Love them or hate them, cliffhangers are popular and utilized in lots of books nowadays, even the ones that never get (or intend) a sequel to follow up the ending.
So what’s the difference between a cliffhanger that makes a reader pick up the next book and the one that makes the reader chuck the book across the room?
That’s what I’m here to discuss.
First, there are three ways to end your book:
Second, if you’re here to learn about cliffhangers, you’ll want to focus on the non-ending ending and the cliffhanger. What’s the difference?
A Non-Ending Ending doesn’t answer most (or any) of the questions posed, not even the ones asked at the beginning of a story. This is becoming more common. I personally dislike it a lot, but alas, this isn’t about my feelings. As an example, consider a murder mystery. The main question posed at the beginning of the book is “Who is the murderer?” The secondary question might be “Why/How did this murder take place?”
(I will be coming back to the idea of main and secondary questions, so keep that difference in mind.)
By the time you get to the end of a Non-Ending Ending book, you still have no idea who the murderer was. You may know how the murder took place, so some of the secondary questions might be answered, but the main question is not.
A popular one that I can think of off the top of my head is The Selection series by Kiera Cass. The first book asks, “Who will be chosen to marry the prince?” The ending of that first book doesn’t answer. It just dwindles the group down to the top ten. If you take a careful look at the trilogy, you’ll notice all three books follow a one-book arc versus a trilogy arc. But that’s another post for another day.
As much as I hate to say it, a Non-Ending Ending is a valid choice.But I recommend you be intentional when making this decision. By choosing this, you are risking the reader feeling duped and not trusting you to finish the story. I myself typically put a series down if they have a Non-Ending Ending. However, I finished The Selection series, so there’s always exceptions. Typically, though, the traditional cliffhanger is more likely to get readers coming back for more.
In my opinion, reading and writing a traditional cliffhanger is a lot more satisfying. Why? Because you will answer that main question. Your reader will know who the murderer is. But those secondary questions might lead them into a new mystery. For example, instead of wrapping up why the murder happened, the murderer tells us they were under orders and don’t know the answer themselves. An underground organization hired them–and a few others. There are more murders to come. Now your hero isn’t trying to solve murders; your hero is trying to stop them. EEK! That’s a cliffhanger.
Readers will be much more likely to trust your stories if you answer the main question posed at the beginning of your book. They know they might not get all the answers they want, but they know they’ll get a story that is satisfying, even in its twists. Whereas, in a Non-Ending Ending, they might ask themselves where the book is headed or how long the story will be stretched out.
Don’t know which ending your book has?
Read other books. Have you ever been twenty pages away from the end and stopped, wondering how the author is going to wrap it ALL up? That’s either the best pacing ever or extremely poor pacing. Spoiler alert: It’s more often poor pacing.
Most of your story’s questions need to be wrapped up by the 75% mark. The subplots, the clues, etc. As your characters head into the climax, they need to know everything they are going to know about their opponent. Of course there might be that single plot twist that sparks the “hero is absolutely alone, hopeless, and at their lowest” part, but other than that, having your protagonist learn anything new after the 75% mark is going to feel convoluting, and it risks your ending spiraling out of control.
So where do you throw in the cliffhanger?
Typically in the climax aftermath.
Most writers have a natural cliffhanger buried somewhere in their work. I recommend taking a look at your main and secondary questions again. Typically, one of your secondary questions will serve as a lead-in to the next book. Make sure your cliffhanger is small enough that it doesn’t leave your reader feeling robbed of an ending, but big enough that they cannot resist the urge to pick up the next book to experience how your universe expands. Promise another story in that cliffhanger. This is also a great place to ask yourself what you have planned for book two. If book one’s cliffhanger is easily dismissed in the first few pages of book 2, it’ll feel cheap, and readers might put book 2 down before they’re invested in the next plot. Book one’s cliffhanger should lead us to the inciting incident of book 2. Example from our murder mystery: Book opens up with the detective tracking down the organization he believes hired the murderer. Instead of arresting, he poses as a hitman to infiltrate. He’s handed his first assignment…
Now we’re invested in book 2, and the cliffhanger isn’t resolved. Rather, it’s evolved into a new story.
A great cliffhanger will feel inevitable.
A fantastic cliffhanger will appear right as the reader feels comfortable and believes the book is about to end with a satisfying conclusion.
Last piece of advice? All choices are valid. You don’t have to have a cliffhanger to have a fantastic book. Some readers love Non-Ending Endings. Some readers hate any type of cliffhanger. You can’t satisfy everyone all of the time, so make the decision you need to make to have a book you love.
Crying is a common experience. “A study in the 1980s found that women cry an average of 5.3 times per month and men cry an average of 1.3 times per month. A newer study found that the average duration for a crying session was eight minutes.” (Heathline) Does this mean your characters should cry that much in your story? Probably not.
Like flashbacks and dream sequences, crying scenes should probably be used sparingly. Too much can make it feel over the top and lose the reader. However, if you never utilize it, you risk your characters coming across as emotionless robots.
Here’s some quick tips on how (and when) to include crying scenes:
Consider how your character feels.
This may seem obvious, but nothing really is. Crying doesn’t necessarily mean sad. Some people cry when they’re happy or overwhelmed. People cry differently for different reasons. Make sure your character’s emotions are shown to the reader other than the crying detail. This is particularly important when considering your POV. If the scene is in first-person, your character is going to feel physical changes in their body before, during, and after they cry. Again, you don’t need to include every little detail. But consider which details will help set the tone. If the scene is in third person, or someone is watching someone else cry, your scene is going to require different details. You have a whole cast of characters to play with! Make sure you’re picking the right character at the right time. Even if your main character isn’t the one crying, it will still have an impact on the book as a whole.
Now that you know your character’s emotions, get more specific.
Consider the emotions you have chosen carefully. Sadness, for instance, has a huge range. Someone could be feeling grief, despair, or lonely. Take a moment to ask yourself what your character is truly feeling. You don’t have to literally say this, of course, but it will help you figure out the most believable approach. Consult an emotional sensation wheel used by therapists or flip open the The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide To Character Expression by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi. No matter what, remember that some people full-on ugly cry. Some people sniffle. Some people feel aches and get a tight jaw. Play with these differences to make sure it flows with the character and the scene in a way that compliments your story.
Double check your biases and consider tropes
This is a big final step that I think all authors need to take with every aspect of their work, but I am going to focus on crying. The main tip I have here? Men cry, too. So do heroes. We all know that trope of the stoic male hero who shoulders everyone’s emotions. It can work in certain genres (like military fiction), but at the same time, readers generally want to see more humanity from your characters, especially your protagonist or hero. Take a moment to ask yourself if you are treating all your characters equally. If you are, your characters are going to display emotions differently. Men will cry—and do cry—for lots of reasons. Make sure you’re not relying on stereotypes. Utilize real life by thinking about times in your life where you’ve seen loved ones cry. Don’t be afraid to dig deep and ask yourself why you cry. Make a list and consult it when developing your characters and scenes.
In the end, it’s always good to get beta reader feedback. Run your crying scene by some fellow writers or readers of your genre, and ask them how they felt when reading it. This is important because you want to make sure your reader is feeling the intended emotions (which isn’t necessarily the emotions your character is going through, but that’s a different post for another day). A crying scene can be a delicate balance. You’d be amazed how big of a difference a few words can make. Taking the extra time to make sure emotional scenes hit right can make the difference between your reader feeling connected to a story and feeling so-so about it.
My only personal pet peeve? The crier who doesn’t realize they’re crying. Not that it isn’t realistic. It totally is! But I feel like it’s been way overdone and there’s lot of other types I have yet to see. I also don’t think crying has to happen in the climax, as it often does when it’s centered on the protagonist. While I understand that the main character is supposed to be at their worst in the climax, emotional ranges can be found throughout your book. I’ve found that my favorite scenes in stories are the ones that surprise me in some way. Twist those tropes and you might just get there.
How and why do your characters cry?
Share a snippet below from a WIP and you’ll be entered to when a first page critique. Winner chosen Wednesday, May 19.
Don’t miss the giveaway this post! Check out that last line and be entered to win a first page critique. If you feel uncomfortable sharing below, you can always send it to me through my Contact page. If you don’t want to share an excerpt, then just tell me about a crying scene you’re working on or have worked on in the past.
Every year I like to reflect and talk about expectations, goal-setting, writing life, changing trends, etc., and as strange as this past year has been, I still want to keep that tradition going. That said, looking back, January feels like it happened three years ago, not eleven months. In fact, right at the beginning of 2020, I taught my first writing course—Starting a Writing Project—and over 40 people attended. I was super proud. Still am! But seeing photos of everyone crowded into one room has me reeling now.
That’s why I decided to name 2020 the strangest writing year. Not only because it was absolutely bonkers (and still is), but because current events have also shifted our way of thinking about other times. They’ve also affected us emotionally, physically, and spiritually, too. For me, spiritually has more to do with energy levels. You know, keeping your hopes up. Holding onto focus. Maintaining a level of discipline and using your energy to keep on keeping on.
That was hard this year. But I’m choosing to focus on the positive.
When we went into lockdown in March, I thought Kansas City would be back to normal by June, August at the latest. Well… I’m still working from home, and I barely leave my home office. Sharing my workspace with my writing space has certainly taken a dent on my productivity, but going virtual hasn’t been all bad. In fact, my virtual world is pretty neat. I attended WriteOnCon, the Kansas City Writing Workshop, and YALLFest online. I also taught my first writing class online for Woodneath Writers. More regularly, I attended virtual write-ins with friends in California and Canada! I also continued to see my two local writers’ groups every month via ZOOM.
In my spare time, I also wrote an article for my local SCBWI scribbles newsletter, and later that year, I was the local author feature. Even more mind-blowing? I was chosen as a co-mentor in Pitch Wars with long-time CP and friend, Sandra Proudman. Only three years ago, I was submitting to Pitch Wars as a hopeful mentee, so being able to give back to that is so much fun. (Fun fact: Sandra and I actually met because of Pitch Wars.)
At work, I was awarded Maggie Jackson Community SpiritAward for helping The Story Center at Mid-Continent Public Library go virtual. It’s the first time I’ve been awarded anything. It was a true honor. I’m so proud of everything my team and I were able to do for The Story Center and our customers during the lockdowns. In fact, I recently got to watch 21 of my students complete the Storytelling Certificate Program (which is currently free, virtual, and open to anyone in the world). What a way to celebrate all their hard work!
In personal news, I got engaged! My partner and I have been together for almost nine years now, so this is an exciting step for us. We’ve been house hunting, too, which is fun and new to us. I also became student debt free this year, which, if you remember my post from last year, I never thought I’d get to see that day. I am so relieved. And happy. (And absolutely still rooting for student loan forgiveness! It’s such a predatory system, and I hope others get forgiven soon.)
In publishing news, I went out on sub with my agent, and I’m soon to go back out on sub in the new year.
Over this past year, I sent my first-ever adult science fiction novel to my agent and started an adult fantasy novel. Since then, I’ve completed one major overhaul of my adult science fiction book and I’m currently working on revising it some more. I also revised a totally other book, too (which is what we’re going out on sub with)! In regard to my adult fantasy book, I’m currently 40,000 words in. I also played around with four new ideas and even received some feedback from an editor through SCBWI on my first middle grade verse novel!
That said, this environment definitely took a toll. I used to write about 10,000 words a week pretty consistently, and that did not happen for me this year. Between adjusting my day job and just life in general, my overall productivity was down, but I’m pretty happy with what I managed to cover this year. (Also a little sad I didn’t complete anything brand-new, but I did what I could.)
I have no idea what 2021 will hold. Then again, I never know what the next year will bring.
Maybe 2021 will be stranger. Maybe good-strange. Maybe not.
All I can do is keep writing, keep trying, keep dreaming.
I know this post is going to seem like a hard brag. I promise that isn’t my intention. I accomplished a lot this year, but I can’t say that I allowed much happiness into my life, especially toward the end of 2019. The beginning felt like a lot of highs: New job! An agent! Another birthday! The end felt like a lot of lows: My cat’s health problems. My health problems. Student loan problems. My depression.
I’m still in a depression fog at the moment. I won’t lie. I had a really difficult time even stringing together this blog post. At the same time, though, that’s why I forced myself to write it.
We need to take a moment to acknowledge all of our hard work.
Today, I ask you to join me.
Grab a pen and paper. Think of everything you did in 2019, and write it down. Leave nothing out. Include all the things, even the little things others might consider insignificant. With every bullet point you add, really think about all the help you received, the support, the encouragement, the opportunities, the sacrifices, the dedication, the passion. Have you thanked these people? Have you thanked yourself for trying? Have you allowed yourself the space to celebrate and be happy?
I was promoted at the library to Story Center Program Manager. Now I’m surrounded by storytellers all day, and I absolutely love it!
I guest spoke at numerous teen writing groups at various libraries, my local chapter of SCBWI, and at Writers United for Johnson County Library
I also had my first school visit, ever
I was chosen for a mentorship through Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America
I got a literary agent!
I also went out on sub with my agent.
But that’s not all! I released Took Me Yesterday (book 2 of the Tomo Trilogy) on Wattpad after readers kept asking for it for five years. I attended two conferences, went on a writing retreat, hosted #BeMyLi, was included in YASH twice, and attended my local critique group every month. (Not to mention exchanged pages with online beta reader friends all year long.) And I tracked my progress.
I began 2019 with 26,996 words in a YA science fiction novel. I was also, 55,623 words into a revision of my historical fantasy.
I end 2019 not only with a completed version of my YA science fiction novel, but a majorly revised and polished version, too. I’m on sub with a different science fiction novel, and I finished revising my historical fantasy as well. I even started a new project! And I’m brainstorming even more.
In 2020, I already know that I’m teaching my first writing course. Only in a few days, too. (If you’re in Kansas City, join me for Getting Started on a Writing Project.) I’ll be teaching my first publishing course in April during Publishing Week at the Library. I also have plans to attend the Kansas City Writing Workshop and the LitUP Festival. And I’m sure there’s more to come: more firsts, more rejections, more congratulations, more plot twists, more tears, more laughter.
I know this because I’ve written articles just like this one for the past four years:
And every year, I read each one in rescinding order.
This year I didn’t know if I wanted to write this article. I didn’t think I could. But after reading my past posts, I remembered why these have become so important to me. I can look back. I can remember. I can put it all in perspective.
Right now, my 2020 perspective is hopeful. Grateful. Humble.
I promise to try my best to be my best self: as a librarian, an author, a cat lady, a friend.
Recently, as many of you know, I signed with a literary agent. (See announcement.) It’s a time a lot of writers dream of, a time highlighted with celebratory GIF tweets screaming, I did it! I did it! And I’m READY. It’s a lot of fun, definitely exciting, and often followed up with a “How I Got My Agent” blog post/newsletter/tweet thread. I’m a blogger, have been since 2012, so naturally I came here, wondering how I could share my experience and if sharing would help any writers out there. Theoretically, I could tell you about my use of QueryShark, QueryTracker, WritersDigest Agent Alerts, MSWL, PitMad, PitchWars, IWSG, attending conferences, joining competitions, and more. But let’s be real, isn’t that what everyone says?
There are a million articles out there about how to find the perfect agent for your book and career—and I didn’t want this to be one of them. Instead, I wanted to simply talk about my experiences. The real. The feels. The almost give-ups. The getting back up. The life lessons. Granted, if I were being completely honest, I don’t have enough room on the Internet to share every little detail. (Though, my poor roommate has had to listen to such excruciating monologues for the past couples years, but I digress.) Maybe, though, if I share what I can recall in the most sufficient and honest way possible, some querying writers out there will find some strength or hope or just get a few laughs while they march through the query trenches. Overall, though, I want to be clear about one thing that I said last week: This is my journey, and every writer’s journey is different. In a way, I don’t believe in giving advice on querying any more than I do giving writing advice in general. It can be helpful, yes, but ultimately, every writer must figure out what works for them. This is what worked for me.
If I went all the way back to my very first query letter, I would admit I started in 2008. Maybe earlier. I can’t even remember. But I remember sending out physical letters with a SASE inside for responses. The first agent to ever respond to me was Jodi Reamer. For those of you in publishing, you’ll know this is the agent behind Twilight by Stephanie Meyer. And yes, I still have that response tucked away in a super secret place. She, obviously, didn’t offer my 14-year-old self rep, but she did encourage me. And I continued writing and querying on-and-off for the next ten years. Granted, if I were being completely honest, I didn’t take querying seriously until 2016. That’s when I made the decision to query professionally. (Don’t judge me for all those terribly embarrassing queries before, I was in high school, and helpful publishing Twitter didn’t even exist. Lots of help didn’t exist.) Excuses aside, though, I still made a lot of mistakes.
The first book I queried seriously was a YA fantasy. See stats from QueryTracker on the right. If I were being completely honest, I’d admit this isn’t completely accurate. I only started using QueryTracker toward the end. So I probably have twenty more rejections and two more requests that aren’t logged. I learned a lot while querying this book. Mostly, how to write a query letter. I sent them out in batches, received feedback, and revised. But let’s talk about revisions for a sec. The main lesson I learned with this book? Don’t revise just because someone is giving you the time of day with an R&R. (See article here: Should You Revise and Resubmit?) I butchered this book (and that’s me being kind). It’s so ugly and sad and messed up that I haven’t looked at it in over a year. Maybe two. Who knows, I try to forget. Maybe one day, I’ll open it back up and give it another shot, but for now, I’m okay with it sitting in a dark corner on my hard drive. If anything, it was probably the most vital lesson I learned while querying. Why? Because everyone talks about how to get an agent’s attention, but rarely do we discuss when to walk away, especially when someone is being kind and believes in your work.
Getting an agent, ultimately, isn’t about getting just any agent, but an agent who sees your work for what you want it to be, and they also believe in that art. They believe in you. And you have to know who you are and what you want your art to be.
With my first YA fantasy, I was trying to desperately shape myself into what agents wanted me to be—rather than trying to find an agent who loved my work and wanted to help me succeed with it.
I learned that lesson, and it was hard, but I moved on.
I wish I could tell you that I wrote a bazillion books between that first book and the one that won my current agent, but my next book is the one that worked. Keep in mind, though, that I began writing it in October of 2016. It’s been three years of writing, revising, submitting, rejection, revising, submitting, more rejection, and revising/submitting again. In fact, I had one of the most crushing blows to my writer’s heart during that time. I’ve never come that close to quitting in my life. But I obviously didn’t. I kept writing, here and there, and querying when I could.
With my YA fantasy tucked away in a forgotten drawer, and my heart set on finding love for my YA sci-fi, I learned even more lessons. I learned to reach out, make friends, connect with fellow writers for fun and not just because you think it’ll help you get somewhere. This mainly happened by joining writing contests. Either I met writers by reaching out to them or mentors who had read my work connected me with writers they felt I’d get along with. Honestly, the best thing that happened to me while querying my YA sci-fi was meeting my beta readers. If I hadn’t connected with them, I can’t honestly say I would’ve continued through the hard months to come. And there were a lot of hard months. Not just from querying either. A loved one past away. I got really, really sick. I had to move. I found a new job. I changed jobs again! And recently, I changed jobs once more.
Querying isn’t this singular phase writers go through once. It’s a constant. And most don’t enjoy it, which can make juggling submissions with life craziness all the more harder. I’m a big believer in not making things harder than they have to be, though I often make that mistake. (I’m only human, K?)
One thing I would have done different is NOT spend money, especially considering how little I made at the time. While querying Immersion, I read tons of magazines and articles that got it into my head that the key to finding success was attending (expensive) conferences, paying for advice, and entering exclusive doors that, of course, cost more money. I would spend any savings I had trying to “make” it, and I think that’s kind of cruel to be honest. It’s something I don’t like about publishing. Though many claim all is fair in the slush pile, there is a helluva lot of pressure to pay to play. And I went through a bad phase where I fell for that, hard. My breaking point? I spent $350 to attend a conference (taking a day off work to do so) and paid $100 per agent to pitch for ten minutes, which honestly ended up being about seven minutes a piece, if not less, since the slots before me would go above their time limit. I spent $600 total to try to connect, received three full requests, and had all three agents more or less cancel the full without reading. (One left the business, one was fired, and one transferred.) I felt really disrespected. Worse than disrespected. I felt taken advantage of by an industry I’d loved my whole life. It felt like a trap. A lie. A sham. And it broke my heart.
After that (and a huge break in which I had an existential crisis), I called it quits on spending money. If I wanted to go to a conference for me, fine. But I was no longer going to invest in pitching when I could jump into the slush pile for free. (Spoiler alert: I got my agent through the slush pile.) In fact, I got most of my full requests through the slush pile. One thing I am eternally grateful for is the amount of agents who gave me fantastic advice after reading my full manuscript. Over time, I realized it wasn’t just advice either. I was making connections, friendships, and finding hope. That $600 conference for instance? The agents might not have worked out, but you know what I did walk away with? An invite to a local writers’ critique group I’m still in today. I look forward to it every month.
Querying is hard. There is no guarantee. And even if you sign with someone, that doesn’t mean you’re going to get a book deal. Or get along. Or anything really. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. That doesn’t mean you can’t be sad or angry or excited or crushed or hopeful or anything. I say, ride those emotions all the way through. If you can, use them to create even more art. Me, for instance? I was starting to get so angry/depressed while querying that I began writing a rage-filled monster book for myself, and now I’m 60,000 words in, and I’m in love with it. It’s also the next book my agent wants me to focus on. (Though channeling that rage again might be hard when I’m feeling pretty dandy right about now.)
So what surprised me the most?
Honestly, a small bout of depression that happened after I signed with my agent. Not because she isn’t amazing or that I’m not excited about my future or anything like that, but because of one simple fact: I had defined myself as a writer in search of an agent for so long, now that I had one, I didn’t know how to define myself anymore. Not to mention the real-reality-feels that this goal automatically means there’s more challenge in front of me. I succeeded at something, but it’s only the next step, and this step almost killed my hope a number of times. Pair that with seeing some of my close followers talking about (or even to me) about how seeing success gets them down…and I’m just a mess of guilt. I’ve been there. I remember seeing others succeed and feeling left behind—which is why hearing others say that about me brought me down too. Made me feel like I was creating that pain for someone else’s journey. Granted, I know I’m not in charge of others’ feelings. But I doubt I’m alone in having moments like this, and yet I don’t see a lot of authors discussing it. Succeeding was great—and sometimes that means people will be happy for you. Other times, they’ll be mad, jealous, elated, confused, etc. at you. Most of the time, though, it’s not about you, but their own feelings, and that’s totally valid. But as someone who tries to help others succeed all the time, I have a hard time taking a step back and celebrating something for me. Yes, even a huge accomplishment I’ve been working toward for a long time. Definitely a personality flaw I hope to get rid of in the future (or at least get better at coping with). In that quest to cope healthier, I learned overall feelings of malaise after success is apparently normal, even though it still threw me a little bit.
It’s kind of amazing, though—if you think about it. How some of the most common emotions can throw you. Like meeting a goal. Or falling in love. Or having a baby. Or getting a new job. Most of these things happen to thousands of people a day—and yet it feels altering. Exhilarating. Poetry-inducing. Knee-buckling. Confusing as all hells. But that’s all I have to say about my emotions. (I clearly have a lot of them.)
In the end, I am beyond grateful my journey has brought me to this moment, and I am super energized now! I’m ready to finish my revisions and tackle my next project. (Which reminds me: I’m super glad I didn’t stop writing other books while querying, because now I have two other almost-complete works that I can dive right into if deadlines get tight.) So, if I recommend anything, I want to emphasize not to put all your hopes and dreams in one piece.
The formula that worked for me?
Have one book you’re outlining/daydreaming about, one you’re writing/editing, and one you’re querying.
In fact, I’m still living by this formula. I’m outlining my cyberpunk, writing my rage-filled YA sci-fi, and going on submission with the book that won my agent’s heart.
Wish me luck! (I’m already sending lucky vibes back to your goals too.)
P.S. Hey, Kansas City friends. I will be a guest speaker at Writers United on Wednesday, July 10th at 6-8 PM at the Central Resource Library in Overland Park, KS. I can tell you more about The Story Center. See you then! More info.
Recently, I felt down about writing. When I sat at the computer, the words didn’t flow, and when I walked away, the urge to try again was gone. I struggled and searched for the reason I was struggling and continued to struggle again. Honestly, my “down” period was caused by the holidays, and let’s be honest, 2016 was one hot mess. But now that we’re into 2017—and many of us are typing at full speed ahead to meet our New Year’s resolutions—there’s bound to be a time when you feel down again.
How can you feel better about writing when you aren’t feeling so great?
Well, there are plenty of ways. In fact, there are so many ways, I asked my fellow Clean Teen Publishing authors to share their secrets to get back on the keyboard.
1.Listen to Music
Music is a really big way for me to get back into writing. Certain songs or arrangements feel suited to different characters or situations, and that usually gets the words flowing with some regularity again. – Molly Bilinski, debut author of Lady of Sherwood (April, 2017)
When I’m struggling to write, or inspiration has left me, I always return to the old reliable; music. I go on the hunt for new music and spend time finding songs that match the mood and tone of my WIP. There is nothing more therapeutic then finding a song and suddenly having clarity. – Susan Harris, best-selling author of Skin and Bones
Whenever I’m down, I find that it’s usually because I’m taking everything too seriously and I’m too busy “adulting” to appreciate the fun in life. I need to get back to that “kid” space where anything goes and nothing is crushingly important. You’re just playing to play, having fun and going where it takes you – Jennifer Derrick, author of Avenging Fate
I always encourage writer friends to find another creative outlet. As creative spirits, writing is not all we can or should do. Create something else, craft, sew, crochet, whatever, but cultivate that creative spirit in another way. We can channel our inspiration in so many ways. – Lila Felix, author of Lightning Forgotten
3. Remind Yourself Why You Write
I reread something that I’m really proud of writing, usually something from at least a couple years ago. Sometimes remembering how great that felt can spring new ideas to mind. And sometimes it just reminds you that you have survived bad times before, and were still able to write something amazing. – Kendra Sanders, author of Dating An Alien Pop Star
“The moment you quit is the moment you fail.” I’ve been living by this mantra since September 1, 2010, the day I started writing the first novel I ever finished. Since then, I’ve had my fair share of discouraging moments, but I can honestly say I’ve never seriously considered quitting. Because if I quit, I fail. I’ve got too many stories to tell to let that happen. – Tamara Grantham, award-winning author of Dreamthief
So what’s my advice?
Along with all of these wonderful writers, I think stepping away, listening to music, reading your favorite book, or visiting your favorite café can help clear your mind of whatever’s holding you back. Sometimes, it just takes time, and I have to remind myself that writing is not a race—that my mental and physical health is important, too. Sounds simple, but it isn’t.
I always joke that I’m a Triple A personality. I’m constantly working, and if you catch me during a rare moment off, I’m probably thinking about working. (I could really use a hobby outside of reading and writing, but alas, I love them so much.) For me, visiting Barnes & Noble or a library and just surrounding myself with books can calm my soul. In the end though, one thought always finds its way back to me.
Sometimes, writing 1,000 words feels like 1 million, but even 1 million words begins with 1. #amwriting
There comes a time in every writer’s life when they realize they cannot write that book….and I’m not talking about writer’s block. I’m talking about when you want to write a book, but you know you shouldn’t. Maybe not yet. Maybe never.
Of course, I’m not saying a writer CAN’T write that book. Not forever anyway. But just like a construction project, certain books require particular tools, and if you don’t have those tools, building anything might be for naught…or even dangerous.
So here are three questions to ask yourself while deciding if you are ready to write that novel or not.
1. Have You Researched EVERYTHING Properly?
This is particularly true in historical fiction, but research shouldn’t be overlooked for any type of fiction. This means you are researching your setting, your themes, and your characters thoroughly. If you are writing anything outside of your personal experiences—which is more likely than not—it’s best to read articles, watch documentaries, and even talk to those who do have those personal experiences you’re lacking. If you haven’t done this, you most likely don’t know enough to write about certain topics and people from a respectful and knowledgeable place. You might even add to damaging stereotypes or incorrect presumptions. Take the time to get to know your novel’s needs…as well as your audience’s.
2. Have You Read This Genre?
You should be reading in and outside of any genre you want to write in, but you should definitely be familiar with trends in your market. Being able to recognize writers, publishers, and various novels is key to understanding your audience and what purpose your book serves. What does it add to the market? What does it give to your readers? If you’re unsure where your book would be on a shelf, you’re probably not ready yet. But don’t worry! All you have to do is read more. (And who doesn’t love reading?) I went through this myself recently. As someone who mainly reads and writes YA fantasy, I wanted to tackle a contemporary novel when I wasn’t fully equipped to do so. Though I read contemporary still, I knew almost immediately that I wasn’t familiar enough with the current shelf to proceed. I need to collect more tools. I need to read more. And I am.
3.Why Are YOU The Right Person to Write This Book?
Listen, I’m not here to tell someone if they are the right person to write a book or not. That’s between the author, their book, and the creative process. But I honestly believe we can get to a moment where we realize a book—while it’s good—might be better for someone else to write. This is going to vary from person to person, and it ultimately weighs on how much you are willing to dedicate yourself to a story. If you’re hesitating to research, for instance, you’re probably the wrong person for that book. That doesn’t mean you can’t overcome obstacles or hurdles in your way, but it’s also okay to move on from something you realize isn’t right for you. If you’re on the fence—and you’re unsure how you’re feeling about this topic—one question you can ask yourself is WHY you’re even writing it. Seems obvious enough, but when you take a step back, you might see that you were, in fact, chasing a trend or a surface idea without the will to dive deeper. That’s okay. There are a million stories out there for you to write, and I’m sure you already have plenty more to chase. It’s a matter of figuring out which one feels right to you.
When you should write a book, it will come to you.
Enjoy the adventure,
Read my latest interview on Crazy Beautiful Reads: “Every writer’s life is paved with rejections.” Comment for your chance to win some awesome books!
It’s official! Author Natasha Hanova will be sharing a table with me at Penned Con in St. Louis this September! Check her out, say hi, tell her I sent you, and come visit us in September. We’ll be signing books, talking books, and just having a great ol’ time.
How many times have you been following a television show, and there is a full moon every episode? Or their clothes don’t change? Or the weather stays the same all year long, unless snow, rain, or sunshine is used for symbolic enhancement?
It’s unrealistic, and it drives me crazy. It may be a personal pet peeve of mine, but I doubt it. Even Florida doesn’t have sunshine every day, but writers seem to set weather and time aside, especially when they’re more focused on the storyline. At first, I completely agree. Write. Don’t worry about small details. However, I really think revision is necessary for situations like this. Time needs to be tracked.
When I do revisions, I actually label each chapter with what day it is, what time it is, and how long the chapter lasts. Then I move onto the next chapter and then the next. At the end, I count how many days have passed, and I make sure my characters’ speech correlate to it. I wouldn’t want my protagonist to say, “You haven’t left me alone for weeks!” when it’s only been four days.
My best piece of advise? After writing every chapter, track how much time passes and make sure EVERYTHING correlates: time, seasons, moon cycles, etc.
When I was writing November Snow, this was initially really easy, but for one reason–each chapter was labeled by a date. The only thing I had to do was print a November, 2089 calendar and follow it. It would’ve been difficult to mess up. But, when it comes to the other novels I’ve written, I had to pay attention much more, because chapters weren’t labeled. Time passed differently, and I had to pay attention to everything: days, seasons, moon cycles, etc. Some say the moon cycle is extreme, but, really? You can’t have a full moon every chapter. I’ve seen this happen one hundred times, and, as a reader, I notice, so I strive to pay attention to these things, extreme or not.
Not only should you keep track of time passing in the present moment of your novel, but you need to track your characters’ past. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve written something, went back, and realized I contradicted myself on when one character did something. For instance, I might say Protagonist 1 met Side Character 1 at birth, but ten chapters later I say they met as teens. Even though we, as writers, like to believe we memorize everything we say (because it is so real to us) we don’t have perfect memories. As humans, we don’t even remember everything about our own lives, let alone hundreds of stories and characters we’ve created.
I normally create tables, and they save my life during revision, especially if I take a few weeks off between writing and revision to clear my head. I really recommend trying this. It will help you solidify your world, and you will feel more confident about your creations, because you will KNOW–for a fact–that everything fits together perfectly.
I’m so glad you all enjoyed my Events page. I’m really excited to show my timeline with you (and, to be honest, digging through my portfolio was such an encouraging adventure! I hope you are inspired to do the same. It’s a confidence booster. I hadn’t realized how much media I’d done until I spread the articles across my desk. Plus, I’d love to see what all you have done and are up to!)
Through you all, I received a few emails regarding one line in particular: December 4, 2006—Finished writing November Snow(originally titled It’s Only a Matter of Time.)
Many of you were interested in why the title changed, how it changed, or what the title reflects, and I think this is a great aspect to consider when studying your own piece of work.
Originally, of course, my novel was titled It’s Only a Matter of Time. The reasoning for this is a funny thing: it’s the last line, and I didn’t have a title for it while I wrote it. I’m a strict believer in not deciding (for sure) on your title until the entire piece is written.I think it’s smart to have an idea, but, many times, a book changes as you write it. You may write an entire manuscript and realize your characters aren’t who you thought they would be. Maybe you have symbols you never even considered. Maybe your setting changed. Your ending may even change. Either way, writing is a journey and it changes, even if you have a plan. Think of writing like life: You may have a plan, but things happen, and your path changes.
This is what I had to consider when I realized my novel was being published.
I knew It’s Only a Matter of Time wasn’t appropriate. It didn’t describe the tale, it didn’t relate to my characters, it didn’t describe the setting, and it didn’t summarize my overall message. So I set out to discover what DID describe all of these things.
As many of you know, November Snow ONLY takes place in November. It’s told from two perspectives, and it’s in a made-up land, Vendona, in 2089. November 2089 is ridiculous, and Vendona’s November is confusing, because the reader won’t even know what Vendona is until they pick up the book. I couldn’t use Serena’s November, because it ignores Daniel, and the same aspect happens when I looked at Daniel’s November. Plus, the novel isn’t centered around their lives, but how their lives are effected. So what about November’s Election? Doesn’t work. In my case, I’m American, and our elections are in November; readers would assume it’s a fictional tale about our government systems, and that wasn’t my audience.
So I looked at my symbols. I have plenty–but, ultimately, snow is the most powerful image. Snow hasn’t fallen in Vendona in twelve years, and the snowfall landed on a very detrimental date in the tale. However, during this particular November, the weather is cooling again, and the ostracized “bad-blooded” children realize it may fall again–and there may be another vital moment.
I don’t want to spoil my novel, so I won’t say what happens, but snow does fall again.
Through this, I realized the falling of snow, not only effects my characters, but ultimately symbolizes the effect on my reader.
November Snow was born.
I describe my process in the hopes that you all, whether you’ve already written a novel or not, can decide on the most effective and honest title for your piece. After all, you wouldn’t want to publish it and later regret what the title said. Think of it as poetry: a poem’s title is vital to understanding the symbolic meaning of the delicate words on the page. Without it, the descriptions may seem obscure or confusing. The poem, essentially, may not make sense at all.
Titles ARE important–and the right one is vital. Choose carefully and use your heart to do so.
I separate writing into steps, so work with me here, and read twice if you need to start over after the end. This is an excerpt from chapter thirteen in a writing of mine, so don’t read for content; read for basic instruction to help focus on one writing aspect at a time.
Personally, I like to write out my dialogue at once, using an abbreviation for who’s speaking, so I know who’s speaking when I come back. This way, I don’t have to worry about description, but I can simply concentrate on the art of conversation.
In this scene, my protagonist, Amea (A), is crying with her back to the door when Emmy (E) checks on her.
E—It’s Emmy.” “Are you crying?”
A—What are you doing here? Where’s Leena?
E—Still sleeping.” “I was in the garden. I don’t play much, but do you want to come with me?
Second: Conversational Description
This is where I separate the speech, so it sounds more realistic and/or add basic character descriptions.
“It’s Emmy,” she said, and I slid the door open as I wiped my tears away. She frowned. “Are you crying?” she asked, and I shook my head. “Good.” (I cut this dialogue to make it sound younger, as Emmy is nine.)
“What are you doing here? Where’s Leena?”
“Still sleeping.” Emmy shrugged “I was in the garden. I don’t play much, but—” She grinned with crooked teeth. “Want to come with me?”
Third: Further Description and Edit
This part is where I add the description, placing the basic scene and adding to the dialogue with scenic descriptions
I slammed my bedroom door and pressed my back against it, sobbing. Water curled down my fingers, and I clutched my face, falling to the ground. I laid my forehead on my shaky knees as my body shuddered, vibrating as knocking rocked my entrance. (All of this is added)
“It’s Emmy,” she said, and I scooted forward, (added necessary movement) sliding the door open as I wiped my tears away. She frowned, pulling at the ends of her curly red hair (added childish action), and rocked back and forth. “Are you crying?” she asked, and I shook my head. “Good.”
I smiled. “What are you doing here? Where’s Leena?”
“Still sleeping.” Emmy shrugged, pointing down the hall. (added—hall for scene) “I was in the garden. I don’t play much, but—” She grinned with crooked teeth. “Want to come with me?”
Four: EDIT EDIT EDIT.
It is necessary, so take that beautiful red pen of yours and get to work 😀
I hope this may separate your writing into bits in which you can concentrate on important aspects one at a time, rather than worry all at once.