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!