Tag Archives: writing tips

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?!

How to Name Your Characters

31 May

Naming your characters, especially your main characters, can feel like a daunting task. Some enjoy the thrill of it; others struggle a lot, and never quite feel like they found the “right” name. 

I, for one, love naming characters. I often joke that baby name books are some of my favorite reads and, in fact, I’ve been this way for a while. I hated my name growing up and spent a lot of time vicariously living through my characters with fanciful or meaningful names I much more preferred. (Fun fact: I’m named after the song “Shannon” by Henry Gross.) 

Naming characters can be a lot of fun and, with the right tools and a little bit of imagination, you can enjoy the process, too. 

First and foremost: 

When should you name characters? Honestly, whenever you want to. I tend to name my characters long before I start writing. (I spend a significant time researching and playing with the names before I attempt Chapter One.) This has benefits, but it also has drawbacks. I’ve had to change character names after the fact, and due to my attachment, it was a lot harder. (I still secretly call them by their original names to my beta readers.) But I love getting to know my characters long before I meet them on the page. 

How should you name your characters? Consider the setting of your novel. What time period are you in? What culture? 1880 in Russia is going to be VERY different from 2030 in Brazil. Once you figure that out, consider who is naming your character. Technically, it’s you, yes, but in the world of your character, they were named by someone and/or adopted a name for themselves. Knowing this motivation will help you not only build your world but get to know your character better. A daughter may be named after her grandparent, or a man may reject his name because he hates who he is named after. The nickname he adopts could mean something to him or be something he saw off of a billboard. Either way, that says a lot about what is happening. Remember most parents use iambic pentameter for names. The rhythm often works and will help your character names shine. 

Where can I find names?

Babynames.com provides thousands of names within cultures, meanings, genders, and more. I love BabyNames.com. You can even save your favorite names as you skip around. (Don’t be surprised if people ask you why you’re looking up baby names in public. I’ve been “congratulated” on a number of occasions.)

Aside from BabyNames.com, I get creative. I flip through old yearbooks, magazines, etc. I’ve even used my own family’s genealogy as a place to get inspired. For historical pieces, I tend to look at popular names through the years at SSA, [Social Security Association.] I also consider last names very carefully. Last Name Meanings provides a list of last names and where they derived from, along with the meaning behind them.

Can I make up names?

Absolutely! I tend to get this question from fantasy/sci-fi writers, because sci-fi/fantasy generally calls for unique names, but tread carefully. Sometimes, your best bet is taking well-known names and simply mixing them to create something unique, ex. Serena + Violet = Serolet. Try NameCombiner.com to see what you can come up with.

Pinterest board sneak peek

Is choosing a name holding you back from actually writing? Embrace filler names. I use filler names all the time. Basically, I have a list of names that are placeholders for certain personalities. I consistently use these names while first drafting, until I settle on a “real” name that feels right. If you don’t have these, grab some from a name generator. I don’t use Scrivener to get my character names. However, there’s a name generator that I think is an awesome tool that is often overlooked. It’s found in the same place: Edit -> Writing Tools -> Name Generator, and you can select from a variety of choices: names by country origin, first letter, ending letter, alliteration, and more. More recently, I’ve started a private Pinterest board where I pin baby name articles and other fun names I come across. Now it’s easy to just hop on and scroll through ones I’ve been saving for future use. 

Once you get a full cast, it’s best to double check the list and ask yourself how they’ll appear throughout the series. Too many similar names might make it hard for readers to follow. Avoid repetitive names or sounds. You probably don’t want to name everyone with a “J” name. It’d be hard to follow Jack, John, Jared, and Jill around. I suggest making a list of characters names in alphabetical order so you can physically see what is represented. Consider start, end, and syllables. The exception generally happens within relationships. Example? If you have brothers, maybe they will have similar names, but don’t overdo it. Granted, this solution might not fit every scenario. There are times where similarities can be too meaningful to change. But it doesn’t hurt to consider all your options. 

A mixture of all these things creates a list of believable characters, and I really hope you’ll enjoy playing around with names more than before!

~SAT

P.S. I’m teaching a free, virtual writing class on Wednesday, June 2 at 6:30 PM-8:00 PM CDT. It’s all about Starting a Writing Project. So, if you’re looking for more inspiration and fun tools/tricks, you can register here.

Writing Crying Scenes

17 May

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.  

~SAT

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.

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!

Looking Back on my Pantser Novel

3 Apr

“Are you a pantser or a plotter?” is a common question writers hear. Why? There’s something inherently interesting about how someone turns a blank page into a 350-page novel. Sure, it’s easy to say that one word after another leads to a sentence, which eventually becomes a chapter, before those chapters build a book. But there’s so much that happens in between all that. 

Writing a novel is not a linear adventure. Even for a plotter—and take it from me who is a writer who normally has a very, very detailed outline from the start—unforeseen plot twists can throw the entire plan off. An edit letter can trigger a domino effect that tumbles your entire house of cards. Part of the fun is rebuilding your piece over and over, until you have finally found the story it was always meant to be. But this process can also drive you mad. 

Cue the time I decided to be a panster. 

I actually wrote a short blog about this a little while ago. You can catch up here: Finishing My First Pantser Novel

Basically, a few years ago, I was pretty fed up with writing and decided to tackle a “for-fun only” project to take out all my rage in. I had no plan, not even an idea of what I was doing or what my story was trying to say. But before I knew it, I had decided to pursue it seriously, and by the time I finished a first draft, the book was a mess. One that I confidently felt I could polish and fix, because—and I wish I was kidding—I took notes while pantsing. 

To be honest, I severely underestimated how much polishing it needed. I was used to fixing books that had a solid plan from the beginning, not books that were messy from so many angles even explaining it made my mind spin. With my outlined books, a list of notes absolutely helps me revise fairly quickly. With my pantser novel? It honestly became more of a mess. 

Overall, I think this is where my issue began. My issue is that I tackled editing and revising my pantster novel the same way I tackled editing a novel that I had plotted. Looking back, it’s no wonder I got stuck so many times. In fact, I actually put this book down twice—once for over six months—before I got to the point I’m at today. (Did I mention my wonderful beta readers? I had eight people total helping me revise it, including my agent. That’s a lot more than my usual 3-4.) 

To be honest, I’m still working on this book. I’m on the fifth major overhaul and in the last 100 pages. For the first time in a long time, I’m feeling good about it again. I’m excited for what it’s become and how it’s going to read from now on. 

If I could go back and redo my approach, I’d probably throw out the entire first draft and rewrite what I could recall. (I forget which author famously does this, but it is a method I have yet to try. Maybe one day!) If I had done this, I think I would’ve boiled down the substance I needed to keep (and delete) much more effectively. 

Will I pansted a novel again? 

Probably not one I will pursue seriously. Then again, that’s what I told myself last time…

Have you ever pantsed a novel or attempted outlining when you’re not used to it?

I’d love to hear about what you’ve learned along the way!

~SAT 

P.S. I am still moving! Basically, we bought a house in March, and we’ve been using the entire month to renovate. (So. Much. Paint.) I’m really excited though. We’re actually putting in the last of our flooring today, so I’ll be physically moving our belongings over soon. Hopefully by next month we’ll be all settled in. ❤  

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.

Writing Method: Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

2 Jan

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

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

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

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

One example is my writing output. 

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

Wrong. 

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

Cue the panic. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can always find that happy medium. 

~SAT 

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

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:

Behind the Scenes of Pitch Wars with Team Snickersnee

14 Nov

Behind the Scenes at Pitch Wars with Team Snickersnee

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

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

Here are our stats: 133 submissions 

Sci-Fi: 

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

Fantasy: 

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

Horror: 4

Thriller/Suspense: 2

Contemporary: 2

Adventure: 1

Top three trends we saw: 

  1. Elemental powers
  2. Zodiac 
  3. Witches 

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

So how did we break it down? 

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

It was a hard choice!

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

Now for a fun Q&A: 

What was your biggest surprise reading through submissions this year?

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

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

Any writing tips for those who submitted?

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

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

Publishing tips?

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

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

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

What are we most excited about?

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

~SAT

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

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