Friday, January 30, 2015

Jump-start Your Writing Day

Shannon Dittemore is the author of the Angel Eyes trilogy. She has an overactive imagination and a passion for truth. Her lifelong journey to combine the two is responsible for a stint at Portland Bible College, performances with local theater companies, and a focus on youth and young adult ministry. For more about Shan, check out her website, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

Breaking ground on this new story of mine has not been nearly as easy as I thought it would be. My main character is, by far, the most broken main character I've ever written about. Being in her head is achingly hard.

Because of that, I'm not having the kind of writing days I like to have. You know the ones. The days where your fingers fly over the keyboard with all sorts of brilliance. I'm not there yet. Every word is costing me something. I feel like I'm pulling each letter from my gut and then having to hose off the icky stuff before I can place it on the page.

It's gross, I know. And exhausting.

My fingers need to fly every now and then. They need to stretch their wings and just go for it and, for whatever reason, this particular story is slow in the making. So, I've decided to start my writing day with a little writing practice, an idea I got from Natalie Goldberg's book, Writing Down the Bones.

The idea is that you set yourself some time (fifteen minutes for me) and you just write. About whatever. The trees outside your window. The character huddled in the corner of your mind waiting for you to give her a story. The way your dad smells after he mows the lawn. Whatever. You just write. You're not supposed to go back and delete, but it's nearly impossible for me to leave a typo alone when I see it, so sometimes I cheat. But the idea is to give your fingers permission to fly wherever they want to fly. Don't hold them back. Don't force them to make sense. Don't try to censor yourself. Just write.

As a published author, you would think this whole concept would be familiar to me, but it wasn't. Not in this way at least. I've done plenty of free writing, but I've never used it as a warm up to my writing day. And I feel like I've stumbled upon this glorious little gem of a practice that has already enhanced my work.

Two days ago, I spent fifteen minutes writing about an unexpected guest giving a eulogy at a funeral and today I spent fifteen minutes writing about the girl who didn't get the boy. Neither of these ideas have anything to do with the novel I'm working on, but my time spent in them has unlocked something inside my chest.

I'm remembering that each word doesn't have to be perfect when it goes on the page. That I can leave my sentences bloody and flailing and that maybe they look better that way. Writing practice is helping me develop my voice and it's reminding me to trust it.

Now, if you're like me, you're thinking, "I do not want to waste fifteen minutes (or whatever) writing something I'm not going to use." We're all so worried about losing time. But I'm finding that those fifteen minutes get the wheels in my brain moving. They churn up the kind of creativity I can't find when I'm in a hurry and they give my fingers the freedom to do their thing.

Tell me, do you ever give yourself permission to JUST WRITE? Ever thought about starting your writing day with a little practice?

Thursday, January 29, 2015

An Interview with Peggy Eddleman, author of Sky Jumpers

by Jill Williamson

Today I'm interviewing another author I met last September at Salt Lake Comic Con. Go Teen Writers, meet Peggy Eddleman.

Peggy Eddleman writes adventure books for middle grade readers. Her debut novel, Sky Jumpers released from Random House Children's Books on September 24, 2013, with The Forbidden Flats following a year later. Besides writing, Peggy enjoys playing laser tag with her husband and their three kids, doing cartwheels in long hallways, trying new restaurants, and occasionally painting murals on walls. You can find her online at (I love Peggy's website, by the way. If you write for children, check out her website. It's great.)

Welcome to Go Teen Writers, Peggy. Tell us about yourself and your Sky Jumpers series.

I love to write action/adventure stories. I’m the mom of three teenagers—a daughter in junior high and two sons in high school—and my oldest and youngest are writers. (Yay teen writers!) Sky Jumpers and it’s sequel, The Forbidden Flats, is a story about a town living inside one of the giant craters left behind by the green bombs of World War III that destroyed most of the earth’s population. The main characters, Hope, Aaren, and Brock, are all twelve-year-olds who have to do some dangerous/exciting/scary things to help save their town when it gets into trouble.

Sounds like a lot of fun. How did you come up with the idea for these books?

The first spark of an idea came when my family and I were flying home from Disney World on a day when the entire country was covered in clouds. I sat in the window seat, and for three and a half hours, staring out at the wrong side of the clouds, thinking, Wouldn’t it be so cool if I could jump out of the plane, and have those clouds slow my fall? It was an idea I couldn’t shake, so I went to work thinking about what kind of a world could have a compressed band of air that covered everything, and would be able to catch you if you jumped into it. And that’s when sky jumping was born. Then, of course, to add more conflict/danger, I made it both deadly and invisible.

As a world-builder, I have to say that is just plain awesome. I love when those questions come upon a writer. How many books did you write before Sky Jumpers sold?

I wrote four full-length novels, which will never see the light of day. And I am so okay with that! They were novels I wrote for practice and experience, and many of them contained people I knew as the characters. Three of them I wrote knowing that I would never even try to get them published. But even though they’ll forever stay on my shelf, I’ll always love them for what they did for me—they prepared me to become an author.

I had a similar experience, Peggy. Why did you choose to write for middle grade readers?

I’ve thought about this question a lot, actually. I think it boils down to three things—my kids and I got into a great habit of reading middle grade novels together every night, and I’ve loved it. Writing what I’ve had so much fun reading with my kids just felt natural. Second—those upper elementary school ages are some of my very favorite memories. I had daring, genius brothers just older and just younger than me, and hanging out with them made my childhood feel like one giant adventure. So tapping back into those ages is a very exciting thing for me. And third, I think my writing voice lends itself to writing middle grade. It takes some experimentation, but it’s important to figure out what age group and genre is the right one for you.

That's awesome. I'm glad you found your voice and where it best fits. I love your book trailer. Check it out, guys.

Peggy, what advice would you give teen writers?

To never give up! It’s easy to give up in this business, but you have stories to tell that can only come from you. You have a unique voice, a unique way of looking at the world, and a unique imagination. The world needs those stories that can only come from you. But it’s not a race. Take time to play with your writing. To try new styles and genres. To take risks. To write stories you don’t think you’re good enough to write yet. To experiment with writing different characters and different worlds than you’ve ever tried. The broader range of things you try, the more you’ll be able to figure out how to hone in on what your strengths are and what is truly, uniquely you.

"To take risks." That's wonderful advice. What's next for you? How many book will be in the Sky Jumpers series?

Sky Jumpers is a duology, so it’s two books. I love having one book that is the beginning and one book that’s the end. It just feels so right for this series. I’m working on a book right now about a group of six kids who were genetically altered in ways that meant to give them extra abilities, but really did just the opposite. And they have to save the day, when all the things about them keep getting in the way. It blends a lot of humor with that universal feeling that there are things about us that make things hard, yet you still have to find a way to work around it. I have had more fun writing it than any story I’ve ever written, and I can’t wait until it gets in the hands of readers!

I bet your readers can't wait, either! Here's a little bit more about the first Sky Jumpers book.

Twelve-year-old Hope lives in White Rock, a town struggling to recover from the green bombs of World War III. The bombs destroyed almost everything that came before, so the skill that matters most in White Rock—sometimes it feels like the only thing that matters—is the ability to invent so that the world can regain some of what it’s lost.

But Hope is terrible at inventing and would much rather sneak off to cliff dive into the Bomb’s Breath—the deadly band of air that covers the crater the town lives in—than fail at yet another invention.

When bandits discover that White Rock has invented priceless antibiotics, they invade. The town must choose whether to hand over the medicine and die from disease in the coming months or to die fighting the bandits now. Hope and her friends, Aaren and Brock, might be the only ones who can escape through the Bomb’s Breath and make the dangerous trek over the snow-covered mountain to get help. Inventing won’t help them, but the daring and risk-taking that usually gets Hope into trouble might just save them all.

Doesn't that sound great? Thanks so much for talking with us today, Peggy! 

To thank Peggy for coming, we're giving away a copy of her first Sky Jumpers book. Enter on the Rafflecopter form below. International winners are welcome and will be shipped from The Book Depository. 

And feel free to leave questions or comments for Peggy below.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Evolution of a Fantasy Map

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.

You all know my book is due soon. I'm on my final week. My editor emailed for cover ideas, so I had to set aside some last-minute editing time to gather all my ideas into one file to email him. That meant I needed to finish my map and the flags for each realm if I wanted the cover designer to have the opportunity to use any of it on the cover.

It was a lot of work. Art doesn't come easily to me, but I've learned how to cheat in Photoshop. Now, I had most of my map done. I'd been working on it on-and-off all last year. I thought it might be interesting to show you all the evolution of this map.

King's Folly is loosely connected to my Blood of Kings trilogy, but it takes place 500 years before Achan was born. So when I first thought about my map, I wanted it to look ancient. I loved this ancient map of earth and started with it as my inspiration. To explain what you're looking at, Africa is red, Europe is the yellow on the top, Asia is green, and Antarctica is the yellow on the bottom. Isn't that fun?

Inspired by that ancient map, I drew this on tracing paper with a pencil. Since the hand is a sacred symbol in my land, I originally thought about making my continent sort of hand-shaped. That never really happened, though.

Once I was happy with the shape of my world, I re-traced it with a fine-point black Sharpie. I liked how that original ancient map had each continent in a different color. I started to add yellow here, but didn't like how it was looking. So I scanned it like this and opened it in Photoshop.

This next image is my cleaned up version of the previous image. I added colors here, though I never printed a color version. I took this and added my cities and other things I felt were missing.

Then I added those things in Photoshop.

I was liking this so far, but I decided to get rid of the colors shading in each realm since I knew my map would be printed in black and white.

Also, I felt like my canyons looked like massive lakes. So on this next version, I added a key to show some important worldbuilding elements. The dots indicate where canyons were. Since there is no fresh surface water in my world, I added dotted lines to indicate underground rivers. I also added The Gray, which are foggy areas where beasties live. And I added more cities too. I also started thinking about the flag for each realm, what might be on it, and what their colors might be.

That's when it hit me that my map was upside down. This continent is in the southern hemisphere, so I can't have a polar desert up by the equator! So I flipped the whole thing in Photoshop to see what it looked like with the polar desert down by the south pole, where it should have been from the start. I had to move all my text, one layer at a time. Whee!

As I was writing the book, the more I thought about the actual distance these people were traveling, I decided to make some more changes. Reluctant ones, since I'd already put in SO MUCH TIME on this map. First, I switched my distance from 100 leagues to 50. Then I decided to change the shape. I stretched the thing out in Photoshop, and copied and pasted things until I liked what I saw.

The other thing that had been bothering me from the start was that you couldn't tell that pretty much this entire continent has a raised elevation. It is supposed to be surrounded by cliffs! So I decided I needed a new outline (again reluctantly). I drew a new outline on tracing paper and added cliff marks. I purposely left them all out of proportion, figuring that the map was supposed to be ancient, so the odd proportions might work just fine.

I scanned in my new outline, cleaned it up, pasted it into my Photoshop map file, and hid the old outline layer. I had to move all my text and dots and mountains and rivers again. But once I got them all in the right place, I liked it. I decided it needed an old-timey border, so I found a vintage one, then re-drew it myself.

BUT---yes, there was yet another change coming. I wanted to put the flags for each realm on the map. I made these in Photoshop as well. But they looked way too busy over the coolio vintage border, so I hid that layer and kept a simple oval line. I brought in my flags, created a new key, and shifted everything about until I was happy.

And then was I ever happy to be done!

This is pretty much the process I go through with every map. It takes months for me to fiddle with it, to decide what I like and don't like. And as I write the story, things change and I make adjustments. I realize that this process is not for everyone, but I really enjoy it and thought you might find it interesting.

I also want to point out that part of this is likely why many fantasy novels don't have maps in them. It's terribly time consuming. For a publishing house to pay an artist to do this would be very expensive. It would likely cost as much or more than the full cover design. So maybe I should give more grace to those books without maps, huh?

Any questions? If you create maps, how is your process similar or different from mine?

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Coco Chanel on Low Horizons

Stephanie here. For my YA historical romantic suspense story, I spent some time reading up on influential women of the 1920s. Coco Chanel is someone I was aware of but I knew almost nothing about her until reading Flapper by Joshua Zeitz. As I read about her rise from orphan girl to the queen of haute couture, I was struck by this quote:

Nobody can live with low horizons. A narrow outlook will choke you. -Coco Chanel
The first time I read this, I thought about dreams. About how dreaming big can help you live big.

But then as I thought more about what it means to have a narrow outlook, I wondered if it was less about dreaming big and more about enabling yourself to think bigger. There's so much valuefor your writing and your life in generalin exposing yourself to new ideas and different ways of living life.

What's something you can do this week that will broaden your view of the world? I'm going to read an article in National Geographic that teaches me about a different culture.

Monday, January 26, 2015

How To Work Effectively With A Mentor

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 never had a writing mentor. I wouldn't be opposed to it. Quite the opposite, really. But the right person/situation has never presented itself.

In John Maxwell's book The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth, I came across his views on how the mentoring relationship should work, and I thought this was such a smart

When you're looking for someone to mentor you, he suggests trying to find someone who is two or three steps ahead of you on the same track. For example, I'm sure I could benefit from Stephen King mentoring me. He, however, is about a thousand steps ahead of me in the business. So much of his career wouldn't apply to where I am now, and for that reason, I could likely benefit more from having a mentor who is a YA writer with a couple bestselling novels. Make sense?

These are the traits Maxwell suggests we look for in mentors:

  • A worthy example: Is this someone you want to be like?
  • Availability: Do they have time for you? Or is their schedule already too loaded down?
  • Proven experience: Can they actually do what it is you're trying to learn? If I'm wanting to be a bestselling novelist, then I need a bestselling novelist to mentor me on how to accomplish this.
  • Wisdom
  • Willingness to be supportive: Do they have your best interest at heart?
  • Coaching skills: Not everyone is cut out to be a teacher. I had two friends in high school who were brilliant. If I needed homework help, one of them was happy to sit down with me and try to explain how to do the assignment. The other would get very annoyed and impatient after about two questions. You need someone who has the heart of a teacher.
After someone has agreed to mentor you, this is the approach Maxwell suggests for meeting with them:
  1. Ask them 3-5 questions.
  2. Apply their answers to your situation.
  3. Don't ask for another meeting until you've done what they suggested.
  4. Start your next meeting by talking about how you applied their advice.
  5. Repeat

I like how this is so respectful of everybody's time. Have you ever had a friend who asked for your advice with how to handle a problem, but then when you gave them advice, they only ignored it and continued to complain that things weren't getting any better? Mentoring relationships can quickly deteriorate into this if the mentee isn't following through on their part of the deal.

Or have you ever had someone who didn't bother to get to know you and your goals, but seemed to love giving you advice anyway? Using the method above where you ask specific but limited questions can help keep a long-winded mentor on track as well.

I think this action plan also addresses what a mentor is not. They're not your golden ticket. They're not your "in" with a particular editor or agent. They're not someone who is doing the work for you. They should be someone who advises you and guides you based on their experience and your desires.

How long should a mentorship last?

This varies. Maybe you're just having coffee together one time. Or maybe the person is mentoring you just for one project, a summer, or a year. This is a good thing to discuss ahead of time so that you both have similar expectations going into the relationship.

Using Maxwell's "two to three steps ahead of you on the same path" principle, who would you ask to sit and have coffee with so you could pick their brain about writing?

Friday, January 23, 2015

Does Plotting Have To Be Hard?

Shannon Dittemore is the author of the Angel Eyes trilogy. She has an overactive imagination and a passion for truth. Her lifelong journey to combine the two is responsible for a stint at Portland Bible College, performances with local theater companies, and a focus on youth and young adult ministry. For more about Shan, check out her website, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

One of the biggest problems I run into when I'm giving other writers advice is remembering just who I stole it from. I'd like to be an honest thief at least and give credit where it's due, but we hear things over and over again and from different folks and eventually the original source is forgotten entirely.

So, to whoever said this first, I apologize. But I know for certain that James Scott Bell has said it on multiple occasions and has included it in his book Plot & Structure. A book I absolutely recommend, by the way. All that said, take a look at this tid-bit and then let's talk about it.

I'm in the early stages of writing a shiny new story and as I sink into the process I've decided something. Sometimes I make the whole plotting thing so difficult. I have charts and scene breakdowns and reversals to work in. I have coded index cards and a series of multi-colored markers.

ALL GOOD THINGS, friends. Hear me, these are not bad tools. But if I'm honest, I can sit at my desk for eight hours, play with these tools, and get nowhere with my story.

I find I make the most important kind of progress when I keep it simple. And there's nothing more simple than this concept. Create a character. Give him a problem. Give him another one. And then when he can't possibly take anything else, resolve the thing.

It's so simple. And yet, we find variations of this model in every successful book.

Perhaps, during the writing of a story, we should free ourselves from the juggling act that is pinpointing each story element. Perhaps we should leave that to those who find joy in dissecting our stories.

I don't know. Am I oversimplifying things now?

It's possible.

But, I'll tell you this. Once I set my fancy plotting techniques aside and focused solely on the rocks I wanted to throw at my heroine, I plotted my entire story in less than a half hour.

Now, it's a story I've been thinking about and toying with for a while. The ideas were floating around in my noggin, but I had to abandon my own self-imposed process before I could lay the scenes out in a manner that made sense.

And I wonder if keeping it simple would help you too.

What do you think? Is your dependence on a certain process crippling you? Is it making the writing more difficult than it needs to be? How do you keep it simple?

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Annie Dillard on Giving It All

by Jill Williamson

Have you ever done that thing where you have a cool idea, but you're saving it for the end of the book or for book two or three or some other sequel? I have. Too often. But as I was stuck on the ending of my most recent book, it became abundantly clear that I needed more coolness. I racked my brain trying to come up with ideas, and then it hit me. Oh yeah. Those cool ideas I was saving for book two. If I used them in book one, things would make a lot more sense.

Then, of course, I worried. But what will I do in book two?

But here's the thing... Who cares about book two? If book one isn't amazing, no one will read book two! Maybe I'm overreacting, but you get the point. This quote from Annie Dillard says it much better.

So I did this. I gave it all. Gave everything I had. And the book, I think, is better for it. Book two will take care of itself when the time comes. Thankfully, I have a few months to think up some good ideas.

Have you hoarded good stuff for the end of the book or for a sequel? Use your best stuff early, then stretch your creative brain to think up something new when you need it.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Character Growth Words

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.

At the One Year Adventure Novel Summer Workshop two summers ago, Stephanie and I co-taught a class on editing. In that class, Stephanie shared that one of her tips for character building was to assign her main characters a word that summed up what they believed about themselves. If I remember rightly, her main character's word was "invisible." The antagonist's word was "second best." These words are great because they enabled Stephanie to put her characters into situations where they would feel exactly like that word. And it also gave her something to work towards as her characters overcame that word by growing and learning it was a lie all along.

I loved this exercise so much that I've used it ever since. But on the character sheets for my most recent project (King's Folly), I took it one step further. Since this is the first book in a trilogy, these characters need to grow in each book. So I decided to come up with a set of three words for each of my main characters. That way they grow in book one, but still have growing to do in book two, etc.

I haven't figured out all three words for everyone yet, since I've only written the first book, but I do know some of them. Here are two examples of how this might look.

Wilek is my protagonist. My first word for him is conflicted. He knows what is right, he wants to do it, but he doesn't know how. He makes small steps forward, only to get knocked back time and again. But he will rise up and find his way, which will give him so much confidence that his second word is certain. This new belief will permeate everything he does to the point of legalism. And that will lead him to his third word, humbled.

My second character is Charlon. She is one of my antagonists. Her first word is victim. She is afraid of so much. But she is given the opportunity to overcome her fear, to get strong. She gets greedy. The idea of power is intoxicating and she wants to become master, which is her second word. She will rule, but it will be too much for her, and it will lead to her to her third word, trapped.

Do you see the progression? Start out with a word that has a negative connotation. Then brainstorm ways your character might rise above that situation. Think it through and write down all the words that come to you. They might be complete opposites or extremes of the word you started with. For an example, let's use Stephanie's word "invisible."

Invisible could lead to: celebrity, hero, popular, antihero, infamous, content, leader, boss, favorite, accomplished, work-a-holic, etc.

Many of those words could be good things. But if you want your character to have a third growth area, he will have to take that second word to an extreme. So, say you chose invisible leading to hero, it could be that people get sick of his ego---or one important person in his life hates that he's out saving the day and is never there for her or his family or friends (think Will Stronghold from Sky High).

Now you're ready to brainstorm your third word, and this needs to get your character to where you want him in the end of the story (or series). Your third word needs to take into account both previous words, which encompass the journey he's been on so far. Maybe he needs a happy medium between the two words. Maybe he went too far with word number two, overcompensating for all of the negative emotions that came from that first word.

So if your first word was invisible, second word was hero, your third might be: content, average, healthy, loved, accepted, team leader, friend, etc.

See how that works? Obviously, a lot depends on the story you're telling and the journey you want your character to go on.

Also, this doesn't have to apply to a trilogy. You could choose three words per book, if you wanted to show a progression of growth. Or, if you were writing a longer series, this exercise could be prolonged. It would take careful planning, but you could come up with a different word for each book. There are no rules here. Play with it and see what works.

Can you think of a word or a progression of words for one of your characters? Share in the comments.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Prose is a Window

Stephanie here. Jill Williamson talked to me so much about the podcast Writing Excuses that I was eager to check it out. During a conversation about point of view and tense, I was struck by Brandon Sanderson's description of what prose should do. Brandon said most writers are striving to write "Orwellian" style prose, in which:

"You don't see the prose, you see the story. The prose is a window, beyond which all these wonderful things are happening. If you start fiddling with tense, people pay attention to the window instead of what's happening beyond it."

Writers are creative people who enjoy experimenting with words and techniques. (I would guess most of us have an attempt of a second-person novel stashed in a drawer.) But we want to be careful that we're not so fresh and different that readers are unable to see the story.

Have you ever tried out a technique in a manuscript and later decided it distracted too much from the story?

Monday, January 19, 2015

9 Behaviors You Should Adopt If You Want to Grow As A 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 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.

Something I both love and hate about writing is that it's an ongoing journey. I'm never going to be a perfect writer. There will always be ways I can grow and deepen my skills. There will always be more practicing to do.

Which is why it deeply saddens me on the occasion that I come across a know-it-all writer ... who has only been writing for a couple years. If that. They ask for advice, but they don't want advicethey want validation that they should totally be published by now. They want you to critique their work, but when you do, they argue with every issue you bring up. You recommend a craft book or an online class that you took and found helpful, and they tell you they don't need it; they're already exemplifying all that advice in their manuscripts. Sometimes, in extreme situations, they offer paid critiques or have a blog that hands out writing advice ... even though they've never even finished a story.

You don't want to be that person, do you? Neither do I. And anytime I notice myself slipping into unteachable behavior, I try hard to shift my perspective and think What can I learn from this?

These are 9 behaviors I've observed in writers who continue to grow both as a writer and as someone who contributes to the publishing industry:

They keep reading.
There's a sad amount of published writers who say writing makes them too busy to read, or that they just can't enjoy a book because of their inner editor. Not only is this just not a smart move professionally (you've got to keep tabs on what's going on in your genre) but it smacks of arrogance.

They keep learning about writing.
Even after being a professional for ten years, when I take writing classes, listen to podcasts, or read craft books, I almost always walk away with something I can apply. I've certainly sat through some writing classes that were so boring, basic, or biased, I walked out without having learned a thing, but that's rare.

They spend more time writing than they do talking about writing.
Building onto that last item, it's easy to slip into the trap of spending most your time learning about writing and talking about writing and thinking about writing without actually, you know, writing. I've definitely been guilty of this. When Jill and I were putting together Go Teen Writers: How To Turn Your First Draft Into A Published Novel on top of maintaining the blog, I felt the balance tip too far away from writing. Maybe a season of life will look like that for you too, but don't make it a lifestyle. 

They don't compare.
I don't think we mean to do it, but us writers tend to group ourselves into different categories: Writers who haven't been writing long. Writers who have written a few books and seem close to getting an agent. Writers who are self-published. Writers who have an agent but no contract. Writers who have a contract. Writers who are multi-published. 

The danger with this comes when our perception of being "ahead" leads to us being jealous or angry when another writer who is "behind" us achieves something.

When Roseanna White and I met, we were in similar places in our writing journey. Both of us had loved writing for a long time, had written as teens, and we were both at the place where our writing was close to publishable. At the conference where we met, Roseanna walked away with an agent who was excited about her and an editor who loved her. I walked away with some mediocre leads and a very tired back. (I was quite pregnant.)

But in an odd turn of events, I wound up with a surprise agent and a three-book deal all within six months, while Roseanna had to bide her time for a few years while we waited for the first contract. Recently, contracts have been a struggle for me while they seem to tumble into her lap when she's not even looking. If we'd insisted on comparing ourselves to each other all these years, we would have become two bitter writer friends. That doesn't sound like much fun to me.

Nobody wins with the comparison game. We're all on our own unique writing journey, and it's best to embrace yours and learn from others when you can whether they seem to be ahead of you or behind.

They accept that all feedback is a gift.
At church a few weeks ago, my pastor talked about a time that he was deeply hurt by a critique. He went to his mentor, wanting what we would all want in that momentto be assured that the other person was a moron, and that he should just ignore the feedback. Instead his mentor told him, "All feedback is a gift."

That's rattled around inside my head these last few weeks as I go through the process of refining my manuscript with my agent. I don't like having my mistakes pointed out. (I'm much more fragile than I would like to be.) I want to have caught all my errors, and I want my manuscript to be perfect. I'm learning to embrace this idea, though, that all feedback is a gift. It all reveals somethingeven if it's just our heart or the character of the person who is critiquing for usand we're wise to be thankful for it even when it hurts.

They try something new with each book.
I used to think that as I wrote books, I would eventually land on My Perfect Book Writing System. A system that made my first drafts structurally sound and my edits organized and my hair from turning increasingly white. (When I picked McKenna up from school the other day, she had this huge grin on her face. "Mom! You have a white stripe in your hair just like Anna!" Why, thank you...)

But I think even if such a system existswhich I'm no longer convinced it does because book writing is just a messy, creative businessthere would be a danger in it. When we think we have it all figured out, that's when we stop considering how we can be better. I learned from bestselling novelist Angela Hunt to intentionally look for something new that I can try with each book. There are countless new things you could try. A character who's darker than you normally write. Writing in first person instead of third. A different method of plotting. Present tense instead of past. More (or less) point of view characters. The list of new things to try is as limitless as your creativity.

They shut down thoughts like, "I should be published by now."
I have been an impatient, pre-published writer. I would read published books that didn't seem nearly as good as mine. Or writers who had written only one book were getting published when I was on my fourth and didn't seem any closer. When is it ever going to be my turn? I should be published by now!

Have you felt this way before? Let's say you're right. Your writing is excellent and that editor truly just didn't "get it." But what do you gain from the mindset of, "I should be published by now"? Nothing. This thought—or variations of it like, "My book should be selling better!" or "I should have another contract by now!"—has never produced a single healthy thought or action.

What does produce something useful is the question of why am I not yet published? This question can actually produce answers that help you. Is your genre a tougher sell than others? Is the opening of your story not interesting enough? Or have you just not been able to access the right editor or agent? 

They don't tear down other writers.
As with the behavior above, it just doesn't do anything positive for you. Maybe the book really does have a sucky plot and bad characters and a predictable ending. But if it sold to a publisher, or if it's on bestseller charts, it's smart to ask why. What is it about this book that reaches people? What can you learn from it? 

They don't burn bridges.
If someone in the industryan agent, an editor, a published writer, or even an unpublished writer in your critique groupgives you a "gift of feedback" that you didn't want, the wise writer says something like, "Thank you. I'll think about that," and doesn't (publicly) get more emotional than that.

The people in the writing world are a very connected bunch. If you claim to my agent that I recommended she look at your stuff when I really didn't, that's not going to get you what you want. (Unless you wanted a sternly worded rejection from my agent. Then it will get you exactly what you wanted!) Writers, agents, editors, and everyone else who makes the book world go round talk to each other, so guard your reputation by being kind, honest, and considerate to all.

Even writers who are very careful with agents and editors often burn bridges with other writers. Sometimes they do it in the name of honesty. ("It just wouldn't be fair for me to write you anything more than a 1-star shredding review on Amazon. My integrity is at stake here!") We value honesty around here, but honesty spoken with kindness and grace will get you much farther.

What's something you've done that has helped you grow as a writer?

Friday, January 16, 2015

Why Hobbits Make Good Heroes

Shannon Dittemore is the author of the Angel Eyes trilogy. She has an overactive imagination and a passion for truth. Her lifelong journey to combine the two is responsible for a stint at Portland Bible College, performances with local theater companies, and a focus on youth and young adult ministry. For more about Shan, check out her website, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

Know who's smarter than I am? 


You were thinking I'd say YOU, right? While that very well may be the case, I've been thinking a lot about the genius of J.R.R Tolkien lately. Specifically, I've been thinking about his Hobbits.

Hobbits make fabulous heroes. You ever think about that? As writers, we hear much about the story arc of our characters. Our characters have to grow throughout the course of a book. They have to change somehow. Your lead, your hero, should have undergone some kind of transformation by the time the reader turns to the final page. Really, it's what makes a story a story. And yet, the tendency for many writers--especially young ones--is to start with a bright, shiny hero and try to tell a story about his heroics.

The problem, as I'm sure many of you have found, is that showing growth in a character who has it all together is a difficult thing to do. Giving your lead some deficiencies actually helps you. And in that vein, I think Tolkien is a mad genius. And the most amazing thing he did--no, it's not that whole elf language thing--is that he gave us stories about weak, cowardly, unwilling creatures who had no choice but to rise to the occasion.

Hobbits make awesome heroes because:

1. They are not at all interested in being heroes. With the exception of maybe Bilbo who has developed a taste for adventure, the other Hobbits we meet in the Lord of the Rings trilogy would rather stay close to home. They like The Shire. They like food and comfort and all the things we really like. There is no adventure to be had until Frodo realizes his beloved home will be destroyed if he doesn't destroy the One Ring. It's his drive to protect The Shire that propels him forward. Not any tendency toward heroics.

2. Conventional wisdom says they are less likely to be heroic than their companions. The Hobbits in the Fellowship of the Ring are flanked by a Wizard, a Ranger, a Warrior, a battleaxe-wielding Dwarf and an immortal Elf. All of whom would make fabulous heroes. The furry-footed Hobbit is an unlikely savior then and that makes his journey compelling. His growth is measurable and vast and important to the reader. 

3. They cannot succeed unless they change. If Frodo and Sam and Merry and Pippin had remained who they were at the outset of the story, Middle Earth would have had a very different fate. Throughout their individual journeys, each Hobbit had to battle all sorts of personal inadequacies and in every victory--big or small--their transformations pushed them closer and closer to the kind of heroes they needed to be to complete their tasks. If they hadn't changed, they would have failed and Tolkien knew that when he penned them. He wrote their inadequacies with great intention and then he placed obstacles before them that forced them to grow.

See, I told you. Tolkien was smarter than I am. He was also brave because it takes a certain measure of courage to start with a character who is prone to failure. I want to be brave like that.

What do you guys think? Have I missed anything? How else do Hobbits make great heroes? And what other unlikely heroes linger in the books you read?

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Lloyd Alexander on Shoes... er... Writing Fantasy

by Jill Williamson

As I plow on toward the finish line of King's Folly, this quote makes me smile.

What kind of shoes are you wearing right now as you work on your book? Combat boots? High heels? Sneakers? Ballet shoes? Cleats? Cowboy boots?

Share in the comments. :-)

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Creating a Historical Timeline for your 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.

Last week I got stuck on my rewrite of King's Folly. I realized there was too much history that I didn't know. I found inconsistencies when I talked about when a certain character had been in the war, when his wife had died, and how old he was as a teenager.

I knew the problem. I needed a historical timeline for my book. So I made one. Today, I'm going to start by giving you this excerpt from Storyworld First on creating a timeline, then I'll add in at the bottom how I went about creating one in a hurry for King's Folly.

From Storyworld First:


When I started my first fantasy novel, I didn’t know how to go about creating a history. I wanted to make it simple, so I wrote a timeline of my land. Really, it’s a timeline of only one group of people, starting when they arrived in the land and ending at the time when my book began.

I started with the year zero, when the first king came to the land on a ship, and I went up to the year 585, when my main character would turn sixteen. I used Microsoft Word and typed a number and a hyphen for every ten years in a long, long line. Then I added to my timeline which kings ruled when, important births and deaths, wars, exploration and discoveries, when certain cities or landmarks were built—anything I thought might be worth remembering.

All this gave my land character. For example, I knew why the people from Cherem hated the people from Magos. They’d been battling for years. If a Cheremite and a Magosian were to meet in my book, it might get ugly.

And ugly is good because ugly means conflict.


I highly recommend writing out a history of your land. Go back as far as you want. For inspiration, Google the history of our world. Look at the different eras and see how we’ve advanced over the years.

I wrote a historical narrative for the land of Er’Rets from my Blood of Kings trilogy and little blurbs on each city. I did this for my own knowledge so that I could better understand the world my characters lived in. You can read A History of Er’Rets in the Extras section of this book. Keep in mind, I wrote it for me, so it’s not perfect. And if you click on the link under the map after the history, it will take you to an online version of the map where you can click on different cities and read about them. This was all pre-writing I did while building my storyworld. None of this went in my book as is. It was for me to know so that I could better understand the world my characters lived in. I hope this serves as an illustration of what you could do and inspires some ideas for your own worldbuilding.

Don’t spend forever on this! A little goes a long way, and you can always stop writing and create more history if needed. Remember, you’re writing a novel, not a history textbook. Only take this as far as you need to. Then stop and get back to writing.


When you have different cultures, you have different ways of looking at things. How do other cultures remember the historical events differently? There’s often more than one reason for a war. See if you can find ways to put conflict into your world’s history.


That’s right. Fight the urge to cut and paste whatever cool histories you may have written. Instead, tell your character’s story. The history will come out if and when it needs to. Here are a few of the places I used my history in my Blood of Kings books:

•Achan learns early on that he’s of Kinsman descent.
•Achan and Vrell meet giants, Poroo people, and wolves, all of which I created when I wrote my historical narrative.
•When Achan reaches the memorial tree in Allowntown, he thinks about the murder of the king and queen and the curse of darkness on the land, both of which are on my timeline.
•Throughout the book the reader is given different bits and pieces of the story of how the prince came to live with Lord Nathak.
•Characters talk about the Great War, which happened a long time ago.

I didn’t use a lot of the history in the actual books, but without having written it, I wouldn’t have had a foundation from which to create.

End of excerpt.

Now, since I was crunched for time on King's Folly, here's what I did.

•I wrote down key dates mentioned in my story.
•I created a timeline starting with the oldest year mentioned in the book and ending with the current year of my story.
•I went in and added deaths of kings, coronations, marriages, and birthdates of royalty and other important characters.
•I shifted around the birthdays and such to make sure that the ages worked out right and that people I said "grew up together" were actually children at the same time.
•I looked up a timeline of England's kings to give me inspiration as to length of rule, deaths, and successions, etc.
•I also looked up a timeline for the War of the Roses, which gave me some ideas as to what people might be fighting about.
•I filled in dates for my recent war, an important treaty, and some prophecies. All the dates mentioned in my book.

And that was it. That was all I really needed. I didn't write out a long history of the world. This is sort of a cheat sheet to refer to as I edit, to help me get my dates right and my facts straight. It's truly an invaluable tool that will save me a lot of stress and mistakes.

Have you ever written a timeline for a book? Do you find them helpful? Any tips or questions?

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

A Peek Into The Cover Design Process

Roseanna M. White pens her novels under the Betsy Ross flag hanging above her desk, with her Jane Austen action figure watching over her. When she isn’t homeschooling her small kids and writing fiction, she’s editing it for WhiteFire Publishing or reviewing it for the Christian Review of Books, both of which she co-founded with her husband.

Designing historical book covers can be a challenge--but a fun one. And I was excited to tackle the project for Rachelle Rea and her series that WhiteFire contracted to release in 2015-16!

As a behind-the-scenes encourager of Go Teen Writers, a frequent judge of contests, and a dedicated reader of the blog, I've loved watching the GTWers grow and chase their dreams. And when I received Rachelle's manuscript on my editing desk at WhiteFire, I was excited because I knew her from Go Teen Writers...and a little wary because it's always awkward to give a 'no' to someone you kinda know. Which I've had to do before, LOL.

But as I dove into The Sound of Diamonds, I realized that wasn't going to be an issue here. Because the book is fabulous. And Rachelle is fabulous. And I was immediately excited to get to create some fabulous covers for the books!

But historicals present a challenge. How to find photographs with the right costuming? And in this case, it's a continuity series, so the same heroine needs to be on each cover. But with different dresses. Stock photos let me down, so I turned to the more complicated but better option: photo shoot.

Now, as it happens, I have a gorgeous niece who perfectly fit the description of Rachelle's heroine, Gwyn. Jayna is the right age, the right shape, has the right coloring. And takes ridiculously good photographs.
Moreover, she loves playing dressup in historical clothing and was happy to let me deck her out in the height of Renaissance fashion and make her walk around an old church on a rather cold and blustery day. Thank you, Jayna. ;-)

I called up a local(ish) costume shop and arranged to rent three different gowns in three different hues--because it only made sense to do the shoot for all three covers at the same time. I ordered a diamond(ish) rosary that plays such an important part in book 1.

We took hundreds of photos on that gorgeous but chilly November day, and then I got down to the really fun stuff. Putting together the covers.

Photo selection was key. I started with a few choices for the first gown, the blue one, and tried them out.

Honestly, I had a hard time deciding. But I knew I wanted the rosary in the shot, and I also knew that, because we were missing the glasses that Gwyn wore in the series, we were planning on cropping out Jayna's eyes. So I chose that last photo and zoomed it in to the correct size.
I loved how this left me some empty space in  the upper left to work with my words. But there's a bit too much of a contrast between the door and the blue of her cape--it would be hard to find any one color for the text font that would stand out against both. So I darkened the wood and, while I was at it, faded out the layer at the bottom into the background so that Rachelle's lovely name would have a place to stand out.
Much better! Now, unlike many of my designs, this one didn't require a separate background. Easy peasy then...but it still needed something else. I wanted a texture overtop it to soften and create some layer and light. After much searching, I decided on this one. I faded it out in a few spots (and didn't save it separately beforehand, LOL) to make way for her lovely face.
Fading this out to about 40% opacity gave me this.
Now it was beginning to look like what we envisioned! I decided it was time to start working with the title. The Sound of Diamonds. Beautiful, isn't it? Poetic, and Rachelle draws it out beautifully throughout the story. I wanted to make sure those lovely words got a lovely treatment. I opted to keep most of the words in an elegant but simple capital text. But I wanted some ornateness on Diamonds. After browsing through the wonderful for a while, I settled on Magnolia and put it together like so.
Just plopping it down on top of the model looked like this.
Not bad. But I wanted a bit of light to highlight Diamonds. I found this free texture.
I set the blend mode to Screen, took the opacity down to 60% and ended up with this.
Next I tackled the series title. This is the Steadfast Love series, and it's set in the 1560s. I wanted a series logo that captured the antiquity of it and also echoed the color of each of the dresses I'd be using (blue, red, green).
That got plopped in that empty space. ;-) And I also added Rachelle's name to the bottom (woot!)
There's just one tiny thing missing--Rachelle and I both have a love for flourishes. So I put one behind her name. =)

And there we have it! The final cover for The Sound of Diamonds, set to release June 15, 2015! The second book will come out 4 months later, the third following in another four months. Those covers are finished too, but they haven't been released yet. You'll have to stay tuned for their cover reveals as we close to their releases. ;-)

Check out The Sound of Diamonds on Amazon!