Wednesday, October 26, 2016

When I'd Rather Sharpen 96,000 Pencils BY HAND Than Look At My Manuscript One. More. Time.

Jill here! Today I am thrilled to introduce to you all a talented young author/editor. Alexa has been a part of Go Teen Writers for many years. I first got to know her better when she volunteered to be one of several proofreaders on the first edition of Storyworld First. She did an amazing job. She recently started a freelance editing business and gave my newest release Broken Trust an excellent edit that really helped improve the story. I'm proud to know her and excited to see her career blossom.

Today, Alexa is writing to us about those times when we are SICK of our books. Whether it be editing them or just trying to get that first draft done, we would pretty much rather do anything else. I'm in a place like this right now, so I'm excited about this topic.

Alexandria, better known as Alex or Alexa, is a strange Christian-fangirl-YA-writer medley tucked away in an undisclosed location in Virginia. She loves creating worlds out of keystrokes, discovering adorable ships (platonic or romantic), and becoming besties with clever characters who wow her with smarts and sass. You can find her on her blogs Summer Snowflakes and Verbosity Reviews, her editing website Edits by Alexandria, and on Pinterest and Goodreads.

For the most part, being a writer is pretty cool—I mean, we literally create worlds out of a bunch of tiny squiggles—but there are days that just don’t fit into that “most part.” Days when my characters won’t talk to me, my plot is chockful of holes, and as for my writing… well, let’s just say I’ve been staring at the same sentence for the last thirty-seven minutes and I’m beginning to question whether or not I can spell “the.” It’s those days that I wanna give up on writing and just do something… achievable. But because, even on the worst days, my heart’s calling is to write, I have to find a way to slog through those rough moments.

Different systems work differently for different people, and honestly, even I don’t use this system exactly like this every time. But… it looked prettier arranged in steps. So.

Step 1: Take A Break

Now I know all my fellow perfectionist over-achievers are already laughing their way out, because they’re not gonna do that are you crazy how will you ever finish anything BYE. But I promise: it’s not admitting defeat to walk away for a little while. Watch a movie. Listen to music. Read that one book your bestie’s been shoving in your face for a month. Just step away from anything to do with your wayward characters and your swiss-cheese manuscript and give yourself time to decompress.

Eventually though, you do have to come back, because—sadly—your book won’t write itself. You may find taking a break is all you need and it’s almost easy to refocus when you return. But if it isn’t (or you realize you’ve been avoiding your manuscript for several months now. ;) ), then it’s simply time for your butt and your chair, your fingers and your keyboard, to have some extended quality time.


This step is fairly self-explanatory: butt must be in chair and fingers must be on keyboard. Got it? Great.

Step 3: Remind Yourself Of Your Why

One of the best ways I’ve found to pull myself out of a slump is to remember Why I Want To Be A Writer, or even, Why I’m Working On This Project (these could be completely different things). What is my point to coming back every day, jamming out another hundred words? What, with this project, do I want to achieve?

What do you want to achieve? Do you want to give your characters a voice? Encourage others? Something entirely different? When you wanted to give up, why did you say, “I can’t quit,” and drag yourself back?

Once I’ve regained a grasp on why I’m here, I’m sometimes ready to start again. Other times, I do all of the above, and my brain still goes, “Writing? Enh... How ’bout we don’t?” After that, I’ve found the only thing to do is trick myself into pounding out the words with some good old-fashioned bribery.

Step 4: The Reward System

1.      Music: I actually am one of those people who likes to listen to music while they write, but sometimes, I find the songs more of a distraction than a help. So I tell myself, “If you edit this chapter” or “if you finish this blog post” or even “JUST READ THE NEXT TWO PAGES,” then I’m allowed a quick jam session, celebrating my success.

2.      Desserts: I. Love. Chocolate. During NaNoWriMo 2013, I rewarded myself with my favorite: Lindt Dark Chocolate truffles. They’re kind of expensive, especially for a then-jobless high schooler, but I “made the investment” and bought myself a big bag at the beginning of November. The catch? I couldn’t even sniff them until each 10% of my word count was reached.

3.      TV: I rarely find time to watch anything; simultaneously, there are so many shows I love. So on those days I just wanna give up and binge-watch CW’s Flash, I put myself on a schedule and focus on finishing quickly and well so I can watch an episode before quitting time.

Final Tip: Hold Yourself Accountable

As I’m writing the first draft of this post, I promised myself that if I finished writing by 10:10 tonight, I could watch 30 minutes of Allegiant. But I’ll be honest: I majorly procrastinated today and there’s no way I’ll finish on time. That means that when 10:10 rolls around, I’ll still be writing and Allegiant will still be in its case. Reward systems only work if you commit to holding yourself accountable. :)

Thank you so much for having me on Go Teen Writers! What do you use to trick yourself into writing? What’s your reason for returning to the story of your heart? Hope you enjoyed, and thanks again!

~ Love, Alexa

Monday, October 24, 2016

7 Questions To Ask When Creating Character Goals

Stephanie Morrill is the creator of and the author of several young adult novels, including the historical mystery, The Lost Girl of Astor Street, which releases in February 2017. 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 authorwebsite.

This is the first year I've participated in NaNoWriMo. In previous years, I've observed some of the pre-November writing buzz, but this is the first time I'm part of it. The vibe reminds me of the moments before a race, when the runners are in the chute. The music is pumping, and there's a feeling of camaraderie and excitement.

During November, Go Teen Writers is hosting nightly check-ins. Whether you're officially doing NaNo, or just wanting a bit of extra community during the month, every night there will be a fresh, "How'd the day go?" kind of post. This will be a place designed for you to share how much you wrote (or didn't write!), encourage each other, and build relationships with other writers.

Last week in the Go Teen Writers Community group, Bethany Baldwin asked about character goals and was looking for good blog posts on the topic. We've talked about character goals a lot on Go Teen Writers, so I came here to grab a link to a post to send her ... and found nothing. While we've covered the topic, it's always been entwined with crafting a strong plot or a likable character.

So here is a list of seven questions you can ask to create compelling character goals:

1. What is your main character's primary external goal?

Another way of phrasing this is, "What is the number one thing your character wants?"

In Cars, Lightning McQueen wants to win the Piston Cup.

In Tangled, Rapunzel wants to see the floating lights.

As you can see in both of these examples, I'm talking about a goal that your characters KNOWS they have, that they TAKE ACTION on during the course of the story, and that DRIVES THE MAIN PLOT.

2. Why does he or she want this?

This is where the fun starts. Sometimes your character knows exactly why they want something. Lightning McQueen wants to win the Piston Cup because he wants the glory. Rapunzel wants to see the floating lights because she has a gut feeling that they mean something unique to her.

But there is also often a piece of this that the character doesn't know, or that they can't yet articulate or admit to themselves. Lightning McQueen would never admit that he struggles to feel good enough, and that he thinks winning the race will give him the sense of acceptance that he craves. Rapunzel, on the other hand, knows that she's craving adventure. Yes, she thinks seeing the lights will be special, but also she's just desperate to get out of that tower and go do something.

When we have big life goals, we tend to have multiple reasons for wanting them, right? Some are good, likable reasons. Others are more self-serving or less socially acceptable. Teasing out these complexities will help you figure out how to push your character's buttons. 

3. How does your character try to achieve their goal, and what stands in their way?

Wouldn't it be strange if Lightning McQueen's goal was to figure out who his parents are, and yet he spends the whole movie trying to get to California for his big race? That would make no sense, right? Figuring out your character's goal is almost always equal to figuring out the plot of your book. 

Once you know what your character wants, then you can figure out what actions they can take to try to get it. Because it wouldn't be very enjoyable if Lightning's goal was to win the Piston Cup, and he spent the movie watching other cars race. 

Not that you can't have some things happen to fall upon your character. In Tangled, Flynn Rider shows up in Rapunzel's tower, but then she seizes upon that opportunity. Some things will be out of your character's control, but your character needs to be as active as possible. That's one reason why The Hunger Games is such a powerful story, because Katniss chooses to take her sister's place.

And while the character's goal should make sense, it also needs to be big enough that they can't do it alone, and that they have to overcome obstacles.

4. How does this goal evolve over the course of the story?

This is another question that will help you solidify the plot of your story. 

When Tangled starts, Rapunzel wants to see the floating lights. As the story goes on, Rapunzel wants to see the floating lights and she doesn't want to lose her newfound freedom. It would feel false to the viewer if Rapunzel was content to see the lights and then return to her tower forever.

Or another way to think about this is that as your character moves closer to meeting their goal, there should be times when they see that the goal is just a piece of who they want to be. It isn't "everything," the way they once thought it was.

5. What are several other external goals they have during the story? 

As your character works to achieve their goal, it's natural for other goals to crop up. Often this arises in the romance thread of the story. Rapunzel wants to see the floating lights and become free, but she also wants to be with Flynn.

In Cars, Lightning McQueen wants to get out of Radiator Springs so he can get to California to win his race, but he also comes to care about the town, and he adopts Sally's dream of it becoming great again.

Giving your character multiple dreams is a great plotting technique, because it means you can put them in situations where they have to prioritize one over the other. This is how you set them up to make personal and meaningful sacrifices. Even with how many times I've watched Cars, I tear up every time Lightning McQueen hits his brakes moments before crossing the finish line.

6. What is your main character's internal goal?

This is a goal that is often hidden from the main character, but it's clear to the reader. Lightning McQueen longs to be accepted for who he is, not what he can do. That's what he finds in Radiator Springs. He doesn't know he needs that until he finds it, but the audience has known since we saw him have that phone call with his agent.

Another way you can think about this is that the external goal is what the character wants, but the internal goal is what they need. It's the heart of the story.

7. What do the other characters want?

The other characters in the story should have goals too. That's where a lot of organic conflict will come from. Lightning and Chick both want to be the next racing hot shot, so it's obvious how their goals conflict.

But let's consider Sally for a moment. Sally's goal is for the town to return to it's heyday. Lightning's goal—to win the Piston Cup—and Sally's goal don't conflict with each other until Lightning ruins the road, and Sally is bent on him paying for what he did.

See how that works?

I talk about this in the Story Workbook Tutorial (which you can get for free when you sign up for Go Teen Writers Notes) but something I brainstorm is the main goal for each of my prominent characters. I love how seeing their goals laid out side by side gives me all kinds of ideas for conflict, not just with my villain, but also the rest of the cast.

I want to hear what goals your character has! In the story I'm in the midst of brainstorming for NaNoWriMo, my main character's goal is to make money to support her family. Her internal goal (the one she doesn't realize she needs) is to be free.

Friday, October 21, 2016

The Monster of Procrastination

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.

From the moment we fight our way into the world, we each have monsters to overcome. For years, many of us depend on the adults in our life to help and even fight for us. But at some point, we have to lace up our boots, sharpen our swords, and don the shields others have carried on our behalf.

Scary, yes. But also exciting. Facing down your own monsters is a rite of passage for any teen writer.

Now, some monsters are fierce in their attack, twisting your gut and brightening your face, forcing sweat down your spine. I think of Fear and Doubt; I think of Anger. These guys are all brutal in their own obvious ways, but sometimes it's the quiet ones that do the most damage to our stories.

It's the beasts who plop down on top of us all furry and comfortable, wagging their tails and convincing us to scratch their ears, keeping us numb to the fact that behind that sloppy, silly smile they're hiding jagged teeth already tearing at our motivation.

I'm talking about the Monster of Procrastination.

Oh, he's a snugly one, to be sure. He comes along with video games and buckets of free time. He slobbers in your ear and whispers that all of this--even the twelve hour Netflix binge--is inspiration. He wraps lies up in cozy truths and keeps your behind on the couch when it should be in front of a computer screen (or notebook!).

He's sneaky this guy. And sometimes he's wise. And that makes him hard to cut down, because like any creative, you need a break. You need time to veg. You need a good old fashioned time out. You might even need Netflix.

But how do we differentiate between the angel of rejuvenation and the demon of I'll-Do-It-Later. How do we find a healthy balance?

I have a few thoughts for you.

Acknowledge that life is busy. If you don't do this, then every time you sit down, you'll feel guilty. I struggle with this a lot. It's rare for me to find a moment of peace that I think I shouldn't be filling with words in some form or another. Start here, with the very basic truth that there will be times when you need to rest.

Acknowledge that your story will not get written if you do not write it. I know, I know. But this is foundational. Your story will not write itself. Your parents, your BFF, your tabby cat--they won't do it for you. And even if you could get them take on such a task, would you really want to hand this off? This is YOUR STORY. YOUR BRAIN CHILD. You either want to see it realized on the page or you only kind of want to see it on the page. The latter will not get it written. And, for reals, your attitude may shift a time or two before it stands its ground. That's okay too. But understand that stories do not want to write themselves. They need you.

Start your day with a To-Do List. Now, To-Do Lists aren't going to jump in and fight for you either, but there is something magical about these things. I make one every day. It's a habit I picked up when I worked in retail management. We started each day with a Punch List (read: To-Do List). Every task we completed as a staff got marked off and by the end of the shift, the whole crew knew we'd accomplished something--usually everything we jotted down to start with.

Checking things off is a stupid, silly motivator, but IT WORKS. In fact, some days, if I have early appointments and don't get around to making a Punch List until later in the day, I actually scribble down everything I did that morning just so I can scratch it off. It's ridiculous, I know, but it keeps me in a mode of accomplishing. You need to find that mode. Procrastination hates that mode.

Give yourself permission to start anywhere. Listen, at some point you're going to have to write that scene that has you curled up with Procrastination, but it doesn't have to be today. Start with something you can muster up the WANT-TO to achieve. Want-to is important. Honor it. If you want to work on that battle scene, do it. If you want to play with your backstory a bit, dive in. If you'd rather interview your villain for a while, put that on the To-Do list, do it with gusto, and check that baby off. Just get started. It's very possible that you'll find the want-to you need for tougher scenes as you're working on the easier stuff. Happens all the time.

Remind yourself that stories are important. Will your story change the lives of people all over the world? Maybe, maybe not. There's no way to know until you finish it. But here's the honest truth: the writing of a story and the FINISHING of a story will absolutely change you. You'll see every difficult task through a new lens. You'll gain battle experience--to finish a story you will inevitably face many, many monsters. And you will know that you CAN finish a story, that it's possible. That knowledge becomes a weapon you can use against procrastination next time.

Trust me, finishing is a big fat deal. Storytelling is ancient and spiritual and intellectual and entertaining. Storytelling matters. It's mattered forever. You've chosen to do something noble. Now, sit down, dust off the fuzzy remnants of Procrastination, and do it. That adorable little monster will sulk off with his tail between his legs wishing you'd never, ever made that To-Do List.

Now, tell me, friends. What helps you when the Monster of Procrastination strikes (er, snuggles up happily on your lap)?

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Top 10 Semi-finalists and Top 3 Finalists in the Go Teen Writers #WeWriteBooks Contest

Congratulations to the writers whose entries were chosen for the top ten semifinalists in our 3,000 word contest (listed alphabetically):

Ansley Hills - The Outpatient
Bernadette Holmes - Forget the Taste of Blood
Caitlin Eha - Journey to Valtasia
Charlotte Feechan - Azren
Colin Cannici - The Book of the Sea
Kady Cossins - Work of My Hands
Lydia Carns - The Good Adventurers
Melissa Gravitis - Golden Revenge
Olivia Farnsworth - Death Song
Taylor Bennett - Porch Swing Girl

Judging this contest was agony--in a good way! You guys simply blew us away. You are all so talented and creative. We each struggled over having to choose only ten semifinalists, and then after reading each other's top choices, we agonized over how to decide which three finalists to send to Roseanna. Ultimately, these are the three finalists we chose:

Ansley Hills - The Outpatient
Charlotte Feechan - Azren
Kady Cossins - Work of My Hands

If your name isn't on the above lists, please don't be discouraged. Judging is a very subjective process, and like I said, you are all so very talented, it was terribly difficult to choose between your marvelous stories. We are immensely proud of you all and honored that you shared your writing with us. Thank you for entering the contest and be encouraged! You guys are fabulous writers. Keep at it!

Everyone will be receiving an email from Stephanie in the next couple days with your feedback. We had 79 entries to this contest, so please be patient. That's a lot of emails to send!

Our three finalists will receive further instructions about putting together their entries to send to the amazing, talented editor, Roseanna White, who will choose our winner

Congratulations, everyone! Job well done.

Monday, October 17, 2016

3 Ways To Embrace The Writer You Used To Be

Stephanie here! Even though we haven't been blogging, it's been a busy few weeks here on Go Teen Writers! Not only did the blog get a makeover, but I created a free story workbook tutorial for our Go Teen Writers Notes subscribers.

Jill, Shannon, and I have also been reading all the entries to the We Write Books contest. We're working together to pick the top three, and that list will be posted on Wednesday. After that, I'll email out feedback.

Today, I'm really excited to have young writer, Alicyn Newman with us. She's talking about those old writing projects that make us cringe. Something I think we can all relate to!

Alicyn Newman is currently pursuing an undergraduate degree in creative writing at her home college after twelve years of homeschooling. She started taking writing seriously sometime during middle school, but had an inherited reputation for storytelling long before that. Her non-writing alter ego leads a double life as both a violinist and fiddler. She’s also a chocolate enthusiast, a hugger, and a rookie blogger. You can find her at her blog, So I Write, where she posts about writing, books, and grace.

We all have that old writing project that makes us want to crawl under our bed with a tub of ice cream when we think about it.

Or, if you’re like me, you might have several.

They make us cringe. We look back on all the plot holes, the flat characters, the awkward sentence structuring, and we think, “How did I not notice that?” These feelings only intensify when you remember that you shared that writing in its raw, first-draft state with a couple of friends (trust me, I know).

These feelings are hard for us perfectionistic, driven, and often insecure writers to get past. We want our writing to be clear, unique, and strong, worthy of a publisher’s attention. When our past writing doesn’t reflect those qualities, we take it like a punch in the gut – like it defines our identity as writers.  

But allow me to offer you a different outlook.

What would happen if, instead of shoving those old projects into some discreet computer file or dusty box under the bed, we instead learned to embrace them for what they are: the bottom rungs of a ladder we are climbing as we progress in our writing?

A ladder without its first few rungs would be a little hard to mount, don’t you think? They’re just as essential to its makeup and usefulness as our old writing projects are to our whole practice of the craft. The old projects are the bottom rungs of your ladder, the steps supporting you as you climb higher. They expose your growth. Without them, you wouldn’t be where you are now.

You had to start somewhere.

All humans began as crying, helpless babies who needed to be cleaned up by the gentle hands of nurses. A professional ballerina started out as a stumbling five-year-old, gripping the ballet barre for support. A musician’s first scale book was creased and worn from daily practices.

Beginnings are awkward, but necessary. Why not embrace them?

Here are three suggestions I offer for those of you who look back on your old writing and feel discouraged – myself included. Whether you’re searching for the gumption to step up your game as a writer but can’t get past your previous projects, or whether you’re simply here for encouragement, these are for you.

Look for the good stuff.

Your old writing project(s) can’t be all bad. For a moment, push aside the flaws and allow the good points to surface. Is there a character that, though not well developed, still has potential? Is there a particular sentence or paragraph that sticks out, because it is, actually, well written? And – here’s a big point – did you write the whole story?

When I was young, I wrote entire stories, no matter how flawed they were. Now, since my focus is on perfecting the content, I struggle to complete my projects. When I was young and writing imperfectly, at least I was fearless. Maybe that was you too. Maybe, by embracing what we wrote in our fearlessness, we can find the art of writing fearlessly again.

Use your old writing projects.

My first fully-written story featured a minor side character who was a bully. A year later, I recycled this character and tweaked him a bit so he became one of the main characters for a different story, and this time, he was a victim of bullying. Based on this example, is there anything (or anyone) from an old story that you can recycle? Can you pull a character or an idea from something old and use them in something new and fresh so they don’t go to waste?

Find the next step, and take it.

Now that you’ve got your feet firmly planted on the bottom rungs of your ladder, what can you do to keep up the climb? What are some ways you could advance as a writer, rather than staying where you are? My suggestion is to start small. Journaling, penning poetry, getting involved with other writers, and free writing in your spare time are just a few of the many ways that you can work up to the novel of your dreams.

Remember to observe, to question, to listen. Inspiration is everywhere. Be patient with yourself too. It’s okay to take baby steps up the ladder toward your ultimate goal. One rung, two rungs, three. Find the pace that works for you.

You’re never alone if you feel discouraged with your writing. But your past doesn’t define you. Every writer walks a path of continual growth, requiring continual work. So persevere, and you’ll get there. Embrace your beginnings for what they are: the foundation of your art, the bottom rungs of the ladder you’re climbing. Allow yourself the freedom to grow, and never stop writing.

What's something you're doing to help you grow as a writer?