There’s only one way to survive this. Discipline. If I’ve chosen an idea, and I’ve been writing it and have set a deadline for myself, then I will not allow myself to give up. I might give myself a few days off to play with the new idea, to think it through and write it down. Because if it’s a really good idea, I don’t want to forget any of it. But then I’ll crack my knuckles and get back to work.

Choosing which idea to write is a harder question to answer. I have SO MANY IDEAS AND I LOVE THEM ALL ARGH! I’m constantly making lists of what I’m trying to finish and what I want to write next. At some point, I will choose, or sometimes I’m lucky and and editor will buy something and choose for me. If not, then I have to decide which idea I’m the most excited about. And I also consider which idea will appeal to the widest audience. I’ve written a lot of risky books, and that’s okay some of the time, but for me, that also means that after a risky challenging project, it might be time to write something a little more safe that will appeal to the masses. So I take that into consideration as well.

Stephanie: I've learned that good ideas tend to be "sticky" ideas. Not only is it hard for me to stop thinking about it, but it also attracts lots of other ideas or possibilities. Sometimes they arrive at a very convenient time, but often it's when I need to be focusing on something else.

When that happens, my response is similar to Taylor's. I write a blurb or synopsis about my idea. I usually give myself an allowance of time, and then I make myself go back to what I'm supposed to be working on. This has worked really well for me over the years. 

Writers, what about you? How do you decide what to write, and how do you manage other ideas that come your way?

Monday, June 18, 2018

What's a pivotal moment in your publication journey? (With Taylor Bennett!)

We are very excited to have teen author Taylor Bennett with us this week! Taylor was the winner of our #WeWriteBooks contest back in 2016 and her debut novel, Porch Swing Girl, has just released! You should definitely hop over to Taylor's website to read her publication story.

The first panel question this week is:

What's a pivotal moment in your publication journey, and how did it come about?

Taylor: I met my publisher, Mountain Brook Ink, at my first-ever writers conference. After being told for years that these mysterious places were where connections could be made and contracts signed, I decided to go and check one out for myself. I ended up at the Oregon Christian Writer's conference (an amazing summer conference! If you're in the area, come drop by and say hi!) and I had the opportunity to make appointments with several agents and editors.

One of those editors was Miralee Ferrell, the owner of Mountain Brook Ink. I pitched my book to her, and she was interested...very interested!! Fast-forward a year, after I had worked hard to polish my first draft of Porch Swing Girl and prepare a series proposal, and she offered me a contract. Yippee!

Shan: So many! Maybe the most actionable is the decision I made to seek out a critique group. Up until that point, I didn’t know anything about the rules of writing for publication and surrounding myself with other authors who could help me was crucial. I’m a big fan of discovering your people and holding onto them. It’s not always easy for introverted writers and it’s rarely straightforward to do that, but having other understanding souls as you journey down this very unique road will pay off in spades.

Jill: Mine was at the same conference as Taylor's! All my pivotal moments happened at the Oregon Christian Writers’ Summer Conference. I pitched what became By Darkness Hid at that conference to Jeff Gerke, who later bought it. I pitched Replication to Zondervan at that conference. And I met my agent there. I highly recommend writing conferences. They are the best place to meet editors and agents face to face.

Stephanie: Choosing to not give up on a manuscript … but also humbling myself to listen to what wasn’t working. This could be said about all my published books, because even after you’re published, each novel requires a blend of persistence and humility. 

This was especially true for the book that became the first in the Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series when I kept hearing that Skylar wasn’t likable. I felt like that was part of her character arc, but eventually realized that this was a common problem, and nobody wants to read a book about someone they don’t like.

Writers, what about you? What's something pivotal that happened in your writing journey?

Friday, June 15, 2018

Pen and Paper, Computer, Or Both? (With Lorie Langdon!)

Today is our last day hosting author Lorie Langdon on the blog, but you can stay in touch with her through her author website, Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.

We have one more question for Lorie before she goes!

When you first sit down with an idea, what do you reach for first: pen and paper or computer? Do you use both? Any idea why you prefer to write the way you do?

Lorie: New story ideas can be all-consuming, so I will make notes in my phone, open a fresh Word doc to create bullet points, and hand-write ideas in a notebook. I can’t say I prefer one or the other, just whatever is handy in that moment!

Jill: I’m a paper girl. I write things out, draw things, print things out, start a binder to keep track of it all. I can’t help it. I like having things I can spread out on the floor and look at. I think it’s because I’m such a visual person.

Stephanie: I’m a pen-and-paper girl when it comes to brainstorming. Sometimes a new idea also has me reaching for my phone and the Google Hangouts app so I can brainstorm with a friend.

Shan: Both. Depends. I prefer the computer in my office to most anything else, but I do carry a notebook and pen with me when I’m brainstorming. I also use the drafts folder in my email inbox to save story ideas while I’m out and about. It’s a fast way to document something without having to scrounge for a pen while I’m at a store, etc. My hands are a bit of a problem for me and pen and paper take more physical effort than typing. I’m much faster and efficient on the keyboard.

What about you, writers? What works best for you?

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

What is your favorite and least favorite part of being a writer? (With Lorie Langdon!)

Author Lorie Langdon is back with us today! If you like historical young adult fiction, I highly recommend her latest release, Olivia Twist. Here's a bit about the book:

Olivia Brownlow is no damsel in distress. Born in a workhouse and raised as a boy among thieving London street gangs, she is as tough and cunning as they come. When she is taken in by her uncle after a caper gone wrong, her life goes from fighting and stealing on the streets to lavish dinners and soirees as a debutante in high society. But she can’t seem to escape her past … or forget the teeming slums where children just like her still scrabble to survive.

Jack MacCarron rose from his place in London’s East End to become the adopted “nephew” of a society matron. Little does society know that MacCarron is a false name for a boy once known among London gangs as the Artful Dodger, and that he and his “aunt” are robbing them blind every chance they get. When Jack encounters Olivia Brownlow in places he least expects, his curiosity is piqued. Why is a society girl helping a bunch of homeless orphan thieves? Even more intriguing, why does she remind him so much of someone he once knew? Jack finds himself wondering if going legit and risking it all might be worth it for love.

It's such an excellent and creative retelling! Today's panel question is:

What is your favorite part of having the job of writing books? And what is your least favorite part of the writing job? 

Lorie: It’s so hard to pick just one favorite thing. This career is my dream job! Telling stories that inspire readers, help them escape the hard parts of life, and bring them hope is what I was created to do. I also love interacting with readers and aspiring authors.

My least favorite part is the uncertainty. The next book deal is never guaranteed…at least I haven’t reached that point in my career yet. So, it can be quite stressful not knowing where your next paycheck is coming from or when.

Stephanie: My favorite part is the actual writing stuff. I love brainstorming, drafting, editing, all of it. I have even learned to enjoy some of the marketing pieces of being an author. 

My least favorite part is making decisions about managing my time. I have a ten-year-old, seven-year-old and two-year old, so it’s very difficult to figure out how to do All The Things.

Shan: My favorite drafting moment happens when the story begins to write itself. The characters and the world and the plot are fleshed out enough that the writing takes on a lighter feel. It’s exciting to come back to the page as opposed to daunting. This usually happens for me toward the end of my first draft. Edits are much more fun for me. Especially if I’m working with insightful feedback. Writing to an edit that inspires me is very satisfying.

My least favorite part is all the waiting. SO MUCH WAITING. We hurry to write, to edit, to develop. And then we wait. It’s a necessary evil, but it is evil.

Jill: My favorite part is coming up with new ideas and brainstorming it all out. I love that creative process so much. (Which is why new ideas are so tempting!)

My least favorite is finishing that first draft, especially of a first book in a new series. I love starting the book, but somewhere in the middle to end, it gets messy and hard and I want to push forward and finish, but I’m often stuck and frustrated that I’m stuck. It’s hard work, and I’m always so excited to be done so I can edit. (Editing is my second favorite part.)

What about you? What's your favorite and least favorite part of writing a book?

Monday, June 11, 2018

Is there a writing technique you've tried that you thought would work for you but didn't? (With Lorie Langdon!)

I'm delighted that this week our guest is another one of my fellow Blink/HarperCollins authors, Lorie Langdon!

Lorie is one half of the author team that writes the best-selling Doon series, a young adult reimagining of the musical Brigadoon. She has been interviewed on Entertainment and several NPR radio programs, including Lisa Loeb’s national Kid Lit show. The Doon series has been featured on such high profile sites as,, and Lorie’s solo books include, Gilt Hollow, a YA romantic thriller, and Olivia Twist, a historical YA romantic suspense.

We're honored to have her! Our first panel question with Lorie is:

Is there a writing technique/tool you've tried (Scrivener, outlining, scene cards, etc.) that you thought was going to work but didn't, or that you didn't think would work but did? 

Lorie: I am a born Pantser (i.e. I would rather write without an outline and discover the story as I go), but I’ve learned the hard way, through multiple rounds of rewrites on my first novel, that some plotting is necessary. When I began writing OLIVIA TWIST, a writer friend suggested that I try the Story Board plotting method. It looks a lot like a calendar, but each square is a chapter where you record the major conflicts and every fifth chapter is a major turning point. The squares are small, so I gave it a try.

I found that I couldn’t fill in the whole thing upfront, but I was able to fill in over half of the squares, including the Black Moment and the Resolution at the end. It gave me something to write towards and kept the pacing tight. I use story boarding for every novel I write now!

Shan:   I’ve tried many things--some worked for a time and then refused to cooperate for the next book and were retired. Anything that requires me to learn how to use it, is usually quickly jettisoned. I do not want to spend my limited writing time learning how to navigate Scrivener, so unless things change, that one’s not for me. Scene cards worked for my Angel Eyes trilogy, but were less helpful my last two go ‘rounds. Each story might require different tools, and I have to acknowledge that I’m still young in this. My process isn’t quite solidified.

Jill: Scrivener never worked for me for outlining or writing my books. It was too different from how I’ve trained myself to use Microsoft Word. I do use Scrivener to create ebooks, though, and I like the program for that purpose. On the other hand, I didn’t storyboard my books when I first started out. The first time I tried storyboarding was with the Safe Lands, and I think that’s because of the multiple points of view. I needed to try something new to keep track of all those parts. Writing the scenes for each character on a different colored index card allowed me not only to see the plan for the entire book at once, it allowed me to identify at a glance where each POV character’s scenes were and if there was a hole. I’m such a visual person, storyboarding has been a great tool for me to write faster with fewer changes.

Stephanie: I’ve tried scene cards a few time, both physical and digital. I love the idea of them, but they just haven’t worked for me.

We love hearing from those in our community of writers! What's a writing technique or tool that you thought would work for you but didn't?