Thursday, October 29, 2015

How to Write a Novel, Part 2: Brainstorming, Drafting & Getting Organized

As I mentioned in How to Write a Novel, Part 1: Let The Journey Begin, it’s all about exploring the diversity of options out there and doing what works best for you. This post details my method for brainstorming, drafting, and getting organized. It may or may not work for you, but at the very least I hope that these tips will help you discover the keys to unlocking your writing success. 

Timing is Everything: Make writing a priority by assessing the time of day you’re most creative and fit your writing time into your schedule accordingly. I’m freshest in the mornings, so I try my best to schedule everything around it. It might take some experimenting to get the time right, and it might not always work due to life circumstances, but once you discover your writing sweet spot, it will be that much easier to actually write. 

Inspiration: Blocked? Head over to Pinterest for some vivid imagery or create your own board. Still blocked? Go for a walk, talk with a friend, or go see a movie. Studies show that distractions can actually be good for creative thinking. Write when you’re inspired. Write when you’re not inspired. What you write in the beginning doesn’t have to be perfect right out of the gate. You’ll edit later.

The Notebook: No, this isn’t a Ryan Gosling reference (darn!). It’s about being prepared for ideas, which can strike you at any time—be it your initial story idea (I got my story idea listening to music while cooking dinner), a character name, perfectly worded description, or how to kill off someone. Good ideas can hit you anywhere, which is why it’s important to make sure you’re ready for them.

Pay attention to where you tend to be most creative and make that environment “brainstorming friendly.” For example, I wrote a lot of Strange Luck while commuting three hours to work each day, so I had a lot of time to brainstorm story ideas. I always kept a notepad and pen on the passenger side seat and sometimes I had Siri take voice Notes on my iPhone when I couldn’t write. When I was out and about, I wrote ideas in a little notebook I kept in my purse, on post-it-notes, or the back of receipts in a pinch. If you tend to get a lot of good thinking done in the shower, get Aqua Notes—a waterproof notepad and pencil set that you stick in the shower. Wherever you are, make sure you have a reliable method to record your thoughts.

Time to Draft: When it comes time to start drafting, the important thing to remember is to not get too attached to what you’ve planned, because it WILL change. Even if you draft your entire book with full character maps and all, it WILL change. This is actually a good thing. As you write, you may realize that an idea may not work, or better yet, you come up with something way better. Everything you write in the drafting stage is really just to get your ideas down and to formulate your story. 

How I Draft:

  1. I loosely write out some story ideas, potential character names and traits, and a few plot points in my super cute notebook (see below pic). Since this is a very nice hardbound notebook, it’s more special to me than just a cheap spiral notebook, so it really pushes me organize my thoughts and ideas. I might spend days or weeks thinking about the story before I actually write anything in it.

  2. When I feel like I have enough ideas to start my story, I create a master manuscript Word doc and type up the notes from the hardbound notebook. This gives me another chance to re-evaluate my ideas, add to them, and adjust accordingly. 
  3. My favorite part of writing is creative free flow, so I’ll literally write Chapter 1 and dive right in, always spacing my notes I had input earlier to the next page. This is advantageous for two reasons: It allows me to “free flow” without being influenced by my previous ideas; and it allows me to easily reference important info if needed (e.g., age of a character or hair color). The notes are like training wheels—there if I need them. 
  4.  Every time I sit down to work on my master doc, I always re-read what I had written the previous time before adding any new ideas. I never read more than a chapter or two back. Although this method is debated, I like it because it gives me an opportunity to re-read the story with a fresh eye and get into the proper mindset to continue writing. It’s also a good opportunity to remind myself of important plot points. Then, I go through each one of my notes line by line and input them into the story accordingly. I cross off each idea when I’m done. Here's a pic of some of my Strange Luck ideas I wrote on post-it notes, and the little notebook I carry around with me:

  5. I work on a chapter as much as I can before moving on to the next. If I need to add something to the previous chapter, I’ll simply go back and add it. Ctrl-F (the PC find button) is my best friend when I need to locate a section of the story quickly. 
  6. Once I’ve written down all of my ideas and have the bare bones of each chapter, I start right back at Chapter 1 and go through everything I wrote, adding “meat” to the story and editing along the way. I’ll literally do this a dozen or more times until I feel like I have all of the pieces of the story and have gotten it as close as possible to what I want.

Setting Goals: The key to actually finishing your novel is setting goals. If you get bored easily, make new daily goals. If you like a challenge, see how far you can push yourself. I get bored easily and I like a challenge, so I always mix it up. One day I’ll tell myself that I can’t get up from my desk (pictured below) until I write one paragraph. The next day, not until I finish a chapter. Sometimes I’ll even throw in a reward, like once I finish writing for X amount of time, I’ll treat myself to a cupcake (yum!). It really just depends on how I feel that day. It’s all about setting boundaries that work for you. 

What Do I Do Now? Once you’ve got a solid draft of your novel, put it away until you can read it again with fresh eyes. Believe in yourself. Keep writing. Don’t give up. And when all else fails, remember these wise words from fantasy author Neil Gaiman: “The main rule of writing is that if you do it with enough assurance and confidence, you’re allowed to do whatever you like. So write your story as it needs to be written. Write it honestly, and tell it as best you can.”

What are you waiting for? Get out there and write!

Sunday, October 25, 2015

The Scorch Trials

I don't know who's more excited to read The Scorch Trials.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

The Howling Turtle

Howling Turtle 

Not only is 'The Howling Turtle' an awesome blog name with cute graphics, it's also the home of YA book reviews and author interviews. I recently had the pleasure of doing an interview with The Howling Turtle, where I revealed how I got the inspiration to write Strange Luck. There may even be a question about a fictional literary crush. *wink. Check it out!

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Planning Your Novel, Part 1: Let the Journey Begin

The writing world can be overwhelming and difficult to navigate, so it’s important to get your head straight first. There isn’t a single path or author playbook that you need to follow. It’s all about exploring the diversity of options out there and doing what works best for you. I hope that the below tips (based on author interviews, books about writing, and my own experiences) will help you on your writing journey. 

Finding Your Voice: Your voice, style, and ideas are your own. Set yourself apart by being yourself and owning it; otherwise, you’re just another name in a sea of names. Perhaps fantasy author Neil Gaiman said it best: “The urge, starting out, is to copy. And that’s not a bad thing. Most of us only find our own voices after we’ve sounded like a lot of other people. But the one thing that you have that nobody else has is you. Your voice, your mind, your story, your vision.” Way to go, Neil!

Don't Follow Marketing Trends: It’s tempting. You think, well if so-and-so made a million dollars writing a book about a zombie who falls in love with a vampire, then so can I. The truth is that by the time your book is ready, the trend will likely have passed. Also, think of all the other writers who are thinking the same thing. Write the story you have to tell, not the story you think you should tell.

Panster vs. Plotter: You can really drive yourself crazy reading all of the different writing blogs and message boards weighing in on whether to outline, plot everything in advance, or just write and edit as you go. Remember, there is no single path to writing a book. Experiment and do what works best for you. When I first started writing, I thought I needed to be a plotter and followed tedious guidelines. Not only did I felt trapped, my creativity suffered. After more trial and error, I finally embraced my “pansterness,” and found a method that worked for me. 

Get Feedback: One of the most important things you can do is share your work with others. This can be in the form of talking about plot ideas over coffee, or simply giving a trusted friend your first chapter to read. Something might sound great in your head, but in reality it might not work. There is a fine line though of not letting others’ opinions influence you too much. Maintaining your own voice is key. Also, be prepared for feedback. No piece of literature is universally loved. Nearly every person, be it a friend, family member, editor, or agent, will have a different opinion of your work. It’s your job to recognize recurring issues and make changes if you believe they’re valid. There's also the possibility the everyone will only give you positive feedback. Although this certainly can boost your ego, it's more likely that your friends and family are just being nice and/or they don't have a critical editing eye. Branch out to beta readers, freelance editors, and online or local writing groups. Critical feedback is worth its weight in gold. 

Grammar School: When you’re so enraptured in your own work, it’s easy to miss something. Even the best, highest grossing books have typos. Be sure to turn on all of the spelling and grammar functions in Word and go through each flagged item carefully. Feeling rusty? Pick up a book on editing techniques or download an app to strengthen your skills. Printing out your work and going through it with a pen is another valuable technique because it gives you an opportunity to see the story in another way. Have others read your work. When you feel your book is completely polished, hand it over to a professional editor.

Remember The 3-Dimension People: It’s easy to sit too long at a desk and forget to get outside and be with the 3-dimension people. Giving your brain a chance to relax not only recharges you, but can also lead to unexpected creativity.

To Fix or Abandon: Sometimes, a story just doesn’t work. You can spend an ungodly amount of time trying to fix something that you end up destroying even more every time you touch it, or you can abandon it and start from scratch. This is one of the most difficult decisions a writer can make, but it’s better to have a well-written story that works, rather than a pieced together mess. I can definitely relate to this point after having an agent ask me to rework my first novel. It took me six months and I re-submitted with the changes. She said I was on the right track, but asked me to change major parts of the story (e.g. the era). Again, I rewrote and re-submitted. The result? I hated the changes because the story wasn’t even my story anymore. It was an abomination. I knew it, the agent knew it. So, after much anguish, I decided to abandon the project completely. The upside? That experience not only helped me find my voice in writing a new novel (Strange Luck), it allowed me to focus on the story I needed to tell.

And now I leave you with an inspirational quote from my favorite author, Henry David Thoreau: “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams and live the life you imagined.” 

What are you waiting for? Get out there and write!

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Thursday, October 8, 2015

Legit Book Awards & Contests for Self-Published Authors

You poured your blood, sweat, tears, and maybe a little vodka into your book. Now it’s time to showcase your efforts! I’ve put together some of the most notable and legit fiction book contests specifically for self-published authors to help you get out there and win some awards.

FREE Contests:

The Book Designer Monthly Ebook Cover Design Awards: This heavily trafficked site is definitely worthy of entering because there are no restrictions on publication date and it’s super easy to submit your cover. Restrictions: Your e-book must be published at the time of submission.

Library Journal SELF-e Book Awards:  Library Journal honors the best self-published e-books in the following genres: Romance, Mystery, Science Fiction, and Fantasy. There’s one winner and two honorable mentions in each genre. Each genre winner receives $1,000.00. Restrictions: Although submissions for 2015 have already closed, this is a good one to keep in mind for 2016. In the meantime, you can submit your book to SELF-e. If selected via Library Journal’s SELF-e curation process, your e-book will become part of a unique discovery platform for participating public libraries across the U.S. that enables patrons to read e-books on any device, at any time. This free service is available to all self-published authors, no matter which self-publishing service(s) you use.

The Guardian Legend Self-Published Book of the Month The Guardian is the first national newspaper to champion self-publishing on a regular basis. The prize has been created with Legend Times, an award-winning independent publishing group, with companies including traditional fiction publisher Legend Press and a self-publishing company New Generation Publishing." Restrictions: Open to UK Residents only.

The Bram Stoker Awards: Each year, the Horror Writer's Association presents the Bram Stoker Awards for Superior Achievement, named in honor of Bram Stoker, author of the seminal horror work, Dracula. The Bram Stoker Awards were instituted immediately after the organization's incorporation in 1987. Awards are annual. Restrictions: If you wish to submit your work for Jury consideration, you must follow the special guidelines based on the type of work you're submitting (e.g., YA novel, long fiction, etc.).

Contests That Charge a Fee:

Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards: Whether you’re a professional writer, a part-time freelancer or a self-starting student, here’s your chance to enter the premier self-published competition exclusively for self-published books. This self-published competition, co-sponsored by Book Marketing Works, LLC spotlights today’s self-published works and honors self-published authors. Restrictions: There are different fees and deadlines based on the type of contest you’re entering (e.g. poetry, self-published, popular fiction, etc.). Contests run throughout the year so there’s bound to be something that suites you and your book.

The IPPY Awards:  Book awards are open to independent authors worldwide. Winners get a ton of exposure, notably through Publisher’s Weekly publications and emails. New categories this year include Cover Design - Fiction and Cover Design - Non-Fiction.

Eric Hoffer Award for Independent Books: One of the largest international book awards for small and independent presses. The Hoffer Award recognizes excellence in publishing with a $2,000 grand prize and various category honors and press type distinctions, as well as Montaigne Medal, da Vinci Eye, and First Horizon awards.

Benjamin Franklin Awards:  Administered by the Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA), the Benjamin Franklin Awards are unique in that all entrants receive direct feedback on their entries. Indie publishers and self-published authors are invited to enter. The inclusive program includes fifty-five categories recognizing excellence in book editorial and design.

Readers’ Favorite:  They accept manuscripts, published and unpublished books, e-books, audio books, comic books, poetry books and short stories in 100+ genres. There is no publication date requirement or word count restriction. Entries are accepted worldwide.

You can also check out Published to Death and Creative Writing Contests With No Entry Fees for additional opportunities.

Want even more contests? Try researching writing contests specific to your state (and sometimes city), as well as your age,  writing genre, and first time author opportunities. If you do decide to enter a paid contest not on this list, be sure to do your research first and ensure its sponsor is worthy of putting on your resume. Good luck!

Monday, October 5, 2015

Library Journal SELF-e Selection

Picture I'm so excited to announce that Strange Luck is a Library Journal SELF-e selection!

This means that Strange Luck will now be available to libraries all over the country on BiblioBoard Library.  Woot!