Monday, April 13, 2015

6 Things Blogging Taught Me About Writing Fiction

by Stephanie Morrill

Stephanie writes young adult contemporary novels and is the creator of GoTeenWriters.com. Her novels include The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series (Revell) and the Ellie Sweet books (Birch House Press). 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 been blogging for nearly six years now. The only reason I started blogging was that I had a book coming out, and it was something I was "supposed to do." But before that, I had never really been interested in it. What on earth would I talk about? It seemed like a lot of energy to invest in something that wasn't a novel.

My first blog never took off, but Go Teen Writers has continued to grow since it's birth in January 2010. And since that time, not only have I fallen in love with blogging, I've also learned a lot about writing fiction.



Here are six things blogging taught me about writing fiction:


1. How to be disciplined in writing.

For a rather blurry period of my life, I actually had two blogs going. I posted on my author blog five days a week and Go Teen Writers two days a week. I had to find content, I had to write the article. I had to edit the article.

While some days this felt like no big deal, other days I struggled. Big time. And I quickly learned to override my inner artist who said, "I don't feel like doing this."

And while most of the time I really feel like working on my book, sometimes my mind wanders to other fun things. Like that new book idea I hadso shiny and perfectand I have to push myself to stay focused.

2. Don't underestimate the importance of passion.

My author blog never took off. I had some dedicated readers (several of them were even non-family members) but my passion for what I wrote about was tepid at best. I didn't realize just how lukewarm I was until the idea for creating Go Teen Writers zapped me one night as I did dishes.

The timing was ridiculousI had a two year old, a baby on the way, and I would be releasing two books that yearbut I had to do it. There was something in me that said Go Teen Writers was a part of what I was meant to do. So I jumped in.

Passion is vital to our fiction. Ever had a book idea that you just can't shake? (If you haven't yet, don't worry. It'll come.) One that felt bigger, more important, more weighty than all previous ideas? As fun as novel writing can feel, creating a book that others want to read is no easy task. The deeply rooted passion for an idea helps us push through the dark days of writing, editing, and getting a book published.

3. Passion doesn't guarantee success.

So I created Go Teen Writers, and then ... it sat there. I blogged faithfully, I wrote what I thought were pretty good articles, and still most days it was just me and Roseanna—who was fulfilling her duties as the supportive best friendchit-chatting in the comments.

That went on for a year before I made some changes that finally helped the blog gain some momentum. Even with all my passion, it still took patience, creativity, and hard work before I saw much pay off.

This is true for our stories. Me, Just Different? That book idea haunted me. Skylar and Connor were the type of characters who followed me around. Even when I didn't want them to, when I wanted them to just go away so I didn't have to fix the problems that I knew the book had. But my passion for that book was so strong, I couldn't let it rest.

And you know what happened to it? In the eyes of the industry, that book is a failure. Inconsequential. A burden attached to my name when publishers consider publishing anything new of mine. I was passionate, and I worked hard to perfect and market it, and still it failed in the marketplace.

If I don't say this next part, my husband will give me an earful tonight for talking down on myself and the book. Do I wish the Skylar books would have sold more? Absolutely. But there was still fruit that came from them. Girls who wrote to me that said it changed their lives, or that it changed their friend's life, or it helped them through their parents's divorce. To me, the failure sales-wise of the book doesn't eclipse the quiet successes it saw.

4. How to write with an audience in mind.

I think Go Teen Writers has seen success because we know who our target audience is, and we keep them in the forefront of our mind at all times.

Fiction writers grumble about being asked to declare a target audience. They want everyonemale and female, young and oldto read their book and love it. They don't want to limit themselves.

But writing with an audience in mind is actually very freeing. I try to hold one person in my mind when I'm writing and write to them. That means I don't have to think about my grandmother or my hairdresser or my neighbor. Writing to a target audience, and to one person who personifies that audience, frees me from caring about what the others will think of it.

5. How to build a brand.

You probably wouldn't like it very much if you showed up today and found that I was blogging about dress patterns or taking my daughter to the zoo. Even if I had posted something somewhat related but still out of character, like a book review, you'd likely be thinking, "What's going on?" And how many times would that have to happen before you stopped visiting Go Teen Writers? If you're like me, I would guess only two or three times at the most.

And yet I have so many conversations with writers trying to convince them that it's not in their best interest to write a contemporary romance book and follow it up with a young adult horror novel. I know the artist in us doesn't like these kinds of restrictions, but just like you don't want to come here and find anecdotes about my trip to Costco, I don't want to learn that in the next Veronica Mars book, Veronica gives up being a P.I. and becomes an astronaut instead.

Building an author brand used to feel very scary to me, but blogging has helped me figure out that my brand is just the promises I make to my readers.

6. This writing thing is better with friends.

Ever since a high school critique experience that apparently scarred me much more deeply than I originally realized, sharing my writing with others has been a challenge for me. I didn't even look for writing friends until I was in my twenties because I didn't want them.

But the truth is, writing is better with others. I cannot imagine what Go Teen Writers would look like if Jill hadn't decided to join me over here. Or if Shannon hadn't felt a tug in her heart to mentor teen writers. Or if writers like Roseanna White, Gillian Bronte Adams, and the other awesome guests we have didn't agree to share their wisdom with us. Having other voicesvoices who share the Go Teen Writers commitment to honesty and encouragementhas only enriched our community.

And I've found that's true in my fiction too. By letting the writers who know me and my writing goals into the early stages of my books, my stories have grown in depth and truth. And when I'm having one of those low days, it means I have others around me who can say, "Remember why you wanted to write this book? Remember what you said when we were brainstorming?" That kind of support and encouragement has made me grateful for every risk I took to be vulnerable about my writing.

What's something about writing fiction that you've learned from an unlikely place?

25 comments:

  1. Thank you for this, Mrs. Morrill! I've been wanting to start a blog for some time now, and this list reminds me of things I need to be thinking about before I begin--target audience, what I have a passion for, etc. Thanks again!

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    1. Definitely think those through ahead of time, Linea! Good luck!

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  2. These points are all SO TRUE. Thanks for another brilliant post!

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  3. Scarring writing group? That happened to me, too, with the same result. D : Great post!

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    1. Ugh, I'm sorry to hear that, Allison :( The good thing is that I can point to ways that, in time, the bad experience made me a stronger writer. I hope you'll find the same is true for you.

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  4. Great post! Thank you, Mrs. Morrill!

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  5. Thank you for such a brilliant post Mrs. Morrill. i just want to let you know, if you had never started Go Teen Writers I probably wouldn't be a writer today. So thank you with all my heart. :)

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    1. That's so nice to hear, Brooke. Thank you! I'm glad you've found it to be a helpful place.

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  6. I know this has nothing to do with the post..but I had a question about writing.. :) I am in the process of writing a novella/novel for Camp NaNo and so far, have around 20,000 words on my WIP. I was wondering, when do you indent? I've seen people do it in many different ways, but was quite unsure myself. I see people indent when using dialogue, or a new sentence but I was unsure when it was actually needed. Also, is there an actual definition for a "novel" of how many words there should be? Thank you so much!
    ~Sarah Margaret♥

    trustinginthelorddaybyday.blogspot.com

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    1. Congratulations on how far you've gotten, Sarah! That's great!

      Anytime you start a new paragraph, you want to indent. You can set it up to do this automatically in Word, which is what publishers prefer. And you would start a new paragraph with each new block of dialogue as well as other times.

      Jill made a video about formatting a fiction manuscript that you might find helpful: http://goteenwriters.blogspot.com/2012/10/how-to-format-fiction-manuscript.html

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    2. Oh okay, thanks so much! That video helped a lot! It's one subject I've always been unsure about--it seems lots of writers have their own way of doing it..thank again!

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  7. I'm a blogger, and I have learned so much about writing from blogging. One of the best things I've learned is to let go of my perfectionism in writing. Even though there is always a time for editing, when I write a blog post, I can't spend forever trying to perfect it because there's an audience waiting. Besides, that audience doesn't expect perfection. It's also helped me be more consistent with my writing. I need to write blog posts regularly, and that's encouraged me to work on my fiction writing regularly. Oh, and community is a huge thing too. Without the encouragement of my fellow writers, I would not be an aspiring novelist that is actually writing novels; instead, I would be an aspiring novelist just thinking about writing. I've also met a bunch of potential critique partners-except first I have to ask my parents about it. *sighs nervously* That's the next hurdle.

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    1. Ash here.
      I see what you say. I am on border line of thinking about writing and actually writing. I don't have a blog, but I want one. I just don't think my parents will let me. Hmm.... Who knows? A community of writers is like a pack were you can trust almost all the members. That's why writing blogs are so great!
      Also, kind of off topic but still on, I checked out your blog and thought is was pretty good. I really want to check out more of your book reviews! ;)

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    2. Ana, that's a great point. Blogging certainly teaches you to get something as good as you can get it, and then to let it go.

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  8. I have been blogging for about 9 months now and it has been so helpful! It has opened up a whole community of writers. It definitely helps me to write for an audience. And I get super excited every time someone follows my blog. (Especially since I don't have a ton of followers like some do.) :)

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    1. New followers are VERY exciting, Alea. I totally get that!

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  9. Awesome post! Im going to turn tje question around a little :) for the longest time i thought i was supposed to be a writer. I clung to the idea and maybe too tightly. I struggled with mt writing but i did it, i didnt always feel passion.
    Then i started painting and found an exploding passion. The desire go do something whether people are enjoying it or not. Id love to be an artist and that career is equally as hard to break into and hard to succeed at as writing. The path may be even more organic. But as i let my mond wander in dreams i see how much learning about the writibg industry can aid in the art industry. Obvioisly creating and brainstorming but studying the market, what has worked for masters artists, branding, blogging, and social media ALL apply!!
    Now i cant say im perfect at blogging But ive been working towards improving it and even tossing around the idea of combining short stories and my art... i havent figured it put yet but we'll see...kind of like composting a book idea :)

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    1. That's awesome, Tonya. I'm so glad to hear you're doing well :)

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  10. Thank you for this post! Go Teen Writers has helped me so much. I think if I get a book published I'll need to put you and Jill and Shannon in the acknowledgements. :D

    As for advice from unlikely places... My grandparents gave a home to a puppy with a rough past and unfortunately some rougher people skills as well. It really bothered my grandma how much difficulty he had when joggers passed them on their walks, how much he barked and reacted. She kept hoping he'd "mellow out", and she didn't like the idea of using equipment to train him . But one day with the help of my aunt she realized it was time to stop waiting for the perfectly well-behaved and well-adjusted dog she wished he already was and start working with the dog she had. Because he really is quite a lovely fellow, once he gets used to you.

    Which pretty much sums up the lesson I've had to learn recently, in fiction and in life. I won't get far with writing a real book if I'm stuck obsessing over writing a perfect one, and I won't get far with growth if I don't accept my need for grace.

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    1. We would be honored to show up in your acknowledgements, Miri :)

      And what a great lesson. You're right. Very applicable to both writing and life. Thank you for sharing that!

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  11. These are some brilliant points! Four and five especially are good for me. See, I have a blog, but I never took much time to think about audience and brand, mostly because I didn't really understand what "brand" meant or how to write with an audience in mind. This really opened my eyes, helped me to grasp those concepts, so I'll definitely apply what you said here to my blog. Thanks for this!
    Also, I just wanted to say that I loved Skylar's books (and Abby's for that matter)! After reading Me, Just Different, I practically begged my mom to buy the next two, lol. Even if they never took off in the marketplace, those books touched my life, and I'm so glad you wrote them. :D


    Alexa
    thessalexa.blogspot.com

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    1. You're so sweet, Alexa. Thank you :)

      Blogging is definitely its own form of art. I'm glad to hear this post was helpful for you!

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  12. I was surprised to realize how much I learned about fiction writing from the interesting situation of writing for an online student newspaper for the virtual school I was a part of for several years. I learned about deadlines, cooperativeness, how to keep going when things were rough, how to work to come up with ideas, and many other smaller things that all apply to fiction writing.

    Other than that, I've learned so many principles from various places that apply to numerous things in life--whether writing or otherwise. :)

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