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

tcwt (3)

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!

Breaking Up With Your Story

All of us know the story: you’re ten, or twelve, or fifteen. You come up with the greatest idea for a novel and you just have to write it. You find yourself daydreaming about the story in class, writing plot outlines in the margins of your math notes, counting the hours until you have some free time to work on it. A couple of chapters in, you realize you’ve abandoned all the other stories you were working on . It has become The Novel. The Chosen One- the one you’re going to publish, the debut novel, the one that’s totally going to make you a famous teen writer.

But of course, it takes a long time to finish a novel. By the time you’re done writing it, it’s been maybe a year, and then you have to edit it, which takes forever, since this is probably your first time figuring out how to revise a novel. And so by the time you’re preparing this book for the dramatic publication you’ve been dreaming of, it’s been a couple of years, and you’ve become an infinitely better writer. When you were twelve, your main character was a self-insert, basically a Mary Sue. You thought she was so well-developed, and now you cringe every time you look at the scenes with her. Or when you were fifteen, you tended to add boring, pointless scenes just for the “metaphorical resonance.” Or when you were ten, you had literally no paragraph breaks in your story. The point is that you started working on what was supposed to be a masterpiece when you were still learning the essentials of how to write, and now that you have more experience, there is no way you can attach your name to this travesty of a novel. Finally, the long-dreaded decision has to be made. You put the novel away and start working on something better, something that’s really worthy of publishing.

It isn’t that easy, though, is it? For me, The Chosen Novel was a trilogy of books that I started when I was thirteen. I don’t want to subject you to my description of  the entire mangled plotline, but it was essentially a really poorly researched fantasy spy thriller. I loved those books. I poured my heart and soul into them. Unfortunately, my heart and soul was really obnoxious and terrible at writing. And by the time I was fifteen, I already knew, subconsciously, that the books sucked. But I didn’t want to admit it. So, like a lot of new writers, I tried to salvage them. I came up with a series of editing schemes, none of which worked. I kept telling myself  that if I worked hard enough, my newfound writing talent would magically transform this terrible mess into a shiny, publishing-ready book, just the way that all writers edit their bad first drafts. It was going to happen, I knew it.

The slow tearing-away happened over the course of a year. Gradually, I found I was never editing for the trilogy. I just couldn’t motivate myself to work on the books  the way I had before. And I had started writing a new book, a much better one, which made me remember what it was like to work on something I was actually proud of. At last, I realized that I’d forgotten to back up my latest edits, because I just didn’t care about them anymore. It was time to accept that first novels, like first loves, rarely work out.

           That doesn’t mean that I forgot about those terrible spy books, or that they had no value. It also doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t put the effort into writing a full-fledged novel right now, even if you’re not an experienced writer yet, and even if there’s a decent chance that a few years down the line you’re going to have to give up on it. That novel is going to teach you how to write, how to unstick yourself from bad scenes, how to slog through those middle-of-the-book blues, how to edit and revise. It’s going to teach you how to translate the messy creative ideas in your imagination into concrete words on paper. And when it comes time for you to write your actual publishing debut, you’re going to have the strength of that amateur first draft behind your pen.

Starting After “The End”: Revisions

Starting After “The End”: Revisions

One of the most exciting things about writing is being able to put that big “THE END” at the last page of your novel manuscript, epic poem, short story, what have you. It is SO rewarding. (Don’t act like you don’t do it!) And it makes you feel like this:

Snl-so-freakin-excited

AND

anigif_enhanced-buzz-18301-1384189137-5

But what happens when it’s over? When the piece you have labored on for days, weeks, months, years (yikes!) is done.  I mean, once you put “THE END” on a piece, it’s perfect. There really isn’t anything else you need to do. Except, of course, submit it to agents, editors, teachers, etc., and wait for the praise to come. Because it will come. Right?

What happens when that doesn’t happen?

What happens when the “end” isn’t really the end? What happens when it’s just the beginning? For most of us, the end, this first end, isn’t actually the end. So what do you do? What do you do after you finish a novel, set it aside for a month or two, and then realize it sucks?

qoxNxBE

Sometimes your baby doesn’t turn out like you thought it would and all you really can do is… revise. Yep. Revisions. Most writers either hate ‘em or love ‘em. I happen to be in the “love” group. I don’t really outline so revising, for me, is all about restructuring my “beautiful” work.

Here’s my process:

  1. I reread it. No pens in hand. I go over it like one might read a book they’ve been dying to read: in one sitting. This usually consists of me laughing, crying, laughing some more and realizing it doesn’t suck as bad as I thought. (Yay!!!) However, by the time I’m done, I should have some idea of what needs to be fixed.
  2. I reread it again. Pens in hand. I like red pens. I also like pink and purple pens. (I have lots of colorful pens.) But it really doesn’t matter the color of the pen so long as the manuscript is in my hand this round. By that I mean I need to print it out. (*cue screams, etc. about wasting paper*–I know, but it helps.) I print it out and read it as if it’s not even mine. I pretend I’m my worst critic. I start, maybe with the red pen, picking apart structural issues: why does she say she only has a brother in this scene and only a sister in the next? For my recent mystery novel I realized several clues didn’t match up. Then I pick another color and make note of times the character isn’t acting herself. I like to call these times when Patrice is pushing her agenda as the writer instead of letting the character react. Then I pick another color and edit for grammar. I do this as many times as I need for the issues my story has.
  3. I edit using my handy dandy marked up manuscript (see #2). Sometimes I start with grammar, especially if I don’t know how to fix the structural issues. Sometimes I begin with the character because, let’s face it, if your character isn’t “on point,” your story won’t be either.
  4. I spend at least one day revising my opening scene. A lot of times I write a scene that I, as the writer, think the reader needs for a beginning. With my most recent MS, I knew she was a retired con artist who for some reason was at a criminals anonymous support group that took place in a Catholic church. So when I edited, it was not the scene, per se, that I changed, it was the layout. Remember, you have write how your character would see things. Whereas I might notice the people first and whereas I generally use parenthetical asides, etc. my character’s a very direct person. So I had to revise that scene, and others, with her in mind.
  5. I continue to revise and edit until I think it’s ready. And then I send it to friends, critique partners, people I trust to be brutally honest. With their help, I revise again.
  6. Then I set it free!

Hopefully my steps will help you with your own revisions! Remember, in writing, the “ending” is really a beginning of a whole new process. Dig in, keep improving things, and enjoy the ride.

*For some help with #4, or character in general, I love this post by author Chuck Wendig: http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2013/10/28/plot-and-character/ I often use his guide after I’ve finished writing the story to provide clarification on who my character is and to hone into her voice.

Happy revising!

On Endings

Hi guys! I’m super excited to be able to join you today for my first post on Teens Can Write, Too! This month’s TCWT theme  is “Endings,” which is appropriate because December marks the end of the semester for most people, the end of NaNoWriMo for those of us who participated (whether you won or not, guys, you did something new and wonderful!), and, most importantly, because December is the last month of the year.

And what an ending also means is that there’s a new beginning on the horizon–January, the new year, a time of reflection and renewal. So as we come to this ending, it’s a good time to get some perspective and reflect on what we’ve just been through, so we can understand better where we want to go as we make our new start.

Personal

[via MattMorris.com]

Since the year is ending and New Year’s resolutions wave at us from the distance (hi there), we should think about what we’ve accomplished personally in 2014. (And yes, just making it through counts big.) I have:

  • Gotten diagnosed with OCD, after having suffered through it in complete and devastating ignorance almost my entire life
  • Finally gained control over that OCD so that I can live a (relatively) normal life — my counselor is going to “discharge” me in a couple of weeks!
  • Learned how to deal with being isolated and not having a lot of friends to turn to
  • Figured out how to gain a measure of independence from my family
  • Adopted a totes adorbs cat to snuggle
Hello Spartacus!

Hello Spartacus!

To everyone reading this: What have you personally accomplished?

Educational

[via LatinTrends.com]

With the semester also coming to a close, we can stop and examine how we’re doing academically. School’s a big part of our lives as young writers and it’s important that we be proud of it! Every victory in our education, no matter how small it might seem, means something. For me, school has never been a real problem, for which I’m infinitely grateful. I know so many others who struggle in this sphere–and for them, the victories are even sweeter. This year, I’ve: 

  • Maintained a high GPA
  • Gotten another three-ish semesters of college under my belt
  • Gained some knowledge and reviewed other awesome information!

 To our readers: What victories have you gained in your education?

 In Writing

[via Globe University]

Finally, with the end of NaNoWriMo, it’s a good time to look at what we’ve accomplished in our writing careers, which, of course, is what this blog is all about. Every word, every paragraph, every page counts in our journey towards making a difference in the world with our voices. In 2014, I have:

  • Done significant editing on a number of my manuscripts
  • Worked on preparing one in particular for querying
  • Written parts of two different new novels (one won in Camp NaNo, one won in regular NaNoWriMo–I haven’t had the chance to actually finish either yet!)
  • Gained new knowledge about and skills in the writing world
  • Become a part of this great TCWT/Ch1Con community!

For you wonderful viewers today: What progress have you made with your writing?

In examining all of these things, we create a meaningful ending to this small portion of our lives and prepare ourselves for the next beginning. Think about what you can continue to expand on in 2015! Pat yourself on the back for what you’ve done this year! And guys–thanks for being here with us. :)

Beginning The 2nd Draft

Hi everyone,

My name is Aisha, and just like you, I have been following this awesome blog for ages, which is why I was so excited to get the honor of posting on here.

You guys have already heard from Mark, who talked about beginning the query process, and today I want to take it back even further: to the second draft.

And with NaNoWriMo being almost over (not that my word count is anything to judge by), lots of us are going to be left with heaping piles of first-draft-yuck. I know from personal experience that going back and looking at the first draft of your novel for the first time can be a horrible feeling:

  • ‘Put thingy here’ - really, Aisha? Really? WHAT EVEN IS “thingy”??
  • Wait, who is this character? Why are they even here? And why did they suddenly disappear on page 20?
  • It’s so funny how much I love sloppy adverbs… so funny. *hysterical crying*

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If you’ve done anything like this (or maybe something a little less dramatic), then I know how you feel.

Here’s how I defeat the monstrous second draft (besides of course, large amounts of overly processed foods.)

First, take a break. Step back, remind yourself what outside actually smells like (Yeah, I know. The bright light in the sky burns at first, but you’ll get use to it) and give your mind some time to refresh itself.

Second, decide what you want from your second draft. Some of us, most likely anyone doing NaNoWriMo, are basically starting from scratch with their novels. We got the words out, we have the main plot kinda, and we realize just how completely terrible those words actually are. So, the second draft can either be a complete rewrite or just a bit of copying and pasting. Either way, I can assure you, after the second draft, your novel will not be the same as it started out – and that’s a good thing. We’re trying to move forwards not backwards.

You most likely will not be focusing on punctuation and fancy prose in the second draft of your novel; there’s no point in fixing line by line, if the story itself doesn’t make sense.
Your second draft is mainly about fixing big plot holes (Yeah, that pirate family that you decided halfway through the novel worked better as farmers, yeah that’s gonna need some fixin’.)

The second draft is about figuring out your ideas, it’s about pulling all the big pieces of your story together to make it coherent.

Because, if we’re being honest, half the time when I go back to read the first draft I have no idea what was going on when I was writing a certain scene or what I was thinking.
The second draft is particularly important for those of you who are pantsers, who started their novel with not much idea where it would end.

The second draft is where you’ll mold most of your story, where everything comes together and you sift through those very big plot holes in the story and might end up killing a few plot bunnies that had seemed like such a good idea at the time.

The second draft basically consists of a lot of R&R – revising and rewriting.

Just like the first draft, this one will also have it’s difficulties. You’ll get tired, you’ll get annoyed and downright mad at your story. The important thing is to push through, to remember why you’re doing this in the first place: Because you have a story, a story that is brilliant and amazing and that you want to share with the world.

Aisha.

TCWT December 2014 Blog Chain

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Hey guys! This month’s blog chain topic was suggested by Lily at Lily’s Notes In The Margins, and I’m really excited about it. She asks:

“What works of fiction have taught you by example, and what did they teach you?”

Because I think this topic is relatively self-explanatory, I won’t elaborate on it too much–but basically, you have the freedom to do pretty much whatever you want with it. If you have an out-of-the-box idea as a response, don’t hesitate to try it. Can’t wait to see what you all come up with!

*If you’re interested in participating in the 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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A Fundraiser and a Book Giveaway

Hey guys! John here. As you probably know, TCWT has joined forces with the awesome young writers’ conference, Ch1Con (you can read a little bit about the conference here), and since they’ve kicked off fundraising for their 2015 conference, I thought it could be fun to support them with a book giveaway.

Here’s how it’s going to work: to enter the giveaway, you basically have to help us spread the word about the Ch1Con fundraiser. The entrance options include sharing a link to the fundraiser either through Twitter, Facebook, your blog, or some other social media site, or by following the Ch1Con blog (which is here!), or by donating or getting a parent to donate.

By the way, that fundraiser? It’s full of awesome prizes, including books, shirts, tote bags, and lots and lots of critiques. You can find it here. If you donate, I’d be eternally grateful. Or, if you can’t yourself donate, getting a parent to do so would also be amazing. (Any amount, however small, is very much appreciated.) The conference is awesome, and it provides a great opportunity for teen writers–hopefully even some of you–to attend, listen to the speakers, and meet other cool young writers, and anything you could do to help it continue would be greatly appreciated.

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Now, for the giveaway itself.

photoI’m giving away four paperbacks, which you can see above. Each is, like, VERY LIGHTLY used, I promise. I’m not really the destroy-the-book, dog-ear-every-page type.

I’m also linking to each book’s Goodreads page below (the “HERE” links). Clicking them will a) open a new tab and b) give you a full blurb of each book along with some reviews, so you can get an idea of what each is about. Entering the giveaway puts you into the raffle for all of the books, but I’ll ask each winner what book they prefer to receive. (If the book that is left is not one you are interested in, let me know and I’ll draw a new winner. So don’t worry about receiving a book you personally don’t want to read.)

WordPress does not like Rafflecopter, the service I’m using to do the giveaway, so I’m going to link directly to the giveaway below. The link is the one with all of the frenzied arrows around it. :-) 

P.S. There are no age restrictions on entering the giveaway–you can be an adult or a teen.

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  • Love Letters To The Dead: This a YA contemporary which, you know, was recommended by Emma Watson and has tons of rave reviews, so it must be pretty awesome. Find out more about it HERE.

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  • The Half Life of Molly Pierce: Really cool YA psychological thriller. I don’t want to spoil anything, so I’ll just say: if you’re into untraditional mysteries (i.e. Memento), you want this book. Find out more about it HERE.

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  • The Kiss of Deception: YA fantasy. I’ll admit that it took me a while to get into this one, but once I got into it, I REALLY got into it. I highly recommend it, particularly if you like kickass–and flawed–heroines. Find out more about it HERE.

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  • Out of Play: This is a YA romance that’s definitely on the older side of YA. (It’s technically New Adult.) I’m a big fan of Nyrae Dawn and Jolene Perry, and I’ve heard amazing things about this one in particular. Find more about it HERE.

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THE GIVEAWAY–> a Rafflecopter giveaway <—THE GIVEAWAY

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Beginning Querying: A Horror Story

Hi, readers! I’m so thrilled to be joining the Teens Can Write, Too blog with my archnemesis John and the lovely people of Ch1Con, and I’m super pumped to write our first post! I’m Mark O’Brien, and I’m going to tell you a horror story: my first querying experiences.

I was fourteen when I began querying, but it was a small, naive fourteen, and I was no prodigy. Not that I knew that. My first novel (which, I kid you not, was a “literary YA” that was about as literary as a sack of potatoes and was entitled Cream and Sugar at the time of querying—it’s now affectionately referred to as the more accurate Words That Burn) was perfect and gorgeous and I didn’t even need to edit, I just needed an agent to read my query, recognize the genius, and offer me representation because it was so freaking great. I didn’t look up how to write a query because I didn’t need to, what with a story as good as mine.

So I queried maybe three to five of my top choices, which seemed like the best strategy ever. My query letters were full of compliments about how many sales the agents had made and how I was certain I could be their next. I did not summarize the book; instead, I talked about its themes. The email I used was not my full name with “books” at the end; I used my personal one, an address that referenced dying balloons. And had numbers. (I’m not kidding.) (I wish I were.)

Thankfully, I got no responses, positive or negative or anything else.

This book sucked. My next book sucked, but I didn’t know that, so I queried it anyway—and even got a full request! For this one, a dystopian I wrote in 2011 (again, I wish I were kidding), I actually went to the trouble of writing, you know, a real query letter, getting it critiqued, and developing something of an online presence.

The third book was eh, but it got a much better reception. Around the fourth book, I figured out how to write coherently (thanks, critique partners), and soon I didn’t have one request out at a time, usually more like five or six.

What I’m saying here is that I was not ready to query before my fourth book. I just wasn’t. My writing wasn’t there; my attitude was far too high-and-mighty. I’m now working on Book 6, and you bet your bottom dollar I’m going to put my manuscript through quite a few rounds of revisions before I query.

But how do you know when you’re ready to query? Good question, hypothetical person! This varies from writer to writer and book to book, but a good rule of thumb I like to use is: you’ve edited your manuscript so much you don’t know what to edit anymore. You’ve read all the way through it, start to finish, probably half a dozen times (or more!), looking for everything and anything you could make better, and you’ve made those things better. You’ve had critique partners and/or beta readers rip it to shreds, and you’ve pieced those shreds back together into something good. Something you’re proud of, even through the self-doubt.

If you’re not proud of your book—like, not at all—ask yourself why. Do you not love the story? Is your writing not where you’d hoped it would be? If your gut tells you something’s wrong, there’s no shame in taking a while—two weeks, three months, a year—to determine why. No one is forcing you to query right now, except maybe yourself.

Take your time. Breathe. It’ll be worth it in the end.

Announcing TCWT 2.0

Hey guys! This is John speaking. I clarify that because some totally awesome things have happened, and it won’t just be me posting on the blog anymore.

I’m not too great at suspense, so I’ll just tell you why: TCWT is partnering with Ch1Con, an annual teen writer conference created by some really geeky and fantastic and hilarious people, and as a result we are pooling writers. In my mad power grab, I am also bringing two more victims into the fold to join us on the blog. This means that TCWT now has a team of nine writers (myself included) behind it, six of which are with Ch1Con, and that we’ll be working together with Ch1Con on a number of teen-writer-oriented events. (You can read all of their bios here.)

Ch1Con Facebook and Twitter Banner 2014

I am really excited about this, guys. This means big things not only for the blog, but also–I hope–for the quest to give teen writers more and more forums to interact and swap stories and experiences, as well. Ch1Con is doing some amazing things, and being able to work closely with them is going to bring a lot of great opportunities for you all. For example, we plan to start running critique contests, book giveaways, online workshops, group chats, and so on. We also plan to organize mini events and manuscript/story swapping on the TCWT Facebook group, so be sure to join the group if you haven’t already (provided that you have a Facebook account that you feel comfortable using). Posts on the TCWT blog will also be more frequent, will cover much more diverse topics, and will, to everyone’s relief, be written by people who are infinitely more awesome than I am. At the very least, there will be one blog post a week, though most weeks will probably have at least two. These posts will span everything from publishing advice to personal writing experiences to book reviews to interviews to random GIF posts–there are no limits on what our writers will do. (Cue dramatic music.)

On the blog, we’re also giving each month a theme. Our writers aren’t by any means required to follow the theme, but, assuming that it might inspire at least a couple of posts per month, we hope it gives you all a basic idea of what to look for each month. If you’re a blogger and one of our monthly theme particularly inspires you, feel free to write a post to it on your site and send us a link–I’d love to read it. This month, in the spirit of the new venture, the theme is going to be more basic: “Beginnings.”

Another thing: we are trying to make it easier for you to get in touch with us, should you ever have writing questions. So if you want some advice or commiseration or a pep talk, please don’t hesitate to ask. We’ve created a new email, TCWTblog@gmail.com, which all of us will be checking in on. If you need support, we want to help. Seriously. That’s what this blog is here for. And if you’re ever feeling down about your writing and you want someone to talk to, you can talk to one of us.

(Side note: I have a bad history of clicking on a comment notification and then forgetting to respond to the comment, so emailing us is definitely best.)

If you have a writing or publishing question that you email to us and that strikes the interest of one of our writers, with your consent, we will likely turn it into a blog post. We plan to have an intermittent-but-ongoing Q&A series, so please, send us your questions! (Feel free to email us with any ideas/critiques/promotions you are doing that you feel is relevant to the site as well.)

To be clear, we’re not doing away with any current aspects of the blog. In particular, the blog chain will remain intact, and will continue to occur every month. The TCWT community will simply be growing, as I’m hoping these changes will help give anyone who wants it a way to connect with other awesome teens.

Also, in the spirit of expansion, pretty soon we are going to be asking you guys to get involved with the blog. Once everything gets going, we’re going to be looking for more guest posts, but also for your general ideas–about contests, about books to feature, and so on. We really want to let everyone have a say who wants to have a say, and to give other teen writers a chance to share on the blog some of their personal experiences. More on that soon!

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And… I think that’s all I have to say! Actually, wait, no it isn’t. Right now, I want to thank you all. I’ve had an amazing time running this blog for these last three years, and I am so excited for things to come. You all are so talented; I know you will go on to do great things in the writing world, and I hope this blog, in some small way, helps you get there. But regardless, thank you endlessly for having read and followed my inane and rambly blog posts. It means the world to me. <3

Now, for the fun stuff: TCWT is home to eight new writers. But instead of simply listing bios (though you can read their bios and follow our contributors here), I wanted to bring out the heavy artillery. So, we’re each going to introduce ourselves via quotes we pulled from our old, laughably-bad stories. Cringes, get ready to be felt.

(Just to be clear: the ages listed below are the ages when each person wrote the excerpt, not their current age.)

Ariel, Age 7: 

“Oh puh-leeze can we go camping?” I asked Mother. “Come on, it’s only 6 hours! A fourth of a day!” “Okay” said Mother. ”And don’t complain that you are bored. We’ll go right back if you do!”

I ran upstairs and started to pack. Oh, I’ve noticed that I’m telling you a camping story and you don’t even know my name. Well, I’m Sally and I’m a detective. So are my friends Lonna and Marcy. My blue notebook stores clues. I live in New Jersey. That’s all you’ll need to know now.

Aisha, Age 8:

Ounce upon a time, in London. On the 88nd street lived a family! A family of four, but not the kind you would think!!

Not with two parents and two kids, not even one parent and three kids. But all kids.

Well I guess the two oldest aren’t kids, Lucinda(twnenty-two) and Tom(eighteen) are the oldest.

Next are Lisa(16) and the youngest Lucy(eleven) and they all lived together in a cozy three bedroom house…

Julia, Age 13:

In real life, I have short auburn hair and dark hazel eyes. When I’m Shauna, I have long chocolaty-brown hair and deep green eyes (Made possible by the fact that I wear contacts.) My makeup-person even piles on an extra coating of blush where my very prominent freckle is on my cheek. No one has ever figured out that I live a double life, and I plan to keep it that way.

“Whatever, Kate; I can see that you don’t want to talk about your obsession with hating Shauna Guarder.” Claire laughed. All of my friends were used to me throwing out nasty comments about the author, but sometimes seemed to forget about this fact and expected me to talk with them about how great she was.

“Hey, it’s not my fault she stinks on ice.” I said with added seriousness, throwing the group into a fit of giggles. My secret was safe for now…

Mark, Age 14:

[In the main character’s intro to the book]

Don’t worry, I’m not about to kill myself at the end of this novel. You’ll have to wait a few more books for that. This is the story of the past seven hundred and thirty-one days of my life. (One of them was a leap year, outraged math people.)

Emma, Age 12:

“You look like a raccoon who applied too much eyeliner this morning,” though Samantha, she never announced her rebuttals, no matter how witty, in fear of being further mocked and embarrassed.

Olivia, Age 13: 

Along with the unusual stillness, something else was bothering me. Something not quite tangible, but undeniably present. It was almost as if I could feel what was causing the forest unease, a sense of hatred and corruption.

Patrice, Age 19: 

At her last words the chapel erupted with claps and cheers; it was David. With all the applause he was getting I would’ve thought he was a politician who’d just announced he was running for President.

Not that I blamed them, I mean David was hot, and hot wasn’t a word I used to describe people. His smile almost made me melt. He had the richest, dark brown eyes, perfectly, plump lips, and warm caramel skin. It was a scene straight out of a teen romance novel. That is if I believed in insta-love and all that. However, it wasn’t only the female population he captivated for everyone seemed to be in love with him.

Realizing he had charmed me earlier just like he was charming everyone now, I let me eyes wander around the room, trying to escape the rhythm of his voice. He was probably the same as every other spoiled, popular, student body president who was most likely also the captain of some sports teams. Since I liked to avoid those, hopelessly in love with themselves, douchebaggy types, swooning over him, again, would be a complete waste of my time.

Kira, Age 10:

[Kira posted her first ever story on her blog, complete with shiny photos and formatting, so I’m just going to link to that. Read it here.]

John, Age 13:

My name is Taylor Williams and it was I who murdered Barbara Jensen. Now don’t be too appalled by me, I didn’t have much choice but to kill her. Barbara Jensen was a fine woman. I can’t say she was my favorite person but I had nothing against her and she had nothing against me. Why kill her, you ask? Well, I had my reasons. However, in the event that you are a cop, these reasons will not be shared with you. All I will say is that she knew too much. She had stumbled upon something inadvertently; a secret, something that could bring me down and I could not let word get out. Once I discovered that she knew, I made her swear that she would not tell anyone, especially the police. I informed her that if she were to reveal me (quote) “Your future will be very bleak.” Nevertheless, I couldn’t risk it. Word would almost certainly spread. So I silenced her voluble mouth.

[^*CRINGES VERY VERY HARD* Can you tell I had a thesaurus with me that day?] 

***

And with that, I think it’s finally official: TCWT 2.0 has arrived.

(DUN DUN DUN.)

TCWT November 2014 Blog Chain

Hey guys!

It’s time to announce the topic for the next blog chain, which begins on November 5th. I’m really excited about this one, and even though the topic is a little different from the norm, I think it could have some truly awesome results.

Use pictures and individual words to show what, to you, is the essence of being a teenager. 

By that, I mean for you to talk about what feelings and emotions and ideas you feel represent your teen experience. Basically, I want to know what growing up means to you.

Although this topic is not directly about writing, I think–considering that a lot of us write YA, which focuses on the lives of teenagers–that it’s relevant. Hopefully it’ll get us to take a hard look at ourselves and our teen experiences, and figure out what, to us, are that experience’s most important characteristics. (If you write YA, this might even translate into your own writing, as it could help you figure out what themes connect your characters.) We all have different stories, and seeing how people define theirs during this wacky section of life called being a teenager could be hugely insightful, even inspiring. Books, after all, are about people and their stories.

Also, for the first time, I plan to publish a roundup blog post on TCWT when the chain ends, and I’ll feature my favorite word and/or picture from each blog (and will link back to all of your posts), so onlookers can get a glimpse into the different responses.

Some side notes: by “pictures,” I mean pretty anything. You can use a normal stock image, or you can use a drawing (by you or someone else), a painting, a comic, a meme–anything. You can either take your own photos (maybe of stuff around your room, outside your home, or something else altogether), or you can use photos on the internet. However, if you choose the latter option, please make sure to link back to the source. I really want to be sure credit is given to the photographer or artist.

As for “individual words,” I mean a list of words that you feel is integral to your teen experience. (BTW – please only share what you feel comfortable sharing. There is no pressure to reveal more or less about yourself than you want to.) You can show these words by actually typing out a list of in your blog post, or by writing them on notecards and taking pictures, or even by finding a fancy image that displays the word on it, i.e.:

(Found: http://fbopinmate.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/hope.jpg)

In your post, you’re welcome to elaborate on any word or picture you include, but, if you can, please keep the explanations at a minimum. I encourage you to keep your posts relatively description-free, and let the words and the pictures speak for themselves.

***

If you’re interested in participating in the 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. And if you’re unsure whether or not you should join, for this chain in particular I say YES! :) The more voices we get, the more meaningful the blog chain will be.

Let me know if you have any questions!

 

Writing In Your Own Style

Here’s the thing: I don’t write lyrically.

I’ve tried to, of course. Countless times I’ve attempted–and failed–to be poetic in my writing, because I hoped that if I just worked hard enough, my writing style would magically fall into that category of “lyrical” that so many of my favorite books are a part of.

But, here’s the other thing: it hasn’t worked.

My style, simply put, refuses to change. No matter how much I try, I can’t get the whole lyricism thing down. At best, my final product comes out as an overworked, purple-prose-filled mess. At worst, it’s completely indecipherable. (Who knew a person could fit so many rain-as-a-metaphor-for-tears lines into one paragraph?)

This is a reality I’ve struggled a lot with over the past year or so. As someone with critique partners who write incredibly beautifully, I have sometimes felt inadequate as a writer. I’ve even, on multiple occasions, desperately tried to “adjust my style” midway through a first draft so I could write “better.” In fact, whenever I come across a particularly amazing snippet of a friend’s manuscript, I seemingly have to go back and rewrite my whole book in a style like theirs, thinking that will improve my writing. Basically: I read other people’s lyrical prose in awe, and then I look back at my own WIP (Work in Progress) and I feel utterly lacking. I wonder why I can’t be so evocative, why I can’t just freaking write the way my favorite authors do.

But then, when I am not obsessing over my style and comparing it to that of others, I’m happy. I really am. When I don’t try to write lyrically, my writing is natural. And fun. And is, most importantly, better. Sure, the awkwardly-teenager style I currently use may not fit the traditional conception of “good.” Hell, to a strict critic, it probably wouldn’t even be considered “good,” period. But I learned something the other day, when I reread my first few chapters and realized they weren’t half bad, and that is this: it doesn’t matter. You don’t write to win awards for how deep your metaphors are. You don’t write to master a technique just because it’s traditionally considered the best. You write to be creative. You write to be different. You write to be you, and to master your style–whatever that may be.

The great thing about writing is that everyone’s work is unique. Every writer, no matter who they are or where they are from or what their aim is, is different, and as a result so is their writing. I know it’s a cliche; I know, at this point, it’s probably meaningless. But I mean it. And no matter how much better you think Dan from across the hall is at writing than you, trying to mimic his style–even mimicking it vaguely, like I used to do–just isn’t worth it. It doesn’t help you, because Dan’s style has already been done before. Yours hasn’t. And I promise you that yours, too, with enough hard work, will be absolutely amazing.

That’s not to say it’s impossible to change writing styles, or that there is anything wrong with writing lyrically. I am forever in awe of people who write like that. But great writing comes in many forms, and “deep and poetic” does not hold a monopoly on it. So, I say, work on improving your own style first, before you try to switch to another. Then maybe you’ll see how talented you truly are.

It boils down to this: awesome is a spectrum. Just because most people like blue and you paint in fulvous* doesn’t mean your work is any worse; it just means it’s more you. It’s equally awesome, in a different way.

 ***

*THIS IS A REAL COLOR, BTW.

Also, note for anyone interested: the November blog chain announcement post will be posted on October 24th. I’m endlessly sorry about not getting up a chain for this month. And, on that note, there’s also some exciting blog-related news coming toward the end of the month. :D

September 2014 TCWT Blog Chain

Hi guys! Since I’m posting this a little late (I meant to have it up a day early–sorry!) and to give people ample time to sign up, I’ve decided to start the blog chain two days later this time, on September 7th. So the schedule will go up on the 6th; you have until then to sign up.

Also – thanks to everyone who participated in the August blog chain! It was tons of fun to read all of the posts, and I’m still going through them.

For September’s chain, I thought an interesting topic could be:

“What are your favorite book beginnings and/or endings?” 

I am really excited about this because the very beginning and very ending of a book are often the most difficult parts for writers to get right, yet they are usually where the reader is most impressionable. Examining how authors have done them well in the past will hopefully be a help to anyone who is stuck with their own manuscript. Plus, being a fan of great endings in particular, I have a feeling it can lead to some great new book discoveries.

Some notes: I realize the “favorite endings” part of this question makes it tricky, but please, refrain from spoilers in your post. If you could talk in vague terms about why you liked a particular ending, that’d be great. Also, the length that actually defines “beginning” or “ending” is really up to you. A page, a chapter, an opening or closing monologue–anything works. It might even be fun to just include a bunch of your favorite opening and closing lines. (I was actually going to make that be the topic, but I realize people tend not to keep track of that kind of thing and it might be more difficult.) And finally, when I say “book,” I mean that really loosely. Movies, plays, musicals, TV shows, etc are all valid to include as well.

And I think that’s all! If you’re interested in participating in the blog chain, just comment below with a link to your blog and any days you can’t post on, and I’ll assign you a date. (First-time visitors: you are completely welcome to join as well!) Thanks! :)

 

Humans of New York and Writing Inspiration

Recently, I discovered the page that I now consider to be the best on the internet: Humans of New York. For those who don’t know, HONY (I’m going to use this acronym throughout the post) was started by photographer Brandon Stanton a few years back, and basically what he does is travel throughout the streets of New York and take pictures of anyone he finds interesting (with their consent). He posts these photos online, accompanied by a short quote they give about their lives or their favorite memories or something along those lines. But what makes this blog so special is Brandon’s insane ability to get complete strangers to open up to him, and the beautiful and thought-provoking stories that they share as a result.

Some of my favorite photos include this, this, thisthis, this, and this post, and honestly a million others that I promise I won’t bombard you with. But all of them, whether it’s the quote or the picture or just the look on the face of the person being photographed, are so real and relatable and amazing. And since Brandon finds such a broad range of people for his blog (yay diversity!), you really are seeing all kinds of experiences, many of which you may never have considered before.

What makes the page even better, perhaps, is the comments section, which seemingly counteracts all of the Forces of Evil on the internet by remaining mostly civil and interesting. Each photo and quote is accompanied by pages and pages of discussion and shared experiences and stories. And it’s those stories that remind me: at its heart, HONY is a page about people.

Books, too, are about people, and in that way each HONY post feels like a miniature novel. It has a story and a character attached, and it makes you think. Not only that, but like books, every post seems to enhance the way you look at the people around you, and it truly does give you a new appreciation for them and their internal battles. Even on another level, HONY does what novels should be doing more of: it gives a voice to those we rarely hear from in the media.

And for that reason, HONY is the kind of blog that reminds me why I read and write. I do it to tell stories, yes, but I also read–and write–to discover. Because I want to know and understand different kinds of people, because I want to feel close to them, and because I want to use stories to help me make sense of the world around me. And sometimes, for me, those reasons get lost in the stress of writing and wanting to craft a great book, and it’s why blogs like HONY have become so dear to me–because it makes everything clear again.

I think that maybe we all need our personal equivalent of a HONY. We all need that reminder of why it is we write. Because, let’s face it: writing is hard sometimes. And when you fall into the black hole that is revising, or when you hit a wall and just want to quit, it is so helpful to remember that you shouldn’t. To remember why you should keep going. To remember that, published or not, your words and your stories really do matter.

 ***

(Okay, I admit it. This post was 60% a way for me to gush about HONY. BUT SERIOUSLY. It is amazing, and I think writer/reader people will especially appreciate it since some of the stories really are worthy of being turned into books or movies or plays.)

(If you want to follow HONY, you can on Facebook, Tumblr, Instagram, and probably elsewhere,* and you can buy the spin-off book here. Brandon also did a series on the people of Iran during his visit there, which I found totally fascinating. Also, if you’re interested, there are a bunch of off-shoots of HONY in a number of countries and cities, so if you want to find one more local to you and you live in a big city, search “Humans of [insert place here].” I bet there is one near you.)

*Most people seem to comment on the HONY Facebook, so I’d say that’s the best place to follow it if you’re interested in reading discussion after the fact. Also, you don’t need a Facebook account to read the posts. All of it is public. And if you do decide to check out the page, let me know! I’d be interested to hear what you guys think.

Stay awesome!