Monday, October 30, 2017

What I Learned This Last Year about Writing

Saturday was my birthday, and I put together a list of 34 things I've learned in the last year. (Nothing says, "I'm cool," like celebrating your birthday by making a big list and putting it on your blog.)

As I assembled my list, I kept thinking of writing things I'd learned as well. Some made it on my 34 things list, but I thought sharing here would be more suited my audience.



Here are 11 things I've learned about writing this year:

1. The benefits of logging my writing time

I have done this faithfully since NaNoWriMo last year, and I found that I love it. It gives me the same feeling as when I was a Sonic Carhop and had to punch my time card when I arrived or left for the day. When I jot down my "Time In" I feel like I'm reporting for work.



(I originally shared my work long in the Story Workbook tutorial freebie that's available to Go Teen Writers Notes subscribers.)

2. NaNoWriMo is fun! 

Last year is the first time my schedule aligned to let me participate in NaNoWriMo. I'm introverted, and I don't struggle with the discipline required to write a novel, so I was very surprised when I loved the community aspect of NaNo so much. If you're still on the fence about participating this year, I encourage you to give it a shot!

3. Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

(This book is written for an adult audience, and that's reflected in the language and examples given, so I would only recommend it for GTWers in their late teens who aren't sensitive to that kind of thing. It's in the same vein as Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott.) 

I didn't think I was going to like this book because I've never felt guilt or shame over being a creative. But I found Big Magic to be an insightful and inspiring read. Early in the book, she offers this encouragement to those who are young writers, and I thought of you all:
If you are a young person...feel free to start sharing your perspective through creativity, even if you're just a kid. If you are young, you see things differently than I do, and I want to know how you see things. We all want to know. When we look at your work (whatever your work may be), we will want to feel your youth--that fresh sense of your recent arrival here. Be generous with us and let us feel it. After all, for many of us it has been so long since we stood where you now stand.

4. Goals. I should make them.

My perspective about goals, particularly my writing goals, changed big time in the last few months. I've already blogged pretty extensively about that, so I won't repeat it here. (See my post Writing Goals And The Clarity That Comes From Having Them if this is of interest to you.)

5. Productivity is my best marketing tool.

This thought was given to me by James Scott Bell in his book Marketing For Writers Who Hate Marketing. I know some of us (me included) are worried about reaching an audience and how to best market and which social media platform is best. Mr. Bell suggests, and I'm inclined to agree with him, that writing great books and writing more of them is the best thing we can do to grow our platform. And that productivity (learning to write increasingly better books increasingly faster) would be the best marketing tool.

6. The Helping Writers Become Authors podcast.

Even though I've known of K.M. Weiland for years, and I've been on her blog multiple times, I didn't realize she had a podcast until last October when I was getting ready for NaNoWriMo. Then I fell into a lovely rabbit hole of resources that she's created for writers. She's helped me to recognize a few things about story that hadn't quite clicked for me yet, including how character arcs work with story structure, and that I could expect more of my first drafts.

7. Deep Work by Cal Newport

If you have a smart phone, you already know that the temptations for being distracted are great. It can feel nearly impossible to not check a notification that's come in. And I've always been a bit of an email addict.

In this book, Mr. Newport talks about knowledge workers (like writers) and how we need time to work for long hours without distraction. Jill talked about the book last May in her blog post on 10 Ways To Increase Productivity, which prompted my ordering it. Because of reading Deep Work, I've rearranged how I spend my writing time, I've learned to identify what's urgent and what's not, and I've worked on my smart phone habits.

I also missed a call from my editor once because I had my phone set to Do Not Disturb. At first I thought, "Oh, I shouldn't have had my phone on DND! Then I wouldn't have missed Jillian's call!" But you know what? We just chatted a little later, and it didn't mess up my writing groove. It's really okay to not be accessible all the time.

8. Procrastination is a disguise that fear wears.

Elizabeth Gilbert said this in her Magic Lessons podcast, and at first I was like, "Not always..." But the more I think about it, and the more I observe myself when I procrastinate, I think it's truer than I originally thought.

9. "Storytelling and writing are actually two different skill sets. Too often when we try to do them both at once in the first draft, they get in each other's way." - K.M. Weiland

YES. Hearing her say this helped something click for me about the drafting process. When I started planning out my scenes before writing them, the quality of my first drafts went up big time.

10. Story Genius by Lisa Cron

This was another writing book I discovered this year. I don't do everything the way she suggests, but I loved the way that she showed how everything needed to build in a logical way. That sometimes we struggle with our stories reading like, "This happens, then this happens, and then this happens." When, really, it should be, "This happens, and so this happens, and so this happens."

11. That I should fill the corners with wonder.

When listening to a Writing Excuses podcast, Dan Wells said something that has stuck with me. He said one of the unique things about the Harry Potter series is that J.K. Rowling, “took the care to fill even the corners with wonder.” Everywhere you look in that world, there’s unique, interesting stuff happening. So I’m trying to look for places where I’ve skimped on details or been lazy with descriptions.

What about you? What's something you've learned recently about writing?

Friday, October 27, 2017

Go Teen Writers LIVE: Episode 5

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 Friday, you guys!

Today, I come with a treat. Our fifth episode of Go Teen Writers LIVE is well . . . live! In this episode we talk literary agents, editors, and marketing ideas. You guys have such good questions. Remember, if you want to submit a question for a future episode, all you have to do is participate in our Friday writing exercises and then enter the Rafflecopter. May the odds be ever in your favor!

ALSO, take a look at our menu bar up there. See the new tab? The one that says 'Go Teen Writers LIVE'. If you click on it, you'll find links for every episode we've recorded. We suggest nuking a bag of popcorn, kicking back, and committing to a Go Teen Writers LIVE marathon. It's what the cool kids do.



Talk soon, friends!

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

When To Share Your Writing With Others


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 had a podcast/vlog at www.StoryworldFirst.com. You can also find Jill on InstagramFacebookTwitterPinterest, or on her author website.


This past August, I had the privilege of meeting (and learning from) screenwriting coach Michael Hauge. I so enjoyed his Six-Stage Plot Structure that I Googled him and started watching more videos on his teachings. It was in one such video that I picked up this quote.


“You can’t trust your own judgement when your script is done, but you can’t trust other people’s judgement before you begin.” ~ Michael Hauge




I love, love this quote.

I must have rewritten The New Recruit a dozen times, and I still wasn't sure it was right. And all these years later, even long after a book is published, I feel like it's still never really complete. In fact, I have a notebook with pages devoted to each of my books--pages that are filled with lists of things that I need to fix, should I ever get the rights back. These are things I discovered as I read to my kids over the years, referenced the book for some reason, or from emails I received from readers. Not always typos. These could be continuity errors or simply phrases that make me wince now that I have so much more writing experience.

My point is, what Michael said is true. It's really hard for authors to trust their own judgement and believe that their story is done. Most the time we just have to let it go--let it be done. Move on.

The second half of Michael's quote is: ". . . you can’t trust other people’s judgement before you begin." So true. If you have a story idea, you can share it with hundreds of people, but until you put the story on paper, no one will likely grasp your exact vision for the project. It's one thing to brainstorm with others, but be careful of taking too much criticism at this stage. If you have a story that you're itching to write, trust yourself and write it. Don't rely on feedback from others to tell you what to do. 

I would like to suggest that it's equally difficult for authors to trust others for feedback on a story that's not finished. When you are writing a new story, it's normal to get excited about it and fall so in love with your characters and plot that you are eager to show it to people--curious to see if the story has the same affect on them as it's having on you.

This is not always a good plan.

Several things can happen. The people who read it will either like it or dislike it. And regardless, some will give you criticism. This might cause you to stop writing as you take time to contemplate this feedback and decide whether or not to try and take the advice and change your story. Now you've been derailed from writing your story and are second guessing yourself. What to do?

I don't speak for every author out there, but I've learned the hard way not to show my writing to people until I've at least completed a first draft. And even then, I don't tend to show it to people until I've done a rewrite and feel good about the story. This is mostly due to the fact that when the story isn't done, I'm still discovering it myself. To get feedback at that stage will, as I said before, derail me. And I need to trust myself as a storyteller--as the one who is discovering the story I'm telling--before I start bringing other opinions into the process.

Besides, if I've only written a chapter or two, it's not really fair to ask people for story feedback at that stage. How can anyone give honest feedback on a fraction of a story?

Writing is hard sometimes. It can be lonely when the story lives in our heads alone. And while I like to get together and vent with writing friends about my story and places I'm stuck, I never let anyone read it until the story is done.

How about you?

What do you think of this quote?

Do you have trouble knowing when your book is done?

At what stage do you let people see your writing?

Monday, October 23, 2017

3 More Mistakes I Made So You Don't Have To: Series Writing, Not Understanding My Genre, and Expecting to be an Exception



Stephanie Morrill is the creator of GoTeenWriters.com 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.


***Quick note before I jump into today's topic. A main character in the book I'm working on is Japanese American, and I'm looking for sensitivity readers. People who can point out nuances of Japanese culture that I don't know about and/or tell me what I got wrong about the experience of being Japanese American. If you can help, please send me an email: Stephanie(at)StephanieMorrillBooks.com***


My nine-year-old daughter said to me a few days ago, "I never fail."

I said, "That would also mean you never learn."

She said, "Let me rephrase that. I never fail because I always learn from my mistakes, and since I learn from it, it's not really a failure."

Mistakes can't be avoided, but they aren't nearly as painful if we learn from them, especially if we can share our knowledge with others. Lucky for you, I've made lots!



In the last few weeks, I talked about how I was an obsessive rewriter, and how I thought that I would become a "real" writer once I discovered my perfect novel writing system. Today I'm sharing three more:


Writing a Series

Don't freak out!

I know lots of you are writing series or want to write a series. I'm not trying to dissuade you from that. Series are lovely things. As a reader, I adore them. And for some writers, they're a great way to build readership.

There are lots of good things about series, but because I don't often hear the bad stuff talked about, I want to share why I wish I hadn't started my career with writing two series.

I originally intended Me, Just Different to be a stand-alone YA novel. But series were huge (Twilight was the rage when I signed my contract) and my agent suggested I brainstorm a couple ideas for potential books two and three. I did that, and my publisher bought The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series as a three-book deal.



But sales for Me, Just Different were slow from the beginning, and the book never took off the way my publisher and I had hoped. And who buys books two, three, four, etc. in a series? People who read and loved book one! So even though I had new books coming out every six months, I had a very narrow window of people who I was able to market them to because so few people had read the first book.

A similar thing happened with the Ellie Sweet books, though there are only two of them. Shortly after the second Ellie Sweet book came out, my life was derailed when my three-year-old son started having seizures. The stress and extra constraints on my time led to me giving my writing a critical look and saying, "What, exactly, am I doing here?"

At that time I had five published novels, and three of them were follow-ups to a book one that didn't sell very well. I decided it made no sense to keep signing multi-book contracts. I wanted contracts for one book at a time, and I was only going to write additional books if sales merited it.

But here's a quick side note on why these two series may not actually be a mistake: I still get emails from readers who loved the Skylar Hoyt and Ellie Sweet books. Emails that say things about how Skylar's story helped them through a hard time with their parents' divorce, or how Ellie finding her own confidence helped them to find theirs. I would not trade these emails for anything, including better sales numbers.

So even though I'm still committed to only writing stand-alone books for now, I'm not as regretful about my two series as I once was.

Not Understanding Why Character Age Matters

When I wrote Me, Just Different, I put my main character in eighth grade. I liked this because it seemed like so many Young Adult stories were about juniors or seniors in high school, and I thought this would make mine stand out.

The first editor I pitched the book to told me she liked the book and wanted to recommend it at her publishing house, but that I needed to rewrite it with Skylar being older. I pushed back a bit, and she explained that Skylar was twelve, the age of many main characters in the Middle Grade genre, but that the maturity level of the story was Young Adult. She told me, "Most sixteen-year-olds don't want to read books about twelve-year-olds."

That made sense. I totally get the temptation to push back on this because it’s what we like to do as creatives. Plus it’s easy to look at a series like Harry Potter or Percy Jackson and think that’s justification for writing a younger character in a more mature story. But those series have both been exceptionally successful (more on that in a bit) and it's unreasonable to expect the same result.

If you're wanting to be traditionally published, you want to minimize as many stumbling blocks as you can. There will already be plenty of others you can’t do anything about, so for a first novel, this isn’t a battle I would choose to fight.

Planning On Being An Exception

One of the first craft books I ever read was On Writing by Stephen King, which is a great one if you don’t mind some language, and it’s a classic for a reason. I hardly ever teach a class where I don’t mention it. 

BUT I'M NOT STEPHEN KING. Do you know how long it took me to realize that? I don’t write what he writes, and—I think this is the most important part—I'm not pursuing a writing career in the 1970s. I'm pursuing it now. So there are things that get to be true for Stephen King that are never going to be true for me. 

The same is true for whatever literary hero you hold up. I discovered contemporary YA author Sarah Dessen in 2004 and loved her voice and stories. She was doing something very similar to what I wanted to do, so when I made decisions I often patterned my career choices off what I thought worked for Sarah Dessen, including how she blogged and wrote. But in publishing just a few years can make a huge difference. She started her blog five years before I started mine, and was already a NYT bestselling author at that point. I couldn't just do whatever Sarah did and expect similar results.

That's especially true if you’re talking about an anomaly of an author like Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, or James Patterson. They are lightning strikes, and it's unrealistic to pattern ourselves after them, thinking lightning will strike us too. We can, of course, learn from literary greats, but we don't want to ignore truths about us and our stories.

Have you struggled with any of these mistakes? If so, share in the comments so I don't feel quite so alone!

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Write Well is FREE today!

Hey there, GTWers! Rachelle here. Stephanie graciously invited me on today to talk about my short writing guide, Write Well, because today only Write Well is FREE to download from Amazon.

In Write Well, I outline the tools and techniques you need to truly master grammar–in an un-overwhelming way. That’s right. You won’t be yawning or weeping as you read these writing rules, just learning how to write stronger.
Whether you’re a grammar geek like me or totally intimidated by the thought of explaining a semi-colon, I’ll teach you make your words work for you. And you can download Write Well for free today!
Here’s what Stephanie has to say about Write Well: “This handy book makes the rules of grammar accessible and enjoyable. If you're looking for a guide that can explain grammar to you in a clear, quick way, then Write Well is the one for you.” - Stephanie Morrill
Why I Wrote Write Well
In college, when I was tired of writing papers (and as an English minor, I wrote a lot of papers!), I turned to writing a story. The stories I wrote then later became my first published books.
The Steadfast Love series was borne out of a love of history and a passion for true love. I still love history and true love (especially sharing sappy posts about my man on Instagram!). But I also now work as a freelance editor, coaching other writers like me on the path to publication.
I geek out teaching writers how to structure their writing so that they can make more room for the art and heart of whatever story they're telling. How? Through consultations and manuscript critiques and also...through Write Well, which is free today!
So if you would like to learn to write well, download your copy.

This Book Is For You If…

You dream of the day when you’ll sign your first book contract, get published, hold your book in your hands…and you know all you need to get you there are the tools that will equip you to write better so that you can resonate with your readers.
Or maybe you’re already a published author or a successful blogger, and you feel pretty confident about your writing abilities. Do you know for a fact you can wield a comma confidently every single time? Do you know the one thing an em-dash can do that no other piece of punctuation can? If you want all your deepest, darkest writing questions answered, I’ve got you covered.
In Write Well, you will find advice on how to craft your novel, and even blog posts and emails with precision. Understand the rules of writing so that you can get back to the real work: actual writing.
Thanks for allowing me to chat about a passion of mine (readers!) and my latest release today! Now, let’s write well!

So what camp do you belong to--grammar geek or ...not? Share in a comment below.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Writing Exercise #18: Torturing Hobbits

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

Hello, friends! I hope this week has treated you kindly. Today, we're going to torture our hobbits a bit more, all right?

Two weeks ago we began with JRR Tolkien's line, "In a hole in the ground, there lived a hobbit."

We spent time creating our own hobbits, careful not to copy Mr. Tolkien's ideas. Once our hobbits were created, we came up with a plausible reason for our hobbit's underground living arrangements.

So many creative ideas, you guys! I was very impressed.

Last week, we took the exercise a step further: we gave our hobbits a problem. So many problems to work with too. You've all outdone yourselves. Good job.

This week, we're going to push things even further. We're going to make things worse for our hobbits. In doing so, we're going to make their situations more important to both them and our readers.



As an illustration, I'm going to steal an example from last week's comments, okay? Olivia gave her hobbit a fantastic problem. She decided that her hobbit's undergound home was filling with water.

NOW! There are several ways we could make this worse for Olivia's hobbit. We could:

1. Explore the avalanche effect: We could allow this one problem to be just the first in a connected series of instances. For example, when the underground hobbit hole begins filling with water, maybe it puts out all the lights, which causes our hobbit to get turned around. Now, instead of making her way out and into the safety of fresh air, she's burrowing further into the quickly filling hole. It's no longer just a matter of our hobbit losing her beloved sleeping place; now, she suffocating. The situation has become deadly.

2. Get personal: Perhaps we need to delve into our hobbit's psyche. Water in a hobbit hole isn't the worst thing that could happen. Unless, of course, our hobbit has a deep fear of water. What if our hobbit nearly drowned as a youngin'? What if our hobbit does everything he can possibly do to avoid water? What would the constant drip, drip, dripping do to his nerves? Suddenly, an easily resolved problem is torturous.

3. Up the stakes: What if Olivia's hobbit has a very important job? What if he is the keeper of all the hobbit selfies? What if every selfie in all of Hobbiton is stored in this one hobbit's underground home? Water would certainly be a problem! He could lose all the hobbit selfies! Silly, yes? But what if it isn't selfies that are stored in this hobbit hole? What if it's something more important? What if every bit of hobbit history is kept in hand-sorted files and stored in this hobbit hole? What if every record ever kept is slowly being eked away by the water leaking into this underground home? The problem is suddenly much more desperate, isn't it?

4. Add an antagonist: Perhaps the water isn't an accidental occurrence. What if our hobbit has an enemy? What if the enemy decides to take advantage of the distracted hobbit by sealing up the entrance to his underground home? However will our hobbit escape?

5. Give him a lie to believe: Let's say our hobbit believes that only the most blessed of hobbits are lucky enough to have water dribbling into their homes. What if he believes that he was gifted with the ability to breathe water? What happens if he gleefully watches the hole fill? Day after day, the depth grows until our hobbit comes face to face with this lie. Can he indeed breathe water? What does the truth do to his belief system?

Now, it's your turn. Take that hobbit you created, and the problem you gave him, and make it worse. Again, I'm going to ask you not to solve the problem. That is not today's goal. Your goal is to torture your hobbit a bit more.

REMEMBER! When you participate in our writing exercises you can enter to win an opportunity to ask Jill, Steph and me a question for one of our upcoming writing panels. Once you leave your response to the writing prompt in the comments section, use the Rafflecopter below to enter. Next week, Rafflecopter will select one winner and we'll contact you for your question via email. Happy writing, friends!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Jill Williamson's Journey To Publication


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 had a podcast/vlog at www.StoryworldFirst.com. You can also find Jill on InstagramFacebookTwitterPinterest, or on her author website.

When I was starting out, I loved hearing writers tell their journey to publication stories. There was something inspiring about how real most of these stories were. I never heard a "It was my first pitch and I got an agent and I sold a million books and now I have a movie" type of story. Sure, some authors had to wait longer than others to make their first sale, but I loved looking for the common thread in every story: hard work.

It's true, writing is hard work. But it's also fun. If you find yourself working so hard that you're no longer having fun, then I'd tell you to take a break and re-evaluate why you're doing it. It's important to pay attention to your feelings and what they are trying to communicate. "Hey, you. Stop and rest and listen."



So here is my story (as fast as I could tell it). You might have heard parts of this before, but this is the first time I've put it on video. (The second time, actually, because the first try I ended up with a twenty-seven minute video that I knew I'd never edit down to anything I could fairly call "short . . .")

Enjoy!




Do you relate to anything I went through in my story? Either in attitude, excitement, discovery, mistakes, research, or something else? Share in the comments.

I want to know your story too.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Mistakes I've Made So You Don't Have To: Believing I Would Find The Perfect Novel Writing System



Stephanie Morrill is the creator of GoTeenWriters.com 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.


I love organization, tidiness, systems, and color-coding.

For a very long time I looked for the "right way" to write a novel. The perfect way, where I always felt like I had control of the story, and the creative process never felt messy or misguided.

Even recently, I've had times where I've thought, "Ooh, maybe this is it. Maybe I've just found The Technique that will make writing stories easy and efficient!" Only to find that yes, this new fill-in-the-blank technique helps, but it's not a magic bean from which the story sprouts perfectly formed. (Spoiler: There isn't one.)

Many of the questions I receive via email ask a surface question about crafting a story—how do I create a good plot twist? what's the best way to start a book?—but often hint a deeper question: How do I know I'm doing this right?



I used to think that one of these days I would "arrive" as a writer and have my perfect, trusty novel writing system. I have finally (mostly) accepted that writing a book is a messy, doubt-filled process no matter how many times you've done it.

Yes, over the years my system has evolved and improved, but you can't perfect your system the way you can an assembly line. It's important to do what I know works for me, but also to try something new with each book. That's how my system has become more efficient over the years, and it's what's keeps writing fun and adventurous for me.

So here is a list of what works for me, the stuff I do with every book. I've talked about all of these in detail in previous posts, so rather than do that here, I'll include links for each one:

Brainstorming early with a friend. 

This is something I did not do for a very long time due to some pride issues. You really have to have the right person in your life for this. They don't need to be a writer, I don't think, but they also can't be the type of person who wants to turn your horror novel into a sweet romance. They need to "get" you and your writing.

Links: How To Have an Effective Brainstorming Session

Writing a blurb that’s a paragraph or two long and the hook sentence.


This is something I used to put off until I absolutely had to write them for a requested proposal. Now I like to write them early on. Why? Writing a few paragraphs in the style of backcover copy helps me to identify the main focus of the story, something I'm prone to lose sight of as I write the thing.

And my agent used to have to pry hook sentences out of me, but now I really like having them written before I dig into the novel. This is a mental thing for me. If people in my life ask me what I'm writing, and I can't tell them in a very interesting way, I start to lose confidence in my book.

Links: Writing Killer Backcover Copy, What Is a Logline And How Do You Write One?

Identifying key scenes.


I used to be a total pantser with writing (and a pretty snobby pantser who distrusted plotting) but now I identify key scenes before I write the book. This gives me enough structure that I can usually keep my story on track (though not always...) but also gives me creative freedom.

Links: How to Develop Your Story Idea Into A List Of Key Scenes Part One and Part Two

Writing my 2-3 page synopsis before my draft.


You think you hate writing synopses, but you're wrong.

Okay, maybe that's not completely fair, but I do think that synopses are waaaaay more fun to write before you've written your book. Then it just feels like fun brainstorming! If you go off on a crazy tangent and decide it doesn't work, you're just erasing a couple of sentences rather than a couple chapters.

Links: How to Write a Synopsis for your Novel, How to Edit a Synopsis for Your Novel, and Using Your Synopsis as an Outline

Logging my work time/Using the story workbook


In a spreadsheet, I keep track of lots of different details about my story, including all my characters and key info about them, the timeline of the story, and other useful things. The link for getting a tutorial on how to make your own is below.

My favorite page within the spreadsheet is actually my work log. I input what time I start and where my word count is, and then when I'm done, I record my ending time and finished word count. Doing this has helped me stay focused during writing time, and it also gives me the same happy feeling of crossing something off my to-do list.

Links: A Snazzy Timeline Tool and Free Story Workbook Tutorial

Writing a first draft without stopping to edit.


Though sometimes the messiness makes me a bit crazy, I really do believe this is the best way for me. This was also one of the hardest techniques for me to learn how to embrace.

Links: Useful Bad First Drafts and for the counter point of view, How to Edit As You Write Your First Draft

Taking 6 weeks off from my first draft.


Ditto to what I said above.

Links: Six Reasons to Take Six Weeks Off From Your First Draft

Reading my finished manuscript in as few sittings as possible and making notes.


I think this is critical to the editing process.

Links: How to Edit Your Book in Layers

Character journals for troublesome non-POV characters.


I usually have a good handle on my POV characters, but there are always a few major non-POV characters who read completely flat. Character journals, where you free-write from their POV, is the fastest thing to help me clarify motivation, backstory, and personality. And it's way more fun then filling out all those character info sheets.

Links: Character Journals

Editing big changes first regardless of chronological order, and then editing scene by scene.


Jill and I wrote an entire book about this, and it continues to be the way I edit.

Links: Go Teen Writers: How to Turn Your First Draft Into a Published Book

I've tried lots and lots of other techniques. Some helped me to think about story in a different way, even if I didn't totally adopt the methods in the book. (Story Genius by Lisa Cron and 2k to 10k by Rachel Aaron) Some, like pantsing my novels, worked for certain seasons but don't work for me now. Others were just NOT my thing. Like the Snowflake method. Or scene cards. Or Scrivener.

Some tools are already on my radar for the next novel I write, like K.M. Weiland's Structuring Your Novel and Creating Character Arcs workbooks for brainstorming more fully before I dive into my first draft.

Is there something you've found that works well for you that you plan to do with each book you write? And/or is there something new you want to try with your next book?


Friday, October 13, 2017

Writing Exercise #17: That's the hobbit's problem

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

Last week we started where JRR Tolkien started and we created our own hobbits. I was so impressed by your imaginations, you guys. Among other things, I hope the exercise showed you that even when we start with the same sentence, we are incapable of telling precisely the same story as anyone else. Because you are you and I am me and we all have our own worlds brewing inside us.

Today, we're going to take our hobbits and give them a story. More specifically, we're going to give them an obstacle. We're not going to fully develop a story problem today, but what we want to do is give our fictional creature something to overcome.

This can be something simple (like making a cake without a bowl) or something complex (like escaping an assassin). Your hobbit and its obstacle are yours and yours alone, so let your imagination run wild.



A couple tips:

1. If you did the exercise last week, start with the hobbit you created and the details you scratched out about his life underground. You can make changes to that idea, but starting with something is always easier than starting with nothing. Your previous ideas will spark new ones.

2. If you did not do the exercise last week, consider doing that one first. Understanding who your hobbit is and why it lives in a hole in the ground will help you develop the creature's dilemma.

3. Keep the problem very clear and simply written. Don't give your hobbit multiple obstacles to overcome. We're taking our hobbit in a very specific direction and I don't want you to have too much to juggle when we reach next week's exercise.

4. Do not solve your hobbit's problem today! We will work on that, I promise. But that's not today's goal. Just give him a bit of trouble, alright? We'll come to solution seeking soon.

REMEMBER! When you participate in our writing exercises you can enter to win an opportunity to ask Jill, Steph and me a question for one of our upcoming writing panels. Once you leave your response to the writing prompt in the comments section, use the Rafflecopter below to enter. Next week, Rafflecopter will select one winner and we'll contact you for your question via email. Happy writing, friends!


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Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Ready, Set . . . Platform! Three Social Media Tips to Get You Started

Jill here. Taylor Bennett is one of us. I'm sure that many of you have seen her comments, saw that she was a GTW contest finalist, or interacted with her through this site at one point. Well, Taylor, I'm SO PROUD to say, has signed a three-book contract with Mountain Brook Ink for her young adult series. We are all looking forward to watching her career unfold. Please extend your congratulations to Taylor in the comments below. I'm sure we'll be seeing more of her in years to come. I love the topic she chose to blog about and hope you all find it helpful. Please welcome Taylor.

Taylor Bennett is the author of the contemporary YA novel, Porch Swing Girl, which releases from Mountain Brook Ink in January of 2019. When she isn’t pecking madly at her computer, she’s playing violin on her church’s worship team, snapping pictures, or walking in the beauty of the Pacific Northwest. She loves to connect with future readers on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or Instagram (her favorite!) as well as on Goodreads and her author website.
When I first started working on Porch Swing Girl, the book that got me my publishing contract, I could have cared less about having a “platform.” I had little more than an overstuffed Pinterest account and five “friends” on Facebook. But then I started hearing those mystical words: platform, marketing and—gasp!—social media.
So, when I made the decision to get serious about my writing, I reluctantly got accounts on Twitter, Instagram, Goodreads, and the like.
I’d even snap a random pic, throw it up on Instagram every now and then, and call it good, right?
Right?
Wrong.
As I pursued publication, I discovered what it truly means to have a “platform.” It isn’t about how many accounts I have. It doesn’t even matter how many pictures I post.
Having a social media platform is about connections.
When I’m interacting with others on social media, I’m engaging with potential readers all over the world. A single hashtag (#amwriting, #bookstagram, #booknerdigans are popular among writers) can reach thousands.
And, before you start thinking that all of this “platform building” is done out of selfish ambition, let me tell you.
It’s not.
When I connect with others on social media, it doesn’t always benefit me. In fact, I’d say that it often doesn’t benefit me. (Be honest. What’s more productive—writing a hundred words or watching a fellow author’s live Facebook chat?)
This leads to…
Social Media Secret #1
It’s Not All About You
When you get on social media (hopefully after you’ve hit that word count goal), what do you want to see—spammy posts begging readers to check out the latest ninety-nine cent ebook bargain?
No.
You want to see real people connecting, engaging, and being…well…real.
I’m not usually pushing myself or my upcoming book release. When I am promoting myself, I’m doing it in a friendly, conversational way—“Hey, I turned into a computer nerd just so I could make myself a website. Check it out!”
What am I doing when I’m not promoting myself? I’m helping other authors. I share their posts, leave encouraging comments, and generally present myself as the person I am—an enthusiastic reader, not a greedy author.
Thus…
Social Media Secret #2
Be True to You
I’ll let you in on a secret.
My “author account” on Instagram is my personal account. Sure, I throw in the occasional artsy shot of my fountain pen or my laptop charged and ready for a day of work, but I’m also sharing pics of what I ate for dinner, the beautiful morning sunrise, or anything else that strikes my fancy.
And it’s working.
As of right now, Instagram is my strongest social media platform (which still isn’t saying much but, hey, I’m learning.)
Why is it working?
I’m being me. I’m not forcing myself upon would-be readers. I’m having fun, I’m sharing my life, and—again—I’m engaging.
But how do I find people to engage with?
Welcome my next tip.
 
 
Social Media Secret #3
#Hashtag
The first time I saw a hashtag, I scoffed.
That’s not a hashtag. That’s the number sign.
Did I mention I’m old school?
Sometimes, though, even the oldest dogs need to learn new tricks. My new trick was the hashtag.
By using hashtags, I’ve helped my posts get over ten times the number of likes I got on my first post.
The hashtags that work best are those that are simple, relevant, and engaging.
Simple--Easy to use and read. Seriously, it can't just be me that has to do a double take when they see #whyamicryingifthisissofunnyrightnow. Okay...I made that one up, but you get the point.

Relevant--People who find your post through a hashtag want one thing. If they search #cat, they want a cat. They don't want a picture of your little sister (however cute she might be) twirling in the living room with her stuffed kitty toy thrown off in a corner. Now, if she was making friends with the neighbor kitty...go for it! Just make sure your hashtags are chosen for a reason
Engaging--This is the key that brings it all together. Some hashtags have tens of millions of posts and, while this means you'll be reaching a huge audience, it also means that your post will get buried in the sludge pile. Quickly. In order to reach the maximum number of people, choose hashtags that are slightly less trafficked but still popular.
Let's get an example:
What kind of hashtags would you use to go along with this pic? I started with the obvious: #work #tea #laptop #etc 
Okay...not that last one.
Seriously, though, start with the *boring* stuff. Each hashtag I listed has MILLIONS of posts, which means that my post has the potential to reach millions. BUT, as mentioned above, these posts get covered up quickly. That's why I added hashtags directed at a smaller audience--writers. By using more unique, less-trafficked hashtags (#amwriting, #writersofinstagram, #bookstagram) I have a greater chance of more people seeing my post, PLUS the people who are looking at these hashtags are more likely to engage with my post because...we’re all writers.
I’m not saying it’s easy to learn the art of hashtagging, but it’s definitely worth it. And, while we’re on this topic, I’ll leave you with a bonus tip.
Bonus Social Media Secret
Hiding the Hashtag
Want to use hashtags to reach readers but afraid you’ll look spammy? Here’s a tip: After you write your post/caption, press enter and type a single period. Repeat this about six times, until you have a line of periods going down the page. Now you’re free to list your hashtags—most people will never see them because they rarely click on the “read more” option.
You can see an example of how this is done on any of my recent Instagram posts.
What about you? Have you thought about building a platform?
If so, post your social media links and I’ll follow you!