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!

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

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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?

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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*

 tumblr_inline_mnjolkEeNs1qz4rgp

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

tcwt (3)

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.

TCWT 7

  • 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.

TCWT 5

  • 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.

TCWT 6

  • 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.

TCWT 8

  • 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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