Stephanie writes young adult contemporary novels and is the creator of GoTeenWriters.com. 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.
For the last two years, I've given a talk to parents of teen writers at the One Year Adventure Novel summer workshop. I wanted to call it, "How to Prepare to Feed Your Babies to the Wolves," but the director thought that title was somewhat inappropriate. (Imagine that!) Instead I've called it something boring like The Emotional Journey of an Aspiring Novelist.
A lot of parents have approached me and said the talk really helped them understand their teen writer better. I thought it would be interesting to adapt my parent talk and have a similar conversation with you guys, though it's different in that I don't have to explain, "Hey, here's how this makes you feel."
I became serious about getting published my junior year of high school. I had been interesting in writing for years, and I had always planned on being a novelist when I grew up, but that was the year I started actually doing something more than writing a couple chapters here and there. It was when I decided to write an entire book.
At the time I imagined myself at the bottom of a big mountain. Publishing my book was at the top of the mountain, I was at the bottom, and I needed to work my way up. But I don't think that's the most accurate image. Because emotionally speaking, I don't think you start out at the bottom. I think you actually start out on top.
When I have a new story idea, I'm so excited I lay awake at night. I imagine what the cover will look like, and I obsess about the storyworld, characters, and plot twists. The book is far, far away from being completed, but in terms of my energy and emotions, I'm on top.
Now that I've learned the beginning is actually a "top of the mountain" moment, I've begun to capitalize on it. I used to just dive right into the project and trust the momentum to carry me through, but I've learned I can do a few things in the new idea, honeymoon time that will help me out during future lulls:
- I tell only a few people. When I have new book ideas, I talk with my husband, Roseanna, and Jill about them first. I gauge their level of enthusiasm because by now I've figured out that counts for something. They help me identify problems before I talk to my agent.
- I write back cover copy. I don't get super formal about it, but I do try to write something similar to what you might find on the back of a book. This forces me to do a couple things early on:
- Helps me figure out the "hook" of this book, which is basically just determining what will make the potential reader say, "Yes, I'm going to read this one next." Your job with a hook is to create an itch that your reader wants to scratch.
- Helps me get the back cover copy written so I'm not scrambling to do so right before publication.
- Helps me brainstorm plot ideas, because as I'm writing my back cover copy, I'm thinking things like, "Well, everything I've written so far is story set up, but something has to happen to move my character from point A to point B..."
- Later, these paragraphs will help remind me of the core of my story. This is especially useful when I'm halfway to three-quarters done with my first draft. It's nice to reread my draft of back cover copy and rediscover my original intentions for this book.
- Every thought that pops into my head, I write it down. For every book I write, I also have a companion document called "notes." I create it during the brainstorming process as a place to gather all those random tidbits floating around in my head. Sometimes I write a paragraph about a possible plot twist. Sometimes I write just a snippet of dialogue. A lot of those notes make it into the book, but there are always a few items that don't. This is good because during edits if I need to beef up a plot line, or if my publisher says, "Can we do a sequel for this book?" I already have some material gathered.
- I make a book love list. This is a new thing for me. It's something fun to do, and it's great for pulling out later when I'm in an inevitable rut. This is exactly what it sounds like - a list of things you love about your book. Your list will obviously be different than mine, but here's a handful of items from my love list for The Unlikely Debut of Ellie Sweet, which comes out in November:
- A main character who wears glasses
- Finding love later in life
- A dramatic grandmother
A warning about being up on the mountain: For many there's a temptation to stay here.
For a lot of writers, brainstorming the story is the best part. You get to be super creative, but you don't yet have to figure out how to transport those wonderful images in your head into the head of the reader. It can be extremely tempting to stay there, but eventually to get the book written. you have to go down into the canyon.
I think there's a lesson in that for us as we start our stories. Writing takes energy and holds far more obstacles than just brainstorming, but if you sit out the writing, you don't get the up close view of all those cool story elements.
On Wednesday we'll talk more about the "hike" of writing the book!
What's your absolute favorite part of the writing process? The part where you have potential to get "stuck" because you love it so much?