Monday, September 18, 2017

What Are Your Personal Writing Rules?



Stephanie Morrill is the creator of GoTeenWriters.com 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.


What are personal writing rules?

We all have them, even if we haven’t officially listed them anywhere. I first came across the idea of making a list of my personal writing rules in the June 2017 issue of the Romance Writers Report in an article by Katharine Ashe. Her article was specific to the rules she’s developed for herself as a romance writer, but the concept applies to anyone who has been writing for a bit.

"Personal writing rules" refers to the truths you've learned about you as a writer, the stories you like to tell, and your methodology for making the magic happen. If the word "rule" skeeves you out, think of them as guidelines or truths.



A quick example is something like, "I'm a plotter." When writers make that statement, it's a short way of saying something like, "I have learned that plotting my stories is important to me and the quality of my work."

For many of us, we begin with a rule like, "Writing matters to me. I make time for it." If you're early in your journey, this might be a rule that you repeat to yourself regularly. It might be the only rule you have so far, and that's okay! Depending on your upbringing and current environment, this might be one of the biggest hurdles you ever cross as a writer.

Here are some other examples of writing rules you might have:

"I write every day." This is one that Lydia Howe can claim. That's a practice that has brought her joy and discipline over the years. For other writers, that kind of rule feels like a noose.

"I edit as I write." Many writers, like me, prefer to plow as quickly as they can through the first draft and then spend more time in edits. That doesn't work for Roseanna M. White, however. She learned that she works better if she edits as she goes, regardless of the frequently repeated advice about how valuable bad first drafts are.

"Pretty writing matters to me." Beautiful prose is something that brings joy to Shannon Dittemore, and it influences her writing voice. If she focused just on being efficient with her words, she would lose a lot of what she loves about storytelling.

"My first drafts are private." This is really important to me, and it gives me the freedom to get the story on the page. It's a rule I had to develop so that I could be messy without fear. Nobody sees my manuscripts until I've edited them at least once.

Why bother?

I see several valuable reasons for writing down your rules, and I'm sure there are others.

1. Writing them down creates a good reminder. Same as writing down your goals instead of just storing them in your head. Sometimes we need reminders of what's important to us and who we are. So when you come across a blog post by a know-it-all writing teacher who says the very best way to write a book is to write a bad first draft (which I probably said in the early Go Teen Writers days when I was much more fond of the words "always" and "never") you can shrug it off and say, "Yeah, that's not what I've learned about myself. I've learned I edit as I write, and that's okay."

2. You can see how they serve or contradict your writing goals. When you put your rules side-by-side with your vision of where you want to go with writing, they can provide some great clarity.

Like if one of your goals is to publish your novel next fall, then a rule like, "I write every day" serves that well. If, however, one of your writing rules is, "I write when I feel like writing," you'll see how those contradict each other. Writing when you feel like it is great for joy, but not so great for deadlines.

3. You'll be able to watch yourself evolve. One of my personal writing rules in high school was that I didn't plot. I had tried several times and it just didn't work for me. I was a pantser.

In my early twenties, I took a class from Angela Hunt, a bestselling author who had been a professional for twenty years at that point. She said, "I like to try one new thing with each book I write." I loved her teachable spirit, and I embraced the rule for myself.

That new rule invited me to give plotting another try. With my deeper understanding of story structure, I found that I understood how to plot much better than I had in high school, and that there were some methods that worked for me.

Personal writing rules are meant to be tools to empower us, not chains that keep us from growing or trying new things.

Want to play along? What are some of your personal writing rules?

Next Monday we'll look at our writing goals and rules, and we'll brainstorm ways we can take action on them. I love making lists and dreaming, but if we don't get some actionable items on our calendar, then these exercises aren't very useful!


Friday, September 15, 2017

Writing Exercise #14: Endings As Beginnings

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.  

Every writer goes through dry seasons. Seasons of time where the words just won't do their thing. They're either stuck in your head or hiding from you entirely. If you're lucky enough to get them out of your pen and onto the page, the sentences are ugly and you find yourself wondering if you've forgotten how to write stories.

It happens to us all. It really does. The only way to claw out of a dry season like that is to {wait for it} write your way through it.

I know. I know. It's rough. It is. And I'm a huge advocate of taking time off when you need time off, but at some point, you're going to have to sit back down in that chair and knock the rust off. One of the best ways to do that is to just write.

"WRITE ABOUT WHAT?" you ask.

My answer is a simple one. Write about anything. Write about nothing. Just write.

The internet is full of writing prompts--and you should totally avail yourselves of those--but sometimes cyberspace can be like all those rabbit holes little girls fall into. There are so many options to choose from. So many shiny ideas. You just keep falling and falling and never getting any writing done.

So, today, instead of trolling Pinterest for writing prompts, I want you to grab the nearest book (puh-lease keep in PG, alright?). Flip to the very last page and put your finger on the very last sentence.



That, my friends, is your beginning. That's right. The last line of the book in your hand is the first line of your shiny new paragraph.

I want you to write me that paragraph and leave it in the comments section below. And then be sure to come back throughout the weekend to see what you're friends are coming up with. We all need a little encouragement now and then.

A couple things:

1. We frown on spoilers here, so please do not tell us the name of the book and if there are recognizable names in the final sentence (like Katniss or Hermione), do us a favor and change them.

2. Your goal is not to continue the book your holding. Use this sentence as a jumping off point. Start something new. Something that's all yours.

3. And, remember! When you participate in our writing exercises you can enter to win an opportunity to ask Jill, Steph and me a question for one of our upcoming writing panels. Once you leave your response to the writing prompt in the comments section, use the Rafflecopter below to enter. Next week, Rafflecopter will select one winner and we'll contact you for your question via email. Happy writing, friends!

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Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Seven Writing Tips From Roald Dahl To Celebrate His Birthday



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.

Three days left to finish my rewrite. And since it's September 13, and September 13 was Roald Dahl's birthday and is now Roald Dahl Day, I'm celebrating the literary legend.

Roald Dalh grew up in England. He moved to Africa at the age of eighteen to work for Shell Oil Company. After that he was a fighter pilot in World War II. As if all that wasn't adventure enough, when he was twenty-six he moved to America and began to write. (This is especially sweet to me, because I also started writing later in life. I started at the age of twenty-eight.)

Roald was twenty-seven when he published his first book, The Gremlins, which was about little creatures from the Royal Air Force. Walt Disney started making a film based on the book, but it never got made. Click here to see a cool picture (that I was afraid to use, because Disney) of a very young Roald and Walt with some stuffed Gremlins. (It's the second picture in the post, so you have to scroll down a bit.) Random Factoid #1: The 1984 Spielberg movie Gremlins was loosely inspired by Roald's mischievous little creatures. Random Factoid #2: You can see the original gremlins in the Epic Mickey video games. My kids were super excited to discover this. (Google "Epic Mickey Gremlins." They're cute.)

Photo by Carl Van Vechten, 20 April 1954

Roald went on to write short stories about his war experiences for The Saturday Evening Post, and for years he wrote for adults. It wasn't until 1960, when he was living in England again, that he started publishing children's books again, beginning with James and the Giant Peach in 1961. Some of my favorite Dahl books are The BFG, Matilda, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator.

Roald also wrote two screenplays. One for the James Bond movie You Only Live Twice (which is the one where Sean Connery has to fight the Japanese ninjas) and the other for the musical Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (about a fine, four-fendered flying car), both based on books by Ian Fleming. Roald also wrote for television.

Talk about an amazing and inspiring career. You can learn more about Roald Dahl on his website.




Seven Writing Tips From Roald Dahl 


I found these tips as part of an extra in the back of the book The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and Six Morewhere Roald talks about how he became a writer.

1

"You should have a lively imagination."


2
"You should be able to write well. By that I mean you should be able to make a scene come alive in the reader's mind. Not everybody has this ability. It is a gift, and you either have it or you don't."


3
"You must have stamina. In other words, you must be able to stick to what you are doing and never give up, for hour after hour, day after day, week after week, and month after month."


4
"You must be a perfectionist. That means you must never be satisfied with what you have written until you have rewritten it again and again, making it as good as you possibly can."


5
"You must have strong self-discipline. You are working alone. No one is employing you. No one is around to give you the sack if you don't turn up for work, or to tick you off if you start slacking."


6
"It helps a lot if you have a keen sense of humor. This is not essential when writing for grown-ups, but for children, it's vital."


7
"You must have a degree of humility. The writer who thinks that his work is marvelous is heading for trouble."





What's your favorite Roald Dahl book? Share in the comments. Mine is Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.





[FYI, my sources are: Roald Dah's bio in the back of The BFG, the extra section in the back of the book The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and Six Moreand Roald Dahl's Wikipedia page.]

Monday, September 11, 2017

Writing Goals and the Clarity that Comes From Having Them



Stephanie Morrill is the creator of GoTeenWriters.com 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.


"When you set goals for your writing, do you write those down anywhere?" my husband asked as we drove to Colorado last week.

The conversation that ensued is one that I've been thinking about ever since, because it reshaped the way I've thought about goals for years.





When Ben asked me this question about goals, I started talking to him about plans. I rambled about how I used to make elaborate outlines for how I intended to spend my year, but something always came up that I didn't anticipate, so now I focus more on daily and weekly tasks to accomplish my goals.

To offer him an example, I said, "I have a goal to get my manuscript turned in on time, but I don't have that written down anywhere. I just have a daily and weekly plan for how I'll get that done."

Ben said, "No, I'm talking about big goals. Like, 'I want to be on the New York Times bestseller list by the time I'm thirty-five,' or whatever your goal is. Those kinds of goals."

I told him I didn't believe in making those kinds of goals. My philosophy has been that a good goal is something I can do on my own. I've even talked about that on Go Teen Writers a few times, including here:



(Two Ways To Make Effective Writing Goals, January 5, 2015)

When talking to my husband, I even cited the widely used "SMART" goal system to back up my beliefs. In case you aren't familiar with SMART goals, it means you should create goals that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Results-Focused (in a lot of places they say Relevant, but I like results-focused better), and Time-Bound. But even as I was saying this to Ben, I could see that there was nothing in any of those words that specified, "And you must be able to accomplish this with your own human strength."

Huh.

The more I've reflected on this, the more I've realized the flaws in my thinking. As Ben said to me, "Just because JFK couldn't put a man on the moon by himself, should he not have had that goal for our country?"

I thought about when I was a writer longing to be published. My goal was to be a traditionally published young adult author. I made choices about how to spend my time, energy, and money based on that goal. I plugged away at that goal every weekday, and sometimes on weekends too. I read books, I took classes, I networked with people, I told those around me that I wanted to be a published writer. And I wrote. I wrote every day as if it was a job I was being paid to do.

I worked as though becoming a published author was entirely up to me, even though I was acutely aware that it was not.

I knew I couldn't control industry trends, or if an agent would like my writing voice, or what kind of mood the editor was in when my manuscript landed on their desk. I knew I needed many other people's approval if I wanted to achieve my goal, but I worked daily as though only my efforts mattered.

I know that's why I achieved my goal of becoming a traditionally published young adult author. Because when the right circumstances presented themselvesan agent who loved my voice, an editor who was looking for hopeful but realistic YA fiction, and a flourishing YA marketI had done the work and was ready.

When I knew what my goal was, my daily decisions became obvious. Not easy, but obvious:
  • Should I watch this Gilmore Girls rerun, or should I write my next chapter?
  • I'm frustrated that a few agents and editors have rejected this book. Should I try self-publishing it, or should I try to rework the first chapters and see if that helps me get more requests?
  • I have an idea for an adult book. Should I write that?
And yet somehow after my initial accomplishment of being published, I got it in my head that it was stupid to have goals about bestseller lists, awards, or publishing houses because there were factors I couldn't control.

When I told myself that I shouldn't have goals like that, what I unintentionally did was let myself off the hook because I didn't want to face disappointment. If I haven't allowed myself to have Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Results-Focused, and Time-Bound goals about how much money I make or what kind of bestseller lists I hit, then it's easier to shrug and pretend like I don't care if those things happen or not.

I'm still mulling over what my goals are, and maybe you are too. That's fine. If you know yours, and you're comfortable with it, share them in the comments. 

If you don't know yours, I encourage you to spend some time thinking about them like I will be in preparation for next week. Next week we're going to talk about personal writing guidelines and how to build them. Which is something I've been working on, but hitting a wall each time. Not until my conversation with Ben did I realize my struggle came because I'd failed to do the first step. I'd failed to make big goals.



Friday, September 8, 2017

Writing Exercise #13: Why Do Characters Do What they Do?

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

Writing exercises are back, you guys! And I've got a good one today. It's inspired by the edit I'm currently working on, so let me fill you in. Without, of course, giving away the guts of my story.


So! I have this manuscript, right? A book that I have "completed" a million times now. I was excited about it, proud, convinced it was ready to go out hunting for a publishing house. And then! THEN. My agent had this idea. Maybe we tweak this one thing. Doesn't sound like such a big deal right? Just, you know, a thing.

Well! Tweaking this one thing meant revisiting the motivations for nearly all of my main characters. And when you have a completed manuscript, a manuscript you love and genuinely believe in, it is a difficult thing to revisit the reasons behind each action.

Because my manuscript is so far along, I also have a framework I need to edit within. Meaning, my list of possible motivations must be limited to what these specific characters reasonably will and won't do within the structure of the current story.

So! Here's what I had to do. 

I had to list possible motivations for each action I was adjusting and then consider how it affected the other characters. Once I'd thought through the possibilities, I narrowed the list down to my best, most suitable options and worked from there.

So, let's talk about it. What kinds of things influence a character's actions? Here are some of the motivations I considered:

Habit

We do a ton of things out of habit. We don't think about the why anymore, we just do it a certain way because we've always done it that way. Habits can be very telling.

Avoidance

I know you identify with this! How often to we decide to walk down a specific hallway at school because we're avoiding someone who hangs out on our regular route? On a larger scale, some people live their lives a certain way simply to avoid something they consider unpleasant. Lots of possibilities here.

Reward

Football season is starting and if you listen to any press conference this weekend, you'll hear coaches and players alike talk about the daily grind with the end goal being that Lombardi Trophy given to the season's Super Bowl Champs. That's why they play. Most of us have some sort of achievement in mind. Could it be a reward of some sort that has your character doing the things he does? What if it isn't a reward so much as an achievement? A life goal? A new goal spurred on by the situation your character finds herself in?

Empathy / Sympathy 

Perhaps your character has been through a situation that allows him or her to empathize with another character's plight. Or perhaps your character simply feels the burden of another soul and wants to help. If you're careful to dig deeply here, empathy and sympathy can act as powerful motivators.

Belief

Does your character believe something that isn't true? Perhaps your character believes a lie. Many of us have acted on false information to detrimental consequences. Maybe this lie and your character's actions in light of it, is the impetus for growth? Our beliefs, real and perceived, touch everything we do.

NOW it's YOUR TURN. I'm going to give you an action and I want you to come up with five possible motivations for it. Keep it simple. We don't need a story here. Just a simple list. 

In the comments section, give me five motivations for
this action:

 
Bess walks her neighbor's pet unicorn every morning.


Remember! When you participate in our writing exercises you can enter to win an opportunity to ask Jill, Steph and me a question for one of our upcoming writing panels. Once you leave your response to the writing prompt in the comments section, use the Rafflecopter below to enter. Next week, Rafflecopter will select one winner and we'll contact you for your question via email. Happy writing, friends!

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Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Books In The Public Domain (that writers can play with!)


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.

I'm having a CRAZY week. The rewrite of my book, King's War, is due next Friday. I've managed to cut 30K from the beast (which totally surprised me), but I'm still not quite done. But yesterday was the release day for The Reluctant King, which is ebook Part Seven in the Kinsman Chronicles, and strangely enough, the first 1/3 of the book I'm editing now.

Talk about weird. Editing a book you can't change the first 1/3 of...

So I spent yesterday wearing my Administration hat. We self-employed, entrepreneur writers wear A LOT of hats, and I've got to say, the Administration had is THE WORST! I hate this hat! It's floppy and heavy and made of vinyl that makes you sweat. I can't see very well when I wear it, so I have no idea what I'm doing. And everything takes five times as long. Perhaps I should write an Amish romance novel in hopes that it will make me enough money so that I can hire an administrative assistant. Ah, the dream... *happy sigh*

All that to say, this was not an idea week to go back to regular blog posts, so I chose to blog on something that would take very little brain power, since the Administrative hat is also absorbent from the inside and likes to suck away brain cells.

(Can you tell I don't much like admin jobs? Boo to you, admin jobs! Boo to you SEO and web design and things I do not understand! Okay, I feel better now.)

So here is my lovely book release image. Hooray for Part Seven. Almost there!



And now on to business!

Books In The Public Domain 


Retellings. They're everywhere. Always. And readers never seem to tire of them! Well, I know better than that. Many readers are sick of retellings, yet they still sell. Like crazy. But after a while, publishers grow weary. "No more Beauty and the Beast retellings," they might say. Or, "We're sick of anything Jane Austen," to which I would say they are crazy, but that's just me.

Now it's not only retellings. There are books like Wicked, which is a spin off on a character from another work. And there are publishers (and indie publishers) who attempt to make money creating their own versions of out-of-print books and selling them. For example, I could create my own line of Jane Austen books, typeset them, get covers designed, and self-publish them. If they sold, I'd make all the money. It's legal. But there are so many versions of all those books out there, odds are I wouldn't sell any. But that's how the law works. Public Domain is Public Domain. We can do what we want with it.


When Does A Work Become Part of Public Domain?


I am not a lawyer. I just Googled things until I found the answers. If you're serious about writing a retelling, do your homework and make sure your legal. (I link below to all of my sources for this post, with the exception of Wikipedia and Project Gutenberg.)

Works Published before 1923: No copyright protection. Part of the Public Domain.
Works Published between 1923-1963 without a copyright notice: No copyright protection. Part of the Public Domain.
Works Published between 1923-1963 that had a copyright notice but did not renew the copyright: No copyright protection. Part of the Public Domain.
Works Published between 1923-1963 that had a copyright notice and DID renew the copyright: Copyright lasts 95 years after the publication date.
Works published between 1964-1977 that had a copyright notice: Copyrights on these works automatically renewed for a second term.
Works published between 1978-Present: Copyright lasts for the life of the author plus 70 years. If a corporation published the work, the copyright lasts 95 years after publication or 120 years after creation (whichever expires first).

Your brain is probably melting. I understand. Which is why if it were me, I'd stick with the REALLY old stuff, just to be safe. And if you don't like playing it safe, do your research very well.

I stumbled onto a couple interesting discussions in my research for this post. One is the discussion that Mickey Mouse is getting close to the Public Domain. But it's technically not Mickey. It's the films Steamboat Willy and The Barn Dance. At some point, time will catch up to Mickey, but you'd better believe Disney is going to fight as long as they can. Read this blog post for more information.

J. R. R. Tolkien is another author people are champing at the bit to steal from. I found some of these discussions interesting.

Read the laws for yourself. Here are two links I found helpful:
-TeachingCopyright.org
-CopyLaw.com
-Cornel University Library


Where Things Get Fuzzy


Those of you who've read the Brother's Grimm likely know how different those old school fairy tales are from the more contemporary movies many of us grew up on. Technically, it's those old stories that are in the Public Domain, not the Disney version, or any other recent one. So you might have a story about Cinderella and her fairy godmother, only the original Cinderella didn't have a fairy godmother. It turns out that the first use of a fairy godmother in the Cinderella story was in Charles Perrault's version. But he died in 1703. So his stories are fair game. However, you might want to have a scene where time runs out and Cinderella's pumpkin coach and all the animals turns back into their original forms in the middle of the road. And while the pumpkin coach and the animals into servants were part of Perrault's story, that scene on the road is all Disney. And if Disney wanted to, they could sue you for copyright infringement. You can read Perrault's Cinderella story here.

I've read some fairytale retellings that are QUITE fuzzy in this area--where the authors have clearly taken from the Disney version of the story. Odds are Disney has better things to do that read every retelling out there, looking for possible copyright infringements, but you never know. Be careful!





What Can We Use?


I dug around the Interweb and made this list of works that are in the Public Domain. To make it easier on myself and on you, all of these are stories published before 1923. I listed a title or three that each author is well-known for.

Louisa May Alcott: Little Women. 
Hans Christian Anderson: The Little Mermaid, The Ugly Duckling, and Thumbelina.
Jane Austen: Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, and Emma.
L. Frank Baum: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.
Charlotte Bronte: Jane Eyre.
Emily Bronte: Wuthering Heights.
Frances Hodgson Burnett: The Secret Garden and A Little Princess.
Lewis Carroll: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and Through The Looking Glass.
Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra: Don Quixote.
Geoffrey Chaucer: The Canterbury Tales.
Dante: The Divine Comedy.
George Eliot (real name: Mary Anne Evans): Silas Marner and Middlemarch.
James Fenimore Cooper: The Last of the Mohicans, and The Deerslayer.
Daniel Defoe: Robinson Crusoe, and Moll Flanders.
Charles Dickens: A Christmas Carol, Oliver Twist, and A Tale of Two Cities.
Alexandre Dumas: The Count of Monte Cristo, The Three Musketeers, and The Man in the Iron Mask.
Fyodor Dostoevsky: Crime and Punishment, and The Brothers Karamazov.
Henry Fielding: The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling.
Kenneth Grahame: The Wind in the Willows.
Brothers Grimm: The first to pen many of our classic fairytales.
Nathaniel Hawthorne: The Scarlet Letter.
Thomas Hobbes: Leviathan.
Homer: the Iliad, and the Odyssey.
Victor Hugo: Les Misérables, and The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
Washington Irving: Rip Van Winkle, and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.
Jack London: The Call of the Wild, The Sea Wolf, and White Fang.
Niccolo Machiavelli: The Prince.
John Milton: Paradise Lost.
Herman Melville: Moby Dick.
L. M. Montgomery: Anne of Green Gables.  (Though don't try to sell any Anne dolls. There's a trademark on that!)
Charles Perrault: The father of fairytale retellings.
Edgar Allan Poe: The Raven, The Pit And The Pendulum, and The Tell-Tale Heart.
William Shakespeare: Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, Macbeth, Taming of the Shrew.
George Bernard Shaw: Pygmalion.
Mary Shelley: Frankenstein.
Robert Louis Stevenson: Treasure Island, and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
Bram Stoker: Dracula.
Jonathan Swift: Gulliver's Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World.
Leo Tolstoy: War and Peace, and Anna Karenina.
Mark Twain: Tom Sawyer, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Prince and the Pauper.
Unknown: Beowulf.
Jules Verne: Journey to the Center of the Earth, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, and Around the World in Eighty Days.
Voltaire: Candide.
Oscar Wilde: The Picture of Dorian Gray and The Importance of Being Earnest.
Johann David Wyss: The Swiss Family Robinson.


What are some of your favorite stories that are in the Public Domain? Share in the comments.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Staying Focused as a Creative, and When You Maybe Shouldn't



Stephanie Morrill is the creator of GoTeenWriters.com 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.


I hear it all the time when I'm around writers: "I have so many story ideas that it's hard for me to focus on just one. I try, but I get distracted really easily by new ideas."

We've talked a lot on the blog about how if you eventually want to be a published author, you need to train yourself to write complete manuscripts. To start at the beginning and grind through to the very end. To not let yourself succumb to shiny object syndrome, where you chase other book ideas not because they're better than the one you're currently working on, but rather because they're new.



This is all good advice that I stand by, but I've also recently realized that sometimes I benefit from my tendency to chase shiny objects. Here is when this desire helps us as writers:

When you have to give up on a story.


After I wrote The Lost Girl of Astor StreetI started working on another 1920s era story. Many historical writers specialize in an era, and I thought that would be the expectation for me.

So I wrote and edited a 1920s heist story that I love very much. As I worked on the third draft of it, my editor asked, "Do you have any WWII era story ideas?"

Oddly, I did. Just a few weeks before that, I had listened to a two-part podcast about Executive Order 9066, which permitted the U.S. government to send Japanese and Japanese-Americans living on the west coast to concentration camps. I was fascinated (and horrified) by what I learned, and I thought, "I want to write a story about a Caucasian girl who's in love with a Japanese-American boy."

I jotted the idea down, but I assumed that it would be years before I could leave the 1920s and explore that story idea more. Only to my surprise, I was being handed the opportunity to do it now.

This meant pivoting away from the 1920s story that I love and have poured about a year of work into. You would think this would feel like a defeat or a failure, but actually I was so excited by my WWII story that I didn't even care about putting my 1920s heist novel on hold.

While it helps me to know that closing the door on my 1920s story now doesn't mean closing it forever, I was also reaping the benefit of loving shiny objects. For once, I was given permission to go chase it. (You can read details about Within These Lines on my author website.)

When you have to hit pause on a story.


Here's another situation that crops up frequently if you're a contracted author: being asked to juggle multiple stories at once.

Let's close our eyes and pretend that you've been contracted for a three-book series from your dream publisher. Ah, bliss.

You turn in book one on schedule (you probably had it written when you signed your contract) and you're cruising along with the first draft of book two. You and the story are doing great when you get an email from your editor with your first round of edits on book one. They're due in two weeks.

So you pause the first draft of book two, buckle down on edits for book one, and then after you turn those in, you resume your focus on book two.

But a few weeks later, you receive an email from the copy editor saying he needs you to read over book one and turn in any additional changes next week.

Yet again, you pause your draft to edit book one.

And just wait until you're writing book three. Not only will you be getting emails about your edits on book two, but you'll be promoting book one as it releases. This might also be the time when your literary agent taps your shoulder and says, "Why don't you put together some thoughts on what your next series could look like, and I'll send it over to your editor?"

This kind of schedule isn't an exaggeration by any stretch. This is what life looks like for authors who have books coming out every six to nine months.

So the next time you're tempted to jump projects or work on multiple books at the same time, don't think of it as an inability to focus, but rather training for when you sign your multi-book contract.

Rewrites


This is where I'm currently capitalizing on my shiny object chasing tendencies. I wrote the first draft of Within These Lines between April and July. As always, I gave myself a break where I didn't peek at the manuscript and tried to not even think about it.

Then, a few days ago, with much anticipation, I opened up my manuscript and started reading. Within a few hours, I knew I had extensive rewrites in my future.

This led to me texting Roseanna, "My book is stupid and I hate it. #editing"

She texted back something sensitive and inspiring like, "Ha ha ha!"

This is because we've been critique partners for just shy of ten years now, and she knows this is part of my process. That first I get all depressed because my book is seriously flawed and needs work because it's a first draft. Then I spend a day brainstorming all the changes, and get SO EXCITED and remember, "Oh, right! Editing is my favorite!"

If I didn't have that excitement over all the fun changes I get to make, I would instead wallow in how many words I'm about to cut and how much time I "wasted" writing them. Which one of these attitudes is more productive?

Yes, we need discipline and to ignore shiny objects if we're ever going to finish a book, but take heart that your energy for chasing something new and fun will also help you get your book to completion.

If you're looking for ideas on staying focused long enough to finish a first draft or edits, here are some past posts that might help you out:

5 Tips for Finishing Your First Draft
Writing Advice Examined: Should you finish your book?
The Five Step Rebel-utionary Plan For Writing Your Novel
Writing a Good Story is Hard Work: How To Push Through And Find Your Next Step

Can you relate to being a shiny object chaser? What's a time when it worked to your benefit to follow your creative energy and run after something new and exciting?



Friday, September 1, 2017

When you're not reading or writing, what feeds your creative soul?


This is it, ladies and gents! The very last Summer Panel of 2017! We've had a ton of fun with this and are looking forward to jumping back into a regular blogging schedule. Coming soon, we have a couple video blogs (remember those?) and some more instructional, craft related posts. 

We are so ready for fall!

But today! Today, we have one last question. 



When you're not reading or writing, what feeds your creative soul?



Jill Williamson
Rest. I'm so busy going, going, going, I don't have time to think. The moment I get away and rest--give my brain time to think about nothing--ideas start rolling in. I love music. I love to sing. I love going to plays and concerts, but that doesn't inspire me. My brain needs peace and alone time to be inspired. And sometimes some pencils and some paper for drawing maps helps too.





Stephanie Morrill
Traveling is a big one for me. I love my desk and my routine, but getting away from both for a time dedicated to exploring and new experiences always leaves me feeling more creative. Also, learning. Whether it's podcasts, a sermon, or having a friend share a story from their own life, I find much inspiration from soaking up the wisdom of others.






Shannon Dittemore
For me, it's other creative endeavors. Theatre is something I'm wildly passionate about. It was a path I ventured down for a time, so to return to it, even for a night, fills me up in ways I can't explain. I also love walking through art galleries. Photography, sculptures, paintings. They inspire and energize me. My son joined the advanced choir at his school last year and nearly all their songs were in Latin. I can't tell you how it moved my soul to hear them sing. Viewing or participating in anything where someone has worked to hone their craft and God-given abilities, reminds me that hard work and focus can produce soul-moving art. As a writer, it's important to remember that.


It's your turn now! Tell us, what feeds your creative soul?


Wednesday, August 30, 2017

What's the strangest thing you have ever had to research online for your book?



Hello, Go Teen Writers! It's Jill, here for my last hosted panel of the summer. I hope you enjoyed these. I sure had a lot of fun learning about all of you. Today is the first day back to school for my kids, which means it's also the first day back to me having to wake up SUPER EARLY! :-( But that's okay. I'm most productive in the mornings, so conceivably, I'll start getting things accomplished now. Because I'm really, really behind. Really.

So, bring it 2017-2018 school year. I'm ready!


Related image

Yeah! Whoo! Bwa ha ha . . .





What's the strangest thing you have ever had to research online for your book?


Shannon Dittemore
I just finished writing a book about ice road trucking in a magical land. I’ve researched a bunch of weird stuff lately. Maybe my favorite research moment was when I stumbled onto an image of an r/c ice road truck that looked identical to the rig my brain had concocted. It was amazing and I had to share it with everyone. Poor people. No one knew what I was talking about, but it was such a shock to see my imagination realized like that. Crazy, crazy.

Stephanie Morrill

“History of urinals” is the most recent weird thing I’ve searched for. I’ve also had to write some uncomfortable emails to doctor friends saying things like, “What’s something that could happen where the unborn baby would die, but they would already know what gender it was?”



Jill Williamson
The Safe Lands trilogy wins this answer, hands down, though it’s difficult to pick just one of the things I had to research as the strangest. There were so many weird things I researched for that trilogy. Here are a few:
-how to build a funeral pyre to burn dozens of corpses. :-/
-what to do for a gunshot wound.
-types of waterborne and bloodborne diseases.
-sexually transmitted diseases.
-vaping.
-being a doctor and knowing doctory stuff.
-a multitude of narcotics and their effects.
-what it feels like to take different narcotics, heroin in particular.
-GPS tracking implants for dogs (I put them in humans).
-how to disable a dam or an electrical power plant.
-how to make a simple homemade bomb. (I wonder if the FBI picked up on some of my Google searches that year...)
-people that live in underground sewers.
-artificial insemination.
-how live TV shows are filmed.
-what it feels like to be tazed.
-a day in the life of a garbage man.
-a day in the life on a cattle ranch.
-a day in the life working in a chicken slaughterhouse. :-P
-a day in the life in a maximum-security prison.
-prison horror stories. :-/
-how night vision goggles work.
-how to make your own hot air balloon. (This one I really enjoyed.)

If any of that intrigues you, read The Safe Lands trilogy and you’ll see how it all fit in. Ha ha.

In fact, just for kicks, here is the book trailer my publisher Blink made for the series. They did a great job with the Finley and Flynn Morning Show.




Now it's your turn. What's the strangest thing you have ever had to research online for your book?

Monday, August 28, 2017

What's one thing you've done to become a more productive writer?


Stephanie here! Next week we'll be back to business as usual here on the blog, I'm going to be talking about being a shiny object chaser, which is true for most creatives I know. We mostly think of our tendency to get distracted as a bad thing, but there are good parts too, and we'll explore those next Monday, September fourth.

Also, Go Teen Writers Notes will resume next week. This is an email we send out every two weeks(ish) that's meant to provide encouragement to you in your writing life. When you subscribe, you get a tutorial on creating a story workbook, which is a tool of mine that has been evolving since 2008 when I signed my first contract.

The last panel question I get to ask this summer (*sniff sniff*) is, "What's one thing you've done to  become a more productive writer?"



Shannon Dittemore
I fight for my writing days. Like everyone I know, I’m busy. And when you’re the one who’s home all day, it’s easy to be asked to just watch someone’s kids for a sec, or take care of this one little thing, or be the team mom (VETO!). But I’ve had to learn to say No. It’s not easy at first, but once you see how productive a normal work schedule makes you, you’ll suffer through the awkward conversations without giving in. For the record, I only have three dedicated writing days a week. The other four days are full of activities with and for others, but I protect Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday as violently as I can.

Jill Williamson
I’m plenty productive. For me, that’s not the problem. The problem is that I end up cutting so much of what I wrote. Technically, what I’m doing is discovery writing. Since I haven’t had enough time to fully develop my stories, I end up cutting tens of thousands of words. In my Kinsman Chronicles, I cut over one hundred thousand words between all three books. That’s the length of a full novel! When I see that happen, it feels like I’m not being productive, like I’m wasting words. I’m continually reminding myself that those words were helpful to find the true story. And I know that if I give myself more time to fully develop my next project, I won’t need to cut so many words.




Stephanie Morrill
Like Shan mentioned in her comment, my "secret" to productivity has been developing a routine and guarding it. That looks different as life seasons change, but I think that's the best thing you can do to be a productive writer.

Same as Jill, I usually don't struggle with being productive. Usually, I want to be writing, and it doesn't feel hard to me to say no to lunch with friends or shopping or whatever, because I love my work so much.

But when my personal life is hard, like it has been this month, that's when I struggle to be productive. That's when I start to fall into the trap of, "I'll just take today to clean/read/Netflix binge, and then tomorrow I'll get back to my manuscript..." Usually my house is very clean during these weeks, but I'm not doing the work that feeds my soul. I find that what helps me get back in the groove is starting small. I'll tell myself, "Once I write for 25 minutes, then I can mindlessly scroll through Instagram," or whatever activity feels more appealing that writing.Often after 25 minutes, I feel motivated to keep going with writing.

Also, I'm a to-do list girl. Something that has helped me to feel productive and happy in novel writing is to keep a log of when I'm working. I treat it like a time card. I note what time I started working and what time I stopped, and I specify what part of the novel I worked on. If checking things off a list makes you happy, I would encourage you to try this. 


What about you? Have you learned any tricks that help you to be more productive?

Friday, August 25, 2017

What is your favorite way to connect with readers?



YOU GUYS! It felt like fall for about a day here and now it's back to blistering sun. It's coming, though. I believe!

Shannon here. And we are winding down our summer panels. We have a couple more next week, but this might be the last one I'm hosting. I've really enjoyed them. I'm learning so much about you guys and I hope you're all learning a lot about us and about one another as well.


What is your favorite way to connect with readers?


Shannon Dittemore
Anytime I can meet readers in person, I’m over the moon. I adore book signings, classes, and conferences, but those are very seasonal. I can be found all over the web as well: website, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest. I'm also sending out monthly newsletters again. But if I'm honest, Instagram is my favorite. I like sharing pics and keeping it informal. If you’re looking to connect, you can find me here: @shanditty





Jill Williamson
I love meeting readers in person too! I realize that is a rare situation, though, so online is where it happens. I love interacting with readers on my author blog, on the GTW blog, or on my Readers of Jill Williamson Facebook group. I’m also on Instagram and Twitter and Pinterest. And you can email me through my website too, though I am notoriously slow and replying to emails.





Stephanie Morrill
In person is great, though I turn into the most awkward version of myself possible when people tell me they like my books. Second to IRL would be email, because it means a lot when people take time out of their day to send me an email just because they liked my book. I always respond to those. Online, Instagram is my fave too (find me here) but I also enjoy conversations on Twitter.





How about you guys? I realize some of you may not have readers, just yet. But how do you like to interact with the reading and writing community?

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Do you consider yourself a fast writer or a slow one? Why do you think that is? And if you are ever the opposite, why?



Hello, Go Teen Writers! Jill here. Who saw the eclipse yesterday? I did. I really liked how it made the landscape around me all golden and buttery.




This is my last week of summer. My kids start back to school next week, which means sleeping in for me is over! *weeps*

Last week I got to attend, teach, mentor, and play at yet another writers conference where I had two GTW sightings! I met author Ivy Rose and her friends, and I also saw Taylor Bennett again. Got pictures with both. :-) Click here to read more.

I also got to take an early bird workshop from screenwriting consultant Michael Hauge (who is a story genius--even Will Smith thinks so!) and the brilliant Frank Peretti, who was the conference keynoter. So much wonderful learning went into my brain. I am still trying to process it all.



We are nearing the end of our summer Q & A panels. *again weeps that summer is almost over, then remembers that Christmas will come and decides that's a good trade*

Below you'll find today's question that Stephanie, Shannon, and I have answered, and we want you to answer in the comment section so we can all learn from each other. I'm curious to read all of your answers to this one.




Do you consider yourself a fast writer or a slow one? Why do you think that is? And if you are ever the opposite, why?

Jill Williamson
Overall, I’m pretty fast. I can write a draft of a 80K novel in a month. Doesn’t mean it will be good, but I’ll have a solid rough draft. A combination of NaNoWriMo and working to meet deadlines have trained me to do this. Now, there are certain types of scenes, however, that totally destroy my work flow. Fight scenes. Major battles. Situations I know nothing about, for example, King’s Blood took place on ancient sailing ships. I knew nothing about ships, so I had to stop writing, research like crazy, and it still took me a long time to write the scenes that had to do with sailing or navigation. That’s just part of my process. I want to get those details right, so I stop and take the time to research.




Shannon Dittemore
Depends on the day. Depends on the project. Depends on LIFE. When discussing deadlines, I remember telling my publisher that I was a fast writer. How stupid was I? So stupid. It’s a dumb claim to make in such a moment and I hadn’t actually written enough at the time to understand that. My speed depends on a lot of things. My mood. My story. My schedule. The current brain space I have available for all of those things. For example, I should have been done with my current work in progress last fall. I was on schedule. Trucking along. No reason I shouldn’t make it. And then the landlord decided to put in new floors and my son was terrifyingly sick for almost a month and then our car broke down. And to cap it all off the doctors decided I needed to have my gallbladder removed. I could not have foreseen any of that and each incident required more energy, more time, and more brain space than I had to offer. My writing fell off and a book I should have finished last fall got turned into my agent in April. It’s real. It’s life. And, honestly, the ups and downs of it all can improve your story, if you’ll let it. Your imagination is still spinning back there while you’re busy doing other things. Let it. Life is not wasted on a storyteller.


Stephanie Morrill

I’m not absurdly fast. In general, I write about a thousand words an hour. But in my current stage of life, I lack consistent stretches of time in which I can write, so I don’t produce books very quickly. And my edits tend to take me quite a while.


Now it's your turn. Do you consider yourself a fast writer or a slow one? Why do you think that is? And are you ever the opposite?