Monday, June 29, 2015

Tips for Writers Who Don't Work Well With Outlines

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 (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.

(This post is part of the Writing A Novel From Beginning to End series. You can find other posts from this series on the Looking For Something Specific? tab.)

Jill and I had an awesome time last week at the One Year Adventure Novel Summer Workshop in Olathe, Kansas.
I've adored this T-shirt for a few years, but this is the first time I was able to snag it in my size before they sold out.

The auditorium where we did a lot of our talks.

Jill, me, and the DeGisi sisters.

I chased Emily down for a picture since last year she had Jill sign one of my books using my head on a stick. (See last Monday's post for clarity.)

Catsi and me!

It's always so fun to be around young writers, who are so full of creativity and passion. I spent more time on stage than I was comfortable with (of course any stage time falls into that category for me), and I enjoyed interacting with the writers after my classes and during one-on-one mentoring appointments. It was fun to meet so many writers who I know from the Go Teen Writers community.

One of my favorite things about gatherings like this is learning about all the different ways writers go about writing their novels. The One Year Adventure Novel curriculum (which is designed to be used in a home school settings, but there are kids from public and private schools who do the course as well) is very structured. So structured, that I wonder how I would have done with it as a teen.

As a teenager and in my early twenties, I was a hardcore pantser. (Meaning I didn't outline my stories but instead just wrote it as it came to me.) I had tried plotting my stories a time or two, but inevitably I went a totally different direction than I had intended, so I stopped trying to figure out ahead of time how it was all going to work out.

If by nature you work best with no outline, there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. Sometimes as a pantser, I felt like I should have more of a plan if I wanted my book to be any good. That's really not true at all. So don't feel like you need to become more of an outliner if you want to write a well-thought out novel.

There are, however, some unique struggles to being a discovery writer. Here are some thoughts on how to deal with them:

Be ready for edits.

This is a huge one. When you discovery write, or write by the seat of your pants, your story tends to flow a very organic way. This is awesome. But it will often leave you with a meandering first draft with a variety of plot holes and aimless characters.

You will find sections that don't seem very well thought out (if you're like me, it's because they weren't!) or massive plot holes. Sometimes you'll find that characters are inconsistent from page to page because you hadn't figured them out until you finished the story. You also might come upon random tangents that never went anywhere and need to be cut.

Another thing to watch for is that your ending might be TOO much of a surprise. By which I mean, you didn't know what it would be, so you weren't able to lay the proper groundwork throughout the book to set up your awesome surprise.

Turning out a first draft that requires a lot of edits doesn't mean you did a bad job or that you needed to plan more. It only means that it's a first draft. They're supposed to be like that!

Beware of the never ending rewrite.

This was a huge struggle for me, particularly in my early days. I would write the first few chapters of a book, not quite knowing where the story would head. And then when I stalled out, instead of pushing forward I would instead rewrite the chapters I had already written, positive that I could make them "perfect" this time.

Don't let yourself fall into this pattern or you'll be stuck in a never ending rewrite. It's important to press on with the rest of the story.

Watch out for back story. 

Because I was discovering the back story of these characters as I wrote, it all worked its way into the narrative. But you really don't need that much, so keep an eye on that in edits. A character's background is a great thing for you to know as the writer, but a little goes a long way with the audience. Critique partners are great at noticing back story that goes on for a bit too long.

Wait ... it's missing something.

My discovery written novels have always been the ones where I have to go back and add an entire character or a story line. In a different blog post, I've talked about my process for adding a subplot or plot layer after a first draft is written.

Double check your calendar.

Another issue I always ran into with my discovery written novels was that the chronological order of my story was way off. Mostly because I just didn't want to take the time to think through what day of the week it now should be if it's "three days later." So it's a good idea to fill in a calendar of some sort when you're done with your first draft or as you write.

Understand story structure.

We naturally absorb story structure by reading and watching stories, but it's still a good idea to at least be aware of the basics. This way if something isn't working with your plot, you're better equipped to identify what you might be missing. I blew off story structure for a long time, and my stories suffered for it.

If you write without an outline (or even without much of an outline), I'd love to hear your thoughts on the process. What have you found works for you? Where do you struggle?

Monday, June 22, 2015

We're closed this week!

This week Jill and I have the privilege of teaching at the One Year Adventure Novel summer workshop in Olathe, Kansas.

Jill signs more than just books.

Last year I was gone. Not my best idea. Here "I" am signing a book.
With all the travel (for Jill, I'll be traveling all of 10 minutes each day) and class prep, we're taking the week away from the blog.

I'll be back next Monday talking about the ups and downs of writing by the seat of your pants (also known as "pantsers" or discovery writers) rather than using an outline. Happy writing!

Friday, June 19, 2015

The Writer's Legacy

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 love of all things literary. When she isn’t writing, she spends her days with her husband, Matt, imagining things unseen and chasing their two children around their home in Northern California. To connect with Shan, check out her website, FB, Twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest.

The word legacy isn't a word most of us think about on a daily basis. Writers are a little different in that regard. We think about these things more often. We want to leave something behind. We want to be remembered. We want to leave the world better than we found it. But even for the creative soul, legacy often floats on the edges of our day-to-day life. There but in a very ethereal, hard to touch kind of way.

Most of the time, we're just trying to get through the Friday before us. Survive our schedule. Mold life into something we can live with. Be productive. Be happy. Enjoy the journey. Maybe just get through the stack of homework languishing in our bags. 

But every now and then something happens and the word legacy feels closer than it did the day before. At least that's how it works with me.

This week one of my heroes passed away. I'd never met Elisabeth Elliot, but her life touched mine in a profound way. When I was a teenager--your age, probably--I read her book, Through Gates of Splendor. It's the true story of her experiences reaching out to the Auca Indians of Ecuador. Experiences that included the brutal death of her husband and four others. 

When I opened the book, I thought I knew what I was going to read. A true account, sure, but one that would inspire me to do as she had done. I so wanted to mirror her legacy.

But the pages of her writing brought me something else. They brought me reality. This woman's life was not easy. It wasn't some fairy tale experience in another country. It was bloody and lonely and full of the kind of sacrifice I can't even force myself to consider. And instead of being inspired to live like she did, I found myself honestly counting the cost of leaving behind such a legacy.

It was a surreal experience. But one that has never left me. And though my life has not taken me where hers took her, the journey she walked continues to inspire mine. Because even if I'll never be as brave as she was, I want to be. I want to live with that kind of passion. She and I have many, many differences, but we do have something in common. 

We're both writers. By my count, Elisabeth Elliot penned more than twenty books in her lifetime. Just this week I read that she toyed around with poetry as well. She was a writer, like you and me, but that's not what we remember most about her. We remember that she lived. She fought. She suffered. She inspired. She took very seriously the path that was laid before her. And because she did, her life left behind ripples that will continue into eternity.

That's what I want. I want to write stories. I want those to matter. But our legacies should be about more than what we put on the page. It should be about how we lived, who we touched. And when a person of such passion leaves this world, we're reminded that this life is a temporal one. If we live it the way it's meant to be lived, if we tackle the journey before us, maybe, just maybe, our lives will leave the kind of ripples Elisabeth Elliot's did.

Have you thought about your legacy? What is it you want to leave behind? 
Do you have any heroes who inspire you like Elisabeth inspires me?

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

An Interview with Jo Schaffer, coauthor of Against Her Will

by Jill Williamson

Today I'm interviewing an author I met at Teen Author Boot Camp. Go Teen Writers, I introduce to you J
o Schaffer.

Jo Schaffer was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area to a literary, intellectual mother and an artist, naturalist father. Her parents instilled in her a love of art, books, nature, people and philosophy. Jo wrote her first book when she was six and has written ever since. She is now a YA author, speaker, blogger, and a contributing writer on The Rogue at Jo studied Arts and British literature in London as well as Humanities and English in Utah. She is married to artist/filmmaker Clark Schaffer and has three sons. Her debut novel Against Her Will released from True North Publishing in March 2015. You can find her online at

Welcome to Go Teen Writers, Jo. Tell us about yourself and your book Against Her Will.
I was born and raised in the California Bay Area into a huge, creative family. I’ve loved storytelling from the time I was little, filling notebooks and journals with all kinds of stories. I grew up reading a lot. A lot.

I also love good food, martial arts (I have my black belt in taekwondo), traveling, old movies and dyeing my hair weird colors. I have three creative, handsome sons and my husband works in the film industry so it can be quite an adventure.

I’m a founding member of Writers Cubed and co-founder of the Teen Author Boot Camp, one of the largest conferences in the nation for teens. It is so fun working with teens and meeting a lot of great authors who come to participate.

Against Her Will is about teens in a psych ward battling their inner demons. It explores how the decisions of others can and do affect us, but in the end our own choices weigh in powerfully.

The main characters have all experienced different forms of bullying. Cassidy, from a wealthy home, has parents who have no time to show her love. Their primary concern is that she upholds the proper image. Her parents manipulate and shame her until she acts out and makes a string of bad decisions. Rather than trying to understand or support Cassidy, her parents have her locked up. Tony comes from serious domestic violence which has left him feeling powerless so he turns to pyromania to feel in control. Gina is a defiant trouble maker who becomes a bully herself after enduring a childhood in the foster care system. Erin, the anorexic, was horribly bullied and humiliated by peers from school and controlled by her perfectionist mother. And Julia is an endangered child, exposed to drugs and prostitution because of her mother’s lifestyle. They all play off one another within the walls of Oak Dale where unfortunately, some things only get worse.

Can you tell us about your journey to publication? 
I have been writing for so many years. There have been ups and downs and will continue to be. So I just keep writing. Being a part of a writing group has really helped me become a better writer and has kept me encouraged through a lot of rejection and struggle.

Against Her Will was the fifth novel I wrote and was sold by my second agent. I am currently on my third agent, so the journey continues.

How many books did you write before your first book was published? 
I had written four, and since AHW, I have written another book that is currently being shopped.

Your book, Against Her Will, sounds powerful. Where did you come up with that idea? 
My co-author, Serita Stevens, had the concept, based on her experiences as a nurse in a psych ward for teens. I have always had an interest in psychology and have worked with teens quite a bit, so it was a subject that I was comfortable writing.

Although the topics in the book are heavy and sometimes devastating, it was important to me to infuse the book with hope for those who struggle.

You wrote Against Her Will with a coauthor. Could you tell us about how that happened and what it was like? 
Serita and I had the same agent. She had other projects and deadlines going on and had not written YA before so we were put together. It was an interesting process, and a first for me, to further develop somebody else’s concept and flesh out the characters and help to create a plot that worked in their ideas while also contributing my own and putting it all together as a cohesive storyline. It was a lot of work in a limited amount of time, but it took on a life of its own as I immersed myself in the characters. I had Serita’s real life experiences to draw from. I learned a lot in the process.

Many of our teen authors are trying to write books with friends. Do you have any tips for them? 
Write with somebody you are compatible with and decide ahead of time who does what. Have a great outline and lots of open communication. Be organized and make goals and deadlines that are reasonable for you both. Be honest but respectful in your feedback, and be open to each other’s ideas.
 Check your ego at the door and “play” together in the world you are creating.

What advice would you give teen writers?
Have fun writing! Learn all you can about the tools of how to write well and to reach your audience. Write about things that matter to you and never stop working on your craft. Don’t worry about reviews or what people will say—you can’t please all readers and everyone is a critic! Don’t even worry about if you will ever get published. Just write for the love of it and pursue publishing if that is what you want—there are so many options for getting your stories to readers now. Most writers will never achieve fame or fortune. Do it because you love it.

Is Against Her Will a stand-alone novel or is there a book two? 
Against Her Will is a stand-alone novel, although Serita may one day decide to add to that on her own.

What's next for you?
I have four other novels I have written myself that I am getting ready for submissions.

My new agent is currently shopping a YA book I co-wrote with friend and author, Jonathan Ryan. It’s a possible five book series about teens during the Great Depression. The boy, Stanley, is a newsie from the streets, and Hazel is from a wealthy family. They meet and sparks fly.

One night Hazel runs away only to find she is not equipped to deal with the world outside her rich neighborhood and luckily runs into a handsome street boy who offers to walk her home safely. They stumble across a murder that they decide to solve together and they begin to uncover some pretty scary corruption in their city. This has been a blast to write, with all of the fun 1930s slang and the interesting culture of the time. It’s already generating interest so hopefully you’ll hear more soon!

That sound great, Jo. Thanks so much for talking with us today! 

To thank Jo for coming, we're giving away a copy of Against Her Will. 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 Jo below.

Monday, June 15, 2015

What’s the best way to plot a novel?

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 (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.

(This post is part of the Writing A Novel From Beginning to End series. You can find other posts from this series on the Looking For Something Specific? tab.)

What’s the best way to plot a novel? The quick answer is that there isn’t ONE best way, despite all those book titles declaring that they reveal the secrets to book plotting perfection. As I've talked about before, I spent a lot of time trying to find The Perfect System before deciding that not only does it not exist, but even if it did, it might do more harm to my stories than good to think I'd discovered it.

But I do believe there's great value in honing your personal way of doing things. A good place to start is by taking a quick inventory of who you are, what your time is like, and what kind of story you're writing:

1. Consider your natural bent.

Even before we've read a single craft book or blog post about writing, we tend to come to the page a certain way.

Some like to think the story through and have every scene figured out before they put pen to page. Others prefer bullet points, or to figure out just a few key scenes that will take place in the story. Still others are discovery writers, or “pantsers” who just want to get to the good stuff and sort it out later. (We’ll address tips for discovery writers June 29th. The blog will be closed next week because Jill and I are teaching at a summer workshop.)

Of course we'll evolve and grow as we write, but as a pantser who tried desperately hard to become a hardcore plotter, I can tell you from experience that you're fooling yourself if you try to completely stifle the way you naturally approach telling a story.

2. What season of life are you in?

This plays a bigger role in how we get stories written than I once gave it credit for. In high school, I rarely plotted a thing because between school, homework, and a social life, I never really blocked off regular time to write. Sometimes I wrote for thirty minutes during Geometry, other times I wrote for hours at night or on a slow weekend. But it was sporadic, so I didn't feel like plotting and planning. I just wanted to write.

After I was married but before McKenna arrived on the scene, I was lucky enough to write full time. I wrote thousands of words everyday—still without planning a thing—and then took my time during revisions.

Fast forward a few years to when I have multiple children, a house in the suburbs, and contracts with deadlines. I quickly learned that pantsing my novels was going to make me crazy. (Or, rather, the rewrites they involved and the fear of "is this story going to come together in time???" would make me crazy.) 

Not only that, but as a published writer, I could sell books based on proposal (three chapters and a 2-3 page outline of the story) instead of writing the whole thing. In my life situation and with the current expectations of the industry, I needed to learn how to write with an outline.

So don't be shocked if as life moves on, your style of  getting a novel written changes.

3. What kind of story is this?

I feel different stories have different needs. If we run with Stephen King's belief that stories are found objects, like fossils in the ground the writer is trying to carefully extract, then it's been my experience that some fossils come out with less resistance than others.

For many of us—dare I say most of us?—we build our own hybrid method that’s part planning and part writing by the seat of our pants. The balance of these elements depends on the three points above.

My writer's heart rebels against the method of figuring out every scene before I start writing, but if you think you might be that type of writer, Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake Method is fascinating. Even if you’re NOT that type of writer, you might find—as I did—that you pick up a thing or two from experimenting with it. I also really like how Rachel Aaron lays out her process in 2k to 10k: Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More of What You Love. The structure would make me crazy, but for some I think it could work great. (I consider that book one of the best craft books I've ever bought, but there's a bit of language.)

But I have found several ways of plotting that helps with the intensity of my edits and doesn't make the pantser in me throw a fit. (As a note, I've learned that I have to write a chapter or two before I can think through the rest of the story very effectively. So that step comes before I do any of these.)

Plotting using a key scenes list:

This is where you take a list of scenes that commonly appear in modern story structure and apply your story to it. I’ve blogged about this before, so you can learn more about it here.

With this method, I like that I can be confident the story structure is there. Also, I haven’t invested a ton of time, so I can change things on the fly without feeling like I’ve just wasted days of planning.

Plus lists make my heart happy.

What I don't like is that sometimes this method can feel like a checklist, and the draft lacks an element of surprise. Probably since I knew exactly where everything was going to lead. So this always has to be fixed in edits.

Plotting with a written-out description:

After I finished my first historical suspense novel and turned it into my agent, I had an idea for a second book.

Just like with the first, I printed out my key scenes list and thought I would bang out the plot over the next few days. Only I couldn’t seem to get my thoughts organized enough to list them out. Instead, I wanted to write out a description of the story details.

So that’s what I did. It's about ten pages long and describes the story from start to finish. Well, finish-ish. Endings never come easily to me.

What I don’t like about this method is that it's harder to see at a glance. Also, it's a lot more time consuming. But if a publisher asks for a detailed synopsis, I have it ready!

Pantsing the first half and plotting the rest:

The book I’m currently working on was one of those where I knew how I wanted it to start … and then not much else. I tried the list. I tried the written out description, but neither clicked.

So I kept plugging away at scenes, thinking eventually I would find my groove and figure out the rest of the story. Which I did (I think, anyway). But not until I hit 30,000 words.

The bummer is I can already tell I have a decent amount of rewrites waiting for me in the first part of the book. But I also feel like the rambling, wandering chapters helped me unearth the story I really wanted to tell.

Who knows how I’ll write a book next time, but that's part of the fun!

What ways have you tried? How did they work for you?

Friday, June 12, 2015

My First Edits

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 love of all things literary. When she isn’t writing, she spends her days with her husband, Matt, imagining things unseen and chasing their two children around their home in Northern California. To connect with Shan, check out her website, FB, Twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest.

Do you remember the first time you were edited?

I do.

I was young. Second or third grade, maybe. We were at church (so all you writers brainstorming during the sermon, take heart, you're in good company) and it was one of those especially long services. Something was different. A guest preacher, maybe? I don't know, but things weren't trucking along like I thought they should. I decided to break things up a bit with a trip to the ladies room. 

And that's when it happened. I'm sitting on the pot, kicking my Saltwater Sandals back and forth, and WHAM! Inspiration in the form of the toilet paper dispenser. (Eyes open, friends. Ideas are everywhere.)

I hurried to my seat and grabbed the offering envelope tucked in the seat back in front of me, flipped it over, and started writing. It was a song. My very first. And I could just imagine my eight year old self singing it before the congregation. The song went something like this:

Roll Master
Roll into my heart

There were verses too, but I can't remember them now. I do remember being far too proud of myself when I passed the scribbled up offering envelope to my dad. He had one of those red Bible-marking pencils. You know, so he could underline verses without ink bleeding through the thin pages.

Anyway, he took that red pencil and he EDITED my song.

He edited ME.

I remember we were supposed to stand up then, so my dad pushed the envelope into my hands and smiled. He stood but I did not. I was too busy taking in the red slashes now skewering my words.

Roll Come Master Lord
Roll Come
Roll Come into my heart

Now, in all fairness to my dad, he was just helping. I don't think he ever put two and two together. He had no idea that my inspiration came from the toilet paper dispenser in the ladies. Nor did he care. He just knew that my words didn't make a whole lot of sense to him. His red marks made my song better and, as my de facto editor, that was his job. 

I never did stand up and sing my song to anyone, but I did learn not to hand my work out willy-nilly. If you do that, you just might get more feedback than you're ready for.

Roseanna's post the other day on How to Love an Editor's Suggestions was right on. Being edited can be a terrifying, devastating experience, but it doesn't have to be. In fact, the very purpose of editing is to prevent you from putting out anything less than your best.

I was at a disadvantage there on that blue pew; I had no idea I was about to be edited. But you, you'll know. When the time is right, you'll hand off your work to someone you trust--work that probably wasn't inspired by a toilet paper dispenser--and you'll remember that there is no malice involved. You'll remember that this person, this editor, just wants to help.

And you'll be excited. Know why? Cause not everyone makes it to edits. Not everyone has a story to offer an editor. When you get there, celebrate. And when you get your skewered words back, take a deep breath and dive in.

You're a writer. 

And this is what writers do.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

How to Love an Editor's Suggestions

Roseanna M. White pens her novels beneath her Betsy Ross flag, with her Jane Austen action figure watching over her. When not writing fiction, she’s homeschooling her two children, editing and designing, and pretending her house will clean itself. The Lost Heiress is Roseanna’s tenth published book. Her novels range from biblical fiction to American-set romances to her new British series. She lives with her family in West Virginia. Learn more at


If you ask a group of 10 published authors how they feel about getting that first round of edits from their editor, you're probably going to get 10 different answers. Some love it, some hate it...and everyone has different reasons for doing so.

As an editor, I've always worked with gracious authors who say they love the editorial process. But I've seen quite a spectrum on that "love" side of things...and suspected a few times that they were slightly exaggerating their fondness for the process, LOL, given their resistance to suggestions.

As a writer, I used to grit my teeth at any form of criticism, constructive or otherwise. But as I gradually got myself over that in my years before publication, I came to appreciate the challenge of a rewrite. And more, I came to really love the process of revising a book with an editor, and I think there are a few reasons and ways that I've come to that place--ways that you can be training yourself for well before you're under contract!

Last September I had the joy of sitting down with my editor from Bethany House at a writers conference. I had just turned in revisions for my first Bethany House book, The Lost Heiress, and Charlene asked me how they went. I very enthusiastically responded, "Oh, I had so much fun with them!"

She looked at me like I was a wackidoodle and laughed. "That's a first," she told me. "None of my authors have ever claimed they were fun."

But they were fun--and here's why.

I believe it was Jill who talked a while back about using this sort of trick in brainstorming. When you're stuck, ask yourself what would happen if something totally off-the-wall happened to your characters. What if their dog ran away right now? What if someone died? What if the villain just popped in for tea?

It's a game I have always played with my characters, but not in quite that way. I often know exactly where and how a story's going to go. But in those minutes before I fall asleep or while I'm doing dishes, I often say, "Okay, how could I get them to that same end point but by a totally different path?"

This often looks like:

  • What if they met two years earlier/later than they did?
  • What if that guy never died?
  • What if she had given in to the villain's demands right there?
  • What if she had joined the Ballet Russe?
  • What if she'd believed him?
  • What if he never found that book?

These are very particular questions that would have led my story in totally different directions...but I'm not asking them because I don't know where I want to go next. I'm asking them because I firmly believe there are many ways to end up at the same place...but we'll arrive as different people.

When I got my first macro-edit from Bethany House, my editor began by saying, "You could change nothing, and it would be fine. We love the book. But we think it can be even better. Here are some of our ideas for how."

They were compiled from 3 different readers, and they didn't always (or often, LOL) agree. But they asked questions like, "What if the hero and heroine moved through this part at different paces? What if she didn't have those dreams? What if we didn't know that character was a villain?"

These questions were exactly the kind I asked myself when I was bored. They wouldn't change the outcome of the story--but they would change bits and pieces of the journey, and in so doing the character-arc.

I think I would have resisted these changes a lot more if I felt married to my plot. But instead, it was like a game. If you move piece B and switch around piece C, how can we still get from A to D?

And what's more--because I had played this game on my own so often, I was quick to come up with new ideas. My editor sent me 7 pages of notes at noon. We had a phone call scheduled for 1. In that hour, I read through the notes, took notes on the notes, and had ideas ready for 75% of their suggestions. How? Because I had practiced brainstorming so very often.

But it also helps to remember that editors rarely expect you take ALL of their suggestions. Especially when you can't make some if you make others. Editors often offer various ways to solve what they see as problems, and you get to make the choice on which ones to utilize. When you're sorting through edits, it's good to take notes on what accepting suggestions would mean for other suggestions or for your existing plot. Every editing decision has ramifications, and you need to make sure you understand the full extent of them. Otherwise you end up with one of those books that leave readers scratching their heads, going, "Wait, why is that such a big deal?? The reaction doesn't seem to fit the action."

A final tip: remember that editors want your book to be wildly successful, and they have more experience than you do. They know what readers want and expect. They have actual sales data at their fingertips. When they say, "Our readers won't like this," trust them. They know. And they want your book to be a bestseller. They want it to get critical acclaim. They're not trying to change it just for kicks...they're trying to turn it into a product that will reach the masses in the most effective way possible.

But also keep reminding yourself that changing your original plot doesn't make the story less yours. If anything, being able to change certain things and still keep the heart of a story intact makes it more yours. It challenges you to explore your characters and plot more deeply, more thoroughly, and to develop them into even better characters than they were at the start.

Monday, June 8, 2015

The Go Teen Writers Summer Writing Challenge and a Giveaway

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 (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.

While I'm a big fan of goals, in the last few years I've become an even bigger fan of systems. For example, if your goal is to write a book this year, your system is how you plan to get it done. Maybe by getting up an hour before school or your summer job and using that time to write, or by not letting yourself go to bed until you've written 500 words for the day.

I had already been kicking around the idea of having some kind of summer writing challenge on the blog when I received an email from my friend Lydia Howe sharing some exciting news. (She'll talk about her good news in a momentI don't want to spoil it!)

Lydia had a goal. She wanted to get more serious about her writing. And she built a system that has worked remarkably well for her. To celebrate her accomplishments, she's generously giving away gift cards to three lucky commenters.

I'll let her talk about what she's been up to for the last few years, and then I'll be back at the end to share about the writing challenge we're having this summer:

Goals are important, especially when it comes to being an author. It seems like so much of what we do is done in the quietness of our bedrooms/offices/workplace without anyone hanging over our shoulder, prodding us along, and sometimes it’s hard to stay focused. 

Having accountability when working on a goal is important to me. Sometimes when I feel like procrastinating I’ll remind myself that my mom or sister or writing buddy will be asking me how it’s going and that’s normally enough to kick me into gear. 

In September of 2012 Stephanie hosted a challenge on Go Teen Writers to write a hundred words for a hundred days in a row. Since I’d been wanting to get into the habit of writing every day, I made it a goal to complete the challenge. It was a lot of fun having a whole group of people keeping each other accountable and by the time the challenge was over I had developed the habit of writing at least a 100 words on my WIP each day so it wasn’t too hard for me to keep going. 

Looking back I can see how much writing every day has helped me. Sure, not all those words make it to the second draft of my book; in fact there have been times that I’ve thrown the words away as soon as I write them. But taking the time each day to remind myself that I’m a writer and to spend several minutes working on improving my craft is priceless. 

Here are some of the things I do to help ensure I accomplish my writing goals: 
  • I have an alarm on my phone that goes off each night reminding me to write if I haven’t already. 
  • I turn off my internet and silence my phone so I can spend dedicated periods of time on my writing. 
  • I remind myself why I’m writing and that other writers have gone through the same issues that I’m going through. 
  • I take writing very seriously. 
  • I bribe myself and celebrate when I’ve completed a goal. 

Remember that your dreams are important and that you have a huge group of fellow writers here on GTWers who are cheering you on and ready to celebrate with you. This group really helped me get serious about my writing and we’d love to help you, too. 

And now to celebrate!

Yesterday was the 1,000th day in a row that I’ve written at least a 100 words on my WIP. 

1,000 days is a long time. Since I started writing every day I’ve gotten three books published, traveled to three continents, had three birthdays and welcomed four nieces and nephews to my family. I’ve hiked up mountains, gone snorkeling, slept in caves, and moved to a new house. No matter what was going on each day though, I made sure I wrote at least a 100 words. And I’m not sure if I would have ever done it without the help and support of Stephanie and all of you at GTWers. 

I would love to take y’all out for a milkshake to help me celebrate reaching my 1,000th day (that’s what my family did yesterday), but since I can’t do that, I figured I would host a giveaway for y’all! 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Stephanie here. I'm amazed at what Lydia has accomplished these last thousand days, and I'm also continually touched by her generous heart.

Writing 100 days everyday won't work for everyone, but here at Go Teen Writers we want to encourage you to think of something writing-related that you would like to finish this summer. So we're kicking off a writing challenge, and here's how it will work:

The Go Teen Writers Summer Challenge:

1. You think about something writing-related you want to accomplish between now and Monday, September 7th. (Which is Labor Day in America, and the unofficial end of summer. If it's not summer where you live, no biggie!) It can be a broad goal like, "I want to finish my first draft," or it can be a system like Lydia's, "I want to write 2,000 words every week." 

2. If you want, you fill out the form below to declare your goal. For some of us, it's helpful to write it down and share it with someone else. The form will be live for the next week, so you have until next Monday to determine your goal. 

3. If you like, and if you fill out the form, I email you a time or two over the summer to see how your goal is going. 

4. On September 7th, you tell us how you did. We celebrate with you and enter you to win some bookish, writerly prizes.