Archive | January 2012

The Versatile Blogger Award

I was recently nominated for the Versatile Blogger Award, so yay! Thanks to Ben at Story Multiverse for the nomination, who wrote:

A self-described “hormonal teenager” (but weren’t we/ aren’t they all?), Ann discusses writing, with a special emphasis on YA. If you’re into that market, you should give her blog a read.

(EDIT: Since this publication of this post I have received the award again, from Cassidy Cornblatt, via this post. Thanks, Cassidy.)

I found a set of rules on another blog so here they are:

Thank the person who nominated you. Tell 7 things about yourself so that your readers may learn more about you and nominate 15 other newly discovered bloggers and let them know you nominated them.

So here are seven things about me:

  1. I used to write Harry Potter fanfiction until I started writing my own novel at fifteen.
  2. I’m a sucker for Greek mythology
  3. I hate mathematics.
  4. Sometimes I use big words because I forget the small ones.
  5. I don’t particularly enjoy reading the classics, as much as I’ve tried.
  6. I sometimes lose my temper about things people think are trivial and stay calm about things everyone else is mad about.
  7. I like kids better now than when I was one of them.

Here are the blogs I nominate. There are only six of them because a number of blogs I was hoping to nominate have already received the award, so giving it to them again seemed redundant.

Thérèse writes poetry, fiction and what she describes as “random thoughts”. Her poetry often has a minimalistic, sombre feel and her stories are often quiet little snippets in a character’s life.

Elodie, who usually resides on the internet under the name Commutinggirl, reads and writes YA and is, let’s just say, a lot better and writing about books she’s read than I could ever be. From her bio, she’s a “French girl living in Germany” and her current project is a YA paranormal romance.

Lady Dae offers a lot of help with writing, from queries to cutting adverbs to plotting and everything else you could imagine.

Katharine writes middle grade and YA “with an environmental twist”. She posts reviews, does the occasional YA Highway Road Trip Wednesday, writes about her life and supports debut authors. And that’s just from a cursory glance at her blog. Katharine is the epitome of versatile.

Glitter_n_gore writes about issues pertinent to YA as well as her own writing progress. She has a “neverending weakness for vampires” and specializes in horror and fantasy. She has some interesting posts about diversity in YA that caught my eye.

Theallycat, who goes by Thalia on Absolute Write, shares writing techniques with a focus on YA. On the AW forums, she’s very friendly and helpful. She hasn’t written many posts on her blog, what she has is good stuff.

Starting Over… Kinda

I had a realization while lying in bed last night: my novel is broken beyond what a simple edit can do and the only solution is to start over. I’m not starting over entirely–I will keep some of what I have written–but I’m going back to the drawing board. My biggest problem was conveying the information I needed to get across. Writing a combination of dystopian and fantasy means I have a lot of worldbuilding to do. I have to establish the rules of magic, the varieties of magic and the politics that influence it while also giving some clues as to why the world is screwed up, the state of society, who’s in charge and why they suck. And that’s only part of the job.

So I’m trying something new. I’m putting down all the information I know about the world of the story into a separate word document. Hopefully this will give me more direction when I start writing again and I’ll avoid the gaping plot holes I had to contend with in the original novel. It will also help me foreshadow later events in other books and I can pick and choose what information to share and what to hide.

This should give me a clearer picture of the overall storyline and prevent fridge logic. Fridge logic sucks. I would very much like my novel to make some kind of sense. I better get back to it, given the enormous task I have ahead of me.

Writing YA? Screw Your Message

I find a lot of writers new to YA are under the impression that a YA novel must have some kind of “message”, a lesson the young reader can take away from the book. Let me let you guys in on a little secret: teenagers hate being preached to. I repeat: teenagers hate being preached to. Repeat it to yourself until it sinks in, because knowing this will save you a world of grief. If you start writing a book purely to put a message across, it will be so obvious and so insulting that you’ll be lucky to have any readers at all. While it’s possible to find lessons in morality in popular stories like Harry Potter, you’ll find they grow organically out of the story and the story always comes first. The reader is not beat over the head with it.

This goes for any work of fiction. You can dress it up with fancy names (message, moral lesson, life lesson, whatever you want to call it), but flatulence by any other name still stinks. Fiction is not the place to preach. If you’ve spent even a minute with a teenager, you will realize they hate lectures, they hate being told what to do and they hate being patronised. I repeat again: teenagers hate being preached to.

This is what bothers me about adults critiquing YA novels by attacking their themes, saying such-and-such is teaching teenagers the wrong things about relationships or this-and-that tells teenagers it’s okay to hurt people. Teenagers are not stupid, especially teenagers who read. There’s a word for people who think doing something is okay because a work of fiction said so: psychotic.

So ditch the preaching. Let the story’s themes and message unfold organically from the narrative. As I often say, teenagers have finely tuned bullshit detectors. Give them the credit they deserve. If you want to write for them, you must understand and respect them. YA fiction is not the place to make a quick buck, nor is it a training ground on the way to writing “real” novels. If you believe that, then go off and write your “real” novels and leave the rest of us to enjoy what we do. Teens deserve the best writing we can give them, and a little trust that they know right from wrong without a thinly veiled morality lesson disguised as fiction.

Getting Back in the (Writing) Saddle

I’ve written on this topic before, but I’m doing it again. I have a terrible habit of losing all motivation to write every few months and end up screwing around on the internet or in whatever computer game I happen to be interested in at the time (Skyrim and the Sims 3 at the moment, a combination more addictive than chocolate). Regardless of my flighty brain, I always manage to get back to the keyboard, open that Word Doc I left festering and get the hell on with it. I have a number of strategies for getting back in the writing saddle once I’ve dramatically thrown myself off.

Open the document, close the internet

This is a strategy I mostly employed during NaNoWriMo, where I’d do a few basic things like check emails in the morning before closing the internet and refusing to reopen it until I hit my daily quota, usually of 2000 words unless I was having a bad writing day and had to be a little easier on myself. I’ll admit my discipline began to shake after the first week or so, but I did exhaust myself by hitting 50k on day seven. I had a few bad days where I wrote very little, but this system became effective again when I finally got my butt back into the chair.

Butt in chair

This is a commonly touted technique for making yourself write, and one I believe in. You can’t write if you’re nowhere near your computer or pen or finger-paints or whatever the heck you use to write. Forcing yourself to sit in that chair until you’ve written a sizeable amount will generally get it done.

Getting out of the chair

While this one does seem at odds with the previous point, sometimes we focus so hard on making ourselves write that we have the opposite effect. Taking a break to go outside, walk around in circles, read a book, whatever, will get those creative juices flowing again. Taking in new sights or new creative works, or even just having a little exercise, gives us something new to inspire us. While I’m not a huge fan of waiting for inspiration, those little sparks of brilliance certainly help the process along and can jolt us back into our writing again.

It also helps to step away from the computer if you feel tired. I had this happen while writing a query letter last night and it would have been pointless to continue soldiering on in that state. It didn’t help I was halfway to screaming in frustration with the thing.

Write something new

Sometimes we get so tied in knots about what we’re supposed to be writing that we lose sight of our goals or we become bored and thus our energy is drained. Taking some time to write something different can help remove the block inside our heads. While many writers are opponents of multitasking, I’m not. I actually started a new novel last night once I’d become too tired to write that query letter. That, and the aid of a little chocolate, got my head back in the game and I was able to return to that query letter after a while and knock out a better version with some help from Nathan Bransford’s query letter mad lib, which helped me separate the random stupidity that works its way into my queries from the stuff people actually need to know.

Get help from someone

If the reason you’re struggling with your writing is because you’re having trouble writing a particular section, sometimes looking to the advice of more experienced writers or publishing professionals can help you find a solution. If you’re writing a query, googling how to write one tends to bring up some great results, like the mad lib I mentioned above. I’d also recommend QueryShark for how to write queries. Websites such as former agent turned author Nathan Bransford’s blog, literary agent Kristin Nelson’s blog, author Maggie Stiefvater’s blog and literary agent Rachelle Gardner’s blog tend to be great resources.

Talk to other writers

Or lurk in writing forums, whichever works for you. I tend to lurk and occasionally say something when I have something to say on the Absolute Write forums. Listening to other writers’ problems (or successes) can give us the kick in the pants we need to get on with our own writing. However, in order for this to work we have to set envy and bitterness aside. Those evil twins tend to make us believe we are worthless or will never get anywhere.

The above techniques may not work for everyone, since our writing processes are all different, but they’re a place to start. If you have any other techniques that help you get out of a slump, let me know in the comments.

2012 Resolutions

2011 is over, bringing with it the tradition of New Year’s Resolutions. A lot of people complain the resolutions are pointless because they are abandoned early in the year, so I keep in mind Maggie Stiefvater’s advice about making concrete goals that are achievable.

So my resolutions for 2012 are:

  • Finish Coldfire and submit to agents
  • Finish the first draft of the sequel
  • Revise and edit my NaNovel, not necessarily to completion, but at least to a point where reading is possible without causing spontaneous combustion of the eyeballs
  • Do NaNoWriMo again
  • Do Camp NaNoWriMo (this one’s a bit iffy and will depend on my university schedule)
  • Get my provisional driver’s licence, or at least rack up enough hours to take the test
  • Pass my first year of university

Most of these are achievable once I stop being lazy (and get over my hatred for driving). I’ve gotten by for so many years coasting on some kind of inborn talent when it comes to academia and music. A few years ago, I never practised music or studied for tests. Now I have to, which has improved my overall work ethic and turned me into less of a brat. And that’s a good thing for all involved.