End of Year Countdown: 5 Top Fives

Photo credit: Rampant. Gaffer
With 2011 nearly over and 2012 around the corner, this is a time when many people pause to reflect on the last 365 days. I thought for a while about how I wanted to reflect without rehashing everything I said in my Celebrating 100 Posts post, and I think I’ve come up with a fun way of doing it.

The end of the year is a great time to share things that made this year special, and in terms of blogging I’d like to share with you five top five lists that basically sums up my blogging, writing and reading experience of 2011.

So! Here we go!

Top 5 Most Popular Posts (on Writability)

As determined by pageviews, these are my most popular posts of the year:

Top 5 Most Active Commenters

I actually have a little widget on the side of the blog that keeps track of my most active commenters on Writability, and these amazing people are my top five of the year. I’m relatively sure you have to have a Disqus account in order for the commenting system to keep track of how many comments you’ve made (so for those of you who comment and don't have a Disqus account, you rock too, so thank you), but nevertheless these five people have consistently contributed to the community and for that they deserve a little recognition. Thank you! 

4. Dasia

Top 5 Favorite Blogs This Year (in no particular order)

This is purely subjective of course, but over the last twelve months I’ve found these blogs to be incredibly useful, inspirational and timely. If you haven’t checked them out before, I highly recommend them (and it’s not a bad idea to stalk them on Twitter, as well).

I think what attracted me to Jeff’s blog is his constant positivity. His blog is upbeat, inspirational and has some really fantastic tips with consistently great posts.

I’ve mentioned before why I love Tahereh’s blog so much, but I think her writing was best described by Lisa Gail Green in the comments not too long ago—honest.

As the Chairman of Thomas Nelson Publishers and a motivational speaker, it’s not surprising that his posts are insightful and inspirational. Similar to Jeff Goins’ blog, I really love the constant positive message in his posts and the fantastic community he’s built there.

Nathan Bransford’s blog has been a source of fantastic insight for years and this year was no different. Even though he’s no longer an agent, his take on the publishing industry is insightful and interesting.

Iain Broome’s blog is yet another fantastic resource for writers. He provides both links to great posts he comes across around the web and original posts that make you pause and think. A great addition to anyone’s morning blog read.

Top 5 Favorite Books I Read This Year (in no particular order)

So I’ll admit I haven’t read a huge amount of books this year, however that doesn’t diminish how awesome these five books are. I highly recommend each and every one of them and hope you’ll check them out (links lead to my reviews).

Top 5 Favorite Posts I Read (or Watched) This Year (in no particular order)

So I know this technically isn’t a post, per say, but it’s still a fantastic video nonetheless and I’m sure most of you have seen. But just in case you haven’t seen it, you should definitely watch it. It’s a fantastically inspirational video for writers.

2. ON BEING A REAL WRITER by Tahereh Mafi
This post is so beautiful, I don’t even know what to say. Every time I re-read it, it brings a smile to my face. It’s honest, inspirational and a prime example of why I love Tahereh’s blog so much.

So maybe it’s cheating to include two posts from the same blog in my countdown but really guys, I just love the posts that much. And I think her message here is really important for writers.

4. We Just Decided to Go by Amanda Hocking
Short post with a great message spurred by a wonderful quote. A nice inspirational read.

5. Writing Worksheets and Other Tools by Elizabeth S. Craig
Elizabeth always gives fantastic resources and this is no different. The worksheets she links to are really fantastic, particularly the Novel Notebook. Definitely check them out. 

So those are my five top five! Hope everyone has a wonderful new year!

What were your favorite five posts, blogs or books this year?

Writing Quickly: A Secret Strategy

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I wrote a blog post about a month back in which I gave a couple of tips for writing quickly. This is not a repetition of that post, but rather an expansion.

You see, when I wrote that post I mentioned this thing I hadn't tried, but I'd heard a lot about called Write or Die. In short, Write or Die is an app meant to strip out all other distractions and get you writing. How? It's pretty simple.

Before your writing session you set the amount of time you'd like to write and what your word count goal is. As I've been combining Write or Die with #wordmongering sessions (more on that later), I usually set it to 30 minutes and 500 words.

After you've dictated your goals, you may choose four different "consequences" and three different "grace periods." The Web App looks like this:

According to the website, the consequences are as follows (and I quote):

"Gentle Mode: A certain amount of time after you stop writing, a box will pop up, gently reminding you to continue writing.

Normal Mode: If you persistently avoid writing, you will be played a most unpleasant sound. The sound will stop if and only if you continue to write.

Kamikaze Mode: Keep Writing or Your Work Will Unwrite Itself."

So Kamikaze mode sounds really terrifying and I'll probably never use it, BUT I've been writing on normal mode with a strict grace period (I'm thinking I may brave evil, just to try it) and it's been fantastic. (Quick note: After you finish your Write or Die session, copy and paste everything over to whatever word processor you use. I can't say for sure if the paid versions save your work, but the web app most certainly does not.)

Ok, so the catch? I don't just use Write or Die.

You see, also about a month ago, my Twitter buddy @surlymuse wrote about combining #wordmongering with Write or Die. If you ask me, it's pure genius.

For those of you who don't know what #wordmongering is, you can check out my #wordmongering post which basically explains its awesomeness or take a look at the the handy dandy #wordmongering website created by #wordmongering co-founder @notveryalice.

In short, #wordmongering is a Twitter hashtag where writers get together and have thirty minute writing sprints starting at the top of every hour. At the end of the sprint, you share your word count achievements with each other, throw some virtual confetti around and take a break until the next sprint. It's a fantastic tool with some great people that really gets you writing.

So when I read about combining Write or Die with #wordmongering, I was intrigued. Could it really work?

I tried it. In my first Write or Die/#wordmongering combination sprint, I wrote over 1,000 words. In thirty minutes.

That's a pretty big deal for me. In months of writing I had only breached the 1,000 word mark in a half hour maybe two or three times. My average was somewhere around 500 words (which is why I chose 500 as my goal when I set my first Write or Die session up) and it wasn't uncommon to drag along in 400 word thirty minute spurts.

No longer.

You see, Write or Die forces you to keep your fingers on the keyboard at all times. Even if you're only hitting the backspace and enter key to avoid that horrendous noise and scary red screen (which *ehem* I NEVER do or anything), something about keeping your fingers on the keyboard with the constant feeling of that timer about ready to go off at any moment when you stop writing makes you realize that it is most certainly possible to keep writing at all costs. More possible than you might have imagined.

Combine this with the support group and friendly competition of #wordmongering, and you have yourself a lethal strategy to getting those words down quickly.

So there you go. The secret is out.

Have you tried the Write or Die/#wordmongering combination?

Tension: A Valuable Tool

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As a writer, it’s your job to make life hard for your characters. Put simply, no one wants to read a story where everything is hunky dory and the characters cruise through life without a care in the world and life is so good it’s like Christmas every day.

In order for a story to be interesting, in order to keep your readers turning the pages, there needs to be constant conflict. On every page.

That doesn’t mean, of course, that someone needs to run in with a gun in every chapter or that you need constant high-action scenes—in fact, too much of the same thing, even something as exciting as gun fights and car chases will tire your reader out and, eventually, bore them.

So how do you keep your readers interested between those high-excitement scenes without exhausting them? The answer, my friends, is tension.

The definitions (via Google dictionary) for tension are actually pretty interesting, so I’m going to share them with you.

I especially like the first, third and last definition, but looking over them I think you can get a pretty good idea as to what tension really is.

Tension is like micro-conflict—it’s an underlying pressure that should build up as the plot progresses, water turning into steam in a kettle. When used correctly, tension brings your readers from the first plot point to the last, it sews everything together and keeps the pages turning.

So how is tension utilized in a story?

I’m going to use a couple of popular examples (without spoiling anything, I promise), because there’s a lot to be learned from best-sellers. So.

The Hunger Games (Suzanne Collins)—In the beginning of the book, Katniss and Peeta have to pretend to be friends, an idea that doesn’t sit well with Katniss as they will have to kill each other once the games begin. This is pretty brilliant on Suzanne Collins’ part, because it makes every action (even something as simple as eating breakfast next to each other) rife with tension.

Harry Potter and theSorcerer’s Stone (J.K. Rowling) Again, taking from the beginning of the book, when we meet Harry he’s living in a cupboard under the stairs with his hateful Aunt and Uncle who would rather pretend he (and his magic) doesn’t exist. Instant tension.

Shatter Me (Tahereh Mafi)Without giving anything away, an imprisoned girl who can’t touch anyone without killing them wakes up in her cell to find a boy is now there. And a rather obnoxious one at that, who seems to have no problem getting terrifyingly close to her. Tension.

Tension is a valuable tool that you can (and should) use at every stage of your story—you don’t need to wait until a huge plot point to utilize it, in fact tension at the beginning of your novel is a great way to hook readers from the start. All of the examples I gave you come right from the beginning of their respective novels.

Don’t ride over any opportunity to use tension—it’s a valuable asset in your toolbox that can really hook your readers in right from the start.

Are you using tension in your novels? What other examples of great use of tension do you have?

Guest Posting: Every Reader Matters

Photo credit: George Deputee on Flickr
Hello everyone! Thought I'd publish a quick post to wish you all a very merry Christmas (and a wonderful holiday season to those who don't celebrate) and let you know that I have a guest post up about building an audience on the awesome @surlymuse's blog.

So you should check it out (and follow him on Twitter!), then let me know what you think. About the post, I mean.

Merry Christmas!

There is No Wizard of Oz

Photo credit: ISD 191 Performing Arts Programs on Flickr

I was thinking the other day about how we perceive others on the internet.

When we meet people in person, there’s something vulnerable about it—we can really see the person, look into their eyes and hear their voice. You can shake hands and see their smile and get a feel for what they’re like. We develop connections this way that we can’t do online.

Because online people seem untouchable. There’s a barrier between you and everyone else out there—a screen that stands between that personal connection. Even with video chatting and vlogs it’s not the same thing—sure you can see and hear the person, but you can’t shake hands. You can get a feel for the vibe they’re sending off or pick up on the little mannerisms the camera didn’t catch.

So it’s only natural, I suppose, that we sometimes view those online as something magical. I don’t necessarily mean random Facebook or Twitter friends (although I suppose the same could apply in certain cases), I mean bloggers. The ones that have developed some sort of authority in their field. The ones that give tips and tricks and people ask advice from. Those guys.

I want to clear the air. I can’t speak for everyone, but I can tell you with upmost certainty that there isn’t a Wizard of Oz here, and I have a feeling he doesn’t live behind other blogger pages, either. Because regardless of what they write about, most bloggers aren’t masterminds and geniuses in their fields—they’re normal people with quirks and favorite TV shows and they make mistakes and they’re learning along the way just like you and me.

They’re normal people.

No, I can’t speak for everyone, but I can speak from experience and as a blogger, I can tell you I’m learning right here along with you. I’m learning when I’m writing my posts, I’m learning when I’m attacking the manuscript in crazy #wordmongering sessions, I’m learning when I read other blogs and random books and tumbling sheer internet randomness.

There is no Wizard of Oz. At least, not here.

I say this because occasionally I get an e-mail. Not just any e-mail though, an e-mail from one of you amazing people. And sometimes I read these e-mails and it’s something really nice and I get all smiley and happy and throw hugs around like it’s nobody’s business.

But sometimes I get an e-mail that asks for advice and honestly? I’m not qualified to give advice. So I don’t. And it’s not because I don’t care and it’s not because I don’t think it’s worth my time or anything like that, it’s because I’m just like you. Learning. And I don’t have all the answers, nor will I pretend to.

Because like you, I’m figuring things out and learning along the way and the only difference between you and me is that I sit down and write about some of the things I’ve figured out three times a week. That’s it.

So if you ever write me an e-mail with advice-like questions and I don’t answer, I hope you know I’m not ignoring you. I hope you know that it’s not that I don’t care. I hope you know that I just don’t have the answers and I wish I could help, but sometimes I can’t.

And that’s all I have to say on the matter.

10 Writing Truths (Part 2)

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Continuing from last week’s 10 Writing Truths post, here are the final five of my ten writing truths:

The last five writing truths: 

6. Not everyone will understand your passion. This especially applies to those of us who aren’t published or have self-published. Family and friends won’t always understand why you spend your waking hours locked up with a computer, typing away at something that gives you little income in return. Strangers will smile and nod and pat you on the back when they realize that by writer you don’t mean published in a bookstore. There will be looks. There will be judging. There will be comments about getting a real job or spending your time on something fruitful.

They won’t always understand and that’s ok. That’s when you reach out to your writing community. Because we writers? We get it. We understand. And we know exactly what you’re going through.

7. Writing requires sacrifice. Maybe it’s sleep or a social life or television or video games or a plethora of a hundred other things you could be doing, but writing takes time. Time that you could be doing something else. Maybe it’s time in the morning that you could be resting instead of waking up early to get some words down before the day begins. Maybe it’s time in the afternoon when your favorite television show is on, but you’re holed up working on your WIP instead.

Whatever it is, writing takes time away from other things you could be doing. But if you’re a writer, it’s worth it—because writing? That's just what you do. 

8. You will need to be patient. If this list were in order of importance (it’s not), this would be way up there. Writers play the waiting game all the time—waiting for a manuscript to cool down before we start editing, waiting for a critique partner or beta reader to get back to us, waiting for an answer to that query letter, waiting for a response from an editor, waiting for your book to finally get published, waiting waiting waiting. 

It’s tempting to skip a step. It’s tempting to edit before you’ve developed enough distance from your manuscript or forgetting beta readers or bypassing editors or submitting (even publishing) manuscripts after just a couple of drafts.

It’s tempting, I know. But you need to be patient. This isn’t a race—not with yourself or with anyone else. These things take time and in the case of the writer, time is on your side.

9. You will need to be brave. Writing is a scary profession. There’s the fear of rejection—first privately, by agents or beta readers and critique partners—then publicly, by readers and reviewers. There’s the fear of disappointing your readers or not being able to live up to your expectations of a writer. There’s pressure and deadlines and terrifying fears every step of the way. You’re not going to be able to avoid the fear forever and that’s ok—we’re all afraid sometimes.

But you’ll need to be brave. You’ll need to step past the doubts and the nightmarish scenarios forming in your head and keep working and writing and editing and rewriting because you’re a writer and it’s time for you to be strong.

10. To be a successful writer, you must love to write. Period. Writing is not a profession for the faint of heart. It’s competitive, exhausting and at first, requires a lot of work with little return. Some authors spend years on a manuscript and you need to be prepared for that possibility. When years go by and manuscripts pile up in your drawers, you must continue writing. When you’ve written half a dozen drafts for your WIP and it still needs a complete overhaul, guess what? You need to keep writing.

That kind of perseverance can’t come just from sheer stubbornness. You must love what you’re doing every step of the way or you’ll burn out.

To be a successful writer, you must love to write.

So there you have it—my list of ten writing truths. Did I miss any? What do you think?

10 Writing Truths (Part 1)

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I remember writing my very first manuscript. I was young and naïve about what it really meant to be a writer.

I’d heard somewhere, that being a published author would mean a lot of hard work, that most writers write many, many manuscripts before they find publication, that books are written and re-written over and over again before truly perfected.

Someone had told me that being a writer was hard, but that didn’t deter me. Sure, I thought. It’s hard to write a book, but I’ve already started one. I’m doing the hardest part already.

Maybe it was just me, but I think a lot of writers start the same way: we hear things about writing, but we’re optimistic. It’s a new journey we’re about to embark, we’re disillusioned with Hollywood portrayals of instant successes and break out debut authors who seemingly appear out of nowhere with million-dollar ideas. We think, that could be me, and we largely ignore those unpleasant writing rumors that the profession we’re about to try to enter is actually excruciatingly difficult.

Over the course of seven manuscripts, I’ve learned ten writing truths that I’d like to share with you in two parts (because frankly, it’s way too much to cover in one post). They’re not always easy and fun to hear, but to me at least, they’re necessary.

The first five writing truths (in no particular order):

1. Rewriting really means rewriting. This one took me a long time to learn. I used to think that by rewriting, authors couldn’t possibly mean actually rewriting the entire novel. You mean that first draft was just a practice round? I actually have to relive the whole thing and write these scenes over and over again, scrapping what I first had?

In short? Yes. Yes you do. Sure, depending on how tight and polished your first draft is, some writers will have a larger percentage of first draft material in the final draft than others, but by and large rewriting means exactly what it sounds like. Write it again.  

2. Not everything you write will be (or should be) published. I’ve written a couple of blog posts about why gatekeepers are actually a good thing and how not every novel you write will be the one, so I’m not going to reiterate the entire thing again. I know it’s harsh and it’s definitely one of the more difficult writing truths to accept, but not everything you write is meant for the limelight. Every novel you write is a learning experience, a stepping stone to the dream—and those first ones you write? Chances are, they aren’t meant to be unleashed to the world and that’s ok.

3. Writing is a love-hate relationship. Guess what? I don’t feel like writing all the time and I have a sneaking suspicion, I’m not the only one. There have been days, weeks even when I open up a blank Word document or look at a WIP and die a little inside because I don’t. Feel. Like. Writing.

But that doesn’t mean you give up. It means you can take a break sure, perhaps a couple of hours or even a couple of days, but then you get back to work. And if you still don’t feel like writing? Too bad. You’re not always going to want to write, but sometimes you just have to suck it up and get those words on the page anyway.

Good news? Some days writing is wonderful. There will be times when you feel as though you could write literally all day, times when you’ll write until your fingers are exhausted and you’re making silly typos because you can’t feel your hands anymore and you still want to keep going. Those are the days when you know you’re a writer. When you know that this is what you were born to do. Those are the times you hold onto to get through the less-enjoyable spells.

4. Sometimes, your writing will suck. It’s true. There will be days when you feel like you’ve just written an entire chapter of crap. And maybe you have, but that’s why we have the first truth: rewriting.

5. Sometimes, your writing will be amazing. There are few things I enjoy more than looking over something I’ve written and thinking, wow. I actually wrote that? Those moments are truly gratifying—they make the crappy days worth it, and then some.

So those are my first five writing truths. Part 2 will be up on Monday, but until then…

What writing truths do you have to add to the mix? 

Celebrating 100 Posts

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I published my very first blog post on the sixth of May of this year. At the time I’d just reached 100 Twitter followers (which is what prompted the launch of the blog) and the design was all tan and red with a huge picture of books in the background and no pretty banner.

Yes, Writability was a completely different animal then.

I had two comments on my first post—one of them was my response to my only commenter. But none of that mattered, because I was in awe that anyone would want to read my posts to begin with. Every page view was someone giving me a chance and I battled a serious case of nerves every time I hit the “Publish” button.

Fast forward seven months and 99 blog posts and really nothing has changed—well, except for the nerves part. I still smile every time I see a comment and get rather excited every time I gain a lovely new reader.

Because if there’s anything I’ve learned as a blogger, it’s just how important every single of you guys are. It doesn’t matter if you follow this blog regularly or just happened to have clicked a link to get here, I’m thankful for you.

Because out of everything I talked about in my last post, you guys make the biggest impact. You’re what keeps me going, what keeps me clicking “publish” three times a week. Without you, my lovely readers, Writability would not still be here.

So rather than posting my top ten posts thus far, I’m going to share my most popular post with you guys and I hope you’ll do the same.

That’s right, I want to know your best post in the history of your blog.

Now I’m aware that not everyone here is a blogger, but I want you guys to have a chance to interact, too.

For those of you who don’t have a blog, share your favorite post from someone else’s blog. I promise to take a look at it as long as it doesn't have anything inappropriate (so keep them PG please, or they won’t be published in the comments).

So here we go! My most popular post thus far is Why Writers Must Read.

What about you? 

5 Reasons You Should Be Blogging

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This is my 99th blog post.

I don't know exactly how many words I've written for this blog, but figuring that I average about 500 words a post, we can probably guestimate that around 50,000 words have gone into this blog.

50,000 words. That's longer than some of my WIPs.

That's a lot of time that's gone into blogging— and that doesn't even count the time I spent designing Writability and laying out the widgets and fixing buttons and promoting my posts, and it's certainly a lot of writing.

Which brings me to my point: blogging— that is, serious, consistent blogging— isn't easy. It's time-consuming work that takes discipline and creativity and a certain amount of organization to do it correctly.
Blogging is hard work. So why bother?

Looking back at the my first eight months in the blog world, at 32 weeks of writing post after post, I've come to realize that I don't regret a thing. In fact, starting a blog was probably one of the best decisions I made this year.

Why bother blogging?

  1. Blogging teaches you discipline. This mostly applies if you blog consistently. Blogging with a deadline or quota of a certain number of posts per week not only teaches you how to be a disciplined writer—but it teaches you that you have the ability to write under pressure.

  2. Blogging cultivates creativity. Coming up with new blog post ideas every week isn't easy. There are times when you'll be fresh out of ideas, but according to your blogging schedule you have a post due tomorrow anyway. That's when you have to start getting creative with your ideas. That's when you learn just how valuable creativity is after all.

  3. Blogging forces you to think. As a writer, blogging about writing has been a hugely valuable experience for me. I know conventional blogging wisdom out there tells writers not to write about writing, but for me, blogging about writing has been as much of a learning experience as it has a chance to share my thoughts.

  4. Because in order to write a blog post you really need to think about whatever topic you're covering.Writing about what makes a character beautiful, for example, forced me to think about my own characters. About their weaknesses and flaws and whether or not I would consider them beautiful.  In short, I've learned just as much from this (if not more) as I hope you have. 

  5. Blogging creates relationships. Some of my most loyal Twitter friends found me through this blog. Guest posting, commenting on each others' blogs and sharing post content all helps cultivate great online relationships. I've met some fantastic writers both through my blog and other blogs and I don't doubt that this trend will continue.

  6. Blogging is fun. Just because something is a lot of work, doesn't mean it can't be fun, right? Right. In all seriousness, I'll continue to blog because I love it. Because the experience is valuable and it keeps me writing and call me crazy, but I think it's fun to come up with posts three times a week and interact with you guys and write and write and write.

So those are the reasons I will continue to blog. Do you blog? What would you add to the list?

Book Review: Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi

Photo credit: Moi :)
If I could give Shatter Me six stars on a five-point scale, I would give it ten.

Long before the book came out, I heard a lot of online hype about Tahereh Mafi and her upcoming debut. I was curious, so I followed her on Twitter and started reading her blog—and I could immediately see why her fan base was growing so quickly.

Online, Mafi is funny, encouraging, genuine and sometimes even inspiring, so naturally I clicked on over to see what her book was about.

The Goodreads summary goes as follows:

Juliette hasn't touched anyone in exactly 264 days.  
The last time she did, it was an accident, but The Reestablishment locked her up for murder. No one knows why Juliette's touch is fatal. As long as she doesn't hurt anyone else, no one really cares. The world is too busy crumbling to pieces to pay attention to a 17-year-old girl. Diseases are destroying the population, food is hard to find, birds don't fly anymore, and the clouds are the wrong color. 
The Reestablishment said their way was the only way to fix things, so they threw Juliette in a cell. Now so many people are dead that the survivors are whispering war-- and The Reestablishment has changed its mind. Maybe Juliette is more than a tortured soul stuffed into a poisonous body. Maybe she's exactly what they need right now. 
Juliette has to make a choice: Be a weapon. Or be a warrior.”

I was hooked, and I waited patiently for my pre-ordered copy to come in the mail.

It arrived. I read it. I loved it.

Shatter Me is the best combination of elements—it’s exciting, the plot is interesting, the characters are diverse, the setting is a perfect touch of dystopia and most strikingly—the prose is absolutely beautiful. 

Mafi’s writing style is unlike anything I’ve ever read before and I’ve fallen in love with it. Truthfully, even if you don’t like dystopia or paranormal YA books, I’d recommend you read Shatter Me anyway if only for a brilliant example of a pitch-perfect voice.

It’s easy to see why Shatter Me was optioned for a movie so quickly—it’s a very exciting read with some truly memorable characters. (Remember that post I wrote about minor characters? Shatter Me gave me a new favorite secondary character to add to my short list—that’s how good it is.)

My only criticism with Shatter Me is a minor one—without spoiling anything, I thought some of the romance was a little over-the-top, however I understood the reasoning behind it, so really I didn’t mind it that much (or at all, to be honest).

In conclusion if you like YA—read Shatter Me.

If you like dystopia—read Shatter Me.

If you like exciting books—read Shatter Me.

Hell, if you don’t like any of those things but you like well-written books—for crying out loud, read Shatter Me.

I absolutely loved this book—it easily jumped into my list of favorites—and I am eagerly awaiting the unnamed sequel.

I’m going to be reading Matched by Allie Condie next—what are you reading? 

Are You Waiting for Good Ideas?

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So the other day I was surfing the Twittersphere, trying to figure out what today’s post would be about, when one of my lovely followers asked me an interesting question.

“I was wondering if you always knew what to write about on your blog. I post only when I have something to talk about. But you need to post three times a week. Seems hard to me.”

Well, lovely anonymous follower, to the first part of your question—no, I don’t always know what to write about. In fact, I often don’t figure out what my post will be about until the day I write it (like ehem, now).

To the second part, here’s a secret: it is hard. And it’s also easy. Allow me to explain.

I suppose I could wait for a blog post idea to come to me—I’m not going to pretend it never happens, it does. Sometimes when I’m driving or working on my WIP or just daydreaming in general, I’ll come up with a good idea for a post. Then I celebrate a little and write down the idea.

But ideas don’t just come to me three times a week right in time for my Monday, Wednesday, Friday blogging schedule (that’d be too easy). So if the day before I’m supposed to post comes and I still don’t have any posting ideas, I sit in front of the computer and stare at the blank screen and flip through my blog archives and refuse to leave the computer until I’ve started writing a post. No exceptions.

Because yes, I could wait for an idea to come to me, but like most things in life, blog post ideas don’t often fall from the sky and land on your lap—sometimes you have to get up and go find them. And some days it’s hard—some days I sit at the computer and stare at the screen for what feels like years and the schedule-loving part of me whispers you need to write this post today so you have something to post tomorrow. You’ve never missed a day, Ava. Don’t start now. And I stare and stare and stare and it feels like I’ll never figure out what to write about.

Except I don’t give myself an option. I don’t allow myself not to write a post when I have one due. If I’m supposed to post tomorrow, then I’ll come up with a blog post idea if it kills me (and I’m still here, so the strategy seems to be working pretty well).

And some days it’s easy—some days I write a post and it spawns two or three other post ideas, so I add it to my list of running blog topic possibilities and then I do something else and sometimes more ideas rain down on me like wonderful gifts from the heavens. Some days I whip a blog post draft out in ten or fifteen minutes and I dance around in little circles in my mind because I feel accomplished and now I have all this extra time to do other things.

Yes, those are the easy days—but it’s certainly not every day, or even every other day. In fact, most days fall under the first category and the truth is, I don’t mind it.

Because blogging has taught me something important—that sometimes the best ideas don’t just fall in your lap, sometimes you have to chase them down and wrestle them onto the page. And it’s not just blog post ideas—it’s any sort of idea or inspiration that you need to keep writing.

Because yes, you can wait for the ideas to come, but why wait when you can go get them yourself?

I know it’s not as easy as it sounds, so I ask you—do you wait for blog post ideas to come to you or do you generate them yourself? Where do you get your posting ideas from?

Writing is Like...

Photo credit: antonioperezrio.com on Flickr

Imagine you’re walking through a desert. The Sahara. You have a bottle of water and a couple of packets of food in your backpack and a long, long road ahead. The sun is so hot you think you may actually be cooking alive and the air is baking in your lungs. You sip your warm water, but you can’t take much more because you know if you run out, you’re done.

Everywhere you turn looks the same—you’re not even entirely sure you’re walking straight anymore—haven’t you seen that dune before? You stagger in the sand and your tongue tastes like dust you can’t even remember what you were thinking coming out here. Where did you think you were going, anyway? When you scream for help, the most horrific sound answers you.


Sometimes, this is what writing is like.  This is the middle of your journey, when every word fights you on its way to the page, when manuscripts and rejection letters start to gather in your drawers, when it feels like the words don’t even matter anymore because at this rate you’ll never see publication.

This is when writing is really hard. When keeping your dream alive is a battle. When people say you should get a real job and you start to wonder if maybe they’re right.

This is when you work on a manuscript for years and you start to wonder if all that trouble is really worth it. If maybe you’re setting yourself up for more failure and disappointment.

Now imagine you reach an oasis. There are trees here and beautiful, fresh water and snippets of green and life and it’s just so surreal and incredible but it’s real. You fill up your water bottle and wash your face and sit by the water’s edge—hell, you even go swimming.

Sometimes, this is what writing is like, too. This is the time when the writing flows, when you’re in love with your manuscript and your characters are coming to life before your very eyes and you know, you know this is what you love. This is when you finish a manuscript and celebrate with your family and friends. This is when your characters surprise you with a twist or act differently than you’d planned. This is when you read over something you wrote and can’t help but grin because you can hardly believe you put those words down yourself.

The oasis makes the desert worth it.

And you’ll know when you reach an oasis. You’ll know because it’ll feel right, because your dream will be more alive than ever, because you’re writing and it just feels so incredible and you could stay in this place forever.

Except you can’t. The oasis is a place of emotional rest. It’s the time for you to refill your water bottle and gather your strength and prepare to venture out into the unknown again. Because hard as you may try, you won’t stay in the oasis forever. The desert is out there, ahead you, standing between you and your dream.

The journey of the writer isn’t easy, friends. It’s long and sometimes lonely and often exhausting. And some days you’ll look up and see the desert around you and wonder if it’s hopeless. Some days the sheer magnitude of what you’re trying to accomplish will overwhelm you. Some days you’ll want to throw in the towel and say I’ve suffered enough.

That’s when you drink from your water bottle. That’s when you remember what made you want to write in the first place, what you love about your manuscript, what has kept you going all this time. That’s when you reach out to your community of writers and ask for some encouragement. That’s when you find someone to hug and you read your favorite book and you listen to some music and take a break and know that every writer goes through this.

Every. Single. One.

And that’s when you remember that you’re not alone. That there are others like you, stumbling through their own deserts, pushing ahead through the storms and doubts and fears so that one day they’ll see their dreams come true. Just like you.

That’s when you go out there and get back to work and keep writing until your fingers go numb. Because you’re a writer and that’s just what you do.

What tips do you have for getting through the writing desert?

How to Celebrate Your Writing Success

Photo credit: tseyin on Flickr
So it’s now officially December, which means NaNoWriMo has come to an end. While not everyone who participated and became NaNoWriMo winners completed a full novel (as 50,000 words doesn’t always equate to a full-length novel), chances are those that didn’t will be doing so in the next couple of weeks.

So for those of you who are NaNo winners or have recently reached another writing milestone (or even wrote anything at all in the last month)—Congratulations! You’re awesome.

Naturally then, celebrations are in order.

I admit that I haven’t had the best track record when it comes to celebrating my writing successes (namely, finishing a WIP), in fact more times than not I sort of let the event slide by quietly and celebrated by giving people hugs, not writing for a couple of days, then going back to work.

Now, while hugs are fantastic, I’m making a point of actually celebrating next time I have a writing accomplishment, and I think you should too. Why?

We deserve it. Whether it’s completing a first draft or a final draft or getting an agent or being published or a plethora of accomplishments in the writing world, you deserve it. Writing is hard, time-consuming work and you deserve to take the time to celebrate when you’ve reached a milestone.

Really. You do.

Then of course there’s the question of how. How do writers celebrate completing a novel? Or getting an agent? Or whatever writing milestone they’ve reached?

So I’ve decided to formulate a list of ways to celebrate so no one can claim they don’t know how. Excuses are no longer an option. You’ve been warned. (You’re welcome).

  • Bake something delicious. Whether it’s Oreo-Stuffed Chocolate Chip Cookies or Butterbeer Cupcakes or Red Velvet Cookies with Cream Cheese Swirl, make yourself a delicious dessert to share (optional) with your friends and family. Don’t forget to tell everyone it’s to celebrate how awesome you are. Or that you finished a book/got an agent/are going to be published. Either way. 

  • Go out to eat. Maybe you’re not big on the baking or you set your kitchen on fire every time you step into it. No worries! Eating something yummy to celebrate is still an option if you go out to eat. Plus then you can talk about how awesome you are while enjoying your delicious hot meal.

  • Throw a party. Hey, why not? This is especially appropriate if you just got an agent or a publishing contract or anything of the sorts. Throw a party—invite everyone—and make sure the cake says “Congratulations on being awesome.” 

  • Do something fun you don’t normally do. Go to the theater and watch a movie (or a play). Or go ice skating. Or go on a day trip somewhere. Point is that you do something enjoyable and out of the ordinary so it’s a legitimate celebration. 

  • Spend time with your family and friends. Chances are you’ve been kind of neglecting them since you’ve been busy with the whole novel-writing thing. Go out with your loved ones, spend some time with them and let them know they’re appreciated. (And you can mention how awesome you are—just throwing that out there.) 

  • Read. I’m sure you have a couple of books sitting on your TBR pile (and if you don’t, go find some). Guess what? You have a little extra time now. Go read.

  • Don’t write. Even if it’s only for a few days, take a little writing hiatus. Or at the very least don’t write anything WIP-related.

So it’s not a comprehensive list, but it should at the very least generate a couple of ideas. Now go forth and celebrate.

What do you think? How do YOU celebrate your writing accomplishments? Any ideas to add to the list?

On Writing Memorable (Minor) Characters

Photo credit: Rubin 110 on Flickr
Everyone is the center of their own universe. Really, think about that for a moment. Each of us have our own lives, families, friends, memories, dreams and fears. We all have regrets and joys, disappointments and celebrations.

And your characters are no different, or at least, they shouldn't be.

It seems like a no-brainer, especially when we're writing our main characters— most of are aware that we need to know their fears and dreams and all the little intricacies that bring them to life.

But what about our less important characters? I don't mean the second lead here, I mean the bell boys and bus drivers and bartenders that populate your world. Writing them tends to be a secondary thing— characters that arise out of necessity and convenience rather than careful planning and development.

But even our least important characters have their own personality, experiences and lives and if you aren't utilizing it, you're missing out on a huge opportunity.

Writing less important characters doesn't have to be boring— in fact if it is boring, you probably have a flat character on your hands that needs some revising. Let's take a quick look at a hypothetical example. Say you're writing a scene in which your male MC (Mike) and female secondary (Sara) are going to have a conversation at a bar downtown, so naturally you need a bartender. In your first round of writing you slap down Bartender A.

Bartender A is named Greg. He's butch and bald and over-muscled and smells like beer. He grunts when Mike orders his drink and hands his order over silently. Your characters have their conversation and are able to ignore Bartender A easily.

It could work. But it's boring. Let's try Bartender B.

Bartender B is named Rachel. She's young and pretty and smiles at Mike when he orders his drink and even flirts back a little when he says something flirtatious, which makes Sara jealous. A little better, but still stereotypical.

Bartender C is named Holland. She's in her late twenties and relatively attractive, but hides behind her rectangle glasses, stutters a little and ignores Mike when he says something flirtatious. She interrupts their conversation to ask Sara if she'd like a refill frequently but never asks Mike.

Then she leaves Sara her number.

We could go on and on with various bartenders, but I think out of the three we know which one is going to leave the biggest impression.

Every character you write has their own motivations, fears and desires and provides an opportunity be memorable. Are you using your minor characters to their fullest potential?

Who are your favorite minor characters? What made them your favorite?

How to Be Awesome on Twitter

Photo credit: leeander on Flickr
I was originally going to write a post about why writers need to be on Twitter, but I basically covered that in my Social Media for Writers post, and the vast majority of you reading this are already on Twitter. So.

Instead, since I know we all secretly want to be awesome on Twitter (it can't be just me, right?), this post was birthed.

Being awesome on Twitter is actually much easier than it sounds. It basically revolves around the idea that we're all here to support each other and share interesting things with our epically amazing followers (like mine). It also revolves around the idea that spam is spawn of the devil and must be destroyed with the spam gun of doom.

Some awesome things to do on Twitter:

1. Re-tweet things. You'd think this goes without saying, but if you see something interesting or you simply want to help your fellow writers (or other talented Twitter buddies), you need to re-tweet things. Not only does re-tweeting bring awesome content to your followers, but it's a way of saying hey I like what you said there, keep being awesome.

2. Be friendly. I've heard it said that Twitter is like an enormous cocktail party where everyone walks around schmoozing with each other and butting into random conversations and speaking in a fancy accent with their pinky fingers sticking up as they hold their crystal wine glasses (ok, so maybe only that first part). 

Point is, if Twitter is like a giant party, the only way people will notice (and remember) you is if you speak up and say hi. Make a point to welcome your new followers. Show them they're appreciated. Chat with your tweeples and make connections. That's what social media is all about.

3. Be yourself. I know I say this all the time, but believe it or not, this also applies to Twitter. If you want to tweet about random sugary deliciousness or throw virtual confetti everywhere for no apparent reason or pass out random virtual hugs or squee just for the sake of squeeing, by all means, go for it. Don't be afraid to be ridiculous— I once posted "Do you know the muffin man?" and got something like five responses in five minutes. True story. Randomness is totally acceptable (and awesome) on Twitter.

4. Be positive. People like positivity, period. Even if you're feeling crummy, I suggest trying to tweet positively— you might be surprised to find just how quickly it'll change your outlook. Otherwise, remember that rule you learned in kindergarten? If you don’t have anything nice to say…

Some NOT awesome things you definitely SHOULDN'T do on Twitter:

1. Spam. Being the person that I am, I like to give people the benefit of the doubt and say that many times they don't realize they're spamming, so let me give some examples:

Tweeting (or DMing) someone a link they didn't ask for = SPAM.

Tweeting (or DMing) someone a link to your blog when they didn't ask for it = SPAM.

Tweeting (or DMing) someone you just followed with HI FOLLOW ME PLEASE = SPAM.

Moral of the story, be careful what you tweet, because no one likes a spammer.

2. Whine or Rant. I understand some ranting. The occasional rant can be understandable— even amusing at times. But if you flood the timeline with a really long rant or going on and on about your terrible day, well...chances are you're going to lose some followers. Most people can empathize with an occasional rant, but don't make a habit of it.

3. SCREAM CONSTANTLY. I understand an occasional loud tweet. Even I have on more than one occasional overused the caps lock because I was rather excited and throwing confetti everywhere or prancing around Twitter and giving out hugs. There's nothing wrong with that.


I didn't think so.

So that wraps up my tips. What tips do you have for being awesome on Twitter?

Inspiration is Everywhere

"Sometimes there's so much beauty in the world, I feel like I can't take it, and my heart is just going to cave in." –Ricky Fitts, American Beauty

It occurred to me not that long ago, that I've been taking something for granted. Something huge, that I'd forgotten and been too caught up with life to notice.

We live in a truly beautiful world.

Photo credit: darkrigel on Flickr

Seriously, we do! It doesn't matter where you live, if you really pay attention to your surroundings, I think you'll also find that there's beauty all around us— not just beauty, but inspiration waiting to be noticed. And we writers could always use a little extra dose of inspiration.

As writers, we need to learn to be alert and aware of our surroundings at all times— we need to be observers so that we can pick up on the little moments that most may miss, but could be the inspiration that starts your next novel. We need to be on the lookout for beauty.

In this case, I don't mean the conventional definition for beauty— I mean anything that could turn into inspiration.

Beauty is a rainy night and when the fog sits over the road and blankets the base of the trees around you and it's just moody enough to sit on eerie.

Beauty is a piece of broken glass on the street that's catching the sun just right.

Beauty is a new parent looking at their newborn for the first time.

Beauty is the morning after the first snowfall, when everything is perfectly pristine and white and quiet.

Beauty is an abandoned warehouse consumed by the Earth around it.

Beauty— inspiration for our writing— it's everywhere. We just need to become aware of it so we can see it.
Interestingly, I stumbled (or tumbled, I should say) across this video after writing this post. It’s a wonderful example of our majestic world and if you have the time, I highly recommend you watch a few minutes of it. Enjoy!

Where do you find inspiration for your writing?

On Giving Thanks

Photo credit: mtsofan on Flickr

It’s Thankgiving in the States tomorrow, so a lot of people remember to be thankful this time of year as it’s the focus of the holiday (besides too much turkey and stuffing and delicious desserts and all of those goodies), but I think it’s important that we remember to give thanks year round.

You see, Thanksgiving reminds us to have a positive attitudeto focus on the things that we do have, on the wonderful events and surprises and achievements we’ve had this year and forget about the bad. It’s a day when we’re permitted to forget about the stress and rainy-less-thank-wonderful-days and overstuff ourselves with turkey while sharing smiles and stories about what has made this year wonderful.

But really, it’s got me thinking this year—why wait until Thanksgiving to give thanks?

Maybe instead of waiting until turkey day, we should take the time to be thankful about something every day. I think we might be surprised what the change in our outlook could do for us.

So I’m aware it’s not New Years (yet) and now’s not the time to be making resolutions, but I’m going to make a point of trying to be more thankful. Even if it’s just something small in our lives—like a sunny day or a beautiful sunset, I think we could all find one thing to be thankful about daily.

And you never know—a positive start to the day might make the rest of the day feel that much better.

So what am I thankful for?

I’m thankful for the quiet—the soft morning moments when I can sit and write and everything is just so still and wonderful and the birds are calling outside and I just slip into the zone and spill virtual ink all over the page.

I’m thankful for the Creator, because regardless of what you believe, we live in a beautiful world with incredible people and no it’s not perfect but wow, some days you just step outside and the sun is rising just right and the air is crisp and cool and it feels as if every leaf was placed intentionally and it’s just incredible.

I’m thankful for my family, my friends, my real life supporters who put up with my eccentricities and get excited for me even when they have no idea what I’m so happy about.

And finally, I’m thankful for you, my readers. You guys are my support group, the ones who keep me writing even when I don’t think I’ll be able to manage, the ones who make me smile and remind me why this whole blogging thing is worth it. I never imagined this blog would get half the attention it has, and none of it would be possible without you. You guys have no idea how much you impact my day with your comments and smiles and for that I thank you.

You’re amazing and wonderful. Don’t ever stop being you.

Thank you.

I’m aware that not everyone reading this is celebrating Thanksgiving tomorrow, but regardless—what are YOU thankful for? 
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