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1. The Benefits of a Small Writers’ Conference

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Janice Hardy

Janice Hardy RGB 72Attending a writers’ conference can be both exhilarating and terrifying, but it’s almost always rewarding. There’s something wonderful about being in a room where everyone around you has the same passion, and no matter who you happen to sit next to, you know you have something in common. I always come away from a conference re-energized and ready to write, but I know not all writers share my enthusiasm about being around that many people.

If the idea of a large conference makes you nervous, then consider a smaller, local conference. These events can range from 20 to 250 people, with smaller workshops and a more relaxed crowd. Even better, local conferences are usually easier on the budget, but offer just as many helpful workshops and opportunities to meet agents and editors.

You’ll be able to:

  • Meet local writers and form friendships and/or critique groups
  • Interact with authors and conference faculty in a more intimate setting
  • Network with people in your area, from authors to editors to agents
  • Build confidence to attend a larger conference in the future
  • Work on your “professional author” skills in a smaller, less intimidating atmosphere
  • Attend workshops and sessions from top industry professionals
  • Get a feel for what you want from a conference in the future

Even if you enjoy large conferences (1000+ people), a smaller conference can be equally rewarding, and a nice change of pace. I find a mix of sizes provides me with the best variety of social, networking, and educational options. Sometimes I want as many workshops and I can get, other times I’d rather relax and have fun.

Finding a Local Writers’ Conference

In most cases, just Googling your state and “writers conference” will get you a list of possibilities, as most states have some kind of writers’ organization. Many of these have one or two events a year, from conferences to smaller meet and greets to single workshops at libraries or bookstores.

If you write genre, try looking at the local chapters of your national organizations. For example, my personal chapter of SCBWI is Southern Breeze, and they hold two conferences a year, plus workshops and other events all year round. Most genre organizations offer events as well. Here are a few to get you started:

Romance Writers of America (RWA) with over 145 local chapters

Society of Childrens’ Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) with over 80 regions around the world

Mystery Writers of America (MWA) with eleven regional chapters across the US

These are just a few of the organizations and local events, and there are a lot more if you check their individual sites.

Why You Should Attend a Local Writers’ Conference

To get out and meet people: Most of us write in a vacuum. We sit in a room somewhere, typing on a keyboard or scribing in a notebook, and we don’t mingle with our fellow writers. Maybe once in a while we attend a critique group or have lunch with writer pals, but for the most part, we’re alone.

This can lead to uncertainty and doubts about what being a writer is all about and what’s “normal” for writers. It’s easy to feel that bout of writer’s block means you suck as a writer when you don’t have other writers telling you they go through the exact same thing and feel the same way–and that it means nothing beyond you happen to be stuck right now. A local writers’ conference allows you to meet other writers and get a healthy perspective on this crazy profession.

To network: Besides being fun, you’ll meet people who might be able to help you in your career, or those you might be able to help in return. There are great networking opportunities that will be valuable no matter what stage you’re at in your career. Just because you’re a newbie now doesn’t mean you can’t make friends and contacts for when you do publish.

To learn: There’s only so much we can learn on our own, and a conference exposes us to different ways of thinking, writing, and being a writer. Aside from the workshops and sessions, it’s an opportunity to talk with other writers and learn from their experiences.

Even if a small conference can have value and they’re worth exploring. Check out what local conferences and events are in your area and see what they have to offer.

And if you happen to be a kidlit writer (picture books to young adult novels), might I suggest the upcoming conference from my own local chapter of SCBWI? Registration for Springmingle ’15 just opened, and this is a wonderful, relaxed conference for those who write for children and teens. It’s in Decatur, GA this year, so not only is it a great conference, but a fun weekend away–the downtown Decatur area is filled with shops and restaurants and things to do, and it’s all walking distance from the conference.

What are some of your favorite writers’ conferences?

Janice Hardy is the author of the teen fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, where she tapped into her own dark side to create a world where healing was dangerous, and those with the best intentions often made the worst choices. Her novels include The Shifter, Blue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The first book in her Foundations of Fiction series, Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure is out now. She lives in Georgia with her husband, one yard zombie, three cats, and a very nervous freshwater eel. Find out more about writing at her site, Fiction University, or find her on Twitter @Janice_Hardy.

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indie Bound

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2. Five Tumblrs for Writers


Alex Bracken


When I first joined Tumblr in 2009, I recognized it as a paradise for fandom–practically every fandom under the sun. I was a refugee from Livejournal, looking for a little corner of the internet that was–then at least–a little quieter. What I didn’t expect, though, was for it to provide invaluable writing resources as well.

Over the years, I’ve slowly gathered a list of writing-related Tumblr blogs that I read if not every day, at least every single week. Here are five, in particular, that I think are worth a visit. If you’re unfamiliar with Tumblr, or don’t have an account, I highly recommend bookmarking them and coming back to them later.

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In the mood to write, but waiting for the muse to stop by for a visit? While it’s not updated as frequently as it used to be, there are a lot of gems to be mined from Writing Prompts if you’re looking for inspiration or are looking to practice or experiment with different forms.

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I’ve really come to love reading Writing with Color, a Tumblr that focuses on bringing racial and ethnic diversity into writing and helping others identify microaggressions, stereotypes, and tropes in their stories. They also provide fantastic starting points for research, and talk a great deal about diversity in fantasy settings.

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The Writing Cafe is a fantastic resource for… well, just about anything. I mean, look at their tags page! If the idea of following a zillion Tumblrs feels daunting to you, try TWC. In addition to creating a lot of extremely helpful, original material for the site, they also have a great eye for reblogging others’ advice and guides.

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The one kind of scene I invariably struggle to write is the fight scene. Aside from just not knowing that much about fighting and weaponry in general (nevermind how quickly someone would actually die from a wound), I still struggle with making the scene’s action clear enough to the reader that they can always picture it. Enter How to Fight Write.

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Last but definitely not least, we have Write World. Like The Writing Cafe, they focus on all facets of writing–in their words “education and inspiration.” I’m obsessed with the images they use for their visual writing prompts. I even have their words list page bookmarked so I can get to it in a single click while drafting.

So tell me, have you guys found any helpful Tumblrs for writers out there? Share the wealth!

Alex lives in New York City where she writes like a fiend and lives in a charming apartment overflowing with books. She is the New York Times bestselling author of The Darkest Minds and Never Fade. You can visit her online at her website, Tumblr, or Twitter.

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3. Books vs. Babies!

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E.C. Myers

me_and_rPeople sometimes talk about books as if they are babies, raised by the author and ultimately sent into the world to make their fortunes. We even wish authors a “happy book birthday” on their publication day! In the last month, I’ve been thinking about the similarities and differences between “book babies” and actual babies, since I’m in the position to compare the two directly; as it happens (as it was meant to happen), my new book and our first baby were both scheduled to debut in the first week of November. :-o

My son turned up a little early, which made the launch of The Silence of Six slightly easier, but it has still been an interesting experience juggling my new life as a father with my life as a writer with a day job. I decided to put books and babies side by side in the chart below. Like books and babies, it’s still a work in progress, and I left a few things out. Do you have anything you would add or disagree with? Let me know in the comments below!


(click to embiggen)

E.C. Myers was assembled in the U.S. from Korean and German parts and raised by a single mother and the public library in Yonkers, New York. He is the author of the Andre Norton Award–winning young adult novel Fair Coin and Quantum Coin, as well as numerous short stories. His new novel, The Silence of Six, a thriller about teenage hackers and government conspiracies, is out now from Adaptive Books. You can find traces of him all over the internet, but especially at http://ecmyers.net and on Twitter: @ecmyers.




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4. Taking Risks in your Writing

Julieby Julie Eshbaugh


The seed of this post began as a reflection on my own writing choices – the constant desire to create something new and original on the page, pitted against the awareness that any break with writing conventions and norms carries with it a certain level of risk. Will readers feel drawn in by this choice, or will they find it off-putting? Is this a bold break with tradition, or is it a gimmick? Risk can be terrifying, (especially for an unpublished writer,) but I’m a strong advocate for risk-taking, and the aim of this post is to help you discover the best risks for your story.

What do I mean by taking risks?

Risk is a broad term. Dictionary.com defines it as exposure to the chance of injury or loss; a hazard or dangerous chance. Reading that definition, it’s difficult for me to see how I’m going to make a convincing argument in favor of risk-taking! Even dictionary.com’s example of the word used in a phrase is negative – their example is: not worth the risk. Wow! So much risk aversion!!!

Even when narrowed down to the art of storytelling, the concept of risk is still quite broad and could represent a zillion different things. A writer weighs many choices as he or she forms a new story – the setting… the age, gender, race, etc., of the characters… the time period… the point of view… and on and on and on. Every choice could represent a type of risk to the story. For purposes of this post, however, I want to focus less on the story and more on the telling of the story. I want to talk about narrative choices – risks that a writer might take in deciding to employ a style or structure outside of the norms or expected conventions.

For clarity, let me share some examples of books and films that took narrative risks and succeeded.

(*Spoiler Alert* Most of the narrative “secrets” of these stories are well known, but I personally hate even the tiniest of spoilers. Most of these are harmless, but if you haven’t read Atonement or seen The Sixth Sense – and somehow haven’t been spoiled to their secrets – please skip my notes about them! I would hate to be the one who spoiled these for you!):

  1. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak – A book narrated by Death himself.
  2. Monster by Walter Dean Myers – The story of Steve Harmon, a teenage boy in juvenile detention and on trial, presented as a screenplay of Steve’s own imagination.
  3. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky – The story of a boy named Charlie, who describes the events of his freshman year of high school through letters to an anonymous stranger.
  4. Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov – A foreword, a 999-line poem by a fictional poet, and a commentary to the poem combine to form the story of the novel.
  5. Atonement by Ian McEwan – A “story within a story,” but the reader is kept unaware of the nested story until well into the book.
  6. The Sixth Sense (a film by M. Night Shyamalan) – The main character can only be seen by one other character, a narrative manipulation that is hidden from the viewer until late in the story.
  7. Memento (a film by Christopher Nolan) – A story presented as two different sequences of scenes: a black-and-white series of scenes in chronological order, and a color series of scenes shown in reverse order. The two sequences converge at the end of the film, creating a unified story.

These are just a handful of examples, but I hope they convey the breadth of stories that can be successfully told outside of the standard conventions of form. I also hope they demonstrate the value of risk-taking. Looking back at these from the perspective of the present, knowing what we know, for instance, about the way readers have embraced The Book Thief, it may not seem like Markus Zusak took a risk by casting Death as the book’s narrator. But as he was writing, Zusak couldn’t have known how this break from narrative norms would be received. Fortunately for us as readers, he took a chance.

When a break from traditional structure succeeds, it’s often because the choice complements and magnifies the story and all of its elements – character, setting, theme, etc. When such a choice fails – when it calls attention to itself and distracts the reader – it’s often because it doesn’t add to the story, but instead stands out against it in a false and gimmicky way.

So how do you get it right? How do you ensure that your choice to abandon some narrative norm improves rather than detracts? I would suggest that you consider the following:

  1. Your own personal judgment as a writer – How do you feel about this choice? If you’re passionate about a unique narrative structure for your story, you’re probably onto something. Trust your gut.
  2. The advice of trusted readers and your agent – Your critique partners and beta readers may love your choice… they may hate it. They may fall somewhere in between. Weigh their input. Ask for the basis of any reservations they may have. Remember that critique partners and beta readers want your story to succeed. Of course, if you’re fortunate enough to be working with an agent, he or she will have an opinion, too.
  3. Let the story itself be the ultimate judge – Ask questions like: Is this choice illuminating the story, or getting in its way? If I went with a more traditional form, would the story shine more brightly, or dim from a loss of energy? Why?

All this advice can be reduced to one essential truth: the ultimate goal of a writer is to tell the best story in the best way possible. Serve your story. Use conventions. Take risks. Tell the best story you can.

What are your own feelings about narrative structure? Are you a risk-taker, or do you prefer to follow traditional form? Please share your thoughts in the comments!


Julie Eshbaugh writes fiction for young adults. She is the author of the upcoming Ivory & Bone (HarperCollins, 2016) which (incidentally) has been described as having “a unique narrative structure.” You can add Julie on Goodreads and follow her on Twitter and Pinterest.

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5. 5 Tips for Researching a Novel & Cover Reveal!

Writing Life Banner


Meredith McCardle

The Eighth Guardian

I, Susan, am a huge time travel dork. Like, I grew up on a steady diet of both time travel fiction and just straight science time travel books, so when I say that The Eighth Guardian is one of the BEST time travel books out there, I think I’m pretty qualified to make that assertion. ;)

Now, imagine my ABSOLUTE delight when the author of The Eighth Guardian, Meredith McCardle, asked if she could do a guest post + cover reveal on Pub(lishing) Crawl? Cue FREAK OUT!

And as if that wasn’t awesome enough, Meredith and Amazon have been kind enough to donate a Kindle Paperwhite!!! So scroll down to enter that giveaway–and to check out the Blackout cover!

Now, onto Meredith’s guest post!

5 Tips for Researching Your Novel

1. Wikipedia is a great place to start, but it probably shouldn’t be your only source.

Wikipedia is great for the small things—like figuring out who the candidates were in a gubernatorial election in the 1870s. But for the really big stuff, definitely branch outside of Wikipedia. In BLACKOUT, one of the biggest missions that Iris goes on is to Washington during the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Wikipedia was great for giving me a basic timeline of the crisis—when the US discovered the missiles on Cuba, when President Kennedy addressed the nation, that sort of thing. But Wikipedia can’t give you a feel for how terrifying it must have been to be living on the eastern seaboard of the United States in October 1962. It won’t let you experience the protests that built outside of the White House every day. For that, you have to go deeper. These are some of my favorite sources for further research:

  • Museums and museum websites. There are museums for everything. Many times, you’ll find they maintain really excellent websites with a lot of information and videos readily available.
  • Books! Good ole’ fashioned history books, to be exact. I’ve made fast friends with my local librarians who are always willing to escort me to the right shelf or track down a book through inter-library loan if I need it.
  • There’s a reason 90% of my Netflix suggestions are documentaries.

2. YouTube is a godsend.

You really can learn to do just about anything on YouTube. It’s taught me how to pick a lock. It’s taught me how to defend myself against both a knife attack and a gun in my face. You can also find a lot of documentaries on YouTube that aren’t available on Netflix or Amazon Prime. Google Image Search is also a godsend. Not quite sure what a civil war-era rifle looks like? Want to know what a well-heeled Colonial woman wore? Google images! (But brace yourself because you never quite know what you’re going to get. And do me a favor and never, ever, ever do an image search for gangrene. Trust me on that.)

 3. For settings, primary research is best, but it’s not a total necessity.

I set both THE EIGHTH GUARDIAN and BLACKOUT primarily in Boston because I know that city very well. I lived there for several years. But there are scenes in the books that take place in New York City, Washington D.C., and Vermont, places I’m far less familiar with. And as much as I would love to research all the places I mention in my books specifically, it’s not always logistically (or financially!) feasible. But I have friends who live in those places. I have Google Earth. I have access to all sorts of historic maps. As long as you spend the time researching the setting, you can skate by without buying a plane ticket.

 4. When is it time to stop researching?

Have you ever fallen down a research hole? I know I have. The Kennedy assassination plays a huge role in THE EIGHTH GUARDIAN, and I’m sure you can imagine the sheer volume of information out there on it. I turned THE EIGHTH GUARDIAN in to my editor nearly two years ago, and had I attempted to read everything I could find on the assassination and all of its various conspiracy theories, there’d probably still be a stack of library books on my nightstand. And by probably, I mean definitely. So here’s a good rule of thumb that I learned from my days as a lawyer: When you’re running into the same information over and over again in different sources, you probably have a good enough base knowledge. Move on!

 5. Keep your notes.

You’ll need them when you revise. I am a huge fan of printing out every tiny little thing I find on the internet that might be useful. (I’m currently leaning over a full copy of the Geneva Convention in order to get to my keyboard). The papers will pile up on my desk, I’ll scribble notes directly on them, and then once I have a complete first draft, I punch holes in the papers and stick them in a three-ring binder. It’s kind of a pain to organize everything at once, but it makes life so much easier later on. And trust me, you’ll use them later!

Oh my gosh, having written historical with LOADS of research, I (Sooz) cannot emphasize #5 enough! I was so disorganized with all my research in book 1, and it made copyedits as well as sequel-writing a giant pain in the butt! So be organized and be fastidious!! Meredith’s right that it will make life easier later on.

Now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for ;)–the cover for the second Anum Guard book, Blackout!


Seventeen-year-old Amanda Obermann (code name: Iris) has more on her mind than usual. As a member of a covert government organization called the Annum Guard, which travels through time to keep history on track, Iris has been getting some particularly stressful assignments. Plus, Jane Bonner, the Guard’s iron-fisted new leader, seems determined to make life as hard as possible. Thankfully, Iris has Abe (code name: Blue), her boyfriend and fellow Guardian, who listens to her vent—and helps her cope with her mentally ill mother’s increasingly erratic behavior.

When Guardians start to disappear on their assignments, Iris makes a terrifying discovery: a “blackout” squad is targeting anyone who gets in the way of a corrupt force that’s selling out both the Annum Guard’s missions and Guardian lives. Together, Iris and Blue must go undercover to untangle the Guard’s elaborate web of secrets and lies. But when Iris discovers that the terrible truth may involve her own father, a former Guardian undone by his own greed, she must decide how much she’s willing to risk to rescue her friends…and how dangerous the consequences will be for all of humanity.

A thrilling time-traveling adventure that spans from Abraham Lincoln’s assassination to the Cuban Missile Crisis and back to the present day, this pulse-pounding sequel to The Eighth Guardian reveals that playing with time can turn into a deadly game.

I have read Blackout, and I can honestly say it is just as good as The Eighth Guardian, if not more so. Meredith really takes the stakes up a notch, and aaah! SO much tension!! (I really love this series, if you can’t tell.)

So, if you’re interested in starting the series or reading an early copy of Blackout OR just getting a shiny new Kindle Paperwhite, be sure to fill out the Rafflecopter form below!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Meredith McCardleMeredith McCardle is a recovered lawyer who lives in South Florida with her husband and two young daughters. Like her main character, she has a fondness for strong coffee, comfortable pants, and jumping to the wrong conclusions. Unlike her main character, she cannot travel through time. Sadly. The first book in the Annum Guard series, THE EIGHTH GUARDIAN, was released in May of 2014 by Skyscape. The second title, BLACKOUT, releases January 13, 2015.  Learn more about Meredith on her website, Twitter, Facebook, or Tumblr.

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6. 3 Reasons I Failed NaNoWriMo – and Why It’s OK

30 Days to a Stronger Novel Online Video Course: ON DEMAND

I am a failure.
I signed up for NaNoWriMo–again. And again–I failed to make 50,000 words.

But I have good reasons.

World Building. I did massive work this month on world building. Since I’m writing a science fiction novel, I needed to invent technology, figure out where to locate installations, design the installations to meet the needs of my sff characters and the needs of the story, create scientifically accurate details throughout, along with the usual backstory.

I used Google Earth to investigate Mt. Rainier and the surrounding area, worked on backstory and characterization, and dug into the details of scenes. Many scenes that are still to be written have been written about; that is, I’ve written notes about who, what, when, where, why and with what emotion. When I do sit down to write the scene, it should go quickly.

November is Hard. I’ve never understood the decision to make November the NaNoWriMo month; it’s one of the busiest months for me. Arkansas has a major reading conference, besides the Thanksgiving holiday. All together there were 7-8 days I simply could not write because I was busy all day with other activities. For me, burning the midnight oil does no good, but at that hour, all I can write is crap. Still, I wrote steadily on the days that I could and made progress.

Writing Style. Fashion swings wildly. Many editors believe that writing should take a long, long time. The fad in the Indie world these days is very rapid writing. In the end–I write as fast as I can and still turn out something that pleases me. I must please myself, not an editor or a contest like NaNoWriMo or anyone else. I can only write as fast as I can write.

My Speed is OK

BlueOKIt’s really OK that I didn’t write 50,000 words this month.

  • I had a great time at the Arkansas Reading Association conference.
  • I had a great time with my family.
  • I wrote about 32,500 words, which is 32,500 words more than I started the month with. More than that, I know my characters better and know that it was a very good month of work.

That’s all I can say.

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7. Thank You for Being a (Writing) Friend

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Janice Hardy

Janice Hardy RGB 72Writing is a solitary endeavor, but that doesn’t mean we do it all alone. We have writers’ groups, beta readers, crit partners, and online friends to help motivate and support us. And since it’s the time of year to be thankful for things, now’s a good day to let those folks know how much you value them.

Give hugs to all your writer pals, especially the ones who have stood by you through rejection after rejection, bad reviews, or terrifying bouts of writer’s block. Celebrate their successes and remind each other of the victories you’ve had along the way.

Tell your critique partners why you find their feedback so helpful and how much it aids you in making your stories the best they can be. Be specific about their strengths and what unique view they bring that no one else can. Make sure they know their value, both to you, and as a critiquer.

Let your beta readers know their insights and observations are always just what you need to fix the problems in your manuscript. If they’re not writers, they might feel they have little to offer, and knowing that a reader’s opinion can be even more valuable than another writer’s can make them feel appreciated and confident.

Thank your online bloggers for their advice and generosity, as most of them blog because they love it and enjoy helping their fellow writers. Let them know they’re appreciated and how their words have helped you (and how many of their posts you might have saved or bookmarked).

Show a little love to your commenters. Let them know that they brighten your day with their questions and comments, and that you look forward to those daily (or weekly) discussions.

And last, but not least, give thanks for those in your life who don’t understand this whole writing thing but stick by you anyway, give you time to write when you need it, don’t mind when you drop everything to scribble down a plot idea or a great piece of dialog, who don’t even roll their eyes anymore when you rip apart a bad plot on TV.

It’s easy to get caught up in our work and our lives, so sit back, take a look around and see all the wonderful people you have by your side.

Thank you all.

Who are you thankful for?

Janice Hardy is the author of the teen fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, where she tapped into her own dark side to create a world where healing was dangerous, and those with the best intentions often made the worst choices. Her novels include The Shifter, Blue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The first book in her Foundations of Fiction series, Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure is out now. She lives in Georgia with her husband, one yard zombie, three cats, and a very nervous freshwater eel. Find out more about writing at her site, Fiction University, or find her on Twitter @Janice_Hardy.

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indie Bound

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8. Generating New Ideas

by Julie Eshbaugh



Where do your ideas come from? This can be a difficult question to answer, since usually, an idea seems to come out of nowhere. One day you’re driving in your car or washing dishes and an idea starts to glow in your mind like the sun coming up, or maybe it glares down on you all at once, as if dark clouds were suddenly blown away and there it is – hot and bright and obvious.

Since ideas seem to come unbidden, it might seem that we writers have no control over our ideas. They come on their own, after all, not when we call to them (no matter how nicely we call…) but when we least expect them. But I would argue that these seemingly random ideas are actually the product of a subconscious mind that has been “trained” to be searching for them at all times.

Maybe this sounds very mystical or pseudo-psychological (because, well, maybe it is…) but if you’ll indulge me, I’d like to share four suggestions to prime your mind to subconsciously formulate story ideas:

Always ask “what if?” You may have heard never to open a query letter with a hypothetical question, but that shouldn’t mean that hypotheticals are useless to writers. Most of us think this way already. If it rains for three days straight, we say, “Imagine if this were snow!” If it starts to storm, we say, “Imagine if you were catching a flight on a day like today!”

Since most of us already think this way, I’m simply suggesting you take your questions a bit further. You may ask yourself, “What if it never stopped raining ever again?” or “What if all this rain were acid and it destroyed everything it touched?” You may think of the flight taking off in a storm and ask, “What if two long separated lovers were seated next to each other in a jet taking off in dangerous weather?” or “What if lightning hit an engine just as a hijacker was storming the cockpit?” Just pushing your “what ifs” a bit further will jump start your imagination.

Never accept that there is only one solution to a problem. If you have to pick up Mary from cheerleading and Rebecca from field hockey, and they are ten minutes apart and you have only five minutes to make the trip, you can probably figure out at least one solution. Maybe Mary catches a ride with another family. There’s a solution, so the problem is solved. But as writers, shouldn’t we train ourselves to come up with a few extra solutions? Rebecca could walk to the local library and wait there. Mary could ride her bike to practice so that you only need to worry about Rebecca. Writing is all about obstacles and overcoming them, so train your mind to look for more solutions than you’ll ever need.

Ask questions like a child. I remember when my son was small he would ask questions all the time. “How does an antenna work?” “Why do fluorescent lights make my skin look blue?” “How does the TV find the right show when you change the channel?” I’m embarrassed to admit how many times I had to answer, “Go ask Dad.” Shouldn’t a grown woman know how an antenna works? And if she doesn’t, shouldn’t she be anxious to find out the answer? Unfortunately, as we get older, we let the day-to-day questions – “How am I ever going to pay the cell phone bill?” – crowd out the questions that lead to much more creative thinking.

Read widely. While it’s important to read in the genre you write, I personally believe writers should read all kinds of fiction, as well as magazine articles, current events, travel stories, and even science journals. A few years ago, when the Chilean miners were trapped, I developed a voracious interest in Chile, and tried to read as much as I could about a country I’d rarely thought about before. Not long after that, a photo on a magazine cover spawned a frenzy of research into Machu Picchu. To date, I’ve never used anything I learned about Chile or Machu Picchu in any of my fiction, but it has helped train my mind to imagine different environments, and the lives of the people who live there.

Do you have unique methods for generating ideas? Do you already practice any of these habits? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!


Julie Eshbaugh writes fiction for young adults. She is the author of the upcoming Ivory & Bone (HarperCollins, 2016.) You can add Julie on Goodreads and follow her on Twitter and Pinterest.

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9. Bridging the Gap between Science and Fiction

Writing Life


by Amy K. Nichols

Now That You're HereAmie says: Some months back, I was lucky enough to get my hands on a copy of Now That You’re Here, Amy K. Nichols’s debut novel. I loved it. I mean, I LOVED it. So much, that this is the blurb I gave it:

“The perfect blend of sci-fi and swoons, Now That You’re Here is like no other book I’ve read. Riveting, romantic and utterly original, it kept me up late!”

And in a starred review, here’s what Publisher’s Weekly said:

“These geeks own their intelligence like a badge of honor, using science to help a friend and explore strange new worlds.”

If you want a fantastic holiday gift for yourself (you deserve it!) or the science-fiction lover in your life, pre-order yourself a copy — it’s out on December 9th!

I loved the science in Now That You’re Here so much that I asked Amy to tell us how she approached the task of incorporating it into her story. Here’s what she had to say!

Amy NicholsGrowing up, I wasn’t a very enthusiastic science student. Perhaps it was a lack of awareness of science’s relevance to my self-absorbed teenage existence, but the last science class I remember actually enjoying was in seventh grade when we dissected frogs, learned about the hazards of smoking, and my teacher told us how hot dogs were made. (I haven’t eaten one since.) So I find it somewhat ironic that I’m now a science fiction author.

Somewhere in my college years, I discovered how cool science is, going so far as to consider a career in medicine and reading science books for fun. (I can just imagine my seventh-grade self raising an eyebrow at me.)

Then came the Large Hadron Collider.

Around 2007 I started hearing about this ginormous apparatus deep beneath the Swiss Alps that would answer all the questions of the universe…or create a black hole and swallow up the earth.

Black hole? Well that caught my attention. Even though I hadn’t shown much interest in science classes, I grew up loving science fiction stories, especially those involving portals to other worlds. One of my favorites was H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine. So I started reading books about black holes, string theory, multiverses. A couple that stood out were Lisa Randall’s Warped Passages: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Universe’s Hidden Dimensions, and Michiu Kaku’s Physics of the Impossible. I can’t say I understood all of it, but it definitely made an impression on me.

By the time CERN flipped the on switch for the LHC (which, thankfully, didn’t destroy the world), I’d already decided to give this writing thing a go, and was actively working to improve my craft. I’d even written a novel (that is really bad it should be burned with fire). I’d also started writing a story about a boy who suddenly finds himself in a body that’s his own but isn’t, in a world that’s his own but isn’t. Somehow, he’d jumped to a parallel universe.

Somehow. That’s the fiction side of science fiction.

In the early drafts of Now That You’re Here, Danny’s jump just happened, more like magic than science. I included just enough science to make it clear he’d jumped without getting into the specifics of how. I mean, this was science fiction, right?

Then my agent sold the book to Knopf, and I started working with my editor, the brilliant Katherine Harrison. From the start, she honed in on the science. How exactly did Danny jump? What is the science holding up the fiction?

So I began researching, trying to form a theory for this scientifically impossible connection between Danny’s parallel worlds.

Now, this is where it gets a bit tricky. If I go into a lot of detail about the actual theory, it’ll spoil the book. So I’m going to try to do this without giving away any spoilers.

Somewhere in my research, I read How to Build a Time Machine by Paul Davies, and attended a talk he gave at Phoenix Comicon. It was fascinating, reading and hearing about the mechanics of time travel. But I wasn’t writing time travel. I was writing parallel universe travel, which is an entirely different animal.

Or is it? I continued researching and tinkering, writing ideas into my revisions. My editor liked the direction I was going, but asked for more grounding. At one point she said, “I showed your book to my friend who is a physicist,” and I thought, Nooooooo. It’s fiction, not actual science! She encouraged me to write a book where readers couldn’t easily poke holes through the science, which is such a great goal. But how do you make the implausible plausible?


I kept googling and searching, reading scientific studies to support my fictional account of a boy landing in a body and world that isn’t his. I wish I could show you the list of websites in my browser’s bookmarks. It’s long. Really long.

As I worked through my revisions, I created a construct for the impossible elements of the book, all of which are based on actual scientific principle and tested theory. When I stepped back and looked at it, my geeky little heart went pitter-pat.

Then came book two.

See, we’d sold Now That You’re Here as a two-part series, where the books mirror each other. Same characters, but two different stories in two parallel worlds. Pretty cool, right? But…science.

Suddenly the science of the second book had to work with the science of the first book. Since I was telling a different story in a different world, it couldn’t be the same science, either. It had to be something similar, but different.

So I went back to work. More research. More reading. More theorizing. More imagining.

More fun.

By this time I was geeking out. I not only fell in love with science, I fell in love again with science fiction. All those stories I’d loved as a kid felt so…possible. A time machine? Sure. Flux capacitor? Okay. Wardrobe leading to a winter-cursed land? Why not?

And then it happened. I found the Holy Grail I’d been searching for. I was reading an article about Nikola Tesla and scalar wave function, and everything clicked. All the bits of info I’d been collecting suddenly fit together to create one cohesive system involving both worlds, and there in between stood my character, Danny. I revised Now That You’re Here again, and this time, I got the science right. (Or at least my editor said so.)

Is it still science fiction? Yes. Is there still a gap between the scientific and fictional elements of the story? Of course. Fiction always requires some degree of suspension of disbelief on the part of the reader. But hopefully, thanks to research and my mindful and diligent editor, it’s more a step over a crack than a leap over a chasm. And maybe, just maybe, somewhere my seventh grade self is smiling.

Amy has been crafting stories for as long as she can remember. She earned a Master’s in literature and worked for years as a web designer, though, before realizing what she really wanted to be was an author. Her first novel, YA sci-fi thriller Now That You’re Here, will be published by Knopf Books for Young Readers on December 9, 2014. The follow-up, While You Were Gone, will be published in 2015. She is mentored by award-winning crime novelist James Sallis. You can find Amy on FacebookTwitterPinterest and Tumblr.

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10. Expectation vs. Reality


Jodi Meadows

This month I polled Twitter for a topic and one that intrigued me was “author expectations vs. author reality.” I’m going to limit it to my top three (because wow, that got long quickly), and add how I cope with these differences, but I want to know what you guys think too!

Expectation: Publication Day is life-changing. Suddenly everyone is reading your book. Bookstore rankings are shining gold.

Reality: Nothing really changes on publication day. I mean, it’s really cool! But it’s also a little anticlimactic. There’s all this build up to the day of the book release, and then the day arrives and it’s just another day, albeit a day that people can now purchase the book you’ve spent so long writing and slaving over.

The day, while it feels like it should be all about you, isn’t really. Not totally. Other books are coming out too. Some of them might have more hype and promotion and therefore feel like they’re getting more attention. It’s a bummer. It’s really humbling. And it’s so easy to just sit at home and wonder why this life-changing event (your book is coming out!!!) feels like a let-down.

How I’ve learned to deal: The day my first book came out, I stayed at home and watched the numbers on That Retailer Site. (I was disappointed.) I answered lots of tweets! (That was great.) I went to a bookstore to find they’d lost two copies of my book and hadn’t put the other two out. (I wanted to shrivel up and die.)

The next two books, I decided to travel. And I will likely be traveling on release day for all the rest of my books if I can help it. Traveling gave me a sense of control, like I was doing something useful. When the airport small talk happened, I told people I was heading to my book launch party and I gave them my card (with my book cover on it). Traveling also keeps me from checking numbers or comparing myself to others. I don’t have time to look at those things! And, as self-centered as it may sound, it gives me the feeling that the day is all about me and my book.

And while I’ve learned to accept a slight anticlimactic feeling, I’ve also started reminding myself that things have changed. My books are out. People can buy them. People I don’t know, even. And that’s pretty great.

Expectation: I can totally write several books a year.

Reality: I’ve always been what a lot of people view as a “fast” writer. Before I was published, I often wrote two or three books a year, occasionally more. I thought a book-a-year schedule was nothing — maybe even too slow. But now that I’m on the book-a-year schedule, I realize just how difficult it actually is.

There’s not just writing the book, but editing and more editing and more editing. Crit partners get a crack at the book. So does the agent. And the editor. And just when you think you’ve spent more than seven months revising a book to death and you can’t look at it again, copyedits arrive and the book must be read yet again. And no, that isn’t all! Pass pages!

As if that wasn’t enough, while you’re getting those pass pages and copyedits, often you’re already writing a new book, so you must tear yourself from the new book, stick your head back in the first book for a week or so, and then jump into the new book again.

And then, you must promote the first book while you’re editing the new book and planning (or possibly already writing) a new new book.

And boy, if you want to write novellas or collaborate on another project in there, just forget about sleep or answering those emails piling up in the inbox.

How I’ve learned to deal: Planning and schedules has become very important to me. Also, communication. I give my agent an idea of what I have coming up, how long I think it will take me, and she doesn’t so much keep me on track (I’m an adult, after all) as check in every now and then to make sure I’m still good. That way, if I need more time on something, or I’m struggling with a book, she can help me out. I do the same thing with my editor, though that’s more limited to what is actually under contract, with harder dates for when I’d like to turn something in.

And any time I start feeling like the book-a-year schedule is too slow, I force myself to think about how busy I am this time of the year, when I’m editing a book, promoting a book, planning a new book (and in this year’s special case, writing four novellas and co-writing another book). Remembering that there insanely busy times keeps me from getting out of control.

Expectation: I can just write all day. In my pajamas. And eat cookies. It’s great.

Reality: Well, it is great, but it’s not all just writing in my pajamas and eating cookies. Sometimes people ask what a typical writing day looks like, but the truth is there is no typical day besides trying desperately to make sure you get enough writing done that you don’t feel like a failure.

There’s the never-ending emails to answer, social media accounts that like to be maintained, and all the non-book writing you do (like this blog post!) that doesn’t pay but is still useful. There’s traveling, school visits (and preparation for), bookstore visits, and festivals to attend.

While it’s true that a lot of that is fun (maybe too much fun sometimes!), it’s all time that’s spent not writing. And if you’re not careful, it can really pile up and end up with missed deadlines. After all, that stuff is work too. And writing can sometimes feel like a reward (other times punishment) that you do after all the hard work is done.

How I’ve learned to deal: I remind myself that writing is my job. Not tweeting (though how cool would that be!) or any of those other things.

When I get invited to places, or requests to do school visits/interviews/blog posts, I ask myself honestly: do I have time for this? Can I do all of this stuff around writing my book? If I feel like maybe I can’t meet my deadline and attend the fun book festival all my friends are going to . . . then I stay home and write.

For the day-to-day stuff that can make writing vanish, again, I make writing the priority. If I’m feeling distracty, I close everything else that wants my attention. And I just write. Then, after I’ve accomplished my goal for the day, I go in and take care of some of the stuff I missed.

And then I go do something fun and relaxing, because I am the kind of person who will easily overwork herself and by golly sometimes I just need to knit.

So, those are my top three expectation vs. reality. What about you guys? Any others up there? How do you deal with reality?

Jodi Meadows lives and writes in the Shenandoah Valley, Virginia, with her husband, a Kippy*, and an alarming number of ferrets. She is a confessed book addict, and has wanted to be a writer ever since she decided against becoming an astronaut. She is the author of the INCARNATE Trilogy and the forth coming ORPHAN QUEEN Duology (HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen).
*A Kippy is a cat.

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11. Would You Read It Wednesday #152 - Hubert's Dreadful Allergies (PB)

Good morning, merry sunshines :)

I don't know about you guys, but I love this writing life.

I feel so lucky that it's what I get to do.

I get up at 5:20, when the world is dark and quiet.

I get to take my dogs for a run on this quiet, pretty road as soon as it's light enough to see.

Sometimes I see these guys (though of course they're older now :))

Hopefully, I don't meet this guy
but as you know from Friday's post, I do run into him occasionally :)

I get to drive my daughter to school - a little time we get to chat each morning - and then go do the barn (and what could be better than hanging around with horses?) :)

Then I come home, ignore my office :) and work at my sunny kitchen table (of which I apparently do not have a picture :))

I set my own schedule, which allows me to be there for my family all the time.

And I am lucky enough to work at something that, though challenging and prone to making me tear my hair out from time to time :) doesn't really feel like work.  As I tell kids on school visits, I get to make up stories all day long - as jobs go, pretty awesome.

So when I have days like yesterday - days when the rejections come in an avalanche - literally! - days when I question whether I really have any right to be doing this at all, whether I have any ability for this career that I've chosen, whether somehow I have wandered onto a path that isn't mine to travel - I try to remember all the things I love about this writing life so I don't lose my perspective entirely.

It's so easy to feel discouraged.

But if you can find the courage to dust yourself off, go for a morning run, and sit yourself right back down at that kitchen table, it's also easier than you'd think to try again.

So for anyone else who had that kind of day yesterday - or any day :) - here's to optimism and inspiration and trying again.  Who knows?  This could be the day we get our best idea yet :)

And of course, around here, we raise our glasses with Something Chocolate :)

Recipe for this gorgeous creation HERE
Dig in :)  (Remember, a healthy breakfast is essential to a productive day - and what could be healthier than cocoa beans (vegetables!) and milk (protein and calcium!)?)

How do you cope with the hard days?  Because let's face it - in this business, we all have them!  That's one of the things that makes them bearable - knowing that we're in good company :)

Now then!  Onward to a good day and Would You Read It!

Today's pitch comes to us from Heather.  Several years ago, Heather Kinser was a Silicon Valley proofreader/editor. Now she’s the mother of two amazing girls, a charter school volunteer, a breast cancer survivor, a long-term writer’s group member—and a wanna-be children’s book author. She keeps her head in the clouds and sand in her shoes. She lives with her husband and children in beautiful Redwood City, California (“Climate Best by Government Test”).

If you'd like, you can go show her some love on her brand new bloghttp://troubadourmoon.weebly.com/

Here is her pitch:

Working Title: Hubert's Dreadful Allergies
Age/Genre: Picture Book (ages 4-8)
The Pitch: Aunt Lottie’s fancy luncheon party is in full swing when her highly allergic dog, Hubert, walks in and sniffs the flowers. What happens next is a riot of mishaps that eventually sends the proper party guests on a crazy chase, with Hubert leading the way.

So what do you think?  Would You Read It?  YES, MAYBE or NO?

If your answer is YES, please feel free to tell us what you particularly liked and why the pitch piqued your interest.  If your answer is MAYBE or NO, please feel free to tell us what you think could be better in the spirit of helping Heather improve her pitch.  Helpful examples of possible alternate wordings are welcome.  (However, I must ask that comments be constructive and respectful.  I reserve the right not to publish comments that are mean because that is not what this is about.)

Please send YOUR pitches for the coming weeks!  For rules and where to submit, click on this link Would You Read It or on the Would You Read It tab in the bar above.  There are openings in November so you've got a little time to polish up your pitches and send yours for your chance to be read by editor Erin Molta!

Heather is looking forward to your thoughts on her pitch!  I am looking forward to a new idea.  I don't know what it will be.  I don't know when it will come.  But I'm going to get busy so the idea doesn't think I'm just waiting around for it.  When it ventures near, I'll be careful not to look at it or acknowledge it in any way.  (Ideas are shy and easily scared.)  After a while, it will get a little annoyed that I'm not paying it any mind, and it will come right over and nudge me to get my attention.  And then I'll have it right where I want it :)

Have a wonderful Wednesday everyone!!! :)

0 Comments on Would You Read It Wednesday #152 - Hubert's Dreadful Allergies (PB) as of 1/1/1900
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12. A Reminder to Actually Write

Writing Life Banner


Susan Dennard

WritingThis is a repost from my personal blog, and it’s something that I KEEP finding myself pointing writers to this NaNoWriMo.

As such, this has become a personal “disclaimer” of sorts, and I thought the lovely readers of Pub Crawl might enjoy it too. :)

I get a lot of emails (and tweets, tumblr asks, facebook messages, etc.) asking me about my process–and that’s great! I love sharing what I do, and I love hearing about what YOU do.

But the thing is, no matter what my process is (or her process…or his process), at the end of the day, the writing is all that really matters.

I think it’s easy to get caught up in different “methods” or “outlining plans” or “character creation schemes” because we’re all looking for that Top Secret Foolproof Magic Bullet. I see this most often in new writers–they want that special, insider trick that will make writing a breeze.

Heck, I see it in experienced writers too. They think, If I just follow X-author’s approach step-by-step, then the first draft will basically write itself! 

Or, If I just interview my characters like Y-author does, then that first draft will pour out of me!

Or even, If I find my story cookies like Sooz does and write screenplays for every scene, then this book won’t be hard to write!

And I totally understand that attitude, guys! I mean, no one is more guilty of wanting a Magic Bullet than I. Whenever I’m feeling even the slightest resistance in my drafting, I’ll start scouring books on craft 0r author blogs or online workshops. I want anything that will make this writing easier!

But at the end of the day, no matter what method I use–no matter how carefully I prepare or how strictly I follow X-author’s Top Secret Foolproof Magic Bullet–I still have to write the book. All the outlines in the world won’t change that. Knowing my characters as well as I know myself won’t change that either. And even getting pumped up with my cheerleading critique partners won’t change that CRUCIAL step in writing a book.

You know, the part where I actually have to write a book.

Now, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t explore other methods and techniques. I love trying new approaches to the same “problem.” But you HAVE to realize that no matter what: you’re still going to have to write a book, word by word, page by page, and scene by scene.

You’re going to have put your butt in the chair and your hands on the keyboard. You’re going to have to push through every chapter until you reach, The End. And nothing–absolutely nothing in this entire world (short of hiring someone to do it for you) will change the fact that the writing is all that really matters.

So go forth and write. Even when you feel shaky and unsure.

ESPECIALLY when you feel shaky and unsure.

Sit down (or stand. That’s what I do.) and write one sentence. Then write another sentence. Then write another and another until you have a page.

And then write another page. And another after that.

Don’t stop! Keep going. Maybe not right away, but a wrote little bit as often you can, and eventually you’ll find yourself with a finished book.

If you like what you read here, consider signing up for my newsletter, the Misfits & Daydreamers or swinging by my For Writers page! All subscribers get a free guide to query writing OR a free extra scene from A Darkness Strange & Lovely.

SusanDennardBefore she settled down as a full-time novelist and writing instructor, Susan Dennard traveled the world as marine biologist. She is the author of the Something Strange and Deadly series as well as the forthcoming Witchlands series (Tor, 2015), and when not writing, she can be found hiking with her dogs, exploring tidal pools, or practicing her tap dance shuffles. You can learn more about Susan on her blogTwitterFacebookPinterest, or Wattpad.

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13. Creating a Whole New World

Writing Life BannerBy

Janice Hardy

Janice Hardy RGB 72When you mention world building to a bunch of writers, most are instantly going to think about fantasy worlds. Makes sense since that’s the genre that does the most world building from scratch, but every story needs a rich world, even if that world is set in the good old USA. Luckily, the same tricks genre writers use to flesh out their worlds can also be used by non-genre writers.

A Room With a View

One of the strongest tools you have for world building is your point of view character(s). They can ground the reader by what they see and provide context for everything. They can show what’s normal and what’s unusual by how they react and interact with things in this world. Just as readers have never been to Middle Earth, they might not have ever been to the Midwest. Sure, they’ll have a general idea (corn, flat, farms), but imagine how much richer you can make that world if you treat it like the reader has never seen it before. Especially if your world isn’t what the average person thinks of when they hear your location.

People know what mundane things look like, but they don’t always know what importance a mundane item has. You get your pick of details to convey subtle information to a reader, so look for details that do more than just provide window dressing. Look for details that have meaning to your point of view character, and let that meaning add a new layer of understanding to the world they live in. Make it clear that this world couldn’t be anywhere else but where you’ve set it—whether that’s Atlanta or The Kingdom of Asaguili.

Introducing…the World

Setting is a vital part of any story, and one of the hardest to deal with because it’s all description. As a fantasy author, I have to establish an unfamiliar world and the rules that govern that world right at the start. To avoid bogging down the story, I background the world building details into the actions and thoughts of my point of view character. I don’t need to tell readers about the economic climate if I show my protagonist stealing food so she can eat. Making her wary of soldiers posted along the street shows an occupied city without me ever having to say a word of explanation.

Backgrounding works just as well in the real world, if not better, because readers already have an idea of what the world is like. (They do live there after all). If your protagonist lives in a crime-ridden area, you might show her locking multiple locks on the door, or have her hear gunshots or sirens. She might not carry a purse that can be easily grabbed on the street. Seize the opportunities to flesh out your world in ways that not only show setting, but add tension, deepen characterization, and even further plot advancement. Just because readers know the world is no reason to skimp on making it feel real. And those tiny “real” details can add so much to your story.

What’s That You Say?

Dialog is as distinctive as geography in defining a world. Slang terms, swear words, clichés, metaphors—every culture and region has their own set. If your story takes place in the south, let the dialog reflect the slower pace and country charm of the region. And I’m not talking about writing dialect (dropping the g off words, spelling things all funky) but using the rhythm and flow, the slang and phrasing of those who live in that area. A New Yorker is going to ask for a cup of coffee differently than a Southern Belle, or even a Midwesterner (soda vs pop vs a coke anyone?). Find the language characteristics common to a region or culture and use them to bring that region to life.

You Look Marvelous

Visit both Florida and Chicago in the winter and you’ll notice how different regions dress. You can use this to show climate and even morality with what people wear and how others react to the way people dress. What’s acceptable in Manhattan is very different from what flies in Salt Lake City, and neither might be appropriate in Louisiana. Instead of having your protagonist wear just a green blouse and jeans, see if there’s anything specific to a region that would show another side or trait of the character.

Well, See, There’s a Problem

Even the obstacles you throw at your characters offer chances at world building. A fight with the boss is something that could happen anywhere, so what might be distinctive to your world that would make that fight really memorable? Are there jobs unique to your book’s setting? Are there concerns that only people who live in a particular place have? Perhaps the environment plays a role. Cultures or politics often shape a region, so how might these beliefs hinder your protagonist? When characters going about their daily routine can be a challenge, you have extra tools to use to keep your story exciting.

The World is in the Details

Just as fantasy authors choose details that flesh out and create a world readers have never seen before, non-genre authors can take advantage of the same opportunities. By looking at your world as someone seeing it for the first time, you can discover details that will help make that world a richer place. It’s really no different than choosing the right verb for the right time. Every line of your story will feel layered and deep, and even a world readers know will come alive.

What are some of your favorite world building tricks?

Janice Hardy is the author of the teen fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, where she tapped into her own dark side to create a world where healing was dangerous, and those with the best intentions often made the worst choices. Her novels include The Shifter, Blue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The first book in her Foundations of Fiction series, Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure is out now. She lives in Georgia with her husband, one yard zombie, three cats, and a very nervous freshwater eel. Find out more about writing at her site, Fiction University, or find her on Twitter @Janice_Hardy.

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indie Bound

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14. Neo-NaNo


Alex Bracken


Well, it’s November once again, which can only mean one thing… it’s time for NaNoWriMo!

I first heard about National Novel Writing Month when I was a freshman in college, back in 2005. Up until that point, I had only ever written fanfiction. I mean, some truly epic-length fanfiction, but nothing original, nothing that I could totally call my own. And, you know, since it wasn’t enough of a challenge to be in my first semester of college and double majoring in the two most reading and writing intensive majors in the world, I thought… hey, why not give it a try?

So I did.

And became obsessed.

Obsessed with the idea of writing every single day, of having a reasonable goal, of being distracted from my homesickness, of crafting a story from the ground up, and, um, feeling like an evil genius as I put my characters through hell. I hit the 50,000 word mark on the plane flight home for Thanksgiving… and promptly realized that I was nowhere near done. All in all, that first novel ended up being close to 150,000 words.

It also went nowhere. It lives forever on my hard drive as a happy memory that will forever stay buried because, believe me, it was the very definition of hot, cliched mess. Did that stop me from trying to query it and loving it down to its weak little bones and bloated plot? Of course not. I learned so much from working on that book, the most important thing being I loved writing and I never, ever wanted to stop.

I will say that, when you’re under contract and writing to meet deadlines, some of the magic and love for the process gets dulled under the stress. I always think about that first NaNo experience and how sparkling and warm and wonderful was, and I’m constantly trying to capture the feeling of endless possibilities that came with it. Every year since I’ve wanted to participate but haven’t been able to due to–you guessed it–deadlines and revisions.

But not this year! This year, for the first time in ages, NaNo falls over a period that I get to draft something new, and I can already feel that crazy amazing NaNo energy flowing through me. It makes me feel nostalgic and more than a little in love with the process again–that magic of discovery that comes when you challenge yourself over a short period of time. Writing can be so solitary that it’s nice to get the sense that we’re all in this together, and we’re there to encourage and support and cheer for each other as we inch closer to the 50k line. See, I have written whole drafts–or at least more than 50k in a month–but that human element, the way we come together and celebrate writing and what we can do if we try, that’s always been missing.

Are you guys participating this year? If so, be sure to check out Susan’s rockin’ printables–and follow her on Twitter to participate in word sprints if you (like me!) can always use a little kick in the pants.

Alex lives in New York City where she writes like a fiend and lives in a charming apartment overflowing with books. She is the New York Times bestselling author of The Darkest Minds and Never Fade. You can visit her online at her website, Tumblr, or Twitter.

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15. The Between Book

by Adam Silvera

I recently turned in two YA novels–one to my publisher, the other to my agent–and then I didn’t know what to do. It was the first time in all of 2014 I wasn’t on a deadline. I have plenty ideas for what I want to do next, which is great but also problematic. Do I try out one of these ideas with the November beast that is National Novel Writing Month? Do I take a couple weeks to reenergize? I can’t not write, but I also don’t feel 100% ready to throw myself into a new book just yet. I opened a new file and saved it as The Between Book.

The Between Book is my playground to keep my creative muscles flexed while I’m in-between books. The premise is whatever I want it to be. It can be a about a a boy with so many misfortunes that he thinks the gods of all religions must be in some sort of celestial court betting against him. Or it can be about a girl who is creating a coloring book for her one year anniversary with her girlfriend. ANYTHING! The only rule I have is that I must narrator-hop when one character touches another. This way, when it’s time for me to return to a contracted book it’ll also be easy for me to jump back into The Between Book in a way I wouldn’t be able to with a project I’m considering for publication. All I have to do is have the most recent character shake someone’s hand, kiss them, or punch them in the face. And boom, next character, next story.

There’s zero pressure to get the wording right. It allows me to experiment with style, different tenses, different POVs, whatever. And because I often feel like I have a waiting room of characters who want me to call on their names already and tell their stories, the other benefit of narrator-hopping is how it allows me to sort of “audition” their voices on this book’s stage.

I don’t know where The Between Book will take me, but I’m expecting many surprising and unconventional turns knowing it’s for my eyes only. Maybe something cool will come from it that I can share with readers. Maybe not. No pressure.

Is The Between Book something you can see yourself doing? Do you always throw yourself into a new book, even when on submission with agents and publishers? Or do you have your own method? 

adamfaceauthorAdam was born and raised in New York and is tall for no reason. In the past he worked as a marketing assistant for a literary development company. He’s currently a children’s bookseller and reviews children’s and young adult novels for Shelf Awareness. His debut novel, More Happy Than Notabout a boy who wants to undergo a memory-alteration procedure to forget he’s gay, will be coming out on June 16th, 2015 from Soho Teen. Go say stuff to him on Twitter.

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16. Writing Out of Order

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Kat Zhang

Kat ZhangA lot of my writer friends look at me sideways when I say I write my books out of order. The horror on their faces only grows when I admit I even write scenes out of order, jumping around from time-point to time-point until it’s all filled in.

I never realized how odd this seemed to other people–I guess because I’ve always written this way. Way back when I first started writing stories as a pre-teen, a lot of it was fanfiction, and fanfiction is a marvelous medium for just writing the “juicy” parts of a story. In a lot of fanfiction, you don’t need to spend nearly as many words on things like setting up the characters, or the plot, because your readers already know the basics.

Want to write a one-shot about Katniss reminiscing about her and Prim growing up? No need to explain what the Hunger Games are, or why Katniss is worried about Prim’s safety, or what their world is like. You just dive right in to the “meat” of the story. The parts you really want to write.

Want to write about a romantic date Hermione and Ron sneak off to have in the middle of the search for the Horcruxes? No need to build up their relationship, or explain why they’re in danger, or any of that.

I haven’t written fanfic in ages, but I guess the same urge to “jump to the good bits” is still there. So I do. Those bits are often the easiest to write, anyway. And I often find that they’re the most fun for the reader to read, as well. After all, they tend to be the parts with the highest drama, or romance, or action and adventure. (Although, I also love writing quiet moments between characters, so there’s that!)

A number of my friends say they couldn’t write all these “fun” bits first, because the joy of writing them is what pulls them through the “not-so-fun” bits. It’s the carrot driving them forward, and the reward for getting through everything else. This makes total sense, but I’ve discovered that I personally tend to ramble in my writing when I don’t have a “goal” scene already written.

When I write out of order, I know “Okay, so I have Fun Scene A here and Fun Scene B here…now I just need to get my characters from Scene A to Scene B as quickly and efficiently as possible.” If the middle parts aren’t “Fun Scenes,” I should probably be either trying to get my readers through them as quickly as possible, or finding out some way to spice them up.

Of course, this method doesn’t always work. I write out of order much more commonly during early drafts, and stick to chronological writing during later drafts to make sure everything lines up correctly and makes sense. And there are shortfalls to my jumping around like this–a Fun Scene I wrote three weeks before I actually connect it to the rest of the story might end up needing to be heavily editing because Oops, Character B actually died three scenes back…

As with all writing techniques, there are pros and cons, and it certainly doesn’t work for everyone :)

Anyone else on the write-out-of-order bandwagon? Or are you strictly a chronological writer?

Kat Zhang loves traveling to places both real and fictional–the former allows for better souvenirs, but the latter allows for dragons, so it’s a tough pick. Her novel WHAT’S LEFT OF ME is about a girl struggling to survive in an alternate universe where people are born with two souls, and one is doomed to disappear. It is the first book in a trilogy and was published by HarperCollins in September of 2012.  Book 2, ONCE WE WERE, released September 2013, and Book 3, ECHOES OF US, released September 16, 2014. You can learn all about Kat at her site, or listen to her ramblings on twitter.


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17. Letters from your Characters

by Julie Eshbaugh


Julie(This post originally appeared in a slightly different form on my personal blog in October, 2010. I revisited it recently and decided to share it here.)

Wouldn’t it be great if, when you went to your mailbox today, you found a letter inside from the main character of your work-in-progress, telling you just how she feels about the central conflict of your story? Or maybe she wrote a love letter to another one of your characters, and somehow it was misdirected to you? Imagine what a resource a letter like that would be…

When I do my outlining for a new WIP, I write up a lot of backstory. I also do character sketches, to help me form a clear idea of each of my characters – not just hair color, eye color, and favorite movie, but what they would do on a perfect spring day, where they would go on vacation if money were no object, even how they feel about money, in general. I try to think of the most revealing questions possible. These sketches help me with the essentials of my characters, but they only get me so far.

That’s why I’ve taken to writing first-person narratives – letters to me, if you will – in the voice of each character. These narratives generally address the main conflict faced by that character in the story, and how she or he feels about it. Does she believe that the problem is insurmountable? Does she still have hope? Who is she counting on most to help her? Who does she expect to cause her the most trouble?

I also write first-person narratives by all the individuals involved in romantic relationships in my story. For each one, I ask the character to tell me:

What do you love most about this other person?

What would you miss the most if he or she were taken away?

When did you first feel an attraction and what triggered it?

And, well, I’m sure you can come up with a lot more questions along this line.

These letters are great tools to return to while drafting. They help me to maintain consistency within a character, but they also helped me see that, despite consistency, all well-rounded characters have internal conflicts they are dealing with. People are filled with contradictions. Your characters need to be, too, if they’re going to leap off the page as real people with real complexity.

When you ask your character to tell you how he feels about the central conflict, chances are his answer will be complicated. It won’t just be as simple as, “I hate my father and wish he were dead,” because where’s the true conflict in that? Nothing is ever that straightforward. If it were, in chapter one your character could pull out a shotgun and shoot his father and the story would be done. Instead, your character’s answer to how he feels about the central conflict will be layered, complex, and in some ways, contradictory.

For you, as the writer, the secret to your character’s arc lies hidden in these contradictions. Early in the story your character may respond most to the tug of one attitude toward the central conflict. But as the story moves along, he may feel the influence of another attitude toward that conflict, and he will begin to change. By the time he’s completed his character arc, he may find himself in a place of compromise between these two contradictory attitudes.

Do you think this method might work for you? Do you have any of your own unique methods of learning about your characters? Please share your thoughts in the comments!


Julie Eshbaugh writes fiction for young adults. She is the author of the upcoming Ivory & Bone (HarperCollins, 2016.) You can add Julie on Goodreads and follow her on Twitter and Pinterest.

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18. Pick Six: The How to Create a Character Game

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Janice Hardy

Janice Hardy RGB 72For some writers, characters pop into being fully formed like Athena from Zeus’s forehead. For others, creating a character is a bit more laborious, filled with uncertainty where to start or what’s needed before they can start writing. Maybe the idea is more plot focused, or more about exploring an idea than a deep character journey, and those writers want to dive in and get started without hours of character development.

If creating characters don’t come easy to you (or even if they do and you just want to try something new) why not make a game out of it?

I recently wrote about the five major character personality traits, and these are great first steps to creating a character if you’re not sure where to start. They are:

  1. Openness/Intellect: Levels of curiosity and creativity, imagination and independence, how one responds to new experiences.
  2. Conscientiousness: Levels of organization and work ethic, self discipline and ambition, planning vs. spontaneity.
  3. Extraversion: Levels of sociability and enthusiasm, assertiveness and talkativeness.
  4. Agreeableness: Levels of friendliness and kindness, cooperative and trusting, how well-tempered someone is.
  5. Neuroticism/Emotional Stability: Levels of calmness and tranquility, confidence and sensitivity.

And for this activity, let’s add a #6: Desire/Need: The type of goal they’re after.

The Pick Six Game

What you’ll need: Six-sided dice or a random number generator, something to write down answers, your imagination.

The Rules (and I use the term loosely, as this is all about the fun):

  1. Choose traits for each category that fit your story. For example, for openness/intellect, you might choose “openness,” “curiosity,” and “independence.”
  2. List six options for each trait, ranging across the complete scale. For example, for openness, you might say “very open” at the top and “not open at all” at the bottom.
  3. Roll a six-sided dice or generate a number for each trait. Write that trait down. Do it for as many traits per category as you like.
  4. Adapt those traits to fit each other and your story.
  5. Create your character.

If you’re stuck on what to pick, here’s a sampling of possible options for each trait. Sometimes you’ll get things that seem to contradict each other, but treat those as opportunities to create an interesting character. The person who loves people but hates large groups has a reason for those two traits to co-exist, and that could make for some very interesting backstory and behavior.

Openness/Intellect: Levels of curiosity and creativity, imagination and independence, how one responds to new experiences.

  1. Loves new and varied experiences or Very curious or Very independent
  2. Open to new experiences in general or Fairly curious or Fairly independent
  3. Open to new experiences that are familiar or Somewhat curious or Somewhat independent
  4. Hesitant about new experiences or A little curious or Somewhat dependent
  5. Prefers not to have new experiences or Not very curious or Rather dependent
  6. Hates new experiences or Never curious or Very co-dependent

Example: I rolled a 2, 5, and 3 and got a person who is open to new experiences in general, but not very curious, who is also somewhat independent. So maybe they like to do their own thing, but if a friend drags them to try something new they’ll usually go along with it.

Conscientiousness: Levels of organization and work ethic, self discipline and ambition, planning vs. spontaneity.

  1. Control freak or Stoic or Personally driven
  2. Very organized or Very disciplined or Very ambitious
  3. Rather organized or Fairly disciplined or Has ambition
  4. Likes to plan or Spontaneous or Content with the status quo
  5. Rather unorganized or Tough to motivate or Rather lazy
  6. Very unorganized or Very undisciplined or Not ambitious

Example: I rolled a 4, 5, 6 and got a person who likes to plan, is tough to motivate, and isn’t very ambitious. So maybe they like to figure things out ahead of time and have no desire to change those plans once they’re made.

Extraversion: Levels of sociability and enthusiasm, assertiveness and talkativeness.

  1. Loves being around people or Fanatic or Overbearing
  2. Enjoys people or Intense or Decisive
  3. Comfortable with people or Eager or Confident
  4. A little shy or Calm or A little hesitant
  5. Prefers to be in small groups or Reserved or Fears confrontation
  6. Prefers to be alone or Never gets emotional or Meek

Example: I rolled a 1, 5, 5 and got a person who loves being around people, but is reserved and a little meek. So maybe they like being with people (or are scared to be alone?) but prefer to watch rather than join in.

Agreeableness: Levels of friendliness and kindness, cooperative and trusting, how well-tempered someone is.

  1. Puts others first or Team player or Trusts everyone
  2. Cares about people or Works well with others or Trusts most people
  3. Is nice to everyone or Likes to help or Trusts those they know
  4. Is polite to everyone or Does their part or Unsure of strangers
  5. A bit standoffish or Not good in groups or Suspicious
  6. Mean or Total loner or Paranoid

Example: I rolled a 3, 4, 5 and got a person who is nice to everyone, does their part to help out in groups, but is suspicious of those around them. So maybe they’ve been burned a lot in the past, and while they’re still willing to give people the benefit of the doubt, they’re expecting others to pull something or let them down and aren’t going to risk themselves.

Neuroticism/Emotional Stability: Levels of calmness and tranquility, confidence and sensitivity.

  1. Always calm under pressure or Very confident or Overly Sensitive
  2. Hard to ruffle or Believes in themselves or Empathetic
  3. Cool in most situations or Trusts their decisions or Compassionate
  4. Gets nervous when things are bad or Has occasional doubts or Self interested
  5. Overreacts or Second-guesses things or Apathetic
  6. Panics at the first sign of trouble or Can’t make a decision or Insensitive

Example: I rolled a 5, 1, 5 and got a person who overreacts, but is very sure that they’re right, and doesn’t care about what others think. So maybe this is someone who firmly believes things and can’t be talked out of them and doesn’t even want to hear what others might think about it.

Desire/Need: The type of goal they’re after.

  1. To escape something
  2. To achieve something
  3. To reach something
  4. To prevent something
  5. To find something
  6. To change something

Example: I rolled a 2 and got a person who is trying to achieve something. So maybe they want a job, or a promotion, or to become the lead wizard or captain of the next starship.

If I put this all together, I get a person who is open to new experiences in general, but not very curious, who is also somewhat independent. They like to plan, are tough to motivate, and aren’t very ambitious. They love being around people, but are reserved and a little meek. They’re nice to everyone, do their part to help out in groups, but are suspicious of those around them. They overreact, but are very sure that they’re right, and don’t care about what others think. Their goal is to achieve something.

Different people can interpret these traits in different ways, but I see someone who has a small, tight group of friends they trust and enjoy being with, and they have little desire to expand that circle or change the way things are. Once they get an idea in their head it’s hard to change their mind, and that can sometimes cause problems. Since the goal is to achieve something, maybe their problem is they need to break out of this safe environment for the first time and they don’t know how to do that. Or maybe, the group is changing and they can’t deal with that and want things to remain the same.

If I wanted to put this character into an existing novel I’d have more specific details here, but you should be able to see a character who can probably be dropped into any story and adapted to fit that story.

Naturally, add your own traits or change the levels on any of these to suit your story world or personal tastes better. You might even create a basic character template as a baseline for any new characters in the future, or to flesh out existing characters.

Try creating a character now and see what you come up with. Share in the comments!

Janice Hardy is the author of the teen fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, where she tapped into her own dark side to create a world where healing was dangerous, and those with the best intentions often made the worst choices. Her novels include The Shifter, Blue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The first book in her Foundations of Fiction series, Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure is out now. She lives in Georgia with her husband, one yard zombie, three cats, and a very nervous freshwater eel. Find out more about writing at her site, Fiction University, or find her on Twitter @Janice_Hardy.

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19. What Scares You?

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It’s October! (Already? Yeesh, where did September go? Or for that matter, where did the summer go?) And you know what means!


I’ve always been a fan of all things dark, morbid, and goth, and I think it’s pretty fitting that my relationship anniversary is in the month of October, so my fiance and I can celebrate by going to haunted houses/corn-mazes. Huzzah, horror!

Last year I wrote about the difference between horror and terror as a storytelling device, but this year I want to focus on the “types” or horror, or the sorts of stories that scare you. While my fiance and I both like horror, the horror stories to which we are drawn are very different. When it comes to horror movies in the theatre, he goes for the slasher-type, whereas I prefer ghost stories.

Blood, guts, and gore? Or the supernatural? Both types of horror stories are certainly valid. But because I am the sort of person who likes to dissect and categorize, I’ve divided the two of us into External and Internal Horror.

External Horror

Bear tends to like stories with an external danger: the serial killer on the loose, the deranged psychopath inflicting pain, etc. I call these External Horror narratives, stories in which there is a clear delineation between Good and Evil. (Cabin in the Woods skewers and plays into this sort of horror story quite well.) External Horror often has a high body count, and it is frequently gruesome. In External Horror narratives, the protagonist is the audience proxy, the point of entry for the viewer or reader into the story. Because the protagonist is the sole character you can trust, everything and everyone around him or her becomes suspect, which creates an atmosphere of fear, interspersed by spikes of terror. (The infamous “scare cut”.)

Internal Horror

On the other hand, I prefer stories in which the danger is not quite so distinct or discrete. I like stories about possessed objects, children, or houses, parents slowly losing their minds, murderers who turn out to the be the protagonist all along, etc. I call these Internal Horror stories, where the danger may or may not be “real”.  The protagonist is not the audience proxy in Internal Horror narratives, and instead of people or things around the protagonist, it’s the audience’s perception of events that can’t be trusted. Internal Horror stories tend to have less of a body count than External ones, and the scares tend to be less intense, but there is a constant level of tension that becomes nearly unbearable by the end. (The Shining is one of my favourite examples of the Internal Horror narrative.)

Of course, both Internal and External elements can exist in the same horror narrative. Rosemary’s Baby is a great example, as is American Psycho (the movie, not the book), both of which are some of my favourite horror stories.

What about you? What sort of horror stories do you like?


S. Jae-Jones (called JJ) is a writer, artist, and adrenaline junkie. Before moving down to grits country, she was an editor at St. Martin’s Press in New York City, where she read and acquired YA. When not obsessing over books, she can be found rock climbing, skydiving, or taking her dog on ridiculously long hikes. A southern California native, she now lives in North Carolina with her doctor Bear, a stuffed baby harp seal named White-Harp, and a husky-dog called Bentley. Other places to find JJ include TwitterTumblr, and her blog.

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20. How Not to Quit

by Julie Eshbaugh


JulieThis is my first post for PubCrawl since my big news came out. For those of you who have not yet heard, I am thrilled to announce that my debut novel, IVORY AND BONE, has sold to HarperCollins in a three book deal. Yay! Here’s the summary from Goodreads.com:

Pitched as a YA Clan of the Cave Bear, this fantastical debut with a unique narrative structure tells the story of two star-crossed teens whose competing clans share a dark history, and who must choose between trusting—or fighting—each other.

Sharing this news with the readers of this blog is nothing less than a dream come true. If you’ve been following PubCrawl for long (and maybe even its predecessor, Let The Words Flow,) you know that this didn’t happen for me overnight. I joined Let The Words Flow in 2010. I’m not sure exactly when I first set the goal of becoming a published novelist, (I feel like it crept up on me slowly, developing over time,) but I think it would be safe to say the goal was fully formed somewhere between the summer and fall of 2008, six years ago.

Six years… Six years of writing almost every day. Six years of setting word count goals, of giving up evenings out and favorite TV shows. Six years of getting up early and going to bed late so I could get the writing done.

None of that makes me unique or special – I know I’m far from alone in this. Over these six years, many of you have been pursuing your writing dreams right alongside me.  But since IVORY AND BONE was officially announced, I’ve been congratulated on my tenacity. A few people have said they were impressed that I never gave up.

The truth is, I almost never considered giving up. I rarely thought I was wasting my time. Thoughts of quitting only darkened my mind on the very worst of days, which, thankfully, were few.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately, trying to figure out what exactly kept those thoughts at bay. I’ve come to realize that, while some of it can be credited to a naturally persistent (some might say stubborn,) disposition, much of my ability to persevere is owed to my fantastic support system. In hopes that this might help readers of this blog that may be dealing with the temptation to quit, here are my thoughts on the aspects of my life that have kept me going:

The people closest to me understand the creative process. This has probably been the biggest boost to my perseverance. Both my husband and son have their own creative pursuits. My son studies acting and filmmaking. My husband is a singer-songwriter. Since the day I met my husband, writing songs has been a part of his daily life. He has been a fantastic example for me of a person who relentlessly pursues his art. Not for glory or money or external validation, but for the art itself. Because he didn’t choose music; music chose him. His example has helped me to live as if writing chose me.

I have writer friends and critique partners who tirelessly cheer for me. Writing is lonely. By its nature, it’s solitary and isolating. That’s why I can’t overstate the impact my writing friends have had on me. To say they encouraged me would be a horrific understatement. When it felt like the whole world was telling me “no,” they screamed “YES!” Yes, you can do it. Yes, you’re good enough. Yes, you will get there. I cannot thank them enough. If you do not have friends like this around you, find them. Join a writing group. Engage with the online writing community. (The #amwriting hashtag on Twitter will lead you to lots of likeminded people.) Find people who understand what you’re trying to do. Find people who will cheer for you (and cheer for them, too!)

I blog about writing. Blogging may seem like just one more obligation, something that takes up more time and might make it even harder to keep pursuing your writing. And for some people, blogging does get in the way. But for me, blogging has been a godsend. It’s connected me with all of you who read this blog – writers and readers willing to exchange ideas with me. That process has helped me to form my identity as a writer. When you have a day job that takes up forty (plus) hours of your week, it’s easy to forget that you are a writer first. But this community keeps me focused, so thank you, thank you, THANK YOU. Thank you for supporting my posts, because every time I post I have the audacity to call myself a writer. It’s right there in my bio. Julie Eshbaugh writes fiction for young adults.

Of course, that statement in my bio is true, simply because I choose to make it true. I do write fiction for young adults. Nothing about that part of my life is going to change. Except now, I’ll have the guidance of an experienced editor. I’ll have the support of an established publisher. And sometime in 2016, some of the fiction I write for young adults will go out into the world as a book. :)

How about you? What keeps you writing? What’s pulled you through when you’ve been tempted to quit? Please share your thoughts in the comments!


Julie Eshbaugh writes fiction for young adults. She is the author of the upcoming Ivory & Bone (HarperCollins, 2016.) You can add Julie on Goodreads and follow her on Twitter and Pinterest.


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Jodi Meadows

Lately, I’ve been thinking about how much my other creative pursuits influence my writing — and even help me get through tough problems when I’m working.

There’s something about knitting, for me, that allows me to keep my hands busy and focus juuuuust a little, but frees the rest of my mind to work out a plot tangle or a question about character arcs. I’ve found the same thing in spinning (yarn, not exercise — ugh), and even calligraphy.

(Click to enlarge.)

I started wondering if some of my fellow Pub Crawlers had other creative outlets, as well. And yep. When I put out the call, they delivered.

JJJJ: I’ll start! When it comes to other creative outlets (or as I call them, other procrastinatory outlets ;-)), I tend to play my piano or guitar, draw, take pictures, or redesign my website. I think they all fulfill different functions; for example, I often redesign my website when I’m stuck or between drafts because fiddling with CSS and other types of code is soothing. There is something about typing one thing and have it show up as a concrete THING on the other end that is very, very comforting (especially when writing fiction, which is anything BUT concrete sometimes). I find it kind of mindless in the way algebra is mindless: simple enough to keep me occupied and let the subconscious wander free. (Which is why I am often redesigning my website when I am stuck.)

Music is less mindless to me, and I often play when I need to completely shut off and do something else for a while. I studied piano for 15 years, but when I play now, it’s less the classical stuff and more the “I just the heard the latest pop song and I want to do a cover” type of thing. Usually I cheat and figure out the chord progressions on my guitar first (I am a terrible, terrible, terrible formal musician. 15 years and I know fuck-all about theory.), or sometimes look up the tabs. Then I transfer the work to the piano. (Luckily, 99% of all the pop songs are the same four chords I-V-vi-IV.)

Sometimes, I doodle drawings of my characters. But that’s usually when I’m doing something ELSE and unable to write (that’s often at the day job). Doodling sketches of my characters keeps me in the right frame of mind for my story, but it also helps me figure out what they look like in my head. (I often post my doodles to Instagram and Tumblr. My doodles can also be found on my blog and Deviantart.)

I also take photographs.

If there’s a procrastinatory technique, then I will do it. ;-) Are you sensing a theme here?

SusanDennardSusan: I enjoy tap dancing, sewing, and blogging/newslettering. They all demand really different kinds of creative energy.

One thing that I started doing this year (and that I do a lot of now) is making my own body products and makeup. It’s like cooking crossed with chem lab. Lots of stirring and weighing and melting involved. Plus, you have to really understand how various butters or oils, oxides or clays interact–otherwise the consistency of the cream/lotion/lip gloss won’t be right. Or you might end up with a blush that’s TOO red or a pressed powder that’s so pale you look like a corpse. :) I find that all that mixing and melting and measuring requires just enough focus that I can’t totally zone out, but it also frees up enough headspace for my subconscious to work through story knots.

Erin BowmanErin: As most of you know, I was a web designer prior to jumping into writing. Design is still a huge outlet for me. Even though it’s related to writing, I absolutely love designing my own promotional materials (bookmarks, stickers, postcards, etc), as well as maintaining my website. I’m a bit type nerd, too, so I tend to collect (read: buy) way more fonts than I should.

Another huge distraction for me, while not necessarily creative, is getting outdoors. Walks, hikes, camping, canoeing . . . you name it. I find being outside, totally away from the computer/technology is one of the best ways to give my brain a break and reset the creative well, if you will.

Kat ZhangKat: I love all kinds of art, and I get really inspired watching people dance, or put on a play, or things like that. As for as things I actually do myself, though, I paint (mostly watercolor at the moment), and I’ve gotten into digital art (“painting” with a wacom tablet and photoshop) this past year or so. It’s a great creative outlet that’s not word-based.

I love photography as well, but since I’m mostly interested in portrait/lifestyle photography, my ability to do it is limited to the times when my friends are willing to play model ;)

I post a lot of both my art and my photography on my Tumblr :)

Janice HardyJanice: I’m a graphic designer by trade, and I think that’s helped me a lot with being able to handle feedback without taking it personally. Clients always ask for changes and comment on my “art” and it’s helped me be able to see my creative work as a product and not just an expression of myself, and how the creative process can be a group effort to great success.

The last few years I’ve been drawing and painting for fun, and crazy as it sounds, I’ve been painting Nerf guns and toys. All of the guns were bright orange and yellow plastic when I started. My husband gave me a huge AT-AT toy for my birthday that I’m dying to paint. It takes hours, but it’s a lot of fun and very absorbing. It’s a combination of spray paint, fine detail hand painting and dry brushing.

red space pistolsteampunky shotgun blue space gun
(Click to enlarge.)
I’m not sure how “creative” this is, but I’m a gamer and I’ve feel having to make decisions about what to do it games and thinking about what that character would do (their motivations) has helped me plot my novels easier. It forced me to think about cause and effect and how character choices created effects and consequences. There’s also a lot of creativity in designing a game for friends and running one, almost like writing a book where you have no control over the characters, hehe.

Jodi Meadows lives and writes in the Shenandoah Valley, Virginia, with her husband, a Kippy*, and an alarming number of ferrets. She is a confessed book addict, and has wanted to be a writer ever since she decided against becoming an astronaut. She is the author of the INCARNATE Trilogy (HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen).
*A Kippy is a cat.

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22. Book Recommendation: The History of the Franks by Gregory of Tours

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Biljana Likic

So you’re writing that sweeping historical novel full of war and political intrigue, and you maybe need some inspiration. Where better to turn than to history books? Only problem is that they can be a bit dry, and at times the forced impartiality (“I must present this as facts uncoloured by my opinion!”) can make the prose frustratingly ambiguous. Then there’s the whole “history is written by the victor” thing. The phrase reveals the difficulties readers face when approaching historical writing. Not to mention, it’s practically impossible to write about a historical event in a completely detached way without it sounding like a recipe.

Honestly, it makes me glad I write fiction. The pressure of writing a history book is terrifying. What sources you include, and where you include them, and why…no matter how you organize them, there will always be an expert disagreeing with you.

Enter Gregory of Tours. He was a 6th century bishop of (you guessed it) Tours, France, and is our best contemporary source of the Merovingian dynasty in modern-day France and Germany. He wrote history, but it’s only in very recent times that we started giving him more credit as an actual historian. Why did it take so long? You only need to take a gander at all the wild stuff he says in his most famous work, The History of the Franks.

Here’s the deal. Remember the whole “no such thing as no bias” spiel? This is very apparent in Gregory. A lot of people read the Histories assuming they’re a moralistic work about how those who aren’t Catholic will suffer the demons of hell, and those that are will be saved in heaven. To be fair, it’s not a hard conclusion to reach. There’s one story of a priest conspiring against his superior, and as alleged punishment from God, on the morning the priest is getting ready to betray him, this happens: “He went off to the lavatory and while he was occupied in emptying his bowels he lost his soul instead.”

Lost his soul on the can. He quite literally shit himself to death. There are fewer effective ways to teach someone a lesson about going against a saintly authority.

But then, in another story, Queen Deuteria is afraid that her husband might “desire and take advantage of” their maturing daughter so she puts her in a cart drawn by untamed bulls and the daughter crashes into a river and dies. And this happens in like three sentences with no moral. No ceremony, no “The shadow of sin is cast upon the loveless mother!”, no “Don’t lust after your own daughter or else your wife might kill her (and also, sin)!”, only a few nearly parenthetical phrases, perhaps just to explain what happened to the daughter when the King later takes a new wife and refuses to take Deuteria back. I wonder why he’d do that.

So you have this one priest’s story taking up a few sizable, memorable paragraphs about him conspiring against his bishop, and then you have this other one of a horrific filicide told in a measly three sentences. That’s the fascinating thing about this work. It’s a bunch of to-the-point recitations of facts mixed together with wildly moralistic tales where common sicknesses and coincidences are explains away as God’s doing. In some sections it even reads like fantasy. It’s as full of people having prophetic dreams and being warned about the dangers ahead as it is of short side notes about a perfectly Christian king being poisoned just because…well…he was king, and he was poisoned.

But the reason the Histories are so valuable today, aside from being a long and spectacular feat of story-telling, is because there really is a genuinely massive amount of historical information within them. Every so often you’ll find entire letters Gregory directly transcribed so he could give us the primary source rather than rephrasing an event in his own words. Some of these letters survive in different forms and can be used to cross-reference events in the book. Others only survive through his writing. There is a ton of specificity about the Church, and especially about the history of the bishopric of Tours. There’s stuff in there about the actual daily lives of people living in the 6th century, their traditions, habits, and gossip, written by a person living in the 6th century. That is absolutely invaluable.

Not to mention a freaking amazing read. Merovingian kings and queens meant business. The backstabbing, the stealing of territory, copious amounts of regicide, broken alliances, queens abandoning their husbands for other kings because others were manlier and held more promise as conquerors… These people were ruthless. Contrast that with the general thread of what it means to be a good Christian weaving through the work, and you’ve got some damn awesome dichotomies going on.

So move this baby up your to-read list. Not only is it full of events that actually happened, making it an excellent book to read for personal research, but it’s also a great literary window into the workings of 6th century Continental Europe.

biljana new picBiljana Likic is working on her fantasy WIPs and has just started her MA in Medieval Studies, from which she can’t wait to graduate so she’ll finally have all the time in the world to write. You can follow her on Twitter.

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23. …which leads to books!

Remember how I said cleaning leads to writing? Yep, I’ve been busy. And I’m still busy, because I’m not exactly done. But I thought you’d be interested in an update and some recent releases, along with the coming attractions …

First, you can get these now:

LOVE PROOF is now out in audio! I love the narration Maria Hunter Welles did for it. And I didn’t announce it at the time (see above, been busy), but there are also audio editions of THE GOOD LIE, DOGGIRL, and REPLAY. I know. It’s a lot. Take your pick and listen away!

Also, I have a new short story collection out. It’s called A FEW STRANGE MATTERS, and it is. A little odd. But sometimes my mind needs a break from longer works like novels, and when I let my mind wander, it wanders. The collection has some contemporary, some science fiction, a little fantasy, some paranormal, and a couple of strange stories from the teen world. You might have read a few of them here and there, but I guarantee there are some you’ve never seen. Possibly because I wrote them under a pen name that none of you knew about. So take a look–I’ll be interested in hearing what you all think!

Now, for the coming attractions:

YES, PARALLELOGRAM 4 WILL BE OUT THIS FALL. That’s all I can say, because I have made the mistake before of giving you a pub date which turns out not to be true. But I promise you will feel satisfied and fulfilled when you read this final book in the series. I’m still working very hard to pull all the pieces together. Thank you for your questions (“When? WHEN??”) and your patience. I hate waiting, too. I get it. It’ll be along very soon.

And to make you even happier about all the time I’ve been hiding out, I’ll also have ANOTHER NEW BOOK for you by December, I believe. It’s fantasy, it’s epic, and it involves a girl warrior. Yessssss …

That’s my report for now. I have to go back to writing. I owe you all some books.

Happy Fall! ~Robin

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24. Holding Yourself Accountable & Staying Motivated

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Susan Dennard

I’ve talked about productivity in great detail before. I’ve discussed how BICHOK is a sure-fire way to get your writing where it needs to be, how endurance can be increased, and how fear can often hold back your writing.

But what about those times when it’s just plain ol’ laziness that’s keeping you from the productivity you want? What about those days where you spend four hours at the computer and write all of 4 words because OMG! Look at all the pretties and shinies on the internet? And ungh, I’m hungry…and hey, when did that squirrel move into the tree outside my window?

Yeah, it’s kinda like that.

On those distraction-heavy days, my friend, it’s time to seek help elsewhere. It’s time to find SOMEONE ELSE to hold you accountable.

I mean, think about it: when you were in high school, you got your work done (or I hope you did…). Maybe it was at the last minute or maybe it wasn’t always your best work, but you finished. Why? Because someone else expected you to.

I’ve talked at great length about this with my author and solo-entrepreneur friends. We have no bosses! We have NO ONE to look over our shoulders and make sure we’re getting the work done.

Another thing we don’t have are people to validate us when we do make progress. So what if you had a great day writing–there’s no one there to be impressed or to pat you on the back or to say, “Great job! You deserve a raise.” We simply slog on, all alone.

But what if we put a dose of SOMEONE ELSE in our writing lives? What if we find (or start) a Twitter hashtag so we can make accountability partners? Or cheerleader/validation partners? Or what if we interact in forums or via email chains or Facebook groups? Writing is solitary, but it certainly doesn’t have to be.

I think camaraderie is one of the reasons that NaNoWriMo is SO successful for people! They’re all writing together, interacting, sharing, and keeping each other motivated.

So if you’re finding you need a bit more motivation in your life, I challenge you to find another writer who’ll hold you accountable and send you lots of smiley faces when you need ‘em. Heck, come join me in my forums–I’m definitely in need of some writing buddies!! Or add me as a friend for NaNoWriMo!

You tell me: Is this something you would ever do? Or do you already have someone like this in your writing life?

If you like what you read here, consider signing up for my newsletter, the Misfits & Daydreamers or swinging by my For Writers page!

SusanDennardBefore she settled down as a full-time novelist and writing instructor, Susan Dennard traveled the world as marine biologist. She is the author of the Something Strange and Deadly series as well as the forthcoming Witchlands series (Tor, 2015), and when not writing, she can be found hiking with her dogs, exploring tidal pools, or practicing her tap dance shuffles. You can learn more about Susan on her blogTwitterFacebook, or Pinterest.


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25. On Handling Criticism


Alex Bracken


On Saturday morning, as I was scrolling through my Twitter feed, I came across an article written by another author, describing the great lengths she had gone to to track down and, I guess, expose a reviewer she felt was too harsh and inaccurate in her review of this author’s work. The author describes the supposed harassment she received from this reviewer in the weeks that followed, and, after some “light stalking” (there is no such thing as “light stalking,” just stalking) of this reviewer’s social media, she ultimately showed up on the reviewer’s doorstep to confront her. I think we are all in agreement that this act was 100% unacceptable behavior and terribly, horribly frightening for the reviewer who had every right to protect her identity online. I’m fairly certain you all know what I’m talking about, but rather than link you to the essay, I will point you in the direction of posts from Dear Author and Smart Bitches, Trashy Books for a better, balanced discussion.

What I want to talk about today are ways to cope with negative criticism as an author. We all receive it. We all see it. And if you haven’t reached that step of your career yet, well, you should expect it and start conditioning yourself to handle it now. It’s easy to think that you can take a rational stance when it comes to getting feedback about your work, but there are so many emotions at play here, that I think many authors are surprised by how gut-deep they feel negative words (and how easy it is to ignore the positive). I’ll be the first to admit that I was not great at coping when my first book was published in 2010. I stalked my Google Alerts and the book’s GoodReads page. Every good review was like a hit of wonderful sunshine-y rainbows, and I’d keep coming back for more… but then I’d see a critical review and it would smack me down into this dark “maybe I do suck” place. So what formed was a cycle and I knew I was going to have to break it if I wanted any sort of career.  Here is what has helped me:

1) Don’t read reviews. Plain and simple, do not read reviews, good or bad. This is the only thing that has ultimately saved my sanity and allowed me to be productive. It’s obviously easier said than done, especially when a book is first coming out and you’re dying to hear what people think. You will never be able to stop with just one review. I recommend staying off GoodReads entirely, but I actually do think it’s important for authors to have a presence there so they can update their books’ information pages and respond to questions and messages. If you find you need a hit of GR, I recommend bookmarking the Readers Questions page for each book or your author dashboard and really keeping to just those pages. You can also add books you’re currently reading without looking at your own books’ pages–don’t sneak a peek. If you find yourself with a crippling addiction to checking on the average or seeing if anyone new is reading it, block GoodReads on your browser.

My one exception to this rule is that I do read professional reviews from trade publications like PublishersWeekly and Kirkus Reviews, because those publications are used by librarians to see if they should purchase the books for their libraries. But you can always ask your editor to hold the reviews back if you really don’t want to see anything.

2) Remember that not every reader is on GoodReads. GR is a fantastic community of book lovers, but if you were to ask the average person on the street what they thought of it, a lot of people would just blink at you in confusion. Bad reviews may feel like someone is trying to mock or humiliate you (they’re not) for public consumption, but that public is actually just a fraction of the number of people reading your books. Don’t believe me? Check your royalty statement against the people who have marked the book as ‘read.’

3) We are all students. The goal of any writer should be to improve and grow with each book. No matter how perfect you think the story is, there is always room for improvement. Embrace that idea, and, if you must-must-must read reviews, learn to recognize a real critique someone is giving you versus a statement about their personal taste, the latter of which is completely out of your control. (eg “This author didn’t spend enough time developing the secondary characters.” versus “I didn’t like XX character. I thought they were annoying.”)

4) Trust reviewers to know their tastes. One thing I’ve learned over the years of getting to know book bloggers and reviewers is that they know what’s going to work for them and what’s not going to work for them. They can read another reviewer’s negative review and recognize, oh, s/he doesn’t like this element in books, but I do, and still purchase or request it. They can even recommend a book they, personally, didn’t like to another reviewer/friend who they think will.

5) Bad reviews are better than no reviews. Trust me.


6) Keep the old adage in mind: taste is subjective. Think of your group of friends and family. Think about a movie you all saw, or a book you all read that you, personally loved. Not everyone agreed with you, right? Everyone found their own problem with the story or characters that they fixated on. Readers bring their own world with them to a story, and that informs how they read it and how they enjoy it. I think it was Dita Von Teese who said, “You can be the ripest, juiciest peach in the world, but there’s still going to be someone who hates peaches.” I will repeat that to myself over and over if I have to until it clicks in my brain. My epiphany moment came, again, with my first book. I was deep down into the GR rabbit hole, torturing myself by looking at all of the negative reviews, and had a moment of, “Well, what else has this reviewer hated?” Reader, this reviewer hated a lot of books that I myself had given five stars to.

7) Don’t respond to reviews, good or bad. Do not respond. DO NOT RESPOND. If someone includes you when they tweet out the link to the review, you can say thank you, but do not leave comments on their blog, do not leave comments on the GR review. Reviewers are reviewing the books for other readers, not for you. Not even for your publisher. Other readers.

8) Know that you can still be friends with bloggers, even if they didn’t like your book. You are not your book(s). You are an awesome person, and awesome people can be friends with other awesome people. Much like you can be friends with other authors never having read their books or not liking them very much. A negative review isn’t a sign that you’re being shunned, just that your book did not work for that reviewer. But, hey! You both love Sleepy Hollow, so why not chat about that on Twitter instead?

9) Make it so the people who love your work can find you and you can banish the negative voices. The best thing I ever did in this regard was set up a PO Box and an author email account for readers to contact me. Because the ones that are taking the time to write to you are the ones who either are thinking critically about your story enough to have pressing questions or because they love it. You might occasionally get a message from someone who has strong beliefs that contradict what you’re saying in your books, but those will always be fewer than the chorus of sweet, awesome voices of the readers you reached and affected on a personal level. If someone is being a troll on Twitter to you, block them. Done. If you track Tumblr tags of your name or book title, install an extension or plug-in like Tumblr Hatred that lets you hide posts you’d rather not see each time you check the tags.

10) Shake it off. Yes. Like TSwift is telling you to. One of my favorite lyrics in that song is Just think while you’ve been getting down and out about the liars and the dirty, dirty cheats of the world/You could’ve been getting down to this sick beat. Basically, your energy is WAY better spent thinking and caring about the people who like your book. As I said above, don’t ignore a hundred voices telling you they like your stuff in favor of the one or two voices who are basically just saying “eh… not my cup of tea.” There are certainly going to be reviews that are way harsher than that in your lifetime, ones you think go too far. The best response is still no response. It’s getting up from your computer and going to do something you love. Or, you know, turning off the internet and writing. Anything that affects your productivity isn’t worth your time.

Alex lives in New York City where she writes like a fiend and lives in a charming apartment overflowing with books. She is the New York Times bestselling author of The Darkest Minds and Never Fade. You can visit her online at her website, Tumblr, or Twitter.

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