10 Steps to finish your book in 30 days or less!
Know Where You’re Going By: Emily Layne Writers are generally categorized into two groups—ready to find out which one you are? Do you…? · Get an idea and start planning the book before you write? · Create personality profiles for your main characters, complete with birth dates and photos? · Plot the entire book: beginning, middle, and end? Or do you…? · Get an idea and start writing right away? · Don’t worry about where the story is headed as long as you’re enjoying the journey? · Find yourself struggling with where to go next so you take a break for a little while? If you matched most of the bullet points in the first section… Congratulations, you’re a plotter! Plotters are authors who prefer to, as the name suggests, plot out their entire book before they start writing. If you matched with most of the bullet points in the second section… You rebel you, you’re a pantser. In other words, when it comes to writing, you like to “fly by the seat of your pants.” You get an idea and get writing right away, with no cemented idea of where you’re going—and you don’t mind that one bit! But, contrary to popular belief, I don’t think there are only two kind of writers. There are actually three. When I first started writing, I was a hardcore pantser. I would get an idea and get going. Which is why it took me a year+ to finish my first novel and then another six months after that to edit it. And you know what? I was never 100% happy with that story. Which is probably why it never got me an agent—or published! As I wrote book after book, I found myself gravitating toward the plotter side of the author sphere. Sort of. While I loved making my character profiles and plotting the entire story, I needed flexibility. Ideas would pop into my head while writing (according to my plot outline) that didn’t necessarily mesh with the pre-ordained story I had already laid out. Which is where a whole new breed of writer comes in: a plotter with pants on. Okay, the name sounds a little ridiculous, but it is exactly what it implies. A writer who plots out the story, but also leaves room for flexibility while writing. Have a new minor character pop up? Great! A side plot transforms into a more influential point in the story? Awesome! I’ve found this to be the most exciting way to write. I’ve never struggled with writer’s block or a blank page, because I have an outline ready to go. Edits at the end of the story were minimal because I’d already worked out the kinks. I even plan out my first line while plotting (can we all agree this is one of the hardest parts of getting started??). Using my method of plotting and then writing (with my pants on), I’ve finished 60k+ word books in 14 days. Yes, it’s possible! I have an Instagram series in my stories were I share my process from book ideaàfinished book, but I’ll outline my process to you below. STEP ONE: Book idea. I get an idea and come up with the title of the story. STEP TWO: Pinterest Board. I make a Pinterest board and pin every image that inspires me. STEP THREE: Music. I create a music playlist and listen to it nonstop, jotting down any ideas. STEP FOUR: Character Bios. I take every main character (or really important side character) and break down their personality traits, clothing style, and growth throughout the story. STEP FIVE: Plotting. This is where the real work comes in. I sit down and, using MS Word’s outline tool, plan each chapter of the book. STEP SIX: Writing! This is where I set a word count goal. Say 50k in 30 days (woo-hoo NaNoWriMo!) or something less intense like 75k in 90 days. Whatever is attainable and works for you. STEP SEVEN: Finish the book and celebrate. STEP EIGHT: Take a break from writing and the shiny new story I just finished. STEP NINE: Come back later and edit, edit, edit! STEP TEN: Once the book is edited, depending on where I was in my writing journey, I would send it to critique partners or, now, my agent! So, this is my advice to you, whichever category you thought you fit into at the beginning of this post: plotter or pantser... Consider melding the two together. Use my process as a guide if you like, but make sure you leave room for your own style. And you know what? Maybe you are just a writing panster and the thought of plotting is too horrible to consider. Or vice versa. That is totally fine. That’s what writing really comes down to, and what makes it so amazing. It’s a creative process. There is no set way to do it (unlike algebra, blegh). So find what works for you—and write, write, write! Emily grew up a proud Army brat with an Anne Shirley-esque imagination. She loves reading, eating too many potato chips, and spending time with her husband—who loves books almost as much as she does. When not writing fantastical stories, Emily can be found playing with her curious daughter, exploring the great outdoors, or concocting mostly-believable excuses to avoid socializing. Follow Emily on Instagram!
4 Steps To Get to the Finish Line of Your Novel
Writing a novel can seem like running a marathon. It takes training, discipline and practice to complete the race to The End. You will need some strategies that will sustain you in the long run from first draft to a finished and polished manuscript. Here are four steps that will take you over the finish line! 1. RACE THROUGH THE FIRST DRAFT In your first draft, resist the impulse to revise and make it pretty as you go. Just forgive yourself for sloppy or bad prose, grammar, and overall messiness. If you let your creative freak flag fly free, you won’t be bogged down and lose the confidence you need to finish your story. When a draft is written quickly, it is more likely to stay on a clear plot trajectory. All those distracting subplots and character arcs can be developed and refined later! Sprint to the end of the book and you will have a good sense of what belongs where in the story. You won’t waste as much time writing scenes that you don’t need. Fast to one writer is slow to another. Make daily page goals that work for you. If you can manage five or more pages in a day that is a good start. Up your goal to a chapter or two when your schedule allows, but whatever you can manage, the thing to remember is to let it flow! Edits are for later. 2. AVOID DETOURS
As you start the rewriting and editing process, evaluate each scene and unit of action. Take out anything that distracts from the plot. Readers will start to skim if a passage fails to advance the story in some way. Make every dramatized incident count. If the scene is a fight, conversation or inner dialog where the character ponders and realizes things, be sure it takes the story to a new place. If not, it will cause your story to wander. Sometimes a passage may not advance the plot directly, but can tell us something important about the characters or the setting that is important to the story. Just make sure it is not an unnecessary tangent. If your character wanders off the main path into the deep dark woods, there’d better be a significant reason. 3. PACE YOUR NOVEL Keeping a good pace does not mean all scenes need to be fast or exciting. Sometimes you want the reader to slow down and take in information, delve into the story, or smell the flowers along the way. (But those flowers better have something important to do with the plot, mood, character or setting.) Scenes that are slower can carry valuable information that will fill out the plot and help the reader understand the characters and story better. Your goal is to help the reader connect to the story and keep them interested in turning pages. Rework your scenes until they are valuable to the overall book and have the right beats. You will need to alternate between modes of scene and summary. Scenes, are moments of action, decision, emotion and interaction between characters. Summaries, help establish setting, passage of time, backstories and other important information. One way to help your reader power through long passages of summary where the pacing lags is to add bits of live action. For example, sprinkle in memorable scenic elements, bits of dialogue, or little clips of action. This will help your reader stay motivated to keep going. 4. GOOD STARTS As with every long run, there are times when you may need to stop, take a breath or get a drink of water. Remember that while you are writing. Get up and walk around, do some yoga, have a snack, call a friend, or whatever you need to do to refresh yourself before starting again. And each time you start again, come at it a new way. Your reader needs breaks too. Chapter breaks and other pauses allow readers to think over what they have read, catch their breath and anticipate what comes next. During your revisions, check to see if you are giving a variety of chapter beginnings. Keep your readers comfortable and give them what they expect sometimes but also, tease, surprise and at times startle them if you want to keep them interested. Chapters can start in a variety of ways: gently guide the reader into the next part of the story, a chronological leap forward, pitching a curve ball, cranking up the speed, an insightful observation about the unfolding of events, etc. Flip through your favorite book and observe how the chapters start. Each new start is an opportunity to re-orient your Most of these steps happen in revisions and not the first draft—so don’t panic. Realize that writing and revising a novel takes effort and a big time investment. Enjoy the journey and keep your readers’ needs in mind as you work. After all, the finished product is for them and they will make it their own. If you keep this end goal in sight, and keep taking the steps, you’ll have a finished novel you can feel good about.
5 Quick Writing Tips
Tiana Smith I was trying to come up with just one writing tip, but there were a couple of things I wanted to mention. So, I figured I’d just put them all down here, with a quick thought about each thing. Let’s dive in, shall we? 1. Stop comparing yourself to others. Whether you’re comparing yourself to a famous author, or one of your friends who seems to have it all figured out, the truth of the matter is, you are your own person with your own journey ahead of you, and you have so much to offer that is unique to you. And here’s the thing, if you always compare your rough draft to someone else’s finished book, well, that’s a recipe for disaster. 2. Read more. I know it’s hard to find the time, but there really is no better way to improve your own writing than to read widely. Read the things you enjoy and read the things that everyone is raving about. Pick them apart to know what’s working and what isn’t, then apply those things to your own writing. 3. Put aside distractions. It’s so easy to get distracted when you’re working on your computer. It’s easy to check social media, answer emails, or scroll endlessly through YouTube. But don’t do it! Be strong. Turn off the internet if you have to. Personally, I use a timer and write in short bursts. Do whatever you have to do to get the words down on paper. 4. Take breaks from the computer. I do some of my best plotting and planning when I’m not in front of the computer. When you’re not actively working, be thinking about your book. Talk about it with friends to work through tricky plot problems. Listen to music that gets you in the right mindset. Use your time productively so that when you finally get time to sit down and right, you don’t have to think as much before setting off. 5. Make your characters suffer. Ask yourself what the worst possible thing would be for your characters, then have that happen. Then do this over and over again. No one wants to read about a boring character, so force them to make decisions and deal with problems. So, there you have it! Five quick tips that help me whenever I’m in a rut. Hopefully some of them help you as well! Tiana Smith is a copywriter turned novelist who grew up in the Rocky Mountains. When she isn’t writing, she’s chasing after her ninja son, reading, or binging the Disney Channel. She has double degrees in Honors and English from Westminster College but wants to go back to school to be a lion tamer. She is the author of Match Me If You Can and How To Speak Boy, both from Swoon Reads/Macmillan. Twitter:
A Week of TABC!
We are so excited for Teen Author Boot Camp 2019! The authors! The classes! Hundreds of teens roaming the halls of Utah Valley Convention Center thirsty to learn and meet other young writers. What's not to love? A few reminders... 1. Registration for TABC ends on March 15th! 2. This year we're inviting everyone to come dressed to represent your favorite book character. Can't wait for next Saturday? We're here to help! Check out our pre-conference events: For our boot campers in Salt Lake County.... And for our boot campers in Utah County... Provo Library Meet and Greet with Ally Carter AND celebration of this year's all-teen anthology (with forward written by JENNIFER-FREAKING-NIELSEN!). Friday, March 22 at 7:00 pm at the Provo City Library. For this event you will need a ticket. They're free, but there are a limited quantity so don't procrastinate! GET YOUR TICKETS HERE! SEE EVERYONE SOON!!!
Be in the writing for the writing!
Kyra Johnson A lot of times the response I get when I tell people I’ve written books is, “oh, I’ve always wanted to be an author!” I always get excited, thinking I’ve found another person who enjoys the art of storytelling. But, most of the time, when I get further into conversing with them, I realize that it isn’t storytelling they want, and I recognize a similar thing in myself and my fellow authors. Often, we forget why we write and what we really want from our writing. It’s easy to get distracted by the idea of having fans, or movies made from your story, of fan art or fiction, or fame, or money. A lot of times those are all people have in their sights, their main inspiration for writing. We must remind ourselves—if you’re like me then very often—that the only way to succeed as a writer, and to ever have a chance at those exciting things, is to be in the writing for the writing. If you don’t actually enjoy the writing, the imagination, the creating, you won’t have enough motivation to get through the tedious editing and the difficult drafting. If your only goal is something that is so rare and hard to achieve, chances are you won’t be able to put in the effort required to get there. But if your joy is in the journey, if you have love for the process, and can focus on what you’re doing and what needs to be done, instead of always looking to the future and hoping so desperately to be published young, or soon, then you can actually make it there. Enjoy all the stages; the ideas, the drafting, the editing, and do the best you can in what you’re doing at the moment. It’s not a race, and you don’t have to stress, the quality of your story is much more important than how quickly it comes out! Just enjoy what you love doing and let what comes from it come in its time! Kyra Johnson is 16 years old, and has been writing for as long as she can remember. The second she learned what an author was she wanted to be one, and when she was 15 her dream finally came true when she published her first book; Prison of Outcasts. She also enjoys dance, art, and film making. Instagram: @kyra_lanei_johnson & @the_mizlie_series TABC 2020 Class: BEFORE I GROW UP, I WANT TO BE AN AUTHOR Published teen author reveals how to reach the finish line before the race begins! We'll walk through the struggles authors face as teens, like how to stay social while having such an anti-social hobby, how to make our writing about things we haven't experienced yet feel genuine, how to stay motivated and focused on one story, how to balance writing and your life, and how to be proud instead of embarrassed of showing our peers our work. We'll discuss how to get published as a teen, and if it's smart or if you should wait.
CREATING COMPLEX, COMPELLING CHARACTERS
by Maryanne Melloan Woods My main piece of advice: go deep. Your characters should be multi-layered, fully-developed people that your readers will want to follow for an entire novel. Take a character like Hazel in "The Fault in Our Stars:" here's a sixteen year old girl with incurable cancer who has to walk around with an oxygen tank. And yet neither she nor the story are a miserable bummer. She's incredibly sharp and unsentimental, and her observations are often laugh-out-loud funny. Is that a fresh, memorable, compelling character? I think so. So: no clichés. Human clichés rarely exist in real life and they shouldn't populate your novel. Like every person, every fictional character should have surprises to them. And it's your job to know your characters better than anyone. I heard it said once that a character is like an iceberg: only the tip is showing, but what's unstated must clearly exist in the author's mind. That way, you'll know how they'll react when confronted with the obstacles and twists of your plot. So how do you "go deep?" Simply defined, a character is made up of thoughts, actions and emotions. But what else might be helpful to know about your characters, to flesh them out? I always start with their wants, needs and fears, and then how each character is in conflict with each other. Over years of teaching writing, I've come up (with student input) with a list of other helpful things to know about your characters: - age - married/single/do they have children? - their home and family details - appearance - mannerisms - their school or workplace - nationality - gender/sexual orientation - hobbies - level of education - talents/skills - intelligence - temperament - economic level - phobias - disabilities - ethics - addictions - secrets/insecurities - sense of humor - passive or aggressive - religion/spirituality - confident/shy Two last tips: 1) you should be fascinated with all of your characters. So ask yourself: what kind of people fascinate you in real life? and 2) It's very important to know what your main characters want. What your protagonist wants is what drives your story. And it can't be easy to get, or your story's over. Their struggles draw a reader in and keep them reading, because everyone struggles in life. Maryanne Melloan Woods is a novelist/screenwriter/playwright currently living with her family in New Jersey. As a tv writer/producer, Maryanne wrote shows for networks including Showtime, NBC, ABC, Fox, the WB, Nickelodeon and ABC Family. Her plays have been produced at theaters around the country, and her first novel -- the YA paranormal thriller Lazarus -- was published by Owl Hollow Press in September of 2020. Maryanne has taught screenwriting at the American Film Institute, UCLA and Gotham Writers Workshop. She received a B.A. in Theatre Arts from Drew University and an M.F.A. in screenwriting from the American Film Institute. Facebook & Instagram: @maryannemwoods
Don’t Play Coy
Ilima Todd Have you ever seen those ads on social media that pop up every once in a while…“This man tried to hug a lion, you won’t believe what happens next!” Total click-bait, right? Don’t do that in your writing. It’s bad form. You shouldn’t have to trick your reader into turning the page, but that doesn’t mean you can’t hook them. A hook isn’t about holding back information to get the reader to keep reading, because that gets frustrating really fast. It’s about revealing information at the right time. I personally believe if your POV character knows something, the reader should too…or at least he better know it pretty dang soon. We're going to ignore the fact that my first book had a ten-page prologue with terribly passive writing. Whoo-boy have I come a long way. ;) The biggest problem with my story was that I was being too coy with the reader. I deliberately held information back in an attempt to be suspenseful when really it was just plain annoying. Photo: Facebook/Hejt za klikbejt Tell the reader what they need to know. It will help them trust you and not feel cheated out of valuable information. I think it's common for beginning writers to think being secretive builds suspense, but readers don't want to be tricked. I say tell the reader everything, cut open those characters for the world to see, and be honest about what's going on. It's okay to reveal things at the proper times, just don't hold everything back until this grandiose moment in the end when everything is revealed and you pat yourself on the shoulder congratulating your own cleverness. Instead let the reader look back on the story and realize yes, this is exactly what should have happened because it was in front of me the whole time. It’s so much better to show all your cards up front, then the twists and turns that happen will have more impact. Surprising but inevitable. Not coy. Website: Facebook: Twitter: Instagram: Bookbub: Amazon:
Good Questions and Bad Questions
By Shelly Brown Good questions are critical to have in your writing, whether it’s fantasy or romance or nonfiction. In fact I recently read a nonfiction article where the author did this very well. He wrote: “On January 15, 1919, 10-year-old Pasquale Iantosca went out to gather scraps for firewood. Although it was a warm day, his father, Giuseppe, was taking no chances: He had bundled his son into two crimson sweaters, and was keeping an eye on him from the second-story window of their small apartment building in Boston’s North End. But peril is not predictable, and as Giuseppe watched, Pasquale suddenly vanished. A dark wall had consumed him as though he never existed. (1)” I don’t know about you, but when I read that paragraph, I had so many intriguing questions racing through my mind: What was the dark wall? How did it consume him? Did he survive? These are examples of good questions. You want to get your reader asking good questions like the ones above. The kind of questions that show that the reader is curious about what is going to happen next, creating mysteries we want to solve, creating cravings to get answers. Make them want to turn the page. You’ll want to introduce good questions, or I like to call them mystery boxes based on a JJ Abrams TED talk, as soon as possible. If they aren’t in chapter 1, no one will read to chapter 2 or 3 or 30, no matter how beautifully you wrote them. Aim for first page, or even first sentence if you can. Also, a lot of authors make sure that the end of every chapter has the readers asking big questions. There is also such thing as bad questions. Sometimes authors try to create mystery by withholding information. They leave the reader asking a lot of questions but out of confusion. And confusion leads to frustration, maybe even enough to close the book. Avoid confusion. So, intriguing questions = good. Confusion = bad. Okay, but how can you tell if your creating good or bad questions? You create bad questions when the reader is missing the who, what, when, and where answers that are so critical for following a story. If a reader is asking themselves, “Who is speaking?” the majority of the time, they aren’t intrigued; they are confused. If they wonder, “Did we just go back in time?” that is likely a bad sign. Or if they ask any of the following, you may be in trouble: “What on earth does that word even mean?” “Was I supposed to understand that explanation?”, “Am I supposed to know who this person is?” or “Why are there now aliens in this western?” Creating good questions and avoiding the bad ones is hard to do. That’s why it’s essential to let people read your story. Ask them what confused them. Listen carefully as they respond. Also, ask what grabbed their attention. What made them want to read on? Ask about the beginning of the book, what intrigued them most. Then see if you can move that up closer to the first page. Understanding the difference between good questions and bad questions can often be the difference between hooking your readers and losing them. And the answers to those questions about the boy gathering firewood that suddenly vanished in a dark wall? Molasses. Flood-style. Unfortunately not. Yeah, you might want to read more about that. Read about that here: The Boston Molasses Flood A native to the ocean and transplanted to the mountains, Shelly Brown has always loved children and books so it made sense when she started writing books for children. In her spare time she helps her husband, author Chad Morris, write MORE children's books. In her extra-extra spare time she loves the theater and traveling. She is also one of the worst tap dancers you will ever meet. But she does it anyway. She has no regrets, one husband, three chickens, five children, and sixty-four Pez dispensers. shellybrownwriter.com Instagram Twitter Facebook Class at TABC 2020: WRITING WITH VOICE Editors and agents comment all of the time that they are looking for something with great voice but few of them can tell you exactly what that means. Some of them even treat voice like it’s a magical something nobody can put their finger on. But it’s actually not that hard if you break it down. Shelly can show you the tips and tricks to pull your own unique voice out onto the page so your writing gets noticed.
How To Concoct Appetizing Messages People Want to Eat Up
You’re sitting in a restaurant waiting for the food you just ordered. A waitress saunters over to the table and drops a plate in front of you. The burger before you looks nothing like what you expected and hungered for. A lack of toppings, dry, no “secret sauce” and possibly over-cooked. On the whole a forgettable and unappetizing presentation. It is in fact, a burger… But, boring food was not what the menu promised. You won’t be back again. In the same way that a restaurant needs to make meals memorable and satisfying to be successful, PR professionals need to create stories that appeal and stick in the minds of readers. Stories are an integral part of being persuasive. There is a need for strong writing in communications. PR agencies favor hiring those who know how to write by 93 percent. Harold Burson, considered the godfather of PR, said, “…strong writing ability soon becomes one of the office’s most billable employees. There is always a need for good writing, and word spreads fast.” But what makes writing strong and memorable? Is it merely the articulate presentation of facts? Much how the unadorned burger is technically a burger, it takes more than that to hook the consumer. In a story, creative writing along with solid facts makes messages more palatable and persuasive. The recipe to good storytelling has these vital ingredients: 1. Get their mouths to water Suspense and anticipation are key to a captive audience. People are susceptible to being “swept up” in both a story’s message and in the way it is told. Stories transport our mind to another place, and engage our emotions. If the reader doesn’t care what happens next the message is lost. The “cliffhanger” works. We are wired to want to know what happens next. Humans are much more inclined to finish something that has already been started. In psychology,the Zeigarnik effect states that people remember interrupted and uncompleted tasks better than completed tasks. In research, nearly 90 percent of people went on to finish a task even after being told they could stop. Create an addictive narrative through suspense. Good writing will tantalize and encourage the reader to take that next bite. 2. Engage the senses Brandon Mull is a bestselling author who also received his degree in Public Relations at BYU. He says, “Whenever you want to simulate reality by dramatizing a moment with words, you are using the tools of a creative writer. If you want to pull a reader into a particular moment, bring it to life by appealing to the senses using concrete details expressed with rich vocabulary like a fiction writer would do.” Engaging the senses creates memory links that make messages stick. In crafting messages use memorable imagery and details that link to existing and familiar schemas. About 70 percent of the body’s sense receptors are located in our eyes. You could say, “the book was old” or “the cover was faded and dog-eared, the title had nearly been worn away from years of being touched.” See the difference? There are about 10,000 taste buds in the human mouth and each one contains 50 taste cells that communicate data straight to our brains. Adding details such as the “metallic taste of blood” or “sweet and salty kettle corn” will pull the reader in by tapping into their own experience. There are about 5 million receptor cells in the human nose and smells are stored in our long-term memory. If you are told a man works in a space that smells of formaldehyde and sulfur it is easy to imagine a laboratory. The same goes for touch. Describing what something feels like with textures and temperatures brings the reader into the scene that you describe. Want to get people swept up in your stories? Use the relatable elements of the senses that make your story as easy to identify with as the taste of pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving. 3. Create comfort food In your rush to wow your audience keep it real. Mull advises, “One essential element of persuasive writing is relating to your audience. If you don't feel authentic and relatable, how will they connect to the proposition you are pushing?” Your story needs to present a reality that the audience is familiar with. Basic motivations, the senses, needs, and desires that we share as humans bring the “real” even in a new or unusual story. The familiar helps create a better connection with the reader. Just as gourmet can be a turn off, if you cannot identify or pronounce an ingredient—it might not be as appealing. Likewise, if you bombard your reader with fancy phrases, jargon and convoluted messaging, you will lose their interest. If you are not genuine, exaggerate, or seem incompetent, you will only make your reader wary of what you are serving up. 4. Share the recipe If you want someone to change a behavior or take action, then show them how in your message. The transportation effect is when people place themselves in the situation being told, re-imagining themselves as an integral part of the message. Readers automatically ask themselves how any given message relates to them. Often they weigh and make judgements about whether the message is good or bad and if it is something they need to respond to or share. We learn by example as expressed by Mull, “Our culture is largely formed by the stories we tell each other. What is acceptable or unacceptable, brave or cowardly, smart or foolish, cool or pathetic is largely defined through examples in stories. Dramatizing principles and norms in stories makes abstract ideas accessible and relatable. If you want to change a society, change their stories. Opinions and behavior will follow.” Positive messaging, that promises benefits, self-actualization and satisfaction is powerful and can serve as a motivator. Showing, for example, that eating a certain way leads to weight loss or healing can rally many to follow. Negative messages that show the bad consequences and loss that happens as a result of inaction, can also motivate people to act. Describing the outcome of not eating healthy as a life of obesity and health troubles will be the motivation to change for some people. In the end, studies show that negative and positive reinforcement can be affective, but leaving someone with a good taste in their mouth may be the best way to build a relationship with the reader. 5. Plate it right and deliver what you promised Cooking shows teach us that getting something to the table isn’t enough. It must be delivered after careful work, styling and in a timely manner. Don’t dawdle between courses and make good on your promises to the reader. Few things are as annoying as having to tell a waiter, “This is not what the menu says it was.” Some PR professionals may underestimate the need for creative writing because they believe that “the facts” are the most persuasive pieces of content they can deliver. But when something is made memorable in the ways discussed here, messages will not become lost in a sea of less-worthy content. Well crafted, imaginative narrative makes stronger connections to the minds of the reader and will make them come back for more. And remember, people are resistant to the idea of being told what to do. “Eat your broccoli” is less appealing than being presented with a steaming plate of delicately blanched and seasoned greens smothered in a tangy cheese sauce. Bio: Jo Schaffer is pursuing a degree in public relations at Brigham Young University. She is a published author and blogger. She is a founder of the nonprofit, Teen Author Boot Camp, teaching creative writing skills and supporting literacy for teens. Follow her on Instagram @jojo_schaffer
How and Why To Run A Writing Workshop for Kids
Whether you’re a teacher or a Kid-Lit or Young Adult author promoting a book, running an effective writing workshop for kids is a great opportunity to get kids to fall in love with the written word. Kids who write are interested in books. (For ages 6-17) Source: Scholastic Teachers, you want kids to love writing and reading. It sets the stage for all of their future learning. Authors, going to writing conventions and signings are great, but if you really want to connect with your readers, do workshops. Do Kids Care About Writing? Years ago, I discussed this question with my writing group as we threw around the idea of creating a writing conference for teens. We wanted to get kids excited about books—whether reading them or writing them. Would they just see it as more school? We wanted to see. At our first Teen Author Boot Camp (TABC) event, there were around 130 kids, which we thought was pretty good for a first time writing workshop. Four years later, that number had spiked up to 700 attendees. The feedback has been incredibly positive each year. In an environment where it’s okay to express themselves, kids have a lot to say. When a kid writes, they learn to better express themselves. Writing is the new cult for kids. They find a voice and a tribe when they’re supported in writing. Yes, kids care about writing, especially when they have creative freedom. Why Do Kids Need Creative Writing? Life is hard. There’s a lot going on inside of kids that they don’t feel safe expressing in the real world. With anxiety, depression and suicide on the rise, writing creates a space for kids to emote all the feelings trapped inside. Author and podcast host Adam Grant said, “Expressive writing has also been linked to improve mood, well-being and reduced stress levels for those who do it regularly.” Writing can be that spoonful of sugar to help the medicine of life go down, but creative writing is also a good way to encourage critical thinking, and foster a sense of empowerment. It prepares them to be successful communicators in volatile times when effective communication is crucial. Encourage Creative Expression For many kids, self-expression has been reduced to a status update. Online is a constant flow of sounds and echoes as life is distilled into a series of endless, expected memes and selfies. “Social media has colonized what was once a sacred space occupied by emptiness: the space reserved for thought and creativity,” actor and rapper Mahershala Ali says. A writing workshop is an opportunity for them to turn off that noise and the demand that they mirror what they see, and instead, reflect what’s inside. Remember that kids are still finding their voice. Often when in a class-like setting they’re more concerned about getting it “right” or what they have to do to get an “A.” There’s a lot to inhibit kids from participating. It’s up to you to set the stage for creativity. Create the Right Environment As with most things that need to grow, environment is important for creativity to flourish. Establish right away that you care about what students have to say. Engage with the class. Ask them questions and allow them time to think. Make them feel comfortable to express themselves freely. The way you speak to them can invite sharing, mutual respect and trust. Remember, you’re asking them to be vulnerable. Ernest Hemingway nailed it when he said, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” It’s a good idea to provide for auditory, kinetic and verbal learners in your workshop. Don’t insist they always sit with hands folded at their desks. Let it get a little loud sometimes. Allow them to move around, talk in groups and try some hands on activities. If you’re prepared with activities and ideas, it’s okay to let the kids riff a little. Preparation open to improvisation is how creativity works. Help Kids Find Their Own Voice E.E. Cummings said, “Once we believe in ourselves, we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight or any experience that reveals the human spirit.” Kids believe in themselves when they’re validated and understood and are then more willing to reveal their human spirit. Kids enjoy talking and learning about themselves. Have them take a quick personality quiz or the color code test and let them tell their neighbor the results. More than likely they’ll identify some differences. This gives them subconscious permission to not have to sound the same when they write. Seeing and appreciating their uniqueness empowers kids to speak their mind and interpret things their own way. New York Times bestselling YA Author, Marie Lu presented an incredible keynote address at Teen Author Boot Camp where she encouraged kids to be fiercely themselves when they write. She told them, “Writing is your rebellion.” The loud applause after her statement testified to how much kids want their own voice. Get Creative Juices Flowing In the proper environment for creativity and with a basic understanding and appreciation of their own voice, kids are primed to tap into their own stories. Author Brandon Sanderson, who has presented writing workshops at TABC said, “The purpose of a storyteller is not to tell you how to think, but to give you questions to think upon.” This should be especially true in a writing workshop for kids. Let them think for themselves and pose their own questions. As you interact with students, resist imposing your voice on them. Appreciate the differences… this isn’t math. Allow kids to “flow write” first. Tell them not to worry about edits at this stage. Give feedback that encourages their process and then teach them how to find their own weaknesses before you point them out. Freedom to improvise allows creativity to grow, but so do limitations. There are many games and activities that give structure while giving freedom to think around the rules. Writing prompts are a “limitation” that will spark the imagination. They can be pictures, music, scene suggestions, dialog, or a question to get their minds going. Let the kids take a few minutes to write a sentence, story fragment, or bit of dialog for a writing prompt. Allow them to share what they wrote. Let them look at the prompt again and have them genre swap by writing about the same prompt again in a different genre than they did the first time (e.g., Horror, Romance, Fantasy, and Adventure). Play writing games that begin with, “And then…” or “Meanwhile...” Form teams to create story ideas to swap with other groups. Read the results aloud and discuss the outcomes compared to the original idea. These kinds of activities get kids excited to tell stories and help them recognize there are countless possibilities in the telling. Opportunities = Empowerment Everyone likes to be recognized when they do something well. Incentives and opportunities to shine are great motivators. Writing contests and prizes encourage kids to create and achieve. Last year, in addition to our yearly First Chapter Contest, Teen Author Boot Camp partnered with Owl Hollow Press and urged kids to submit short stories for an anthology. The result was a wonderful collection of high sea adventure tales and dozens of ecstatic, encouraged teens. They got to share the spotlight at a book signing with some New York Times bestselling authors including Kiersten White who wrote the forward for their book. The kids were validated and inspired by their achievement. Offering a publishing opportunity may not be possible, but you could run a writing contest where the winning pieces are featured on your blog or in a newsletter. Any kind of reward helps some kids to reach inside themselves and pull out some incredible words. Writing Is a Two Way Communication Writing workshops should be a two way conversation with opportunities to share on both sides. Let them share what they have written. Read aloud to them from books that resonate with you and give personal examples of things you have experienced or written. Pull out those old, embarrassing, dusty manuscripts and poems and let them enjoy your mortification. If you allow them to see your mistakes, they’ll feel safer making their own. When you have the class do a writing prompt, do it along with them. Walk the walk. If you offer feedback and rewrite suggestions- allow discussion and even disagreements. Some things they’ll have to learn over time or the hard way. But first, get them writing and enjoying the written word. The Takeaway A good writing workshop for kids can help them find their place in the world. Because writing and books are the conversation between the generations and the heartbeat of our collective consciousness. No matter the subject, topic, time, or place, writing can be relevant to kids in the world they live in now. F. Scott Fitzgerald said, “That is part of the beauty of all literature. You discover that your longings are universal longings, that you're not lonely and isolated from anyone. You belong.” For communication to cross the generation gap we have to know how and what kids think. We need to help them find their voice—not learn to echo ours. Creative writing is an excellent way to build communication bridges and foster individualization and lifelong learning. When a young person finds their voice, they become more eager and engaged in the conversation. More inclined to read what other voices say. Whether you’re a teacher or an author, getting kids to love books is a win-win. “One of the biggest indicators of a youth’s future success is their ability to read and write well. In the years since it was started, Teen Author Boot Camp has become one of the best teen writers’ conferences in the country. I’ve been extremely impressed by the quality of the classes, teachers, and writing contest. This is the total package. Teen writers come away inspired to polish their writing skills as well as being excited to read more.” Author, J. Scott Savage. If you’re interested in doing a workshop with hundreds of enthusiastic teen writers, or just want access to tips and workshop discussions, visit the Teen Author Boot Camp website to learn more. Join the discussion here! Bio: Jo Schaffer studied public relations at Brigham Young University. She is a published author, blogger, and currently writing for BYUtv. She’s a founder of the nonprofit, Teen Author Boot Camp, teaching creative writing skills and supporting literacy for teens. Follow her on Instagram @jojo_schaffer
Keep Your Eyes On Your Own Paper
Emma Boone Being a writer is a wonderful rollercoaster of super highs and terrible lows. It's a lot of fun imagining new worlds and finding the best way to form the perfect sentence. It’s pure magic when a reader connects with the story you’re trying to tell. But it's also incredibly hard not to have every single person love every single thing you write. It’s depressing when it feels like everyone else is succeeding in the ways you’re not. My advice to you is the same as your grade school teacher's: Keep your eyes on your own paper. I feel strongly that as an ARTIST you should beg, borrow, and steal from everyone and everything around you. Be inspired by books, steal cool scenes from movies, get even with all the people who have wronged you in reality by killing them fictionally in horrifying ways. Watch everyone around you and take pieces that you transform into your own story, in your own way. But when it comes to being an AUTHOR, or pursuing a career as a writer: Keep. Your. Eyes. On. Your. Own. Paper. Never compare yourself to what other people are accomplishing. Never take your place in the journey and compare it to somebody else's successes. Whether you've been pursuing publication for six months or twenty years, there will always be new milestones to achieve. There will always be someone further along than you are. There will always be someone with more books published or more short stories accepted. Trying to be anyone else or beat anyone else will only leave you feeling sad or jealous or not enough. Don't worry about them. They are not your problem. Just do what you love. Improve your craft. Write often. Write terribly. Write with passion. Focus on the sheer joy of creating. Focus on improving your characters. Focus on the business of making your writing into a profitable living, if that's what you want it to be. Focus on finding health and happiness and carving out time for your passion. But for goodness sake, don't ever make it about competing with what anyone else is doing. Keep your eyes on your own paper, and you'll find joy in the journey. What more could any of us even hope for? Emma Nelson’s writing has most recently been published in The Routledge Companion to Media and Fairy-Tale Cultures. She has taught writing classes at BYU where she received an MA in Literature, is the founder of Owl Hollow Press, and has edited many books and anthologies, including the annual teen anthologies in partnership with Teen Author Boot Camp. Her fiction is represented by Donaghy Literary Group. TABC 2020 CLASS: HUMOR, HEART, and HICCUPPING-SOBS: Grab your readers’ emotions and don’t let go We all have those books that remain close to our hearts because they made us laugh, they made us cry, or they made us fall in love. They pulled us in emotionally and carried us along for a ride that made us feel something unforgettable. In this class, we’ll learn techniques for creating emotionally layered characters, plots, and themes to make your writing come to life for your readers. We’ll grab them by their hearts and never let go—and maybe make them laugh a little along the way.
Caitlin Sangster Credit: Thinkstock From the first page of your story, you are making promises to your reader whether you like it or not. Based on how the characters talk to each other and what happens, rea ders will assume things about your book. Some of these assumptions are the kind writers love to destroy with fabulous plot twists, but, for the most part, authors WANT to make promises at the beginning of a book that are fulfilled throughout. No reader wants to pick up a book they think is a happy rom-com and find out halfway through it’s a horror story and all the characters they hoped would be kissing by page 103 are dead in puddles of their own blood. So, here’s how you can make the right kinds of promises in your book starting from the very first chapter. Setting: I know, it sounds silly. OF COURSE the setting is important, but where your first chapter takes place is going to tell your reader what is possible in your story. Your readers need a very clear picture of where your character is and what they are doing within the first few sentences. A lively conversation taking place as two characters walk to English class together will make very different promises than a conversation that takes place on, say, a tank. If you story starts in English class but ends up on a tank, the opening scenes needs to hint that a tank is possible. Movement: It’s a lot easier to show who your character is and what they want if the character is moving. Give them something to do, give them a goal. If that goal is “survive the walk to English class without making eye contact with Brett Kelsier, the cute new kid” it’s going to tell us something very different than “survive the walk to English without making eye contact with Brett Kelsier, because last time I let him look me in the eye I found a decapitated ferret in my locker the next day.” I’m still stuck on the rom-com/horror mismatch. Sorry guys. Flavor: Use your words wisely. Consciously use language that hints at what kind of story is to come, and do it using your character’s point of view as a lens. If we spend a lot of time with the character making witty observations about the world around them and explaining about their family situation, it tells us the rest of the book is probably going to emphasize relationships and people, and there probably won’t be a knife fight in the next chapter because that wouldn’t match. If we spend a whole paragraph on how nice Brett Kelsier looks in skinny jeans, that tells us romance is on the table. If Brett Kelsier has a smile sharp enough to puncture skin and hair curled tighter than a small intestine, well . . . you get the idea. To see an example, try watching these two opening scenes. Content warning: both these movies are PG13 and shooting/death is involved. Dunkirk (click to watch) Iron Man (click to watch) Basically, the same thing happens in both scenes. There are soldiers in a dangerous place (setting!). They are going somewhere (movement!). People attack them, bad stuff happens. BUT, if you pay attention to what the main characters say and do, the tone (in books tone is communicated through the way your character interacts with and describes the world around them) there are very different promises being made about what kind of story is coming. Caitlin Sangster is the author of Last Star Burning, Shatter the Suns, and Dead Moon Rising, but, contrary to what you may think, is not obsessed with celestial bodies. She's the founder and co-host of Lit Service Podcast. Caitlin shares lots of writing tips on her podcast which also does first chapter critiques. She'll be doing a live show and a first chapter critique with Kiersten White! Here's the submission link: INSTAGRAM: TWITTER: WEBSITE: PODCAST: