Friday, June 28, 2013

How to Get a Research Interview and How to Handle It

Jill Williamson is a chocolate loving, daydreaming, creator of kingdoms. She writes weird books for teens in lots of weird genres like, fantasy (Blood of Kings trilogy), science fiction (Replication), and dystopian (The Safe Lands trilogy). Find Jill on FacebookTwitterPinterest, or on her author website.

On Tuesday, I talked about writing what you know, especially in regards to hard topics. I LOVED reading all your comments.

So, what if you are compelled, for whatever very good reason, to write about a topic that you've not experienced? The answer is research interviews. Because internet and book research won't be enough for a story like this. If you've decided to dig deep and write something hard and powerful, you want to do some hard and powerful research. Wikipedia isn't going to cut it. Here are some things to consider:

1. Be prepared. Know your plot and your characters. Somewhat, anyway. This will help you know what information you're looking for and what questions to ask. I like to write out a list of questions in advance. I also like to take a digital recorder. That way I don't have to try and write down everything so fast. Always ask permission before recording a conversation.

2. Go there. If you're writing about a place, go there. If it's a place you can experience, buy a ticket and experience it. Take tons of notes and pictures. Get into your main character's head, find experiences for him, then experience them yourself.

3. Talk to people who live there or work there or go to school there. As them what it's like. Consider your character's world and life situation, then find the right people to ask. If you're writing about a businessman, talk to some businessmen. If you're writing about the homeless, then find yourself some homeless people to speak with. Offer to buy them lunch and listen to their stories.

4. Practice patience. If you've asked someone to take time out of their day to talk to you, let them take the reins of the conversation. I mean, if you're talking with a homeless person, they likely haven't really talked to someone in a long time. They might have a lot to say. Be patient and listen. Be a blessing to their day, not a burden.

5. Don't get greedy. If you say, "Could I have five minutes of your time to ask a few questions?" then watch your clock and only take five minutes. If the person is going on past that, remind them of the time. If he is happy to keep talking, that's fine. You could also ask your source if you could call or email some follow-up questions. If you do this, try not to take advantage. Only ask questions you can't get the answer to elsewhere. And don't email daily for the rest of your life. ;-)

Also, many professional authors pay professional sources. How much are you asking of your source? If you only have a few questions, a thank you and the offer of a free book is usually enough incentive. But if you want someone to read your manuscript for overall feedback, consider offering to pay them for their time.

6. When you're done talking, say, "Thank you." And write down their name so that you can thank them in the acknowledgements of the book. You might also offer to mail them a book if you know it will be published soon. You don't have to put every person you speak with in your acknowledgements, but if you spent a lot of time with a source and he or she helped you in a significant way, it doesn't hurt to thank them in the book. Such a gesture might thrill them, but it might also create a lifelong reader.

Any questions? Is there a location or topic that has always been on your heart to write about? If so, what? 

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Should I Enter A Writing Contest?

by Stephanie Morrill

Stephanie writes young adult contemporary novels and is the creator of Her novels include The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series (Revell) and The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet (Playlist). You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and check out samples of her work on her author website.

Among writers, I've noticed two schools of thought about writing contests.

Writing contests are extremely helpful and can be great exposure.


Writing contests are a waste of time and money because you don't know who your judges will be.

And my opinion is, "I agree."

Writing contests can be extremely helpful. They can get your manuscript in front of great writers, agents, even editors. Even if they don't do that, you can get great, unbiased feedback from published writers that will help strengthen your story.

They can also be a waste of time because sometimes (often?) big contests are desperate for first round judges and you wind up with someone who has no clue about your genre trying to tell you how to write your book.

So ... what's a writer to do?

This is purely my opinion, so don't take this as industry scripture or anything, but I feel that if you're an aspiring writer and you're ready to query agents or editors, it's a good idea to start with a writing contest. Here's why:

  • Writing contests scrub your name from the pages. Which means the judges know only your words  and your genre. You won't get special treatment because you're young or because you're a relative or because you're friends. All biases are removed.
  • If something isn't working in your first chapters, your judges may have great advice on how to change it. Which might help you land an agent or editor. (This is what happened for me with my debut novel, Me, Just Different. I took the advice of the judges, and an agent who I'd previously queried loved the changes and wanted to represent me.)
  • Contests are good practice for receiving, accepting, processing, and applying criticism. When Me, Just Different didn't do so great in the contest, it was very hard for me. But handling that criticism was an important skill for me to develop.
  • With big contests, there are multiple rounds. If your entry advances to the next round, your book will be in front of an agent or editor. This means you'll at least be getting feedback from them, and you'll possibly gain representation or a contract from it. (I've seen both happen - though I've also seen manuscripts win contests and never get published. So...)
How do you know which contests to enter?

You can do a Google search for writing contests, writing contests for teens, historical romance writing contests. Whatever. You'll get approximately a zillion results. 

If it were me, I would start with a writer's organization. Romance Writers of America does a contest every year for unpublished writers, as does American Christian Fiction Writers, and others as well. (If you know of others, please share in the comments below!) With writers organizations, there's usually the big contests, and then when you join you find out about contests done by regional chapters as well.

Writers Digest has a bunch of annual competitions, Scholastic has one just for teens and Amazon has one as well. 

Contests cost money, so you'll want to consider that when you decide which ones and how many to enter. You'll also want to look at who the final round judges are. If it's an agent or editor you'd be interested in, then that might be a good contest for you. And I recommend only entering contests where the first round judging is done by multiple people as opposed to just one person.

And now for a word of caution.

Writing contests require a tremendous amount of volunteers. And often the people in charge of the contests are desperate for people to help get these entries read. They do their best to make sure they have good judges, but...

The Revised Life of Ellie SweetIn The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet when Ellie is trying to decide if she should enter a writing contest or not, her mentor, Bronte, is firmly against it and she puts it this way, "There are so many people who enter that AFW" (a fake writing organization) "has to scrape the barrel for first round judges. Which means you might have some old fuddy-duddy writer who's never read a single young adult book and doesn't appreciate your lovely, young voice. Therefore they give you low marks, bad advice, and you pay forty dollars for the privilege."

There's truth in Bronte's words, and it's something a lot of first time contest entrants don't realize. (I certainly didn't realize it!) And this is why if you choose to invest money in a contest, I recommend one with multiple first round judges. Just in case.

Do you have additional thoughts on writing contests you'd like to share? Have you had good experiences? Bad experiences? Have a contest you're curious about? Leave your thoughts below!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Should I wait to be a better writer?

by Stephanie Morrill

Stephanie writes young adult contemporary novels and is the creator of Her novels include The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series (Revell) and the newly released The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet (Playlist). You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and check out samples of her work on her author website.

Last week, I had the joy of holding mentoring sessions with teen writers. I sat in an office, and they came in for fifteen minutes to talk about publishing, writing, their story, or anything on their  mind.

One of the writers asked me, "This book I wrote is really special to me, but I'm worried about trying to get it [traditionally] published. I know I'll keep getting better as a writer - should I wait to pursue publication in case I want to make changes when I'm a better writer?"

I resonated with that question because as a teen writer, I improved so rapidly with every book I wrote, that I was constantly thinking, "That last book I wrote was horrible! How could I have ever thought it was good?"

I feared I would always feel that way. I even confessed to a friend that I was worried I would never be able to write two books in a row that I actually liked. Her answer was, "But don't you think you'll always be getting better as a writer?"

Yes. But that's not what I wanted. I wanted to someday be perfect and to never again think, "That last story was terrible."

But once we accept that our writing will never be perfect, that we'll always be improving, we have to wrestle with when we're an acceptable level of imperfect to pursue publishing our books. Here are some thoughts I have about that process:

Publishers won't take a risk on a bad book.

We've all read bad books. But let's forget about them for a minute.

It's very hard to get a book published, particularly a first book. One of the reasons is because a LOT of people have to say, "Hey, this is a great book!" before the publisher makes an offer. (For more on how that works, see Jill's wonderful article The Publishing Process or check out the book we wrote on getting a book published.)

So while you're on the journey of getting your special book published, you'll have lots of people looking for ways to strengthen it. You won't be alone.

You'll always be growing as a writer (ideally) but it doesn't mean you'll always think your old stuff sucks.

I'm the type of writer who tweaks every time she reads through her manuscript. This is why I never read my published novels. (Some writers do - I honestly don't know how they stand it, but maybe they think the same thing about me.)

Recently I realized that in my debut novel, Me, Just Different, I have my main character, Skylar, giving Abbie rides to her boyfriend's house in exchange for gas money. That seemed like very logical motivation to me, like, 9 years ago when I wrote the first draft. I never gave it a second thought until a few days ago when it struck me, "She's such a princess that her parents totally would have paid for her gas! Why did I not realize that?"

All that to say there are things I would probably change about my published books, but I still think they're good books. I continue to improve as a writer, but I don't feel the way I did as a young writer.

Life's too short to write anything but the book of your heart.

In an issue of one of my writing magazines, James Scott Bell had a writing exercise that I loved and have continued to mull over even two years later. It went something like:
1. If you could only write one more book in your life, what would you write? Describe below.
2. Write that book.
Maybe the book you wrote is special ... but why would you ever spend time writing anything else? Why bother with a book that isn't special to you?

The obvious answer is because you might be able to write a book that sells easier/better. This is true, and it's a question most working writers have to ask themselves at some point. I imagine I could sell better in a different genre, but so far I don't have the passion for writing for adults that I do for teens. And I don't have the energy to write a story I don't feel passionate about.

Even so ... maybe you should wait.

I heard two wonderful quotes from fellow writers at the conference last week. One was when Jill and I were teaching our, "How to Revise Your Novel" class, and Jill said that sometimes "our ideas are greater than our skill level." 

And a couple days later, Daniel Schwabauer (who writes middle grade books for AMG, and who created the One Year Adventure Novel curriculum) said, "Some ideas are plucked too green." He shared how about twenty years ago he had an idea for a book that he just loved, but he couldn't make it work, and he's only recently gone back to it.

So if you've written the book, but it doesn't feel quite right to you, then maybe you're not ready to write the final version yet. There's nothing wrong with that.

What about you? Do you have additional advice you would have given to that young writer? Have you experienced the same fear as her?

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Write What You Know?

Jill Williamson is a chocolate loving, daydreaming, creator of kingdoms. She writes weird books for teens in lots of weird genres like, fantasy (Blood of Kings trilogy), science fiction (Replication), and dystopian (The Safe Lands trilogy). Find Jill on FacebookTwitterPinterest, or on her author website.

I'm still on my trip. I went from OYAN in Kansas City to ICRS in St. Louis. I really wanted to blog about OYAN today, but I can't get my pictures off my camera, so I'm going to wait until next week.

You've likely heard it said, "Write what you know." This is wise and makes good sense most of the time. I've met writers who say, "But I really want to write about such-and-such, even though I've never experienced it." And that's cool too. Writing should be somewhat enjoyable. And we all want to write what we want to write. So we should. Don't you think?

The short answer is yes. But there are some gray areas. And here's why. Certain situations are often none of our business if we've never had any experience with them. Abortion is a good example. I've read manuscripts from writers who wanted to make a statement on this controversial topic, and they want to do it through fiction. But if said writer has no life experience with abortion, said writer probably isn't the best person to tell that story. Because living through something and researching it are two very different things. And true life stories are often more powerful than the made-up ones. That doesn't mean said writer can't do it and do it well, but it's rare. And if said writer doesn't do it well, the story almost always comes off preachy. If your goal is to make a statement, your story stops being about entertainment and becomes something else.

Here's what I want you to think about. What have you experienced in your life that you'd be able to write about without needing to research it? For me, it's things like being the oldest sibling, being poor, living without electricity, going to Japan, being a Girl Scout, bad relationships, living with an alcoholic, living in Alaska, being a fashion designer, being a wife and mom, working in youth ministry, playing the guitar, etc.

Those are just a few examples. Every one of you have your own unique list. And chances are, if you were to write a novel that involved any of the things on your list, the writing would come easier and the writing would be powerful.

So I leave the decision up to you. On Friday, I'm going to talk about researching a topic that you have no experience with but need to write about. For now, share with us in the comments at least one unique-ish thing that you have experience with in your life.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Go Teen Writers Word War Results

by Stephanie Morrill

Stephanie writes young adult contemporary novels and is the creator of Her novels include The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series (Revell) and The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet (Playlist). You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and check out samples of her work on her author website.

After spending most of last week at a teen writers conference here in Kansas City (The One Year Adventure Novel summer workshop) I'm attempting to plug back into the real world. Like where people ask me to get them juice instead of to sign their shirt.

Jill signing body parts after her wildly successful "World Building" class

Jill and I had a fun time connecting with several writers we know through Go Teen Writers, like Ellana Turrell and Leah Good. And we met lots of new writers who are full of passion and talent and love for Doctor Who.

While we were away from the blog, there was a word war going on! Thirty-four writers banded together and wrote an amazing 333,329 words last week. How awesome is that? It was fun to see how you all encouraged each other.

The most prolific writers last week were:

Grace S. with 63,452 words
Alyson Dow with 31,027 words
and Layla H. with 30, 103 words

These girls won their choice of a free download of Go Teen Writers: How to Turn Your First Draft into a Published Book, a free download of The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet, or a copy of Captives by Jill Williamson. Congratulations! We'll have to have another word war this summer, for sure.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Last day of the Go Teen Writers Word War!

Stephanie here. Today is the last day of the Go Teen Writers word war! You have until midnight tonight to get in as many words as you can.

When you're done writing for the day, submit your words on this form. I'll tally up how many words the entire group wrote, plus we'll figure out who wrote the most overall.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Word War Check and a Free Gift

Jill here. Steph and I are having so much fun at the teen writing conference. It totally makes us want to start a Go Teen Writers in-person conference. Someday, maybe.

How goes the word wars? Feel free to post your weekly word count in the comments section.

Shameless plug: I wanted to let you all know that the first book I wrote (not the first to be published), The New Recruit, is FREE on Amazon Kindle through midnight this Saturday, June 22nd. Whether or not this is your kind of book, if you have a Kindle and don't mind downloading a freebie, it would really help me out.

It's also quite fun to read Spencer's sarcastic voice.

Here is the link to the Amazon Kindle page:

And here is a Facebook/Twitter message you could post on your wall, if you're feeling saucy and would like to help spread the word:

Like spy guy books? The New Recruit by Jill Williamson is FREE on Kindle through 6/22. Get yours now!

Thanks so much for any help you can give.

And to encourage you in your word war, here are two videos that my friends Chris and Jacob did, penalties for the losers of their word war with each other. Pay no attention to the length of these videos, they're super funny. So, have a good laugh. And keep on writing!

Monday, June 17, 2013

It's Word War Time!

Jill and I are spending the week at a teen writers conference in Olathe, Kansas. We knew we wouldn't have time for blogging this week, but Jill had the fun idea to host a word war.

If you're not familiar with a word war, it's when writers decide to write for a set period of time and see who ends up with the most words.

This word war will run through Friday at midnight. On Friday, we'll have a form up for 24 hours where you can submit your word count. This will be on the honor system...unless you're one of the top three people to final and then we'll need to verify your words.

The top three will get their pick of a free download of Go Teen Writers: How to Turn Your First Draft into a Published Book, a free download of The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet by me, or a copy of Captives by Jill. (If you already own all these, we'll work out an alternative prize.)

You can begin counting your words...NOW!

If you need help staying motivated, consider playing "1k in 1 hour" in the comments section below (where you race with other writers to try to write a thousand words in one hour) or chat with other writers on Twitter using the hashtag #GoTeenWriters. Or when you're done writing for the day, consider posting your word total in the comments section so you can cheer each other on!

Want to tell others you're engaged in a word war this week? You can grab one of these badges for your blog or Facebook page:

Have fun!

Friday, June 14, 2013

Are You Writing Stereotypes?

Jill Williamson is a chocolate loving, daydreaming, creator of kingdoms. She writes weird books for teens in lots of weird genres like, fantasy (Blood of Kings trilogy), science fiction (Replication), and dystopian (The Safe Lands trilogy). Find Jill on FacebookTwitterPinterest, or on her author website.

I think it's far too easy for us to judge one another. We meet someone new, and, whether or not we mean to let it, they make a first impression that sticks. And maybe that changes over time if that person becomes a friend and we get to know him or her better. But if we don't, we often tend to label that person for all time. We think we know what he or she is all about.

We do this with types of people as well. The dumb jock. The dumb blonde. The homeschooled student. The band geek. The nerd. The Christian prude. The rich girl. The gay guy. The stoner. The, the, the.

People are so much more than any one label. As writers, it's easy for us to start out with these labels. We want to create a group of characters that are varied, so we might jot down a few of those labels I used up above to help ourselves create a diverse cast. And it might work at first. But if we stay there, with those cliche archetypes, we will write cliche characters: one dimensional characters.

Let's not.

Instead, challenge yourself to create a culture in your book, whether you're portraying a real culture from the world we live in or a made up culture in a fantasy setting. Culture is varied. It's rich. It's different. No one person on this planet is the same as another. Not through DNA and not through life experience. We are all human. And we are so much more than any one stereotype. Our gender, race, parents, siblings, income, religion, country, hometown, friends, teachers, sexuality, interests, profession, skills, life experiences, and quirks ... these things combined make up part of who a person is.

So play with that list. Don't just have The Nerd. Instead, have an only child whose parents are both doctors. Since it's always been the three of them at home, our guy has never really felt like a kid. He's been a little grown up from day one. And, frankly, he finds other kids his age obnoxious and juvenile. So rather than playing basketball or video games with his neighbor, he practices the piano, reads history books, and studies French so that when he travels with his parents to France each year, he can work on his accent.

Don't just have The Dumb Jock. Have a guy whose dad is hard on him. Nothing is ever good enough, though he's always gotten praise from his dad when he does good on the football field. So he works harder at football than anything. And, yeah, he doesn't study as much as he should. But as long as his dad is happy and not picking a fight... And maybe he does tend to pick on smaller guys at school, but it's what his dad does to him. It's good for those little guys. They'll be tougher because of it. Plus it makes our guy feel better to be able to dish it out some when he's always having to take if from his dad at home.

Do you see what I mean? No matter how you and I might label people, whether we mean to or not, no one on this planet is a label. We are all so much more.

Have you ever labeled someone? How might you try and get to know that person better?

And what about your characters? Do you have some cliche stereotypes in your book? How might you build them into flesh and blood people who have depth and are unique?

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Should Teen Writers Blog?

by Stephanie Morrill

Stephanie writes young adult contemporary novels and is the creator of Her novels include The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series (Revell) and the newly released The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet (Playlist). You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and check out samples of her work on her author website.

A writer emailed me to ask, "When do you think a writing blog should be started? Before you publish so people have someplace to go if they're interested, right away? After you publish so there's already interest, hopefully, and something to talk about? And how do you get attention once you have one?"

I see this question asked fairly often, and it always knot me up inside because I'm fearful of saying the wrong thing. Every writer's path is different. Every blog and blog readership is different. With blogs:

There are no absolutes or guarantees

Some published authors have very popular blogs. Other very successful authors have blogs that don't seem to have much traffic. And then Jill and I, who aren't racing up any best sellers lists, have seen success with Go Teen Writers. You can do things to help your blog be successful - like posting consistently and promoting on social media sites - but sometimes even that doesn't get you traffic.

Why are you starting a blog?

This is the first question you should ask, in my opinion. Who is the blog for? Who do you want to reach? What are your goals? Because if your goal is to sell books...that won't keep readers coming around. I don't like being sold to all the time, do you?

I've blogged unsuccessfully and successfully. And you can see the difference in these answers:

Who is this blog for?
My original blog that was on my author website: Uh, the publisher told me I should have one, and I want to do what they ask.... Teens, I guess.
Go Teen Writers: Teens who love writing and who hope to be published someday.

Who do you want to reach?
Original blog: Whoever is already on my website and wants to connect with me.
Go Teen Writers: Teen writers.

What are your goals?
Original blog: To promote my books and to be able to connect with readers.
Go Teen Writers: To encourage teen writers along their journey and to build a community for them.

When you look at those answers, it's clear why my author blog never grew to more than ten or so faithful readers. I had no idea what I was doing or who I was doing it for.

Why a blog?

Another question you should ask is if a blog is the right thing for you. When a blog is done well, it takes up a lot of time. A lot of time that you could be using to write or read. When you think about your goals, is a blog the best way to achieve those goals? Or would it be better to use a YouTube, Tumblr, Twitter, Pinterest, or other sites that I'm not savvy enough to know about?

I've seen writers have success with starting email loops for their genre or with Facebook groups for people who are in the same season of life as them. I've been a part of YA lit email loops and was briefly in a Stay At Home Writers Facebook group for moms who write with little kids underfoot. Maybe you don't need or want a blog, maybe another format would serve you better.

How is this different than what's already out there?

This one requires a bit of research. When I first started Go Teen Writers, I did an internet search to see what else was out there for teen writers. Because I knew if teens were already happily plugged into a community, that meant they probably weren't looking for a new one. Figure out what would make your blog unique. 

When should you start? Before or after you're published?

I have no idea. Some people create wildly successful blogs and land book contracts and TV shows because of it, like The Pioneer Woman. Other people limp around in the blogosphere but still manage to get book contracts.

I don't talk to publishing committees on a regular basis, but it seems to me that a great blog can help you, but a so-so blog won't hurt too much because there are so many ghost town blogs out there. (Unless on your blog you regularly roast editors and publishing houses - that will hurt you.)

If you start the blog after you're published, you'll have something to promote (your book) but it doesn't necessarily mean you'll have more to talk about. The average writer's life isn't full of blog fodder.

Should you talk about writing?

This wasn't in the question, but I'll address it anyway. Writing is a natural thing for us to want to talk about. We are, after all, writers. And other than my kids and trips to Costco, there really isn't much that's consistent in my life that I could talk about outside of writing.

Amanda Luedeke is an agent with MacGregor Literary (Jill's agent, actually) and she wrote a
View Amanda's book on Amazon
wonderful post called "Blogging as a Fiction Writer." In it she says:
Blogging as a fiction writer is difficult. So difficult, that if I were in your shoes, I’d probably choose something else to build my platform. Maybe Facebook or Twitter. Something easier. Because unlike nonfiction authors, fiction authors aren’t really experts at things. They don’t have people coming to them, looking for answers or solutions or world peace. They don’t have that clear topic to drive their blog. They just have themselves and their imagination. And that doesn’t always make for an interesting blog experience.
But she does offer 6 great ideas for blogging as a fiction writer in her article, and you can read her great suggestions for blogging and growing your blog here.

I don't consider myself an expert in blogging or anything, but if you have questions, you can leave them below and I'll do my best to answer them.

Next week Jill and I will be teaching at the One Year Adventure Novel conference in lovely Olathe, Kansas. This means we won't be blogging BUT Jill had a fabulous idea. Next week we're going to host a massive word war here on the blog.

Not sure what a word war is? It's where a group of writers compete to see who can write the most words in a set amount of time. Details will go live on the blog Monday morning, so make sure you check it out!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

What is today's bird?

by Stephanie Morrill

Stephanie writes young adult contemporary novels and is the creator of Her novels include The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series (Revell) and the newly released The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet (Playlist). You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and check out samples of her work on her author website.

I spent the bulk of last week camping in and hiking around Bryce Canyon National Park with my husband and favorite tiny people.

McKenna and Connor chilling our first night in the hotel.

While camping and I are still on iffy terms with each other, I've come to really love hiking and all the cool stuff it allows you to see. Hiking can be a great adventure, but hiking with kids...well, there are times when I feel each step I've taken, and when each future step seems so daunting that I just want to sit down and call for the rescue helicopter to come put me out of my misery.

And isn't it the same our stories?

One day you feel swept away into the story, caught up in the beauty of it all, and another you're looking at your manuscript thinking, "Who thought this was a good idea? How many words do I have to write before I can let myself be done for the day?"

The first time I read Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, I was a senior in high school (it was assigned reading for my English class) and I was in the process of teaching myself how to write Real Novels. Like, ones that were longer than 10,000 words. It was daunting.

In the first chapter of the book, she talks about a report her brother had to write for school about birds, which he had put off until the night before it was due, and he was freaking out about how he was going to get it all done in time. Anne's father said to her brother, "Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird."

Anne applies this to writing with the concept of giving yourself "short assignments." She says:
Say to yourself in the kindest possible way, Look, honey, all we're going to do for now is to write a description of the river at sunset...that's all we're going to do for now. We are just going to take this bird by bird. But we are going to finish this one short assignment.
I think this is some of the best writing advice I've ever been given. It's talked me out of moments of despair where I'm thinking, "I have this huge mess of a story that needs to be edited within a month! How am I going to get this all done?!"

Usually it takes another cup of coffee, some deep breathing, and a reminder that I just need to focus on one task at a time. Same as hiking up a canyon with my kids. I just have to coax their little feet one step at a time until we reach the rim.

I left for vacation last week feeling overwhelmed by what would be waiting for me when I came home. I'm trying to get The Unlikely Debut of Ellie Sweet edited and turned in, I'm teaching classes next week that I desperately want to go well, and it's birthday season in my family - four next week, including my husband's and my mother's.

Cue the deep breath and me reaching for the coffee pot.

Today, I need the reminder that I don't have to edit my entire book right this moment. Instead I just need to edit page 44. And when I've done page 44, then I can worry about page 45. Page by page. Bird by bird.

What about you? What's your "bird" for today? Consider posting it below, then coming back later and letting us know how it went.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

How to Know If Your Book Is Middle Grade or Young Adult

Jill Williamson is a chocolate loving, daydreaming, creator of kingdoms. She writes weird books for teens in lots of weird genres like, fantasy (Blood of Kings trilogy), science fiction (Replication), and dystopian (The Safe Lands trilogy). Find Jill on FacebookTwitterPinterest, or on her author website.

I see a lot of confusion over middle grade and young adult books. I see this from authors and readers. And I also see it in book reviews, especially when a reviewer will slam a book for not getting deep enough into the characters emotions or for dealing with mature subject matters. But here's the thing, most of the time, those complains are because the reader doesn't understand which genre he or she is reading.

First of all, there are usually three age groups of books for middle grade and young adult. There are the middle grade 8-12, the YA 14 and up, and the middle grade/YA crossover books 12-16. Confusing, I know. But knowing who your own target audience is, and knowing which publishers are publishing the type of book you are writing will make your life easier.

Kids like to read about characters that are older than they are. So, if your main character is 14, you're likely writing a middle grade book. If your main character is 18, you're likely writing YA. Don't write a YA book with a twelve-year-old protagonist, unless it's a coming-of-age story and the bulk of the book's content fits YA better that middle grade.

Keep in mind that the conflicts that your characters are dealing with should fit the interests and conflicts that your target readers have. A ten-year-old reader isn't concerned with romance, so putting romance into a middle grade book for 8-12 year old readers is a mistake. But a sixteen-year-old reader is interested in romance, so romance is often included in YA books.

Middle Grade
These are books written for readers from ages 8-12. These books tend to focus more on plot than characters. That's not to say that middle grade books have bland characters. They just don't tend to go as deep into the characters' points of views. These types of stories are often about the adventure and fun.

Eight to twelve year old kids don't tend to buy their own books. Yes, there are always exceptions to this rule, but mostly, for this age group, parents are buying the books or the kids are getting them from a school or library, which means a teacher or librarian is buying the books. This means that these books are being examined by adults before they get into the hands of the kid reader.

Middle grade books are also edited for content by the publishing house. These editors know that parents, teachers, and librarians are going to be checking these books over. Romance, drugs, graphic violence, swearing ... these things don't usually fly in a middle grade book.

Young Adult
These are books written for ages 12 and up. YA books tend to focus more on the characters and their problems. They tend to have deeper points of view and be more emotional. The plot is important, but often not as important as the drama. Teens tend to buy their own books, and often, adults no longer pay attention to what teens are reading.

YA books are sometimes edited for content, but you can get away with a lot grittier things. For those of you who read Captives, my editors really helped me with the content in that book. And Captives is a 14 and up book. Replication is a 12-16 book. There is some romance and violence in it, but it's not graphic enough to need a 14 and up rating from the publisher. Every publishing house is different, of course. There are some YA publishers who will let anything slide. *shudders*

So what do you have?
Ask yourself: How old is my protagonist? What is my plot about? If I have more mature issues, how mature? Stories that involve sex, drugs, extreme violence, and language will put your book into the 14 and up YA category. But if you have only a little of one of those mature topics and it's a subplot and handled tastefully, you might be able to fit into the 12-16 YA category. Really, it's all about finding the right publisher for your story. Studying books similar to yours will help you figure that out.

Don't think that middle grade books can't be cool. They can. And teens who are sixteen will read them. So will adults. And they can have have a little romance, just not emotional romance. The Percy Jackson books are all middle grade. The romance in those books was tame enough that the series never crossed over into young adult. If you have soap opera-type drama in your book, it's probably YA. The Harry Potter books changed as Harry got older. The first three books were middle grade. The last four were YA because of Harry's age and the more emotional plot lines.

Do you know if your book is middle grade or YA? Do you know your target age group?

Monday, June 10, 2013

Diversity in Literature and a giveaway!

by Rajdeep Paulus

Rajdeep Paulus writes Contemporary Young Adult Fiction and blogs weekly at In Search of Waterfalls. Connect with her in on:TwitterFacebook, Pinterest, Goodreads, and Instagram! Her debut novel, Swimming Through Clouds, released June 1st with Playlist Young Adult Fiction!

Bringing Rainbows to Young Adult Fiction

I grew up on books. I’ve loved reading for as long as I can recall, and road trips were the best. This was back in the day when my parents owned a station wagon, (a what?!) and no one cared if you laid down in the back. I just brought a stash of book, and the miles went by like nothing. And when it was too dark to read, I laid on my back and looked for shooting stars.

As a new writer, only having completed about three full manuscripts at this point, I found it only natural to introduce characters of my ethnic background. (I was born in Punjab, India, but celebrated my third birthday in New York!) My first book, the one that will probably never leave the archives, is told from the point of view of a North Indian girl who grew up in Chicago named Rani. She even resembles me with her long straight dark brown hair.

And maybe someday her story will get dusted off and find a home. For now, she makes a cameo in Swimming Through Clouds. But I still love her, because she helped me to find Talia and Lagan and their story.

I think everyone wants to read a story they can identify with. Not just on an emotional level, but just like very few of us resemble Barbie growing up, we all need to identify with characters and stories that remind us of ourselves physically, culturally, and ethnically—to name a few categories.

On a hunt for these very stories, as a senior during my undergrad years at Northwestern, my one Indian English Professor, Madhu Dubey, agreed to help me craft a senior project centered around the ten or so South-Asian authors I was able to find at the time. Authors who wrote in English. And wrote stories that took place in America. The thing is, as is with so much of cultural fiction, the running theme repetitively centered around living between two cultures. The “hyphened” generation, if you will. And I get that. Many of us whose ethnic roots lie across the oceans are only a couple of generations away from our parents as immigrants. So the stories were needed (and still are,) but, there are so many other stories to tell. Tales that include ethnic and cultural details but center around the more universal experiences of life. That’s my goal as a writer. To introduce colorful stories that no matter what your background is, you can step into them and feel connected, make friends, and fall in love.

I grew up in Windsor, Ontario which wasn’t that diverse. Then I finished high school in Livonia, Michigan, and I think I was one of three or four brownies in the whole school. Not until I ventured off to college at Northwestern and fell in love with Chicago did I get to immerse in diversity. And my friends were from all over the globe, and that’s how I always imagined my life. Happened to marry a guy from India, but his family is from the Southern most state of Kerala while I was born in Punjab, in the north. A North meets South love story I like to tell people. And if you’re talking India, that pretty much means two different countries. We call our kids Malayabis or Punjialis, since he’s a Malu! :)

I think that’s why I love being a New Yorker best. The world has showed up here, and I can’t wait to write their stories. We’re friends with so many couples who are married interracially, that when I spin my head, every other kid has a beautiful mix of features on his or her face. In my own family, many of my nieces and nephews celebrate at least two cultural backgrounds, sometimes three. And the world is changing more than ever. Diversity is accepted and celebrated more than ever. Why shouldn’t literature reflect this? I think it should!

And you? Do you have a favorite YA read that featured a diverse band of characters? Or is there a story you're itching to write? Maybe a buff Eskimo dude meets a lost Caribbean teen who wanders off from her Tour Guide group and knows nothing about how to weather the cold let alone how to dress for the Arctic! Make your own up! I'd love to hear what ideas you amazing teens come up with!

We're super excited to give away a free download of Rajdeep's debut novel, Swimming Through Clouds. Here's how you can enter to win:

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Friday, June 7, 2013

Are Your Actions and Reactions Logical?

Jill Williamson is a chocolate loving, daydreaming, creator of kingdoms. She writes weird books for teens in lots of weird genres like, fantasy (Blood of Kings trilogy), science fiction (Replication), and dystopian (The Safe Lands trilogy). Find Jill on FacebookTwitterPinterest, or on her author website.

On Tuesday I talked about making sure that your fiction happens in order. But there's more to it than simply having the actions and reactions in the right order. The human brain has a method of processing information. It’s important to get this order right so that your narrative feels logical to the reader. So when you write, make sure that your actions and reactions follow the same logical progression that the human brain uses.

1. First comes the senses: what you see, feel, hear, smell, taste. What your character notices or observes. So, when you're describing something, things like pain, temperature of the room or outdoors, a siren, a bright light. These things should come first.

2. This is followed by reflexes of action or emotion. What the human body does without thinking in reaction to those first observations in number 1. These are reactions that are out of the character's control. So, shutting eyes against a bright light, flinching or wincing at a loud noise, being afraid. Things like that.

3. Thought comes next. Inner thoughts based on the observations in number 1 that will lead to a decision in number 4.

4. Finally, action or speech in reaction to what's happened.

Keep in mind, you don't always have to include all four of these elements in every sequence of action. People don't always think: I'm going to speak out loud now. But the elements you do include should always happen in order.

Here's a scene from my book Captives that's written in a logical sequence of events, for the most part.

       Shaylinn opened her eyes to a bright white ceiling. She must be in heaven, because in Old movies, heaven was always white and glowing like this. But Papa Eli had said there would be no mourning or pain in heaven, and the ache in Shaylinn’s chest hinted at recent pain.
       “Hello?” she called, her voice barely a croak.
       She lay on a stiff and narrow bed. When she tried to sit, she found her arms were bound to the bed. Her heart tumbled within her. “Help! Someone help me!” The words resulted in nothing but a break in the silence around her.
       She lifted her head in hopes of getting some sort of bearings. A tall cupboard hung on the wall on her right. Down past her feet, a door stood without a handle or knob. To her left, a glowing blue sheet of glass covered the wall. The surface seemed to ripple with low light.
       Her cheek itched, and she turned her head to scratch it with her shoulder. That was when she realized she was wearing a thin white dress. Who would take her clothes? What was going on? “Hello? Is someone there? Please, help me!”

The above scene includes seven full sequences of logical action. I highlighted them so you could see how they are broken down. First, Shaylinn opens her eyes to the white ceiling (1), thinks (3), then speaks (4). The ache in her chest comes out of order, which is a mistake. It should have come in number 1. She notices where she is (1) and tries to sit (4). Then she notices that she's tied down (1), she feels fear (2), and she calls out (4). When no one answers (1), she lifts her head (4). Here I made another out-of-order mistake with her inner thoughts "in hopes of getting some sort of bearings (3)." This really should have come before she sat up. If I could still edit this book, I would have changed that to: "In hopes of getting some sort of bearings (3), she lifted her head (4)."

Then she notices her surroundings (1). She feels an itch (1), and scratches it (4). Then finally, she notices her clothing (1), wonders how that happened (3), then speaks again (4).

All this to say, write your stories this way. Try to give the reader information in this order. It feels right and natural. A little mistake here and there won't be the end of the world, but if you can train yourself to do this, it will start to come naturally and you'll be making it easy for readers to follow your narrative. And that's a very good thing.

Any questions?

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Writing A Sequel: With Laura Anderson Kurk

Laura Kurk Natalie
by Laura Anderson Kurk
Laura Anderson Kurk writes unconventional and bittersweet books for young adults. She created Writing for Young Adults  as a place 
for YA and teen readers to connect and talk about the issues in their lives. Her first title with Playlist Fiction is GLASS GIRL, and its sequel PERFECT GLASS will be available in June. You can find Laura at laurakurk.comFacebookTwitter, and Pinterest.
Writing a Sequel: Raise your hand if you think it’s a good idea

When I wrote “The End” on Glass Girl, I thought the story was complete. I really never considered writing a sequel. Ever. In fact, I’m not a big fan of sequels. I like stand-alones with definite beginnings, middles, and endings. I even like softer endings when the author lets me continue the story in my head, but she says, “I’m done. Talk amongst yourselves.”

Then the strangest thing happened. I began to receive emails, tweets, and handwritten letters in my actual mailbox from readers who didn’t just ask for a sequel, they demanded a sequel. Imagine my surprise! At first, I simply smiled and responded with something like—“How wonderful of you to want more! I think the story is done, though. How would you continue it?”

They had advice. Boy, did they have advice.

They had Henry running all over the country doing crazy things.  They had a wedding planned out in detail, sending me pictures of possible wedding dresses for Meg. They had, tragically, a pregnancy for the married Henry and Meg that ended abruptly. Yeah . . . they had a lot of ideas. One or two of them, in various forms, made it into Perfect Glass.

I read through them all and sat with them for a few weeks, never really taking a sequel seriously. I even started a completely different manuscript and spun around in circles on it. And then, one night, I had an epiphany.

Sequels are nothing to be afraid of.

And they’re not necessarily the sign of a writer who doesn’t know how to end a story. Sure, sequels are usually reserved for fantasy/adventure writers, and those of us who write contemporary rarely consider them. But if there’s enough love for your characters that readers want to hang on for a while longer, then there’s something larger happening.

I decided that, in this case, what readers wanted was to see more of the way of life that Henry and Meg had begun to model in Glass Girl. The do-hard-things-and-live-deeply way of life that we find so few examples of in our culture.

So I started playing with the idea and, almost immediately, it came to me. I knew where my sequel should start and end. The nod I had given to Nicaragua in Glass Girl was there because I had friends working with orphanages in that country. They’d just gone through a horrendously difficult time and it was on my heart. I wanted Henry to help them. And that was my story, my sequel. The heartbreak behind Programa Amor in Nicaragua—a government-run closing of private orphanages.

Henry, the all-American boy who could do no wrong, had to go there and see that sometimes we just aren’t in control and things don’t go well. Sometimes we have to look for beauty in strange places and love people who are unlovable. Sometimes we have to fail in order to know what we’re made of. And while Henry was learning these lessons, Meg was learning them, too, back home in Wyoming with a cantankerous aging artist. Loving the unlovable. Failing. And trying to find beauty.

The sequel that I’d been so afraid of became the book of my heart—the one I’m most proud of. It felt so right that I wondered why I had ever doubted it.

Do I think sequels are always a good idea? No, I don’t. Especially in contemporary realism. But they can be exactly right. If you’re toying with the idea of taking the sequel plunge, here are some things to keep in mind---

1. It’s probably best if you plan your sequel while you write the first novel.
Okay, I’m starting the list with my own mistake. Since I hadn’t planned on writing a sequel, I played fast and loose with some details in the first book that made my life difficult in the second book. Remember that any promises you make in your first book will have to be dealt with in a sequel.

Most writers who are fantastic at writing sequels and series will tell you to outline each book before you even begin the first. Not only that, they will recommend that you write a synopsis for each book ahead of time. I know, I know . . . the dreaded synopsis. It’s important, though.

2. Keep characters (and their voices) consistent.
Your readers may remember more details about your characters than you do, believe it or not. While writing your first book, keep a detailed character notebook with relevant dates, hair and eye color, clothing types, accents, places they’ve traveled, hobbies and interests. Sure characters grow and mature just like we do. They’re older in the sequel. They’re maybe a bit wiser because they experienced all the great things you wrote for them in the first book. But they can’t become someone else between books.

3. Don’t treat the sequel as twenty new final chapters of the first book.
This is a new book and it needs its own plot to carry it. In fact, perhaps the plot of the second book will need to be more complex than the first book. Readers have lived in your world a while and they’re ready to take some risks with your characters. Anything less would bore them and make them wonder why you didn’t stop with the first book.

4. Respect the intelligence of your readers and don’t retell the first book.
They were there. They know what happened. It’s why they’re picking up your sequel. It’s fine to remind readers of major plot points and characterization that’s not obvious, but make it seamless. You’re telling a new story here.

It’s just like when you tell your best friend a story that she can only understand because she knows all your stories that led up to it. You might say to your friend, “Remember how Garrett always wears that blue shirt on Wednesdays?” She nods, and you start in on a story about Garrett coming to school with a mustard stain on the blue shirt on Wednesday. She knows how significant that is—he wore the stained shirt because he had to! It was Wednesday! Poor Garrett!

You pepper the new story with clues and reminders, but you don’t retell her the original stories. The heart carries through.

Final Thoughts on Sequels

Regardless of how you feel about Twilight (I have some opinions I’ll withhold), Stephenie Meyer has interesting things to say about sequels and series. She talks a lot in interviews about how she never planned on writing any sequels. Twilight began as a way she could entertain herself with stories. When she realized she might have a novel on her hands, she gave Twilight a definite ending.

But . . . she found herself writing multiple epilogues. Staying up at night writing one after another because she kept thinking of new things Edward and Bella needed to know or experience. Finally she realized she had more than one book that needed out. There was an annoying little question that her brain kept posing—“What if?” And suddenly a SERIES was born.

If your manuscript begs the “What if” questions even after you’ve typed “The End,” it’s possible you should consider a sequel. Study the authors who’ve done it best in your genre, make copious notes and outlines, and then dive in. It’s great fun to hang out with your favorite characters a while longer!

Laura writes beautiful books, and if you'd like the chance to win a free download of either Glass Girl or Perfect Glass, here's how you can get entered:

  a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Lessons From A Loser: What I Learned From Not Winning

by Rachelle Rea

Rachelle Rea metamorphosed from a homeschool graduate to a college girl in the space of a summer. That December, she finished her first novel. In the three years since, she’s accepted the fact that ink has a permanent place in her heart—and that her fingers mold perfectly to the keyboard. Find out more about her writing, freelance editing, and her favorite word at her blog, Inspiring Daring.

I entered a big writing contest this year. I hit send and decided to spend the months before I would find out if I’d made it past the first round busying myself with the bustle of the semester. I told myself that when school let out, finally I’d know.

Junior year finished. I did well in my classes, and I had learned a lot about writing. I felt excited. Not quite confident—I wouldn’t go that far. But… capable. Yes, capable.

Then the week before dawned.  Cue depressing music. Suddenly I found myself without much to occupy my time. Homework no longer beckoned; my uni friends had all gone home; it wasn’t yet warm enough for the beach.

So I tried to write, but the words? They came slowly. My hands shook. I repeated to myself all the encouragement I’d received from friends.

Then the day came. The list was released; my name wasn’t on it. I hadn’t made the cut.

I sat on my stairstep that Monday night (a long day at work had kept me away from the Internet, so I didn’t see the list until nearly midnight). The silent house and my scattered thoughts ricocheted right through me.

And I did what I said I’d never do.

I considered quitting.

The one who likes to call herself the daring girl can be so very un-daring. 

But I made a decision that Monday night. A decision I never thought I’d have to make. I decided to keep going.

So if you ever find yourself at that crossroads, reeling from a contest (or a query) that didn’t turn out as you’d hoped, and if you consider hiding away your wordcrafting forever, take the advice of someone who’s been there:

  • Don’t quit. May you be braver than I. May you never be tempted to toss it all away. But maybe, just maybe, you will consider throwing away the dream, like I did. Don’t listen to that voice. Respect the dream you’ve chosen for yourself and that has, in a way only dreams can, chosen you. Have some chocolate, go for a run, cry on your best friend’s shoulder, but, whatever you do, do not give up.
  • Shout to the world that you won’t quit. Tell someone. We’re writers, after all. Words matter to us. So put it down on paper. Journal your thoughts. Text your two best friends (like I did). Or blog about it (I decided to write this very post about an hour after I saw I hadn’t made it). 
  • Chart your next course. It’s not enough to tell yourself this is your thing and you ain’t giving up on it. It wasn’t enough for me to square my shoulders and make that decision that Monday night. I woke up Tuesday morning and made a plan. If I had made the cut in the contest, my next course of action would have been to start querying. So, at 7 a.m., I took my query letter and ripped it to shreds. I highlighted the words I liked, nixed the others, slammed the paragraphs together in a new order, tried starting it with the other main character’s dilemma first, didn’t like that, switched it back, rewrote, revised, and proofread. Then I emailed it to my two best friends for feedback. 
  • And chart the next one. If I had stopped at crafting my query letter until I had it just right, I would never have gotten any farther. I had to send it out! So I acknowledged my own potential for cowardice and decided to take the next plunge: I made a list of agents. Make a game plan—a long one. Brainstorm potential scenarios. And, for if those don’t pan out, brainstorm more.
  • Encourage others not to quit. I had one friend’s name land on that contest’s list. I messaged her a Congratulations (then I quickly logged off of social media before I tortured myself further with all the contest-results-congratulations clogging my feed). Reach out to the other writers you know and pat them on the back. In the process, you’ll remember this is both an individual and a team sport.

So this is me, saying I went for it. I entered a big contest, and I learned a lot from it even though I didn’t even make it past the first round.

The most important thing I learned? It won’t be the not-making-it that I remember years from now; instead, I’ll remember the “You’ll rock it!” Stephanie gave me that still makes me grin and feel just a smidge invincible. I’ll remember the texts my two best friends sent me that agonizing week-before-I-knew (and the-night-I-found-out). I’ll remember my dad’s hand on my shoulder when I told him and the way he looked at me and asked, “Did you look really hard?” because he had been sure I’d make it.

This writing life is full of jumping-up-in-excitement and sitting-down-on-your-staircase-at-almost-midnight-because-you’re-so-disappointed-you-can’t-see-straight.

But… whatever you do… don’t quit.


Rachelle Rea has generously offered to give away a free 25-page critique to one lucky person on Go Teen Writers. Thanks, Rachelle! Here's how you can get entered to win:

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Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Does Your Fiction Happen in Order?

Jill Williamson is a chocolate loving, daydreaming, creator of kingdoms. She writes weird books for teens in lots of weird genres like, fantasy (Blood of Kings trilogy), science fiction (Replication), and dystopian (The Safe Lands trilogy). Find Jill on FacebookTwitterPinterest, or on her author website.

This is a topic that I talk about in the Go Teen Writers book, but it's come up in a few different stories I've looked at over the past couple weeks, so I thought I'd talk about it on the blog. When I was first learning to write fiction, I messed this up all the time. Until someone said to me: "Action first, then reaction." Sadly, I don't remember who told me this. Just that it was a big "Ah ha!" moment for me.

If you want the reader to connect with your characters and action, the reader needs to experience the events in your story in a logical way. Things should happen in order, then the characters should react to them. And when important actions are left out or seem to happen backwards, you risk confusing the reader. How can you fix this?

1. Get the order right

Look for sentences that have the actions happening out of order and rearrange them.

Poor example: The room was dark when I opened my eyes.
Better example: I opened my eyes to a dark room.

Poor example: The squire jumped aside to let the prince's sword go over his head.
Better example: The prince swung his sword, and the squire ducked. The sword slashed over his head.

2. Avoid Continuous Action Words

Watch out for times that you're written simultaneous actions or used words like: as, when, while, after, and continued to. Most of the time these words can and should be omitted. If you do use them, use them rarely and make sure to arrange the sentence so that events happen in a logical order: action first, then reaction.

Poor example: The car skidded to a stop as Luke rode his bike into the street.
Better example: Luke rode his bike into the street, and the car skidded to a stop.

Poor example: Beth cried when she dropped her ice cream cone.
Better example: Beth dropped her ice cream cone and cried.

3. Avoid Infinite Verb Phrases (Starting sentences with —ing words)

Starting a sentence with a word that ends in “ing” implies that everything in the sentence happens simultaneously, and this can often create physical impossibilities.

Poor example: Grabbing a soda, she put on her shoes, and drove to school.
Better example: She put on her shoes, grabbed a soda, and drove to school.

4. Avoid Teleporting

Make sure that you include all necessary actions in a scene that involves movement. If you skip over something important, the reader might lose track of where your character is.

Poor example: Mike was sitting on the front porch eating jelly beans when his favorite TV show came on. He sat on the couch to watch it.

Better example: Mike was sitting on the front porch eating jelly beans when it came time for his favorite TV. He went inside and sat on the couch to watch it.

When you're editing, close your eyes and let the action play out in your mind. Ask yourself: Are things happening in order in this sentence or paragraph? Am I missing any vital steps? Have sought out all the places I have simultaneous action?

How about you? Do you ever struggle with this?

Monday, June 3, 2013

Answering the question, "Does what I'm doing matter?"

by Stephanie Morrill

Stephanie writes young adult contemporary novels and is the creator of Her novels include The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series (Revell) and the newly released The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet (Playlist). You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and check out samples of her work on her author website.

Does it even matter?

How many times have I asked that question as a writer?

Early on it was doubts that the story would ever be good enough to get published. When I pushed myself to stay up late, to get to my word count goal, there the question was. Does it even matter?

Then as I researched agents and publishers, as I labored over query letters and synopses. Does it even matter?

I ask the question as a published writer too. When I'm smarting from a review that I stumbled upon. Does it even matter? When I read the beautiful prose of an author I love, and I feel that bite of envy. Does it even matter? Or as I research details like the creek that runs through Redwood High School in Visalia, California. Does it even matter?

A month or two ago, I was in my office feeling stressed, grumpy, and fed up with writing. I decided it didn't matter, and wandered over to Ann Voskamp's blog, where I'm pretty sure she stores most the answers to life's dilemmas. I read something over there that I've been thinking about ever since, though it wasn't an Ann original. Instead, it was Michael Phelps.

In her beautiful Sanity Manifesto post, Ann said this in a list of tips for keeping her sanity in a crazy, full-of-distractions world:

6. Stay in the pool
Michael Phelps said it in an interview: “You’ve just got to stay in the pool longer than others.”
Set the timer. Get in the pool. Stay in the pool. Do your work. Don’t get distracted. Don’t flit from one thing to another and back.
Don’t get out of the pool, don’t leave your work, until the timer goes. The way to win is to stay in the pool.

And as I contemplated that concept it occurred to me, That's how it happened for me so early. I stayed in the pool.

I'm not even close to being the Michael Phelps of the writing world, so don't read this as me saying that. But I was published much younger than many writers are, and I think it's because of all the time I "spent in the pool" during high school and after. While I eventually put aside every story I wrote as a teen writer, and while I've abandoned a lot since then, working on those stories still mattered, because it was still time in the pool.

It's summer time for many of you (or at least close) and I know many of you have some great goals for the coming months. I'm all for living life and enjoying time off (I'm headed out on a vacation now, actually) but I know upon reflection how much I benefited from pushing through the does it - this story, this detail, this sentence - even matter? moments.

Since I read that article by Ann Voskamp,  I've become a lot better about keeping writing time for writing, not for browsing Pinterest or the clearance site on Old Navy. I still ask does it even matter? but I remind myself of what Michael Phelps said about staying in the pool, and I talk myself into sticking with that problematic scene or inconvenient plot line.

What about you? Some details (siblings, limited computer time) are out of our control, but are there ways you think you could be better about using your time well and focusing?

And if you're interested in winning a copy of The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet, there's a bit of time left in the giveaway over at Writing 4 Two, so stop by there to get entered.