Friday, March 30, 2018

Mount Hermon and the Fear of Missing Out

Shannon Dittemore is the author of the Angel Eyes novels. 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 an affinity for mentoring teen writers. Since 2013, Shannon has taught mentoring tracks at a local school where she provides junior high and high school students with an introduction to writing and the publishing industry. For more about Shan, check out her website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.

Whenever I have the opportunity to attend a conference or a retreat, I always do it with a little prayer that goes something like this:

"God, when I leave this place, let me take away just ONE THING, one golden something that will move me or change me or guide me as I push forward on my writing journey."

Because there's always so much, you know? So much instruction. So many good teachers. So much advice. And it's far too easy to walk away and forget everything good that happened because you just couldn't absorb it all.

On Tuesday I returned home from Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference, one of the highest acclaimed writing conferences in the country, and I can honestly say, I've taken away more than just ONE THING. Maybe my brain is growing--I don't know--but there are several happenings stirring in my gut and I'm not ready to pour all of them out just yet. They're still working their magic and I'd like to keep them locked inside a bit longer.

But because I think it will matter to you, because I want you to be a part of my journey, and because I don't want you TO EVER be devoured by that great monster Fear of Missing Out, I want to tell you a story.

Back in 2010, I was supposed to go to Mount Hermon. I was new to the whole writing a book thing and my writing group had convinced me that I would meet the best agents and the best editors at Mount Hermon. That THIS was my chance. 

And so I prepared. And I planned. And it was going to be glorious--the first time I would pitch a completed novel to an agent.


My daughter was a teeny tiny insomniac and I couldn't imagine leaving her. I had a four year old to look after as well and my husband's work schedule wasn't nearly as flexible as we would have liked. The longer my daughter struggled, the harder it became to arrange childcare, and suddenly it seemed like going away was the wrong decision.

But . . .

THIS was it. THIS was my plan. And I'd been convinced that if I didn't make sacrifices--if I didn't invest in my craft--that I would never get published. Everything inside my heart ached when I asked my writing group what I should do.

I'll never forget when our fearless leader, Beth, looked at me and said, "Don't go, Shannon. It really is okay. The conference will be there when you're ready."

I wept. I did. I didn't want to miss out, but her words were freedom. A gift I'm grateful for to this day.

And she was right. The conference didn't disappear. Eight years later it was still standing and I was ready.

This year I finally made it to Mount Hermon. And when I was invited, I was invited to be on faculty as an instructor and an author who'd gotten published after all. Three times, actually. Missing the conference didn't mean missing out on my chance. It just meant that God had other plans. And when my chance came, it looked different than I'd expected.

And so I want to say to you, if you're in a place where a conference or a big financial investment in your craft just isn't possible, it really is okay. You're not missing your chance. Opportunity will be there when you're ready.

The conference WAS glorious. It was, you guys. The location was spectacular, in the heart of a redwood forest, all misty and green. The faculty was inspiring and the classes Jill and I taught went better than we could have hoped.

As I continue to process, I'm putting together my thoughts in a newsletter that will go out next week sometime along with a fun giveaway. If you're not on my personal newsletter list, you can sign up here

Have you ever worried that you're missing your chance?
That if you could just do this or afford that, you would have a leg up?
You're not alone and I'd love to encourage you.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Three Ways to Start Your Novel Pitch

Jill Williamson is a chocolate loving, daydreaming, creator of kingdoms. She writes weird books in lots of weird genres like fantasy (Blood of Kings and Kinsman Chronicles), science fiction (Replication), and dystopian (The Safe Lands trilogy). She has a podcast/vlog at You can also find Jill on InstagramFacebookTwitterPinterest, or on her author website. Tagboth (Tag for short) is a goldhorn dragon from Belfaylinn, a hidden fantasy realm on the western end of the Sargasso Sea. Jill is working on the first book of this tale for this year's Grow an Author series.

Since Shannon and I are currently at the Mount Hermon writers conference, I thought it would be appropriate to interrupt my Onyx Eyes series to talk about how to pitch your story. Because that's what many writers do at a writing conference--it's why many go in the first place.

Side note: If I wanted to try and sell Onyx Eyes to a publisher, since I'm a multi-published author, I could pitch the story at this point. I would write up a pitch, then work with my agent to perfect it. Then, if I saw one of the editors I was interested in working with while I was at the conference, I would strike up a conversation with them and either tell them about my story if the opportunity arose or I would ask to make an appointment with them to pitch a new idea.

In the past, pitching has never gone well for me. Watch this video to hear my story and to learn three ways to start your pitch that will be easier than trying to memorize a long speech.

Again, here are three ways you could start your novel pitch:

1. Start with your assets (if you have any). If you don’t, that’s okay. Most beginning writers don’t have any assets worth sharing.

2. Start with your logline, a tagline, or a high concept. Something to hook the listener enough that they want to hear more. Click here for a post I wrote on how to write a logline for your novel.

3. Start by telling the story of how you came up with this idea. This is a nice, casual way to start a conversation that doesn’t include you trying to recite something you’ve memorized. Recitation often comes off stiff. Plus, many author's minds go blank when facing an agent or editor, and they forget what they’d memorized.

If you're gearing up to attend a conference where you will have the opportunity to pitch your novel, practice before you go. Find someone to help you and practice again and again. Do what you can to turn the pitch into a conversation. You will be a lot more memorable that way, it will come off more natural, and it will help you stay calm and keep away the stress.

Have you pitched before? If so, what worked for you? What didn't work? Share your pitch in the comments if you'd like some feedback.

*This video was first posted on my writing website and on my YouTube channel.

Monday, March 26, 2018

What Scrupulous Writers Do

Stephanie here! I'm taking today off from blogging, because I have edits due back on Wednesday, and my focus right now is doing my best to be the scrupulous writer George Orwell describes in this quote about writing:

"A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself at least four questions, thus: What am I trying to say? What words will express it? What image or idiom will make it clearer? Is this image fresh enough to have an effect?”

I will be back next Monday!

Friday, March 23, 2018

Weaving Theme Into Your Story

Shannon Dittemore is the author of the Angel Eyes novels. 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 an affinity for mentoring teen writers. Since 2013, Shannon has taught mentoring tracks at a local school where she provides junior high and high school students with an introduction to writing and the publishing industry. For more about Shan, check out her website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest

Today, Jill and I (and author Paul Regnier) are kicking off our Teen Writers Track at Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference! We are so excited and hope to see some of you today. If you ARE there (here?), please say "hello!"

This week, we're picking up where we left off last Friday. We were talking about theme and how we can dig it out of our stories. Assuming we've pinpointed a few of our themes, I want to give you five simple ways to weave theme into your story.


William Shakespeare uses a lot of imagery to reinforce his themes in his tragedy, Hamlet. One of the themes he vigorously explores is the idea that the world is a decaying garden. Throughout the play, various characters and actions and dialogue reinforce Hamlet's early observation: "'Tis an unweeded garden that grows to seed. Things rank and gross in nature possess it merely."


As you create your world, consider which elements will reinforce the message of your story. In Disney's Beauty and the Beast, they do this so well with the Beast's castle. While it suffers beneath the curse, the castle is dark and gloomy, Gothic even. It is perpetually winter, a cold and numbing place to be. But when the curse is broken! Spring again! Sunlight and happy colors everywhere. The world itself helps us see the message of the story.

Character/Creature Traits

I've talked about this before, recently even. But as you create your characters, consider their traits and how their own make-up and journey contribute to the ideas you want conveyed. In Broken Wings, I created the Sabres, a rank of angel, after I had completed my first draft. Their creation highlights the idea of worship as warfare: " . . . it's his wings that so separate him from any other angel I've seen . . . Where I expect to see rows and rows of snowy white feathers, one blade lies on top of another--thousands of them--sharp and glistening silver . . . they rub one against the other, trembling, sending music far and wide."

Common or Repeated Sentiment

Consider the scenes that make up your story. Do they share a repeated sentiment? When you read them individually, are the various characters sharing a common feeling? One of my favorite historical fiction writers is Kate Morton. In several (maybe all) of her books, certainly in The Distant Hours, she introduces several generations of women. In each mother-daughter relationship, there is a reluctance for the daughter to view her mother as having a life before she was born. It's a relationship, an idea, a real-life stumbling block many people can relate to, and she doesn't sermonize about it; she simply shows you the commonality of this belief and then she shows you just how wrong it is.

Similar Takeaways from Individual Scenes

In the WWII novel, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, the authors tell the entire story as letters to and from a variety of characters. It's delightful and they've done well to capture each voice uniquely and with varying points of view on similar moments. But as different as each character is, a theme begins to emerge. In a letter from Dawsey to Juliet, he says, "But sometimes I think of {the author} Charles Lamb and marvel that a man born in 1775 enabled me to make two such friends as you and Christian."

Dawsey is a farmer on the isle of Guernsey. Juliet is an author in London. And Christian? A Nazi soldier stationed at Guernsey as part of an occupying force. With every letter we read, we understand what Dawsey says so plainly. Love of the written word connects people from all different walks of life.

Tell me, do you have a difficult time weaving theme into your stories? Do you have a favorite method for doing so? Which of the above ideas would you like to give a try?

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Brainstorming Problems Away: When Travel Interrupts the Work Schedule

Jill Williamson is a chocolate loving, daydreaming, creator of kingdoms. She writes weird books in lots of weird genres like fantasy (Blood of Kings and Kinsman Chronicles), science fiction (Replication), and dystopian (The Safe Lands trilogy). She has a podcast/vlog at You can also find Jill on InstagramFacebookTwitterPinterest, or on her author website. Tagboth (Tag for short) is a goldhorn dragon from Belfaylinn, a hidden fantasy realm on the western end of the Sargasso Sea. Jill is working on the first book of this tale for this year's Grow an Author series.

Today I am on the road, driving from the Portland, Oregon area to Shannon Dittemore's home near Sacramento, California so that she and I and our friend Paul Regnier can teach a teen track at the Mount Hermon Christian Writers' Conference! Arghphth! So. Excited.

I am looking forward to a great week, hanging out with writer friends and teen writers. My favorite!

When on the road like this, I can't blog. I can't do much work at all. (Though I am toying around with using a blue tooth ear piece to record myself talking. I'm going to see if it's possible for me to audibly write a little during this super long road trip. If I succeed, I shall report back.) What I can do, however, is think. There is plenty of time for thinking while on the road. In fact, it's a great time for brainstorming away major story problems. So that's what I'm doing today. I'm going to think, think, think, just like Winnie the Pooh. And if that isn't enough to do the trick, I will think, think, think all the way home again too. And by the time I'm back from this great adventure, I will have figured out the answers to some important problems with my story.

That means, before I left, I needed to prepare my list of problems so that I would have them handy while on the road. So I wrote in a notebook the following:

Onyx Eyes:
-How exactly does my new idea for traveling through the Thin Places work?

-Think through the disease that takes over Drake due to his bond with the dragon. Also, does the dragon get the same disease? Does it affect only the physical body or the mind as well?

-I have five chapters in part three with no story planned. Figure out what is going to happen in those five chapters!

-Figure out who Kaitlyn's parents were and what they witnessed. Where they are now.

-Explore Kaitlyn-as-bard angle. Could be a bard is more than music.

-Where is the real Quinn?

-Why was the fake Quinn still in Kaitlyn's home if he was supposed to be guarding the princess?

I have taken this list with me on the road. When I have worked through some of it, and when I stop for gas or lunch (because writing and driving don't mix!), I'll write down any notes I came up with so I won't forget my genius ideas. Then when I am home next week, I'll be ready to start writing.

Whoo hoo!

Do you have any tips for brainstorming your way out of problems? Share in the comments.

Monday, March 19, 2018

10 Tricks For Rocking Your First Draft

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 free books on her author website.

For several months now, my posts have been about get ready to write the first draft. Researching, brainstorming, character musing, identifying where to start the book, that kind of thing.

Most of the time, once I've gone through all these steps, I'm feeling ready to dive into my first draft. Occasionally, though, I have caught myself researching a bit longer than necessary, or doing something else to stall the actual writing piece of the process. Part of this, I feel, is my perfectionist tendencies. The story still feels perfect in my mind at this point, and I know it's about to become not-perfect, because first drafts never are.

Here are some techniques and mental tricks I've learned along the way that have helped me push through my first draft. I hope they'll help you too!

"All I'm doing is typing words into a document. That's not scary."

Some projects incite more fear in my heart than others. Like The Lost Girl of Astor Street, which was my first foray with a historical or a mystery.

When I'm feeling scared, I have to remind myself that I'm just typing. I'm not skydiving or publicly dancing, I'm just typing. 

Embrace Your Pace

I know there's a big push to write faster. Word sprints, word wars, #1k1hr, 5k-in-a-day events, NaNoWriMo, and all kinds of books about increasing your word count. 

There's nothing wrong with any of these. If word sprints work for you, great! Do them! If you find great tips from blog posts or books about how to write faster, that's wonderful. If you love participating in NaNoWriMo, definitely keep doing that.

But not all of us write fast, AND THAT'S OKAY. When Roseanna and I are on writing retreats, she "beats me" every day on word count. She just writes faster than I do. There's no right or wrong pace for a first draft. 

Write A Useful But Imperfect Draft

Writing "bad" first drafts is a topic I've covered a few times on Go Teen Writers, because it's part of my process. If you struggle with your internal editorthat voice that tells you the sentence isn't right and you should sit there until you figure it out ... or maybe just scrap the whole thing and start overthen I really encourage you to try this tactic. It works for lots of writers.

But it doesn't work for all writers. Here's one Roseanna wrote for us a few years ago about her process where she edits as she goes. Click here to read, "How To Edit As You Write Your First Draft."

Set Aside Time To Go Deep

Last year, I read Deep Work by Cal Newport and found it really helpful. We are so used to having multiple tabs open in our browsers, responding to notifications on our phones, or feeling like we need to be everywhere on social media. Even when we know that isn't true, it's easy to slip into bad habits because that's the way our world works.

Cal Newport says this about Deep Work and why it's important.

"Deep work is the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task. It's a skill that allows you to quickly master complicated information and produce better results in less time. Deep work will make you better at what you do and provide the sense of true fulfillment that comes from craftsmanship. In short, deep work is like a super power in our increasingly competitive twenty-first century economy. And yet, most people have lost the ability to go deep-spending their days instead in a frantic blur of e-mail and social media, not even realizing there's a better way."

Reading Deep Work gave me the tools I needed to mentally prioritize writing or editing time. Jill Williamson also talked about it in her article, "10 Ways To Increase Your Productivity."

Separate Storytelling and Writing

I used to find myself frequently stalling out when writing scenes. I knew what was supposed to happen, but I would still just stare at the screen.

Eventually I found Rachel Aaron's 2k to 10k book (or here's the blog post that details her process.) One technique she talked about was how instead of diving into the scene, she instead began to write out a short description of what was going to happen for the scene. Just taking five-ish minutes to do this seemed to unlock the right words for her.

This is now a regular part of my process, because I found it works well for me too! K.M. Weiland has talked on her blog about how writing and storytelling are actually two different skills, and I think that's why this works. Since I've thought through the storytelling piece, I'm now free to concentrate on finding the right words.

Discover the best balance of structure and freedom for you.

Something else that has greatly improved my first drafts is understanding more about story structure. Some writers work best with very detailed outlines, and others with no outline at all. Most fall somewhere in-between.

Finding the balance that's best for you will take time and practice, but understanding story structure basics can really help you to build stronger first drafts.

Consistency Matters

I wrote about this last year in my post Three Rules For Creating Art That Matters. You aren't always going to feel like sitting down and writing, but if you want to get through your first draft, it's really important to push yourself in this area. Maybe writing every day isn't for you, but try to write as consistently as you can.

Keep your door closed

In On Writing, Stephen King says, "If you're a beginner ... let me urge that you take your story through at least two drafts; the one you do with the study door closed and the one you do with it open."

I am SO in favor of this. I write best when I know that nobody is going to see it before I've had the chance to clean it up. I've talked about that in my post, "Writing Advice Examined: Should You Write Like No One Is Watching?"

Reward yourself

Writing a novel is a long process. And unless you're writing it for a class, no one else is really paying attention to what you're doing. No one is going to make you write or tell you "good job!" when you found just the right hook for that chapter ending.

You know who is responsible for "keeping up morale" as you get through the novel? YOU! You are your own boss. You must find whatever carrots you can hang in front of you to get yourself to The End. Find rewards for small things, like finishing another chapter, as well as big things, like finishing your first draft.

Stop reading this and go write.

Seriously. That book isn't going to write itself. Get off-line and go write. Don't even procrastinate by leaving a comment, just go!

Friday, March 16, 2018

Discovering Your Theme

Shannon Dittemore is the author of the Angel Eyes novels. 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 an affinity for mentoring teen writers. Since 2013, Shannon has taught mentoring tracks at a local school where she provides junior high and high school students with an introduction to writing and the publishing industry. For more about Shan, check out her website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest

It's Fri-YAY! I hope you're ready for a little chat on craft before you head off to celebrate a week well-lived.

Last Friday, we talked about how I organize the things I've learned about my story during my early discovery writing sessions, and then we moved on to how I write a synopsis just for me so that I can use it as an outline.

Now that I've written a working synopsis, it's time to get back to the business of first-drafting. But before I do that, I want to scour my synopsis for clues to point me in the right thematic direction.

Together with setting, character (point of view), plot, and style, theme is considered one of the key elements of fiction writing. It can be defined this way:

Sometimes a work has more than one theme. Sometimes a work has one major theme and several minor themes. Sometimes a work's theme is clear and sometimes it's harder to dig out.

As an author, the hardest theme to get a hold of is often the one for the book you're currently writing. Here are some thoughts that may help you.

Sometimes a theme arrives with the story idea: Once you've seen, you can't unsee

 My debut novel, Angel Eyes, was basically the result of an idea that took the shape of a theme very early on. When this happens, it's a gift. It can direct your storytelling from beginning to end.





Sometimes a theme comes to you as you draft: Worship is warfare


The second book in my trilogy, Broken Wings, was harder. I had several guiding ideas, but the theme of worship is warfare didn't come to me until I'd first-drafted the final few scenes. At that point, a light flickered on in my tired brain and I knew how I wanted to rebuild one of my newer ranks of angel and how I wanted to restructure some of my character arcs. It was a fantastic moment, but one that took a lot of faith to get to. Until that moment I couldn't adequately answer the question, "What are you writing about?"



Sometimes, especially in series writing, the theme of a book is inevitable: Choosing not to see comes with its own bondage


By the time I got to Dark Halo, I knew what I needed to tackle. The conversation about seeing the invisible--the conversation that I'd started in book one--was still missing an important element. It was time to introduce a new question: What happens if you choose to close your eyes to everything you've seen?

But, sometimes, especially when you're early on in your career, figuring out if you have larger themes to explore can be difficult. You may have to dig a bit. Some questions to ask yourself:

Does your main character believe a lie? What is it?

Search your working synopsis. Search your opening scenes. See if you can find anything to point you to a lie your protagonist might believe. Early in JM Barrie's Peter Pan, Peter says to Wendy, "It was because I heard Mother and Father talking about what I was to be when I became a man. I don't ever want to be a man. I want always to be a little boy and to have fun."

The lie here is clear: Peter believes that if he grows up to be a man he won't have any fun. This lie becomes the lynch pin for a theme Barrie explores throughout the book.

Is there a task only your hero can accomplish? 

Scour that working synopsis, friends. Let your brain run wild. Is there something crucial a character in your book offers? It doesn't always have to be the protagonist. Sometimes another character is the true hero. In CS Lewis's The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Aslan tells Lucy and Susan, " . . . when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor's stead, the Table would crack and Death itself started moving backward."
The ability of an innocent king to take the punishment for a treacherous subject is, at its core, a classic redemption story and this act provides us a crucial and powerful theme. The entirety of the book builds toward this moment. I wonder how early on CS Lewis identified this action?

What are YOU, the author, trying to say?

Is there an idea you want to convey with this story? Maybe:
-No one is beyond redemption
-Life is frail
-Comfort keeps us from our destiny
-We need others
-War makes monsters of us all
-Even a small light shatters the darkness
-Power corrupts
-Love is worth fighting for

All of these things are noble, worthy themes. As you write, look for different ways to highlight these ideals and provide either a question for your readers to ponder, a message, a moral, or an idea to chew on as a takeaway from your work.

Next week, we'll return to this topic and I'll give you some things to think about as you carefully, light-handedly work theme into your story.

Today, tell me, have you been able to identify a theme in your current work? What is it? How did you discover that theme?

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

How to Use Headings in Microsoft Word to Organize Your Novel

Jill Williamson is a chocolate loving, daydreaming, creator of kingdoms. She writes weird books in lots of weird genres like fantasy (Blood of Kings and Kinsman Chronicles), science fiction (Replication), and dystopian (The Safe Lands trilogy). She has a podcast/vlog at You can also find Jill on InstagramFacebookTwitterPinterest, or on her author website. Tagboth (Tag for short) is a goldhorn dragon from Belfaylinn, a hidden fantasy realm on the western end of the Sargasso Sea. Jill is working on the first book of this tale for this year's Grow an Author series.

When I gear up to write a first draft, whether I'm starting from scratch or doing a rewrite, I like to organize my Word file. I do this because being organized sets me up for success. In the case of Onyx Eyes, I'm doing a bit of a rewrite, but since I only ever wrote out the first few chapters, I don't have to rearrange an entire first draft, I just need to create new chapters for the whole book. As always, doing this doesn't mean the story will stay like this. Later on, I very likely might end up deleting a chapter or adding several. Who knows? But doing this really helps me get ready to write a full novel. Here is now I tackle such a project.

First, I open my story file. Then I need to open the navigation sidebar. To find it, click on the "View" tab, then click the little box that says "Navigation Pane," which is in the left center of the toolbar under the "Ruler" and "Gridlines" boxes. Here is an image to help you find it:

Once you select that box, the navigation sidebar will open to the left of your document. If you have already created headings in your document, those will show up in a list. If they don't, make sure you click on the word "Headings" under the search box. Mine looks like this:

And since that is very small, here is a much closer look at my navigation sidebar. See how the word "Headings" is dark blue? That's because I clicked on it. You can also click on "Pages" or "Results" if you want to look at your pages or the results of a word search.

As you can see, I divided my story into chapters, then I divided the chapters of my story into parts, with part two starting between chapters six and seven. I did this by starting each new chapter or part page on a new page break. Then I wrote the chapter number, or "Part Two: Idaho" or whatever the case, selected the text, then chose a heading style. For the part pages, that title is all I'll ever write on those pages. But with the chapter pages, I will write the book after the chapter titles. The words of the book don't show up in the navigation sidebar because I did not choose a special heading for them. The text for your book should be "normal," which it likely is already by default. (FYI, in the image above, Part Three: Idaho has already changed to Part Three: Kenmare. And who knows? It all might change again.)

Heading styles are what enable the text to show up in the headings list on the navigation sidebar. I put my part three between chapters twelve and thirteen since that will be my midpoint, then I put my part four between chapters eighteen and nineteen. You don't have to have parts in your book, but I wanted them for this story.

If you don't have any headings showing up and don't know how to make them, it's pretty simple. You type out one or more words, select them, then click on the "Home" tab and choose a heading from the selections on the right side of the toolbar, like this:

If you use headings and subheadings, your list will stack, like an outline. It's pretty handy. Play around with it until you get a good feel for how it works.

Once I've reorganized my book file, I can copy and paste sections of my first draft so that everything is in the right place. Then I use my outline to write my plans into each chapter. If I've done a major rewrite, I will use my storyboard cards to go through each chapter and write any notes into that chapter so that when I come to it in my rewrite, all my notes are right there waiting to remind me what to write or change. I might type these notes into the document itself at the start of the chapter, or I might put them in a comment so they don't affect my word count. Once I've added in all my notes or instructions, I'm ready to write. Or rewrite. Being organized like this makes writing a lot easier.

Do you organize your document file before you start writing? Share in the comments.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Go Teen Writers Live Episode 9: Difficult Writing Times That We're Grateful For

Stephanie here! I have the joy of sharing with you my favorite episode of Go Teen Writers Live!

We were asked about a memory that we "hate to love," meaning a hard time or circumstance we went through with writing, but that brought about something positive. Here's the link to view it on YouTube if the embedded video doesn't work:

I shared about how my agent and I nearly broke up, and that was when I decided to go for it and write the book that became The Lost Girl of Astor Street.

Jill shared about her first writers conference, and how when she pitched her novel she rambled and messed it up, but that it was a wake up call about how much she had left to learn. That she could either give up or pursue writing wholeheartedly, and fortunately for all of us, she carried on.

Shannon talked about the first major, critical review she received for Angel Eyes and how she thought it would kill her, but she pushed through.

We close by talking about how we were able to survive all of these things because of being in community with other writers, and how we want that for all of you too. If you are looking for community, get plugged in at the Go Teen Writers Community Facebook group. To expedite your approval, send an email to GoTeenWritersCommunity(at) and let us know you've applied. This helps us keep the group safe.

If you have questions you want answered in a Go Teen Writers Live episode, email us!

Friday, March 9, 2018

Organizing What I've Discovered & Writing a Working Synopsis

Shannon Dittemore is the author of the Angel Eyes novels. 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 an affinity for mentoring teen writers. Since 2013, Shannon has taught mentoring tracks at a local school where she provides junior high and high school students with an introduction to writing and the publishing industry. For more about Shan, check out her website, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest.

You all hanging with us? That novel you're writing just might be the one that turns you into an author with a completed draft, ready to edit. That is quite the accomplishment, friends, and I know you can do it.

After several discovery writing sessions, I've finally reached the point in my process where organizing my thoughts becomes necessary.


Organizing What I've Discovered

Over the years, I've done this several different ways. I've used index cards, notebooks, and tabbed binders. But, for my most recent projects, I've been using Stephanie's Story Workbook.

Quick note: If you sign up for Go Teen Writers Notes, you'll receive a free tutorial for setting up your very own story workbook.

This handy tool is an Excel spreadsheet that allows me to list details I don't want to forget as I move forward with my project. If I don't do this now, I'll waste time as I write, scrolling backwards through my manuscript trying to remember a character's hair and eye color, their stature, nickname, and other defining attributes. The Story Workbook helps me keep everything organized and never more than a click away. Here's a shot of what mine looked like before I started filling it in (click on the image for a larger view).

One of the things I like about using Excel (similar to Google Sheets) is that I have everything in one place. I can create various worksheets within the one document (people groups, settings, fantasy terms) and I can save it to my Google Drive. That means it's with me wherever I go. If I want to work outside my office, I don't have to gather up all my notebooks or my index cards; I can simply access the document from my phone or my laptop. Very, very handy.

It's also customizable. To start with, I'll simply add in everything I've discovered about my characters and storyworld during my early writing sprints. As I continue forward in my manuscript, I'll take periodic breaks to fill the worksheet in more fully and adjust items I've changed as the story has unfolded. Simple. Keeps me sane and makes subsequent books easier to draft if I'm working on a series.

Writing A Working Synopsis

Once I've got all my details in one place, it's time to scratch out a synopsis. There's a reason I do that now before the novel is completed, and I wrote about this in detail back in 2016. Here's what I said:

I have to tell you, I was thoroughly inspired by Stephanie's recent blog posts on synopses. If you haven't read them, you should absolutely do that. They're very straightforward and readable, and I promise you, not all blog posts on such topics can claim to be both of those things.

Stephanie's articles got me thinking about my own experience and how my relationship to the dreaded synopsis has changed over the past few years.

Like Steph, when I started out, I dreaded writing a synopsis (a summary of your novel). There were all these stipulations and formatting rules established by publishing professionals and, oftentimes, the advice seemed very conflicting. And, let's be real, I still stammer when someone asks me to explain what my books are about. The idea of trying to summarize 100k words into just a few pages can be daunting.

Over the years, my perspective has changed considerably. Initially, I considered prospective agents and editors the primary audience for my synopses. But, several books in now, I've found that I read my synopsis more than anyone. It has become a vital tool in both drafting and editing my novel.

In essence, my synopsis serves as my outline.

The process usually looks like this:

I get an idea.

I stew on the idea--sometimes for minutes, sometimes for weeks.

I sit down in front of the computer and I write. Not my synopsis. A chapter, maybe two. I do everything I can to simply BE the narrator of the story for a bit. This can last a couple writing sessions or it can last weeks. I write long enough to have some sort of an idea about the world, the main character, and where her journey might lead. In short, I let myself write by the seat of my pants for a little bit.

THEN! Once I feel like I'm in the story, I open a shiny new blank page on my computer and I TELL myself the story. (Steph's advice on telling in a synopsis is stellar. Go read it.) The writing of my synopsis can take several days. I come and go, making huge sweeping decisions for characters I've barely met and letting myself skim over motivations and lesser details.

And then . . .

I conclude the synopsis with what I see will be the end of the story. I do. I will not make myself stick to this ending, but I do write it. I write my initial conclusion and when I save this document on my computer I name it Working Synopsis.

Here's where it gets fun.

This Working Synopsis now acts as my outline, but it is also so much more. This short document is full of writing prompts and guideposts that help me when I get lost. At any given time, I can pick up my imperfect synopsis, select a paragraph, and use it to get me writing. I can read about the actions of my characters, things I've told myself will happen, and I can spend my writing session digging into those moments and looking for motivations while playing with cause and effect.

Here's a random paragraph from my current Working Synopsis.
The only way to free Lenore is to ensure Mars’ haul makes it to the same rebel camp. But Sylvi’s rig—the Silver Dragon—is too heavy to make the trek across the ice. She’ll have to stick to the Shiv Road and despite her protestations, she won’t be traveling alone. 
It's a prompt just begging to be written, right? Who's Lenore? Who the heck is Mars? What are they hauling and why is it so heavy? The Silver Dragon?! What's wrong with traveling the Shiv Road and who will be traveling with her?

There is just so much here to dig into. And for my purposes, that's exactly what I want the first draft of a synopsis to be.

It's especially helpful to have a Working Synopsis in place when you've had to step away from your manuscript for chunks of time. The synopsis (read: outline) brings clarity and focus and reminds you where you were when you left off.

Another thing: I'm not big on printing out my novels to read them and mark them up anymore--I work better on the screen--but I do print out my Working Synopsis and I scribble notes in the margins whenever I deviate from it or need to remind myself of new doors the drafting process has opened up for me. Every now and then, I take these notes and update the synopsis on the computer and print it out again. I keep my most recently updated version at my elbow the entire time I write.

How and when you choose to write your synopsis is entirely up to you and, like the rest of us, you'll carve out a system through trial and error. But if you haven't written a synopsis toward the beginning of your process, give it a go. It just might be the outline you never thought you could scratch out. It might give you the direction and motivation to keep writing when things get tough. And I guarantee it will give you hints about where your characters should go next when you've forgotten just which road they're supposed to be on.

Of course, if and when you decide to let other people read your synopsis, you're definitely going to want to lean on Stephanie's post, How to Edit Your Synopsis. A scribbled up document is fabulous for a writer, but not so much for those fancy industry professionals you're trying to impress. 

Tell me, friends, do you have a system in place for organizing your thoughts as you write? And what do you think of writing synopses? Do you love them? Hate them? Could you ever see yourself using the synopsis as an outline of sorts? I'd love to know your thoughts.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Planning Out a Series

Jill Williamson is a chocolate loving, daydreaming, creator of kingdoms. She writes weird books in lots of weird genres like fantasy (Blood of Kings and Kinsman Chronicles), science fiction (Replication), and dystopian (The Safe Lands trilogy). She has a podcast/vlog at You can also find Jill on InstagramFacebookTwitterPinterest, or on her author website. Tagboth (Tag for short) is a goldhorn dragon from Belfaylinn, a hidden fantasy realm on the western end of the Sargasso Sea. Jill is working on the first book of this tale for this year's Grow an Author series.

This is a release day week for me, so I've been scrambling to do all the things that one tries to do for a release day. It's not as much as usual, since this is the release for A Deliverer Comes (Kinsman Chronicles, Part 8), which is an ebook-only release. But it still throws a regular work week into a bit of chaos and makes it hard to stay on schedule. You can learn more about the Kinsman Chronicles here.

As to Onyx Eyes, I've spend a lot of hours in the past few weeks, reading over everything I had in my thick story file, my notebook, and the chapters I'd written. I made a list of plot holes and problems and brainstormed my way through most of them. I've got a pretty good handle on the plot for book one, but since I know I'm going to write a five-book series, I want to take a little time to think through my plans for that, mostly so I know where I'm going and can plant important things that will pay off later. In the past, I've always had a very loose plan for the series I've written. They've gone a little like this:

Blood of Kings: I will have three books. One where Achan finds out who he is. One where he travels around the land and gathers and army. And one where he heads south to fight a war.

The Mission League: I will have one (full-length) book for each summer trip of Spencer's high school years. So in book one, he is finishing up ninth grade, book two: tenth grade, book three: eleventh, and book four: his senior year.

The Safe Lands: In each book the captives will experience a new area of the Safe Lands. Book one: the highlands, book two: the midlands, and book three: the lowlands.

The Kinsman Chronicles: In book one I will destroy the land. In book two they will get on boats to look for a new land. In book three they will fight to get to live in peace in the new land (which will be the same land from the Blood of King's trilogy).

None of those series had all that much of a plan. And while little planning has always (eventually) worked out for me, it's been pretty stressful sometimes. Mostly that was due to deadlines from traditional publishing houses. I always felt like I was racing to finish something that I really had no idea what it was going to be. However, I'm not sure a self-published series would be all that different, since, ideally, one would try and publish each book as quickly as possible so readers didn't have to wait long.

Which is why this time around, I wanted to try and get a little more series plotting done in advance. Even if it's not a lot. Even if I only know twice as much as I knew in those above examples. If I'm going to seriously try and pump out five books in two years, I needed (I wanted) a bigger plan.

Here is how I tackled this plan. First, I filled in the little plot chart I created for last week's post for book one, then I printed four more, one for books two, three, four, and five. Since I have tentative titles and a theme for each story, I wrote those across the top of each page. This is what they say:

Book one: Onyx Eyes. Theme: sin/evil.
Book two: Ruby Eyes. Theme: sacrifice.
Book three: Diamond Eyes. Theme: redemption/rebirth/renewal.
Book four: Emerald Eyes. Theme: Growth/change toward being a stronger, whole person.
Book five: Golden Eyes. Theme: Heaven/eternal life/finding a true home.

This was helpful because, as I plot out each book, I will be able to engineer character situations that fit each theme. So while my initial plan for the "sin" theme in book one was that Drake was going to be performing forbidden magic to bond with a dragon. But now I also plan to have Drake discover that the Aerials are kidnapping humans and enslaving them (more sin theme), that Drake's own government has a traitor (sin theme), and that an even bigger crime had been taking place right under Drake's nose for years (sin theme). So I will reveal many sins/evils in book one, and as I take those various subplots through the series, some will pass through the other themes as well. And in book two, someone will make an incredible sacrifice for Drake (sacrifice theme), then later, he will make a sacrifice for another (sacrifice theme), which will show that he has grown over the course of the first two books (character growth is always good stuff).

The next thing I did was tape together several sheets of paper to create one long paper that I could use to create a three-act structure for the series as a whole story. Then I did some more math. If each book was going to be 24 chapters long, the full series would be 120 chapters long, so my inciting incident for the series should happen somewhere around chapter 12 of book one. My "end of act one/break into two/change of plans" situation should come somewhere around chapter 30 of the series, which would be the the end of chapter six in book two. The midpoint of the series would come at the beginning of chapter 60, which is the exact middle of book three. And so on. I tried to ensure that important things were happening in these general areas.

I marked these key story elements on the long sheet of paper with their corresponding book and chapter information. Then I used sticky notes to add plot points to the series (overall story) timeline. I didn't do a lot of series plotting. Until I write book one, I just don't know enough about my characters or the story to have a clue what might happen in the middle of book four, etc. Plus, things change as I write. But this chart helped me organize my thoughts and plans for the series, and I came up with some good ideas too. Here is a picture of this process:

And a few days later, it looks different still. I've re-read through my entire folder for the Belfaylinn series and used many ideas and notes I found to create scenes, which I put on sticky notes and added to the timeline. Then I wrote what was on each sticky note on the corresponding book plot sheets above. This gave me some good bare bones situations that will occur in each book if I'm going to stay on track toward my planned ending. Like I said before, some of this will very likely change, but I now have direction. I'm not writing into a void or with a super loose plan, wondering how I will fill five books with story. I have direction, and it feels great.

Have you ever plotted out a series, completely or loosely? If so, how do you go about it? Share in the comments.