Tag Archives: novel writing

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

Is Romance Necessary in YA?

6 Feb

Romance sells. (Or, as they usually say, sex sells.) And now more than ever, sex is being introduced into young adult literature every day. But that’s another debate for another day. Instead, I wanted to focus on the overall umbrella term of romance in YA.

Is romance necessary in every YA book?

The short answer is no, of course not. But the long answer is a lot more complicated.

If you’re a first-time author, then you probably already know the struggles of completing a manuscript, editing one, joining the query trenches, and understanding the marketplace.

More often than not, romance sells better than anything else.

Why? Well, we have to consider our buyer.

Ten years ago, YA literature was widely bought by the YA crowd (ages 14-18), but more recently, the average age of the YA buyer has increased to 20-25. (Hey, look! There’s me!) Granted, there is a lot of debate about this—and it’s hard to prove, considering adults can buy books as gift or teens can borrow books—but I love speaking to teens at my signings, and have listened to them say the same thing. A lot of young adults are reading fanfiction online instead, and hey, no shame! That’s awesome. I’m just happy when people are reading. But this fact has changed the marketplace, and I honestly believe that’s why we’re seeing more sex in YA literature, including less “fade to black” scenes. As an example, a YA book I just read had a one-night-stand between two inexperienced strangers, where both acted as if they were cool with it. Nothing wrong with that. Don’t get me wrong. But I cannot imagine reading that at 14 and feeling like I could relate, even though the characters were that age. However, I know some 14-year-olds can relate, and that’s fine! No worries. Just be safe. 🙂

That being said, at 14, I wanted to hang out with friends. I wanted to read books (and write them), and other than that, I ran around with my husky or my brother or studied a lot.

I particularly loved Ally Carter’s The Gallagher Girls books, because the romance was few and far in between. Same with Meg Cabot (specifically when she was known as Jenny Carroll and wrote the 1-800-Where-R-You series and the Mediator series). Oh! And Lynne Ewing’s Daughters of the Moon series. All of their YA books featured kickass, often hilarious, and always intelligent girls living life, figuring out a mess, and defeating any enemy they came across. Friendship mattered. Family, too. And, sure, sometimes a kiss was shared here or there, but romance never seemed to be the focus. Being a heroine was.

Granted, I must clarify that you can be focused on romance and still be a heroine. Please do not get me wrong. But I wish there were more YA books (in all genres) that allowed the characters to explore space, chase enemies, and save the world without falling in love, too.

Out of the last ten YA books I’ve read, the only one who featured no one falling in love was This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab. Definitely recommended. (By the way, if you have suggestions, feel free to leave them below. I LOVE suggestions.)

Love that will never change? My love for YA

Love that will never change? My love for YA

Granted, I can admit I’m a hypocrite. I write YA, and every single one of my YA books has a romance subplot in it. That being said, my romantic plots are hardly romantic in comparison to popular YA books today. In Bad Bloods, Daniel and Serena kiss….twice?…in 600 pages. And that’s it. But hey, they’re trying to protect their families and survive a government out to kill them, so I think they have a lot on their hands.

They can always kiss later. If they even want to.

That being said, almost every editorial letter I’ve received included the suggestion of getting my characters “closer” or focusing more on their romantic endeavors rather than their friendships or families or fighting for the world they live in. And I find it increasingly frustrating.

While I can see the market value in focusing on these tropes, I feel an increasing value in the opposite of those aspects as well.

It’s okay to focus on studying and family and friendships instead of love. It’s a personal choice. But more than ever before, I feel pressured to include romance where romance isn’t necessary. Because of that pressure, I actually set out to include more romance in my latest, but sure enough, I found myself following the same pattern I always do: There is a romantic interest, but he’s on the sidelines while my protagonist is striving to…I don’t know…save the world or her sister or her friends. She’s too busy studying to think about some boy’s smile or (insert jewel description) eyes. But she does have her moments, albeit they are few and far in between, and at this point, I doubt they’ll survive my editing process. And I’m so torn about it.

I wanted to write romance. I tried. But I can’t. And I’m trying to be okay with that. I am trying to be okay with me.

I love romance. I enjoy reading it, and I sometimes seek it out. But I wish there were more books where girls (and boys) were simply living life or saving the world without romance. It’s okay not to date when you’re a teen. It’s okay not to have romantic feelings. It’s okay to be focused elsewhere.

I wanted to read about girls like that when I was 14, 15, 16, and even now, so I guess that’s why I write my books the way I do. It’s that fact that made me accept myself again. (Oh, and talking to a bunch of my fellow writer friends. They helped, too.)

Romance will definitely help you sell your book—be it to an agent, a publisher, or a reader—but don’t force it. The most important aspect of any book is to be true to your work, and if that means avoiding crushes and angst-ridden kisses, then so be it.

I will continue to have romantic subplots, because that is my style, but as of today, my protagonist will focus on her studies more. She might not even kiss anyone at all. And that’s perfectly A-okay with me. (And more importantly, okay with her.)

If one day she changes her mind, I will listen to her, and if she doesn’t, I will continue to listen to her. Why? My answer is simple.

A protagonist is enough without a love interest to back them up. So is a story.

~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

#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

#MondayBlogs When NaNoWriMo is Over

28 Nov

NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, is a lot of fun for many writers, and it can be that stepping stone that forces you to sit down and finish that draft you’ve been trying to complete for years. Whether you hit that 50,000-word milestone or not, I want to congratulate you, because—guess what??—you sat down, you got to work, and you wrote something that mattered to you.

That is worth celebrating.

But many writers might be asking themselves what to do now. Edit? Query? Write more?

The answer will be different for everyone, but here are my three universal tips for NaNoWriMo writers. (And, again, congratulations! You. Are. Awesome. Never stop writing.)

1. Do Not—and I repeat—DO NOT immediately start querying

NaNoWriMo’s goal is to get 50,000 words down. And while 50,000 words is certainly an accomplishment, it’s definitely a first draft. Querying now will only hurt you. In fact, working on a query letter at this point might not even be necessary—because a lot changes from a first draft to the final product—but that’s different for everyone. Sometimes, I like to write query letters before I write a book, just to make sure I understand my concepts and direction. This, of course, never becomes my final query or synopsis, but it helps to have a first draft of everything all at once. That way, I can see how my story changes and shapes over time.

So what are you supposed to do with a first draft?

Extra Tip: Make a plan. Set more deadlines, like NaNoWriMo. Maybe December can be drafting a query letter, synopsis, and pitch month.

Extra Tip: Make a plan. Set more deadlines, like NaNoWriMo. Maybe December can be drafting a query letter, synopsis, and pitch month. 

2. EDIT

Well, first, I normally tell writers to walk away for a little bit. Three weeks might seem like a long time, but it’ll distance you from your work…and your blind love might clear up. This is when you can see your plot holes, flat characters, and other flaws that definitely need fixing. Take word count for example. NaNoWriMo only requires a 50,000-word document, and while this is ideal for MG books, 50,000 words isn’t a great word count for an adult novel or even a YA fantasy. While 50,000 is an AMAZING accomplishment (please do not get me wrong), you’re more than likely going to receive automatic rejections because your word count is off. I know. I know. Word count isn’t everything. In fact, I think pacing matters more. But what’s the brutal truth for debuts? When your word count is off, it tells agents and publishers that you don’t know your genre or market (even if you do). Figure out your ideal word count here—and try to get it there. Don’t bank your entire career on being an exception to the rule.

3. Work on that query, synopsis, and pitch

Your novel isn’t the only piece of work needing attention. Now that you have a complete and edited draft, writing that dreaded query comes into play…and more often than not, query letters and pitches take just as long as editing does. Thankfully, there are plenty of helpful places to learn about this process, like QueryShark and the Query Critique Calendar (where you can get one-on-one help during competitions).

In the end, NaNoWriMo is a fantastic starting point, and you should be proud of your work and accomplishments. But it’s only one part of this wonderful journey. Take your time. Publishing is never a race. And make friends along the way.

Writing should be fun, after all. Try to enjoy all that comes along with it, including everything after THE END.

~SAT

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