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 had—so shiny and perfect—and 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 ridiculous—I had a two year old, a baby on the way, and I would be releasing two books that year—but 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 friend—chit-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 everyone—male and female, young and old—to 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 voices—voices who share the Go Teen Writers commitment to honesty and encouragement—has 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?