Friday, March 31, 2017

Editing: Lexi's Rules and Tools, a guest post by Lexi Nolletti

Happy Friday, everyone! Shannon here. Before we get to today's guest post, I need to take care of a bit of housekeeping.

Stephanie, Jill and I will be filming our next Go Teen Writers LIVE video panels soon and I wanted to share the names of those who were randomly selected to provide questions for the upcoming panels. We were able to contact two of you, but if you have not received an email from either Stephanie or me regarding this, please email me at admin @ We need to figure out a better way to locate winners. So hang in there with us as we navigate this hiccup.

The winners are:

KatyMarie Frost
Florid Sword

If you're new and would like more information on Go Teen Writers LIVE and how you can participate, click here.

NOW! It is my pleasure to introduce you all to Lexi Nolletti. She's sharing her editing process with us today and I hope you pick up a few tricks that will make your life a little easier. I love peeking into someone else's workplace. Don't you?

Lexi Nolletti has been writing for as long as she can remember and specializes in science fiction and fantasy. When not writing, she enjoys reading, competing with her school's Speech and Debate team, performing with the Drama Club, playing piano, violin, and singing.

Like most writers, I used to hate editing. No, I loathed it. I used to abandon stories I loved because I didn’t want to edit them.

But not anymore.

I’ve been writing seriously for about five years, but didn’t figure out how to efficiently and enjoyably edit until about two years ago. The moment I did, I began to produce stronger drafts faster than I ever would have imagined was possible.

Today, I’m going to walk you through my editing process and hopefully, inspire you to look at your own work a little more critically.

As much as I love to channel my inner Katniss Everdeen and pretend to be a rebel, I’m the kind of person who likes a little bit of structure. Guidelines, even. And unfortunately for me, there are no obvious guidelines when it comes to editing. So, I came up with some rules for myself.

Rule #1: Don’t make a single change until you’re done with an entire draft.

I do make an exception here and there, because I’m a perfectionist, so I let myself fix things like typos and grammar. But if I can’t fix something in a few keystrokes, I force myself to wait.

I’ve learned from experience that any solutions I come up with immediately aren’t as good as the changes I’d make if I waited a few days. I’m much more likely to come up with an effective solution I can be happy with (and save time) if I just wait.

I also like to take a break between drafts to get my mind off that story entirely. Again, my brain tends to come up with better ideas after it’s had some time to rest. Here’s an example: I’m currently pouring all my energy into polishing my science fiction novel 61210, but when I need to think about something else, I focus on my other WIP, a fantasy novel that is different in almost every way possible.

While taking breaks and thinking about other things is important to editing, it’s nowhere near as important as organization.

Rule #2: Do everything you can to stay organized.

I have a folder on my desktop labeled “Stories” and have a separate folder inside for every idea I’m serious about. Here’s my folder for 61210:

I keep all my brainstorming, outlines, random ideas related to this story, and any critiques I’ve received in this folder. I also keep all my old drafts here. I highlighted those so you could see them.
When an idea first comes to my mind, I plot most of the story, then write my first draft. After a few months, I read through it and rewrite my synopsis, including most changes I want to make to the plot and significant changes I want to make in the tone, mood, etc. (See where it says 61210 revisions?) Most writers call this the Macro Edit, because this is where we try to fix all the big problems.

After writing my second draft, I wait a while then read through that. While reading, I note every change, no matter how small, I want to make, using the comments tool. I write in Microsoft Word, but I know similar tools are available on Google Docs and Word for Mac. Sometimes, I write exactly what I want to change a particular word or phrase to. On other occasions, I’ll just rant about how I dislike something or put “Make this better!” in the comments. When I write my next draft, I copy and paste everything I like into a new document (and save the old one), then make the changes I mentioned in the comments.

Here’s an example from my second draft. This is one of those scenes that felt really witty when I first wrote it, but felt really stupid when I looked at it again while editing. Towards the bottom of the page, 61210 (my protagonist) is wondering if the code she has instead of a name has any meaning. Here were my initial thoughts while editing this draft:

I obviously didn’t accomplish much while editing this draft, but just like anything else your editing will get better with practice. The longer I used this process, the more critical I became of my own work. And that’s great! Once I hit my fourth or fifth draft, I was making five or six comments on every page. It became addicting. Granted, not all of these things were bad, they could just be better. And that’s exactly what editing is all about. Making the stories, or poems, or essays we already love, better.

Here’s another example, from my sixth draft. Notice how I’m more specific about the changes I wanted to make than I was while editing my second draft. This is what most writers call the Micro Edit, because this is when we fix all the teeny-tiny stuff. In this scene, 61210 and 23945 (my other main character) are hiding from my antagonist, Dr. Greg. 23945 is in his bed, pretending to be asleep; 61210 is under the mattress:

I can proudly say that this scene is a lot better than it used to be. But it wasn’t exactly easy to get there; which leads us to the final rule I adhere to when I write.

Rule #3: Don’t get discouraged.

I struggle with this a lot, especially when I’m reading a really good novel. I start to think that I’ll never be able to write something as inspiring or captivating as the book sitting on my nightstand. Or I think that I’ll never be able to fix that plot hole. I’ll never find the right words to express the things I want to express.

Sometimes, when I start to lose my motivation, I like to look back at an earlier draft of my manuscript and read through the section I’m working on. I usually cringe at my poor word choice, grammatical mistakes, and awkward phrasing. But then I look back at my current draft and realize that I managed to transform an odd arrangement of words into a story I’m proud of. Just like that, I’m back in the right mindset and can’t wait to make what I already have even better.

That’s probably the biggest reason why I keep all my old drafts. Sometimes I don’t like a change I’ve made and want to see what I did before, but most of the time I just love seeing how far I’ve come. 
So, the next time you finish a draft, take a break. Celebrate with a bowl of ice cream. Or three. Have a dance party. Work on that other idea you’ve been tossing around in your mind.

When you’re ready to start editing, set some rules for yourself. Try to eliminate distractions and don’t let yourself get discouraged. Find the editing tools in whatever program you write in, and get ready to make things better. If you get discouraged, look at how far you’ve come. Celebrate your successes, even the small ones. And never, ever give up.

How do you edit? Do you have rules for yourself when you write? Any successes you’d like to share? I’d love to celebrate them with you!

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Why Do You Write?

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 for WhiteFire Publishing, designing, and pretending her house will clean itself. Roseanna is the author of a slew of historical novels and novellas. Spies and war and mayhem always seem to make their way into her novels…to offset her real life, which is blessedly boring. You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram and through her website.


 A couple years ago, I was in Kansas City for a writing retreat with Stephanie, and whenever we had to drive somewhere, she played the audio of a class by the wise and amazingly talented Susan Meissner. The topic was on what kind of writer you are, or why you write. And though I often leave classes unsure what I've really taken away, this one has stuck with me. Because it asks a question I think every writer needs to answer.

Why do we write?

Ms. Meissner began her class with the proposition that there are 3 basic kinds of writers.
  • The Hobby Writer
  • The Career Writer
  • The Calling Writer

Now, the rest of her class focused on writing as a career, which is where I'll depart from her set-up--I'd like to explore all the options here with you guys. Because as you try to write and go to school, or choose your college major, or start out in the world of jobs and paying your own bills, this is something you're going to have to define. And possible redefine. And maybe then define yet again.

Let me say from the get-go that there's no right or wrong here. I will never say that in order to be a "real" writer, you have to be one or the other of these types. But if you understand the type you are, it'll help you prioritize and even understand the decisions you make a little better, so that you can make those decisions with confidence.

Writer Type #1 ~ The Hobby Writer

A hobby writer is someone who writes just for the fun of it. Oh, not to say it's always fun--it's still work, and you strive for excellence. But it's something you do in your spare time. If you don't have the time for a day or week or month or year, you don't really sweat it. You might be eager to get back to it, you'll find ways to put aside the time to do it, but you're not motivated by the effect your writing has on anyone else. You write for you. Because you enjoy it, and because it adds something to your life.

There are plenty of hobby writers who end up published. Sometimes that will gradually edge them into calling themselves a different type of writer, but not always. There will always be those who do it just for fun, but who end up pretty successful at it. Still, some will say that if it stops being fun, they'll just stop doing it. 

If you're a hobby writer, you might take a few creative writing classes along the way and get a kick out of it. Or you might pursue that other thing you're interested in mostly, and just spend some time writing when you can. Chances are, you're not going to make life decisions based on your love of writing, just like I don't make life decisions based on my new interest in knitting. It's fun, I might have seasons where I spend a lot of time on it, I might even utilize it for gifts or what have you. I'd miss it if I gave it up. But when someone asks me what I do, I never reply, "I'm a knitter." If you're a hobby writer, you'd never answer this question with, "I'm a novelist." That doesn't mean you don't take it seriously or want to learn all you can about it. I know some hobby writers who pursue writing with a desire for excellence and who have achieved it.

Writer Type #2 ~ The Career Writer

A career writer intends to make a living at writing. You handle your education and job searches accordingly. Whether you publish independently or through a traditional publisher, as a career writer you tend to weigh the time you put into a book against the return on that investment. Most career writers I know figure out how much they've made per hour put into a book and use that to determine (a) what they need to do to increase the ROI (return on investment) or (b) whether it's time to either supplement their income with some other job, or even leave writing to make more money elsewhere.

Now, a career writer can also take the form of something like journalism. I know quite a few career writers who have a day job at a newspaper or magazine or even, these days, blogging, and who write novels in addition to that. So how much time they spend on their novel writing [once they've achieved publication] will be largely determined by the percentage of their income it represents.

If you are, or intend to be, a career writer, you will make life decisions based on your writing goals, and your writing goals will in turn be determined by the practical side of things: money, time, advancement, awards, etc. Obviously you know you'll have to put some time in before you start earning money, like you do in any job training. But those end goals are always in your mind.

Now, there are some fortunate career writers out their who have the luxury of not needing a full-time job. So while they won't give up writing, most likely, because of a lack of money made from it, they may indeed make decisions about what they write based on what sells the best. I have a friend who weighed the money made from books sold to XYZ publisher against the money she made off a series she did independently in a different genre, and made her decision on which to pursue next based totally on that. If that sounds like something you'd do, you're most likely a career writer.

Writer Type #3 ~ The Calling Writer

Susan Meissner actually called this Writing as Ministry, which is the way I usually say it; but that does imply a faith-based motive, which can be, but is not always, the case with this type of writer, so I decided to go with "calling" here.

A calling writer might want to make a career of it, but they will continue pursuing it whether it actually ever earns money or not. If you write because of a calling, your decisions are based NOT on any return on investment or whether it's a sound career choice, but because you feel they must. If faith-based, it's because they feel God wants them to write a particular story or genre. If not faith-based, it's because they feel they have a message that the populace needs. A writer who claims writing is their calling might pursue it with the same single-mindedness that a career writer uses, but they will make their decisions based more on their readers than themselves.

I'm firmly in this category, so I can speak more knowledgeably about it than the others--that by no means indicates I think it's the "right" way or only way to be. It's simply how I am. I will write whether anyone will publish me or not. I will write the stories I feel weighing on my heart whether that genre is selling or not. I will give it the time it takes whether I have more pressing concerns in my life or not.

Those who write as a calling don't measure success the same way a career writer does, so their decision making isn't handled the same way either. Both groups will make life decisions based on their writing goals, but calling writers aren't usually as "practical" about it--it's about the reader more than it's about them.

There can definitely be some cross-over in these writer types; people who, for instance, feel a definite calling to writing, but who also weigh return on investment. Or perhaps people who just write for the fun of it, but who have discovered that they can write a particular genre, publish it, and make a nice supplemental income too, so it's an added bonus that determines what they write.

What's interesting, however, is how those writers who fall firmly into one category are often baffled by writers who fall firmly into another, and go so far as to say that, "Well any writer's who's doing it right will..." I've heard more than one discussion that started with that premise and soon dissolved into heated arguments with feelings hurt on both sides. Writers who view it as a calling sometimes can't comprehend why people make money-based decisions, and deem their motivations all wrong. Career writers sometimes think that if you're starting from a ministry or calling motivation, then you're trying to manipulate your readers and not delivering a good story because it's all about agenda. Judging another writer's motivation is a trap that will do nothing but harm your friendships with other writers. Any type of writer can achieve the same thing--minimizing someone else's motivations will only hurt you both.

On the flip side, different types of writers can learn so much from each other! My career writing friends often share the insights they've learned through their attention to business details which I do indeed take into account when marketing my stories--because the message I want to get out there won't get out there without some attention to that, right? And my perspective on using my stories to give rather than gain can often provide the emotional nourishment that they, in turn, need when sales aren't quite what they hoped.

So what type of writer do you tend toward being? Do you combine any of them? Does understanding your motivation help you at all when it comes to making decisions about your future?

Monday, March 27, 2017

How Do You Know When Your Book Is Done?

Stephanie Morrill is the creator of and the author of several young adult novels, including the historical mystery, The Lost Girl of Astor Street (Blink/HarperCollins). Despite loving cloche hats and drop-waist dresses, Stephanie would have been a terrible flapper because she can’t do the Charleston and looks awful with bobbed hair. She and her near-constant ponytail live in Kansas City with her husband and three kids. You can connect with her on FacebookTwitterPinterest, Instagram, and sign up for monthly updates on her author website.

"How do you know when your book is done?"

I get this question a lot when I have the privilege of talking to young writers at writing conferences or over email. I hate that I can't provide a, "If you've done A, B, and C, then your book is ready!" kind of answer.

Here's what I tell them:

1. It's a gut thing.

Similar to how you "knew" that was the right name for your main character, or the best last line for your book, "knowing" that your book is done is more of a feel. This is a piece of the process that's more intuitive than mathematical.

And sometimes my gut is more like, "I think my book is maybe done...?" rather than, "I'm SO ready! Let's do this!"

2. Process is important.

When you're a new writer, and you don't have a process yet, it's hard to follow the advice of "trust the process." Some writers are three draft writers and others are twelve; Until you've written and edited a few manuscripts, how can you know and trust what you're doing?

Every writer's process is a bit different, but generally speaking your book needs to go through several rounds of edits, several rounds of feedback, and several rounds of copy editing before it reads like a real book.

3. Let time be your tester.

If you have been writing stories for a few years or less, you are learning, growing, and changing crazy fast. Especially if you are a teen writer. If it takes you six months to write a first draft, you are likely a vastly different writer by the end of that process than you were at the beginning.

Seeing this kind of rapid growth is wonderful, but it's also a challenge when you're editing. Regarding their first novels, I frequently hear young writers say things like, "I may as well just scrap the whole beginning and rewrite it!"

And I understand, because I've been that writer!

I know we're an impatient people, and nobody likes to hear "give it time" as advice, but I strongly believe in its value to the creative process. That's why with every book, I give myself at least six weeks between the first draft and the second. I need that distance to be able to see the book clearly.

There's nothing wrong with putting your completed book aside for a month or two, and then reevaluating it's doneness. (Yeah, I know. Not a word.)

4. The only real way to know the book is done and readythat you are readyis to fling her out there and see what happens.

You know when I knew that I had become a good enough writer to be published? When an agent said to me, "You have a lovely writing voice!"

I thought, "I do? Yay, I'm finally here!"

Before she said that to me, I had no idea I had finally developed a writing voice. I just kept doing my best work, and then sending it out to agents and editors to see what they thought.

I know that's a scary way to find out if your book is good enough to catch a professional's eye. I wish you could just upload your Word Doc to a program and have it give you a red light or green light, but that's not a thing yet. (Surely someone is working on it...)

But I can't find a way around it: The only way to really know that your book is done and that you're ready is to have not-family, not-friend people read it and give you their opinion.

This doesn't mean that if one editor at one conference doesn't like it, you should scrap the book and rewrite it. Again, this goes back to point number one, that deciding your book is done is largely a gut thing. We'll talk more about receiving and incorporating feedback in the coming weeks as we transition into talking about publishing.

One last note: I picked the word "done" for this article because I heard a quote (I cannot figure out who said it, so if someone knows, please help me out) that "No book is ever finished, it's just done."

I've found that to be true in my own books, that I could nitpick them forever, and I imagine you'll find it to be true for your stories as well.

Have you finished a manuscript yet? (It's okay if you haven't!) If not, what's the farthest you've gotten?

Friday, March 24, 2017

Writing Exercise #7: Asking Why

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.

People are one of the best writing prompts out there. A day of people watching will give you endless story ideas if you're diligent to bring a pen and paper, and are willing to ask yourself, "Why? Why did they just do that?"

"Why is she wearing pipe cleaners on her head?"
"Why is his cat on a leash?"
"Why is that couple arguing?"
"Why is that kid's leg in a cast?"
"Why is she crying?"

But beyond the simplicity of people-watching, the individuals around you often prove to be puzzles that need a little solving. Have you ever had someone in your circle do something outrageous and you couldn't quite figure out why? Maybe it was just something small, inconsequential. And maybe it stuck with you because it seemed so out of character.

What about people who make news headlines? Have you ever wondered, "WHY? WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT?"

Sure you have. We all wonder. The people around us are often mysteries, but the truth is that most of the time, people act in a manner which makes absolute sense to them. Most people don't wander around doing random, aimless things. Actions, even ludicrous ones, are often nothing more than the next step on a road started some time back. Today, we're going to explore this a bit.

Here's what I want you to do:

Use your noggin and think back. Can you zero in on a moment where you were completely baffled by another person's actions? Think, think, think! Once you have the moment in your mind (and yes, it's okay to embellish it!), I want you to work backward and develop a list of plausible reasons for that person's action. Do me a favor and change the person's name, okay? We aren't trying to embarrass anyone. On the contrary, this exercise should show that there's often more to an action than we can can easily see.

Set it up like this:


Tom shows up to a wedding wearing smeared clown make-up, muddy boots, and carrying a wrench.

-He's a professional clown and was on his way to a gig when his car broke down. He walked a mile looking for help but the church was the only thing open on a Saturday.
-He's a debt collector for the mob. He was throwing his five-year-old daughter a birthday party when he got word that a sneaky debtor had returned to town for his sister's wedding.
-He's the groom and he's late. He fell asleep after a rowdy bachelor party and his best man took advantage--dressed him like a clown and super-glued the wrench to his hand before dumping him on a park bench to sleep it off.

Okay, my example is silly. But think you can do something similar? It takes a bit of brainpower, but it's good for you to consider the whys behind the curious actions you see out there.

Remember, when you participate in our exercises, you're automatically entered into a drawing where winners have the opportunity to submit a question for our next Go Teen Writers LIVE video panel. We'll have another one for you very soon. Details here.

Now do a little people watching and get to work!

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Intuitive Writer

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 for WhiteFire Publishing, designing, and pretending her house will clean itself. Roseanna is the author of a slew of historical novels and novellas. Spies and war and mayhem always seem to make their way into her novels…to offset her real life, which is blessedly boring. You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram and through her website.


Ready to talk about math?!

What? No, I’m on the right blog. I promise. And I shall prove to you in a few quick steps that you, you writer out there, may in fact be a mathematician. Ready? (Strap your seatbelt on if you feel the need. But I promise, this road won’t be too bumpy, LOL.)

I’m going to start us off with an intro to a truly awesome man named Blaise Pascal. No doubt you’ve heard of him. He was the “Heart has its reason that reason knows nothing of” dude. He was a brilliant man, expounding on math, physics, philosophy, and faith. I love his Pensees (translation: Thoughts), especially the ones dealing with faith. But it’s also worth reading his thoughts on subjects like math.

In one of these writings a bit too long for me to quote here, Pascal delves into two different kinds of minds—the mathematical mind and the intuitive mind. Here’s the skinny: the mathematical mind goes from step to step to step, making reasonable, logic leaps in a progressive fashion--you can in fact call it a "logical mind" if the word "mathetmatical" makes you break out in hives. ;-) The intuitive mind, on the other hand, sees the answer clearly without knowing the steps taken to get there.

So today, we're going to apply this to writing.

We all know that there are Pantsers and Plotters. And quite a few levels between. And we also all know there are methods galore on structuring your story, plotting your story, winging your story, building your characters, tormenting your characters (that’s totally a legitimate way of putting it, right?), and every other part of constructing a book. But I’m positing here that those methods are for the mathematical mind.

So what about the intuitive?

First, let’s determine if you might just be an intuitive writer. Here’s a little quiz to help you figure it out.

  1. What’s your favorite book on craft?
a. Bell’s Plot and Structure
b. Lamott’s Bird by Bird
c. Maass’s Writing the Breakout Novel
d. Craft book? Hmm, I have twenty of them, but I can never get all the way through one...

  1. Where do each of your Three Acts begin?
a. Chapters Four, Twelve, and Eighteen
b. Chapters Three, Ten, and Nineteen
c. Chapters Five, Fifteen, and Twenty-Five
d. My what now? You do know I’m writing a novel, right, and not a play?

  1. What’s the lie your character is telling herself?
a. That she is nothing special
b. That she cannot succeed without help
c. That if she tells the truth, he’ll kill her
d. Lie—wait, I know this one. It’, she...Stephanie! What’s the lie my character is telling herself??

Detecting the theme yet? ;-) If you’re an intuitive writer, you tend to see the story and, whether or not you plot or pants it while writing, have a hard time putting labels on the elements. Oh, you can usually identify climax, maybe a black moment, some of the big stuff. But all the little labels that spring up? You'd rather clean your room or empty the litter box or scrub the toilet than deal with those.

I’m here to tell you that that’s OKAY.

For years, I sat in classes at conference and read blog articles and thought, “Yes, of course, this is how we writers write. This is how we take it up a level or five. This is how we make sure our stories are solid and strong.” Then I’d take my notes, my newly-purchased book and workbook, I’d sit down in front of my WIP...and I’d go blank.

It was frustrating, because I knew my stories had these things. I knew my plots were balanced, that my characters were well developed. And when I emailed Stephanie (my critique partner) for her opinion on these aspects in my book, she could give me the answer in about ten seconds. Did Stephanie know my story better than me? No. Does she have a better grasp on writing? Sometimes I think so, LOL, but it’s not necessarily that. But what she does have is a mathematical mind.

(Insert Stephanie laughing hysterically, calling me all kinds of crazy...) ;-)

But seriously. There are those who know how to organize and label and progress from step to step to step. And there are those of us who just can't. It makes our minds go blank, our creativity dry up, and leaves us frustrated and doubting ourselves.

Now, Pascal himself advocates the perfectly balanced combination of these traits. To put it in terms of writing, it’s the person who can come up with a nearly complete idea and then go through and identify the important parts, tweaking where necessary to make sure each aspect is strong. Those craft books and seminars no doubt come in handy there, but it’s their instinct that helps them apply it wisely and creatively.

But most of us lean one way or the other. And there is advice aplenty for those who need the bullet points and diagrams. The other side is much quieter—and for good reason. How, exactly, does one teach a non-system?

Well, I don’t dare to say I can teach it to someone who isn't inclined that way, but I can give you intuitive writers out there a few pointers on how to strengthen your intuition and beef up that mathematical side too.

1. Give yourself permission to not be a labeler.

If you happen to have a great answer to the questions about lies and black moments and acts, great! Use them! Tack them to your wall and go with that. But if you don’t, don’t stress it, don’t fret over it, and don’t waste time that you could be writing trying to figure it out. If methods make your creativity dry up, then they're not serving their purpose, and you need to give yourself permission not to use them. The whole point of these things is to help you. If they're not, then don't feel bound to use them.

2. Learn to recognize the voice of your intuition.

If you’re going to go this route, then don’t slack at it. Does a sentence not sound right or feel right? Don’t be lazy. Fix it. Does one character bother you? Figure out why—and don’t be afraid to ask a critique partner for her opinion. Is a line of dialogue flat? Delete it, replace it. Does your ending feel weak? Rewrite it. Do you feel trapped in the character’s drawing room? Send them out on a mission. After manuscript revision after manuscript revision, I realized that I usually knew what was off long before my critters helped me label it. But I ignored it, and ended up with more work in the end. Once I learned to trust that voice, to know that voice, I eliminated a lot of correcting.

3. Know the Systems.

I’ve never studied the Snowflake or mapped out my Acts, I only made it through a few pages of the Breakout Novel Workbook. But I know the gist of them all, and keeping them in the back of my mind helps me to identify where my weaknesses are and some standard ways of strengthening them. I’ve even tried my hand at various methods of organizing. Index cards, color-coded charts, you name it. I never use one more than once, LOL, but trying them out has helped me in general. Not with labeling, but at least with organizing. ;-)

4. Don’t be afraid to twist the rules.

Sometimes my black moment becomes a bright moment. Sometimes my climax involves the character deciding not to act. Sometimes the lie they tell themselves turns out to be true. Sometimes rules have to be twisted--but first I have to know the rules, so the twist is deliberate and well planned. Never break rules just for the sake of it, but once you understand how they're supposed to serve your story, you can determine whether or not breaking them would serve it better.

5. Trust your instincts.

I wrote, oh, ten or so books before I joined a writers association and learned all the rules. And while I wish (oh, how I wish!) I’d known all these basics of POV and Show v. Tell from the get-go, I also appreciate the rules more because I can look back through my manuscripts and see how I evolved toward them on my own. The last book I wrote before learning about head-hopping didn’t, actually, head-hop. I occasionally shifted POVs when one character left a room without inserting a break, but the scenes themselves were within POV. Still, I needed the Rules to help me solidify those instincts, and to know which ones were right and which ones needed better hewn.

6. Don’t mistake pride for intuition.

My writing has always been and will always be more gut than structure. I do plot—but I don’t examine what part each scene plays. My plotting is more just taking notes on the story that has laid itself out in my mind. Still, I have to be careful not to confuse instinct with knowledge. Knowing how a story should go or a character should grow doesn’t mean I executed it right.

Which takes me back to math class. I drove my teachers nuts in middle and high school by not showing my work. I’d get the right answer, which I thought was all that mattered—but each and every one of them told me that wasn’t enough. Because then, when I was wrong, I had no idea where I’d gone wrong.

The same is true in writing fiction. Intuitive writers will often get it right—but when we don’t, how are supposed to fix it? That’s where we have to learn enough of the mathematical way to keep our instincts in shape. We have to be willing to grant our weaknesses and learn how to shore them up. We have to learn how to apply some of the structure so that we can be wise in what we ignore. ;-) And yes, it’s very, very helpful to have a critique partner who leans the other direction. That way she can help you label when labeling is required, and you can help her fill in the blanks when structure leaves a hole.

In the end, hopefully you’ll end up with a system that combines math and intuition...even if those craft books do gather dust on your shelf.

So which kind of writer are you? Intuitive or mathematical?

Monday, March 20, 2017

Writing Unplugged: Why it matters, and how to do it well

A junior in high school at seventeen, Grace spends a disproportionate amount of time writing. She has penned two novels, various poems, songs, and short stories, and several freelance articles. When she’s not in front of her laptop screen or talking with characters, Grace can usually be found with her flute, piccolo, ukulele, or piano, playing and composing music. She also enjoys reading, biking, swimming, learning Spanish, and eating Jolly Ranchers.

I’ll tell you a secret: while I love the idea of writing on a cool fall evening, pouring my heart out into the depths of a worn notebook, it’s not very realistic.

What would actually happen is I’d sit down with my laptop, begin fleshing out a story idea when OH! I need to research That Thing That Will Probably Only Make Up One Sentence In My Book right now!

So I’ll open a new tab, type in a Google search and be flooded with pages upon pages of information. While I’m wading through the dregs of the Internet, my phone will ding. I’ll pick it up and answer the text… and I might as well check Pinterest since I’m already on my phone.

An hour later (And still on Pinterest), Mom will call me to ask if I’ve loaded the dishwasher yet. I’ll get up and do it, grumpily, because Can’t she understand she interrupted my writing?

After that it will be time to eat dinner; I’ll look back on another afternoon wasted on technology when I could have been writing.

Now, don’t get me wrongtechnology is great. Honestly, I probably wouldn’t have passed AP Physics without videos from the Internet. However, just like almost everything, there is a time and a place for technology. As writers, it’s easy to feel like we are doing productive research when we are actually wasting time doing basically nothing.

But I’m not naive. While I would love to endorse pouring your heart out into the depths of a worn notebook, I know that for the majority of us it’s just not possible. Maybe some of you actually use a notebook to write, and if so, more power to you! However, I have over three hundred pages from novels and short stories in various states of completion, all on that wonderful application called Google Drive.

So for me, switching to writing solely in a notebook probably would be more trouble than it’s worth. Right now you’re wondering, “Then why is she blogging about writing unplugged?”

I’m not suggesting we all unplug completely from technology while we are writing. I just think that it would benefit a lot of us to find a healthy balance between technology and traditional pen-and-paper writing. And so y’all don’t have to figure it out on your own, this is how I have gone about doing that:

When it’s time to write, write.

I often find myself looking for distractions if I’m having trouble getting into the scene I’m writing.

I’m always tempted to find a new song to listen to every five minutes, which is a real time killer. Lately, I’ve started to either set up my own playlist of pre-chosen songs or find one song I really like and find a ten hour loop of it on YouTube (I would like to point out that I do not actually write for ten hours at a time - but with the ten hour loop I know I won’t have to go back and choose another song because I won’t be writing for ten hours, if that makes sense).

I also set my phone to “Do Not Disturb” so the tempting sound of a text alert doesn’t draw me into the internet like a siren song.

Save research for a designated time.

I don’t let myself research when I’m trying to write. The thing about research is that it is deceptively easy to feel productive and not actually get anything done.

To combat this, I sort of took the Go Teen Writers story workbook and ran with it; now I have a ‘to do’ list for things I have to research organized by topic, page number in my book, and specific questions I need answered. It is a godsend, and I really recommend it (I would also like to point out that I was not paid to endorse this blog but I’m going to anyway because it really is amazing).

If you don’t have a workbook set up, keep a notebook by your desk and write down things you are tempted to look up.

Write by hand

Next is where the "writing unplugged" part comes in. I think it’s really important for anyone who writes to use a pen and paper at least once a day (and no, your math homework doesn’t count). There have been a bunch of studies done about how writing by hand stimulates the brain and actually increases your creativity, which I’ll take when I can get.

Since I don't write my novel by hand, I:

Write a journal

It’s actually a fantastic way to improve your skills while getting away from technology. My little sister hated journalling until she started doing it in verse, so maybe that’s something y’all could try.

Keeping a journal is the best of both worlds when it comes to writing: you get the sensory experience of writing with a pen, but you are still free to do writing and research on your computer.

So, that’s my take on writing unplugged. Thanks so much to Shannon, Jill and Stephanie for letting me post so late! See y’all on the shelves someday!

Do you struggle with technology distracting you while you write? What tips do you have for writing unplugged?