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1. Generating New Ideas

by Julie Eshbaugh

~~~

Julie

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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2. 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?

Research.

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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3. Expectation vs. Reality

by

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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4. 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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5. A Reminder to Actually Write

Writing Life Banner

by

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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6. 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.

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7. Neo-NaNo

by

Alex Bracken

Alex

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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8. 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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9. 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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10. 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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11. Pick Six: The How to Create a Character Game

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by

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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12. On Handling Criticism

by

Alex Bracken

Alex

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.

5.5) THREE STARS MEANS “I LIKED IT.” THEY LIKED IT. THEY DID. IT’S NOT LIKE GETTING A “C” GRADE. THEY LIKED IT. GETTING THREE STARS IS ACTUALLY NICE, OKAY? REMEMBER THAT.

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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13. Holding Yourself Accountable & Staying Motivated

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by

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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14. …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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15. Book Recommendation: The History of the Franks by Gregory of Tours

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By

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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16.

by

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.

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(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.

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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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17. How Not to Quit

by Julie Eshbaugh

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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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18. What Scares You?

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by

JJ

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JJ

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

HAVING THE PANTS SCARED OFF YOU.

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?

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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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19. Perfect is the Enemy of Good

by

Alex Bracken

Alex

Like a lot of writers, I wrestle with bouts of depression and anxiety. And by “wrestle,” I mean: when they come for me fully-loaded with self-doubt and frustration and exhaustion, I have to strong-arm the feelings back to get any work done and get on with life. I say that casually, I guess, but some days are easier than others and it’s taken me years to suss out one of the biggest culprits for turning me into an anxiety-ridden puddle of Alex goo. My enemy is perfectionism.

If we’re going to really dig into the Alex Archives, I first noticed this shadow trailing me in sixth grade. There were three prongs to this: the first was that I realized that there were kids in advanced classes, and I wasn’t one of them (And of course the question became What’s wrong with me that I’m not one of them?), I got ruthlessly bullied every single day riding home on the bus by an 8th grade girl who literally threw things at me and called me all sorts of really vile things, and I lost all of my “friends” I went into school with because–I kid you not–my parents wouldn’t let me get contacts, I was shy, and I didn’t dress the way they did. (This is especially sucky when you consider my parents didn’t want me to get contacts because I was 13 and had to get hard contact lenses which, let me tell you, are especially painful to wear in a dry desert climate and you have to actually train your eyes to wear.) And, yup, those former friends went on to become the popular girls. Classic.

I’m shading in this backstory as a way of telling you that for years–years–after, I could never shake the feeling that something was “wrong” with me, and I lived in fear of feeling embarrassed and judged like that again. To this day, it still takes me time to warm up to new people and social situations and shake off the “shame” of “embarrassing” myself by messing up somehow, or presenting myself as less than the Perfect Alex I’ve crafted in my head. It wasn’t ever that I couldn’t laugh at myself–just that I lived in terror of the moments people would laugh at me.

When my old nemesis comes around for a visit now, it’s usually in relation to my writing. I don’t cling to my stories and work and rework and rework and rework in a never-ending cycle of editing. I don’t have to turn in a perfectly clean draft to my editor to feel good about it. And while I do set hard goals for myself and work toward them, they’re not unrealistic.

My writing perfectionism manifests in procrastination.

It sounds sort of counterintuitive, right? The stereotype of a perfectionist is someone agonizing over a piece of work or a project and being trapped by a feeling that it’s just not quite good enough yet, let me work on it a little more… The stereotype implies that the perfectionist can launch themselves into a project without any sort of difficulty, when, in truth, it often leads to a kind of paralysis that makes it next to impossible to sit down and just begin. For me, it’s a beast that changes its face but never fully disappears.

In college and high school, I would work on papers and bang them out in one sitting and, true story, I would almost never proofread them beyond the proofreading I did while writing–I know. But I was so afraid of finding out that it sucked or was terrible that I couldn’t even bring myself to face it, let alone potentially fix it… which, uh, yeah, ran the risk of setting myself up for failure in a strange self-fulfilling prophecy.

Today, it’s tied into a fear of not wanting to disappoint readers and/or my publisher (the people who have put their faith in me), or that the book won’t ever live up to the vision of it I have in my head. I can tell myself a thousand times you can’t fix a blank page, and somehow, the anxiety only compounds, especially when I have a deadline looming and I’m not feeling exceptionally inspired. It doesn’t happen with every project, but, man, when it does I just feel crippled and useless. If you experience this, or this is sounding all-too-familiar, know that you are not alone and you can get through the gate.

In order to get through one of these episodes, I need to 1) trick my brain into thinking that what I’m working on isn’t actually that big of a deal by writing the scenes out by hand in a notebook instead of on the computer (which somehow feels more “final” and “official,” I suppose) and 2) divide the work up into smaller goals so I’m accomplishing even just a little bit each day. I usually write in the notebook right before bed, so the next day, or whenever I’m ready to transfer it to an actual Word document, I’ve already started and am on my way.

It’s not a perfect system, but, then again, I’m not perfect either.

perfectionism

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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20. The Tyrant Villain

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By

Biljana Likic

biljana new picA common trope in stories is the merciless ruler whose reign must be toppled by the hero. I admit to being guilty of shameless adherence to this archetype. My current fantasy WIP features a villainous tyrant on the throne, and boy, am I having a tough time making him convincing.

What are the first things you think of when you think of a tyrant? Madness? Cruelty? Lust for power? A god complex? All possibilities, all easy to come up with on the spot during a lazy bout of brainstorming. After these character flaws might come the political implications of what a tyrant is: an absolute ruler, a leader of vast armies, an arbitrary judge. When I started thinking about the things my tyrant might do, I came up with capricious murder, genocide, induced famine, city-razing, and general disregard towards the value of a human life. Personally, thinking about tyranny leaves me in desperate need of rainbows and cupcakes, so when I approached my fantasy, I perhaps hadn’t given my villain enough thought, and it wasn’t until recently that I forced myself to confront it.

I started with the character flaws. Madness, cruelty, lust for power, and a god complex. In no time, my tyrant was a caricature. But there was nothing wrong with that, as long as I worked towards fixing it. It’s always good to start with base flaws and virtues when trying to flesh out a character. Once you have those, though, you have to begin adding depth. The shock value of mindless murder wears off very quickly. What never becomes dull is the potential for logical reasoning behind the tyrant’s twisted actions. So we venture into the realm of “whys”.

Backstory

Every tyrant starts small. After all, I believe a god complex is created through experiences. Perhaps there’s a string of eerie coincidences and close calls with death that lead him (male, because my tyrant is male) to believe that somebody is watching over him. Following that, he starts comparing himself to others, and if his intelligence is above average, begins to truly believe that he’s better. Already suspecting his divine status, he just needs one friend to tell him what he wants to hear to become brainwashed by the seductive prospect that maybe he actually is a god. And since gods know better than people about what’s right and wrong, it’s a god’s job to guide them in the proper direction. And if that has to be done through absolute rule, so be it.

The idea is that the tyrant actually believes that what he’s doing is for the good of the people. He’s driven by what he thinks is right. Nobody views their own self as an evil person. He has a set of values by which he abides, shaped by his childhood and relationships, and everybody against them is in the wrong.

But he can’t just waltz into a palace and plop down onto a throne. He has to convince everybody else that he’s a god first; he has to earn his power. And he can’t earn his power until he has some kind of control over the people. Fear works, of course, but even then he needs soldiers to confirm it throughout the countryside. And the way he gets those soldiers is…

Charisma

A charismatic person is someone who displays magnetism and charm in everything they do: someone you would follow off a cliff if you didn’t stop and think about it. No tyrant gets to where he wants to be without the ability to lead an army. But armies aren’t stupid. Of course, mob mentality sometimes makes them act in questionable ways, but they wouldn’t follow just anybody. A tyrant is a person who has successfully won over a massive amount of people to do their bidding. You have to have insane talent for public speaking to pull that off, and you have to value the people around you who do their jobs well. So often, tyrants in media are portrayed as baby-killing cracks who behead their irreplaceable right-hand man when he accidentally bumps into them. And while he might end up doing that eventually (especially if he boards the crazy train) it’s important to remember that throughout history, those events were the beginning of the end of a tyrant’s career. Somebody always ends up killing him off. So unless you want your story to last about two pages, don’t make everybody hate the tyrant.

A more convincing reason for not making everybody hate the tyrant is that the hero has to have opposition, and the opposition has to be great. If everybody agrees that the world would be a better place without Emperor Quintus the Bat-Shit Insane, chances are somebody else will kill him before your hero can even walk.

But most importantly, a tyrant with charisma is disturbing. They make the reader feel like maybe they’re rooting for the wrong person. A charismatic villain is one that you dislike not necessarily because of the bloodbaths they cause, but because they trouble you by forcing you to challenge your own beliefs on things you thought you knew. They’re the kind of villain that you love to hate. You’re relieved when they’re gone, but you also miss them.

Doubt

Bringing this back to the characteristics of your tyrant, doubt is one that is essential. Doubt is the root of power lust. If the tyrant is a god, he should have no problem taking over the land. So why is it so much trouble? Probably because he still doesn’t have enough power. If the doubt is “Maybe I’m not a god,” the answer is to continue taking over lands until you prove that you are. If the doubt is “Maybe I’m wrong,” the answer is change the laws until they prove that you’re right.

There’s the old saying that absolute power corrupts absolutely, but the truth is, power corrupts those who don’t have it. If you want a corrupt tyrant, never give him absolute power, because then nothing would have to change. He would be satisfied. Instead, you have to always make sure to keep the tyrant unsatisfied with what he has by making him riddled with doubt over the sustainability of his empire. If he has full control over the people, don’t give him full control over himself, too. Don’t give him confidence in his own abilities to keep the people in his sway. If confidence is hidden from him, he’ll struggle to find it by going to extremes, and he’ll take it out on his people in an attempt to assert his rule. As time passes and his fist tightens, the penalty for tax evasion eventually turns from a few days in the stocks to death by stoning. Hunting on royal grounds slowly becomes punishable by the chopping off of limbs instead of a simple fine. The gradual increase in brutality has to be just that: gradual. A continuous one-upmanship against himself to see how far he can go. As the tyrant’s doubt rises, as madness settles in, the times change to reflect his state of mind, but the people’s memory of his greatness stalls any action against him. Because remember: the tyrant has charisma. There are people that like him, and might be blind to the changes until they begin to directly affect them. And as long as they don’t steal or hunt on royal grounds, the people think they’re safe. But because the tyrant is crazy, that’s not quite the case.

Eventually, the tyrant’s enemies become his own people. As a conqueror, when it was his armies against foreign armies, the distinction was clear. But as it turns into his armies against his own people, what does he do? How can he make the right decision? How far can he push until they turn against him? How much more control does he need until he can be sure that civil unrest will never happen? Who can he preemptively kill for the good of the peaceful state?

Commitment

Finally, we get to the most important point of all. Commit to your tyrant. As you continue to explore the possibilities within his character, you’ll be tempted to turn him into a victim. I did this in my fantasy WIP. Twice. With two separate characters that had started out as villains. Now they’re both misunderstood good guys. And it was when I almost did it a third time that I had to stop myself, because it would’ve made conflict impossible, and a story with no conflict is boring.

Always remember: your tyrant is a bad person. He kills. He destroys. He threatens humanity. Because you’re a fantastic writer and you developed his character so well, your knowledge of his motives will trick you into feeling empathetic towards him.

Don’t. He is a bad person.

You want to show his side of the argument, and you want to show it well enough to make the reader conflicted over his eventual defeat, but you have to maintain the status quo: He is the villain, and the hero has to defeat him. When he and the hero meet, they can’t just sit around and talk about their feelings over copious amounts of chocolate cake and then decide to hold hands and start over. Even if your hero ends up understanding him, they cannot agree. Because as soon as they agree, poof goes the conflict. The best stories are the ones where the differences in ideology are understandable, but irreconcilable.

And ultimately, how do you forgive cold-blooded murder? How do you forgive genocide? How do you forgive systematic oppression and mutilation of a people by their own leader?

You can’t. And even if, in the end, the tyrant is repentant, it’s too late. He must pay for his sins.

That’s the tragedy of a perfect villain: they are beyond saving, beyond any hope for atonement. But regardless of all their terrible actions, you are able to understand and pity them, because you can see the forks in the road at which they took the wrong turns.

Well. I don’t know that I’ll be able to write my tyrant like this. It takes quite a bit of skill, and I’m not sure I’m there yet. But this is my goal, and I hope these ramblings were useful to others struggling through the same obstacles as I am.

Biljana 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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21. Life as an Editor Married to an Author

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  by

Jordan Hamessley London

Jordan Hamessley LondonEarlier this month, my husband Matt London, experienced something as an author that I’ve experienced many times as an editor. He launched his middle grade debut novel, The 8th Continent. In my career I’ve witnessed many book launches and supported my authors through all that goes with the publishing process as their editor. With Matt and The 8th Continent, I finally experienced it as a family member.

Let’s rewind about a decade…

My husband and I both got our starts in the publishing world around the same time. In fact, if it weren’t for him, I might not even be an editor today. I had taken a semester off of college to do a national theatre tour and after I returned, I spent the majority of my time in his dorm room reading a book a day. One day, Matt said “You’re a freakishly fast reader. You really should find out how to be a reader for a publishing house or literary agent.” The next day, I applied for an internship at a lit agency, snagged the job, and started my long journey to becoming an editor.

Matt was always writing. Since college I’ve been his first reader on nearly everything he’s written. We dreamed of the day I would be an editor and he would be a published author and we’d be living in a big penthouse on Central Park West… The realities of publishing salaries and the life of a freelance author have made that last big a tad hard to fulfill, but as of this month, we have the first two boxes checked off.

As you can imagine, life in an apartment with one editor and one author can be tricky, so here’s how we have survived.

  • No Crossing the Streams: It was always important to us that we each support each other while keeping up boundaries. When Matt’s book went on submission, there was never a moment when we considered sending it to me or my imprint. In fact, when he received his offer from Razorbill, I was still working at Penguin, and the editor had no idea we were married until he went in for a meeting. Of course, over the years we’ve both made contacts from interactions we’ve had at various parties and book launch parties, but I never sent an email to anyone saying “Hey, my man has a book you should read.” That said, at non-publishing events we often get a side-eye when people ask us what we do. “I’m a children’s book author.” “I’m a children’s book editor.” Quickly followed by an “Uh-huh…”
  • Empathy: I have to say having lived with an author on submission, it does make me look at my long list of submissions with more empathy for the writers. They also have family members listening to them freak out over long submission times and why an agent or editor is tweeting about reading (or not reading) submissions. On the other hand, I’m able to say “Hey, editors are human and sometimes just want to spend some time playing video games (yes, we’re nerds) with their husband or watch some Scandal. Chill out.” We’ve both humanized the other side for each other.
  • Knowing When to Step Aside: Once Matt got his book deal, I told him that I was going to stand back and leave the editing up to his editor. These days I typically read a first draft before he sends it just to assure him it’s not terrible. I don’t read the book again until it’s finished. I know how it can be as an editor knowing that an author has a bevy of beta-readers and family members reading each draft and how those voices can occasionally muddy the editorial process, so I just don’t insert myself. That said, whenever he starts a new project, I’m always very excited to read his new work.
  • Perspective: After spending my entire publishing career living with me, Matt has had a leg up in what to expect as a debut author. He’s been to many events for my authors and has heard all of the behind-the-scenes information on every book I’ve edited, so he went into the publishing process understanding the reality of being a debut middle grade author and did always have me to fall back on if he had a question about part of the process.

So after nearly ten years of working toward our goal, Matt’s book came out this month and it has been amazing and crazy and I couldn’t be more proud of him. I know now firsthand how intense launch week is for an author and their family and want to send hugs to every author and family I’ve ever worked with.

Here’s to many more years of our crazy life in publishing.

Jordan Hamessley London is an Editor at Egmont USA, where she edits middle grade and YA. Her current titles include Isla J. Bick’s new series, The Dark Passages (#1 White Space), Bree DeSpain’s new series Into the Dark (#1 The Shadow Prince), and more. Prior to Egmont, Jordan worked at Grosset and Dunlap, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers where she edited Adam-Troy Castro’s middle grade horror series Gustav Gloom, Ben H. Winters and Adam F. Watkin’s book of horror poetry Literally Disturbed, Michelle Schusterman’s I Heart Band series, Adam F. Watkins’s alphabet picture book R is for Robot and more. When not editing, Jordan can be found on twitter talking about books, scary movies, and musical theater.

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22. Collaboration: Two writers are better than one(?)

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by

E.C. Myers

Eugene_ClaraOne of my favorite young adult books (and films) is Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist, written by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan. These authors have written two other novels together, and Levithan also teamed up with John Green for another of my favorite books, Will Grayson, Will Grayson. I’m fascinated when writers work together to tell a story, and I’m curious about how these things come about, what their process is, and how the story develops along the way. After all, writing is supposed to be a lonely business, isn’t it?

I think most working writers will agree that all published stories are ultimately collaborations. There’s the critiques you get from your beta readers, feedback from your agent, changes from your editor. There’s also the input of copy editors and proofreaders, who can sometimes save a story at the last possible moment and catch all your mistakes. Your friends and family help you brainstorm, or happen to say something at just the right moment. Your read another story or watch a movie that inspires a brilliant idea for yours. Along the way, many of these suggestions are entirely optional — it’s still your book — but it’s good to listen and be open to anything that will make your book stronger. Your crit partners, agent, and editor all want it to be the best story it can be, and you know what? Even if you agree with them and make some changes, it’s still your book.

sat_121_2014So far, I have only collaborated with another author once, on a novelette titled “Lost in Natalie,” which was recently published in the summer issue of Space and Time magazine. I wrote it with my friend Mercurio D. Rivera, a critically acclaimed science fiction writer; he critiqued an early draft in our writing group and thought it was a great premise but the light, almost campy tone was jarring against the darker themes. He wanted to take a crack at working on it together, and I agreed. (There was also some sort-of-incest in the story, which I think is what really got him interested…)

The basic plot was about a guy who attends a sex party called a “swap meat” at which everyone switches bodies throughout the night. But there’s a police raid — because of course that kind of thing is totally illegal! — and he has to escape in someone else’s body. Hijinks ensue.

As this was our first collaboration with anyone, let alone each other, we approached it as sensibly as we could. Mercurio had my original draft, which he reworked into a new outline, and we decided to simply use that as a guide and alternate chapters, sending them to each other to pick up the thread like a round-robin game. As we reviewed the other’s section, we were free to make any changes we wanted — without tracked changes — no questions asked.

Mercurio kicked it off:

Attached is my stab at an opening scene for “Lost at the Swap Meat” (working title).  I’m afraid that my outline has sort of fallen apart.  Nonetheless, I’ll also send you the outline in its current state in a separate email.My skin is very thick; feel free to re-work any or all of this if it’s not working for you.

 

I worked on it. A few days later I sent him this:

Here’s my first pass on the second scene, along with some changes and additions to the first section, which was quite good. Wow, it really is porny though–where are we going to market this thing? Anyway. Feel free to change whatever you need to. I’ll choke down my pride :) I basically stuck to your outline here, and threw in some other threads we might explore or lose along the way.

 

I got it back a week later:

Tag!  You’re it!P.S.  Outline is broken.  Luckily you don’t normally write with one, right?
PPS. I ramped down the sexual flirting in the cab–I figured they’d be too shaken up from their near arrest, but I kept it in the apartment
PPPS  My latest scene sucks.  Please make brilliant
PPPPS “Conner” is now “Gustavo”– to make the characters slightly less white-bread

 

Gustavo? Okay. We changed that to Enrique at some point.

Look! It’s a whole day early! This latest scene is still a little rough, but I think we have some direction. I updated the outline with some ideas for the rest of the story, but feel free to ignore it if you can come up with something better. I am really excited about this and I like how it’s coming along–we’ll obviously have a lot of editing to do when we’re done, but nothing we can’t fix.

It’s coming in a little long as well, so I think we may have to trim a lot if we can’t sell it at that length and with its mature content. We’ll see after we finish.

Carry on! I expect something soon :)

And so it went. Back and forth. It was awesome.

collaborators

The collaborators (Photo by Matt Kressel)

Reading through our old e-mails, I was also working on my first draft of Fair Coin at the time, and at least one other short story. But I always looked forward to getting the next section from Mercurio, and my faster turnaround times kept him working and motivated. And the end result (many, many critiques and revisions later) was something better than either of us probably could have managed on our own.

Mercurio writes wonderful dark, thinky stories with beautiful prose, while I think my strengths are in dialogue and character, and our different approaches to plotting meshed very well. The story ended up having a really interesting, provocative theme and the ending is one of the best things “I’ve” written. I learned a lot from him in the process, and because we were constantly revising each other’s sections, and then our own sections and lines, the whole story smoothed out so even our friends couldn’t tell which scenes we wrote. (Actually, we barely remember anymore either. We’re each happy to take credit for the bits we like though.)

Moreover, our friendship survived the experience, and we eventually sold the story to a great market, so I count that a win. So why did this go so well? Being friends helped, but that also could have gotten in the way. First and foremost, we kept our egos out of the equation. We admire each other’s talents and instincts, and we respect each other. We’re both used to receiving constructive criticism and revising our work. It was also a lot of fun! We both loved the story and wanted it to reach its potential, and I am so energized by that creative process with other people.

You would think two writers would make the story go twice as quickly, but that isn’t always the case because you also have two people with schedules and responsibilities and lives to work around. Sharing the workload did help though, and I am often still amazed — and a little shocked — at what we created together. (A small caveat if you’re interested in checking out the story in Space and Time and are familiar with most of my other work: It is really not young adult.)

The experience of writing with Mercurio also prepared me for other projects down the line, including my new novel, The Silence of Six, which took a more collaborative process with my publisher than I was accustomed to. And I would definitely love to collaborate on another story or even a YA novel, with the right project and the right person. (E-mail me!)

Writers, have you collaborated on any stories? What was that like? What are some of your favorite collaborations?

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, will be out on November 5, 2014 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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23. Finishing a Trilogy: Interview with Meagan Spooner, author of Skylark

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by Susan,

featuring

Meagan Spooner

meagan spoonerToday, I’m delighted to have Meagan Spooner back on the blog. The final book in her Skylark trilogy, Lark Ascending, just released last week, and if you haven’t yet read these books, then now’s the time!

For one, the books are EXCELLENT (and if you’re a fan of my Something Strange & Deadly, then you’ll definitely love Skylark).

For two, the book is only $0.99 on Kindle right now!!

For three, just read this summary and tell me you’re not intrigued:

Now, let’s get down to the interview!

Lark Ascending1. Alrighty, Meg. Biggest author inspirations/influences. Go!

Way too many to count! I’m one of those who firmly believe everything you read (or watch or listen to or see or eat…) goes into the imagination compost and shows up in your work when you least expect it. But some big ones include: Diana Wynne Jones, Garth Nix, Robin McKinley, Neil Gaiman, Peter Beagle, Philip Pullman, Tanith Lee, Tamora Pierce, Patricia C. Wrede, and pretty much every myth or fairy tale I’ve ever heard.

2. You have basically listed all of the authors on MY list as well. ;) Plotter or pantser or…plantser?

Definitely a pantser. When I first started writing Skylark, the first book in this trilogy, I had absolutely no idea where it was headed. There were a few twists and themes I knew I wanted to hit, but part of the joy of writing for me is the act of discovery. Often the ideas that come to me as I write, whether totally out of the blue or as a response or solution to some problem that pops up, are my best ones. Of the three, Lark Ascending is probably the most “planned” of the three, simply because most of the ideas in it came to me while writing Skylark and Shadowlark. I had all these awesome, epic scenes that I knew I wanted to hit in this third book. It was tons of fun.

3. I feel you on the “art of discovery” bit. So now that you’ve finished, how does it feel wrapping up an entire trilogy?

AMAZING. I think it’s no secret that writers often have a love-hate relationship with their books, particularly with their series books, and I’m definitely one of those. Like any long-term relationship, being with someone–or some story–for that many years means you know it inside and out. Its good, its bad, and everything in between. But despite every time I wanted to throw the story–and my computer along with it–out the window, seeing all three books lined up and knowing that I finished telling Lark’s story in a way that feels complete and satisfying—and TRUE—to me… that’s an amazing feeling.

4. Wow. I’m even more excited to read now. Okay, here’s a fan question: in the Skylark trilogy, which character do YOU identify most with?

Definitely Lark herself. Skylark was the first novel I ever wrote, and for me, at least, that meant that of all my characters, my main character was the one most drawn from my own thoughts and personality and experiences. Lark is an odd combination of things I wish I was, things I’m afraid I am, and things I one day hope to be. She’ll probably always be the character most like–and most unlike–me in all my books.

5. That’s TOTALLY how I feel about me with Eleanor! She’s both part of me and who I wish I could be. So cool. Now, final question: If Lark Ascending were a literary cocktail, what ingredients would it need?

Equal parts fantasy and dystopian with a shot of steampunk and a sprinkle of moral grey area. Garnish with a rebel uprising, and serve on the rocks.

 HA! Love the “garnish” bit. Nice touch. ;)

Okay, dear readers. To celebrate having Meg stop by, we’re doing a giveaway (international!)! Just fill out the Rafflecopter form below, help us spread the word about Meg’s amazing series, and we’ll choose a winner next week.

Also: if you weren’t aware, both Meagan and her coauthor, Pub Crawl’s own Amie Kaufman, have a short story releasing tomorrow. It’s called This Night So Dark, and it’s free!! You definitely don’t want to miss it.
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Meagan Spooner grew up reading and writing every spare moment of the day, while dreaming about life as an archaeologist, a marine biologist, an astronaut. She graduated from Hamilton College in New York with a degree in playwriting, and she currently lives and writes in Asheville, North Carolina. In her spare time she plays guitar, plays video games, plays with her cat, and reads. Learn more about her at her website.

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24. Writing and time management

by

Jodi Meadows

Late last night, I remembered that I needed to write a blog post to go up this morning. I sat around for a good thirty minutes, refreshing Twitter and having one of those shouting-across-the-house conversations with my husband, because neither one of us wanted to get up. Finally, I asked a friend what to write about. She said, “Time management.”

So I thought this would be an excellent time to give you an idea of how I get through my day. I keep a very strict schedule that never varies so that I get all of my work done and never have to do anything at the last minute.

8 hours — sleep
2 hours — email
2 hours — Twitter/other social media
1 hour — lunch/TV
1 hour — email (again!)
1 hour — researching something that will affect only one sentence out of the entire novel, like what type of trees grow where
30 minutes — Twitter/other social media
1 hour — trying to find the perfect font
30 minutes — think about sleeping
2 hours — nap
2 hours — try to figure out what that word was that I couldn’t think of earlier
1 hour — dinner/TV
2 hours — realize that no writing will get done today unless I squeak out a few words right now

So there it is, my foolproof time-management plan. This is how I am never behind on anything and my writing is always done weeks before my editor starts asking me about my book. Deadline schmedline. I got this. And if you follow my guidelines, you can, too.*

*It’ll also make your hair shinier!**
**This entire post may be a lie.***
***Or some parts might be true.

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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25. How To Build and Use a Treaddesk

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amie165c-twitterToday, we’re going to talk about the wonders of the treaddesk! Any writer will tell you that your back and shoulders suffer terribly if you spend too much time hunching over your desk. Especially when writing, we get lost in our work, and next thing, you’re shaped like a question mark.

Studies show that spending too much time sitting can lead to an increased risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity and a slew of other health problems. Your upper legs and your butt represent the biggest muscles in your body, and sitting still for hours on end effectively switches them off, which powers down your metabolism and circulation.

The answer? A treaddesk! Behold! (You can click for a much larger image.)

Treaddesk Front

Woah! What is it?

A treaddesk is a small desk attached to your treadmill. You can rest your laptop on it and type while you walk. Basically, a treaddesk is a way to keep you moving while you work, and the World Health Organisation and every official recommendation out there says you’ll feel healthier and live longer for it!

Looks expensive, my friend…

Doesn’t have to be! I’m sure there are folks out there who’ll build you a super expensive treaddesk, but it’s genuinely easy to DIY. I got hold of a second hand treadmill for $100, and my husband built the desk section out of some bits of wood we had lying around. It’s as good as anything I could have bought!

How did you build it?

I’ll start by saying that if you have any questions about this at all, please do ask them in the comments, and I’ll have my husband answer. But here are the basics:

  1. Check the right height–stand on the treadmill with your arms out at the height you’d like your laptop to be, and make a note of it.
  2. Construct your frame–in the simplest terms, you’re talking about a piece of L-shaped wood, pictured below.
  3. You can fasten the frame to the treadmill handles with black zip-ties. You can see one of them sticking out, just to the right of my mug. Again, click for a much larger image.
  4. That’s it! The ties stop it sliding off the frame, and we found putting a gap between the planks meant my laptop had good air circulation. We put it on, plugged in the laptop, and I was ready to go!

Treaddesk Side

Hooray for you, Amie, but I’m pretty sure I’m too uncoordinated — I’ll fall straight off the back!

You really won’t! Trust me, I once fell off the back of a treadmill in front of a whole football team, because my sister said something outrageous and I forgot to keep running. Not my most dignified moment! So I was definitely nervous I’d be too uncoordinated to walk and type at the same time. The key is to start out a little slower, and work your way up from there. I spend my first few days walking at a very slow 2kph, which is about 1.2mph. Now I spend 2 – 4 hours a day walking at 4kph, which is 2.5kph. That’s about regular walking pace, and I find it’s about the right speed to make sure I don’t move up and down too much to interfere with my typing. What’s most interesting to me is that I completely tune out while I’m doing it — after a couple of minutes, I forget I’m even on the treadmill, and an hour later I’m surprised to realise how long it’s been.

Okay. Maaaaaybe you’re onto something. Any special user tips?

Honestly, I was amazed by how easy I found it to adjust to using the treaddesk, but here’s what I came up with by way of beginner tips:

  1. Wear decent shoes, preferably sneakers.
  2. Start out slow, and work up from there.
  3. Check if you need to stretch afterwards–if you haven’t walked a lot, then your hips might get a little tight. Some gentle lunges will sort that out.
  4. If you’re not used to exercising, work your way up slowly, starting with half an hour or so.
  5. Make sure the treadmill comes to a complete stop before you dismount! (No seriously.)

Any questions about using the treaddesk, or building your own? Leave them in the comments!

Amie Kaufman is the co-author of THESE BROKEN STARS, a YA sci-fi novel out now from Disney-Hyperion (US) and Allen & Unwin (Australia). Book two, THIS SHATTERED WORLD, is coming on December 23rd, and in the meantime, you can grab a free short story set in the Starbound universe! Her new trilogy will start with ILLUMINAE, coming from Random House/Knopf in 2015. She is represented by Tracey Adams of Adams Literary. You can find her on Twitter or on Facebook, or visit the These Broken Stars website for exclusive sneak-peeks and contests. Amie lives in Melbourne, Australia, with her husband and rescue dog.

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