Tag Archives: writing goals

What Writers Can Learn from Reading Their OLD Work

30 Aug

I’ve been writing stories ever since I learned how to write. I’m not kidding. My first pieces of work go back to when I was 4 years old. My first story was a 5-page rambling piece about my new husky throwing a party so that the two older dogs would attend and possibly befriend him. (Totally based on a true story. But more on that below.) 

Lots of writers have stories like mine. That first attempt in grade school. Then, the first REAL attempt. You know, the one where you wrote wayyyyy too many words over a span of years. Maybe you finished; maybe you didn’t, but you *think* there’s a copy of it somewhere on an old laptop or shoved in a dresser drawer somewhere. If you have it, I encourage you to go find it today. 

I’m a big believer in keeping old work. I’m a bigger believer in re-reading it. Not just to evaluate where you started and who you’ve grown to be, but also to simply enjoy it. 

Those words brought you joy at some point, and I think you’ll be surprised to find they still do (even if your writing wasn’t exactly what you’d call “seasoned”). You might also learn a thing or two about yourself that you weren’t expecting. 

Let’s take my dog story as an example. I wrote it because we had literally just welcomed a new husky puppy to the family. We had two other dogs. They had to learn to get along. BAM. Storytime. At least, that’s how I saw it at the time. Looking back, the theme of friendship isn’t lost on me. As someone who moved around the country every two-ish years while growing up, I was a very lonely kid, and stories often were the only things to keep me company. My characters were some of my best friends. They still are, in fact. (I certainly spend more time at my computer desk than at brunch catching up with buddies.) Friendship was something that always eluded me and, honestly, it still feels that way most days. I often write about that feeling in my current novels. What surprised me, though, was my four-year-old self considering it. Even before I knew what a theme was, I had threaded it into my storyline while also expressing my own wants and fears. And isn’t that what storytelling is about? Personal expression?

I bring this up because I think it’s quite common to lose sight of storytelling basics the more you learn and grow. In an industry where you constantly hear that’s been done before; everything’s been done before; why is your story unique?; why should we care?, it’s easy to start tweaking plot to add more action; changing characters to shift dynamics; moving or cutting whole scenes to keep up the tension; and before you know it, the story feels stale, and you cannot for the life of you figure out why (especially after twelve revisions).

Maybe—in all those revisions—you accidentally lost track of why you wanted to write the story in the first place or why the story mattered to you. Maybe you cut out that theme of friendship in favor of a romance subplot you’ve been told would be more popular. Worse, you can re-read your new version a 1,000 times and never see what’s wrong because it isn’t there anymore. 

That’s why you keep old work and old versions. It reminds you of why you began and what you were trying to express. In fact, I’ve been re-reading a lot of my old work for this purpose. I’ve even been asking myself what I want out of my stories as a whole.  

Call it an existential crisis brought on by the pandemic, or writer’s block, or self-discovery, or whatever. But I decided to do a deep dive into all my old work. 

Some of those ideas I came up with in high school were brazen and wacky and just plain old rubbish. But they were fresh. So fresh, in fact, that I doubt I could come up with some of those ideas today. Back then, I wasn’t worried about writing to hit a trend or fulfilling genre expectations. (Both of which aren’t inherently bad things to keep in mind while writing professionally.) I simply wrote, and within those writings, I found some shiny pieces. Things that, if I came up with today, I might outright dismiss because “no one will want to read that.” I’m re-learning how to love that wild freshness again.

This past month, I sat back and re-read the Timely Death trilogy. (Yes, my own books.) It felt weird at first. Certainly egotistical. (Why spend time reading my own books that are complete and published when I could spend time reading others’ novels or re-reading a WIP that has hope for the future?) Trust me, I thought the same thing. But the books had been nagging at me for weeks. I just had this feeling that I wanted to dive back into that world and re-experience it. 

Some things I learned from reading my own work:

  1. I did not remember large parts of my own trilogy. It’s been so many years, it was almost like reading a book someone else wrote. This helped me judge it from a third-party perspective (and enjoy it)! I tried to take note of which parts of the book I loved and which slowed me down. They were surprisingly different than I remembered! 
  2. I can certainly see where I’ve grown—my word choice is stronger, my transitions are swifter, and my dialogue feels more natural. I also think my world building ability has grown, not just the literal world, but also how it is introduced and why. That’s a good feeling! 
  3. I can see where I regressed. Granted this point is a little bit more complicated. I have to be careful not to compare a final, published piece with my current WIPs, but I still feel like my characters were more vulnerable back then than they are now. They certainly have more imperfections and layers, and so do their relationships. I think there’s a lot of pressure right now for characters to be more “perfect” than they were in the past. For example, if a character thinks or feels something controversial, it can be seen as the author’s opinion, especially if another character doesn’t correct them, and I (personally) think that’s a slippery slope. Many of my characters act and think in ways that I do not. I’m just trying to tell a story, and sometimes stories follow controversial people or situations, especially in fantasy where the rules of that world do not align with the rules in our world. I think it was Will in Cassandra Clare’s book that said, “Requited love is ideal but doesn’t make much of a ballad,” and I feel that way about stories in general. If my characters acted or thought “correctly” all the time (or, in the case of the quote, loved each other correctly), it would become a very boring book. But that’s probably another topic for another day! Basically, I feel like I regressed in the darker parts of my books and characters. I’ve held a lot of their vulnerability back out of fear for how it would reflect on me. And I hope to break that mold again. 

As an extra, re-reading definitely rekindled that flame for the books. I spent a week or so outlining an adult followup for the trilogy, and it was so much fun!

My biggest takeaway:

Looking back on all my old books and manuscripts, I realized I have the same central theme threading through all of them—except for the ones I’m struggling to connect with. It was a EUREKA moment for me. This theme, which I’d rather keep to myself for now, is an essential part of who I am as a writer. Somehow, somewhere, I lost sight of that. I lost that feeling. Now I’m working on getting it back. 

Have you ever read an old work of yours and realized a truth about your writing?

~SAT

P.S. There won’t be a blog post on Monday, September 6th. It is Labor Day, and I will be taking the weekend off. The next blog post will be the Pitch Wars blog hop, which takes place on Saturday, September 11.

For those who didn’t see the announcement, I am returning to Pitch Wars this year as a co-mentor with Sandra Proudman! We’re Team Stellify, and we’re going to mentor a middle grade writer. We’re so excited to meet our mentee! For more information, visit pitchwars.org. You can see my Pitch Wars profile here.

If you’re a middle grade writer interested in this mentorship program, I encourage you to come to the Pitch Wars Middle Grade Mentor chat this Saturday, September 4 at 12 PM EST! Click here to add it to your YouTube watchlist.

Inundated with Writing Advice

5 Jul

There comes a point in every writer’s career that they seek out feedback and advice from others. Whether that be critique partners, beta readers, or studying craft books, writers are often doing their best to continuously hone their skills. And while that is commendable, there comes a point where a writer can feel overwhelmed by the amount of information they are learning. They may even get lost or make more mistakes than before—all while trying to improve. 

When and why does this happen? 

This can happen for several reasons, but I believe it happens the most when a writer is at the cusp of something new. For example, a new genre or age category they aren’t used to, or a more complicated story than those they’ve written in the past. Maybe they’ve picked up a craft book for the first time or stumbled across a blog that has lists upon lists of must-do rules that feel endless. (Or, worse, contradictory.) 

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by all the advice out there. I mean, technically, this is one of those articles, too. Right? (I promise I’ll try not to be overwhelming.)  

I, personally, love to challenge myself, so I try new things constantly—new tropes, new genres, new archetypes. It can be fun, but very challenging, and challenges open you up to advice you may not have heard before. When you hear that advice, it may even contradict lessons you’ve learned in the past. Contradictory writing advice is where I see a lot of writers get stuck. You know the kind. One person wants more in this scene; someone else wants less. An industry expert claims deep POV is the way to go; others ask for lighter fiction. And that trope you love? It’s OUT. You better rethink your entire premise. 

Or not. 

While seeking advice is admirable, there comes a point where a writer must know when to focus on their work by themselves. Learning when to make decisions and how to own them will help you tremendously. I believe it comes down to making decisions with purpose. Boil your reasoning down, and you’ll know why you are writing the piece you are writing—and what you are trying to say with it. 

Still lost?

Sometimes it’s not easy to make decisions. I mostly get stuck when I come across discussions about what needs to be in books and what’s been overdone. For example, the brooding male romantic interest is a trope that many say we don’t need anymore. They’d rather have more cinnamon roll boys or other personality types. And that is totally valid! We absolutely need all different types of characters and tropes to keep publishing fresh and exciting. But I also don’t think we need to throw out everything that has been done either. Especially since there are plenty of diverse voices that haven’t had the chance to cover those topics themselves. 

Though you may see a lot of people say they don’t want that type of character, that is their opinion. You can still write it. And there will always be readers who love the brooding male love interest. That said, I would still encourage you to dive deep and ask yourself how you are making your situation unique. 

Knowing what makes your book and voice unique will help guide your ultimate decisions. Theme is big guiding post, too. If you understand those details about your work, you’ll be less likely to get swayed by outside influence that isn’t necessarily good for your specific piece. It’s better to stay true to what you set out to do than to try to force something into your work that you know won’t come across as authentic. But if you want to attempt new skills and try out fresh ideas, don’t hold yourself back. Remind yourself that it’s okay to feel uncomfortable when trying new things. (That first draft is never going to look as shiny as your final product!) 

This is where critique partner feedback comes in handy. I love nothing more than bouncing ideas off of my writer friends. They certainly help challenge me (and point out parts of my work that I never would’ve focused on in the same light). That said, managing critique partner feedback is its own challenge. My favorite writing tip?

“Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.” – Neil Gaiman

How can a writer keep advice in mind while making better decisions?

Read all the advice throughout your entire manuscript at once and see if you can identify patterns. (Ex. One character keeps confusing the reader.) Those patterns are most likely your biggest issues that need fixing. Regarding small things, stay as objective as possible, but remind yourself that you are not going to please every reader in every scene or sentence. No matter how shiny your book is, you will get 1-star reviews. It won’t be for everyone. Remind yourself of who you wrote this book for and what you want your book to say. 

Other than that, I would pay attention to how you are as a reader. If you tend to love world building as a reader, you’re probably pretty good at that as a writer. You might even overdo it. Make sure to give extra attention to the areas that you skip over as a reader. You might be surprised to find you did the same thing with your writing. 

Regardless, when all is said and done, this book is yours and the advice you get is a gift—a gift that you must decide how to utilize. I may have given you a few checklist items to keep in mind while considering advice, but I certainly hope you don’t feel inundated. ❤ 

Stay true to your story, 

~SAT

P.S. Now that it’s July, make sure to pick up Bad Bloods: July Thunder & July Lightning. The duology takes place in July, and it can be super fun to read each day as it happens in real life. If you’re an X-Men fan, these are for you.

July Thunder (#3)

AmazonBarnes & NobleiBooksKoboSmashwordsGoodreads

July Lightning (#4)

Amazon, Barnes & NobleiBooksKoboSmashwordsGoodreads

How to Enjoy Reading as a Writer (And Complete Those Reading Goals)

21 Jun

It’s summertime, which means beach reads are among us. Not to mention the fact that we’re halfway through 2021. (Eek!) How far along are you on your reading goals? I aim to read 52 books a year. I’m definitely not there yet. But I know a lot of us take this time of the year to catch up on our TBR pile, so I wanted to chat about books from the writer’s perspective. 

As Stephen King once said, “If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time or the tools to write.” It’s a very popular writing advice quote that most writers have probably heard here and there. I tend to agree with it. Reading is an important step of becoming a writer. But what happens when you don’t enjoy reading anymore? What if reading starts to feel like a chore? 

More often than not, I hear three reading issues from writers:

  • I can’t read while I’m writing. I fear accidentally taking those author’s words and using them myself in my current WIP. 
  • I don’t have enough time to read and write. My schedule doesn’t allow me to sit down and do both, so I have to skip the reading part. 
  • I don’t enjoy reading anymore. All I do is compare my work to theirs and/or I see tropes/mistakes/what’s coming rather than enjoy the moment.  

Sound like you? I’ve certainly been here before. The one that bit me the hardest was the last one. I used to get in such a writing headspace that I felt like I was studying every book I was reading rather than sitting back and enjoying the story. Eventually, I realized that I had to consciously set aside my writing brain and invite my reading one in. But more on that below! 

Combining reading with a beautiful place doesn’t hurt either!

If you’re the kind of writer that struggles with reading, here’s some quick tips:

  • Try reading in a different medium: I love audiobooks. They are absolutely perfect when it comes to my schedule, because I can read while driving, cooking, or doing other chores. They also give me a chance to rest my eyes and hands, which often get sore between my day job and writing. I’ve personally found audiobooks to help with separating reading from writing. My writing brain is easier to turn off when I’m listening to an audiobook because I don’t write in that same format. This required some lifestyle adjustments, though. In fact, I deleted all writing advice podcasts from my phone, so that I would stop associating audio with advice. Audio is now solely a place for joy—not advice—and making sure I honor that has helped my brain stay in that happy place for longer. 
  • Try reading a genre or age category that you don’t write: This is a good fit for those of you who fear accidentally taking something from a book you’re currently reading and putting it into your own words. If you’re reading a different genre/age category, it will feel more separated than if you’re reading something along similar lines. It may also help with the comparison bug. (It’s harder to compare your work to someone else’s when they are so vastly different.) 
  • Embrace how you’re feeling: What you’re feeling is perfectly normal. I find the writers who fight these feelings are the writers who struggle with it the most. I know, because I was one of these people for a long time. I often had to find ways to beat back the comparison bug. For instance, whenever I was reading something amazing and I started to think “I’ll never be able to write like this”, I would immediately flip to the back of the book. There, I would read the Acknowledgements page and read the growing list of people who helped that author get their story to where it is today. This was a factual reminder that my WIP was still a WIP; this book was a story dozens of people had helped shape. Seeing that almost always made me feel better. So yes, embrace what you’re feeling. Ask yourself why. Then tackle it. Once you do, you’ll find a solution. 

There are lots of ways to tackle reading and bring back the joy if you’re struggling. For instance, if I read something I admired—be it a trope, scene, or even a word—I would write it down. That way, I was acknowledging something my writer brain loved, but also took a note to deal with it on another day. At the end of reading, I’ll come back and analyze it.

It may take some experimenting, and you may experience hiccups along the way, but never give up on your love for reading. So many of us started writing because of reading. In fact, if you remember those old favorites that inspired you, I would encourage you to pick them up again. Enjoy that experience again. Remind yourself why you love the written word, and I’m sure you’ll be reading again in no time!

Do you have any reading tricks or tips? Feel free to share them with me! 

~SAT

P.S. Wednesday, June 23 is my 30th birthday! Where has time gone?!

When You Don’t Write As Much As You Should

19 Apr

Recently, I didn’t write as much as I should have over a few weeks. Or should I say, I didn’t write as much as I thought I should have. 

Let me break it down. 

Every first of the month, I take a moment to look at my stats and see how much I’ve written. In March, I wrote significantly less than usual. Honestly, I barely wrote at all. But you know what I did do? 

I closed on my first home. We tore up the old flooring, painted every single room, including every closet and ceiling. (Did I mention sanding all the cottage cheese off every ceiling?) We renovated like crazy. We’re still renovating. But we’re making progress every single day. 

That said, my personal life obviously took priority over my writing life recently, which can spark imposter syndrome. When your writing life comes to a screeching halt, it’s hard not to notice everyone else’s word counts climbing and wondering if you just aren’t cut out for the writing life. I definitely had moments where I didn’t even feel like a writer anymore. There’s just so much pressure to write every day, to always be working on the next best thing. But it’s unrealistic. And it’s important to keep that in mind. 

Here’s some tips for when you find yourself in this position:

First, don’t beat yourself up. 

There’s no point in spending precious time thinking about all the things you didn’t do. Focus on what you can do. 

This can take a lot of self-awareness and correction. (At least, for me it does.) I beat myself up a lot. Too much, really. But I try to be conscious of what I’m thinking and doing. If the doubt bug starts to crawl in, I swat it away and try something new. 

Get creative:

While painting, my hands were obvious full, so writing was out of the question for me. But you could always use a tape recorder or speech-to-text software to keep going. Personally, that just felt like too much, so I decided to tackle an audiobook. I listened to The 33 Strategies of War by Robert Greene, which is a nonfiction book I’ve been meaning to pick up for another book idea. (It was awesome, by the way. Totally informative but also terrifying. The narrator is so dramatic in such a delicious way. If you want to learn about war strategies, I highly recommend it.) 

While listening, if I got to a point where something demanded my attention, I would stop to take off my painter’s gloves and type a few notes on my phone. I ended up finishing the book so quickly that I had time to download a “for fun” book, too. (These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong is amazing. Just saying.) 

Accept the situation that you’re in and know that it will pass. (Or, if it doesn’t, trust that you will adjust.) 

Basically, as a writer, you’re not going to write every day. Maybe a whole season will pass without many words. Maybe a year. What matter is that you keep going and do your best when you are capable of chasing the dream. 

This goes to say: There is no amount you “should” be writing. There’s the amount you can write and the amount you want to write. Often, these two ideals conflict,and that confliction can cause anxiety. 

Being aware of where they collided—and how you feel—can help you side-step it and course correct. Or not. 

Maybe the amount you “should” be writing is exactly the amount you wrote today, 

~SAT

!! ANNOUNCEMENT TIME !!

I miss blogging! When I first started blogging in 2012, I blogged every other day. (Which blows my mind now.) Nowadays, I only blog once a month, but that is soon changing! 

I’m now going to blog twice a month: on the first and third Monday of every month. (And maybe a few extra days in between.)

Did I mention the giveaways? I’m planning some really fun giveaways to appear in the blog posts, so I hope you stick around. The first one will go up on Monday, May 3.

I’ll also be revisiting some of my more popular posts over the years and updating them with new tips and tricks. 

I can’t wait!  

If there’s an old post of mine that you love, please let me know. I’d love to re-tackle it!

How to be Flexible with Writing

6 Feb

“How do you have time to write?” is probably in the top three questions I get asked, and I always answer the same way: I don’t have time to write. I make time to write, and I remain flexible. What works one year may not work another year. But if we dive a little deeper, flexibility with your schedule is just one aspect. You should also learn how to be flexible with your writing. 

Flexibility with your writing means you can easily shift from one project to another, even when it wasn’t in the plans. 

Why is this important? 

Whether or not you are traditionally publishing or self-publishing, there’s going to be times where you’re in the middle of writing your urban fantasy and get notes back from your agent/editor/audiobook narrator that means you need to focus on your murder mystery right away. Why does this happen? Working on the next piece while subbing/publishing another one is common practice, and it’s inevitable these two pieces will collide on your calendar. 

Woman in yoga pose
A quick yoga break helps me, too!

Learning how to pivot from one WIP to another with ease will help you be more productive (and hopefully make the process less stressful and more fun). 

Just last year, I was writing an adult fantasy while getting beta reader notes back on my adult science fiction and waiting for the go-to signal from my agent to revise a totally different adult science fiction piece. I’m constantly hopping from one project to the other. It’s been difficult at times, but I’ve certainly learned some tricks that make it easier. 

Here’s some quick ways to help with flexibility:

– Pinterest mood board: quickly scrolling through my inspiration reminds me why I love it and what the tone is. 

– Playlist: Even if you don’t listen to music while writing, try to make a playlist that you associate with your WIP. Maybe you use it when you’re brainstorming. Maybe you only listen to it as you sit down at your computer. Even better if they have totally different sounds. Five minutes of sensory encouragement can make all the difference! 

– Speaking of sensory help: Candles! I am in love with candles. I always have a candle on my desk. It’s my splurge. I actually use two different ones right now depending on the book I’m writing (and they’re both almost out!) Weird way to see how much time I spend on a book, but it certainly helps set the mood. I have a campfire one for my book that takes place in autumn and a fresh one for the project that takes place in winter. It’s calming and energizing. 

 

– Make a plan before you pivot: This is probably the biggest tip that has helped me. Before I leap out of a project to tackle another one, I open a new document and summarize everything I’m thinking/feeling/planning for the next scene. In fact, it’s almost so detailed that I only need to fill in a couple lines of prose to write a whole new chapter. It helps me feel more comfortable when I come back (and confident right away)! 

Finally, setting boundaries and expectations is important!

Right now, I’m in a monsters in space revision (the fifth revision)! I finally hit a spot where I know things are going to get difficult, so I stopped. It was an excellent place to take a break, clear my head, and work on something else. I’m now jumping back into the first draft of my monster murder mystery academia book. Two totally different tones and settings. The genres aren’t even the same. But I know that I stopped right before my midpoint chapter, and I left myself a ton of notes so that jumping into that scene will be as easy as cutting butter. When I get back to my monsters in space revision, an outline of all the major changes I want to make is waiting for me. 

Granted, any day I could get notes back from someone and have to pivot again, but I am ready. I know where and how to make clean breaks, and I’m comfortable with returning whenever I can. 

I hope these tips help you, too!

~SAT

P.S. I’ve added a new page for book clubs & teachers! It includes fun questions to lead a book discussion about Minute Before Sunset, book 1 of the Timely Death trilogy. There’s also a fabulous lemon bar recipe, in honor of Mindy Welborn who constantly bakes these throughout the series. If you’d like me to stop by your book club or classroom virtually, be sure to use my contact page! I’m happy to if my schedule allows.

2020: The Strangest Writing Year (Hopefully?)

19 Dec

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. 

my life pre-lockdown teaching to a crowded room vs. my life after lockdown at virtual write-ins

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 Spirit Award 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.

My only goal? To do the best that I can!

Here’s to 2021,

~SAT

If you’re interested, here’s my previous years:

Tips for Writing Spooky

31 Oct

Happy Halloween! 

I don’t know about you, but Halloween has always been one of my favorite holidays. In fact, one time my father snuck into my car while I was at school and filled it with Halloween balloons, chocolates, and a pumpkin-shaped candle burner. (I know. He’s the greatest. Though I admit, I didn’t know who did it at first…and that was unsettling. He kind of tricked me at the same time as giving me a treat! Ha!) I think about that Halloween all the time. There’s just something about the fall weather, the darkening days, the cider, the costumes. ::happy sigh:: Obviously, I’ve always loved the spooky, and that includes writing and reading it. In fact, I recently finished reading HORRID by Katrina Leno, and I absolutely loved it and recommend it 100%, but I thought I’d talk a little bit about writing spooky, too. 

First step is first: 

Ask yourself what scares you. 

The dark, the gremlins, the undistinguishable sounds at night—and what caused them. Just sit at your desk and brainstorm all the things that scare you, including everything that used to scare you. It doesn’t matter if you’re over it now. If you can remember that unsettling feeling you’d get in your gut, jot it down and be prepared to use it in your work.  

Now ask yourself what scares you but not other people.

This is an essential step. Why? Because it will help shape your world, your characters, and your story. It will also make it stand out from other spooky stories. I mean, everyone knows the dark scares a lot of people, but what about mascots? (Seriously, I’m very unsettled by mascots. Always have been, always will be.) If you can make your reader feel fear for something they hadn’t considered before, it will be all the more terrifying.

When I jot down “mascots,” I immediately think of a high school murder mystery, where my main character feels like they’re getting stalked at a football game but can’t see anyone following them. When the mascot comes up to her, she doesn’t think anything of it. But then later that night, someone says the costume was stolen. So who was in that costume? NO ONE KNOWS. Eek! (Even worse, if the person who was supposed to be wearing the costume is also found dead. Up those stakes, people!) 

Ask yourself why it scares you. 

Using my example above, when I ask myself why mascots scare me, it’s because I don’t know who is underneath the mask. I don’t know who is standing in front of me. It’s actually a pretty common fear if you think about it. In fact, most of your “uncommon” fears will have common enough reasons behind them, but tapping into that will help you as a writer shape your story and scare your reader. Ex/ The reason mascots aren’t a common fear is because we have an expectation for when they will appear: at games. But if someone unexpected is wearing the costume or you saw one randomly in an alleyway, you’d be a little unsettled, right? 

Taking something and putting it where it doesn’t belong can be spooky in itself. 

People are creatures of habit. We have expectations, rules, understandings. By breaking them, you will bother your reader. Ex. The dark is scary. It’s even scarier when it isn’t supposed to be dark outside and then it suddenly is.

Play around with all these elements and have fun. Once you’ve made decisions, consider your pacing and word choice. 

Personally, I tackle this on a second round of writing, but your pacing and word choice is going to make a HUGE difference when it comes to creating a creepy atmosphere. It can be a delicate balance and not always what you expect going in. For instance, sometimes describing something scary as beautiful could actually be unnerving (think, vampires), but other times, that sort of description could take away (or even confuse) your reader. 

I recommend going with your gut, but always get the opinion of a trusted beta reader. Don’t tell them your intentions going in. Just ask them how they felt as they read the scene. If they describe it as “lovely” when you were going for “unsettling” then you need to rework. 

Here’s to getting spooky! 

~SAT

Teachings from my Twitter Poll Story

17 Oct

It was noon, the sun was high, and I was standing on my back porch trying to get some fresh air during my lunch break when I heard strange music coming from the woods behind my house. Naturally, my imagination ran off with dreams of fairy parties and otherworldly adventures. It was a brief moment of respite in today’s ever-changing environment. 

Which is probably why I tweeted about it. 

(Okay, so I tweet about everything, but I digress.)

If you follow me on Twitter @AuthorSAT, then you’ve probably seen my Twitter poll story. If not, no worries! Here’s a link to the first part to catch you up. 

What is a Twitter poll story?

Basically, I write a little scene within Twitter’s 280-character limit that also sets up a question for readers to answer via poll. It’s reminiscent of the Choose Your Own Adventure stories that were really popular in the 90’s and early 2000’s. The biggest difference is that you don’t have to write the endings for the other choices; you only follow the path that the majority wanted to see. It reminds me a lot of RPG (role playing games) I’d play with my friends when I was young, or stories that we would take turns writing. (You email me Chapter One, I’ll then write Chapter Two, etc.)  

Writing those stories with friends used to bring me a lot of joy between classes in school, which is probably another reason I decided to run with this online. (A little bit of nostalgia goes a long way.) What I didn’t expect was to learn more about storytelling, reevaluate a current WIP, and have in-depth discussions with my writer friends—all topics I wanted to share with you all today.

There’s something to be said about being able to summarize your next plot point in 280 characters or less (and 2-4 choices in less than 25).

Every time I sat down to write the next scene, I really had to ask myself what could realistically happen next while also weighing its overall importance. If it was too easy to write, then the scene probably didn’t have enough risk. If it was too difficult, then I was probably getting ahead of myself. It definitely made me think about fluff. This goes for choices, too. 

Once I started expanding the story, I realized I wanted the votes to be as close to 50-50 as possible. Why? Well, mostly because it’s more exciting! The choices a character must make in a book should be difficult. Readers should be able to believe the character would make both choices, and those choices should make it so that they can’t go backwards and redo it. Basically, this is a great way to double check that your characters have agency. (They should be happening to the story; the story shouldn’t be happening to them. Though, it’s totally fine if a few scenes mix it up.) I only used two choices throughout this particular story, but I might try 3 or 4 next time!

In fact, I’m currently using this method to try and smooth out an outline for my new WIP.  

It’s been a lot of fun! And really insightful, too. 

My imagination can often get bigger than the story truly needs, and this has helped me make hard decisions about efficiency. It was also really fun! 

The most unexpected lesson? A story can benefit from playing into the readers’ desires. Not everything has to be shocking or a fresh, new twist. Sometimes, giving in to what the reader wants can be just what a story needs to feel alive again. In regards to poll stories in particular, involving readers can also be exciting. Along the way, I had a few readers comment with advice for the characters, and bringing them into the character’s thoughts made it feel like the readers were inside the story. (If only there was a way to do this with novels! If I ever get a series deal, I’m totally doing a giveaway for a character to be named after a reader. That’s a promise.)  

My Twitter poll story also caught the eye of some writer friends, and I was asked some questions that I thought would be fun to share:

  • How did you plan it? I didn’t! Not at all. I literally posted the first tweet from real life, and then just ran with it. I never wanted to get ahead of myself, because readers genuinely chose paths that I didn’t think they would follow (which was so fun to see)! 
  • What was the hardest part? Keeping my eyes off Twitter! Seriously, I was having so much fun, I just wanted to spend time on Twitter all day. 
  • Any tips for starting my own? Have fun. Make sure you can post around the same time every day, so that readers know when to check in for the next poll. I post on my lunch break M-F, and let each poll run one day. Let readers know when they should expect an update.

I hope you try this exercise with your WIP. If you create an online poll story, be sure to tag me @AuthorSAT! 

I’d love to follow your poll stories, too. (And vote!)

~SAT

Speaking of voting, the election is coming up! PLEASE VOTE.

Starting a Novel: Tips, Tricks, & A Little Chaos

11 Jul

I recently finished a major revision on a manuscript. Typically that calls for a well-deserved break, to which I shake my fists at, because I am a write-aholic, and I love nothing more than to immediately jump into my next, shiny, new project. That’s right. 

I already started another novel. 

Why did I already start another book? Well, for one, I’ve been working on the aforementioned revision for six months. It’s been a bit, and I’ve been dying to oil my creative gears and discover something new, whether that be a fresh, exciting world or a character that shocks me. I also know that a writer should never put their writing dreams into one book. If my revision doesn’t work out, well, I need something else, don’t I? Might as well get on that. 

So how does someone start a novel?

Quick answer: It’s different for every writer and often every project. Some of my projects are more outlined than others. Some come to me in a blink; others fight me the whole way. But there are ways you can enhance your chances for success. 

Here are those tips: 

  1. Set Yourself Up Before You Begin

On any given day, I’m working on about three novels. One that I’m revising, one that I’m writing, and one that I’m outlining. Because my recent revision was more of a rewrite, it had been taking up both my revising and writing focus—so, when I turned that in, I had space available for one of the novels I’ve been outlining. (I currently have three strong contenders.) These three ideas have been rattling around in my brain for a while. (One I recently came up with only a few weeks ago; another is based on an idea I actually started drafting when I was 14. That’s right, the idea is 15 years old! But now I’m giving away my age. Always keep your notes.)

By having notes ahead of time, you won’t feel burdened by the blank page, because, well, you aren’t starting on a blank page. You’re starting with bursts of character, fun dialogue snippets, exciting scenes, and more.

2. Research, Research, Research

Research comes into the writing process at different stages for everyone. For example, when I write my fantasy novels, research might not come into play until the later drafting stages. I typically write the book, realize the type of research it needs, then do that. My science fiction novels are the complete opposite. I need to know how certain technologies work long before I start writing, or I’m going to have a mess on my hands. Same thing with the historical novel I wrote. Research happened before writing. Significant research. Knowing what sort of project you are writing and how research will affect the project is important. If you aren’t sure, go ahead and jot down a couple topics you know are in your story but you don’t know that much about. Next time you’re having a writer’s block day, guess what? You now have something to do. Better to research earlier on and prevent a blundering plot hole than to write an entire book and realize the premise is flawed. Amiright?

3. Start Writing that FIRST Draft 

Write however you want to. Write messy. Write in order. Just write. Right now, I’ve been writing in one of those three fun ideas I’ve had laying around, and I’m still at the stage where I’m writing snippets all over the place. I wrote Chapter One – Six, and then I went back and added a short prologue, flipped three chapters, and started outlining the rest. I have one document titled ORGANIZEDwhich includes notes I can put in order by scene, and one called UNORGANIZED, which is my chaos document. I have no idea where these snippets will go or even if I’ll use them, but I love them and hope to use them as the book shapes up. 

A sneak peek behind the curtains

Basically, my Scrivener project looks like a mess right now, but I’ve been here a dozen times before. I trust that it will come together as it should. I trust the process. I trust me. If you don’t trust yourself to write or finish, then you’re still at the stage of your writing career where you’re figuring out what your process is and how to go about it, and that’s totally valid. Try different times of the day. Experiment with new writing methods. Are you used to plotting? Go ahead and be a pantser for the afternoon. Play with a new genre you’ve never tried before. Explore, and eventually you’ll find an adventure worth pursuing. If you’re struggling with meeting your goals, try NaNoWriMo, setting goals, or using tools like PaceMaker Planner

At the end of the day, you’re at the start line, not the finish line, so treat it as such. You shouldn’t be comparing your new words to someone’s edited words. Remember: This is your first draft. You can be as messy as you need to be in order to figure out what your book is about—as long as you plan on revising later. And guess what? No matter how perfect you think your first draft is, you will have to revise, so embrace the moment. 

Start writing your novel today.  

~SAT

P.S. For more tips and tricks on starting a novel, I will be teaching a FREE virtual class on Monday, July 27 at 6:30 PM (CST). More information: Starting a Writing Project. It is taught through ZOOM. Go ahead and register, and I will see you there! 

Tracking Character Motivations with a Free Spreadsheet

1 Feb

It’s no secret that I’m currently revising a manuscript. I’ve been talking about revising a lot lately and giving glimpses into what my revision process looks like. I’m currently on my third draft of a multi-POV sci-fi novel, and I am still smoothing out my character motivations. (What can I say? It can be tricky! Especially when you change something in chapter 3 and it causes a domino effect for the next thirty chapters.) In fact, character motivations can get trickier the more you revise. Why? Because you have to remember the exact decision each character made and why in this particular version. Obviously, you might see where lines start to blur. No one expects you to remember every little detail of every manuscript you’ve ever written, but readers do expect consistent, believable characters. And it’s your job as the writer to deliver.

One way I track the motivations of my characters is an Excel spreadsheet. 

If you follow me elsewhere, you might have seen me upload the photo of my Excel spreadsheet, which actually led me to today’s topic. I received a lot of messages asking for more information and tips on motivations, so I thought I would dive deep into this topic today. 

Motivations are important. So. Incredibly. Important. Without motivation, characters will come across as bland and unbelievable, which, quite frankly, makes them hard to follow or care about. There’s a lot to consider when choosing any particular character’s motivation. (Did I mention that ALL of your characters need a driving force? It isn’t just your protagonist, though your protagonist’s will probably matter the most since they are, well, you know, the protagonist.) Mostly, I find there’s a misconception that the bigger the motivation, the more important the story will feel to the reader. But it’s really the opposite. The more personal the motivation, the better. Why? Because the reader is more likely to empathize with personal stakes rather than worldly stakes. Which one do you care about more: A main character who must save the world or a main character who must save their little sister while the world is ending?

Typically, readers are drawn to characters who have personal stakes driving their motivation, even if the overall arc is huge (like saving the world). A great example is Katniss Everdeen. While she is the heroine at the center of a dystopian novel – and saving her country could’ve been the driving force – her true motivation was keeping her little sister safe. Without having a sister to save, Katniss wouldn’t have volunteered. (We know this as fact, because she had been in many lotteries before, and hadn’t volunteered before her sister was chosen.) Without a sister, Katniss wouldn’t be Katniss. Which is why what happens to her sister is so devastating. This sister-led motivation also creates a solid foundation for the reader to see why saving the “world” matters so much. (Why save a world if you don’t care about anyone in it?) Personal motivation will resonant more; therefore, allowing worldly stakes to have a solid platform. So let’s talk about those stakes. 

Your characters’ motivations should be challenged at all times. This is mostly referred to as “raising the stakes”. 

Ex. What does Katniss have to sacrifice in order to save her sister? What does saving her sister do to others around her? How does that affect Katniss’s future decisions? When does it change her decisions and motivation?

In addition to paying attention to your characters’ motivations (and upping those stakes), it’s important that your characters (especially your protagonist), change. At the end of the book, your characters should not be the same people we met on the first page. If they are the exact same person with the same feelings and motivations, then what actually happened in 300 pages? 

By creating a spreadsheet, you are forcing yourself to answer hard questions: “Did my character change in this scene? Did those changes push them forward or hold them back? Did it affect the story at all?” Spoiler alert: you should be answering YES to each of these questions, from chapter one allllll the way to the end.  

Typically, when I start writing a novel, I know where I’m going to begin and end. It rarely changes for me. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve ever started a book when I didn’t know the ending (or have a really close idea to what my ending would be). Why? Because the beginning tells me who the character started as, whereas the ending tells me where the character ends. The middle is going to be my character arc (herein referred to as the “rainbow”). If I don’t know where that rainbow is going, I will struggle to form all those colors that makes the story colorful, let alone form an ending that’s a believable treasure chest of gold. 

The spreadsheet helps me most out in the middle. I’ve found the middle is a place where a lot of writers struggle. In fact, the place I always get stuck at is about 65%. And when I get stuck, I love to work backward. This is where my motivational spreadsheet becomes super helpful. I can see where I want my characters end and compare it to where I got stuck. Then, I can ask myself, “What has to happen to these characters to get them here?” Once I start brainstorming, I can fill those motivations in. 

A spreadsheet is additionally helpful if you have multiple POVs or characters (ex. if you are struggling to track minor characters or the villain’s motivations), especially if Character A and B know something that Character C has yet to learn. In the end, I track the following: Chapter number/title, Chapter Summary, Character A, Character B, etc. (Typically listed in the order of importance.) I put the POV note in the chapter number. I also sum up what Character C is thinking/doing even if they don’t physically appear in a particular scene. That way, I am forcing each character to have their own presence, even in the “white noise” of their nonexistence in a scene. 

I highly encourage you to try this out if you are struggling with motivation, pushing stakes, and/or filling in that ugly middle. I gravitated toward this method because I’m an INTJ. I thrive with tasks dependent on logic. (Which is also why writing can be so hard sometimes.) Characters, as we all know, aren’t always logical, and yet they need to make logical sense to the reader. This single truth can feel like a huge contradiction to fledgling writers, when it isn’t. Not really. In reality, readers need to understand your character, even in your character’s most illogical moments. They need to believe that your characters illogical moments made sense to your character. Ex. Let’s say Character A loves Character B, and Character B has been kidnapped. Character A has a chance to save them, but only a 2% chance. And if they took that 2% chance, there’s a 98% chance they’ll both die. And yet, there’s no other chances coming their way. Logically, Character A should probably save themselves and hope for another chance. But we’re reading about heros! Character A is going to take that 2% chance, with all odds against them. Your reader should get that. They should feel how emotions have driven their decision-making. 

That’s what a spreadsheet is for. It’s forcing you, the writer, to give us those reasons, and making sure you’ve made those reasons clear in your story. 

Download your free Excel spreadsheet here. 

How do you track your character motivations? 

Also, what else do you want help with? I love to hear from you! In fact, it helps me help you more when I hear from you. I heard a lot from a lot of you all in my latest newsletter. (Whaaaaat? Shannon, you have a newsletter? I do! It releases once a quarter, and I always include more writing tips, sneak peeks at my work, and an exclusive surprise giveaway. Subscribe here.

My blog posts happen the first Saturday of every month, so check back in on Saturday, March 7. 

~SAT

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