Friday, May 26, 2017

The First Go Teen Writers Instagram Challenge

Shannon Dittemore is the author of the Angel Eyes novels. She has an overactive imagination and a passion for truth. Her lifelong journey to combine the two is responsible for a stint at Portland Bible College, performances with local theater companies, and an affinity for mentoring teen writers. Since 2013, Shannon has taught mentoring tracks at a local school where she provides junior high and high school students with an introduction to writing and the publishing industry. For more about Shan, check out her website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.

YOU GUYS! Go Teen Writers has an Instagram account! We've spread the word on social media but realized we hadn't actually announced it here on the blog. Major fail!

To kick off our first full month on Instagram, we're going to launch an Instagram challenge for the month of June. Have you guys ever participated in one of these? If you haven't, let me tell you how it works.

First, you'll need the graphic we created. You'll find it here and on our Instagram profile: @goteenwriters. Post the graphic to your Instagram account this week to tell your followers that you'll be participating and to help us spread the word. The more, the merrier!

As you can see, each day of June has been given a prompt. Your job is to snap a picture that somehow addresses the prompt and maybe works in books and/or writing. You don't have to be super literal. Feel free to use the prompt as a jumping off point, and get creative. It's fun to stretch our wings and use our creativity in areas other than writing.

Once you've snapped your picture for the day, post it on Instagram and use the challenge's hashtag (#GTWJune17) in your caption. Throughout the challenge, we'll monitor the hashtag and share some of our favorite pictures on Fridays.

Make sense? If you have questions, please feel free to ask them in the comments section below and we'll do our best to get to them this week before the challenge kicks off on June 1st!

We're so excited, you guys! Come find us on Instagram! 

>>> It is TOTALLY okay to not have social media, you guys! I'm a mean mom and my kids aren't allowed to have Instagram just yet. But there are a decent amount of Go Teen Writers readers that are active on Instagram and we want to make sure we're having fun and providing content across all our platforms. So, please don't feel left out. If you're looking for a way to participate, you can absolutely use the challenge to provide you with daily writing prompts. THANK YOU ALL FOR LOVING US and for letting us stretch our wings a bit. <<<

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Tracking Time: Analyzing Your Work Week For Maximum Productivity

Jill Williamson is a chocolate loving, daydreaming, creator of kingdoms. She writes weird books in lots of weird genres like fantasy (Blood of Kings and Kinsman Chronicles), science fiction (Replication), and dystopian (The Safe Lands trilogy). Find Jill on FacebookTwitterPinterest, or on her author website. You can also try two of her fantasy novels for free here and here.

Last week I talked about 10 ways to increase your productivity. And, as promised, here is a breakdown I did of one of my work weeks and what I learned from it. If you can, I highly recommend keeping track of your hours working on one of your books, just to give you an idea as to how long it takes you and to reveal patterns of low and high productivity. So let's take a look at one of my weeks.

As I mentioned last week, I really struggled to finish my book King's War. Ever since we moved, my new schedule was sabotaging my efforts. First, let's examine my schedule, which looked something like this:

Monday- Babysit my charge from 7:30 am until about 1:00 pm. Write from 1:00 pm - 2:00 pm. Pick up son from 2:00 pm - 2:30 pm. Write in the afternoon.
Tuesday- Go Teen Writers blog post day. Write fiction when finished. Pick up son from 2:00 pm - 2:30 pm.
Wednesday- Babysit my charge from 7:30 am until about 1:00 pm. Write from 1:00 pm - 2:00 pm. Pick up son from 2:00 pm - 2:30 pm. Write in the afternoon.
Thursday- Home to work on book. Pick up son from 2:00 pm - 2:30 pm.
Friday- Occasional babysit my charge day (from 7:30 am until about 1:00 pm). Once a month writers meeting from 9:00 am - 12:00 noon. Otherwise, home to work on book. Pick up son from 2:00 pm - 2:30 pm.
Saturday- Random activities on the schedule. Often home to work on book.
Sunday- Day off.

Add to that schedule taking my son to school from 7:00 am to 7:30 am and a couple physical therapy appointments and you can see there isn't a lot of time that could be blocked out for writing. And ideally, I'd prefer not to work on Saturdays, but that hasn't been an option for me. I did my best, however, with this book, but things got stressful, especially every Monday through Wednesday.

Now I'd like to show you a sample of writing results from an average work week. I used Stephanie's free story workbook tutorial on this book, so I was able to keep track of my writing time, which helped me see where I was productive and where I was not. Here is a sample week:

Monday- 512 words. It's always hard to write coming off the weekend. So Mondays are usually down a little in word count. But on a babysitting day, it's especially difficult.
Tuesday- 2840 words. I did better this day, even with it being a GTW blog post day. It helped that I did some writing the previous day and I was home all day this particular Tuesday. No physical therapy or any other appointments.
Wednesday- 1547 words. Another babysitting day, so my word count was down.
Thursday- 1140 words. Home all day, but this chapter was a difficult one (a major battle) and it took me all day just to get this many words, though to be fair, I did delete quite a few other words too, so I bet I wrote closer to 1400. Still. Super tough scene.
Friday- 4860 words. I picked up easily this morning and got right into things. Did much better.
Saturday- 4449 words. This was an equally productive day.

From this I learned:
-I write better in the mornings.
-I am not so productive on Mondays
-I am not so productive on any day in which I didn't write the day before.
-I am not so productive on a babysitting day or on the day after a babysitting day.
-I am most productive when I am able to write for at least three days in a row. 

Mondays are rarely great writing days for me. I'm coming off the weekend, and I need to get back to work and back into my story. Plus I babysit on Monday mornings, so that makes it extra hard to get to work since I'm often exhausted when I do finally sit down (my charge is a three-year-old, quite active boy). Tuesdays are rarely good writing days. It depends on the blog post. I sometimes can write them in a couple hours, but often it takes me all day. But even if I do manage to get the post done in a few hours, it takes a different type of concentration for me to write fiction than it does to write nonfiction. So it's not easy for me to transition from one into the other.

Since I have been writing mostly on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday afternoons (after I finish babysitting or my GTW blog post), all day Thursday, and sometimes on Friday and/or Saturday, it has been tough to consistently get into my story. On the weeks when I didn't have to babysit on Friday and I had Saturday free as well, I did so much better. Having three full writing days in a row makes a huge difference. I'm able to draw progressively deeper into my storyeach day builds on the lastand I get a lot more done. To do my best fiction writing, I need to be immersed.

Since I like to write nonfiction writing books and have a few projects I want to start working on once I finish King's Blood, I'm going to embark upon a new trial season in which I'm going to alternate between projects. For example, I might set aside a month or two to write a nonficiton project, then switch to three or four months of fiction. I'm hoping that this method might make it easier for me to work deep and be more productive on each project than trying to switch back and forth in a day or even a week. I'm hoping I will no longer continually derail myself from trying to multitask. I don't know it it will work, but I'm hopeful. It's good to try new things to see what works and what doesn't.

Have you ever tracked your writing time to see where you are most productive? What works best for you? What is a hindrance? Any experiments you might like to try to be more productive? Share in the comments.

Monday, May 22, 2017

What an aspiring writer needs to know about editing, marketing, and publishing: An interview with editor Jillian Manning!

Stephanie here! I'm really excited that Jillian Manning, the acquisitions editor at Blink YA Books, is here with us today! Jillian was my editor for my 1920s mystery, The Lost Girl of Astor Street, and is a rock start of an editor. Not only is she great at the red pen stuff, but she's super encouraging, and will even dress up for her authors:

Jillian and me at the ALA Midwinter Meeting. Wouldn't we have been great flappers?

Jillian was gracious enough to take time out of her schedule to answer a few questions for me about the unique struggles of trying to get your first book published. I wish I could have read her detailed answers back when I was a flailing and confused aspiring author!

Also, we're giving away a signed, hardback copy of The Lost Girl of Astor Street to one U.S. resident! Entry details can be found after my interview with Jillian.

Here's a little more about Jillian:

Jillian Manning is the acquisitions editor for Blink YA Books, where she acquires young adult titles across all genres. Jillian is passionate about helping authors create their best books and has had the honor of working with dozens of incredibly talented writers, New York Times bestsellers, YouTube stars, Olympic athletes, and more. In the stories she acquires, Jillian loves fresh voices, a dash of humor, and captivating protagonists. She does not love insta-love. Find Jillian on Twitter at @LillianJaine or on her blog at

SM: I talk with a lot of young writers who want to be traditionally published, but are kinda stressed out about the idea of needing a platform. When you're looking at a manuscript for a writer who hasn't been published, what kind of marketability do you like to see? What kind of social media numbers make you say, "Okay, we can work with that."

JM: Publishing is a business, and sales and marketing people want to know that the books editors bring them can be commercially viable—meaning they can sell! One of the ways to help sell a book is by being an author with a platform online, since that means you have a built-in fan base.

For a debut author, I definitely want to see a professional website/blog, as well as a minimum of 1,500 followers across a maximum of three platforms. Those three can be a mix of Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, and YouTube, and it helps to see a steady number of followers on each site, rather than 1,000 on Twitter and 10 on Facebook. (P.S. Editors know what a follow-for-follow account looks like, so someone who has 10K followers but is following 12K people will give us pause.)

I’ll admit, it’s a little scary when I get a manuscript in and when I go to look up the author online I find…nothing. No website, no blog, no social media. (And by social media, I mean professional social media, not a personal page for friends and family.) That being said, I know that someone who has never published a book won’t have the same draw to followers as a published author would have. So the only real “rule” I try to follow is to make sure the author has some form of professional presence online to use as a starting point.

SM: Lots of writers (me included) feel nervous about pitching a novel to an editor at a conference. Do you have any thoughts on this or advice that can help us chill out a bit?

JM: I have a blog post for that! The most important thing to remember is that you are talking to another human being who loves books and writing as much as you do. WE ARE YOUR PEOPLE! We are simply the people who hold the red pens, which does make us a little scary. But if you come with a polished manuscript and meet with someone who publishes books in your genre, you’re likely to have a great conversation.

SM: That "conversation" word is key, I think. When I first started pitching, I rehearsed so much that I kinda forgot it was supposed to be a conversation. The publishing process can feel really mysterious and confusing. Is there something you wish writers understood better about editors or how it all works?

JM: You know, the publishing world always feels a little bit like a secret club, which I think can make it tough for writers to know what’s going on behind the scenes. Here are a few things I often tell new writers about our little universe:

  • Most editors do not make unilateral decisions when it comes to acquiring a book. Even if I love a manuscript with all my heart and believe it will sell a billion copies, I still have to convince my publisher, my marketing team, and my sales team. And that convincing requires research, presentations, and a whole lot of data—not just beautiful words!
  • Companies can only publish a certain number of books each year. There are only so many people to do the work, and only so many books that can fit on the shelves. As a result, we have to be incredibly picky about which books we publish and when.
  • Publishing isn’t usually a speedy business. Sometimes it can take two years (or more, if you’re George R. R. Martin) to publish a book, even after the initial version is turned in. This is a result of the best timing to release a book (e.g. you always want to release a Christmas book around Christmastime), as well as the sheer number of hours it takes to edit, design, print, market, and distribute a book.
  • Last, and most importantly, editors can tell when you are turning in a first draft vs. a fourth draft. And on behalf of my people, please, please take the time to edit and revise your novel once on your own and once with a critique partner before submitting it. The whole process is more enjoyable when we can work with a polished draft.

SM: So, sometimes as a reader, I hear a concept for a book, and I think I'm going to LOVE it. But then the experience doesn't quite live up to my expectations. Does that ever happen to you with submissions. Have you ever requested a submission because you liked the story idea, but then when you receive the manuscript and start reading it, you don't connect to the story like you thought you would?

JM: Unfortunately this does happen. I’d say the most common reasons I have to say no to a good idea are:

  • Unpolished writing: Check out my rant on drafts in the fourth bullet above. Editors can work a lot of magic with a manuscript, but if we get sent something that contains obvious typos, major plot holes, or just mediocre writing, we’re not likely to want to spend the time and effort to get the book into presentable shape.
  • Poor execution: Great ideas are great, but great execution is better. If your pitch promises to be totally original and utterly fascinating, the entire book needs to live up to that—and I mean every single sentence. I’ve been excited about unique concepts before, only to find that the author has bitten off more than they can chew and the story ends up feeling weird or confusing.
  • Undeveloped characters: In YA especially, characters are hugely important. Due to the age of the protagonists, most YA novels feature coming of age stories, which means I need to see a character change and grow and learn (for better or for worse) throughout the story. If someone has an awesome pitch but a character that is one-dimensional, I quickly lose interest.

SM: Let's go back to that unpolished manuscript thing. Many writers struggle with editing their own novels. Obviously, there's no replacement for getting feedback and corrections from a professional editor, but do you have one or two tips for how to be a better self-editor?

JM: First and foremost, take a break—at least one month—from the time you finish your book until the time you edit it. In that month, read one or more books in your genre to inspire you…and also show you places where your story needs work. Then, when you go back to edit with fresh eyes, think about what you loved about those books (without copying them, of course!) and how you can improve your work.

Second, I recommend reading the book out loud. Not all of it, necessarily, but definitely the dialogue. That will help you catch spots that don’t quite feel like a normal conversation. Third, when you’re editing your book, pay attention to repetition of certain words and phrases. We all have ticks in our writing, and you might find you used the word “dangerously” 128 times, which, in my professional opinion, is about 120 times too many.

And last but not least, learn more about editing! There are tons of books and blogs that talk about the art of editing, and the more you learn, the better you will be when editing your work or someone else’s.

Stephanie here again. That's a perfect note to leave it on, because it gives me another chance to mention that Jillian has a fabulous blog that you should all be reading on a regular basis.

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Friday, May 19, 2017

Writing Exercise #12: Working Backward

Shannon Dittemore is the author of the Angel Eyes novels. She has an overactive imagination and a passion for truth. Her lifelong journey to combine the two is responsible for a stint at Portland Bible College, performances with local theater companies, and an affinity for mentoring teen writers. Since 2013, Shannon has taught mentoring tracks at a local school where she provides junior high and high school students with an introduction to writing and the publishing industry. For more about Shan, check out her website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.

Since finishing my latest manuscript, I've had trouble settling into reading again. I blame it on Newton. His first law of motion says that "an object in motion stays in motion" and that has absolutely been the case for me.

After several weeks of pushing to the end of my manuscript, I've been unable to stop my brain from whirring and spinning. I try to sit still, try to rest--something I thought I had mastered--but my hands want to be busy, my legs twitch, and I find myself simply skimming the words of books instead of actually reading them.

There's not much to do but wait it out, I think. I'll get reading back. It'll happen. I just have to wait. There's a lot of waiting in writing. Did you know that?

Anyway, as I've been unable to sit still, I've been doing a fair amount of walking. And listening. To podcasts. To lectures about writing. To instructional videos. And one thing that's been surfacing again and again is this idea that you can (should?) start drafting your novel by writing the ending first.

I've touched on this idea before. There's conflicting advice out there--and that's totally normal--but it's never been easy for me to start my stories by writing the ending first. If I know how it ends, I get bored with the writing. I feel the ending should be earned by all the work that comes before it--both by the story's protagonist, and by me, the author. I fight my way there and it's a struggle I enjoy.

That said, the more I write, the more I choose my habits with self-preservation in mind.

"What do you mean?" you ask.


The truth is that the more you write, the better you get at it. And, in my case, the more I write, the more I realize I don't like rewriting scenes any more than necessary. Oh, I love editing. But editing my seventh or eight edit? That's a bit painful. And writing chapters and chapters that I'm going to end up cutting? It's almost like hacking off an arm.

It's not even about the words that I love. It's about the time that I lose. I hate losing time.

And so, from a self-preservation standpoint, the idea of starting at the end is an interesting one. Because when you start at the end, you know exactly where you're going. And you write to that moment. And, ideally, you don't waste too many words getting there.

Author Victoria Schwab--read her stuff, seriously--picked up video blogging again and in one of her recent videos she talks about how she writes the ending first. She does this for several reasons--go watch to find out--but one of her reasons beckoned to the self-preservationist in me.

She writes the ending first so that she can reverse engineer her characters.

Now, I do this too. Only, I do my reverse engineering after I've written an entire first draft. The idea of tackling it from the outset is compelling and I just may have to try.

Reverse engineering is practiced in all sorts of different fields. It's the process of taking apart a completed product to understand how it's put together. By doing this you can explain, and possibly replicate, what's been done.

When we talk about reverse engineering a character, we're talking about looking at that character at the end of the story and working backward to develop a story arc. I've done this, to some extent, for most of my books. And it does take a little practice.

So that's what we're going to do today.

Your task


1. Pick up a favorite book and flip to the last chapter--this is so you don't spoil a new book for yourself. Read that final chapter through.

2. After you've read it, create a list of questions that can be asked based on the information in this chapter alone. Do not attempt to answer these questions. Simply let yourself ask them. 

3. Leave your list of questions in the comments section below--PLEASE DO NOT GIVE US THE TITLE OF THE BOOK (and, if the characters have unique names like Katniss or Peeta, please replace the names with pronouns like he or she). We're not in the business of spoiling books here.

What we're looking for is proof that endings, inevitably, give us story fodder simply by existing. I think they just might.

Remember!!! If you participate in the writing exercise, you can use the Rafflecopter to enter our drawing. A winner will be selected next week and will have the opportunity to ask Jill, Steph and me a question for an upcoming episode of Go Teen Writers LIVE.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

10 Ways To Increase Your Productivity

Jill Williamson is a chocolate loving, daydreaming, creator of kingdoms. She writes weird books in lots of weird genres like fantasy (Blood of Kings and Kinsman Chronicles), science fiction (Replication), and dystopian (The Safe Lands trilogy). Find Jill on FacebookTwitterPinterest, or on her author website. You can also try two of her fantasy novels for free here and here.

Feeling unproductive lately? Boy have I ever! To be fair, I did write a 250K book in eight months, not that it's done yet. (Now entering the editing stage...) But King's War was one of the most difficult books to crank out. Ever. Why? I pondered that a lot over the last eight months. The biggest obstacles against me getting that draft out sooner was a combination of my work schedule (or lack-thereof) and my work style, meaning I sat at the computer for far more hours than I actually worked. I Googled things. I Facebooked, Instagramed, and Tweeted. I checked my email. I bit my fingernails. I ate food. All while staring at the screen, wishing I was writing.

I felt I knew what was wrong, and I was mostly correct. I couldn't do much about it, though, because of life. There are things in life I can change and things I can't change. But I learned a lot though this experience, so I'm going to share it with you all.

1. Have a plan. When I set out to write a book, my plan goes something like this. I start by defining the book (ex: 100K medieval fantasy novel set in a new storyworld). Then I look at the calendar, things I have coming, and I set myself a loose deadline. Or if I sold this book idea to a publisher, they will set the deadline. So I have a genre, a word count goal, the general idea of a plot, and a deadline. I'm good to go.

2. Prepare. It's no secret that I am a storyworld first author. I can't start writing until I've done all my storyworld building and character development and some level of storyboarding or outlining. I also need to make a map and create a story bible document. I might also need some family trees or lists of characters and ranks. I might have to create some foreign language, so I'll have some sheets of paper with translations for reference. In this last book I had a list of characters with their titles, magical abilities, the name of their shadir (a creature) if they had one, and the names of their family members.

All this preparation might take me several months. It's actually one of my favorite parts of the writing process, but I cannot write productively until I have all this figured out.

3. Get organized. I print out a bunch of the stuff I created in number two. I need my map and important character lists nearby. I need my foreign translations! It's the worst to be writing a scene and have to stop and go look for something to help me get through it. Then I waste an hour looking. I try not to do that anymore. Instead, I will put a comment in the manuscript as a flag that the scene is missing important information. But I still have to find that sheet of paper later and then go back in and add it. If I am organized, I save time.

4. Set aside time to work deep. I've been reading the book Deep Work by Cal Newport, and it's fascinating. What is deep work you ask? Here is Cal's definition:

"Deep work is the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task. It's a skill that allows you to quickly master complicated information and produce better results in less time. Deep work will make you better at what you do and provide the sense of true fulfillment that comes from craftsmanship. In short, deep work is like a super power in our increasingly competitive twenty-first century economy. And yet, most people have lost the ability to go deep-spending their days instead in a frantic blur of e-mail and social media, not even realizing there's a better way."

I've always been a multi-tasker. Multi-tasking produces a feeling of instant gratification that makes me happy. But Mr. Newport says that multi-tasking is actually bad for your brain! It deteriorates the muscle that helps a person focus for extended periods of time. Now, there is a time and place for multi-tasking says this mother of two. I try not to do work when my kids are at school or sleeping that I can do when they're home. For example, I can save the dishes until the kids are playing in the living room and do something more important when they're sleeping or at school, like writing my book! That's good use of my time. But when I do sit down at the computer, Mr. Newport suggests I set my sights on "immersive single tasking"no distractions!

Writers have been doing this for centuries. It's the concept of going to that cabin in the woods to finish your booka place where you can concentrate and not be disturbed. This is much more difficult when you're sitting at a computer that is connected to the internet. Or when you have your cell phone sitting right next to you with the notifications set so you can hear them. Any little distraction such as glancing at the phone to see if someone texted you breaks your concentration and impairs your ability to focus and complete the task you working on.

I'd like to add a caveat for us writers. Mr. Newport gives examples of taking an hour or two to work deep. And I think that's great for a lot of thingsI can get things done in that kind of time. But I think most writers work best when they have at least three uninterrupted work days in a row. I might only write for two or three hours each day, but the consecutive days help keep my brain stay deeply immersed in my storyworld.

5. Set the timer. Use word wars/word sprints to help you. For example: Write as fast as you can for the next fifteen minutes with a goal of 500 words. Or a goal of 100 words in a half hour. Whatever goal works for you. Intense, focused work trains you in concentrating. This will help you be more productive faster. The reality is, you could learn to write so fast that you only need to work two hours a day! Then you would have more time in your day for others things.

6. Have a routine. I blogged about this a few weeks ago. The human brain likes routines. Click here to read that post.

7. Take breaks. If you have to write all day (or want to), great. But you need lots of breaks. I feel there are two types of breaks necessary to the productive writer. First you need periodic breaks to keep your body healthy. Use word sprints or word wars to help you know when to break, or set a timer and break every hour for five minutes. Get up from your chair and walk around, have a snack, stretch, whatever you need to do, then get back to work.

The other type of break is needed on a daily basis. This is a boredom break. A do-nothing break. Something you need for your mind to stay healthy. Go on a walk. Go sit on your porch for an hour and drink some lemonade. Go for a drive or a bike ride. Exercise. All this gives your brain some free time to think and recharge. And if you do this every day, you'll find yourself energized and inspired with new ideas.

8. Learn to say no. I wrote about this a few weeks ago too. It's super important to "protect the asset," as Greg McKeown says. Click here to read that post.

9. Limit (quit?) social media and television viewing. It's best to turn off the internet and hide those cell phones or tablets when you sit down to write. The internet and social media can be a terrible distraction. But the truth is, we waste our lives online and watching television. While these are different activities, they're both more screen time on your eyes (for us writers who are already looking at a screen all day), and they're both pretty much a waste of time. I can't imagine anyone on his death bed saying, "I wish I had spent more time on Twitter." Or, "My only regret is that I never got around to binge watching Merlin." *heavy sigh* It's fun to spend time on social media. And it's fun to watch television. But we were made to be with people, and we should do more of that in our off hours and certainly during work time!

10. Get enough sleep. This is so important and so neglected by many over-achievers. Not getting enough sleep is bad for you. Period. It's bad for your brain (impairs alertness, concentration, and reasoning). And it's bad for your health (weakens your immune system, which can increase your chances of getting sick; can lead to serious medical conditions like obesity, heart disease, and diabetes; and increases anxiety and depression). Getting enough sleep will keep you from burning out on life. It will help you make fewer mistakes and better decisions, both in life and in the story you are writing.

I have to point out that I wrote a post on a similar theme back in January, so there's proof for you that I've been struggling with this for a long time! If you're struggling too, here is the link to the post I wrote called 10 Ways to Get Something Done When You’re Feeling Unproductive, which you might also find helpful.

Are you a productive writer? Do any of these tips resonate with you? Do you have a tip that works for you that I missed? Share in the comments!