Monday, November 30, 2015

Writing The Climax of the Story: Your Character's Final Test

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.)

Your character has come a long way since the beginning of the story. He has lost things he didn't know he could survive losing. He has done things he never thought he would do. People around him have disappointed him, scared him, and surprised him. And now his story—at least this part of it—is coming to a close. 

In my last few posts, I've talked about several types of plot points that can create a satisfying conclusion. We talked about your character having a black moment or a dark night of the soul, when they feel all is lost. When this moment is done well, your character should be so low that another character needs to help them see their way out of their despair.

Then we talked about how your character needs to act on what they learn. Some teachers call this the "crazy plan" element of the last act. Your character's changed perspective leads them to make a plan.

But something about the plan goes awry, and that leads to your character's final test. This plot point is frequently referred to as "the final battle." A literal final battle works great in a Star Wars movie or The Lord of the Rings, but if you're writing a contemporary young adult story or a historical romance, then what? That's why I find the phrase "final test" to be a more helpful way to think of the climax. 

I try to do two things with my character's final test:

1. I want to show readers that my character has really, truly changed. That the journey I took my character on was worth it because they will now struggle through this test and come out on the other side a victor. (And "victory" doesn't necessarily—maybe, even, shouldn't—mean living "happily ever after," exactly how they always imagined it would be.) 

2. I want to bend or twist the plot in a way that surprises my readers.

Let's go through some examples of final tests from several very different types of stories. I've picked stories that have been out for a while, but if you don't want to know the ending of Frozen, The Hunger Games, or Pride and Prejudice then you can just skip those sections.


You could pick from any number of Disney movies, but since we've been using Frozen as an example these last few posts, let's keep going with that. 

Anna's crazy plan was to go out into the cold and find Kristoff because she thinks if she kisses him, it'll save her, but she sees Hans is about to kill Elsa (this is her Oh, Snap moment). It's impossible for her to get to Kristoff and save her sister, so Anna makes the decision to save her sister. 

This is a great final test for Anna because last time when she had the choice of her sister or The Guy, she chose The Guy and it turned out badly. This time she chooses her sister, even though it means sacrificing her own life. Then for the element of surprise—Anna's sacrifice is an act of true love and by choosing it, she saves herself from dying of a frozen heart.

The Hunger Games

Katniss and Peeta have a literal final battle and wind up the remaining two tributes in the games. Because they're from the same district, they've been led to believe that they can both win. Then the Game Master announces the rule has been revoked and there can only be one victor.

Katniss could kill Peeta and win, and she once believed she would do whatever it cost to get out alive. Instead, Katniss gets creative—if they both eat poisonous berries, they'll both die, and the capital won't have a winner. She thinks the Game Master will stop them, but she can't know for sure, and her willingness to sacrifice herself rather than kill Peeta shows growth.

Pride and Prejudice

In a romance genre, our climactic scene is when the hero and heroine are finally able to be together. This is sometimes done by getting another obstacle character out of the way. (In Eleanor and Park, Eleanor's step-father gets in the way. In Anna and The French Kiss, we need to get rid of that guy's girlfriend.)

In Pride and Prejudice, Lady Catherine de Bourgh represents everything that separates Lizzy and Mr. Darcy from being together. She is Mr. Darcy's proud and prejudiced aunt, and if Lizzy and Darcy stand a chance of being happy together, the reader needs to know that she can be overcome. When Lady Catherine drops in on Lizzy to try and scare her away from a match with Mr. Darcy, Lizzy is both strong and respectful in the face of it all. After that, we can relax that Lizzy and Mr. Darcy will live happily ever after.

If you're writing a realistic book about everyday sorts of people—no magic, no berries, and the romance isn't the main story linewhat should your final test look like? 

A story like this, where the focus is the main character's growth, needs a conclusion that showcases how much the character has grown.

In my Ellie Sweet books, Ellie struggles with friendships. Instead of finding ways to work through conflict, she has almost always opted to find ways to cope rather than resolve any problems. I wanted the final test to show Ellie had learned she needed to work through issues with people instead of just holing up by her lonesome and getting snarky.

So Ellie makes a difficult phone call to confront a friend and mentor, but it doesn't go well and she falls into her All Is Lost moment. Her dad rouses her to action with fatherly advice, and Ellie tries again to resolve several broken relationships, this time with great success.

I'm not trying to hold up my book and say "Hey, I did this perfectly." Rather, I want it to be clear that books don't always need the main character to save the world for the end to feel satisfying.

Does your character's final test show how they've changed? Does it have an element of surprise to it? 

Also, today is the last day of NaNoWriMo! If you've wonor if you've done more than you normally would because you participatedlet us know in the comments because we'd love to celebrate that with you!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving!

Jill here. Go Teen Writers is taking  a break for Thanksgiving weekend. For those of you doing NaNo, our thoughts are with you. Keep at it! You can do it.

And for those who aren't doing NaNo, we hope you get some fun family time, a nice dinner, and maybe some writing time too.

See you back here on Monday!

Monday, November 23, 2015

How To Set Up Your Character's Final Test

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.


It feels like I've been gone a very long time, but that's probably because I've spent a lot more time awake these last 6 weeks than I typically do, thanks to this guy:

(If you're thinking, "Hey, lady, spare me the baby pictures and just talk about writing already," feel free to scroll to where it says, "How To Set Up Your Character's Final Test.")

Eli in a rare moment of being awake and not having his brother and sister crawling all over him.

Eli is doing great, and we're having an awesome time with him. He's not one of those magical "slept through the night at 4 weeks old" or "happy and content all the time" kind of babies, but we think he's pretty special.

Eli awarded his first smile to Connor, but fortunately I was there too and had my phone handy!
It hasn't been a particularly restful maternity leave. The Royals being in the postseason and winning the World Series led to lots of late nights and craziness under my roof. Including my husband and I dragging Eli to his first game when he was 6 days old.

Also, Pioneer Woman was in town, and I refused to miss that, even if Eli was only 3 weeks old. The event was sold out and insane and wonderful.

Mom, Pioneer Woman (if you squint, you can see her signing books behind us) and me

I also had lots of phone calls/texts/emails with my agent over some VERY EXCITING NEWS that I want to talk about SO BADLY, but I'm telling myself that I'm a professional and need to be patient for official documents to be processed. I did, however, allow myself to celebrate with my favorite ice cream. And a baby who didn't think he should have to sleep just because it was bed time.

Okay, I got all the Eli talk out of my system. On to writing!

(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.)

When I last blogged, I talked about creating an "all is lost" moment for your story. As a quick refresher, sometime close to the end of your book, it's smart to have a moment when things look impossibly bad and your main character gives up on ever getting through this thing. A few of the examples I used were Frozen where Anna learns Hans's true motives or Charlie Brown Christmas where Charlie brings in his tree and everyone laughs at him.

This moment is almost always followed by another character stepping in to help. I've always called this the the cavalry moment (though it was pointed out to me by several that I actually called it the Calvary moment in several older postswhoops!) because it's a moment when someone swoops in and rescues your character from their emotional pit. In Frozen, Olaf steps in and teaches Anna what true love is, and in Charlie Brown Christmas, Linus gives his famous speech about the true meaning of Christmas.

Could you have your character rescue themselves from their All Is Lost moment? While your main character certainly needs inner strength for us to have followed them this far, if your character can get themselves out of the All Is Lost moment without help, I would question if you've made the moment strong enough.

The cavalry moment often leads to your character forming a plan. Depending on the type of story you're telling, this part of the plot might take multiple chapters or it might be just a scene or two. Boiled down, it looks like this:

Because of what I learned, I will now...
Followed by:
Oh, snap! That didn't go like I thought it would.

Let's break those down and look at them individually:

Because of what I learned, I will now...

One of the reasons I find it impossibly hard to write out of order is that moments build on other moments. It's hard for me to logically think about my character's current emotions if I haven't let myself experience their emotions in the previous scene. If you don't build the emotions logically, the end of your book will lack oomph. (To use the technical term—ha!)

Your character should have learned something in the rescue from the All is Lost moment and from it, they should form their course of action.

Let's look at our examples once again. In Frozen, Olaf has made Anna see that Kristoff truly loves her. Even though Anna needs to stay warm, she forms a radical plan to leave the safety of the room and go into the snow storm to find Kristoff so she can hopefully kiss him before freezing to death.

In Charlie Brown Christmas, Charlie has learned the true meaning of Christmas from Linus and makes a bold move. He takes his shrimpy little tree and leaves the auditorium. He intends to decorating it and show everyone that even though his tree doesn't fit "the modern holiday spirit," it still has value.

Oh, snap! That didn't go like I thought it would.

This moment could also be described as the set up for your character's final test.

We want Anna and Kristoff to live happily ever after. We want Charlie to march off with his little tree and feel content with a quieter kind of Christmas. But if the stories ended like that, it would feel a bit thin, wouldn't it?

We need to see the main character tested one last time, and the Oh, Snap! moment is the set-up for that opportunity.

In Frozen, Anna is trying to find Kristoff and is unable to. But when the storm suddenly stops, she spots him. Hoorayvictory is in sight! But then the Oh, Snap moment happens. She sees Elsa on the ground and Hans raising his sword. Anna is thisclose to kissing Kristoff and saving herself from freezing to death, but she realizes there isn't time to save herself and her sister.

In Charlie Brown Christmas, Charlie finds Snoopy's doghouse has won first prize in the Lights and Display contest. But he reminds himself of the true meaning of Christmas and vows that he isn't going to let silly things like this ruin his holiday. He takes an ornament off of Snoopy's doghouse and hangs it on the tree. It immediately buckles under the weight. "Oh!" Charlie groans. "Everything I touch gets ruined."

Often, Oh, Snap is the moment I leave out in my first draft, and it isn't until my second draft that I figure out why my ending isn't working well. So if you feel like the end of your story lacks something and you can't put your finger on it, this is a good thing to check for.

Do you have a moment like this toward the end of your book? If so, we'd love to hear it!

Friday, November 20, 2015

A little inspiration from Walt Disney

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.

Hello from Disneyland, everyone! I thought it would be incredibly cool to plop down at a table on Main Street, whip out my laptop, and actually blog from the storytelling capital of the world, but alas! Disneyland does not provide WiFi!

It does, however, provide endless moments of inspiration. 

So, from the bed in my hotel room, I give you this quote by Walt Disney.

"Disneyland will never be completed. It will continue to grow as long as there is imagination left in the world."

Such a fabulous quote, right? And one that holds a rather special place in Disney's current fireworks show. I heard the words for, perhaps, the millionth time tonight and it dawned on me that they carry more meaning than I had initially given them credit for. 

Clearly, the Disney folks can and will continue to add on to their theme parks. They're not short on imagination and they have perfected the practice of bringing in top notch thinkers whose sole purpose is to IMAGINE. 

But the past few days have taught me to think a little deeper about Walt Disney's words. 

My daughter, Jazlyn, is seven and she's been to Disneyland several times. As you can imagine, it's quite the experience for her. All princesses and fairies, fireworks and parades. And we've lucked out because she really likes rides as well. Even the big ones. Even the ones that scare her. 

Except . . .

This year, I'm not entirely sure what's happened. Some form of common sense must have kicked in and she realizes, now, that she's not immortal. And that awareness has made her a little skittish. Rides that she's ridden oodles of time have suddenly become terrifying. Teary-eyed terrifying.  

When she started weeping--seriously weeping--at the idea of climbing onto Grizzly River Run, we got to work concocting an origin story. That's right. An origin story. Jazlyn and I talked our way through the fictional scenario that led to our NEED to climb into a gigantic inner tube and float down some moderately frightening rapids. It went a little something like this:

The gigantic wooden bear at the front of the ride looks nice and friendly, right? HOWEVER, if you do not keep him full of salmon, he turns exceptionally vicious. Mickey Mouse asked Jaz and me to see that the bear got fed. BUT! While we were heading off to snag a few fish, a group of BAD GUYS stole our fishing rods and flung them into the river. We were left with absolutely NO CHOICE but to go in after them. I mean, if we couldn't find our rods, we couldn't feed the bear. And if we couldn't feed the bear, he just might eat all of Disneyland. And we could not let that happen.

Silly, yes? But it worked. Jaz climbed onto the ride and then, it became a thing. We brainstormed our fictional origin stories for The Tower of Terror and Splash Mountain and California Screamin' and, even though she wasn't afraid of it, we have a great little backstory concocted for Thunder Mountain Railroad as well. She was having so much fun making up stories, the fear got shoved aside and she was able to enjoy the ride with the rest of the family.

Disneyland is, in huge part, full of experiences that take you inside the imaginations of others. But, as storytellers, we're fooling ourselves if we think our readers can entirely divest themselves of all their baggage when they dive into our tales. We can make them forget for a while, sure, but the best stories, I think, acknowledge that readers bring their own lives to the page. 

Every reader has a history, adventures that have brought him or her to our fiction. And that means magic happens every single time a reader opens the cover of a book. 

Because none of our origin stories are the same. We each bring our own imagination, our own fears, our own hang-ups and hardships to the things we read. The story will not, cannot, touch every reader identically. Our experiences our unique. 

So, while Jazlyn and I may ride Grizzly River Run so that we can find our fishing poles, feed the bear, and save Disneyland, YOU undoubtedly will experience those rapids in an entirely different way. 

And that's not just the magic of Walt Disney. That's the magic inherent in every imagination.

Jazlyn's imagination, her childhood fears and the stories that helped her overcome them, became a part of Disneyland this week. And I think Walt would be proud. I think he knew something every storyteller would do well to remember.

Stories help us conquer our fears. It's never "just a book." If it's a good one, if it's doing its job, it's much, much more.

Tell me, how has fiction helped you conquer your fears? If you're not sure it has, think on it some. I bet stories have moved you more than you know.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015


Nadine Brandes learned to write her alphabet with a fountain pen. In Kindergarten. Cool, huh? Maybe that's what started her love for writing. She started journaling at age nine and thus began her habit of communicating via pen and paper more than spoken words. She never decided to become a writer. Her brain simply classified it as a necessity to life.

Nadine is a stay-at-home author and writes stories about authentic faith, bold living, and worlds soaked in imagination. She lives in Idaho with her husband and works as a freelance editor. When she's not writing, editing, or taste-testing a new chai, she is out pursuing adventures. A Time to Die was her first novel, A Time to Speak, her second. Visit Nadine at

It’s easy to get in a writing rut.

I’m not talking about voice or plot or writer’s block, or getting stuck in flat characters. I’m talking about how you write your manuscript. I’m guessing that 99% of us write it on our computers. We type our stories. Why? Because it’s faster, because it’s harder to misplace a computer than it is to lose a notebook, and because … word counts, duh! That beautiful little word count button is our best friend (or sometimes worst enemy … like during NaNo.) ;-)

But have you ever thought about the different formats in which we could write a book? And how that might change how we write it? I’ve given this a lot of thought and, coming January 1st, I’ll be writing my next book … by hand.

I know. I’m crazy. But let me explain.

Writing by hand causes me to:
·         Write slower and really think through a scene. Every sentence is more intentional.
·         Sit in a different posture. Instead of looking straight at the story on my computer screen, I’m looking down at the paper. Even that change in posture can affect the way you think. Just think about where you direct your gaze during the every-day. When I’m thinking hard, I look up. When I’m brainstorming, I’ll look sideways. Etc. The very posture of your body can stimulate a different way of thinking.
·         Experience writing in a new way. We all find the stories of Josephine March poring over her stacks of paper in Little Women or Beatrix Potter from the movie Miss Potter or Anne writing her first book for Gilbert in Anne of Avonlea (movie) ROMANTIC. (Don’t deny it. And, if you don’t know any of these stories, go watch ALL THOSE MOVIES RIGHT NOW. This blog post will wait for you. ;) ) Why do we find it so romantic or nostalgic or appealing? Write a book by hand and see for yourself.

Complaint: But…but…hand cramps!
Answer: Take breaks! Or use a fountain pen. ;-)

Complaint: But…but…word counts!
Answer: Count up the number of words on about 3 pages, then add and divide by 3 to get an average. Voila, you can now get a good estimate of your word count. Besides, you’ll be typing up the completed draft on the computer at some point anyway.

What prompted me to go insane and commit to writing a book by hand? I started studying “the greats.” You know – the old people who wrote old books and got fantasy and sci fi onto the shelves (I’m talking C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien.) I loved exploring their writing habits and I started to wonder what we might have lost when computers came into the picture.

Then this thought struck me: I hate reading books on my computer screen. It feels impersonal. I use my Kindle only when I have to. So, if I don’t like reading books in an electronic format, why would I want to write one in an electronic format? It’s a huge difference. The same difference between holding a paperback versus holding a Nook in your hands.

We all have a preference. Why is that? I mean, the story’s the same, but the way we perceive the story is different. How can we capture and explore that beauty in our writing? It’s an adventure – one that’s sitting there and waiting for anyone who wants to write.

Let’s step forward and journey together. J

I’ve started a list of all the different ways I want to write a book. And I will be committing to this:

1. By hand – I’ll be doing this with a fountain pen since that’s what I learned to write with.

2. On a typewriter (my husband bought me one from 1936 – isn’t he the best?! – but you can probably borrow one or maybe even rent one from somewhere, or even find a cheapy in an old antique or thrift store.)

3. Outside (yes, even in winter.) – I want to write the entire story in the outdoors, surrounded by living sounds, scents, seasons…etc.

4. While traveling. Seriously – on a train, in a car, on a plane, on a boat. The whole book must be written in movement.

The world is your toolbox, writer. Just think of all the tools you haven’t tested yet—posture, location, writing tool (pen vs. pencil vs typewriter vs. wax tablet vs. quill.) Don’t you want to explore this world of writing?

I know I do.

So here’s my challenge to you: Try a different style of writing for a day. Or even for an hour. If you’re brave enough, commit to a different one each week and see which one fits you the best.

Then tell me about it. We’re adventurers at heart. Let’s be adventurers in action, too. Our stories (and readers) will thank us for it.

What do you think of this idea of exploring different writing styles? Insane? Awesome? Weird?

Jill here! What an intriguing idea, Nadine. I'm curious to hear how your writing goes. I've always brainstormed in notebooks, but I've never written a book that way.

To thank Nadine for coming on the blog, we're giving away a paperback copy of either A Time to Die (Book one) OR A Time to Speak (Book two), whichever the winner chooses. I loved both of these books and am anxiously waiting for book three! Here's a little more about book one, and you can enter on the Rafflecopter form below.

How would you live if you knew the day you'd die? 

Parvin Blackwater believes she has wasted her life. At only seventeen, she has one year left according to the Clock by her bedside. In a last-ditch effort to make a difference, she tries to rescue Radicals from the government’s crooked justice system. 

But when the authorities find out about her illegal activity, they cast her through the Wall -- her people's death sentence. What she finds on the other side about the world, about eternity, and about herself changes Parvin forever and might just save her people. But her clock is running out.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, November 16, 2015

​3 Tricks to Motivated Writing​ Sessions

Rachelle Rea plots her novels while driving around the little town she’s lived in all her life in her dream car, a pick-up truck. As a freelance editor, she enjoys mentoring fellow authors in the craft. A homeschool graduate and retired gymnast, she wrote the Sound of Silver the summer after her junior year of college.

Relentless rains caused flooding to sweep through my state, wreaking havoc. As if the water had a mind of its own, it worked to flood roads, causing closures across multiple counties. Some roads even washed away! And I couldn't help but wonder, if water could seem so determined, as if destruction were its very purpose, what would happen to my writing if I wrote with such resolve?

Below are three tricks that I've found infuse a little motivation into my writing time and elevate my word count!

#1 Time Your Writing Sessions

This year, I acquired my first smartphone. Want to know what one of my new favorite apps is? Wordly. (Wordly is not paying me to write this post, I promise.)

In the Wordly app, I press Start when I begin writing and Stop when I finish. Simple enough, right? At the end of my writing time, I can log that I wrote 500 words in 13 minutes! This often motivates me to put in another 13 minutes or so, just to be able to say I wrote 1,000 words. If you don't like Wordly, of course, a simple kitchen timer will do. Race yourself! Better yet, race a writer friend and challenge yourself to see who can write the most, the fastest, or the longest.

#2 Keep a Log

Alas, most of 2015 swept by before I started keeping accurate records of my writing time. Oh, I did get a lot of writing done! In fact, this year I released my debut novel--and its sequel. (The third book in the series is due to release in February.) So I know I wrote this year; after all, I have two books to prove it! I revised, edited, and proofread each of them multiple times. But I kinda wish I knew how much I had written on how many days, y'know? That kind of productivity log always motivates me.

Wordly keeps track of my writing sessions for me in a simple, clear format (warning: only one project can be logged in the free version, but you can export your log, delete the project, and begin a new one with each new book). Before this app, I tried Excel spreadsheets, but I detest Excel. Maybe you are an Excel genius and that's the perfect place to record your time/wordcount. I've also tried a simple Word document where I kept the date and wordcount in columns; that worked when I was writing the series that is making me a published author.

#3 Change It Up

As only writers know, writing can be lonely, hard work. Don't be afraid to grab a writer friend or several (perhaps someone you meet in the Go Teen Writers Community group) and make a game of your writing session. Or challenge yourself to write exactly 1,777 words in your Revolutionary War novel. Or promise yourself a Chick fil a Frosted Lemonade if you write every day two weeks in a row! (I highly recommend this option.)

Whatever works for you, here are multiple ways to motivate your writing times. If one trick feels like a pain, toss that idea--writing is painful enough sometimes when you're crying over a character dying or staring at a blinking cursor. And be sure to share in the comments below what helps motivate you while writing!

Friday, November 13, 2015

A Writer on Vacation

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.

My family and I are getting all packed up for Disneyland. We leave soon and I'm over the moon excited. We've had a sort of bizarre year--fires and bears and new jobs and pneumonia and broken cars and new cars--and we're really looking forward to getting away and just spending time together.

I know, I know. It's National Novel Writing Month. How can a novelist vacation during National Novel Writing Month? I think playwright Eugene Ionesco said it best.

This quote will be particularly true for me this time around because I'm so deeply entrenched in my current story (and right on schedule, thank you very much). These days I have trouble not thinking about my writing when I'm doing the simplest things and it's all sorts of exhausting. I'm hoping the magic of Disney will be like pixie dust to my tired wings.

So, while I'm off thinking about writing, I thought I'd give you all an assignment in the form of a prompt. Consider it a warm up for today's NaNo writing session.

You know the drill. I'll start you off and then you give me four or five sentences to follow. Keep your responses appropriate and leave them in the comments section. Be sure to come back throughout the weekend to encourage your friends.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

HOW DO YOU FIND THE TIME TO WRITE? - A Guest Post By R.J. Anderson

R.J. (Rebecca) Anderson is the author of nine published fantasy and science fiction novels for older children and teens. Her books include the award winning, UK-bestselling Knife (and its sequel Rebel, now reprinted in the US by Enclave Books), and the Andre Norton Award-shortlisted Ultraviolet. Her newest book is a magical mystery called A Pocket Full of Murder (Simon & Schuster, Sept. 2015). Find out more at

Maybe you're doing NaNo right now, and struggling to meet your daily wordcount. Maybe you've been hoping to finish that novel you started a few months ago, but can't seem to get ahead. School, work, hobbies, friends – they all keep you so busy and leave you so tired, you wonder how “real” writers do it.

I know the feeling. I'm a mother of three young boys (two in music lessons), a caregiver to my two elderly parents, a volunteer at my local church, and I'm not a fast writer by any means – in fact, my top speed on a good day is somewhere between 400 and 500 words an hour. Yet I've just turned my ninth full-length novel to my editor, because I've learned a few things about time management and productivity along the way.

Set Your Priorities

Do I want to check my e-mail, find out what my friends have posted on Tumblr, and catch up on the latest episode of Doctor Who or Agents of SHIELD? Absolutely. But I've learned that if I want to get any writing done, TV and social media have to get in line. It's tempting to do the “fun stuff” first and write later, but if I give in to the siren call of Twitter or Netflix I can lose half a day or more and end up with nothing to show for it.

Are you serious about finishing that novel or short story? Make it your priority, and work on it for at least an hour every day before you allow yourself to look at anything else. If you can't resist checking your Facebook messages or looking up “just one thing” on YouTube, use a program like Freedom to lock you out of the internet until your writing session is done.

Start as You Mean to Go On

I am not a morning person, so for years I assumed that writing first thing in the morning was a bad idea. But lately I've discovered that getting up and writing for an hour before breakfast – indeed before I dress or shower or do anything much at all – is one of the best decisions I've ever made as a writer. That fuzzy state of mind actually makes me less uptight and more creative, and with an hour of good work under my belt I'm energized and excited to do more when I get the chance. It's worth trying, if you're not getting up at 6 a.m. already (ugh, 6 a.m. Whose idea was that?). And if you've got a full-time job or a busy school schedule, you can head off to it knowing you've already done some good writing that day.

Take a Break, But Make it a Real One

When I've got a deadline and an editor waiting for my latest draft, it's easy to feel like I have to write every spare moment or I'll never make it, and that stepping away from my laptop is somehow cheating – or worse, slacking off. But I've realized that after an hour or so of writing, my mental batteries get drained. If I don't take a break and do something else for a bit, it's easy to get stuck, become hyper-critical of my prose, or fall into any number of other mental traps that will actually hurt my writing and make me less productive in the end.

Going for a short walk, making myself a cup of tea or a sandwich, folding laundry for fifteen minutes or so – all of these things help recharge my mental batteries and give me a fresh perspective to bring to my next writing session. If I try to push straight through, I end up tired and resentful, feeling like I'm chained to my computer and often frustrated with my lack of results.

So set a timer for 45-60 minutes (or as little as 20, if you're having trouble getting started – this is known as the Pomodoro Method), and when it goes off, get up and walk away. Don't use the time to browse the web or look at e-mail (you can do that later), because that's too similar to working in your word processor, and your eyes and body need a break too.

It may seem counter-intuitive to “waste” time that could be used for writing, but it's not a waste, it's an investment. I get way more words written now that I take a 15-30 minute break every hour or so than I ever did when I wrote straight through.

Don't Break The Chain

If writing consistently is your problem, and you tend to work in fits and starts when you'd really like to make it a daily habit, try printing out a calendar to help you get motivated – or even just use the calendar you already have, if it's somewhere you can easily see it. Set yourself a simple, easy to meet daily writing target – like one page, or 30 minutes, or whatever best suits you. When you've done your work for the day, mark an X on your calendar. See how many days you can go without breaking the chain – it's amazing how something so simple can be so motivational.

The Sticker Method

Speaking of calendars, I've often found it encouraging to reward myself with a pretty sticker when I've met my daily writing target (usually 1000 words or more – I use this when I've got a looming deadline, so I try to set a target that will challenge me a bit). I don't earn a sticker every day; sometimes it's only one or two a week. But it makes me feel happy to see all those butterflies or flowers or stars or whatever, and it encourages me to keep moving forward until the manuscript is done.

As Mabel Pines from Gravity Falls says, "Stickers have been the backbone of many great civilizations." Or at least they've helped many YA writers like myself, Victoria Schwab and Erin Bow get our novels written, and that's close enough.

The Bottom Line

Some of these tips may sound dreary at first – getting up early to write? Putting off TV and social media? But I've found that they've actually helped me feel less stressed and overwhelmed by the writing process, and more able to enjoy my downtime when I have it. 

Give them a try, and see if they don't help you, too.

Jill here! This is great advice, Rebecca. I know I need to remember to stay OFF of social media---and the Internet altogether! I also like the idea of working an hour early in the morning. I'll have to give that one a try.

To thank Rebecca for coming on the blog, we're giving away a paperback copy of Knife, the first book in her No Ordinary Fairy Tale series. I read this book back when it was published under the title Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter. It is a fabulous faery-meets-human tale, and Knife is a great character. Here's a little more about the book, and you can enter on the Rafflecopter form below.

Forget everything you think you know about faeries. . . Creatures full of magic and whimsy? Not in the Oakenwyld. Not anymore.
Long ago the faeries of the great Oak mysteriously lost their magic. Robbed of their powers, they have become selfish and dull-witted. Now their numbers are dwindling and their very survival is at stake.

Only one young faery--Knife--is determined to find out where her people's magic has gone and try to get it back. Unlike her sisters, Knife is fierce and independent. She's not afraid of anything--not the vicious crows, the strict Faery Queen, or the fascinating humans living nearby. But when Knife disobeys the Faery Queen and befriends a human named Paul, her quest becomes more dangerous than she ever anticipated...

Knife is a gripping tale of lost magic, high adventure, and surprising friendship in which the fate of an entire realm rests on the shoulders of one brave faery rebel.

Previously published in the US under the title Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Five Places Ideas Come From - A Guest Post From Angela Ruth Strong

Angela Ruth Strong didn't run her own businesses as a kid, but in 7th grade she did start a neighborhood newspaper. This childhood interest led to studying journalism at the University of Oregon and writing freelance for magazines like Hopscotch and Brio. To help other aspiring authors, Angela founded IDAhope Writers in Boise, where she lives with her husband and three children, who seem to love a good water fight even more than she does. She's won both Idaho Top Author and a Cascade Award for her Fun4Hire series. Find out more at

Get the Idea
by Angela Ruth Strong

I loved fourth grade. I started noticing boys. I started caring about what I wore. And I started reading novels.

I still love reading middle-grade novels. I love that at age ten, readers have all the fun of being a kid at the same time they have to learn to deal with the realities of growing up. As a writer who wants my work to be both light-hearted and life-changing, there’s no better age to write for.

In my Fun4Hire series, I got to tackle the huge subjects of peer pressure, sibling rivalry, entitlement issues, and relationships in the zaniest ways imaginable. This took looking back at my own childhood, surrounding myself with kids ages 8-12, and pretty much making a total fool of myself.

Once the ideas started flowing, I just had to put them together like puzzle pieces to make my stories both entertaining and influential. Let’s look at the five different places ideas can come from, and whether you write for middle-grades or not, these places can help you develop the puzzle pieces needed for the story you want to write.

1.) Words that excite.

The first book in my series is titled The Water Fight Professional. I had this title before I came up with any other part of my stories.

It all began at a church picnic when my son--who was a preschooler at the time--wanted to get involved in a water fight with the older kids. He didn’t know how to get involved, so I gave him a cup of water to dump on his dad. His dad saw him coming and offered him a dollar to dump the same cup on me. I got wet. Jordan got paid. And that night he fell asleep holding onto his dollar bill. I said to his dad, “Look what you created. He’s going to become a water fight professional.”

The words stuck with me. Wouldn’t leave me alone. And I had no choice but to write about a kid who made money by throwing water balloons at people. The Water Fight Professional first came out as a short story published in an anthology then got picked up by the New  York School Board to be published in over half a million tests. I couldn’t stop there. I had to make it a book.  And then a series.

And still, to this day, kids are coming up with more stories ideas based on this title. They want me to write stories about all kinds of silly professionals. Because, see, I wasn’t the only person excited by these words.

2.) Asking, “What if?”

My daughter recently took a creative writing class where the teacher said that most people get less creative as they mature. Caitlin proudly raised her hand and said, “Not my mom. She’s a writer, so she’s very, very immature.” I would have preferred it if she’d said I was very, very creative, but I’ll take what I can get. And yeah, I do still play the kinds of games ten-year-olds love. Games like Battleship and, more importantly, “What if…”

It’s a fun game. And all writers have to be able to play this to come up with ideas for their stories. Here’s a few of mine that were used to create the Fun4Hire series.

What if you accidentally shoved a pie in the school principal’s face on Pi Day?

What if you taught your sister how to pillow fight and all her friends wanted to hire you to teach them “da moves”?

What if your car slid off the road into a river on your way to your grandparents’ house for Christmas and all your Christmas gifts washed away?

You could play this game forever. And you should.

3.) Something that makes me laugh.

Some of my favorite memories of reading to my kids are the picture books that had us laughing so hard we cried. Officer Buckle and Gloria. The Dumb Bunnies. Scaredy Squirrel. These are the books that I loved reading over and over again. If a book makes me laugh, I remember it. So when writing, I like to stick in the stuff that’s made me laugh in real life.

Like the time my brother lost a bet and had to run through the snow in his boxers. Poor Joey Michaels. I made him lose a bet, too.

My crazy mailman who was always racing up and down the street and we never knew if we were going to get the right mail in our mailbox or not. Enter Parker, the surfer dude mailman who acts as Joey’s mentor and Christine’s crush.

The Banana Slug Club. My brother-in-law once licked a slug to be in this club. Apparently, if you lick a slug, your tongue goes numb. I never tried this, but I laughed at those who did. “Go lick a slug,” became a catch phrase in my book.

One of the best compliments I get is when parents email me to say they had to put the book down because they were all laughing so hard they couldn’t continue reading. Not everyone writes humor, but for those of you who do, I just want to encourage you with words by C.S. Lewis: “Joy is the serious business of heaven.” Keep writing the things that make you laugh.

Angela and her family.

4.) Experience.

I do a lot of research for my novels. For instance, did you know San Francisco once had a pillow fight so big that the city had to pay thousands of dollars to unclog feathers from the gutters? I didn’t experience that, but it’s my own experiences that inspire me to research such things.

Gymnastics. I used to coach preschool gymnastics. These kids didn’t do the kind of tricks that Joey Michaels learns to do. In fact, I often had conversations like this…

Me: Are you going to jump on the trampoline?

Student: No, I’m peeing my pants.

But, despite the messy moments, I loved what I did and worked that passion into the story. Besides gymnastics, I sent Joey white water rafting—a favorite Idaho pass time. I had him play water balloon volleyball—one of my favorite games from summer camp. I sent him joy riding in a golf cart—okay, I didn’t do that, but I had some friends who did.

My story is more real because I write about things I’ve actually done or seen. I can’t let my characters have all the fun you know.

Angela white water rafting.

5.) A dream or a wish.

I’m a dreamer. And not only because I often wake up saying random things like, “The ants died of fright.” (My kids still tease me about that one, and they’ve been known to secretly record me when I start talking about my dreams because they are so utterly looney.)

No, I also have dreams for my future. Some of them can’t possibly come true. Like I probably won’t ever get to be a competitor on the cooking channel. But my characters can. And do. I get to live out my dreams through them. Other dreams I got to live out through my characters include:

A surprise party with a cake as big as Joey.

Performing on stage at a theater.

Making a ton of money through YouTube videos.

If you want to do it all, writing in the job for you. Because the sky is the limit. Unless of course, you dream of writing sci-fi. Then you can travel beyond our solar system or even dream up new worlds like the one and only Jill Williamson.

Whatever genre you write, make sure it’s something you love. Me, I love how fourth-grade boys get my jokes. And I love that I get to share a little bit of that middle-grade magic with you.

You get the idea.

Jill here! To thank Angela for coming on the blog, we're giving away a paperback copy of The Waterfight Professional. I loved this book. It's very fun. Also, if you want to start reading it now, the kindle book is currently FREE! Click here to check it out. And enter on the Rafflecopter form below.

Here's a little bit about The Water Fight Professional.

I, Joey Michaels, am the Water Fight Professional. Basically this means that customers pay me to soak other people. But my super-competitive best friend is sucking all the fun out of summer. All because I made a secret bet with him. Winning the bet wouldn't be so hard if I didn't have the following three problems: 1) My dramatic mother who feels the need to schedule every moment of summer 2) A surfer-dude mailman who can't keep deliveries straight 3) The annoying neighbor girl who all my friends have a crush on If I lose ... ugh, I can't even tell you what I'd have to do. I'd rather lick a slug!