End of Year Countdown: 5 Top Fives of 2012

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Incredibly, today is the last day of 2012. 2013 is literally just a handful of hours away (more or less, depending on where in the world you are situated), which can only mean one thing here on Writability: it’s time for the five top fives of 2012.

So without further ado, here is my summation of the year in terms of writerly/bloggerly/book(erly?) goodness.

Top 5 Most Popular Posts (On Writability) 

Calculated very scientifically with Blogger’s uber-sophisticated page view count, these are my most popular posts of 2012:

  1. Why Write Blog Posts Consistently?
  2. Writers: Start Acting Like Professionals
  3. Do You Listen to Music While Writing?
  4. Ten Indisputable Signs That You’re a Writer
  5. Why Writers Must Read

Top 5 Most Active Commenters 

As explained last year, Disqus has this very handy little widget that sits on the side of my blog and keeps track of how many comments each commenter makes. While I don’t think it’s 100% foolproof (if you sign into the comments with more than one account, for example, the comment count is distributed amongst the accounts and thus not recorded accurately) these five awesome readers are some of the most active members of the Writability community, and for that they get a little extra recognition. Thank you!

  1. Daniel Swensen
  2. RoweMatthew
  3. Margaret Alexander
  4. J.A. Bennett
  5. Chihuahua Zero

Top 5 Favorite Tumblr Blogs of the Year (in no particular order) 

I really amped up the ante with this tumblr thing this year, and I’ve found that now that I understand the site a little better, I really enjoy using it. For those of you who have tumblr accounts, or are considering creating one, I highly recommend checking out these five awesome tumblr blogs:

  1. YA Highway

    If you’re a writer and you haven’t yet checked out YA Highway’s non-tumblr blog, I can’t recommend it more. The ladies of YA Highway consistently create amazing posts with writing tips, interviews, Field Trip Fridays and Road Trips that I always look forward to in my reader, and their tumblr is just as fantastic, if not more so because I love the extra writing links, humorous posts, writing and reading related pictures and tidbits that they reblog.

  2. Quote Book

    What can I say? I have this thing for quotes and Quote Book has proven to be a fantastic resource for interesting, thoughtful, funny and beautiful quotes. If you like quotes even half as much as I do, definitely check them out.

  3. Title To Come

    If you’re a writer and you don’t have a tumblr account, I would recommend making one just to follow Title To Come. Words cannot accurately describe the hysterical awesomeness that comes out of Title to Come’s tumblr blog, so I’ll just direct you to this, and this, and this (and this, and this too).

  4. The Right Writing

    Writing prompts, great tips, and fantastic bite-sized writing-related posts makes The Right Writing a must-follow for writers who frequent tumblr.

  5. Writer’s Relief, Inc.

    Writer’s Relief posts a really nice mix of amusing (writing related) photos and charts, helpful tips and articles related to writing or the publishing world, and wonderful pictures of books and what-not. If you’re looking for a nice mix of writing tumblrness, I definitely recommend them. 

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

It was difficult to choose just five books because I’ve read some really incredible books this year, but it came down to these five. I’ve reviewed all of them except for The Sanctuary (as I just finished that one a couple days ago), but they’re all amazing books that you really must read. Immediately.

  1. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (My review here). 
  2. A Million Suns by Beth Revis (My review here). 
  3. The False Prince by Jennifer Nielsen (My review here). 
  4. The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson (My review here). 
  5. The Sanctuary by Ted Dekker

    As I mentioned above, I didn’t review The Sanctuary yet, so I’ll rave a little about how fantastic it is here until a proper review is posted. The Sanctuary is a sequel to The Priest’s Graveyard (my review here) and it was a book that I simply could not put down. Dark and definitely captivating, I caught myself thinking about the book between readings and wondering what was going to happen next. If you like thriller-paced novels, I absolutely recommend The Sanctuary. 

Top 5 Favorite Favorites (in no particular order) 

And finally, a collection of my favorite miscellaneous social media goodies that I wanted to share with you guys.

  1. @Janice_Hardy & @elizabethscraig

    For all of you writers who are on Twitter, I highly recommend following these two ladies. They both consistently post links to some fantastic posts and articles on writing, publishing, etc. and they’re an invaluable resource to writers. Highly recommended.

  2. Vlogbrothers

    I don’t watch very many vlogs, but I make a point not to miss the vlog of John and Hank Green (yes, the same John Green as the author mentioned above and his equally insightful brother). Their videos are often funny and nearly always thought-provoking. Sometimes they’re related to writing and sometimes not, but I’ve always found them to be interesting and relevant nonetheless.

  3. Between Fact & Fiction

    Between Fact & Fiction is author Natalie Whipple’s blog. While she doesn’t post as often as some, I’ve found her posts to be particularly insightful and thoughtful. If you’re looking for a blog with some writing-life related advice, or a peek into the soon-to-be-published life of a traditionally published author, I definitely recommend her site.

  4. Sam Spratt

    So this isn’t writing-related at all, but I also really like art and Sam Spratt’s illustrations are my absolute favorite. If you’re a fan of art, portraiture or illustration of any kind, I recommend checking out some of his work.

  5. The Bookshelf Muse

    The brainchild of the ever fantastic Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi (authors of The Emotion Thesaurus, which I can’t recommend enough for writers), The Bookshelf Muse is a great resource for all of you writers out there. If you haven’t already taken a look at their wonderful blog, take some time to do so. You won’t regret it. 

And that concludes my yearly round-up! There are some very exciting things coming to Writability soon (just around the corner, in fact), so don’t forget to check back in. Happy New Year!

Those are my five top fives—now it’s your turn. What are your favorite blogs (tumblr or otherwise), books and social media goodies of 2012?

Why Have a Yearly Reading Goal?

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In 2012, I had a goal of reading twenty books. That may not sound like much to some of you, but it was more than double what I read in 2011, and it seemed like a manageable and attainable goal. I’m now reading my twenty-first book of the year (I keep track using Goodreads), which will certainly be completed before the new year rings, and I have to say, I’m really glad that I kept myself accountable this year.

While many writers often talk about keeping daily writing goals, reading goals don’t seem to be as widely of a talked about thing. I suppose while the relevance of writing goals to writing is obvious, the importance of keeping a yearly reading goal may seem a bit more nebulous.

2011 was the first year that I attempted to meet a reading goal. While I failed to meet the goal that year (in my weak defense, I started late), it motivated me to focus on completing my goal the next year. When it became clear that I was going to meet my original goal of ten books early, I bumped it up to fifteen, then twenty. Next year I’ll be going for twenty-five.

Now some of you may be wondering what the point of having a reading goal is, and while I’ve laid out why it’s so important for writers to read in the past, I’ve found that keeping a reading goal is tied in very closely to actually reading more (versus intending or wanting to read more).

You see, most writers are aware that it’s important to read, and many non-writers are well aware that reading is a healthy and enjoyable habit. Many people kick off the New Year with a goal to read more, but the problem is, without a specific reading goal, it’s hard to measure what reading more actually means. After all, how will you know if you’ve met your goal if you haven’t detailed what it means to read more?

For me, having a measurable number to reach for kept me motivated to keep searching for books and continuing to read. It reminded me that I had a goal to meet, and in order to reach that goal I had to set some time aside to sit down and actually read. Without a specific, measurable goal to strive for, I honestly don’t think I would have read even half as much as I did this year. In fact, looking back at my record over the years, I can say with quite a bit of certainty that I wouldn’t have come near twenty books without a reading goal.

Look, if you’re a writer, or want to be a writer, you need to be reading. There isn’t an exception to the rule for this, and I’ve detailed the reasons why in this post, but the point is that you need to be reading, and keeping a yearly reading goal keeps you honest and helps you to measure whether or not you’re reading as much as you believe you should be.

Do you keep a yearly reading goal? If so, did you meet your goal this year? If not, will you be keeping one next year?

How (and When) to Give Yourself a Break

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We writers tend to be really good at working ourselves to the bone. We spend much of our free time writing/editing/rewriting novels and researching/web stalking/querying/crying over agents and marketing/preparing e-books/researching the market and let’s not forget writing super-fun synopses, and drafting blog posts, and brainstorming new works. We worry constantly about whether we’ve written enough today (or this week, or this month), and whether we’re making enough progress on that WIP, and let’s not even think about what happens when we miss a day—apocalypse.

Truth be told, sometimes we’re a little too hard on ourselves.

This may come as a surprise to some of you, but even writers deserve breaks every once in a while. The key is knowing when the right time to take a short hiatus is.

Here are a few signs that you deserve a break:

  • You just finished a draft of your WIP. One of the absolute best times to take a break is between drafts—not only do you deserve to rest after working hard to complete a draft, but you need time to develop some distance to your work so that you can edit it more efficiently later. Win-win. 

  • You’ve been working on your WIP non-stop for a long time and now you feel stuck. What a “long time” is depends on you, but sometimes the best way to get unstuck is to distract yourself with something unrelated to your work. This is also known as taking a break. 

  • You’re tired of your WIP. Now, when I say tired of your WIP, I don’t mean that you’re in the middle of your novel and the shiny new novel glamour has worn off—that bit is pretty near inevitable. What I mean instead, is that you’ve lost the excitement, the love for your WIP. You dread sitting down to write and quite frankly, you’re not really sure you even want to finish this WIP. When that happens, sometimes the best thing you can do is step away from your WIP and take a break. This doesn’t mean forever, but it does mean you might need to distract yourself with some non-WIP goodies to recuperate. 

Once you’ve decided that you’re ready for a break, you now face a new dilemma: what to do? Remember that the point of this whole taking a break thing is to actually take a break. Put that WIP away and try some of these things:

  • Read ALL the books. Ok, maybe not all the books, but now’s a great time to catch up on that growing to-be-read list (you do have a TBR list, don’t you? Of course you do). Reading isn’t optional for serious writers, and as a bonus, it’s a pretty enjoyable way to spend some free time. 

  • Spend time with your friends and family. Chances are they haven’t seen quite as much of you as they might like—after all, you’ve been busy working on that book of yours. Now you have time to catch up with friends and sit down with your family, so use it! 

  • Do something you enjoy (other than writing). Watch a movie. Play ridiculous hours of Assassin’s Creed. Bake. Catch up on your Hulu queue. Whatever it is you really like to do, make sure that you spend time to rewarding yourself with it. You deserve it (seriously). 

  • Get some fresh air. This works particularly well when the weather is nice, but we writers have a tendency of spending a lot of time on the computer and very little time doing outdoorsy things—I’ll be the first to admit this is something I succumb to quite often. But fresh air is good for you. I promise. 

Sometimes taking a break is all you need to jump-start your inspiration and writing, and sometimes it’s just a nice little luxury that we deprive ourselves of too often. Whatever the case, make sure you reward yourself with a hiatus every once in a while—then get back to work.

What do you like to do when you’re on a writing hiatus?

'Twas the Night Before Christmas (For Writers)

A fun (re-)post for Christmas, with apologies to Clement C. Moore, written by yours truly.

Photo credit: Joe Buckingham on Flickr

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the night
Not a writer was writing, not word was in sight.
Blank pages were scattered on desks and on floors,
In hopes that the manuscripts would leap from their drawers.

The radio was humming a song of good cheer,
Yet I, tortured writer, wished a muse would appear.
And I with my coffee and family asleep
Did stare at the page trying hard not to weep.

When out in the snow there came such a noise,
I fell from my chair, disregarding all poise.
I ran to the door, my heart in my throat,
And did throw it open, forgetting my coat.

And Christmas lights glowing on glittering snow
Seemed just for a moment to put on a show.
When to my astonishment—I’ll admit I did shout,
Came a sleigh from the sky led by reindeers on route.

A driver with eyes spilling over with laughter,
His face I did know I’d remember thereafter.
With a beard so white and his cheeks set aglow,
He waved and he smiled, “It’s me, don’t you know!”

I gaped for a moment and stuttered and said,
“This cannot be real—it’s all in my head!”
But Santa, he snickered and said with delight,
“I hear, my dear child, that you love to write.”

“It’s true,” I said, looking down at my feet,
“But a writer I’m not—I’ve admitted defeat.”
And Santa, he frowned—looked me straight in the eye,
And he said, “You’re a writer, don’t let your dream die.”

So I told him my troubles, how the words wouldn’t come,
And he said, “It’s a gift—it won’t always be fun.
It won’t always be easy or simple or kind,
But for writing, my girl, is what you were designed.”

And he lifted my chin with his finger and said,
“These troubles you’re having—they’re all in your head!
So go back inside and rest for the night,
But know that tomorrow, you’ll write at first light!”

He climbed back on his sleigh and took off in the air,
The reindeers—they trampled the stars with their flair.
So inside I went and turned off the TV,
And sat by the fire with a hot cup of tea.

Asleep, there I fell, and I dreamt of the page
And when I awoke—my mind a golden age!
I rushed to my computer and typed until dawn,
His words, I soon realized—they were right all along!

In hindsight I suppose, I shouldn’t have been surprised,
For that day it was Christmas, true and undisguised.
And that man that I saw, whether he was Santa or not,
He brought to my mind things that I had forgot.

A writer’s a writer every day of the week,
On good days, on bad days, on nights that seem bleak.
But I do what I can and what I can is to write,
As Santa reminded me to my delight.

So next time your writing refuses to flow,
Remember what Santa said to me and know,
You’re a writer tonight and always will be,

For writing is truly what makes you feel free.

Merry Christmas everyone! 

Stupid Characters vs. Stupid Decisions: They're Not the Same

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Throughout the course of a lifetime, we all make less than intelligent decisions from time to time—some of us more than others—so it should be no surprise that occasionally, our characters make choices that are many miles south of brilliant.

We see examples of these stupid (and often infuriating) decisions in even the most popular books and movies. For example:

  • The Harry Potter series (J.K. Rowling): Harry Potter makes more than a handful of astoundingly stupid decisions throughout the seven book series. Troll in the dungeon? Why yes, first years with little to no experience with magic are certainly capable of fighting off a raging troll. Mermaids make it clear that you may only save one student from underwater prison during the TriWizard Tournament? Harry the hero must save them all (because apparently he really thinks Dumbledore would let them die). 

  • Insurgent (Veronica Roth): Without spoiling anything, Tris makes plenty of decisions that fall short of the "intelligent" mark, many of which nearly get her killed. 

  • The Return of the King (J.R.R. Tolkien): And let's not forget to mention a certain overly curious hobbit (*cough* Pippin) who sneaks a peek at the shiny seeing stone that Gandalf made quite clear was off-limits. 

So what makes these regrettable decisions acceptable to readers? The answer is simple: there's a large difference between a stupid character and a stupid decision.

You see, when writing, unintelligent character decisions or mistakes can create great opportunities for character growth, plot progression and conflict. Whether it involves said character dealing with the consequences of his unfortunate decision, or other characters facing the repercussions of the act, stupid decisions can create great plot material (more on that in this post).

A stupid character, on the other hand, isn't nearly as useful.

Now you may be wondering what I mean by stupid character. To clarify, a stupid character...

  • Makes bad decisions just for the sake of making a bad decision (ergo: has no legitimate reason to make said bad decision). 

  • Ignores easy solutions to plot problems just because they didn't think of it. 

  • Blatantly misses fairly obvious clues/makes false deductions with little backing. 

  • And so on. 

The main difference between stupid characters and stupid decisions is the reasoning behind the poor choices: effective unfortunate decisions are made with a legitimate reason—the character has the proper motivation to make the decision and it makes sense for the character. More times than not, the character will be aware that the decision he/she is about to make isn't exactly the brightest decision, but their motivation behind the choice overpowers the part of them that knows it's a bad idea. Stupid characters, on the other hand, make unintelligent decisions just because. There's little rhyme or reason beside the writer needing to fill a plot hole, and using stupid characters is a high ineffective way to do it.

In short, stupid decisions can be useful, but stupid characters should be banished from your writing forever.

What examples of stupid characters or stupid decisions from books or movies can you think of?

Character Development: What Do They Want?

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One of the most important questions you can ask yourself while plotting out your novel comes down to the title of this post—what do your characters want?

In novels, your character’s desire will drive the rest of the story. There’s a reason you don’t see genuinely apathetic characters as protagonists for many novels—they’re boring to read about and difficult (if not impossible) to plot an interesting story around. When it comes to writing a novel, your characters must want something in order to keep your readers interested and keep the plot moving forward.

Depending on your novel, your characters wants may evolve throughout the course of the story, or remain static (until they get what they want). Let’s take a look at an example of each:

  • The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien—After the initial catalyzing incident, Frodo wants as little to do with the ring as possible. He agrees to bring the ring to a place of safety out of necessity, but when they arrive in Rivendell and Frodo gets the opportunity to return home, he admits he’s ready to return to the Shire. It isn’t until the secret council meeting that Frodo sees just how dire the situation is and develops a new want that carries the rest of the trilogy: to see the ring destroyed. 

  • The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins—Right from the beginning we learn that Katniss’ top priority is to take care of her family. She breaks the law and hunts because it’s the main source of income and food that her family has, and without it they would starve. Her desire to take care of her family doesn’t change after the Reaping, either—she volunteers to protect her baby sister and her main motivation to survive the games is so that she can keep her promise to Prim. 

Determining what your characters want isn’t just a matter of importance to the plot—it is, in fact, a huge part of character development, as your character’s wants will largely determine their actions throughout the course of the novel. Furthermore, it’s important to know more than just your protagonist’s desires—what your antagonist and side characters want is just as important and potentially just as significant to the plot as your protagonist’s desires.

Taking a look at The Lord of the Rings again, Samwise Gamgee doesn’t join the Fellowship of the Ring for the adventure—far from it, as he has a strong desire to return home to the Shire as soon as possible. More important to him, however, is to protect Frodo like he swore to Gandalf that he would, and so he goes to great plot-altering lengths to make sure that he fulfills that promise.

Taking a moment to identify what your characters want can really help you to identify how they will act throughout the course of your novel—and it may even inspire some new plot ideas that you wouldn’t have otherwise considered. If you haven’t already, I definitely recommend it.

When do you take your characters’ desires into account? Has brainstorming their wants ever inspired new plot ideas? Share your experiences in the comments below!

On Dealing with Rejection

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When I first set out to become a writer so many years ago, there were four words that I heard over and over again, four words that reappeared everywhere I turned: develop a thick skin.

At the beginning of my journey I had this hope, you see. This flutter inside me that secretly wished I wouldn't have to, that whispered maybe not me. I clung on to that hope, and when my very first query letter brought back a request for a partial, I was ecstatic. I thought maybe I would be an exception, maybe, just maybe, I would be the writer that didn't have to deal with rejection.

I didn't send out any more query letters. I waited.

My first rejection arrived in the mailbox many weeks later. It was a heavy thing, literally, because it was attached to the first fifty pages I had printed out and sent to New York, now returned to me in a large yellow envelope. It was a nice rejection, personalized with a little feedback on why the agent had passed, but it didn't hurt any less. To my inexperienced eyes, a rejection was a rejection and the hopeful whisper died.

Since then, over the course of many years and manuscripts, I've collected more rejection letters than I care to count. But I'm not here to whine about rejection, in fact, I am, in a way, grateful for them. Because while they were difficult lessons to learn, dealing with rejection has taught me a few things:

  • Not all rejections are created equal. There's a world of difference between a form rejection letter and a personalized one. Personalized rejections mean it was a near-miss, it means the agent (or editor) took the time to personally write you a rejection letter rather than doing the easy thing and sending a quick form rejection. True, they both mean "no," but the latter is a subtle way of saying you're almost there. Keep going. 

  • Rejections aren't the end. I know sometimes it doesn't feel like it, but life goes on after five, ten, fifty, a hundred rejections. Rejections don't mean that you're a terrible writer, or that you'll never be published, or any of those awful doubts that tend to creep in upon receiving bad news about your writing. Every writer has dealt with rejection of one form or another and the best thing you can do is keep going. Keep writing. 

  • For the writer, rejections are a part of life. Believe it or not, post-publication writers still receive rejections—they're called bad reviews, and even the legendary New York Times Bestselling authors receive them pretty regularly. As harsh as it sounds, the rejections that you receive while querying are teaching you an important lesson—they're teaching you how to develop a thick skin and continue working when the stones are being thrown. They're teaching you how to ignore the negativity and keep pushing forward. 

These are lessons that are essential if you want to be a successful writer, and for that, I'm grateful. No, it's not easy, and truth be told, those rejections start to get heavy after a while, even when they're not attached to fifty pages of the manuscript that you poured your heart into.

But despite all that, I honestly believe that in the end, we'll all be better for the experience.

Have you dealt with rejection? What did you do to help you get through it?

Self-Publishing: It’s Not a Backup Plan

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I’ve noticed a trend on the web as of late, or at least, I’ve noticed it in the comments here at Writability, and it’s something I think is worth discussing. You see, oftentimes when talking about the very real possibility of not getting published (whether it’s a WIP or at all), invariably, people will say something to the effect of well, there’s always self-publishing and I die a little inside every time I see it.

Now don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I don’t think self-publishing is a valid option—quite the opposite, in fact. The problem is that a lot of writers view self-publishing as a backup plan should their attempts to traditionally publish fail, and truthfully, I don’t think that’s the right way to look at it.

Self-publishing isn’t meant to be a Plan B just as the e-book marketplace isn’t meant to be a last-ditch effort to sell failed manuscripts. Because it’s technically possible to go indie completely on your own, people sometimes take self-publishing lightly, but the decision to self-publish should never be based solely on the fact that you couldn’t sell your novel traditionally.

The hard truth is this: if you find that you can’t sell your manuscript through traditional means, there’s likely to be a reason for it. Now, sometimes it’s because you didn’t try long enough, or the market isn’t right for your manuscript, or you still haven’t developed strong query letter writing skills. Many times, however, it’s simply because you’re just not ready.

I know, no one wants to hear that. No one wants to be told that they aren’t ready for publication, because in the moment, you feel like you’re ready (otherwise you wouldn’t be trying to get published in the first place). No one wants to hear that they need more time to hone their writing skills, or that they’re going to have to spend even more time revising their already revised-to-death manuscript, but guys, sometimes that’s just the truth. It’s not pretty. It’s not fun. But if you can accept that you need more time to become a better writer or write a better manuscript before attempting to publish again, you may very well save yourself a major heartache.

Because the truth is, if your manuscript isn’t ready to be traditionally published, then it’s not ready to be self-published, either.

Deciding to go indie is a big decision. Self-publishing is a lot of hard work: it takes a monetary investment to do it right (editors and cover artists aren’t free), and the hardest work has only just begun when you finally do hit “upload.” It’s an enormous investment and when done correctly with a well-polished manuscript, you can certainly reap some significant rewards. Done incorrectly, however, and you’re only hurting yourself in the long run.

I know it’s not easy to wait, especially when the power to publish is literally just a few mouse clicks away. I know it’s not simple to say I’m not ready to be published yet, and I know it’s far from painless to put a manuscript that you truly loved and had dreams for in the drawer. I know that.

But I also know that dealing with the repercussions of self-publishing before you’re ready isn’t easy, either. And that’s a heartache that you can save yourself from if you give yourself more time to improve and reach the level you’ll need to be at to finally publish.

No, it’s not easy, but no one ever said this writing thing would be. But then again, you didn’t choose this path because it was a simple one, you chose it because you’re a writer, and that’s what you do.

What do you think? Have you ever considered self-publishing a backup plan?

When Writing, Cannibalize Everything

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It happened again! One of you fabulous readers (thank you, Robin) asked a question I haven’t yet answered that I thought most certainly merited a post (yay!). The question was this:
“I read your post about reading what you write, and coming to love your genre. So I was wondering, what if one incorporates other genres and mediums? One of my WIPs is a YA-fantasy adventure with a lot of fairytale elements, but I've taken what I learned reading horror (mostly of Poe) to create dread in my story, and I've paid attention to cinematic techniques seen in films by Studio Ghibli to create an endearing and living world. What is your perspective on cross-referencing genres and mediums?”
I’m sure most of you have heard that you should write what you know. While I partially agree with that (more on that topic some other time), I think it applies especially well when referencing incorporating what you have learned from creative mediums, whether writing, movies, music, etc. You see, I’ve written in the past about why it’s so important for writers to be well-read, and this question right here is one of the many reasons why.

While I tend to read a lot of YA and some MG novels, within those age groups I read from various genres: paranormal fantasy, straight fantasy, sci-fi, dystopian, etc. And from every book that I’ve read, regardless of the genre, I’ve learned something—whether it’s the importance of voice, or including poetry in prose, or what a good opening and memorable characters look like. And when I write and revise, I make a point to look back on those lessons and continue to learn new ones from whatever books I read throughout the course of the year.

One of the most important tasks a writer has is to absorb everything possible—what rain feels like in November when you’ve forgotten an umbrella, how that movie gave you the chills, why that book was so gripping that you stayed up until three in the morning on a work night to finish it, how that song makes you pause every time it comes up on your playlist. Nothing is sacred to the writer—not that terrible cut that required stitches, or your first kiss, or the first time you laid eyes on your newborn. Writers make note of and store their experiences for writing reference later on.

In short, writers cannibalize everything. Or at least, they should. And when it comes to genre, I don’t believe it’s any different.

Let’s think for a moment: when is the last time you read a book or watched a movie that was 150% one genre? Nearly every non-romance genre has some sort of romantic subplot (even The Lord of the Rings which is as straight fantasy as it gets has romance) and many non-mystery novels have some sort of mysterious intrigue and so on. Don’t believe me? Let’s take a look at a couple novels.

  • Across the Universe by Beth RevisAcross the Universe is undoubtedly a YA Sci-Fi novel, but it certainly cross-references other genres as well, the most obvious of which include a romantic subplot and murder mystery. That doesn’t make it a mystery or romance novel, but it still has elements of those genres. To further draw a point, it’s listen on Amazon under “Teens > Mysteries” and at Barnes & Noble.com under “Teens- Romance & Friendship” and “Teens- Science Fiction.” 

  • The Fault in Our Stars by John Green—I would have thought that The Fault in Our Stars would be listed under YA Contemporary, but I’ve found that it is often listed under romance. Regardless, it has elements of romance, realistic fiction, humor and even tragedy. That doesn’t mean you’re going to find it in the Humor section at Barnes & Noble (if you do, it’s been terribly misplaced), but you can’t deny that elements of those genres exist within the novel. It’s listed on Amazon under “Teens > Love & Romance” and at Barnes & Noble.com under “Teens: Realistic.” 

Just two examples of many, but the point is this: genre is rarely cut and dry and you certainly shouldn’t be afraid of drawing from absolutely everything you’ve learned along the way. Your writing will be better for it.

How do you pull from other genres, mediums and experiences in your work? What multi-genre novels can you think of as examples?

NaNoWriMo Winner? Hold On to that Novel!

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Now that the NaNoWriMo frenzy has ended, many writers around the world are happily sitting on sparkling new novels, still steaming from the presses. For many, December is an exciting time—after all, with a new manuscript under their belts, there are more than a couple dreamers out there with their eyes on the magical "p" word: published.

Unfortunately I'm going to have to rain on that parade a little bit—at least, for the time being.

It's no secret that many NaNoWriMo winners feel tempted to immediately publish (or try to publish) their freshly written novels—hell, with five free CreateSpace copies of their NaNo novels given to all winners, the temptation to hit "upload" or begin querying instantly is indisputably there. But it's a temptation that you absolutely must resist.

You see, there's this tricky little tidbit of information about writing that many writers, especially new writers, sometimes overlook: your first draft is never meant to be your final draft. Never. Never never never. Did you get that? Your first draft is NOT equal to your final draft.

Usually this is the time when I say there are very rare exceptions, but I'm going to go out on a limb and say that there are no exceptions for this rule—even the most beautifully written first drafts (i.e.: first drafts written in a span of much more than thirty days) need some form of editing. Sorry, guys.

I've said it before and I'll probably say it again in the future, but I'm glad that self-publishing wasn't a thing when I wrote my first novel. More than glad—relieved—because as the impressionable, young, dreamy-eyed new writer that I was, I'm not sure how well I would have resisted the temptation had it been a legitimate form of publishing at the time like it is now. Because as a new writer, I hadn't yet learned just how terrible first drafts tend to be, and I hadn't yet accepted that when writers talk about massive revisions, they often mean necessary massive revisions, and no, you are not an exception to the rule.

That being said, I'm not saying that your NaNoWriMo novel is terrible, or that it's never going to get published, or anything like that. Many NaNoWriMo novels have in fact been published and there's certainly nothing stopping you from joining the ranks. But these novels all have something in common—their respective authors spent a considerable amount of time and effort editing them. They didn't send out query letters to agents on December 1st, or upload them to Amazon moments after writing "The End."

If you're a NaNoWriMo winner or a writer who just recently completed a novel—congratulations! You just achieved something great and you should be proud of yourself. I hope you've celebrated appropriately and given yourself a nice, good pat on the back.

I also hope you've put your novel away and distracted yourself with something else.

Post novel-completion time is not the time to publish your work, nor is the time to immediately start editing. Now is the time to rest, develop some distance from your work so that you can actually effectively edit and be proud of your accomplishment. Now is the time to read some really great novels, and watch movies, and brainstorm your next work or write something new. But any thoughts you have of publishing your new novel? Yeah, put those away for many more months. You have plenty of work to do first, after you've developed the proper distance from your writing.

Then, when you're ready, you can dive into some edits and second and third and fourth drafts. Take your time and make your work as good as you possibly can—the publishing world will still be there when you're finally ready to give it a try.

Have you ever been tempted to publish or query too early? Did you give in to your temptation? Share your experience in the comments below!

How to Write When You Don’t Want To

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As writers, we often like to fantasize that every day is a fabulous writing day—the kind of day where the moment we sit down, the words just come pouring out (and beautifully, I might add) until we’ve written a couple thousand words with minimal effort. We like to pretend that every time we sit down to write, we’re magically imbued with that can’t wait to write excitement, and as we open up that WIP, the dam of ideas breaks and floods us with perfect plot potential.

Unfortunately, that’s not really the case.

While writers do love to write (otherwise we wouldn’t want the title of “writer”), it’s not necessarily a requirement to love writing every day. The fact of the matter is, every writer has ups and downs—days that the writing comes easily and we can’t get enough, and days where we’d rather do just about anything else.

The ugly truth is this: some days, we just don’t feel like writing. And you know what? That’s ok. We’re permitted to have a couple off days here and there. It’s when the off days begin to accumulate, or they come at particularly inopportune times (i.e.: right before a deadline) that we have to take action.

The thing is, there isn’t a magical spell or special technique that can immediately money-back-guarantee make us want to write again, nor is there a button we can press that’ll instantaneously fulfill our daily writing quota—it’s up to us to get our butts back in gear and pound out a new chapter or scene or page despite not wanting to. It’s our responsibility as writers to write on the good days, the slightly more difficult days, and especially on the bad days.

So what can you do to jumpstart your writing when you’d rather be doing just about anything else?

  • Find inspiration. Inspiration doesn’t always just make itself known to us—sometimes we have to go after it with a pitchfork. Try reading a good book, or listening to music, or finding inspiring pictures online (Pinterest and tumblr are great for that). The key to this step however, is this: if you don’t find it, that’s not an excuse to skip writing. 

  • Remind yourself why you love your story. I read this guest post by Stephanie Perkins on Natalie Whipple’s blog a while back about creating a love list for each of your WIPs, and I think it’s a great idea. In short, you write a list of elements that you love about your story and add to it as you continue to work on your WIP. Looking back on or creating a list like that is a great way to spark that excitement again. 

  • Write anyway. Even if the above two steps don’t work for you, there comes a time when you have to sit down in that chair and write despite not wanting to. No, it probably won’t be the best thing you’ve ever written and no, it probably won’t be the most enjoyable writing sprint you’ve ever had, but that’s not the point—the point is that you get words on the page and continue to progress through the massive task of completing a novel. Don’t check Twitter or Facebook or tumblr (or whatever social media site you enjoy). Don’t watch TV or catch up on your Hulu queue (as tempting as it is). Just get your butt in that chair and write. 

You’ll be glad you did.

Now it’s your turn: What tips do you have for writing when you don’t want to?

Discussion: What Do You Love to Write About?

“Love. Fall in love and stay in love. Write only what you love, and love what you write. The key word is love. You have to get up in the morning and write something you love, something to live for.” –Ray Bradbury (via Brainyquote
Photo credit: Bethan on Flickr
Like most art, writing is fueled entirely by our passions. Our obsession with translating imaginary worlds, people and situations into words on the page—our want—no, need—to create something out of nothing. But while we writers all share a passion for creation with words, what exactly it is that we like to create—that is, what we like to write about—varies greatly from writer to writer. 

The important part isn’t what we write, per say—it’s that we write whatever it is that we love to write about. For some, that’s contemporary romances with quirky characters that have readers laughing and crying throughout the course of the novel; for others it’s action-packed with paranormal or magical elements that awe or terrify our readers. Sometimes it’s lighthearted stories about growth and development, and other times it’s much heavier themes about loss and death. There isn’t a right or wrong answer—there is only passion.

I can’t stress enough how important it is to write what you love. Forget genres or what’s currently trending on the marketplace or what’s been popular in the past—the best thing you can do for yourself and your future readers is to write something that you’re passionate about, because the first step to getting your readers to fall in love with your story is to love it yourself.

Identifying elements that you love to write about is a fantastic way to kick off brainstorming for new projects or to re-infuse current WIPs with that new WIP excitement you had when you first began writing. I dare you to create a list of elements you love to write about and not want to write about it.

As for me, I love to write about deeply conflicted characters. I love exploring (and exploiting) inner demons, and overcoming impossible odds, and fighting not just external forces, but internal battles as well. I love writing about relationships—both romantic and not—about the impossible, the improbable and the so-called non-existent. I love to write about characters who haunt me long after I’ve finished writing for the day, I love to test the boundaries of their strength, their will, their self-preservation and their love.

And in the end, after I’m sure they hate me for it, I love making them stronger from their experience.

That’s a sample of my love list—now I want to hear yours: what do you love to write about?

Character Development: Make Them Angry

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You probably don't need me to tell you that a story without emotion isn't a story worth reading. Emotion is an integral part of who we are as humans—everything from sadness to excitement, happiness to fear, influences who we are and changes the way we experience our everyday lives.

Humans are emotional, and in order to ensure that our stories are interesting and our readers connect with our characters, our characters must be emotional as well. Emotions are a key part of character development, and I'd like to focus on one of my favorites to write: anger.

Anger is an interesting emotion—it fuels us with a particular type of energy that demands action, and it can affect characters in many different ways. For some, it clouds judgment and incites violence, for others it inspires an unquenchable motivation, and still for others it pushes them into deep, dark places. I like to make my characters angry for a couple reasons:

  • It's a particularly strong and passionate emotion. You can be a little sad (disappointment), slightly excited (anticipation), sort of afraid (nervous) and kind of happy (optimistic). It’s not often, however, that you feel slightly angry. Anger demands energy and passion in a way that many other emotions don't, and for that reason alone it can be a fantastic tool for character development and plot progression. 

  • It tests a character's self-control. Anger often makes us want to do things we normally wouldn't even consider doing. Whether or not our characters act on these impulses truly tests the bounds of their self-control and ability to think clearly under times of high stress. 

  • It often fuels action. This is closely tied to the last point, but depending on a character's level of self-control, anger can often fuel action—and usually not the kind of action that you look back on proudly, which makes for great plot. 

  • It reveals quite a bit about the affected character. One of the many reasons I believe strong emotions like anger are closely linked to character development is because how they react to the emotion and what causes the emotion speaks volumes about the character. What makes your characters angry? Is it something personal, like betrayal, or something more global, like injustice? Knowing what triggers these powerful emotions is absolutely essential to effective character development. 

Making your characters angry is a fantastic way to move the plot forward, push your characters into making mistakes, develop them, and (not the least of which) make for some interesting scenes. Once you've figured out how to set your characters off, make sure you build opportunities into your plot to infuriate them. Your plot will thank you.

How do you use character anger in your writing?

How to Make NaNoWriMo Especially Difficult

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Ah, NaNoWriMo—thirty days of manic writing where writers across the world attempt to race to 50,000 words in thirty days and achieve the coveted title of NaNoWriMo winner, as well as other goodies and a brand, sparkly new manuscript.

I've written a couple posts over the last month or so about NaNoWriMo, including foolproof (not) advice on How to Be a NaNoWriMo Champ, and well, I may have accidentally taken some of my own not-actual advice.

Up until this year, I'd never done NaNoWriMo before—and truth be told, I wasn't sure if I was really participating even while I was actually attempting to reach those 50,000 words. I quietly pounded away at my keyboard while asking myself, wow, am I really doing this?

Now that we're in the final stretch of NaNoWriMo and I've just recently passed the 50,000 word mark, I think it's safe to call myself a 2012 NaNoWriMo participant. I just made it much more difficult for myself than necessary.

To give you an idea of what exactly I mean, here is my word progress chart thingy:
As you can see, my chart is a little unconventional to say the least. There I was, ahead of target for the first thirteen days, then—BAM—I went from roughly 24k to 760 words.

Yeah. That happened.

Now, you're probably wondering what exactly that was. If you just looked at my chart, you might guess that I had a hard drive crash or something equally horrible that wiped out all my progress, but alas, technical difficulties were not the problem this time—no, it was the WIP itself.

You see, while I was plotting my potential NaNoWriMo novel in October, I had a new idea hit me. One that wouldn't leave me alone no matter how much I tried to ignore it—one that kept nagging at me even as I continued to faithfully plot my original NaNoWriMo WIP idea. I told myself that I would write it later. That after I finished this other story, I would go back and write the new idea. It wasn't Shiny New Idea Syndrome, per say, if only because I hadn't started writing either novel yet, but it was an idea, and it was distracting and truth be told, I probably should have taken the hint from my subconscious and tried brainstorming a few plot points for the new idea if only to prove to myself that it could wait.

But I was stubborn, and I was going to stick with my original idea no matter what because I'd already started plotting it and it was a good idea. A cool premise. One that could potentially be marketable, while the other idea was a little more questionable in that regard.

So when November started I dove into the original idea I'd now plotted halfway and I told the other idea to be quiet for a couple weeks. A couple days into the month I read this post by Beth Revis, who had written 10,000 words, then cut nearly all of them and talked about why she was proud of her decision to do so. I thought it was rather brave of her and continued writing.

Roughly 15,000 words in, however, a nagging suspicion began digging into the back of my mind—one that said that I was writing the wrong novel. And I resisted for a while—I told myself it was too late to turn back now, that I'd already written so much and if I was really going to do this NaNoWriMo thing, then it was too late to start over. Then I remembered what I'd read just a week earlier on Beth Revis' blog about how the point wasn't to win NaNoWriMo—it was to write, and to write the right story.

I kept trying to make the WIP work. I wrote another 9k, but I was dragging—worse, I was dreaded my writing sessions. Me. Not wanting to write. At all. It was unlike me, and quite frankly, it was ruining the fun of writing a novel to begin with.

I came to realize that if I continued with this WIP I may very well reach 50k, but it would be 50,000 words that I didn't even like very much. It would be the start of the story that I wasn't passionate about anymore—and I hadn't even reached the editing part. And really, what would be the point?

So I took a chance. I opened up a new document and started writing the story that had demanded so fiercely for my attention. And 700 words in, I fell in love with the characters. It was like magic, guys, two pages into the story and I knew this was what I was supposed to be writing. This was my NaNoWriMo story.

Except, you know, I'd lost two weeks.

Being the competitive person that I am, I decided that I would try to win anyway. I did the math and figured I was going to have to write over 3,000 words a day to reach 50k by the end of the month, and I buckled down and did it. And you know what? I had fun—hell, I'm still having fun. It's not the best thing I've ever written—far from it, really—and I don’t know if anything will come of it, but it's different and it feels right.

And I now have 50,000 words of a WIP I'm actually enjoying. And in the end, that's what really matters.

Now you've heard my NaNoWriMo war story—I want to hear yours. For those of you participating (or who have ever participated), how did your NaNoWriMo experience go? For those who didn't, what have you accomplished this past month?

How (Not) to Finish Writing a First Draft

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Seeing how it's the end of November, and many of you are likely racing to the end of those 50,000 NaNoWriMo words (or at least, trying to get there), I thought it a particularly fitting to talk about first draft writing —specifically, finishing that first draft.

The first draft is the major building block of your novel —without it, you have little to work off of while attempting to write a cohesive and memorable story. But writing a first draft isn't always as simple as we writers might have hoped—and especially not when you're trying to complete the first 50,000 words in a month, as NaNoWriMo participants are.

So whether you're attempting to complete a NaNoWriMo novel this week or else just working on a first draft at your own pace, here are eight foolproof tips to completing the best first draft in the history of first drafts.

How to Absolutely, Positively Finish Writing that Fabulous First Draft (With or Without NaNoWriMo)*
  1. Write in front of the television. The television is the purest source of inspiration for writers in the universe. To truly harness those golden words for your masterpiece of a novel, make sure you always write while watching something on TV—the trashier, the better (Jersey Shore and Real Housewives of wherever are particularly effective). As an added bonus, when you inevitably hit writer's block, you already have something to distract you from the sorrows of not being able to write. 

  2. Only write when you feel like it. Because let's be honest—it's just not nearly as fun to write when you'd rather be doing other things. 

  3. Write only once a day (if that). I mean, you have other things you should be doing too, don't you? Plus you don't want to tire yourself out and risk writer burn-out. 

  4. Follow the shiny ideas! You know those magical, sparkly ideas that hit you while you're neck-deep in your novel? Those are direct downloads from the writing gods. Heed them or suffer their wrath. 

  5. Pants absolutely every detail. You should know absolutely nothing about what's coming next in your novel —even your next sentence should be a surprise to you. Even the slightest bit of pre-planning will turn your writing into a dull, dead experience. 

  6. Edit constantly. There's little point in writing a first draft if it's tens of thousands of words of complete and utter nonsense. Perfection is the goal in the first draft of every novel you write —no exceptions (not even NaNoWriMo). In fact... 

  7. Start every writing session by reading your full novel up to that point. Do this every single time you sit down to write, so that you have your story fresh in your mind while beginning to write. And if you run out of time while re-reading? Well, at least you know what's going on in your story, which is half the battle, right? Right. 

  8. When in doubt, make everything a dream and start over. Hey, if you do it enough times, it'll be like Inception. And that was massively popular, so why not? 

*Sarcasm alert! These are not actual tips, nor are they meant to be taken seriously. There is a parenthetical in the title of this post for a reason (and it's not just because it looks pretty).

Those are my "tips"—now it's your turn! What so-called tips would you add to the list?

How to Know It's Time to Shelve Your Novel

Photo credit: Erwyn van der Meer (Flickr)
I received an interesting question on the blog from one of you lovely readers the other day (have I mentioned lately how much I love it when this happens? Keep the questions coming, you fabulous readers, you). As is often the case, it was a question that I thought I'd answered, but I've since realized that I skimmed over.

You see, I've written in the past about what happens when your novel isn't the one—meaning, when you come to realize that you might want to consider shelving your WIP. What I failed to discuss, however, was how to know when the time to shelve your novel has arrived.

In my experience, there isn't ever one definite sign that you need to shelve your WIP —instead, it's often a combination of signs plus a sprinkle of instinct that generally lets you know that now would be a good time to move on to a new WIP.

While this is far from a comprehensive list, here are a few signs that it might be time to shelve your novel and start writing something new.

  1. You've edited your WIP to your best ability and it's still not working. "Not working" can mean a couple of things—for those who seek traditional publication, it can mean that you can't find representation for it despite massive editing and feedback from others. "Not working" can mean that your beta readers still think it needs more work, or it can mean that you're still not happy with it. Whatever the case may be, this sign can be a pretty big red flag.

  2. You've lost interest in your novel. This tends to be something we writers don't like to admit, but it is perfectly possible to lose interest in your WIP. While this doesn't always mean you need to shelve your work (sometimes you just need to fall in love with it again, which is also possible), it can be a good indication that it might be time to take a break from your novel and start writing something else—at least for the time being.

  3. You have ideas for new WIPs. This is a tricky one, because you don't want to confuse it with Shiny New Idea Syndrome, which is a pretty common writing danger that you should be wary of. The difference, you see, is that Shiny New Idea Syndrome hits when you're in the middle of another WIP, and it tempts you to begin writing your new idea immediately. What I'm referring to, instead, is when you've completed a previous WIP (the one that you're now contemplating shelving) and you've along the way collected idea for future novels.

  4. You're wondering if it's time to shelve your novel. When I said that instinct plays into this one, this is what I meant. We writers usually have a good sense for when something isn't working, or when something with our writing is off. And when we do, it's often when we begin to contemplate if maybe it's time to start something else—and you know what? Sometimes it is.

The thing I'd like you guys to understand about shelving your work is that it doesn't have to be permanent. Shelving your novels doesn't mean that you're giving up—it means that you're accepting that it's not quite the right time for your novel at the moment. That's it. It doesn't mean you're a failure, or that your WIP is a failure, or that it'll never see the light of day again (although, you may later on decide that you don't want it to see daylight again)—it just means that it's time to move on.

And that's ok.

Go ahead and write another WIP—hell, go write three or four more. I guarantee that with each novel you write, you will at the very least continue to refine your writing skills, and at the most, end up with a nice collection of wonderful writings to choose from.

What do you think? For those of you who have shelved novels in the past, how did you know it was time? For those that haven't, have you ever contemplated shelving a novel? Share your experiences in the comments below!

On Writing "Real" Characters

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Many months ago I read The False Prince by Jennifer Nielsen (review here) and upon completing it, I was hit with a revelation—your point of view character doesn’t have to reveal everything, he can tell the story however he’d like to. I know that doesn’t sound like a particularly stunning revelation—and it’s not like I didn’t know that before, but I’d never seen it executed so well in a first person POV novel, and it made me start to think.

You see, what I really liked about The False Prince was that Sage, the protagonist and POV character, wasn’t entirely honest with the readers about both large and small reveals. He skipped over events and failed to mention specific information, not because he didn’t know it, but because he didn’t want to reveal that information to the readers. The result was rather fascinating, because it felt like Jennifer Nielsen wasn’t writing the story—Sage was, and he was writing it the way he wanted to, rather than the way the author was dictating, and I think for writers that is a result that is highly desirable.

We often talk about character development and getting to know our characters and writing multi-faceted characters with flaws and fears like the rest of us, but in the end it all comes down to this: do your characters feel real or do they feel like characters?

Now I’m not saying it’s a terrible thing if your characters feel like characters, rather than 100% I-might-run-into-this-person-on-the-street-real. There are plenty of characters from successful books that are good, interesting characters that people want to read about, but don’t necessarily feel like you could possibly run into said character on the street. 

Take Voldemort, for example—as far as villains go, I think Voldemort proved to be an interesting, deep (and deplorable) antagonist, and he certainly was strong enough to remain an opposing foe throughout the course of seven novels. Despite that, I’m not sure I would say that he was so incredibly realistic that I could imagine him to be a real person living on Earth. It’s not a bad thing—it’s just where the readers’ suspension of disbelief comes into play.

But then I read novels like The Fault in Our Stars by John Green where the characters are so vibrant, quirky and multi-faceted that they feel like they could truly be real teenagers living among us. Like The Fault in Our Stars isn’t a novel at all, but Hazel Grace’s memoir. The characters feel real.

There isn’t a magical button you can press or sentence you can write to automatically make your characters entirely realistic—it’s usually a combination of a particularly strong voice, realistic thoughts and decisions (and not always good ones) and actual flaws, fears and other humanizing factors. Once accomplished, however, it’s an effect that can truly make your characters stand out and remain memorable, even long after your readers have put away your story and started something else.

Have you ever encountered a character that felt real? What character was it, and how do you think that effect was achieved?

Thanksgiving: A Writing Exercise

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Seeing how it's Thanksgiving in the States tomorrow, I thought it especially appropriate to talk about—what else?—being thankful. Rather than going through a list of things I'm thankful for as I did last year, however, I'd like to do something a little different and think instead about our characters.

As writers, it's important to know our characters as thoroughly as possible—everything from their fears, to their birthdays, to their favorite foods, nightmares and aspirations are relevant, even if we don't intend to include even half of that information into the actual writing. The important part is that we understand our characters so that we can write them as realistic and multi-dimensional people.

That being said, take a moment to think about your characters in your most recent WIP: what are they thankful for this Thanksgiving? Go through each of your major characters—yes, that includes your antagonist—and think about what they would say they were thankful for on Thanksgiving. Is what they say they're thankful for and what they're actually thankful for different? Are they actually thankful, or do they just go through the motions to get to the turkey and cranberry sauce?

Maybe your characters live in a world where Thanksgiving doesn't exist—that's ok, place them at a Thanksgiving table anyway. What would they say? How would they act if they had to sit at a table full of food and share things that they were thankful for? Would they consider the holiday quaint? Wonderful? Ridiculous? Pointless?

I'd like to hear your answers: what are your characters thankful for? And for fun, what do you think various book/movie/TV show characters would be thankful for this Thanksgiving?

And to all who are celebrating—have a very happy Thanksgiving!

Book Titles: How Do You Choose?

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Choosing an intriguing title for your book is arguably one of the most important parts of marketing. After all, the very first impression any reader will have of your book, before they even glance at your writing, before a book cover is chosen and the summary is read, is the title you choose to represent your story.

As I'm a writer who focuses on character first (as opposed to working out the setting first, then populating the story), my working titles tend to be one of the first things I know about the story: the protagonist's first name. For me, the process of choosing the title is a somewhat nebulous thingabout half of the time it reveals itself while I'm writing the first draft, occasionally it crops up before I even begin writing, and the rest of the time it's something I brainstorm after the first draft is completed.

In the latter cases, choosing a title (to me) can be one of the more difficult parts of writingalthough I'll admit that's probably at least partially due to the fact that I have a tendency of being extremely indecisive. Regardless, choosing a title for your book doesn't have to be a stressful experiencein fact, it can be pretty enjoyable.

When brainstorming book titles I recently tried a new method that I found I really liked, based off of a suggestion I found online (if I find the original post with the exact process, I'll let you guys know). You start with creating a list of themes, images and potential title ideas. As is the case with most brainstorming, this is a stage where you don't censor. Anything you think of goes on the listeven if it's ridiculous or a terrible-sounding title. The idea is to write as many ideas as you can without censoring your writing at all, so that you can go back and eliminate choices later.

Once you have a sizable list, start making note of ideas or images that you like. This is also about the time that you start taking a look at book titles for other works in the same genre, as your title should sound like it fits with other novels that it would potentially be sharing the shelf with. After some mix and matching and comparing to other titles, you choose my favorite potential book titles and get some feedback. If one title stands out as a particular favorite, you know you have a winner.

Choosing a title, however, isn't a writing process that's set in stone: I for one am still experimenting with different methods and I'd like to hear yours.

So now you tell me: how do you choose titles for your WIPs?

How to Juggle Writing and Life

Photo credit: Pedro Moura Pinheiro (Flickr)
I’ve said it before, and I’ll probably say it again in the future—writers are never just writers. We’re husbands, wives, parents, students and employees. Some of us work nine to five jobs, others the graveyard shift, some are stay-at-home parents and still others attend school full time and work part time elsewhere. We all have multiple responsibilities and oftentimes, life likes to get in the way of our writing.

Despite life and workish things that like to become obstacles and suck up valuable writing time, it’s still entirely possible to juggle life and writing in a manageable and less stressful way. Here are a few tips to help you get started:

  • Make a plan. Without a doubt, one of the best ways to maximize your productivity during the day is to map out what you need to get done and figure out when you can do it. For some, that means dedicating the large nine to five block to non-writing work, then either getting up early or adding an extra hour (or half hour) after work to get some writing in. For others, that means spreading out short writing bursts throughout the day until you’ve reached your goal. Regardless of how you do it, making a plan is a great way to figure out how much time you can dedicate to your writing daily, and actually getting it done.

  • Use timers. I’ve written about this before, and this point is related to the first one, but I think it’s worth repeating—timers are a fantastic tool for writers. I’ve found that I actually like to keep one running somewhere visible while I’m writing under a time constraint (like now). It keeps me pushing harder (because few things are quite as motivating to write as much as you can as a visual representation of your available time literally slipping away) and it allows me to make sure I can write without worrying about going overtime and being late to start whatever my next task is. Use timers. They help more than you’d think.

  • Allow yourself to write in bursts. For a lengthier explanation of this, you can check out this post, but in short, writing in bursts is just as productive, if not more so, than sitting down for long writing sessions. Many writers don’t often get the opportunity to sit down for an hour or more to write, but we often have bits of time scattered throughout the day—ten minutes while waiting for lunch, another fifteen before a meeting, etc. If you use these little doses of time to write a couple hundred words here and there, you might be surprised how quickly it adds up.

  • Be forgiving. We writers have a tendency of being pretty hard on ourselves when we miss a day of writing or don’t meet our daily quota. Sometimes we have to accept that life gets in the way and that it’s ok if we don’t meet our daily writing goals every day. Don’t waste energy beating yourself up for a bad writing day—instead, invest that time in getting more writing done tomorrow. 

Those are just a few tips for juggling life and writing, now it’s your turn to add to the list: how do you juggle writing and life? Any tips? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Write Like It'll Never Be Read

Photo credit: Melvin_Es on Flickr
When brainstorming ideas for my next writing project, I often catch myself thinking about publication. I'll knock down ideas before giving them a chance because I know they'll be difficult to publish. I ignore perfectly good story inspiration because the genre it would fall into has been overdone, or because I know how challenging it is to break into that particular sub-genre at this time.

We writers often have a natural tendency to censor ourselves. We discount ideas and say things like no one would want to read that, or it'd be way too hard to find an agent for that. While writing first drafts we look at our work and groan because the writing isn't up to par or because, truth be told, it'd be a little embarrassing to let anyone read what we have so far. We psych ourselves out and make the task of writing a book that much harder for ourselves.

Sometimes we have to remember to forget everyone else and write for ourselves.

I made the decision to write like no one will ever read my work a couple manuscripts ago, and I have to say it's been one of the most freeing decisions I've ever made when it comes to my writing. When you write completely for yourself, you no longer have to worry about the writing not being good enough to even merit a first draft. When you write like your WIP will never be read by anyone else, you no longer waste time thinking about how difficult your WIP may or may not be to publish later on or whether people will like it, or whether it'll ever sell a copy. None of those things matter when you write for yourself.

Naturally once you get published (or decide to publish independently) you can no longer think that way, because you know for a fact that it will be read. But while you're an unpublished writer, writing for yourself is a great way to free your creativity and allow your story to flow without those extra stressors. And who knows? Maybe after some editing and refining of your WIP, you might just decide that it's ready for some external eyes after all.

What do you think? Do you write for yourself or do you write anticipating future publishing prospects? Have you ever discarded an idea due to a poor publishing outlook? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Discussion: Can Anyone Become a Great Writer?

Photo credit: cindiann on Flickr
I came across an interesting article the other day from TIME Entertainment on NaNoWriMo. It questioned whether NaNoWriMo was a positive movement for writers or if it’s actually harmful, and while the article brought up some thought-provoking arguments, there was one point in particular that really caught my attention.

The article reads:
"[A] common complaint is that NaNoWriMo devalues writers' talent by indulging the cliche that everyone has the potential to be a great writer if only they'd sit themselves down and actually write. 'NaNoWriMo relies on the peculiarly American belief that every person has a story—or a novel, or a book of any kind—inside...' the Economist's Prospero blog once sneered. 'There is no analogous drive to write the Great French Novel, or the English, or the German. They very notion that a novel is in everybody's grasp, and could be knocked out as a draft in just a month, is far more likely to induce some cringing in other countries.'" (Read the full article here).
The thing is, I really do believe that with enough practice, dedication and determination anyone can become a great writer. We writers aren't born with some magical ability to write exponentially better than everyone else—we don't come out of the womb with full knowledge of the English language and how to write beautiful images and compelling stories. We learn how to write like everyone else—starting with our names in preschool and moving on from there. I reject the idea that in order to be great at something you have to be born with some magical fairy dust that makes you extra talented in a certain field—writing included.

The difference between writers and everyone else isn't that we're born with a supernatural ability to write well—it's that we love to write. The difference between writers and everyone else is that we do spend the extra time needed to hone the craft of writing and learn how to tell stories people want to read. Not everyone wants to be a writer, and not everyone who thinks they want to be a writer loves it enough to stick with it until they're skilled enough to reach a level of successful publication. I believe that anyone can become a great writer, but not everyone will reach that level—or even attempt to, for that matter.

In my mind, NaNoWriMo doesn't devalue writers—it empowers them. It gives writers who are afraid of writing something terrible, of failing halfway through, of not writing well enough to give it a try and write anyway. It reminds writers around the world that we are not alone—that there are hundreds of thousands of other writers out there who are experiencing the same difficulties and frustrations that come hand-in-hand with attempting to become a writer.

At least, that's my opinion. Now I want to hear yours.

What do you think? Can anyone become a writer, or do writers have something that others don't? Does NaNoWriMo devalue writers, or does it empower them?
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