The End

It’s true. After nearly four years of existence, TCWT is closing its doors. As rewarding as this blog has been for me, I feel that it has run its course, and it’s time to formally end it.

Though I know each of you has followed us for varying lengths of time–some since the beginning–I hope that, no matter what, TCWT has helped you in some small way to feel inspired, to meet other cool teen writers, or at least to know that you aren’t alone.

I can’t thank you guys enough for all that you’ve done–for commenting on our posts, for participating in our contests, and above all for listening to me ramble these past few years. This blog has been a big part of my life for a long time, and I’m so happy that I get to view it as time well spent. That’s all because of you. So thank you, thank you, thank you.

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to be cleaning up the site archives and possibly updating the blog’s layout so that any newcomers to the blog can easily access all of the posts we’ve written. (I’ve already deleted many of the old contest posts, since they’ve been confusing those who don’t realize that the contests already ended.) But beyond that, the blog will stay as is, and I hope it will continue to help any teen writers who stumble across it.

I don’t think I have much else to say. Just: thanks. I never imagined this blog would grow to be as big as it is, and I’m so happy to have interacted with all of you. I can’t wait to walk into a bookstore one a day and to see your books lining the shelves. Keep writing–and best of luck!

P.S. If you want to keep in touch with the writers, please see our social media links here. Personally, you can find me on Twitter as @ABoredAuthor or on Tumblr as jhansenwrites.

P.P.S. You guys are awesome. Don’t forget that.

 

Interview with Writer and Activist Kaye M

Aisha here, and I’ve brought you TCWT readers a special treat: an interview with Kaye M., who doubles as @gildedspine on Twitter!

Now, I’m a huge fan of Kaye, and I wanted to give you all a chance to get to know her a bit better: Besides being the creator of several amazing hashtags (including #NotYourStockMuslim and #YesAllWomen), Kaye is also a writer, an activist, and a fan of YA literature. Furthermore, she will be leading a session at this year’s Chapter One Young Writers Conference, so be sure to sign up here to see her at the conference! Her session will be on the myths and the truths in common writing advice.

Without further ado, here’s the interview:

A: For you, what is the hardest part of writing?

K: The hardest part of writing is definitely drafting. I feel some days like I’m wired to hate my writing and I don’t understand my process the way I should – which of course, can only be solved through practice, practice, practice. But it’s seriously harder to fight off those feelings of low self-esteem (particularly when it comes to a sucky first draft) than put words down on paper.

A: Why do you think humans love to read literature so much?

K: I don’t remember who this can be correctly attributed to, but I know there is a quote that says that stories are within our marrow. They are part of the human experience and have often been our means of surviving hard times, difficulties, moments when we thought we might not persevere or overcome.

As bizarre as I still find it (mainly from a personal dislike of the play), there are lovers who remain steadfast because of Romeo and Juliet. I personally dwell and appreciate one message of Howl’s Moving Castle (which, if you know me online at all, is my absolutely favorite book) that pretty much goes along the lines of “Be proud of and take strength from who you are.”

At least, that’s my interpretation.

A: Your thoughts on diversity? Specifically diversity in YA?

K: Obviously, I have very, very strong feels for diversity being found in YA. As a woman from ethnic and religious minorities, I understand the desire for proper, empowering representation. This need and this empathy for others who also feel that need led to my participation with #WeNeedDiverseBooks and continues to fuel my career plans for the future.

In short, yes to diversity in YA, and long may it flower into new narratives that we can all enjoy and learn from.

A: What is your favorite genre to write, and what do you love about said genre?

K: I think my first love is and always will be fantasy, with magical realism being a close runner-up. As I haven’t yet woven together a proper magical realism tale, though, let’s just go with fantasy. I’ve always loved how there are so many different ways within fantasy to approach fantasy.

I grew up on a lot of it – particularly, as I always love to praise, Diana Wynne Jones’ Howl’s Moving Castle – and I think that’s why so often I dream up stories with strong, stubborn girls and worlds that are definitely not the one I live in around the edges.

A: What are your bookish goals for the year?

K: I’ve set my Goodreads challenge at 100 books for this year! So far, it seems to be going well, but I’ve started a new semester as an English major with a ton of texts to consume by the end of the spring. We’ll see how I fare once I get headway into my assignments!

A: As a Muslim, do you ever (or would you ever) incorporate your faith into your books?

K: Definitely, and yes, I have – in my current WiP, which is for no one’s eyes at the moment until it looks fairly decent. (Which will take a million years, it feels. *sobs*)
It has taken me years to come to terms with the fact that I can write about my faith, though. My mom has been trying to pound it into my brain for years. “Why can’t you write awesome Muslim girls if you want to write awesome girls?”

I talked about this during #WeNeedDiverseBooks, but for years, I didn’t think that Muslim girls were allowed to do anything in the fictional narrative, because of course, since we didn’t and still have meager representation, we probably weren’t interesting enough to write or read about.

I know better, now.

A: What are some challenges you face as a writer?

K: Oh, what challenges do writers not face?
With me, it always boils back down to self-esteem, and realizing when I need to let my manuscript slip out of my anxious, neurotic fingers and into the hands of someone else that can do it some good.

A: What fictional character do you identify with the most? And why?

K: Probably either Sophie Hatter or Lizzie Bennet, thanks to recent ruminating over my rewatch of the Lizzie Bennet Diaries (though, fun fact: despite my love for film and YouTube adaptations, Pride and Prejudice is not my favorite Austen title). I, too, am very snarky, suspicious and am impatient when faced with hysterics.

A: Who are some writers that inspire you?

K: My top tier of favorite authors includes Diana Wynne Jones (always, always, always); Laini Taylor, who I like to pretend is my fairy godmother of words, since her advice through posts and tweets is always what I need to read at a given time; Gail Carson Levine, as Ella Enchanted continues to have a strong influence on what I write and particularly the amount of heroines I write (read: nearly every idea I have); and Nova Ren Suma, who I am honored to consider a friend and constantly awed by.

These are not the be all and end all of my favorites, but they are definitely people that come to mind when I feel particularly discouraged and need inspiration. Also, they all write so lovely, and I covet ethereal prose.

A: Have you ever discovered anything about yourself in your writing?

K: Mainly, I’ve found that I’m allergic to writing boys. Well, maybe not allergic. And maybe not as long as they aren’t main characters or love interests. Also, I like writing about tough girls who face real, teenage trauma and deal with it like real teenagers do, not cut-and-dried “what adults would hope you’d do” teenage stuff.

Which is, you know, the majority of what YA does. Pretty much, I wish I could be like Tess Sharpe and Courtney Summers in the way that they don’t beat around the bush in what girls experience, as I love and admire them both dearly.

A: And… advice?

K: Okay. I’m the last person you want to ask for advice, on anything. Except, possibly, how to survive accidentally creating a viral hashtag by the skin of your teeth. All I can say is, learn how to block out the advice that tells you that part of your process is wrong – WITHIN REASON. That is to say, if someone tells you that you need to have a good structure to your story? They are totally right, my dear, and I hope you’d listen. But if someone tells you that something that seems to work for you doesn’t work for them, that doesn’t mean you have to scrap it.

For instance, for ages, I used to work on multiple drafts. Some would get farther than others, and others I’d just leave aside for later if they didn’t go anywhere at a certain point. And then, a certain, dear author who I shall not name as her advice is perfectly sound – just not for me right then – told me that was counterproductive.

Alright, then. I stopped it. I focused on only one idea and tried to ignore the others hopping like so many beautiful, flourishing bunnies in the flowery meadows of my inner conscious.

And that…didn’t work, either. Right now, I’ve worked out a process of writing down those other ideas while remembering to devote time to my primary project that works for me. But the point is, my friend Justine Larbelestier was telling me, a good month ago, that SHE works on multiple projects and sees which one goes the farthest.

So. Everyone is not the same. And that’s okay. Experiment freely and work with what works in your process for YOU.

And I totally believe in you. You need to know that. Because I do.

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Thanks so much to Kaye for stopping by! Be sure to follow her on Twitter, on her blog, and on Writing with Color, a resource for writing diverse characters.

Middle Grade vs. Young Adult

Hey, guys! The theme for May is “Non-YA Novels.”

I’ll be honest: I read and write very little that isn’t Young Adult fiction. For the most part, this is because I adore YA and there’s so much of it out there that I have no reason to branch out beyond it. But a little teeny tiny (actually pretty decently-sized) part of it is also that YA comes easily to me. Other ages? Not so much.

This is especially true of my secret love: Middle Grade.

Middle Grade fiction is awesome. It’s so much lighter and more adventurous than a lot of YA. (If you need clarification on what I mean by that: A while back fellow TCWT writers Aisha and Emma and I were talking when Aisha asked us what our reactions would be if a strange man approached us in the woods and told us we secretly had magical powers. I said I’d probably tell the guy he was insane and make a break for it; I write mostly YA. Emma, on the other hand, replied that she’d probably be like, “Cool!” and follow him off to the magical world. Emma, through and through, is an MG person.)

MG differs from YA in lots of other ways, too. So, in case you too are naturally a YA person who happens to also love MG, I figured I’d put together a quick list of the defining characteristics of MG (in comparison to YA).

Middle School

Like all things, there are of course exceptions to this rule. But whereas YA generally focuses on the high school years, MG is all about the torture chamber that is middle school.

That means things are generally more dramatic–but, at least in the case of contemporary works, also with lower stakes. So maybe instead of not getting into her dream university if a character doesn’t do well in a class, she’ll just have to deal with her parents grounding her for a couple weeks. (The stakes in other genres of MG, however, are just as high as in anything else. Which makes them extra exciting–because, like, eleven-year-old saving the world? There is no greater natural underdog situation. And it is EXCELLENT.)

Finding Out About (But Not Necessarily Experiencing Things) For the First Time

Like YA, MG focuses on a period of discovery. (Yay puberty.) However, unlike YA, Middle Grade is more about learning about things than actually first-hand experiencing them. Or, if your protagonist does experience something, it’ll be the more innocent iteration of it.

For example, instead of trying alcohol for the first time, a MG protagonist is much more likely to see an older sibling try it for the first time. Or instead of losing his virginity, an MG protagonist is more likely to simply have a first kiss. (And chances are that kiss would be more cute than, like, steamy.)

Trusting

As a whole, MG protagonists are much more trusting than their YA counterparts (as exemplified by the reactions of  Emma and me above). Whereas YA generally has that period where the protagonist thinks she’s going cray cray if something strange happens, an MG protagonist is more likely to roll with it.

A really great example of this comes from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Instead of freaking out over finding a world in a wardrobe, Lucy looks around in wonder and readily accepts going to tea with Mr. Tumnus. Peter and Susan, on the other hand, can’t believe their eyes and are extremely wary of Narnia. Lucy sees the adventure as a gift; they see it as a threat.

The trusting thing also extends to other aspects of the story, like the protagonist’s relationships with authority figures. While YA generally has a level of distance and animosity with authority figures, MG still trusts them and believes in their ability to make everything right.

Friendships over Relationships

Going on my soapbox for a moment: I lovelovelove stories about friends and I want more of them in YA.

However, as it stands, YA is generally more focused on romantic relationships than platonic ones. On the other hand, MG is all about friendship and all the weird, nerve wracking, and wonderful drama that comes with that.

What are some of your favorite characteristics of Middle Grade fiction? Did I miss any defining differences between it and YA?

Making Your Blog as Interesting as Your Book

Social media is hugely important in the field of publishing, and many professionals in the industry suggest that writers keep a blog. Of course, this leads to the inevitable question of: What the heck do I post about?

When I first started blogging on Tumblr, I’d often find myself scrolling through blogs and thinking, “How do these other bloggers find so much cool stuff to talk about? What’s their trick to coming up with content that attracts viewers?” Now that I’ve been on Tumblr for over a year, I’ve figured out there isn’t a real “trick,” but there are certain methods that make it much easier to attract readers to your blog and keep them interested.

Image courtesy of 5found.com

Some of these methods apply universally, whether you use Tumblr, Blogger, WordPress, or any other blogging platform. So, without further ado, here are five tips to help you come up with that perfect blog post:

1. Pick a theme, and stick with it.

Most popular blogs have specific themes they use to attract readers. It’s best to do the same with your own blog; pick one broad topic to focus all your posts around. Maybe your blog is a book review blog; maybe it’s about publishing news; maybe it’s about your personal writing experiences. Once you settle on that single topic, it will make it easier for readers to find you. The more your blog mentions that topic, the more often search engines will direct people to your blog when they do a search on the subject.

This method also helps you draw the right type of readers. Posting three times about the latest YA releases will attract people who read YA, and they’re likely going to stick around to see your next three posts about YA books. In contrast, if you make three entirely random posts about three entirely random topics, you’ll end up with a scattered audience who might lose interest when you stop posting about the topic that originally drew their attention.

The book world has some great examples of this, such as:

Heroes and Heartbreakers, which is a blog run by the publishing company Macmillan that focuses on romantic fiction.
The Creative Penn, which is run by author Joanna Penn and focuses on the business side of self-publishing.
YA Books Central, which has a blog that focuses on reviews and news about YA releases.
Books and Cupcakes, which focuses on book reviews and bookish photography.

2. Know what is expected on your blogging platform.

If you use Tumblr, you shouldn’t be filling your blog with long, text-based posts that have no photos. Simply put, no one on that site is going to read it. Similarly, if you post twenty times a day on WordPress with funny GIFs and links to super short articles, you’re not going to attract any followers.

Every blogging platform has expectations of its writers, even if they’re not official rules, and even if they can be difficult to figure out. Really the only way to truly understand what’s expected is to experiment a bit and to read lots of other blogs on the same platform. Kira did a great post HERE that explains the basic expectations on each of the most popular blogging platforms.

3. Don’t be afraid to be unique and experiment.

Every site needs something unique to make it stand out. Otherwise, why would people choose to visit your blog over the millions of others out there? One of the easiest ways to make content unique is to add your personal opinions to posts. Instead of linking to a Goodreads newsletter that talks about pretty covers, how about you make your own list of your favorite book covers from 2014? And posting about the winner of a big award can be interesting, but it’s going to make your readers happier if you include your own review of the book, and express why you’re so happy that author won.

Being “unique” can also mean approaching a topic in a new or exciting manner. Pretty much every YA book blog out there has a review of The Hunger Games, but maybe yours has a review made entirely from GIFs. And most writers have a “FAQ” page on their blog, but maybe you answer the questions with passages from your favorite books. Don’t be afraid to go a little crazy sometimes, but keep in mind that readers are often creatures of habit; because of this, it’s generally best to stick with content that has a unique “twist” on a well-known concept, rather than creating something entirely new.

Image courtesy of Pixabay

Image courtesy of Pixabay

4. Post selectively and regularly.

The entire goal of picking good content is to keep your reader interested, so they stay on your site and explore more of it. In order to achieve this, you have to be picky when it comes to deciding what should go on your blog and what shouldn’t. Put yourself in the shoes of your readers before you post something: If you stumbled across this post, would you stop and take the time to read it? If your answer is “no,” then don’t expect other people to find it engaging.

Posting regularly is nearly as important as posting quality content, although I’ll fully admit this part is a lot harder. It can be really tough to keep up a blogging schedule, but if you manage to post on a regular basis, your chances of gaining readers will grow hugely. If you’re really short on time, try using a queue system; most platforms have an app that allows you to upload a bunch of posts at once, but only have them go live at scheduled intervals. Do a simple Google search to find the best queue app for your chosen platform and your personal tastes.

5. Socialize!

Seriously, we call it “social media” for a reason. Get out there and talk to people! It can be intimidating at first, but starting conversations with your readers is a great way to get them to stick around. Pose questions to your readers, answer comments, and engage with them as much as you can. Also be sure to check out other blogs similar to yours, and try to engage with their writers.

However, do be careful. The writing and reading community on the internet has some truly lovely members, but there will always be people on the internet you should stay away from. As a general rule, if someone or something is making you uncomfortable, get away from them. And if you ever feel genuinely threatened by anyone, report it to proper authorities. Just because a threat occurs online doesn’t make it any less real.

Blogging

Do you have your own blog? And if you do, how do you decide what to post and what not to? Has any method worked particularly well for you, when it comes to attracting readers?

TCWT May 2015 Blog Chain

tcwt (3)

Hi everyone! As a part of the Ch1Con blog tour (you can read our post on the subject plus enter our critique giveaway here), the May blog chain will be hosted by one of our very own bloggers–Kira Budge–over on the Ch1Con site. To join this month’s chain, please hop over to this post on their site (the link will open a new tab) and comment there with a link to your blog before May 4th.

Thanks! :D Everything else about the blog chain will continue as per usual (and the final schedule will appear here, on our Blog Chain page), and June’s topic will once again be announced on TCWT.

Teen Writer Conferences, Poetry, and Disability in Fiction: The Ch1Con Blog Tour

Ch1Con Banner

Hey everyone! As some of you may know, TCWT has close ties with Ch1Con, a young writers conference based in Chicago, IL; many of our awesome bloggers on this site also work for Ch1Con. The conference is currently open to registration for its 2015 session, which features YA authors Kat Zhang and Ava Jae and freelance editor Taryn Albright, and they are offering a discount to attendees who register early. More on that below.

Before I lose anyone: this post will be a bit long, and it’ll be broken up into three parts. First is an intro to the conference; then is an interview (covering all of the topics mentioned in the title of this post) with two of the people behind the scenes at Ch1Con; finally, there is a critique giveaway.

For those of you in the Chicago area (or who may be passing by Chicago in early August), I encourage you to read the “About Ch1Con” section below and to consider attending–lots of fantastic people are involved with making Ch1Con happen, and I’m confident that attending will be a really worthwhile experience. For those of you who aren’t in the Chicago area, though, you can scroll down to read the interview and enter the critique giveaway.

For more info, check out the Chapter One Young Writers Conference website (which, even if you can’t make it to the conference, is totally worth subscribing to), or follow them on Twitter (@Ch1Con).

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ABOUT: 

[Bio courtesy of Ch1Con]

Founded in 2012, the first Chapter One Young Writers Conference (Ch1Con) took place in Chicago with six teenagers in attendance in person and countless others attending via an online live stream. It was an experiment limited to members of the Scholastic’s Write It community and their friends: Could a group of teenagers from across North America really get together and run their own conference? The answer soon became apparent: Yes. And so the conference was born!

As anyone who’s attended one knows, there are few events as enjoyable and productive for people in our field as writing conferences. With so many options out there, many specifically designed towards certain genres or groups, writers can almost always find a conference geared towards their needs. Together in a professional setting, those writers get to learn about the industry, workshop their own pieces, and experience the inspirational effect of being around other people like them.

Because the teen writing community is a particularly vibrant one, Ch1Con is proud to say they are the only writing conference by young writers, for young writers. Their team comprises a number of high school and college age writers at different experience levels in the industry, eager to create a unique experience for others like them. The conference, which has a subset focus on the young adult novel, brings teens together to hear from accomplished speakers of their own age, participate in professional workshops, and celebrate the influence young writers have on the world. With an atmosphere combining professional conference aspects with the fun social feel of a teen hangout, Ch1Con is a true no-miss experience.

This year, the conference will take place on Saturday, August 8th in the suburbs of Chicago, IL, in Arlington Heights. 2015 registration is currently open on the Ch1Con website for writers from a middle school to undergraduate level and at an early bird discount price of $39.99. Three speakers have been confirmed so far: headliner Kat Zhang, the bestselling author of the Hybrid Chronicles, Taryn Albright, better known as the Girl with the Green Pen, and Ava Jae, debut author of BEYOND THE RED (YA sci-fi coming out in 2016). As a special bonus, Ava Jae’s agent, Louise Fury of the Bent Agency, will open to queries only from conference attendees for up to thirty days after the event.

Between the awesome presentations and workshops, attendees will have the chance to participate in literary trivia games and giveaways, with prizes like professional critiques, signed books, and literary-themed jewelry! During downtime, all participants are free to explore the many sites of the Chicago area and to network with each other, establishing those vital writerly connections that help make careers and create lifelong friendships. There will also be a speaker panel open to any and all questions midway through the conference.

The 2015 conference will be held in the Courtyard Chicago Arlington Heights/South Marriot, with sessions from 8:30am to 4:30pm on Saturday the 8th of August. Tickets for transport and room reservations can be bought online with links on the conference’s Travel page. Early bird registration is currently open at this link with adult registration for those 18+ and youth registration (with parental/guardian consent) for those under 18.

So if you’re a writer from middle school to undergraduate level and you’re interested in this opportunity, register ASAP! The early bird discount ends May 31st and there are only thirty slots open. For more information and to join in on the Ch1Con community, check out the website and social media platforms for the conference:

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 INTERVIEW: 

Hey guys! Welcome to the blog! Could you tell us a little bit about your jobs at Ch1Con? 

Kira Budge: Thank you so much for having me!… here on this blog that I’m also now an editor for, haha. ;) My name is Kira Budge and I’m the associate online administrator for Ch1Con, which means that I am heavily involved in our social media presence and that I organize and run the blog tour each year. I also consult on all kinds of things related to the management of the conference.

Ariel Kalati: Hello! I’m one of Ch1Con’s Creative Consultants. While that just sounds like a fancy title, I do actually do some useful work for Ch1Con. I help give advice about such decisions as “what is our poster going to look like” and “who should we contact as a potential speaker.” This involves a lot of hours chatting online with the rest of the Ch1Con team, trying to focus on figuring out conference decisions instead of making elaborate jokes about YA books. Additionally, I help run online events, like the Twitter chats and the monthly YouTube chats, all about writing and problems particular to young writers. It’s all really fun and I love being a creative consultant.

Why do you think people should attend Ch1Con? What can teens get out of conferences for young writers?

Kira Budge: The best part of Ch1Con, to me, has been getting to spend time with people who like the same things and are at a similar point in their lives as me. I’ve been able to establish such great friendships through the conference and it makes me feel all warm and fuzzy when I’m there with everyone in person. We all relate so well to each other!

Ariel Kalati: I think this conference is extremely important for young writers. The two most important things for a young writer, in my opinion, are: one, writing as much as possible, and two, a community of other writers. Websites such as Ch1Con, TCWT, and others like Figment are amazing for developing this sort of community, but there’s nothing like a day or two in real life spending all your time with people who have the same interests as you- AND are the same age as you. Ch1Con provides really informative (and fun) sessions that teach young writers skills they may not be able to learn anywhere else, about writing, editing, publishing, and more. And unlike other writing conferences and sources of writing advice, it takes into account the particular struggles of being a teenager or young adult. I’m not saying that you’ll fail as a writer if you can’t attend this conference, but I might be saying that people who go to Ch1Con are cooler than people who don’t. I don’t know, I guess you’ll have to attend to find out. :) (But seriously, if you really can’t attend, you can still get some of the experience through our website, chapteroneconference.com.)

Questions for Kira: 

You are really involved in promoting fair treatment in real life–and equal representation in books–of all kinds of marginalized groups. What kinds of representation do you think the Young Adult category in particular is lacking?

Kira Budge: Well, YA definitely still needs work on all kinds of representation! We’ve got to have a chance for every voice to be heard, for every story to be understand. Books and stories are all about learning to understand other people so that we can do better at being empathetic in real life. So it’s super important that we have diverse voices from racial, cultural, gender, religious, and sexuality perspectives. However, because I am both physically disabled and mentally ill, I personally focus more on encouraging and promoting representation of disability in YA lit. For resources in those other areas, you can check out We Need Diverse Books and similar initiatives.

As a disabled person, you are also an especially important voice in favor of better representation of disabled characters and authors. Are there any great books with realistic disabled characters that you recommend people read?

Kira Budge: For physical disability, I’m super into EARTH GIRL by Janet Edwards. It’s a very sci-fied up kind of disability, but all the concepts of ableism and discrimination are clear and well-done nonetheless. (Plus the MC just rocks it.) For mental illness, I really like IT’S KIND OF A FUNNY STORY by Ned Vizzini and OCD LOVE STORY by Corey Ann Haydu, along with plenty of others. There are a couple of posts on my blog that have these kind of recommendations. If *you* readers could recommend some too, especially in the physical disability area, I would love to read them!

Is there anything you think able-bodied people should know about disability, whether in fiction or real life? Misconceptions many have? What can those privileged among us do to better support disabled authors? 

Kira Budge: Support for disabled authors looks like support for disabled people as a whole! Ableism is very intrinsic in our society, just like sexism and racism, and every time you assume that someone isn’t mentally ill or physically disabled just because “they don’t look it,” you’re buying into that. Stereotyping mental illness and joking about it, as is commonly done with OCD and ADD, is buying into that. Looking down on people for seeking the help they need for their mental illnesses is buying into it. Learn to listen to the stories coming from people with varied disabilities and mental illnesses and use what they tell you to become a more considerate and empathetic person. We’re each like any other person. We just have weaknesses in some areas that we need assistance with. (Please note — particularly for physical disabilities, if we need help, we’ll ask. Don’t be overly pushy about trying to help. Just listen, listen, listen.)

Questions for Ariel: 

I know you write a lot of poetry. Where do you get your inspiration? Any advice (or helpful resources you’ve found) for writers interested in writing poetry or verse novels? 

“Where do you get your inspiration” is the infamously hated question of all writers, but I’ll try to answer it. I mostly write poems about the natural world, lately, probably because I’m in a poetry class that focuses on poetry about nature. I usually find inspiration for those sorts of poems by just walking outside. You’d be surprised how much there is to write about if you seriously look at the world around you. I’m also in a slam poetry group, which creates a very different sort of poetry. My inspiration for slam poetry usually consists of me thinking about something that gets me kind of angry or emotional, and then writing a rant about it, but a rant that sounds poetic.

My advice for writers interested in writing poetry is that you have to be willing to remove lines that you love. When you write a poem, you end up putting in a lot of unnecessary stuff that detracts from the actual heart of the poem. Even if that stuff sounds so nice, be willing to delete it if you realize it weighs down the poem. Seriously. It could be the most poetic line ever, but if it’s ruining the poem, delete it. Additionally, one exercise my poetry teacher makes us do a lot which I find helpful is to read poems by other poets and then pick your favorite, try and figure out why you like it so much, and then try to imitate that quality in your own poems. All this stuff is true in prose as well, but it’s sometimes difficult to remember when you’re working in such a different medium.

What are some of your favorite poems?

My absolute favorite poem is “Hope is the thing with feathers” by Emily Dickinson. Besides that one, it’s tough to choose favorite poems rather than favorite poets. I really like Robert Frost, Jane Hirshfield, Louise Gluck, and Walt Whitman. Louise Gluck has a great poetry collection called “The Wild Iris” which consists of poems from the point of view of flowers. I recommend reading poetry collections or poetry magazines to find poems you love.

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Thank you so much to Kira and Ariel for stopping by! You can find Kira on Twitter, Facebook, or her blog, and you can follow Ariel via her blog or her Twitter account. (Also, you know, they both write for TCWT–so you can find them both right here, too. ;) )

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CRITIQUE GIVEAWAY: 

Finally, Kira and Ch1Con founder Julia Byers have been kind enough to offer to each critique one person’s query letter or first chapter (whether it’s of a short story or a novel). To enter, all you have to do is fill out the Rafflecopter linked below (or, if you want to hop over now, it’s right here). Options for entering the giveaway include sharing this post somewhere online, visiting the Ch1Con site, and so on. Good luck! Let me know if you have any issues!

–> GIVEAWAY <–

Utilizing Social Media

Hi everyone! Today I (Kira Budge the Magnificent) wanted to talk to you guys about social media and how to best use it as an author. I have a pretty good deal of experience with this, as the associate online administrator for Ch1Con and also in my own endeavors. Social media has really spoken to me since I first joined Facebook without my parents’ permission in 10th grade (and then went crying to them about it two weeks later because I am halfway incapable of breaking rules). I’ve always loved having the chance to communicate with other people — WITHOUT HAVING TO LEAVE THE HOUSE, WOW.

My experience, again, began with Facebook. Facebook is kind of on its way out nowadays, but I think it’s a good place to start. One great advantage to Facebook is that it’s cross-generational, a lot about families and other people connecting with each other across age groups, and so if you’d like to approach a broader audience age-wise, it can give you that boost. If you have your own Facebook account, you can also create a Facebook page specific to your writerly endeavors. You can just invite fans into your personal account, if you prefer that. On Facebook, you can also join tons of writing groups and communities that will give you a great boost and spam you with lots of useful links to interesting things, like, for example, our TCWT Facebook page, wink wink.

I started blogging after I joined Facebook and before I made my own fan page, and I think I recommend that above everything else. If you’re not comfortable blogging, you should still at least have your own website, with a “News” section to cover for your blog whenever you have something vital to report. But I can tell you right now, blogging is one of my favorite things to do. I am a writer, after all, and on my blog I get to write all the time about ME!… and also all my fandoms and the awesomeness that is writing. Nothing could be more fun. For blogging, my basic tips would be to post on some kind of regular schedule, be open and real, and remember that you’re trying to appeal most of all to readers, for when you are published and need to sell ALL THE BOOKS!

(Image via theinnocentsmiley.com)

Remember, you can also vlog on YouTube if doing regular videos where you can just talk to the camera about your thoughts is your preferred way of blogging. The BookTube community is really active and bright and appeals a lot to teen readers! I like doing occasional videos myself, although I personally prefer print.

Soon after blogging and Facebook, in quick tandem, I joined Twitter and Tumblr. Tumblr did not work out for me personally because I am pretty conservative and it pushed things a bit far, but I know tons and tons of people really love it. If you’re looking for all the fandom crazies in a multimedia form, Tumblr is your game. I ended up switching to Pinterest because it’s the softer, conservative version of Tumblr, and I adore it. You are less likely to reach the majority of fandom teens on Pinterest, but there are some there, especially if you’re going for that more conservative bunch. Twitter, though it confused me at first, has become my favorite social media outlet today. My recommendation for Twitter is to focus on finding awesome people to follow, rather than on getting followers. You can learn and experience so much through Twitter if you’re following the right people. It’s been an incredible and enjoyable eye-opener for me and it’s where I’ve found the most connection to the writerly world online. And of course, the entire point of social media is to find community.

Here’s where we get into the territory I’m less familiar with. If you guys have experience and can give more detail, please contribute your thoughts in the comments! More and more social media nowadays is becoming image and video centered, such as Snapchat, Vine, Instagram, and whatever else you crazy kids are doing. I’m not part of these because my mom refuses to get me a smartphone. FROWNY FACE. Maybe someday, though!

You can also find a lot of great resources through popular writing communities like Wattpad and Figment, or maybe even Teen Ink or NaNoWriMo. I have minimal experience with these because I’ve found them, community-wise, to be a bit too commercialized for my taste. But I know lots of people like them, so if that’s your atmosphere, do tell me about it! I personally love Goodreads as a place to discuss books and keep track of all my reading progress, and I know there’s a good author base there too to answer questions and hold events and giveaways once you’ve been published.

The most important thing in all of this is that you feel comfortable being yourself and communicating with others on the sites. While there might be an adjustment period at first, afterwards you should enjoy what you’re doing on your social media areas. If you don’t, that site’s not right for you, and that’s okay. You’ll find your niche, and in that place, you’ll be able to create a great sense of community and find people that lift you up.

Everything started for me, really, with the heavily moderated Scholastic Write It! boards, where I first discovered the writing community and met the girls who became my best writing friends and, today, are my coworkers at Ch1Con. :) As we moved out to other social media places where we all felt comfortable (and eventually the very scary OUTERnet with our conference), we were able to deepen those friendships and find others to join with, like the TCWT team here. And in the end, that’s what social media is all about. Friendship. Support. Learning from each other. It’s totally priceless.

So make it a good one, yeah? The internet is magical.

TCWT April 2015 Blog Chain

Hey guys! For April’s blog chain, I want to do a twist on a topic from two years ago, which asked participants to write a letter to an antagonist of their choosing. And because fictional ships are the cause of so many FEELINGS in the book world, I think it could be fun to write a letter to one of them.

So:

“Write a letter to a fictional couple.”

(I am trying to sound professional here, but: I AM VERY EXCITED ABOUT THIS TOPIC.)

As usual, you have a lot of freedom with the topic. You could write a letter to a fictional couple you love, to a fiction couple you hate, to multiple fictional couples, or even to a character who desperately needs to see that he or she is passionately in love with [insert person here]. Anything you come up with (as long as it in some way relates to the topic) totally fits. Don’t be afraid to be creative!

To sign up, just comment below with a link to your blog and I’ll assign you a date. The schedule will go up on April 4th; the blog chain will begin on April 5th.

[If you’re new to the site and are wondering what the blog chain is, you can find out more here. You are also more than welcome to join in. We’re always looking for more participants!]

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5 Reasons Why Ella (Enchanted) Is A True Woman Of Fiction

Hey, Emma Ryan here! I’m a member of the TCWT staff. You probably don’t know me all that well considering that, due to my own laziness, I haven’t written a single post for the blog yet, but hopefully, once you’re done reading this, you’ll know me a little better and we can all be grand friends!

Technically, I’m here this week to talk about my favorite book, but, because I’m a rebel who don’t play by no rules, I’m going to tell you about my favorite character. Her name is Ella, and she is the strong-willed, powerful protagonist of Ella Enchanted, the Newbery-honor-winning novel by Gail Carson Levine. I fell in love with this book when I was a freckle-faced, geeky eleven-year-old. It’s a fractured fairytale with romance and ogres, which were (and are) two of my favorite things. However, if I’m being honest, it was Ella that had me rereading this book upwards of a dozen times before my thirteenth birthday.

I’ve always been hungry for well-written female characters, and the thousands of #WomenInFiction tweets we’ve seen recently prove that I’m not alone.  We’ve seen how feminism in middle grade and YA lit is of the utmost importance, because it is the fiction that young women, like myself, look to for inspiration and guidance. By picking apart Ella’s most prominent and empowering attributes, I’ve learned a lot about how to craft and define an effective leading lady.

I wanted the title of this post to sound like a Buzzfeed click-bait article (I’m shameless, what can I say?) so it will be coming to you in list format.

(Spoilers abound after this point, so feel free to go read the book and get back to me :) )

1) Ella forces you to cheer her on

The odds have been stacked against Ella from her birth onward. When Ella was a young child, a fairy godmother gave Ella a “gift” that took away her free will. She was cursed to obey any order given to her–wanted or not, malicious or not. Like the real Cinderella, she is hit with misfortune after misfortune for most of her life. Unlike the real Cinderella, she is scrappy and angry and hilarious. She is the very definition of an underdog and she is more sympathetic than a sad puppy.

She, as a character, has you in her corner by the end of page one. By the end of page ten, you’re a card-carrying member of the Ella fanclub. By the end page fifty you are its president. By the final page you’re wearing a #TeamElla T-Shirt, bawling your eyes out, and mumbling about the true meaning of happiness.

2) Ella is talented

Ella is not good at a lot of things. She is naturally (and proudly) klutzy and obstinate. She cannot sew or sing, and she’s not graceful on the dance floor. Although she has many of these so-called “imperfections” ordered out of her at finishing school, she is also naturally and profoundly gifted.

Ella has a special talent for language, mastering Ogreese –this awesome hypnotizing ogre language– so completely that she is able to control them using their own spells.. Her classmate from a neighboring country is mocked for speaking with a strange accent, and Ella responds by learning her friend’s native language so they can make fun of the bullies without anyone else knowing.

She’s a good liar, negotiator, and actress. She approaches her curse like a puzzle, and often times she finds loopholes that let her get her way. She uses cleverness and deception rather than force, and she becomes exceptionally good at surviving in a world of unwanted orders.

Recently, we’ve seen a renaissance of competent female leads in YA and middle grade, but sometimes we forget that you don’t have to be a skilled fighter or a perfect lady-fairy in order to be interesting. Ella’s abilities are not flashy or violent, and she is very far from perfect. We, as writers, need to keep in mind that flaws and competence are equally important when fleshing out a complex female character.

3) Ella is emotional

I was a very emotional child. I cried a lot. I argued a lot. I thought very deeply about a lot of things and was often overwhelmed by the strength and quality of my own feelings. Sometimes we assume that strong characters–especially strong female characters–must be calloused or hyper-zen in order to take care of business, but it is Ella’s vulnerability that makes her relatable, and ironically strong.

One of the novel’s first scenes is the funeral of Ella’s beloved mother. Ella does not express her bravery by keeping a stiff upper lip and staring stony-faced into the middle-distance. She expresses her bravery through her feelings. She weeps hysterically “in an infant’s endless wail” for the King and his entire court to see.

When Ella must sacrifice her relationship with the man she loves in order to protect him, Ella does not pretend that everything is okay. She weeps again, out of regret, anger, and even a little self-pity. She mourns her loss openly and passionately. Rather than being pathetic or awkward to read, Ella’s emotional outbursts are extremely cathartic for the reader. As a child, I found Ella’s tears validating. As a young adult I find them refreshing and frankly inspiring.

4) Ella is funny

I cannot stress this one enough. Ella is hilarious. She’s witty, self-deprecating and snarky. She does outrageous impressions and makes goofy faces. Ella is a comedian, and is repeatedly referenced as such by other characters.

Among female characters, this is rare, and it shouldn’t be. Too often, I see the humor of ladies limited to quippy one-liners or sarcastic comments designed to knock the (usually male) main character down a peg. Women are rarely portrayed as funny in their own right, and when they are it’s usually because they’re stereotyped or cartoonish. Ella breaks down all the conventions and is just pure funny.

5) Ella is a fighter

Ella fights for herself.

Not for a nation, not for an idea, and not for glory. Her battle is not regime-crushing or world-saving. It is long and quiet and deeply personal.

That does not mean she’s not a badass.

That does not mean she is not a hero.

Ella’s free will was magically stripped away at infancy. The massive, MASSIVE implications of this are explored beautifully within the novel, but the biggest side-effect of growing up will-less –for Ella at least–is that she becomes stubborn, strong willed, and, ironically, fearless. Instead of letting her curse beat her into submission, Ella becomes the most self-possessed woman imaginable.

Crazy boarding schools, royal boyfriends and fairy confrontations are all footnotes in Ella’s journey toward freedom. On this quest, she also fights against a neglectful, manipulative father, an abusive step-family, inflexible educators, and ogres (did I mention ogres?). All of Ella’s fighting is passionate, nonviolent, and inspiring. She kicks and screams and cries out for basic freedom.

As a little girl, Ella let me know the true value of my own autonomy. It was a deeply important lesson for me, and it will stay with me forever. Ella taught me that I matter, and that I deserve, and that all women and humans deserve, respect and freedom.

That’s what a good character does.

That’s what good books do.

Your homework:

Think back to the books of your childhood and figure out exactly what they mean to you. It might be Ella Enchanted; it might be The Catcher In The Rye; it might be Goodnight Moon. Reread them, think about them, and learn from them. Rediscover the character that helped shape who you are.

On Favorite Books

When someone asks what my favorite book is, there are always two novels that come to mind. And I can’t for the life of me choose between them.

I love a lot of books. Like, A LOT OF BOOKS. I’ve read The Hunger Games trilogy and Anna and the French Kiss and half the Harry Potter books and Thirteen Reasons Why and the entirety of the Chronicles of Narnia series (and a bunch of others) at least three times each. I actually read Anna and the French Kiss back to back at one point this summer, just because I didn’t want it to end. (Also because OMG THAT ONE SCENE IN ISLA AND THE HAPPILY EVER AFTER.) (I mean, you can’t help but reread Anna a thousand times after that.)

Of my two Absolute Favorite Books though, I’ve read one twice and the other one and a half times and I don’t have plans to reread either again anytime soon.

Those original reading experiences mean too much to me. I don’t want to spoil the memories I currently have locked between those pages with new ones that could never be as big or deep or significant as their predecessors.

The first of these two Absolute Favorite Books is Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver. The second is Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein.

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I had the honor of meeting Lauren Oliver in London this past summer and I maybe, possibly (definitely) was the most awkward, fidgety, trying-really-hard-not-to-cry-all-over-her fangirl alive. (Then my whole family ran in–we had been coming straight from touring Buckingham Palace and I beat them to the bookstore by, like, a solid twenty minutes–and they all whipped out cameras and basically turned into paparazzi because they know how much I love her. And if you want proof that Lauren Oliver is one of the best human beings ever, it is the fact that she did not call the police on us. Because we would’ve deserved it)

The funny thing is that Before I Fall is this kind of wonky, Groundhog Day-esque, lyrical contemporary YA and Code Name Verity is this very dark, bittersweetly beautiful, historical NA-ish-thing, and neither are anything I would ever write myself. They aren’t even books I would normally pick up. But they mean the world to me.

I don’t love Before I Fall and Code Name Verity the way I do because they’re particularly excellent on a technical level, even though they are. (Before I Fall has some of the best characters, and character development, I’ve ever read and Code Name Verity has just, like, one of the most perfectly executed plots ever written in the history of ever.) I love these books because they make me feel things in a way other books don’t, and I found them in times when I needed saving and they were exactly the right heroes, and they have shattered me and stomped on me and put me back together again.

And more than anything else, isn’t that what matters about books? More than the author’s use of symbolism, or well-done plot twists, or tightly-crafted prose, isn’t what a book makes us feel the part that stays with us the longest?

I recently re-read The Catcher in the Rye, and although I can tell you lots of reasons for why it’s a classic (that voice! that symbolism!), it honestly didn’t make me—personally, as an individual—feel a thing. But at the same time, I haven’t read a word of Code Name Verity in over a year and I still, you know, JUST HAPPEN TO HAVE SOMETHING STUCK IN MY EYE every time I think about it too much. And I will never forget the tough time Before I Fall pulled me through junior year of high school.

In essence, these books matter because they matter to me. Any book matters, first and foremost, because of how it affects the readers who love it most.

You don’t have to read a book (or watch a movie or listen to a song or take in a painting) “at least three times” for it to be your Absolute Favorite. You just have to remember how it made you feel, and treasure those memories caught in those pages, and know that that book is important. The fact that you believe it is important makes it so.

Every book, whether it has affected a single person or millions, is important.

To paraphrase Code Name Verity, “It’s like being in love, discovering your favorite book.”

And btw, you should totally read Before I Fall and Code Name Verity if you haven’t already. Not promising you’ll fall in love with them, but who knows. We’re all in need of saving at some point. Go out and find your heroes.

Why Aren’t We Reading As Much Anymore?

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about excuses and procrastination. As anyone who knows me can tell you, I am a world-class procrastinator. A lot of writers are, unfortunately. Even though we love writing with all our hearts- really, we do!- somehow we find ourselves avoiding writing and doing anything else instead. And we’ll come up with all sorts of excuses. I don’t have any time! I have writer’s block! Lots of great writers put off writing for months, probably!

We do the same thing with reading. Now, I don’t mean to be some crotchety old person yelling that technology is evil, because I am very much the opposite of that. But somehow I find myself spending more and more time scrolling through websites and less time reading books, short stories, and poems. I mean, it’d be one thing if I were reading e-books or using websites to find creative writing pieces, but I don’t. And I know so many other writers and readers do the same thing. I remember in tenth grade, my AP English class all started talking about how as kids, we were all voracious readers, checking out piles of books from the library each week and devouring them quickly- but now, we’re lucky if we read one book in a month.

Part of these problems can be chalked up to the fact that as teenagers or young adults, we have more responsibilities than we did before, and less time to do the things that we love, like writing and reading. And at the end of the day, after doing tons of work, it’s exhausting to put in the effort to digest a complicated story or, even harder, create your own. It’s so much easier to laugh at terrible jokes and watch YouTube videos. And I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with terrible jokes and YouTube videos, with relaxing when you’re tired. But the things that we love, the reasons we get up in the morning for most of us, are books. Reading books and writing books and getting excited about those books. So if we’re not spending time doing those things, then what’s the point?

I hope this doesn’t come across as preachy, because trust me when I say I am probably more guilty than any of you of avoiding reading and writing despite loving both of those pursuits. But instead of feeling bad about all this procrastination, let’s do something about it. Let’s find ways to fight against all the parts of us that go “uggghhh give me the Internet instead” by pushing books back into our lives. I was inspired by my actual superhuman friends and TCWT team members, Kira and Julia, who both made New Year’s Resolutions to read a set number of books this year and last year. I’m aiming lower than they are, with a goal of 36 books, which would probably make my ten-year-old self super disappointed in me, but it’s more than I read last year. To be honest, I’m having difficulty choosing books, despite the fact that there are so many books I still haven’t read. So I had an idea.

This month’s theme is “Books I Love.” In the comments of this article, post some book recommendations, of the books you love but that you think people might not have read yet. I’m going to at least start reading all of your recommendations by the end of the year, and I suggest that other people having this problem do the same. I’ll start by giving my own recommendation: “The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland,” by Catherynne M. Valente. It’s an easy-to-read whimsical fantasy book, and it’s a great place to start getting back into reading.

And if you don’t feel like taking the recommendations of complete strangers, you will soon have the chance to take the recommendations of kind-of-not-really strangers. The TCWT and Ch1Con teams are working on creating a book club based on how certain books help us with our own writing. There will be more details on this soon, but I hope this combination of community and good books will get me (and all of you who have this problem) back into reading.

Thanks for reading this, and please leave a recommendation in the comments if you want!

 

TCWT March 2015 Blog Chain

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Hey guys! Apologies for posting this late. My life recently has stayed on course with this tweet. (Also – I’m hoping to catch up on blog chain comments when my exams are over in a few days. Sorry about being so slow on that as well.)

For the March blog chain topic, I’m borrowing a suggestion made by Julia, one of my TCWT co-bloggers, and focusing on books in non-novel formats. By that I mean plays, short story collections, poetry collections, essays, and memoirs, among other things.

“What are your thoughts on reading or writing books in non-novel formats? Are there any you’ve particularly enjoyed?” 

Like with most topics, I really want this one to be as open as possible. I know most people on here stick to the novel format, which means not everyone has personal experience actually writing, say, a screenplay (though if you have, that’d make for an awesome post!). So you’re welcome instead to talk about non-novels books that you, as a reader, have enjoyed, or, if you’d like, you can do away with the rest of the topic and just post your thoughts in general on certain types of non-novel formats. For example, serialized novels have been growing in popularity recently–what do you think of that? Do you feel serials can work? Will they stick around? Would you be willing to read one? Or maybe you’re a big fan of celebrity memoirs–what are your favorites? How do you choose which to read? You can even talk about a movie or TV show you really loved, as long as you focus specifically on the script. Anything goes, as far as I’m concerned.

As usual, just comment below with a link to your blog and I’ll assign you a date. The schedule will go up on March 5th; the blog chain will begin on March 6th.

[If you’re new to the site and are wondering what the blog chain is, you can find out more here. You are also more than welcome to join in. We’re always looking for more participants!]

 

Learning from Other Writers

Hey, TCWT-ers! Since this is my first post on the blog, I figure I should do a quick intro. I’m Olivia Rivers, I’m a writer, I’m a teen. Shocking, right? But I’m also a reader, and I decided to focus on that today. Or, more specifically, on how my reading ties into my writing.

Image Courtesy of Unsplash Images

 

Here’s the thing: Every time I sit down to write, I know I’m going to screw up in some way or another. Writing a novel basically creates a 90,000 word-long experiment. Combined with the sheer amount of guesswork that goes into revisions, mistakes become unavoidable. But there’s an awesome part about this: All writers mess up. I say this is “awesome” because it means that there are lessons to be learned from every other writer. Every book you read is a lesson in what works and what doesn’t. So how do you decipher that lesson? There’s no solid answer (or at least not one I’ve found!), but I’ve collected a few tips that tend to help me:

  1. Read.

I know it sounds incredibly obvious, but it’s worth mentioning: You can’t learn unless you take the time to study. The most talented authors I know are people who read more than they write, so I promise it’s worth setting down your own work and paying attention to other books.

Image Courtesy of Popcrush.com

  1. If you love part of a book, ask yourself if the author used emotional or technical craft to make you feel that way.

When you come across a part of a book you love, ask yourself why you feel that way. Is it because of the writer’s skill with technical craft? (ie: Their prose is beautiful, their metaphors are interesting, their sentence structure is smooth.) Or do you enjoy that part of the story because of the emotional qualities? (ie: Their characters are lovable, their plot twists make you gasp, the moral dilemmas make you think.) Or maybe it’s both? Being able to identify exactly why you like part of a story will make it much easier to incorporate those likable elements into your own work.

  1. If you dislike part of a book, ask yourself if the author actually made a mistake or if your personal feelings are to blame.

Certain parts of books can be identified as actual mistakes (ie: An abundance of typos or a gaping plot hole.) But a lot of the things we identify as “mistakes” are actually just aspects of a book that make us feel negative emotions (ie: An annoying character, or a trope we feel is cliched.) There are different lessons to be learned from these two things. Spotting actual mistakes teaches you what to never do. But spotting parts you dislike on an emotional level teaches you what to not do in certain situations.

A love triangle in a violent sci-fi is probably just going to distract from the plot; a love triangle in a sweet contemporary romance might keep a reader eagerly flipping the pages. Giving a love interest “impossibly blue eyes” in a sweet contemporary might feel cliched; giving a sci-fi villain the same eye color might give them an interesting spark of humanity.

The point is, it’s often impossible to label part of a book “good” or “bad.” But it’s much easier to label something as “fitting for this situation” or “not fitting for this situation.” And the more you read, the easier it will be to form an accurate label—both when you’re reading the works of others, and when you’re editing your own work.

  1. Look for broken rules that work.

Pick up pretty much any best-selling book, and you’ll find the author probably broke at least one writing “rule.” Sometimes it’s a matter of messing with grammar, like David Levithan does in “Will Grayson, Will Grayson.” Sometimes it’s turning a genre completely on its head, like Ellen Hopkins did when she debuted with “Crank.” Breaking a rule doesn’t always equate to messing up, and learning to identify that will help you figure out how to make your stories unique without upsetting readers.

Image Courtesy of Goodreads

  1. If you learn a lesson from another writer, make sure to give them credit in an appropriate manner.

If you learn from something an author does well, give them a shout-out on social media. Mention on Twitter that Brandon Sanderson has amazing world-building, or that Cassandra Clare’s dialogue is priceless. But if you learn from something an author does badly, don’t point it out publicly. Book reviewers, book bloggers, and other professional readers are already available to guide readers away from unenjoyable books. As a writer, it’s not really your job to mention the faults of other writers in a public manner. So if you really have nothing good to say about a book, just don’t say anything at all.

Image Courtesy of Unsplash Images

 

I could go on and on about studying the works of other writers, but those five tips are some of my favorites. What about you? Do you have any tips to share about learning from other authors?

 

How To Survive Long Waits

Once you wade deep enough into the publishing world, you start to realize that a huge chunk of the industry involves waiting. Whether you’re waiting on feedback from critique partners, waiting on replies from literary agents about your book, waiting the 1.5 to 2+ year stretch from when you sell your book to when it’s actually published, you’re going to be doing a lot of sitting on your hands. And, naturally, with lots of waiting comes lots of stressing. And lots of chocolate eating. And, sometimes, lots crying. Waiting is so integral to writing that it has even inspired this popular vignette:

“Wait and wait and wait and wait

Until all you feel for your book is hate

And on your nerves it begins to grate

And then, some more, you wait and wait”

Okay, that’s not actually a thing. I just made that up. But it is pretty accurate, at least in my experience. Waiting constantly grates on my confidence, reducing me to a heap of nerves, stress, and constant email refreshing. Waiting, it also seems, is pretty much endless.

Over the last few years, I’ve queried literary agents on four separate occasions. I’ve also sent a number of my manuscripts to beta readers and critique partners for feedback. Both of these add up to a great deal of waiting, which means I totally get the stress. And it’s hard, guys. I’m sure you already know this, but it bears repeating: it isn’t just you. Waiting is hard. It’s even worse when you have to wait on a book you love, a book you want the whole world to love, too. And arguably the worst part of waiting isn’t the fact that a response is taking so long, but that your mind buries itself in the absolute worst case scenario–that your critique partners hate the book, for example, or that an agent read it and thought it was so terrible that they outright blocked your email address, or that you’re a failure and no one is going to like this book and oh god oh god, why even try?

Waiting brings out the cynic in all of us. It also lets your imagination run rampant, such that you end up examining every little thing–analyzing the reading update your critique partner sent you in hopes of figuring out how exactly they feel about your book. The same goes for emails from literary agents, or checking agents’ Twitter feeds, or a whole slew of things. These bits of obsessing usually lead to more anxiety, but most of us do it anyway, because it’s so tough to stop.

The trick to waiting–and this is much easier said than done–is to take a deep breath and focus on something else.

In the spirit of this month’s theme (“What Works and What Doesn’t” )I want to talk about more specific strategies that, in my experience, have been successful, as well as those that, well, haven’t.

So:

Doesn’t Work: Endlessly refreshing your email. Unfortunately, there seems to be an unwritten law of nature that, if you’re checking your inbox, no new email will appear. Even if you only keep the tab open, there will be total silence. But, more importantly, constantly checking your inbox will keep re-stressing you. What you want is to distract yourself with something else. So the next time you start to type “gmail.com” into the browser for the third instance in the last few minutes, stop. Take a breath. Get yourself out of the habit.

Works: Talking out your stress. Find a helpful friend or fellow writer, and put all of your anxieties and fears into words. It may not make you feel better right away, but it does help a ton in the long run. The more you hold in your nerves, in my experience, the more stressed you are.

Works: Staring at pictures of cute animals.

Bunny pancake

from: http://stuffonmyrabbit.net/

(This is also true of videos of cute animals.) (And dreaming of how much more glamorous your life would become if you could be a professional baby otter feeder.)

Works: Going outside. As terrifying as The Outdoors (cue up the dramatic music) sometimes are, just going outside and walking/jogging/sitting, even when it’s well below freezing like it is here, really helps to clear your head.

Works: Reading! I’ve recently read The Winner’s Curse, a light YA fantasy, as well as Grasshopper Jungle, a weird YA contemporary, both of which I absolutely loved. Reading great books can help remind you why you are doing this whole writing thing–not to be universally loved, but because you have to. Because you can’t not write. Because one day you want to create something as extraordinary as your own favorite stories.

Doesn’t Work: Talking about querying with writerly peers who are having much more success than you are. No matter how happy you are for them, you will inevitably fall into another pit of I-can’t-take-this-why-is-this-not-going-well, etc etc etc.

Doesn’t Work: Spending a good portion of your time online, especially on social media. Assuming that you are at least a teeny bit entrenched in the writing world online, you might find pretty quickly that throwing your stress into social media can hurt more than it helps. The same is true for pretty much any place online. Since so many sources of your stress are, I’m guessing, online–probably your beta readers are, very likely that the agents you queried are, and even more likely that your means of getting feedback (e.g. emails) is–cutting down on internet time on the whole can do wonders. Plus, if you’re on social media or if you blog, you’ll probably find that both are naturally stressful. Little things can easily add up on social media, and as a result, your mood will plummet.

Also, this could just be me, but in general I find that spending time in front of a screen when I’m stressed just makes me more anxious. It is so hard to break away, I know, but when you do (by reading a print book! By going outside! By doing both!), you’ll likely feel so much better.

Toss-up: Writing. Ah, yes. From the writers I’ve talked to and the huge diversity of responses I’ve received re: writing while waiting: I think it’s safe to categorize this one as a toss-up. Because, depending on how you write, how into your book you are, and a whole lot of luck, writing while waiting can either multiply your stress (as it does for me) or it can be a total relief. For example, if you’re working on a manuscript that’s going really well, writing is the PERFECT way to distract yourself from waiting. You can get lost in your world and your characters, and you’ll have this whole new book to query or send to beta readers if, for whatever reason, the one you’re currently waiting on doesn’t receive the kind of feedback you wanted. But on the flip side, if each one of your projects seems to be going poorly, working on them while you’re waiting can really exacerbate your stress levels. “I’m never going to write something as good as the last book!”, “I’m never going to finish another book!”, “Seriously, why is this book so much worse than the one before?” are, along with “I quit,” common thoughts I’ve had in this situation. If this is you, my advice is: take your time. Don’t rush into writing. Don’t force it, especially not when you’re stressed. Write slow, and write for you. It doesn’t matter how long it takes you to finish; it just matters that you do. (And, I promise, YOU WILL FINISH.)

Works: MUSIC. Listening to music, but especially songs that are longtime favorites of yours, helps endlessly to relax and distract you.

Works: Take a breath. Seriously. Just do it. Whenever you’re feeling stressed over waiting, take a breath. Close your computer, turn off your phone. Get away from it all. Because you are awesome. You really are. And as hard as waiting might seem, and as stressful as it might be, you will eventually get your good news. It could happen with this book or it could happen with the next one, but I strongly believe that it will happen.

Keep at it. You’re a writer, right? Storytelling is in your blood. Whatever feedback you get won’t change that. <3

Introductory Writing Advice

Welcome to February on Teens Can Write Too! This month’s topic is What to Do / What Not to Do, which lends itself quite nicely to general writing and publishing advice. So today, I’m doing an introductory post that links to a number of sources for good writing advice.


Books

Want some in-depth writing advice from the professionals? Here are some great books for writers. On top of giving these a go, remember to always keep reading fiction as extensively as possible — books both in your genre and outside it can give you the ex136218amples, the inspiration, and the tools you need to make your own writing better.

Gail Carson Levine’s Writing Magic: Creating Stories that Fly is a beautiful guide aimed at young writers that’s chock full of great advice and, especially, inspiration. This is slightly more suited to those in speculative genres, but it’s a great read for any writer.10569

Stephen King’s On Writing is probably the ultimate in writing guides from the experts. Whether you’re a fan of his or not, you have to admit he knows how to write books that people want to read. In this book, he can be harsh, but he’s completely honest as he explains exactly what it takes to be a good writer.

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Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces isn’t a book about writing, but it is a book about stories. This is the most famous anthropological examination of mythologies, religions, and fiction and how they all lead into a common thread of ideas that humanity has expressed from the start. It shows how stories connect us across cultures and how they relate to psychological concepts. As a writer, I think these are all extremely important 18371991topics to consider, so I definitely recommend this one.

K.M. Weiland’s Structuring Your Novel is a very thorough and useful examination of novel structure and plot that gives you a number of options for making your book more streamlined, more focused, and better written. I own this as an e-book and I’ve found it to be a useful guide.

Internet Links

For every book out there that gives writing advice, there are a million more posts on the Internet that cover the same topic. I can’t even begin to cover these posts, but I can give you a few baselines to jump off of. First off, you’re here on this blog, so you’ve already found yourself someplace full of advice for writers! You can subscribe to keep up with our latest posts, look through the archives for oldies-but-goodies, and check out this page for advice from the professionals! Then you can expand off of this to the hundreds of other blogs by industry professionals. A few I’d recommend include:

You can also utilize the other aspects of our TCWT/Ch1Con community! Ch1Con is one of many writing conferences where you can get great advice and support from other writers. Ours, of course, is the only one by young writers for young writers (*preens*), but you might also consider the Writer’s Digest Conference and Write On Con.

We’ve also got a strong social media presence you can benefit from! Follow @Ch1Con to get bits of writing advice and to participate in our Twitter chats. You can also check out our Pinterest and Tumblr and Facebook — in particular, the Writing Tips & Tricks Pinterest board can be useful. You can also troll the #amwriting tag and all of the social medias and blogs of the TCWT writers — check the About page to link over to them. And of course, TCWT has a Facebook group for you to commune in!

To wrap up these links, because posting on TCWT totally gives me a clear chance to self-promote, here’s one advice post from my own blog that you might like to read: The A-Z Guide to Being a Novelist. (Click it. Click it NOW and I shall give you virtual cookies!)


All right! So those are just a few helpful links and books to give you some introductory writing advice. I know there are so many more out there, so please link some recommendations of your own below! You can also share to all our social media accounts, because we’re here to share this kind of thing. Lots of <3 and thanks for reading!

Religious Diversity in YA Lit

Dear TCWT readers,

Today, in conjunction with some recent Ch1Con chats and our January TCWT blog chain, I want to talk to y’all about a very important topic to me: religion in YA! I think we all agree that religion (or recognizing a lack of religious belief) matters a lot to most people at some point in their lives. Religion, like race and gender and friends and family, is an aspect of our real human lives that can and should contribute to the creation of whole and realistic characters.

             via studygroup-bd.org

So why, then, is religion so undermentioned in YA literature? And why, when it is shown, is it portrayed as a hindrance to the character, something keeping them locked in stifling tradition and unable to live a full and well rounded life? Yes, for some people, religion is stifling and it does hold them back, but for some, it’s the complete opposite. Both of these experiences (and so many more) should be valued and realistically portrayed in literature. That’s what stories are for, after all — sharing all experiences fairly so everyone gets a chance to understand.

I know that I can be guilty, in my stories, of not portraying other experiences of religion fairly. I sometimes let my own positive opinion of religion get in the way of realistically showing my characters — but that’s okay. It’s just another aspect of editing I have to get into as I work towards building a better story.

So today I wanted to remind you of that, that we can (and do) have preconceived notions of what religion is, but we have to remember that our characters may have a very different experience with it then we do. Religion, after all, is deeply personal. It would be a truly impossible task, in my opinion, to portray me realistically as a character without including my religion; though not the only part of my personality, being a Muslim is easily the most important.

Which leads to an important question to ask as you incorporate religion into your characters identity: what religion are they, how strongly, and why? How much does it affect your world? In general, there are two ways to incorporate diversity in your book: the first is diversity that’s just a part of the character without being the main focus, and the second is diversity that becomes a main aspect of the story. Whichever way you choose, it’s important to diversify your fiction — in religion as well as other aspects.

Even though this is more easily applied to realistic fiction, fantasy writers like myself are not off the hook! If anything, we’re even more culpable because we can create our own religions, free of the restrictions of our own, which are made specifically for our worlds and which compliment the struggles and triumphs of our characters. With this, we must consider questions like: how is religion handled in this world? Is your character expected to be religious or is it no big deal?

In basis, religion is another important tool in the author’s tool belt to help shape your character. Of course, you don’t always have to use this tool. Don’t feel pressured to include religion in your story! Just remember that to show a very sincere and grounded story, you have to include all the aspects of a persons identity. I, personally, find seeing religion through the lens of a character a truly insightful and beautiful experience: whether they love or hate their religion, struggle in faith or have firm resolve.

Always remember, your character is yours but their journey with religion doesn’t have to reflect yours. They’ve got an experience all their own.

This is Aisha, signing off for now! Comment below and tell me what you think about religion in YA.

February 2015 TCWT Blog Chain

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Hey everyone! For this month’s blog chain, I want to focus on something we here on the blog have yet to cover: music. Specifically, how music influences our writing, and in what ways we use it for inspiration (if at all). So:

“How does music relate to your writing?” 

The above is this month’s formalized topic, but you can really take it as: “Talk about music and writing.” That is essentially the only requirement. I’m not looking for anything specific. However you want to set up your post–whether you simply want to share playlist(s) you’ve created for your book(s), or you want to talk about your favorite artists to listen to, how certain songs have possibly inspired some of your previous works, or how music fits into your everyday writing process, etc–is totally good with me. (You’re also welcome to do a mix of things. Or, to be honest, to just spend the whole post gushing about awesome songs to write to. This is a really open topic.)

I do realize that not everyone listens to music while they write, though, and if you fit that description, you’re also welcome to talk about why that is, and what you use instead to spur creativity (or to escape from your surroundings).

Thanks everyone! As usual, just comment below with a link to your blog and I’ll assign you a date. The schedule will go up on February 4th; the blog chain will begin on February 5th.

[If you’re new to the site and are wondering what the blog chain is, you can find out more here. You are also more than welcome to join in. We’re always looking for more participants!]

 

Q&A: Starting Is the Hard Part (Or, How to Get Creatively Re-Inspired)

Quick side note before the post: today, TCWT is participating in action/2015, a global campaign (in conjunction with the organization Save The Children and supported by the UN) that encourages young people to speak out with a unified voice against issues of extreme poverty, gender inequality, and climate change. If you have some time, I encourage you to check out this page I made with more details about the campaign and how to help out. See that here.

Action 2015

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Hi everyone! Today I’m doing something a little different–a mini Q&A. As I’ve mentioned before, you can always email questions to the TCWT team, and, considering this blog is dedicated to helping out awesome writers in any way we can, we love being able to offer some advice. We’ve gotten some great questions, but, with the author’s permission, I’ve decided to answer this one in particular on the blog because I know it’s something that a lot of writers struggle with.

(Please note: the first two ellipses below are mine. I just shortened the question a bit.)

My name’s Yasmine and I’m 15 years old; I have the aim of getting back into writing! Usually, I find that I am unmotivated to write although I have many project ideas on my pen drive (I guess I feel a bit overwhelmed) and I struggle to find to find time and the creativity with homework and school as well as exams coming up. Further, I also find that I am very easily distracted by websites online… When I was younger I used to write chapters and chapters about magic and boarding school… but now I struggle to do so… a lot. I’m not sure what to do. I’ve tried prompts and photos when I’ve had time!

Do you think there is anyway that I could find the willpower to write on top of all of this school work? And do you think it’s possible to improve creativity, and if so how?

Hi Yasmine! Thanks for your question.

Holy crap, do I relate to this. I have maybe a couple months out of the year when I consistently feel inspired, but writing during those other ten months is hellish. I’m really sorry you’ve been struggling, though. If it’s any consolation, you aren’t alone. Almost every writer has to deal with this, usually pretty frequently, and it sucks. But it doesn’t last forever. You can totally get back into the swing of things. Time management is always difficult, but if you are able to get yourself re-inspired–boost your creativity, as you said–you will find that whatever bits of time you do have to write will become a lot more productive.

Below are some tips that have worked for me in the past in terms of boosting creativity. Please keep in mind, though, that writing is totally subjective, and what works for me may not work for you. These are just ideas. Only try them if they sound like they might be useful. Hope this helps!

Handwriting. This is the first thing I always recommend. Assuming you’re writing your book on a computer or phone or someplace electronic, switching to actual paper for a while is a great way to boost inspiration. There’s something about switching to pen and paper that makes me see my story differently and usually sparks new ideas. Handwriting is intimate in a way that typing really isn’t, and if you’re able to push away all distractions for a few minutes and just starting writing, I think you’ll find that your ideas will begin to flow. What I like to do is print out whatever I’ve written so far (if anything), grab a pen, go outside or to a quiet place in my house, reread the beginning of the story, and then start writing from where I left off.

Whatever the case, make sure you get away from electronics for a little while, and plan on giving yourself maybe thirty minutes a night where you just write by hand. (When your writing starts to flow again, you can switch to typing, if you prefer that.) I have a feeling it will help you see your story in a different light, and it’ll resurrect some of that lost inspiration.

Just write. I know this sounds simplistic–and it is–but it’s important. The best way to reignite that creative spark is to get used to writing your book again. So: maybe you’ve been struggling with writing because you haven’t figured out your main character’s voice, or because you don’t know who your main character is as a person yet, or because you don’t think you can possibly replicate that awesome short story you finished last year. While you can wait it out and let your subconscious work out ideas, to me, a really useful solution is to take a breath and just start writing.

It doesn’t matter what you write. It doesn’t matter if the scene relates to some greater story, or if it’s just random babble that you are sure will make anyone who reads it question your sanity. It just matters that you’re writing–that you’re getting (re)acquainted with your characters, that you’re figuring out your voice, that you’re getting back into the swing of things, because then your inspiration will start to pick up again. So, say you’re really pissed about not knowing what to write. A good solution is to write a scene from your main character’s point of view wherein he or she spends the whole time complaining about how incredibly impossible writing is. This’ll get you in the head of your main character, get you used to writing again, and it shouldn’t be too difficult to come up with because, you know, it’s how you feel.

You can do a similar thing by writing descriptions. Sit by a window and describe the tree outside your house, for example. Maybe write about how uncanny the physical similarities are between your sadistic pre-calc teacher and Ebenezer Scrooge. It doesn’t matter. All that counts is that you’re writing. Just write what you feel–and, if you’re trying to get inspired to finish a novel or short story, write it all from your main character’s point of view.

Basically, what you want is to get your brain focused on writing again. To do that, just slowly work your way from writing miscellaneous scenes/descriptions/etc to writing the short story or novel you’ve been wanting to tackle, because then you will feel more and more of a pull to write. While you may have to force yourself at first, once your muse returns to you, writing will become natural again.

I think of it like exercise: it sucks epically when you haven’t done it for a while, but once you get back into the swing of things, it gets easier and easier.

Read. Read. Read. Read. Or re-read. I swear, books solve everything.

If you’re really worn out from writing and don’t know how to start it up again, and if the whole “just write” method doesn’t work for you, reading is the best thing to do. Immersing yourself in great books does, to some extent, what I mentioned before: it gets you used to words again. Maybe reading doesn’t get you used to writing, per se, but it reacquaints you with awesome plots and characters and worlds and themes, and it really does help to reignite your inspiration.

If you’re truly stuck, turn to books. Maybe even jot down some bits of fan-fiction when you finish a novel if you feel it might be useful–anything that might help is worth trying.

The scene method. The “scene method” is my totally made-up strategy for writers who have been struggling to finish a novel or long short story. For new writers, and for writers who haven’t written a book in a while, finishing can feel like this Holy Grail that you need to reach, such that, every time you write, you focus on that goal and that goal only. But the problem with approaching every book with this thought process is that it will often make things even more frustrating when you hit a creative block several thousand or so words in.

My advice? Take it one scene at a time. Do everything you can to focus on writing your book, not just on finishing it. Set little goals for yourself, scene by scene. Before you write your first scene, for example, map out what you hope to happen in it, and give yourself a lenient deadline by which you should finish it. That way, hitting each goal will be an accomplishment–and will feel like its own little “finishing”–and writing a novel will be less of a perilous, uphill battle. After you’re done with the scene, if you’re the type to edit as you write, go back and revise it for a while. If not, work on planning out, in however much detail you need, the scene you’re going to write next. Then set yourself a lenient deadline, and repeat the process. Finish the scene. Celebrate. Plot out the next. Finish the scene. Celebrate again.

Novels will always have their hitches, but this method really could help to make your writing go more smoothly, and breaking down something as huge and daunting as finishing a novel in little increments–and celebrating each accomplishment–could be immensely useful.

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I realize this is all difficult to do while balancing school, though, and to answer that part of the question, I have to echo what I said above: do everything you can to make time. In my opinion, unless your schedule is completely packed, boosting your creativity is the difficult part, because once you’re feeling inspired, whatever spare minutes of free writing time you have will be so much more productive than if you aren’t inspired.

Best of luck! I hope this helps!

Critique Partners = Superheroes

Hey, guys! My name is Julia and I’m one of the new admins here at TCWT. I can’t tell you how much I look up to John and everyone else on our team, and I’m so excited to be part of this awesome community. (But don’t tell John I said that.)

SPEAKING OF COMMUNITIES (check out them transition skillz), our theme for January is, you guessed it, “Community.”

I wasn’t sure what to write on this topic at first, because there’s so much you can talk about when it comes to community, especially when it comes to writers. (We all know book people are the best.) Then I got revision notes on a novel from a round of critique partners this past week and my brain was like, “BOOM. BLOG POST TOPIC.”

Critique partners rock, you guys. They are the underappreciated backbone of the writing world.

Which isn’t to say that people don’t appreciate them, because I can’t imagine the sort of heartless villain you’d have to be to not appreciate a good critique partner. But they are underappreciated in the sense that it is IMPOSSIBLE TO APPRECIATE THEM ENOUGH.

Here are just a few of the amazing things critique partners do for our stories (and us):

Point out problems we can’t see ourselves.

I don’t know about you, but no matter how many times I go through a novel, I can’t catch all the problems myself. CPs are able to see our writing from an objective perspective that we’ll never be able to have. The number of things my critique partners have caught that I never even thought about on my own is astounding.

Help us think through problems we CAN see ourselves, but can’t figure out how to fix on our own.

Getting a second brain on a problem can be such a help, whether your CP is coming up with ideas for fixes with you, or just listening to your (possibly insane) ramblings while you think “out loud.” (I put “out loud” in quotation marks because, let’s be honest, we’re writers. We’ll probably think via email or IM or even carrier pigeon before we’ll even think about thinking out loud.)

Keep us sane during the long months of waiting.

If there’s one thing the publishing industry likes to do more than publish books, it’s make you wait. Regularly. For long, who-knows-when-this-torture-is-ever-going-to-end stretches of time. Who else but a critique partner is going to keep you distracted while waiting to hear back from a lit agent on that especially promising full manuscript request with endless Harry Potter references and cute baby animal videos?

Remind us our writing is worthwhile.

CPs are there for us through EVERYTHING. They point out strengths in our writing we don’t notice ourselves, help us hold on when letting go becomes tantalizingly easy, and celebrate with us when things go right. (Also threaten very-scary-sounding bodily harm to any who dare reject our Amazing Manuscripts that Are Sure to Be Bestsellers Someday Don’t Even Kid Us—but we don’t talk about that in public, shhh.)

In short: Critique partners really are the backbone of the writing world.

To my CPs: I can’t thank you enough. I don’t know what I did to make you decide to put up with me all these years, but I guarantee I don’t deserve you. You’re all my favorites.

Also, I might need to think “out loud” (*cough* via Skype) with you soon.

TCWT January 2015 Blog Chain

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Hi everyone!

Thank you so much for another awesome blog chain this December! All of your posts rocked, as per usual.

This month’s blog chain topic was suggested by Heather at Sometimes I’m A Story, and I’m incredibly excited about it.

“What is something you feel is generally written well in fiction? What is something you feel is generally written poorly?” 

For example, most books may explore, say, religion well, but do a horrible job with love triangles. Or most books may do a great job of describing how lonely being a teenager can be, but fail to include realistic LGBTQ+ characters. etc etc etc.

Basically, anything you think fits, fits. Like with all blog chains, I really want you to have as much freedom with this topic as you need.

(Also – if you have any questions about this or future topics, please don’t hesitate to ask.)

While it’s encouraged that you cover at least one example of something generally written well and something generally written poorly, if you’d rather focus in-depth on only one part of the question–so, maybe you post only about stuff that you feel is generally written poorly, for example–that’s totally fine.

*If you’re interested in participating in this month’s blog chain, comment below with a link to your blog and any days you can’t post on, and I’ll assign you a date.

*If you’re new to the site and are wondering what the blog chain is, you can find out more here. You are more than welcome to join in, of course. We’re always looking for more participants. :)

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And, in more general news, I just want to say thank you. Thank you–all of you–for such a great year here at TCWT. I’m honored that you guys follow this blog; I’m honored that you participate in our blog chains; and I’m honored that our posts even help to inspire some of you. When I started this blog over three years ago, I never expected it to grow to this extent, but I am so, so grateful it has. 

Here’s to bigger and better things in 2015!