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Writers, Stop Comparing Yourselves

20 Feb

Recently, I finished my first manuscript of 2017. It was also my first pantsing novel…and a novel that I’m truly excited about. So excited, in fact, that I think it fueled me to write more than usual and share more information about a WIP than I normally do. If you follow my social media, you might have seen my adventure as I shared my growing word count over the last two months. It was a fast first draft. And wonderful, too! But when I shared that I finished, I received a few messages: How do you write so fast? Should I be able to reach that word count every day? Is it even a good draft? How many drafts do you write? What do you recommend I do?

All reasonable questions. Don’t get me wrong. I’m more than happy to answer them, too, but at its core, the answer is simple: My writing methods will not be your writing methods, and your writing methods won’t be mine. You have to find what works for you.

I never share word counts or inspiration boards or sneak peeks, because I want you to compare yourself to me. I share those things, because they are fun—and writing can be lonely and hard work. You see “The End” on my Instagram, while I see two months without weekends and wayyyy too much caffeine in my blood (and maybe one mental breakdown in between Chapter Sixteen and Chapter Twenty-Eight).

Taking a small breather to have fun on Instagram with fellow writers and readers is often the only breather I get all day. And I love seeing other writers share those milestones, because we’re in this together. We love the same thing: words. And it’s a delight to share them. (Especially after said mental breakdown between Chapter Sixteen and Chapter Twenty-Eight.)

That being said, I understand that social media sharing can bum other writers out. It can make a writer feel like they’re not doing enough, accomplishing enough, or sharing enough. The comparison bug hits writers a lot. And trust me, it isn’t worth it. You’ll only end up in a pity-party hosted by your worst inner critic.

I mean, does this even look fun?

I mean, does this even look fun?

Kick that critic out of your writing office right meow. Why? Because no writing journey is the same. No story is the same. No writer is either.

The key is figuring out what works for you, and then moving forward every day to the best of your ability.

That’s it.

Keep writing, keep reading, and keep trying. It will work—though I will admit that it will be difficult. You will absolutely struggle and get rejections and feel like giving up. We all have felt bad/sad/hopeless at some point in our writing journey. (And more than once.) That fact sometimes helps more than anything.

Comparison, in practice, isn’t always a bad thing. Sometimes seeing a writer friend of mine hit a huge goal pushes me to sit back down to achieve my own goals. Often, when I’m feeling down, I research my favorite authors and read about their writing journey to see how they struggled and achieved and kept on keeping on. That could be considered comparison, but at its core, it isn’t comparison. It’s inspiration. By reading about others’ journeys, I’m reminded that we all have our own future ahead of us. I am who I am and I’m trying to get to where I want to be, and there are millions of authors who did the same before me. It’s inspiration. And hope. And fun.

But comparison is a precarious edge—one that anyone can slip over easily at any moment.

Always remind yourself that you are you, and this is your journey.

So next time you see someone hit a word count or get a publishing deal or finish a first draft, and you feel that sting of jealously/resentment/exhaustion, take a step back and relax. (And kick that inner critic out.)

You don’t need to write 1,000 words every day. You don’t need to go to a million conferences or garner a movie deal before the age of 32.

You just gotta be you.

Keep writing, and keep achieving goals your way, and trust me, you’ll get there.

You’re already on the way.

~SAT

Discovering My Characters’ Secrets

13 Feb

Every human being has secrets. Why we hide the truth (or lies) from others and sometimes ourselves is often the most interesting part behind a good secret, but understanding what makes up a secret can help an author write a character in a more genuine way.

So what should we know about our characters’ secrets?

  1. The secret itself: Sounds simple, but it’s not always clear. Sometimes, a protagonist might not even know what his or her own secrets are. Sometimes, a secret hardly seems like a secret at all. Think about the lengths a character goes through to keep it a secret. Is it difficult to hide or hiding in plain sight? What about this secret makes your character feel human?
  2. Who it is a secret from?: Not all secrets are hidden from everyone a character holds dear. Sometimes, they even hide secrets from themselves or from the one person you’d think they’d tell it to first. Sometimes, they aren’t even hiding it at all, but no one is listening.
  3. Why is it a secret?: What are the potential consequences of telling said secret? Consider who they are hiding it from again and why they are hiding it from that specific person. Are the consequences even “real”, or is your character overreacting, unsure, or simply too used to keeping it to themselves? There is a million reasons humans keep secrets: to protect loved ones, to shelter themselves, to build friendships. “Why” can be silly, fun, maddening, or wonderful. It doesn’t always have to be sad or scary.

By understanding these three aspects, an author can shape the scene to expose a character in a meaningful way. We can foreshadow reveals or build up relationships between others. We can even surprise ourselves.

You can also learn a character's secret from another character!

You can also learn a character’s secret from another character!

Listen. I’m a plotter. I have been my entire life. But even then, there comes a time in the writing process where characters turn every plot point on its head and tell us to go another direction.

Considering we’re talking about secrets, it might seem strange for me to tell writers to trust their characters, but trust is everything. Learn to listen to that little voice inside your head (or all your characters’ voices) when it tells you where to go, what not to do, and how to say it. Why? Because they know everything, and often, you don’t. Even though writers create a novel, most writers will tell you they are not in charge. The characters are. By letting go of control, you can let your characters reveal themselves naturally and over time. Yes, even if that means you’ll be rewriting a lot more or editing for what feels like forever. If it’s the right secret, it will be worth it.

Recently, I came to a scene where my protagonist explained part of her past, but by her own admission, she was absent from a scene she should’ve been in. When I stepped back and asked her where she was, she smiled back. A sly smile. One that told me it was a secret. For now. I sighed, but resigned myself to her personality.

If she’s not ready to tell me, she’s not ready to tell me.

I’ve been writing long enough to know when to trust my character’s silence, even when I loathe it, even when it promises longer hours of editing in the months ahead.

Discovering the right secret is worth rewriting. Figuring them out is even better.

~SAT

Should Authors Have More Say in Adaptations?

30 Jan

Should authors have more say when their novels are adapted to TV or film?

Short answer: Absolutely. But the long answer is a lot more complicated.

For one, authors write novels for a reason. That’s how they like to express themselves. TV and movie writing is a completely different ballgame. When I studied screenwriting in college, for instance, I had never felt so lost in my life. That being said, I don’t think authors should be entirely removed from their work when it is adapted just because it’s a different art form. In fact, I think it benefits everyone to work together. (I also understand that TV/Film rights have a lot to do with the author’s literary agency and how they negotiated a deal.) After acknowledging that, though, I want to talk about why I wish authors had more say so in the end.

Do you watch Shadowhunters on FreeForm? No. Don’t worry. I’ll write this article around it, but I think it’s a great, modern example of how adaptations can go wrong, even in a damaging way, so it might be easier to understand if you do watch the show or read the books or check out the article I discuss below.

Recently, Cassandra Clare did an interview about the adaption of her popular YA series, The Mortal Instruments, both with the flop-film in 2013 and the current TV series, Shadowhunters. I highly recommend you read this (and share it): Cassandra Clare Shares the Troubles and Triumphs of Seeing the Shadowhunters World Onscreen

Listen, I’m a HUGE Cassandra Clare fan. I’m also a pretty open-minded fan. In fact, I rarely complain about adaptations, because that’s what they are—adaptations—and I even enjoyed the movie. (No, seriously, I own it and watch it all the time.) I was also a fan of the show…until recently.

Returning to the interview (which again, please read), I was appalled by some of the changes and ideas strewn throughout the show.

It grosses me out that FreeForm’s original goal was to take away Alec and Magnus’s relationship, because they are gay, while adding unnecessary violence against the female characters “to attract a male audience.”

Um…excuse me?

I mean, seriously? Does that not gross you out? That entire concept?

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Spoilers ahead for books and show. If you want to skip, look for next bolded line.

I was always bothered by Alec’s fiancée Lydia in Season 1, but I can also admit that I didn’t notice the difference in violence against the female cast until last week’s episode. Between Lydia’s attack, Izzy’s attack, Clary being “stabbed” in a dream sequence, and Jocelyn’s death that never happened in the books, I found myself highly uncomfortable and trying to figure out why. Then I read Cassandra Clare’s interview, and it all made sense. I am all for adaptations, but last week’s episode was wrong, whether or not Jocelyn comes back to life in tonight’s episode.
 (Which, I think, she most likely will.)

End of spoilers.

The new team claims to have a different stance than the previous producers, but last week showed much of the same problematic instances, including unnecessarily violence against the female cast and keeping a gay couple apart because “no audience wants to see that” (insert middle finger here). I also did not find it a coincidence that they only sent Clare the first three episodes of Season 2 for her approval and then this fourth one followed the original, damaging aspects. Granted, will I watch it tonight? Probably. I want to see if they’ll change their ways before I judge too harshly. But that doesn’t change my opinion about last week’s episode or what we learned through Clare’s interview—an interview, I will add, that was very brave. Authors aren’t normally so open and honest about this topic. Mainly because there is a conflict of interest, but also because we expect authors to simply be grateful that their work is being adapted at all. A sentiment I disagree with.

I am so glad Cassandra Clare fought to change some of the script, because the changes didn’t just misrepresent the story; the changes misrepresented the work (and the author) entirely.

If an adaptation is homophobic, racist, sexist, or otherwise damaging, shouldn’t an author be able to step in and stop it?

Again, I’m ALL for adaptations. I’m not saying that an author should have the final say over every little thing, or even over major aspects of book-to-movie life. But I do believe in creating better, positive pieces of art. And if a director told me they were going to start abusing females and tearing LGBTQIA characters apart because “men like that”, I’d hope that the world would back me up in stopping such an atrocity.

What do you think? Should authors have more say-so in adaptations? If so, what should they have control over and when? Where is the line? And should they draw a new one?

~SAT

 

Trying to Write as a Pantser

16 Jan

I’m a pantser for the first time.

What’s a pantser? Someone who writes a book with no plan, as opposed to a plotter, who, you know, plots.

Normally, I plot like crazy. I have plots for my plots. (Also known as subplots.) And though I almost always deviate from my original plans, I always have a plan. But lately, I was feeling a little bogged down by all that planning. I yearned for adventure. For mystery. For absolute chaos. Like a road trip with no destination ahead. Just me and the road and whatever will happen.

So, I decided my first book of 2017 would be written in perfect pantser style, full speed ahead.

I’m not going to lie, I thought I would crash and burn. In fact, I expected to. But that wasn’t the case. Let me explain the differences by comparing my normal plotter ways and my current pantser adventure.

The Idea

Plotter: Disclaimer: Almost all of my books start off as a dream, and this one was no different. After I have a dream I think might be worthy of a book, I sit on the floor with a million notebooks and just write down scenes and ideas that come to me. Throughout the next few weeks (or even months), I expand on the characters and world until they blend together and I have a solid plot, character list, and timeline. Sometimes, I even write an entire screenplay, dialogue and all, before I actually write Chapter One.

Pantser: I had a dream, cracked my knuckles, and sat down at my computer.

plotter

Beginning to Write

Plotter: I start in Chapter One after reading Chapter One’s notes thoroughly, and then I repeat with Chapter Two and Chapter Three and so on.

Pantser: Literally, the day I had the dream, I sat down at my computer and wrote down what I saw. I didn’t even know the general theme or my protagonist’s name, or even if she was the protagonist. But she quickly fleshed out into the full-fledged botanist she is today. The world she was in quickly followed. Fun fact: the dream I had wasn’t Chapter One, which is where I usually start. Instead, it turned out to be a mixture of Chapter Two and Chapter Four. (For now.) panster

The Rest of the Adventure

Plotter: I always know where I’m going and what will probably happen. Even if something changes, it doesn’t affect the story too much. I can still stay on course. (Basically, my GPS will reroute me no matter where I go.)

Pantser: I can’t stay on course, because there is no course. Even more confusing, there is no world to navigate anyway. This current project of mine is a YA sci-fi, but I’m letting my world build itself. That is honestly the strangest part for me. Normally, I have an entire system of rules and ideas to constrain my characters to, but not this time. This time, I’m letting the book let me know what it needs to do before I figure out where the boundaries go. We’re very much off-roading in unknown terrain, but I haven’t popped a tire yet. And if I do, I can create a spare out of thin air…because you know, no rules. I’ll make laws up later. And while this might sound reckless, I’ve been keeping a list of boundaries that come up in the text as I go, and it seems as solid as anything else I could’ve created by plotting.

In the end, being a pantser or a plotter doesn’t feel that much different, but this risk helped me fall back in love with the thrill of writing. I’m writing around the same pace as usual, but I do feel like I’m enjoying it more. I already know I’m going to have to rewrite a ton, but I do that when I plot, too, so that doesn’t feel like a huge loss to me. In fact, if I were being honest—if this works out—I kind of like this pantser thing. It feels more vulnerable (and more likely for things to go terribly, horribly wrong), but that vulnerability makes it feel more authentic, too. Like the characters are definitely more in charge.

Recently, for instance, I realized my villain is probably not who I thought it was going to be. And I’m still unsure about where the next chapters are going, but I definitely know the ending. (Or I think I do. Ha.) And I’m kind of enjoying my hesitation and fear and absolute joy when it works out.

Perhaps, this pantser mode worked for this particular book and wouldn’t for others, but I’m glad I decided to try it out. I’m having a lot fun, and I believe the project is forming together beautifully. If I had to guess, I would say a writer could do either one and be successful with it. And it definitely can’t hurt to try. In fact, it helped me.

Now to go write a scene I know nothing about.

~SAT

Writers and Vocabulary

9 Jan

“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write.”

The famous Stephen King said it, and so many more agree.

I vehemently say this to every writer I know. Why? Because it amazes me how many writers don’t read on a regular basis.

By reading, you’re expanding your creativity, your stories, your life, and even your vocabulary. And your vocabulary is vital.

Today, I wanted to concentrate on expanding your vocabulary and why it’s so important. I’ve sort of written about this before—Writing Tips: Build Your Vocabulary —where I discussed how you should not only read a lot, but pay attention while reading. This includes marking every word or phrase you come across that you’re unsure of, so that you can come back later to study them. I call this a vocabulary study guide.

books-writing-reading-sonja-langford

So what is my vocabulary study guide?

I create one every time I read a book. While reading, I circle words, and after I’m finished, I study them. This list includes words I don’t know, words that catch me off guard, words I know but forget to remember, and words I simply want to concentrate on more, maybe because they’re beautiful or strange or perfect for certain scenarios.

How do I organize it?

Personally, I categorize words by most likely subject. By feelings or people or places or, my personal favorite, body parts and other medical things. (Example from below? Carbuncle: a severe abscess or multiple boil in the skin, typically infected with staphylococcus bacteria.) Sometimes, though, I organize my lists by words I need extra help on. In my below example for instance, I circled inscrutable FOUR times in the SAME book. (And this isn’t the first book I circled it in.) Why? I know this word. I do. But for some reason, whenever I’m reading or writing, my brain stumbles over it. I want, more than anything, for inscrutable to become natural to me.

So here is a literal example from my most recent read.

All of these words come from Iron Cast by Destiny Soria, a young adult book about prohibition, asylums, and hemopaths, people capable of creating illusions through song, poetry, and art. I highly recommend this diverse read, and I hope this list of beautiful words encourages you to check it out. Seriously. Everything in this post comes from that book. If you’re curious, here’s my book review on Goodreads.

Iron Cast by Destiny Soria Study Guide:

Five Senses:

          Sound:

Raucously: making or constituting a disturbingly harsh and loud noise

Sonorous: (of a person’s voice or other sound) imposingly deep and full

          Smell:

Redolent: fragrant and sweet smelling OR strongly reminiscent or suggestive of

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Another reason to learn? Wooing women. 😉

Emotions:

Avaricious: having or showing an extreme greed for wealth or material gain

Imperturbable: unable to be upset or excited; calm

Languorous: the state or feeling, often pleasant, of tiredness or inertia

Temerity: excessive confidence or boldness; audacity

Beatific: blissfully happy

Body parts/Medical:

Carbuncle: a severe abscess or multiple boil in the skin, typically infected with staphylococcus bacteria.

Paunchy: a large or protruding abdomen or stomach.

Relating to People:

Spectacled: wearing spectacles

Haughty: arrogantly superior and disdainful

Stodgy: dull and uninspired, ex. stodgy old men

Gaggle: a disorderly or noisy group of people (also a flock of geese)

Expression: Speaking/Writing:

Asperity: harshness of tone or manner

Succinctly: (especially of something written or spoken) briefly and clearly expressed

Other Description:

Inscrutable: impossible to understand or interpret

Ostensibly: apparently or purportedly, but perhaps not actually

Anathema: something or someone that one vehemently dislikes

You might think you know every word you read, but really, if you slow down and ask yourself what the literal definitions of words are (rather than relying on context), you’ll force yourself to look up more and more words to learn on your own. It might seem like a waste of time or time-consuming, but I honestly love it. I revel in challenging myself to memorize new phrases and understand a wider range of the English language, and I believe it helps my writing.

Try it out for yourself and see which words you learn.

Who knows? You might need to use it in a novel one day.

~SAT

#MondayBlogs Feeling Down About Writing? Here’s How To Write Again!

2 Jan

Recently, I felt down about writing. When I sat at the computer, the words didn’t flow, and when I walked away, the urge to try again was gone. I struggled and searched for the reason I was struggling and continued to struggle again. Honestly, my “down” period was caused by the holidays, and let’s be honest, 2016 was one hot mess. But now that we’re into 2017—and many of us are typing at full speed ahead to meet our New Year’s resolutions—there’s bound to be a time when you feel down again.

How can you feel better about writing when you aren’t feeling so great?

Well, there are plenty of ways. In fact, there are so many ways, I asked my fellow Clean Teen Publishing authors to share their secrets to get back on the keyboard.

1. Listen to Music

Music is a really big way for me to get back into writing. Certain songs or arrangements feel suited to different characters or situations, and that usually gets the words flowing with some regularity again. – Molly Bilinski, debut author of Lady of Sherwood (April, 2017)

When I’m struggling to write, or inspiration has left me, I always return to the old reliable; music. I go on the hunt for new music and spend time finding songs that match the mood and tone of my WIP. There is nothing more therapeutic then finding a song and suddenly having clarity. – Susan Harris, best-selling author of Skin and Bones 

2. Play!

Whenever I’m down, I find that it’s usually because I’m taking everything too seriously and I’m too busy “adulting” to appreciate the fun in life. I need to get back to that “kid” space where anything goes and nothing is crushingly important. You’re just playing to play, having fun and going where it takes you – Jennifer Derrick, author of Avenging Fate

I always encourage writer friends to find another creative outlet. As creative spirits, writing is not all we can or should do. Create something else, craft, sew, crochet, whatever, but cultivate that creative spirit in another way. We can channel our inspiration in so many ways. – Lila Felix, author of Lightning Forgotten

3. Remind Yourself Why You Write

I reread something that I’m really proud of writing, usually something from at least a couple years ago. Sometimes remembering how great that felt can spring new ideas to mind. And sometimes it just reminds you that you have survived bad times before, and were still able to write something amazing. – Kendra Sanders, author of Dating An Alien Pop Star

“The moment you quit is the moment you fail.” I’ve been living by this mantra since September 1, 2010, the day I started writing the first novel I ever finished. Since then, I’ve had my fair share of discouraging moments, but I can honestly say I’ve never seriously considered quitting. Because if I quit, I fail. I’ve got too many stories to tell to let that happen. – Tamara Grantham, award-winning author of Dreamthief

So what’s my advice?

Along with all of these wonderful writers, I think stepping away, listening to music, reading your favorite book, or visiting your favorite café can help clear your mind of whatever’s holding you back. Sometimes, it just takes time, and I have to remind myself that writing is not a race—that my mental and physical health is important, too. Sounds simple, but it isn’t.

I always joke that I’m a Triple A personality. I’m constantly working, and if you catch me during a rare moment off, I’m probably thinking about working. (I could really use a hobby outside of reading and writing, but alas, I love them so much.) For me, visiting Barnes & Noble or a library and just surrounding myself with books can calm my soul. In the end though, one thought always finds its way back to me.

Be sure to visit all the awesome Clean Teen authors who made this post possible, and of course, good luck getting back on the keyboard.

It might be difficult. It might feel impossible today. But every day is the start of something new and wonderful, and every novel starts with one word.

~SAT

#MondayBlogs Weaknesses in Writing

26 Dec

Writers always have room for improvement. Even if you’re a New York Times Best Seller, you are growing every single day, and knowing what aspects to work on can definitely help your career.

How do you know what to concentrate on?

Be honest with yourself.

Most writers know what their weaknesses are. Maybe it’s those pesky fighting scenes (or kissing scenes). Maybe creating villains is really difficult for you, or world-building takes wayyyyyy too long (like five years too long).

We probably know where we need extra help, because it takes us more time than usual to overcome that particular obstacle…and that’s okay!

Understanding your weaknesses as a writer will help you overcome them and learn from them. So, here are some tips to figure them out, work with them, and beat them.

1. Make Lists!

While you’re writing, you’ll come across those tricky areas and struggle. Take note of where and how and why you struggle during particular times. Also take note of how you figured out the issues eventually. By forcing yourself to step away and reevaluate it, you’ll see more patterns, and you’ll be able to research or study that particular area until you no longer struggle as much. Want an example? I LOVE my side characters, sometimes a little too much, and while I can explore side characters, I often let them overshadow my main characters during the first draft. In the current book I’m working on, I have a note to tone down those subplots. That way, I don’t get out of control again. (And if I do, I have notes on how to fix it when I’m editing.)

Another list I love to keep outlines my crutch words. This includes words I use WAY too often and words I often misspell or just need to look out for in general. Crutch is actually one of my misspellings. I always use clutch instead. Why? I have no idea, but I know that I need to search for clutch and crutch every time I’m editing. I also search for all those pesky, repetitive expressions like smile, nod, frown, smirk, laugh, etc. There’s nothing better than finding out you used the word smile six times on one page and deleting them ALL before anyone else reads your Crest commercial…er, I mean, book.

writerweaknesses2. Read, Research, Practice!

If you’re anything like me, you might struggle with romantic scenes. (Seriously, I feel like a Peeping Tom every time I write a romantic scene. It really ruins everything for me, which is probably why most of my novels have very little romance in them. But moving on…) I know this about myself. I know to take my time on these scenes, and I realize I’ll edit them a hundred times over. But one thing that I find that fixes my issues more than anything else is reading. By reading, I will see how authors evoke emotions I struggle to explain. Whenever I come across a romantic scene in a book I’m reading, I definitely pay more attention than usual. I might even take notes on how and why it was a successful scene, so that I can consider how to utilize those tools in the future. This is where research and practice comes into play. Once you start realizing what works for you and others, you can try out your new skills on short stories or individual scenes. By writing and rewriting those areas you struggle in, you will start to feel more confident and comfortable over time. (Plus, we could always use another excuse to read.)

3. Remember One Thing!

Weaknesses do not make you a bad writer. Everyone has them. Yes, even J.K. Rowling. Maybe you have a bad habit of dream sequences or too many flashbacks or your villain falls flat every time. That’s okay! As long as you understand that these are issues, you can fix them. Look at it this way, isn’t it better to know about them, and be honest about them, than be oblivious or ignore the issue at hand? Writing is a journey. Some scenes will work perfectly; others might need more work. Take your time. Embrace the challenges, and prove to yourself that you can overcome them.

~SAT

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