TBAS Snapshot

Hey all! Hope you are getting ready and excited for Halloween! I know I am ūüôā Since I have been so busy this semester, I have only been able to post about once a week. I came up with the idea to reblog a worthy post from the writing community every week to fill the gap, but based on your feedback, I decided that wasn’t the best answer.

So I am going to try something else.

Since I started To Build A Story to take you along the journey of writing a book with me, I thought I would give you a little snapshot of where I am, every week. It’s a more detailed look than my usual overall posts, so I hope you like it and maybe even find it helpful. Feel free to join in, and let me know where you’re at in your writing! After all, we are in this together ūüôā

Title: Nightfire

Current word count: 62,786

Words written this week: 2,421

What I’m working on:¬†A battle scene before the climax. Or at least, trying to–battle scenes are not my favorite. I’ve been stuck on this one for a little while. If anyone has tips, I’ll gladly take them ūüôā

Favorite lines: 

I grit my teeth, fighting the sudden, desperate ache in my heart. Hopelessness–in¬†the bitter tang at¬†the back of my mouth,¬†in my heart¬†with the¬†skittering pulse of a cornered animal. I can only hope their plan for escape doesn‚Äôt depend on any divine gifts they think I have.

If that is our only chance for escape, then we are already dead.

Words left to write:¬†I’ve estimated about 5k, but will likely end up being more before cuts. Excited to finish this draft!

Why You Shouldn’t Be Writing

We are constantly told: “You should be writing.” Especially from our fellow writer friends. It’s meant as a sort of tough love encouragement, a call to action, or push to get us going. Which is great, if the only thing stopping you is your own procrastination, or the ever-present self-doubt.

But sometimes, all this does is add to guilt us writers already struggle with every day. Every free moment we get, a little voice in our head is taunting, “You can’t relax. You’re being lazy. You should be writing.”

I’m here to tell you that little voice is wrong.

As far as little voices go, they’re usually wrong,¬†and it’s a good idea not to listen to them anyways. But that one I am sure you are familiar with that constantly nags at the back of your mind with guilt the longer you go between words, is¬†hard not to listen to. Especially when our fellow comrades in writing are saying the same thing.

Yes, sometimes we just need a little push. But sometimes, there is more than that going on. Maybe you’re a parent (a full-time job) or have a full-time job¬†(maybe both). Maybe when you get home you’re just so exhausted you can’t stand, or mentally drained, and all you want to do is veg out on the couch and watch some brain-numbing TV. Or if you’re like me, a full-time student with so much going on, it feels like you’re just trying to keep your head above water most of the time.

When I’ve finished studying for hours, or come home from a four hour lecture, the last thing I want to do is sit down and force out some words with brain power that I don’t have left. I’d much rather binge watch Once Upon A Time until I pass out and have dreams of Captain Hook (it’s happened, no judgement), or spend some quality time with boyfriend, or have an old-fashioned girls night, or I don’t know,¬†sleep for the first time in a week.

We are writers. The words are a part of us, and they always will be. That doesn’t mean that the longer we go without writing, we become lesser¬†writers. Yes, we are writers, but we are also human beings. With lives, and families, and responsibilities, and memories to be made.

Let yourself off the hook.

I know this can be hard for us writers, but seriously. If you need me to give you permission: You shouldn’t be writing right now. You have absolutely nothing hanging over your head, pressing at the back of your mind. You shouldn’t feel guilty. Go outside, read a book, spend time with your family, go out, take a nap. There are a hundred other things you can and should be doing instead of feeling guilty for not writing.

Again, we are writers but we are also humans. You do not stop being a writer if you’re not writing, or if you don’t think of writing every hour every day. The words will always be there. Go out and live your life, enjoy it. Maybe you’ll even get inspiration out of it, or come up with the next great American novel.

Trust me, letting go of that guilt feels amazing. When I stopped listening to that little voice, it felt like being freed from shackles.

So the next time you feel that familiar, gnawing guilt in the pit of your stomach, and hear that voice in the back of your mind, saying “You should be writing”?

Kindly tell him to leave you the hell alone.

The Magic Number

One thing I have noticed lately is¬†writers who are agented or published have one thing in common: most of them, this is their second, or third, or sixth book–it¬†took them that many tries to get it “right”. This made me curious. Is there an unspoken magic number in the publishing world? Is there a certain number of books it takes to master the art?

Like¬†I’ve said before, I’ve been writing my whole life. What started as picture books progressed to short stories then chapter books, until finally I finished my first complete novel at 12, handwritten in a pink journal. It was a science fiction/dystopian about a girl who discovers government secrets, and then teams up with the rebels to overthrow them.¬†Naturally, now I read it and it’s complete crap, and will live the rest of its life locked away in my files, never to see the light of day.

My second book was an epic¬†fantasy that probably should have been two or three books instead of one, about four kids united by magical powers, saving their land from the Dark Lord. I was probably about 13 when I wrote it, so considering that it’s pretty brilliant, but like the previous will never see the light of day.

My third I wrote when I was about 15 and is 102 pages of teenage angst. It was my first contemporary, about a girl whose boyfriend is killed in a car accident. Again, teenage angst. There are some tiny gems, but most of it is one giant facepalm.

Now my fourth was Ember, which you have probably heard me mention. I started writing it when I was 17, and this was the first one worth reading. Countless rewrites and two years later, I am in the process of querying it. Though I’ve only been at it¬†six months or so, it’s hard not to get discouraged, especially when promising leads end up going nowhere. I started writing its companion, but needed a break from writing in the same world and same story for two years. So to battle the rollercoaster of querying, I started¬†Nightfire.

Ember¬†and¬†Nightfire¬†are my true loves. But one question I have been asking myself a lot lately is–what if¬†Ember¬†isn’t the one?¬†What if it’s just another one in the series before I get it “right”? I absolutely believe in that story;¬†I love the characters, the world, everything. It was the first story that characters became real to me, that I started to get voices in my head. I believe I have developed my writing skills well enough that I could be published now. But what if there’s something wrong in the formula? Something that¬†Nightfire¬†has the chance to get right?

Which led to me wonder–what is the magic number? I wrote three books before¬†Ember,¬†but was that enough? Do the ones I wrote at 12 or 13 count, when I was still so young and had so much to learn?

I believe in¬†Ember,¬†but I wonder if it’s not the one that will get me agented and published. Maybe that is¬†Nightfire,¬†and¬†Ember¬†can come later. But my question remains–is there a number?

What do you think? How many books have you written–if any? Is there a magic number of books a writer has to write, before they have “mastered” it? Is there a magic number of books it takes before one makes an agent fall in love?

 

To Build A Story: World-Building

I’ve wanted to write this post for a long time, but have never gotten around to it. So here it is!

For a long time, I never really considered world-building when I wrote. I focused on plot and characters, and the world was just kind of a backdrop. I think a lot of writers overlook world-building, or don’t give it enough attention in their writing. I wrote this post about the importance of world-building, and some things that great books do to bring their worlds to life. You should definitely go read it if you haven’t already, because I take a deeper look into what makes a good, realistic, deep world. Now I wanted to give you some of the resources I’ve found to be helpful as I develop the world for¬†Nightfire.¬†

This is the first WIP that I’ve really spent time developing the world, and it’s shown me a whole new side to writing. I really love the process. Even if half of this never makes it into the actual book, it has helped me understand the characters and story so much more, and made it all feel real.

1. Name Generator

One thing I am terrible at is names–you may have noticed from the multiple posts asking for your help choosing names. There are many different generators, but this is a great one that I’ve used for Nightfire.¬†I like to use generators when I need variety, or for non-English names. I don’t usually use the exact names they produce, but it’s a great starting point.

2. Character Generator

Now I know this isn’t exactly world-building, but¬†this is another great resource, especially for those side characters that help flesh the world out (which I wrote about in the previous post mentioned above). Seventh Sanctum has a whole bunch of great generators, like this one for characters, or a couple others for settings and combat.

3. Map Generator

Similar to the name generator, this map generator is a great starting point. I never realized before how helpful it is to actually have a concrete mental image of how the world is laid out. It makes logistics so much easier, and the action feel more real. Instead of them journeying from point A to point B, they are travelling from Cinder Lake to the Anvil Mountains. I could never come up with all the landforms and names on my own, so the generator really helped me get started.

4. Map Making Software

This is a little bit more technical, but don’t let that scare you off. AutoREALM is very easy to use (It took me less than an hour to figure out the basics on my own) and is¬†amazing.¬†Seriously, amazing. Creating a real map to have as a reference has been so helpful, and even inspired different storylines and aspects in the book. Not to mention they turn out pretty awesome looking, for such a simple software. Here’s mine for Nightfire¬†(which I did in three hours, including the learning curve):

realmap

Pretty awesome, right? Not bad for a couple hours and limited technical skills.

How do you world-build? Any resources of your own to share? What do you think of these–did they help at all? Let me know!

Breaking Writer’s Block

We’ve all been there. Staring at the blank page, that stupid blinking cursor, taunting us. We search for inspiration–from earlier scenes, from coffee, from the ceiling, but alas there are no words to be had. Writer’s block has set in like a¬†guest¬†who has decided to stay¬†much past their welcome.

Writer’s block is something we’ve all dealt with, myself included. Lately, I’ve been struggling with a lack of words. Mostly, because I haven’t had time or energy to sit and write. But the few times I have, the words were nowhere to be found. Anything I did manage to eek out, was plain awful. Had I suddenly forgotten how to write? In the past couple¬†weeks, had I somehow become a terrible writer?

Some people say writer’s block doesn’t exist. I think it absolutely does–but only in our own minds. We really are our own worst enemies when it comes to writing. I think writer’s block can come from all different places (busy lives, lack of energy, no motivation), but tends to¬†stem from an unconscious fear that what we write won’t be good enough. The idea that writer’s block is a lack of inspiration is slightly ridiculous, because if we always waited to write until we were inspired, we wouldn’t get much of anything done at all.

But for me, writer’s block is absolutely real. It can happen to the best of us, and strike without warning. These are some things I’ve found to help with my own writer’s block:

1. Read. Read. Read.

Even when I don’t feel like writing, it still feels good to spend time among words. Reading doesn’t always make me want to write afterward, and it doesn’t always lead to words of my own, but reading is the fastest way to get me “in the mood”. Something about getting caught up in another world makes me want to be lost in my own. Even if it doesn’t, reading is always a great source for inspiration and learning as a writer.

2. Be Stubborn

This is something I’m good at, to a fault. If the words aren’t cooperating with me, I make them cooperate. I force them out, one by one, no matter how awful or boring they may be.¬†Think of it as steering into the skid–face it head on, gun it,¬†and the rest will right itself. For most times I’m stumped, this works. Usually it’s just a matter of getting past that stump, of breaking through the block. Once you break through, the words flow again. Sometimes, I find something beautiful by accident.

3. Get In The Mood

Bow-chicka-wow-ow. Whatever it is that gets you into that writing spot, do it. Light some candles. Play your favorite music. Make a really great cup of coffee. Sometimes it’s as easy as getting yourself in the “write” mentality (see what I did there?).¬†Sit down, in your special writing place, with no distractions. Just you and the words. And wait for the magic to happen.

4. Quality Time

This can be one people forget about. The words may not be cooperating right now, but they were at some point (I hope so, at least). Go back to those and read through them. Spend time in your world, with your characters, and remember everything you love about your story. Maybe work on some edits, or something old will inspire you for something new. And even if I’m not writing anything new, spending time with my characters always makes my heart happy.

5. Let It Go

Really, writers need to do this more often. If I encounter writer’s block that I can’t overcome with any of my usual stubbornness, I let it go. That’s right, I let it go, let it goo (It’s stuck in your head now, isn’t it? Sorry not sorry). Don’t worry about it. The words will come. Sitting and stressing about it is only going to make it worse. Go do something else, set foot in the real world, enjoy this life. The words will be there when they are ready.

Fish

As a freshman in high school, I remember feeling like a little fish in a big pond, so it was only fitting that freshmen were called “fish”. I looked up to those big, wise seniors who were impossibly tall and more worldly than I, and I couldn’t imagine ever being like that. How does a guppy become a shark?

Well inevitably I became a sophomore, junior, then senior and I was the one looking down at the incoming fish, and I didn’t feel wise or worldly at all (though maybe I had impossibly tall covered). Had I missed it, somewhere along the way? Some seminar or rite of passage, some magic spell or machine that would transform me from a guppy to a shark?

Though high school is behind me now, I can’t help but feel like a fish again, staring up at those established writers and wonder, how do I get there? How is that even possible?

One thing I’ve noticed that the little voice of doubt has liked to focus on lately is my age. I used to see being young as something good for a writer–fresh, current, ambitious, wild imagination. Now I sometimes see it as a hinderance. While reading Ruin and Rising (which was unbelievable and I hope to get a review of the series up soon) I naturally admired her prose and creativity. On the other hand, I thought that some of that can only come with age and experience–broader vocabulary, more experience to draw from, a better grasp of worlds and cultures and people and relationships. How can I use something that I don’t have?

Looking up at them, they may seem larger than life and impossible to reach, but I might venture to guess that the view from up there is much like a senior looking down at the fish. Truth is, we’re all looking through a fish bowl, distorting our perceptions into reality.

There will always be certain things I do not have, and cannot have, that those with age and wisdom do. But there are also some awesome things about being young and inexperienced. And if the journey to the top of the writing food chain is anything like the high school one, it will be over before I even know it happened and I’ll look back and wonder, how did I get here?

Whether you’re young, or new to the publishing world, or both, it can be overwhelming to stand at the bottom of the food chain looking up. But everyone starts at bottom, and the only place to go from there is up.

Best Before: Yesterday

The publishing process takes a long time. It’s a known fact, and something I’ve come to accept. But somehow I still find myself feeling like the clock is ticking, like the sand is running out on the hour glass, and there’s an anvil hanging over my head. Somehow, I feel like there’s an invisible window to getting published, and if I don’t make it in that time, I’m finished.

I feel like there’s an expiration date stamped on my forehead, and it reads: Best Before Yesterday.

Now I know this is basically irrational, but I can’t help the feeling. Maybe you know what I’m talking about. When I get another rejection, that little voice wonders: was that it? How close am I to the point where I’ve used up all my chances? I wonder if it won’t happen this year, or the next, or at all.

But here’s the thing. The little voice doesn’t know what it’s talking about. Yes, maybe it’s good so I don’t get my head too high up in the clouds without some dose of reality. But that little voice is wrong.

There is no expiration date. If I don’t get it this time, I’ll try the next, and the next, and the next. There is a part of publishing that is pure chance and luck. Finding the right agent, at the right time, with the right words. But there is also a huge part that is persistence.

By not giving up, and putting myself out there again and again and again, not only am I ahead of the crowd but I increase my chances of getting a yes with every time. I could get a hundred nos, and it wouldn’t matter. All it takes is one yes.

It doesn’t matter if you’re young, old, just started, or have been trying for years. You do not have an expiration date. Let me say that again. You do not have an expiration date. Maybe that’s hard to believe if you’ve been at this a long time. You just started, you say. You’ve only been doing this a few months, you have no idea how hard it is. Yes, it is hard. It is hard to the point of wanting to give up sometimes, but there is no time where the window to being published is closed.

The only time you expire, and lose all chances of realizing your dreams, is when you stop trying.

It’s not like an Indiana Jones movie, where you triggered the trap and have to dive through the temple door before it closes and locks you in for all eternity. That door stays open until you let it close.

So get up, dust yourself off, and wipe that invisible expiration date off your forehead. Jump back in the trenches, and keep fighting and fighting and fighting. All it takes is one victory.

Why I Don’t Write Every Day

Yes, you read that right. While practically¬†everyone else is telling you “write every day” like a mantra to be repeated until you are getting very sleepy, I am telling you the exact opposite.

Why? Why not write every day? Isn’t practice the key to ¬†getting better? If all the bestselling authors say it, isn’t that the secret to becoming a brilliant author?

Yes, and no. I think “write every day” is good advice for those just starting out. When you are just starting as a writer, you ¬†need all the time and practice you can get to develop yourself as a writer, which can only really come from getting words on the page. So if you are new to writing, by all means, write every day. If you are anyone really, and you want to write every day, by all means go for it!

I am not here to stand in the way of anyone who wants to write all the time. That’s awesome, go do it! I am here to talk to those who beat themselves up because they don’t.

First of all, writing every day assumes a lot of things. You don’t have a full-time day job, or three kids, or a full class load, or a social life, or basically anything else. It¬†assumes you have time to sit down at a computer and pour your soul out, every day of the week. Even if you can find time to wedge writing between the conference calls and cleaning spit up and cramming for a test, do you really want to write right then?

You sit down and stare at that blinking cursor on a blank part of the page, and it seems a lot less like your passion and more like another one of the day’s many chores to cross off your list. I don’t think anyone should ever feel that way about writing. When that happens, you have stopped being a writer, and become a machine, going through the motions.

Yes, there will be days you don’t feel like writing, and you shouldn’t let that stop you. You shouldn’t use lack of motivation or¬†inspiration as an excuse, but sometimes it happens. Sometimes you just don’t feel like writing, and you shouldn’t force it. You shouldn’t force it because then your words will feel forced, which the reader can tell, not to mention you end up starting to hate everything to do with writing.

The only time I have ever forced myself to write (almost) every day was for CampNaNo. Honestly, I would never do it again. I was exhausted, and every time I sat down to write I started to hate it more and more. The words suffered for it, too. I am still cleaning up the mess of some of those scenes I wrote, and probably will be for a while to come.

I don’t write every day because writing every day sucks the life and joy out of it for me. I start to dread it, feel obligated, and guilty when I don’t. I hate that feeling. When I sit down to write, I want to feel excited. I want my mind to be whirling with all kinds of scenes and voices and images that I just can’t wait to put on the page.

Now one thing I will tell you to do (almost) every day is read. I learn more in an hour of reading than I do in ten hours of writing, and I could never get burnt out.

Writing every day works for some people, which is great (but we secretly hate those people). For those of you who it doesn’t work for (like me) don’t worry about it. Write as much as you can, as often as you can, but never let it take away your love for writing.

 

Worthy of the Week

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Hey all! Here¬†is this Friday‚Äôs¬†Worthy of the Week,¬†a weekly¬†breakdown of things worth sharing. If¬†you like¬†what you see, feel free to join in! Just post your link in the comments, and I‚Äôll stop by¬†ūüôā¬†Check out the others¬†here.¬†

Inspiration

I don’t usually do a video for inspiration, but thought this video was so powerful, and¬†had so much story in it. Something about the little boy in a doctor’s coat, treating battle-torn adults not only tugged my heartstrings, but made my writer’s brain churn. Definitely worth the watch, though be warned it is about the Syria conflict and is¬†rather violent and graphic.

Issues

Though I really have no connection to it, Ferguson really affected me. So much so that I wrote an entire post about it. But I recently found this post which highlights the issue around the Ferguson events, and that this is not just a one-time tragedy, it is a pattern. And clearly, a large part of it is about race, whether we want to admit it or not.

Words of Wisdom

You’ve probably heard this quote before, but I think this is important for writers. This is part of what I love about books and¬†what I try to do through my writing. Everything else will fade, but words and their feelings remain. Despite¬†time, distance, and¬†language, words never cease their ability to connect us.

This Week's Quote: Maya Angelou