I haven't blogged here in so long, I had to look up my website's password. Not good.
But, hey, I'm baaack!
How is everyone? More imortantly, what are ya'all writing?
I have been busy these past two months on two projects. One, a dark YA contemporary, STARS IN MY POCKETS. After some awesome edits via the incomparable Judi Lauren, I believe my story's truly alive. It's out in query-form to a few agents. Fingers crossed.
My second project was my NaNoWriMo2016. Yes, I won. Woohoo! But you can sense the lack of enthusiasm there, I'm sure. I didn't get a chance to plot the story before writing, so it's just a bunch of formless words on the page right now. More than 50,000 formless words, nonetheless. It's my first attempt at historical fantasy. Working title: JACKY INDIANA WEARS PURPLE POLISH. It's for the middle grade or younger young adult audiences.
Like my 2015 NaNo, this will sit for the next few months, marinating in its magical juices, until I return to it for major revision work.
Unlike bears who are preparing for their winter hibernation about now, I'm preparing to come out of my writing cave because this time of year always makes me want to connect more. So here I am, and I really did miss you all!
Right now, I'm revising my 2015 NaNo : MAGENTA WISE: PLASTIC WRAP. It's a young adult mystery--also my first attempt at this genre.
Although I spent all last summer plotting the story, after I finished it last November, I realized it wasn't what I'd expected. I revised it some, shared it with my critique partners and beta readers. Then I let it sit again while I worked on those above stories.
This week, I spent time at OneStopForWriters where I plotted it again. And let me just say, people, I love Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi. If you don't know OneStop, get over there! These ladies have put together an amazing closet of tools to prep and preen your pretty baby and make her shine.
So, enough about me. Tell me what you're working on. If you use OneStop, I'd love to hear what sparkles the most for you.
That's my story, what's yours?
You've heard the terms plotter and pantser. Which one are you?
I'll give you a hint about me: I'm a Virgo.
In my own regular life, I plan my day, leave myself sticky notes on the bathroom mirror, set alarms to remind me about appointments or what to pick up at the store. I don't leave things to chance. Certainly not my memory.
I plot my day, so of course I plot my books.
Why? For me, it sends events in motion. If I know what's coming, I can lay the groundwork with intention. Instead of taking the fun out of writing, planing keeps me on point and my stories tighter. That makes me happy.
Here are my five plotter must have's:
1. Alarm Clock: you can't write if you're still in bed. I teach, so for most of the year, I'm working during my favorite time to write. What to do? I set my alarm clock thirty minutes or more before I need to get up. Since getting up is usually at 6:30, I try to get up at 6 or 5:30. Otherwise, I will write at night. It all depends on my day. You can't schedule creative, so I need to write when time avails me.
2. Blake Snyder's SAVE THE CAT: I discovered Snyder's easy to follow beats two years ago at a SCBWI conference. Three authors attested to it, gave us all a quick how-to and why-to, and I was sold. I outline my plot to the beats of Snyder's three-act outline, tweak what I need to, and follow this when I set up my chapters and map my character arcs. This saves time and frees me up to focus on the story and creative process.
3. Scrivener: Oh, how I love my Scrivener! This writing app puts everything I need at my fingertips (my keyboard fingertips). I have written many blog posts about this tool's awesome features; check them out if you want. The best part of Scrivener? I can't choose one thing, but I do love the character and setting templates and the ability to upload pictures for both. Right now, I'm editing my new YA mystery. The revision mode lets you write in a different color, which makes it easy to find your new ideas after hours of editing.
4. Critique partners: Of course you can have critique partners if you pants your way through stories, but I can't let a blog post like this go by without a shout-out to my dear crits Gwynne Jackson and Jessica Gruner. Critique partners are vital at each stage of your writing. Whether you are planning, writing, editing, or revising, these smart people will give you the feedback you need to make your story better. I brainstorm plots, pluck their brains when a plot point goes awry, and take in their suggestions when I finished my story and am preparing to edit.
5. A good kind of pressure: This can come from anyone and anywhere. Your family, friends, Twitter buddies, neighbors, or colleagues. But no one can apply that necessary pressure to get you writing and thinking about your story if you don't tell them what you are up to. Let the world know you are writing the next bestseller. Locate beta readers for feedback, too. Their feedback and suggestions or whoops and wows will motivate you to keep going.
Whether you plan your story scene-to-scene before you write or sit down in front of a blank page and let it flow, you need support. I love to connect with other writers. Please find me on Twitter or Facebook. Let's connect and support each other.
That's my story; what's yours?
If you seek an agent, you must know about #MSWL.
However, beware its lethal lure...
There are many places to find what agents seek.
1. Agency sites.
2. Personal Twitter and Tumblr feeds.
3. The #MSWL.
Smart writers will check out the updates on the Twitter feed.
You might also be interested in two different websites.
This simple one.
This curated site with more info and archives.
If you are a serious querying author, you will want a free or paid account at Query Tracker. Don't forget to polish your query. Always seek a second (or third) pinion from critique partners or friends. Learn even more here about what makes a good query.
This week, I'm busy heavily revising ON THE ROAD TO MARTY MCFLY after an agent who requested the full manuscript suggested I tighten the plot.
I'll be busy with that for several weeks. As for the rest of you, write on!
First, some exciting news: I had a full request from a lovely agent! Very exciting, and a long time coming. If you want to read the opening to ON THE ROAD TO MARTY MCFLY, I'd love your feedback, too!
While I avoid stalking my inbox, I'm catching up on some great books. There are so many super YA novels out and a few I missed. For your interest, I've started a review page. Check it out! Share your opinions, too, please :)
Besides juicy stories, I've been re-reading some writing books that have me thinking about my habits. I wonder which of these are important to you and which one's I'm missing.
Here's my to do list top ten (in Late Night order) if I were starting out today:
10. Join Twitter. Set up an account that is public where you focus almost solely on writing topics. You can get personal, but consider it an extension of your workspace.
9. Participate in Twitter. That means, find chats, socialize with others in the industry. Don't stalk agents, but do follow them, so you can learn.
8. Join a professional group. You will connect with others in your genre, learn about workshops, and create lasting friendships. Try these: romance writers; children or young adult writers; sci-fi and fantasy writers; steampunk; mystery.
7. Write. We can't travel too far down this list without mentioning craft. It's so important to establish a routine. Whether it means writing for thirty minutes everyday on your lunch break or getting up an hour early while the house is quiet, you must write. Every. Day. Try these tips.
6. Read. Read like you write like you breathe. Read what you live, but most definitely read what you write. If you write picture books, read the best and worst of them, so you know what little readers like. And don't just read for fun, read with purpose. When I started studying other YA like they were textbooks, I learned so much about my audience. Join me on Goodreads where you can find lists of great books and insightful reviews.
5. Study. These books are not novels. These are books on craft. There are so many out there. I recommend three to start with: On Writing by Stephen King, Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, and Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg. Read about them on Goodreads; start with one.
4. Find your voice. Anyone can write a story. No one can write it like you. What makes you stand out as a writer is voice. How do you find yours? Go back to #7 and #5. Write and study writing. You will find your voice. Listen to author Cory Putman Oakes.
3. Find your story. Anyone can write a story. No one can write yours. You've heard the adage--write what you know. Well, what do you know? Losing someone? Laughing until you pee your pants? Moving three times before puberty? Feeling incredible unrequited love? Listen to the master, Neil Gaiman, on this.
2. Support and connect with other writers. Join a writing group; find critique partners; nurture those relationships. We can learn so much from each other.
1. Shameless plug: sign up for my free newsletter (up there on your right) and never miss another great writing tip!
What's on your writer's to do list? I'd love to know. Please share below and continue the conversation.
If you are a new or seasoned writer who seeks honest and constructive feedback, you might consider finding a critique partner. This writer will help you with your finished or developing manuscript. If you were ever to win an award for your story, this is one of the people you would thank.
Previously, you've heard me rave about my editor, Jane MacKay. While Jane provides constructive and detailed feedback on manuscripts and queries, I do pay her because she's a professional. And, even though I use critique partners and beta readers, I still hire Jane after they are through.
First of all, you need to know this: a critique partner is not a beta reader.
Beta Reader: someone who loves to read and can provide you with valuable feedback about your characters' authenticity, your plot's plausibility, your setting's inconsistencies, etc.
Critique Partner: a writer who wants to trade manuscripts for feedback on grammatical technicalities, style, flow, and all the beta reader stuff.
Mom: the person who loves you no matter how crappy your writing is or how many times you drop an Oxford comma.
Ryan Gosling: the guy who motivates you (or is it just me?) to get it done.
If you read between the lines, you might notice that you qualify as a critique partner for most other writers and maybe a beta reader for someone outside your genre. For instance, I write YA, but I love a good mystery. I'd be a good beta reader for mystery writers (but please don't send me a ms to read or my critique partners will hunt you down. Time is valuable.)
Currently, I'm partnering with several writers. I recently started working with aspiring YA author Brook Ellis. We met through Miss Snark's Critique Partner Dating Service (love that name!). Since three-thousand miles separates us, Brook and I exchange manuscripts via Google Docs and email. So far, it works. I'm also part of a local writer's group who met at a SCBWI event. Adult fiction writer Gwynne Jackson, picture writer and illustrator Evangeline, and I also exchange work via Google Docs. In addition, because we live within a five-mile radius, we meet monthly at someone's house.
I feel extremely fortunate to have these amazing writers in my life. Previously, I was unsure about working with a critique partner. I was embarrassed my work might not measure up; I was afraid I wouldn't have the time. Wrong. Wrong. Love, love them. When you want to, you can accomplish quite a lot.
So here are my top five reasons why you need a critique partner (CP).
A critique partner will:
1. Provide honest feedback. You are not paying them. They are not your mom. If something isn't working, or if something's truly amazing, they will let you know.
2. Have the skill to help you. Since your CPs are writers, they will not only be able to tell you where something's gone awry, they will be able to offer some pretty great suggestions on how to fix it.
3. Help you grow as a writer. Over the course of time, your CPs will become great teachers. Once they've learned your writing style, they will recognize your weaknesses and help you accentuate your strengths.
4. Not waste your time. They want what you want: good, constructive, honest feedback. If they can't provide this, they understand you might find a new partner. If you're good and helpful (because you're doing 1-3), they will make your time worth it.
5. Make you laugh. Make you cry. Mostly because of No. 1, your CP will sometimes tell you things about your writing that will make you feel so good, you'll laugh. However, every rose has its thorns. Because of No.1, your CP will also tell you some brutally honest facts about where your writing or story is falling down. The hope is that, because of No. 2, you will understand that the crying will help with No. 3.
If your relationship with your CPs look different, maybe it's not working. Remember, it's a partnership. As in any relationship, know when to get out and know when you're not doing your part.
I would love to hear your thoughts on finding and working with critique partners. Please share them in the comments below.
I'm always open to finding more CPs in order to create the best stories.
Inside the collective virtual writing world, we like to help one another out. We read each other's writing, blogs, and books. We connect on Twitter, Facebook, and other social media platforms. We engage in chats, discussions, and debates. We invite one another to book give-aways, TwitterChats, webinars and maybe a live author event somewhere in the real world.
In my opinion, this virtual community offers tremendous support for emerging and veteran writers. If you create (writing, art, photography, other), you want to be part of this collective. There's no admission, no initiation, no dues. You can be a voyeur, or you can dive write in and share your ideas, ask questions, or promote events. I do, and my writing is changed for the better.
The other day, CJ tossed me this "One Lovely Blog Award" and asked me to share 7 things about me. I've shared me. So I'd rather share with you 7 things about writing. I trust no one will ring my doorbell and rip this badge from my website.
7 things about writing.
1. Writing is work. Bruce Jenner didn't win the Decathlon sitting on the couch binge-watching OITNB. He rose everyday and followed a strict routine to be in top shape. I write everyday but not enough to win a Decathlon. I have been caught red-eyed in front of more than one binge-watching session. Like my writing, I am a work in progress.
2. Writing is cathartic. Diving inside your depressed character's darkness can be a cheap way of relieving your own frustrations with the world. Use your past to develop your characters. It might save you on the therapy bills.
3. Writing is joyful. When my day begins with writing, I feel grounded, happy and ready for the world.
4. Writing is measured. Besides the joy in creating, I find a certain pleasure in seeing those word counts rise. Setting a daily or weekly goal keeps me on track and makes me feel accomplished.
5. Writing is a partnership. Yes, there is the relationship built with other writers, but I'm talking about the relationship between you and that screen (notepad, sheet of paper, post-it pile). Whether I'm using a software program to organize or reading writing advice beforehand, what I produce requires a team effort.
6. Writing is magic. There's magic at work before the words that jumble about in my head fall onto the screen before me. When I tune in to my internal workings, connect with the world around me, I create a place that doesn't exist. That's the magical world of a story.
7. Writing is peace. To expand on point 3, writing can bring you not only a sense of wonder but a quiet. Once I empty out the inner chatter onto the screen or my journal, my mind can rest. Writing is my ohm.
Please visit these lovely blogs for more fun with writing:
Lisa Reiter - practical tips and delightful conversations.
Morgen Bailey - fun poetry and story starters and more.
Heather Jackson and Others - tips and advice written with empathy and humor.
Katharine Grubb - warm and kind mom with tons of energy and lots of ideas to help writers promote and publish.
Gabriela Pereira - Do it Yourself MFA. Great articles and tips for writers at all stages.
Now, let's get back to writing.
As some of you know, I recently fell in love. With Scrivener. We met, married, and are enjoying a passionate honeymoon. Scrivener saved my writing life.
If you don't use it, and have no interest in using it, I suggest this: take a sheet of paper and scratch out some notes before you write. Create a mind map, a word web, anything.
I was never a fan of outlines. Until now. Fellow tweeps agree. Try K.M Weiland and Gabriela Pereira. Between their helpful tips and my dear Scriv, I'm in writing heaven.
Before you go on, let me make one thing clear. By outline, I don't mean grade-school roman numerals and capital letters. By outline, I mean a sketch, a map, a skeleton of your story; I mean the major plot points, the central message, the potential obstacles. (Remember: what happens in your head, stays in your head. Unless you open your mouth.)
Here are my 5 take-aways on the importance of outlining your story:
1. Outlines build a frame - you can always change plot structure and other details during the writing process, but beginning with that initial skeleton clears a path and marks a destination.
2. Stories need an outline - a natural outline will grow from your writing even if you don't begin with it. Why not start with it? It's your skeleton. Without it, your story will be an amorphous blob inching across a barren slab of pavement.
3. Outlines make you a better writer - fleshing out details like character traits, scenes, conflicts, obstacles, etc., beforehand prepare you for the deeper context that will organically unfold as you write.
4. Outlines save you time - ninety percent of my writer's block cleared up when I began taking outlining seriously. Just scratching out those 8 arcs gave me visible landmarks and stopping points.
5. Not everyone agrees - I could add five more reasons I think outlines make you a better writer, and you could find just as many that counter me.
I'm not your mom or your best friend. You won't offend me or hurt my feelings if you leave me a comment below that says I'm wrong. I welcome debate. I began my writing life on the other side of this argument - "outlining is for pretentious writers; I'm organic; let it flow". I've changed my mind.
I might change it again, but for now, creating an outline (loose or tight) gives my stories strength and frees my thinking to create.
What do you think?