Monday, May 21, 2018

Three Mindset Shifts To Help You Have A (Realistically) Productive Summer



Stephanie Morrill is the creator of GoTeenWriters.com and the author of several young adult novels, including the 1920s mystery, The Lost Girl of Astor Street (Blink/HarperCollins). Despite loving cloche hats and drop-waist dresses, Stephanie would have been a terrible flapper because she can’t do the Charleston and looks awful with bobbed hair. She and her near-constant ponytail live in Kansas City with her husband and three kids. You can connect with her on FacebookTwitterPinterest, Instagram, and sign up for free books on her author website.


Earlier this week, I followed a link to an article called something like, "10 Ways to be Super Duper Productive!" I'm a sucker for those articles. I hardly ever get anything out of them, but they're like a flame to my inner moth.

There was nothing of use in the article, but the tone of it irritated me more than usual. "Make your bed first in the morning! Then you'll have at least accomplished one thing!" And, "Spend fifteen minutes picking up your house at the end of the day! That will help keep it clean!"

Look, these are fine things. When I worked from home and had zero children, I did make my bed first thing every morning, and there was no need for me to pick up my house at the end of the day because both my husband and I clean up after ourselves. Productivity has gotten increasingly harder as I've gotten older and my responsibilities have grown.

That article did not understand me or my productivity struggles, and to be fair, I was probably not the author's target audience. All the same, when I saw that the blogging topic I jotted down on my calendar for today was, "Being a productive writer during the summer," I just laughed.



I graduated high school in 2001 and immediately went to work, so the last real "summer break" I experienced was in 2000. At this stage of life, it's easier for me to be productive during the school year because that's when the majority of my kids are occupied during the day.

Truthfully, I can only offer this advice from my memories of what it was like to have a summer break stretching before me. Maybe these thoughts on summer and productivity will completely miss the mark for you, but here are my ideas, and I welcome you to include yours in the comments.

1. Think Something, Not Everything

When my inbox gets overloaded or my to-do list gets real long, that's when I become so overwhelmed that I don't even know what to do first. I find myself scattered. I'll start to answer an email, then allow myself to get sidetracked by checking for that book on Amazon, then remember I need to draft a blog post, then realize I'm still halfway through that email...

Sometimes we can't help that a day holds a lot of need-to-dos, but when I can, it's best for me to think small. To think of the one, maybe two, items that I want to cross of my list. Or the one scene I want to get written, rather than the whole chapter.

That's what the 100-for-100 challenge is about in a lot of ways. (Just a few more days to get registered, writers!) Aiming low because we know that getting something done each day is better than hoping to get everything done.

2. Think Training, Not Mastery

I don't know if you're like me, but I tend to want to rock something right away. If I decide I want to take up running, I determine I'm going to start running a mile everyday. If I'm feeling motivated to eat better, I decide only salads for lunch and absolutely no sugar ever.

I don't want to bother with that whole training process. I want to master that thingeverything from running to writing a novelNOW.

Writing stories is fun, but it's also a long journey that requires endurance and training. You probably won't be able to go from writing 0 words every day to 5,000 words every day. Start with something smallagain, that's why we do a 100 word challengeand then bump it up a bit as time goes on.

3. Think Today, Not Tomorrow

"I'll start that tomorrow" is the phrase I used to say to myself all summer, until I would realize school started back up next week, and I hadn't touched any of the assigned books that I was supposed to have read by the first day of school. Whoops!

I regularly have to resist glamorizing and glorifying what person I will be tomorrow. Because guess what? I will be the same me. Tomorrow I will probably still be wishing I had gotten more sleep last night, my writing time will still be shorter than I would like, and there will still be far more interruptions than seem necessary. My struggles tomorrow are often the exact same as my struggles today.

Have something you want to make progress on? Today is a great day to start.

At the same time, don't put pressure on yourself to hit the ground running with productivity on day one of summer. Or day one after you've been on vacation or have been sick. (Isn't being sick during the summer just the worst?) Rest is good for our creative souls. Pressure and stress are not.

I'm looking forward to starting the 100-for-100 challenge with many of you on Thursday! Jill, Shannon, and I have spent the last few months lining up great authors to be our guests this summer, and next Monday I'll give you guys a peek at who will be stopping by the blog!









Friday, May 18, 2018

Why Failure is Necessary

Shannon Dittemore is the author of the Angel Eyes novels. She has an overactive imagination and a passion for truth. Her lifelong journey to combine the two is responsible for a stint at Portland Bible College, performances with local theater companies, and an affinity for mentoring teen writers. Since 2013, Shannon has taught mentoring tracks at a local school where she provides junior high and high school students with an introduction to writing and the publishing industry. For more about Shan, check out her website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.

As writers, failure is one of our greatest fears.

It strikes me that the very act of writing a story should bring both the value and necessity of failure into sharp focus. As students of plot and structure, we understand why a hero's first attempt at reaching a goal is usually unsuccessful.

In Empire Strikes Back, we understand why Luke's effort to kill Darth Vader isn't successful. He's not in possession of all the facts, he's not strong enough, and he hasn't finished his training.

In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, we watch Harry struggle with Dementors again and again, and while we feel for him, we understand that mastering the charm that will protect himself is difficult. It will take time and practice. He has to come to grips with his fear and find a memory happy enough to defeat it.

In The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, we're aware that Edmund's moral failure opens up the door for redemption. Without it, there's no stone table, there's no sacrifice. Any victory over the White Witch is simply a battle of strength versus strength. Aslan's unique ability to redeem Edmund's failure gives the plot a depth we couldn't have otherwise explored.


The more we read and the more we write, the more we learn about the usefulness of failure in story. We find that one character's failure can set the stage for another character's assent. Tolkien uses this device masterfully. Aragorn fears failing in the same way his forebears failed. It's why he hid from the throne, why he was so reluctant to rise to power as the rightful king. The failures of his ancestors make readers acutely aware that Aragorn may not succeed at his task. This reality pinned expertly into place by Tolkien, pays off beautifully when Aragorn conquers the frailty in his blood and does not succumb to the temptations that unseated his elders.

Failure is a lush backdrop for success and while we're keen to use it to enhance the stories we write about fictional characters, we're reluctant to believe it could have any place in our own, ever-unfolding, story. When failure rises up in our own lives, specifically on our writing journeys, our first response is often one of surprise. We're shocked that we could work so hard and still come up short of our goal.

Frustration, embarrassment, irritation, disappointment, anger, maybe even grief. These are all reactions that I can sympathize with. But, shock? A disciple of story should never been surprised when our efforts do not yield the desired outcome.

Here's what the president of Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios said about failure:


As creatives who are always pushing the envelope and crafting new art, this is a lesson we must learn. The sooner we embrace it, the easier it will be for us to navigate failures in our own lives. So! Let's take a look at why failure is necessary, for both your hero and for YOU.


What does failure do for a story?



Failure brings direction 

We talked about Luke Skywalker earlier, but consider his actions after the events of Empire Strikes Back. The movie ended with a measure of both success and failure. By abandoning his Jedi training, Luke was able to reunite with some of his friends, but not before Han was frozen in carbonite and handed over to Boba Fett. Luke's fight with Vader was also a colossal failure that cost him his hand and shed light on hurtful family ties, injuring him further. Luke could have chosen to wallow in his failure and in the harsh truths he heard, but he didn't. Instead, he put together a plan to rescue Han and then he returned to Dagobah to finish his training.



If we're careful to look for it, failure can provide direction in ways success never will. Failure leads us back to the practice arena so we can work harder on our craft. It shows us the chinks in our armor, the weak spots in our discipline, and the cheats that have cost us quality. That kind of knowledge can be painful to process, but if we choose practice over bitterness, we take one more step toward success.


Failure takes raw talent and demands discipline

So many of the stories we love revolve around a Chosen One and a moment of destiny in the offing. The Matrix has Neo. Lord of the Rings has Frodo. There's Harry Potter and Percy Jackson. Kung Fu Panda has Po and Ender's Game has Ender himself.

My favorite moment in these stories is when the Chosen One realizes that the special qualities he was born with will not be enough to win the day. The raw talent that resides somewhere inside of him must be transformed into a weapon. And the only way that can happen is with discipline, experience, and often wisdom from a group of supporters who believe in this would-be champion.



You're no different. If you're attempting to succeed based on raw talent alone, failure will be an eye-opening rest stop as you journey. Raw talent doesn't require anything of us. We're all born with a measure of it. It's what we do with it that matters. You need to live and learn. To train alongside others who believe in you and will support you even in the rough moments. Not only will these things move you closer to success, but they are just plain old good for you. They will make you a well-rounded, worthy person, as well as a better writer.


Failure gathers genuine support

It can be devastating to learn that failure cost you an opportunity. But that's nothing to realizing that failure cost you relationships or reputation. In the movie, The Dark Knight, Batman takes the fall for Harvey Dent's killing spree and his only remaining supporter is Commissioner Gordon. Failure, or perceived failure, can cost you affection. But failure is also good for shining a light on those who value YOU more than your successes.

Remember the movie Sandlot? When Scotty Smalls knocks his step-dad's prized, Babe Ruth-autographed ball over a fence, his friends could have jumped ship. They could have left him standing in that dirt lot all by himself without a prayer of retrieving the ball from the gigantic mastiff guarding the yard beyond. But they didn't. In that moment, Scotty learned what it truly meant to be part of a team, to have friends who would stick by him when leaving was the easier thing to do.


 

Failure begets empathy

When we watch characters screw up on the page or on the screen, it becomes much easier to identify with them. Even if we haven't failed in the same way, we have failed and we understand the complicated emotions that follow.

In the TV show The Flash, Barry Allen screws up time and again as he tries to uncover the mystery of his mother's murder. Unfortunately for Barry, his ability to run faster than time often causes problems that he feels honor bound to fix. We understand this need because we share it. When we fail, we want to go back in time and fix things. There's a part of us that envies Barry's ability to do what we cannot. And then his speedster ways screw everything up and we understand, again, the agony as he is forced to apologize for failing to patch up his own mess.


Here's the truth: it can be embarrassing to admit you tried really hard to succeed at something and came up short. But failing is human. It unites us all. And finding a way to share those painful efforts gives those around you the freedom to try difficult things without worrying about the negative opinions of others. Failure isn't something you should be ashamed of. It simply means you tried. Pick yourself up, use what you learned from the experience, and try again. Unless you're attempting to run backwards through time and then PUH-LEASE learn from Barry's mistakes and let us all come to grips with life as it is.

 

Failure sets the stage for a success story

I would love to tell you that you'll have a storybook ending full of success and that all your dreams will one day come true, but I'm not going to do that. I don't know what the future holds for you, just as I can't guess what tomorrow has in store for me. What I do know is that failure is not a sign that you should give up.

If you're considering walking away from storytelling, leave your failures out of the decision-making process. Everyone who's ever succeeded at anything worthwhile has failed first. And often, they've failed spectacularly.

Remember Special Agent Gracie Hart from Miss Congeniality? Early in the movie she botches an assignment and gets another agent injured. That failure follows her throughout the movie and sets her up for a shot at redemption. In real life, we're not guaranteed a splashy finale that pulls us full-circle, but if you let past failures dictate your actions, you'll never know if that success story is forthcoming or what it might look like for you.


Success doesn't look the same on everyone. Lightning McQueen is a fantastic example of this. After the opening scene of the Disney movie, Cars, he believes that success means winning the tie-breaking race and hoisting the Piston Cup so he can impress all the fancy sponsors. His journey along Route 66 teaches him that winning at any cost isn't success after all.

Sometimes the road we're on takes us to the pinnacle of all we've ever dreamed. And sometimes our dreams change. Either way, failure will play an important role. It's a necessary obstacle that will help your heroes grow. And if you'll let it, failure can do the same for you.


How has failure or a fear of it impacted your writing journey? Do you have any advice for writers struggling with failure right now?

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

10 Tips for Planning a Series in Advance

Jill Williamson is a chocolate loving, daydreaming, creator of kingdoms. She writes weird books in lots of weird genres like fantasy (Blood of Kings and Kinsman Chronicles), science fiction (Replication), and dystopian (The Safe Lands trilogy). She has a podcast/vlog at www.StoryworldFirst.com. You can also find Jill on InstagramFacebookTwitterPinterest, or on her author website. Tagboth (Tag for short) is a goldhorn dragon from Belfaylinn, a hidden fantasy realm on the western end of the Sargasso Sea. Jill is working on the first book of this tale for this year's Grow an Author series.

As I mentioned back in February when I plotted out and made an outline for Onyx Eyes, I have decided that this will be the first in a series of five books, each with twenty-four chapters. 

This is the plan.

I've never tackled a series quite like this before, but I have been gathering information about self-publishing for many years now, and I'm convinced that the best way to self-publish a series is to release as many books as possible up front to hook ebook readers. With a five-book series, I'd really like to publish the first three all at once. I might not make this goal. But one who doesn't set goals, rarely achieves them. So here are my tips for planning out my five-book Colors of Belfaylinn series in advance.




1. CONSIDER THE TITLES
I sort of like my plan for the book titles, which are: Onyx Eyes, Ruby Eyes, Diamond Eyes, Emerald Eyes, and Golden Eyes. They will be easy to brand on the five covers, and the repetition of "eyes" makes them easy to remember. But I'm not sold on my series title: The Colors of Belfaylinn. The word "colors" is okay, since it matches the fact that each book has a different color theme and color eyes in the title. But Belfaylinn is the name of my land, and that doesn't mean anything to a new reader. I would do better to come up with a more marketable series title. Something that speaks to the genre. Perhaps Eyes of Magic or the Stonemage Saga. I will think on this some more. It's important to have a memorable title.

2. CREATE BLURBS FOR EACH BOOK
I have done this, but I'm not going to post them or there will be massive SPOILERS. I simply wrote a paragraph for each to help me plot. These will absolutely change after I've written each book and know how each story changed from my plan. Then I'll need to come up with a final back cover copy for each book.

3. CREATE A CALENDAR OF DATES
I am lost without a calendar to keep me on track. I will put everything I can think of on this calendar. And I will write in PENCIL, because many of these dates will change. And if my first draft date changes, that will set off the whole system. So pencils and erasers are my friends.

I usually Google "printable calendar," then find a website that will let me print by months. Then I'll print the months I'll need and fill them in. I'll set "hope dates" for everything: drafting deadlines for each book, editing deadlines, cover design "contact the artist" dates, "need covers by" dates, typesetting dates, a date to form my launch team, and (of course) book release dates. Scheduling these dates out loosely in advance will help me be more prepared.

4. PLOT THEM OUT
I will plot out all five books in the series before writing book one. I started this process already, but I could spend more time on it. I followed my math formula plan that I used to plot out book one, which I explained in detail in this post: How to Plot Your Story and Create a Loose Outline. I made a plot sheet for each book (which you can download in the linked post above), then I taped together sheets of paper to make a three-act structure chart for all five books as one large story. This helped me make sure I had a full series overarching story as well as individual stories for each book. As I came up with new ideas, I wrote them on sticky notes and stuck them to my huge timeline. Here's a picture:





5. WRITE FAST
With the first draft of any book, I always try to write it as quickly as possible. But since I'm hoping to release the first three books at the same time, I'll need to work really hard to get all three written. Ideally, I would write book one, rewrite it, then send it to my editor. And while my editor has it, I would then write the first draft of book two, and so on.

6. SET A BUDGET
With any book release, I try to set a budget for both book costs and marketing costs for at least the first three months. It's important to know what I can afford and to stay within that amount. It's easy to overspend if you're not careful, so setting a budget is the best way to protect yourself.

7. COVER DESIGN GOALS
With self-publishing, the majority of sales will come from ebooks, so I'll want book covers that not only match in an obvious way, I'll want book covers that look interesting and can be read in thumbnail size. I need covers that will catch readers' eyes at a glance. So simple, branded well, easy to read, and as interesting as can be. My plan so far is to have a close-up on a face with pointy elf ears with the eyes the color of the title. We'll see how that goes.

8. WRITE A MARKETING PLAN 
Release days can be overwhelming if you don't have a plan. Writing a marketing plan is a great way to get organized. You can calendar out social media posts like writing out tweets and planning images and graphics to share online. You can also come up with ideas for preorder swag and contests, special sales, parties, and other promotional items.

9. GATHER A LAUNCH TEAM
Any book release can be benefited by a launch team. I like to put together a team about three or four months before the book releases. I'll make a list of plans for how I'll involve them, special contests just for them, and how I'll thank them for participating.

10. EBOOK CREATION AND TYPESETTING
Some self-published authors pay to have their paperbacks typeset and their ebooks created. If you're planning to make a career of self-publishing, I highly recommend learning to do this yourself. It's not terribly difficult, and that way, whenever you need changes, you can make them without having to pay anyone and wait for them to fit it into their schedule. When designing your ebooks, make sure to create special backmatter pages for each book in the series that will link to the next book in the series. This makes it easy for readers to know what comes next.

So that's my plan. I'll take it one step at a time and keep you posted as to how I'm doing.

Any questions? Post them in the comments.


Also, help me out. Which do you like best for a series title?


1. The Colors of Belfaylinn 


2. Eyes of Magic


3. The Stonecaster Saga


Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Register for the 100-for-100 Writing Challenge Summer 2018!



Stephanie Morrill is the creator of GoTeenWriters.com and the author of several young adult novels, including the 1920s mystery, The Lost Girl of Astor Street (Blink/HarperCollins). Despite loving cloche hats and drop-waist dresses, Stephanie would have been a terrible flapper because she can’t do the Charleston and looks awful with bobbed hair. She and her near-constant ponytail live in Kansas City with her husband and three kids. You can connect with her on FacebookTwitterPinterest, Instagram, and sign up for free books on her author website.


Of all the events we've done on Go Teen Writers, none has been quite as popular as the 100-for-100 challenge.



If you haven't played along before, the challenge is to write (at least) 100 words a day, every day, for 100 days.

100 words is about a paragraph. You can likely do it in 10 minutes or less. While it might seem like just a drop in the bucket, all those drops add up to 10.000 words in your manuscript by the end of the 100 days. And that's if you do the bare minimum! Not bad, right?

This writing challenge is open to writers of all ages! Here's how the challenge works:

1. You sign up on the form below saying, "Yes, I want to write 100 words for the next 100 days." You must be signed up by noon central time on Thursday, May 24th if you want to play along. If you live in a place where our May 24th is your May 25th, do whatever feels easiest for you. Either start on May 24th in your time zone or in ours.

2. Beginning on Thursday, May 24th you write 100 words on the project of your choice. You must pick one project to work on for the 100-for-100 challenge. Only words for that that project count towards your daily words. Here are the exceptions:
  • If you finish your project. Hooray for finishing projects! If this happens, tell us so we can celebrate, and then pick something else to work on.
  • If you and your project part ways. This happened to me one year. The 100-for-100 coincided with a writers conference, and I pitched my 100-for-100 book to an editor at the conference. She told me they already had a book in the pipeline that was basically the same concept. And that was probably the last time I ever opened that manuscript file...
3. You write 100 words a day everyday until Friday, August 31st, and you keep track of it. At the end of the challenge, you'll send me your tracking sheet. Here's a link to one we've made, but you don't have to use this one. (This link will give you access to view it but not make changes. You can print it out, download it, or save a copy to your own Google Drive. If you're having trouble with it, let me know.) Somehow, though, you need to keep track of how many words you've written so that I can see. A few notes about your words:
  • You are allowed one "grace day" per week (sometimes life happens, plus many people take a day off a week for religious reasons and we want to respect that), and one "grace week" per contest. So if one week you only write 300 words, you just count up what you have, and press on.
  • You can write more than 100 words each day if you like. Most people find they do. But you can't write 700 words on Monday and nothing the rest of the week and still participate in the challenge. The idea is to develop a writing discipline. So some days you might write 1,000 words and others you might barely get in your 100.
4. When the challenge is over, you send me your form. Then three things happen:
  • You get my admiration and respect. I have actually never made it all the way to the end. I'm hoping this is my moment!
  • You get entered for prizes! Books, gift cards, critiques, and all sorts of fun writerly things that you'll like.
  • We post your name on a list on the website as someone who totally rocks. We also do fun competitions between the age groups to see who was the most productive. It's a lot of fun!
Some helpful tips:

Lydia Howe is a published author and community member who has been faithfully doing the challenge since 2012. If you missed her post yesterday, make sure to check it out.

If you're looking for a community to do this with, the Go Teen Writers Community Facebook group is a fabulous place. We're very careful about who has access to the group, so if you want to join, go ahead and apply, and then expedite your approval by emailing us: GoTeenWritersCommunity(at)gmail.com.

We will be using the hashtag #GTW100for100 on social media.

That is a great chance to rack up words and make friends this summer! We hope you'll join us!

 

Monday, May 14, 2018

How To Write Every Day And Why You Should

Today we are so fortunate to have community member Lydia Howe as our guest! Tomorrow, details for the 100-for-100 writing challenge and the sign up form will be posted. (Official writing doesn't begin until Thursday, May 24th.) 

Nobody has taken on the 100-for-100 writing challenge quite like Lydia has, and I think you'll find her experience very motivating. A disclaimer from Lydia herself, doing the challenge for over two thousand days isn't for everyone, and she wouldn't necessarily recommend following in her  footsteps to that extreme.


Lydia Howe is a twenty-something adventurer who grew up traversing the globe, first through the pages of books, and then in reality. Nowadays she's living the clich├ęd life of working at a coffee shop and writing. When she's not surrounding herself with words you can find her riding through the fields on Chadwin, her trusty lawnmower. She enjoys blogging and recently joined the worlds of Booktube and Bookstagram

September 12, 2012 was two thousand and seventy-two days ago, and also the kick-off for the first ever 100-for-100 challenge hosted by Go Teen Writers. It was also when I committed to writing at least 100 words on my story every day, and I haven't missed a single one yet.

So, from the perspective of someone who's written at least a 100 words on her WIP (work in progress) every day for over a fourth of her life, I thought I'd share some thoughts and tips with y'all as you get ready to embark on your 100-day adventure.

Tips for Writing Every Day

If you have a phone, set an alarm. Mine goes off at 10:17 every night so if I haven't had time to sit down and write that day, then I'm reminded to do so.

If you're feeling stuck in your book, take a break from the actual manuscript and write a scene, journal entry, or letter from the perspective of a different character. This will help you see the story from a new light and hopefully provide inspiration.

On days when you're not able to follow your normal writing routine carry around a notebook/phone/scrap of paper so you can write when you have a moment here or there. I've written on planes, trains, in cars, in waiting rooms, at stores, restaurants, and the list goes on.

Decide to commit, and then stick to it. Having the mindset that you will write every day until the end of the challenge will really help you stay consistent.

What Benefits Have I Gained From Writing Every Day?

1. I get to know my characters better
2. I understand my writing style more
3. Even on the busiest of days, I always take a moment to stop, breath, and remember that I'm a writer
4. And of course, adding to my WIP

Adding to your story is the main purpose of doing the 100-for-100 challenge and is highly effective. Just think about it: A few minutes here and there each day and you add at least 10,000 words to your WIP. But, during the last two thousand days, I haven't always been working on a new book. So, what then? Do I still write 100 words? Yes, but (shh!) I don't always write quality words. In fact, during busy seasons of life, I sometimes don't even keep the words I write.

Why write words I won't keep? Well, just like I didn't always keep my practice sheets in math as a kid, I don't always need to keep my practice words as a writer. I'm a student to the craft of writing, and consistently practicing the craft helps me improve.

I hope y'all have a very successful 100-for-100 challenge and have as much fun with the GTW Community as I have over the years. Cheers!