Writing Tips

My Writing Life During Maternity Leave

I’m heading back to work this week. Between that and starting 2023, I’ve been reflecting a lot on how the last twelve weeks went since my daughter was born. 

It was tough.

That’s the easiest way to summarize all my emotions. Of course I knew going in that newborns require a lot of energy and attention from sleep-deprived parents, but I also heard a lot of good things about maternity leave. One coworker told me about all the television they caught up on during middle of the night feeds. I read another article where a mom talked about how the first baby is so easy and her husband and her just drank wine and passed the baby back and forth. Surely, I thought, I’d find a little time to write if others had been able to watch TV and drink wine. And I did. Kind of. A teensy bit. But again, it was HARD. 

I mostly wrote during middle of the night feeds, propping her up with one hand and using my other to type on my phone. That and a few naptimes. But mostly, even when I found the time, I was too tired to manage something worth keeping. After a few times writing gibberish, I decided to wave my white flag and only write when I was well-rested AND she was napping. In twelve weeks, that happened three times. The other time I was able to write was when my husband would take her to give me space. Even then, though, I really needed time to recover from my C-section and how draining breastfeeding can be.

All in all, I only wrote 8,000 words these past twelve weeks. From someone who usually writes that in two weeks or so, it’s really hard not to be disappointed in myself. I am doing my best to recognize that I’m going through a major life change and I need to be kinder to myself. But still. 

I fear not being able to finish my WIP in a timely manner. I fear that even if I do, it will be nonsensical due to exhaustion. But I know working writing moms who have done it before me, and I’m holding onto that energy as I surge forward with determination and perseverance. 

I will find a way, because I want to. I need to. 

Maybe it’ll happen even faster than I’m hoping. Maybe we’ll find more of a routine with me back at work and her going to daycare. Then again, maybe I should lower my expectations and just be.

All I can do is do the best I can. And as long as I do that, I’m sure I’ll look back on this time and be pretty proud of what I was able to accomplish… even if it’s just a few thousand words.

Every word leads to another scene. Every scene leads to a new chapter. Every chapter leads to a completed novel and, eventually, THE END. 

~SAT

Miscellaneous

2022: My Complete Year

At the end of every year, I write a reflection post about where I’m at, not just in my writing life, but also in my personal life and how it all correlates. 

I’m calling 2022 My Complete Year because it coincides with how I called 2021 the Year of Unfinished Change. 

Last year, I got married. This year, we welcomed our baby girl. 

Last year, I lost my agent. This year, I got back in the trenches and connected with my new agent. 

So much of what happened last year fed into the success I had this year, they almost can’t be separated. But alas, I wanted to talk about 2022 and how I feel moving into 2023. 

If I go back to January, I started 2022 with one main goal: Connect with an agent. 

I had just finished finalizing my query package for my middle grade novel in verse, and I jumped right in. Shortly after, I found out I was pregnant, and I told myself I would love to be signed with a new agent before my baby was born. I knew it was a long shot, especially in this environment, but I signed with my agent, Marietta Zacker, in September the week before my baby was born. (Maybe I’ll write a blog post about that journey soon!) 

While querying, I also rewrote my historical fantasy and outlined four new ideas. I wrote 12,000 words across those projects. I also hit 80,000 words in my dark academia novel, and I’m currently 8,000 words in my next verse novel and 11,000 into a romcom.

We also adopted Valentine, our one-eyed pirate cat…and lost Boo Boo, our beautiful gentleman of a cat who lived 22 years. 

Life has been a whirlwind of joy, sorrow, celebration, family, and determination. 

In 2023, I hope my agent can find the perfect editor for my work, but I know that’s out of my control. All I can do is keep writing. First up, finish my first young adult verse novel. But until then, I’m giving thanks to 2022.

I’m very grateful for everything that happened this past year–from having my novels featured in simplyKC magazine to having my blog post featured on Jane Friedman’s website. I especially enjoyed teaching How to Write a Series at the Midwest Writers group, and I cannot wait to see what 2023 brings. A book deal? More hardships? Additional teaching opportunities? New friends? Loss? I have no clue. None of us do, really. 

I end 2022 knowing that I will be adjusting to being a mom who loves writing while working full time, but I believe in me. I have to. I want to.

I will make 2023 amazing. 

~SAT

Want to see what’s happened throughout my years of blogging?

Miscellaneous

February Writing Journey Wrap-Up

Every month, I write a writing journey wrap-up post. It includes how many words I’ve written, what I’m working on, my wins, my losses, and other miscellaneous facts you may find interesting. 

First up this February, I wanted to congratulate our Pitch Wars 2020 mentee, Miranda Sun! She announced her six-figure, two-book deal with HarperCollins for If I Have to Be Haunted, a young adult contemporary fantasy with a gorgeous magic system and a slow-burn romance that will drive you crazy. I know y’all will love this book as much as Sandra Proudman and I did while working on it during Pitch Wars. You can add her book to Goodreads here. Congratulations, Miranda! And go Team Snickersnee!!

In other Pitch Wars news, our 2021 mentee, Damara Allen, had her showcase! Congratulations to Damara Allen for showcasing her middle grade spooky horror novel about family, friendship, and alternate universes. She had 16 requests from agents, and we are so so proud of her and her novel. She worked incredibly hard, and I know good things are to come. Congratulations, Damara! Cheers to Team Stellify! Read her showcase here.

On the heels of the showcase, it was also announced that this was the last Pitch Wars to take place. It was such a joy to be a mentor these last two years. I also used to submit as a writer and, though I was never chosen, Sandra Proudman and I met because of Pitch Wars. I am forever grateful for the annual event, and I will always cherish all my memories and friendships made. 

In other mentorship news, my SCBWI mentee, Anna LaForest, received her edit letter and mentoring plan this month. We’re already on her second round of revisions and so excited to continue her journey! 

So what about my writing journey? 

I admit that I took more time off this month to focus on, well, life. If you look at my calendar carefully, you’ll probably see that I tried not to work on my weekends for once. I wanted to be more present. For Valentine’s Day, we adopted a new kitten! His name is Valentine, but he was called a pirate since he only has one eye. (He lost it in a fight when he was young, but he’s okay now.) He’s eight months old and loves his new forever home. Boo Boo and Bogart are adjusting, too. They’ve done really great!

Personal life aside, I wanted to celebrate finalizing A YEAR OF BLUE, my middle grade novel-in-verse about an 11-year-old girl who loses her mom to an opioid overdose. It’s based on my childhood, and I’m very passionate about getting a book reflective of my childhood grief out in the world. I want to help other kids who have family members struggling with addiction and/or have lost someone to addiction. It’s a heavy topic that is unfortunately very common in the US, yet not present in many MG books. Writing it was a promise I made to myself when I was 11. I am so proud that I finally found the strength to not only write it, but pursue it, too.  

To celebrate my verse novel, I bought myself a new coffee mug. (A tradition I do when I finish writing any new manuscript.) I also commissioned character art from The Book Bruja. I love having character art! It makes Blue feel even more real. It’s like manifesting her into existence. Fun fact: The sweater she is wearing is based off of a real sweater I loved at that age. The Book Bruja also made me a new social media banner that is more reflective of my brand moving forward. I love that my trampoline and cats are present! (Though I only had Boo Boo and Bogart at the time.) 

Writing wise, I finally sent out my first batch of queries! It’s my first time querying since 2019, which is when I connected with my first agent. Not going to lie, the landscape has changed a lot, but it’s so exciting to put myself out there again. I’m so happy to report that I’ve already received full requests. Please keep your fingers crossed for me! I know how important this book could be for kids like me, and it would be a dream to connect with an agent who can see that, too. Honestly, I have to believe I will. I want to believe. 

Other than that, I gained the courage to write and submit my first short story to somewhere pretty special. We’ll see if that works out! In general, I actually wrote very little. Two chapters for my local writer’s group on a haunted house YA based on my teen years and two blog posts. I was a little sad this month! I didn’t get any comments, which is unusual. (I received a few on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc., but it’s super strange to get none on actual WordPress. I’m not sure that’s ever happened before.) My views were relatively the same, too, so I thought that odd. That said, my most popular blog post this month was Shannon’s Top Three Tips for Writing Romance, and my top referrer outside of search engines was Jane Friedman. I attended the SCBWI Winter Conference as well, which was really interesting. I also enjoyed speaking on Kid Lit Publishing Roundtable on Twitter Spaces with authors A.J. Sass, Sandra Proudman, and more. I’m planning to speak again soon!

The Midwest Writers of America also reached out to me. I will be speaking at their summer meetup in June, so be sure to check out my Events page for upcoming opportunities. 

If I had any advice for aspiring writers reading this, I’d say it’s okay to take it easy on the creating part sometimes. I’m busy pursuing the business side of my writing career. Authorship requires a balance. Make sure to find time for both, but don’t beat yourself up if you end up spending more time on one or the other for a little while. Let the publishing winds guide you. Follow those paths where you feel best, and everything else will surely fall in place. 

I’m looking forward to seeing where March–and my career–will take me! 

~SAT

Writing Tips

When to Begin & End Chapters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As you consider revisions, ask yourself: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And don’t forget those cliffhangers!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Take that as you will, and good luck,

~~SAT

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

Miscellaneous

Writing Method: Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

With the New Year upon us—HALLELUJAH—I know many of you are gearing up to tackle your 2021 goals. Whether that’s to finally finish that WIP you’ve been working on or to start writing a novel for the first time, I thought I’d share a new writing method I’ve been using to crank out more words than I have in a long time. 

It’s what I call the Two Steps Forward, One Step Back Writing Method.

You might be able to guess what I do just by the title, but a little background first. 

I’m constantly trying to find ways to better my writing. I read craft books. I study writing tips. I play with new tenses, POVS, age categories, and genres. I love to challenge myself. But sometimes I can get caught up in all the writing advice and lose sight of my own knowledge, specifically my gut instinct. 

One example is my writing output. 

Three years ago, I used to revise while I was writing, but then a writer friend of mine talked about how they finished first drafts so much faster if they just kept going. I took a hard look at my own productivity and realized I could benefit from the same method. I’d work on the same section for weeks—only to completely cut it by the third or fourth draft. What a waste of time, right??? 

Wrong. 

Despite finishing my first draft so much faster when I ignored revisions on the first go-around, I got stuck pretty quickly. In fact, I printed it out, readied myself to revise it into a second draft, and completely froze. Despite keeping an organized list of revision notes while I was writing, I was immediately lost. I forgot what certain notes meant. Some notes canceled out other notes. I couldn’t find notes I swore I took down. I didn’t know where to begin or even if any of it made sense anymore.

Cue the panic. 

Once I put my Imposter Syndrome aside, I realized that I wasn’t so organized, after all. (And admittedly, that book is still not where I want it to be.) That said, I’m really glad I tried the no-revising method. It helped me face the fact that I would get too caught up in perfectionism in a first draft and, regardless of how I felt about not revising while writing, that part of me had to change. I didn’t want to fall back into the pits of perfectionism. I knew I had to find a balance.   

End of story: Not revising at all while drafting wasn’t working for me, but neither was revising whenever I felt like it.   

I needed to find my rhythm again—a new one that worked for me that embraced all I had learned from my recent experiences. 

So, on my next WIP, I tried an experiment, and I found a happy medium that became the Two Steps Forward, One Step Back Writing Method.  

Basically, I let myself write 2-4 chapters at a time. Then I stop and reevaluate what I created. Did all go according to plan? If it didn’t, why not? What did I learn? What was unexpected? How does that change where we’re going? 

If I spot something in that window that I realize I want to adjust, I allow myself to go back, but only if it’s in that 2-4-chapter window. Anything outside that window I jot down for my first major overhaul. 

What I’m left with is a piece I’m feeling more proud of and less notes for future me. It was a little less confusing for my beta readers. (Yes, I share my first drafts with betas, but that’s another story for another day.) 

I truly enjoyed creating it, and I think I’ll stick to this method for a while. 

Who knows? Maybe you’ll love it, too! Maybe you won’t. 

Either way, don’t lose sight of what works for you and your book. It might change from project to project, or youmight change from project to project. What’s important is that you’re learning and enjoying the process.  

You can always find that happy medium. 

~SAT 

P.S. I’m teaching Starting a Writing Project for The Story Center at MCPL on Wednesday, January 13 at 6:30 PM (CT). The event is virtual, completely free, and open to anyone in the world. I’d love to see you there! 

Miscellaneous

Behind the Scenes of Pitch Wars with Team Snickersnee

Behind the Scenes at Pitch Wars with Team Snickersnee

In case you missed it, Team Snickersnee announced our 2020 mentee for Pitch Wars! (But more on that below.) Since announcement day has come and gone, I thought it would be fun to give everyone a behind-the-scenes peek at what went down with Team Snickersnee. 

We asked for anything under the science fiction or fantasy sun, including young adult and new adult (if willing to age down to young adult). You can reference our original wishlist by clicking here.  

Here are our stats: 133 submissions 

Sci-Fi: 

  • Space Opera: 4
  • Near Future: 2
  • Dystopian/Post Apocalyptic: 11
  • Cyberpunk: 2
  • Steampunk: 1
  • Soft: 15
  • Military: 1
  • Science-Fantasy: 2
  • Time-Travel: 2
  • Other: 3

Fantasy: 

  • High/Epic: 21
  • Urban/Contemporary: 19
  • Magical Realism/Fabulism: 5
  • Historical: 2
  • Portal: 11
  • Paranormal: 1
  • Other: 22

Horror: 4

Thriller/Suspense: 2

Contemporary: 2

Adventure: 1

Top three trends we saw: 

  1. Elemental powers
  2. Zodiac 
  3. Witches 

We definitely had a blast reading everyone’s words! In fact, we put more than half of our submissions in the “maybe” pile. It was really hard to dwindle down to just one person. 

So how did we break it down? 

As a team, Sandra and I split the submissions in half. She read the first half, and I read the second half. We took notes on the ones we loved, and then we sent each other the list so that the other person could take a look at the submissions, too. We made it a goal to choose 5 manuscripts to request. We then read the first 50 pages of each and discussed again. (We even requested two more fulls!) We messaged each other a lot, discussing various aspects of the manuscripts, possible edit letters, etc.—until we felt that we had found the manuscript. Our final decision happened over an hour-long ZOOM call. Ultimately, while we loved so many manuscripts, we had to factor in how much work the manuscript needed in the time allotted, if our vision aligned with the author’s, and if we were the right mentors for this particular mentee.   

It was a hard choice!

There was so much incredible talent, and we definitely would’ve taken on more mentees if we could have. If you submitted to us, thank you for trusting us with your words! We truly enjoyed reading our submissions. 

Now for a fun Q&A: 

What was your biggest surprise reading through submissions this year?

Shannon: This was my first time being a Pitch Wars mentor. Going in, I thought the writing itself would be the ultimate factor in choosing which manuscripts to read more of, but honestly, all the writing was so good! I relied on the synopsis a lot more than I thought I would. It showed me how the story unfolded and if I felt like there were structural issues we could help with or not. I was definitely looking for someone we could mentor. If someone’s package was 120% perfect, I moved on. Some writers are definitely ready to query without a mentorship!

Sandra: This was my second year mentoring, and what was surprising was how different the submissions were this year from last year! I loved getting to read a whole new batch of stories from writers who might not have subbed to me last year. I was also just in awe of the quality of work submitted; there is so much talent in the world right now. There’s not one entry that I read that I didn’t think the writer would find representation, whether with the manuscript submitted or with another.

Any writing tips for those who submitted?

Shannon: Use beat sheets (like this one on Jami Gold’s website) and swap with critique partners. Most importantly, make sure each scene is driving your story forward, and that your protagonist has agency. (They should be happening to the story, not the other way around.) A common mistake I saw is a scene where we meet the protagonist’s best friend or family, and that’s it. See if you can combine your meeting scene with an actionable scene. (Ex. Could the best friend be introduced while the protagonist is dealing with an unexpected issue?) If you have any scenes that feel like your protagonist’s “regular” day, it should probably be changed or cut.

Sandra: To Shannon’s point, knowing your character’s arc is in my opinion the most important part of any story. Who is your character at the beginning and who do you want them to be by the end of the manuscript? And what turning points will help you get them there. Whether you’re a pantser or a plotter, or somewhere in between, knowing the turning points you want to hit is so important to keeping the pacing and character arc’s moving forward. And hitting them at the right places. One of the things I love doing with my work is deciding the word count I want to hit before I start to write. So if I want to write an 80K manuscript, I know I need to hit that first turning point at 25% of the book, so at 20K, and my midpoint at 40K. Aside from that, to just keep writing and reading! I didn’t land my agent till my third queried manuscript, so perseverance is key and learning what you can from other writers and published works.

Publishing tips?

Shannon: Watch your word counts. There was a surprising amount of manuscripts that were 100k and higher, which is a really hard sell to an agent or editor for a debut. Make sure that your manuscript is in line with the expectations of your age category and genre. If you’re struggling to cut, ask a beta reader to help. Consider combining characters or scenes. Don’t be afraid to take a break from your story and come back at a later date to analyze what is truly, absolutely 100% necessary. In regards to querying, I highly recommend Query Shark and Query Tracker

Sandra: Totally agree with Shannon on word counts! I’ve seen some agents and editors talk about this on Twitter lately as well!

It’s also interesting seeing trends as well and what ideas seem to spread like wildfire and become popular. This is also really hard to see because it means the market is saturated in these stories, and you’re likely competing for an agent’s attention who has already received several stories with the same general idea. One of my biggest publishing tips and something I’m working hard to do myself, is how to take a common idea and have a twist to it. So if your book is about vampires, how can you freshen up a trope that an agent has seen often? Same if your story has elemental magic. Can you do something in your manuscript that sets the story apart so there’s a good spin in the query you’re sending out? Just making sure that your story is as unique as you can make it, and that you’re showing off what makes it unique to the fullest! Genre-bending is also very popular and a great way to freshen up tropes!

What are we most excited about?

Working with our mentee, Miranda Sun! She wrote an amazing heartfelt #ownvoices YA contemporary fantasy filled with magic forests, generational secrets, and humor! Did we mention the slow-burn hate-to-love romance with a ghost? Give her a follow on Twitter and stay tuned! (Fun fact: Miranda’s submission was #31!) 

~SAT

Writing Tips

Balancing Writing During the Holidays

Most writers aren’t able to write full time. That means we tend to work full time and write full time. Between writing, querying, editing, and marketing, our schedules can quickly feel crushing, especially if you’re working toward a very specific goal, such as a revision deadline. Taking breaks can often make writers feel guilty. But you deserve a break, too. Especially during the holidays.

Grab a cocoa, some cookies, and watch the snow fall.

Admittedly, I’m a bit of a workaholic. My life is often, if not always, out of balance. I don’t make enough time for family or friends (or myself) and, though I know I should, I really struggle to find time in my jam-packed calendar full of work, publishing, writing goals, and personal goals. But that’s also why I get burnt out so often. (Okay. So maybe this year was just awful.) Anyway…

I’m trying to be more mindful going into the holiday season. You know, taking more time to sit back and relax, so that when I sit down to write I feel energized and passionate, rather than bogged down by crippling responsibility.

I try to look at it this way: I can’t write dialogue if I’ve never participated in a conversation. Without regular reminders of life, it is more difficult to describe it—to connect with it—and it’s important to be realistic in stories. (It’s also important that we, as people, have interaction with others.)

My personal holiday notes?

  • Don’t let your goals take over your life.
  • Some sacrifice is okay, but don’t sacrifice everything all the time.
  • Enjoy the holidays.

If you are trying to keep up with everything during the holidays, my writing tips are about the same as they are throughout the year: Set aside time to write and stick with it. Always have a notebook on hand. (I use the SimpleNote app, so I never forget it, and I can transfer notes directly to my Scrivener on my laptop.) Set specific goals (Ex. I will write or edit 10,000 words every week), but don’t beat yourself up too much if you don’t accomplish every goal you set. Adjust and keep writing. Rest well and dream often. Oh, and reward yourself with holiday cookies.

If you notice I’m not online as much this holiday season, it’s because I’m trying to be more present in my life. (I even got my first Christmas tree!) I have my blog articles planned for December, but they’ll mostly be fun, light-hearted pieces, along with my regular end-of-the-year posts (like my favorite books of the year and where I think trends are heading). I’m hoping I can get back into the swing of things in 2018, but I’m more focused on having more balance in my life, because I let my life get way too out-of-balance this year.

Balance is important, not only during the holiday season, but also during the rest of the year.

Take care of each other.

Happy Holidays,

~SAT

Miscellaneous

The Ideal Writing Pace

Writing is a different experience for everyone. Just check out the #amwriting hashtag on Twitter and you will see authors hitting 50,000 words in two weeks…and in two years.

So how long should it take to write your book?

Stephen King claims to give up on a book if you can’t finish the first draft in three months. Others claim a book is rushed if it doesn’t demand years of your attention. But here’s the deal—

I used to run in Track & Field, and Track & Field taught me something important that I think the writing community could benefit from. (Stick with me for a second, okay?) I competed in races all year long. I thought I knew what the end-goal was in Track & Field… Whoever was fastest was the best. And the fastest girl on our team was a girl I’ll call Darla.

Darla was fast—like super fast—and since I was running long distance for the first time (when I was used to sprinting races), I tried to keep up with her. She was the fastest, after all, and I was able to run at her pace. (Not that I enjoyed it.) One time, while we were running a practice race (and I was majorly struggling), she turned to me and asked why I hadn’t found my own pace. My own pace. This concept blew my mind. I never considered how fast I “wanted” to run or what speed I was comfortable running. No way! I had only considered the start line, the finish line, and nothing in between…you know, because this was a literal race. But this was Track & Field. Your team isn’t judged for each little race, but rather all of your team’s races combined. It was about winning together as a team, not competing against one another, and above all, we were supposed to enjoy the run. (We were in seventh grade, after all, but twelve-year-old Shannon was just as competitive and way-too serious as modern me.)

That being said, I quit Track & Field the next year. Not because I wasn’t fast enough, but because I finally found my pace. And my pace was writing instead of running. Though, I admit running was still my exercise of choice growing up, I learned an important lesson from running that I’ve carried into my writing life.

Finding my own pace is key, not only for my health but also for my happiness.

If that means I write 50,000 words in two weeks, awesome. But it’s also awesome if it takes me two years.

Recently, I’ve been struggling with this. It took me two months to finish my first manuscript of 2017, including a significant amount of editing. Two months. And now I’m halfway through June without a second manuscript. That’s four months on one project. I’ve been working on it twice as long as my previous project, but I’m barely halfway through a first draft. (This is probably the opportune time to mention I’m slightly obsessive about numbers… and I’m a competitive person by nature, so I’ll turn anything into a competition, including competitions with myself. So, sigh…) I feel as if I’ve been writing sooooooo slowly. And I’m struggling with that confession.

As someone who is competitive, I understand how overwhelming seeing others’ word counts can feel. Sometimes, word counts can start to feel more important than feeling good about those words you wrote down. But I try to keep that Track & Field lesson in mind.

We’re in this together. Some of us will write 50,000 words in two weeks, some of us cringe at that idea, but we will all reach the “finish line” together. And the more we enjoy the middle, the better the “race” will feel. Though…I forgot to mention the most important fact about this post. Writing isn’t a race at all. This is a journey. There isn’t a set finish line. There isn’t even a solid start line. (I often can’t tell you when I first got an idea for a specific project, for instance.) But your happiness should matter. If it takes two months or two years, it shouldn’t matter. What matters is how much you enjoyed the writing process.

Find your writing pace, and enjoy your journey.

~SAT

Writing Tips

Challenge Your Writing

Challenging your writing is important, but what does that mean?

It means trying something new—attempting a project outside your box of comfort—or switching everything up entirely. Challenging yourself can be a big or small adventure. You can try a new genre in a short story rather than a novel, for instance. But pushing yourself to try a new genre, tone, perspective, etc. can only benefit you. As an example…

I mainly write YA SFF, and I have done so for ten years now, but recently, I set out to write a historical novel. Not only that, but it is my first serious project written in third person. Why? Because I’m challenging my writing…and myself.

Challenge: Try a new utensil. If you normally type your books, try a pencil. See if that changes your perspective.

You see, I’m comfortable with first-person science fiction and fantasy. Almost too comfortable. I find myself flying through drafts and ideas—and I love that, don’t get me wrong—but I can’t help but feel like I’m missing something more. A hurdle. A bit of fear. A semblance of discovery. By challenging myself, I can learn more. I might even fall in love with a new style, genre, or voice. The possibilities are endless.

It’s easy to write with your strengths, but what about overcoming your writing weaknesses?

I struggle with romance, for instance. Though I love first-person, I find it a bit narcissistic, so concentrating on feelings on top of the I, we, me, etc. has always been uncomfortable for me. So, I thought, What about third person? I had no idea if third person would help me overcome this hurdle or not, but hey, I set out to try…and sure enough, I learned a lot about myself and about writing those more emotional scenes. In fact, I look forward to learning even more about my writing through this challenge, and I look forward to future challenges I set out to overcome.

Granted, challenges come with…well, challenges.

Normally, I would be 60,000 words into this first draft, but I’m currently sitting at 42,000…and it’s a messy 42,000. (A really messy 42,000.) But I’m also in love with the mess.

I have never been so unsure of my writing in my life, but I still believe in the manuscript. I still believe in the challenge. And even if I never finish this book, I already succeeded at reaching my original goal: Learning something new.

Constantly challenging myself helps me learn more about my writing and about myself. So I challenge you to set a challenge for yourself today.

Try a new genre. Write from a new type of character’s perspective. Attempt a different perspective entirely.

Just go on an adventure. Make mistakes. Overcome obstacles. Try again.

You might discover something amazing.

~SAT

 

Miscellaneous

Writers, Stop Comparing Yourselves

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