Stephanie writes young adult contemporary novels and is the creator of GoTeenWriters.com. Her novels include The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series (Revell) and The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet (Playlist). You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and check out samples of her work on her author website.
We're back! I hope everyone had a great week and got lots of writing done. Jill and I had a long conference call last week talking about the blog. I'm still finalizing some of the details we talked about, and then I'll share them with you all.
One thing we'll be changing is when we post new content. This week we'll post five days, but starting next week, you can expect fresh posts on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. The biggest advantages are that Jill and I will be able to devote more time to the content we write, we can be more responsive in the comments section of the blog (right now we're decent at responding on the day of the post, but not so great afterward), and we'll have time to plan more special events like contests and virtual retreats and such.
So today's my 30th birthday - yay? - and I'm also celebrating the release of my sixth book - yay!
To do that, I'm sharing 30 things I've learned about writing in the last ten years that made a difference in my stories, and I'm also giving away four digital copies of the Ellie Sweet books - your choice! Details for getting entered are at the end of the post.
1. Story ideas don't just come to you - you have to work for them. Sparks of ideas come to you, but that's different than a story idea.
2. I need to ask myself why my character won't just walk away from the story problem. Another way to say this is, "What are the stakes of the story?" but my brain had trouble latching onto the concept of stakes. The question, "Why aren't you just walking away?" somehow works better for me.
3. Write with strong nouns and verbs. Most of the time when I'm using an adverb or adjective, there's a better noun or verb I could be using.
4. Stephen King is amazing and I adore his book, On Writing. BUT he's Stephen King and that includes certain privileges. Like getting contracts for books he hasn't yet written and doesn't know all the details about. I'm not Stephen King, and I will have to do some plotting ahead of time if I want to sell my book.
5. I actually like doing a bit of plotting ahead of time! Here's an article I wrote about plotting, pantsing, and the combo of the two.
6. Finding a one word description for my character. I love doing this because it helps me determine what my character believes at his or her core.
7. That I should write bare-boned (but useful) first drafts. It was my husband who first suggested this to me when I was complaining about rewriting scenes time and time again and not making any progress on the rest of the first draft. I had read about bad first drafts in Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird but I had forgotten.
8. Cut dialogue tags. My writing tightened and became much more visual when I started using action beats to identify who was speaking rather than dialogue tags.
9. I have a voice. And I should use it. I love this article about voice that editor Barbara Scott wrote for Seekerville.
10. My character's voices come to life when I know them. In the first draft, when I'm still working out who all these people are, they all kinda sound the same - they sound like me. But around draft two I'm able to look at dialogue and think things like, "That's not really something Chase would say. That's more of something Ellie would say."
Sometimes I have to make rules for them. Like not allowing a character to speak or think with incorrect grammar. Or with Chase, I had a rule about not letting him use a a complicated word when a more simple option was available.
11. How to brainstorm plot twists and bigger story ideas.
12. My timer. Mmmwwwwaaa! (That's a kiss, if you can't tell.) If I'm having trouble staying focused on my book, I set my timer for twenty five minutes and ban myself from other activities until it goes off. By the time the buzzer goes off, I'm on a roll and eager to keep writing.
13. How to Write the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass. Angela Hunt told me about this book when I was eating lunch with her at a conference back in 2003. It made a huge difference in the strength of my stories. The workbook is excellent too. Maybe even better. I guess it's what I pull out time and time again, but I also needed to read the regular book too.
14. I don't work well with elaborate note card or spreadsheet systems, and writing software isn't ideal for me either. I love the ideas of those things but they're just not effective tools for me as a writer. My time is better spent just writing.
15. Character journals are the best tool for helping me capture the voice and backstory of my other characters.
16. Give main characters a super power. Something special and unique. Harry Potter excels at defeating dark magic, Rapunzel has magic hair that can heal, and Cinderella sings despite being abused.
17. Million Dollar Outlines by David Farland. I read this over the summer so I haven't had very much time to apply what I learned to my stories. But I'm putting it on the list because I can tell it's changed the way I'm approaching my next story.
18. If a character isn't contributing anything, cut them or make them matter. My first few drafts of Me, Just Different were seriously crowded. I had already cut three friends from that book, rewritten it, and sent it to my first agent. She came back with, "One of these friends needs to go!" So I cut another one.
19. I need to write with my door closed.
20. When writing scenes, drop the reader in late and yank them out early.
21. The Art of War for Writers by James Scott Bell. I've enjoyed every writing book of Bell's, but this one is my favorite. Lots of great nuggets of wisdom in there.
22. Try a new technique with each story. At the same lunch where Angela Hunt told me about Writing the Breakout Novel she mentioned that tries out something new with each story she writes. She had been writing novels for twenty years at that point in time, and I loved that she was still pushing herself. That made a big impression on me.
23. A story feels bigger when the character has a way to "stick it to the man."
24. When I'm early in the brainstorming stage, it's helpful to make myself write the concept in one sentence. It helps with a lot of marketing things later, but as I'm writing it helps me remember the essence of the story.
25. Every story needs a black moment.
26. I need 6 weeks off after I finish a first draft.
27. Writing middles is the hardest part for me, but I've found tools that help.
28. Write Away by Elizabeth George. I'm still reading this one and learning how to apply it, but it's lovely.
29. How to write active sentences rather than passive sentences. Figuring this out was literally the skill I had to conquer before my first agent would sign me.
30. How to edit for the big things first and then the small things. (This one was so big to me that Jill and I wrote an entire book about it.)
What's something you've learned recently about writing? Shout it out and you're eligible to win one of four digital copies of your choice of The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet or The Unlikely Debut of Ellie Sweet.
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