Top Ten Freebie! My Ten Tips For Writing

Hey everyone!  There are a lot of different things I could have gone with for this (and I very nearly did a list about series I still need to finish), but I thought I’d talk about writing.  Whether you write a blog or fiction, I thought I’d give you some advice.  My qualifications are limited, I admit, but I am an English teacher, avid reader, and blogger for 8.5 years.  Take it or leave it.

So let’s get started!

Top Ten Tips For Writing

1. Write what interests you

I mean, this is probably the easiest thing.  When I started this blog, it was because I desperately loved YA books (and still do).  I knew I could write for days about books, authors, stories, whatever.  It was not going to be a problem to pull up my computer and start typing about something book related.

When it comes to fiction, this might be a little harder to pinpoint.  The common saying is to “write what you know,” but that’s not great advice. What I end up writing most often are love stories and ghost stories.  I have no experience with ghosts, but they interest me.  And love stories are fascinating because of the characters I can create and watch them fall for each other.

But this also requires some care.  Like, I love fantasy stories but I don’t have an interest in building my own worlds.  So even though I could write something like that, I’d lose interest way too fast and the project would never get off the ground.  It’s about knowing you, I guess.

2. Find your voice

This was super easy for me in terms of blogging.  My writing voice sounds like me.  You may have noticed in the last paragraph of the previous point, I said, “Like, I love fantasy.”  That’s an example of voice.  That’s how I talk.  What I’m hearing in my head as I think about this topic is what I write.  It’s my inner monologue put to the keyboard.  (I was going to say “put to paper,” but that didn’t make much sense since this is a blog.)

In writing fiction, this is a little harder.  Generally what I do for that is I just think about who my narrator is and I just start writing an emotional scene for them, whatever thing is stuck in my head.  As I inhabit that character more, their voice makes more sense.  I’ll probably go back and change some of that early stuff later on, but it’s all a process.

For example, in the story I’ve been working on on-and-off for 4 years, I recently deleted about a page of a fight that I was once proud of because it no longer fit the character.  I didn’t see her talking like that anymore.  And even though I liked what she had to say, it just didn’t make sense.

3. Word choice matters

Word choice is so important.  This is me as a teacher speaking.  I read essays all the time where their word choice is terrible.  Please, for the love of God, vary your word choices.  Don’t use the same phrases over and over, don’t consistently say words like “thought,” “said,” or “things.”  I know you’re going to use them, but if a better word comes along like “mused,” “stated,” or “dinglehopper,” please use those instead.

This has been an English Teacher PSA.  Thank you for watching.

4. Details, details, details

I’m a sucker for details.  I think most of us are.  When I write reviews, I have to balance the details with being too wordy or giving away the ending.  I try to give details about what I remembered the most, what I was impressed by, or what I hated.  I don’t always succeed, but that is my goal.

With fiction, the key is imagery.  You want to include as many of the five senses as possible while still making sense.  (My students are particularly bad at this.  I have to use examples like, “If you tell me what a baseball tastes like as you’re describing a game, I’m going to be worried about you.”)  It’s not always going to make sense to describe smells or tastes or even touch unless it pertains to the scene.

But seriously, don’t go overboard.  Victor Hugo and Charles Dickens go overboard.  While they are classic Dead White Guys, don’t be them.

5. Plot. It. Out.

Most of the time, I’m a pantser.  I just sit in front of a white screen and type what pops into my head.  So I’m guilty of not following this at all.

With my blog, I can get away with it.  I have a formula in my head for my reviews that I follow.  I know to intro my review, give a quick synopsis of the book, talk about the characters/plot/action/humor/writing, then end with what I didn’t like, if there was anything.  I do this without thinking about it much anymore.  Do I change it up occasionally?  Sure, especially if there’s a movie version of the book or if something really stands out that I have to address.  But mostly, I don’t mess with the formula.

With fiction, I’m coming to learn that it really does help to plot things out.  My problem with that usual stems from the fact that my interests drops out after I know how a story will end.  But my current story has been plotted for years and the notes, while somewhat different from how the story is turning out, have been helpful for keeping me on track.  Your story is allowed to take detours from your notes.  Sometimes those things develop minds of their own.

6. Find the right audience

Not everyone is going to like what you write.  It’s a peril of the job.  My YA blog would not be applicable to my dad, for example, who really doesn’t read at all and certainly never YA.  In this case, I think it helps to network with other writers who have similar blogs to you.  (Shout out to all you other fabulous YA bloggers!  Y’all are stellar people!)

And obviously, the same is true for fiction.  Someone who always reads nonfiction may not appreciate literary fiction or the latest thriller novel.  It’s all about finding the people who are interested in what you’re saying.  Trust me, they’re out there.

7. Proof it/Edit often

I’m guilt of not doing this a lot with my blog.  I pretty much write up a post and click “publish.”  I will do that as soon as I finish this.  I’ll glance over it super quick and click that button without actually proofing this.

But I also sort of proof it as I write it.  If I have a typo, I literally cannot move past it.  I have to immediately hit the delete button to get back to it.  So it’s not that I’m not doing it at all, just that my process works differently.

I digress.  This is why editing matters.  I probably should go back and delete that previous paragraph because it does nothing to help this point.  Ironically, I didn’t do that on purpose.  Proofing and editing help you look like a better, more accomplished writer because you can be critical of your own work and make decisions about what would make it better.

As I mentioned earlier, I deleted a part of my story that no longer made sense.  I’ve been doing that, going back and filling holes, as I’ve been working on this story the past few weeks.  With fiction, it’s all about what feels right for the story and looking intelligent as you do it.  We all hate those stories where we are distracted by the typos.  Ugh.  Bane of my existence.

8. Stand by your work, but don’t get an ego

What I mean by this is have pride in your work but be willing to change.  I’m incredibly proud of what I post on this blog…most of the time.  Sometimes I start on a weekly bit that doesn’t seem to be getting the reaction I thought it would, so I drop it.  Sometimes I start something as a joke and get great feedback about it and keep it going.  It’s all about adaptability.

Fiction is the same way.  Be proud of what you’ve written, but if someone gives you advice about how to make it better, take it.  You don’t have to listen to everything, but acknowledge it.  I try to impress this upon my students.  I’m not the be-all, end-all of writing, so sometimes my advice may not be the vision they have for their paper.  And that’s ok.

9. Write often.  Even if it sucks.

Mostly, I’m talking about fiction here.  I’ll admit that during testing or projects in my classroom, I can get super bored watching the kids work on the same thing all day long.  (Especially during standardized tests when I have nothing to grade.)  So last year, I spent a good portion of the year during those moments jotting little bits of a story down.  It started in…October?…and I wrote it up through May.  I’d just grab a piece of notebook paper and write out the scene, tucking it away in my bag to look at later.

Afterward, I compiled it all into a story.  And some of it sucks.  I definitely didn’t plot it out ahead of time, so it feels aimless.  But there are pieces of it that are pretty genius and those are the parts that made it all worth it.  Maybe I can’t salvage the story (or maybe I can), but I have something I can build off of.

10. Let it sit.  Then come back to it.

Especially in fiction, I believe this is crucial.  You almost need to let it sit so long you’ve forgotten the story.  My on-and-off story gets looked at so infrequently that it’s been 10 months since I last looked at it.  And yeah, I remembered the basic plot.  Of course I did.  But the details…going back and reading some of that again was inspiring.  These words came from me.  I said this smart stuff.  And I started to see how I could add a scene here or change the wording here or make the visual clearer there.

It’s fascinating to go back and read those old stories.  I get sucked back into them all over again.  It’s a lot like the thrill of rereading an old favorite book, one where you have those set mental pictures and you remember the feelings with certain scenes.

A lot of the time when we write, we think it’s all crap.  We get frustrated and just want to delete/burn the whole thing.  But let it sit.  Sometimes, like a fine wine, it gets better with age.  And other times it doesn’t.  If it doesn’t, then you can burn it.

Defending Taylor

Image result for defending taylorFirst Lines: When I was a little girl, Dad installed a gumball machine in our house.  But instead of just giving me the candy, I had to pay for it by doing chores.

I’m a big fan of Miranda Kenneally and I really wanted to see how this one would compare to the other Hundred Oaks books.  I’ve been reading a lot of fantasy/paranormal books lately, so this seemed like a good way to take a break from those.

Taylor needs to be perfect.  Captain of the soccer team, on track to be valedictorian, and president of the Debate Club are only a few of the ways she’s trying to get Yale’s attention.  That’s what’s expected of this senator’s daughter: she goes to Yale like the rest of her family.  But after one impulsive lie to protect her boyfriend, everything lays in ruins around her.  Everything she’s worked for is gone and now she’s starting over at Hundred Oaks High.  Soccer is Taylor’s way of coping with everything.  She’s always been good at it and loves it.  The only person who seems to understand what Taylor’s feeling is her brother’s best friend Ezra.  Taylor’s had a crush on him since forever.  But will she go back to making the same mistakes or has she learned her lesson about boys?

This story was particularly powerful because I was a lot like Taylor growing up. And not only that, but as a teacher in an affluent district, I see that same pressure she’s experiencing piled onto my own students. It’s real, it’s heartbreaking, and it’s powerful to see her struggle her way out of it.

The love story was as magical as I was expecting it to be. Taylor and Ezra, there’s something definitely cute there.

I feel like the secondary story here, about Taylor’s father being a senator up for re-election, is perhaps more resonant in the last few years than ever before. As a culture, we’ve realized that elections matter. We’re paying attention to politics in a way that I don’t think anyone in this country has in over 150 years. To see Taylor and her family in that world, behind what the cameras show, was interesting. And it was balanced between the good and the bad.

I think I say this with every Kenneally book, but I just love that all of these books revolve around sporty, athletic girls who have problems outside of that sport. It’s so empowering that these books exist, considering so many books seem to stick to the same old girly girl or “I’m not like those other girls” mentality. I love that these girls go after their passions.

Just to play devil’s advocate a little here, I’ve seen a lot of reviews that are upset with this book because Taylor’s not exactly being a feminist here.  She lies for her boyfriend and bad things happen to her because of it.  Therefore (allegedly) she’s becoming a doormat for the men in her life.  But I don’t see it that way.  Taylor initially means well with the lie, but once it gets out of control, she tries to do the best she can in those circumstances.  Could she have made different (and better) choices?  Absolutely.  But we’ve all made stupid mistakes like that where we look back and know we could have handled something better.  I certainly do.

This was a good read. I had a hard time putting it down.

East

Image result for east edith pattouFirst Lines: I found the box in the attic of an old farmhouse in Norway.  It was large, the size of a footlocker, and there were markings on it; runes, I learned later.

I believe I was a sophomore in college when one of my good friends recommended this book to me after we’d spent some time wandering the library together.  I respected her recommendation enough to put it on my to-read list…but that cover.  That didn’t look like something I wanted to read.

Rose has always been different from her family.  They want her to be meek and settled, but Rose is anything but.  She longs for adventure.  So when an enormous white bear shows up at her door asking for Rose to come away with him in exchange for helping her family prosper, she agrees.  Rose travels a long way from home on the back of the bear and soon starts to get adjusted to her new home in a castle in the cliffs.  But things are not what they seem and as Rose’s curiosity gets the best of her, bad things begin to happen.

I did rather enjoy this. I heard it had kind of a Beauty and the Beast feel to it, which it does in the first half (though I would argue it’s almost identical to the myth of Cupid and Psyche), even though it’s based on a Norwegian story. I did think the whole trolls angle was pretty weird, but it kinda worked for the story.

I liked Rose’s adventurous spirit. She never let anything scare her away from what she wanted and that was admirable. She was strong, clever, and interesting. And white bear was interesting as well, though I felt like we never really got to know him or really much about his circumstances.

I don’t normally say this, but I actually liked that the story was told from so many different perspectives. Rose, her brother Neddy, Father, White Bear, Troll Queen. All of them added a little something to the story. I felt like it gave the story depth to know what was going on in different places than just wherever Rose was.

It was cute. It’s not necessarily something I would have picked up without a recommendation from someone who really knew my reading tastes, but I enjoyed it.

The Raven’s Tale

Image result for the raven's taleFirst Lines: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen! I imagine myself saying from the pulpit in the pink sanctuary of our church.  My name is Edgar Poe, and today, for reasons I don’t fully comprehend, I’m obsessed with the seventy-two bodies buried beneath us.

When I saw this book, I flipped out.  A dramatization/retelling of Edgar Allan Poe’s teenage years?  SIGN ME UP.  Poe is one of my favorite authors and, like him, I’m drawn to the dark stuff.  I was thrilled to be able to read this.

Edgar Poe is days away from escaping his foster family.  In a few days, he’ll be going away to the University of Virginia to study language and become the writer he knows he can be.  The only downside to leaving is that he leaves behind his sweetheart, Elmira Royster.  But just days before Edgar is set to leave, his darkly intriguing Muse becomes a flesh-and-blood person and wreaks havoc on his life.  If Edgar banishes her, he may forever lose the ability to create art.  But if he doesn’t, she could wreck everything he’s fighting for.

I struggled with this. Like, almost-quit-three-times struggled.

I think part of the problem was that the story lacked suspense for me because I already knew so much about Poe’s life. I knew about Elmira, about John Allan, about school. So when I read those things, I already knew how it was all going to end.

And I thought it was really repetitive. As Poe is writing his works, you could basically skip over pages at a time because he’d say a line, Lenore would echo it, and then he’d write it down. That’s the same four lines (or however many it was) three times. I got bored with that really quickly. By the end, I was skimming those parts.

The personification of muses was more than a little weird too. I can handle weird, but this was bizarre. The muses played by their own rules, rules that didn’t necessarily get explained until they were already happening and by then I was already confused. I was not getting it or getting into it.

I did think it was good source material for a story, though. I mean, Poe’s life is surrounded by so much misery and mystery that it can be an interesting read. A depressing one, but interesting. And there were moments where I did find myself slipping into the story to know more. But it wasn’t very often. I really had to push myself to keep reading it.

For me, anyway, the fact that it was so constantly depressing was a source of anguish for me. I have a hard time reading stories I know are going to be hopeless, and I didn’t expect this story to turn out that way. I saw the trends as I was reading that things were becoming more and more dismal and I didn’t want to keep being unhappy. I actually read three romance novels while reading this to lift my spirits back up. That’s not even an exaggeration.

I wanted to like this so much. I admire Poe and, usually, Cat Winters as well. But this was a struggle.

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald

Image result for the crimes of grindelwaldWho will change the future?

Hey guys!  So I checked this movie out from the library a few weeks ago because I hadn’t watched it yet…and I let it sit by my TV for weeks.  I just wasn’t in the mood for it, you know?  (I got hooked on the show Lucifer…)  But last night, I finally felt like I was looking for a little magic.

*Potential Fantastic Beasts Spoilers Ahead*

Grindelwald is amassing followers.  Worried about what may happen if this continues, Albus Dumbledore enlists the help of Newt Scamander to go to Paris and do what he can to stop Grindelwald.  Newt doesn’t want to pick sides in this fight, preferring to be with his beasts, but Grindelwald is striking close to Newt–and Newt may not be able to stay indifferent for long.

Ok, let’s start with the obvious here.  Jo wrote this and, like the Harry Potter books, you can feel her storytelling in it.  It’s thorough, the characters are interesting, and there are fascinating twists.  There are obvious parallels to the world we live in and that’s always disturbing/fascinating to see.

I mean, I loved seeing a young Dumbledore.  Jude Law did an excellent job with him.  He still feels like Dumbledore, even though we’re seeing him decades before Harry meets him.  I appreciated what Law brought to the screen with his performance because, like Jo says in some of the bonus features, Dumbledore is such an amazing character.  Love him or hate him, he’s fascinating.

But, as I was watching the movie…I was bored.  I kept looking at the clock to figure out how much longer until it was over.

Let me see if I can try to describe this.  I found the plot overall to be slow moving and too broken up between the many narrators.  We’re constantly seeing things from Newt, Dumbledore, Tina, Queenie, Jacob, Credence, and a few others.  Trying to keep all of those straight and look for clues to the ending was tedious.  Especially since what I loved most about the first movie (the beasts and the friendships) weren’t as prevalent this time around.

I do like Newt.  I think Eddie Redmayne plays him marvelously.  He’s strange and quirky, but he doesn’t care a bit what anyone thinks of him so long as he can protect his beasts.  And that is…oddly refreshing.

I just didn’t think this was particularly fun or interesting to watch.  It started off well, but it lost me as it continued on.

Top Ten Settings I’d Like To See More Of

Hey everyone!  So this week’s Top Ten is about settings and honestly, this isn’t something I think about much.  Sure, setting is super important to a story.  It impacts so much of what happens.  But I don’t normally have a problem finding the settings I want (and I’m always looking for something new and exciting!) so I haven’t struggled too much yet.  Still, I’ll give this a go.

Top Ten Settings I’d Like To See More Of

1. France/Paris

For the last year or so, I’ve been absolutely obsessed with France.  (It happens when you realize about a third of your heritage comes from there.)  If I pass a book in the library that has an Eiffel Tower on the spine, you can guarantee I’m picking it up.  And most of the time, they’re really good.  But they’re still pretty rare and it would be fun to see more of the City of Lights in literature.

2. London

I’m dying to travel to London at some point in my life and until I do, I love reading about it.  I don’t even care what century the story’s set in if it’s about London.  Present day, Roman invasion, I don’t care.  Just give me London.

3. Colonial America

As far as history goes (and I do love my history), Colonial America is one of my favorite time periods.  And I’m talking early colonial, pre-1700s.  Jamestown, Roanoke Island, the beginnings of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.  Back when relations with the Natives weren’t initially troubled.  Native American cultures are fascinating to me and the way very early colonists interacted with them was actually quite friendly.  I wish there was more of that in books rather than King Phillip’s War onward, when everything is bloody and brutal.  But that friendship doesn’t give a story conflict, I guess.

4. Faerie

This is my nod to the fantasy genre.  I wasn’t sure what else to call it.  I’m not always the biggest fan of stories where fae infiltrate our world, but I kind of like the ones where someone from our world ends up in theirs.  Think of Julie Kagawa or A Court of Thorns and Roses.  It’s almost an Alice in Wonderland effect where we’re submerged in a world we don’t understand.  I like trying to learn the new worlds.

5. Present day with the past

Ok, maybe the last one wasn’t my only nod to fantasy.  I love time travel stories and that’s what I meant here.  It’s the juxtaposition, like in the last one, of the world I know with a world I’m not as familiar with.  Going back and forth between them is fun for me.  Outlander is a good example of this, even if it’s not present day.

6. The Underworld

I have a fascination with how differently everyone pictures the Afterlife, even within the same religion.  (I truly don’t think any two people picture Heaven the same way.)  So I like stories that present a new and imaginative picture of what the Underworld (ideally ruled by Hades, who is my favorite of the Greek gods) to see what they think it might look like and how they reconcile it with modern religions.  The Goddess Test does a fantastic job of this and I’d love to see more like it.

7. Indiana

My home state!  Indiana gets a bad rep a lot of the time for being nothing but soy beans and corn (which is only like half true) or for being a firmly Red state (sadly, that’s true).  We’re even slammed in the Broadway musical The Prom, which I recently started listening to.  (My initial excitement of it being set in Indiana was quickly dulled in like the third song when Emma says, “People suck in Indiana.”)  John Green, who lives in Indianapolis, put us on the map with The Fault in Our Stars, which I am so happy about.  And Francesca Zappia is also from the state and she’s set her latest book in Indiana.  But that’s about it, of all the books I’ve read.

(Perfect irony here, as I’m writing this, the song “Indiana” by Just Kiddin came on.  And I downloaded that song 50% for the title and 50% because it actually has a great beat.)

8. Medieval Europe

History nerd, remember?  Medieval Europe is full of conflict, interesting characters, and complete overhauls of society depending on where you’re looking at.  It’s fascinating stuff.  A lot of what I’ve read focuses on England or France, which is totally fine and I will totally read more there (see first two in this list), but I’m open to more.  And actually, you know what I’d love to see?  A story of Eleanor of Aquitaine, who was #FIERCE.  I mean, the girl ruled a huge chunk of France in her own right, then married the King of England, then rebelled against him and got their own sons to fight him.  I need to see a book about her.  If you know of one, hit me up.

9. Libraries

For being places of such magic, why are there so few books set in libraries?  Seriously.  This baffles me.  I spend more time at the library than I do anywhere else, not counting my house or work.  We need to rectify this.

10. Around the World/Little Known Places

I love learning about exotic places and cultures through books because it’s safe.  I’m not exactly the adventurous type, so actually going to these countries (especially if they’re war torn or dangerous) is highly unlikely.  So I liked reading books set around the world in far flung places.  I’ve read books set in Central America, Pakistan, Japan, and more that I will probably never get to.  But I’d love to see more, especially in South American and Africa.

The Vinyl Princess

Image result for the vinyl princessFirst Lines: (Um, apparently there isn’t an ebook of this and I returned the book without getting the first lines so…yeah, sorry about that.)

Ok, if you ever go to my Goodreads page, the first 20 books on my to-read list are semi-randomly selected from my 500+ unread books.  This had been on that top 20 spot for years.  It’s been on my to-read list for the last decade.  God, I feel old saying that.  So it was about time I actually read it.

Allie is a self-professed music lover and expert of all things vinyl.  At 16, she’s scored the best job ever working at Bob & Bob’s Records, where she gets to listen to music and sell vinyls all day.  It’s also the perfect place to work on her alter-ego The Vinyl Princess, her identity on her new blog.  Life seems pretty good from behind the counter at the store.  But beyond that, things are a little weird.  Her mom’s getting dates, there are a string of robberies in town, and business at the store is dangerously slow…but at least Allie’s getting more followers on her blog all the time.

In the end, I thought it was ok. This is going to probably sound a little weird, but its writing it kind of dated. The structure of the story, the things Allie does, there were a few times I just kind of had to look at the book and ask it what it was doing. It’s not that the writing is bad, but its plotting was just odd.  It’s hard to explain unless you’ve also read a YA book from the early 2000s recently.  Stories have evolved since then.

There just wasn’t anything about this that makes it memorable afterward. Everything was pretty average. I hate saying that, but even while I was reading it, I was thinking about what book I was going to read next. I didn’t know the music Allie was referencing, so it wasn’t even like that could keep my interest.

I did think it was kind of cool seeing someone start a blog from the ground up in a book.  I thought some of her process (and success) was unrealistic given my own experiences, but it was still cool to see what I do as a hobby represented in literature.

I thought it was a cool subject for the story and the plot wasn’t bad (it definitely took a couple of surprising turns), but execution lacked the emotional connection. I didn’t connect with the characters and that hurt it.

I wanted to like it more.