Monday, October 16, 2017

Mistakes I've Made So You Don't Have To: Believing I Would Find The Perfect Novel Writing System



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 love organization, tidiness, systems, and color-coding.

For a very long time I looked for the "right way" to write a novel. The perfect way, where I always felt like I had control of the story, and the creative process never felt messy or misguided.

Even recently, I've had times where I've thought, "Ooh, maybe this is it. Maybe I've just found The Technique that will make writing stories easy and efficient!" Only to find that yes, this new fill-in-the-blank technique helps, but it's not a magic bean from which the story sprouts perfectly formed. (Spoiler: There isn't one.)

Many of the questions I receive via email ask a surface question about crafting a story—how do I create a good plot twist? what's the best way to start a book?—but often hint a deeper question: How do I know I'm doing this right?



I used to think that one of these days I would "arrive" as a writer and have my perfect, trusty novel writing system. I have finally (mostly) accepted that writing a book is a messy, doubt-filled process no matter how many times you've done it.

Yes, over the years my system has evolved and improved, but you can't perfect your system the way you can an assembly line. It's important to do what I know works for me, but also to try something new with each book. That's how my system has become more efficient over the years, and it's what's keeps writing fun and adventurous for me.

So here is a list of what works for me, the stuff I do with every book. I've talked about all of these in detail in previous posts, so rather than do that here, I'll include links for each one:

Brainstorming early with a friend. 

This is something I did not do for a very long time due to some pride issues. You really have to have the right person in your life for this. They don't need to be a writer, I don't think, but they also can't be the type of person who wants to turn your horror novel into a sweet romance. They need to "get" you and your writing.

Links: How To Have an Effective Brainstorming Session

Writing a blurb that’s a paragraph or two long and the hook sentence.


This is something I used to put off until I absolutely had to write them for a requested proposal. Now I like to write them early on. Why? Writing a few paragraphs in the style of backcover copy helps me to identify the main focus of the story, something I'm prone to lose sight of as I write the thing.

And my agent used to have to pry hook sentences out of me, but now I really like having them written before I dig into the novel. This is a mental thing for me. If people in my life ask me what I'm writing, and I can't tell them in a very interesting way, I start to lose confidence in my book.

Links: Writing Killer Backcover Copy, What Is a Logline And How Do You Write One?

Identifying key scenes.


I used to be a total pantser with writing (and a pretty snobby pantser who distrusted plotting) but now I identify key scenes before I write the book. This gives me enough structure that I can usually keep my story on track (though not always...) but also gives me creative freedom.

Links: How to Develop Your Story Idea Into A List Of Key Scenes Part One and Part Two

Writing my 2-3 page synopsis before my draft.


You think you hate writing synopses, but you're wrong.

Okay, maybe that's not completely fair, but I do think that synopses are waaaaay more fun to write before you've written your book. Then it just feels like fun brainstorming! If you go off on a crazy tangent and decide it doesn't work, you're just erasing a couple of sentences rather than a couple chapters.

Links: How to Write a Synopsis for your Novel, How to Edit a Synopsis for Your Novel, and Using Your Synopsis as an Outline

Logging my work time/Using the story workbook


In a spreadsheet, I keep track of lots of different details about my story, including all my characters and key info about them, the timeline of the story, and other useful things. The link for getting a tutorial on how to make your own is below.

My favorite page within the spreadsheet is actually my work log. I input what time I start and where my word count is, and then when I'm done, I record my ending time and finished word count. Doing this has helped me stay focused during writing time, and it also gives me the same happy feeling of crossing something off my to-do list.

Links: A Snazzy Timeline Tool and Free Story Workbook Tutorial

Writing a first draft without stopping to edit.


Though sometimes the messiness makes me a bit crazy, I really do believe this is the best way for me. This was also one of the hardest techniques for me to learn how to embrace.

Links: Useful Bad First Drafts and for the counter point of view, How to Edit As You Write Your First Draft

Taking 6 weeks off from my first draft.


Ditto to what I said above.

Links: Six Reasons to Take Six Weeks Off From Your First Draft

Reading my finished manuscript in as few sittings as possible and making notes.


I think this is critical to the editing process.

Links: How to Edit Your Book in Layers

Character journals for troublesome non-POV characters.


I usually have a good handle on my POV characters, but there are always a few major non-POV characters who read completely flat. Character journals, where you free-write from their POV, is the fastest thing to help me clarify motivation, backstory, and personality. And it's way more fun then filling out all those character info sheets.

Links: Character Journals

Editing big changes first regardless of chronological order, and then editing scene by scene.


Jill and I wrote an entire book about this, and it continues to be the way I edit.

Links: Go Teen Writers: How to Turn Your First Draft Into a Published Book

I've tried lots and lots of other techniques. Some helped me to think about story in a different way, even if I didn't totally adopt the methods in the book. (Story Genius by Lisa Cron and 2k to 10k by Rachel Aaron) Some, like pantsing my novels, worked for certain seasons but don't work for me now. Others were just NOT my thing. Like the Snowflake method. Or scene cards. Or Scrivener.

Some tools are already on my radar for the next novel I write, like K.M. Weiland's Structuring Your Novel and Creating Character Arcs workbooks for brainstorming more fully before I dive into my first draft.

Is there something you've found that works well for you that you plan to do with each book you write? And/or is there something new you want to try with your next book?


Friday, October 13, 2017

Writing Exercise #17: That's the hobbit's problem

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

Last week we started where JRR Tolkien started and we created our own hobbits. I was so impressed by your imaginations, you guys. Among other things, I hope the exercise showed you that even when we start with the same sentence, we are incapable of telling precisely the same story as anyone else. Because you are you and I am me and we all have our own worlds brewing inside us.

Today, we're going to take our hobbits and give them a story. More specifically, we're going to give them an obstacle. We're not going to fully develop a story problem today, but what we want to do is give our fictional creature something to overcome.

This can be something simple (like making a cake without a bowl) or something complex (like escaping an assassin). Your hobbit and its obstacle are yours and yours alone, so let your imagination run wild.



A couple tips:

1. If you did the exercise last week, start with the hobbit you created and the details you scratched out about his life underground. You can make changes to that idea, but starting with something is always easier than starting with nothing. Your previous ideas will spark new ones.

2. If you did not do the exercise last week, consider doing that one first. Understanding who your hobbit is and why it lives in a hole in the ground will help you develop the creature's dilemma.

3. Keep the problem very clear and simply written. Don't give your hobbit multiple obstacles to overcome. We're taking our hobbit in a very specific direction and I don't want you to have too much to juggle when we reach next week's exercise.

4. Do not solve your hobbit's problem today! We will work on that, I promise. But that's not today's goal. Just give him a bit of trouble, alright? We'll come to solution seeking soon.

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, October 11, 2017

Ready, Set . . . Platform! Three Social Media Tips to Get You Started

Jill here. Taylor Bennett is one of us. I'm sure that many of you have seen her comments, saw that she was a GTW contest finalist, or interacted with her through this site at one point. Well, Taylor, I'm SO PROUD to say, has signed a three-book contract with Mountain Brook Ink for her young adult series. We are all looking forward to watching her career unfold. Please extend your congratulations to Taylor in the comments below. I'm sure we'll be seeing more of her in years to come. I love the topic she chose to blog about and hope you all find it helpful. Please welcome Taylor.

Taylor Bennett is the author of the contemporary YA novel, Porch Swing Girl, which releases from Mountain Brook Ink in January of 2019. When she isn’t pecking madly at her computer, she’s playing violin on her church’s worship team, snapping pictures, or walking in the beauty of the Pacific Northwest. She loves to connect with future readers on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or Instagram (her favorite!) as well as on Goodreads and her author website.
When I first started working on Porch Swing Girl, the book that got me my publishing contract, I could have cared less about having a “platform.” I had little more than an overstuffed Pinterest account and five “friends” on Facebook. But then I started hearing those mystical words: platform, marketing and—gasp!—social media.
So, when I made the decision to get serious about my writing, I reluctantly got accounts on Twitter, Instagram, Goodreads, and the like.
I’d even snap a random pic, throw it up on Instagram every now and then, and call it good, right?
Right?
Wrong.
As I pursued publication, I discovered what it truly means to have a “platform.” It isn’t about how many accounts I have. It doesn’t even matter how many pictures I post.
Having a social media platform is about connections.
When I’m interacting with others on social media, I’m engaging with potential readers all over the world. A single hashtag (#amwriting, #bookstagram, #booknerdigans are popular among writers) can reach thousands.
And, before you start thinking that all of this “platform building” is done out of selfish ambition, let me tell you.
It’s not.
When I connect with others on social media, it doesn’t always benefit me. In fact, I’d say that it often doesn’t benefit me. (Be honest. What’s more productive—writing a hundred words or watching a fellow author’s live Facebook chat?)
This leads to…
Social Media Secret #1
It’s Not All About You
When you get on social media (hopefully after you’ve hit that word count goal), what do you want to see—spammy posts begging readers to check out the latest ninety-nine cent ebook bargain?
No.
You want to see real people connecting, engaging, and being…well…real.
I’m not usually pushing myself or my upcoming book release. When I am promoting myself, I’m doing it in a friendly, conversational way—“Hey, I turned into a computer nerd just so I could make myself a website. Check it out!”
What am I doing when I’m not promoting myself? I’m helping other authors. I share their posts, leave encouraging comments, and generally present myself as the person I am—an enthusiastic reader, not a greedy author.
Thus…
Social Media Secret #2
Be True to You
I’ll let you in on a secret.
My “author account” on Instagram is my personal account. Sure, I throw in the occasional artsy shot of my fountain pen or my laptop charged and ready for a day of work, but I’m also sharing pics of what I ate for dinner, the beautiful morning sunrise, or anything else that strikes my fancy.
And it’s working.
As of right now, Instagram is my strongest social media platform (which still isn’t saying much but, hey, I’m learning.)
Why is it working?
I’m being me. I’m not forcing myself upon would-be readers. I’m having fun, I’m sharing my life, and—again—I’m engaging.
But how do I find people to engage with?
Welcome my next tip.
 
 
Social Media Secret #3
#Hashtag
The first time I saw a hashtag, I scoffed.
That’s not a hashtag. That’s the number sign.
Did I mention I’m old school?
Sometimes, though, even the oldest dogs need to learn new tricks. My new trick was the hashtag.
By using hashtags, I’ve helped my posts get over ten times the number of likes I got on my first post.
The hashtags that work best are those that are simple, relevant, and engaging.
Simple--Easy to use and read. Seriously, it can't just be me that has to do a double take when they see #whyamicryingifthisissofunnyrightnow. Okay...I made that one up, but you get the point.

Relevant--People who find your post through a hashtag want one thing. If they search #cat, they want a cat. They don't want a picture of your little sister (however cute she might be) twirling in the living room with her stuffed kitty toy thrown off in a corner. Now, if she was making friends with the neighbor kitty...go for it! Just make sure your hashtags are chosen for a reason
Engaging--This is the key that brings it all together. Some hashtags have tens of millions of posts and, while this means you'll be reaching a huge audience, it also means that your post will get buried in the sludge pile. Quickly. In order to reach the maximum number of people, choose hashtags that are slightly less trafficked but still popular.
Let's get an example:
What kind of hashtags would you use to go along with this pic? I started with the obvious: #work #tea #laptop #etc 
Okay...not that last one.
Seriously, though, start with the *boring* stuff. Each hashtag I listed has MILLIONS of posts, which means that my post has the potential to reach millions. BUT, as mentioned above, these posts get covered up quickly. That's why I added hashtags directed at a smaller audience--writers. By using more unique, less-trafficked hashtags (#amwriting, #writersofinstagram, #bookstagram) I have a greater chance of more people seeing my post, PLUS the people who are looking at these hashtags are more likely to engage with my post because...we’re all writers.
I’m not saying it’s easy to learn the art of hashtagging, but it’s definitely worth it. And, while we’re on this topic, I’ll leave you with a bonus tip.
Bonus Social Media Secret
Hiding the Hashtag
Want to use hashtags to reach readers but afraid you’ll look spammy? Here’s a tip: After you write your post/caption, press enter and type a single period. Repeat this about six times, until you have a line of periods going down the page. Now you’re free to list your hashtags—most people will never see them because they rarely click on the “read more” option.
You can see an example of how this is done on any of my recent Instagram posts.
What about you? Have you thought about building a platform?
If so, post your social media links and I’ll follow you!

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Project Canvas and a Call for Submissions

Caroline Meek is the author of The Drawing in of Breath and founder of Project Canvas. She has a passion for bringing writers together and is currently studying English & Creative Writing and Theatre at the University of Iowa. Look for her on her blog, website, Twitter, Pinterest, or in your local coffee shop, wearing flannel and drinking coffee with too much sugar.

We all have something we're passionate about. It's possible that nothing brings you joy like making blanket forts and hiding in them until someone finds you and makes you come out. Maybe it's writing. And whether you've been writing for ten weeks or ten days, you know something about what you're doing. You've got knowledge to share with others. 

Project Canvas started out pretty small. Olivia Rogers and I hung out in a coffee shop one day, and here’s what went down:

Olivia: *sips coffee and doodles on paper* Concept: writing a book about writing.
Caroline: *dumps sugar into coffee* True. But let’s get someone else to write the chapter about world building, ‘cause yikes.
Olivia: *doodles have turned into the actual Mona Lisa, how is she so good* Concept: everyone writes a chapter.
Caroline: *coffee is now mostly cream-colored* A book of writing advice and motivation from our writing friends all over the world!

So Project Canvas was created. Now, it’s a book scheduled to be released in 2018, with over 70 contributors from 9 different countries - including mini-chapters from people in the Go Teen Writers Community like Sierra Abrams (The Color Project), Bethany Baldwin, and Brian McBride! I’m blown away by this lovely, inspiring, teen writing community.  

(It was here that I paused in my writing of this post and freaked out because I was drafting a post for this blog oh my goodness and I just want to let everyone know how much GTW has changed my life. I don’t have words).

Anyway! The call for submissions.  We didn’t want the project to end after the publication, so we decided to launch a blog connected to Project Canvas.  This blog will follow the theme of the book, with admin posts on Mondays and guest posts every Friday by teen and young adult WRITERS LIKE YOU.

Some guidelines - like, three of them


  • Posts should be related to writing advice/inspiration/motivation
  • Length: not excessively long. We don’t have a word count limit at this time, but just...a good, sensible length would be very nice
  • No deadline!


Simple enough.  Go to our submissions page for a few more guidelines, and email projectcanvasblog@gmail.com with submissions and any questions.

There’s a lot of ‘news’ in this post, but I wanted to stop for a moment and look back to the core of it….

You have a message.  And it’s important.  I don’t care if you’re sitting there thinking ‘shoot, my message probably isn’t good enough’.  Or maybe that it’s gonna take four more years to perfect before you can show anyone.  Perhaps you’ve never shown anyone.  Or you don’t know what your message is yet.

And that’s okay.  But I want to make sure that you know -
your words aren’t leaves that fall in deep red colors, 
staining the earth and the sidewalk 
until they disappear for the winter. 
Your worth doesn’t have a time span, 
you’re not an explosive,
you aren’t taking up too much 
space.


You are worth the breath it takes to say what’s been brewing in your heart, and I want you to know that I’m listening. 

Monday, October 9, 2017

Writing Mistakes I've Made: Obsessively Rewriting First Chapters



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 have a love/hate relationship when it comes to talking about my mistakes. 

What I don't love:
  • The vulnerability. Over the summer, I gave a talk about my writing mistakes. The topic seemed like a fabulous idea until I started rehearsing. Spending all that time focusing on the many, many mistakes I've made over the years left me feeling so insecure and inadequate. (My listeners were very kind and responsive, though!)
Things I love:
  • The hope that I feel when I share mistakes. Not only do I see how I've grown as a writer, but I feel hopeful that I can either prevent writers from making the same mistakes I did, or help them to see mistakes they're making currently and break away.
  • Mistakes can feel like a weight, but talking about them takes away the power they have over me.
Many writers are perfectionists. We want to write perfectly, publish perfectly, and have perfect writerly lives. This, my friends, is impossible. 



I want you to see evidence that you can make mistakes—lots and lots of mistakes—and still get to where you’re wanting to go. I would even argue that you won’t get there unless you’re willing to make decision that might end up being mistakes.

One of the earliest mistakes I made was firmly rooted in my perfectionism:

Obsessively Rewriting First Chapters

Raise your hand if you find yourself rewriting the opening of your story over and over and over again.

Then imagine that lots and lots of other young writers are raising their hands too, because this is a really common issue when you're learning how to write a novel.

This was the first real writing hurdle I had to get over. I loved writing story beginnings. They're still my favorite part. I would write my first few chapters and pass them out to my friends. They would give me feedback, and I would rewrite and pass the chapters back out. Then I would have an idea for writing the chapters differently, so I would rewrite them again...

On and on this went. Sound familiar?

There are obvious reason why this is bad:

You can’t finish a book this way. 
If your goal is to write a full book, constantly rewriting the prologue isn't going to get you there.

This is usually the reason that writers cite when they’re asking me how to fix this problem. They want to finish a book, they realize this isn’t going to work, and how do they move past this?

Your growth as a writer is stunted. 
I was doing the same piece of the process over and over. It’s like if all you ever did was create characters, but you never put them in stories. Maybe you created amazing characters … or maybe you didn’t, because you can only find out if you plop them into their story and see how they work. 

I had no idea if my beginnings were good, because I never found out what the rest of the story was. I didn’t know what made a good story idea, or what ideas were big enough, or what kind of characters I needed, because I had never gotten past chapter three. It wasn’t until I found a story idea that I loved enough to push past chapter three that I started to grow as a writer.

There are some not-so-obvious reasons why obsessive rewriting is bad:

Or at least they weren't obvious to me.

I was training myself to be a shiny object chaser.
You know what happens if you don't discipline yourself to push through hard things? You don't learn how to do the hard things. Until that point, writing had always been pure joy for me. I wrote when I wanted, and I wrote what I wanted, and if I wanted to write something else, that's what I did.

When writing is a hobby, that's fine. When you're wanting to get traditionally published, that mindset no longer works. I had to train myself to push into the middle of a story rather than rewriting or starting a new story.

By erasing my writing mistakes and starting over, I couldn't learn from them.
After I gave this talk the first time, a man came up to share how in many art classes they don't want you to use pencils, because they don't want you to be able to erase. Art teachers want you to see the lines that are wrong, so you can more clearly see the lines that are right. 

By rewriting the same part of my story over over, I wasn't improving anything, just changing it. I lost perspective on what worked and what didn't.

I wasn't letting the first draft do its job:
My nine-year-old calls first drafts, "the sloppy copy." The job of the first draft is to get the story down without worrying about how to fix things that aren't quite right yet. When we rewrite those first few chapters over and over without the rest of the story, we're not trusting the first draft to do its job. The first draft just need to be "good enough" that we can go back through and hone it in edits.

Learning how to write a book--even a lousy one--from beginning to end is a huge accomplishment. I learned more from doing that once than I did from writing 50 different story beginnings.

If you struggle with obsessively rewriting, what can you do to get past this? Here are a few ideas:

  • Not every book idea is worth pushing through to the end. Even now, after publishing multiple books and writing many others, I still sometimes write a few chapters and then give up on a story. Sometimes I think I'm excited about an idea, but then I get in there and it just doesn't work for me. Be kind to yourself if you decide to put a story aside for a while, even if you've rewritten those first chapters hundreds of times and you don't want to "waste" your time investment. Just because you're putting it aside now doesn't mean you're putting it aside forever.
  • Push yourself to write a little further before giving up on a story. My pattern was to hit chapter four (which is usually around the time that a story transitions from beginning to middle) and then feel lost on where to go. Then I would either hit the eject button in favor of a new, exciting story idea. Or I would rewrite the first few chapters. If you've only ever gotten to chapter three, try to make it through chapter five. Even if you're not sure you're going in the right direction with the story. Just try to push your discipline a bit before walking away.
  • Give yourself permission to be imperfect. This was huge for me. My issues with rewriting were rooted in my desires to turn out a perfect story. When I embraced the advice of writing bad first drafts,I began to make it through to the end.

What about you? Do you struggle with obsessively rewriting?




Friday, October 6, 2017

Writing Exercise #16: Starting where Tolkien started

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

There comes a time in every project when I grow genuinely concerned that if I don't tell my story fast enough, someone else will tell it first. It doesn't matter how bizarre my story is, how far-fetched, how uniquely me it is, I know that at some point I will encounter this insecurity.

The truth of the matter is, it's not possible. And today, I'm going to prove it to you.

JRR Tolkien was grading exam papers when he was inspired by a blank sheet of paper. He grabbed it and scratched out the words running through his head:

In a hole in the ground, there lived a hobbit.

Professor Tolkien had no idea what a hobbit was, but he was determined to find out. As a result of Tolkien's curiosity and dedication to his fictional creature, we have one of the greatest literary works of all time: The Lord of the Rings.

But, what if that sentence ran through your head?

No, seriously. Stick with me for a sec. What if you were helping a neighbor carry groceries into the house, and there, upon the ground, you spotted a stick of chalk? What if you scooped it up--after gently setting aside the neighbor's eggs, of course--and scribbled those same words furiously on the pavement?

Would this mysterious word hobbit capture you? Would it demand you puzzle out its story?

For today's exercise, let's say it does. Let's say that simple, silly sentence flies like a nazgul through your brain and you simply must work out what it means.



Your job

In the comments section:

1. Create a hobbit. Your hobbit shouldn't be anything like Frodo or Sam. In fact, put the entire Lord of the Rings epic out of your mind. Your hobbit is yours and yours alone. Describe it to us. Maybe give it a name.

2. Answer the question: Why does it live in the ground? Does the hobbit like its living arrangements? Do all hobbits live in a hole in the ground?

Today, we're just breathing life into a fantastical creature and its living place. Over the next few Fridays we're going to revisit these hobbits. They're going to help us prove that even stolen sentences lead to unknown adventures. Adventures that are as different as the writers who pen them.

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!


a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

What To Do When You Are In Over Your Head


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 Facebook, InstagramTwitterPinterest, on her author website, or on her writing website StoryworldFirst.com. You can also try two of her fantasy novels for free here and here.

Ever taken on a project only to discover it was WAY HARDER than you expected? Either you're feeling insecure that you are qualified or skilled enough to lead, or you're feeling overwhelmed because you said yes to too many things, or you thought you could do it but the learning curve was a little beyond your skill set.

Me too.

I do this to myself often, actually. You'd think I would learn . . .

I've always been both an idea factory and a people pleaser. This ties in to the "lie I believe" deep down, which tells me my worth in this world is a direct result of my actions. (Not true!!) But changing such habits and deeply woven beliefs in real life is a bit harder than it is to write such a change for your character in a novel.

All that to say, I confess that I have bitten off a wee bit more than I can chew with my latest project. For years I've been wanting to do writing craft videos on YouTube. I did some a few years back and really enjoyed it, and people seemed to find them valuable. So this little dream percolated in my head for years as I waited to have time to try.

There's never enough time to do all the things, is there?

But I finished my EPIC REWRITE and decided the time was now. But (because I'm Jill) I didn't just start making new YouTube videos. No . . . I decided to make a website that would list the episodes in a clear way. Then I also decided to make a podcast version, because I thought I could just make an audio version of the videos and put the information on two platforms.

See how my ideas snowball?

Still, I thought, "I can do this. It's a simple website. I've done a podcast before. Videos are easy to record. I've edited them before. And the rest is a blog and linking everything together. How hard can it be?"

I've said those words before, and they always cause me trouble. Let's go over my troubles one at a time, but first, a little bit about my new project, Storyworld Shorts, which I created, in part, for you.



WEBSITE: I've been making Wordpress websites for years. I know how to do them fairly well. But four years have gone by since I last created a new Wordpress website. So, of course, things have changed some, template-wise. The template I chose had a child theme over it, which is meant to protect the site from people who don't know what they're doing so that they don't accidentally break things. Well, it drove me nuts because I couldn't just go into the dashboard and copy and paste code. I wasted hours trying to figure out how to navigate all of that. And the theme I chose is relatively new and glitches sometimes. I'll hit "save changes," and then there are no changes saved on the page. It took me several times before I stared copying and pasting my content into Word just in case the website glitched so I wouldn't have to retype everything. This helped, but I didn't always remember to do it.

PODCAST SETUP: This had changed too. Thankfully, my husband (pen name Casey Oswald) had started his Corner of Hollywood & Broadway podcast this past summer, so he was able to help me a little. But this took me most of a day to install the plugin, configure everything, then apply to iTunes.

VIDEO RECORDING: I decided that I would record five videos at a time. My dream goal was that I would take one day a month to record and edit all the videos I needed for that month, then I could schedule them out. I recorded the videos on my iPhone. I got the lighting right and the sound too--both of which I'd messed up in the past, so I thought I was doing good. It took me about three hours to set up, record them, do wardrobe changes, and clean up.

I edited the videos with Windows Live Movie Maker, knowing I'd have to upload them to my son's computer eventually to add images over the video in places, since Windows Live Movie Maker doesn't have that option. But I thought it would save time to edit down the files beforehand. First problem? Windows Live crashes on me all the time. Second? Video clips randomly get corrupted, to no logical understanding. Third? These files wouldn't open in Adobe Premiere. I had to download a video converter. And when I finally got them on my son's computer, they were tiny, with a huge black border around them. Enlarging the video made it blurry. My son helped me, but we couldn't figure out how to fix it short of me starting over by opening my original video files in Premiere. Thankfully, we figured out that the video converter had a setting that changed the video size. Once we fixed that, all was well. Whew! But, like, another whole day lost to technology.

VIDEO EDITING: I don't know how to use Premiere. It's not terribly difficult, but when I got stuck, I had to Google the answers or wait for my son to come home from school. I was making good time, then I remembered the whole reason I was using Premiere--slides. Slides I had yet to create. Oops. So I had to make a list of all the slides I wanted to appear in my video, then go back to my computer and make those images in Photoshop. Easy, peasy, but fairly time consuming. Time I hadn't factored into my deadline. Another three hours or so here.

PODCAST EDITING: Once I finished the first video (on like, day three), I discovered I couldn't import a video into Audacity (my audio editing program). So I had to export the audio from the video--something else to learn. Not difficult, but time-consuming. When I finally did open the file in Audacity and I had to add an intro and an ending. I ended up doing the first one three times. Any change I made to the video, I had to make to the podcast.

LINKING EVERYTHING: I already had a YouTube channel, so I only needed to create a new header. I had to set up my email newsletter and subscribe page and the automatic email that sends out my freebie for subscribing. Time, time, more time. ;-)  I managed to set up my social media icons and the blog subscription, but I still don't know why iTunes isn't showing up on my podcast subscription area. I am simply clueless at this point.

BLOG POSTS: I had to write a blog post in order to post the video and blog post on my new website.

SOCIAL MEDIA: On launch day, I had to create memes to share and write posts for my author blog and social media and post in all those places.

TIME SPENT: What I hoped would take me a day or two, actually took me eight days, so far. (I predict two more days are needed.) I did manage to launch my first video on time, and while I have videos two, four, and five done, I don't have the audio versions made yet, and video three is ten minutes long (when I promised five minutes or less)!

I'm exhausted. And I'm now wallowing in the "What was I thinking!?" phase. I know it will be easier next time around. My website is done. Everything is set up and working. I learned better ways to record and edit the videos--streamlined my process. I'll get better on screen over time--less rambling that needs edited out. Still . . . I now know I need to allocate two or three days a month to do this, not one.



All that to say, I learned a lot this past week. I now have a better idea of what I've created and the time it's going to take me to continue with the project. If you've ever found yourself in a situation like this, here are some tips to help you.

1. Stop and breathe

I noticed several times last week that my adrenaline was pumping hard! Yes, I was excited about my endeavor, but it was the swiftly approaching deadline that had kicked my body into high gear. I should have stopped to rest the moment I felt that. Instead, I kept going. And when I crashed, I crashed hard.

If you feel hyper, take a break. Get a snack and go sit in a corner of your house or out in the yard. Somewhere to quiet your mind and remember that this thing you're working on is only a thing. Sure, it might be important, but in the scheme of life, things like this will come and go. Once you're calm, you can get back to work, but in my experience, working while frantic is a great way to make mistakes. It's far better to conserve your energy so your brain has the best chance to help you.

2. Get organized, prioritize, and let some things go.

You might have planned ahead and think you are organized, but once you feel yourself being drowned by a project it's time to press pause and regroup. Clean your desk. Make a list of all you have to do, then prioritize that list. If your deadline is closing in, you might have to let go of a few things. It could be that you could do those things later, or there might be some that you let go for good. You are only human--one human--and while you are mighty, you can't do everything. You just can't. And that's okay. So choose the items that are necessary and leave the rest behind to pick up later or forever abandon.

3. Admit the truth to yourself and others, if need be, and ask for help.

At this point, you have a really good idea if you're going to succeed or fail. It might be that you simply need more time than you had originally anticipated. This happens. The first thing you must do is admit this to yourself. (It might help to return to your quiet spot as you contemplate this.) Remind yourself that you are only one person and can only do so much. Then, depending on the situation, you might have to have an honest conversation with someone. It could be your boss, a parent, a friend, or a client who hired you to do a job.

Be honest. Tell them the project turned out to be much more complicated than you thought. Tell them the facts and ask how you should proceed. It could be that you can ask for help. You might need another employee to help you get the job done. Or you might need to hire out part of the project to someone more qualified. Whatever it is, know your own limitations as to skill and time, and do what you need to do. There is no shame in this. In fact, the opposite is true, despite how others might treat you. It's always the right choice to stand up for yourself. You help no one by pressing on to do something you aren't qualified for (you won't turn in a quality project). And you only hurt yourself when you get over-stressed and work overtime. (Respect yourself. You deserve to treat yourself better.)

4. Know when to quit.

Sometimes you need to give up. Now, I'm a firm believer in never giving up on your dreams, so this particular point is a difficult one for someone like me. At this time, I have no intention at all of quitting Storyworld Shorts. I do realize that I might not be able to keep up. I just so happen to be between edits at the moment. But once I'm busy on a book again, I might not have three workdays a month to spare on this project. So I might need to skip a week or perhaps scale back to posting videos every two weeks. And if I can't streamline my process, there may come a point when I have to go to one video a month or scrap the project altogether. I hope not. But I do know that not all ideas work out.

The only thing I need to strive at in life is keeping a good balance between work and everything else. I'm the kind of person who could work 18-hour days. That doesn't mean I should. So I have to fight for my off time. I need to "check out" and the end of each day. I need to know when to say, "That's enough for today" or "I can't do this anymore." It's one of the hardest things for me to do, but it is so important. My health, my family, my sanity are at risk if I don't choose wisely how to spend my time.

Have you ever been in over your head? It could be a special project or a season in life that is dealing you a major blow.

When this happens, what do you do? How do you handle the situation? Share your tips below. I still have lots to learn!

Monday, October 2, 2017

A "Sometimes Life Happens" Day

Stephanie here.

Sometimes we get busier than planned, and we still need to be disciplined with our creative pursuits, like blogging or writing. Other times, life hits you like a truck, and you have to walk away from them for a season.

Last week, I had the "hit like a truck" kind of experience, and putting together a blog post for today just didn't happen. Thank you for being the kind of community who would notice that I hadn't posted today, and who would wonder if something was wrong.

Jill and Shan will be here on Wednesday and Friday like normal, and I hope to be back next Monday.

Friday, September 29, 2017

October '17 Instagram Challenge

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

We are getting ready to kick off our second Instagram challenge, you guys, and we'd love you to participate.

First! The graphic! 

Post it on your Instagram and help us spread the fun.



Second! The details. 

As you can see, each day of October has been given a prompt. Your job is to snap a picture that somehow addresses the prompt and maybe works in books and/or writing.

For example, on October 9th, you've been given the word, Fangs. You might choose to post a picture of your favorite vampire novel. OR! Perhaps you decide to snap a picture of you working on your next literary masterpiece while wearing a set of plastic fangs.

Get creative. Have fun. And don't feel like you have to be super literal. Use the prompt as a jumping off point, and share with the rest of us. Instagram challenges are a great way to use our creativity in ways other than writing.

Once you've snapped your picture for the day, post it on Instagram (and any other social media you choose) and use the challenge's hashtag (#GTWOctober17) in your caption. Throughout the challenge, we'll monitor the hashtag and share some of our favorite pictures on our own Instagram account (@goteenwriters).

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

Let's do this, friends! Come find us on Instagram! 

ALSO, if you do not have an Instagram account, please don't feel left out. You are welcome to participate in any way that works for you. An alternative way to use the challenge would be to look at the daily prompts as writing prompts as opposed to photo prompts. In this way you have 31 days of writing practice laid out for you. Set a timer for fifteen minutes, use the day's word to get you started, and just write. Practice makes every single one of us better!

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Using an Opening Narration to Pinpoint Your Story Problem


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.

Anyone watch the BBC show Merlin? If so, you might recognize this:



“In a land of myth and a time of magic the destiny of a great kingdom rests on the shoulders of a young boy, his name: Merlin.”


In the television industry, that is what's known as an opening narration. You can find opening narrations in lots of TV shows and in some movies too. Sometimes they are voiced by an omniscient narrator. Other times they are first person from the lead character's voice. Below is a list of quotes from several TV shows or movies. Some of these are super old. Still, see how many you can guess. (Answers below.)


1. “In a time of myth and legend, when ancient gods plagued man with suffering—only one man dared to challenge their power.”


2. “In the criminal justice system, the people are represented by two separate yet equally important groups: the police, who investigate crime, and the district attorneys, who prosecute the offenders. These are their stories.”

3. “Now the story of a wealthy family who lost everything and the one son who had no choice but to keep them all together . . .”

4. “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far way . . .”

5. “You know the kind of guy who does nothing but bad things, and then wonders why his life sucks? Well . . . that was me. Every time something good happened to me, something bad was always waiting around the corner. Karma. That’s when I realized I had to change. So, I made a list of everything bad I’ve ever done and, one by one I'm going to make up for all my mistakes. I’m just trying to be a better person. My __________.”

6. “In 1972, a crack commando unit was sent to prison by a military court for a crime they didn't commit. These men promptly escaped from a maximum security stockade to the Los Angeles underground. Today, still wanted by the government they survive as soldiers of fortune. If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find them....maybe you can hire __________. ”

7. “Doctor David Banner, physician, scientist, searching for a way to tap into the hidden strengths that all humans have. Then, an accidental overdose of gamma radiation alters his body chemistry. And now, when David Banner grows angry or outraged, a startling metamorphosis occurs. The creature is driven by rage and pursued by an investigative reporter. The creature is wanted for a murder he didn't commit. David Banner is believed to be dead, and he must let the world think that he is dead, until he can find a way to control the raging spirit that dwells within him.”

8. “You unlock this door with the key of imagination. Beyond it is another dimension - a dimension of sound, a dimension of sight, a dimension of mind. You're moving into a land of both shadow and substance, of things and ideas. You've just crossed over into the ____________.”

9. “Space, the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.”

10. “___________ here, your one and only source into the scandalous lives of Manhattan's elite. And who am I? That's one secret I'll never tell. You know you love me. XOXO, ___________.”

11. “A fiery horse with the speed of light, a cloud of dust and a hearty Hi-Yo Silver, away!”

12. “There is nothing wrong with your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture. We are controlling transmission. If we wish to make it louder, we will bring up the volume. If we wish to make it softer, we will tune it to a whisper. We will control the horizontal. We will control the vertical. We can roll the image, make it flutter. We can change the focus to a soft blur or sharpen it to crystal clarity. For the next hour, sit quietly and we will control all that you see and hear. We repeat: there is nothing wrong with your television set. You are about to participate in a great adventure. You are about to experience the awe and mystery which reaches from the inner mind to . . . __________.”

13. “It all started when a time travel experiment I was conducting went... a little ka-ka. In the blink of a cosmic clock I went from quantum physicist to air force test pilot. Which could have been fun... if I knew how to fly. Fortunately, I had help. An observer from the project named Al. Unfortunately, Al's a hologram, so all he can lend is moral support. Anyway, here I am. Bouncing around in time, putting things right which once went wrong. A sort of time traveling Lone Ranger, with Al as my Tonto. And I don't even need a mask. Oh boy.”

14. Ladies and gentlemen: the story you are about to hear is true. Only the names have been changed to protect the innocent.

15. “_________, a shadowy flight into the dangerous world of a man who does not exist. Michael Knight, a young loner on a crusade to champion the cause of the innocent, the helpless, the powerless, in a world of criminals who operate above the law.”







Something like this would be a lot of fun for a series and a great way of pinpointing your story problem at the start of every book. 

I decided to write one for Spencer and The Mission League books. Here it is:


I used to think my visions and showed me in inevitable events, that they predicted my future or someone else’s. Now I know they’re possibilities. I can embrace them or run. Considering that most of my visions or warnings, running is usually my best option. Problem is, I’m not a coward. And I don’t like people messing with me. But when you’re living in the witness protection program, calling attention to yourself is just plain stupid. Too late now, though. They’re after me. Unless I can catch them first.


Your turn!

WRITING PROMPT: Write an opening narrative for your book or series and post it in the comments below.



Answer key:
1. Hercules
2. Law & Order
3. Arrested Development
4. Star Wars
5. My name is Earl
6. The A-Team
7. The Incredible Hulk
8. The Twilight Zone (Season 4 & 5)
9. Star Trek (original series)
10. Gossip Girl
11. The Lone Ranger
12. The Outer Limits
13. Quantum Leap
14. Dragnet
15. Knight Rider



Also, I'm having a book sale! Last week I found out that King's Folly is a finalist for the 2017 Christy Awards. I'm so excited and honored. 
I had no intention of going. My husband has to work, and the introvert in me hates going to such things without someone I know really well. But then my friend said she'd come with. So I changed my mind!
To celebrate, I'm having a sale in my author bookstore. Everything is 30% off with the discount code "CHRISTY"—while supplies last. More info on my author blog