Monday, December 27, 2010

Stephanie is off this week...

Like we talked about last Tuesday, I'm taking this week off to restore my inner artist. I'll be cleaning my office, playing with my kids, and reorganizing my kitchen towels. Woo-woo.

My writing this week will be limited to the occasional e-mail (my apologies if you've been waiting to hear back from me) and thank you notes, which I'm actually way more motivated to do now after reading this article on NPR about a guy who committed to writing one thank you note every day for an entire year.

I'll be back on Monday, January 3rd with our first writing prompt of 2011 and details about what exactly that means.

Enjoy your week, everyone!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

One more thought on staying motivated in writing

On Tuesday when I talked about staying motivated with writing, or regaining motivation, something I mentioned was replenishing your inner artist. Something I do to replenish my inner artist is this: I wroodle.

Oh man, this post is going to aggravate my spell-checker.

Wroodling is something you've likely done, you just don't know you've done it.

I've never been an artist, but I imagine that even great artists tend to doodle at times. It's not something they envision being a great work of art, but the piece of paper is there, and they feel like drawing, so they doodle.

Wroodling is doodling for writers. Sometimes I wroodle little scenes that are in my head. They're not part of my current project, they may never be part of anything, but they're in my head and I'd like to get them down. So I write them.

Or sometimes I have a whole story idea I want to wroodle. Actually, on Sundays - the day that I've set aside for relaxing - I'm wroodling a book that I'm pretty sure there's no market for. Even if there was, it's not my genre. But it's fun to write and doesn't feel like work. It's wroodling.

I find wroodling replenishes me, and sometimes it even spurs great ideas.

Hope everyone has a wonderful Christmas. See you back here on Tuesday!

Have a writing question? E-mail me!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Three tips for staying motivated with writing

A couple days ago, a GTW (Go Teen Writer) asked about staying motivated with writing. She shared something I think we can all relate to, which is that she'll be excited about an idea, but quickly loses interest. Anyone but me feeling her pain?

Sarah Dessen, who wrote my favorite book This Lullaby and many other wonderful YA novels, has been quoted as saying her favorite book is the one she hasn't written yet. Why? Because she hasn't had to do any of the hard work yet. She hasn't stalled out yet or found flaws with her plot. She still has that spark.

Losing motivation is common. It happens to us in all areas of life, doesn't it? Here are a couple thoughts on it:

1. I've said this before, but that old adage about health and exercise, "a body in motion stays in motion" applies to writing as well. A writer in motion stays in motion. My husband loves exercising, but there are still days that it's difficult for him to feel like exercising. You know what he does? He does it anyway. As artists we tend to lapse into, "oh, my muse just isn't around today," but that's not the attitude to have if you want writing to be more than a hobby. You make yourself write regardless. Sometimes when I do this, I write some real crap. But most of the time, I get into a rhythm, fall back in love with my characters, and work myself out of the funk.

2. But sometimes we lack motivation because we're drained. Tired in our soul. We've got nothing left to put on the page. Be nice to your inner-artist. It needs replenishing same as your body needs sleep. Spend some time reading your favorite book. Watch wonderful movies. Enjoy life for a while. Observe. Give yourself a couple weeks vacation, and then I bet you'll find yourself eager to get back to the pages.

3. Utilize the buddy system. I know this can be hard, because writing isn't like soccer. You can't just go join the team at school, you know? In high school, you know how many girls I knew who were trying to get a novel published? None. I had no writer friends, and no hope of finding writer friends. But with beautiful sites like Facebook and, ahem, Go Teen Writers, you have the chance to connect with other people your age who are also serious about their writing. I have a couple of writer friends I'm close to, and I can't tell you what a difference it's made for my writing that I can send them an e-mail saying things like, "This sentence isn't working, can you tell me why?" Find yourself some writer buddies.

Or if you can't do that, find somebody in your life who you can talk to your writing about. Who's interested in hearing your stories, and even reading them. A good friend of mine in high school, Janette, was wonderful about reading my stuff and offered me wonderful feedback. Her aspirations in life were different than mine, but she was still interested in my desire to be a novelist and didn't mind helping me out.

Anybody else have tips to share?

Thursday, December 16, 2010

A story of two dedicated teen writers

One of the best things about starting Go Teen Writers is talking to you guys about your writing projects, so I'm always thrilled when you e-mail me about what you're working on.

Katy e-mailed me a few weeks ago and shared that she and her friend Kait are writing a book together. I've never cowritten a book, and I'm always curious about the process writers use, so I asked if I could interview them.

Katy and Kait run a blog called Book Ponderings where they do giveaways, book reviews, and other kinds of great stuff.

Something I was curious about was how they met, because it was work for me to find my fellow writer friends.

Kait said: Katy and I met at a homeschool co-op after I moved here in Fall of 2008. I met Katy’s younger brother the first day and eventually met Katy through him. Katy and I weren’t really a “friend at first sight” case – we both were friendly but Katy was 16 while I was 13, so our ages really didn’t mesh. I became really good friends with her brother so I saw her often, but other than that we were just mutual friends. In fact, it wasn’t until the next spring that I started to talk to her occasionally (by that time I was close friends with her best friend). Even still, we weren’t considered close friends at all. Then we started campaigning for local candidates who were running in Florida. Once January of 2010 hit, we were good friends and talked to each other often.

We eventually realized that we are practically identical in personality and interests. We continued campaigning through the summer and grew closer and closer. The military moved my family once again this past August to Jacksonville, so though it’s been hard to not see each other, we’ve remained very close friends…in fact we grew even closer. After I moved we came up with Book Ponderings and the idea to write a book. I can’t believe how much my moving strengthened our friendship, but now we’re inseparable and talk to each other every day. Now almost 16 and 18, I believe I am the more blessed of the two, as Katy is an amazing example and has taught me so many great things. :-)

Katy said: The first time I saw Kait was at our local co-op. Their family had just moved to Milton (her dad is in the military) and I noticed a new girl in my younger brother's class that day. I don't think I spoke to her that day except maybe to introduce myself as Danny's sister. I can't remember when we actually started talking and becoming happened little by little. Through hanging out and talking, we realized just how alike we were in some things, and the relationship just kept growing closer! Then their family had to move...which was really sad. I thought I might be loosing a friend. I remember the weeks before they left we tried to cram so many get togethers into our schedule! We had teen game nights...move nights...sleep overs. You name it! Then when she left....we still stayed in touch until we were texting and talking with each other every day! (We still do! ;-) Because of that we came up with the idea for Book Ponderings...and then, now, writing Scattered Tears together! We are the dreamers who toss a random, crazy thought out there and then the next minute decide to go for it! ;-)

I then asked about their process for working together:

Kait said: Well, Katy’s and my book has two main characters, Sarina and Atarah, and two very involved side characters, Asher and Artaxerxes, in the main plot. We each chose two main characters and write their story. Of course, we discuss every aspect before adding something in – regardless of whose character it is.

We write chapters at the same time as often as we can, but since we have different schedules that is often difficult. Katy has already graduated highschool and has a lot of free time while I am finishing up school right now. I am almost done with highschool and will be able to dedicate more time to writing by spring. Hopefully then we will be able to write chapters together again.
Most of the time we’ve spent on this book has not been writing, but discussing what to write. Katy and I are identical in ideas and personalities(so much it’s kinda creepy at times, lol) so we’ve never really had a disagreement on anything major. Sure, we’ve bumped heads a few times, but usually it was because we’ve been in front of the computer working on this book too long and it’s never really been on anything with a huge bearing on the story. We both are also easy going so we never really had anything to argue about because the other person just was okay with any minor changes. We naturally get along very well. I don’t think I could write a book with anyone else.

Katy said: It's been very interesting! I won't say we agree on everything and our experience has been without a bump in the road, but it's not as bad as I thought! I was afraid that if we disagreed strongly on something, it would hurt or ruin our friendship. But surprisingly, we agree on a lot of things and we always work through anything that the other doesn't agree on. It's been a great experience! No, we don't separate what we write by chapters...Scattered Tears has four main characters - Artxaxerxes, Asher, Sarina, Atarah. We decided to keep it simple and each write two characters. Any scene that focuses on one of our characters...we write! But we are really involved in each others writings, talking through the scenes together, deciding how this person should feel, etc.

When I asked about the benefits of cowriting, Kait said: Oh goodness, writing this book has been such a blessing to me(and I hope Katy too!). Not only has it helped me learn to write, as Katy as already written two books and knows what she is doing, but it has also really strengthened our friendship and taught us how to get along well even when we don’t always agree 100%. Also, writing a book together keeps us working and encouraging one another. If you come to a bump in the story plot, you have your partner to help you through it. There have been disappointments, change of events in both good and bad ways, and moments where we are just stuck, and having someone there to help you and encourage you is awesome! It has been a great experience so far and I can’t wait to see the finishing piece!

Katy said: Benefits? There are many! Someone to encourage you on when you get a brain cramp. Someone to help with researching. Someone to help come up with ideas for the book! Honestly, its amazing what awesome plots and scenes two brains can come up with compared to two! Kait was really involved in developing Atarah's complex background, which was awesome! :-)

And then I asked them a question that I get asked a lot, something I'm always struggling with: How do you find time for writing?

Kait said: Well, for me it is rather difficult right now as I am a photographer and am still in highschool, along with the fact that I live in a family of 10, but I write when I can! I don’t really have a time of day that I specifically write. My laptop is currently broken and needs to be repaired so I can’t write in the evenings or mornings, but I’m sure my nights will be filled with writing once it is fixed!

Katy said: Now that's a stickler! For me, I always have a desire to sit down and write. So finding the right times to let that out is tough in a family of 12 people. But, I do find time! Late at night used to be my biggest friend for writing, but I find myself writing blog posts and reading books at night now. So now I tend to get up an hour or so before my family in the morning (If I go to bed at a reasonable time! ;-) and work on it in solitude. That plan has worked well for me!

I was so encouraged to learn about Kait and Katy's project. I love hearing about teens who are dedicated to their passion of writing. Thanks, girls, for answering my questions!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Setting Writing Goals

I'm pretty sure we've established this on here, but I like lists. You might say, I loooove lists.

On Saturday, I got together with some writer friends of mine for breakfast. We were all supposed to bring a list of our goals for 2011 and I ... well, didn't. I thought about making my list, and then ... you know, went to change a diaper or something.

Usually setting my goals is fun for me, but at the moment I'm in weird author's limbo. I'm waiting to see how my editor feels about the project I turned in, and then even if she likes it, we'll be waiting to see how the board feels. While this is a time I'm normally anxious to evaluate how I did and plan out while I hope to accomplish, it's been tougher this year.

But after Saturday's meeting, I once again grew excited about setting some goals. So now I'll pass on the opportunity to you guys. Especially since many of you are gung-ho about the Write Now curriculum we're doing next year where I'll spend the year detailing the steps to writing a novel. (Again, I'm sorry about having to use that curriculum word. It sounds like no fun, and it will be!)

A couple guidelines on making goals: (See, I even love lists that precede lists!)

1. Your goal should be something that pushes you, but isn't ridiculous.

2. It should be something that only YOU can do. It's dumb for me to say, "My goal for this year is to be on the New York Times Best Seller list." That's something I have very little influence over.

3. You should know what steps you plan to take to achieve it. Like if your goal is to learn how to write better characters, some good steps might be checking out books where the author did a good job with characterization, studying how to craft characters, etc.

Ralene, our leader, had us choose a daily, weekly, and monthly goal.

Normally my daily goal might be something like, "Write 1,000 words." But that's tough for me to predict these days. It's a goal that would only frustrate me. So I decided my daily goal would be to pray over my writing and to pray for my audience. It's something I used to do consistently and now I'm pretty spontaneous.

My weekly goal is to write 2,000 words if I'm in a writing place, or to edit 5 chapters if I'm in an editing place.

My monthly goal is to read two books, guest post on one additional blog, and e-mail other authors about what I enjoyed in their books. Which will be helped out by my plan to read two books a month. I can pick one of those authors, get on their web site, and send them an e-mail saying what I enjoyed. Authors never get tired of this, and it encourages them.

Then Ralene asked us to come up with goals we wanted to achieve by March, June, and December 31st, 2011.

Here's where I had to make mine fuzzier because of things being up in the air for me at the moment.

My March goal is to finish and polish my current project, and prepare a book proposal for either my new idea, or the sequel to my current project, depending on the feedback from my publisher.

My June goal is to finish the first draft of my new idea or the sequel to my current project. Again, just depends.

And by the end of the year, I hope to have polished the manuscript for my new idea (or the sequel) and to have a proposal ready for an idea yet to be determined.

It's okay if your goals get fuzzier. They're not etched in stone anywhere. Mine are scribbled on the back of my page-a-day The Office quote calendar. They can be changed, tweaked, rewritten. But having them serves a purpose. It means when I sit down at my desk, I don't have to think, "Okay ... what's the best way to spend this time?" I can look at my goals and know, "It's Thursday, and I've yet to write a word. Better get going on my weekly 2k."

What are some of your goals?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Use Your Senses

So I'm in first draft mode at the moment.

Which means I'm mostly writing dialogue and praying I don't die before I have a chance to do edits. That's one of my greatest fears. That I'll die, my first drafts will be leaked to the internet, and everyone will think, "Man, she really lost it..."

I took a class from Donald Maass a year ago that completely rocked my writing world. He said something that really helped me in my editing. "We experience people's qualities through the concrete."

He had us write a scene about when we discovered a quality in someone we hadn't noticed before. As we took notes about that moment in our lives, he called out questions. "What were you feeling at that moment? Who was there? What did it taste like? What did it smell like? What was the lighting? What triggered your discovery?"

When I'm writing my lousy, stripped down scenes, I remind myself that I'll be able to go back and fix it using this exercise. The biggest frustration for me in first drafts is the feeling that I'm not getting my point across well. If you're having that frustration at the moment, follow Donald Maass's advice and find those concrete aspects of your scene. We tend to focus on what our character can see, but think through those other senses:

  • What do they hear?
  • What do they smell?
  • What do they taste?
  • And what do they feel with their hands, and in their soul?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Lessons from Penelope

One of the best things about being a writer is that you can classify great activities like travel, movie-viewing, and reading as research.

I finally got around to watching Penelope this week. I had to split it between two different days, which is a real bummer, but I got it done.

If you haven't seen it before, Penelope Wilhern is a young woman from a wealthy family with all the qualities to make an excellent match for any other well-bred man of her status. However, the one thing that sets her apart is her nose, which resembles that of a pig.

Generations ago, an embittered witch placed a curse on the Wilhern family because their son had impregnated her daughter, one of their servants. The son offered marriage but his family refused and married him off to another. The witch’s daughter, overwrought, threw herself off a cliff. The witch cursed the Wilherns so that the next girl born into the clan would have the nose of a pig. For five generations, only sons were born into the family, until Penelope (Christina Ricci) was born, stricken with the curse. It is said that the curse can only be lifted if one of her own learns to love her, which is interpreted by her parents to mean a man of noble birth.

And so the hunt is on for a blue-blood who can stand the sight of her. Every man who lays eyes on Penelope takes flight at first sight, except for our wonderful hero, Max Campion (James McAvoy). And you’ll just have to watch to see how it all unfolds. I don't want to give stuff away.

As I viewed this movie, I was reminded of a couple things:

The need for a change to take place within the main character

What makes this movie, in my opinion, is the change that happens within Penelope as she comes to accept herself for who she is. Your main character has to change. Otherwise, there's no point. Like if the main character had been Penelope's mother (played by the fabulous Catherine O'Hara), the movie would've felt pointless, because she doesn't change. Not for real, anyway.

In a romance, the satisfaction of a heroine and hero who can do things on their own ... but are better together

We all need a little help sometimes, but it's important that your characters are also capable of standing on their own two feet. Penelope and Max sort out their lives apart from each other. You see how they could live independently just fine. But they also bring out the best in each other.

The satisfaction of REAL conflict

Not just one of those conflicts where if Penelope and Max would just talk to each other, they could work things out. There’s a moment where Max is going to be misinterpreted. I thought to myself, "Oh man, here it is. Here's where he should go explain himself to Penelope, but he's going to hang back." No. instead he RUNS TO PENELOPE TO EXPLAIN. Three cheers for whomever made that decision. And because he goes to her, the conflict is bigger and so much better.

The movie is 90 minutes long and completely worth your time.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Changes to Go Teen Writers

Good morning my lovely fellow writers.

In 2011, there will be some changes to Go Teen Writers that I want to make you all aware of.

For starters, I currently post here on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Starting in 2011, I'll post on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Which means we'll start the Write Now program (which is what I'm calling the write-your-book-in-2011, step by step posts I'll be doing) on Monday, January 3rd. I spent a lot of last Tuesday mapping out the curriculum and I'm getting sooooooooo excited.

On January 3rd, however, you won't find a traditional post. Instead you'll find a writing prompt. Every other Monday, I'll be posting a prompt for you guys. You then write the next 100 words and e-mail them to me. I will pass them on to a rotating panel of judges, comprised of published authors, and they will vote on the best one. We'll keep a running list of winners up on the blog, and there will be prize packs at the end of the year for the top 3 winners. Even for the Aussies and Kiwis who frequent Go Teen Writers.

What won't change in 2011 is that you're always free to e-mail me with your writing questions. Have a great weekend everybody!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Weaving in an extra plot line

Before I launch into my spiel for the day, I have to say BEBS, I'M SO SORRY I LEFT YOU OFF THE LIST of people who helped out with writing the book. Please, please, please send me an e-mail with your name and e-mail address so I can make sure you get credit for helping. So, so sorry.

Okay, moving on:

I love organizing.

I love making plans and lists and charts and systems and all those wonderful things.

Which is why it's a little odd to me that I've never been much of a "plotter" in my writing. I'm a planner in real life, and a "pantser" in writing. (A pantser is something writers say when they're referring to someone who writes "by the seat of their pants" rather than from a constructed plot.)

I've blogged before that I'm trending toward being a "plantser." I'm sure I'll be perfecting my system for writing for the rest of my life, and hopefully I will not always be making one of these:

This is a bunch of notecards taped to posters in my office.

The purple cards are the plot for my "completed" manuscript. And I say "completed" because those green cards are the scenes that need to be added because I've added a plot line. (This isn't critical info but I thought some might be curious - some of the note cards have pink flags. It's because I had a hard time quickly describing what was going on in that specific scene, and I thought that was probably a bad sign, that the character motives were murky. Some early on have green flags because I'd already woven the new plot into those scenes. And there's a yellow sticky note at the end reminding me of an alternate ending idea.)

The problem with "pantsing" it the way I did with this book is that you can write 55k, type The End, and realize you're really not done at all. That there's something wrong with the book, that it's missing something. Which is what happened here. Of course, had I plotted it out ahead of time, there's no guarantee I would have had the inspiration for the new plot quite yet, but I might have had better tools for discerning what was missing.

My friend Erica Vetsch does some awesome story boards. (As seen here.) Like me, she also started out as a pantser and has since converted. We're starting the Write Now program on Monday, January 3rd, 2011, and Erica's going to give us a little lesson in story boarding. I'm stoked.

By the way, my messy plot boards were making me crazy in my pretty new office, so I redid them. Yes, I'm weird. But they look so much better:

Thursday, November 25, 2010


It's Thanksgiving, and I'm lazy. And hungry.

So instead of my normal ramblings, I'm handing you guys this little gem: A link to an NPR article featuring three books with exceptional voices.

Voice is one of those things we talk about writers needing, but that there's no real good way for teaching. That I've found, anyway.

The best advice I have is to read books with excellent voice and take notes. The three featured books should help with this.

Off to enjoy potatoes and bread and turkey and so many other yummy delights...

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Is it possible to have too many directions for a novel?

A writer e-mailed me to ask, "I have so many ideas and directions for just one story, I don't know which way to go so I just procrastinate! Do you think it's possible to have too many directions for a novel- like the story is just to BIG for a beginner? For a first timer, do you think it's wise to have one main character and one strong plot line?"

I can only share what my experience has been in this. I've had story ideas along the way that I'm simply not skilled enough to write. Ideas that were too big for the tools I possessed. That's okay. You do the best you can, get down all your thoughts, and save it for another time.

A couple years ago, I read a dreadful book by a well-known author. My friend Debbie referred to it as a "bush book." A good book will be built like a tree - the trunk is the main plot line, and everything else connects back to it. The book we read was more like a bush. I wasn't even sure what the main plot line really was. The author got hung up on details I so didn't care about. Like the public school system. And ethics in journalism. And apparently many others that I never got to because I closed the book in disgust.

You should always just have one main character. Even in books that feel more like ensemble casts - like Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants - I would still argue that there's only one main character per book. Other characters should certainly be very important to the story (if they're not, dump 'em), but pick one to be your main character.

And they should have one overall problem they're trying to solve. Like John is trying to save the Queen from the terrorist threat. Or Mary is trying to find sanity amidst living with her elderly in-laws. Whatever.

But there should also be other things going on. You know what's a good example of this? Dora the Explorer. Seriously, watch an episode. (You only need one.) Dora is always trying to get to one specific location. That's her goal. Other stuff is going on in the show (How will we cross the chocolate river? Swiper, no swiping!) but everything goes back to the main problem, which is Dora needs to get to wherever.

This example falls apart when we start talking about characters having an inner problem to solve, but that's okay.

Start by picking a main character and their main problem, then go from there.

Have a question? E-mail me.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Why I've been less than stellar about returning e-mails

Of course, as soon as I started ripping apart my office, unexpected stuff came up with the project I'm working on, and I received an unusual amount of e-mails from you guys. I'm so sorry that I haven't been as responsive as I normally am.

My office is finally back in working order, and I'm doing my best to clean out e-mail and maybe even tweet now and then. Seriously. My Twitter account practically has cobwebs.

So, just for fun, here's some before and after pictures of my office.

Now, there was nothing really wrong with my office beforehand. The previous owner had painted in a fine shade of blue, all necessary items fit, and most importantly, it came with one of these:

But now, thanks to my family who bought me "boring" birthday gifts like a gallon of paint, my office is a thing of beauty. It's my favorite room in the house now.

So. Original view from the door:

View from the door now:

The original "big wall":

The big wall now:

The original shelving system:

The infinitely better system, courtesy of my husband and in-laws:

Thus far all my time in here has been spent organizing and responding to e-mails that simply cannot be put off, so I don't know how productive I actually am in here. But I do know that I look darn impressive with shelves full of books behind me.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Morning Pages

I came across the idea of morning pages in a craft book I read recently and love it. In principle anyway. I've yet to try it out. Nor have I figured out where it would fit into my schedule, but it just seems like something that would work.

The idea of morning pages comes from the book The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron. If you're a blocked artists and/or were raised with discouraging parents, I can see how it would be very helpful. A lot of the book seemed like good, helpful advice, just not applicable to me.

Except morning pages.

Morning pages are precisely what they sound like. Pages that you write in the morning.

Everyday, you're supposed to write three pages of whatever. Whatever you're thinking about, fretting over. Questions you have, observations about your surroundings. The point isn't to write usable prose, the point is rather to cleanse. To purge those thoughts and concerns cluttering up your mind.

I don't know what's so magical about three pages, but that's what's recommended. Three pages in the morning, every morning. You can download more information off Julia Cameron's web site here.

I plan to give it a try ... in five years when my kids are both in school.

In the meantime, if you try it out, please let me know. And if you have writing questions, pass those along as well.

Happy Thursday, everyone!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Write Now

Okay, it's decided. Starting in January, here on Go Teen Writers we'll spend 2011 walking through the book writing process. I'm super excited about that, guys. I've been putting together lesson plans (sorry about forcing you to read that phrase during your spare time. I nixed the word "curriculum.") Here's some of what you can expect us to talk about:

  • Organizing your thoughts
  • Making sure your idea is big enough
  • How to make characters sound different from each other
  • Creating an unusual setting
  • Plot Layers
  • Writing Resolutions

And many, many more that I've yet to plan. Sheesh. I may have to post more than twice a week.

Of course now that I've been working on lessons for that, I'm drawing a total blank about what to talk about in the meantime. Drat.

I guess something we can talk about is how we all want this to look. Like when we talk about brainstorming, do you guys want to be able to have the group help you grow your ideas? Because we can make that happen. Assuming the group wants to do it.

The other thing I'll say is this: If you want to write a book, now is the time. There's no reason to wait. You don't need to be wait to be older or wiser or have cooler life experiences. (Though you might need to have those things before you're publishable.) You don't need an office. You don't need to hunker down in the wilderness for 6 months. All you need to do to be a writer is write. Being published doesn't make you a writer. Writing makes you a writer.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Write Your Book This Year

Or next year, I should say.

So here's the idea I had, guys, and you can tell me what you think.

For 2011, I was thinking about going through the whole story writing process. Like in January we'll start with gathering inspiration,then move onto brainstorming, then plotting, etc. And by the time we get to December, we'll have gone through the whole process of writing a book.

Does that sound like fun? Is there any particular part of the process you'd really like for me to hit?

In the meantime, I have an opportunity to pass along to you guys. I spoke to the editor of Starsongs magazine, and they are looking for submissions. The editor said, "We plan to have our next issue of Starsongs out early next month. I could use a couple of Christmas/winter themed stories, poems, or essays before we go to press. I am attaching a copy of our guidelines."

Here are their guidelines:

Starsongs Magazine is a publication of Written World Communications

You are the future, and Starsongs wants to hear your voice. Our intention is to inspire
and promote the creativity of youth. Starsongs is a general market magazine interested
in work by writers, artists, and photographers age 9-19. Please keep this age range
in mind and keep your work at a PG rating level. We are open to fiction or non-fiction
and “as told to” stories.

We are looking for short stories, essays, poetry, artwork, and photography that reflect
your view of your life experiences. Relationships to family, friends, role models,
thoughts about current events, situations that you as young people face today and how
you solve your dilemma are some suggested topics.

Starsongs is a small publication with limited space. Therefore, short stories are
restricted to 1500-2000 words, essays 250-500 words. Poetry should not exceed 24-
32 lines per poem. Text can be sent as an attachment or in the body of the email in the
way you would like to see the work formatted on the page. Photography/artwork should
be submitted as an attachment in jpeg format. All submissions must be original work.

We are also interested in an adult guest columnist in every issue to discuss writing in a friendly,
how to format for young people. If you like to mentor youth through writing, please contact me
at with “ Starsongs Columnist” in the subject line.

Payment ranges between $5 – $25 per piece depending on length and type of

We retain the right to edit written submissions for grammar, brevity, and clarity of
language. We will send you the suggested changes prior to publication.

Please allow 6-8 weeks for notification. All submissions accepted by email.

These guidelines are subject to change and are current as of November 04, 2010.

Submissions should be addressed to Patti Shene at

Thank you for your interest in our publication.

Patti Shene
Executive Editor
Starsongs Magazine

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Another tip for dialogue

Hope everyone is having a wonderful Tuesday so far! As fun as it's been to partner with you guys on my latest project, I'm excited to get back to talking about the craft of writing. And I always love talking about dialogue.

In a class I took from bestselling author Rachel Hauck, she said "the story happens between the quotes." Use your dialogue as a tool to share your story.

A tip for improving your dialogue is to not let your characters respond to everything said to them. Back and forth dialogue - where everything is addressed directly - is really boring to read.

"How are you today?"
"Good. How are you?"
"Good. What do you think of my haircut?"
"I like it. Did Carol cut it?"
"Yes. She does a nice job."
"Yes she does."

Yawn, right?

Here's a couple techniques for combating snoozy dialogue:

1. Use silence

I love when a character is silent and gets completely misunderstood. As in the example below:

“You seemed really excited about moving,” I say. “Since we got here, though, you kinda act like you’re dreading it.”

Mom sighs yet again. “Have you ever wanted something so badly, yet also, somehow equally, not wanted it?”

Palmer’s handsome face fills my mind, first the sparkle of his gray eyes, the mischievous curl of his mouth. And then I think of a few days ago in his car, of the weak guy—April’s boyfriend—who sat beside me.

“Well, someday I’m sure you’ll experience it,” Mom says to my silence.

2. Answer a question with a question

This can be done a variety of ways. The example below is the "change of subject" variety:

“You okay?” Palmer’s studying me. “Usually my Ms. Purdon impression kills.”

“Sorry. I’m distracted, I guess.”

“By my charm?” He winks.

I turn away, unwilling to flirt back. Before Rachel, it might have been different. “Do you know why Chase did what he did?”

He blinks at me, appearing thrown off by the subject change. “What?”

Rather than changing the subject, you can also just turn the tables. So instead of the above, it would read:

"By my charm?" He winks.

"You really think you're that irresistible?"

Gabby's still not answering the question, and now she's put Palmer in the hot seat.

Give these a try and see if they don't add complexity to your scenes. Dialogue often works best when people aren't saying what they really mean. Though the scenes where people are finally saying exactly what they mean work great too. More on that another time.

Have a writing question? E-mail me.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Thank you!

Thank you SO much to everybody who has contributed so far in the "Write Gabby's Book" discussion. I've been having so much fun. I've got all the help I need for now, but there will be more chances to contribute in the future, so stay tuned!

If your name is on the list below, please send me an e-mail with your full name and e-mail address. That way I can get you on the list of people deserving acknowledgement when this book gets published. If you don't have plans of moving anytime soon, you can include your mailing address as well so I can send you a copy of the book when it releases. Growing up, my family was constantly on the move, so I'll make sure to confirm with y'all before I pop those books in the mail. (And this book hasn't been contracted yet, so I have no idea when that'll be. I'll keep you posted.)

Eliese C.
Erin Kong (I've got your info, but didn't want to leave you out!)
Cina M. (Got your info too, girl.)

Then we have one anonymous comments that need claiming:
"I can't think of anything but a random idea for the first line:
Aghh she's done it now, blown it big time...
(continue on maybe a friend or little sister did something) or maybe something along those lines.
I hope that all makes sense.

I think a mystery could be good as long as it's realistic."

So send me e-mails, guys. Want to make sure I give you credit for all your help! If your name isn't on the list and you contributed in some way, send me an e-mail and we'll sort it out.

Back to business as usual tomorrow.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Want to help me write a book? Day 3

Alright, time to nail this sucker down so I can turn it in to my editor and we can get rolling on other details. I've had the best time brainstorming with you guys! And there will be plenty more opportunities as we go through the process of writing this book.

Based on all the comments and discussion, it seems like the medieval idea combined with a supernatural gift was the most popular. (Or it was at least the most discussed.) Here's what we're thinking for plot of the book Gabby's writing:

A fairy tale set in medieval times. Lady Gabrielle is of noble blood and on her way to being the princess when Rafe Grayson walks into her life. While devilishly handsome, Gabrielle is smart enough to realize he's not the right type of guy for her, and she ignores his advances. (I'm thinking Gabrielle's supernatural gift of Truth can come into play here.) Meanwhile, three other ladies (or should that be Ladies, if they're also noble?) have a plot to remove Gabrielle from the favor of the prince so they have a shot at the crown.

And then, if you guys like it, we could go for a star-crossed kind of thing. Like Gabrielle eventually realizes she's in love with Rafe, but is claimed by the prince and can do nothing about it. Which opens this book up to series possibilities, which would be helpful. Gabby can then get contracted for a book series.

What do you guys think of this? Are there changes you'd like to see? Or is there something we discussed that you don't see in here that you think should be?

Here's what we need now:
  • Name for our prince
  • A country. Those proposed thus far are Britain, Italy, Spain, and Germany
  • Title ideas
  • First line of the story ideas

Of titles that have been mentioned for this idea, I think Kaitlyn's on the right track with Invisibly Yours. But please contribute other titles as well!

And of first lines, Mary had one that fits well. Especially in the cut-throat world of nobility. She said: That saying, "Friends are like flowers" makes me laugh. My friends are like dandelions. Pretty weeds that take over and can't be easily exterminated." But, like titles, we're still in brainstorming mode. Because I don't know if people actually had lawns back then. Hmm. But I like the sentiment.

Let me know your ideas!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Want to help me write a book? Day 2

For those who missed yesterday's post, I've solicited everybody's help in coming up with the concept for the book my main character is writing. For details, read yesterday's post here .

I just finished making a really dorky Excel spreadsheet with all our ideas, and here's what we've got so far:

In regards to names for Gabby's fella, the name Rafe came up most consistently, so let's go wtih that. And Rafe needs a last name as well. Those suggested were: Gray, Greyson, or Geary. (Some comments have been e-mailed to me rather than posted on the board, which is totally fine for you shy types.)

For a plot, we had a variety of ideas, but they fall under two umbrellas:

1. A speculative fiction/fantasy/supernatural kind of thing:

  • Gabrielle has some sort of supernatural gift, which is a nice idea because Gabby in real life is pretty ordinary. If you have thoughts on what her gift could be, please post them!
  • Gabrielle is an angel detective and she helps people solve their problems. (Without them knowing they're receiving divine intervention, maybe?) And she ends up bonding with Rafe (angel or human? That was kind of up in the air) when they team up to fight some kind of battle.
  • A comic book like story where the world is very black and white, good triumphs evil every time, and there's lots of action. Gabrielle's sidekick would be Raquel, and they swoop in to safe Rafe, who'd forget all about Raquel and fall for Gabrielle. (Sounds like a smart guy.) This suggestion came with the full package. The suggested title was: As it should be. The suggested final line was: "and all was returned as it should be," and the opening line was, "A familiar twinge prickled at my hand and made my fingers restless. It was go time." Very fun stuff.

2. A quieter kind of story, possibly combined with a fairytale element.

  • Gabby's book is written in diary form (think Princess Diaries, maybe?) She's changed the names of all her frenemies/family members/etc. but Gabrielle-the-heroine is going through many of the same circumstances as Gabby-the-person. Or, in that same vein, she's writing the life she wishes were hers and realizes in her writing that popularity isn't worth the price.
  • Gabrielle is the chosen heiress to some fabulous kingdom. Rafe is her champion (which I like, because in her real life, the guy's too hardheaded to claim her in public), and three witches are trying to usurp her kingdom.
  • For a historical novel, Gabby's writing what happens in her life, but in a different time period. I like this idea combined with a couple of others we've had. Maybe set it in medieval times, and Gabby could be writing her own personal fairy tale. She could either be the Princess, like was suggested up above, or she could be a peasant girl with a thing for the prince, and Rafe is her best friend with a massive crush on her. And then at the end she would learn she's of noble blood.

Alright, hopefully I didn't miss anybody's suggestions. If I did, please let me know, because it was completely unintentional.

We're still brainstorming, so if you have plot ideas separate from what's posted above, please feel free to share them! If you want to vote for one of the ideas, or if you have a thought for how to tweak or expand something, share that as well!

Once we nail down our plot, we'll talk title and first line.

I'm having a blast, guys! Makes me want to build a bigger office and move you all in here!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Want to help me write a book?

Or I should say, Want to help my character write a book?

So here's the deal. I'm writing a book about a high school girl trying to get a novel published, and I really need your help.

Let me preface all the nitty-gritty details by saying YOU WILL GET CREDIT FOR YOUR IDEAS. Should this book get published (no, let's think positively - when the book is published), your full name will appear in the acknowledgements, stating what you contributed. ("Thank you to Suzanna Dunn, Eliese Callahan, and Janette Herbers for coming up with the title of Gabby's book..." etc.) You'll also receive a free copy of the book, and if it becomes a series, you'll receive free copies of those as well. Yes, even you my lovely Aussie and Kiwi readers.

Here's some information about the project, and then I'll follow it up with the questions I'm trying to get answered.

A summary of the book:

Gabby Hoskins feels like she's leading a double life.

At school she's Gabby-the-girl-on-the-sidelines. Yes, she hangs out with the popular students, but it's only because they grew up together. She never gets included in their plans, and the guy she likes only has eyes for her best friend.

But after school, when she's sitting at her computer working on her novel, she's Gabrielle-the-heroine. Writing started as an outlet for all those thoughts and feelings buzzing around her head. The ones nobody wanted to hear about, but somehow needed to be expressed. So she took the idiotic things her friends Rachel, April, and Brooke said and put them in the mouths of Raquel, January, and River.

The only person who knows about Gabby's novel is her on-line friend Bronte, who Gabby met through a writing web site. Bronte is encouraging Gabby to try to find a literary agent, but Gabby isn't so sure. Writing is her one safe haven - what will happen when she allows others in?

What I need help with from you guys:

Um, Gabby's entire book.

But we can start the discussion with these three things:

  1. The title
  2. The premise
  3. A fabulous opening line

Some parameters:

  • It can be any genre (mystery, speculative, historical) but it also has to be a YA book. I think a mystery would be really fun, but I stink at writing mysteries, so I'll have to really rely on you guys if that's what we choose.
  • The main character is a girl named Gabrielle, and she has a group of antagonists in Raquel, January, and River.
  • Gabrielle's got a fella. His name is open to discussion. As are all the other characters and their names.

Okay, that's all I can think of at the moment.

Leave your thoughts in the comments below. If you have something you want to share anonymously, you can do that, but make sure you shoot me an e-mail as well so that I have your full name and can give you credit if your suggestion gets used.

One last thing. This is a project I'm in the process of pitching, which means I need those three things (the title, premise, and first line) now-ish so I can get stuff to my editor. But this will also be an on-going project with many more opportunities to contribute.

Thanks in advance, guys! I'm excited!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

A Birthday Giveaway

Today's my birthday.

I'm 27, which my brother-in-law reminds me, is getting pretty darn close to 30. I love him and all, but sometimes I'm not sure why.

Oh, that's right. Because he's a nice guy. (Hands off, ladies. He's taken. And with the sweet talk mentioned above, can't you see why?)

My birthday has become a time that I think about how lucky I am. I was born into a wonderful family, and then had the good fortune of marrying into another wonderful one. (Brother-in-law excluded.)

I'm married to a total fox.

I have two healthy, beautiful kids.

And I have...

...a book series. (And, yes, I also have kind of a weird love for giraffes.)

Over the last couple years, I've had time to wrap my mind around being an author. But every once in awhile, on a day like today, I get stunned all over again. Those are REAL books in that picture. And MY name is on the cover. Somehow - and I'm still pretty fuzzy on all the details - I convinced somebody that they should pay me to write those books.

I started this blog because of how much I love interacting with teens who want to be writers. Because not so long ago (contrary to my brother-in-laws feelings), I was a teen writer. I had no idea what I was doing, yet I somehow ended up here:

And it made me wonder, what if I could help the next generation of teen writers? What if I could impart what little knowledge I have? What if I could keep them from making the mistakes I did?

So today, I'm also grateful for you guys. I'm grateful that I get to hang out with you, and grateful that you put up with my writing rants. Grateful enough that I'd love to mail each and every one of you a set of the Skylar Hoyt books.

Unfortunately, budget only allows for me to send them to one of you. And (please don't hate me!) it needs to be someone in the US or Canada.

Here's how to get entered.

Step 1: If you aren't already one, become a follower.

Step 2: Tell me something you'd like me to talk more about on here. That's the best present you can possibly give me because it helps me plan better, and to more fully know my audience.

Step 3: Leave your e-mail address so I can let you know you won. And protect yourself from those stupid spam thingies. Leave it like this: Stephanie at StephanieMorrillBooks dot com.

In my house, we celebrate birthdays for a week, so I'll shut down this contest a week from today - November 4th.

Have a great day everybody!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Covering time

A writer e-mailed me to ask, "Is it OK that my book covers only like a month in the entire novel, and that I don't skip too many days?"

This is a great question! I'm amazed by the things you guys think to ask.

In short, yes. Books can cover any kind of time span. Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follet spans several generations. Sarah Dessen's books are often set in the summer. The books in Meg Cabot's Princess Diaries series usually cover a month. I'm trying to think of a book that only covers a day or week but I'm only coming up with movies. Orange County (which is one of my faves, being a writer) all takes place within 24 hours, I'm pretty sure. I have a fantasy about writing a book that takes place within 24 hours, but so far the right story hasn't presented itself.

There really is no ideal of "a book should cover this amount of passing time." You just do what the story needs.

Does that answer your question sufficiently?

Have a writing question? Email me!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Blooming where you're planted

This month, I committed to writing 50,000 words. Kind of my own personal NaNo, since NaNo takes place in November and that so doesn't work for me.

I decided to work on the manuscript my agent was currently pitching, called Something Borrowed.

Between October 1st and the 14th, I wrote about 15,000 words. I had the document open and was typing my little heart out when my agent called.

"I've been on the phone with your editor for the last hour," she said.

Pardon the cliché, but my heart started to race. "Bad or good?"

"Excellent, actually. Except she's lukewarm on Something Borrowed. She has something else in mind. You have a few minutes?"

I looked at my open word document, sighed within, and closed it. "Okay. What's the new project?"

This is life as an author. Sometimes you have the privilege of picking your projects. Of presenting an idea of your own and it being embraced and bought.

Other times, you're selected for an idea, and it's your job to make it work. To make it yours.

I heard bestselling author Kristin Billerbeck use the phrase, "bloom where you're planted" in regards to situations like this. I love that. It's as important in writing as it is life.

You might have dreams of writing literary fiction or poetry or a memoir or something else that simply isn't selling well. Sometimes lightning will strike, and your risky story will somehow make it through the pub-committee. But for most, you gotta pay your dues. I'm not talking about lowering your standards, but about taking a different path in getting there. I'm talking about seizing writing opportunities that come your way and finding a way to bloom.

My editor's idea totally threw me at first. I called my writing friend, Roseanna, completely panicked. "How are we going to make this work?"

Within a couple hours, we'd come up with something I'm excited about, something I think is fabulous. And my editor's idea ended up fitting into a manuscript of mine like a missing piece.

Hopefully when she sees it, she'll feel the same way.

Have a great weekend, everybody!