On (Breaking?) Writerly Patterns

Photo credit: TheZionView on Flickr
We all have different patterns when we write. Some of us write long, with tens of thousands of words we'll have to cut at the end. Some of us write short, knowing we'll have to add ten, twenty, thirty thousand words before it's an acceptable length. Some write chronologically, others mix it up. Some plot, some don't, some always have to fix world building in revisions, others consistently have issues with pacing, or character development, or dialogue, etc.

As I finish plotting my seventeenth book (whoa), I've been thinking a lot about patterns. Like Katie says in the tweet I embedded below, I too frequently worry about whether a novel will be novel-length as I first draft. It's not uncommon for one of my first drafts to fall in the high 40k - low 60k range, and though I know I pretty consistently add 15k - 25k in revisions, it's still a little nerve-wracking every time I finish a first draft and see a number below 60k. What if I can't fill it enough to be the length of an actual novel? I worry endlessly.
So at this point, sixteen novels in, I pretty much expect my word counts to be low—and I usually can tell just how short it's going to be based off how many scenes I have set up when I finish plotting. I try to aim for fifty scenes and usually end up somewhere in the forty range, which is fine. But this time around, with MS #17, things have been starting off a little...differently.

To give you some perspective, Into the Black in its current form has fifty-two scenes (the first draft had forty-seven), and that's unlikely to change at this stage. Those fifty-two scenes fall at around 96k at the moment (word count, of course, is much more fluid and still could very well change before the final copies are printed). It's one of my most thoroughly plotted books, and also—probably not coincidentally—my third longest manuscript ever.

So you can imagine my shock when I finished plotting The Rising Gold and had seventy-three scenes.

Seventy. Three.

This is easily the longest plot I've ever had, and I have to admit, it's a little intimidating. It completely breaks a pattern I've consistently had for, oh, twelve years, and suggests I may be looking at a first draft of well over 100,000 words—which is scary given I usually add 15-25k in revisions because uh...yeah. That's long.

Granted, maybe some of (or many of?) these scenes will end up being super short and I'll have nothing to worry about—which is totally possible. But even if I assume each scene will average out several hundred words shorter than Into the Black's average, I'm still looking at over 100k. But who knows? Maybe each scene will average around 1k and I'll have a low-70k first draft which would be perfect.

I don't know if this is an anomaly or if maybe I'm getting better at plotting and thus won't have to add so much in the end—only time will tell. But breaking a writerly pattern I've had for so long is a bizarre experience that should make the first drafting process—well, uh, let's say interesting.

What writerly patterns do you have? And have you ever broken any? 

Twitter-sized bites:
What writerly patterns do you have? And have you ever broken any? Join the discussion on @Ava_Jae's blog. (Click to tweet)
On breaking writing patterns while plotting, and the ever-evolving writing process. (Click to tweet)

Vlog: 5 Tips for Writing Dialogue

Writing dialogue can be tricky. I've talked before about what *not* to do when writing dialogue, but here are some tips and things to consider when deciding what your characters say and how they say it.


What dialogue-writing tips would you add to the list? 

Twitter-sized bite:
Struggling to get your MS's dialogue right? @Ava_Jae vlogs 5 tips for writing dialogue. (Click to tweet)

Fixing the First Page Feature #35

Photo credit: Keiko Hiyami on Flickr
June (and the halfway point of the year) is nearly here! Which means it's once again time for the Fixing the First Page critique—yay!

As usual, 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 (because I'm 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 High Fantasy

First 250 words:

"There are very few things more inoffensively frustrating than a rainstorm. You’re forced to be cold and uncomfortable, you can’t see a thing, mud gets everywhere, and you’re haunted by the fact that just beyond that curtain of water, there is something towering, ancient, and hungry. 
So then you call the Kingdom’s Royal Officers to dispose of the giant monster looming over your town, and after two weeks with no reply — because they never reply — you end up all by yourself on a mountain soaking wet, freezing, filthy with mud, and wondering how you’re going to go about killing a fifty-foot tall Wanderer through all this damn rain. 
Now repeat for every month and a half. This is what Arony deals with for a living. 
The Wanderers are a species of massive pests that plague the Green Roam, a giant crack in the earth several nations long, with its widest point being a canyon gouging out the Vandega valley like it had been struck with a continent-sized axe. The Wanderers are especially a problem to the Vandega valley because they want inside that canyon. They want inside that canyon because the village of Typry was carved inside its walls, and at some point in that carving process, they had accidentally cracked open a massive well of magic. 
Arony doesn’t live in Typry, but the sheer scale of the problem has gotten large enough that she can’t avoid it anymore."

Wow! So firstly, the voice here is really clear, which is awesome. I actually really like the second person start—you don't see it often and it's hard to pull off, but I think it actually works well here, so nicely done!

I did find it a little odd to transition from second to third though. I've seen transitions from second to first, which I think tend to flow a little better because second is closer to first than it is third, but I stumbled over that in the third paragraph. I think maybe it could be fixed with a better transition...I'll suggest one below.

But all in all, very interesting opening with a great voice. :)

Now for the in-line notes!

"There are very few things more inoffensively frustrating than a rainstorm. I like having the adjective there (because of the voice) but I'm not 100% sure what "inoffensively frustrating" would even mean? I could see offensively frustrating, but I'm not sure what you meant by "inoffensively frustrating." You’re forced to be cold and uncomfortable, you can’t see a thing, mud gets everywhere, and you’re haunted by the fact that just beyond that curtain of water, there is something towering, ancient, and hungry haunts you
So then you call the Kingdom’s Royal Officers to dispose of the giant monster looming over your town, and after two weeks with no reply — because they never reply — you end up all by yourself on a mountain soaking wet, freezing, filthy with muddy, and wondering how you’re going to go about killing a fifty-foot tall Wanderer through all this damn rain. Love the interjection! And the damn rain bit. This voice is fantastic.
Now repeat for every month and a half. This is what  and you have what Arony deals with for a living. I think this works as a better transition because it flows more easily from second to third. Before I was tripping over "This is what" into third, which felt clunkier to me.
The Wanderers are a species of massive pests that plague the Green Roam, a giant crack in the earth several nations long,. with iIts widest point being is a canyon gouging out the Vandega valley like it'd had been struck with a continent-sized axe. Fantastic image and analogy there. The Wanderers are especially a problem to the Vandega valley because they want inside that canyon. They want inside that canyon because the village of Typry was carved inside its walls, and at some point in that carving process, they'd had accidentally cracked open a massive magic well of magic. I will say this paragraph reads a bit info-dump-y. I wonder if maybe you could introduce the monster first (like, Arony seeing the monster) and then give this information? It might transition a little better so it doesn't feel quite so much like a fantasy encyclopedia entry.
Arony doesn’t live in Typry, but the sheer scale of the problem has gotten large enough that she can’t avoid it anymore."

All in all, I have to say this is really well done. I'm super interested in what happens next, pretty much adore the voice, and if I saw this in the slush I'd absolutely keep reading. This story sounds like a lot of fun already and I want to get to know Arony more! :)

Really well done. Thanks for sharing your first 250 with us, KK!

Twitter-sized bite:
.@Ava_Jae talks strong YA voice, info-dumps, transitions & more in the 35th Fixing the First Page Feature. (Click to tweet

Guest Post: Finding Your Writerly Community by Brett Jonas

Hey friends! I have one more guest post for you this month, from Chapter One Young Writers' Conference team member Brett Jonas! I had an incredible time at the conference back in 2014, and the very affordable early bird pricing for the 2017 conference is open until June 1st! Make sure you guise check it out if getting to Chicago is feasible for you. :) 

Take it away, Brett!

When you’re first starting out, writing can seem like a solitary hobby. You sit, alone, in the library. You sit, alone, in the coffee shop. You sit, alone, in your bedroom. But there are other writers out there, and there is nothing that writers love doing more than procrastinating on their writing by hanging out with other writers! Whether online or in person, meeting new writers is lots of fun—and it doesn’t have to be hard to do. Here are a few things that might help you find your writerly community.

  1. Twitter

    Ava has already written several great posts on Twitter for writers, so I’ll just point you to some of her posts about it, but Twitter can be amazing for making friends who are just as passionate about writing as you are! A good way to start is by using some of the well-known writer hashtags and interacting with other people who use them.

  2. NaNoWriMo

    Every year in November, hundreds of thousands of people participate in NaNoWriMo, which stands for National Novel Writing Month, where the goal is to write fifty thousand words in a month. If that seems a bit extreme, you can check out Camp NaNoWriMo, which happens in the summer, and has a flexible word count. With NaNoWriMo, you can meet people in the forums, and during the Camps, you get put in a virtual “cabin” with several other writers, which is a great way to meet new friends!

  3. Writing Conferences

    Chances are, there’s a great writer’s conference somewhere close to you. And if there isn’t, it’s a good excuse to get out and take a trip! Writing conferences can be absolutely amazing. Not only do you get out of your house, but you get to learn from incredible people in publishing and meet writers in person. And I’ve found that, after you get home from a writer’s conference, you’re pretty excited and inspired and ready to get back to writing.

    There are writing conferences all over the country, like Midwest Writers and the Writer’s Digest Conference, but my personal favorite is Chapter One Young Writers Conference (or Ch1Con). It’s a conference for young writers (ages 11 through 23), put on by young writers (including me!). Speakers for the 2017 conference include Kody Keplinger (New York Times Bestselling author of RUN, THE DUFF, and more), literary agent Brent Taylor, and more. Ch1Con has always been an amazing experience for me, and I’d love to meet you there!

Brett Jonas is a writer, reader, Christian, lover of chocolate, and over-user of smiley faces. After being homeschooled her whole life, she’s now taking classes at the local community college and working in her family’s business, Goat Milk Stuff, with her seven younger siblings. In the rare moments when she’s not writing, working, or doing homework, you can find her doing things for the Chapter One Young Writer's Conference or wasting time on Twitter as @BookSquirt, where she loves making friends and using too many exclamation points.

Where have you found your writerly community? 

Twitter-sized bite:
Struggling to find a writer community? @BookSquirt shares some tips for finding those connections. (Click to tweet)

How Do You Know You're Ready for Critique?

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Getting critiqued is never easy. It can be tough to have all of your book's flaws pointed out to you, and see the pile of work you'll need to do to fix it mount up. It can be intimidating—and even a tad embarrassing—to see your manuscript's mistakes and shortcomings highlighted as you ask yourself why you hadn't noticed them before.

Which is why, when going into a critique, it's important to have the right mindset. But how do you know you're ready?

Writers work with critique partners at different stages, largely dependent on personal preference. Some work with readers as they first draft, largely for encouragement and bouncing ideas back and forth. Some send their first drafts to their critique partners the moment they've finished the manuscript. Some, like myself, wait until they've revised the manuscript at least once by themselves before they start gradually working with critique partners.

In the end, the when will depend on how you work as a writer and what you're able to handle. I'm a very practical person, so I prefer to work with critique partners later on in the process so I can fix a bunch of the biggest issues on my own before my critique partners see it. That way, for the most part, they rarely tell me something I already knew, and it allows me to get a more polished draft at the end. But other writers need the back and forth earlier on in the process, and that's okay too.

But how do you know when you're ready? I think readiness for critique is something you actively develop, not something that magically appears on its own. It comes with understanding the critique process—that they're critiquing the manuscript, not you, and that ultimately, the critique process is necessary for you to make your manuscript the best it can be—and reminding yourself however often is needed that this critique is going to help you and your manuscript.

Critique can be a daunting thing. But the important part is to take a deep breath, remind yourself why you're getting critiqued, and take a step beyond the initial emotional resistance to digest the critique and consider how it will help you.

Sometimes, it takes a long time to hit the point where you're comfortable with critique—and that's okay. Just take it a step at a time, and it'll become a regular (if not slightly nerve-wracking) part of your process that you've figured out how to cope with however works best for you.

How do you know when you're ready for critique?

Twitter-sized bite:
How do you know when you're ready for critique? @Ava_Jae shares some thoughts. (Click to tweet)

Vlog: How to Break Through Writers' Block

Ahh, the dreaded writers' block. We all hit a point at some time or another where the writing just isn't flowing anymore—but what can you do to break through it? Today I'm sharing my block-busting tips.


How do you break through writers' block?

Twitter-sized bites:
Struggling with writers' block? @Ava_Jae vlogs some tips for getting through the dreaded slog. (Click to tweet
How do you break through writers' block? Join the discussion on @Ava_Jae's blog. #vlog (Click to tweet)

Fixing the First Page Winner #35!

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Brief pre-vlog post to announce the winner of the thirty-fifth fixing the first page feature giveaway!


And the thirty-fifth winner is…


Yay! Congratulations, KK!

Thanks again to all you wonderful entrants! If you didn't win, as always, there will be another fixing the first page giveaway in June, so as always, keep an eye out!

6th Blogoversary Giveaway Winners!

Photo credit: Clare & Dave on Flickr
First and foremost! The giveaway was another awesome success—thank you so much to all who entered! Now, the best part of any giveaway—the time to make lots of people happy—is now here. Here are the lucky winners!

  • Synopsis Critique (up to 1,000 words) from Laura Heffernan: Matt Mutshnick
  • Query Critique from Gabrielle Prendergast: Alyssa Purcell
  • 2 Query Critiques from Briana Morgan: Jamie Kay and V Yarrington
  • Query Critique + Follow-up e-mail + Synopsis critique (if wanted) from Gill Hoffs: Kelly Barina
  • First Chapter Critique from Jackie Yeager: Emily Moore
  • Query + First Chapter Critique from Akemi Dawn Bowman: Nicole Lowrey
  • Query + First Chapter Critique from Amelinda Berube: Sarah Pripas Kapit
  • Query + First Chapter Critique from K Callard: Bev Baird
  • Query + First Chapter Critique from Hayley Chewins: Lana Kondryuk
  • Query + First Chapter + 1-4 Page Summary Critique from Erica Cameron: Vanessa Valiente
  • Query + First Chapter Critique OR $75 towards her Graphic Design Services from Veronica Bartles: M.E. Bond
  • First 3 Chapters Critique from Kristi Wientgne: Cez Apollo
  • First 6 Chapters Critique from Megan Manzano: Brie Tart
  • First 50 Pages Critique from Nicole Tone: Layne
  • First 50 Pages Critique from Chelsea M. Cameron: Megan Trotter
  • Query + First 30 Pages Critique from me: Jacy Merrill
  • Query + First 30 Pages Critique from Katherine Locke: Bonnie Woodward

And the book winners!

  • ARC of Zero Repeat Forever by Gabrielle Prendergast: Stephanie Carmichael
  • ARC of Karma Khullar's Mustache by Kristi Wientgne: AdikMiftakhur Rohmah
  • Signed Hardcover of Beyond the Red by Ava Jae: Bonnie Woodward
  • Pre-order of The Girl With the Red Balloon (Amazon or B&N) + Signed Bookplate by Katherine Locke: Shawn Fournier
  • Signed copies of Behind the Throne & After the Crown by KB Wagers: Ellie Firestone
  • Signed Hardcover of My Seventh-Grade Life in Tights by Brooks Benjamin: Ingrid Cuanalo
  • Signed copy of The Girl Before by Rena Olsen: Mary Kate
  • Signed Hardcover of Iron Cast by Destiny Soria: Emily Moore

Thanks again to all who entered and congratulations to all of the winners! To those who see their names here, you should be receiving an e-mail shortly (if it’s not already in your inboxes—check the e-mails you gave the rafflecopter!).

Finally, if you entered to win a critique but didn't win, I will say I have some June and beyond openings available for big and small critiques alike, and the anniversary 5% sale (and 10% off #ownvoices) is running until May 31st—so feel free to take a look at your options.

That’s all! See you all tomorrow with a vlog.

Guest Post: What Reading Picture Books Can Teach You About Writing Novels by M.E. Bond

Photo credit: Megan Hemphill (Prairie & Co) on Flickr
With three kids under five I read a lot of picture books. In fact we usually have two dozen different picture books out from the library at any given time. So how can I use all this reading to benefit my writing, even though I'm working on adult novels? I came up with six ways to use picture books to my advantage; I think they'll help you, too.

  1. Mimic plot and structure. If you stop and think about what makes a satisfying picture book, you're sure to find applications for novel-writing. How is conflict introduced and resolved? How are surprise endings constructed? How do repeated imagery and phrases tie the story together?

  2. Reflect on rhyme and rhythm. You're probably not writing your novel in rhyme, but the rhyme and rhythm in a good picture book will inspire you to think about word choice and the cadence of your sentences. 

  3. Know what to leave unsaid. Often the best part of reading picture books is studying the relationship between the words and pictures. Think about what you want to convey with your writing and what you should leave to your reader's imagination.

  4. Consider different ways to approach a story. You'll often find picture books on the same topics – be it counting, welcoming a new baby, or getting ready for bed – not to mention those based on traditional stories (like these two retellings of the same Jewish folktale). Let them guide you as you take some time to think about different approaches to story-telling. 

  5. Find inspiration. The subject matter of picture books may well give you an idea for your next novel or an addition to your work in progress. For example, any of these 17 picture books about historical heroines could spawn a dramatic adult novel.

  6. Remember the joy of writing. When you're pressed for time reading aloud a beloved picture book may be the best way to remind yourself of the wonder of words and the magic of stories. Then you can press on, reinvigorated, to tackle your adult projects.

How do picture books inspire you? (And which are your favourite?)

M.E. Bond is a part-time writer and full-time mother living in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. She spends her writing time blogging about history, archives, and libraries, and endlessly revising her first novel, a mystery set on a university campus.

Blog | Twitter | Goodreads (including two shelves of favorite picture books)

Twitter-sized bite:
What can you learn from reading picture books? @MEBond_writer shares her experience on @Ava_Jae's blog. (Click to tweet)

Guest Post: The Author Portrait by Rachel Linn

Photo credit: María Garrido on Flickr
Be honest, when you sit down at your computer to compose your magnum opus, there’s a lot of knee-jiggling, nail-biting, and an alarming amount of palm-sweating. You want to experience the joy of putting words on the page, but the weight of actually writing things down keeps you poised on the edge of creation-- sometimes for months. This chronic paralysis develops because you’ve conflated who you are with what you create. It won’t resolve until you understand you are not The Author.

Margaret Atwood felt “the act of writing comes weighted with a burden of anxieties. The written word is so much like evidence—like something that can be used against you later.” And she wrote The Handmaid’s Tale for goodness sake! If anyone has a body of evidence to show off, it’s Atwood.

But the woman who wrote that quote in 2002 isn’t the same woman who wrote The Handmaid’s Tale in 1985. Yet she’s expected to be THE AUTHOR OF THE HANDMAID’S TALE all the time. While eating lunch. While brushing her teeth. While meeting rabid fans. Another Atwood gem applies here: “Wanting to meet an author because you like his work is like wanting to meet a duck because you like pâte.”

You can’t meet The Author because that person doesn’t exist. The person sitting there watering the keyboard with overmoist palms is not The Author. But it becomes impossible to separate yourself from the looming mythos you’ve create when you believe every sentence is a piece of your soul. So instead of getting anything done, you wait for The Author to show up and do it right. Aaaaany day now.

To cope with this paralysis, I’ve borrowed (stolen) Michel Foucault’s concept of the author function. Since “author function” sounds like a car part, I call it the author portrait instead. The author portrait’s not a person, but a curated accumulation of writing/performance that happens to be attached to a person. Namely you. It’s both an invention and a reflection: your ever evolving professional portrait. So your current draft doesn’t have to be profound any more than your grocery list does. They are just things you write down. When looking through your draft, don’t ask “Will readers like me?” Ask “Does this work enhance the author portrait I’m painting?” When critique partners criticize your work, realize they are critiquing your author portrait, not you as a person.

It’s dangerous to imagine you and your work are one entity, because your writing is meant to be consumed by others while you most certainly are not. Sometimes we fill ourselves with beautiful books and forget what we see is someone else’s author portrait. Behind that finished pâte was a grisly process where a person sweated over a keyboard (or quill pen) until they got over their own mythos and wrote. You and your author portrait are not the same, (and thank goodness) because you are so much more than The Author.

What do you think?

Rachel Linn is a dramaturg/librarian/writer in Atlanta who is passionate about novels, manga, gaming, and fan studies. She has a PhD in Interdisciplinary Arts and and MA in Theatre specializing in critique and critical analysis. On the side she writes a blog with her filmmaker husband called MarriedtotheAuthor.com.

Twitter-sized bite:
On Margaret Atwood, the Author Portrait, and more, @Married2tAuthor shares her guest post on @Ava_Jae's blog. (Click to tweet)

Guest Vlog: How to Make Writer Friends with Lily Meade

Networking can seem a little intimidating at first—but really, it's about making great writerly friends. The lovely Lily Meade is here today to talk about how to make friends with other writers.


How do you make writer friends?

Twitter-sized bite:
Want to make some writer friends but not sure where to start? @LilyMeade shares some tips on @Ava_Jae's YT channel. (Click to tweet)

Fixing the First Page Giveaway #35!

Photo credit: Nicolas Ciotti on Flickr
Incredibly, we are exactly halfway through May! Which means, of course, as is always the case here on Writability, it's time for the next Fixing the First Page feature.

For those who’ve missed before, 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 thirty-fifth public critique on Writability, do the thing with the rafflecopter widget below. You have until Sunday, May 21 at 11:59 PM EST to enter!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Guest Post: Why Do You Write? by Rafia Khader

Photo credit: freestocks.org on Flickr
Why do you write?

Sure, you love to write. But have you ever asked yourself why you love to write?

If you’re anything like me, writing might be the only way you feel you can communicate with others. As someone who is both shy and introverted, writing is not a choice. It’s a compulsion. Writing allows me the space to be myself and truly be heard.

I grew up feeling alone, not resonating with any of the narratives I saw around me as a child and as an adolescent. To a certain extent, I still feel that way as a thirty-year old.

I am a former overweight, Canadian-born, Muslim woman of Indian ethnicity living in a post-9/11 America.

You can imagine how middle and high school must have been like for me. I’ll give you a hint: I wasn’t a popular kid. It wasn’t just that I was different - I felt invisible. One of my closest friends in high school didn’t even know I was Muslim until senior year.

The issues that are important to me aren’t the issues most people seem to care about. Even within the different communities I am a part of, I feel like an outlier.

I don’t fit in with any of the narratives that surround me.

But I want to desperately fit in.

So, that’s why I write. Because when I do so, I get to create my own narrative. I fit in in the world that I create.

Even though most people will probably never understand my enthusiasm for the Oxford Comma, or why I am so obsessed with coming up with the perfect plot line for that book I just need to write, I know why I write and why I must continue to do so.

Writing has been a constant companion for me when (most of) the rest of the world told me I didn’t belong.

So, why do you write? Maybe all that you’ve been through is pointing you in the direction you must now go. I know that the unique experiences I’ve had will inform the kind of book I write. And maybe that’s exactly what the world needs. Are you willing to share your story with the rest of the world?

Rafia Khader is a writer, blogger, and aspiring novelist with a penchant for cake and cows. She shares her reflections on life, faith, marriage, and writing - all with a dash of humour - on her blog Cake & Cows

Twitter-sized bite:
Why do you write? Rafia Khader shares why she puts words on the page—join the discussion on @Ava_Jae's blog. (Click to tweet)

Guest Post: So You’ve Been Called Out—How Not to Make It Worse by Jennifer Austin

Photo credit: guidancefs on Flickr
I’ve seen a number of incidents—mostly plastered all over Twitter—involving an author being called out for bad representation in their book, or possibly something they’ve said online. I’m not going to get into the topic of calling it “mob mentality” (don’t do that) or blaming the critiquers for their “nasty tone” instead of just listening to what is being said (don’t do that either.) But I think a guide for authors in this situation might be somewhat helpful.

  1. STOP: Whatever thought just came to the top of your head, just stop. Don’t tweet. Don’t blog. Don’t comment. If someone is calling out your words, there’s a reason, even if you don’t agree with it. So stop. Don’t respond.

  2. LISTEN: It may not be possible for you to read the critiques (think of them as critiques, not attacks.) They can hurt, and some of us don’t have the mental well-being to handle those comments unfiltered. So ask a friend to do it and give you an overview. Someone feels hurt. Your words caused it. You need to know why.

  3. APOLOGIZE: This is hard to do, but do it. Apologize. On Twitter, on your blog, whatever avenue you have open to you. Don’t turn it into “this was my intent so don’t be mad at me” post. It’s okay to explain yourself, but that needs to be very secondary to apologizing for the hurt you’ve caused and promising to do better next time. 

  4. LEARN: This might be the most difficult part. You have to learn from your mistake. Maybe your intent wasn’t to hurt anyone, but you did. You need to learn why, through listening to what they have to say and doing more investigation into the particular aggression you committed. Our internal biases are built on years of society telling us untrue things. We’ve been propped up and rewarded for believing some hurtful crap. It’s time to unlearn those biases. Google the subject matter at hand. Explore the countless writing resources out there that explain some of the very microaggressions we writers fall into without meaning to. But it is imperative that we learn and do better, otherwise we are just fulfilling an endless cycle of hurt and anger for all parties involved.

We have an obligation to our readers to provide the best books and social media profiles that we can, and this includes supporting readers of many different identities. Identities we may not share, but choose to write or talk about. We have a long reaching power to affect teens with our words. Alienating them, hurting them, causing them to question who they are, is not what I want to do with that power. I’d rather show them the love and support they need and deserve. Let that be your literary legacy.

What do you think?

Jennifer Austin is a YA writer who used to keep her little sisters up at night by telling them long, fantastical stories. Now she writes them down. And lets her family sleep. She can most often be found sitting in a patch of sunshine weaving new worlds, or trying to make sense of the current political one. Find her at Jennifer Austin-Author or @JLAustin13

Twitter-sized bite:
So you've been called out—@JLAustin13 talks about how not to make it worse on @Ava_Jae's blog. (Click to tweet)

Vlog: How to Write Transitions

Navigating the space between scenes can sometimes be a little perplexing. So today I'm talking about a vital part of novel-writing—how to write transitions.


What tips would you add for writing transitions?

Twitter-sized bite: 
Struggling to smoothly connect the dots between scenes? @Ava_Jae vlogs tips for writing transitions. (Click to tweet)

Guest Post: On the Importance of Working with the Right CPs by Mary Kate Pagano

Photo credit: Thomas Hawk on Flickr
Critique partners: critical to the writing process. But we all know that by now, don't we?

I wanted to talk about finding the right critique partners for you. Specifically, how important it is to ensure you're working with critique partners who are familiar with the kind of stuff you write.

I took a writing class not too long ago that was simply called "Novel Writing", so the students were people from all walks of life, writing all sorts of things. Each week we critiqued one person's submission; we went around the room and everyone said what they did and didn't like about it, and at the end, the writer got to ask questions.

It wasn't a terrible format, except that with the wide variety of people in the class, some of the critique I got was...less than helpful.

"I don't understand why anyone writes in the present tense," said one person. "It doesn't make sense to me. You're writing a story that already happened, so how can it be happening NOW?" 
"Your tone is too conversational," said another. "Like a kid talking." 
"I hate the first person," said a third.

There were some other criticisms, but you get my point. These people were not helpful, because my piece was an excerpt from a YA novel. And these people had never read YA literature.

This is an extreme example--though some of those people did reach out to me after the class was over to see if we could continue CPing, and I foolishly said yes because I didn't have any CPs yet!--but it just highlighted to me how hugely important it is to be working with CPs who know what you're going for.

I didn't last long working with those people. And it's clear to me now why.

YA literature isn't so drastically different from adult literature that I'm saying someone who reads or writes some adult can't be a good CP. They just need to also be familiar with YA. A category in which the first person and present tense are OF COURSE acceptable. Where the voice of the novel may sound conversational. Where coming-of-age themes are important.

Needless to say, I've been a bit pickier about who I work with on a CP basis now. And by the same token, when people reach out to me for CPing who write in a genre about which I know little (i.e. erotica, or someone even asked me once to critique a child's picture book), I think it's much better for both of us that I (nicely) turn them down.

How about you? Did you also make mistakes when first working with CPs? What have you learned?

Mary Kate Pagano has been voraciously reading and writing since she learned how, but it's only in the last six years or so that she's drummed up the courage to actually attempt to publish a novel. She has three finished YA manuscripts under her belt and will be querying all once she's satisfied with them (which is taking some time :) You can find her writerly and readerly musings over at www.wanderlustywriter.com and also catch her writerly and readerly (and sometimes random) tweets at https://twitter.com/wandrlstywriter.

Twitter-sized bite:
Working w/ CPs is important but @wandrlstywriter talks abt why working w/ the *right* CPs is essential. (Click to tweet)

Year SIX Blogoversary Celebration!

Today is May 5, 2017 and exactly six years ago tomorrow I posted my very first blog post on Writability. I'm so endlessly grateful for the reach this blog has built, and it's all thanks to your wonderful support over the years. So whether this is your first post here on Writability or 1,140th (I know, right?), my thanks goes out to you!

Every year I like to do a giveaway to thank you guys for your wonderful support, and this year is no different! This time around I've got eighteen critiques and nine books up for grabs, so whether you're a writer or reader (or both!) there's lots to win.

The way this is year's giveaway will work: critiques will each go to one different person (so that's fifteen winners!) and the books will go to eight winners (one winner will win two related books), so there will be twenty-seven winners total! Some book giveaways are US only, some are international, but it's all in the same rafflecopter—you'll just need to specify whether you live in the US or internationally when you enter. All of the critique giveaways are international.

Here are the incredibly generous authors and editors who donated prizes:

Laura Heffernan—Synopsis Critique (up to 1,000 words)

Laura Heffernan is living proof that watching too much TV can pay off. When not watching total strangers get married, drag racing queens, or cooking competitions, Laura enjoys travel, baking, board games, helping with writing contests, and seeking new experiences. She lives in the Northeast with her amazing husband and two furry little beasts.

Briana Morgan—2 Query Critiques

Briana Morgan is a YA and NA writer, editor, and blogger who loves dark, suspenseful reads, angst-ridden relationships, and complicated characters. Her interest in Jay Gatsby scares her friends and family. You can find her in way too many places online, eating too much popcorn, reading in the corner, or crying about long-dead literary heroes.

Gill Hoffs—Query Critique + Follow-up e-mail + Synopsis critique, if wanted

Gill Hoffs lives in the northwest of England with Coraline Cat and not enough chocolate. She is best known for her nonfiction books on weird Victorian shipwrecks (The Sinking of RMS Tayleur: The Lost Story of the 'Victorian Titanic', The Lost Story of the William & Mary: The Cowardice of Captain Stinson - both published by Pen & Sword) and related appearance on BBC's Coast. Her short fiction and nonfiction is widely available online and in print, including Wild: A Collection (Pure Slush), and her as yet unpublished novels have been longlisted for the Virginia Prize and Mslexia Novel Competition.

Jackie Yeager—First Chapter Critique

Jackie Yeager is the debut author of THE CRIMSON FIVE: SPIN THE GOLDEN LIGHT BULB which will be released on January 2, 2018 by Amberjack Publishing. The middle grade story follows the tale of five eleven year-olds on a competitive adventure almost too good to be true. She lives in Rochester, New York with her husband and two teenagers.

Akemi Dawn Bowman—Query + First Chapter Critique

Akemi Dawn Bowman is the author of Starfish. She is also a Ravenclaw and Star Wars enthusiast, who served in the US Navy for five years and has a BA in social sciences from UNLV. Originally from Las Vegas, she currently lives in England with her husband, two children, and their Pekingese mix.www.akemidawnbowman.com Twitter: @akemidawn

Amelinda Berube—Query + First Chapter Critique

Amelinda Bérubé is the author of UNDER THE ICY LAKE, a YA ghost story coming from Sourcebooks Fire in 2018. She's spent the last ten years as a writer and editor with the Canadian public service, prior to which her career path meandered through academics, carpentry, and administrivia. Amelinda is a passionate fan of YA, SFF, and all things spooky and looks forward to participating in PitchWars 2017 as a mentor!

K Callard—Query + First Chapter Critique

K. Callard is the author of Fun with Frosting: A Beginner's Guide to Decorating Creative, Fondant-Free Cakes (Skyhorse, 2016). When she's not baking, she writes YA and MG, takes care of her kids, and geeks out (mostly over Harry Potter, all things Whedon, and adorable monsters). She is represented by Brianne Johnson of Writer's House.

Hayley Chewins—Query + First Chapter Critique

Hayley Chewins writes books about magical girls with secrets. Her debut, THE TURNAWAY GIRLS, is forthcoming from Candlewick and Walker Books in 2018. She has an MA in Writing for Young People from Bath Spa University and she’s represented by Patricia Nelson at Marsal Lyon Literary Agency.

Erica Cameron—Query + First Chapter + 1-4 Page Summary Critique

Erica Cameron is the author of books for young adults including the Assassins duology, the Ryogan Chronicles, and The Dream War Saga. She also co-authored the Laguna Tides novels with Lani Woodland. An advocate for asexuality and emotional abuse awareness, Erica also works with teens at a residential rehabilitation facility in her hometown of Fort Lauderdale.

Veronica Bartles—Query + First Chapter Critique OR $75 towards her Graphic Design Services

Author of TWELVE STEPS (YA), and THE PRINCESS AND THE FROGS (PB), has spent most of her life wondering “What If?” She believes there are many sides to every story, and she’s determined to discover every single one of them. Veronica believes every princess deserves a frog, because princes aren’t pets. And she’s an incurable optimist who loves gray, drizzly days because that’s when rainbows come out to play. 

Megan Manzano—First Six Chapters Critique

Megan Manzano is currently working on her first YA book and generally likes writing science fiction, fantasy, and the occasional contemporary piece. She doubles as an editor, both in the publishing and freelance world. You can follow her on twitter, @megan_manzano, where she discusses writing/editing tips, feely stuff about her characters and the characters of others, and reviews books.

Nicole Tone—First 50 Pages Critique

Nicole Tone is the Publishing Director at REUTS Publications, a freelance editor, and a writer of upmarket fiction, book reviews, and personal essays. You can find her on twitter at @nicoleatone or blogging about books and the editing process at http://www.nicoleatone.com.

Chelsea M. Cameron—First 50 Pages Critique

Chelsea M. Cameron is an international bestselling romance author from Maine. Her hobbies include pestering her cat for snuggles, tweeting, eating red velvet cake, drinking too much tea, and reading.

Gabrielle Prendergast—Query Critique + ARC of Zero Repeat Forever (US/CAN only)

Gabrielle Prendergast is the author of the award-winning and multi-nominated young adult novels in verse, Audacious and Capricious. Her next novel, Zero Repeat Forever comes out August 29, 2017 from Simon & Schuster. She lives in Canada with her family. Find her on Twitter at @GabrielleSaraP or her website www.gabrielleprendergast.com.

Kristi Wientgne—First 3 Chapter Critique + ARC of Karma Khullar's Mustache (International)

Kristi Wientge is originally from Ohio where she grew up writing stories about animals and, her favorite, a jet-setting mouse. After studying to become a teacher for children with special needs, she spent several years exploring the world from China to England, teaching her students everything from English to how to flip their eyelids inside out. She’s spent twelve years raising her family in her husband’s home country of Singapore. Karma Khullar’s Mustache is her debut novel.

Ava Jae—Query + First 30 Pages Critique + Signed HC of Beyond the Red (US only)

Ava Jae is a Latinx tomboy who writes YA speculative fiction featuring marginalized characters grappling with identity. Ava lives with a chronic illness, is a recent University of Michigan grad and runs a popular writing blog and YouTube channel, where they share writing tips and bookish ramblings with writers and readers. Ava is the author of the Beyond the Red trilogy (Skyhorse), and their next novel, Into the Black, will be released Fall 2017. 

Katherine Locke—Query + First 30 Pages Critique + Pre-order of The Girl With the Red Balloon (Amazon or B&N) + Signed Bookplate (US only)

Katherine Locke writes historical fiction with a heaping of fantasy. When not tending to the many needs of their feline overlords, they're tweeting, reading, or dreaming up the next story. Their YA debut, The Girl with the Red Balloon, releases on September 1, 2017. They're most often found on Instagram and Twitter as @bibliogato, or at www.KatherineLockeBooks.com

KB Wagers—Signed copies of Behind the Throne & After the Crown (International)

K.B. Wagers lives and runs in the shadow of Pikes Peak. She loves flipping tires and lifting heavy things. She's especially proud of her second-degree black belt in Shaolin Kung Fu and her three Tough Mudder completions. When not writing she can be found wrangling cats with her husband, or trying to keep up with her teenage son.

Brooks Benjamin—Signed HC copy of My Seventh-Grade Life in Tights (International)

Brooks lives in Tennessee with his awesome wife and their wonderfully spoiled dog. When he's not writing, he's teaching reading to fifth graders and sampling as much pizza from as many different places as he can.

Rena Olsen—Signed copy of The Girl Before (US Only)

Rena Olsen is a writer, therapist, teacher, sometimes singer, and eternal optimist. By day she tries to save the world as a school therapist, and at night she creates new worlds in her writing. Her debut novel, The Girl Before, is now available from Putnam! Find her at renaolsen.com.

Destiny Soria—Signed HC copy of Iron Cast (US Only)

Destiny Soria is the author of Iron Cast (Abrams/Amulet), a YA historical fantasy about magic, mobsters, and two inseparable best friends in Prohibition-era Boston. She lives in Birmingham, AL, where she spends her time trying to come up with bios that make her sound kind of cool. She has yet to succeed.

So many critiques and books! This time around there will be two rafflecopters—one for the critiques, and one for the books. You are free to enter both, or either one—whatever you prefer. The giveaway will run until Friday, May 19th at 11:59 PM EST. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Managing a Writing Career When You're Sick

Photo credit: freestocks.org on Flickr
Most of you know I have rheumatoid arthritis, a degenerative autoimmune disease. I was diagnosed over a year before I got my agent and roughly three years before my debut published, which is to say, I've never not been a professional writer who wasn't chronically ill.

Managing a writing career when you're sick has, well, a lot of ups and downs.

In many ways, I consider myself fortunate. I started a new medication in January that at last, five months later, has started to have some positive effects, including less frequent flares and lessened swelling in my hand. I can still walk without assistance (up to a certain distance, anyway, which unfortunately is less than it was five years ago), and all in all I know I could be in a worse position with my disease.

But I'd be lying if I said being chronically ill hasn't intersected with my writing career.

While I haven't yet thankfully had to cancel an event because I was too sick, I did just recently go to an event while flaring, and I have had to cancel writing days because a flare knocked me out, which has been frustrating. The most important thing for me, I think, has been to learn to be flexible and gentle with myself. I am undoubtedly a workaholic, and having to take days where I honestly didn't have the energy to do anything but watch Netflix and drink tea has been hard. But I've had to remind myself that if I tried to force myself to work on those days, the work I would've gotten done would've been half-assed and not nearly as well thought-out and effective as I would need it to be.

Being sick has also forced me to learn my patterns. I know I'm much more likely to flare mid-day or later in the day than I am in the morning, so getting up early and getting right to work helps me get some work done even on my bad flare days.

I'm not going to lie, being a writer would be easier when I didn't have to deal with frequent flares or the constant worry of lessening ability. But the good thing it's done is shown me the startling lack of positive chronic illness representation in children's lit, and reminded me not to judge someone based off their appearance—after all, people who look at me have no idea when I'm in pain or my knees or hips are getting stiff.

Managing a writing career is different and sometimes difficult when your body is actively working against you. But it's not impossible—it just requires figuring out what strategies work best for you and above all, being gentle with yourself.

Twitter-sized bite:
What's it like to manage a writing career when you're chronically ill? @Ava_Jae shares their experience. (Click to tweet)

Vlog: How to Kill Your Characters

Last week I talked about writing fights and someone asked about the somewhat inevitable: killing your characters. So today I'm talking about how to off your characters effectively.


What tips do you have for killing characters?

Twitter-sized bite:
Is your character death falling flat? @Ava_Jae vlogs some tips on killing your characters effectively. #writetip (Click to tweet)
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