Monday, January 15, 2018

How To Create Space And Time For Writing

Stephanie Morrill is the creator of and the author of several young adult novels, including the historical mystery, The Lost Girl of Astor Street (Blink/HarperCollins). Despite loving cloche hats and drop-waist dresses, Stephanie would have been a terrible flapper because she can’t do the Charleston and looks awful with bobbed hair. She and her near-constant ponytail live in Kansas City with her husband and three kids. You can connect with her on FacebookTwitterPinterest, Instagram, and sign up for free books on her author website.

How do I make time to write? 

This was one of the most common write-in responses on the Go Teen Writers survey, and none of us were surprised. For nearly all of us, this is the first real test we'll face as a writer.

Sure, you also need an idea and all that jazz, but the story idea will remain just a piece of your imagination unless you somehow find room in your life to write it.

Even though I started writing stories in first grade, I was never very consistent about writing until my junior year of high school when I took a creative writing class. Then writing become homework and carving out the space and time to do it became mandatory.

I think that's what the majority of us want, whether we admit it or not. We want to have to write. But there will be very few timeseven when you become a published authorthat you have to write. No one will check to make sure you are, and no one will prioritize it for you. That has to start with you.

You have to value your writing first.

In Rising Strong, Brené Brown says, "I've learned...if you don't put value on your work, no one is going to do that for you."

As uncomfortable as it can feel at times, WE have to take the first steps in respecting our writing time. So often we want that respect and value to come from the outside, the way it did when our parents taught us to respect volleyball practice, to do homework, or to value attending church. But if you want to be a writer, and if you want people to respect the time you need to create and what you're creating, you will have to lead.

Stop waiting for ideal.

You want to write. You want to take responsibility. But you're so busy.

I know you are. I don't even know what your current season is, but I'm guessing that whether you're in middle school or college or a new parent, you feel too busy for writing consistently. Too busy for creative thinking.

And yes, there are some seasons where I think it's just not wise to push yourself to write. I have a friend who wants to write, but she works full time and has three children who don't like to let her sleep very much. I'm certainly not going to wag my finger at her and tell her, "If only you tried a little harder..." 

But there are other times (and you probably know instinctively if this is you) that the struggle is actually that the time available to you doesn't feel ideal.

My ideal writing happens first thing in the morning with a cup of coffee, a silent office, foggy weather, and empty hours stretching ahead of me. You know how many times I've experienced my ideal in the last 10 years? ZERO.

You have to look for time that's "good enough." Those fifteen minutes before school? Good enough. The twenty minutes in the doctor's waiting room? Good enough. The hour you have during your brother's math club competition? Bring your laptop or notebook, and that's good enough.

We have this perception that real writers get hours to write because it's their job. That's a myth. What I described up above is reality for most real writers.

Jill writes on her phone. She's a real writer.

Shan writes while she waits for her kids in the pick-up line at school. She's a real writer.

I write when my toddler naps. I'm a real writer.

That's what a real writer does. They don't wait for ideal, they just work the writing in around the rest of life.

Start with spacers, not pulling out teeth

I was at the orthodontist with my ten-year-old daughter last week. She has to have a pallet expander, and the first step of that is inserting spacers between her back two teeth. Look how tiny they are!

They're the round things. Four of them can fit on one finger. (And my office lamp needs to be dusted...)

Yet over a few days, having those tiny spacers between her teeth will create just enough space for something bigger. That's what you're looking forjust enough space in your schedule for writing that it can start to bloom into something bigger.

If you're like me, you suffer from wanting to do All The Things right now. I'm especially prone to this in January. But if you're not accustomed to writing regularly, then trying to make yourself write for hours everyday is only going to stress you out and set you up for failure. If you try to do that, writing is likely to feel like pulling teeth.

If you're not accustomed to writing for long periods every day, let yourself off the hook and try to find a "spacer" of space. Ten minutes before school? 100 words a day? Look for a small place to start, something to help you get momentum going.

Chunk Time and Crack Time

Writer Emily P. Freeman talks about chunk time versus crack time sometimes on the podcast HopeWriters. The majority of writers need "chunks" of time, like several uninterrupted hours, to make really good progress. We can get used to working without them, but it's better when we have chunks of time.

But there are also pieces of the writing life, especially as you move into publication, that you can take care of in the "cracks" of your time. I can respond to social media comments in the five minutes I'm waiting for my kids to be released from school. I can plan blog posts while I make dinner. I can design graphics while I watch a baseball game with my husband.

And sometimes I use crack time to prepare for chunk time. To write a blog post takes a chunk of time, but I use cracks of time to think about the post before I even start writing. Then I'm more efficient with my chunk of time.

But sometimes I've guilty of using my chunk time for activities that I can do during crack time. (And then whining later that I didn't get as much writing done as I wanted to...)

Is there anything keeping you from writing today? Are you waiting for permission? For ideal time? Something else? Or do you have the time, but you're choosing something else instead? 

What's something you can do to create a bit more space for writing?

(I'm in Orlando soaking up the Wizarding World of Harry Potter with McKenna, so it may be a few days before I'm able to respond to your comments!)

One last note from community members Naomi Downing and Taylor Bennett:

Are you the only writer in your family? Maybe you’d go so far as to say you’re the only writer in your group of friends.

But… what if there was a place you could go to bounce ideas off of other writers? Somewhere online, so you didn’t have to travel anywhere to participate…

That’s what Inkling Chats are all about! They’re an opportunity for writers, new and experienced, young and old, to come and chat about questions writers all face at some point during their journey.

Inkling Chats will be happening on Twitter at 4PM EST every last Sunday of the month, and they’re hosted by Taylor Bennett, author of Porch Swing Girl, and me—Naomi Downing. You can follow us, @writer_taylor and @Naomihdowning and use #InklingChats to keep up with the conversation. We’d love to have you join us as we offer advice on how to stay inspired, share what draws into a book, and more!

Friday, January 12, 2018

Committing to an Idea

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

I'm so excited about 2018, you guys! This whole #GrowAnAuthor business is going be fun. If you haven't caught our first two posts of the new year introducing our plan, play a little catch up and read them both here and here.

Today, I'm going to give you all a peek inside my head. Because the first thing I have to do when starting a book is commit to an idea.

I'm very rarely writing more than one story at a time. In fact, I'm so bad at working on two projects simultaneously, that I do my very best to ignore any new story idea that comes knocking while I'm immersed in a manuscript that needs finishing. If an idea won't leave me alone, I allow myself a few minutes to dictate the idea into an email and then I save it in my 'Drafts' folder. Currently, there are sixteen ideas hanging out in my folder, waiting on me.

The simple act of saying or typing the idea out and tucking it away, frees me to focus on whatever it is that I'm supposed to be completing. Because here's the thing, friends. If we're going to grow an author, we really do have to finish what we start. Finishing is important.

When the time does come for me to select a new project, my 'Drafts' folder is the first place I look. At this point, I'm fairly void of ideas. I've emptied myself and all my words into my last project and am needing the energy of a bright, shiny idea to tempt me from my exhaustion.

And the honest truth is this: the answer is rarely in my 'Drafts' folder. I can't speak for every writer out there, but for me, those ideas that set about pestering me when I was working away were there for one reason: to distract me. To keep me from actually finishing what I set out to do. And while some of the ideas have promise, they've been hanging out in the back of my head so long they've lost their shine.

It's unfair to them, I'm sure, but I'm not the same writer I was when those ideas initially appealed to me. I've written myself into a new place. I've grown. And I'm ready for an idea that fits the new me.

In most cases, the idea I commit to comes while I'm taking time away from the keyboard. The idea usually arrives with a vivid image and a WHAT IF question that needs answering.

While the circumstances surrounding a first novel are always a little unique, I committed to my debut, Angel Eyes, only after the image of a halo captured my attention and refused to let go. And then the question: What if we could see the invisible?

And even then, even after I had the image and the question, I can't say I was completely sold on the idea. At that moment, I would have told you that, "Yes! This is it! This is my golden idea!" But, really, REALLY, one night's excitement about an idea is not commitment.

Commitment happens only after you've hit a few roadblocks and fought your way through. Like any marriage, pushing on despite adversity means you've landed on something that might be worth keeping.

I'm currently in this place with a fantastically tempting idea. I'm all in. At least I think I am. I WANT this to be the one. I've written a thousand words on it this project and though I'm not at all impressed, I'm not dissuaded. I haven't ruined the idea for myself. I still have a desire to puzzle my way through this question and I want to know more about the image haunting me.

And so, in a few days time, maybe a few weeks, I'll know. This idea and I will date. We'll dance a bit. We'll argue some too (because in every good marriage there are disagreements) and if, after all that, I am still excited about this idea, I will accept its proposal. I'll commit. And for as long as it takes me to complete it, I will do my very best to stay all in.

Because there will be hard times. There will be days when I get it wrong. When my characters talk back. When my story world folds in on itself. When my magic system backfires. There will be days when I want to give up and try out that striking new idea flashing across my mind.

That's why I take my time with an idea up front. I don't commit right away. I stew and I think and I scribble and when, at last, I know it's chosen me? That's the moment I'm all in.

How about you? How do you commit to an idea?

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Writing a New Story: Where I Start

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). She has a podcast/vlog at You can also find Jill on InstagramFacebookTwitterPinterest, or on her author website. Tagboth (Tag for short) is a goldhorn dragon from Belfaylinn, a hidden fantasy realm on the western end of the Sargasso Sea. Jill is working on the first book of this tale for this year's Grow an Author series.

Happy 2018!

I am ready to write. Are you?

I'm so excited about our Grow an Author series. As we move through 2018, Stephanie, Shannon, and I are each going to take you through our process of writing a new story. Because I am me, I can't do this without having a story to work on. So I dug through my files and pulled out Onyx Eyes, the book I was writing on my author blog back in 2014. I had to stop because I sold the Kinsman Chronicles. And four years later, I have completed that epic saga (whoo hoo!), and Onyx Eyes is still calling to me. Especially, Tagboth, the goldhorn dragon in my picture above. Tagboth is an important part of the Onyx Eyes story, so he is going to be sitting on my desk, reminding me not to forget him.

Another perk to writing this story? I named my main character girl Kaitlyn, after my daughter. Four years ago, Kaitlyn was ten, and this was all silly fun. Today, Kaitlyn is a month from turning fourteen, a bookworm, and she will have her say as to what happens to her character in this book. She has already vetoed several things I had planned to do back in 2014 and insisted that Kaitlyn's character get to have a romantic storyline with hero Drake. So, yeah. Buh bye, fairy princess love interest. The human girl Kaitlyn is calling the shots for herself this time around.

This shall be fun, methinks. *grin*

Where I Start

I'm the kind of person who always has a dozen story ideas I want to work on. All the time. I pine over old story ideas I've had to put down. I wish I could write everything that pops into my head. Alas, I cannot, and so I must choose.

How did I choose this time around? Well, I narrowed it down to the top two stories I was desperate to write, then I chose the one that best fit my target audience: you, teen writers. Onyx Eyes is a YA fantasy, so it best fits my needs for this year's blogging plan. Not only will it help me to have a story to work on as I explain my process, it will help me work on a story that for the past five years, I've been desperate to write!

Now, if I had narrowed it down and all my stories were YA fantasy ideas, then I would have chosen the one I wanted to write the most. And if it was a tie, then I would have chosen the one that I felt was the most salable. The one that would appeal to the greatest number of readers. (Because while I do write for fun [and because I can't not write], I also need to make a living, and I really, really, really don't want to have to go and get a part-time job to help my family pay the bills. So, sometimesmany timesI have to think business.)

That decided, let me tell you where this idea came from. Five years ago, my husband was working as a youth pastor with me as his trusty sidekick. This also meant that I did a lot of volunteer work with our church. One of the things I did was work with little kids, teaching Sunday School and making crafts. One such craft was a bracelet with beads that tell the story of Jesus. This craft has many incarnations, like colored jelly bean "jewels" in a jar or the wordless book version. I'm sure there are more. The point is, as the littles and I were crafting, I got thinking about the themes each color in the bracelet represented. And I thought, What if I wrote a series of books in which each story had one of these colors as a theme? And that got me thinking about color as a magic, which got me thinking about gemstones having power, which got me thinking about what kind of people would use natural stones for magic, which got me thinking about fairies.

Yes. I would write a book about fairies in which magic was powered by colored stones of all kinds.

Epic, right?

I started with a list of the themes from the colored bracelet craft. They are: black = sin, red = sacrifice, white = rebirth, green = growth, and yellow = eternal home. There are several variations as to the order. Some start with yellow, some end with green. Some include blue and purple. But knowing how long it takes to write a series of books (I still haven't finished the Mission League series yet, which has six books), I decided to stick with five themes.

That decided, I was itching to draw a map, but I wasn't ready yet. I needed a basic story to give me a foundation to plan from. Since the first book would have a theme of black = sin, and since I didn't want to start out the series with a lawbreaking antihero, I decided to have my main character break a magical law out of desperation and lack of trust in those around him. I came up with the idea of two nations at war. One kidnaps the other nation's princess, and my hero, her guard, must get her back. As I thought more about my fairies, I wanted them to be the size of humans. I pictured something more like Tolkein's Legolas than Disney's Tinkerbell. This led me to creating two races of fae, which I tentatively called aerials and grounders. (Still not sure I love those terms.) Aerials have wings. Grounders do not. My hero, a grounder, must sneak into the aerial kingdom to rescue the grounder princess. He believes he can only do this by impersonating an aerial, and since he does not have wings, he sets out into the mountains with the intent of wielding a forbidden bonding spell with a dragon (enter Tagboth), which will enable him to grow wings.

That was a good enough start to get my brain working hard. Next week I'll show you how I make lists of the things I will need to worldbuild for this series as I gear up to create a map.

Have you chosen a story to work on in 2018? Share in the comments what you're working on.
And let us know where you start planning a new story.

Monday, January 8, 2018

In 2018, don't just write a book. Grow an author.

Stephanie Morrill is the creator of and the author of several young adult novels, including the historical mystery, The Lost Girl of Astor Street (Blink/HarperCollins). Despite loving cloche hats and drop-waist dresses, Stephanie would have been a terrible flapper because she can’t do the Charleston and looks awful with bobbed hair. She and her near-constant ponytail live in Kansas City with her husband and three kids. You can connect with her on FacebookTwitterPinterest, Instagram, and sign up for free books on her author website.

Hi, writers!!!

It's 2018! My holiday break was a mixed bag of the stomach flu, hanging with my dad during chemo, and watching my new Roomba vacuum my floors for me.

One of the very fun things I got to enjoy over the holidays was reading through the survey results and talking on the phone with Jill and Shannon about what 2018 looks like for Go Teen Writers. We have some exciting things planned!

First, here are the three winners of the 1,000 word critiques:

Melissa Gravitis
Bronwyn Lenz
Ashley Schaller

Congratulations! I'll email you all later today and get you hooked up!

Before we get into plans for this year, I thought you all might find some of the survey results interesting.

Staying motivated, editing, and first drafts were the top three issues for the writers who filled out the survey. The number one write-in response was finding time to write, followed closely by story middles and character development. We will address all of these in 2018!

The majority of you get psyched when you see that we're talking about characters. Which is good, because we love talking about characters! Plot was a close second, and then publishing stuff was tied with editing for third.

Some questions and comments I would like to address:

"The blog was orange?"

Yes! I think it was orange for all of 2010 and 2011 (which is approximately a thousand years ago in the blogosphere). Someone asked for a picture, and I thought I would be able to deliver, but I can't find a single one! I will keep looking and report back. (Update! Thank you Forest for finding this screenshot of our orange blog!)

"I love that you're trying new things, but the video format on a lot of recent posts really isn't working for me ... Maybe you could start having a transcript of the video, in the blog post?"

Sorry to hear it's not working. We're embedding from our YouTube channel, so maybe if you go directly there? We will try to do more summarizing of what we cover in the video in the actual post.

"This blog is my home page - that's how much I love it."

This delighted us. We were also strangely delighted by the comment someone left that their parents had blocked Go Teen Writers because of how much time their child was spending on it.

"Would you ever consider doing a writers conference?"

We get this question quite frequently, but I don't know that we've ever answered it publicly, so I'll do that here. We loooove the idea of a Go Teen Writers conference, and we talk/dream about it several times a year. Here are the hurdles we always bump up against:
  • Time. There are a lot of logistics involved in putting on a conference, especially one that's open to minors. Since we're all moms with kids at home, and we all have our own writing deadlines, this just hasn't been something we can tackle yet.
  • Location. Shan and Jill are in California and Oregon. I'm in Kansas City. There hasn't been an obvious place to hold a conference.
  • Time.
  • Time.
  • Time.
  • The time thing really can't be overstated.
Buuuut, we have talked about how we could maybe do a more casual kind of in-person writing workshop. A pop-up conference of sorts. Not sure when and where, but we'll keep you posted.

And this comment was greatly appreciated: 
"I've looked through a lot of writing blogs out there throughout the years, including one that always self promotes and sells workshops and such like every second. You guys have always been down to earth and kept information available to those of us who don't have a spare $300 dollars for a course that probably won't help. Go Teen Writers by far has THE most helpful writing articles I have personally come across."
We spent a lot of 2017 watching others make courses, membership sites, summits, and other things intended to both help people and make money. We also like helping people and making money, so we talked several times about doing something similar. We always landed on the answer, "No." That's not meant to judge other sites or writers who choose to create and sell that content, but we decided it wasn't the right thing for Go Teen Writers.

Eventually we might make video courses or host a conference, and we do intend to write another craft book over the next year or two, but we like the current mojo on Go Teen Writers. We don't want to peddle courses or workshops. We just want to hang out with you guys and talk about writing. 

If you feel the desire to financially contribute to any of us, the absolute best way to do that is to buy new copies of our books, pre-order them when that option is available, and leave reviews. Our desire is to be fiction authors who also blog, which is why the blog offers so much for free. By supporting our fiction writing goals, you help us keep Go Teen Writers a free resource for you and others.

Finally, a few surprises in the survey:
  • The outcry for another 100-for-100 challenge. We'll do one this summer!
  • The love for our Instagram account. Thanks!
  • How many teachers recommend us to their students! Thank you!
  • That boogers were mentioned...
  • That there weren't more random messages in the comments section. By the way, I also like chocolate cake. And hello, Hann. 

So. What about 2018?

Shannon said it first in her post Creating More Than A Story, that you're not just creating a story, but an author. When we looked over the survey results and talked about what's happening in our own writers' hearts, we felt this was an idea we wanted to explore more.

All three of us write very differently from each other, and in 2018, we're going to detail our process for you as step-by-step as we can. And we want you to write along with us! Whether you start fresh with a new idea, dust off an old one, or push on with your current work-in-progress, we hope you'll write along with us this year. We hope as we show you how we are growing as authors, that you will show us how you are growing as an author too.

We think it's going to be a fantastic year!

Do you have writing goals for this year? 

Monday, December 18, 2017

Highlights from 2017

Stephanie here. I can hardly believe this is the last post for 2017! Go Teen Writers will be back on Monday, January 8th, 2018.

Thank you everyone who filled out the survey! Jill, Shannon, and I will look over and talk about all the feedback while we discuss our plan for 2018. And I'll send out an email to the critique winners later today!

In case you missed them, here are some highlights from 2017, and we look forward to writing with you next year!

How To Write Characters Who Are Different From Each Other

Too Long, Too Short: A Closer Look At Getting Your Manuscript To The Right Length

What To Do When You Can't Let Go Of The Story Of Your Heart

Sibling Relationships

How To Make Your Setting Come Alive in Edits

Two Ways To Tackle a Major Rewrite

Dealing with Genre Expectations

How to Respect Your Reader

How Do You Know When Your Book Is Done?

When To Start Marketing When You're Unpublished

The Power of Routine

How To Deal With Hard Seasons As A Writer

10 Ways To Increase Your Productivity

Endings As Beginnings

Writing Goals and the Clarity That Comes From Having Them

Books in the Public Domain (that writers can play with!)

Starting Where Tolkein Started

Creating More Than Just A Story

2 Ways to Be Sure Your Scene Really Matters

Scene Transitions

Why You Need to Step Away from Your Manuscript

The Three Rules For Creating Art That Matters

Thanks for a great year! See y'all in January!