Monday, July 16, 2018

If you could go back in time and give your new writer self some advice, what would it be? (With S.D. Grimm!)

We are kicking off our third week in July. I can't believe the summer is half over already! This week we have special guest author S. D. Grimm with us. I'm super excited to hear what writing advice she has to share. Here is a little more about her:

S.D. Grimm’s first love in writing is young adult fantasy and science fiction, which is to be expected from someone who has been sorted into Gryffindor, is part of the fire nation, and identifies as rebel scum. Her patronus is a red Voltron lion, her spirit animal is Toothless, and her office is anywhere she can curl up with her laptop and at least one large-sized dog. You can learn more about her novels at

I had the honor of reading S. D.'s newest release, Phoenix Fire, for an endorsement, and I loved it! Check out what this story is about: 

After spending her life in foster care, Ava has finally found home. But all it takes is a chance encounter with hot nerd Wyatt Wilcox for it to unravel.
Now, things are starting to change. First, the flashes of memories slowly creeping in. Memories of other lives, lives that Wyatt is somehow in. Then, the healing. Any cut? Gone.
But when Cade and Nick show up, claiming to be her brothers, things get even weirder. They tell her she’s a Phoenix, sent to protect the world from monsters—monsters she never knew existed. It’s a little hard to accept. Especially when they tell her she has to end the life of a Phoenix turned rogue, or Cade will die.

With Wyatt’s increasingly suspicious behavior, Ava’s determined to figure out what he’s hiding. Unless she can discover Wyatt’s secret in time and complete her Phoenix training, she’ll lose the life, love, and family she never thought she could have.

Welcome, S. D.! Our first panel question of the week is:

If you could go back in time and share one practical tip and one piece of inspiration with yourself as a new writer, what would they be? 

Sarah: Have you read that gorgeous quote by Erin Hansen: "What if I fall?" "Oh, my darling, what if you fly?" It gets me every time. It sends shivers though my spine because, yes, this is scary. And hard. But the dreamer part of me embraces the possibility of flying, like I'm sure it does you. ;) So don't let fear win. Jump.

Stephanie: My practical tip would be: “Start using action and emotion beats instead of dialogue tags.” My writing became much smoother when it wasn’t so weighed down by the dialogue tags.
My inspirational tip would be the quote from Michael Crichton that, “Great books aren’t written. They’re rewritten.” I always had unfair expectations of what my first drafts should look like, and I know it would have helped me immensely as a new writer to know that edits are a natural part of telling a great story.

Shan: Oooo. I think my practical tip would be, “Don’t worry about being an author right now. Worry about being a writer.” We have a tendency to focus on career goals early on and while that may work for some people, it can distract from the process of actually writing your first novel. Write first. World domination later.

My bit of inspiration would be “Settle in for the long haul.” It’s a painful bit of advice, but it’s more true than anything else I’ve ever heard about writing. For most of us, becoming an author does not happen overnight. It’s not like you finish your first manuscript and someone hands you a diploma and a six figure salary. It’s painstakingly hard work and your schedule is not the only one you’ll have to navigate. There are a lot of professionals involved in the process of a traditionally published author. It is most definitely a long haul.

Jill: Practical tip: “Jill, stop worrying about scene structure. That’s not how your brain works, and that’s okay. Just enjoy writing the story and see how it turns out. That will serve you much better.”

Because I was obsessed with trying to make my scenes fit into Dwight Swain's scenes and sequels, and while it worked sometimes, sometimes it didn't. And I spent years agonizing about what I was doing wrong.

Inspirational quote: Steph stole mine! LOL! Seriously, though. That Michael Crichton quote is my absolute favorite writing quote ever, and I needed to hear it so badly when I was starting out. But Steph didn’t put the whole thing, so I think I can use it again: “Books aren't writtenthey're rewritten. Including your own. It is one of the hardest things to accept, especially after the seventh rewrite hasn't quite done it.” I needed to hear that about the seventh rewrite. I needed to know that was normal. And I needed to know that my book wasn’t going to be perfect the first time. When I learned to give myself permission to write a messy first draft as I floundered to find that story, I was finally able to create without stress.

What about you, writers? 

If you could go back in time and give yourself some advice, what would it be?

Friday, July 13, 2018

Do you outline your books, discovery write, or are you a hybrid? (With Jonathan Friesen!)

Today is our last day with author Jonathan Friesen for summer panels, but you can sign up for his newsletter or email him on his website and also keep in touch with him through his Facebook and Twitter accounts.

Before he leaves, we have one more question for Jonathan:

Talk to us about outlining. Do you outline your books or discovery write them? Are you a hybrid?

Jonathan: I usually write a half-page narrative plan. It’s not much, but hey, it both gives me direction and leaves room for me to get lost along the way, something I consider to be essential when writing a good story. The narrative is short enough that I only get to include the most important aspects of the tale, which helps keep me focused. Now, I don’t get too excited about this brief summary. What gets me going is my other pre-writing exercise. Somebody gave me this idea, so maybe this won't be new to anyone: I ask every main character to write a letter to every other main character. These letters are long, pages long. This is where I discover the unique voice of each character, and the feelings they hold toward other characters in the story. Nobody will ever criticize you for writing a simple story. But you can’t get away with writing stories in which all the voices sound the same. These letters help me create real, unique characters. That’s when I get excited.

Jill: That's so interesting, Jonathan! I've never before heard of an author who had characters write letters to each other. I might have to try that sometime. 

I'm a hybrid author. I start out with a list of scenes for each major point in the three-act structure. Then I write those on index cards, lay them out of the floor, and once I decide how long the book is going to be, I brainstorm scenes to fit in all the holes. When I’ve got a pretty decent plan, I stack up the cards and discovery write one card every day until I have a rough draft finished. Sometimes I have to pause to rearrange the cards or add new cards, but this process usually gets me a descent rough draft to work from.  

Shan: I do not traditionally outline, but I do pen a working synopsis early on in the process and I work off of that. I adjust it as I go, and it acts as a guide when I need direction. Mostly I write by feel, but it’s good to have landmarks to shoot for. The more experienced I get, the less I am willing to waste time on things I definitely won’t use. So while I definitely discovery write my scenes, I’m more deliberate about them than I used to be.

Stephanie: I am a hybrid. I work best when I have a 2-3 page synopsis, and I start writing from that. Sometimes I outline an individual scene before I begin writing it. I have found that helps me to get the writing done faster.

What about you, writers? Do you outline your books, discovery write, or are you a hybrid?

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Why did you choose your genre and why do you like it? (With Jonathan Friesen!)

Author Jonathan Friesen is joining us for panels this week. He writes the most interesting contemporary young adult novels. Today I'd like to tell you about his book, Both of Me.

It was supposed to be just another flight, another escape into a foreign place where she could forget her past, forget her attachments. Until Clara found herself seated next to an alluring boy named Elias Phinn—a boy who seems to know secrets she has barely been able to admit to herself for years.
When her carry-on bag is accidentally switched with Elias’s identical pack, Clara uses the luggage tag to track down her things. At that address she discovers there is not one Elias Phinn, but two: the odd, paranoid, artistic, and often angry Elias she met on the plane, who lives in an imaginary world of his own making called Salem; and the kind, sweet, and soon irresistible Elias who greets her at the door, and who has no recollection of ever meeting Clara at all. As she learns of Elias’s dissociative identity disorder, and finds herself quickly entangled in both of Elias’s lives, Clara makes a decision that could change all of them forever. She is going to find out what the Salem Elias knows about her past, and how, even if it means playing along with his otherworldly quest. And she is going to find a way to keep the gentle Elias she’s beginning to love from ever disappearing again.

Doesn't that sound intriguing? Click here to learn more about Both of Me on And now, for today's panel question:

What do you like about the genre you have chosen to write, and why did you choose to write that genre?

Jonathan: Why do I like writing realistic fiction for young adults? There’s a certain cluelessness to YA lit. Characters often do the impulsive thing, the confused thing. Not because they aren’t intelligent, but because at seventeen, life is now and the benefits from hindsight are years away. Pains feel permanent. At least it did for me. Truth is, I spend a lot of my life feeling impulsive and confused even now. I just do a lot of pretending, as if I know what I’m doing. When I write realistic YA, I can drop the pretending. I can write what I feel. My emotions don't always make long-term sense, but they don’t need to. They just need to be real, which is a word I always use for my readers. They strike me as very real, much more so than I am.

Stephanie: There are a lot of things I love about historical fiction. I love the opportunity to learn about a different time and place. I love the pretty covers. I love exploring how people have always been people, for better or worse. But I think my favorite thing is the opportunity to say things about our society and our time in a way that does not feel as openly critical and emotionally charged because you’re really saying it about a different time/place.

Shan: I love watching teens ball up their fist and punch fear in the face. Regardless of the subgenre, facing down your greatest fear is a huge staple within YA. It’s inspiring for all ages of people to read, and I think it’s indicative of a generation of writers who want to see teens rise up above hardship and obstacle. Each author has their own way of doing this and the shelves speak to the great variety of passions and purposes within the population, but encouraging bravery is high on my priority list. YA fits me well in that way.

Jill: I write fantasy because I’m a creator of kingdom, the Map Lady. I love to create new worlds. I like to draw these new places on paper and imagine what they look like and what it might be like to live there. I like to figure out how these places are similar and how they are different from where I live. When I started writing, I didn’t choose the fantasy genre, but ultimately most all of the ideas I came up with fit under the speculative fiction umbrella. As it turns out, deep in my bones, I’m infused with the best kind of imagination. The magical. The otherworldly. I can’t imagine ever giving it up.

What about you, writers? Why did you choose your genre and why do you like it?

Monday, July 9, 2018

What is a craft book, blog, or podcast that has changed the way you write? (With Jonathan Friesen!)

Today we have a very special guest, Jonathan Friesen. I (Jill) met Jonathan when Blink/HarperCollins sent us on a book tour several years back. He is a wonderful speaker, who grabs the attention of everyone in the room in no time at all. And his books are fabulous. I read his first book, Jerk, California, long before we ever met, and I highly recommend it. But first, a little bit about the author:

Jonathan Friesen is an author, speaker, and youth writing coach from Mora, Minnesota. His first young adult novel, Jerk, California, received the ALA Schneider Award. When he's not writing, speaking at schools, or teaching, Jonathan loves to travel and hang out with his wife and three kids. Read more at

And now, about Jerk, California: This Schneider Family Book Award winner changed the face of Tourette's Syndrome for modern teens. Wrought with tension, romance, and hope, Jerk, California tells the story of Sam, who sets out on a cross-country quest to learn the truth about his family and his inherited Tourette's Syndrome, along the way finding both love and acceptance.

We are so honored to have Jonathan with us this week. Let's get right to today's panel question:

What is a craft book, blog, or podcast that has changed the way you write?

Jonathan: I haven’t seen many craft books that are truly transformational. Most are filled with good advice, but do not practically move a writer from Point A to Point B. Writing the Breakout Novel (and the workbook by the same name) by Donald Maass does just that. The book introduces fifty fascinating writing exercises that help an author add tension to every page. For me, that is what I needed. I have no problem with story openings, and I do not struggle much with endings. But how do I keep the reader engaged after chapter four? You know, after the big start. How do I keep the middle pages from sinking into emotional quicksand? That is what this book explains. Highly recommended.

Stephanie: K.M. Weiland’s Helping Writers Become Authors podcast was critical in me figuring out how to fix Within These Lines back when I was drafting it. I knew something was wrong with the book, But couldn't figure it out until I was listening to an episode about story structure. She said:

"Anton Chekhov’s famous advice that 'if in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired' is just as important in reverse: If you’re going to have a character fire a gun later in the book, that gun should be introduced in the first act. The story you create in the following acts can only be assembled from the parts you’ve shown the reader in this first act. That’s your first duty in this section."

That was when I realized that the second half of my book wasn’t working because I hadn’t laid the groundwork I needed in the first half. Light bulb! That has changed the way I think about creating stories.

Shan: I use the Go Teen Writers book in every class I teach for teen writers. And, hand on my heart, I don’t get a dime when a book is sold. Steph and Jill did such a fantastic job with it though, and it’s my favorite resource for new writers. On the podcast front, I’ve been branching out. You all know I adore Writing Excuses, but lately I’ve really enjoyed listening to 10 Minute Writer’s Workshop. Give it a go and report back. I bet you learn something.

Jill: I think of craft books in periods of my writing journey. When I was first starting out, Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Browne and King taught me SO MUCH. That book was one “Ah ha!” after another. So it changed the way I wrote because I didn’t really know how to write back then.

More recently, the craft book that has had the biggest impact on changing the way I write is Save the Cat by Blake Snyder, which I talk about ALL THE TIME, so I’m sure you’re like, “Yes, Jill. We know.”  But if you don’t know, Save the Cat is a screenwriting book that taught me to storyboard. It taught me a lot of other things about story and structure too, but the storyboarding is what I took from that book and adapted into my writing process, and it has saved my neck so many times, especially when I needed to fix broken books or cut massive amounts of words.

What about you? What's a craft book, blog, or podcast that has changed the way you write? Share in the comments.

Friday, July 6, 2018

What’s one social media practice you recommend? (With Lindsay Franklin!)

Today is our last day with author Lindsay A. Franklin on the blog, but you can stay in touch with her through her author website, FacebookInstagram, or Twitter.

Lindsay has also written a devotional book for teen girls that my daughter loves. It's called Adored, and it's filled with wisdom and encouragement.

In an ever-changing world, we can be certain of one thing: we are beloved by God. Adored: 365 Devotions for Young Women tackles tough topics girls face, from bullying and social media to friendships and dating, all the while showing readers how infinitely precious they are in God’s sight.

We have one more question for Lindsay before she goes:

What’s one social media practice you recommend? How about one practice you wish authors would avoid?

Lindsay: Build relationships! Even though I'm an introvert and kind of shy in real life, I love being able to talk to people via social media. I have gotten to know my readers through Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, and that's such a cool benefit of modern technology. As a reader, I find it a bit distasteful when authors are always singing their own praises via social media. I know it's tough for authors to find that line of how much self-promotion is too much (I wrestle with this myself), but some folks just have an arrogant vibe that turns me off right away. When I follow someone on social media, I'm looking for a genuine person who doesn't feel like a skeevy salesman.

Stephanie: I recommend shining the light on others as often as you can. Talk about books you love by authors you admire. That is a great way to build authentic relationships and also to bless your fellow readers. We don't need to feel threatened by sharing the love. Readers have time for more than one book!

As for something I wish authors wouldn’t do is the obsessive posting as a book releases … but then nothing else any other time. I completely understand posting more when it’s book release season, but I don’t think “feast or famine” is a very effective social media approach.

Shan: Like Steph, I wholeheartedly recommend cheering others on. Socializing from a place of gratitude and excitement is far preferable to pontificating from a position of criticism. While there are many things in this world that seek to divide us, books can be something that pull us together. A love of reading and a heart for story is something people of all different cultures and socio-economic groups, different religions and political persuasions can appreciate. If we’re good stewards of our social media spaces, we can cultivate relationships that open our eyes and extend our arms to people we wouldn’t have met otherwise. This isn’t to say you can’t use social media to share frustration, but use your platform for encouragement as well. For spotlighting others and for lifting up those people and causes you truly appreciate.

Jill: I recommend asking people questions. About anything that’s not political or trying to pick a fight. Just start a friendly discussion. Those types of posts have always been far more successful than anything I post about my own books.

I don’t like when authors post constantly, like five-to-ten posts a day. When my feeds are filled with post after post after post, I’m like, “Okay, I see you, already!” Honestly, one post a day is enough for anyone, in my opinion, two is fine, but too many can aggravate people.

What about you, writers? 

What’s one social media practice you recommend? And what do you wish authors would avoid?