Tag Archive: novels

2200500024_e93db99b61_mOnce upon a time, I thought the most difficult question you could ask a writer was the infamous “What are you writing?” After all, people don’t want you spill the whole book word-for-word, so you have fit your current obsession into a few sentences (the fewer the better). Cue long, excruciating pause, stuttering, backtracking, and general frustration.

Then a new writer friend asked me this doozy: “Are you a good writer?”

It took me a minute, but I said that yes eventually.

The question still hasn’t let me go though.

Am I a good writer?

If you asked my mother, the answer would be yes.

I’m not as sure. Am I capable of objectively answering that question? I am not a published writer–newsflash, I know–the only person to read my current novel is me. My only feedback is my own judgment. Is it possible for someone to be truly unbiased about their own work? I know I’m not.

But I also dislike the idea that the only writers able to write well are those that hate every word they write. In my mind, being too critical is just as ineffective as not being critical enough .

Isn’t it better to have the ability to recognize the golden nuggets in a current work? To look at a draft and say, “I think I might be on to something here, but that other thing there and all of Chapter 15 need a lot of work”?

That’s the kind of writer that I try to be.

A lot of my current project is kind of…meh, but the more I chip away at it, the more I wash and sift and refine it, the more gold I find. Or at least, I hope it’s gold I’m finding. There are good parts in this draft. There might even be brilliant parts in this draft. Only patience and effort will tell.

What I think matters is that I’m recognizing some problems. I know (and feedback on past projects has shown) that I’m WAY too close to this project to see all the problems, but I don’t think that my novel is perfect.

I don’t think it’s crap either.

I think it could turn into something.

At the end of the day, I’d rather believe in myself.

So I (at the risk of sounding narcissistic) think I’ll stick with my original answer.

Yes, I am a good writer. Or at least, I’m on my way to being one.

Image: Question mark sign by Colin Kinner, CC BY 2.0

I have a confession to make: My passion for my work-in-progress has kind of fizzled out.

I had some awesome momentum last year. Wrote twenty chapters in a month (thank you NaNoWriMo). I knew what was happening. There were great and exciting things running through my head.  I would sit down at my computer and typing was an adventure. And then, it all stopped.  Not like I hit a brick wall or anything and more like I ran onto a giant sheet of flypaper.

Today (actually, last Thursday), I stared at the screen for an hour and didn’t even make five hundred words. To put that in perspective, I was writing between 1000-1200 words an hour at the beginning of the year.

Thanks to my outline, I still know what’s going to happen next. I know how to get from point A to Z, I’ve just lost interest in getting there. There are so many other things I would rather do. Read City of Lost Souls or watch Psych or finally find out what this DC reboot is all about (I am suffering a relapse of Batman mania due to the sheer awesomeness of Dark Knight Rises, but more on that another time). Or write fan fiction, my mind is churning out all kinds of fan fiction ideas. And the sad part is, the fan fiction I’ve written lately is better that the three or four most recent chapters of Mind Games. I mean, Chapter 28 mostly reads like lines for a play, with a few notes about blocking and scene. Well, at least some of the dialogue holds water…maybe…once I polish it up. I have successfully reached the Half-way Blahs (which does not always occur at the actual halfway point).

If this was my first experience with the Blahs, I might be worried. And those of you who’ve just reached this point for the first or second time may be worried. But before you start throwing ashes over torn-out hair and hold a funeral for your muse, listen for a minute. I can tell you that this isn’t my first frustration struggle with the Blahs. And this won’t be your last (And if you haven’t met them yet, they’re coming). The Blahs will pass. The glue on the flypaper dries out eventually and you can build up to that run again. Better yet, you can use the flypaper as kindling to get your fire going again. The work you have to do to escape the Blahs is always worth it.

And as for me, I’ve been lounging about and feeding my inner artist for too long. Problem is, this diet of (phenomenal) reading with no writing has made my inner artist fat and lazy. She could run, but she had no desire to and obviously can’t last for very long. So it’s time to get back on the track. I’m going to make her work, even if she can only manage short bursts at the keyboard. Because even though it may take weeks or months, I will get back to the point when I can spend huge chunks of time writing. I’ll find the passion for this story again. But until then, I will push on (for more about writing even when you don’t want to, check out this blog). I’ll do so much research. I’ll drag out the playlist and listen to it incessantly. And I’ll keep stumbling through my story, because sometimes you have to fall a few times before you can run.

The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan

Ages 16 and up

Mary’s world is simple. There is the fence that separates her village from the Forest of Hands and Teeth and the masses of unconsecrated (a.k.a. zombies). There is the Sisterhood that keeps order and protects the village. And there are her mother’s stories about the outside world and the ocean. The path her life will take is simple and uncomplicated and controlled. She will either marry and raise a family or join the Sisterhood. When her mother is infected and no one has spoken for her, the Sisterhood abruptly becomes her only choice. Inside the walls that shelter the sisters, Mary starts to discover that the Sisterhood hasn’t been entirely truthful. Mary’s world begins to turn end over end as she tries to discover what exactly these women have been up to and what dark secrets are hidden in the church walls. And she begins to wonder, what if her mother spoke the truth about the ocean?

It has taken me several months to get to where I can objectively talk about this book (I finished it in July). You would think that for my maiden voyage into the zombie genre I would choose something that was comical, like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, but no…I chose Forest of Hands and Teeth. I’m glad I did, but it took me a long time to get there. To put it simply: I love the writing but I didn’t like the book.

Now, disclaimer: My opinion of this story is subject to change. Okay, not really, let’s rephrase. My opinion of this series has changed. I put down Forest of Hands and Teeth and had to think long and hard about whether or not I was going to pick up the next book. I did eventually decide to continue on with the series, mostly because the recommendation that made me pick up the series in the first placecame from someone a trusted (two someones actually). And I will say I’m loving the second book. My main problem stemmed from the fact that this was only the first book in a series, and that means it ended in an unhappy place. And as many of you know by now, the ending factors a good deal into whether or not I like the book as a whole (Anyone remember the Specials debacle). But I still say you should read this book. And not just because you need it to set up the second book. I think that there are also several lessons that you can learn by reading this book.

First off, the writing was superb. She was great with the descriptions, I felt the world around me. Could sense the Forest crowding in at the edges of the fence. Ryan also did very well with grabbing my attention. She opens the book with her heroine facing two simple problems: zombies and boys. And then BAM! Her mom gets infected, her brother tosses her out and the boy that was going to speak for her (though she’s actually in love with his brother) goes silent. That coupled Ryan’s spin on the whole zombie thing hooks and drags you through the first half of the book (drags as in tied behind a runaway horse).

I liked the her spin. My limited experience with zombies (Abhorsen trilogy anyone?) uses magic in the creation of the undead (or weird forms of Kryptonite). This was the first time that I remember science used. The unconsecrated were created by scientists out of the desire to do good and help people. They weren’t planning on making a horde of flesh-eating animated corpses.

Unfortunately (and this would have helped my overall impression) I felt like there was a lack of a character arc for Mary in this book. She kind of starts in one place, has an adventure, and then ends in another place that is the same as the first place. A character needs to have growth, they need to be different in a marked way. Not just in that they have had new experiences, but in the fact that they have changed as a person. I don’t feel that Mary did this.

Another thing that I suggest you watch for (and you will learn a lot from this) is the way the story kind of lulls in the middle. The tension does pick up again at the end (oh boy, does it pick up), but it does go a little limp for a chapter or two. This is a good section to maybe analyze when you’ve finished the book. Figure out why it dies down like it does and determine how you can avoid doing that in your own book.

This book is worth the read. It will entertain you and it will teach you something about writing. I had to take a long, hard look at myself to figure out why it was exactly that I didn’t like it. That exercise has made it easier for me write about a book objectively when it comes time for me to review it.

I will put out the caution that these are teenagers we’re dealing with and because of that sex is very much on Mary’s mind (especially considering that they’re expected to wed and increase the population at the age of sixteen). There is nothing gratuitous and it is all very subtle. I didn’t feel the need to skip any chunks of text as I have with some books, but I would still steer younger teens away from these books.

This is a good example of:

  • Description
  • World-building
  • Starting tension

First off: Congratulations to last week’s winner, Mariajose. Who will be receiving her very own copy Heist Society by Ally Carter in the mail just as soon as she gets me her address.

And now, on to this week’s book: The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan. For those of you who’ve never heard of Percy Jackson, keep reading. If you’ve had your eye on this series for a while (or you already love the series) just skip the italic bits and get to the good stuff.

Percy Jackson is about to be kicked out of boarding school…again. And that’s the least of his troubles. Lately, mythological monsters and the gods of Mount Olympus seem to be walking straight out of the pages of Percy’s Greek mythology text book and into his life. And worse, he’s angered a few of them. Zeus’ master lightning bolt has been stolen, and Percy is the prime suspect.

Now Percy and his friends have just ten days to find and return Zeus’ stolen property and bring peace to a warring Mount Olympus. But to succeed on his quest, Percy will have to do more than catch the true thief: he must come to terms with the father who abandoned him; solve the riddle of the Oracle, which warns him of betrayal by a friend; and unravel a treachery more powerful than the gods themselves. (Disney Hyperion)

If you’ve been following my blog from the beginning…or really, for the last few months…you’re probably aware of some of the authors that I just adore: Scott Westerfeld, Lauren DeStefano, Suzanne Collins, Eoin Colfer, Cassandra Clare (oh, wait, I haven’t told you about her yet), Ally Carter. The list is rather long.

Rick Riordan is somewhere near the top. Like way high up there.

His Percy Jackson series is currently my most battered and beloved set of books. I’m addicted. I love Percy. I love Annabeth. I love Grover. I even love Clarisse on occasion.

I picked them up one January day, right before the movie came out (because, when possible, I prefer to read the book first).

And I could not put them down.

Seriously, I made a late night run to Barnes & Noble just to get The Last Olympian, because I could not stand just hanging where The Battle of the Labyrinth had left me. I was addicted. And I still am.

And thankfully, he didn’t stop with Last Olympian. Anything of Riordan’s that I can get my hands on, I devour. I’d probably show up to purchase his shopping list if he published it.

And it’s not just because his writing jives with my own sense of humor. Or that his characters are so memorable and fun. Or that his plots are not what I would expect from a borderline YA (actually, it’s more middle grade, but I don’t care). Nor is it the fact that I have loved Greek mythology since I was eight.

He has taken something that I love, something that I am utterly familiar with, and he has done more than retell the stories. He has reinvented them with the humor and the characters and the plot.

The Lightning Thief is the first book I bring up when I hear someone reads. It’s the first book that I recommend when someone is looking for something to read. It’s the book that I gave as birthday presents to my two best friends. I reread this series often, because I love it and because it just makes my day happier to dive into Percy’s world. I think, if I could live in any of the books that I have read, this is the one I would choose (unless, of course, I could be an elf in Middle-Earth).

You can bet that when Son of Neptune comes out, I will have scraped all of my pennies together and will be waiting on the sidewalk, for my Barnes & Noble to open so that I can take my copy home and read it. Or at least, I’ll go over right after work.

And this wonderful experience can be yours too. There is a copy of The Lightning Thief sitting on my bookshelf, waiting for someone to comment below and win it. Tell me about an author that you absolutely adore, or one that you’ve followed forever…but make sure you do it by 5 p.m. EST on September 22nd. And if you’d like extra entries into the contest, try one of the three ways below (all of which will get you entered into this week and next week’s drawings):

  1. Follow me on Twitter. Make sure you put your Twitter handle in your comment so that I know to give you the credit.
  2. Help spread the word. Comment on another of my blog posts and then post the link to Twitter (or facebook). Just make sure you give me the link (or tag me if you choose Twitter).
  3. Subscribe! This one will earn you not one, but two entries into the next two drawings!

First off, YEAH! My blog is one year old today!!!

And now, it’s time to get started with my next book giveaway, which will be:

Heist Society by Ally Carter

When Katarina Bishop was three, her parents took her to the Louvre…to case it. For her seventh birthday, Katarina and her Uncle Eddie traveled to Austria…to steal the crown jewels. When Kat turned fifteen, she planned the con of her life—scamming her way into the best boarding school  in the country, determined to leave the family business behind.

Soon, Kat’s friend and former co-conspirator, the gorgeous Hale, appears, pulling her back into the world she had only just escaped. But he has a good reason: a powerful mobster’s priceless art collection has been stolen, and he wants it returned. Now. Only a master thief could have pulled off this job, and Kat’s father isn’t just on the list, he is the list. Caught between Interpol and a far more deadly enemy, Kat’s dad needs her help.

Kat’s solution: track down the paintings and steal them back. So what if it’s a spectacularly impossible job? She’s got two weeks, a teenage crew, and, hopefully, just enough talent to pull off the biggest heist in her family’s (very crooked) history. And, with any luck, she just might be able to steal her life back along the way.

This book surprised me.

And it wasn’t just because I didn’t think Ally Carter could write a series that I would love more than her Gallagher Girls series (which she did). Or that I didn’t think that it was possible to come up with a guy that was hotter that Zach Goode (which Hale is).

Now, I will admit that I was rather amazed when I put this book down and said, “You know, I think I might like this better that Gallagher Girls.” (I was not so amazed at how hard I fell for Hale—strictly in a fictional sense of course.) But, what really got me about this book was how different it was from her work that I had previously read.

I mean, it is still an Ally Carter book. Her style is all up and down the plot and the dialogue and that hilarious scene on page 283 (Yes, I’m still going on about that). But Kat is vastly different from Cammie and Hale is certainly not Zach. Heist Society takes place in world that is outside the law in the boldest sense (versus working for the government). Not only that, but it was an entirely different viewpoint than I was expecting. Carter isn’t one of those authors that changes characters and settings and still manages to write the same book anyways. You won’t find her accidentally repeating any dialogue.

This book is YA gold, and you can get your hands on a copy (if you haven’t already). If you’re curious you can read my review of Heist Society here.

Just leave me a comment between now and September 15th at noon (EST). Tell me about an author that surprised you. Was it the way they ended the book or a plot twist or something else that you didn’t see coming? Make sure that you leave me a way to contact you (email is preferable) should you be the lucky winner. You can also earn extra (note the “extra”, meaning please comment first) entries by completing the three options below. For each one that you do, you will get a certain number of entries into all four drawings, for a total of up to four extra entries per drawing. They are:

1. Follow me on Twitter (@TheGladElf). Please make sure that you put your Twitter username in your comment so I know to credit you.

2. Spread the word. Join the discussion on another one of my blog posts and then post the link through your Twitter feed (or in your comment). Make sure you tag me so that I know you’ve done it. One time use for new followers. Anyone following me before 10 a.m. Sept. 2nd can cash in twice on this option (two separate posts, obviously)

3. Subscribe! Sign up to receive my blog posts as they come out and you’ll get not one, but two extra entries into each drawing.

The only other rule for the extra entries is that if you already own any of the books, please let me know so that I can take out your entries for that particular entry.

Last Week’s Winner: Sadly, no one entered into the Crown Duel giveaway. I suppose I’ll just have to wrap it up and save it to use as a Christmas present…Kidding. At the end of the month, I will draw from any names that have been entered and give away any books that have not yet found a home.

As I mentioned earlier this week, this is the first in a series of weekly book giveaways. Throughout the month of September, I will give away four books that have influenced me as a writer (The list can be found here). This week the bo0k is:

Crown Duel by Sherwood Smith

It begins in a cold and shabby tower room, where young Countess Meliara swears to her dying father that she and her brother will defend their people from the growing greed of the king. That promise leads them into a war for which they are ill-prepared, a war that threatens the homes and lives of the very people they are trying to protect. But war is simple compared to what follows, when the bloody fighting is done and a fragile peace is at hand. Although she wants to turn her back on politics and the crown, Meliara is summoned to the royal palace. There, she soon discovers, friends and enemies look alike, and intrigue fills the dance halls and the drawing rooms. If she has to survive, Meliara must learn a whole new way of fighting–with wit and words and secret alliances. In war, at least, she knew whom she could trust. Now she can trust no one… (Firebird Fantasy)

Of the four books I’m giving away, this one is the only one that actually dates from my high school reading years. Which means that I first read this book (well, these books…but we’ll get to that) at least eight years ago. Wow, I just blew my own mind.

Every Friday after co-op (weekly gathering of homeschoolers for socializing, also, some teaching occurs as well), I would head across the parking lot to the public library behind the church we used. I can still close my eyes and picture Crown Duel sitting on the top shelf, a white spine mixed in with some many other darker colors—well, two white spines. Crown Duel was originally published in two volumes: Crown Duel and Court Duel. I personally, prefer the two separate titles because of the symbolism that the changing of one creates, but seeing as how I have no say in the matter… Anyways, I pulled down the books and there  she was, this girl with sword propped over her shoulder and a  nasty looking black eye. It looked exactly like my kind of book.

I believe that I mentioned in a previous post how Lord of the Rings was the book that got me writing (First person to correctly identify that post gets a double entry into this drawing). Crown Duel is the book that got me writing my own stuff. It is also the book that most heavily influenced the first drafts of the Cinderella retelling that’s sitting on my computer waiting for me to rewrite it (which will happen, just as soon as I finish with Mind Games and etc.). The only real story I had completed before then was my little LOTR-wannabe. While the idea for Shattered‘s premise was inspired by another book entirely, everything else was originally influenced by this book right here.

My copy has been read a couple of times, so it’s a little battered. It even spent a few years buried in my brother’s room because he’d been interested in it (I finally told to either find it or buy me a new one). This is one of the few books that I have been able to introduce into my circle of friend (come to think of it, all four books make that list) instead of the other way around. It has everything that I love in a book: adventure and misadventure, a smart sword-wielding heroine, mistaken identity, a dysfunctional romance (in a good way, not in a Cathy-and-Heathcliff way) and a whole lot of intrigue.

And you can get you hands on your own copy of this book (as long as I will be shipping to an address in the good ol’ U.S. of A).


Just leave me a comment between now and September 8th at noon (EST). Tell me about a book that found you. One that you weren’t really looking for, but you ended up taking home anyways. Make sure that you leave me a way to contact you (email is prefereable) should you be the lucky winner. You can also earn extra entries by completing the three options below. For each one that you do, you will get a certain number of entries into all four drawings, for a total of up to four extra entries per drawing. They are:

1. Follow me on Twitter (@TheGladElf). This is good for one entry for anyone who follows me after10 a.m. today EST. Please make sure that you put your Twitter username in your comment so I know to credit you.

2. Spread the word. Join the discussion on another blog post and then post the link through your Twitter. Make sure you tag me so that I know you’ve done it. One time use for new followers. Anyone following me before 10 a.m. today can cash in twice on this option (two separate posts, obviously)

3. Subscribe! Sign up to receive my blog posts as they come out and you’ll get not one, but two extra entries into each drawing.

The only other rule for the extra entries is that if you already own any of the books, please let me know so that I can take out your entries for that particular entry.

And now it’s your turn!

(P.S.-Here’s the original cover for Court Duel as well. I absolutely adore this cover, another reason the one volume version makes me sad despite its purse-friendly size.) —>

EDIT: The deadline has been extended until 9:00 p.m. Sept 8th.

Just Another Summer Day by Dia

Writing is like breathing for me, it’s necessary and a part of what makes me the way I am.

Indulge me in a little  bunny-trailing. I’m an avid lover of Twitter. And I might follow some sort of famous people. And some of those famous people might have a Formspring account. Okay, just take out the “mights”, and you’ve got the picture.

Anyways, no names, but someone posted on this person’s Formspring (Margaret’s paraphrase) “After you finish with your current series will you write other things?” I looked at this question and knowing the (very) little I know about this person from their blog and Twitter, I had this reaction:

“There is such a thing as a stupid question.”

Now, I’m sure there are those out there that wrote their one grand opus and then they were done. But the writers I know wouldn’t be able to stop writing without the aid of a lobotomy.

You see, writing is like a disease.

A happy disease, without the coughing, puking or doctors visits involving large needles. You don’t want a cure.

It starts with something small, like a love of reading or make-believe. And then it spreads and the next thing you know your hurriedly scribbling notes onto a Chick-Fil-A napkin while trying to hear some soccer mom’s order over her screaming kids.

Looking back, I should have seen it coming. This writing thing. It just followed the natural progression of things. I was always grades beyond where I should have been reading. I never went anywhere without a book. And then there were the games my brother and I played. We’d pretend to be Transformers (anyone remember the show Beast Wars?) or Digi-destined and we’d come up with whole storylines. Of course they were never very complex, but we didn’t care. Eventually, just for the fun of it,  I joined a creative writing class at my co-op (once a week gathering of homeschoolers where we learned things our parents didn’t want to or couldn’t teach us, i.e. math). See what I mean about natural flow?

I believe it really started with Star Wars. My brother and I were obsessed (well, really, I was obsessed with Padme and her wardrobe, but whatever). We came home from, maybe our third viewing of Episode I and we decided to make it so Qui-Gon didn’t die. Cause that was just sad. And from there, off I went. I’d always had a vivid imagination, plus I was good at entertaining myself. So I started entertaining myself in pretend worlds. Basically, I wrote Mary-Sue fics in my head. I believe I wrote about my character, Danae Naberry, somewhere else in this blog. And as I grew and learned more about writing, my Mary Sue became a little like a real character. Of course, by then, I had expanded to other world’s. Like J.R.R. Tolkein’s. Oh that was bad…I lived slept and breathed Lord of the Rings for three whole years. And that’s about the time I started taking my fanfiction and writing it down. What I got was very bad rewrite of the first half of Fellowship. I think still have that sucker tucked away in some dark corner, because I actually came up with some vaguely usable dialogue and stuff, just not as fanfiction.

From there, I wrote The Ring of Aluthya. Yes, it is exactly what it sounds like. It was my first attempt at original fiction. Over the few years that I worked on it and rewrote it and rewrote it, it went from LOTR knock-off to a story with actual potential. This one too, I have filed for later. Mainly because I just don’t have the skill yet to take it to the level I want to. My second novel, a Cinderella spin-off inspired by my time reading twisted fairy-tales has been shelved until I’m finished with Mind Games, simply because my mind-set is currently in the MG world with David and Annette. They are the ones who keep walking in my head and chatting, even if they do it haphazardly and I often have to ask them to back up and tell the story in an orderly fashion (they like to skip around between books, today’s it’s book one, but yesterday it was book three and some of book two).

And that is my writing life as of yet. It’s crazy to think that I have been writing for over half my life now (that’s only 12 years, before you start feeling impressed). I’ve gone off and on. But even during the days or months or years that I haven’t been working on a book, I’m always writing. It just doesn’t get onto the paper sometimes. At work, I’ll be playing around with the scene I was working on. Thinking up ways to make David a little less perfect or make Annette a little more real. When I watch movies or TV shows, my mind starts analyzing scenes and coming up with what’s going on inside the character’s heads. When I finish a book like The Lost Hero or Wither or Uncommon Criminals (all three of which had less than complete endings) my mind takes those characters and tries to figure out what will happen next, it comes up with scenes and conversations and possible plot paths and tries to figure out [Insert Author Here] will handle *spoiler spoiler spoiler*. And some days, when I’m really bored or life is just a bit too much, I pretend I’m someone else. I turn to my favorite movies or comics or books and I make my own character and do some internal fanfic-ing. Which is actually the start of a lot of my fanfiction now that I think about it…

I am always writing.

It actually gets kind of ridiculous.

To the point that I lie awake in bed, with plot ideas and characters backstory and dialogue spinning in my brain. And it won’t stop.

But I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I am so thankful, that God has given me this gift and that he has given me the passion to pursue it. That no matter where life takes me, or who or what is in my life, writing is constant. Kinda like He is. It’s always there in the back of my mind and if I get nothing out of it but a little amusement and some good stories for my friends, then it is enough.

Not that I don’t also spend time imagining how it would feel to walk into a Borders or a Barnes and Noble and see my book on the shelves…

Writer's Block (8) by Jonno Witts

Far be it from me to offer you advice and then just leave you hanging. In Chugging Right Along, I talked about how writers write–rain or shine, inspired or not. But sometimes that can just be hard. Sometimes you get stuck and just can’t think of anything and you end up taking three hours to write one sentence. Been there, done that.

Writing well and consistently is all about practice and persistence. You can’t sit down and expect you first book to be the next great American novel, it’s going to take a lot of trial and error. You have to learn what your good at and what you just suck at. And that can only happen if you write–a LOT. But what do you do when it takes you that long to put together a sentence? When you are fresh out of ideas or you are just not at your best, how do you find something to write about?

We’ve all experienced it: writer’s block (And if you haven’t yet, you will. Trust me). It’s a common disease that affects anyone who has ever picked up a pen and tried to tell a story. You start the story and you’re going full steam, the words are pouring from your brain onto your paper and they’re pretty darn good. It’s exciting, it’s exhilarating, it’s a high unlike any other. And then, KABLAM! You run full force into a brick wall.  You reel, you stagger, you fall flat on your butt in the dust. But that doesn’t stop you. You’re a writer, so you pick yourself up. You dust off the seat of your pants and you try to get past the wall. But you can’t. You couldn’t figure out how to get past that wall if your life depended on it.

I know, I’ve been there. My notebooks have doodles in the margins from where I’ve hit that brick wall–and if the doodles weren’t enough proof I’ve taken up the habit of writing “Writer’s Block” in the margins every time I hit it. Sometimes it is because I’m not really sure where I’m going (hence the reason I’ve started outlining my books). Other times it’s because, dagnabit, I just don’t want to work on the silly book anymore. That’s when I know it is time to take a break. Believe it or not, you can get tired of your story. Or just burnt out. So close the notebook or save the document and do something else. Write a short story. Work on a different scene (often this is more than enough to get me past whatever I couldn’t get past). Clean something. I’ve found cleaning the bathroom and/or the kitchen can be very inspiring. Especially if there is music involved (Pandora is my best friend). Or watch a movie that’s set int he same world/time/situation as your story. The LOTR movies and Princess Bride have gotten me through many bouts of writer’s block. Come back in an hour or a day and try to write again.

Of course, stories don’t pop out of thin air. If you don’t feel like coming up with your own idea, then writing prompts are a great way to go. These are great to get you started writing something, anything. And it doesn’t have to be good. You just start writing and let the idea take you where it takes you. You are allowed to let these ramble a bit. You can use them to develop a specific skill, like description or dialogue. And if you really like the story you can go through and edit it, tighten it up, cut out the rambling and turn it into something you could send in to a contest or have a friend read. Or you could file it away (try to always save your writing, you never know what you might be able to use down the road) and never look at it again. Prompts aren’t hard to find. I currently have a free eBook full of them sitting on my nook (there also is a longer version available for $.99). You can also search for them on Google. Here are a few that I liked:

Now if you are focused or you don’t want to separate yourself completely from the story, this is a good time to work on a character story. For example, in one story the main character has this beautiful bow made by Elves out of the wood of a very special kind of tree (yes, I know, my LOTR obsession is showing). Now how and why she got the bow isn’t really important to my story,  but just for the fun of it, I did write the scene where she received the bow. All that that mattered to the main plot is that the Elves gave it to her, thereby signaling their approval of her. However, suppose instead that the bow had been given to her by her father. The relationship between the main character and her dad is very important to the story, which would have made it possible to include the scene in the book. But for the most part, scenes like this are for your eyes only. They can enrich your writing secondhand (I didn’t even realize how important it was for her to gain the Elves approval until after I wrote this little vignette), but they bog the writing down when they aren’t pivotal to the plot.
If you’re really brave, you can try combining the two ideas above. Take a writing prompt and adapt it to your world with your characters. It’s a great way to play with your characters and see how they would react in situations that they wouldn’t encounter in the course of your story. It can be enlightening.
And for when you’re feeling really lazy, there is always fan fiction. Can I just say that I love writing the stuff? Well, I love writing the stuff (and not just because I’ve been an incurable shipper wince the age of four). I have characters, I have a setting, and I have a story that shows me how they react. And I am free to take all those things and use them to craft a story. This is an awesome way to practice your writing. It can show you how flexible you are as a writer. When I write fanfics, I try to blend my voice with the original author’s voice as much as I possibly can. I’m always proud of myself when someone says, “It’s just as if So&so wrote this story”. It makes me feel like a super-secret writer spy. Of course there is a lot of bad fan fiction out there. And of course you can’t actually publish any of the material you write…or can you? I know for a fact that I have used conversations and other things that I’ve discovered through writing a fan fiction (heck, my first complete story started out as a fan fiction). But even if it is only to entertain yourself, fan fiction is a good way to practice your writing. You’re free to come up with your own story (I find myself doing this when I’m not happy with the way a book/movie ended) or you can take a scene and rewrite it. I do this frequently with manga. Since manga is a visual medium, you don’t always get the inner thoughts of the characters and there is a lot of room for interpretation. I like to flesh out the little details about what is going on in a character’s head. All in all, if you do it well, this can be a valuable opportunity. Do you want to write in first person? Learn to do it well but imitating an author that writes killer first person novels. Need to work on your dialogue? Find a book with dialogue sections that you like and try to create a conversation between two of its characters. Before you know it, your fingers will be itching to open your notebook back up and return to your own characters.
These are just someways to keep yourself writing through rain and shine. I know there are many, many others. If you have any of your own tips/tricks please share them. I’m always looking for more ideas.

where are you from? by Joseph Robertson

To know where you’re going, you kind of need to know…well, where you are going. Really, I’m serious (mostly). Have you ever started one of those books that kind of meanders, taking its time to get from point A to point B to C to D and then finally develops a plot? Chances are no, you haven’t…unless you’ve been subjected to a literature class (not that those weren’t some of my favorite classes). That’s because publishers know that those books just don’t sell well in today’s market. Readers want to feel that they are headed somewhere important. Now, I know there are some writers out there who respond to the idea of outlining a book like they would to government obstruction of their First Amendment rights.  In my experience though, I  find that my writing is better when I take the time to put down what I know is going to happen and then fill in the blanks.

I’m not talking about outlining the story’s every twist and nuance and action. I’m talking about something as simple as “This is Bob. Bob has this problem. This is how Bob solves the problem.” See? Simple. Feel free to insert your character’s name.

Okay, maybe my outlines aren’t that simple, but that’s how they started.

A little bit on my writing process (because it helps in understanding my outlining process): It usually starts with an idea, like a character’s voice or a scene that comes into my head. Which then normally leads to how the story ends. And after that, I figure out the beginning. I know, weird…tell it to my brain, I have little control over how I think. Beginning and end aren’t usually problems for me. It’s the middle bits (the good stuff) that give me a problem. They like to come at me randomly, leaving me to figure out order.

Hence, my outline.

I build it gradually. Starting with what the books basic plot is (beginning, middle, end). Then I grab out the important, story-changing scenes and see where they fit in the grand scheme of things. Should I make Plot Point C into Plot Point D? Or does PPC actually need to happen earlier to help set up what happens in the middle? Then I connect the dots. I have A and I have B, so I add A1, A2, etc. until I have a whole story in my hands.

By writing things down, I’m able to see a basic progression and then figure what holes need to be filled and how to fill them. Now, I do like more detailed outlines, with chapters and what happens (roughly) in each. Which, when combined with my thought process, leads to some pretty funny stuff. For example:

  • “Time to have some fun with David’s head.”
  • “Annette tries to go along –> Surprisingly easy to dissuade (har har, wonder why)”
  • “Horses, escape the castle –> Princess Bride reference it up, Fezzik, window, etc.”

And my personal favorite (for this book at least):

  • “Annette’s super stealthy medieval ninja powers revealed.”

Yes, that is totally a note in my outline–for Chapter 22.

Your outline doesn’t need to be that detailed, but every story needs a beginning, middle and end. So at least jot those down. I can’t tell you how many of my short stories are unfinished because I can’t remember how they were supposed to end. Don’t worry about getting every word and action down, leave yourself plenty of room to move around. If you know your major scenes, jot those down, play around with their order. See what happens when you throw in a few plot twists. Trust me, it is way easier to rewrite an outline than to rewrite an entire book (this and saving multiple drafts will save you much blood, sweat and hair-tearing).

This also helps if you’ve already written the first draft and are looking to adjust/beef up your story a little bit. Maybe you want to gain a fresh perspective or you are thinking of adding an element to your plot. Again, an outline is a great test before you start messing with the actual book.

And the amount of detail is up to you. I go in already with an idea of how I want to break up my scenes, so my outline has chapters. But maybe you don’t. Maybe you like to wait till you’re in the moment. Or maybe you like to look at the book as a whole once it’s finished to see where your chapter breaks need to occur. Maybe you just want a simple roadmap.

There are as many possible outline techniques as there are authors. So experiment, read a little. Look into books that talk about story structure and outlining/planning. My current outlining process was inspired when I read Book in a Month by Victoria Schmidt. Now, I have adjusted and adapted it…because I have a hard enough time being able to stop for an hour and write, let alone pause for a month.

An outline is just another creative tool, just like a character bio, that you can use to help improve the quality of your book from start to finish. It doesn’t mean anything is set in black and white, but it does help gather your thoughts and keep them all in one place (and if you’re anything like me, you need all the help you can get).

Reading: The Medieval Reader by various & Goddess of Yesterday by Caroline B. Cooney

Research: Inside Your Brain by Eric H. Chudler

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