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When to Begin & End Chapters

18 Oct

When writing a novel, writers must consider a lot of factors: characterization, pacing, plot, etc. Take a look around the internet and you’ll find tons of articles on how to begin a novel, outline a novel, flesh out a novel, and end a novel, but when it starts to get into the nitty gritty details, that’s where most advice will meander toward “every writer has their own method” or “it depends on the project.”

My advice on beginning and ending chapters is going to stand on that previous sentiment—I’m not going to lie—but I am going to dig little deeper on the following questions:

How do you start chapters? How do you end them? When do you know those points are enough to keep the reader interested? 

Aside from the adage “every writer has their own method,” I want to share some basic tips, and then add specific methods that I use. 

First and foremost, the key to finding your sweet spot is to understand your age category and genre. 

A sci-fi thriller is going to have shorter, cut-throat chapters that encourage the reader to keep turning the pages to find out what’s going to happen next. An epic adventure will probably have longer, more descriptive chapters where world-building is key rather than action, especially in the first and second act. Within those genres, age categories will influence word count. Having longer chapters in an adult book is much more appropriate than in middle grade. Not that there aren’t exceptions. There are always exceptions. But these are general tips to keep in mind. 

My first tip would be to go to your nearest bookstore or library and pick up books in your age category and genre. Study their chapter lengths. You should be reading in your age category and genre, too. Seeing how those books find their rhythm will help you find yours. But, at the end of the day, I’m a big believer in finding the right rhythm for your book—not forcing your book into the standard—so make intentional decisions when editing your book. I mention the editing phase on purpose. I don’t worry about chapter lengths until I’m revising. That first draft is just to get the story down. Most of the time, rhythm comes fairly naturally to me, but without fail, I’ll always find a ridiculously long chapter or choppy section that needs reworking. 

As you consider revisions, ask yourself: 

  • How can these chapters be reworked?
  • Are there sections that can be combined? (Especially with “talking head” scenes. If your characters are just talking, figure out if they can be physically doing something in another chapter at the same time.)
  • Does this chapter move the story or characters forward? If not, can I cut it and save it for “extras” for my readers?

Now that we’re past the revision setup, here’s some general tips about ending and beginning chapters. 

The beginning of your chapter should ask a question. The end should answer it. 

This is how I treat every chapter in all my books. I approach each scene like a mini-short story. This is done for many reasons. A) When readers are deciding if they want to pick up a book, they will only read a handful of pages. Show them you can tell a story in that handful. B) Feeling as if you’ve jumped over a hurdle as a reader gives you an accomplished feeling, and that feeling will propel you forward. 

Now, ending a chapter doesn’t mean you’ve answered every question that comes up in the chapter. Oh, no. Quite the contrary. Between asking the chapter question and answering that specific question, you must pose another question. This will end up being your cliffhanger that makes the reader turn the page. 

Formulaic, I know. But trust me, it works. 

For example, I just picked up my book Minutes Before Sunset and turned to a random chapter. In Chapter Thirteen, which is from the perspective of my hero Eric, it literally starts out with the supernatural girl he found in the forest asking him, “What are you going to teach me tonight?” (The literal question I pose.) By the end of the chapter, instead of teaching her magic techniques, which is what she was hoping for (and probably what the reader was expecting), they’ve fallen into a conversation about magic’s past. (Hey there, world building.) This conversation leads to him admitting there’s a war coming that he must survive. He doesn’t tell her he is at the center of it, but she’s grown suspicious. Telling her the truth, though, would expose his identity as heir. Something he’s not allowed to do, at the risk of his own life. But not warning puts her in danger. The new question posed: is he going to come clean about his identity in order to warn her? Will he choose his safety or hers? You must turn the page to find out. 

Now let’s look at how that example specifically begins and ends. The chapter starts out with positive energy. Two secret lovers meeting up in the woods, excited to see each other, learn from each other, etc. But it ends on a negative note. There’s dangerous truths he’s not telling her. She’s starting to sense that. Tension. BAM. Now two lovers are having a bad night. This exchange of rhythm is also key to shaping your chapters. 

Pay attention to your negative and positive energy. I believe this comes from a famous writer’s beat sheet, but I can’t remember who it was at this time. (If someone recognizes it, please let me know, and I’ll edit this to credit them.) Basically, every scene should be shifting your energy. If the beginning of a chapter is negative, it needs to end even more negatively or become positive. There are only four energies. Extra-positive, positive, negative, extra-negative. You shouldn’t have the same one in a row. Especially not over and over again. If your chapters are continuously ending on an extra-negative and starting there, your story will become stagnant, and the reader will grow bored. Even in survival novels where everyone is dying, you can find positive notes to end on. (Example/ Someone finally found food or shelter.) 

Returning to Chapter Thirteen, it begins positive, ends negative. Chapter Fourteen starts negative, ends positive. Chapter Fifteen begins positive, ends negative. Chapter Sixteen begins negative, ends extra-negative. Etc. 

If you’ve had lots of negative chapters, have a positive one, and vice versa. 

And don’t forget those cliffhangers!

When I freelance edited, I always found that most writers had natural cliffhangers in their work. They just didn’t recognize them. If you struggle with where to end a chapter, take a look a few paragraphs up from where you lost steam. It’s probably hiding in plain sight. If not, go back to that question you posed at the beginning of your chapter. What’s the next natural mystery your reader will want to know? Head towards that. 

Before I ramble on forever, here’s some fun facts about my work:

My average chapter length in Minutes Before Sunset: 2,123

My average chapter length in Bad Bloods: November Snow: 3,422

The difference? The format. Both are young adult, but Bad Bloods is formatted to show day-by-day plays, so each chapter covers one day. This meant numerous scenes in one chapter versus Minutes Before Sunset, which was set up to show scene-by-scene. Minutes Before Sunset is a much quicker book and centered on romance, whereas November Snow has a much heavier tone and centered on survival. Longer chapters were more fitting for that audience. 

Right now, I’m working on an adult fantasy, and my chapters seem to be landing anywhere between 2,000-3,000 words. As a reader, though, I love those 1,500-word chapters. Turning the pages feels good!

Take that as you will, and good luck,

~~SAT

P.S. I want to thank TJ Horton from my Facebook page who suggested I write about this topic! If you have a topic you want me to write about, let me know in the comments below. 

Writing About Grief

4 Oct

As someone who usually writes science fiction and fantasy, I decided to take a sharp turn during these last few months of 2021 to write my first contemporary. It’s a verse novel, centered on the loss of my mother when I was 11. (For those of you who are new to my blog, she died from a drug overdose, and I struggled to find books for kids like me in the middle grade section.) I finally want to try to make that happen. Granted, it’s going to be a while before I finish, but I’m halfway through and thought it was time to talk about the lessons I’ve learned while writing about grief. That isn’t to say you must be writing a contemporary novel centered on grief. Grief can be present in any novel in any genre, but these tips are designed for someone who is writing a novel that is exploring grief as the central theme. 

First and foremost, when grief is the central theme of your work, it’s important to keep track of your emotions, especially if what you’re writing about is deeply personal or based on real-life. Check in with yourself. Give yourself permission to put your work down and come back at another time. Have something else to write on the side. Whatever you need to do to stop yourself from rumination. If you’re trying to write about a tragedy that recently happened, that’s okay, but I would caution you to take time to grieve before you dive into writing a book about your grief. Let time give you space to heal.

Now for writing advice:

Read Other Books About Grief

I know this might sound counterintuitive. Too much grief might be too much grief. But for me, I decided to lean onto other works of art. I picked up some nonfiction and fiction that centers on the topic I’m covering, and I’m still combing through them right now. Seeing how others covered grief in their stories helps me see which events in my life will work for a story rather than a diary entry. It can be extra helpful if you can find books in the same age category. That will help you with voice, but also give you some possible comp titles, so that you can pitch your book knowing where it will land on the shelf. 

Balance the Sad with Happy

Even though I’m writing a book about an extremely dark time in my childhood, I still remember happy slices of life. Granted, when I started writing this book and took a step back, I realized those were missing. It takes another muscle to my brain to recall those happy moments that took place in the dark. Though, I think that’s perfectly normal. When you’re dealing with grief—especially the death of the loved one—guilt can be associated with happiness. That might happen in your writing, too. Be prepared to stumble along the way. 

Take breaks. BIG ones. And don’t forget your resources.

You may get overwhelmed, and that’s okay. I made a promise to myself that I’d stop writing any time it started to feel like too much. During those pauses, I liked to search through some resources, such as The Grief Toolbox: How to Write About Grief in a Story or Novel. There’s lot of fantastic articles out there that I’d recommend. Give yourself some time to research others’ methods. 

Finally, it’s okay to get inspiration from real life, but remember that you’re writing a story. My mom’s death didn’t happen in a neat little package that fits on a storyline arc. I didn’t follow the traditional five stages of grief in order, jumping from one period of growth to the next with clear transitions. Life doesn’t work that way. Instead, I am using these events and emotions to write, and it’s okay to write messy, especially on a first draft. From there, it’s my job as a writer to get an actual plot out of it all. 

The biggest surprise for me? Grief can feed off other grief—and spark more inspiration. 

Writing about my childhood grief also brought up my teenage grief. Two tragedies in my life really fed off of the other. I didn’t know why I kept thinking about my teenage years when I was trying to think of my middle grade years, but I realized my teenage years was when I started to come to terms with it, and there is no writing about one without bringing up the other. Not for me. So, I opened up a fresh document and began writing a YA verse novel at the same time. I’m often flipping back and forth between the two with little idea which one I’ll finish first. But at the end of this, I know I’ll have a book about grief. And maybe, just maybe, it’ll make it to the shelves one day, so a kid like me can see it and know they aren’t alone in their grief. 

~SAT

What Writers Can Learn from Reading Their OLD Work

30 Aug

I’ve been writing stories ever since I learned how to write. I’m not kidding. My first pieces of work go back to when I was 4 years old. My first story was a 5-page rambling piece about my new husky throwing a party so that the two older dogs would attend and possibly befriend him. (Totally based on a true story. But more on that below.) 

Lots of writers have stories like mine. That first attempt in grade school. Then, the first REAL attempt. You know, the one where you wrote wayyyyy too many words over a span of years. Maybe you finished; maybe you didn’t, but you *think* there’s a copy of it somewhere on an old laptop or shoved in a dresser drawer somewhere. If you have it, I encourage you to go find it today. 

I’m a big believer in keeping old work. I’m a bigger believer in re-reading it. Not just to evaluate where you started and who you’ve grown to be, but also to simply enjoy it. 

Those words brought you joy at some point, and I think you’ll be surprised to find they still do (even if your writing wasn’t exactly what you’d call “seasoned”). You might also learn a thing or two about yourself that you weren’t expecting. 

Let’s take my dog story as an example. I wrote it because we had literally just welcomed a new husky puppy to the family. We had two other dogs. They had to learn to get along. BAM. Storytime. At least, that’s how I saw it at the time. Looking back, the theme of friendship isn’t lost on me. As someone who moved around the country every two-ish years while growing up, I was a very lonely kid, and stories often were the only things to keep me company. My characters were some of my best friends. They still are, in fact. (I certainly spend more time at my computer desk than at brunch catching up with buddies.) Friendship was something that always eluded me and, honestly, it still feels that way most days. I often write about that feeling in my current novels. What surprised me, though, was my four-year-old self considering it. Even before I knew what a theme was, I had threaded it into my storyline while also expressing my own wants and fears. And isn’t that what storytelling is about? Personal expression?

I bring this up because I think it’s quite common to lose sight of storytelling basics the more you learn and grow. In an industry where you constantly hear that’s been done before; everything’s been done before; why is your story unique?; why should we care?, it’s easy to start tweaking plot to add more action; changing characters to shift dynamics; moving or cutting whole scenes to keep up the tension; and before you know it, the story feels stale, and you cannot for the life of you figure out why (especially after twelve revisions).

Maybe—in all those revisions—you accidentally lost track of why you wanted to write the story in the first place or why the story mattered to you. Maybe you cut out that theme of friendship in favor of a romance subplot you’ve been told would be more popular. Worse, you can re-read your new version a 1,000 times and never see what’s wrong because it isn’t there anymore. 

That’s why you keep old work and old versions. It reminds you of why you began and what you were trying to express. In fact, I’ve been re-reading a lot of my old work for this purpose. I’ve even been asking myself what I want out of my stories as a whole.  

Call it an existential crisis brought on by the pandemic, or writer’s block, or self-discovery, or whatever. But I decided to do a deep dive into all my old work. 

Some of those ideas I came up with in high school were brazen and wacky and just plain old rubbish. But they were fresh. So fresh, in fact, that I doubt I could come up with some of those ideas today. Back then, I wasn’t worried about writing to hit a trend or fulfilling genre expectations. (Both of which aren’t inherently bad things to keep in mind while writing professionally.) I simply wrote, and within those writings, I found some shiny pieces. Things that, if I came up with today, I might outright dismiss because “no one will want to read that.” I’m re-learning how to love that wild freshness again.

This past month, I sat back and re-read the Timely Death trilogy. (Yes, my own books.) It felt weird at first. Certainly egotistical. (Why spend time reading my own books that are complete and published when I could spend time reading others’ novels or re-reading a WIP that has hope for the future?) Trust me, I thought the same thing. But the books had been nagging at me for weeks. I just had this feeling that I wanted to dive back into that world and re-experience it. 

Some things I learned from reading my own work:

  1. I did not remember large parts of my own trilogy. It’s been so many years, it was almost like reading a book someone else wrote. This helped me judge it from a third-party perspective (and enjoy it)! I tried to take note of which parts of the book I loved and which slowed me down. They were surprisingly different than I remembered! 
  2. I can certainly see where I’ve grown—my word choice is stronger, my transitions are swifter, and my dialogue feels more natural. I also think my world building ability has grown, not just the literal world, but also how it is introduced and why. That’s a good feeling! 
  3. I can see where I regressed. Granted this point is a little bit more complicated. I have to be careful not to compare a final, published piece with my current WIPs, but I still feel like my characters were more vulnerable back then than they are now. They certainly have more imperfections and layers, and so do their relationships. I think there’s a lot of pressure right now for characters to be more “perfect” than they were in the past. For example, if a character thinks or feels something controversial, it can be seen as the author’s opinion, especially if another character doesn’t correct them, and I (personally) think that’s a slippery slope. Many of my characters act and think in ways that I do not. I’m just trying to tell a story, and sometimes stories follow controversial people or situations, especially in fantasy where the rules of that world do not align with the rules in our world. I think it was Will in Cassandra Clare’s book that said, “Requited love is ideal but doesn’t make much of a ballad,” and I feel that way about stories in general. If my characters acted or thought “correctly” all the time (or, in the case of the quote, loved each other correctly), it would become a very boring book. But that’s probably another topic for another day! Basically, I feel like I regressed in the darker parts of my books and characters. I’ve held a lot of their vulnerability back out of fear for how it would reflect on me. And I hope to break that mold again. 

As an extra, re-reading definitely rekindled that flame for the books. I spent a week or so outlining an adult followup for the trilogy, and it was so much fun!

My biggest takeaway:

Looking back on all my old books and manuscripts, I realized I have the same central theme threading through all of them—except for the ones I’m struggling to connect with. It was a EUREKA moment for me. This theme, which I’d rather keep to myself for now, is an essential part of who I am as a writer. Somehow, somewhere, I lost sight of that. I lost that feeling. Now I’m working on getting it back. 

Have you ever read an old work of yours and realized a truth about your writing?

~SAT

P.S. There won’t be a blog post on Monday, September 6th. It is Labor Day, and I will be taking the weekend off. The next blog post will be the Pitch Wars blog hop, which takes place on Saturday, September 11.

For those who didn’t see the announcement, I am returning to Pitch Wars this year as a co-mentor with Sandra Proudman! We’re Team Stellify, and we’re going to mentor a middle grade writer. We’re so excited to meet our mentee! For more information, visit pitchwars.org. You can see my Pitch Wars profile here.

If you’re a middle grade writer interested in this mentorship program, I encourage you to come to the Pitch Wars Middle Grade Mentor chat this Saturday, September 4 at 12 PM EST! Click here to add it to your YouTube watchlist.

How to Plot a Series and Make Every Book Stand Out

16 Aug

As an author with three series under my belt, I’m often asked how to plot a series, and I thought it was finally time to share a few tips. 

First thing is first, anyone considering traditional publishing should make book one a standalone. Don’t get me wrong. It’s great to have the dream of writing a series, but in traditional publishing, that choice is out of your control. Agents/editors will get discouraged by proposals that say, “this is first book in a five-book series,” because no one can guarantee that will happen. (In fact, a series can be very rare for a debut author.) 

Repeat after me: “standalone with series potential”

But that’s more to do with traditional publishing than writing—and it doesn’t affect those who are self-publishing as much—so let’s get to those writing tips: 

Identify the Sub-Genre of Each Book

When I set out to write a series, I know each book needs to feel special. The way that I do that is by identifying each book’s sub-genre. For example, in my Timely Death trilogy, book 1 is a paranormal romance, book 2 is a paranormal mystery, book 3 is a paranormal action. In the Tomo trilogy, book 1 is certainly dystopian action, but book 2 is dystopian horror. (Time will tell what book 3 is.) 

When each book has its own sub-genre, it’ll help them stand apart while also inviting new energy into the storyline. Personally, I’d recommend every first book heavily lean toward your main genre in order to set the overall tone and expectation. Using my example above, the Timely Death trilogy is a paranormal romance, and book 1 is heavily focused on that, both in the main plot and the subplots. It’s the next books where I allow a little more deviation. 

I encourage anyone writing a series to keep that tip in mind when plotting out numerous books that follow the same characters. If you’re unsure what sort of sub-genres might work with your overall genre, “20 Master Plots and How to Form Them” by Ronald Tobias is a fantastic resource that helps explain plot and genre expectations. Play around with a few and see how they feel. 

Avoid the Dreaded Middle Book Slump

Avoid that middle book slump by throwing everything you can at it. What do I mean by that? I mean that a lot of writers stop themselves from using amazing material because they want to save it for the big, explosive finale. And that’s valid. But personally, I disagree with that method. Trust me when I say not to hold back. Give each book everything you got. You will come up with something even bigger for the next book. I know it can feel scary, but I’ve done it before, not knowing what I was going to do with the last book, and everything came together perfectly. 

If you want that example, I’ll explain, but it does spoil book 2: 

In the Timely Death trilogy, there’s a prophetic fight-to-the-death between two clans alluded to in the first book. Every reader expected it to be in book 3. And guess what? It’s in book 2. Though it seems to be set up as the ultimate climax from book 1, I knew I wanted to push against that formula the moment I started writing book 2, so I trusted my gut and used it in book 2. Book 3 ended up being even bigger and followed the fallout of that fight. Using everything I had in book 2 opened the series to even more dramatics, plot twists, and drama than I ever could’ve planned had I tried to save material for the finale.  

Don’t Fear Character Change, Including Relationships 

Too often I read series where characters’ friendships and romances remain intact book after book. Granted, the romance genre requires a happy ending, but you can still have a happy ending while pushing what it means for a couple to be together. You can break friendships and meld them—or break them up forever. You don’t have to have a happy ending for everyone. In fact, if I know my main couple won’t work out, I make sure to show one that will, and vice versa. 

To me, this tip is reminiscent of being willing to kill your darlings. 

If no one’s relationships ever suffer, then readers might get too comfortable with the stakes. Be willing to part family, friends, and lovers. Allow them to make new friends and find new families. This will allow for fresh scenes and stakes because new relationships mean something new to lose. New relationships will also show how your characters are changing. My favorite kind? A villain who joins the good side in the end. There’s something so interesting about showing what it takes to get the hero and villain to see eye-to-eye, even if one of them can’t exist in the end. 

These are just my top three tips for planning a series.

How do you plan yours?

~SAT

Want an Accountability Partner? Consider This First.

19 Jul

Maybe you’ve heard of accountability partners. Maybe you’ve considered getting one. But what is an accountability partner, really, and how do you get someone to help?

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the term, “accountability partner” is teaming up with someone who will keep you accountable for your writing progress. For example, your friend may check in with you every Tuesday to make sure you’ve written 1,000 words that week, and if not, you may jump on Zoom for a quick write-in.

Accountability partners look different to everyone because every writer has their own unique goals.

It may include critiquing, or it might only be a verbal check-in. The partnership can go both ways or not. Your accountability partner might not even be a fellow writer. Finding what works for you is what’s key.

Here’s how I set up my accountability system without anyone but me knowing.

As of late, I’ve spent most of my writing time revising rather than writing a first draft. That said, I have a hard time concentrating on one novel at a time. On any given day, I tend to have three going: One I am revising, one I am writing, and one I am dreaming about (or outlining). That way, I have different projects for different energies. (If I only revise, I lose my motivation fast.) But working on three separate projects doesn’t come without difficulties.

How do you know you’re writing enough? What time do you dedicate to which project? When will you get it all done?

These were questions I had to ask myself. When it comes to revising, I know that I need to get it done as fast as possible, but I also need it to be quality edits, not just speed. That’s why I put most of my energy into that project. That said, I know I need to honor some creative/writing time for myself. If I don’t, I get burnt out. Nevertheless, it’s easy for me to forget that and fall into a responsibility trap, where I end up drained and frustrated.

This was why I knew I needed to make a specific, time-set goal around creative writing.

That goal? Every month, I will write two new chapters for my monthly critique group.

Sometimes I send more if they have the reading time and I had the writing time. But I tend to only manage two chapters. That’s about 20 pages. It’s very minimal. But guess what? It’s better than nothing. Believe it or not, by the end of the year, I tend to have a full-length novel.

But do my critique partners know about this? No, not really.

Here’s the deal: I don’t have accountability partners in the traditional sense. No one is going to email me and say, “You told me you’d have X done by this date, so where is it?” The way I approach it is a lot more light-hearted.

No one in my group knows that my goal is two chapters every month. No one gives me a hard time if I don’t meet that. But every month, my iCalendar bings the week before our meetup and asks me if my pages are ready. If they aren’t, I focus solely on those pages until they are good to go.

For me, accountability is about giving yourself permission to set everything else aside to focus on that one time-set goal you promised yourself.

It’s investing in your work, your future, and your writing. Finding a pattern that helps you do that is key. Sometimes discovering that requires help from a friend or a family member (or an alert on your calendar). Don’t be afraid to ask those around you if they’d be willing to check in. That said, I’d recommend considering your goals before you talk to others. That way, you can tell them what you need.  

My advice?

Set a small writing goal, but don’t forget to consider your accountability.

I will write (# of words) every (time: month, week, etc.) for (my critique group, my website, myself).

If you’re feeling really brave, add stipulations: As I approach my deadline, I will set aside (TV, other projects, dessert) until I complete it. I will also not hesitate to ask for help on (laundry, dishes, childcare, etc.) if I need extra time.

Lastly—and as always—it’s okay to adjust your goals.

Even your accountability partner will understand if you say you can’t write the same amount of words in the fall as you can in the spring. Life happens. Don’t punish yourself for not hitting your goal. Instead, ask yourself why. Are you being too hard on yourself? Are your expectations too high? Adjust your word count or time, and try again.  

It took me a long time to find my happy place with creative writing vs. revising, but I would never have found it if I hadn’t adjusted along the way.

For instance, I used to write 10,000 words a week. That number makes me gasp now. With a full-time job, a house to take care of, and the understanding that I need more time to be human, I’m nowhere near that output anymore. And that’s okay! I have new goals now. And with those, I am staying accountable.

What about you? Do you have accountability partners?

~SAT

Inundated with Writing Advice

5 Jul

There comes a point in every writer’s career that they seek out feedback and advice from others. Whether that be critique partners, beta readers, or studying craft books, writers are often doing their best to continuously hone their skills. And while that is commendable, there comes a point where a writer can feel overwhelmed by the amount of information they are learning. They may even get lost or make more mistakes than before—all while trying to improve. 

When and why does this happen? 

This can happen for several reasons, but I believe it happens the most when a writer is at the cusp of something new. For example, a new genre or age category they aren’t used to, or a more complicated story than those they’ve written in the past. Maybe they’ve picked up a craft book for the first time or stumbled across a blog that has lists upon lists of must-do rules that feel endless. (Or, worse, contradictory.) 

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by all the advice out there. I mean, technically, this is one of those articles, too. Right? (I promise I’ll try not to be overwhelming.)  

I, personally, love to challenge myself, so I try new things constantly—new tropes, new genres, new archetypes. It can be fun, but very challenging, and challenges open you up to advice you may not have heard before. When you hear that advice, it may even contradict lessons you’ve learned in the past. Contradictory writing advice is where I see a lot of writers get stuck. You know the kind. One person wants more in this scene; someone else wants less. An industry expert claims deep POV is the way to go; others ask for lighter fiction. And that trope you love? It’s OUT. You better rethink your entire premise. 

Or not. 

While seeking advice is admirable, there comes a point where a writer must know when to focus on their work by themselves. Learning when to make decisions and how to own them will help you tremendously. I believe it comes down to making decisions with purpose. Boil your reasoning down, and you’ll know why you are writing the piece you are writing—and what you are trying to say with it. 

Still lost?

Sometimes it’s not easy to make decisions. I mostly get stuck when I come across discussions about what needs to be in books and what’s been overdone. For example, the brooding male romantic interest is a trope that many say we don’t need anymore. They’d rather have more cinnamon roll boys or other personality types. And that is totally valid! We absolutely need all different types of characters and tropes to keep publishing fresh and exciting. But I also don’t think we need to throw out everything that has been done either. Especially since there are plenty of diverse voices that haven’t had the chance to cover those topics themselves. 

Though you may see a lot of people say they don’t want that type of character, that is their opinion. You can still write it. And there will always be readers who love the brooding male love interest. That said, I would still encourage you to dive deep and ask yourself how you are making your situation unique. 

Knowing what makes your book and voice unique will help guide your ultimate decisions. Theme is big guiding post, too. If you understand those details about your work, you’ll be less likely to get swayed by outside influence that isn’t necessarily good for your specific piece. It’s better to stay true to what you set out to do than to try to force something into your work that you know won’t come across as authentic. But if you want to attempt new skills and try out fresh ideas, don’t hold yourself back. Remind yourself that it’s okay to feel uncomfortable when trying new things. (That first draft is never going to look as shiny as your final product!) 

This is where critique partner feedback comes in handy. I love nothing more than bouncing ideas off of my writer friends. They certainly help challenge me (and point out parts of my work that I never would’ve focused on in the same light). That said, managing critique partner feedback is its own challenge. My favorite writing tip?

“Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.” – Neil Gaiman

How can a writer keep advice in mind while making better decisions?

Read all the advice throughout your entire manuscript at once and see if you can identify patterns. (Ex. One character keeps confusing the reader.) Those patterns are most likely your biggest issues that need fixing. Regarding small things, stay as objective as possible, but remind yourself that you are not going to please every reader in every scene or sentence. No matter how shiny your book is, you will get 1-star reviews. It won’t be for everyone. Remind yourself of who you wrote this book for and what you want your book to say. 

Other than that, I would pay attention to how you are as a reader. If you tend to love world building as a reader, you’re probably pretty good at that as a writer. You might even overdo it. Make sure to give extra attention to the areas that you skip over as a reader. You might be surprised to find you did the same thing with your writing. 

Regardless, when all is said and done, this book is yours and the advice you get is a gift—a gift that you must decide how to utilize. I may have given you a few checklist items to keep in mind while considering advice, but I certainly hope you don’t feel inundated. ❤ 

Stay true to your story, 

~SAT

P.S. Now that it’s July, make sure to pick up Bad Bloods: July Thunder & July Lightning. The duology takes place in July, and it can be super fun to read each day as it happens in real life. If you’re an X-Men fan, these are for you.

July Thunder (#3)

AmazonBarnes & NobleiBooksKoboSmashwordsGoodreads

July Lightning (#4)

Amazon, Barnes & NobleiBooksKoboSmashwordsGoodreads

How to Enjoy Reading as a Writer (And Complete Those Reading Goals)

21 Jun

It’s summertime, which means beach reads are among us. Not to mention the fact that we’re halfway through 2021. (Eek!) How far along are you on your reading goals? I aim to read 52 books a year. I’m definitely not there yet. But I know a lot of us take this time of the year to catch up on our TBR pile, so I wanted to chat about books from the writer’s perspective. 

As Stephen King once said, “If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time or the tools to write.” It’s a very popular writing advice quote that most writers have probably heard here and there. I tend to agree with it. Reading is an important step of becoming a writer. But what happens when you don’t enjoy reading anymore? What if reading starts to feel like a chore? 

More often than not, I hear three reading issues from writers:

  • I can’t read while I’m writing. I fear accidentally taking those author’s words and using them myself in my current WIP. 
  • I don’t have enough time to read and write. My schedule doesn’t allow me to sit down and do both, so I have to skip the reading part. 
  • I don’t enjoy reading anymore. All I do is compare my work to theirs and/or I see tropes/mistakes/what’s coming rather than enjoy the moment.  

Sound like you? I’ve certainly been here before. The one that bit me the hardest was the last one. I used to get in such a writing headspace that I felt like I was studying every book I was reading rather than sitting back and enjoying the story. Eventually, I realized that I had to consciously set aside my writing brain and invite my reading one in. But more on that below! 

Combining reading with a beautiful place doesn’t hurt either!

If you’re the kind of writer that struggles with reading, here’s some quick tips:

  • Try reading in a different medium: I love audiobooks. They are absolutely perfect when it comes to my schedule, because I can read while driving, cooking, or doing other chores. They also give me a chance to rest my eyes and hands, which often get sore between my day job and writing. I’ve personally found audiobooks to help with separating reading from writing. My writing brain is easier to turn off when I’m listening to an audiobook because I don’t write in that same format. This required some lifestyle adjustments, though. In fact, I deleted all writing advice podcasts from my phone, so that I would stop associating audio with advice. Audio is now solely a place for joy—not advice—and making sure I honor that has helped my brain stay in that happy place for longer. 
  • Try reading a genre or age category that you don’t write: This is a good fit for those of you who fear accidentally taking something from a book you’re currently reading and putting it into your own words. If you’re reading a different genre/age category, it will feel more separated than if you’re reading something along similar lines. It may also help with the comparison bug. (It’s harder to compare your work to someone else’s when they are so vastly different.) 
  • Embrace how you’re feeling: What you’re feeling is perfectly normal. I find the writers who fight these feelings are the writers who struggle with it the most. I know, because I was one of these people for a long time. I often had to find ways to beat back the comparison bug. For instance, whenever I was reading something amazing and I started to think “I’ll never be able to write like this”, I would immediately flip to the back of the book. There, I would read the Acknowledgements page and read the growing list of people who helped that author get their story to where it is today. This was a factual reminder that my WIP was still a WIP; this book was a story dozens of people had helped shape. Seeing that almost always made me feel better. So yes, embrace what you’re feeling. Ask yourself why. Then tackle it. Once you do, you’ll find a solution. 

There are lots of ways to tackle reading and bring back the joy if you’re struggling. For instance, if I read something I admired—be it a trope, scene, or even a word—I would write it down. That way, I was acknowledging something my writer brain loved, but also took a note to deal with it on another day. At the end of reading, I’ll come back and analyze it.

It may take some experimenting, and you may experience hiccups along the way, but never give up on your love for reading. So many of us started writing because of reading. In fact, if you remember those old favorites that inspired you, I would encourage you to pick them up again. Enjoy that experience again. Remind yourself why you love the written word, and I’m sure you’ll be reading again in no time!

Do you have any reading tricks or tips? Feel free to share them with me! 

~SAT

P.S. Wednesday, June 23 is my 30th birthday! Where has time gone?!

How to be Flexible with Writing

6 Feb

“How do you have time to write?” is probably in the top three questions I get asked, and I always answer the same way: I don’t have time to write. I make time to write, and I remain flexible. What works one year may not work another year. But if we dive a little deeper, flexibility with your schedule is just one aspect. You should also learn how to be flexible with your writing. 

Flexibility with your writing means you can easily shift from one project to another, even when it wasn’t in the plans. 

Why is this important? 

Whether or not you are traditionally publishing or self-publishing, there’s going to be times where you’re in the middle of writing your urban fantasy and get notes back from your agent/editor/audiobook narrator that means you need to focus on your murder mystery right away. Why does this happen? Working on the next piece while subbing/publishing another one is common practice, and it’s inevitable these two pieces will collide on your calendar. 

Woman in yoga pose
A quick yoga break helps me, too!

Learning how to pivot from one WIP to another with ease will help you be more productive (and hopefully make the process less stressful and more fun). 

Just last year, I was writing an adult fantasy while getting beta reader notes back on my adult science fiction and waiting for the go-to signal from my agent to revise a totally different adult science fiction piece. I’m constantly hopping from one project to the other. It’s been difficult at times, but I’ve certainly learned some tricks that make it easier. 

Here’s some quick ways to help with flexibility:

– Pinterest mood board: quickly scrolling through my inspiration reminds me why I love it and what the tone is. 

– Playlist: Even if you don’t listen to music while writing, try to make a playlist that you associate with your WIP. Maybe you use it when you’re brainstorming. Maybe you only listen to it as you sit down at your computer. Even better if they have totally different sounds. Five minutes of sensory encouragement can make all the difference! 

– Speaking of sensory help: Candles! I am in love with candles. I always have a candle on my desk. It’s my splurge. I actually use two different ones right now depending on the book I’m writing (and they’re both almost out!) Weird way to see how much time I spend on a book, but it certainly helps set the mood. I have a campfire one for my book that takes place in autumn and a fresh one for the project that takes place in winter. It’s calming and energizing. 

 

– Make a plan before you pivot: This is probably the biggest tip that has helped me. Before I leap out of a project to tackle another one, I open a new document and summarize everything I’m thinking/feeling/planning for the next scene. In fact, it’s almost so detailed that I only need to fill in a couple lines of prose to write a whole new chapter. It helps me feel more comfortable when I come back (and confident right away)! 

Finally, setting boundaries and expectations is important!

Right now, I’m in a monsters in space revision (the fifth revision)! I finally hit a spot where I know things are going to get difficult, so I stopped. It was an excellent place to take a break, clear my head, and work on something else. I’m now jumping back into the first draft of my monster murder mystery academia book. Two totally different tones and settings. The genres aren’t even the same. But I know that I stopped right before my midpoint chapter, and I left myself a ton of notes so that jumping into that scene will be as easy as cutting butter. When I get back to my monsters in space revision, an outline of all the major changes I want to make is waiting for me. 

Granted, any day I could get notes back from someone and have to pivot again, but I am ready. I know where and how to make clean breaks, and I’m comfortable with returning whenever I can. 

I hope these tips help you, too!

~SAT

P.S. I’ve added a new page for book clubs & teachers! It includes fun questions to lead a book discussion about Minute Before Sunset, book 1 of the Timely Death trilogy. There’s also a fabulous lemon bar recipe, in honor of Mindy Welborn who constantly bakes these throughout the series. If you’d like me to stop by your book club or classroom virtually, be sure to use my contact page! I’m happy to if my schedule allows.

A Writer’s Freakout Schedule

29 Aug

Between COVID and (insert any number of other awful things happening right now), freakouts are commonplace at the moment. Right? RIGHT???

I don’t know. Maybe you’re not going through it, but I know I’ve certainly had my moments of heightened stress, which is probably why I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the delicate balance of productivity and mindfulness. On one hand, I want to maintain my level of productivity, be successful, follow the dream. On the other, I just want to eat this tub of ice cream and be left alone. So, I guess the solution is to sit here with my ice cream while I write this article. (It’s Cherry Garcia, if you’re wondering.)

Writers are used to wearing a lot of hats. Between day jobs and family, squeezing in time to write is nothing new to the aspiring novelist. Neither is imposter syndrome or writers’ burnout, not to mention writers’ block. But the other day, I finally heard a new one. 

A writers’ freakout schedule.

But first, a little backstory: 

Once a month, I meet up with some fellow writers on ZOOM just to chat about what we’re going through and how we’re handling it. We talk about our projects, but there’s no pressure to exchange pages or anything. If you don’t have something like this in your life, I highly recommend it. I look forward to it every month. 

During one of these monthly calls, I was talking about how bonkers life is at the moment and how to manage all these tectonic plates that are now life, when Jessica Conoley (authorpreneurship coach) mentioned how knowing her “freakout” schedule has helped her manage.

The moment she mentioned it, a lightbulb went off in my head. I had never thought about the concept of a freakout schedule before, but I also recognized how true the sentiment was right away.

Understanding when and how you will react to news, such as a critique or a rejection, can help you stay focused and calm, especially in these strange and twisty times. 

That being said, I wasn’t always aware of my freakout schedule. In fact, I’m pretty sure my roommate had to point it out to me once. (Okay. So, maybe a couple dozen times.) Basically, I used to think I didn’t have a freakout schedule. I would hear criticism or get a rejection and brush it off pretty quickly. Publishing is just business, right? I can adjust and keep trying. And I would. Right away, I would dive into revisions or go about writing life as normal…but two weeks later, the doubt would creep in. Then, the inevitable imposter syndrome. Soon, I’d be asking friends if I was delusional in my capabilities to finish a likeable story. I would threaten to put everything down, eventually declaring, “This is it! I quit!” 

The next day, I’d sit down at my computer, determined to delete it all and never look back…but hey, it couldn’t hurt to read it one last time. Soon, I’d be revising. And reading. And writing like nothing ever happened. 

My freakouts definitely have varying degrees, depending on what caused the situation to spiral. 

A little writers block isn’t going to last as long for me as a brutally honest critique from a trusted colleague. However, for someone else, it might be the complete opposite. Which brings me to my next piece of advice:

Understanding what sets you off—and for how long—is just as important as understanding you’re in a cycle. The cycle will end. 

This is just your freakout schedule.

~SAT

P.S. You may have noticed a new badge on my website. In case you didn’t, I am officially going to co-mentor with Sandra Proudman for Pitch Wars this year. Pitch Wars is a mentoring program where published/agented authors, editors, or industry interns choose one writer to spend three months revising their manuscript. It ends in February with an Agent Showcase, where agents can read a pitch/first page and can request to read more. Learn more at PitchWars.orgOur wishlist will go up right here on September 12!

I’m a Writer with Imposter Syndrome

17 Mar

I have imposter syndrome. For those of you who don’t know, imposter syndrome “is a concept describing individuals who are marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a fraud.” At least according to Wikipedia. (And, yes, I see the humor in starting this article with a quote from Wikipedia, but they honestly had the best to-the-point definition I could find, so…)

I’m surprised I haven’t discussed imposter syndrome before. Or maybe I have and it was archived at one point. Either way, it’s time to discuss it, because imposter syndrome is awful.

Imposter syndrome can also make you feel like you’re not yourself, that you’re hiding something, that you’re failing, hard. But hopefully this will help!

I tend to get imposter syndrome for two reasons:

1. I haven’t had a lot of writing time

This is actually my #1 reason. When I don’t have a lot of time to write, I don’t feel like a writer. I mean, writers write, right? (Say that ten times fast.) While, yes, writers definitely write, that statement bothers a lot of writers, because it puts an unnecessary pressure on them to always be writing, and that’s not always the case. Some writers write every day, sure, and that’s awesome! But some writers only write a few days a week. Or only once a week. And that’s awesome, too! Heck, I know published authors who tend to write-write (meaning putting prose on paper) only a few months out of the year. The other months are strictly for other types of writing (outlining, discussing ideas, researching, etc.). Whatever works for the writer and allows them to meet deadlines (and hopefully feel creative and happy) is what matters. But that doesn’t mean we writers don’t have moments where we don’t feel like we’re doing enough, where we don’t feel like enough. Believe me, I’ve been there. In fact, I’m feeling that way right now. (I’ll get to why in a minute.)

So my tip if you’re going through this: While you’re running errands or driving to and from work, really consider why you don’t have time to write. Do you actually have time that you can clear out on your schedule or are you going through a life change? Don’t be too hard on yourself either way. It’s okay to acknowledge that maybe you have been neglecting your craft. Admitting it is the first step to finding time again. If you haven’t been purposely neglecting anything—and your schedule is just rough—consider whether or not it’s temporary. If it’s temporary, relax. Get done what you need to get done. Communicate with agents, editors, publishers, etc. about what is going on in your life and see if anyone (like betas) can help. If it isn’t temporary, try to figure out what you can give up in your schedule for writing. Maybe you don’t need to watch five television shows a week. Instead, reward yourself with the whole season once you finish your first draft. Tah-dah!

 2. I’m pushing myself too hard

Now this is the other reason I get imposter syndrome. If you didn’t notice, it’s basically the opposite reason I listed above, right? Sort of. Sometimes they can go hand-in-hand. How? Well, because I might be pushing myself too hard somewhere else in my life (and still not getting writing time), and when I get exhausted, I get a little irrational. I start thinking there is 24 hours in a day. What do I mean by that? I mean that I forget basic necessities need to be done in 24 hours. You can’t pack all 24 hours with things to accomplish. You also need to sleep, to eat, to breathe. Pushing myself too hard can mess me up, especially when I’m not finding a lot of time to write, because I feel like I’ve done a lot and done nothing at all at the same time. This happens because I forget that writing is a part of my whole life, not a separated life from my job or home struggles. It’s easy to put writing accomplishments in one basket and everything else in the other, but try to put them in the same basket. That way, you’re acknowledging everything you’re doing in your life right now, not just your writing ups and downs, and you won’t feel like you’re failing when you’re actually working really, really hard.

I’m not going to lie. I think I’m going through both of these at the moment. Adjusting to the new job and still dealing with health issues has been rough. Fun but rough. (Fun fact: I found out I’ve been near-sighted my whole life this week, so I’m getting glasses soon. And hopefully, less headaches.) I definitely haven’t had a lot (if any) time to write between that and editing and marketing my current books (and keeping up on my TBR). Basically, I feel really disconnected to my writing, while also feeling too tired to try to write when I have a little time off. Granted, I should be following my own advice from the article a few weeks ago, Tips For Going Through a Life Change, and allowing myself to have an adjustment period, but let’s be real, easier said than done, right?

What I think triggered the imposter syndrome was meeting a bunch of new (and awesome) people who didn’t know I was an author. People, especially people who work in libraries, tend to get really excited/surprised/interested to hear about it when they first meet you, and while that should feel heartwarming, it feels really overwhelming when I’m not actively able to write as much as I like. It makes me feel like I’m neglecting everything, that I’m not accomplishing anything new, that I’m—you guessed it—an imposter.

But I’m trying to take a step back and remind myself that this is imposter syndrome. Though it feels real, it isn’t. Not really. It’s a construct, a pressure I’ve put on myself, and unhealthy at best.

I’m not quite out of the imposter woods, but admitting it to myself has helped me see the light, so to speak.

I have taken a moment to acknowledge how I feel and why I feel that way and what steps I can take to feel better—mainly rest, allowing myself to adjust to my job, and feeling good when I get a few words down. But the #1 thing I’m reminding myself—that I hope will help you—is an ultimatum I don’t see talked about enough.

As long as you’re not stealing someone’s identity, none of us are imposters. We’re writers. We’re all on a different path to publication, and we’re in this together, on good days and bad days. We aren’t “faking” anything if we are trying, and that’s what matters. Love your journey, always remember why you love writing, and love yourself.

There’s only one of you out there, and trust me, you are not an imposter.

You are a writer.

~SAT

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