Tuesday, November 3, 2015

It's Time to Write!

It's November and that means that NaNoWriMo is here again! Have you signed up? Or do you hate it? There are so many differing opinions when it comes to writing until your fingers bleed on the keyboard each day!

Personally, I love NaNoWriMo. It gets the story I've been thinking about for months out of my brain and onto the page. I love the community and the pep talks from amazing authors. Don't get me wrong, November is an insanely busy month for me, but I manage to write that first, horrible draft every time.

This year, the amazing Kristina Van Hoose has posted a fabulous gathering of all the information you'd ever need to prepare for NaNoWriMo, or really any writing endeavor. Check it out here.

And in case you need more tips and tricks to pour over, here are a few things I do to survive NaNoWriMo:

I'm a minimalist when it comes to plotting and planning. I like to have a solid beginning, flexible middle, and possible end. As long as I have a general idea of what's going to happen, I let my characters do whatever they want. It is NaNoWriMo after all.

Once my very changeable plot is in place, I plan day to day. At the end of the day when I've written all the words my brain can stand to write, I write a little more. By adding a quick sentence or two, I plot the next day's writing. It might just be a scene or an entire chapter. As long as I have an idea of what I'm supposed to write, the writing usually gets done without major pauses or head smacking desk incidents. ;)

I also plan when I'm going to write each day. I steal time anywhere I can! If I'm waiting in the kid's pick-up line at school, I write a paragraph or two. If I have a break during lunch, I write a page or two. Most of my writing happens in the evening after the kids go to bed.

I like to prepare my family for NaNoWriMo too. I usually begin the conversation before Halloween just so everyone knows mommy will be checking out after bed time. Getting family and friends on board with my writing schedule is important! And I get to give them updates on my word count so they can cheer me on!

So if you haven't joined the madness, come on! Get that novel done! Even if you don't hit the 50K mark, you'll still have more words than 0 at the end of November!

Have a great tip? Please share! We love hearing from you!

Monday, September 21, 2015


In case you’re wondering, no, I haven’t completely lost it.  To me, Fall always feels like the writer’s new year. 

Picture it: you’re sitting at your computer or laptop, all snuggled up in your comfy sweater and  nestled into your favorite writing spot. A crisp breeze floats in through your window, carrying the scent of cut grass and turning leaves. You sip hot coffee or tea from your very best mug and begin outlining your shiny new NaNo project – Ahhhhhhh! It’s heaven, yes?

There is just something about this time of year that gets me in the right frame of mind for writing, whether it’s tackling that old story that just wouldn’t come together last Spring, or that sparkly new idea that’s been stalking my thoughts all Summer. Perhaps I’m romanticizing it, but how can *ALL THE IDEAS* not happen when you’re sitting on the porch in the perfectly cool air, notebook and pen in hand, scribbling out notes and drinking a decadent glass of merlot or shiraz? Just thinking about it makes my fingers itch to clack, clack, clack on the keyboard! 

I’ll be back at a project that I’m in love with but needed some time away from in order to put things into better perspective. And I don’t know if it’s the new season or not, but I’m uber excited to dive back into it.

So happy writer’s new year, everyone. May the words flow, may your characters come to life, and may your plotting be full of awesome. Huzzah!

Monday, September 7, 2015

Writer's Block

Writer's Block - the condition of not being able to think of what to write or how to proceed with writing.
I recently experienced the worst case of writer's block I've had since I became serious about writing. Sure, I've had moments when I've been too busy to put down new words--kids' events, family vacations, work commitments... But this was different. I literally sat in front of my pc screen for hours, my mind complete mush. So I reached out to some of the most talented authors I know--my amazing friends and CP's. This is some of what they suggested.

Tori Kelly: Reading helps me every time. I always get inspired by seeing others who do it so well.  Also, I never write scenes. This is a trick Brian Farrey Latz shared at a SCBWI conference. Free yourself to write a scene that will never go into the book. Mostly writer's  block is about being too much of a perfectionist.

Elle E. Ire told me that when she experiences the dreaded block, she watches a show that inspires her, reads a book in its entirety, and / or forces herself to write a crappy scene just to get through it. She might also jump ahead and write a later scene she really wants to write to get going again and then go back and connect the dots. Or she'll just let herself take a break from writing. Unless she has a deadline, she gives herself permission to do that once in awhile.

Vivi Barnes: When writer's block strikes, I have a glass of wine and watch mindless episodes of the Bachelor. Wish I was joking, but... In my opinion, having writer's block isn't about having nothing to write about; it means that something isn't working. Literally--a block. Look at what's stopping you and see if anything can be adjusted. Cut a chapter out, go a different direction with a plot line, head off the beaten path a bit and see if it makes a difference. If all else fails, there's always the rest of the wine bottle and episodes of Bachelor in Paradise! 

Rina Heisel recommends taking a walk alone, reading in a similar genre (and think to yourself as you read through it--how would you do it), or binge watching an awesome TV show. Also, she says you must allow yourself to partake in these activities GUILT FREE reminding that it's really an investment in your process.

Diane Bohannan: I force myself to sit alone with the computer. We stare at each other for a long time. Then I type whatever comes to mind. It isn't always a story or a blog, sometimes it's just thoughts. Let the thoughts move in whatever direction they want to go. Write anything and don't judge yourself on what comes out. The first stuff might not be wonderful, but it'll uncork your brain.

There are tons of fantastic blogs online with great tips.  Peggy J Sheridan directed me to this awesome article author Dorian Cirrone wrote on kicking writer's block. Here's another great post by author Nathan Bransford explaining why he doesn't believe writer's block actually exists.

So, if you've been experiencing the inability to write, I hope some of these suggestions and articles help you. I'm very happy to report that I'm finally writing again and am almost done with my WIP. I'm so happy that I'm a part of a such an amazing writing community. The authors I've met online, my own amazing writing groups: the OWLS and the Revision Warriors, and the SCBWI organization are always available to provide guidance.

Monday, August 24, 2015

The Query

For all of us writers, I feel for you. Writing a query is crazy hard. You've spent forever writing your 300 page novel and now it's time to sum it up and make your characters sparkle in 250-300 words.

Last month I attended the super fantastic DFW Writers Conference and had the opportunity to learn from some agents and editors exactly what they are looking for in a query!

YAY! And let me say, they all wanted different things. So. There's that. Do your research! :) Most only accept email queries, so keep that in mind.

It's time to roll up your shelves, pour a cup of coffee or glass of wine and get to it. You might have to write several queries slanted to the agents and editors of your choice.

Top tips:

1. Most of the agents said they read queries after work. Some said right before they shut their eyes! Your words must grab them! Keep them awake!
     *Make it interesting. 
     *Be precise and keep it short.

2. Give your title, word count, and genre up front. (These agents wanted this information first. Some may want it at the end. It's a gamble!)

Dear Mr. Bob Jenkins,

I'm querying you because of your interest in contemporary romance. My NA romance novel, SAVING WAVES is complete at 73,000 words.

3. NO cliches! NO questions!
     *Don't ask if your character can survive the hellish plot you've planned for them. 
     *Don't open with a boy meets a girl and they fall in love.
     *DO show why your characters are unique.
     *DO share why your story is distinctive.

4. Share the story. Sounds crazy, but the agents said sometimes they read a query and have no idea what the book is about!
     *Start with setting. In one or two words. 
     *Introduce the main character.
     *Give inciting incident. 

Sara desperately needs a peaceful vacation after a turbulent college freshman year. She goes to her aunt's beach house in California determined to find solace on the waves, and connect with her dead mother's favorite sport. On her first day out, she slams into Ryan, breaking his board.

     *Move onto stakes.
     *Share motivations. 

Back on the beach, Sara apologizes for ruining Ryan's board, but he's furious. He rips her a new one in front of all surfers. Now there's no way anyone will want to teach her to surf, dashing all her hopes of finding tranquility on the waves and closure with her mother's passing.

     *How will the character try to get what she wants?

Sara is determined. She returns to the beach the next day, and surprisingly, Ryan says hello. He agrees to work with her, if she'll buy him a new board. Sara takes her chances and gets a job at the surf shop where Ryan works. As the two connect over cash registers and waves, they open up about their troubles and find that their feelings for one another are as steamy as the noontime sun on the beach. 

5. End with a short bio. Add anything pertinent to your novel.
     *Your education.
     *Work history.
     *Publishing credits such as short stories, articles, or books.
     *Memberships to writing organizations.
     *A fun detail about you that relates to the agent or editor you're querying.

SAVING WAVES is a standalone novel. I'm a member of RWA and own the online dating company, Surf's Up. Several of my articles on dating and surfing have been published in Oceanside Times. 

Thank you for your time and consideration,

Sara Surfer

(Total word count = 240)

6. Format it like a business letter! And remember to reread, double-check it, test email it to yourself, etc. 

I also read a ton of back cover copy and book blurbs on Goodreads and Amazon. Nathan Bransford has awesome query tips. Check out his mad lib query and explore his site. Query Shark recently posted an amazing query workshop. It's a MUST READ! Go read it now!

And breathe. Don't sweat it. I just sent out a batch of queries and later found an error in one. Agents are people. They understand. Just do the BEST you can!

If all else fails you, get some random strangers or the baristas at Starbucks to read it and see if they can figure out what your book is about. :) Or ask your CPs and writing buddies. 

We love to hear from you! What query tips do you have? Share the love! 

Monday, August 10, 2015

World Building(Blocks)

Into the Realm of World Building!

The biggest payoff of comprehensive world building? The more you KNOW your world, the easier it will be to weave setting and voice into your text without the dreaded info-dump.

There! My number one take-away. :) Read on if you want to know more about the world building techniques that got me going.
This level of world building is new to me. My last fantasy took place solely in the woods. As a geeky kid who spent a lot of time in the woods looking under rocks, catching toads and such, that world came pretty easy-peasy. But with this WIP, I've got castles, taverns, stables, and a plethora of other places where I *wish* I spent more time. I started this story with a cast of characters and a basic plot, but when I tried drafting a chapter outline-- I couldn’t.  I didn’t know the world I was dropping them into. To complete an outline, I realized I needed more detail in four areas; what became my very basic world-building blocks: geography, history, technology/magic/paranormal, and culture. 

4 STEPPING-OFF points that got me started: 



This is was the first area that tripped up my outlining. I have two feuding parties. Were they a day’s-ride away from each other, or a week-at-sea away from each other? I needed a map. I tried drawing a map.  I learned this is not my forte.  Luckily, sites like Wikipedia really helped with this one. It turns our very own planet has plenty of inspirational islands, continents and borders- both geographical and political. The accompanying articles on Wikipedia also provide lots of ideas for goods, trades routes, locations for cities, etc.  

Whether you’re on a space station, pirate ship, horse carriage or land speeder, it helps to know where you are, where you’re going, and what could stop you.  


As previously stated, this WIP has two feuding parties, so history is a big one for me. Knowing the background and points-of-view of both parties is important for authentic voice and story continuity. 

There are likely very unique circumstances that led all our protagonists to where they are in life. Generally speaking:
WHY is their world the way it is? WHO is in power? WHO wants to be in power?

I drafted a timeline for my world, it’s very over-arching and dates back about 300 years, because that’s when my inciting incident (aka feud-fuel) occurred. I also needed to chart out the political/social hierarchy of the two groups.  Nothing is concrete, of course. Much of this “structure” could change by chapter three. :)

Technology, Magic, and the Paranormal

As Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Paranormal/Horror writers, we dabble in the fantastical because it’s FUN. Mermaids, psychic aliens, cursed relics—these things are imagination candy. That said, there should be boundaries, right? It’s no fun if a protagonist can cast a spell to save the adventure party whenever needed. Magic should probably come at a cost.  Same with technology. Most readers like a nugget of reality to draw on. In Jurassic Park, Michael Crichton gave us dino DNA encased in amber. In Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card allotted for the passage of time on Earth while Ender traveled through space. In The Monstrumologist series, Rick Yancey creates a frightening balance between myth and science. 
"The Monstrumologist" by Rick Yancey (2009) Simon & Schuster. 

Will the gods play a role in your world?  Aliens? Bacteria? If so, become an expert. It’s about consistency in your writing, which leads to the reader buying in. The more familiar you are with these elements, the easier it will be to drop details into your story without the dreaded info dump.  


This is where you can fill a notebook with cool and unique nuggets that make this world your own. Think slang, clothing, food, art, music, social structure, values, customs, religion. My experience was that bits of culture presented themselves to me while I hammered out the above three areas, but once I had a better grasp on those elements the ideas for culture really started coming. 

But maybe for you, the cultural mores of an imagined society are enough to build your world around. What works for you? Is there a book you think epitomizes excellent world creation? Share with us below! 

Monday, July 20, 2015

Conference Ready!

image by Sebastiaan tur Burg via Flickr

This week I'm attending a wonderful conference in my area. It's the DFW Writers Conference hosted by the DFW Writers Workshop. They're a wonderful organization and have helped many writers hone their craft.

I like to do a couple of things when preparing for a conference. Here's some quick and easy things to keep the anxiety low.

1. Realize all the people attending are human beings.

That might be difficult for some people. I understand. But once you mentally realize this, speaking to strangers becomes easy. They too make mistakes and have bad hair days. No one is perfect! Embrace that!

2. Prepare pitches!

I like to have several pitch options. By creating a one sentence, one paragraph, and two paragraph pitch, you have lots to chose from! Use the one sentence pitch for mingling with other writers, agents, and editors. If they seem interested in your idea, go with the one or two paragraph pitch!

Nathan Bransford has great advice about writing these pitches on his blog.

3. Have some business cards with your information.

Cards are an easy way to share your personal information with others. An email address and blog or website are all that's necessary. Most attendants won't call you or send you anything in the mail. Be aware that you probably don't need a thousand of business cards. Twenty or so should be fine. If you run out, don't panic! People have cell phones. They can take your info, or you can write down theirs. Plus, you don't want to pass them out to everyone. Trust me, you don't want to be that weird, crazy person everyone talks about afterward. :)

4. Remember to have fun!

Yes! It is possible! You can have fun at a conference, even if you're an introvert, which most writers are! You're not alone! Other introverts are just as scared as you. Smile. Be polite. It'll be great!

5. Research the agents, editors, presenters or keynote speakers, and authors! *winks at Rina*

You'll want to know who to pitch! And it doesn't hurt to know about their latest project, random fetish, love (or hatred) of coffee, or favorite color. You might find something you have in common (other than your love of books) that'll make a great conversation starter. If there are multiple classes, a little research on the presenter will help you decide which workshop to take.

6. Don't badger agents and editors.

Be yourself. People will like you! You don't have to pitch every agent and editor you see. Ask them about their airplane ride, the weather, or their favorite book. Put them at ease. It might lead to something great. It might just be an enjoyable chat. Don't panic! You can always query them later.

7. Take notes.

You're there to learn. Pay attention! Be a student for the weekend and absorb wisdom from the awesome authors, agents, and editors that are there for you. If you listen, you might get published!

That's about it, folks. If you have any other great tips, I'd love to hear about them!

Monday, June 15, 2015

For the Love of Writing

It's summer and things can get crazy! Here are some quick tips to get you in your writing zone even if it's just for 10 minutes.

1. Get to a place where you can write. Hide in a closet or go to your room. If you must, hide in your car. Lock the door.
2. Write for a minute or two about anything. Exercise those brain muscles to get in the zone.
4. If you hit a wall... Go to places you've never gone to before. Explore the limits of your imagination.
5. Break some writing rules. We all know them. Do something new and unexpected!
6. The writing is gonna be a little weird. That's okay! You're writing!
7. If you don't have any ideas, try fan fiction. Hey... 50 Shades of Gray...
8. Stay in your place for the time you've allotted. Ten minutes can fly by! Keep your butt there.
9. If you stayed and wrote, then CELEBRATE!

If you can steal ten minutes several times a day, and if you make it a plan, you might have a shiny first draft done by the end of summer!

We can do this!

How about you? Do you have any secrets to stay on track with writing during the busy months of summer? Let us know! We love hearing from you!

Monday, May 11, 2015

Capturing Your Character's Voice

Have you received feedback from your critique partners that says something like:

Love the story, but I'm just not connecting with you main character.


The plot is great, but the voice isn't coming through.


Exciting chapter! But... The character seemed a little flat.

If you have, then a unique voice in your manuscript might be missing!

What should you do?!?

Rewrite the entire novel?
Rewrite all the dialogue?
Rewrite the chapter?

Take a deep breath. And before you hit the delete button, try one of these.

1. After the deep breath, go here. Dig deep and discover your main character. If you have multiple POV characters, you'll need to do this for all of them. Then take another deep breath, drink some coffee (or favorite beverage of choice) and get to work giving your character a voice of their own!

2. If above doesn't help, try a character interview. Here's one. Or make up your own. What do you want to know about your character that your character isn't telling you? Take a couple of days, week, a month to sift through the possibilities. After all, you're the creator!

3. Chat with a trusted critique partner or writing mentor. Have them give your WIP a look-see. Ask for advice. 

4. Call your mom. She'll tell you you're awesome. 

5. Try, try, try again until you get right. You're the best judge of your work. If you're not satisfied, give it another go! Don't give up!

We love to hear from you! What do you do to deepen character development? Do you have a favorite character chart? Has your WIP voice fallen flat?

Monday, May 4, 2015

Words, Glorious Words

There are bunches of reasons why I decided to start writing, but I today I’m going to stick with just one: WORDS. I love ‘em. 

When I hear something funny, a beautiful description, or a phrase that skillfully encapsulates a feeling, I’m smitten by both the content and by the arrangement of words themselves.

There’s so many ways to say a thing! When you’re trying to perfectly capture a specific sight, sound, or emotion, the vast options of words, and the millions of ways you can arrange them, can be exciting. It can also be a bit paralyzing at times, though.

It’s like dumping out all the pieces of a hundred different puzzles onto a table, and then trying to fit together a single matching row.

When I’m stuck and can’t for the life of me land on the right word, one of the first things I do is look over my words list. Yup, that’s right. I collect words. J  The words come from all over—people speaking IRL, T.V. shows, books—and the words I keep can stand alone or be an entire sentence. 

Of course, I don’t use other people’s constructions in my work, but sometimes I need inspiration that only a fantastic sentence can provide.

I keep a list on my phone that’s simply titled Word List. (Super Original, I know.) Here’s a few things I’ve put aside for future consideration:



A devil’s expression

Trying out the shape of his mouth on my lips

The list goes on and on, and my friends have grown used to me saying “Ooh, that was good. It’s definitely going on the list."

So tell me, do you have any word fetishes, like maybe you sleep with a thesaurus under your pillow? Or…um, something. ;D  

Sunday, April 26, 2015

When One Change Makes All the Difference

Well, hi there! It’s been a while since I’ve posted, but I come bearing something preeeeetty awesome.

It's a real, live book! And I wrote it!

I really, really love this book. A lot. Like, a lot, a lot. You know how writers often refer to stories as “books of their heart”? That’s what PLAY ON is for me. But a lot of work has gone into this little book over the past two years, from its original draft to the final product. And that's what we're going to talk about today.

Take a look at this picture:

Never mind the Lego photobombs. Those Post-It tabs? After a year's worth of editing, those are the only scenes left over from the original draft. In case you can't tell, that's 13 scenes. Out of, um, a lot.

I’ve written before about whether we want our stories to be good enough, or great, and this is kind of a continuation of that post. I’d say that most of the time, our first drafts are anything but great. There are some people who write AMAZING first drafts (and those people clearly have the favor of the writing gods), but for the most part, our work can be improved.

While I was waiting for my first edit letter after selling PLAY ON, my editor called me and asked, “How do you feel about cutting (insert major character here)?” My initial reaction, to be quite honest:

She explained her reasoning (which made complete and total sense), and after sleeping on it, I agreed, even though it meant essentially rewriting the story. Because, as I quickly learned, sometimes we have to part with beloved characters/scenes/subplots to really bring out the heart of a story.

She saw PLAY ON not for what it already was, but for what it could be. And that’s why having outside eyes on our work is SO important. We become so close to our stories that we often can’t see something that may be keeping it from reaching its full potential.

So. Let’s say that someone—a CP, a beta reader, or even you—suggests that a major change needs to happen to make your story better. Maybe a character needs to go. Maybe it’s a chapter. Maybe you need to open a blank doc and get to re-writing (points to above picture). Here are a few things to keep in mind:

- Be open to change.

- Think about what really matters in your story.

-  Decide where you want your characters to go, and how you want them to get there.

- Don’t be afraid of the delete button. (And if you are afraid, create a separate doc to place all your scraps in.)

I know how difficult it is to even consider a change that may mean more work, but when you end up with a story that you're so incredibly proud of? It's worth it.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Author Interview: Michelle Smith

Visit author Michelle Smith's website.

We are so thrilled and honored to feature writer, critique group member, mental health advocate, and all-around awesome human,  Michelle Smith.  

Michelle’s debut novel YA novel, PLAY ON, is now available as an e-book and will be out in print on April 21st. 

First, an intro to PLAY ON

In the small town of Lewis Creek, baseball is everything. Especially for all-star pitcher Austin Braxton, who has a one-way ticket out of town with his scholarship to a top university. All that stands between him and a new start is one final season. But when Austin starts flunking Chemistry, his picture-perfect future is in jeopardy. A failing grade means zero playing time, and zero playing time means no scholarship.

Enter Marisa Marlowe, the new girl in town who gets a job at his momma’s flower shop. Not only is Marisa some home-schooled super-genius, she’s also a baseball fanatic and more than willing to help Austin study. As the two grow closer, there’s something about Marisa that makes Austin want more than just baseball and out of Lewis Creek–he wants a future with her. But Marisa has a past that still haunts her, one that she ran all the way to South Carolina to escape.

As Austin starts to peel back the layers of Marisa s pain, it forces him to look beyond the facade of himself and everyone he thought he knew in his town. What he sees instead is that in a small town like Lewis Creek, maybe baseball isn’t everything–maybe it is just the thing that ties them all together.

RW: We have so many questions for you! But, we also know you are crazy busy with your release day (!!!) so we’ll try to keep it together. Let’s talk about your debut! You’ve mentioned PLAY ON is the book of your heart. Could you share what makes this story so dear to you?

MS: I think because it comes from such a personal place. It probably sounds cheesy, but so much of my heart and soul went into those pages. There are thoughts that I never thought I should share—thoughts that I didn’t know I could share. The idea for this book was in the works for a long time, until I finally worked up the nerve to start writing it. And I’m really glad I did! 

RW: I think many writers feel a sense of vulnerability putting their words out into the world. Not only have you jumped that hurdle, you’ve gone a leap further and opened up about yourself, authoring posts for outstanding sites like To Write Love on Her Arms and, don’t bleed. breathe. Can you tell us about the decision to share your personal experiences? 

MS: The primary reason is so others will realize that they’re not alone. 

When I was going through the thick of depression, I was convinced that no one could possibly understand what my head was doing. That I was broken, that I was scarred, that I was beyond reaching. That there was no possibility for this to go anywhere but down. Depression is a very convincing liar, and it’s easy to believe those lies. So I want others to know that, while depression is so very dark and painful, there is hope, and the darkness doesn’t last forever. 

RW: As critique partner, we’re all constantly amazed by your voice.  Your characters always ring true, so vivid and memorable. Can you share a little about your character development process? Character sketches? Channeling spirits? How do you do it?! 

MS: Good gracious, I adore you guys.

I just…write people? Haha! My stories are always characters first, and I love to dive into their heads, to feel what they’re feeling, to say what they’re thinking. I will say that some characters are a little more difficult to connect with at first. In my most recent WIP, I was called out for boxing myself and my characters in, which was completely justified (I kind of realized I was doing it while writing). So my editor sent me a character development worksheet that was 8 pages long (I am not even kidding), and I just went to work. I was able to dig into them a little deeper, and it helped immensely. 

RW: We’ve got a great thing going here at RW: a blogging platform with a built-in critique group (often times support group!). But joining a critique group can be a daunting endeavor. Can you share what made you decide to reach out to the writing community?

MS: My first experience ever working with a beta reader was back in my fan fiction days. She nitpicked my grammar, let me know when my characters were being waaaaay too unrealistic, and told me when I could do so much more with a story when I tried to play it safe.

I loved her for it. And five years later, she’s still one of my closest friends. She’s also the one who talked me into writing my first book.

Critique makes you a better writer—it’s really that simple. Yes, critique can be difficult to handle in the beginning, especially if you have paper-thin skin, but it’s a necessity. Sometimes we nail a scene. Sometimes our chapters need work. And sometimes our entire book need a re-write. As writers, we often get too close to a story, and we’re unable to see the things that just aren’t working. Outside eyes help. 

All that said, it is important to find a critique group that matches your style—some readers are brutally honest, and some are more gentle guiders. The one necessity is that you find a group that’s honest. We absolutely need cheerleaders; we also need people who’ll give it to us straight, and won’t let us get away with anything less than our best.

Needless to say, I’m so happy I found you guys. 

RW: Can you share any deets about upcoming projects?

MS: Very, very little deets at this time. But I will say that we haven’t seen the last of Lewis Creek and its baseball boys. ;)

RW: More from Lewis Creek? YES! Okay, final question—and this is incredibly important—what is it that makes Dean Winchester so damn compelling?  *pause for moment of reflective sighing*

MS: *cracks knuckles* Now you’re speaking my language.

We have pie.

We have the Impala.

We have his love for Sam…

And Castiel.

We have the heartbreaking moments.

And we have general badassery. 

All that to say:

RW: You’re the best Michelle!!! 

MS: YOU are. 

About Michelle:

Michelle Smith was born and raised in North Carolina, where she developed a healthy appreciation for college football, sweet tea, front porches, and a well-placed “y’all.” She’s a lover of all things happy, laughs way too much, and fully believes that a little bit of kindness goes a long way.
Michelle lives near the Carolina coast with her family.

Connect with Michelle:   Website | Twitter | Facebook | Tumblr

Sunday, April 12, 2015

The Impact of a Mentor

In the Creative Arts, having an amazing mentor can make all the difference in the world. Whether it be writing, dance, graphic design, film production, or music. The greatest mentors are on call twenty-four seven. They return text messages in the middle of the night, provide a guiding hand over the years to help us make the wisest decisions, and have a passion for their art that touches us in such a way, that we can only hope to one day pass that same gift onto someone else.

In my first official year of full-time writing, I was lucky to have my work critiqued by an amazing author who recognized something special in my words. She gave me the confidence to follow my heart and share my stories with others.  I can only dream where I might be today if my path had crossed with hers or another who took an interest in my words when I was younger. So you can image how thrilled I was when my eldest son, Zakaria, met his mentor early in life.

I am fortunate to have the Osceola County School of the Arts  in my county and was ecstatic when Zakaria got accepted into their program. It's renowned for its excellence in academics and for nourishing the creative arts. The only worry I had is that my then sixth grader would be attending the same school as juniors and seniors. I quickly found out how foolish I was for being concerned. Anytime I was at the school, these students were by far the nicest group of kids I'd run into. So when Zakaria asked to take guitar lessons from an older student, I agreed. But never did I foresee the transformation that was to follow. 

Over the next few months, my son went from listening to Top 40 Pop to American Jazz Greats like Charlie Parker, Wynton Marsalis, Charlie Christian, and Louis Armstrong. He'd shed morning, noon, and night. You see he'd met his mentor, James Zito, and a new life path--one that without James he probably would never have taken--was formed. 

Zakaria and James playing downtown

When I first watched James play, I immediately understood why my son fell in love with jazz. His mentor didn't just play the guitar, he became an extension of it. Think spontaneous conviction spurred by passion, channeled through self-expression and then translated into music. Yep, that about describes James' playing. My son was very lucky to find such a talented teacher, but was blessed when that teacher became his mentor.

James' talent has not went unrecognized. Recently, he was accepted into the Manhattan School of Music. A premier international conservatory, this college is only for the highly talented. Check out the GoFundMe link to learn more about James and to hear him play. Even if you are unable to donate, please RT on Twitter and spread the word. You never know whose path that tweet might cross.

Monday, April 6, 2015

How to LOVE critiques

First things first -- I LOVE my critique partners. They are awesomeness incarnate. They trudge through my WIPs with smiley faces, great suggestions, and most of all with a red pen!

SO if you're struggling to understand someone's red ink or comments, here's how I learned to appreciate critiques.

1. Realize you are receiving someone else's opinion.

A great quote to go along with that -- "No two persons ever read the same book." ~ Edmond Wilson. This might seem difficult, but really, it isn't. Take everything with a grain of salt or sugar! You are not required to follow everyone's advice. The story you're writing is, above all else, yours! That said, if three CPs say the same thing, it might need changing. :)

2. If you don't understand a comment, ask!

Don't be shy to chat with your CPs. They want to explain their suggestions, I promise. If something is making you scratch your head, send an email or call them up. Or if you're in a group with time limitations, ask if you can talk to them after all the critiques are finished.

3. Take a deep breath and realize you don't know everything.

This goes for everyone! Even if you've written three thousand books, you can still learn something new. Humility wins out over pride every time. Take a break from your WIP, whether it be a nap or a good night's sleep (or a month or two!) and look at it with fresh eyes. Then you might see what others are saying.

4. Be willing to revise. Or not...

I think all writers understand that we can revise and rewrite a story to death. And sometimes over-revising kills voice and originality.

5. Say, "Thank you!"

With or without the exclamation point. :) Saying thanks is not only good for you, but lets your CPs know that you truly appreciate the time they spent reading and critiquing your words.

6. Pay it forward.

Do your best when critiquing the words of others. And remember to sandwich! Compliment-> sage advice-> smiley face.

As always, thanks for reading! We love hearing from you! Share your wonderful ideas on critique partners or horror stories. :)

Monday, March 30, 2015

What's Your Excuse

Happy Monday, guys and gals! I'm going to chat with you about something that you very well may already be familiar with, but I wanted to throw it out there for those of you who may be new to the writing community or maybe just new to podcasts in general.

If you write genre fiction, especially sci fi and/or fantasy, then you probably already listen to the Writing Excuses podcast. Buuuuuut on the off chance that you haven't had the pleasure, you should seriously think about checking it out.

It's a once a week, 15 min long (give or take) podcast about writing, and it's run by some really cool folks, namely Mary Robinette Kowal, Brandon Sanderson, Dan Wells, and Howard Tayler. Maybe you've heard of them?? The podcast is fun, informative, full of fabulous guest authors, and it's short, so you're not wading through 45 mins of off topic banter before getting to the good stuff.

Season 10 began in January and, taken from the shows transcript: "Each month will focus on a specific bit of the writing process, and each podcast will drill down on one of those bits."

I've enjoyed following along so far this year! And even though it's nearly April, the back episodes, plus all 9 previous seasons are available for your listening pleasure via the archives on their website.

Right now, they're digging into story structure, which is a topic I'm always fascinated by. I really enjoyed today's episode, and I thought maybe you would too.

So if you want to check it out, here's the link: http://www.writingexcuses.com/

Happy Listening!

Monday, March 2, 2015

Three Basics to Setting

As storytellers we want to ground our readers in the setting of our story. Setting is a necessary tool to help our readers relate with our characters. It can also increase suspense of conflict.

1. Always give a location.
Is your story in a room? Which one? A bedroom and a living room are vastly different. Make sure to mention the city, state, or general area. In fantasy, describe the landscape or lack thereof to familiarize the reader.

2. Seasons and weather can increase your reader's association with the story.
Weather allows the reader to experience the sensations your character is feelings in whatever setting you have placed them. We can all relate to rain and cold or a sunny day and heat. A little extra description of the temperature or season can go a long way. Season can also show your story's time length.

3. Time is important!
All people associate time with their own lives. We all feel different at different times of the day. Time can show your character is a morning person or a night owl. Hunger at breakfast, lunch, and dinner are also ways to bring an extra layer of believability to your character.

The ticking time bomb approach can also build conflict and suspense in a story. For instance if a bomb is going off in 24 hours, you've got a new challenge for every hour.

So check out your manuscript and make sure you have offered a location, time, and described the weather surrounding your character's story. We all experience these aspects of life at all times and it is important for your reader to associate these within your story world.

How have you used setting to increase the reliability in your story? Any struggles in building a realistic fantasy world? We love to hear from you!

Monday, February 16, 2015

The Comparison Game (Spoiler Alert: No One Wins)

So. A couple weeks ago, I was chatting with someone on Twitter about how easy it is to get swept away in the comparison game. You see amazing things happening to other writers—heck, to your friends—and sometimes, all you can think is, “Why not me? I'M DOING MY BEST, HERE."
Look, I get it. I know what it’s like when your story more closely resembles a 1,000-piece puzzle that just spilled onto the floor (and a piece has disappeared under the couch, and your dog has eaten a piece, and your kid swiped a couple…), and then you read someone’s post on how they wrote a book in two weeks. I know what it’s like to feel completely lost and wonder whether or not you should keep writing or hop on the next bus to join the circus, and then you wake up to someone’s 6-figure book deal announcement.
But here’s the thing: Comparing yourself to others can be a dangerous game. It hinders your work. It stunts your growth. Because in this crazy writerly world, there are so many different paths to get where you need to go. The path set out for you may not even be on another person’s map. That person who wrote a book in two weeks? Sometimes a story simply pours out of you. Or maybe that person is a pro at fast-drafting and this is their method. And the one who got big bucks for their book? There's no telling how long, or how hard they worked on that book. While it may look like these things happen overnight, they don't. I know it's difficult to see that when you're trudging through the mud of a difficult story (believe me, I KNOW), but they just don't.

It’s been said time and time again, but I’ll say once more, with feeling: Eyes on your own paper. If that means taking a Twitter break, do it. If that means cancelling your Publisher’s Marketplace account, do it. My motto lately has been “head down and WORK,” and let me tell you, it’s been a sanity-saver. I love when great things happen for even greater people. And when I take regular breaks and focus on my own work, I find that I'm able to be even happier for them. Sure, jealousy may flare once in a while - we're only human. But it's possible to turn that into motivation to work harder on my own stories.

There's no way to win the comparison game. When you compare yourself to others, you take away from the amazingness that you have to offer. No one can write the book you’re writing. So don’t shortchange yourself, ‘kay?

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Is It Done Yet?

Why is overediting not recognized by MSWord? Does that mean it's like drinking water, eating vegetables, and walking--it's pretty dang impossible to do too much of these things?

My second manuscript got some early attention from some very kind persons in the agenting and publishing world. They only saw ten pages mind you. But something about my words sparked their interest. The novel wasn't completed yet, so I was encouraged to take my time and send it to them when it was ready.

Well, once I typed The End, I sent the novel off to my Beta Readers and went over it line, by line, by line...  I made sure it was grammatically and mechanically shiny. I took all the feedback I received and implemented it. Without question. I even cleaned those first ten pages because, hey, even though they were liked, surely they weren't pretty enough.

I never heard from the publisher, but the amazing agent (who had it in her heart to look at the full on two different occasions from me) nicely told me that somewhere in all those edits, I quit trusting my character's voice. I had to separate myself from the book for several months. Then, I took out the ten pages I initially wrote and compared them to those edited pages. They were as if they were written by another person. I'd turned my snarky teen and her slightly uptight boyfriend into a butterfly and a marshmallow.

As I pound away at my work in progress, I try to implement the things I've learned through trial and error on my other manuscripts.  Now that I'm older and, hopefully, slightly wiser, I will edit, edit, edit... but I'll also remember why I wrote something a certain way to begin with.  

photo credit: Proofreading marks example via photopin (license)

Monday, January 26, 2015

You Got This

There are times, I believe, that we all think, "Why am I doing this?"

Besides the fact that I love to write stories, writing isn't always fun storytelling and creating. It's rewriting, revising, and killing your darlings. It's going back after rewriting the entire novel four times and rewriting it again because it's not good enough yet.

Recently, I received some rejections on my first YA fantasy. I was bummed so I shelved it until I can get a fresh perspective. I switched gears and have honed my focus on last year's NaNo novel. BUT. Doubtful feelings still creep up when I read a spectacular book. I think, "I can never write a book this good." And I'm probably right.

I couldn't have written that beautiful book because someone else already did.

My writing won't be the same as anyone else's. It will be mine.

This weekend I went to one of my family's favorite parks and saw something new. Something that encouraged me to stick with what I love. To never give up. To keep pressing the boundaries of words and stories.

A wonderful, creative Canadian sculptor, Eric Lapointe is featured right here in Texas! These are a couple of the sculptures featured on the park trails near my house. Super cool, right?

It's a... 

My son getting a glimpse of...
Neuschwanstein Castle!

This was such a lovely treat for me and my kids. When I got home, I googled Eric and truly enjoyed his artistic profession quote:

"Through my work, I rebel against the evidence that clouds our ability to question our habits. I try to give things perspective, to take my subjects out of their ordinary aspect in order to reveal their hidden reality."

So be encouraged writer of tales and artist of words! Look beyond your current perspective like so many other writers have in our past and press on! 

You got this.

Please share your thoughts with us! Have you sunk low after a rejection? How did you cope? What has encouraged you to keep on writing?

Sunday, January 18, 2015

4 Tips To Get Your Story Back On Track

Every choice your character makes leads to whatever is going to happen next. As an author—the evil mustache-twirling mastermind behind the story – figuring out what that thing is will undoubtedly fall somewhere between semi-perplexing and bang head against the wall until your eyes cross. And it will happen over and over and over again, because what are stories if not a constant string of What Comes Nexts?

So how do we wade through the murky territory of story decisions without turning into Artax in the Swamp of Sadness—overwhelmed and despairing that we’ll never come up with a kick ass plot?

I won’t tell you that I know the 7 words that will make a woman love you* how to eradicate Swamp of Sadness Syndrome, but I can share a few tips that may help you out if your story gets stuck.

1)      Goals & Motivation.

In the current scene, what does your character want and why do they want it? This is the first thing I look at when my characters start bumbling around and the plot feels like it’s going nowhere. A good amount of the time, I’ve lost sight of what the characters want and why any of it matters. Making sure this is clear on the page and focusing your scene around it will go a long, long way toward getting things back on track.
2)      Conflict.

If you have lost sight of your characters goals and motivations, chances are there’s not a lot of conflict going on either. Things can’t really oppose your characters in a meaningful way if they aren’t actively working toward something. Once you’ve reacquainted yourself (and the story) to # 1, it’s a lot easier to find inherent conflicts to torture your characters with.

3)      Stakes.

Your characters can have a goal and firm motivations for achieving it. Things can stand in their way — even big scary things with lots of sharp teeth – but if your characters have nothing to lose if they fail, any conflict you establish will feel contrived. The reader won’t care whether the characters achieve the scene goal. So, if  you don’t a ton of work setting up Goals, Motivation, and Conflict but you feel like your scene is still falling flat, it might be time to reexamine what your characters have at stake if they fail and make sure that it’s coming across on the page.

4)      Putting it all together.

In my opinion, this can be the hardest part because on the scene level, there might be several options goals, motivations, conflicts, and stakes. If I’m going to get really, truly stuck, there is where and when it happens.

So how do you decide THE BEST course of action? If you’re anything like me, it’s right about now that you:

* stare at the screen
* write a few words
* stare anxiously at what you wrote
* pound the delete key
* gorge self on *insert favorite snack and/or wine here*
* wash, rinse, repeat, and/or decide that you totally suck at life and go watch TV instead
* sink into the Swamp of Sadness

Here’s what I’ve figured out, though. Your stuckness (yeah, I know stuckness isn’t a real word) isn’t for lack of NOT know what comes next. Which, is actually a pretty awesome problem to have, because nine times out of ten there are bunches of possibilities floating around in your head. I call this brain freeze. It’s a state of being overwhelmed by too many potential story paths, and the only solution is to sit down and sort it all out.  

This is when I bust out the pen and paper and move away from the computer. Ladies and Gentlemen, it’s time for the What If list.

I don’t why, but I have to write “What if…” before every idea I have, like a promise to myself that whatever I come up with is only a suggestion that I’m in no way obligated to run with. Now I’m ready to put it all down, bullet point style. What if character makes X decision? Then I note the possible outcomes. Or what about if she makes X decision instead? Then I note those outcomes. I do this for all the possible choices I can think up.

Next, I pick the most intriguing options and bullet point their consequences, conflicts, and what my character stands to gain or lose from making that choice. Eventually, I find myself with one or two options that really take off. Connections between what I’ve already written and what I’ve outlined for future chapters are made.

If, by the end of this process, there’s still more than one really good choice, I evaluate each based on steps 1, 2, & 3 in relation to the current scene and also the story as a whole. Which path aligns itself more closely to the direction I want the plot to take?  99.9% of the time, I’ve not only worked out what I need to happen next, but I can’t wait to start writing it!

*Bonus points if you get the reference and say so in the comments. J