Friday, May 30, 2014

Top 4 Personal Branding Tips

By Sarah Blinco

Sarah Blinco is editor of (, and creator of Media Bootcamp ( which is a digital training tool designed to get you on the fast-track to your dream career. She's worked in publishing and radio and is always happy to answer questions - you'll find her at or Tweet @sarahblinco

Personal branding is so important. How you present yourself on and offline can make a big difference to your chances of scoring that dream job or work placement!

It is a critical element, that can often mean the difference between you being selected for a job or not. In this digital age, it’s also crucial to start managing personal branding early in life, especially if you aim to work in media, write, blog or pursue endeavors in the public eye. When I first started out and got my foot in the publishing door, one of the reasons I was given a chance was because I was well presented in my interview – unlike, I discovered later, others who had turned up in flip flops and presenting no evidence of etiquette or style.

Personal branding: what you should put into practice:

1. Brand yourself online – Go to your profiles and imagine that you’re a prospective employer – is everything professional, consistent, easy to follow and branded with your name, logo (if relevant), information on you and a contact form or email address? Are you proud of what’s showcased? If not, amend it pronto.

2. Offline presentation – Do you have or need business cards? If so, do they include all relevant information on you, including social media links and your website? VistaPrint is just one site that offers an inexpensive, quick and professional solution to business cards and other branding items, so there is no excuse for not being prepared when you’re out there promoting your skills. Even if you are attending college after school, it's not a bad idea to have some personal cards made up, especially if you are aiming to secure work in publishing or media where age matters less than experience and profile.

3. Be consistent with your personal branding. Know who you are talking to (your audience), who you want to help and what knowledge you have to share. This is particularly important across your blog and social spaces which showcase to the world – and importantly, potential employers or future editors – what you can do and what you know.

4. Do you have a niche or point of difference? That is, an area you know a little extra about than someone else does. This might be politics, cooking, fashion, travel, TV, and ideally you’ll know about a more precise segment of a larger topic. For example, perhaps you are an expert plus-size fashion stylist which is how you angle your fashion features; or you write about vegan lifestyles (rather than just a broad topic of ‘food’ or ‘recipes’), or you write about the paranormal television genre rather than just TV in general. Your niche will be evident within branding across your blog, social media strands and anything else connected to you in the digital space and real life. Owning a niche will help you to stand out from the crowd, and enable you to position yourself in a corner of a market where you can become the expert (and hired for the jobs you want at any age).

Is personal branding something you've given much thought to? Have you had ideas about what makes you (and your stories) unique?

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Andy Griffith on Being a Good Loser

Jill here. My husband and I have been working our way through the Andy Griffith show on Netflix. I love this show. And I love little Opie. In a recent episode, Opie was gearing up to win a medal for running a race. And that was about the order he had put things in his head too. He wanted that medal more than he wanted anything else. But when the race came along, he lost. And he was a sore loser.

But Andy gave him a talking to, and while Opie didn't come around right away, he did eventually. And this quote stuck with me:

The way Opie felt about winning that medal is how a lot of authors feel about getting published. We dream about it. We think about it day and night. We hope. And we train (by writing). But maybe it hasn't happened yet. Or maybe you have a friend who has been published before you.

We might not have a choice as to when or if we ever get a book contract, but we do have a choice as to how we will act and treat our friends that do. We can respond with bitterness, condensation, and cruel criticisms and be a sore loser like Opie was in the episode, or we can put a smile on our faces, congratulate our friends for their successes, and be truly proud of them. That's a lot harder, but it makes us better people.

Have you ever  been a sore loser? I have. But I've also had times where I was a good loser too. And the latter feels a whole lot better, doesn't it?

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

How to Write a Sequel

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.

Sequels. When I finish a book I love and there is a sequel, it makes me so happy. Writing a sequel, however, isn’t quite as joyful.

The Pressure
I’ve never been more stressed out writing a book than when I wrote To Darkness Fled. The first book, By Darkness Hid, did rather well. It got excellent professional reviews, sold well, won several awards, and gained me fans who sent me emails saying they couldn’t wait for book two.

I could.

I sat at my computer day after day, panicked. I was so stressed out that there were moments I was near tears. How could I write a book two? I didn’t even know what was going to happen! All I knew was that I needed to get Achan and Vrell up to Ice Island. That’s all I had! How was I going to write 500 pages about that? What if my readers hated it? What if reviewers ripped it to shreds? What if I failed?

Well, I had signed a contract, so I wrote that book, all the while beating myself up with all that worry. But it worked out. Readers liked the book. I lived. And I learned a lot.

Two years ago, Robin Lee Hatcher told me that she hates every book as she’s writing it. She knows it’s the worst book she’s ever written and is certain it will be the book that ruins her career. But once it’s published and readers start reading and reviews start showing up, she is able to relax and move on. Robin has written over seventy books and she still feels insecure about the book she is writing. Hearing that helped me feel better about my own negativity. Now I’m able to recognize it and ignore it.

The Shock
When you sit down to start a sequel, it’s a little horrifying. I mean, you’ve been used to reading over a story that was practically perfect in every way, maybe tweaking a word here and there. But now you’re staring at a blank screen, and no matter what you write, it’s ugly. Starting fresh can be discouraging. But there is nothing to do but dive in and type, type, type.

Its Own Story
Any sequel, whether consecutive or not, needs to be its own story. You must hook your reader. You must have a plot for the book. You must have a character with a goal. Industry professionals and critics talk of something called “book two syndrome.” They say that second books in a trilogy are always the worst because nothing happens. They might even reference The Empire Strikes Back as an example. They'll mock that the whole book did nothing but get people to book three. And maybe it's true.

You’ve got to try and avoid that. Make book two the best it can be! Introduce new characters and plot twists. Do something to make the story shine by itself. And make sure that it has its own plot apart from the overarching series plot. Also, it’s okay to have a cliffhanger ending of sorts, but you should resolve the current book’s story. Many a series has lost readers because of cliffhangers that are a little too shocking.

A Continuing Story
A sequel should also have elements of the overarching series story. Whatever things you left dangling at the end of book one, you need to touch on in book two. Don’t forget them! It always helps me when I’m writing a  book one to brainstorm the ending for each book in the series and to also plan some reveals and conflicts and spread those out over the series. That way I’ll have a general plan of how to continue the story over the course of several books and to keep things interesting. Whether you pick up right where you left off in book one or time has gone by, the reader still needs to experience some action and clues to the overarching series story, which brings me to my next point.

The Recap
You have to give a little recap. But you don’t need much. Too much recap is a pet peeve for me. I skim it. And since I don’t want people to skim my books, I don’t write any recap when I’m writing the first draft of a sequel. I don’t even describe my characters, (a habit my line editor for Rebels got on me about). But when I’m working on the rewrite, I’ll add in things here and there when I think the reader could use a reminder. 

Another thing I’ve done is give a page or two of recap at the front of the sequel. I did that in my Mission League books in the form of one of Spencer’s reports. That way, if a reader didn’t read book three, he can still pick up book four and know what’s going on.

Make Progress
If readers are reading your sequel, it’s because they like your characters and want to see how things are going to work out. If you forget to make progress on any of your book one cliffhangers, the readers will get frustrated. You’ve got to reveal new things to your readers. You can’t expect them to read a whole book if nothing happens. They need some payoff. And you should also plant some seeds for the next book in the series so that the reader will be enticed to stay with it.

The Promise of the Premise
The “promise of the premise” is a Hollywood term from Blake Snyder, author of Save the Cat. It means that the story will deliver what it promised. If book one had a lot of romance and book two has none, readers will be annoyed. If book one has no romance and book two is full of it, again, readers will be annoyed. You set the bar for yourself in your first book. Sequels need to deliver on the type of story you started with. Don’t stray too far. If you want to do something that completely different, save it for a new series.

Circularity and “The End”
Circularity is when you bring things full circle. I wrote a whole post about it once that you can read by clicking here. It's when you tie up all your loose ends and, hopefully, create some "Yes!" moments for your readers. If you’re writing the final book in a series, look for places you can apply circularity. Go back to your first and second book and look for the things you set up, clues you left, and make a list so that you can work them into your last book. This will help you write an ending book that satisfies your readers.

The Art of Letting Go
Should you write a sequel to an unpublished book?

If your goal is to be traditionally published, then it doesn’t make good sense to write a sequel to an unpublished or even a self-published book (unless it’s selling amazingly well). Harper Collins won’t invest in a sequel to Replication. It just didn’t sell well enough. And, sure, I could take a year to write books two and three and self-published them, but since book one didn’t sell all that well, book two would sell fewer copies, and book three, even fewer. That’s just the nature of sales for series. Book one always sells the most, and everything else is downhill.

As a writer, it’s hard to let go of the characters you love. And if you aren’t looking to be traditionally published—if you write for your own enjoyment—then write whatever you want. But if it’s your goal to get paid by a publisher for a book you wrote, then you’ve got to practice moving on. Write book one until it’s ready to pitch. Then, while you’re pitching it, write a new project.

I had a terrible time moving on with The New Recruit. It took me three-and-a-half years to finish book one and another six months to write book two. Then I finally put it down and wrote some other books—books that sold! And then, years later, I pulled that baby back out, rewrote The New Recruit yet again—even against my agent’s advice—and it sold. Even so, it’s my lowest selling book, and it’s a seven-book series. Yeeah. Should have listened to my wise agent on that one.

But I loved that series. It was my baby. And, with three books to go, I’m still suffering the consequences of my selfishness. So learn from my mistake and let it go. *grin*

How about you? Have you written a sequel? Any tips to share? Or might you be in that icky place where you need to put the series down and start writing something new?

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Fear and abundant life.

You fear your story not coming out the way you want it to, so you play around with fan fiction instead.

You fear that all the hard work of writing a complete book won't ever pay off, so continue to play around with the idea. You brainstorm, you make maps, you hunt Pinterest for pictures. But you rarely write.

You fear what people will think about That Hard Topic you're itching to write about. So you write a different book instead.

You fear the rejection and the waiting that inevitably come with looking for a literary agent. So you don't query.

You fear that it'll never happen for you, that no publisher will ever say, "We want you," so you choose to self-publish instead.

There's nothing wrong with writing fan fiction, making maps, considering a reader's feelings, holding off on querying, or self-publishing. But don't make those choices out of fear or impatience. Not when doing so means you risk losing the reward that comes from buckling down to do the hard work of writing.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Editing in Layers: Seven Things to Search For In Your Manuscript

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 Ellie Sweet books (Playlist). You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and check out samples of her work on her author website including the free novella, Throwing Stones.

For the duration of this series on editing, Jill and I have had the ebook version of our editing book, Go Teen Writers: How to Turn Your First Draft into a Published Book, on sale for $2.99. Today will be the LAST DAY for that sale. So, if you want it, now's the time.

Previous posts in this series:

If you've edited a scene in layers thus far, you've fixed your point of view inconsistencies. You've clarified your characters' goals. You researched your setting and filled in those missing details. Your bland nouns and verbs have been replaced to better draw out emotion.

Now we do the nitty gritty stuff. Or, in keeping with our cake-baking metaphor, now we frost.

Why's all this boring stuff I'm about to list considered the frosting? Because this is the layer that's going to create the cohesive package of your book. These are the details that make a book so smooth and effortless to read, you forget it's  not real. A poorly frosted cake is going to look terrible no matter how amazing the layers underneath are, and if you don't take care of these details, you risk your readers not being able to experience the rich emotions and twists you've created.

Here are seven things to search for in your manuscript:

1. Dialogue tags

As I do my other layers of edits, I remove as many dialogue tags as possible but inevitably a few have escaped my notice. At the end, I run a search in my manuscript for my common tagssaid and askedand evaluate them one-by-one. Sometimes the tag inexplicably works best, and I allow them to stay. Normally I try to replace them with an action beat or emotion beat.

2. Was

Or "is" if you're writing in present tense. Was is the phrase that hints you've lapsed into a passive voice. Not all wases (boy, that's strange looking) are passive but many are.

3. Pointless adverbs

You can do this by running a search for "ly" words. Not all adverbs need to be destroyed. Just the ones that can be replaced by a stronger verb. Instead of my character "walking quickly" to the door I might have her "race" to the door. That kind of thing.

Sometimes adverbs are used in dialogue and those I tend to leave. Occasionally, I use an adverb for voice purposes. One character might describe another as "horridly slow," and I'll keep that because I like how it sounds for that character.

4. Pet words

Every writer has words that they tend to overuse, and sometimes the list changes with each story. "Quirk" is a big one for me. People's eyebrows and mouths do a lot of quirking in my early drafts. I know to search for that one.

When you've chosen a unique word, you want to be careful to not keep repeating it. That's very noticeable to readers. 

5. Pet punctuation

That might sound a little weird, but many writers have a form of punctuation that they overuse. Mine are ellipses and em-dashes (These guys: —) Yours might be exclamation points or parentheses. Whatever they are, keep a close eye on them during edits.

6. Weasel words

These are words that sneak into sentences without you realizing it. Just, little, very, so, suddenly. They're not bad words to use, but you do want to make sure you're using them intentionally.

7. Your common typos.

I've noticed that I have a few recurring typos. Often I type "think" for "thing" or "image" for "imagine." And a really bizarre typo that I've found twice now in a manuscript of mind is "heart over her hand" instead of "hand over her heart." 

Here's a list of Jill's and my "weasel words" that we've made available for you to print out.

Once I've exhausted my search and find feature, I like to either read my book out loud or, better yet, have my book read to me. I've used the free version of Natural Reader, and I really like it. Supposedly my Kindle will read to me, but I haven't tried that out yet.

This gets tedious, and I don't always have time for it, but I love the results when I do. Not only does it prevent me from finishing the work day with a sore throat, but the monotone computer voice helps me to catch what I'm looking for. Which is:

  • Patterns in my sentence structure: It's tough to notice that you've started four sentences in the same way unless you're reading outloud.
  • Repetitive words: Like using the word "door" twice in one sentence or that you used a noticeable word multiple times too close to each other.
  • Pet phrases: This is when you'll hopefully notice phrasings you tend to overuse or that multiple characters unintentionally have the same catch phrase or mantra.
After I've done all this, I feel pretty confident that I've caught everything I'm capable of seeing. Then I trust my editors to help me find the rest.

I've had a few people email me to ask how you know when you're done with story edits, so we'll talk about that next Monday. If you have other editing questions you'd like answered, you can ask them below!

Friday, May 23, 2014

Write a Novel, Ten Minutes at a Time

Katharine Grubb was born in northeastern Oklahoma. She was raised in the Tulsa suburbs, attended the University of Oklahoma, taught school, wrote stories and then shocked everyone by moving to Boston, Massachusetts to be with a man she had been e-mailing for nine months. She married that man, and with him had five boisterous children. Nowadays, she still lives in Massachusetts, homeschools her children, bakes bread, does a ridiculous amounts of laundry and sets her timer to write stories in ten minute increments. Her favorite type of books to read and write are quirky, imaginative tales of romance, faith and humor. She blogs at and is on Twitter @10MinuteWriter.

Each day holds 1440 minutes. And in your busy life, nearly every one is accounted for. You have school, family time, time for friends and your fun stuff and you have to sleep, right? But if it we could have more time, then maybe we could get done what we really wanted to do — like write a book! 

A novel.  Completed. One with dreamy characters and a great story. One that we could send to our friends or get our teachers to give us feedback on. A book that combines all those characters and scenes that have been swirling around in our heads for days. Or weeks. Or years. 

I’d like to suggest that you do have time to write the book of your dreams. You really only need ten minutes a day. 

I had those dreams too. I put my writing goals aside to have my family. After having five children in less than eight years, the only writing I was doing was a weekly grocery list and even that was inconsistent and poorly written. But I decided, when my youngest was only a few months old, that I owed it to myself to find time to write. I had the blessing of having my computer in my kitchen so I trained myself to set the timer on my microwave. For ten minutes, I would write like a mad woman on my computer. When the timer dinged, I went back to the dishes or the laundry or the meal preparation for ten more minutes. Did my children learn to respect my writing time? Kind of. No matter how old they get, there will always be interruptions. Did I catch myself ignoring the timer and let dinner burn? A few times, but no one died of overcooked pasta. Somedays I only wrote in one ten minute chunk. But some days, I wrote for six ten minute chunks. That was an hour. If you had asked me how to find an uninterrupted hour while I cared for my large family: cooking, cleaning, supervising, laundering, and homeschooling, I would have told you it couldn’t be done. But I did it. It took me five years to finish my first novel. And my family was with me, the whole way, cheering me on. If I can do it so can you. All you need to get started is six things. 

First you need a space. Do you have a desk or work space that you can come to easily? Having a space to call your own, where no one bothers you, is super important. Plan your space and communicate to your family what you need. It doesn’t have to be fancy, just accessible. 

Second you need organization. Create a new file on your computer — it doesn’t have to be fancy.  Use an application like Scrivener or any other novel writing software. Keep it open and ready, so when your ten minutes come, you can get right to it. If you spend 20 minutes looking for what you need, you’re missing the point.

Third, you need a plan. You can start your story from the beginning and just write until you get stuck, without any plan or outline. (This is called Pantsing, like “by the seat of your pants”.) You could also create an outline, listing out characters, plot and setting — this is called plotting. There
There isn’t any “right” way to write a novel and it’s perfectly okay to switch from style to style as you write. The important thing is that you do something on your novel daily for at least ten minutes. 

Fourth, you need guidance. Every writer, especially beginning ones, need to be well educated in the craft of writing. Ask your school or local librarian for books on writing, so an Amazon search or look at Goodreads for the best titles. You can also read blogs on writing (www.10minutewritercom for one), read agents’ blogs, follow author’s on Facebook or Twitter and learn as much as you can. Even if you decide to study writing for ten minutes a day, you can learn a LOT in a year. You can also follow my Pinterest boards for writing tips by clicking here!

Fifth, you need confidence. Don’t get discouraged if it seems like things are moving slowly. By doing a little every day, you are pursuing your dreams. Someday you’ll finish this story, you’ll know more than you know now and you might be asked to guest blog somewhere (like I am!) . 

Sixth, you need community. As tempting as it is to keep this big goal of yours a secret, don’t! Find other newbie writers who want to tell their stories and talk about what you’re doing. Critique each others’ work. Read writing books together. Doing anything with a friend is more fun than doing it alone. Want a group of online friends to hang out with? My group: 10 Minute Novelists is a group on Facebook full of busy writers who have to work hard to find time to pursue their writing goals, just like you. Find us! 

Seventh, you need to put your butt in the chair and work! Yes, it’s hard. Yes, sometimes you won’t feel like writing. Yes, you’ll get discouraged and want to throw everything out. But the only way to get the work done is to sit and do it. Even ten minutes a day will make a huge difference.

So yeah, you have 1440 minutes a day and it seems like they are all taken by something. But your writing dreams are worth ten of them.  A book, with your name on it, is so worth it.

To thank Katharine for being here, we're giving away the Kindle ebook of her first novel, Falling for Your Madness. Here's a bit about the story: 

Eccentric literature professor David approaches Laura for an unconventional, intentional, rule-filled courtship filled with poetry, flowers and bottom-less cups of tea. Laura is smitten by his humor and charm but his British accent turns out to be fake. Dating David is challenging and sometimes frustrating -- but Laura has never felt more respected and beautiful. There is a reason why David is bound by the laws of chivalry, both body and soul and when Laura discovers what it is, she must decide. Is David worth it? Or is he completely mad? Falling For Your Madness is a romantic comedy about ladies, gentlemen, and the power of words.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Maya Angelou on Telling Your Story

Jill here. My husband is obsessed with Walt Disney. He reads every book about the man's life that he can get his hands on. He knows more trivia about Walt and the Disney company than he does about anything else, save the Bible (my husband is a youth pastor). And my husband could not wait to see the movie Saving Mr. Banks.

I thought it looked good, but I was surprised to find that I loved it. And the funny thing was, I loved the movie for an entirely different reason than my husband did. This is a film that goes back and forth between two stories. We have the present, in which Mr. Disney is trying to get P. L. Travers to sign over the film rights to the book Mary Poppins so he can make his movie. And we have the story of a young P. L. Travers growing up in Australia. My husband loved the story with Walt. And I loved the story of the little girl who became an author.

It had never occurred to me until I was sitting in the theater, crying over this film, that an author might write a fictional story to deal with the pain in her past, that the book might be a way for her to heal her heart. If you've seen the film, the scene in which the Sherman brothers are performing the song Fidelity Fiduciary Bank is incredibly powerful as you watch the contrast between how silly the Sherman brothers are and the author remembering what really happened to inspire that scene in the book. Amazing.

I just bawled.

If you haven't seen this movie, you must.

There is a deep pain in each of us, some darker than others. And perhaps someday you might feel called to write about that untold story inside you. You might do it to find healing as P. L. Travers did. You might do it so that your pain could help others. Or you might have another reason. No matter what you decide, it will be hard and I applaud your bravery.

Have you ever thought about writing about your real life? It doesn't have to be a memoir. Look at the way P. L. Travers wrote about her pain? A magical nanny who came to save her father. That's pretty powerful stuff. Fiction just rocks, doesn't it?

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

8 Details to Notice on a Research Trip

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 just returned from a book tour. I got to go to Salt Lake City and Phoenix. I've never written a story in Salt Lake, but Phoenix was the home of Eli McShane, who some of you might know as Papa Eli from Captives. When I set out to write that series, I started with a book called Thirst, which was an apocalyptic novel about the Great Pandemic. My main character was Eli and the friends from his youth group, who had been on an outdoor survival trip when the Great Pandemic struck. They returned home and found Phoenix burning and everyone infected with a deadly virus.

During the offers and negotiations for that book and its spin-off Captives, my publisher threw out Thirst and instead bought the dystopian trilogy. And so Thirst never got finished. But I did write about 40,000 words of that story before I found out that the publisher didn't want it. And before those 40,000 words, I spent a lot of hours researching Phoenix.

And I got to go there last week!

I confess, I didn't do too bad on my research, most of which was done online and in emails to relatives who live there. But while I was there last weekend, my senses were on high alert for those details that one can only get when one is standing in that place. So I'm going to share some of my observations with you, mostly about Phoenix, but some Salt Lake City details too.

Stephanie and I have blogged about research trips before. Here is a post Steph wrote about a research trip she went on. And here is a post that I wrote about how to do a research interview. But today, I wanted to give you eight details to notice while on a research trip.

1. Sight
The first thing I noticed about Salt Lake was the mountains all around the city. It reminded me of the mountains in Alaska. It gave the city a majestic feel. The first thing I noticed about Phoenix was that it was bright, brown, and very warm. It got up to 102 the day were were talking at schools. I also noticed that, while Salt Lake City is a big place, Phoenix is bigger. There were a lot of people in Phoenix and a lot of cars on the freeways. Salt Lake was greener: more trees. Salt Lake also seemed to have more space in terms of land in someone's yard, where Phoenix was a little more cramped.

2. Sound
There was plenty to hear on the trip. One big one that stood out to me in Salt Lake on the drive from the airport to my hotel was the ding, ding, ding of the TRAX train while we sat in the car at stoplights. In Phoenix, crickets sang the night away.

3. Smells
When we got to the high school in Phoenix, outside was the sweet smell of alyssum flowers. I didn't know what they were, but Lorie Ann Grover did. So I emailed that detail to myself to add to Thirst if I ever get to go back and finish it.

Also, do you know how it gets when you're someplace really hot and the asphalt smells? Phoenix had that too.

4. The feel
Phoenix was hot. It's the kind of place where you don't go anywhere without a water bottle. And the kind of place where you have to open your car doors to let some air in, when they've been sitting in the sun a while.

5. Tastes
We ate lunch at a Mexican restaurant and had real sopaipillas, which my husband saw on the show Psych and had tried to make just last week. The real sopaipillas were so much better! But, good try, Brad.

6. The people
Both cities had varied demographics, but Phoenix had a bigger Hispanic population. Also, it seemed to me that the people in Phoenix were a little older, while they were overall a little younger in Salt Lake.

7. The buildings
While the majority of homes in Salt Lake were sided in wood, the typical house in Phoenix was stucco with a tile roof. The school in Salt Lake was average to me, but in Phoenix, the students' lockers and the lunch tables were outside. Both places had a downtown area with some fairly tall buildings. Phoenix's downtown was a little bigger. But I had the privilege of doing an event in the Salt Lake Public Library. Check out this building!

Lorie Ann Grover, Lisa T. Bergren, me, and Jonathan Friesen outside

Our escort Jim, inside the library

8. The plants
While Salt Lake City has plenty of trees and forests, Phoenix is a desert filled with palm trees and cactus. Phoenix also has these adorable little barrel cactus that are so soft you can pet them. I guess that's why they're also called petting cactus.

They're so soft!

What state or country do you live in? Give us some details about your home that might be interesting to a writer. You don't have to give all eight, but here are mine.

Eastern Oregon
1. Sight- This is high desert, so there are a lot of small mountains covered in sagebrush. Lots of deer. More cows than people. In fact, cows have the right of way out on our country roads.
2. Sound- Every day at noon, the city fire alarm bell rings, telling us all that it's lunch time!
3. Smells- In winter, you can smell chimney smoke outside since so many burn wood here.
4. Feel- It's usually quite nice here, weather-wise. Dry. Sunny. Rain and snow come rarely. Though if you're down by the river or creek, there are lots of mosquitoes, and you will get bit!
5. Tastes- This is a hunting/ranching town, so lots of people eat venison and their own cows.
6. The people- We look pretty much like everyone else, though there are quite a bit more cowboy boots, cowboy hats, and Wrangler jeans here than in the rest of Oregon.
7. The buildings- Things are old here. Think Old West. Our downtown area has several murals to show our heritage.
8. The plants- While the general area has lots of sagebrush, there are trees here, and it's a short drive up into the mountains to find the forest. This area used to have several mills and did a lot of logging. No more.

Mural in Canyon City, Oregon, not far from where I live.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

John Maxwell on Who To Compare Yourself To

Today's inspiration comes from John Maxwell and his book The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth:

How much time have I wasted wishing I were more like another writer? Not only have I squandered energy envying their talent, but also their success or productivity.

Doing that won't produce anything more than a crummy attitude. To have a shot at writing great books, my focus needs to be on nurturing the stories and voice that I've been gifted with, and doing my best with the time and talent I have.

Do you struggle with comparing yourself to other writers? Have you found ways to keep yourself from doing that? If so, we'd love to hear how!

Monday, May 19, 2014

Editing in Layers: Drawing out Emotion and Tension

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 Ellie Sweet books (Playlist). You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and check out samples of her work on her author website including the free novella, Throwing Stones.

Previous posts in this series are:

One of the reasons editing in layers is such a valuable practice is that it forces your brain to focus on a particular element of each scene. If you read your scene looking just for adverbs, for example, you'll have a much easier time spotting them than if you're looking for adverbs, sensory details, and the level of tension.

Last week when we looked at editing the big picture of the scene, a lot of it was surface stuff like sensory details and what the character was trying to accomplish. With this next layer of editing, we drill a bit deeper.

If you're a character-first writer (meaning your story ideas tend to come to you character-first and focus on character growth) then you will likely find that you've already done a lot of the work in this edit. That previous layer of edits, which were more about setting and plot, could have been the most intense edits and this layer will beexcept for in a few scenesonly tweaks. That happens to me frequently. When I'm writing, I tend to have a better idea of what my characters are feeling than I do about what they're doing.

If you're a plot-first writer (meaning your story ideas tend to come to you as a plot and focus on what's going on rather than who's there) then it's possible last round of edits was a breeze for you and this one will be more intense.

In this draft, we're going to focus on emotions and, consequently, tension.

When I started reading craft book and going to conferences, I couldn't believe how many industry experts talked about a good story having tension on every page. That's an intimidating thought, isn't it? It was to me when I first heard it. I didn't write the kind of books that involved car chases and murder suspects, so how was I supposed to create tension?

I didn't know then how critical character emotion is to tension. That without the conflict of emotions and goals, there IS no tension. Even in a car chase.

Looking at just one scene in your manuscript, try to answer these questions:

What is my character’s emotion right now?

In some scenes, your character's emotions may change during. In that case, it's fine to list a couple dominant emotions. (For example, if in your scene, your character spends half of it looking for her younger brother and then she finds he played a prank on her, you'll have a big mood swing in there.)

You're looking for the emotion that (if you don't know not to) you might flat-out say to your reader at the opening. "Paige felt angry when her her father said he wouldn't fight for their family business."

Paige might also feel fear, sadness, loneliness but you're looking for the main emotion of the character and of the scene.

Now your goal is to convey the emotion without ever using the word. While "Paige felt angry" makes things nice and clear for my reader, it does little else. It doesn't raise questions. It doesn't make the reader experience her anger. It's like reading information in a travel brochure versus visiting the place. (Here's a post that details the technique of showing instead of telling.)

Now let's brainstorm some ways to show this emotion:

How could I show this emotion in physical response?

What does the character's body do when it feels this way? Do teeth grind? Does their heart patter? Does their stomach get all swirly? You're looking for those involuntary reactions.

How could I show this emotion in their actions?

How does your character choose to act because of their emotion? If a character is angry, he might ball his fist and throw a punch. But another character might fight to not show their anger. Might be saying they're fine ... while they vigorously scrub their kitchen floor.

Same with a happier emotion like love. A character who's been hurt or who fears getting close to someone will act differently than someone who's fallen in love for the first time.

How could I show this emotion in their descriptions?

When I walk into a party, my gaze instantly seeks out familiar faces versus unknown. How self-explanatory is the food situation? Is it clear where I'm supposed to put my purse? These details stand out to me because I'm intimidated by new social situations, and I don't want to look stupid.

My husband, however, isn't intimidated by these things. He would walk in and be like, "Cool, I get to meet new people!"

It's the same place, but we would describe it differently.

If your character is in love, the rainy sky is romantic. If they're sad, the rain is like tears falling from heaven. 

How could I show this emotion in a metaphor?

This technique can be intimidating, but I don't think it's as hard as it sounds. Start by looking at what you've naturally put in your scene. In one of the scenes I was editing last week, I have a character starting a new chapter in his life, and at the end of the scene he walks out the door and closes it behind him. Crossing a threshold like that is a natural metaphor for making a life change. I had already placed that element in the scene, so what I did in edits was try to find a way to accentuate it more.

Here's how it changed from draft to draft:

First draft:
And when she turned her smile on Graham, his heart constricted. Because her brother was absolutely right—he wasn’t good enough for her. Not yet, anyway. But maybe he could change that.
“You ready?” Paige’s curls sprung about as she practically skipped to the door.
“Let’s go,” Graham said. And he kept his back to Logan as held the door open for Paige, and then crossed the threshold himself.

Second draft:
Graham’s heart constricted. Her brother was absolutely right—he wasn’t good enough for her. The admission left a bitter taste in his mouth, and his answer emerged gruff. “Let’s go.”
Graham kept his back to Logan as held the door open for Paige, who skipped through it, her ponytail swinging. He may not be good enough for her yet. But maybe in the next few months, as they worked together on Open Door, he would become good enough.
He would have to try. Paige was worth that.
Graham crossed the threshold, following Paige into the sun-soaked afternoon, and pulled the door tight behind him.

Third draft:
Graham’s heart constricted. Her brother was absolutely right—he wasn’t good enough for her. The admission left a bitter taste in his mouth, and his answer emerged gruff. “Let’s go.”
Graham kept his back to Logan as he held the door open for Paige, who skipped through it, her ponytail swinging. Then he too crossed the threshold, following her into the sun-soaked afternoon, and pulling the door tight behind them.
He may not be good enough for her yet, but maybe in the next few months, as they worked together on Open Door, he would prove himself.
He would have to try. Paige was worth that.

I had originally closed the chapter with Graham crossing the threshold, but when my husband suggested rearranging the sentences I realized those thoughts Graham has at the end are New Graham thoughts. Old Graham agreed with her brother, that he wasn't good enough for her. New Graham, the Graham who has walked outside into this new life, decides to try to be better. So I edited the scene so that Graham doesn't think those thoughts until he's on the other side of the door.

Something you don't want to do is draw attention to your metaphors. When you do that, your priority has become broadcasting your clever use of literary devices rather than telling the story. If I had said, "As he crossed the threshold, Graham realized how symbolic this was of the choice he'd just made," then I would yank my reader right out of the story.

What is the emotional friction between characters who are together?

When all the characters in a scene feel the same, you've likely just killed your tension. Take a look around your scene and figure out what everyone is feeling in this moment, then adjust accordingly for conflict. 

They don't have to feel opposite emotions to create conflict. Maybe all in the room feel sad because another character died, but one feels survivor's guilt and one feels anger at the enemy and another feels relief that the person is no longer suffering. They feel different shades of the same emotion.

What's the emotional conflict within the point of view character?

You may not have this in every scene and that's okay. But it's a good question to consider. A married character who's flirting with not-their-spouse might feel both excitement and guilt. Those two emotions war with each other and create tension. Which will win?

There's an amazing example of this in the movie The Dark Knight when the villain has set it up so that Batman can either rescue the girl he loves OR the man who's the only hope for the restoration of Gotham. In this case, it's two types of love that are at war within the character. Love for the girl and love for his city.

What nouns and verbs best express the emotion of the scene?

It may work better for you to save this question for the next round of edits, but I've found I like working on my word choices when I'm focusing on the emotions.

Say my character's primary emotion in a scene is fear and someone walks into her office. I might write that as, "Danny invaded my office." Invade is a word that denotes anger or fear as opposed to just saying, "Danny walked into my office."

In the early mornings, a bird outside my window interrupts me with its squawks. In the afternoons, it entertains me with its song. 

See how this works? Take a look at the verbs and nouns you're using and see if you can think of more emotive replacements.

I have a worksheet for these questions, which you can view and download here. I don't always fill it out for each and every scene, but sometimes its beneficial.

Just for fun, look at a scene in your manuscript and identify the dominant emotion. Then, if you want, share an edit you're making (or an edit you've already made) that reflects the emotion.

Friday, May 16, 2014

5 Tips for Finishing Your First Draft

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 Ellie Sweet books (Playlist). You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and check out samples of her work on her author website including the free novella, Throwing Stones.

I've had several writers email me in the last few weeks who say they struggle to finish first drafts. I can relate. I was such a flighty writer in my early days, only wanting to work on stories for a few chapters before switching to another, that buckling down and writing a full-length manuscript was hard for me.

And with the quote I posted on Tuesday from James Scott Bell and then Jill's fabulous post on Wednesday inspired by the book Do Hard Things, today seemed like a good day to address this question.

I don't know your individual struggles. Maybe you're having a tough time getting words on the page because you're battling health problems, or because it's the season for finals and graduations. Maybe your family is in a time of crisis or a strained friendship is weighing you down. Please remember that there's a time to have grace with yourself. In seasons when life is hard, you need to give yourself permission to not write.

Or maybe life is full of great, non-writing things. You're graduating or going on a mission trip or backpacking through Europe. Writing isn't all about racking up words.

But sometimes it's not a busy life season, and you still struggle. Each word feels hard. Or you've lost your passion for the story. Or you're discouraged because you lost a contest/had a rough rejection/read an amazing book.

If you're in that place, here are 5 suggestions I have to get you back on track for finishing your book:

1. Pinpoint where you struggle and brainstorm how to solve it.

When my husband and I were newly married, instead of finding a part-time job, Ben encouraged me to write books instead. I worked an awesome freelance gig that took me out of town a few weeks a year, but otherwise my time was my own.

And I couldn't seem to finish a first draft.

I was working on a story idea that I loved, that I was desperate to write, and still I couldn't seem to crack the halfway point before I would realize something that needed to be changed. Or I would have an idea for how to open the book better and set to work re-writing my first few chapters.

My husband, who's a mechanical engineer and had never read a single writing craft book, diagnosed my problem with ease. He suggested I try writing my first draft without editing. He based this suggestion on some engineering principle that I would butcher if I tried to explain, but basically the idea was that I was nit-picking instead of using the first draft for what it's mean tot bea rough draft. Not a perfect draft or a complete draft, but a rough draft. I was trying to take the "rough" out of it, and in doing so, I was preventing myself from finishing the draft and moving on to the next part of the process.

This seemed brilliant to me. I took his advice, and I finish my rough draft within the month. And I've used the "write a bad first draft" principle ever since.

What is that you are struggling with? Maybe it's not perfectionism like it was for me. Maybe your idea is so good that you're not sure how to go about writing it. Or sometimes an idea is so personal, you don't feel satisfied that you're doing it justice. Or maybe you've struggled to find an idea that feels big enough, good enough, to be a real book. Maybe you're plagued with self-doubt.

Us writers are incredibly skilled at finding reasons not to write. What's yours?

2. Kill squirrels.

We all have shiny objects in our lives that distract us from our goals. Let me be perfectly clear that I'm in NO WAY talking about homework or siblings or children or parents or any of those responsibilities we have as people. While I do sometimes have to draw back from my family for a week or two when I need to meet a deadline, that isn't the balance of life that I'm striving for.

What are my squirrels? The three biggest are Pinterest, email, and snacking. When it's writing time, those are my three main distractions.

I'm just anti-social enough that chatting with friends, texting, and lunch dates are NOT squirrels for me. I'm in the habit now of saying no to those things, but they could easily be squirrels. Chit-chatting or venting with my best friend can feel a lot more fun than struggling through a scene that's giving me trouble.

The best trick for me when I need to minimize squirrels is to set my timer. I set it for 25 minutes and the rule is that I have to write (or edit, whatever it is) until the timer goes off. Then I can have five minutes to peek at email, grab a snack, and browse Pinterest.

Have you found ways to curb your squirrel-chasing desires? Please share if you have!

3. Find someone who will hold you accountable.

I knew I had a problem, but I couldn't seem to stop myself.

We had so much candy in the house, and I was eating it all the time. Way, way more than I should have been. And, sadly, the fact that it's not healthy for me wasn't enough of a motivation to curb myself.

Finally I determined that I would be embarrassed if Ben knew how much candy I was eating every day, and that I would feel too guilty to lie about it. So I asked him to please start asking me daily about how much candy I had eaten. That did the trick. While it hasn't made me stop wanting to eat candy all the time, knowing that he will ask and I will have to tell him the turth has steered me toward better choices.

Is there a way that accountability could help you in your struggles to finish your book? What's a question that you could have someone ask you?

4. Make good (daily) choices.

"Life goals are reached by setting annual goals. Annual goals are reached by reaching daily goals. Daily goals are reached by doing things which may be uncomfortable at first but eventually become habits. Habits are powerful things. Habits turn actions into attitudes and attitudes into lifestyles."
-Charlene Armitage
from The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth by John Maxwell

I do it automatically now. Once Connor is down for his nap, I walk past the mess of toys, the dishes in the sink, the laundry that is waiting to be folded, and I go down to my office. I crank the baby monitor as high as it will go (in case this is the day that his seizures start back up) and I write until he wakes up or it's time to pick up McKenna from school. 

I don't feel guilty about the laundry. I don't even consider reaching for a novel and curling up for an hour of pleasure reading. The work that comes with being an authorwriting, editing, blogginghas become a habit. And it became a habit because I chose it daily. 

That's the way you finish a bookyou make a choice each day to work on it. Even if it doesn't feel like the thing you most want to do at that moment, if you choose it more days than not, eventually it'll become a habit. And not in a boring wayI can't remember the last day I was bored while working, because I adore my job!just in a way that gives you mental peace. (Or as much mental peace as a writer is capable of.)

5. Celebrate your victories.

The big moments in the writing life are few and far between, even for a published author. You don't get The Call from your agent that often. Once a year if you're lucky. Twice a year if you're extremely lucky. Release days don't happen too often either.

One of the habits you should work to cultivate is to celebrate your victories along the way. Was that chapter one of the hardest you've ever written? Dish yourself a bowl of ice cream. Did you meet your writing goal for the day? Kick back and watch your favorite TV showguilt-free. Finish a first draft? Hit the movies with your best friend.

Even as a writer who loves writing, there are days where I'm having to sweet-talk my way to my goal. Just a few more minutes and then you can get a snack. If you hit your word goal now, it means you'll be able to watch 24 tonight. 

If finishing a novel were easy, everybody would do it. Going back to Jill's post on Wednesday, you're choosing something hard. And there are rewards that come with it, but there are struggles too. Even for published writers who have finished dozens of novels. 

If you're struggling (or celebrating!) today, please share in the comments. We'd love to walk alongside you today!

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Stephen King on Reading

Jill here. And I'm with Stephen. I admit. I get frustrated by writers who tell me they don't read. And, yeah. There are a handful of muliti-published authors who somehow get away with this. But the majority of authors love to read. They must read. They can't not read. And that makes sense. The only thing that is better than writing to improve your craft, is reading. You should do it. Lots.

Answer the following questions in the comments. My answers are in green.

What is the last book you completed? Jerk: California by Jonathan Friesen (This book was so good!)
What book(s) are you reading now? Ladies in Waiting: From the Tudors to the Present Day by Anne Somerset, An Echo in the Darkness by Francine Rivers, and The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson
What book do you plan to read next? Rush by by Jonathan Friesen (I'm meeting him this weekend and want to get these books signed!)

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The Five-Step Rebel-utionary Plan to Writing a Novel

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.

Some girls in our youth group meet on Sunday nights at our house to work through a book together (though right now we're between books and watching Anne of Green Gables because it's awesome).

The last book we did together was called Do Hard Things by Alex & Brett Harris. (We let the boys come for this book, by the way.) This was a pretty cool book that talked about the low expectations that our culture has for teenagers, and that teens can and should do hard things while they're young. In the book, the authors gave a 5-step plan that can change your world and help you do hard things. I felt that writing a book was, indeed, a very hard thing to tackle as a teenager and that the Harris brother's list was one you all could benefit from. So here are five steps that can help you change your world.

1. Take a risk. 
You'll never write a book if you don't sit down and start typing. It's hard, and it's time-consuming. But take the risk, declare your dream, set the goal, make the time to do it, and invest in it.

2. Raise the bar.
If you want to write a book worthy of publication, it's not enough to finish the book. You have to go back in and rewrite the book. And to do that, you have to find out what makes writing "good," so that you'll know how your writing measures up. It's not easy, but you can do it. Read lots of books on the craft of writing to help you raise the bar.

3. Don't go it alone.
Writing is a very solitary discipline. But that doesn't mean you can't involve other people in your dream. And writing a book worthy of publication is too big to accomplish all by yourself. If you're here reading the Go Teen Writers blog, you've already found communities of writers and made connections. That's awesome! So, make friends, trade books, read each other's work, critique each other's work, and cheer each other on. Writing friends are the best!

4. Don't despair. Small hard things are good too.
Writing a book is something that takes a very long time. Even if you wrote your book quickly, it takes time to rewrite, to meet editors and agents, to pitch your book to them and wait to hear back, and if you sell your book, it still takes time to wait for edits and cover designs and advance reader copies, etc. And most writers don't sell their first, second, or even their third book. Some sell a short story or article first. Some publish a book online to try and build a readership. And these small things aren't easy either. And you should be proud of them. Stay faithful to your goal and keep at it!

5. Take a stand.
In the Do Hard Things book, this is where the authors talk about taking a stand for what is right and going against the cultural norm. That might not seem applicable to writing, but I think it is. One way is that you could write a book about a topic that you are passionate about. But if your book isn't really about a theme of right vs. wrong, you're still taking a stand in regards to your dream. Our culture would say that teens should be enjoying their youth by hanging with friends and having fun. And if you do write, our culture would say it should just be for fun. But if your dream is to write a book worthy of publication, you're going to have to take a stand with your family and friends and make sacrifices of time and fun to get the book done and write another and another and another. You don't have to hurry. But you do have to be consistently loyal to your dream.

So I encourage you all to Do Hard Things in regards to your dream of writing a novel. Most of you already are. Where do you find yourself in this five step list? Are you just starting out and need to take that first risk of declaring your dream and setting the goal? Or are you farther down the list? Let me know in the comments.

ps. I'm going on a little book tour this weekend. If you live in Salt Lake City or Phoenix, come and see me, Jonathan Friesen, Lisa T. Bergren, and Lorie Ann Grover!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Finish Your Book!

Last Thursday Jill kicked off our "inspirational Tuesdays and Thursdays." We'll be sharing quotes that are related to writing and the writing life. Today's inspiration is from James Scott Bell's wonderful book, The Art of War for Writers:

This quote stuck out to me because I've experienced its truth. I had written tons of story beginnings, but when I buckled down and finished a full manuscript, I grew more in those months as a writer than I had in the years before.

Have you finished a manuscript? Did you notice growth from the experience?