Vlog: On Prologues

I had a request for a vlog on prologues, so here we go. Some thoughts on those sneaky chapter zeroes and why they're sometimes problematic.


What do you think about prologues? Do you use them often or enjoy them while reading?

Twitter-sized bites: 
Why are prologues often pointed out as a problem? @Ava_Jae shares her thoughts in today's vlog. (Click to tweet)  
How do you know if your prologue is working? @Ava_Jae vlogs about prologue cliches & problematic openings. (Click to tweet)

Fixing the First Page Feature #12

Photo credit: hehaden on Flickr
It’s nearly July, which means it’s time for this month’s fixing the first page critique! Woot! As these things go, I'll start by posting the full first 250 excerpt, after which I'll share my overall thoughts, then my redline critique. I encourage you guys to share your own thoughts and critiques in the comments (I'm just one person with one opinion!), as long as it's polite, thoughtful, and constructive. Any rude or mean comments will be unceremoniously deleted.

Let’s do this.


Genre/Category: YA Fantasy

First 250:

“Almendra opened her eyes on the seventh chime of the clock. She quickly sat up, stretched and smiled. Just then the door to her room opened and in entered a large, grey wolf with a tray on his back. 
‘Good morning, Woo,’ said Almendra, her face splitting into a grin. She pecked the wolf on the nose and took a large mug of hot tea from the tray. Breathing in the familiar scent of mint, she clutched the cup in her hands and raised it into the air like one would a goblet at a feast, her hazel eyes alight with humour. 
‘Cheers!’ she said loudly and ‘May today be the day!’ before bringing the cup to her lips, an expression of bliss on her face. Woo walked towards the window and drew back the curtains with the help of his teeth – the sky outside was murky grey. Almendra drank up her tea and placed it back onto the tray just as Woo was leaving the room. 
In one big leap, she bounded out of bed, ran across the carpeted floor and slipped behind the screen, her long, brown hair flying in her wake. Almendra picked up a thick rope, lying in a coil on the floor, with an iron hook on one end, then wound it around a huge wheel it was fixed to on the other end, opened the window and threw the rope down. 
A second later the hook hit the ground with a clunk.”

Okay. So I’ve frequently mentioned that characters waking up is a somewhat overused opening, and whether or not it’s working here is hard to say based off just the first 250 words. Right now, the biggest thing I’m noticing (besides some wordiness which I’ll address in a minute) is a) there isn’t any hint of conflict and b) I’m not really sure what’s going on. Obviously I don’t expect everything to be explained in the first page, but there are a few things here that could be expanded on, like what Almendra is doing near the end of the excerpt. Does she always go out her window like that? Is she not allowed to leave and sneaking out her window?

As I’m not sure what the conflict is here, it could be interpreted as Almendra’s daily morning ritual, in which case I’d recommend moving the opening closer to the inciting incident.

Also, I like her wolf. :)

Okay, now the in-line edits.

Almendra opened her eyes on the seventh chime of the clock. As I said above, I’m hesitant to recommend opening with your character waking up. It’s been done a lot, and as this doesn’t look particularly different (character wakes up, has breakfast, leaves), I think you may want to consider starting later in your story. She quickly sat up, stretched and smiled. Jjust then as the door to her bedroom door opened and in entered a large, grey wolf with a tray on his back entered
‘Good morning, Woo,.said Almendra, her face splitting into a grin. She pecked the wolf on the nose and took a large mug of hot tea from the tray. Breathing in the familiar scent of mint, she clutched the cup in her hands and raised it into the air like one would a goblet at a feast, her hazel eyes alight with humour. The bits that I’m recommending you cut are phrases and words that I feel aren’t really pulling their weight and/or read a little clunky.

‘Cheers!’ she said loudly and ‘May today be the day!’ she said loudly before bringing the cup to her lips and sighing with the first sip, an expression of bliss on her face. Or something like that. But rather than saying there’s an expression of bliss on her face, it’d be more effective to show how that bliss makes her react physically, so we can put two and two together without being told. Woo walked towards the window and drew back the curtains with the help of his teeth – the sky outside was murky grey. Almendra drank up her tea and placed it back onto the tray just as Woo was leaving left the room. Now that I’m reading this a second time, I’m more sure than ever that this opening is starting too soon. The issue is nothing has really happened, so the opening doesn’t hook you in as well as it could. The bit about her wolf is interesting, but I think it could be shown a different way that doesn’t require us seeing her morning routine. 
In one big leap, sShe bounded out of bed, ran across the carpeted floor and slipped behind the screen, her long, brown hair flying in her wake. There’s no way she did all of that in one leap unless she can fly. You may want to consider rewording. Almendra picked up a thick rope, lying in a coiled on the floor, with an iron hook on one end, then wound it around a huge wheel it was fixed to on the other end, opened the window and threw the rope down. 
A second later tThe hook hit the ground with a clunk.”

So I’m thinking overall, the biggest issue is there isn’t enough going on in the opening to really pull me in, which could be relatively easily fixed by moving the opening closer to the inciting incident. Other than that, there’s also some wordiness here, which usually indicates wordiness throughout the MS, so I recommend you take some time to go through your WIP and look specifically for places where you could condense your sentences.

I like the glimpse of the world we’ve gotten here, and I’m definitely curious about that wolf and what kind of world Almendra lives in that a wolf can bring her tea. :) This sounds like it could be an interesting story, we juts need a stronger hook to pull readers in. If I were to see this in the slush, I’d probably pass for that reason.

I hope this helps! Thanks for sharing your first 250, Farida!

Would you like to be featured in a Fixing the First Page Feature? Keep an eye out for the next giveaway!

Twitter-sized bite:
.@Ava_Jae talks starting in the right place & wordiness in the 12th Fixing the 1st Page critique. (Click to tweet)

Book Review: MADE YOU UP by Francesca Zappia

Photo credit: Goodreads
So I've mentioned Made You Up a couple times here on the blog, and recently featured a guest post from the lovely Francesca Zappia, but now I've read the book and I have feels to share.

As I like to do before I begin, here is the Goodreads summary:

"Reality, it turns out, is often not what you perceive it to be—sometimes, there really is someone out to get you. Made You Up tells the story of Alex, a high school senior unable to tell the difference between real life and delusion. This is a compelling and provoking literary debut that will appeal to fans of Wes Anderson, Silver Linings Playbook, and Liar
Alex fights a daily battle to figure out the difference between reality and delusion. Armed with a take-no-prisoners attitude, her camera, a Magic 8-Ball, and her only ally (her little sister), Alex wages a war against her schizophrenia, determined to stay sane long enough to get into college. She’s pretty optimistic about her chances until classes begin, and she runs into Miles. Didn't she imagine him? Before she knows it, Alex is making friends, going to parties, falling in love, and experiencing all the usual rites of passage for teenagers. But Alex is used to being crazy. She’s not prepared for normal."

Made You Up has to be one of the most unique contemporary YAs I've read in quite a while. From the very start it had me questioning what was real and what was a delusion (I've heard Made You Up marketed as "the ultimate unreliable narrator" and it is so true!). While I can't speak about how well or not represented the schizophrenia was, as I don't have the expertise to do so, I can say as a story it was totally fascinating and I loved how it made me think the whole time I was reading.

Initially, I found the pacing a teensie bit slower than I usually like, but I was still absolutely interested in the characters and what was going on. Alex's struggle made me connect to her immediately, and the cast of characters from Miles, to Tucker, to the triplets, and everyone else just felt very true to everyday high school experience (minus, you know, the out of the ordinary stuff going on).

Overall, I definitely recommend Made You Up to those looking for a fresh, unique contemporary YA and anyone looking for a brilliant example of an unreliable narrator in YA. As a bonus, I was happy to see mental illness handled respectfully, and very I'm curious to see what those with a better understanding and experience with schizophrenia think about the representation.

Great story with great characters and really wonderful writing. Made You Up lives up to the hype for sure. 4.5/5 stars.

Diversity note: Made You Up's protagonist has been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia.

Have you read any great books lately?

Twitter-sized bites: 
.@Ava_Jae gives 4.5/5 stars to MADE YOU UP by @ChessieZappia. Have you read this unique contemporary YA? (Click to tweet)

Looking for a wonderfully unreliable narrator in a fresh YA? Check out MADE YOU UP by Francesca Zappia. (Click to tweet)

How to Polish Your WIP Before Sending

Photo credit: LucasTheExperience on Flickr
So you’ve traded with CPs and betas several times, completed more rounds of revision and drafts than you care to think about, and now it’s nearly time to send your MS out. Whether “out” to you means querying, submissions, or to your agent or editor, this can frequently be a nerve-wracking experience.

The final step, however, before hitting “send” on those e-mails is to do one last polish to fix minor issues that can sometimes pull readers out of the narrative or bring attention to the writing. These are some things I try to look for when I do a final polish:

  • Overuse of adverbs. While I’m not a writer who believes that all adverbs are evil and need to be annihilated, too many adverbs are frequently a sign of not-as-strong-as-could-be writing. Luckily, this is a relatively easy (if not time-consuming) fix. I generally do a quick “ly” search and eliminate the unnecessary ones, adjust phrases and words to make them stronger and make sure I don’t have too many on a single page. 

  • Repeated words/phrases/writer ticks. Arched eyebrows, smirking, lip-biting, runnings hands through hair and sighing are actions that my characters tend to repeat a lot. I’m not sure exactly why they’re such crutch phrases when I’m drafting (possibly because I do these things a lot myself?), but invariably my CPs find at least one of these way, way overused in my drafts—and so I do a quick search and destroy to weed some out.

  • Unnecessary dialogue tags. This is a very common and easy mistake—and one I still catch myself doing frequently. If you have an action tag with dialogue, then you don’t also need a dialogue tag. For example:

    Meh: “What is it?” he asked, tucking her hair behind her ear.

    Better: “What is it?” He tucked her hair behind her ear.

    It’s redundant and pretty easy to spot.

  • Similar character/place names. In early drafts of Red I had SO many S names. S character names, S place names, I just really liked S okay? But unfortunately it gets confusing when you have too many character or place names that sound similar or all start with the same letter, so this is something to keep an eye out for. If you’re not sure, it can sometimes help to write out all the character and place names alphabetically—it’ll become obvious very quickly if you have too many that all start with the same letter or sound similar.

  • Continuity errors. This frequently happens when you revise in stages like I do. Sometimes, when you change something major (or even not major, but something that affects other things) you miss little continuity issues. Or you’re like me and forget that you killed off a character in this latest revision round, so that character is magically accidentally resurrected in the final chapter—oops. This can be a little trickier to spot on your own, especially if you’ve looked at your MS so many times, but CPs and betas are quite excellent at honing in on them. 

  • Told emotions. I’ve already written a post on how to show emotion effectively, so I won’t get into the details again, but this is another very easy to catch fix. When I’m searching for told emotions, I like to do a quick search in my WIP for emotion tags: sad, scared, happy, excited, nervous, etc. Like most search and destroy methods, you don’t need to get rid of every example of told emotion, but many times there are ways to show emotion much more effectively than just naming the emotion, and that’s what you’re looking for here—opportunities to make the sentence stronger. 

  • Paragraph/sentence length variety. This one can be checked with a quick visual scroll through. Pay attention to the shapes of your paragraphs and where your periods end. Try to avoid giant bricks of text and if you know you tend to overuse a particular sentence/paragraph style (i.e.: short or overly long sentences) keep an eye out to make sure you haven’t overdone it. 

So those are my go-to polishing checks—now I want to hear from you. What checks do you do when polishing your WIP?

Twitter-sized bite: 
Think you're ready to send your MS off? @Ava_Jae shares some quick checks to look for with your final polish. (Click to tweet)

Vlog: On Finding Time to Write

On misconceptions about writers and free time, commitment to writing, and how to find time to write.


What do you think? Have you come across this misconception?

Twitter-sized bites:
"If you don't find the time to write when you're [busy] you won't find the time...when you're not." (Click to tweet)  
Writer @Ava_Jae says, "finding the time to write takes sacrifice." What do you think? (Click to tweet

Fixing the First Page Giveaway Winner #12!

Photo credit: demandaj on Flickr
Quick pre-vlog post today to announce the winner of the twelfth fixing the first page feature giveaway! Are you ready?

The winner is…


Yay! Congratulations, Farida! Expect an e-mail from me shortly.

Thank you to all you lovely entrants! If you didn't win, as always, there will be another fixing the first page giveaway next month, so keep an eye out! :)

5 Things I Learned While Publishing a Book About Mental Illness by Francesca Zappia

Photo credit: Mine
Today I've got a really special post from Francesca Zappia, author of Made You Up which has gotten quite a bit of buzz lately, to say the least (I mean, John Green tweeted about it on her release day. So). Enjoy!

Unless you are the most experienced person living on the Earth, I think it would be pretty difficult not to learn anything at all while publishing your debut novel. Even harder when your debut novel is about a topic like mental illness—or, in the case of my debut, Made You Up, paranoid schizophrenia. I’ve learned a lot in the last half year, and while I can’t lay it all out in a blog post, I can sum the most important points.

A lot of people have been asking me about the book, what the process has been like, and if I have any advice, so I hope this helps. So here they are: the top five things I learned while publishing Made You Up.

  1. Do your research. I didn’t have to actually learn this one, and I’m sure I don’t have to explain it to you. If you’re writing about a mental illness, you have to do your research. Maybe you have or have had the illness you’re writing about. Maybe one of your family members or friends has/had it. In either of those cases, you’re already ahead of the game, but research is always important. 

  2. Go 100%. I wrote a book about a girl with paranoid schizophrenia. There is no way—at least not that I know of in this day and age—to write a book about a main character with a serious mental illness and not have the book be about that mental illness. About the stigmas and fear that come along with it. You don’t put mental illness in a story to give your character an amusing/unusual trait. If you’re going to do it, do it. Talk about it. Make people know you’re writing about it for a reason.

  3. Brace for rejection. This is a thing that happens. It happens with all kinds of diverse books—books about PoC protagonists, disabled protagonists, protagonists of different sexualities. The dreaded “We already have one of those books in our list” rejections. Yes, it happens with mental illnesses, too. Yes, it is still frustrating. 

  4. Listen and learn. What I have found so far from Made You Up is that there is no consensus on its actual portrayal of paranoid schizophrenia. I wish I could say everyone loved it and said it was perfect, but there are people on both sides of the fence. Some loved it and thought it was honest and sensitive; others positively hated it. I’ve listened to both sides of this and tried to absorb everything I could. I can’t change anything in Made You Up, but I can learn from this for my future work. 

  5. Stay loose [or: Have fun]. Made You Up would not be Made You Up if I hadn’t had fun with the characters and the story. You’re writing about a serious topic, so please give it the respect it deserves, but that doesn’t mean it has to be boring. That doesn’t mean your characters have to behave like lesson-teachers instead of real people. That doesn’t mean the whole book has to be doom and gloom. People with mental illnesses can still laugh; your readers should be allowed to laugh along with them.

Photo credit: Samantha Stanley
Francesca Zappia lives in Indiana and majors in Computer Science at the University of Indianapolis. She spends most of her time writing, reading, drawing, and playing way too much Pokémon. You can find her on Twitter @ChessieZappia, Tumblr, and on her website.

Twitter-sized bite: 
.@ChessieZappia shares 5 things she learned while publishing a book about mental illness. (Click to tweet

How to Worldbuild (Without Info-dumping)

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Note: Don't forget you have until 6/22 at midnight EST to enter for a chance to win a first 250 critique featured here on Writability!

So fun fact: worldbuilding is frequently my biggest struggle, particularly in early drafts. Which is really too bad because I love writing books that require a ton of it, so it’s really no surprise that I tend to get lots of worldbuilding notes from CPs, betas and later readers late in the revision process.

Good news is even though I have to work extra hard to get it right, I actually love worldbuilding. But boy, it can be a major challenge sometimes, especially when it comes to figuring out how to balance building a world without burying readers in a world information avalanche.

So how do you worldbuild without info-dumping? The key, for me at least, is to think of worldbuilding as layered. Some layers may include:

  • Architecture/physical setting
  • Weather
  • Language
  • Clothing/style
  • Food
  • Names/locations
  • History
  • Laws/Government
  • Technology
  • Traditions
  • Cultural mannerisms

And so on, but you get the idea.

As I go through my WIP during revision rounds I try to focus on one layer at a time, or a couple related layers at a time. This can be as simple as going through and paying attention to what everyone is wearing and making adjustments as necessary, while ignoring the rest of the story. And doing the same for food. And dropping a tidbit of history here and a mannerism there.

Rome wasn’t built in a day and your world shouldn’t be built all at once. Worldbuilding is a gradual, ongoing process—it’s an offhanded comment about a failed historical ruler, a city named after a victorious battle, a particular style of dress, your MC’s favorite dessert, and whether it’s frigid and snowy or hot and arid.

Secondly, any information you give should be woven in organically and make sense in context. It’s unlikely that in the middle of a war, your MC is going to think about formal menswear (unless everyone is wearing formal menswear to war, which I suppose isn’t out of the question hypothetically speaking), but if your MC goes to a wedding it’d make sense to think about what people are wearing. Similarly, we don’t need a full accounting of your world’s history from inception to present day—instead, it can be really effective to give snippets here and there as they become relevant. 

Think of worldbuilding elements as spices. A pinch here and there as you go along to add layers to your world and make it vivid and engaging is what you should be aiming for—but a mountain of salt on your first page is too much too fast.

Have you tried worldbuilding in layers?

Twitter-sized bites: 
Writer @Ava_Jae says, "worldbuilding is a gradual, ongoing process." What do you think? (Click to tweet
How do you worldbuild without burying readers in information? @Ava_Jae says it's all about layers. (Click to tweet)

Fixing the First Page Feature Giveaway #12!

Photo credit: Phil Roeder on Flickr
Somehow, we are nearing the end of June! Which means it's time for another giveaway! Woot!

For those who’ve missed it in the past, the Fixing the First Page features is a public first 250 word critique. Using the lovely rafflecopter widget, anyone interested in winning a PUBLIC (as in, featured in a post on this blog) first page critique can enter.

For an example of what this critique will look like, here's the last Fixing the First Page post.

  • ONLY the first 250 words will be critiqued (up to finishing the sentence). If you win and send me more, I will crop it myself. No exceptions.

  • ONLY the first page. I don’t want 250 random words from your manuscript, or from chapter 3. If you win the critique and send me anything other than the first 250 words of your manuscript, I will choose someone else.

  • I will actually critique it. Here. On the blog. I will say things as nicely as I can, but I do tend to be a little blunt. If you’re not sure you can handle a public critique, then you may want to take some time to think about it before you enter.

  • Genre restrictions. I'm most experienced with YA & NA, but I will still accept MG and Adult. HOWEVER. If your first page has any erotic content on it, I ask that you don’t enter. I want to be able to post the critique and the first 250 in its entirety without making anyone uncomfortable, and if you win and you enter a page with erotic content, I will choose someone else.

  • You must have your first page ready. Should you win, you need to be able to submit your first page within 48 hours of my contacting you to let you know you won. If 48 hours pass and I haven’t heard from you, again, I will choose someone else.

  • You’ll get the most out of this if it isn’t a first draft. Obviously, I have no way of knowing if you’re handing me a first draft (though I will probably suspect because it’s usually not that difficult to tell). I won’t refuse your page if it’s a first draft, but you should know that this critique will likely be of more use if you’ve already had your betas/CPs look over it. Why? Because if you don’t, the critique I give you will probably contain a lot of notes that your betas & CPs could have/would have told you.

  • There will not be a round 2 (unless you win again in a future contest). I hate to have to say this, but if you win a critique, it’s NOT an invitation to send me a bunch of your revisions. I wish I had the time available to be able to look at revisions, but sadly, I don’t. If you try to break this rule, I will nicely say no, and also remember to choose someone else should you win a second contest. Which would make me sad. :(
So that’s it! If you’re okay with all of the above and would like to enter to be the twelfth public critique on Writability, do the thing with the rafflecopter widget below. You have until Monday, June 22 at 11:59 EST to enter!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Vlog: Where to Start Your Book?

Trying to figure out where to start your book can be beyond difficult, so today I'm sharing some tips starting with the inciting incident.


How do you decide where to start your novel?

Twitter-sized bites: 
Not sure where to start your book? @Ava_Jae vlogs some tips for figuring out the right place to open. (Click to tweet)  
What is the inciting incident & what does it have to do w/ where you start your book? @Ava_Jae vlogs some answers. (Click to tweet

On Exceptions

Photo credit: Nellie0224 on Flickr
So I frequently blog and vlog about writing rules. And writing tips and dos and don’ts. And I say things like  don’t edit while you’re first drafting and prologues are frequently unnecessary and avoid backstory on your first page

But here’s the truth with any and all writing tips, dos and don’ts: there are almost always exceptions.

I try to say this from time to time, because for every writing rule, there’s an example of the opposite that worked. For every prologue that could be tossed is a prologue that is friggin’ amazing—for every writer who blazes through their first draft without looking back is a writer who edits while first drafting and finishes with a smile. For every “best not to do this” there is an example of that very thing working beautifully. 

The main writing rule I can think of without an exception is writers must read. There are probably (definitely) others. But by and large, most writing rules have exceptions and that’s okay. 

The only thing with exceptions is it is much, much harder to pull an exception off successfully. Impossible? Absolutely not. But way more difficult, yeah.

The reason there are rules and tips to begin with is because those rules show methods that make things easier. That generally work, that make the whole writing process more simple if you follow them. They’re mean to be guidelines to help you, rather than laws that must absolutely 100% be adhered to.

For example, many writer types and publishing people will advise you not to start your book with a character waking up. I’ve probably even said this myself. It’s overdone, and often leads to characters dictating every part of their day before the exciting thing happens and yeah, oftentimes it doesn’t work. 

But spoiler: Beyond the Red starts with a character waking up. From the first paragraph. And I wrote it knowing full well that characters waking up in an opening are super overdone, so I did my best to try to do it differently. And I don’t know if it’s going to stay that way in the final, published version, but it’s worked so far.

Would it have been easier to start elsewhere? Maybe. But that was where the story started in my mind, and so I went with it. It was an exception, even though I still actively try to avoid writing openings with characters waking up. 

Writer types and publishing people will advise you not to write in second person. Not because it’s a horrible POV, but because it’s super, ridiculously tough to pull off well and a lot of readers don’t like it. But guess what? Books like Half Bad by Sally Green start with a second person section and has several chapters in second person. And not everyone will necessarily agree with me, but I thought it worked super well. 

I’m not trying to say that I’m special or Sally Green is special—I’m just saying exceptions do happen. And sometimes, learning the writing rules really well means that you know how to bend them and occasionally even break them. And it means that you know how to do it in a way that works. Maybe. 

Ultimately, you’re making things harder for yourself when you break writing rules. But if you manage to pull it off, sometimes the result can be really awesome. 

So if you ever see a writing rule that just really doesn’t resonate with you, it’s okay. There are exceptions. Maybe this is one of them. 

What do you think? Have you come across any good exceptions to a writing rule?

Twitter-sized bites: 
Writer @Ava_Jae says there are almost always exceptions to every writing rule. What do you think? (Click to tweet)  
Have you come across any good exceptions to a writing rule? Join the discussion on @Ava_Jae's blog. (Click to tweet)

Discussion: What Are You Reading?

Photo credit: Capture Queen on Flickr
So after a crazy day of ten plus hours of revisions on Wednesday, I finished the latest round of revisions on the #YAFantasyWIP. Which means it's time to relax, look for betas, and let my brain rest.

Also, it's time to catch up on my reading. 

When I get really heavy into revisions, I generally don't read nearly as much as usual, because by the time I'm done working for the day, my brain is pretty tired of words. So I didn't read much of anything since finishing my research books and diving into revisions, despite having quite a few books I'm dying to get into. 

Which brings me to this post. 

Right now, I'm about halfway through Second Position by Katherine Locke, which I put down for a bit so I could revise, and now am going to dive back into in earnest. Next up on the list is Made You Up by Francesca Zappia which I've been dying to read forever, then More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera, which arrived at my door recently and I'm super psyched about. 

From there will be Far From You by Tess Sharpe—another book I've heard loads about and am very eager to read—and then All the Rage by Courtney Summers, which I won in a giveaway (eep!). 

After that I have plenty more owned TBR books (including, but not limited to, The Infinite Sea by Rick Yancey, Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor, Crown of Midnight by Sarah J. Maas and Heartsick by Caitlin Sinead) that I'm super psyched to read, and also a pre-order of Focus On Me by Megan Erickson which will magically appear on my Nook on July 21st (and be promptly magically devoured by me). 

So yeah. Lots of reading. Lots of books. Lots to look forward to. 

And now I'm opening up discussion to you guys—what are you reading?

Twitter-sized bite:
What are you currently reading (or looking forward to reading)? Join the discussion on @Ava_Jae's blog. (Click to tweet)

How to Beat a Writing Block (Without Writing)

So the other day, while working on revisions, I tweeted this:
And to my pleasant surprise, I received a whole load of responses back of people saying they did basically the same thing, or something similar. Which got me thinking about ways to get around a writing block without actually writing.

When the alternate-universe mind-movie daydreaming doesn’t work, sometimes I find getting away from the computer and doing something else helps. Taking a walk, taking a shower, doing chores I was putting off, etc. often leads to new connections in my mind, and even if those connections don’t solve the block entirely, they frequently get me thinking in the direction that does lead to overcoming the block.

Photo credit: Aztlek on Flickr
Basically, your subconscious sometimes does the work for you, which is pretty darn nice. I’ve had more than a couple epiphany moments both on WIP stuff and blog post stuff away from the computer.

Some other suggestions I got from writers on Twitter included talking a scene out (presumably in private) and listening to music. I’ve also found, occasionally, that working on something else entirely sometimes leads to breakthroughs, like my brain wanted me to focus on something else while working its magic (hey, whatever works).

In the end, of course, if none of these passive solutions work, then it might be time to pull out a pad of paper or a new document and work things out step by step. But you never know when not-writing can actually help you write, after all.

What non-writing solutions do you have for beating the block?

Twitter-sized bite:
How can you beat a writing block without writing? Writer @Ava_Jae shares some ideas. (Click to tweet)

Vlog: Young Adult vs. New Adult

Categories can be confusing, so today I'm talking about the difference between two I see confused the most: Young Adult and New Adult.


What other differences have you noticed between YA and NA? Any exceptions to the rule?

Twitter-sized bites:
Confused about the difference between YA & NA? Writer @Ava_Jae vlogs about why they're not the same. (Click to tweet)  
What's the difference between YA & NA books? @Ava_Jae breaks it down in today's vlog. #booktube (Click to tweet)

Discussion: What Are You Working On?

Photo credit: miel.books on Flickr
So I’ve been having a busy summer so far.

Shortly after finishing school, I dove into #NerdyWIP revisions, which I’ve tweeted about quite a bit. It involved quite a few large changes, and moving scenes around, and deleting stuff, and adding a ton of things here and there, and also more kissing (because who doesn’t love more kissing?).

Once that was bounced back to the amazing agent, it was time for research reading for the #YAFantasyWIP, which I’ve also tweeted about. Research reading took about a week, and now I’m back revising again. With more really large changes to make.

Neither of those WIPs were early drafts, but I’m still finding that the braver I get with these revisions and the more I’m willing to make really big changes, the more I love the way it turns out. I’ve deleted scenes (and kept copies of course) and completely changed character relationships and world building and every change makes each book a little better.

Watching a WIP develop into something better, something even bigger than I first imagined when I began writing is my favorite part. Because creating something from nothing is really freaking awesome, but taking that something and making it an amazing something just never ever gets old.

Once I finally finish this round of revision, I’ll be looking for (very specific) betas, revising again, then sending it off to my agent.

And then I have another first draft all ready for revisions that I’m equally excited about. Plus Beyond the Red stuff and work editing and anything else that comes in this summer.

It feels kind of like juggling, except I focus on each project completely when I catch it, so to speak. But it’s been really fun to always have something to be excited to work on.

So now let’s open up discussion: what have you guys been working on?

Twitter-sized bite: 
What writing stuff have you been working on this summer? Join the discussion on @Ava_Jae's blog. (Click to tweet)

Queer YA Scrabble Blogathon Giveaway: Team Unicorn

GIVEAWAY IS NOW CLOSED. Thank you everyone for entering! :) 

Today is the day! Welcome to Team Unicorn's Queer YA Scrabble Blogathon stop! I'm so excited to introduce you to the awesome team and their incredible books!

First! A quick rundown of how this thing works.

Team Unicorn is one of FIVE times, and each of us has a post just like this one featuring our fantabulous team. Within these posts are super sneakily hidden letters that are part of an anagram. Every team has their own anagram, and your job, as you super smart sleuths, is to track down the letters and solve each anagram. Once you've solved a team's anagram you can go to the team page and enter the giveaway for that team's box of signed wonderfulness. YAY!

Anagram hint: Here on Writability, you should maybe look out for the pretty rainbow colors. Just saying. ;)

But what if you enter and don't win, you ask? All hope is not lost! Starting tomorrow is the auction that will run until the 15th (giveaway winners will be announced on the 9th), where you will have another chance to win the exact same box of prizes plus wildcard critiques from agents and editors.

Team Unicorn's wildcard prizes are:

Also, there's maybe a bonus giveaway at the bottom of this post. :)

Note: Both giveaways are open to the UK, USA, Ireland, Canada and Continental Europe except Russia.

Explanations aside, I'm delighted to introduce you to Team Unicorn! I've asked them each a couple questions, so enjoy!

Photo credit: Goodreads

Becky AlbertalliSimon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda

  1. What inspired you to write your book?

    I struggle with this question, because it truly feels like Simon just popped into my head, demanding to be written about! I have a hard time pinpointing one specific source of inspiration, but I think an important part of my process was my work as a psychologist with LGBT and gender nonconforming teens and children.

  2. It’s been fantastic seeing more and more representation of the full sexuality and gender spectrums. What was the hardest part about writing your novel?

    As a non-marginalized author writing about a character from a marginalized group, my process required a tremendous amount of care, research, and openness to feedback. I think a part of me will always worry about the potential for harm, even after receiving positive feedback from members of the gay community throughout the publication process. Readers still might choose not to read my book because I’m not a gay author, which I completely understand and respect. On the flip side, I’ve been asked why I chose to make Simon white and cisgender, which is an amazing question! It can be a really tricky balance determining which stories I think I can share authentically. I’m absolutely going to fall short sometimes, which can be really hard to accept. It helps when I find myself in a position to support LGBTQIA + causes or boost marginalized authors, both of which I try to do regularly.

Photo credit: Goodreads

Suki FleetThis is Not a Love Story

  1. What inspired you to write your book?

    My initial shockblast of inspiration came from seeing a homeless kid crying in an alley near where I live. Although I started writing This is Not a Love Story years later, ultimately, I wrote this book for him. I wanted to write a happy ending for kids who don't always get them. Homelessness (especially teen homelessness) is an issue very close to my heart.

  2. It’s been fantastic seeing more and more representation of the full sexuality and gender spectrums. What was the hardest part about writing your novel?

    Writing a novel is crazily hard :)  I'm drawn to writing the stories that don't often get written, and I enjoy bringing to life very diverse characters--characters that hopefully readers can identify with whatever their gender/sexuality/age or status in life.

Photo credit: Goodreads

  1. What inspired you to write your book?

    Lots of things! Firstly, I wanted to write a book for teens that included a gay relationship, as I thought homosexual teens were really under-represented in YA fiction. I didn't want it to be an 'issue' or 'coming out' book, though, so I paired it with another idea I'd had, which just started with a simple question: What if (the best kind of writer question!) you had a secret so powerful it stole your voice?

    The setting of Unspeakable was really important to me. Like me, my character Megan adores being outside, and I live fairly close to the New Forest, which struck me as a unique and beautiful place to set a story. In fact, I love the New Forest so much, I got married there last year, in the same village I used for inspiration for the book!

  2. It’s been fantastic seeing more and more representation of the full sexuality and gender spectrums. What was the hardest part about writing your novel?

    The hardest part for me was worrying that I somehow wasn't qualified to write about a same-sex relationship because I hadn’t experienced one myself. But it was such an important story to tell, and I reasoned that I had experience of falling in love, so why shouldn't I tell it?

    I've had some lovely messages from teens who've said that Megan and Jasmine's relationship made them feel 'normal for a change'. So I hope I've pulled it off!

Photo credit: Goodreads

  1. What inspired you to write your book?

    To make a long story short: In my job as a high school teacher, I experienced how difficult it was for LGBT students to be open and how few novels there were out there that could give them a sense of self, and of not being alone. Since I had always harbored this dream of being a writer one day, I finally got started on a novel that naturally turned out to be LGBT themed. Also, in my first teaching job I worked in a pretty remote area where being different can feel extra problematic, so years later when I started writing Supermassive, I added the same kind of setting to the plot. Though I am a city girl, I have a fondness for remote areas - my next novel is also an LGBT story set far away from urban areas!

  2. It’s been fantastic seeing more and more representation of the full sexuality and gender spectrums. What was the hardest part about writing your novel?

    I did a lot of thinking about how to best present the LGBT side of the story. When I started writing Supermassive, I used neutral gender terms, for example ‘grandchild’ instead of ‘grandson’, a neutral first name, and I never focused on specifics about the protagonist’s looks or clothes. I knew he was a boy, and as the story progressed I made it clearer to the readers too, gradually inserting more clues. In the end, I decided to insert more evidence of his gender, but I did struggle a bit with finding the right balance here. (When it got published, the blurb made it clear he was a boy, though.)

    I wanted my story to be a universal love story where gender or sexuality was not the main issue, but where those aspects still were important to the plot. The book is more about coming to terms with grief and loss, and how to approach your feelings for someone, than it is a story about sexuality. The protagonist knows he’s gay and though he’s not openly out, his sexuality is mostly unproblematic to him. His main concern is first and foremost whether or not his feelings will be reciprocated by the boy he loves so fiercely. When I wrote the book, then, I always made sure those aspects of life that are recognizable regardless of gender or sexual orientation, came first. I experienced a few moments of doubt as I wrote the story, because I sometimes worried that readers would think I ignored the LGBT issue and that I didn’t give it enough space. There is a coming out aspect in the story though, and in the end I think I reached a good balance between the themes.

Photo credit: Goodreads

  1. What inspired you to write your book?

    I lived for several years in Provincetown, Massachusetts which has always been a very GLBT-friendly place. Although I’m straight, I identified with my gay and lesbian friends in P’town who were often estranged from their parents, as I was also. When I began to write novels for teenagers I wanted to include gay and lesbian characters, not only so GLBT teens had someone to identify with, but also so my straight readers would begin to identify with gay and lesbian characters and through that process see what they all had in common.

    I didn’t feel I understood what it meant to be transgender well enough to write about it until I met my daughter’s friend, Toby, who is FTM. It turned out that Toby was a big fan of my earlier books, so when I asked if he’d help me write a transgender character, he was thrilled. I did a lot of reading before I began to interview Toby; I didn’t want my questions to be either stupid or offensive. Toby sat with me for a long afternoon and answered everything. He told me many stories about what it felt like growing up transgender, a few of which I used in the book. And once the book was finished, Toby read and vetted it for me. He’s the angel of Parrotfish.

  2. It’s been fantastic seeing more and more representation of the full sexuality and gender spectrums. What was the hardest part about writing your novel?

    This book was actually a joy to write. It always takes a little while to get your main character’s voice right, but Grady came to me pretty quickly. I loved his humor and gentleness. The only difficulty was my fear of getting something wrong, but that was alleviated by knowing that Toby had my back.


    By the way, Parrotfish will soon be available in a new edition which updates some of the language used and all of the resources at the end of the book. I’m happy that the book will remain relevant to a new generation of teenagers.

Photo credit: Goodreads
  1. What inspired you to write your book? 

    The inspiration for the book was a mashup of the two worlds I live in: writing and teaching.  I was just beginning the book, and I knew I wanted to write about radio and music, two things I love.  And I knew I wanted to write about a guy who hid behind his radio show while he tried out his identity on the air--no big deal, just the usual teenage who-am-I? stuff.  At the same time I started the book, I was prepping to teach a diversity literature class at my college.  I knew I wanted to include something that was LGBTQ, and I stumbled across a book called The Phallus Palace, by Dean Kotula. That book is an exploration of many elements of being/becoming a trans man (at the time, Kotula's term was "female-to-male transsexual").  There were very short autobiographies of trans men in the book, and they complete captured me.  I remember thinking, "These men are being themselves at enormous costs," and I was intrigued, inspired, and very awed.  Those short autobiographies collided in my head with my character, and suddenly Gabe was a trans man, hiding behind his radio show and figuring out how to be a guy as well as how to be a human being in the world.  Then, of course, I had to figure out how to write a trans man character (and that took years of research and learning!).  Because he and I are both music geeks, I started there and built slowly.

  2. It’s been fantastic seeing more and more representation of the full sexuality and gender spectrums. What was the hardest part about writing your novel?

    The hardest thing was making sure I had Gabe's transition in the realm of possibility.  How would a young trans man go about his transition?  What would he do, what would he think about doing, what would he have or not have?  It took me years of listening, learning, and thinking to get that part accomplished.  In terms of his gender expression, he sees himself as just a guy, so to write him I had to slip into a teenage guy mentality (which isn't very hard for me : ) ). I could just consult with the teenage guys I know.  Same thing with his sexuality--Gabe considers himself a straight guy, so his sexuality also wasn't difficult.  One of the biggest challenges was to figure out what he would call his penis, even though he doesn't have one.  After consultation with various guys, we settled on "imaginary dick."  I also had to figure out whether or not he'd have a prosthetic (he does).  Gabe's a pretty binary guy, by design.  I didn't feel comfortable taking on a more gender variant version of him (in my next book, there are more gender flexible characters).

Also, don't forget to check out Team Phoenix, Team Hydra, Team Dragon and Team Griffin for more amazing prizes!

Did you get all of the letters (hint: you should have fifteen)? Awesome! Now solve the anagram, head over to Team Unicorn's entry page and enter! And as a bonus I've got an extra giveaway right here! Without any anagramming, you have until Monday, June 8th at 11:59 PM EST to enter to win a paperback copy Suki Fleet's newest, The Glass House.

Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Queer YA Scrabble Intro Post!

Boy, do I have an exciting weekend planned for you guys! Those of you who follow me on Twitter my have already heard that I’m hosting one of the stops for Queer YA Scrabble along with Gay YA, Afterwritten, YA Interrobang, Queer YA and LGBT YA Reviews! And those who didn’t know…surprise! I think you guys will like this.

So what is Queer YA Scrabble? you ask. It’s an event running from June 6th-8th to support 
Stonewall-UK and increase awareness of QUILTBAG YA books. Starting tomorrow, anyone interested in participating will hunt for letters hidden in super sneaky blog posts featuring the books and then you guys will solve an anagram to compete for a chance to win a box stuffed full of really awesome QUILTBAG YA books. Yay!

After the giveaway, there will be an auction for another set of the book-boxes along with critiques and what not donated by super awesome agents and editors. 100% of the proceeds will be donated to Stonewall.

So here on Writability, I’ll have a special post up on June 7th with mini-interviews from Becky Albertalli (Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda), Suki Fleet (This is Not a Love Story), Abbie Rushton (Unspeakable), Nina Rossing (Supermassive), Ellen Wittlinger (Parrotfish) and Kirstin Cronn-Mills (Beautiful Music for Ugly Children) with the hidden anagram letters.

I’m really excited to be a part of this, and I hope you guys love it! See you all on the 7th. :)

UPDATE: Team Unicorn's anagram is hard, so I've decided to post early! Come back at noon TODAY (June 6th) to start the letter hunt! :)

Twitter-sized bite: 
Writability is a stop in the Queer YA Scrabble giveaway! Will you be joining in the fun? (Click to tweet)

You Don’t Have to Get it Right the First Time

Photo credit: re_birf
Confession: sometimes, when one of my cross-posted onto tumblr posts explodes, I like to cruise through the comments and tags. It’s a fun and quick way to see what people think about the posts and the feedback has often been pretty thought-provoking.

The posts that get tumblr-happy are often craft posts. And the comments and tags, I’ve noticed, often include writers stressing out about trying to nail all of the writing tidbit dos and don’ts while drafting.

Except here’s the thing: with the exception of writing tips specifically geared for first drafting, most are not meant to be tackled while first drafting.

To clarify:

Things you should be focusing on while first drafting:

  1. Getting the story written.
  2. See #1

Things you don’t need to worry about while first drafting:

  1. Getting your opening right.
  2. Getting your middle right. 
  3. Getting your ending right. 
  4. Getting your characters right.
  5. Getting the worldbuilding right.
  6. Getting the sentence-level writing right. 
  7. Getting the pacing right.
  8. Getting anything perfect the first time.

The truth is, the first draft is for you, the author. It’s about getting the story out and creating the clay that you can later shape into an awesome book. It’s about getting a feel for the story and the characters and working out the progression of the plot. It’s about putting down some words so that you have something to revise later.

It’s not about getting anything right the first time.

I’ve been finding, as of late, the more I learn about the revisions, the more I’ve gotten comfortable with making huge changes. And the more I’ve gotten comfortable with making huge changes, the more I’ve loved the end result. And the more I’ve loved the end result after making tons of changes and doing revision round after revision round, the more I’ve realized that old adage “writing is rewriting” is painfully true.

But it also takes a ton of pressure off the first draft. Because your sentences can suck and your pacing can be messed up and your plot can be messy and your characters can be not quite right and it’s okay. It’s all okay. It’s okay if you have blanks and cities and characters with no names or personalities. It’s okay if your book sags in the middle and if you use a terrible, clichéd prologue. You do whatever you need to do to get that story down and don’t worry for one second about making it right while first drafting.

Take the pressure off when you’re first drafting. Don’t worry about the work to come.

Just get the story written.

What do you think? Is getting the story right the first time important? 

Twitter-sized bites: 
"The truth is, the first draft is for you, the author." (Click to tweet
Writer @Ava_Jae says the first draft is "not about getting anything right the first time." What do you think? (Click to tweet)

Vlog: Elements of a Great Book Ending

You guys asked, I answered: here are some tips on writing a great book ending. And also a spiel about why they terrify me. (Spoiler: endings are hard.)

Also! The quote! I have found it:
"Your first chapter sells your book. Your last chapter sells your next book."—Mickey Spillane (from Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell, which is a fantastic writing craft book, by the way).

What tips do you have for writing a great book ending? What elements do some of your favorite endings have?

Twitter-sized bites: 
Struggling to figure out how to end your WIP? Writer @Ava_Jae vlogs some book ending tips. (Click to tweet)  
What goes into a great book ending? Writer @Ava_Jae vlogs essential elements to a powerful finale. (Click to tweet)

Book Review: BLACK IRIS by Leah Raeder

Photo credit: Goodreads
So about partway through my reading of Leah Raeder’s Black Iris, I knew I was going to have to review it, but it quickly became apparent it was going to be a tougher book to review. Not because I didn’t like it, but because it was so different from anything I’d read in a long time and just felt important, somehow. Like this was an important book for me to be reading. It’s hard to explain.

Before I go on, here’s the summary from Goodreads:

“It only took one moment of weakness for Laney Keating’s world to fall apart. One stupid gesture for a hopeless crush. Then the rumors began. Slut, they called her. Queer. Psycho. Mentally ill, messed up, so messed up even her own mother decided she wasn't worth sticking around for. 
If Laney could erase that whole year, she would. College is her chance to start with a clean slate. 
She's not looking for new friends, but they find her: charming, handsome Armin, the only guy patient enough to work through her thorny defenses—and fiery, filterless Blythe, the bad girl and partner in crime who has thorns of her own. 
But Laney knows nothing good ever lasts. When a ghost from her past resurfaces—the bully who broke her down completely—she decides it's time to live up to her own legend. And Armin and Blythe are going to help. 
Which was the plan all along. 
Because the rumors are true. Every single one. And Laney is going to show them just how true. 
She's going to show them all.”

So first and foremost, Black Iris is a New Adult novel, but holy guacamole it is so very different from 99% of NA novels out there right now. Black Iris is not a contemporary romance—it’s a dark, unsettling Thriller with deeply twisted characters and tons of twists. It’s the kind of book I feel like I’ll need to re-read to fully absorb, because it isn’t until all the pieces fall together that it really all begins to make sense.

Like Unteachable, Raeder expertly weaves a raw, realistic voice with moments of beauty and clarity. The characters are flawed and make few attempts to be likable—and there were some moments where I almost felt like Laney, the protagonist, was getting a little heavy-handed on deliberately portraying herself as unlikable (not so much through actions, but through things she would say about being an unlikable heroine). That said, I liked that many of the characters weren’t trying to be likable—they made ugly decisions, and had terrible thoughts, and they owned them completely.

The only other thing that occasionally threw me off was the timeline. The story is told non-chronologically with chapters jumping back and forth between the present and past, which occasionally got a little confusing (one of the reasons, I suspect, I felt like I would benefit from a second read).

Despite that, I really loved this book. From the gripping plot, to the out-there-for-you-to-see ugly emotions, to a protagonist who wasn’t completely sure about her sexual identity (and wasn’t trying to be sure or put a label on it), to a cast of characters who were twisted, and layered, and all-around fascinating, Black Iris is on my list of favorites.

If you’re looking for a gripping, beautifully-written, dark, and complicated New Adult Thriller, I couldn’t recommend this one more. 4.5/5 stars to this seriously awesome book.

Diversity note: The protagonist doesn’t label herself, but is attracted to (and has on-the-page explicit relationships with) both men and women, and she also has borderline personality disorder. Other major characters are bipolar and have antisocial personality disorder, and two major characters are Persian (including one love interest).

Have you read Black Iris?

Twitter-sized bites: 
.@Ava_Jae gives 4.5/5 stars to BLACK IRIS by @LeahRaeder. Have you read this twisted, raw NA Thriller? (Click to tweet)
Looking for a dark, layered, and diverse NA Thriller? Check out BLACK IRIS by Leah Raeder. (Click to tweet)
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