Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Writing Routine Experiment

One of the most common pieces of writing advice is that we should have a writing routine. Why? Because routine flips that switch in our brain that says it’s time to get to work.

I’m not a creature of habit. At all. Sure, I may do the same things every day, but never in the same order. I like freedom.

I’ve tried (for like two days) to set writing routines in the past (only write at 2PM, only write while wearing a tie, etc.), but nothing ever stuck. I like what Veronica Roth said in her blog post about not following writer rules.

“In order to get the writing done, I have to feel free. I can't resent the work I'm doing. So I choose to look forward to it instead of dreading a particular time of day. I have found that, rather than making myself write at the same time every day, I make myself write at least once a day. It doesn't matter when that is or how much I get done. I just have to do it. Sometimes you do have to force yourself to do something, but it doesn't have to be in the same way as other people force themselves to do something.”


But I am pretty curious to see how a writing routine will–or will not--impact my writing. So for the next thirty days (until my next blog post on May 28), I’m going to experiment with this whole writing routine thing. I’m no science expert, so I’m going to approach this like a middle-school-level scientist.

Step one: Ask a question. Will sticking to a writing routine help me be a better writer or am I destined to live a wild existence of unpredictability for all of time?

Step two: Do background research. The old saying is that is takes 21 days to create a habit. But actually it takes 18-200-and-something days with an average of 66 days being the golden number. Basically, I could fall anywhere on this spectrum. We’ll see if 30 days is enough for me.

Step three: Construct a hypothesis. By the end of these 30 days, the trial will either prove routine works for even the likes of me or that I’m a wild jungle babe of writing.

Step four: Test your hypothesis by doing an experiment. For the next 30 days, I will write in my glorified closet office–and only in that room. (I thought about doing it at a certain time, but then I started twitching and dry heaving and breaking out in hives*, so I decided against that.)

I have a couple questions for you. Do you have a routine? If so, what it is? If not, will you join me in experimenting?

Do you keep writing habits?

pollcode.com free polls

I’ll see you back in a month with some super scientific results.

Over and out,

*Not really, but still.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Calling YA writers! Watch out for Freshly Squeezed Reads!

Lucky old me was recently invited to provide feedback to YA writers as part of a contest. The C1blitz, ran by Freshly Squeezed Reads, invited upcoming writers of YA fiction to submit the first chapter of their novels, not necessarily complete, to receive feedback from teen readers, peers and industry professionals. Over the course of a few weeks, this is exactly what happened. Each reviewer was assigned a certain number of random, and importantly at this stage, anonymous chapters that they read and commented on, rating them one to five stars, and offering their thoughts regarding both the negative and positive aspects of the work. And then, once the incredibly hardworking peeps behind the scenes worked through the comments to ensure all were suitable, they were revealed.

Although every writer who entered ‘won’ in some way, because we all know feedback is the most precious gift a writer can receive on their work, the chapters that received the highest number of top starred reviews were crowned winners. There were those rated highest amongst the industry pros, peers and teens. Each winner received line edits by a professional editor (me!) and will have their work sent to Lucas Alexander Whitley Ltd – a big literary agency in the UK!

Obviously, I wasn’t on the receiving end of the feedback, I had the pleasure of dishing it out, but I took so much away from the contest that I feel just as blessed as the authors who took part. Reading through the comments after the big reveal taught me just how wonderful the writing and reading community is. It was obvious that every comment was carefully considered before being posted; criticism was constructive and focused and always mixed in with something positive. But not in a patronising way, because every chapter did have something good about it that was worth mentioning. The support was evident, as was the passion and pain, not to mention the sheer love of a good story. And if these writers don’t come back to the next contest stronger with new tricks and techniques up their sleeves, then I can only imagine they weren’t destined to be writers in the first place.

Subjectivity played a huge part in the feedback and ratings, as expected. What one might have given five stars, the next gave only two. This is something no writer can fight or overcome; personal tastes vary, which in my opinion makes this one of the most exciting industries to be involved in. Every single book has a potential audience, however small. Genres were varied, characters unique, settings bold and exciting, but the one thing they all had in common proves that the next generation of YA writers are sure to impress. 

(On a side note, for anyone wondering, if you ask me what the most common problem was with the chapters, there can only be one answer: info dumping. More chapters than not contained way too much back story or world building, or big bulky paragraphs of detail that would have made so much more impact if blended in more naturally with the action of the scene.)

This is Freshly Squeezed’s second writing contest, the first being the P1Blitz (that’s right, first pages were critiqued), and I cannot wait for the next. This brand new YA writing community have brought something unique to the world of online writing contests. If you’re a YA writer with one or more novels and works-in-progress, keep a close eye on these guys to see what opportunities they might offer next. You can only gain if you take part, I promise you that. 

Kate. xx


Thursday, April 16, 2015

My 2015 Bookshelf, so far...

Given that we're nearly a third of the way through the year and Goodreads tells me I've read 15 books since January, I thought I'd share my YA bookshelf with you in the hopes that you'll let me know what you've been reading too as I'm always on the lookout for great reads!

In the order I read them (YA books only) and what I thought...

1. Reboot by Amy Tintera

A fast-paced dystopian tale that had me very curious about the world, but I struggled to connect with the characters in this one.

2. Ketchup Clouds by Annabel Pitcher

I thought this was an MG novel and that the MC was maybe 11 or 12 when I first started reading, but the character was apparently quite a lot older. I really enjoyed this novel, but found the MC is a little immature at times. Still, a wonderful contemporary story.

3. Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick

I'd heard so much about this one, I'm glad I finally got around to reading it. It was, however, not my cup of tea and I didn't enjoy the relationship dynamics between the main characters.

4. The Shadow Prince by Bree Dispain

I really wanted to love this but I haven't actually finished it yet. I just don't think I was in the right mood for this story when I started it. Given the musical element of this story, however, I'll probably go back and finish it at some point.

5. As Red As Blood by Salla Simpukka

This is a Finnish novel set in my favorite Finnish city, Tampere. Again, I really wanted to love this novel but I didn't enjoy the translation. Finnish can be a richly poetic language and I don't think the translation always managed to capture what the author was going for in the original. An interesting read though for those wanting a contemporary-crime novel set somewhere a little different.

6. The Alex Crow by Andrew Smith

This was my first foray into Andrew Smith and what a ride! This story is weird and shocking and disturbing and heart-breaking. I really enjoyed it even if I did find some of it bordering on the ridiculous. I think that's part of the story's charm though. Strongly recommend to fans of weird and wonderful books featuring teenage boys.

7. The Chaos by Nalo Hopkins

If you're looking for a diverse read, this book has diversity in spades! There are LGBT+ characters, multiple people of color - aside from the main character - and the story features Caribbean mythology. While I found the plot venturing toward the absurd, I loved the diverse characters in this novel and will definitely be reading more by this author.

8. Sea of Shadows by Kelley Armstrong

I'm currently reading this one and am really enjoying it even if I'm less than 50 pages in. I love epic fantasy and this book has started out very promising.

So, that's it for my YA reading so far this year. What are you reading? Got any recommendations?

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The Public Library and Teens

The Public Library...

It is that time of year where libraries all across the land are preparing for the summer. The summer for public libraries is a very very important time. It is time for summer reading.

Summer Reading is a wonderful thing. Summer Reading is an easy thing to do for Kids, Tweens, and Adults. It really is. They all enjoy coming to the library and participating. And the library doesn't have to offer crazy expensive prizes. The last library I worked at offered prizes, but not anything that would break the bank, we were in a very poor social economic area. And what we offered re-flexed that. My summer reading program was funded thanks to wonderful artist, writers, and creative types that were willing to donate to the program.

But I digress.

The though nut to crack when it comes to Summer Reading are the Teens. At least at all the libraries I have worked out, which is 3 in the past decade. And I refer to Teens being of the High School Age. It is a time in their lives where libraries might not seem all that cool. I had worked hard with local high schools at my last library to change that stereo-type.

But over all it is a mystery even I still haven't cracked.  

Though I see it if a library embraces the concept of summer reading and offers a program where reading is something to do for fun vs it being a chore or a grade they are hitting the mark.

I am always looking for ways to reach out and get them into the library to be a part of it to make it their own.

I try through pop culture. But pop culture can be a double edge sword because the tweens can get wrapped up in it as well and want to participate in something I am trying to offer to the older Teens. Pop culture is something I know and has really become a main stream thing.

I also see libraries trying to offer crafts for "Teens" but what they are really doing is offering crafts for Tweens and not Teens.

So I guess I am looking to start a dialogue with the Teens here or other people who work with Teens. What would it take for you to come to the library and be a part of it? What can a library do in the way of programming to make you interested in this building filled with books?

And I willing to hear every and any idea...

Some of things I have done in the past are Video Games Days with Teen Rated Games. I have shown YA Books turned Film. I have shown the big block busters when they came out on DVD. I have done writers groups. I have done anime clubs.

Also what do you think are the best ways to promote these sorts of activities and events in the library. What would draw your attention?

I am hear to listen and see what Interests You, the Teen.


Monday, April 6, 2015

Agentopia: Yasmin Standen

Welcome to the April edition of Agentopia! For more information and to see other Agentopia posts, click here.

This month Yasmin Standen from The Standen Literary Agency is in the spotlight.

All about Yasmin:

Yasmin graduated from University having read Law (LLB Hons). After practising law for for a couple of years Yasmin went to work in the music industry. Eventually, she decided to fulfill a lifelong obsession with books and in 2004, after much trepidation and excitement launched The Standen Literary Agency.
Yasmin is interested in all genres of writing such as adult and children’s fiction, literary or fantasy fiction. Yasmin loves discovering new talent and gets excited by manuscripts which move her, making her laugh, or cry. Yasmin a sucker for a good story!
Here are Yasmin's submission guidelines:
Please read the guidelines below and then send your submissions to yasmin AT standenliteraryagency.com  
Please only send the first three chapters and a synopsis all in double line spacing – this is really important, it makes it easier to read your work!
If we wish to read more material and / or feel we can offer representation, we will contact you.
We want to discover new voices in all genres of fiction.
With regard to non fiction – please get in touch by email – yasminATstandenliteraryagency.com.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Building A Concept #2: Brainstorming

Back in March, I gave you some suggestions on finding inspiration. (I'm a little late to the party this month, as my family just made a cross country move.) But what do you do once you have bits and pieces of ideas? My favorite part of the creative process: Brainstorming.There are three main ways I take idea bits and create them into something resembling a plot, 1) expand a single into its own story, 2) combine several ideas into a story, or 3) incorporate them into a current story. Each way of handling ideas leads into even more brainstorming. It's also important to take the time and give your mind the freedom to play with each one.

Expand one idea
A single spark of inspiration can lead to an entire story. The key is to take it and either expand a scene or build a plot/setting/character around it. You may see a child doing something or come up with a snippet of conversation. Take that bit and run with it.

Stir together a couple ideas
This is my favorite of favorites for brainstorming. In fact, one of my current WIPs combined the Evil Gnome King with marshmallow fluff and a creature who washes wishes. BAM! Instan-story. Sometimes its the ridiculous combinations that add so much fun/tragedy/inciting incident to a story.

Add idea into a current story
This was a new concept to me until one of my critique partners asked me if a new WIPs plot point would work better in a nearly finished manuscript. It slipped into place seamlessly, and I virtually kissed her cheek. If you have a manuscript that feels like its missing something or is generally lack luster, pulling out the trusty idea notebook can be a great way to give a character more dimension or bolster your plot.

That's all I have for April, but come on back May 2nd for the final post in this series, where we'll talk about organizing ideas for future use.

E.G. Moore

E. G. Moore is a poet, freelance writer, and storyteller. She is a long distance member of For Pete’s Sake Writers Group in Washington and is a Rocky Mountain Chapter SCBWI member. She loves writing stories that send her young readers on adventures they can't experience in real life. She’s excited to be the new blog assistant for YAtopia. When she’s not telling “Mommy Made stories” to her two daughters or nagging her husband to edit her latest manuscript, she can be found off-roading in her suped-up ATV, swimming, or in a long, plot-refreshing bubble bath. She tweets @egmoorewriter, posts on facebook.com/emilygmoorewriter, and blogs at www.emilygmoorewriter.blogspot.com.

The Essential 10: The First Page

Last month, I started a series on perfecting your submission package for querying. I started with ten tips on how to write a better query letter, and this month I’m focusing on how to craft a first page that works—meaning it entices the agent to read more. That’s all a first page has to do. Sounds much simpler than it is.

And believe me, I’m speaking from experience. When I wrote Becoming Jinn, which releases in a mere 17 days (cue panic attack! . . . and cue shameless plug: I'm running a signed bookmark and $5-$50 gift card giveaway if you preorder or buy by April 25! Details here), I spent a long time on the opening of my novel. I thought it worked. It didn’t. I found that out when I got passed over in many contests. Everyone thought the hook was great, but the first page didn’t live up to it. After participating in the terrific First Five Pages Workshop (which if you don’t know about, I urge you to find out about and participate in!), I realized that my novel was starting in the wrong place.

I had too much scene setting, too much world building, too much *yawn* slowness. I took what was Chapter 3 and reworked it to be Chapter 1. The inciting incident now happens on page 1. This was not easy. This took me weeks, during which I wanted to give up, thought it’d never be good enough, thought everyone was asking too much of me.

They weren’t asking too much; they were asking just enough. Because it is with that new first page that I started to have success. In contests and in querying. And that first page is still the exact same first page of Becoming Jinn. Through revisions with my agent and with my editor, not a word changed. Hard work pays off may be a clichĂ©, but it’s also true.

Here are my tips, based on both my own experience and the numerous critiques I’ve done over the past couple of years, on how to craft a first page that works.

1. Don’t be a stickler for the “rules.” This may sound funny as here I am giving you “rules” in the form of tips. But the rules I’m talking about are the ones that say 100% don’t do this or 100% do that. Because rules like that can never apply to all stories. When I reworked my first page, do you know what happened? The novel started with—gasp!—a character waking up. One of the things we are told to “never” do. But my character did and still does. Why is it “okay”? The answer is simple: because it’s core to the story. It’s the inciting incident for her story problem. It’s where her story begins. The “rules” about not starting with a character waking up or with the weather shouldn’t be taken so literally. What the rule is trying to imply is this: don’t start with the mundane. Don’t have a character wake up, get out of bed, see that it’s raining, take a shower, dry off, eat breakfast, etc. and THEN actually do something. We get it; we all wake up and shower (most of us) and eat breakfast. We don’t need to see that happen to accept that it does happen. Get to what’s core to your story and if happens to happen in the shower or when the alarm clock goes off, that’s okay. Just make sure it’s the absolute best place to start and you can be a rule breaker too.

2. Give us a whopper of a first line. This is subjective, right? Yes and no. Because when we all see a great first line, we know it. When we see a mediocre one, we know that too. The first line must catch the reader’s attention by surprising them, by giving tremendous voice, or by incredible writing. There are many ways to craft a first line, but the ultimate goal is to leave the reader with no choice but to read on. However….

3. Starting with dialogue is tricky. This isn’t a rule but is more like a caution. You can start with dialogue, and it can work. But that dialogue has to be very targeted, specific, and follow tip number 2, which is to catch the reader’s attention. Consider the difference between starting a book with this:

“I have no idea what to wear,” I say to my BFF, as I rifle through my closet before my big date. (from my boring brain)

And this:

“Dad’s dead,” Wendy says offhandedly, like it’s happened before. (from Jonathan Tropper’s This Is Where I Leave You)

In both instances, we have the quintessential problem with starting with dialogue: which is that we don’t yet know the characters who are speaking and as such it is hard to care about what they have to say. It’s hard for the dialogue to mean anything or matter to us this early on. However, the second example is so damn good and compelling and shocking that not knowing the characters doesn’t matter one bit. It catches our attention. It does what a great first line should do.

4. Introduce your main character. This isn’t a deal breaker. A first page doesn’t have to introduce your main character, but if it doesn’t, there should be a very good reason for that. Your main character is who we will be following in this story, and the earlier we get to say “hi” to them, the better.

5. Give us or be leading to the inciting incident. As I said, my inciting incident happens on page 1. The same is true for a lot of books. This isn’t a necessity, so long as you are leading us to that inciting incident. We need to understand why your story starts today, not yesterday, and not tomorrow. What is different about today? While there is good advice that says we need to know a character’s world before the inciting incident, that doesn’t mean we want pages and pages of the character’s world before something happens. You can give a lot of hints and clues to a character’s “before” quickly and efficiently. And then you fill in as the story, and the inciting incident, plays out.

6. Hint at the story problem. This ties into the inciting incident tip above. And while it is very difficult and not necessary to give us the full extent of the character’s story problem, hinting at it through tone, attitude, or your character’s reaction to that inciting incident is all we need to latch on and keep reading.

7. Action. Action doesn’t mean a car crash or an explosion. All it means is your character must be doing something. This harkens back to tip number 1. Eating cereal is technically an action, but it’s not an action that’s going to make me want to keep reading. Unless there’s a diamond ring at the bottom of the bowl and the character swallows the engagement ring her fiancĂ© not-so-wisely dropped in and she’s rushed to the ER where she realizes this guy is a doofus and she cannot marry him. See how we started with an action that led to an inciting incident that led to her story problem? All by eating cereal.

8. Be wary of flashbacks. Starting in the wrong place is a problem for many first pages, and a quick start and segue way into a flashback may be a sign of that. If that incident in the past is so important, why not start there?

9. Understand the pressure. What I mean by this is that there is a lot riding on your first page. A scene that may be perfectly fine later in the book may not cut it for the first page. The weight of your entire manuscript sits on the foundation of your first page. It simply has to be great. Not okay, not “enough to get by” until you get to the “good stuff.” It has to be the good stuff; it has to be the great stuff.

10. Above all else, voice. Here’s one rule I’m sure is true: you can ignore everything else I’ve just said if you write a first page that drips with voice. How do you do that? Why, funny you asked. Check out my series on voice right here on YAtopia!

Next month, I tackle what many consider the worst part of the submissions package: the synopsis. *shudders*

Lori Goldstein is the author of Becoming Jinn (now available for preorder; Feiwel and Friends/Macmillan, April 21, 2015, sequel, Spring 2016). With a degree in journalism and more than 10 years of experience, Lori is a freelance copyeditor and manuscript consultant for all genres. She focuses on the nitty-gritty, letting writers focus on the writing.