Category Archives: Writing

My Writing Strengths & Weaknesses

As I am attempting to revise my novel Earthbound, I have been discussing it with and sending some chapters to my writing buddy Cassie. I’ve got to say, you can’t really write alone. Unless perhaps you’re just an amazing prodigy, in which case I just hate you. But having someone who can point out what you need to work on is just crazy instrumental for the process. I grew up writing but never sharing it, and I have to say that I started to grow leaps and bounds as a writer when I started sharing my work in college for a fiction writing class. We workshopped each other’s short stories, and it was amazing how much my eyes were opened to my natural strengths and weaknesses while writing, and these things have been reiterated to me as I have critiqued with others at writers’ conferences and in my comments from Cassie.

Characters

It makes me really happy to say that my characters always get love when people read my stories. To me, my characters are people I care about and I’m glad that other people care about them too! I also love character-driven stories, so I guess it’s not too surprising that when I write, I can create likable characters.

earthbound-charactersDialogue

Once upon a time before anyone had read any of my writing, I thought I was awesome at dialogue. Why? Because it flowed out of me so easily! I could just write down a conversation between characters that took place in some void because I had no idea where the heck the characters were, much less how to describe it to a reader. But man did I know what they were saying. But I’ve been told more than once that sometimes my dialogue can sound a little wooden, or be too on-the-nose, etc. It’s not that what the characters are saying is bad, it’s just how they’re saying it sounds unnatural. So this is an area I’ve had to work on, and it’s one that I have to remember to work on because I forget that I’m not super awesome at it.

Description

Remember what I said before about writing a conversation that takes place in a void? I’m totally not kidding. I struggle – a ton – with getting myself to describe settings, characters, etc. on a page. HOWEVER, when I make the effort of actually doing it, I get praised for it and told that I’m really good at it! It astounds me because I am so not wordy or purple-prosey when it comes to my fiction writing, but if I push myself at description apparently it works. Maybe it’s because when I actually try, I describe concisely but completely, not taking too much space talking about the setting but not leaving people wanting to know more about it. This was something I really could not do at all before my fiction writing class in college, and that’s when I really trained myself to work on description.

space-station-corridorPlot 

By the time anyone reads my writing I feel good about the plot, so I don’t feel like this has been discussed with me much in terms of my writing, but I struggle a ton with actually planning a plot out before I get the words out. That’s why I have like 100 story ideas but only 4 completed ones (of novel-ish length). Time is a factor too, but mostly it’s just the struggle and commitment to figure out what happens between the beginning and the end and writing it out in a coherent fashion. I’m not like those writers who have no problem doing terrible things to their characters to up the stakes, I want to protect them! But alas, I have to find a way to raise the stakes, otherwise, what’s the point behind it all?

Revising

As I revise, it’s easy for me to be overwhelmed. I’m more of a big picture person, so sometimes it’s hard for me to get into nitty-gritty details, but that’s what the revision process is all about. My characters are good, but they could still use some more work, especially the secondary characters. How can I flesh them out, make them feel more real? How can I describe a setting in a scene better? Does this dialogue sound natural? Does the plot flow? Is it too predictable? What can be tightened? There’s so much to look at.

Recently I was thinking about this and suddenly I remembered where I have read other writers talk about writing in layers. So I’ve decided that now that I have gotten the story written out, I need to focus on the details: the characters, their settings, etc.

For example, Earthbound is set in the future with a vague time frame, but despite the fact that there are families living on a space station, it doesn’t feel very futuristic. I feel I need to focus on adding some details concerning technology that we don’t have today, without bogging down the story. I think Lauren Miller did a good job of that in Free to Fall.

Also, my characters are suffering from grief and some are struggling with depression, OCD, etc., but I’m not sure if it feels like a real struggle I want to make sure they feel realistic, and that you can see them growing and healing.

beach-coupleIf you’re a writer, what do you find are your natural strengths and weaknesses in your writing? Do you have any tips on tackling everything that needs to be taken care of in revisions?

Photos taken from my NaNoWriMo Story Inspiration Pinterest board, which you can check out here

The 777 Challenge

Annie did this challenge on her blog, and I was curious to see how it might look for me.

How it works: 7th page of current WIP, 7 lines down, 7 lines.

This didn’t work out in as neat of a spot as I hoped, so I bent the rules a little, but it’s close enough.

Also, I’m terrified of doing this.

There is nothing profound in these 7 lines. No extraordinary writing. And despite this, I also have the fear of someone stealing the words anyway.

But my first draft didn’t even contain all these lines. Some of this was written recently as I’m going trough revisions for my NaNoWriMo story Earthbound from last year. At least I’m not revealing a section of my story that I feel is super special. Yet at the same time, these lines do say something that moves the story froward.

I want to become more serious about putting myself out there as an aspiring author, which is why I decided to do this. So without further ado and without context of the story (I’ll tell you one thing: Noa is a girl), here’s my 777:

Dad sighs, and I turn around so I don’t have to see the disappointment on his face. “Noa,” he says steadily before I can walk away, and I look back to him and realize he doesn’t actually look disappointed, just sad.

“I’m sorry. Your mother is right. We never intended to stay up here so long without a visit to Earth. But ultimately, the decision is yours. OK?”

I nod before I turn back and head for my room to wait for Dr. Avett’s arrival and my final sentence.

About a Writing Conference and Some Soul Searching

First off, when I see the word “soul searching” from someone, I immediately expect to hear that they had some dramatic revelation that will result in a big change. This isn’t to that extreme. In fact, the soul searching hasn’t ended, of course I doubt it ever really will, and this post is mostly for me to process some of my thoughts.

I went to a writing conference this weekend, SCBWI Midsouth to be exact, the SCBWI standing for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Children’s is defined as everything from picture books to YA and as I believe most of you know, I want to write YA. (OK, so I DO write YA. Just because I’m not published (yet), it doesn’t change this fact.) This was my second time at the conference and it was good to return. Last year I felt extremely green (not to just the conference, but even to the process of publishing) and this year I felt I knew a little more, plus knew a few people, and felt more comfortable with getting to know new people, people who are writers.

In some ways, part of what I heard/experienced at the conference could be seen as depressing. One agent (Rosemary Stimola) shared that her agency gets 50,000 unsolicited queries a day. What the what?! I didn’t even know there were that many people trying that hard to get a book published. And that’s ONE agent. (Though she’s a pretty big deal since she’s Suzanne Collins’ agent!)

But I had two sessions at this conference about how to write a query letter, and you know what, now I feel 100% more comfortable and confident about querying (when the time is right, not before) than I did before the conference. I participated in a critique group where I shared five pages of my writing with four other aspiring authors and received both encouraging comments and constructive feedback. And it came at a good time.

Because lately I’ve wondered if I want this badly enough. Maybe I’ll just hire an editor and self-publish my stuff. It won’t get a ton of exposure but my story will have been written and be out there without going through the turmoil of the publishing process. These are the sort of thoughts I’ve had lately. (Note: there are many reasons to self-publish, and I haven’t even decided to not ever self-publish, but this is just not really the healthiest reason to not at least try to get traditionally published.)

And my priorities have shifted in a way I have not pleased with. In the early days of this blog, I would have said that my priorities as a blogger, a reader, and a writer were pretty balanced and even. But over time, the priorities shifted to blogger first, reader second, and writer third. I wasn’t too happy with that. I switched it around last November when for one month I became a writer first, blogger second, and neglected reading just for NaNoWriMo. And then lately I’ve noticed I’ve become a reader first, a blogger second, and a writer third. I’ve actually been excited to see my love for reading grow and I think it’s great that I care about it more than blogging. But writing still playing third fiddle to those two is not good.

So I asked myself: what increased my love for reading?

I think it was the fact that I was reading more, and mostly picking better books.

And I can’t help but think, if I spent the same amount of time on my writing as I do my reading, my love for it might increase and come back to me. I just have to sit down and do it and get over my hang-ups.

It’s a lot of work. YA author Ruta Sepetys was at the conference and one of the things she said during the Q&A panel she was on is that she does research for TWO YEARS for ONE novel. Of course, she writes historical fiction, but just the same, that is a lot of time and devotion to one book. And to think, I tell myself it will take too much time to research something in-depth and/or to plot out a half-baked idea, and I just want words to come out of me. Like anyone can just do that.

Middle grade author Gennifer Choldenko was the keynote speaker and she said something in her presentation about how she believes that any block that she gets when she’s trying to write is a result of not enough knowledge coming in. That was a light switch moment for me. The reason why I struggle and feel a lack of inspiration so many times is because I don’t have the knowledge I need to move forward. Well, that and fear, but that’s another post for another time. Any book of any genre is going to take some sort of research, and I try to do the minimal amount and get lazy with it.

That’s the other thing I have to realize, every time I sit down as a “writer,” I may not always get to write fresh, new, exciting words. I might be researching (real researching, not scouring “inspiration pictures” on Pinterest). I might be editing and revising. Those are worthwhile ways to spend my time because they are necessary.

I need to find focus. 

That was my other concern before this conference. Was my NaNo project actually worth pursuing? Or did I need to try something else out? Reading those first five pages of Earthbound to those four other girls was so helpful. They were enthusiastic about what would happen next and they loved my main character! It was awesome that they were already hooked. They told me ways I could improve things, like cutting out my first line, changing some dialogue, etc. It made me see potential in my story again, because they, with their fresh eyes, saw it.

It also reaffirmed things that I was told in my fiction writing class in college that I still have a hard time accepting… I write good characters. I am actually good at description (which is crazy because it is not natural for me; I have to fight myself to put it in even). I need to work at dialogue (even though I think I am awesome at it because it jumps into my mind more easily than anything else).

And while I’ve been worrying about what I can and can’t write in terms of genre, maybe I should just write a good character-driven story and then work out the other details as the needs for those arise. Whether it’s fantasy or sci-fi or contemporary or historical I can work on those things, again, by gaining knowledge.

All this to say, I’m ready to make writing a bigger priority again. I want it to be writer and reader first (I have finally become a believer that reading is extremely vital to a writer and worth doing a lot of; I was wrong all those years when I thought I could write and not read) and a blogger second.

I would not trade this blogging experience for anything. And I’m not giving this up. So no, I’m not going anywhere, but I might be a little more quiet. I know I said months ago that I didn’t want to have to apologize or explain if I posted less than normal and that I wouldn’t feel pressured to churn out a certain quantity but it’s still hard for me to do. Blogging is fast-paced and I am afraid of missing one day of the action.

So if I’m more silent, know that I’m not leaving you. Not by a long shot. I’m just writing. That’s what I need to be doing, because I believe it’s what I’m supposed to do.

And it’s going to take me time to write. I have met people who have worked on a story for years and still aren’t ready to send queries. Does that mean their writing stinks and their stories aren’t worthwhile? No. I don’t believe that at all. Different stories by different people take different amounts of time. I can’t compare myself to a 23 year old who has an entire trilogy out because that’s not me. AND THAT’S OK.  I already posted about that though. Maybe one day it will stick in my brain.

I haven’t figured out how I am going to schedule my writing time yet, but I know that it’s important and I need to do it. I’m very grateful that I got to spend a day with writers to remind me just how important this is to me.

If you’ve read this far, thanks. If you read this blog at all, thanks. You guys are so encouraging and I truly appreciate it.

Always Learning

In a Microsoft Word document I wrote up some personal thoughts running through my mind lately. Here’s part of it, in relation to writing specifically, plus some added elaboration. 

I wanted to enter a contest called Pitch Wars. The entry for it is in a week and a half, and for this contest you need a query letter and a finished manuscript. I have the latter, but I still think it’s too rough. I still really need to do a lot with it. But the mentor I gain from the contest could help me, right? (This is presuming someone picked me; the chances are decent they wouldn’t.)  So, I thought, if I really buckle down, I can get this polished enough.

Look, goals and deadlines are good for me, and I don’t believe in quitting before starting, but I realized after a day or two that this was not realistic. Right now, if I had to rate my own story, I’d give it 3 out of 5 stars, which is good, solid. Better than some published books I’ve read, but of course I’m biased, and that’s just my opinion. But I want it to be, and I know it can be, more and better than that. I know I can’t achieve a perfect version of it before I pitch it (or even if/when it goes to print with a major publishing company), but I can do better.

Why pitch something sub-par to the potential I know it has even just in my hands?

And two weeks is not enough. Not unless I devote every free moment to it and quite frankly, I don’t want to stress myself out like that.

This contest happens once a year. There’s a similar contest that happens every year as well, in March. I have passed up bidding in silent auctions to get query/manuscript critiques that were super affordable. I know there are people who critique professionally for not a ton of money. I WILL HAVE OTHER OPPORTUNITIES. And I will use them when the time is right.

But that time is not now. Almost a year ago I hoped I would be ready by now. I’m not. But that’s not failure. I’m still in the process. I haven’t thrown in the towel, even if I’m not as actively writing as I want to be or ought to be. I still have goals in mind. I have not given up.

writing

It’s OK if the timetable is longer than the one I originally envisioned. Theoretically and hopefully, I have several decades left on this Earth and I have time to learn and grow and become a better writer. I can’t compare myself to people who published awesome books when they were 22. It’s OK if it takes me more time. I wish their career longevity, but just because they started early it doesn’t mean their career will last. I was recently reading about George R. R. Martin’s career, who as who may know, is both not young and extremely successful as a writer these days. But there was a time he wrote a novel that was such a flop, he said it “essentially destroyed my career as a novelist at the time.” At the time. He moved on and did other things. Slowly and surely, building his writing up to become the author you know today.

And then there is Cristin Terrill, author of All Our Yesterdays, who recently explained why there wouldn’t be a sequel to her book. In case you haven’t heard about this, it’s because she couldn’t make it work. Period. Draft after draft, working with others, nothing could help it. She probably felt like a failure, so frustrated she couldn’t bring her ideas to life. But she learned. The experience will help her as a writer. She can and will grow from this. It was a really neat thing to read about, even if it was a little scary to think about it happening to me!

We are all always learning.

successI am always learning.

 

Writer Blog Hop: My Writing Process

Many thanks to Andrea Brame for thinking of me and tagging me for this Writer Blog Hop! Andrea and I met at a writing convention last year. We ended up sitting next to each other for one of the breakout sessions and chatted a bit, and then we were placed in the same group to share the first few pages of a story we are working on. Let me tell you, it was one of the most terrifying things, to be so intimate with other writers to share a part of your WIP (or in my case, one of my many possible WIPs since I was suffering from serious writing ADD at the time… oh wait, I still do…), but you’re all in it together so that makes it pretty neat. Anyhow, this blog hop is a chance for writers to tag others about their process, and I’ll be tagging a couple more writer friends at the end of the post.

What am I working on/writing?

That’s a fabulous question, and if I was a good writer, I’d have a real answer. Instead my reply is that I am somewhat procrastinating on making serious edits/revisions on my NaNoWriMo novel Earthbound that I have referenced here many times. After being tagged for this blog hop I did finally start going through some of  my chapters again and brainstormed possible things I might want to add, particularly after reading Write Your Novel from the Middle by James Scott Bell over a weekend (it’s a real quick read if you want to check it out). While I am procrastinating on planning out my revising/editing process for this story, I’m also trying to decide what story I want to focus on next, because I have so many half-baked ideas. I want to pick something, plot it out, and focus on it for real, like I did with Earthbound, because that was the most effective I have been at writing out a story ever.

editing-llamaHow does my work/writing differ from others of its genre?

Is it cheesy to say because I wrote it? Because seriously, every story is unique because of the author behind it, so long as they’re putting their heart and soul into the writing and not just trying to copy old ideas and tropes. My worldview, my perspective, my personality, my passions all go into what I write, and that’s what makes it different. I don’t write like John Green or Suzanne Collins or Leigh Bardugo or anyone else in the YA market. I write like me, Amy. Whatever that means. Maybe one day somebody can explain my writing style to me.

I don’t think this is unique in YA, but I will say what is important to me when I write, and that is that I don’t like to boxed into one category (like contemporary, dystopia, sci-fi, etc.) and I always believe in a hopeful ending. Hopeful does not mean happy necessarily, it just means hopeful.

Why do I write what I do?

I write what I do because those are the ideas that pop in my head and won’t leave me alone. Almost all the main characters I dream up are basically in the 16-18  year range (though sometimes college-aged ones pop in there). I don’t know why, but apparently something about that point in life calls to me in my storytelling. When you’re that age, you’re on the verge of figuring yourself out, still idealistic enough to believe that you can change the world, and still passionate enough to possibly do it. Perhaps I write about people that age because I went through so many changes in that point in my life and sometimes I wonder what other people experience during this time, and how it impacts their lives. And I write in general because people and places and ideas pop into my head and nag me. They beg me to write their story down  and share in their emotions, the good and the bad.

How does my writing process work?

It’s been inconsistent and basically, it’s a mess. The first “novel” (it’s technically a little shy of novel word count) I wrote took YEARS. And I think it still needs serious work to see the light of day (but I want it to, one day, because I love the idea and characters so much and I think others will too). But basically, I started it many times, at one point I finished it, then I started many rewrites, and I finally finished one of those, and I honestly went through these process once or twice more until I got to the current version of the story.

The last novel I wrote took a month (thanks NaNo) for 51k of groundwork, plus a few more months to increase the word count by another 10,000 to make it a better story (and again, it still needs a lot of work, and probably about 10,000 more words). The other two I’ve written took longer than a month but less than years. The best writing I’ve done has been due to some plotting and planning, so I’ve learned that I need to do that even though I so badly want to be a pantser and just write and write and have marvelous ideas flow out of me. But when I try that, I always flame out about chapter 2. Seriously. Or 3 or 4 if I’m really lucky. So I have to get serious about plotting, otherwise the writing process abruptly stops. And there’s also this…

writing-tangledHonestly, some days if I wonder if I’m cut out for writing, if I’m wasting my time, if my real talents lie elsewhere and I need to move on. But then I read about others’ writer’s doubts, and they all struggle with the same things, go through the same slumps and stages as I do, and the fact that I am constantly haunted by stories that need to be told is a pretty good indicator that I am a writer. Except I need to actually write to be a writer. So I’ve got to keep pushing myself. And that is the eternal struggle.

Now I’m tagging Cassie and Annie to share about their writing processes and look forward to reading their responses!  Hope you’ll keep your eye out for their posts as well!

If you’re a writer, how does your process look for you?