The Power of Writing Partners…Or How I Won #NaNoWriMo After All

nanowrimo_2016_webbadge_winner-smallerIn my last post, NaNoWriMo: 4 Reasons You Should Keep Going, Even If You Won’t Win, I talked about how far behind I was in my goal of writing 50k in one month. Although I kept writing, I felt pretty certain that I would not be a NaNoWriMo winner in 2016.

And then, something happened.

My good friend, Jenny Hansen, suggested doing writing sprints together. The NaNoWriMo website provided an easy, effective tool for setting up a group sprint and then adding your word count total at the end of your time. We coordinated our schedules, set up group sprints, and let our fingers fly across our keyboards.

Even though we’re separated by 1500 miles and two time zones, we experienced that connection of both going for the same goal and supporting one another. Just knowing she was on the other end and expected me to get some words down motivated me to, well, get some words down. Her encouragement was awesome, but the accountability probably mattered more.

Because having someone cheering for you isn’t quite like having someone on the same team with you. It’s fabulous to hear, “You can do it!” “I’m pulling for you!” “You’ve got this!” And the support of other writers on Facebook and Twitter and face-to-face absolutely helped me adopt the right attitude.

But the accountability of a writing partner forced me to clear the time, open up my manuscript, and write words and pages and scenes.

I was 20,000 words behind. But Jenny and I both ended up having two 5,000+ word days. And on November 30, we crossed the finish line together. That’s right, I’m a NaNoWriMo winner after all!

I have a mostly completed manuscript, a NaNoWriMo winner T-shirt on its way, and some great takeaways. Including that I want to continue writing with others to increase my accountability and meet my goals.

In fact, the NaNoWriMo site still has its group sprint page available, which I highly recommend. Or you could meet in person with local writers. Or set a clock and tag someone on social media. Whatever works for you.

Congratulations to all the NaNoWriMo winners out there! And an especially big shout-out to Jenny Hansen for breaking the finish line ribbon with me.

Advertisements

NaNoWriMo: 4 Reasons You Should Keep Going, Even If You Won’t Win

keep-calm-and-write-50kNaNoWriMo is short for National Novel Writing Month, a challenge across the globe for people to write a novel in the month of November. To set a specific goal, the “novel in a month” is defined as 50,000 words.

I’ve participated once before, when I did not complete the goal but got a bunch of words. This year, I threw my hat in the ring again with hopes I’d make the 50,000-word mark.

But I’m currently 8,300 words behind where I should be. At the rate I’m going, I will reach 50k on December 17.

Realistically, I’m not going to win this thing. At the end of November, I won’t have a complete novel, I won’t get the NaNoWriMo Winner Badge, I won’t get bragging rights. Yet even though I’m usually a glass-half-full gal, when it comes to NaNoWriMo, I take a raise-your-glass-for-a-toast attitude.

Here are four reasons you should keep doing NaNoWriMo, even if you’re pretty darn sure it’s not going to happen after all:

  1. You’re consistently writing. Okay, maybe not every day, and maybe some days you’re happy to get 400 words. But I’m writing on my novel more often than I had been, and with greater consistency. Getting these words down has become a priority on my daily list. If NaNoWriMo helps you get back into the writing groove, it’s worth it whether you reach your 50k on time or not.
  2. You’re making progress. Saying I’m 8,300 words behind sounds bad, but saying I’ve written 18,300 words this month sounds much better. That’s 18,300 words I didn’t have when NaNoWriMo began. That kind of progress should be celebrated and continued. So what if I don’t make 50k, I will have a bunch of new words. And most of them are words I like. I bet you’ve got more words too.
  3. You’re building community. One of the perks of a group writing challenge is being able to share your experience with others. Once you tell people on Facebook or Twitter that you’re doing NaNoWriMo, you’ll find others doing it too. Then you can encourage, congratulate, and commiserate with your peers. Some will reach their goal, some will not, but we’re all in this together.
  4. You’re going to finish. The rules of NaNoWriMo are that you have until November 30, but no one’s standing there and stopping you from writing on December 1. So what if you don’t get the “win” and you finish the book a half-month or a month or even two months later — you still wrote a book! Once you get a bunch of words into a novel, hopefully you’re sucked into the story enough that you’re determined to finish that baby. I know I am. Maybe I won’t make it by the end of the month, but I’m willing to bet a bottle of wine that I finish by the end of the year.

There’s still a chance I could make my 50,000 words. I’m a competitive enough person that I’m motivated to try to make up that gap.

But even if I don’t, I’m personally calling this a win. NaNoWriMo has gotten me deeper into my novel, excited about my story, turning out words, and hanging out with other writers. So I’m not quitting.

Neither should you.

How I Ended Up in the YA Section of a Belize Library

Last month I attended a writers conference and retreat…on a cruise ship! Cruising Writers hosts fabulous Caribbean cruises that are a mixture of workshops, writing/editing time, travel, and fun with other authors.

The ports we visited were Roatan, Honduras; Belize City, Belize; and Cozumel, Mexico. I had shore excursions in Honduras and Mexico, but I left Belize open. Instead, my husband and I just walked around downtown Belize City, soaking in the sights, the culture, and the people.

After many blocks of our walking tour, we saw a shop selling Mayan chocolate. I definitely wanted to go in and buy something for myself and a friend. A few truffles later, we stepped back out onto the sidewalk, and my husband pointed two doors down. “Let’s go see the library.” Sure enough, the city’s library was on the same block, and we were eager to pop inside and see what treasures it held.

Now Belize is an English-speaking country, having been a British colony from 1862 to 1981. So the books they had on their shelves were, of course, in English. But the library was small, the fiction section requiring only a few bookcases. I was glad to see titles I recognized but saddened by how few books they shelved.

And then I found the YA section, which put a smile on my face:

ya-section-of-belize-library

Until I saw how little was in the YA section:

ya-bookcase-in-belize-library

My small town library has bazillion more YA books than this! One sweet girl who appeared to be about 12 years old strode in to say hello to the librarian, and as I looked at her, I thought, What happens when a bookish girl like her runs out of books to read?

I don’t know exactly what I want to do about this situation. I am looking into options for sending books to this struggling library (they had a whole empty bookcase they could fill with YA books).

But I thought it worth noting how spoiled I feel in the United States to have books so easily at my fingertips. And that’s clearly not the case around the world — even though we know how important reading is to success for an individual and a community.

As I got back onto the cruise ship (which had a pitifully small library too, but whatever — I was there for a week), I had this nagging feeling that authors and readers need to look for opportunities to share our love with those who don’t have easy access to books. I’m placing this goal on my 2017 resolution list.

How have you contributed to providing books for young readers and teens? What ideas do you have to help struggling libraries like the one in Belize City?

Fabulous First Lines

Fabulous First LinesThe other day, I was perusing my bookcase to decide which novel to read next. I have a stockpile from which to choose, but I was in an impatient, wow-me mood so I grabbed a few books off the shelf and simply read the first line. The first two were okay, but the third one grabbed my attention:

I cracked my first lock when I was three.

Immediately, I wanted to know who this teenager was that cracked locks so young and why that was important to her life story.

I got swept into this novel about a spy girl, ALSO KNOWN AS by Robin Benway. It was a great read, and that first line promised a story and tone that the author delivered on the page.

In celebration of other fabulous first lines, I wanted to share a few from books I’ve recently read. Congrats to these authors on penning a great hook for their readers.

I woke up to the smell of Lysol and the end of the world. — TORN, Erica O’Rourke

Where is this girl? Why is she smelling Lysol? And why is it the end of the world? Is that figurative or literal? Clearly, I wanted to read on. (Actually, I read on through all three books in the series, TORN, TANGLED, and BOUND.)

She’s so lovely, so fragile. Those haunted eyes. Those rosebud lips . . . they’ll scream so prettily. — POISON PRINCESS, Kresley Cole

Creep a reader out, will ya? That certainly set the tone for something sinister to come. This line appears in the prologue, and the first chapter is quite different. But it sets the mood properly to let the reader know that this book will delve into dark places.

Trevor Dunham talked quite a bit about his man part just before he drowned. — THE LIFEBOAT CLIQUE, Kathy Parks

A blurb on the front promises that this is a “savagely funny book,” and that first line cracked me up immediately. As I was picking up books at the Houston Teen Book Con, this first line sold me and I immediately decided to purchase. Sure enough, the book had a great balance of heartache and humor that this first line captured perfectly.

We found the monster on a rocky ledge high above the lake. — THIS DARK ENDEAVOR, Kenneth Oppel

What a perfect first line for the first book in the series The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein. Having read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, I wasn’t sure what to expect from a YA twist of the story, but I was eager to delve in when we started right away with “the monster.” (Who, by the way, is not Frankenstein. Dr. Frankenstein was the creator of the monster.)

All of these books turned out to be novels I would recommend.

What are some wonderful first lines from books you’ve recently read or picked up? Share your favorites!

Questions for YA Authors: From Teen Book Con

Authors entering
YA authors entering the packed auditorium at Teen Book Con 2016.

I had the joy of attending the 7th annual Teen Book Con at Alief Taylor High School in Houston, Texas on Saturday. There were 25 young adult authors in the line-up, with a fabulous keynote address from Ruta Sepetys, author of Salt to the Sea, and six topical panels.

For the most part, teens asked the questions for the author panels. I was so impressed with the quality of their queries that I jotted several down. And I thought I’d answer them myself — see how I’d do on an author panel.

What’s the worst piece of writing advice you’ve ever gotten?

Authors are often asked about the best writing advice they’ve received, so this question was a nice reversal. I’d say the worst advice is anytime someone says there’s a single process for writing a novel. Whether it be plot this way or you must never edit while writing the first draft or use this method and you’ll turn out bestsellers, it’s just wrong. Not wrong for everyone, but wrong for some. It’s silly to assume that the way one writer turns out a great novel is the same process another must use. That would be like saying, “There’s only one route to New York,” when one of you is coming from Pennsylvania and the other from Africa. We’re different people coming from different places, so find whatever route gets you to the destination of Great Novel.

How often does the ending of your book surprise you?

When I write mysteries, I’m definitely surprised. I’ve written two mystery manuscripts, and both times I didn’t know who the perpetrator was when I started. I wrote more than half of those books with three different possibilities in mind — which made it easier to provide “red herrings,” I guess — but as the books progressed, it became clear whodunnit.

If you could spend a day with one of your characters, who would it be and what would you do?

This is a hard question, because I’d like to hang out with several of my characters. However, I’m currently writing a novel, Daring Charlotte, about a teenage girl who adores musicals. As a musical fan myself, I’d love to spend a day with Charlotte just watching musicals in a marathon movie event. The trouble would be narrowing it down to which ones we’d want to fit into our 24 hours.

IMG_2703
Who I did spend the day with — my fabulous critique partner and brilliant YA author, Christina Delay.

What is your hidden talent?

I can touch my tongue to my nose. Actually, now that I say that, it doesn’t sound a talent — more like a weird trick.

What’s your favorite part of the book to write?

First chapters. I love that fresh moment of a story idea falling onto the page, when I’m excited to meet these characters and eager to find the hook that gets readers interested in knowing more. I’m sure I spend way more time on the first chapter of a book than any other, because I believe it’s that important. (And that fun.)

What’s a romance trope you hate?

Bad boys turned good, solely because of the love of a nice girl. Seriously, ladies, if he’s only changing because he thinks it will get you to go out with him or get you in bed, it ain’t gonna last. Love does not cure drug addiction, bad ethics, or prison-worthy behavior. And it doesn’t make a jerk into a prince. A guy can be flawed, but he’d better be a good soul before he has a shot at the worthwhile female characters in my books.

What is your advice for aspiring writers?

Be willing to write crap and be willing to edit it into something wonderful. You can get so wrapped up in writing perfection that first time that you don’t get words down on the page. Set yourself up for the reality that you will delete or change quite a bit of what you write, and that’s okay. Excellence demands perspiration, so just commit to writing and then be willing to rewrite to make it better and better and better. Until you realize that what you wrote overall is pretty darn good, and worth sharing with others.

If your main character was real, what would they be doing right now?

I immediately thought about my YA novel Sharing Hunter (out on submission) and those two main characters. Chloe is wearing a small bikini, breaking into the hot tub at a local hotel, and inviting her love interest (no spoilers) to join her in the foam already. Rachel is carefully sketching a portrait of her and her love interest (no spoilers) to give to him for their __-month anniversary.

How would you answer any of the questions above? Or what questions would you ask of your favorite authors? 

What’s a Writer’s Job Description?

Writer Job DescriptionI’ve always found it fascinating what people do for a living. There are so many jobs and tasks out there, you can hardly imagine all the possibilities. But I also find it fascinating how people describe their jobs. How do they perceive their own work?

There’s an oft-told parable about three stone masons, or bricklayers, working on the building of a great cathedral. A traveler arrived in town, toured the exterior, and witnessed the construction.

Seeing a stone mason, he stopped and asked, “What are you doing?” This first mason answered simply, “I’m laying bricks.”

Turning a corner, the traveler saw a second stone mason and asked the same question: “What are you doing?” This second mason answered, “I’m erecting a wall.”

Moving on, the traveler spotted a third stone mason and asked again, “What are you doing?” This time, the third mason straightened his spine, beamed with pride, and responded, “What am I doing, sir? I am building a cathedral.”

I suspect the third stone mason experienced far more job satisfaction. He believed himself to be contributing to something big, beautiful, and lasting.

When writers get asked about their job, the easiest answer is simply “I write books.” It’s straightforward, understandable, accurate. However, many writers see it more deeply. Ask them what they do for a living, and you might get answers like:

  • I make up lies for a living, and people love me for it.
  • I weave imaginary worlds and invite others to join me there.
  • I create fictional characters, then make readers care about what happens to them.
  • I use to stories to inspire people to believe in love, justice, and goodness.

When I’m asked what I do, I usually answer, “I write teen novels.” That’s the crux of it. But…I have a different version in my head. Because what I see myself as doing is more like building a cathedral — contributing to something bigger, more beautiful, and lasting.

I tell stories that encourage teens to recognize they’re stronger than they think they are, that humor can get you through a lot in life, and that doing the right thing — however difficult — is the best thing for your heart and for your soul. I write books, but I hope they mean something to my readers.

Even if it’s just a fun story that gives them an escape for a weekend, that’s a goal worth pursuing as well. I think very highly of those authors who have brought me genuine smiles and made me laugh.

I hope teens also view what they do in life now, and in the future, as big, beautiful, and lasting. Because I know it truly can be. But a lot depends on your perspective.

How do you define what you do? Are you laying bricks or building a cathedral? What does that look like for you?

Sharing Hunter Has a Book Trailer!

Sharing Hunter is my young adult contemporary novel which finaled in the RWA­® Golden Heart® competition. It will be out on submission to publishing houses soon, but even before its release…I have a book trailer. Which is awesome!

The owner of BookVidz, Kim Handysides, approached me about making a trailer. She’d read some of the novel and thought it was a good match for her company. I was absolutely thrilled with this idea! Bookvidz took my premise and presented it so well in a professionally packaged video. So of course, I want to share it here:

Isn’t that cool?!

If you’re an author looking for a quality video company, I highly recommend BookVidz. Check out their services and more videos at Bookvidz.com and be sure to like their Facebook page.

The Golden Heart Speech I Wrote, But Didn’t Give

The RWA Awards Ceremony Program
The RWA Awards Ceremony Program

When you’re nominated for an RWA Golden Heart award, they tell you to write a speech. Even if you have absolutely no belief that you could possibly win, they repeat the need to have coherent words on a page to read just in case your name is called and you have to make your way to stage and say something into the waiting microphone.

Last Saturday night, when 2000+ writers and their guests convened for the annual RWA RITA and Golden Heart Awards Ceremony, the name announced for the Golden Heart, Young Adult category was Stephanie Winkelhake, a four-time finalist. My other fellow finalists — T.L. Summer, Diana Munoz-Stewart, and Mary Sullivan — and I applauded her well-deserved win. And I look forward to seeing all of our books on shelves in the coming years (so watch for them!).

But I still have this speech I wrote, and it seems a shame to waste it. So here goes nothing:

Who would you thank in a speech for an award you received? Have you ever delivered a victory circle speech?

Authors Are Fangirls Too!

This past weekend, I attended the RT (Romantic Times) Booklovers Convention in Dallas, Texas, where hundreds of authors, publishing industry professionals, and readers converged. It was a hodge-podge of writer workshops, industry panels, reader events, and entertaining socials.

I could report a lot of takeaways from my experience, but what hit me most was that authors are fangirls too! What do I mean?

No matter who I was with, whether a writer still seeking a contract or a multipublished bestseller, we all had someone who made our hearts flutter or our knees shake in their presence. It was that oh my gosh, did you see who’s here?! shriek. There were quite a few big name authors like Kathy Reichs, Charlaine Harris, Kiera Cass, Francine Rivers, Eloisa James, and more.

But we also had those niche authors we’d followed and read with delight. When we’d savored their books, we never imagined we’d meet them, much less chat or get an autograph or, as one multipubbed author mentioned, sit on a panel with them.

And I don’t think this ever goes away. Even if by marvelous fortune, I became a well-known, bestselling author, I am fairly certain I’d keel right over if Judy Blume or J.K. Rowling walked into the room. Be still my bookish heart!

What’s especially lovely is meeting someone whose books you adore, and finding out the author is authentic and delightful in person. For instance, I met Stephanie Perkins, author of Anna and the French KissLola and the Boy Next Door, and Isla and the Happily Ever After, and we had a great little conversation. (I feel even better now about recommending her novel to so many teens!)

Stephanie Perkins and Me
Stephanie Perkins and Julie Glover

I’m eager to return to RT Booklovers Convention again, not only to meet authors I love, but the readers we writers love too!

What author would you love to meet? Who have you met already?

What It Takes to Write a (Good) Book

When you tell someone you’re writing a book, the next question is often some variation of “So when is it coming out?”

We writers sometimes get in our cozy little circles and laugh hysterically at how quickly many people think you can go from first draft to on the bookstore shelves. But really, how does one know these things? I sure didn’t when I got started. I had no idea what it takes to write a book–much less a good book.

And that’s probably a good thing. Because it’s a bit like parenting. How many would have really embarked on such a chaotic disruption to our lives if we’d known all there was to know about having children beforehand? But once you jump in, you pull up your sleeves, get dirty (all the up to your elbows), and discover both the tough challenges and the genuine joy of the process.

And now that I just put the final polish on a novel I started three years — yes, three years — ago, I thought I’d break down a bit of what it really takes to write a (good) book.

Write Something1. Commit to writing it. There are a lot of people walking around saying, “I have a great idea for a book” or “Someday I’m going to write a book.” All well and good, but if there’s one constant across genres and approaches, it’s that writers write.

For years, I wanted to write fiction. But I didn’t. It wasn’t until I committed to writing an hour a day, five days a week, that I began to experience the reality that I actually could draft a novel and saw the story unfolding before me. Some writers plunge into writing full-time and others have little time to devote at first, but regardless you have to commit through action to writing one word after another on a page.

2. Learn about the craft. Yes, yes, you took high school and even college English — and you were good at it. Or you crafted beautiful stories in a journal hidden under your mattress. Maybe you posted fan-fiction on a website and shared stories with friends. That is the spark that ignites your desire. But sparks aren’t fires. If you want to write a good book, you’d better fan those flames. That means figuring out what you’re doing and how to do it well. I recall my realization that, while I’d read a lot and knew I could write, I didn’t know enough yet to write a great book and needed to learn a lot more.

I understand writing is not rocket science or brain surgery, but it does require skill. And the best writers have very well-developed skills. They get those skills through reading, but also by learning about the craft of writing through classes, books, conferences, articles, conversations with fellow writers, workshops, mentors, beta readers, critique partners, writing organizations, etc.

3. Finish the book. For as many finished books as there are in the world, I’m convinced there are at least triple that number in unfinished manuscripts. Now undoubtedly, some of our stories should remain untended, buried, locked away perhaps. But if you want to write a good book, you have to actually write a whole book. Ten beautiful chapters that leave off in the middle do not constitute success.

Finished first drafts matter a lot, because while the book still isn’t complete, you’ve made a huge step toward the endgame. The most important step, some might contend. When I finished that first manuscript, I wanted to climb my roof and shout “The End!” to the universe. Because yeah, it’s a huge deal to write an entire book, beginning to end, first page to last, prologue to denouement. So however you can motivate yourself, keep plugging through and finish the dang book.

4. Edit, edit, edit — and edit some more. See, this is where it all goes haywire in our heads. Sure, some authors have only three drafts, two drafts, or even publish their first draft. But for the rest of us non-superheroes, there will be a lot of editing. This is even more true for novices.

Those early on in this journey should expect to write and rewrite and revise and polish the manuscript several times over. If you’re in the middle of this journey, you’re probably still churning out more drafts than you wish you could. Little by little, we do hone our process, and the number of drafts needed to reach our best decreases. But the amount of editing great authors do is still likely more than the average reader realizes. Even if they don’t do that much editing before turning in a manuscript, the publishing house editor or hired editor (for indies) will request changes.

5. Get content editing, line edits, and proofreading. Speaking of which, when the author’s finished with the book, it’s time for some kind of editing — by someone else. This can be content or developmental editing, line or copy editing, or proofreading. And these suggested changes can come from paid professionals or from beta readers and critique partners.

When writing the story, you’re wading through the thick forest of your plot, characters, and prose. Of course you know the saying: “I can’t see the forest for the trees.” Yep, after a while, you know your story so well — even things the characters think and feel that you never actually put on the page — that you can’t see it in the same way a potential reader would. So you must get other eyeballs to review your work and see if it makes sense — plot-wise, character-wise, grammar-wise, etc. If you want that great book, you simply cannot skip this crucial step.

6. Begin the long path to publication. Here’s where the road diverges for traditional and self-published authors, but it’s still a long road. Traditional authors must query or submit their manuscripts, wait for revision requests, communicate with editors and cover art departments, and do some other things I don’t yet know about because I haven’t done it. But I do know that it’s not atypical for a year or more to pass from manuscript submission to book release.

Self-published authors make their own deadlines and release dates, but they have to create or (better yet, in my opinion) hire out the cover art and format the book. If they want their book sold in several places (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBooks, etc.), they have to format to each accordingly. As you might expect, this takes time. Some people are quicker than others, but more often, it can be months from manuscript completion to release date.

So this is why my book will not be available on bookshelves next week. I’d like my novel to be out there as soon as possible, but since I want to give readers the best story experience I can, I’m willing to take my time.

What do you believe it takes to write a good book? What part of the process has surprised you?