We’re writers. No–we’re teen writers. We spend our time by our computers, blogging, writing, being random, often embodying insanity, and yes, procrastinating. We’re invincible. Or at least, we should be.
But our one foe? Our Achilles heel?
Yes, writer’s block. That evil, vicious, good-for-nothing, soul-sucking (have I made my point yet?) disease caught by all writers at some point in their careers, oftentimes in more instances than one (or five.) Writer’s block is crippling, where you get stuck at a point in your book and don’t know what to write next. It could be a plot hole, a characterization issue, or a point where you just have no idea what should happen in the rest of your story, but the point is, writer’s block drives most writers crazy. We all know it happens, and yet, it seems to devastate our productivity no matter what.
But here’s the thing: writer’s block is no match for you.
Yeah, I said it. *dramatic finger snap* Seriously, though, when you get stuck while writing, becoming “unstuck” isn’t nearly as difficult as it sounds. It certainly feels difficult, but there’s a relatively easy solution to beating writer’s block. The secret? Skip over the scene that’s giving you trouble and go ahead and write the rest of the book. I know, it’s difficult at first when you’re as OCD as I am and you tell yourself that you have to write everything in order, but this method, once you give it a chance, helps so much. It allows you to continue the flow of the story without forcing yourself through a scene you either aren’t ready to write or don’t know how to write–because a lot of times, when you force yourself through it, your writing suffers from it.
My personal motto is that you can always fix scenes giving you trouble in the edits. First drafts are about getting your thoughts out, so the book doesn’t have to be perfect. It doesn’t even have to be complete. So, don’t worry about skipping scenes. You can always add the tricky ones later, when you’re feeling up to it. And chances are, if you write a difficult scene after you complete the rest of the book, you’ll have a much better feel for the story and characters and what needs to happen in that scene, so the words will therefore come more easily to you.
Of course, this method will not work for everyone. Every writer is unique, so there are going to be a number of strategies that work and don’t work for the individual–what you have to do is figure out what works for you. Most people, when they give it a try and overcome their inner OCD, work better by skipping scenes. Others can’t do that; they have to power through and write the scene no matter. Try both. See what works best. But my point is, don’t be afraid to skip scenes when you’re struggling. It’s a valuable tool, and if you think of a novel like building a bridge, one skipped scene is a gap in the bridge, while trying and failing to power on leaves the whole half of the bridge unfinished for who knows how long. You’d rather have the small gap.
So. Next time you get stuck, take a breath. Go outside and clear your head. When you return, try for a few minutes to power through the block. Then, if that doesn’t work, skip over to a scene you want to write and let the words flow there. Heck, go ahead and write the rest of the book right then and there. Because when you need to, you can always come back to that difficult scene, and having written the rest of the book allows you to use everything you wrote around it to make that scene work.
And remember: writer’s block is no match for you.
What’s your method for beating writer’s block? Do you skip scenes, or do you power through them?
What? Two new blog posts in a week? This is insanity, I know.
(I told you, I’m getting better about posting!)
First off, thanks to everyone who participated in last month’s chain! I wasn’t able to comment as much as I would’ve liked to, but I read most of the posts and they were all awesome. (I’m also going to try and get better about commenting in May. I’ve been reeeeeally bad.) We’ve had a lot of people already email to join May’s blog chain already and since the recent chains have been so long, I might need to –gasp–double up on dates. It depends on how many sign up, of course, but I just want to warn you in case that happens. We can’t run the blog chain into June.
This month’s chain is hosted by Lily Jenness, who emailed with a brilliant topic I can’t believe we haven’t done yet:
“What are some of the coolest/weirdest/funniest/most disturbing things you’ve researched for a story?”
To describe it, she says: “Let’s face it, as writers, our search history can be a bit bizarre. We look up everything from how memory works to how to make candles. For this month’s blog chain, talk about a few of the things you’ve researched for your stories, be they funny, fascinating, or disturbing.”
Super fun, right? Thanks so much, Lily! As always, to sign up just comment below with a link to your blog and any days you can’t make. Thanks!
No, I am not breaking up with you (although that would certainly make for an interesting blog post…) I’m just stating a publishing fact. “It’s not you, it’s me” is something you probably have and will hear in various forms all the time in writing, blogging, and publishing. You all know that writing and blogging are arts. They’re all about the interpretation, and they can be interpreted in so many ways, which means everyone’s experience reading your book or blog posts will be different.
Some people will get your book. They’ll get what you were trying to say, what themes you were showing. They’ll get your characters, your plot, how your writing style or voice ties into it all.
Some people, however, simply won’t. Does that make them stupid? No. Does that make it your fault? Definitely not. It doesn’t mean anything about the person or about you. It’s just that, for whatever reason, your book didn’t click with them. As frustrating as that sounds, it happens. You can’t stop it. It’s a part of all arts.
It happens in less black-and-white ways, too. Maybe some people will get your book but absolutely hate your main character, or think your plot is way too predictable, or some combination of things. Maybe they’ll love your main character but think the love interest is a terrible match for him or her. Everyone experiences books differently, which means everyone will develop their own opinions on it. Oftentimes, however, those opinions reflect more on the reader than they do on your book.
Honestly, I think that right there is the hardest part of the publishing process to grasp. When you’re as much of a perfectionist as I am, you really hate the idea that not everyone is going to love your book. I mean, this definitely isn’t news to anyone. You’ve heard it before and you know it happens. But still… a part of you kind of hopes you’ll be the exception, you know? That almost everyone will love your book?
The truth is, though, there really aren’t exceptions. The Fault In Our Stars, for example, is one of the highest rated book with over 100,000 ratings on Goodreads and it still has tons of one-star reviews. I’m sure, if John Green were an unknown writer who was querying it as his first book, it would’ve been rejected tons of times as well.
If you’re querying, you will get rejections. If you send your book to friends, some will not love it. If you publish your book, you will get bad reviews. It’s just a fact. It happens, and sometimes, you just have to relinquish control and not let the rejection get to you. But even with all that negativity, the beautiful thing about art is that the reverse is also true:
If you’re querying, you will get full requests and agents who believe in your book. If you’re sending your book to friends, you’ll get plenty of people who love every bit of it. If you publish your book, you’ll get gushing reviews from fans.
It’s that annoyingly simple.
So how do you apply all this?
First, don’t let a few rejections get to you. I know, people say that all the time, but if writing is an art and everyone’s experience is different, then obviously some people won’t like what you’ve written, while others feel indifferent, while others absolutely LOVE it. You should take the time to consider the rejection and see if there’s something in your story that needs to be improved, yes, but you should keep writing until you find those people who absolutely LOVE it. As I said before: sometimes, you just have to relinquish control. If you believe in your book and you have people behind you who believe in it, that’s all that counts. Keep at it.
Similarly, when you get rejected on your full or partial manuscripts, a lot of time agents will give feedback. I think this is incredibly generous of the agent and it’s important to take the time to consider their feedback and how it would fit into the story. However, remember that they might not get your story, and their opinions could hurt more than it helps it. So, mull over their thoughts. Tell some of your critique partners and beta readers to see if they agree. But ultimately, do what YOU think. Don’t make changes to your book or blog ever just because someone suggested you do it; make changes because they resonate with you.
Another reason to remember the “it’s not you, it’s me” phrase? It shows up everywhere. Not everyone is going to like you. Not everyone is going to like your book, your blog, and as frustrating as that is to hear, it’s just one of those things you can’t control. The sooner you face it, the better, because for every person who doesn’t like your book or blog? There will be five more who absolutely adore it. Write to those people. Write for your fans.
To summarize: rejection happens. It’s a part of everything, but don’t let it get to you. Instead of feeling down, go reread that email from the beta who loved your book. Yes, sometimes, rejection is as simple as the book not being there yet, but that is far from always the case. Don’t automatically assume it’s your book; think about it, ask your critique partners, and remember that sometimes, it isn’t you.
It isn’t always black-and-white.
P.S. I’m really sorry I’ve been so behind on blogging lately, guys! I keep trying to get back into it—I miss you all—but I can never seem to sit down and write a whole post anymore. I have several unfinished drafts, but I haven’t had the drive to write a whole one until now. Hopefully after this post I’ll start to get back into it, though, because I really want to blog more. However, if you have certain topics you want me to talk about, ideas might help get me started.
First, I’m not dead, I swear. I’m just behind on everything again and haven’t had much time to put into blogging. More posts will be coming soon, though, I promise!
Anyway, today we announce the topic for the April blog chain! Last month’s was really successful, and thanks to everyone who participated. I can’t believe we ran through almost the entire month. Whoa.
We’ve had a lot of fun blog chain topics recently, so I’m going to make this one a little more serious. Hopefully it’ll still be enjoyable, though!
“What is your ultimate goal as a writer?”
It’s a pretty straightforward topic, but it’ll be interesting to see what everyone says. I’m sure “getting published” is a pretty standard ultimate goal for us all, so go deeper if you can. How do you picture yourself seeing your book on the shelves? What kind of book do you want published? What kinds of readers do you want to attract? What conferences do you want to go to? Stuff like that. I’m excited to hear what you all come up with!
To all new people: welcome! If you don’t know how the blog chain works feel free to visit our “blog chain” page for more info. As always, comment with a link to your blog and any days you can’t do below. Thanks!
I read a lot of manuscripts, both for the slush (I intern/assist at a literary agency), as a beta reader, and even here, and a common thing I see, in new writers especially, is breaking the fourth wall. What is breaking the fourth wall, you ask? It’s where your character, or sometimes you as an author, talks directly to your reader. So maybe the character says, “My name is Albert, but you can call me Al” to the reader in the opening of the book, or maybe the author says “You aren’t going to like this book. It’s not a happy book” to the reader in the actual book (not counting in the author’s note!)
A popular example of breaking the fourth wall is in Lemony Snicket. There are moments in the Percy Jackson and The Olympians series that do it too, if I remember correctly (feel free to correct me if I’m wrong. It’s been a while since I read that), as well as a little bit in The Book Thief. Notice how a) there are so few published books that break the fourth wall and b) those that do are widely considered to be great books? That’s because breaking the fourth wall is extremely difficult to pull off, and to get away with it you have to do it well. Like, really well. When characters break the fourth wall, it often pulls readers out of the story. So when agents and editors read it in a manuscript? It has that same effect. You want to put your best foot forward, so things like these don’t often count in your favor.
And yet, so many writers try to break the fourth wall in their books. Teen writers especially do it, I’ve noticed. Why? Because it’s fun. It’s cool. You read it in books you love and you want to try it, too. For the record, that is perfectly okay by my standards because writing is supposed to be fun and breaking the fourth wall is fun. But, in almost every instance where an unpublished manuscript breaks the fourth wall, it doesn’t work. It’s that simple. Sure, if you break the fourth wall and do it well it can be awesome, but that is so rare that I’d assume you aren’t doing it well until critique partners/beta readers you trust tell you otherwise.
Now, I don’t want to discourage breaking the fourth wall altogether, but it’s an issue I’ve noticed so much that I feel the need to raise awareness about it. Most of the time, breaking the fourth wall (wow, I’ve said that phrase so much in this post) not a positive thing. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, either, but if you do it multiple times and it flops, it will hurt you. So if you are one of those people who does a lot of breaking the fourth wall, I’d recommend going back through your manuscript and every time your main character talks to the reader, take a good, long look at it. Make sure it’s entirely necessary. Make sure it works. Then, get someone whose opinion you trust to look it over and verify the above for you.
There are certainly instances where breaking the fourth wall adds to the story, but there are also many more moments where it hurts it. That said, my point for this post is to raise awareness. Breaking the fourth is something that you always, always should tread lightly with, because it is not always a positive.
Note: breaking the fourth wall is when the character talks directly to the reader. If it’s a line like, ”The second I step out of the car, I know. I know like you know you failed a Math test or you’re about to get cut from the school soccer team…” the ‘you’ here isn’t breaking the fourth wall because it isn’t referring directly to the reader, it’s just a vague ‘you.’ A ‘you’ like, “I’m 28, but you don’t need to know that,” however, is clearly talking to the reader. See the difference?
Well, today is not going to be a writing post, but that’s because… drumroll please…
We have some awesome new teen writer badges to share with you all!
Yes, it’s true. The TCWT badge is also getting a makeover because let’s be honest: as is, it’s a weird picture that I (being design-challenged) created in MS Word a year and a half ago with sucky font and poor image quality. Not the most ideal button. So the utterly brilliant Icey Designs made us a new one! I’ll go and change all of the current badges to this new one, but I’m also putting the HTML for it below so you can add it to your blog sidebar and/or other places around the web. There’s no requirement to do that, of course, but if you’d like to support TCWT, this could be a good way to help. (But you all rock anyway so seriously no pressure.)
<a href=”http://teenscanwritetoo.wordpress.com/ “><img height=”400″ src=”http://teenscanwritetoo.files.wordpress.com/2013/03/tcwt-3.png ” width=”389″ />
<a href=”http://teenscanwritetoo.wordpress.com/ “><img height=”320″ src=”http://teenscanwritetoo.files.wordpress.com/2013/03/tcwt-3.png ” width=”311″ />
<a href=”http://teenscanwritetoo.wordpress.com/ “><img height=”200″ src=”http://teenscanwritetoo.files.wordpress.com/2013/03/tcwt-3.png ” width=”194″ />
This next image is a part of a teen writer meme, created by the fabulous Hannah Webb, and I love it so much. I’ve put the HTML below in each size so you can add it to your sidebar/blog/other places. Make sure it has the backlink to this post (already added into the HTML, so you don’t need to worry about it if you use the HTML), though, so we can give Hannah credit and also let other people add it.
<a href=”http://teenscanwritetoo.wordpress.com/2013/03/03/badges/ “><img height=”400″ src=”http://sphotos-a.xx.fbcdn.net/hphotos-snc6/223514_565044916838849_232463354_n.jpg ” width=”342″ /></a>
<a href=”http://teenscanwritetoo.wordpress.com/2013/03/03/badges/ “><img height=”320″ src=”http://sphotos-a.xx.fbcdn.net/hphotos-snc6/223514_565044916838849_232463354_n.jpg ” width=”273″ /></a>
<a href=”http://teenscanwritetoo.wordpress.com/2013/03/03/badges/ “><img height=”200″ src=”http://sphotos-a.xx.fbcdn.net/hphotos-snc6/223514_565044916838849_232463354_n.jpg ” width=”170″ /></a>
Aaaand that’s all for now. Let me know if you have issues with any of these badges!
*Quick announcement: Tonight at 5 EST we are having a TCWT write-a-thon! I’ve created a chat room here. We can write, revise, word war, talk, be random and weird and kinda-sorta crazy—whatever. Hopefully it’ll be a lot of fun, though, and will be a good push to be productive. It starts at 5 PM EST, which should give those of you in the UK and Australia a chance to come, and ends whenever everyone leaves, which may be a while because I plan to write all night. Stop by whenever you want for as long as you want, and either write with us or just talk! And most importantly, BE PREPARED FOR AWESOME. (And crazy.)*
Anyway, today I wanted to talk a little bit about revising. This is a difficult post for me to write for a number of reasons, one of which is because there is no one way to revise a book. Like how everyone has their own drafting strategy, everyone revises differently. Keep in mind that the way you approach revision depends on you and your book; what works for you works for you. So, that said, what do you do after you finish your first draft? You worked so hard on it and now you’re ready to take it to the next level–so what happens next? The answer is one word: revisions. Or as I like to call them, My Worst Nightmare. (Many people LOVE revisions, though! As I said, it all depends on the person.)
First of all, revisions are not easy and they shouldn’t be taken that way. They’re more than just finding typos and fixing dialogue. John Green always says “books come out through revision,” and I couldn’t agree with him more. First drafts are never perfect. Sure, you can write a good first draft, but it’s always going to need some revision. Even Stephen King, who has written zillions of books, I’m sure still spends most of his time on revision. Point being, revisions are not something to rush through. Take your time. Get them right. It’s worth it, trust me.
But how do you go about finding these problems in your first draft? (By “problems” I mean dialogue issues, plot holes, underdeveloped or too-perfect characters, voice or writing related problems, inconsistencies etc.) You should be able to locate many of them on your own. For me, after my first draft is complete, I make a list of all the major events that happen in my book in the order they happen, then go through them to make sure everything flows smoothly without any glaring plot holes. Then, I read through the entire manuscript again. I tend to pay attention to three main things as I read: plot, character, and voice.
- For plot, is it paced well? Does the book start off with a bang and hook the reader? Is there a decent amount of action throughout? And of course, are there any plot holes or plot points that don’t make sense/can be cut?
- For character, I pay attention to the major characters and their actions throughout the book. Do they stay fairly consist as people? Are their goals clear? Do they have interesting dialogue? Do they have fears and good backstory? Do they have interests or something that readers can relate to–something that makes them human? Most importantly, do they have their share of flaws, in addition to their strengths?
- Lastly, for voice, is the voice distinct throughout the book? Does it feel palpably like my main character’s?
Questions like these help me pinpoint the main issues with my manuscript and soon after, lead me to all of the smaller problems as well. However, that is just what works for me. As I said, revising is all about what works for the individual, so while these might be a starting point, go with what helps you. (Actually, I’d be interested to see how you guys about revising in the comments so we can get more perspectives, too.)
Next, after I have done some revision of my own, I send my book to critique partners and beta readers. Personally, I’m a big proponent for having them and getting a second pair of eyes on your manuscript. If you want to make your work the best it can be, you should definitely consider getting someone else (other than your mom) to look over your work. These people will preferably be writers themselves–maybe they’re blogger friends, or twitter friends, or someone writing in your genre. Whoever they are, ask if they want to swap manuscripts. I’m sure they’ll say yes. Getting feedback from others is invaluable, as it gives you the thought processes of others as they reader your work and plus, other people often catch problems you missed, as it’s difficult to be objective to your own work.
So now, after that, you have all of this feedback on what works and what doesn’t in your manuscript. How exactly do you fix these problems? This is a difficult question to answer, mostly because it depends on the type of issue and the gravity of it. If, say, the issue is a small plot hole, you can usually go back and tweak a scene or a character or a piece of the world-building to fix it. If it’s a larger plot hole, it may require a more major change of the world-building or plot structure. When it comes to voice issues, however, revising them is more about going through the whole book and making the main character’s personality pop out of the page a little more. Character issues are similar to voice issues, in that they require you to go through and develop the character more throughout the story, flaw them, humanize them, give them interests and backstory, etc. Pacing issues require more of a change to the plot structure. If your beginning is too slow, you might want to cut a bunch of the beginning scenes and bump up the main hook scene, and so on. These are just examples, though, and hopefully they give you a sense of how to revise.
In short, revising is a lot of work, and you have to find your own way to get it right. But hopefully some of this helps you get started.
Thoughts? Anyone have revision strategies/tips to share?
We all have those characters that we have the feels for. It might be the warm, gooey feelings of first love—or maybe it’s the prickly feeling of disgust as we recall how they beheaded our favorite literary dog. This month, I’m challenging you all to choose one fictional being that you feel passionately about and write him/her/it a letter.
It could be a love confession or a challenge to war. It could be a request to hire them for a particularly demanding job, or a complaint regarding the work they did in Malaysia last summer. Whatever it’s about, address it in an epistolary format to a fictional character of your choice.
So awesome, right?
Comment below with a link to your blog to sign up and I’ll give you a date, as always!