Tag Archives: novel writing

Your Story Ideas Aren’t Enough

10 Mar

The other day I was on Twitter and saw someone tweet out something along the lines of, “YOUR STORY IDEA DOESN’T MEAN ANYTHING,” and I about had a heart attack, because WHAT.

I mean, of course ideas matter. In fact, I’m one of those authors that keep lists and lists of ideas, because I believe they all matter. (At least to me. And that’s enough.) But I have to confess… That tweet gave me a heart attack, because she was right. Just because story ideas matter doesn’t mean they are enough. 

Don’t throw away your ideas yet. Stick with me. (In fact, extra tip: never throw away your ideas. You never know when something you drafted ten years ago will click with you.)

Now don’t panic.

Ideas are HARD to come up with. So many ideas have been done before a million different ways that it often feels impossible to put a fresh spin on anything. So I get it. When you have an idea that actually feels fresh—one that you are passionate about—that idea absolutely feels like enough, and to have someone blatantly tell you that it isn’t enough before ever giving you a shot is extremely disheartening. But it’s not meant to be disheartening. It’s meant to remind you of one, important truth: Having the idea is only the beginning. So keep these three aspects in mind when you’re feeling discouraged about your brainstorming:

1. Everyone has ideas. Millions of them.

But so what? How many of those millions of ideas actually get down on paper? How many of those ideas go forgotten in a desk drawer for decades? Who cares how many millions of ideas have been done before? Let’s concentrate on the millions of ideas and voices that haven’t been done before instead. Let’s concentrate on the fact that your idea is your idea and no one else’s. Your voice will make that idea new, your plan will unfold like no one else’s plan, and that in itself will make it unique. Do not get bogged down by the fact that everyone has a story. Let that inspire you to come up with as many ideas as you want to. Create a list. Keep that list. One day, any or all of them could become something huge in your heart (and then on paper)! Just because an idea feels flat one day doesn’t mean that it won’t click next year or the year after that. Sometimes ideas need a lot of time to fully form. Sometimes ideas need a little push.

2. PUSH that idea

Granted, because there are so many amazing writers who come before us, we all know that our ideas have to bring something new to the table. Your road trip story might be awesome, but it also needs to stand out. One thing I like to do when I’m drafting is to ask myself what I can do to push the story. Heck, get a friend involved. Ask them what they would do to make the story crazier or how to get the stakes higher. Truly ask yourself what the most unique aspect of your story is, and then take that aspect and pushhhhhh it. Don’t be afraid to get a little crazy, especially in the drafting stage. Have fun. Make mistakes. Start over. Try again. You might find an idea within an idea within an idea that becomes the book you decide to write. Just remember to actually write.

3. WRITE that idea

I think the main reason this person on Twitter said what she said wasn’t because she was saying ideas don’t matter. They do. Instead, I believe she was trying to remind everyone that if all you do is sit around and daydream about writing some story idea you had, you won’t get anywhere. You actually have to sit down and write. A few years ago, one of my friends learned this lesson. One day, he sat across from me at a café I used to write at and declared that being a writer can’t be that hard. (He’d watched me do it after all, and he had tons of ideas.) So I told him that if he wrote a book, I would be happy to beta read and help him. Less than a month later, he texted me a hilarious, heartfelt apology, because, though he had sat down and written six chapters, he was stuck and what he had wasn’t consistent or legible (his description, not mine). In fact, he never let me read what he came up with, because he decided right then and there that writing wasn’t for him. At least not yet. But what he was going through was perfectly normal for a writer. You have to make mistakes. Major ones. My friend had been playing around with his idea for years before he sat down, but once he sat down, writing wasn’t what he expected. Does that mean he should’ve quit? I don’t think so. (Unless he truly realized he doesn’t enjoy writing.) But one thing remains true. You can plan, plan, plan all you want, but writing a great book requires more than a great idea. It requires practice and patience and passion.

So sit down and try. Write those ideas, change your ideas, practice with your ideas, and one day, publish your ideas. But don’t listen to those that say your ideas don’t matter, because of course they matter. They matter to you, and that has to come first and foremost before your ideas can also matter to others. Pursue as many ideas as you want to. Experiment. Have fun. Find something you’re passionate about, because this is part of the publishing journey, and your ideas are the foundation you will write upon.

Ideas are the beginning of something great.

~SAT

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Why You Should Make Time To Write While Editing/Revising

10 Feb

I’m not going to lie. I’m basically writing this article because I failed at this, miserably, and I want to prevent others from making the same mistake. 

Once upon a time, I wrote a book. The moment I was inspired to write it, I knew it was more special than my other books. Not that I don’t love my other books, I do, but some stories leap out at you and steal your soul from your body. Others are just fun to write. And this book felt like the “one.” The one that would lead me to my next step in my career, the one my readers would love the most, the one that I could spend years in writing sequels or spin-offs or short story extras.

With unattainable excitement, I sat down and wrote. I cranked out the first draft in less than a month, and I spent a couple months rewriting and editing. I worked with betas and rewrote some more. I loved it. I thought others would, too. So, I started submitting. Sure enough, a couple people did love it! Yay! But then, I was asked to revise. 

Treat your writing projects like plants: water them all.

So I revised. I revised a lot. I revised until I forgot which version I was writing.

That’s when my emotions got messy. Sometimes, I would mess up versions, or backtrack too much, or be too set in one scene to try something new again. Sometimes, revision notes came back contradictory, and other times, the notes didn’t match my vision at all. But I didn’t want to miss out on an opportunity…which caused me to learn a hard lesson. See my past article: Should You Revise and Resubmit? I was spending every moment of my writing time revising. Meanwhile I was watching some of my awesome writer friends get agents and book deals with pieces of work before they had to revise anything again. And I wasn’t getting any promises from anyone.

I was spinning in circles, but I couldn’t stop myself.

I believed in my work so much. I loved the story endlessly. And every writer in the world will tell you that revising is part of the process, that every good book will find a home, that every writer willing to work hard will find friends and fans and supporters. But I just…wasn’t. I was beginning to feel a little crazy when the inevitable “Your writing is spot-on, your idea is so imaginative, and I loved it…but not enough. Send me your next piece.” would come in.

My next piece? I would think. What next piece? I had been so busy revising this piece for everyone for so long that I had completely disregarded my next piece.

I forgot to give myself time to create.

I forgot to be a writer, not just someone who is revising or editing.

No wonder I was so miserable.  

I spent almost the entire year revising and editing one book. As long as it was a better version that remained true to my story, I believed I was heading in the right direction. And while I still think I was heading in the right direction, I should’ve given myself time and space elsewhere. Granted, if I were 100% honest, I wrote half of another book, and I outlined/researched a couple awesome ideas, but all of those projects inevitably got pushed aside to edit this one, special book.

That book is still my special book. I love it with all my heart. In fact, I still don’t know if I’ll ever love another book this much again, but my love for it doesn’t have to be defined by others’ love for it. I can love it, whether or not anyone gets to read it in the future. And something I’m unsure about might be something others fall head over heels for. The “one” (if there is such a thing) might be a book idea I left sitting on my shelf while being too busy revising. It could be a book I have been neglecting to create. It could be a book that I learn to love, rather than falling in love right on the spot.

Don’t let your writing identity get wrapped up in one piece. Why? Because that piece might fail to work out in the way you had hoped, and then it’ll be harder to get back up on your feet again. Getting back into the creative swing was the hardest part for me, anyway. I struggled to settle on a new idea. I had to start over a lot. I had to come to terms with shelving a piece I loved. But I began to love writing again. Now I have so many pieces I want to finish.

There is nothing wrong with investing a significant part of your time in editing or revising, but you also deserve time to create.

So go write.

~SAT

P.S. I have some exciting news to share! I am officially a Youth Services Associate for the Mid-Continent Public Library! As some of you know, my dream has been to work for a library, and I tried really, really hard last year, but it didn’t work out. See past article: 2017 Wasn’t My Writing Year. I didn’t give up on my goals though! Now I am here. I’m super excited to help the young people of Kansas City with everything the library has to offer. Wish me luck!

When A Character Does Something You Dislike

13 Jan

I read a lot. I also read reviews, though I tend to read reviews after I have read a book myself. Why? Well, I used to rely on reviews to pick books, but now I tend to rely on a trusted few (and my own gut) to pick and choose. Even so, my interest in reviews never completely faded, so I tend to set time aside after I finish reading to skim book reviews.

One of the reasons I stopped reading book reviews was the obsession with tearing characters apart.

Don’t get me wrong. Characters are so, so important in fiction. However, I think many have forgotten that characters are supposed to reflect real-life people. They aren’t supposed to be perfect. They shouldn’t do things you agree with on every page. They will make mistakes, even mistakes that seem ridiculous to you.

Sometimes, your hero isn’t going to act very heroic.

Staying on the path of “when characters make mistakes that seem ridiculous to you”: As the reader, you might know more than the character. Or you might understand the tropes of your genre, so you expect certain things to happen (ex. a best friend’s betrayal, a love triangle admission, a mentor figure’s sudden death). However, to that character, they live in a world that doesn’t come with trope warnings (just like we don’t). So when their best friend betrays them and they’re shocked (and you’re not), I don’t think it’s fair to call that character stupid or naïve or etc. Even with dozens of clues, that character loves their best friend. They trust their best friend. As humans, we often lie to ourselves when the truth is looking us in the face. We make mistakes.

As much as characters are designed to entertain, they are also designed to be honest, ugly, thought provoking, loving, twisted, and more. In fact, if you design a character really well, they will be all of those things—sometimes in one scene.

As an example, I recently finished Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy, and holy hell, I love it. I thought the voice was so honest, even though Dumplin has some seriously shallow thoughts. This was the main complaint I saw in reviews. Many called her hypocritical and hard to cheer on. And guess what? Of course she’s hypocritical. Of course she’s hard to cheer on sometimes. And that’s what made her believable. Dumplin’ is a teenage girl struggling with how the world judges her weight. Between that and the recent death of her beloved aunt, her contemptuous relationship with her mother, and her first (confusing) summer fling, I completely understood and sympathized with Dumplin’s emotional struggles. Does that mean I agreed with everything she did and said in every scene? Hell no! But I don’t have to agree with a character in every scene to love them in the end.

How many times has your sister annoyed you, bothered you, done something you thought was incredibly thoughtless? How about your parents? Your grandparents? Your best friends? But you still love them in the end. You give them second chances. You let go of the idea that everyone in your life must take your advice to heart. You understand everyone lives their own life their own way, and that sometimes you won’t agree with it, but that no one needs your approval. In fact, how many times have you done something that wasn’t perfect? How many times have you done something out of character? I know I’ve disappointed myself before. I still do. I’m human. I have moments of selfishness, of jealousy, of anger, of irrational depression. But does that make me worth tearing apart? I would hope not.

I expect characters to disappoint me at some point. I try to sympathize with flaws, but also understand that some flaws are going to be out of my realm. I cheer them on when they’re good and hope they redeem themselves when they’re bad. (And sometimes, I enjoy a good story where a character is never redeemed.) All I ask for is consistency—a sense that, no matter what the character does or believes, I understand them in that moment, even in the moments where they aren’t quite themselves. I need to believe they are real, and if I can believe that, I will more than likely enjoy the journey.

In the end, I want to enjoy the story—and sometimes, stories are told by those you might not understand. Maybe even by someone you would hate. But that doesn’t automatically mean the story is unlikeable.

Let’s be a little kinder to characters, especially character flaws.

We all have them.

~SAT

2017’s Top Ten Articles

30 Dec

Every year, I like to look back and see what everyone was discussing. I try to collect the best discussions and revisit them, so here’s a list of this year’s most popular articles. Normally, I would’ve made this list based on a combination of unique views, comments, and shares, but I didn’t track that as well this year, so it’s only based on unique views. But I hope you enjoy them!

1. The YA Protagonist’s Age: You’re 17? Me Too! 

I’m not going to lie, I’m a bit surprised this was my most viewed 2017 article. But I’m really happy more writers and readers are discussing the lack of variety in the ages of our characters, especially in YA. Teens go through many issues at different times, and it time our stories reflect that.

2. Is Romance Necessary in YA?

Another article focusing on young adult fiction, I discussed whether or not a story HAD to include a romance. While the answer might seem obvious and simple, this conversation is actually a lot more complicated than I wish it was. Sex sells, after all. Yes, even in YA.

3. My Hate-Love Relationship with Historical Fiction

This year, I began writing my first historical novel, and the journey reminded me of my struggles as a viewer/reader/consumer when it comes to historical fiction. I want historical fiction to push boundaries, but that will take a brutally honest conversation about what we understand of history and why we interpret it the way we do.

4. When Writing Makes Reading Hard: a guest post by Susannah Ailene Martin

One of the only guest posts I hosted this year! (Honestly, y’all, if you want to guest post, I always consider thoughtful topics such as this one, so please feel free to message me.) Here’s one writer’s story about how writing can cause writers to struggle with reading.

5. First Person or Third Person? Present Tense or Past Tense? How Do You Decide? 

Choosing how to tell your novel is a personal decision, so how do we make those decisions? This is how I choose tenses and POV, along with some tips to help you decide.

I’m so ready for 2018!

6. Book Marketing Woes

We all have them: book marketing woes. This is a list of common woes, like “I don’t have time,” and actual solutions to help you overcome the issue.

7. I DNF a Book

As an avid reader, I often feel guilty when I’m halfway through a well-written book…and just not connecting. This year, one of my goals was to be easier on myself and allow myself to set down books I wasn’t enjoying, so that I could spend more time reading novels I love.

8. Authors Can Change Their Mind

Five years ago, I wrote an article that was strongly against sex in YA…and now? Well, I haven’t completely changed my mind, but I’ve lightened my stance. Basically, authors can change their mind. This is an article about how we grow overtime.

9. Not All Villains Think They’re Good

“All bad guys think they’re the good guy in their story” has become a popular writing tip, and while I love this writing tip, I push back a little. Find out why.

10. My Editing Process Starts in my Writing Process

Editing is the hardest part of writing, but you can make it easier on yourself by setting yourself up for success early on. Here’s how.

I hope you enjoyed 2017 and all the articles that came with it!

If there are any topics you want me to cover in 2018, feel free to let me know in the comments below.

I’m always here to help.

Onward to 2018!

~SAT

2017 Favorite Writing Tools

2 Dec

Toward the end of every year, I like to talk about my favorite books, but I thought I’d share my favorite new writing experiences, too. This list is based on tools I tried in 2017, not necessarily tools that released in 2017, but I hope you find it helpful anyway.

Website: MSWL

For those of you querying, MSWL (or Manuscript Wishlist) organizes agents, editors, and publishers by showing what they wish they’d receive in their inbox. Read profiles on the website or do a quick search on Twitter’s #MSWL. Sometimes wishes can get oddly specific, but don’t be discouraged. Specifics are not usually meant to be read as “this is the ONLY thing I want,” but rather a fun way to reach out to those perfect matches. Generalized wishlist items are mainly on the website profiles (and, of course, you should always visit the person’s main website). MSWL is a fun way to see what people are asking for. On top of that, they now have a fantastic newsletter, podcast, and classes. Even online pitch sessions! It’s a tool worth checking out, whether or not you’re querying. Any cons? Sometimes sketchy people show up. Always do further research on the agent, editor, or publisher.

Technology: Alphasmart Neo

After seeing the YA Gal post her Alphasmart Neo on Facebook, I had a flashback to middle school when these wireless keyboards were used in the classroom. I immediately wanted one for myself. Why? Because I spend all day on the computer at my job. My computer screen KILLS my eyes, and sometimes the Internet is too big of a distraction. I bought myself an Alphasmart Neo because I wanted to be able to write away from my technology…and I’ve used it so much it’s stupid. I absolutely love it, and wish I would’ve bought one earlier. Cons? I have major ADD. My mind skips all over the place when I’m writing, and scrolling/organizing can be a little difficult on a screen that only shows four lines at a time, so I’m mainly using it for first drafts/ideas. I also make a lot more spelling mistakes, but that could be because the keyboard is different than the one I’m used to, and, hey, I have to edit everything I write anyway, so no big deal. What’s an additional read-through?

App: SimpleNote

Last year, I downloaded Scrivener for the first time. Well, this year, I wanted to sync my Scrivener to my phone, but, as far as I know, Scrivener doesn’t have a phone app for Andriod yet. I did some research and landed on SimpleNote, which allows me to sync directly with my Scrivener. That way, I always have my books with me. Cons? You have to have some foresight as to what you want to take with you. It doesn’t automatically sync everything. You pick which file you want. But you can always create a new document and upload it later if you forgot to sync the file you want to edit.

Podcast: 88 Cups of Tea

Somehow I just discovered 88 Cups of Tea. How? No idea. Because I love it. If you want to listen to exclusive interviews with some of your favorite, big-name authors, this podcast is for you. It’s both casual and enlightening. Con? Sometimes I find interview titles misleading. Ex. An episode that says it will talk about X but they only discuss X for 10 minutes in a 50-minute episode. But if I could learn how to relax in my workaholic life, I don’t think this is an issue. In fact, being reminded that writers are people is incredibly important, and I appreciate how candid many guests get during discussions. So, if you love personal stories, this podcast is for you.

FB Group: AAYAA

I joined AAYAA this year at the suggestion of a friend, and I LOVE it. If you’re a young adult author, AAYAA is great. There’s a website, Twitter, and Facebook group, but I’ve found the FB to be my favorite place to go. It connects young adult authors together for insight, opportunities, and more. I’ve already made a couple friends, gained some new followers, and learned information that I didn’t know before. Con? Every once in a while, a troll might appear, but hey, that’s the Internet for you.

New Writing Tip?

Just last month, I attended the SCBWI conference. During the breakout session Revision—Preparing Your MG & YA Novel for Submission, Jennifer Soloway discussed so many amazing writing tips, but one in particular really stood out to me: They say to “Show, Don’t Tell”, but sometimes you have to do both. The example she used was a gasping girl with a pounding heart. Even in the context of the scene, a reader could interpret her emotions for fear, excitement, or a health condition. Sometimes it’s okay to say fear paralyzed a person or “I am terrified.” It’s about balance. I’ve been struggling with this a little bit in my writing lately. I have let traditional rules get in the way a little too much. This was a nice reminder. Con? Swinging too much the other way.

So these were my top new writing tools I used this year. Did you try anything out for the first time? Have any tips? Share away!

~SAT

A Writer’s Best Friend is Google

18 Nov

As an author, I LOVE helping fellow writers. In fact, I encourage writers to message me whenever they want with whatever questions they have. But don’t forget, folks.

Google is your best friend.

Recently, maybe due to NaNoWriMo, I’ve received A LOT more messages than usual. The most common one: “How can I get my book published?”

When I search “How can I get my book published?” on Google, the first three articles are actually pretty legit. One is about how to self-publish on Amazon. Another is a list of self-publishing tips by Forbes Magazine. The third is a step-by-step guide on how to get traditionally published. (No results were vanity presses, yay!) My favorite article that popped up toward the top was Start Here: How to Get Your Book Published by Jane Friedman.

If the writers who had emailed me had Googled their question first, they would’ve had these amazing articles at their fingertips…and as much as I wish I could deliver long, thoughtful pieces every time someone messaged me, I simply don’t have the time. I will ALWAYS try to point you in the right direction, but honestly, Google is often better.

Whether I’m researching publishing news or searching for information I’ll use in my books, Google is almost always open on my computer.

Don’t get wrong, though. I get it. I do. Publishing is hard. And there is so much information out there that it can be overwhelming/contradictory/seemingly impossible to navigate on your own. But guess what? 

Learning how to navigate your publishing journey is going to be key to your success.  

Why do I say that? Because I’ve been there. Publishing has confused the hell out of me, too. And I still have days where I get confused, because aspects of publishing constantly change. Knowing how to research and determine what is true/false/helpful/scam is going to save you a lot of time and pain. Asking others might not always work, because others also fall for false information and scams, so you need to be able to sift through information to form your own opinions. But don’t worry. You don’t have to navigate everything alone.

No one can get a book published by themselves. It takes a team to get a book from an idea to a draft to an editor’s pick to a novel on a shelf. There’s beta readers, proofreaders, sensitivity readers, reviewers, and more that will help you get from step one to step infinity. So you will need writer friends. You will even need their help. But before you message an author/editor/publisher, try to answer the question yourself. Why? Because you’ll probably find the answer to “How do I get my book published?” but then come across publishers that—no matter how much you research—you’re still unsure about. THAT is the perfect time to message a fellow writer (preferably a writer who is associated with said publisher) and ask them if they recommend that house.

If you are reaching out, specifics are a lot easier to answer. “Would you recommend this publisher?” is easier for me to give my opinion on than when I’m asked “What type of publishing should I go for?” A lot of questions I’m asked are, quite frankly, not answerable by anyone other than that writer. Choosing how to publish is a very personal choice. I can’t make that decision for you, no matter how much I want to help.

Show initiative in your pursuit of publication. Be brave. Research. But don’t read this article and think you can never reach out ever again.

If you were about to message me about how to publish, I won’t bite your head off. (Maybe just your fingers.) And I’ll still try to point you in the right direction—though there are lots of directions to consider.

Here are some of my favorite resources for writers.

Writer’s Digest: The go-to online resource for writers. If you’re starting out, set a goal to read a couple articles once a week.

Publishers Marketplace: This lists current sales and other important publishing news. Some pages on this website cost money, so if you can’t afford it, sign up for Publisher’s Lunch, which is free.

Janet Reid: She blogs every day about various topics and creates an amazing community of writers to rally behind. I still read her blog every day. It’s how I start my morning.

Pub Rants: A blog by Nelson Literary Agency. One of my all-time favorites. Her Agenting 101 class caught my eye in 2006, and I’ve been following it ever since.

BookEnds Literary Blog: Another blog from a literary agency. They talk about lots of topics as well, but mainly about getting agents and the publishing process afterward.

Query Shark: For learning how to query.

Query Tracker: For keeping track of querying. (This website is free, but you can also pay $25 per year to look at extra information.)

An Alliance of Young Adult Authors: Lots of helpful tips from fellow YA writers, whether you’re self-publishing or going traditional.

Oh! And right here. I try to blog about various writing and publishing topics every single Saturday. Use the search bar at the top of this page to look up topics I’ve discussed in the past. (Because, trust me, I’ve been blogging since 2012, I’ve probably covered it.)

If you have a topic you want to see me blog about, I always take suggestions. I’ll even blog about a topic I’ve discussed before if the article is outdated and/or not detailed enough. (And, yes, you can send the suggestion via email.)

But while you’re online, I suggest opening Google and becoming best friends again.

I think you’ll love the friendship more than you know.

~SAT

Take Notes While Writing a Series

11 Nov

While on Twitter the other day, writer A.J. Forrisi asked an amazing question!

P.S. Give A.J. a follow!

My quick answer? Take notes on your first book, so that writing the sequel isn’t as difficult. (And definitely do a read-through. ) I keep a character bible and chapter summaries for each book in a series. Notes help! But what type of notes should you take? How detailed should they be? Everyone’s method is going to be a little different, but I thought I’d share a couple places to start.

 1. Keep a Character Bible

This should cover all descriptors and main personality traits/issues. Personally, I keep a list of every single person mentioned in the book, even the tiniest characters. Why? Because that side character’s eye color is going to come up in book 1 on page 18 and in book 4 on page 127. It would take forever to read the entire series over and over again every time I need to find a detail. That being said, I still think you should read through your work multiple times. If you want to get fancy, take a note of the page number information is written down. That way, you can always double-check.

2. Organize Chapter Summaries

Sum up each chapter in a couple sentences. What happens? How does it change the book? If your book is heavy on revealing secrets, keeping track of what certain characters know will also help. That way, if those secrets move into book two, you don’t have to skim over and over again to find out where and what they learned. One thing I’m sure to emphasize in my chapter summaries is when certain characters make their first appearances. That way, I know when they entered the story (and the description tends to appear at the same time).

3. Other Notes to Consider

I keep a “General Resources” tab on my Scrivener. This is basically a sheet with links to educational websites on topics covered in book. (You know, in case I need a refresher, especially if I’ve taken a break between books.) I also keep a History sheet that tracks the years leading up to the book. Sometimes these events come up in the book, sometimes they don’t, but it’s good to know how my characters arrived at the first chapter. For fun and inspiration, I also keep a Pinterest board and a list of songs that remind me of my story. That way, if I’m finding it hard to get back into the series, I can connect with that original inspiration quicker.

Do you take notes between books? If so, what types?

Feel free to share your method!

~SAT

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