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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: writing process, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 1 - 25 of 610
1. One Writer’s Process: Gigi Amateau

Surrounded by deer, foxes, raccoons, and a host of other forest creatures who inhabit the woods near her house, Gigi Amateau lives on a tributary of the James River called Rattlesnake Creek and finds inspiration for many of her stories by looking out the window or taking a walk down to the river. “I cannot imagine living or writing without access to the river,” says Amateau, the author of

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2. So, Why Do I Write? Discovering the Writer’s Life

When the co-authors of Two Writing Teachers invited me to join the team, I was overwhelmed. When Julie Johnson asked me to co-author an iBook through the Columbus Area Writing Project, I was again submerged in fear. I found myself wondering if these writers had read my writing. I mean, if they had read my ramblings on my personal blog they wouldn't be inviting me, right? Do writers ever lose their doubts?

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3. The Magic of Setting Intentions by Chandler Baker

Today, we're welcoming Chandler Baker to the blog. Chandler is the author of ALIVE, and TEEN FRANKENSTEIN, which came out last week. She's writing today about an amazing technique she uses to ensure she keeps her writing goals. 

The Magic of Setting Intentions by Chandler Baker

At the start of 2012, I’d been writing—or at least trying to write and by that I mean interneting—seriously for 5 years. I’d been agented for 4 of those. But I hadn’t yet sold a book. In fact, I’d only managed to write 1 manuscript of my own plus a number of half-baked short stories that I found little joy in other than the fact that they were short and therefore done.

By the end of 2012 I had 4 books under contract—a YA novel with Disney-Hyperion and a YA series with Feiwel & Friends/Macmillan (the first in that series, Teen Frankenstein, comes out this week!) So what happened to cause such a dramatic change in such a short amount of time?

The simplest answer is: I wrote more. A lot more.

But there was also some magic involved. I met a fellow writer, Charlotte Huang (author of For the Record) online. We started a plan to write an email every weekday morning in which we’d set out what we hoped to get done for the day and another one at night relaying what we’d actually accomplished. That was it. Sometimes we wrote what we said we would and sometimes we fell short. It didn’t really matter. The point was in the saying of the thing. To each other. Out loud.

Within months we’d finished whole books. We each got a book deal. We each debuted in 2015. We each have second books coming out in 2016. Is this coincidence? I really don’t think so.

In 2012, remember, I’d written 1 book of my own. I’ve written and revised 4 since beginning our daily emails.

Because these emails are a wish and a prayer that we answer ourselves every day. And they just plain work.

ABOUT THE BOOK



High school meets classic horror in this groundbreaking new series.

It was a dark and stormy night when Tor Frankenstein accidentally hit someone with her car. And killed him. But all is not lost--Tor, being the scientific genius she is, brings him back to life...

Thus begins a twisty, turn-y take on a familiar tale, set in the town of Hollow Pines, Texas, where high school is truly horrifying.

Amazon | IndieBound | Goodreads

About the Author

Chandler Baker got her start ghostwriting novels for teens and tweens, including installments in a book series that has sold more than 1 million copies. She grew up in Florida, went to college at the University of Pennsylvania and studied law at the University of Texas. She now lives in Austin with her husband. Although she loves spinning tales with a touch of horror, she is a much bigger scaredy-cat than her stories would lead you to believe.

You can find Chandler as the books contributor on the YouTube channel Weird Girls.




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4. A Dry Heart

Failure to sell your work, and the rejection that accompanies such failure, can eat away at your heart until there’s nothing left but a shell pumping blood but no longer pumping words. A dry heart. It can happen to you if you’re not careful or vigilant enough, if you’re not aware of the words dwindling or the sentences shrinking or the desire drying up. It’s a disease, this dry heart.

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5. The Denim Skirt Theory of Writing by Nancy Ohlin

Methods of writing are such individualistic things, and yet often us writers can't help but get excited at a peek inside someone else's writing practice - especially when that someone is as accomplished a writer as Nancy Ohlin. Which is why we're thrilled that she's sharing her own personal theory of writing on the blog today!

The Denim Skirt Theory of Writing by Nancy Ohlin

I have two polar-opposite pieces of advice when it comes to writing. But let me back up by describing my life as a writer.

Actually, let me back up even more by describing a denim skirt I had to make for a class in junior high school.

I had a Simplicity-brand pattern to work off of. I knew enough to pin the tissuey pattern pieces to the denim and cut the cloth accordingly.

The thing about me is, I don’t like to follow orders or read instruction manuals. I like to hit the ground running and kind of make it up as I go along.

So the Simplicity pattern was the extent of my master plan. Using the neatly trimmed denim segments, I proceeded to improvise on a sewing machine (note: one can’t improvise on a sewing machine), fill in the gaps with some careless hand stitching, and in general wing it all over the place.

The result was a denim skirt that looked okay—even pretty—on the outside. But turned inside out, it was a hot mess: nests of tangled thread, lumps of excess fabric, nothing neat or straight or finished.
Still, it was a skirt—a wearable skirt that I had made from scratch.

Okay, so back to the writing stuff. I’ve been a full-time freelance writer for several decades now. I got my first big break ghostwriting for a teen mystery series; I was lucky because the editor was a friend who was willing to take a chance on me as a newbie freelancer. That led to more ghostwriting gigs and, eventually, original fiction and nonfiction. To date, I’ve written, ghostwritten, or collaborated on over one hundred books.

I’m usually juggling multiple projects. This year, I’ll be collaborating on an early-grade fiction series plus a YA novel; writing two early-grade nonfiction books; finishing up a proposal for an original MG novel; and continuing to write and talk about CONSENT. This means I have to be extremely organized …

… and also extremely disorganized. Which brings me back to those two polar-opposite pieces of writing advice:

1. Be super-organized. I write every day, usually in the mornings and late afternoons. I’m fastidious with my calendar; I not only plug in appointments and to-do lists and deadlines, but I flag weeks when I won’t have much time to write so I can compensate during the other weeks and also be quick to respond about dates when I’m emailing with my agent or an editor. Whenever I start a new project, I create a detailed schedule so I can make my deadline. I give myself specific daily assignments, like: “Monday, draft Chapter 4” … “Tuesday, edit Chapter 4 and follow up on Sanchez interview” … and so on.

2. Throw organization out the window. Once I have the above structures in place, I’m free to go off-road. Which I do, big-time.

My creative process—my actual creative process—is total anarchy. For example: several years ago, I had to come up with a complicated YA plot from scratch and write up a detailed synopsis. To do this, I set up my “office” on the dining room table and worked there all day long. I would wake up, go straight to the table, and write for hours in my PJs. I had books (for research), a zillion open tabs on my laptop (for more research), and random pieces of paper everywhere. Whenever I got an idea, I grabbed a piece of paper (even if it had my grocery list on it) and the nearest writing implement (usually one of my daughter’s crayons or markers) and scribbled away like a maniac. I scrawled illegible notes. I drew pictures. I constructed diagrams that made sense in the heat of the moment but looked like psychotic graffiti later on, with arrows pointing every which way.

I couldn’t bother with meals. I ate peanut butter out of a jar and jump-started my brain with re-heated Starbucks. I remembered to drink water only when I realized that my throat was parched and my head was throbbing.

This went on for weeks. I was a crazy person holed up in a chaotic mind palace of disparate facts, inspirations, and ideas. At the end of each day, when panic rose to the surface and told me that I would never come up with that killer plot, I closed my laptop and forced myself to go to a hot yoga class—my only healthy habit during that time—to wring myself out. I told myself that I would start fresh in the morning. I told myself to have faith in the process, in myself.

Then one day as my deadline approached, I sat down at the table, holed up in my mind palace, wrote for six hours straight and … bam! There was my killer plot. Everything had manically, magically fallen into place.

And so there you have it, in a nutshell. For me, writing has to be both orderly and chaotic. At the same time. It’s a denim skirt that starts with a Simplicity pattern, loses its way, self-destructs, then somehow comes together. The result may not be perfect, but it’s good enough.

Happy writing!

ABOUT THE BOOK

In this sexy and intriguing novel, an intense—and passionate—bond between a high school senior and her music teacher becomes a public scandal that threatens the reputation of both.

Bea has a secret.

Actually, she has more than one. There’s her dream for the future that she can’t tell anyone—not her father and not even her best friend, Plum.

And now there’s Dane Rossi. Dane is hot, he shares Bea’s love of piano, and he believes in her.

He’s also Bea’s teacher.

When their passion for music crosses into passion for each other, Bea finds herself falling completely for Dane. She’s never felt so wanted, so understood, so known to her core. But the risk of discovery carries unexpected surprises that could shake Bea entirely. Bea must piece together what is and isn’t true about Dane, herself, and the most intense relationship she’s ever experienced in this absorbing novel from Nancy Ohlin, the author of Beauty.

Amazon | IndieBound | Goodreads

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nancy Ohlin is the author of Consent, forthcoming from Simon Pulse on November 10, 2015, as well as Always, Forever, a YA retelling of Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca, and Beauty, a YA retelling of the Snow White tale.

She has also contributed to several celebrity novels, including a New York Times-bestselling YA trilogy.

Her favorite cures for writers' block are long walks, long showers, popcorn, chocolate, and really expensive coffee. She talks to herself a lot while she writes (you know, to make sure the dialogue zings).


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6. Writers and Boundaries…

My Writing Womb
Actor/writer John Cleese once said to an audience that in order to be creative, two things must occur: you need to create boundaries, and make time. That’s it. Even if you write or paint or woodwork for one hour, you MUST shut yourself in a space, and let no one in for one hour. Writers would sure benefit from wearing a turtle’s shell so we could withdraw from the world any time we wanted! LOL!

Early mornings are a popular working time for many writers and artists, for a few obvious reasons. If you get up early enough, you can generally count on being free from visitors, phone calls, and other interruptions. And if you go straight to work on your creative project—if you literally put it first in your day—you can guarantee that your working time won’t be derailed by other commitments or temptations.

So how do you acquire that coveted time to write? This has been an ongoing obstacle for many writers, including yours truly. Especially when life gets messy. And trust me, it does! I guess the best advice that I can give is that you need to make sacrifices. Instead of watching three TV shows with your better half, cut back one or two (pick your favorite to watch), then scurry to your writing lair and put your fingers to the keyboard. Lock yourself in your room. Tell your family members that once the door is closed for the set amount of time you’ve chosen, you’re not available. Period. Even if someone screams bloody murder. If you need to, buy earphones, download a music app, and plug in. This will help to keep those distractions out and the words flowing.

Another option is GET OUT of the house and go to your local coffee shop or library. Many authors have chosen this avenue with great success. Libraries have more confining hours, but most coffee shops are open 24 hours. The idea is to create both time and space for yourself to write. Plus, you’ve got fresh coffee or tea on demand, so that’s a bonus!

A more expensive idea if you can swing it is to rent a motel or hotel room for a personal writing retreat. You might be able to get a good deal during off-season periods, or even use those air miles you’ve been saving to cash in on a room. What about using a friend’s home or apartment a few times a week? The possibilities are available, but we have to utilize them.

This upcoming year, I need to make some sacrifices and define my space (physical and emotional) in order to finish writing the next installment of my time travel series (so close!), and start brainstorming the next book. I’m lucky enough to have my own writing office, and there’s no little ones around to knock on the door. Unless my 100 pound yellow Labrador decides to nudge open the door to be fed or walked! I’ve used a timer in the past, but like anything, if it’s not made a habit, it’s not going to work. Self-discipline is the name of the game in this business, that’s for sure! So keep a stiff upper lip, define your writing space and time, and get that book written!

How do you define your boundaries as a writer? Where are some great places you like to write? Do you allow yourself a certain amount of time to write? Would love to read your comments! Cheers and thank you for reading my blog!

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7. Should I Give Up On This Novel?

Recently I critiqued two unpublished novels. Their authors wanted to know whether they should give up or not.

There’s no clear cut answer to that question. Some great novels had unspeakably bad early drafts.1 Some that their author never feels happy with, and are never published, have pretty good early drafts. Who am I to say this particular novel has no hope of one day being excellent?

I have novels started years ago I’ve never managed to get into a publishable state. But who knows? Some day I might. I never give up on a novel. I just kind of abandon them for, um, a while. Sometimes a really long while.

It’s also true that I rarely go back to these abandoned novels. There’s always a newer, more shiny novel to write.

Other writers do go back to them. I know someone who only got an agent after they pulled out a long forgotten novel, rewrote it, and sent that out. It was exactly what the agent they most wanted was looking for.

However, I would definitely suggest you give up on a novel (however temporarily) if you’ve been writing and rewriting it for years. Particularly if it’s the only novel you’ve ever written. It’s more than past time to write a new one. Who knows maybe in the process of writing a second novel you’ll figure out what was wrong with the first one?

Almost every novelist I know has given up on a novel.2 The important thing to remember is that writing that novel was not a waste. What you learned writing the abandoned novel will help with the next one. Bigger than that: YOU WROTE A NOVEL. You did it once so odds are good you can do it again.

Sadly, the lessons learnt from writing the previous novels don’t always directly apply to the next novel. Usually the lessons are more of a what-not-to-do kind of a thing. You’ve learned not to write novels with only one character locked in an empty room. Maybe you’ve learned about creating believable characters, but sadly not much about world building or setting, because you only had that one empty room to describe.3

Each novel tends to present different problems.4 They do this in order to keep things interesting. Thanks, novels.

So, yes, feel free to give up on a novel. But only once you have a complete draft.

If you’ve never finished a novel before, no matter how much you hate it, no matter how convinced you are that it will never work, you need to see it through to a complete draft. Especially if you’ve never completed a draft before.5 Scott has some cogent words to say on the necessity of writing endings as well as beginnings and middles.

It’s also good to keep trying to make a novel work. I know too many (mostly) unpublished novelists who don’t rewrite. Instead of continuing to work on the newly completed draft to make it work they move on to a brand new novel. The problem with doing that is rewriting requires a different set of skills from first drafting. You’ll never write a good novel if you can’t stand to work past that initial draft.

“But I don’t know how to rewrite!” I hear you cry.

For your convenience I have written this handy guide to rewriting. You’re welcome.

Whatever decision you make it’s going to be okay.

TL;DR There is no definitive answer on whether you should give up on your novel or not. It all depends.

  1. None of these novels were unspeakably bad.
  2. Or two, or twenty, or a hundred.
  3. There are many first novels sent in the one room with hardly andy characters that don’t go anywhere. Funny that. About the only successful novel set in one room I can think of is Emma Emma Donoghue’s Room, which totally pulls it off. But then not the entire novel is set in the room.
  4. Unless you’re one of those writers who writes the same book over and over again. If that one book is super popular. Congrats! You are a sure-fire commercial success. We readers love authors who are consistent and don’t freak us out by writing totally different books in completely different genres.
  5. Once you’ve finished a bunch of novels you’ll have a better sense of whether a novel isn’t going anywhere and can put it aside if it’s really not working.

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8. One Writer’s Process: Julie Larios

Julie Larios suspects her love of writing may be oddly linked with a love of the paraphernalia of writing. “I have an inordinate love of pencils and pencil boxes, post-it-notes, old fountain pens, vellum, architectural paper, school notebooks, scotch tape, erasers, paper clips, ink, envelopes,” she says. “Maybe I became a writer because I loved stationary stores!” But, in a more serious

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9. On Outlining

So, okay, it’s not a secret. I dislike outlining. Did I say dislike? That's a bit of an understatement. Ever since I was a student in high school and one of my English teachers required that we create an outline as a way to write a paper, I’ve hated the idea and have resisted it ever since. I’ll do almost anything to avoid using an outline. What I prefer instead is to jump

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10. When to Pop Out of the Notebook

As much as I LOVE notebooks, even I have to admit there is a time in every writer's process when it is time to pop out of the notebook and onto a laptop or lined paper.

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11. One Writer’s Process: Mary Ann Rodman

“I come from a family where family stories are told over and over,” says Mary Ann Rodman, who grew up in Washington, DC and lived in Chicago, Illinois before moving to Mississippi in the 1960s (the setting of her autobiographical novel, Yankee Girl), and who now lives in Georgia. “Instead of a bedtime story of say, Cinderella, I heard such stories as When Mom and Her Siblings Dug a Swimming

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12. Helping Students Live a Writer’s Life

At this point of the school year, your writing workshop is probably in full swing.  You are chugging along through your writing curriculum, and you are probably using checklists and rubrics to assess… Continue reading

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13. Fishing (For Words)

There’s a lake about two miles away from our house, and, after sitting at my desk all day, I felt the need to stretch my legs. So, I put a notebook and a few pens into a shoulder bag and went for a ramble, as they say in the UK. At the lake a small dock, maybe 20’ x 15’, with two wooden benches and railing, overlooks the water. I had in mind to sit a while on one of the benches,

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14. One Writer’s Process: Jeannine Atkins

The woods in Sterling, Massachusetts, where Jeannine Atkins grew up, stimulated her curiosity in many ways. She wondered about the things that might be hidden under rocks, and years later such wondering led her to write Girls Who Look Under Rocks, a book about girls like Jane Goodall, Rachel Carson, and others who became naturalists as adults. Wandering near the woods gave her child’s

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15. When Autumn Comes

When autumn comes, nature begins to slow down, and my brain wants to go into a deep sleep. It’s the time of year when some of us come up against a wall and can’t see beyond it. Where does the wall come from? Why does it appear? How do we deal with it until it vanishes? Maybe we should just go into hibernation and wait for it to fall down on its own. Writing—or trying to write—on

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16. On Writing PoC When You Are White

My comments on white people writing People of Colour in these two posts has created a wee bit of consternation. This post is to clarify my position.

First of all: I am not the boss of who writes what.1 This is what I have decided for myself after much trial and error and listening and thinking and like that. Do what works for you.

I have decided to stick to white povs when I write a book from a single point of view. This does not mean will I no longer write PoC characters. There are people of different races and ethnicities in all my books. I have never written an all-white book. I doubt I ever will.

I didn’t make this decision because I was called out for writing PoC. Before Razorhurst all my main characters were PoC. The response has been overwhelmingly positive.2

The decision has more to do with the way the debate about diversity in Young Adult literature plays out. Almost every time the overwhelming whiteness of YA is discussed a well-meaning white authors says, “I shall fix this. My next book will have a PoC protagonist!”

I cringe. All too often the white folks saying that don’t know many people who aren’t white. They rarely socialise with them. There’s a reason for that. As many as 75% of white people in the USA have entirely white social networks. I’m sure the numbers are similar in Australia.

That’s why I now largely recommend that white people with little experience of PoC don’t write from the point of view of PoC characters. Research will only take you so far.

Writing about PoC when none of your friends are PoC is not the same as writing about an historical period you weren’t alive for. If you perpetuate stereotypes you hurt living people. When you don’t know any PoC, even with the best research in the world, you’ll get things wrong. Stereotypes are harmful. Especially when you don’t realise you have written a stereotype.

Who are you going to get to read and critique your work if everyone in your social circle is white? Are you going to ask someone you don’t know very well? It’s a huge thing asking someone to critique your work. It takes a lot of work and if they don’t know you well how do they know that you’ll be receptive to them pointing out racism in your work?

We whites are notorious for freaking out when PoC so much as hint that something we did or said is racist. Many of us seem to think it’s worse to be called on our racism than it is for a PoC to experience racism. Even though being called racist can not kill us.

On top of all that I’m increasingly unconvinced that white people writing more people of colour solves anything. According to the Cooperative Children’s Book Center this year whites wrote most of the YA books with African-Americans, American Indian, Asian Pacifics/Asian Pacific Americans and Latino main characters.

Representation is improving but it’s mostly whites doing the representing, which is part of the problem. We need more writers and editors and publicists and publishers and booksellers of colour. We need publishing to be more representative of the countries we live in. Right now US publishing is 89% white. Australian publishing is at least that white.

We white writers could do more to increase diversity in our industry by drawing attention to the work of writers of colour. By mentoring, introducing them to our agents, by blurbing their books, by making space for them at conventions and conferences, by listening. Check out Diversity in YA. Malinda Lo and Cindy Pon and the others involved with that organisation have lost of concrete ideas of how we can make YA more diverse and inclusive.

The other reason I’ve shifted to predominately white points of view is in response to all the critics who’ve pointed out for many, many years that too many white writers think they can only tackle race through the pov of a person of colour. The implication is that race is something white people don’t have. We just are. We’re colourless neutrals.

No, we’re not.

Expectations about our race—our whiteness—shapes our lives as much as our gender or our sexuality or our class. Yet all too many whites are unaware of it.

I wanted to write about how whiteness obscures our understandings of how we are who we are and of how the world operates. For the next few books, including Razorhurst, I’ve been pushing myself to examine whiteness in my fiction.

A recent book that does this well is All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely. The character written by Kiely has to confront the ways in which his whiteness makes him complicit in the racist violence inflicted on Jason Reynolds’ character and what he can do about it.

Overt racist violence is not at the centre of Razorhurst or My Sister Rosa3 or of the book I’m currently writing. I’m looking at the less overt ways in which whiteness shapes lives.

I fully expect many of the people who read these books won’t notice. That’s okay. Many readers didn’t notice that everyone in How To Ditch Your Fairy is a person of colour. Books do many different things. No one reader is going to notice them all and many readers are going to see things the writer didn’t intend. It’s how it goes.

In all my books I try to tell a story that engrosses readers and lets them forget the real world for a few hours. That my books do that for even a handful of readers is glorious.

TL;DR: I’m writing predominately white pov characters because of reasons listed above. You do as works best for you.

  1. Not going to lie I kind of which I was. I’d also like to dictate Australia’s foreign policy, response to climate change, and treatment of refugees. Also fashion.
  2. Including winning the Carl Brandon Society’s 2009 Kindred Award for Liar, which is one of the biggest honours of my career.
  3. My next book. My Sister Rosa will be out in Australia/NZ in February and in the USA/Canada in November 2016.

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17. One Writer’s Process: Fran Manushkin

Before becoming a writer, Fran Manushkin had the idea that books came to life inside an author’s head fully made and that an author simply wrote them down “lickety split.” But then she started writing and discovered that notion simply wasn’t true. "Books develop according to their own time,” she says. “You cannot dictate that a book be born; neither can you dictate to a book. Listen.

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18. When Characters Must Die…

My hubby and I have an ongoing joke. When a character is killed off or leaves a TV show, we call it a contract dispute. For example, the character of Lance Sweets from the show Bones was killed in the Season 10 opener. Boy that was a shocker! Other major characters have left or met their demise on other popular shows such as NCIS and CSI. The most recent contract dispute falls in the lap of Doctor Derek Shepherdwho went out with a bang (literally) when his car gets T-boned by a truck, and he hangs on for dear life for at least a couple more episodes of Grey’s Anatomy. A sad day indeed. Sniff.

The exit of these characters got me thinking. When is it the right time to kill or remove a character from an ongoing book series? Is it when the character stops meeting the readers’ needs and expectations? Do the characters become boring? Stop growing? Refuse to change? Perhaps. I guess the best sounding board would be the readers. Listening to them on the social media or reading the reviews they post. Are they sick of Character X? Does Character Y make them want to vomit? Or do readers even relate to Character Z? Mind you, I’m not sure killing a character off would have the same effect in sales as it does for TV ratings, but you never know until you try. Bahaha…

However, if you kill the wrong character you’ll have blood on your hands and angry readers. Case in point—when Arthur Conan Doyle killed Sherlock Holmes by sending him over a waterfall with his arch enemy Professor Moriarty in tow, it wasn’t pretty. I mean for Sir Arthur, and the readers demanded satisfaction. Seriously? What was he thinking? Note to self: don’t piss your fans off!

In my time travel series, The Last Timekeepers, I’ve seriously thought about replacing certain characters to freshen up the series as it progresses, although nothing is written in stone yet. Readers are continually looking for new and improved characters to keep them invested in any series. That’s the reason why TV shows keep introducing new characters into a series. Even J.K. Rowling added new characters (and killed off a bunch) throughout her Harry Potter series.

So my question is: when must a character die or leave? I’m guessing there are so many answers to that question, but the reason I’d off one of my characters is when there’s no more room for character development or growth. That’s what Sir Arthur Conan Doyle attempted to do when he killed off Sherlock Holmes—he tied up all the loose ends and made sure Holmes lived a full life. Unfortunately, Doyle underestimated his readers, even though he wanted to cash out and move on to writing other books. And to this day, Sherlock Holmes has survived his creator, and duped death. Now that’s one loved character!

Thank you for reading my blog! So, what characters would you like to see killed/removed from your favorite book series? Love to hear your answers! Cheers! 

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19. An Eraser-Free Workshop and the Language We Use for Talking About It

When I visit a classroom, one of the first things I often say to kids is, "Today, please don't erase. I want to see ALL the great work you are doing as a writer. When you erase, your work disappears!" Often, this is what kids are accustomed to and they continue working away. But sometimes, kids stare at me as if I've got two heads.

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20. Enticing Kids to Revise, Revise, Revise

One of the biggest challenges you might face in writing workshop is this: getting kids to see the power and purpose of revision. Here are a few tips for helping kids understand how important and rewarding revision can be, organized by writing process phases.

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21. The First Sentence

A big deal is made of the first sentence of novels. There’s gazillions of pages listing good ones.1 Almost every obsessive reader can quote their favourite ones. Every Jane Austen fan can reel off:

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”

I mean even I know that one off by heart and I have the world’s worst memory. Tragically it’s just about the only first sentence I do know. No, not even the first sentences of my own novels. I have to look them up.

Pretty much every agent or editor or writer when giving advice will tell you that the first sentence is crucial. That you have to get it right! When they talk about what a first sentence should do they tend to say it should make you want to read on, which, well, yes, yes it should. But that’s kind of vague, isn’t it? How do you write a sentence that will make readers want to read on?

I think a more useful way of thinking about the first sentence is to think about its relationship to the rest of the novel. Many first sentences operate as a kind of shorthand for the entire novel, giving the reader a sense of what’s to come, who’s telling the story, and what kind of story it is. Or, almost the opposite, messing with the reader, getting them to think it’s one kind of book when it’s not, which perversely also gives the reader a sense of what’s to come: a novel that will mess with the reader.

But you don’t have to be all show-offy to achieve that. Here are two simple first sentences. The first from one of my favourite novels, I Capture the Castle, by Dodie Smith (1948):

I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.

The narrator is a writer, possibly an eccentric who likes to sit in places not traditionally used for sitting, or perhaps a child who hasn’t quite figured out where it is or isn’t appropriate to sit or doesn’t care, or it could be someone with some kind of foot or ankle or lower leg disorder which means their feet need to be soaked, though why in the kitchen sink and not in a bucket? What is the “this” that she’s writing? Is is a journal? Does that mean “this” is a novel told in journal entries? Or is it a letter? Is this an epistolary novel? Or is it a novel that’s telling us it’s a novel? So many questions. Such an arresting image. And now I want to read the book all over again.

The second one is from another favourite, Courtney Milan’s marvellous The Suffragette Scandal (2014):

“Edward Clark was disgusted with himself.”

This is the opening sentence and, boy, does it sum up the whole book in which Edward Clark continues to be disgusted with himself throughout. I’d argue that a big part of the plot is him learning to do something about that disgust, to change himself into someone who doesn’t disgust himself. Though it becomes clear that the initial incident that he’s being disgusted about is not, in fact, a big deal. Nor is he that disgusted. It’s more a figure of speech.

So, how do you write a good first sentence?

Buggered if I know. But I will suggest that it helps to not think about that first sentence when writing your first, raw, zero draft. For me that’s a recipe for sitting there staring at the blank page, coming up with nothing, and developing an increasingly strong urge to tweet, or go kill zombies, or clean the kitchen, or go for a run, or anything else that isn’t writing.

If I think about writing a perfect pearl of a first sentence I cry. So instead I just type, banging out the story, characters, ideas that are pushing me into starting a new novel.

I started my next novel2 in September 2013. I didn’t write the first sentence—or indeed the first chapter—until January 2015. The previous first chapter I threw out because it wasn’t working. This has been true of most of my published novels.

That said, you might be one of those writers who has to have a perfectly formed first sentence in order to keep writing. There are such writers. Many of whom manage to write many novels. So do not despair if you turn out to be one of them. Every kind of writer has their own burdens and to keep us own our toes what those burdens can change from story to story.

For me it’s impossible to write a good first sentence until I know what the novel is about and not being an outliner I can’t know what the book is about until I’ve written the first draft. Perhaps outliners bang out the perfect opening sentence straight away? Perhaps some of them have that perfect sentence in their outline? Sometimes I am very envious of how I imagine outliners write.

Of course not all opening sentences sum up the entire book in a neat way. Or at least that’s not all they do. Consider the opening of Toni Morrison’s Beloved (1987):

124 was spiteful.

So many questions it raises. How is 124 a who? How has a number become a name? Who is 124? Why are they spiteful? How can a number be spiteful? I must read and find out.

Then there’s massive generalisation openings, which Jane Austen brilliantly skewers with the opening sentence of Pride and Prejudice. These kind of overblown aphoristic openings are a hallmark of nineteenth century literature, and though oft quoted, are way harder to get away with these days—unless you’re writing a novel set in the nineteenth century. Though that makes me want to try one of these openings with a contemporary novel. Take Dickens’ opening to A Tale of Two Cities from 1859:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.

While Dickens’ opening here is overblown it’s hard to deny that period of French history was kind of intense.

Then there’s Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina (1877):

Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

I call total bullshit on this opening. There are as many different kinds of happiness as there are of misery. So, boo to you, Tolstoy. Maybe it’s less stupid in the original Russian?

There is, however, no denying the poetry of both those openings. They trip off the tongue and are very easy to remember. Though, most people only ever quote the first two clauses of the
Tale of Two Cities opening because we are lazy creatures. Maybe that’s why long, elegiac opening sentences went out of fashion?

TL;DR First sentences. They are important. But don’t sweat them unless you have to. The beauty of writing as opposed to, say, live debating, is that you can rewrite until you get it right.

  1. Though you’ll notice those lists seem to be compiled by people who mostly read books by white men. I merely observe, I do not judge.
  2. My Sister Rosa which publishes in February and November of 2016 in Australia and the US respectively.

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22. How’s the Water?

The heat in Florida is unrelenting at the this time of year, pressing down over everything like a steamy blanket and making the air so thick and humid that it feels like you’re trapped inside a never-ending steam bath. It’s not only the air that warms up but the water, too. Instead of water temperatures in the 60's or 70's, like off the mid-Atlantic coast at this time of year, the

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23. Our Heroes Are Fallible And So Are We

One of my favourite TV writers, Sarah Dollard, recently wrote some beautiful writing advice, which is applicable to all kinds of writing. Go read it!

I want to bring particular attention to this:

Be critical of film and TV, even the stuff you love . . . If you want to be a truly good writer, you can’t have sacred cows. If other people think an episode of your favourite show is sexist or racist or short-sighted in some way, hear them out and consider their point of view. You can enjoy a piece of media while also acknowledging its shortcomings. However, if you hold your favourite writer or producer above criticism, then you’ll likely fall into the same traps as they do, and you too may alienate or hurt people with your work. Accept that no one is perfect, not even your hero. Accept that no one’s writing is perfect, even if it’s hugely entertaining; we all have unconscious hang-ups and prejudices, and many of us write from a position of privilege. One of the best things you can do as a writer (and a person) is to listen to the way other people receive stories.

Because every word is the truth. We do not write in a vacuum. We write about the real world while living in the real world. That’s true whether we are writing about zombies or vampires or high school or genocide or butterflies or all five. Our words have effects on other people.

We need to be mindful of the history of the genre we write. For example, I’m watching Fear of the Walking Dead because I love zombies and will watch anything with even the slight possibility that a zombie might show up. Fear is a spin off from The Walking Dead. One of the biggest criticisms of that show is how few black people there are. There were hardly any black extras either, which is particularly weird given that it’s set near Atlanta which has one of the largest African-American populations in the USA. You would think that the creators and writers of Fear of the Walking Dead would be aware of that criticism. Yet the only named characters killed in the first two episodes were black. Seriously? You couldn’t kill a white named character? You couldn’t let one black character survive?

They ignored the history of their particular franchise and the broader history of US TV where black characters have always been treated as disposable. What were they thinking? They weren’t. They sat inside their blinkered world and wrote from there. Don’t do that.

Critiquing the things we love can also give us insight into the failings of our own work. As Sarah says “listen[ing] to the way other people receive stories” gives you a richer understanding of how our stories can be read and of what stories can do.

I wrote about the racism in my own work three years ago. I would write a very similar post if I were to write it today. It is essential to know as much as we can about our genre and its pitfalls when we write. Otherwise we’ll make the same mistakes.

I write YA. It’s a genre that in Australia, the UK and the US is overwhelmingly about white, straight, middle-class teenagers and overwhelmingly written by white, straight, middle-class authors. The blind spots of my beloved genre are many. This is why we have organisations like Diversity in YA founded by Malinda Lo and Cindy Pon. They have a whole section where they look at the statistics on diversity in YA. I highly recommend checking it out.

All too often white writers who create POC characters expect to be congratulated for having made the effort and do not deal well with criticism of those characters. We forget that POC writing POC get criticism too.1 Have a look at the criticism African-Americans get for not representing their community in a positive way and for not writing uplifting books.

We must also remember that diversity is not just about who is represented in the story and on the covers of those books, which, yes, is deeply important, but also about who is writing and publishing the books. Having most of the POC characters in YA written by white authors is not a huge improvement.2

Everyone gets criticised. No writer is perfect. Jane Austen couldn’t write a satisfying ending to save her life. Her books just end, people! So annoying. Georgette Heyer was a racist, anti-semite, full of horrible class prejudices. If she were alive today she’d be embarrassing the shit our of her fans on twitter every day. She and Rupert Murdoch would probably be besties.3 I still think Heyer’s one of the best comic writers of the twentieth century.4

TL;DR: Read Sarah’s wonderful writing advice. Our writing heroes are fallible so are we. We must know the history of what we write. Listen to how other people respond to stories. Just listen!

  1. Our own communities often judge us the most harshly. As an Australian the most vehement criticism I get of my books with Aussie characters and Aussie settings is that I’ve gotten them wrong. Aussies don’t talk that why! Why do you misrepresent your own people? Are you actually Australian?
  2. I speak as a white author who has written African-American, Aboriginal Australian, Hispanic American and Chinese-American main characters. I know I’m part of the problem.
  3. Although she may have been appalled by him being a vulgar colonial.
  4. I just can’t read The Grand Sophy any more.

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24. Criticism Of Representation in YA Is Essential

I have written many times over the years about people criticising our work being an inevitable part of being a writer. I also think it’s essential. We need criticism.1

Lately I’m seeing people arguing that there’s too much criticism of Young Adult literature and it’s now stopping people from writing because they’re too scared their work will be shredded. I’m bummed people feel that way because I wish there were more criticism.

While we have a broader and better conversation about intersectional representation then we’ve ever had it’s still not enough. Far too many popular books get a pass for pretty appalling representations. And far too many people who speak up to criticise those books and writers get yelled at for not being nice.2

According to the Cooperative Children’s Book Center this year whites wrote most of the YA books with African-Americans, American Indian, Asian Pacifics/Asian Pacific Americans and Latino main characters. So while representation is improving it’s mostly whites doing the representing.

We need more books about POC written by POC. Those books must outnumber the books by whites about POC. It matters that there’s space for everyone to tell their own story.

Until we reach that glorious future it’s essential books about other ethnicities and races written by whites are criticised by the members of those communities. Stereotypical and harmful books need to be pointed out.

Will every POC agree that a book is problematic? Of course not. None of these communities are monolithic.3 Liar has been criticised for being racist by African-American readers. It’s also been defended against those charges by African-American readers.

It is also not saying that those books that are criticised for stereotypical portrayals of POC should be burnt. No one’s calling for book burning or banning. That seems to get lost in these debates.

The problem is not criticism. The problem is there are too many books about white people and there are too many books about POC written by white people. The problem is our book culture keeps reinforcing the message that white people are more important.

If you are being stopped from writing a book about people of a different race or ethnicity by the fear of being criticised maybe you shouldn’t write that book? Write a book about white people. You will then be criticised for writing yet another book about whites. Which do you think is the bigger problem? There is no option you get to pick where you don’t get criticised.

I’ve heard many POC critics point out that most white writers only feel they can write about race from the point of view of POC. This feeds into the idea that “race” is not something that white people have. We are neutral. We are somehow outside race. Newsflash: no one is outside race.

That criticism really made me think. What is whiteness? What does it mean? How is it constituted? Why is it so harmful? Out of that I wrote Razorhurst and now My Sister Rosa. Two books with white main characters that are about race.4

I now agree that me writing from the point of view of POC characters is part of the problem. I won’t stop doing it—I have a large multi-viewpoint book I’ve been working on for many year that has many POC povs—but right now I want to keep writing about race from white points of view.

Writing for many of us is an act of courage. It was years before I showed my work to anyone. I couldn’t risk myself by letting anyone see what mattered most to me: my writing. I survived.

Having my work described as racist hurt. But that pain is nothing compared to the harm experienced by the readers who found my work racist.

Everyone who writes, no matter what their skin colour, gets criticised. We white writers need to remember that POC writers tend to get more criticism for writing about their own people than we do.

What we should do in response to criticism is not demand that the criticism go away. We should listen. We should learn. We should keep on writing.

We should keep demanding that there be more books about POC by POC. A great way to do that is to buy the ones that are already out there.

  1. Here’s where I discuss critiques of the racism and transphobia of Liar.
  2. Don’t get me started on niceness.
  3. As an Australian I find Priscilla Queen of the Desert deeply racist and sexist. It does not represent me. I hate that people think it represents Australia. Or to be more accurate I hate that it does represent some of Australia’s sexism and racism and how okay many Australians are with it.
  4. Razorhurst has two main characters. One of whom is not necessarily white but thinks she is.

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25. On Writing: John LeCarre

The other day I picked up John LeCarre’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, his best-selling novel about spies and espionage during the Cold War, and started reading the introduction that he'd written in 1991 for the book, which first appeared in the United States in 1974. Two things struck me about what LeCarre had to say in retrospect about writing the book, the first in a trilogy. He had

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