Miscellaneous

Learning to Write from TV: The Umbrella Academy Edition

Writers are often told to read (and read a lot) in order to know how to write. And while I totally agree with that sentiment, I also think writers can learn from other forms of media. Yes, including TV shows. (Even TV shows adapted from a novel or comic book.) In fact, I think TV is often an easier reference for writers to discuss. Why? Because there are dozens of best-selling novels that come out every week, whereas there’s only a handful of TV shows that everyone seems to be talking about. Recently, for instance, the Netflix show The Umbrella Academy began to trend, and it seemed like everyone was chatting about it, including the publishing industry. Perhaps this is because it was adapted from a comic published by Dark Horse Comics. But what I want to concentrate on is how we can use popular TV to teach writers about trends, topics, and storytelling.

How can we use TV to discuss writing? By picking out the pros and cons, of course.

Here’s a few based on The Umbrella Academy.

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Also, major spoiler alerts begin here. I will discuss major events, including the ending, so if you don’t want this show spoiled, bookmark this article now and come back later. If you’re not planning on watching, I think this can still be a beneficial example of using TV to discuss writing. If you’ve already watched and don’t care about spoilers, awesome! But make sure to warn your followers of spoilers if you decide to share this piece.

Thanks for keeping entertainment fun!

Let’s start with a pro, since I like to concentrate on the positive:

Pro: Siblings with Personality

The Umbrella Academy follows seven children adopted by an eccentric billionaire after they were born in quite an unusual way. Six of these seven appear to have superpowers and are raised practicing these powers, with the seventh “ordinary” child being kept from lessons. That being said, the actual show takes place in their adult years. Rarely, do I see siblings depicted so realistically (especially in fantasy, especially in big families). Each sibling has their own personality, struggles, and place in the family. Even better? They treat each other differently based on their past selves, present relationship, and future desires. I really enjoyed watching the brothers and sisters bicker as much as joke, and lift each other up (while also pushing each other down). You know, complications. Too often we see a brother or sister appear in a minor supporting role with little to no depth or personal drive. And we definitely don’t see enough big families. I absolutely loved them and thought they were believable, round characters. (My only complaint on these particular siblings was the relationship between Allison and Luther. Non-biologically related siblings who have romantic tension isn’t necessarily my issue. My issue is that I found it uncomfortable, based on the fact that they were raised from birth together, as compared to similar tensions found in cases where they were not raised together, i.e. Avery and Atlas in The Thousandth Floor by Katharine McGee.) But that is a personal preference and a different discussion for another day.

Con: Female Tragedy for Male Depth

Far too often female characters suffer trauma, including death, in order to push male characters forward. Now, I’m not saying female characters cannot suffer, or die, but when the suffering of a female character (or any minority character) exists solely to push the male character into growth, then I’m not happy. This particularly happens with Diego, whose girlfriend Eudora dies for no other reason than to have Diego question his purpose, not once, but a number of times. When it isn’t Eudora pushing him, then it’s his mother, a robot, who he has to turn off at one point. A simple solution would’ve been emphasizing Diego’s desire to make his childhood suffering mean something by becoming a superhero (though this is only mentioned once, by – you guessed it – Eudora, right before she dies), while highlighting Eudora’s personality as someone who always had to follow the rules, who then dies when she finally agrees to break the rules (though this only happens, because – you guessed it again – Diego dared her to). Ultimately, these topics were barely touched in comparison to Diego’s rage over her death. This caused an uncomfortable situation where the male character could not grow without two female characters being hurt, or more specifically, killed. This also happens later in the show with Luther and Allison, as Luther consistently decides he exists in order to protect her by forcing his decisions on her. Not to mention Allison gets her throat slit once, which further takes her voice away. Now, granted, I will acknowledge that Allison’s powers exist in her ability to speak, so her losing her voice is far more symbolic than just Luther trying to oversee her decisions, but the combination of Luther’s lack of boundaries mixed with her silence bothered me. (Probably because the other brothers become complicit in it.) In contrast, the female characters are not driven by male pain. Allison is driven by her daughter, and Vanya is driven by her need to be accepted. The only instance where we see a female character driven by male pain is with Vanya, who reacts violently when her boyfriend “Peter” is hurt in a fake fight. Even then, though, the ultimate attention is averted from Peter and placed back on Vanya’s inability to control her powers. This sort of emphasis could’ve easily gone the other way with the male characters as well. Basically, it’s not about one gender causing another gender to react, but rather the emphasis at which it is focused on and what it means. We can do better.   

Pro: Humor Mixed in with the Serious

We do not have enough humor in fiction. That goes for flat-out humor books, as well as humor sprinkled throughout other genres. It’s one of the reasons I often find 600-page fantasy novels exhausting. (Which, by the way, is the main type of book I read.) I have found that the fantasy novels I love the most include moments of quiet, as well as humor (and from numerous characters and situations). The Umbrella Academy kills with their humor, especially with Klaus. I wish I could expand (because my negative sections feel longer than my positive), but this love is pretty straight-forward. I want more humor in everything.  

Con: Villains Suffering From Mental Health and Broken Homes

Listen, I get it, villains are supposed to be evil, and evil things can happen because of untreated mental illness. I’m not denying that. However, evil comes from non-mentally ill places as well, but modern entertainment is still leaning towards one more than the other, especially when it comes to female characters. I feel like it’s an overused trope, especially when clear lines aren’t drawn and discussed. The worst part for me in The Umbrella Academy is how unclear they made Vanya, especially when using her childhood flashbacks. It is never clarified if her powers are causing her to kill or if she, herself, has mental health issues and those issues were exacerbated by her powers, not to mention her father’s decision to cover her powers up without telling her even into adulthood. By not clarifying, especially when she begins to hallucinate (something that could be seen as schizophrenia), the art is setting up viewers to interpret mental health vs. evil, or even blending them, and I don’t like that message. We need to do better when it comes to depicting mental health. Take the time to clarify, even it means clarifying that no one truly knows. Without that, we will continue to get the same images, in this case, a young Ellen Paige discussing anxiety and nerves while shakily popping pills, then adding a montage of killing nannies as a child before she was on medication, (when no one else is depicted to be using medication or to have anxiety or anything), and that’s unacceptable. On a side note, I also hate that the male villain comes from a broken one-parent home. Is it just me, or is the only “positive” depiction of one-parent homes in popular entertainment Gilmore Girls? I’m probably biased, because I grew up in a one-parent home after my mother suddenly died. My dad raised me, and he is awesome. (I’m obvs. sick of seeing deadbeat dads, too.) Most of all, I’m really, really tired of watching motherless children become the epitome of evil, while orphans become heroes. Not that orphans can’t be heros, but why is it that losing two parents equals a superhero cape and adventure, and losing one means anger and doom? And where are the villains who come from “good” homes? And the heroes with two parents? And, and, and. We need more variety.   

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Pro: Mashup of Tropes

The Umbrella Academy is a master of mashing up common tropes in unique ways. What do I mean by that? Well, as most writers know, nothing is new. With hundreds of years of literature behind us, everything has been done before. Writing isn’t about creating something no one has created before, because – spoiler alert – someone has created it. Instead, writing is about creating something new by using what we already have in unique ways. And The Umbrella Academy kills it, specifically with science fiction and fantasy tropes. To name a few, we have superheroes saving the world, a boy who sees dead people, a time-traveler, a monkey who has been experimented on until it’s more human than monkey, and a girl who thinks she doesn’t have powers (but, duh, she does), who is also the person who can’t control their powers. We’ve seen these characters and abilities depicted dozens of times. So how was this show unique? Let’s look at Klaus, the boy who sees dead people. Instead of trying to scare the viewer with Klaus’s powers (think Fifth Sense), The Umbrella Academy focuses on how Klaus himself is scared and how he has coped (or failed to cope) with his powers. Not to mention his dead brother Ben who follows him around to try to help him cope with his drug abuse. Learning to utilize tropes is an important aspect of writing in any genre, and I’d point any sci-fi/fantasy writer toward The Umbrella Academy for a lesson on that. In fact, I could probably write another ten pages on every trope the show used and how it spun it in a fun, entertaining way. But I’ve already rambled enough on here.

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Con: Non-Ending Endings

There’s a big difference between a cliffhanger and a non-ending. Cliffhangers leave the reader or viewer wondering what will happen to the characters after the ending wraps up most (if not all the questions) posed at the beginning of the book or show. A cliffhanger is a hand popping up from a grave after the characters killed the villain, only for the villain to come back to life. A non-ending ending is when the villain and the hero are finally facing off and someone holds up a gun and shoots, but we never see where the bullet goes or who shot the gun or if it did anything at all. In my opinion, I felt like The Umbrella Academy has a non-ending ending. The entire time it’s focused on surviving this impending apocalypse, only for when it hits for them to disappear to some mysterious non-named time period in the past due to their time-traveling brother. It feels really cheap. Honestly, I think it could’ve been a cliffhanger if they had showed us exactly what time period they went to. Or even their childhood with the father standing before them, ready to train Vanya with them instead of ostracizing her. It would wrap everything up, but would still make us wonder if the solution would work. The fence between a cliffhanger and a non-ending ending is thin, but I feel like creators have begun to favor non-ending endings more than actual cliffhangers, and it drives me crazy. (And not in a good way.) I love cliffhangers. I’m happy to be enticed to the next season. But don’t make me feel like I wasted my time by telling me nothing by the end either.

In non-writing related notes: I loved the soundtrack and cinematography and the storyline in general. In fact, they played one of my favorite writing songs (“Run, Boy, Run” by Woodkid) and even made it the title of Episode 2. (If you haven’t watched the music videos for Woodkid’s entire album, do it now. It’s pure art.) I also loved the sets and directing style of nearly every scene. And not going to lie, I was super happy to see Hazel and the donut lady end up together. (I’ve never been so invested in a side characters before.) The show is super entertaining, and I’d highly recommend it to sci-fi/fantasy fans. I enjoyed myself a lot, and actually made the time to finish all 12 episodes (which is rare for me). I would definitely check out another season. And I felt like I was reminded of a lot of writing skills.

So do you think writers can learn from watching and discussing TV and movies?

If so, what shows do you think are good examples?

Tell me about them!

~SAT

 

Miscellaneous

Can Someone Steal Your Book Idea?

Can someone steal your book idea?

I tend to find there are two responses to this question:

  1. Absolutely! YES! Someone did that to meeee!
  2. NO WAY. Never happens. It’s impossible, because your idea can only be written by you.

To be honest, I think both of these answers are a little too black and white. If I had to share my opinion—which, obvs, I am—I believe “stealing an idea” lands somewhere in the middle of these two responses.

What do I mean by that?

I mean that I agree with both of them. Because, yes, someone can steal your idea. If you hand them your pitch or outline or character sheet, those people can take it and do something with it. Granted, now siding with the second answer, no matter what that person does with your idea, it will never be exactly how you would’ve done it, so one way or another, they will make it their own.

Publishing crimes 101

So is it stealing?

I DON’T KNOW.

I think this is one of those gray, really uncomfortable areas of publishing that many people tiptoe around because they are afraid of looking paranoid or offending others or causing an uproar, but why can’t we talk about it? Why can’t we talk about the fact that this does happen sometimes?

When I was younger, lots of writers were on Wattpad; many of which did blatantly “borrow” premises or literal lines from one another’s work without permission. In fact, sometimes I think this happens a lot when writers transition from writing fan fiction to writing something independent of other works. Fan fiction can be a fantastic place to learn about the craft of writing, but it is one of those blurry places. So is “inspiration.” For instance, we can be inspired by another tale, and recreate it into something new.

We never call a fairytale retelling stealing for a reason. That’s because those writers are making that tale their own. It’s unique in the way they reconstruct the story and how they tell the story throughout the piece. But what if someone took Harry Potter and retold it? Would everyone be okay with that? I think it would depend on how similar the two pieces were and what was changed. And to be honest, it wouldn’t surprise me if we see something like that happen sooner rather than later.

So let’s talk about those blurred lines. You know, the ones that happen when #PitMad tweets suddenly seem the same, or how similar novels get sold to different editors at the same time, or how novelists will use current best-sellers as influences when writing a piece. We could get into trends and talk about how publishing is still a business and la la la. But I could go on forever about that, so I thought I’d share a story of my own.

I’ve had something like idea stealing happen to me before.

About two years ago, when MSWL was first taking off, I had my first manuscript I felt was ready to query to agents, and I found a new agent on that hashtag that I thought was a good fit. I sent her my work. She loved the sample pages and requested more, and then she asked for an R&R, outlining what parts she liked and didn’t like. I rewrote, but it still didn’t work out. Not a big deal, right? Right. I totally agree that we weren’t a good fit for one another with that manuscript. However, to my surprise (and a bit of horror), when I logged into Twitter that evening, she had tweeted out a near-replica of my manuscript’s pitch to MSWL. Long story short, another author out in the Twitter verse responded to that sort-of-mine-pitch (seriously, I wish I could explain how close it was, but just trust me, it was unbearably close), and she signed that author who later went on to get a three-figure deal in less than six months. Granted, the book releases later this year, so I have no clue just how similar it is. I doubt it’s that similar. That’s not what bothers me. What bothers me is that I felt like there was a direct violation of author-agent trust. She shared my pitch without asking me, end of story.

So did that agent steal my idea? No, not really. Because she didn’t go and shop my story pretending she had written it. She simply reached out to others who happened to have a similar idea to mine already written. But was it shady as hell? Yes, I think so. To this day, I have anxiety around MSWL because of it, even though it was one instance that I doubt would happen again. In fact, I still sent my next manuscript to this agent, because she asked me to send her my next piece. Her response? Form rejection. But did she tweet out my new idea on MSWL? No. How do I feel now? Still a little weird about the whole thing, I won’t lie, but I don’t think any of it was that personal either, even if it feels that way some days.

Sometimes many of us have similar ideas at the same time. Why wouldn’t we? We all live at the same time in this weird world, often influenced by the same constructs (whether it be celebrities or politics or social scandals). So, it shouldn’t be a surprise when a dozen, if not hundreds, of writers are writing similar stories. To be honest, I think this is what happens most of the time. We share our idea, someone already has a similar idea, and we automatically think they stole it rather than thought of it themselves. But there’s truly no way to prove it. And that’s why this topic is such a sensitive, slippery slope.

The masses in publishing have deemed this sort of claim as immature rubbish, but I think that’s super harsh. After my experience with having my pitch shared without permission, I felt a little violated. I actually stopped participating in many Twitter events for most of last year because of it. But then, I realized that I let this one shady experience ruin all the fun times I was having with other writers. So, I started to share again, and I am having a blast.

If someone “steals” my idea, fine. I have plenty more, and so do most writers. In fact, I think writers really need to keep that in mind when considering if someone “stole” their idea or not. Most of us already have too many ideas in our own heads to have time to consider other people’s ideas. Also, most writers need to feel passionate about something in order to write 80,000 words or more, and then rewrite it over and over and over again. “Stealing” an idea is probably the last way to become successful. Why? Well, A) It’s not your story, and B) You will eventually burnout, or C) The publishing gods will sick writing-idea demons on you, and you will forever be on the ominous blacklist.

Okay. So maybe not that last one. But you get what I mean.

Someone “stealing” ideas is probably very rare, but if you’re feeling that way, take a few breaths and reflect on if it’s truly stolen, and if so, don’t let it get you down. You thought it up. You planned it out. You can still write it. At the end of the day, your story will always be your story. 

Besides, your voice will be how you tell your story. And no one can steal that.

~SAT

 

Miscellaneous

A Writer’s Health + Tips

As some of you know, I’m going through some health issues, and though I’m not really open about what those issues are, the struggles have definitely caused me to appreciate good health a lot more. I also pay more attention to health now, so I thought I’d write up a list of health issues writers should look out for. Of course, everyone should look out for a variety of issues, but here’s a specific list of health issues that affect writers.

Always consult your doctor about lifestyle/health changes, and don’t forget your yearly checkups. ❤

1. Get your eyes checked

Don’t be like me and wait 26 years to find out your nearsighted. Seriously, I got my first pair of glasses in March, and my life is so different now. My headaches have all but disappeared. I used to get these terrible, debilitating migraines, especially on editing days. Turns out this was mainly happening because one of my eyes is much worse than my other one, and it was causing my eyes to overcompensate, so BAM. Headaches. Granted, I know headaches happen for a variety of reasons, and there are more reasons to get your eyes checked than headaches, but if you spend a lot of time reading, it’s good to keep those eyeballs as healthy as possible.

Here’s some extra tips:

  • Get great eye drops.
  • Take care of allergies.
  • Make sure to look away from the computer screen if working long hours.

2. Check your desk posture

Writers often sit for long hours at a desk typing away at a computer. Make sure your desk posture is healthy, and even if it is, be conscious about checking in as often as possible. If you don’t know what healthy desk posture looks like, here’s a place to startHaving a healthy writing environment in essential for productivity and happiness. This might mean a bigger computer screen, more space, better lighting, or cute cat memes taped to the wall.

Extra tips:

  • Get familiar with stretches that specifically help those who have to sit at a desk a lot.
  • Have a timer that reminds you of breaks for stretches and looking away from the screen. Oh! And snacks. Don’t forget snacks.
  • Joint support: Lots of writers develop carpal tunnel and tennis elbow for a reason. We use our hands A LOT. In fact, I have early on-set carpal tunnel syndrome, and let me tell you, it sucks. But I have wrist supports and know therapeutic stretches that help. Take care of those precious hands. They have worlds to write down!
  • Yoga! So I’m in love with yoga, but if you are like me, you might not have the time or funds to sign up for a class. The best part about yoga? You don’t have to. I recommend the Down Dog app. It’s been a lifesaver for me. It’s completely free, has lots of settings/options, and you can do it right from home. I had never taken a single class before using this app, and it was super easy to use.

3. Mental Health

A lot of artists get their inspiration from dark places, and then they share it with the world, inviting critique and rejection from strangers into a very personal place, so it comes as no surprise that many writers struggle with mental health throughout their life. Don’t get burnt out. Don’t let rejections destroy your dreams. Take breaks. Breathe. One thing that has always helped me is reminding myself why I write in the first place. It’s easy to get caught up in publication goals, but it’s important to remember that I love writing at the end of the day. If everything becomes too much, I still have writing for myself. In retrospect, I think I write a lot about mental health right here on this blog. It might not be labeled that way, but if I scroll back, I find lots of articles that are discussing emotional well being, so here’s some other tips:

In the end…

Health is a personal issue, and it’s important to look out for your overall well being, but I hope this gives a place for writers to start if they want to be healthier about writing. I’ve totally allowed my writing to get unhealthy, either by getting too wrapped up emotionally over a rejection or forgetting to drink more water (rather than another cup of coffee). There’s a reason that artists are the only people who defy Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.We often put art above all else, and it takes conscious effort to put health first. I know I could be better at it, so if anything else, this is a nice little reminder for myself, but I hope it helped you too!

Feel free to share your health tips!

~SAT

Miscellaneous

Why Some Books Resonate and Others Don’t

I’m here to tell you why some books resonate and others don’t. Why? Because so many publishers/agents/editors are out there searching for the next big thing, and many authors are trying to become that. As authors, sometimes we stare at three or four different projects and wonder which one we should work on next (because we want to know which one would be more successful), and if we somehow knew how to predict that, we could cut back on a lot of work stress (and readers could get more books they love).

So how do you know which books will resonate?

Short answer: You don’t.

But the long answer?

There are numerous “reasons” a book will resonate with millions (or even hundreds) of people, but I put the word “reasons” in quotes for a reason. Most of these reasons are theories. Even if we do “know,” it is not necessarily a fact. Confusing? Stay with me. We’re going to talk about it.

Let’s start with the obvious place. The dreaded M word: Marketing.

It’s easy to see popular authors and their huge marketing budgets and think, “No wonder they are so successful! Who wouldn’t be with a billboard on 5th Ave?” But let’s chill out for a minute. Most authors started somewhere small. Most authors, even the current NYT bestsellers, did not get a huge budget on their debut. Their publishers decided to use a huge budget after the sold well the first time. Granted, marketing definitely has an effect, but it’s not the end all be all. Thousands of books get huge marketing deals a year but still don’t become the franchises everyone on the team was hoping for. Some books get very little marketing budgets, but then ARCs go out in the world and readers start clamoring for them and publishers have to rush to get a bigger budget behind it. (A great example of this is Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones. She talked about it on the Pub(lishing) Crawl podcast, so go check it out if you want to hear that story. It’s very informative.) Basically, having backing will definitely help get your books in front of readers, but that doesn’t guarantee those readers will fall for the hype.

So now let’s look at books that did succeed.

Twilight! The Hunger Games! The Harry Potter series! Fifty Shades of Grey! Do you know what these books had in common? Lots of rejections. Lots of closed doors. Lots of what ifs. So clearly, “predicting” the books that will succeed is not obvious, not even for the professionals.

Some of the biggest books of our recent times were not expected to be HUGE hits. But there are some reasons that they succeeded that we can discuss.

So Twilight didn’t just have great timing; Hollywood had great timing too. It was arguably the first time Hollywood acknowledged the potential of a female-focused film fan base and they ran with it. Harry Potter, on the other hand, was a book that resonated with everyone between the ages of 8 and 50+, so it was another perfect option for the books-to-film boom. Not to mention all the new tech, with graphics making chasing sci-fi and fantasy films better than before. Granted, these books were already super popular before they were films, so let’s talk about The Hunger Games, because I think that one has an interesting study behind it. 

Looking back on The Hunger Games boom, many theorists believe it took off because it was published at the same time that the teens reading were the same people who were in middle school when 9/11 happened. And I think that study might be spot-on. (I say this as someone who fits into this exact category.)

Teens at that age in that time were searching for books that explained war and government and tragedy, and The Hunger Games gave not only a safe place to explore those themes but a modern place. What do I mean by “modern”? We all grew up on The Giver and Logan’s Run and all the other dystopian classics, but The Hunger Games was the brand-new dystopian my generation was itching for.

But again, that’s just a theory.

Maybe it was just a fantastic book, but there were millions of fantastic books that came out that year that didn’t take off the same way, so I tend to agree with some theories presented.

Timing is everything, and yet timing is rarely predictable.

Lots of editors and agents and publishers and authors want to have great timing (or think they know what the next trend will be), and maybe they’re right, but no one has ever predicted the HUGE breakthrough sellers with extreme accuracy.

To be honest, sometimes I don’t know if there is a reason to it. Everyone says retrospect is 20/20, but maybe we only say that because we can look back and justify the path that it took, rather than truly understand how that path happened in the first place.

At the end of the day, I look at book sales the way I look at my blog posts. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve researched and spent hours on one blog post that goes nowhere, while in comparison a blog post I slapped together last minute pulled in hundreds more viewers than I ever expected. I can try to track it as much as I like. My website host will show me where my posts are shared (Pinterest, FB, etc.) and what was Googled to get others here, but even then, most of the stats are nonsensical at the end of the day.

Sometimes things just resonate, and sometimes they don’t, so what I do?

I stopped worrying about what resonates with others and started focusing on what resonates with me.  

As the author, if I’m not enjoying what I’m writing, I know my readers won’t. The first step with any book is to write what you care about first. Finish that. And then worry about editing and getting a publishing deal.

Maybe your next piece of work will resonate with the world. Maybe it won’t. But at least you know that it resonated with you. And if it resonates with you, trust me, it will resonate with someone else out there. So if I would leave you with anything, it’s this:

Write what you want to write, always.

~SAT

P.S. I’m in YASH Spring 2018 this year! If you don’t know what that is, it’s the Young Adult Scavenger Hunt, and my post goes up April 3. This also means my usual blog schedule is getting moved around a bit. I hope you’ll stop by on April 3, because there’s tons of prizes to be won. My regular blog posts will return April 14! 

Miscellaneous

Your Story Ideas Aren’t Enough

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

Miscellaneous

Tips for Writing During a Life Change

Life is crazy, right? There’s moving, job changes, babies, weddings, divorces, health complications, weather disasters, and (okay, I’ll stop listing all these crazy life changes. You get the point.) Life is fun, but it can get complicated.

Working full time while writing is hard enough, but what do you do when you’re also coping with a life change?

You could curl up at your desk and cry…(which, totally valid)…or you could try these tips below.

To be honest, the answer to this question is going to be different for everyone. But I’m actually going through this right now. I just began a new job at the library, so my hours are totally different than what I’ve been used to for the past three years. Even my sleep schedule has changed, dramatically, and adjusting to my new way of living while trying to keep up with my writing goals is a little difficult.

So here are some quick tips I’ve learned by going through this.

1. Give Yourself Time to Breathe

If you’re not on a serious deadline, try to give yourself time to adjust to your new situation. In my case, that meant relaxing when I got home from work (even if it was a super short shift) and only writing on my days off. Slowly, I started to write after or before work too, but to be honest, I’m still adjusting to my new schedule, and my new job has to come first right now. Remember: writing isn’t a race. Start slowly. Getting burnout is the last thing you need, both for your new life change and your writing life. If you’re on a deadline though, you probably don’t have this luxury. In that case, I suggest as much sleep as you can get and, if possible, support from friends and family. Ex. If you’re moving, try to see if you can get a buddy to unbox a few things for you while you write. Pay them with pizza. Heck, hang out with them for five minutes if you can. You still deserve a little time to de-stress. Clearing your mind will help you hit those goals more than pushing yourself too hard all the time. If your stress levels are too high to write, binge-read all the books you’ve missed out on. Breathe.

2. Experiment

Whether you just had a baby or moved or divorced or (whatever), you will have to experiment with your new life to see what fits you best. It might take a while to realize whether or not the experiment is working. Like I said above, I’m still adjusting. I first made a goal to write on days I was off, but then realized I was exhausted during my first few days off. (Adjusting to a new sleep schedule has been the hardest part.) It took two weeks to realize I needed to try that experiment again, and sure enough, it was successful the second time around. My goal is to adjust, not to perform the exact same right away. Granted, my eventual goal is to get back up to speed, but for now I’m concentrating on work training, feeling energized, and getting back on my feet. Which brings me to my next point…

3. Don’t Be Too Hard On Yourself

Adjusting to something is HARD. The last thing you need to do is be any more hard on yourself than life already is. If you struggle with writers block because of the change, take a bigger break or write anyway (and don’t judge yourself when you hate what you wrote. You might find out when you read it later on that it wasn’t so bad after all). Remind yourself why you love writing and that this is a temporary feeling. You will adjust. Reward yourself for the little things (because those little, first steps can feel huge). For instance, on my old schedule, I tended to write 10,000 words per week pretty easily, but lately, I’ve been managing about 5,000, and that’s okay. I’m just glad that I’m still figuring out when and how I can write, so that I can continue more in the future.

So these are my tips!

If you’re currently going through a life change, I hope these help you write well and feel good about writing again.

~SAT

Writing Tips

Why You Should Make Time To Write While Editing/Revising

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!

Writing Tips

NA or YA? College-Aged Protagonists

If you live on Twitter like me, then you probably saw last week’s discussion on college-aged protagonists in young adult fiction. Many were calling for it. Others pushed back. Personally, I’m somewhere in the middle.

I desperately want college-aged protagonists, but I want them placed in NA, and I want NA to rise up on its own as an age category full of various genres.

Why?

Fun fact: I graduated high school in 2009. I graduated from the University of Kansas in 2013.

1. The Teens I’ve Listened To:

When I sign books at Barnes and Noble, specifically for BFest (a teen festival), I get to speak with a lot of teens. And I listen. I listen a lot.

Teens are already telling me that they feel left out of YA fiction. They ask me for sweeter, funnier, feel-good stories about friendship and finding your place in the world. Many tell me they’ve stopped buying YA altogether (opting out for fan fiction online) because YA feels too dark, too violent, too sexy for them.

Where are the sweet, just-for-fun road trips? Summer camp stories? Where are the books about friends? Not everything has to be a twisted romance filled with fighting to the death over a crown. (Not hating on those. In fact, I love them. But you know what I mean.)

By adding college-aged protagonists to YA, I fear that YA will only be aged up even more. It will get darker, with more violence and more sex. And that’s fine if teens want to read that. But there is a large portion of young teens that don’t want that, and we’re ignoring them.

Basically, I feel like we’re failing younger teens, and they need to be prioritized when it comes to YA.

2. We Need to Embrace NA

New Adult is a long-existing category. It isn’t new. But unfortunately it carries the stigma of erotica-only. Not that erotica is bad. (I work as an editor, and many of my clients are erotic authors, and I LOVE them. They SLAY.) But if a consumer base thinks that’s the only plot that exists within NA, then NA will turn those away who don’t want erotica. It will also set up those who want erotica to be disappointed if they buy a book in that age category when it’s clean. NA should be full of space pirates and sweet romances and twisty heists, with and without the X rating. But it isn’t right now. And that’s our fault. I understand that we’ve tried to expand NA before, but we need to try again. There’s no reason it should be for only romance. And now that there are more people pushing for NA, I think this is an optimal time to use our fan bases to spread the word about the age category and all the potential it holds.

3. Libraries/Families and How They Work 

Cycling back to the sweet stories in YA and non-erotic NA. They are out there, but they aren’t being prioritized on the shelves. Personally, I see younger YA and non-romance NA in the indie industry, but the indie industry is not as accessible. Libraries often chose what to carry from publishers’ catalogs, which automatically discount self-published or small press books. If they go to the edges of publishing, libraries still want books that have been reviewed by recognized editorials, and those editorials? They generally favor traditionally published novels. At my library, they carry very few indie titles, even when I put in requests. So while there are sweeter YA and non-erotic NA, libraries, schools, etc. might not have access to those, which is why I think pushing college-aged protags into YA wouldn’t be fair to young readers in particular. Also, Teen Librarian Toolbox has a fantastic thread on how families will chose reads for teens, why libraries label books the way they do, and how labeling college-aged teens as YA could negatively impact shelves. She also explains why YA was a wrong term to begin with in the first place. Definitely worth the read.

https://twitter.com/TLT16/status/954698350783356929

So what age category are you in if you write college-aged protagonists?

That depends on three things:

1. Voice: A lot of YA books have literary prose (Like “The Reader” by Tracy Chee), but if your book is written in the style of George R.R. Martin, you’re probably leaning more towards adult rather than young adult, even if your character is nineteen. An example: “Don’t You Cry” by Mary Kubica follows a college-aged woman dealing with her roommate acting very very strangely, but the voice isn’t YA. If NA was a thing, I would put it there, but since NA is still struggling, I personally think it leans more toward adult. Voice expectations are something you’ll pick up on by reading within your genre and age category.

2. Themes: Even the agents/publishers calling for college-aged protagonists in YA were clear on one thing: it still had to feel coming-of-age. If your book has a nineteen-year-old protagonist, but they are pretty settled into their life, then you’re probably looking elsewhere. In this case, think college-aged protags struggling to leave home, trying to find independence, a place between home and ultimate adulthood. However, this is largely going to depend on how YA and NA swing in the coming months.

3. Who you are submitting to: Always, always read submission guidelines and research agents/editors/publishers thoroughly. What works for one might not work for another, especially in this case. One agent might think a college-aged protag is YA as long as it features coming-of-age themes, while another might think you have no idea what you’re doing if you query them a YA novel with a nineteen-year-old protagonist. Adjust accordingly. Find a good, professional fit for you and your work.

In the end, everything is just a label, and labels can change overnight. In fact, this whole article is my little, humble opinion. Nothing more than that. And, honestly, my opinion could change.

Still, my best piece of advice has never changed: Read a lot. Write what you’re passionate about. Research thoroughly. Stay up-to-date on the latest news and shifts in the industry. Make friends. And you’ll be just fine.

~SAT

Writing Tips

When A Character Does Something You Dislike

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

Miscellaneous

2017 Favorite Writing Tools

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