About John Hansen

I’m seventeen. I’m a YA writer, a nerdfighter, and a book geek, and I recently finished a year-and-a-half stint interning at the literary agency Foreword Literary (now Fuse Literary). I'm also a Game of Thrones and Lucille Bluth enthusiast, and my ultimate life question is, if you are what you eat, then does that mean I should eat a NYT bestselling author?

TCWT May 2015 Blog Chain

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

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

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

Ch1Con Banner

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

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

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

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

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ABOUT: 

[Bio courtesy of Ch1Con]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 INTERVIEW: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Questions for Kira: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Questions for Ariel: 

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

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

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

What are some of your favorite poems?

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

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

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CRITIQUE GIVEAWAY: 

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

–> GIVEAWAY <–

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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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!]

 

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

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!

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!

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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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?] 

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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.

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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.

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*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.

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(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!

TCWT August 2014 Blog Chain

Thanks so much to everyone who participated in the blog chain this July! It was another fantastic one, and I really enjoyed reading all of your posts.

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

“What characters are you most like?” 

Once again, you have a lot of freedom with this topic. While the character(s) you choose should hopefully come from a published work, it can be from pretty much any type; book, movie, musical, short story, poem, etc characters are all fair game. And as for the post itself, you can set it up however you like. Maybe you could talk about the characters’ experiences and how they are similar to some of your own, or you could focus on how that particular character changed you–really whatever comes to mind you’re welcome to post about.

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!) The final schedule for August’s chain will go up on our blog chain page on August 4th, so you have until then to sign up. Thanks! :)

 

TCWT July 2014 Blog Chain

 

As always, a huge thank you to everyone who participated in last month’s blog chain! All of the posts were really thought-provoking, and it was especially cool seeing such a variety of opinions on book-to-movie adaptions. (If you missed the chain, you can still see the list of participants and their posts here.)

 

Since the last few blog chains have focused more on actual, published books, I wanted to return to a writing-related topic for July. 

 

“What’s one thing you wish you knew when you started writing?” 

 

Once again, you can pretty much go wherever you like with this topic, whether it be an actual advice post, a discussion of aspects of your writing journey, a list of what you wish you knew/what you’ve learned (you are certainly not limited to choosing only one thing), or something else entirely.

 

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 try to assign you a date as quickly as possible. (First-time visitors: you are completely welcome to join as well!) The final schedule for July’s chain will go up on our blog chain page on July 4th, so you have until then to sign up. Thanks! :)

 

“The Netflix Effect” For Books?

**Please note: This is all speculation. I’m a writer, not a publishing insider, but I think this is a topic worth discussing.**

If you are familiar with the television realm, you’ve probably heard in some way about “The Netflix Effect.” Basically, the Netflix Effect–or at least the one I’m referring to–describes the growing shift toward binge watch-able shows. Since Netflix now has its own television shows (Orange is the New Black, House of Cards, etc.), they have decided to shake things up, and so rather than releasing one episode every week, they make all thirteen in a season available at once on the season’s release date. This new strategy has done wonders for the company and its subscribers, as it gives people a way to watch the seasons straight through without having to worry about forgetting what happened in the previous episode. Another interesting twist is, I think, that this method gives fans an incentive to watch all of a given season immediately after it releases, because watching some of the bigger Netflix series has almost become an internet-wide event. After all, since all of the episodes are available at once, it feels like everyone is watching.

But then the other day I started thinking about this Netflix Effect in terms of books–specifically trilogies. You hear a lot of complaints about the one-year-or-more waits between most books in trilogies, usually for good reason. These waits, while totally sensible if you look at it from the points of view of the writer, editor, publicist, and so on, can be a bit of a strain on a reader. For one thing, by the time a sequel releases, you as a reader will probably forget much of what happened in the previous book, and unless you loved it, that fact alone could leave you anticipating the next book much less than you otherwise would have. (And from a book-selling standpoint, even if you end up buying that next book, this still matters. When you are excited for a release, you tend to let other people know, and word of mouth is a major driver of sales.) And it’s true that you could always reread the first of the series before the sequel releases, but with so many new books appearing on the scene every day, people in general seem to be less inclined to reread a book they didn’t absolutely love the first time. In that way, the wait almost becomes a hassle, and if you didn’t feel strongly about book one, chances are you may altogether lose interest in the second book by the time it releases (whereas you would be more likely to buy it if all of the books had already released).

As someone who has struggled with the above, I’ve begun to gravitate back toward that Netflix strategy as a solution: what if, in the future, an entire trilogy could be collectively released on the same day? Bearing in mind that there are probably a number of technical problems with this idea–I’m sure there is a reason no publisher I know of has done this before–it is certainly something to think about it. Not only would this method give a reader more incentive to buy the rest of the books in the series after finishing the first one (if they’re all right there, why not?), but it will also get more people to want to read the series in the first place, since it eliminates a lot of the cliffhanger/wait time anger that usually makes people hesitant to start a new series.

Another potential benefit, to add to my point in the first paragraph, is hype. Hype is a powerful tool, and if it feels like everyone is reading a particular series (which, assuming a collectively released trilogy gets reasonably well marketed, I’d bet a lot of people will be inclined to do since all of the books are there and ready to be explored (for reference, think about how the sales of books one and two tend to shoot up when the final book in a trilogy releases)), a number of those who aren’t reading it will want to find out more. But on the other hand, this means that the hype for the trilogy will be very concentrated in that one-to-four-month time span as everyone reads the books. While with the Netflix shows another season can always be released to regenerate hype, the end of a trilogy is the end of a trilogy, and if a book series were to be collectively released, the hype for it, while strong, will die down rather quickly.*

Still, when you consider that a number of people are starting to adopt policies where they won’t read a series until all of the books have released, this “Netflix Effect for trilogies” strategy is certainly something to consider. I’ve even noticed some publishers having shorter-than-a-year time gaps in between the release of books in a series, which might be a sign of things to come. For now, this is mainly limited to New Adult (Finding Fate, Losing It, A Little Too Far, etc.), but I’ve also been noticing it happening in some Young Adult series as well (ExtractionGlitch, etc.). From where I stand, I’m not sure many publishers will try the Netflix, release-everything-in-one-day method because of the concentrated hype problem I mentioned above, but I have a feeling we’ll start to see shortening time intervals between release dates of YA trilogies. Considering that 1) YA is becoming reasonably flooded with new books and 2) that many readers are less inclined to wait years for a next book in a series as a result, it certainly seems likely. And, if publishers eventually choose a select few trilogies to be released all at once, I can see that strategy being very effective as long as it’s limited to only certain, well-marketed trilogies.

If this shift were to happen–and I have no idea that it will–it will obviously be more difficult for the writer and the editor, but that could be solved by a longer period in between the date a book is sold and the date it publicly releases. But whether this possibility is realistic or not, I find it to be at the very least exciting to consider, and is certainly something I would welcome as a good thing.

 

 

*There are also, I’m sure, a number of other contractual issues with bookstore/library distribution as well as other potential problems with this strategy, but my guess is that this concentrated hype problem is the main pitfall of the Netflix-for-books idea.

 

EDIT: There is an upcoming New Adult trilogy by a popular author, Ann Aguirre, in which each book releases one to two months apart.

TCWT June 2014 Blog Chain

**Quick announcement: On June 14-15, just outside Chicago, Illinois (U.S.A.), a few really great people are hosting a writing conference for teen writers known as the Chapter One Young Writers ConferenceIt’s led by CEO Julia Byers, Creative Director Molly Brennan, Associate Online Administrator Kira Budge, Event Aide Lynn Byers, and a number of other contributors heavily involved in the teen writing world. They have workshops and speakers (one of the coolest people out there, Amy Zhang, whose equally amazing YA contemporary Falling Into Place releases in September, is the headliner!), and the conference is open to all writers from middle school to undergraduate level. If you’re interested, you can register now, and you can find more info on their website.**

(Note: I’m not personally associated with the conference, but it looks fantastic so I agreed to post about it!)

***

 

I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that May’s blog chain has been one of my favorites since the inception of this blog. Everyone who participated had such brilliant responses, which meant each post totally gave me a host of shiny-new-ideas-I-will-probably-never-write–which, as far as I’m concerned, is always a plus. So thank you endlessly to all who participated and followed along; it was tons of fun. (If you missed the chain, you can still see the list of participants and their posts here.)

 

Now, for June’s blog chain, the prompt is:

 

“What are your thoughts on book-to-movie adaptions? Would you one day want your book made into a movie, or probably not?”

 

This topic feels especially relevant because of the large number of “YA movies” that are releasing (or have already released) this year, and I know from talking to a lot of you that your opinions on book-to-movie adaptions vary wildly, the latter of which should hopefully make the chain all the more interesting.

 

As always, you’re welcome to approach this prompt however you like. You can discuss some book-to-movie adaptions you’ve liked or disliked in the past, you can talk about your thoughts on adaptions in general, or if you just want to do a review of a recent book-to-movie adaption (or talk about why you are excited about an upcoming one), that’d also be awesome! And for the second part of the prompt: we all know from seeing our favorite books in movie form that it’s unlikely Hollywood will completely capture the essence of a novel, as chunks of the story will always get lost of translation. So if given the opportunity to work with a film studio on adapting your book, would you risk it? Or would you be like Salinger and never let it happen? I’m curious to hear what you all think!

 

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 try to assign you a date as quickly as possible. (First-time visitors: you are completely welcome to join as well!) The final schedule for June’s chain will go up on our blog chain page on June 4th, so you have until then to sign up.

 

Thank you! You guys, as always, are amazing.

 

The Secret Life of a Teen Writer

I’ve always been a writer. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been putting my thoughts into stories in some way or another. At first, they were pretty obscure: epics of talking mice travelling to new worlds through da Vinci paintings, or tales of rebellious fruit who decide to wage war against their vegetable overlords. As I got older, those stories turned to novels (or at least half-written ones), and those novels into polished manuscripts. And yet, right from the beginning, I hated telling people about my writing.

My parents would ask me what I was working on, and I’d mumble out a vague answer and then turn in the other direction; my relatives, who my parents told all about my books, would ask when one would be published, and I’d just say something along the lines of it being “far away” and would try to change the subject; and my friends… well, I wouldn’t tell any of them that I write at all.

Even now that I have grown more experienced with the book world, have joined twitter, started my own blog, and so on, that hasn’t really changed. I’ve not only continued to avoid discussing my own writing in real life, but in a way I’ve also created this whole second world for myself, this super-secret online life. And maybe it’s because this makes people feel like spies, which is always a plus, but I’ve noticed from talking to other writers that this happens a lot. In fact, from what it sounds like, there are a number of us who write or blog “undercover,” who have over time created a second life for ourselves online.

And for the almost three years now that I’ve been active on the internet, I’ve been wondering why this is. On the surface, it seems like a pretty easy answer, right? I mean, it isn’t difficult to blame this whole “secret writing life” phenomenon on some level of introversion within us all. Or maybe, it seems, we’ve created this separate writing world because of societal pressure, because we are so afraid to be ourselves in public that we feel the need to hide our love for writing or something. And while there may be some truth in those theories, I personally have never really bought into either of them, because both imply that I am, on some level, ashamed of being a writer. When the fact is? For better or for worse,* I’m pretty damn proud of it.

So then… why? Why get involved with the writing and book and blogging communities, then work so hard to keep it a secret from people I know in the Real World? Why keep it to myself? What’s the point?

I’ve been thinking about this for a while, and here’s what I’ve decided:

It’s because sometimes we all need a way out.

It’s because we all need a way to express ourselves.

It’s because we all need an escape.

There is something truly freeing in the secrecy of a “second writing life,” in being able to have something that is just yours, something that you can come home to every day and, like a blank canvas, fill with your thoughts. Writing is a naturally freeing experience, but when you can write just for you, for you and a few weird people on the internet, the possibilities become endless. You don’t have to worry about anything; you just write. And for me, that is exactly why I keep my online life a secret: because it has become my outlet. Because it’s the safe place I can escape to whenever I’m feeling overwhelmed. Because it is a world full of like-minded people who make me feel a little less strange. But most of all, because this secret life is mine.

And that, to me, is the heart of it all. Having this life that I get to keep all to myself allows me a way out when I need one, gives me a world that really just makes sense to me. There is even something kind of meta about it all, like through this secret life I’m suddenly creating an entirely new story for myself, like I am the main character in the book I’m writing. And in that way, why I do this seems (to me) at least a little bit logical. I don’t make a second life because there is anything wrong with the first one; I make it because I need a way to make sense of the first one.

After all, at the end of the day, we all do need to take a step back. We all need a place where we feel safe, a medium through which everything becomes both a little clearer and a little more sane. It doesn’t mean we’re unhappy with our real lives or anything; it’s just necessity. Some people find this escape through gossip, through music, through sports. Some people find it by looking at art or writing troll-ish YouTube comments or staring at the stars with their next-door-neighbor. And me? I just happen to find it through books and writing.

It’s not introversion that has me keeping this secret–not really, anyway. It’s because my online life is the same as your private journal, or your favorite TV episode, or that best friend you stay up all night every night talking to. Or anything else–but chances are, you have something. Some secret, some place that is always a constant. Something that is yours.

Because we all have our secrets. And sometimes, that can be a very, very good thing.

 

(*By “worse,” I am of course referring to the day the FBI finally arrests me for my Google searches.)